Saturday, June 07, 2003

It won't happen

Every now and then, someone in England suggests appointing a member of the royal familty to the position of Governor-General of Australia. It happened with Prince Charles 25 years ago, and it seems to be happening again with Prince William. (Link via Steven Den Beste). Well, it simply isn't going to happen. This was all actually resolved in 1931, when Sir Isaac Isaacs was appointed as the first Australian born Governor General. Prior to that, the G-G had always been British and had primary loyalty to the British government, although this declined over time. When Isaacs was nominated, the King and the British government initially didn't like the idea, but the Australian government prevailed, and at that point, it became clear that it was entirely an Australian appointment. Subsequent to that, the G-G was always an Australian, his duties were purely to Australia and the Australian government, and the British had no role in his appointment, other than the Queen ratifying the appointment. A non-Australian in the role, even a member of the royal family, is unthinkable, in much the same way and for much the same reasons that an Australian is unthinkable as President of Germany. When this sort of suggesting is made in Britain, it merely illustrates that the person making it does not understand the Australian constitutional position.
Dealing with my issues through foreign travel

A few years ago, in the course of my employment, I had a mindblowingly ghastly boss. This man had been promoted way above his level of competence, and had no idea whatsoever about the workings of a financial model he was supposed to be an expert on.

This was one thing, and if he had simply kept out of my way and let me do the work, I could have lived with this. The trouble was that he had no idea how incompetent he was, and thus spent his entire time instructing me to do things that were dumb, pointless, and wrong. Worse than that, he was the sort of person who feels the need to talk to you all day, so while I was trying to do the job properly and do enough of his pointless tasks to make him civil, he was spouting unbelievable crap at me all day long. It was mindblowingly awful.

In any event, I once commented that working with me reminded me of what Adolf Hitler had said about meeting with General Franco: that it was like going to the dentist. Working with this moron was, for me, like having to go to the dentist all day long. My very unimaginative workmates were totally unimpressed by this observation, but were actually sympathetic towards me.

In any event, I yesterday caught the Euskotran train from San Sebastian to Hendaye, just over the border with France. I would have liked to have gone further to St Jean-de-luz, but the French were all on strike, which made this difficult. However, I got out and walked around the SNCF station in Hendaye. It so happens that this railway station is where Hitler and Franco actually met on 23 October 1940, after which Hitler made that comment about Franco and dentists. Next time I have an appalling boss, I at least have a better story to tell.

Of course, people who commemorate historical events don't feel the need to put up plaques commemorating infamous events, so there is no way of knowing that this meeting took place there from looking at the railway station. The waiting room was full of American college students hoping that they would somehow be able to go to Bordeax some time soon. I was tempted to point out that Adolf Hitler had once stood probably a few feet from where they were standing and that thinking about this would maybe make the wait go faster (or not), but managed to resist the temptation.

In any event, I walked over the bridge back into Spain. There are now no customs or immigration controls of any kind: you just walk across the bridge. I then walked from the modern border town of Irun to the older border town of Hondarribia: a gorgeous little walled town. Eventually I heard some music coming up some steps, and walked down to find a nice little bar filled with twentysomething studenty types. I had a couple of beers and a very pleasant baguette filled with all manner of interesting fillings. In all, a good evening.

Due to a missing "/" in my html, much of this site has been in bold italics for the last 24 hours. Thanks to blogger being down, I wasn't able to fix it, or indeed to post anything new.

Update: Actually it was two missing "/"s. Whenever it is that blogger chooses to update my site, this should be fixed.

Friday, June 06, 2003

This sounds like fun

This guy gives a very amusing discussion of testing whether anyone pays any attention at all to his signature on credit card slips. He starts out with fairly ordinary things, and then moves on to signing with noughts and crosses boards, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and you name it, really.

