29 September 2012

Where do you find an ark when you need one?

Rain, rain, rain.  The Independent reports:

Seven people were killed and hundreds evacuated after flash floods caused by torrential rain swept through the southern Spanish regions of Andalucia and Murcia, emergency services said yesterday.
Roads were closed and some public transport was disrupted after heavy rains that started early yesterday, flooding streets and homes after months of drought.Four of the victims were in the coastal provinces of Malaga and Almeria, which are both popular tourist destinations.

And today it's been chucking it down all morning.

I don't expect much sympathy from my UK readers (who have apparently been experiencing their own deluges).  But it's a bit of a shock, having to wear long trousers.  But, according to the forecast, it'll be back to shorts by Tuesday.


27 September 2012

Night fever?

Is it John Travolta, strutting his stuff to the BeeGees?

Nah, it's only Nick Clegg ...

24 September 2012

Quote of the day

From The Independent (here):
It is seldom easy choosing between contradictory accounts of the same conversation, but can anyone doubt Andrew Mitchell, the mannerly Chief Whip, when he denies calling a policeman a “pleb”? This is exactly the kind of archaic, public-school insult that would flash into a copper’s mind. I mean, how often did The Sweeney’s Jack Regan yell, “Shut it, you pleb,” as he banged a villain against a wall?

Re-inventing the wheel

The Government is already the majority shareholder in one of the big four banks, RBS.  And it has what amounts to a controlling stake in another, Lloyds.  Each of these has offices all over the UK; each of them the staff and the resources to do whatever the Government tells them to do.  So why go to the trouble of setting up a new bank from scratch, which is what the blessed Vince wants to do?  Think staff recruitment, think offices, think computer systems, think loan procedures.  Crazy, isn't it?


21 September 2012

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

The Flashman tendency

Apparently, he was known as 'Thrasher' at his (public) school, ostensibly for his love of discipline.  Quite appropriate for a Chief Whip, I would have thought.  But he might want to be more careful about when he loses his temper:

The recently-appointed Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell has been forced to apologise after an altercation with armed police in Downing Street that is alleged to have involved foul language.Mitchell issued the apology following claims he was threatened with arrest for ranting at officers who prevented him leaving on his bicycle.
The Sun newspaper reported that Mitchell demanded: "Open this gate, I'm the chief whip. I'm telling you – I'm the chief whip and I'm coming through these gates." [Actually, The Sun suggested a rather more ribald version.]  Tourists and other members of the public were said to have been within earshot. The alleged incident, which happened just days after two police officers, Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, were shot dead near Manchester, is likely to cause embarrassment for David Cameron. The prime minister entrusted Mitchell with enforcing party discipline in this month's cabinet reshuffle.
Mitchell, a keen cyclist, denied using offensive language but admitted he had behaved badly after he was barred from leaving Downing Street via his usual route through the main gates.
Is bullying inherent in the Conservative philosophy?  Or does it only affect most of the Cabinet?  I suppose that it must be the influence of these public schools ...

18 September 2012

The biter bit ...

... or it's not the same when you're the one being harassed:

Quote of the day

More foot in mouth from Mitt Romney, the candidate who keeps on giving:

Speaking in what appeared to be a hotel function room, Romney claimed that the overwhelming majority of voters who support Barack Obama's do so because they are "dependent" on government and "believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing".
"There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what, all right?" he said. "There are 47 per cent who are with him, who are dependant upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."
"They will vote for this President no matter what," he continued. "These are people who pay no income tax... My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."


17 September 2012

Music of the week

Yeah, it's bubblegum pop, but it's good bubblegum pop.  (Better than tractors, anyway.)

You learn something every day

You may not find this terribly exciting.  Indeed, it may not be the most useful addition to the sum of human knowledge.  Nevertheless, who can fail to be thrilled to learn that Iceland has more tractors per hectare of arable land than anyone else in the world?

Now calm down and go back to sleep.


