Monday, April 30, 2007

Dear tramps...

A small hint for successful begging for you. When you approach a group of lads having a beer in the sunshine and ask us for a few pence and we say 'no', subsequently asking for a quid isn't going to work either.

Thanks etc.


It's over. After seven weeks that feels more like eighteen years, the cricket World Cup is over. And what a fitting finale it was - a total farce. Following two of the most one-sided semi-finals in history, Australia and Sri Lanka met in Barbados. South Africa went into this tournament as the number one ranked side in ODI cricket. For some reason, they decided to blast their way out of trouble against the nagging line and length of Glenn McGrath and Nathan Bracken. As a plan, it's up there with the Polish cavalry sending men on horseback to take on German tanks in World War I. Sri Lanka similarly belted New Zealand thanks to a sublime Jayawardene century that made us think that maybe they had a chance of halting the Australian juggernaut and New Zealand's policy of employing competent all-rounders failed with injuries to Scott Styris and Craig McMillan. The two best teams had reached the final.
And then came the rain. The start as delayed, but even when the rain stopped it was two-and-a-half hours before play started. With 38 overs per side now, Australia racked up a mammoth 281-4 and Sri Lanka quickly fell behind the rate and when the light faded to near blackness and the Sri Lankan batsmen decided enough was enough, it looked as though Australia had triumphed. Indeed, they should have at that point. But the officials - all five of them - decided the remaining 17 balls had to be bowled. Which is nonsense, especially as it was pitch black by this point. With nobody quite sure of what was happening, nobody watching and everybody bewildered, it seemed to sum up the whole, drawn out experience.
The ICC say it'll be shorter next time. One would bloody hope so, however the suggestion is that it would still be six weeks in duration which is still too long. The ICC allowed themselves to be held to ransom by TV companies, especially in the sub-continent, and the massive irony was that with India and Pakistan going out in the group stage, those expected TV revenues didn't materialise. And for that, we should thank Ireland and Bangladesh - the two real successes of this World Cup.
Normal order has been restored. It just didn't need seven weeks to make that obvious.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cleaning up the mess

Done something you're not proud of? Want the stench of corruption washing out? Then why not try smearing the people likely to investigate you? Or threaten to veto their reappointment.
It's the BAe Saudi corruption scandal again. Well, sort of. There's that scandal and then the scandal of the cover-up on national security grounds and now this scandal of undermining efforts to investigate the cover-up. It isn't going to go away and threatening all sorts to try to brush it aside will leave an enormous stain on the government. I suppose the only question is if the stain of blocking and undermining investigations is bigger than the stain of the actual corruption in the first place.

10 steps to fascism

An interesting piece in the Guardian today about the creeping totalitarianism of the United States. It got me wondering how far down the road other regimes are. Zimbabwe are there, Russia not so far off, if at all. I've been critical of the British government in this regard in the past, but in those terms the current regime has a long way to go. I'm not sure we have a thug caste or a culture of dissent equalling treason. The rule of law has been bent many time, but I remain to be convinced it's irreperably broken. When the BBC becomes a government controlled organisation, then I'll properly start to worry.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Turnout nice again

The French went to the polls yesterday in the first round of voting in the Presidential elections. The most pleasing aspect was the National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, scoring his lowest ever return since he first started spreading his racist invective around the country. And one way this was achieved was with a massive turnout. 85% of eligible voters cast a ballot. This puts the 61% in the last General Election in the UK into sharp perspective. Local elections are even worse, regularly around the 40% mark and it's these local elections that give our own version of Le Pen's mob their most significant successes. So, as we approach the local elections a week on Thursday, I urge you to get out, vote and kick racist elements out of town halls across the country. Don't let apathy win.

