Saturday, March 15, 2003

Cricket Update

A few cricketing stories today, none of them terribly unexpected.

Firstly, Steve Waugh has declared himself available for the Australian tour of the West Indies after the World Cup. I didn't really expect anything else, but it is good to see, becase, as Scott Wickstein says, you don't want to blood a new captain on a West Indies tour. One theory seems to be that Waugh is still pissed off with the selectors for dropping him from the one day team, and he was therefore fucking with their minds. (This is like him). It has been suggested that he left off announcing anything because he was hoping to be selected as a replacement for the World Cup, and he didn't want to spoil any chance he had. (However, this argument only seems to make sense if he was planning to announce his retirement, as I would have thought that announcing he was available for that tour would have been good for his chances of being selected as a replacement for the World Cup. I suppose there is the theory that he was planning on retiring, but changed his mind due to his form for New South Wales being so good).

I suppose one should look at the issue of Steve Waugh's form. It was excellent until the 2001 Ashes series. In that series, he injured himself in the third test, missed the fourth, and then played in the fifth because he didn't want his last monent in test cricket in England to be limping off the field with a torn hamstring. So, instead, he played in the Fifth test despite clearly being unfit, through shear willpower hobbled his way to an unbeaten 150, and his last innings of test cricket in England concluded with him hobbling off the field to an enormous ovation. However, he aggravated the injury, got Deep Vein Thrombosis, and wasn't properly recovered by the start of the 2001-2 Australian season. His form that season was consequently bad, he lost the one day captaincy, and his batting form took about a year to recover, being good enough by the end of the recent domestic Ashes series to hold his place. It is only since then that he has really looked to be in his best form, and he probably thinks that he can play for a year or two more, score a few more centuries, get his average back up to that 50 mark that separates the good players from the great, and then retire at home. He will be under pressure to score runs in every series now, and might concevably lose his place after one bad series. He clearly wants to play in India in the second half of 2004. He may or may not make it, but one issue will become clearer as that series comes closer, which is that the timing of any captaincy change has to be got right. Between the West Indies series and the tour of India late next year, Australia play Bangladesh at home (a good time for a new captain), either two are three home series against some presently unconfirmed combination of India, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe (any of these would be good times) , and a tour of Sri Lanka (a bad time). When Steve Waugh was made captain, his first two series were away against the West Indies and Sri Lanka, and these tours did not go especially well (Australia drew with the WI and lost to Sri Lanka). I cannot imagine the ACB wants to make the same mistake again, but if they are not carefull and Steve Waugh loses form, they may find they have no choice. The best thing would be for Steve Waugh to simply get to the end of the India tour and retire. After that, Australia has a year of relatively easy cricket.

Secondly, New South Wales won the Pura Cup (formerly Sheffield Shield) for the first time in nine years. Steve Waugh's superb batting and captaincy for the second half of the season had a lot to do with this. Queensland were bowled out for 84 in the final, and it seemed just like old times. For much of the last 110 years, NSW have seen winning this almost as their right, so the last few years (in which they have finished last a number of occasions) have been painful. I cannot imagine that the players will be sober any time soon.

Thirdly, South Africa have sacked Shaun Pollock as captain. His captaincy in this tournament was so dreadful that it had to be done. Neophyte batsman Graeme Smith appears to have been appointed the replacement. Meanwhile Pollock has complained that he had much less power as captain than had been held by Hansie Cronje and Kepler Wessels. Another interpretation of his remark is simply that he had little support from behind the scenes. The betting scandal, the affirmative action issue, and lots of other less obvious things are mixed up in this, but South African cricket is clearly a shambles. I do not expect to see the South Africans win much in the next few years. Smith has just been handed a poisoned chalice, I think.

Fourthly the last two Super Six games of the World Cup took place. Sri Lanka needed to beat Zimbabwe to make the semi finals, and they did so with ease. A century from Atapattu and good support from the rest of the top order got Sri Lanka to 5/256 off their 50 overs. Zimbabwe were never in the hunt, being bowled out for 182. Andy Flower was second top scorer with 38 in his last game for Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka make the semi-finals, despite an inconsistent up and down tournament. Still, well done to them. Sri Lanka play Australia in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday.

In the other game, Australia played Kenya in a day/night match in Durban. The match started with Brett Lee producing one of his hot spells and taking a hat trick, the 17th in all one day internationals, the fourth in World Cups, the second in this World Cup, and the third by an Australian. Kenya fought back from this, and thanks to 46 from Shah, 51 from Tikolo, and 39 from Modi, plus some support from the tail, Kenya managed a reasonably respectable 8/174 off the 50 overs. This didn't look like any problem for the Australian, and they scored at 8 per over, getting to 1/98 off the first 11 overs, thanks to 6? from 4? balls. However, some good bowling by Karim reduced Australia to 5/117, and the Kenyans must have thought they had a little hope. However, Symonds and Harvey then stopped the rot and Australia got home with five wickets to spare off 31.2 overs. Australia were never in great danger, particularly since they had elevated a few players higher in the order than usual, and Martyn was yet to bat, but once again in this game Kenya demonstrated that they are always willing to fight. They have taken their chances and really have proved a lot in this tournament. Kenya now play India in the semi final in Durban on Thursday, another day/night game.

Frankly, Australia's middle order are a little bit of a worry. Of the openers, Gilchrist looks in great form, and Hayden looks on the brink of a big score. Ponting, Martyn, and Lehmann, however, have not got many runs lately. Against England, New Zealand, and now Kenya, the lower order have had to do the work. For Australia to win the tournament, these guys need to start scoring runs again.

On the positive side, the continued good form of Brett Lee remains encouraging. He is a player who can come in and win a game with one or two brilliant overs. We may need that.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Some thoughts on South Africa, particularly Johannesburg and Cape Town

A good friend of mine, who is an academic at the University of Stellenbosch, just north of Cape Town in South Africa, got married in late December 2000. I flew in to South Africa a couple of days before Christmas, and spent the next couple of weeks touring the Western Cape with another South African friend of mine who was also their for the wedding. (We had all met at graduate school in Cambridge). I am a bit of an oenophile, so we went to a lot of local wineries, and tried the local product. (I had generally been disappointed with South African wine I had drank outside South Africa, but in the country I discovered that some of their product is quite good, but they don't seem to export the good stuff. At present South African wine lacks the consistency of Australian, New Zealand or Californian wine). We went up to the top of Table Mountain. We went to the Cape of Good Hope. We generally had a good time. And it was a very nice wedding.

