30 September 2008

We're all bankers now

Gee thanks, I always wanted to be a banker. The Times reports:
Dear taxpayer. Congratulations. You are now the proud owner of £50 billion of mortgages and personal loans, an unprepossessing office block in Bingley and a swish new headquarters on the outskirts of Bradford.
You are already big in the mortgage business thanks to the acquisition of Northern Rock. But in this case you will not be holding on to the branches, which are being sold to Abbey National’s owner, Santander, for about £400 million.

When do I get to participate in the jollies? The corporate hospitality, Murrayfield, Wimbledon, Henley, etc? That's what bankers do, isn't it?

29 September 2008

Further disarray? They have no idea.

People go about their ordinary lives. My mates try to arrange our monthly booze-up. My sister worries about her grandchildren. The politicians squabble about the council tax.

Meanwhile, the capitalist world goes up in smoke. The Guardian reports:
A $700bn rescue plan for the sagging US financial market was defeated in Congress today, threatening to throw the already turbulent global financial markets into further disarray.
The ambitious and risky bail-out fell short, 205-228, in the House of Representatives after an unprecedented push by both Democratic and Republican leaders to win their members' support for the deal.

Maybe the people are right. But what will happen tomorrow?

Look, it's not that simple

Here is an extract from The Treasury statement on Bradford & Bingley:
The Banking (Special Provisions) Act 2008 also provides for a compensation Order to be made. This order - relating to compensation for shareholders and others whose rights may have been affected by the transfer into public ownership - will be laid in due course.

The problem is this: who - in their right minds - would now be prepared to invest in shares in any financial institution?

Actions have consequences ...

Sometimes, being nice isn't enough

Why do I feel slightly disappointed? The Times reports:
Ant and Dec, the television presenters, were forced to take cover from a rocket attack while visiting Afghanistan to present a bravery award to troops. The duo, whose full names are Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly, had gone to Camp Bastion in Helmand province to present a Pride of Britain Award to the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT), who rescue injured colleagues from the front line.
As they returned to Kandahar to catch a military flight back to Britain, they were forced to dive to the ground when a group of Taleban fighters fired a shell from their position in the mountains around the airport. Pictures of the incident show the television pair among a group of soldiers, flat on their stomachs to avoid any flying shrapnel.

Aye well, perhaps next time.

27 September 2008

Music of the week

That ain't right:

Quote of the day

"You shall not covet your neighbour's blog ranking. Be content with your own content."

One of ten blogging commandments drawn up by the Evangelical Alliance. (Yes, really.) Read about it here.

Sage advice, if not always easy to achieve.

Another ninepin is about to fall

First, it was Northern Rock. Now the Bradford & Bingley is being lined up for nationalisation. The Times reports:
Alistair Darling is close to ordering the nationalisation of Bradford & Bingley as a search for a private sector buyer for the stricken lender becomes increasingly desperate.
Seven months after Northern Rock was taken over, the Chancellor has ordered officials to prepare to take a second financial institution into public ownership, although Treasury officials last night stressed no decisions had been taken.
Last ditch talks to find a buyer are set to continue through the weekend but officials did not deny that Mr Darling was considering using new powers to nationalise banks passed after the run on Northern Rock.

Who's next, I wonder? But the shape of the financial services industry is beginning to look markedly different from a year ago. And what would this do for the government's finances?

26 September 2008

It rattled my windows

Oh yes, I heard it. And it didn't sound like a plane to me. The BBC story:
Two loud booms rattled windows and shook residents of Malaga in southern Spain before officials confirmed the cause as a low-flying plane, not bombs.
"It was very loud and it sounded like a bomb but it's a false alarm," a government spokesman said.
Media initially reported two "explosions", saying people had rushed to their windows and the mobile phone network went dead.

How some of us live next door to - gasp - foreign countries

This is unbelievable - and she is a candidate for Vice President?

Watch CBS Videos Online

24 September 2008

It's a cryin' shame

I have no wish to be a pedant but why did not George Watson's College hammer out of Iain Gray MSP his deplorable habit of failing to pronounce correctly the sound represented in the English language by "-ing". Is this some kind of effort to identify with the so-called Scottish working (or workin') class? The man studied physics at the University of Edinburgh - is he so ashamed of an educated Scottish accent?

Or maybe I'm just being snobbish. I'm also prejudiced against Watsonians.

Excuses, excuses ...

