Saturday, April 05, 2003


It seems that racist populist Pauline Hanson may ultimately end up being elected to the New South Wales upper house. If this happens it means we we will be stuck with the vile woman being an MP for the next eight years. In addition to the criticisms I have made in the past to the electoral system in NSW (the Hare-Clarke electoral system doesn't work well for electorates of more than about 15 members) an additional valid criticism is that making preferential voting for Hare-Clarke optional (as is the case in NSW bit is not the case federally) makes things even worse, and has made things worse here. If full preferences were compulsory, Hanson would have no chance of being elected. I can explain why this is so on another occasion if anyone is desparate to know why, but the explanation is lengthy and arcane. Loosely, though, to be elected a candidate requires a quota of votes. If preferences are optional, some votes will be exhausted and will not count in the final analysis when the last few people to be elected are getting elected. This reduces the number of votes that the last few people to be elected need. The integrity of the Hare-Clarke system requires that every vote count in the final analysis, and it becomes seriously skewed if they are not. (Yes, this is horribly hand waving. Sorry).
Take me to ludicrous speed

It seems that the RIAA is attempting to sue a student at Michigan Technological University for $97.8 trillion in damages for file sharing. Great. (Link via slashdot).

RIAA senior vice president for business and legal affairs Matthew Oppenheim said the suits are intended to send a clear message to anyone running these types of services that punishment will be swift and severe.

Experts say they worry that the students, who are unlikely to actually have to pay those soaring sums, won't always be the sole targets of the RIAA's notoriously aggressive copyright defenses.

I glad to hear that. Might I compliment the journalist on his masterful use of the word "unlikely". (Personally, when I was a student I very seldom had a hundred trillion dollars to spare).
Paris here is full of Frenchmen

Michael Jennings
is a
Lemon-Eating Circus Monkey

...with a Battle Rating of 4.2

To see if your Food-Eating Battle Monkey can
defeat Michael Jennings, enter your name:

Thanks to Stephen Karlson (whose permalinks have been screwed by Blogger).
This is terrible

I must join Virginia Postrel in expressing great regret about the fact that Atlantic Monthly editor at large Michael Kelly has been killed in Iraq. All the usual observations about his bravery need to be said, and sincere condolences to his family are appropriate. However, I must simply observe that the Atlantic is the magazine I look forward each month to reading more than any other. As editor in chief for several years, I think Kelly turned it into the best and most intelligent magazine in the English speaking world. It seems that Kelly was someone who got bored spending too long in an office and felt the need to go out and actually be a reporter. This was admirable, but he paid the ultimate price for it. As somebody who enjoys good journalism, I will miss him.

Update:Andrew Sullivan has an appreciation of Kelly in Salon. Personally, I think I read somewhere yesterday that "Journalist Michael Kelly was killed in Iraq" but it didn't sink in. It is only today that I saw it again and thought "That Michael Kelly". I will confess I hadn't been aware he was in Iraq. That's what comes from following the war mostly in the British rather than the American press.
Paul Explains Lennon-McCartney vs. McCartney-Lennon

Paul, there is no need to be so insecure. We are already aware that you wrote Yesterday and Hey, Jude (and a great many others). This just looks petty.
Well, I now know how to write my name in Czech

It's Michaela Jenningse. I have actually wondered why people in that part of the world add suffixes to the names of people from some other countries. I saw this looking at movie posters when travelling around the region a few years ago. (Julia Robertsova or similar). Do names have to end with vowels? Perhaps somebody reading this knows the answer.
Paranoia watch

One way in which Paris has changed is that they now have a few soldiers with machine guns wandering around under the Eiffel tower. I suppose that is the obvious terrorist target in the city, but I wonder when they started that practice.

