August 31, 2004

Read this ...

Martin Kettle in the Guardian on understanding Bush:

We need, though, to be careful not to be transfixed by the polarisation and to see beyond and around it. I yield to no one in my belief that it will be for the good of America and of the world - not to mention the Labour government - if John Kerry defeats Bush in November. I also think that it may happen ....

The most obvious reason for taking Bush more seriously is a simple one: he may be president of the US for the next four years. But we also need to ask ourselves why that may happen, if it does. If it is so blindingly obvious to the rest of the world that Bush is dumb, dangerous and the rest of it, how is it that millions of intelligent and perfectly decent people in the US see it so differently? Is it simply that they don't get it? Or that they have been brainwashed? Or that they are neither intelligent nor decent after all?

These hardly stand up as satisfactory explanations ....

Posted by robe0419 at 1:57 PM

Why Bush is not Churchill

The Republican National Convention is apparently hearing a lot of the oft-used comparison of George Bush to Winston Churchill.

Analogies are the worst form of reasoning from the past to the present because they rely on comparing just two cases. In any event, here's some random thoughts on why Bush is not Churchill, and why even the Republicans shouldn't be making that comparison.

  • Churchill didn't quit drinking.
  • After Churchill screwed up the invasion of Gallipoli he spent decades in the political wilderness.
  • Churchill's war cabinet included important members of the opposition Labour party.
  • Shortly after VE Day Churchill was soundly defeated in the 1945 election.
  • Churchill wrote books, and read others.
  • Churchill volunteered to serve overseas in the British Army
  • Churchill had been to foreign countries before he was elected Prime Minister, more times than Bush had been overseas before being elected President.
  • It seems that Churchill actually liked France, and thought it was worth saving.

Other than that, a great analogy.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:10 AM

August 30, 2004

War on Other Nouns Will Also Be Lost

I don't know what level or kind of cognitive dissonance is required to believe that John Kerry is a "flip flopper," and then to support a President who says this a month ago:

We have a clear vision on how to win the war on terror and bring peace to the world."
--George W. Bush, July 30, 2004

and this today:

Asked on NBC television whether America could win its "war on terror", the president replied: "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the - those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."
--Guardian, August 30 2004

"Gotcha" journalism often works by juxtaposing quotes from different time periods and situations. But this is not one of those cases -- this is the exact same person talking about the exact same subject one month apart.

If anyone can point to some new information or event that came in during the last month that would explain Bush's change of mind, I'd love to hear it.

Some folks have also explained this statement as the President just misspeaking again, but that's bizarre. It was a direct question, and a direct answer.

I think that the notion of a "war on terror[ism]" is unhelpful for understanding America's place in the world today, but Bush has succeeded at using it to frame the domestic debate on these questions. To a large extent, the Democrat presidential campaign has accepted that framework for the debate and tried to challenge Bush within it.

If the Democrats have any sense they'll be making a devastatingly simple and effective ad contrasting Bush's claim to win the war on terror with his admission now that it can't be won.

UPDATE, 31 August 2004, 4.30 CDT: Mark Kleiman agrees with me that this gaffe is a huge opening for the Democrats, and needs to be hammered home.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:21 PM

let's all move to Iraq

It doesn't matter what you call the project the U.S. is involved in Iraq; colonization or advancing the cause of freedom and democracy, the idea is pretty much the same. We're trying to substantially change the political culture and institutions of some other place.

I'm pretty much with Niall Ferguson on this one; the British empire did a pretty good job of leaving democratic and market institutions in the places it went:

the fact remains that no organization in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital, and labor than the British empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And no organization has done more to impose Western norms of law, order, and governance around the world.

Not every ex-colony has done well with the British institutions and ideals left behind; Zimbabwe, Pakistan, and Nigeria show that things can go sour for even the most promising places. But by and large, most of the ex-British colonies in Asia, Africa and the Carribean have done pretty well. The British were of course most successful at exporting their ideas and institutions to North America and Australasia, and the reason they were successful is that a substantial number of people moved there, and took their families and fortunes with them.

I'm not claiming that without the immigrants British imperialism would have failed, but they were important to its success in many ways.

First of all emigrants demonstrated to the natives (lets not shy away from the historical terminology) that the colonizing people were prepared to take some personal risks with their finances and happiness. To be sure, you could make a lot of money in the colonies, but that was not known in advance. You could also do poorly, and success was not guaranteed. Given the transport and communications and general lack of information about ones future prospects, you had to take a bit of a punt on your future to go to Canada or New Zealand or Kenya or Fiji. Moreover, given those same vagaries of transport and communications emigration, especially to Africa or Australasia meant that many people never saw their families again, and many others had only sporadic contact by very slow postal service.

Second, the emigrants were private individuals whose interactions with the natives were potentially mutually beneficial ones: trade and social contact. Government by its very nature is a somewhat hierarchical beast (though the aim in a liberal democracy is that the people ultimately have control of the state, and that power flows both ways), especially in places where the rule of law and parliament had not been established.

Some emigrants also married into the local population (the metis in Canada and the early Pakeha-Maori in New Zealand are good examples, and indeed inter-marriage in New Zealand became common enough as to be worthy of little comment by the twentieth century).

Even in colonies where the emigrants did not rapidly outnumber the natives (Africa and Asia) there were enough, a critical mass, of emigrants who interacted with the natives. And in a perverse sense, the more the better, since the colonies that most adopted British values were the ones where the native population got swamped by the emigrants.

Are there several hundred thousand Americans who are going to up and move their families to Iraq, and become the vanguard of changing Iraqi society? Probably not.

The British empire, of course, was also assisted by other privately interested parties; namely companies that hoped to profit from what exotic combinations of land and labor there were to be combined in foreign parts.

It's less clear that these trading and migration companies were a critical part in transmitting values from metropole to colony, but they played a part by organizing large-scale economic interaction between colonists and colonized. They also employed local labor, which again contributed to making the natives feel there was something in colonization for them.

It's for this reason that we should be concerned about the way in which Iraq's reconstruction is being handled by American companies with contract labor, and it seems not employing a lot of Iraqi's. Hardly the way to make Iraqis feel there is something in the American occupation/liberation for them.

Western imperial projects have foundered in the Middle East for precisely this lack of migration and investment in the past. Going in again, and trusting that people on short-term contracts and 19 year old soldiers fresh out of boot camp, will be the agents of democratization is just too hopeful.

In fact, I'm not sure that any country has successfully remade another in its own image without sending lots of people over there, exporting private capital to the 'colony,' and employing local labor in businesses. That after all was also the success of the Roman Empire -- they moved to the countries they conquered and lived there. Maybe you could point to U.S. intervention in central America in the 1980s, but democracy has been established there more by internal political forces than outside intervention.

Of course, large scale American migration to the Middle East is an idea few will be attracted by at either end of the journey, which is why we'll be engaged in Iraq in other ways for a long, long time.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:45 PM

August 29, 2004

governments of men or laws

One thing Americans might find odd about the Australian election (or the Canadian, British or New Zealand ones for that matter) is that the Prime Minister gets to choose the date.

Being democratic countries, that does not mean that the government gets to extend its term as long as it likes. Elections in Australia and New Zealand must be held every three years [for people who are really into trivia, the exact requirement is that the election must be called within three years of the previous election results being declared, which generally occurs about one month after the election, leading to full electoral terms of slightly over three years. we digress ...] and in Britain they must be held every five years.

Britain, in particular, has a long-standing tradition of elections more regularly than the maximum term would allow. The government, holding the power to choose the date, naturally tries to pick one that maximises its own chances of coming out ahead. Australia and New Zealand used to disdain this practice. Between 1949 and 1975 the Australian and New Zealand elections were often held only a week or so apart in mid-late November. Lately though, it has become quite common in Australia for governments to try and renew their mandate with the electorate earlier than they have to. Indeed, Australia had an election in March 1983, and then another one in late 1984.

