Tuesday, December 14, 2010

13 December 2010: Sequel

Sequels are usually a recipe for disappointment.

Kokomo's 2010 Christmas Lights maintain this fine tradition.

It was bleddy cold out there, by the way - minus ten celcius and you can't operate that little camcorder with gloves on. Sheesh, the sacrifices I make for this blog.

Oh, ok, here's last year's one. The original is always so much better, isn't it?

Monday, December 13, 2010

13 December 2010: Luna

This is kind of cool.

NPR (roughly the US equivalent of Radio 4) has on their website a blogger by the name of Robert Krulwich. He wrote a blog entry expressing a little surprise at learning that the moon pioneers, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, didn't venture very far at all from the lunar module on that first Apollo 11 visit to the moon. In fact, the area they covered was less than the size of a normal athletic field.

"Who knew?" he asked.

Neil Armstrong knew. After all, he was there. So he emailed in and enlightened the blogger as to why they didn't go far (not much time, not sure about the cooling devices in the space suits, very very busy), how he did on one occasion break the rules, and generally gave interesting insights into what they got up to and why, back in 1969.

You can read the article and the full email here on Krulwich's blog.

And all this after I got to see Neil Armstrong waving a flag at a Purdue college football game I went to just last month. Clearly my life and his are now heavily intertwined.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

9 December 2010: Gaudete

According to the liturgical calendar that I don't take much notice of, it's Gaudete Sunday this weekend (third Sunday in Advent).

Hence this video, from one of the few acapella Latin chants ever to make it to the top of the UK Singles chart...

I post this just in case I don't get around to making the annual AKTing Lark Christmas video this year (yes, the Kokomo Lights are up and include Snoopy, but it's somehow hard to think of a good commentary for it.. might wait until we get to Southampton on the 15th and do the Flowers Estate.)

9 December 2010: Quadruple

To those who've been asking after Gloria's dad's health, thanks! He's doing well after sudden (surprising!) heart bypass surgery that was originally thought to be a triple but ended up being a quadruple once they got in there. He was home within four days and recovering well. Kudos to the staff at the St Francis Medical Center down in Monroe, especially the excellent Dr White who actually did the surgery and was rightly rewarded with a box of Cocoa Puffs.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

8 December 2010: Extension

High Court grants Argyle a 63-day extension despite Argyle only asking for 56 days. This leaves us with Feb 9th as the new D-Day. Possibly the bank account might be unfrozen now, so the players and staff can be paid.

Other notes include that the lack of payment means that Argyle are in breach of contract so any of the players can give two weeks notice at any point (in fact as I understand it, their lack of payment for two weeks effectively counts as notice, so they can leave at any point) but they have so far chosen not to.

And HMRC objected to the extension, of course, saying it's just a stalling tactic.

Which it is, but it gives Argyle time to breathe. And bring in Mr Ridsdale... get ready for a bumpy ride as the Riddler tries to get rich off the back of another failing football club.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

7 December 2010: Roadkill

Plymouth Argyle face a winding-up order in the High Court tomorrow, brought by HMRC (they who were of late swindled by Pompey who somehow got away with it).

Normally when this happens, you place the company into administration - effectively, bankruptcy protection - so that it doesn't get wound up. Even Pompey did this. The football club gets a sizable points deduction and probably gets relegated as a result. The administrator tries to find a buyer for the company and negotiates a settlement of debt at some small percentage in the pound, and HMRC votes against this 'Company Voluntary Agreement' and (unless you're Pompey) this results in a further points deduction from the Football League. But the club survives, and after a few years can grind back to normality.

So Argyle, whose 'New World Order' board took over eighteen months ago with promises like 'World Cup 2018' and 'We don't do failure' and 'Five-year Premier League plan' but who since the failure of England's 2018 bid have said nothing, now face oblivion. And unless someone puts them into voluntary administration by tomorrow morning, they're finished.

And the current board - Japanese mega-rich businessmen, Sir Roy Gardner late of Man United (and worth in excess of fifty million quid) and the small remnant of local businessmen who ousted Dan MacCauley ten years ago - are doing nothing, except occasional transactions to get control of the land that was bought from the City Council six years ago. England's World Cup bid was a speeding highway to success, they thought, Plymouth a host city for the world's biggest sporting event.

And now the speeding highway is closed, and Argyle are currently lying like roadkill on the hard shoulder. And nobody is doing a blind thing about it, it seems.

Surely something has to happen in the next 18 hours.

Edit to add: The rumours continue to circulate about Peter Ridsdale - he who is somehow not in prison after running Leeds United into the ground and siphoning 1.4 million pounds out of Cardiff City - being involved at some level with keeping the club going. Strongest one says Argyle will argue for 56-day stay-of-execution and if they get it (if?!), Risdale will be announced on Thursday in whatever role he has, probably some sort of unofficial administrator. This goes from bad to worse: if Ridsdale is the best hope a football club has, maybe oblivion becomes an attractive option.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

2 December 2010: Failed

So, England fail miserably to get the 2018 World Cup.

Does this mean Argyle are finished?

Friday, November 26, 2010

26 November 2010: Winding-Up

In Louisiana right now as Gloria's dad in hospital. Praying for good outcome of heart surgery early next week.

Meantime went on BBC website and mildly surprised to see the story 'Plymouth Argyle Handed Winding-Up Order'. Mildly, because I thought it would happen after England fail to get the 2018 World Cup hosting spot next week. Also see that Peter Ridsdale was in talks, this after being spotted twice in a week in the director's box at consecutive Argyle matches (one home, one away) and the club stating that it was sheer coincidence and he was just attending games.

Why couldn't they just do NCND (neither confirm nor deny)? Why do the current board feel it's both acceptable and necessary to outright lie to the fans and media without even a hint of shame about it? We all knew there was stuff going on. But that's the current board - who last week moved from the original claim of takingf us to the Premiership and 'we don't do failure' down to 'committed to ensuring the survival of the club'. Naturally, no actions to back those words up and now we're up the Pompey creek. And after Pompey got away with it so brazenly earlier in the year, HMRC are after blood.

This won't be pretty.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

23 November 2010: President

So after much kerfuffle and the usual Kokomo prospect of unannounced road closures, the day arrived.

The new Irish pub opened to the public at 11am today. Over-21s only, so no Hannah.

Oh, and at 11.30 the President and Vice-President were due to arrive. Rumour was that the VP will get here first (presumably so he can open the doors or something?) and they'd go for a nice downtown Kokomo lunch. Which, frankly, left their options limited since the Ice Cream place has closed for the winter: there's Jamie's Soda Fountain (traditional-style burger and hand-pumped Coca-Cola type place and the only downtown eaterie to survive the recession) along with newcomers Baja Burritos, 'Hoops' (kind of a bar/restaurant thing in the Chili's/Applebee's mould) and of course the new Irish pub, which opened 30 minutes prior to the President's supposed arrival time.

