Monday, December 26, 2005

Damn this blogging thing takes too much time!

I hope all readers have had a Happy Christmas (or equivalent, for those who are not adherents to the Christian faith).

Regulars will have worked out by now that this blog is on ice. Or, perhaps more accurately, on the back burner. Basically, Christmas is a busy time when you've got an 18-month-old (especially one who's teething and has a cold). Right after Xmas I have a huge project to work on, which will probably occupy me until February. So if I post anything in the next two months, it will be brief, and quite an achievement to boot.

Happy New Year to all.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Why I'm glad I live in a multicultural society


Try and get tickets for this (although it's probably sold out now, and deservedly so). It simply wouldn't work in any context other than an ethnically mixed country, where some immigrant communities have coalesced into virtual ghettoes, keeping alive the traditions of their home country while experiencing clashes with the dominant ethos of their adopted nation.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Shock as Cabinet Minister Shows Compassion!


It seems some tiny spark of humanity still burns in the heart of at least one of ZaNuLabour's politburo (via Justin).

(Can a spark burn, technically speaking? Oh, never mind.)


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Christmas appeal


Schwarzenegger may be incapable of compassion (see post below), but at least Tim Worstall has launched a very worthy appeal for two charities, Ethiopiaid and Send a Cow. And he doesn't even want your money - he's going to take it off those awfully nice and awfully rich people at Google. I can't get my head around how he's proposing to do it, but it's clearly all in a good cause.

(If you're visiting the Send a Cow site, leave the homepage open for a bit - the graphics are quite fun.)


Nice move, Mr Tough Guy


Williams is dead. I hardly expected anything else from Schwarzenegger - after all, he's governer in a state where the majority of voters support the death penalty, and he's got a 'Tough Guy' reputation to defend (yeah, it's pretty tough to kill someone without having to do it with your own hands and without having to look them in the eye).

I doubt Williams was innocent of the murders for which he was convicted (as many of his supporters have claimed), although there were great gaping holes in the evidence against him. But nor do I doubt the sincerity of his conversion to non-violence. I guess we'll never know what more good work he could have done had he been allowed to go on living, writing and campaigning against gang warfare. Nice one, Arnie, you're real tough. Just remember when your executive limo is torched by a street gang: there was someone who might, just might have prevented it, and you decided to have him killed.


Monday, December 12, 2005

An eye for an eye, or turning the other cheek?


Speaking of Devil's Kitchen, he and I are involved in an enjoyable spat about capital punishment over at his place.

Or, at least, it would be enjoyable if we weren't talking about an actual man's life. Stanley "Tookie" Williams, convicted for multiple homicide, has spent 25 years on Death Row and may have been executed as I write (given that his fate lies in the hands of The Terminator, I don't hold out much hope). In prison, Williams renounced violence and wrote many books for children, denouncing gang life and trying to ensure that future generations did not go down his path.

Come and join in the debate.


Feel the earth move?


We did. At 5.40 on Sunday morning, Baby Gnu woke me up crying (he was crying, not me). By the time I'd found my dressing gown and made it to the door of the bedroom, he'd stopped (he regularly does this sort of thing - there'll be payback, you mark my words).

Anyway, I got back to bed but - in a pattern which has become uncomfortably familiar - I couldn't get back to sleep straight away. Just after six, I heard a kind of muffled bang. My immediate thought was that something had fallen into the bath downstairs (it was the same kind of muffled but echoing noise you hear when something falls into a ceramic bathtub). But it went on slightly too long, and was slightly too loud. Oh, God, I thought, some piece of furniture has fallen down. But, no, the bang continued to rumble (the way I'm describing it, you'd think it was three minutes long, but it was only a few seconds), and I could tell it wasn't coming from inside the house. Mrs Wildebeest woke up and suggested that it might be a plane coming down (we are within four or five miles of Heathrow). We looked out of the window, but obviously were none the wiser. Assuming it would be on the news if it were anything important, we went back to bed (good old British nonchalance, eh?).

Neither of us imagined it would be something like this, nor that it would in fact have taken place over thirty miles away.

Baby Gnu slept through the whole thing.

[EDIT: Live blogging of the event at The England Project (via this week's BBRU, hosted by Devil's Kitchen, for a change).]


Friday, December 09, 2005

That's a good start, Charlie


Via The Devil's Kitchen, I discover that Cameron's already in trouble for mis-use of Commons headed paper, an offence for which Blunkett has previously got into trouble. Rentamouth backbench Labour MP Stephen Pound is to report Charlie to "Commons officials".

No doubt he'll get away with it, now that he's an "important person". Still, tee hee, eh?

