Saturday, June 14, 2003

Circket's new Twenty20 format seems like it's quite a success initially, with large attendances at most of the matches and some pretty exciting competition. I've just been watching Channel 4's coverage of Gloucestershire vs Worcestershire, and the speed of the game was enough to catch the attention of my cricket-hating flatmate for a while, which shows something. OK, some of that may have been because she wanted to point out that Jack Russell's moustache and vaguely mullet-esque hairstyle makes him look like a diminutive 70s porn star, but the ECB need all the marketing help they can get.

What's important is that the players seem to enjoy the new format as well, which is the key to making a success of it - their enthusiasm shows in the game, and if they're playing to the limit, it excites the crowds as well. And with a quick check of the schedule on the ECB site, I see that Essex are playing Middlesex at Chelmsford on the 24th, and I'm not at work that day so I think I'll go along and see it in the flesh.

Friday, June 13, 2003

I know Peter already did this one, but a different answer came to me:

How many British Spins does it take to change a lightbulb?

So, as I predicted in my previous post, the lightbulb burned out a few hours ago. The question now has to be, what will Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell do to replace it? (One could, of course, ask what Iain Duncan Smith would do to replace it, but as he'll never be in a position to do so, it's safe to ignore him and talk about teeth instead.) My prediction? The bulb will be replaced with another bulb.
And I thought that I disliked The Matrix Reloaded (found via Across the Atlantic)
Harry Hatchet wrote earlier about this BBC poll that currently ranks Homer Simpson as the 'greatest American'. He wonders if it'll enrage the 'BBC is full of commies' crowd, but, to be honest, I'm still amazed that anyone takes any internet polls at all seriously because it's so easy to rig them. After all, I've just managed to cast five votes for Franklin D Roosevelt in as many seconds, thanks to the magic of Internet Explorer's back button.

That said, I do enjoy Atrios's daily call to 'Torture Wolf Blitzer' - but that's partly because the picture of him on his CNN site is kind of scary.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

An interesting side effect of the Milburn resignation is that it means one of the bigger changes caused by the Cabinet reshuffle has been relegated to the 'in other news' sections of the reports - the abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor. The powers of the Lord Chancellor have been split into three - the constitutional role goes to the new Department of Constitutional Affairs, the appointment of judges goes to a new independent judicial appointments commission and there'll be a new 'speaker of the House of Lords'.

The first two changes, along with the metamorphosis of the Law Lords into a 'supreme court', do seem to be quite a radical change in the judicial system, though the actual extent of the changes will only be seen when the proposals for the composition of the appointments commission are made in the next couple of weeks. In purely political terms, the creation of a 'speaker of the House of Lords' could prove to be the most interesting in the short term. As the new 'speaker' (and I suspect a new name will be thought up to prevent confusion with the Speaker of the Commons) will not be a member of the cabinet, I suspect, though there hasn't been any confirmation yet, that it could well be a position elected by the members of the Lords in the same way as the Speaker of the Commons. It'll be interesting to see which members of the Lords are touted as candidates for the new position. I won't attempt to come up with a full list now, as I'd no doubt miss out some people and look foolish, but David Steel could well be a strong candidate for the position having just completed four years as Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament.

Update: Elinor Goodman's report on Channel 4 News stated that the role of the new speaker of the Lords would be determined after 'consultation with the other parties' which I expect will mean it become an elected post.
Alan Milburn's resignation as Health Secretary is one of the biggest shocks in politics in recent years. I'm using shock in it's real sense here, not in the headline writers sense as 'something we predicted would happen has happened'. This was one of those times where there'd been no rumours of this happening, no speculation from various unnamed sources, nothing of the usual spinning that lays the ground for your usual 'shock'. I was out of the country when Estelle Morris resigned, so I don't know if that was as similarly unheralded - can anyone enlighten me?

Because of its sheer out of the blue nature, I'm inclined to believe Milburn when he says he wants to spend more time with his family. The problem is that the phrase 'spend more time with my family' has been subjected to a kind of political 'crying wolf' with it having ben used many times over the years by people who have no desire to spend more time with their family. Because of that, Milburn's reasons for resigning are being analysed over and over again in the hopes of finding a 'real' reason, even if there isn't anything there. After all, for the politicians and journalists to accept that a man's desire to spend more time with his family is a genuine reason to leave his job might involve them getting some serious questions from their own families when they finally get to see them.

