Barton Fink film review (with pics)

Hollywood is about money, and that determines what it makes. In a nutshell, that is the meaning behind the Coen Brothers' 1991 film Barton Fink.

Considering the film's strange storyline, its unlikeable characters and confusing ending, it is supremely ironic that this film was made within the Hollywood system.

Ethan and Joel Coen, the film's creators, are Hollywood's odd couple. Despite their offbeat humour, they have managed to create profitable and influential films within the Hollywood system. Early efforts like Raising Arizona and Miller's Crossing gave a hint of what they were capable of, and it is unlikely that film watchers will again experience the pleasure of the great 1-2-3 punch of Fargo, The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where art Thou?

Modern fans of the Coen brothers will look at those three films with great nostalgia as the years go by (and wonder why it was that The Man who wasn't there was only average and Intolerable Cruelty was so poor). Yet many will look upon Barton Fink with confusion.

For starters, Barton Fink contains none of the incisive wit and humour of their later films – and this despite starring Coen favourites John Turturro as the main character, John Goodman as a mysterious insurance salesman and Steve Buscemi as Chet the bellhop.

Fargo, Lebowski and Brother are all combinations of humour and drama. Fink, however, is mainly drama – though with enough idiosyncracies to identify the film as one of the Coen's. If Fargo was a send-up of Minnesota, Lebowski a send-up of California and Brother a send-up of the deep south, then Fink is a send-up of Hollywood. And Hollywood, deep down, is a serious place and cannot be sent up with much humour.

Fink watches his play

The film is possibly autobiographical in that Fink represents the Coen Brothers. Set in 1942-1943, Barton Fink is a young and successful Jewish playwright who is critically acclaimed for his Broadway productions. Fink is a true artist – his art must reflect true humanity and exalt “the common man” above everything else. Fink sees his work seriously and believes that it may lead to the betterment of humanity. He, along with a number of other young playwrights in New York, are redefining theatre by focusing upon the lives of the ordinary rather than the extraordinary. Deeply committed to his artform, Fink sees no room for compromise.

That is, until he gets an offer to go to Hollywood. The critical praise that Fink's plays gain in the New York newspapers has filtered through to a studio executive in Hollywood who wants Fink to work for him and write screenplays for films. Fink reluctantly agrees, seeing in this opportunity the ability to raise enough cash over the period to support his artistic work for many years to come. Besides, as his agent informs him, “the common man will still be here when you get back”.

The rest of the film covers the first week of Fink's tenure as a scriptwriter for Capital films. Typically and painfully, Fink is asked to write a script for a B-movie wrestling picture.

Fink and Lou

The Hollywood of the 1940s depicted in the film is strangely sparse, and completely opposite to Fink's New York. In New York, Fink is feted by the rich intelligentsia. In Los Angeles, Fink is manipulated and confused by the executives running the business – Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner) and Lou Breeze (Jon Polito). Fink's art is not respected in Hollywood - only his ability to write a popular script... something which he is unable to do in the week he is given.

Lipnick meets Fink

So what is Fink to do? Shacked up in a dirty and cheap hotel with melting wallpaper and armed with his typewriter, Fink has the choice between being artistic or being a hack – between being himself or earning the cash.

Charlie and Fink

Many people refer to LA as “Hell” (Matt Groening for example). For Fink, his first week in Los Angeles is hell. Despite every room in the hotel being full, Fink sees no other people apart from Chet the funny looking bellhop, an elevator operator who looks and sounds as though he was a bored boatman, patiently and distractedly transporting souls into the nether world, and Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), an insurance salesman who lives next door to Fink and who eventually turns out to be the ruler of the damned, flames and all.

Charlie Meadows Fire

The inference is that Fink has unwittingly sold his soul to work for Hollywood. Yet Fink is not a hack, but a true artist. His entrapment in hell is made all the worse when he finally produces a work that he can be proud of – a masterpiece so important that he churns it out over a few days non-stop work. Yet when this work is presented to the studio executives it is so completely and horrifically dismissed that Fink is stunned. Moreover, he realises that his work is actually owned by the studio and cannot be published or performed without the studio's say so. As he is led out the door, he is also informed that his contract prevents him from writing anywhere else and that he will remain in LA for the rest of his days, unable to write or produce anything that he can call his. Hell indeed.

Warning signs abound throughout the film. Fink is trying to express the point of view of the “common man” in his work, yet when he meets Meadows, as common a man as any (to begin with), he cannot relate to him. More than that, it also becomes clear that it is only the intellectual elite that is worried about presenting the “common man” - of which Fink is a representative – as it is revealed that all the “common man” wants to do is use film as an attractive escape.

Mayhew and Audrey

Another warning sign is when Fink meets and hooks up with W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney) and his secretary, Audrey (Judy Davis). Mayhew was once a fine author and someone to whom Fink looked up to. Fink was ecstatic to meet such a fine literary figure working in Hollywood and immediately begins to strike up a relationship with him. Alas, Mayhew had sold his soul many years previously, and has become a woman-beater, an alcoholic and, even worse, a hack who can't even write his own authored work any more. Fink is horrified at Mayhew's state. In response, he strikes up a doomed relationship with Mayhew's secretary Audrey.


