- the RFU plan to revamp the organisation of the Rugby Union World Cup
- only 17% of British men can name five world leaders and 13% of men can name British five cabinet members
- a hard quiz about faces and events
- Great Britons Top Trumps
- interesting story about obese airline passengers.
Let's take these one at a time.
Rugby Union World Cup. The proposal is to split the cup into two sections - an upper tier with 16 nations and a lower tier with 32 nations. This is because rugby (technically rugby union) is not that much of a world sport and there are a number of (wholly unofficial) identifiable tiers into which nations' standards fall.
- The top tier contains Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and in a good year England or France.
- The second tier contains Western Samoa and the rest of the four home nations.
- The third tier contains nations like Italy, Canada, Argentina, maybe Romania, probably Fiji and Papua New Guinea - the marginal Test Match nations. Possibly Fiji and PNG should be in the second tier.
- The fourth tier contains those nations like the USA and Japan which do make it to the World Cup only to get punked by about 120-3 in the first round.
- The fifth tier contains those nations which don't make it to the World Cup. There is quite an extensive and intricate qualification process to get to the world cup, especially in Europe. The weakest European teams (I think Norway is one of them?) would have had to play about twenty matches and win most of them to make it to the World Cup.
Sixteen is a good number because there are approximately sixteen countries in the top three tiers. (Perhaps there are only really four tiers, with the third tier being the one to be split between the tier above and the tier below.) By contrast, I don't think it's possible to identify a number of tiers in association football - or, if it is, then there is at least one tier that is very large indeed. Partly because of the low-scoring nature of the game, it's perfectly possible for a team considered relatively weak to draw with, or even upset, a team considered to be strong. Last week, we had England 2 Macedonia 2... ouch. I'd put England and Macedonia in the same tier, just with England towards the top of it and Macedonia towards the bottom. Of course, this is all highly approximate. If we knew which countries would beat which other countries in the first place then we wouldn't need to bother holding the World Cup at all.
Accordingly, I rather like the proposal of this split World Cup. It should be a far more interesting competition for the nations of the fourth and fifth tiers and should encourage their young rugby traditions. One would hope that this "second division" world cup would get a fair amount of attention, though not as much as the "first division" world cup. However, there is a point of view that every nation in the world should be eligible to participate in, and try to win, the World Cup. My solution is simple. We hold the two divisions of the World Cup some time apart: maybe a month, maybe three months, maybe a year. The "second division" World Cup goes first. The winners of the "second division" World Cup then go forward to the "first divison" World Cup and are guaranteed inclusion into the "first division" World Cup for the next three iterations. (Likewise, there might be some sort of relegation / re-election system to trim teams back down from the "first division" to the "second division".)
Another interesting issue in the formatting of the world cup is that 2003's competition has 20 teams, arranged not in five groups of four (as in 1999) but in four groups of five. I broadly approve of the group stages being longer so to guarantee each team more matches, plus the dynamics of a five-team all-play-all are generally rather more interesting than the dynamics of a four-team all-play-all. However, I have a suspicion that it just might make the group stages drag on a little bit too long for public taste. Lest we forget, rugby is a heavily contact sport and it's for good reason that teams need a good rest period between matches. The proposed two-groups-of-four eight-down-to-four second group stage might also be a group stage too far - compare with the hyper-extended UEFA Champions' League.
There is also, in European rugby, the existence of a competition called the "Six Nations", played between England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland (unified, for strange historical reasons), France and Italy. Until fairly recently it used to be the Five Nations, without Italy, who are clearly a step below the rest of them. In general, England are nearly always very good (though often not quite good enough), France are normally very good and exactly one of the other countries will be good in any one year. This might seem like saying that I'm just saying that whoever finishes in the top three is good and whoever doesn't isn't, but it's such a reliable guideline that the competition suffers a little as a result.
