28 November 2008

Something not quite right?

If the BBC says it is so, then it must be true:
The Iraqi parliament has voted to accept a deal on the future presence of US troops in the country.
The decision, praised by US President George Bush, means US troops will leave Iraqi streets by mid-2009 and will quit Iraq entirely by the end of 2011.

But I do wonder what the Americans will do about all those vastly expensive military bases in Iraq, such as this one:
The U.S. military base in Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, is rapidly becoming one of the largest American military installations on foreign soil.
About 40,000 troops, contractors and Defense Department civilian employees live there.
The base is one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures going up across this 16-square-mile fortress in the center of Iraq, all with an eye toward the next few decades.
Balad Air Base is now the headquarters for an Air Force Expeditionary Wing; billions of dollars are being spent on upgrades at the base.

Then there is the enormous US embassy in Baghdad:
A new embassy, which has been referred to as Fortress America[3], is currently under construction in the Green Zone of Baghdad. The compound will comprise 21 buildings on 104 acres (42 ha), making it the largest and most expensive U.S. embassy in the world.[4]
It is to be located along the Tigris river, west of the Arbataash Tamuz bridge, and facing Al Kindi street to the north. The embassy is to be a permanent structure, relieving the 5,500 Americans currently working from the Republican Palace and living in housing scattered across the Green Zone. The US government has kept many aspects of the project under wraps, with many details released only in a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report.[5]
Apart from the 1,000 regular employees, up to 3,000 additional staff members will be hired, such as security personnel.

But who am I to question if the Americans are really leaving?

27 November 2008

That's the wonder of ...

So farewell Woolies. I bought my first record there, in the early 1960s. But I haven't seen a 45 rpm record in donkeys' years.

Nanci Griffith said that your shelves were filled with unnecessary plastic objects. This was not entirely true, as there were always sweeties. And, more recently, remaindered DVDs.

So maybe you won't be terribly missed - but there will be a hole in the high street.

26 November 2008

Music of the week

Kate & Anna (and friends):

Is this the best we could do?

Don't worry about it. Yes, I know that a day lasts for 24 hours, but sometimes a day can last a whole weekend. The press release says so:
Scotland celebrates its National Day this weekend (November 29-30) with a programme of events in cities and towns across the country.
The flagship event, The St Andrew's DO, will take place in Edinburgh's West Princes Street Gardens, with a range of free entertainment activities over the entire St Andrew's Day weekend.
Other events include a family ceilidh in Glasgow, a fashion show and medieval day in Dundee and a street party in Inverness.
St Andrews Day (November 30) also marks the start of Edinburgh's Winter Festival programme.
A short video has also been produced about Andrew, Scotland's patron saint. This explores the legends behind St Andrew and how he came to be associated with Scotland.

Just don't get too excited. And, no, I'm not providing a link to the video (because it's pretty shoddy).

25 November 2008

Always look on the bright side

I know that yesterday I implied that a reduction in the rate of VAT might not make a lot of difference. And that remains my view.

But don't abandon all hopes of an economic recovery next year. Petrol prices have already fallen substantially; and that will be followed by reductions in the cost of gas and electricity. Meanwhile, assuming that the Monetary Policy Committee continues to reduce interest rates, we may eventually see reductions in mortgage rates. These factors will substantially outweigh changes in the VAT rates.

So, by next year, people may have a little more money in their pockets and some of them may feel inclined to spend it, especially as prices in the shops may be relatively cheap.

24 November 2008


When you listen to the Chancellor this afternoon announcing a cut in the 17.5% rate of VAT, you might wish to bear in mind that it will have absolutely no effect on:
  • the price of a loaf of bread (or any other non-luxury food);
  • the cost of heating your house;
  • rail and bus fares; or
  • the cost of children's clothes

none of which attracts the 17.5% VAT rate.

On the other hand, the price of a Mars Bar may be reduced from 40 pence to 38 pence. Isn't that exciting?

23 November 2008

Another ambition destroyed

Don't you see? They're ruining my chances of being selected to play for the Scottish football team at right-half*.

*OK, I'm not really up to date with the latest terminology and maybe I would not be up to the level of Crerand or Baxter, but with the aid of artificial stimulants I'm sure that I could do the business for the national team.

Quote of the day (2)

Alex Johnstone MSP (Con) from The Sunday Times (here):
“School discipline is reaching crisis point and giving individual headteachers the power to decide whether or not to use capital punishment would be a good move."

