30 June 2014

It's a tough old life

As a result of one of the many minor miracles of modern technology, I have added a widget to this blog.  If you look at the top right-hand corner, you may discern a small box showing the current temperature (in Fahrenheit, as I still think in old money) of my local community.  At present, despite it being after 9 o'clock, it is still well over 70 degrees.

This is, nevertheless, a welcome diminution from the temperatures of earlier this afternoon, when it was over 90.  Great, if all you have to do is sit in the sun by the swimming pool or drink beer under the umbrellas on the terrace of the local bar.  Not so much fun if you have to trek round the supermarket or deal with the ever increasing mound of ironing.

Still, mustn't grumble ...



It's official.  The answer to the West Lothian Question is to stop asking it,  Or so the coalition government believes.  The Guardian reports:
Plans to restrict the voting rights of Scottish MPs at Westminster have been scrapped after splits emerged in the UK government before September's independence referendum.
Senior sources say the coalition has dropped plans to tackle the so-called West Lothian question because of fears it could fuel Scottish resentment, but also because the Tories and Lib Dems cannot agree on whether voting restrictions on MPs are fair.
Moves to restrict Scottish MPs' votes – by limiting their rights to vote on England-only legislation – have also been fought off by Labour and by senior Lib Dem figures, who plan to increase devolution to major cities and regions within England.
Nevertheless, I rather doubt if the issue will go quietly to bed.

27 June 2014

Who made what?

The distribution formula depends partly on results and partly on the size of the home market.  As ever, and to misquote Voltaire, God may not be on the side of the big battalions, but UEFA certainly appears to be.


24 June 2014

Diplomatic language

The Poles were supposed to be our allies in Europe but Cameron appears to have lost them.  The Guardian reports:
The gulf between Britain and its key European allies has been highlighted by the leaking of an expletive-laden transcript of secretly taped conversations in which the Polish foreign minister accuses David Cameron of having "fucked up" his handling of the EU.
As the prime minister braced himself for an embarrassing defeat on Friday in his campaign to block Jean-Claude Juncker from becoming European commission president, Downing Street was forced to defend Cameron's handling of the EU after he was accused of resorting to "stupid propaganda" to appease Eurosceptics. Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, who is close to many senior Tories and who as an Oxford University student was a member of the Bullingdon Club at the same time as Boris Johnson, made the comments in a conversation with the former Polish finance minister Jacek Rostowski.
In a conversation that may have been related to Cameron's plans to curb EU migrants' access to benefits or to his plans to restrict freedom of movement, Sikorski is quoted as saying: "It's either a very badly thought-through move or, not for the first time, a kind of incompetence in European affairs. Remember? He fucked up the fiscal pact. He fucked it up – simple as that. He is not interested. He does not get it. He believes in the stupid propaganda. He stupidly tries to play the system."
On the tape, printed in Monday's edition of the news magazine Wprost, Sikorski is quoted as criticising what he sees as Cameron's attempt to appease British Eurosceptics with soundbites. "You know, his whole strategy of feeding them scraps in order to satisfy them is, just as I predicted, turning against him; he should have said, 'Fuck off,' tried to convince people and isolate [the sceptics]. But he ceded the field to those that are now embarrassing him."
In another secretly taped conversation, the spokesman for the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, claims Tusk "fucked him [Cameron] up good" during a conversation with the British prime minister over plans to curb access to benefits in the UK. The tapes were leaked as Cameron acknowledged that he was on course to lose his battle to prevent Juncker from being nominated by EU leaders as the next European commission president at a summit in Brussels later this week.

If this is what the Poles are saying, imagine the conversation in Madrid, Rome, Paris and Brussels.

22 June 2014

Conversation of the week

From The Telegraph (here):
“FOR you, Dave, the World Cup is over,” said Angela Merkel. “Now the triumph of our glorious team, die deutsche Fussballnationalmannschaft, is inevitable. I think, maybe, you should learn from that.”
“Well, we’ve got a very young team, Madam Chancellor,” said Dave. “I’m sure we’ll do better next time.”
“Oh, Dave … Dave,” said the most powerful leader in Europe, almost regretfully, as if talking to a small boy so pathetically stupid that he could not be blamed for his painfully obvious failings, “are you not aware of what Gary Lineker once said?”
“Was it something about Walker’s crisps?”
“No, Dave, it had nothing to do with mass-produced schnackfoods. Herr Lineker observed that football is a simple game in which 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and in the end the Germans always win. Exactly the same principle applies to European Union politics. Twenty-eight member states pursue their own national interests and in the end we Germans always get what we want.”
And don't mention the war ...


