31 July 2013

It's grim up north

Much fuss over Lord Howell:
Lord Howell, who advised William Hague on energy policy until April and is the father-in-law of the chancellor, George Osborne, drew gasps of astonishment in the House of Lords on Tuesday for suggesting that the controversial form of gas production could take place in the north-east without any impact on the surrounding environment. Howell later apologised for "any offence caused" by his comments and said he didn't believe the north-east was desolate.
During Lords questions, he asked: "Would [the minister] accept that it could be a mistake to think of and discuss fracking in terms of the whole of the United Kingdom in one go? I mean there obviously are, in beautiful natural areas, worries about not just the drilling and the fracking, which I think are exaggerated, but about the trucks, and the delivery, and the roads, and the disturbance."
The peer, who lives in southern England, said: "But there are large and uninhabited and desolate areas. Certainly in part of the north-east where there's plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody's residence where we could conduct without any kind of threat to the rural environment."
The old boy is 78 and probably a bit gaga, even if his views are representative of the bulk of Tory opinion in the home counties.

26 July 2013

Holiday snap

The Englishman abroad.  She looks cool; he looks like a tourist.

25 July 2013

There goes my knighthood

By George!

Bloomberg on the latest HRH (here):
I don't want to rain on the Royal baby parade, but "George"? Yes it was great-grandpa's name, which is sweet. But there have already been six of them! There are so many better ones Kate and William might have picked off the royal family trees.
My personal favorites, long overdue for a revival, come from the Saxon and Viking kings who ruled England before 1066. Egbert, Ethelwulf, Ethelbald and Eadwig are all fine names, not to mention my personal pick, Ethelred (the Unready).
Admittedly, Ethelred has some bad vibes associated with him. Unpopular among his own people, he ordered the execution of all Danes in the country, and then tried to buy off the Danish armies that invaded with a tax called Danegeld. It didn't work. He was displaced by King Sweyn Forkbeard (face it, also a better name than George), from today's Denmark.
Unready is actually a mistranslation of Ethelred's Saxon nickname, although unfortunately that doesn't help. It meant Unwise.
Actually, it did not mean Unwise;  it meant "ill-advised"  (from the Anglo-Saxon raed, meaning advice or counsel).

24 July 2013

The kids are alright

I just hope that you youngsters out there appreciate my beneficence.  Citywire reports:
A line has been drawn among consumers, with borrowers on one side and savers on the other.For the savers the news is perpetually bad and this morning’s announcement that even trusted old Premium Bonds will suffer an interest rate cut shows that the savings environment is getting worse.
On the other side you have borrowers who are benefiting from low mortgage rates and will be given another boost as the government announces more details of its Help to Buy scheme, the second tranche of which will provide mortgage guarantees for first-time buyers.
The divide between savers and borrowers can also be seen as a divide between generations; young versus old.
The older generations tend to be savers, who have paid off their mortgage and may be using their savings to top up their pension, while younger people are more likely to be borrowers, struggling on to the property ladder.
And so, we wrinklies are subsidising the kids.  An occasional thank you would be nice ...

23 July 2013

By their choices shall ye know them

A republican curmudgeon writes:  was it absolutely necessary for the royal baby to be born in a private sector hospital?  Or is the NHS only fit for the peasants?

Good advice

From the omniscient Hadley (here):
Crocs are not summer shoes. They are not even shoes, or at least not shoes for adults. Man over there wearing Crocs? Go to a mirror. Look at yourself. LOOK AT YOURSELF.

22 July 2013

Not as easy as he thinks?

