Tuesday, December 21, 2010


It’s a minor gripe really, and pulled out because I can’t be bothered addressing the glaring faults that bedevil the rest of the article, but really why are opinion journalists so staggeringly innumerate?  Take this from Polly Toynbee (who else?)
Incidentally, Cameron said cutting 50 MPs' seats would save £12m; but redrawing boundaries will cost £11m.
The first of these figures is an annual reduction, the second is a one-off cost.  It’s a totally meaningless juxtaposition.  Does she really not know any better?

Monday, December 20, 2010

'Tis the Season

There’s still something ineffably irritating about Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, even if we’re not allowed to call for her to be stoned. 
We mark the birth of a baby in the desert, sent by God to an impecunious and dispossessed couple, wanderers seeking refuge and finding it in a stable.
Impecunious and dispossessed eh?  It’s Christmas, so lets go back to the text:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)  And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)  To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
Rather than being impoverished and homeless, Joseph and Mary were the victims of Big Government.

Carrying pictures of Chairman Mao

I think this was one of those concepts that sounded great to a commissioning editor, but didn’t quite stack up when the word processor was fired up and the page was empty.
Chairman Cameron's regime is not a million miles from Mao
Um, really? 
To be fair to the coalition, it is not their ambition to replicate the body count heaped up by the Communist party of China during Mao's lethal reign. Nor does this government share many of the late tyrant's political ends. Yet in its methods, I am increasingly struck by the strange similarities between the regime of Chairman Mao and that of Chairman Cameron.
Now, to back this up Andrew Rawnsley has someone who mentioned a ‘Cultural Revolution’ in the public services, and someone else who said ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’. But he presumably doesn’t feel that two throwaway comments are quite sufficient to justify a comparison between the greatest murderer of the twentieth century and the current Prime Minister, so he delves into what might be called the political meat.  And these are the examples he uses:
The MP for Grantham [Nick Boles] celebrates as "a good thing" the "chaos" that will ensue from ripping up central planning…Ken Clarke challenges two decades of orthodoxy about the criminal justice system. Michael Gove battles the educational establishment to create his "free schools". Iain Duncan Smith has ambitions to be the man who definitively reformed welfare. Chris Huhne is dramatically recasting energy pricing. Nick Clegg wants to rewrite large parts of the constitution. Over at health, Andrew Lansley proposes the greatest upheaval in the NHS since its foundation.
There is a theme running through all these policies (except for energy pricing) and that is the decentralisation of power – the diminution of state control.  Further, they are all very much the creatures of their ministers – another aspect of Cameron’s Government is that he is not an omnipresent leader, seeking to cast his imprint on every feature of it.  Rawnsley’s article paints an interesting picture of a Government determined to devolve power away from the centre wherever possible, and of a Government that is far less dependent on the form of its leader than either of its predecessors.
And so, in the most surprising discovery about this coalition, we find we are governed by Maoists.
Rawnsley has managed to write a proposition and a rebuttal of this argument within the same article.

Monday, December 06, 2010

The next Kim Hughes?

This, I suspect, is something of a hostage to fortune.
The point is this: that Australia, however feeble its stock of cricketers, no matter how bad things get – and things right now are pretty darn unambiguously shabby – will never plumb the pathetic and humiliating lows that the woebegone English sides of 1989 to 2003 did. It won’t happen. Not in the friendly, lucky country. Not here.
Christian Ryan, whose excellent book on Kim Hughes shows that he does at least remember the last time Australian cricket plumbed similar depths, probably just means that the good old Aussie larrikin tendency will keep them from being the lowest ranked team in cricket (as England briefly were in 1999).  Well he’s probably right, although it’s not exactly the hardest hurdle to clear.  But he might just be underestimating the risk that Australia will follow England’s basic trajectory over that period – basically average, with one or two good players occasionally pushing the side over the top.
Look at the problem they’re in: the current series, poorly as it’s going for them, is actually understating the extent of their problems.  OK, we know that their bowling attack is now thoroughly mediocre.  A roster of Harris, Bollinger, Siddle, Hilfenhaus, and Johnson contains three third seamers, one second-string quick (Harris, when he’s not injured) and one mysterious quantity who veers from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Since we’re doing mid-90s England comparisons, how does a line-up of Gough, Mullaly, Caddick, Cork and Malcolm compare?  If you were Australia, would you swap?  Let’s not even go into the spinners, other than to note that their ninth choice, Xavier Doherty, looks like he’d be out of his depth in a good club match.
But we know their bowling’s a problem.  What should be really worrying is their batting.  Mike Hussey has held it together so far in this series, Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich did the job in India.  All are 35 and over.  In a year or so (or possible even at the end of this series) Australia are going to have to replace half their batting – and on the evidence of the new blood on display in the Australia A game, there isn’t exactly a stream of qualified replacements.  If there were, do you really think Marcus North would still be playing?  And when they go, Australia really have no choice but to give the captain's stripes to Michael Clarke.
Settled sides carry with them a momentum.  Replacements can be made gradually, settling newcomers into a winning side.  But that can tip over into a side that becomes too settled, where the next in line go rotten on the tree.  Where the most obvious batting replacement is David Hussey – 33 years old. When that happens, and a generation retires together, it can take a decade or more to recover.  It happened to the West Indies in the early 90s, and they have still not recovered.  I wonder if Clarke, another gloriously talented golden boy of Australian cricket, will prove as lachrymose on the way out?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Opposition is fun!