Fink's room inside the Hotel Earle is another indicator that something is amiss. Living in a low class hotel as a means of identifying with the “common man”, the heat of Los Angeles leads to a stifling, claustrophobic room for Fink to work and sleep in. So warm is it that the wallpaper begins to unglue from the walls, leaving sticky liquid to run down them. The room is a symbol of Fink's desire to understand and relate to the “common man” through his art, but its slow and dismal destruction by heat shows up Fink's arrogance – his entire artistry is inherently flawed.

Woman on Beach 1

There is only one bright spot in the room. Above the desk which Fink writes is a picture of a beautiful young woman at the beach. It is idyllic. It is simple. It is escapist. It is everything that Fink does not stand for. And yet he refuses to take it down through his days of writer's block. Every time Fink sits down to write, the camera pauses on the picture and Fink's fixation with it, and we hear the sound of waves and seagulls.

Fink has a choice. He can pursue his flawed art or he can bite the bullet and concentrate upon the beautiful and escapist – what Hollywood wants its main players to work on. Does he want to be realist and true to his art or does he want to earn money and please the masses with manufactured fiction?

Woman on Beach 2

Initially we see Fink being true to his art – yet the work he presents the studio executives with leads him to eternal damnation. The film closes with Fink on the beach where he meets a beautiful young woman who then sits on the sand and exactly replicates the pose of the woman in the picture in his hotel room. Fink has found his answer. He will work for the devil and will write about the beautiful and inane, with only an unopened box next to him to remind us of the cost (watch the film if you want to find out what is in the box).

Woman on Beach 3

The cynicism of Hollywood and its lies and manipulations jar horribly with Fink's idealism. Told that he is a genius by executive Lipnick and even given a literal boot kissing from him, it is obvious at the end of the film that it was all a ploy to get him working. Fink doesn't even have the chance to return the favour to Lipnick before he is thrown out of the room and confined to the flames.

Lipnick kisses Finks shoe

Another trait which is probably all Hollywood is the “sink or swim” attitude. Fink is an effete, idealistic artist who is unsure of how to perform for his corporate masters – and yet none of them offer any form of effective help. Fink is all about how to serve man for the best. Hollywood is about how to use others to serve yourself. No wonder Fink is so successfully ground down by, and at odds with, the system he has sold himself to.

Giesler eating lunch

As with many Coen brothers films, bit players make an impact. As soon as I saw The Big Lebowski I knew that Phillip Seymour Hoffman would win an oscar one day – despite the fact that his screen time is so limited. Buscemi as Chet and Davis as Audrey make an impact on the film greater than the air time they receive, as does Tony Shaloub (“Monk”) who plays Ben Geisler - a cynical and busy executive who complains to Fink that Lipnick “has taken a interest” (sic) in him.

Charlie comforts Fink

In retrospect, Fink's character is not that attractive. He is serious and passionate and artistic – yet his relationships with others are little more than attempts to serve his artform or career. Fink has no real friends and only becomes acquainted with Charlie Meadows because of the salesman's insistent attitude. Ironically, Meadows is the only person in Los Angeles who pursues a relationship with Fink based upon a desire for friendship – who would have guessed that the Devil himself is the most personable man in hell? Fink's lack of humanity towards others belies his concern for the “common man” and actually places him in the same category as the executives who flatter and deceive him for their own ends – Fink is more like the people he despises than he realises. Since Fink is the film's protagonist and the character the audience naturally identifies with, the realisation that he shares some of the blame for his own misfortune is unsettling. Fink's artistry and passion are without question – it's just that he does not share a concern for the “common man” that he so desperately writes about. Fink is blinded by his own self-importance and commitment to his art and it is this blindness which is his ultimate undoing. Had Fink been a little more cynical, a little more proactive, a little more reflective, he may have saved himself from artistic damnation.

Writers block

The film is not for anyone looking for action or conventional story-telling. It is not as funny or as tight as the Coen's other films, being dreamy and confusing, with seemingly unimportant events becoming central to its theme. The film won a series of important awards at the Cannes film festival in 1991 – Best Film, Best Direction, Best Actor (John Turturro).

In short, Barton Fink is to the Coen Brothers as Blade Runner was to Ridley Scott. Confusing, slow, out of focus, dark, shocking and occasionally wryly humorous. Fargo, Lebowski and Brother it is not. It stands alone, a testament to the system that created it in the first place, and a harsh critic of arrogance and cynicism alike.

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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We've moved address - hence the lack of postings. We're still in Newcastle but no longer living the house that belonged to a relative. We're very happy not to speak to that particular relative again. For those who know us personally, I have sent out an email with our new address but if we have forgotten you please email.

In the midst of moving, I managed to write a review of the film Barton Fink.


Greenland and global warming

I've just read a fascinating yet profoundly disturbing article from the New York Times about Greenland. To summarise:

* New Islands are being discovered every year off the coast of Greenland. As the ice melts and retreats, mountains and land masses that were thought to be part of the mainland have been revealed to be islands.

