29 December 2010

Whoda thunk it?

The Guardian reports:

An experiment has found differences between the brains of progressives and conservatives.

Head scans of students at University College London, conducted by neuroscientist Geraint Rees, showed a "strong correlation" between thickness in two regions, the amygdala and the anterior cingulate, and political viewpoint.

Conservatives have brains? Well I never ...

24 December 2010


A radio 4 programme - Tim Harford's A More or Less Christmas Carol. You can catch it here.



Furious? Livid? Incensed? No, Mr Cable was only "quite angry" at being suckered by the undercover Telegraph reporters.

The man has the patience of a saint. Either that or he has lost his thesaurus ...

23 December 2010

Christmas hell

Somewhat foolishly, I determined that this morning I should brave the horrors of the local Waitrose. Happily, I did not seek more than a few sprouts, a joint of beef, a parsnip or two and some bacon; accordingly, I was permitted to wait in the (relatively short) hand basket queue, rather than the 100 yard trolley queue.

People go mad at Christmas. And at Waitrose it is the middle class who predominate in their determination to scoop up the last jar of goose fat. All these Edinburgh matrons in their smart casual outfits - it really is quite terrifying.

For once in the year, they are accompanied by their husbands in their V-neck sweaters and slacks. Due to their unfamiliarity with supermarkets, these guys have no conception of trolley discipline; while their wives are assessing chipolata sausages, they dump their trolley in the middle of the aisle to examine some obscure Italian prosciutto that they have no intention of buying.

Back to Tesco in the New Year.

Headline of the day

From The Guardian (here):
WTF? OMG, LOL! CIA gives Wikileaks taskforce naughty name

21 December 2010

Nature's sense of irony

It's a punishment of course. Hubris, arrogance, whatever. But the day after the big announcement of a high speed railway line, we get this:

East Coast is advising all of its passengers not to travel today, as all train services to and from London King's Cross have been suspended for the rest of the day, due to damage to overhead power lines at Huntingdon, near Peterborough.

East Coast is also advising all passengers who have arrived at King's Cross to go home and restart their journeys tomorrow.

Apparently the trains on the high speed line will be able to not go at 250 mph.

20 December 2010

To note

Over the weekend, the Heineken Cup managed to stage all the fixtures bar two. As for the English Premier League, only two games were played.

Do rugby clubs try harder?

13 December 2010

Smoke and mirrors

As some of you may be aware, I rely on my groceries being delivered, usually by Tesco or Sainsbury's. The Evening News reports:
A Tesco spokesman said: "Every delivery company operating in Scotland has been affected by the recent severe weather.

"We don't want to cause disappointment to customers and have taken the decision to suspend new Tesco Direct orders in Scotland. We are working hard to ensure that orders already placed with us are delivered."

Food orders from Tesco.com have not been disrupted, the spokesman added.
Oh yes they have. They have not made a single groceries delivery in Edinburgh for the past two weeks. Furthermore, they will not make any deliveries until next Sunday.
A Sainsbury's spokesman said: "Despite our best efforts the adverse weather conditions mean we have had to suspend our non-food deliveries in Scotland. We would like to apologise to our customers for any inconvenience this has caused."

"Our grocery deliveries are continuing as normal."
Oh no they're not. No deliveries can be booked before Friday.

I appreciate that the weather would have disrupted deliveries but it would have been helpful if the supermarkets came clean about their position. In the meantime, Asda have agreed to deliver to me this afternoon. Fingers crossed but if they succeed they can look forward to more of my business in future.

Update: Asda duly delivered.

Oh Liz, how could you?

And so the flower of English maidenhood (ahem!) is despoiled by an Aussie larrikin ...

Shades of 1968

I went to university in 1968 when there was revolution in the air. I have to confess that I was a well-behaved little lad, studying far too hard to participate in demonstrations. But my sympathies have always belonged to the protestors; and we learned to distrust the police who seldom missed an opportunity to harass students (whether they were protesting or not).

And so it is today. I cannot deny that that the demonstrating students over the past month include a minority intent on a rumble but the overwhelming majority are respectable citizens of the future. Which is why this sort of thing is unconscionable:

Kettling is illegal elsewhere and it certainly should be here. I speak as someone who was kettled in Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge last Thursday, one of several thousand people held for nine hours at zero degrees without food, water, heat, toilets.

The widely reproduced photograph of a youth urinating against the plinth of Winston Churchill's statue during the protest over tuition fees provides a disrespectful image, but kettling represents disrespect on a premeditated, industrial scale: degrading conditions of confinement enforcing the shame of performing one's natural functions in public. Put in the same position, where exactly would the Chief Constable have urinated?

And now the Home Secretary is contemplating the introduction of water cannons. Does she not realise that she is proposing to put the boot into middle class children whose parents will never forgive either the Tories or the police? It is bad enough for the Tories to assault the working classes and the so-called revolutionaries but beating up children is not really a good idea.

05 December 2010

Quote of the day

I do not usually admire the writing of Mr McKenna in The Observer but this time I think that he's got it about right:
My Scotland is still a thrawn, aggressive, carnaptious and disputatious wee nation. But it is also enlightened, tolerant, kind (in a gruff don't-mention-it sort of way) and remains a beacon in its continuing preferential option for its own poor and the vulnerable and the persecuted of other countries. Occasionally, it will take itself too seriously and retreat into itself and give itself a right good talking to: are we too fond of the bevvy; do we smoke too much; does my public sector look big in this; will Sean Connery ever buy a house here? Sometimes, we come off the ropes fighting only to discover that our opponent went home a few hours ago. We need to relax and get out more.
I could settle for this, though I'd still be inclined to strangle that last surviving minister of the Church of Scotland with the last copy of the The Sunday Post.

02 December 2010

Breaking all the rules

None of the media, particularly including the BBC, seems to have made much of this story - which, to me, seems utterly disgraceful:

British and American officials colluded in a plan to hoodwink parliament over a proposed ban on cluster bombs, the Guardian can disclose.

According to leaked US embassy dispatches, David Miliband, who was Britain's foreign secretary under Labour, approved the use of a loophole to manoeuvre around the ban and allow the US to keep the munitions on British territory.

Unlike Britain, the US had refused to sign up to an international convention that bans the weapons because of the widespread injury they cause to civilians.

The US military asserted that cluster bombs were "legitimate weapons that provide a vital military capability" and wanted to carry on using British bases regardless of the ban.

Whitehall officials proposed that a specially created loophole to grant the US a free hand should be concealed from parliament in case it "complicated or muddied" the MPs' debate.

Did Miliband D think that he would not be found out? Just as well that he did not become Labour leader.

And it's about time the MoD/FCO woke up to the fact that secret arms deals are no longer the flavour of the month.

01 December 2010

Music of the week

A message for our MSPs:


Is there not something unseemly about the way in which our Prime Minister and the next but one heir to the throne are courting (kowtowing to, buttering up, even arse-licking) the hooks, crooks and comic singers on the FIFA Executive Committee? I have no brief for the Panorama programme (which was simply not very good), but its heart appeared to be in the right place.

I should also admit to supreme indifference about whether England secures the World Cup. It is many years since I contemplated actually attending a match in the finals but Barcelona, St Petersburg or Amsterdam would seem infinitely more preferable as a venue than Milton Keynes.

