Saturday, March 01, 2003

This is good

A British journalist claims to have tracked down four people on Interpol's "most wanted list" in one hour and 22 minutes.

Ian Cobain, of the Times, says he used widely available resources including electoral registers, internet search engines and commercial records.
One was even listed in the local telephone directory.
The Times says the fugitives' rapid discovery is likely to be a huge embarrassment to Interpol, which has been looking for them for several years

(Via James Russell).
The Internet Ronin. I wish I had thought of that name. A samurai without a master is a pretty good description of me at the moment. (Via Glenn Reynolds).

Friday, February 28, 2003

Okay, two games today. In group A, Zimbabwe played the Netherlands. Zimbabwe demonstrated that if they are not as good as most of the test sides, they are better than the minnows. Zimbabwe scored 8/301 off 50 overs with 71 from Andy Flower and 58 from Andy Blignaut, who is having a good tournament. The Netherlands could only manage 9/202 and scored an easy 99 run win. Zimbabwe will make the Super Six if both they and India beat Pakistan, but this isn't likely.

In Group B, we had a big game today. Sri Lanka versus West Indies. Sri Lanka got off to a good start: at one point 2/113 off 26 overs. However, they had a bit of a middle order collapse, and slumped to 5/139 off 35 overs when Jayasuriya got out. They then stopped losing wickets but had trouble boosting the runrate. At the end Chaminda Vaas hit 15 off the last over to get the score to 6/228 off the 50 overs, which I thought at the time was about 20 runs short of what they needed.

However, the Sri Lankans got off to a good start with the ball, and in particular Vaas got rid of Lara cheaply. Worse for the West Indies, Ramnaresh Sarwan, who has been their best batsman in the tournament, was hit in the head by a bouncer and had to retire. Still, the West Indies appeared to be cruising to the fairly modest total at 3/121 off 28. However, Vaas came back on and struck again, taking two wickets in an over. After than, the West Indians fell below the required runrate and they ended up needing over 10 runs an over off the last six or seven overs. At the fall of the seventh wicket, Sarwan came back on, and after two or three sixes, and a rather bad dropped catch, the West Indies were back in it. They had trouble coping with Muralitharan's bowling, but were getting the runs off the other end. They ended up needing 14 off the last over, but an accurate over from Gunaratne meant they couldn't gete the necessary boundaries, and Sri Lanka ended up winning by 6 runs.

It was an exciting match, with some excellent cricket. The West Indian bowling (which I have criticised) actually looked better today. The comment I made at the start of the tournament - that Lara would have to play at top form repeatedly for the WI to have a chance hasn't really come true, and today it may have cost the WI their place in the Super Six stage. (That said, the rest of the West Indian team have played much better than I expected, and Sarwan looks a splendid player. It's a shame he was injured today. If he had been able to bat for longer, his team probably would have won. Great match winning performance with both bat and ball from Chaminda Vaas, too. Plus Muralitharan as always was crucial, being able to completely stop the flow of runs from one end. The Sri Lankans looked very determined to win today after the debacle against Kenya.

I like the way that both these sides have played cricket, both today and in the whole tournament. I want to see more from both of them. The West Indies have been extremely unlucky: the washout of their game against Bangladesh and the New Zealand default against Kenya and the Kenyan win over Sri Lanka, that looks like it has done rather more harm to the chances of New Zealand and the West Indies than to Sri Lanka. Things have to go their way for the West Indies to make it from here, but I am hoping. I want to see them play some more.

From the qualification point of view, Group B is now much simpler. Assuming no ties or no results. If South Africa beat Sri Lanka, they go through to the Super Six. If not, they don't. It's that simple. If Kenya beat Bangladesh, they go through. If not, they don't. If both of these things happen, then both sides go through and whichever of NZ and SL has the best net run rate will go through too. If only one of these things happens, then SL and NZ both go through. If neither of these things happen then NZ, SL, and WI go through. Detailed analysis here.

Pakistan versus India and Bangladesh versus Kenya tomorrow. A huge day for the tournament.
Well, there was no actual reason why scientists couldn't start finding or inventing new antibiotics. They were just out of practice at doing so. Still, this is obviously good news.
In the discussion going on about urban agglomeration in response to the long rugby League post, Tony has some comments on the historical and cultural factors that make some cities different than others. (This started out as a follow up comment, but got a little too long). While I obviously agree that culture and history are vital, I am not sure that he is necessarily right about the differences between Europe and America.

I am not sure I agree that European cites built up and not out as much as he thinks. For one thing, European cities aren't generally built up very much. The centres of European cities are much flatter than American cities - high rise is largely an American and Asian thing. European densities are often higher, but the suburbs of some European cities can be immense. This is true of Paris, London, and various other places. (The suburbs of European cities are often served by rail as much as road, however). The population table I linked to attempts to rectify the fact that suburbs are not properly accounted for in more conventional measurements: one consequence of this is that some of its numbers are much larger than more conventional measurements of city population. This is no less true for European cities than it is of American cities. It is also true of Asian cities: Tokyo is one of the most rail served cities on the planet, but including its suburbs increases the population enormously: from about 20 million to a staggering 35 million. (It is truly an awesome place). (Tokyo has had a legal situation that has encouraged the construction of private urban railways. This has consequently encouraged the construction of suburbs). Europe and Asia probably have denser suburbs than the US, but the cities have still grown out. A lot.

Tony also comments on the arrogance and ignorance of cities claiming to be the centre of the world, and not paying much attention to anywhere else. My feelings on this are that in some cases it is more true than other cases. Sydney, Australia, is constantly proclaiming iteself to be a "world city". One fact that is invariably true is that "cities that feel the need to proclaim themselves world cities really aren't". Sydney falls a long way short in my opinion.

As to what I think genuinely are "world cities", I will say London definitely, New York definitely, Tokyo definitely, and they are really the only ones I can think of without any reservations, although Hong Kong is reasonably close, and Bombay and Shanghai are possibly world cities of the future. (There is a mixture of cultural and economic factors together that is needed. I have another post in gestation that discusses this in more detail). The thing about California is that everything that is necessary exist somewhere in the state, but not all together. Broadly, greater Los Angeles falls short economically, and the Bay Area falls short culturally. A fusion of the two cities together I think might just about qualify. I think that cities that are old enough to have large traditional downtown areas find this easier. One trouble with the Bay Area is that San Francisco is beautiful, but it just isn't that big. It's almost a toy downtown, at least by the standards of Manhattan or central Tokyo, or central London, or even Chicago.

