27 February 2010

Quote of the day

Lucy tells it like it was:

OMG! Right, so this bloke wrote this book saying that the prime minister like totally dissed his mate Alistair who's supposed to like look after all the country's money, yeah? And then Alistair said that this was, like, totally true. And it was because the prime minister wanted everyone to be all, like, "Oh, everything's brilliant, couldn't be better, I'm really happy and so is everyone else!, yeah?" But then Alistair went and told this newspaper that actually Britain's economy was, like, well bad, you know and the PM just went totally mental and everything and tried to take his job off him and give it to his other friend but Alistair was like, you just try it and I'll totally walk away from everything so he let him stay. So now Alistair thinks he can just say whatever he likes.

I think it is all well stupid.


Lazy thinking

The Guardian reports:
An iceberg the size of Luxembourg that contains enough fresh water to supply a third of the world's population for a year has broken off in the Antarctic continent ...
Likewise The Times (here), The Independent (here), The Sun (here) and The Daily Mail (here) all use the same Luxembourg analogy.
Why Luxembourg? Who in this world has any idea of what size Luxembourg is? I don't and I've actually been there.
Nice photo though.

26 February 2010


Dateline 2012, SNP headquarters

It was all Salmond's fault of course. Instead of introducing the referendum bill in January 2010 as originally proposed, he had to play silly buggers by setting up a second consultation period in February 2010. As a result, the Scottish Government did not get around to introducing the referendum bill until June 2010. And although, to the amazement of the political pundits, it managed to survive its committee stage, it did not emerge from parliament as an act until January 2011. All that business of setting up the new electoral commission and the appointment of counting officers, as well as printing the ballot papers and arranging the accommodation, meant that there was no prospect of holding the referendum for at least 6 months after the bill became an act. When the SNP were crushed in the May 2011 general election, the new Labour administration - with the support of the other unionist parties - wasted no time in repealing the referendum act.

So there we are. Stuffed. We had a chance. But we turned down the first opportunity in 300 years of allowing the Scottish population to vote for independence. And for what? So Alex could play political games? And who knows when the next opportunity will come along. Given the current state of the parties, we can forget about the 2015 election. As in 2011, who would believe our promises?

Looking for the mot juste

Is this a successful simile in relation to our esteemed First Minister?
...bring it on, roared Eck, who was in his element now, soaring like a corpulent eagle above Labour’s cliff of seagulls and dropping constitutional excreta into the open mouths of the squawking creatures below.

Can a corpulent eagle soar? And, in recent months, has our Eck not given up soaring in favour of hedge-clipping?

Techie stuff

I grow tired of this. The Independent reports:
Virgin Media yesterday outlined plans to bring superfast broadband speeds of 100Mb to 12.6 million UK homes by the end of next year. The move was backed by both Labour and the Conservatives in what has become a hotly contested political issue in the run-up to the general election.

They can plan as much as they like, but I'm not going to get anywhere near 100Mb through the copper wires that constitute the telephone line that leads up to my top flat.

Nor is it simply a question of replacing the wire with fibre optic cable. It is some ten years ago that the cable tv companies installed cable in the street below. But as I live in a conservation area, they have yet to discover the means of replacing the copper wire with fibre optics without tearing the stair apart. The last time I enquired, they had no plans to do so.

So I am stuck with relatively slow broadband. Too bad, but I still wouldn't live anywhere else.

25 February 2010

First thoughts

Look, I know it's tedious but do try to concentrate. And I accept that there is little chance that it will ever happen. But there is one little point of interest: it's all to do with the fact that the proposed two questions are not mutually exclusive.

As far as I understand what is proposed, the Scottish Government's new proposals involve a two-question referendum. The first question would ask for a yes or no to increased devolution (either of the Calman variety or of devolution max, but not both - the choice of option has yet to be determined); the second question would ask for a yes or no to full independence.