Friday, April 04, 2003


I was last in Paris in 1994, and I have spent today wandering around the city. I am struck by how little the city seems to have changed in nine years. It feels much the same, whereas London in that time has changed immensely. At this point in history, London is by far the more vibrant of the two cities. (Admittedly, some of the things that have changed about London - for instance good coffee and good beer are much more widely available - were never an issue in Paris in the first place). Paris feels beautiful, but a little stuck. After walking my legs off today, I have to figure out what I am doing from tomorrow to Monday. I rather feel like looking at great art, and I am certainly in the right place to do that. Plus I am going to spend one day doing something tourists in Paris never do, and getting the Transilien out of the city and into the banlieu. Some claim that the ruin of civilization is in the rings of suburbs around the cities of France. I need to see for myself.

Of all the six thousand or so human languages that I don't know, I have to confess that French is the one I would most like to know. Knowing it wouldn't be as useful as Spanish, or Mandarin, or even probably Russian or Japanese, but somehow knowing French would make me feel better. Perhaps it is because French is the language of eating and drinking, and I enjoy both of those things a great deal. Perhaps I have actually managed to absorb some of the French propaganda that theirs is the language of civilization. (There's a terrible thought).
Under the water

I am in Paris. Oddly, I haven't been here since 1994, although physically the place doesn't appear to have changed much. The train from Waterloo to Gare du Nord the channel tunnel really does make getting to Paris extremely easym though. I am presently just across the road from the Pompidou Centre, a building that I discover that I like rather more than I did ten years ago. Part of that may be that the French has spent a large sum of money cleaning the building up, and the building now looks brand new, whereas a decade ago it looked rather run down. Another thing is that I think the building may really be a crucial building in the evolution of urban architecture, something I didn't have the education to appreciate a decade ago. More on this later.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

The two key driving technologies of the tech boom

The first cellular phone call was made 30 years ago today. (Link via slashdot). The first PC was the Altair, first produced in 1975. Interestingly enough, the two technologies had very different groups of early adopters, but companies supporting both technologies grew at double digit rates for the next 25 years. Both technologies hit the mainstream in the 1980s, and approached ubitquity in the 1990s. Companies supporting both technologies were valued at high multiples throughout the 1980s due to being growth industries. However, when the markets for the technologies started to show maturity, the multiples went up and everything went slowly insane. Suddenly though, investors were faced with the realisation that the industries producing both were not only going to not grow faster than before, but were in fact mature. Both products had suddenly become commoditised, barriers to entry were very low, and prices were dropping dramatically. And here we are.

The fact that both industries, athough driven by different companies in at least initially unconnected markets, went thrrough life cycles that almost exactly paralleled one another in terms of time, is interesting, if nothing else.
An anniversary of sorts

This blog is one year old (although I did not take it very seriously, or indeed have any readers, for the first six months or so). How did that happen?

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

I knew him, Horatio

This memorial is in a cemetery in a beautiful location overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Wombarra, south of Sydney, close to where I grew up. Scott Lysaght was someone I used to know well. We went to primary school together. We were in the scouts together. We were at university together. He was murdered by terrorists in Bali last October.
There is possibly nothing more fascinating that the modern study of genetics

If you look at certain sections of the DNA human beings, and then record the variation in the frequencies of particular gene patterns over wide areas of Eurasia, it is possible to see clear variations depending on where you are, but it is hard to find patterns. However, if you use a mathematical technique called principal components analysis (PCA) to filter the data, patterns become much clearer. Loosely, what PCA does is attempt to take the complex patterns on the initial map, and figure out what is the simplest way to generate the complex patterns as the sum of five or six simple patters.

Once the PCA analysis done, you are left with is a series of five or six contour maps, each representing one of the simple patterns that can be added together the generate the complex pattern.

This work was initially done by the Stanford based team of Italian geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. Having got these maps, the results were quite extraordinary. One of them was found to correspond very closely to the arrival of cereals in Europe as shown by radiocarbon dating. Another spread out through Europe from an area north of the Caucasus and the Black and Caspian Seas, and appears to show the origins of whoever brought the Indo-European language family to Europe. Yet another is centered on the Basque country of northern Spain and southern France, which is very interesting given that this area is unique in genetic and linguistic terms.

