Saturday, May 03, 2003

Excuses

Blogger caused some hassles today, including eating a completed post. New material in the morning.

Friday, May 02, 2003

There was a time before Buffy. And it wasn't all bad.

Tom 'n' Lalla
You are The Years Of Tom And Lalla. You are a thing
of immense joy and happiness. All should
worship before you. On the negative side,
you're a bit too clever for your own good.


Which Doctor Who Season Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

In the final years of Tom and Lalla, John Nathan-Turner was hired as Executive Producer, and he hired the phenomenally erudite Christopher H Bidmead as script editor, which led to the end of the Tom and Lalla era including a number of the most erudite scripts and best episodes in the history of the program. Then, however, Bidmead went off to do something else, Nathan-Turner continued into be Executive Producer, and Dr Who sank slowly into the sludge, admittedly along with the rest of the BBC. (I don't think Nathan-Turner was a bad producer, at least not initially. However, Dr Who was a program that worked best when the people both on and off screen did it for a few years and then went away to do something else. The trouble was that in the 1980s and early 1990s the people controlling the BBC developed a disdain for the program, and they wouldn't give Nathan-Turner a different job so that somebody else could bring fresh ideas to Dr Who).
(via Iain Murray).

Update: Speaking of the years of Tom and Lalla, the BBC has just released a Flash animation version of the famous Douglas Adams written but unfinished and unaired season 17 episode Shada. This is interesting, but it misses out on the beautiful photography of Cambridge that is central to the episode, or which is at least central to my viewing of it. (Both Douglas Adams and I attended St John's College, although obviously at different times, and this gives us a similar perspective on the city, I think. For that reason, I find the unfinished version of Shada (available on VHS) incredibly familiar, somehow).

(via slashdot).
Please fix it, oh Googlers

Blogger was down for quite a few hours this morning, and I was unable to post. I therefore posted my latest cricket update to ubersportingpundit instead of here. I was also unable to fix a number of bad links on this blog. They are all now hopefully sorted out.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Spreading myself thin

Observant readers will have noticed that in recent days I have become the London correspondent for Scott Wickstein's Ubersportingpundit , and that I have been discussing the David Beckham saga over there. On that blog I will be discussing football, and other sporting issues that cross my mind. My cricket coverage will mostly remain on this blog, as Scott does blow by blow cricket coverage already, and I don't think we need that twice on the same site.

Bigger news is that I have just accepted an invitation to become a contributor to Samizdata. I am not quite sure how I am going to split things, but a fair portion of my serious stuff (particularly my technology coverage) is in future going to be there rather than here, due to the small matter that that site has 30 times as many readers as this one.
Football and education

Brian Micklethwait has some thoughts on a British government program to involve professional football clubs in schemes to teach children the three Rs. Brian focuses on the fact that a large amount of government coersion has apparently been applied to football clubs and a lot of government money has seemingly been put into it, but also talks about the scheme itself, which he is generally in favour of. I'm not so sure. to In my native Australia, sports clubs are far too busy sledging the opposition, attempting to humiliate the opposition, and getting drunk afterwards to be too concerned with things like helping people learn to read. (See here for an example that admittedly even Australians find extreme and bizarre).

When the Soviet bloc collapsed, much of the very best of the scientific elite went to the United States, where they are working in scientific institues on the next tecnological revolution, no doubt. Australia, however, recruited the very best of the sports coaches, and these people are now in Canberra at the Australian Institute of Sport, using the same semi-sadistic training methods they invented in East Germany to help Australia win lots of Olympic gold medals in future. This has been highly successful at winning Olympic gold medals, but it costs a lot of public money. I personally think that funding elite athletes is an outrageous way for the government to spend my money, but it is something of a sacred cow in Australia. Australians love their sport, and they love winning. If the government is going to spend public money on sport at all, then I would much rather see it being spent on the encouragement of mass participation. I am still not sure if this is something that government needs to get involved in, however (other than through providing playing fields in public parks and other such infrastructure, which is largely a job for local government).

I am still slightly cynical about the idea using sporting jocks to encourage people to learn to read and write, and to study and get an education, because quite honestly this is not something many sporting jocks have done themselves, or indeed that they really care about. Sure, people who have succeeded at sport often have certain good habits: determination, focus, a tendency to work hard; but often then have worked hard solely at sport and have rejected a more general education but have succeeded anyway. However, the sad fact about professional sport is that a great many other people who have worked equally hard at it have fallen aside along the way. In many other fields of human endeavour there is scope for a much larger percentage of people to succeed, and such people might make better role models.

(Of course, getting children to have enthusiasm for such role models can be harder, and the argument is probably that this new scheme is for people who do not find any such other role models).

