31 December 2012

Music for Hogmanay

And a good new year to all

A pneumatic bird-brain?

Michael Buerk thinks so ...

Will they? Won't they?

I suppose that many of them are about my age.  When we were kids, we watched flicks like Flash Gordon where, at the end of each episode, the hero would find himself in an impossibly dangerous situation (sometimes literally hanging from a cliff), only to retrieve his position at the start of the next episode.  But I can't see that happening with these guys:
US Congressional leaders have one more day to stop the threat of steep tax rises and spending cuts, known as the "fiscal cliff", after talks ended with no deal.
Senators will continue to seek a compromise deal on Monday to send to the House of Representatives.
Failure to reach agreement by 1 January could push the US back into recession.
Hey and not only the US.  I am tempted to wonder how Congress gets itself into these situations.  But that way lies madness ...

26 December 2012

Best Christmas tv

It has to be the fabulous Lady and The Tramp on Christmas Eve.  Still available on the I-Player, if you missed it.  Just to remind you:

22 December 2012

The British spirit

No, the world didn't come to an end.  The Guardian reports from Bugarach where aliens were expected to save the favoured few:
Ian Napp, a British former chef, had been photographed with an inflatable dingy in a field "just in case" there was a tsunami. Then he had gone home to get some clean underpants for the end of the world, but never made it back.
Obviously a man with the right priorities.


21 December 2012

Woof, woof, George

So the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards is taking a tough line on ringfencing domestic banking from its casino equivalent.  This leaves Slasher George with a wee problem:

Mr Osborne stocked the commission with people like Lord Lawson, the former chancellor, Lord Turnbull, the former cabinet secretary, and Justin Welby, a former oil executive before rejecting mammon in favour of a career in the church that has led to him becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. And he put Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, in charge. If he's surprised that this lot has gone off and done something he didn't expect he's really rather naive.
The proposals are actually sensible, and likely to be supported by people such as Sir Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England. But the real problem for Mr Osborne is that the people who have made them have a great deal of credibility.
If he ignores their recommendations, or tries to "game" them himself by watering them down, he runs the risk of being seen as the bankers' poodle. That's not a happy place to be.

Couldn't happen to a nicer fellow ...


20 December 2012

We're all in this together?

You would not want him to stay in a hovel, would you?

Fresh details of the lucrative financial package required to lure the Bank of England’s first foreign Governor across the Atlantic show that Mark Carney, a Canadian, has landed a housing allowance worth £1.25m over his five-year term.
The £250,000-a-year agreement – signed off by the Bank of England’s non-executive directors – underlined the desperation of Chancellor George Osborne to get his man, leaving the Bank of Canada Governor with a total package worth £874,000 a year.

I suppose that we need to provide him with a sufficient housing allowance to enable him to become accustomed to living in a style that the rest of us can only dream of.  At least, I assume that's the rationale ...

Paddling in dangerous waters?

Plebgate rumbles on.  Rather surprised to see the Prime Minister come out so forcefully here:
Cameron said: "A police officer posing as a member of the public and sending an email potentially to blacken the name of a cabinet minister is a very serious issue. It does need to be seriously investigated."
Given that the officer concerned has been arrested, it seems to me that the PM is treading dangerously close to contempt of court.  Bearing in mind Cameron's expostulations, how can the officer be given a fair trial?


18 December 2012

Chrissie prezzie

"Ooh!  How exciting!  60 placemats ...  Just what one's always wanted.  How imaginative!"

(Thoughts:  do these clowns not realise that Buck House is absolutely stowed out with placemats?  And of rather better quality than these offerings.  You just can't rely on the Tories these days.  Whatever happened to that nice Mr Douglas-Home?)

Daft as a brush

When I read the first sentence of this report, I thought that the proposed fine was somewhat excessive:
Manchester City are taking a substantial risk by going outside of disciplinary guidelines to fine Mario Balotelli £340,000, resulting in a legal case which could drag on into next year. 
Then, when I read the second sentence, I realised that it was just the crazy finances of football:
The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) is surprised that City have charged the Italian with misconduct and fined him two weeks' wages, because guidelines they have put in place with all clubs and the Premier League do not entitle sides to fine players for a general accumulation of yellow and red cards – as the Premier League champions are doing in Balotelli's case.
So Balotelli is getting £170,000 per week.  For that kind of money, he should do precisely whatever the club tells him to do, even if it involves him standing on his head and singing "Just One Cornetto".

Bagehot re-visited

No, I don't like it.  Our ancestors spent centuries seeking to divorce the monarch from political influence and only partially succeeding.  Then this cabinet, with absolutely no sense of political history, think that it's a good idea to invite the Queen to attend cabinet as an observer.  Her Maj has an undeniable role in government, from opening parliament to signing off legislation.  But, for my lifetime at least, that role has been ostensibly decorative rather than practical.  By inviting her to attend cabinet, Cameron and co are messing up fine distinctions and long traditions.

Furthermore, it creates an unwelcome precedent.  As far as we know, the present queen has been admirably punctilious in observing the constitutional proprieties (at least until now).  But what of her successor?  Could we trust him to keep his mouth shut during a cabinet discussion?  Could he be relied upon to keep his distance from political decisions?

15 December 2012


Reacher is 6 ft 5ins and weighs 16 stone.  How can he be played by someone of diminished stature, especially when that someone's acting ability is limited to three facial expressions?

Utterly disgraceful.  Russell Crowe would have been a much better choice.


