Thursday, 28 April 2016

Venezuela - a basket case study and how we could become the same

Last year Jeremy Corbyn said "we celebrate...the achievements of Venezuela, in jobs, in housing, in health, in education".

Do you think Jeremy is celebrating Venezuela's announcement yesterday that it is introducing a 2 day working week because of its energy crisis? (see

This would be the same Venezuela that has the world's largest proven oil reserves , even larger than Saudi Arabia, though admittedly they were revised upwards to that figure a few years ago when the heavy oil of the Orinoco was judged economic, which at today's price I rather doubt. (see or many other sources). Either way, Venezuela is swimming in oil.

To be fair, Venezuela is also suffering an El Nino drought, which has dramatically reduced levels at its main hydroelectric dam. However, Venezuela is also a classic example of how left wing ideologists always get it badly wrong. Since Hugo Chavez's party took control in 1999 the country's economy has collapsed due to catastrophic mismanagement, according to Luke Johnson (Sunday Times Business, 17 April 2016). Venezuela has become the world capital for murder, inflation and basic goods shortages. Its currency has declined by nearly 95% in two years, the judiciary and media have been corrupted, electricity blackouts were already routine, inward investment has dried up and quality of life has deteriorated alarmingly (though not according to comrade Corbyn). Chavez nationalised the oil industry and, of course, it fell apart.

None of this had to happen if Chavez and colleagues had not followed Cuban style policies, leaving Venezuela's citizens to pay the price.

What worries me most about the EU referendum is not actually the result in terms of remain or leave. What worries me most is that, whatever the result, the Tory party will descend into bitter feuding, leaving the field clear for Labour, given the LibDems enduring unpopularity. If we vote to remain the UKIP protest vote might recover, spelling real problems for the Tories. In normal circumstances, leaving the field clear to Labour would not worry me unduly, but Corbyn's Labour does worry me. Many people have told me a Corbyn lead Labour party would be unelectable. But I've been saying since Labour took leave of its senses and appointed him that a 2 horse race is never a forgone conclusion. Governments get unpopular, tired, stale and careless.

Warnings about the Labour party of Foot and Kinnock and disasters that fortunately never happened are probably lost on the millennials. But just look at Venezuela, lauded by Jeremy Corbyn and be very afraid.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Vote Leave - a load of cabbage?

There’s an email doing the rounds with the title “For anybody who doesn't fully understand the Euro situation”. It says:

Pythagoras' theorem - 24 words.
Lord's Prayer - 66 words.
Archimedes' Principle - 67 words.
10 Commandments - 179 words.
Gettysburg address - 286 words.
US Declaration of Independence - 1,300 words.
US Constitution with all 27 Amendments - 7,818 words.
EU regulations on the sale of cabbage - 26,911 words

Now I’m a Euro-sceptic but, not only is this tosh, it’s tosh imported from the USA. Originally about cabbage seeds it has been repeated many times since, including allegations that EU rules on cauliflower, caramel and the export of duck eggs are all, supposedly, exactly 26,911 words long.

For the EU and cabbages the actual position is:

EU regulations on the sale of cabbage – ZERO words.
EU regulations on the production of all farm produce: about 32,000 words (which doesn’t seem bad, really)
British industry protocol for how to grow, harvest, store and sell cabbage: 23,510 words.

So says Tony Richardson, technical director of the British Brassica Growers Association and author of said protocol.

He is quoted in “The Great Cabbage Myth” published on the BBC website on 6 April (, which I happened to read more than a fortnight before I got the email. It’s quite a long piece, but the highlights are:

The original mythical claim that a government document was “26,911” words long stems from the USA in the 1950s. Before that, during World War Two, the US government issued a memo to control the price of – guess what - cabbage seeds. It was 2,600 words long, says Barry O'Neill, professor of political science at the University of California, who has researched the origins of the cabbage myth.

At some point a rumour surfaced that the cabbage regulations were 10 times longer and not just confined to seeds. In 1951 the president of a Chicago pickle and relish company mentioned it in a letter to food brokers across the country. Later a newspaper quiz asked readers to match word counts with documents (Test Your Horse Sense 1951) - the cabbage regulation was said to be 25,000 words long. Soon this became 26,911 "suggesting careful research", says O'Neill.