* According to one geologist, the ice in Greenland has retreated 10km over the space of five years. ie: Where the ice met the sea has shrunk 10km.

* "Ice shelves are breaking up, and summertime 'glacial earthquakes' have been detected within the ice sheet." NB: Ice Shelves are layers of permanent ice floating on the top of the sea but are connected to the land. Ice sheets are above sea level. When Ice shelves melt, there is no increase in sea level. If Ice sheets melt, sea levels will rise.

* If the Ice sheets on Greenland melt, sea levels will rise 7 metres.


Low wages and the current account

The US and Australia both suffer from the current maladies:

1. An expanding and systemic current account deficit.
2. The loss of low-skill work to overseas competition.
3. The desire to reduce wages via legislation.

So, how to solve it?

Easy peasy. The best way to reduce the price of labour in an economy is to lower the value of the currency. In this case, reducing the value of the Australian and US dollars.

1. With a drop in the price of the currency, exports will decrease in value while imports will increase in value. Thus the current account will move into neutral or surplus.

2. With a higher demand for exports, there will also be an increase in the demand for low skilled labour. Thus low-skilled workers will get employment.

3. With a reduction in the currency, a de facto decrease in wages will occur.

So, how to decrease the value of the currency?

Option #1 - Create money and use it to buy overseas bonds. This will cause the value of the currency to drop (an increase in money supply). It will also lead to an increase in inflation, which will lead to an increase in interest rates.

Option #2 - Simply increase interest rates to reduce demand. This will lead to a rise in the value of the currency but will also result in a drop in economic growth. This, in turn, will reduce the demand for imports and put the current account into neutral or surplus. But, in order for this to happen, monetary policy needs to be stricter. It's always been my argument that zero inflation is the best monetary goal.

One Day Cricket Restrictions

How about we restrict players to 100 one-day internationals?

* Fresh, young players continually making their debut.
* Older, more experienced players extend their test and first class careers.


Let's give everyone a PhD

While at Griffith, I was in charge of the education of the worst year 10 class you could ever want. Most of them were nice guys and girls, some of them are future inmates but virtually all of them didn't give a toss about what they were learning. What was surprising was that about 25% of them wanted to go on to years 11 and 12 - as though somehow they would actually learn something.

So as I was sitting there one day I thought to myself "Why not make it a condition of entry into year 11 a 50% mark in the School Certificate?" I passed this thought around to a number of teachers and they thought it was a great idea.

Now, Professor Cooney from Macquarie University has suggested that people who don't get a "pass" mark in their HSC should not be awarded it. Shock horror! While the SMH article that reported this comment mentioned the resistance of teachers and the P&C to the idea, I can safely say that there would also be a lot of teachers who would back the idea.

School, in theory, should be a way that students learn about life (I know what you're going to say but I did say "in theory" so nyahh!). When a student leaves school and enters TAFE or Uni and/or finds employment, they will be confronted with the demand for minimum acceptable results. It only stands to reason that schools should encourage this. But they don't.

As I stood at the year 10 farewell assembly I couldn't feel anything but frustration as members of my year 10 class got up and received their school certificates. If I had it my way, none of them would have passed - none of them put in the effort or showed any inkling of getting beyond even 40%. Some might say that this was an indictment of my teaching - that I had failed as a teacher. Yet the results of my year 9 class that year were fantastic so the only thing I can conclude is that the problem lay with the basic attitudes of the students themselves.

As much as I support the idea of having a positive educational experience, there needs to be a point where school students can clearly and unambiguously see failure staring into their face. This can't be done when students who do no work, fight in class constantly and/or listen to iPods while I'm talking end up being presented with a School Certificate.

It's a lie. It's not education at all. These kids leave school with a Certificate in hand and then present this bit of paper to a potential employer. Once they have been employed, their true attitude and level of knowledge is likely to be borne out. As that occurs, the employer will ask themselves "what DO they teach in schools these days?".

At this stage, both the School Certificate and the HSC are glorified attendance awards. So long as students turn up to 50% of the classes and hand in assessment tasks, they'll get their bit of paper. It is a tragic and nonsensical state of affairs and is a good reason why so many parents are opting to use private education or even home school their kids.

If the system works, why don't we just give everyone PhDs for turning up to University 50% of the time and handing in gibberish for their assignments? Surely having a nation of PhDs will boost our economy and show how intelligent we are?

But handing out bits of paper will not achieve anything. They are worthless nowadays, except for those who actually put in the effort. Increasing school retention rates and awarding HSCs to lazy and bored teenagers isn't going to make our nation better.

There needs to be a point where we say "No. That is not acceptable!". Removing that point isn't going to solve anything - but diverting resources to give students a better than even chance of reaching that point will.

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Dismotivational Plaques (lots of pics)

I've been having fun here. Click "Read more..." to see the plaques I have created.


That's Edward Furlong.


That's Jimmy.


The picture has been photoshopped - by Something Awful I think.


That's my public domain pic of Justin Langer.


That's Patrick Tribett.


'nuff said.


For fans of Fight Club.


