Friday, 25 June 2010

World Cup Fever

Well, I've been away for a bit. Unsurprisingly, it's largely because I've been obsessively following the footy.

And, barring England's amazingly tedious tedium, it's been pretty good really. Lots of nice shocks, great to see Germany stutter, France and Italy go home early.

Frankly, if I hadn't been born in England I'd be ecstatic about England's travails too. They play a horrible football, which manages to be both pragmatic rather than flambouyant, yet at the same time also largely incompetent. And every time they look to start doing something well, they panic and decide to sit back and defend.

It's pretty horrible stuff to watch. Worse still, though, is the moronic fawning of the media over, say, John Terry hurling himself in front of a shot AND FAILING TO BLOCK IT! Fortunately someone else was actually competent to block it, but still the fawning is over bloody John Terry.

There's so much wrong with the way England play, and in part it's due to the media fawning. Because they love when Gerrard hares around like a headless chicken, they get into his head that he actually can tackle well, and is reliable at passing the ball out of defence. Both not true. He's very good attacking from midfield and has a good shot; and he can pick out a great long pass - but he'll make only 1 in 2 of the long passes and the other goes out of play. That's fine for raking crossfield passes from the left wing. It's utterly disastrous if it's played just in front of defence.

In addition, Rooney is told similar stuff. And Lampard. And the result is that they all think they need to be the fulcrum, all drift in to the middle, and all tread on each others toes, bringing their men in with them meaning that the others in midfield have no space either, and of course, have nobody to pass to. There's horrible positional discipline in this England team. It's really worth noting that they played much, much better when Gerrard stayed further out left against Slovenia.

And, of course, the media are hyping now England's progress when, in fact, they struggled to second place and, instead of being with Ghana, Korea, Uruguay, etc in their part of the draw, they are in with Germany, Argentina and presumably Spain and Portugal. That actually means all those cock-ups against Algeria and Slovenia will have cost us the easiest route ever to a World Cup semi final. Feeble.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Oil Spill - get a grip

Today, Barack Obama is comparing the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to 11/9/01.

Really? Really, seriously?

I know people are talking like idiots here, but seriously. September 11th '01 resulted in 3000 deaths, and many billions of dollars of business lost; it shut down New York and the entire air travel industry for days and weeks.

This, just to remind you, has killed no-one, has buggered some fishing fleets in Louisiana and is beginning the restrict some tourism trade on the Gulf coast of Florida and. er. that's it.

There are some unhealthy looking birds, sure. But, frankly, this is not the same as 11/9.

In addition, Obama's been saying all the "right things". Except it's the stupid lack of perspective bollocks that we thought we wouldn't get from him. We always thought that the great thing with Obama was nuance and subtlety, that we wouldn't get the "I am working as hard as I can to fix this". It's shit. You know it's shit. I know it's shit. You are not an engineer, you're not an oil executive, you haven't the faintest idea how to fix this because it's not your job. Even if you did know how to fix it, you shouldn't. You're President of the bloody USA. There's a ton of other stuff you should be doing. Like running the country.

And, as for the "This is Obama's Katrina" garbage from the US right - you, too, need to get a grip. Again - unlike Katrina, nobody's died since the initial blast. No cities are destroyed. There aren't tens of thousands of refugees trapped in a sports stadium without food or sanitation. There's no mad lawlessness on the streets. It's hogwash.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

University places

Last one for the day - and haven't I gone on and on.

Anyway, big news today is that the government wants to ramp up tuition fees for university places. Apparently, if you're as student who takes advantage of the university system, you should effectively pay higher tax.

This seems a bit intellectually inconsistent to me.

Because the government want more people going to University so we have more educated people in the workforce, which means a stronger economy and therefore, you know, more tax.

The fact that you're earning £50,000 rather than £20,000 per year means you're already paying tons of extra tax. The government think it's worth it, so they really should pay the investment.