Well, it is isn’t it? It’s far more fun to jump up and down and scream than it is, say, to offer a reasoned critique of a strategy – just ask my daughter.  It’s no co-incidence that one of the first words toddlers learn is ‘no’ – shouting it when Daddy tries to dress you, or offers you an apple is a great way for little children to pretend to be in control.
The same thing really applies to opposition politics in general, and blogging in particular.  It shouldn’t really be a surprise that the three blogs that, in their different ways, best harnessed the impotent rage of opposition have decided, since Labour’s ejection in May, that the rage just isn’t there anymore, and without it, the polemic just doesn’t come.  Blogging properly is hard (which is why I don’t bother), and you need a good motive to keep doing it.  Being furious about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was as good a motive as any.
There is, of course, a problem with anger as a motive: when you’re shouting that loudly, you can’t hear yourself think.  Inchoate shouts of rage may be cathartic, but they aren’t very productive.  Laurie Penny (who generally has the air of someone more or less perpetually furious about something) has caught a bad case of lack of self-awareness with regard to the student protests. Now, another good rule of thumb is that students protest because they can, because they don’t really have anything urgent they need to do instead, and, as above, because it’s fun.
Another endearing quality of students (and the young in general) is their total absence of a sense of the ridiculous. So running aimlessly around London shouting things becomes an act of rebellion – no, not rebellion war!  Smash the state (um…while getting it to pay for our education obviously)! It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to sound cool.
"They want to marketise our education," says Ben, 21, his breath clouding in the bitter air. "So we're going to educate their market."
I’ll educate his market.  No, you shut up.
Fun as it all is (and it is fun – protests and demonstrations and marches are great. If I didn’t, you know, have a job and a mortgage and a baby and all that I’d definitely be out there demonstrating against something.  Rugby scrums perhaps – “what do we want?” “proper binding in the front row!” “when do we want it?” “after a crouch, a touch and a pause!”) it really is ultimately pointless.  Grown ups, after all, know how to deal with temper tantrums.  Ignore them.

Are you England in disguise?

What on earth has happened to Australia?  Brutal experience has taught me that it’s never wise to make predictions at Adelaide.  However, in Adelaide Australia have: dropped two fast bowlers and replaced them with an injury-prone speedster and an honest left-arm tryer with disastrous hair; suffered a farcical top-order run out; lost their captain and vice-captain for 2 runs between them; picked a team with 4 number 11s; and complained about how the nasty opposition fast bowler was calling their players horrid names.
It’s like watching England in the mid 1990s.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Gabbatoir

