03 September 2015

I'll drink to that

The Guardian reports:
Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to fix a minimum price for alcohol has suffered a huge blow after the European court’s top lawyer ruled it would risk infringing EU law on free trade.
In a formal opinion on Sturgeon’s flagship policy, the advocate general to the European court of justice, Yves Bot, has said fixing a legal price for all alcoholic drinks could only be justified to protect public health if no other mechanism, such as tax increases, could be found.
Bot’s opinion is expected to mean a final defeat for the Scottish government’s efforts to be the first in Europe to introduce minimum pricing – supported by leading figures in the medical profession and the police, after several years of legal battles.
It is highly likely the ECJ in Luxembourg will now uphold complaints from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and nine other member states, including France, Spain and Bulgaria, because its judgments rarely contradict an opinion from the advocate general.
And there is more good news for those of us who partake of the demon liquor:
Teetotallers should raise a glass of sparkling water to Britain’s drinkers, who are subsidising the Treasury to the tune of £6.5bn a year according to a think tank.
 Revenues from alcohol taxes amount to over £10bn, according to official figures crunched by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). The contribution of drinkers to the state compares with costs of just under £4bn which are borne by the NHS and criminal justice and welfare systems. The figure is over seven per cent of the government’s budget deficit for the 12 months ending March 2015.

02 September 2015

Daft economics

CityAM reports:
English football giants spent £483m on players from euro area clubs during the latest transfer window, a figure that would have been far higher if the pound had not climbed up to 17 per cent against the euro since 2014. 
With transactions typically taking place in the currency of the selling club, buying the same batch of players in last year’s summer transfer window would have cost £568m. It marks a saving to top English clubs of £85m, according to analysis from forex broker Foenix Partners.
But if you look at it through the other end of the telescope, if sterling had not been so undervalued in 2014, the English clubs would not have had to overpay by so much in that year ...

 

New logo - same as the old

Old:


New:

   

01 September 2015

Apocalypse now

The Times predicts disaster:
If Labour chooses Jeremy Corbyn — a man who will never be elected prime minister — as leader next week, its end could be as brutal and sudden as those other once great tribes. Peter Mandelson is right to say that his party is in “mortal danger” and may be writing the final chapter of its history. This is bad for democracy as well as for the Labour party, since it is healthy for there to be a credible centre-left alternative to a Conservative government.
...
In a series of phone calls and emails over the past two weeks, between holiday villas, constituency homes and country retreats, senior figures from the centre of the party have been urgently drawing up a fightback strategy. 
It is the concept of Labour grandees in their holiday villas and country retreats that gives the game away.  What hope do such bourgeois pragmatists have of connecting with the ordinary Labour voter on minimum wage or suffering massive cuts in benefit payments?  It is arguable that Mandelson and co, with their failure to believe in anything other than winning power, are the ones who are destroying the Labour Party.

 

What's in a word?

Have you noticed how the media have begun to use the word "migrant" in their reports of those assembling at Calais and making their way across the Mediterranean?  This displaces the previous "immigrant" which used to be used for incomers from abroad.  Emigrants, on the other hand, were those who left for abroad.

It remains unclear if  "migration" will replace immigration or emigration.  Migration is of course more commonly used to describe the temporary seasonal movement of animals, birds and whales.  So I suppose it would be less than accurate to use it to describe the more or less permanent movements of human beings.

Much the same applies to the verb "migrate".  (Although, curiously, while "to emigrate" was common enough, "to immigrate" was seldom used.)

Strange ...

   

29 August 2015

Music of the week

The joy of watching football on TV

The Guardian reports:

Competition makes everything cheaper and better. Except, it turns out, if you want to watch football in England. The real source of all this summer activity is the presence of two big beasts in the main marketplace for the first time. With the new TV rights deal kicking in BT Sport is now out there too, hounding Sky, ramping up revenues and, finally, offering a sense of choice. Except, for the captive consumer this isn’t really a proper choice at all, but an opportunity to spend the same and get less, or alternatively spend more and get the same.