13 December 2012

Paying for Mummy and Daddy

Once upon a time, Tory MPs only became involved in sex scandals; financial misdemeanors were left to the Labour Party.  Alas, no longer - even Tory cabinet ministers appear unable to keep their accounts on the straight and narrow:

John Lyons, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, launched an inquiry after The Telegraph published details about the Mrs Miller's expenses this week.
Between 2005 and 2009, the Culture Secretary claimed the cost of the mortgage and other expenses associated with a South London property, which has been her parents’ home for “nearly two decades”.
Mrs Miller insists her expenses are "absolutely in order" but the watchdog has decided to look at whether there is a case to answer.
Mrs Miller today hit back at her critics in an interview with The Evening Standard, saying her expenses have been "audited twice independently" in a review of MPs by Sir Thomas Legg and another by the Conservative Party.
However, when asked whether those auditors knew that her parents lived in the property, she did not give a clear answer.
“I obviously spoke to the Fees Office about my claims and they were happy that everything was in order,” she said.
She also struggled to explain why she abruptly stopped claiming expenses for the second home in 2009, shortly before The Daily Telegraph broke the MPs’ expenses scandal.
“Because I think there was a lot of concern about the rules and, a lot of concern about, you know, the whole issue, and it’s something I felt that I didn’t want to be, sort of, mixed up in, the fact that I," she said, before adding: “I just made that decision.”

It's a bit weak, to say the least   Would it be unfair to describe the lady as a scrounger on the public purse?


12 December 2012

Going against the flow

I can't help feeling that, regardless of the merits of their case, those politicians opposed to same sex marriage are finding themselves on the wrong side of history.

I know opinion polls are not everything but these seem comclusive:
A new Ipsos-MORI poll for Freedom to Marry has found that three-quarters of voters support same-sex marriage. The most popular choice – 45% – was that gay people should be allowed to get married to each other but religious organisations should not be required to provide wedding ceremonies to gay people.
But a further 28% of voters thought that gay people should be allowed to get married to each other and religious organisations should be required to provide wedding ceremonies to gay people.
This means nearly three quarters of voters – 73% – want to allow gay marriage while less than a quarter – 24% – do not. Only one in six voters – 17% - thought that gay people should not be allowed to get married but should be allowed to form a civil partnership.
And I was intrigued to see that, in England at least, those of us who are not married now constitute a majority of households.  But if those who are gay seek to join the diminishing tribe of married couples, why put barriers in their way?  I'm one of the growing minority, however, who are godless heathens, so I cannot be expected to understand.


Mounting up

June 2012 -  Barclays fined £290 million for Libor manipulation

Dec 2012 -  Standard Chartered fined £415 million for breaching Iran sanctions

Dec 2012 -  HSBC fined £1.2 billion for laundering Mexican drug money among other transgressions

And there's more on the way ...

11 December 2012

The life of a jetsetter

It's not all foie gras canapes and campari cocktails on the terrace, you know.

In preparation for my return to sunny Spain this afternoon, I've had to submit electricity and gas meter readings, empty the fridge of perishables, sort out the money for the stair cleaners, post my Christmas cards and, essentially, ensure that the kindle is fully charged.  The call-up for jury service remains a bit of a problem, but we'll have to wait and see ...

I see the temperature in Spain is 16 degrees (C), so a slight uplift from here.  Now if only Ryanair can transport me without too much hassle, life will be back to normal.


Leggings for men

Don't know what all the fuss is about.  In my day, we knew them as long johns.  Very convenient they were when Jack Frost came to call.


09 December 2012

How to win friends and influence people

Probably not a good idea to throw out insults:

Celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh was yesterday branded "a complete muppet" by a Cabinet minister, for criticising the Government's policies on the countryside.
Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, issued the colourful rebuke after the television presenter and author questioned the response to ash dieback disease and warned that the Conservative Party had lost its roots in rural areas.

By all means, argue your corner with facts and policies (if there are such), but calling people names is just childish.


Straws, camels and all that

I think that I am beginning to understand how Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is failing to catch the tax dodgers.  The Independent explains:

More than half a million families will be made to prove to tax inspectors how much they are spending on childcare or whether their children are in full-time education under new rules buried in the small print of George Osborne's Autumn Statement.
Some 80,000 households which claim child tax credits for pre-school children will have to send evidence to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) of the amount they are paying a nursery, child-minder or nanny over a 10-week period. A further 500,000 families with youngsters aged between 16 and 19 who are in full-time education and are therefore eligible for child tax credits will have to send proof, in the form of letters from schools or colleges, to HMRC, rather than "self-certify" as they do now.
The Chancellor estimates the new rules will recoup £315m in overpayments in tax credits in the year 2014-15, a further £185m in 2015-16 and £85m the following year. Fraud and error in the tax credits system last year cost the Treasury more than £2.2bn, and Treasury sources said there needed to be tougher measures to claw back taxpayers' money.
Yet there were warnings last night that the new rules would deter some parents – who are at the lower end of the income scale – from claiming tax credits because of the onerous and complex paperwork.
The new rules follow measures imposed on higher earners to provide paperwork to tax inspectors on child benefit. From next month, parents who earn more than £50,000 will lose most of their child benefit and must send payslips or bank statements to HMRC in order to claim back some of the money. Child benefit is being axed altogether from households where one earner is on a salary of more than £60,000.

And all this at a time when Slasher Osborne is hacking away at staff numbers in HMRC.  Little wonder that the department is dysfunctional, with more and more tasks loaded on the backs of fewer and fewer staff.

07 December 2012


Is this what education has come to?  The Independent reports:

The Education Secretary Michael Gove today announced plans to send former soldiers into classrooms to pass on the “military ethos” to troubled children.
The £1.9 million initiative is aimed at children who have been excluded from schools. Ex-servicemen will visit schools to help instil teamwork, discipline and leadership skills through tailor-made exercises.
Mr Gove said: “Every child can benefit from the values of a military ethos.” He added: “Exclusion from school should never mean exclusion from education.”

