Saturday, February 15, 2003

I am in an internet cafe at Picadilly Circus, getting a respite from the cold. (This has been a cold winter). I have just walked from Lancaster Gate, across the top of Hyde Park, to Marble Arch, up Oxford Streed and down Regents Street to Picadilly Circus. (I had hoped to catch a bus, but they were not running between Lancaster Gate and Marble Arch due to the anti-war demonstration, as I should have predicted). My thoughts on this are that the demonstration is clearly enormous, perhaps the biggest I have ever seen. There were a large number of buses from all over England parked nearby and I heard a lot of regional accents. (I managed to avoid the temptation to burst into song and start singing The Star Spangled Banner, which explains why I am still with you). There is still a loud demonstration in Picadilly Circus outside.

The demonstration features lots of signs: simple "No War", lots of "Not in My Name", various things denigrating George Bush and Tony Blair, assorted pacifict sentiments ("Preemptive violence is never justified" is one I saw. I think that depends on what you are trying to preempt). Quite a few with Freedom for Palestine. (I am all for an independent Palestine. I simply don't know how to get people in Palestine (more broadly defined) to stop killing one another. (Yes, I do have more detailed sentiments on the subject, but this is enough of a digression).

This was a big demonstration, however. The British people are, I think, rather badly spit. Rather more so than I would think from reading Samizdata sadly.

Plus as I walked down Oxford Street, I saw some people on a balcony of one of the buildings chanting "We want [something muffled", and waving a sign saying Make Tea, Not War. I am not sure if this is a truly British sentiment, or some strange statement of solidarity with the people of Boston circa 1773.

Update: As I was walking out of the internet cafe, I saw someone with a hand drawn sign saying "Bomb France, not Iraq". I didn't manage to get close enough to the chap to ask him his precise political positon.

Friday, February 14, 2003

She [America] founds her empire upon the idea of universal toleration: She admits all religions into her bosom -- she secures the sacred rights of every individual; and (astonishing absurdity to Europeans!) she sees a thousand discordant opinions live in the strictest harmony. ... it will finally raise her to pitch of glory and lustre, before which the ancient glory of Greece and Rome will dwindle to a point, and the splendor of modern Empires fade into obscurity.

--- Noah Webster, 1782

My apologies to NZPundit for stealing his post. The quote is so good I just felt like repeating it..
I suppose it is February 14

A quiet day in the cricket today, with only Sri Lanka playing Bangladesh. The game isn't over yet, but Sri Lanka are cruising to what may be a ten wicket victory . In this match, Sri Lanka continue to look extremely good, and Bangladesh continue to look terrible. The match started with Sri Lankan bowler Chaminda Vaas taking a hat trick with the first three balls of the match. Hat tricks, in which a bowler takes a wicket with three consecutive balls, are fairly uncommon. A top notch player with who plays a long career might achieve the feat once. There have been 16 hat tricks achieved in 1950 one day international games played. (This is the second time Vaas has done it). Nobody has ever done it with the first three balls of a match before. It will be interesting to find out of anyone has ever done it with the first three balls of a match in any other class of cricket. I am sure that statistics books are today being checked.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Patrick Crozier over at Transport Blog asks if pollution has really fallen over the years, and if so, why?. I have a couple of thoughts in pollution. I think in rich world cities, pollution has definitely declined, and there are two main reasons for this. The first is that the richer societies become the more they care about it and the more money they have to spend on reducing it. This makes perfect economic sense. If you think you will live to 80, it does make sense to spend money on avoiding inhaling carcinogens now, whereas it makes less sense if you are unsure if you will have enough to eat next Tuesday.

The other reason is more interesting, and it is simply that industrially speaking, pollution indicates inefficiency. Resources are being wasted on creating black smoke when they could be used to make something useful. As our machines become more technologically sophisticated, they are less polluting as a biproduct of that sophistication.

(Our cities are also clearly becoming cleaner as their economies become more and more about services and less and less about goods, but that is a harder question to consider. It is harder to say whether pollution is actually being reduced or if it is being merely moved somewhere else).

As an interesting side effect of our less polluted cities, look at all the residential developments occurring around rivers and harbours. Most cities have been founded near a body of water of some sort, and in the days when the cities were actually founded, next to the water was the fashionable place to live. However, industrialisation came, and bodies of water became polluted as a consequence. The fashionable places to live then moved away from the water. Now, however, the water is no longer polluted, and we see lots of residential developments beside the water again. (This has been aided by the advent of container shipping, which means that port facilities are now so massive that you can no longer fit them in the hearts of cities (unless you are somewhere with a truly massive watercourse going through your city like Hamburg) and there is therefore lots of space that needs redeveloping. However, there is more to the story than this).
Potentially we here have a film directed by Tony Scott and written by Richard Kelly (writer/director of Donnie Darko, one of my favourite films of last year. Kelly was about 26 when he made it, and I remain amazed beyond words by his precocity). Scott is a quality action director, although his brother Ridley is the great director of the family. (And there are a lot of directors in the family, including a couple of Ridley's sons). Just why it is that Tony can get extraordinarily talented young writer-directors to write stuff for him just as they are becoming famous, though, I am not sure. (The other example is of course "True Romance", which was an early script from Quentin Tarentino).

This sounds like fun.
West Indies versus New Zealand today. A 20 runs victory for New Zealand, who put in a good all round team effort. This was yet another match where the side chasing a target lost wickets early, then the lower order players made a charge for the target but didn't quite do it. The West Indies lost Lara early. And after that the batting fell away. A fine 75 by Sarwan (who also batted very well against South Africa - he certainly looks a player to watch) and 50 from Jacobs put them in sight, but once they were out the match was lost.