So the Prime Minister is going to crack down on porn:
Every household in Britain connected to the internet will be obliged to declare whether they want to maintain access to online pornographyDavid Cameronwill announce on Monday. 
In the most dramatic step by the government to crack down on the "corroding" influence of pornography on childhood, the prime minister will say that all internet users will be contacted by their service providers and given an "unavoidable choice" on whether to use filters.
The changes will be introduced by the end of next year. As a first step, customers who set up new broadband accounts or switch providers would have to actively disable the filters by the end of this year.
Well, who could possibly object?  But I trust that, whatever system is adopted, it is more effective than that established here in Spain.  That system appeared to based on blocking websites or web pages that contained naughty words, including "sex", "porn", "prostitution" and those words referring to various body parts.  This had the unwanted effect of blocking access to all sorts of sites and pages, including many of a medical nature, as well as perfectly respectable newspaper and magazine articles which happened to mention any of the banned words.  (The only benefit of the system was that the Daily Mail website appeared to suffer particularly badly.)

In the end, I phoned up my broadband supplier (which appeared to be in charge of the filter) and had the thing turned off.  But nobody except me has access to my computers.  It is likely to be a bit more difficult if you have kids in the house.


19 July 2013

It's a bleeding shame

The NHS is safe in the government's hands?  Well, maybe, as long as there isn't a buck to be made:
The Government was tonight accused of gambling with the UK’s blood supply by selling the state owned NHS plasma supplier to a US private equity firm.
The Department of Health overlooked several healthcare or pharmaceutical firms and at least one blood plasma specialist before choosing to sell an 80 per cent stake in Plasma Resources UK to Bain Capital, the company co-founded by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in a £230m deal. The Government will retain a 20 per stake and a share of potential future profits.
PRUK has annual sales of around £110m and consists of two companies: it employs 200 people at Bio Products Laboratory (BPL) in Elstree, Hertfordshire, and more than 1,000 at DCI Biologicals Inc in the US. DCI collects plasma from American donors and sends it to BPL where it is separated into blood proteins, clotting factors and albumin for supply to NHS hospitals in the treatment of immune deficiencies, neurological diseases, and haemophilia.
And so the Americans take control of another piece of our industrial and health infrastructure ...


It's a fracking shame

So, Slasher Osborne may be cutting public services to the bone but can still find the resources to offer tax breaks to big oil and gas.  The Guardian reports:
George Osborne has infuriated environmentalists by announcing big tax breaks for the fracking industry in a bid to kickstart a shale gas revolution that could enhance Britain's energy security but also increase its carbon emissions.
The Treasury has set a 30% tax rate for onshore shale gas production. That compares with a top rate of 62% on new North Sea oil operations and up to 81% for older offshore fields.
Interesting to note that Lynton Crosby, lobbying bogeyman par excellence, is involved with the fracking industry.  I wonder if he "discussed" the matter with the Chancellor ...

18 July 2013

Another fine distinction

Is it possible to discuss a policy proposal with a government minister without lobbying them?  David Cameron appears to think so.  The Guardian reports:
David Cameron faced intense questions throughout the day over Crosby's alleged involvement in the government's decision to abandon plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes.
Crosby's firm, Crosby Textor, works for the tobacco giant Philip Morris Ltd, which lobbied the Department of Health to abandon the plans.
Miliband accused the prime minister of "disgraceful" behaviour after Cameron declined to give a direct answer in the Commons when he was asked whether he had ever had a conversation with Crosby about plain cigarette packaging. The prime minister told Miliband: "I'll answer the question. He [Crosby] has never lobbied me on anything."
The obvious problem with such an approach becomes apparent when considering the proposal for a register of lobbyists (as announced yesterday).  For example, you might ask a lobbying organisation why it is not shown on the register, only to receive the answer that the organisation does not engage in lobbying; it merely has occasional conversations with ministers.  Which rather undercuts the whole idea of a register ...

Simon Hoggart ridicules the distinction:
I suppose lobbying might be: "Prime Minister, please don't introduce plain packaging! There are executives who might have to sell their third homes and racehorses!"
Chatting: "Mmm, before we discuss separate matters, can I remind you of the smooth yet manly taste of these Marlboro cigarettes? And let's not lose the iconic label, showing a beefy chap in chaps!"