A disaster waiting to happen

There are some who say that Iain Duncan Smith means well.  But, when it comes to reforming social security, good intentions are far from enough.  The nearer we get to the introduction of the universal credit, the more problems emerge.  The Independent reports:
Welfare reforms being pushed through by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, will cut into the household budgets of hundreds of thousands of low income families, according to new research.
In total, the switch from tax credits and other benefits introduced by Gordon Brown to the "universal credit" system being pioneered by Mr Duncan Smith is expected to cut the annual welfare bill by £500m. Labour says that is money taken from families in the "squeezed middle".
It has been calculated that 300,000 families where both partners are in low-paid work will be worse off, because they will lose 65p in benefits for every extra £1 they earn, which is 60 per cent higher than under the present system. Up to 100,000 low-incomes families will see the help they get towards the cost of childcare reduced by up to £3,980 a year, taking away much of the incentive to look for work.
Then there is DWP's insistence on an on-line system, ignoring the needs of those without access to the internet.  In addition, the move to monthly payments will add its own complications.  It is of course possible in certain circumstances to mitigate the effect of these problems but it all adds to the complexity.

The biggest bugbear, however, is the need to underpin the whole arrangement with a new computer system.  Is it likely to be ready in time?  Has any big government computer system ever been ready on time?


The demagogue awakes

Is there anything that Boris won't do to get his name in the papers?  City AM reports:

BORIS Johnson yesterday launched a hard-hitting attack on the power of trade unions in a move that revived suggestions that he is positioning himself to run for leadership of the Conservative party.
Setting out his proposals to combat hard-line union activism, the Mayor of London called for a clampdown on the ability of organised labour to cause "endless disruption and buggeration".
In a move sure to please many in the Conservative party he called for legislation that would limit the ability to strike by forcing key public sector workers - including firefighters, paramedics and London Underground staff - to maintain a minimum level of service at all times.
Hard to believe that this is the same man who gave in so weakly to pre-Olympic threats of industrial action by transport workers.  Yet now he's pandering to the Tory neanderthals.

Reasons to be cheerful (on a Monday morning)

1.  Edinburgh lying third in the RaboDirect Pro12.

2.  Hibs lying second to Motherwell in the SPL.  (Who said Celtic would run away with it?)

3.  The mighty Malaga lying second in La Liga.

(Incidentally, we refuse to gloat over the travails of a certain Scottish Third Division side.)


16 September 2012

Is this meant to be an apology?

The Independent on Sunday sees the error of its ways:

Earlier editions of the London-based national press may have given the impression over the past few years that Andy Murray is an immature sour-faced, slovenly, Scottish choker who could not win a Grand Slam title even if his opponent were a one-legged, short-sighted octogenarian equipped with a banjo.
We now accept that, on the contrary, Sir Andy (as we hope you may style him come the New Year's Honours list, Ma'am) is a true-born British world-beater in the tradition of Sir Francis Drake and the Duke of Wellington.
Furthermore, it is possible that some readers may have formed the idea from our coverage of major tennis tournaments that his mother was a shrieking, coarse-voiced, hatchet-faced harridan who, having given birth to a loser, unwisely invested much of her time and money in the fruitless task of trying to turn him into a player capable of winning something. We now realise she is in fact an attractive, vivacious, sweet-toned shining example to the country's mothers, having recognised her son's unique talents and made many sacrifices to ensure they are fulfilled. We salute you.

Aye weel, you're still not forgiven.


13 September 2012

Deep waters

Here we go again.  The Independent reports:

The President of the European Commission has stepped into the row about an independent Scotland's place in the European Union by saying all new states will have to apply to join.
José Manuel Barroso's comments contrast with the SNP's claim that Scotland would automatically become a member state if voters back independence in 2014. Mr Barroso told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme that he couldn't comment on specific cases, but he added: "A new state, if it wants to join the EU, has to apply to become a member, like any state."

If an independent Scotland has to apply for membership, should that not mean that the UK rump should also be obliged to apply?  If not, why not?

Conversation of the week

From The Guardian (here):

Cameron: Why does everyone love Bozza so much?
Osborne: They don't know him.
Cameron: Well, I think serious times call for serious politicians.
Everyone: So do we. Unfortunately we've got you and Osborne.
Clegg: And me!
Everyone: In your dreams, loser.


Is bigger always better?

How big should a company be?  Is there a stage when economies of scale cease to deliver benefits?  And where governments are involved in defence-related companies, is there any real sense of competition?

