31 July 2018

Education, education, education

I hope that this is not simply an excuse to blame the parents.  From The Guardian (here):
More than a quarter of children starting primary school are unable to communicate in full sentences as concerns grow about the amount of time they are spending in front of screens, the education secretary will say in his first major speech on social mobility.
Damian Hinds is expected to say on Tuesday that he wants to harness technology so parents can do more to help their children’s early language development.
The education secretary promised to halve within a decade the number of children lacking the required level of early speaking or reading skills. His department’s figures show that 28% of four- and five-year-olds do not meet communication and literacy levels expected by the end of the reception year.
“It is a persistent scandal that we have children starting school not able to communicate in full sentences, not able to read simple words,” Hinds will say. “This matters, because when you’re behind from the start you rarely catch up. Your peers don’t wait, the gap just widens. This has a huge impact on social mobility.”
A number of questions are being begged here:

1.  What percentage of children are expected to meet the required communication and literacy levels?  There will always be a proportion of kids who fail to meet expectations.  Is it now better or worse than it used to be?  How does it compare with international analogues?

2.  Are the expected communications and literacy standards set at the appropriate levels?  Who determines these?

3.  To what extent are schools expected to remedy alleged deficiencies in the children for which they become responsible?  How successfully are they achieving this?

I applaud the Minister's recognition of the need to improve children's speaking and reading skills but he needs to recognise the complexities of policies in this area.


26 July 2018

Peace in our time?

Improbably, Trump and Juncker seem to have found common ground.  Politico reports:
Trump said the United States will pause its plans to impose new tariffs against the European Union and work to resolve existing differences over trade in an attempt to avoid a full-blown trade war.
The announcement appeared to have been slapped together at the last minute.
Planned or not, the statement had the short-term effect of easing tensions between the United States and Europe, and the news of an agreement on trade sent stock prices soaring.
 It is entirely possible, of course, that Trump may reverse himself tomorrow but so far so good.

(The matter of US-produced soybeans may be a stumbling block.)

25 July 2018

"I couldn't possibly comment"

Good to see that the original House of Cards (far superior to the American version) is being repeated on the BBC i-player (here).

This is a trailer:

24 July 2018

Theresa May meets the people

Aaahh, Gateshead.  It were not going terribly well, but then someone put the cat among the pigeons by asking what she did to unwind.  The Times reports:
Here is her verbatim response to this stinker of a question. “Hahahaha,” she said. “Hahahaha. Well. It’s, er, um, there’s lots, several, er, things I like to do. I like walking. So we, er, we, er, my husband and I, er, enjoy going walking when we can, er, taking holidays, er, walking.” Let no one be in any doubt that walking is something she enjoys. Discovering that this answer had not gone down badly — Gateshead may not be the Lake District but some people enjoy walking there too — she developed her list of interests.
“I enjoy cooking,” she said, followed by a long pause as she considered what to add to this. “It, er, has a benefit because you get to, er, eat it as well as, er, make it.” (Then a long pause as her internal voice screamed “what are you going on about?” at her.) “I have over 150 cookbooks,” she added, “so I, er, spend a lot of time looking at cookbooks.” Painful though this sounds, it was more interesting than her answers on Brexit.
Sensing that this was still not enough, Mrs May thought she had better throw in a TV show. But which? She tried to remember the box sets David Cameron had left in the Downing Street flat. “Does anyone know NCIS?” she asked. “I like watching that when I can.”
And suddenly she looked scared that someone would ask for her favourite character. Is that the one with Hawkeye, Radar and the bloke who wears dresses? The only thing worse for her than explaining Brexit is trying to appear normal.


23 July 2018

Even on Twitter, shouting is not a good idea

It is reminiscent of the knuckle-dragger thug issuing lurid threats in the movies, before Jimmy Stewart (a sort of olden days Gerard Butler) takes him down.. 

It's just a bit limp.  Sticks and stones and all that.  He is not a teenager any more.