Therefore, every now and again, England make some overtures as to leaving the N Nations behind and going and playing the Southern Hemisphere nations instead, for more competitive matches. (Read: more money.) Perhaps it's just my British sporting traditions, but I am convinced that the natural destination for all sufficiently large sporting competitions is a World League of several divisions, with promotion and relegation between the various flights. I do emphasise the league nature of the competition, because the only major counter-example, tennis' Davis Cup, is really an unholy mess. Therefore what I would propose for rugby would be a world league of, say, three or four divisions, each with six teams, two up and two down from each division. This would mean that we would regularly get to see important matches between the best nations every year and that the smaller nations would be guaranteed competitive matches and have a realistic and achievable goal to aim for in order to raise their standing. On the downside, it might be quite expensive for the third (and fourth?) division teams to participate and perhaps there isn't that much interest in, say, Romania vs. Papua New Guinea after all. Perhaps it would be better for there to be two world divisions and then two parallel north/south (or possibly Pacific/non-Pacific) third divisions.
On an only-slightly-related matter, I wonder if there are any convincing reasons why it wouldn't be possible for the NFL to have one of their teams based in Europe? I'm not suggesting that NFL Europe should be integrated into the main NFL, simply because the standards are so very different. However, as NFL franchises can move around the USA so easily, I can't see why they couldn't move outside the USA to raise the profile of what remains essentially a one-nation sport.
Britain remains thick! Name five world leaders. Go on, do it now! I was thinking about a related topic last night and couldn't bring the name of the Russian premier instantly to mind. Likewise, I find it difficult to remember who is the President of France, who is the Prime Minister and what the relationship is between them. Germany? Nope, couldn't remember who replaced Helmut Kohl. Italy? There's only one present-day Italian politician anybody knows; wait four years and he'll probably have been Italian #1 twice and jailed three times by then. Canada? Yes, but I might get confused with France. Japan? No. Brazil, India, China, Australia, Spain, Netherlands, the European Union, the United Nations, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
So could I get to five world leaders? Probably, but only by a very liberal definition of world leader indeed - specifically, including dictators of dubious moral and ethical fibre, one of whom might possibly be dead. (Oh, or counting that famous world leader, the Irish Taoiseach.) Seems that I'm not the well-informed news junkie that I thought I was. H'm.
42% of Britons can't name a single cabinet minister, 87% can't name five. Also pretty disgusting. That said, the BBC then illustrated this fact with a montage in which people managed to recognise Kate Lawler, Big Brother winner, from her photo, while failing to recognise the Rt Hon Alan Milburn MP from his. This is pretty tricky; after all, it does matter a great deal what Kate Lawler looks like and it matters relatively little what she does, whereas the opposite applies to the Secretary of State for Health. As usual, the people backlash against the article immediately afterwards and some of the backlash is quite reasonable: there will have been bias in the expression of the questions and the situation probably wouldn't have been very different some time ago. Still, not good.
The BBC's quiz on this is interesting. Three political culture questions, three pop culture questions. I went 2/3 on each, making two reasoned-but-partially-lucky guesses (both on the political questions, alas) and one unlucky one. More to the point, how many of the people can you recognise? I went 2/9 on politicians (eeeep!) and 6/9 on pop culture figures. Once again, I say "h'm", only with more "m"s.
What can be done about it? Some say make the news more accessible, but I'm not convinced by this. If anything, the BBC news has gone a little far already. Some of their graphics are so pared-down as to be bordering on inaccurate. I don't like the trend to give newsreaders comedy lines, either, even on relatively fluffy matters such as sports coverage. "Wales 2, Italy 1. I'm going to say that again, just because I can. Wales 2, Italy 1." Not a terribly helpful development. Unfortunately, I don't have any particularly bright ideas in this regard, except to watch the rather more inconvenient, less authoritative Channel 4 News instead.