The important thing to remember is that Milburn, like a lot of the Cabinet, is still relatively young in political terms. It seems to me that he's made the calculation that he can live quite happily on an MP's wages (plus all the various other bits of work he can pick up now he's out of the cabinet - I suspect a number of papers are already making him offers to write for them) and spend some quality time with his family, then return to frontline politics in a few years, tanned, rested and ready. There's probably quite a lot of jealous looks being shot in his direction from other senior politicians right now.
So, I go along to do my duty and annoy the Daily Mail by voting 'no' in their self-selecting glorified opinion poll and on the same page is their 'quote of the day' from Claire Rayner: 'It is safe to say there has never been a society as obsessed with breasts as we are.' It doesn't appear to be a random thing, either, which makes for a rather strange juxtaposition.
The Egyptian censorship board has banned The Matrix Reloaded claiming that its raising of "religous issues" could cause "crises" and that violence in the movie could "harm social peace". To my mind, it's the Egyptian way of saying 'This film is such a giant load of pretentious wank that we can't show it for fear of people pouring out of the cinemas afterwards demanding to take their revenge on anyone who had a hand in it. As none of the production team live in Egypt, we fear they'd come after us for not banning this film and keeping them from having to watch it.'

Time has only served to decrease my opinion of that film, as you can tell.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Well, thanks to Alison and Anthony, I now have my very own LiveJournal. Not that it'll be updated much, but it's just useful for commenting on other people's, as well as being able to do the odd more personal entry that doesn't fit here. Plus, it's useful for those times when Blogger and/or my web host are playing silly buggers and I can't update here.
Reading Ted 'no relation' Barlow's list of blog-related lightbulb jokes last night, it occurred to me that there were no British bloggers mentioned in the list, so I thought I'd take steps to rectify it:

How many Harry Hatchets does it take to change a light bulb?

David Aaronovitch has an excellent article in today's Guardian, pointing out that yet again the Old Left are carping on about how the Jewish Neocon Conspiracy have failed to change the lightbulb. And yes, the lightbulb may not have been changed yet, but we have gone into the room and opened the curtains. It might be dark outside, but who on the Old Left even wanted to open the door in the first place?

How many Gerts does it take to change a lightbulb?

Sat around all day waiting for the lightbulb to be delivered. They promised delivery sometime before 11, but that was obviouly 11 at night as they only came round at 3 in the afternoon. Emailed the Lightbulb Company to complain, but no response as yet. Changed the lightbulb later on, and took some pictures while I was at it, which are now in Under Developed.

Just a start, and I'm sure there are people out there who can do better. But that is what the comments box is for. Or the email, when the comments box does it's disappearing act.
I was watching some of the Mars Express/Beagle 2 launch on the news last week and it suddenly struck me why most people find space boring. Because it is boring. Or, at least, it's presented in the most boring way imaginable. And the way to stop people finding it boring is to send fat alcoholics up as astronauts! Oh wait, someone's already done that idea, haven't they?

Where was I? Oh yes, the Beagle 2 launch. What was interesting to see there was the team behind it all celebrating wildly as it took off, actually showing some excitement at the thought of what they'd achieved, rather than the usual po-faced 'well, the launch was successful' that seems to characterise most space launches. Yes, I know it's a highly technical and complicated procedure and the people who are behind it are trained professionals who must keep their attention on potential problems at all times - but do they have to be so damn boring?

I think that's why people find it hard to relate to the whole process - the people involved just don't react the way we expect them to. I think that's why The Onion's Holy Shit, Man Walks On Fucking Moon headline is so funny, especially when the alternative Armstrong's firts words from the moon are 'Holy. Living. Fuck. I'm on the Moon.' Because the idea of someone having such a normal reaction to an amazing event is so alien to people's conceptions of space exploration it becomes damn funny.

That's probably why Beagle 2 has caught a lot of imagination in Britain. Not just because it's a British project, but because the people involved in it are genuinely excited and passionate about it in public and people can relate to that. When people are dispassionate, cold and analytical about technological wonders, is it any wonder that people seem to think 'well, if he's not really enthused by it, why should I be?'
Quick request: I know I've got at least a couple of LiveJournal users among my readership, so would one of you mind giving me a code so I can set one up myself? First, it'll make it easier for me to comment on the LJs that I read without having to type in a huge chunk of code to identify myself and my address at the end and second, it'd be useful to have one to put in some of the personal-esque stuff that doesn't really fit here, and also as a kind of backup for those days (like Sunday) when Blogger curls up and dies for several hours.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

(WARNING: Naked commercialism)

Any Radiohead fans who happen to read this blog (and have some spare cash hanging around) might be interested in this 'Stop Whispering' promo 12" I'm selling on eBay.
I always like spotting Bill Hicks references in the media, so it was nice seeing him mentioned by AL Kennedy in today's Guardian:

The pods are the reason the world's most powerful bankrupt nation is ruled by an unelected Texan, rather than Bill Hicks. (I'd pick a dead comedian over a live fundamentalist flake any day.)

Ah, President Bill...that would have been fun.
Did you know that the Netherlands are currently the real world football champions, not those impostors from Brazil? Well, they are if the Unofficial World Championship or Nassazi's Baton are your guide to the world championship, not that minor little World Cup thing.