There were many guests at the wedding from Europe (on both the bride and groom's side) who were in Cape Town for the event, and a trip was arranged for people to had time to travel along the Garden Route from Cape Town, to Knysna, Port Elizabeth and Addo Elephant National Park north of Port Elizabeth. The friend with who I did most of the touring around the Western Cape was unable to come, but instead had to go back to his job in Johannesburg. This friend is a serious cricket buff, but he did not check his calendar properly, and desipite the fact that I had mentioned that there was a test match starting in Cape Town on January 2, he had arranged to return home on the morning of that day, and was therefore unable to accompany me to the match. Everyone else was heading for Knysna that day, but I decided that even without my friend, I would go to the first day's play of the match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at the Newlands cricket ground in Cape Town.

I did this, and I had a very pleasant day at the cricket. (This was much cheaper than a day at a test match would be in Australia or, heaven forbid, England). The game was quite one sided. Sri Lanka were bowled out for 95. Two South Africans bowled superbly: captain Shaun Pollock, who took 6/30, and a black fast bowler who I had not previously heard of named Mfuneko Ngam, who bowled extremely fast, looked very effective, and took 3/26 off 13 overs. I was very impressed, and I thought I would see a lot more of him.

However, in the two years since, I have heard little more of him, besides the occasional mention that he is out injured. Which why I was interested in reading a story about him by Christopher Martin Jenkins in the Times this morning. (Due to my inability to link to The Times, I will quote at length

Mfuneko Ngam, one of the most natural fast bowlers anyone in South Africa has seen, made such an impact, when he took over from Allan Donald at the last moment in a Test match against New Zealand in December 2000, that he was expected to become a star.

Retained for two Tests against Sri Lanka, he took 11 wickets in his first three games at only 17 each, and it would have been more but for dropped slip catches. He bowled so fast against Sri Lanka at Cape Town that in the words of one experienced Test watcher: “Some of their batsmen didn’t want to know. He took the place by storm.”

Three years on “Chew” (’ngam) has yet to play another Test, frequent stress fractures to his bones preventing more than fleeting comebacks. Recently, a problem with his ligaments has been diagnosed but the essential problem was, it seems, malnutrition when he was a child. He comes originally from Middledrift, a township near King William’s Town, some 150 miles from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.
The nutritionists and biomechanists have Ngam under their wing, advising on his diet and carefully building up his strength and cardiovascular stamina. Like a frail teenager, he is allowed to bowl only 18 balls a day but he remains part of both local and national plans and is being paid as a nationally-contracted player, although he still lives with his family in the township of Motherwell, just inland from Port Elizabeth.

Obviously I hope he comes back, and soon and successfully, but there is something extraordinarily sad about a potentially top notch player being unable to achieve his best due to malnutrition as a child. It is awful to see such a superb natural athlete unable to play due to something as avoidable as malnutrition in his past. And of course there is something far worse about people actually suffering from malnutrition as children in a country like South Africa, which while not the richest country in the world does have a reasonable amount of wealth.

If you go to Cape Town or any of the places near by, you see an interesting society with a colonial legacy. The towns are an interesting mix of Dutch, Portuguese, British, Hugenot and various other styles. It has a rather Mediterranean feel. And on the edge of every town is a "township", a shanty town where poor black people live. The poverty in these townships looks as bad as the poverty almost anywhere else in Africa. The division between white and black remains stark. Most white South Africans have never been into a township in their lives, and they will warn you not to go near them. (I actually went near or in a couple, and the people were without exception extremely friendly). And it is easy to believe that malnutrition of children is common.

South Africa is like no other place I have been in that the country is first world and third world on top of one another. It is easy to pretend you are somewhere in the Spain or Italy almost, and then you turn on the radio and listen to the news and there is a report about how there is an outbreak of cholera in Durban. And as you are driving down the road, you have the very African experience of having a small Toyota minibus with about 15 people in it overtake you in a highly questionable piece of driving. (The road toll in South Africa is horrific). And of course there is very African rate of HIV infection.

The case of Mfuneko Ngam seems in some ways sadly typical. Here is someone with great talent and potential, but much of this has gone to waste due to the poverty of his upbringing. And that is the problem for South Africa. You have lots of human capital: 40 million people or so. A great deal of this human capital is just wasted, through malnutrition, through a lack of decent education, and through the dysfunctional economy and mass unemployment that this all causes. If you could actually utilise the human capital of this many people effectively then you could actually achieve a lot.

And that, fundamentally is what was so abominable about apartheid. It was a system specifically designed to destroy two third's of the country's human capital. Black people were to be kept uneducated and in poverty so that white people could retain control of the country. Given that in the modern economy the utilisation of human capital is everything, and that the effect of black people getting a bit richer would be for white people to get richer too, this was completely insane. And yet, a country was run on this basis for most of a century. Sadly, the legacy of all this will take a long time to eliminate.

If apartheid had never existed, this wouldn't have meant that the black population of South Africa would be terribly rich, even today. (They would certainly be a lot better off than they are now, though). I think there would still be significant amounts of poverty. However, what you would not have is the stark separation of black and white that the country still has. You would have poor black people, and middle class black people, and a small number of rich black people. You would have a larger number of rich white people, and lots of middle class white people, and a small number of poor white people.

This separation of the economic roles of white and black was something about the country that, to be honest, I didn't like very much. Lots of people had told me how beautiful Cape Town was, and what a dangerous hellhole Johannesburg was. However, when I went there, I discovered that in fact I like Johannesburg rather more than I did Cape Town. For one thing, I like fast moving, living, changing cities, and from this perspective Johannesburg is something of a tour de force. Secondly, I felt the separation between black and white was much less than in the Cape. Soweto is the most famous of all South Africa's townships, but compared to those I saw further south (particularly those outside the Afrikaans town of George) living conditions looked fairly decent. The nicest parts of Soweto are quite simply nice places to live, township or not, although most of Soweto is not like that. Whereas I found that when I went into a nice restaurant in the south the customers were all white, in Johannesburg this was not necessarily so. In Johannesburg there is clearly a black middle class. It is not necessarily a large black middle class, but it definitely exists. Plus Johannesburg is a huge melting pot. It is full of people from further north in Africa who have come for the economic opportunities. You hear French and Portuguese spoken on the streets a lot. It feels alive, much more than does Cape Town. I rather liked it.

And boy, would I like to be there on March 23rd for the World Cup final.
Way weirder than even Michael Moore suspects

Cyberpunk author William Gibson was interviewed and answered questions from a live audience for a Canadian radio program. One member of the audience took notes of what he said in point form, and then posted them on a discussion board on his website. They have a delightful free verse quality about them. For instance.