But has Cameron not got better things to do than hang around importunately a Swiss hotel, desperately hoping to curry favour with such personalities as Sepp Blatter?

30 November 2010

Hey, it's not warm ...

At least the penguins at Edinburgh Zoo are happy. Well some of them anyway. See them here.

27 November 2010

It's not getting better

Yeah, yeah, pull the other one. The Independent reports:

As rumours spread across financial markets that talks over a bail-out for Portugal had begun, Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, said: "It's absolutely, completely false – every reference for an aid plan for this country. It has neither been asked for and neither have we suggested it. It is absolutely false."

Mr Barroso's denials were welcomed in Lisbon, where Jose Socrates, the Portuguese Prime Minister, also felt obliged to intervene following fevered speculation. Mr Socrates, whose latest budget plans were approved by his Parliament yesterday, said: "The country does not need any help."

After Ireland, why would anyone believe a word?

Mr Socrates should have stuck to being a footballer ...

24 November 2010

Bald men and a comb

Mr Swinney has been a naughty boy. Allegedly, he failed to tell the parliament that the Scottish administration had refused to pay HMRC to maintain or upgrade the computer system which enables the plus or minus three pence variation of the income tax rate. Cue much huffing and puffing on the part of the opposition parties.

I find it hard to take seriously this storm in a teacup. Neither Labour nor the SNP has ever seriously proposed exercising the power to vary the rate and there is absolutely no sign that either would have proposed to do so following next year's election. (Which makes me wonder why Calman is being introduced, although that is a separate argument.)

So rap Mr S's knockles, tell him to behave more respectfully in future, and move on. There must be more important issues for the parliament to get excited about.

23 November 2010

Penny wise, pound foolish

Well that'll teach me a lesson. Buying shares is a mug's game, especially when they are RBS shares. The share price, heavily influenced by events in Ireland, has now declined to less than 40 pence:

But wipe that smug smile off your face. We are all shareholders in RBS and unless and until the share price returns to something like 50 pence we are all making a loss on our investment.

20 November 2010

Here's to you Mr Robinson (again)

I'm an educated sort of chap and I don't really understand why I take such pleasure from the fact that fifteen young ruffians (plus substitutes) purporting to belong to my country should have so thoroughly thrashed a parallel fifteen from South Afrika. But they are our ruffians and it was great. It may not have been sparkling aesthetic rugby but the effort by those forwards was immense. And, unashamedly, it warmed the cockles of my heart. My Saturday evening supper had an unanticipated savour.

The coach, Mr Robinson, has now led us (how quickly we faineants adhere to the victors) to four victories in the last five matches including Ireland away, The Argentine away (twice) and now over the world champions. Unbelievable. The Man is working miracles. Respect, Sir.

17 November 2010

Spooks again

The Guardian reports:

The work of Britain's security services will be permanently hidden from court hearings under plans designed to prevent a repeat of the million-pound payouts this week to Guantánamo Bay detainees.

A government green paper, which the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, yesterday told MPs would be published next summer, will contain specific proposals designed to prevent the courts from releasing the kind of information that has emerged from recent Guantánamo cases in the English courts. "It will absolutely eliminate [the possibility of] the process happening again," a well-placed Whitehall official claimed last night.

I suppose that it would be naive to suggest that there is an easier way - whereby MI5 and MI6 behaved themselves properly by avoiding any danger of complicity in torture and abuse.

Quote of the day

Up-chuck material from The Telegraph (here):
But the monarchy is also about magic. It sets Britain apart. It reminds us that this is a very antique nation, with a history and an identity which goes back for thousands of years. Just as a royal funeral is a moment of collective national sadness and mourning, a royal wedding is a moment of overwhelming joy and renewal. We all share in it. When the marriage itself takes place on an as-yet-unspecified date next year, the nation will take to the streets, rejoicing.
Aye well maybe. But I wouldn't count on it ...

In the meantime, we can look forward to at least six more months of such mystical nonsense.

13 November 2010

Brave new world

Well what did you expect? You should have known that the Tories were utterly shameless when it came to getting into bed with big business. Public health is a distant second priority. The Guardian spells it out:
In an overhaul of public health, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry, health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five "responsibility deal" networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month.
The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises. Working alongside them are public interest health and consumer groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health. The alcohol responsibility deal network is chaired by the head of the lobby group the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. The food network to tackle diet and health problems includes processed food manufacturers, fast food companies, and Compass, the catering company famously pilloried by Jamie Oliver for its school menus of turkey twizzlers. The food deal's sub-group on calories is chaired by PepsiCo, owner of Walkers crisps.

You didnae ken? Well ye ken noo ...

11 November 2010

Compare and contrast

Grace under pressure:
Rangers manager Walter Smith was full of praise for Hibs and accepted culpability for the champions' lacklustre display, expressing his regret at not using more of his fringe players in recent weeks. "Tiredness is not an excuse," he said. "All credit to Hibs first and foremost.
You always look at yourself in these situations and maybe I have asked too much from too many players in the last four or five games. I should maybe have changed the team around a little bit."We had warnings in previous games, like the draw at home to Inverness. We had a lot of possession but the required edge was missing."It is obviously a disappointing night for us but take nothing away from Hibs. They were excellent, especially in the first half hour."

Absence of same:

... attention was diverted from their exploits by yet further refereeing controversy, with Craig Thomson under fire from Lennon after sending off Joe Ledley after 56 minutes for a two-footed tackle on Black. "It wasn't a foul never mind a sending off," stated Lennon. "It was a disgraceful decision."
The midfielder's exit was followed soon after by that of Lennon himself, sent to the stand by Thomson following remarks made to fourth official, Steven McLean, after Celtic were denied what they felt was a penalty when the ball struck Hearts substitute Ryan Stevenson's hand."It's a clear penalty, I can see that 45 yards away," said Lennon. "If the referee doesn't see it the standside linesman should see it. His arm was up and he's fisted the ball with his hand. Again here we are talking about referees after the game."

10 November 2010

Music of the week

I couldn't resist the verbal felicity that afforded the young lady a tattoo too.


I really, really do not want to read about:

1. Gordon Ramsay's tortuous relationships with his father in law, with his mother in law or with any other members of his extended family.

2. The tawdry comings and goings of Tommy Sheridan and his friends and acquaintances, if and when the court case resumes.

3. George Bush's memoir - could he not return to a relatively decent but well-merited obscurity?

4. Who will be on "I'm a celebrity ..." - The Guardian and the other broadsheets should be above that kind of thing.

09 November 2010

Time to go home

And so another holiday in paradise (albeit a somewhat down-market paradise) draws to a timely close. The days are growing colder and my shorts have perforce been replaced with long trousers. No longer do the bars put up the umbrellas against the sun and I have just about completed the viewing of the Chabrol DVD collection.

Entonces, when Saturday comes, it's back to sunny Edinburgh. No complaints from me - I can readily swap the Mahou for the Deuchars IPA, while the mince and tatties will taste all the sweeter in Stockeree. And if I have to cover up my magnificent physique with sweaters and fleeces, I don't suppose the ladies will be too upset ...

