25 September 2015

Quote of the day

From a letter to The Guardian (here):
Imagine the headlines in the Tory press if it was Jeremy Corbyn, rather than George Osborne, visiting China to foster closer economic and cultural links.


24 September 2015

Rugby - the squeaker

I thought that my sister put it very well when she asked why Scott Hastings always sounds as if his underpants are strangling him.  But what can you expect from a Watsonian?


23 September 2015

Quote of the day

So it goes.  Add VW to the roll-call of shame.  CityAM reports:
FOR MUCH of the past few years the debate around trust in business has focussed on financial services. The case for the prosecution is well known and the roll-call of shame (Libor rigging, forex scandals, PPI mis-selling) should never fail to serve as a reminder of the damage caused when individuals and institutions consider themselves to be above the rules or beyond the law. For a while, the horse meat scandal reminded the public that a business doesn’t have to be dealing in currency to behave like a crook, but generally speaking it’s financial services that still takes the heat when the public wants to vent. Now a new bad guy has strolled into town in the shape of Volkswagen. How did it think it would get away with it? Consider the discussions that must have gone into such an audacious deceit. Up to 11m VW diesel cars may have been fitted with a device whose sole purpose appears to have been to cheat the consumer and lie to regulators over emission levels. The consequences for the 78-year-old German company could be immense. In two days, £17bn has been wiped off the value of the carmaker, governments around the world are launching investigations and it faces multi-billion dollar fines and the threat of criminal charges.


21 September 2015

Photo of the day

That SABMiller-InBev merger

Nowadays, even The Times  is being sarcastic about the bankers:
Officially, fees to bankers for cobbling together two companies that are already bigger than sense will be about $200 million. Assume that is an underestimate.
It’s all about shareholder value, of course. To suggest that this deal is going to be shoved through to enrich banks and executives no matter what anyone else thinks would make you a fool who just Doesn’t Get It.
Mergers are good, say bankers, who are impartial to a fault. Evidence to the contrary is yesterday’s news.
Meanwhile, the chancellor and the new city regulator want to ease off on bank regulation. It’s time they stopped saying sorry and got on with getting rich again, the politicians and the watchdogs agree.
So be cheerful. Life is better. For bankers.
I have shares in neither; nor do I drink their sorry apology for beer.


The mighty big if

The warmongers are at it again.  The Guardian reports:
Jeremy Corbyn faced pressure over Labour’s policy on airstrikes in Syria after senior shadow cabinet ministers signalled they could support military action under the right conditions.
Lord Falconer, the shadow justice secretary, said he would be prepared to back a bombing campaign in Syria with the proper military and legal justification, despite the Labour leader’s stated opposition.
His intervention came after Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign minister, refused to rule out supporting military intervention, saying he would look at the objectives.
There you have it: "under the right conditions" and "with the proper military and legal justification".  It might be rather difficult to tease out a rational justification and a clear objective for further military intervention in Syria.  What would it achieve?  What would it contribute to our national security?

Incidentally, the miltary boys playing with their toys would not provide a decent excuse.

19 September 2015

Up all night

The Guardian  reports:

Every night at 8pm, Eastern Standard Time, Rhod Sharp, an expatriate Scot, climbs to the loft of his house in Marblehead, Massachusetts, puts on his headphones and prepares to pretend that it is actually one in the morning GMT. For the next four hours he sets out to, in his own words, “keep some listeners awake and send others to sleep” with the mix of rolling news and free-range conversation which is Up All Night (Monday to Friday, 1am, 5 Live). If you’re one of the significant minority of people who find it difficult to go to sleep without the reassuring sound of a bedside radio or the confiding comfort of an earpiece, the image of Sharp talking to you from his own home thousands of miles away is somehow more appealing than thinking of the same job being done by the sole bleary-eyed occupant of a media mausoleum.
Sharp’s chat provides a valuable supplement to the station’s daytime output. In a media environment where too much time is given to big-name guests with nothing to say or stories with little to add to your knowledge of a situation beyond the fact that they are apparently “breaking”, Sharp’s gently unfolding conversations with experts, well-placed observers and stars whose names wouldn’t be quite big enough to get on the main bulletins are even more welcome.
Aye, Rhod is alright.  But he is only on for three mornings a week - Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  And on Thursday morning he gives up an hour of the programme to an execrable Australian who claims to be a scientific expert.  The rest of the week is given to Dotun Adebayo who is un-listenable to - the radio equivalent of tabloid newspapers.