To Google [v.]
We discovered it long predated my coinage
It’s just there, the traces we leave
A presence deliberately created or not
Persons who can or can’t be ‘Googled’, it has become a distinction
People without trace, an invisibility that’s increasingly rare
Not class, but similar to the landowners and the landless
A kind of cyber-Amish

or perhaps this:

Music as inspirational stimuli
Kids would be appalled, Neuromancer era:
The best of Rocky Erickson, the Thirteenth Floor of Elevators
In france, where they really understood these things

or this

Strange way realities seem to be tracking you
We don’t have the luxury, the now being so short
We don’t have solid enough place to stand on to judge where we’re going
I don’t think the media knows what it’s doing
It’s not autonomous that way, it’s not controllable
Change is technologically driven
New technology is not legislated into being
It’s wonderfully out of control
Conspiracy theories are popular and comforting because they can be expressed over two pints of beer or a tall latte.
I don’t buy it
What’s actually happening is far stranger
We’re engaged in a constant biofeedback with our own extended nervous system
It’s way weirder than I think even Michael Moore suspects
Feedback on my cricket coverage, the World Cup points system, the Duckworth Lewis rule, and New Zealand versus India

The discussion of what I think is wrong with the World Cup points system (or, more specifically, the way teams on the same number of points are separated) that I promised a couple of days ago is here.

A few days ago I wondered aloud if anyone was actually reading my detailed cricket coverage. The feedback I have received since then indicates that the answer is clearly "yes". I knew that many of my Australian readers were following it, but it seems that I have a few cricket following readers in other places as well, which is nice. In addition, I find that people appreciated my detailed analyses of which teams would qualify for the Super Six in which cases, which has mostly been on Michael Jennings Extra. Given the lack of such analysis in the general media, this is perhaps not surprising.

In addition, it has been suggested that I explain how the Duckworth Lewis rule works. I'm game, but this will take me a day or two. I shall get it done in time for the semi-finals. There are reserve days for the Super Six matches, semi finals, and final, but they are only to be used (for replaying the match) if the match cannot be completed on the first day with Duckworth Lewis, so we may well see the D/L rule applied again. (For the final, there are two reserve days, and the match is to be replayed on the first reserve day if necessary, and then the game being played on the second day will be continued on the third if necessary. Again, this seems too complex, and I would rather simply complete matches on reserve days at all times anyway. Given the amount of complaining there usually is after D/L results, completing the match if possible seems better).

In today's match between India and New Zealand, New Zealand have been bowled out for an unimpressive 146. Zaheer Khan took New Zealand wickets with the second and third balls of the match, and after than New Zealand never really got it together again. Fleming topscored with 30 and that was about it really. Sadly, New Zealand have never really performed after their great win against South Africa. Fleming batted superbly in that match and has batted decently but not spectacularly since. Their other star is supposed to be Cairns, but he has been deeply disappointing in this tournament.

If by some unlikely chance New Zealand can bowl India out for less than 146, or Sri Lanka lose to Zimbabwe tomorrow, New Zealand will meet Australia in the semi-finals. If New Zealand lose, then Sri Lanka need to beat Zimbabwe tomorrow to meet Australia.

Update: For a brief moment, it looked like New Zealand were going to make a fight of it, as India were 3/22 with Tendulkar and Ganguly out. However, India then batted smoothly to make the target without losing any further wickets, thanks to 68 not out from Mohammad Kaif and 53 not out from Rahul Dravid. Unless Zimbabwe can cause an upset tomorrow, New Zealand are gone. From an Australian point of view, I think this is good, because I would rather they play Sri Lanka than New Zealand in the semi-final. On the other hand, the last time Australia played Sri Lanka in a semi final (ICC Champions trophy last September) Australia lost. (That was in Sri Lanka, however).

Thursday, March 13, 2003

In what country would you expect to find the internet site

When a country becomes independent, there are various symbols of nationalism that countries like to have. Some of these are things like national airlines, national currencies, embassies in foreign capitals, foreign embassies in their capitals, membership of international organisations such as the UN, and so on. More recently, some of these have been separate identities in communication systems, the most important of which (until now) has been an international country code in the global telephone system. (Due to poor administration, the International Telecommunications Union ran out of codes for European countries in the 1970s, and a number of small European countries had to share codes with nearby larger countries until the end of the cold war, when the codes that had been used by East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were released. Each of these two digit codes were replaced with ten three digit codes, everybody in Europe who wanted a distinct code got one, and there are now plenty of codes still free for new countries). More recently, an internet country code has become almost as important. Jay Manifold reports that the .af code for Afghanistan is now active.

Standard practice is for countries to use the International Standards Organisation's standard ISO-3166-alpha-2 for their internet country code. This is a standard list of two letter codes used to refer to countries. These were invented in the 1970s and are used for all sorts of purposes, but internet country codes is probably where they are now most commonly seen. The use of these codes to designate the country of origin of websites is actually quite recent: it dates from the late 1980s. Prior to this, the internet only existed in a small number of countries, and was quite fragmented. Not all of the predecessor networks of the internet were connected to each other all the time, and not all used the internet protocol. Virtually all networks could communicate with each other in order to send e-mail, but their ability to handle other applications was more limited.

Prior to the late 1980s, such things as country code names were developed on an ad hoc basis, largely due to the complete lack of any kind of regulation of anything to do with the internet. The people using the predecessor networks of the internet in particular countries decided for themselves what they used.

In the UK, the key network was called "JANET", which stood for "Joint Academic Network". This involved a lot of UK developed technology that was different from that used in the US, and when the question of a code for the UK came up, the code that was chosen was "uk". This may sound logical, but in some ways it wasn't. When the ISO developed the system of two letter country codes in the 1970s, both the United Kingdom and the Ukraine wanted the code "uk". (For curious cold war reasons, although the Ukraine was part of the USSR, it had its own UN seat and some of the normal symbols of nationhood, although you couldn't seriously argue it was a real country). In order to avoid World War 3 (or something) the ISO decided that neither of then would get to be "uk" and that the United Kingdom would be "gb" and Ukraine would be "ua".

This of course is not ideal in the UK, because "gb" is obviously short for "Great Britain" which does not strictly include Northern Ireland, and this point can be controversial. When JANET needed a code, they therefore chose "uk". There was no directive at that point telling them what they had to use, so they used the one they were most comfortable with. (They were not the only country to use a non-standard code. Australia at one point used "oz").

