Saturday, June 15, 2002

Just following up on what Instapundit , Tapped , and this somewhat difficult to name blog have to say about Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, American Samoa etc having their own 'international' soccer teams, and trying to carry the argument to Washington DC. I realise the argument isn't entirely serious but some more serious thoughts on the subject.

Sporting contests between national teams came into being a little over 100 years ago. International matches in soccer were played in 1872, international cricket was first played in 1877, international matches in rugby in 1871, the olympic games in 1896. At the time the world consisted of far fewer units than it does today, and a lot of this cosisted of large amorphous empires. Sports that were played in multiple countries were generally spread around by these empires in the first place, and so the first international matches tended to be matches between the component units of these empires anyway. Therefore, when international sport first started out, teams between 'countries' without independent sovereignty were more the rule than the exception. (The first international match in soccer was between England and Scotland, in cricket between England and Australia, and in rugby again between England and Scotland). The rule seemed to be that if there was some sort of local identity, then there could be a local team. Colonies having separate teams from their imperial masters became accepted and normal, and although these colonies later mostly became independent countries in their own right, this tradition survived. Thus the Dutch Antilles, the Faroe Islands, and various other territories (and for that matter Hong Kong) still have their own independent soccer teams. The point however is that truly international sporting contests grew out of these inter-colonial type events. And while America was never an imperial power in quite the same way were the British or the Dutch, the Puerto Ricans, the American Samoans and the like have some sort of local identity, and since they do, having local teams fits in quite well with this tradition. And while there is no way Catalonia would be allowed to have a 'national' soccer team today without becoming a genuinely independent country, Scotland and Wales do by tradition and it doesn't bother anyone much.

Sometimes, the sporting teams can actually survive the changing in national boundaries. In my favourite sport of cricket, there is a 'national team' called the West Indies, which is a combined team of players from the former British colonies of the Carribean (plus Guyana in South America). These nations are so small that they would have difficulty fielding strong teams individually, but together they can, so they do. When they started doing so, they were all parts of the British Empire, but now they are not. Attempts to set up a federation of former British colonies in the West Indies failed, but they still kept the cricket team. (The West Indian team was awesomely strong from about 1980-1995, but is now, rather sadly, a shadow of its former self, although it still has one or two great players). Australia has had a national cricket team since 1877, but 'Australia' did not exist in any political sense until 1901. Probably the main reason that they got together on the cricket field was that if they did they had a better change of beating England. They did so, and they enjoyed it so much that some people believe that the success of the cricket team was a factor that hastened the political union that occurred in 1901. On the other hand, sometimes the sporting teams do not outlast the political changes. The pre-partition Indian cricket team included players from what later became Pakistan: the post partition team most assuredly did not.

It seems that for a place that is not fully independent to maintain its national sporting teams, it needs some sort of history of being separate from the larger country, some sort of local identity, and some sort of special political status within the larger country, and some sort of desire to have a local team. The key issue may be that sport isn't actually very important, and if it gives a little place that isn't really a country pleasure to have a soccer team, then why not? You do have to draw the line somewhere, but it doesn't hurt if it is in a few places a little anachronistic.

In any event, deciding who is a country for any other purpose, such as UN membership, always ends up a little anachronistic anyway. (The Ukraine and Belarus has their own UN seats for the entire history of the Soviet Union. As to why Texas and Louisiana didn't in this case demand them as well, I have no idea).

Thursday, June 13, 2002

It seems that astronomers are now discovering planetary systems that resemble our own, although we do not yet have equipment capable of resolving Earth sized planets (although we will soon). In any event, the number of planets discovered in other solar systems is greater than 100.

This type of research excites me no end. When I was a kid, I recall being told two things. Firstly, no planets have been discovered orbiting other stars, and from Earth we never will be able to discover any, because telescopes cannot resolve individual stars as anything other than points of light. I also recall being taught that nobody has ever seen an individual atom, and nobody ever will, because it is not possible to design a microscope that uses a light (or electon) wavelength short enough.

Both these predictions have of course been shown to be false in just a few years. Nobody should ever have made the first one to me, as it must have been obvious even then that we would be able to discover planets by watching stars wobble due to gravitational fields, and by watching their radiation vary as planets orbit in front of them, but the second one resolved in a way that was was completely off the wall. The guys at IBM invented the scanning tunnelling microscope using obscure quantum effects and we have suddenly have company logos made from individual atoms. (I think the STM is one of the coolest things ever invented).

In both cases the things I was told were true in narrow terms. It was not possible to refine existing instruments of observation to see planets or atoms. However, in both cases people invented completely different techniques to do the same thing, which did not have the same limitations. This is science at its most wonderful.

Sunday, June 09, 2002

The rain on my car is a baptism. The new me. Iceman. Power Lloyd. My assault on the world begins now. Believe in myself. Answer to no one
-- John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler in Cameron Crowe's Say Anything ...

I just feel that way today. More on Cameron Crowe movies some other time.
There's an interesting obituary of Genichi Kawakami, long term head honcho of Yamaha, in the Economist. Its on overwhelmingly complimentary piece, but it talks about his desire to catch up with and surpass piano manufacturer Steinway in terms of prestige as one of the few disappointments of his career. It also describes his great enthusiasm for everything his company made or did. My favourite story of Kawakami, as told in Bob Johnstone's We Were Burning: Japanese Entrepreneurs and the Forging of the Electronic Age , involves the electric organ business. As with pianos, you had an old venerable and prestigious American firm (in this case Hammond) which dominated the business. (Okay, Hammond was not quite as prestigious as Steinway). New technology for analog sound synthesis had been invented at Stanford University in California, and the inventors initially went to Hammond. Hammond did not know what to make of semiconductor based technology, and didn't want the product. Yamaha got wind of it, and eventually did a deal. The amusing part of this is that Kawakami conducted the negotiations from a hospital bed. The reason for this was that he had recently been a little too enthusiastic about his company's motorcycles. Yamaha's dominance of the electric organ business has been total, from the cheapest to most expensive organs, ever since.

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