Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Permanent Olympic site: radio interviews

My idea for a permanent site for the Summer Olympics has generated some interest. I was interviewed on San Francisco's radio news station KCBS. I also had a longer interview with New Zealand’s award winning radio show, This Way Up. The interview is available at


Here are a range of images from a recent and too brief a stay in Paris

(All photos © John Rennie Short)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Paris, Albert Camus

By coincidence I was in Paris on the 7 November on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Albert Camus (1913-1960). He lived some of his life in the city. The timing made me think about his continuing relevance beyond the hothouse intellectual climate of the city of his time.

His novels, especially The Stranger, The Plague and The Fall have a continuing resonance as we continue to search for meaning and clarity in a world that borders on, and often collapses into, the absurd. His life, is also an example and reminder of the awkward position and creative pain of being an outsider. His novel L’Etranger, so often given the English title of The Stranger, is best translated I feel as The Outsider. Outsider status is an interesting category to understand the contemporary world.  We all have states of the outsider, some temporary, others fleetingly and for others, the category is more permanent and more penal. French-speaking, born in Algeria to a very poor family, he straddles the awkward shift from colonial to postcolonial and his own responses to the colonial struggle in Algeria have all the compromised difficulty of the torn and the divided. His uncompromising pacifism is also a continuing message. In an editorial for the journal Combat in a response to hearing of an atomic bomb exploding in Hiroshima he wrote,

"The world is what it is, which is to say, not much.  That's what each us learned yesterday thanks to the formidable chorus that radio, newspapers, and information agencies have just unleashed regarding the atomic bomb. We are told, in fact, amid a host of enthusiastic commentaries, that any mid-sized city whatever can be totally razed by a bomb about the size of a soccer ball…We'll sum it up in one sentence:  mechanical civilization has just reached its final degree of savagery.  We are going to have to choose, in a future that is more or less imminent, between collective suicide and the intelligent use of scientific conquests...Faced with the terrifying prospects that are opening up before humanity, we see even more clearly than before that peace is the only fight worth engaging in.”

His arguments are all the more powerful and brave because of their time and place. Unlike his contemporary Jean Paul Sartre, Camus was never so ideologically committed to the authoritarian regimes of communism despite enormous pressure in postwar Paris. He wrote clearly and accessibly. His love of football and his prizing of everyday friendship make him seem more human than the arid intellectualism of his Paris contemporaries. Few lives can be summed up as ‘philosopher, writer, goalkeeper’.

Chess players in the Luxembourg Gardens (Photo: © John Rennie Short)

His pained response to the atomic age is all the more disturbing because it has the anguished realization of a new world that is now an accepted, taken for granted world. We have, by and large, incorporated and thus by default accepted the notion of mass destruction, global war and the possibility of annihilation. When he wrote, “To revolt today means to revolt against war”, he was leaving us a message that still has power and meaning and guidance.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Permanent Olympic site

Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. It got me to revisit an idea I had some time ago for a permanent Olympic site. To host the Games every four years at the one site would avoid all the disruptive urban destruction and social dislocation that befalls each host city. It would provide a place for training for younger athletes especially from the less wealthy parts of the world and a site for international gatherings of young people around arts and culture as well as sports. On the other hand it would mean no renewal of the Barcelona waterfront, the remediation of Homebush Bay in Sydney or the lower Lea Valley in London. But for every Barcelona and Sydney there is also an Atlanta and Beijing where the poor were displaced and further marginalized.

I spoke with the the young journalist Nate Berg about the idea and he produced a finely crafted piece in The Atlantic.

Olympic Stadium, Athens (Photo: John Rennie Short)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Stress Testing The USA

My new book Stress Testing The USA is just published. Here is a very short video interview about the book. Be sure to change the quality dial so that you see it at 720p in HD.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Go to college and live longer

As a college professor it is very much in my own interest that people attend college.  But there are other good reasons. Graduating from college is associated with improved employment opportunities and increased earnings.  A recent paper also highlights the longer term health benefits and mortality rate. Kasey Buckles, an economics professor at the University of Notre Dame and three colleagues looked at the effect of college graduation on how long people live. Looking at the mortality records from 1981 to 2007, for white men born in the USA between 1942 and 1953, they show that completing college reduces mortality substantially, close to thirty per cent relative to the mean. For cancer deaths it means a reduction of 25.9 per 1,000. For the entire cohort, if you did not go to college you were 2.21 times more likely to die by 2007 than those who did go.

Many factors are at work. College educated folks may be less likely to smoke or drink excessively- although that was not my own undergraduate experience. Differential incomes play a major role; the better off have better health insurance, better health provision and better health outcomes. While social scientists unravel the dense circuitry of causal connections, remember, graduating from college really is good for you. You live longer.  

Buckles, K., Malamud, O., Morrill, M. S., and Wozniak, A. (2012). The Effect of College Education on Health (No. 6659). Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).