The thing is, both the government and everyone else knows that some university degrees get people into decent jobs fairly easily; and others are useless.

What the Conservatives don't tell you is that, often, media studies and materials sciences and all those semi-practical degree courses are the ones that earn the jobs; and the old university pure subjects, the classics, or PPE, or history, or Eng Lit, are the ones that are fundamentally useless in the jobs market.

This goes against the standard right-wing press trope that we're losing elitism in the higher education system by letting non-trad subjects in.

The reality is, the government should increase tuition fees. But, specifically, only for degrees for which there isn't demand exceeding supply in the jobs market. So all those old Tory subjects should charge more; but the people learning IT, or engineering, or modern languages, or practical subjects, should be fully subsidised by the state.

One thing that does grate, with me, is the subsidy on tuition fees for people from poor backgrounds. Because the loan only gets paid back once you are earning a decent wage. So, whether you start poor or not, you only even pay out on the loan once you're relatively wealthy. It's a stupid bribe, and a meaningless one.

Finally - one thing that needs to be maintained is the student loan. Not just for tuition fees, but also for living expenses for the duration of the university course. These shoud, again, only be paid back once the graduate is earning good money; and should be lent out at government base rate only, with no premium, and therefore no profit. If we're going to charge our students to study, we have to make sure that they aren't being gouged by the money lenders in the process.

None of these things seems to be on David Willett's agenda - which seems largely ill thought through and of the "Hey, if the students are going to have fun for three years they should pay us for the privelege" line.

Flags again

After my last comments on the car flags that are all over the place, I think I have to rethink my opinion.

Because now they're utterly ubiquitous, which means that they're on all kinds of peoples' cars. Sure, pretty much every white van is flagged up, but - certainly in London - you'll see posh blokes in Mercs, black mums on the school run, just about every kind of person, with their St George's flags out.

And that means it really has just become a symbol of support for the football team and nothing else. And that makes me feel good.

What makes me feel better still, in London, is that you begin to see other nations flags appearing too. It's regional - so in Stockwell you see Portuguese and Brazilian car flags, elsewhere perhaps Ghanaian ones. There's a fair South African presence in Earlsfield - although less than you'd expect, perhaps because they're all rugby fans who don't really care about football.

But, whatever the reason, I'm now beginning to get a rather nice warm feeling from the flood of flags.

Coalitions again

OK. Enough with this now. Really, enough with it.

"Look, there are cracks in the coalition. They don't agree with each other." Cry Labour, the press, the right wing blogs.

Well, no shit Sherlock. If they bloody agreed on everything they'd have stood for the same party, wouldn't they?

Seriously, some people have real difficulties with this. And it's baffling, because it was utterly apparent in the last government that there were a ton of ministers who didn't always agree with what Brown or Blair were doing.

It's what happens. You can't expect the kind of people who go into politics to be so utterly devoid of independent thought (although the Labour leadership candidates do hint at it) as to go along fully with everything anyone else proposes.

So, you know what happens? They compromise. And this is a good thing for everyone. The Lib Dems get some of their policies through that they wouldn't get through otherwise. And temper the worst of the Tory programme. But clearly can't veto all of it, otherwise, you know, they'd be the senior partners. And the Tories get a huge majority of their program through, and with an ample enough majority to mean there's no risk of collapse of the government so the program actually survives.

I get a feeling that everyone getting excited about splits is just being disingenuous and actually realises this. But it does need reiterating.

The Lib Dems and Tories are going to disagree on government policies. It's inevitable, and actually desirable. And usually they'll come to some compromise; but some of the time they won't but basically have to say "Yeah, fair enough, you have this stuff I oppose, because in the end it's better that than the entire government comes down".

It's called being a bit mature, and flexible, shades of grey, and compromise.