What a coincidence! Opening the same day the President arrives! I wonder which downtown establishment he was planning to go to ... ? Especially as O'Bama likes all things Irish.

In practice, what seemed to happen was that they arrived late, flashed past us (with Obama waving, which was nice of him), went to the Fire Station (where he had sandwiches and crisps for lunch) and headed straight back out of town. And we were all waiting for him to walk up to the downtown square for lunch.. but off they went with their flashing lights into the distance. And that was that.

Still, the streaming video seemed to work to some extent. Could benefit from stimulus funding, of course...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

18 November 2010: Visit

President Obama and Vice-President Biden are to visit Kokomo next Tuesday.

Why? They looking for new jobs with Chrysler or something?

I'll see what I can do about live streaming these exciting events on here. Rumour of a downtown lunch, which will be interesting as most of the downtown eateries closed. Maybe he'll go to the new Irish pub, rumoured to be opening this week or next.

Shame he didn't come last year, he could have seen the Christmas lights. He'll be bummed when he finds out they're not going to be here this year.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

13 October 2010: Grinch

The Grinch - partially me, in this case (it seems) - has stolen Christmas and ruined it for all of Kokomo's children.

Thus reports the Kokomo Perspective today that despite County Commissioner Dave Trine approaching the maker of the red-eyed T-Rex and the Loch Ness Monster, the maker refused to allow Trine to put up the same lights display as last year at the courthouse here in Kokomo. From that report:

"It wasn’t the kids complaining. Residents mocked the displays on film and posted them online They flamed Internet message boards with criticism. They called the commissioners and gave them an earful. The discord over the displays even made national news."

Mocked? I thought I was very supportive, even to the point of explaining everything to the viewer to avoid confusion.

From later in the report:

"The problem the county now faces if it wants to put lights on the lawn is finding something that the community won’t reject while also adhering to the law and avoiding unnecessary expense. As Trine explained last year, a religious display on public property could put the county in a legal battle. And there is no line-item in the budget for Christmas lights of the Santa Claus or Frosty the Snowman variety."

Despite the fact there is no legal basis for disputing any display on County property (next county along is Miami county and they do it every year: such legal restrictions on separation of church and state apply ONLY to Federal property), the reasoning appears to be: (1) we're not allowed to do religious stuff and (2) snowmen are expensive.

I leave a pause for you to add your own thoughts.


Commissioner Dave Trine is seeking re-election this November.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

9 October 2010: Six weeks

Hannah's six weeks old now. Seven on Tuesday. Smiling sometimes (and not always due to relieving gas) and as the below photos show, she's changing.

Not sure what to make of the mat.

Trying out the baby front-pack.

That hat's a little too large.

'You going to make me go out like this?'

She'll grow into it...

Nap time...

Dreaming of Tunnock's Caramel bars.

Sleeping cutie.

Bath time - in a hammock!

Ooo, are you taking my photo?

I'd better smile, then...

Won't be long until I'm crawling...

Me and my giraffe buddy

Yeah, I can sit up.

Nice quilt! Has an Aylesbury feel to it.

OK, but if I have to wear it, where's lunch?

Well guarded at nap time.

This is actually Hannah's passport photo (they cropped it a bit).

Ella, the girl Gloria looks after, is fond of Hannah.

"Ha-NAH! Ha-NAH!"

Looking after two? No problem.

Hard to believe Ella used to be this small. (Actually, she wasn't).

Baby dedication at church last Sunday.

Six weeks old and happy to be here!

Monday, September 13, 2010

13 September 2010: Rollover

So much for giving Hannah her 'tummy time'. This morning she figured out how to roll over.

Age 20 days. According to pages like this and this, babies can sometimes do this trick as early as two to three months.

Sheesh. What have we got ourselves into?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

7 September 2010: UVB-76

Baby photos continue at Gloria's Facebook! Hannah now up to 8lb 15oz, having lost 10% of birthweight she's now put it back on, and then some. Two weeks old today!

Meantime another three years has passed, and that means it's time for another William Gibson novel. My copy of 'Zero History' has been ordered from Amazon and is going by cheap-person super-saver might-arrive-this-year mail, so I haven't got it yet. But it certainly looks to be the completion of another unwitting trilogy from the man who doesn't like trilogies but keeps inadvertantly writing them. The completion of the 'Blue Ant' world - and a review of some description on this blog - to follow soon.

Meantime, of course, that brings me back to Spy Shortwave: those mysterious 'Number Stations' and the like. Last time we spoke, the legendary Lincolnshire Poacher appeared to have been pensioned off from the MI6 payroll, and it was followed shortly after by the disappearance of its far-east cousin, Cherry Ripe. So, what to listen to now? Well, out on the flat roof at the back of our place you can usually get the Cuban stations pretty clearly, even with a rubbishy portable radio that happens to have a SW dial such as that which I acquired in New Zealand. But that's not really interesting: just numbers, same as before, and I haven't heard any of the legendary gaffes.

But now attention around the internet seems to have turned to another long-standing favourite of the spy-numbers-listening community: The Buzzer, or UVB-76 to give it its (apparently real) title. This is a weird carrier wave on 4.625 Mhz that, since at least 1982, has broadcast buzzing noises of around a second each, then a short gap, then another buzz... about 30 times a minute on average. Triangulation has narrowed the broadcast down to a particularly large military installation in Russia, seemingly with its own power substation and backup system. The Buzzer has a wikipedia page, it has a fan-club, and now, due to certain surprising recent activity, it has someone relaying it live over the internet.

The history is this: it buzzes, except for a very small number of exceptional times, when some guy comes on and speaks Russian. First recorded instance on Christmas Eve 1997, when the cryptic message "Ya, UVB-76, 18008, BROMAL, Boris, Roman, Olga, Mikhail, Anna, Larisa, 742, 799, 14" was given out: not by recorded, automated voice (as with normal number stations), this was live. Then five years later another, then another in 2006... then in August of this year, it all went a little crazy.

The buzzer stopped. That was the first thing. It appeared to be down for maintenance as the carrier wave - the radio signal - kept broadcasting. Then some Russian voices. Then some music. But mainly just empty carrier signal... dead air. And before you knew it, the internet rumour mill went into overdrive.

The main rumour surrounds the notion that the buzzer is a 'Dead Man's Handle' of some sort: it broadcasts this very strong, very simple signal that can be essentially heard anywhere in the world at any give time. So it's being used to control something, some massive attack, some spy cell, some nuclear device, some alien invasion... and when it goes off, all these years later, it's 'go go go' for whatever it was holding back. Some of this has even made it onto TV shows already (apparently there's some obscure cartoon named 'Adult Swim' where the behaviour of UVB-76 has been referenced as meaning the end of the world). The single biggest rumour surrounds the apparent forthcoming assassination of the Russian President during September of this year. Frankly I believe the 'Martin O'Neill for next Southampton manager' ahead of that, but if Medvedev doesn't make it to October, word is you should look to head to Australia and hang out in the outback until the heat is off.

