29 February 2016

It used to be a quaint Mediterranean fishing village ...

... look at it now:

h/t Paul

Calm down dears!

Is the squabbling getting out of hand?  The Independent reports:
Iain Duncan Smith effectively accused David Cameron of having a “low opinion of the British people” on Sunday as attempts to keep Tory splits over Europe civil appeared to be unravelling. 
In remarks clearly aimed at the Prime Minister, the Work and Pensions Secretary hit out at those who warned of the economic impacts of a vote to leave the EU for “pessimistically downsizing” Britain’s role in the world.
Meanwhile George Osborne slapped down Boris Johnson for comparing himself to a man on a mission to rescue Britain from Brussels “baddies”.
“This isn’t some amusing adventure into the unknown – it’s deadly serious,” he said.
The Foreign Secretary, Phillip Hammond, also called the Eurosceptic MP Sir Bill Cash “a total shit” for releasing a Brussels legal report on the EU deal to the media despite an understanding that it was not to be published.


25 February 2016

Winter is coming

h/t Paul

Quote of the day

PMQs again.  From The Times (here):
Mr Corbyn raised the massive overspend by the prime minister’s own local NHS trust. What was he going to do about it? “Ask your mother!” shouted Carolyn Harris (Lab, Swansea East). Mama Cameron got attention recently for signing a petition against cuts to Oxfordshire services.
This was it. Time to weaponise Mater. “Ask my mother?” Mr Cameron scoffed, pushing the octogenarian into the front line. “I know what my mother would say. She would look across the dispatch box and say, ‘Put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem’.” I’m surprised he didn’t add “you grotty little oik”.
And then he did that trademark smirk that he gives when he thinks he has been clever. The toadies and sycophants loved it, of course, but when the howls and guffaws had stopped echoing round the hall, Mr Cameron seemed diminished. 
Bully, smug. privileged ...


In or Out?

As a semi-expat dividing my time between Edinburgh and Spain and as an ex-official who took the European Commission's shilling for a number of years in the Brussels melting-pot, I am irrevocably committed to the Remain camp.  So those of you of the Brexiter philosophy may wish to look away now.

I do not usually believe much of the opinions that banks pontificate, but HSBC seems to have it about right.  The Guardian reports:
The pound would fall 15%-20% against the dollar. The UK economy in 2017 would grow at only the half the rate currently expected. Inflation would be above 5% by the end of next year, creating a thumping policy headache for the Bank of England. This is HSBC’s “central case” for what would happen if the UK votes to leave the European Union. Too alarmist? No, it all sounds entirely plausible.
Note that HSBC was making short-term forecasts. The bank’s analysts were careful to state that, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the UK would remain a flexible and strong economy that would “eventually achieve a strong economic performance in or out of the EU”. The short-term impact, however, could hardly fail to be severe.
And the short term impact would last at least two years, the time it would take to negotiate the UK's way out of the EU.


23 February 2016

Boris at PMQs

The Guardian reports:
 “The mayor of London has suggested that leaving the EU would herald a return to the halcyon days of the British empire,” smirked Yvette Cooper. “Can the prime minister invite him to return to the 21st century?”
BoGo winced. Anywhere other than the 21st century would be preferable right now. The sudden reappearance of a conscience was proving more and more troubling. If only he had just been able to stand up and say ‘Vote me for prime minister’ and have done with it, rather than pretending to give much of a toss about whether Britain stayed in the EU. Bloodstains began to discolour BoGo’s shirt. He looked down at them, desperately hoping they were stigmata. They weren’t. They were bullet wounds and there was more to come when Labour’s Chris Leslie pulled out his AK-47 and observed that the pound was now trading at its lowest level since BoGo had come out in support of Brexit.

Enough was enough and BoGo staggered out of the chamber in search of a doctor.
Unfortunately the only one at hand was Dr Liam Fox, a eurosceptic who is so dim he is always at risk of being sued for political negligence. Fox’s contribution was to get the wrong end of the stick about Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. No surprise there, as there are few sticks which Fox manages to find the right end of. BoGo looked round, hoping for a miracle. Up stepped Owen Paterson, a man who makes Liam Fox look like an intellectual colossus. With friends like these ...

21 February 2016

Old joke

The Independent reports:
In one of his stand-up sketches from a few year's back, comedian Frankie Boyle recalls a moment in a Glasgow pub when an Englishman asks for a lager and lime.
The barman's response (in thick Glaswegian accent): "Sorry pal, we don't do cocktails."
In that spirit, Tennent's, which brands itself as "Scotland's favourite pint", was clearly perplexed on Friday when someone asked them on Twitter why they don't do a low calorie version, perhaps along the lines of a Coors Light, or a Becks Blue.
To which it pointed out...

