Friday, February 25, 2005

Bodyline and Bradman: Why the Australians hate us

The Australians have more than enough reasons to hate the English.

Naturally, a nation founded on forcibly-exported convicts is bound to feel some resentment for the Mother Country that so coldly rejected them.

And despite the fact that nearly all of them want to remove the British Monarchy from their constitution, for some reason they keep shooting themselves in the foot by voting to keep it (to the great delight of England’s ‘Barmy Army’ of cricket fans, who love nothing more than to regale their hosts in Perth and Sydney with chants of “We Own Your Country” and “God Save Your Queen”).

Australians are the most-travelled people on Earth, and pay for their globetrotting by taking jobs from across the whole spectrum of employment, from bartending and waiting on tables in restaurants, right through to waiting on tables in bars and tending bars in restaurants (and everything in between).

Of course, an Aussie will claim that this mass emigration is explained by his countrymen’s innate sense of adventure. But when you remember that he comes from a country where 50% of the surface area is covered in venomous spiders the size of your head, while the other 50% is on fire, it is little wonder that the passport office in Melbourne is the busiest in the world.

It is also little wonder that your average Bruce so loathes and envies the inhabitants of England, with our rolling greenery, our mild and oh-so-brief summers, and the gentle caress of our spring-time drizzle.

But these aren’t the real reasons for the Australian’s detestation of old Blighty. No, that can be traced to one source, and one source only: the ‘bodyline’ cricket series of 1932-33...

How Bodyline nearly Created an International Incident and Still causes Bitter Resentment and Whingeing to This Day

In the early 1930s Australia had in their side the best batsman in the history of cricket. Don Bradman’s Test career average of 99.94 has yet to be beaten and may never be, and on the previous Ashes tour to England in 1930 he had walloped the hosts virtually single-handedly.

Consequently, England captain Douglas Jardine, along with his fast bowlers Harold Larwood, Bill Voce and Bill Bowes came up with a fiendish but lawful tactic, called ‘fast leg theory’ to counteract him, which they put into action on their tour of Australia in 1932-33.

The idea was simple: bowl very fast, violent short-pitched deliveries aimed not at the wicket but at the batsman’s body. Repeat ad nauseam.

The intimidatory tactic was devastatingly effective, England eventually winning the series 4-1. Bradman, being a genius, was cramped by the vicious bowling but coped, averaging a very creditable 56.

His team-mates fared less well, and the Australian crowds watched the carnage unfold with increasing indignation and fury, while the Australian press poured vitriol on what they called England’s ‘Bodyline’ tactic.

Matters reached crisis point in the third Test at Adelaide. Larwood – the most dangerous of England’s battery of bowlers – struck Aussie captain Bill Woodfull on the heart and followed it up by fracturing Bert Oldfield’s skull.

Only a thin blue line of police stood between the crowd and a full-scale on-pitch riot...And then things got political.

After four days of the third Test, the Australian cricket authorities sent a cable to London stating:

“Bodyline bowling assumed such proportions as to menace best interests of game, making protection of body by batsmen the main consideration. Causing intensely bitter feeling between players as well as injury. In our opinion is unsportsmanlike. Unless stopped at once likely to upset friendly relations existing between Australia and England.”

The British public, thinking that the Aussies were a bunch of whining sore losers, reacted indignantly to being called ‘unsportsmanlike’ and Jardine threatened to withdraw from the tour unless an apology was issued. In the subsequent impasse, Australian politicians discussed boycotting British imports, and were only dissuaded when their Prime Minister pointed out the awful ecomonic implications of a mutual boycott of Aussie products by Britain.

An apology was duly made, and the tour continued, but the ill-feeling between both nations continued to simmer, trade did suffer and ripples were felt around the world.

Bizarrely, Chinese newspapers wrote pro-bodyline editorials, condemning the Aussies as bad losers and many a proposed Australian business deal in Asia suffered as a result. A statue in Sydney of Prince Albert was defaced, with an ear smashed off and the word ‘bodyline’ daubed on it.

To this day, Aussies still whinge tediously about Bodyline, despite the fact that intimidatory fast bowling is now an accepted and hugely entertaining part of cricket, and that in the meantime they have given the game ‘sledging’ (personal verbal abuse designed to upset and unnerve opponents).

But logic and reason play no part in Albion-loathing, and Bodyline is still the fundamental reason why the Australians hate England.

You can read more about Bodyline and the subsequent fall-out on the site 334notout and a potted history on Wikipedia.

And the rabbits are gnomes for the Faerie Queen

From the Beeb:

Artist Tracey Emin has unveiled her first piece of public art in Liverpool on Thursday.