[EDIT: Even more important than we realised, according to this (via Recess Monkey, who has deleted this reference for some reason, but read his Opus Dave post, anyway, as it looks like fun).]


Hold on tight, it's the end of the road


So, the Routemaster has finally been withdrawn from service across London.

Naturally, there has been predictable outpouring of grief and complaint for the loss of this admittedly finely-designed feature of London transport. The Routemaster has become an iconic figure of London (and therefore Britain, since the two are synonymous in much of the world outside the UK). Sturdy, distinctive, long-lasting, attractive and convenient, they are adored by many Londoners, even more people outside London, and by the transport-obsessed nutcases of which this country has a frighteningly large number.

But, let's be honest: they were horrid beasts. The seats were always narrow, the upholstery threadbare. The wooden floors were filthy and unattractive. They were impossible to disembark from with any elegance, and coming down from the top floor was an exercise in injury defiance. The windows were grimy, and they were freezing in winter. The shuddering as they sped up or slowed down made my teeth rattle in my gums. There was no room to put any of your luggage (that little hole at the front was never adequate for anything bigger than a rucksack - and who would want to leave his rucksack there, in these times?). And I, for one, could never see the bloody number of the bus until it was on top of me, so dim were the lights behind the display.

From street level they were splendid to look at, and the hop-on, hop-off feature was enormously handy (as long as you were reasonably able-bodied, which seems to rule out 50% of bus passengers in my experience). And of course it was nice to have a conductor who didn't hide behind a glass screen. But anyone who thinks having a conductor on board adds an extra element of public order enforcement is still living in the fifties. Indeed, many of today's Vicky Pollards see the conductor as an extra incentive to create trouble, an extra target to wind up, safe in the knowledge that the worse he or she can do is throw them off the bus, in which case they just wait for the next one and the whole mess starts all over again.

We may not think much of the bendy buses. The two-decker Routemaster replacements may lose in charm what they gain in safety and cleanliness. But there's going to come a time pretty soon when mourning the loss of the Routemaster is going to be like mourning the loss of the penny farthing. Clinging to such symbolic representations of our 'heritage' merely typifies the juvenile sentimentalism that typifies much of so-called Middle England. London is a modern city, a fast, thriving city - aesthetic joys can still be found everywhere in the city's architecture. We don't need to get there in antiquated splendour. Heavens, we're not complaining that the Tube isn't steam-driven any more, are we?

We've come to the last stop, folks. Are you just going to sit there and cry, or are you going to get off and move on?


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I am a mole, and I live in Reading


I'd like to congratulate myself on reaching the symbolic (if relatively pathetic) figure of 5,000 pageloads. A small start, but to me it's the equivalent of 1,000 Test runs and Geraint Jones hasn't got that far yet.

Anyway, that man Hutton has written to an MP about moles. There should be more of this writing-silly-letters-to-MPs business. Poor sods. Most of them are older than their party leaders now, so they can't have much pleasure in life.

When I have moved house, there may be a letter to Ann Keen about alien abductions in preparation. Or something similar. I don't think there are enough Greek people on TV these days. What is she going to do about it?

Suggestions for other really serious issues that I could raise with my new MP will be gratefully received.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

King David just scrapes home


Biggest non-story of the day: Cameron wins by a two-to-one margin.

It seems the Tory voters have been impressed by the media-friendly, youthful, 'cool' candidate (who has never taken any hard drugs, remember), following in the wake of Labour's decision to drop its old crusty image in favour of a hip, modern candidate. Of course that was over ten years ago, but they're slow to catch up, these Tories.

They must be unable to believe their luck: Cameron's under 40, has a full head of hair, has a disabled child, knows what a Slippery Nipple is, likes to get down to the latest beats, drinks and smokes, used to work in television, and has never taken any hard drugs. And his wife is pregnant. And has a tattoo.

Yet he has impeccable Tory credentials: Eton and Oxford, a long line of politicians in the family, stockbroker father, viscount father-in-law, economics degree. And he has never taken any hard drugs.

Sadly, this may be a good day for Conservative Party democracy, but it's a bad day for British democracy. We now have two party leaders who are prepared to put style before substance, presentation before content and media awareness before public empathy. As if we expected anything else.

Still, I bet there are a few Colombian farmers throwing their hats in the air. Oh, shit, did I say that out loud?

[UPDATE: Jonathan Freedland doesn't think much of Charlie's voting record.]


What a cunting, cunting cunt


Tim at Bloggerheads notes the refusal of many supermarkets to stock the DVD of Jerry Springer: The Opera on the grounds that they are being threatened with pickets by Christian Voice. (Sainsbury's received ten compaints. Yes, ten - not ten thousand.)

