Saturday, February 22, 2003

I try to post to this blog every day, even when the posts are short and self-referential like this one. I am in Liverpool, and I have the tune of "Penny Lane" stuck in my head and can't get rid of it. However, I have lots to say, and more tomorrow and/or Monday.

Friday, February 21, 2003

This piece by James Pinkerton (via 2Glenn) asks whether western civilization is in demographic decline. He talks about the demographic decline of Europe, and asks what this means for the future of the continent. I think the situation regarding Europe is indeed troubling. If the population of Italy drops by half, then other groups of people - probably from North Africa - will come to fill the gap. Given the ageing of the Italian population, Italy will need them, and when it comes down to it, countries do not stay empty, and North Africans have been flowing over the Mediterranean into Europe when the opportunity arrives for millennia. The unpleasant part of the question comes when we question how smooth (or otherwise) this change will be. Given how badly assimilated most North African Muslims are in southern Europe at the moment (especially in France), and that the news over the last 18 months has been dominated by the actions of the sorts of people who rant that "The Andalusian catastrophe must not be repeated" and the like, one doesn't initially feel optimistic. However, we are talking long term, hundred year or more trends here. And cultures do change in that time, or at least different parts of the cultures wax and wane. (Look at the history of Germany over 150 years). It may be that we are at a time when this prospect appears more extreme than it actually is, and that in 50 or 100 years time North Africa may have gone through the equivalent of the Enlightenment (or at least the Reformation).

As to the rest of the world, the prospect of America's ethnic makeup changing concerns me not much at all. America is not an ethnic nation. This is its greatest strength. It has an extraordinary ability to turn immigrants into Americans. (Why were all the September 11 hijackers based in Europe? Because American muslim immigrants are too busy being patriotic Americans. Yes, it is on the whole really like that). It is inevitable that America will have a very different makeup in 100 years than it does today, but I just don't think it matters much. There is a very good chance that the people who live there will have very similar values and very similar respect for democracy that Americans do today. And if that is true, who seriously gives a shit about the colours of people's skins. (I feel similarly about my native Australia. It is not as good at turning immigrants into Australians as America is turning them into Americans, but it is still pretty good at it).

But as to the question as to whether the muslim world can turn into a (or the) major influence in the world in that time, I really doubt it. To succeed you need the right demographics (ie lots of young people) and you need to be able to use that human capital effectively. At the moment, the muslim world (or at least the Middle Eastern and North African muslim world) is so backwards that it just cannot do this. It it starts doing this, which as I say above is not out of the question, then it has a tremendous amount of catching up to do. And this will take time.

And as for the rest of the world, Japan is completely screwed. They have a worse demographic problem than Italy, and their hostility to immigration of any kind is such that it will take enormous changes before they do anthing other than grow old and decline. I am very pessimistic about this country. As for China, their long term growth has been hobbled badly by their one child policy. To the eyes of seventies Malthusians this looked like a good idea, but today it looks to have been pretty dumb. They will grow for a decade or two yet, but then they will hit their demographic time bomb.

The key question is really India. India does have the demographics, and has the beginnings of the industrial base. (What they do not have at the moment is the infrastructure. Possibly the one thing that Indian governments need to try to achieve above all else is the beginnings of an infrastructure building binge as has been occurring in China). This isnt a short term issue, but in the longer term I am more optimistic about India than I am about China. And as far as the question of whether this worries me, it doesn't much. India is a culturally dynamic place, a democracy, and its political and cultural elites tend to have what some people might refer to as Angloshere values. I rather like the Indians, and I think their importance in the world is often dramatically underestimated.

Dave Winer has some thoughts on the Google-Blogger merger. His thoughts are that (a) this could be the start of a period like what happened to the Macintosh software market in the mid 1980s, when a large number of little companies who had developed compelling applications suddenly found themselves swallowed up by bigger companies as their applications became mainstream and the little Mac software companies got swallowed up by the PC world's giants. Winer also makes the obvious point that as far as indexing content is concerned, Google didn't need Blogger. The content is already publically available and they can (and to some extent do) index it already. Winer seems to think that the deal is about access to the code. If Google controls the code, they can licence blogging software to their corporate network clients, and these companies can then set up weblogs internally.

There may be something in this, but at least partly I think this is a "Buy it now because this is obviously a compelling web application and think about exactly what you are going to do with it later" situation. I think though that controlling one of the big blogging platforms gives Google the ability to fiddle, however. If they want to aggregate or index weblogs with a particular feature, then they can modify the blogger platform and then suddenly 200000 weblogs have that feature. This surely is useful.

Okay, I missed most of yesterday's Australia v Netherlands game because I spend much of the second half of the game on a train from London to Manchester. However, from what I saw of it, it was one of those games with lots of rain interruptions, and nobody could ever get much momentum going. As an Australian, I was worried for a little while about a potential no result, although not too worried, because Australia likely didn't need the points. (At least not for making the Super Six stage. They might still be needed for making the semi-finals though - anything could happen. I will discuss the points system once we get to the Super Six stage in detail in another post). In the end though, Australia won a rain shortened Duckworth Lewis match by a very comfortable 75 runs. I was perhaps a little concerned that Australia didn't bat a little faster before the interruptions, but playing this kind of match is difficult. If you can get away from the match with a win, this is good. The other thing that was good to see is that Damien Martyn got some time in the middle, scoring a good 67 not out. He is one of Australia's best batsmen, but his form has been a little below par for the last six months or so. Gillespie remains in superb form with the ball, taking 2/7 off three overs. After that it seems Ponting gave him a rest and let the more junior bowlers finish the game off, which they did comfortably.