The Guardian reports:

BAE Systems, Britain's largest manufacturing employer, and EADS, the owner of Airbus, have announced plans for a $48bn (£29.8bn) merger. The deal creates the world's largest defence, security and aerospace group, while giving France and Germany an interest in the UK's main defence contractor.
The new business would generate annual revenues of £60bn and employ 220,000 people worldwide, including 48,000 in the UK, producing a staggering array of state-of-the-art civil and defence equipment under one roof, from Britain's nuclear submarine fleet to the A380 superjumbo.
Under the terms of the British government's golden share – worth a symbolic £1 – BAE must have a British chief executive and a majority of its board members must be British, while non-UK shareholders can own no more than 15% of the business.
EADS is 22.35% owned by a combination of the French state and the French conglomerate Lagardère, while German carmaker Daimler controls a further 22.35% – part of which is being bought by a German state-owned bank. The Spanish state also owns 5.45% of EADS, which was formed by the combination of Daimler's aerospace unit with France's Aerospatiale Matra and Construcciones Aeronáuticas of Spain. The companies are not corporate strangers to each other – BAE owned 20% of EADS's largest business, Airbus, until 2006.

I am not saying that this is a bad idea but if I were a shareholder in either company (which I'm not) I would like to see the economic rationale for such a merger.

12 September 2012

Practising what they preach

How the TUC has changed.  No more beer and sandwiches:
Women make up 30 per cent of union general secretaries and 40 per cent of the TUC General Council. That compares with 18 per cent of David Cameron's Cabinet, 17 per cent of directors of FTSE companies, and less than 16 per cent of Conservative MPs.

Good for the TUC.  

10 September 2012

Not all the perfumes of Arabia ...

Just because he's the richest man in France and he wants to take Belgian nationality, there's no excuse for vulgarity - or, at least, maybe in this instance, there might be ...

(He is Bernard Arnault, boss of LVMH, the company that makes Moet & Chandon, Glen Morangie, Christian Dior perfumes and Louis Vuitton luggage.)


The euro soap opera continues

The story so far:

Super Mario has promised to buy up the debts of Mariano and Mario (the other Mario) and Angie has gone along with it, somewhat reluctantly.  But there are conditions; before Super Mario can do anything, Mariano and/or the other Mario need to ask nicely for help.  Mariano and the other Mario are a bit worried about this, because that would bring Christine and Jose into play and they would insist on more austerity.  All very difficult.

Meanwhile Angie has problems with the law.  The Judges will decide on Wednesday if Angie has bitten off more than she can chew.  In which case the whole shooting match might be back to square one.

Francois is watching all this from the sidelines, trying to achieve the impossible by staying friends with Angie, as well as with Mariano and the other Mario.

Confused?  You will be ...


09 September 2012

Oh yes - the reshuffle

The Sunday Telegraph explains how it really happened:

Treating himself to glass after glass of Merlot. Calling in minister after minister. Feet on the desk, feeling utterly chillaxed. Waving the bottle expansively at Cheryl, telling her he didn’t see why the Welsh needed a Secretary anyway. Telling Caroline that he was axing her from Environment before the crow’s feet got any deeper. Deciding, on the spur of the moment, that Jeremy’s cheerful little face would be much more suited to Health than grumpy old Andrew’s.
Justine had been a particular low point. She’d sat there, on the verge of tears, pointing out that she hated flying, and didn’t much like foreigners, and that International Development wasn’t the job for someone whose idea of exotic was the Isle of Wight. And hadn’t she only been keeping to the manifesto over Heathrow?
Tough, Dave had replied, warmed by the glow of a particularly fine Burgundy. It was, he’d told her, sky way or the highway. And anyway, he didn’t have time to listen to her snivelling.

08 September 2012

Music of the week

If you've never heard of Paul Robeson or Joe Hill, you should be ashamed.

High finance as you like it

I do hope that you have been following the Glencore/Xstrata affair.  It’s straight out of the movies.  This guy, Ivan Glasenberg (obviously a baddy - think Michael Douglas with a South African accent), the boss of Glencore, wants to take over Xstrata, led by Mick Davis (Matt Damon wearing a white hat - well maybe one that’s turned a bit grayish).  Ivan made an offer Mick could not refuse:  2.8 Glencore shares for every Xstrata share, oodles of dosh for Mick and a position as chief exec of the merged company.  But the Xstrata shareholders were not entirely happy - some of them thought that they being were sold down the river, notably the Arabs (in the form of the Qatar Sovereign Fund), the Vikings (yes the Norse oil fund was also involved) and dear old Standard Life.

