Saturday, July 19, 2003

Things continue to go as expected, but Bangladesh none the less play better

My prediction of Steve Waugh's tactics turned out to be pretty much spot on. Australia did indeed declare about an hour after tea with a score of 400-450. (The score in fact was 407). However, the rest of day two turned out to be pretty good. Lehmann and Langer continued where they had left off the previous evening, and then batted for about another hour before Langer was out for 71. After than, Steve Waugh joined Lehmann, and Lehmann brought up his second test century before being out caught off Mashrafe Mortaza for 110. Martin Love then managed to get bowled first ball, again by Mashrafe Mortaza. This was no doubt a highlight for Mortaza and Bangladesh. After that Gilchrist joined Waugh and scored a quickfire 43 off 47 balls, before being bowled by Manjural Islam. Australia were 6/313 and had a good lead already, but the game was not as one sided as some people had predicted it would be. Bangladesh were taking wickets, and had some chance of bowling Australia out. However, Steve Waugh was still there, and he is an expert at extending the innings in these sorts of situations. Plus, Australia's tail can bat quite well, and as it happened Brett Lee (who scored 23) and Jason Gillespie (16 not out) had no trouble staying with Waugh.

Waugh brought up his century and immediately declared the innings closed, on 7/407, a first innings lead of 310. This was Waugh's 31st test century, which is a very impressive number by any standards. Given the difficulty he had scoring test centuries early in his career (and his associated tendency to get out in the 90s) the number really shows how well he has played over the last decade. The innings also made Waugh the first Australian to score test centuries against nine different opponents, and only the second player in the world (after Gary Kirsten of South Africa) to do this. Plus, it boosted Waugh's average back over the 50 mark, to 50.31. If Waugh wanted to retire now, that would look nice in the record books. (Of course, he has recently stated he wants to play for another year, and given his recent form he may well do so).

As far as the Australian innings is concerned, once again it's worth mentioning that it was the players who have not played every match over the last year who scored the runs: Langer, Waugh, Lehmann. Those who have suffered the year long grind (and who have undoubtedly spent the last month resting) were a little more subdued. (The exception to this rule is Love, who has played relatively few games for Australia but failed anyway). My suspicion is we may see more from Hayden, Ponting, and Gilchrist in the second test.

In any event, Bangladesh had to face 15 overs before the end of the day in their second innings. They lost Javed Omar to McGrath in the third over, and another collapse looked quite possible. However, it didn't happen. Hannan Sarkar and Habibul Bashar batted aggressively and well for the rest of the day, taking the score to 1/70 at stumps, a runrate of 4.67. Bangladesh are going to lose this game, but their aim must be to avoid an innings defeat. For this, they require another 240 runs. This is going to be hard, but hopefully they can give it a shot on day three.

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that Sri Lanka will be playing Australia in Darwin and Cairns in a year's time. That should be fun. I must find an excuse to be there.
I actually think that censoring things is generally more harmful to children than not censoring things

What rating is your journal?

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Actually, that quiz didn't seem to have a "most pictures I post are of non-human objects" page, unfortunately.

Friday, July 18, 2003

The expected happens

Day one of the Bangladesh v Australia test in Darwin went exactly as expected. That is, the game so far is a mismatch.

Australia won the toss and send Bangladesh in, and there is not a lot that can be said about their innings. The Australian bowlers were too good for them and they were bowled out for 97. As is almost always the case in this kind of mismatch, the bowling and the wickets were shared around. McGrath and Lee got three each, McGill and Gillespie two each. The score was perhaps reduced a little by an extremely slow outfield, and the pitch apparently wasn't the easiest ever seen, but I didn't see any of the cricket so I don't know the details.

Australia then batted, and they lost two wickets early: Hayden for 11 and Ponting for 10. However, Langer and Lehmann then stayed in, and at stumps the score was 2/121, with Lehmann on 51 and Langer on 40. Langer was lucky not to be run out at one point, but that is Langer for you. He is always lucky.

It was interesting (although perhaps not unexpected) that the two players who probably spent the most time in the middle during Australia's immense 10 month campaign (Hayden and Ponting) were out cheaply, and the test specialist (Langer) and middle order batsman who spent some of the campaign injured (Lehmann) scored the runs. It may be that these two actually did some practising before this match, whereas for Ponting and Hayden it was probably "A month off. Thank the Almighty for that".

It was also interesting that Australia scored runs at less than 3 an over (127 off 45, or 2.82). As mentioned above, the outfield was extremely slow and the pitch a little tricky, but the bowling was certainly nothing special. Australia like to score at least 100 runs a session: that normally corresponds to 3.33 runs an over. I think part of this may again be that the players are a bit underdone.

