Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Almost as good as the Ashes

England can't play cricket in the subcontinent.  They just can't. Last year they proved that by being basically humiliated in the UAE by Pakistan, then only scraping a drawn series in Sri Lanka thanks to a magnificent innings by Kevin Pietersen. 

India don't lose home test series. It rarely happens. Their last home series defeat was in 2004, by the all conquering Australian side containing Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath, Langer and co.

India also don't let teams off the hook, last time they lost a series lead at home was in 1984/85 when David Gower's England won there.

England have had a terrible year in Test cricket:

  • 0-3 vs Pakistan in the UAE.
  • 1-1 vs Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka
  • 2-0 vs West Indies in England
  • 0-2 vs South Africa in England
That's just 3 test wins from 11 with 6 defeats, when they started that spell as world number 1.

So of course the writing was on the wall when England were caught in a spin in their first innings in Ahmedabad, all out for 191 and forced to follow on.  However, it seems like this England side has learned from it's mistakes and is possibly turning over a new leaf thanks to the magnificent Captain Cook.  It was in a losing effort but the 176 in the second innings by the Captain swung the momentum around and showed the rest of the team that it was possible to bat in these conditions.

To be fair, after that I thought India were really pretty poor, this was supposed to be a revenge series after the 4-0 whitewash England inflicted on them last year on their way to becoming number 1 in the world.  The mighty Sachin Tendulkar didn't look like he could buy a run, with only one score of note.  Dhoni seemed uninspiring in the middle when the team needed a boost and they haven't really replaced Rahul Dravid who was one of their all time greats, though Pujara was one of their plus points.

I don't want to take anything away from England though, this was a remarkable turn around that after the first test I didn't see happening.  The selectors though got most of the calls for the next few tests spot on, Monty had to play, and picking Root at 6 for the final test was definitely the correct decision. They out batted India - 4 of the top 5 run scorers in the series were English, Swann and Panesar took more wickets in fewer overs at a better economy rate than the leading Indian spinners and Jimmy Anderson was comfortable the best seamer.

Reintergration looks complete
if Prior's tweet is anything
to go by.
The best quote I've read was by Analyst Ayaz Memon who said India "were outplayed in all departments of the game - even more so in two that are not reflected in stats and figures: fitness and planning".  I think this really summed it up.  England also seemed like a team and look to have put the Pietersen issue behind them.

For me, it'd take a lot to top the 2005 Ashes series, the first win against what was clearly the best team in the world at basically full strength.  This though, has to be up there with the Ashes of two winters ago when we dominated Australia in their own back yard.  The cricket wasn't always scintillating but the result is what counts.  Congratulations to the team, and hopefully they can use this for what will be a very big 12 months, with 10 tests against the old enemy - I for one can't wait!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

How's your War on Drugs working out for you?

It seems to me that the trend is quite clearly more drugs coming on to the market, if the 'war' was working you'd expect fewer not more.  I know these are only supply figures but I think they indicate that if people want to take drugs then they will.

The problem here though is that there are 57 new substances that people will be taking where the effects on their bodies (particularly long term) are probably unknown.  If we had a legalised, regulated drugs market then the quality of the substances could be ensured, protecting the public from unnecessary harm whilst also educating them on the dangers of their chosen drug.  I despair at the people who still believe this war is working and isn't, like all wars, just creating unnecessary suffering.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Thoughts on the PCC elections

I don't think we should be having PCC elections, mainly because the public is in no way informed enough as to whom the best candidate for the role is, nor do enough of them care.  I read today they they are predicting a turnout of around 15%, I reckon it'll actually be higher than this, but in no way high enough for that person to truly have a mandate.

I think my main problem with it though, is that I feel the police is becoming politicised.  I feel that the police force should be independent from politics whilst remaining accountable.  Having a person linked with a party in a major position could result in decisions that are better politically than actually.  My personal preference given that there were to be elections was for each candidate to be independent. 

Obviously that isn't the case.  I was pleased to find out that there would be an independent person on my ballot paper.  So unlike many people I'm trying to do my best to find out as much as I can about the candidates, despite my disagreement with the system I still think it's important that I do cast an informed vote and not just due to party allegiances.  Unfortunately, I've not received any information through the post and only 2 of my 4 candidates appear to be on Twitter.  The My PCC site is a good tool, but I was disappointed by the level of detail most candidates went into, even on their own website.  Basically I felt like they were all saying they wanted to:
  1. Cut Crime
  2. Listen
  3. Give value for money.
I thought the Labour and Tory candidates were particularly guilty of this, just wishy washy no brainer statements that nobody could argue with and didn't say anything different.  I was hopeful with the independent until I read her points 4 and 5 on her aims:

  • I will respond vigorously to your concerns about *****.
  • Your worries about *****, will be a specific focus.
Now, listening to the public is a good thing.  However stating that the public's worries will given specific focus is not always the best policy in practice.  The main reason for this is that the candidate doesn't state whether the public should be concerned or worried about these things.  My main hope for an independent candidate would be that they wouldn't focus on party political issues and instead focus on points that really matter.  However as even these independent candidates have to persuade the public to elect them and keep them elected and in doing so this may result in pandering to the public's potentially unfounded fears.

I starred out the two items that she was focusing on because for my point these are irrelevant.  Police Commissioners should be focusing on cutting the crimes the DO happen, not what people are worried/concerned MIGHT happen as I reckon people tend to focus on crimes that if they happened would have the greatest impact on them personally, irrespective of the odds of them happening.

Maybe I'm just being cynical, I'm sure all candidates in all regions are qualified for the jobs and those who are appointed will do their best, I just personally don't feel that a popularity contest - or a Political Party popularity contest (given the lack of exposure each candidate has had - at least in my region) is the best way to be selecting people for such important jobs.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Jon Stewart rips into Fox!

I normally can't stand American current affairs news coverage, but the following clip I think is outstanding:

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The ugly face of football and I agree with Brian Moore.

