Monthly Archives: September 2003

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One way to build traffic 

The excellent Fistful of Euros makes a shameless bid for volumes of traffic with a posting entitled Sturm, Drang and Laetitia Casta’s breasts – or – Why France bashing is a feminist issue. It’s worth a read, not least because of the title. Here’s a sample observation: “Think about it — would a genuinely feminine nation have had a painting of a topless woman on its currency?”

Wrong phrase 

Today’s Guardian quotes leftwing MP Roger Berry on chancellor Gordon Brown’s party conference speech: “It was lovely to hear my own views articulated. I felt my erogenous zone was being massaged.” Surely he means exogenous zone.


David Isenberg posts Project Censored‘s list of the ten most censored stories of the year:

#1: The Neoconservative Plan for Global Dominance

#2: Homeland Security Threatens Civil Liberty

#3: US Illegally Removes Pages from Iraq U.N. Report

#4: Rumsfeld’s Plan to Provoke Terrorists

#5: The Effort to Make Unions Disappear

#6: Closing Access to Information Technology

#7: Treaty Busting by the United States

#8: US/British Forces Continue Use of Depleted Uranium Weapons Despite Massive Evidence of Negative Health Effects

#9: In Afghanistan: Poverty, Women’s Rights, and Civil Disruption Worse than Ever

#10: Africa Faces Threat of New Colonialism

As he notes, “I think they missed a big one. When over 40% of the inhabitants of the United States still believe that Saddam Hussein was DIRECTLY involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks, then the U.S. press is not doing its job whether you call it censorship or not.”

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It worked!  

Community works. Within a few hours of posting my technical plaint (below), Dave Winer gave me the solution. I’m back happily outlining away.


Brad DeLong has what seems a simple question: where are the grownups in the Republican party?

“The only theory peddled around the dinner table that made even one quarter sense is that all the Republican grownup insiders fear loss of White House mess privileges and cherish the illusion that by quietly working on the inside they keep things from being much worse, and all the Republican grownup outsiders fear that putting themselves in opposition to the administration will mean that a number of phone calls will be made to K-Street lobbyists and right-wing foundations and that they will find their incomes in a free fall. But that only makes a quarter-sense–not even half-sense. First, the older ones have nothing to fear from the administration’s retaliation: they have long since made their f*** you money. Second, such people are always much more into the influence than the big-pile-of-consumption-goods game, and to be a tireless advocate for this administration’s economic or security policy seems to be a good way to blow your reputation and credibility for life.”

Technical plea  

I don’t usually go in for technical pleas, but I’m posting far less here because for some reason my ability to edit Davos Newbies with Radio Userland has gone kaput. If there are any readers willing to help me through this, do get in touch.

When I click on “edit with Radio” my browser returns a “cannot find server” message. Could it have something to do with using port 8080 instead of 80? Some software I installed last week took port 80 away from Radio. I haven’t a clue, but I’m getting frustrated. All advice welcome.

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Back with us  

Tom Friedman has returned to the good guys. “Wouldn’t it have been wise for the U.S. to take the initiative at Cancún, and offer to reduce our farm subsidies and textile tariffs, so some of the poorest countries, like Pakistan and Egypt, could raise their standards of living and sense of dignity, and also become better customers for U.S. goods? Yes, but that would be bad politics. It would mean asking U.S. farmers to sacrifice the ridiculous subsidies they get from our federal government ($3 billion a year for 25,000 cotton farmers) that make it impossible for foreign farmers to sell here.”

Citation superstars  

The Guardian has an interesting roundup of the so-called citation superstars, the 25 scientists whose work is the most cited in the world. For any follower of popular science — even serious popular science — what’s revealing is that essentially none of these stars are known outside their fields (a few Nobel prizewinners excepted).

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I’m not close enough to the US political scene to know whether anyone takes Dick Morris seriously anymore. But if they do, surely his open letter to Karl Rove in The Hill will put him in the realm of the completely cuckoo: “The economy is not that important to Bush’s fate. Unlike in 1992, voters understand that there is not much a president can do to impact it. Voters also understand that it is Osama bin Laden, not Bush, who caused the last recession.”

The fire next time 

Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, is a puzzle. There are times when he can be the most eloquent and affecting of speakers. Other times he seems paranoid and misguided (particularly in his bizarre attitudes to HIV/Aids). At the UN, he was the first.