All that said, one of the most impressive things about the US is the fact that urban amenities are much better spread throughout the country than is the case in many other countries. Things like good shopping, by which a mean a very wide choice of high quality products readily available, decent cultural life, and such indicators as the ability to buy a decent cup of coffee, are much more widely available in the US than in most countries. America somehow manages to spread things that are often only available in the biggest cities in other countries far and wide. (One reason for this is I think the fact that American culture and the American legal and regulatory system makes it easy for businesses to rapidly expand throughout the country, whereas this is less true elsewhere). More thoughts on this will come in another post I am working on.

Yes, I admit it. I have been to the Axis recently.

This is presumably the ISO approved international warning sign meaning "Beware: Quicksand". Personally, until this moment, I had thought that quicksand was something that only existed in Boys Own adventure type stories, and in really bad 1950s movies set on Pacific Islands in which someone mentions "The one patch of quicksand on the island" in passing early in the movie, at which point you know someone is going to fall in it by the end of the movie. But no, here apparently is some real quicksand.

Multiculturalism in action: The younger member of this Sikh family visiting Mont St Michel is in fact wearing a blue striped scarf with "Kangaroos" written on it repeatedly. For non-Melburnians, this means that he is a fan of the North Melbourne Australian Rules Football club. This club is slightly unfashionable, but has had a good team in recent years, at least until Wayne Carey's best friend's wife.... - no, actually I won't go into that.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

World Cup Update

Two games today. Firstly, Australia versus Namibia. This was expected to be one sided, and it was. Australia fiddled with their batting order a bit to give Bevan (who hadn't yet had a bat in the tournament) and Symonds (who hadn't had a bat since his marvellous century against Pakistan in the first game) some time in the middle. Australia got off to a quick start with a good innings from Hayden. Bevan didn't do that much, scoring only 17, but Symonds scored a decent 59. Australia had a minor stumble to go to 6/231 after 42.5 overs, at which time it looked like they would score 260-270. However, Lehamann and Hogg put on a splendid 70 off the last 7 overs to take the score to 6/301 off the 50 overs.

In reply, Australia's top fast bowler Glenn McGrath took seven wickets for 15 runs, the second best bowling figures in all one day internationals, and the best ever for Australia and the best ever in the World Cup. McGrath at one point had seven wickets out of eight to fall, and he could have ended up with nine, but Andy Bichel spoiled the party by taking the last two wickets. Namibia were bowled out for 45, and Australia won by 256 runs - a huge but probably not unexpected margin.

If there has been a weakness in the Australian side in the last few years, it is that they have had too long a tail. In a one day side, the optimum team has something like five specialist batsmen, a wicket keeper batsmen, two or three all rounders who can both bat and bowl a reliable ten overs, and three or two specialist bowlers. Australia have had great difficulty finding suitable all rounders, and have usually played four specialist bowlers in recent years. This can mean trouble if the top order batsmen don't score many runs. Australia have tried a lot of players to try and fill the all rounder position: Symonds, Harvey, Watson, and a few more, but have never succeeded. Until now, when Brad Hogg has somewhat unexpectedly but very welcomely filled the role.

Brad Hogg played one test and half a dozen one day internationals for Australia in 1996 as a left arm spin bowler, took one wicket for 69 in the test, and looked out of his depth to most people. During the years since, he has been occasionally mentioned as an example of a bad test selection. Not many people expected to see him play for Australia again. However, after steadily improving domestic performances in the last couple of years, he was brought back into the Australian side as a replacement for the injured Shane Warne this January. Since then he has prospered in the team, taken 19 wickets in 10 matches, made the World Cup squad, and with Shane Warne's suspension is suddenly the number one spinner in the one day team. He hasn't been called on to bat very much, but when he has, he has revealed himself to be a much better batsmen than anyone realised, scoring 118 runs in four innings for only once out, including a match winning 71 not out in the second VB series final in Melbourne. He was not groomed for the all rounder role, but has simply filled it extremely well when called upon. He only scored 19 not out today, but provided great support for Lehmann and continued his good performances. His last couple of months have been absolutely a top effort. I don't know if we will ever see Hogg in the test side again, but it looks like he will play many more one day internationals.

In the second match, South Africa played Canada. South Africa lost some wickets early and at one point were 3/23. However, thanks mostly to 80 from Dippenaar, they managed to take their score to 8/254 off 50 overs, an adequate score, but not all that impressive given the humble status of the opposition. In reply, Canada quickly lost wickets early, including Davison and Billcliff, their two quick scoring batsmen. After this, Canada were content to merely survive the 50 overs, which they did by batting slowly through the innings, ending up with 5/136 for a South African win by 118 runs. Maraj scored a Gavaskar like 53 off the full 50 overs. Unlike Australia, South Africa appeared to lack the bowling firepower to get the batsmen of one of the lesser sides all out.

What can I say. South Africa were lackluster. I have been saying all tournament that the South Africans will not win it. I see nothing to make me change my mind now. Australia look good, but the question is whether they can keep up this form for the whole length of the tournament, which is quite a bit to ask. Of the other sides, at the moment India look the best.
The advertisements at the top of this page are now loading from "". The first consequence of the Google acquisition of Blogger was clearly for Google to get its own advertising department to handle the avertisements on blogspot. Obvious and expected, but a smart thing to do.
I saw Gore Verbinski's The Ring, a remake of the Hideo Nakata's Japanese thriller of more or less the same name. I had thought that this would be difficult to translate to an American setting, as the film's mixture of Japanese mysticism, set in this world that's a mixture of urban creepiness and secluded islands and lighthouses struck me as hard to translate. When you go to Japan and travel around a bit, one thing you realise is that the country has a great deal of seaside and this has an impact on the Japanese psyche, particularly when you get out of Tokyo. (If you walk around Tokyo it becomes apparent there too, but most people don't). Given that the country consists of a large number of people on four Islands, how could it not? But it's largely absent in western perceptions of the country. And the presence of the sea adds a lot to the creepiness of this particular film. (There is a ferry ride in bad weather that is in both movies and is I think crucial to the mood). But, as it happened, in this film it translated okay. The filmmakers were clearly very careful as to where they set the film, because Seattle (and the areas around it) has something of a similar quality.

