Archive | Politics Everywhere

Politics Everywhere: Where the elite meet to eat in DC


(The chef’s table at Ristorante Tosca.)

As a resident of the nation’s capital, I’m endlessly fascinated by the unique culture of the place, especially in such relatively minor manifestations as the restaurant du jour among the power elite. Restaurant Nora, which serves only animals that had a good life and died happy, was The Place To Dine and Be Seen during the Clinton administration. Cholesterol palaces that specialize in 24-ounce and larger slabs of red meat dominated during the Bush years. And now the power place to dine seems to be Ristorante Tosca. Read all about it in a nice piece by Manuel Roig-Franzia in today’s Post.

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Politics Everywhere: Camp Runamuck

Camp Runamuck is a homeless encampment of about 80 people under Route 195 in Providence. The name may suggest “Lord of the Flies,” but the reality is much different:

The chief emerges from his tent to face the leaden morning light. It had been a rare, rough night in his homeless Brigadoon: a boozy brawl, the wielding of a knife taped to a stick. But the community handled it, he says with pride, his day’s first cigar already aglow….Because the two men in the fight had violated the community’s written compact, they were escorted off the camp, away from the protection of an abandoned overpass. One was told we’ll discuss this in the morning; the other was voted off the island, his knife tossed into the river, his tent taken down.
…The community also established a five-member leadership council and a compact that read in part: “No one person shall be greater than the will of the whole.” It is now late afternoon in late July, a month after nearly everyone signed that compact.

Here is the story.

[Hat tip to Steven Kelts.]

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Politics Everywhere: Who Gets to Be “Macedonia”?

The European Union is a club with a long line out the door. Just ask Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, or Turkey. But for one Balkan country, the biggest problem is showing the right ID at the velvet rope. Seven former communist countries were able to enter both NATO and the EU by the end of the Bush years. But last year the Greek government blocked the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia from joining NATO, citing bad neighborly relations, and is determined to torpedo its EU bid as well. The reason? It’s all in a name.

So write Thomas Meanay and my colleage Harris Mylonas in Foreign Policy. That names are political is nothing new (California Civil Rights Initiative, anyone?). Less common is to have two countries fighting over a name:

FYROM, perhaps due to the unwieldiness of its acronym, has tried to enter as just “Macedonia,” the name of the ancient empire of Alexander the Great. But Greece also has a northern province called “Macedonia” and worries that Skopje has expansionist ambitions.

See the article for much more.

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Politics Everywhere: TdF Edition


So on Saturday nice George Hincapie—everybody loves George, one of the genuine good guys in professional cycling—is the maillot jaune virtuel (that is, he’s leading the whole race, timewise, but the stage isn’t over yet, so he could still fall short), but then Garmin (an American team) turns on the jets and pulls the peloton faster toward the finish line, in the process getting the current maillot jaune wearer, Rinaldo Nocentini, who rides for a different team altogether (Ag2r), closer and closer to the line and enabling him to make up time on nice George and dropping nice George back into second place rather than first. Too bad, as nice George is nearing the end of a fine career and it would have been so nice for nice George to get to wear yellow.

Well, it turns out that bad feelings have been simmering for months between Garmin and Hincapie’s team, Columbia (the other American team in Le Tour—no, Astana, the team Lance Armstrong rides for, is not American). Garmin did this deliberately, charges Columbia, to keep nice George out of yellow. I am insulted, pouts nice George. We were just riding our ride, protests Garmin. The Garmins are bad people who did my best buddy nice George dirty, proclaims Lance (who himself is considered bad people by lots of folks). Nice George, by the way, is also p.o.’ed at Lance’s Astana team, which used tactics during the race much like those employed by Garmin at the end. No, no, no, say the Astanas, we’re above that sort of thing. Columbia vows revenge, a frightening prospect when 150 or so highly caffeinated young men, all bursting with testosterone, some probably full of exotic drugs, any many of whom don’t seem to like each other very much, are riding bicycles very fast within just a few inches of one another.

You probably thought a bike race was an uncomplicated affair in which the competitors are just trying to ride as fast as they can for as long as they can. Silly you.

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Should Mark Sanford resign?

Tom Schaller says no:

Is Sanford a cad for bolting his family on Father’s Day weekend? Of course, but that is a private, moral failing, rather than a failure of public duty. . . .

I [Schaller] oppose most of what Mr. Sanford stands for politically. His showy rejection of federal stimulus money targeted for his state was a crass publicity stunt designed to garner national attention for Mr. Sanford at the expense of his constituents, many of whom are struggling economically. . . . Should Mr. Sanford’s ambitions founder on the shoals of a personal scandal, however, yet another opportunity will be lost to establish the long-overdue separation between private comportment and public service. So here’s hoping he doesn’t resign or, if he does, it is a matter of personal choice rather than him bowing to political pressure.