Photo of the day

The Trump Chicken in San Francisco Bay:

A GoFundMe page was set up in order to accumulate money for the chicken̢۪s escapades and pay for the cost of rental boats


Out of sync

The EU spends two years twiddling its thumbs, waiting for the UK government to make up its mind about what it wants in terms of Brexit.  Then this happens:
The prime minister has said it is time to "get on with" reaching a Brexit deal as she and other cabinet ministers try to sell their plan for it in Europe...."We must step up the pace of negotiations and get on to deliver a good deal that will bring greater prosperity and security to both British and European citizens. We both know the clock is ticking - let's get on with it."
And of course it fails to occur to the UK that this is unfortunate timing.  All across Europe, politicians and bureaucrats are digging out their buckets and spades in preparation for their holidays at the beach next week.  The EU Commission is in virtual closedown for the month of August, while the EU Council and the EU Parliament cease to meet.


22 July 2018

Music of the week

There is something about Cher - corny but absolutely magic.

Sorting it out

Whither Brexit now?  The Sunday Times has a useful summary:
It is important, however, to distinguish between two types of exit without a deal, as Oxford Economics does in a useful new report.
The first is a “cliff-edge” Brexit in March 2019, when the two sides cannot agree even on withdrawal arrangements and the UK “walks away”. This is the one in which the planes may not fly, huge queues build up on either side of the Channel, there is crisis-type financial chaos and industrial disruption and shortages of medicines and some foods. Oxford puts a 15% probability on this, on which the EU issued warnings last week.
It puts a larger probability, just over 30%, on the UK leaving on WTO (World Trade Organisation) terms at the end of 2020. This is not, it should be stressed, how we trade with most of the rest of the world, as we would soon discover. It would also be disruptive and economically costly, though with more time to adjust to this new era.
Oxford’s other probabilities are 24% for a free trade agreement, a mix of the Canada-type deal suggested by the EU and the Chequers agreement; 31% for “Bino”, Brexit in name only, in which things carry on as now, though with the UK as a rule-taker; and 15% for Brexit not happening at all.
What a mess ...

18 July 2018


Have they not got enough money?  The Times reports:
Manchester United launched a new home kit yesterday, for which fans will be charged up to £183.
The strip has been manufactured by Adidas, whose website offered supporters the chance to buy the “authentic” version of the kit for £182.85.


It's becoming a habit

Image result for trump picture

He did it with NATO; he did it with Theresa May; and now he's done it again.  Politico explains:
After appearing to threaten to pull out of NATO on Thursday, Trump then took the stage to praise the organization and declare it a “fine-tuned machine.” That night, as Trump enjoyed a formal dinner hosted by Prime Minister Theresa May, the British newspaper The Sun published an interview in which Trump was harshly critical of May’s handling of Brexit negotiations and suggested her rival, Boris Johnson, would do better.
The next day, Trump declared that he had not criticized May at all.
The explanation for his latest faux pas is ludicrous:
... the president himself emerged on Tuesday to personally walk back his statements in Helsinki, using a scheduled meeting with members of Congress to discuss tax reform as a platform for revising the statements that set off a 24-hour firestorm.
“In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,’” Trump said. “The sentence should have been — and I thought it would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video — the sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia. Sort of a double negative.”
So that's all right then?

17 July 2018

Where do we go from here?

Is there a way out of the Brexit mess?  The Independent is doubtful:
There is no majority in the Commons for any kind of Brexit. A “no deal” crash out Brexit advocated now by Johnson, Davis, Rees-Mogg and Farage has no majority. The Chequers deal (or its longer white paper version) will not survive the first negotiating contact with the EU27. It is aimed purely at internal Conservative Party problems. Even as presently drafted, both Jeremy Corbyn and Peter Mandelson say no Labour MP can vote for it. For Brexit to produce a Corbyn-Mandelson axis of agreement shows how far Brexit is revolutionising politics.    
There is no majority for a soft Brexit and of course, no majority for withdrawing from Brexit altogether. Thus the constitutional impasse. Democracy only requires a majority of one. It is the democratic tyranny. But democracy cannot function if there is no majority at all. 
And I can't see that re-running the referendum would resolve matters.     

16 July 2018

Headline of the day

Bottom falls out of buttock implant market
The Times explains:
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported a 56 per cent fall in buttock implants in the last year for which data was available and an 11 per cent increase in breast reductions. However, buttock lifts rose by 11 per cent in the last year, a spokesman said, and buttock augmentation rose by 10 per cent. 
You can make up your own puns ...