08 November 2010

Quote of the day

More Orwellian gobbledegook. David Cameron on his new ploy for making the centre more effective in order to weaken it? From here.
"The previous government tried to run public services from Whitehall. These plans are about running Whitehall effectively so public services are steered by the people who work in them, responding to the people who use them. It is not about controlling everything from the centre – but running the centre effectively so it does what the coalition agreement says: put more power in people's hands."

If you can fillet the bones out of such a semantic gallimaufry, you're a better man than I.

07 November 2010

Wielding the axe

Oh dear, the axe is whistling towards Scotland's senior bureaucrats. Scotland on Sunday reveals:
Scotland on Sunday can reveal that moves to cut the bill for the Scottish Government's elite corps of civil service managers by one-quarter are being proposed ahead of a crucial spending review to be unveiled by Swinney next week. The move will hit the 212 top mandarins at the Scottish Government HQ who are counted among the 4,000-strong elite group of civil servants across the UK. They include Permanent Secretary Sir Peter Housden, chief economic adviser Andrew Goudie and NHS Scotland chief executive Dr Kevin Woods. The group includes no fewer than 49 Scottish Government directors who, between them, had a pay bill of £4.8m this year, earning an average of £101-106,000 each.
While a 25 per cent cut in the senior civil service would only save a fraction of the total Swinney requires, ministers are understood to be of the view that the top echelons of the public sector have to be seen to be taking the hardest hit.

Well dry your tears. These guys will be retiring on a handsome pension; they may even be competing to secure early retirement.

I was never a member of what was known as the senior civil service; as a humble worker ant, my view of them is hardly free from prejudice. Some of them were good but far too many were like the lilies of the field - they toiled not, neither did they spin.

03 November 2010

Quote of the day

Blinded by ideology: Michael Gove, Secreetary of State for Education (here):
Michael Gove, the schools secretary, has denied that students would be discouraged from applying to university after the government allowed higher education institutions to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees.
There was "no evidence" that the introduction of tuition fees in 2006 had put off poor students, he told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "I believe that [higher fees] won't put off students. They will make a rational decision on the benefits that accrue to them [from going to university]."
The government has announced that universities could charge between £6,000 and £9,000 a year in fees. Those that charge more than £6,000 will have to show they are making more effort to encourage applications from the poorest students. Fees
are currently £3,290 a year.
Yeah sure. Prospective students will cheerfully sign up for debt of £18,000 (plus debts incurred by simply living). And that's a rational decision?

01 November 2010

A case for callming down?

A fluttering in the doo'cots. The Herald reports:
A ruthless al Qaeda bomber who recruited his own brother for a suicide attack was last night named as the prime suspect in the bomb plot that threatened to blow two planes out of the sky on Friday.
Saudi-born Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri was identified by US officials as it emerged that one of the two bombs posted from Yemen was missed by security and made it on to two separate passenger flights before it was eventually discovered in Dubai thanks to a tip-off.
The other, found at East Midlands Airport in England, could have brought down an aircraft, the UK Government said.

Well he may be ruthless, but he's not terribly effective. Neither bomb exploded. And his previous attempt - the so-called underpants bomb - was equally unsuccessful.

Incidentally, maybe I'm missing something but what exactly is the point of blowing up a freight aeroplane? A tragedy for the aircrew certainly, but it would hardly amount to an atrocity of Lockerbie proportions.

22 October 2010

Worth a read

Krugman in NYT:
In the spring of 2010, fiscal austerity became fashionable. I use the term advisedly: the sudden consensus among Very Serious People that everyone must balance budgets now now now wasn’t based on any kind of careful analysis. It was more like a fad, something everyone professed to believe because that was what the in-crowd was saying.
And it’s a fad that has been fading lately, as evidence has accumulated that the lessons of the past remain relevant, that trying to balance budgets in the face of high unemployment and falling inflation is still a really bad idea. Most notably, the confidence fairy has been exposed as a myth. There have been widespread claims that deficit-cutting actually reduces unemployment because it reassures consumers and businesses; but multiple studies of historical record, including one by the International Monetary Fund, have shown that this claim has no basis in reality.
No widespread fad ever passes, however, without leaving some fashion victims in its wake. In this case, the victims are the people of Britain, who have the misfortune to be ruled by a government that took office at the height of the austerity fad and won’t admit that it was wrong.

I urge you to read the entire article.

Quote of the day

From The Independent (here):
Authorities in the South Korean capital are trying to untangle themselves from a slimy row: how many octopus heads is it safe to eat?
The dish is a firm favourite on the peninsula – for its apparent aphrodisiac qualities.
In September, the Seoul city government enraged restauratuers and the fishing industry when it announced octopus heads contained hazardous amounts of cadmium, a carcinogen that poisons the liver and kidneys.
It advised against eating more than two heads a day.

Perhaps if they were deep-fried in batter?

18 October 2010

Waving or drowning?

Ah, at last: the National Security Strategy. The BBC reports:
After months of study and debate, the NSC has produced a paper that identifies 16 threats to the UK.
The most serious - which they are calling "Tier 1" - comprises acts of international terrorism, hostile computer attacks on UK cyberspace, a major accident or natural hazard such as a flu pandemic, or an international military crisis between states that draws in the UK and its allies.

All very strange. Three major threats to our security appear to have been misplaced. These are:

1. Certain over-tired politicians who insist on participating in ill-judged overseas adventures, partly to prove how macho they are and partly to keep in with the US President;

2. The bureaucratic blockheads at the Ministry of Defence who seem incapable of ordering equipment and weapons that are delivered on time and within budget (which is why we end up with aircraft carriers without any aircraft); and

3. The spooks at MI5 and MI6 who (when they are not manufacturing intelligence or torturing prisoners) are in danger of crying wolf a little too often.

16 October 2010

Prescribing a poison pill

That's it then. The SNP has abandoned hopes of winning next May's election. Why else would they bring forward the abolition of prescription charges from next April?

The Scottish Government can't afford it. So when Labour takes power it will be faced with the difficult decision of making offsetting cuts elsewhere (where oh Lord where?) or restoring prescription charges to the general disgust of all. Either way they're screwed.

Mr Gray better find his thinking cap - fast.

15 October 2010


So there you go. The SNP is promising a council tax freeze over the next two years. Interesting.

Presumably they will provide local authorities with the additional resources (£70 million last year) required to maintain services. If so, what would that mean for the rest of the Scottish expenditure block which is already likely to be hard pressed as a result of the cuts? Expecting an answer before next May's election? Not a chance. They will nevertheless be obliged to produce a budget for 2011-12, but it is likely to conceal more than it reveals.

Like the question of what to do about university fees. We are promised a green paper later this year. This will no doubt set out the options, but don't expect anything like a policy to emerge before the election.

Incidentally, what has happened to that erstwhile SNP flagship, the local income tax? I suppose that it all proved too difficult and is now abandoned (buried in a shallow grave along with the independence referendum).

Not exactly reassuring, is it?

14 October 2010

Music of the week

K's Choice, a Belgian group, that I first came across some years ago in Tempe, Arizona. Good stuff:

Not thought through

Once upon a time, when the government introduced a bill to parliament, it was fairly clear what the intention of that bill was. Consultations had been held, ground prepared and, while there may have remained details to be sorted out, everyone knew what was planned.