St George's Day

It's today, apparently. Does anyone really care? I know I don't. The only reason it's become an issue recently is Guinness' shameless plundering of St Patrick's Day to flog their product to the masses and some people getting uppity. The Irish can celebrate on St Patrick's Day, goes the theory, why can't the English celebrate on St George's? Well you can. Go ahead. Knock yourself out if that's your bag. Down 14 points of crap lager, puke all over the town centre, chuck some plastic garden furniture at a foreign riot copper - do all those things that symbolise Englishness. Just do it quietly and don't foist it on the rest of us.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Prove what you want to prove

Apparently, a report from a right-wing think tank that says "Ooooooh... immigrants are coming and they want to take our things...." proves that Britain can no longer be considered a single nation. Civitas have produced this report, and it's hardly surprising that they should be behind such a piece of literature.
In that case, I and a few chums shall form ourselves into a think tank and produce something that says Civitas are a bunch of knee-jerking xenophobes and lo it shall be true.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Wall. What is it good for?

Following the success of walls in Berlin, Belfast and the West Bank, the Americans are beginning work on the Baghdad wall. I await similar outcomes to previous wall initiatives.

Limiting freedom of information

If you bring something into law, it's generally because it's something you feel is right and if anyone at all is likely to abide by it, logic suggests it'd be yourself. Well that's not what happens with freedom of information. And now there's debate to exempt all Parliament from the Act.
Ever since the Act came in, government has obfuscated and whinged about it. Information can only be freed if a civil servant somewhere decides it's cheap enough or if you don't ask too often. I'd quite like to free up the information about how someone decides whether to allow a request or not.
And now the turkeys are attempting to roll back christmas. Are those in the corridors of power not constantly telling us that if we've nothing to hide then we've nothing to fear? However this isn't a gross invasion of MPs privacy in the way that random fingerprinting and DNA sampling and retention are, this is a method of keeping elected representatives in check. That MPs want to exempt themselves from it speaks volumes about the respect which the Houses hold the electorate in.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

World Cup fallout

It's taken five long weeks to confirm what many, if not all, of us suspected: England are not very good at ODI cricket and will not make the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Five weeks! Hell's teeth, after a couple of games the writing was pretty much on the wall. And that's a problem with the World Cup in general. It's just too long. More of that at the denoument of the whole tournament, still two weeks away.
For now, the focus must be on England and what the hell happened. Well, nothing that wasn't to be expected if you take a look back in time.
Duncan Fletcher has been a brilliant Test cricket coach for England. We were 8th in the Test rankings and he's pulled us up to 2nd, a spot we still hold even after the Ashes debacle. We were 8th in the ODI rankings and had come off the back of a miserable World Cup campaign at home in 1999. Another miserable World Cup campaign followed in 2003 in South Africa and again this year. We are now 7th in the ODI rankings, thanks mainly to the West Indies being in even more disarray than England are.
The Ashes defeat over the winter was brutal. Australia were hurting big-time after the defeat in England in 2005 and resovled to do something about it. Meanwhile, England were on an open-top bus tour round London. Australia didn't just beat England a few months ago - they ripped every single player to shreds. The subsequent ODI series started badly, but England managed to win it! Happys days? Not a bit of it. It should have been a massive confidence boost going towards the World Cup, but it wasn't that straightforward. The performances were still reliant on too few players - namely the batting of Paul Collingwood who found a rich vein of form and Liam Plunkett's reverse swing bowling. The cracks were being papered over.
This is looking back too soon as well. England last made any sort of impact on the World Cup in 1992, reaching the final. Even that was tinged with luck as they were the beneficiaries of South Africa's now traditional dramatic failure in the semi-final. Even so, they were a handy ODI side then. In the World Cups of 1996, 1999, 2003 and 2007, England have beaten the sum total of THREE Test ranked sides - Sri Lanka in 1999, Pakistan (under lights) in 2003 and Bangladesh in 2007. That is it. So how does such a feeble side get to a position where one win could have got them to the semi-finals? Well that's the tournament structure for you. India and Pakistan both blew out early with Bangladesh and Ireland benefitting, so there go two fancied sides. South Africa were trying very hard to stuff it all up yet again and their loss to Bangladesh (they really are a success story in this World Cup) gave the chasing pack something to aim at while the top three (Australia, inevitably, the workmanlike New Zealand and the classy Sri Lanka) rolled serenely on. But given England's poor showing against top sides - and South Africa were up until that Bangladesh defeat the number one side in the world - it's difficult to see why anyone should have given them a prayer. And so it proved. In a must-win game, England batted atrociously. No runs at all from the first two overs. 20 balls for the woefully out-of-form captain Michael Vaughan to get off the mark. Shaun Pollock's pitch map was wonderful - everything on a length and on off-stump. England slumped to 154 all out in a manner only England seem capable of. South Africa came out and the ball started disappearing to all corners of the Kensington Oval. Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers had taken the game totally away from England inside 5 overs. The pitch map of England's opening bowlers - Sajid Mahmood and Jimmy Anderson - couldn't be more different to Pollock's. They were all over the place and Mahmood in particular got the treatment, going for over 60 in just 6 overs. Finally, England were out.

