Friday, 19 July 2019

Is he Misstra Know It All?

Boris Johnson's anointment as Tory party leader being imminent we may find out before too long now whether the man really has a plan for Brexit. I'm not holding my breath. Indeed I'm reminded of Stevie Wonder's song He's Misstra Know-It-All:

He's a man / with a plan / Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand / He's Misstra Know-It-All
Playin' hard / Talkin' fast / Makin' sure that he won't be the last / He's ....
Makes a deal / With a smile / Knowin' all the time that his lie's a mile /  He's ....
Must be seen / There's no doubt / He's the coolest one with the biggest mouth /  He's ....
If he shakes / On a bet / He's the kind of dude that won't pay his debt / He's ....
Take my word / Be aware / Of a man that just don't give a care, no / He's ....
Give a hand to the man / You know damn well he's got the super plan / He's ....
If we had less of him / Don't you know we'd have a better land / He's ....
Check his sound out / He'll tell it all / Hey you talk too much, you worry me to death /
He's Misstra Know-It-All

I don't doubt that Boris Johnson is highly intelligent. Whether he would qualify as a member of Mensa, i.e. in the top 2% of the population on IQ, I don't know but I presume he would. Indeed his mannerisms remind me very much of a boss of mine who had an IQ of over 160 - and was a bully. But even if Boris is that bright that doesn't necessarily make him clever or wise, of course.

The Conservative leadership hustings have naturally created a dynamic in which the two runners appeal to their electorate but it's led to some remarkably un-Conservative pledges, particularly on public spending. I am worried that no party is currently standing for financial prudence and the free market. **** business, one might say, which in due course means we are generally all worse off.

Actually, given that both Ed Davey and Jo Swinson do espouse the free market I am finding that, apart from their slavish see-no-evil devotion to the EU, they are potentially the most attractive option at the moment. If they would say that the EU is better than the alternative but is pretty awful and needs major and urgent reform there wouldn't be much that I could disagree with at the moment, though I suspect they are hopelessly unrealistic on climate change in terms of practicable actions.

I am left feeling that the Tory process has been too public. I know some people just don't accept that it's up to the Tory membership to pick "the next prime minister" as the BBC seem fond of saying and there have been the usual calls for a general election on account of the change of leadership. Boris Johnson has been reminded of the fact that he called for one when Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair. Hmmm, not that clever then, given Boris's long held ambition to be PM and the fact that, in the time I can remember, more people have taken over as PM during a Parliament than as the result of a general election (Douglas Home, Callaghan, Major, Brown, May and soon Johnson v Wilson, Heath, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron). That's the way our constitution works. The PM is not a directly elected president. Some folk have a problem with that, but I don't. I think it's better that the people who know the candidates decide and then we get a chance to keep them or ditch them once we see whether they know what they are doing. But the systems that the two big parties have gone for, with their membership having the final say, means that the choice is not made by people who know the candidates well. They are strange hybrid systems which I don't think are serving us well. After all, if Corbyn and Johnson are the answers, what on earth was the question?

So does Boris have a plan beyond getting into number 10? I expect you can tell that I doubt it. And even if he does there is very little time before a deadline that he's made clear he doesn't want to flex. And even while hinting that he'll walk away into a no-deal Brexit, he's also said it's a "million to one chance". Great negotiating skills, Boris - telling the other side that you don't really mean it isn't much better than saying no deal is not an option. There is no reason for the EU to move now. The time to walk out and threaten no deal was right at the start, when we gave way on the sequencing point in the negotiations, giving away our best card early. Is it a credible card now? It's going to be an interesting few weeks up to 31 October........







Monday, 15 July 2019

Tim Henman ruined Glasto

I didn't hold out much hope for the  Glastonbury line-up this year and ended up not watching very much of the coverage, though I was looking forward to two of the three headliners, The Killers and The Cure, Stormzy not being my bag. Both me and Mrs H have liked The Killers since they broke through to mainstream attention with their album Day and Age - we've spent many hours in the car listening to its high quality, catchy songs. And I've liked The Cure since being fascinated by their first single on a compilation album I had. The song was called Killing An Arab. Eh? - but I was hooked by their first hit single, A Forest, which I heard on the John Peel show circa 1980. We missed seeing The Killers before they became a stadium band (we don't do stadium gigs, finding it rather like watching on TV but with the TV turned up full at the other end of the house) but we finally caught up with Robert Smith and The Cure a couple of years ago. For me, a huge fan of the new wave era, Smith's catchy pop songs redolent of the Buzzcocks with a hint of Joy Division gloom are musical catnip.

I thought The Killers were hugely disappointing. Having not seen much of them playing live I found I just couldn't warm to front man Brandon Flowers. His singing wasn't bad but it just didn't sound much like the recorded version of his voice to me. His personality grated and, surprisingly, I didn't even like his glittery jacket. Mrs H pretty well summed it up when she asked why Tim Henman was attempting to sing Killers songs. I sniggered because she had a point, but once she'd said it Flowers had no chance of winning me back. I was going to label the photos below but I've forgotten which is which.......












There was also an odd throw away chorus of Human, done just on piano, before going into another song as a tease. OK they did play it in the encore, but with the Pet Shop Boys fella doing much of the singing so it sounded for all the world like a Killers tribute band making a poor fist of the song. All in all a big let down.

As for Smith, his wife (yes, I know he looks a Goth - though he denies it - and wears lipstick but he does have one and they've been together since he was 14) reportedly tells him "sing well" before gigs. She presumably feels he can play his guitar blindfolded so if he sings well it will be a good gig. He did sing well. There were no guests, no dancers, no fireworks, just the band and their songs. Exactly as I like it: I've never seen the point of a dance show on a festival stage, albeit presumably intended for the tv coverage. and guests usually take away from rather than add to the performance.

However, there is a "but". Just like when we saw them in Manchester* they didn't play The Love Cats, Mrs H's favourite - and she's by no means the only one who thinks that. That irritated us when we found out they had played it the next night at Wembley Arena, though admittedly in a longer set. Here they had a full two hours, so no excuse, Robert. The BBC said it was a "wry joke - did anyone miss it?" Well you could plainly hear many of the audience calling for it as the band left the stage. Smith, as many Glastonbury headliners are, seemed very emotional at the end of his set. Bob, the punters would have loved you even more if you'd played your best known song; it was an occasion to give them what they wanted. I know you think Love Cats  is a "sort of stupid pop song" but remember you re-formed The Cure because the stupid pop songs became hits and you found it was more fun doing that than slogging around the world in your alternative career playing guitar with Siouxsie and the Banshees (Smith had dissolved the Cure at one point reportedly under the strain of narcotics and playing his 'emotionally crushing songs' each night).

Other than that, all the hits got played. Well, I say "all", though I haven't checked whether he played every single one. The Cure never made it really big time but there were a lot of hits: 23 in the UK top 40, including Lovesong written for his wedding to Mary in 1989 - not his biggest UK hit but strangely by far his biggest US seller, reaching number 2 on the US mainstream pop chart, most of the others registering only on their alternative chart. Close To Me, Friday I'm In Love, Lullaby, The Caterpillar - all there.

On the positive side, closing with one of his earliest songs, Boys Don't Cry, was a stroke of genius. A lovely song which wasn't a hit on first release, though it eventually earned a silver disc. It would be a bit like Madonna closing her set with one of the singles she did before Holiday, or the Rolling Stones closing with I Wanna Be Your Man,  though that,of course wasn't their own composition. It showed how well Smith's music has stood the test of time. There is a smashing video with a touchingly young Smith singing the song on youtube here. Some 40 years on and now aged 60 Smith's voice hasn't changed very much.

They didn't do Killing An Arab - Smith once called a press conference to explain the song was not Islamophobic but inspired by Camus's L'Etranger. Smith recalls looking at a sea of bemused journalists' faces as he explained existentialism and Camus's philosophy of the absurd. But of course they performed A Forest  - it was brilliant and I've been humming that and Boys Don't Cry ad nauseam since. Though I have also been singing Killers songs. I just don't feel the need to see them live any more.

So the Cure were really good, but I was still left feeling a tad cheated, just as I had when I saw them live. A tease indeed.

*See The Love Cat is a Tease, post of 4 Dec 2016

Thursday, 27 June 2019

It's Different For Girls

I made a prediction to my sons soon after they went to high school in the 1990s: that women's football would become a big spectator sport. They don't remember pooh poohing this suggestion, though I'm sure they did. I couldn't see any reason why women's football should not develop to have a good balance of skill and athleticism. Sure, not as explosively quick as the best men, but no reason why the spectacle couldn't be compelling.