15 July 2013

Is this sustainable?

Can Britain go on like this?

Compare and contrast:

IF small businesses are the future, then London’s place at the heart of the British economy is assured. Figures today reveal that 17 out of the top 20 UK areas for new business creation were located in London in the past year – and remarkably, that Silicon Roundabout was by the far the leading centre for start-ups. Tragically, these figures also confirm that the rest of Britain remains in relative decline, with much of the talent continuing to shift to the capital.
No fewer than 15,720 new businesses were set up in EC1V, the area that includes London’s new technology hub on the fringe of the City, in the year to March, according to UHY Hacker Young. This is promising, though as ever it remains to be seen whether any of these tech firms will grow and thrive, and whether any will become British Googles or Facebooks, truly world-class and world famous.
Other buoyant areas for start-ups include Bishopsgate (EC2) and Canary Wharf (E14), which between them saw 4,900 new businesses set up shop last year.
And here:
A third of Britain is effectively off-limits to lower-income working families because private rents are unaffordable, a new report claims.
The report comes from the Resolution Foundation, which campaigns on behalf of low to middle-income families.
It says most of southern England is now beyond the reach of less affluent households.
The Resolution Foundation says this forces people to choose between a decent home and other essentials.
With social housing usually unavailable and home ownership unaffordable for many first-time buyers, renting privately is often the only option for households on lower incomes.
BBC housing calculator also identifies how renting a modest two-bedroom home for less than £700 a month is almost impossible in London and much of the South East. Modest is defined as having a rent below 75% of similar properties in the area.
London and the South-East may be thriving for those at the upper end of the economic scale.  But for how long can it rely on a supply of nurses and health assistants, of police constables and postmen, of garage mechanics and supermarket sales assistants, if such people - so necessary to a functioning economy - simply cannot afford a place to live?

Is any of our political leaders even contemplating the need to restore a regionnal balance?

14 July 2013

Smoke gets in your eyes

As a habitual smoker and a shareholder in both British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco, I have no particular objection to the Cameron climbdown on tobacco advertising.  But why lead his merry (and healthy) men to the top of the hill, only to cave in miserably at the top?  The backlash was entirely predictable:
David Cameron faces calls from senior Liberal Democrats to sack his controversial election strategist Lynton Crosby over his links with the tobacco industry, as the coalition descended into open warfare over public health policy.
As the latest row over the role of big money in politics hit Downing Street, Paul Burstow, who was a health minister until September last year, said Crosby should either quit or be sacked by Cameron after it emerged that his lobbying firm works for global tobacco giant Philip Morris.
Other Liberal Democrats also made clear they were furious and would fight to ensure Crosby was removed from any role in which he could influence health or any other coalition policy.
Amid the growing furore, the Tory chairman of the all-party select committee on health, former health secretary Stephen Dorrell, announced that his committee would look into why the government had changed its mind on the question of cigarette packaging.
Last Friday, the government revealed that it was shelving plans to introduce plain packaging on cigarettes, prompting a furious reaction from the health lobby and MPs from across the political spectrum. The Observer understands that health ministers were almost uniformly in favour of plain packaging but were overruled by Downing Street.
Were the cigarette companies so persuasive?  And when Labour was being denounced for being in the pockets of the unions, was it a clever move to demonstrate so convincingly that the Tories would always take the side of their chums in big business?  Stupid, stupid politics.


13 July 2013

Intellectual jokes

From here:
Descartes walks into a bar. “Beer?” asks the barman. “I think not” replies Rene, who disappears.
Two atoms are walking down the street. One atom says to the other: “Hey! I think I lost an electron!” The other says: “Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m positive!”

How many Microsoft designers does it take to change a lightbulb? None – they just define darkness as “industry standard”.