20 June 2014

Quote of the day

Tweet twoo.  Now that the Labour Party has promised owls for everyone, The New Statesman has some questions:
Who-whoo do I contact if my owl is defective? Will I have to raise my owl from a chick, feeding it tiny little gross bits of mouse and mince, or will it be presented to me personally by the council on the day Miliband swoops into power? Will the unemployed have to turn up at the Raptor Centre twice a week in order to keep their owl? How long will asylum seekers have to wait until they receive an owl of their own? What if some people, perhaps because of cultural differences, might prefer a different bird of prey, say a buzzard or a crested goshawk? Will small boys in Northern towns be allowed to keep their kestrels? If we must have an owl, can we choose what kind?  The public demands answers.

Fanning the flames

A sensible suggestion?  If you had booked a foreign holiday and were waiting for a passport, what would you think?  The Guardian reports:
People caught up in the passport backlog should consider holidaying in Britain instead of going abroad, the tourism minister, Helen Grant, has said.
And, just to rub salt in the wound, Ms Grant - the Marie Antoinette of Westminster - is at present in Brazil for the World Cup.


18 June 2014

Eats shoots and leaves

Overheard in an Edinburgh pub:

Who is this Mr Li Keqiang then?  And why does he want the UK to remain united?  He’s the bloke that sent us they pandas in the zoo.

And why does he care about oor referendum?  Mebbes he’s worried about how the pandas will get along under big Alex without a Union Flag above their enclosure.  Ah mean, the Scottish government could impose a massive import tax on bamboo shoots.

Still, Ah’m a wee bit bothered by all these furriners tellin’ us what tae dae.  If it’s no Mr Li, it’s yon Hillary or that Argentinian guy in Rome.  Take it as a sign of how important our wee nation is to the future of the world.  If we didnae matter, people like Obama  widnae keep bangin’ on aboot it.

Aye, and that nippy-sweetie Nicola’s gone and published a constitution n’all.  So we’ll ken whit the government can and cannae dae in our brave new world.

It’s no gonnae help us get tae the World Cup, is it?  Look it’s independence we’re after - we’re  no gonnae achieve miracles.

15 June 2014

Music of the week

From the days when rock was fun.  Turn the volume up, plug in the headphones, and maybe bop a little:

World Cup on telly

BBC or ITV?  In an anti-competitive cartel-like arrangement, the matches have been carved up between the two national broadcasters so that the punters are obliged to put up with the idiocies of both.  The Observer comments:

The BBC has settled on their first-choice lineup: Gary Lineker and his trusted sidekick Alan Shearer, joined by new faces Henry and Rio Ferdinand. Everything about their production is as smooth as the Stevie Wonder track that plays over the opening titles. All is polished and shiny: Lineker's shoes, the studio floor, Shearer's crotch.
On the BBC, there is deferential genuflection towards Henry, whose cardigans are set to become as iconic as José Mourinho's overcoat. On ITV, a Fast Show-style "Ted and Ralph" dynamic is developing between Chiles and Cannavaro. "The four of us are going for a dip after this is finished," announced Chiles on Friday. "I hope you've got your trunks on underneath there, Fabio."
Cannavaro smiled beatifically and said nothing. Not for the first time, he didn't seem to know what Chiles was going on about.
For entertainment value, try counting the number of times Andy Townsend refers to “a little bit” (as in “they need to pull themselves together a little bit” or “he’s a little bit one-paced”).  That is, when he remembers to speak into the microphone.

They wiz robbed!