What I didn't know was that it already had been a big spectator sport: before 1921 when the FA banned women playing in officially organised football. The reason? Unladylike....

During the first world war, women working in munitions factories started football teams. And people went to watch in significant numbers as the Football League suspended all fixtures at the end of the 1914/15 season. The popularity continued after the war. On Boxing Day 1920 a crowd of 53,000 watched St Helens Ladies play Dick Kerr Ladies of Preston at Goodison Park. Was the real reason the FA banned the ladies that it was getting too popular?

Women's football has some way to go to equal the gates of 1920 other than for occasional matches. So I've watched some of the FIFA womens' world cup to gauge their progress. Some games have not impressed me but others have. I watched quite a bit of England's last 16 match with Cameroon with interest. I was impressed by all three of England's goals but also by the team's ability, fostered under manager Phil Neville, to play a passing and possession game. Their stated aim of passing opponents into submission worried me - spectators can die of boredom too, after all. But England don't play like that. Yes they try to keep the ball as all good teams should. But they also look to play it forward positively whenever they can. By positively I don't mean lumping it forward or just hitting the target woman - though I did that often enough playing at centre back when there wasn't any other option (sure, it wasn't a woman at centre forward but you know what I mean). The secret to giving players options for passes is of course movement - it's easy to criticise players for just hitting it upfield or indeed for passing sideways too often but if there aren't options you can't manufacture many great forward passes. I thought England were good at creating those options, though Cameroon did give them the space.

And I was also impressed at how they kept their focus while the Cameroon team were allowed to get away with some of the poorest behaviour I've seen on a football pitch anywhere, at any time, though I didn't see the start of the second half when England apparently did look rattled.

But the other thing that strikes me is that folk often say it would be better if women ran the world: it would be gentler and more harmonious. But I don't see much evidence for this in the worlds of business, politics (Myanmar, for example) or sport. Some folk say that's because you have lone women, like Thatcher, trying to outdo the men, and that it would be different if women really ran things. But the Cameroon team have given the lie to that as well, showing that an all-female group can behave worse than men on the pitch, spitting, elbowing and dissenting from decisions almost to the point of going on strike and then disgracefully saying they were the victims of racism.

Talking of an all-female group I was not particularly impressed with the referee either, other than for her patience. Though on reflection, at this stage of development of the women's game, perhaps she dealt with the situations she was presented in the most appropriate way at the time. If it had been a men's world cup match the referee could have expected to be sanctioned and never get near reffing a world cup match in the future. But what was Qin Lang supposed to do when Cameroon refused to kick off for a few minutes while disputing England's second goal?  Not unreasonably she was concerned that the Cameroon team might walk off. As an ex-referee myself (ok, only the Oxford Boys' League) I think she had two options besides the path she took. She could have given a quick warning followed by a yellow card to the woman causing the most trouble in the Cameroonian huddle. But my preferred option would have been to call over the Cameroonian captain and instruct her to get the kick off taken or she would be booked and then, a minute later, sent off. I must admit I only thought of this latter approach the next day and, in practice, either action would probably have escalated the situation into a walk out.

It may well be that the referee took the right approach in being tolerant and patient, though my big problem with that was it wasn't fair on England. Hopefully all the negative publicity will make women's teams around the world realise that such a behaviour won't help their cause of establishing women's football as a big time sport. Meanwhile FIFA will surely take action against Cameroon for failing to control their players and the women's game can move forward.

I'm not sure I will watch a lot of women's football in the future. A bit like I don't watch as much womens' tennis as men's, or women's athletics. For a start I'm a man. And if you want to see the quickest/highest/fastest exponents of most sports that will be male competitors, though I accept that some prefer the arguably greater subtlety of women's tennis to the men's power dominated game. But I hear some of you say that all that squealing and grunting isn't exactly subtle. One might say "not ladylike...."

And don't get me started on the sporadic lobbying for equal pay in football. Tennis is not an example, as the big competitions are held with men v men and women v women (plus some mixed doubles) on the same days to cleverly avoid any issues with the tv and gate money being attributable by gender. After all we all know what the result of that would be. Holding the men's and women's football world cups in parallel is thankfully impracticable, so forget trying to blur that one, equal pay advocaters. But the outcome of the equal pay case brought by the USA women's soccer team could be interesting as they probably get similar or maybe even larger audiences than their men's team does, so fair play if that is the case. Other than such isolated examples the simple fact is that, currently, more men are interested in sport than women, so the men's sports generate greater revenues. That may slowly balance out a bit over time.

I still think that women's football will grow to be a big spectator sport. And maybe the near meltdown by the Cameroon team will draw more attention to the sport; any publicity being good publicity if it makes people take a look.

But it will always be a bit different for girls.... (as Joe Jackson sang in his song turning around traditional male-female mores).

Still, I think I will watch some of England's quarter-final against Norway tonight. Come on you Lionesses!

Friday, 14 June 2019

Broken Stones 2

John Stones got caught out again by playing too much football as the last man between the opposing team and his goalkeeper as England disappointingly lost a winnable semi-final for the second time in a year in last week's Nation's League match.

I have been a huge fan of Stones. He moved to Everton from Barnsley when David Moyes could not get any of his transfer targets in January 2013. Moyes told his team on deadline day that the deals he wanted weren't going to happen but Everton chairman Bill Kenwright would let him spend a million or two on promise. His question was "who should we buy". The answer was 18 year old Stones. Apparently Moyes hadn't seen Stones play but trusted his backroom team. He made his Everton debut in August 2013 and by the following May he had played for England. By then I had predicted that once Stones got into the England team he would be a fixture in it for a decade, for much of it as captain.

After a good start these predictions are not turning out well. Everton fans saw for themselves that Stones has skill and confidence in abundance. But they also saw that he has overconfidence and an apparent reluctance to learn from experience. On one occasion he drove the Goodison faithful to distraction with a series of three turns, one of them the Cruyff version, under pressure from an opponent in his own penalty area. The first turn brought gasps, the second shouts of concern and the third howls of anguish and derision. Stones got away with it that time but what those fans know and Stones won't learn is that all too often you don't.

When Stones moved to Manchester City for around £50M in 2016 I thought that Pep Guardiola would help him get the right balance between playing the ball out and taking too much risk. Again that has proved incorrect. What these guys don't seem to appreciate - and sorry for repeating myself here - is that because football is a low scoring game the balance between risk and reward means that while of course playing composed football will bring rewards, taking too much risk is not likely to give a positive return overall. Yes you can get away with it playing inferior opponents: I remember Man City being commended by a journalist for playing out from the back and getting an equaliser against Bristol City some time ago. Quite, Bristol City. In the first half. In a League Cup tie. I pointed out at the time that this approach could cost Guardiola's team in a crucial match against better opposition, say a Champions League final.

Will Stones learn? I wouldn't bet on it. Will Southgate? Maybe. He gave Joe Gomez a game in Stones's place against Switzerland. Whether this constitutes being dropped depends on what Southgate said to Stones.

I would have said why did you take the risk of fannying about in extra time of a big match when the risk of conceding a goal and with it the game is always going to be higher than the chance of setting up a winning goal by doing so? The fact that Stones got disorientated and fell showed that at least part of his brain knew he was taking a big risk and his brain and body miscommunicated as a result. I'm not suggesting he should have whacked the ball into row Z - he had an easy pass back to his keeper the way he was facing. Having drawn Holland up the field Pickford had a better chance of starting the decisive move than Stones.

When Rio Ferdinand arrived at Manchester United with a reputation as a ball-playing centre-back he automatically reined in his risk taking. It wasn't anything Ziralex said to him (though it might have been concern about being on the end of the hair dryer treatment). Ferdinand assessed the benefit of risk and reward when playing in a good team for himself. Some people can learn by experience others need to be told. I am generally in the latter category and it seems Stones is too, incapable of the self awareness Ferdinand had. And it seems he's not going to get told by either of his current managers. So he probaby won't improve.

The promise shown by the teenage John Stones has not been fulfilled to the maximum extent possible despite, or maybe because of, playing for the manager recognised as probably currently the world's best in club football. I've lost faith in Stones. So, possibly, has Pep Guardiola, preferring the superannuated Vincent Kompany to him through much of the last season.