I'm fed up.  After a wonderful Olympic summer, just 3 months into the Premiership season and I'm fed up.  The football itself has been top quality, Chelsea have looked fabulous at times with Oscar, Hazard and Mata,  United look frightening going forward whilst must be giving Fergie nightmares about their defending and other teams have been performing well above expectations.  I think the league this year is going to be just as close, with a three way battle rather than last year's two.

However like I said, I'm fed up.  Every single week there seems to be a different controversy, whether it's the many players 'diving' (you know who you are... Phil), trying to gain an advantage from unsporting behaviour, whether it's the R word, one or the other of them - Respect or Race, or whether it's the fans themselves.  

Racism has no place in either modern society, or the prehistoric society that seems to exist on the football field.  I'm pleased to see that the Ferdinands are getting back on board with the Kick it Out campaign, this is one thing that players are better united, they should air their grievances within the body itself.  

Suarez showing the coin
The latest things that have caused me despair of course come from the weekend.  It was a footballing treat, first Everton come from two goals down against Liverpool, then United win the battle of the top two (at the start of the weekend) in a dramatic 3 - 2 victory.  I've already mentioned Phil Neville's dive, there was also a bad tackle from Suarez that could have been red, the immature celebration following the first goal and the terrible decision costing Liverpool all 3 points (which followed from the very soft award of a free kick).  But what angered me the most in this game was players being targeted with missiles.  This happened in both games in fact, firstly Suarez had a coin thrown at him, he tucks it into his shoe for safe keeping. Secondly after Hernandez' controversial winner Chelsea fans apparently showered the pitch with missiles and then in the commotion a steward was injured

Chelsea fans in fact proved to me throughout the game that (some) football fans lack class, every time Rio touched the ball he seemed to be booed... I don't think they understand how being the victim works.  (I'm not going to mention the punishment received by John Terry for the incident with Rio's brother).  This of course brings me to the main talking point... the referee.  Mark Clattenburg is accused of making racist comments to Chelsea's John Obi Mikel.  Now if Mr Clattenburg did make the comments that Chelsea allege then he will probably never referee again, and that is quite right.  But I find it a complete double standard as players effectively abuse referees all game long.  Watching on TV you know this to be true, when decisions go against them they always complain and if you can lip read you know it's not always the most pleasant conversation.  I find myself completely agreeing with Brian Moore who was apparently on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning:

If Mark Clattenburg's mic had been linked to broadcasters then there'd be no doubt what he said, any punishment could be handled quickly and effectively.  Not only that but what players say to the referee could also be used against them much more often.  I think six weeks is being optimistic, but I do agree that eventually you'll see football player's attitudes improving remarkably which in turn could feed into the behaviour of the crowds - and if this happened I might not be so fed up.  

(Also, if Hartlepool could get off the bottom of the table that might help!)

Friday, 19 October 2012

"All in it together"... As long as it's in first class...

Twitter is a marvellous website and often allows you to see news happening first hand.  Well I say news, sometimes it's only newsworthy because of the person involved:

Obviously George Osborne still believes we are all in it together, just as long as he doesn't have to sit with the rest of us.  I hope that £160 came from his own pocket!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

No matter how bad, nobody should be arrested for a joke.

I think it goes without saying that pretty much everyone agrees that what's happened to April is tragic, my thoughts are with her family.  I really hope she is found soon, although it is inconceivable that she'd still be with us.  How anyone could do that to her is completely beyond me, I hope that the truth comes out, the correct person is found and sentenced accordingly (I always believe in innocence before proven guilty but it sounds like the police are confident that it's Mark Bridger).   

However, I don't want this post to be about this horrible story, I instead want to talk about Matthew Woods, who has been jailed for 12 weeks for posts made on his Facebook account.  The link of course is that these posts were 'jokes' about both April and Madeleine McCann.   He pleaded to sending by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive.

"Chairman of the bench, magistrate Bill Hudson, said his comments were so serious and "abhorrent" that he deserved the longest sentence they could pass, less a third to give credit for his early guilty plea."
 "The reason for the sentence is the seriousness of the offence, the public outrage that has been caused and we felt there was no other sentence this court could have passed which conveys to you the abhorrence that many in society feel this crime should receive."

My main question is is this offence serious? As far as I'm concerned, nobody has the right not to be offended.  The charge itself - "grossly offensive" - is such a subjective opinion that I don't feel it has a place in a court of law.  From what I've read (I shan't repeat them) the jokes were definitely insensitive, in bad taste and crass, basically Matthew was stupid.  However I'm sure hundreds of other teenagers/young adults will have made similar 'sick' jokes over the past week - Matthew certainly wasn't the first, otherwise there wouldn't have been one on Sikipedia for him to basically copy.  If you don't think there are many out there just type Madeleine McCann into Google:

The third auto-fill suggestion is jokes regarding her.  This is sad but a true fact of society, when bad things happen, some people make jokes about it. I remember when Princess Diana died, a week or so later I started secondary school (in year 7) and I was already hearing jokes that would offend some people.  With the Twin Towers (9/11) it took a little longer, but it wasn't long before there were plenty of jokes doing the rounds.  Then with Madeleine McCann, I was doing pub quizzes where every week for a few months there'd be at least one team name that referred to her (in an attempt at comedy).  Some people even make money from it, the likes of Frankie Boyle have never shied away from this type of subject matter - in fact they are somewhat famous for offending certain people and sections of society.  

At the end of the day, people can usually chose to avoid such 'jokes', for instance, I could have not attended the same pub quiz where I knew the names might have included references to Madeleine, I could unfollow Frankie Boyle from Twitter, but I don't because I don't feel grossly offended by the 'jokes', even if they are not to my taste.  In the same vein, anyone of Matthew Woods' friends could have unfriended him of Facebook, or even just stopped his updates appearing on their news feed.  It's not like you don't have a choice.