Now take the postal services bill, introduced yesterday by the formerly sainted Vince. He plans to privatise the Royal Mail. But beyond that broad principle, little seems clear. Some 10% of the company will go to the employees, but as for the rest we are in the dark. Will the government retain a proportion of the shares? Will it will be sold to commercial rivals? Will there be a public flotation? Answers came there none.

Similarly with the post offices. All very well to posit a mutualisation, but will the government continue to provide the subsidy to keep it going? Can you have an independent but non-viable mutual organisation? There are suggestions that the government will swing more business towards post offices, but details are extremely scanty.

All very unsatisfactory.

12 October 2010

Does Cameron have a cunning plan?

Last week he put the boot into high rate taxpayers, depriving the yummy mummies of child benefit. Admittedly, he also took a swipe at the poor, by setting a £26,000 cap on benefits, in a (failed) effort to assuage The Daily Mail, but that was of minimal overall financial significance (although not for those affected).

This week, he proposes to subject the children of the middle classes to a debt-ridden future. All those parents earning between say £30K and £100K a year are looking at the prospect of their darling kiddies being loaded up to the eyeballs with debt by the time they leave university. The very rich won't be affected (are they ever?) and the poor will have access to a wider range of bursaries and scholarships. No, it will be the bourgeois middle class who suffer.

So why is Dave upsetting those upon whom he depends to return him to power at the next election? Maybe it's incompetence - not impossible given his headless chicken act last week in responding to the complaints about child benefit withdrawal. But like any conspiracy theorist, I suspect that there is something deeper going on. Perhaps we'll learn what he's up to, perhaps not.

Cracking goal

From last night's match against Iceland:

A 90 minute patriot writes ...

Today is the day I put on my Scotland t-shirt, in an entirely misplaced sense of optimism that the lads will keep the score at a respectable level. They will need to be at their best to hold the glorious Spanish senors from weaving their magic spells.

With a bit of luck, Mr Levein may play a forward or two, but don't count on it.

Last week's outing against the Czech Republic was abject, and last night's home defeat against Iceland (yes, Iceland) by the junior Scottish team was little better.

Still, hope springs eternal and all that rubbish.

11 October 2010

A lawyer who represents himself has a client who is a fool

And Sheridan is not a lawyer. But I suspect he is a fool ...

Public sector pensions

It is little more than a year ago when I first qualified for my pension. I confess that I was somewhat disappointed to find out that the first payment would not be made until a month after my first birthday, but I consoled myself with contemplating the size of my lump sum.

Not that my pension arrangements are anywhere near the Fred Goodwin/John Elvidge model. Sure, I receive a little more than the average public sector pension of about £8,000 per annum but it is not enough to roll about in. The Ferrari will have to await the killing on the football pools.

And the bastards have already (in Slasher Osborne's budget) switched the uprating from the RPI to the CPI. OK, it may only amount to one or two percentage points per year but, over 20 years (with compound interest), it represents a fair whack.

Still, I mustn't grumble - I'm in a far better position than most. But I do feel sorry for those young civil servants now in their 20s and 30s* who will never attain the kind of reasonable pension provision that makes life in retirement relatively comfortable.

Do I feel guilty? Hell, no! They deducted more than enough from my monthly wage packet; and if my employer didn't sort out the accounting of the not unreasonable contribution expected from it, then that's his look-out.

*And God help them if their kids want to go to university.

06 October 2010

Rather defeats the point?

Oh yes, the geniuses at the Ministry of Defence have a solution to the cost of the second aircraft carrier. The Guardian reports:
Officials will argue that converting the carrier into a pared-down floating platform to ferry helicopters, troops and vehicles would save £1bn in construction costs, according to senior defence sources. Not buying the 69 Joint Strike Fighters as intended would save about £7bn. MoD officials and Navy top brass will also argue that the second carrier could be kept in port most of the time to save hundreds of millions in running costs.

So we should spend £1.5 billion on bulding an aircraft carrier without any aircraft which spends most of its time in port. I can see the attraction in the idea but it's not going to fly, is it?

05 October 2010

Bye bye

So farewell John Hughes. I thought that he always dressed very well. But I suppose that looking smart doesn't really do the business. But he seemed to try his hardest.

Quote of the day

I know that it's been said before but it bears repetition. From The Independent (here):
Britain has a problem with welfare. There is a deep benefits trap in this country and many thousands are caught in it. These individuals survive on help from the state. They are a drain on hard-working taxpayers. Worse, they see no future beyond this abject condition of dependency and furiously resist any attempt to alter the status quo. Go to the City of London, take a trip to Canary Wharf, and witness the victims close-up: they are Britain's too-big-to-fail bankers.
Like those trapped in a life of jobseekers' allowance and housing benefit, these bankers might look like they are enjoying the good life with their vast state-underwritten bonuses. But they must be suffering inside. These overpaid financiers used to regard themselves as the masters of the universe, but in recent years they have accepted great truckloads of official help. Think of the damage it must do then to their self-esteem to know that they are propped up by the state; that they're not wealth creators, but, whisper it, economic parasites.

04 October 2010

Just a thought

No objections to the withdrawal of child benefit from the rich but why is Slasher Osborne delaying it until 2013? If there is such a panic to reduce the deficit, why put it off for two full years?

Oh and by the way, don't expect any sympathy for those earning just over £44,000 per year and losing the benefit.

30 September 2010


He did rather spin it out, even unto the very last possible moment. It would have been much cleaner if he'd simply made the break last weekend.
Then there were the interviews of yesterday afternoon, with Boulton of Sky, Dirty Nick of the BBC and Snow of Channel 4, obviously recorded before and embargoed until the 5pm announcement.
And he was not that good as a politician: getting caught with bananas, failing to strike against Gordon Brown, becoming mixed up in torture claims, dithering about the big job in Europe. And, importantly, blowing his eventual chance to win the leadership.
I doubt if he'll be missed.

24 September 2010

The square root of -1

Wonderful programme on Radio 4 last night: the sainted Melvyn and chums on imaginary numbers. You can still listen to it here.

Great to hear an intellectual discussion on a difficult topic by enthused participants. I kept on listening even when the conversation turned to calculus.

Did I understand it? Not a word - my degree was from the Faculty of Arts. But it was still a good programme.


Hey, my sympathy is with the bear. You drift along, minding your own business, having some fun with the dog, when this madwoman comes at you with a courgette. Nasty things, courgettes, especially when fried with garlic and a little extra virgin olive oil. What kind of American cowgirl keeps courgettes to hand?

Tweedledum or Tweedledee

We will know by tomorrow afternoon. The expectation is that one or other of the Milibands will win the prize.

I am slightly surprised to find myself mourning the fact that the swivel-eyed Balls has been unable to command the necessary support. Of all the candidates, he alone seems to have the energy and the intelligence to take the fight to the Tories. I have not been following every twist and turn but the Milibands still seem shocked by the loss of ministerial status; their focus seems to have been inward. Unlike Balls (or even Mrs Balls), I cannot recall either Miliband mounting an attack on the Tories.

And so, once again, the Party may be making a historic mistake, saddled with Ed M, the talking horse, or David M, the talking banana, for the foreseeable future.