As I observed in the comments on Tim's site, fear of protest by loony right-wingers is a poor reason for not stocking the DVD. A much better reason would be that JSTO is actually fairly crap. Its central joke (opera singers singing phrases such as the title of this post) is funny the first couple of times, but becomes tedious by the time you hear it the hundredth time, and there are few other moments of humour to compensate. The music isn't even particularly catchy or enjoyable, apart from a fairly neat Bach parody in Act Two - it's certainly not an opera, more of a musical (except that in a musical there's speech as well as singing - although Jerry himself is a purely speaking part).

Still, poor quality of production is no reason to ban something, otherwise ITV would cease to exist... No, I'm not going to pursue this line, it'll just get too tempting...

See also Justin and MediaWatchWatch.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cricket: Pakistan 2-0 England


Scorecards: First Test (Pakistan won by 22 runs), Second Test (Match drawn), Third Test (Pakistan won by an innings and 100 runs).


Fucking fuck.

Fuck fuckity fuck-fuck-fuck.

Read and weep, English supporters. Those who like me coasted high on the wave of legal euphoria engendered by the brilliant 2-1 win over Australia this last summer, taste now the bitter dust of failure and humiliation.

As Matthew Syed has pointed out, we've been here before: the Rugby World Cup (being Welsh, I was able to sit that one out), Kelly Holmes, Mark Lewis-Francis... Sporting success, triumph, exhilaration, followed by the good old British crash into disaster. Thank goodness we didn't follow the same principle when we fought the Battle of Britain, or we'd all be speaking German now (and we'd have a woman Prime Minister again...).

Where did it go wrong? We've been discussing this matter over at TMS 24/7 for a good few hours, and several theories (all of them plausible) have been put forward:

  1. Complacency after the Ashes - we'd just beaten the best team in the world, so we could beat anyone, couldn't we?

  2. Conditions in Pakistan, supposedly notoriously difficult for Western visitors

  3. The Kookaburra ball, used in Pakistan, which does not swing as much as the Duke ball used in England

  4. Pakistan coming together as a unit (under an English coach, who had a successful career for England, and knows the English mindset better than most)

  5. England's inability to adjust the match-winning strategy and approach that worked so well in an English summer to playing conditions elsewhere

  6. The toll of injuries: Simon Jones, Vaughan, Giles...

  7. Off-field distractions: Strauss's imminent fatherhood, Tresco's father-in-law's near-fatal accident, Harmison's homesickness (apparently successfully conquered)

  8. Hubris (see top of list)

  9. Just having several off-days in a row

  10. The possibility that England are not all that good really and that the Ashes were lost by Australia rather than won by England (this is the explanation favoured by Australians and not one I adhere to).

Those who care about this sort of thing should click 'More'.
I still favour the complacency argument above everything else. English cricket has been on an upward curve since we held the South Africans to a draw in 2003 (some would argue the upswing began even earlier than that, during Hussain's tenure as captain, though we could hardly have gone lower than the depths we plumbed in 1999). Nothing matters more to English cricket fans - and possibly to the management - than capturing the Ashes, after we had watched the Australians thrash us year after year. The grand effort, the determination to make England an unbeatable side, was all geared towards the recapture of that little urn. We'd all assumed this would happen in 2007, when McGrath and Warne had retired, rich and lazy on the back of an unbeaten Ashes run dating back to 1993 when they made their debuts. As things turned out, the Australians had a rotten tour this summer, several key players failed to fire (Gilchrist, Gillespie, Hayden, Kasprowicz), England played to the last drop of their determination, and the Ashes were recaptured ahead of schedule. After the triumph of the summer, where was there to go but down? What did England have to prove?

In the old days, being Number One team in the world was a matter of subjective judgement. Once the ICC introduced its ranking system, the question was academic - Australia had been at the top for so long, that it was only a question of who was going to challenge for the Number Two spot. England used to measure their success in terms of Ashes victories, and everything else was regarded as a staging post on the way to the bi-annual contest of the ancient enemies.

This year, things changed. The Ashes victory was so unexpected, the impact of the against-the-odds achievement so deep, the self-belief of the team so strong, that suddenly there was a greater prize to aim for: Number One Team in the World. Never mind that the No. 1 spot was held by a team which had dominated the game for over twelve years and had a depth and strength almost never before seen in the history of the game. Suddenly everyone was gripped by this fantastic (and, in retrospect, insane) conviction that England not only deserved that spot but could achieve it instantly. The fact that Australia had built up gradually from a low base was overlooked. We had supermen in the team, didn't we? Flintoff could do anything. Pietersen could take attacks apart. Tresco and Strauss were the best opening partnership in the world. Our four-man pace attack were a perfect unit, worthy of comparison with their West Indian equivalents of the seventies. We had the best captain we'd had in twenty years, a man who could get into the side on the strength of his captaincy alone (and what a mixed blessing that now seems!).