It seems clear that the principal components of the genetic data show the invasions of Europe by various groups of people over the last ten to twenty thousand years. That is right: by looking at people's genes, you can figure out a great deal about just how mankind spread throughout the world.

Looking at Asia rather than Europe, similar analysis shows for instance that Pacific Island people originated in Taiwan. Very reassuringly, linguistic evidence from the analysis of various human languages shows much the same thing. Similar analysis shows the spread of various ethnic groups throughout Africa as well.

This is fascinating stuff, and is really remarkable. Cavalli-Sforza covers it all quite well in his book Genes, Peoples, and Languages, which I thoroughly recommend. The book also contains the actual pictures I have described here but have not been able to show. I would scan a couple of them, but my copy of the book is (unfortunately) in Australia.

This article from the Guardian by Professor Johnjoe McFadden of the University of Surrey (via aldaily attempts to summarise some of the results that have been derived from this type of analysis, but in my mind does not do so very successfully. It has a strange, rather clipped quality, and it manages to give us a pot pourri of results but goes through its argument so fast that one almost feels the author initially wrote something twice the length and then had it chopped in half by his editor.

Plus, it makes one very misleading statement at the start. Specifically

Rebecca Cann, of the University of California at Berkeley, was one of the first to use DNA to uncover the past. In 1987 she examined the mitochondrial genes we inherit from our mothers and showed that our female line can be traced back to a single woman who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago, a "mitochondrial Eve". Fossil evidence for modern humans goes back at least 500,000 years so it seems that humanity went through a severe bottleneck when this Eve was alive - it remains a mystery why of all the females who inhabited the globe at that time, she was the only one to leave modern descendants.

Mitochondria is passed from the mother to the child. Therefore, you have the same mitochondria as your mother, your maternal grandmother, your maternal grandmother's mother et cetera, going up the female line. Whereas most DNA comes equally from the mother and the father, and varies from parents to children through sexual combination, mitochondria is simply passed from mother to child. The only changes are due to mutation. Because of this, mitochondria changes more slowly over time than other human DNA, and it is therefore of particular interest to geneticists

If the mitochondria of everyone in the world is studied, it can fairly quickly be shown that the mitochondria of everyone in the world has a common ancestor about 200000 years ago. What this means is that if you go back along the female line from everyone in the world to this time 200000 years ago, then you always get to the same person. Everyone in the world is descended along the female line from this one person. When Rebecca Cann, of the University of California at Berkeley, made this discovery in 1987, this ancestor was nicknamed "Eve", which is unfortunate, because the biblical Eve was supposedly the only woman in the world. The mitochondrial Eve was not like this. At the time she lived, there were lots of women in the world, and every person in the world today is descended from almost all of them. However, not down a direct female line. The paths by which you and I are descended from all the other women in the world at that time are not strictly female lines, but involve a mixture of men and women along the way. Rather then being descended via your mother's mother's mother, you might be descended by your mother's father's mother. It is not true that "of all the females who inhabited the globe at that time, she was the only one to leave modern descendants". It is only true that she was the only one to leave modern descendents by a direct female line. (I again tend to think an editor of the Guardian might have shortened what was originally written without really understanding it).

And, if you look at the mathematics of breeding, then this is not surprising. If you look statistical patterns of people mating over hundreds of thousands of years, you find that in fact it is certain that all the female lines will intersect at some point. Dr Cann's research was impressive, but what she did was pin down when the female lines diverged. Everybody knew already that it happened at some point.

