31 August 2005

Will it ever stop?

You would have thought that someone in the SPCB might have suggested that now was not the time for MSPs to indulge themselves... But no, the Evening News reports the latest extravagance (here):
"SCOTTISH Parliament bosses have splashed out thousands of pounds on new red leather armchairs for the MSPs' exclusive restaurant.
They want to create more of a "gentlemen's club atmosphere" in the hope of persuading more Holyrood politicians to use it.
But today the move - part of a £25,000 upgrade agreed by the cross-party Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB)- was branded another example of extravagance by the parliament, guaranteed to fuel public anger.
"Someone should have learned the lesson by now," said one MSP.
A total of 15 chairs and matching sofa, along with eight tables, a rug and four bar stools, have been bought for the bar area of the restaurant at a cost of £15,650.
On top of that, new blinds have been installed at £3850 and new lighting at £2000.
Before the new chairs were ordered, MSPs were given the chance to try out a range of new chairs in different styles, finishes and colours.

Regardless of the merits of this decision to invest over £20,000, do these guys have no sense of how this might appear to the public?

Laisser le bon temps rouler - no more

Deeply sad to see what is happening in New Orleans, arguably the nicest, and certainly the most relaxed, city in the US (from CNN here):
"Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said it was "impossible to even begin to estimate" how long it will take to restore power and drinking water in New Orleans.
"This is a tragedy of great proportions, greater than any we've seen in our lifetimes," Blanco said. We know many lives have been lost."
The death toll from the storm so far is estimated at 70 -- mostly in Mississippi. Officials stressed that the number is uncertain and likely to be much higher. (See aerial video of the aftermath -- 3:02)
In New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, authorities used boats and helicopters to reach stranded residents and search for survivors...
Mayor Ray Nagin on Tuesday night blasted what he called a lack of coordination in relief efforts for setting behind the city's recovery. "There is way too many fricking ... cooks in the kitchen," Nagin said in a phone interview with WAPT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi. (Full story)
Nagin was fuming over what he said were scuttled plans to plug a 200-yard breach near the 17th Street Canal, allowing Lake Pontchartrain to spill into the central business district. (Map)
An earlier breach occurred along the Industrial Canal in the city's Lower 9th Ward.
The rising flood waters overwhelmed pumping stations that would normally keep the city dry. About 80 percent of the city was flooded with water up to 20 feet deep after the two levees collapsed. (See video of knee-deep and rising water in the French Quarter -- 1:19)...
Nagin said that as of late Tuesday "a significant amount of water" is flowing into the bowl-shaped city and sections of the city now dry could be under 9 or 10 feet of water within hours.
"The bowl is filling up," he said."

Awful to think that Jackson Square, where I spent many an hour listening to the jazz band playing on the corner, is now under water, along with Bourbon Street, the Garden District and Decatur Street.

Justice delayed is justice denied

This case (here in The Times) seems to be dragging on a bit:
"LORD WATSON of Invergowrie appeared for a second time in court yesterday accused of setting fire to two curtains at a hotel and putting lives in danger.
The Labour peer and MSP pleaded not guilty to two charges of wilful fire-raising when he made his first public appearance at Edinburgh Sheriff Court last Tuesday.
Yesterday Paul Burns, his defence solicitor, gained a further continuation of the case, which will now resume tomorrow. Mr Burns told Sheriff Nigel Morrison that investigations and discussions were continuing between the Crown and the defence and he expected these to be concluded within 24 to 48 hours. The Crown did not object.
The charges relate to an alleged incident in the early hours of November 12 last year at Edinburgh’s Prestonfield House Hotel, shortly after the end of the Scottish Politician of the Year awards dinner.
The first charge alleges that in the hotel’s reception area, Lord Watson set fire to a curtain which, along with a curtain pole, walls and a ceiling, was damaged and the lives of patrons at the hotel were endangered. The second charge alleges that he set fire to a curtain in the hotel’s Yellow Room which was also damaged and that again lives were put in danger."

The alleged incident took place last November but "investigations and discussions" are still continuing. Intriguing...