Gareth Southgate had faith and moved away from his policy of picking players who are playing regularly for their club team. David Walsh, writing in the Sunday Times last week was more sympathetic to both Stones and Southgate, saying that the England manager had little choice as the alternative, Joe Gomez, had also hardly played for his club side lately having just recovered from injury. But hang on - there was a third centre half in the party, Michael Keane. Keane was a fixture in Everton's side and was a key part of their strong run in, with no goals conceded in their games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool. Keane has played seven times for England, the last as recently as March, when he scored against Montenegro. Keane isn't a silky smooth footballer like Stones but he can pass and, rather importantly for a centre-back, he can defend. And he is used to playing with England's regular goalkeeper, Everton's Jordan Pickford. Sorry, David, you're plain wrong; Southgate had a choice a made the wrong one.

Everton sold Stones for about twice the price they paid for Keane. I wouldn't swap them myself at the moment if the valuation was the other way around.


P.S. Broken Stones 2 because Broken Stones was my post of 16 June 2016 about Paul Weller, that being the title of his song inspired by Marvin Gaye and which does achieve a Marvin Gaye like feel. Fortunately the Marvin Gaye Estate didn't sue Weller, or at least not yet. I still find it incredible that the estate's case against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over the alleged similarity of their song Blurred Lines to Gaye's Got To Give It Up was sustained at appeal in March 2018 by a two to one majority verdict*.

The dissenting judge said the decision let the Gayes “accomplish what no one has before: copyright a musical style,” and expanded the potential for further copyright litigation. She said the songs differed in harmony, melody and rhythm and the verdict "strikes a devastating blow to future musicians and composers everywhere".  The only common factor was the party feel of the two songs. Party feel wasn't exactly novel when Gaye did it: I'm sure Trini Lopez's If I Had a Hammer 15 years earlier in 1962 couldn't have been the first such song. But wait, Gaye's song also influenced Michael Jackson's Shake Your Body and Don't Stop Til You Get Enough. Jackson adapted Gaye's chant of "let's dance, let's shout, gettin' funky what it's all about" to "let's dance, let's shout, shake your body down to the ground" on the former, which sounds pretty similar to me. But Jackson's estate could presumably hire better lawyers than Thicke and probably Gaye's estate too.....

All popular music is derivative, with generally a modest amount of something novel or different in any song, a bit like most PhD theses. The case sets a troubling precedent which could stifle the creative process of building on what's been done before.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-music-blurredlines/marvin-gaye-family-prevails-in-blurred-lines-plagiarism-case-idUSKBN1GX27P


Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Is Boris or the law the ass?

I am flabbergasted at the news that Boris Johnson will have to defend himself in court over claims that what was written on the side of the Brexit battlebus was a lie. The precise charge is "misconduct in public office". The charge is a crowdfunded private prosecution. How any sentient being could sanction this charge, let alone someone with legal training who one assumes was taught English and some logic, I can't fathom. And it worries me.

For a start, if everyone who held public office could be taken to court for peddling a mis-truth, or saying anything about anything that turned out to be less than 100% correct, then there would be very few people in public office who would not be vulnerable to prosecution. And even fewer willing to occupy such posts.

Secondly, for the crucial part of the time period in the charge, running up to the referendum on 23 June 2016, Johnson wasn't in public office as such, unless you count being a backbench MP. He ceased being Mayor of London on 5 May 2016. (The charge cites the dates as 21 Feb - 23 June 2016 in the run up to the referendum and 18 April - 3 May 2017, in the run up to the General Election, when Johnson was Foreign Secretary). In 2016 Johnson made some daft comments about Turks and Turkey and I expect this was while he was still London Mayor but the statements weren't related his job. In the weeks before the referendum Johnson was speaking in support of a political campaign, not in any capacity as a public servant, because he wasn't one. And arguably it was also the case in the General Election campaign that he was speaking as a political campaigner.

But more fundamentally, where is the lie?

Let's just remind ourselves what was on the Brexit bus:

Vote Leave's campaign bus

"We send the EU £350 million a week". This statement is an exaggeration. After Mrs T's rebate is applied (which comes off before we send any money) we send something like £250M to £280M a week to the bloated blob of Brussels*. (Don't tell me it isn't a bloated blob because I went to the Berlaymont on a monthly basis for while in the 1990s and it will only have got more so). Stats nerds can't even agree on the precise number, which anyway is only known precisely after the event. And the figure is back-calculated once the figures for the year are known. It will have escalated as it is linked to GDP, which has increased more than the projections, so it could be north of £300M by now. So, an exaggeration, but Boris is a damned sight better with numbers than Diane Abbott!

And Boris no doubt didn't personally research the £350M number, it will have been plucked out of the air by the Vote Leave campaign. (The TV docu-drama showed Dominic Cummings shouting at people until they came up with a rationale for a number he liked. Everyone involved in communicating with or persuading people in politics, business and many other fields of endeavour has done this many times......I certainly have!)

OK, so we then get money back for regional projects and the net figure is lower. But we don't have the choice of how to spend that, so the logic that we could take back control and choose to spend it on the health service is 100% correct.

The lie as such comes a step further on when folk like the Welsh farmers, who benefit from this recycling of our cash via the EU, were told they would still get the money, effectively double counting the saving, or spending it twice.  How often have politicians tried to have their cake and eat it in this way?

None of this is new - I argued all of these numbers through in my blog posted 3 weeks before the referendum (Lies, damn lies and statistics in the referendum campaign"  2 June 2016). And I'm pretty sure I've said that, while many politicians dissemble, Boris tells lies, my logic being this last point about double-counting. But he was called out for this at the time and I don't know many people who didn't take the £350M number with a pinch of salt - it was the principle that got leave voters exercised.

However, the point that worries me is that, if we ever fall under the cosh of the Marxist Party of Islington we may become very reliant on the law to protect personal property and personal liberties. It will have to be impassionate, apolitical, logical and rigorous.

I can only think this charge was allowed through by District Judge Margot Coleman either because of her political view on Brexit or a party loyalty or because it has commanded a degree of public support via donations, a bit like a reality TV vote. I can't see any good reason in law or logic for her statement that:

"I accept that the public offices held by Mr Johnson provide status, but with that status comes influence and authority.
"I am satisfied there is sufficient to establish prima facie evidence of an issue to be determined at trial of this aspect."

If this charge is allowed to proceed politicians' answers to questions are going to get even more convoluted, as they would be forced to always quote others for their tenuous "facts". Meanwhile anyone not in a "public office", even if standing for one, would have a different standard applied to them. That would not be logical, fair or workable.

Judge Coleman has taken a first step in a dangerous direction and should have thrown this worthless case out.



* sources on 2016 data: Full Fact says "closer to £250M" (https://fullfact.org/europe/our-eu-membership-fee-55-million/) and another website says "around £280M" (https://esharp.eu/debates/the-uk-and-europe/how-much-does-britain-really-pay-into-the-eu-budget) so even the statistical nerds can't agree with any precision

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Is golf an athletic sport or an inclusive sport?


John Daly used a buggy to compete at the US PGA Championship. Dally currently occupies 1848th position in the world rankings but has a lifetime exemption following his win in the 1991 edition of the tournament. The course hosting the competition, Bethpage Black in New York, does not normally allow golfers to use buggies. It was approved under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Two Daily Mail writers were appalled. Derek Lawrenson said Daly "did golf a disservice...it's an athletic sport now and there should be no going back".

And Martin Samuel, writing at some length, also did not care for the sight of Daly, with his arthritic knees, riding his buggy smoking a cigarette and carrying a large soda cup from McDonald's. Samuel noted that Tiger Woods limped his way to his 2008 US Open win with two lower leg fractures and a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, saying Woods knew the score - injured, you can't play. If you want to play injured, you limp. He argued that golf has worked very hard to shed its reputation as the refuge of fat, wealthy, old guys. He thought it a mistake for US PGA to override the normal Bethpage rule, saying it's not discriminatory to expect professional competitors to abide by the same rules as club members and guests. Daly has requested to use a buggy in next month's Open, for which he qualifies until the age of 60 due to his win at St Andrews in 1995. Noting that Royal Portrush, hosting this year's event, also does not normally allow them, Samuel commended the R&A "for the sake of golf, its status and reputation" to uphold Portrush's rule.