20 September 2010

I suppose that it's possible. I guess that, if the Minister says he will do it, he probably means it at the time. The Guardian reports:
The Liberal Democrats today promised an attack on those who have made tax evasion a lifestyle choice, as the party announced government plans to raise an extra £7bn by 2014-15 by tackling tax avoidance and fraud.
The Treasury would be "ruthless with wealthy individuals and business who think paying extra tax is an optional extra", vowed its chief secretary, Danny Alexander.
Much of the clampdown will involve more intensive scrutiny of those liable for paying the new 50p tax band introduced by the Labour government. Revenue and Customs currently looks at 5,000 high net-worth individuals, but will expand that number to 150,000.

Aye weel. Let us see. Is Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue department in a position to launch an all out attack on tax evasion? Given that trained tax inspectors do not grow on trees and are difficult to retain, particularly in the demoralised civil service of today, and given that the department's staff numbers have declined by some 25% since 2005, there is room to doubt whether this exercise involves any more than good intentions. But if the Minister says it will be so, then let us hope he means it ...

16 September 2010

Quote of the day

Bathos from The Guardian:
The Queen looked at the facsimile of the German gospel and said: "Oh, lovely. Thank you very much. It's lovely."
The pope then looked at the Holbeins and thanked her.
There was also a little small talk, with the Queen noting that Benedict appeared to have arrived at Holyrood "in a very small car".
She added: "It must have been a tight squeeze", before asking him about the popemobile. The press corps was then ushered out and fizzy water and squash were brought in to the room.
I rather suspect something more alcoholic would have been in order ...

14 September 2010

Not exactly a winter of discontent

Oh dear, oh dear. We may not be able to watch Mr Cameron's address to his party conference, nor that nice Mr Osborne's statement on the public spending review. Are you not upset? Well, you should be. Admittedly, most of you would be at work and unable to watch it anyway. And it's not as though it would remain secret, given that the other media will no doubt be covering it ad nauseam.

It's the principle of the thing. It is my right and my duty to be bored to tears by the preening effrontery of right-wing politicians. So there!

13 September 2010

Music of the week

Is this meant to be ironic?


Eh voilà. La Fin. Adieu, M Chabrol.

I first saw your movies when I lived in Brussels in the 1970s. Stéphane Audran - wow!

It is less than a month ago that I bought the DVD of the Chabrol collection - eight of the greatest ever movies for less than £12. I have brought them with me to Spain; when I put them on, I will raise a glass to the memory of le maître.

Tra la la

Strange how stories just drop out of the news. Pakistan, for example. I refuse to believe that the floods have simply gone away or that a serious start has been made to reconstruction; nor that the supplies of water, food, medecines have reached an adequate level. But you would need to search diligently through the media to find any mention.

Instead, we appear to be obsessed with footballers' follies and with who hacked whose telephones under whose orders.

And, hey, I'm far from exempt.

And now of course it's the conference season. TUC this week, so lots of stuff about job losses and strikes. The LibDems next week, so the sole topic of interest will be the future of the coalition. Then the Labour leadership, then back to the Tory cuts. All so predictable.

Well don't expect me to expatiate - blogging will therefore be light. I've got things to do, you know ...

10 September 2010

Quote of the day

From The Guardian diary:
Sky News presenter Kay Burley gets the wrong side of former minister and possible hacking victim Chris Bryant. Can you really say that illegal newsroom practices were "endemic", demands Burley. "I have just said that," counters Bryant. "You seem to be a bit dim."
Aye, and she's not the only news presenter to be so afflicted ...

09 September 2010

A la casa

As ever, I am always slightly surprised to arrive in Espana to find everything in order. Since my last visit, the electricity has remained on, meaning I don't have to chuck away the contents of the freezer and the beer is cold. When I turned the water on, it functioned. Even the damn computer and its evil twin, the router, are working more or less satisfactorily.

Of course Malaga airport remains unfinished (so what's new?) and you need to walk miles and miles to collect your bags. But the taxi system is vastly superior to Edinburgh airport (which is - by the way - an utter disgrace). And Ryanair will only sell spirits in these silly shampoo sachets. But, hey, we were only an hour late.

So here I am, sitting in my drawers and sweating profusely, compiling my first blog post of the holiday. Happy days ...

An old fuddy-duddy writes

Why would she want to wear a meat bikini? (For the flesh tones, I suppose.)

And xx? What's that all about? And should it be the xx (or maybe the Xx)?

08 September 2010

Playing away

The Telegraph reports on Mr Rooney's little friend:

The 21 year-old escort, from Bolton, is alleged to have been a “magnet” for Premier League players in bars and nightclubs.

Miss Thompson, who advertises herself as “Juicy Jen”, was reported to have slept with six defenders, three midfielders and four strikers, with two of the players married with children.

What? No goalkeepers?

07 September 2010

This Coulson business

It won't simply fade away, you know, however much the Government, the Met and the News of the World may so desire. There's more to come out, perhaps a lot more. Here is a good article in The Guardian setting out some of the unanswered questions.

For me, the most salient feature is the fact that the News of the World has already made out of court settlements of more than £1 million to each of Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers' Association and the publicist Max Clifford. Who's next?

Still think it's just a westminster village issue which will die away quietly? Not a snowball's chance ...

Here we go, I suppose

And so the mighty Liechtenstein deign to sully the hallowed turf of Hampden Park. But don't get over-excited. The Guardian remarks:
Craig Levein has launched a vigorous defence of his tactical approach with the national team, the Scotland manager pointing out that he will not bow to pressure from pundits or supporters to adopt an attacking style.
That being so, maybe we can expect a 1-0 (or perhaps a 2-0) thrashing by the boys in blue.

Me, I blame the fact that we have neither a Rooney nor a Crouch within our ranks. What we need, what we really really need, is a bit more off-field misbehaviour.

Footnote: Liechtenstein is sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland. It has a total population of about 35,000. Its football team has in the past beaten Latvia, Luxembourg and Iceland and once drew with Portugal.

Tony's animal instincts

If you read nothing else today, read this!

Oh woe! Thrice woe!

Where were we? It's just so depressing to state the current position. Not just because the SNP has chosen to abandon its central raison d'être of holding a referendum on independence; it can hardly have come as a surprise that the unionist parties were determined to oppose it. So where does the bold Alex go from here? I suppose that he has resigned himself to waiting for the day (which will never come) when the SNP obtains a majority in Holyrood. In the meantime, he will revert to the time-honoured practice of blaming everything on wicked Westminster, hoping in vain that the Scottish electorate will be too dumb to notice that even if they returned a thumping majority for the SNP next May and a referendum were held and won in - say - early 2012, the actual achievement of independence would thereafter take a number of years (three, five, seven?), during which we would continue to be subject to the rigours of Westminster-inspired cuts.

But that is just a fantasy when all the indications (notably a solid 10 point lead in the opinion polls) point to a comfortable (OK, not so comfortable) win for Labour, at least in terms of becoming the largest party in Holyrood. Can there ever have been a party so woefully ill-prepared to assume power? What will its manifesto say? With whom and on what terms will it seek to govern? What will it want to do, other than being a patsy for implementing Tory cuts? Will the grey Mr Gray have any influence at Westminster, even with his own party colleagues? Your guess is as good as mine, but don't hold your breath ...

03 September 2010

Nature watch

Here is the sad little tale of how Mao tried to kill off the sparrows.

Not that we are any better - when did you last see a sparrow in Edinburgh?

