February 27, 2008

Girls, girls, girls

This will get a lot of unintended hits ...

I went to the track for the first time in 5 months today. That isn't to say that I ran on the track. It's school sports season in Wellington. This means—one rubber track in the city—that occasionally the track is occupied by high school students doing track and field events. I had a premonition this was going to be the case as I jogged up there, seeing a lot of girls in colorful outfits heading up to the park.

So I did my workout on the soccer field above the track. This was less than ideal, with some tight turns; but first interval workout in 5 months it was probably OK not to know I was a couple of seconds off the pace. The long side of a soccer field is 100m, so you can check your pace. As I jogged around in between my 5 x 1000m and 4 x 400m repeats I got to watch the Wellington East Girls sports get started. Nowadays, befitting its location "East" is a very multi-cultural school with Maori, Pacific Island, Asian, Somali, and European students. But it also has "houses," which American readers may or may not be familiar with. Houses are vertical divisions of a school (as opposed to horizontal grade/age divisions), sometimes reflecting literally where the students slept, if it was a boarding school. But for most purposes "houses" in schools were to organize competitive sports and culture. Few modern schools in New Zealand have houses. The high school I attended, started well into the 1950s, didn't have them. But any school originating before World War II probably did, and maybe still does, like Wellington East. Well, the funny thing, after all that explanation, is that East is very multicultural, but the house names commemorate long-deceased, British-born governors of New Zealand. So, as I ambled around the soccer field I got to hear a diversity of accents screaming "Go Onslow," "Go Bledisloe," "Go Jellicoe! The girls were really getting into the spirit of things, and as they started the 60m sprint the gun fired, and then the gun fired again. False start, I knew, even from the top field. But not most of the girls in the race, who tore off down to the finish, while one girl stopped, and waited for the others to stop. The girls in the stands just kept on cheering for the dead Lords and Governors. This commotion caused the announcer to cry out "Girls, girls, girls, you have to be quiet when the races are starting!!!" And then they ran the race again ...

Posted by eroberts at 6:54 PM

February 20, 2008

Department of too-easy targets

Quite apart from the humor of reading this with the British understanding of bonk (I think we will all agree, often its own reward), how many [in the American sense] bonk in a 5km? I've always thought that bonk was synonymous with hitting the wall, the [near] total exhaustion of your muscle glycogen. You can certainly struggle to the end of a 5km, but it's a different process entirely ...

Posted by eroberts at 1:00 AM

February 14, 2008

What's wrong with a Bush-Clinton dynasty anyway?

I started this blog in the 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign with a comment on presidential polls. Recently U.S. politics has hardly been a feature here. Not because I haven't been thinking about it, both professionally and personally, but because there's so much that could be said and I'm not sure I have anything particularly unique to say very often ...

The question of Presidential dynasties has inevitably come up in this campaign, with Hillary Clinton seeking to take over from George W. Bush. There are some good democratic, republican arguments against dynasties. But the founders of the American republic conceived of republicanism as a mixed form of government. This emphasis on mixed forms—democracy, aristocracy, and Amonarch—was heavily classical, influenced by Greek and Roman thought. The President was the analogue of the monarch.

Monarchy, of course, is dynastic by design. The typical rules of monarchical succession favor the son or grandson, and so has the American republic (Adams, Harrison, Bush). But restoring the Queen would hardly go against monarchical ideas. Thus, I wonder if a Hillary Clinton Presidency really does go against republican ideals. It merely harks back to earlier notions of a monarchy embedded in a republic that America was founded on.

Though she would never phrase it that way herself, Hillary Clinton is clearly running on her time as Queen. Her campaign's invocation of experience leans heavily on her time as First Lady. It's unfortunate, as it makes the Clinton's marriage a legitimate part of public debate. I'm not talking about their sex life, which is neither here nor there. The thing is, the public has no-way of evaluating Hillary's political experience without inquiring into how Bill and Hillary Clinton worked together during the Presidency.