In other World Cup news, the Shane Warne tribunal met for eight hours and then adjourned, which may mean they are split on whether they believe him or not.

New Zealand did not go to Kenya for today's game. They have officially defaulted the match and the points have been awarded to Kenya. If New Zealand now miss out on the next round, some of their players will be very unhappy. To add a little stupidity, New Zealand all rounder Chris Cairns (a vital player if they are to win the cup) was injured in a "scuffle outside a nightclub" in the early hours of the morning in Durban. Given the importance of the tournament, I don't know why the team cannot stay at the hotel, watch a movie on television and enjoy a good Cabernet, but that is sportsmen for you I suppose.
Yesterday, in an internet cafe in Manchester I typed in the mild mannered URL

A Cyberpatrol screen came up, giving the following message.

Access Restricted

Reason: The website's content is inappropriate

Category: Hate Speech

To gain access to this site please speak to the
CyberPatrol Headquarters’ Administrator.

Hate speech? Okay, I know that Glenn Reynolds does hate Nazis. Also, he is not very fond of the United Nations, or the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. But seriously. Hate speech? I am in Manchester. Don't they know he writes for the Guardian ?

(I am starting to think that Glenn Reynolds genuinely will be the first President of the United States to go into space. It's either that or he will end up one of those weird William Gibsonesque media magnate figures who live in a vat of yeast outside Copenhagen and do all their business in virtual reality worlds In doing so, he will completely redefine the word "blogging". Actually, when I think about it some more, Copenhagen doesn't strike me as Glenn's kind of place. He's more a Tessier-Ashpool, cloning himself at Freeside station in orbit, than a Virek in Europe. That might explain how he does it. 1Glenn is the Law Professor. 2Glenn is the blogger. 3Glenn is the music producer. 4Glenn writes the op-ed pieces. 5Glenn has recently been cloned to write Now if I could only get him to link to me, that would be great).

Thursday, February 20, 2003

I'm in Manchester. A very first impression is that it is quite interesing architecturally. It has that 19th century Victorian industrial (but wealthy) quality about it, with a recent sort of post modern veneer on top of it. The city seems to have managed to have been in such a bad way in the 1950s and 1960s that the city largely missed out on modernism, at least near the centre, which is a clear blessing. Intermittent blogging will occur over the weekend.

Update: A word I should have used is "gothic". But it is a more grungy, industrial gothic than the more ornate gothic you get on 19th century public buildings in, say, Cambridge.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

In the two days since Google acquired Blogger, I have had two posts eaten by Blogger for no apparent reason when I tried to post them, and I had a little period when I couldn't publish. The first thing that Google needs to do is fix these sorts of reliability issues. Secondly, they need to fix the archives bug. Then they need to add features so that what you get with Blogger is on a par with what you get with Moveable Type. Then they need to start experimenting with all the wonderful and interesting indexing and aggregation features the blogosphere has been talking about for two days.

However, they must start with reliability. We understand the reasons for the lack of reliability: five guys have been running and supporting a system with a million users. So, the first thing Google needs is to give Blogger more people, and more hardware. Moving blogspot onto Google's server farms sounds great.
David Post at the Volokh conspiracy is discussing whether the internet should be spelled with a capital or lower case i. (He also refers to this New York Times story). This is actually a bugbear of mine. I personally have always spelled it with a lower case i, because the word "internet" is a noun backformed from the verb "internetwork". That is, an internet is a group of networks capable of internetworking. As David observes, there is one internet that outcompeted all the others that exist, and this one is normally referred to as "the internet" or "the Internet", and it has no other name. The fact that it has no other name is perhaps the problem. However, there are precedents for this in the English language. A moon is a natural object orbiting a planet. The moon is the one of these that happens to orbit the earth. Do we capitalise moon in this case? No, we don't. (We don't capitalise the earth, either, although that is not quite the same). It still isn't a proper noun, even though we are referring to only one of them. (Although, when I think about it some more, I don't think even this is terribly abnormal. Consider the definite article before any verb. "Give me the stapler" is referring to a specific stapler, and context says which one, as context does when we say "moon", or "internet". "Stapler" remains a descriptive noun, and we do not capitalise).

Part of the issue is probably the nature of internets. They tend to internetwork with one another, and then you have one bigger interent. By their nature, there is a certain tendency to end up with only one of them.

In looking at why "Internet" is generally capitalised, it is worth looking at how the word came into common use. In about 1993, there were various magazine and newspaper articles about this mysterious thing "the Internet" which connected lots of computers. Then, a year or two later, most people actually started to use it. The fact that it was a distributed, non-centralised network without anyone centrally controlling it was something that took quite some time to sink in to most people. At first, most people thought that it was some centralised service that some specific organisation had invented and was running, and that a proper noun - probably a brandname - was therefore appropriate. That there was no central organisation and that the word internet was actually a descriptive noun did not sink in quickly, and in many instances still hasn't (For an amusing example of this, watch the movie Disclosure, made in 1994. In this movie, Michael Douglas' character receives a series of anonymous tips by e-mail. He wants to know where they are coming from, and he therefore has his secretary contact "Internet" and find this out. The screenwriter presumably thought there was a company called "Internet" that ran the internet).

