Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fessing up: I like national conventions

One doesn't have to look that far to find people bemoaning the massive spectacle that is the national political convention. This post was inspired by one recent conversation at my second blogging home at BlueMassGroup. But I'll admit that I like conventions. I hung around the 2004 gathering in Boston, and have attended every Democratic state convention for the past several years. Here's why:

First off, one common complaint is that such a large amount of money is being wasted. Well, NASCAR strikes me as a waste of money, too -- people driving large machines in circles is a billion-dollar industry. But heck, it isn't my money so I don't really care. Same deal on national political conventions. It's not really my money that's being's the money of the big-ticket donors to the parties. Sure, one can complain about the easy access of corporate suitors to politicians, but that isn't really the dominant argument. So if the Republicans and Democrats want to blow tons of money into putting on a show, go right ahead.

Secondly, I do love a show. I have no grudge against the feting of men and women who can throw a ball or swing a bat, but if they get such adoration, why not offer a little of the same every four years to people who will be spending our money, and making life-and-death decisions on a daily basis? The Opening Ceremony has no real significance to the athletic competitions, but is an inspiring spectacle. It is a key part of the Olympic experience, as the conventions are a key part of the political experience in our country. It's emotional to see Teddy up there, knowing this will likely be his last convention as Senator. I like pageantry, and I mention later on, it is a key part to raising consciousness and excitement about politics in this country.

Thirdly, I think that there is something important that happens at the state and national conventions. The kind of cross-fertilization of activists and politicians from across the country is important to exchange ideas and foster a feeling of community within the party and the country. Robert Putnam isn't the only one to note the gradual fading of American community, and that includes a sense of political community. This line of work that has such a direct impact on the American quality of life is held in such disrepute by Americans -- politics is universally seen as bad. Conventions give Mario Cuomo, Ann Richards, and Brian Schweitzer -- and Barack Obama -- platforms before audiences across America, establishing common touchstones in America that wouldn't otherwise be known. I've blogged in the past of the disastrous state of Belgium because there is no truly national political conversation, and these shows are a key part in avoiding the same fate in our nation.

If we can give over endless hours of primetime to a glorified singing contest that emphasizes the worst of the worst, to watching a parade of men hit a small white ball and wander off after it, to the solving of grotesque fictional crimes in all its gory forensic detail, we can bloody well examine and celebrate the machinery of American democracy. Politics should be seen as honorable and exciting again, and the conventions are part of approaching that change.

Fourthly, politics is a subject about which Americans are pretty ignorant. Take the example of the recent poll wherein 1% of respondents said they thought that Obama was Jewish. Americans are clueless about where things are in the Middle East, and are seemingly ready to give away the Bill of Rights as they don't know what's in it.

If it takes endless stagecraft, bad cover songs, dozens of speeches, and funny hats by the hundreds to hit Americans over the head until they come to understand the broad outlines of the American political scene, so be it. They may be excessive and strictly speaking not necessary to political process, but it is one of the few remaining keys to American political community -- and that I think makes them a good thing. Besides, you can always change the channel.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Palin: Well, she's a woman, so vote McCain

She thought it was a joke when someone called her at 6 a.m. to tell her the news. 'She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president?'

A typical reaction to the news that Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin, still with that new-governor smell, is McCain's pick for vice president. Shock was the universal reaction amongst political junkies. "Whozzat? Is Brady playing tonight?" the universal reaction among everyone else. The above quote, however, is slightly atypical is that this is the reaction of the Republican state senator who represents Palin's hometown. How, um, neighborly.

The Republican Speaker of the House in Alaska checked in with his own ringing endorsement: "'She's old enough,' Harris said. 'She's a U.S. citizen.'" (Thanks to pablo for the spot.) So with disbelief and curtness, Palin is given a rude shove-off by her own Alaska Republican colleagues. What a start.

But understandable, because the Palin choice is underwhelming in almost every metric. Underwhelming as a candidate, as a possible president, as a person of judgment, even as a Republican woman. Palin's got less than two years as Alaska's governor under her belt, she's under investigation for abusing her powers, and other than that is best known for being part-time mayor of a tiny town in the Frontier State (and not a particularly good one, at that).

But what really grinds my gears is the obvious thinking behind this ploy -- that any old set of ovaries will entice Democrats and Independents who sided with Hillary Clinton to check off McCain's name on the ballot. Palin directly invoked her campaign today when speaking in Ohio, and punditry is focused on the idea that this is some sort of olive branch for women voters. An olive branch studded with thorns: Palin wants to take away women's control over their own reproductive health care, keep the door open for private exploitation of our health, and loves the Iraq war. It is impossible to get Palin's own ideas on the issues, as her campaign site has been taken down and redirects to McCain's site (same happens, with Biden in fairness). Apparently merely scrubbing her piece where she is chumming with indicted Senator Ted Stevens wasn't enough...letting Palin speak for herself on anything has been deemed too risky.

So here we have a woman who is pretty much against anything Hillary Clinton is for, who is already being silenced by McCain, and offers nothing to people who backed Clinton beyond a second X chromosome from a swing state.

If the only requirement to be McCain's VP is to be a woman, it really is stunning how deep McCain had to dig to find a Republican woman to run with him. There are five woman Republican Senators, including swing state specials such as Elizabeth Dole and Susan Collins. They didn't make the cut, or didn't want to. Same with three more experienced Republican governors, including Jodi Rell and Linda Lingle, two moderate Republicans with real future potential. Even Republican businesswomen such as Carly Fiorina weren't picked.

Instead we get somebody so far down the depth chart that she's pretty much AA-league material. So apparently, those of us who backed Hillary Clinton are expected to be grateful for any woman -- anywhere on the ticket. Even an inexperienced, reactionary Republican woman. Even a second-tier inexperienced, reactionary Republican woman. Maybe the first tier was too uppity for McCain's liking, maybe they were smart enough to say no.

This is the crassest can't even make the argument that Palin has the most to offer from the small group of prominent Republican women! Do they think that this will actually work?

PS: I will say that I think this does pretty much put Alaska in McCain's column. Alaska was always a long shot, though, and what the three he gains there, are more than balanced by the four he's going to lose in New Hampshire for picking such a reactionary unknown.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Convention Wrap-Up

First time I've heard Tim Kaine speak for a while. Pretty good, though the "move mountain" bit was odd.

Surprisingly warm reception for Bill Richardson (my first choice going back to July '07), though he did come in fourth in the race, and the bronze medalist isn't in town. "McCain may pay hundreds of dollars for his shoes, but we're the ones who will pay for his flipflops." Cute. His speech isn't amazing, but far better than one might expect given his reputation as a poor public speaker. And I don't mean to sound whiny, but at this point I find it refreshing for a politician to end his/her remarks with something other than "God bless..." In this case, "let's do it!"

I thought the goatee looked bad on Richardson...then I saw Stevie Wonder in a goatee. Ugh.

Just noting that Al Gore got a better speaking slot than John Kerry.

Nancy Pelosi has looked classy every moment of this convention. And seeing Joe Biden on my tv always makes me smile.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Convention thoughts, night 3

Melissa Etheridge's medley was beautiful. I love that singer.

Did Mark Begich skip the convention?

Retired CSM Michele Jones may not be a politician, but she is a strong, excellent speaker. I hope she ends up on a ballot somewhere soon.

Bill Clinton is the only person I've ever seen for whom "President of the United States" seems the natural position.

Massachusetts really does kick butt...I think Illinois may be the only state to have both Senators and governor get prime time spots.