I see the cheeky wee chappies in Spain and they always make me feel that the world is a better place. Maudlin, I know ...

Public service announcement

Now listen up, sports fans, and concentrate. There are no easy choices on this Friday evening.

The obvious option is the Lithuania/Scotland match on BBC1 Scotland with a kick-off at 7.15pm. But if you are less than enamoured with watching geriatric centre-halves doing their limited best to achieve a glorious nil-nil thrashing, you may care to betray your country by watching the England/Bulgaria match on ITV1 (English stations only but you can probably catch it at http://www.itv.com/Channels/ITV1/default.html) with kick-off at 8.00 pm.

If neither of these matches entices you, why not abandon the round ball? BBC Alba is showing the Glasgow/Leinster rugby match at 7.00 pm. If your telly does not stretch to teuchtertv, it will probably be available live on the BBC i-player.

Finally, for those of the distaff persuasion, young Mr Murray's latest tennis match against some Jamaican will be on SkySports 2 (and on Eurosport), probably starting some time between 7pm and 8pm (depending upon how quickly two preceding ladies singles are disposed of).


02 September 2010

Music of the week

For all the old lovers:

Bottom of the barrel

What kind of person uses his wife's deeply unfortunate and hitherto unknown medical history to defend himself against accusations of homosexuality?

Quote of the day

Warning: this may make you feel sick. It will certainly put you off your porridge.

From that damn book:
"That night she cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me; made me feel that what I was about to do was right," squelches Blair. "On that night of the 12th May, 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct, knowing I would need every ounce of emotional power to cope with what lay ahead. I was exhilarated, afraid and determined in roughly equal quantities."
Oh gawd, he should be writing for Mills & Boon ...

31 August 2010

In praise of ...

... Edinburgh public libraries, especially Stockbridge. Pleasant helpful staff. And for the princely sum of 20 pence, I was able to print off my boarding pass for next week's trip to Spain.

Yes, I do have a printer but it is less than functional at present. And yes I am returning once again to my bachelor pad (is that slightly out-dated?) on the Costa del Sol.

So viva Espana and viva Edinburgh public libraries.


So the coalition government is choosing to opt out of (or not to opt in to) an EU directive to co-ordinate member states' action against sex traffickers. What possible justification could they have, other than seeking to appease the Tory wingnuts? Well try crunching down on this set of weasel words from the Home Office:

A Home Office spokesman said: "Human trafficking is a brutal form of organised crime, and combating it is a key priority for the government. The UK already complies with most of what is required by the draft EU directive.

"The government will review the UK's position once the directive has been agreed, and will continue to work constructively with European partners on matters of mutual interest. By not opting in now but reviewing our position when the directive is agreed, we can choose to benefit from being part of a directive that is helpful but avoid being bound by measures that are against our interests."

Does this flannel carry any meaning whatsoever? Surely better to agree to opt in and seek to strengthen the proposed directive in negotiations? I thought that Cleggy approved of Europe and that he wanted to co-operate with our EU partners?

30 August 2010

A trifle optimistic?

The Herald reports:
A Conservative revival in Scotland could take as long as 25 years, a senior party source has admitted as the Scottish Tories undertake a fundamental review to map out their future following a poor General Election performance.
What? So soon?

29 August 2010

Not so difficult after all

Some of these women hacks ask the most difficult questions. Here is an example from The Independent:

Joan Smith: Why do WAGs stay with men who play away?

Ooh! I'm so puzzled. Could it be their wonderful conversation? Or the fact that, almost by definition, they are young, fit and (usually) healthy? Is it their fashion sense?

Perhaps the answer lies in remembering the Caroline question to Mrs Paul Daniels: "What first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?"

28 August 2010

The Airdrie Savings Bank

Well yes, I have been to Airdrie in the past and was less than impressed. But if the savings bank is good enough for such luminaries as Tom Farmer, Brian Souter and David Murray, then I might well have opened an account for the few bawbees left me by Slasher Osborne.

But I would have to journey to Airdrie, not the most accessible place in the world if you don't have a motor. So, with apologies to the inhabitants of that quaint little rural village, maybe I'll wait until they open an office somewhere more civilised ...

27 August 2010

Quote of the day

Lord McConnell (here):
"As I enter the next decade - my 50s - I look forward to new challenges.

"I will continue my work on peacebuilding - across the world post conflict reconstruction is the single biggest development challenge of our time."

Just like a beauty queen of days gone by. If I were being unkind, I might point out that our Jack has neither the face nor the legs to match.

26 August 2010


The Guardian reports:
Staff running parliament's new expenses system have been verbally abused and reduced to tears by MPs frustrated by the tough new rules, documents show.
Aw diddums. Did big bad MP make you cry?

Pathetic. Grow up! Get some backbone! Did you think it would be easy? These MPs have had it on a plate for donkeys' years. About time someone put the boot in.

It's a fairy tale

Once upon a time, there was a young chancellor of the exchequer named Gideon. (He called himself George but his real name was Gideon.) When Gideon prepared his first budget, he decided that he should call it progressive. Nobody was clear about why this should be, as the budget's centrepiece was a hike in VAT, which was unquestionably regressive - in that it obviously had a more adverse effect on the finances of the poor than on those of the rich.

Then a big bad thinktank called the IFS came along and crunched the numbers. Gideon and his coalition pals hated the IFS 'cos it was good at sums (whereas politicians were notoriously innumerate). And the IFS in its fussy, pedantic way concluded that the budget was far from progressive. Not that Gideon cared much; he had only said it was progressive in order to attract a cheap headline and to confound his parliamentary opposition (as labour politicians were also not very good at sums).

Because Gideon was on holiday (in a secret location), it fell to Little Nicky to leap into the breach and, wielding the sword of truth, to defend the honour of the coalition. Alas, Little Nicky botched it up good and proper by suggesting that the IFS had failed to take into account the coalition's proposals to get the unemployed off benefits and into work. This was all a bit fanciful as nobody believed that the coalition's proposals would work. Even if they managed to reduce the numbers on benefits, there was unlikely to be any work for the unemployed to go to. But Little Nicky burbled on and on, thus giving the IFS even more publicity than if he had kept his mouth shut.

And so the IFS emerged from the imbroglio with its reputation enhanced, while Little Nicky once again looked like a prat.

And that's the story so far. Tune in to the next episode when Gideon tries to explain why he failed to carry out the equalities assessment of the budget as required by statute.

24 August 2010

Has it come to this?

Is it fair to ask senescent footballers to cast aside their zimmer frames in order to don the national colours once again? Is a 40 year old, who can barely break into a run, the best we can do?

Despair ...

PS Perhaps, Mr K Dalgleish would care to look out his boots? Or Mr J Jordan might take out his teeth once again? And I feel sure that Mr J Holton (Six foot two, eyes of blue, big Jim H is after you!) could once more do a turn.

Rugby in the Gaelic

It's a funny old world when Teuchter TV can do things that BBC Scotland and STV can't or won't. The Caley Merc reports:
Glasgow Warriors’ home game with Leinster on Friday 3 September will be covered live on BBC Alba, launching a season-long programme of live professional rugby matches on the Gaelic channel, it was announced today.

BBC Alba will then cover the Edinburgh’s home match against Munster on Friday 10 September at 7pm, live from Murrayfield.