One question is whether we capitalised the word before the intenet came into common use. I was using the internet in the late 1980s, but I really cannot remember. I would ideally like to do a case sensitive search for "Internet" and "internet" in Usenet posts prior to 1993 in order to find out, but Google Groups will not allow this.

Given this misconception, the word internet became normally capitalised, and it remains this way. If Microsoft Word's spelling checker's autocorrection feature is switched on, it capitalises the word for you. This (and one or two other disagreements I have with the grammatical style it forces) is the reason why I usually have this autocorrection switched off.

This lack of understanding that there could be more than one "internet" ultimately led to the creation of the word "intranet", a word I dislike intensely. These things are private internets. The word intranet was coined as a consequence of ignorance as to what an internet was, and this is bad.

When I was a technology and telecommunications analyst at a large investment bank, I fought something of a losing battle over this point. I would submit research reports with internet spelled with a lower case i, and the editor who checked my reports before they were printed and sent out to clients would always change the lower case i to an upper case i. I understand his point (in this instance consistency is more important than my pedantry), but I was never quite sure whether he realised I was trying to make a point or whether I simply couldn't spell. (Actually he may have realised I was trying to make a point, because he certainly was aware that a am very careful about my choice of words, and that I get annoyed when editors remove subtle jokes from my writing). I never actually discussed the point with him: I just kept doing it. And he kept changing it.
World Cup Update

Three games today, all potentially mismatches between the better sides and minnows. Firstly, Sri Lanka versus Canada. A complete mismatch it was, with Canada bowled out for 36, the lowest ever score in a one day international. The Sri Lankans took a mere 4.4 overs to pass the Canadian score, but did lose one wicket in doing so. Not much to be said, other than that Sri Lanka continue to look very impressive. If Sri lanka end up in a position where net runrate determines whether they make the super six or not, this result will help.

The second game was England versus Namibia. The Namibians did surprisingly well. England scored a good 272 off their 50 overs, and at 3/174 after 37 overs, Namibia were doing a surprisingly good job of chasing it. However, the Namibian batting the collapsed and they ended up with 9/217 off the full 50 overs. So, a comfortable England win, but England do not at this point look like world beaters.

In the third match, India scored 7/255, and then bowled Zimbabwe out easily enough - Zimbabwe ending up being bowled out for 172. The most encouraging thing for India was that Tendulkar scored 81 and Dravid 43 not out, so India's gun batsmen are coming in to form at the right time. India are looking much better than they did against Australia, although they still have a way to go before they will be good enough to win the tournament.

In other cricketing news, Shane Warne's hearing is on Friday. In the meantime, the Australian team are asking for Warne's replacement to be chosen soon. They want another spinner in the side to replace him. Although Brad Hogg is presently playing well, there is no spinning reserve if something happens to him. Plus, if a replacement is chosen, Australia want to play him in their qualifying game against Namibia in order that he be match fit going into the next round.

Meanwhile, South African players have been asked to stop describing their late former captain and disgraced cheat Hansie Cronje as their inspiration. I think this is about time. South African cricket has had a certain destructive and counterproductive whackiness about it for a couple of years now, and it is clearly getting out of hand.
Alistair Cooke on "Peace in Our Time"

Only half his troops carried one reload of ammunition because Hitler knew that French morale was too low to confront any war just then and 10 million of 11 million British voters had signed a so-called peace ballot.

It stated no conditions, elaborated no terms, it simply counted the numbers of Britons who were "for peace".

The slogan of this movement was "Against war and fascism" - chanted at the time by every Labour man and Liberal and many moderate Conservatives - a slogan that now sounds as imbecilic as "against hospitals and disease".

In blunter words a majority of Britons would do anything, absolutely anything, to get rid of Hitler except fight him.

Is this the Biggest Philistine in Hollywood?

If you are one of those sad people who watches the goings on of the Hollywood film industry, you inevitably find yourself reading the trade paper Variety fairly frequently. This gives you a good picture of what is going on in the film industry, or at least what the studios would like you to think is going on in the film industry. (In terms of what the studios don't want you to know, you can often do better on the web).

If you read the widely distributed weekly edition of Variety (there is also a daily edition for people in Los Angeles and New York) one thing that you see very quickly (because they are usually on the front page in large type) are the editorials of Editor in chief Peter Bart. Bart is a former studio executive, and former producer of very bad movies (He wasn't sophisticated enough to make Revenge of the Nerds, but he did make Revenge of the Nerds 2). His editorials have a certain pomposity about them which makes them enormously irritating. He discusses having lunch with various (usually unnamed) studio executives, agents, and producers, and discussed what they think (an more importantly he thinks) are wrong or right with the film industry. Once in a while he writes the editorial in the form of an "open letter" to some poor filmmaker or star whose career isn't going quite right, and explains what this person should do to fix it. The implied subtext of all this is that he walks amongst the heavy hitters and power people of Hollywood, absorbing their wisdom.