Update: Coincidentally, today is the fiftieth anniversary of Watson and Crick's paper on the structure of DNA. The amount that has been achieved in the 50 years since its publication is simply mindblowing. (Link via slashdot).
War and the internet

This article talks about the problems of troops at war now having e-mail. Essentially there are three

(1) The e-mail is sent over the same unencrypted networks used by everyone else, and it isn't secure. If it contains sensitive information, it may be subject to interception

(2) If soldiers send sensitive information to their friends and families, then the information might get passed on by the families and ultimately work its way back to the enemy. A particular problem occurs when soldiers send photographs that may show identifiable geographical features in the background, so giving away the location of the troops.

(3) Spouses and parents get used to hearing very regularly from Johnny at the front. If they don't hear from him for a day or two, they get terribly worried.

The article concludes by saying

This surely is the first war with a website for each service branch. Surely an outfit capable of such powerful sites can find a way to provide secure email accounts for the men and women who are the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

Solving number (1) is trivial. I could have a system providing e-mail that is "secure" by tomorrow afternoon, in the sense of having the mail encrypted, so that people who intercept it would have no chance of being able to read this. The reason this is simple is that this facility is so easy to provide that it is built into at least some commonly available e-mail software. I would have to provide a certificate authority to issue and keep track of valid encryption keys, but this isn't hard. (I have done this before). However, I doubt it would help much, as the real problem is (2). The recipient of the e-mail has to be able to decrypt it, and once they have seen what is in it, they might well show it to someone else.

This, however, is not a new problem. The only solution is to tell soldiers not to put sensitive information in their e-mail in the first place, and to tell recipients to be careful who they show the e-mail to. The internet allows information to be distributed widely and quickly in a way that previous technology didn't, but the simple volume of e-mail being sent also would make it hard for the enemy to figure out what is important and what isn't. Really this is the same problem that has traditionally been dealt with with large posters saying "Careless talk costs lives".

As for (3), I face a similar problem myself. I have spent a good portion of my adult life outside Australia. When this first happened in 1991, I had access to e-mail myself, but my non-technical friends and my family did not. Thus, my parents would often not hear from me for weeks or even months. While I suspect they didn't like this very much, they got used to it. Now, with e-mail, they start to get worried if they haven't heard from me for more than a couple of days. (Actually, I suspect that the presence of this weblog helps somewhat. If I have posted something, my friends and family are at least aware that I have not walked in front of a bus). I wonder if Lt Smash's parents feel the same way. (Obviously, though, I am not fighting in a war, so the degree of worry is different).

Comment: This article was posted with a couple of HTML errors. I was unable to fix them for a time because blogger was down. Sorry.
Cricket Blogging

I have barely mentioned the game of cricket since the end of the World Cup, because it has been a relatively quiet time in international cricket. Since the end of that tournament there have been various things going on with series being scheduled and cancelled, captains and coaches sacked and appointed and the like, but there has been no international cricket. I haven't reported on the comings and goings because I was rather cricketed out.

However, things are about to change, as a one day tournament will start in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates tomorrow, another tournament in Bangladesh in a week, and the test series between Australia and the West Indies in a week. This is fairly typical, as at most times there is international cricket going on at various places in the world, a lot of it consisting of fairly meaningless (but profitable) one day tournaments. (Australia participates in relatively few tournaments like this, because Australian cricket does not need the money. Traditionally England has participated in relatively few such tournaments for the same reason, but England cricket is having a financial crisis, so we may see them participate in a few more).

Of the three events mentioned, Australia versus West Indies is a big deal, and because of that and because Australia are participating, I will be covering it in a reasonable amount of detail. (Scott Wickstein is already covering the leadup to the series over at Ubersportingpundit). If anything extraordinary happens in the other tournaments, I will be mentioning that, too.