14 June 2014

Quote of the day

From El Pais (here):
El gran campeón se desangró en su regreso a la escena que le hizo legendario y se llevó una zurra monumental tras un partido de los que dejan boquiabierto al universo. Peor que la peor pesadilla imaginable para una España que jamás desde 2008 había recibido en Eurocopa o Mundial más de un gol. En Bahía, el colapso fue total, un infierno. Un cataclismo en toda regla. España recibió una descarga holandesa de las que hacen época y en un caótico segundo tiempo acabó en el lodo. Y pudo ser mucho peor. El castañazo, con esa diferencia de goles, deja a España con un camino con mucho más que espinas. Su pase al segundo tramo del campeonato peligra a la primera.
(My emphasis)

Tension mounts

Marina endeavours to resist the creeping optimism:
A dodgy brown pitch is a boon to England, isn't it? We can't pass anyway, so it couldn't matter less to us, but if the Italians can't pass on it, and if they cleave to their traditions of slow tournament starts with a draw, and we … but no. Oh my God, no. I can feel a stirring, even though I know that way madness lies. It starts with allowing yourself to read the phrase "green crystals", and quickly mushrooms to you becoming an expert on tropical fungus. Suddenly, you're speculating about a draw with Uruguay and beating Costa Rica 2-0, and plotting routes to the quarters. But you know, you have to think that we could beat whatever winner or runner-up Group C shakes down out of Colombia, Greece, Japan or Ivory Coast, don't you? Don't you?
Must … stay … strong. I'm sorry. We'll wind up here, so I can avail myself of a Post-it note – a thousand Post-it notes, perhaps, to be stuck anywhere I might look over the next few days – on which I will write a friend's most treasured footballing crutch: ENGLAND HAVE NEVER BEATEN A MAJOR FOOTBALL POWER IN A WORLD CUP KNOCKOUT MATCH ON FOREIGN SOIL.
Sometimes, you have to feel sorry for the English ...


Everybody has a view

Not a good week for the Yes campaign, with interventions by President Obama, Hillary Clinton and JK Rowling, and now - arguably - the Pope.

Anyone else want to join in?  Prince Charles, Roy Hodgson, Angelina Jolie?  Might as well get the outside interventions over with ...


13 June 2014

Do they know what they're doing?

Obviously not.  CityAM reports:
It is astonishing how quickly policy-makers have been performing U-turns, and then U-U-turns on all of this. During the bubble, the establishment was absurdly relaxed about high loan to value mortgages, including some at well over 100 per cent; they were equally happy with people who borrowed many times their income. Then came the financial crisis, and the inevitable backlash. The regulations were changed and banks were forced to hold much more capital, drastically reducing their incentive to extend mortgages with low or no deposits. Their own beefed-up risk assessment systems also made them much more reluctant to lend out too much on the back of uncertain collateral, especially when house prices were still falling.
But the government gradually began to realise what it had done, and panicked. It started shouting at the banks, and when that didn’t work launched a number of initiatives to subsidise credit, including with help to buy. Its right hand sought to undo the impact of the regulatory changes that its left hand had pushed through; it was the very opposite of joined-up government.
All seemed well for a while – until the government started to panic again. House prices were rising too fast. The two main state-backed banks suddenly pushed through a maximum loan to earnings cap of four times on homes worth £500k or more. But the real U-U-U-turn came last night, with Osborne giving the Bank of England the power to cap loans, even though the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street had previously said that it didn’t actually want to be given such authority.
Government by lurch, over-correction, then back to lurch.


08 June 2014

Cameron's dream

The Telegraph reports:
For the first time in his political life, Dave had a sense of “the vision thing”. People accused him of lacking inspiration. He was pretty good at seeming like an affable, reasonably competent sort of chap. But he’d never had a dream that would inspire the average man or woman in the street.
Now, though, he was on to something. Three times in the past, Tory prime ministers had delivered an entire continent from the yoke of tyranny. Lord Liverpool had saved Europe from Napoleon. Churchill had saved Europe from Hitler. Now he, Dave, would save Europe from Juncker.
He would stand up before the British people and say, “I won’t allow this federalist nonentity from Luxembourg to condemn us to standardised bananas and vast hordes of invading Bulgarians. I will argue for a marginally reformed Europe that still lets Germany call the shots, while giving us a few meaningless opt-outs that the French don’t object to.”
“And if that’s not a dream,” he thought, “I don’t know what is.”
Sad but true.