Demanding greater global attention to the needs of the weak and poor, he said, “What we have said today may not be heard because we do not have the strength to have our voice heard. Tomorrow we may be obliged to say ‘No more water, the fire next time!’ As the fire burns, the United Nations will die.”

No-men or leaders? 

Martin Wolf (subscribers only) has the best reaction to the failure in Cancun that I’ve read.

“What the world needs is a serious negotiation among about 30 countries (with the EU again counted as one). This is perfectly feasible if the idea that the outcome must bind every member is abandoned. On such new issues as competition, investment and public procurement, the best way to proceed, at this stage, is via codes that do not commit all members, an approach used in the Tokyo round of trade negotiations. These need cover only important trading countries.

“A similar principle would apply to market access. Nobody should care what Kenya does with its import barriers. The best policy would be to offer barrier-free access to the small operators in all sectors, including agriculture. If that is impossible, simply extend any agreed liberalisation to them, in line with the principle of non-discrimination.

“Would this approach remove the roadblock? No. It would merely concentrate minds. The majority of WTO members would, once again, become sleeping partners. But the success of negotiations would still depend on the willingness of significant countries to bargain. If the EU, Japan and the US are determined to retain their grotesque farm policies or if China, India and Brazil are determined to retain their present barriers, no negotiation can succeed.

“That, not the modalities of the negotiation or the absurdities of ministerial meetings, is the core question. Do the abominable no-men prefer failure to success, existing barriers to lower ones and a chaotic global economy to the rules-governed alternative? If they do, nothing can be done. If they do not, they must restart these negotiations. Big countries need big leaders. Now is the time to demonstrate that they possess them.”

Answers on the dollar 

Brad DeLong provides an invaluable analysis of Treasury secretary John Snow’s puzzling new policy on the dollar.

“One possibility is that the Treasury Department — or, at least, the people in the Treasury Department who watch the markets — have been shut out of the decision making. ‘Let’s use John Snow in Dubai to send a signal to Ohio and Michigan that we care and are trying hard to boost foreign demand for their exports,’ some deputy assistant to the president for political affairs (or equivalent rank) said. And when the appropriate Treasury assistant secretary (or equivalent) learned a week later and said ‘wait a minute’ was told ‘we can’t be nay-sayers: we have to be team players.’ Strong Treasury Secretaries run roughshod over White House Political Affairs on the grounds that policies that are good for the country are also the best long-run politics. Middling Treasury Secretaries who come from Wall Street and for whom the dance of expectations and the flow of finance are second nature challenge White House Political Affairs, on the grounds that they understand how the markets will react and what the big headlines will be. Weak Treasury Secretaries? Who are not from Wall Street and do not really understand why the financial markets do what they do?”

No piss corners 

Felix Salmon is chasing down all the details on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site that conventional media are ignoring. His latest examines critical issues such as whether piss corners will be a problem and if there will be enough bicycle racks.

As Jane Jacobs and William Whyte showed years ago, these things matter in public spaces.

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Bloggercon rules  

At the end of next week, I’m going to BloggerCon at Harvard Law School. After years of labouring under the restrictions of World Economic Forum rules — which generally strive for something like the Chatham House rule — I like the BloggerCon rules: “All conversations, whether to the entire room or one-to-one, unless otherwise stated, clearly and up front, are on the record and for attribution. You do not need to ask permission to quote something you hear at BloggerCon. Of course you may ask for permission to quote, and you may choose not to quote things you hear.”

Factive verbs 

We need a few more linguists: “In all the recriminations since the Iraq war, not a single news source has picked up on the semantic trick members of the Bush administration used to cover for the controversial Niger yellowcake allegation that President George W. Bush included the in his State of the Union address back in January 2003.”

Geoffrey Pullum, who posted this nice exposé, is the author of Brian Weatherson’s favourite academic book.

Hugo Young 

The Guardian’s invaluable political columnist Hugo Young has died at the age of 64.

Young had the knack of conveying strong ideas and opinions without ever descending to the shrill and petty, which seems to be the usual tone of political commentary these days. Even when I disagreed with him (not often), I found his columns demanded attention and thought.

Weblog tributes can be found here and here.