Good that John Kerry mentioned Georgia in his speech. It's funny that Kerry talks credit for saying four years ago that the American flag does not belong to any political party, but all of us...Dean was saying that back when Kerry was attacking him.

I love the emotion on Jill Biden's perfectly formulated politician wife here. Good speech by Biden. Not awesome, but quite good.

It took 232 years...

...but moments ago the first African-American in history won the nomination by a major political party for the office of President of the United States. Two hundred thirty-two years is much, much more than enough.

Many walls remain to be broken, ceilings to be shattered...but today was a small step closer to fulfilling the promise America made to its people 232 years ago.

Unity in words

I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me? Or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?

Those are the reasons I ran for President. Those are the reasons I support Barack Obama. And those are the reasons you should too.

PS: My lady Debbie Wasserman Schultz seconded Obama's nomination today. She brought up the Israel question, privacy rights, education, women's rights...all the things I could have wanted. Did a good job, too. Interesting choice: Obama's nominator/seconders consist of members of Congress, while Hillary's certainly don't. Meanwhile (sigh), another DailyKos front-pager whines about Congresswoman Schultz because she didn't mention the poster's pet candidate on a list at a speech recently. She can forget about ever getting a fair shake at Kos, just like Senator Clinton...reminiscent of the traditional media, that.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Most controversial post ever.

More controversial than Barack v. Hillary, No Child Left Behind v. real education, even Christian v. Rami.

Deep breath.

I like instant replay in sports. I think it should be used as widely as possible when suitable.


Here's the secret. Because it's always right. And most fans want the game to be played fairly and evenly, which means that you don't win because the ref/ump didn't see right. On big things such as a touchdown or goal, the NFL and NHL are right, it should be used. Congratulations to Major League Baseball for realizing that if the World Series goes one way because a foul ball is called a homerun, that would be bad. They're fixing the mistake before it gets made.

I don't get the whole "oh, human error hehe" argument against it...if human error from officials is such an endearing part of the game, why not employ Mr Magoo clones for every role. I call BS.

Sure, instant replay on balls and strikes or 2 v. 3 point shots would interrupt the flow, and lead to a worse experience. But for the big, gamemaker calls, instant replay just makes good sense. And do you know what is possibly the biggest gamemaking call in sports? Whether someone scored in international soccer. Hey, if the average winning margin is somewhere around 1 point, getting that single call wrong would be a game-changer. So what does international soccer do?

FIFA's International Football Association Board voted last March to stop all experiments with technology that could determine whether balls cross goal lines.


Convention thoughts, night 2

I'm glad Sebelius didn't end up as VP...what a deadly boring speaker.

I'm not listening to every word of the speeches, but it seems that I'm hearing John Kennedy's name an awful lot, Bill Clinton's nearly not at all. Wasn't he the Democrat who presided over the post-war record stretch for American prosperity? I'd think that would count for something even if he is married to the lady who almost beat Obama.

Aaaah...stop trying to dance, delegates!

Signs that have light blue writing on medium blue background: pretty but hard to read, and they all look alike.

NY Gov. Paterson on McCain: "If he's the answer, then the question must be ridiculous."

Mark Warner on the last 8 years: "An energy policy that basically says 'let's go borrow money from China to buy oil from countries that don't like us.' " Bingo.

Deval Patrick walks out to the tune of "Smooth". Heh. I caught a use of "together we can" in there. I can see why Deval would be tapped to give the education speech given his personal history, but as someone who's read his "Readiness Report", it doesn't ring great to me. And I don't know what it is with the lighting, but he looks kinda orange. Bit of a hurried speech, but I'm sure nobody wanted to tell Hillary, the media, or anyone else that this guy was going to delay Hillary's Moment. Not fair, but true.

And know the lady. Thoughts later on her.

Ah crap


Russia stunned the West on Tuesday by recognizing the independence claims of two Georgian breakaway regions...The announcement by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ignored the strong opposition of Europe and the United States, and signaled the Kremlin's determination to shape its neighbors' destinies even at the risk of closing its doors to the West.

"We are not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a Cold War," President Dmitry Medvedev said hours after announcing the Kremlin's decision.

Russia really seems willing to make a big fuss out of these regions. I wasn't around for the coldest days of the Cold War, when people were ready to launch nukes over the geologic equivalent of dandruff in the China Straits. I don't see how South Ossetia and Abkhazia are worth all this rot, anyway. For either side.

The other thing I can't understand is the utter absence of calls for a referendum in these regions on independence. Even before the recent fighting, it seemed to me that the population clearly wanted out of Georgia. If Puerto Rico and Quebec can have independence referendums, why not Abkhazia and South Ossetia? We can load up the place with international observers just to make sure things are on the up and up. Georgia loses de jure control of regions over which it lost de facto control ages ago, the residents of the regions get what they want, and nobody dies or goes to war.

It worries me that Russia is ignoring such a simple, clean, legal step that would get it what it wants. That tells me that Russia isn't interested in those two regions per se, but rather it's interested in a new sphere of influence, and the people of Georgia are merely a proxy for advertising that fact. Not good.

And heaven help us if Cap'n Shoot 'em Up ends up as president. Oy.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Convention thoughts

A - I thought the convention was boring from watching it in primetime. Recording the entire thing on C-Span showed me whole new levels or depths of boredom. Turns out the boring people were the good speakers. These warm-up acts are atrocious. I feel bad for them though -- it's evident that most delegates aren't there, and the ones that are present are milling about and talking. Natural to bite off one's words, speak tightly and loudly seek applause; it just looks bad on television.

B - After 16 days of watching the Chinese flag, the graphic on the DNC podium is awful...looks like the Communist Chinese flag with some mountains drawn over it.

C- Ted Kennedy...what a lion.

D-I had no idea Harkin could sign. Cool.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Don't let Mark Cuban see this...

...the man doesn't need new ideas.

Cuban Athlete Might Be Banned After Kicking Ref In Face

Angel Matos was winning 3-2, with 1:02 left in the second round, when he fell to the mat after being hit by his opponent, Kazakhstan's Arman Chilmanov. Matos was sitting there, awaiting medical attention, when he was disqualified for taking too much injury time...

Matos angrily questioned the call, pushed a judge, then pushed and kicked referee Chakir Chelbat of Sweden, who will require stitches in his lip. Matos spat on the floor and was escorted out.


Matos' coach was unapologetic. "He was too strict," Leudis Gonzalez said, referring to the decision to disqualify Matos. Afterward, he charged the match was fixed, accusing the Kazakhs of offering him money.

McCain's Houses: Age or Riches?

Interesting phrasing in Obama's tv ad reacting to McCain's admission that he didn't know how many houses he owns:

Around the 17 second mark, the narrator says "then again, that same day when asked how many houses he owns, McCain lost track. He couldn't remember."

Does that strike you as saying "McCain has so many houses he can't keep track" or "McCain is so old he can't keep track"?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Oh, the suspense is boring me

So Obama is going to let the world know his vice presidential pick soon. A week later, McCain will do the same.

And then those persons will make a bunch of largely underreported speeches in the less important campaign areas, participate in a forgettable debate, then one of them will be elected vice president. S/he will then enter a job whose main duty is to wake up, say "is the president alive? Great, now what?"

And for every Cheney who muscled his way into being in charge, you have...well, nearly everybody else. Truman, who didn't know about the atom bomb until FDR's widow told him. Or this guy, a man so underwhelming that he managed to make Lincoln's Vice President into a role negligible to American history. Let's face it, Vice President Gore could have been kidnapped for months before the general public noticed.