Protest slogan of the day


14 July 2018

Quote of the day

Matthew Parris in The Times (here):
H L Mencken got it in many ways right, in one way wrong. On July 26, 1920 the greatest columnist in the history of English language journalism wrote this in The Baltimore Sun: “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”


12 July 2018

Quote of the day

Theresa May, writing in The Sun (here) about her Brexit plan:
Does it mean an end to freedom of movement? Will we be able to sign our own trade deals? And will the UK be outside the jurisdiction of the European Court?
I’m very pleased to say the answers are very simple: yes, yes and yes.
Or more likely: probably not, probably not and probably not.


It could have been worse

Leave aside the bluster, and the NATO summit went off without any real damage.  The Guardian reports:
Donald Trump predicted he would have “an interesting time” at this week’s Nato summit. European leaders worried that the US president would go on the offensive against America’s traditional allies. In the end, nobody could say they were surprised.
Breakfast had not even been served in Brussels on Wednesday morning when Trump launched into a bitter tirade against an old ally, declaring that Germany was “totally controlled by Russia”. At a pre-summit breakfast meeting with the Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, Trump accused Berlin of “being a captive of the Russians” because of its dependence on energy supplies.
Without waiting for the clicking press cameras to leave the room, he declared that “numerous of the countries” were going out and “making a pipeline deal with Russia where they are paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia”. A two-minute clip posted on his Twitter feed broadcast the repetitive two-minute-plus tirade to his 53.4m followers.
But he didn't announce any US troop withdrawals nor did he decline to participate in military exercises.  Apart from spraying around gratuitous insults, he did nothing of any consequence.


11 July 2018

Read it and weep

BBC on-air salary list 2017-18

  • 1. Gary Lineker - £1,750,000-£1,759,999
  • 2. Chris Evans - £1,660,000-£1,669,999
  • 3. Graham Norton - £600,000-£609,999
  • 4. Steve Wright - £550,000-£559,999
  • 5. Huw Edwards - £520,000-£529,999
  • 6. Jeremy Vine - £440,000-£449,999
  • =7. Nicky Campbell - £410,000-£419,999
  • =7. Alan Shearer - £410,000-£419,999
  • =9. John Humphrys - £400,000-£409,999
  • =9. Nick Grimshaw - £400,000-£409,999
  • =9. Stephen Nolan - £400,000-£409,999
  • =9. Andrew Marr - £400,000-£409,999

09 July 2018

Quote of the day

Massie in The Times (here):
So we are to be a “vassal state” after all. That is one conclusion to be drawn from the prime minister’s capitulation to reality. Still, in the present political moment your team’s success is less important — and less thrilling — than your opponents’ defeat. This is how the game is played these days. No one particularly likes Theresa May’s new plan for Brexit but its appeal lies less in its detail than in the identity of the people who really, truly, madly, deeply hate it. I suspect, too, that a public that was bored with Brexit long ago will grudgingly sign up to anything that promises to put an end to the whole bloody, grisly drama.
And so say all of us ...


08 July 2018


This Sunday Times lady journalist gets carried away:
Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat is profoundly touching. It sums him up: it’s polite, almost formal, a bit old-fashioned — but precision-tailored, modern and right on point.
Its last button is jauntily left undone, as if to say: “See? I can be fun.” And that too is heart-rendingly sweet: this is not a man whose definition of fun involves anything louche or degrading.
Southgate radiates wholesome goodness, like sunbeams. He seems pure, in a way that’s affecting. “He’s so nerdy and passionate,” my football-mad eldest son texted me last week. “I love him.”
I also love him. We all love him. We love his modesty, his humility, his quiet hard graft, his talent and decency, the thoughtful earnestness you can see in his face. But it’s deeper than that: Gareth Southgate moves us. Imagine saying that about any other recent England manager.
Yeurrgh!   Pass the sick-bag.

Squaring the circle

Writing in the Observer, David Lidington, minister for the cabinet office, says: “Free movement will come to an end, restoring control of our borders. The supremacy of British courts will be restored, by ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ [European Court of Justice] in the UK – giving us back control of our laws. And there will be no more sending vast sums of money each year to the EU, giving us back control of our money.”
Aye well.

