31 August 2013


The sad death of Seamus Heaney has drawn me to look again at the great Anglo-Saxon epic of Beowulf, a splendid translation of which Heaney published some years ago.  Nothing can compare, however, to the rich and complex original text.  Here are the first few lines:

Hwæt! We Gardena         in geardagum,
þeodcyninga,         þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas         ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing         sceaþena þreatum, 
monegum mægþum,         meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas.         Syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden,         he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum,         weorðmyndum þah,
oðþæt him æghwylc         þara ymbsittendra 
ofer hronrade         hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan.         þæt wæs god cyning! 

Splendid stuff.  They just don't write them like that any more.


29 August 2013

Quote of the day

From The Times (paywall, but referenced here):
The Government could not contain its fury. “No 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a f****** c*** and a copper-bottomed s***. The French hate him now and he’s got no chance of building an alliance with the US Democratic Party,” said one Government source.
Oh well, if the French hate him, he'll be really upset ...


Does he know what he is doing?

Do you suppose that, before recalling parliament, Mr Cameron thought carefully what he might do if parliament were not prepared to support his proposal to make war on Syria - or at least to participate in an air-strike?  Did he take the necessary soundings about the possible parliamentary outcome with the other parties and, especially, with his own backbenchers?  Did he have a plan B in case parliament was reluctant to toe the line he wished it to?  The answers are obvious, now that the recall has proved fundamentally pointless, as any crucial vote will not take place until next week at the earliest.

Now consider this.  Has he thought through the implications of an attack on Syria?  It might make him feel better to have been seen to be doing something, but will it do anything to stop the civil war in that benighted country?  And while the medieval kingdoms of the Arabian peninsula might applaud, what of the Arab street?  And if the UK (and the US and France) does not respect international law and the United Nations, why should any other nation?

Or will Cameron just barge ahead, hoping that someone else will clear up the mess?


28 August 2013

You know you're getting old when ...

1.  You have no idea of who are the celebrities in the Big Brother show (with the obvious exception of Big Ron) and, worse, you don’t really care.

2.  When you get down on hands and knees to read the gas meter, you find it difficult to get back up.

3.  You get fed up with people enquiring why you do not possess a mobile phone.

4.  You have no idea what “twerking” is.

5.  You prefer to listen to Radio Gold with its comfortable mix of 60s and 70s music, rather than tolerate the self obsessed so-called personality DJs on Radio 2 who have little or no interest in music.

Chips on shoulders

You might have thought that we had more important things about which to argue.  The Independent reports on a major controversy:
It is a gastronomic preference that has long divided natives of Scotland’s two biggest cities. But Edinburgh’s long-standing love affair with salt ’n’ sauce on its fish and chips has brought cries of racial discrimination from a Glaswegian.
Tony Winters, an electrical engineer, was told he would have to pay a 25p surcharge for tomato ketchup in an Edinburgh chippie. He now plans to take his complaint to trading standards officers....
As the debate over sauce choices rumbled across social media, Paul Crolla, the owner of the chip shop in question, defended his decision. “Fish and chips is an Edinburgh thing and people want salt and sauce on it,” he said. “If it was up to me I wouldn’t give anyone ketchup because it ruins the whole thing. Salt and sauce goes with fish and chips, anything extra should be paid for.”
Me?  I regard anything other than salt as an abomination - brown sauce, red sauce, vinegar, they detract from the crispiness of the batter.

27 August 2013

How Cameron gets it wrong

It's not that difficult.  But painting yourself into a corner is not the way to go about it. CityAM illustrates the point:
PRIME Minister David Cameron has cut short his holiday to chair a meeting of the UK’s National Security Committee on how to respond to an alleged chemical attack in Syria.
He is also set to make a decision today on whether to call back other MPs early to discuss the atrocity.
A Downing Street spokesman said yesterday: “The Prime Minister will be working from Downing St ahead of a meeting of the National Security Council scheduled for Wednesday. The government will decide [today] whether the timetable for our response means it will be necessary to recall MPs sooner than Monday when the House is currently due to return.”
If he wants to recall parliament, he should just do it.  Because, now, if he decides not to, he will be excoriated for failing to allow MPs their say.  In such circumstances, he could only plead that nothing will happen before next Tuesday at the earliest, thus revealing his hand to all and sundry.  Poor politics.

25 August 2013

'Dae sumthin!'