I first came to the Missing Buzzer Thing via the Spooks mailing list, where most SW anomalies get picked up pretty quickly - and even traced sometimes - by the local spods on there. That led me to the streaming site and as I sit here working away today, putting together metadata documents and wondering how many nappies Hannah can get through in a day, I'm listening, curious to hear what's happening, live on the Buzzer frequency.

And I'm not the only one. And this is a problem: the last few days have seen pirate broadcasts on this frequency accelerate massively. As I listen I hear the empty carrier (although there clearly was a voice about three hours ago on the main Buzzer carrier), but also a repeating high-pitched morse code (I'm told it's just the question mark, repeated over and over) and various bits of voice, music and other nonsense. Even to my untrained ear I can tell it's different from the main broadcast - all shortwave fades in and out a bit, and the music, morse etc is fading in a different way from the main broadcast - but the Spooks folks reckon there are at least nine pirates out there in the last few days, trying to get our attention while the Buzzer is down and tensions are raised.

The most interesting of the pirate broadcasts appears to be the guy (well, it could be a girl, but you just know it's a guy, don't you?) who has figured out how to broadcast in such a way that it makes letters appear on the 'waterfall' spectrum-tracker they have on the live page. Here's the link... essentially this guy is putting up rude words in Russian for people to read on this page. But again, it's a pirate, and maybe the Russian authorities may not take too kindly to someone effectively jamming one of their (unofficial, of course) military frequencies.

Meantime I await the next Gibson book, and I'm currently re-reading Spook Country in between working, changing nappies (seriously, how does she turn milk into that stuff?) and listening in to UVB-76, the Buzzer that maybe, just maybe, is no more.

Update - Wednesday lunchtime: The Buzzer is back, came back around noon eastern, and then went off after about fifteen minutes to be replaced by some phonetics (Russian names whose initial letters spell the word of interest) read by a Russian lady who sounded angry or automated (couldn't tell which). Since then, silence, then very strong buzzer, then weaker buzzer, and as I write, the buzzer is pretty strong again. Very curious behaviour. Whatever this Buzzer is about, it's certainly weird. And another thing: the voice messages no longer identify it as UVB-76 - now it's named 'MDZB' instead, at least according to the messages, and they certainly don't seem to be pirates in this case. This is the real buzzing deal, and it's weird.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

24 August 2010: Hannah Elise

That's Hannah Elise McRae-Spencer, 8lbs 7.4oz, 20.5 inches long, delivered by c-section on Tuesday afternoon. I write this on the 25th but her birthday is the 24th, so that's the date of this blog entry.

Long old day it was too. After fifteen hours of Braxton-Hicks (ie false) contractions on Sunday, the baby went through a crazy wriggling phase on Monday. Then at bedtime - around 10.15pm to be precise - on came the real thing. Four hours later we were on our way down to the hospital in Carmel, where measurements occurred and progress was made.

But progress stalled. Dilation moved from 5cm to 7cm but no further - the goal is 10cm. The pain increased rapidly, but the progress did not. Eventually the pain was so bad the epidural was needed, and was successfully administered. But then - dramatically, almost - progress. 10cm happened. Baby's head on the way out. Time to push.

Two and a half hours later, still pushing but again zero progress. Doctor suspects baby is head-down but facing upwards. Weird, because we knew she's been face-down (correct position) for at least five weeks prior to this. But... if she was face-up, then it would be harder to her to come out, and given the lack of progress in two and a half hours, quite possibly not going to happen. Chances of natural birth at this point? We asked the doctor. Very low, she said.

C-section it is then.

So I wrapped up in a spaceman uniform and went in to witness the event. They worked quick, very quick, and there at 4.32pm local time was Hannah Elise (although it took a few minutes to make a final call on the name). No shortage of brown hair - she actually could do with a trim! - and as they whisked her over to the measuring units, I followed with video camera and ordinary camera. And this began the set of photos on Gloria's facebook and also here...

Postscript: The doctor says that she was indeed face up. The best explanation we have is the crazy wriggling phase on Monday must have allowed her to roll over. But she's here, she's safe, Gloria's safe too and that's all we're concerned about.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

21 August 2010: Broken

The air conditioning downstairs broke.

This is bad news: it's the one that always works, and has been very handy what with the temps in the high thirties (Celcius) and 'heat index' a good five degrees above that. Yesterday it was 33 (only!) and the downstairs AC just gave up and started pumping out warm air instead of cold. Now, it's central air, not a box in the windows, and it lives somewhere up on the roof. Being renters, we call the landlord which is good from a cost point of view but not from a saturday morning point of view - haven't heard back and may not until Monday.

So all the windows are open and fans going, but even with the rain, it's still about 30 today and naturally there's the noisy (not to mention food-smelly) Taste Of Kokomo festival outside our now-open windows today. The upstairs AC, which is usually the more temperamental of the two, seems to be able to handle 30 just about, so it's cool up there, which is a relief for the now nine-months-plus Gloria-and-baby combination.

Due date, incidentally, was Tuesday, and that came and went without a baby. All the signs are there, everything checked off the list, but I suppose she'll come when she's ready. Or possibly she's thinking the same thing: "mummy (or 'mommy', depending on her accent, which should be interesting to hear), just push me out, ok?". She's been head-down for five weeks now, she must be pretty bored.

So we continue, my dad in town for a week and a half already, waiting for the event, and the Texas exodus to begin this weekend, whether the baby comes or not. And the noise gets louder outside, and the temperature inside continues to rise, so we consider dining options for the evening that don't involve staying in. And I wonder how people lived in so many parts of the USA that get this hot - or hotter - in the summer for so many decades without air conditioning.

Cold baths, I expect.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

8 August 2010: Ebb

As a football fan, it's hard to justify supporting two teams. It really is. The only thing that makes it possible is if you support one big team and then a little local team. Nick Hornby justified this to some extent in 'Fever Pitch' when he covered his time at Cambridge University, when he and his friends would go and watch Cambridge United (then in the lower reaches of the Football League) on a regular basis. Never a supporter, he said, but he developed a fondness for the team.

For me it's Southampton and Plymouth Argyle. Southampton for reasons I know not why, but I started following them around age seven, and a look at the Division One tables (ten years before there was a Premier League, remember) from that period show Southampton clearly there-or-thereabouts at the top, vying for the top spot with Liverpool. The team of the time - Keegan, Shilton et al - was of excellent quality and so that's probably where the following came from, although I can't say for sure. Whatever it was, it ended up with me going to university there in 1994 and probably had something to do with me going back again in 2003 to do the PhD.