There's a sneaky little sentence on the ballot paper for the second question. It is this:
The Scottish Government proposes that, in addition to the extension of the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament set out in proposal 1, the Parliament's powers should also be extended to enable independence to be achieved.
I interpret this to mean that, regardless of how many voters opt for increased devolution, a simple majority on the second question (independence) would be seen as empowering the authorities to proceed towards independence. If 95% of the voters were to opt for increased devolution and 51% for independence, it is the latter which would take precedence. In other words, the option of increased devolution would only come into play if the independence option were turned down.

Does that seem fair? The Scottish Government would feel entitled to ignore the option favoured by most of the voters and proceed on a less popular course of action (assuming always that the latter option exceeded 50%)?

None of this is made clear in the associated papers, so perhaps I have it wrong. But I don't think so. No doubt those of my interlocutors who take a different view will correct me.

The non-denial denial

At question time yesterday, in answer to Cameron's probing on "the forces from hell", and continuing the line he has taken since the story broke, the Prime Minister said:
"I never instructed a briefing against the Chancellor."

But what if one of his attack dogs asked if he could give the Chancellor a kicking and the Prime Minister did not demur. Is that "instructing a briefing"? Probably not.

Or suppose the Prime Minister said in the presence of his afore-mentioned attack dogs that someone should take the Chancellor down a peg or two. Is that "instructing a briefing"? Probably not.

Cameron was obviously conscious of these distinctions, asking at one point:
Will the Prime Minister get to his feet and tell us that he knew absolutely nothing about the briefing against his Chancellor?
but, typically, he failed to press his attack home.

Those were the days

Captain Morgan or Bacardi? A false dichotomy.

Whenever I have been in the Caribbean (which has been regrettably seldom in recent years), I have favoured Havana Club - made in Cuba, the real home of rum - as the basis for my mojito.

Buenas suertes, amigos!

You couldn't make it up

A nationalised bank (RBS) makes a loss of about £3,600,000,000. Nevertheless, it proposes to pay 22,000 of its staff bonuses totalling £1,300,000,000, an average of about £60,000 per individual.

UKFI, the body established by the government to supervise the banks, is able to veto any bonuses payable by RBS. On this occasion, presumably with the agreement of HM Treasury, it chooses not to do so.

Why? Apparently, some of the investment bankers might seek their fortunes elsewhere. Are these masters of the universe, the guys who contributed so mightily to RBS' troubles, so good that the prospect of losing them (and where would they go anyway?) has the effect of forcing the bank to pay out £1.3 billion?

Pass the sick bag, Alice.

23 February 2010

Footballing neologisms

This season's fashion:

"to work the goalkeeper" - to force the goalkeeper to make a save.

(You didn't know that to work was a transitive verb? Well you learn something every day.)

"to put one's foot through the ball" - to have a shot at goal.

(No, it does not mean that the ball has burst.)

Now obsolescent (perhaps even obsolete):

"to have a great engine" - said of a player able to run up and down the field for the entire game (invariably to no great effect).

Oh Eric - what have you done?

Why would you do it? How could you do it? Turn down £2.3 million, I mean. There go the extra Lamborghini and the villa in the Bahamas.

And yes I know that some of your peers have done likewise. And yes the amount would be substantially diminished by income tax. And it was shares rather than cash. And you will continue to be handsomely remunerated, beyond the wildest dreams of we peasants. But still ...

I can only suppose that it illustrates the different world in which the top bankers live. To accept a bonus of £2.3 million might arouse envy, even fury, on the part of your fellow citizens; but we can understand it. Wouldn't we all like to be in that position? But to turn it down evokes only incomprehension - how can you be so rich that a couple of million plus can be tossed aside so lightly?

And the crucial questions: how did you tell your wife and what did she say?

22 February 2010

The raging paranoid?

So the Prime Minister may sometimes be grumpy. He gets upset. He shouts and swears at the prima donnas of the No 10 staff. He throws papers and mobile phones about. Sometimes, he appears to threaten violence (although nobody is suggesting that he has actually thumped anyone). In short, he may not be a very nice person. Not the kind of boss you'd prefer if you had a choice.