One nice thing that did come out of that tournament was quite unexpected to me though, which was that it made my audience more international rather than less. I had expected that my cricket discussions would only be read by Australians and the odd Englishmen, but as it happened by the end I had readers from New Zealand, India, South Africa and probably other places as well. For that reason, when I cover cricket here I will continue to give it as international focus as possible. Certainly I will continue to be biased towards Australia, but I will still cover world cricket in general.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Let's make fun of The Matrix some more

I have just found the Irritatingly Stupid Movie Physics site. I have long been annoyed by irritatingly stupid movie physics, mainly because most filmmakers simply don't seem to care. If breaking the laws of physics is necessary to get the plot of the movie to work, then okay. However, most bad movie physics is simple carelessness. The filmmakers don't know any science, and they do not think their audience will either, so they just get it wrong.

As a fun example, this site is critical of the whole "human batteries" idea that supports the plot of The Matrix. They make essentially the same criticisms that I have made, but they come up with a much better simile than anything I managed.

To cover itself, the movie throws in a quick mention that the human energy source powering the machines is combined with a source of fusion. This is like getting on a 747 and having the captain explain in great detail that the plane is rubber band powered, then add that it also has four jet engines.
Things to obtain when I get a job

(1) Broadband.

(2) A new laptop, this one with WiFi, Ethernet, and a DVD-ROM drive.

(3) A nicer and fancier digital camera than the cheap but nearly useless one I have at the moment.

(4) A bottom end Pentax SLR (film) camera body, but with autofocus. (I am still using a manual focus SLR. Scary).

(4) Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD.

(5) A home cinema receiver with Dolby AC-3 EX, DTS ES, and a big subwoofer to get revenge on one of my neighbours.

(6) A 32 inch Toshiba wide screen television, to be superceded by a large flat-panel display of some sort when, in a couple of years, I decide that the technology is "mature".

(7) A Moveable Type based website. Blogger has again been dreadful today.

By the lord Almighty that is a geeky list. Okay then.

(8) Miranda Otto. (She's married? Damn).
Demographics and forces of history

Discussing an article by Edward Luttwak from the Telegraph, Patrick Crozier comments

He makes the point that the reason we can't bear casualties is because with the decline in the birth rate, nowadays families typically only have one male child. But if that is true and it is also true that Third World (including Arab) birth rates are declining then doesn't that tend to imply that the urge to war will come to an end through entirely natural processes? In other words, the current war is no more than a cork bobbing up and down on a demographic tide.

Sometimes, when I am in one of my darker moods I wonder if all this banging on about politics (with the aim of changing things) isn't all a complete waste of time and that politics is controlled by far deeper cultural forces over which we have absolutely no control.

I think that the problem to some extent is that Arab birth rates are not declining, at least not in the way that birth rates are declining in the rest of the world.

An economist I used to work with had a tendency to wrote overviews of the world economy starting with sentences like. "The 21st century economy will be driven by productivity and demographics". He was making a joke, because everything is driven by productivity and demographics. Certainly there is a demographic factor central to the problems of the Middle East are about productivity and demographics. You have a high a birth rate no productive economic use for all the people. Bingo, you have lots of young men with a sense of grievance and nothing to do, and you get things like terrorism. Mixed in with this, you actually do have money in these countries, due to the presence of oil, which means that the grievances in these countries are magnified and affect the rest of the world.

However, this is obviously not the whole story, and the key words in the sentence in suggesting this are "no productive economic use". There is a different pattern that occurs in some other parts of the world, which is that you have population growth, economic uses are found for all the additional people, their human capital is useful, and the consequence of the higher birth rate is a rise in general prosperity and in extreme cases a poor country becomes a rich one. Then the birth rate slows down, but the country is none the less much richer than it was before. Extreme examples of this can be seen in places like Taiwan and South Korea, but less extreme versions (at various stages of development) can be seen in China, India, much of the rest of Asia, and in parts of Latin America. The question really is more why some countries are so much better at using their human capital than others.