Plymouth Argyle, therefore, are the little local team. The 1984 cup run was enough to get my interest but it wasn't until a year or two later, when I started going regularly, that the 'fan' thing really took hold. The 1985/86 promotion team and the oh-so-nearly-made-it-to-the-top-division run a year later (lost the last three games - a win in any of those three would have seen Argyle in the first-ever year of playoffs) were good quality, exciting to watch and had a talismanic player (Tommy Tynan) who could score for fun and was the envy of most other teams outside the top division.

And naturally, aside from pre-season friendly matches, my two clubs never played each other. Once they met in the Zenith Data Systems cup (yeah, exactly) but that was it for competitive games for the longest time. Saints were in the top division, and Argyle were in the next tier, or (from 1992 to 2004) a tier or two lower. Never any clash of values, never any problem to decide who was the more important team to support.

Then Saints got relegated (thanks Harry) in May 2005. Argyle had been promoted the previous year to the second tier (by this point called 'The Championship'). Thus, for the first time since the mid-1970s, my two teams were in the same division and would play each other, home and away, during the league season. First game: September early-season clash at St Mary's. Gloria came, my mum even came up for it, and naturally I was there and wondered what it would be like.

I hated it. I had no idea what I should be doing or thinking. Dennis Wise (at that time of Saints) went flying in for a tackle - YERRRS, screamed the crowd, and I began to as well... but then saw Tony Capaldi, Argyle's Welsh international left-back, lying on the ground from the injury. Argh! What was I to do? How was I to react to this given that I was so partisan.. except I was partisan to both teams. I knew all the players in both squads, I'd seen them all so often. It was horrendous.

Then Saints went down again, which saved us the bother of having this issue last year. But then Argyle went down last year, meaning they're now both in the third tier...

And so yesterday they played. I watched the game via one of those internet streaming sites and still wasn't sure who to support. Once the game was over - slightly fortuitous 1-0 win by Argyle away at Saints - that at least made up my mind which shirt I was to wear the rest of the day. (New Saints shirt, by the way: isn't is bleddy AWFUL? Reminds me of 'We Are The Champions' tee-shirts from children's TV when I was young.) Saints will pick themselves up, Lambert will score another thirty-five goals this year (barring injuries) and Saints will probably go up, one way or another. Argyle are predicted to do ok, but we'll see. They're always surprisingly bad for years at a time. Don't expect anything much. But the match itself - again, I was largely on the fence... wanting Saints to get points for the promotion charge, but Argyle always seem to be in deep need of three points whenever they can get them... sigh, what's a boy to do?

The other thing, though, is that this is the low ebb for my teams. At least I hope it is. Both are in the third tier of the league structure, so let's say they score three points each for that. That gives my two teams a combined total of six points. This score has never been so high in my entire life.

Briefly Argyle were in the fourth, with Saints in the first - that's a total of five points. More recently, Argyle were in the second, Saints in the third - five again. But now - six. That's a bit depressing, really. I'd long for the day when the number is three again (2005 wasn't that long ago) or even the minimum: two. (Although then they'd be playing each other, so I'd be busy agonising again). But for now, it's the low ebb, and I'm going to have to live with the fact that when the baby arrives (due date just over a week away now!) she'll begin her life with Saints and Argyle so very very low in the league.

She probably won't care, to be fair, at least not for a while.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

15 July 2010: Appeal

(Note: Tour De France stuff at end of this blog entry, including links to some fun headbutting-while-on-bicycles video from today's stage.)

The Pompey story, about which my coverage has been somewhat lacking recently, came down to this:

1. Pompey, in administration, proposed a CVA that paid most of the creditors 5p in the pound that they were owed, over four years, thus ending up at a total of 20p. Excluded from this were football creditor (eg Sol Campbell and his image rights) and the current "owner" who also happens to be funding the administration and also happens to be the main - and secured - creditor, one Mr Chainrai. Those dudes all get 100%. HMRC ("the taxman") would not be included in this list, and they're owed a whole bunch.

2. This went to a vote. Need 75% of unsecured creditors (according to amount owed as % of total debt) to say yes. Total debt has been "re-estimated" upwards from 70 million quid to over 130 million by the administrator over the past few months. Still, HMRC said they'd vote against it and they were owed 38 million.

3. On the morning of the vote, the administrator "re-estimated" HMRC's total debt down to 24 million, thus reducing their percentage in the vote. The vote passed.

As a matter of law, creditors unhappy with CVA votes have 28 days to appeal against any such votes. Today is day 28.

And HMRC have appealed.

Two grounds specifically (from that article):
The first was that the interests of HMRC 'have been or will be unfairly prejudiced' by the agreement. The second was that there were 'irregularities' in the way the votes of creditors were taken to secure the agreement.

No kidding. The main point about this is not that they'll necessarily take Andy Android and his cohorts to the High Court (although frankly they should, given the dodgy dealings that have gone on the last few months), but that as the CVA is now suspended and possibly dropped altogether, Pompey can't appoint a new owner. And whatever happens, they face more points deductions and possible winding-up orders, or at the very least they face the prospect of playing in the Championship with no players.

The proposed "new owner" would be Chainrai, of course, who'd be very pleased if it had all worked out, given his money actually belongs to convicted Israeli arms dealer and father of former owner Arkadi Gaydamak, currently in exile in Russia and with all his assets (except those awarded to Chainrai in a legal action) currently frozen due to his illegal arms dealing. But any suggestions of money laundering are, of course, pure speculation. As is the notion that several million pounds were filtered out of Pompey into offshore accounts via a law firm bank account during January until the whistle was blown and the lawyer resigned from the law firm. And then joined the Pompey board.

Makes Harry Redknapp seem like a decent, law-abiding chap all in all.

Postscript: In Tour De France matters, there's seemingly no room for appeal for Mark Renshaw, although he's going to try (don't hold your breath, these appeals rarely succeed). He's the guy from Columbia HTC that leads out Mark Cavendish for all those stage wins, including today. Thing was, today on the way to the line he blocked one bloke and headbutted another (several times) as part of this lead-out. As a result, he's been thrown out of the entire Tour, which is a kicker for Cavendish's (very poor) hopes of winning the Green Jersey and also for his previously excellent chances of winning 'his' stage on the Champs Elysees a week on Sunday. Tour official Jean-Francois Pescheux said: "This is a bike race, not a gladiator's arena." Great fun watching it though, I'll post a YouTube link when I can find one, but I'm sure it's on the ITV4 website for UK folks and Versus.com for those in the USA.