And what will soldiers teach the little brats?  How to march in a straight line?  How to obey orders, however stupid?  How to submerge identity in a uniform?  How to wear a chestful of medals?  How to shoot weapons?  How to kill?

06 December 2012

Conversation of the week


Osborne: Er … You remember when I said that I had a cunning plan to reduce the deficit and increase growth?
 Cameron: Y-e-e-e-s?
Osborne: Well, it turns out I got my sums a wee bit wrong and the economy is actually going to carry on tanking until 2018 and we're borrowing a lot more than I imagined.
Cameron: And what does this mean in practice, Ozzy?
Osborne: To put it bluntly, Cams, we're up shit creek without a paddle.
Cameron: But we must do something.
Duncan Smith: How about we make more welfare cuts for the poor and the old? That way they will start to die of malnutrition and other poverty-related conditions. We could call it a cull.
Osborne: I so like the sound of that.
Heremy Junt: Just so long as we're seen to be putting more money into the NHS.
Institute of Fiscal Studies: But you're not.
Junt: Yes we are. Look at the graph.
IFS: Um, you're holding it the wrong way up.


05 December 2012

Running uphill

Sometimes, it's just no fun to be Chancellor.  There you are, in charge of the signal box, glorying in your determination to direct the economy towards a brighter future.  You pull the levers but nothing seems to work.  The Guardian reports:

Only a fraction of the billions of pounds of new capital spending that George Osborne announced in last year's autumn statement has been spent so far, research by the Guardian has established.
Less than half of the public investment trumpeted by the chancellor last November has been paid out, and none of the £21bn in private investment promised has yet been spent.
Of the key public investment schemes announced last autumn, work has not yet begun on a single one of the half dozen major road schemes published by George Osborne, and £1bn of regional growth fund money has been "allocated" but is now being studied by lawyers before it is actually handed out to help businesses in more deprived areas.
Up to £21bn of new private sector investment was announced, but there is no word on £1bn earmarked for the regulated industries and of £20bn that had been expected to be raised or leveraged by pension funds, just £700m has been committed and not a penny has yet been spent.

Expect more fruitless lever-pulling in today's Autumn Statement.


Even The Guardian gets caught up in the speculation:
Whether the royal couple will have the freedom to wheel a pram down Kensington High Street remains to be seen.
Even an old misanthrope like I am knows that prams are something of a rarity these days. Young parents appear to prefer enormous baby buggies so that they can block supermarket aisles and force reluctant pavement pedestrians into the gutter.

02 December 2012

Brrrr! Home

I thought Andalucia was on the chilly side, but ...

Flew to Edinburgh last night.  Plane diverted to Gatwick due to ill passenger.   At Gatwick, aircraft wings iced up and pilot couldn't find credit card for extra fuel.  Three hour flight turned into six hours.  Ryanair offered us a glass of water in recompense.  (Yes. really.)  Six hours without a cigarette ...

Arrived home to a cold, cold flat at 2.30 am.  Even now, I'm blogging with a scarf and bunnet.  Just as well  I'm returning to the delights of Southern Spain next week.


30 November 2012

The vision thing

Are you bored already?  Vainly fighting the old ennui?  It all got so complicated and you can no longer distinguish the goodies from the baddies?  Yeah well, regulation of the press sometimes has that effect.

But at least Simon Hoggart has had a vision:
The whole event was a manic melange of mixed metaphors. The last chance saloon was teeming. Cameron said repeatedly that he didn't want to "cross the Rubicon". Everyone talked about "statutory underpinning" apparently unaware that "underpinnings" is an old euphemism for ladies' underwear.
I had a vision of a grizzled old prospector bursting into the last chance saloon, his corset dripping from crossing the Rubicon. "You want the carrot, stranger, or you want the stick?" asks the barman.
As the poem puts it:
When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and glare,
There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
He looked like a man with a foot in the grave and scarcely the strength of a louse,
Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
There was none could place the stranger’s face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;
But we drank his health, and the last to drink was Dangerous Dan McGrew.
And, thus, Lord Leveson/Dangerous Dan, underwear dripping and loaded for bear, moves on into history ...


29 November 2012

Conversation of the week

As ever, from The Guardian (here):

Osborne: Before you go, Cams. I need to tell you I've just chosen the next governor of the Bank of England.
Cameron: Who is it?
Osborne: Can't remember. Some Canadian bloke. He's definitely the best man for the job.
Cameron: How would you know, Ozzy?
Osborne: Well he can't be any worse than that fool King.
Cameron: I thought you were going to give the job to that bloke Tucker.
Osborne: I was, but then I saw him on The Thick of It and I thought he might swear too much.


27 November 2012

Flogging a dead horse

You thought the problem had gone away, didn't you?  Well it hasn't!  The EU, the IMF and the ECB (and, no doubt, other assorted acronyms) continue to wrestle with the Greek economy.

The Guardian reports the latest state of play:

European governments and the IMF sought to bury months of feuding over Greek debt levels in a tentative agreement that should see the release of up to €44bn in bailout funds needed to rescue Athens from insolvency.
But after almost 12 hours of talks for the third time in a fortnight between eurozone finance ministers, leaders of the IMF, the European central bank and the European commission struggled to reach a consensus, suggesting a lack of confidence that the effort to resurrect the Greek economy will bear fruit or that three years of European bailout policy was working.The meeting agreed to shave projected Greek debt to allow it to level at 124% of GDP by 2020, entailing a 20% cut in Greek debt by the deadline.
With the IMF demanding a writedown of Greece's debt by its official eurozone creditors and Germany leading the resistance to such a move, declaring it illegal, the meeting agreed on a mixture of measures involving debt buybacks, lower interest rates on loans, longer maturity periods on borrowing, and ECB returns to Greece of profits on its holdings of Greek bonds.
In an increasingly arcane dispute entailing sophisticated number-crunching over recent weeks, the IMF had stuck to a bottom line of getting the Greek debt level to 120% by 2020, far below what eurozone and IMF inspectors concluded was possible.
A debt sustainability analysis last week said the debt level would be 144% without eurozone action to write much of it off.