So, I have been posted missing for three days. Any of you who have ever tried to buy an apartment abroad will realise the bureaucratic, legal and banking hassles involved. But I think it's now all sorted - at least more or less.

Furthermore, I have begun watching The Wire (First Season). So far - after two episodes - it has lived up to the rave reviews.

I bought series 1 and 2 from Amazon for a total of less than £30. For this, you get some 24 hours of splendid telly viewing, which seems good value. It will, however, take me a long time to get through all five seasons.

They do swear an awful lot, though ...

So this evening in my Spanish apartment I have the choice of watching episodes 3 and 4 or, alternatively, Partick Thistle v Rangers. No option really. But it does seem somewhat bizarre.

No spivs or speculators this time?

Come on, Mr Salmond! You're slipping. Another company with a Scottish headquarters bites the dust and you have nothing to say? The Guardian reports:
Britain's plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations received a major boost this morning when French energy giant EDF finally agreed to buy British Energy in a £12.4bn deal.
Taxpayers will also get a windfall as the government owns 36% of British Energy having stepped in to rescue the firm in 2002.

British Energy's HQ is in East Kilbride.

The clunking orator

Contrary to received public opinion - at least among the media - the Big Speech did not seem to me to be particularly good. I was therefore relieved to see that Alice Miles in The Times agrees:
Oh that was painful. Agony. It was squirmingly, screamingly, startlingly bad. It was dull. It was plodding. It was morose. “When he speaks to you it's like a mental block; I just zone out,” said a woman on Newsnight's floating-voter panel the night before. “Cheer up!” the panel unanimously urged the Prime Minister.
Cheer up? I nearly hanged myself from my hotel trouser press. In place of levity we had seriousness, hard work and a moral purpose. And New Rules.
There were some nice lines, but mostly it was a list, not a speech: thud after thud of meaningless proclamations - we will be the party of law and order, we will be the party of the family, this will be the British century.

It's not just the content; it's also the delivery. Mr Brown has no feel for pitch or intonation. He therefore fails to send the appropriate signals to the audience, for example that he is in the middle of a paragraph. He is then interrupted by applause, which throws him of balance after the first few words of the following sentence. He then has to start that sentence again, lending the speech a staccato-like lack of quality.

What he said:
"And where I've made mistakes I'll put my hand up and try to put them right. So what happened with 10p stung me because it really hurt that suddenly people felt I wasn't on the side of people on middle and modest incomes - because on the side of hard-working families is the only place I've ever wanted to be."

What he meant:
I admit that I should not have included that piece of egregious chicanery on the 10p rate at the end of my budget speech last year. I was trying to secure a cheap headline in the next day's press. And I now know I should have thought the whole thing through more carefully at the beginning. As for failing to put my hand up and to put it right, well I was in denial, you see. Still am, probably.

20 September 2008

Allocating blame

I seldom agree with Alan Cochrane in The Telegraph but on this occasion he is more right than most:

Parliaments always look at their worst when everyone is agreeing with each other, and Thursday's session at Holyrood was especially stomach-churning. Now, I know that there is supposed to be a national consensus in defence of HBOS and I have no objection to that.
Where it went completely over the top was in MSPs' lemming-like decision to follow, to the letter, Alex Salmond's attacks on those who indulged in the short selling of HBOS shares. Other than Patrick Harvie, leader-in-waiting of the Greens, all the party leaders lined up dutifully behind the First Minister to agree that this proud, noble and wonderfully efficient organisation had been laid low by the actions of bad people.
This is far from being the view of a large proportion of those who are about to see their jobs die. Among those employees and, increasingly among financial experts, the blame is much more being laid at the door of their bosses at The Mound - including Andy Hornby, the chief executive who is said to be in line for a £2 million sweetener in the takeover.

A lot more of this kind of thing to come, I suspect.

19 September 2008

Music of the week

Maybe it's only a song to you, but to me it's an anthem. Besides, when it features such luminaries as Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Karen Matheson, Mary Black and Emmylou Harris, it's too much. The song was written in 1854:

Quote of the day

He's all talk and no trousers. Our beloved Prime Minister (here):
Brown said: "We are cleaning up the financial system where there have been problems and we are going to continue taking whatever action is necessary so we have a stable financial system."

Oh yeah? A ban on short selling restricted to the financial sector and for a few months only is not going to cut it. Plans to deal with insider trading? Obscene bonuses? Regulation of the hedge funds? Not that I can see.