Further update: here's the vid from YouTube, provided they don't take it down.
Headbutting to be found at 4:23. Versus.com video has the Phil'n'Paul commentary, but I don't know how visible that is outside the US. Agree with Phil, it seems remarkably harsh punishment given that normal argie-bargie results in disqualification from the results of the day but not expulsion from the race. The thing is: Renshaw's actions benefitted Cavendish, and you can't punish Cav for what Renshaw did unless you chuck Renshaw out of the race. So that's what they've done. As with many other such decisions in the Tour over the years (eg Cav being denied a stage last year), you do have to wonder if Renshaw would have been expelled had he been French. Hm?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

10 July 2010: Tracker

There appear to be two reactions to England's somewhat disastrous departure from the World Cup: one is to say "hey, at least I can now enjoy the World Cup without having to worry about supporting England [or the USA, given my present context: several US-based friends have said this to me]", and the other is to say "pah, pschh, bleddy football, bleddy England" and largely ignore the rest of the competition.

I fall into the latter category, aided somewhat by the annual tour de farce that is the Tour De France. No major drugs allegations yet (wait a week or two) and the mountains just starting. Mark Cavendish gave up on one stage earlier in the week when he either went too early or too late (it's hard to tell) and then won the next two on the trot, but now we head up into the Alps so we won't see much of Cav until the middle of the week when we're back on flat land and he's had a chance to recover a bit. Probably already too late for him to win the Green Jersey too.

But here's what I like. His team, Columbia HTC (that's the Columbia company that makes shoes, not the Space Shuttle Columbia nor the country of the same name), have teamed up with Google so you can track their riders live via telemetry and GPS data. Click here to see the page. Not much happening when there isn't a stage on, but surely this kind of thing is here to stay: rather like I can now track flights around the US on Google Earth and actually watch images of planes coming in to land based entirely on their telemetry data, I can now track Mark Cavendish as he slowly creeps up the mountains or gets off and pushes or whatever he does. (Sidenote: back in the day - and in this case, 'the day' is the 1950s, they actually used to get off an push their bikes up the mountains often in the Tour).

Anyway, that's the sum total of excitement for this Tour so far, although the battle between Contador and the doping cynics is surely just beginning. Elsewhere, we're just about finished preparing a room for the still-nameless baby, and have a checklist ready for packing bags for the hospital. Had a tour round birthing facilities at said hospital earlier in the week and frankly, while impressive, it does make you realise it's getting pretty durned close. Before the Michigan peaches are finished for the season, we'll have a little baby here.

What's scary about that is that it seems no time ago that youngest brother Callum was born. He turns 21 this week. I've got a pair of shorts older than him. Makes you realise, our time here is brief.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

3 July 2010: Correction

Nephew Matt wishes to point out that Emile Heskey's goals-and-games stat is actually seven goals in sixty-two games, not two goals in seven hundred games, as implied in the previous blog entry. Matt is big on stats.

In the same vein, I should point out that legislation to legally prohibit Emile Heskey is also unlikely, although David Cameron has yet to officially rule it out.

In terms of official stats though, it's worth a look at WikiAnswers, where you can pose factual questions to experts, who can give clear insightful answers. Question: is Emile Heskey rubbish? Answer: yes. And so that is an official stat.

Another is that Fabio Capello will continue as England manager. Wonder if it's him or John Terry who's the real problem? Or Roy Hodgson taking a job at which he's far more likely to succeed?

Meantime, in real sports, the Tour De France has started. Doping allegations - or at least doubts on the entire testing process - are already well underway.

Ooo, David Villa just scored for Spain. Interesting. However good they may be, they've never even threatened to win the World Cup in the past. Maybe the old adage is no longer accurate: "When the going gets tough, the Spanish go finishing". Paraguay must be feeling miffed they didn't get to take their penalty again.

Monday, June 28, 2010

28 June 2010: Autopsy

What I said before.

And the strange thing is the reaction of many in the media. The end of the Golden Generation is one common theme (along with the seeming dearth of English footballers coming through) and the other is that the Premier League is to blame: no winter break, no requirement for a certain percentage of home-grown players etc etc. Among the more ridiculous suggestions is the notion that Germany beat England because the German game is more measured and collected, compared to the England game of 100 miles per hour action. So that'll be why English clubs struggle so much in European club competitions then, is it? The problem isn't the way the game is played - the problem seems to be somehow smaller and localized in this squad and this coach.

I say that because prior to this World Cup, England were actually doing pretty well. One of the best qualifying campaigns in a long time - never any question of failing to make it. Beat Croatia home and away, and frankly they're probably better than Germany right now. What happened to that qualifying team? Not sure, but while some of the blame can be put down to player fatigue, it seems there's some bad feeling in the camp, factioning of players and an underlying mistrust between the coach and the squad. It's not the end of the world, and these players didn't become dreadful overnight. It's just Euro 2000 again, that's all. The investigations that should take place need to be ones into the preparation, the handling of the squad in South Africa and the fairly obvious feelings of resentment and frustration within the squad. Specifically, they need to talk to the players one by one, anonymously if necessary, and get their side of the story.

If the problems that were hinted at by James, Terry et al during the competition are even halfway true, then Capello also has to go, and go soon.

As for the end of the Golden Generation, well - I see no reason why Gerrard shouldn't be central to Euro 2012, and looking beyond that there's no reason to assume Rooney will not pick his form back up, especially as he's still only 24. Lampard did little enough that he won't be missed, Joe Cole's time is probably past - shame for him, as he was possibly the most talented of his generation, yet he was overlooked too often - and at the back, Rio and Terry may or may not still be around next time. Someone with a little more pace might be handy though. Crouch also may have his days numbered now, leaving him with the best scoring record of any England player ever in terms of matches started: 17 goals in 18 starts.

But then I think back to the qualifying campaign and the away win over Croatia, probably Capello's high-point as England manager. But that day it was Theo Walcott with the hat-trick, and he hasn't been quite back to par since his injury this year. However, all talk is of whether he or Lennon is to be the Pointless Winger in the future England line-up. To me, the response to that has to be 'derrrrrrrr' since Walcott's best position, by a country mile, is as a striker. Remember that Thierry Henry used to play on the wing until they discovered he could score. Ian Wright as another example. Garry Nelson, if you want an Argyle perspective. I'm looking for Wenger to start being a little more creative with Theo and then we'll see what he's capable of. We know he can score goals.

One more thing. When the fourth goal went in, Capello responded immediately by hauling off Defoe and bringing on Heskey. Anyone who does that should be told he has to resign immediately. What did he expect Heskey to do? Lard them to death or something? When David Cameron gets back from swimming in Canada or whatever it was he was doing, he should immediately introduce legislation to ban Heskey from ever playing for England again. Or maybe just ban Heskey from ever playing again. Or maybe just ban Heskey.

