Saturday, August 02, 2003

Globalisation, or not

Due to the fact that I am a sad dweeb, I get most of my film news and film reviews off the internet. Because the Americans get most films first, I tend to read mostly US critics. (One bonus of this is that a great more films are shown in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago than in Sydney or even London, and if something sounds good but is obviously not going to be released wherever I am, I can hunt down the DVD over the internet or something.

The usual annoyance of reading American reviews is that I see a review and have to wait months (or sometimes even years) to see the film. However, living in the UK or Australia there can sometimes be a reverse problem. Sometimes films will be shown in the UK or Australia before they are shown in the US. These are usually local films, but not always. Because I pay less attention to local movie buzz than American buzz, I will sometimes miss such a film when it shown in cinemas locally, and then discover that I want to see it when it opens in the US and I read the American reviews. The current example of this is Dirty, Pretty Things, which sounds pretty good. (I was aware of it, and it sounded pretty good when it did open here, but this didn't hit me hard enough to make me go and see it). However, it is now mostly gone from British cinemas. I might be able to find a screening at a repertory cinema somewhere if I am lucky, but I rather doubt it. I may have to wait for the DVD.

This is partly my fault though. I was quite familiar with many of Stephen Frears' earlier films, but for some reason I had never put them together in my head as a single body of work. When I do, they are a very impressive body of work. If I had done so, I would have paid more attention when the film opened here.
England versus South Africa, and a tiny report on Australia v Bangladesh ODI 1

IN 1989, the Australian cricket team toured England for an Ashes series. Australian cricket was not at a very high ebb at that point. Captain Allan Border had led Australia to two heavy defeats in the previous two Ashes series. Australia's previous test series had been at home against the West Indies, and Australia had lost 3-1. Australia over the previous few years had gone through the worst period in their cricketing history, even at times losing to New Zealand. (That said, New Zealand had a good team at that time).

But the upside was that Australia were by that point clearly beyond their lowest point. They had won the World Cup as rank outsiders in 1987, and since then they had been a good one day side and a test side that at least won matches regularly (although not always series). There were a number of good young players coming through, mostly batsmen. People like David Boon, Mark Taylor, and Steve Waugh.

Which was why Australians were a little put out when the Australian side was written off in England going into the series. Bookmakers named England favourites at 10-1 on. Newspaper editorialists said that "England unquestionably have the stronger side". The 1987 World Cup victory was written off as a fluke. (A journalist in an English newspaper described that 1987 final as a game that "England would have won nine times out of ten). When Australia lost the first one day game, Allan Border was asked whether he had expected that Australia would be defeated that heavily, his having expected that Australia might win being apparently out of the question.

Of course, this all made our pleasure in Australia at what happened next so much the greater. Australia tied the second one day game and won the third, for a drawn series. Then, the first test was played at Headingley. Australia batted first, and were utterly magnificent, declaring at 7/601 with Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh scoring maiden test centuries, in Steve Waugh's case a magnificent 177 not out. After that we saw one of the most one sided test series I have ever seen in my life, with Australia winning 4-0, and England hardly winning a session in the six test matches. (The series result would have been 6-0 if it were not for rain, as Australia were way ahead in the other two games). We all laughed at the commentators who had written Australia off, given that Australia were so obviously on the improve. Australians look back on the series very fondly. If the 1987 World Cup was the point where Australia started to turn things round, the 1989 Ashes series was the time when they really came good.

So why do I mention this. Well, on the third morning of the second test of the South Africa v England series, it is clear I judged South Africa about as badly. Due to the turmoil and recent poor performances of South Africa, I judged them to be a side clearly in decline, and as I saw England as a side on the rise, I said that I thought a comprehensive England victory was very likely. And, so far, this has not happened. It is England that look in disarray.

When I made these observations, South African reader Dave F left comments taking issue with them a little bit. In particular, he said I was wrong to underestimate new South African captain Graeme Smith, who (according to Dave) was really something special. I was perhaps a little dismissive of this, although I had not seem Smith play much.

Well, Dave, I salute you. You were right. Enjoy the gloating. For what happened last week was not too different to what happened when Australia batted first in that first test in 1989. Gibbs and Smith put on an opening partnership of 338. Smith ended up with 277 and Gibbs 179 and South Africa declared just before tea on the third day at 5/594. All of the second day was lost to rain, so that is actually quite a fast run rate. There was then more rain, and on the fourth day Michael Vaughan played superbly, scoring 156 for England. (Vaughan is clearly the real deal). At the end of day four, England were 374/7 with Vaughan out, requiring another 21 runs to avoid the follow on. On day five, they got these easily enough, and from that point, the game was doomed to a draw. (It had been probably heading for a draw from the point where Vaughan dug in). After England were out for 408, South Africa scored a quick 4/134 (Smith scoring 85), setting England 320 to win in about threehours. This was never going to be doable, and England ended up with 1/110 when the game was declared a draw.