Where this pattern has not occurred is in Africa and the Middle East. Some of the blame in the Middle East I think goes to the presence of oil, which has brought wealth without economies that are sophisticated enough to cope with it. Worse, it has brought wealth without economic growth and without the dramatic decline in birth rates, meaning that if the population grows further then everyone gets poorer. In sub-saharan Africa, we have corrupt disfunctional post-colonial states which haven't even got started in terms of building economies that can use their human capital properly. Plus, we have the AIDS crisis, which has completely destroyed the demographic profiles of these countries by killing many of the young and healthy. Even if you could get everything else in these countries right, their very distorted demographic profiles would retard their growth dramatically.
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

March was a record month. It will be interesting to see if I can keep this up in April. No, I am not the professor.

Actully, though, when I frame it as "Instupundit has 700 times as many readers as I do", that number 700 doesn't seem that large. I make a much bigger impact than just some guy sitting at home could do in any earlier medium. 700 people like me get as many visits as Instapundit. And there are a lot more than 700 people like me out there. If you look at it that way, it actually seems likely that in the blogosphere it is the small bloggers and not the big ones who in the end get most of the hits. (This is going to be very dependent on how you define a blog, obviously).

Monday, March 31, 2003

I suppose things could be worse

I could be named Saddam Hussein. (Via Glenn Reynolds).
Watch Hollywood screw up the classics of sf, part 765

I see that Bridget Moynahan has been cast in the film of Isaac Asimov's I. Robot, as "a psychologist specializing in robot minds". This seems clearly to be the character of Dr Susan Calvin, who is actually the most important character in Asimov's book, although it sounds like she is playing second fiddle to another character played by Will Smith in the movie. This profoundly disappoints me.

Why? Well the character of Dr Susan Calvin in the book is, shall we say, rather severe. She is someone who does not see herself as being sexually attractive and who instead chooses to be intellectually formidable, and who at least tries to convince other people of the fact that she is interested in robots than people. (The irony is that this of course makes her more human rather than less). It is not necessary to cast someone unattractive in the part, but the role must be played without a hint of glamour of any kind. And casting a young and conventionaly pretty female star in the movie (even one like Moynahan who actually can act) is completely wrong. I can't imagine her being able to play correctly the intellectual fearsomeness that is inherent in the character. I would rather someone older, and with more interesting looks. (Thinking about it, I am rather hit by the idea that Meryl Streep could be great in the part. Emily Watson, too, for that matter). I suppose, though, that complaining that Hollywood casts young and attractive actresses in female roles is missing the point of Hollywood entirely. I just really wish that they don't mess this one up.

As I have commented before, I greatly like the work of Alex Proyas, who is making the I. Robot film. However, I have seen Hollywood rip out the emotional heart of one previous Asimov work, due to the story either being too subtle for the filmmakers to understand or too subtle for what they thought their viewers were going to want to watch, and I really don't want to see this happen again.
English as she is spoke

I must applaud this piece in the (Canadian) National Post, which attacks language purists. The problem with language purists is that there are no pure languages. Languages are constantly evolving, inventing new words, adopting new words from elsewhere, undergoing vowel shifts, and you name it. Plus, there is no such thing as a "correct" version of a language either, but merely a collection of dialects, all of which are linguistically equal. (That is not to say that there are not "standard" versions of languages- clearly there are, and clearly it is necessary to be able to read and speak these - but there is nothing innately better about these standards. They have just, generally, become standard through some historical accident). Particularly good:

But worst of all is the constant abuse that is hurled at the non-standard English of blacks and other groups, as when an old Mississippi Delta blues singer howls, "I can't get no lovin'." That's a double negative, bullies say, so it's wrong. But is this really so far off regular usage? Consider how "any," "even," and "at all" function in the following sentences:

I didn't buy any lottery tickets. I didn't do any work at all today. I didn't see even a single bird.

By themselves, these phrases don't contribute to the sentences' meaning, as illustrated by the fact that you can't use them alone:

I bought any lottery tickets. I worked at all today. I saw even a single bird.