Plus, this film has great art direction and cinematography. Rather more care has been taken with it than with most horror movies. Although some would say it is a one concept movie (and the concept is a relatively simple one: watch this particular video tape, the phone rings and you hear someone say "seven days" and exactly seven days later you die) the remake is extremely faithful to the plot of the original. At least, it is until the end, which the American filmmakers changed somewhat. This isn't actually so bad, as the ending of the original didn't work particularly well. The remake's ending doesn't work particularly well either, but I don't think the film is notable the worse for it. The film attempts to explain (and explain) something that is ultimately unexplainable.

Still, I liked the remake more than I expected. And so did a lot of people. The film was a largely unexpected hit for Dreamworks in the US late last year. After the film, I head someone behind me say that in most horror film, you know exactly what will happen next, but in this one you don't. And that is the best argument for making a remake of a foreign film. It does come from different cultural traditions, and you don't always know what to expect. It would be nice if studio executives would learn this lesson and greenlight less formulaic stuff more often, but that is probably too much to hope.

This is particularly so if you pay attention to what the studio has said since the film was a hit. Dreamworks is a very filmmaker friendly studio, largely because it was founded and is partially owned by filmmakers, and the ultimate head of live action films at the studio is Steven Spielberg. The studio has a tradition of giving filmmakers a free hand to make the film their way. This has led to some good films, and has also led to one or two projects where the director has spent far too much money ( Snow Falling on Cedars and Almost Famousare the two most notable examples).

In any event, shortly after The Ring was clearly a hit, I read an interview with someone from Dreamworks' marketing department interviewed in the LA Times, talking about the possibility of sequels). It is normal for sequels to cost far more than original films, because the actors demand large raises to play the same parts again. What this person said was "The great thing about "The Ring" is that it is an actor-free franchise. It's all about the concept". Presumably what he meant by that was that if Dreamworks makes another film about a video tape that kills people, the same audiences will show up again. And this is shortsighted. It ignores the fact that the film was successful because of terrific production values. And it also was successful because of its star.

The most important part in The Ring is played by Australian actress Naomi Watts, whose character is not introduced until a little way into the movie, but who after that is on screen for nearly every second of the film. And she is great. She captures the initial mixture of scepticism, followed by anxiety and fear (mostly for her character's son, rather than herself) and then desperate action beautifully. She has absolutely wonderul screen presence. She makes the audience feel for her character.

This isn't any surprise, or course. Watts had spent a decade hanging around Hollywood and mainly playing small parts (her biggest part was a supporting character in Tank Girl when David Lynch saw something and cast her as the lead in Mulholland Drive. She was one of the actresses up for consideration when Lynch's film started being seen, and the buzz that got back to the people casting the film was that her performance in that film was "strong" and they cast her. "Strong" wasn't the half of it. Lynch had managed to get one of the best performances of recent years out of her. Truly she is dazzling. She seems an absolute natural. She's one of those actresses who obviously had something, but somehow nobody noticed it until she was about 30, when a slightly offbeat, non-mainstream director saw it and did something amazing with it. And then everybody else noticed it. And she carries at least some of this presence into The Ring, which is essentially a well made genre film. She helps lift the film. Which is why it is foolish to say that a sequel to The Ring doesn't depend on the casting.

The more charitable explanation is that Dreamworks, like everyone else, is aware that Naomi Watts is this close to becoming a very big star, and that her agents are using this argument to push up her price for the sequel, and that Dreamworks are simply suggesting that someone else might be cast in the sequel in order to try to push the Naomi Watts' salary down again. Do I believe this? Not really. However, it is possible.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Two World Cup games today. First, New Zealand played Bangladesh. A good professional performance by New Zealand. Bangladesh scored 198 and New Zealand made the runs for the loss of three wickets off 33.3 overs, giving their net runrate a good boost. An excellent day's work for New Zealand.

England, on the other hand, were dreadful, losing by 82 runs to India. India scored a good but not spectacular 250. Their batting was good, but their gun batsment didn't really fine. England were bowled out for a miserable 168. For India, Ashish Nehra's 6/23 was I think the second best bowling figures in World Cup history. Good effort by India. India were badly beaten by Australia, but their form otherwise has been excellent, and they are now almost certain of a place in the Super Six stage. England do not deserve a place in the Super Six stage, but still have a good chance of making it, due to a couple of equally lousy performances from Pakistan. I have a more detailed analysis of group A here.

Group A, which was supposed to be the more competitive, has turned out to be something of a disappointment. Group B remains completely up in the air. A mixture of defaults, upsets, and rain means that the two sides who really deserve Super Six spots (West Indies and particularly New Zealand) do not yet have them, and two sides who really do not (South Africa and Kenya) remain in it.

Two probably one-sided games tomorrow (Australia v Namibia and South Africa v Canada). The next big game is the utterly crucial game between Sri Lanka and West Indies on Friday.
Rugby League, the Manchester/Liverpool Urban Agglomeration, English Soccer, and Me

I grew up in the industrial/coal mining city of Wollongong in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s. This place is as sports obsessed as most places in Australia. And, as is the case almost everywhere in the world, there ultimately tends to be more passion for sports played in winter than sports played in summer.

When you look at Australia from elsewhere, this fact is not obvious. Abroad, the most famous Australian sportsmen are the Australian cricket team, and one or two individual sportsmen, be they tennis players, golfers, or even competitive swimmers. Cricket is a unifying factor: it is played everywhere in the country and with considerable passion. However big a bunch of idiots they are capable of being, we in Australia love our cricket teams. But, as far as life and death loyalties go, it is the tribal loyalties towards sporting clubs that are play in winter that count.

What do I mean by this? Well, what I mean is "football". However, the question as to what is meant by "football" is, in Australia, long and complicated. In the southern and western states of Australia: Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart - there is the game of Australian Rules football. This game appears to have been invented by Irish miners on the goldfields of Victoria in the 1850s. This is the peculiar, extremely fast game played on huge ovals by enormous teams (18 players each) that you may have seen on cable or satellite television in off peak hours if you live in the US or UK. Amongst its followers, which make up about half the population of Australia, this game inspires stronger passions than any other game played in Australia. This probably means that it inspires passions as strong as any other game in the world. Next to supporters of the Collingwood club in Melbourne, Arsenal supporters , even including Osama bin Laden, look like a miserable bunch of wimps.

