From the category archives:


Running v walking

by John Quiggin on April 24, 2013

With the exception of an unnameable region bordering on the Eastern Mediterranean, posts on diet and exercise seem to promote more bitter disputes than any others. So, in the spirit of adventure, I’m going to step away from my usual program of soft and fluffy topics like the bubbliness of bitcoins, the uselessness of navies and the agnotology of climate denial, and tackle the thorny question of running vs walking.

Happily, and unlike, say climate science, this is a question on which you can find a reputable scientific study to support just about any position you care to name, and even some that appear to support both sides, so I’m just going to pick the ones I like, draw the conclusions I want, and invite you all to have it out in the comments thread. I’m also going to attempt the classic move of representing the opposing positions as extremes, relative to which I occupy the sensible centre.

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Six Nations (and some other sports) open thread

by Chris Bertram on February 2, 2013

A big sporting weekend ahead. First up, the competition that probably counts the most here at Crooked Timber: the Six Nations. We kick off with, inter alia, Wales v Ireland and England v Scotland (the Calcutta Cup). I think England could do it this year, but you can’t really write anyone off. The Africa Cup of Nations is still going of course, and we’re into the quarter-finals, where the highlight of the weekend is Ivory Coast v Nigeria. Ivory Coast still look like winning the competition, but they have a tougher route to the final than Ghana do (they’ll probably have to beat Nigeria and South Africa in succession – assuming I’ve understood the draw, of course). That match also clashes with Man City v Liverpool, which is unfortunate. (And then there’s the Superbowl, but I have no clue what’s going on when I watch American football.)

Everyone’s a winner!

by John Quiggin on January 26, 2013

I was way behind the rest of the Interworld in catching up with the Eden Hazard ballboy kicking, but coming late has its advantages. As is presumably well known to followers of this particular competition, but not to others, the “ballboy” is a minor match official whose job it is to return the ball when it goes out of play. Traditionally, this was done by actual boys, aged in their early teens, who volunteered to help out in this way – giving out this coveted job being a minor perk for the senior officials of the club. Naturally, they were supporters of the home team, but this was unimportant.

But, now, it seems, the typical “ballboy” is a young man, under instructions to make life easy for the home side and difficult for the visitors. This is a new twist on the standard practice of grimy visitors’ dressing rooms with unreliable hot water and so on. All of this helps to create a home ground advantage.

This raises some interesting points about the business of sport.
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Africa Cup of Nations open thread

by Chris Bertram on January 21, 2013

We haven’t had a thread on the Africa Cup of Nations since 2006, but I see that the latest competition has just started. There’s a solitary win so far with Mali beating Niger. The bookies are fairly clear about who the favourites are: Ivory Coast. Makes a lot of sense, since they have strength in all parts of the team, with players like the Touré brothers and Didier Drogba. Coverage in the UK media is pathetic, with the competition not even having a dedicated BBC webpage and the games being shown on ITV4 and British Eurosport. Francophone reporting is, predictably in this case, a bit better: L’Equipe has a page.The twitter hashtag to follow is #Afcon2013 . Predictions?

Discussion of those badminton players seems to divide into two camps: those who think it is fine to exploit the letter of the law to gain strategic advantage and therefore can’t see a problem, and those who don’t. Bracketing off for a second the embarrassing fact for those in the first camp that there does actually seem to have been a rule against deliberately losing, it’s plain that this is just a particular instance of a more general syndrome. There are people who devise and employ elaborate schemes to evade or avoid (I never know which is which) their taxes whilst staying just within the law. There are bankers who stay technically within a literal interpretation of the banking regulations, whilst engaging in dubious practices which undermine the regulator’s intention. There are employers who try to evade workplace regulations by reclassifying their workers as independent contractors. There are states which harp on about the technical details of the laws of war as they happily murder civilians. Well sometimes we need to punish the technically innocent but morally culpable. And it helps encourager les autres to internalize the ethos behind the laws rather than seeing them as being just an inconvenient system of traffic control.

Rule-of-law fetishists, Hayekians, and the like tend to think this is just appalling. Legislators, regulators, sports administrators and similar, should devise watertight systems of rules within which people are entitled simply to go for it. But it is highly questionable that such watertight frameworks are possible, even in principle. So we need to give the enforcers some discretionary power to zap the bad people: people who knew perfectly well that what they were doing was at or over the moral and legal boundaries but didn’t care. (On the tax front, the UK’s plan to introduce a General Anti-Avoidance Rule is designed to punish just these characters.) Such power is, of course, liable to abuse. But that’s just the way things unavoidably are. The solution is not to pretend that we can make the rules work perfectly, but to make sure the enforcers are genuinely democratically accountable and removable.