No discipline

From The Scotsman (here):

"THE principal of one of Scotland's largest further education colleges has denounced the quality of students coming out of schools, saying they have "no work ethic, no work discipline and no work attendance discipline".
Howard McKenzie, who has 8,000 students at the Jewel and Esk Valley College campuses in Edinburgh and Eskbank, Midlothian, said further education is bearing the brunt of the lack of sanctions available to headteachers.
Mr McKenzie, who has worked in further education for 20 years, said: "Things are getting worse in
schools because politicians and local authorities lost their backbone as human rights legislation took over.
"Students coming out of school have no work ethic, no work discipline and no work attendance discipline. It is the biggest failure of our school system - everything has been taken away from students to prepare them for the world of work. They don't know how to turn up and behave

Disappointing to see that some further education principals don't know how to avoid sweeping generalisations. Perhaps they lack discipline?

28 August 2005

Unlucky Jack?

According to The Sunday Times (here), the First Minister is a wee bit upset with the Prime Minister:
"THE first minister, Jack McConnell, feels “humiliated and betrayed” by Tony Blair, who, he believes, is “weak” and “untrustworthy”, according to friends and cabinet colleagues quoted in a new biography.
The relationship between the two men has become so strained that they are barely on speaking terms, talking no more than four times a year.
McConnell has accused Blair of ignoring Scotland and claims that the Queen takes more of an interest in devolution than the prime minister.
The first minister is also said to harbour a lingering resentment against Blair after he backed Henry McLeish for the leadership of the Scottish Labour party following the death of Donald Dewar five years ago.
McConnell has told friends that he feels “livid” and “disillusioned” by Blair’s constant putdowns.
Tensions came to a head earlier this year when Blair appeared to mock McConnell — who had been accused in the press of being gaffe-prone — during a speech to the Scottish Labour conference. While praising Gordon Brown and other Scottish Labour MPs, Blair’s only mention of McConnell was to thank him for diverting media flak from himself.
Later McConnell told friends: “I would never publicly humiliate a colleague like that and Blair would never do it to anyone else.”
The allegations are contained in Lucky Jack, a semi-authorised biography by Lorraine Davidson, a political journalist who worked as a press officer for the Scottish Labour party in 1999 and is a former partner of Tom McCabe, one of McConnell’s most trusted ministers."

Now who do you suppose is more damaged by these revelations? I doubt if Mr Blair will even notice the Davidson book. Which rather leaves Mr McConnell open to accusations of petulance - Blair obviously does not treat McConnell with the importance with which McConnell expects to be treated. Is this a surprise? Even if it is true, why encourage a "semi- authorised" biographer to dwell on it?

Bra wars

Much fuss in Scotland on Sunday (here):
EU TRADE Commissioner Peter Mandelson was caught in a furious row last night over his three-week Italian holiday during the "bra wars" trade conflict which is causing a major rift with China.
Pictures emerged of Mandelson, the former Labour spin doctor and confidant of Tony Blair, enjoying a night at the opera in Pompeii with his Brazilian boyfriend Reinaldo da Silva.
The images, and details of the couple's break, prompted retail representatives in the UK and
Tory trade spokesmen to claim the controversial commissioner was not doing enough to end the trade crisis that has left more than 80 million Chinese products impounded at European ports.
The row broke out as it emerged that the conflict with China was threatening to erupt into a full-scale trade war that could send high street prices soaring. Brussels is considering putting new restrictions on a range of further goods from the fast-growing economic power.

I think you will find that the EU negotiating team that has been in Beijing since last Thursday will come up with a deal with the Chinese authorities, either tomorrow or Tuesday. Then we can forget about international textiles trading until the next "furious row".

27 August 2005

A man with no shame

How low will a politician go to climb the ladder? The BBC reports Sir Malcolm's claims that he is young enough:
"Conservative leadership hopeful Sir Malcolm Rifkind has admitted he has "a problem" with people thinking he is much older than his actual 59 years.
The ex-foreign secretary said he was the same generation as David Davis, 56, and was full of "vitality and energy".
"A lot of people think that because I was a colleague of Ken Clarke(65) and Michael Howard(64) that I am the same age - I'm not," he told ITN.
The misconception came because he was made a senior minister at a young age.
Sir Malcolm was replying to comments put to him from ex- Daily Telegraph editor Max Hastings that he was "too old" to be the new Tory leader.
"I have still got an enormous amount of vitality and energy as Max Hastings and others will find out," Mr Rifkind told interviewer Alastair Stewart.

I guess that the chance of leading the Tories outweighs any embarrassment, but even so...

