30 November 2015

Getting a bit iffy?

Doubts are creeping in?  The Times reports:
The defence secretary has conceded that a 70,000-strong force in Syria that must keep the peace after the bombing campaign against Isis is imperfect.
Michael Fallon admitted that the force was “not a new model army, all perfectly drilled and organised”, amid growing questions about its scale and calibre from MPs on all sides of the Commons.
The 70,000 Syrian ground troops revealed by Mr Cameron last Thursday have become crucial for some MPs, amid efforts to shore up support before a vote on bombing Isis in Syria which could come on Wednesday.
There was scepticism from some Tory MPs over the figure. Andrew Percy, the Tory MP for Brigg & Goole, said it was the weakest part of the government’s case for war.
There were also military doubts. General Sir Richard Shirreff, the former Nato deputy supreme allied commander Europe, said the force would not be strong enough and would need western forces alongside it to recapture the terrorist group’s strongholds such as Raqqa.
“It’s not something you are going to achieve with 70,000 so-called Syrian moderates,” he told The Telegraph.

Scotland 10 - Macedonia 0

The girls done good.

In four Euro-qualifiers, they have scored an amazing 24 goals, conceding only one.

Blackmail, bribery or a bit of both?

Or just a squalid little arrangement of convenience?  The BBC reports:
Turkey and European leaders have struck a deal to try to control the flow of migrants to Europe.
Turkey will receive €3bn (£2.1bn) and political concessions in return for clamping down on its borders and keeping refugees in the country.
Talks on Turkey's accession to the European Union will also be revived.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it was a "historic day" in Turkey's relations with the EU.
Under the deal, Turkish citizens may be able to travel without visas in Europe's Schengen zone, which allows free movement between many European countries, by October 2016.
Does anyone care what the migrants think?


29 November 2015

We have something in common

That must be why I am vaguely sympathetic.  The Sunday Times reports:
Jeremy Corbyn has officially declared himself proud to be dull. Although he seems to have quite a lot on at the moment, he is considering an offer of honorary membership from the Dull Men’s Club, where chaps can enjoy collecting traffic cones, admiring vintage vacuum cleaners, or — in Corbyn’s case — photographing drain covers.
In a letter to the club, he thanks them for a gift of the club’s latest book and adds: “I will enjoy reading it as soon as I get a moment. I don’t suppose there are too many of us, or am I wrong? Never was dull so exciting.”
Dull Men of the world unite!  We have nothing to lose but our cardigans ...


27 November 2015

Worth a look


Quote of the day

Why does Cameron want to go to war?
The French wanted us to help them out again just as we had done in the second world war, the Americans were already on board, so every day we didn’t do something was a day wasted. It needn’t be anything too scary; just a little light, postprandial recreational bombing. There would be no civilian casualties because our weapons – Steven Spielberg’s Raptorpod clunked its way into the chamber to take a bow – were so advanced they were primed to only take out dangerous jihadi.
There would be no need for British ground forces to get involved because he, Dave the Mighty Slayer, had discovered a standing army of 70,000 Free Syrian moderates who were just itching to form a democratic government. Best of all, Britain had the UN and God on its side. There again, Britain always seems to have God on its side when it goes to war.


26 November 2015

Nothing to do?

If you watch nothing else on telly this week, do tune in to Kind Hearts and Coronets, available on the BBC i-player here.

This is the trailer:

Smoke and mirrors

Hmm, very convenient, suspiciously so.  Peston explains:
So how has George Osborne pulled off the magical trick of maintaining spending on the police, imposing smaller than anticipated departmental spending cuts in general, and performing an expensive u-turn on tax-credit reductions, while remaining seemingly on course to turn this year's £74bn deficit into a £10bn surplus in 2020.
Well, it is because the government's forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility, has increased its prognosis of how much the Treasury will raise from existing taxes (not new ones) and reduced what it thinks the chancellor will shell out in interest on its massive debts.
In total the OBR thinks the national debt, the aggregate of the annual deficits, will be £23bn lower over the four years to 2020, and just because it is more optimistic about tax revenues and assorted costs.
Or to put it another way, George Osborne is today £23bn better off than he thought in July, and without doing anything at all.
Now you don't see it; now you do ...

