21 January 2015

Sacrilege

The Guardian reports:
Lidl’s fashion prowess knows no bounds: ahead of Burns night on Sunday, the budget supermarket has started selling kilts. The viscose rayon mix skirt costs £29.99 and is part of a collection that includes a pleather [sic] sporran for £10 and a haggis for 99p.
Lidl first piloted the design ahead of last summer’s Commonwealth games. This “proto-kilt”, which was three yards shorter and £10 cheaper, sold out almost immediately. The new line has been rolled out in time for this weekend’s celebrations, and the collection is already close to being sold out in both London and Scotland.
But would a true Scotsman wear it? The kilt comes in at the requisite eight yards long, making it legit enough. It’s just the tartan that is causing a minor furore. The design – a muted, forgettable palette of greys, greens and blues – borrows freely from various, disparate tartans. Lidl claims it’s Highland Grey. According to theHouse of Tartan, it “resembles” Highland Granite. Brian Wilton of the Scottish Tartans Authority says: “It’s not a tartan I recognise”.
Well, you won't see me wearing it.  Not because it comes from Lidl, but because I have never ever worn a kilt.  I am not a highlander but derive (mostly) from sturdy Lowland Scots stock.  So why should I wear a throwback to teuchter fashion, popularised in Victorian times?

Besides, I havnae got the knees for it.

 

20 January 2015

Music of the week

Demon drink

The Independent reports:
In what may prove to be badly timed news for those struggling to observe “dry January”, scientists have discovered that having up to seven drinks a week may give you a better chance of avoiding heart failure than people who abstain from alcohol completely.
A study published in the European Heart Journal suggests that in middle-aged men, drinking up to seven small glasses of wine or about three and a half pints of beer a week was associated with a 20 per cent lower risk of developing heart failure when compared with teetotallers.
The apparent protective effects were more marginal in women, but up to seven drinks a week still gave moderate female drinkers a 16 per cent reduced risk of heart failure over their non-drinking counterparts.

Probably best not to consume all seven drinks in the one evening.

 

Am I smug?

Is the government being too nice to us pensioners?  CityAM certainly thinks so:

Quite simply, due to pensioners’ greater propensity to vote and their growing numbers, politicians have pandered in this Parliament to the interests of the old across a range of areas. The government has instituted a triple-lock so that the state pension increases by the higher of inflation, average earnings, or 2.5 per cent per year – completely unjustifiable according to any standard economic rationale. The policy has proved highly costly in a world where wage growth, and hence tax receipts, have been so subdued, and it is hard to defend on the grounds of fairness when working-age welfare has been increased much more slowly.
The protection of the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences and bus passes, when other universal benefits have been reformed, is also incredibly hard to justify. Compared to other spending areas, healthcare has been relatively protected – with a huge proportion of that budget spent on the old. There was also the decision to implement a form of the Dilnot recommendations on financing social care. This is in effect a subsidy for wealthier pensioners in need of care such that the state will protect the inheritance of their children.
But this clientelism in the quest for votes has perhaps been exemplified best in the past week, with the launch of the government’s “Pensioner Bonds”. National Savings and Investments is offering three-year bonds, open to over-65s only, with yields of 4 per cent. This comes at a time when the government could borrow by issuing three-year bonds with yields of around 0.6 per cent. In other words, the government is deliberately borrowing more expensively than it needs to, guaranteeing a healthy return for pensioners who are wealthy enough to be able to purchase up to the £10,000 limit. No wonder the registration website keeps crashing.
I suppose - grudgingly - that the writer has a point.  But, hey, we wrinklies don't get many breaks of a non-financial nature.  In any case, we're worth it ...



19 January 2015

Reading and writing


It is indeed a scandal that so many children leave primary school without learning to read and write properly.  But are blanket targets the best way ahead?  The BBC reports:
Mr Clegg said the coalition had cut illiteracy but said it was a "national scandal" that more than a fifth of 11-year-olds leave primary school without reaching what is regarded as the basic level in reading.
He said the Liberal Democrat manifesto would contain a pledge to eliminate child illiteracy in 10 years.
It will be measured in the Key Stage 2 exams in the final year of primary school.
Far from sure that it is actually possible to eliminate illiteracy.  There will always be some children who for internal or external reasons fail to learn to read and write.