This week BT Sport’s first raft of Champions League fixtures were inked into the schedule. Trying to work out how to get them on your TV while also keeping hold of Sky’s majority stake in the Premier League is, it turns out, a migrainously complicated business. There are brief moments of understanding. But before long the whole fragile edifice calluses [collapses?] in a rubble of signing-on fees, 10ft connection cables, set-top boxes, preferred customer packages until eventually you’re left weeping into the sofa cover, phone off the hook, very slowly and deliberately gouging out your own eardrums with a ratchet screwdriver. Competition, you see, makes everything better.

That's capitalism for you.

 

28 August 2015

Excuses, excuses

The government is desperately casting about in order to shift the blame.  CityAM reports:
BUSINESS figures hit back yesterday after the government appeared to blame British employers for a jump in net migration to the UK.
The number of people coming to the UK, minus those leaving, rose to 330,000 in the year to March – an all-time record high. British growth gets a boost from higher migration, according to the government’s fiscal watchdog – but Tory immigration minister James Brokenshire described the figure as “deeply disappointing”.
Brokenshire said that the “reliance that business continues to place on migrant labour” was responsible for the increase, as well as blaming rules over foreign students and the EU’s principle of freedom of movement.
Despite - or perhaps because of - their own stupidity in setting a target of reducing annual immigration to "tens of thousands", the government continues to see immigration as something to be ashamed of.  It never occurs to them to celebrate the fact that people want to live and work in the UK.

Incidentally, the net annual total of over 300,000 rather makes the 5000 odd desperadoes in Calais look like rather a minor problem ...

 

26 August 2015

Always look on the bright side

Candide has been reborn in the shape of Xinhua, China's official news agency:
BEIJING, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- Despite the tumbling of stock markets, investors should forgo their unnecessary anxiety over China because the long-term prediction for China's economy still remains rosy and Beijing has the will and means to avert a financial crisis.
The Chinese stock markets had their two worst days in eight years with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index tumbling 8.49 percent on Monday and continuing to lose another 7.6 percent on Tuesday, crashing to its lowest level since December 2014. It is the first time in 10 months that the index has been below 3,000 points.
The plunge of stocks, the depreciation of China's currency and its slowing growth pace after years of high-speed development have all put a question mark on the health of the world's second largest economy.
However, such a worry is completely unnecessary. China's economy will remain robust and the positive prediction on its future should not be affected by the current fluctuation of stock markets.
Economists believe that the capital market has been over-reacting to the slowdown of the Chinese economy, which is caused in part by the Chinese government's decision to transform the current economy into a more efficient and sustainable one.
So there you go, all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds ...

   

25 August 2015

Quote of the day

The Guardian waxes lyrically over the Arsenal-Liverpool match last night:
More often in the past it has been Wenger’s over-engineered attack that has infuriated. Here comes Arsène again, wheeling his harpsichord out on to the touchline, strings furred with grass, sheet music sodden, legs clogged with mud, when most of the time all he really needs is a pair of bongos.
No, I have no idea what he means, either.

     

24 August 2015

That's me they're talking about

The Times reports:
One in five older drinkers are [sic] consuming dangerous amounts of alcohol each week, with wealthy pensioners the biggest culprits, according to a new study.
Over-65s are putting their health at risk by drinking above government guideline amounts, experts warned. They urged GPs to ask members of the baby boomer generation about their drinking as a matter of routine.
The figures suggest that drinking among pensioners could be more of a problem than previously thought. In general lifestyle surveys for England, one in five men drinks over safe limits while among women, it is one in ten.
Having reached 65, I am increasingly less inclined to heed the warnings of the health fascists.  I want to enjoy my remaining years.  So I will smoke and I will drink as the moment takes me.

As for GPs, it is so difficult to get to see them, that it is all kind of pointless ...


 

22 August 2015

Music of the week

Are the tectonic plates shifting?