25 August 2005

Serious crimewave in central Scotland

The Guardian reports on the criminal masterminds of Alloa:
"Police are trying to reunite numerous garden gnomes with their owners after discovering an "Aladdin's cave" of ornaments during a raid on a house in Alloa.
Officers investigating complaints that gnomes, plant pots and animal figures were disappearing from gardens across central Scotland raided the house in Clackmannanshire and found more than 40 ornaments, including rabbits, hedgehogs, birds, frogs and a terrier.
A total of 62 plant pots and 25 solar lights were also recovered, together with a decorative wheelbarrow. Central Scotland police said there had been a spate of reported thefts in Stirling,
Clackmannanshire and Falkirk."

Amazingly, one of the hotshot police is quoted as saying, apparently with a straight face:
"This was a significant achievement by Central Scotland officers. We have been investigating a number of reported thefts of garden ornaments across the force area over the past few weeks. Our task now is to identify who the items belong to and ensure they are given back to their rightful owners."

What's the world coming to (part 34)?

Pop singer did not have affair. From The Guardian (here):
The singer Justin Timberlake accepted "substantial" damages yesterday over a newspaper story that falsely claimed he had cheated on his girlfriend, the actor Cameron Diaz.
Timberlake, 24, took legal action against the News of the World after it published allegations that he had twice had sex with Lucy Clarkson, a model and aspiring actor. His solicitor, Simon Smith, told the high court in London that the story, published in July 2004, had caused damage to his client's "personal and professional reputations".
Mr Smith said: "The newspaper now accepts that all the allegations complained of are entirely untrue and without any substance.

What's wrong with pop singers today? What do they contribute to the world if they are not prepared to indulge in promiscuity? I call it letting the side down.

21 August 2005

An interview too far

From The News of the World (here):
"METROPOLITAN Police chief Sir Ian Blair believed for 24 hours that his officers had shot dead a failed July 21 suicide bomber.
In an exclusive News of the World interview, Britain's top cop describes for the first time his horror at discovering his team had killed an innocent man at Stockwell Tube station.
The Commissioner insists he would challenge accusations of a Met cover-up over the death of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes. Speaking of the exact moment he was told of the blunder, he says: "Somebody came in at 10.30am and said the equivalent of ‘Houston we have a problem'. I thought ‘That's dreadful. What are we going to do about that?'"

The police commissioner has repeatedly made statements (some of which have been less than accurate) to the media about the killing of Mr de Menezes, despite the fact of the ongoing inquiry by the IPCC which may in due course lead to police disciplinary or even criminal charges. Is it too much to ask that he keeps his self-serving banalities to himself?

20 August 2005


The Guardian (here) on the ongoing controversy surrounding the hedgehog cull on the Western Isles:
"SNH has been eager to clear the three islands of North and South Uist and Benbecula of the rodent-like mammals for two years because they eat the eggs of legally protected wading birds.
So far it has spent an estimated £360,000 killing about 250 animals mainly on Benbecula and North Uist. There are believed to be another 4,000, mainly on South Uist."

Leaving aside the morality of killing the hedgehogs and the methods of doing so, I am rather surprised by the cost. Doing the sums, it would appear that the average cost to date per hedgehog is more than £1400, which seems rather expensive. Furthermore, if that average cost remains the same, the completion of the programme would amount to about £6 million - something of a bonanza for Western Isles hedgehog hunters.

18 August 2005

Happy days are here again

The spirit of Moira Knox is alive and well. From the Edinburgh Evening News (here):
"A WOMAN dressed as a giant pint of beer has been banned from Fringe venues which prohibit alcohol.
The woman, who does promotional work for the Caledonian Brewery, was thrown out of several Fringe venues because they do not allow alcohol on the premises.
Jolene McKie, who was dressed as a pint of beer to promote Deuchars beer, was told to leave the Fringe enclosure on the Royal Mile and escorted from the Meadows during Fringe Sunday. Ms McKie and another member of the Deuchars promotion team were handing out free postcards
about the drink when they were approached by stewards.
They were told that they could not stay in the Meadows because it was a dry area which did not allow the sale or consumption of alcohol.
Fringe chiefs today defended barring the pretend pint of beer from their venues, saying it gave a bad impression during family events."

Unsolicited testimonial: Deuchars IPA is one of the best beers available.