11 July 2013

How not to win a referendum

It's not difficult.  Tell the Scots that, unless they do what the Ministry of Defence tells them, part of Scotland will be commandeered as UK territory.  The Guardian reports:
The British government is examining plans to designate the Scottish militarybase that houses the Trident nuclear deterrent as sovereign United Kingdom territory if the people of Scotland vote for independence in next year's referendum.
In a move that sparked an angry reaction from the SNP, which vowed to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons as quickly as possible after a yes vote, the government is looking at ensuring that the Faslane base on Gare Loch in Argyll and Bute could have the same status as the British sovereign military bases in Cyprus.
The move would be designed to ensure that the Trident fleet would continue to have access to the open seas via the Firth of Clyde. Under Britain's "continuous at sea deterrent", at least one Vanguard submarine armed with 16 Trident nuclear missiles is on patrol at sea at any one time.
After all, Scotland is only an English colony (like Cyprus was); and London has the right to dictate the terms under which that colony may gain its independence.  I don't suppose that it occurred to the Ministry of Defence that such an attitude might drive the Scots into the arms of the SNP.


The last one, again

10 July 2013

Too much information

There are some things I'd rather not know:
The future Labour leader did not waste time dating girls while he was at school, and so was not a bit like Nick Clegg, who had slept with “not more than 30” women before he met his wife, we learn.
“I was a late developer,” he admits. “I’m not going to compare myself to Nick Clegg in any way.
“I was quite square and serious. Girls came a bit later – university and after.”
Romance with Justine began when she went all the way to Doncaster North to help him secure the Labour nomination.
“I really feel so lucky. She’s so much the rock of my life.
“It sounds a bit corny, but I wouldn’t be doing this job and I wouldn’t be happy without her…“We call each other sweetie,” he added.
Pass the sick bag ...

09 July 2013

Georgie Porgie

The Telegraph is unduly critical of the Chancellor, here:
A portly man jogging in public, dripping with perspiration. The instinctive reaction of any passer-by is to look the other way. This is because (a) it's not a pretty sight and (b) he might just keel over and we'd rather leave the first aid to someone else, thanks very much.
So what was the Chancellor thinking when he allowed this picture to to be taken yesterday, the sweatiest of the year? George Osborne is not especially fat, but he'd look far better if he lost a couple of stone. Not that he will: he's been jogging – "running" isn't quite the mot juste – for years now and it isn't having the slightest effect on his waistline.
And here:
There he is, a fellow fortysomething fighter of the flab, battling his way through the park, listening to music drawn from his youth no doubt, huffing and puffing and hating the slim exercise fanatics sprinting past him on their way home for a wheatgrass based breakfast. I even recognise his T-shirt dilemma. Should one go tight? Maybe. But too tight is bad. But too loose – the option chosen by the Chancellor – in its way is worse. It looks suspicious, as though the wearer has something to hide. Flapping around, it gives the game away. Mainly, we should remember that a white T-shirt and shorts is always a bad idea, unless you are a toned Andy Murray. Instead, I have settled on running (slowly) only in very dark blue (shorts and T-shirt). I commend this suggestion to the Chancellor.
People of Slasher's age seldom look good when out jogging.  It's a sweaty, uncomfortable business, even in winter when a tracksuit will hide a multitude of sins.  Does that mean that they should never try?  Of course not.  Besides, what would he look like if he didn't jog occasionally?


Lest you are under the wrong impression ...

No, my little apartment is not a luxury villa and, no, I do not have a secret panic room to hide naked in.  Nor do I  have any tattoos.  And, as far as I know, the police are not after me ...


Long may it continue

More reasons to admire young Murray.