The New Zealand election was held early in 2002, by about four months, and the government came in for some flak from the media and political commentators for breaking with a schedule that would have seen the election return to its traditional late November date (after an early October election in 1999). It's not clear whether many voters actually cared about this.

I mention all this as a random entree to the different world that is election scheduling in Westminister democracies, that is to say, non-republican, democracies (small r, small d).

Governments that are not entirely sure of their re-election, like John Howard's, put even more thought than normal into the timing of the election, with such things as major sporting events, the release of economic statistics, visits by or to foreign leaders, and other countries' upcoming elections key variables that work in every possible direction.

American readers wishing to ponder the alternative political universe this kind of power gives to governments, can imagine what kind of thumping victory George Bush would have won if he had been able to call an election in February 2002, for example ...

November 2, 2004.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:40 PM

because no one else will

I suppose it's a good thing that the national anthem is God Defend New Zealand, because it seems actual, real people willing to defend the place are getting short on the ground.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:26 PM

off to the races

They're having an election in Australia on October 9. The Sydney Morning Herald is probably the best place for coverage. The best blog coverage is probably at the Road to Surfdom.

It bodes ill for my own personal productivity, what with the U.S. election also on. Aside from the kick-in-the-pants that is having to take PhD prelims, one reason I got stuff done in 2003 was that there were no elections in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, or the United States. [no-one should remind me that I wasn't marathon training last year either ....]

In any case, why should American readers care about the Australian election? One word. Iraq. Australia is the first of the three countries that made major troop contributions at the start of the war to hold an election in the wake of the failure to find the weapons that were the war's apparent rationale.

Those issues of trust and national security which will be important in Australia, are also critical to the U.S. election. Obviously the political culture and institutions are quite different in many respects. Notions that a Howard victory/defeat points to a Bush victory/defeat would be reading too much into tea leaves diluted by the Pacific ocean.

Like in Britain, like in the United States, the government that went into Iraq is facing an opposition that has not been able to capitalize nearly as much as it should have been able to on the deceptions made by the government.

I'm no fan of John Howard, but he has the singular advantage that George Bush doesn't, of being able to run on a pretty good economic record.

The related reason that Americans should pay attention to Australia's election is to see if the Bush administration continues its 0 for many record in trying to influence elections and referenda in foreign countries. After its success in helping win the German election for the Social Democrats, getting the Korean president that it didn't want, and seeing Hugo Chavez win a referenda; the Bush administration surely won't want to try and "help" John Howard out with praise or an endorsement during the campaign, right?

Apropos of my post on Thursday that touched on American ability to change foreign people's minds; if the Bush administration can't give the subtle assist to friendly foreign governments that they want to give, we should be sceptical that the Bush administration could make the right moves in a country more hostile to American involvement.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:09 PM

on track

Slate has an article that will be intrinsically interesting to runners, and may grab your attention otherwise, about how tracks are made.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:26 PM

August 26, 2004

Tollefson not in the 1500m final

Maybe the Strib is holding back the news so it will be a surprise when NBC shows the race, but Carrie Tollefson didn't advance to the 1500m final.

Excellent running to make it to the Olympic semis after her training was geared to 5000m until 6 weeks ago.

Can the Russians sweep the women's 1500m? Or will Kelly Holmes win a fantastic double? We only have to wait 'til Saturday.

Posted by robe0419 at 7:59 PM

population-adjusted medal counts

here it is! The table that makes the chests of people from small countries swell with parochial pride ... Olympic golds won per million people.

You'll note -- or I noted -- that this being a New Zealand website that they slyly/stupidly calculated this as golds per million population, a metric on which New Zealand is doing very well after this morning's triathlon. If you look at medals per head of population, then Australia is well in front, a genuine testament to the money and commitment that country has put behind sportspeople who compete at an elite level.

To be sure, Olympic sports such as swimming, triathlon and yachting get more attention in Australia than they do in America. But it's not as if the Olympic sports are Australia's most popular sports -- as in the United States the real path to sporting riches is in the non-Olympic team sports; including one sport they don't really play anywhere else in the world.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:18 PM

Walking through the leaves, falling from the trees

After the longest spring in memory--I have only lived here 4 years--which seemed to run through 'til late June for all practical purposes, the first signs of fall have arrived just two months later. Not that signs of fall in late August are a surprise or a disappointment.

Beside the Mississippi, down in Fort Snelling State Park, and round Lake Katrina, there are a non-trivial number of yellow and red-leafed trees. Not all with Dutch elm disease either ...

Posted by robe0419 at 5:07 PM

August 25, 2004

Vietnam, Iraq and the election campaign

More on the book tomorrow ... I'm sure you're all waiting for that!

Trying to keep track of all the details about the Swift Boat Veterans ads and whether John Kerry was in Cambodia during the day on Christmas Eve, or spent the night there (not mutually exclusive possibilities) could boggle larger minds than mine, so I've resisted any posts on the matter 'til now.

Historians don't usually have much to say in these matters, but here's my two cents worth. If the written documents from the time contradict what people are saying now, you should probably believe the written documents.

Unfortunately source criticism, to say nothing of a little innate skepticism about the motives, memory and logic of anyone peddling a political story, does not seem to have stuck in the minds of many journalists.

Some people, trying to be reasonable about the matter have said that by campaigning on his service record Kerry opened himself up to the Swift Boat Veterans attacks. Hmmm ... So, if you make a true statement this means that you've opened yourself up to the lies that other people charge at you.

Is Vietnam relevant in this election campaign? Yes, in two senses. First is the very personal issue of what Bush and Kerry did at the time. Vietnam was the crucial foreign policy issue of the late 1960s for the United States, and the country committed -- at the peak -- half a million troops to the war. Given that these troops were mostly young men, what young men of military service age did in response to the nation's call to arms speaks critically to their seriousness about the issue.

Bush, by his own admission, supported the war, but wasn't prepared to risk his life for what he believed in. Not that he'd let those last two clauses get too close to each other lest a voter reflect too long on them. This would all be OK, men can grow a lot in four decades, and learn a lot about foreign affairs and other countries. The trouble is that Bush apparently didn't do this. Until September 11th 2001--and maybe not even then--Bush didn't take the trouble to learn about the world, think seriously about America's place in it, and how other countries might perceive American actions.

On the other side of the aisle, why does Kerry make so much of his experience in Vietnam, and how does it relate to his subsequent career in politics, and his potential handling of foreign affairs if he was to be elected.

It's abundantly clear that Kerry came back with a skepticism about the way American power could be used to change the minds of foreign people, and skeptical that even when America claimed to be acting with right principles in mind (democracy and human rights) that it could achieve what it set out to do. Not for lack of the right intentions, but because the groups we allied with in foreign countries were not as good as they seemed, and that the best of intentions from young American soldiers cannot settle domestic political disputes in another country. It's not too hard to imagine how Kerry, having seen America's failed intervention in Vietnam's civil war, would end up making his name as a young Senator exposing the abuses that went on as America intervened in central American civil wars.

The second sense in which Vietnam is relevant to today's campaign when our strategy in Iraq is central to the debate, is that Vietnam was the last time tried to fundamentally alter the political culture and institutions of a large, foreign country.

Needless to say it didn't end well all around. First off, there's the tragedy of ignoring the clear signs that Ho Chi Minh (an ally during WWII) was more interested in an independent Vietnam than a communist one; but even after that the U.S. had plenty of opportunities to let the Vietnamese resolve their own dispute, particularly when the South Vietnamese government was clearly not a good partner for advancing democracy. But the South Vietnamese regime played the U.S. well, and got a good deal out of the U.S. taxpayer who merrily paid most of the bills for the ensuing disaster. Read A Bright Shining Lie sometime, and you'll see how America's involvement ended as tragedy, that the people we were trying to help got caught in some nasty crossfire, both literal and otherwise. Go there today, and wonder at the senseless human tragedy that was involved in fighting a war for three decades, and wonder how much wealthier the people there would be without that war.

Let's be clear: Iraq is not Vietnam. But again, the U.S. has been played well by domestic political players (Chalabi and co.) not to mention the possibility that Iran (!) might have been providing some of the disinformation that got us in there in the first place.