The following year, American media commentator Walter Winchell "stated it as fact in 1952 in an attack on federal price controls during the Korean War."

Subsequently, claims appeared that there were 26,911 words of regulation in Europe on a range of different things - from cauliflower to caramel. In 2006, Lord Ramsbotham of Kensington quoted the figure in the House of Lords in relation to a "European directive on the export of duck eggs".

Inventing 26,911-word regulations that don’t exist seems to have become a grand tradition. It doesn't seem to matter which government or which product - you can bet that the regulation is 26,911 words long, even if it doesn't actually exist. I’m wondering if people who know all about the myth feed it to the likes of Lord Ramsbotham, so when it re-appears they spot the specific number and laugh at the latest dupe.

So what actually is the position on the EU and cabbages? In 2006, Regulation (EC) No 634/2006 addressed the size of cabbages, and how they should be labelled, in just under 2,000 words. In 2009, however, these regulations, along with some other rules on the sale of fruit and vegetables, were repealed. It seems the EU decided that rules on things like how curvy a cucumber should be were a bit daft.

Today, there are still EU regulations governing farm produce. The rules on marketing are actually rather snappy - summed up in 263 words to be exact. There are much broader regulations about growing farm produce and these are long - about 32,000 words, half the length of a short book. They don't single out cabbages. The number of words of EU regulation dedicated specifically to cabbage is, in fact, zero.

However, on top of EU regulation, farmers in the UK have to abide by the Assured Produce Standards, sometimes known as the Red Tractor Assurance. The organisation's protocol for cabbage has 23,510 words. It was written by Tony Richardson, quoted above.

So when it comes to instructions on how to grow, harvest, store and sell cabbage specifically, it’s actually the British industry guidelines are rather wordy.

No doubt there is a permanent stream of gobbledegook issuing from Brussels. But this particular Chinese whisper isn’t a good reason to Vote Leave.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Why did Everton have to give me hope?

Didn't Everton play well in the 2nd half of the semi-final against Man Utd? It may seem perverse but I think I'd rather they hadn't. They gave me hope, only for it to be dashed. Had the game continued like the first half, with Everton looking timid and passionless (albeit with Lukaku nearly scoring twice despite being almost totally alone up front) to what looked like it's inevitable conclusion of something like 3-0, then Martinez would surely have gone by this morning, or at least this week before the home game against Bournemouth on Saturday.

Instead we had the emotional roller coaster of hoping for a Wembley final, 50 years on from the classic win against Sheffield Wednesday and against very beatable opposition. Not to be. Watching the 2nd half made you wonder who said what at half time and why the team went out with such a negative attitude at the start.

Websites are talking about Everton shortlisting potential replacement managers. One says Pellegrini tops the list (please, please no! Hopefully he is already lined up with a major continental club. I've just never liked the guy, that's all), followed by Koeman (tick from me) or Frank de Boer, currently at Ajax.

For now, please get rid and give it to Duncan Ferguson for the last few games. That might tell us whether the squad is capable of showing some passion for 90 minutes rather than 45.

Phil Healy's must see race

If you like sport and haven't seen this relay race ten days ago at the Irish Universities athletics championships, please do follow the link and watch it.

Seven teams in the 4 x 400m final, but University College Cork had only 3 runners, so asked Phil (short for Philomena) Healy, who was warming down after her 200m race, to make up the numbers even though they thought she'd never run the 400m before (she had tried it, once).

She said she would run last, thinking this would mean no pressure to put the team in a good position and that UCC's race might be more or less over anyway. It looked that way as Phil, running in a red jersey, took the baton in 5th place, 40 m behind the 4th place runner and almost 80m behind the leader. The women in 2nd and 3rd place at the start of the final lap ran great laps but Phil Healy gave it everything....

If you don't have 4 and a half minutes to watch it all, start at 3 minutes in just before the final baton changes.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Where now for Tiger Woods?

I've had equivocal feelings about Tiger Woods for many years: certainly from his peak years of success, let alone his more recent troubled times. He is undoubtedly one of the world's greatest ever sportsmen. But as a person? I can admire the focus, but why so nasty?