In any event, Bart has been having a slightly rough time of it over the last couple of years. He was profiled in Los Angeles Magazine a couple of years ago in an article entitled "Is this the Most Hated Man in Hollywood?". In this article it was revealed that he regularly used racist, sexist and homophobic language, that he changed the facts in other journalists' articles in order to give his friends favourable treatment, and that he had shopped a screenplay he had written around the Hollywood studios in contravention of Variety's conflict of interest rules. He was suspended from his job for three weeks, and was ultimately reinstated on the condition that he give money to causes promoting diversity and that he "undergo sensitivity training". (I bet he loved that).

In any event, Variety then went on as normal. A couple of months ago, Bart wrote an editorial in which he slammed movie critics for being elitists. It was apparently very wrong for critics to review and praise films that ordinary filmgoers weren't likely to have seen, and that critics should stick to studio blockbusters for their ten best films lists and the like. (In a way this was kind of curious, as one of the best reasons for reading Variety is the review section. Variety employs critics in most filmmaking countries in order to review films, plus it dispaches writers to a huge number of film festivals, so that Variety itself reviews more obscure films than any other publication).

This editorial through a few critics into a rage. Charles Taylor in Salon wrote this impassioned defence of his profession, and explains that Bart like attacks are in fact fairly common

Nowadays you'd be lucky to find an editor who knows who Louis Malle is. A critic is more likely to get called into his editor's office because he didn't like "Men in Black II," as happened to a critic I know. Or he's likely to be stopped by an editor who tells him that his 11-year-old daughter thinks "The Sixth Sense" is the best movie she's ever seen, as happened to another critic of my acquaintance.

Okay, so from all this we can reach the conclusion that Bart is a philistine, and not a particularly nice man. However, my jaw still dropped when reading his editorial this week. Basically, he is complaining about how much work it is to watch all those DVD's that he is being sent by the studios in order to make an informed choice when he votes for the Oscars. I will confess that I wasn't feeling much sympathy, but my jaw dropped when I got to this. Okay, he is watching the DVDs sent out by studios rather than attending cinema screenings of the nominated films. This is unfortunate, but this is what most oscar voters now do. To quote Bart

And then, of course, the screeners aren't full-fledged DVDs. The size of the picture is scrunched into the so-called letterbox format -- apparently it takes more time and money to create the real thing

Yes, that's right. He is complaining that he is unable to properly watch movies in order to vote for the Oscars because the studios send him letterboxed versions of films on DVD instead of "proper" pan and scan versions. Not only does he prefer to watch pan and scan versions of movies, but anyone who prefers to watch films in the original aspect ratios is clearly some kind of elitist who prefers something other than "real" DVDs and presumably also pays attention to critics' ten best lists.

He is quite right of course. How can you judge the quality of the cinematography if the edges of the picture aren't properly chopped off?

Seriously, and to repeat myself, what a philistine. What a fool. But he is a former studio executive, and he does edit that most important trade paper in Hollywood. We are faced with two possibilities here. Firstly, he is a phony and everybody knows this. Secondly, he is a phony and the executives who run the studios are also such enormous phonies that they don't realise it.

Okay, we always knew that making films in Hollywood is a creatively trying experience. But clearly it is much worse than even I imagined.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Moving away from World War 3 and instead on to important things. The Shane Warne saga continued today with Warne's B sample showing that Warne had taken more than one diuretic pill, and that when he told his story about getting the pill from his mother he was clearly lying. This kind of reminds me of the way the Hansie Cronje saga unfolded. Cronje was discovered doing something wrong, and he admitted to it, "but that was all, and only that one time". Then, something else was uncovered and he admitted that "yes, I did that too" and this happened five or six times. At this point, I believe that Warne used steroids to help him recover from his shoulder dislocation, and that the diuretic use was intended to cover this up. This cannot presently be proved, but it doesn't have to be. Because it is so hard to prove, the diuretic use is the offence. Warne clearly broke the rules, and in terms of his confessions (or lack of them) has been clearly acting in bad faith.

I think at this point the ACB's drug tribunal has to give Warne the full sentence of a two year suspension. I think that making a comeback in two years time is something that it will be difficult for Warne to do, and I don't expect to see it. It saddens me no end to see the career of one of the finest cricketers I have ever seen end like this. But end like this it must.
Who the [expletive] do these guys think they are, anyway?

Well, the BBC has chosen to enlighten us with an exclusive interview with Prince Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Tremendous.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has said that any unilateral military action by the US would appear as an "act of aggression".

as distinct, presumably from Saddam Hussein's acts against the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs, and all the appalling acts of terrorism throughout the world that have been funded by Saudi oil money.

"Independent action in this, we don't believe is good for the United States," he told the BBC's world affairs editor John Simpson at a meeting of the Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo. It would encourage people to think... that what they're doing is a war of aggression rather than a war for the implementation of the United Nations resolutions."

Saudi Arabia has been a longstanding ally of the US, but relations since the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington have been strained. The majority of the 19 suicide hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, whose government has been accused in Washington political circles of not doing enough to counter Islamic fundamentalism among its population.