Where does the game go from here? Australia could probably finish the game on day 2 if they tried. They could take their score to 300 or so half an hour or so before tea, declare, and then have something like 45-50 overs to bowl Bangladesh out a second time, remembering that an extra 8 overs may be added to the day if "a result is imminent". However, I don't think they will. I am guessing Australia will bat until about an hour after tea, and score around 400-450 before the declaration. It all depends on how aggressive Steve Waugh wants to be, and whether he wants to give his batsmen (and himself) a longer chance to get some fairly easy runs.

Thursday, July 17, 2003


I have a piece on stupid security checks and how to deal with them at The White Rose, and a few thoughts on the team selection for the first Australia v Bangladesh test at ubersportingpundit. I always find that there is something quite comforting about the Australian cricket team being in action, even in a minor series about this one. It just makes me feel that the world is a slightly better place. (Yes, I know this is silly).

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

More on Argentinian Malbec

For some reason when I talk about beer I seem to get more comments than when I talk about wine. I don't know why that is. In any event, in Sainsburys today I found another Argentinian Malbec, this one from Bodega Norton in Mendoza. The bottle has quite a fancy label of a couple dancing the tango, which appears to move when you look at it from a different direction, which would suggest to me that this winemaker is very keen on the idea of exports. This slightly frivolous touch was almost enough to put me off buying the wine, as they are clearly aiming at casual supermarket buyers rather than pretentious gits like myself.

However, I bought it anyway. Its was a five pound bottle of wine rather than a four pound bottle (as was the last one) and I think its slightly higher price was relected in the quality. Still not much of a nose (although what nose it had was a little like that of a merlot). Once again the wine was very young, vintage 2002, but was quite open and ready to drink. The wine was a little less jammy than the first one - the fruit was slightly more solid. Again, a good wine for the price, but not much complexity. I am still yet to be convinced that Argentinian Malbec is one of the great wines of the world, or the Malbec is a truly noble grape variety. Obviously, though, I shall be continuing the research.
Life near the singularity

From the BBC

Two airports have been alerted after a giant robotic balloon escaped from a science centre in South Yorkshire.
The flyborg has a computerised brain which allows it to avoid obstacles.

A spokesman for Magna said: "Two technical staff were moving a flyborg - an artificially intelligent flying robot airship filled with conventional party-balloon gas - into the main Magna building.

The "main Magna building" sounds kind of ominous, too. (via slashdot).
More thoughts on the Murray-Darling Basin, and whether Texas is part of the American West.

I have received quite a bit of feedback on yesterdays piece that started out being about Australian water resources and then rambled, in the form of comments, a post on another blog, and e-mail. There have been quite a few interesting points raised, and I think I am going to lose any sense that they are connected to each other People who want to see the connections should read the earlier post.

As a starting point, there is a very nice map of the Murray-Darling basin here. A key point is that much of the east coast of Australia consists of a relatively narrow coastal plane to the east of a mountain range (The Great Dividing Range). To the east of that mountain range, water comes down from the mountains onto the plain, and water is plentiful. Australia's three major non-marginal cities are on this plain (although only sort of for Melbourne). From a water resources point of view, there would be little difficulty building a substantial number of new cities on that coastal plain. To the north, the mountains eventually fade away, the climate becomes tropical, and once again there are plenty of areas (especially close to the north coast) where water is plentiful and which could support substantial populations, although at the moment they generally don't. The land within the Murray-Darling basin itself (and close to it) is habitable and useful as long as the river system remains in good condition. To the west of the basin, there are few rivers of any kind and the country is exceedingly harsh, although there are a few rivers and a small patch of moderately fertile land in the south of the west coast (a couple of thousand kilometres away), making the city of Perth possible. With respect to the Murray-Darling basin, the key point is that the watershed on the east of the basin is a watershed to a fertile area, and the watershed to the west is a watershed to desert. Human civilization (like Adelaide, if it qualifies) to the west of the basis very likely has to pump water from the basin.

The map shows the basic point, however. The Murray Darling basin is enormous. Adelaide gets its water from the very mouth of the river. If there are environmental problems upstream, then Adelaide is conceivably in trouble. However, despite its size, there are relatively few cities of any size in the Murray Darling basin. Australia's capital, Canberra (population approximately 300000) is the most important, followed by Albury Wodonga (100000) and Wagga Wagga (60000), but there really isn't much after that. Most water use is agricultural. Changing water would affect relatively few people, although those that would be forced to change are the sort that will scream very loudly. (It could conceivably change Australia's agricultural sector quite substantially, however).