Having read this, I yesterday checked in to a hostel here in San Sebastian. I was mildly annoyed to see a "No war for oil" sign on the wall. Now, it is theoretically IYHF policy that hostels are open to all regardless of race, religion, political beliefs, blah blah blah, and this seemed mildly contrary to this policy. Largely, I just wanted somewhere to lie down, but emboldened by what I had read earlier, I decided to make some sort of statement. I signed the credit card slip "Donald Rumsfeld". Nobody noticed, or paid the slightest attention to what I had signed.
An argument for intervention

Sasha Volokh makes some comments about the Spanish Civil War, in particular that in the Spanish civil war neither side was terribly palatable, and that if the choice was communism or Franco, then Franco might have been the lesser of the two evils. As Sasha says, "Remember that when you have a war between side A and side B, side C (i.e., liberal democracy) is not a valid choice". This may be true, but we do not know how repressive communism would have ever become in Spain. Given Spain's physical location at the west of Europe, it seems unlikely that it could have ever become a satellite of the Soviet Union, so how it would have evolved, I don't know. I doubt it would have ever turned into Stalinism. (Sasha sort of says this too in his last paragraph). We know just how bad Franco was, but with the alternatives we simply do not. Sitting where I am right now, about half an hour from Guernica, Franco doesn't seem especially palatable.

And as for sides A, B, and C, I think that all three options may have been choices in 1945. America at that time allowed Franco to remain in power, and as a consequence, the Spanish were stuck with his wretched dictatorship until the mid 1970s. If the Americans had instead invaded Spain and extended Marshall Plan aid and established a democracy, things would probably have become much better much sooner.
These guys take their nationalism seriously, but their football seriouser

I've just arrived in Donostia / San Sebastian. The green, white and red basque flag, the ikurrina is everywhere, much more so than in Bilbao. However, even more prominent than that are blue and white striped flags, which are apparently the colours of Real Sociedad de FĂștbol, the local team here. (I have also seen the two sets of colours combined on one flag). (And what is "royal" about the team from San Sebastian? More research clearly needed). San Sebastian is a nice, beachside town that I may well become bored with fairly quickly. It's Friday though, and I am told this is quite a party town. Bilbao was grimier but, I think, more interesting. I am impressed by the road infrastructure in this region. Getting here I went through a very impressive system of motorways and tunnels.

Update: Of course, the reason why San Sebastian is covered with such an enormous number of blue and white flags at the moment can be summarised by looking at this league table. Real Sociedad lead the table by one point with two games to play. They last won the Spanish league in 1982, and have only ever won it twice.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

And I am sure guys at the Onion know this

This actually happens a lot, particularly when you are trying to do a Ph.D.
And who said the regional locator doesn't work?

You appear to be viewing this blog from Bilbao, Spain. Welcome.


You appear to be viewing this blog from San Sebastian, Spain. Welcome.


You appear to be viewing this blog from $===city===$Bilbao===$, Spain. Welcome.

I'm (finally) in the Basque country

Right. After standing for the best part of an hour in a completely crowded bus on the tarmac at Stansted airport due to the fact that a blocked toilet was discovered on the plane between our leaving the terminal and arriving at the aircraft, and after waiting another hour on the ground for French aircraft controllers to stop striking (or something) I had a perfectly uneventful flight to Bilbao, arriving around 11pm. Of course, I hadn't booked accommodation because I had expected to arrive in the morning. After walking around in Bilbao for some time (not helped by the fact that the rain in Spain falls mainly on the Pyrenees, apparently), and discovering a youth hostel that wouldn't check anyone in after 9pm (welcome to the 24 hour world city), I eventually found a pensione with an available room that was at least comfortable and not terribly expensive, and got some extremely necessary sleep - remember, I got up at 2.30 am yesterday.

This morning though, my impression of the place was much more favourable. In a way anything, Bilbao reminds me of Wellington, in that it is a city built in the valleys amongst quite dramatic hills. Unfortunately, it was dark when the aircraft landed, so I didn't see the geography around it. We did have to come through a long tunnel to actually get into Bilbao from the airport, however.

Architecturally, Frank Gehry's Guggenheim is every bit as spectacular as I had heard - a truly magnificent building. Santiago Calatrava's footbridge across the Nervion impressed me less than I thought it would. Interesting but not remarkable. (The way in which the Guggenheim building interacts with an older and much more massive partially cable stayed road bridge is very nice, however).