However, growing up in Wollongong, this did not affect me much. Because there, the game was different. Wollongong was (and is) a Rugby League town.

The sport of Rugby League was invented in 1908. Prior to that the game of Rugby was played in the public (ie private) schools of the south of England, and the industrial towns of the north. In 1908, the northern clubs wished to pay compensation for lost wages to players who had to miss work in order to play Rugby. The southern clubs, who wanted the game to remain amateur, would not allow this, and the northern clubs broke away from the sourthern dominated governing body (the Rugby Union) to form their own body (the Rugby League), which specifically allowed players to be paid for playing.

Quite soon after the split, the rules of the games governed by the two bodies diverged, and although the games remain similar, they are different and separate games. The split spread south to Australia, and a Rugby League competition was set up in Sydney in 1909. Rugby in Australia, like in the north of England, was played largely by working class people who needed to be compensated if they were going to play the game. Australians in Sydney (and Brisbane, but not Melbourne) largely took to the game of Rugby League. Both games endured in Australia, but Rugby Union became a game played at private and other exclusive schools, at universities, and in certain of the more posh parts of town. Whereas in England, the division between Rugby Union and Rugby League was certainly a class based division, but was also a geographic division between north and south, in Australia it was almost entirely a social class based division. Both games were played in Sydney and Brisbane, and surrounding areas, although League was more pervasive.

In my coal mining and industrial town of Wollongong, the key sport was Rugby League. At the schools I went to, there would be spontaneous games of Rugby League played at lunchtime, and organised school games on a Wednesday afternoon. Really enthusiastic people would also play club games on the weekend, and train for this several days a week. I didn't do this personally, but for some people Rugby League was close to being life and death.

But, of course, it wasn't called Rugby League. As the most popular winter sport, It was called simply "football" or "footy". The sport that is known as football in much of the world was known as "soccer". (In Australia, soccer will be sometimes somewhat offensively referred to as "wog-ball", because it is perceived as being followed mostly by immigrants from southern Europe. In Sydney or nearby, Australian rules football will be sometimes disparagingly referred to as "aerial ping-pong). Even at age seven I had woken up to the fact that this usage was ludicrously parochial, and so I cannot recall ever using it myself. But it was normal. (I have at least one memory of being made fun of at length by a classmate for referring to soccer as "football", however).

But that's childhood parochialism for you. You are not exposed to or aware of the wider world. In those days, when at the start of the telecast of the Australian Rugby League grand final the commentator would mention that "This game is being watched by a billion people around the world". The sport was taken so seriously locally that it was almost possible for some people to believe this.

And that was where I was when I went to school. Rugby League was clearly the most important game in the world. The fact that other games were played elsewhere was something I was only barely aware of. As I got older, I became aware of the existence of Rugby Union. (In Australia, Rugby Union is referred to simply as "Rugby", although it is the less popular of the two sports. This may be because Rugby League uses "football"). One peculiar thing about Rugby Union in Australia is that many of its players play Rugby League as juniors but switch to Rugby Union as they get older. This switch is particularly common amongst the upwardly mobile. Capable people from relatively humble backgrounds will go to university to become professionals, and will discover that there is much enjoyment to be gained and many contacts to be made through belonging to rugby (union) clubs, and so they will switch sports. I didn't do this myself, but I associated with many people that did, so this was something I became quite aware of.

In any event, one of the highlights of the game of Rugby League in Australia was the "Kangaroo Tour" that occurred once every four years. In this case, the national Rugby League team would tour Great Britain, play a lengthy series of matches against the best British clubs, and then three test matches against the national side of Great Britain. (It's worth observing that of all the various Australian sporting teams, it is the Rugby League team that is named after the most famous Australian animal).

By the 1980s, all the matches on such a tour were televised back to Australia. The clubs came from exotic sounding towns with names like "Wigan", "Widnes", "St Helens" and "Warrington". Like most Australians, I had no conception of where these places were, other than "somewhere vaguely north of London". By the 1980s, the Australian Rugby League team was stronger than the British team, and Australia won most matches. In fact, Australia has won every series against the British in the last 25 years. This fact hides the real level of competitiveness, however. Whereas Great Britain have not won a series against Australia in 25 years, they have often fielded a competitive side in that time, and they have often won matches. There have been some extremely exciting and memorable matches played in that time. However, Australia have always prevailed at the end of the series.

In any event, that is where I was. When I came to Cambridge in the 1990s, I still deep down had the gut feeling that Rugby League was an important sport, and that Rugby Union was something less important played by toffs and that soccer was a minor sport. (Deep down, I still feel this way). In Cambridge, though, I can recall mentioning the game of Rugby League to someone and getting the response.

That's a lower class game, isn't it?

and on another occasion, I had the following conversation with an Englishman with a very public school accent.

(Me) In Australia, Rugby League is a much bigger game than Rugby Union
(Him) No it isn't.

I also once recall a South African friend of mine (a very good friend of mine in fact) refuse point blank to listen to me attempt to explain the finer points of the game, on the basis that the game clearly didn't have any finer points. (Rugby League is played in Australia, but for some reason if not played seriously in South Africa or New Zealand. Rugby Union is dominant in both places).

In around 1996, I attended a Rugby League test at Wembley stadium between Australia and Great Britain. Amusingly, all the people near me in the crowd seemed to also come from Wollongong. However, on the train and tube, I heard lots of northern accents. Much fun was had by all (especially, for them, because Britain won the match). I noticed that the northerners simply referred to the game as "Rugby". Presumably they two games were separate enough in England that supporters of both games could refer to them as "Rugby" and there would not be any confusion. In any event, I suppose that calling Rugby League "football" is not really a possibility in Wigan or St Helens.

