Saturday, April 14, 2007
What would Jackie Robinson think?
The title of this post have been a running theme of sports columnists over the past few months. As we approach the 60th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color line in the major leagues, columnists and players are bemoaning the declining percentage of African-American players in Major League Baseball.
The 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson integrating baseball is tomorrow, and African American participation in what was once American's pastime has dropped to a stunning low. Only 8 percent of Major League Baseball players are African American. Historically black colleges and universities field teams that are often one-third to one-half white and Hispanic because African American children have no interest in playing the sport their fathers and grandfathers would play from sunup to sundown from the time slavery ended until the mid-1970s.The reason Wilbon's argument is nuanced is that he recognizes that this decline is due to individual choice rather than any implicit barrier:
[T]his problem, if it is one, too frequently is being laid at the feet of Major League Baseball. But this isn't a chicken-or-egg conundrum. We know which came first: Black kids stopped playing baseball, to some degree of their own free will. Nobody forced them out, or even nudged them. They fell out of love with baseball, probably at about the time Michael Jordan became America's No. 1 sporting icon, and have had a basketball obsession since the mid-1980s. Football, with its 85 scholarships per Division I school, vs. baseball, with an average of 11.7 scholarships per school, became firmly entrenched as the No. 2 sport in blackworld.Beyond college benefits, there are powerful financial incentives for poor kids to choose football or basketball over baseball. Because of baseball's minor league "apprentice" system, young players in baseball face a few years in bus leagues before earning a crack at The Show. In their first contract, potential stars will earn far more money between age 18-25 in basketball or football (though star baseball players have longer careers than players in other sports). Furthermore, star athletes from the first two sports receive far more in commercial endorsements -- especially basketball -- in the early stages of their career (as Wilbon points out, LeBron James had a $90 million endorsement deal from Nike before he played a single game in the NBA).
Is this system a cause for concern? Would it make Jackie Robinson sad? The answer depends on whether you believe that baseball remains the first among equals as the sport of significance. Although football and basketball are now equally popular, the cultural and literary traditions of baseball are very powerful in this country. For Americans of a certain age and political persuasion, there is a strong desire to see baseball as the mirror reflecting the way America should be.
I'm a baseball fan, but I'm an even bigger fan of expanded opportunities. So I can't get worked up about it.
UPDATE: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Terrence Moore thinks that commentators are exaggerating the declining interest in baseball among African-Americans. And ESPN's Eric Neel looks at one urban youth academy for baseball.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
True or false?
I'm conferencing tomorrow, so blogging will likely be light.
Talk amongs yourselves. Here's an interesting question, from this Peter Suderman post at NRO's Corner:
[T]he war is a major dividing issue in our country right now. It’s going to be tough to reach even a rough national consensus on it no matter what, but that we can’t even agree on who to trust for information—and, as a result, what’s actually happening—only makes things more difficult.Question #1: Is Suderman correct in his assessment?
Question #2: if Suderman is correct, then how can any useful policy be formulated?
Do not freak out about Iran's "industrial" nuclear program
In TNR Online, Michael Levi explains why Iran's claim of having an "industrial" enrichment program is a crock:
[Iran's] progress is actually much less than meets the eye. It has developed nothing remotely resembling an industrial capacity to enrich uranium, nor is there any evidence that it has made surprising new strides toward a nuclear weapon. And taking the Iranian claims at face value would be worse than error; it would be a strategic miscalculation that could help entrench the Iranian nuclear program and make it even more difficult to oppose.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
How does Jeffrey Sachs think about politics?
Via Greg Mankiw, I read with interest Chris Giles' Financial Times interview with Jeffrey Sachs. This part stood out in particular:
We move on to talk about a specific project Sachs is currently involved in, Millennium Villages, where his ideas on fertilisers, malarial bed-nets and the like are tried on the ground. My less-than-ecstatic reaction to his reports of their success is clearly the same as that of many aid agencies. It instantly raises his hackles. I suggest there are many examples where success in pilots does not translate into something that can be replicated on a large scale, and that you don’t necessarily need to try something to know it won’t work. ”I’m sorry,” he is almost shouting now. ”That, I disagree with completely. That’s preposterous.”Every once in a blue moon, politics works like Sachs decribes in the last paragraph. Most of the time, however, politics bears no relationship whatsoever to this kind of model. And the belief that this is how politics works is a problem that seems to plague really bright economists.