And one thing in particular that improved my morning. The guidebooks all say that the basques make the best food in Spain, and this seems to be entirely true. One custom is the pintxo. Walk into almost any bar, and the top of the bar will be covered with really deicious and inexpensive savoury items of really delicious food. What a fine way to have breakfast. Yum.

The city of Bilbao is in a valley through which the Nervion river runs, and in particular it is at a point where the river doubles back on itself so there is a sizeable flat area inside the curve of the river. There are rather steep slopes on either side of the river. I walked up to the top of the ridge on one side of the city, and looked over into the next valley. Fortuitously, it happened that I was looking in to the valley with the airport in it. The one runway stretched lengthwise down the valley, which was long and straight enough for it. (I wonder what was there before the airport: there is sufficiently little flat land in this area that it must have been used for something). Santiago Calatrava's airport terminal looks just like one of his bridges, with a little arch on top. It didn't strike me as a great piece of architecture either: Norman Foster's terminal at Stansted (from where I departed yesterday) is better. And it isn't a large airport - it is perhaps on a par with Adelaide or Auckland.

I like this city though. It is an industrial city that went through industrial decline at the right time to avoid modernism, and is so having some really interesting post-materials revolution architecture, engineering and design imposed upon it now.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

This is a public service announcement

Troppo Armadillo, Ken Parish's fine (mostly) Australian politics site, has moved to a new home. Update your links, or even if you don't have links go and have a look, as it's a good site.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Enjoyment, hopefully

It is 2.45 am, and I am booked on a flight from Stansted Airport in Essex to Bilbao at 6.45am.(Getting there will be something of a nuisance, but it can be done). I shall be in the Basque country in Spain and maybe France for most of the next week. I am told that as long as I manage to avoid saying anything too complimentary about General Franco, ETA will likely leave me alone. The level of blogging in that time will depend on the ease and expense of internet time when I get there, but there should be some. (And it should be about interesting things). Sadly, it appears the article about introversion and Neal Stephenson has been delayed until I get back.

Update: Well, I was five minutes late for a bus from Croydon to central London, and the next one was fifteen minutes later. This led me to by five minutes late for the bus from Victoria Bus Terminal to Stansted Airport, which led me to arrive at the airport ten minutes after check-in closed for that flight. (This was still 35 minutes before the plane was due to leave. On a full service airline, that would have meant I would have still made the flight, but on a discount airline (Easyjet) there was no such flexibility). Easyjet were however good about it, as they rebooked me onto the next flight to Bilbao without attempting to charge me any extra money. They also offered to convey me to Barcelona instead, but to go there I would have had to have flown from Luton airport, and I had done enough rushing around from airport to airport for the morning. In any event, I wanted to go to Bilbao, so I rebooked onto the next flight, which is not until this afternoon. This is fine: the only reason I booked on the morning flight in the first place was because I could get a cheap fare on it, but it did mean I had got up unnecessarily at 2.30am. The other good thing about it was that I had a few hours in which to visit a good friend in Cambridge who I hadn't seen for a while, and while at her place, I could finish a half complete job application. And hey, also do a little blogging. The moral of all this is that trying to get from Croydon to Stansted airport for a 6.45am flight is a fairly silly thing to do. But hey, the ticket was really cheap.
Insane New Zealander watch

I am not sure if this guy is bearded, but whatever may be said about New Zealanders, they are the sorts of people who will do miraculous things in their back sheds, be this invent the aeroplane, make three Lord of the Rings movies, or in fact build their own home made cruise missiles.

(via NZPundit).
Australia remains a successful democracy

Jacob Levy at the Volokh Conspiracy discusses the threat that Australian federal politics will go the way of Canada or Britain, in which one major political party fades away and we get semi-permanent one party rule as a consequence. I don't personally think this is a serious danger, because the differences between Australia, Canada, and Britain are quite substantial.

