England the best (nearly)

August 2, 2011

There is a tendency among English (and to a certain extent British) sports commentators and supporters to consider national teams either complete rubbish or world class. I’ve written an analysis of the England soccer team at the 2010 World Cup, compared with major rivals which goes into this in some detail. Some time (Real Soon Now, hopefully) I’ll publish it as a page here.

But for now, I want to take issue with Derek Pringle, a former Test player for England, and presently a commentator for the Daily Telegraph. He writes about yesterday’s England win over world number one India:

It was a pounding, delivered with the swaggering elan of the two finest sides of the last 30 years: the West Indies under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards; and Australia under Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh.
They are not yet as consistently ruthless as those teams but successive wins against India appears to have given them an appetite for world domination judging from the one-sided nature of the cricket here.

Now I would bet that any English reader of the quote is going to assume that I want to criticise the comparison with the great West Indian or Australian sides. But that isn’t my complaint. It’s that Andrew Strauss, the South African-born England captain has already matched or surpassed the standards set by the four great captains listed above.

Here’s the record:

Andrew Strauss (England): Captained 37 times, won 19 (51.4%), lost 5 (13.5%), drawn 13 (35.1%).

Clive Lloyd (West Indies): Captained 74 times, won 36 (48.6%), lost 12 (16.2%), drawn 26 (35.1%).
Viv Richards (West Indies): Captained 50 times, won 27 (54.0%), lost 8 (16.0%), drawn 15 (30.0%).
Mark Taylor (Australia): Captained 50 times, won 26 (52.0%), lost 13 (26.0%), drawn 11 (22.0%).
Steve Waugh (Australia): Captained 57 times, won 41 (71.9%), lost 9 (15.8%), drawn 7 (12.3%).

Now it is clear that Strauss can claim to be more successful than Lloyd, in a near dead heat with Richards and Taylor and behind Waugh. But consider the starting point. The West Indies under Lloyd and England under Strauss did not start from a position of undisputed world’s top test cricket teams. And Steve Waugh’s loss rate is worse than Strauss’ even though he started with the top team in the world.

The simple truth is this. A team coming up against Andrew Strauss’ England does not expect to win (his loss rate is the lowest of the five). Which is precisely what it was like to face those other great captains. I think it’s time to recognise this fact and enjoy it while it lasts.

As a result of the 319-runs win in the second test, taking a 2-0 lead in the four match series, England are on course to take over from India as the top test playing team in the International Cricket Council rankings. Already, Strauss’ team is guaranteed at least second place, leap-frogging South Africa.

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Sharia-controlled zones

July 28, 2011

The UK’s Freedom Association is getting excited about the attempt by Islamic activists to claim sovereignty over parts of the country. This is being done by putting up flyposters declaring that a part of town is a “Sharia-controlled zone.”

It is amusing that of all the actions taken by groups such as Islam4UK, it is the challenge to local government’s authority that is being taken seriously by politicians. They don’t like it when people take charge of their own communities. Waltham Forest Council Leader, Cllr Chris Robbins, said:

“As soon as we heard about these posters we worked over the weekend to take them all down.” He continued “since then we have been going through our CCTV images and working with the police to try to identify the culprits. Our policy is to use the full extent of our powers to prosecute any offenders.”

Anyone expecting me to criticise Islam in this posting will be disappointed. It is true that if or when a previously Western liberal democracy whose leaders spouted secularist moral relativism becomes a truly Sharia country, I may not like the extent to which people are not allowed to live as they wish in private. But when it comes to people deciding that the state is not their friend, just a hugely expensive nuisance, attempts to provide a “bottom-up” order will occur.

Could I live in a Sharia-controlled zone? Probably easily enough. I’m not an atheist, or gay. I could give up drinking alcohol, though I would probably insist that Christian services be allowed to use Communion wine. I don’t normally smoke or do drugs, I’m quite happy not to gamble, or wear a tie. Growing a beard would take time and I’d miss Match of the Day.