Some of us would accuse the entire nation of Saudi Arabia of being a dreadful festering sore on the face of the earth that is fundamentally the core of the problem, rather than just "not doing enough", but that interpretation would be, well, aggressive.

Prince Saud added that if an attack on Iraq was sanctioned by the UN Security Council, it would not be considered an aggression.

Ah, splendid. The UN gives the Saudis a back door with which they can say later that they were really in favour of the attack, but just not the American procedure by which they went about it, and that they are still allies after all. I think this is quite frankly easier argument than the "People we funded and supported attacked New York and Washington and murdered 3000 people, but we are still really your friends" argument they managed before. They are experts at this kind of thing. That said, I am not sure how a UN resolution (or not) makes bombing Iraq any more or less aggressive.

Regime change would lead to the destruction of Iraq, and would threaten to destabilise the entire Middle East region, Prince Saud said.

This is as distinct from the way it is now? We have the tremendously stable Islamic Republic of Iran, Saddam Hussein's Iraq in which Kurds are murdered in the North and Shia Muslims in the south, and in which the only moderating factor is the American enforced no-fly zones, we have Saudi Arabia, which somehow manages to allow its oil money to fund terrorism throughout the world, and we have Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Israel. Heaven forbid we should destabilise this region.

For the last half century, the American oil industry and their friends in the CIA and the State department have cosied up to the Saudi elite in order to buy their oil, and have turned a blind eye to what a wretched and disgusting place the Kingdom is. Even now, I hear some suggestions (links via Andrew Sullivan) that rather than attempting to create some kind of a coherent modern state in Iraq, these organisations simply want to prop up some replacement, initially more American friendly (and acceptable to the Saudis) dictator in Iraq, so that they can "maintain stability" in the rest of the region. In the long term all this will do is cause more resentment and more anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism. What is actually necessary is for something resembling a modern nation to be created in Iraq. This means democracy. This means civil society. This means a society in which Iraqis can actually enjoy life. And once we have this, the contrast with Saudi Arabia will be obvious. That is what scares the Saudis - that their stinking, oppressive country will be revealed for what it is. And that once this is happened, either the Americans will continue the war, or the country will collapse under its own vileness. And if Iraq has been liberated, the West will actually be able to afford to allow this.

However, word is also that the Pentagon, much of Congress, and much of the Bush adminstration does not want to prop up another dictator. President Bush has at times in his life been an oil man, and comes from a family of oil men. His vice President also comes from that culture. The question is whether he himself can resist the innate tendency that these people seem to have to be friendly to the Sauds. This may be one of the biggest tests of his presidency. I am cautiously optimistic, but we must wait and see.

If the choice is you destroy Iraq in order to get Saddam Hussein, it is a self-defeating policy, isn't it? I mean, you destroy a country to get a person out - it doesn't work

The trouble with Iraq is fundamentally that it is a created nation. It is a mixture of relatively incompatible ethnic groups. Nation building is not going to be easy, but the status quo is a catastrophe. It isn't just about removing one man, but removing the institutions that make it such an awful place. If the "country" is the institutions for dictatorship and oppression, then the country needs to be destroyed, in the same way that the Soviet Union needed to be destroyed.

"If change of regime comes with the destruction of Iraq, then you are solving one problem and creating five more problems.
"That is the consideration that we have to make, because we are living in the region. We will suffer the consequences of any military action."

Indeed. America might look at Saudi Arabia, conclude that now that it has a base in Iraq it no longer needs to even pretend that Saudi Arabia is a friend, and then Saudi Arabia might really suffer the consequences of aiding, abetting, and funding terrorism. Heaven forbid.

Regime change can only be a possibility if it is done "indigenously", he said. There has never been in the history of the world a country in which a regime change happened at the bayonets of guns that has led to stability."

Oh yes. Absolutely correct. The Americans caused no end of catastrophe and instability when they effected regime change by force in Germany and Japan in 1945. At least they managed to restrain themselves and not invade Spain at the same time. If they had done that, the Spanish might also have had to suffer an extra 30 years of democracy and freedom. How terrible that would have been.

"Our worry is the new emerging fundamentalism in the United States and in the West. Fundamentalism in our region is on the wane. There, it's in the ascendancy. That's the threat."

Oh yes. An unholy alliance between the decadent house of Saud and the medieval Wahhabist strain of Islam, in which the Sauds buy off the fundamentalist clerics with oil money by spreading anti-Americanism throughout their country, and then the clerics then use the money to spread their poisonous hate to the mosques of the world is in fact a tea party, compared to to the rising fundamentalism that is ascendant in the United States and the West. As the Saudi population explodes and there is less and less oil money per person to go around, there are absolutely no new angry young potential fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia. The problem is in decline and is going away.

And my goodness, they have open debate in the West. They allow women to drive cars, and to actually uncover their hair. And they actually allow homosexual people fundamentalist and immoral lives, rather than stoning them to death (along with rape victims) like all decent people do. Westerners actually get pissed off and want to retaliate when people attack Washington. They want to retaliate when the Wahhabists' medieval warriors murder 3000 Americans. What appalling, appalling fundamentalism that is.

The full interview can be seen on BBC World from Wednesday and on Simpson's World on BBC News 24 this weekend (1130 GMT on Saturday, 0230 GMT on Sunday, 1430 GMT on Sunday, 0030 GMT on Monday).