And again, there is the conflict between tactical and strategic objectives. On a tactical level the U.S. armed forces can clearly beat the Mahdi army, but the strategic cost of engaging them fully would be huge.

Iraq is unlike Vietnam, however, in one really crucial way. In Vietnam, because we joined up with an existing civil war, we could always withdraw under the convenient pretext that we had done our job, and were leaving it up to the South Vietnamese.

In Iraq we have no such easy out. There was no civil war, there was a state of long-repressed political divisions, and a sizeable group of exiles without a good feeling for what the domestic population really thought.

Where to from here then? If there was an answer that could be put on a piece of letter paper (a bumper sticker would be a little too simple for a problem this size) we probably would have heard it by now. We clearly can't just pull out and bring the troops home, since they are performing some useful role in making sure that a large scale civil war does not break out if we left.

The rather empty lesson of Vietnam is that war is a rather unpredictable and costly way of conducting foreign policy; but once you've launched it you are committed for quite some time.

Consider where we were in March 2003. It was becoming increasingly clear that Hussein had no active nuclear program, and that his ability to deliver any weaponized biological and chemical devices was limited to say the least (For all the fuss about the rockets that he had exceeding their permitted range, it was that they were able to go 100 miles, rather than 90 that was the breach of the sanctions). Yet, with inspectors roaming round the desert Hussein was clearly not in a position to attack anybody. It's clearer now, but it was clear at the time too, that the regime was brittle, and pressure short of a full-out invasion and war could have brought the regime down at far less cost.

For all the billions we have spent in not making Iraq particularly democratic or secure, we could have spent that money actively supporting the democratization process in other middle eastern countries that we have more leverage over. What good are allies if they don't do what you suggest they do every now and then?

We're not going to get anywhere quickly in Iraq expecting that things will go well; if the lesson of Vietnam for John Kerry was that we don't fully understand the domestic politics of other countries (especially where they speak foreign languages etc ...), that domestic groups in those countries will inevitably try to corrupt even the best-intentioned American missions to gain political power, and that hundreds of thousands of young men in their twenties are fallible instruments for promoting democracy, then those reduced expectations are for the best.

Eighteen months into the American involvement in Iraq is far too soon to claim it has been a success or failure either way. We'll surely be debating Iraq strategy in 2008 at some level. Having low expectations about the prospects for success is not just a Midwestern way of then being satisfied with a not-bad outcome, it's a prerequisite for taking all that could possibly go wrong into account and doing the best to avoid them, and ensuring some happier outcome.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:17 PM

white men who can run

Three white men qualified for the 5000m final! Alistair Craff (Ireland), Tim Broe (US) and the great white hope, Craig Mottram from Australia. Mottram is only the third white man to go under 13 minutes (the others being Bob Kennedy and Dieter Baumann).

Cragg and Broe have done really well to get through, with Broe not much off his best time in uneven races (2.40 odd for the first 4 kilometres, and 2.26-2.28 for the last in both heats).

Posted by robe0419 at 12:44 PM

August 24, 2004

backwards into the future (again)

Still with me?

Yesterday, I gave a potted history of Pakeha-Maori relations in NZ, organized around the Treaty of Waitangi. Today I'm going to give some thoughts on Chapter 1 as I work on this book review.

A note on the title of the post. Maori have a saying that you spend your life walking backwards because you can see the past but not the future

Byrnes is nothing if not clear up front about her argument:

The book has two main arguments. The first is that the Tribunal is not engaged in writing objective history, but one that is deeply political and overwhelmingly focused on the present .... The second argument is that the historical narratives produced by the Waitangi Tribunal have strong postcolonial tendencies.
Tribunal history, as with the efforts of many other commissions and judicial bodies to rewrite history, is a noble but ultimately flawed experiment.
the published reports of the Waitangi Tribunal have fundamental problems if viewed as scholarly academic history .... the flaws and weaknesses of these reports are a direct result of the Tribunal's statutory jurisdiction ...

Byrnes makes a distinction early on between the history of the Treaty developed by the Tribunal, and the way the Tribunal uses history.

She also says that for some tribes the process of presenting claims to the government has punctuated the experience of all generations since the 1880s. In that sense, the elongation of the claims resolution process is of no great question to some Maori as they see it as part of the partnership with the Crown. Be that as it may, public opinion polls in NZ show that the majority of the population would be comfortable with some form of fixed end date for the claims process. Governments, National or Labour, tread carefully round this for they must balance respecting a contractual agreement (the Treaty) with popular support. Not for the last time, the Treaty claims process pits two liberal principles against each other, with no easy resolution of the dilemma.

A strength of the first chapter is that it presents a clear definition of "postcolonialism," but also makes the argument for why people outside the academy should care about the concept.

In Byrnes' words postcolonialism is "a critical engagement with the aftermath of colonisation ....an attitude, rather than an epoch. It is a perspective that ... seeks to undermine the structures, ideologies, and institutions that gave colonisation meaning ..."

Byrnes draws parallels and contrasts with other historical commissions and enquiries outside New Zealand, finding most similarity (unsurprisingly) with the processes for first nations peoples in Canada, where treaties give claimants something specific and legal to structure their grievances around (7-8)

But she points out some pretty important differences;

  1. Because the Treaty of Waitangi is seen as an ongoing social contract, the remit of the Waitangi Tribunal is much wider than claims processes in Australia or South Africa.
  2. The Waitangi Tribunal is open-ended.
  3. Rather than relying on orthodox historical perspectives (i.e; written documents) it also includes "memory traditions" as part of evidence.
  4. Most importantly, the specific context of a strong guarantee of land title in the Treaty provides more basis for compensation than in other jurisdictions.

The Tribunal has produced a sizeable ouevre, and that in itself has probably discouraged many people from undertaking a close reading of its work. Byrnes restricts herself to the 'historical' reports produced by the new Tribunal (post-1985). In the last few years, however, historians have started to engage with the reports produced by the Tribunal.

Perhaps the most damning, coming from a long-time participant in the process, was from W.H. Oliver who argued that the Tribunal was creating a "retrospective utopian history ... a history of what the Crown should have and could have don, but did not .... Rhetorical gestures towards timeless truths--and the appeal to timelessness to disarm dissent and bypass exegesis--will not dispel the suspicion that the Crown and its agents are being short-changed, primarily by insisting that they should, in the larger issues of policy and administration, have heeded rules of which they were unaware and performed tasks which would never have occurred to them."

Oliver also points out the paradox that the Tribunal cannot condemn the state too much, as it is a creation of that state and relies upon it to implement the Tribunal's recommendations. Therefore, it resorts to the trick of condemning the consequences of colonisation, and maintaining that colonisation could have been better managed in substantial areas.

Oliver's critique is significant because he remains largely sympathetic to the political aims of ensuring that the contractual obligations of the Treaty are lived to, and the breaches restored. So, and she makes this very clear, is Giselle Byrnes. Yet both end up being deeply, and constructively, critical of the histories produced by the Tribunal.

As I mentioned in the conclusion to yesterday's discussion, the place of the Treaty in New Zealand society has become part of the present political debate. Yet the Treaty is a relatively thin document on which to base a constitutional settlement. Hence the Court mandated reference to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

But the principles that animated the signers of the Treaty cannot be completely recovered; we are adding our own interpretations to them in the present, yet trying to give them legitimacy by grounding them in the past. This is appropriate for a nation that was not founded in a Revolution, but was instead founded by those Britons who had absorbed the lessons of the American Revolution. While F.M. Brookfield may argue that the British assumption of power in New Zealand was a revolutionary act, it can, in other ways be viewed as a rather conservative undertaking.

In any event, the dispute over the place of the Treaty in New Zealand politics seems likely to be sustained for a while, for several reasons.

The first, as I've noted above, is the rather thin foundation the Treaty provides, combined with the belief by many (both Maori and Pakeha) that the Treaty is a sufficient foundation for an enduring constitutional settlement.