Well it's Friday after all

No, I don't know what's going on. But just because RBS shares are up 27%, Lloyds TSB shares are up 27% and HBOS shares are up 24% does not mean that everything in the garden is rosy.

18 September 2008

The politics of the mafia

I do not usually cite The Spectator as a source but this seems passing remarkable, while having the ring of truth:
The strange case of David Cairns shows how the Brown witch-hunt is being conducted. Word reached Mr Brown’s henchmen that the minister of state at the Scotland Office was having doubts, and he was given an offer they imagined he couldn’t refuse: he would keep his job in the next reshuffle in return for issuing a statement of support. Yet this former Catholic priest said he could not, in conscience, make such a deal. Then came a supplementary offer which perfectly exemplifies Mr Brown’s brutal modus operandi. Mr Cairns could resign, but quietly. If he said anything unpleasant about the Prime Minister, the dogs would be let loose on him.
Even if nothing else in government is functioning, Mr Brown’s team of character assassins is still at large, at full operational strength and widely feared. ‘You have to let them know you can hurt them more than they can hurt you,’ one Cabinet member told me before the recess. ‘You have to say, “If you come after me, I will do X, Y and Z to you.” It’s brutal, but it’s the only way of getting through to him.’ Mr Cairns was obviously not taught about this art of war in the seminary.


Aw diddums

Can you feel some sympathy for the City of London fatcats? The Times can:
Some in the City pocketed bonuses by risking other people's money, but most did well by slogging their guts out. The mean salary in the City last year was £85,500, but even secretaries were at their desks by 8am and ate their supper in the canteen before joining the 10pm yoga class.
As one headhunter told me yesterday: “Most of the high-earners have been doing incredibly punishing jobs, working untenable hours. They are often disliked by their clients and estranged from their children and wives, who will now run off in their Laboutin shoes with their younger, fitter personal trainer. They have endured years of dog-eat-dog corporate politics and punishment, only to have their net worth wiped out over a weekend. It's not funny, it's painful to watch.”

Excuse me while I puke. I have a lot more sympathy for the tellers and call centre operators at the Bank of Scotland who are about to lose their considerably less well remunerated positions.

17 September 2008

Yes, I remember it well

Ah yes, spivs. The First Minister has brought them to our attention. The BBC reports:
Scotland's first minister has launched an outspoken attack on the "spivs and speculators" he blames for targeting Scottish-based bank HBOS.
A few words of explanation may be helpful for our younger readers. Spivs were invented during and after the Second World War. In a time when many goods were rationed, spivs were a (relatively speaking) reliable source of black market goods. So, if you needed cloth to make a wedding dress (that was what people did in those days), recourse to a spiv was necessary. At a price of course, a spiv could always get hold of a few eggs to make a cake (another quaint pastime of those days).

Rationing lasted until well into the 1950s, along with powdered egg and a peculiar orange juice to which I was addicted. And so did spivs. Some would say that spivs lasted a lot longer - apart from careers in financial services, some of them probably became members of one parliament or another ...

Gaeth a wyrd swa hio scel

I had drafted a fairly political post about the impending takeover of HBOS - but now is not the time.

One of the great historic Scottish institutions is about to be swallowed up by a lesser competitor. Why? If you like, you can attach the blame to a bunch of City wideboys who have been short selling.

But the consequences for Scotland, and for Edinburgh, are likely to be severe. It is not just the jobs in the bank itself, but in all the associated businesses which serve this massive institution, from the auditors to the sandwich shops. And the loss of prestige and influence that attaches to having one of Europe's biggest banks headquartered in Edinburgh.

A sad day.

Rip-off Britain

You may remember this story. You should - it's less than two months old.
British Gas yesterday increased the pressure on household budgets after announcing the biggest ever increase in gas prices for its 16 million customers.
The 35% rise in gas bills was blamed on higher wholesale costs but came just hours before British Gas's parent company, Centrica, was due to reveal profits of £880m for the first half of the year.

There was an excuse of course:
British Gas managing director, Phil Bentley, defended the price hike.
"We very much regret that we have had to make this decision at a time when many household budgets are already under pressure. The simple fact though is that we have entered an era of unprecedented high world energy prices. The only answer to cope with higher energy prices, I'm afraid, is for all of us to be more energy efficient."

Aye well. Oil is now less than $90 a barrel compared with over $140 a couple of months ago. And, as we were so often reminded, the wholesale price of gas is directly related.