My thanks to the BBC for providing the enemy with a forum in which they can be interviewed softly and easily and without any great questioning of their ridiculous claims.

Actually, I don't think I can quite bear to watch it.

To paraphrase Glenn Reynolds.

Saudi princes. I hate these guys.
A small amount of cricket related egg on face

Two days ago, I declared that "Assuming that New Zealand doesn't get beaten by Canada or anything like that, the West Indies are now certain of a place". Of course it is now clear that my qualification was wrong. I should havfe said "Assuming that the major cricketing nations win all their remaining games against the minnows.....", because the other possibility was that a game would get rained out and the points would be split in some such game. And of course, that is what happened today. The West Indies were going along just fine against Bangladesh, but then it rained and the match was a no result. The only important case this affects is if South Africa defeat Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka either defeat West Indies or the match is tied or no result. In these cases, South Africa and not West Indies will go through to the Super Six round. Basically South Africa's destiny is back in their own hands, although in the event that West Indies beats Sri Lanka, South Africa also have to watch their net runrate. Again, things could be futher complicated if there are upsets or no results in the minor matches. I have a detailed analysis of all the possibilities over at Michael Jennings extra.

Today was a rough break for the West Indies, and a good break for South Africa. Of course, this type of good break has happened in the World Cup before. In 1992, a storm saved Pakistan from almost certain defeat against England. The points Pakistan got from this match were enough to ensure that they and not Australia made the semi-finals, and Pakistan went on to win the world cup.

It is also worth observing that in the last World Cup in England four years ago, at this stage Australia were faced with a struggle to make the Super Six round, and South Africa appeared to be cruising. In that instance, Australia won or tied all their remaining matches and went on to win the World Cup.
Kevin Drum ( via Scott) has some theories as to why an anti-war protester would carry a sign sayng "Peace in Our Time". (I saw a couple of signs with the same words in London on Saturday). I tend to go for a combination of his first and second theories, which is that the protestors had heard the phrase, but were too ignorant to understand the historical context of it and hence the irony involved. Kevin's last theory is this

The placard is actually being held by a pro-war demonstrator trying to make a sarcastic point about the anti-war folks, but the Reuters editor was too dim to realize it.

I rather doubt this, but at Kevin's request, I will suggest one more theory, which is that the person who is holding the sign is not the person who made the sign. The person who made the sign was pro-war, but he gave it to an anti-war demonstrator (who then took it literally) as a way of making a point about the level of historical understanding held by at least some of the demonstrators. I rather doubt this, too, but it is possible.

It was observed at Samizdata that most of the signs held up by people at the demonstration in London were professionally printed, and that the demonstators were therefore mainly the "usual suspects" of anti-globalisation protestors, greens, socialist workers and the like, but personally I can't feel as sanguine as this. Yes, I am sure all these groups produced the signs, but they did not carry most of the signs. If you are one of these organisations, what you do is produce a great many signs and hand them out to people you don't know who are arriving at the rally. Many ordinary people who arrive at the rally find themselves being given a sign saying "No Blood For Oil", and they then spend the rest of the day carrying it. This is an old, much used tactic. I would like to think the "Peace in Our Time" signs were a guerilla version of the same tactic, but I tend to think that the "ignorance" explanation is more likely.

The fact is, there were a lot of "ordinary" people at the march. There were simply too many people there for this not to be so. I personally am finding a lot of the sort of reactions Moira Redmond describes in this piece in Slate. Most of my friends and acquaintances are anti-war or at least uncomfortable about it. (I wouldn't say I am comfortable with it - when it comes to the prospect of fighting a war one pretty obviously should never be comfortable - but I am somewhere between rather more uncomfortable and utterly terrified by some of the possibilities if we don't fight it).

Monday, February 17, 2003

Some of my readers will be relieved to know that cricket blogging will likely be lighter this week, as this week's matches are mostly games between good sides and minnows that will be fairly onesided and relatively uninteresting. If any of them actually turn out to be interesting, I may change my mind. Plus, if the proceedings against Shane Warne take place this week, I shall be commenting on that. The only interesting news today seems to be that New Zealand may play in Kenya after all. Their board isn't terribly keen on the idea, but most of the players apparently want to go, win the game, and make certain of their Super Six place.

New Zealand do have a bad history with respect to terrorist incidents occurring near where they are. In the mid 1990s a bomb exploded outside their hotel in Sri Lanka, and another bomb exploded outside their hotel in Pakistan last year. Neither of these attacks were aimed at them, but I understand why they might be a little nervous. I doubt they will be in much danger in Kenya, however.
Brian Micklethwait over at Transport Blog comments on being stuck in a stationary tube train on the District Line, and that the passengers discovered to their surprise that their mobile phones worked in the tunnel.

Sadly, it cannot be deduced from this that we will in future be able to use our mobile phones on the tube. There are two ways to build an underground railway. The simplest is "cut and cover", where you dig a trench, build a railway in the trench, and then build a ceiling over the trench. The other is a deep bored tunnel, in which a tunnel is simply dug underground. The District line is a cut and cover line, and as a consequence is not very deep, and I guess the radio waves can penetrate that far. (There are technical reasons why the radio waves from O2 and Vodafone can penetrate further than those from T-Mobile and Orange, so I would be interested to know which networks the passengers were using).