I would however, get a lot of fun watching how the multicultis would cope. Those politically correct, invariably white middle-class, secularist atheists and gay rights activists alike, who think reading about the history of the Eastern Roman Empire is somehow racist or “unhelpful to the project.” Who think it’s wrong for an Afrikaner to say “kaffir” but insist that when the word is used in Arabic, it’s not a term of abuse. Who think saying “Peace be Upon Him” after the Prophet’s name is enough to indicate proper respect of Islam.

The most absurd piece of multiculralist propaganda I recently heard was the claim that the Prophet himself was not a man of war. What an insult to one of the most brilliant military commanders of all history! The expansion of territory controlled by Islamic law in the 7th and 8th centuries is nothing less than remarkable. Most of it was done by conquest but on paper the armies of the Prophet should never have won.

One of the crucial advantages was faith. I’m not an expert on how far this explains the conquest of the Arabian peninsula, the near East, Egypt, North Africa, Spain and Aquitaine (or Gothia as it was still known).

But when taking on the technologically superior Eastern Roman Empire, it helped that the soldiers of Islam offered lower taxes, less oppression from religious intolerance and a more business-friendly view of society than the Byzantines. For Jews and non-Orthodox Christians, submitting to the rule of the Rashidun Caliphate was a clear improvement.

If the campaigners for Sharia law in the UK were to effectively drive out the existing local government control, so that instead of paying Council Tax, Business Rates and the various charges that Councils levy, they paid something like the kharaj and the jizya, might non-Muslims move into such enclaves, especially if crime was effectively controlled?

Waltham Council certainly doesn’t want to find out.

Baffled by technology

July 4, 2011

The main reason blogging’s been light is that I’m shuttling between France and the UK with pay as you go SIM cards. I’m having trouble working out how to use wifi and my French SIM (SFR) won’t work at all outside France.

Do we know what we don’t know?

June 15, 2011

There’s an interesting exposition of the reason why claims of alien (extra-terrestrial) contact with this planet is extremely unlikely.

I most agree with it: the distances, the length of time it would take technology to develop that would make interstellar travel possible, the sheer luck that would be needed to stumble upon another civilization.

In fact I would go further, I think there’s a chance civilizations discover something like limited control of anti-matter, which it only takes a single nutter to detonate, taking out an entire solar system. We call them “supernovas.” We assume they’re all natural phenomena. If the technology to travel between stars is as powerful but takes longer than the development of a self-extermination bomb, the latter will be developed first by a death cult (easier to make an UNCONTROLLED explosion than a controlled one). Therefore no two interstellar civilizations will ever meet. The upside of this is that this will always be fiction.

But that’s where I have to draw the line.
Read the rest of this entry »

Bad news for freedom, the UK’s AV referendum

April 3, 2011

On Thursday May 5th 2011, a tiny number of people will vote to make a badly understood change to the UK’s electoral system. It seems likely (unless there’s a change in public awareness), that the Alernative Voting system will replace the current system of ticking a box for one’s preferred candidate.

The date of the referendum coincides with local elections in some parts of England, but not London. It does coincide with elections to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies so turnout will be high in areas where nationalist and extremist votes are voting anyway, but low in those areas where fewer extremists live.

As usual with referendums, there is no minimum threshold for the result to be valid. If 50,000 people, all of them rabid fanantics for election reform, happen to vote while 45,950,000 stay at home, then we will see a very bad electoral system introduced.

Three reasons for voting “No” to AV, although a different change could be better

1) It is important to realise that the referendum is NOT about “should we change the UK election system to something fairer”. If that were the case, then I would expect the result to be “Yes” and I’d probably support it.

If the referendum question passes, AV will be introduced and any discussion of other, better, voting systems is over. Once we have AV, it is very unlikely that any agreement can ever be secured to have a referendum on scrapping it. It’s like demolishing St Paul’s Cathedral to build a rubbish landfill site. Not something one can reverse easily. Any reform that is as crucial as changing the electoral system should have the same standard of approval as, say a vote by a building society to become a high street bank: 75% of members have to approve.