Sure, there's an outside chance s/he may end up as president, either upon untimely death -- though one could debate if McCain's passing at 73 would be "untimely" -- or springboard to a future campaign. But let's be honest with ourselves; much of this discussion is just to fill time and space until something interesting happens.

Maybe McCain could roll out his top five right now, and eliminate one every other day -- let's go whole-hog on the showbiz aspect of this race for second place.

Just kidding -- it's really me. Just trying to lower expectations.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ha! Wal-Mart gets slapped

Almost missed this, but in great news, Wal-Mart got slapped a bit today:

A Quebec arbitrator has imposed a collective agreement on Wal-Mart for the first time in the world's largest retailer's history.

The arbitrator released the decision Friday on the contract for eight workers at a tire-and-lube garage at a Wal-Mart store on Maloney Boulevard in Gatineau, just across the river from Ottawa. The workers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada.

Guy Chenier, head of the local representing the workers, said the union is delighted with the deal, which gives the workers raises averaging 35 to 40 per cent effective immediately, as well as more vacation.

This is the first time in North America that a Wal-Mart, infamous for union-busting and intimidation tactics, is opening its doors with unionized workers who are using their rights. Quebec has a strong and assertive union movement, and I'm not the list bit surprised that Wal-mart's uppence is coming there. Oh, and wittle Walmart isn't happy...

A spokesman for Wal-Mart said the company is unhappy with the decision and it is "incompatible" with the company's way of doing business.

Dang right! Paying people a living wage is certainly incompatible with how Walmart makes money. I wouldn't plan any shopping trips to the first unionized Evilmart in North America, given their past history...

The retailing behemoth, whose $10 billion annual profits are based on low prices, low expenses and its relentless pace of store openings, announced it will shut the doors here May 6 after workers voted to make this the first unionized Wal-Mart in North America.

So props to my former home of Quebec, one of the best aspects of North America.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Who Picks the Olympic Host: 100 Faces

'Tis the season and all that. As we watch one of the most tyrannical regimes on Earth glory in the Olympic Games, some questions arise: Who decided to put it there? and Can MyFavorite City host the Olympics?

In part I of this series, I addressed how the massive flows of money toward the Olympic Movement from the United States guarantee that America can expect to host the games semi-regularly. We can see down below how swift movement can be in favor of a certain region hosting the games when it is "their turn". In Part III I'll look at the exact requirements for host cities -- including why I believe Boston would not be able to host a summer Olympics. This installment, however, is dedicated to the question of the body who selects the sites for the Olympic Games.

That body is the International Olympic Committee. There is little that is representative or democratic about this body; current committee members elect new ones. Thus, it wavers close to a popularity contest, and anybody with agendas about seriously altering the mission of the Olympics should keep such thoughts to themselves.

The body is not particularly representative of the wider world, or even the sporting world. The full list is here, but there are different ways to break down the population:

83 men, 18 women.
41 Olympians, 60 non-.
7 members of royalty, 1 count, 2 sheiks.

But the most important layout for our purposes is as follows:

Region# Members
North America/Mexico/Caribbean12
Central/South America7

This is certainly unbalanced relative to the demographics of the world, but how representative is it of those involved with the Olympic Movement? I can't find any data grouping delegation size by region or even country since the IOC does not break down delegation size by country for current or past games. Certainly, countries such as India sent very few athletes per citizen -- only 65 are in Beijing, compared to roughly 630 from the United States. On the other hand, you have Norway sending a large contingent if you add in the winter games. (Due to its performance in skiing, Luxembourg has the highest medal-to-citizen ratio in the Olympics).

Even with that in mind, however, I have to believe that the IOC is even more European than the Olympic playing field. I see two reasons for this: first of all, it is a process to get onto the IOC, so its composition will have a lag behind the reality on the field. Until the 1980s, African and Asian teams were small, and it was largely a European and North American affair. Secondly, people tend to support those with whom they are most comfortable, and a group of cosmopolitan European royals face a barrier in getting to know and supporting an athlete from, say, Indonesia.

Representatives of cities trying to land the Olympics lobby IOC members at sports congresses, IOC meetings, and the Olympics themselves. However, in the wake of the scandal wherein bribes were alleged to have been spread by officials who successfully lobbied for Salt Lake City to win the 2002 winter games, changes were made in the process. In a move that I can only call baffling, the IOC decided that the surest way to stamp out suspicions of unfair play in the bidding process was not to open the process up, but to make it even more shadowy. Rather than allowing IOC members to visit bid cities at will, it was decided that an "evaluation commission" would visit the city and write up a report, to be combined with materials provided by the bidding cities. This is all the members have to go on when choosing who hosts the games.

Of course, much, much more goes into it than merely selecting the technically superior bid; if that were the only criteria, the Olympics would likely travel a narrow circuit of Western metropoli. There is a desire to spread out the host cities so that each region can see the Olympics nearby as well. Take the last three decades of the Summer Olympics:
1968: North America 1972: Europe 1976: North America 1980: Eastern Europe 1984: North America 1988: Asia 1992: Europe 1996: North America 2000: Australia 2004: Europe 2008: Asia 2012: Europe

You can see why I'm down on Madrid's chances for 2016. Ditto on Tokyo's. While North America will host the 2010 Winter Games, well, who really cares?

The selection voting process itself is a familiar one: all IOC members have a vote in each round. In the first round, all cities are on the ballot, and the lowest scoring city drops out; those votes must shift elsewhere. This continues until a city wins the majority of the votes available. Since voting is secret, trying to divine the movement of votes in the wake of a city's loss is a favorite Olympic sport. A good example is what happened in 1996:

Round 1 2 3 4 5
Atlanta19 20 26 34 51
Belgrade 7 - - - -
Manchester 11 5 - - -
Melbourne 11 21 16 - -
Toronto 14 17 18 22 -

Doesn't take a genius to see what happened there: one the weak bids (Belgrade and Manchester) were dispatched , the real business began. Melbourne lost out, so those votes in Australia/Oceania distributed evenly, but the supporters of a North American games moved en masse from Toronto to Atlanta when it was the only option left. There was sentimental reasons for Athens to host the centennial Olympics, but they did not overcome concerns about infrastructure, and concerns about 2 straight European Games. Compare this to the process that led to London's win of the 2012 Olympics: of the five bidding cities, it was the three European capitals (London, Paris, Madrid) that had the lion's share of support: it was Europe's turn, and everybody knew it.

Beijing won the hosting rights for the current games easily; the money lure was impossible to resist, particularly after IOC President Jacques Rogge lobbied for Beijing.

Next up: what does it take to host the Olympics?

Geez I love this guy

There are two Democrats who've captivated me this cycle. At home, it's Ed O'Reilly, who shares my values on questions such as foreign intervention, education, and marriage equality. I've written about him extensively.

But my favorite candidate this year is my man, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. I was a huge fan, but after this email, I'm ready to start a club...

My son Jacob is six years old and like any parent his future is never far from my mind.

That's why yesterday I unveiled my plan to bring local control back to Alaska families and make sure that Jacob and all other young Alaskans are given the skills to compete in a global economy.

But I can't get the job done all alone and that's why I need your help.

Will you sign up as a citizen co-sponsor to my education plan?

Our children represent our state's most important resource and that's why I am putting forward an education plan which pays for better teachers, better schools, and a better future for our children.

The change we need starts with getting rid of No Child Left Behind, a bill that has been a disaster for Alaska. Alaska doesn't fit the cookie-cutter approach from Washington and it's time to return local control to our communities.

We must provide universal access to Pre-K, invest in high-quality curriculum material, make college affordable, and Native Alaskan educational opportunities at all levels.

These are just a few things that I lay out in my education policy.

