Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Democratic Yankees 2

On 08 October 2006 I wrote this blogpost on the uncanny ability of the New York Yankees to only to win the World Series under Democratic presidents.

On Monday the New York Times caught on in this article.

I am not accusing the Times of plagarising my research, as I am undoubtedly not the first to have 'discovered' this phenomenon. It is fun, however, to be two years ahead of the New York Times.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

All the gold money can buy!

Olympic fever is running high in Britain. 17 gold medals and counting. 'We're number three', and 'Great to be British', screams the newspaper headlines.

However, this success, if success it is, comes at a price. More precisely £265 million ($492 million dollars) in government subsidies to elite sports since 2004.(1) In total the UK government is to spend £600 million ($ 1.126 billion) on Olympic athletes in the run up to the 2012 Olympic games.(2) As one letter to the editor in today's Guardian aptly sums up: "Central planning, state funding and 15 gold medals so far. Smacks of socialism to me!"

In comparison, the US Olympic Committee (USOC) does not receive continuous government funding.(3) This does not mean that US athletes aren't well funded, the USOC has in fact a $130 million annual budget,(4) just that the US government does not subsidize the pursuit of Olympic medals. If, however, the US government were to grant US Olympic athletes an equal amount of money to that of the UK government, and taking into account the size of the US economy to the UK economy, the US would have to spend $5.6 billion until 2012.(5)

Such a policy would undoubtable ensure a lot more Olympic medals for US athletes and propel the US to the top of the unofficial medals table, but I have agree with this New York Times editorial, when it states:
If we are looking to invest in sports, we would be wiser to spend money on daily gym classes and after-school athletic programs. That would not produce a large crop of Olympians, but it would help combat the growing obesity epidemic among American youngsters and yield health benefits worth more than Olympic gold.

(1) AFP 19.08.2008, 'Olympics: Britain celebrates medals as investment pays off'.

(2) Paul Kelso, 'Minister's warning to elite after Willis gaffe', The Guardian 23.01.2008.

(3) Michael Jay Friedman, 'U.S. Funding of Olympic Athletes a Private and Community Affair' 01.09.2007 on

(4) see New York Times, Editorial: 'Our Idea of Gold', 17.08.2008.

(5) Based on the GDP of the US and UK in 2007, which according to the IMF were $13,843,825 billion and $2,772.570 billion respectivelly. The calculations is therefore $1,126 million * 13,843,825/2,772,570 = $5,622 million.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

More on Nationalism and the Olympics.

In 1996 Britain faced a national humiliation when it only managed to win 1 gold medal at the 1996 summer Olympics. Prime Minister John Major immediately pledged £100 million of lottery money for investment in sport, to ensure such humiliation would never happen again.

12 years later and its clear that at least the lottery money that has been pouring into British cycling has paid off. Britain is now the dominant force in Olympic cycling, set to win the vast majority of cycling golds this year. This is amazing since cycling is a minority sport with hardly any following in Britain, in sharp contrast to continental European countries such as Italy, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark where the sport is a national passion. Yet these countries cyclists don't stand a chance against Britain's. Britain's success in cycling is therefore, in my opinion, evidence of the willingness of nations to invests in obscure sports to win Olympic gold medals.

This point is made well be Canadian columnist Jonathan Kay in this article from 11.08.2008. Let me quote this passage from Kay's article:

Even in the West, there is always a great wringing of hands if our Olympiads fail to deliver the expected haul of medals — with newspaper editors and columnists (including purported conservatives) invariably proposing Soviet-style sports programs to rectify matters four years hence, as if it somehow were a matter of national importance that our Pommel Horse Men were screwing up their dismounts.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Human Rights Commitee on British Libel Law.