Two obvious comments: firstly if Lara had scored a few runs the West Indies would have won the game, but because he didn't they didn't. They remain extremely dependent on him, despite the fact that the lower order batting is stronger than we thought going in to the tourament.

Secondly, despite all that it was the West Indian bowlers who lost the game. New Zealand were 6-147. They shouldn't have got 240 from there. As it was, New Zealand were allowed to get 20 runs too many. The West Indian bowling is simply too weak for them too figure in the final stages of the tournament.

Still, there are no clear dominant teams in Group B. Three of South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka will qualify for the next round and one will miss out. It is still anyone's guess who that will be. South Africa play New Zealand on Sunday. If New Zealand win that one they will almost certainly go through (and South Africa will be in trouble). If South Africa win things will be even murkier. The remaining important matches in that group (Sri Lanka - West Indies and Sri Lanka - South Africa) are not until Feb 28 and March 3, so we have some waiting to do before the murkiness clears.

England were due to play in Zimbabwe today but the match was called off. Arguing still goes on as to whether this counts as a default (in which Zimbabwe will pick up the points), a no result (in which the sides get two points each) or whether the game can be rescheduled to be played in South Africa later. (We would all like to see this, but I doubt it will happen). The Indian board is even claiming that England should be penalised points in addition to missing out on the points for the match, which would effectively end any chance England would have of making the second round of the tournament. This is a very harsh prospect, and I think it is extremely unlikely to happen. This ongoing saga cannot be helping English team morale. That said, their first game will be a very easy game against the Netherlands on Sunday. Getting on the field and playing some cricket should be good for them.
Beyond Ten Thousand

My counter for this website records that the site has just received its ten thousandth visitor. Glenn Reynolds gets this many in two to three hours, but still, it is a milestone.

Visits are up considerably this month, despite the fact that I feel I have been blogging excessively about frivolous subjects. (Cricket and Academy Awards). I think I recall somebody once describing cricket as "The most important of all the trivial pursuits", which I think is a delightful description. However, I cannot recall who said this, or, in fact if they were talking about cricket or something else.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Daily World Cup update, and thoughts on Shane Warne

Two World Cup games today. South Africa managed a very clinical, completely expected ten wicket win with 38.4 overs to spare against Kenya. This is exactly what they needed after their loss to the West Indies on Sunday. India, on the other hand, appeared to be in some difficultly batting against the Netherlands. Their resultant score of 204 was very unimpressive for supposedly one of the best batting sides in the world. India did follow up by bowling very well and although the match is still going on as I write, India looks set to win by a very comfortable 80 runs or so. Still, their performance today could not be described as impressive.

After four days of matches, I would describe Sri Lanka and the West Indies as having performed above expectations, Australia approximately to expectations, and India, Pakistan, New Zealand and South Africa below expectations. As an Australian supporter I am still reasonably confident (although the loss of Shane Warne obviously doesn't help), but from the Australian point of view, the resurgence of Sri Lanka is a negative. No other side has a better recent record of beating Australia in important matches. A semi-final or final against Sri Lanka is really something Australia would prefer to avoid.

On the Shane Warne business, Peter Fitzsimons has the following to say in the Sydney Morning Herald

There are only four possibilities. 1. Shane Warne is a drug cheat. 2. Shane Warne's mum is a drug cheat. 3.Shane Warne is as stupid as a speed hump. 4. Joe the Cameraman did it.

While there will be many who will point to Warne's extraordinarily quick physical transformation in recent times and rapid recovery from injury as evidence for point 1, there is no doubt Warne's legal representatives will have to argue that point 3 is the only reasonable conclusion.

As evidence they will have an awesome arsenal of Warne's past performances to point to.

My long term feelings on Warne are simply this: the man is capable of being an idiot, but there is nobody else in the world (except perhaps Vivian Richards, who I am sadly no longer able to watch) who I would rather watch playing cricket. For this reason, my heart wants to see him get a light suspension so that I can return to watching him play cricket.

On the other hand, this piece on why Warne might have taken the pill is potentially quite damning. There seem too possible reasons: the first is that Warne had been taking steroids to help him recover from his injury, and he was in fact using the drug to mask steriod use. The other is that Warne had put on some weight over due to being unable to train properly after the shoulder injury, and he took the pill to lose some weight, largely because of vanity. This strikes me as a stupid thing to do, but who knows. To quote Fitzsimons again.

Adam Gilchrist couldn't possibly argue he is capable of that level of stupidity and be believed. As a matter of fact, nobody else in the whole Australian squad could but, hell, with Warne you just never know.

And the final thing that makes me uncomfortable is just this: Warne has over the last year lost a great deal of weight, and he has recovered remarkably and perhaps suspiciously quickly from a serious injury. Taking illicit drugs would certainly have helped him in these endeavours. The more I think about it, the more cynical I am becoming. And I don't want to be cynical. I want Warne to keep playing until he is 43, for the rest of his career to be unblemished, and for him to take 900 test wickets.
It is Charles Darwin's birthday. Darwin was recently my pick as the Greatest Briton , and the scientific revolution the man founded becomes more important by the day. In this letter to the Times (via Andrew Sullivan ), a group of extremely eminent scientists declare that February 12 should be declared a public holiday in his honour. I can only agree, although I suspect it will not happen.

Personally, as an Australian I take quite a bit of pride that we have an important city named after Darwin. I cannot think of any other city in the world named after a scientist.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Okay, it seems I lied when I said I would not make any more comments on the oscar nominations.

Glenn Reynolds quotes John Scalzi's comments on Michael Moore's Best Documentary nomination for Bowling for Columbine

Bowling for Columbine will win Best Documentary, because it's the only documentary most of the Academy is aware of, and because Mike Moore loathes George Bush and so does Hollywood.