What can we say? South Africa would likely have won without all the rain. Smith's batting was superb. As for his captaincy, well he was a huge improvement on Pollock (although that isn't saying very much). He was less aggressive than Steve Waugh would have been, and received a little criticism for not declaring a little earlier on the final day. (I don't have much criticism here myself, as a result was most unlikely at this point). I was a little surprised he batted as long as he did on the third day after the second was lost to rain. (I think Steve Waugh would have declared earlier, but Steve Waugh has stronger bowling at his disposal). On the other hand, if he had batted a little longer on the third day, South Africa might have ended up being able to enforce the follow on on day five. So it is hard to say. Trying to figure out the right thing to do in a rain affected match when you do now know what the weather is going to be like and time is limited is one of the hardest things for a captain to do. In the end, not much criticism from me there either. South Africa got a draw and a moral victory from the first test.

The moral victory became bigger a day after the test when Nasser Hussein stepped down as England captain. This took most of us by surprise. Hussein has lost some support in the press in the last couple of months, as it has been suggested that splitting the captaincy between a test captain and a one day captain is a bad idea. Other people have commented that it seems to work okay in Australia. It does, but there is media criticism of it in Australia too. And of course it is not something that the captains have agreed to voluntarily in Australia. Both Mark Taylor and the Steve Waugh were actually dropped from the one day team. Nasser Hussein went willingly. My personal opinion was that sticking with two captains wasn't a bad idea. Let Vaughan concentrate on his (wonderful) batting in tests for a while, and get some captaincy experience in the one day team.

So what happened. I don't know whether Hussein jumped, was pushed, or whether there was some sort of player revolt. (Hussein is known for being a somewhat authoritarian captain, whereas Vaughan is "more relaxed". Hussein did make a stupid comment about South Africa being "there for the taking" before the series. He may have though that - I thought that too - but it is a dumb thing for a captain to say, as the oppositition will tear out the parge of the newspaper quoting it, circle the quote, pin it up on the wall and use it for motivation. However, that wasn't a sacking offence, if he was sacked.

Whether Hussein resigned or was sacked, the timing of it was deeply unprofessional. It was completely unfair on Vaughan to given him the captaincy two days before the next test. He had no time to plan, and no time to prepare himself. If the captaincy was going to be changed mid-series, it should have happened after the second test, when Vaughan had ten days to prepare himself. Vaughan being given the captaincy in the circumstances he was given it was asking for trouble.

And trouble is exactly what England got. Smith won the toss and sent England in, and England's batting was pathetic. They slumped to 9/118 thanks to good bowling from Ntini, who ended up with 5/75, and from Hall, who took 3/18. Some hitting from Gough and Anderson salvaged a small amount of respectability, but not much. England were all out for 173, having batted for only 48.3 overs. Smith, Gibbs and then Kirsten then demonstrated that the pitch was easy to bat on after all, and they had scored 1/;151 by the end of day one. On day two it got worse. South Africa lost only one wicket all day, Kirsten for a fine 108. Smith was unbeaten on 214 at the end of the day. He became only the third player (after Bradman (three times) and Vinod Kambli of India) to score double centuries in successive matches.

Oddly though, Smith seemed slightly lacking as a captain in terms of aggression. South Africa actually went off due to bad light towards the end of the day. Given how the South Africans were creaming the English, it might have been better to simply keep doing so and push for the win as quickly as possible. And the weather was looking ominous at the time. One possibility was that they would spend the next three days trying to win the game between rainstorms, so that every minute on the field might count. (The weather is much better now, but they didn't know it would be). At the end of the day, Smith was obviously very happy, but their seemed a bit too much discussion of batting records. Smith openly said that South Africa wanted to break the all time South African innings batting record, and he didn't do much to shut down discussion of the possibility of his breaking Lara's record for best individual score in a test match of 375. Ritchie Benaud was critical of this kind of talk on channel four this morning, and I have to agree with him. Given the slightly dodgy weather yesterday, it would be far better to just go as aggressively for the win.