No one, not even Don Brash, who's raised all those questions but won't front up with an answer, has seriously proposed some complementary constitutional document. The British legacy of a cobbled-together informal constitution persists. Moreover, the Treaty reflects the balance of power that existed between the British crown and Maori in the 1840s, when they were more equal. Maori would not get such a good deal today.

The second is that resolving some of the issues posed by the Treaty requires explicitly trading off some agreeable principles for others. That is, there are compromises all around to be made. Referring to the "principles of the Treaty of Waitangi" without actually ever saying concretely and concisely what they are is a symbol of this evasion all around.

Moreover, to give assent to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi might actually mean cutting against other principles which have become important in New Zealand society.

The main conflict is that the Treaty has been established as a valid contractual document, and adhering to agreements that have been made in good faith all around is regarded as a good idea.

But there is also the classical liberal position that people should be treated equally regardless of their race. This is a position which many people in New Zealand would agree.

In the New Zealand context there's little hope of holding both positions simultaneously, not without a lot of cognitive dissonance.

There are also the liberal, and somewhat republican, principles that
(1) political rights are not given to groups, but to individual citizens, and (2) that rights and privileges are non-hereditary, but the entitlement of every citizen in the country (unless they renounce their citizenship or commit some crime). Such universal statements of political rights animate the American constitution. While they aren't written down in New Zealand politics, their influence can be discerned.

Even if we were to admit of group rights to political representation for Maori, defining who is in and out of that group becomes a little problematic in practice. The Treaty as a contract was signed between the British Crown and independent Maori tribes. There was, it is clear, no sense in which the different Maori tribes regarded themselves as a nation in the modern sense, though some Maori 'nationalism' was inchoate in 1840.

So, you might think that you could reach some form of political and constitutional settlement that involved the tribes as corporate or political bodies. Unfortunately, many (probably most) Maori no longer identify with a single tribe, being able to trace their ancestry to multiple tribes. And Maori have not remained a distinct ethnic group -- their rate of exogamy is well over 70%, so that most people with some Maori heritage also have European heritage too.

All of these principles are, by themselves, uncontroversial in a modern democracy like New Zealand. Set alongside the Treaty they point to some uncomfortable compromises, which no-one likes making, not on a three year electoral cycle.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:05 PM

the olympic spirit

Some random thoughts on the Olympics:

  • Bob Costas. Better than expected. Perhaps I just got a bad impression 4 years ago when he referred to the Australian athletes as "just terrifically humble" people ... Yeah ... hmmm ... But Larry Rawson's commentary on the women's marathon was awe-inspiringly awful. How does the man keep getting employed? Is he somehow popular with the non-running audience that tunes in to watch Boston, New York and the Olympic marathons? What is a "human hydroplane?"
  • Women's gymnastics. Tremendous agility, strength and co-ordination. But what is it with a sport that eats its young so much that these girls and women are mostly retired by 19. Still, at least they can go to college without the distractions of playing sport, right? Swimming used to be much the same way, but now you get swimmers remaining competitive into their 20s and 30s, when the athletes are more emotionally mature as well as physically mature all around.
  • How many times do we need to hear about Tom Pappas' Greek heritage. Now that he's dropped out, will they refer to this as a Greek tragedy. Why haven't we heard more about Bryan Clay, who's Japanese American and looks likely to get a bronze medal? Guess those Tokyo Games came 40 years too early for him to get on the Today show!
  • Finally, how inane was Matt Lauer's question to Jeremy Wariner about whether it was difficult to pass his team-mate in the home straight, about putting aside the team and running as an individual! That's what athletics is all about ... running as an individual ...

UPDATE (4.10pm CDT): A silver medal for Clay.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:00 PM

August 23, 2004

retail politics

Writing up the previous entry about New Zealand history and politics made me think of one of the most pertinent differences in the two country's politics, and that is that the U.S. has 290 million people and about 180 million potential voters, whereas New Zealand has 4 million people and about 2.7 million potential voters.

Politics in New Zealand still has an intimate, conversational, retail feeling to it. Your chances of meeting the Prime Minister, or more to the point for Helen Clark, her chances of meeting you, are much greater with those ratios of people to politicians.

The notion that this kind of politics is genuinely possible in United States presidential elections is insane. It is still [just] possible at the Senatorial level, but even there mass, impersonal and non-reciprocal forms of communication between politician and voter dominate (TV principally).

But at the presidential level it's well nigh on impossible. In a given year the President doesn't make it to many states, and within those states the President (whoever he is) makes it to select places -- generally the largest cities.

In other words, your chances of meeting the President and having a meaningful interaction with him are vanishingly small.

Yet, the campaigns place a lot of emphasis on selling the idea that their candidate is accessible and a regular guy, and able to relate to people like you. In both cases this is absurd. Bush and Kerry both hail from relatively elite East Coast origins, and their wealth (however gained) is towards the top of the distribution.

It is, I think, another example of how class-based voting patterns have broken down in the United States. It is also an example of how voters take a non-transactional approach to voting for President. I have no doubt that this interest in the personalities of the Presidents is real and genuine, if not universal; the media give the public what they want to some extent. If there was no interest in this stuff, we wouldn't get it printed or broadcast.

But an individual voters chances of evaluating the candidates personalities is so small; your chances of meeting them are limited, and the image you see of them on TV is to a large extent, a crafted public one.

Bush, for example, has a reputation as being a laid-back kind of guy. But then he makes all the men in the White House keep their suit jackets on. Kerry has been given a reputation as stiff and dull, but his quip about Bush losing his training wheels when Bush came off his mountain bike probably shows a sharp wit.

But again, how relevant is all this? It's the conceit of every age that we face important issues at the next election, but it might be true in 2004. And whether Kerry is a sharp wit, or Bush relaxed is largely irrelevant.

Whatever you think about the Swift Boat Veterans and whether John Kerry deserved his medals, whatever you think about George Bush's committed defence of Texas against Oklahoma in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, one thing is true.

All of this is much more relevant to being President than who your wife is and what she does; it's all much more relevant to being President than whether the President is a personally likeable guy who would be good to have a barbecue with.

Some people have tried to convince me that this emphasis on personability is all due to Clinton; after all Poppa Bush got elected and he was not Mr. Personality. As much as this is true, it is probably also true that the element of the presidency that is the monarch is reflected in the expectation of personality. A popularly supported monarch was not supported because of the office he held, but his personal qualities embodying the quality of the nation. Americans have the same expectations of the presidency.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:20 PM

looking backwards into the future

Inspired by Eric Muller's 'live' blogging of a book review in progress, I am going to try the same thing as I collect my thoughts for a review of Giselle Byrnes' important new book, The Waitangi Tribunal and New Zealand History.

Right off the bat, I don't expect my small and mostly American audience to be interested in this ... but maybe you'll find something worth reading.

At the broadest level Byrnes grapples with the universal problem of the historical past being used in the service of the political present. Perhaps I stretch for the parallel too much, but what John Kerry and George Bush did or did not do in Vietnam over thirty years ago is fixed. Whether or not you believe that it is relevant to today's politics, it has been made relevant. Even absent the personal dimensions of the draft dodger versus the veteran, the history of United States' involvement in Vietnam would be relevant to the debate today about Iraq.

History, in the sense of what happend, but more importantly history in the sense of "our interpretations of the past" are central to politics.

Clearly, European-indigenous inter-relationships from the 19th century have little impact on the mainstream political debate in the United States. That's what you get when Native Americans make up 0.9 percent of the population, compared to Maori making up 14.7 percent of the New Zealand population.

The issue of white (or "Pakeha" in the NZ context) relationships with Maori, and the form of Maori political representation is currently the axis on which New Zealand politics divides. In all likelihood, who wins the debate will determine the next government.

If you've read this far, I hope I've convinced you of the current salience of the issue, and the broader issues the book deals with, and will take time for a quick guide to the history of the Waitangi Tribunal.

To really start at the beginning we'll take off from the American Revolution.