BBC ALBA has signed an exclusive deal to show live Magners League rugby in Scotland for the next four years. The channel is committed to showing at least eight Edinburgh or Glasgow home matches per season, and has teamed up with Irish, Welsh and Italian broadcasters to also provide live coverage of selected away matches for both sides.

It's not as though the mainstream channels have anything else of value by way of live sport to offer. And I refuse to believe that it would have been expensive. So well done BBC Alba. And I hope BBC Scotland and STV are suitably ashamed.

23 August 2010


Headline in The Independent:

Torrential rain hits Britain

What they mean: It's been a bit wet in the south of England.

21 August 2010

Quote of the day

Politics is not what it was. Here are some of the instructions issued by the Miliband D team on how to organise support parties, as cited in The Independent:
Hosts are given precise timings to ensure the "big day" runs smoothly. They are told to be home by 5.30pm so they can "give the place a quick vacuum and general tidy (or not, if you're not that type)".

They should then "put the oven on and get the nibbles in. If there are drinks, get them chilling [and] pick some music". Now is the time to get membership forms "at the ready" and line up the entertainment – a David Miliband video.

When people arrive, "take their coats, get them a drink" and get them to fill in a "sign-in sheet". There should then be 20 minutes of introductions and general political chat.
Young Mr M seems to be confusing the business of politics with that of middle class socialising. I can remember a time when Labour Party politicians were more interested in socialism than socialising.

Those of us who regard drinkies and nibbles with considerable distaste have obviously been cast into the outer darknesses. Furthermore, should Mr M be enlisting the support of non-vacuuming types? I doubt if they would fit in to his squeaky clean approach to politics.

20 August 2010

Music of the week

The one and only k d lang:

High politics and the Hibees

I don't want to write about Mr Rowland's aborted bid to become Tory treasurer. I merely note that, if Mr Cameron had consulted the Easter Road faithful, some of this unpleasantness might have been avoided.

Anyway, Mr Rowland has recently acquired a bank in Luxembourg (as one does) and would have been too busy to play at being Tory treasurer.

Bye-bye GI

Look, it's complicated, OK? Yes, Operation Iraqi Freedom has been brought to a close and the Americans have withdrawn their combat troops, all apart from 6000 troops due to go before the end of August and a further 50,000 troops who will remain in Iraq up to the end of 2011. Those 50,000 will be mainly tasked with training up the Iraqi army but will still engage in joint patrols which will no doubt lead to combat operations.

And, yes, the Iraqis had an election in March but they have yet to establish a government. And, admittedly, July was the worst month for two years with a reported 535 fatalities. A further 59 were killed by suicide bomber on Tuesday this week. But the country is said to be stable enough for the Americans to withdraw.

Nor is Iraq financially sustainable:

The [US] state department ... requested $1.8bn for Iraq for the coming financial year, a figure subsequently slashed by the House and Senate.

Members of Congress say that Iraq, with its huge oil reserves, should take a bigger share of the financial burden, but state department officials believe it will be eight to 10 years before Iraq is self-sustaining financially.

But don't dwell upon the downside. And don't ever ask if it was all worth it. Just rejoice, if you can ...

19 August 2010

The greed of public sector fatcats - again

Hard to defend, not least for sneaking out the news in mid-August. The Herald reports:
Fury erupted last night over six-figure salary and pension benefits to senior executives at a Scottish Government agency.

Enterprise Minister Jim Mather was called on to explain why Scottish Enterprise gave its chief executive Lena Wilson a £234,000 pension-pot top-up, and her predecessor Jack Perry a £115,000 pay-off following his resignation last year.

And the Scottish Government does not make much of a fist in defending it:
A Scottish Government spokesman said it was keeping a tight rein on public-sector pay. He added that it had frozen top earners’ pay and asked quango chiefs to waive their bonuses.
Cue hollow laughter.

17 August 2010

Quote of the day

Norman Smith of the BBC (here):

There is among senior ministers a growing concern that the relentless talk of cuts, cuts, cuts is beginning to sound a bit like a stuck record - and that there is a pressing need to move the government's political agenda on to another track.

The fear is that the public will begin to think that all this coalition is interested in is hacking back public services and that the future is dark and bleak.

Yeah well.

Is the Coalition interested in anything other than cuts? Maybe education, but that seems to have fallen away when Gove got his lists wrong and few schools signed up to become academies. Whereas cuts are what floats coalition ministers' boat and what tickles their erogenous zones. Indeed, all the signs are that Slasher Osborne and his crew are drooling over the prospect.

Is the future dark and bleak? You bet. Unless, of course, you are a banker or a tycoon.

A trick of the light

Does Voldemort suddenly reveal that he was a good guy after all? Does Iago indicate that he just wanted to test Othello's love for Desdemona? Does Cap'n Bob reappear to explain that he had tucked away the money in an investment hidey-hole and that all the pensioners would be paid in full? Does Fred the Shred renounce his sins and promise from hereon to devote his life to social work?

Bad man does good thing? A noble, generous gesture or the product of a guilty conscience? If it is the former, why do I keep expecting some sort of spin, a hidden motive, a revelation that there is a con involved? Why cannot I just accept the fact of the donation, give thanks and move on?

Villains should remain villains: it's what we feel comfortable with.

At the risk of being churlish and of denying royalties to the Royal British Legion, no, I will not be buying the damn book.

16 August 2010


Is BBC3 obsessed with under-age girls? Here is an extract from last night's TV schedule:
  1. 23:15–00:15
    How an ordinary schoolgirl from the Isle of Man became a teen icon in Japan. (R)
  1. 00:15–01:15
    4/6. The contestants face their fourth work placement as teachers in a posh secondary school. (R)
  2. 01:15–01:45
    4/6. New mum Michela is struggling to cope with her new workload and the loss of her freedom. (R)
  3. 01:45–02:15
    3/6. Model Lucie Brassington makes her debut at running her own pageant, Miss Mini Photogenic. (R)
To say the least, weird.

The dirty man of Europe

Well, what did you expect? That, when push came to shove, the Tories would stand by their environmental promises? The Guardian reports:

The coalition is watering down a commitment to tough new environmental emissions standards, raising the possibility of dirty coal-fired power stations such as Kingsnorth going ahead.

Green groups are aghast that a flagship policy called for in opposition by both Lib Dems and Tories, and which they last year tried to force on the Labour government, will now not be implemented in the coalition's first energy bill to be published this year.

Even with LibDem Huhne in the box-seat at the Department of Energy, the coalition is revealing how little it cares for greenery ...

14 August 2010

Just to cheer you up

Headline from The Telegraph:

Summer is unofficially over with thunder and lightning due in parts of the country this weekend and damp weather predicted until November, forecasters said.

Don't worry - be happy.

Dr Liam No-mates Fox

The Defence Secretary is running out of chums. The Independent reports:

The number of senior officers in Britain’s armed forces is likely to be cut as part of sweeping measures to tackle a £37 billion black hole in the defence budget.

The thinning-out of the military hierachy was one of the main proposals presented by Liam Fox in a keynote speech today in which he called for the Ministry of Defence to be leaner, less centralised and more transparent.

The good doctor has already upset No 10 with his maladroit removal of the improbably named Sir Jock Stirrup as Chief of Staff. He is also at daggers drawn with the Treasury over the financing of the Trident replacement. So who will he turn to when the boom comes down?