David Walsh (chief sports writer, Sunday Times, aka Lance Armstrong's "troll") summed it up admirably, saying

"Watching him through the years I was conflicted. Tiger's greatness came with coldness, his ambition without empathy. He fist pumped, he intimidated, he swore, he spat and he didn't care."

But also "Thirty eight years writing about sport and the greatest single performance was Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000".

Walsh will have seen a lot more major sporting events than I ever will, so I'll take that as pretty definitive.

And now? "Health is the issue, not the likelihood of winning a 15th major. You're thinking it's over when the fear is you might not be able to play tennis with your kids. That is now Woods's world."

His kids are now central to Woods's life. Maybe this will make him more "normal".

Some other golfers on the tour say he became more normal after the scandal. Walsh quotes Jason Gore, as saying "....he would look at you and burn a hole right through you, like you didn't exist. He did that to me all the time and I've known him probably longer than anyone on Tour. [After the scandal] he started asking about my wife, my kids. It was nice to see him, you know, normal."

But he is now 40 - old for a golfer, young for a man. Of course, he may yet make a successful comeback, at least of sorts. Almost everyone would be pleased to see him back competing even if winning a 15th major seems as far away as the moon, but you wouldn't write him off even now from winning tournaments if he was fit, at least for a few more years.

But I think the real question for Tiger Woods is what he's going to do with the rest of his life, whether or not he makes a comeback in the short or medium term.

At his own tournament in December he said "There's really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards. Where is the light at the end of the tunnel, I don't know?" He added that he now spends days at his Florida home playing video games.

This is a bleak prospect. Yes, he spends time with his kids, but they will all too quickly grow up.

Tiger Woods is one of the most recognisable people on the planet. He could be an enormous force for good in the world - the golf world or just the world. He could make a difference to the lives of people who could dearly do with helping if he used his name, fame and brand to the best effect. He could enrich himself as a person without making himself any poorer financially. He has the chance to redeem himself as a person and (I accept this is a very small prize indeed) make me a fan without reservations. But probably a whole bunch of other people too.

The problem is, how can he identify this enterprise and make it happen? Well, he's had plenty of advisers in his time, so surely he's got a decent contacts book. Even if he hasn't, I doubt he'd have a problem getting people to talk to him.

Or he can sit there playing video games and live in a virtual reality for the second half of his life.

Over to you Tiger. Your biggest challenge ever, I expect.

No deal on returning Martinez

I spoke to cousin Joan the other day. A grand and obviously wise old lady. Actually, she's my mother's cousin - which I guess makes her a cousin once removed or something. She is a Wigan Athletic fan and knows I follow Everton. I noted that Wigan are going well and asked if she'd like her old manager back.

"Not on your life" she said. Says it all really.

Monday, 18 April 2016

So, why 7and7 is?

I said I would write a post on why I chose the title 7and7is for the blog, after the song by Arthur Lee’s Love. The alternative title was Ennui Go (On We Go - Geddit?)

Now I know most of you won't need it, but for those who do need a bit of help here, Google defines ennui as:  "a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement".
OK, so if that was the case and I was feeling at a loose end (which isn't the case) Ennui Go/On We Go isn't a bad double meaning by my standards.

But back to Arthur Lee and the song. Some of my posts will be entirely qualitative, but most have an element of quantification in there somewhere. I feel a lot of folk are swayed by entirely qualitative arguments, appealing to emotion, which don't stand the scrutiny of quantification. So I was looking for something to do with numbers. And music is often going through my head...
I missed out on Love in the 60s - a bit cult and American, not chart stuff. But Mrs H and I caught up with it and listened to Love a lot in the 70s. And sporadically since. Quite recently, driving along, I said "you know, this song is amazingly like the early Clash, but from 10 years beforehand". The song was 7 and 7 is.

When we got home, I browsed Arthur on Wikipedia,  which I found says: “Love's music has been described as a mixture of folk-rock, psychedelic rock, baroque pop, Spanish-tinged pop, R&B, garage rock, and even protopunk. Lee has been regarded as "the first punk rocker" ....."
So it only took me nearly 40 years since the advent of punk to realise the similarity. And that two of the apparently very different types of music I like are not as different as many would think.