Smauel went on to say "Your physical ability to compete is at the root of all sport, whether you sweat or not. Controlling the steadiness of a hand in archery, darts or snooker requires athletic ability. Nobody sweats bit it's still sport. Golf is the same". He noted that Nick Faldo has said 'walking is an integral part of being a professional golfer' and argued that anyone with a feeling for the soul of the game would agree.

I find walking while playing golf much more fun and far more sociable than using a buggy and I understand where Faldo is coming from. And yet....

Taking Samuel's point, the ability to swing a golf club and strike the ball accurately over large distances combined with judging wind, reading the terrain and having the touch and finesse to putt well is surely the equivalent of Samuel's archer or snooker player. Indeed I would argue the skill element is far higher. Walking between taking the shots is just the necessary act of getting from A to B and you don't have to be good at that bit just able to do it.

So what if you are not? If golf wants to portray itself as a sport only for ripped gym addicts it won't expand it's diminishing participant base. And anyway, it's a risible proposition. Golf actually sells itself as a sport that people with a wide range of physical abilities can play, getting health and fitness benefits from doing so.

So this is just an argument about what it looks like at a big professional competition. In that context what if a superstar kid emerged who could hit the ball like Brooks Koepka and putt like Tiger Woods but who, for some physical reason, could not walk around 18 holes of a golf course? Unlikely I know but the clamour for the sport's governing bodies to allow such a person to compete would be deafening.

Or, heaven forbid, what if Tiger Woods can compete at the highest level but just can't walk 18 holes on four consecutive days? What do you think they would decide then?

I think we all know that if Tiger had needed to be carried around the last few holes of his Masters win in April the acclaim would surely have been even greater. He's done it and he can hardly walk!

These may be artificial "what ifs" but the point is still valid. Is golf looking to be an inclusive sport or not?

Hide behind Royal Portrush's rules if you like (though Muirfield didn't come well out of that situation only a few years back). But in the long run disabilities and discrimination laws and society's expectations will surely mean that, if you meet the qualifying standard to play in terms of golf ability, you should be allowed to play.

The answer to the John Daly problem is actually to review the length of exemptions given to winners of the majors.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

King Kong on a very good run

It was no surprise that Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson finished first and second in the golf season's second major, the USPGA, at the weekend. The Bethpage Black course is punishingly long. Punishing through length and also the density of the second cut and deep rough for those who stray off the fairway. Koepka and Johnson are the most reliable of the "bombers" (the long hitters) and so will be both far and sure (er, I've heard that motto somewhere....) more often than most. And they hit it so far that, even if they stray off the fairway, they can often reach the green with a lofted club - a wedge or at most 9 iron - giving them a better chance of successfully controlling the shot. The shorter hitters - even those who still hit it a long way - stand a much lower chance from those positions with a middle iron.

So the course was set up to favour Koepka, but his achievement was remarkable. The display of pure power was beyond what we have seen since Tiger Woods first came out and obliterated championship golf courses. Indeed the Sky Sports commentator Wayne Riley took to calling Koepka "King Kong". (Dustin Johnson already has a nickname, of course. For most of the world it's "DJ" but to Mrs H it's "cokehead").

In the run up to the PGA the Golf Channel pundit Brandel Chamblee (yes, they have a dedicated golf channel and that's not a made up name - I think) made a bit of an ass of himself by pondering whether Koepka is a great player or simply having "a good run". Noting that Koepka ended up second in the Masters partly because he three-putted five times in the four rounds, Chamblee said "he's on a heck of a run. Nick Faldo hads a similar run. Lee Trevino had a similar run....is (Koepka) truly a great player - a staggering talent - or is he in a great run? Tiger and Jack, they won regular events at the same clip they won majors.....I just need more evidence...He won three majors that were more about power than accuracy. This week it will be equally about power and accuracy. Golf courses like this are a better measure...."

As Koepka had won three of the last eight majors (three of the last seven he had played in) that was rather going out on a limb. Now that it's four out of his last eight starts in majors it looks plain daft.  In the end it was about power and bottle, as much as accuracy, as Koepka had to dig deep when he faltered on the last nine holes and Johnson closed the lead from seven shots to one, before Koepka steadied the ship and Johnson also started to drop shots. But my main quibble with what Chamblee said was not actually about Koepka. Yes, Koepka has the unusual record of having won twice as many majors as he's won regular USPGA tour events - four to two. This is what Chamblee meant about Nicklaus and Tiger winning tour events "at the same clip": Woods has won 66 USPGA Tour events in addition to his 15 majors and for Nicklaus the numbers were 55 and 18, so Koepka's small number of non-major wins in America is surprising. But Koepka has also won seven times in Europe and Japan and had four wins on the European Challenge Tour (the level down from the main tour) as he came up the hard way, driving himself between tournaments in a foreign country on his own. Maybe not sleeping in his car, as Gary Player did when he first came to the Open but at least, reputedly, changing his own wheel when he got a puncture. So not the gilded ascent of a Woods or, say, a Spieth. Also, if Koepka really has cracked peaking for the majors, as he more or less claimed before this tournament, that would be quite something and not to be knocked lightly. After all, it's what Olympic athletes and Team Sky cyclists work very hard to do.

No, the thing that got me was the reference to Faldo and Trevino. They both won six majors, putting them joint twelfth on the all time list of major winners, only one short of Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones and one ahead of Seve Ballesteros and Phil Mickelson. And they weren't flashes in the pan, either. Sir Nick's wins spanned nine years (1987 to 1996) and Super Mex's a remarkable sixteen (1968 to 1984). So hardly "a good run". The comparison with Faldo that maybe makes sense is that Faldo, who came to golf late at fifteen years of age (yes, that's very late) was to some extent a manufactured golfer who, having competed near the top of the game without winning big, rebuilt his swing in order to win majors. Which he did because he was one of the ultimate competitors. It may be that the same is true of Koepka and he really can perform best when the stakes are highest.

In the first two rounds of the PGA Koepka was in the marquee group with Woods and Molinari. As Koepka built what was a record low score after 36 holes in that tournament, it looked like he was doing to Woods what Woods had done to so many in the past: overpowering the golf course and intimidating his opponents, striding off down the fairways ahead of his rivals with a stern game face on. There were some differences from Woods. Until Koepka faltered on the final nine holes and Johnson rallied, narrowing the lead from seven shots to one, he wasn't just longer than most of his opponents but also straighter. Not much need for the outrageous recovery shots Woods delivered so many times after errant drives. But there's one point on which Chamblee is right: as a putter Koepka isn't a Woods or a Nicklaus. Just like Rory McIlroy, this is likely to limit his potential. Nevertheless, with four majors to his name by the age of 29 it currently looks like he could go on to reach the group of famous players in the top six of all time major winners, Tom Watson (8) and Gary Player and Ben Hogan (9). After all, it took Woods 21 attempts to win four majors, it's taken Koepka just one more, 22. But then we thought McIlroy would carry on accruing majors just a few years ago. As for rivaling Nicklaus and Woods  by getting into the teens, that looks a long way off for any current players and I would wager just won't happen.

Koepka seems a bit more modest than Faldo. Martin Samuel reported that during last year's USPGA, Koepka was working out in his hotel gym while leading the tournament. He got talking with some of the other guests using the weights and cardio machines. You should have been here earlier, they told him overawed. Dustin Johnson, DJ himself, was here. Man it was a blast. And you just missed him. Five minutes earlier and you'd have seen him. Koepka smiled, without revealing his identity, that he had won the last two US Opens or that he was leading Johnson in the PGA by five shots with 18 holes to go, on his way to being only the fifth golfer to win the US Open and the US PGA in the same year. Putting him with Sarazen, Hogan, Nicklaus and Woods.

Koepka doesn't have the face or name recognition of some of his peers. Indeed, some seem to think he is boring. He may not be flamboyant but he's currently the best golfer in the world, by some margin.

So while I don't think it's likely Koepka will win even half Nicklaus's tally of majors in his career, it looks right now as if he'll outperform his immediate peers: Rory McIlroy (age 30, 4 major wins) and Jordan Spieth (age 25, 3 major wins, possibly getting into form again after a rough spell). With the Open next up, a home game for Rory McIlroy in Northern Ireland, it will be interesting to see how these young guns perform. But it would be a surprise to me if either of them won more majors than Koepka by the time their careers are done.

King Kong's run probably hasn't ended yet.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Fine margins decide the Premier League

So Manchester City triumphed in the epic Premier League title battle. It came down to very fine margins indeed. OK, City closed it out comfortably at Brighton after it briefly looked as if things could get interesting. But over the season you couldn't put the proverbial cigarette paper between the teams.