Matthew Parris thinks so, even if he descends into patronising:
Historically, the Labour party has been a victim of its own great success. It was formed for two linked purposes: to raise the condition of the poor and to restructure the British economy along socialist lines.
In that second purpose Labour did not succeed. Nationalisation failed consumers and failed to invigorate industry or the economy. Even before Margaret Thatcher, Labour was losing its 1945 socialist nerve. Quite simply, the party had embraced a dud ideology and, along with most of the rest of the world, has largely come to understand that. Though the Marxist analysis is valuable, the prescription has been a catastrophe.
But in the first purpose — raising the condition of the poor — 20th-century Labour must be counted one of the most successful modern parties in western history. Nothing like the NHS or the welfare state as we know it would exist today without Labour governments and Labour support for Liberal ones.
The emancipation of women, the state pension, employment protection, conditions at work, the minimum wage, universal access to university — the story of economic and social progress among what Labour used to call the working class and we now call “ordinary people” is hugely to the credit of that party. Enlightened Tories have helped too, but it would be fanciful to suppose Labour (or Tory fear of Labour) was not overwhelmingly the driving force.
His conclusion - that the political system is breaking down - is even less convincing.

 

21 August 2015

A semantic ice-pick

Are you reassured?  The Guardian reports:
Tom Watson, the frontrunner to be the next Labour deputy leader, says he is “very relaxed” about the idea of serving under Jeremy Corbyn, who is “not a Trotskyist”.
In an interview with the Guardian, the West Bromwich MP argued the contest had been overdramatised, and said all four leadership candidates had more in common than their portrayal in the heat of debate.
“Liz Kendall is not a Tory and Jeremy Corbyn is not a Trotskyist,” he said. “This language of morons and viruses is totally unhelpful. What they have in common is that they want a more socially just country and they don’t want enshrined privilege. They all four of them don’t want a Tory government.”
Ah yes, "Trotskyist"; or does he mean "Trotskyite"?  I had rather assumed that the somewhat arcane distinctions between Trotskyism, Leninism and other left-wing isms had long been abandoned.  To be described as a Trot was simply an all-purpose insult to the effect that the subject of the insult was more left wing than the speaker.  Thus, the Daily Mail would probably describe all of the contenders for the Labour leadership (and probably some parts of the Conservative Party) as a bunch of Trots.

 

20 August 2015

Crisis over?

Not a chance.  The Guardian explains:
The financial conditions Greece has to meet have been eased as a result of the virtual shutdown of its economy in July, but they have not been eased enough.Greece is expected to run a surplus on its budget, once debt interest payments are excluded, of 0.5% of GDP in 2016, 1.75% in 2017 and 3.5% every year thereafter.
These are fantasy projections based on unrealistic assumptions. They will already be out of date by the time the first review is conducted. Greece has been set up to fail its review, at which point some of the hardline European countries will cut up rough. They will say that the next tranche of bailout cash should be withheld and that all talk of debt relief should be stopped until Greece gets back on track.
The IMF, however, will not give its imprimatur to the deal unless Greece’s debt burden is reduced sufficiently to make it sustainable. Christine Lagarde, the fund’s managing director, has already told Greece’s European creditors they will need to be far more generous. If anything, that position is likely to harden as it become clear that Greece’s economic and financial woes are far more serious than currently thought.
Heads, the Greeks lose; tails, the Greeks cannot win.

 

17 August 2015

It's tough being a goose

The Times reports:
President Putin’s campaign to destroy western foodstuffs has plunged to new levels of absurdity with the public flattening of three frozen geese by bulldozer in a village in central Russia.
The bizarre incident, akin to a Monty Python sketch, according to Angus Roxburgh, a former Kremlin adviser, involved at least ten representatives of the state, including police, agriculture inspectors and official witnesses.
The vacuum-packed Hungarian geese were seized by four grim-faced officials from a shop in Apastovo, about 500 miles east of Moscow. The birds lacked proper documentation, an official declared as she read the confiscation order aloud to witnesses.
The geese were taken to a landfill site, where the witnesses stated their names and addresses for a video cameraman. Under Mr Putin’s decree, the destruction of contraband western food must be filmed, to prevent officials confiscating the products for their own later consumption.
The geese, weighing 3.6kg each, and garnished with vegetables and seasoning, were placed on the ground in a neat row by an official. Moments later, a bulldozer rumbled forward and began rolling over the geese repeatedly as the officials and witnesses looked on.