In the first of the two verses, Arthur sings:  “When I was a boy I thought about the times I’d be a man/ I’d sit inside a bottle and pretend that I was in a can/ In my lonely room I’d sit my mind in an ice cream cone/ You can throw me if you wanna ‘cause I’m a ball and I go boo-bip-bip, boo-bip-bip yeah!”
Now I always thought this was some kind of meaningless acid trip lyric. But apparently it describes Lee's frustration at teenage life - the reference to "in my lonely room I'd sit, my mind in an ice cream cone" being to wearing (in reality or metaphorically) a dunce's cap (says Wikipedia).

So here I sit, feeling fairly dunce like, as I ponder the significance of the latest economic statistics and whether they mean Brexit would be good or bad; or the fact that Leicester are top of the premier league with 46% possession; or Butch Harmon’s quote that Jordan Speith holed over 30% of his putts from 20-25ft last year when the “next guy is about 8%”, or that Chris Froome thinks half of tour cyclists use prescription drugs for performance improvement, so what does that imply for other sports; and what it all means.

Or I could listen to some music. Boo-bip-bip, boo-bip-bip yeah!
Oh, you can listen to the song  - which is only a bit over 2 minutes long, so give it a go – accompanied by a rather mixed stills video, on youtube at

If you want to compare 1966 Love with 1977 Clash, listen to almost anything off the first album; I’d go for Janie Jones, also just 2 minutes long,

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Battle hardened

"Everybody must get stoned" sang Bob Dylan in Rainy Day Women. Even if you're in uniform, apparently.

Throughout history (and I mean throughout) soldiers have gone into battle high as a kite.Viking warriors almost certainly stuffed themselves with magic mushrooms - and observers of the Swedish-Norwegian war of 1814 said they were still at it. The ancient Greeks probably went into battle drunk and King Harold's men spent the evening before the Battle of Hastings drinking heavily. In the 1760s British soldiers fighting in the American colonies drank about half a pint of rum a day. After the first Opium war, c1840, 9 out of 10 Chinese soldiers were reportedly taking opium, though some overdid it, became ill and died after the battle. And half of our Sikh troops used it. In the First World War, Harrod's sold a kit called "Useful Presents For Friends At The Front", which contained morphine, cocaine, a syringe and needles. Charitably one might think in case they were wounded, I suppose. But by the 1940s, Finnish soldiers resisting the Soviets were routinely given handfuls of heroin tablets, RAF pilots were offered two Benzedrine tablets before missions and General Montgomery handed out 100,000 amphetamine pills before the battle of El Alamein. Hitler and the Germans were supposedly against drugs but  their soldiers were given an "assault pill", Pervitin, an early version of crystal meth. American officers handed out hundreds of millions of amphetamines in Vietnam, though many GIs preferred to take drugs of their own choosing. American pilots in Afghanistan and Iraq were given "go pills", also amphetamines. As I said, throughout history! Source: Shooting Up by Lukasz Kamienski, published by Hurst and reviewed in Sunday Times 27 March 2016, plus personal confirmation from a couple of RAF old timers.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

One Of Those Days In England (and Wales)

More beautiful early spring days yesterday and today with the blackthorn and gorse in bloom. I love seeing the blackthorn as it's confirmation of spring's arrival. Blackthorn is easy to recognise, especially when 
you've had a hedge of it on both sides of your garden fence and would prefer to just have on the outside. Digging up a hedge is hard work and blackthorn has very long, sharp spines. It's easy to distinguish from hawthorn: the bloom comes a few weeks earlier; it's creamier and much less profuse than the far more impressive hawthorn blossom; the leaves come after the blossom whereas it's the other way round for hawthorn; and the fruit are black sloes with a blueish bloom rather than red. All in all it looks much stragglier, with less foliage and less impressive blossom and fruit than hawthorn but, once I established that you can control it, I developed a fondness for it because of its early flowering period. Along with the snowdrops and then daffodils it represents the prelude to nature's annual symphony. Driving around the countryside on a glorious day at this time of year always reminds me of the Roy Harper lyric where he sings of "One of those days in England with a sword in every pond, and birds in every garden in the land" and of "buying rides on Mother Nature's funny belly dance".