20 February 2016

Photo of the day

Strange bedfellows:

Referendum blues

I have some sympathy with these views expressed in The Independent:
Oh I don’t know what to do. On the one hand, if we vote to stay in we’ll get David Cameron waving and smiling and looking triumphant, and doing anything to make that happen will make your soul go dark yellow and spew up green sticky liquid. But if we vote to leave, that would please Farage, and pleasing Farage must surely be illegal if we’ve made any progress at all since the thirteenth century.
It’s like watching Manchester United play Chelsea, you spend the whole time thinking of a way that both sides can lose.
Instead, the debate is about which side will manage to be more horrible to immigrants. So the Prime Minister makes statements such as “Due to the success of these talks, Romanians living in Britain will no longer be allowed in a Post Office until they’ve been working here for nine years.”
But Farage replies “What the British people want to know is when are Bulgarians going to be stopped from using our pavements? These are paid for by the British taxpayer, and if they can’t be bothered to hover, frankly they can go back home.


You know that you are getting old when you are shocked to realise that a first class stamp costs 63  pence (soon to be increased to 64 pence).

18 February 2016

EU Summit

The Guardian identifies the probable outcome:
A .. likely outcome is the classic Brussels fudge: a messy compromise. The emergency brake on migrants’ in-work benefits is cut to two or three years, while Cameron has to accept that restrictions on child benefits will not apply to EU citizens already living in the UK. France and Germany refuse to allow Britain a veto on the functioning of the eurozone, and will only sign up to a bunch of warm words about not riding roughshod over non-euro members.
Cameron gets his declaration on ever closer union and the red-card system, as most other EU countries see them as symbolic gestures that do not change the status quo. Everyone declares victory and hopes they don’t have to return to the British question for a while.
Cynical?  Yes, but then the whole exercise is swamped in cynicism.

12 February 2016

Quote of the day

From The Independent on the government's dispute with the doctors (here):
... the Government holds great responsibility for letting the dispute develop to its current pitch of acrimony. Mr Hunt has behaved disrespectfully almost throughout. He has treated one of the most productive and diligent elements of the British workforce as truculent and greedy. He has dismissed legitimate concerns as union tub-thumping. The final straw will, for many, be the imposition of this contract, and Mr Hunt – or, more likely, his successors – will be left to reap the consequences. 
Thankfully, the Scottish government appears to have adopted a more enlightened attitude.


11 February 2016

Who cares about Rosie?

Damn few, it seems.  The Guardian paraphrases PMQs:
“I have a letter from a woman called Rosie,” said Jeremy Corbyn at prime minister’s questions. Rosie Winterton, Labour’s chief whip, looked up and smiled. Her leader had finally got round to reading something she had written. Corbyn was quick to disillusion her: “Rosie is in her 20s and wants to buy a house in London.” Winterton shrugged. In a good light …
In their previous exchanges at PMQs, David Cameron has often been caught off guard by Corbyn’s references to members of the public, unsure whether to laugh or adopt a solemn face. Now the prime minister had a plan; repeat Rosie’s name as often as possible. “I want Rosie to be able to buy her own house,” he said, “which is why I have brought in the help-to-buy Isa especially for Rosie.”
If Rosie has any sense she will steer well clear of the help-to-buy Isa that had been specially created for her, as she would end up saving money at a far slower rate than house inflation and would be even less likely to afford a home than at the start.
This is a serious problem - about time the politicos took it seriously.


10 February 2016

Financial armageddon?

FTSE-100 over the past month

For those worried about the ongoing crash in share prices, The Independent takes a balanced approach:
At a time like this, it is probably most helpful to take a long perspective, and by coincidence the annual study by Credit Suisse Asset Management of markets going back to 1900 is just out. It looks at the three great financial crises of capitalism, the 1890s, the 1930s, and from 2008 onwards. The dip in the economy after the most recent one was not nearly as serious as the others, but the bounce-back has been somewhat slower. But what is fascinating is that, eventually, US share prices recovered in all three periods, with the present experience somewhere between the not-too-bad recovery after 1890 and the more hesitant one in the 1930s. Moral: that share prices eventually bounce back, provided you wait long enough for them to do so.
Me, I look upon it as a buying opportunity ...

06 February 2016

Music of the week

Americans are crazy

The Times reports:
It is the rock-star vegetable of the moment, the brassica with brass, the unsung flower that flowered: cauliflower has hit the big time.
Demand fuelled by low-carb diet fads and supply problems arising from a cold snap in California and Arizona have driven prices in America for the humble vegetable to the absurd peaks usually reserved for exotic foods.
Shoppers have reported paying up to $8 a head — three times higher than normal. Mellissa Sevigny, a low-carb blogger in New York state, wrote a furious “break-up” letter to cauliflower. “You have turned into a real diva,” she complained after being charged $6.99 for “the tiniest, most anaemic head of cauliflower I had ever seen”. She added: “Someone needs to tell you to get over yourself and I love you enough to be that person.”
When will they discover the swede?