Perhaps eliminating illiteracy is like eliminating unemployment.  In both cases, what the politicians actually mean is reducing the level to a minimum vaguely regarded as acceptable.

But Clegg is right to push for greater attention to be paid to literacy teaching.

 

18 January 2015

What is the world coming to? (part 137)

From The Observer (here):
After closing for its annual maintenance period in early January, the London Eye, one of the most recognisable landmarks in the world, reopened this weekend as the Coca-Cola London Eye. The new name is a result of a sponsorship deal that was signed last September. It means that each pod of the Eye now has Coca-Cola branding inside, that staff wear red tops with Coca-Cola stamped on the back, security staff wear Coca-Cola beanie hats, all the cafes in the ticket office are branded with large Coca-Cola posters, and the wheel no longer shines blue at night, but a vivid, Coca-Cola red.

   

17 January 2015

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
David Cameron has been telling parliament and Barack Obama of his desire to make bulk surveillance of the entire population even bulkier. Never mind that this ignores the warning of the former FBI agent who says that if you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, the last thing you need is more hay. Never mind that police had sufficient powers to have the killers of Paris (or Woolwich, for that matter) already on their radar – at least it looks like getting a grip.

 

15 January 2015

Daft money

The Guardian reports:
Wilfried Bony will earn a £20,000-a-game bonus on top of his basic £100,000-a-week salary at Manchester City after completing his £25m transfer from Swansea City.

   

What Cameron didn't say ...

... about his wooing of the Greens (here):
“I love the Greens more than life itself. Caroline is my rock. Without her, I just can’t go on. Only this morning we went out on a run together along the Downs together. Out, out, in the mighty embrace of nature, our hair gently flecking with sweat, before heading back to feed some orphaned badgers and share a hearty Fairtrade granola breakfast. So I put the question to the right honourable gentleman: why is he so frightened of debating with the Green party?”
Miliband could not believe his luck. This was one PMQs he just could not lose. He had never said he would not debate with the Greens: only that he would debate with anyone whom Ofcom decided should be there. This wasn’t nearly good enough for Cameron. “How do I love thee, Caroline?” he said, his voice quivering with the most noblest of passion. “Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth of your cavity wall insulation to the height of your wind turbine.” Lucas smouldered. The unrequited desire she had long held for the prime minister had finally been reciprocated.
“Thank you, thank you Dave,” she trembled, coyly blowing him a kiss while the Tory backbenchers half-heartedly cheered in an effort to make this union seem something other than the product of a fevered and desperate imagination.

    

Politics as farce

13 January 2015

OAP blues

I can identify with this:
I’m fast approaching bed-blocker age, and it’s making me nervous. Nobody likes an elderly bed-blocker, especially now, with the NHS bursting at the seams. And nobody wants to be one. Imagine it – I do, all the time. What if I become seriously poorly, fall downstairs, break a limb, go to hospital and the daughter isn’t around to rescue me? I’ll be stuck there for months, not allowed home till they’ve “set up a care package”. Trickier, after years of coalition, than extracting sunshine out of cucumbers.
“It’s the geriatric ward I’m dreading,” says Rosemary. “That’s where they really ignore you. If you ask for anything twice they think you’ve got Alzheimer’s.” Her friend Angela managed to escape hospital by pointing at a visiting neighbour and saying: “She’ll look after me.” The poor neighbour didn’t dare say: “No I won’t,” in front of all those kind doctors and nurses, so Angela got home and stayed there, more or less alone, managing somehow.
So I’m planning to not fall over or be hospitalised, and to look competent and independent for as long as possible, without worrying Daughter, or alerting the authorities and being bundled off screaming to a care home. This may all be some way off, but I like to think ahead, plotting how to stay in my own flat till I fall off my perch.
It's not only the possibility of accidents but also the inevitable - if gradual - diminution of physical and mental abilities.  (Playing candy crush may only stave off dementia for so long.)