As linguist Steven Pinker writes, "What these words are doing is exactly what 'no' is doing in nonstandard English, such as in the equivalent 'I didn't buy no lottery tickets' -- agreeing with the negated verb. The slim difference is that non-standard English co-opted the word 'no' as the agreement element whereas standard English co-opted the word 'any.' "

I will add that I find people who criticise non-standard variants of English as "lazy" particulary irritating. The slurring of vowels (for instance) isn't lazy, it is just how languages evolve. Modern English is essentially Middle English with slurred vowels (and additional grammatical structure added on to it to ensure that any meaning lost in the slurring of the vowels is added back on somewhere else). John McWhorter makes this kind of point (and many others) very effectively (and amusingly) in The Power of Babel, which I am reading at the moment.It's well worth a read.

The most annoying thing about language bullies is that they are generally so ignorant. To be a language bully, you more or less have to be. If you learn how the grammatical structure of English evolved, and just where it imported its vocabulary from, and why the plurals of different words are constructed the way they are, and why different verbs are conjugated the way they are, and so forth, then it's fairly hard to still be an inflexible pedant at the end of it.

This is not to say that there isn't good and bad English. It is possible to write English that is verbose, convoluted, and hard to understand. And it is possible to write English that is simple, elegant (or even beautiful) and easy to understand. However, it isn't pedantry about usage rules that makes for one or the other. It is more complex than that.
Insane Bearded New Zealander watch

In 1994, New Zealander Peter Jackson released the movie Heavenly Creatures, which told the story of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme (played by Kate Winslet in her first film role), the two teenage girls who caused an enormous storm in the New Zealand of the 19?0s by murdering the mother of one of the girls. This was a turnaround for Jackson, who previously had made a couple of wild "splatter movies": the sort of thing based on filming him and his friends running around waving axes at each other and covering one another with tomato sauce. (Actually, given the simultaneously grotesque and very funny fantasy sequences the film contained, it perhaps wasn't as great a turnaround as it initially appeared). In any event, Heavenly Creatures was an extraordinary piece of work, and it won prizes at festivals, received superb reviews, and gained Jackson his first Academy Award nomination (for Best Original Screenplay). It also gained Jackson the notice of Hollywood. On the back of this, he got two projects underway at Universal. The first was a light horror movie called The Frighteners starring Michael J Fox. The second was Jackson's dream project, a remake of King Kong at Universal. The original 1933 King Kong was and is Peter Jackson's favourite movie, the movie that he claims inspired him as a child to want to be a filmmaker. Universal agreed to let Jackson make the films in New Zealand, using his own production company and his own special effects house.

In reality, with The Frighteners was Universal giving Jackson a little bit of a test. He would make a small film for them first, and if this was a success he would then get the chance to go on with the big budget remake of one of the studio's most famous movies. And, sadly, The Frighteners was not a great success. Jackson pulled everything off from a technical point of view, but the film didn't find an audience and it lost money. At that point, Universal pulled the plug on the King Kong remake, and Peter Jackson went off to make other movies elsewhere.

And, of course, as I and many other people have documented, Jackson did eventually get someone else to give him large sums of money to produce big budget blockbusters: Bob Shaye at New Line eventually hired him to make The Lord of the Rings. And, of course, saying that these movies have been a triumph would be something of an understatement.

Since the success of The Lord of the Rings there has been some speculation as to what Jackson would do next. Some directors (Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron) will be so intimidated by a huge success that they will wait a very long time before making anything else. It didn't look like Jackson would fall into this category. Given the success of The Lord of the Rings, Jackson could now do pretty much anything he wanted, and there there was speculation that Jackson would go back to Universal and attempt to unfreeze the King Kong project. And today, it was announced that this has in fact happened. Universal have announced that Jackson will be directing King Kong, and it will be released in summer 2005. (Harry Knowles has some more background at Aint it Cool News). The interesting thing is that it is once again emphasized that although Jackson has enjoyed making The Lord of the Rings, it is King Kong that he really wanted to make.