"Emile Heskey's somewhat dubious England career of two goals in seven hundred games came to a rapid conclusion when the British government made it a criminal offence to be Emile Heskey. As a result, Heskey was forced to grow a large beard and he lived out the rest of his life as a recluse hermit in Basingstoke."

Sounds like a plan to me.

Friday, June 25, 2010

25 June 2010: Reid

As Becky points out, managerless relegated Plymouth Argyle have appointed a manager.

Peter Reid, mentioned briefly in this blog a week or so ago, has been brought in. Unlike in 1986, he isn't coming in to play midfield general as a replacement for Bryan Robson, but instead is coming in as only-person-who-didn't-say-no to work alongside 1982 England World Cup star (well, 'player' rather than 'star' I suppose) Paul Mariner and assistant John Carver. Presumably he's happy to work alongside a team already in place?

Reaction from the fans is generally positive - Reid has had success with Sunderland, after all - although his recent history hasn't been so good. (Hint: last time we appointed a manager with that kind of record it didn't work out - his name was Paul Sturrock). Generally, of course, the appointment has been overshadowed by the World Cup, especially with France and Italy going out and one of USA, South Korea, Ghana and Uruguay guaranteed to be in the semis (against Brazil, you'd imagine)... but maybe that's what Argyle need.

Meantime fixtures were released and Argyle's first game of the new League One campaign is against... Saints! Argh! I hate that game - never know who to cheer for, especially when the tackles are flying in. And naturally, being such a high profile game, it's going to be shown live on Sky.

No, seriously, it is.

Saturday August 7th, 12.15pm kick-off at St Mary's. Wonder if ESPN3 will pick it up over here?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

23 June 2010: Brackets

So as the final whistle went on one television, a goal went in on the other.

We had a room of US fans along with me shouting at Rooney on the smaller TV, but we were mostly cordial (mainly as we just had a full English breakfast, so nobody dared complain). I wanted the US to go through, but I didn't want them to win the group. Why? That would mean a second round against quite probably Germany, and if you survive that then it's flippin' Argentina in the quarter-finals. The US meantime face probably Ghana and then Uruguay. I know which 'bracket' I'd rather be in, especially with Argentina in the form they are. On the other side of the draw, I'd have been only concerned about the semi against Brazil.

"Cooking on gas" says a caller on six-o-six. I don't know about that - Milner crossing to Defoe for the only goal, and neither of those are established England players and didn't start the last game. Still, I'll be in Texas on Sunday morning for the nine a.m. game. Maybe Germany will lose this afternoon.

Can't see it happening, can you? Germany... Argentina... it's written in stone, isn't it? The only question is which one we'll lose to on penalties.

Update: Of course it's England v Germany. Now, who's going to miss the penalties this time?

Friday, June 18, 2010

18 June 2010: James

More worrying, perhaps, was David James' interview afterwards on 5Live.

Interviewer: The manager says the players are putting a lot of pressure on themselves.
David James: Does he? [pause] OK. [silence]


Interviewer: When did you find out that you were playing?
David James: I found out five minutes before we got on the bus. Usual standard.

The interviewer, incidentally, was the ever-excellent Charlotte Nicholl, who once got griped at for being a woman after asking a tough question to Neil Warnock. Not Paxman, but she doesn't let them hide.

Meantime, Graham Taylor says he thinks there's something very wrong in the England camp, but he won't say what it is. And let's face it, he knows a thing or two about rubbish England teams.

18 June 2010: Algeria

The thing is, if you play that badly you deserve to go home.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

12 June 2010: Umm

OK, as I write this there's still 37 minutes to go. But: Green's goalkeeping aside... Heskey clean through and did that with the side of his foot? Milner doing nothing except getting booked before going off? King injured too? Barry not really fit either? And this is the best - the best - we have to offer, the culmination of two years of preparation?

I'm not sure, but it could either be a disaster or, well... remember 1986? (Maybe you do.) England started badly then... Wilkins got sent off, Robson injured, Peter Reid brought in to run the show? Then Lineker got the hat-trick and the rest is history, all the way up to the hand of God in the quarter-final. So there's hope.

Except of course, we want to do better than the quarter-final, don't we?

Update: game over now, and to me all this game speaks of is doubt in the mind of Capello. That isn't going to win the World Cup.

12 June 2010: Global

So the World Cup started yesterday. For those with any interest in the beautiful game, it's a chance to see who's really any good and find out how England will manage to disappoint in new and exciting ways. (The way the draw works out, it's pretty difficult for England to lose to Portugal on penalties this time, which means they'll have to think of something new).

South Africa v Mexico was a good start: that goal from Shalalalala (start humming 'Is This The Way To Amarillo') was pretty special. I kept thinking 1990 and Cameroon v Argentina, but South Africa were not ruthless enough in defence (for which read: didn't get players sent off for battery and assault) so the equaliser came. That could be an interesting group: I'd assumed it would be France and Uruguay through, and it may well the case, but from what I could tell, France looked a bit lacklustre in that game and that means (1) I'm not so afraid of England playing them in the QFs (assuming both with their groups) and (2) maybe France won't win their group. Maybe they'll go out at the group stage, a la 2002?

Meantime South Korea and Greece are at half-time as I write this: South Korea winning and I'm back to puzzling how much bribery money changed hands in 2002 to get them as far as they did that year. No enquiry was ever launched, but some of those refereeing decisions in favour of the Koreans back then made Maradona's hand of God look positively regulation. And England-USA to follow later, of course.

But I won't blog too much about results etc: you can get that from the BBC site. This blog, if it's about anything, is about bringing unique and different insights from my brain or other inside sources (usually the Saints forum) so you can be a little ahead of the curve. So what can I offer on the World Cup that you can't get? Well, for those in the UK, how about a British view of American World Cup coverage?

The World Cup is being shown here - every match - on either free-to-air or basic cable. So, not quite as good as most places in the world, but not bad. The contract is held by Disney (believe it or not), but that means ABC for free-to-air games and ESPN for the rest. ABC, naturally, are showing England-USA this afternoon, along with a bizarre variety of other games and then most of the main ones as we get towards the end of the tournament. Clearly however, the schedulers know little about the World Cup because they've also scheduled the most pointless, unwatched game in the tournament - the playoff for 3rd and 4th place between the semi-final losers - to be shown live on ABC. Nobody cares about that game, nobody watches it and even the teams are made up of squad players. In 1990, England played in that game and I believe Tony Dorigo actually got picked. That's how nothing of a game it is.

The other good news - and news that might make UK fans jealous - is that while you Brits have to listen to John Motson and Clive Tyldesley -
sheesh, two-nil to South Korea now -
we get to have Martin Tyler doing the commentary. (Favourite all-time Clive Tyldesly quote: "on a scale of one to ten, you'd have to say Wimbledon have done pretty well".) The rest of the team are the usual ESPN suspects led by Derek Rae, but I'm pretty happy with that.