I don't think John's first point applies. The voting rules for Best Documentary state that people can only vote if they have seen every nominated film in the cinema. (Normally they do this by attending official academy screenings in LA and NY. The academy keeps records of who attends the screenings). This means that the people who vote will have heard of all five films. It is often the case that an obscure film has won over a commercially successful film in this category, whereas it is much less likely in categories where voters do not have to prove they have seen the nominated films. (The same rule applies for the Best Foreign film category, which also leads to obscure films often winning).

Another issue with the documentary feature is that films about the Holocaust very frequently win. This is obviously a very worthy subject to make documentaries about, but there is a definite pattern in the academy's choices. This year we have as a nominee Malcolm Clarke's Prisoner of Paradise , about a Jewish film director who was forced to make a pro-Nazi propaganda film in a German concentration camp. Judging by the academy's past record of picking documentary oscar winners, this stands a good chance of winning. If this can prevent Michael Moore from winning, I will be delighted.

So I suppose it all comes down to two factors: how much Hollywood hates George Bush, and how much Hollywood resents Michael Moore's obnoxiousness. I think people who don't want Moore to win need to go out of their way to publicise Moore's awful behaviour towards the theatre staff in London, actually. The out of work actors who make up much of the academy are hardly going to be impressed by it.
Oscar Nominations

Where the [expletive] is Peter Jackson's nomination for Best Director? I didn't predict that one. Also, Meryl Streep missed out for Best Actress, which surprised me a little. Otherwise, fairly predictable.

More later.

Update:. It's now later.

Firstly, David Post comments that both Charlie and Donald Kaufman have been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, and asks if this is a first, given that Donald Kaufman is a fictional character.

My response to this is, not really. Firstly, in every Oscar category except for acting categories (where individual people are nominated, for obvious reasons) it isn't actually people that are nominated for Oscars, but films . The ballot papers do not mention the actual people, and voters vote for the film. So, Adaptation is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay , and then for each nominee the academy decides who will actually receive the Oscar in the event of the film winning. (These people also get the bonus prize of academy membership merely for having their film nominated). How the people are chosen varies from category to category. For writing, it is normally the credited screenwriters, which in the event of multiple screenwriters will have been decided previously by the Writer's Guild). For some other categories where a job is done by multiple people, the process of deciding who will get the award can be complex. For some other categories, the studio that makes the film makes a nomination to the academy.

In any event, it is Adaptation that has been nominated, and not the Kaufman "brothers". The names of the recipients for the film can change between now and Oscar night, and probably will be. The academy is very unlikely to give a second statue in absentia for someone who doesn't exist.

As for precedents, there have been plenty. Roderick Jaynes' name was initially announced as the recipient when Fargo was nominated for Best Achievement in Editing. Roderick Jaynes is actually a pseudonym for Joel and Ethan Coen, who presumably do not want to give themselves too many credits on their films. (Roderick Jaynes is one of those pseudonyms that has a life of his own: he also has a tendency to write very pompous introductions to the Coen brothers' books, in which he claims to be a crusty old editor "from the old British school"). However, on Oscar night when the nominees names were read out, they were read out as "Joel and Ethan Coen". (For one thing, this would have ensured that each of the Coens got a statue if they had won).

There have been other examples. In 1984, the film Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was credited to Robert Towne and P.H. Vazak. Vazak was in fact Robert Towne's dog, to who Towne gave the co-screenwriting credit for fun.

Plus of course there were a number of instances in the 1950s where blacklisted screenwriters were nominated for or won oscars under pseudonyms, and where nobody knew who they actually were for some years. Most notably, somebody named Robert Rich won a screenwriting oscar in 1957 for The Brave One. For several years nobody had any idea who this was, although it was eventually discovered that this was Dalton Trumbo writing under a pseudonym.

Further Update : It's now even later, and some more comments on the nominations themselves. In my various earlier postings, I commented on what I thought would be nominated, and my guesses turned out to be pretty good. I successfully picked all five nominees for Best Picture, and four out of five for Best Director. Curiously, I was close to certain that I had the five for Director, but was less certain for Best Picture, but it turned out the other way round. As I said earlier, I am pretty stunned by this. Peter Jackson pulled off something amazing, and deserved to be awarded for it. Yes, it is the middle film, and the middle film was always going to be the least lauded in terms of awards. However, the films are what they are because of Jackson, and I do not understand why his peers failed to recognise this. The Two Towers got six nominations in all, which was about what I suspected. As other people have pointed out, though, the lack of a nomination for cinematography is pretty stunning, too. The film contains some of the best photography I have ever seen. I have no problem whatsoever with Pedro Almodovar's nomination for Best Director - the man is a master - but it should have been at the expense of someone other than Jackson.

To actually win in these categories, Chicago clearly still looks the front runner. 13 nominations are a lot. I think that fact that it got four acting nominations suggests that the momentum is with it. I particularly think this because of John C Reilly's nomination. He could have been nominated for any of four films, but the voters chose Chicago

On the acting categories, I thought that the female categories were easier to predict than the male characters, but it turned out to be the other way round. Adrien Brody was the one I missed. I had boldly gone for Richard Gere for the fifth nomination. Gere seems just about the only person connected with Chicago to have been snubbed. I am still not sure who I think will win in this category. Nicholson is probably slight favourite, followed by Cage and Day-Lewis. This one looks close, however.

For Supporting Actor, the one possible surprise is John C Reilly instead of Dennis Quaid. I am very pleased to see Reilly nominated, and now that he is nominated he stands a great chance of actually winning. This is because he is in three of the five Best Picture nominations, and he is really good in all of them. Voters watching most nominated films will keep seeing him in different types of roles, and equally good in all of them. I think his main competition is Paul Newman, and he is in Road to Perdition a so-so film that most people have forgotten and which voters don't need to watch to vote in any other categories.