I agree with Dan Falchikov on Living on Words Alone:

Apparently Matthew Woods had 50 people going to his home about the posts that he made, this sounds like almost a lynch mob.  The state should not be there to enforce the will of the mob, but to provide rational calm in such circumstances.  At the end of the day, who has been actually hurt by Matthew Woods' specific posts?  Only himself and his own future chances in life because of these charges.  The family may have been upset to read them, but they are only words (which pale into insignificance in the scheme of their passed week or so), and would they have even seen them if these charges hadn't been brought?

Sunday, 30 September 2012

This advert really annoys me...

I'm sorry but as an England (and Team GB) manager I don't feel that Stuart Pearce should be intentionally causing pain to someone else.  Imagine what would happen on the football pitch?  As a manager I'm sure there are many times he disagrees with refereeing decisions there are probably plenty of footballs around there, would he kick one at the official?  Of course he wouldn't - well if he did there'd be huge repercussions   for him.  

It's not even supposed to be slapstick comedy, it's set up as genuine hatred that he's showing.  It sends the message that if somebody annoys you (and bear in mind the guy isn't even singing to Stuart) then it is acceptable to be violent towards them.  Following the Olympics there has been a lot of talk about sportsmen and women being positive role models and in this case I think he is far from that.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Gove Levels, the way forward or a step back?

So I've finally caught up on what I missed from having a week away (turns out it takes over two weeks to catch up - conference season probably hindered that even though I'm not there) and the main story I wanted to comment on is that of the Gove-Levels, where GCSE's are to be replaced by an 'English Baccalaureate Certificate'.  

Education is always, like healthcare, going to be a touchy subject.  It's hard to change it without a backlash, even if your changes are good people will always be sceptical   This is probably harder still when it seems that your solution is to jump into a Delorean and drag the countries kids with you.

I tried to go into reading about it with an open mind, but the more I read the less I liked.  

One potentially good reform is that of only having a single examination board.  When I was doing GCSE's I was confused by the 3 different boards that we used for different subjects.  It seemed very much like a race to the bottom where we'd just gone for the ones which appeared to give the best chance of higher grades.  Without having to compete for schools a singular board shouldn't feel the need to continually lower their standards as so many have been accused of doing in the past.  I would have the exam board working closely with Universities as they are a key stakeholder in the examination system and need to trust the outcomes.  

I've tried looking for other aspects for things that might be positive, however I just don't see them:

  • Reducing coursework and modules puts everything into an all or nothing exam, with added pressure and luck.  In this situation it is all about how you do on one day and that is basically supposed to assess what you have learned over your whole life of schooling.  What if you're ill?  What if you have hay fever? What if you're a 15 year old girl and it's your time of the month... What if you've got all three?  Is that really going to be a fair assessment of your ability?  This is also as far as possible detached from real life, where most jobs have constant deadlines and work goals which is reflected by coursework.  Also, this leads to a greater opportunity for a student to coast throughout the year and just put a big effort into a cramming session at the end of the year.  Modules and constant assessment require students to apply themselves all year round.
  • Grading on a curve - limiting the highest grade (Grade 1) to 10% of the entrants makes it impossible to compare standards year on year.  If the difficulty level is set correctly and consistently then improving teaching standards will not see an improvement in results and will hamper later students as they'd need to be brighter than previously to obtain the same grade as before.
  • If the one exam is to genuinely be one exam for all then I struggle to see how it would genuinely stretch the brightest and simultaneously not leave many behind.  There has been a lot of talk about "returning to a two tier system", well that's what GCSE's were, except in Maths where there were THREE tiers. This was to give each student the best chance of achieving their goal, as with the lower papers you could still achieve a Grade C, which is seen by many as the minimum good grade to have achieved, whilst reducing the chance of failing, which was possible by taking the higher paper.  I know that I was always left frustrated in classrooms when I hadn't been segregated by ability (I don't want to sound cocky or arrogant but I won my school's Maths prize at the end of Year 11 and was in the top set for everything, even English where I didn't feel confident).  I found my higher level GCSE Maths papers too easy as they were (I finished the non-calculator paper in about 40 minutes, it was a 2 hour exam), if I'd had to take the same paper as those in the lower tier it would have frankly been a waste of my time answering the easier question - or it would completely turn some other students off when they look at questions that they genuinely aren't able to do.
  • There's no reason that they can't just adjust GCSE's to act the way that they want, if Michael Gove's qualifications really will be more rigorous then great, but why can't GCSE's just be adapted to match the desired difficulty and challenging aspects.  Is there any actual indication that this wont just turn into an even bigger memory test?
I think the key is, what do we want our education to be for, what is the main goal.  Is it to teach our children to pass exams, to prepare them for life at work, give them life skills or to provide them with a good, well rounded education, even if they end up using very few of these skills.  Perhaps I would be more enthused if Mr Gove stopped focusing on the way we obtain results and more about the quality of them.  If the curriculum is good and the method of assessment allows students to apply what they have learned (not just what they have memorised), where the teachers teach rather than coach students to pass exams and the children come out of school with skills that will set them up for later life, then surely this is all that matters.  I fail to see how preparing for one make or break exam would allow all students to achieve what they are capable of.  

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Andy Murray take a bow.

The media liked to play up just how long it had been since there had been a British male grand slam champion.  The length of time lasted a full 76 years since Fred Perry last triumphed in the US open in 1936.  I guess it makes for a good narrative, but really it just casts a shadow on some of the excellent tennis players we've produced since, almost implying that their career's hadn't been good enough because they'd not managed to win one of the sport's greatest prizes.  The stat has been used to undermine a few excellent careers... well they can't use it any more...