Iraq falls off the front page

Interesting how Gaza seems to have replaced Iraq on the front page. But the news from Baghdad remains horrific. From The New York Times (here):
"BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 17 - Three car bombs exploded Wednesday in quick succession in and around a crowded bus station in Baghdad, killing at least 43 people, injuring 88 and paralyzing one of Iraq's most important transportation networks.
The assault, the deadliest in a month, took place at the height of morning rush hour at Iraq's equivalent of the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan.
It appeared to be aimed at Shiite Arabs boarding buses and shared taxis bound for cities in the south, and further inflamed sectarian tensions. The attack also underscored the Sunni-led insurgency's ability to strike, seemingly with ease, at some of the most important infrastructure.
The bombings coincided with the formal resumption of negotiations over the new constitution, which is now due by Monday, after the Parliament voted for a one-week extension of the deadline. The three major ethnic and sectarian groups in Iraq - the Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds - remain deadlocked on fundamental issues that will shape the future, particularly the right to carve out autonomous regions. The Bush administration is putting enormous pressure on Iraqi leaders to complete a draft this week.
The explosions on Wednesday began at 7:50 a.m., sending body parts and debris flying across the Nahda bus terminal in central Baghdad. Horrified survivors rushed in a wailing frenzy from the vast open-air lot. The Iraqi police quickly shut down the area and began moving through the charred hulks of buses, sifting through items that included a baby's milk bottle and bloody tatters of clothing."

If there is a way out of this quagmire (without making things worse), it would not seem to be apparent to Messrs Bush and Blair.

Scottish cricket's big day

From The Scotsman (here):
"THE Australian squad are intent on enjoying their stay north of the Border and the break it provides from the rigours of the Ashes series. Scotland coach Andy Moles has warned his players, however, that what the world champions enjoy above all else is playing winning cricket.
Moles, whose team meet Australia in a one-day friendly at the Citylets Grange in Edinburgh today, knows the visitors will not suddenly slip into a charitable frame of mind when play begins at 11am. Having suffered a shock defeat by Bangladesh already this summer, they will be out to ensure that such humiliation does not happen again."

BBC2 is broadcasting the match (although we wait with some trepidation to see what kind of a mess Dougie Donnelly makes of it). Even Jack McConnell is expected to turn up (although sportscotland, the Executive's agency for supporting sport, has not exactly been generous with regard to cricket).

Unfortunately, it has begun to rain in Edinburgh and the forecast is not good...

17 August 2005

Gender wars at the BBC

From The Telegraph (here):
"Michael Buerk, the veteran BBC presenter, was dismissed as a "poor, miserable old bat" and "eccentric" by female colleagues yesterday after he delivered a tirade about the dominance of women in society.
Buerk, former newsreader on The Nine O'Clock News, complained that men were little more than
"sperm donors" in a feminised society in which most of the important jobs - including at the BBC - had gone to women.
As most of the BBC executives to which he was referring were taking time off from world domination by being on holiday yesterday, it was left to other prominent women at the corporation to refute his claims.
"He's bonkers. He's a dear old-fashioned chauvinist of the first order," said Anna Ford, one of the corporation's first women newsreaders.
"Poor, miserable old bat. What he ought to be saying is how nice it is to have women around the office. He's never seen the point of women in positions of seniority. There's no hope for him."

Obviously the silly season.

16 August 2005

See a bandwagon and jump on it!

Scottish Executive press release:
"Glasgow is to bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games with the full support of the Executive.
The bid is going ahead following a positive report from a Bid Assessment Group, chaired by David Mackay, former chairman of the Scottish Rugby Union, and a feasibility study of Glasgow's proposals by consultants.
Speaking at Glasgow's Hampden Park, one of the proposed Games venues, First Minister Jack McConnell said: "The Commonwealth Games has the potential to change our country. Taking the bold step to bring one of the largest events in the world to Scotland shows the scale of our ambition as a nation and the confidence that we have in our biggest city.
"I hope this decision will inspire thousands of Scots to take up the challenge of sport. We want future generations to have the facilities, the desire and the confidence to make the most of themselves. And we will showcase modern Scotland to billions of people.
"This is the right decision to make. Glasgow's bid is viable, it is winable [sic] and it will leave a lasting legacy across all of Scotland. The competition to host the Games may well be fierce, but with the support of everyone in Scotland, this is a race that we can win."

What is it with politicians and big sporting events? Did the First Minister not get his fingers sufficiently burned with the fiasco of the joint Scottish-Irish bid for the European Football championships? Do Bob Maxwell and the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games not ring a warning bell?