In the female categories, the big surprise is Meryl Streep missing out for Best Actress. It was perhaps too much to ask for voters to give two Best Actress nominations for the one film. (Also, the fact that an administrative error robbed her of a Screen Actor's Guild nomination may have had something to do with it). In any event, she got a supporting nomination for Adaptation , and I still think she has a great chance of winning that one. The one surprise for Best Actress is perhaps Salma Hayak for Frida . I suppose this shows that actors like to reward their peers' vanity projects. Nicole Kidman still looks to be the frontrunner for Best Actress. For supporting actress I was perhaps a little surprised by Queen Latifah's nomination for Chicago , as I didn't think she had a lot to do in the movie. (A shame they didn't give the nomination to Emily Watson for Punch Drunk Love, but I knew they wouldn't). However, everything else was pretty predictable. Either Meryl Streep or Catherine Zeta-Jones will win in this category.

Finally, the Best Original Song category has some pretty interesting stuff in it. Normally, the academy tries to get the artists who performed the song for the movie to perform it on oscar night. This could concevably mean that Paul Simon, U2, and Eminem will all be performing one after the other. (I think Eminem should win in this category, because "Lose Yourself" is a dazzling piece of work. As to whether he is to the academy's tastes, that is another question).

And I think I have blogged endlessly about a subject that is essentially frivolous. Nothing more on the Oscars until Oscar night. Back now to the cricket, which is of course no less frivolous.
Jacob Levy follows up with some comments (and a request for information) on the Australian senate's recent "no confidence motion" in the Australian government over PM Howard's support for the war against Iraq. Jacob's comment is that the idea of a "confidence motion" coming from an upper house generally makes little sense. In parliamentary terms, "confidence" has a very specific meaning, and it is the implied parliamentary supprt that allows an executive government (that has no direct mandate from voters) to continue governing. In Australia and virtually everywhere else, convention (or explicit constitutional authorisation) provides that a government is formed from a majority in the lower house, and not the upper.

However, a "motion of no confidence" sounds threatening, and therefore the senate passes a motion with such a name, although in reality it is a fairly normal censure motion. My thought is that quite frankly many of the senators don't properly understand what a "motion of no confidence" properly signifies themselves, and having seen them voted on in the House of Representatives, they want one themselves. By doing this, they lower their credibility and the credibility of their senate, which is a shame.

Of course, the irony here is that the Australian executive government actually does require the confidence of the senate, but the word "confidence" is not used. The senate does actually have the power to bring a goverrment down, if it really wants to flex its muscles. The consent of the senate is required for all parliamentary bills, including appropriation bills. Therefore, to bring a government down, the senate needs only to refuse to pass these money bills, and to wait for the government to run out of money and/or call an election.

As all Australians know, the senate did in fact bring down a government by refusing to pass money bills in 1975. While the senate clearly does have this power, because of this past use it remains an extremely controversial issue in Australia as to whether the senate should have this power. People are still fairly polarised on party grounds. Because it was a left wing government that was brought down in 1975, people of left-wing politics typically believe that the power should be removed and people of right-wing politics believe that the power is a justifiable check and balance on the government.

The present government is a right wing government. The people in the senate who voted their "motion of no confidence" the other week are typically from the left. While they could conceivably bring down the government by withdrawing their consent for money bills, they are committed to never do this for historical reasons. Whereas they could in theory withdraw their actual parliamentary confidence in the government and bring it down, this is for them unthinkable. Therefore, instead, they pass completely spurious "motions of no confidence" that are not really what they claim to be.
Shane Warne has failed a drug test and has been sent home from the World Cup. The drug was apparently a "diuretic" that Warne was using in his weight loss efforts. (I wish I knew what the actual substance was - there are certainly some fairly nasty drugs that people sometimes use to lose weight. The SMH is describing it as a "fluid reduction medication"). Still, this is bad, both because I hate to see one of the greatest players of the game go out like this, and two, because it seriously reduces Australia's chances of winning the tournament.

On Australia winning the tournament, Australia have just scored a superb 310 in their first match. After a bad start, Andrew Symonds came in at number six and scored an amazing 145 not out. (Symonds was a marginal selection for this World Cup, but he certainly justified his selection today). To make matters worse for Pakistan, their over rate was slow and they are going to be penalised overs when they bat. Sloppy for them, but typical of Pakistan sides. (They also bowled a lot of wides and noballs). After Pakistan captain Waqar Younis' peculiarly inept attempts at mind games the other day, he lost his cool when bowling, and was taken out of the attack by the umpire for bowling dangerously. (A cricket ball is supposed to bounce between being bowled and reaching the batsman. If a fast bowler fails to bounce the ball, it can be extremely dangerous to the batsman, who does not expect it. Normally if it happens once, the bowler apologises profusely to the batsman, and the game goes on. If it happens twice, as it did today, the bowler is normally banned by the umpire from bowling in the rest of the match, which is what happened).. As I said, a complete lack of discipline from the Pakistanis.

Australia should win this game easily, if nothing else.

Update Australia did win the game easily. It will be interesting to see what the Australian selectors now do in the next game, given that Symonds was likely only in the side in the first place due to the Suspension of Lehmann and the injury to Bevan. Symonds must now be retained. Maher can be dropped for Bevan, but then what. The selectors either leave Lehmann out, or drop Harvey. However, Harvey is useful for his bowling, so this is a little bit of a dilemma for them.