So when are we going to see a reduction in gas prices for the consumer?

Cause and effect

I blame football. Hubris leads financial institutions into sponsoring football clubs. (For unaccountable - literally - reasons, they like to see their names on footballers' shirts.) Thus Northern Rock sponsored Newcastle Utd; result nemesis and nationalisation. AIG sponsored Manchester Utd; same result.

As far as I am aware, HBOS does not sponsor any football clubs - so it is probably safe. On the other hand, RBS has a predilection for the Six Nations Rugby tournament - worrying.

16 September 2008

Bye Dave

So Mr Cairns has gone. Maybe he was just bored to tears. It cannot be easy being the Minister of State in a department - such as the Scotland Office - with nothing to do.

If you check the departmental website, you will see that in August it managed to put out seven press notices (and a further two in September). By contrast, the Executive puts out that number every day.

But fair dos. He has given up a handsome salary, a ministerial limo and a position that might have seen him elevated further. Apparently on a matter of principle. So, until we hear otherwise, respect.

Melting down?

It's not getting any better. This is how the Footsie 100 is doing:

(Source: here)

And the Bank of Scotland is down to £1.72 per share.

Urgent breaking news - nothing happening

I suppose it means something when Downing Street has to confirm that a junior minister at the Scotland Office has not told them that he intends to resign. The BBC reports:
Downing Street sources have told the BBC that minister David Cairns has not informed them he intends to resign.
There have been reports the Scotland Office minister is about to quit over Gordon Brown's leadership.

15 September 2008

Music of the week

"Where did the blue sky go?"

Good question. I don't really know this band - they're a bit after my time. But I like the song. I admire the faux paranoia. And it reflects the essential zeitgeist, combining the existential angst of Sartre with Ionesco's sense of the absurd.*

*Imagine - some people get paid to write this kind of rubbish.

All for television

I suppose that it might be better than deep-fried mars bars. The Guardian reports:

Ramsay went "sky fishing" for the puffins using a large net to "fish" the birds out of the sky. He caught six, four of which were killed. Their necks were broken and they were skinned, with their hearts taken out to eat.
"Ofcom acknowledges that in this country some members of the public may consider that the capture of puffins for human consumption is unacceptable and consequently distressing," said the regulator.
"However, the sequence featuring Gordon Ramsay occurred in Iceland where it is not a protected species, where it comprises a popular part of the national diet and, as the programme informed viewers, is 'a traditional food that has been hunted for centuries'.
"In addition, Ofcom noted that the birds were caught and killed in what appeared to be a fast and humane way with minimal suffering.
Well that's all right then.

Except if you're a puffin ...

It's not our fault after all

There you go. I thought it was the square sausage, the Buckfast and the fags. But The Times reports:
A national campaign to persuade every Scot to take daily supplements of vitamin D is needed if the country’s appalling health record is to be reversed, leading scientists believe.
A report, published this week, links poor weather to the lack of the “sunshine vitamin” in Scotland, and urges the Scottish government to launch a nationwide vitamin D programme to lower the incidence of devastating illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer and multiple sclerosis.
The research points to the country’s damp, cloudy climate as a significant contributor to its bleak record of ill health and disease.

Maybe Karl Marx was right

OK, so maybe my last post was a little parochial in the light of the fact that the world's financial system is this morning well on its way to hell in a handcart. Despite a temptation to rejoice at the discomfiture of bankers everywhere, the present crisis is not going to do anybody any good.

Besides, my few remaining bawbees are with the Bank of Scotland, which - the BBC tells me - is the biggest loser in this morning's stock market crash. Its shares are now worth a meagre £2.37 each, compared with over £9 a year ago.

Faux pas

The sudden interest of The Independent in the new leader of Labour might have been more convincing if they had managed to spell his name correctly.

14 September 2008

HW recommends ...

... a couple of great political movies on BBC4 this evening.

First up, at 7.15 is The Candidate, how the classic liberal played by Robert Redford is corrupted.

Then at 10.00 is Primary Colors, the movie of Joe Klein's analysis of the first Clinton campaign. Not as good as the book but a more than adequate film. Emma Thompson is, as always, superb.

Surprising how many good political movies have been made by Hollywood - Mr Smith goes to Washington, Advise and Consent, The Parallax View. The BBC should show them more frequently.

A pig in a poke, with or without lipstick.