After a season with many twists - and Liverpool riding quite a bit of luck at home against Everton with their crazy last minute winner as well as the fortunate own goal rebound  that gave them another late winner at home against Spurs - I'm left with two decisive moments, both of them featuring City captain Vincent Kompany.

In City's penultimate game at home against Leicester City the visitors played well, defending with determination and breaking occasionally with menace, preventing City from piling on too much pressure. Just when it began to look as if City could drop points likely to be decisive, Kompany scored a screamer, his first ever Premier League goal from outside the penalty area, with team mate Bernardo Silva amongst those who later admitted they were telling him not to shoot. As Kompany strode forward he looked up and clearly thought about a shot before taking another couple of paces and unleashing his unstoppable shot, launching himself at the ball with both feet off the ground at the point of delivery. It is a matter of record that I am not a Man City fan and it wouldn't take you long to guess that I was screaming at the two nearest Leicester defenders to close him down the first time he thought about hitting it. I would hope Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel was doing the same - my old goalkeeper mate Herbie would certainly have been bellowing at his defenders. My guess is that, had either of the Leicester players launched themselves in Kompany's direction, his shot would have gone safely over or wide.

Most centre-backs have a kick like a mule and, even if they've never scored from range, if you give them a clear sight of goal they are clearly capable of doing everything but take the net off. But also most centre-backs don't keep their composure when shooting under any pressure. There is usually not much risk, other than getting struck by a hard hit shot, in defenders rushing at other defenders shaping to shoot. I used to berate colleagues who I thought hadn't put their body on the line as the phrase goes by saying "whoever got killed by a football?"  I do have a lot of broken veins on my legs, mind, which I attribute to the impact of fast moving footballs but as I'm not an oil painting I have no regrets about that.

I say there's not much risk if you rush a defender. Yes, if the man on the ball is a magician like say, Messi or, ok, David Silva the risk is that rushing at him leaves you flat on your back from a dummy or a canny pass being slipped through behind you. But in the limit you shouldn't stand off any player who is shaping to shoot. And it wasn't Messi or Silva, it was Kompany. As it turned out, in that moment, the league title was effectively decided.

Or was it? In the end the difference between the two teams could be argued to be City's win over Liverpool at the Etihad in January, the Kopites only league defeat of the season. Until then Liverpool were 7 points clear. When Kompany brought down Mo Salah in the first half with the score goal-less there was a clear case for a red card. Yes, it was a long way out, maybe 40 yards. And other City defenders were roughly level with Kompany. But Salah is a speed merchant and was "on his bike", as the saying goes. I believe Anthony Taylor's decision of a yellow card proved material in the title race. I wasn't the only one who thought there was no chance Salah would be caught by the other defenders: Jurgen Klopp asked later "how on earth is that not a red card?" City went on to win 2-0 but at that point in the game Liverpool were well on top and most bookies would have given you great odds against City winning with 10 men from there.

Of course, I've often described Kompany as "a red card waiting to happen" and it very nearly happened in the key game against Leicester as well, Kompany unleashing one of his trademark lunges to miss the ball by a mile a take out Jamie Vardy, again with the score goalless. I thought this one was a yellow but I don't think City fans could have complained had it been red, as Kompany could (in my book should) have attracted many more red cards over his career.

The other area of fine margins that proved decisive were John Stones's goal-line clearance at 0-0 in the Etihad game against Liverpool: VAR showed it was less than 12mm from being a goal. While, in their 1-0 win at Burnley, Sergio Aguero's goal was also shown by VAR to be just 29mm over the line.

You can't get much finer than that.

So it was an enthralling title race, albeit difficult for me as it left me choosing between my least favourite football team (Man City) and effectively the anti-Christ (Liverpool FC). In the end, whatever I think of them, City's run of 18 wins in their last 19 games, many of them played under the pressure of Liverpool having won their match with the weekend games being staggered for TV, made them worthy champions. Though either team in this case were "worthy".

As for goal of the season, for me that wasn't Kompany's strike against Leicester. Liverpool's winning fourth goal in their Champions League semi-final against Barcelona, stemming from the audacious corner taken by Terence Trent D'Arby (or something like that) wins that plaudit from me. Young Trent's quick thinking, elegant deception and outstanding execution, turning and striking the ball accurately without pause for balance or more than a glance at his target, the woefully unmarked striker Origi, was truly outstanding. We see fabulous strikes from distance almost as a matter of routine. Both goals had the merit of being scored in high pressure situations with much at stake. But Alexander Arnold's assist was highly unusual, at least outside of playground games between the sassy, streetwise kids and the wet behind the ears innocents. Liverpool made Barcelona, with all their experience, look like naive schoolboys. Mind, I was trained that, even if it looks like the corner, throw-in or whatever isn't about to be taken, go and mark your man NOW while it's easy and then it's so much easier to keep him marked when the action starts.

I'm now left feeling that Liverpool richly deserve something from this season and so I guess I have to shout for them in their Champions League final against Spurs (I still tend to call it the European Cup, after all neither Liverpool nor Spurs are "champions"). I've nothing against Spurs, but it wouldn't seem right for Liverpool to go without a trophy after the way they have performed. I would have said the same about City, by the way. I think.


Confirmation - I'm definitely Virgin

More on my conversion from Radio 2 to Virgin.... I've been listening while doing household chores - isn't retirement wonderful?  Last week Eddy Temple-Morris was on holiday and Tim Cocker, usually on in the evenings, was on. Tim's fine, no problem. But this week Eddy was back and he delivered.

Predictably he played the Spin Doctors Two Princes and of course the Stereophonics Dakota, both among my very favourite tracks, so as always there was a large dose of the familiar, along with the currently obligatory, if wimpy, Lewis Capaldi but also (another regular) Guns N' Roses Paradise City. So, overall, what's not to like? Rock on!

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

He can whistle

I was listening to Labour's shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, on Adrian Chiles's 5Live radio show this morning. Gardiner is a Question Time regular, perhaps because he is comparatively eloquent and unscary for a Labour front bencher. (John McDonnell, in contrast, can be eloquent but that just makes him scarier). Chiles was challenging Gardiner about the story carried in the newspapers today about Jeremy Corbyn having written a foreward to a new edition of J.A. Hobson's 1902 book Imperialism: a study. Jezza wrote his piece in 2011 before he was elected Labour leader and had to worry about the optics of calling the work a "great tome" despite its anti-semitic components, such as conspiracy theories about the Rothschild banking family and alleging that finance in Europe at the time was controlled "by men of a single and peculiar race". In recent times Labour members have been suspended for promulgating such tripe.

Gardiner naturally defended his leader, saying that journalists presumably spent time trawling through everything Corbyn has ever said to find things to discredit him (er, don't lefty journalists do that to Tories as well, Barry? I presume you won't be joining in any resulting clamour for Tory heads in the future). He also made the point that Hobson was "of his time" and that, while some of his views can't be defended, he was an important writer, influential in the evolution of  socialism. Indeed, according to some sources (OK, Wikipedia) Hobson influenced Lenin.

I'm not a great fan of Chiles's, but he bit back on this politely and with some precision, saying that these days that doesn't seem to matter to many people. I think the Oxford/Rhodes and Bristol/Colston cause celebres were mentioned. Gardiner tried to ignore this point and waffled on fluently.

Now I actually agree with that argument. I find calls to airbrush people who have done or produced great things  from history because of their views or behaviour unseemly. For example, the calls to ban Michael Jackson's music from the airwaves. I can understand why people might feel queasy. Indeed, I decided not to go to the Jackson West End musical Thriller currently touring the provinces after the recent TV programme on his paedophilic tendencies, though my decision was partly because I could see hardly any tickets had been sold so the atmosphere would have been flat. I feel this way partly because these calls for bans, redolent of the awful no-platforming tendency of university students, amount to selective censorship. I've written previously about the fact that we don't hear any such calls regarding  Wagner, Chuck Berry and others who have exhibited questionable ethics. OK, Berry's music isn't often heard these days but his status recovered long ago from his conviction for taking a 14 year old girl across state boundaries in the USA for the purpose of sex. There is a de facto ban on Wagner's music at the Israeli opera but that is a soft target - BMW and Mercedes cars aren't banned.