I see where Schaller is coming from. Lots of people have complicated personal lives, and it’s not clear at all that these difficulties have much if anything to do with governing. But I don’t know if I agree with him on the wall of separation between private comportment and public service.

Consider the Sanford case. Schaller’s a Democrat, so he can evaluate Sanford on his policies. But if Schaller were a Republican, he might very well want Sanford out of there because he tarnishes the brand, makes the party a laughingstock, etc. Also makes it harder for Sanford to convincingly follow a “family values” agenda which Schaller (if he were a Republican) might want. These are legitimate concerns for a Republican to have. Even if you don’t think Sanford’s personal indiscretions are important, you might want him gone and replaced by a more effective Republican. Just as, from the other direction, a Democrat would’ve preferred a zipped-fly version of Bill Clinton.

But the first thing I noticed in Schaller’s otherwise excellent post were the ugly pie charts. Boy are they ugly. Damn! Some quick points: – The wedges aren’t labeled directly. Instead, the reader has to go back and forth, back and forth, between the chart and the legend. – The color schemes are a mess. The top graph goes from blue to purple to yellow to green?? – The responses are ordered, and the pie obscures this by being circular. For example, in the top graph, the natural order is More, Same, Less (with Don’t Know as a separate category); in the second graph, Yes, Not Sure, No. – The goofy orientation of the second graph makes it hard to see that the blue area (“Yes”) is larger than the red area (“No”). – On the plus side, the charts are reasonably sided (not too large, not too small), have clear titles, are unambiguously labeled, and are not tilted or 3-D (thus, areas actually do represent proportions).

These aren’t hard-and-fast rules. The real point is that it’s hard for me to just look at the pie charts and see what’s going on. There are too many colors, legends, numbers, etc., floating around. When all is said and done, I guess the charts aren’t horrible, but they’re the graphical equivalent of meandering, hard-to-follow paragraphs.

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Politics Everywhere: Oscar Voting Edition

John has had at least fifteen hours to comment on this story and hasn’t, so I’m going to steal it from under him.

In a surprise announcement the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Wednesday that it would double the number of nominees for the best-picture Academy Award to 10 from 5, returning to a practice it used more than a half-century ago when the number of films released was larger. … In a question-and-answer session that followed the announcement Mr. Ganis said, “I would not be telling you the truth if I said the words ‘Dark Knight’ did not come up.” This year “The Dark Knight,” a critically acclaimed blockbuster fantasy, did not make the final list of nominees that included “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Reader” and the eventual winner, “Slumdog Millionaire.” None of those films were as widely seen as “The Dark Knight” or the animated “Wall-E,” another favorite that was snubbed by the best-picture category, adding heat to a debate about whether the Oscar voters had drifted too far from the moviegoing public.

As I read it, there is a three way distributional fight between (a) the producers of ‘Oscar’ type movies with limited commercial audience, (b) the makers of popular movies, and (c ) the producers of the Oscars (nb – I have no specialist knowledge about Hollywood worth talking about and am chancing my arm on a lot of the claims below). Under the status quo ante, people who make ‘serious’ movies try to hype them up through campaigning for Oscar nominations (and wins) – while these publicity efforts are expensive, they are cheaper than conventional advertising aimed at a mass audience, and can pay off very well if the movie wins a major award allowing the movie to go into re-runs etc. People who make more traditional mass audience movies have less to gain from Oscar nominations (their movies will succeed or fail based on box office receipts in a compressed time period), and hence less incentive to push their movies. The producers of the Oscar ceremonies have a difficult balancing act between credibility (the awards have to have some relationship to some notion of artistic merit that is not dependent on commercial success if they are to carry cultural cachet) and mass appeal (if the slate of contenders is limited to subtitled five hour movies about the politics of cultural despair among Ukrainian tractor mechanics and the like, few people are going to want to tune in).

Clearly, the producers of the Oscars have decided to change the balance towards commercial production. This may in part be an over-reaction to an unusually weak set of Oscar contenders last year, with a heavy preponderance of non-commercial movies. How are the various sets of actors likely to behave under the new status quo? My first prediction is that we will see significantly fewer ‘serious’ movies being produced – one major channel of promotion for such movies is now less viable (assuming that these movies need a win more than they do a mere nomination).

My second prediction is that the new system may not favor commercial movies much more than the old system did – they are obviously more likely to become nominees, but I am not convinced that their chances of winning the prize will go up significantly. This is, frankly, a hunch as much as anything else – one would like to have access to voting data from previous years to figure out exactly what has happened – but I don’t see that there will be much more incentive to run expensive Oscar campaigns for commercial movies under the new system.