Given the nature of modern sport, there was something remarkable about Andy Murray's Wimbledon victory – beyond his defeat of the world No 1, Novak Djokovic, and overcoming 77 years of crushing expectation. The Scot, now the most feted sportsman in Britain, won the tournament without a full complement of sponsors' logos on his shirt.
Nor, according to his advisers, should you expect to turn on the television any time soon to see him mugging his way through a financial services or broadband advert. Many of the brands who will now beat a path to his door will be given short shrift.
For the past 18 months his potentially lucrative right shirt sleeve has been free of advertising, apart from a patch worn during Wimbledon fortnight promoting awareness of the Royal Marsden hospital – to which he donated his £75,000 winnings from the warm-up tournament at Queen's in light of the treatment his close friend Ross Hutchins received there as he battled cancer.
In short, Murray wants to be remembered for his sporting achievements rather than his advertising campaigns. Despite sharing some similar character traits, the last thing he wants is to be branded like David Beckham. Which is not to say that he is not alive to his value.
Murray has at times driven his agents to distraction through his obsessive focus on the task at hand, refusing to sign up to anything that he is not comfortable with or that might compromise his training or disrupt his routine. He has turned down a string of lucrative deals either because they make him feel uncomfortable or because they do not fit in with his schedule.
And here:
Good for Mr Murray. Asked about a knighthood today, he replied:
"It's a nice thing to have or be offered. I think just because everyone's waited for such a long time for this, that's probably why it will be suggested but I don't know if it merits that."
So Mr Cameron is now arguing for a knighthood for Andy Murray that even Andy Murray doesn't think is justified. Maybe that will persuade Mr Cameron to be wary of clambering aboard celeb-culture bandwagons in future. Maybe.

Nice to think that at least one of our sporting heroes can be more sensible than the Prime Minister.

08 July 2013

07 July 2013

Are tennis matches too long?

Four hours and 43 minutes for Djokovic/Del Potro;  two hours 50 minutes for Murray/Janowicz (plus 30 minutes for roof closing).  It's a long time to watch telly.

I'm not concerned about the players who are young and fit enough to cope.  Nor for the spectators who, having paid the £600 or whatever, are looking for value for money (or special means of delaying calls of nature).

No, it is viewers like me who lack the powers of concentration.  Inevitably, I have to go walkabout at some point during the second set - a bit of ironing perhaps or a nice nap - before re-joining the match at the end of the third set.  Maybe I'm getting old ...


04 July 2013

Supermarket etiquette

From The Guardian (here):
7. No matter how many times you've been asked it, it is not acceptable to answer the question with the words: "No I do not have a fucking Nectar card."


03 July 2013


I suppose I should be ashamed.  After more than five years or so in Spain, my knowledge of the Spanish language is little more than rudimentary.  Yeah, I’ve been to classes, but my capacity to speak the language is not really improving.  I know enough to get by in day to day conversation and can decipher texts.  But answering the telephone and comprehending a volley of rapidly spoken Spanish is the real test.

It does not help, of course, that everyone speaks English.  So immersion is not really a possibility.  And why would I watch Spanish telly when all the British programmes are available?

Furthermore, the Andalucians have their own version of the language.  The waiters in the cafe near my apartment greet me with a cheerful “buon dia” every morning (closer to the Portuguese “bom dia” than the classical Spanish “buenas dias”), while the checkout girls at the supermercado thank me with a sing-song “grassia” - none of your Castilian lisp in this neighbourhood.

So I can have some sympathy with those immigrants to the UK who are being told that benefits will be denied unless they quickly learn to speak English.  Just as well that I am not looking for employment.

01 July 2013

Cameron in Kazakhstan

A photo for the scrapbook:

Good telly

I have been enjoying the BBC 2 series on the Rise of the Continents.  I can't pretend to understand fully the geology of it all, but the guy doing the presentation, Professor Iain Stewart, so obviously enjoyed making the programmes that his enthusiasm is infectious.  Throw in the spectacular scenery and it becomes a programme well worth watching.

It may have cost a bob or two to send the good professor to the various corners of the world but, compared to the vast sums the BBC wastes elsewhere, this seemed like value for money.

Catch it while you still can - or wait for the repeats.