Well, the weather forecaster promises us a messy ride of sun and showers tomorrow, some thundery in places and the snow we can see on the mountains may get topped up. Quite a belly dance.

Lyrics from Roy Harper's One of Those Days in England and One of Those Days in England, Parts 2-10. Take a listen - the first track is available in studio and live versions on youtube but the real prize, though you'll need nearly 20 minutes for it, is the second track, one of his epics, from the album Bullinamingvase,  1977 or the 2CD compilation album Counter Culture.

What we've learned from the Panama papers

What have we learned from the papers leaked from the Mossack Fonseca office in Panama? Well, from what I've read so far, practically zilch. What we've had is confirmation of a lot of things we already thought we knew anyway.

1. Cronies of Putin, African dictators and Chinese politicians find ways to stash money away. Quelle surprise!

2. David Cameron, while wealthy compared with most, but of modest means compared with the super rich, doesn't top up his salary with undeclared income. His dad left him money and his mum made a cash gift to him which wasn't of a life changing magnitude (for him).  I doubt Cameron's total income would impress the Chief Exec of your local health trust, let alone any executive board member of a FTSE 100 company. (Cameron gets about £150k as PM and grossed a bit more than £200k after house rental income. The average total package of a FTSE 100 exec was around £2.5M in 2014 according to Grant Thornton and quoted in the FT, 7 Dec 2014. Chief Executives would be a lot more). Cameron pays all his taxes. Ditto George Osborne. I didn't doubt it and can't understand what last weekend's fuss was all about.

3. Jeremy Corbyn is inept. The fact that he can't fill in his tax return on time or accurately didn't exactly shock, did it?

We might yet learn something interesting from the millions of documents but the most interesting thing that could happen would be for the authorities to get after real villains they can reach, rather watching the unedifying spectacle of the press foaming at the  mouth over the pantomime ones.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Timothy Leary Lives?

According to the Independent (, 12 April), the first scientist in 40 years to test LSD on humans claims to have unlocked the secrets of hallucinogenic drugs. The controversial study claims it makes the brain more "complete".

The drug makes the various parts of your brain work at once and together: cross sections show nearly all of it lit up, rather than very local parts and working in a more integrated and unified way.  Much like an infant's brain (hmm, that figures!) The lead researcher, Robert Carhart-Harris said "In many ways the brain in the LSD state resembles the state we were in when we were infants: free and unconstrained."

The research showed the effects could be even further encouraged by use of music (tick to that also). I wonder what they used? In my day early Pink Floyd would have been popular and Country Joe and the Fish's Electric Music for the Mind and Body spot on.

Professor David Nutt (I'm not making this up, he's director of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College and one of the project's senior researchers) said that scientists had waited 50 years to understand how LSD alters our brain biology. Professor Nutt was removed from his job as Chair of the government's drug advisory council in 2009 after he, one would have thought uncontroversially but certainly off message, pointed out that ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol or tobacco.

The study's authors claim the "benefits" could be long lasting : "Our results suggest that this effect underlies the profound altered state of consciousness that people often describe during an LSD experience. This experience is sometimes framed in a religious or spiritual way - and seems to be associated with improvements in well being after the drug's effects have subsided."

I'm not sure about long term benefits myself. My admittedly entirely 2nd hand observation as a student, back in very much the day, was that acid turned pleasant, intelligent people into introverted low achievers. "Tune in, turn on, drop out" said Timothy Leary, famously. Well the last part tended to follow naturally after the second, from what I saw. They certainly seemed to "see" with other parts of their brain than the visual cortex, as the research found. I would say infantile rather than infant-like, but there you go.

"Timothy Leary's dead" sang the Moody Blues (I realise he wasn't when they sang it, they meant discredited) but clearly his spirit lives on. I'm not really drawing a parallel between the folks at Imperial and the notorious Leary, who Richard Nixon branded "the most dangerous man in America" (pot calling kettle, or what?). However, Leary was advocating a drug that was legal at the time and his key argument - that LSD could alter behavior in beneficial ways not easily attainable through regular therapy - seems pretty similar to Carhart-Harris's statement above to me.