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Why won’t the World Economic Forum hold its planned meeting in Dublin next month? “Joe Carolan, of Globalise Resistance, says the WEF forum has been driven out of Dublin because of ‘mounting public pressure and security concerns’.” That makes a nice story and may rally his supporters, but my sources reckon WEF postponed (the Forum never cancels) the Dublin meeting because of a distinct lack of interest from its members.

Demographic disaster 

When I went to Davos in the early ’90s, there was a gloomy academic named Murray Feshbach who was determined to convince people of the environmental and demographic disaster that was unfurling in Russia. Too few listened.

Now the latest report is that Russia’s population may well halve in the next 50 years. “Russia is battling both social decay and the same population changes that afflict western Europe. People here are having less children, for the same social reasons as on mainland Europe. Big families are not needed, or fashionable, any more. The difference in Russia, however, is that the social and economic conditions to replace the missing children with immigrants are not here. Who wants to emigrate to a xenophobic country that has few job opportunities?”

Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition 

Henry Chesbrough on how innovation can result in the unexpected: “The emotional responses to innovation of ‘fear’ and ‘replacement’ are based on a misconception: the idea that the likely impact of a technology is readily foreseen at the outset. The reality is that extensive experimentation and trial and error may have to occur before the best use of a new technology can be discovered. And the creator of the technology may not even know what this best use might be.”

Without comment 

“We can find over $200 billion to fight a war on terrorism, but we can’t find the money… to provide the anti-retroviral treatment for all those who need such treatment in Africa.” Stephen Lewis, UN special envoy on HIV/Aids.

Have racket, will travel

Have racket, will travel
Originally published in Ace Tennis Magazine, February 2003

Today’s business travellers tend to be a fairly uniform lot. Have laptop, mobile and passport, will travel.

Why not add a tennis racket? Few people travel on business with their racket. Golf, not tennis, is the international business game. But over the last decade, I have travelled to both major business destinations and more unusual places, and I’ve found that for the determined, there is always a tennis game to be found. In addition to indulging in a thoroughly enjoyable sport, tennis on your travels is both an excellent antidote to jet lag and a way to meet people outside the ordinary business whirl.

And even though each tennis court is pretty much like the last, it’s often true that finding a court takes you to corners of a city that you might otherwise never have explored.

Undoubtedly the easiest and best way to play when travelling is with friends. If you have a chance to ask business acquaintances whether they play tennis, you’ll often be gratified by the response. In a few cases, casual acquaintances have become firm friends thanks to regular tennis matches on my travels.

If you are lucky enough to be travelling with a colleague who plays tennis, your task is considerably easier. Most cities have accessible public courts which can often be booked through a hotel’s concierge.

You may also be fortunate enough (or embarrassed enough) to have a colleague with the chutzpah of a former associate of mine. We agreed to play some tennis when we were both attending the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in Sofia, Bulgaria. I assumed Martin would find a park court. Nothing was ever so simple with Martin. He bundled me into a taxi and headed straight for the national sports complex. There we found serried ranks of budding Maleevas diligently practicing on every court. But Martin was skilled in the old Soviet art of blat – bribery by any other name. A discreet word with the coach (and I suspect some carefully judged dollars) and we had a free court for the morning.

In my experience, there’s a high correlation between business success and aggression on the tennis court. One friend, who runs one of the world’s major public relations consultancies, is a wonderfully fluent serve and volley player, who loves to crush his opponents – even when his 80-something father is in the pair across the net.

I have another friend who occasionally plays doubles with billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros. The 72-year old Soros apparently has a penchant for viciously drilling volleys straight his rivals. I suppose it’s the tennis court equivalent of breaking the Bank of England.

Some of the aggression, of course, might be the by-product of the stresses of business life. Just as a few sets can get the kinks out of your jet-lagged body, so it can have a similar curative effect on a stressed-out mind.

If you don’t know someone who plays tennis at your destination, there are times when your hotel can be helpful. In most business centres, hotels don’t have tennis courts. But there are some welcome exceptions. In Manhattan, the Millennium UN Plaza has an indoor court on the 39th floor with the only explicitly Freudian tennis coach I’ve ever heard of. Steffi Graf in her playing heyday was known to practice at the Millennium when she was in New York – without the Freudian coach, to my knowledge.