The Guardian comments:
Only a churl would point out that this is a plan built on thin air. That this is Enron economics, in which being told that you’ll get more money is the cue to start spending it right away. It’s not even as if the chancellor had found £27bn down the back of the sofa. He had found it down the back of a hypothetical, future sofa.

25 November 2015

Quote of the day

The Governor of the Bank of England testifies to the Treasury Select Committee (here):
Carney could well be the first art installation to get the top job at the Bank of England. Ever since he took over more than two years ago he has managed to get almost every prediction wrong while doing as little as possible other than to say that, after careful reflection, he has concluded interest rates should stay exactly the same for another few months. Mogadon “Mañana” Mark is a miracle of economic and comic genius by always being right at the same time as always being wrong. A contradiction of creative nihilism.
Nothing fazes Mogadon “Mañana” Mark, for whom life is one long, unhurried green ski run just outside Calgary; not even the Conservative Steve Baker, enquiring why inflation was so much lower than he had anticipated.
“Therearepotentiallycontradictingtimehorizons,” Carney said, for a moment coming over all Captain Kirk. What you had to understand, man, was that the economy was, like, really heavy and operated on its own space-time continuum.

Stop bashing the NHS

The BBC suggests that medical consultants have a Monday to Friday attitude:
As the system is currently set up, consultant cover drops significantly at weekends. A recent Freedom of Information request by the Daily Telegraph found in general medicine it fell five-fold.
The result of this is that the consultants in work are stretched more thinly and junior doctors have to do more.
That means these vital tests and procedures sometimes cannot take place until Monday comes. The suspicion among experts is that this is one of the reasons why, as the study published by the British Medical Journal on Sunday suggests, patient care may be being hampered.
I can only go by my own experience with the NHS.  Earlier this year, I underwent an NHS hospital operation on a Friday; the consultant came to see me at 7am on the Saturday morning to explain how it went and then again at 9am on the Sunday morning to check on progress.  My second operation in September actually took place on a Sunday.

So no complaints from me about consultants.  Nor about the terrific nursing care I received on those weekends.


24 November 2015

Now £31,000,000,000 plus £10,000,000,000 contingencies

Military boys and their toys

The main features of the newly announced defence spending plans are as follows:

  • Two 5,000-strong "strike brigades" sourced from existing Army numbers and equipped to deploy across the globe
  • New F-35 jets and maritime patrol aircraft
  • A reduction in the number of new Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigates being built, from 13 to eight
  • More than 20 new Protector drones, more than doubling the number of Reaper aircraft they replace

  • It is said that the new strike brigades will be created by 2025.  Why this process should take 10 years is not explained.  Imagine if, in early 1939, the Ministry of Defence had advised the government that they would not be in a position to resist Nazi Germany until 1949.

    Similarly, the F-35 jets for the new carriers will not be available until 2023, which means that the carriers will be sitting idle for years after they are commissioned in 2019 or 2020.

    Furthermore, given the perennial and chronic inability of MoD to meet deadlines, it may be optimistic to assume that these arrangements will actually be in place by 2025.

    And who knows what threats we will be facing in 2025?  None of the above is likely to provide direct prevention against terrorist attacks of the kind we have seen recently in Paris, in the Sinai or in Mali.


    23 November 2015

    Quote of the day

    The drums of war are beating their unholy tattoo.  But The Guardian holds back on jingoism:
    There are enough countries already launching airstrikes – to the point where they risk acting at cross-purposes and endangering each other. What special extra element can the RAF add, other than trying to demonstrate Britain’s military prowess (to the UK itself, but primarily perhaps to the Americans)?  
    Even if the forces of Isis are attacked even more intensively from the air, the military consensus appears to be that they cannot be defeated without ground troops. Will western forces, in the end, be able to resist the calls for such an escalation? And what would the longer-term effect be anyway? The appeal of Isis lies not only in its military power, but in religion and ideology. That appeal will not be countered by western arms; it is more likely to be bolstered.
    After more than two years, the central purpose of military intervention in Syria has still not been clarified. Everyone now insists they are fighting Isis, but the US, Jordan and others intervened at the start in support of those opposing President Assad. Turkey eventually joined in, and chose primarily to attack Kurdish PKK forces. Russia’s airstrikes have been intended to boost Assad as much as to push back Isis. Where will any UK airstrikes fit in? Whose war will we actually be fighting?