I don't know, I think I just see sporting culture as fairly fundamentally un-academic. Perhaps England is different to Australia. (And certainly some sporting cultures in Australia are less un-academic than others. Certainly rugby union and rowing, which tend to be organised around posh schools and universities, are less so than Rugby League and Australian football. Perhaps I just had the wrong experience). Perhaps the argument is that this is the point and you can use it as a way of getting un-academic type people to be more academically inclined. Lot's of people might argue that it is still worth a try. They may be right. Possibly.
Nostalgia

There is something deeply sad about typing the names of people you used to know into Google. Posting and providing a link on my blog kind of feels like an invasion of her privacy too. I might take this down.
Apparently I fluctuate between being a virtuous unbeliever and a heretic. Why couldn't I just be a heretic?

The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to the First Level of Hell - Limbo!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
LevelScore
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)High
Level 2 (Lustful)Low
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Moderate
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Moderate
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Moderate
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)High
Level 7 (Violent)Moderate
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Low
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

A different set of cards

If I was John Howard, I would be annoyed about not being on any of these cards.
I hate the BBC

Well, reading about America's (expected) decision to remove most of its military presence from Saudi Arabia, I find that the BBC informs me of this:

Saudi Arabia is home to some of Islam's holiest sites and the deployment of US forces there was seen as a historic betrayal by many Islamists, notably Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden used American presence to justify anti-US attacks It is one of the main reasons given by the Saudi-born dissident - blamed by Washington for the 11 September attacks - to justify violence against the United States and its allies.

Ah, it is merely the case that Washington claims that Osama bin Laden was responsible for September 11, is it? Presumably there are people at the BBC that think it may have been someone else. (The international Jewish conspiracy, anyone? The scary thing is that much of the Arab world actually believes this). This doubt is presumably why Osama bin Laden is merely a "dissident" and not a terrorist.

Blimey, this is pathetic.

(Link via The Gweilo Diaries).
An unexpected rant about Australian politics

Patrick Crozier has a piece on why the Conservative Party in the UK is becoming steadily less electable. Essentially, the longer it stays in opposition, the fewer people support the party other than its traditional hard line supporters. These people tend to have more ideologically extreme political positions than do the sorts of voters who will actually vote the party into government, but the longer it stays out of government, the more these people come to dominate, and the less electable the party becomes.

I started out writing this response as a comment, but it got out of control. My Australian readers should be aware that I started writing it with the thought that mostly British people would be reading it.

Basically, though, this sort of vicious circle is a very common type of situation in parliamentary politics. A party spends a few years in power. They spend that time catering to the centrist tendencies of swinging voters, and paying attention to opinion polls. This tends to mean that a government of a nominally left wing party is a little to the right of grass roots of the party, and one of a nominally right wing party is a little to the left of the grass roots of the party.

Then, for whatever reason, the party loses office. The leadership of the just defeated government retires. The party rank and file discover that they rule the party again. These people have always resented the lack of ideological purity of the people who led the party when it was in government, and they always (at least for the first few years) believe that this lack of purity was responsible for the defeat. Therefore a defeated left wing party retreats to the left, or a defeated right wing party retreats to the right. In both cases, the net effect is to make the party unelectable for the next decade. This goes on until someone centrist who actually wants to be Prime Minister comes along and reforms the party, and the rank and file allow him to do this because they are demoralised due to being out of office for the last decade and will do almost anything to regain it. It helps if the party in government has become so dire that capable people are willing to look for alternatives, nomatter how much effort will be needed to revitalise them. Sadly for the Conservatives, we are nowhere near this point in the cycle.

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) is at present another classic example of this, although I think Australia is a little further down the cycle. The party has lost three elections in a row, and it is presently arguing about whether it should reinstate Kim Beazley, the (dreadful) leader who lost the last two elections, on the basis that his replacement (former union leader Simon Crean) is even worse. What it needs is someone to come and really shake things up.

Given that the ALP is in government in all eight states and territories - something that no party has ever achieved before - there is starting to be a feeling that someone may try to cross over from state to federal politics. Whereas in the US state politics seems to be a very useful source of new talent in Washington, people very seldom make the switch in Australia, at least not at leadership level. This may have something to do with Australia's use of the parliamentary system, and the fact that politicians have to build up parliamentary power bases before they can take a leadership position. However, when a party is in a desperate situation, funny things can happen. (The last time the ALP was out of office Bob Hawke (another union leader) was drafted into federal politics and became Prime Minister just over two years after being first elected to parliament).

In particular, at the moment we seem to be seeing one or two calls for Bob Carr, who has just been reelected for his third term as Premier of New South Wales, to enter federal politics. I personally think he would be a disaster as Prime Minister, but he is certainly someone who knows how to run a successful election campaign and how to figure out what it actually is that voters want, which is more than can be said for the leadership at the moment.