Along with sadly depriving Americans of the chance of having cricket as their national pastime, the Revolution also cut short the scheme the British had of sending their convicts to Georgia. Thus were born the Australian penal colonies in New South Wales and Tamania.

Once the convicts had served their time they were not able to make it back to Britain (that being the point of the penal transportation system), and despite a degree of acceptance in free society, many felt it was better to clear out to the next place they could find.

That would be New Zealand, which was also being discovered by whalers, sealers and traders as an all around good place for those activities, and the New Zealand Company, led by the "interesting" Edward Gibbon Wakefield had designs on starting settlements there. Despite a smattering of French and Americans amongst the whalers and traders, most were British; as were the ex-convicts.

With the British descended population in New Zealand growing, the Colonial Office decided that British law would provide a more orderly framework for the settlement of New Zealand. Not insignificantly, they also believed that a British legal framework would confer substantial benefits on Maori by bringing transactions about land and other real property under the law.

Thus it was that William Hobson was sent out to negotiate a treaty with Maori.

The result was the Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840:

The Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the separate and independent Chiefs who have not become members of the Confederation cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or to possess over their respective Territories as the sole sovereigns thereof.

Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and to the respective families and individuals thereof the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to Her Majesty the exclusive right of Preemption over such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate at such prices as may be agreed upon between the respective Proprietors and persons appointed by Her Majesty to treat with them in that behalf.

In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.

Plough through that, and you'll notice that it's not exactly a model of clarity; not to mention that the Maori version had some interpretive differences.

As a practical matter, the sovereignty the British had obtained over New Zealand was rather limited; as they had few officials and few troops, but a rapidly growing number of immigrants.

Whether you like to view the dispute as being over land or sovereignty, the New Zealand wars between 1846 and 1882 (if you believe that the peace treaty with the King movement was the end of the wars) or 1916 (if you believe that Rua Kenana's arrest marks the end of the wars) unquestionably established European legal control over New Zealand. Maori were more successful in resisting encroachments on their land and self-government than native Americans in the United States and Canada, to say nothing of Australia or South Africa.

With the end of large scale armed resistance to British authority in the 1880s, Maori increasingly turned to political means to press their claim for compensation for lost resources. To some extent the New Zealand government responded to these claims with a Royal Commission into land confiscation in 1926, and small monetary settlements with major tribes in the 1940s.

Then in 1975 the third Labour government established the Waitangi Tribunal to hear claims against the Crown. The Act limited claims to events occurring after 1975, and because of that limitation the impact of the Tribunal was slight.

In 1985 the fourth Labour government extended the ambit of the Tribunal back to 1840 in a move which occasioned remarkably little debate at the time. The official website for the Treaty (established in response to the current, that is 2004 onwards, political debate) notes:

There were unexpected implications of going back to 1840: opening up the whole history of the terms and modes of colonisation.

which really only emphasises (nz book, nz spelling) how little debate went into the whole thing.

A couple of years later in 1987 the Court of Appeal decided that the 1986 State Owned Enterprises Act meant the government could do nothing that "is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi," and then proceeded to set out a number of principles that it saw flowing from the text above. In particular, it said that the Treaty meant that the Crown and Maori were partners in government, though partners with profoundly unequal resources and power. For a country with a long tradition of a supreme executive, compliant legislature, and relatively weak courts this case attracted little public comment at the time. If you're not watching what the courts do, you don't see what the courts do.

But the government did take note of the court's decision, as did the succeeding National government which proceeded to make some major settlements with key tribes. This settlement process had bipartisan support, but led to some disagreement within the Maori community about how to allocate the bounty received. A radical, direct action group within the Maori community were the very visible face of Maori discontent about resource claims, and continuing poor health, education and criminal justice outcomes for many Maori.

The next Labour government, elected in 1999, attracted a lot of Maori support. The government's key policy aim was to remedy some of the poor health and education outcomes; and more quietly to reduce the pressure on Maori tribes to make settlements of resource claims quickly. Despite some Pakeha opposition to 'special' programs for Maori (you may like to think of this as equivalent to affirmative action in the U.S.), the opposition National Party did not make a political issue of the programs; and was subsequently crushed in the 2002 election.

After continuing to flounder in the electoral wilderness for the next 18 months, the National Party then elected a new leader in late 2003, the former Governor of the Reserve Bank, Don Brash. Brash's initial months in the job were not auspicious; to put it mildly the man was not used to the give and take of political debate, and more used to the executive authority of being the head of the bank.

But then in late January 2004, Brash journeyed to Orewa and gave a speech that shifted NZ politics dramatically. Before the speech everyone assumed that Labour would coast to re-election in 2005, on the back of a surprisingly strong economy, and that Labour could establish itself as the 'natural party of government.' Now that's not the case; if Labour wins they will still be able to thank the economy and their stewardship of it has been more than competent; if they lose, it will be because Brash has made the Treaty salient in partisan politics in a way it never has been before.

Reading the speech several months after its delivery, and with the knowledge of others Brash has delivered since, several things are striking. First, Brash is great at asking the sophomoric questions about politics. As a former paid-up member and current supporter of the Labour party, I have no love for the Tories but Brash raises some legitimate questions. Second, he's proved pretty poor at answering his own questions, and putting some policies out there that actually differ substantively from Labour's. Having rushed out with the blanket principle that there should be no racial preferences ... it turns out there will be exceptions for racial preferences which meet a true need and are demonstrably successful in achieving policy aims in other spheres. All of which is much less ringing a call to electoral arms than what we heard in January.

It is into this political climate that Byrnes' book is released. How we deal with the effects of the past in the present, and how academic historians relate to that debate.

With that very extended introduction, more tomorrow on the actual book.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:40 PM

going backwards

Searching for trails to run on in Wisconsin, I came across the webpage of the 400 State Trail, which is:

named for the Chicago - Northwestern passenger train that traveled the 400 miles between Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul in 400 minutes.

Amtrak now schedules the same journey for 8 hours and 5 minutes.

Is there any wonder people choose to brave the boredom and NPR deadspots that are central Wisconsin, and drive to Chicago?

Posted by robe0419 at 3:52 PM

August 22, 2004

on and off the track

After 3 days of track and field, what to say ...

Athens in August is not California in April. A bunch of U.S. and N.Z. athletes who ran Olympic qualifying times at the Cardinal Invitational (Dathan Ritzenhein and John Henwood) and the Mt. Sac Relays (Shalene Flanagan and Kim Smith) didn't do so well. Cool California nights are ideal for running quick times, but bear little resemblance to the humidity of Athens.

Flanagan and Smith did not appear to have awful races, but were well down on qualifying for the finals; hopefully both will be around in 2008.

On the other side of the ledger, Deena Kastor's bronze! Wow. What a well-paced race, and an amazingly quick finish. Kastor appears to be one of those athletes who has worked hard, and reaped the benefits. (Click on the athletes' names for a bio, which often has a performance progression chart).

Posted by robe0419 at 4:18 PM

August 18, 2004

Against Monbiot's support of Nader

A paper copy of the Guardian Weekly always advances ones knowledge of the world; and the opinion pages are diverse and stimulating.

I hope though that George Monbiot's latest column doesn't get printed.

Monbiot's argument is that a vote for Nader is a vote for democratization in the American political system. The more votes Nader gets the more pressure there will be to reform the way politics is debated in the media, and the way citizens are involved -- or not -- in the political process.

Now, even discounting the fact that Ralph Nader is a poor vessel for advancing this process -- the man is not unconcerned with himself and his own importance, shall we say -- the most significant flaw in the argument is this:

He won't be elected in November, of course, but that's not the point. The point is that if you want to change a system, you have to start now, rather than in some endlessly deferred future. And the better Nader does, the faster the campaign for change will grow.

You don't change the flaws in American political culture by running for President; you run for the school board and the parks board, and the city council, and you work for a change in the voting system at the municipal level, and then you run for state legislature or state senate, or mayor; then for Congress or the Governor's office.

This is not only the democratic thing to do, it's the republican thing to do by having citizens contest elections and serve in public office at multiple levels throughout government.