News stories to make Karl Rove weep
For six years, the essence of Karl Rove's political strategy has been to have a Republican base so unified, motivated, and organized that it gives the GOP a clear leg up on Election Day.
This is why I'm thinking that Rove can't be happy with stories like Martin Stolz in the New York Times:
The invitation extended to Vice President Dick Cheney to be the commencement speaker at Brigham Young University has set off a rare, continuing protest at the Mormon university, one of the nation’s most conservative.[Well, it could be worse, right? I mean, Rove can still count on veterans?--ed.] Yeah, not so much now. Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks explain the problem at the elite level in the Washington Post:
The White House wants to appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, but it has had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job, according to people close to the situation.[C'mon, that's just a couple of generals!!--ed.] As Bryan Bener explains in the Boston Globe, it's more than just generals:
Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army's top young officers.[Well, I'm sure things will improve for the GOP in 2008!--ed.] Sure they will.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
The trailer that haunts me today
I have no idea if the movie will be as good as this trailer (though it seems to have won a few festival awards). That said, it's been 24 hours and I can't shake this from my head.
The official blog wife thinks it's because I'm becoming a complete sap. This is indeed a possibility.
Monday, April 9, 2007
Four different ways of looking at KORUS
A couple of days ago Robert Wright laid down a challenge to me on bloggingheads.tv about this post on the proposed Korea-US free trade agreement (KORUS). I argued that KORUS was a step forward for freer trade. Bob's basic contention is more bilateral FTAs that are created, the more the WTO is undercut. Even worse, these sorts of trade agreements threaten Bob's scheme to have the WTO become the anchor of enhanced global governance.
My answer is as follows: there are several different ways to look at KORUS, and whether it's a good or bad thing depends on what you care about:
1) If you care primarily about global trade expansion -- then you have to have mixed feelings about KORUS. On the one hand, the Doha round would have a far greater impact. On the other hand, as Tyler Cowen points out here, even FTAs without most favored nation clauses tend to encourage the negotiation of more FTAs. Plus, the United States and Korea are not small players in the global trading system. In terms of goods or services, the United States and South Korea are among the top 10 trading powers. In other words, this is a large enough FTA to matter on its own (though click here for a counterargument).In the end, I think the positives outweigh the negatives. The negatives of this strategy do exist, however -- and other people might trade off these policy concerns in different ways.
It's just the 19th nervous breakdown about the blogosphere
Brad Stone has a front-page story in the New York Times about the the fact that the some people display bad manners in the blogosphere:
Is it too late to bring civility to the Web?You can take a peek at the proposed code of conduct by clicking here. Comment away there or here. I hereby predict it will go nowhere -- I'm certainly not going to be banning anonymous comments anytime soon.
The one fascinating thing about Stone's story is what's not in it. Despite endless complaints about rising partisanship in the blogosphere, no example was given of declining civility in the political blogosphere. That doesn't mean it's not happening, of course, but it's still surpring that Stone failed to offer up such an example.
Open Starbucks overheard conversation thread
Virginia Postrel relates a conversation she head while at a Los Angeles Starbucks: "Two screenwriters working over a script that features both the CIA and some kind of evil mercenary hired by...a pharmaceutical company."
For some reason, the Starbucks I occasionally frequent here in the Boston area has much stranger conversations than the Hyde Park Starbucks. In the fall, I overheard two IT consultants bemoaning the fact that some outfit in Sudan (???!!!) was getting a whole bunch of World Bank money that allowed them to be competitive in some niche market. I have no idea if this was true or not, but it safely distracted me from work for twenty minutes.
Here's a good Monday question for readers -- what was the strangest conversation you have overheard in a coffee house?