My third prediction is that we will see more variation in the genre of winners of the Best Movie award than previously – films like Wall-E will have a significantly better chance of being nominated, and hence of winning. I can see how the typical Oscar voter last year might have had qualms about nominating a movie like Wall-E given historical precedent – but I can also see how she might have ended up voting for Wall-E if it had been nominated, given some of the other dog’s dinners that were up for the award. Choices at the nomination stage are (I suspect) going to depend more on perceived credibility than choices at the voting stage (where voters are more likely to vote their sincere preferences) – if my suspicions are correct, this may lead to a mild improvement, overall in the quality of the final winner. As long as it stays light on the Ukrainian_tractor_mechanic_angst factor.

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Politics Everywhere: The one-and-done

A few years ago, the National Basketball Association instituted a rule that prohibits its teams from drafting high school kids (as it had been doing with potential superstars like LeBron James). Under the new rule, draftees must be at least one year out of high school and at least 19 years of age. This has produced a “one-and-done” situation for college teams, which now are left to serve as proving grounds for top high school players during the year before they abscond to the NBA.

The NBA’s contract with the players will soon be up for renegotiation, and this rule will get a close look from both sides. Here are a couple of very different perspectives on it:

From Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy:

I don’t like the ‘one and done.’ First of all, I don’t really understand how we get away with that as a league, that we tell a guy out of high school he can’t come and play in our league. The guy should have the right to make a living and to come into our league. And what I really don’t like is the way our system is set up. To me, and I know this sounds absolutely ridiculous, but kids should be going to college if at least part of what they want to do is get an education. To me, it’s sham.

From NBA commissioner David Stern:

I think there is a mixed view about what it does for the NCAA, but that wasn’t why we did it. This is not about the NCAA, this is not an enforcement of some social program, this is a business decision by the NBA, which is: We like to see our players in competition after high school.

Here’s more.

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Politics Everywhere: Cupcakes in School

MeMe Roth, a publicist and an Upper West Side mother of two, is getting really, really mad — “and I do not mean angry,” she clarified. “I mean mad, like crazy.” Ms. Roth is being driven mad by Public School 9, where her children are in second and fourth grades, and it seems that P.S. 9, in turn, is being driven mad by Ms. Roth.
Ms. Roth, who runs a group called National Action Against Obesity, has no problem with the school lunches provided at the highly regarded elementary school on Columbus Avenue and 84th Street. What sets her off is the junk food served on special occasions: the cupcakes that come out for every birthday, the doughnuts her children were once given in gym, the sugary “Fun-Dip” packets that some parent provided the whole class on Valentine’s Day.

Doughnuts in gym! I never had that. Can anything be more potent than combining the politics of food with the politics of education? The article is here. (See also this.) More on MeMe Roth is here and here. Here is some political science research on obesity, courtesy of Eric Oliver.

And, of course, see Lee’s posts on cake (there are several!), cupcakes, cookies, and bagels —all targets of Ms. Roth. I just hope she doesn’t see this.

[Inaugural post in this ongoing series.]

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Politics Everywhere

One of the fun things about being a political scientist is that politics is everywhere. It’s in Washington, state capitols, towns, schools, churches, businesses, organizations, families, etc. This is a point I always try to convey to students.

To me, the ubiquity of politics is underappreciated. At least, it’s underappreciated relative to some other foundational phenomena, such as markets. Indeed, economists have been quite entrepreneurial and effective in describing the many ways in which economic logic applies to “daily life.”

So, in the spirit of Marginal Revolution’s recurring and always interesting feature “Markets in Everything”—don’t miss this one!—this is the inaugural “Politics Everywhere.”

I’ll be operationalizing “politics” based on the definitions quoted in this earlier post, such as this one:

Politics refers to conflicts over the character, membership, and policies of any organization to which people belong. As Harold Lasswell, a famous political scientist once put it, politics is the struggle over “who gets what, when, and how.”

The first installment involves surfing (story). Instead of “governing the commons,” we might call this “governing the Pipeline.”

Here’s the problem:

At Pipeline, large, punishing waves break over a shallow-water reef. With a small takeoff zone comes a small window of time to make critical decisions and dozens of surfers vying for the same waves. Pipeline is considered one of the world’s most dangerous surf spots…

And here’s the politics:

They are known as the Wolfpak or simply “the boys.” They use fear and their fists to command respect in the surf along the North Shore of Oahu, a seven-mile stretch of some of the world’s most renowned waves. At the celebrated Banzai Pipeline, they determine which waves go to whom, and punish those who breach their code of respect for local residents and the waves…
…As surfing has become increasingly popular, some say fear of violent reprisal ensures order and safety at congested and perilous surf spots like Pipeline.
“It’s a dangerous environment, and without a self-governing control pattern it would just be chaos out there,” Rarick said.

More installments to come. Please feel free to send me suggestions.

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