So what next? After the 2003 World Cup, there was plenty of talk about building for 2007. This simply didn't happen as the ODI side is chopped and changed on a whim with no continuity. It is and always has been second fiddle to the Test side. Yes, the Test side's fortunes needed restoring, but you don't win World Cups with Test sides. The ODI side has needed major surgery since the end of the 1992 campaign and it never got it. Still hasn't. It must get it now. Build for 2011, so chuck out anyone unlikely to be around for that. Invest faith in youth - Stuart Broad, Alistair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Niall O'Brien (the Ireland wicketkeeper/batsman who has impressed in this tournament and now qualifies for England) players like that. Add Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff to those and you're on your way. Flintoff has been a big let down, but he's too big a talent to discard, even if he never finds his batting form again. The captaincy has to change hands. Michael Vaughan is not an ODI player, and certainly not an ODI opener. Sanath Jayasuriya changed the face of modern 50-over cricket in 1996, exploiting the fielding restrictions with classy, powerful hitting. Vaughan cannot do that job. He's played close to 100 ODIs, all up the top of the order, and has yet to hit three figures. He's an excellent captain, but he can't be carried. And I don't say this lightly, as he's a lovely bloke and a quite exquisite Test player. I'm not a fan of splitting the captaincy. I think the Test man should do the ODI job and vice versa. However, I don't see any ready candidate to do both. I think Alistair Cook will be a fine captain, but he's inexperienced right now. If he can be brought on under Vaughan in the Test arena and Collingwood in the ODIs, I believe he can make a fine captain in a couple of years time - in plenty of time before 2011 and the World Cup on the sub-continent.
The top order has to have a different, modern approach to the game. Jayasuriya retired from international cricket about a year ago. He was coaxed out of retirement while Sri Lanka were in England as they were struggling for an opener. Since then, he has hit the same number of ODI hundreds that England's top four have in their combined careers to date. That isn't good enough, and then you factor in how he goes about compiling those scores. See also Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers in the most recent game. There are 20 overs of fielding restrictions in the game these days and England simply do not use them. They don't even try. It's like watching the sides of 1975 and 1979 play, with Boycott resolutely blocking everything as though it was session 1, day 1 of a Test. The attitude has to change and that comes from the man at the top.
Fletcher has done a fine job - I've said that already - but I believe he's reached the end of the line. It's time for a fresh individual to come in with fresh ideas and no existing loyalties to any player. I'd love it to be Tom Moody, currently in charge of the Sri Lankan side. The main problem is England's schedule. Due to the vagaries of geography, our summer is out of whack with every other cricket nation, so we have just two weeks after the end of the World Cup before the domestic summer kicks off. And with the ECB keen to earn as much as possible, it's a summer packed with cricket. Seven Tests, umpteen ODIs and Twenty20s. Compare with New Zealand who played just 20 ODIs and only two Tests in the 12 months preceding this World Cup. And see how well they look on it. So timing needs to be right, and I think that giving the process to appoint a new chap until the end of the domestic summer to bring in a new chap is pretty much as good as it can be, then the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa in the autumn can be his first test.

Whatever happens, I don't want to be sat in front of a PC hammering away like this in four years time saying the same thing again. It was said in 1996. And in 1999. And in 2003. Please not 2011 again. It's getting to be like groundhog day.

