28 June 2010

Should football be more like boxing?

This will probably be the last posting on football for some time... I don't run a sports blog very well, as I simply don't know enough. But I wanted to draw attention to an interesting article by Simon Kuper in the Guardian, "Fifa corrupt? is the Pope a Catholic?"

Extraordinary allegations of vote-rigging for the election of FIFA president Sepp Blatter (he who is opposed to 4th official video replays in games), match-fixing and intimidation by FIFA of anyone who dares to speak out against corruption.

I should stress that I have absolutely no idea whether any of this stuff is true. But even if halfway true, it seems to me that the best course of action for any countries who think the current system stinks would be to form a breakaway international football association and hold their own rebel world cup.

FIFA is like any unaccountable monopolist: that power corrupts, and in the absence of any democratic mechanism to hold them to account, a bit of competition would work wonders.

I've always liked the fact that boxing has about 3 or 4 separate world titles as it makes things somewhat more messy and unpredictable - which is the essence of generating any interest in sport, really. Maybe football will end up going the same way. It would be much more exciting than what's going on at the moment, anyhow.

27 June 2010

Willie's still got it

I just wanted to say a couple of positive words about Willie Nelson, the subject of a very early Giroscope post back in 2006, back in the days when the much-missed Barney Ruddle was still writing for us.

Willie played Glastonbury this year - just seen the footage and it was f***ing EXCELLENT. It was basically a small club set in a stadium venue - rough and ready, superb vibe. I recommend that y'all catch this one while it's still on iPlayer.

F***ing lame!

The end of an extraordinary week which has seen two events of staggering lameness - the Coalition's neo-Thatcherite, slasher horrorshow budget (which may well be the harbinger of the death of the Liberal Democrats given the evidence in The Observer on the number of supporters deserting them) and England soccer team stepping into the abyss with a performance of staggering ineptitude, losing 4-1 to Germany.

The cries of "we wuz robbed" have predictably arisen after a clear England goal by Frank Lampard (which would have taken them to level pegging on 2-2) was disallowed by the assistant referee, who said it didn't cross the line when it certainly did. However this just seems like an excuse to avoid focusing on the fact that England were utter cack. Is there anyone out there who seriously believes England should have won this game? Get a lobotomy. They were good for about 10 minutes and utter shite for 80.

Fabio Capello won't resign... well, would a change of manager really make any difference? Four weeks ago everyone seemed to think this guy was a genius. Is it his fault that players of the calibre of Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney can't pass the ball or put together any kind of fluid attacking play? I'm not sure. The media have a lot less of a clue even than the England management, in my book.

The one thing I couldn't understand was the presence of David Beckham. A "bridge" between the manager and the players? Why was one needed? Perhaps he was only there for the beer.

A more interesting question is whether there should be video replay technology involved in games to stop crappy refereeing decisions affecting the outcome. I'm not sure. FIFA says it would slow the pace of the game down. But rugby union uses it and it takes a few seconds, at most. So it seems a pretty weak reason not to have it.

It's not really something that's unfair on a macro level, though (as opposed to in an individual incident), as both teams have to put up with the absence of video replay, so essentially it's just another random factor. And in this case it would be hard to argue it determined the result - just made it 4-1 rather than 4-2 IMHO.

F*** it all anyway. I'm a casual fan of football at best - enjoying the Glastonbury footage a lot more at the moment. Dizzee Rascal with Guthrie Govan - now that's rock'n'roll.

23 June 2010

England and the curse of dimensionality

The mention this morning on BBC 6Music that Val Kilmer is to set up a B&B (?!?) reminded me of a review of Batman Forever where the comment was made, "the problem with Kilmer's Batman is that the role requires two-dimensional acting from an actor who is barely capable of one."

And that seemed to me a fine metaphor for England-Slovenia today. I have not been to Slovenia but by the accounts of friends and family who have done, it is a fantastic place, and I wish them all the best in today's game. To win, England will require at least a two-dimensional approach; but against Algeria they were at best one-dimensional, and perhaps still lower.

One of the advantages of being self-employed is that you can bunk off to watch football anytime you feel like it. I rarely do, but today will be an exception.

Will England bounce back, as in 1990? Or will they fall apart with the incredible lameness of France?


initial thoughts on the Budget

I will write a longer piece as and when I get time, but in brief: a real slasher horrorshow of a Budget, delivered in the most snotty tone imaginable. I listened on the radio this time - couldn't bear to watch.

The good thing about it is that, assuming the next Labour leader can walk and chew gum at the same time, he/she has the next election sewn up. Because these measures are gonna be just unbelievably unpopular.

But anyway, more later.

21 June 2010

Krugman nails lies, idiocy and malice aplenty

As Matt of BHaPPY put it to me last week:

"Why is it that I only understand economics when I read this bloke?"