In Singapore a number of the hotels have tennis courts, including the Marina Mandarin, the Shangri-La and Raffles The Plaza. If you find a helpful hotel concierge, they can often overcome the absence of a hotel court. When I stayed at Raffles in Singapore, the concierge found an Australian businessman staying across the street at Raffles The Plaza who was looking for a game.

One of the most exotic business hotel tennis courts is at the Nile Hilton in Cairo. The one court sits in front of the hotel, separated from the Nile only by a thin screen of trees. When you book a session with the resident coach at the Nile Hilton, you get a ball boy to assist you as well.

Failing a friend or a helpful hotel, you can try the local tennis clubs. You can search through the Internet for local tennis clubs, where you can usually organise a session with a local coach. In my experience the less glamorous a club, the more helpful it tends to be, either in organising an hour hitting with a coach or even finding a local player to hit with.

When I was travelling to San Francisco a couple of years ago, the grand San Francisco Tennis Club was shocked at my suggestion that, as a non-member, I might be able to find a game. The lower-key Golden Gateway club was happy to arrange time with one of their pros. If you are both shaking off jet lag and trying to fit in a busy business schedule, you might well want to play before breakfast – which tends to be an easier time to grab a coach than evenings or lunchtime.

The quality of game you find in this way can be highly variable. A friend who used to cover Asia/Pacific for The Economist recently told me that he felt a bit guilty when he was able to beat the local “pro” in a provincial city in Indonesia.

Some clubs have open sessions where they might welcome visiting players. In New York, the Roosevelt Island Racquet Club has practice sessions on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings from 7-9am. In addition to two hours of tennis, both singles and doubles, managed by the club pro, coffee, bagels and orange juice are provided. And best of all, to get to the club you take an extraordinary cable car over the East River. The views of the east side of Manhattan in the early morning light are unrivalled.

Sometimes Internet searches for clubs can produce other opportunities. My travels used to take me regularly to Silicon Valley. Looking for a friendly club there, I found instead a local coach who seemed unattached to any particular facility. For the next few years, whenever I was in Palo Alto, Gary and I had a wonderful hitting session early in the morning in one of the city parks.

Another way to find a game is through, a website established in 1997 precisely to create a world-wide tennis ladder. Trial listings are free. According to founder and executive vice-president Mike Dombrowski, now has 15,000 registered members, 80% in the US. But there are members worldwide. There are, for example, six members listed in Beijing, ten in Buenos Aires and 11 in Cairo. I haven’t tried the Sportsladders service, but it looks purpose-designed for travelling tennis enthusiasts.

There’s no doubt that travelling with your racket can be fun, but what does it do for your game? I think there are some dangers in being coached by too many people, but in my experience most club pros are alert to the problem and won’t try to reconstruct your service action in a one-off hitting session. What can help, however, is hearing some familiar advice expressed in a slightly different way that might just click for you. But perhaps the greatest practical value in playing on your travels is learning ways to adapt to different surfaces, climates and players. If you stick to the regular crowd of opponents at your local club, you’ll never know what you’re missing.

Sidebar: the hacker’s slam

You probably gave up the dream of playing on Wimbledon’s turf long ago. But what about playing on the courts of the other grand slam tournaments? Two of the slam venues welcome players of all abilities, outside the handful of weeks when the pros are on court.

Unsurprisingly it’s the homes of the US and Australian Opens that open their doors to the meanest hackers.

The National Tennis Center in New York is not the most picturesque place to play. But it can be handy for a last-minute game before your flight: La Guardia Airport is virtually next door and JFK International isn’t far away. The USTA pays New York City $400,000 to rent the centre for its own events (notably the US Open), but 11 months of the year anyone can play there.

The USTA reckons the National Tennis Center is the largest public tennis complex in the world, with 33 outdoor courts and nine indoor courts. Indoor courts cost up to $48 per hour, but outdoor courts are only $24 in peak time (weekday evenings and weekends) and $16 during weekdays.

Melbourne Park is more attractive. Its 22 outdoor courts and four indoor courts are ranged alongside Yarra River, near the main business district of Melbourne. Even at peak times (weekday evenings) courts cost no more than A$38 per hour. Bookings are taken a maximum of six days in advance. There are organised tennis workouts every weekday at lunchtime and on Wednesday evenings. There are even informal mixed competitions on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Inevitably (this is Australia, remember), the facilities at Melbourne Park include an outdoor BBQ area for group bookings.