    22 November 2015

    The Neville Chamberlain de nos jours

    Hesitant?  Prevaricating? Dithering?  Leading from behind?  It is anything but firm leadership:
    After the Iraq conflict and British intervention in Afghanistan, it was never going to be easy. But slowly and surely, David Cameron appears to be building sufficient parliamentary support for what could be the biggest decision of his premiership: to take part in airstrikes against Islamic State targets inside Syria.
    There is, as yet, no date for a parliamentary vote, and Cameron insists he will only set one if and when he is sure he will win it. The PM remains cautious as he tiptoes along the road to war. He was badly burned in 2013 when he failed to gain parliamentary approval for airstrikes against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and wants no repeat of that.
    If Cameron wants to take the military option against ISIS in Syria, let him come out and say so, together with an honest statement of the added value which UK participation would deliver and of the objectives of any such action.

    21 November 2015

    Music of the week


    Winter is coming ...

    The Times reports:
    Britain is braced for up to four inches of snow this weekend as the country prepares for the coldest November temperatures in five years.
    An Arctic blast is forecast to drive temperatures lower than Siberia, with 70mph gales coming in from the North Pole. Some 2,000 gritters will be on call as snow, ice and high winds threaten to cause travel chaos, with the RAC expecting 7,000 breakdowns a day this weekend.
    Rail operators have prepared 34 “ghost” trains ready to clear the tracks, while snowploughs are on standby at airports in the north.
    Treacherous driving conditions and possible travel disruptions ​were also expected — and the snow could fall as far south as London, although it is not expected to settle.
    Yesterday snow had already begun to fall in Aberdeen, with the Met Office predicting “more than a dusting of snow” in the north of Scotland.
    Here in sunny Spain, today's temperature is expected to reach a balmy 21 degrees (he wrote smugly).


    A grumpy old man writes ...

    Better than a kick in the teeth, I suppose:
    The basic state pension is set for its biggest rise in real terms since 2001, the Treasury has said.
    Chancellor George Osborne will confirm the increase to £119.30 a week from April 2016 in next week's Spending Review.
    The 2.9% rise will be worth an extra £174.20 a year to someone on a full basic state pension.
    A triple-lock pledge on pensions - a government promise for the next five years - means the state pension rises each April to match the highest of inflation, earnings, or 2.5%.

    18 November 2015

    Ad blocking

    Do you use an ad.blocker?  I do.  CityAM reports:
    Increased use of consumers using ad-blocking software is posing a serious threat to brands and publishers and creative agencies.
    Self-playing videos and pop-up ads have given the medium a bad name among consumers, and one in five (20 per cent) of us uses the software – up about five percentage points from earlier in the year. This figure increases to 40 per cent among 18-24 year olds.
    YouGov research shows that people want to shut out adverts for two broad reasons. First, they find online ads “annoying” (80 per cent). Second, because they often make using the device harder and that ad-blocking reduces visual clutter and speeds up browsing.
    The advertising agencies have only themselves to blame - for going over the top with a plague of useless ads.

    I use AdBlock which is free (google it if you're interested) and it has made an enormous difference to my browsing.

    In memoriam

    17 November 2015

    War aims

    It is all very well declaring war on ISIS but what would victory look like?  Paul Mason in The Guardian sets out the difficulty:
    ... the biggest challenge comes if you imagine what victory would look like. Isis-held territory being reoccupied by armies that, this time, can withstand the suicide bombings, truck bombs and kidnappings that a defeated Isis would unleash. Mosques and madrassas across the region stripped of their jihadi preachers. A massive programme of economic development focused on human capital – education, healthcare and institution building – as well as physical reconstruction. Nonsectarian, democratic states in Iraq and Syria and an independent Kurdistan state spanning parts of both countries. To achieve this you would need to unleash surveillance, policing and military action on a scale that could only be acceptable to western electorates if carried out with a restraint and accountability not shown in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    The alternative is to disengage, contain Isis, deal with the refugees and try to ignore the beheading videos.
    Let us hope that the politicians and generals bear this in mind.