Join me in bringing change to education in Alaska.

The future of our state and our country lies in the kind of education we give our children.

Help me ensure that Jacob and all Alaskan children have the top notch education they deserve by becoming a co-sponsor to my education plan and inviting your family and friends to do the same.

Thanks for your support,

He's marking education as a key issue, and he's got the right stand on it. The future of the party is bright.

Friday, August 15, 2008

"Let the Celebrations Begin"

So says the front page of news. In the midst of tense all-party talks to form a unity government in that wracked nation, the "top story" is headlined "Coventry Does it the Only Way She Knows How: Breaking the World Record". The gold medal means so much in a time of such sorrow for Zimbabwe.

Think of Manus Boonjumnong, the Thai boxer who upset for a gold in Athens...and received a call from the King of Thailand at ringside.

It's a thrill to see Phelps chase a gold rush in Beijing, but some of those individual medals are worth more to the athletes and nations than a mountain of gold. There's Benjamin Boukpeti, who won Togo's first-ever Olympic medal -- a bronze -- in canoeing (yes, canoeing). His photo is in two different places on the index page of the federal government's website.

Rasul Boqiev scored Tajikistan's inaugural Olympic medal as well, a bronze in Judo. I suspect Boqiev is getting similar treatment in Tajik media and government, but it's kinda tough to tell what with their wacky alphabet.

Every medal has a great's worth tracking them down.

I remember an offensive poster that was produced by Nike in 1996 that read "You don't win silver. You lose gold." Much better is Visa's tag line this summer.

Go world.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

America's Price: Why the US Are Serial Olympic Hosts

Following the jumpin' Olympic Open Thread over on BMG, I decided to start a mini-series on site selection for the Olympics. I see the series running as follows:

1 - America's Price: Why the US Are Serial Hosts
2 - Who Picks the Host: 100 Faces
3 - What It Takes to Host, and Why Boston Doesn't Have It

I will react to responses and questions as we go along. While no expert, I am a devoted follower of the Olympics, completing two papers at university on the subject, including research from the 1976 archives. I attended the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and went through Olympic HQ in Lausanne, Switzerland as well (great museum). Oh, and if you want to hold to strong idealism about the Olympics, best skip this post.

Rule #1 of Site Selection: It's about the money, honey. In the Miss Universe pageant, there are three countries guaranteed to advance beyond the first round: the US, Venezuela, and the host. Why? It keeps the televisions on in those countries, guaranteeing more eyeballs for the ads and more revenue for the pageant (Venezuela is pageant-crazy, and we're, well, rich). Here be the money. The Pope spends a fair bit of time here in the United States. Why? Though thin on adherents, the United States funds much of the modern Catholic church; twenty billionaire friends of the Church in the United States matches the fiscal impact of an entire Latin American country.

And for the Olympics, here be the money. The current worldwide Olympic sponsors are: Coca-Cola, AtosOrigin, GE (incl. NBC), Johnson&Johnson, Kodak, Lenovo, Manulife, McDonald's, Omega, Panasonic, Samsung, and Visa. Of the entire planet, these are the top 12. Broken down by national headquarters, this global movement carries at the top tier 1 sponsor each from China, Switzerland, France, South Korea, Japan, and Canada...and 6 American companies. Half of the top-line sponsors of the Olympic Movement are American. That title runs over $70 million per company. That's nearly half a billion dollars that the Olympic Movement gets from America.

Don't forget, Pierre de Coubertin was clear on the need to bring the United States into the games...after the first summer games were hosted in Athens, the second in his hometown of Paris (a disaster), they went to St. Louis (also a disaster.) Furthermore, in the wake of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, an exercise so fiscally disastrous that the bill was just paid off 2 years ago, the Games seemed so fiscally risky that Los Angeles had the only serious bid for the 1984 Games after Teheran dropped out. It was at those games that Peter Ueberroth's and the LAOOC developed the private partnership model that put the Olympics on sound financial footing.

So the financial model of the Olympic Movement is indeed Made in America...and funded in large part by America. I'm not saying that the 100-something mandarins who choose where to host the Olympics like that fact, but they accept it. As with, say, the United Nations or the Roman Catholic Church, the Olympic Movement realizes that American interest remains a key part of the organization's health.

Now, how to foster American interest in the Olympics. Hmm. Now, I'm not saying NBC and the IOC make a deal that America will host the games regularly...but I'm not saying they haven't. But I will offer a bit of evidence based on the schedule of the current Olympic Games. It's notable that the medal rounds of sports that most fascinate American viewers -- gymnastics and swimming -- occur as early as 10 in the morning local time. That's no good for China fans who actually attend the games (possibly leading to the ol' empty seat problem). Note that the finals for fencing or archery occur at a very reasonable 8 pm local time. Nor is this schedule any good for swim-crazy Australia...a country that relies on swimming for the majority of its medals can view the finals around noon their time. The quirky schedule doesn't even benefit the athletes -- ask Olympic giant Ian Thorpe, or the British.

NBC requested the change in order to show the results live in American prime time. Conspiracy theory? Nope -- the Chinese government says so. So, if we're willing to schedule the Olympic events to meet the needs of an American tv network, you don't think that host selection won't follow the same route? It's not as if a sports-crazy rich nation is a hard sell in any case, without pressing extra hard on the pedal. I mean, if a city can win the Olympics mainly due to the fact that its the hometown of the then Olympic chief/ex-Fascist minister, what is sacred?

So thanks for playing, Madrid, but you ain't getting the 2016 Olympic Games if the last host city is less than one thousand miles away. Rio, your day will come, but not in eight years. And Tokyo, you have a great bid. But Chicago 2016 can supply a peacock-festooned, Coke-drinkin, Kodak-clear, Big Mac-sized 5 million reasons it will be the host city, and they all have Ben Franklin's face on them. This isn't cocky American jingoism -- this is no way to run the Olympics -- but the truth isn't always what we'd like it to be.

Next installment: Who picks the games.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Thoughts on the way back from the video store

-It's getting ridiculous that a late fee from a video store can sometimes end up less than the cost of gas to deliver the DVD on a dedicated trip.

-The movie was The Golden Compass, the subject of this blog's first post. Nicole Kidman is to be credited with a good portrayal of one of the more elegantly conceived characters I've come across. The ending is foolish but necessary from a Hollywood perspective, and falls short of the book's. And Hollywood's decision to remove religion from the story in any significant way -- recasting the Dobsonesque theocracy called the Magisterium as a simple tyranny, and slipping only one oblique mention of God -- rather neuters the story. Still a good story, but not what it truly is -- imagine The Hunt For Red October without the fact that the Soviets and Americans were bitter enemies. I have no idea if they can keep that up for the rest of the story arc without kneecapping the richness of the narrative.

-It's funny that the symbol for Christianity is a painful method of execution, for Judaism a military shield, and for Islam a serene astronomical scene.

-John Meyer has about as much business singing "Free Fallin'" as Osama bin Laden would have singing "Hava Nagila". Combined with Kid Rock's Frankensteinian hybridization of "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Werewolves of London", this is a bad summer for remakes. Not that remakes are all bad, mind you: Billy Idol did a great "Mony, Mony", Celine Dion's English career was launched with her remake of Jennifer Rush's "The Power of Love". But the ultimate remake is so well-known, that few people realize that it is a remake:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Watching the Good Guys Lose in Georgia

There isn't a whole lot on the political blogs about the Russian invasion of Georgia. I don't think that's due to apathy about the subject, but rather the fact that there's not much to say or do. We're watching a war in which the good guys are going to lose. It sucks.