Believing that change will come to a political system by running for the one office that because of its ratio of electors to office holders (over a hundred million to one) must depend on the mass media for contact with the electors is lunacy.

The President is the elected King, with all the flaws and concentration of power in one man, that that implies.

Suppose, in all the wildest flights of fancy that this supposition involves, that Nader was elected President this November, but that no-one else besides his Vice President was elected. Without an effective party organization, without the time once in office to build one, the impact of a 3rd party president would be transitory. Oh, for sure, it would have shock value, and both Congressional houses would have to compromise to work with him. But the long-term impact would be fleeting without a party organization to carry on the work.

Moreover, all this yammering about the need for a third party seems to wilfully ignore the hard fact that a plurality voting system in geographic districts makes it difficult for a third party to break through to meaningful electoral competition.

If the voting system were different, then voting for a third party would make sense. Until then, if you are concerned with actually advancing a political program -- rather than seeing your vote as a philosophical statement, a legitimate choice in itself -- it makes more sense to work within one of the existing main parties.

Advocates for third parties also seem to ignore the reality that the American party system is unusually open with its system of caucuses and primaries. The barrier to participation is not high.

The tragedy of many of these arguments is that the people that make them are intelligent and have reasoned principles that lead them to considering voting for a third party, but that they do not apply that same intelligence to considering how the voting system actually works.

Kerry may not be an inspiring choice to people whose beliefs are close to those stated in the Guardian's editorial positions, but he represents a realistic possibility for actually achieving now something a lot closer to those positions than George Bush ever will deliver.

By all means, make a start on changing the political system, but don't kid yourself that that means voting for Nader. It means running for office in your own town.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:32 PM

blinded by science

Over at Crooked Timber, Ted Barlow is little bit confused by Ray Fair's election prediction model.

In particular, Ted writes:

1. The model is stunningly simple. There are only two inputs: inflation and two measures of real per capita GDP growth. And the output is not the expected vote percentage of the incumbent, but of the Republican candidate. (There’s also an incumbency variable implicit in the equation he’s posted for the 2004 election.)
2. If I wanted to put this model into words, it would sound something like: “Republican presidential candidates will get more of the vote when real GDP growth is strong and inflation is relatively low.” This has a few counterintuitive implications:

Good GDP growth and low inflation hurts Democratic candidates. (Even when they’re the incumbent? I’m not sure which effect is more powerful.)
Unemployment, polls, fundraising, immigration, wars, etc., don’t make much difference in how people vote for President.

If you share the reasonable belief that the President doesn’t have much control over GDP or inflation, the model implies that the candidates, even sitting Presidents, can’t do much about the percentage of the vote that they obtain.

Now, “counterintuitive” certainly doesn’t mean “wrong”, but I’d need some convincing.

Ah, no.

If you read the update paper you'll note that the dependent variable is the incumbent parties share of the two-party presidential vote. In 2004 there is a Republican incumbent, so any benefits from the economy's performance redound to Bush. In 2000 they were predicted to benefit Gore, but that didn't work out as planned ...

UPDATE, 3.02PM 18 August: Hello to any Crooked Timber readers, and thanks for the reference, Ted!

Posted by robe0419 at 11:22 AM

August 17, 2004

savage love

Dan Savage of Savage Love column fame has an op-ed in the Guardian. It's worth reading:

New Jersey Governor James "I'm a Gay American" McGreevey has a pretty mouth. Has any politician ever looked better wrapping his lips around his own resignation? ....

If I called a press conference to announce that I was a straight American, that I had conducted an affair with a woman that was going to destroy my career (much of which is based on my cocksucking cred), the only way my boyfriend would stand at my side beaming would be if he was holding my recently amputated testicles behind his clenched teeth. ....

According to the Falwells, Robertsons and Santorums of the world, I'm supposed to think less about the South African Olympic men's swim team and more about hell (hot!) and eternity (long!). Then I'm supposed to go find a woman I can trick into marrying me. So what if the foundation of my marriage is a lie? So what if I have to struggle against my sexual and emotional needs all my adult life? Do what you gotta do, faggot: if you need to think about other men - like, say, all those nice boys on the South African Olympic swim team - in order to perform sexually for your wife and make some babies, Senator Santorum says go for it.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:18 AM

August 16, 2004

party like it's 1948

It's a sign of the times that people are getting so desperate to try and predict the upcoming election that they are turning to analogies from Israel and Britain.

The premise of a lot of discussions about the election seems to be that it must be close since Kerry's lead is within the margin of error in most polls, and Bush is leading in some.

But if you look at 10 polls and 8 of them show Kerry leading by 3-8 points then it's a good bet Kerry actually has a real lead of around 4 points.

Looking at the last month, Bush has been ahead in just 6 polls while Kerry has been ahead in nearly 30. That suggests to me that the Kerry lead is relatively small, but real.

Even allowing for the vagaries of the electoral college, a popular vote lead of 4% if repeated on election day would probably take Kerry over 300 electoral college votes. Although the 1948 election was difficult to call until ... well, until it was all over if you were the Chicago Tribune ... the actual outcome wasn't even close, with Truman getting 303 electoral votes and a 4.5% popular margin.

Short any dramatic events between now and the election, Bush has real ground to make up if he wants to clear 200 electoral votes, let alone 270.

Will that happen? There's two factors at work here. (1) Are people open to persuasion, and (2) Could events persuade them?

Here's National Journal's summary of recent polling about interest in politics and whether people could be persuaded to change their minds:

Thirty-two percent said they were following news about the candidates very closely, while 38 percent were following it "fairly closely," and 30 percent were following it "not too closely" or "not at all closely." In comparison, 52 percent said they were following news about high gasoline prices very closely, and 39 percent were following reports on Iraq with similar care.

That lack of interest in political news does not translate into apathy for the race itself, however. Sixty-nine percent said they had given "quite a lot" of thought to the upcoming election, and most voters have made up their minds: Just 21 percent said there was a chance they might shift their support by election day.

So, clearly there's enough voters out there who could change their minds.

In descending order of their effect, events that could shift the presidential race towards Bush: a terrorist attack in the United States, the capture of Osama Bin Laden, and the Republican National Convention. Since only one of these events is under Bush's control, his chances of changing the way the race is going are not tiny, but not large either.

For all the talk of an October surprise, the wintery conditions in the mountains during October actually make the chances of catching anyone up there smaller.

But if 21% of the electorate are open to changing their minds, and Kerry's lead is around 4% ... there's still room for this race to turn around from where it is now, . An effective campaign, and the Bushies can campaign effectively as we saw in 2000, can make up a 4% deficit in the polls in two months.

horses, people, whatever ...

Over at the NZ Herald website there is/was a picture accompanying an article on New Zealand's traditionally "slow" (read: no medals yet!) start to the games which is of Blyth Tait on his famous-in-New-Zealand horse, but is labelled as being of the much more attractive (unless you're really into horses) Evers-Swindell double sculls team.

In case they catch on, I have preserved it here for your benefit (PDF).

The article itself is worth a read, if only for a laugh at how the tone of the article, "let's hope we win some medals next week ..." compares to the overall coverage of American efforts.

Perhaps I was being too harsh on Katie Couric on Friday -- she did note that NZ sends a large team to the Olympics, for its size (the traditional New Zealand qualifier that inflates all achievements to world leading ones!).

If you think the coverage in the New Zealand papers is hopeful and fawning, the coverage in Denmark is apparently similar; since both countries find themselves in the position of being too small to just expect to win lots and lots of medals (like Germany or the United States), but too large to make winning medals a surprise (like Suriname).

Posted by robe0419 at 2:08 PM

August 13, 2004

kiwi what?

In the parade of inanities that accompanied the parade of nations at the Olympic opening ceremony I was, of course, listening most intently for what gem of wisdom Katie Couric or Bob Costas would contribute about New Zealand ...