On Monday night, in front of a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium, Tennis' biggest venue with a 22,547 capacity, Andy Murray produced a performance of a true champion.  He has had a great career to this point, 23 previous titles (including 8 Masters), almost continuously in the top 4 in the world for over 4 years, all the time competing against three of the best players the game has seen.  Despite his near $20million winnings prior to the US Open the media, and most of the public kept putting this monkey on his back even though he's the most successful British player in my lifetime - we do like to put down our successful individuals.

For years most people just saw the grumpy guy on court getting frustrated, I'm not totally surprised that he hadn't endeared himself to the public who in reality probably just see him once a year at Wimbledon and see another failed attempt, they don't see the gritty battler who is one of only two players on the circuit to have a winning record against Roger Federer and rarely fails to give the best players a game.  He obviously changed many people's view of him this year with his moving speech after his valiant effort in this year's Wimbledon final, then even more so when he was so obviously enjoying himself during the Olympics winning the gold medal but potentially more so with his appearance alongside Laura Robson in the doubles winning silver.

Now though he has cast this monkey firmly off his back, winning in possibly the greatest arena of them all and he deserves to laugh in the doubter's faces.  People may point to Federer's early exit and Nadal's injury but these shouldn't detract from Andy, he deserved it and won the final against a great player.  When you compare this to the other three's first victories it is definitely harder: Roger won against Mark Philippoussis, Rafa only needed to beat Mariano Puerta and Novak had his first victory against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga.  No offence to those players but beating the world number 2 and a player who hadn't lost in a hard court grand slam event since 2010 is a much harder prospect.  

Murray has worked so hard improving his game, every time he's lost it's like his attitude has been that he just needs to work harder and improve.  I've watched so many of his matches over the past few years and he's been so near, he's had some great games against the big 3, the Australian Open semi against Novak this year will live long in my memory, but now it's finally time for him to stand up on the top step and take a bow - hopefully though he wont stop working hard and can go on to cement himself as one of the games greats, just as his coach Ivan Lendl did.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Thank you Andrew Strauss...

It was inevitable really.  Home series against South Africa, Graeme Smith still as South African captain, Strauss had to stand down.  

(Happy times as Ashes Winner, sad times after being bowled by South Africa this summer)

My narative first starts in 2003, a plucky young Graeme Smith turned up for his first tour of England and as captain went on to smash 259 in the first test at Edgebaston, this lead to the resignation of Nasser Hussain.  

Then, five years and one Ashes success later South Africa and Graeme Smith once more proved the downfall of another England captain.  The South African opener hitting 154 not out on the final day to win the third test and the series (once more at Edgbaston), this time Michael Vaughan stepped down

Fast forward four more years, that brings us to now and the Saffers have done it again...  Twelve months ago Andrew Strauss was riding high, he'd lead England to the top of the test rankings, they were the best team in the world.  He'd taken on the progress from first Nasser then Michael and used that foundation for not one but two Ashes victories - including one down under and turned the side into a well drilled unit.  Unfortunately a tricky winter followed, despite a promising start to the summer the South Africans, still lead by Graeme Smith, then returned.  His team came over and beat England in their own back yard comfortably and by playing them at their own game.  I said afterwards that Strauss needed to take a close look at his own game as his form has not been good for a while now, but I am surprised to see him stand aside and even more shocked to see him retiring from all professional cricket

It is probably unfair that I've turned a post about Andrew Strauss into one about Graeme Smith's knack of seeing off England captains but I wanted to draw parallels.  I see each captain that I've mentioned picking up on what the last had done and improving the team and system further.  For me the Saffers are the second toughest visiting team after the Aussies (although the sub continent is toughest away), so the timing in all three cases makes some sense, you've gone through a big test and you want to rebuild before the next Ashes series - you need to give the new captain that chance. 


When Andrew Strauss looks back at his career he can do so with a lot of pride.  Every time I heard him speak I thought he was a great ambassador, not just for England but for the sport as a whole.  On top of his excellent professionalism there aren't many Englishmen who can call themselves 3 times Ashes winners, twice as captain.  There are even fewer who can say that they've scored more than 7000 runs and hit 21 centuries.  Only the great Boycott, Cowdrey and Hammond have scored more... just the one more at 22 and his 7037 puts him currently 10th on England's all time run makers list.  He's also played 100 tests and 50 as captain, you don't get to do that unless you are very good indeed.  It's a shame that one of his main reasons for standing down was his "form with the bat", thinking that he "wasn't going to improve".  It is fair to say he averages just 31 since the last Ashes test in the winter of 2010/11, which as an opener just isn't good enough, and has gone a long way to dragging his average down to a touch below 41.  I hope this in no way tarnishes what has been an excellent career.  Thank you for the memories Andrew.


When one door closes another one opens.  England now will look to the future, with Alastair Cook taking over the test captaincy to go with his position as one day captain.  It always seems that with the added pressure of the job the captain's form (at least in England's case) dips a little.  Hopefully though Alastair wont suffer from this, at just 27 he has already amassed an awesome amount of runs and looks likely to become England's highest ever run scorer as well as scoring more centuries than any other (currently just one behind Strauss). There are reasons to be optimistic but it will be challenging for him, he'll be leading a relatively inexperienced side, particularly in the batting order into one of the toughest places for visiting teams this winter when they travel to India.  He will also need to forge a new opening partnership with someone which will probably be crucial by the time the Ashes machine starts rolling again next summer and winter.  Hopefully everyone will get behind him as, given Strauss's resignation, he is the obvious man for the job.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Excellent interview with Amanda Feilding in the New Statesman

Amanda Feilding: "Tobacco kills 100,000 a year - cannabis a handful throughout history"

I'm really pleased to see another article/post that makes perfect sense when it comes to the illogical policies that are in place world wide when it comes to illicit drugs.  I know it's always easy to talk up people who agree with you but I really think she makes a lot of sense:

"What is your stance on legalisation?
[Drug laws] are often at variance with human rights: it is not clear why a person’s enjoyment of a recreational drug, so long as it causes no harm to anybody else, should be a criminal offence. The war on drugs is a war on drug users – because users are criminalised and must operate in the underworld, they are exposed to drugs of unknown purity and contaminated injecting equipment, and access to treatment is much more difficult.