Heck, it's depressing to imagine one sovereign nation quite openly invading another. Even Eritrea and Ethiopia have the good graces to be somewhat circumspect in their involvement in the morass that is Somalia. Preceding that, the last completely open invasion that I can remember is Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. We've become used to a vicious yet graceful dance as the international system today -- trade talks, weapons sales, surrogate insurgencies, armed force training, banking links, etc. The massive payments to Colombia and Egypt from the United States are the main reasons our nations are so close; that method isn't much more subtle than gunboat diplomacy, but at least it's a minor improvement. Not that the cloak-and-dagger surrogate stuff is an improvement -- Afghanistan and Iraq don't benefit from their neighbors' meddling, surely. However, deniable interference makes coming down from confrontation easier; there's less loss of face in severing sever links with a militia than to go to a peace conference and sign a treaty, etc.

But men in one set of uniforms killing men in another set? It seems so archaic. There's an obvious winner here, and an obvious loser. There's obvious hostility and worse still, naked ambition here. There's no hope in Russia's posture. Even if -- if -- Russia was legitimate in occupying the restive areas of Georgia, there is no consequent reason to further occupy undisputed Georgian territory, or demand the replacement of its head of government. There is no effort on Russia's part to project this as anything other than a 19th century style land grab.

I think that's what is depressing, in the end. There's no way to pretend that this will be easily rectified, that there's any real principle at stake here, other than the use of power for power's sake. In all likelihood, Russia will have de facto peeled off some territory of a weaker neighbor, and the rest of the world will barely have done anything to prevent that other than a "stern word" in between taking in sporting events. Add on the surreal fact that the United States is basically ferrying troops back into Georgia to fight the Russians, while working closely with the Russians to ensure that Americans aren't harmed in the process.

This also casts Russia in pallid terms. Democracies don't act like this...even quasi-democracies steer clear of this behavior. It's stunning how smoothly Putin has regressed the Russian nation into a place where people applaud tanks rather than eat enough food.

And worst of all, the United States can't really do anything. This isn't Iraq or the Taliban...the Russians won't be pushed around militarily, and we'd be fools to try. It's not Bush's fault, either. I can't imagine President Gore or Kerry could have talked Putin down from this ledge, and neither would certainly be willing to bring the United States into a very hot war with Russia. It is true that America has grown isolated under Bush's incompetent occupation of the White House, but I can't imagine Britain, France, or India are looking the other way because of that. Simply put, Georgia isn't worth the price for the Western World, and Putin knows that.

The good guys are going to lose. The bad guys are going to win. And we can't do anything about it.

If you want more up-to-the-minute detail, check out the following:
Rustavi 2: More news from a Tblisi tv station.
President of Georgia's site (Note, previous 2 sites now hosted in Atlanta due to Russian hacker attacks on the Georgian servers)
Civil Daily News: English news from Georgia
Wu Wei: On the ground, blogging in in Georgia
Government of Georgia official site: The official site, now under attack, same as the people it serves.
BBC News: Informed if biased coverage of the conflict.

Back to School tips

Though the moment is still at least 2 weeks away, we're getting to the point where "back-to-school" is more than the latest merchandising season. Particularly "school-phobic" kids are going to worry about heading back already, and there is a blizzard of advice out there. I thought I'd offer some teacher's-view tips on preparing for what the Québécois breezingly label "la rentrée".

Gather information. The best weapon against fear is knowledge. Knowledge is either half (GI Joe) or most of (Sun Tzu) the battle, after all. As soon as a student learns who will be their upcoming teachers, get the scoop, and go deeper than the vague labels of "nice" or "mean," "easy" or "hard". You and your child can get a kid's-eye view: talk to neighbors, siblings, churchgoers, teammates, etc., about their discipline style. What rules are bendable, which are sacrosanct? What is something that is worth anticipating? Who cares about spelling, who doesn't? What is the hardest project? Keep in mind the parent or child telling you this information. "He cares too much about handwriting" can often be parent-ese for "he cares more than I do about handwriting".

If your child is entering a new building, take advantage of any type of open house/ committee meeting/ sporting event held in the new building. The chance to just walk the building will give the kid a leg up on everyone else. Where are the lockers, the gym, cafe, auditorium...bathrooms? If entering middle school, buy a combination padlock and practice solving it; lockers are the number one source of school fear for incoming middle schoolers.

Routine? What routine?. A lot of articles recommend getting students into a "school-day" bedtime/wake-up schedule about a week in advance. Personally, I think that's ridiculous. No matter what circadian strategies you employ, any decent kid and teacher is almost guaranteed to toss and turn the night before the first day. So you've robbed the last late nights of summer vacation in return for...another late night. Why not enjoy the last few nights of freedom since you're not going to sleep the night before, anyway?

Shop light. You know those lists of "school supplies" at the entrance to Staples, Office Max, etc.? Those aren't supplied by the district or the teacher...those are supplied by the companies hoping to sell you everything on the list. Teachers can get particular about needed supplies, so no sense in buying the "wrong" notebook. Also, I've seen parents work out organizational schemes with binders and folders, and thrust them on the child...only to be surprised that the scheme doesn't work. Organization has to be created by the person using it, and it may take 1 or 2 weeks of class before a student knows what works best for them.

However, I do recommend obtaining the following supplies:

Lots of pens/pencils. Hold at least half in reserve as others get lost during the year.
White-out and/or erasers. Trust me.
Colored pencils. You'd be surprised how often they come up.
A roll of quarters. After school soda machine time.
Extra t-shirts. Those gym clothes aren't coming back anytime soon.
Poster board. Get it now, or the Sunday night before the Monday due date.
Extra printing cartridge. Same deal.

Bonus materials:
Mini staplers. No waiting for the class stapler to come around. As cheap as 25 cents per.
Scissors. Ditto.
Eyeglass repair kit, for the spectaclly-enabled.
Those Tide detergent pens and safety pins, for the fashion conscious.

Set goals and targets: Many children are ready to sink or swim on the first term, and that approach may work for them. Others, though, need some guidance in setting goals (long-term) and targets (short-term). For sophomores and younger, the more specific, the better. Telling him/her to "do your best" is hilariously useless. "Doing as well as you can" is the dream goal of a child and a politician: it's undefinable, arguable, and best judged by the subject who has a vital stake in that judgment's result.

More important than goals are targets. Saying "make the honor roll" is a distant goal, and the intermediate steps may be much more realizable. Concrete least 1 test in September with a 90 or above. Staying after school for help at least twice in September. An 85 or higher on the summer project. Small concrete targets are steps on the staircase to a goal.

Make sure to emphasize that targets are not do-or-die. Hitting 4 of 5 targets makes for a good month. There is strong division on the subject of rewards linked to academic performance. I personally think cash rewards are deleterious in the long run; I perfer more intangible rewards, closely linked to real results. Straight A's and B's indicate that stuff is getting done; extend bedtime by 30 minutes. Allow school-night socializing, etc.

Go into it with another family. Contact the family of your child's best friend and sound them out. If you can sync up approaches and/or incentives, that gives your child an in-school support system for good times and bad. Don't go for a cookie cutter approach between your children, but knowing that Mr&Mrs. Smith care as much as your parents doubles the motivation.

Relax. Nothing that happens in the first week of class will determine your child's success for that year. Finishing the week is often an accomplishment. Plan something for the first weekend, just to have something you can anticipate. As Dr. Spock so well said, "relax. You know more than you think you do."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Kerry Not Doing His Part for Democrats in the Senate

As readers are fully aware, John Kerry is doing his best to ignore democratic (and Democratic) fundamentals by ducking a debate with fellow Democrat Ed O'Reilly. While there is no real excuse for this for someone interested in true citizenship, some of Kerry's supporters (example, example) are implying that Kerry's time as an Obama surrogate is so precious, that not one evening can be spared for treating his constituents with that basic respect. This rationalization is shaky, in my eyes -- voters demonstrated a lack of interest in Kerry's opinions about what a president should do -- but it's the only one I've seen.