It is simply crazy to have a fundamental issue of how democracy works in the UK decided by what is likely to be less than one in ten people.

2) Complexity

Most of the people I know who will be voting for the AV change do not strike me as really having examined how it is supposed to work: they support AV for tribal reasons, being members or at least staunch supporters of the Liberal Democrat party. That alone alarms me, as it means that the risk of an unintended negative consequence of AV is almost certain to be overlooked by its supporters. They tend to assume that any opposition to AV is the same as opposition to the Liberal Democrats having a chance of power in the UK parliament.

For what it’s worth, I’m happier that the Lib Dems are in the government coalition than if they were not. So my opposition to AV has nothing to do with my opinion of local government, the environment, European Union, same-sex marriages, drug policy etc.

In my parliamentary constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, the Liberal Democrats were the first placed party, according to BBC projections of the 2005 general election to the new boundary, with Labour second and the Conservatives third.

Under the AV system, we would have had to vote for our first and second preferences based on that (as it turned out faulty) analysis. So a supporter of the Green party who wanted the non-Conservative candidate to win would have put Green 1st and Liberal Democrat 2nd. A UKIP voter who wanted Labour out would have put UKIP 1st and Liberal Democrat 2nd.

In fact, the analysis was based on what I predicted would be a false reading of the local election results in the London Borough of Brent, where wards with high Lib Dem support were pushed into the Hampstead constituency. I know the areas concerned well and knew that lots of Conservative voters had been voting Lib Dem to get Labour out. Given the chance of voting for a Conservative in a first past the post parliamentary election, they could vote Conservative.

The actual result was a Labour victory and the Conservatives coming second, 42 votes behind.

Under AV, total confusion would have occurred. Unlike the French election system, where there is a second round of voting two weeks later between the top two candidates if neither passed 50%, we wouldn’t have known that the Lib Dems were eliminated before the Conservatives. So the Green and UKIP second preferences would ALL have been wasted. But any Communists or Nazis who happened to prefer Labour or Conservatives would have got a second vote that mattered.

I can see no basis for supporting a second preference when I don’t know who has a chance of winning.

Another problem is the number of people who are likely to be confused and tick two boxes (as they are told to do in local elections for multi-member constituencies). We should be making it LESS complicated, not more.

3) Pandering to the extremists

If the people who vote for the most extremist political parties with the smallest support have their second preferences counted first, they have twice as much influence as the people who vote for the larger more moderate parties.

Specifically, if a British Nationalist Party candidate gets 1,000 votes, but the gap between both Labour and the Conservatives reaching 50% is, say 900 votes, then both Labour and Conservatives have an interest in capturing the BNP vote. This is unlikely to be by offering anything nice. The same obviously applies to socialist or communist fringe groups.

By contrast, in 2002 the French Presidential election unexpectedly threw up a Republican centre-right versus National Font extreme-right run-off. Because the French voters DID NOT HAVE AV, they had two weeks to decide if they preferred “the crook” to “the fascist”. With AV, all Socialist voters who didn’t realise that their support would be needed to keep out Jean-Marie Le Pen would have abstained, so a National Front victory could have been realised.

What change should we consider?

I don’t favour party list systems (like the system used in the European Parliament elections in the UK) because they reduce the connection between the elected politicians and their voters. To succeed, a politician will want to be higher up the party list, which means grovelling to the leader and ignoring local voter concerns.

However, a party list system would mean that if we prefer to back a label then we get a parliament that reflects the aggregate preferences of more people than AV does. If we have to have this, then a D’Hondt method of allocating seats might make sense.

Another option would be to have a second preference, but not cast at the same time (and in ignorance of the choices available). This system, sometimes called “runoff voting”, is used in France where a candidate fails to get 50% support in the first round, as mentioned previously. It is sometimes described as a system where one votes with one’s heart in the first round and with one’s head (or wallet) in the second.

A third option, which I oppose for some of the reasons I oppose AV, is the Single Transferable Vote. It can be VERY complicated to count. If we want a proportional representation system, this is the one that delivers proportionality.