06 June 2014

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
IMF head Christine Lagarde ruled herself out of the race for the presidency of the European Commission. Here is her response in full.
"I'm not a candidate and the reason I'm not a candidate is that I have a job. It's a job that I happen to think is rather important at the moment, which the United Kingdom was kind enough to support me for at the time, which I have to do and which I intend to complete. 
As my young son would have said: 'Mum when you start something you've got to finish the job'.
Sensible woman.


Rockall, a hitherto uninhabited island in the Atlantic some 300 miles west of Scotland, has been occupied by an Englishman.  Ownership of the rock is a matter of dispute among the UK, Ireland and Denmark (on behalf of the Faeroes),

But, according to the Island of Rockall Act 1972, it is a part of Scotland (specifically, part of Inverness-shire).  Accordingly, if Scotland were to gain its independence, it could be the start of a Scottish Empire.

Does it matter?  Probably not.  According to the UN Law of the Sea, the rights to economic exploitation of the seas around uninhabited islands are severely limited.

05 June 2014

The Gracious Address

The Guardian sums up the Queen's Speech:
So, what have the undynamic duo Cameron and Clegg got planned for us? Hold on to your hat!
Hat held. Changes to pension annuities!
The ones that were announced in the Budget? Yes.
Three months ago? In March? Yes. And alterations to the funding of workplace pensions.
Anything besides changes to bloody pensions? A new state-funded childcare subsidy replacing the existing employer-subsidised scheme.
Ah, does it benefit poorer households? No.
So nothing new there. What else? Reforms! To speed up infrastructure projects, including measures to allow fracking firms to run pipelines on private land without prior permission.
I'm still not overwhelmed by the novelty. Five pence charges for carrier bags in shops?
As announced at last year's Lib Dem conference? Do you see where I'm going with this? No. Also: "This Queen's speech is unashamedly pro-work, pro-business and pro-aspiration." Cameron said so.
As opposed to all those other speeches that are anti-work, anti-business and pro-groping about in gutters? Gosh, yes, that is new. You see? All is well. All is well.
No wonder a pageboy fainted.

01 June 2014

Music of the week

My critics have suggested that I am an irredeemably soppy old romantic.  They are probably right.

Jumping the gun

The Independent appears to think that it will be straightforward:
The Scottish referendum in September. This is possibly the most important event of Cameron’s time as Prime Minister. The official campaign, during which spending limits apply, started on Friday. All politicians say that there is no room for complacency. This invites the question: why does complacency take up so much space? You might have thought that neurotic anxiety about imminent defeat would need a clear area for pacing up and down. Still, I am not a politician, and my complacency is quite compact: I think Scotland will vote to stay in the United Kingdom.
If so, that would be a great vindication for Cameron. He will be recognised as an astute judge of high politics, which he hasn’t always been. This is not the place to list all his errors, but he got the initial response to the banking crisis wrong; he allowed Nick Clegg to sabotage the boundary changes that would have equalised constituencies; and he cut the top rate of income tax, fatally undermining the Government’s “all in it together” rhetoric.
But if Scotland votes to stay in the UK, all that will fade a little against the brilliance of his triumph. His assessment that he could not be seen to stand in the way of the Scottish people will, after the event, be regarded as obviously right. I do not see how any prime minister could have refused to allow the referendum to take place, but a different one might have tried to delay it or to impose conditions. Cameron seems to me – although what do I know? I’m Scottish but I don’t live in Scotland – to have handled it exactly right. His tone has been respectful, statesmanlike and reasonable.

Aye, vindication would be a wondrous thing.  But what if the yes vote carries the day?  Then it will be goodnight sweet prince.  And, even more probably, what if the no vote sneaks home by only a whisker?  Then the prospect of neverendum looms.

In the circumstances, it might be wise to avoid counting chickens ...

At last

So the Edinburgh trams are finally up and running:

I see that my senior citizen's buspass will allow me free travel on the trams - so doubtless the early months will provide endless opportunities for me and my fellow oldies to have a hurl.

It would be churlish to dwell upon the cost of the system.