I don't know where I got that pic - but I think it's real.


I'm sick, I know.


Here's Moresnet.


I hope I haven't ruined it for anyone.


Here's Gazza.

Here's the guy doing the nutcracker.


That's MLJ.


For fans of The Dude.


Black, black humour. Dark as my heart. (Photoshop by Something Awful)


My favourite 80s cricketer.

A Fundy discovers Exposition

And he loves it.

(IFB stands for "Independent Fundamentalist Baptist")

NASA is going metric

Welcome to the 20th century.


My take on Islamic Terrorism

I wrote the following comment at my favourite right-wing blogger - Carol Platt Liebau.

If you take 9/11 out of the equation, America has been spared pretty much any terror activities by Islamic terrorists.

One theory for this is that America has been able to engage them in Iraq rather than on American soil - but that argument seems to fall down when one considers terror attacks in places like London, Madrid and Bali.

There's no doubt that America's internal security arrangements since 9/11 have helped enormously. However, given the problems of illegal immigration and illegal drugs entering America, it is obvious that many holes still remain.

So why aren't the Islamic terrorists exploiting these security holes?

I would argue that the reason is because the Islamic terrorists were never as sophisticated or well planned as we would like to believe. They do not have the wherewithal to take advantage of America's security holes without being noticed.

Which means, of course, that 9/11 was actually a lucky event, rather than the beginning of a well planned assault on America.

Islamic terrorism has not been, and never will be, a threat to world peace in the same way as Soviet Communism was in the 1950s and 1960s.

Aussie Rents to rise?

According to this morning's Sydney Morning Herald, rents are set to rise 20% in the coming year. The reason? New laws that make superannuation investments more attractive which will channel money from potential retirees.

I'm sad to report that this occurrence is not as likely as you might think. The reason why people invest money is to get returns - including investing in property. If rents are going to rise then that will essentially make the investment more lucrative. In other words, the market will balance everything out.

Of course in recent years the housing market has been in a slump. Since the economy is driven in part these days by the housing market, and slump in the housing market leads to a slump in the economy as well. This means, of course, that people have less money to spend on rent which means that potential renters would not be able to afford such huge increases in rent.

And who is asking the government to change tax laws so that property gets more investment again? The Real Estate Institute of NSW. Now there's an organisation that won't stand for any talk of taking investment out of housing.


Simpsons Characters drawn in Anime style

Absolutely brilliant. VIEW IT NOW!

In theory, communism works

Those who love the free market and are committed to the ideology of small government, lower taxes and greater personal income freedom will often point to the great works that philanthropists have done over the years.

So the basic equation is this: Government spending on social needs = bad and inefficient; Charitiable giving to the needy = good and efficient.

But it seems that even rich philanthropists like Bill Gates can get it dangerously wrong.

God's love drives us to submission

There's an interesting discussion raised by by Michael Spencer and Kiwiandemu about preaching the love of God during gospel presentations.

Let me admit one thing before I go further - I did not listen to the sermon by Francis Chan and nor have I read in any great detail what Michael and Ali have written. So please understand that I am writing this as a response to the impressions that I received from both bloggers. Also understand that I'm not taking any sides on this debate - or if I am it is only incidental.

One of the things that I am continually aware of is our gratefulness to God for everything we experience. I had toad in the hole for breakfast with a French blend coffee - an exquisite combination that brings a small amount of joy to my day. This is an experience of God's free love - his grace. I don't deserve to enjoy it, but I do because God graciously allows it.

This sort of Grace is called "common grace". It is about the love that God has for all mankind. All of mankind can enjoy the benefits of creation that God has given them, even when most of them rebel against him. That God does not take away these benefits from sinners is an act of gracious love that is unequalled...

..except, of course, by the cross. The gift of eternal life through the death and resurrection of Christ is the ultimate form of God's graciousness, and the only thing in God's grace that guarantees salvation. Heaven cannot be attained by eggs and coffee, no matter how enjoyable they may be.

So I've decided recently that one way into a gospel presentation is to communicate just how much we owe God, and how much God owes us. In simple terms - we owe God everything and God owes us nothing. I think it is a way for people's belief in self-autonomy and freedom to be challenged - but challenged in a positive way. It's not so much telling people that they should bow down and worship God, but it is a realisation that we are in God's debt.

That, I think, is a good reason why box #1 on Two Ways to Live can be so important. Not only does this gospel presentation start off with God, but it also communicates the fact that all creation is in God's hand.

Once God's love for us in creation can be established, then we can communicate the issue of our rebellion and sin far more effectively. We are not just ignoring God or resisting a petty tyrant, we are being supremely ungrateful for everything that God has given us. We are freeloaders and moochers in the world.

I think presenting God's "passionate love" for sinners is a wonderful way to bring people not just to understand grace and faith, but also the fact that such love drives us to submission, to repentance, to falling on our face before God in realisation that we have squandered and resisted against his just rule.

In a sense, preaching God's passionate love is part and parcel of what some American Christians call "Lordship salvation". A proper presentation of God's love and grace will always drive us to humbly submit ourselves before God.