The Roman Standard - which features a small bird on top of a four-metre high bronze pole - is a tribute to the city's famous symbol the Liver Bird.

The sculpture was commissioned by the BBC as part of their contribution to the art05 festival and Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture in 2008.

It stands outside The Oratory, in Upper Duke Street by the Anglican Cathedral.

Emin said the sculpture, which cost the BBC £60,000, represents strength and femininity.

The bird, which is the size of a sparrow, disappears when viewed from the front and only reappears as the viewer moves left to right.

The Turner Prize nominee said she chose Liverpool for its "neo-Roman" architecture.

She said the sculpture would be a symbol of "hope, faith and spirituality", adding: "Liverpool has been one of my favourite cities since I first visited.

"I've always had the idea that birds are the angels of this earth and that they represent freedom".

The ‘Roman Standard’ actually looks quite a sweet little statue. Commendably restrained from Emin, a good talking point and children will love it.

But really, "the birds are the angels of this earth"? Oh dear me, no.

Sounds far too much like something Madeline Basset from Jeeves and Wooster would say (the one who thinks that the stars are God’s daisy chain, and that every time a fairy sneezes a wee baby is born).

Thursday, February 24, 2005

How to be hated

Americans are just getting used to the idea of being hated by nearly everybody else. Some of them don’t care or enjoy it, some don’t like it, many don’t have a clue about it, being snugly protected by a determinedly insular media.

But compared to the English, the Yanks are but piffling amateurs at being hated. To be English is to be loathed, envied and resented by all around you.

Being British is bad enough. The British are hated by all ex-colonies, as well as by nations as diverse as Argentina, Iran and France. But the English are hated even, or perhaps especially, by the other ‘nations’ within Britain (the Scots, Welsh and the Northern Irish).

Of course, we don’t in the least care about it. It merely confirms our innate sense of superiority, which is by far the best way of looking at the matter (and part of the reason for it). We greet sneers with patronising smiles. We infuriate the Scots by cheering on their plucky little sports teams.

But in a new feature, Think of England will be looking at why some countries think so ill of England and the answers may surprise.

Tomorrow I will kick off the series with a look at why the Australians hate the English, and it has nothing to do with convict ships.

But in the meantime, it seems appropriate to open proceedings with a song from the great English duo Flanders and Swann…

A Song Of Patriotic Prejudice

The English, the English, the English are best:
I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest!
The rottenest bits of these islands of ours,
We've left in the hands of three unfriendly powers,
Examine the Irishman, Welshman or Scot,
you'll find he's a stinker as likely as not.

The Scotsman is mean, as we’re all well aware,
And bony and blotchy and covered with hair,
He eats salted porridge, he works all the day,
And he hasn't got bishops to show him the way.

The English; the English, the English are best:
I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest!

The Irishman, now, our contempt is beneath,
He sleeps in his boots and he lies in his teeth,
He blows up policemen (or so I have heard),
And blames it on Cromwell and William the Third.

The English are noble, the English are nice,
And worth any other at double the price!

The Welshman's dishonest, he cheats when he can,
And little and dark, more like monkey than man,
He works underground with a lamp in his hat,
And he sings far too loud, far too often, and flat.

And crossing the Channel, one cannot say much,
For the French or the Spanish, the Danish or Dutch;
The Germans are German, the Russians are Red,
And the Greeks and Italians eat garlic in bed.

The English are moral, the English are good,
And clever and modest and misunderstood!
And all the world over, each nation's the same,
They've simply no notion of Playing the Game:
They argue with umpires; they cheer when they've won;
And they practise beforehand, which ruins the fun!

The English, the English, the English are best:
So up with the English, and down with the rest!
It's not that they're wicked or naturally bad
...It's knowing they're FOREIGN that makes them so mad!

For the English are all that a nation should be,
And the flower of the English are Donald (Michael!) and me!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Quinglish Watch: Gunpowder, treason and plonk

Reports the Beeb today:

A unique reconciliation is to take place between descendants of the gunpowder plotters and loyal Royals.

The ceremony, marking the 400-year anniversary of the plot, will see the Duke of Northumberland shaking hands with the Marquess of Salisbury.

The Duke descends from the family of plotter Thomas Percy while the Marquess' ancestor, Robert Cecil, was a minister under James I.

The event will happen in Westminster Hall, where the plotters were tried.

It will also take place against a backdrop of powder barrels and an enlarged version of a painting depicting Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators.

Chris Pond, project director, said February 1605 was the final month in which the plotters were trying to dig a tunnel under the Houses of Parliament as part of their scheme.