This image starts to collapse the moment it comes under serious scrutiny (Flintoff is a better bowler than batsman; Pietersen's brilliance is usually overshadowed by rashness; Tresco and Strauss are fantastic when they're firing at the same time, like they did back in Durban on the South African tour, but Tresco often fails to start and Strauss looks nervous at the crease a lot of the time; the four-man pace attack was one short for the Pakistan tour and the wickets were dead, lifeless affairs with no swing in the atmosphere; Vaughan's batting is a liability). The Pakistan tour showed all those shortcomings - in fact, it's ironic that the players who performed best on this tour are those who under-performed in the Ashes: Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Geraint Jones (we'll not talk about the spinners).

What this 2-0 fiasco has exposed is that England are not (at least away from home) the powerful colossus they aspire to be - and, let's face it, Australia have set the bar incredibly high. The batting is still weak - there is no one player around whom an innings can be built. Pakistan have a powerful and almost impregnable middle order (Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Younis Khan) who can pretty much be guaranteed between them to produce a massive partnership. Other teams have similar strengths: India (Dravid, Tendulkar, Sehwag), Australia (Hayden, Ponting, Gilchrist), even West Indies (Lara, Chanderpaul, Sarwan). South Africa are going through a period of rebuilding their middle order, and Sri Lanka seem to change their line-up with the weather. England's middle order, though impressive, does not convey an impression of solidity: Vaughan's form is hopeless, Bell is inexperienced (but could well prove to be the linchpin in future years), Pietersen and Flintoff too inconsistent and liable to get out to rash shots. If Tresco and Strauss fail to give the innings a grand launching pad, there is no one available for back-up.

As for the bowling, we badly missed Simon Jones (although there is no guarantee he would have made enough of a difference to save the two lost matches). Even if the pace attack is on form and has helpful wickets to bowl on, however, there is still an embarrassing shortcoming in the spin department: Giles is effective on helpful pitches (ie in England), but fairly innocuous elsewhere, his hip is creaking and he has no real back-up (Udal proved his ineffectiveness in these matches, Loudon's doosra is not yet developed, Batty is one of the worst players ever to don an England shirt, and other potential players - Panesar, Lawson, Swann, Keedy - remain untested).

And let's not take anything away from Pakistan - they had a great series. Inzamam's batting proved unassailable (he passed fifty in every single innings), Salman Butt proved to be a much greater opener than anyone had given him credit for, Kamral Akmal was often brilliant behind the stumps (and even in front of them), and Shoaib Akhtar finally repaid the faith placed in him by, for once, staying fit, focused and collaborative throughout an entire series. Bob Woolmer no doubt deserves a lot of credit for bringing the team together, but the talent has to be there in the first place - it makes one wonder whether Pakistan would now be challenging for the Number Two spot if only they'd had a sense of discipline and application in previous years.

Where do England go from here? Let's not talk about the one-day matches: they are Pakistan's to lose, all of them. In March, England and India fight it out for the Number Two spot. The Test matches are taking place in obscure grounds (two of the three, anyway). The weather will be hot, the surfaces possibly variable. India have a strong batting line-up and two of the world's deadliest spin bowlers. England will have been to the sub-continent, back to a freezing home for Christmas, then returning to the dry heat of Southern Asia. There are, again, only two warm-up matches. The entire tour schedule is still under negotiation. I'm not sure Mrs Flintoff isn't due to give birth around then, as well. The immediate prospect for English cricket doesn't look as good as it did twelve months ago.

This is not to say that failure is inevitable, only that expectations have to change and that we should be looking to the long term. With Australia facing the likelihood that most of its key players will retire in the next few years, the field for 2008 onwards should start to open up. If England are still showing the same form then, they have a good chance at claiming that new prize of World Number One.

I was in Marks & Spencer yesterday, where a TV was showing highlights of the Ashes. While noting the obvious irony, it still lifted my heart to watch Tresco and Strauss flogging them around the ground. That's what it might be like watching England three or four years from now. Don't hold your breath - but do cross your fingers.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Don't know who to vote for?


Wondering who's left to vote for, now that the Left is not Left any more? Bogol's online poll won't help you at all.

(For those who don't know Arlington, the prose style is entirely deliberate, I assure you.)

(Via Harry.)