From the Theosalient Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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What to do with New Zealand cricket?

Paul Whiting appreciates my thinking about Australian cricket and wonders if I can offer some level of opinion on the state of NZ cricket. I can certainly give opinions and ideas but at a different level since I am not overly familiar with specific NZ players. Although I will say that, with the retirement of McGrath and Warne, a bowler of the calibre of Shane Bond would likely make it into the Australian team.

New Zealand has a number of natural disadvantages when it comes to producing a quality cricket team. The domestic season is short and the weather is not conducive to play often. Moreover, the lengthy Rugby season (I think it goes for 9 months) prevents many amateurs from playing during "warmer" times.

Having said that, New Zealand has produced players like Martin Crowe, Andrew Jones, Glenn Turner, Mark Richardson, John Reid, Richard Hadlee, Chris Cairns, Bruce Taylor, Simon Doull, Dion Nash, James Franklin and Shane Bond. All of these players bat in the 40s or bowl in the 20s, an indication that New Zealand is capable of producing highly competitive players.

One way to look at it is to compare New Zealand with the Australian state of NSW. NSW has 6.8 million people while New Zealand has 4.1 million. In theory, therefore, New Zealand could, in fact, produce four top class cricketers for every seven that New South Wales produces. Think of the Test cricketers that NSW have produced in the last twenty years: Brett Lee, Michael Clarke, Stuart Clarke, Nathan Bracken, Michael Bevan, Mark Taylor, Michael Whitney, Michael Slater, Adam Gilchrist, and so on. Now ask yourself - has New Zealand produced half as many cricketers of this calibre?

Of course, the answer is no - but that doesn't mean that they can't. Of the 332 Tests New Zealand have played in their history, they have won 62, lost 131 and drawn 139. This indicates that New Zealand cricket has not been as all conquering as their famed All Blacks. In fact, with only around 18% of Tests ending in victory, one would wonder whether they deserve Test status at all.

Now that I've examiend New Zealand cricket in some detail, I now need to look at Australian cricket again.

Australian cricket is very profitable. As a result of Packer's World Series Cricket back in the 1970s, cricket has become a professional sport. Television and advertising rights have made Australian cricket - both Test and One Day forms of the game - into a profitable enterprise.

But along with this profitability came the realisation that in order to maximise profit, there is a tension between building a team that the public want to watch, and providing opposing teams that the public want to watch as well. People flock to the cricket in Australia when they know that the Australian team is likely to win, but against a team that is competitive and likely to cause an upset.

Australian cricket suffers most when the disparity between the two teams is noticeable. Back in the 1980s when Australian cricket was at its lowest ebb, crowds at Test and one day matches were noticeably lower than they are now - especially when it was likely that Australia could lose. Home test series against New Zealand, West Indies and England ended in failure and the public punished the team by not buying tickets and/or turning off the TV. But crowds hardly flocked to the grounds when Zimbabwe toured recently either. The greater the perceived disparity, the less likely the public are interested.

It is therefore in Australia's interest to have a) The world's best team, and b) Matches against quality opposition. It's that second issue that I am now going to unpack because New Zealand has not, apart from a few seasons in the 1980s, provided such opposition.

Let me make it clearer. It is in Australia's interest to have a strong New Zealand Test team. Seeing as that is the case, what can Australian cricket do about it?

We need to take note of the Super 14 Rugby series. In that series, Rugby teams from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia play in a professional series. Why not do it with cricket?

These are my ideas:

1) Merge Cricket Australia and New Zealand Cricket into one organisation.
2) Make it a clear, unalterable guideline that this organisation will oversee two distinct international teams - there will not be a merging of the two test teams. Moreover, the goal will be that both teams be the first and second best teams in the world (without favouring one over the other).
3) Set up a common domestic cricket competition involving the six Australian and six New Zealand first class teams. These 12 teams will play each other once in four-day matches and once in one-day matches throughout a six month season.
4) Have an open-market policy for each team to contract any players they wish to - there will be no rules against international players. Thus Australian players could play for New Zealand first class teams and vice versa - as well as South Africans, Sri Lankans and even English county players. The reason for this is to increase the standard of players in the combined competition - otherwise the quality of play would be diluted. The result would obviously be less New Zealand players in the competition - but they will be the best NZ players and will thrive against quality opposition.
5) Increase the amount of juniors playing cricket in New Zealand and make amateur cricket more competitive. This is of importance since the idea would be to create an environment in which New Zealand cricketers can make it into the combined domestic series on merit.

In this situation, both Australian and New Zealand first class players would learn a great deal. New Zealand players will regularly play on the hard, fast Australian pitches and Australian cricketers will regularly play on the slower, seam-friendly New Zealand pitches. Constant exposure to these conditions will produce well-rounded cricketers from both nations. Moreover, the experience and talent of imports from overseas will enable teams to have quality players when the national team calls upon their players. New South Wales may lose Michael Clarke to Test duty, but may still have Brian Lara coming in at No. 3!