As their talk last night indicated they are batting on and on today. Steve Waugh would have declared by now. Smith has got out (for 259) since I started writing this post, but the batting continues. They are 3/530. The lead is approaching 400, which is totally unnecessary. If it starts raining again (which the weather report does not predict, but who knows) and South Africa do not win - or even if England save the match by batting well - they may regret this. It is not likely that they will - a South African victory is by far the most likely result - but I think Smith is being a little too timid.

On the other hand, this is no different to the way Australian captains played the game a decade of 15 years ago. It is the way captains of most sides other than Australia play the game. Part of this comes from Steve Waugh's great confidence in the abilities of his team. It is really striking just how Australia are playing a different game to everyone else. Smith's captaincy isn't bad, it just could be a little better. This may just be inexperience.

In other cricket, Australia won their first one day international against Bangladesh with the greatest of ease. Bangladesh were sent in, and slumped to 5/33 due to some excellent bowling from Brett Lee, who ended up with 4/25 off 8 overs. The eventually scraped together a fairly miserable 105 off 34 overs, with Gillespie also continuing his good form by taking 3/23 off ten. Australia lost Gilchrist and Ponting getting the runs, but thanks to 46 not out from Hayden, they made the target off 22.3 overs. Damien Martyn made a welcome return to the Australian team after his finger injury, although he didn't have much to do, facing only one ball and scoring nought not out. Hopefully he will get some time in the middle in the next game tomorrow. However, Australia may need to bat first for this to happen.

Friday, August 01, 2003


I have a piece on the architecture of airport terminals over at Samizdata.
The benefits of DSL

Hey, I can now click on the large sized versions of movie trailers, and they actually work. This is cool. (And is Christina Ricci adorable or what?)

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Another milestone

Sitemeter has just recorded the twenty five thousandth visitor for this blog. Sitemeter notoriously undercounts, so the true number of visitors is likely significantly greater than this. I'm not Instapundit, but this is still a substantial number. I will next commemorate a milestone when it reaches 50000.
Transport saga

My details of the nine hour journey home (that includes the fast driving Dutchman story) is now up at Transport Blog.

I have just two words to say. Manchester United. (My Liverpool supporting readers, if I have any, will take issue. They will even probably be right. All those European championships in the 1980s do matter. However, I don't care).

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Australia v Bangladesh

As I said when I was in France but did not have time to report on at the time, there were two test matches played over the weekend: the second test between Australia and Bangladesh, and the first between England and South Africa. My report on England v South Africa later, but first Australia v Bangladesh, and some thoughts on the series.

In the Australia v Bangladesh game in Cairns, Steve Waugh won the toss and sent the opposition in, just as he did in the first match. In that first match they had been bowled out very cheaply, but in the second they showed more fight, finishing the first day at 8/289, thanks to 76 from Hannan Sarkar, 46 each from Habibul Bashar and Sanwar Hossain, and 44 from Khaled Mashud. The Australian bowlers apparently looked frustrated and a little below par, with McGrath and Lee in particular looking underdone.

The innings was finished off quickly the next morning, with Gillespie taking three wickets and MacGill five. Australia then batted, and had no trouble with the bowling. Langer failed, but there were fifties to Hayden and Ponting, and then 177 to Lehmann, 156 not out to Steve Waugh, and 100 not out (a maiden test century) to Martin Love before Waugh declared midway through the third day with the score on 4/556. Bangladesh then again dug in with the bat, getting to 1/87 before losing three wickets just before the end of play on the third day. On the fourth, they lost more wickets to be all out for 163. MacGill got another 5 wickets, and Gillespie another 4. Australia won by an innings and 98 runs.

In the end, Australia accomplished exactly what they need to in this series. Two innings victories with plenty in reserve. Bangladesh fought, but were some way behind, particularly in the bowling department. The players for Australia who achieved the most were those who had something to prove - Lehmann with two centures, and MacGill (who really doesn't want to be automatically dropped when Shane Warne is back) with 17 wickets. Steve Waugh seems determined to break as many records as possible before retiring, and wants to make sure he achieves his ambition of playing in India next year. (His 150 in the second test meant that he had scored innings of 150 or more against all nine test opponents, which is really impressive. Also, he now has centuries on all Australian test grounds except Perth, where he would have one if has brother hadn't managed to once get himself run out when acting as a runner for the number 11 when Steve Waugh was on 99. I am sure he is aware of this, and it will be interesting if he manages to complete the set against Zimbabwe later this year. He seems very conscious of records now, and determined to break as many as possible before he leaves international cricket. Border's record for most test runs and Gavaskar's for most test centuries are records that will not last long if he gets them (Tendulkar or just maybe Lara will break the first, and Tendulkar will the second) but he still clearly wants them.