So, one might be forgiven for coming away with the impression that John Kerry is focused like a laser on Democratic success in 2008. Difficult, then, to square that away with this data, courtesy of a meticulous diary on MyDD. The writer plods through finance reports to report on sitting Democratic Senators' financial situation, and the amount they and their PAC have donated to Democratic candidates for the Senate, their PACs, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. This is based on the well-regarded 2006 "Use It or Lose It" campaign to ensure safe Democrats do their part by sharing their financial chests with candidates who could put it to better use than collecting interest and waiting for someone a level up to retire.

My first step was to pare sitting Democratic Senators not up for re-election in this cycle. Frankly, they can't fairly be expected to have as much Cash on Hand as their fundraising is in a low gear, and should definitely be generously aiding their current and would-be colleagues in their drive for more Democrats. So just looking at the 2008 candidates, this is some of what we learn:

Kerry is flush with cash. Largely due to his decision to reserve himself about $16 million of donors' money from his presidential run, Kerry has more money than any senator running in 2008. Twice as much as red-state Democrats such as Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu. So, given his relatively easy path to re-election, Kerry should be freely giving his money in for his colleagues, right? Hah!

Kerry is miserly. Despite his huge advantage, most Democrats have given more to ensure a Democratic Senate than Kerry. Despite an easy path in the general, Kerry is holding on to his money tightly; he has given less than all but four candidates. Biden spent much of his cash running for president, no doubt, and I am willing to grant extenuating circumstances to Tim Johnson. Lautenberg (who had a strongly contested primary against a sitting Congressman), Levin, and Kerry have absolutely no excuses. Shame. Even Mary Landrieu, the only Democrat who at one point appeared to face a real contest, is doing more than Kerry.

Bad as this is, things are even worse when contrasting Kerry's almsgiving with his cash advantage. I made another chart expressing Senators' giving as a percentage of their cash on hand to neutralize fundraising differences. Senators Baucus and Rockefeller continue to impress, as do Pryor and Reed. And, all things considered, Biden comes off a far sight better. Here's is the result:

Kerry gives less than 1% of his cash on hand to Democrats who are in far tougher races than he is. Max Baucus, a Democratic Senator from Montana, has been 30 times as generous as John Kerry. The constituents of Senators Levin and especially Lautenberg have some questions to ask. But I have some questions for my Senator.

If Kerry can't bother to debate a fellow Democrat...if he can't bother to respect the voters of Massachusetts...can't he at least do the bare minimum to give us a Senate working for America? Isn't $6 million enough?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Interesting People: Kirsty Coventry

A short installment in my ongoing series on "interesting people". I was a bit surprised while watching the Olympics to see a white woman swimming for Zimbabwe in lane eight of a final. Given the sordid past of President Robert Mugabe regarding the white farmers of this country and its ongoing racial tension, I will admit to being taken aback.

That lady wasn't just a random athlete, turns out, but rather has been named a "golden girl" by Mugabe himself. Coventry has tricky shoals to negotiate as a popular white figure in a country torn by racial divisions instigated by the government. She arose to prominence after winning a gold, a silver, and a bronze medal in Athens, and naturally her opinion as a prominent white in Zimbabwe has been sought. Check out this careful statement about current life back home:

Things aren't that good. I take any opportunity I can to raise our country's flag really high and get some shining positive light on things over there.

This article from the Australian network ABC makes for interesting reading, and I recommend it. A shorter version -- naturally -- comes via USA Today. She has a political and national pressure on her beyond anything an American athlete has faced in decades. The closest cognate that comes to mind is one of my favorite figures, sprinter Cathy Freeman from Australia (I should write more about her later, but till now check out this profile.)

I can tell you that I'll be rooting for Ms. Coventry in every event she competes, regardless of who else is in the field. She deserves it, and all of Zimbabwe needs that cheer as well. Oh, and she just scored a silver in the 400m individual relay. Go Kirsty.

What Olympic sports really should go? My list.

HubBlog often has some good stuff, but this recent post on cutting the "fat" off the Olympics has me curious. Read it over there, or take a gander at this excerpt:

One of the problems of the modern Olympics, in my opinion, is the proliferation of official sports and de-emphasis of track and field, the heart and soul of the games. So as a public service, here is Hub Blog's list of sports that would be eliminated if the IOC had the common sense to implement my recommendations:

Synchronized swimming
Mountain biking
Field hockey
Table tennis
Beach volleyball

Well, we can begin with the fact that baseball and softball won't be back for a while after having been eliminated post-Beijing. For good reason, too: outside of North America, the Caribbean, Japan, and a couple South American countries, those two are simply not world sports. Also, "track and field" within the Olympics is better called "athletics".

Finally, let's remember that sports are in the Olympics if they are popular in several countries...even if none of them are in the United States. Remember, we're looking to include sports that are popular all over the world, not just the US. Badminton is a passionately followed sport in Southeast Asia, and probably is played by more people than the discus. Field hockey is similarly a passion in India and Central Asia. Team handball is huge in Europe. Tennis is one of the few world sports, with major events in several continents, and top competitors from several countries. Judo, also huge in many countries.

From a structural point of view, there's not much "fat" in badminton, table tennis, judo, or taekwondo. Such events require little room, and can be held in a glorified convention center. Compare this to, say, cycling, which requires a velodrome...something not horribly useful for anything else.

As for BMX and mountain biking, it's part of the youth friendly strategy to include newer sports. I'm not sure how well that will work, but I'm willing to give such low-facility demands at least two Olympiads.

As for soccer, I can kind of agree in that many top stars do not compete in the Olympic event. As long as the best of the world isn't interested, I could be convinced to cut it. However, most host countries have ample soccer facilities, and there may be something to be said for holding events that are accessible to many due to large-capacity stadiums that are even spread all over the country -- Olympic soccer is being held in several cities in China.

Trampoline and sync well as rhythmic gymnastics do look stupid. Is that enough to condemn them? Don't know.

Looking at the official summer sport list, here are a few I could be happy to see disappear.

Item one: sailing. Sailing? A multimillion-dollar endeavor that is reserved for the idle rich in any case. I really don't understand how the symbol of idle richesse still belongs in the Olympics. I say cut it.

Item two: equestrian. More snob appeal...what does it take to train, raise, then move a horse to a foreign country? Resources many countries don't have, to enter a sport that is mainly accessible to the upper crust. I can't find a source for this, but I had thought that in many cases the horse and rider were paired randomly. In any case, the event is scored in an arbitrary way by judges, which doesn't always thrill me. Not to mention the fact that the horses are the real athletes in this event...unless the horses get to go on the podium, ax it.

Sad to say, that includes the only two sports were men and women compete in the same event. On one hand, I like the equality in that approach, but on the other, I think it raises fair questions about the control the human has over the results if restrictions on intersex competition are removed for these events?

Moving on...

Item three: boxing. Ugh. Three judges of dubious origin keep track of punches thrown according to strange rules, in a format that never attracts boxers in their prime. Just like professional boxing, Olympic boxing is stained with controversy and suspicion. Check this list out. At least it has some chops as an ancient sport of tradition, unlike...

Item four: shooting. The steady hand event. I can't imagine anything more un-Olympic than a machine-based event that uses explosives and a device designed to hurt or kill.