And yet.  Life, even with all its increasing limitations, can be sweet.  A pint of the amber liquid in the sunshine on the terrace of my favourite bar.  A satsfying dip into the Kindle to read a good book.  The prospect of a decent football match on the telly.  And the worries melt away - at least for the moment.

 

Quote of the day


From The Guardian (here):
Monday 12 January 2015 will go down in confectionary history as a bad day. A hurtful day.
The day when it was revealed that Cadbury’s Creme Eggs have changed forever.
No longer shall the egg shell be made from delicious Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate. It will instead be made from disgusting, foul, vomit-inducing “standard cocoa mix chocolate”.
“It’s no longer Dairy Milk. It is similar, but not exactly Dairy Milk,” said a spokesman for Cadbury, which since 2010 has been owned by the US giant Kraft, with a flippancy almost as hard to stomach as this new, Frankenstein’s monster of an egg is bound to be.
The spokesman said the new chocolate had been tested on “consumers” – industry shorthand for “idiots”, clearly – and had been “found to be the best one for Creme Egg”.
Me?  I never saw the attraction.  I'm a straight Cadbury's buttons fan.

 

12 January 2015

Economic nonsense

The Guardian reports:
Britain will be on the “path to ruin” if Labour takes charge of the public finances, David Cameron will say on Monday as he warns parents and grandparents of the dangers to future generations if the country fails to deal with its debts.
As Miliband accused the Tories of adopting “gimmick” tactics on the public finances by staging a Commons vote on their plans on Tuesday, the prime minister will accuse Labour of threatening higher interest rates after failing to set a date for the elimination of the deficit.
In a speech to party supporters, Cameron will say: “The choice is clear: staying on the road to recovery – or choosing the path to ruin.
“If we fail to meet this national challenge, the writing is on the wall. More borrowing, and all the extra debt interest that brings, meaning there is less money to spend on schools and hospitals and all the things we value as a country. More spending, and the higher taxes that will require – hardworking people thumped to pay for government wastefulness.
You might assume from this that, if the Tories get back to power in May, there will be no further borrowing by the government.  This, of course, would be blatantly untrue.  The Tory plans involve the elimination of the stuctural deficit by 2018.  Until that time they will have to continue with more borrowing, and "paying all the extra debt interest that brings".  The differential with Labour in terms of government borrowing would be marginal.

At present, the government is borrowing some £10 billion to £12 billion every month.  Whatever happens in May, that is unlikely to change significantly over the next two or three years.

 

11 January 2015

09 January 2015

Sauce for the goose

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, Nigel Farage has been widely condemned for his immoderate remarks about “gross multiculturalism” and about the presence of “a fifth column”.  

For example,
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said it was "utterly wrong" for any politician to make "political points" so soon after the attacks.
"If we fight among ourselves or see our neighbours of any faith as the enemy, then the only winners are the gunman," he warned.
Similarly,

On his LBC phone-in, Mr Clegg said: "I am dismayed that Nigel Farage immediately thinks, on the back of the bloody murders that we saw on the streets of Paris yesterday, his first reflex is to make political points."
The Lib Dem leader said that if the attackers did turn out to be Islamist extremists, "law-abiding British Muslims" were the "greatest antidote to the perversion of Islam".
Even the Prime Minister got in on the act:

David Cameron, who along with Mr Miliband condemned the attacks during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, said of Mr Farage's comments: "Today is not the day to make political remarks or arguments.
"Today is the day to stand four-square behind the French people."
But I see no rush to condemn the boss of MI5 who - arguably - used the situation to make his own political points:

The threat of a terror attack in the UK is increasing and the security services cannot be expected to stop every plot, the head of MI5 has warned.
Speaking after the attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, Andrew Parker said police and MI5 had "stopped three UK terrorist plots" in recent months.
He said the number of Britons who have travelled to Syria was now around 600.
He went on to defend the interception of communications by the security services.It follows criticism of GCHQ and the US National Security Agency after leaks by ex-US security contractor Edward Snowden.
Mr Parker said "almost all" of MI5's key counter-terrorism operations had involved the practice.
He went on to warn against a situation where privacy in the UK was "so absolute and sacrosanct that terrorists and others who mean us harm can confidently operate from behind those walls without fear of detection".
Is using the Charlie Hebdo killings to defend the policy of communications interception any less deplorable than Farage’s intervention?