On the bowling front, the last World Cup was in the end won by brilliant bowling from Shane Warne in the semi-final and final. When things looked lost, he was able to pull something special out of the bag when it counted to win (or tie) the matches from what looked like difficult positions. With Warne being sent home, he will not be there to fill this role in this tournament, and Australia are much weaker for this. However, it will be interesting to see if any of the other bowlers will be able to perform this role. Brett Lee managed this a few times in the recent VB series, particularly in the second final. I think he just might in the WC, too.

Further Update: In today's other game, Canada defeated Bangladesh quite comfortably. Although neither of these sides are expected to make the second round of the tournament, Bangladesh are what is known as a "full member" of the International Cricket Council (ICC). This means that they play together as a team year round against the other full members, their players are professional, their matches count towards the official statistics of top level cricket, and they do not have to play in a qualifying tournament for the World Cup. Canada on the other hand are true amateurs, only play together occasionally, and had to qualify for the tournament. (Canada finished third in the qualifying tournament from which three teams qualified for the World Cup, and so are officially ranked 14th out of the 14 teams in the tournament). There has been some discussion as to whether the ICC were correct to grant Bangladesh full member status. These arguments will continue after today.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Jacob Levy over at the Volokh conspiracy has some comments on the discussion Iain Murray and I were having on bicameralism and House of Lords reform, and on whether Australia was a good example to copy.

Jacob makes the good point that in the US, Australia and Germany, strong bicameralism has been a natural consequence of federalism. Upper houses have been created in which the states or provinces are equal, and this has provided the different basis for election of the second house that is necessary for a working federal system.

To that, I would add that federalism builds defences into a bicameral system that bicameral systems with different electoral bases do not necessarily have. Equal representation in a powerful upper house or senate is usually part of the deal done when the constitution in written, and the small states are generally keen on making it very difficult for these powers to be taken away later. If an executive government (as executive governments do) decides later that it does not like bicamalism, then constitutional barriers that were put in place to protect the small states usually prevent it from doing anything about it. Plus, small states see such moves as an attack on their power, and at the very least they make a lot of noise. In cases where the upper house has some other electoral basis, then there is the chance that the population at large sees it as all a bit arcane and doesn't care greatly. (I think this is what we see in Britain today).

For instance, in Australia a constitutional amendment normally requires a Swiss style double majority in a referendum to pass: a majority of voters overall must vote for it, and so must state wide majorities in a majority of states. This is designed to protect the small states, and changing the powers of the senate is difficult, and requires the consent of at least some of the smaller states. An amendment to change the equal representation of the states in the senate requires a triple majority: the double majority above plus a majority of votors in the state having its representation reduced. This clearly will never happen.

As a further example, it is worth comparing the bicameral system that applies in Australian federal politics with the systems that apply in the Australian states. The federal senate was brought into being by the constitution on 1901, and has always been fully elected by popular vote. The senate has essentially the same powers that the House of Lords had in Britain at that time (Ie prior to the Parliament Act): its consent is required for all legislation (including appropriations bills).

The stories in the Australian states are different, however. (The history is also different). Generally, without the federal justification for bicameralism, bicameral systems in Australian states have worked much less well. Plus, without the strong protection against arbitrary constitution amendments, lower houses have been able to gradually chip away at the powers of upper houses, rather as has happened with the house of Lords in Britain.

Early in the history of each Australian colony, a Legislative Council was set up to assist the governor. These were appointed, and normally consisted of wealthy citizens. From the 1850s, second chambers, normally called Legislative Assemblies, were set up, and were normally elected by popular vote, and the two houses together formed bicameral systems. As is normal in parliamentary systems, the party controlling a majority in these lower houses got to form the government. (In Australia in the 19th century, this arrangement was known as "responsible government"). Australian state legislatures are essentially like this to this day.

However, almost immediately after the establishment of responsible government in the various Australian colonies, bickering broke out between the upper and lower houses. As the lower house was popularly elected, and got to form the government, the lower houses normally won out. Basically they got their way in two ways.

Firstly, Legislative Councils became more democratic. Appointment was replaced with property based franchises and eventually with popular votes with universal franchises. Secondly, the powers of upper houses were generally reduced. Most state upper houses in Ausralia do not have the right to block money bills, and in some instances the upper houses only have the right to delay legislation, and not to actually block it. The upper house in the state of Queensland was in the 1930s abolished entirely. This type of thing was possible because state constitutions were and are much easier to amend than federal constitutions, and this is the case because when they were written, they did not have representatives of smallers states trying to ensure this.

Today, five of the six Australian states still have upper houses. In the State of New South Wales, where I come from, the upper house is elected using PR, and half of it is elected every four years. (The lower house is up for re-election every four years). The makeup of this house is quite similar to the federal senate, with the major parties holding about a third of the seats each and various minor parties holding the balance of power. To get legislation passed, the government normally has to do some horsetrading and perhaps offer some pork, but it can generally do so. This house has rather less power than the federal senate, but on the whole it works reasonably well.

On the other hand, in the state of Victoria, the upper house is elected with single member electorates, just like the lower house. (Upper house electorates are bigger, however). Half the upper house is elected every four years. This tends to lead to one of two situations. The first is that the party that holds power in the lower house also controls a majority of seats in the upper house, in which case the upper house just becomes a rubber stamp and does nothing useful. The second is that the party that forms the opposition in the lower house controls an absolute majority of the seats in the upper house. This often makes it impossible for the government to do anything at all. In practice, in this situation governments whine a lot, and try to to reduce the powers of the upper house. And voters are often sympathetic. And this is what has happened. The upper house in Victoria still exists, but it has been turned into an irrelevance.
Okay, my last two categories of pre-oscar nomination coverage. Whereas the female categories (except for the last nomination or so) and the picture and director categories are straightforward, these are much harder to anticipate.