Great Britons. The BBC broadcast their breakdown of the 100 greatest Britons last night and it was rather entertaining viewing. I vacillate between "The orderings were frequently so questionable that they can't have been assigned by honest public vote" and "The orderings were frequently so questionable that they can only have been assigned by honest public vote". Possibly the strangest positioning is Michael Crawford at 17, which deserves at least ?!? for punctuation. Oh, and the fact that Tolkein was placed 91st and Rowling 83rd cannot escape attention. (Let Mrs. R finish her epic fantasy first before we elevate her to greatness.) Nevertheless, we have a top ten who look tremendously strong. The final ten will be ordered by a single vote, rather than a series of vote-one-off-at-a-time balloon debates like every other show, which probably makes a nice change. Stereotypically enough, I voted for Newton; however, I just dearly hope that neither Princess Diana nor John Lennon win.
Fat passengers. There has recently been a very interesting discussion in addedentry's LJ about the obese and their treatment on airlines. The BBC also bring us a story about a small passenger crushed by a very large one for 11 hours in which the small passenger suffered damage which last two years and which attracted 13 kGBP of compensation. Expect the issue to loom large in British airlines soon.
A side question presents itself: why do we not capitalise k, h and da much like we do to M, G, T and the other SI prefixes with positive indices? Compare this with the capitalisation of the K in KiB, the kibibyte, for instance.
My second favourite web site in all the world, inevitably, is this one - good ol' LiveJournal. I certainly spend more time at lj.com, but the reason why I prefer the BBC News site is that I don't attribute all lj.com's excellent content to the site, more to all you lovely people. However, lj.com can still throw up some interesting surprises from time to time.
Did you know that you can use LiveJournal to read syndicated RSS newsfeeds? You are only allowed to do so to a limited extent - all the newsfeeds must be set up as their own accounts. Furthermore, there is a quota system in place to limit the amount of resources you can consume here. With a paid account, you are permitted five "units"; don't know what a permanent account or a free account get you. If you're the only person reading a newsfeed in this way, it costs you one unit. A newsfeed read by five people costs them half a unit each, one read by 25 people costs a third of a unit each, one read by 125 people costs a quarter of a unit each and so forth. The slashdot RSS is relatively close to being read by 625, so it still costs more than a fifth of a unit, but the price will go down.
I don't really understand RSS feeds. As far as I am aware, it's vaguely akin to a friends list except for abitrary frequently-updated web sites, rather than just being restricted to LiveJournal. I'm not sure whether one should try to read LiveJournals through a RSS reader, or whether to read RSS distributed newsfeeds through the LiveJournal friends page. Indeed, is the best approach to run a LiveJournal for your LiveJournal friends and a separate RSS reader for RSS newsfeeds? (Is there a point where there are sufficient good RSS newsfeeds where it becomes worthwhile to stop using LiveJournal for RSS feeds and starts to use a RSS reader?) Much as I reckon you probably need a good 3-6 friends whose LiveJournals you'd like to follow, or one Friends-only one, before it becomes worth your while to start a LiveJournal, I can think of only one RSS feed that I'd like to read for now. Doubtless there are very many other interesting ones which I haven't yet encountered; recommendations are most welcome.
The other recent surprise was discovering that well-known uber-geek jwz (as in Netscape, as in www.jwz.org and so forth) has a LiveJournal. The guy is intelligent and literate, so it comes as no suprise that his journal is extremely entertaining. I can do no better than parrot his penultimate link to a fantastic Salon article: What happens when you dump two pounds of dry ice into an airplane chemical toilet? and point out his link to a dubious-looking wearable computer. Look at it now before it most likely turns up on "Have I Got News For You?" this Friday, or something.
Budget airline alert: at last, no-frills airlines come to the north-east, not far from my prediction. Easyjet (check), Newcastle (check - but damn), Spring (check), 2003 (a year earlier than planned). Bonus! They are siting two planes there to begin with, expected to service three European cities, with two more planes coming in 2004. Next guessing game is "which European cities"; the logical guesses based on Easyjet's past patterns would be Amsterdam, Barcelona and Geneva, but I wouldn't be surprised by Nice instead of Geneva - or to see any of the old Go favourites get chosen.
I actually started this entry quite early in the afternoon. Damn, another less-than-productive day. :-/