Firstly, look what has happened in both Britain and Canada. In Canada, the Progressive Conservative Party had formed many governments over the decades, but in 1993 simple unpopularity mixed up with separatism in Quebec and regional unhappiness in British Columbia meant its parliamentary representation was reduced to just two seats. This made it essentially impossible for the Progressive Conservatives to function as a parliamentary party, and the grass roots organisation of the party simply withered away as a consequence. No parliamentarians meant no money, meaning no party rank and file. With no apparent possibility of the party serving in government in future, ambitious people went elsewhere, and the party has not been able to re-establish itself at subsequent elections. Nobody has been able to establish an alternative national opposition party since, and this is made much harder by separatist sentiments in Quebec, and the simple lack of common ground between different parts of Anglophone Canada. (How much political common ground do people in British Columbia have in common with people in Newfoundland? Not much).

In Britain, the situation is much the same with the Conservative Party. After a long time in power, the party became so unpopular that it lost most of its parliamentary seats. Subsequently, it had a very limited list of MPs from which to choose a shadow ministry, and these tended to be from extremely conservative and nationalist parts of the party, because these were the sorts of candidates most likely to be put forward by local members in safe constituencies. Therefore, the party looked even less relevant to voters, less likely to be elected, and thus less likely to be an organisation that ambitious people would want to join. And the vicious circle perpetuated itself to the extent that nobody in Britain takes the Conservative Party even remotely seriously any more.

That is not to say that the party can never come back. The Labour Party was in 1982 at least as irrelevant as the Tories are now, but the Labour Party now governs. However, it had to completely reform itself first. This reform involved alienating a fairly portion of the traditional party rank and file, and the Tories will have to do something similar if they ever want to govern again.

The trouble in both Canada and the UK is that parties have been defeated so heavily that the parties themselves have become disfunctional as a consequence. This has not happened in Australia

Firstly, the ALP never suffered a defeat on the scale of the Progressive Conservatives in Canada or the Conservative Party in Britain. Secondly, in Australia, a party gains its parliamentary caucus from its members of both houses, and the nature of the senate voting system means that unless a party gets less than about 25% of the vote (which is nowhere near happening for the ALP) it cannot be wiped out in the senate. And even then, the six year terms of the senate generally mean that this would take two elections. Plus, the way in which the ALP selects senate candidates tends to mean that senators are political pragmatists, not extremists.

Look at the situation. When the ALP suffered its heaviest recent defeat in 1996, it still ended up with a total of 78 members out of a total of 224 seats in the two houses (That's 34.8% of the total). At the moment, the ALP has 92 members out of 226 seats. (That's 40.1% of the total). With this many members, the party still functions well at the federal level. The ALP has been in a worse state than this on many occasions in its electoral history (1977, 1965, 1955, and so on). The ALP is an extremely resilient party, much more so than the Liberal Party. (And anyway, in 1987 the Liberal Party was in at least as bad a state as the ALP is now, and the Liberal Party did ultimately come back).

As several other people have mentioned, the ALP is in no danger of deteriorating into irrelevance the way the parties discussed did in Canada and Britain due to the ALP's (unprecedented) strength at the state level. The ALP controls all eight state and territory parliaments. This means that the ALP has power and patronage to offer young and ambitious people who want to join the party, and the needs of government in the states forces the party to remain ideologically relatively moderate.

And these state governments give the federal party somewhere to get a leader from. Almost everybody in politics has a secret (or not so secret) ambition to one day become Prime Minister, and that includes most of the members of the ALP state governments.

The problem is simply that that the ALP doesn't have a decent party leader. Mr Beazley and Mr Crean are both hopeless. If the ALP can find a decent leader, then it stands a good chance of winning an election soon after, because the party itself still has the political resources with which to do so. The Liberal government under John Howard is actually tired and lacks depth of talent. (There is a discussion of who is "the worst minister in recent memory" going on at Ken Parish's website at the moment, and several present ministers are being made fun of at great length). A credible ALP leader could beat the government, possibly not at the next election but very likely at the one after.

And if it really has to, the ALP can find a leader in one of these state governments. Unlike what happens in the US, the Australian political parties do not have traditions of state leaders transferring to federal politics. In the federal parliamentary system, people are traditionally expected to do a parliamentary apprenticeship in the federal sphere before becoming party leader. To some extent, this is the problem. Mr Beazley and Mr Crean have gained the leadership because of their party and parliamentary seniority, which is not always the best way to choose a leader. At some point, however, the party will become desperate. (I think it is fairly close to that point). At that point, it will be possible for a promising junior parliamentarian to become leader, or for a senior state figure to move to the federal sphere to take the leadership. Last time the ALP was in a similar position (in 1980), they imported Bob Hawke, a former union leader, to become leader without the usual parliamentary apprenticeship. Mr Hawke became Prime Minister barely two years after becoming a member of parliament, and led one of the best governments Australia has ever had.