More on the Virginia Tech massacre

It now transpires that not only was the shooter foreign, he was also a bit of a loner. Does this sound familiar at all? If it goes the same way as other incidents, this 'loner' aspect will be played up massively as an example of how this kid just didn't fit the American ideal and the whole point will be obfuscated with psych profiles and talking heads. If the story follows the usual path, nothing will change as the actions of one youth who just doesn't conform cannot be legislated for.
And that's true, to a degree. What you can do is deal with people when a general disaffection with the status quo crosses into serious thoughts on direct action against a perceived demon, in this lad's case "rich kids" and "deceitful charlatans". By 'deal with', I don't mean 'arm to the teeth'.
33 people are dead. I hope beyond hope that they haven't died in vain, but I can see this being chalked down to 'loner' status and being brushed aside. Again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Guns don't kill people

Expect that phrase to crop up many times in the near future as America comes to terms with the latest disaffected, tooled up youth going on the rampage.
It's a bad one and of course it's sad, tragic and all that and the waste of young lives is something to mourn.

Here comes the 'but'.

But is it really that shocking or surprising any more? It has been a while since there was a massacre like this and it takes a very strong will not to suggest that one was due. And for all the hand wringing over the coming days and weeks, it's highly doubtful that anything will change. The USA has approximately five times the population of the UK and yet has around 5000 times the number of fatal shootings. And yet Switzerland has many more guns per capita than the US and fewer gun related deaths than the UK, which makes it clear that mere gun ownership is not the sole factor. There's something rotten in the States of America - in the American psyche, moreover. Restrictions would be welcome, but while the culture of gun ownership remains then nothing will change. So often we hear in the fall out of these incidents that the parents of a disaffected youth decides the best way to deal with the child's slightly sociopathic tendencies is to arm them with an arsenal some countries would wince at.
One organisation has the answer - the Virginia Citizens Defence League (look it up if you must, but I'm not linking to them and giving them web traffic for free) who have been quick to blame the university authorities for the tragedy because they don't allow staff and students to carry arms. In a marvellous example of twisted logic, the argument says that if everyone was armed, it wouldn't have happened as the potential shooter would be caught in a hail of bullets the moment he threatens to open fire. Genius. No, really.
It turns out that the shooter in this case was a South Korean lad. I hope something positive comes out of the whole incident, otherwise it will have been a complete waste and the tragedy will turn into a travesty, but I can envisage it being blamed on a foreigner and it all being quietly brushed aside in the face of a too-powerful gun lobby.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Step on

Retrieving a pair of shoes I'd not worn for ages yesterday and inserting my left foot into the appropriate shoe, it felt a bit odd. So I wiggled my foot about in some attempt to smooth out the perceived imperfection in the insole, to no avail. So I rummage in the shoe for what it could be and pulled out.....

the carcass of a mouse; largely skeletal with a bit of fur attached. Not pleasant.
I noticed a mouse - I'm presuming it to be the same one - late last year, scurrying about where the shoes live downstairs. It ran off kitchenwards when I confronted it as to it's presence in the house. I could find no evidence of mouse infestation and surmised that the cat had fetched it in and it was now in a state of panic as it couldn't get back outside. I set some traps - humane ones of course - but nothing was caught and no sign was seen of rodents of any sort for months, so I forgot about it.
We had a shift about at the turn of the year and I put a load of shoes away, this particular pair included. Once christmas was done, I chucked the tree in the same cupboard as the displaced shoes. I suspect that the mouse, snoozing quietly in my shoe, was finished by getting a christmas tree dumped on it's head. And there it remained until disturbed by my left foot yesterday evening. The shoes and socks were quickly launched into the washer (on a very hot wash!) and hung out overnight where they subsequently got rained on. Still, mouse mystery now solved.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

How to impress people

To make yourself look really important when walking down the street, ensure you speak as loudly as possible into your mobile phone. It's sure to impress. No, really.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Debt adverts