The commemorations will begin with an exhibition at Shakespeare's Globe in London, which tells the story of Guy Fawkes and his gang who planned to assassinate the King of England and Scotland, his nobles, bishops and all members of parliament.

Events will culminate in the premiere of a new play about the plot at Tower Hill, London on 5 November.

Special exhibitions and events will also take place at Waltham Abbey, Essex, Coughton Court, Warwickshire, The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon and Syon House, Brentford, Middlesex.

As well as showing that no English ceremony can be too pointless and too late if it’s an excuse for a good slap-up dinner and a booze-up, this story reminds us that while other, more crudely literal countries celebrate national holidays with mardi gras and carnivals and Bastille days and Thanksgivings and Independence Days and so on, our great nation bothers to celebrate but two things...

....some bloke’s attempt to blow up all the politicians, and the days when the banks close.

TofE definition: Occam's Razor

Occam’s Razor states “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate" or "plurality should not be posited without necessity."

The words are generally attributed to the medieval English philosopher and Franciscan monk William of Ockham (ca. 1285-1349).

The term ‘Occam’s Razor’ is often bandied about in debate, and sometimes used incorrectly.

Occam's Razor is not, for example, a law which states that the simplest explanation for something is always true.

It is a logical tool useful for deciding between competing explanations. It forbids the unnecessary proliferation of theories.

So if you have an explanation for something which is sufficient, you do not believe anything else until such time as it can be shown that that something else is necessary, and that the original explanation was therefore insufficient. So if x is sufficient, you do not believe x+y until it is shown that y is necessary and x insufficient after all.

For example, suppose the pavement on your street is wet. What's the explanation?

If it was raining ten minutes ago, your theory might be be: "the pavement is wet because it was raining".

As that is sufficient to explain the wetness, then you do not need to countenance any other theories unless you have to. For example, you do not need to believe a competing explanation that "the pavement is wet because it was raining ten minutes ago and a passing elephant squirted a trunkful of water onto it."

The raining explanation is sufficient, so Occam's Razor forbids the rain-plus-elephant explanation.

But if you then find out that it was just a brief shower, and see a CCTV recording of a passing elephant squirting water five minutes ago, you'll have to revise your explanation.

Occam's Razor then forbids any other explanation than "the pavement is wet because of the rain and the elephant" until such time as more evidence comes to light showing that the current explanation is insufficient.

Applying the Razor to evolution
In debates about evolution, if natural processes are sufficient to explain evolution, then Occam’s Razor forbids the explanation "evolution is the result of natural processes (which are sufficient) and also God does it", until such time as it is shown that that the natural processes are insufficient and God is necessary.

Good science applies Occam's Razor at all times and as a matter of course.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Politics versus logic

In an entertaining and insightful opinion piece in the Times today, Jamie Whyte dissects a recent campaign speech by Tony Blair, highlighting five common logical fallacies frequently employed by politicians:

1) The “human interest fallacy”.
As Whyte puts it: “this involves recounting a sentimental story about some needy person or neighbourhood and then leaping to the conclusion that your policies are the answer. An anecdote about a limping woman waiting for a knee operation was presented as sufficient ground for Labour’s health policies…Such rhetoric is sanctimonious bullying. If you oppose Mr Blair’s policy, then you obviously do not care about that poor woman. Everyone cares: Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem. That isn’t the issue. The question is which policies will most effectively help. "

2) The cum hoc ergo propter hoc (with this therefore because of this) fallacy
ie. confusing concurrence with causation.

As Whyte says: "Mr Blair enjoys boasting about Britain’s economic growth, low unemployment and low inflation. “Labour is working,” he claims, “don’t let the Tories wreck it.”…The fact that the economy has thrived during Labour’s term in office does not show that its policies caused it. To establish causation, some explanation is required.”

3) The “undistinguishing characteristic fallacy”.
Whyte: "Labour’s main contribution (to Britains current economic success) has been not reversing the Conservatives’ free-market reforms. Some credit is due to those who resist squandering their inheritance, but more is due to those who created it. But whoever deserves the credit for Britain’s prosperity, it should be a matter of no concern to voters. No party will now significantly change the monetary and other policies that explain our economic success. When all cars come with power steering, it cannot provide grounds for preferring one car to another. And when all parties will abide by the lessons of our recent economic success, it cannot provide grounds for preferring one party to another."

4) Recommending a policy by listing its benefits alone.
The benefits of a policy cannot suffice to recommend it, because it will also have costs, eg. tax costs – but Blair never mentions these.