Nobody really believes that this agreement (if it may be so described) will resolve the Greek problems, but there is a smidgeon of hope that it will keep the lid on the problem for the next few months.


Toupee or not toupee

Mildly amused by the re-emergence of Michael Fabricant, an MP whose 15 minutes of fame had hitherto rested entirely on his wig.  He now deserves a footnote in history in that his suggestion of a pact with UKIP has been thoroughly stamped on by every Tory bigwig (sorry!) available.

Anyway, here is Simon Hoggart from 2003 to remind us of Mickey's real claim to fame:
Forget Iraq and the euro. A single topic dominated the Commons yesterday: what on earth had happened to Michael Fabricant's wig?
It used to be roughly normal length, finishing round about the level of his ear lobes.
Yesterday the thing had reached his shoulders, a great lustrous cascade of tresses curling over and even caressing the collar of his jacket.
MPs on both sides of the chamber were transfixed with curiosity and awe. How could a wig not only grow but grow so fast to such a length?
In the press gallery one of my colleagues sat gazing at the sight, murmuring "gorgeous, quite gorgeous," to himself, for these were locks that would not have disgraced Michael Heseltine or even the original Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller.
How many My Little Ponies, we asked, were slaughtered to make such a creation?


26 November 2012

Signs of uncommon sense?

Could it be?  Is it possible?  Is the Tory leadership beginning to grasp the fact that British membership of the EU is not necessarily a Bad Thing?  BoJo, although an unlikely pathfinder towards the dawn of political intelligence, appears to have twigged that life is too complicated for in/out referendums:

Boris Johnson has spoken out against holding a referendum on whether the UK should remain part of the European Union as it currently exists, in an intervention that will help the prime minister, David Cameron, as he faces concerted pressure from hardline Tory backbenchers for an in/out vote.
The mayor of London, seen by many Conservatives as a potential future leader and alternative to Cameron, and who has channelled strident Eurosceptic sentiment in the party, said that any further fiscal integration of the EU should trigger a referendum but that a single question on whether the UK should remain a member state was unnecessary.
Johnson made his intervention from India, where he is leading a trade mission, telling BBC Radio Five Live: "I certainly think that if there was to be a new treaty, for instance on a fiscal union or on a banking union or whatever, then it would be absolutely right to put that to the people.
"Whether you have an in/out referendum now, I can't quite see why it would be necessary."

Now then, Cameron's flank has been temporarily shored up.  Will this give him the room to manoeuvre his way towards a more intelligent approach to matters European?  Or will he revert to little England type?  Mrs Marr doubts if he has the nous to see the better way, even though Angie has mapped it out for him.


21 November 2012

How to undermine your own Law Officer

You might have thought that the Attorney General had made the position abundantly clear:
After Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, said on Tuesday that he could not get involved in the case of Sgt Danny Nightingale, No 10 said the Prime Minister had “sympathy” for the soldier.
Mr Grieve made his decision after Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, asked him to examine Sgt Nightingale’s case.
The soldier is currently serving an 18-month term in a military prison having pleaded guilty to possessing an automatic pistol and more than 300 rounds of ammunition without permission.
His lawyers are expected to lodge an appeal on Wednesday over his detention.
Mr Hammond asked Mr Grieve to consider reviewing the original decision to prosecute Sgt Nightingale over the weapons and ammunition. Within an hour of receiving the Defence Secretary’s request, Mr Grieve’s office made clear that the attorney believed he had no scope to intervene.
“It would be inappropriate for the Attorney General to review either the decision to prosecute or comment on the appropriateness of the sentence,” a spokesman said.  “That is a matter for the Court Martial Appeal Court, in due course.”
But No 10 cannot resist pandering to public opinion, thus putting not only the Attorney General in a difficult spot but also the Court Martial Appeal Court.

13 November 2012

Photo of the day


Too much time on their hands

These American generals are really romantic, at least when it comes to e-mails  It amazes me how they find the time.  The Guardian reports:

The leading US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, is under investigation for alleged inappropriate communications with a woman at the centre of the scandal involving former CIA director David Petraeus, a senior US defence official said on Tuesday.
The revelation threatens to fell another of the US military's biggest names and suggests that the scandal involving Petraeus – a former four-star general who had Allen's job in Afghanistan before moving to the CIA last year – could widen further than previously imagined.
The American official said the FBI uncovered between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of communications – mostly emails spanning from 2010 to 2012 – between Allen and Jill Kelley, who has been identified as a long-time friend of the Petraeus family and volunteer social liaison in Tampa, Florida, with military families at MacDill air force base.
It was Kelley's complaints about harassing emails from the woman with whom Petraeus had had an affair, Paula Broadwell, that prompted an FBI investigation, ultimately alerting authorities to Petraeus's involvement with Broadwell. Petraeus resigned as CIA director on Friday.

Imagine!  20,000 pages of communications in 3 years!  That's about 20 a day.

What a boring love-life I have ...

Covered both ways

Much fuss about the payoff to the BBC Director General amounting to double the amount specified in his contract.  The Guardian reports:

In a letter to the Commons culture select committee chairman, John Whittingdale, Patten said the payout was "justified and necessary." 
He wrote: "The alternative was long drawn-out discussions and continuing uncertainty at a time when the BBC needs all of its focus to be on resolving fundamental issues of trust in BBC journalism."
He accepted that Entwistle's contract entitled him to only six months' payout if he resigned, but that he had been paid the equivalent of 12 months' salary.

