29 June 2010

Karla is back

Is the FBI getting carried away? Do they really believe that Moscow Centre has a bunch of sleepers ferreting out US secrets? Especially when most of the secrets can be read in The New York Times or The Washington Post?

And the whole paraphrenalia of the Le Carre cold war is being trotted out, including deadletter drops, brush passes and code names.

It's all so 1960s. Sooner or later, we will find that there is a sixth or seventh man, a British traitor, at the bottom of it.

I blame the BBC - the recent broadcasting of the Smiley novels must have given the Russians and the Americans silly ideas. (Perhaps they thought it was a news report?)

A photo for the scrapbook

The Scotsman reports:
Once again cloaked in red, but this time with a slightly embarrassed flush to match, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale took his place in the House of Lords. As they might say in Arran, if Jack fell into the Firth of Clyde he'd come out with a salmon in his mouth.
Aw, give the guy a break. It's not every day you get to dress up in fancy robes. And if they don't quite fit the socialist man of the people, then too bad. His constituents in Motherwell and Wishaw will not be over-bothered.

28 June 2010

Land of hope and glory?

This is by way of a public service announcement. After tomorrow, Bank of England £20 notes with a picture of Elgar on the back cease in effect to be legal tender. I almost got caught out as I had four of these notes in a wee stash which I keep in case of emergencies.

So check the notes that you are keeping under the mattress.

25 June 2010

It brings back memories

I must have been in Brussels Central Station a thousand times, but I never saw anything like this:

Quote of the day

Iain Macwhirter in The Herald. Seems familiar somehow:
It’s actually very difficult to know how you go about cutting departmental spending by 25% in real terms. Do you throw a quarter of prisoners out of jail? Close a quarter of all libraries, museums, schools?
Scotland could actually be rather less seriously hit than it might first appear. One-third of the Scottish bloc is health spending, and if that’s ring-fenced, say some analysts, then thanks to the magic of the Barnett formula, other areas will actually be cut less.
But a good article nonetheless.

24 June 2010

Music of the week

A minor bubblegum pop curio from The Bangles:

A budget of doom and gloom

I am having some difficulty in getting my head round the concept of cutting departmental expenditure by 25%. I appreciate that, because health south of the border is to be spared the worst of the cuts, the Barnett consequentials might mean that the Scottish Government gets away more lightly than would otherwise be the case. Nevertheless, we are still looking at an across the board cut of over 20% in the Scottish budget over the next four years.

Imagine that you are the head of the education directorate-general in the Scottish Government. You are asked for a 20% cut. How do you go about it? Is it possible to close one-fifth of all Scottish schools, colleges and universities over the next four years? A horrifying thought but how else can you deliver the savings required? And what about health? Can we close down a fifth of all Scottish hospitals and GP practices? Or, again, how else do you deliver?

And don't imagine that a few big-ticket items will serve up the bulk of the savings - they won't. The Scottish Goverrnment's budget this year is £31.6 billion; we would therefore envisage this falling to £25 billion by 2014. The new Forth bridge, the Edinburgh trams and other capital items might deliver £1 billion in savings but that would be far from enough. Nor will the usual salami-slicing do: you can't expect the number of policemen or prison officers to fall by 5% per year for four years without causing major difficulties; you need to take the extremely difficult decisions about what activities they should stop doing.

I can't even begin to see the way through ...

Quote of the day

Iain Duncan Smith MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, quoted in The Independent:
"If Britain is to have a stable, affordable pension system, people need to work longer, but we will reward their hard work with a decent state pension that will enable them to enjoy quality of life in their retirement."
The current state pension is £97.65 per week, say £5,000 per year. Even if you doubled it (which is far from the intentions of the coalition gradgrinds), could you enjoy quality of life on an income of £10,000 per year?

19 June 2010

Here's to you Mr Robinson

Splendid couple of results in Argentina. Congratulations to the whole team and to the coach for a tremendously determined and skilful performance.

And to BBC2 Scotland for showing both matches in prime time on a Saturday night.

Next up: Slovenia

Oh yes, England must now face the mighty Slovenia. Slovenia was the most northerly part of Yugoslavia, from which it managed to extract itself in 1991 (not without considerable difficulty). The state has a population of just over 2 million and a land area of about 20,000 sq km - say a bit less than half the size of Scotland.

Can England beat them? Not if they play as they have been doing. Remember that Slovenia qualified for the finals by eliminating Russia in the play-offs. And that they beat Algeria, which is more than England did.

Slovenia is a stable and prosperous wee country, a full member of the EU which has adopted the euro. ( I still have some obsolete Slovenian tolars if anyone wishes to buy them.) In 2001, I spent a happy long weekend in Ljubljana, the capital. Nice town, nice people, good beer.

So, come on, Slovenia!

17 June 2010

Chris Bloody Evans

Witless, inane, self obsessed, in love with his own voice and no doubt overpaid.

He talks too much. He talks over the record intros and he is invariably talking before each record finishes. He talks so much that he can only squeeze in three or four records per half hour. That's between 9 and 12 minutes of music per half hour. And, like Wossie (that other idiot of the airwaves), he has to have his wee pal to talk to.