When, in the late 1980s, there was an internationally made decision that country codes should standardise on the ISO codes, Britain was told to change to "gb". Britain almost entirely ignored this. But not entirely. A small number of organisations did in fact start using the "gb" code. Most notably, the Defence Research Agency started using the domain "". At this point, the government was largely unaware of the existence of the internet, so there was no requirement that government agency websites fit into any particular domain, and the DRA (later renamed DERA) could decide this entirely for itself. When the government did gain such knowledge, the geeks at the DRA could tell the bureacrats that "we are more technically competent than you, so go away", and I suspect they did that. Thus Britain for some time had two codes, "uk" and "gb". Given that "gb" was the ISO code, the DERA could reasonably convincingly claim that they were using the correct code and everyone else was wrong. (Of course the registration infrastructure grew up around the "uk" domain, and this eventually was recognised as an exception, so this claim was less convincing as the years went on. After a while they started using and in parallel).

There is something quite British about this. The vast majority of the country insists on doing something a particular way, but a small minority does it a different way I think largely because they insist on being eccentric.

And this was where we were until last year. From time to time I would tell people that "uk" was wrong and that it should be "gb", they would laugh at me, and I would show them the DRA site and they would be puzzled by this. (You don't believe me? Some of the history is Link1here). That was what I was planning to do today: point out that the official code for the UK was in fact "gb" and that everyone is wrong. However, when I looked for "", it turned out it was gone.

A little research tells me that a couple of years ago the government decided to privatise most of the DERA, and it was split into a private company called Qinetiq and a small government owned core called the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory or DSTL. One sad consequence of this was that the "" domain was no more. This was switched off towards the end of 2002, and there are no longer any organisations using the "gb" top level domain. There will be no authorisation for the issue of any new "gb" domains, so "uk" is now the only official country code for the United Kingdom.

(Some other day, I might explain how British e-mail addresses used to be backwards. But that is another story).
This sounds about right, actually

You are 46% geek
You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.

Normal: Tell our geek we need him to work this weekend.

You [to Geek]: We need more than that, Scotty. You'll have to stay until you can squeeze more outta them engines!

Geek [to You]: I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain, but we need more dilithium crystals!

You [to Normal]: He wants to know if he gets overtime.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at

(via Ian Hamet). Now, if anyone wants to pay me a good deal of money (or even an initially small amount of money) to be a translator, you will find my CV on the left.

Ian (who fell in the some category) comments that he thought he would be in at least the mid 60s. I think the methodology of the test is slightly flawed. I think that the breadth of interests of many geeks is often not appreciated. It is fairly easy to give the "geekiest" answer to each question in that quiz, and yes, I am interested in all that stuff, but to do so would be to deny that I have other interests as well as Star Trek and physics, and that would be false. I don't think either of us mind the "geek liason" description, but describing us as only 46% geek seems a little unkind.

(I found Ian's blog by following one of those "Here is a good blog I have just encountered" type links from Glenn Reynolds. I immediately got jealous that he gave this link to someone else and not to me, but then I followed the link and I had to acknowledge that yes, it is a good blog).

Update: Kathy Shaidle complains about Prof Reynolds linking to other people rather than her, and she gets a link. I complain and nothing happens. Clearly, Prof Reynolds is ludicrously biased in favour of Kathy Shaidle. (On the other hand, I think throwing a dart through the TV screen when Al Pacino won for Scent of a Woman was a spendid thing to do).

Further Update: Patrick observes that most real geeks scored in the high forties. He is quite right. Genuine geeks are broad, not narrow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

McDonald's and Coffee

Glenn Reynolds comments

Last week I wrote that smart businesses would soon start offering free wireless internet service as a way of luring customers. This week, McDonald’s, and some other businesses, announced that they would be doing just that. Coincidence?

Well, yeah, almost certainly. But it’s cool. And I think it will bring in a lot of business. Interestingly, reader Manuel Colayco emails that McDonald’s offers Starbucks-like “McCafes” in Hong Kong and Manila, featuring comfy chairs and a soothing, adult-oriented decor rather than red and yellow plastic. Bring them over here!

My Australian readers will be aware that McCafes have existed in McDonald's in Australia for quite a few years (since around 1995, I think). This easily predates Starbucks entry into the Australian market. (They opened their first store in 2001). I think Australia is where the McCafe concept originated. Australia got a sophisticated coffee culture from Italian immigrants in the 1950s and Australians are extremely fussy about coffee. Conventional McDonald's coffee was never something Australians were happy with, so McDonald's innovated. Australia is the only place in the Anglosphere that got its coffee culture directly from Italy rather than via Seattle, and because of this Australian coffee is somewhat different to that you get in London or New York. Australians drink coffee in smaller cups, our baristas tend to swirl the milk a little less, and we have completely different terminology.

McDonald's are clearly spreading the McCafe concept around the world. I saw my first one in London a couple of weeks ago, near Victoria station. The colour scheme and the comfy chairs are the same as in Australia, but some of the terminology used to name the different coffees is a little more Starbucks like than in Sydney. I am guessing that McCafes will be seen in the US before long, if they are not there already.

Update: Matthew Walker provides a link to this press release which makes it clear that it was McDonald's Australian operation that invented McCafes, and that they did so in 1993. Since then, McDonald's have been spreading them around the world, and there is one in Chicago. From this, I think we can deduce that although they are Starbucks like, the people who invented them were probably not influenced by Starbucks very much, if at all. In 1993, Starbucks were somewhat less than omnipresent, even in the US, and they did not open their first store outside North America until 1996.
Kenya make World Cup semi final, and an odd observation about the tied Sri Lanka v South Africa game.

Today Kenya played Zimbabwe. A win for the Kenyans today meant they would be certain of a place in the semi-finals. A loss meant that they could still miss out if New Zealand beat India and Sri Lanka beat Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe batted first, and were bowled out for an unimpressive 133. It would have been much worse, if not for 63 from Andy Flower, who has (very sadly) announced that he will not be playing for Zimbabwe after this tournament. Kenya in reply made the target easily, losing only three wickets and winning with 24 overs to spare. Kenya didn't just win - they won very well. A great effort by them. Kenya will now meet India in the semi final in Durban on March 20. The other semi-final will be between Australia and either Sri Lanka or New Zealand in Port Elizabeth on March 18. If Sri Lanka beat Zimbabwe and India beat New Zealand, Sri Lanka will be the other semi-finalist. Any other combination of results will mean that New Zealand goes through. (That is excluding ties and no results. Strictly speaking, Sri Lanka must score more points than New Zealand from their last matches to go through. Otherwise New Zealand go through). India now have an easy semi-final against Kenya, whereas Australia have another tough game in Port Elizabeth, perhaps against New Zealand again.

Kenya are not actually one of the four best teams to play in the tournament, but their efforts have still been impressive. If it were not for New Zealand defaulting against them, they would not have made the Super Six. If it were not for South Africa failing to make the Super Six, they would not have carried over so many points into the Super Six. If it were not for England's default to Zimbabwe, Kenya would not have had a relatively easy game against Zimbabwe today, and Kenya would not have made the semi-finals. With their win over Sri Lanka, Kenya have shown that on a good day they can beat quality opposition. Kenya, who do not have test status, have also demonstrated that they are clearly a better side than both Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, both of who do have test status. As I was saying the other day, this is unfair and something has to be done about it.