That said, if Carr was to eventually become Prime Minister, there would be a certain weird irony to come from it. Carr is a bookish, somewhat introverted chap who became Premier of NSW almost be accident. The extent of his ambitions appeared to be that he wanted to be the (federal) Foreign Minister. He was patiently waiting for Lionel Bowen, a minister in the Hawke government, to retire so that he could be given Bowen's safe federal constituency. He was persuaded to take a vacant seat in the NSW upper house, to get some parliamentary experience while he was waiting. The then ALP state government lost an election badly shortly afterwards, and there were no obvious candidates for the party leadership. (The groomed successor had died due to an unexpected heart attack a couple of years before).

Carr was persuaded to take the leadership, with the thought being that he would hold the party together in opposition for a few years until someone more charismatic came along to lead the ALP back into government. However, what actually happened was that under Carr the party completely unexpectedly came within a couple of seats of winning the next election. The state party leadership then talked him out of his ambtions of becoming federal Foreign Minister, Carr stayed on as state leader, and won the election after that. That was eight years ago. He has been re-elected twice since then, each time with a larger share of the vote than the time before. And as I said, people are now trying to persuade Carr to move to federal politics, with the thought of his quickly becoming party leader and hopefully Prime Minister clearly in mind. The alternatives are such that I think he would become party leader fairly quickly, and as to winning an election, I tend to think he could.

Present Prime Minister John Howard is actually much more vulnerable than people reading the international media realise. His majority is small, and he may well have lost the last election, despite the opposition leader being dreadful, were it not for September 11. (The election was held a couple of months later). The way things are now, he will get reelected in two years time, but after that he will have been in office for nine years, and may even be thinking of retirement. My feeling is that someone is going to come in and give the federal ALP a big kick sometime soon. Carr is a possibility.

The Tories in the UK seem completely moribund, however. These things seem to take longer over here. (This seemed to be the case with the British Labour party in the 1980s and early 1990s, too). This may have something to do with a five year electoral cycle, which by international standards is a short one. In Australia, a hopeless political party gets to lose an election every three years. This may mean that action is forced a little more often.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

I so enjoy reading the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times.

Today for instance I read that real monks are not offended by the way monks have been portrayed in recent movies. (I confess to rather liking the title Bullet Proof Monk, even if the film isn't so hot).

On the other hand, real publicists are less happy.
Languages and dialects

In the comments thread on my recent post on subtitles, I recently mentioned the fact that some of the dialogue for the film Trainspotting had been rerecorded with the same actors but less broad Scottish accents for the American release of the film. James Russell commented that

On the subject of "Trainspotting", may I just take this opportunity to express the offence I take at films made in the English language being redubbed or subtitled for other English-speaking territories because the latter can't understand the former's accent and refuse to accept that they are in fact speaking the same language. I take particular offence when this happens with Scottish films.

The trouble with this is that it isn't really true that there are hard dividing lines between languages. Linguists usually argue that the two people are speaking the same language if the languages they speak are mutually intelligible, but there are still lots of cases where A and B can understand each other, B and C can understand each other, but A and C cannot understand each other. The dividing lines between languages are often more political than lingusitic. These political divisions can turn into genuine linguistic divides because they are the points at which mass media and teaching in schools stops being in one standard language and starts being in another. However, even in this case this is something of an artificial imposition.

If a film is genuinely being redubbed because the distributors want to make it blander for local audiences, and because the distributors believe that local audiences are going to be put of by the local culture of somewhere else, then sure. I agree. (A classic case of this is the dubbing of "Mad Max" into American, which should have been defined as a crime against humanity under the Geneva convention). If it is a case of subtitling the movie is a way of indicating that the accent of the characters in the movie is something strange and to be laughed at, then I agree with James. However, if it is genuinely a case of intelligibility, and an audience isn't going to be able to understand and hence appreciate a film without subtitles or dubbing, then I think there can sometimes be justification for doing it, even if the film and the audience are both nominally English speaking. I don't think that you can say that because we are B above, and we can understand both A and C that therefore people who are C should never be able to appreciate films from A. I can't really see how this is different from saying that films made in Spain should never be subtitled into English because English speakers should really learn Spanish instead.

Personally my preference is for subtitles rather than dubbing wherever possible, but even then I don't see this as entirely clearcut. I think the Trainspotting situation is rather less egregious than some, particularly given that they got the same actors to do the dubbing. It may well be that a relatively mild Scottish accent has the same or greater impact on an American viewer as does a strong Glaswegian accent on an English viewer, who is more familiar with Scottish accents. And I am not sure how different this is from an actor in a play or a movie simply enunciating more clearly than he would in a normal conversation, simply because it is important that the audience understand him. A fictional film is inherently stylised compared to life. The fact that speech patterns are not the same as in life is part of the way in which it is stylised. (How many people say "flipping" as an obscenity in real life? Ideally they would use actual obscenities in PG rated movies, too, but this is something we are stuck with).