Lots of argument about whether this was justified or not.  Me, I can't get past the earlier stage of wondering what kind of employment contract awards a payoff in return for resignation?  I can understand why a payoff might be necessary where an organisation decided to let someone go.  But I had always understood that if someone chose to resign, then he or she was on his own.

When I resigned from the civil service after 32+ years, I neither expected nor received any kind of payoff.  But maybe employment contracts have changed since then ...

10 November 2012

Smoke and mirrors

Let us see if I have understood this.

When the government borrows money, it sells what are known as gilts (essentially IOUs), to banks and other financial institutions.  Like anyone else, when it borrows money, it has to pay interest on the loan.

In order to ease the UK.s economic problems, the Bank of England has been creating money which it then uses to buy up government IOUs, mainly from banks which it hopes will use the money to lend out to businesses and individuals.  Because the Bank of England has bought up these loans, it now receives interest from the government.

It is now proposed that the Bank of England should return all that interest to the government which will use it to pay back (some of) its borrowing.  Conveniently, this will enable Chancellor Osborne to meet his target that by 2015-2016 the overall national debt will be falling.

It's just as well that I am not a financial genius - otherwise, I might think that there was something fishy going on here ...


06 November 2012

Nothing ever happens

When I hear, once again, that the government is going to do something about tax avoidance and evasion, I can only metaphorically shrug my shoulders.  It's not as if transfer pricing is a new concept.  If the government really wanted to do something about it, they could have taken effective action decades ago.

Furthermore, the UK's hands are dirtier than most.  Why, do you suppose, the big British multi-national companies - from oil companies to banks to grocers - have subsidiaries located in the Caymans or the Bahamas?  And who is it that protects the offshore tax status of crown dependencies in the West Indies, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and so on?  Meanwhile, Slasher Osborne and his chums systematically destroy the resources of HMRC through so-called efficiency gains, job cuts and office closures.

I refer you to the Del Amitri song, Nothing Ever Happens:
Bill hoardings advertise products that nobody needs 
While angry from Manchester writes to complain about 
All the repeats on T.V. 
And computer terminals report some gains 
On the values of copper and tin 
While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs 
For the price of a hospital wing 

Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all 
The needle returns to the start of the song 
And we all sing along like before 
Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all 
They'll burn down the synagogues at six o'clock 
And we'll all go along like before 


Vox pop

I've had enough.  I am not going to listen to the radio until we start getting actual results tomorrow morning.

America appears to be stuffed full of BBC presenters, asking valueless questions of men and women in the street, providing nil analysis other than noting that it's too close to call.  How many times do we have to listen to Obama and Romney shouting slogans at crowds?

It is with relief that I turn to the great Alistair Cooke, a man who can convey more information about the US in 15 minutes than the entire BBC coverage for the past two weeks.  What's more, he does it with elegance and ease.


05 November 2012

What has he got to hide?

Secret arms sales?  To middle eastern potentates?  The Guardian reports:
David Cameron will embark on a low-key arms trip to the Gulf on Monday in an attempt to persuade regional powers upset by Britain's response to the Arab spring to buy more than 100 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets. The deals could be worth more than £6bn to Britain.
The prime minister will fly to a major UAE military airbase on a mission to patch up relations with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where major British businesses such as BP and BAE have important interests.
Cameron will be accompanied by only a small pool of two newswire reporters, a broadcast camera person, a broadcast producer and a photographer. Other journalists, making their own travel arrangements, are invited to attend a limited number of events, though it is impossible for those outside the pool to report on any aspect of Cameron's short visit to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
I suppose an ethical foreign policy is out of the question?


04 November 2012

Wearing white stilettoes?

Are e-mail addresses subject to the dictates of fashion?  The Observer thinks so:

The most astonishing thing about the news that Gmail, Google's email service, has finally overtaken Microsoft's equivalent, Hotmail, is that anybody still uses Hotmail. It's about as fashionable as Bros or white stilettoes. Gmail has been the go-to email address for years now. Who would bother with Hotmail?
Apart from me, of course. I was gobsmacked to discover that, according to official figures, 286.2 million people use Hotmail (as opposed to 287.9 million who now use Gmail). I thought I was the last person in the world to have a Hotmail address.

Oh dear.  My principal e-mail address is the even more antiquated yahoo.com.  I guess that whatever street cred I once possessed has vanished into the internet ether.

On the other hand, it's only an e-mail address.  It functions - and who needs all the more fashionable bells and whistles?  Furthermore, it's somewhat similar to your current account at the bank; why go through the hassle of changing it?


02 November 2012

Music of the week


Quote of the day

From Her Majesty's UK Government (here):

"This government has confirmed it does hold legal advice on this issue. Based on the overwhelming weight of international precedent, it is the government's view that the remainder of the UK would continue to exercise the UK's existing international rights and obligations and Scotland would form a new state.
"The most likely scenario is that the rest of the UK would be recognised as the continuing state and an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU as a new state, involving negotiation with the rest of the UK and other member states, the outcome of which cannot be predicted."

Well they would say that, wouldn't they?  Although it does rather turn down Mr Salmond's gas to a peep.

But will the UK still be a member of the EU for much longer?  No real answer here.


US political campaign ad of the year

01 November 2012


Chris Christie, Republican Governor of New Jersey and potential presidential candidate for 2016:

Kris Kringle, star of Miracle on 34th Street:


Another fine mess

Bit of a predicament for Mr Cameron.  Does he comply with the stated will of the House of Commons and insist on a real terms cut in the EU budget, even though that would be comprehensively unacceptable to most of the other member states?  Does he veto any alternative outcome, even though his original starting point (of a budget increase equivalent to inflation was one such alternative outcome?  And what would a veto achieve anyway, other than kicking the can down the road to another summit later on?  And if he were to accept an outcome other than a real terms budget cut, what would the Tory Party do?