Martin Love really had something to prove after the first match, and scored an unbeaten century in the second, but this will likely not help him keep his place. Damien Martyn will be back for the Zimbabwe series, and Lehmann has clearly performed better than Love, meaning that Love will be the man dropped. (Martyn's last innings for Australia was a brilliant innings in a World Cup final. There is no way he will be left out, particularly given that he is a far better batsman than either Love or Lehmann). Given that his next game for Australia may not be for a while, I am sure Love was delighted to score a maiden test century.

Gillespie also bowled well, taking 11 wickets in the series at an average of 15.

Australia's best players didn't perform so much. Hayden, Langer, Ponting, McGrath, and Lee all ended the series with worse averages than they started, although none of them precisely failed. They just didn't rise to the occasion, because it wasn't a terribly big occasion to rise to. The players that performed did so for personal reasons.

Bangladesh on the other hand demonstrated that they can put in one good day per test match, before falling apart on the others. They at least managed to push the second match into a fourth day. Still, they have a long way to go, even if they were clearly putting up a fight. There were some positives for them out of the series, but they have a long way to go. Hopefully they can get better.

In any even, three one day internationals over the next week. More comfortable victories to Australia, no doubt. Damien Martyn is back from injury. We will see whether he is fully fit, and can score some runs.

Update: Glenn McGrath has been carrying a foot injury, which may well have affected his form. McGrath has withdrawn from the team for the one day matches in order to receive treatment and possibly have an operation. Australia's next series is the Zimbabwe tests in October, and he expects to play in those. Brad Williams has been brought into the Australian squad to replace McGrath. Williams was quoted as saying the following in response to this.

Obviously I am disappointed for Glenn, because I know how much he enjoys playing cricket for Australia, but for me, these opportunities don't come around very often. I am thrilled that the selectors have seen fit to pick me, and should I get the opportunity to take part in any match during the series, I am going to grab it with both hands,

The Australian board actually hires media consultants to coach players in how to make banal and inoffensive comments like that to the media. Sometimes I wish someone would actually say that he has been deeply frustrated by his previous non-selection, that the selectors are a pack of idiots, and that he has been really hoping that someone would break a leg to provide an opening in the side for years now, but this sort of announcement is sadly rare these days.

I now have a broadband connection. This was obtained because other people were getting annoyed that I was on the phone so much, and because I discovered that thanks to Richard Branson I could get a connection that wasn't all that much more expensive than dialup and that I can cancel any time (ie no 12 month contract). In addition, it also has the added benefit of being a lot faster

Update: And as an added bonus, I can now access Alice Bachini's blog. I think that my previous ISP's DNS system had trouble with her slightly peculiar URL. Whatever the reason, I couldn't access the site, and I now can.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The Passion, again

This piece by Paula Fredriksen in the New Republic (which can be read for free if you sign up for a four week free trial) about Mel Gibson's the Passion is quite damning, suggesting that rather than being historically accurate, the film reflects some of the worst prejudices of post-medieval Catholicism, and is indeed unpleasantly anti-Semitic

That script--and, on the evidence, the film--presents neither a true rendition of the Gospel stories nor a historically accurate account of what could have happened in Jerusalem, on Passover, when Pilate was prefect and Caiaphas was high priest. Instead Gibson will apparently release what Christopher Noxon, in his article for the Times, had correctly described already in March: "a big-budget dramatization of key points of traditionalist theology." The true historical framing of Gibson's script is neither early first-century Judea (where Jesus of Nazareth died) nor the late first-century Mediterranean diaspora (where the evangelists composed their Gospels). It is post-medieval Roman Catholic Europe. Fulco could have spared himself a lot of trouble and just put the entire script into Latin. Not pagan Roman Latin, but Christian Roman Latin. For that is the true language of Gibson's story.


Those four of us have posted a review of these events on the Boston College website. We have also posted there an analysis of the mystical writings of Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774- 1824), one of the visionary nuns whose writings Gibson used for his script. Emmerich wrote in her diary that she had "seen" the high priest ordering the cross to be made in the courtyard of the Temple itself. The high priest's servants, in her visions, bribe Jerusalem's population to assemble in the Temple at night to demand Jesus's death; they even tip the Roman executioners. Emmerich's Pilate criticizes the high priests for their physical abuse of Jesus, but finally he consents to crucify him, because he fears that the high priest wants to start a revolt against Rome. And so on.