An interesting observation is that if Sri Lanka had beaten South Africa (rather than tied) in their last pool game, then Sri Lanka would now be in a much stronger position, and would be close to certain to pick up the last semi-final place. Sri Lanka's chances of making the semi-finals have been hurt quite significantly by the fact that the South Africa game was only tied. There has been lots of nonsense written about how South Africa were "robbed" by the rain in that game, but South Africa were by no means certain to win that game if it was completed. It may be that in a couple of days time, Sri Lanka will be equally entitled to claim that they were "robbed" of a semi-final spot by the same rain in the same game.
I have such nice readers

Some bloggers put a list of testimonials - nice things that other people have said about them or their blog - down one margin. I have refrained from doing this, but once in a while someone will call me "a sort of super-intelligent search engine in humanoid form", or will say something else that almost but not quite encourages me to make such a list. For instance I might be described as

..... far, far better than anything we get in the written media in New Zealand.

Okay, Chris is only talking about my cricket coverage. Somehow, though, I think taking the quote slightly out of context is part of the fun.

Over to you, Mr Pundit.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Tom Cruise, John Travolta, this week's New York Times Magazine, and Mel Gibson's Dad

In the Eddie Murphy / Steve Martin movie Bowfinger, Eddie Murphy plays a temperamental Hollywood star named Kit Ramsey, who belongs to a ridiculously over the top Scientology like religious cult named "Mindhead". This organisation, apparently headed by a slumming but quite funny Terence Stamp, manages Kit Ramsey's career, and does its best to prevent himself from acting on those urges that would likely be damaging to his career (most notably, the desire to expose himself to the Laker girls).

In real life, however, the two most famous actor Scientologists in Hollywood are of course Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Both actors have tremendous star power. Both have starred in many hit movies. However, the theory that their careers are being in fact managed by the Scientologists is, I think, done a blow by the wildly different qualities of the management of their respective careers.

Tom Cruise's career is probably managed better than that of any other star in Hollywood. He is extraordinarily careful in his choice of material. He knows how to mix up potentially popular and more artistic movies so that his career always has the right amount of momentum. His chooses who he is going to work with excrutiatingly carefully. (His last ten films have been directed by Steven Spielberg, Cameron Crowe (twice), John Woo, P.T. Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma, Neil Jordan, Sydney Pollack, Rob Reiner. There isn't a bad director in that lot, or even a hack. Several of them had done interesting independent work before working with Cruise and have become more famous subsequently). He promotes his films tirelessly, and is always generous in giving credit to the people he works with. Unlike some stars, he is not known for attempting to control the film on the set, but instead he chooses a good director and lets them get on with their work.

Now compare with John Travolta. Travolta was in the Saturday Night Fever and Grease in the 1970s, and was perhaps the biggest star in the world. Yet by the early 1980s, he was making unbelievable tosh and by the late 1980s he was virtual uncastable in leading roles. Then, he had the extraordinary good fortune to have Quentin Tarantino write him the role of his life in Pulp Fiction, and also be willing to fight to cast him in the movie. Suddeny he was back. Firstly, he had a few more hits (Get Shorty, Phenomenon, Face/Off). He even made one or two good movies. Then, however, his choices of material went into decline again. He hasn't really had any hits in the last two to three years, and he had the Battlefield Earth debacle.

Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard was of course once a science fiction writer. There are various stories as to how Scientology started. The most famous involve stories about Hubbard stating to other writers that "The best way to make a fortune these days is to found a religiou" and then actually doing it. Hubbard was a pretty unreadable science fiction writer even before founding Scientology, and for several decades he gave it up. However, in 1981 he published Battlefield Earth, the first volume in a ten book series called Mission Earth that were published over the next six years. These books entered the bestseller lists, apparently because a large number of Scientologists were sent to bookshops to buy large number of copies. The books were apparently dreadful, and there have been various arguments as to whether Hubbard actually wrote them himself, although the general consensus seems to be that he did. In any event, though, scientologist John Travolta apparently insisted on getting a movie made based on the first book in the series, and eventually he managed to persuage a studio to pay for it. Having a star decide that they really want to make a particular vanity project is something that happens from time to time. Often stars do have enough influence to get such films made. Often the films in question turn into debacles. Battlefield Earth was one of these. It was perhaps the worst reviewed film of the decade, and did Travolta's career plenty of damage. Travolta is unlikely to get any other vanity projects made any time soon. (In whatever programming room he is presently living, he doesn't appear to realise this, however. He still occasionally talks about the possibility of making a sequel to Battlefield Earth, which is unlikely to happen.

That said, this is where Hollywood religious whackiness mixed up with movie star vanity can lead you: into the land of the debacle.

Actors' vanity projects that fail are one thing. Some would suggest that actors vanity projects that succeed are an even greater danger, because it leads actors to become evan more vain than they were already, and when you do this, you are getting close to upsetting the stability of the universe. In 1990 Kevin Costner managed to get Dances With Wolves made. The film ended up being a major box office hit, and won a large number of Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Costner. (The latter Oscar, given to Costner instead of to Martin Scorsese for Goodfellas, was particularly ludicrous). What did this do? Well, it led Costner to believe that he was omniscient and infallable, and this led to his making Waterworld and ultimately The Postman.

In 1995, Mel Gibson's vanity Scottish nationalism film, Braveheart was made. It was not as big a hit as Dances With Wolves (although in my mind it was a better film) but like that film it went on to win Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. Mel Gibson no doubt took heart from this.

Which was why it wasn't perhaps too surprising when it was announced that Mel Gibson would be directing The Passion, a biblical film telling the story of the crucifiction and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that it would be made in a mixture of Latin and Aramaic, without subtitles. Gibson appears to be paying the approximately $25 million budget of the film himself, which is unusual. (Big stars are paid $20 million per movie, but seldom pay for anything themselves).

Gibson is well known for being a devout Catholic, and as a consequence of this, his desire to tell a biblical story isn't especially surprising. The decision to make it in two dead languages without subtitles has a certain film star vanity whackiness about it. The success of Braveheart probably was one thing that encouraged him to do it.