I'll say here that I don't think that this combined competition should include South African teams. This would increase the teams to 18 and would either lead to a two-tiered competition or an oversupply of cricket. English county teams may play 16 or 17 first class matches per season, but their players don't need to spend hours travelling in 747s flying across Antarctica, the Indian Ocean or the Tasman sea to do this. Besides, South Africa as a country is declining and liable to have massive political problems in the next 10-20 years methinks.

So anyway, that's my solution. Pretty radical, but I think it will benefit both Australia and New Zealand.


Reflections on the Ashes

5-0. It has been 86 years since Australia humiliated England in a similar way. Australia's team was probably one of the best in its history - one in which a good England team could not hope to challenge.

Yet there are some very worrying signs that all will not be well for Australian cricket by the time the next Ashes series comes around in 2009. The retirements of McGrath, Warne, Langer and Martyn will not easily be covered. Moreover, the England team which lost to Australia has some very good talent that will learn from their experiences.

My argument is based upon the experience of the 1986-87 Australian team which were unable to wrest back the Ashes from Mike Gatting's England team. Consider the Australian players who were in that series: Steve Waugh, Allan Border, Craig McDermott, Bruce Reid, Merv Hughes, David Boon, Dean Jones, Geoff Lawson. The next Ashes series - the famous 1989 tour - contained most of these top notch players who had lost to England previously, and managed to overcome them. The lesson? Even players who have experienced the worst of losses can manage, over time, to develop into high-class cricketers.

Think of the current England line-up. Pietersen will certainly be around in 2009 and will score heavily in the meantime. He is, based upon his batting average, the best England batsmen since Ken Barrington retired in 1968. The openers - Strauss and Cook - still boast enviable first class records and still have Test batting averages in the 40s. Once back in England and facing Test teams boasting attacks two notches below Australia, their form and confidence will return. Bell can also be put into this category.

I'm not sure that Paul Collingwood can really hack it as a Test player in the long term - and this is based upon his first class form alone. Collingwood averages around 35 with the bat and has done so for ten years. His recent bout of good form will probably be mixed up with future failures, and he will probably leave Test cricket with a sub-40 batting average.

Flintoff is of concern. His performances during the 2005 series were nothing short of inspiring but he was unable to reproduce that form - with either bat or ball - in the series just finished. Flintoff's figures show that his bowling is not as penetrative as people think. On average Flintoff bowls 19 overs every first class match he plays, compare this to 28 for James Anderson, 33 for Steve Harmison, 36 for Glenn McGrath and 42 for Shane Warne. Flintoff's first class figures indicate that he averages 35 with the bat and 32 with the ball - neither of which would, by themselves, be considered excellent. Ian Botham, the player he is often compared to, averaged 34 with the bat and 27 with the ball - and averaged 26 overs in each first class match. On figures alone Botham appears to be the superior player - however Freddie still has time on his side and players may often perform well as they age.

As far as bowling is concerned England probably did a good job in picking who they picked - except Giles of course... the King of Spain should've been dropped from the England side years ago. Who would've guessed that Harmison and Flintoff would have lost form so drastically? Hoggard played well and should remain as part of the side for years - however players like Mahmood and Anderson did not take the opportunities that were handed to them and were treated as cannon fodder by the Aussie batsmen. I can't understand why players like Jon Lewis, Dimitri Mascarenhas or Kabir Ali keep getting overlooked.

England have not produced a world-class paceman (a sub-25 bowler) since Bob Willis. Plenty of bowlers since Willis' time have been good pacemen (such as Ian Botham, Andy Caddick, Darren Gough, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Angus Fraser, Phil DeFreitas, Graham Dilley, Dominic Cork, Devon Malcom and Simon Jones) but none of these has been as effective as a McGrath, an Ambrose, a Malcolm, an Akram and so on. World-class pacemen do not come around often but England, it seems, has had to wait longer than most.

Like many I love Monty Panesar - but wickets mean success and I am not yet convinced that Monty won't turn out like other third-rate England spinners of times past. Left arm finger spinners have not been turning the world upside down since the days of Derek Underwood - but Warne certainly revived Leg Spin so it would be great if Monty could do a similar revival in England.

England should stick with Read behind the stumps. Unless a player like Gilchrist can come along, the man behind the stumps should be the best in the country.

So, that's England. What about Australia?

Australia have lost Martyn, Langer, McGrath and Warne during this last Ashes series. In the next 12 months they will likely lose Gilchrist and Hayden as well.

Ponting, I believe, will continue to score heavily for Australia. He will pass 10,000 runs and, for a time, be the world's highest run scorer. It would be great if he could average in excess of 60 as well, which would show beyond doubt that he is actually a head above the rest of the best.

I've never been a fan of Clarke. Maybe I'm getting old and crabby but Clarke still looks like a kid. Nevertheless I think that runs will talk loudest and Clarke has scored well this season. He didn't do too well in England in 2005, but neither did many Aussie players. Clarke will have to develop into a serior player in a shorter time frame than he would like. Time will tell whether he will make it or not.

Brett Lee, I believe, will not cope without McGrath around. As an unabashed critic of Lee I think he will lose a number of tests in the future and watch his bowling average blow out beyond the already unacceptable 32 that it is already. Without Lee spearheading the attack, who can Australia turn to?