Even if you do argue that nobody should ever dub or subtitle a Scottish accent, there are forms of English that are even harder than broad Scottish for speakers of standard versions of English to understand. (Many of these are spoken in the Carribean or in New Guinea or on certain Pacific Islands). The speakers of these languages consider themselves to speak English, and they pass the A, B, C test above, in that there are speakers of intermediate forms of English, but they are not something you or I could understand.

My point I think is that I don't think you should draw a hard and fast line. There are actually degrees of good and bad here. There are practices that are clearly good, and practices that are clearly bad. But there is also a level of murkiness in between. I strongly prefer films to be subtitled rather than dubbed. This is equally true when we are dealing with a film originally in Spanish, however. As a practice I dislike dubbing. But there are still occasionally times for it. There are fewer times for it when you are dealing with different dialects of the same language, but even in this case, saying that it should never be done strikes me as going too far.

One thing that we should campaingn for is DVDs that have as many possible soundtracks and sets of subtitles as possible. That way, when the producers have made some sort of compromise like this, the audience will have the choice of decising which to watch and listen to.
Brief cricket update

Two games I mentioned as in progress have now finished. Sri Lanka batted nearly as well as did New Zealand in their test in Colombo. Sri Lanka scored 483 in reply to New Zealand's 7/515, thanks to a fine 144 from new Sri Lankan captain Hashan Tillakaratne. At that point, a draw was the only likely result. New Zealand lost wickets in their second innings to be 5/133 off 60 overs with about 30 overs to play thanks to good bowling from Muttiah Muralitharan. If Sri Lanka could have taken the remaining five wickets almost instantaneously to set Sri Lanka 180 to win from 25 overs, then the last hour and a half could conceivably have been fun. As it was, Stephen Fleming and Mark Richardson, the two best batsmen in the New Zealand team, were still there, and they simply batted out the draw carefully. Fleming scored 69 not out to go with his 274 not out in the first innings. He could have attempted to score quite runs to try to get his second century of the match, but he wasn't taking risks, and quite right too. It's a shame this series is only two matches, because the two sides look evenly matched. I will look forward to the second match in Kandy.

In Australia's tour game in Barbados, Australia scored an easy 6/358 declared in their first innings (to follow up the local side's 290), before bowling the locals out for 162 in their second innings. Five wickets to MacGill (ten for the match), and two to Hogg. The Australians then lost four wickets getting to the target of 95 to easily win the match. Australia fiddled with the batting order. Captain Steve Waugh opened the batting and was out for 1, after scoring 46 in the first innings. I think Waugh would really like a big score in the third test, as he has done little with the bat on this tour so far. On the other hand, he has batted once in two test matches, so this can hardly be held against him.

Going into the third test, all the noises coming out of Barbados are that Australia will play an attack consisting of four quick bowlers and Stuart MacGill. That is, Brad Hogg will be making way for Glenn McGrath. This is a little hard on Brad Hogg, as he has played decently. Still, that's the way it goes, I guess. MacGill has been the more successful spinner on the tour so far, even if at times Hogg has looked the better bowler. The Australian side will be a little weaker in batting terms, as Hogg is a good lower middle order bat, whereas McGrath is what is known as a "genuine number eleven". That said while the West Indies will certainly play an extra bowler in the third test, Australia's batting is still easily strong enough to hit them all over the park. Chanderpaul and Jacobs will both supposedly be back for the West Indies for that test, but I think that Australia getting McGrath back is a bigger deal. I am predicting another big win for the Australians. More cricket writing from me probably after day one of that game (ie Friday evening British time).

Monday, April 28, 2003

Real Ale and me

Glenn Reynolds is making some kind of pro-British pro-Australian political statement in favour of by drinking Newcastle Brown Ale and Fosters Lager. That's fine by me. Neither beer would be my first choice, although both are certainly quite drinkable. (I suspect trying to find Coopers Pale Ale in America is hopeless, however).

I grew up in Australia. In Australia, we like beer. Australian beer is mostly lager, is mostly mass produced by a small number of large companies, and this has been the case for at least a century. As well as light coloured lager, there are also darker beers: a little bitterer in taste, but highly carbonated and also drunk cold. (Not unlike Newcastle Brown ale, actually, but browner). In Sydney, the light beers were traditionally called "new" and the dark beers "old".

Traditionally, an Australian's choice of brewer was made on regional and sectarian grounds. That's right. Sectarian grounds. Until about 1950, Australia was a very sectarian place. People were either Protestant (ie English or Scottish) or Catholic (ie Irish). Our schools were essentially segregated. Catholics were excluded from the Melbourne Club that used to run Australia's private sector, and were discriminated against for the best private sector jobs. (The federal government is constitutionally required to treat people of all religions equally. One consequence of this is that able Catholic people tended to get jobs in the federal government, and the national capital of Canberra remains the most Catholic place in the country to this day as a consequence). And, at least in Sydney, our beer was also segregated. There were two big brewers. Tooheys was owned by Protestants, and Tooths (which also owned the Reschs brand after a 19th century merger) was owned by Catholic interests. And people drank the beer of their own community.