   

The wisdom of the crowd

From The Guardian (here):
The real comedy came just before half-time, when Gary Cahill picked up a real injury in a collision with Asmir Begovic in attempting to deny Eliaquim Mangala a header on goal. The Chelsea defender stayed down, the medical staff came running on, unrecognisable from the pair that started the season at Stamford Bridge last week, and the City crowd had a field day. First “You’re getting sacked in the morning” rang around the ground, inevitably followed by “You don’t know what you’re doing”, before an impromptu chorus of “We love you Eva” was added for good measure.
   

15 August 2015

Music of the week

Tony Blair explains

From The Times (here):
So I’ve written an article for The Guardian. And in it, I’ve explained to people that, even if they hate me, I’m still right. After it comes out, Alastair calls.
“It won’t help,” he says. “You’re the whole problem. Everything you can possibly do will only make it worse.”
“But Alastair,” I say. “I’m a pretty straight sort of guy.”
Don’t say that, he says.
“I only did what I thought was right,” I say.
Don’t say that either, he says.
“But I feel the hand of history on my shoulder,” I say, miserably.
Just stop talking, he says.

   

13 August 2015

Business morality

Cheating, fiddling, on the take.  Is bad practice endemic in UK businesses?  The Guardian reports on the latest row:
Boots and Dixons are to issue new guidance to airport staff about checking customers’ boarding passes following a consumer revolt over “rip-off” VAT charges.
Customers of Boots and Dixons and other prominent stores including WH Smith pledged not to show their boarding passes at airports after it emerged that retailers were benefiting from VAT savings without lowering prices.
Attacking the practice as a “fraud” and a “con”, customers said they felt they were obliged to hand over their boarding cards at checkouts for security reasons or because they were getting a discount.
However, it has emerged that the information is used by stores to avoid paying 20% VAT on everything they sell to customers who are travelling outside the EU. Many stores, including Boots and WH Smith, do not pass this saving to consumers.
Bearing in mind the controversies over the banks' mis-selling of payment protection insurance (not to mention all their other sins) and over the apparent willingness of the supermarkets to sell meat adulterated with horse, added to the carelessness of the big oil companies when it comes to despoiling the environment, this seems to amount to evidence that British business is thoroughly rotten.

08 August 2015

Music of the week

What happened to passport control?

Flew back to Edinburgh last night, to be greeted by the black-shirted storm-troopers of the Border Force.  (Yes, that's what they call themselves.)  Do we really need to give the impression to UK visitors that the country is policed by the SS?

07 August 2015

So-called entryism?

The Times has a reds-under-the-bed scare story:
Dozens of senior members of hard-left political parties have been given the right to vote in the Labour leadership ballot, in the first evidence of widespread infiltration of the contest.
Eleven people who stood as candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (Tusc) in the general ­election have signed up without being caught by the Labour party’s vetting procedure.
Tusc was created by Bob Crow, the late RMT leader, and is now run by Dave Nellist, who was expelled by Labour over his support for Militant Tendency. It is an umbrella organisation that represents the Socialist party and the Socialist Workers party.
The names of a further 18 former and current members of the national council of Left Unity, a hard-left party founded by Ken Loach, have also been passed to The Times. Left Unity includes the Communist Party of Great Britain and the International Socialist Network among its unofficial backers.
They are all believed to have registered to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, the radical anti-austerity candidate who has risen from outsider to frontrunner in the contest.
According to my calculation, that adds up to a possible 29 extra votes for Corbyn.  It's not exactly going to set the heather on fire, is it?