The downside, however, is that due to Comcast cable TV performing a digital switchover last month, our ESPN and ESPN2 is currently off, pending us figuring out with the landlords how to get hold of a digital box from the cable company. So that means I'm watching it on ESPN3.com (which is pretty good) or - and here's the irony - using my secret method of watching UK TV online (no I'm not going to tell you how I do it). So as of right now, I'm hearing Jon Champion commentating for ITV on the Korean onslaught, and have to wait for this afternoon before the free-to-air ABC lets me get back to the American coverage for the big game.

Andy M visited last week and we discussed what it means in today's world to be living in a different country but still very tied to where you came from. For me, it remains weird: we're clearly in Indiana, clearly established in our community and work, clearly familiar with local events ('Ribfest' today outside our place... the noisiest and rowdiest festival of the year, which two years ago finished with police chasing people through the alley and in the car park)... and yet I'm watching Come Dine With Me or Time Team on Channel 4, eating Lincolnshire-style sausages and dry-cure back bacon and writing a blog that's mainly read by Brits. When you emigrate, you were traditionally supposed to leave - to make a clean break, and maybe go through some culture-shock training first. For us, the internet has meant that British life is so close that the things we miss - walking down the street to the greengrocer or butcher, Big George's tandoori chicken kebabs, Shahi takeaway on Lodge Road, walking or cycling in the New Forest - are fewer in number and don't seem as far away. Which makes homesickness different - more specific,maybe - but also means it happens less, I think.

Hard to tell. Still, this afternoon I'll clearly be backing England over the USA, even if he does pick Heskey.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

3 June 2010: Nine

Not much time for blogging. But in a curious twist today it appears that Peter Crouch has finally received some kind of credit from the England manager for his somewhat remarkable (why does everyone say 'surprising'?) scoring record for his country.

He has 21 goals in 38 games. Of those 38, he has started 18. In those 18, he has scored 17. Not bad for a man who gets dropped in favour of Heskey on a regular basis.

So what credit has he received? Well, not much, but today Capello revealed the squad numbers for the World Cup, and Crouch got number nine. Doesn't mean anything too much in these days of squad numbers - indeed, I fully expect Crouch to play perhaps one game in the competition and Rooney spend most of the time up on his own, or watching Heskey fall over. But it's something.

Shame Theo didn't make it, but he'll be back... he's just too good. Watching him play for England on the wing (by the way, he's a better centre-forward than winger) and Crouch up front was like watching Saints reserves from a few years ago. All we need is Garry Monk in there and we'd be sorted.

Meantime there are rumours of HMRC launching two legal actions against the Premier League and Football League, one linked directly to the Pompey fiasco and one less directly linked. Maybe Pompey aren't out of the woods yet?

Monday, May 24, 2010

24 May 2010: Cuts

As expected, plenty of government cuts, including some reported here.

Quote from that report of special interest to the original purpose of this blog:

"The government department that was hardest hit by Monday's cuts was that for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). BIS is now to scrap its funding — announced by then-PM Gordon Brown in March — for a new Institute of Web Science. The institute would have been focused on the development of the Semantic Web, and would have been led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt of the University of Southampton.

"In light of the current pressures on public finances, the government has decided that it cannot support the creation of a new Institute for Web Science at Southampton University at this time," a BIS spokesperson said in a statement."

The thing is this: someone's going to do it, and the UK will miss out as a result. Cuts need to be made - drastically, yes - but when we emerge (assuming we do emerge), there can be little doubt that this will be regarded as a missed opportunity. As is often the case in Comp Sci, things move quickly and you can't simply delay something like this. Someone else will do it, and it'll be the UK - not just ECS Southampton and us ex-AKTors - who will miss out.

And before you get people saying "yes, but cuts need to be made, and 5 million is a lot of wonga", I would like to mention a few short words about other areas of astonishing - aSTONishing - waste over the last few years: government contracts; Stellent; Club. Very few people know what that's about, but if you think 5 million is a lot of wonga to waste on a world-leading Institute of Web Science, try digging around to see how much IT wastage there has been in recent years, paid for by UK taxes.

To say the least, one commonly-promoted statistic in undergrad computer science is this: 80% of all IT projects are never deployed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

20 May 2010: Important

A recent dinner visit by some British friends brought up an old debate. No, not tax-funded healthcare, the existence of a deity or even whether toilet roll goes over or under. Simply this: we made scones and clotted cream, and with jam supplied by Betty's of York, it was time to find out whether our guests were jam-first or cream-first people.

I am jam-first. Gloria is cream-first. Our guests were equally split 50-50, along with the comment "never really thought about it." Which is how most people are, I believe.

And then on to the BBC news site today and they even have a video story about it - click here to see it and I believe that if you're in the UK you can watch it without having to see a commercial for a train company first. Those people - interviewed up on Dartmoor on a terribly misty, cold day (ie summer) - were split evenly too.

So here's the question: jam first, or cream first? (You can also say why if you want).

Postscript: Becky comments that Argyle are selling their best player (they only have one worth selling, at least they did until he left this week) and saying "no, there are no plans to go into administration" and wondering if something might be up. I wouldn't say anything other than Michael Heseltine used to somewhat famously go round saying he wouldn't run for Conservative Party leader, before doing so on at least two occasions. Expect administration pretty soon. Not because of illegal doings or anything, just relegation and a divided board who have refused to put any money into the club, despite their having plenty.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

12 May 2010: Double Take

Is it just me or are these two vaguely reminiscent of the Double Take Brothers from Harry Enfield?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

11 May 2010: Endgame

And there it is. I was working and so missed the dramatic moments on live TV, but Gordon's gone to the Queen and said "I'm off", and as I write this David Cameron has gone to Buckingham Palace to be asked by the Queen "Are you in a position to form a government?" Presumably he'll say "yes", otherwise the Queen will have to respond like a disappointed teacher: "well, go back and do it again". The exact deal hasn't been finalised yet, let alone ratified by the Lid Dems, but presumably Dave will now take over as PM straight away and will have until the Queen's Speech to put the actual team together in time for the first vote.

Earlier, the Rainbow Alliance plan seemed to finally have fallen by the wayside - Lib Dems and Labour just far enough apart and the minority government that would be formed just too much of a minority to work. Also, Labour seem to be taking a slightly longer-term strategy of letting their two rival parties tackle the economic deficit, and however successful they are it still will be painful, and Labour will be in a position to come in and come right back at the next election, whenever that may be. (Sounds weird, but don't forget Winston Churchill won the Second World War and immediately lost the next General Election.)