Olympics Trolling

by Kieran Healy on July 29, 2012

It’s that happy time when I whine about American television coverage of the Olympics. This year’s whining has a new twist—beyond the usual complaints about sentimental crap and tape-delay—given the lack of decent streaming options absent a pre-existing subscription to some cable channels. But it’s also the time when I’m reminded of my existing personal prejudices about sports, when I may discover new ones (as new events are added), and when I try to figure out whether there’s any defensible rationale to my preferences. Reflecting on my sports bigotry, I think the simplest model is a two-dimensional space that, I think you will agree, is both easy to understand and wholly objective.

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The Holy Family Contemplate the Crucifixion

by Kieran Healy on June 15, 2012

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is right.

Euro 2012 open thread

by Chris Bertram on June 7, 2012

I have no idea how this one will go. Germany will probably do well, but that’s the extent of my predictions. Traditionally, it has been a competition where no-hoper teams (Denmark 92, Greece 04) can spring a surprise. Predictions? Golden boot? Fire away.

In touch with the Zeitgeist?

by John Quiggin on March 25, 2012

At around 35k into the cycle leg of today’s Mooloolaba triathlon, with a strong headwind[1] and the seat feeling very hard, I was wondering “why am I doing this”. At the time, the question was more like “why did I get out of bed this morning”, but there’s also a question as to why a middle-aged academic like myself is doing something like this at all.

My own causal account is pretty simple. I gave up my old sport, karate, for a variety of reasons, then started “boot camp” style training (minus silly uniforms and other pseudo-military stuff). to keep fit. As a consequence, I found that, whereas the distance I could comfortably run had been measured in 100s of metres, it was now measured in kilometers. But I still wasn’t particularly fast and my reasoning (captured by a T-shirt I saw today) was, “why suck at one sport when you can suck at three”. And indeed, so it has turned out, but I still enjoy it and keep trying.

So, that’s the purposive agent account. But (while I was not consciously aware of this at the time) triathlons are booming and not just in Australia. So, it seems, there is some general zeitgeist which I (and thousands of others) have somehow been driven by. This is not a unique occurrence

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Six Nations open thread

by Chris Bertram on February 3, 2012

At this time of year, we traditionally have an open thread on the Six Nations (if only to permit some deluded North American commenter to make the same lame joke about the Iroquois as has been made on previous occasions). I can’t really see beyond France, though they do have the capacity to collapse for no discernible reason. One of the first games is Scotland-England at Murrayfield, where most people seem to expect the Scots to win. I’ll be rooting for England, myself, despite a recent discovery that one of the Corries was a distant cousin. Thoughts, opinions, … anyone feeling optimistic about Ireland or Wales?

The only reason Catholics like Joe Paterno and Darío Castrillón Hoyos are able to commit such uniquely awful crimes is because they are ethical in a way that run-of-the-mill godless folk cannot understand. Plus, I hereby stipulate that raping children is, admittedly, bad, mumble.

Even shorter: I don’t doubt that people whom I have just admitted committed evil acts are, in fact good, because [makes mysterious, several-part gesture with hand and wrists which magically resolves obvious contradictions.]

Haka Lámh, Lámh Eile

by Kieran Healy on September 12, 2011

The Rugby World Cup got under way last weekend, with no big surprises so far—although Wales were very unlucky against South Africa. Ireland sputtered along against the U.S., clearly in need of something to get them focused. So with that in mind—and in the hope that they can do it the next time they face New Zealand—I suggest they adopt this excellent haka. Some rudimentary knowledge of Irish is required for the full effect.

It would be morally wrong of me not to post this

by Kieran Healy on March 4, 2011

This is the last over.

Six Nations Thread

by Kieran Healy on February 6, 2011

Or the Super Bowl. If you must.

Australian cricket, cremated

by Chris Bertram on January 7, 2011

I’ll be catching up on my sleep over the next few weeks, having spent many an evening up late in front of the telly followed by rising at six to see the last few overs. A tremendous achievement , almost without blemish, with records broken and many wonderful individual moments. One Australian I was drinking with last night claimed that the Ashes never meant much to them, because they could never take the urn home. Well, the fox who tried so hard reach the grapes claimed they were sour anyway. Open thead.