Consequences for freedom

The pandering to extremism that the AV system would likely produce, coupled with the outrage when an election “goes wrong” (millions of people discovering that their second choices were wasted) does not create a climate for pro-freedom policies to get enacted. Scapegoating, already a feature of British politics with attacks on immigrants, bankers, or people who went to public school. Any change to the voting system that is confusing to many voters and which encourages nasty populism is not one I can support.

I know that most people who support AV would not do so if they were convinced that the negative effects I’ve outlined above were true. I hope I’m wrong, or that I don’t get the opportunity to remind readers that I was right. We shall see.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

The Phene(ix)

December 23, 2010

Delivering my last Christmas cards by hand tonight, I came across a welcome sight. The Phene, former drinking hole of George Best [video], has reopened after three and a half years.

The place closed down because people moved into the area and then tried to turn this corner of Chelsea into a mausoleum (estate agent-speak for a morgue).

I like the refurbishment. Much better seats quite busy on a Thursday evening. The London Pride’s ok, there is a deli counter and free wifi.

Thoughts on the Ashes

December 17, 2010

Thoughts about the Third Ashes Test. The quote below is a draft comment I decided was too long for Brian Micklethwait’s blog.

Hussey is the only really bright spot of Australia’s batting, with useful support from Haddin and now Johnson. Watson is doing well, the rest have been poor. Looking at the stats I see Clarke has an 80 and Ponting a 51 not out.

The problem is the 23 innings (so far) of less than 10 (46% of the total). By comparison England have 12 (36%). At the other end Australians have hit 50 or more 13 times (26%) to England’s 11 (33%), but the over 100 scores read 5 to Engalnd (15%) and 2 to Australia (4%).

I assumed that Johnson not playing between the tests was a sign of confusion by Australia’s selectors (there are plenty of other signs!) but there clearly was some thinking going on which has paid off.

My view is that Collingwood should have been dropped and both Bresnan and Tremlett lined up for England. Collingwood has taken 6 catches (and a couple of great ones), but scores of 4, 42 and 5 (average 17) with no wickets for 21 overs (he only averages one test wicket per 20 overs in his career) is not good enough for this series. If he’d got the 42 yesterday when England were collapsing I’d take a different view.

The Broad injury looks like being followed by Finn. Overbowling for long spells, because there are only four proper bowlers in the team. In the first two tests this was excusable: caution over going behind. Not now. And Collingwood does not seem suited to this pitch as a bowler.

Meanwhile Bell (worst score 52, he’s been running out of partners) is wasted at number six. Move him, Prior and Swann up the line and put the extra bowler in. Shorter spells might not take more wickets, but injured bowlers off the pitch certainly won’t. I can see Anderson break down soon after his 48 hour flights as he gets overbowled covering for Finn and the absent fifth bowler. A couple of 10-over spells on a hot day should do it. Bad planning.

Swann is occasionally getting whacked around. If there’s a turning pitch coming up England could pick both spinners, with left and right arm options available. I suspect Panesar might get Swann some more wickets. Clearly not this match (unless Australia’s dropping of Beer is an error), but perhaps the next two?

Overall, for all the talk, England have played like a team that think the Ashes are already won after day one of this test.
Final thought about Ponting. Dropping him for averaging only about 30 in the past two years is bizarre. I don’t think Mark Taylor was as good and he kept his place.

One thought niggles me. Whatever happened to the “Cricket Academy” the Australians had which was supposedly the source of greatness in the 1990s and early 2000s?

Quote of the day

December 7, 2010

“The Germans are such a cruel and inhuman race, they have no word for fluffy.”

Edmund Blackadder [H/T my German host]

No more landline

October 31, 2010

I no longer have a landline. If you have my mobile (cell) phone, you are welcome to call me or SMS. Otherwise email. I will be using Skype more.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

The problem was that I was spending too much on landline fees and also had a pay as you go mobile which cost barely more for roaming as for local calls.