What I learnt was that the one-time Kiwifruit Marketing Authority, known after that as the Kiwifruit Marketing Board, and now as Zespri New Zealand ("Zespri" -- a commercial neologism in case you wonder) has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams at associating "kiwifruit" with New Zealand. Maybe too well.

What Katie told the audience (apart from saying that NZ has less than 4 million people, when in fact there are slightly more ... making it somewhat less "sparsely populated" than she thinks. I digress) was that

The New Zealanders are known as the kiwis. Named not after the fruit but the bird.

Back in the day, at least until the early '80s, the green flesh, furry brown skinned fruit that Americans know as a "kiwi" was known in New Zealand as a Chinese Gooseberry, after its native land.

But then in the '80s the growers got serious, levied themselves to pay for export promotion, and came up with the clever idea of calling it the kiwifruit to associate the fruit with New Zealand rather than China ...

It seems they have succeeded all too well in the United States for now most Americans live in blissful ignorance that a "kiwi" is a flightless bird (you can think what you will of that being the national symbol of a country, but it's no worse than the gopher as a state symbol) and not a green furry fruit.

Although American English is sometimes not the most parsimonious, in this case the "fruit" suffix has well and truly been lost in conversation, though I note that many supermarkets do actually display the item as a "kiwifruit."

It does make for odd conversations, however, when people with a moderate amount of knowledge ask why the national symbol of my erstwhile home country is a fruit ... if only they knew is all I can say.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:37 PM

my thoughts [nearly] exactly!

Over at Crooked Timber Brian writes "I hate NBC" because he can't see Australian swimmers.

I think the more pertinent point is not that NBC makes it hard for ex-pats to follow their country's athletes, but that NBC makes it f***ing difficult for anyone to enjoy watching the Olympics!!!

I mean, the total lack of respect for viewers that is apparent in displaying the information that an event that takes 2 minutes will be shown sometime between 12pm and 4pm. Hope you all have extended play VCRs!

They could do everyone a whole lot better by reducing the intervals an event might be shown in to an hour.

The notion that they are spoiling things by not showing them live is a little off; after all there are Olympic events taking place simultaneously, so some events will not be shown live if the coverage is going to be complete.

No, what is maddening is the lack of specificity in advance. Here, I feel that NBC really is trying to reserve the right to drop coverage of actual sports to show medal ceremonies, soft-focus biographies of American athletes, and maddeningly inaccurate portrayals of other countries' athlete development programs and athletes ...

Coming up sometime in the next two weeks ... why I think Bob Costas should stick to baseball ...

Posted by robe0419 at 7:03 PM

August 11, 2004

Rugby is a game for thugs played by gentlemen?

Unless that gentleman happens to be George W. Bush ...

This Modern World has the evidence.

... and if soccer is a game for gentlemen played by thugs, what does that make American football; where they wear so much defensive attire that it brings the phrase "contact sport" into disrepute.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:14 AM

More on Mallaby

Matthew Yglesias shows us that there are more errors of fact and logic in Sebastian Mallaby's column:

Sebastian Mallaby gets in some licks on John Kerry, but I'm seeing some factual and logic errors.

"Bush smashed the Taliban in Afghanistan, even though large parts of the Democratic foreign policy establishment opposed any strategy involving boots on the ground." For one thing, I remember the Afghan War, and I certainly don't recall any "large parts" of the Democratic foreign policy establishment opposing a strategy involving boots on the ground. I also don't recall very many boots being put on the ground. My recollection is of a war fought by air power, special forces, and local allies and that John Kerry criticized the failure to put more boots on the ground as having led to the debacle at Tora Bora. And speaking of Tora Bora, I don't recall the Taliban as having been so much "smashed" as "driven out of the major urban areas and then largely allowed to escape" as a result of their having been, contrary to the advice of John Kerry, too few boots on the ground.

Then we hear that Kerry is a captive of Vietnam Syndrome but "the United States does not have the option of withdrawing from the war on terrorism in the way that it withdrew from Saigon. Kerry's inclinations seem wrong for the times that we live in."

This strikes me as illogical. Isn't the point precisely that, as Mallaby says, we don't have the option of withdrawing from the war on terrorism while we did have the option of withdrawing from Saigon. We seem hear to have been infected with a vicious case of "one dimensional foreign policy syndrome" where the operative question about any figure is how "hawkish" or "dovish" he is. But just as it would be silly for the government to run a pacifist foreign policy, it makes very little sense for a leader to be simply "hawkish" in the sense of being in favor of fighting wars just for the hell of it. One wants a president who is eager to use force when force is appropriate, but not otherwise. One who wants to put more boots on the ground when this is a good idea, but not when it isn't. Vietnam in the late 1960s was not a good moment to put more troops on the ground, Afghanistan in late 2001 was. Kerry's "inclinations" were right in both instances.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:51 AM

August 9, 2004

Sebastian Mallaby is confused

Sebastian Mallaby is a Washington Post columnist, specializing in foreign affairs, so I suppose him to have some knowledge of the parties positions on these issues. This paragraph bespeaks some confusion, a confusion that continues all the way down the page.

Begin with foreign policy. Bush is right about the big lessons of Sept. 11: that terrorism is a mortal threat; that its root causes lie in poverty and state failure; that you can't sit about waiting for the enemy to declare war, so you need the option of preemption.

Bush said that terrorism's root causes lie in poverty? With the power of Google, maybe you could find him saying that once or twice in the last three years. When you're calling the terrorists "evil," you are not saying that terrorism is a choice people reach for when the alternatives are also pretty bad; you are saying that even in the depths of your poverty and disenfranchisement; terrorism is absolutely wrong.

Bush said that terrorism's root causes lie in state failure? Really? If anything, Bush's signature claim about the relationship between terrorism and states, was that the danger was that "rogue" states would co-operate with terrorists.

Failed states would lack the capacity to administer their own territory, much less strike up a co-ordinated alliance with terrorists.

The idea that terrorism is at least partly rooted in poverty and failed states is more an idea associated with Gordon Brown, Tony "tough on terror, tough on the causes of terror" Blair, and Bill Clinton than Bush.

The confusion only deepens when Mallaby writes that you need the option of pre-emption to deal with these threats. How, exactly, does this apply in Iraq? Iraq was not a failed state -- Bush's claim was that the Iraqi state was a little too effective in carrying out its classical state-like functions of exercising a monopoly on legal violence! It was the capacity of Iraq to succeed as an actor on the regional and world stage that had to be dealt with, not it's inability to administer its own territory.

No wonder Mallaby is confused about who to vote for.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:48 PM

August 8, 2004

101 ways to use a roller towel

On the roller towel in the men's bathroom of the Marathon gas station in Miesville (MN) there was a warning:

Use only for drying hands and face. Other uses may be dangerous.

Which just begs the questions, what "other uses" are there for a roller towel? And how could they be dangerous?

For what it's worth, I was always told that drying your face on the rolling linen towels was not the most hygenic, and to be avoided except in desperate circumstances.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:11 PM

August 7, 2004

A question with no good answer

Is National Review Online's execrable group blog, The Corner, related to the one that President Bush tells us we've now turned?

Just wondering ...

A chocolate fish for the best answer.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:30 AM

August 6, 2004

Women's 1500m

Carrie Tollefson beats Jen Toomey (both under the B standard) and Amy Rudolph (just over the B standard), and Suzy-Favor Hamilton dropped out, so if I understand the USATF selection rules ... Carrie Tollefson will be the only U.S. woman in the 1500m.

What was so fascinating abput this qualification race was the passing of the Regina Jacobs/Suzy Favor-Hamilton era in American women's running (and you wonder how Regina Jacobs kept going so long ... ), followed by two 5000m runners (Rudolph and Tollefson) and an 800m runner trying desperately to make the team. For athletes competing at that high a level, the training is often so specifically geared to a particular event that shifting gears to run a different distance is quite a challenge.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:06 PM

health care and income risk

Apropos the earlier comments that you should go read Jacob Hacker's piece in TNR about the riskiness of family incomes ... one of the things that health care reform in the U.S. really should address is the historical accident that health insurance is tied to the employment relationships. This has nothing to do with the question of whether you finance health care publicly or privately, and nothing to do with whether your doctor is in private practice or a salaried government employee.