Aye, but what?  You might almost feel sympathy for Obama, Cameron and Hollande:  The Independent reports:
Military action against Syria moved a step closer last night after Britain and the United States warned President Bashar al-Assad that there would be a “serious response” to last week's chemical weapons attack in Syria. As fresh footage emerged of children killed in the strike against a Damascus suburb last Wednesday, David Cameron and Barack Obama agreed in a 40-minute phone call yesterday that the Syrian government was responsible for the atrocity and that all military options are on the table.
The two leaders agreed that "a significant use of chemical weapons would merit a serious response" and a "new stage" in the two-and-a-half-year civil war. In a sign of how the military build-up is escalating, Washington despatched a fourth naval warship to the Mediterranean capable of launching missile attacks on targets on the Syrian mainland. Mr Cameron and the US President are "looking for a response that makes clear our abhorrence about the use of chemical weapons", a British source said. "Both shared the view that there is little doubt that this was a significant use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons against his own people," a No 10 source said.
Is there anything that can be done to make things better?  Would a few missile strikes end what amounts to a civil war?  Would a no-fly zone seriously clip the wings of Assad's forces?  How can the west stop the Syrians killing each other (and their children)?  It might be possible to assassinate Assad, but would he not be replaced by another strongman?  Or do we just sit on the sidelines and let the tragedy play itself out?

No easy answers.

24 August 2013

Be it on your own head

Well, OK, if you absolutely insist.  But I warn you, it will really put you off your lunch.

Music of the week

Sorry to hear of Ms Ronstadt's troubles.  One of the greats.

Does the referendum matter?

Scotland is already going its own separate way, according to Steve Richards (here):
The more influential ministers in the [UK] coalition ache above all to radically challenge the role of the state, to achieve the reverse of the 1945 Labour government. Remarkably, given that they rule in a hung parliament, they have found the space to pursue their radical ambitions. Few in England voted for a revolutionary overhaul of the NHS, the near privatisation of universities, a further decline in the power of local government, a framework for education that paves the way for a return to selection and the introduction of profit-making schools, but that is what they are getting. In their fervent disdain for the state as a mediating agency, ministers focus with special energetic intensity on areas over which they happen to have no powers in Scotland.
As a result Scotland becomes more markedly different than ever. In Scotland the NHS is spared the haphazard revolution in England. The education secretary, Michael Gove, is powerless to impose his resolute will on schools in Scotland and the same applies to his other more evangelical colleagues moving England rightwards. Without doing very much Scotland becomes more different because of what is happening in England. The limited powers handed over to the Scottish parliament are precisely the ones that partly protect it from the ideological mission of the Westminster government. The cautiously incremental New Labour settlement [of devolution] becomes the basis of historic distinctiveness.
But does this inevitably and inexorably lead to some form of independence?  Or is there a stopping point at devo-max, where enough seems to be enough? Or, in today's interdependent world where sovereignty is always and at least partially pooled, is the difference only a matter of semantics?


The rise of the machines

So NASDAQ went down for two or three hours, which has led to a fair amount of soul-searching.  The Guardian reports:
The statistics are stunning: about 90% of all the data in the world has been generated in the past two years (a statistic that is holding roughly true even as time passes). There are about 2.7 zettabytes of data in the digital universe, where 1ZB of data is a billion terabytes (a typical computer hard drive these days can hold about 0.5TB, or 500 gigabytes). IBM predicts that will hit 8ZB by 2015. Facebook alone stores and analyses more than 50 petabytes (50,000 TB) of data.
Data is also moving faster than ever before: by last year, between 50% and 70% of all trades on US stock exchanges was being done by machines which could execute a transaction in less than a microsecond (millionth of a second).Internet connectivity is run through fibre optic connections where financial companies will seek to shave five milliseconds from a connection so those nanosecond-scale transactions can be done even more quickly.
Does anybody understand all this?  I guess I hope so ...

21 August 2013

Quote of the day

Matthew Norman in The Independent (here):
Back in July of 2005, to be a Brazilian in transit in London was to send the enforcers of law and order a gilt-edged invitation to a state sponsored execution. Seven short summers after the Met whacked Jean Charles de Menezes on a Tube train for no apparent reason beyond its own staggering incompetence, the law-abiding Brazilian traveller with no conceivable link to terrorism may expect nothing worse than being hauled into a Heathrow interrogation cell, and questioned for the maximum nine hours permitted under the Terrorism Act 2000.
And is there any sign of contrition on the part of Government Ministers, the police and the assorted spooks?  Not that you would notice ...

