Monthly Archives: March 2008

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? FT edition

I yield to no one in my boundless admiration for the Financial Times. But they really need to do something about their US political coverage.

Today’s paper has this headline: Clinton scorns Obama as running mate. Edward Luce reports, “Pouring cold water on the ‘dream ticket’ that a number of Democratic lawmakers have put forward, Clinton campaign officials reiterated charges that Mr Obama’s national security credentials derived solely from a speech he gave in 2002 opposing the war.”

But wait! Who were those Democratic lawmakers? Well, Hillary Clinton for one in several interviews over the weekend. Bill Clinton for two, who said it would be “unstoppable”. And yesterday, Clinton’s chief spokesman, Howard Wolfson, stumbled through a response on how Obama may not have passed the “threshold” to be commander-in-chief now, but it could be different by August, by which time he might well be ready to be one heartbeat away from the presidency as Hillary’s VP.

I think Edward Luce and the editors who wrote that headline have been having too many late nights because of campaign coverage. Today’s article is misleading and, in many ways, exactly the wrong way around. And to make matters worse, Obama himself yesterday amusingly flattened the speculation about a Clinton-Obama ticket rendering the whole discussion moot. A truly mystifying choice by my beloved FT.

They have a word for it

Like any language lover, it’s always interesting to me to find words and phrases that have no translation in my own language. Schadenfreude. Kibitz. Bon appetit.

So I love gufare, as introduced to me today by Pitch Invasion.

The rather wonderful verb gufare means to support against, to wish bad luck upon. It comes from the noun gufo, meaning owl, since the owl in Italy (and Spain) is a symbol of bad luck. So football fans “owl” for another team.

That’s one to keep.

Telling it straight

Douglas Muir, at the wonderful A Fistful of Euros, offers a capsule description of the first president of independent Georgia:

Gamsakhurdia deserves a post of his own, but the key point is, he was (1) a foaming-at-the-mouth Georgian nationalist; (2) arrogant, utterly self-centered, and constitutionally incapable of compromise; and, (3) a complete, toe-sucking incompetent who destroyed pretty much everything he touched. Other actors share the blame, but Gamsakhurdia bears first responsibility for turning a difficult but manageable ethnic problem into a bloody little civil war.

In my years as editor of World Link we often talked about writing profiles of the many world leaders we encountered like that, but decorum, and our careful parent, the World Economic Forum, kept us on the bland side. It’s a pity.

Muir’s post, by the way, is an installment in his occasional guide to “frozen conflicts”. The current episode tells you more about South Ossetia than you ever thought possible. Muir’s brief explanation:

Okay, so much for the basics. Now an obvious question: why should you, dear reader, care about South Ossetia?

You probably shouldn’t.

Unlike the other frozen conflicts, there’s not a lot at stake in South Ossetia. It’s small, it’s remote, it has no resources and zero strategic value. It’s very unlikely to lead to a larger conflict. So unless you’re Georgian or Ossetian, there’s no reason it should keep you awake at night. (And even if you’re Georgian, you probably spend a lot more time thinking about Abkhazia — Georgia’s other frozen conflict — than about South Ossetia.) South Ossetia is just not that important to the rest of the world.

That said, South Ossetia is interesting in itself. Tolstoy is supposed to have said every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Well, ethnonationalist conflicts are sort of like that: every one has has its own particular and fascinating awfulness.

Nothing progressive about Cuba

Martin Varsavsky on his first visit to Cuba:

What follows is the story of a progressive Argentine/Spaniard who had a Michael Moorish view of Cuba until he actually visited the island. Now my view is that there’s nothing progressive about Cuba. That progressive in Cuba can only mean to get rid of the Castrismo and open up, not à la China, a country that is brutally capitalist now, but still managed by the Communist Party, but à la Hungary or most of Eastern Europe, evolving from Communism to a welfare state like democracy.

Very perceptive reportage.

The problem with predictions

A healthy rule from Wolfgang Münchau at Eurointelligence:

Being a columnist myself, one of the things I have learned is never to make predictions that are likely to be falsifiable at a time when the memory of the column is still fresh – about a week or so. That means concretely: Do not forecast next week’s inflation figures, and certainly do not forecast next week’s elections.

More important is his admonition to “use your brain, not your model”.

A nervous Obama supporter

Like most Obama supporters, I lap up analyses like Jonathan Alter’s and Marc Ambinder’s. But for the first time during this nomination race, I’m nervous today. I’d really like to see it done and dusted, no arguments, for Obama by tomorrow. But I think that’s looking unlikely, whatever the math might say. It’s not fair, but the spin is part of the process and at the moment all the spin seems to be heading in Hillary’s direction.

I think the end result will still be an Obama nomination at the Denver convention, but the last week has already become ugly for the Democrats. I don’t think that helps in November.

Appointment in Samarra

Have a listen to this NPR report from Samarra, where a sacred Shiite mosque was blown up by insurgents two years ago. It’s a depressing tale of how things are still terrible in much of Iraq, but what struck me most was a little economic snippet.

A Turkish contractor is rebuilding the mosque, which is perhaps understandable: perhaps Iraq lacks contractors with the necessary project management and technical skills. (Turkish contractors, incidentally, have long been among the leaders in building projects in lots of difficult places. When central Asia opened up after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I recall running into stories of Turkish construction companies all over the place.)

What is surprising, however, is the reference to Bangladeshi laborers on the construction site. Unemployment in Iraq is horrifyingly high. I’m sure Bangladeshi labor is cheap, but wouldn’t the rebuilding of Iraq be helped by actually employing Iraqis in the rebuilding?