One person who has been claimed to have benefited from LSD was John Lennon, who acknowledged that LSD changed him in some ways for the better. Those who knew him in 1966 say his personality suddenly softened, his aggression giving way to a noticeably mellower mood. But it also fired creativity: Stawberry Fields Forever, A Day In The Life, I Am The Walrus and, particularly, Tomorrow Never Knows, according to Ian MacDonald (reference below).

I recall a discussion in a 1960s grammar school English class where many of my peers were adamant that Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds was inspired by LSD. "It's in the initials, innit?" was the extent of the argument. Lennon and colleagues consistently said it wasn't about LSD. What none of us teenage innocents realised was that Tomorrow Never Knows, off the previous album, Revolver, WAS explicitly about the LSD experience (so there was no need for them to make up stories about Lucy In The Sky) and helped introduce LSD and Leary's psychedelic revolution to the young of the western world.

MacDonald, referencing a source, says Lennon took LSD for the 3rd time in January 1966. Intending a serious journey of self discovery, but lacking any guidance on the drug as it was novel in Britain, he turned to The Psychedelic Experience - the manual for mind expansion by then Harvard psychologists Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. In turn they, seeing LSD as a sacramental chemical capable of inducing spiritual revelations, had used The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, an ancient Buddhist tome, in their work. Lennon used the instructions from The Psychedelic Experience,  reading its paraphrasing of The Tibetan Book Of The Dead onto a tape recorder and replaying it as the drug took effect. He must have had a good trip, because he hastened to capture it in song, taking many of the lines in the lyric directly from the Leary/Alpert text. They include the first line: "Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream" and the concept of the Void: "Lay down all thought, surrender to the Void".

Indeed, the working title for the song was "The Void", but it was switched to a saying of Ringo's, analogous to an old hippie maxim "Be Here Now", probably from the title of Alpert's third book on these matters and paraphrasing Vedic teaching that to dwell on past or future is to be dead in the present. And which I just realised a year or two ago is the title of the third Oasis album. The influence is all around us and, most of the time, I'm oblivious. Which is fitting I suppose as oblivion and the void are apparently the aim.

While LSD is credited with Lennon's surge in creativity at that point in time, he reportedly became psychologically addicted to it and two years later was a mental wreck. Certainly, until he got clean, he was less creative for a while and the Beatles became very reliant on McCartney in that period.

I'll dig out Revolver  in a bit but now, where's my Country Joe album? The track I'm going to listen to is Bass Strings, their explicit paean to LSD. "The truth lives all around me, but it's just beyond my grasp". And I expect there it will stay, while you're tripping, chum. I think I'll stay off it while I'm still capable of doing anything much at all. But, if I end up in an Old Folks' Home, then will someone please smuggle me some in?

The official report of the research is published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology (yup, new one on me, too).

Ian MacDonald's splendid book is called Revolution In The Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties, Fourth Estate. My copy 1994, newer editions available.

Hear Country Joe's Bass Strings at (on youtube many times but that one has nice pictures)

Sorry this is rather long, but it's very short compared with the Independent article and MacDonald's treatise on Tomorrow Never Knows!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Masters 2016 shows golf isn't ALL about putting

Digesting Danny Willett's famous win last night, I'm reflecting on my posts about Jordan Spieth's and Dustin Johnson's putting and looking at their stats for the tournament.

They "putt for dough'" and it wouldn't surprise me if the winner was often the best putter over the four rounds, at least in the leading 10% of the field. But Jordan Spieth, in looking certain to win when playing so comparatively poorly (it's all relative!), was the exception to this rule, as his putting was pretty amazing all week and it was his long game that cost him the defence of his title.  Instead of learning how Spieth would fare if he just putted well, we re-learned that, if you can't hit the ball into the distance on approximately the line you are aiming, you'll have problems. I should know, as that's normal for me. In comparison, Willett was a worthy winner, looking composed and solid across all areas of his game.