Stuart Clark has had a great 12 months but I am not convinced that he will end his career with a bolwing average of 17. At some point in the future his performances will even out and he will find it difficult to accept the tag of being the "new McGrath".

Stuart McGill may get a run as Australia's leg spinner but he is quite expensive on occasion. He probably won't make it to 2009.

Nathan Bracken is one of my favourite players, and I'm hoping that he will be picked to replace either McGrath or Lee in the future.

But who else is there we can rely upon? Cameron White's Legspin is not as wonderful as many had hoped - even when one takes account of his young age. Jason Gillespie may make a comeback but I can't see him winning tests in the same way as McGrath has done. Then we have the promise of Mitchell Johnson and maybe Shaun "Eric Bana" Tait. But the bowling cupboard is looking increasingly bare.

Batting is looking good, however. I'm reasonably sure that Jaques will be an adequate replacement for Langer. Voges is a good player as well. Katich is waiting in the wings for another chance. Cosgrove is exciting. Love may yet return to the test side, as may Brad Hodge. Symonds will find it difficult to maintain good form. Dominic Thornley is a dark horse, as is Carl Rogers.

Haddin will be able to replace Gilchrist, and maybe even be a better batter than Ian Healy. A return to a traditional keeper will be hard to handle - but players like Gilchrist come around only once in a generation.

So what are my predictions for Ashes 2009?

I wouldn't be surprised if England wins, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turns into a batting fest. England and Australia are strong on batting depth but not as strong in bowling depth. Simon Jones or Stuart Clarke may turn into world-class pacemen but it is way too early to tell. I think a scoreline of 2-1 (from either side) or 1-1 is likely.

Random Musings

* I went to hospital last night with chest pains. The ECG, x-ray and blood tests showed no problems with the heart. These chest pains have been with me on and off for 3 weeks. Anna thinks it's because I've returned to family life and looking after kids again, causing stress. Could be right.

* One of the best decisions I made was to bring my mp3 player to the hospital with me. It helped me while away the hours while I waited for a doctor to see me.

* Just bough Widows by English band Sennen. As some of you know, my favourite band is Ride, an English "Shoegazing" band from the early-mid 1990s. Sennen is the name of a Ride song and obviously the band decided to name themselves after this song by Ride. Sennen is "Nu-gazing", a revival of Shoegazing but with added twists. Sennen's music is darker, more moody and more progressive than Ride, but still features the feedback and distortion that I love from the wall of sound grunge which typifies shoegazing. If I continue to fall in love with them I'll post a link to them.

* I bought a number of other CDs. Disraeli Gears by Cream, The Queen is Dead by The Smiths, Swordfishtrombones by Tom Waits and Between 10th and 11th by The Charlatans.

* The widely reported footage of Saddam's execution was obviously problematic for a number of reasons. What strikes me as disturbing is that Saddam remained defiant to the end, refusing to wear a blindfold and flinging verbal barbs back at those who were taunting him. He was executed in the way that heroes are, not petty tyrants. Saddam was certainly not the most evil man in the world, but his influence will be felt for at least another 2 generations because of the botched execution.

* The Democrats have taken over congress. Despite being someone who has railed against the Republican party and George Bush in recent years I am certainly not in any triumphalist mood. I fully expect that the trappings and prestige of office will corrupt many of these new politicians, and that the mechanisms of government will stifle any reforms that some want to make.

* Attempted to watch Syriana yesterday but pulled the plug after one hour. Hyperlink cinema may be the next big thing but it isn't affecting me just yet. Maybe if Terry Gilliam would do it?

* Lefties in America are salivating about the upcoming increase in the minimum wage and are obviously pooh-poohing anyone who starts saying things like "Let the market decide a person's wage". As a lefty myself I nevertheless concur with the right-wing that raising the minimum wage will have a negative impact of employment levels. My solution, however, is not to have a $0 minimum wage, it's something slightly more creative.

* The murder of a 17 year old in Griffith is tragic, especially since I spent 5 months there. I didn't know the victim but my sources in Griffith tell me that I may know the perpetrators and may have even taught them. What is really nice is hearing all the good vibes coming out of the town - both the victim's parents and ethnic leaders have called for calm. No one wants racial tension in Griffith.

* Peak Oil is affecting the car and bicycle market in Australia.


5th Test Day one (lots of pics)

6.00am I get up and wake the family. They have to drive me over to Charlestown to get a lift from church friends to travel down to Sydney.

The trip down was quick. We were listening to 2BL and they were promising hot sausages at their tent outside the SCG. We arrived there just as the last sausage was consumed.

England Training

We arrived in time to see both sides training. The rain began to softly fall as we began to berate both sides for playing football, touch, softball and even tennis to warm themselves up. Our group was situated in Row J of the O'Reilly Stand. The stand is okay except that it gets the afternoon sun from about 3.00pm onwards. Straight behind us there was the bar and the obligatory food stalls selling overpriced and underquality goods.