Of these two ways of building a tunnel, cut and cover is obviously cheaper if the local geography is relatively flat and there is nothing of significance already built over the top of where you want to build the underground railway. In a developed city, it is sometimes possible to dig a cut and cover line directly under an existing road, if you have plenty of long and straight roads and don't mind closing or narrowing the road for a few months. (When I was last in Singapore, this was being done for the new line through Chinatown, which I found interesting as I had never seen a cut and cover railway being constructed before. Also, most of the subways in Manhattan were built with cut and cover, because their grid street system made it relatively easy). Also, it is sometimes possible to build a cut and cover railway under a park, as was done with the city circle railway in Sydney in the 1930s. However, in a developed city, new railways generally have to be built using deep bored tunnels, and this is certainly the case for any new lines to be built in London. These are generally far too deep for mobile phone signals to penetrate the ground to them.

That said, it is possible to build mobile phone base stations actually in the tunnels, and if you do this, mobile phones can then work in tube trains. (This has obvious positives for tube trains and the like). This has actually been done in Hong Kong, so mobile phones do actually work on underground trains there.

Regardless of all this, I make a point of always having a good book with me.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

And of course Pyra Labs (The owners of Blogger and Blogspot) have been purchased by Google. I hope that the guys at Pyra got a good price. Hopefully those people who genuinely produce something innovative on the internet can still get rich out of it. I have been known to complain about Blogger's unreliability and lack of customer support, but my suspicion is that the main reason for this is the company's lack of resources relative to the number of users it has. Hopefully being owned by Google will fix this, and we will see (a) the archiving bugs fixed and (b) fewer downtimes. In the long term, I am also hoping that a larger portion of the features that many of us presently source from somewhere else (eg commenting, search) will be offered actually by Blogger itself. (Presumably Google offering an easily installed search engine for its blogs is a nobrainer).

Plus I will be interested to see whether the ads on my site change. At the moment, a lot of them seem to be Blogger advertising itself. Google might be able to sell more to actual advertisers. I shall wait and see.

Update: My brain was not really thinking properly yesterday, and I didn't think through the consequences of this. I have compared the blogosphere to Usenet, and have previously commented that the difference between Usenet and the blogosphere is that Usenet is indexed in terms of subject (and date) and the blogosphere is indexed in terms of author (and date), and that a really useful application would be one that indexes the blogosphere in terms of subject and possibly quality as well. Given that Google are the experts of indexing things in terms of subject and quality, there are obvious benefits to this acquisition if Google now show some imagination.

It is also worth observing that Google's most notable previous acquisition was the Usenet archive that previously belonged to Dejanews. Certainly Google's indexing has made this archive more useful, allowing the Usenet archive to transcend the tyranny of being indexed by date. I can generally find anything that has ever been written in Usenet on a particular subject. This makes it a highly useful research tool, particularly when studying technical subjects. Something similar for the blogosphere would be useful, although their existing search technology needs to be adapted to take into account the foibles of blogs. (For instance, a posting on a blog which gets five or six links when postings to that blog usually get few if any links is likely to be of higher value than a posting on a more popular blog that gets an absolutely greater number of links but fewer links relative to the typical number for that blog).

In any event, other people have beat me to a lot of this speculation. I particularly like Aziz Poonawalla's suggestion that Google essentially attaches its new aggregating technology to the blogosphere. While this would be good, I think it would not quite be optimal, because posts in the blogosphere are on average less time sensitive than are news posts, but are more time sensitve than Usenet and still more time sensitive than the web at large. Experimentation needs to be done, and I am looking forward to seeing it done.

Google clearly also needs to involve non-Blogger blogs in whatever indexing features it provides. Perhaps the way to go about this will be to provide new features for Blogger based blogs, and provide some sort of open interface so that non-Blogger blogs or non-Blogger software providers can opt in. I look forward to seeing what they try.
And now onto today's World Cup Matches. To start with, two mismatches. England finally got onto the cricket field, with a match against Holland. Not much to be said there, as they scored an easy six wicket win with 26.4 overs to spare. Pakistan bowled out Namibia for 84 for an even easier 171 run win. This underlines a key fact about this tournament. There are eight teams who are good enough to feature in the later stages: Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and England. Of the other sides in the tournament, Namibia, Kenya, Bangladesh, Canada, and Holland are there to make up the numbers. Any match between a side in the first group and one in the second is going to be a mismatch. Zimbabwe sort of lie between the two groups. They are good enough to cause the odd upset against sides in the first group, and are good enough to beat any of the other teams in the second group easily.

For this reason, there will be a few more mismatches in the tournament.

Now, the key match today was the match between New Zealand and pre-tournament second favourites South Africa. South Africa had lost to the West Indies a week ago, and needed to win this match to get back into the tournament. New Zealand so far had beaten the West Indies but had lost to Sri Lanka. Given that New Zealand have said they will not play their match scheduled in Kenya for safety reasons, then New Zealand needed to win the game to stay in the tournament.