Because, in my little trip to Manchester and Liverpool on the weekend, I actuall visited a couple of these towns, or at least passed through them on the train. Warrington, Widnes, Wigan, St Helens and more are all traditional working class towns between Manchester and Liverpool. (There are other Rugby League towns that are not between Manchester and Liverpool - the game is also widely played in Yorkshire - but there are a concentration in the Manchester - Liverpool area. And whereas it is (or at least was) possible to grow up in Wollongong believing that Rugby League is the most important game in the world, and that it should therefore be called "football", I suspect that it is somewhat harder in Wigan, or St Helens, or Warrington. In any of these places, you are within 50 miles of the home bases of both Manchester United and Liverpool soccer clubs, two of the most rich, famous, and powerful sporting clubs in the world. (Manchester City and Everton are not quite in that rank, but are not very far behind either). "Football" is always going to be soccer.

But still, the difference in games is an indication that these towns are, or at least traditionally were, culturally quite different from the larger cities. A difference in the games played was clearly traditionally part of this.

People who study the growth of cities are these days quite fond of talking about "urban agglomerations". Basically, old cities have had large suburban areas grow into each other, so that you have continuous development going from one old city centre to another. Given that most people live in suburbs rather than old cities (particularly in the US) and given that "city" is defined in different ways in different places, it no longer makes sense to compare populations of cities defined in traditional ways. Instead, an urban agglomeration is defined as an area of continuous developed land and surrounding areas from which significant numbers of commuters travel into the continuous area. The best list of the urban agglomerations of the world and their size is found here. (For instance, on the list, London is listed as having just under 12 million people. This is larger than most conventional estimates, that come in around eight million, which is about the number of people living inside the London green belt. The eleven million figure includes towns and villages outside the green belt from which many people commute to London, thus looking at London as an economic entity rather than a physical entity limited by an artificial barrier). Most are either single city centres surrounded by suburbs or a large city thats suburbs have swallowed up other smaller cities around it, but some are peculiar multi-headed creatures. For instance, "The Ruhr" is listed as the fourth largest city in Europe (after Moscow, London, Istanbul, and Paris), and it consists of Cologne, Essen, and various other centres, none of which would traditionally have been thought of as a really major city. What has happened there is that the spaces between a number of city centres have been filled up with suburbs.

And a question that comes out of this, is how do you regard Manchester and Liverpool. The friendly compilers of the list count them separately, Manchester containingn 2.5 million people and Liverpool 1.4 million. However, when if you look at their methodology, you would find that every town between Manchester and Liverpool is counted in one list or the other. That is, the whole area between the two cities is counted towards one or the other. If the two touch, then surely they should be counted as one agglomeration.

I think the issue is actually the history of suburbanisation worldwide. If Manchester and Liverpool had been thriving cities in the period between 1950 and today, then the area between them would have filled up with suburbs. However, largely this did not happen. While the area between Dallas and Fort Worth was filling up, Liverpool and Manchester were in decline. While Liverpool and Manchester have been strongly connected as an economic entity for a long time (once upon a time, Manchester was the workshop of the world, and Liverpool was the port from which raw materials arrived and products left), they and the towns between them had quite distinct cultures, and still do. Suburbanisation would have perhaps reduced this if it had happened in a big way. However, it didn't. The two cities have very different cultures (and different accents). The towns between them have different cultures still, and towns between them are still quite distinct from each other. This is clear through, amongst other things, the sporting culture and the Rugby League culture that exists between two of Europe's biggest soccer towns. For these reasons, the compilers are probably right to list Liverpool and Manchester as separate agglomerations, at least for now.

But this may be changing. For one thing, the 1990s were clearly economically better for Manchester than the decades before. Manchester at least is now a very nice city to visit, and feels international and modern. (Liverpool feels less so). Some of the process of suburbanisation that did not occur before is occurring now. And, just to finish off, it is possible to go back to the sporting analogy. The sport of Rugby League did not cope well with the 1990s, either in Australia or Britain. The key test for the success of sports in the 1990s and onwards has largely been how well they have coped with multi channel television, or perhaps you can word this as "how successfully they have sold their souls to Rupert Murdoch". In Australia, Rugby League did a catastrophic job of this. The game sold its television rights on a long term basis in the early 1990s to a terrestrial television network owned by Kerry Packer. When, a few years later, much larger sums were on offer for pay television rights, administrators found their hands were tied. News Corporation's Pay Television company wanted the rights to the sport anyway, and attempted to take it by force. News Corp. managed to sign up around half the decent players and clubs in Australia, and Rugby League in Australia had two warring competitions. This created mass disillusionment amongst fans of the sport, and created a wildly uneconomic cost base for the game in Australia. (One of the consequences of the war was spiralling salaries that the game really cannot afford). The game reunified after one year, but the costs are still being counted. In Britain, Rugby League sold itself to Sky TV more or less willingly, but faces the general problems of a minor sport in this age of television.

Meanwhile, Rugby Union went professional in 1995, and (in most parts of the world) signed up to News Corp's pay TV companies more or less willingly. The game was completely restructured in the southern hemisphere, and new television friendly competitions were set up. The much greater international presence of Rugby Union, and its presence in the richer South-East of England made the game easier to promote. Having turned professional (and having more money) Rugby Union was able to buy some of League's best players. Because there was much more of an international game, Rugby Union was able to promote a World Cup very successfully. In Australia, many disillusioned Rugby League fans were looking for another sport to follow. So, Rugby League has been in decline relative to Rugby Union in most places for a few years now.

Of course, in England an even bigger factor has been the tremendous success of soccer's sellout to pay television. Over the last decade, the Premiership (along with other European leagues) has gained enormous amounts of money and coverage, to the extent that soccer dominates all other sports in this country to an enormous extent. This may be a case of the large crushing the small, or it may simply be good management. In any event, in the face of this onslaught, it is relatively difficult for smaller and more local sports to survice. I suspect that Rugby League in St Helens is suffering from this along with everything else, and it may be a factor in the region being more generally homogenised.