The rain came again, but unlike last year it stopped enough for play to start sometime after 11.00am. Since Justin Langer had announced his retirement as well, we all knew that we would be seeing at least one of our retiring heroes play. As it was, Freddie won the toss and elected to bat - much to the crowd's delight to see Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne bowl.

Then we had to endure Human Nature singing the National Anthem.

I don't know if it was the pitch or the quality bowling or the stodgy batting, but the first session was slow. McGrath bowled over after over and was unlucky in some areas but you could tell he was now past his best. Lee, of course, is not my favourite player - but he got the crowd going in his first over when he attempted to castrate Cook with a vicious delivery aimed at the groinal area. Cook survived, and he and Strauss put on a valuable little partnership before Lee eventually got Strauss caught behind. At lunch England were 1/58.

Then we had to endure some opera singing guy singing a tribute to Langer, McGrath and Warne.

During the first session a number of us began to wonder where the "Barmy Army" was. There was not a peep of singing or yelling or chanting from the colourful England supporters. We couldn't even tell where they were in the ground.

One group that was visible was the Aussie "Fanatics", who all wore yellow tops and sat under the scoreboard. They attempted to sing a number of Aussie songs, but they were just too loose and soft for most people to hear. Shannon, the teacher I lived with in Griffith from August until December, was a member of the Fanatics and, after phoning each other on our mobiles, I decided to go over and visit the group at the Lunch break.

The first thing you hit when you descend the stairs in the O'Reilly stand is the main corridor underneath, which was choka-block full of people. England and Aussie supporters, men and women, all cramming together to try and go somewhere - the bar, the food shop, the toilet or, like me, trying to exit the stand altogether.

As I was standing crammed in amongst all these fans I managed to talk to a member of the Barmy Army. He said the group was spread around the place - they were there, but they weren't singing.

Then Phil Tufnell walked by in the crowd. "Hello Mr Tufnell" I said "How are you today?". "Very well thankyou!" he said, smiling, and continued walking. He was dressed in a suit and was taller than I expected. The last time I saw him was in 1994.

After managing to exit I found my way into the fanatics area. I searched for about 20 minutes but Shannon had obviously gone somewhere (probably to get a drink). I walked up to the O'Reilly stand for the post lunch session.

Soon after lunch, Clark picked up Cook. Both openers had stuck around for a while but had not gone on with the job. The slow scoring indicated some sort of war of attrition going on in the middle. Kevin Pietersen then came in and we all expected something good from him.

Pieterson and Bell were scoring slowly but surely. The crowd was quiet. Suddenly from the Hill came a familiar bugle sound - the Barmy Army bugler! The effect on the crowd was electric. Within half a second the crowd (perhaps 30000) began cheering wildly as the Barmy Army started their chanting and singing.


You have to hand it to these guys - they were very entertaining. My favourite is their rendition of God Save the Queen - God save your gracious queen, long live your noble queen... long to reign over YOU!!!! and at that point the Barmy army would all point in the direction of the Aussie fans (in this case, the fanatics). It was stirring stuff. They had around a dozen different chants that they repeated throughout the day - many of which were borderline ribald.

Meanwhile, back at the cricket, the Aussie bowlers continued to toil away without luck. Pietersen and Bell continued their scoring and eventually put on a century partnership. It wasn't pretty cricket - Pietersen looked stuck in second gear and curbed his scroing rate to play it safe. Bell simply nicked and nudged his runs - no mess, no fuss, no charisma. At tea England were 2/149.

By this stage I had consumed one $6.00 glass of white wine, one $4.50 hot dog and an $8.50 fish and chips pack. I really need to bring my own food next year.

After tea things began to swing Australia's way. Pietersen, always a quick scorer, tried to pick up the pace. But he tried hooking McGrath and managed to spoon it to Hussey for a good catch. Pieterson out for 41. Finally! McGrath gets himself a wicket! One over later and Bell, 71, gets a doozey from McGrath again and the ball hits the top of middle stump. I have to say, there is nothing like a crowd cheering as one after seeing the stumps rattled.

Two new batsmen were at the crease. Collingwood and Flintoff, the England captain. Then it became quite dark and cloudy so they turned the lights on.


The above photo was taken as I snuck down to the fence to take pictures of Justin Langer, who was fielding near the O"reilly stand. Here's some more:



And here's a cropped version which I will probably add to his Wikipedia article:

Justin Langer Portrait

And here's a photo from the stands where I was sitting:


And here's Johnno and Tom, who were at the game with me.

Tom and Jono

Tom enjoyed today's entertainment much more than last year's.

Flintoff hit a six off Clark that I completely lost. After that point the Army began singing the praises of Flintoff, singing

We love your gorgeous wife,
...your chain smoking,
...your beer drinking,
...your slips catching,
...your seam bowling,
...your six six hits.

But the six didn't bring about either an increase in runs overall or any wickets. Collingwood and Flintoff remained at the crease when Billy and Aleem offered the light at 6.30.

And then off home again. It took about 45 minutes to get the car out of Moore Park but once we got onto the Harbour Tunnel it was easy peasy all the way back to Novocastria.