15 August 2005

Wee sleekit cowrin tim'rous beasties go on holiday to the mainland

While biodiversity is important, this evacuation (in The Times) seems rather a lot of trouble in order to save 120 woodmice:

"A COLONY of rare woodmice, unique to the Scottish island of Canna, is going to be evacuated before a £250,000 project to exterminate the entire population of brown rats.
About 120 woodmice will be captured in their burrows next month by experts from Edinburgh Zoo and transported in cages to the mainland until conditions are right for a return.
The Canna woodmice are a unique genetic strain and are larger than usual, having developed in isolation on the most westerly of the four Small Isles. The mice will be divided into two sustainable breeding colonies, one at the zoo and the other at the Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie.
Their rescue will take place before the cull, due to start this autumn, and is designed to protect nesting seabirds from the rats’ voracious appetite for eggs. The five-mile-long, whale-shaped island, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, has been a bird sanctuary since 1938 with 157 recorded species including white-tailed eagles and corncrakes. Whales and porpoises can be seen from its shores."

It's a bit tough if you are a brown rat rather than a woodmouse...

Holiday mystery

The Independent fails to reveal where the Prime Minister is on holiday:
"Last Thursday the Daily Mail carried a photograph of Tony Blair on its front page, and several other ones on page three, showing him on a yacht while on holiday. The suggestion was that he was a little less svelte than we had thought, and than he might have hoped. The Sun also carried most of the same pictures, which were evidently taken by paparazzi.
Discerning readers will have noticed an oddity. The Mail did not say where Mr Blair was. The Sun only located him in 'the Caribbean Sea,' which is pretty extensive. On the one hand the papers were happy to run paparazzi pictures, yet on the other hand they were strangely bashful as to his whereabouts.
The explanation is that several weeks ago David Hill, the Prime Minister's chief spin doctor, wrote to editors of news organizations requesting that for security reasons details of Mr Blair's holiday arrangements should not be published until his return. The media have duly obliged. The Mail and the Sun could not resist carrying the pictures, but they observed Mr Hill's injunction, though the Sun may have come dangerously close to letting the cat out of the bag with its mention of 'the Caribbean Sea'."

This is more than a little odd. The paparazzi obviously know where the Prime Minister is on holiday and so does every newspaper in the land. Presumably it would not be difficult for Al Qaida to find out. On the other hand, the security blanket deprives us of the annual August ritual of crticising the PM for his depressingly eager willingness to sponge off rich cronies.

How unlike the holiday arrangements of our own dear First Minister who - as everyone knows - was on Arran recently. (Let us forget for the moment about winter breaks in the Mediterranean.)

10 August 2005

Shuffling the deckchairs

The restructuring of the Scottish Enterprise management team is announced in this press release. Extract:
Changes to Scottish Enterprise’s (SE) senior management team are being implemented with immediate effect, staff heard today.
The moves will see a smaller Executive Board and the appointment of a chief operating officer for the network. Lena Wilson, currently responsible for SE’s customer operations, will take on the new chief operating officer post.
Chief Executive Jack Perry said: “We are establishing a leaner Executive team charged with embedding change and customer focus right across the organisation. This will include tackling some major challenges such as how to better harness the wealth creating power of our wider metropolitan areas and how SE can support a greater return for Scotland’s economy from our key industries.
“We will also be strengthening our focus on operational delivery by moving four executive board members to fully operational remits.”
Mr Perry added that the chief operating officer appointment would also allow him more time to focus on some of the big challenges facing Scotland and Scottish Enterprise...
Mr Perry added: “Talk of structural change has the potential to make an organisation too
introspective. I want to mitigate against that and send a strong signal that our first commitment remains delivery. I firmly believe these initial changes at the top of the organisation will enable us to do that.”

First of all, Mr Perry needs a new scriptwriter: what does "embedding change and customer focus right across the organisation" mean? And, if it is that important, why has it not already been done? And how many "wider metropolitan areas" does Scotland have (if any)? And how do changes in the management team "mitigate against" "the potential to make an organisation too introspective"? This is pretty vacuous stuff.

More seriously, it is somewhat surprising that changes to the management team are not seen in the context of Smart Successful Scotland which is of course the overall economic strategy which Scottish Enterprise is supposed to be pursuing but which is nowhere mentioned in the press release.

What do the figures mean?

I commented earlier this week on the difficulties in using official figures to assess the level of economic growth. Now The Herald suggests that the trade figures may not be wholly reliable:
"THE UK's global goods trade deficit narrowed sharply and unexpectedly in June, as exports hit a record, National Statistics said yesterday. However, economists warned swiftly against reading much into the trade figures after National Statistics said the balance with non-European Union countries may have been distorted by tax fraud. The UK's global goods trade deficit dropped from £4.98bn in May to £4.28bn in June. The City expected £4.9bn.The UK deficit in goods trade with countries outside the EU plunged from £2.28bn in May to £1.44bn in June – much less than the forecast £2.3bn. Lucy O'Carroll, director of research at HBOS's treasury services division and a former senior economist at the Bank of England, said she would be "so cautious" about trying to interpret the trade numbers in any way given National Statistics' comments about possible distortion from tax fraud.She said: "The surveys don't accord with the big positive increases in exports you have seen in these numbers. Take it (the trade numbers) with huge health warnings, obviously."