Well, that was all very civilised. An election without any apparent rancour, but with respect on all sides. Not just listening but hearing. Adjectives and participles, no finite verbs.

But what did we learn? Do we have a clear idea of the new leader's position on the council tax? Reform it to make it fairer? How exactly? What about the referendum? Not strongly opposed, but needs to look at the wording of the question - where does that take us? Additional powers for the Scottish Parliament? Await Calman. Nuclear energy as opposed to renewables? Police and crime? Class sizes?

It's all very well having values (but, if those values are honestly held, it is not entirely clear how you can align them with popular aspirations). But policies would be nicer.

13 September 2008

Are the tectonic plates shifting?

This begins to look like a concerted plan. Some might even call it a plot. The BBC reports:

The Labour MP Joan Ryan has confirmed that she has also written to the party asking for a leadership election.
Ms Ryan, a Labour Party vice chair, confirmed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she had asked for nomination papers.
It comes after junior whip Siobhain McDonagh was fired after saying she wanted the debate on Gordon Brown's leadership to be out in the open.

More hands in the public purse

The Times reports:
This year had looked so promising for Britain's grain farmers. They were expecting a bumper crop, with prices to rival last year's, when best milling grain fetched £200 a tonne. Wheat was standing proud and tall in July and there had been optimum conditions for growth.
Now thousands of acres are flattened or blackened from the rain. Wheat being salvaged in some parts of the country is not prime milling quality and some farmers may lose a third of their expected earnings.
The situation is so bad that farmers are demanding urgent payment of subsidies to alleviate their plight.

Who do they think they are? Bankers?

In praise of bookies

Some days, the newspapers can be irritating. Today, they are - virtually without exception - banging on about the number of airlines which will go bust before Christmas. But they don't tell you which ones are in the frame.

Thank heavens, therefore, for bookmakers. Paddy Power is taking bets on the next airline to go into administration. Here are the favourites:
6/4 Alitalia
5/2 SkyEurope
9/1 Spanair
10/1 Berlin Air
14/1 bar

12 September 2008

Oh, Charlie ...


Quote of the day

Ann Treneman in The Times (here):
"If Gordon Brown thinks loft lagging is the answer, then he's asking the wrong question."

Only in football ...

Where else would you secure £1.5 million per year to do a job for which you have no relevant experience? Acting as assistant manager to Italy's under-21 team hardly counts.

There was a time when you had to start in the lower divisions and work your way up. No longer, apparently.

11 September 2008

Breaking News

Channel tunnel closed due to fire. Europe cut off.

It's not getting any better

If you are desperately short of reading material, today sees the publication of Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics for 2007. Devour it here.

Of course, in the good old days, before all these new-fangled computers, it was published much earlier in the year. In 1927, for example, it took them less than three months to gather up the data, even though there were many more fishing boats than nowadays. You don't believe me? Check out page 2 of this document and note the date in the top right hand corner.

You see, we advance only to recede.

Update: It is a disgraceful calumny to suggest that I had anything to do with the compilation of the 1927 publication.

In praise of the jury system

Perhaps it's plain contrariness. Or sympathy with the little guy standing up against the big battalions. Or maybe we are actually greener than we thought.

Whatever the reason, yesterday's verdict goes some way to restoring one's faith in the Great British public.

The Independent reports:
The threat of global warming is so great that campaigners were justified in causing more than £35,000 worth of damage to a coal-fired power station, a jury decided yesterday. In a verdict that will have shocked ministers and energy companies the jury at Maidstone Crown Court cleared six Greenpeace activists of criminal damage.

10 September 2008

Post from Wester Hailes by the sea

I know. I've been slightly remiss in terms of posting over the last couple of days.

That is partly due to my removal to Spain for the next couple of months. Spain, land of astonishingly beautiful young women. Unfortunately, also the land of fat Brits. And why do they have to wander about, baring their flabby torsos to all and sundry. Put a t-shirt on, you're not on the beach!

Amazingly, my broadband connection is still functioning. So normal service will be resumed, once I get used to the shock of the heat. And, indeed, of the deprivation of the BBC's i-player; even though I pay my licence fee, I don't get access because of rights issues. Other than that, life is sweet - even if 2 euros ( approximately £1.70) for a pint seems excessive. I bought a watermelon this morning; impossible to eat the damn thing courteously, but who cares.