It's quite possible that Hillary made important contribution to decisions in the Bill Clinton White House. But we don't know whether her arguments carried the day, or whether her instincts were the right ones, because they were hidden. When you're not actually elected yourself, the political consequences of being right or wrong are not as substantial. Your arguments in private are largely free of the responsibility to publicly account for your actions and their consequences.

Hillary Clinton wants us to believe she was intimately involved in political decisions in the Bill Clinton White House. That is entirely plausible. It's easy to imagine that being both intensely interested in politics they would discuss Bill's decisions. But think for a moment how much you know about your spouse's job. Even if you were in the same occupation, could you step in and do their specific job? What do spouses actually discuss about work? It might be the substance, the decisions that have to be made, but it might also be weighted towards the frustrations, the office politics, the grievances. Being married to someone does give you a unique insight into their job, but it's quite possibly biased and slanted. Arguably, being secretary or chief of staff is better preparation for actually doing the job.

Now think of some married friends. For arguments sake, let's say they work in basically the same occupation, so they might seek each other's advice about their work. How much do you really know about how much your friends discuss work matters? Even in the best case scenario where they work in the same area, they might choose not to discuss work much at home. Generally speaking I'm unaware how much and in what way my married couple friends share the details of their jobs at home. I'm sure it varies, and in ways I don't expect. And I know those people! How I'd be able to guess what the Clintons shared I really don't know. Other people's marriages are hidden to us (thankfully). Think of times you've been surprised to hear about friends breaking up, who seemed quite happy together in public. How we relate to our spouses or friends in public can hide the true relationship. But this is what the Clintons are both inviting for public discussion, and at the same time providing little detail on: how much and in what ways Hillary was involved in Bill Clinton's Presidency. Some of that answer is obvious from the public functions she performed as First Lady. But the First Lady's evolved public role is—as the Queen—to be ceremonial rather than cerebral. The relevant experience that Hillary Clinton is claiming, having been part of decisions, is necessarily private and wrapped up in the specifics of the Clinton's marriage.

The most specific preparation for taking decisions in elected office, is having held other elective offices. Neither of the Democratic candidates—Clinton or Obama— have great experience in this regard, but the candidate with the most conventional outline of a biography for a Presidential nominee, Bill Richardson, who had been a Congressman, Cabinet Secretary and Governor, went nowhere fast. One might discount Obama's record in the Illinois Senate as being merely part-time state politics, but he has a longer record than Hillary Clinton of having to publicly account for his votes and decisions. Perhaps none of this will matter in the end, as the average American voter doesn't think like me, and John McCain's "experience" in the Senate has not resulted in terribly much important legislation. But restoration politics relies on the people believing the ancient regime was more than its head. A Clinton restoration would signal an American acceptance of the monarchical element in the republic, that the King and Queen were one.

Posted by eroberts at 8:45 PM

February 5, 2008

What is Waitangi Day?

Re-using an old entry, I answer a question that people ask me in person or by email every year. Not the same people, mind you, because then they know ... The question arises from calendars that have international holidays noted on them, which show February 6 to be "Waitangi Day (NZ)."

Waitangi Day is New Zealand's national day. Now, here's the catch for American readers! Whereas in America, and [I think] most of the non-white Commonwealth, the national day is the day the country became independent of Britain , in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the national day celebrates when the British formalised their status as colonizers. This says quite something about the political and social culture of those countries. [The Commonwealth: that's what the British Empire has become, a free Commonwealth of independent ex-colonies, and Britain]

Anyhow, Waitangi Day is always February 6. It's never Monday-ised, so when it falls on a weekend, sorry, no day off!

Waitangi is pronounced why-tungee.

It's also a place, and the Treaty House, outside of which the Treaty was signed is still there. It's in good shape.

The day remembers -- celebrates is probably the wrong word now -- the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which gave the British "governorship" of New Zealand, but left the [indigenous] Maori population with sovereignty.

As you can guess, it's been a mess ever since trying to work out how you can divide governance and sovereignty! Indeed, there's a whole government tribunal that's devoted to doing just that. Understandably they cop it from both sides.

Your next opportunity to learn about strange Antipodean holidays will come on April 25 with ANZAC Day ...

Posted by eroberts at 5:35 AM