517-1.  That’s a hard scoreboard to come to terms with.  It suggests two things really – the first as Alex Massie says is that the Gabba pitch really wasn’t fit for Test match cricket.  On the last two days, two wickets fell and 600 runs were scored. Cricket simply has to be a contest between bat and ball, or else it becomes stultifying, so lets hope for some slightly spicier wickets for the rest of the series.  The omens aren’t necessarily good though, the next game is at Adelaide and as Martin Crowe said, only three things in life are certain: death taxes and a century at Adelaide.
Are there any other lessons we can take from Brisbane though? I think so. Australia first.
- Mitch.  How do you solve a problem like Mitchell Johnson?  When he’s on form he’s properly quick, gets nasty bounce and can swing the ball back into the right hander.  That’s a brutal combination, and can run through sides. But when he’s not on form, his arm drops so low that the only people in danger are short leg, second slip and the umpire.  Worse – his head drops at the same rate as his arm.  Fast bowlers need a bit of nasty in them, but they also need to keep their chins up even when they’re going round the park.  If they drop him, Australia would be getting rid of their most potent bowler.  But then, they’d also be getting rid of an embarrassing liability.  Bye Mitch.
- Spin.  I don’t think that Strauss & co are losing any sleep over the X-man.  Doherty looked like a competent club spinner, bowling pretty flat left-armers without any real bite or turn.  Tidy enough, but 2 for 70 tidy, not the 5-80 that wins games on flat pitches.  The search for a new Shane continues.  Australia have now tried 9 spinners since the great man retired – perhaps they should accept that once-in-a-generation bowlers are called that for a reason?
- Batting.  Hurrah!  Some good news.  Mike Hussey pulled one out of the bag (and illustrated the role chance has in sporting lives.  If his first ball had travelled a further foot, he’d probably just have played his last Test).  He hit Swann off a length, and looked supremely comfortable.  Mr Cricket survives.  On the other hand though, Michael Clarke played with all the freedom of Michael Atherton – and that’s today’s Athers at that.  When his back plays up, he’s virtually a sitting duck for the short ball, and England have enough bowlers good at bowling them, that he’s pretty exposed. As for Marcus North, well he looked like a useful bowler.  If he works on his batting, he’d make a reasonable tail-ender.
That’s pretty much all you can usefully derive from the game.  Ponting’s captaincy was uninspired for sure, but on a pitch like that, with an attack like that, I’m not sure what else he could have done.  Anyway – what can England take out if it?  Negatives first, just to be fair.
- Swanny.  Off spinners have a hard time Down Under.  Swanny was going to be different though – he’s the second ranked bowler in the world and he makes things happen.  Well, he didn’t really.  He bowled a fraction short on a pitch where the bounce just made the ball sit up.  He didn’t get much turn, and he couldn’t keep Hussey quiet.  He’s a central part of the side – his success is what makes a four man attack possible.  If he doesn’t get better for Adelaide, England will have something of a problem.  On the other hand, he really is pretty good – given a little more assistance from the pitch I’d back him to get in among the wickets.
- Kookaburra.  We all heard heaps before the series about how the Aussie ball doesn’t swing and, after a dozen overs, has the consistency of a damp rag.  Well, Anderson, Broad and Finn all bowled pretty well with it – Anderson in particular was outstanding at times.  There’s talk of Finn making way for Shahzad in Adelaide – a beanpole making way for a skidder.  I don’t see it happening, but it would be a change from strength, not out of desperation. England will be far less worried than Australia about their pace attack.
- Batting.  If there was one lesson from the first innings, it was that when you get in you have to make it count.  40s and 60s are all very well, but it’s centuries than win games.  The second innings would seem to show that England are, to say the least aware of this…
On we roll to Adelaide all square. But the after-effects of 150 wicketless overs for Australia’s main attack will surely linger.  If England win the toss, bat first and put on a strong start, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few green and gold caps starting to droop.  The worst feeling in cricket – and it’s self-fulfilling – is ‘here we go again’.  Here’s hoping.

Look behind you!

While the ramifications of tuition fee policy for the stability of the Coalition, and the very existence of the Lib Dems are all very interesting, they are starting to seem a touch parochial.  Really seriously interesting things are happening in the Eurozone.
A good basic rule of politics is that nothing much changes most of the time.  Reforms and policies are trailed, events are breathlessly foretold - all with the potential to uproot life as we know it.  Most of the time, it’s hard to spot the difference afterwards.  This time though?
As stark analyses go, it’s hard to better Willem Buiter’s view on Eurozone economies:
Ireland, Greece And Portugal Are Insolvent, Spain Will Be Soon, Italy And Belgium Are Threatened
The markets are taking the view that the Portuguese are just weeks away from needing a bailout, the Spanish maybe only a few months.  Is the Euro really going to be sustainable with half its members on life support?  Germany is now growing pretty strongly – they’ll be wanting an increase in interest rates before too long.  But with the whole Eurozone periphery in the deep freeze?
It may be, of course, that this is another case where despite apocalyptic headlines everyone just sort of muddles through and nothing much really changes.  But I’m not sure I’d be betting that way.