5) The “straw man” fallacy
...which consists of presenting an absurd caricature of your opponent’s position and attacking that instead of the actual opponent. So Blair paints the Tories as absurdly wicked, and the Lib Dems as absurdly naïve etc.

It’s a good article, but Whyte spoils it a little by committing a logical fallacy of his own in his concluding paragraph:

The Prime Minister claims deep respect for the people of Britain. Then why not show us some respect? To peddle his rhetorical nonsense, he must either think that we are fools or be a fool himself.

This is the fallacy of the ‘false dilemma’, ie. Whyte presents us with two choices when in fact there are three:

Blair (and all politicians) peddle rhetorical nonsense because they think, correctly, that there are just enough fools out there to swing the vote.

They do it because it works.

Down with Blair, up, not-Blair!

William Rees-Mogg gives a good and concise overview of the implications for the Sunni in the Iraq elections in Monday’s Times.

He concludes with:

What happens to Iraq is what matters most to the world, but the critics of the Iraq policy ought to recognise that they were mistaken, though for the best of motives. Robin Cook got it wrong; the Liberal Democrats got it wrong; many of the London Arabists got it wrong; the Democrats got it wrong in the United States. President Bush got it right; Tony Blair got it right...

...The old Iraq was a murderous tyranny and a threat to its Arab neighbours; the new Iraq may still be fragile, but it is now a democracy, which will regain full independence as soon as the terrorists have been defeated. That is good news for the Middle East, and it is a solid justification for an unpopular war. The world tolerated Saddam Hussein’s genocidal regime in Iraq for far too long; genocide is a solid justification in international law for the decision to intervene.

A pleasant Italian meal with the missus last night was enlivened by the spectacle of a ragged mob of ‘protestors’ stomping up the slopes of Park Street, blowing hooters and whistles and brandishing ‘Blair – War Criminal’ placards. Apparently they do this every Tuesday.

Now I know it’s too easy to mock these straggled remnants of the ‘Not in my name’ fun and games. They numbered about fifteen and all sported the dreadlocks and tie-dye uniform of the Socialist Worker peddler/Glastonbury-is-too-commercial warrior. And in a way I admire them, because they refuse to just melt quietly away.

But what troubles me is this: After watching their parade from start to finish with genuine interest and attention, I still had absolutely no idea what it is they want.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

God save the Princess Consort!

From the BBC today:

Prince Charles will marry his long-term partner Camilla Parker Bowles on 8 April, Clarence House says.

A civil ceremony will be held at Windsor Castle. Mrs Parker Bowles will take the title HRH Duchess of Cornwall.

When the Prince of Wales, 56, becomes King, 57-year-old Camilla will not be known as Queen Camilla but as the Princess Consort, Clarence House added.

The move will end years of speculation on a relationship which has spanned the decades since they first met in 1970.

...The marriage is likely to be a sensitive issue because Mrs Parker Bowles is divorced and her former husband is still alive.

If he became king, Charles would be the supreme governor of the Church of England and some Anglicans remain opposed to the remarriage of divorcees...

They do? I thought you were almost required to be a Gay Divorcee to get anywhere in the Church these days. And don't they know that it was founded on a divorce in the first place?

Anyway, the report goes on:

Last year, a poll indicated that more Britons support Prince Charles marrying Camilla Parker Bowles than oppose it.

Of those who responded to a Populus poll, 32% said they would support Charles if he remarried, while 29% were opposed.

However, most people - 38% - said they did not care, while 2% had no opinion.

It must be an odd life when you have to take public opinion polls into account when making personal romantic decisions.

There are lots of well-worn arguments for and against the Monarchy. But the only people who really suffer under it are the poor Royal sods themselves.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The day that did come

From the BBC today:

Tony Blair has apologised to two families who suffered one of the UK's biggest miscarriages of justice.

PM apology over IRA bomb jailings

The prime minister was commenting on the wrongful jailing of 11 people for IRA bomb attacks on pubs in Guildford and Woolwich in 1974.

Mr Blair said: "I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and injustice."
He made the apology to members of the Conlon and Maguire families in his private room at Westminster.

In a statement recorded for television, Mr Blair said the families deserved "to be completely and publicly exonerated".

The families had hoped the apology would be made during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons.

However, one of the so-called Guildford Four, Gerry Conlon - who was wrongly convicted of planting the bombs - said the families were delighted with the apology.

He said Mr Blair had spoken with "such sincerity", adding: "He went beyond what we thought he would, he took time to listen to everyone.

"You could see he was moved by what people were saying.

"Tony Blair has healed rifts, he is helping to heal wounds. It's a day I never thought would come."