And Roland Garros? A spokesperson for the Fédération Française de Tennis, which owns the complex, was horrified at the thought. “If we allowed visitors to come and play,” she declared, “it would be anarchy.”

Fact box

All business travellers like to keep their baggage to a minimum. If you’re also planning to fit in some tennis, you’ll need to take your tennis shoes, shorts and a shirt. You can sometimes get away with leaving your racket at home – most US clubs, in my experience, have demo rackets available.

New York City
National Tennis Center
Tel +1 718 760 6200
Millennium UN Plaza
tel +1 212 758 1234
Roosevelt Island Racquet Club
Tel +1 212 935 0250

Tel +65 6337 1886
Raffles The Plaza
Tel +65 6339 7777
Marina Mandarin
Tel +65 6338 3388

Nile Hilton
Tel +20 2 578 0444

San Francisco
Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club
Tel +1 415 616 8800

Melbourne Park
Tel +61 3 9286 1600

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It would be nice if politicians’ weblogs represented a step up in direct, honest language. Tom Watson is certainly setting the standard: “there is no doubt we got keelhauled yesterday”.

A crime against us all 

Talking Points Memo has a fascinating interview with ambassador Joseph Wilson. “A crime against the United Nations should have been perceived as a crime against us all, and we should have been much more aggressive in ensuring that we did everything we could to help the United Nations through that period.”

Data mining 

Sydney Brenner: “The definition of data mining: what’s my data is mine and what’s yours is also mine.” Via Richard Gayle.

The good news  

Ted Barlow has some encouraging data on US presidential politics from Donkey Rising.

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Another weblogging analysis 

The always perceptive Nico Macdonald has written a lengthy overview of weblogging for Spiked (although Nico, shame on him, doesn’t blog himself). It provides an informative history as well as some reflections on the current state of the art. And he offers an interesting idea for publishers.

“If online publishers, and particularly newspaper and current affairs publishers, syndicated the meta information on every article they published (title, author, date, introduction, and so on) readers could more easily find, review and organise those that were of interest to them. As writers they might choose to post a Weblog commenting on particular articles. If publishers then used the ‘track back’ model to list, in the context of each article, all posts that linked to it readers could follow the developing discussion and commentary. Tied to reputation management and good presentational tools this would likely to facilitate a greater awareness of new ideas and a more engaged (and possibly more informative) debate about them.”

Guardian’s blogging experiment 

Victor Keegan has some interesting reflections on The Guardian’s blog against agricultural subsidies. He has a brief excursion into uninformed snarkiness (“one of the reasons for the attention that it got could have been the novelty of a ‘serious’ blog with a dedicated political purpose”), but he does get the important point about true two-way communication.

“From my own point of view, it was extremely useful because my anglocentric views were constantly amended by informed contributions from individual countries. Journalistically, it was a fascinating experiment. Normally when a leader is written, there is very little feedback apart, maybe, from some letters to the editor. This time, the reaction could be traced blog by blog. If writing a leader is like throwing a stone into a pool, on this occasion we could follow the ripples as well.”

Off base 

Tom Friedman seems to have lost his bearings at the moment. I don’t think the scenario he paints reflects current reality. “It’s stunning to me that the EU, misled by France, could let itself be written out of the most important political development project in modern Middle East history. The whole tone and direction of the Arab-Muslim world, which is right on Europe’s doorstep, will be affected by the outcome in Iraq. It would be as if America said it did not care what happened in Mexico because it was mad at Spain.”

Daniel Davies has an appropriately acerbic response. “The French, that ultimate nation of realists, are unlikely to be under any illusions on the subject of whether they have any real prospect of material involvement in the post-war environment. All that’s going on, is that they object to picking up the tab.”

Oh no 

From New Scientist: WOne of the world’s most valuable fish could be driven to extinction because an international conservation body has miscalculated how many are left in the wild. So claim fisheries scientists who are warning that flawed science is behind a decision this month to allow continued fishing of beluga sturgeon, whose caviar can fetch $3000 a kilogram.”

As with many environmental issues, there is no simple solution. As the article points out, a total ban could well cut off the funds that maintain artificial hatcheries for beluga sturgeon, hastening their extinction.