In fairness Spieth, Willett and Johnson all putted well, tied 2nd, 4th and 9th in average putts per green for the tournament. And there wasn't much in it between Spieth and Willett (1.56 to 1.58). Of course, average putts per green is a blunt measure - old stager Larry Mize had the same average as Spieth, but, finishing 52nd, a lot of his extra shots could have been chips that got him close.

But yet again it was Dustin's stats that caught my eye. As per his overall PGA tour figures year to date, his average putts per green deteriorated through each round from 1 to 4. This was the case for only 3 of the other 56 players who made the cut.

I don't know if it's just putting or whether the average length of his putts goes up because of other things. His greens in regulation stat was almost in the opposite pattern. His driving distance (ranked first) was best in rounds 2 and 3. His driving accuracy (mid table) was best in rounds 2 and 4. So it certainly looks like it's the most mental (both meanings) part of the game that will make it hard for him to win a major.

Stats from
Post script:  I hadn't realised that calling putting woes, like those of poor Ernie Els the other day, the "yips" dates back nearly 90 years. Tommy Armour was reigning US Open champion when, in a tournament in 1927, he took 23 putts to complete the hole. " I just had a severe case of the yips or something", he said. I doubt that's much consolation to Ernie. But it might make me feel better as I suffer my usual couple of three putts a round!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Ed Miliband must be delighted - Chris Huhne and David Cameron too

A long term strategic goal of Ed Miliband's is coming a step nearer - the elimination of energy intensive manufacturing, like steel, from the UK.

The slowly unfolding train wreck of Tata steel and the Port Talbot works is a direct result of the Climate Change Act 2008, which set out to reduce our CO2 emissions by 80%. As a result, British industrial users pay twice the EU average for electricity and also much higher prices than US companies, who benefit from shale gas. A House of Commons Committee reports that green levies mean British industry pays 80% more for energy than the European average.

Miliband was the first secretary of state for energy and climate change, so he must be delighted at the prospect of taking such a big step towards his goals by getting rid of Port Talbot. After all, it's difficult to see how the 80% target could ever be met while having such an energy intensive industry. One wonders if he really understood that night follows day, or if he just regards the Welsh steel workers as collateral damage.

Cameron and the 2010 coalition government are just as guilty. Miliband's Climate Change Act was passed by 463 votes to 3, with the Tories whipping it through to the extent that one of the 3 Tory MPs who voted against was apparently personally warned by Cameron that he could say goodbye to any front bench job, ever, a promise that was kept.

Then Huhne, as the coalition's energy secretary before his speeding points demise, instituted a carbon price floor, which apparently means that UK industrial users pay four times more for the cost of carbon in their electricity prices than continental competitors. Poor prune Huhne thought that the price floor wouldn't matter because fossil fuel prices could only rise and renewables would become more competitive, albeit not very useful for running industrial processes. Anyone who has tracked the ups and down of fuel costs since the 1973 oil crisis (er, yes I have from time to time, sadly) would not have been totally shocked when the next large movement after this policy was conceived was down rather than up.

And local MP Stephen Kinnock, who attracted a lot of publicity with his dash to India, argued last year that we should be "leading the world" in climate change legislation, calling for a "green growth revolution".

In case you think this is all to do with Chinese steel, note that Tata is not planning to pull out of its steelworks in Holland at Ijmuiden, though that is a smaller facility and well integrated with transport links.

The Welsh steel workers were arguing last week that, once they have gone, China will have a free rein in setting prices. They did produce half the world's steel in 2015. But the other 50% is split between some 65 countries, so unless a lot of them decide to follow our lead and commit industrial suicide, I doubt the Chinese will be able to hike prices. And as we produced less than 1% of the world's steel last year, very expensively, I can't see that we are any brake on the Chinese.

I rather doubt that we can be internationally competitive in steel making, even if we, like Germany, shielded industrial users from increased energy costs, putting more of the burden onto domestic customers. Can't see that being electorally popular mind and of course it would do nothing for meeting CO2 targets. And I'm not actually sure that it matters too much whether we have a fairly small crude steel manufacturing capability. Germany made 4 times as much as us in 2015, Italy twice as much and France and Spain nearly 40% more, in Europe alone. Our army's latest tank is made with Swedish steel (and being built in Spain).