In other states, there tended to be only one big brewing company: Castlemaine (brewers of XXXX) in Queensland, Carlton and United Breweries (CUB, brewers of Foster's, Victoria Bitter, and Melbourne Bitter) in Victoria, and Swan in Western Australia, and West End in South Australia. (For some reason, an independent brewery named Coopers, which to this day makes some of Australia's best beers, never got swallowed up by a larger company). Fiercely parochial, Australians did not drink beer that came from a different state.

However, something known as the "Beer Wars" took place as part of the general corporate excesses of the 1980s. Loosely, all the brewers were consolidated into two groups. CUB bought a one or two smaller brewers (plus Tooth/Reschs in Sydney) and started selling its Victorian brands nationally, and internationally. (They attempted selling Fosters to Australia and indeed much of the world. Australians, just to be spiteful (although they generally claim it is because the beer is too sweet) took to drinking VB instead. (Although the old Tooths and Rechs brands are still produced in small quantities for traditionalists, the focus is now on CUBs national brands). After a series of amusing incidents in which 80s entrepreneur and America's Cup victor Alan Bond ended up both bankrupt and incarcerated, Castlemaine, Swan, West End, and Tooheys all ended up belonging to Lion Nathan of New Zealand. Lion Nathan's beer brands still remain highly regional. Queensladers still generally drink Castlemaine and South Australians West End. (Perhaps Scott will tell me why it is South Australians drink beer from such small glasses).

So that was what I knew about beer in 1991, when I first came to England. Amongst Australians, English beer has a reputation for not being very good. Go into most English pubs, and you will find most people drinking lager (although from pint glasses - Australians drink their beer from smaller glasses, although the actual size varies from state to state). When you actually buy a pint of this lager, it is generally weak and tasteless: not good beer at all. Check up on its alcohol content and it is around 3-3.5% alcohol, which explains why it is weak and tasteless. Oddly enough, these lagers all seem to have the names of foreign beers, even though they are brewed "under licence" in the UK. Heineken is common. Foster's is also common. Carsberg - Danish in theory - is common. In their original Dutch, Australian, and Danish forms, these beers are all at least competently made lagers. However, the low alcohol English versions are not.

However, as I said, when I first came to England these are what people generally drank. You could also buy Guinness, and something called "Bitter", of which John Smiths was an example. Not bad, but not really my taste. And there were also these funny hand pumps that you saw in some (but not all) pubs, from which rather frothy but not very bubbly looking liquids of various colours were being poured for some slightly scruffy looking customers.

I am normally a deeply curious individual, but from some reason I didn't investigate what was being poured using these hand pumps. I spent the next few years improving my ability to appreciate fine wine and single malt whisky. These were splended pursuits from which I got much pleasure, but still, when I drank beer I continued to simply drink not very good lager. As the years went on, the English people themselves seemed less enamoured with this terrible lager. Two common brands of lager for which the original versions hailed from La Francophonie: Kronenburg 1664 and Stella Artois, became steadily more common. These were more expensive than most other lagers, but were made to the same recipe and level of alcoholic content as the original French and Belgian versions. Stella even very successfully promoted itself using the slogan "reassuringly expensive". This was interesting, but it didn't really address the question of why the English had been drinking such dreadful lager in the first place.

In any event, at that point I returned to Australia for four years, leaving the question unanswered. A year ago, when I returned to the UK, I wouldn't say I was determined to get to the bottom of it, but I was at least interested. I had known vaguely for a few years that there was something called the Campaign for Real Ale in the UK, but I had know idea what it referred to - not even that it was connected to the funny hand pumps. With some good advice from the owner of a Southampton boutique beer shop who I met in a bar in Belgium, I started experimenting with real ales, which are of course the frothy liquids without many bubbles that come from the handpumps. They are quite inexpensive, and there are lots of different ones as they generally come from small breweries. They take a little getting used to, as they are less carbonated than keg beer, but once you have got used to them, you discover something that the English seemingly go to great trouble to conceal, which is the English actually make extremely good beer. Real ales come in a variety of different flavours and styles, and the best are absolutely lovely. (Some can be quite strong, too. Whereas a lot of lager drank in England is maybe 3.5% alcohol, real ales normally fall in the 4.5-5.0% range, and some of them are rather stronger than that).