Quote of the week

From David Cameron's diary:
“So Boris,” I say. “It’s crunch time. Are you in or out?”
“Do you mean in of out?” says Boris Johnson. “Or out of in?”
I rub my eyes. Only with Boris do I need to have these conversations. It’s infuriating. Everybody agrees that his position is of paramount importance to whether my EU negotiations are considered a success or not. And yet, he never seems terribly interested in them.
“In of in,” I say. “Or out in out.”
“Wait,” says Boris. “How many referendums are we having?”
“One,” I say, firmly. Then I tell him that things are looking up. Because, after months of negotiation, I’m on the verge of striking a deal with Donald Tusk.
“That’s odd,” says Boris. “You’d think he’d be busy in New Hampshire.”
“Tusk,” I say. “Tusk.”
“Don’t tut at me,” says Boris, crossly. “You’re only the prime minister.”


For rugger buggers

If you have nothing else to do, you can watch the Georgia - Germany match here, live at 10.00 GMT, followed by the Russia - Spain match at 12.00 GMT.

I understand that there are some other international matches on later today ...


A result to cherish

Scotland rugby teams have had a fairly lean time of it in recent years, especially against the auld enemy.  So last night's match at Cumbernauld by the Under 20s against their English counterparts was something to savour.

As ever, the English lads were bigger and heavier than the Scots and they duly dominated the set-pieces.  But the Scots tackled like demons.  Even so it was surprising that the Scots picked up a couple of tries in the first half against two penalties for the English, turning around at 12-6 for the home side.

In the second half, English domination of the scrums intensified and wave after wave of white attacks were stoutly resisted by the boys in blue. Nevertheless, a brace of forays into the English 25 led to two more opportunist tries for the Scots, doubling their score to 24 points and leaving the English to reflect on their utter failure to convert possession and territory into points.

The future's bright and it's Scottish blue!


05 February 2016

Is this necessary?

Oh dear, diacritics in danger.  The BBC reports (disdainfully refusing to employ the appropriate accents):
Suggested new spellings for more than 2,000 French words have sparked controversy.
The Academie Francaise proposed changes in 1990, including the deletion of the circumflex accent and hyphens in some words, but they were optional.
Now publishers say they will include the new spellings in schoolbooks.
France's education minister has said the changes will not culminate in the end of circumflex and that both spellings will remain correct.
La fin mince of the wedge, I believe.

As Le Monde makes clear, the circumflex will be retained in some cases:

...  la réforme ne « tue » pas vraiment l’accent circonflexe. En réalité, celui-ci serait facultatif sur les « i » et les « u », mais demeurerait sur les « a » et « o ». En outre, il resterait employé dans d’autres cas :

  • Au passé simple : nous suivîmes, nous voulûmes, nous aimâmes ; vous suivîtes, vous voulûtes, vous aimâtes…

  • À l’imparfait du subjonctif (troisième personne du singulier) : qu’il suivît, qu’il voulût, qu’il aimât…

  • Au plus-que-parfait du subjonctif : qu’il eût suivi, il eût voulu, qu’il eût aimé…

  • Lorsqu’il apporte une distinction de sens utile : dû, jeûne, mûr, sûr… Dès lors que l’enlever créerait une confusion de sens entre deux mots (« mûr » et « mur », par exemple).

So the circumflex disappears above i and u (apart from those pedants with a predilection for the imperfect and pluperfect subjunctives) but is retained for a and o.  Where is the logic in that?  And what about e?

It's all a bit of a mystery ...


03 February 2016

What to make of the EU deal?

Well, don't expect any help from The Guardian:
There was still a long way to go and the deal was far from sealed, Dave soothingly cajoled, but “what we’ve got is what I basically asked for”. It was the basically that gave the game away, because basically he hasn’t. There’s a huge gulf between what he promised in the 2015 election manifesto and what he’s hoping to get but hasn’t yet got. “People said this wouldn’t happen,” he continued. But it has. Exactly as everyone predicted.
“At the beginning, there were people who said I should start the negotiations by kicking over the table,” Dave said, waving his arms and pumping his fists. The bags that have appeared under his eyes over the past few months jogged up and down in time. Still, the Siemens employees who had been co-opted as his audience remained largely unmoved – and just as confused as Dave about what had and hadn’t been achieved. Some were wearing white coats; waiting to take Dave away, presumably.
Dave dug deep in search of the Cicero within. No joy there. “But I chose to go about it in a calm and measured way,” he said. So calm and measured that he has managed to negotiate almost everything the EU was already quite happy to concede. “We’ve got an emergency brake on benefits to migrants,” he said. “It’s a very special emergency brake. It’s an emergency brake that will last for X and only if Y and Z also happen.” And what were X, Y and Z? Dave couldn’t say, because the other 27 countries hadn’t yet agreed on the exact definitions of both emergency and brake. In mathematical terms, it’s known as the Cameron conjecture.
Some of us would describe it as a farce ...