And, as readers who have been here since the start are probably glad, just one final comment. In Manchester on the weekend, I happened to be near Old Trafford, and although it was Thursday and there was no match at the football ground, I went and looked at it regardless. Clearly money has been spent on the stadium. Clearly this is a club with money. Various people with foreign accents were there too, looking at the stadium as if it were some holy place. (On the other hand, the cricket ground down the road had a sort of genteel shabbiness about it, and no foreigners other than myself seemed even remotely interested in it). This sport (and in particular this club) has sold itself in a truly international and impressive way. No other sporting clubs are famous internationally in the way the top English football clubs are. Manchester United play most of their matches at midday British time in order that the matches are in prime television time in China, Korea, and Japan, because the club has an enormous number of supporters there. In parts of Africa, the first question I have been asked by local people is often "What Premiership club do you support?". The idea that I am not particularly interested in soccer is almost unthinkable. Heaven knows what Americans make of this question. If I had grown up in Manchester, the thought that the football matches I watched were the most important sporting events in the world, and that there might be a billion people watching their important matches, might even have been close to true. Talking to a few people in Manchester, I was struck by the fact that the international reach of their sporting clubs and sporting league is actually greater than they realise. (Most did not know the reason for the midday starts, for instance. They were simply annoyed by them). This is the opposite to most of us. We grow up, and discover that our sporting interests are astonishingly local and parochial. In Manchester and Liverpool, they don't. They grow up to discover that in fact much of the world does support their local club. And that must be weird. And it is also very difficult for other sports, or other clubs, to compete with.

(No, I can't call it football. The nuances of the word are, for me, too complicated).

Update: More thoughts on cities and urban sprawl here.
Rocky, I don't think we are in Kansas anymore

The Onion today has the headline 'Only In New York,' Says Manhattanite Watching Squirrel..

This presumably is meant to indicate that New Yorkers are so insular that they cannot imagine anything can happen ouside New York, even the most common things in the world. Oddly, though, to me it brings back the most peculiar memory. For me. In 1991, I visited New York for the first time. Prior to this, I had only been out of Australia two or three times. I had been to New Zealand, and briefly to Hong Kong and China, but that was it.

However, in 1991 I visited the US on my way to England to start my Ph.D. New York blew me away with its scale (and in various other ways), as it has a tendency to do. I went for lots of long walks around the city. I found myself in Central Park. And there I saw these very cute little animals with big fluffy tails running around looking for food. I had never seen animals like this before, but I guessed they were these things called "squirrels" that I had read about in books. As an Australian, I was quite used to seeing wildlife: kangaroos, possums, echidnas, mean looking giant flightless birds, lots of snakes, even sometimes more exotic things like koalas and platypuses (plus also some non-native species that are common in Australia and other parts of the world: rabbits, foxes and even the odd deer). However, I had never seen a squirrel before, and I spent quite some time watching them playing in the grass in Central Park. I thought they were very cute. And just one of the many exciting and exotic things the city of New York had to offer.

How evil are you?

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

In World Cup news, there was a relatively uninteresting game between Pakistan and the Netherlands today, Pakistan ultimately easily winning the game by 97 runs. The main story was that Wasim Akram became the first bowler to take 500 wickets in One Day Internationals, which is indeed impressive. Wasim is not quite the bowler he once was, sadly, but at his peak he was truly something to behold. He had an absolute blinder of a match in the World Cup final in 1992, and was probably the key player (apart from captain Imran Khan) in Pakistan's one World Cup victory. England play India tomorrow. This one is quite a big game. If England win, they will almost certainly go through to the Super Sixes, and the match on Saturday between India and Pakistan will decide the third team to go through from Group A (the first team being Australia). If England lose, then India will go through, and the result of a couple of subsequent matches will determine if England, Pakistan, or just possibly Zimbabwe is the third qualifier from the group.
Many industries develop a certain reality distortion field that applies to people who work in them. Even if the basis of the particular industry is to feed customers' grandmothers to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, most of the people who work in this industry will manage to convince themselves that what they are doing is perfectly moral and that they are the decent respectable people. If you attempt to question this, they will simply tell you that "This is how this industry works", as if this was a pronouncement from God.

Which is why this is interesting to read this.

Jack Valenti, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, has decided to take the battle against Internet piracy to a higher moral ground.

Mr. Valenti has long raged against the illegality of the swapping of unauthorized copies of movies by students on college campuses. But in a speech to Duke University law students today, he plans to shift his emphasis to more basic principles: "duty, service, honor, integrity, pity, pride, compassion, sacrifice," according to a preliminary text of the speech.

"If you treat these words casually," it continues, "if you find them uncool, if you regard them as mere playthings which only the rabble and the rubes, the unlearned and the unsophisticated, observe and honor, then we will all bear witness to the slow undoing of the great secret of America."

Almost certainly, Valenti actually believes this. In his eyes, the music and motion picture industries are almost certainly great paragons of morality and honour.
It's been rumoured for a while, but Michael Gambon is now confirmed as the replacement for Richard Harris as Dumbledore in the future Harry Potter movies. This is actually interesting. The third film will have a much better director than the first two, and now in my opinion a rather better actor as Dumbledore. It may not quite just be more of the same.

Monday, February 24, 2003

I knew I should have bought a laptop with more than two USB ports.

I know that Glenn Reynolds has linked to this and thus everyone has seen it already, but this is too funny.

Is it 12 Mbps a big enough pipe through which to run a toothbrush, or do you need USB 2.0?
Sometimes, when private firms without much eperience in railways take over railway companies, they decide that the way to revitalise the business is to try to pretend that the passenger is not travelling by train at all. In particular, they often conclude that since more people travel by plane than by train, the best way to increase the number of people travelling by train is to make the experience more like air travel. This generally fails to take into account that the reason people fly is because that is the only way to travel long distances quickly, and not because they love the service. Sometimes this leads to ludicrous situations where train passengers are compelled to queue up to check in, or where they are forced to reserve seats on a particular train, when one of the nice things about train travel is that you can buy a ticket that allows you to walk up and catch whatever train you feel like. (There is nothing wrong with having discounted tickets that specify a particular train, but making this mandatory is silly). Sometimes this leads to positives. (Virgin Trains in the UK has been quite innovative in introducing advance purchase fares that can be bought over the internet similar to the way you buy tickets for discount airlines). Sometimes this is neither negative or positive - for instance passengers in first class are served meals on airline style trays.

One of these neither particularly positive or negative things about Virgin Trains in the UK is that they provide an airline style "in flight magazine". This contains advertisements, a few non-challenging articles, safety information about the train, a map showing destinations served by Virgin Trains, and half a dozen brief introductions of a couple of pages each to the cities that Virgin Trains serve. On the train to Manchester last week, I found myself browsing this magazine. As a graduate of St John's College, Cambridge, I was heartened to see this beautiful picture of my college's most famous landmark.