The question is, just why is it that most beer consumed in this country is as awful as it is. Given the English do make high quality beer, why do so few of them drink it. The answer is not unrelated to something I wrote earlier in this post, although not the thing that most people expect. And that is this. "In Sydney, the light beers were traditionally called "new" and the dark beers "old". The reason for this is simple. In the 18th and 19th century, most English beer was what is now called "real ale". In this type of beer, after primary fermentation, the beer is poured into a cask. The yeast is kept in the beer, and the beer undergoes secondary fermentation over a period of time in the cask. This process also causes the beer to carbonate itself. This process was never suited to Australian conditions, because the hot climate meant that the beer would generally spoil when it was supposed to be undergoing its secondary fermentation in the cask. Therefore, when the "new" process of producing lager was invented, Australians took to it very quickly. In this case, the beer is fully fermented, then filtered to remove the yeast, then carbonated and stored in a tightly sealed keg, ready for immediate drinking. This is also suited to large scale, industrial brewing, which came into being in Australia earlier than in most other places. (Australias "old" beers also adopted much of this process to attempt to produce something as close to the old ale as possible, but didn't really succeed, instead creating something different). Thus Australians drank lager.

And what happened in England?. Well, eventually, in the last few decades of the 20th century, the British brewing industry also consolidated. Brewing lager was more suited to a large scale industrial process, and the resulting beers were longer lasting. (Cask beers need to be looked after or they will go bad). Essentially these are the same issues that led to the switch to lager in Australia, except that in Australian the climate made them much worse). Lagers were introduced and promoted heavily. The tax system taxes by alcoholic content, and therefore there was a financial incentive to make weak lager. The brewers owned lots of pubs, so lagers became the main thing available in many pubs. For some inexplicable reason the public went along with this, when revolution would have been more appropriate. (The fact that the lagers sold were "foreign" may have helped. Real Ale is a very British thing, and selling lager as the sort of thing that trendy people overseas drink, and not the thing that your old fogey parents drink, may have helped. It may also simply have been that real ale doesn't taste very good if it is not properly looked after, and it may be that many pubs didn't look after it. It goes bad easily. At least for a boring lager, the beer is of consistent quality).

In the form of the story told by the Campaign for Real Ale, the product was in terminal decline, until their brave organisation came along and campaigned to save good beer in this country. Eventually, they increased awareness and there has been a renaissance in good small English breweries. There is undoubtedly a fair bit of truth in this. The number of small breweries has increased. CAMRA is a fine organisation. However, there has certainly been a trend towards small breweries making high quality beer in other countries as well. They exist in Australia, and in America. The trend back to good beer in England is probably also another example of this. People are less interested in large mass produced products than they were a couple of decades back. There has been a move to quality specialist foods. The rise of microbreweries everywhere is part of this. People are richer, more willing to pay for quality, and more aware of quality. (Interestingly enough, this is coming through in the market for lager, too. Heineken, having long produced a weak, inferior product for the British market, have recently stopped doing this and their British product is now higher strength and produced to the same recipe as the much better product they sell in the Netherlands and just about everywhere else).

All that said, real ale drinkers are still not predominately younger people. Not all British pubs sell real ale. The trendier a bar is, the less likely it seems to be that it will serve anything but keg beers and bottled beers. (This would be okay, if they were interesting bottled bears from Belgium, but they are always Corona, Budweiser, and that kind of crap). Some pubs that do sell it don't look after it properly, and a bad glass can put you off it. (the J.D. Wetherspoon chain of pubs serve a wide selection of excellent ales, and go to great care to make sure that they are fresh. However, they don't have televisions in their pubs. When watching Arsenal v Manchester United last week, I thus went to a non-regular pub. They only had one real ale, and it was served the wrong temperature and wasn't fresh). On the good side, the increased interest in real ales has led many small breweries to also sell bottled versions of their beers. Sainsbury's, which has easily the best alcoholics drinks buyers of any of the major supermarket chains, has been stocking quite a few of them. So things are not that bad.Thereis progress still to be made. However, belatedly discovering fine English beer is something I have enjoyed doing.
The art of subtitling

This piece in the Los Angeles Times is about the art of subtitling motion pictures. In pariticular, it is a difficult art. You have very little space, and often complicated and non-standard language to translate. Particularly interesting, though, is this point.

But Sony Pictures Classics' Barker maintains that younger audiences are far less resistant to subtitles.

" 'Run Lola Run' and 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' became huge because the younger generation, who are used to reading instant messaging on their home computers and CNN crawls at the bottom of the screen, are much more open to subtitles than people in their 40s and 50s," he said. "That bodes well for foreign films aimed at a younger audience."


This is against conventional wisdom. The last 20 years have seen fewer and fewer subtitled films released in the United States, and independent cinemas have shown more and more independent films made in English and fewer and fewer Europeans films shown with subtitles. European filmmakers have made more and more of their films in the English language because they believe that this is necessary to pick up English language (and particularly American) audiences. (Lars von Trier set Breaking the Waves in Scotland, and Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar set The Others in Jersey because films in English were easier to finance and sell. Early drafts of both screenplays were set in places where English is not the local language). The exhibition and distribution industries are certainly often reluctant to book subtitled films, and there have been quite a few times when I have been warned that a film has subtitles when buying a ticket. Presumably the people at the ticket office have been instructed to do this, and presumably management have told them to do this because people sometimes do go into a film, see that it has subtitles, and then demand their money back.