    Not very patriotic

    One might have expected the national football associations to be less communautaire.  The Guardian reports:
    German discount chain Lidl has been appointed official supermarket of the England football team.
    From Tuesday, the Neckarsulm-based grocer will be the official supplier of water, fish, fruit and vegetables for Roy Hodgson’s boys under a multimillion-pound three-year deal with the Football Association. It will also be official supplier of fish, fruit and vegetables for Scotland and Wales after signing similar deals with their equivalent footballing bodies.
    Do you suppose that the German FA would even have considered getting into bed with Sainsbury's or Tesco?


    15 November 2015

    Musique de la semaine


    Vive la France!

    I confess that, until now, I had never seen the point of Facebook; I was a "lurker", rarely if ever posting.

    But it was through Facebook that I was quickly able to ascertain that the branch of my family domiciled in Paris were safe and well.

    For which, much thanks.


    11 November 2015

    Utter nonsense

    For how long do we have to tolerate this kind of rubbish?
    Corbyn is expected to be sworn in as a member of the privy council on Wednesday, enabling him to receive confidential security briefings. He has confirmed that he intends to join the body, but has not said whether he will kneel on a footstool or kiss the Queen’s hand as part of the process.
    Labour declined to give more details about how Corbyn will conduct the swearing-in ceremony. His choices may never be made public, because meetings of the organisation take place in private.
    According to the Royal Encyclopaedia, the protocol is that: “The new privy counsellor or minister will extend his or her right hand, palm upwards, and, taking the Queen’s hand lightly, will kiss it with no more than a touch of the lips.”
    Is this a democracy, or what?

    08 November 2015

    Supermarket queuing

    How to choose the till that will get you out the door fastest?  The Sunday Times ponders:
    ... scientists have worked out an answer to perhaps the most crucial question of all: how do you choose the queue that will move fastest? Simple: choose the one with the most men in it.
    This is because women are more patient than men, who are more likely to just give up if the queue is moving too slowly.
    According to researchers at Surrey University: “Men were more likely to dislike waits than women and be less accepting of their inevitability.”
    But then again, it does not pay to overcomplicate it. When Dan Meyer of Desmos, a US-based online maths business, analysed the till receipts at his local supermarket he discovered that each person in line adds at least 41 seconds to your waiting time, regardless of how many items they have, because of the time taken to unload, pack and pay. His advice: just choose the line with the fewest people in it.
    My advice (which is both sexist and ageist)?  Avoid the queue populated by old women - it takes them so damn long to open their handbags, then find their purse, then count out the pennies ...


    06 November 2015

    It's that time of year again

    This year, next year, sometime, never ...

    Will he?  Won't he?  Does what he says mean anything?

    CityAM reports:

    Mark Carney’s Bank of England pushed sterling off a cliff yesterday by suggesting that interest rates could stay anchored to their historic low until 2017.
    Having said earlier in the year that a rate hike could come towards the end of 2015 or start of 2016, the Bank’s governor appears to be diverging from the position of US Federal Reserve boss Janet Yellen.
    The dollar jumped this week when Yellen and two of her Fed colleagues pointed to a “live possibility” of a US rate hike next month.
    Many analysts have expected the Bank to follow the Fed’s lead and tighten monetary policy sooner rather than later, but yesterday’s trio of publications – dubbed Super Thursday – was surprisingly dovish.
    “The path for Bank rate implied by market rates has fallen by around 40 basis points [since August], such that it only reaches 0.75 per cent in 2017 quarter two,” said the Bank’s inflation report.
    It will no doubt be an entirely different story in January.