Emmerich was not writing history. She was having visions. But--as The Wall Street Journal, the film's unofficial website, and numerous news articles since have all mentioned--Gibson used Emmerich's fantasies for his supposedly "historical" script. Since the Boston College posting has brought this piece of the story forward, Paul Lauer, Icon's director of marketing, has denied that Gibson used Emmerich's writings. But he had: the nun's lurid images figured prominently in the version of the screenplay that we read and that Gibson was concerned about as recently as April 24.


The prognosis does not look good. While he has continued to insist upon his personal piety and his commitment to historical truth-telling, Gibson has just executed what looks like a very cynical marketing end-run. As The Washington Times reported on July 7, Gibson "is shopping his film to a more receptive audience: evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics, and Orthodox Jews." Orthodox Jews, I can say with authority, tend to know next to nothing about the Gospels (unless, of course, they are scholars of the field). Conservative Catholics are Gibson's set-point to begin with. But evangelical Christians, in my experience, know their Scriptures very, very well. Their biblical literacy may yet cause Icon's spinmeisters to stumble. I certainly hope so.

Anti-Semitism is not the problem in America that it is in the rest of the world. (The hateful e-mails that we have received have been balanced by others, from church leaders of inter-faith efforts across the country, expressing their support and their concern.) But I shudder to think how The Passion will play once its subtitles shift from English to Polish, or Spanish, or French, or Russian. When violence breaks out, Mel Gibson will have a much higher authority than professors and bishops to answer to.

Doesn't sound good.

(Link via Andrew Sullivan).

The road home

I arrived back in Croydon yesterday after an extraordinary nine hour journey from Marseilles, which at one point involved being driven down a French motorway at 180 km/h by a friendly Dutchman with a new BMW in order to make a flight. More on that later.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Last French post, I think and a little on cricket

I did something I do in a lot of cities yesterday, and got out into the suburbs of Marseilles. Unfortunately, there were just dull. I had hoped I would find some interesting neighborhoods somewhere, as I had close to the centre of the city, but it didn't really happen. (It may have just been bad luck. The "get on the public transport system and go somewhere random" strategy usually works, but it didn't here. I had a good look at at least some of the port. I saw cars being unloaded, and some containers being loaded and unloaded. The bulk of the port business has moved a fair way out of the city - I saw some of it from the train as I came into Marseilles the other day.

Yesterday evening's sitting around and talking at the hostel session involved drinking a large amount of wine with an Irishman, a French Canadian and a Tunisian. The predominant language of the conversation was French, so I missed most of it. (The Irishman told me that because both the Tunisian and the French-Canadian spoke non-standard variants of French, they were speaking a sort of lowest common denominator version of the language, but that didn't help me much). However, one of the fundamental laws of the universe did come into play. (If you start drinking with an Irishman, you will be doing it for some time).

And on cricket, there have been two test matches going on this weekend. Australia once again comfortably beat Bangladesh by an innings, although the Bangladeshis did take the game into the fourth day. And England are playing South Africa. To my surprise, South Africa have had the best of the game by far. However, there has been a lot of rain. Going into day five, England will probably hold out for a drawm but a South African victory remains possible of they can take the last three England wickets quickly, enforce the follow on, and bowl England out a second time.

I am back to London this evening, where my DSL line should theoretically have been set up. More tomorrow.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Random thoughts on Marseilles

Coming into Marseilles from the rest of Provence is coming to another planet, or at least another continent. Parts of it are very French, but in a slightly grimier way than Paris (at least the 15 arrondisements of Paris - you can find as grimy as you like in the Parisian suburbs). Other parts are what might be describe as global beach culture. For some reason cafes and shops next to beaches have the exact look inside wherever you are in the world. There are the same shops next door selling sunscreen and boogie boards, and the people inside these shops have a particular manner about them that people in such locations do. Interestingly enough, a fair portion of this style of beach culture is actually Australian in origin, and a number of the principal companies selling into this market are Australian companies (Billabong International is a big one).

And some sections of Marseilles make you wonder precisely who moved Algiers to the other side of the Mediterranean. There is a particular way in which the contents of shops are arranged in the Islamic world, and the Arab quarters or Marselles are like this. I walked into a couple of bazaars which reminded me of Istanbul, almost. (I have never been to North Africa, but I suspect they would remind me even more of Tunis or Algiers). I looked in the door of one building that looked like a disused warehouse, and there were several hundred (or more) men in there praying in the direction of Mecca. (Presumably the building is being used as a mosque). Marvellously, there was a very French Arche de Triomphe at the end of the street containing all this.

I also went to the terminal from which ferries go to Algiers and Tunis, and there is another post in that. But, no time now. I have to go to the island where the Count of Monte Christo wasn't imprisoned.

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