Anyway, what's on your list?

PS: Odd sports in the past have included distance underwater swimming, cricket, golf, rugby, the tug-of-war, croquet, and roque (an American version of croquet). So weird sports have a history in the games. I would say as an aside, though, that if I could add any sport to the Games, it would be rugby, an astounding sport with popularity in Europe, southern Africa, North America, and the South Pacific.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Can the Olympics Be Saved from their Guardians?

The Olympic ideal was never what it was cracked up to be. There was no such thing as an "Olympic truce"...merely the understanding that athletes would be allowed safe passage to Olympus for the games. Wars continued unabated. Heck, the two main reasons that Olympians competed naked were to prove that they were men, and they weren't carrying weapons. The pankration was a sport of amazing savagery; one opponent acquired the nickname "fingers" for his habit of breaking his opponents' as a way to gain submission.

The "modern" Olympic Movement under Pierre de Coubertin insisted on amateur athletes to ensure that only "gentlemen" with the money to idly pursue athletics could compete, unstained by lowly working types who earned their living from their training.

Modern Olympics have a bit of a checkered past...the 1900 and 1904 Olympics were sideshows to elaborate fairs...the shameful "Nazi Olympics" in 1936 Berlin, which included Chinese Manchurians forced to compete for Japan...the fiscal morass of 1976 Montreal...the boycott-laden 1980s...

And now the Olympics are coming to a country whose main qualifications are a government who will spend its people's money on anything, will quell any dissent that could ruin the angle of the television camera, and most importantly of all offers a billion potential consumers. Unsurprisingly, the enthusiasm with which the Chinese are controlling the country during the Games is causing some consternation, especially as Olympic complicity comes to light. Make no mistake, the Olympics are first and foremost a worldwide business (use of their logo runs over $50 million per cycle)
Its leaders had their share of dysfunction...IOC Chairman Avery Brundage was irascible at the best of times, and the modern face of the Olympics was molded by a gnomish little lickspittle who graduated to the business from a Fascist government.

Dang shame, too, because it's a great thing. When you have runners dodging bullets to train for this moment, it shouldn't be stained by the peccadillos of faceless mandarins. To watch teenaged heroes exhiliratedly running around the field during closing ceremonies, mixed completely with people from the world over, is luminous. Semantic contortions notwithstanding, the Olympics are one of the very rare organizations that manages to cohabitate the governments of Beijing and Taipei.

The list of organizations devoted to wonderful ideals that have been steered astray from its genesis is long. Money and comfort have worked their powerful influences on the committees of Lausanne, Switzerland, as surely as they have in Rome, New York City, or Washington, D.C. But it's still a great thing.

And for the next two weeks, those bureaucrats recede and the true reason for the Olympics -- the kids who've devoted their lives to that 10-second race, the one-day event -- take over. If any event is worthy of the spectacle in the best sense of the word, it remains the Olympics.

It's still a great thing.

The Globe tries education

A periodic "middle schoolz sux" article came out in the Globe today. As usual, some accidental truths buried in the notes of somebody clearly unfamiliar with modern education. I agree with the statement that "there has been longstanding confusion of what the focus of middle schools should be". Mind you, the current trend to resolve that focus as mathmathmathMATH oh and ELA ifthere'stime isn't great, but at least we're determinig the problem.

However, the article is still stained by ignorance. As an exemplar, I present this sentence:

The findings are raising questions about the best teaching practices for students wading through the turbulent years of puberty, first crushes, and short attention spans.

This was middle school in the 1950s, but not anymore. I've taught third-graders with "crushes" and "boyfriends". While it's mainly mere words, I've seen adversarial behavior that makes it clear that "flirting" and "crushes" are a defining characteristic of child socialization since about 7 years old.

By middle school, students are way beyond first crushes, and are crashing through other firsts. Puberty is finishing up by grade 7, starting by grade 5 due to improved nutrition. We're not talking puppy love -- we're talking pregnancy. This is something to which staff and faculty at schools have adjusted, but our system has not.

For deeper, more complex thoughts on this subject including necessary contextualization of the "failing" middle schools of Massachusetts within the American spectrum, I shall merely refer you to Mark Bail on this one.

NOTE: Too many parents are implicated in some of these social changes. It is chilling to hear anybody refer to a baby girl playing peek-a-boo as "flirting" -- would you say that about a boy? It is not a good thing to give your toddler girl a purse and cell phone holder. To tease a kindergartner about "boyfriends". Most any girl will carve a place for boys within her socialization during adolescence, but encouraging an emphasis on looking pretty and flirting at a very young age does not lead anywhere good.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

He'll vote for you but doesn't want you to win

Worcester County Sheriff Guy Glodis on Ed O'Reilly:

Jim O'Sullivan of the State House News Service first reported Wednesday that Guy Glodis has chosen to support O'Reilly (D-Gloucester) over Kerry (D-Boston), becoming the first major Democratic politician in the state to do so.

Asked to confirm the report, Glodis told, "Absolutely. I am looking forward to voting for him."

Glodis emphasized, however, that he is not endorsing O'Reilly. "Let me just say this," he said, "I have not endorsed him and do not plan on endorsing him.

I know there's a narrow semantic difference between voting for him and endorsing him, what with machines and alliances, etc. But happy as I have him to have some Democratic stand up for the party's platform, I think this isn't the smoothest I've seen Glodis look.

Steady as she goes: Deval staying. Probably. We think. Or not.

Last we left the DGAC, we were given the following report (original with explanation here):

Governor insistence on casinos unabated. Renewed battle with nemesis counterindicates interest in job. Recent mentor victory indicates hope for promotion.

On the other hand, continued politicking: list of accomplishments and ongoing education initiative.

Final analysis: Patrick Now Open to Possibilities

Currect DGAC reading: 1.4

Since then, we've had a real divergence between what Deval is doing, which seems to indicate his desire to stay as governor for the foreseeable future, and what the rest of the world is doing, which seems to be setting up a great opportunity for him to move on.

On one hand, Patrick is to be credited for a strong finish to the legislative calendar. In addition to his life sciences initiative, he has overseen some less notable triumphs. Given the very slow start to his term, he is to be commended for a successful tenure as governor so far. He also is in the middle of a series of "town hall" meetings around the state. Less happily, Deval is also apparently committed to his rather anti-democratic mishmash of buzzwords that he is calling an education reform initiative.

On the other hand. First off, Obama is maintaining a steady lead in the national polls, and looks like a better than even shot for the White House. He's in the right party, he's got money, he's got charisma. And I'm not alone in thinking an Obama presidency produces a strong push for Deval to go to Washington, DC -- I'm pretty sure our treasurer feels the same way, and the plurality of Bay Staters feel that he will, too.

However, the DGAC is all about whether the current governor plans/expects/wants to stay in the job. While I think the odds are good that Patrick will leave in early 2009 if Obama wins, the DGAC notes his energy and interest in the job, commitment to long-term plans, and surprising absence of campaign stops with Obama, and is changing the reading.

On a scale from 1 (Jane Swift/loves the job) to 5 (late Romney/ sobs while going to work), Patrick's reading has changed from 1.4 down to 1.2

HRC Chooses Safety over Advocacy, Endorses Kerry

Someone explain this one to me. The Human Rights Campaign, a leading advocacy group for equal respect and treatments for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation, endorsed John Kerry in his race against Ed O'Reilly.

The single most prominent issue in this arena is that of marriage equality, and Massachusetts is the American leader on it. John Kerry is against marriage equality. O'Reilly is for it.