I can understand the argument about re-introducing the belt (though I would strongly disapprove) but killing the wee buggers seems a little excessive.

Quote of the day

From The Independent (here):
Kilroy, placed in a tank with snakes, spiders, cockroaches, rats and biting ants, faced down all these predators. When a snake inadvertently wriggled between his trembling thighs, the sympathy of a nation went out to the snake. And, with his face crawling with cockroaches, it was the first time that a Kilroy anywhere was observed to keep his mouth shut for a full two minutes.

Perhaps I should start watching this programme.

21 November 2008

I doubt if the turkeys thought it was fun

Watch the guy in the background -

More doom and gloom

It's not really working, is it? This bank bail-out, I mean. The mortgage options are disappearing; loans - even overdrafts - are being withdrawn or not rolled over; and bank shares remain marooned in the doldrums.

Yes, I know that nice Mr Darling is promising to force the banks to resume lending, but I rather think that we have heard such protestations before, only a couple of weeks ago.

And the banks are between a rock (sorry) and a hard place - they need to save up their pennies to buy back their shares from the government (or, in the case of Barclays, from the Middle East) or alternatively pay out the rather expensive ticket attached, in addition to which they have borrowed rather a lot from the government (some £600 billion, according to Pesto) which will also have to be paid back. Meanwhile the FSA is demanding that they boost their capital adequacy.

Where will it all end? Here, maybe.

20 November 2008

A contrarian writes ...

What is the point of having a Royal Navy - all those ships, all those admirals - if they can't deal with a few Somali pirates?

And I don't see how two dirty great aircraft carriers would help.

Rosebud and Radiance

What is the point of having codenames if those names are released to the press? Why not just call them Malia and Sasha?

17 November 2008

Am I missing something?

I have never watched The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing; while the very concept of I'm a Celebrity seems abhorrent. Big Brother was equally unattractive. And I'm far from fond of that wee long-haired nyaff that does Scottish history programmes.

If it were not for the occasional rugby match, I'd probably throw the telly out of the window. But then, unlike - apparently - everyone else, I have a wee square telly, rather than one of these flat screen things.

So many aspects of modern life are incomprehensible, especially those things associated with television.
Well worth a look:

15 November 2008

Oh Albert

I thought you youngsters might enjoy it - it used to make me smile:

The great Stanley Holloway.

The Rev I M Jolly

In case you missed it, here it is.

Strange how a couple of minutes of tomfoolery can make a politician go up in my estimation.

14 November 2008

Nowadays, you just can't get the staff

What is it with these BBC Scotland bloggers? Both Brian and Douglas are obsessed with single sentence paragraphs; ok, sometimes they allow themselves two sentence paragraphs, but not very often.

Do they think that they are writing for The Daily Record?

I admire them both - they write some good stuff, but it is rather offputting. Just for once, it would be nice to see a proper paragraph, instead of a string of disconnected sentences.

Entschuldigen Sie mir bitte

It has a certain truth to it:

A confession

Some young thing in The Times is getting upset about the older generation's inability to work their mobile phones:
This is what you might call a generational divide. On the older side we have the vast swaths of the population who don't really know how to work their mobile phones. On the younger we have everybody else, and they have to spend huge swaths of their lives telling the first half how to use their mobile phones, often over the medium of said mobile phones, even though they know that the other half aren't really listening, and are still going to send them a voicemail saying “hello? Are you there?” on every second day and a text message saying “HBgUO%^?” every third.

I once had a mobile phone (actually I was given it by the Office) - but I never really worked out which buttons to press. And I have to say that texting was something of a mystery. Nowadays I rely on a landline. Do I miss the mobile? Not in the least. Does that make me a silly old buffer? Probably.

What's in a photo?

OK, you're 60. Happy birthday. You now qualify for a bus pass.

But why dress up as a 19th century soldier? Do all those medals make you feel good? (I don't actually recall any active military service.)

13 November 2008

Reasons to be cheerful

It may be unremitting gloom almost everywhere but here is the good news:

Yes, the price of oil is heading for a level below $50 a barrel. Now, if only the energy companies would reduce their prices ...
Oh, and young Murray seems to be doing rather well in some tennis tournament.

11 November 2008

The gravy train continues ...