It was expected to come to a head yesterday when the Xstrata shareholders were to vote on the merger/takeover.  (In Switzerland, of course).  At the last minute, Tony Blair (yes, he’s also up to his neck in this) managed to get Ivan together with the Qatari prime minister.  As a result, Ivan upped the bid to 3.05 Glencote shares per Xstrata share and apparently dumped poor old Mick by suggesting that he, Ivan, would be in charge of the merged company and that Mick could whistle for his expected dosh.

The amazing thing is that nobody seems to know where this leaves anybody.  Will the merger/takeover go through?  What will Mick do?  Does Ivan really want to get into bed with the Qataris?  And what about the Norwegians?  And will Tony make another intervention?  It’s all a bit of a mystery

This is an over-simplified version of the soap opera so far, but you have to admit that it's great entertainment ...

The plonker's plonk

The newspapers never tell you the interesting stuff.  Take wine-gate. for example:
As scandals go, the claim (wanly denied by Downing Street) that David Cameron took wine while ending Cheryl Gillan’s term as Welsh Secretary may appear trifling. Yet our MPs and political commentators lead admirably sheltered lives when it comes to alcohol, and inevitably wine-gate has outraged some Tory backbenchers and hostile hacks. The Daily Mirror, for instance, accuses Mr Cameron not of drinking the wine (a red, so it insists, though no word on chateau or vintage), but of “swilling” it.
In truth, swilling would be an indelicate mode of imbibing in the context, especially when Ms Gillan wasn’t offered a glass from which to take so much as a ladylike sip. It would have been worse, of course, had he sat there swirling, now and again dipping his nose to catch the bouquet, and punctuating her sobs with reflections on its ribald insouciance.
Was it a Tesco Lambrusco?  Or a Waitrose Fleurie?  We'll never know ...

07 September 2012

Headline of the day

Not the sort of thing one might expect from The Economist (here):
The ECB and OMT: OTT, OMG or WTF?
What does it mean?  Don't ask me - I can't keep up with the twists and turns of the everlasting euro-crisis.

But that's no excuse for vulgarity.



Building the new British economy

Not that different from the old British economy, it seems.  The Independent reports:
Yesterday, the Government unveiled its new, big plan for rescuing the moribund economy. Lips were wet in anticipation. There were drum rolls.
And here it comes. The Government is to "consult" – so it may not even happen anyway – on a three-year relaxation of planning rules on extending homes and business premises.
At present you can extend your home by three metres without planning permission, but under the exciting new plans (if approved) you shall be able to extend it by six metres.
Satirical-wise, this is hard to extend by even one metre.
Not much use for me, as I live three floors up.  But then I don't suppose that the Tories ever think about people like me.  And anyway it probably won't apply in Scotland.

06 September 2012

Nostalgia - stuff it

This morning, I had to do something I have not done in twenty years:  I had to change an electric plug.  Men of my vintage used to do this regularly.  For reasons which escape me, this was a man's job.  (I imagine that single women lived wholly in the dark.)  But some EU regulation or other in the 1980s insisted that all electrical appliances came with plugs already attached.  I therefore suppose that this is a mystery to you youngsters.

Changing a plug is not difficult, but it is fiddly.  It was a Spanish plug, but the principle is the same: blue to the left, brown to the right and earth up the middle.  Get it wrong and you'll set the house on fire or electrocute yourself.

But there must be an easier way to supply electricity to appliances.

To hell in a handcart

What's the world coming to, when the BBC can let go such luminaries of clear diction as Charlotte and Harriet?  Maybe I'm getting a little deaf, but I can hear every word when Charlotte speaks.

Not so for the Today presenters (Humphreys, I'm talking about you!) who have the alarming habit of letting their voice fall away as they move towards the end of the sentence.  And the newsreaders on Radio 5 are - literally - unspeakable, especially the wee girls who have to do the 5 am morning reports shift.

Sirs a plenty

Remember the fuss about honours for Olympic athletes and how the responsible Whitehall committee could only recommend one knighthood per year for gold medal winners?

Well, surprise, surprise.  Cameron managed to find four knighthoods at once.  The Independent reports:
Knighthoods have been handed to four MPs who lost their jobs, –Nick Harvey (formerly Defence minister), Jim Paice (Defra minister of state), Edward Garnier (Solicitor General) and Gerald Howarth (Defence minister).
What was all that about honours only going to those who had done something above and beyond their normal duties?