Being an economist must be difficult - every time you look at the raw figures, the data just slip away.

09 August 2005

Mr Nice Guy

If the following story from The Guardian is true, then well done Mr Prescott:
"London's streets and tube stations may be brimming with suspicion, fear and armed police, but one politician is refusing to let the terror threat come between him and the public.
John Prescott, who is standing in for Tony Blair while the prime minister is on holiday, had just chaired a No 10 meeting on the security situation yesterday when he decided to get some air.
Having foregone the comforts of his ministerial Jaguar, he was strolling back to his office in the sunshine when he spied an awestruck family standing near the entrance to Downing Street and staring in his direction.
The deputy prime minister walked over to them and inquired whether they fancied a quick peek
along the corridors of power. The couple and their three young children were soon whisked through the iron gates and a security check and through the famous black door of No 10. They got to see the cabinet room, the white room - often the setting for interviews - and the grand staircase, with its portraits of all previous British prime ministers.
The family, who are thought to be from London and were believed to have been heading for Covent Garden when they met Mr Prescott, were then escorted back out to the street by him."

08 August 2005

The Bute House booze cabinet

From the Scottish Executive's freedom of information website (newly released here):
"The total value of the wine currently held in Bute House is £2,238. Over half this amount is for 122 bottles of two different qualities of Cava (£1,027.44) and eight bottles of champagne (£185.10). The remainder of the wine stock consists largely of four cases of Fair Trade wine at approximately £4.50 per bottle (£216), 16 bottles of 2000 St. Aubin Blanc Prudhon at £13.49 per bottle (£216) and 28 bottles of 1999 Rasteau Rouge Gourt de Mautens at £18.50 per bottle (£518). Fine wines are served at the most important occasions held in Bute House.
The other alcoholic drinks held in small quantities are: Gordon's gin, Smirnov vodka, Grouse whisky, Bacardi rum, brandy, Drambuie, Macallan and Balvenie malts, sherry and 2 vintage ports. These are used for formal pre-dinner/lunch drinks and for serving as liqueurs where appropriate. It is not possible to give an accurate valuation as some were purchased many years
ago, some bottles are half-full etc.
In addition, we hold Scottish still and sparkling water and mixers, tonic water, coca cola etc.
All the drinks mentioned are paid for from the First Minister's official hospitality budget and
are used for official receptions, dinners and lunches held in Bute House that are being paid for from the same budget."

Two questions:

So the First Minister has 122 bottles of Cava to serve his guests at an average cost of about £8.50 a bottle. Does this not make him a bit of a cheapskate? I mean, who serves Cava to guests?

Secondly, which guests get the decent wine at £13.49 or £18.50 a bottle and which get the plonk at £4.50 a bottle?

Unwanted medical opinion

From The Herald (here):
"Dr Mary Church, joint chairman of the Scottish GPs Committee, said: "Walking would not have been the reason for the suspected heart attack and the news should certainly not put men around his age off hillwalking."Without knowing his medical history, I imagine Mr Cook could have gone at any time enjoying any number of pursuits."

As Dr Church admits she is not aware of Mr Cook's medical history, perhaps she should refrain from offering a medical opinion on his case and stick to generalities?

"You don't know, so don't say you do - you don't"

According to The Herald, all is well (here):

"SCOTLAND'S economy topped the UK growth league for the second consecutive month in July, as its tourism and leisure sector received a fillip from the meeting of the Group of Eight world leaders at Gleneagles in Perthshire.The revelation that Scotland has found itself in the unusual position of heading the table of 12 different parts of the UK for a second straight month comes today in Royal Bank of Scotland's latest PMI (Purchasing Managers' Index) Scotland report."