Simple - because Krugman (and several other honourable mentions like Joe Stiglitz and Martin Wolf) are talking sense on Keynesian fiscal stimulus, whereas most politicians - particularly in Europe - don't have a fucking clue.

We have somehow gone from a situation where fiscal stimulus was patently inadequate in Europe, but at least it was being done a bit, to a new and dangerous phase when governments are intent on creating a new Great Depression by cutting spending when the economy is least able to cope with a fall in demand.

Led of course by a couple of twerps called Dave and George. To be honest Gilbert and George would be a better bet for a PM/Chancellor duo. At least they're not malicious.

My advice to politicians if we want to get out of this one alive is to keep reading Paul's blog, combine two parts Paul with one part Richard Murphy three times daily follow advice three times daily and swallow hard.

Why is it I only understand rock guitar when I hear this bloke?

19 June 2010

...and another classic

England-Algeria: hilariously bad. Kids, I haven't laughed this much since Ray Wilkins threw the ball at the ref in Mexico 1986. Marina Hyde in the Guardian sums it up well: "almost comically unwatchable".

No "almost" about it in fact, folks: this was pants-wettingly lame.

Topped off by a hilarious outburst from Wayne Rooney - the Phil Collins of English football (to be fair, probably extremely frustrated at not being 100% match-fit): "it's nice to see your own fans booing you". Well sorry mate but what do you expect based on that performance. I guess the fans would love to lie and say it was great, but it was in fact piss poor.

Based on this evidence, if we encounter even mildly good opposition, let alone class teams like Argentina or Mexico, we are toast.

But we may well not even get far enough to find out. On this form, Slovenia will probably beat us. And that would add up to the lamest first round effort for England since the infamous Euro 1992 tournament: with Capello becoming the new "turnip" hate figure. We hope something will turn up but what we get is turnip... actually I think Graham Taylor was underrated, the poor bastard.

Although I am too young to remember it first hand, the public and media reaction to performances like this seems to recall the super-lame Don Revie era of the mid-seventies. While Kevin Keegan is often held up as the archetypal England manager I would make the case for Revie: great on paper, a bust on the pitch, an enigma to media and players alike, and finally pissing off for a big cheque at the United Arab Emirates.

If England lose the final group game I expect a delegation from UAE to be landing at Heathrow to meet Mr Capello with a Very Big Cheque forthwith.

I will miss Fabio's facial expressions though. Top class. If it was decided on facial expressions we would already have won the tournament.

Actually there's method in England's madness this time out. If you can't win, at least lose badly. That's a lot more exciting for fans and pundits alike. No-one really remembers World Cups 2002 or 2006, when we were OK but not brilliant; but people do remember the farce of Euro 2000, when we was bloody awful. Something To Put The Boot Into. That's what football in this country is about. I don't really like it, but it does make me laugh.

16 June 2010

A perfect start to England's World Cup

Apologies for radio silence over the last week. At the weekend I went to my best friend's stag do in Norwich, which I'd organised, via Thetford where we ran around with lasers against a bunch of 14-year olds. For someone of my age, being "killed" by a kid who looks like Lookyboop is slightly embarrassing. But never mind.

Since then I've been up against so many deadlines at work that I probably shouldn't be taking the necessary 5 minutes out to write this email. But it's nice to have a break.

I loved the England-USA game in the World Cup. It was the classic England start... an OK performance marred by dodgy goalkeeping (a perennial bugbear for us over the years) and bizarre managerial facial expressions (again, something of a standard for us.) Sadly as it was just a group match there was no penalty shoot-out, otherwise I bet we'd have lost out with a real howler.

The same things seem to recur every time in the World Cup, regardless of players or managers. England and Spain always underperform, Germany always overperform. Amusing but a bit dull really.

My prediction? We'll draw or maybe scrape a win in our second match before thrashing the opposition in our final group game and going through to a second round match with Germany, which we'll lose on penalties. A German bistro in somewhere like Coventry will be vandalised by English morons. And so it goes.

08 June 2010

What's wrong with getting a time machine and assassinating Margaret Thatcher?

John McDonnell is having to eat humble pie over a remark that he made at a Labour leadership hustings - that he wanted to go back in time to the 1980s to "assassinate Thatcher". Why is this controversial? It seems obviously the right thing to do, if one could.

It's not always the most effective technique - we could have ended up with Norman Tebbit in charge instead. But if a more moderate Tory - Heath or Whitelaw, for example, had been in charge rather than a rabid right-wing lunatic, many, many lives could have been saved.

It's a less extreme version of the dilemma faced by Christopher Walken's character in "The Dead Zone" (a classic which I implore you to watch if you haven't already). If you know that someone is going to precipitate global armageddon if they come to power, and you have the chance to take them out before they do so, is that wrong? It's a hypothetical situation to be sure.