Update: Stephen Karlson has some follow up comments on this. My comments were not aimed entirely at Virgin, but they were the only operator I mentioned because my main aim in posting was to point out the error in the Virgin magazine. The worst offenders are actually the high speed rail operators. Virgin are actually not guilty of a couple of the offences I mentioned (making you stand in line to check in, and the compulsory seat reservations). Eurostar on the other hand are dreadful. They have a lovely train service to Paris and Brussels, but they do require compulsory seat reservations, they do not have properly integrated tickets systems with other railways, they do make you stand in line to check in, they define a "child" as someone under 12 (as do airlines) rather than someone under 16 (as do most railways), and (in first class) they serve meals on airline like trays at your seat rather than having a separate dining car. (Virgin actually are guilty of this last one). The Thalys train services between France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany also do many of these things, although they are not quite as bad as Eurostar.

(As far as children are concerned, Eurostar have a "Youth" fare for people from 12 to 25. This is competitively priced, but quota controlled, so people from 12 to 25 might have to pay the full adult fare on busy services. When a newspaper queried them about this they actually defended it on the basis that "We are not really in the railway business as our main competitors are airlines, and they do this").

One of the best things about train travel is the ability to get up and walk around the train, and possibly even to mingle with your fellow passengers. In order to aid this, it is nice to have a car (or even part of a car) on the train as an alternative place for passengers to go than their regular seat. This might be a dining car, a lounge car with a bar and a few seats, etc. This is completely uneconomical on an aircraft (although it has been tried) but is perfectly feasible on a train. Sadly, though, most train operators have forgotten this. A basic point, though, is that like travel by sea, rail travel is a type of travel that can actually be enjoyable in itself. This is not true of bus travel, and once the novelty value has worn off, it is not normally true of air travel. (It is often true of car travel, however, especially if you are the driver).

Further Update . Stephen's blog doesn't have comments, so I will respond to his response to my response here. On the observation that

He too, notes that modern train operators have (for the most part) forgotten to provide the opportunity to allow passengers to move around, find a card table, or buy a drink. Believe me, the pain is greater when you distinctly remember such things.

One thing about British (and other European) rail services is that most of these things survive somewhere, but not in very many places. Some services from London Victoria to Brighton have a lounge car - essentially a little mobile pub - which is a very pleasant place to spend the trip, but most British services have no such thing. East Coast Main Line services have dining cars, but West Coast Services operated by Virgin do not. (Virgin includes the cost of a meal in the price of a first class ticket, and it is served at your seat. If, on the other hand, you are in second class, there is a very limited buffet selection, and nowhere to eat or drink it apart from at your seat). Dining cars are also a thing of the past in most of my native Australia, which is sad. I remember them well.

As for interline tickets, the problem is that continental Europe has long worked them out, but the British connection to the European system is a relatively new development, and connections between the British and continental European systems are not well handled. On top of that, the connecting rail company (Eurostar) is not very knowedgeable about railways, and just has poor customer service in general). Interline tickets are fine in Britain itself (any ticket office in Britain can sell you any ticket valid on any operator or combination of operators) and are usually fine in continental Europe, but the connection between the two leaves something to be desired. Whereas one ticket can get me from Paris to Moscow, I need three to get me from Watford to Amsterdam. The number of ticket offices where I can get the London to Brussels leg is very limited, whereas I can buy the others at an enormous number of outlets. Given that my local suburban London station can easily sell me a ticket on Scotrail from Glasgow to Inverness, (ie an interline system exists) I really cannot see why a ticket from London to Paris cannot be integrated into that system. Eurostar's attitude that it is really an airline and it therefore isn't actually part of the rail system doesn't really help much.

In an electronics store yesterday I saw something interesting, a Samsung 40 inch LCD television. It cost 8000 pounds, about twice the cost of a good quality plasma display with a similar size and resolution (1280x768 pixels). It isn't bad to look at, but in terms of brightness, response times and viewing angle is clearly inferior to a plasma display. The advantages of such a display are that it is very light (whereas a plasma display is quite heavy) and it is physically quite robust, whereas a plasma display is quite fragile. For portable uses there may be a few applications, but I wouldn't buy one of these at the moment.

Still, I am impressed that Samsung has actually built such a thing. That's the nice thing about Samsung: they actually make a huge number of products, some of them very innovative.
Even the New York Times seems to have got the message about the CD: it is an obsolete product.

Still, there is no question that other activities are taking up listeners' time, thanks to the growth of electronic games and multichannel cable and satellite television. Perhaps most threatening is the popularity of the DVD, which emerged in the mid-1990's. By 1999, DVD players had gained mass-market appeal, and they now cost as little as $50, about the same price as a portable boom box. In some retail stores, DVD sales have surpassed those of CD's.

"The DVD is moving into the bedrooms of the next generation of young kids," said Gary L. Arnold, senior vice president for entertainment at Best Buy, which announced in January that it was closing 107 stores. The next generation of young people has no affinity for the compact disc. For them, he said, "it's about gaming and PlayStation."

There are even one or two comments in the article suggesting that parts of the music industry are actually getting close to reconnecting with reality

DOUG MORRIS, chief executive of the Universal Music Group, said: "We are definitely in the middle of a transition. It was always a packaged-goods business, but that is changing. We are slowly moving forward."

Compact disc sales have slipped for several reasons, not all of them related to piracy or online music swapping. Critics complain that there is a dearth of blockbuster acts these days and that those with hits, like Britney Spears, often have short-lived careers. And with the average price of a compact disc at $14.21, they contend that music is simply too expensive for frequent purchases.

Or perhaps not

But Hilary B. Rosen, chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, countered that a recent study by the association found that only 3 percent of the consumers polled said they were buying less music because prices were too high.