Unsure on how to run up massive debts? There are plenty of opportunities these days, none moreso than by taking a loan out with one of the myriad companies that advertise new ways of getting into debt on daytime TV. These adverts are a menace, so it comes as a major surprise that it's one of these companies that's complained. They all make getting into further debt sound like such an attractive proposition that something ought to be done to make themselves explain the implications more.
That said, the adverts are a genre to themselves and I do have a particular favourite. The one I refer to is one where the escalating debt is represented by taking a frightfully inadequate mower to a jungle of a garden. This part of the advert is done in a grey wash effect which makes everyone look dowdy and depressed. Then the mower blows up and everyone sighs. But not to worry. One massive loan later and the guy has a ride on mower that covers 80% the size of his garden, his wife has put some make-up on and the kids have a new space hopper. And the sun's out! Happy days indeed, and all at the expense of a massive debt and the threat of bailiffs barging in lest you miss a single payment. Huzzah!

The solution to everything

Do you have a problem? Then let's solve it the New Labour way: chuck another website at it.
Given the huge extent of problems raised by stupid IT procurement that this government has experienced, especially in NHS terms, is it really that good an idea?
Choice is a silly idea anyway. If I have a problem requiring hospital treatment, I want to go to the one at the other end of a convenient bus route, and I'd wager a small sum on way over 95% of people being the same. If it then transpires that a specialist unit would be more appropriate, then so be it. Comparing various hospitals records against one another is something I'm simply not going to do. I want to go to my local hospital and be sure that it meets certain standards. With all this choice malarkey, you run the risk of developing a two, or more, tier system that will end up helping nobody but the already rich.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

We know where you live

I thought that proposals to make public the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders had been scotched as being daft. Apparently not.
Dan Norris, the MP championing this, was on the radio this morning being very earnest in his desires to protect children. Without checking the figures, I'm still reasonably confident that more children are killed by dangerous drivers than serial sex offenders and there's no register for people convicted of motoring offences. I demand to know where they live! Where does it stop?
It appears to me to be a sticking plaster over an underfunded parole system.
Neither am I convinced by these trials. If you're on the register and living in an area that's being trialled, then moving down the road to an area that isn't part of the trial is a very real option, so I doubt the efficacy. Still, better that than going on both feet and making a right old mess of it. I just hope the trials are going to be carried out objectively.
Frankly, anything that's done with the backing of the News Of The World should be examined with extreme scepticism.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The true meaning of Easter

We all know that, while it's great to have a four-day weekend, their is a more solemn meaning to the Easter holiday. And that's for religiousy types to get their names and faces in the papers, whether it's asked for, relevant or not.
Merry chocolate egg day everyone.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Dom Guevara

My brother in-law and his sister combined to produce this picture of my nephew Dominic and the look on the wee feller's face reminded me of the classic Korda picture of Che Guevara.
My own photo editing skills are seriously founded in the amateurish bracket, but anyway...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Recycling in action

It's good to recycle. For example, this article has been used every Easter for the last forty years. Well done.

What's the point?

In today's ID card news, is hidden a snippet that says Labour will introduce legislation that will make it compulsory to own a card but not to carry it. Why oh why oh why? More pointlessness from a totally pointless piece of legislation thought up by an increasingly pointless government.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Dear colleagues

Stop going about your fecking Playstation 3. It cost more than my car's worth and you're not a child. Moreover, no-one actually cares. Now grow up.


Too trusting

I'm fed up of stories in the papers about people who have gone miles out of their way or on inappropriate routes because the sat nav told them too. At the risk of sounding like my primary school teachers, would they jump off a cliff if it told them to? The system does what it does pretty well, but it's not a substitute for awareness and common sense. The ability to read a map is still quite important. Where sat nav comes into it's own is in guiding you round an unfamiliar town with their quirky one-way systems and all that. Frankly, I've never felt the need. There are helpful things along the highways and byways called 'signs' and they tend to point out which way one needs to go to get to a given destination. They also make it clear how far it is. And they've never failed me yet.

Free cinema! Again!