Leaving aside the question of whether you can separate the person from the body of work they have created, any such bans are effectively random acts of censorship. They are probably counter-productive, it would be better for people to be told about the good and bad in folk. The benefits of Colston's philanthropy could be coupled with explanation of the source of his wealth, doing something that was legal but abhorrent. Otherwise the slavery story doesn't get told either.

After all, it's a bit like saying we won't teach our children about the Romans because they had slaves.

Chiles put words into Gardiner's mouth, to the effect that he would presumably have clarified that there were only some aspects of Hobson's work that he was commending. It made me reflect that I hold the simultaneously contradictory view that everyone is worth listening to and has points of view I can learn from, combined with the belief that some people are fundamentally unsound and not to be trusted about anything, ever. Tony Benn would be an example of someone I would consider to be wrong about absolutely everything, confident that I would be right 80% of the time. As Hobson influenced Lenin he fits in that category like a glove. Along with Jezza.

So I look forward to all sorts of lefties noting that Margaret Thatcher wasn't all bad and had some really good policies. Ha!

Chiles started and ended the interview by commenting that he had heard Gardiner whistle very tunefully and he insisted Gardiner perform, even though the 1030 news bulletin was already 6 or 7 minutes late. Gardiner reluctantly obliged and, once he's got his tempo, a remarkably tuneful - almost soulful - version of Flower of Scotland  emerged from the radio. He certainly can whistle, as well as weasel.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

A Grim Fairy Tale

The Easter sunshine, combined with the Article 50 extension so generously granted by the EU (I'm being sarcastic on the latter of course) seemed to have lifted the spirits of many. With Parliament in recess Brexit has been out of the headlines and everyone seems in a much better mood, for now at least.

Not quite everyone, though - Thursday's edition of Question Time was one of the most fractious I've ever seen, with Brexiteers and Remainers shouting at each other and climate change worriers shouting at both of them for being preoccupied with a parochial issue rather than global warming.

This in the week that the Extinction Rebellion protesters continued to make a nuisance of themselves in London, contributing to pollution by bringing traffic to a standstill in their bid to have the climate treated as an "emergency" without ever making clear what they meant. I couldn't help thinking that they all looked rather comfortably upper middle class, as well as apparently 100% white. (I think "hideously" is the adjective, unless Greg Dyke copyrighted it). And what did I find in last week's Sunday Times Home section? A two page feature on the house in a village near St Albans owned by Emily Spry, an Extinction Rebellion campaigner arrested in London the previous week. It's a "passivhaus", a home that meets the highest global standards of energy efficiency and uses about 10% of the normal energy required for heating due to extremely high insulation and airtightness standards. Emily and her husband had been looking for 10 years to find a suitable site for their first home of their own for them and their two children. Not the average first time buyers, mind - the 10 acre site cost £1.15 million to buy in 2014. They demolished the existing 1960s prefab bungalow (eh? on a ten acre site!) and built their house for a cost of £800,000. To be fair this is described as the "total project cost" so might include the planting of 1700 trees around the edges of the property. While Spry obviously practices at least some of what she preaches, I suspect only some aspects of her project are relevant to folk with less resources at their disposal.

Meanwhile a 16 year old Swedish girl had leading British politicians grovelling in apology, though for what I wasn't quite sure given the UK's record in emissions reduction compared with most countries. Greta Thumbling (I might not have that name quite right, but climate change is a grim story and almost certainly not a fairy tale) seemed to feel even more entitled than the London street protesters, to the extent of "empty chairing" the prime minister for being so discourteous as to not  come hot-foot in response to her presumptious summons. Wee Greta "wouldn't accept" a stand-in for her chat with party leaders Corbyn, Cable and Lucas. (Good grief, what a sorry bunch!)

Unfortunately there is something about Greta that has me desperately trying to repress an unseemly desire to - and I'm sorry but I can't think of a more subtle way to put this - punch her lights out. Not literally of course, but it's the only figure of speech that comes to mind, however inappropriate. When I guiltily confessed this to Mrs H she admitted Greta made her feel exactly the same way. Though probably I should actually make Michael Gove the target of my ire for his obsequious response to the self-appointed generation Z empress.

I'm not the only one to dissent from all the fawning over Greta. Stephen Glover, writing in Thursday's Daily Mail, also felt it unfair to call the UK's achievements in reducing carbon emissions "beyond absurd" when we have reduced our 1990 level of emissions by 44% while even Germany, let alone China, has continued to build coal fired power stations. The UK burns hardly any coal and will phase out coal for electricity by 2025. Germany got 35% of its electricity from coal in 2018 and has set a target of 2038. Glover also thought it ludicrous to blame Britain for it's "mind blowing historical carbon debt" when the potential for harm was not known. Glover remarked that Greta's policies, like those of Extinction Rebellion, would inevitably lead to job losses and a diminution of wealth. Besides quibbling that, other than being against things, I'm not sure Greta or her ilk have anything that could be called "policies", I would only add that the job losses would be, to borrow a phrase, on an industrial scale. As Glover says, the world is far more complex than the Extinction Rebellion mob and the well-intentioned though naive Ms Thunberg appear to believe.

Iain Martin, in the Times, also didn't care for being lectured by Greta, in particular her suggestion that our switch from coal was driven by a 2001 EU clean air directive rather than climate policies, accusing her of "bad history" and making misleading absolutist statements as do many Green populists, prone to presenting complex problems as having simple solutions. He criticised one of Thunberg's excitable supporters for calling for the instant destruction of capitalism as the only way to save the planet - an "epically terrible idea" as it is capitalism that has lifted humanity out of poverty. "Concern for the environment should not mean we cease to think critically and calmly. Our descendants will not thank us if we wreck the economy and reverse prosperity. The panic recommended by Thunberg — and the kneejerk policy that would follow — is an irresponsible way to approach a complex problem. We should be alert. We should take action. We are" said Martin. Hmm. We probably aren't doing enough and we are doing much more than most of the rest of the world.

At least, unlike Emma Thomson who flew from  Los Angeles to join the London protests, Greta Thunberg travels around by train, though that is not always cleaner than by air. An eminence grise of the rail industry once said to me "Phil, a full train is an environmental miracle but an empty train is an environmental catastrophe", a comment I often reflect on when I see empty train after empty train trundling past on our local branch line.

What none of these commentators on either side of the argument - Greta, her stroppy Extinction Rebellion chums or any of those criticising her (at least that I have read) - have done is to offer any opinion on what we should do differently, at least in any detail. One of this week's panel on Question Time did - and it contributed to the row. I don't know why they have folk like actors on QT - this week they had John Rhys-Davies whose claim to have sound opinions is that he appeared in Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones films. He speaks gratingly slowly and comes across as a dinosaur who doesn't care about trendy niceties such as gender appropriate terms. However, he said two things that I believe are axiomatically true: we won't halt global warming if the world's population continues to grow and we won't reduce carbon emissions drastically while enabling the world to achieve western style living standards without large scale deployment of nuclear power.

These views caused an unholy row with accusations that Rhys-Davies wanted some kind of people cull which was not what he said. The population of Africa is projected to quadruple to more than 4 billion by the end of the century. The Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is twice the size of Cornwall and more than half the terrestrial species of Africa can be found in it. It's difficult to see how such areas can remain protected and the world's biodiversity can be maintained if that population growth occurs. But why should African countries forgo expansion and improvement in living standards?

The population issue is an inconvenient truth and so, despite the growth in deployment of renewables, is the case for nuclear power. Renewables cannot be harvested without limit and, until and unless batteries (which have their own environmental issues) make huge leaps in capability, their intermittency remains a limit on what can be achieved. One day perhaps nuclear fusion will provide the answer, though I fear it is a technology that will remain a few decades away for many more decades yet. Until it does renewables combined with nuclear fission is the most effective solution.