Bring back Wogan!

PS And, yeah, I know that I would be better off listening to Six but my shower radio is restricted to FM.


According to The Independent (here):

They are the soundtrack of sport this summer - but vuvuzelas will not be making a racket at Wimbledon.

The droning football World Cup horns were banned by the All England Club amid fears they could distract players.

Typical - they're prepared to let Sharapova grunt her way through set after set but want to ban a few trumpets.

16 June 2010

Music of the week

Well I quite like it!

Quote of the day

From the pie-chomping Frank McAveety MSP (here):
As people filed out of the committee room, the Glasgow Shettleston MSP began speaking to his committee clerk under his breath, noting that there was "a very attractive girl" sitting among the observers.
He said: "There's a very attractive girl in the second row… dark and dusky. I'm thinking about putting a wee word out for her.
"She's very attractive looking. Nice, very nice. The heat's getting to me."
Mr McAveety, a former Labour minister, added: "She looks kinda… she's got that Filipino look. You know… the kind you'd see in a Gaugin [sic] painting. There's a wee bit of culture."
I was not aware that Gauguin (note to the Scotsman - this is the correct spelling) had ever been to the Philippines - Tahiti yes, the Marquesas yes, even Peru and Panama yes, but not the Philippines.

See that's the problem with these guys - nae culture.

Update: The bold Mr McAveety has just resigned as a front bench spokesman and as convener of the petitions committee. This seems a bit harsh; he may be sexist and a bit of an idiot, but his latest sin was relatively mild. Besides, he adds to the gaiety of the Scottish political scene.

14 June 2010

Quote of the day

Larry Elliott in The Guardian (here):
... growth has ranged from the weak in Europe to the unspectacular in the United States. Banks are not lending. Unemployment is running at near double-digit levels in the US and the eurozone. The determination to cut budget deficits in these circumstances does not show that policymakers of probity and integrity have replaced the irresponsible spendthrifts of 2008 and 2009. It shows that the lunatics are back in charge of the asylum.
Economic masochism is back in fashion. But just because it hurts does not mean that it's doing us any good.

12 June 2010

It's only words

Every one a gem. The Independent reports:

Sixty-seven people in Durham who were working on the introduction of ID cards are now unemployed because the incoming government scrapped the scheme. You and I might say that they have "lost their jobs". Indeed, that was the very phrase their local MP, Roberta Blackman-Woods, used in the Commons, only to have the Home Secretary Theresa May inform her that her "terminology" needed correcting. "You referred to job losses in Durham," said Mrs May. "The people concerned were temporary staff and they have been released early."

Surprise, surprise!

For once, a judge gets it right.

11 June 2010

Fantasy politics

Cameron on Afghanistan (here):
"I can sum up this mission in two words. It is about national security: our national security back in the UK. Clearing al-Qaida out of Afghanistan, damaging them in Pakistan, making sure this country is safe and secure – it will make us safe and secure back home in the UK."

No it won't. And if you really believe this - which I doubt - then you're kidding yourself.

No comment required

Nice one by Mr E.

Home, sweet home

Back to Edinburgh this evening, with some relief. Out here, it's been getting a bit hot for me. Besides, there's some kind of football tournament about to start, and English flags have started appearing everywhere.

But it will be great to taste again a Scottish pie, one of the few delicacies unobtainable over here. (I am told that if you look hard enough you can find them but in a frozen unpalatable form.)

I will of course have to get used to long trousers and sweaters, but these are minor woes compared to my delight in a pint of Deuchars or a bottle of Brewdog IPA from my brewery (yes, I have several shares and therefore qualify as a filthy bloated capitalist).

Of course, I look a little orange (the colour not the fruit) but it will fade like snow off a dyke ...

Rubbish politics

According to The Herald (here), "Every home in Scotland is to have a special bin for discarded food after the Scottish Government announced a zero-waste strategy".

Aye well, we'll see. At present, as I live in a typical Edinburgh stair, I have to take all my rubbish down three flights and deposit it in one of the many communal dirty great black bins that sit on the corner of every street in north central Edinburgh. Are the city fathers really going to establish a parallel set of communal dirty great green bins for food waste?

Or do our esteemed politicos believe that we all live in nice little detached or semi-detached cottages where the rubbish is put out once a week or a fortnight and is duly collected by binmen with a dirty great lorry?

10 June 2010

Music of the week

Oh, and for the pedants among you, I am well aware that cactus does not naturally grow outside of the Americas, but just let it go, OK?

Plus ça change ...

I confess to being slightly amazed.

MPs voted for Margaret Hodge to become Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Did they not know of her involvement in the Islington child abuse case and her alleged failure to investigate properly?

MPs voted for the oleaginous Keith Vaz to remain as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. Did they not know that he has a long history of dubious dealings, leading to his dismissal as a minister and even his temporary suspension from the House of Commons?

Ian Davidson was returned unopposed as Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee. Did the MPs not know about his history of playing fast and loose with his parliamentary expenses?

So much for the new politics.