So, for much of the week, we nightowls have to rely on the World Service.  But that is deeply marred by a daily disgraceful programme of an hour from 2am called Outlook, devoted to "true life stories", especially those - refugees and other victims - who have endured some kind of trauma.  The presenter, a Matthew Bannister, loves to dwell on the gory bits, along the lines of "How did you feel when they tortured you?".

I tell you this - it's not easy being an insomniac ...


Music of the week

Fair unbiased coverage?

Perhaps the English rugby fans watching their TVs were happy.  The Guardian comments:
While ITV has employed former players of various nationalities to peddle opinion on their World Cup coverage, any pretence it was going to be anything other than totally chariot-centric was quickly put to bed when John Inverdale, a presenter who could scarcely bawl “Home Counties” more loudly if he was shouting through a megaphone fashioned from a rolled-up copy of the Daily Telegraph, introduced an all-English panel of studio experts comprised of Jonny Wilkinson, Sir Clive Woodward and Lawrence Dallaglio.
Meanwhile down on the touchline, Martin Bayfield towered over Jason Robinson, while Francois Pienaar made some early contributions until, one supposes, a minion checked his passport and realised there had been some terrible mistake. Weirdly, despite an early cameo, we neither saw nor heard from the former South African captain again.
Apart from the usual inability to understand the tactics or the strategies, I thought that the commentators might have made a little more effort to identify the Fijian players.  But a Bill McLaren does not come along every day.

Nice to see Jonny Wilkinson wearing a tie, while the others on parade in the studio went fashionably open-necked.  Inverdale is exempted from this criticism as he has no neck - his head just sits on his shoulders without any apparent attachment.


16 September 2015


Usually, I find that watching Prime Minister's Questions verges on the tedious.  But, as it was Jezza's first outing, I metaphorically girded up my loins to watch the gladiators in their contest.

Mr Corbyn was calm and courteous.  He looked somewhat dishevelled but that only served as a welcome contrast with the sleekit smoothness of the Prime Minister.

The Leader of the Opposition asked a series of questions based on e-mails he had received from real people, covering housing, tax credits and mental health facilities. IMHO, he put Cameron on the spot more than once; even on the telly, you could see the colour rising in Cameron's cheeks, as he strove to move his answers on to what he thought was safer ground.

So, rather unexpectedly, a win for Corbyn.  At least, I thought so ...

You can watch it on BBC2 on the i-player.


Cutting your nose off to spite your face

I don't understand.  The Guardian reports:
The prospects of Labour opposing British membership of the European Union, or adopting a position of neutrality, has grown markedly after the Trades Union Congress (TUC) voted to recommend Britain leave the EU if David Cameron negotiated a new European settlement that watered down workers’ rights.
To lose the protection of the EU Social Chapter would indeed have a deleterious effect on workers' rights; but I do not see that leaving the EU would do anything to restore the position to status quo ante.  If anything, it would give a Conservative government greater freedom to worsen the position of workers.


14 September 2015


Oh yes. the politics of fear - once again, the Tories are at it.  The Guardian retorts:
They may in time find a new way to argue, but currently, a prime minister warning you via Twitter that a man in a beard and a cardigan is going to threaten your family’s security sounds plain silly.


13 September 2015

On y est!

Quote of the day

Pretentious, moi?  The Observer gets carried away in setting the scene for its analysis (or philosophical deconstruction) of the Manchester Utd - Liverpool match:
The collective narrative before this match had always suggested what we were about to see was a kind of angst-summit, a meeting of two decaying empires gripped with Weltschmerz, angst, ennui and – let’s face it – unhappiness at not getting to win everything all the time any more.
Hey guys, it's a football game ...