Rhys-Davies's suggestion left Caroline Lucas shaking her head, but then I take it as virtually read that anything Caroline Lucas espouses is questionable at best. The disappointing thing is that none of this is new. I first read up about what was then known as the "Greenhouse effect" in the mid 1980s. Admittedly I was working in a nuclear industry that was making the case that coal was expensive and polluting and that nuclear and renewables, combined with energy efficiency were complementary options for clean, cost-effective and secure electricity supplies. In wanting to reduce the coal burn we were pushing on an open door even then with the UK government, though that also had a lot to do with Arthur Scargill and the recent miners' strikes. At the time onshore wind power was seen as the likeliest and by far the most cost-effective of the renewables and so it has proved. The UK, having pioneered nuclear power but got hung up on ensuring competition in the 1960s (the result of which was a plethora of designs, no standardisation and no economies of scale) got it right in the 1980s, opting to build the water reactor at Sizewell B which was meant to be the first in a series of of four identical power stations. But in the 1990s the Conservatives got hung up on privatising the industry and, just as Sizewell B came on stream successfully, the nuclear industry slid into the limbo that it is still in, with Hinkley Point C proceeding only with a remarkably generous contract for the electricity price and the projects in Cumbria and Anglesey on hold because of the financial risk to the stakeholders. The reason is primarily because we have lost the ability to bring in large construction projects to any kind of budget and so the financial risk is too great. Not just nuclear - look at Crossrail, HS2 and even Tottenham Hotspur's stadium. The Spurs ground was meant to cost £400 million and take 3 years to build. Half way through costs had escalated to £750 million. It ended up overrunning by nearly a year and costing probably £1 billion. Which isn't a surprise - the rebuild of Wembley Stadium cost £830 million against a budget of £450 million. This is an issue we have to get to grips with if we are going ever going to have first class infrastructure in the UK.

The fairy tale is to believe that emissions can be reduced as quickly as Thunberg and the Greens want without plummeting living standards and to do it on any sensible timescale without using nuclear power, the one large scale, proven technology that, combined with battery technology for vehicles, could actually make the most difference in a reasonable timescale.

To be fair to Greta Thunberg she doesn't pretend to have the solutions, she is putting pressure on politicians to do that. The problem is that it needs a high degree of international co-operation, as Vince Cable said on Question Time: so much easier to say than to achieve, of course.

I would ague that Greta is doing it in the wrong way. After all, Greta, your own country, Sweden, emits more CO2 per capita than the world average and only 10% less than the UK. The largest CO2 emitters are China and the United States, responsible for over 40% of global emissions. You aren't going to get anywhere without them. And, in terms of setting an example, many of the highest per capita countries are, not surprisingly, in the Gulf. But Germany's total emissions are more than double the UK's and a massive 70% higher per head of population. Here are some examples***:

Country
2017 Total Fossil CO2 emissions,  
M tonnes/yr
2017 Fossil CO2 per capita
Tonnes/cap/yr
China
10877
7.7
United States
5107
15.7
Germany
797
9.7
UK
379
5.7
Belgium
104
9.1
Qatar
98
37.1
Sweden
51
5.1
Luxembourg
10
16.4
World total/average
37077
4.9

You will see that, despite Greta's precious 2001 EU Clean Air directive, EU countries like Germany, The Netherlands and Luxembourg set a very bad example. Admittedly, as Greta pointed out, these stats exclude aviation and shipping but guess what - the relative rankings might not change that much.

The UK has made huge progress in reducing CO2 and is talking about the next steps while other countries, notably China, are still building new coal fired plants and other large countries, like Germany are still talking of how to wean themselves off coal. Germany's utility RWE  had plans for more coal power stations but in the last few days it seems to have been sufficiently embarrassed to change that policy. Germany had a very successful nuclear industry which it has all but extinguished, relying too much on coal and Russian gas. Without nuclear they will be frighteningly reliant on the latter as they finally ditch coal.

So Greta, why are you badgering lickspittle Michael Gove? Why aren't you and your Extinction Rebellion chums protesting outside the embassies of China, the US, the Gulf countries and Germany? Xi Jingping might not see you but go and harangue Angela Merkel. If you campaigned for nuclear power and a debate on population control, together with how the developed countries could help developing countries improve living standards while protecting the environment, I would find it much easier to have sympathy with your cause.

I suspect that the degree of international co-operation required to make the co-ordinated changes needed will be impossible to achieve. Unless there are some compensatory mechanisms we don't yet know about CO2, global temperatures and the acidification of the oceans will continue to increase. But that shouldn't stop us doing the practical and cost effective things we can. Greta's contribution to awareness doesn't actually seem to me to take us any further forward towards that. Grim.



* I admire young Greta's idealism - but why do our fawning politicians lose all reason over climate change? Stephen Glover, Daily Mail 25 April 2019.
** We don't need climate lectures from Greta. Iain Martin, The Times 25 April 2019
*** For the full summary by country of data by country from the EU EDGAR database see Wikipedia at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Ole's right - City did kick players

Manchester City clearly deserved their win at Manchester United tonight which moves them to within touching distance of retaining the Premier League title. But not just with pure skill. Vincent Kompany, who I've often described as a red card waiting to happen, was a red card that could easily have happened in the first half. And David Silva, who I facetiously said earlier today had become the "complete team player" by adding, shall we say, cynicism to his game, should certainly have been sent off, kicking an opponent with some force and apparently deliberately in an aerial challenge that Gary Neville assumed the referee could not have seen clearly.

None of this matters too much, just don't try to tell me City are somehow fundamentally different from great teams of the past, or Guardiola's approach is some radically purer form of football.

United held City well in the first half but lost control early in the second when Bernardo Silva briefly showed, with quick feet far too good for Luke Shaw, why some pundits (though not this one) think he's been City's best player this season. Leroy Sane made it safe with a firm shot that embarrassed David de Gea, who seemed to hesitate over whether to try to make the save with hand or foot, confirming again that his standing has slipped a long way from the "possibly the best goalkeeper in the world" status of a couple of years ago. The match showed conclusively that he's not the best keeper in Manchester at the moment.

The runs that City and Liverpool have been on have been remarkable. City have reeled off eleven straight wins in the league. Liverpool have won 10 and drawn 4 since they lost at Manchester City on 3 January. If City do retain the league those draws would prove expensive, though equally the results in the head to head games (a draw and a win for City) could be argued to have been the key factor.

Whatever happens both teams must certainly pass the total of 89 points that has always hitherto been enough to win the Premier League (City have 89, Liverpool 88, both with 3 matches to play). Leaving the question of when and how the gulf in class between these two teams and the rest can be bridged. It wouldn't be a surprise if we were in for a few years of duopoly, such as we had in the 1990s with Manchester United and Arsenal.

Fortunately these things never last forever. At least until UEFA refine their ludicrous FFP rules so as to guarantee the outcome permanently, thus killing the game.


Ole's right - City do kick players

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer warmed up the atmosphere for tonight's crucial Manchester derby, which could easily decide the destination of the Premier League title between Anfield and the Etihad, by saying that City "snap at your heels and kick you". This has produced a degree of disbelief from many commentators and a hurt response from Pep Guardiola, saying he "didn't like" Solskjaer's comments and his team "is not built for that, not at all".

Now the stats clearly show that City commit fewer fouls and get fewer yellow cards than just about anyone. But the stats only tell part of the story. Over a year ago I noted that City are masters of all aspects of the game, including gamesmanship and the dark arts (see The Most Cynical Team In The Premier League? 3 April 2018).  I'd picked up that Jonathan Norcroft of the Sunday Times had reported that the chairman of another Premier League club noted that his team had so little possession against City that their opportunities came down to eight or nine counter-attacks "but they fouled us on six of them, so what did we have left?" As I said at the time "Fouls at three-quarters of the dangerous transitions in possession - wow".

So I watched Everton's game against Manchester City at Goodison in early April last year with that point specifically in mind. City had an embarrassing 82% of the possession and scored after only four minutes. But soon after that Kyle Walker deliberately (and painfully) clipped Leighton Baines's ankle near Everton's box to prevent a quick break. Before City scored their second goal, after only 12 minutes, Leroy Sane interrupted Everton's best passing spell with a deliberate handball just inside his own half. Neither foul led to a yellow card. So this was in the first 12 minutes of a game City dominated. On other occasions I've noticed the silky skilled David Silva stopping a quick break with a cynical professional foul, remarking that he had made himself the complete team player. 

Of course Solskjaer was trying to influence the referee for tonight's match. And quite right too, I've commented many times that the top teams get preferential treatment, probably subconciously, from referees. But don't try to tell me that City don't get up to these things, don't cite their low number of cards as evidence and pull the other one, Pep.

Solskjaer knows that United will need to get some breaks to get a result tonight. Breaks in terms of good fortune, rub of the green etc and probably breaks in terms of counter attacks. United are equipped to score goals on the break with Rashford, Martial and yes, Lukaku (well he used to do it at Everton). It may come down to a few occasions in the match when United could really harm City. But if City stop them at source  - and are allowed to get away with it by the ref - United's chances will be much smaller.  Though don't rule out United's chances of a goal from a set piece - after all Chris Smalling won the derby at City last year that way, United have a team with quite a few big lads and any team, including City, can be vulnerable especially the way defences line up with suicidally high defensive lines at free kicks these days.