How could the laws be fixed?
A first vital step would be to decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use so long as no other crime is committed, as has happened in Portugal and the Czech Republic. A more radical policy, ruled out under the current UN conventions, would be to create a strictly regulated, legal and taxed market in a drug. The obvious starting point would be cannabis."

I have wrote about this subject often, I wish I could do so as well and coherently as she does (although I guess it is her job!) I hope she is very successful in persuading people and helping them to see her point of view.

Rape isn't rape if the rapist is a popular famous person or a Hero...

One thing I was certain of, until recently was that rape is bad - and everyone thinks this.  It would appear that I must have been mistaken.  It seems that actually if two different women accuse you of rape it's fine not to face those charges, well it's fine at least if you are internationally famous for being a good person - highlighting problems other people have faced and showing the world the corruption of governments.  How could I have got it so wrong?

Before I say anything else, I've got to add that I love the work that WikiLeaks does, corruption should be brought into the open and transparency is always something that should be strived for - as long as it's disclosure does not endanger lives (when it's non-disclosure does not).  All Governments should be held into account for their actions so it is great that there is an organisation out there promoting that.

However, doing good work does not give you free reign to break the law.  I'm not presuming guilt here, that is for a court of law to decide (so any crime I mention is alleged) but skipping bail is not exactly the best way to convince of innocence.  People point to the fact that he hasn't actually been charged, but as David Allen Green excellently points out he is wanted in Sweden for arrest.  Anyone who has time should definitely read his post in the New Statesmen, it excellently debunks many myths that are currently floating around regarding the case, as actually:

  1. The allegations would still be classified as rape in the UK.
  2. It would actually be harder for him to be extradited from Sweden than the UK (as that would require both countries approval).
  3. It's not legally possible for Sweden to give a guarantee about any future extradition.
  4. Assange is wanted for arrest so there is no reason for the Swedes to just question him in London.
  5. Ecuador does not have particularly free press, and they have a history of extraditing people (particularly recently a blogger) to a country where they could face the death penalty.

Yet it has been on excellent posts like this that I've seen some of the strangest comments.  The worst of which though have come in other formats from prominent people:

This quote comes from the podcast made by ever controversial MP George Galloway.  'Woman A' of course refers to the case where she claims to have had consensual protected sex with Assange, fallen asleep and then later woke to find him attempting sex without a condom nor her consent.  Apparently Mr Galloway and many others believe that a person only needs to have consent for one act to then subsequently perform more when they aren't even conscious... maybe not everyone needs to be asked each time, but one would have thought that they should at least be able in a position to remove consent before the action takes place.  For once I was genuinely pleased reading the Metro's letters section as the readers took him to task - particularly the Anonymous girl who'd had a similar awful experience, my heart goes out to her.   With people making the sort of comments Mr Galloway is making it's no wonder George Potter is considering himself a feminist (an excellent post).

It seems to me that people are trying to make Julian Assage out to be a martyr for his cause, at the moment he isn't, he's just someone who doesn't want to get arrested for rape and attempted rape.  If he gets extradited to the US and put on trial for supposed crimes that WikiLeaks have done I'll be protesting with the rest but until then he should stop using his website as a shield for his own alleged personal misdemeanors.  The real martyr for WikiLeaks is of course Bradley Manning, but people don't seem anywhere near as concerned about him as they should be, nor are they as concerned as they should be about the women involved.  They are nobodies, so why should they have rights - Julian Assange is famous and good, he can't possibly have raped them, why should he face these charges?  Is it me, or are the people supporting Mr Assange becoming what they would usually claim to hate?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

South Africa - best team in the world...

It hardly feels like any time has passed since I was at Edgbaston last summer watching England become the number 1 ranked test team in the world.  I was probably very harsh on India back then, claiming that as number 1 side in the world they should be able to compete anywhere and we had annihilated them.  Since then England have proved that actually, there are a lot of really good teams around that can dominate any given series.  England's spell at the top of the rankings lasted just 11 tests (losing 6 tests, 2 series and winning just 3 tests), which included a 3-0 embarrassment against Pakistan... I don't think our batting has recovered properly since then. 

In this series South Africa were clearly the better side.  If you looked at the two teams on paper they appear fairly well matched, personally comparing each position there's only a few positions I'd have definitely chosen someone from one side over the other (Prior instead of Duminy and Smith over Strauss are the two that spring to mind) before the series started, yet the Saffers out played England in every area.  Our usually consistent bowling attack was destroyed at the Oval, 637/2 is an embarrassment, I don't think Jimmy and Broad really recovered from that.  Their batsmen also dug in with 5 centuries between them and 5 people averaging over 50 - compared to England's 2 centuries with the only people averaging over 50 (Bairstow, Pietersen and Swann(thanks to 2 not outs)) not playing all 3 tests.  I don't even want to talk about our catching.

That said... I don't think it was as one sided as it could have been, England did show some battling qualities and actually had small first innings leads at both Headingley and Lord's, however in both cases this was down to an outstanding innings - KP at Headingley and Bairstow at Lord's.  The game at Lord's was a great display of what is excellent about test cricket, could you get that sort of tension and excitement from a T20 game?  Of course not.  

I was at Headingley for day 2 (the day before KP took the fight to them) and England's bowlers looked a lot less toothless than the South Africans.  You always sensed that the likes of Steyn, Morkel and Philander were in the game and capable of taking wickets unlike the English players.