However, when I think about it, I think the rep from Sony is probably right. Younger people multitask better than older people, and are used to reading and doing other things at the same time. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was by far the most successful subtitled film in the US ever. Amongst the people who saw it, the fact that it was in Chinese with subtitles was barely the point. (Of course, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a Sony distributed film, so their feelings must be helped by having made so much money from it).

Personally, my parents (bless them) started taking me to see (mostly French) films with subtitles when I was about ten, and I tend to see them as just a normal part of moviegoing. (Of course, when I first visited France at age 23, I found the fact that people actually spoke French to be slightly perturbing. Up until then, my subconsciousness had decided that French was a language merely used for movies). However, about five years ago, I had a peculiar conversation with my father. Dad loves the movies possibly even more than I do, and while having a film related conversation with him, he discovered that I had didn't have great enthusiasm for modern European cinema, and I had no great desire to see one particular French (or was it Italian) film he wanted to see. He asked me what I found to be an extraordinary question, which was whether "I didn't like movies with subtitles"? I found this a shocking question, because I saw and see lots of non-English language films, and I thought he must have been aware of this.

However, when I thought about this, I realised that I see a lot of Asian cinema. I see a lot of films from greater China (ie including Taiwan and Hong Kong) and I see a lot of Japanese cinema (including a fair bit of anime), with also the odd film from India, Korea, or various other places. While my Dad certainly does see Chinese films from time to time (He likes Zhang Yimou, although I am not sure if he has discovered Chen Kaige) and I certainly see European cinema from time, our tastes diverge somewhat. My lack of enthusiasm was for recent European cinema rather than for subtitles. (Of course, there continue to be good French and other European films made, but I think the overall quality is not what it once was).

it will be interesting to see when we get another subtitled film that is as big a hit as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I am sure we will get one, and I am sure its audience will again skew young. It will be interesting to see where it comes from. Maybe China again. Perhaps Japan. (I would love to see a Japanese animated film breakthrough in a bit way, although they tend to be dubbed rather than subtitled for the US market). Perhaps even Bollywood.

Update: There are also good reasons for preferring subtitles to dubbing when you are in a foreign country. When you are feeling culture deprived due to the absence of anything in English on the hotel television except for CNN, CNBC, and BBC Worldwide, there is nothing like a Hollywood movie to make you feel better. If you are in a civilized country that prefers subtitles to dubbing, you can just go along, listen to the original soundtrack, and try to ignore the subtitles. When in Tokyo a couple of years back I saw quite a few movies for this reason. Tickets cost something like US$20 each, but I didn't care. I needed movies.

An odd thing about seeing this way was that the first few times I did it, I was watching films with English soundtracks and French subtitles, and I found the subtitles oddly distracting. My mind had sort of figured out from years of practice that if there were subtitles on the screen it should pay attention to the subtitles and ignore the dialogue. Therefore, I found myself ignoring English language dialogue and trying to figure out what the French subtitles meant, even though I don't undertand French. Curious. (This has never happened when the subtitles have been in languages with non-Latin scripts, however. My mind has never tried to figure out Chinese our Japanese subtitles, thankfully).

Of course, if doing this, it is necessary to make sure that the film is actually in English. Once, due to a lack of proper thought, I sat through Buena Vista Social Club in Spanish with Japanese subtitles. This wasn't actually so bad, as the music in that film was still superb. Still, I didn't understand a great deal.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Me on digital television

As has been recounted elsewhere, on Friday I gave a talk on the subject of digital television. If anyone is interested in what I said, my notes for the talk are here. Please note that these are not especially polished and were not originally intended for posting on the web. They are just something I quickly wrote for my own use and to hand out to anyone at the talk who was especially interested.
Pretty much right, except for the girls from Ohio
Intellectual
You're An Intellectual!
You can always be found reading or on the computer.
People always come to you when they need
information. You don't really care about love
at this point, your only goal is to improve
your mind. After all, knowledge is power!


What Type Of Anime Character Are You?
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Cricket Update

Two test series have started this weekend, one between South Africa and Bangladesh in Bangladesh, and another between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. Plus Australia are playing a practice match against University of West Indies Vice Chancellor's XI in Barbados leading up to the third test against the West Indies starting on Thursday.

First, though, cricket politics. The England cricket board has been accused of "colluding with Zimbabwe selecting only players uncritical of its President Robert Mugabe to tour England in May". The story here is that the England board was very concerned that Zimbabwe would cancel its tour of England due to England's refusal to play in Zimbabwe in the World Cup. The England board is financially stretched, and needs the money from the tour, and thus was willing to agree to almost anything to have the tour go on. This is deeply unimpressive on the part of the England board, but I don't really get the fuss. Two players protested against the Mugabe government by wearing black arm bands in the World Cup. After that, they were not selected, were unable to return to Zimbabwe, and attempts were apparently made to have one of them arrested for treason. After that, is there anybody in the world who does not think that political considerations are not being taken into account when choosing the Zimbabwean cricket team? It might surprise me a little if the England board agreed in writing to acknowledge this, but surely it is something everybody knew already.

