Friday, October 26, 2007

Update of London Activities

The past few days have seen me attend another couple of speeches. Last Wednesday I attended a talk by Tarja Halonen, President of Finland since 2000, on the welfare state during globalization. The talk wasn’t particularly interesting, but I didn’t have high hopes. Talks by extremely high-ranking government officials are, more often than not I think, filled with generalities and platitudes, simply because what he or she says is vetted by so many people. I hoped this may be an exception, but it wasn’t. However, that wasn’t really why I went. I went so I could say I’ve seen Halonen talk and say that I’ve seen an active head of state give a lecture, which is both true. I’ve seen former Canadian PMs give speeches, but I believe this is the first world leader I’ve ever seen in person and yes, she does look a bit like Conan O’Brian.

The next day Paul Collier, an economist at Oxford was giving a speech on development and although I originally intended to go, I wavered on the issue because I was tired and he wasn’t a “name” like Halonen. However, then I looked up the reviews his book The Bottom Billion got on Amazon and decided to go. It was well worth it and content-wise was the best public lecture I’ve been to while at LSE. Collier’s an alright speaker – he’s nothing special, but he won’t put you to sleep either. The content on the other hand was very interesting, as Collier argues that development efforts have had a very beneficial effect on about three-quarters of the world’s population, but has left the bottom billion even worse off than they were thirty years ago. Collier gave us a preview of his book as he rushed through some of the reasons why this is the case and what some of his policy prescriptions to solve this problem are. It was very interesting stuff and I saw one of my professors leave the talk with a copy of his book under his arm, obviously bought at the little stand set outside the lecture theatre. The book is something I’ve put on my “to read” list, but I may hope it comes out in paperback and saves me buying the hardcover.

On Saturday I watched the Rugby World Cup final at a local bar. It was a pretty cool experience, even if England played rather poorly and there wasn’t a try scored the entire match. Well, actually England scored a try, but the referee didn’t allow it based on video review. I don’t know what angle they had in the review booth, because from every angle shown on TV it looked like the player touched the ball down over the line before his foot went out of bounds. Nevertheless, that was the only time England looked close to scoring a try and South Africa deserved to win the match. One thing I don’t understand is why England rugby has adopted “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as it’s unofficial theme song. The patrons in the bar burst spontaneously into song at several points throughout the match and I was assured this was happening wherever people were watching the game. I’m not sure why English rugby is associated with a slave song with the message that no matter how badly things go on Earth, we can always look forward to Heaven. Weird.

On Sunday I did something that I and only I would do (of the people you know). Sunday was Game 7 of the ALCS (i.e. the deciding game in the semi-finals of the baseball playoffs), so I was determined to watch it. Luckily, a couple of guys on my floor are Americans and are baseball fans and we gathered in one room to watch it on a laptop at 1 AM. By 2 AM, one of the other guys had left for bed and the guy whose room it was clearly wanted to go to sleep, so I took my cue and left. Rather than return to my own room with my sporadic internet connection, I went to our computer lab in the basement with its 20th century computers and proceeded to watch the game until 4:30 in the morning online, in the dingy basement, by myself. It was well worth it, even if the dreaded Red Sox won. The game was exciting up through the seventh inning when Joel Skinner made the biggest blunder by a basecoach I think I have ever seen in my life. His decision was so bad that the runner stopped, looked back at the play and immediately did a double-take towards the coach, incredulous at the decision. I’ve never seen a runner look back towards the coach so immediately and with such disbelief on his face before. The Indians lost the game badly and likely would have lost anyway, but if Cleveland had scored a run or more there (or if the umpire hadn’t missed a call in the fifth inning that cost Cleveland at least one run) the complexion of the game would have been changed.


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