When I heard that Gibson was doing this, it sounded probably like folly, but as a thought the result might at least be a little bit intriguing. (After all, there does exist a 1960s horror movie starring William Shatner that is entirely in Esperanto and is something of a minor cult classic. That one is normally shown with subtitles, however). As I suspect did , Christopher Noxon, the author of this article on Gibson in last Sunday's New York Times magazine. Noxon lives in Los Angeles, and noticed that a new church was being built near where he lives. Upon enquiring, he discovered that it was a traditionalist Catholic church being paid for by Mel Gibson. Traditionalist Catholics believe that the Second Vatican Council was a mistake, and that mass should still be in Latin, and that people shouldn't be eating meat on Fridays, amongst other things. In itself, this doesn't strike me as bad. I see nothing terribly wrong with Catholicism being a broad church, if you will excuse the expression. If some people want to listen to mass in Latin, that is fine with me.

I suspect this is approximately the point that Noxon concluded that all this, along with Gibson's film, was worthy of a magazine article, and pitched it to the editors at the Times magazine. However, when he started doing his research, things got weirder. Firstly, he went to a service at the church. The service was basically a standard Catholic service, but in Latin, except that at the end it did appear to call for the wickedness of the "modern church" to be punished on judgement day. From there, Noxon apparently discovered that Mel Gibson's father apparently shares Mel's traditionalist views. Mel has the occasional tendency to go in for conspiracies himself, for instance in an interview in 1995

''There's something to do with the Federal Reserve that Lincoln did, Kennedy did and Reagan tried,'' he said. ''I can't remember what it was. My dad told me about it. Everyone who did this particular thing that would have fixed the economy got undone. Anyway, I'll end up dead if I keep talking

That is deeply profound, obviously, but I have no idea how serious he was being. In any event, it all leads to his Dad, Hutton Gibson.

Oddly enough, I remember Hutton Gibson from Australian television in the early 1980s. At that point, quiz shows were a big deal on Australian television. Hutton Gibson appeared as a contestant (and was the champion for several weeks) on a show called "Ford Superquiz" in about 1983. In particular, I remember that on one episode the compere of the show mentioned that he was the father of Mel Gibson, and showed some photos from Mel's movies. (This was after Mad Max and Gallipoli but before Lethal Weapon, so Mel Gibson was a very big star in Australia, but still largely unknown in the rest of the world).

In any event, I now know from reading the New York Times that Hutton Gibson has been railing against the Vatican for 45 years, believes essentially that there was a coup in the Catholic church when John XXIII was elected in the 1950s and that all subsequent Popes were illegitimate, shadowy enemies apparently might have threatened ''to atom-bomb the Vatican City," and the Second Vatican Council was ''a Masonic plot backed by the Jews.''

Okay, at this point I can just imagine Noxon's reaction. He has started writing an article about Mel Gibson's vanity projects and slightly unconventional religious views. This wasn't intended to be all that serious, but something horrible has just crawled out from under a rock. It gets worse.

The intrigue got only murkier and more menacing from there. The next day after church, over a plate of roast beef at a buffet joint off the highway, conversation turned to the events of Sept. 11. Hutton flatly rejected that Al Qaeda hijackers had anything to do with the attacks. ''Anybody can put out a passenger list,'' he said.

So what happened? ''They were crashed by remote control,'' he replied.

He moved on to the Holocaust, dismissing historical accounts that six million Jews were exterminated. ''Go and ask an undertaker or the guy who operates the crematorium what it takes to get rid of a dead body,'' he said. ''It takes one liter of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, six million?''

The entire catastrophe was manufactured, said Hutton, as part of an arrangement between Hitler and ''financiers'' to move Jews out of Germany. Hitler ''had this deal where he was supposed to make it rough on them so they would all get out and migrate to Israel because they needed people there to fight the Arabs,'' he said.

Now this is just great. We have Mel Gibson, who doesn't believe that the Second Vatican Council, which amongst other things explicitely renounced the idea that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ, is a bad idea. We have Gibson making a film that will tell the "true story" (ie traditionalist view) about Christianity. We have a serious case of Holocaust denial in the family. (Admittedly we do not know what portion of his father's views are also held by Mel).

We have this not very reassuring reassurance.

Gibson was asked whether his account might particularly upset Jews. ''It may,'' he said. ''It's not meant to. I think it's meant to just tell the truth. I want to be as truthful as possible. But when you look at the reasons why Christ came, why he was crucified -- he died for all mankind and he suffered for all mankind. So that, really, anyone who transgresses has to look at their own part or look at their own culpability.''

and, as James Russell points out, we now have Jewish leaders who are slightly worried about what may be in the film. The film might end up being completely inoffensive for all I know, but I see why they are worried.

Hollywood will tolerate a lot from people whose movies make money. Scientology does not seem to be a problem, but like everywhere else, lines do actually exist. It is possible to go too far. One interpretation of everything above is the Mel Gibson is about to go too far. I have always considered Gibson closer to Tom Cruise then John Travolta: he does normally appear to know what he is doing with his career. But this sounds like it could potentially be career suicide, and conceivably completely deserved career suicide. Certainly if he shares some of the views that his father clearly holds, then goodbye would be good riddance.

Erratum: My readers point out that Battlefield Earth is actually not part of the the Mission Earth series. My mistake. Sorry.
An Astounding Game, and Perhaps a Turning Point in International Cricket

I described Australia v New Zealand today as potentially the match of the tournament. It has just finished, and I have no idea how to describe it. Although in the end the match was not close, the swings this game took were simply astounding. In a nutshell, Australia batting first were at one point 7/84. However, Australia ended up winning by 96 runs.

Australia batted first, and New Zealand pace bowler Shane Bond bowled an utterly superb spell, taking 6/23 off his ten overs, the best bowling in One Day internationals by a New Zealander. For Australia, Adam Gilchrist scored 18 before being given out to a clearly incorrect LBW decision, and Damien Martyn scored 31. Apart from that, the top order scored hardly any runs, and after 26.3 overs Australia were at 7/84 and faced apparently certain defeat. However, the one slight reason for hope was that the batsmen for Australia were Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel, who managed to save Australia from apparently certain defeat against England earlier in the tournament. And, impressively, they did it again, puting on 97 for the eighth wicket. Both were out with about one over to go, but Brett Lee then came in and hit sixes off the last two balls, taking Australia to 9/208 off their 50 overs. This was not an overwhelming score, but it was enough to give Australia a chance.

Fleming's captaincy may have let his side down a little today. He had one bowler who was bowling superbly, and the rest of his attack was so so. Bond was taking wickets, so Fleming let him bowl all his overs early on, in the hope that either Bond would get the whole Australian side out, or his other bowlers would be able to wrap up the Australian innings. As it happened, the other bowlers couldn't do it. Fleming kept changing his lesser bowlers around in an attempt to find someone who could finish things off, but it didn't happen. As it was, nobody really got their rhythm together, and the New Zealand team's lack of depth did ultimately show a little.