One of the key reasons I felt we got to number 1 was consistency in selection.  We had a settled team who all knew their roles.  Now however, the issue with Kevin Pietersen totally overshadowed the build up to this test.  It is quite clear that he has never been the most settled person in the dressing room, there has long been assumed that there is a rift there but until now they had put up with it for his quality.  I personally can't see him coming back into the set up, which is a shame because he is England's best player and the stats pretty much back that up.  This effectively opens up two spots in the batting order, as England have struggled for a long time to find a quality number 6.  Since Paul Collingwood's last test they have had:

Eoin Morgan (16 innings, 29.60 average)
Ravi Bopara (4 innings, 24.33 average)
Samit Patel (3 innings, 13.33 average)
Johnny Bairstow (6 innings, 37.40 average)
James Taylor (3 innings, 16.00 average)

Bairstow's performance at Lord's seems to have cemented his place in the team, for now, and he does look like a good prospect.  Taylor can count himself unlucky with his dismissal yesterday so hopefully should find himself in the squad for the winter.  Assuming two of these players are in the starting 11 come the first test against India on November 15th then the team will have quite an inexperienced feel to it (as it did for this test) which is worrying when playing in the sub continent.  It may be that Tim Bresnan gets the nod at number 7 instead (9 innings at 39.17) with Matt Prior (26 innings at 41.82) bumped up to number 6.

To put these figures into context, in the same time period Kevin Pietersen averaged 54.23 from 28 innings.  Only Ian Bell's 58.04 average from 29 knocks is better and only Alistair Cook has scored more runs (1425 to KP's 1410).  One person who should really look at his own game considerably is Andrew Strauss.  Since averaging 43.86 in the Ashes tour where Collingwood made his last appearance the skipper has scored just 953 runs in 31 innings at a lowly 30.74 (10 runs less than Matt Prior and only 5 more than Stuart Broad - 25.37 off 22).  Considering Morgan was dropped for his 30 average this really isn't good enough from the skipper.  His leave on Sunday night was one of the worst pieces of cricket I have ever seen and scoring just 107 runs in the series just wasn't good enough.  I don't think he will, or should stand down - I'd like to think he'd carry on until after the next away Ashes tour (2013/14) but he really needs to perform this winter to justify his own place in the team as that is getting harder and harder to do.  

I hope Strauss is correct and they do come back and reclaim the number 1 ranking but they have a lot of hard work to do.  The batsmen really do need to start applying themselves better.  Hopefully they were watching at the Oval when Amla, Smith and Kallis batted for what seemed like an eternity.

Anyway, congratulations to the Saffers - they thoroughly deserve it, each one of their players seemed to contribute at some point and they definitely look like the best balanced team.  I can only see them having problems on the sub-continent but even then their batting should be good enough.  Could see them hanging around at number 1 for a while!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The leaders debates keep coming back to haunt...

The media seem to love running stories when Nick Clegg had to go back on what he said at the leaders debate because of compromising within a coalition.  I wonder why David Cameron isn't getting as much heat for what he said, even though his reneging is all down to his own party:

For the record, I don't think what was proposed was ideal, but it was a damn sight better than what we currently have.  To my mind failing to reform the Lords is the single biggest failure of the Coalition to date - something all leaders agreed should happen in the leaders debate and the three parties all had in their manifesto, but unable to provide a compromise.  Basically it is times like this that I hate politics.

I know I'm a little behind the times talking about the Lord's, but I didn't really have time to write about it previously and that's why the post is so short!

Fighting a losing battle...

Two days ago I wrote a post about the fact that students erroneously think that they can't afford to go to University and they believe that fees need to be paid up front.  Basically we aren't getting the message across that they wont pay a penny until they graduate, and even then they are still not paying fees until they've effectively paid back the maintenance loan that they were given.  In other words, realistically most students wont start paying fees at all until probably 10+ years after they graduate and even then it'll only be if they can afford it.  I was really disappointed to find buried in the Metro today:

A whole article that does nothing but scare people into thinking that University is unaffordable.  Yes there are costs for students such as accommodation and then boozing etc that they mention but the article is written in a way just to scare.  In fact the more I read it the angrier I get.  It's set up to sound like the fees are payable whilst the student is at university (they aren't), take that away and their headline calculation falls to £27k - the full breakdown of which isn't there, the costs quoted come to roughly £19.5k.  They then make no reference to the fact that students are entitled to a maintenance loan (up to £5.5k a year) effectively from the government - which (as I cannot reiterate enough) they pay back under the same system as their fees.  

Yes there is a gap between the loan and the remaining costs, but nothing a part time job couldn't fix - parents definitely don't need to find £53k that the article implies.  Or alternatively they could stay at home and study at a close by University, even then they are entitled to a loan of up to £4,375 and wouldn't incur anywhere near this cost, or not spend the £4k on alcohol that's quoted.  

If a teenager really wants to go to University then there is no financial reason why they couldn't go to a University.  I don't believe every teenager should be aiming for University, too many I feel are pressured to go when it's not in their (or the economy's/society's) best interest, however none should be scared off for financial reasons.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Everything that's wrong with football...

Short-termism at it's very worst.  Prepared to risk a clubs long term security for fleeting success.  Colossal remuneration for a player that isn't even proven to provide success.  

I can see why Big Sam wanted Andy Carroll, he does fit his style, as does Matt Jarvis, the two together should be an effective partnership.  But £17million and £100k a week for someone who's only scored 38 goals in 133 club games seems excessive for a big club with good finances, let alone one that's only been promoted this season and was struggling financially.  "The Manager really wanted him" should never be an excuse, they are the people with the financial experience, I'm sure the Manager would love Lionel Messi in his side, but their job is to tell him that they can't afford to bring him in.