The title race is one of the most dramatic in many years, with City and Liverpool on remarkable runs as they battle it out. The "race" for the last top four slot (looking at the fixtures I'd already given third place to Tottenham before last night's win against Brighton, haven't they coped well without Kane?) is close but the contenders - Arsenal, Chelsea and United - all seem to have been bidding for the Europa League slot, so weak has been their form. Nevertheless a very interesting Premier League season, however it pans out. 

Whoever triumphs between City and Liverpool will clearly have deserved it, even if Liverpool have possibly had more luck at key moments with their late and fortunate winners at home against Everton and Tottenham. Even I, for whom City is my least favourite club (I hold a grudge about a hooliganism incident at Maine Road in 1972) and Liverpool - well they are essentially the anti-Christ - would have to hold my hands up and grudgingly offer respect.

Even if it hurts. Just like having your ankle clipped does, Pep.

Like a Virgin?

sang Madonna and, as I continue my steady slide away from the BBC, I find that I do like Virgin radio.

I tuned my nifty wireless speaker to stream Virgin Radio soon after the much hyped launch of the Chris Evans breakfast show in January. Now I've always liked Evans, especially when I was regularly driving at that time of day. I find his enthusiasm infectious. But listening at home is different. His Virgin show has too many guests, too much chat and so, despite the lack of adverts on his programme (it's sponsored by Sky) not enough music to hold my attention when I'm at home. Its a drivetime experience for me and I'm not frequently making  other than short car journeys at that time of day now.

I compared Evans's new show (like The Who's  boss in Won't Get Fooled Again - much like the old one) with the slightly manic and occasionally desperate sounding Zoe Ball on Radio 2. I quite like Zoe on TV, not so much on Radio. In the first few days Evans was on Virgin the music he played was more to my taste, but the Radio 2 producers seemed to respond promptly to feedback as Zoe's show's playlist seemed to rapidly evolve closer to that of Evans. Nothing to choose between them.

Of course the reason the breakfast slot is considered so important on radio and TV is that, in theory, once folk have tuned in to a station they are more likely to stay with it through the day. Until we see audience stats hearsay indicates that might not be happening with Virgin and one can infer from the recent slew of full page newspaper ads for the Chris Evans show that listeners aren't steadily building for Virgin. Despite the growth of internet radio it seems a lot of radio listeners don't have or won't find the means to tune in to a station that isn't on the traditional FM/AM wavelengths.

However, when I tried out the Evans show I did stay tuned to Virgin for the following show, by Eddy Temple-Morris - and I'm hooked, permanently tuned to Virgin in the house. Unfortunately in my car the DAB signal keeps dropping out (and Mrs H's newer car mysteriously only has FM, must have been part of a ripoff expensive option). One can see why the powers that be have had to extend the life of FM radio -  it's not just us laggard oldies, DAB just isn't reliable enough.

The reason I like Virgin - and Temple-Morris in particular - is simple: the music. There's a very playlist feel, with some songs and artists coming up fairly frequently. But if they're things you like that's not a problem.

I've listened loyally to Radio 2 since gradually shifting from Radio 1 some 20-30 years ago. I think it was the arrival of Chris Moyles at Radio 1 that finally made me complete the shift. Doing a fair amount of daytime driving at the time with my job I was quite surprised to find I loved the R2 Terry Wogan and Ken Bruce shows. The music choice, heavily biased to golden oldies from the 50s onwards (a typical example would be Dionne Warwick's Walk On By) appealed, though the treatment of the punk/new wave era (as classic as 50s American Diner and 60s Britpop for me) as some kind of black hole always grated. The exception that proved that rule was The Stranglers admittedly mellow Golden Brown, an R2 staple over the decades that had been their record of the week on its release and which Wogan frequently played. The "features" in the two shows, particularly the gloriously smutty Janet and John yarns on Wogan and Bruce's Popmaster quiz were addictive.

R2 clearly couldn't stay in a 60s to 80s focussed time warp for ever, the playlist had to evolve. For some years now I've disliked that evolution. I'm not at all sure what audience demographic they are trying to appeal to. Younger than me - fair enough, though I'm not that much above their average listener age. While Ball's playlist has gone a bit rockier, Bruce plays a lot of pallid, sugary disco music which doesn't hit any kind of spot at 1030am whether you're driving around or in your kitchen.

In contrast Temple Morris plays rock music - admittedly middle of the road rock music - with a smattering of current and recent chart material. Much more beat and he has me singing (well, shouting) along in the car to Oasis or bopping around my kitchen, for example trying to demonstrate that you can do a quickstep to The Pretenders Don't Get Me Wrong. (Don't try this at home. Aljaz from Strictly can do it that fast, I can't).

While doing some domestic tasks a few weeks ago I noted what Temple Morris played to identify the range and median release date of his playlist. Over a 25 song sample the spread was 1973 (Credence's Bad Moon Rising) to 2019 (three songs including Lewis Capaldi's Someone You Loved) with a median date of 1993.  This featured 15 songs that I know well and 10 that I didn't know much or at all; quite a pleasing mix. The songs I know and like included classic tracks by Fleetwood Mac, Keane, U2, Eurythmics, Toploader, Nirvana and Joan Jett topped off with Oasis's Look Back In Anger (but you couldn't possibly listen for many hours without hearing an Oasis classic), Thin Lizzy's The Boys Are Back In Town and The Clash's London Calling. There was Linkin Park, Aerosmith, Coldplay, Spin Doctors and the Stereophonics Dakota, which I've heard played several times since and is a very Virgin track. Now some of that list could pop up on R2 - as does ELO's Mr Blue Sky which Eddy also played in this particular sample - but even if a lot of it could be heard on R2 at some time, the mix is very different.

And checking against R2, while Bruce was playing George Harrison's My Sweet Lord, a worthy song I can hear about once a year without boredom setting in, Temple Morris was playing the Spin Doctors Two Princes, one of my favourite singalongs and one that I can hear with pleasure at least once a week. And if you listen all week I imagine it would indeed come up more than once, such is the Virgin playlist, though still much more varied than my beloved 60s pirate stations where the hot tracks would come round once an hour.

The other great thing about Eddy TM's show - and all the Virgin shows other than the discursive Evans - is that chat is generally minimal and, while there are ads they are brief, much shorter than on most other commercial stations.

There are three Virgin radio stations - Virgin Radio, Virgin Radio Anthems and Virgin Radio Chilled. At some times of day (e.g. while Evans is on) all three broadcast the same programme. From what I've heard the Anthems (what they anyway?) and Chilled flavours don't hit the spot for me.

I thought the name Temple-Morris rang a bell - and it does. Eddy has had a long career as a DJ and record producer with a lot of radio and some TV on his CV. His full name is The Honourable Edward Owen Kayvan Temple-Morris. How so? His dad was Baron Temple-Morris, before his enoblement Peter Temple-Morris MP. And that's what rings the bell: Temple-Morris senior was famous for crossing the floor of the House. He was MP for Leominster from 1974 to 2001, standing for the Tories at every election. However, he quit the Tory whip in 1997 after being suspended for questioning his own committment to the Conservatives. He crossed the floor and joined Labour in 1998, stood down as an MP in 2001 and was made a life peer where he sat on the Labour benches. Eddy and his dad come from Cardiff. Why the esoteric Kayvan middle name? Well it's a Persian name meaning Saturn. Temple-Morris senior's wife and Eddy's mum was Iranian.

Anyway, Eddy might well be the only radio DJ with his own family coat of arms. Whatever, his show rocks. The only part of the Ken Bruce show I sometimes listen to now is Popmaster.

P.S. Apart from Zoe Ball most of this is about male DJs. While I also quite like Sara Cox, I have a problem with women broadcasters and I don't think it's sexist. Until and unless I get hearing aids (and even then, probably) I just can't hear them as well, especially in the car. It's also why I'm not fond of female sports presenters on the radio. Sorry, ladies, none of you can penetrate the ether quite like Ken Bruce, whose dulcet tones I can hear with clarity. The reason I know this is age releated and not  subliminal sexism is that 1) I used to like listening to Annie Nightingale back in the day and 2) Mrs H agrees with me