05 September 2012

Always look on the bright side

They say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.   The Independent plunges to the bottom:
...  here's something that should cheer everyone up. The Prime Minister has just completed his reshuffle. And it's not had any impact on the Treasury. So all the people who have done such a marvellous job with the economy over the past couple of years are still in place. Praise be for small mercies.

The customer is always right

How to win friends and influence people:
Ryanair's chief executive has lambasted a passenger who took to Facebook to complain about being charged for printing out five boarding passes, branding her "an idiot".
After a flight last month from Alicante to Bristol, Suzy McLeod of Newbury took to Facebook to vent her anger at paying €60 each for boarding passes for herself, her parents and her two children. "I had to pay €300 for them to print out a piece of paper," she wrote.
Mr O'Leary said that 99.98 per cent of Ryanair passengers print their boarding passes in advance: "To those who don't, we say quite politely: 'Bugger off' ". He added that Ms McLeod had written to him requesting compensation and "a gesture of goodwill", and he had responded by saying: "It was your fuck-up".
Utterly charming.

04 September 2012

03 September 2012

Shock! Horror! Calamity!

The price of a pint of Mahou in my favourite bar has increased from €1.50 to €1.80.  (Anguished wailing.)

All due to the VAT increase from 18% to 21%.  Not entirely clear why a 12.5% increase in VAT, accounting for a fifth of the total, should lead to a 20% increase in the price to the consumer.  But mustn't grumble - the price of a pint in the UK is slightly higher.


02 September 2012

Back in the old routine

Finally arrived in Spain.  Flat not burned down; fridge still working, so a cold beer was most welcome.  Temperature of 75 degrees at 9 pm, though it feels hotter.


01 September 2012

Music of the week


Please don't sack me, please!

How humiliating.  Does she have no self-respect?  Here:
Tory Party chairman Baroness Warsi has issued an appeal to David Cameron to keep her in her post when he carries out his forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle.
Lady Warsi has been criticised for her performance in the key party role by some Tories who say the job should be done by an MP sitting in the House of Commons.
But in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, the first female Muslim Cabinet minister urged Mr Cameron let her carry on so that she could help the party attract a new generation of women, working class and ethnic minority voters.


Wasting time

Office getting boring?  Need something to while away the endless hours?


Mr Fifty Shades

Splendid piece in The Guardian by the husband of the author of that novel.  This is just a taste but it is well worth reading the whole thing:
Whenever Erika encountered a story problem, she'd describe it, and I – being a bloke – would come up with a simple solution that was clear, elegant and always so utterly wrong she'd immediately devise her own. I don't think she once followed a suggestion of mine.

And no, I have yet to read Fifty Shades.  Not really my cup of tea.

Quote of the day

It's a funny old world (and a remunerative one if you are a lawyer):

Forty minutes into the judgment, it was clear Abramovich had won game, set and match. The judge dismissed in "its entirety" Berezovsky's claim that he had been a partner in Sibneft, set up in the mid-1990s when Russia's then president, Boris Yeltsin, practically gifted state assets to a small group of well-connected businessmen: the oligarchs. (In return they helped him dubiously win Russia's 1996 election.) She also rejected a second Berezovsky claim for $564m, his alleged share of a joint interest with Abramovich in the aluminium group Rusal.
Instead, Gloster accepted Abramovich's version of history: that he had been compelled to hire Berezovsky for his political connections. Back in 1994 Berezovsky was Yeltsin's occasional tennis-partner and a powerful figure in the corridors of the Kremlin. Abramovich was a young and ambitious oil trader. Gloster accepted the relationship had been one of "krysha" – the Russian word for roof – with Berezovsky giving Abramovich physical and political protection, indispensable in the murky world of Russian business. (The judge prounounced "krysha" to rhyme with Trisha, rather than the Russian way, "kreesha".)
The judge even ruled that Putin hadn't tried to intimidate Berezovsky into selling his TV channel ORT, during an uncomfortable Kremlin showdown in 2000, shortly before Berezovsky fled. Her finding prompted seasoned Russian watchers to guffaw. Afterwards, a stunned Berezovsky emerged into the corridor. The judge had tried to rewrite Russian history, he said, adding that his faith in British justice had now been badly shaken. Had he expected to win? "Absolutely."