This time, the ALP is more likely to import a state leader. Bob Carr, the long term Premier of NSW, has been mentioned as a possible candidate to do this. Bob Carr may not have the ambition to be Prime Minister (for one think I think he likes being Premier of NSW), but he has the political skills. Like John Howard and George Bush, he is someone who has been underestimated constantly throughout his political career, but he always seems to win. I do not like Mr Carr personally (mainly because he is the precise opposite of what Virginia Postrel would call a "dynamist"), but I quite honestly believe that if he moved to federal politics at the next election, he would be elected Prime Minister the election after that. (I wrote about Mr Carr and his possible federal ambitions once before).

And if this type of thing does not happen with Mr Carr, there are another seven Premiers and Chief Ministers who could conceivably make the move. The strength of the ALP at the state level means that the party remains strong at the grass roots level, regardless of its leadership problems at the federal level. And while that is the case, and while state politicians retain federal ambitions (as they always will) the party is never going to fade away at the federal level.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Socialising, or something

I am off to have lunch with Perry and Gabriel, and I have a half written piece on being an introvert, and on author Neal Stephenson, which I shall finish and post this evening.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Just about the end

On August 30 last year, the Australian cricket team played a one day game against Pakistan in Nairobi in Kenya, winning by 224 runs, the first game of a triangular tournament also involving Kenya. Since then, they have been playing more or less continuously. That tournament was followed by another one day tournament, the ICC Champions Trophy, in Sri Lanka, a three test series against Pakistan (played in Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates after the Australians decided it was too dangerous to play it in Pakistan), five tests at home against England, a triangular tournament at home against England and Sri Lanka, the World Cup in South Africa, and this present tour of the West Indies featuring four tests and seven one day internationals. That's nine months of continuous cricket. Some players were injured or dropped at some point in that schedule, and other play in the one day side but not the test side, or vice versa.

Today, Australia play the last of their seven one day games against the West Indies, before finally getting a break.

However, this is a long time to be on the road. IN the nine months, Austrlalia have played 12 test matches (ten wins, two losses) and after today they will have played 36 one day matches (30 wins, one washout, four losses, one still to be played). That's a fantastic record, but it is worth looking at the actual losses. The two test matches were both dead rubbers after Australia had won the series. Of the one day losses, only one was in a match that mattered, the ICC Champions trophy semi-final against Sri Lanka on 27 September. (Australia were also unfortunate that the one day final against Pakistan in Kenya a couple of weeks before was washed out, so they technically didn't win that tournament either). The second loss was also against Sri Lanka in Australia on January 9, when Australia were in no danger of missing the final of the series.

The third and fourth losses were the two most recent matches against the West Indies, both after the series was lost. I have already written about the first of these, but the second was on Friday. Gilchrist got Australia off to a great start with the bat, but then wickets were lost and they at one point had slumped to 7/193 off 40.1 overs. However, Bichel then managed some good hitting, and the total was taken to a reasonable 252 off the 50 overs. This was one of those scores which would have been enough if nobody batted really well for the West Indies, but which wasn't going to be if someone did. And someone did, although it wasn't who we expected.

Australia bowled well, and kept taking wickets. For most of the innings it looked like Australia would win. However, opener Wavell Hinds simply kept batting, and didn't get out. Every now and then he hit one of the bowlers for six, ending up with six of them. He kept up the run rate, and scored 125 not out, getting the West Indies home with 8 balls to spare.