Best Actor

I think Jack Nicholson will get nominated for About Schmidt, because he always does get nominated and he is pretty good in the role. However, he won fairly recently for As Good As it Gets , and he has three oscars already, so I doubt he will actually win. Daniel Day Lewis is terrific in Gangs of New York, although the performance is a little over the top, it is trmendous fun, and it is great to see Day Lewis again after his five year break from movies. Michael Caine is excellent in The Quiet American and will likely get nominated. Miramax is running a "You love Michael Caine, and he has never won for Best Actor, so why don't you vote for him" campaign. However, buzz on the movie has quietened a bit later, and politically it doesn't reflect the national mood that well. Plus, Caine has won for Best Supporting Actor twice, and did quite recently (for The Cider House Rules Adaptation and although the film may be too whacky for the academy, I think he will get nominated. For the fifth nomination, I am going for Richard Gere . Chicago is getting more popular by the week, and Gere is surprisingly good in the movie. I really liked his performance, and he is an actor I generally dislike.

Best Supporting Actor

My pick to win in this category is Paul Newman for The Road to Perdition , because he has been a star for a very long time, everybody likes him, he hasn't won an oscar recently, and he is terrific in the film. Basically Newman to win because he deserves to. As for other possible nominees in this category, I am hampered because I haven't seen most of the films. Ed Harris for The Hours , Chris Cooper for Adaptation and Dennis Quaid for Far From Heaven appear good bets based purely on buzz, but that is about as much as I can say. I have a bit of a hunch that Chistopher Walken may pick up a nomination for Catch Me if you Can. And John C Reilly has been good in lots of movies this year, but voters might have trouble choosing which performance to nominate. (My guess is that most voters will bypass Chicago and The Good Girl , but will have trouble deciding between Gangs of New York and The Hours . So, he may miss out. Anyway, there is my pre-nominations oscar silliness for this year. Brief comments on the nominees tomorrow, then actual comments on Oscar night.
Okay, Oscar nominations are out tomorrow. I have given my opinion on the female acting categories already. My thoughts on Best Director, Best Picture, and the male acting categories in another post later this evening.

Start with Best Picture and Best Director.

I think the nominations and the winner are pretty straightforward here. Chicago is a slam dunk. It's middle of the road. It's quite well done. It is a film of a famous stage musical that many of the voters will have seen in one production of another. It's even a year behind the trend, which always works well for Oscar voters, many of who are ageing costume designers. Moulin Rouge was nominated last year, and was perhaps a little too frenetic for the middle of the road academy votes. Chicago is a Bob Fosse musical, however. One of those was even the last musical to win a Best Picture Oscar. (Cabaret in 1973). I think this will win Best Picture. Chicago was directed by stage director and choreographer Rob Marshall , and its his first film. He will get a nomination for Best Director, but I don't think I will win. While the academy likes first time directors who come from the theatre (eg Sam Mendes) I don't think Marshall's profile is high enough. Plus, I have heard one or two criticisms of his direction recently. Whilst I think these criticisms are misguided (the direction is good, but I think the problems are with the production design, and I think some people do not understand the difference) I think they will count against Marshall.

The Hours is one of those movies where the actors will win awards but the film itself will largely miss out. This is sort of what In The Bedroom was last year: a little too arty for the academy. The film gets a high profile in December when the critics awards come out, but then declines in profile as the awards approach. The film will get a Best Picture nomination, and director Stephen Daldry will get a Best Director nomination (with the direction nomination even more of a lock than the Best Picture nomination. It's Daldry's second film, and he also got a nomination for his first ( Billy Elliot). That helps.

The Pianist also looks close to certain in both categories. It has a good story behind it (Roman Polanski makes a comeback after some years of bad films, and some of what's in the movie actually happened to him as a child. The academy often gives awards to Holocaust themed films. Plus the film is perhaps actually the best film of the year. The longer the awards season goes on, the more this one firms, largely because the film is so good. On the down side, Polanski will be arrested for statuatory rape if he ever enters the US. This will count against him for the actual awards, but it won't stop nominations.

The Two Towers . If major category oscars are going to be awarded for The Lord of the Rings , they will be awarded next year for , and I think there will be an excellent chance that this will happen. However, I am amazed at just what Peter Jackson has managed to pull off, and I suspect that so is the directors' branch of the academy. I think a director nomination for Jackson is very likely, and a Best Picture nomination is pretty likely. (Remember, with the single transferrable vote system used for nominations, a film that everybody thought was the fifth best film of the year will likely get a nomination, whereas one that a few people thought was the best film of the year but everybody else hated may not. A lot of people will put The Two Towers in their top five, possibly more than any other film). I think this one is more certain in the direction category than for best picture, but it will likely be nominated in both. However, once nominated it will not win in either category.

Gangs of New York . This is the tricky one. This is Martin Scorsese's dream project, that he took 25 years to get made, and over which he battled Harvey Weinstein before finally getting the film into theatres. However, opinions on the film are mixed, and there have been one or two very negative reactions to it. (My opinion is that it is good Scorsese but not great Scorsese. I enjoyed it. Daniel Day Lewis is great, but Leonardo do Caprio doesn't really work, and the film is simply trying to tell too many stories at once. (Harry Knowles commented that he would rather have seen the story that preceded the action of the film: the battle between Daniel Day Lewis' character and Liam Neeson's, which the characters spent much of the movie talking about, and I think he is right. Still, though, as I was reading in some mass market publication (maybe Entertainment Weekly) a few weeks ago that "Scorsese's lack of an oscar is beginning to look embarassing". When it is beginning to look embarassing even to journalists this clueless, I suspect it is likely to actually happen. It didn't just look embarassing but actually was embarassing when the award was given to Robert Redford for Ordinary People rather than to Scorsese for Raging Bull . (That was a good film and Redford is a good director, but that was Raging Bull for goodness sake). It went beyond embarassing into utterly ludicrous when Kevin Costner was given the oscar for Dances With Wolves instead of Scorsese for Goodfellas. I suspect that Scorsese will actually get the award for Gangs of New York, although the film is no Raging Bull, or Goodfellas or Mean Streats or anything like that. The film will probably get carried along for a Best Picture nomination with Scorsese, although it is the weakest of the five likely nominees.