Apropos of nothing, Gerry Conlon is now enjoying his 16th year of freedom since his wrongful conviction was quashed.

Monday, February 07, 2005

History is what you can remember

The other day I picked up a book I hadn’t read for years: WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman’s 1066 and All That.

Written in 1930, it’s the best, well, the funniest book of British history ever. Taking as its maxim the truism that ‘History is what you can remember’, it tells the story of Britain as if narrated by a man distantly recalling the history lessons he snoozed through as a boy.

There are only two dates in history: 55BC, when the Romans came, and, of course 1066, when the Normans did; and everything is either a Good Thing or a Bad Thing.

I remember this passage on the ‘Pretenders’ making me weep with laughter when I was a schoolboy:

English history has always been subject to Waves of Pretenders. These have usually come in small waves of about two: an Old Pretender and a Young Pretender, their object being to sow dissension in the realm, and if possible to confuse the Royal issue by pretending to be heirs to the throne.

Two pretenders who now arose were Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, and they succeeded in confusing the issue absolutely by being so similar that some historians suggest they were really the same person [i.e. the Earl of Warbeck].

Lambert Simnel (the Young Pretender) was really (probably) himself, but cleverly pretended to be the Earl of Warbeck. Henry VII therefore ordered him to be led through the streets of London to prove that he really was.

Perkin Warbeck (the Older and more confusing Pretender) insisted that he was himself, thus causing complete dissension till Henry VII had him led through the streets of London to prove that he was really Lambert Simnel.

The punishment of these memorable Pretenders was justly similar, since Perkin Warmnel was compelled to become a blot on the King’s kitchen, while Perbeck was made an escullion.

Wimneck however, subsequently began pretending again. This time he pretended that he had been smothered in early youth and buried under a stair-rod while pretending to be one of the Little Princes in the Tower. In order to prove that he had not been murdered before, Henry was reluctantly compelled to have him executed.

Even after his execution many people believed that he was only pretending to have been beheaded, while others declared that it was not Warmneck at all but Lamkin, and that Permnel had been dead all the time really, like Queen Anne.

And here’s a good passage for any American readers:

The Boston Tea Party

One day when George III was insane he heard that the Americans never had afternoon tea. This made him very obstinate and he invited them all to a compulsory tea-party at Boston; the Americans, however, started by pouring the tea into Boston Harbour and went on pouring things into Boston Harbour until they were quite Independent, thus causing the United States.

These were also partly caused by Dick Washington who defeated the English at Bunker's Hill ('with his little mashie', as he told his father afterwards).

The War with the Americans is memorable as being the only war in which the English were ever defeated, and it was unfair because the Americans had ‘the Allies’ on their side.

In some ways the war was really a draw because the English remained Top Nation and had the Allies afterwards, while the Americans, in memory of George III's madness, still refuse to drink tea and go on pouring anything the English send them to drink into Boston Harbour.

After this the Americans made Wittington President and gave up speaking English and became U.S.A. and Columbia and 100%, etc. This was a Good Thing in the end, as it was a cause of the British Empire, but it prevented America from having any more History.

The book finishes at the end of WWI, and describes as ‘a Bad Thing’ the time when "America became Top Nation, and history came to a ."*

(*ie. history came to a full stop – thus preempting Fukuyama by six decades)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

75 years of agony

The Times Crossword is 75 years old today.

I’ve managed to complete it within a lunch hour, with no form of cheating/thesaurus/internet anagram site usage, precisely three times. Which out of many hundreds of attempts, isn’t that impressive.

Cryptic crosswords are all about getting inside the mind of the compiler. So some days you fly though it with the greatest of ease, while other times you struggle, with rising rage, to answer a single clue.

Martin Amis, in his autobiography Experience, gives an account of his father Kingsley’s daily battle with the crossword. Every time he gets an answer, he groans in agony: “Oh you swine! You absolute devil!”

An ear for terrible puns does help. But sometimes you come across a clue which can’t help but make you laugh. Here’s one I came across a few weeks ago:

“Do rey me fah so la do, do rey me fah so la do” (5)


The best clues are the ones which make sense as self-contained phrases, but point to a surprising answer

In the Times today, compiler Richard Browne gives some of his favourite clues. If nobody gets them all, answers will be posted in the comments section at a later date.

1. She takes a lot of trouble to compose her features (5,4)
2. Power to capture both rooks, giving brilliant mate (2,5)
3. When depressed, one gives no impression of character (5,3)
4. Pot of ale (4,5)
5. Glance at the fixtures: not much on (8)
6. Very fine clues sold for a pound (9)
7. Fit in girl’s pockets (15)