New Zealand hit fourteen runs off the first two overs of their innings, but then McGrath struck, taking the score to 2/14 and then 3/33. At that point Fleming and Cairns came together and for a little while the two hit a few quick runs, including one enormous six from Cairns. It probably wasn't the right strategy - slow and steady was - but Cairns played his natural game. However, Cairns mistimed a shot against Bichel and was caught at third man for 16. Fleming stayed in, and although Vincent got out, at 5/102 off 24 overs, New Zealand were behind, but still had a chance as long as Fleming could continue to stay in.

Bichel was getting a little wayward, so Ponting took him off and brought Brett Lee (who had been expensive earlier) back on. Lee was spectacular in the triangular series in Australia a month or so ago, but has been below par in this tournament. However, he chose now to find top form, producing one of his deadly, fast, and accurate spells. He removed Fleming, and then the last four wickets in very little time. He was at one point an a hat trick, and didn't get it but took three wickets in four balls and at one point took five wickets for three runs. New Zealand were all out for 112, and Australia won by 96 runs. This was one of the most astounding turnarounds in a game of cricket I have ever seen.

New Zealand's batting strategy was odd, at some points trying to score runs quickly and risking their wickets, and at other times not scoring runs at all, when what they needed was slow and steady. It was as if New Zealand relaxed when they had Australia 7/84 earlier, and didn't respond properly when Australia fought back into the game. Fleming is normally a great captain, but he wasn't impressive today. (On the other hand, he was the only New Zealand batsman who batted sensibly). Sri Lanka and New Zealand have both been badly beaten in the last two days. The further we go on, the more it looks like a final between Australia and India awaits us. What a game that is likely to be.

Australia are the best side in world cricket. Their past rivalries have largely been against England and the West Indies. Those two teams are a shadow of what they once were, with neither really being able to compete with the Australians any more. India the country is responsible for cricket being a major world sport. India have produce plenty of great players, but they have never quite got their act together to produce great cricket teams. However, given demographics, inevitably one thinks that they must. A great rivalry between India versus Australia in the years to come could turn into something tremendous. Just perhaps, we will look back on this World Cup being the moment that rivalry came to the fore. I hope so.

Monday, March 10, 2003

More Ranting in Other Places

I have another piece on Transport Blog, this one discussing the question of just why many types of transportation have three classes.
This Surely Means We Have Reached the Bottom of the Tech Market

Dave Winer reports that there are once again good parties happening in Silicon Valley. Possibly as a counterpoint to this theory, he has just left the valley after 23 years.
Cricket Update: India versus Sri Lanka, and an Idiotic Editorial in The Times.

In today's World Cup game, India destroyed Sri Lanka. India's batting was a bit like Australia's the other day against Sri Lanka. India came out of the blocks hard, their star opening batsman (Sachin Tendulkar) played beautifully but got out just before scoring a century (he got 97). India ended up with an excellent score (6/292 off 50 overs) but not as many as it looked like they might get a few overs before the end. Chasing this target, Sri Lanka collapsed pitifully, being all out for 109. India won by 184 runs. India have now definitely qualified for the semi-finals, along with Australia. Sri Lanka will still probably the semi finals if they can beat Zimbabwe (which they likely can). After their last two games, Sri Lanka do not look like serious contenders for the tournament. India and Australia remain the form sides, and look set to meet in the final, unless New Zealand can upset this. As an occasion, an Australia versus India final would be magnificent. We will get some more hints tomorrow on whether this will happen.

Sometimes I wonder how many people are reading my blow by blow World Cup coverage. I keep posting it because I feel like it, but I haven't had much feedback. (I am being much more nakedly partisan than I am when talking about anything else). Still, I have now covered 46 games, there are only another eight games to go. These are the important games and I am enjoying myself, so I shall keep it up until the end.

All that said, I need to comment on this idiotic editorial from the Times last week.

Not cricket
This year's World Cup has been badly organised

This year’s cricket World Cup was poorly conceived and badly administered. This is not written in a spirit of bitterness after England’s elimination.

Oh, absolutely not. As we know the English never feel that way. They just instead like to sneer at administrators who are not theirs. Which is odd, given what a bad job theirs generally do.

Indeed, the national team’s lacklustre departure is one of the few just things to have happened so far. If only the other outcomes had been as fair.

Oddly enough, I don't think this is true. England made a decision not to play in Zimbabwe. This cost them a place in the second round. They were lackluster in their group matches, but I think they did play well enough to deserve a Super Six place. Still, they would have been at best a marginal case, so I am not going to lose much sleep over their missing out.

An endless run-up to an endless competition with endless rows ends up with just three matches in which the winner takes it all and the loser goes home. The rest of the tournament is decided by complicated calculations or, as it turns out, by the weather.

Any tournament with semi finals and a final has three matches in which the winner takes all at the end. I don't know of anyone who has suggested any format for the world cup that did not include that.

This year there are 14 sides in the tournament, five more than in the classic World Cup of 1992. A cumbersome group structure has replaced the simplicity of that contest and it is taking 42 days to reach a conclusion.

1992: a tournament that at the time was widely derided as "The worst organised ever", in my opinion with plenty of justification. That tournament used a rain rule that was so ludicrous that the people responsible for it should have been shot. That said, the overall format of the tournament - a single round robin involving all teams followed by semi finals and then a final was pretty fair. However, it still had three games at the end that decided everything. And the application of the stupid rain rule in the England v South Africa semi final remains the single most ludicrous moment in World Cup History. (South Africa deserved unendingly to lose that particular match, but not in that way). On the other hand, England did make the final. The present format with the Super Six attempts to get as close as possible to that 1992 format while acknowledging that with 14 teams you cannot have everyone in the same group. (The Super Six attempts to eliminate the lesser sides, and then complete a round robin of all the good sides).

Sometimes the rules are so bizarre that a loss was more useful than a win.

I will agree that the situation choosing which of England, Pakistan and Zimbabwe would qualify was not ideal. However, this situation was created by England's default against Zimbabwe. If you do default matches, then it is going to count against you. Face it. (I actually do think that the situation that decides who qualifies in the event that two teams are even on points is much too complicated, and that simpler would be fairer). However, I think the subtlety of that argument (which I will make in detail on Michael Jennings extra later on) is beyond this guy.

The idealistic (at least in cricketing terms) but ill-advised decision to hold some games in Kenya and Zimbabwe added the further complication of increasing travel between games.

What it did was lead to a couple of defaults, which turned the outcome of Group B into a bit of a lottery. Next to that, the absence of reserve days was no big deal.