The industry employs about 15,000, down from the 24,000 when Tata took over Corus. And in the whole steel sector it's 24,000 compared with 320,000 in 1970. The number of employees has shrunk by 13 times and the output by 2.5 times.

Of course, the other big problem for Tata is the fact that they actually bought a pension fund with a small sideline in making steel. There are 130,000 members of the scheme. It's deficit, at £485m, is one of the largest in the UK, though at 3% of liabilities it strikes me as surprisingly small.

What's puzzling to me is that Cameron and Osborne did not appear to see this coming. Well, maybe Osborne did but he thinks cosying up to the Chinese matters more (as, indeed, it might).

But even more puzzling is why anyone would think that the world will follow the CO2 policy of a country that generates less than 2% of the world's emissions. Isn't this a bit like unilateral disarmament?

Indeed, the director of the Energy Intensive Users Group said some years ago that "Outsourcing our emissions is not a solution to a global problem. Politicians need to understand that unilateral action will come at a terrible cost in terms of UK manufacturing jobs, investment and export revenue, for no discernable gain."

So, when politicians start wringing their hands about the Welsh steel industry, I want to know one thing: are you a hypocrite or are you just stupid?

Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times, 3 April 2016.
John Collingridge, Sunday Times Business, 3 April 2016.
World Steel Association (
And my experience in energy economics, even if it was 30 years ago.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Jordan Spieth's putting

I recently saw a quote from Butch Harmon that Jordan Spieth holed over 30% of his putts from 20-25ft last year when the “next guy is about 8%”. Given that Jordan is short off the tee, one wonders about the implication if his putting were to decline to merely outstanding.

Jordan's success rate from 20-25 ft (Harmon's chosen stat from the myriad available) was actually 26% over the 2015 PGA tour ( I couldn't confirm whether "the next guy" was really at 8%, which I rather doubt, but the top 3 for overall average number of putts per green in 2015 were: Spieth (1.699), Day (1.712) and, surprisingly in view of my earlier post, Dustin Johnson (1.715).

So far this season, Spieth's success rate from 20-25ft putts is 5.4% and he is tied 176th at that stat. Rory McIlroy is 157th at 7.7%, Dustin Johnson 41st at 16.1% and Jason Day 1st at 26.7% - ominously like Spieth's figure last year. (See USPGA website).

To be fair, these stats are on small numbers of successes at this early stage of the year; Day 4 from 15, Spieth 1 from 17. And if you go to putts from 15 - 20 ft, McIlroy is 1st with 40% and Spieth is well up there at 27th with 26%. And on putts per round this year, Spieth is 2nd (27.31), Day 6th (28.06) and Dustin Johnson 22nd (28.39).

But Butch's point holds: difficult to see how Spieth can keep winning if his putting isn't really hot, especially with so many top players appearing to be in good nick.

We'll see over the next few days.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

How well will Dustin Johnson putt at the Masters?

I think Dustin Johnson has a fabulous golf swing and, as I doubt it had anything to do with performance improvement, I'm not too bothered about his "time out". He's now in that group of "best players never to win a major". Can he do it?

Famously, Dustin blew up in last year's U. S. Open at Chambers Bay, missing a difficult eagle putt to win and then the one coming back to evade getting in a play off. He also came near in the 2010 US PGA when, with a one shot lead going into the last, he grounded his club in sand that had been well trodden by spectators and was ruled to be a bunker. The players had all been well briefed beforehand. And just the other week, Dustin shot 79 in the final round of the WGC Cadillac championship after being in strong contention.

Dustin's PGA tour putting stats are revealing. Once he gets to the green, his putting average of 1.7 ranks him 7th on the tour. But it's his putts per round stats that are fascinating:
Round 1: 27.29 putts on average, ranked 3rd. Round 2: 28.43, ranked 46th. Round 3: 28.14, ranked 51st. Round 4: 29.71, ranked 142nd.

So it's not just in the big events that Dustin has a problem. No wonder the betting folk have him down as a good bet for first round leader at the Masters!