Monthly Archives: June 2006

Failing the cricket test

I watched the US v Ghana World Cup match this morning, and I confess that I failed the cricket test. I’m an American and generally happy to be so, but where football is concerned I certainly couldn’t rouse any enthusiasm for the US of A.

There are three problems. First, the workmanlike and thoroughly uninspiring play of the Americans. It is a well-organized, athletic team, but completely lacking in creativity and invention. No joga bonito. Second, the relentless boosterism of the American television announcers and many of the American sports journalists. It’s an okay team – stop claiming it’s the the fifth best in the world. (I know the English media can be even worse in this regard, but at least England has some claim to its pretensions – until you see the team play.) Third, I like rooting for a team where the result has greater meaning. In Ghana, and in the other 55 countries of Africa, football is the alpha and omega of sport. I’d love to see Ghana advance further, although I fear for them against Brazil without the wonderful Michael Essien.

Update If evidence were needed about Ghana’s passions, read Sarah Left in The Guardian (I wonder if there’s a Sarah Right who writes for The Telegraph?).

The strange death of footnotes

I’ve nearly finished the excellent Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations by David Warsh (frequent editing errors notwithstanding). But I’m baffled by one editorial/publishing decision.

Warsh’s book is a detailed account of the development of modern economic growth theory. Central to the story are many journal articles and books published by the protagonists. They understandably get full play in the narrative. But there are few footnotes and, even more inexplicably, no bibliography. Not even a recommended reading list at the back.

Of course, given the details Warsh provides, it wouldn’t be hard to find the articles if I wanted to, through Google Scholar or JSTOR. But as a lay reader who finds the subject fascinating, wouldn’t it be a great additional resource for the book to spare me the additional research? A poor second would be for Warsh to provide the necessary links on the website he has created for the book. (Update: Links on the website are a complete no brainer and, although not a subsititute for some scholarly apparatus in the book, a hugely helpful one-stop resource which could link directly to the relevant material where copyright allows.)

I’ve encountered and lamented this problem before. Here’s what I wrote four years ago:

I’m reading a wonderful book, The Peacemakers by Margaret MacMillan. It’s about the Paris peace conference that followed the First World War and just about every page jolts the reader with some insight or pithy aside. Great stuff, and eerily relevant to today’s world situation.

But there’s one thing that annoys me profoundly, and I fear it’s a straw in the wind of the future of book publishing. For the paperback edition, publishers John Murray decided to dispense with the 46 pages of notes. In the book, they claim they agreed this with the author to “make the paperback a manageable and readable size”.

I don’t believe this. I think it was to save money on production. Would 50 additional pages on a 500-page book really make it suddenly unwieldy? When I’m reading a book as involving as The Peacemakers, I want to follow some of the references.

As a sop, John Murray direct the reader to their website for the references. Of course, nothing is signposted from the home page. The user has to guess that The Peacemakers will be under “general books”. They are there, in a pdf file, but printing out 46 pages at my expense and carrying it around with the book would be truly unmangeable. (And will it be available and signposted if I want to find the references in five, 10 or 20 years?) Publishers should stop this nonsense before it gets out of hand.

And so it has proved. Publisher John Murray no longer exists. The site redirects to Hodder Education, which doesn’t even seem to do “general books”. I tried to follow my old link to The Peacemakers (titled Paris 1919 in the US) footnotes and it returned a 404 Not Found. The US publishers, Random House, don’t seem to have anything either.

I did some Google digging (using “margaret macmillan peacemakers footnotes”) and finally found a “sample pages” section on Hodder’s site. Voilà! You can find the necessary footnotes here. I’ll offer a bet that they won’t be there in five years time.

I think I’m going to start a campaign to save the footnote in non-academic books. My life will be poorer without them.

Developing better journalists

Brad DeLong and Susan Rasky have an essential pair of articles on Nieman Watchdog: Twelve Things Journalists Need to Remember to Be Good Economic Reporters and Twelve Things Economists Need to Remember to Be Helpful Journalistic Sources. Any blogger that writes about economic issues from time to time would be well advised to read them.

I’d only add one item to their list for journalists. When I was an editor I always encouraged my journalists to say, “I don’t understand that”, in an interview if they didn’t understand something an expert said (which, if we’re honest, happens a lot). There’s no shame in that. In my experience, telling someone you don’t understand what they are saying has two effects in the vast majority of cases. One, they explain it in more cogent, vivid terms. Two, they open up, because just about everyone loves displaying the depth and breadth of their knowledge.

Watching, not listening

Let me be the 17,000th blogger to lament how terrible the English-language commentary is for the World Cup games here in the US. It’s intrusive, unenlightening and generally ill-informed. When my son and I were watching the (woeful) England-Paraguay game ridiculously early in the morning, we switched to the Spanish-language coverage on Univision. Perhaps it’s because we can only understand a handful of words, but it was far less annoying.

I think there would be a great market here for someone to do a funny, intelligent radio commentary on World Cup games here. I know someone already owns the rights. But just as The Guardian and The New York Times do minute-by-minute commentaries online, a radio team could comment by watching ESPN and ABC’s television coverage and providing their own voiceover. When I lived in Milan in 1989-90 (including during the World Cup), Radio Popolare did just that. I used to put my radio next to the television because the radio commentary was both a wonderful, ironic send-up of sports announcing and highly informative.

I guess it was a mash-up using old technology. If someone tries it, let me know so I can escape the horrors of ESPN/ABC.

Casual carpooling

Regular readers may know that I’m obsessed with the neglect of public transport in the Bay Area. Bart is wonderful, but woefully underutilized. This morning, I discovered a quasi-public alternative.

The morning radio provided the alert that a power failure had closed the Transbay Tunnel, so Bart wasn’t connecting the East Bay and San Francisco. Great. This was one morning when I had to get into the city for a meeting. What could I do? Fortunately, there is an informal carpool system here. On the street next to our local Safeway, solitary drivers wait to pick up a couple of riders so they can have the privilege of speeding through the carpool lane on the Bay Bridge.

It worked wonderfully. I had no wait to find a ride and I travelled across the bridge in the comfort of my driver’s Lexus. He must have saved 30 minutes on his journey, with the non-carpool lanes very backed up at commuter hours. Why would anyone not pick someone up?

Making an impact

If I needed evidence of how much the world has changed, I was doing some research tonight and I opened the Online Wall Street Journal. Before I went to the information I needed I did a quick scan of the front page to see if there was any important news I should know. Right there, on the WSJ front page: Microsoft Blogger Scoble to Leave.

Of course Dave Winer had far more information and context. But the Journal is where the majority of America’s business executives look for their news.