I might even feel some sympathy for the poor sod, were it not for the fact that his current predicament is at least in part due to his previous (and continuing) equivocations about an EU referendum, his previous pointless veto on the fiscal compact, his utter failure to build alliances with other member states and - above all - his inability to make up his mind about his policy with regard to the future of the EU.

And that does not excuse the shameless opportunism of the Labour Party.


26 October 2012

Evidence-based policy-making?

The new schools minister is getting his feet under the table.  The Telegraph reports:

David Laws attacked the “depressingly low expectations” that he said are holding back children in many parts of the country and preventing them from getting ahead in life.
Even in relatively affluent parts of the country, schools and careers advisers are failing to encourage children to “reach for the stars,” instead pushing them to settle for middling exam results and careers with “medium-ranked” local employers, he said.

What justification does Mr Laws offer for this sweeping attack on schools and teachers?

Mr Laws suggested that some teachers in state schools are still discouraging pupils from targeting places at Oxbridge and other top-ranked universities.
“I still find, talking to youngsters across the country, the same depressing low expectations I found when I went to university in the 1980s,” he added.
“The students you met, who were often the first students from their school who had been to Oxbridge, said they were often encouraged by teachers and others to think that Oxford or Cambridge were not the places for them and they should think of somewhere more modest.”

Accordingly, on distinctly anecdotal evidence, based on his experiences in the 1980s, he presumes to lecture those with years of experience in the field.  Apparently, Mr Laws used to be a merchant banker; to me, he sounds like a pub bore.


Quote of the day

Nicola indulges herself with some clever semantics.  Pick the bones out of this:
Sturgeon told BBC Radio Scotland: "Given the fact that previously the impression had been created that we had legal advice, that we were not prepared to reveal because somehow it didn't suit our purposes, I think was an unfortunate one."
Is she saying "sorry" or is she trying to avoid saying sorry?


Bad karma

Do you believe in luck?  Or, more specifically, bad luck?  Until now, I have been inclined to put the Government's troubles down to incompetence, in particular to a failure to think through implications or to a premature response to newspaper headlines, as well as an arrogant assumption as to their own abilities.  There are numerous examples, from selling off forests to imposing top-down radical change on the NHS (not to mention badgericide).

But yesterday, when the Government arguably might have had one of its better days with the apparent recovery of the economy from recession, Ford had to spoil the party by announcing the closure of two UK plants.  Hard to blame the coalition for such misfortune as, by all accounts, Ford's actions are a reflection of the Europe-wide downturn in demand for motor vehicles.

But, if even the gods have chosen to throw their tuppenceworth in the scales weighing against Cameron and his chums, what future for the administration of the posh boys?

25 October 2012

Always look on the bright side

There is little more depressing than to be in a holiday resort when the skies are grey and it is chucking it down.  And it is expected to continue like this through to the weekend.  The bars over here are really not designed for wet weather, with their minimalist interiors and their unfortunate adoption of the smoking prohibition.  Nor am I cheered up by the somewhat pathetic GDP increase, meaning that the UK economy has only managed to recover to where it was a year ago.  Better than a further decrease, I suppose.

Still.  I have been able to keep up with the ironing.  Furthermore, taking a beer from the fridge is not exactly a hardship.  I have a nice wee Spanish chicken roasting happily in the oven and I'm about to put the roast potatoes in.  And I can look forward to a double ration of Euro football this evening.  It can't be too bad.


Wayne plays on the left wing

So Wayne Rooney has revealed hidden depths:

They think Mitt’s all over... he is now, says Wayne Rooney.
The Manchester United striker – known more for his love of hair gel than politics – has revealed he is hooked on the US presidential election.
And after watching all three late night TV debates between Republican Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, the England ace has put his full support behind the Democrat to regain the White House.

I have to wonder, however, what a professional athlete thinks he is doing by staying up in the middle of the night to watch the telly.  Does Sir Alex know?

Do I feel guilty?

Well not really.  But some lord thinks that maybe I should.  The Independent reports:

The former head of the benefits agency provoked uproar today by suggesting the retired should be encouraged to undertake community service – or have their pensions docked.
Lord Bichard said older people had to make “a more positive contribution” to reduce the burden they place on the state.He made the comments during a session of committee investigating the impact on public services of an ageing population.
Lord Bichard, 65, asked fellow members: “Are there ways in which we could use incentives to encourage older people, if not to be in full time work, to be making a contribution?”
He argued that the pension system should incentivise recipients to do more to help look after the “very old”.

Do I place a heavy burden on the state?  Doubtful.  I have a bus pass, but I don't use it more than once a month on average.  My prescriptions?  I don't get on with doctors, so tend to buy my drugs over the internet.  And I don't qualify for an old age pension until 2014.

Over the years, I paid my income tax and my NI contributions.  Indeed I am still paying income tax on my occupational pension.

So Lord Bichard may wish to stick his suggestions where the sun don't shine.

24 October 2012

Climbdown alert

It's a quandary, or a dilemma, or maybe just another car crash.  The Guardian reports:

David Cameron appeared to slap down his senior law officer in the House of Commons over voting rights for prisoners as he told MPs that prisoners would never get the vote under his government.
Just two hours earlier, Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, had told a parliamentary committee Britain could be thrown out of the Council of Europe and be subject to large compensation claims if it ignored a European court of human rights (ECHR) ruling that prisoners should be allowed to vote.
But Cameron told prime minister's questions he was prepared, if necessary, to put the issue beyond doubt by staging another Commons vote to reject the court's ruling that British prisoners should be given a limited right to vote.
The prime minister told the Commons: "No one should be in any doubt. Prisoners are not getting the vote under this government." 
We'll see.  Staging another vote in the Commons will no more resolve the issue than the first vote did.
Besides, why die in a ditch over the matter?  It is not as if ECHR is demanding that the franchise is extended to all prisoners.  Would it really damage democracy so badly if some lower category prisoners were allowed to vote?