Both of them work on the same principle - that a team holds the title until it loses a game, then the title is taken by the team that beats them, a kind of 'the team who beat the team who...' like boxing championships - but with different starting points. The Unofficial World Championship starts from the first game between England and Scotland in 1873, while Nassazi's Baton starts 57 years later with the first World Cup - Nassazi was the captain of the Uruguay team who were the first world champions.

It creates some interesting little factoids with sides like the Netherlands Antilles holding the world title for a few days in the 1960s after beating Mexico, then losing the title to Costa Rica. Also, the title has been held longer by Scotland than anyone else, thanks mainly to their holding it for several years in the 1870s and 1880s, but it's finally a world ranking where Scotland rank ahead of England.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Back in 1994, when the net was still being referred to as 'this global interwebnet superhighway thingy', The Guardian did one of their little specials, publishing a version of what they thought the Guardian would be like in 2004. It wasn't a major thing, just a little extra supplement published on some fancy high-tech paper that purported to show what the personalised newspaper of the future might be like. Of course, like all predictions of the future it turned out to be wrong (unless they're planning to introduce some radical new technology in the next twelve months) and, despite changes in typesetting and layout, newspapers today remain pretty much as they were ten years ago. I may well be the only person who remembers this being printed, though it would be interesting to know if anyone at The Guardian itself remembers and is planning a little feature on it next year to see how accurate their predictions were - not just on the technology, but the stories that were featured within it.

What reminded me of this was walking back from the newsagents yesterday, doing the weekly weightlifting task of carrying back the Sunday papers, realizing that a lot of the weight I was carrying were sections that I would just glance over at best. Personalized newspapers - papers that had just the information you wanted, specially printed for you - were one of those 'it's coming in the future' ideas that never really came about, and still show no signs of happening. Some might say that it's because of the Web, and the availability of newspapers online, that's stopped this from happening. After all, you can create your own newspaper online, drawing from various sources and just get what you want, so why woul you need to go to the newsagents for it?

However, the web doesn't seem to have destroyed traditional newspapers as some of the more excitable commentators and techno-visionaries were claiming a few years ago. There's probably two main reasons for it - first, the reluctance of people to read large amounts on a screen and secondly, you lose the element of surprise you can get reading a regular newspaper. If you're just limiting your search to stories that interest you, and commentators you already like, you don't get to read those stories on things you wouldn't normally read about and things like that. Personalisation means you're cutting yourself off from the unfamiliar, from things that might interest you, but you don't know it yet.

I do have one suggestion for personalisation that might make life interesting, and easier - personalising your Sunday newspaper. I'm pretty sure that everyone has sections in their Sunday papers they don't read - for me, I almost never look at business/money/finance or appointments sections and I rarely find anything interesting in travel supplements either. So, why not let people 'trade' those for sections of other newspapers? I could get an extra sport section instead of business, someone else could train their sport section for more arts, some might even want to ignore the news sections in favour of more lifestyle supplements. Some newspapers are vocally in favour of a free market in everything, so why not lead by example?
Well, no one got the answer to the football trivia question. Gert came very close, but didn't quite get it. The question was:

In the 1991-92 season there were 11 clubs who had done this.
From 1992 to 1995 there were 8.
From 1995 to 1996 there were 7.
From 1996 to 2002 there were 6.
From 2002 to 2003 there were 5.
From the start of next season there'll be 4.
Who are they and what have they done?


And the answer? Preston North End, Burnley, Stoke City and Notts County have all remained members of the Football League for it's entire existence.

There were twelve original members: Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolves.

Acrrington went out of business and dropped out of the League.
Villa, Blackburn and Everton all resigned from the League to become founder members of the Premiership in 1992
Bolton were promoted to the Premiership (leaving the Football League) in 1995
Derby were promoted in 1996
West Brom were promoted in 2002
Wolves were promoted in 2003

Derby, Bolton and West Brom were all subsequently relegated and rejoined the League, but they weren't members during their time in the Premiership, so don't count for this question.
Richard Ingrams told an interesting story in yesterday's Observer:

In his sadly unpublished memoirs, parts of which I used in the Oldie , Tibor (Casto) told a story of how after Mao Zedong's death he placed a bet with Lloyd's of London that he would be Mao's successor. They gave him odds of 8,000,000,000-1. He then went to the Chinese Embassy in London and offered to give them his projected winnings if they would appoint him chairman, a job which he promised to surrender immediately on taking office. He would take £1 million commission but the Chinese could have the rest, thereby helping to stabilise their rocky economy. Perhaps suspecting a dirty capitalist trick, the Chinese refused to take him up on his imaginative offer.

Of course, as it's now been published the chances of any bookie giving those sort of odds to anyone on the same bet are unlikely, but as I read it I was thinking that there are probably some small countries (in Africa or the Pacific, most likely) who might go along with such a scheme if someone tried it.