Let me see if I have got it right. Even though he resigned, he gets all the pay he would have got up until the end of his contract, some 15 months hence. This is what The Telegraph appears to suggest:
Sir Ian Blair will receive a pay-off worth up to £400,000 when he stands down as Metropolitan Police Commissioner in three weeks' time.
The additional sum is on top of the estimated £3.5million pension pot, worth £160,000 a year, which he is set to receive after 30 years' service as a policeman.
The settlement, thought to be one of the biggest ever, was agreed by four members of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the independent body that governs Sir Ian's force.
Under the terms of the deal, Sir Ian is likely to get 15 months' salary worth £295,000 for agreeing to stand down on Dec 1. The cash is the amount he would have earned if he had remained in charge of the Met until February 2010 when his contract was due to expire.

I can now understand why he resigned - why go through the hassle of actually doing the job, when you can resign and get paid what you would been anyway.

When I resigned from public service in 2005, after rather more years than Sir Ian, I do not recall being offered a pay-off. So, if you like, you can attribute this post to sheer envy.

Foreign affairs

I see that The Scotsman is reporting that the Bank of China is the mystery alternative bidder for HBOS. Is this really what Alex Neil and the two banking knights want? To drive us into the hands of the Chinese?

Speaking as an HBOS account-holder, I rather think that I prefer Lloyds TSB.

10 November 2008

Music of the week

Well, maybe it's not really music, rather a tone poem. But Joni Mitchell wrote it and Leonard Cohen is doing the narration. And I like it:

If you want the original, then here it is.

09 November 2008

It's all a bit of a mystery

Oh the rugby? Well, I thought Scotland played quite well, apart of course when they were conceding tries. But then I don't understand the new rules - a bit like the TV commentators.

And who was that Gabby woman? Why was the lovely Jill relegated to pitchside?

To my deep disgust, at the end of the match, the ref announced that it was full time. When I played rugby (not at all well and many years ago), the correct phrase was 'No Side'.

Ooh those bankers - they are awful

I wonder how the Scottish newspapers managed to miss this story of unwarranted excess and unbridled hedonism, especially as it took place at the best Edinburgh hotels, including Prestonfield, the Balmoral, the Caley and the George.

08 November 2008

An impending coup?

Section 45 of the Scotland Act 1998:
(1) The First Minister shall be appointed by Her Majesty from among the members of the Parliament and shall hold office at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
(2) The First Minister may at any time tender his resignation to Her Majesty and shall do so if the Parliament resolves that the Scottish Executive no longer enjoys the confidence of the Parliament.

Up to you, Mr Gray. Has Glenrothes sufficiently emboldened you to put together a coalition with at least one of the other unionist parties and dethrone the nationalist usurper? And if not a coalition, then a minority government with the tacit support of other parties? Not impossible - all it would take is to win a vote in parliament.

OK, maybe not now. But, now that the honeymoon has ended, how long before the whispering starts?

07 November 2008

The Wire

I have previously expressed some admiration for this TV programme, which I acquired from Amazon on DVD.

I am now ploughing through the third series. It ain't easy, but it is rewarding. Bunk, Kima, Cedric and, of course, McNulty are the stars; but even the villains (not all of whom are black drug-dealers) have their moments. It is complex and multi-layered; and the political dimension is becoming increasingly apparent.

Wonderful - but they do swear an awful lot.

Yes we can

Naw, we couldnae ...

Meaningless soundbites

The Herald reports on yesterday's FMQs:
Iain Gray (Labour): "The First Minister is no Barack Obama. Indeed, the First Minister is less about the audacity of hope and more about the effrontery of hype".
Alex Salmond (SNP): "It's certainly true I'm no Barack Obama. The problem for Iain Gray is he's no Jack McConnell."

Do not seek to analyse the semantics of this exchange. It is what passes for wit in the talking shop beside Arthur's Seat.

All talk and no trousers

Despite all their protestations, do you really think that the government will actually do anything to force the banks and the building societies to pass on the benefits of the interest rate cut to the mortgage-paying public?

No, nor do I.

At this very moment, somewhere there is a Treasury flunkey, in confidence of course, assuring the bank bosses that ministers have to say these kind of things for political reasons and that there is no need to worry.

And Hazel Blears thinks bloggers are cynical?