    05 November 2015


    Don't know how you get 20,000 British holidaymakers back from Sharm el-Sheikh.  Even if flights were possible, you would need a large number of aeroplanes.  I suppose the alternative is buses to Cairo; but you would need an awful lot of buses ...


    Photos of the day

    Canadian dogs come off poorly after attacking porcupine:

    More here.  But it doesn't tell us what happened to the porcupine ...

    04 November 2015

    Do they know what they are doing?

    The Guardian reports:
    Theresa May is to propose a major extension of the surveillance state when she publishes legislation requiring internet companies to store details of every website visited by customers over the previous year.
    I reckon that I must visit over 100 websites each day (including separate visits to the same website).  But, for the sake of argument, let us posit that the average UK user visits only 25 sites.  If there are 20 million users in the UK (and bear in mind that it is not just the visits of you and me that will be recorded but also those of all of the large and small businesses), that means about 500 million visits per day for the UK users as a whole.  Multiply that by 365, and you get the annual grand total of UK website visits of over 180 billion (or 180,000,000,000).

    That amounts to an awful lot of data for the internet providers to store and organise in some kind of accessible format.  Even if the police or the security authorities were able to extract the date for one particular individual, they would still have to look through many thousands of website visits.

    Is this at all practical?


    03 November 2015

    How much food do you throw away?

    Far too much in my case.

    Splendidly entertaining programme from the BBC.  Despite being a bit of a posho, Shuggie manages to engage with real people without patronising them.

    You can catch the programme on the BBC i-player or on you-tube.

    02 November 2015

    "Old love, new love, every love but true love ..."

    So, tell us, Jerry, what attracted you to Rupert?


    Man of the people

    Nothing wrong with enjoying the nice things in life.  After all. it's open to anyone (provided they have a spare £2000 annually and are prepared to wait for a couple of years - unless you are the PM).  The Times reports:
    David Cameron has accepted free entry to one of London’s most exclusive private members’ clubs. which boasts that it is a “haven of exclusivity” and recently underwent a cull of its membership.
    The prime minister’s latest entry in the register of members’ interests reveals that he has accepted honorary membership of Mark’s Club in Charles Street, Mayfair.The club, which is open to women as well as men, describes itself as an elegant and traditional private members’ club, situated in a “beautiful townhouse”, and has recently undergone an extensive refit.
    Membership of Mark’s Club is believed to cost in the region of £2,000 a year, with a joining fee in the region of £1,000. There is a waiting list of two years. Zagat, the restaurant review guide, wrote: “Members sniff, ‘If you ask how much it costs, you can’t afford to eat here’.”

    A modern hero

    Mr Williams is a decent sort of a guy:
    It was an unexpected and almost absurdly touching end to six weeks of crunching top-level sport: the hulking, tattooed figure of New Zealand rugby star Sonny Bill Williams almost tenderly placing his brand-new World Cup winners’ medal around the neck of a dumbstruck teenage fan who had rashly run on the pitch to congratulate him.
    Williams said later he had been upset to see the slight teenager “smoked” by the security guard. “It was pretty sad,” he said. “He’s just a young fella obviously caught up in the moment.
    Asked about the medal gesture, he said: “Why not try and make a young fella’s night? Hopefully, he’ll remember it for a while. I know he will appreciate it, and when he gets older he will be telling kids. That is more special than it just hanging on a wall.”
    Williams said that had he seen one of his own younger relatives similarly bowled over, he “would have given the security guard a hiding”, an alarming thought for the unnamed steward, given the 6ft 3in Williams is a sufficiently skilled boxer to still be listed as one of the top 100 heavyweights in the world.

    A tap on the shoulder

    Sometimes the Aussies get it right:
    Australia will no longer appoint knights and dames under the honours system, PM Malcolm Turnbull has said.
    Mr Turnbull said the titles were "not appropriate" in modern Australia, and that Queen Elizabeth had accepted the cabinet's recommendation to drop them.
    Could the UK not do the same?  After all, hack politicians, ageing actors, political donors and superannuated civil service permanent secretaries are already sufficiently well-rewarded.