12 September 2015

Music of the week

Quote of the day

Matthew Parris in The Times (here):
Perhaps modern leaders make war beyond their borders because they can: elected presidents and prime ministers have so little freedom of manoeuvre at home. A buzz-phrase of our era is “make a difference”. Oh boy, have we made a difference in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. Heaven send us a breed of politicians who vow not to make a difference.
But the joy of efficacy, mere efficacy, is very strong in human beings. You or I might re-site the garden shed, where Tony Blair or David Cameron might authorise a bombing raid. It would be futile to discuss these decisions in terms of cost-benefit analysis because the balance has been secretly tipped by the weighty satisfaction of simply doing something — anything. The Middle East has become the western leader’s DIY. Never mind if the result is ghastly: I redecorate therefore I am.
A Commons vote on the extension into Syria of British military action is on its way and (with Labour’s disarray) will almost certainly be nodded through by parliament this time. So, Lord, give me grace. Here we go again.

Corbyn is a brave man

I can only hope that his political acumen is better than his dress sense.

10 September 2015

Why the housing crisis will remain with us ...

... and why Osborne's schemes to stimulate the market are doomed to failure.  The Times explains:
If anyone is going to ease the acute housing shortage in the next few years, it is the biggest half dozen housebuilding companies. They alone realistically have the financial firepower, the appetite and the skills. Councils have no money. Housing associations lack oomph. Smaller local housebuilders, the kind who would knock up two or three homes on a small plot and were a key component of the industry a decade ago, have disappeared in their droves.
That leaves the likes of Barratt Developments, which yesterday reported a thumping 45 per cent leap in profits, while boasting it had completed 16,447 new homes in the year to June. That was an increase of 12 per cent, significantly above the growth rates of 5-10 per cent achieved in the previous few years.
Strong demand, more plentiful mortgage availability and easier planning rules have helped. So have alternative technologies like timber-framing and off-site roofing assembly, which have speeded up building times. But Barratt is still a long way off from returning to the pre-crisis years, when it sold more than 18,000 homes a year, let alone churning out the 25,000 or more required from it if Britain is seriously to achieve the new homes target of 200,000-250,000 a year that most people think are needed.
It expects its completions growth to slow to just 2 per cent in the current year. Skills shortages are a serious constraint. Bricklayers are earning 20 per cent more than two years ago and are still in short supply, as are carpenters and dryliners. An estimated 300,000 people left the building trade in the 2008-2010 downturn. Training and apprenticeships take time.
Not very promising ...


05 September 2015

Music of the week

Quote of the day

Matthew Parris in The Times (here):
What kind of primitives have we become that we need to see a drowned person before we acknowledge to ourselves that people are drowning? Did we not know, had we not read, that migrant children drowned? What happened to the written word? Are newspapers and broadcasters to dispense altogether with report and analysis and offer us only a slide show? “Tragic,” “shaming”, “shocking” — this is politics by adjective. We need some nouns.
We have no idea what to do about the refugee crisis. We didn’t before we saw the picture and we still don’t. It is possible there is no answer. Should there be a workable answer, it is unlikely the nations of Europe will be able to agree upon it.
But at least we are no longer in the position of firefighters who refuse to rescue those in the burning building because it would not put the fire out.

04 September 2015

Quote of the day

David Cameron  - what he says:

 “We have already accepted around 5,000 Syrians and we have introduced a specific resettlement scheme ... to help those Syrian refugees particularly at risk. As I said earlier this week, we will accept thousands more under these existing schemes and we keep them under review. And given the scale of the crisis ... today I can announce that we will do more, providing resettlement for thousands more Syrian refugees. We will continue with our approach of taking them from the refugee camps. This provides them with a more direct and safe route to the UK, rather than risking the hazardous journey which has tragically cost so many of their lives. We will set our more details next week.
“We will continue to work with partners to tackle the conflict in Syria, to provide support to the region, to go after the smuggling gangs exploiting these people, and we will continue to save lives at sea.”