The UN Human Rights Committee has at its recent session criticised British libel law.(1) In its concluding remarks to its review of the United Kingdom, which can be downloaded here, the Committee states:
"The Committee is concerned that the State party's practical application of the law of libel has served to discourage critical media reporting on matters of serious public interest, adversely affecting the ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work, including through the phenomenon known as "libel tourism."(2)

The Committee recommends that the United Kingdom consider adopting a "public figure defence" similar to the defence formulated by the US Supreme Court in Sullivan v New York Times.(3) A public figure defence would prohibit public figures from recovering damages for libel unless the defamatory statement was made with 'actual malice' and the claimant suffered 'actual injury'.

I couldn't agree more with the Human Rights Committee, as British libel law does limit free speech.(4)

The problem with libel law is that it is actionable per se, i.e. the claimant does not need prove that a statement was false or that it caused damage, but must merely prove that was defamatory, it referred to him or her and that it was published.(5)

The defences to a libel claim are primarily these: 'justification" (truth) 'fair comment' and 'qualified privilege.' The later has been expanded by the House of Lords of in Reynolds v. Times Newspapers (6) and Jameel v. Wall Street Journal Europe, (7) giving defendants a defence when the comment in question is in the public interest. These decisions do not, in my opinion, go far enough.

The UK courts have not been able to develop the law in line with the US Supreme Court primarily because the UK does have an entrenched constitution guaranteeing free speech. Article 10 of European Convention on Human Rights does guarantee the freedom of expression, but the convention has only been enforceable in domestic British courts since 2000 and Article 10 is not formulated as strongly as the free speech clause of the US Constitutions' First Amendment.(8)

Hopefully the criticism by the Human Rights Committee will make the British government reconsider the law.

(1) The Human Rights Committee is treaty based judicial committee which periodically, and on application, considers whether state parties to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights comply with their obligations under the covenant.

(2) See paragraph 25.

(3) 376 US 254. (1964)

(4) Professor Tony Weir makes this comment: "The claimant’s interest is in what people think of him, the defendant’s interest is in saying what he thinks, or thinks he knows. Reputation against expression, therefore. A balance has to be struck. The common law of England has struck it in quite the wrong way. " see Tony Weir, An Introduction to Tort Law 2nd ed. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006) p. 175

(5) See Simon Deakin, Angus Johnston and Basil Markesinis, Markesinis and Deakin‘s Tort Law 5th. ed. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2003), 651-666.

(6) [2001] 2 A.C. 127

(7)[2006] 3 W.L.R. 642

(8) Critically, Article 10 contains the qualification that freedom of expression may be subject to such restrictions which are necessary for the "protection of the reputations or rights or others."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Its Just Not Baseball!

Yesterday the Boston Red Sox beat the Texas Rangers by a score of 19-17. What an ugly game. It lasted 3 hours 58 minutes and included 37 hits, 5 home runs, 4 errors, 9 unearned runs, 2 blown saves, and a 10 run first inning by the Red Sox.

It is well established that Red Sox do not play pretty baseball, that just not their style, but this is ridiculous! I'll take second rate Olympic baseball over this any day.

P.S. note that the two Designated Hitters totaled 9 at bats, 5 hits, 7 runs, 6 rbi's, 3 walks and 3 strike outs!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

On Nationalism and the Olympic Games.

I really dislike the Olympic Games.

Yesterday evening I was more or less forced to watch the highlights of the first day on BBC, which consisted almost exclusively of highlights of British athletes and British victories. The host of the show even worked herself up to proclaim that "Britain Rules the Waves," when referring to the yachting events!

Throughout the show I had to remind myself that the media of other countries, including the Danish media, is just as biased and ridiculus. While Article 6 of the Olympic Charter states that the games are "competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries," the reality is that all nations are completely focused the achievements of their own athletes. The real interest in the Olympic Games the Medals Table and whether China or the USA is going to come out on top, whether Britain will win more medals than France and whether the Australians can continue their role as the new East Germans of overachievement.

The Olympic Games are therefore just an overhyped and expensive exercise in nationalism, which I consider a disease that has infested the world for nearly two hundred years. Nationalism causes division and ultimately wars, it makes rational individuals loose their minds and is a tool of manipulation for politicians and demagogues.

As for the Olympics, I will do my best not to be watching or reading newspapers for the next two weeks!