It would be interesting to know what the recent negotiations between Universal and Jackson were like. Whereas last time Universal basically fired Jackson, he is now Peter Jackson so he must have been treated rather differently. (I do not know whether any of the executives at Universal were the same. Barry Diller has had so many comings, goings, and returnings at that studio that it is hard to keep track). I would imagine though that this time round, Jackson's agents drove a very hard bargain from a financial point of view. Whoever is going to make money from it, I can't wait to see it.
Naval Dolphin Update

I see that not only are they not Australian dolphins, but the Australian divers working with them are not especially impressed

AUSTRALIAN military divers yesterday questioned the effectiveness of the US Navy's mine-clearing dolphins, revealing one had disappeared for two days.

The polite way to express their scepticism about the mine-clearing skills of the dolphins is to question their reliability and cost-efficiency, but one diver spoke more plainly yesterday.

"Flipper's f----ed, mate," he said.

"The dolphins have had all this amazing publicity but as soon as they put one in the water it shot through. There's a war going on and Flipper goes AWOL (absent without leave)."

I do see though that Tacoma (Takoma?) has returned. I suspect Petty Officer Whitaker is relieved.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Giant Virus Discovered in Water Tower

I just love that headline. It makes it sound like the virus was the size of a shark (or maybe a giant squid) and someone saw it swimming around.
Wallow in it all you like, Brian

Brian Micklethwait applauds the England rugby team's grand slam.He is welcome to enjoy it. England clearly have an excellent rugby team. He also wonders whether Saddam Hussein is a rugby fan.

I have never seen anything about Arab fanatics being rugby people, actually. (This is probably a good thing, because the thought of an al Qaeda rugby dinner for some reason frightens me). They tend to go for football. Osama bin Laden is (or, hopefully, was) an Arsenal supporter, and Manchester United appear to be particularly popular with Palestinian suicide bombers (scroll to the very end of the article for a bizarre couple of last paragraphs). Given the enthusiasm with which young Uday has had the Iraqi national team tortured, I would assume the Hussein family are (or, again hopefully, were) also football people. I don't know what team they support, though. Probably some woosy club like Newcastle.
Hitchcock's last film?

Screenwriter Larry Cohen has an article in the Los Angeles Times, discussing the long saga leading to his screenplay "Phone Booth" finally being made into a movie. This has for some years been one of those scripts with a reputation for being "the best script in Hollywood that hasn't actually been made into a movie", and I have been following its saga for a few years, as a variety of directors and stars have looked like making it. (It eventually ended up being made with Colin Farrell starring and Joel Schumacher directing, and is being released this week). What I did not know was that the film, which is set entirely in a phonebooth, was originally pitched to Alfred Hitchcock, but that Hitchcock had died before Cohen was anywhere near completing the script. (Hitchcock was apparently very keen on the idea, however).

One story that I had heard, but which I had thought was apocryphal, turns out to be true. Action director Michael Bay (Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbour) was at one point hired to direct the movie, and soon after this happened he called for a rewrite of the script, asking "How do we get this thing out of the phone booth?". He apparently wasn't attached to the movie for long after this.

From what I have heard, the movie is really good. Schumacher has made a few bad films, but is a perfectly capable director and has apparently has hit the mark with this one. (I suppose I should make the obvious point that a good script is at least as important as a good director). I am looking forward to seeing it. It's a good thing they have made it now, because I am not sure there will be many phone booths in five years time. Perhaps I should look at them as a remnant of that cold war world of Organisation Men, IBM, and AT&T in which Hitchcock's films worked so well.

Amusingly, screenwriter Cohen appears to have recognised this change in the world. His next movie to go into production is called Cellular. This apparently has a very similar plot (someone unexpectedly receives a phone call, and must stay on the phone to prevent something terrible happen) but in this case the consequences are played out with the phone being received on a cellular phone. Obviously this means that the location isn't fixed, so we get a very different movie).

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