Monthly Archives: June 2003

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And from the US 

Joe Trippi, campaign manager for Howard Dean: “Blogs can influence this election, and further the cause of citizen participation in choosing our next President — by sounding the clarion call to the nation’s first Internet Primary.”

Another MP weblog  

Liberal Democrat Richard Allan has started the second MP weblog. He writes that he will be using it for: “Some personal political observations, information about my activities as an MP and pointers to useful bits of technology I have found.” A very welcome development.

Allan also points to an interesting weblog that I hadn’t come across: An e-democracy exchange. Allan and Oxford professor Stephen Coleman have been using the site to have a dialogue on e-democracy. Neither site has an RSS feed (yet).

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It’s not often that two of my interests, tennis and technology, come together. But the news that the BBC will be using Hawk-Eye in its Wimbledon coverage this year neatly knits the two.

Hawk-Eye is the kind of technology that Europeans suffering from techno-insecurity would probably expect to come from American television. In fact, a young Englishman, Paul Hawkins, developed Hawk-Eye to determine whether lbw decisions in cricket were accurate (if you don’t understand what that means, you can find out here). In tennis, it does two things brilliantly: it graphically shows whether line calls are right, and it provides a revealing graphical analysis of a player’s shots. It seems certain to me that in a few years, major tournaments will dispense with line judges — the referee will rely on Hawk-Eye’s far, far greater standard of accuracy.

On Saturday, when Andy Roddick was devastating in his defeat of Andre Agassi, Hawk-Eye was able to show both the distribution of Roddick’s nearly unreturnable serves and measure exactly the trajectory of his record-equalling 149 mph serve (which Agassi returned). Wonderful, wonderful stuff.


Like most parents, I spend a disproportionately large amount of time talking about schools with other parents. This is probably not a recipe for low blood pressure in London (or any other big city, for that matter), but it has certainly displaced property prices as the conversation of choice in the circles in which I move.

So I was particularly affected by Taylor Mali’s poem, What Teachers Make (via James McGee, via Mamamusings, via Loren Webster). Read the whole poem if you care about our society.


Felix Salmon gets a lot right in his review of Sandy Balfour’s Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8). But I have to take issue with his broad assertion that “the English cryptic crossword is the last bastion of the Old England which John Major so hilariously thought immortal”.

An Englishman in New York, Felix clearly has not been spending much time lately with Guardian crossword puzzles. Of course, some of the old anglicisms are retained. But most of the cleverness comes from the way in which The Guardian’s setters have kept up with the times, rather than fallen behind.

I do agree, however, with Felix’s analysis of why the great English cryptic tradition is unlikely to catch on in the US: “The English are very good at rituals; the Americans much less so. Americans, I think, will only take to crosswords insofar as they can complete them… Cryptic crosswords have a steep learning curve, and Balfour, for one, had years of happy crosswording before he actually finished one on his own. That’s not the type of thing which is likely to take off in an American culture of instant gratification.”

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Iran’s stability 

I have an adventurous sister who is planning to travel to Iran in the autumn. Unlike some, I have no worries that the US is going to strike at the next member of the “axis of evil” any time soon. But I am beginning to be concerned about the internal stability of Iran. When president Khatami was elected a few years ago, it looked like peaceful reform was on course in Iran. Now it seems that both its hardline clerics and the anti-Iran rhetoric of the Bush administration are pushing the country away from reform and to the extremes.


Health secretary Alan Milburn resigned from Tony Blair’s government yesterday to “spend more time with his family”. But in Milburn’s case, his reason was not a euphemism for political differences or still-to-be-revealed embarrassment. He really does want to spend more time with his family.

It doesn’t take much acquaintance with contemporary politics — certainly as it is practiced in Britain — to see that it’s well-nigh impossible to be a leading practitioner and retain a semblance of ordinary human life. Ministers in particular work all hours of the day, seven days a week. Milburn had the added strain of a family in England’s northeast, a goodly distance from London.

In the corporate world, there is beginning to be acceptance in some quarters that work-life balance is vital if you want to retain happy, productive staff. Most top executives continue to ignore this truism, but there are glimmers of light, here and there. I’m not so deluded that I think any company takes its lead from how top politicians behave, but it would be nice if senior ministers demonstrated how a balanced life can also be a productive one.