No-one likes to be told they're just specks of dust blowing through the universe

I just can't see Barry Ferguson or Darren whatever his name is taking a similar line:

Pre-Game Coin Toss Makes Jacksonville Jaguars Realize Randomness Of Life

But let us hope the boys do good this evening.

08 September 2008

Quote of the day

Gordon Brown (here):

“My own response to the great challenges in my own life has been to confront them, resolute in the belief that there would always be something that could be done to overcome them. And there always has been.
“Now, once more, I am confident that we can come through this difficult economic time and meet these challenges a stronger, more secure, and fairer country than ever before.”

What about the time you first had the opportunity to lead the Labour Party but stood down in favour of Blair? Was that confronting the challenge?

And all those unhappy years under Blair, mumping away behind the scenes but afraid to strike. Was that confronting the challenge?

And when the going got rough, for example over Iraq, doing a Mr MacAvity act and disappearing. Was that confronting the challenge?

And when you finally became Prime Minister, last September's ducking the prospect of a general election. Was that confronting the challenge?

And, now, crumbling before the energy companies' resistance to a windfall tax. Is that confronting the challenge?

Face it, you're a wimp.

06 September 2008

Music of the week

I know. I'm a sentimental old fool. But I heard it on Wogan yesterday morning when I was doing the dishes and was transported.

We're all doomed - again

We've only got four days left. The Times reports:
If you believe a vocal lobby of doomsayers, at the flick of a switch on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) next week the world will be consumed from the inside out and turned to a pile of grey goo. Yesterday their apocalyptic warnings were challenged by a report from the scientists behind the project outlining just how safe it is to recreate the Big Bang under the France-Switzerland border.
The Large Hadron Collider - the atom-smashing machine built underneath the Alps - has sent more internet-based harbingers of doom into a spin than it will have atomic particles whizzing around its 17-mile circumference when it is put into action next week. They fear that the energies released will be so powerful that a runaway black hole will be created that will engulf the planet or produce “quantum strangelets” transforming the Earth into a dead lump of “strange matter”.

So there you are. Forget the Labour leadership struggle. Put away your doubts about local income tax. Stop worrying about sterling's decline. Cease complaining about the Hibees' abysmal start to the season. It all ends next Wednesday.

I blame the French.

05 September 2008

Palin's bitch

Unless you lean to the republicans, you may find this mildly amusing:

That old slippery slope

Perhaps it was inevitable. Maybe Gordon Brown had no choice but to bow to overwhelming pressure. But, by indicating that he will not stand in the way of increased fiscal powers for Holyrood, it is certainly the case that a rubicon has been crossed. Increasingly, it looks as if - all those years ago - Tam Dalyell was right to describe devolution as a motorway with no exits.

And is there a ledge on the slippery slope where one can stand firm and say 'this far and no further'? Can a parliament be partly responsible for raising the financial resources for whose spending it is wholly accountable? (I appreciate that this is the situation in which local authorities find themselves - but their obvious subservience to their paymaster would be intolerable for a body with the pretensions of Holyrood.)

So, if the status quo is no longer an option, we end up with a choice between a big bang independence heralded by the proposed 2010 referendum and a creeping, evolutionary, de facto independence, with the latter shorn (at least for the foreseeable future) of some of the external trappings of a nation state (such as a place at the Brussels table, and without guns and aircraft carriers).

Is this a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? I don't know. I will need to think on it.

04 September 2008

Ah didnae ken

I learned something new today, courtesy of Jane's Industry Quarterly. The UK has a bigger defence budget than any other country in the world, with the sole exception of the USA. Here are the figures:

(2008) USD Billion

1 United States 696.30
2 United Kingdom 79.27
3 France 65.74
4 China 58.07
5 Japan 48.10
6 Germany 43.55
7 Saudi Arabia 38.32
8 Russian Federation 36.73
9 Italy 31.40
10 Korea, South 28.30

Unbelievable. But Jane is widely regarded as knowing its stuff.

You may wonder why we are spending so much more than those belligerent states such as China or Russia, with so little to show for it (at least in terms of adequate equipment for the troops in Afghanistan). But remember these figures the next time the Ministry of Defence chiefs start moaning about the next defence review. (Unlike Edinburgh Corporation buses, defence reviews appear relatively frequently.)

Ask yourself - do we really need a replacement for Trident? or those two dirty great aircraft carriers (even although they may guarantee 10,000 jobs at the dockyards for a while)? or those 272 Eurofighters (when we have less than 100 aircrews capable of flying them)?