09 June 2010

Gruesome news of the day

There are some strange things in museums. The Independent reports:
A finger and a thumb belonging to Galileo went on display yesterday in a Florence museum named after the astronomer.
In 1737, admirers of Galileo Galilei removed three digits, plus a tooth and a vertebra, from his body as it was being moved from storage to a tomb in Santa Croce Basilica in Florence. The thumb and middle finger of the right hand turned up at an auction last year and were identified as belonging to the scientist, who died in 1642. The second finger was already on display in the museum.
Seems rather repugnant to me, as well as somewhat tasteless. But perhaps the Italians have different sensibilities ...

08 June 2010

Quote of the day

Last word on the public spending crisis (well, probably not). Treneman in The Times:
Dave says our debt is massive, huge and staggering. It’s so bad that every one of us owes £22,000 and if we don’t do anything the total will be £1.4 trillion in five years. (Dave thinks this is frightening but he may not realise that for those of us with credit cards, it’s pretty normal.)

07 June 2010

It's the end of the world as we know it

Young Mr Cameron piles on the doom and gloom. The Guardian reports:
David Cameron will warn ... that Britain's "whole way of life" will be disrupted for years by the most drastic public spending cuts in a generation. The cuts, he will say, will have an impact on Britain's entire population.
In his most gloomy remarks since taking office, the prime minister will declare that Britain's public finances are worse than expected and are forcing him to take "momentous decisions".
It's not entirely Mr C's fault, but we have become accustomed to politicians crying wolf. What is going to be bad, bad, bad usually turns out to be only mildly unedifying. So, in response to Mr C, we shrug our shoulders and go back to contemplating England's chances in the World Cup.

But just maybe he means it this time?

06 June 2010

Any old excuse

The most gratuitous reason yet for sending its luvvies to South Africa. The BBC1 schedule for this afternoon:
Songs of Praise World Cup
Aled Jones is in South Africa to explore the importance of faith and football.
The public expenditure crisis is passing the BBC by.

05 June 2010

Could they not have found someone more mature?

Looking for someone to conduct a review into your abject failure in the general election? Someone capable of fresh thinking? Someone to plot a way out of the mess you're in? Someone in touch with modern political trends?

Why not choose a 77 year old lord of the realm with antediluvian attitudes? The Scottish Tories are about to do so.

For librarians everywhere

Website of the week

Egg poaching.


03 June 2010

The lure of the media

Just about every newspaper has called on a psychiatrist or a psychologist to explain yesterday's events in Cumbria. The BBC is just as bad; I have just heard some clown on The World at One pontificating about the killer's state of mind. None of these guys has interviewed the subject of their diagnoses. Is it possible to analyse the state of mind of a subject on the basis of television and newspaper reports? Of course not. But that does prevent these idiots from leaping to broadcast conclusions? Of course not.

02 June 2010

Decisions, decisions

Now that the euro is over 1.2 to the £, do we go for a transfer now or wait until it gets even better (if it gets even better)?

Quote of the day

Christina from The Independent (here):
Heat was born in 1999, the year that the first Blackberry was released as a two-way pager, and the year that a new word was unleashed on the world, a word that was both a noun and a verb. The word was "blog" and it was, in a neat inversion of the Biblical principle, the equivalent of non-bikini-ready flesh made text. Suddenly, every Tom, Dick and Belle du Jour could vomit out their thoughts into the ether – their comings, their goings, their philosophy, their flatulence, their gap years and their trips to Starbucks – and they did. Democracy, we discovered, was not just the worst form of government except all the others, it was our right to say whatever we wanted about whatever we wanted as badly as we wanted. Democracy, we discovered, was the right not just to attack, but to bore.

A little harsh, perhaps. It's not as though so-called journalists consistently churn out interesting and well-constructed copy ...

01 June 2010

Music of the week

I was ever a sucker for a pretty face:

World Cup 2010

Let us get it out of the way. It will save you watching it (unless you are a Scottish sadist or an English masochist). England are not going to win the Cup.

Despite all the warnings, Capello will try to play Gerrard and Lampard in centre midfield, so that neither player is at his best. The goalie (whichever is chosen) makes at least one obvious gaffe in each match. Rooney gets crocked in the second match and has to sit out the rest of the tournament. To no-one's surprise, Ferdinand goes missing in his usual lackadaisical way whenever the pressure comes on.

Nevertheless, England make it through to the knockout stage where they immediately go out on penalties after a nil-nil draw.

But, hey, don't criticise. It's more than Scotland ever achieved. Me, I'm Spanish or Argentinian for the duration.

Fat cats

I see that there are only three civil servants in the Scottish government included in the 172 listed by the Cabinet Office as earning £150,000 or more. These are Sir John Elvidge who takes home something between £160,000 and £164,999, Dr Kevin Woods - the Scottish Health Service boss - who is on the same pay rung as Sir John, and Ms Stella Manzie - director general of the Scottish Justice and Communities Department - who is on a lower rung at £150,000 to £154,999.

There are also a couple of ex-Scottish Office luminaries on the list, namely Philip Rycroft at the Department for Business (£160,000 to £164,999) and Jim Gallagher at the Justice Department (£175,000 to £179,999). That last figure may cause a wry smile to flicker across the faces of some of my ex-colleagues in the Scottish Office.