Let them entertain you

I've been away for a few days and there are a number of things I want to ramble on about. First up is away from politics. Over the last few days I've been to see the Sex and The City 2 movie, and Kenny Rogers live in concert. Neither of these are things I'd ever have chosen to see myself (many thanks to the Good Lady Indolent Cyclist). And, frankly, the reviews of S&TC2 are pretty accurate in describing it as a very bad film indeed.

But, despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed both evenings. I think if you go in to almost any entertainment with an open and uncynical mind, and allow yourself to go with the flow, you can come away entertained.

Post facto, I opened my critical mind to the film and frankly it was utter garbage, bordering on racist is places. I say this as someone who's studiously tried to avoid all of the S&TC phenomenon - challenging with a wife like mine. So very few preconceived ideas except that I've hated all the fragments I've seen. All of the stuff in the "UAE" was utter garbage. It really is a horrible film. But, and this is the funny thing, I think you can still go along and be entertained.

Kenny Rogers is another matter entirely. His singing voice is gone, now. But it really didn't matter. He pretty much knew that, so he just played all the hits (and it's amazing quite how many hits there are), kept them largely to being fragments - maybe 1 minute or 2 at most for almost all the songs. Didn't even bother with an encore - he'd already told us that he'd play the encore and not bother with the walking on and off stage when everyone knew he'd be back. And put in a ton of very entertaining and funny patter between the hits, like a proper entertainer. So, although his voice was gone, you came out thinking you'd been to a proper live performance; something a lot of younger bands could learn something from - we don't just want to see you play your songs; we actually want something that's different from the records. Seeing you in person playing note-for-note what's on the CD is not worth £50 of my money. I need something a bit more. Kenny, for all his cheesyness, provided that.

On other entertainments, I've just finished reading the new David Mitchell, which takes me back into higher-brow territory. A very fine book it is, too. Really enjoyable and, nicely, every time you feel it's taking you in one direction it tacks back and changes again. But it's much less dense or complex and structurally interesting as his previous novels, I think.

Latest reading - and this is going to be a real test of my ability to let anything entertain - is Sarah Palin's Going Rogue. Wish me luck.

Sunday, 6 June 2010


Ed Balls today appeared to be saying that the Tories aren't tough enough on all those smelly foreigners. Apparently a limit on the numbers of immigrants even from EU countries should be enforced.

This is the kind of stupid, reactionary, old school anti-European Labourism that existed in the 70s. It's basically protectionism, but, ironically, puffed up in the language of the unpleasant right. He's talking about not letting those swarthy eastern Europeans come in and steal the jobs from good, hard working, British folk, who want to do less work for more money.

It's bafflingly wrong. It's completely antithetical to free movement of labour which is absolutely essential in a free market.

Now, there's been lots and lots of talk recently about failures in the European project because of failings in the Eurozone, because there aren't balancing mechanisms; and one of the key aspects of this is that although there's free movement of labour there are restrictions over culture and language that prevent enough people moving to allow the balancing that's needed.

And there is a serious argument to be had here. But patently, the solution isn't going to be more protectionism, fewer people moving, and less of those balancing elements.

It would be an argument for staying out of the Euro, but the reality is that the problem is only there because of a lack of controls in terms of making sure that all member states adhere to the Maastricht criteria - and that is largely because what should have been an economic project led largely on economic grounds was taken, instead, by romantics who dreamed of getting southern and eastern European states more quickly and succesfully enmeshed with each other and the EU. Which is a laudable goal, but bringing countries into the EU with large debts and deficits, without the mechanisms in place to keep those debts and deficits down, it meant there were countries in the Eurozone who shouldn't have been on any pragmatic economic basis.

There is no fundamental problem with a common currency of countries like France, Germany, Benelux, Denmark, Scandinavia, and possibly the UK. These are similar economies which had, prior to the recent financial mayhem, fairly similar debt and deficit profiles, and could sensibly have had a common currency. The problem comes when people like Portugal and Greece are shoehorned in to a currency that doesn't suit them.

Back to the main point, though: Ed Balls, eh? Almost as bad as Andy Burnham.