England were never quite clear about whether they boycotted the game in Zimbabwe for moral reasons or simply for reasons of safety. At the time, they received credit from some quarters for staying away. However, given the England board's eagerness to have Zimbabwe tour England, one can only be cynical about their motives. Given the state of Zimbabwe, and the dropping of Henry Olonga, and the attempts to have him arrested, it is obvious that Zimbwean cricket (along with the rest of the country) is being ruined by the Mugabe regime. I think it is time the rest of the world acknowledged this, and stopped playing against them. I do not believe that the Zimbabwean tour of England should go ahead, and I believe that the Zimbabwean tour of Australia at the end of the year should also be cancelled. I am not expecting either of these things to happen, however, unless the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorates a lot more. (Sadly, this could happen).

Now, actual cricket. Firstly, South Africa have beaten Bangladesh by an innings and 60 runs in three days in Chittagong in Bangladesh. Sadly, this result simply confims that Bangladesh's test status is a joke. They are not good enough to play at this level, particularly the number of matches forced upon them by the ICC test championship schedule. I defended their elevation for some time, but their performance in the World Cup made it clear that they cannot compete and that there are several non-test countries (most notably Kenya) that are considerably better than they are. Something needs to be done about this.

One aspect of the problem is that playing Bangladesh regularly is inflating the statistics of players from other teams who play them a lot, and devaluing the importance of test matches. Sri Lanka have fielded what are essentially second eleven teams against Bangladesh, and have devalued the test caps of their players as a consequence. Plus, there are things like what happened in this match. For South Africa, Jacques Rudolph and Boeta Dippenaar put on an unbroken partnership of 429, and Rudolph scored an unbeaten 222 in his first test match. The partnership was the sixth highest in all test cricket. Normally, such achievements would be things to really take note of, but in this case I just have to yawn. These sorts of things are happening against Bangladesh a lot. Heaven knows what the Australians will do to them in June.

One good thing to come out of the match is ten wickets to Paul Adams of South Africa. Adams was the first non-white player to play for South Africa, and is a left arm wrist spinner (like Brad Hogg for Australia) with a very strange action. At his best he has looked an excellent bowler, but he has been plagued with spells out of the South African side due to injuries or bad form. If he is fit and back in form, this is great. Of course, we have to wait for some good opposition to know what this really means.

In Colombo, Sri Lanka are playing a game against New Zealand. A long way into this post, I have finally got to a discussion of two excellent cricket teams playing one another. This is something of a a relief. Sri Lanka are very hard to beat at home, but New Zealand got off to a great start due to a superb 274 not out from New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming. Fleming played one superb innings in the World Cup against the West Indies, demonstrating that he is a better batsmen than many of us realised. Although New Zealand faded as the World Cup went along, the innings in this match confirms what we saw in that innings. A great effort. New Zealand declared their innings closed at 7/515. Sri Lanka slumped to 4/134, but as I write they have recovered to 4/267 thanks to Jayawardene and Tillakaratne, and the game has stopped due to rain. There are only two more days, and a draw looks the most likely result in that game, unless New Zealand can take the last six wickets for less than 49 runs and enforce the follow on. This seems unlikely. Sri Lanka will be happy with the form of Jayawardene. He is one of their best players, but he played almost unbelievably badly in the World Cup.

Finally, The West Indian West Indies Vice Chancellor's XI scored 290 against the Australians. This was almost entirely thanks to one good partnership of 195 between Chris Gayle (who ended up with 129) and Jason Haynes, who scored 58. (I wonder if Haynes is any relation to the great West Indian batsman Desmond Haynes?). Otherwise, though, they didn't do much at all. Still, given that the West Indians have recalled Gayle for the third test, they will be happy with his century. Glenn McGrath is back in the Australian side, and took 2/41. The question of which Australian bowler to drop in favour of McGrath in the next test was probably made a little clearer. The two most likely candidates are MacGill and Hogg. MacGill took 5/40, and Hogg took 3/94. MacGill's wickets were top order players, while Hogg got the tailenders. MacGill is probably the frontrunner to keep his place, as he is the more conventional type of bowler. However, Hogg is the better batsman of the two, Hogg has probably bowled better in the first two matches, and while he is a less conventional left arm wrist spinner, there are a number of good left handed batsmen in the West Indian side, which means that the advantage of a right handed wrist spin bowler spinning the ball away from the batsman will be nullified a little. I take back what I said about it being clearer. I have no idea. (I still have a hunch they will select MacGill though).

In reply to this, Australia romped to 0/61 by stumps. There still do not appear to be any West Indian bowlers worth mentioning.

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