08 January 2015

No sympathy

The Guardian takes a hard line with those of us seduced into investing in Boohoo:
No tears should be shed for investors in boohoo.com: an instant halving of the share price is what can happen when you buy shares in online fashion wannabes at sky-high valuations. The reasons given for Wednesday’sprofit warning were mundane: autumn was mild and competitors were active. In other words, online clothes retailers suffer the same pressures as their high-street brethren. This should not be a surprise.
Well, it seemed a good idea at the time.  I'll survive,  Win some, lose some.,,

 


I learn something new everyday


Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine, is becoming ever more popular.  But it is only prosecco if it comes in a bottle.  If the same stuff is bought by the glass in a bar or restaurant from a barrel, it is illegal to describe it as prosecco.

Oh, those crazy EU rules.  More here.


07 January 2015

How quaint

The minutes of the meetings of the Court of the Bank of England during 2007 to 2009 (the great banking crisis) reveal that such an august body is not beyond schoolboy codes:
The banks in trouble were given code names. Alliance & Leicester, eventually taken over by the UK arm of Spanish bank Santander, was known as Tiger; Bradford & Bingley, part nationalised in September 2008, was Badger. RBS was dubbed Phoenix while Lloyds TSB was Lark to HBOS’s Fox.
Whatever next?

     

   

06 January 2015

The dodgy dossier


Who has been a naughty boy, then?  Osborne's analysis of Labour's spending plans seems to be slightly misleading:
Problem number one with “a cost analysis of Labour party policy” is its composition. Some of the spending pledges Osborne identified are not actually official opposition policy. In other cases it is assumed that criticising what the government is doing automatically involves a spending commitment. Labour has, for example, attacked plans for cuts in local government spending in 2015-16, but it has not pledged to reverse them.
Problem number two is that the Conservatives assume that all Labour’s spending plans would be implemented from day one of a Miliband government. Ed Balls, however, has made it clear that he would stick to Osborne’s spending totals for 2015-16. Labour frontbenchers will only have more money to spend if the economy performs better than expected, if there are tax increases or if savings can be found elsewhere.
As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out, Labour has been the most cautious of the main parties when it comes to pre-election giveaways, and the shadow chancellor is unpopular with some in his party for this very reason. The fact that the IFS - the accepted arbiter of tax, spending and borrowing matters in the UK - has taken this line is the third reason not to take the Osborne dossier at face value.
I suppose that we face this kind of argumentation until May.  Not very uplifting ..


 

04 January 2015

Go Rikki!

For those of you (like me) for whom Hogmanay is just not the same without some Scotch and Wry:


03 January 2015

The road to nowhere


Sure, a one-track road, with no road markings and no passing places.  No people either.  (Nor are there any cows.)  As for fracking, forget it.

Back to the future with a vengeance.


Update:  It gets worse - apparently it is a German road,
 

 

31 December 2014

Dreaming on

Glasgow Rangers FC is in something of a mess.  The Scottish football authorities, as well as various interests in the Rangers boardroom, appear to be resisting the gradual (and possibly inevitable) takeover of the club by Mr Mike Ashley of Sporting Direct and of Newcastle United.

The Guardian is today reviewing Mr Ashley's record at Newcastle, and its conclusions should perhaps be borne in mind by those advocating an alternative future for Rangers:
This is a club [Newcastle Utd] who have existed in a state of gloriously thwarted ambition for the last 60 years but who are now in the grip of a business model designed not with glory or even particularly entertainment in mind. Ashley’s sights remain set on staying in the top 10, selling profitably and sitting on the club like a London property tycoon watching the TV rights market rise around him, all the while providing a global billboard for the world’s most bizarrely overexposed cut-price tracksuit shop.
It is always tempting to paint Ashley as a kind of corporate homunculus, draining the city’s historic passions to service his interests elsewhere but like the notion of Pardew as a grand managerial villain finally ousted, it is a construct that falls to pieces under any serious scrutiny. Ashley is a shrewd and timely operator who has bent Newcastle United to fit the restricted horizons of the new football world. Seven years ago the club was in hock at every level and making unsustainable losses. Ashley has invested (with loans) close to £300m and despite some disappointing commercial revenues transformed the club into a profitable concern.
It is a considerable achievement, albeit one in which successive managerial place-men have had relatively little input, and in which the desire of the fans to be transported, seduced with dreams of something larger, has been essentially ignored. 
So is the choice between, on the one hand, financial regularity and diminished footballing ambition and, on the other, dreams of glory while leaving the finances to sort themselves out?  Too simplistic, perhaps, but just the same, all very difficult ...