When South Africa scored a superb 6/306 off their 50 overs, largely due to 143 runs scored by Hershelle Gibbs, the situation looked pretty hopeless for New Zealand. However, New Zealand went for the runs and played superbly, particularly New Zealand's captain Stephen Fleming. The game was delayed with New Zealand 1/182 off 30.2 overs. The target was then revised to New Zealand requiring 226 from 39 overs, which New Zealand managed with ease, ending up with 1/229 off 36.5 overs. Fleming managed 134 not out, in my mind the innings of the tournament so far. Some might say that New Zealand's task was made easier by the Duckworth Lewis method being used to revise the target, but frankly I don't think so. Quite honestly a side that has scored 1/229 off 36.5 overs is certainly on target for 307 off 50 overs.

I saw the end of the game, and what I was most struck by was the tactics of South Africa in the field. After the rain delay, New Zealand needed less than a run a ball to win. South African captaincy Shaun Pollock put all his fieldsmen on the boundary. Why he did this I do not know, as this simply allowed the batsmen to score singles at will, and put no pressure at all on them. It was simply a gift of the game to New Zealand. A sensible strategy would have involved trying to take wickets and not giving away singles. The one vital thing that South Africa required was the wicket of Fleming, and after a rain delay it may have taken him a couple of overs to get his eye in again. But they didn't even try. Setting an attacking field might have meant that New Zealand hit a few boundaries and then won the game quickly, but it was South Africa's only chance, and they didn't take it. Stephen Fleming is acknowledged by almost everyone to be one of the best (in my mind probably the best) captains in the game. Today he showed that he is an outstanding batsman as well. South African captain Shaun Pollock on the other hand demonstrated that he is the worst international captain I have ever seen. South Africa's previous captain Hansie Cronje had an occasional tendency to lose matches in return for being paid large sums of money by Bombay bookmakers, but he at least knew what he was doing. Pollock has no idea at all, and needs to be sacked as soon as possible.

As for the tournament, it is possible to deduce a fair amount about which teams will proceed to the Super Six stage from Group B. Assuming that New Zealand doesn't get beaten by Canada or anything like that, the West Indies are now certain of a place. New Zealand would be certain of a place if they were willing to play in Kenya, but as it is must wait out other results. Still, however, they and Sri Lanka are very likely to be the other teams.

The only way that South Africa can now make the Super Six stage is for both them and the West Indies to beat Sri Lanka, and for South Africa to end up with a better net run rate than either New Zealand or Sri Lanka. This is a very tall order. Much more likely is that South Africa will be the third host team in four World Cups to fail to get past the first round of the tournament. (Australia in 1992 and England in 1999 being the other two).

(If you want to know how I have reached the above conclusions, the details are here).

As for group A, Australia are now certain to make the Super Six stage. There haven't been enough matches between India, Pakistan and England for me to have any idea yet which of these teams will make it.
Yesterday, my plans were to lie in until maybe ten am, and to turn on the teletext on the BBC with live updates of the India-Australia match. Then, I would get up, cook myself a nice English breakfast, and then head up to a nearby pub to watch the second half of the game. Sadly, however, by about 9.30 am, it was clear that there would be no point. India slumped to seven wickets for 80, and Australia was clearly going to win the match in a canter. And this is in fact what happened. India scored a pathetic 125 and Australia won by 9 wickets with 37.4 overs to spare. Som much for that, and I felt vaguely cheated. Still, Australia did play superbly, and they are now close to certain of a place in the second round of the tournament. Jason Gillespie was the star bowler, taking 3/13 off 10 overs. Brett Lee also took three wickets. Lee looks like hi might be the star of the tournament. Four years ago Shane Warne performed this role, and Lee rose ably to the job when Warne and McGrath were out injured in the recent VB series in Australia. He seems to be continuing now. This is excellent.

Later yesterday, I caught the end of the Kenya-Canada game. These are two of the humbler sides in the tournament, but unlike India and Australia, they managed to put on a very decent game of cricket. Canada scored a quite reasonable 197, and they had Kenya at 5/154 off 38.4 overs chasing this. As it happened, Kenya got the remaining runs relatively easily (although there was one dropped catch: things would have been interesting if the Canadians had taken it). However, the match was still in some doubt (although not that much) until the last over or two, and it seems a good time was had by all.

This was the first time I had actually watched Canada play in this tournament, and the striking thing about their team was just how subcontinental their team looked. Not knowing in advance what country they came from, one would almost have guessed that they were the Sri Lankan team. Looking closer, there were a few people of fairly obvious Carribean origin in the side, too. The last time Canada qualified for this tournament was in 1975. I suspect that that team would have practically been all white. However, things have changed. Clearly some cricketing infrastructure has endured in Canada (which is why we see a Canadian team and not a US team playing in the tournament, even though there are also many South Asian and Carribean immigrants to the USA) but lots of recent immigrants are now playing the game there.

Theother thing that was apparent was just how much they were enjoying themselves. Clearly they were delighted to be playing in the tournament, and to have beaten Bangladesh and made a fight out of the game with Kenya. Some people have criticised the presence of the weaker sides in this tournament, but I really do not go along with this. Just being there seems a big deal to them, and this was great to see.
It is such a shame we are not going to actually see the animated Buffy series. For one thing the animated Willow was clearly going to be almost as cute as the live action Willow. (Thanks to Virginia for the link).

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