I am very confident that all five of these directors will get nominated. I am very confident that the first three films will get nominated, and I think the other two will. If they don't, then the only other film I can see being nominated is actually My Big Fat Greek Wedding as the story behind this film getting made and making so much money is perhaps the Cinderella story of the year, and the academy likes Cinderella stories. The people who liked the film do fit the ageing demographics of the academy. However, the film is nice enough but not really anything special. (Nia Vardalos will likely get nominated and win for Best Original Screenplay, however). One or two other films (Far From Heaven, The Road to Perdition, About Schmidt) have been mentioned, but momentum doesn't seem to be with any of them.
Okay, More Cricket

Two World Cup games today. Zimbabwe beat Namibia very easily. This was completely unsurprising, although there was a little bit of a scare due to the weather. However, enough cricket was played for Zimbabwe to be declared the winner. The most striking thing about the game was that Zimbabwean players Andy Flower (the best cricketer to have played for Zimbabwe and one of the best batsmen in the world) and Henry Olonga wore black arm bands as a statement about their country. Good on both of them.

In the second game, Sri Lanka beat New Zealand by 47 runs. Interestingly enough, of the three sides I confidently predicted to be semi-finalists, two (South Africa and New Zealand) have lost in the first two days of the tournament. Still, I haven't changed my mind that much. Neither side was disgraced, both lost to quality opposition, and in each case the best batsman in the opposing side played superbly. This game was in a way a lot like yesterday. The less favoured side batted first, and a fine player (today Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya) scored a hundred. Following up this example, other batsmen in the side (today Hashan Tillakaratne) batted well at the end in order that an excellent total is compiled. Batting second, the more favoured side lost early wickets and got very behind in the run chase. One batsman, today Scott Styris for New Zealand, made a valiant effort at the end, but fell short in the end.

Today's game was not nearly as close as yesterday's, and New Zealand didn't get close at the end, although Styris' 141 was utterly superb. His teammates rather let him down, however. It wasn't that New Zealand ran out of overs as much as Styris ran out of partners. He was the last man out, but only because New Zealand were nine men down and he was at that point trying to hit about three sixes an over. New Zealanders must have found that a little disappointing.

The other difference between yesterday and today was that although the West Indian bowling was lacklustre yesterday, this wasn't true today. Sri Lanka have one of the best bowlers in the tournament in Muttiah Muralitharan, and it showed. He bowled well, didn't concede many runs, and took wickets. Whereas I don't think the West Indies can win the tournament, if things go their way it isn't out of the question that Sri Lanka might. The conditions do not suit their players, but judging by today's effort, there might be some chance they can overcome this.

Two world cups ago, when Sri Lanka won the tournament, Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva both had superb tournaments. Jayasuriya being in form now is very encouraging for them. (De Silva is playing too, but he is probably well past his best). My suspicion is that the Sri Lankans today are very happy. Theirs today is the best performance of the tournament so far.
I saw Punch Drunk Love . Strange, and sweet and weird, with occasional moments of rage. Writer-Director Paul Thomas Anderson's previous film was the long, self-indulgent, occasionally pompous, and in parts brilliant Magnolia , with its completely misunderstood rain of frogs at the end. Here, he has set about making a romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson. It has been commented on in various places that Anderson saw the underlying self-pity and rage in Sandler's previous characters, and basically wrote a movie around it. It is hard to me to comment on this, as I have seen few of his other movies. (Only "The Wedding Singer" comes to mind, and I am not sure that is that typical). Whatever he saw, however, he used it as an excuse to make what is for him a relatively short, light piece. And this is really what he needed to do.

As for Watson, she is playing almost a dream figure in this film, one who appears almost out of nowhere, looks at Sandler's character, points and says "You". Watson is most famous for playing somewhat extreme characters: her two most famous roles are somewhat overwrought characters (to put it mildly) in Breaking the Waves and Hilary and Jackie , but in this film she is playing the milder of the two lead roles, although one occasionally gets the impression that she none the less isn't entirely sane.

Which is good, because Emily Watson is wonderful as a romantic lead. There is something amazingly expressive about her eyes and her face: everything that is going through her mind appears on it. It's somehow a mixture of naivity and mischievousness. And there is something deeply appealing about it. Watson is something of a film geek dream figure for this reason. And given that, Anderson has done a relatively straightforward thing, which is to cast her as a geek dream figure. And she is consequently great. However, it's a rather more passive role than many she has played in the past, which is probably why the performance hasn't quite got the attention it deserves.

And Philip Seymour Hoffman is hilarious in a small part as a Utah based furniture sales / phone sex businessman, although he probably has less than five minutes screen time in total. (Hoffman is often hilarious, though. He and Watson come top my list of "Actors most deserving of an oscar for something who don't presently have one. He also is best known for playing creepy characters, but is also sensational in non-creepy roles. David Mamet was smart enough to case him as a sympathetic lead (in State and Main . Cameron Crowe got an amazing performance out of him as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous . He was sensational as an arrogant WASP aristocrat type in Anthony Mighella's The Talented Mr Ripley, too).