But then again, perhaps not (from the same article):

"Royal Bank's PMI report has painted a significantly more upbeat picture of the Scottish economy than gross domestic product numbers from the Scottish Executive, although the official figures are significantly more historic because of the time taken to compile them. On July 27, the Executive reported that the Scottish economy had stagnated in the first quarter.Asked about the difference between the PMI numbers and the executive's growth figures, McLaughlin replied: "In the early part of the year there has been a disconnect between official data showing stagnation, and PMIs and other data showing a moderate expansion in the private sector side of the economy."I would like to think that that disconnect will not persist as the year wears on, and what companies are telling us in this survey will start to show in the official data as well."

And then again, from The Scotsman (here):
"ALL 12 major regions in the UK - including Scotland - last month reported that business confidence had fallen, according to research by the Confederation of British Industry out today.
For the first time in two years, businesses throughout the country reported unbroken gloom, with Scottish businesses particularly downbeat on cost inflation.
Research for the CBI revealed that the pace of job losses in manufacturing firms was continuing unabated in many parts of the UK, including London and the south-east, the east of England and
Northern Ireland.

Is the Scottish economy growing or not? Who knows...

07 August 2005

No 10 and Home office at loggerheads

Interesting stuff in The Observer, with both No 10 and the Home Office spinning like mad:
"For those of the small group assembled in Tony Blair's study that July morning who did not know him well, it was something of an eye-opener. Banging the table with a frustrated fist, as the Home Secretary and his two startled opposition counterparts looked on, the Prime Minister was demanding to know 'why the fuck' it was so impossible to rewrite human rights legislation to allow decisive action against a terrorist threat.
'He just kept saying, "Why can't we do this?" and looking at his officials for answers,' says one source from the meeting. 'And they were just shrugging their shoulders.' By the time the meeting broke up, Blair appeared no nearer getting his answer. But those closer to him could have predicted how it would end.
Last Friday the Prime Minister decisively got his way, sweeping aside not just the caveats of his officials - plus those of his own wife, who warned last month that it was easy to respond to terror in a way that 'cheapens our right to call ourselves a civilised nation' - but the amour propre of his Home Secretary.
Hijacking at the last minute what had been planned as a much lower-key, less detailed announcement by the Home Office minister Hazel Blears, Blair last Friday unveiled a package that profoundly changed the terms of the domestic war on terror. Not only would foreign-born preachers of hate now be deported, as Clarke had already suggested, but Britain would, if necessary, rewrite the Human Rights Act to do it - a personal victory for Blair."

Whatever else this suggests, it is rather far away from the reasoned approach to policy-making that we might have expected. And what about this:
But serious questions remain over the scramble - egged on by the Sun, with its vocal campaign for holidaying MPs to come back and do something about 'lawless Britain' - to publish a full anti-terror manifesto within a month of the fatal attack
Downing Street sources insist the frenzy of last-minute phone calls between it and the Home Office were 'no more than the usual to-ing and fro-ing' expected in the middle of a crisis. But the
negotiations have exposed growing differences between the cautious civil servant's son Clarke, and his hyper-vigilant master.
Nor is it just the bombings that have strained the relationship between Clarke and Downing
Street. The whispers around Whitehall are gathering strength: that Clarke has not made a good enough job of selling ID cards, that he does not grasp the 'big picture', that he is too soft on yobbery - unlike Louise Casey, the outspoken civil servant who runs his anti-social behaviour unit. His fondness for a sociable glass of wine is tutted over, his decision to take his long-planned family holiday - although Blair and Straw are also now taking theirs - while leave is cancelled for the Metropolitan Police raises eyebrows.
This verges on the political assassination by No 10 of their own Home Secretary.

05 August 2005


The best alternative to Test Match Special: The Guardian's over by over commentary, perhaps obsessed by readers' comments to the detriment of the cricket. But usually worth watching. Here's an extract:
34th over: Australia 155-3 (Langer 40, Clarke 22) Jones continues his policy of bowling two foot outside off-stump, only this time Clarke goes after him and pulls him brilliantly through midwicket. "Jacob Murray White (over 26) sounds suspiciously like a bottle of wine to me," suggests Catherine Sargent. "Or possibly a blend of several?"
35th over: Australia 156-3 (Langer 41, Clarke 22) Ashley Giles comes back and immediately launches into a huge lbw appeal against Langer after getting the ball to spin [note to readers, this is not a misprint]. It only moved a inch mind, and umpire Bowden correctly rules not out. Meanwhile more Shane Warne songs: "To the tune of Sex Bomb, how about Test pest, text pest, you're a text pest?" suggests Mick Hatcher.
36th over: Australia 162-3 (Langer 46, Clarke 23) Langer moves steadily towards his half-century with another four off Jones, who's looking tired. "Over on TMS Aggers has been boasting about how he's got rid of his moles from his lawn," says Matthew Cobb. "How about you, Sean - do you have any trouble with moles?" I don't have a lawn Mattew, yet alone several acres worth of land.