Something of a hoot

Just when you thought that the Tories might be beginning to clean up their act, with Dave Cameron threatening a ban on outside earnings for his frontbenchers, this has to happen. The Independent reports:
But one shadow minister said yesterday: "This would be gesture politics. It wouldn't impress anyone. It is a good thing to have experience of business, especially in the current economic climate. Are we really saying that we don't want people in government who have been on a board and seen the pressures that companies are under?"
Another frontbencher described the idea as "socialist", pointing out that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, whose father co-founded the luxury wallpaper and fabrics company Osborne & Little, had wealthy backgrounds. "George has a trust fund – he doesn't need a second job," complained the frontbencher.
Other senior Tories say they could not afford to live on an MP's salary of £61,000 a year and might need a top-up from Tory funds if they were told to give up their outside jobs. Some might threaten to quit their party posts rather than lose their extra earnings. Some Tory insiders say the proposed curbs would be "unworkable" and "unfair"; that it would be impossible to clamp down on those frontbenchers who still enjoy an income such as dividends from previous work.

Don't you feel sorry for the poor dears? A mere £61 grand a year is not enough. And this from a party that opposed the minimum wage ...

05 November 2008

New morning in America

At least, some of them are not taking it too seriously:

More Obamania

And now the rush begins. Can Gordon get face-time with the Man before Vladimir or Angela or - horror of horrors - Sarko?

Pathetic or what?

Did he need to be so ingratiating? The press release shows how low the First Minister is prepared to sink:
Mr Salmond said:
"On behalf of the people of Scotland, I send you my heartfelt congratulations on a wonderful and historic election victory - it ushers in a new era of hope for the United States and its role in the world.
This was a victory for optimism over pessimism, for hope over fear. "It is time for a leader with your commitment to cooperation, and your belief that the improbable can be possible with goodwill and hard work.
"The American public have chosen another President of Scottish descent, and your message of support for the Scotland Week celebrations in the US this year was greatly appreciated by Scots at home and abroad.
"2009 is Scotland's Year of Homecoming - celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Scotland's national bard and international cultural icon, Robert Burns - during which we will welcome to Scotland people from around the world with a connection to and love of our nation.
"It will be a fantastic year to come home - for Presidents and citizens alike - and I extend an invitation of warm Scottish hospitality to you during this special year."

Excuse me while I puke. Scotland - home of the cultural cringe.

This is much much better.

More of the same

I thought that this kind of nonsense was supposed to stop. The Guardian reports:
Stephen Hester, the new boss parachuted into Royal Bank of Scotland, has been hired on a salary of £1.2m and been awarded shares worth more than £6m to overhaul the bank.
Hester, who is being given 10.4m shares, yesterday hinted the beleaguered bank was on course to make its first full-year loss. The replacement for the ousted Sir Fred Goodwin is working on a new strategy that is likely to undo much of the expansion achieved by his predecessor.

and also here:
Andy Hornby, the HBOS chief executive who is leaving as a result of the Lloyds TSB rescue takeover, is to be paid £60,000 a month to remain with the combined "Bank for Britain" once the deal is completed.
Hornby will be staying for an undefined period after the takeover, scheduled to take place next year.

So Mr Hornby is all right - which will no doubt bring much comfort to the bank tellers and call centre operatives facing redundancy.

Do these guys have no sense of decency? Or of shame?

And just because it's the day of the US election, did they think that no-one would notice?

04 November 2008

Getting irritable in my old age

According to the BBC (here):
Dance act Groove Armada are to bring in the New Year as headliners of Edinburgh's Hogmanay street party.
No, sorry, never heard of them. Move along please.

This election thingy

Where were you when ...? It's a bit of a poser, n'est-ce pas?

Well it's wall to wall on the telly, with Dimblebore on BBC1 and SkyNews desperate to compete. Even ITV are throwing some cash at it, with Julie having been sent out to New York (no, I don't know why, either).

Me, I'm old-fashioned. I'll listen to it on the steam radio. No, not Naughtie on Radio 4 - he disappears up his own fundament too much. I'll switch between Rhod on Radio 5 and the World Service.

But, hey, whatever. Have a good one.

03 November 2008

A misanthrope writes ...

Of course I'm worried. Could Obama actually lose? And what would happen thereafter? OMG, the thought of Palin in the White House.

And what commitments has Miliband given in Africa? He is not seriously going to send in British troops ...

Meanwhile mythical bidders float around HBOS, like flies to a turd. While the Secretary of State for Scotland flies to Iceland of all places - does he think he can succeed in recovering Scotland's investments from the frozen north? Or is it just a game?

And Hibs and St Mirren draw nil-nil; that must have (not) been one of the more exciting matches of the season.

Looking on the bright side, I suppose it can't get any worse ...