But what's new? Where's the smoking gun? Is this a game-changing development? I rather doubt it.

I don't suppose that Alex Salmond is entirely angelic and forgiving when it comes to dealing with his staff. And Mrs Thatcher was renowned for treating her cabinet as the vegetables some of them undoubtedly were. Perhaps you prefer the sleekit approach of a Tony Blair who devolved his disciplinary duties to the thuggish Campbells of this world. Cameron? It remains to be seen, but Tories who get on his wrong side are already living to regret it.

You don't get to the top of the greasy political pole by being a nice guy.

Move along now.

21 February 2010

Gone to valhalla in the sky

So farewell Al Haig, the cold war warrior's champion. Maybe you were not quite as frightening as you were painted - Dr Strangelove you were not. But it was terrifying enough to think that your finger was anywhere near the nuclear trigger.

(We used to worry about these sort of things in those days.)

20 February 2010


A touch of alliteration - perhaps a bit hackneyed but probably excusable in this context.
But should there not be some punctuation between "future" and "fair"; a semi-colon perhaps? Otherwise, it may imply that we are all going to a funfair at some future point in time.
Does it mean anything? How can the future be fair for all, while some of us will continue to have to scrimp and save in order to keep our heads above the incoming economic tides while others are permitted to retain their seven figure bonuses? And all this happened under the Labour watch of the last 12 years and will inevitably continue if they succeed at the general election. For that is the big question - we know that the Tories don't give a toss about fairness. Does Labour?

19 February 2010

Winter Games

I have always regarded the pastime of sliding down icy hills - whether on sticks or tea trays - as suitable only for children under the age of eleven.

But, in a general spirit of patriotic benificence, I wish this tea tray lady well, even if there are those who would consider her to be daft as a brush.

Same old Tories (part 2)

Does anyone really believe that Davey Cameron watches darts on the telly while pulling on a can of guinness?

Thought not ...

Same old Tories

Cameron may have tried to convey the message that the Tories were human beings but he is constantly being let down by his backbenchers. The Guardian reports:

The veteran Tory MP Sir Nicholas Winterton was under fire tonight after arguing that MPs should be allowed to claim expenses for first-class tickets because standard coaches are for "a totally different type of people". After declaring himself "infuriated" with proposals from the new expenses watchdog to ban payments for first-class tickets during a magazine interview, the MP for Macclesfield told a radio interviewer that people travelling on standard tickets were "in a different walk of life" and their children might disturb an MP's work.
No indication that Winterton has any understanding that he owes his job and his first class ticket to those in cattle class.

18 February 2010

Quote of the day

Locked together, the stately minuet continues; the US can't stop borrowing and China can't stop lending. As Heather Stewart in The Guardian points out:
"China is America's paymaster. But at the same time, as the saying goes, if you owe the bank $100, it's your problem; if you owe the bank $100m, it's the bank's problem. The US owes China more than $800bn.

Stability of a sort, I guess.

17 February 2010

Gatto in umido a la toscana

Pussy lovers beware. The Italians are after your cats:
As his fellow-presenter, Elisa Isoardi, looked on aghast, the 77-year-old Bigazzi told viewers that, far from being a last resort in times of near-famine, gatto in umido was "one of the great dishes of the Valdarno [in Tuscany]".
The secret, he disclosed, was to leave the cat in a fast-running stream for three days. "What comes out is a delicacy", he enthused. "Many a time I've eaten its white meat."
Isoardi, herself a cat owner, tried to interrupt, but to no avail. Cat in a thick sauce was "better than chicken, rabbit or pigeon", he said.
And no, I don't know where to find the recipe ...

Out of the frying pan ...

Fiona Hyslop, the Minister with the reverse Midas' touch - everything she touches turns to dross. After all her unhappy experiences as education secretary, she might have expected an easier billet at external affairs.

This week, she is visiting Malawi. As the press release states:
As well as visiting projects being undertaken by the Scottish-based non-governmental organisations, whose work the Scottish Government supports, Ms Hyslop will meet Malawian Ministers to reaffirm this Government's commitment to working together on shared priorities.