Couldn't happen to a nicer fellow ...

A brief aperçu

Picture the scene. Pisa Airport, last Tuesday. Waiting in the check-in queue for his flight home after his brief Italian holiday is the Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP, our beloved First Minister.

Nothing much is happening, however. So the FM withdraws from the queue of ordinary mortals and is next seen being ushered through the check-in procedures ahead of the vulgar throng. He is then transported from the boarding gate to the plane (even though it is only a few yards) and duly ensconced in the front row of the aeroplane. Similar treatment at the other end sees him whisked through passport control.

What? You thought that Ryanair treated everyone - without fear or favour - like cattle? Get away!

13 August 2010

Good enough for government business

Ah yes, TopShop. Not an emporium I usually patronise. But I understand that it is not renowned either for the quality of its products or for its sterling service. "Cheap and cheerful" appears to be its watchword (or watchwords).

But its boss, Sir Philip Green, has been appointed as an efficiency adviser to the Cameron government, to identify spending inefficiencies and potential savings. Let us leave aside the little matter of the fact that he bases himself in Monaco; that is a matter between him and the taxman. But I beg leave to doubt if this is the man to understand the way in which government spending works. The procurement of weapon systems, or road improvements, or hospital drugs, or agricultural research is rather different from commissioning cheap skirts and tops from Asian sweatshops.

But Sir Philip has pots of money, so his appointment must be all right, mustn't it?


Oh dear, oh dear. The Guardian comments:
Green is prickly about questions surrounding his tax status. Last night he is said to have called a newspaper journalist a "fucking tosser" after being asked whether his appointment raised questions about his tax affairs.
Somehow, I don't think that this appointment is destined to be a success.

All talk and no trousers

See that Mr Cameron pontificating about tourism? His words are at variance with his policies. Simon Calder of The Indie explains why:

Mr Cameron is absolutely right that Britain punches below its weight in attracting overseas visitors, but that is largely because governments have never taken this invisible export seriously; we do not even have a ministry with "tourism" in the title.

Furthermore the UK imposes tough visa rules on the nations with the fastest-growing, travel-hungry middle classes, including Russia, India and China.

Add in the imminent rise in VAT, which will make us more expensive, and an air passenger duty structure that appears designed to export stopover traffic to Amsterdam, Paris or Dubai, and the multi-billion-pound tourism deficit looks here to stay.

I grow increasingly tired of fatuous Cameronian interventions which amount to little more than headline-grabbing in an attempt to look busy during the holidays.

Well worth a read

The Independent prints one of the greatest ever speeches - by the late Jimmy Reid. Here is the start:

Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society. In some intellectual circles it is treated almost as a new phenomenon. It has, however, been with us for years. What I believe is true is that today it is more widespread, more pervasive than ever before. Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It's the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.

Many may not have rationalised it. May not even understand, may not be able to articulate it. But they feel it. It therefore conditions and colours their social attitudes. Alienation expresses itself in different ways in different people. It is to be found in what our courts often describe as the criminal antisocial behaviour of a section of the community. It is expressed by those young people who want to opt out of society, by drop-outs, the so-called maladjusted, those who seek to escape permanently from the reality of society through intoxicants and narcotics. Of course, it would be wrong to say it was the sole reason for these things. But it is a much greater factor in all of them than is generally recognised.


I urge you to read all of it.

12 August 2010

Sex and the mobile phone

Not a lot of people know this:
A new study conducted by online dating service OkCupid.com has revealed iPhone users have sex with twice the number of partners their Android-using counterparts have.

By the age of 30, men with an iPhone have had around 10 different partners. Their BlackBerry counterparts average around 8.1 partners.

Men with an Android-powered smartphone might just about be ready to trade in their device - with an average of only 6 partners by the time they are 30.

I suppose that there is little hope for those of us without an iPhone or a Blackberry or an Android smartphone (whatever that is); while those of us without any kind of mobile phone must be beyond redemption. Let me hope that no-one tells my girlfriends ...

A big bad Conservative took away my playground

Is this another candidate for a Cameron U-turn?

Hundreds of playground developments are being mothballed following government spending cuts.

The Department for Education (DfE) has frozen grants to 132 local councils for up to 1,300 play area schemes – many of which were originally designed by children.

The only developments allowed to go ahead will be those where construction has already started.

It is unclear how many planned playgrounds will now be scrapped.

If the kiddies' milk ration is to be regarded as sacrosanct, should their playgrounds be sacrificed on the altar of Slasher Osborne's axe-wielding? Is there a significant difference which justifies milk as opposed to playgrounds?

(None of this applies in Scotland where I assume there are no special arrangements for children's playgrounds.)

11 August 2010

Music of the week

Don't even try to analyse the lyrics - just enjoy:

Acronym of the week

A bit childish, perhaps, is this mania for grouping countries under unwanted labels. The Independent reports the latest:
If the UK can export more to the Brics and the new "Civets" (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa), the monthly trade figures may turn out to be the best, and possibly the only, regularly good economic news in the years ahead.
So you can add CIVETS to BRICs and PIGS (or maybe PIIGS).

Background Note 1: The term 'civet' is more usually used to describe a group of smallish tree-loving mammals found in the tropics.

Background Note 2: There must be considerable doubt about the economic capacity of most of the so-called CIVETS to absorb significant increases in British exports - but, hey, the guys should keep trying.

10 August 2010

Treading a well-trod path

Not very convincing, is it? The Independent reports:

An "uncompromising" crackdown on benefit cheats will be unveiled in the autumn, David Cameron pledged today.

The Prime Minister said reducing the £5.2 billion annual cost of fraud and error would be the "first and deepest" cut in public spending.

I mean, it's the kind of thing all Prime Ministers say. And it secures a headline or two. But the promised crackdown never seems to materialise. The cost of benefit fraud is said to be £1.5 billion; but this represents less than 1% of total benefit costs of over £160 billion. Is it even possible to eliminate all fraud? Or is there an irreducible minimum, up with which we simply have to put?

As for error, that can hardly be the fault of the claimants. And who was it that made the system so complicated in the first place? (And Gordon Brown is not the sole culprit.) Furthermore, reducing civil servant numbers is unlikely to improve matters.

This government needs to do better.

09 August 2010

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here), anent Sarah Ferguson's financial troubles:
The Queen was "deeply concerned" about Ferguson's debts, according to the Sunday Telegraph, and had discussed them with David Cameron recently at one of his weekly audiences. The newspaper said Prince Andrew, Ferguson's ex-husband, was masterminding a "rescue plan" to avoid the embarrassment of filing for bankruptcy.
The idea of Prince Andrew masterminding anything conveys a certain risibility. But if it keeps him away from yachts ...

08 August 2010

Hung out to dry?

No doubt rather sensible of Mr Cameron. The BBC reports:

UK Department of Health calls to scrap free nursery milk in Scotland have been ditched by Downing Street.

Westminster has powers to end free milk, yet the cost of the scheme in Scotland is met by Holyrood.

In a letter to the Scottish government, UK Public Health Minister Anne Milton said the scheme was costly and there was no evidence of health benefits.

But Downing Street scrapped the move after it emerged Prime Minister David Cameron was not aware of the proposals.

But where does that leave Ms Milton?