What he means:

I don't want to look like a heartless bastard so we will do the minimum necessary in an attempt to satisfy public opinion on this matter.  We certainly will not get involved in dealing with those refugees already in Europe.  And, as far as I'm concerned, those in Calais can stay in Calais.

Do you think that Cameron gives a toss for refugees?  No, neither do I.


03 September 2015

I'll drink to that

The Guardian reports:
Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to fix a minimum price for alcohol has suffered a huge blow after the European court’s top lawyer ruled it would risk infringing EU law on free trade.
In a formal opinion on Sturgeon’s flagship policy, the advocate general to the European court of justice, Yves Bot, has said fixing a legal price for all alcoholic drinks could only be justified to protect public health if no other mechanism, such as tax increases, could be found.
Bot’s opinion is expected to mean a final defeat for the Scottish government’s efforts to be the first in Europe to introduce minimum pricing – supported by leading figures in the medical profession and the police, after several years of legal battles.
It is highly likely the ECJ in Luxembourg will now uphold complaints from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and nine other member states, including France, Spain and Bulgaria, because its judgments rarely contradict an opinion from the advocate general.
And there is more good news for those of us who partake of the demon liquor:
Teetotallers should raise a glass of sparkling water to Britain’s drinkers, who are subsidising the Treasury to the tune of £6.5bn a year according to a think tank.
 Revenues from alcohol taxes amount to over £10bn, according to official figures crunched by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). The contribution of drinkers to the state compares with costs of just under £4bn which are borne by the NHS and criminal justice and welfare systems. The figure is over seven per cent of the government’s budget deficit for the 12 months ending March 2015.

02 September 2015

Daft economics

CityAM reports:
English football giants spent £483m on players from euro area clubs during the latest transfer window, a figure that would have been far higher if the pound had not climbed up to 17 per cent against the euro since 2014. 
With transactions typically taking place in the currency of the selling club, buying the same batch of players in last year’s summer transfer window would have cost £568m. It marks a saving to top English clubs of £85m, according to analysis from forex broker Foenix Partners.
But if you look at it through the other end of the telescope, if sterling had not been so undervalued in 2014, the English clubs would not have had to overpay by so much in that year ...


New logo - same as the old




01 September 2015

Apocalypse now

The Times predicts disaster:
If Labour chooses Jeremy Corbyn — a man who will never be elected prime minister — as leader next week, its end could be as brutal and sudden as those other once great tribes. Peter Mandelson is right to say that his party is in “mortal danger” and may be writing the final chapter of its history. This is bad for democracy as well as for the Labour party, since it is healthy for there to be a credible centre-left alternative to a Conservative government.
In a series of phone calls and emails over the past two weeks, between holiday villas, constituency homes and country retreats, senior figures from the centre of the party have been urgently drawing up a fightback strategy. 
It is the concept of Labour grandees in their holiday villas and country retreats that gives the game away.  What hope do such bourgeois pragmatists have of connecting with the ordinary Labour voter on minimum wage or suffering massive cuts in benefit payments?  It is arguable that Mandelson and co, with their failure to believe in anything other than winning power, are the ones who are destroying the Labour Party.


What's in a word?

Have you noticed how the media have begun to use the word "migrant" in their reports of those assembling at Calais and making their way across the Mediterranean?  This displaces the previous "immigrant" which used to be used for incomers from abroad.  Emigrants, on the other hand, were those who left for abroad.

It remains unclear if  "migration" will replace immigration or emigration.  Migration is of course more commonly used to describe the temporary seasonal movement of animals, birds and whales.  So I suppose it would be less than accurate to use it to describe the more or less permanent movements of human beings.

Much the same applies to the verb "migrate".  (Although, curiously, while "to emigrate" was common enough, "to immigrate" was seldom used.)

Strange ...