David Beckham comes with his very
own logo.
I'm not one of these people who claim that all footballers are overpaid.  If you look at their Marginal Revenue Product (MRP) some are actually underpaid for the value that they bring to their clubs... however lots are overpaid as a result of this.  They see stars who bring in lots of money for their getting paid large salaries so they expect to receive them too.  (Think about it would you be happy if your colleagues at work were getting paid multiple times that you were?)  Back in 2003 David Beckham signed for Real Madrid for a cool £24.5 million.  A year later he had already accounted for over 1million shirt sales, in fact around 50% of shirts sold in that period by Real Madrid had "Beckham" and the number "23" on their back.  This is in addition to his contribution on the field as well as other merchandising and the additional attendance from having stars like him in their side, all of this meant he had a higher MRP than almost anyone in world football so deserved his high salary.  The difference here is Real Madrid could afford to pay this because of the income they were able to generate and he had more than that value to the club.  I doubt Andy Carroll could create an additional £100k a week for West Ham as well as repay the large transfer fee.  

Living beyond their means has already hurt so many clubs, Portsmouth for example, are currently having to field basically a youth team after years of chasing glory left them in liquidation and they had to release all of their senior players.  It's not just confined to England, up in Scotland one of the biggest clubs, Rangers, are currently starting life in the bottom tier of their professional football leagues after they were demoted following liquidation. 

If a team can win a competition and then play in Europe the
next season, getting a huge increase in revenue as a result and
still go bust, something is wrong with the system!
For some reason many football clubs think racking up debts that they will never be able to afford to pay is a viable way to run a business, it isn't.  This spending is not sustainable - creditors like HMRC shouldn't allow any delay in their payments.  I find it remarkable that they let some of these clubs build up such high debts in the first place, paying tax and national insurance should never be optional.  Nor should smaller local suppliers have to suffer because clubs owe such vast amounts to each other and their stars whom apparently get priority.  

I think UEFA's fair financial regulations are a reasonable start, but I worry they don't really have any bite.  I would like it if the Premier League or FA also introduced something to ensure that clubs couldn't live beyond their means as to my mind, looking at plenty of club accounts I wonder how they can seriously be treated as going concerns.  I don't think the English leagues have been strict enough with those clubs that have gotten into difficulty, perhaps Scotland got it about right with Rangers, but maybe they should have had to start from scratch?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Political point-scoring is not worth damaging a whole generation of youngsters...

(You would only end up paying the fees
if you were made of money!)
Throughout the Tuition Fees debate it was a constant worry that the rhetoric being used would convince students that they couldn't afford to go to University, they would see that fees were going up and assume that this meant they would need a lot of money in order to be able to get a place.  All of this (of course) is simply not true, not a single penny is paid in fees (unlike when I attended after Labour first introduced tuition fees) until after graduation, then it is paid back on an income contingent loan - students only paying back a proportion of their income after they start earning £21,000 (and then it's only on the additional earnings above this amount).  When you consider that they also receive a maintenance loan in cash whilst they are at University, they effectively have to repay this before they've paid any fees whatsoever, many many years after they finish.  It is therefore really worrying that:

(London Evening Standard)

As far as getting the message across, this would indicate that we have failed.  Argue all you like about whether the Lib Dems should have agreed the increase given their pledges or the relative fairness of the contribution that the student should make to the cost of university but this system is actually more progressive (as those who pay most will be the highest earners after graduation and there is no requirement to ever pay it off if you don't earn enough.  Not only this but students are better off for it when they need it most as because of the higher fees they also get higher grants and maintenance allowances than could be afforded if they were never to contribute to their fees.  In other words they receive more money from the government (based on parents income) than their counterparts in Scotland whilst they are studying, to help them - they are just expected to contribute more back once they earn enough.  All that keeping fees at £3k really does is benefit the future bankers of tomorrow - but obviously Labour and the NUS doesn't want to spin that message - we need to start getting our message across.  

Now it's time to leave a legacy...

I have to say, I was sceptical about the Olympics being held in London, well maybe not sceptical but definitely not as enthusiastic as I could have been.  I'm quite a big sports fan really, I follow quite a few (Cricket, Football, Tennis and F1 in particular but any major event that's going on), however I had absolutely no desire to actually buy Olympics tickets.  I think for me it was the way they came out that put me off... I didn't want to be entering a ballot or anything, if it had been first come first served then I probably would have gone to something that I was interested in.  In addition to the way they were released other things had made me worry, from the logo to the mascots all of the marketing seemed poor in comparison with Beijing four years ago... one couldn't help but be braced for disappointment.

As soon as the games started though it was a joy to watch, all of my pre tournament fears melted away and seeing such a marvellous event being run so smoothly made me actually feel proud to be British!

It's no wonder people wanted to be
there with such spectacular performances
It was incredible how every stadium looked fit for purpose and top of the range, the transport network seemed to cope remarkably well, the BBC's coverage was exceptional (although shamelessly partisan) and I've not heard one bad word said about the volunteers or the security there.  (Though it does worry me how easily we accepted the thought of armed guards around our capital).  Yes there were some empty seats to begin with, but it seemed like the organisers acted pretty sharply to sort it out, and every session of athletics I watched it didn't look like there was an empty seat in the house.  In all I think the games really showcased what is good about Britain, to my mind this was a welcoming, multicultural celebration to which we invited the whole world, irrespective of differences and helped demonstrate that things are much better when we work with each other rather than against.

Everything about the games for me showcased what was promised in our bid - that it was for the people.  Four years ago we got an excellent display of state power from the Chinese, it was really impressive what they could do, but I was equally impressed with how this was put together for the people.  Right from the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron (by 7 promising young people rather than a famous name and this being split into sections, one for each country), right up to the closing ceremony that was one big party.  I was critical of the latter at the time as I don't think all of what was on display was the best of British, but the theme I think was good and they finished with The Who so I shouldn't really complain.

The real challenge however starts now.  
I don't think I've experienced previously the sense of togetherness and enthusiasm that we've had over the past few weeks as a country.  Every other Olympics you get a bit of it but are detached somewhat by it being in a remote place, Football always seems to start with optimism that fades away into misguided anger that we aren't as good as some other countries.  Perhaps the only time I can remember something similar (I was a little too young still in Euro 96) was when we won the Ashes in 2005.  In many ways, England and Cricket have been seeing some of that reward over the past 3 years... but did they really make the most of it?  Now unless you have Sky you only get to watch a small highlights package on Channel 5 any time England plays, even as a cricket fan I forgot that was on earlier this summer.  Over the past year England definitely haven't pushed on as they might and the worry is that they could slip back into the pack.  