The red mist descends again

With friends like The Spectator, the Conservatives have no need of enemies.
No PMQs would be complete without Cameron losing his rag. Keen to whip his backbenchers into a righteous frenzy, he began to honk out a list of statistics that are moving in the right direction. ‘Crime down!’ he bellowed. ‘Inflation down! Unemployment, down! Waiting lists down!’ But instead of relishing these figures he allowed his cheeks to flush purple with indignation and excitement. ‘The opposition leader can’t talk about the real issues,’ he thundered, ‘because he’s not up to the job.
‘Good to see the crimson tide is back,’ said Miliband coolly.
Not content with booting the Tories, the magazine has time for a glancing blow in the direction of Fat Eck:
The session ended on a harmonious as note as the three parties came together to gloat over the hallucinations of Alec [sic] Salmond. The SNP leader has been caught talking to imaginary lawyers about Scotland’s future within the EU. Like all paranoiacs, he believes he was talking to real human beings and not to figments of his fevered brain.


23 October 2012

An everyday story of country folk

You might have assumed that, if you were planning a cull of badgers that incorporated a payment of a certain amount for each badger killed, it would be important to establish clearly from the outset how many badgers there were, especially where the overall number of badgers to be killed had to reach a target percentage.  Not this government.  The Guardian reports:
As the final preparations for the cull were made, a census showed there could be twice as many badgers as were originally thought. Farmers complained this would increase the cost of the cull and they could not afford to foot the bill if required to kill at least 70% – the proportion that scientists say must be achieved for the cull to succeed because escaping badgers would spread TB more widely and increase, not decrease, cattle infections.
So the government will announce today that Mr Brock is to be spared, at least for a while.  So good news if you are a badger, but bad news for our incompetent government.  How many u-turns is that?


22 October 2012

Music of the week

Nostalgia is not quite what it used to be:

Auntie messes up

Some thoughts about the Savile affair:

1.  The BBC appears to have slipped up in its editorial judgements, particularly as regards the Newsnight programme.  But such things happen in all media organisations.  Indeed, if Savile’s proclivities were widely known, as seems to have been the case, one wonders why it was left to the BBC and ITV to pursue the matter.  What were all those bold, investigative journalists on the newspapers doing?

2.  The BBC is now going through an agonising process of publicly questioning itself.  Doubtless, this will blacken its reputation.  But it is essentially a healthy process; reporters, producers and management will get to argue their corners, and there is every indication that the truths will come out.  Compare and contrast a certain other media organisation which moved heaven and earth to conceal its misdoings and which, to this day, is seeking to assign responsibility to so-called “rogue” individuals.

3.  I came across Savile on several occasion when I used to run marathons and half marathons.  Savile used to start at the front of the race and, although I never even attained club runner status, I would catch up and pass him after a couple of miles.  He was unmistakable, given his attire and the fact that he would be surrounded by heavies.  I would never see him again during the race.  But, when I reached the finish, I would learn that he had completed the race some half an hour earlier.  Did I complain?  It never occurred to me;  I assumed he was running for charity and, if he cheated a little, it was no skin off my nose.

4.  With the benefit of hindsight, that wonderful facility, we can all throw stones at those who turned a blind eyes to crimes and misdemeanors.  How much easier to let sleeping dogs lie.  There can be no excuses, however, and we must all share our portion of guilt over failing to expose this nasty little man.   

Homage - of a sort

Catalonia - "like Scotland but with a better football team"  (here)

No argument from me, though the weather is also a bit better.


It's all so predictable

What is the next fiasco to befall our coalition government?  Well, you can take your pick:

1.  There's the latest bright idea from Cameron on crime:  "tough but intelligent" we are told.  "Weak and dumb" seems more appropriate, as the Great Leader would not appear to have thought through the financial implications.

2.  The child benefit changes are always worth a shot, as HMRC do not appear to have got to grips with how to implement the changes to the system.  And as this is an Osborne initiative, it is bound to end up in a mess.

3.  Meanwhile the proposed universal credit sinks deeper and deeper into the mire.  Leave aside the monthly   payments, the ill-fated computer system and the requirement for HMRC - DWP live updating.  Now it appears that the new system will penalise the disabled.  Oh dear ...

4.  Can anyone explain what the Prime Minister's policy is towards the EU?  Does he want the UK to leave?  If not, why does he keep half-promising a referendum?  And is Angie about to kick him in the nuts?

All this pre-supposes that Ministers will manage to keep their noses clean in the interim.  No more ranting at policemen, no revelations of illicit relations with flame-haired newspaper editors, no more fare-dodging on trains.

"Dysfunctional" is the word I'm looking for.


Catherine Tekakwitha, who are you?

It is not like me to know the names of Catholic saints, but the references to Catherine Tekakwitha rang a faint bell.

The wonders of Google reminded me of the link to Leonard Cohen and his second novel Beautiful Losers, a book that has sat neglected on my bookshelf for at least 40 years.  I vaguely remember reading it and thinking it quite raunchy for its day.  You can still buy it here.


20 October 2012


Seems a bit harsh.  The guy who messed up the Boat Race by jumping in the Thames gets a six month prison sentence.  Would community service not have sufficed?

I might have suggested that the judge was an Oxbridge man, but I understand that he was a she.