28 December 2014

How did that happen?

Something unexpected.  A good man appears to have risen to the top of the Catholic Church:
He has been called the “superman pope”, and it would be hard to deny that Pope Francis has had a good December. Cited by President Barack Obama as a key player in the thawing relations between the US and Cuba, the Argentinian pontiff followed that by lecturing his cardinals on the need to clean up Vatican politics. But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?
It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.
...
Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.
According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.
In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.
“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.
“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said.
A miracle?

27 December 2014

Bad news for Labour

The Guardian reports:
Labour is on course for a bloodbath in Scotland in 2015, according to a special Guardian/ICM online poll.
The Scottish National party, which took only 20% of the vote in the 2010 general election, has subsequently more than doubled its vote to reach a commanding 43% of the prospective poll next May. Scottish Labour, which secured a very strong 42% in Gordon Brown’s homeland last time around, has since tumbled by 16 points to just 26%.
The Conservatives sink from 2010’s 17% to 13%, while the great bulk of the 19% share that the Liberal Democrats scored last time around is wiped out as they fall by 13 points to 6%.
On a uniform swing, these results – which are reinforced by a recent Survation poll for the Daily Record – would entirely redraw the political map. Labour’s band of 41 Scottish MPs would be reduced to a parliamentary rump of just 10 members, underlining that the Scottish party’s newly elected leader, Jim Murphy, has a mountain to climb.
The SNP, meanwhile, would storm ahead from the mere six MPs it returned in 2010 to take a crushing majority of 45 of Scotland’s 59 constituencies. The Lib Dems, who currently hold 11 seats, would lose all but three, and the Tories would continue to languish with the single seat they currently hold.
Scarcely believable, but the bad news gets worse:
... a unique analysis, conducted for the Guardian by Prof John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, suggests that the crude assumption of a uniform swing could actually be understating the catastrophe facing the party.
By breaking ICM’s data into four different categories of seat, Curtice reveals Labour’s decline is sharpest in those supposedly heartland seats where it previously trounced the SNP by more than 25 points.
Whereas Labour’s Scotland-wide vote drops by 16 points, it falls by 22 points in these constituencies while the SNP surges by 26. That combination is sufficient to wipe out majorities that were always assumed to be impregnable, and Scottish Labour’s Westminster caucus is left shrivelling to just three MPs.
“We are prospectively looking at the collapse of citadels that have always been Labour since the 1920s,” said Curtice. “That will seem incredible to some in England, but to those of us who paid close attention to Alex Salmond’s 2011 landslide at Holyrood, it would merely be the next chapter in the political transformation of a nation.”
He added: “It is becoming clear that the independence referendum has reset all the dials. Previously rock-solid Labour seats in Glasgow voted yes in the referendum, and this now appears to be giving rise to a particular surge of nationalist sentiment in those parts of Scotland where it was once assumed that the SNP couldn’t reach.”
With the nationalists also advancing by 20-plus points in the more competitive Liberal Democrat and Labour-held seats, they are on course to capture all the more obvious targets, securing a total of 53 seats under this more refined projection. The Lib Dems are again reduced to three and the Conservatives are wiped out entirely.
So, 53 seats for the SNP and three each for Labour and the LibDems.  Professor Curtice is not usually considered to be alarmist, but this is off the wall.  Even if the SNP were to secure 40 Scottish MPs next May, it would have all sorts of implications for Scotland's place in the UK.  And the prospects of either the Tories or Labour securing an overall majority at Westminster look ever more dim ...