Uncontroversial, yes? Well no actually. Today's Guardian reveals that Malawi is not necessarily the kind of nation state with which Scotland should be associated:
Police in Malawi have launched an operation to hunt down and arrest high-profile gays and lesbians in the southern African state.
Dave Chingwalu, a spokesman for police in Malawi, said a 60-year-old man was arrested yesterday and charged with sodomy. Chingwalu said he received a complaint from a young man that he had been asked to undress by the older man and was then sodomised. Police investigations had uncovered a network of high-profile people involved homosexual acts, investigations were under way "and we will arrest them all", Chingwalu said.

Does the Scottish Government really want to re=affirm its commitment to working together on shared priorities? Will the Scottish Government condemn the illiberal homophobic actions of the Malawi Government? And should not Ms Hyslop be carrying a bell around with her?

14 February 2010

The modern way of making war

Contrary to traditional practice, it is necessary to make clear, well in advance, where it is proposed to attack. When you do attack, do so with overwhelming force - operation Moshtarak involves some 15,000 NATO and Afghan troops, as against less than 1000 Taliban.

This does of course mean that the majority of the Taliban will melt away before the fighting starts, leaving only token resistance (although, unfortunately, there will still be a few casualties). Nevertheless, the allies should be able to achieve their immediate objectives without excessive difficulty, enabling the commanders to make suitable comments to the media about the favourable progress. Furthermore, the media will get lots of pictures of helicopter gunships and soldiers dressed in battlegear.

In the longer term, it may be difficult to hold on to the areas that have been seized. But that can be left to the Afghan troops and the Afghan police. But, by then, the media cameras will have moved on, while the American and British troops will have returned to base. The name of Marjah can once again be consigned to forgotten history.

Because it's appearances that matter, isn't it?

12 February 2010

The judgement call

It's a shame really. Unlike real people, politicians simply cannot admit that they have made a mistake, accept a rap on the knuckles and then request that we all move on. For if you concede that you erred, you would have to resign, and then it's cheerio to the Ministerial limo and all the trappings of office.

Mind you, what was the otherwise saintly Nicola thinking of? She was doing so well - my spies in the health department tell me she was one of the more sensible ministers (whereas some of them are completely off the wall) = and would have been unchallengeable as Eck's successor when the country grew tired of the latter's bluster and bombast. To lose it all for a petty fraudster seems such an ignoble outcome.

Quote of the day

Miliband and Johnson (not waving but drowning) in a letter to The Guardian:
"The allegation that our security and intelligence agencies have licence to collude in torture is disgraceful, untrue and one that we vigorously deny."

Tell it to the Appeal Court.

Don't blame the Germans ...

... at least not entirely. As The Guardian reports:
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a supporter of the Merkel centre-right coalition, put it like this on its frontpage: "The Greeks are taking to the streets to protest against raising the retirement age from 61 to 63. Are the Germans now supposed to work until 69 and not 67 so the Greeks can enjoy early retirement?"

And do we really want the Germans to provide Greece (and Portugal, Spain and Italy) with financial loans and guarantees if that means their economies being run from Berlin? While Rumpy-Pumpy, Barroso and Sarkozy run about like headless chickens, it is perhaps just as well that Angie is the coolest head on the block.

The story goes on.

10 February 2010

Unanswerable questions (part 28)

Why am I unable to read the reports by the British media about the financial problems of the Greeks (and the other PIGS) without harbouring a deep suspicion that those media are desperate, utterly mind-numbingly desperate, to see the euro fail?

09 February 2010

Playing games

Hey, it's no big deal. The Independent reports:
Gordon Brown is braced for a Labour rebellion today against moves to scrap the first-past-the-post voting system.
As many as 40 Labour MPs are understood to oppose strongly Mr Brown's belief that first-past-the-post should be replaced by the alternative vote (AV), under which candidates are ranked in order of preference.