Following up a different point from yesterday's article, Doug Sundseth of Colorado e-mails me to take slight issue with my discussing "the four American cities in the middle of the desert", arguing that Denver and Salt Lake City don't quite qualify as desert due to being at the foot of mountains and having a bit more rainfall than qualifies as desert. My experience of Denver is limited to changing planes at the airport, but it is clearly a different case geographically to the other cities, so I will concede the point there.

In the case of Salt Lake City I think I might argue that it actually is "in the middle of the desert" in the sense that there is desert in all directions, even if the place itself is not desert. The city was founded when after marching through very hostile country, the Mormons arrived in this beautiful (non-desert) location, decided it was fabulous, and announced that "This is the right place". Having been there, I have to concede that the city certainly is in a stunning location. (Might also I recommend the drive from Salt Lake City to Evanston, Wyoming to anyone who goes there. Really a spectacular drive). Doug also comments that El Paso, Texas / Juarez, Mexico certainly qualifies, and Tucson, Arizona perhaps does. I will plead guilty on El Paso omission. I was thinking of American cities in "The West", and Texas slipped my mind. When I divide America up into pieces, Texas doesn't really qualify as part of "The West", or "The South", or anywhere much. Texas is just Texas. (I haven't been to Texas, although I certainly plan to go there on my next trip to the US, whenever that is). As for Tucson, it is at least smaller than any of the other cities I have mentioned, so I can produce a logical reason for leaving it out.

In any event, none of this was really relevant to my argument, which was simply that America has large inland cities in even more marginal places than those I was talking about in Australia. A large portion of the Murray-Darling Basin is not desert, and that is the point.

Finally, Patrick commented that Darwin was not in fact named after Charles Darwin, but was named after his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin. This is reasonably widely believed in Australia - at least Patrick is not the first person to tell me this. However, the belief seems to be entirely untrue. The truth appears to be that after sailing Darwin after the world, the Beagle was then sailed to Australia. Its captain, Lieutenant John Lort Stokes, became the first person to name the geographical features in that part of Australia. He named the bay where the city now lies Port Darwin, and gulf surrounding it Beagle Gulf. When the city was founded at the location later, it was initially officially named Palmerston, at least partly because some people held Darwin's views to be controversial. However, the name officially became Darwin in 1911.

I think the mistaken belief that Darwin was named after Erasmus Darwin may come from the fact that most people expect that the area around Darwin must have been explored and named prior to 1830, and this coincides nicely with the fact that Erasmus Darwin was a prominent scientist around that time. However, it seems to be untrue.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Water resources, Australia's north, cricket, and what precisely is the point of Adelaide, anyway?

There is an article in the Economist this week talking about The Murray-Darling river system in Australia. (Sadly, it is behind a for-pay wall so I can't link to it. The gist of it is that Australians are overusing the water from the Murray-Darling river system. The mouth of the river has dried up for the second time in 215 years, and the salt levels of the whole river system is steadily increasing, and based on current trends the water will be undrinkable within 20 years. This is a problem, as the river's catchment area consists of a large chunk of four states, and is responsible for irrigating a large portion of the country's agriculture.

But it gets worse

South Australia, where until recently the Murray flowed into the Southern Ocean at Coorong, is the state at the end of the line. With little but desert and dry rivers to its north, Adelaide, the capital, depends entirely on water piped from the Murray more than 100km (60 miles) to the east. People in Coober Pedy, a mining town in the middle of desert, reckon their water, pumped and treated from ancient underground deposits, tastes better than Adelaide's. South Australia's minister for the Murray River, John Hill, says its rate of flow is half that needed to sustain it environmentally. From this month, irrigators in South Australia will have their water allocations cut by one-fifth; in October each state taxpayer will start paying a levy to raise A$20m ($13m) a year. The money will go towards buying extra water from upstream and projects to restore the flow.

The article goes on to say that Adelaide's problem is that it is at the end of the river, water rights are allocated on a state basis, and therefore people (mostly farmers) in three other states have essentially had a free for all with the water before it gets to South Australia. It may be that a constitutional amendment to transfer control of water rights to the federal government might be necessary to make sure that South Africa retains access to its water.