Just a stroll

I don't know, you decide to take an afternoon constitutional; then there's this convenient tunnel to keep off the rain; you walk for miles and miles and then you get arrested.  The Guardian reports:
A suspected illegal immigrant is understood to have walked almost the entire length of the 31-mile (50km) Channel tunnel from France before being apprehended by Kent police close to the tunnel exit at Folkestone.
The man, who is a Sudanese national, was detected inside the tunnel less than 1km from the Folkestone terminal at 6.13pm on Tuesday. Kent police said in a statement: “Kent police officers investigating an incident where a man was located in the Channel tunnel near to its exit at the Folkestone terminal at 6.13pm on 4 August have charged a man.
Abdul Rahman Haroun, 40, of no fixed abode, has been charged with causing an obstruction to an engine or carriage using the railway under the Malicious Damage Act 1861.”
"Honest, guv, I never obstructed no engine or carriage - I kept well out of their way. Well you would, wouldn't you?"

 

01 August 2015

Music of the week

No quick fixes




All very difficult.  The Guardian reports:
Extra sniffer dogs and fencing are to be sent to France as David Cameron warned that the Calais migrant crisis is likely to lengthen into a summer of discontent on both sides of the Channel.
The prime minister also promised that Ministry of Defence land will be drafted into use to ease transport gridlock on the M20 around Dover, with the announcement that a car park with space for 1,000 lorries at Ebbsfleet International station is to be pressed into service.
Cameron, who is due to go on holiday next week, pledged to leave behind a “team of senior ministers” to work to deal with a situation that has seen more than 4,000 attempted incursions this week, albeit mostly unsuccessful.
“This is going to be a difficult issue right across the summer,” he said after an emergency Whitehall Cobra meeting held to discuss the Calais crisis. “We rule nothing out in taking action to deal with this very serious problem.”
Translation:  I know that this is a sticking plaster on a broken leg, but what else can I do?  In my absence on holiday, maybe this crisis will go away ...


30 July 2015

Quote of the day

The Guardian sums up the problem of Calais:
Cross-Channel viewpoints differ strikingly. From the traffic jams of Kent, the local conservative MP says France isn’t doing enough to police the tunnel and ports. But to a French aid worker building emergency latrines for thousands of refugees in a huge diarrhoea-ridden open-air squat in Calais it seems that Britain is exporting its asylum problems, asking Paris to do its dirty work along a British border that has conveniently shifted from Dover to the northern French coast.
There are no easy answers. Least of all those that involve sending in the army.

 

28 July 2015

Easy come, easy go

The Times reports:
Britain’s blue-chip stocks have lost all the ground made this year after a five-day rout capped by a catastrophic collapse in Chinese shares yesterday.
The FTSE 100 has slumped almost 10 per cent from its record high in April of 7,103.98 and is now 1 per cent below where it opened the year. The slide gathered speed in the past week, with a fall of almost 5 per cent in a five-day stretch that marked its longest losing streak this year.
A collapse in Chinese equities overnight set the tone as markets across the world turned red. The Shanghai Composite tumbled 8.5 per cent, its steepest daily decline since February 2007, despite Beijing’s support measures. The CSI300 index of top shares in Shanghai and Shenzhen fell by 8.6 per cent.
And Chinese stocks continued their decline overnight.  And the prospects for the FTSE today are less than promising.

That'll teach me - gambling is a sin ...

 

Ah didnae ken. Weel, ye ken noo ...

Ignorance is no defence.  The Guardian reports:

Boris Johnson has apologised for giving his wife a ‘backie’ on a bicycle, claiming he was unaware he was breaking the law.
The mayor of London was criticised by the national cycling charity CTC for pedalling his barrister wife Marina Wheeler through the city late on Thursday night on a bicycle designed for one person. The charity said he should have known better.
But Johnson’s official spokesman said the mayor was “unaware that he was apparently in contravention of the Road and Traffic Act”.