In fact, untying the employment/health insurance knot would make both the labor market and the market for health care function more smoothly.

However, this historical accident (all the result of the Steelworkers contracts in the 1940s rippling through manufacturing industry) has now become embedded in the tax code too, making reform even more difficult.

Indeed, that's one of the strongest things about Kerry's health care plan is that it proposes reforms that start from where we are now, and realizes that reforming a system with so many players and interests is going to be exceedingly difficult [not to mention that bi-cameral federal system with a separate executive that we call the government]. Reading about Clinton's plans in the early 90s I always got the feeling that that would be great, but how do we get there from here! Better a half-way reform that actually succeeds than a thorough-going plan that never gets enacted.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:46 PM

Risky business

Jacob Hacker's article in TNR on how family incomes are less stable than they used to be in the 1960s and 1970s.

To my mind the one thing you need to know about the economic recovery and the election is this: Since 2001 real corporate profits have risen 62.2%, while real labor compensation has grown just 2.8%.

Since most of the voting public still continue to get most of their income from labor income, and not corporate profits, the apparent disconnect between positive GDP growth and public perceptions of the economy is no disconnect at all.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:06 PM

August 5, 2004

This week's sign that the apocalypse is upon us ...

<IRONY> The end of the world is nigh!! </IRONY>

Pawlenty endorses Palau evangelism festival
Martha Sawyer Allen, Star Tribune
August 5, 2004

Gov. Tim Pawlenty took a detour on his way to meet President Bush in Mankato on Wednesday to endorse this weekend's Twin Cities Christian evangelism festival of Luis Palau.

The governor met him at a reception before a civic and business leaders' luncheon attended by 1,300 people in the Minneapolis Hilton.

To the crowd, Pawlenty said: "I'm proud to be associated with such an important faith event. Faith is an important glue that holds our state together." A member of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, he told the crowd that he had prayed "that God will bless this weekend and continue to bless this great state."

The two-day event on the State Capitol grounds will feature youth-oriented high-energy events, including Christian music, skateboarding and other extreme sports and lots of preaching. The climax each day will be Palau's talk at 7:15 p.m.

He and Pawlenty met a few months ago when Palau was in town meeting with organizers. They renewed their friendship Wednesday.

Palau said in an interview that it was "very motivating" to him to have someone such as the governor endorsing the festival. "Since I was a young man I've always wanted to reach the highest authority as well as the everyday person," he said.


Although leaders still expect more than 200,000 people to attend the festival over the two days, they are dealing with some unknowns. For instance, it's August and it's Minnesota, which means that many people are "at the lake." Also some leaders said many people are on vacation, and one said many people had told him that they will be visiting colleges and universities with their teenage children.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:20 PM

Why does the President hate America?

Here is what President Bush said at the signing of a recent defence bill:

... They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.

Here is a PDF of the transcript in case the White House "corrects" what the President actually said.

What was it that Michael Kinsley said about gaffes ... A gaffe is when a politician accidentally speaks the truth. This was one of those.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:19 PM

August 4, 2004

Sites worth seeing

The American Museum of the Moving Image's online exhibition of presidential campaign ads from 1952 to the present is well worth checking out.

And the Fund Race site, which allows you to see who in your neighborhood has donated how much to which candidates is good for procrastination and local (very local!) political information.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:45 PM

August 3, 2004

Allawi 'execution' watch, day 15

The Sydney Morning Herald's claim that Iyad Allawi shot six people dead makes it into Slate, as an example of the many urban rumors that buttress Allawi's strong man image:

In late June, just before he took office as Iraq's prime minister, Iyad Allawi lined up six prisoners in a Baghdad prison and executed them with a handgun while 30 people watched. So an Australian reporter claims, though he won't reveal his two eyewitnesses.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:20 PM

Not catching a thief

Who would have thought? Sandy Berger is cleared of the most serious accusations against him (stealing original documents), but nary a peep in the mainstream press ...

I claim no originality for the observation that the news cycle seems to be getting faster, and think that this phenomena of the all-clear not getting the publicity of the 'crime' probably part of the "faster politics" idea.

But the observation that events are occurring faster, that somehow history is speeding up, is a long-standing one that you find people making from the 19th century through the present day. I'd wager that the perception that history is speeding up is all part of the larger bundle of social phenomena we call "modernity".

Now, to the extent that transport and communication have definitely speeded up, the notion that the course of history has too, isn't so far-fetched.

But the people who observe that events are going faster rarely measure what they're talking about. Conversely, the people who have looked at how for example, it takes a few hours to physically get from London to New York now, when it used to take days, don't expand on the meaning of that. The only person who seems to have tried, that I've read, is Manuel Castells, in his door-stopping triology wasn't pretty!

Posted by robe0419 at 4:16 PM

August 2, 2004

whenever businessmen get together ...

"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary."

Or so said Adam Smith. A sentiment that's quite relevant to the debate today about whether John Kerry would be better or worse than George Bush for free trade.

Setting aside the "substantive achievement" of Doha (not yet achieved), the questions seem to be
* Which is worse for free trade -- a person who might represent the interests of [some] workers (Kerry), or who might represent the interests of [some] businesses (Bush)?
* How do we evaluate which candidate will be better in the next four year term, given their rhetoric and past actions.

On the first question, it's not clear to me that someone who will listen to the anti-trade arguments of labor is per force any worse than someone who will listen to the anti-trade arguments of specific companies.

Now, it's a truism of these things that the benefits of free trade are diffuse and the costs concentrated, so it always makes sense for the losers to coalesce and seek government support.

In the same way it's probably also true that the losses to labor are more diffuse across thousands of workers than the losses to profits, and so businesses are more likely to put real money behind lobbying for protection.

Thus, even though the candidate responsive to labor's interests might talk a good game about protection, he might not actually do more than that, unless they give up something in return.

Second, are there industries or groups in the coalition supporting a candidate or president, that have an interest in promoting free trade. Here, I suppose one could look at the relative power of financial services, IT and entertainment industries in supporting particular candidates.

Third, would a particular candidate have the political capability to go against the interests of some of their supporters for the better good of the nation. A sort of 'Nixon in China' moment in trade policy. Well, we've seen how much political capital Bush is prepared to invest in dismantling agricultural subsidies or steel tariffs ... and that when his political position was relatively strong.

On the second question, how do we evaluate which candidate would do better by free trade, there's several other considerations beyond the relative pressures of their base to act in particular ways.

First is looking at the records.

Kerry supported NAFTA, and while it's clear in hindsight that was a good idea, it wasn't necessarily popular at the time, so clearly he should be credited for that.

And in the 90s Kerry was supportive of Most Favored Nation status for China Again, a debate that seems trivial in retrospect, but at the time was relatively controversial.

Substantively, then, Kerry has a good record of supporting free trade.

Bush's actions, of course, speak mostly negatively about his desire to advance free trade. I don't think the substantive achievement that is Doha is one that can really be attributed to Bush's free trading spirit, since previous delays were at least partly attributable to the Bushies need to protect sugar farmers in Louisiana and Florida, and other economically marginal, but politically important people.

If Bush gets credit for this breakthrough now, he should get an equal debit for the previous delays, when the developing nations first put a good proposal on the table.

Of course, maybe Bush will push on trade harder in his second term when he's no longer running for re-election, but that's to assume that he won't be trying to shore up Republican senators in the farm states! Not likely.

The other way of looking at it is this; the benefits from free trade are diffuse, the arguments in favor complex, the details of the actual implementation complicated, the negotiation over the international law long and tedious.

Which candidate, Bush or Kerry, seems more likely to think through the case for free trade, and the trade-offs involved, and then have the will to stick it out tto see a deal concluded and implemented. Bush is a president whose economic policy is otherwise prefaced on the fallacy that we can cut taxes and increase spending, and never face the consequences! Not a lot of chances, I think, he'll take the hard road on trade.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:22 PM