20 August 2013

It's a shame ...

... but there you go.  Poor old Cameron is unable to indulge his idea of holiday fun by slaughtering innocent animals:
David Cameron is suffering from a "phenomenally bad back", which he describes as "a bore" that has stopped him deer hunting.
Speaking during his holiday on the island of Jura in Scotland, the prime minister revealed he was diagnosed with a protruding disc after a medical scan. He is not sure what caused the problem and may have to undergo an injection after the pain did not ease for a week.
In previous years Cameron has stalked the island's famous red deer, but he told the BBC that he now cannot crawl through the heather because of his bad back and prefers to walk.
My heart bleeds for the poor guy.

17 August 2013


Cameron runs into a brick wall.  The Guardian reports:
Spain's increased border controls have led to delays of several hours for those travelling to and from the British overseas territory.
The European commission had previously said that it planned to send a team of monitors to Gibraltar next month to check whether Spain was breaking EU rules on frontier controls, but on Friday a Downing Street spokesman said Cameron had asked Barroso to ensure it was sent "urgently".
Good luck with that.  The European Commission is on a care and maintenance basis during the month of August.  Even if it wished to send a team of monitors, the vast majority of its officials are on holiday.

06 August 2013

Wanting it both ways

Our Prime Minister really is a card!  This is a prime example:
More needs to be done to promote the benefits of fracking, a spokesman for David Cameron indicated.
The Prime Minister believes that shale gas offers “exciting” potential for energy security, jobs and growth but it should only be carried out if there is “no risk” to the environment.
The problem is that you cannot have one without at least a certain amount of the other.  To pretend otherwise is simplistic nonsense. 


05 August 2013


You would have to be extremely cynical to believe that the current stooshie over security was a weird attempt to justify the obsessive levels of surveillance by the NSA and GCHQ.  The Guardian reports:
The closure of 22 US embassies over an alleged security threat was seized on by defenders of the National Security Agency on Sunday, amid claims that its controversial surveillance programme alerted authorities to "pre-9/11" levels of terrorist chatter.
A meeting of President Barack Obama's top security officials on Saturday concluded that intelligence apparently gathered from overseas communications intercepts showed a serious but unspecified threat against Western and US interests. The administration moved to shut the embassies across North Africa and the Middle East as a precaution.
Intelligence committee members in Washington who had been briefed on the alert said it was the most serious they had seen for years and repeatedly cited the threat during Sunday's political talk shows as a reason to resist growing calls in Congress for reform of the NSA's sweeping powers.
Nobody would be so arrogant as to manufacture a security crisis of such proportions, would they?  Would they?

03 August 2013

Quote of the day

Nigel Farage of UKIP on the government's latest anti-immigration initiatives (here):
"Spot checks and being demanded to show your papers by officialdom are not the British way of doing things. Yes, of course we want to deal with illegal immigration, but what's the point of rounding people up at railway stations if at the same time they're still flooding in through Dover and the other nearly hundred ports in this country.
"I'm astonished that the Home Office has become so politicised that they're actually advertising 'another 10 arrested'. Before long they'll be live video-streaming these arrests. I don't like it. It really is not the way we've ever behaved or operated as a country. We don't have ID cards; we should not be stopped by officialdom and have to prove who we are."
It must mean something when even Farage considers that the government has over-stepped the mark.


02 August 2013

Birth Certificate

It's a shame - the poor laddie's parents do not appear to have proper surnames.

01 August 2013

Where will it end?

The shape of things to come.  If Ryanair hates its passengers so much, perhaps it would prefer to fly empty planes?  City AM reports:
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary has said the introduction of charges for hand luggage on planes is “unlikely in the short term but it’s probably inevitable”.
Speaking at a news conference in London, the budget airline boss said it’s likely that companies would see the charges as a new revenue stream to be exploited, but said he was unsure of how his company could do it without disturbing its 25 minute turnaround times.
When asked what the logic was behind Ryanair’s €20 increase in charges for hold luggage over the summer period, he said that this is “when people bring more bags. We don’t want the bags. We will keep increasing charges until we get rid of [hold] bags”.
The airline has managed to reduce the number of passengers checking in hold baggage from 80 per cent to 19 per cent and said it was saving them “a fortune in money”. He hopes to get this figure down to ten per cent.