We are a peace-loving nation, are we not?

No pies

Adult professional sportsmen or untrustworthy children? The Independent reports:
Fabio Capello has proved to be an uncompromising manager in his nine months in charge of the England squad but this week he has made his first concession to the players over their strict dietary regime. After complaints that many felt light-headed and even nauseous because of the rigorously-controlled diet before the Czech Republic friendly last month, they are now allowed to have greater choice over their pre-match meal.
The issue of food around the England camp has become a major factor for many of the players who have privately complained of hunger between meals because of the strict watch over what they eat. They are no longer permitted to serve themselves at buffet-style dinners, hotel mini-bar snacks are cleared out of their rooms and the baskets of energy bars that would be left around the hotel under Steve McClaren's reign are now gone.
However, they have been told that they are now allowed greater freedom of choice over their pre-match meal. Bizarrely, given Capello's nationality, some of the players have said that they would have preferred the choice of pasta as an early-evening meal which many of them are accustomed to with their clubs. That was not available to them before the Czech Republic game on 20 August because the team had eaten it for lunch that day.

03 September 2008

It's going to be a long winter

The legislative programme. How tedious. Can I bear to write another post on local income tax? You must be joking.

If you're desperate, you can read this. As far as I am aware, none of the problems identified therein has been resolved (or even taken forward a little).

And there is no reason for Labour to feel smug. The prospective leaders have yet to clarify their position as described here.

Incidentally, has the First Minister been over-indulging? He looked a little over-weight today.


Oh dear. Even Jackie Ashley of The Guardian, and longtime cheerleader for Mr Brown, is deserting the camp:
It's all the rage these days to suggest Gordon Brown look to the United States for inspiration, to see if he can summon up some Obama-style vision and charisma. Apart from the obvious difficulties (looks, personality, political culture, etc) Brown could do a lot worse than take a look in his own backyard – Scotland. For increasingly, Scotland is beginning to look like the progressive country that we hoped New Labour would produce.

It may appear so from the metropolitan fastness, but I cannot say that Scotland feels like a progressive country. But I'm just an old curmudgeon ...

All that wildlife

Her attitude to polar bears, to grizzly bears and to moose (mooses?) does not necessarily mean that she is a bad person.

But it probably does.
Update: She doesn't seem to like wolves either.

Dismal science

Just don't expect the price of petrol to come down. The Guardian reports:
Now the oil price becomes interesting. Hurricane Gustav has shown the strength of the market's downwards momentum. The approach of the storm provoked only a modest climb in prices. Its passing, leaving oil platforms and refineries in the Gulf of Mexico intact, has taken the price below $110 a barrel. That represents a fall of almost 30% since July's peak - a serious move, notwithstanding the recovery in the dollar, the currency in which the black stuff is traded, during the same period. The interesting question is whether Opec, the oil producers' cartel, can defend $100.

On the other hand, the price at the pumps may have reached a peak - for now at least. Provided that the value of the pound sterling ceases to drop like a stone ...

02 September 2008

One more tick in the box

The abolition of hospital parking charges is populist but astute. Those who do not frequent hospitals can have no idea of the irritation, even fury, caused by such charges.

So, once again, the SNP administration has confounded the opposition parties. Others may have talked about it whereas the SNP has acted. I have not been able to find any assessment of the loss of income to health boards as a result but I doubt if the patients, their relatives and hospital staff will care.

The only slight - but understandable - disappointment is that PFI hospitals, including the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, are not (directly) covered by the announcement.


So the 1% stamp duty on the sale of properties under £175,000 is to be abolished (at least temporarily), thus saving those buyers of houses between £125,000 and £175,000 the princely sum of between £1,250 and £1,750. It will make absolutely no difference to those buying more expensive houses.

Will it make a significant difference to the housing market? Probably not, but it's marginally better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

01 September 2008

Quote of the day

The admirable Clairwil (here) on the Arches farce:
For me the whole public shagging thing is a question of appropriateness. Shagging by the 'pick n' mix' in woolies is wrong, shagging in a nightclub on a men only gay night for over twenty fives is harmless sport and arguably a rational response to the promise of sex used in the marketing of the evening. Rather that than a hullabaloo on the nightbus or worse the hijacking of the public lavs.

Picture of the day

Worrying - would you want this woman as commander in chief of the most powerful miltary in the world?