More Leeds festival related fun, this time with Al Gore's Oscar winning An Inconvenient Truth.
It was preceded by some chap from Leeds City Council who's surname is Munson, which amused me for some reason, who was supposed to be talking about Leeds' plans and achievements in combatting the causes of climate change. He didn't. He made some spurious points about what each of us do each day and sort of joined them up. Considering the film that was the main attraction, it was pointless and amateurish.
Not quite as amateurish as the short film immediately before the main one. Consider the short I mentioned yesterday. This time it was English primary school children in a shoddy, preachy and unintentionally funny film. Very worthy, I'm sure, but it looked every inch the art project rather than a professionally done job.
And so to Gore's film. It's not saying anything that isn't well known, at least not to anyone that's not been living under a rock. What it does do is bring together all the science in a very neat 90-minute package, so it's worth it for that alone. The fact the Apple logo is visible prominently so bloody often is off-putting, but Gore comes across very well. So well, in fact, that it's a wonder that the American public didn't vote him for President. Oh. Hang on. They did.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Free cinema!

Never one to turn down free stuff, I was at the cinema last night. Somehow, my partner had scored freebies to a showing of Cowboy Bebop in Leeds. It was something to do with the Leeds Young People's Film Festival. So what they were doing letting a brace of 30+ year olds in I don't know. Anyway, to complain would be churlish.
The first thing that struck us was how lax things are at the Vue cinema at Kirkstall. Nobody was checking tickets, so we could, theoretically, have wandered into any screen and had our fill of the cinematic treats therein. But we stuck with our original plan as we actually wanted to see that.
Before the main picture was a French short; Pour de Rire. If you can ever get to see this, do. Filmed with a cast of primary school kids, it's a gangster/cop flick with the single most fantastic car chase in cinema history. To say more would be to spoil, so I shan't. Just see it.
Cowboy Bebop, then. It's a Japanese manga anime job about a group of bounty hunters who get themselves involved in something way bigger than they would expect. It also features Russell Brand as a baddy (see the link above) and a rubber-limbed computer-geek savant, which is always good. It's a good story. If it had a darker name and was live action, people across the globe would be raving about it. As it's a subtitled cartoon, it will only ever get a small audience. And that's a damn shame as it's a rattling good tale that cracks along at a pace. The characterisation is good, the story strong and stops yay far short of moralising too much. The animation is typically Japanese - cheap looking and jerky - but the film loses nothing because of this.
Additionally, Bebop, the craft these bounty hunters travel in, looks like a cock and balls when viewed from above. Most hilarious.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Specials and The Beat at the Cockpit, Leeds

As a birthday present, I was bought tickets to see The Specials and The Beat in Leeds at The Cockpit. Well, I say The Specials, but what I mean is one of The Specials. I think every member of The Specials is touring under the name The Specials with their own first name prefixing it to distinguish between them all. This version was Neville Staples' Specials. I know Jerry Dammers' Specials are on the circuit as well. And seeing as they've all vowed never to work with one another again, that's probably how it'll remain.
Either way, they were very good. We arrived at the venue after they'd already begun - fashionably late we are. It's a small venue - smaller than I'd anticipated - housed under the railway arche. This meant it was hot. Very hot. Making our way down the front and indulging in some serious skanking only made it hotter.
We got some respite between the bands, but it was back down the front for more skank action when The Beat came on. As far as I could tell, it was pretty much the whole original line-up with the addition of the Rankin' Roger's young lad, who was pretty good.

Their version of Rock The Casbah was brilliant, but that coincided with the point at which the heat and collisions with lots of other random skankers limbs got a bit much, so drinks were in order and a position at the back assumed where it was slightly less energetic. I'd sweated so much, I think I'm down near my birth weight.
Surprisingly, it was all done by 11:00. Something to do with all these yuppy flats down that end of Leeds not wanting to be mithered on a Sunday evening too late as the residents are busy working out how long they'll have to live to pay off the mortgage (About 125 at current interest rates, I think). But it did mean that I could get the 11:40 train instead of hanging about while half past one. Which was nice.