My gut feeling is that with or without this the situation will eventually be solved. The million people of Adelaide do have more economic power than a relatively small number of farmers in the other states, and ultimately the money of the people of Adelaide will make their interests the most important issue, and eventually the river will be cleaned up, even if it requires buying up a lot of farmland. There are cities in the world in more marginal places than Adelaide, and they survive. The Americans manage to have four major cities (Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City) in the middle of the desert, and two even bigger cities (Los Angeles and San Diego) on the southern west coast. While water resources in the American west are greater than in Australia, the population of these areas in the US are greater by an even bigger factor, and the American cities survive, even if they are constantly squabbling over water.

However, this does of course raise an interesting question about the distribution of people in Australia. Of Australia's five main cities, two of them - Adelaide and Perth - are in very marginal locations. There is Adelaide, with the potentially severe water problems mentioned, and very desolate land if you drive very far out of the city in any direction. And there is Perth, which is on the relatively desolate West Coast. Perth is something of a boom town, due to the immense mineral wealth of the state of Western Australia. But Adelaide is a city that has probably seen better days. There is some industry there - a large portion of Australia's cars are made there - and the big growth industry is the wine industry. (Adelaide is surrounded by vineyards in all directions, essentially). But is this really enough to support a city of a million people? And why, of all the places in Australia they could be, are there a million people there precisely?

While a lot of Australia does consist of marginal and uninhabitable locations, there are actually plenty of fertile and uninhabited locations as well. The other three major cities, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, are in very non-marginal locations. As you go north from Melbourne through Sydney and Brisbane, the country generally becomes more fertile and the water resources greater. Once you get north of Brisbane, the country becomes more fertile still, and you eventually get to the tropical area and the north Queensland cities Cairns and Townsville (the home of Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup), and when you go west you eventually get to Darwin on the north coast.

These are all areas that could easily support large populations, but generally they don't. Traditionally people have avoided these sorts of areas because of the heat, but in these days of air conditioning this does not matter so much. (The American south has turned into a boom area since the invention of air conditioning for precisely this reason). Australia, bafflingly, has seriously trailed the United States in its use of air conditioning (particularly in people's homes) but we do seem to be finally getting there. And there is a gradual northern movement in the centre of Australia's population for this reason. Combined with this is the fact that the Asian economies to Australia's north have been becoming larger and steadily more important to us. This has led to more economic activity in the north, more Asian populations in the northern cities, and growth in these cities (particularly Cairns in Queensland) as tourist destinations.

In the long run, by which I mean 50 years or more, this inevitably will spell a profound change in the centre of gravity of Australia. Cities that are at present seen as very marginal to the country will become quite important. In the long run, there will probably be no better real estate investment than land in the centre of Darwin.

One way in which this present marginal status of the northern cities is reflected is in sporting terms. There are very few professional sporting teams based in the north because the cities are too small and the travel distances too great. None of the northern cities have first class cricket teams based there. People in the northern cities have had little chance to be spectators of top class sport.

However, this weekend the Australian cricket team will play Bangladesh in Darwin, and they will play them again in Cairns next week. A fair bit of the reason for this is that the Australian summer is crowded and the fixture list is long, to get the games in they have to be played out of season, and if they are played out of season the climate is not right in southern Australia at this time of year. This is perfectly true, but these games still represent a recognition that this region of Australia is slowly becoming less marginal. In 100 years, I cannot help but think that the Darwin test will be a very big occasion. So therefore, the first one, to be played this week, should be seen as a memorable occasion. I am sure the people of Darwin are seeing it this way, even though due to the weak opposition it shall probably not be very memorable as a game of cricket.

And just as an almost unrelated point, does anyone know of any city in the world other than Darwin that is named after a great scientist? The fact that we have one in Australia strikes me as extremely cool.

Japanese pop culture is too easy a target

(via The Gweilo Diaries).

Monday, July 14, 2003

More blogging as public e-mailing

Many of my readers will have noticed that I have been blogging in a number of group blogs lately, as well as here. My occasional transport related stuff has been going to Transport Blog (lead blogger Patrick Crozier), all my non-cricket sporting stuff (and some of my cricket stuff) has been going to Ubersportingpundit (lead blogger Scott Wickstein), civil liberties related stuff has been going to The White Rose (lead blogger Gabriel Syme), and I have been also writing some stuff for Samidata (lead blogger Perry de Havilland, although the story is actually more complicated than that), although to tell the truth I still haven't quite figured out which pieces I should post there. (The editors of that site have encouraged me to "post whatever I like", but I still haven't quite got the hang of it).

A fair bit of this blogging (particularly the transport, and Samizdata stuff) is stuff that would probably have ended up here had I not had access to the other blogs. Some, however, is stuff that I wouldn't have written if I do not have posting privileges on those blogs.