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I won’t be posting very much this week until I meet an article deadline. Too often recently, I’ve put my weblog ahead of other writing commitments. That has to stop, even if it’s a brief interruption.

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Adding value to the web 

It looks like The New York Times’s archives are going to be open to weblogs. That’s great news. It should encourage other news media to take similar action (it’s mystifying why The Washington Post doesn’t have RSS feeds). Of major, credible sources, we now can count on the Times, The Guardian and the BBC. Let’s keep cranking up the volume.

Deal with reality 

Steven Pinker has provided an important riposte to the doomsters about genetic technology (Bill McKibben, Francis Fukuyama, Margaret Atwood). “Rather than decrying our posthuman future, thinkers should acknowledge the frailty of technological predictions and should base policy recommendations on likelihoods rather than fantasies.” Hooray.

Five years behind 

Why am I not surprised that the CIA is as backward with their technology as with their understanding of the world? “Directorate of Intelligence analysts work in an information technology environment that is largely isolated from the outside world.”

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Politician weblogs 

I wrote the other week about Tom Watson MP’s weblog, which as far as I can tell is the only real weblog by an elected politician (I think the jury is still out on Howard Dean).

But forces are growing to encourage others into the fray. Tim Ireland is starting a campaign to encourage US senators to blog. I didn’t realise that senators were required to publish at, rather than, say, Unsurprisingly, doesn’t yet support any weblogging tool.

Suman Kumar has written to Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, urging him to start a weblog. I think Naidu could provide a fascinating weblog: he’s genuinely passionate about using technology to help the 60 million people of his state, and has a consistent record as a forward-looking Indian politician. My former magazine, World Link, wrote about Naidu four years ago.

By other means 

Matthew Engel: “For Americans these days war is actually a substitute for international sport.”

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Why didn’t I think of this 

If you’re an information junkie like me, you’ll wonder why you didn’t come up with NationMaster. The site lets you do interactive country comparisons on a pretty wide range of data.

Faction fighting 

It’s worth reading Brad DeLong’s deconstruction of reports on the administration’s approach to Middle East peace. As a former Washington insider, I trust Brad’s teasing out of faction fighting in the White House.

I have many ideological differences with the Bush administration. That’s no surprise. But what I find so astonishing on a virtually daily basis is the scale of incompetence the administration displays in just about every area it touches. I wish I could be optimistic on the Middle East, but nothing in the administration’s record so far suggests to me that they have the competence or attention span to see things through.

Salam Pax in The Guardian 

Salam Pax provides a better insight into life in Baghdad than the scores of western journalists filing from the city.

“I got five papers for 1,750 dinars, around $1.50, it felt like I was buying the famous bread of bab-al-agha: hot, crispy and cheap. When the newspaper man saw how happy I was with my papers he asked if I would like to take one for free. Newspaper heaven! It turns out that no one is buying any copies of the paper published by the Iraqi Communist workers party; he just wants to unload it on me. Look, I paid for the Hawza paper so why not take the commie one gratis?”

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Lazy days 

We’re having an unusual run of humid, lazy days here in London. For once, I actually have a lot of work to get on with, so writing on Davos Newbies may be sparse for a few days.

Returning home, I’m catching up with some of my reading. Dave Winer has written an initial taxonomy of weblogs, which is well worth a read. Here’s the key point, from my point of view: “Weblogs are unique in that only a weblog gives you a publication where your ideas can stand alone without interference.”

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Back home 

I’m too jetlagged to write much today, but I had a wonderful trip to New York and Princeton.

From Princeton, I could create a year’s worth of posts detailing the fascinating odysseys so many of my classmates have made over the last quarter century. Sure, some of them went straight to Harvard Law School and have been corporate lawyers ever since, but a heartening number have pursued less obvious paths that have had intriguing twists and turns.

And yesterday, I had a great time with Dave Winer in his native New York City. Lunch in a Manhattan deli, followed by a dash to Brooklyn for Junior’s cheesecake, topped off with the extraordinary Mesopotamian treasures at the Met. Above all, lots of wonderful conversation and warmth from big, and happily still non-smoking Dave.