How to look after yourselves

From the BBC website (here):

"MSPs have been paid more than £1m by the taxpayer to purchase second homes in Edinburgh, it has emerged. BBC Scotland has confirmed that the money was claimed by 38 politicians.
Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan has called for an official inquiry into what he calls widespread abuse of the Edinburgh Accommodation Allowance.
But a spokesman said the present scheme was approved by the Scottish Parliament in 2001 and that the regulations had been followed in every case.
The allowance enables MSPs who live more than 90 minutes' journey from the Scottish Parliament to have subsidised mortgages for second homes in the capital.
They can claim up to £10,600 per year towards housing expenses."

A nice little number for those concerned. But even if you accept that MSPs from out of town need to have subsidised accommodation in Edinburgh, it is possible to arrange without allowing them to make a killing on property inflation. Most companies and most of the public sector operate a system whereby employees away from home are able to claim the costs of temporary accommodation up to certain limits. Our MSPs have adopted a more generous arrangement for themselves. If there is an abuse, then it lies in the original decision by Parliament to approve it.

It is also worth remembering that Parliament only sits on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with Tuesdays for Committee meetings: accommodation would only be required for 2 or 3 nights a week.

03 August 2005

We kinda plucked the figure out of the air...

From the Parliament written answers for Monday 1 August:
G8 Summit

Alex Neil (Central Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what methodology and detailed research formed the basis of the statement by the First Minister that the G8 summit will
bring £500 million of benefit to Scotland.

Allan Wilson: The statement made was based on consideration of evidence from the 2004 G8 summit held at Sea Island, Georgia and our conviction that Scotland will benefit by at least as much, given the great efforts made by Scottish business supported by the Scottish Executive, the enterprise networks, local government and others to ensure that we maximise the immediate and longer-term economic and business opportunities arising from the summit.
The Executive has commissioned a study to estimate the direct and indirect benefits of the summit, the results of which will be published later this year.
I suppose that at the time it seemed a nice round figure, even if there was no apparent justification to support it. Never mind, I have every confidence that Ministers' "conviction" is a sound basis on which to construct an estimate of economic benefits.

Not alone

The Guardian on blogging (here):
"A new blog is born every second, according to blog tracking site Technorati's latest research into the explosion of personal publishing sites.
Dave Sifry, founder and CEO of Technorati - a specialist search engine for blogs - said 80,000 new weblogs are being created every day. Technorati tracked more than 14.2 million blogs this month, compared to 7.8 million in March.
But the statistics show not everyone who starts a blog stays the course. Although the blogosphere has doubled in size in just over five months, only around half of all blogs are "active" - in other words they have been updated in the past three months - and just 13% are updated every week or more often...
There are no accurate figures for the number of blogs in the UK, but the estimates range from 200,000 to 900,000."

That's a lot of people who want to say something.

02 August 2005

Dallas re-visited

The Independent reports on the Murdoch dynasty:
"Many who know Rupert Murdoch say his third marriage in 1999 to Wendi Deng, a 37-year-old former executive in News Corporation's Asian operation, rejuvenated the septuagenarian media mogul.
But it seems that the two young daughters, Grace and Chloe, he had with Ms Deng, have caused a rift with his other children, and contributed to the sudden departure from the News Corporation global media empire last week of his eldest son, Lachlan.
According to various people close to the family, one of the reasons behind the resignation of Lachlan Murdoch - the deputy chief operating officer of News Corporation and widely seen as his father's heir apparent - was a bitter disagreement about the future ownership of the company.
The 30 per cent stake - worth $6bn - that Murdoch Snr holds in News Corporation will pass to his three children by his second wife, Anna, who he was married to for 31 years. They are Lachlan, Elisabeth and James. Prudence, a daughter from his first marriage, also benefits from the arrangement, which allows these four children each to appoint a director to the board after their father dies.
Ms Deng and Mr Murdoch are understood to want to change that, allowing Grace, three, and Chloe, two, to eventually share control of the company, whose assets span from newspapers to
satellite television to movie studios."

A sad little story of a dysfunctional family. But why should great wealth and power exempt a family from petty jealousies?

What's the world coming to (part 23)?

Unless the colour hold on my television has completely lost the place, Gordon Strachan has dyed his hair blonde.