28 February 2017

Quote of the day

England rugby XV flummoxed.  From The Guardian (here):
It was not simply the prolonged failure to find a way around the Azzurri’s cute diversionary ruck tactics – odd as that appeared in an era when coaches can get messages on to the field almost instantly. More glaring still was the lack of mental flexibility, the bafflement and the sheer confusion when the anticipated masterplan – a 60-point romp in this instance – unravelled. At times it was like watching 15 Daleks stuck at the bottom of an unexpected staircase.


25 February 2017

Well done!

Victory, at last:
Scotland Women bounced back at Broadwood to close out a tough match against Wales to claim a one-point win – their first victory in the Six Nations since 2010.
It was two tries a piece with Edinburgh University backs Lisa Thomson and Rhona Lloyd each scoring for Scotland, with Sarah Law sealing the 15-14 win with a penalty kick on the 77th minute.
Wales’ captain Carys Phillips crossed the whitewash for her side followed by a penalty try in to take a 7-point lead into the break.
But it was Scotland’s ambition and belief up until the final whistle that saw them through to defeat Wales in the Six Nations for the first time since 2005.
It's no fun losing all the time.   But the women finally did it.  Congrats.


24 February 2017

Don't feel too gut-wrenchingly sad ...

So farewell Claudio.  The Independent reports:
Gary Lineker has condemned Leicester City’s decision to sack Claudio Ranieri as “inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad”.
Ranieri, who led the relegation-tipped club to a remarkable Premier League title victory last season just nine months ago, was relieved of his duties on Thursday night.
The Italian’s departure was confirmed in a statement on the club’s official website, which claimed that “a change of leadership, while admittedly painful, is necessary in the club’s greatest interest.”
But there's always a but:
Ranieri, who was named FIFA’s Coach of the Year just last month, signed a new four-year contract with Leicester last August.
So he will probably be entitled to a massive pay-off, likely to be in the millions,  and should have little difficulty finding another lucrative post.


22 February 2017

Shades of the poll tax ...

Rates revaluations cause trouble.  It was the threat of a rates revaluation in Scotland (with the losers screaming blue murder and the winners sitting tight) that led to the introduction back in the 1980s of the poll tax to replace domestic rates.  And we all know how that resulted.

So now we have another revaluation, this time for the purposes of  business rates.  And it is looking ominous.  The Guardian reports:
It’s a bit rich for the chancellor, now reportedly in “listening mode” on business rates, to signal that he is aware of the challenges the digital economy presents to a property-based tax. That fundamental problem has been voiced for more than a decade and has simply been ignored by government. Amazon and the other big online retailers are no longer modern creations.
Philip Hammond, one suspects, will end up inventing various reliefs to try to quell the anger of those small businesses in London facing increases of up to 400%. But something more than a sticking-plaster is required. If not, this toxic row will return every time potential rents – the basis for establishing rateable values – are recalculated.
Aye, but what is the answer - nobody seems to know.

(Incidentally, the valuation bands for council tax bands in Scotland are still based on property valuations made in the 1990s.  This inevitably embeds unfairness in the system as the increase in property values varies according to location.  But successive Scottish governments have done nothing, preferring to let sleeping dogs lie.  Sooner or later, those dogs will come back to bite them.)

21 February 2017

Corn beef

I have long since abandoned any attempt to hear dialogue on television and rely heavily on subtitles.   Apparently, other viewers are still coming to grips with the BBC's alleged inadequacies:

First, it was the BBC’s costume drama Jamaica Inn, which attracted thousands of complaints in 2014, then last year’s Happy Valley. Now, the alternative history miniseries SS-GB has become the latest primetime BBC programme to draw criticism about characters mumbling their lines.

Following the success of TV shows such as Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, the BBC hopes its five-part dramatisation of Len Deighton’s 1978 novel, which imagines that Germany won the Battle of Britain and the Nazis occupy the south of England, will be a hit.
Following the success of TV shows such as Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, the BBC hopes its five-part dramatisation of Len Deighton’s 1978 novel, which imagines that Germany won the Battle of Britain and the Nazis occupy the south of England, will be a hit.
But the first episode of SS-GB – which had already faced some scathing reviews from TV critics for its first episode on Sunday night – has been criticised by viewers who said they had struggled to hear what was going on.
The broadcaster has promised to promised to examine the sound levels before the next episode is broadcast after dozens of viewers complained.
I'm not really bothered by the sound quality.  But I rather doubt that in the 1940s our hero would be wearing a natty dark blue shirt and tie to the office.  It would also add to the verisimilitude if the actors had learned how to smoke a cigarette without looking as if they had never done so before.

Oh, and don't get me started on actors giving each other so-called meaningful looks ...


17 February 2017

Whom to believe ...

On the one hand:
NPR's National Security Correspondent Mary Louise Kelly said she had spoken to a White House official on Wednesday, who succinctly described a scene of chaos. "I just reached somebody inside the White House today and asked them to describe, what's the mood like in there? What's going on in the halls?" " Kelly told the NPR Politics Podcast. "And this official said, it is an absolute effing trainwreck"
Ms Kelly also described "a lot of empty desks in the basement of the West Wing," which is where senior members of the National Security Council usually reside, after many abandoned their roles after clashing with the Trump administration.
Citing her sources, Ms Kelly said nobody was sure who was “steering the ship” anymore, and added the White House was, “to put it charitably, in upheaval”.
But on the other hand, President Trump says:
"This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can't get my cabinet approved."
You pays your money and you takes your choice ...


14 February 2017

It's not getting better ...

The Independent reports on conditions inside the US National Security Council:
Every day new leaks emerge from the White House about a state of fear and loathing at the National Security Council, which Mr Flynn at least nominally heads. The latest, published by the New York Times, suggested things were so chaotic that members of staff were waking in the morning, reading Mr Trump’s latest Twitter posts, and then struggling “to make policy to fit them”.
The same report said that others have begun using encrypted communications to talk with each other, after hearing that Mr Trump’s top advisers were considering an “insider threat” programme that could result in the monitoring of phones and emails.
Meanwhile, efforts to get Mr Trump to focus on complicated issues are not straightforward. In short, Mr Trump is not a details man. NSC staff members have been told keep papers to a single page, with lots of graphics and maps. “The president likes maps,” one official told the newspaper. 
So policy recommendations and position papers have to be in picture-book form for the presidential child-man ...


10 February 2017

Amateur hour

Worrying.  The Independent reports:
In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps US and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two US officials and one former US official with knowledge of the call.
When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said.
Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favoured Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.
Typically, before a telephone call with a foreign leader, a president receives a written in-depth briefing paper drafted by National Security Council staff after consultations with the relevant agencies, including the State Department, Pentagon and intelligence agencies, two former senior officials said.
Just before the call, the president also usually receives an oral "pre-briefing" from his national security adviser and top subject-matter aide, they said.
Trump did not receive a briefing from Russia experts with the NSC and intelligence agencies before the Putin call, two of the sources said. Reuters was unable to determine if Trump received a briefing from his national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Even Putin must be wondering if it was a good idea to have elected Trump ...