The complexity of the schedule led players to lobby the cup’s organisers to abandon any thought of extending or repeating games rained off on a particular day. The cricketers feared losing the opportunity to rest between matches and being forced to travel to a higher altitude on one day and play the next. Their lobbying was successful. This year’s World Cup began without any reserve days. In other words, when it rains during a match the game has been abandoned. A number did not start at all.

Yes, a number of matches did not start at all. That number was "zero". I agree that reserve days would have been a good idea. However, it wasn't so much rain abandoned or Duckworth Lewis decided matches that caused issues come qualification time. It was the England and New Zealand defaults. A little rain made things worse, but would have had little if any impact if the defaults had not happened. If the defaults had not happened, but everything else (including rain) remained the same, the table at the start of the Super Six would have been the following, which would have been completely uncontroversial.

Australia 12
India 8
New Zealand 8
Sri Lanka 7.5
West Indies 6.5
England 4

The World Cup has been badly damaged as a result. Sporting competitions often throw up surprising results, with heavily fancied teams departing early. There is nothing wrong with that. When it is the weather rather than sporting prowess doing the eliminating, however, it is much less satisfactory. The rain eliminated the West Indies,

The rain hurt the West Indies a little. The New Zealand default against Kenya hurt the West Indies a lot. The fact that the West Indies could not beat New Zealand or Sri Lanka hurt them more than either of these things.

forced to share points with a far weaker Bangladesh side; it frustrated Pakistan in their attempt to defeat Zimbabwe;

Yes, although the Pakistanis' inability to beat England, India, or Australia may have hurt them a bit too. And as for rain affected matches, Pakistan were the beneficiaries of a rain affected match in the "classic World Cup of 1992", when a rained out match gave them two points that allowed them to make the semi finals and ultimately win the tournament, so from their point of view, you win some you lose some.

and it knocked out South Africa,

South Africa lost to the West Indies and New Zealand because they played really badly. They then got a lifeline from the weather and the the New Zealand default to Kenya, which gave them a chance to make the next stage. They were then losing to Sri Lanka when the rain started. They then managed to boost their runrate due to a bit of hitting and due to five wides being conceded off one ball by a Sri Lankan bowler for whom bowling was being made harder by a wet ball. This almost allowed them to get ahead on Duckworth Lewis, but they failed to do this due to a miscalculation. Duckworth Lewis then concluded that on performance in the match so far, the two sides were even. To me this seemed a pretty fair conclusion. If South Africa had genuinely deserved to qualify, they would have been ahead in the match. It wasn't as if they were ahead and then rain suddenly spoiled the match for them. They were, on the whole, once again not playing very well.

held to a freak draw by Sri Lanka because they miscalculated how many runs the formula dictated that they needed for a win in an abandoned match.

It was a "tie", not a "draw". In cricket, the two things are different, which is known to anyone with basic knowledge of the game.

Poorer sides such as New Zealand, Kenya and Zimbabwe remain in the competition.

Over the past few years, New Zealand have been clearly the third or fourth best team in world cricket, in both types of the game. In this tournament, only Australia and India have played better than they have. Despite defaulting against Kenya, they still made the Super Six. The have suffered quite a bit due to the default (and may suffer more) but they are still there, due to playing much better than South Africa or the West Indies, both of who they beat. Comparing them to Kenya or Zimbabwe is simply ludicrous. Has this guy actually watched any of the cricket?

With Australia and India still playing there is still a chance of a satisfactory ending. Next time it should not be left to chance. There are not very many good cricketing nations. It must surely be possible to schedule the tournament properly to avoid this year’s fiasco happening again. With all the debate that took place about this year’s World Cup, the competition itself seems to have been forgotten.

There are one or two ways of fine tuning the format, but the big issue is that defaults need to be avoided. Regardless of the format, they will make a mess of things. If they had been avoided this year, nothing controversial would have happened. South Africa would have still been eliminated, because they deserved to be. However, calling for a boycott (as the Times did) and then compaining that the tournament has been messed up is perhaps a bit rich, given that the boycott is responsible.
Isn't Dropping Powerpoint Presentations from the Sky Prohibited by the Geneva Convention?

Here we have an interesting site (via Pejman Yousefzadeh) showing us the propaganda leaflets that the Americans are dropping on Iraq. This site is provided to us directly by US Central Command, and they have provided us with nice English language versions of the leaflets as well as Arabic. Besides illustrating that the Pentagon is apparently as enamoured with modern technology as is the corporate world, their content is pretty straight and to the point, a standard mixture of threat and reassurance. Besides lots of leaflets giving the frequencies of American propaganda radio, we have straightforward stuff about "Do not risk your life, and the lives of your comrades. Go home now and watch your children live, grow and prosper". (This is presumably if the poor bastards can do this without being shot by their commanding officers), the message that the Americans will only be attacking military targets and not civilians ("Coalition forces do not wish to harm the noble people of Iraq") combined with a pretty straightforward message that if you shoot at the Americans, you will really regret it. And if you are responsible in any way for the use of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, we will track you down personally with our scary all-seeing satellites, and you will really, really, really, really regret it.

And the production values of the leaflets has gone way up since World War One. I can imagine a few conversations.

"Hey, Abdul, this says that if we shoot at them, we will die".
"Yes, Saeed, and it is also clear that they have Microsoft Powerpoint and glossy four colour printing. These are clearly not people to be trifled with. Let's surrender at once".

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Japanese Mobile Phone Etiquette

This piece (via slashdot) on how social customs in Japan (particularly amongst young people) are evolving due to near ubiquitous mobile phone use is quite interesting. Amongst the customs discussed are the fact that members of social groups of younger people are contacting one another constantly throughout the day to keep in touch with what their friends are are thinking and doing. For doing this, text messaging is a much more important medium than voice. This is interesting, and is an aplication that the designers of cellphone networks did not anticipate. At all. The same thing has happened in Europe. (The greatest social sin that can be made is now to forget to bring your cellphone, or to allow its battery to run out).

Two other things are mentioned that I have also noticed. Firstly, people no longer have to arrange times and places to meet one another, but plans can be fluid and decisions are gradual rather than at once. Being late is no longer a cardinal sin, as long as you keep people informed about where you are and when you will (or will not) arrive. (I have certainly noticed this. It is probably the number one reason I have a mobile phone). Secondly, people are sending text messages before making a voice call, to check that it is a good time for a conversation. The telephone is a relatively intrusive technology, interrupting you from what you are doing and demanding attention. Sending a text message is much less intrusive, and doing this first is much more polite. (I do this myself, although typically only at times when I think there is a strong chance a voice call will be convenient, such as late at night or around meal times. At other times, I will just make the call). Here though is a situation where mobile phones are adding subtlety to etiquette rather than taking it away. Lots of people consider the mobile phone to be a technology that has increased crassness. This does not have to be so, and here is an example.

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