But then so's getting a time machine and assassinating Thatcher. And to be fair, Thatcher didn't start World War III (Galtieri wasn't a big enough player).

She did a f*** of a lot of damage though. Jesus Christ.

New Balls, please? No thanks

Michael Heseltine is not, and never will be, one of my favourite politicians, despite his legendary status in some quarters. Like Kenneth Clarke, he is a dodgy misanthrope sheltering behind a warm and cuddly public image. (Although to be fair, Clarke at least enjoys jazz, which counts for something).

However, Heseltine did produce a classic quote in the mid-1990s with his attack on the mention of "post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory" in a Gordon Brown speech. The line had been provided by Ed Balls, and Heseltine produced the classic putdown: "it wasn't Brown, it was Balls". Great days.

Ed has since gone on to produce a lot of Balls in his own right, but reached new heights of cheap right-wing punkishness with an extremely unpleasant Observer article where he says that:

Within the EU, free movement of goods and services works to our advantage. But free movement of labour is another matter entirely.

Why's that, Ed? Apparently because:

There have been real economic gains from the arrival of young, hard-working migrants from eastern Europe over the past six years. But there has also been a direct impact on the wages, terms and conditions of too many people – in communities ill-prepared to deal with the reality of globalisation, including the one I represent. The result was, as many of us found in the election, our arguments on immigration were not good enough. We faced rising anti-European sentiment with small parties claiming they could seal the borders.

Really, Ed? Has there been a massive negative impact on wages, terms and conditions of people? If so, how come every single empirical study of the impact of migration from the EU on UK wages and/or employment has found almost no impact - and in some cases positive impacts? I know this research extremely well - I've done some of it, in fact - and I also know that Ed Balls is talking out of his arsehole on this issue. Ok, the local level (Super Output Area) data is poor and there may have been adverse effects in a few areas. But if it was that widespread it would show up at regional or local authority level, or at local authorities - and it simply doesn't.

For sure there are some people experiencing poor working conditions - but that's nowt to do with migration. That's due to failure to regulate the labour market properly - for example failure to implement the EU agency workers directive (which Ed does mention to be fair.)

Migration has also caused pressure on public services in certain areas - but that's because the funding formulas are based on population size and demographics in previous years and don't respond quickly enough to population shifts. Again, Balls is shooting at the wrong target.

But I'd wager that his intention here isn't to present a balanced evidence base anyway. Instead, he's trying to exploit the meme that's emerged since the election that Labour lost because it wasn't tough on immigration (and welfare claimants). And trying to turn Labour into a reactionary Sun readers football-hooligan parody of what a left-wing party should be. It's not dropping all the way into the cesspit of the British National Party to be sure. But it is dipping a foot into that stinking morass of hatred and xenophobia.

In any case, free movement of labour is a cornerstone of the EU. Some countries (e.g. Bulgaria, Romania) are subject to temporary labour movement restrictions to be sure (in my view, unfairly - if a country's ready to enter then it should be a full member from day one). But the restrictions are meant to be just that - temporary. I'd have more respect for Balls if he was trying to go for a left-wing version of UKIP - suggesting leaving the EU. I wouldn't agree with him but at least it would be consistent But of course he doesn't have the balls to do that - he'd rather play to the galley in the most disgusting way possible.

Balls - and Andy Burnham, who has said very similar things - can go f*** themselves as far as I'm concerned. We have to hope and pray (even as atheists) that Eddy Miliband wins this leadership campaign. If not, I'm off to the Greens and fuck the Labour party. It can kiss my ass. This kind of reactionary shit from Balls is what no-one needs right now and particuarly the deprived communities whom he professes to be on the side of.

04 June 2010

Mini heatwave

Apologies for relative radio silence over the past few days... I've been frantically programming PHP (not for this site unfortunately, but another project I'm working on) and now I'm hit by the hilariously-named "mini-heatwave". (Incidentally I love the way the Telegraph insists on saying 86F (30C) instead of 30C (86F) in its header. Get with the program kids - Celsius has been the main UK measure since about - er... 1975 or so? Only that last bulwark of British imperialism, the USA, takes Farenheit seriously there days.

I like Kelvin myself - temperature inflation, and you don't have to worry about that goddamned degree sign going missing. Gonna be well over 300 today, kids.

This mini-heatwave crap is preposterous - it's like 2 hot days in a row or something. I can just about remember 1976 (and the Farenheit scale)... that was a heatwave. 2003 - when it was 35 degrees at the car boot sale and vinyl was melting before you could get it home - that was a heatwave. This is just a couple of days of having to make sure you get down the allotment to water it. No big deal.

I'm always particularly impressed by the ice cream van that goes up and down our road on hot days like this. The guy's little music jingle system is so badly tuned that he has moved into microtones... he's like an ice-cream version of Ligeti. Or something.