We'll be stuck with watery Democrats until progressive groups show the backbone to demand better. But the good news is, HRC muckymucks still get to go to the cool cocktail parties.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The sad story of Edison Schools

The American Prospect home of the fine TAPPED blog, offers a nice overview of Edison Schools, a company that has tried (and failed) several times to make a buck off of public education:

Edison learned what career educators have always known: Managing schools isn't as simple as it first might seem. The idea behind for-profit public education was that districts would turn over school budgets to Edison, plus supplemental funds ... Edison was supposed to run an über-efficient operation and pocket the surplus. But it never worked that way.
The article goes on to detail why, but the article is missing a couple things. First, it fails to adequately describe the chaos that ensued when Edison abruptly folded its school management business, suddenly leaving metro Philadelphia without the infrastructure to educate thousands of students. It would be the equivalent to Bechtel closing up shop halfway through the Big Dig.

Secondly, the author mentions " the eventual reauthorization of No Child Left Behind". The eventual reauthorization is hardly the fait accompli as implied here. Large portions of the Republican party object to its intrusion into state jurisdictions -- Republican governors have chosen to forgo federal funds so as not to be shackled by the law's requirements. On the Democratic side, Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton advocated ending this morass of regulatory ignorance.

The media has convinced itself that NCLB is here to stay, but there are vocal stakeholdres on both sides familiar with the law's perniciousness. There's a reason they haven't attempted renewal in this session. We can only hope.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Remember when we loved that Manny didn't care?

We will be telling our children and grandchildren about this decade here in Boston. A decade that saw at least:
  • 1 NBA Championship
  • 2 World Series Championships
  • 3 Super Bowl Championships (+ 1 perfect reg season capped with a Super Bowl loss)

It's an easy groove to get into, the annual victory parade. Easy to call up WEEI and demand championship-level teams year in and year out as if Boston and New York were the only places that playing professional sports.

But remember the beginning of the decade? The Red Sox could not get past the Yankees. They owned our best players.

One guy didn't care about that. Now, I know that professional athletes supposedly don't care about curses and history, but I think that's bullshit. If you're dealing with a hitter or a team that always seems to get you, it works into your mind. For years, Peyton Manning couldn't do a dang thing if he saw Bill Belichick on the opposite sideline.

But Manny didn't care. He didn't care about teh Curse because he didn't care about the Red Sox. Didn't care about the Babe because he didn't care about baseball. He did his job, and because of his enormous talent, didn't have to work that hard.

Which means that during, say, the 2004 ACLS, he was a monster. He didn't care.

I'm not saying he gets a pass for what he did in 2004. But I am saying there was a time when it was great that Manny didn't care. We can't be sentimental -- that's what got Bill Buckner on first base in the 1986 World Series. But we can and must recognize the past for what it was.

Thanks for the World Series, Manny. Thanks for keeping it lose, and making Ortiz a better hitter. Now feel free to call Adam Vinatieri for directions on how to get the hell out of here.

Mohegan Sun redefines bad economy as "bad luck"

Well, I'm not as ferocious on the workings of casinos as Ryan or Gladys, but I do have an interest in the whole industry, especially as it's looking to open a branch in my town.

So I certainly noticed this recent report, here by way of the Norwich (CT) Bulletin:

Gaming revenue was down between 5 and 25 percent across the board in April, May and June for the authority — which operates Mohegan Sun in Connecticut and a combined slot machine casino and harness racetrack in northeast Pennsylvania — compared to the same period in 2007.

Although players played $611.2 million at table games during the third quarter, up 6.4 percent, the casino kept about 11.6 percent, or 4.9 percent less, from players than it did last year. That drove revenue from table games down 25.4 percent from $100.9 million in third quarter 2007 to $75.3 million this year.
Now, why would Mohegan be losing so much money? The obvious explanations are systemic: perhaps wide availability of Internet gambling means fewer people going to casinos. Maybe the slowing economy means people have less money to piss away on bets after buying heating oil. Perhaps casino profits are down because people don't want to pay for the drive. Or are put off by the addictive nature of the activity. What we do now -- and I explain in detail below -- is that casino profit margins are closely tied to volume above all, and lower profits is almost lockstep with lower volume of bets placed.

When you have problems from the gambling industry from losses in Detroit and Atlantic City to a glut in Vegas, one might wonder if Mohegan Sun's losses are part of this trend. Perhaps a problem with the industry as a whole.

Nonsense, laughs Mohegan Sun. The problem is...bad luck.

Gamblers with seven-digit bankrolls took more away from Mohegan Sun table games than usual this spring, making for “an extremely long streak of bad luck” and an 89 percent drop in net income for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, compared to the same period in 2007, Chief Executive Officer Mitchell Etess said Thursday.

“We didn’t win as much as we normally do,” Etess said, announcing the authority’s third quarter fiscal results. “The next thing you know, it adds up. “It was mathematics and that’s what happens.”

Unlike most people who go to casinos, I can do math, and I'm not intimidated by the word "mathematics". And the math says that this explanation stinks. Because the casino profit model demands such a large number of placed bets as to neutralize luck as a statistically significant concept.

Let's engage in a little example. Take the best bets in any casino: red/black in roulette, or player/banker in baccarat. You have a 47.37% chance of winning on the first case, and in baccarat your odds are a fantastic 49.47%. I'm using these two examples because they represent the worst-case scenario for casinos. In reality, more popular games such as slots have a much higher profit margin, but we'll exclude those.

This works out to a 1.58% average profit margin per bet. May not seems like much ...unless you realize that's higher than the standard profit margin of an item sale at a supermarket. And like a supermarket, casinos rely on thousands of iterations of this margin to pay for overhead (staff, facilities) and make a profit. Casinos won't make (or lose) much on any one bet...with lots of bets you can make money.

Say that 15,000 bets of $5 each are placed on these two games. If everything goes according to the odds, the casino would make a $2,370 profit. To actually lose money in this "worst case" scenario, you would need astoundingly bad luck: 475 more bets would have to go against you than the odds dictate. This has a 40% chance of happening. The odds grow longer as time goes on: there is a 1.6% chance of losing money at the tables this way in the course of a week. The chance of losing money at full tables for 3 months -- even when only the worst house odds are offered -- can only be expressed using scientific notation.

I realize that I haven't factored in overhead, but nor have I factored in poker, blackjack, and slots in this example. So frankly I'm exaggerating how bad things can get for a casino operating at high volume.

A 9-5 casino with 2 poker tables and 3 blackjack tables isn't going to make a profit: you need dozens of tables, lots of slots, and 24-hour access for all those tiny profits to accumulate enough to outweigh the overhead.
This high volume approach does two things: it gives casinos sufficient profit to cover their overhead, and it reduces the odds that a run of "bad luck" will strike to almost infinitesimal. For casinos, the more bets, the better. As you can imagine, with thousands of bets being passed, even the highest of rollers is going to get drowned out in the flow of dollars and dimes. Remember -- if you have 2000 high rollers, statistics dictate that several hundred will be losing money. This gives lie to the idea of "bad luck" -- even high rollers contribute a limited percentage of casino profits. If those high rollers have a good streak, it will barely move the needle against the retiree dollars flowing into Mohegan Sun's slots. There are just too many bets being made over three months for luck to factor in.

It can't be bad luck at the tables...there are too many tables. I don't care about the size of the bets. The problem isn't what's happening at the tables...the problem is that at too many tables, nothing is happening. Volume is the only explanation. Mohegan Sun just isn't getting the business for their model to make money.

Mohegan Sun's problem is that it has the bad luck to be part of a faltering industry. And this dishonesty isn't going to help them anytime soon.