Really, there are two advantages of group blogs over individual blogs. One is that the job of building an audience is one that is shared among many people. Putting enough content on an individual blog so that your audience will come back regularly is a huge amount of work. However, with a group blog, rather than needed to post something every day you can just post something when you feel like it, on the understanding that the audience will find something from someone else if there is nothing from you. (If you are offered posting privileges on an already established blog, then someone else may have already done the audience building job for you). The other is that group blogs tend to be focused on particular subjects, and you and the other bloggers will hopefully feed one another's ideas. The audience will be more specialist too. If I write something about Transport and post it to Transport Blog, I know already that the audience there are interested in transport. However, on my personal blog, some of my audience is interested in my movie postings, some of the audience in my political postings, some in my cricket postings etc.

The big disadvantages of group blogs is that they are not ultimately mine. One of the most intoxicating things about blogging is the level of freedom it gives me as a writer. I can write something, the whole world can read it, and I can say whatever I want. I can denounce motherhood if I want. I can write 13000 words about my new screwdriver set. Nobody is going to stop me. It may be that nobody will read me either, but (remarkably) some people will.

But I can only do this on my own blog. If I am on somebody else's group blog, I have to obey the rules of that blog as a courtesy to the owners of that blog. While Perry has told me to write about whatever I feel like on that blog, the implied rule is that I need to write about these things from an individualist, small government perspective. While I am free to write about the Common Agricultural policy, I am actually not welcome to say that it is a fine, fine thing that protects the tremendous heritage of the fine institution of French farming, and that it is well worth the money it costs.

Now, I am not actually going to post something in favour of the CAP, because I actually think that the CAP is an abomination. Sticking within the implied rules for Samizdata is not very hard for me, because my own views are pretty consistent with the Samizdata world view, and Perry presumably figured that out before I was given Samizdata posting privileges. But still the rules are there. In return for a larger audience and a reduced workload, I have given up some of the freedom I have on my own blog. (No doubt if I wrote for a newspaper, I would be giving up even more freedom in return for a larger audience still).

Which is why I am not going to give up my own blog. However, what is likely to happen is that most of my substantive writing is going to be going to be posted to other, more specialist blogs in future. When I cease being a dilettante, which one way or another is going to happen fairly soon, this is going to be more dramatic. This blog is likely to turn into a series of links to my writings elsewhere, with occasional really brief postings or really strange postings that don't fit anywhere else going here. And I am likely going to cease being a daily blogger.

With all that in mind, I have been wondering lately what do do about my cultural postings. In particular, I like to write about movies and occasionally science fiction and television, and I have no obvious place to put this other than here. (I can put an occasional piece along those lines on Samizdata, but that isn't the place for all of it). If I were to remove everything from here that could reasonably go on one of the other blogs on which I have posting privileges, it is the cultural postings that would make up the bulk of what is left. Plus I would like a bigger audience for some of my movie and culture related postings, because I think that they are amongst my best stuff. Someone suggested the other day that I start writing for blogcritics, but that isn't quite my style either.

Presumably, Brian Micklethwait has been thinking the same thing, because he today posted a piece on his culture blog suggesting that if I find myself too busy to blog individually in future, I might want to consider becoming a contributor to his blog. (Actually Brian was at the social event where I was discussing the fact that I was interested in finding a blog on which to post movie related postings. Perhaps he heard me).

As Brian made a post addressing me directly, I might as well do the same thing in return.

It's not a bad thought, actually. I like Brian's blog. Brian asks interesting questions about culture that have a tendency to send me off to go looking for the answers. (A piece he posted on British television advertising a few months back led me to go and re-evaluate Ridley Scott, and it became clear to me that Scott is not just the director of a couple of my favourite movies, but also quite possibly the most important pop-cultural figure to come out of Britain in the last 40 years). Brian also shares a tendency I have to watch lots and lots of smaller rather than blockbuster films in order to find the hidden gems. Plus we both have opinions on architecture and urban design. So, there is overlap, and I think I would fit quite well on the blog.

However, I am a bit up in the air at the moment, so, Brian, I will think about it.

As for whether I have a problem with someone named Michael posting to "Brian's Culture Blog", I have to say no. As another example of that sort of thing, I nominate "Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine". The magazine was founded with Asimov as a sort of editorial director (although not the actual editor), and never wrote the bulk of the material for it (although he did write regularly for it) even when he was alive. He has now been dead for eleven years, and the magazine goes on happily.

And I think that may have been a slightly den Bestian response. Oh well.

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