Even if it were to go through before the election (which is a fairly big if), it would only lead to a referendum in October 2011 (provided an incoming Tory Government did not kill it off altogether). In any case, the introduction of AV would only have a marginal effect on the number of seats changing hands.

Furthermore, there is considerable doubt as to whether Gordon Brown cares about AV. Arguably, he is more interested in cosying up to the LibDems and making the Tories look obstructionist. Would he actually hold the proposed referendum? Chances are that we'll never know.

Cynical? You bet!

More pedantry

Oliver Kamm appears to think that Jim Devine might (or perhaps should) know the difference between "refute" and "deny".

As if ...

08 February 2010

Of plasma tvs and sofas, and shooting pals doing up flats

Is that it then? The Westminster Four (plus maybe one or two more) have to face the music, having been caught, allegedly, bang to rights. But what about the rest of them?

Take this guy for example. Is he treading a very fine line or is he a highland dancer? But despite claiming over £84,000 over four years, he appears to have got away it by repaying a relatively modest £5181.56. No further action appears to be contemplated.

Here is another one. His apparently clean bill of healthy cost him the measly repayment of £766.92. Again, no further action appears to be contemplated.

Do they deserve to be re-elected in the general election? That is a matter for their constituents. I have to be careful what I say.

06 February 2010

How stupid can you get?

Keep your mouth shut, Jim! Stop digging holes. Don't you have legal counsel? The Scotsman reports:
SCOTTISH MP Jim Devine has admitted submitting false receipts for a stationery claim of £5,500 that will see him brought before a court on criminal charges.
He stands accused of using fake invoices to claim £3,240 for cleaning services in his second home between July 2008 and April 2009, as well as £5,500 for office stationery claimed last March.The Labour MP for Livingston, who has already been deselected by his party, denies the two charges against him.
But last night, in an interview with Channel 4 News, he accepted the receipts he submitted for stationery were bogus and that the money was intended to help pay for staffing costs.

There was a time when MPs were expected to have a modicum of common sense.

05 February 2010

The evil drink

The New York Times, of all the world's newspapers, has discovered Buckie (not to mention Coatbridge):

COATBRIDGE, Scotland — What is it about Buckfast Tonic Wine that makes it so alluring to consumers and yet so repulsive to politicians?
Perhaps it is its special caffeine-and-sweet-wine recipe, which allows overly enthusiastic consumers to be tipsy and bouncy at the same time. Perhaps it is its array of snappy nicknames, including “Wreck the Hoose Juice” — hoose being a Scottish pronunciation of house — or its exotic provenance as the product of wine-making Benedictine monks at an abbey in England.
Whatever the cause, Buckfast has emerged as a symbol of Scotland’s entrenched drinking problems at a time when it is urgently debating how to address them. “For a large section of the Scottish population, their relationship with alcohol is damaging and harmful — to individuals, families, communities and to Scotland as a nation,” the Scottish government said in a recent report.

04 February 2010

New danger

Sensible Tesco (here):
Christine Cuddihy, 24, was stunned to be asked for ID at the Tesco till before being allowed to buy the 51p snack.
‘The girl told me, “You don’t look over 21. I need to see some proof of age”,’ she said. ‘I told her I was certain the proof of age laws do not apply to quiche but she said, “We have to be really strict now and this applies to quiche bought over the counter”.

Dangerous things, quiches. Addictive, depressing, eggy. And real men don't eat them, of course.

01 February 2010

A sudden fit of morality

I confess that I do not understand all this fuss about an English footballer's affair with an underwear model. Is that not what modern footballers do, along with wasting their easy-earned pennies on swish cars and inappropriate mansions?

It's not as though similar sinners in other trades and professions are immediately cast into the pit of outer darkness. Neither John Major nor Robin Cook suffered undue opprobrium (amazement yes); while Antonia Fraser appears to boast about it. And that judge that had it away with his cleaner is still, as far as I am aware, a judge. Even journalists have been known to play away from home, but that does not prevent them from subsequently becoming Mayor of London.

All very curious ...