Brief encounter

And as the curtain goes down on one minor scandal, yet another erupts.  This time, it concerns Slasher's preference to sit in a first class seat on the train while paying a second class fare.

Yes, the Tories will go to extraordinary lengths to remind us that they are a bunch of posh boys who will do anything to ensure that they do not have to sit next to the peasants.


On his bike

So cheerio to Thrasher.  He might have thought that he could have hung on but - alas - politicians can no longer get away with berating the lower orders.

A victory for us plebs?  Well hardly:  Thrasher has been replaced by yet another Old Etonian and a baronet to boot ...

And so ends Gate-gate, with a lament for a man who apparently does not know what he said.


17 October 2012

Muddled thinking?

The Attorney General has vetoed the publication of Prince Charles' "black spider memos".  The Independent reports:

The letters, thirty of them, written between September 1st 2004 and April 1st 2005 represent, according to Mr Grieve, the Prince’s “most deeply held personal views and beliefs” and “are in many cases particularly frank.” Consequently, their publication could “damage … the Prince of Wales’ political neutrality” and “seriously undermine the Prince’s ability to fulfil his duties when he becomes King.”
“The Sovereign cannot be seen to favour one political party above another, or to engage in political controversy,” Mr Grieve said, in a ten page document explaining his decision. “Any such perception would be seriously damaging to his role as future Monarch, because if he forfeits his position of political neutrality as heir to the throne, he cannot easily recover it when he is King.

Would the damage to the position of Prince Charles arise from the publication of the memos?  Or does it arise from the fact that he wrote them in the first place?  Even if we do not know the actual contents, the fact that the senior law officer of the government thinks they might "damage" the Prince's neutrality and "undermine" his ability to reign as king suggests to me that the ball is on the slates.

Can no-one save us from this meddlesome prince?  Or at least tell him to keep his political views to himself?

16 October 2012

We're not alone

I see that the proposed referendum in Scotland has not gone unnoticed elsewhere in Europe.  The Guardian reports:

Catalonia in north-east Spain will issue a challenge to Brussels when its voters are asked to declare whether they want an independent state within the EU.
Regional leader Artur Mas said on Monday he planned to ask the question, including the reference to the EU, during a four-year term that starts after regional elections on 25 November – even though Spain's prime minister,Mariano Rajoy, has threatened to block a referendum.
A yes vote in the referendum would not just create a constitutional crisis for Spain, which has no mechanism for allowing the independence of one of its regions, but would also issue a clear challenge to the EU, which has no system for the breakup of a member state. A new entity could have future membership blocked by just one member country.
The Catalan referendum would take place around the time of a similar vote in Scotland in 2014 and could be followed by an independence vote in the Basque country, where nationalists and separatists are expected to win elections this weekend. Basque nationalists have long pursued the dream of joining the EU as a separate state on an equal footing with Spain.
"Do you want Catalonia to become a new state within the European Union?" is Mas's preferred wording for the referendum.
He told the newspaper La Vanguardia that a definitive question would be agreed by the Catalan parliament, where he can expect to renew his majority on 25 November. He said he would like to follow the Scottish example and negotiate a referendum with central government, but Rajoy's conservative People's party (PP) government has vowed to use Spain's constitutional court to declare any referendum illegal.

Life may be about to become complicated for our European overlords in Brussels.  It is not just Scotland in the frame; Catalunya and the Basque country might be heading in a similar direction.  And it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Belgium might be inspired to take a final step towards disintegration.  Nor are certain parts of Italy immune to centrifugal forces.  In these circumstances, the EU may have to move away from its present policy of sticking its head in the sand and pretending that nothing will ever change.

15 October 2012

The known unknowns

In two years time, we shall have the opportunity to vote for Scottish independence.  Will it be an informed choice?  I doubt it.

Essentially, we shall be deciding whether the SNP should be allowed to begin the process of negotiations leading to independence.  Both sides will tell us their version of what is likely to happen if we choose to go down the road of independence but there are likely to be huge differences in the scenarios that they put before us.

Would an independent Scotland be an automatic member of the EU or would we have to submit a formal application?  Either way, there would have to be Treaty changes, so that the outcome would be dependent upon the agreement of all the Member States.  Both sides of the independence debate will produce legal and political arguments for and against but the issues will not be resolved before the referendum.

What currency would we use?  Again, nationalists will say one thing while unionists will say another.  There might be some form of tentative agreement between the sides on the way forward but don’t bet on it.

How much of the UK’s national debt would Scotland inherit?  How much of the oil?  How much of the defence establishment?  Would Scotland be able to get rid of trident submarines?  You may ask politicians on both sides but don’t expect a clear-cut answer.

If Scotland were to remain part of the UK, would we be offered more devolution?  If so, how much more and how soon?  Would it be a UK led by a Tory or a Labour government?  Would it be a UK playing a full part in the EU or standing on the sidelines?

So, should we or should we not vote for independence?  How can we tell?

14 October 2012

Prejudice rules

As a quintessentially urban bloke, I know next to nothing about the countryside.  But I doubt if you will find a better example of how evidence-based policy making is a stranger to this government:

Britain's top animal disease scientists have launched a devastating attack on the government's "mindless" badger cull, accusing ministers of failing to tell the truth and demanding the immediate abandonment of the killings.
The intervention by dozens of the nation's most senior experts, in a letter in the Observer, comes as farmers prepare to begin the cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset, possibly as early as tomorrow. The government's own chief scientist has refused to back the killings.
More than 30 eminent animal disease experts describe the cull as a "costly distraction" that risks making the problem of tuberculosis in cattle worse and that will cost far more than it saves.
It used to be said that MAFF had been captured by the farmers.  It seems that DEFRA, its successor, may also be regarded as the political wing of the NFU.