Australia's Medal Decline
For however badly this piece in the Independent is written there is possibly a good underlying point hanging around somewhere (and I know the writer was aiming for a couple of other points but I don't wish to comment on what news agencies feel are priorities).  In 2000 Sydney hosted the Olympic games, 12 years on, when they should be reaping the rewards of an inspired generation they picked up fewer medals and finished lower in the table than they did at Atlanta back in 1996.  I doubt anyone expects us to repeat this success without home advantage every games, but I guess the idea is that there should be an improvement now than the overall trend.  It would be foolish to think that the buzz that Team GB along with the organisers have created will last forever (so people are correct to think it will eventually fizzle out), many of our stars of last week wont be recognised on the streets next week but if they have inspired the next generation then they'll have done their job.

Anyway I have to finish this post by celebrating the success of Team GB's athletes.  The overall performance was one that the whole nation should be proud of, we have some very talented and dedicated individuals - so let them celebrate their success:

I bet so many would like to have been a part of that... any ideas how I can get to Rio?

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

"Learning from the past" by continuing to make the same mistakes...

Nicotine, a socially acceptable drug.
Ken Clarke yesterday commented on the the UK "Plainly Losing the War With Drugs".  I've written and spoken about this topic more times than I can remember but for me the reason we are 'losing' the war is that politicians and the media are fighting the wrong war!  Instead of being in a war against drugs we should be fighting the harm that drugs cause.  I feel another rant starting...

Far too often people speaking on the topic talk about minimising drug use, but this isn't where most of the harm occurs.  If all of the casual users stopped tomorrow would you see a fall in crime or drug related health problems in people?  I doubt it, the people with habits will continue to use because they need to.  As long as their drug use is seen as a criminal problem and not a health problem it is much less likely that they will seek the help that they need.

A few things that Mr Clarke said I find quite interesting:

"My purely personal view is I'd be worried about losing the deterrent effect of criminalisation on youngsters who start experimenting. The really key thing is to work out what can get fewer young people to start experimenting with drugs...
"One thing that does put them off is they could get into trouble with the police if they do it. Once you tell them they won't get into trouble, I've always felt that more of them would experiment."

In my experience, it being a crime doesn't stop young people experimenting.  Just looking around the people I personally have known over the years, plenty have tried at least cannabis, yet very few were what I would define as drug users.  It being a crime didn't stop David Cameron himself trying cannabis, even with his political aspirations - although he apparently 'didn't inhale'.  (Even back then just wanting to seem to fit in).  It also apparently didn't stop: 

That's just all that I read in one article.  These aren't ignorant people, unaware of the risks involved, both criminally or health wise, and they all turned out fine (well except for perhaps Tom Spencer when it was a case did have an impact on his political career with it being a smuggling issue).  Whereas had they been criminally convicted at the time of the incident then it would have tarred their futures and they probably wouldn't be where they are today (in some cases perhaps that'd be a good thing?).  

Young people in particular will always experiment, they will always push against their boundaries to learn from themselves.  Just because an authority figure says that something is bad doesn't mean that they will believe them, especially when they see the hypocrisy surrounding it.  In fact, I'm sure plenty of young people try them because an authority figure tells them that they can't!  

This statement also has the working assumption that all drugs are bad, despite it being pointed out on numerous occasions that only a handful of drugs are actually more dangerous than cigarettes or alcohol.

More from Mr Clarke:

"We've engaged in a war against drugs for 30 years. We're plainly losing it. We have not achieved very much progress.  The same problems come round and round but I do not despair. We keep trying every method we can to get on top of one of the worst social problems in the country and the single biggest cause of crime."

This is what keeping supply on the black market achieves.
Firstly, if drugs we legalised, how much of that crime would fall away?  Just what proportion of the cause of crime that he's talking about is in relation to the cultivating, supplying/distribution and possessing of the drug.  Yes, where drug dependency forces users into crime to fund their habit this is a problem - but are these people more likely to be able to break from their criminal behaviour if their habit is illegal?  I can only see that happening once they are in jail (and since 7 percent of heroin addicts try it for the first time in jail* even then they may not break from the cycle).  How much of the violence that drugs creates due to rivals vying for the same distribution channels, trying to get their share of the high profit margins from operating in the black market?  How much of these high profit margins would still be there if a legal (and taxed) market still existed?

Secondly, why is it a social problem?  Is it because addicts are shoved into the margins of society, hidden away rather than helped?  Does criminalising these people help them out of the shadows of force them into there in the first place?  

Finally, Mr Clarke says that they keep trying every method, however the only methods that they are trying relate to prohibition and never evidence based policy.  If we are to ever reduce the harm that drugs can do to people's lives, to communities then I feel that we really need to look, as a minimum at evidence based legislation, with decriminalisation and then legalisation being the better steps.  

Professor David Nutt (who I often reference when talking about this) has written another excellent blog post after recently giving evidence to the parliamentary select committee.  He makes many excellent points, but I in particular agree with one of his opening comments:

"I strongly believe that we should focus on public health approaches to the drug problem, and decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use, for the following simple reason;- If users are addicted then they are ill, and criminal sanctions are an inappropriate way to deal with an illness. If they are not addicted then criminalisation will almost always lead to greater harms to the user than the effects of the drug."

Overall my personal opinion is best summed up as:

The sooner we let our drugs policy develop beyond "Drugs are bad - because the media says so" the better
(Shamelessly stolen from @mynameisedd on twitter)

*Link is on the Sun's report on the same story here. (I don't like to blindly link people to News International).