"Free movement will come to an end, restoring control of our borders."  But, according to The Independent (here), "Under the proposals, freedom of movement between the UK and the EU will end but a "mobility framework" will be set up to make it easier for people to travel between the two, including for study and work."  And, further, Theresa May has suggested EU citizens could be given preferential rights to come to the UK after Brexit."

"The supremacy of the British courts will be restored."  But the plan would involve "the UK adopting a "common rulebook" with the EU on the mutual trade of goods".  While "the jurisdiction of the European court of justice will end, ... the UK will pay regard to its decisions in areas where common rules were in force."  [The Guardian here]

"And there will be no more sending vast sums of money each year to the EU".  That depends upon your definition of "vast".  But you can be sure that the amounts payable will not be trivial.


06 July 2018

I can think of better ways to spend a Friday

Apparently the Chequers meeting will begin at 9.30 am and continue until at least 10.30 pm.

The Times reports:
Chequers has a swimming pool donated by Richard Nixon’s White House and a tennis court built by Tony Blair. Cabinet ministers will not have time to enjoy either today during Theresa May’s attempt to forge a workable Brexit negotiating position.
Arriving in Buckinghamshire by 9.30am, the 22 cabinet ministers, plus the extra six with attendance rights, have been told they are not likely to be leaving until past 10.30pm. On arrival, they will be given coffee in the great hall, but no breakfast, prompting some status-anxious ministers to wonder whether there is a secret breakfast for key ministers beforehand. Phones will be confiscated.
Greg Clark, the business secretary, is expected to spell out dire warnings of a hard Brexit made by businesses. Philip Hammond, the chancellor, is expected to address services. Some discussions will be classed as political, meaning that civil servants will have to leave.
After lunch, the cabinet will have to get down to the task of coming to an agreement. The meeting will go on until the white paper is signed off or, perhaps, resignations take place. Should any minister quit, it is unclear whether they will instantly lose their ministerial car and have to walk up Chequers’s drive.
Imagine being shut up all day with a bunch of people, many of whom you don't particularly care for, and many of whom don't particularly care for you.  And you're expected to spend all day discussing customs arrangements, Northern Ireland border issues and potential trade agreements.

But they made this bed for themselves, so let them lie in it.

In case you're wondering, the outcome will just be more fudge ...


05 July 2018

Busy weekend for some?

Are we nearing the end-game?  The Guardian reports:
Theresa May’s fractious cabinet ministers are warning Downing Street not to skirt controversial issues, including freedom of movement and services, off the table at Friday’s Chequers meeting.
At the day-long meeting, May hopes to unite her cabinet around a plan which can then be published in a formal white paper next week.
Not clear to me how a formal white paper (which is supposed to be a considered statement of government policy) can be written, cleared, printed and published in a matter of three or four days, not least because, on this subject, every word will need to be crawled over at length.

(But maybe the white paper is already written and the Chequers meeting is just for show?)


04 July 2018


What companies will do for an extra buck.  The Times reports:

If winning on penalties wasn’t enough of a shock for England fans last night, they were in for a further surprise after one of Britain’s biggest pub groups said it had added up to 50p to the price of a pint on many match days.
Stonegate Pubs, which runs 690 venues around the country, including Slug & Lettuce and Yates pubs, said that it has been boosting the price of some drinks by between 10p and 50p in order to cover the cost of extra staff and plastic glasses.
Pubs and bars were expected to receive a World Cup windfall even without a price rise, with the British Beer and Pub Association predicting that an extra six million pints would be consumed during England’s clash with Colombia. During England’s first three matches transactions in bars increased 126 per cent, according to figures published last week.


02 July 2018


Image result for gareth southgate

The Guardian reports:
For years, football fans have been able to emulate the look of their idols with replica shirts, but this World Cup something different is happening: supporters are rushing to buy replicas of Gareth Southgate’s England waistcoat.
Marks & Spencer, which has been the official suit supplier to the England team since 2007, said demand for waistcoats has risen 35% thanks to what they say is “the Gareth Southgate effect”.
That will stop when England get thumped by Colombia tomorrow evening ...