Not to take anything away from Hinds (who really was superb) Australia really should have won this one. If the Australians had scored 20 more runs (which they really should have given the start) they would have won. Had Brett Lee caught an easy outfield catch when Hinds had about 50, Australia would have won. Had Lee bowled more tightly towards the end and not bowled wides and noballs, the match would have gone down to the last couple of balls. (I am most irritating with the Australian batsmen though. The middle order is still a little suspect. We really could do with Damien Martyn back. And to be quite honest, Australia have not replaced Mark Waugh very successfully yet. In test matches, this is a good reason for sticking with Steve Waugh for another season. Two open spots in the middle order it too many, as we saw in the final test against the West Indies.).

Australia were sloppy, and they lost because of this. It is clear that they are tired and want to go home. Hopefully they can raise themselves to finish the tour on a winning note today. I think they probably can, but it would be a little disappointing if they cannot. A 4-3 margin would suggest that the series was close, and it really hasn't been. It would also be a little annoying to see a 30-2 record reduced to 30-5. That said the players do look tired, and most of their (few) losses of the last nine months can be blamed on this.

After this, Australia have a month off, before a home series against Bangladesh in July in Cairns and Darwin in Australia's north. I can't imagine they will find this stressful, as the opposition will be easy to beat, and the games are being played in tourist resorts. Presumably most of the players will dump their families in nice hotels in Cairns for the duration of the cricket. After that, Australia are off again until October, when there is a home series against Zimbabwe, followed by a one day tournament in India in November, a home test series against India in December, a home one day tournament in January, and then in immediate tour of Sri Lanka.

In short, the grind begins again in October. Australia had planned to also play in a one day tournament in September , but they have just withdrawn from this due to the players wanting a rest, despite the fact that they would have been very well paid for it.

I actually have relatively little sympathy for the players here. They are doing what they have always wanted to do, and are being paid very well for it. That's more than most of us can claim. However, they are being worked pretty hard for it.

I am going to watch the match and drink some beer. A brief update on the result later. There is plenty of other international cricket not involving Australia being played over the next few months, and I shall likely be covering it, although not to the same level of detail.

Update: And Australia lost the game. In fact, they were thrashed. The top order batting was disappointing, with Hayden and Gilchrist going early, both to poor shots, and Ponting retiring hurt after being hit by a quick ball somewhere around the waist level. Lehmann and Symonds then scored a few runs, but Symonds' dismissal for 48 led to another little collapse. For the first time in his brief career, Clarke looked a rank amateur today, firstly being given not out caught behind after hitting the ball more than a little bit - if ever walking was called for, this was the time - and then coming down the pitch, missing, and being stumped by miles when he should have still been playing back and getting his eye in. With the departure of Harven soon after, things looked bad at 5/133, but Lehmann and Hogg played very well to give the Australians something to bowl out. Lehmann eventually scored a fine 107 off 109 balls. I am not Lehmann's biggest fan, but after this, I have to concede he at least deserves a spot in the one day side. Hogg also batted the best he has since that one day final in Melbourne on Australia Day, and scored 53. With three or four overs to go and these two batting, it looked like Australia could have scored 260 or 270, but more wickets fell and they ended up with 8/247. Gayle, more famous for his batting, took 5/46 - his best bowling in a One Day International. The West Indies bowled well, and Lara's captaincy was imaginative and astute - the best I have seen from him.

This never looked like being enough. As it was, Gayle and Hinds put on 116 before Gayle was out for 60. Lara came in, and he and Hinds just went about their business, winning the match with 6.3 overs to spare. Lara scored 75 not out, and Hinds 103 not out, his second hundred in a row.

What can I say. The West Indies played very well today, and Australia didn't. Australia have lost more one day internationals in the last week than they had in the previous year. This was a pretty feeble end to the tour, and I'm not especially impressed.

Still, the West Indies are much improved over what they were 18 months ago. Clearly, they have the nucleus of a good side. South Africa (who simply played badly) have for some reason got all the sympathy for having missed out on the second round of the World Cup through "bad luck", but the side that was genuinely unlucky was the West Indies, who suffered from defaults, upsets, and bad weather. They played very well at times in that tournament, and again played well at times here. They may be some sort of a chance for the next World Cup in four years.

We can see whether this improvement lasts. Although Australia's season is over, the West Indies' isn't. This Australian tour of the West Indies is about to be followed by a Sri Lankan tour of the West Indies. Conceivably, this will be good to watch.

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