I think the music companies are doomed. Charles Mann said in Wired last month that he wasn't sure the big music companies would last out the year, and although I am probably not quite that negative on them, the more I think about it, the more it looks to be something like that to me too. The only reason for a small number of large monolithic music companies to exist is because distribution was formerly a hugely expensive business, which was why a packaged-goods model could work. This is clearly no longer so. All the other things that the music business does (recording, promotion etc) is probably better done by a much larger number of smaller companies. And it may be that music will exist as a stand alone product for much longer. It may be something that is more usually integrated into the other things you buy, be they DVDs, video games, or whatever. Certainly the state of affairs where you buy a predesigned package of a few songs is now a thing of the past. As the article alludes, the biggest issue may be the unwinding of the enormous legal legacy that goes with the status quo. However, this must be done. If it doesn't, new music that is licenced by different rules may simply overwhelm what is there already.
Assuming that New Zealand doesn't get beaten by Canada or anything like that, take two.

Not that particular result, but definitely something like that. Kenya beat Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka had looked good in the tournament so far, but they came a cropper today, with their batting collapsing and their ultimately losing by 53 runs. This completely puts the cat amongst the pigeons for Group B. I have some analysis here, but the basic deal is that virtually any three of Kenya, Sri Lanka, West Indies, and South Africa could now go through to the next round. The situation is essentially this. For West Indies, win their last game and they are definitely through. Lose it and they are probably gone. For Sri Lanka, win the last two games and they are definitely through, but win only one of them and it then gets complicated. Lose both and they are gone. For Kenya, beat Bangladesh and they are probably through, but lose and they are gone. For South Africa, win and they are almost certainly through. For New Zealand, sit tight and hope that Kenya loses to Bangladesh. If not, hope that Sri Lanka win both remaining games. If not, make sure they have a good net runrate.

Today was a really bad result for New Zealand. Their refusal to play in Kenya may now end up being extremely expensive. It was not an especially good day from the West Indies, who thanks to two events out of their control have now gone from not needing to win their last game to almost definitely needing to win their last game. It was bad for Sri Lanka, but not catastrophic if they can win at least one more game. And it was good if anything for South Africa. Plus of course it was great for Kenya.

All the above supposes no more upsets or washed out matches. If those things happen, things may become even more complicated.

In the other game, Australia beat Zimbabwe by 7 wickets with two and a half overs to spare. Zimbabwe batted quite well, ending up with a good score of 9/246, thanks to 90 runs off the last ten overs and some good batting by Andy Flower, and Andy Blignaut and captain Heath Streak at the end. Australias batsmen simply cruised, and never looked in the slightest danger of failing to get the runs. Some nice hitting by Gilchrist at the start, some competent batting from Ponting, Hayden and Martyn (none of who really looked in top form), and a nice inings from Lehmann at the end). Nothing for Australians to be concerned about, although perhaps it is slightly worrying that the Zimbabweans got on top of the Australian bowling at the end. Dare I say that Australia were missing Shane Warne?

For Australia, Michael Bevan has not yet had a bat in the tournament, and Andrew Symonds hasn't batted since his great century against Pakistan in the first match. Brad Hogg could probably do with some batting time, too. It will be interesting to see if Australia change the batting order accordingly in their next game, which should be an easy one against Namibia.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Brief roundup of the weekend's World Cup matches. The most important match over the weekend was England-Pakistan, in which England scored a superb win, thanks largely to some really good bowling from Jimmy Anderson, who took 4/29 off ten overs. England have defaulted a match in this tournament, but are yet to lose a game on the field. They need to beat India to be certain of a place in the Super Six stage. If they lose to India, then they must beat Australia, India must beat Pakistan, and England must have a better net run rate than either India or Pakistan. (My attempts to find a pub showing the match in Liverpool yesterday evening were entirely unsuccessful. Finding a pub showing England playing Wales at rugby was trivial, however. Thoughts on what this means some other time). However, England are looking good, and their supporters should be happy.

Meanwhile South Africa annihilated Bangladesh by 10 wickets with 38 overs to spare. The longer this tournament goes on, the more Bangladesh look underserving of their test status, sadly. I doubt much can be read into this game from the South African point of view. South Africa have never had a problem looking good in easy games.

As for today, India scored a 181 run win over Namibia. Same comments again, although 152 from Tendulkar and 112 no from Ganguly suggest that India's gun batsmen are coming into form, which they need.

And of course, Shane Warne was banned from cricket for one year. My opinion is that this is a reasonably lenient sentence. His teammates think it is horribly harsh. I have lots more to say on this, but not now. I need sleep.

Update: Now that I am rested, some further comments. There was of course one more game over the weekend, Canada's Day/Night game against West Indies. This started out in an extraordinary way, with John Davison (really an Australian, but playing for Canada because he was born there) scoring the fastest century in World Cup history. At one point Canada were 1/155 off 20.5 overs. However, nobody else did much besides Davison's 111, and Canada were all out for 202. West Indies overhauled this with little difficultly, with 73 to Lara and 42 not out to Sarwan, who is looking like being one of the batting stars of the tournament. I look forward eagerly to the match between West Indies and Sri Lanka. That one should be a beauty. That said, the West Indian bowling still looks weak, however strong the batting looks. (The batting is starting to look terrific).

Plus I have to comment once again what a splendid surprise packet these Canadians have turned out to be. They aren't winning many matches, but do they look to be enjoying themselves.

Finally, back in Australia, test captain Steve Waugh continues to score a mountain of runs for New South Wales. In the domestic one day final on Saturday, he scored 88 off 55 balls including 16 fours and a six. Opposing captain (and test opening batsman) Justin Langer responded by saying that "I'll give you a line about Steve Waugh, if he's not going to the West Indies, he is a clown, he is in the best form of his career," Besides mentioning what a wonderfully colourful thing is Australian English, I think Steve Waugh will now go to the West Indies. For one thing, his test career average is at the moment just under 50, and he cares about things like that, even if he says he doesn't. For another, there is simply the "Why not?" factor. If he is still good enough, which he is, why not continue to be paid enormous sums of money to play for a bit longer.

Another interesting situation would come up if one of the batsmen in the World Cup squad was injured and had to pull out of the tournament. If Australia had to choose a replacement, Waugh is clearly the form player. If the situation came up, it would be interesting to see what the selectors did. And it would be interesting to see what Ponting wanted.
Well, an afternoon that started me looking for American chain bookstores in the suburbs of greater Manchester led to my spending an unanticipated (but enormously pleasant) four hours in one of the best pubs in England. I am now back in London, so more on this tomorrow.

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