Anderson lights and films the San Fernando Valley like it is heaven. The director's emotional connection to the location has come out in his previous films. (The Valley is the home base of the porn industry, and I think the emotional connection to the place was necessary for Boogie Nights , almost a love letter to the porn industry, to work). Here thogh, the emotional connection comes through the lighting as much as anything. A little of the film is set in Hawaii, which is similarly softly lit, but somehow there is no real reflection of place in that.
Kind of sweet, actually

Muttiah Muralitharan was the most satisfied cricketer at the World Cup opening ceremony in Cape Town.

Not because the Sri Lankan off spinner was finally free of injury nor that umpire Darrell Hair was leaving him alone.

Muralitharan was pleased because he had spent the whole day trying to get the autographs of every single player at the tournament and, according to him, succeeded. Fifteen players from 14 teams, all 210 of them

And as an encore, he will be trying to take the wicket of every single player at the tournament.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

The First of a Million Kisses Cricket World Cup Related Postings .

Okay, I suspect that I am going to bore non cricket following readers to tears for the next six weeks. But that is what that is. I shall attempt to blog regularly about other subjects as well over the period, but I suspect that there shall be cricket related postings at least every couple of days.

This is actually not my first World Cup related post but my second. Long term readers will remember that I made some predictions a couple of months back. In particular, I predicted that Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Pakistan would make the semi-finals. I still feel this about the first three sides, although Australia do not appear to be quite as strong as I felt then. Plus, I don't think the Australian selectors have got the team selection quite right. As for Pakistan, they have been less impressive then I expected since those predictions, so I think the fourth spot is really up in the air.

However, one thing I did say in my predictions was the following

The West Indies only have a chance to get anywhere in the tournament if Brian Lara can recover from hepatitis, get fit, and then dominate the tournament like nobody has ever dominated a World Cup before. Lara is inconsistent, but goes through hot patches every now and then, and when he does he bats more like a god than any other player I have ever seen

Well, the first game of the World Cup was today, with the West Indies defeating South Africa, in an exciting last over result. Lara hit a fine 116, which took the West Indies from a terrible position of 2/64 off 25 overs to an excellent total of 5/278 off 50. I still believe that if the West Indies have any chance to win the tournament, Lara is going to have to score probably five or six centuries in the tournament, because the West Indies do not have the depth otherwise. Lara's career has been a very frustrating one to follow because he has been so inconsistent, but if today's innings is the start of a hot patch like the one he had against Australia in 1999 or the one he had against England (and then playing county cricket in England) in 1994 (that included his test record 375 and his first class record 501*) then we could really be in for quite a tournament.

At least that was what I was thinking when the South Africans were batting and were 6-160, and a West Indian victory looked inevitable. But, as Lance Klusener fought back for the South Africans and almost won the match, another thought went through my mind, which is that neither of these sides are going to win the World Cup, regardless of what Lara does. I may be harsh, but the West Indian bowling simply didn't look anywhere near good enough. Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose it wasn't. It was very pedestrian stuff, and against really good batting (ie India or Australia, and perhaps even Sri Lanka on a good day or England if Michael Vaughan can play well) the West Indians aren't going to be able to defend anything. Their best bat is to send in the opposition, let the opposition score what the opposition will score, and then send Brian out to chase it batting second. But even with Lara in a hot patch, I doubt they will be able to win against the best opposition.

As for South Africa, I thought they were really sloppy and undisciplined. Firstly, they allowed themselves to fall to 6-160 off mediocre bowling. And then Klusener scored some very fast runs and almost won the match, before they lost wickets and lost the match in the last couple of overs. The trouble with this type of situation is that I have seen South Africa do this over and over again. I have seen Klusener do this over and over again, including in the semi-final of the last World Cup. Taking risks is fine when the task looks almost impossible, as it did with half a dozen overs to go. Klusener was almost caught in the outfield a few overs before the end. (The fieldsman caught the ball, but then stepped over the boundary rope and conceded a six). If he had been out in this instance, fine. However, the South Africans got the match into a position they should have won from, and then Klusener got caught in the outfield and that was that. Such a risky shot was not necessary. He should have started going for fours rather than sixes at that point. I think the pressure got to him.

However, here are the two things that convinced me South Africa will not win the World Cup. Firstly, when Klusener was caught in the outfield, the batsmen did not cross. Klusener just stood there and watched the ball. He should have started running, simply because the fieldsman may have dropped the ball and he could have then got the run. Plus, the batsmen needed to cross so that Nicky Boje, who had is eye in and was the best remaining batsman, could face the next ball. However, they didn't do this, which suggests a lack of coaching and teamwork.

That is the first thing. The second thing is that when fielding first, South Africa bowled their overs too slowly and were consequently penalised an over when they batted. At the end, with another over to bat they would have got the runs. This is simple indiscipline, and poor planning. In a World Cup, this is unforgiveable.

Okay, I have been harsh on South Africa. Please feel free to laugh at me later in the tournament.

Finally, the West Indian win is quite interesting from the point of view of the tournament. It looks likely that four wins from six matches will be needed to make the super six stage. The West Indies have one win, and have games in their pool against Kenya, Bangladesh, and Canada. They should win all three of these games easily, so it is now most unlikely that the West Indies will miss the Super 6 stage. Assuming that South Africa also make the Super 6 stage, then South Africa will carry the points from today's win over into the Super 6. To get from the Super 6 to the semi-finals, a total of two wins over other Super 6 teams is likely all that is necessary. Therefore, if the West Indies can beat one other Super 6 opponent either in their pool or in the Super 6 matches themselves, they will likely make the semi finals. Therefore, after one day of the tournament, the West Indies have already done a significant portion of the work needed to make the semi finals. As I said, I don't think they have the bowlers to win the tournament. However, they did an excellent day's work today, and by the rules of the tournament, their chances of getting that fourth, open semi final spot are now good.

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