And that's that, change of Executive branch of government in less than an hour. Cameron's still in there, incidentally - twenty minutes now, rather like Gordon Brown going to visit the house of the non-bigoted woman. He's the youngest PM since 1812. There's a rumour of Clegg becoming Deputy PM, but I can see problems with that (standing in a PMQ's for a start)... we probably won't know for sure for a while. There's no rush now - it's clearly a LibCon of some type that we'll get and the Queen's Speech isn't until May 25.

Oh, there he goes, off to work!

Edit: Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister is confirmed. Partly this means he has no particular portfolio and therefore can be kept out of mischief, but I reiterate my earlier question about PMQs and also, let's not forget the UK (well, Europe) has laws about Paternity Leave (notably lacking in the USA), which could be interesting come the autumn. (Yes, Mrs C is expecting.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

10 May 2010: Debate

Update 2.12pm eastern: Conservatives making a "final offer" to the Lib Dems: a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system, and William Hague says this (AV) was at the specific request of the Lib Dems. In other words, they said they wanted AV, not STV, which will disappoint a lot of Lib Dem fans who actually will feel betrayed by Nick Clegg at this point. And this move by the Conservatives to offer an AV referendum is surely all a response to Mr Brown resigning. Funny how they're all now negotiating by action in the media: who can make the most impressive gesture? It's like watching a TV documentary about weird animal mating rituals. AV, for those interested, means that instead of just a tick/cross by one name, you put numbers by (at least some of) the names, indicating your order of preference. If the candidate with most 1's by their name fails to get over 50% for that constituency, they add in the 2's. And so on.

So Gordon's going to step down as Labour leader, having lost the election. Not because it's the decent thing to do (although that would be the main reason if it wasn't for what the main reason is): no, it's because the Lib Dems appear to have clearly told him there's no way they're joining Labour in some kind of rainbow coalition (see previous post for the sums on who has to be involved) without him stepping aside. So off he goes.

Meantime LibCon hasn't happened yet, Lib Dems saying they need more clarification on specific issues, although frankly those talks seem to be going far better than I'd ever have thought. But now the Lib Dems have opened a dialogue with Labour too, which is a much easier ideological fit but a much harder mathematical one. And if it can somehow happen, it'll be Gordon going as soon as the Lib Dems (and lots of Labour folks) can brush him out the door, and leaving David "Steve" Miller Band as odds-on fave to take over. Meaning...

Meaning, for one thing, that if it happens then the Prime Minister will NOT be one of the three who got involved in the "unique, ground-breaking" televised debates. Kind of makes a mockery of it, really, although it shows people what the difference is between a Presidency and a Prime Ministership. Unless Nick Clegg somehow winds up as caretaker manager or something.

One thing I have noticed is people saying: "well, this is proof as to why we shouldn't have PR" - not sure that holds up. The problem isn't so much that negotiating a coalition is difficult or takes time, but that in this case there are two specific situations: 1. you have a very, very finely balanced mathematical equation: Tories plus DUP = 314, Labour plus Lib Dem = 315, although you can add the 3 SDLPs with no bother to the Labour number since they take the Labour whip; more importantly though - 2. the two parties that can form a stable, majority government are the two least likely to jump into bed together (Conservative and Lib Dem - even Cons and Labour might be a little closer these days because the Lib Dems are clearly left of Labour these days).

In a "normal" coalition situation you'd have various alignments and if voting totals were proportional to seats, this election would undoubtedly lead to a LibLab coalition with no need for nationalists: 52% of the vote, two parties that are relatively similar in policy and ideology, and there you go. PR and we wouldn't have this mess.

(Of course, there's PR and there's PR. Lib Dems want the STV version, Labour are talking about Alternative Vote, which isn't even PR, and there's a ton of other systems out there, all of which sit somewhere on the sliding scale between the result we got and the 52% LibLab coalition situation I just described. None of it is perfect, all of it will fail sometime and as Gareth says, you need to ensure local representation, although I think the Euro-election MEP thing isn't far off with that.)

Anyway, the pound has just dropped 1.5 cents against the dollar since Gordon's announcement, and frankly this Rainbow Coalition thing still seems totally fanciful to me - for no other reason than it cannot, cannot last, especially with Labour backbenchers' histories of dissent. Maybe Cleggy's bunch are just trying to put pressure on Cameron's team to make more concessions... but if they're not, if this is genuine, I can't see any realistic outcome other than another election pretty darn quick.

Better get registered to vote, everyone. And David Dimbleby better catch up on his sleep.

Friday, May 07, 2010

7 May 2010: Options

Rob wonders whether the spectre of Gordon Brown hanging in there is enough to drive Nick Clegg and David Cameron together.

I don't know, it's hard to say whether it's enough for Clegg - it's clearly Cameron's wish, and Clegg doesn't immediately seem too repulsed by the idea, although we really have no idea what he's thinking.

Clegg's problem is that he doesn't have an alternative for the Lib Dems really. If he talks to Gordon and agree to LibLab coalition, they still only have 314 seats between them. To that you can certainly add the 3 SDLP from Ulster, probably the new Alliance lady from Ulster and frankly, probably the Green Lady from Brighton. That leaves them on 319, provided everyone shows up for the vote and there's not one dissenter (and this is Labour we're talking about, remember).

In theory you need 326 to win a vote; however Sinn Fein have 5 seats and they don't sit in Westminster on principle, so maybe 323/324 might be enough. So to get there you need to add the SNP into the mix.

They might - just might - be anti-Conservative enough to join in, but then you have SIX parties in coalition and still only just creep over the line. Three more from Plaid Cymru and you're a little further but have seven parties involved.

In other words, it's not going to happen... at least not realistically, because such a coalition would last just a few months and it probably isn't in all their interests to get an electoral reform referendum underway in that time anyway.

So assuming that's no-go (although not missing by much), that means either there's a ConLib of sorts, or there's some kind of weak Conservative minority for a few months, and then another election. And if there's another election, what would happen?

That is the key question for Clegg: if he has to choose between some ConLib deal without a PR referendum OR have another election soon (and I think those are the two choices that he has), what does he do? I have no idea, but if I was Nick Clegg I'd be pretty nervous about going to the polls again given the number of seats they *just* held on to from the Conservatives.

7 May 2010: Offer

David Cameron says he'll make a 'comprehensive offer' to the Lib Dems.

For those who are wondering why and how this could happen, given that the two parties are about as far apart as anything in UK party politics, it's worth thinking about the nature of the various parties. The Conservatives tend to want to be in government, and don't like having to rely on semi-formal relationships with their Friends In Northern Irelend (FINI) - but they like strong government. You might say 'surely all parties want that' - not quite so: the politics of the left in the UK (and generally) is more along the lines of 'we're happy to be out for a while if it results in better ideology, and then we'll come in and sort it out'; it's also more likely to be fragmented. The politics of the right is more tending to be united (hard to believe Heath and Thatcher, for instance, were in the same party) and will do surprising things in order to remain. This is why the Conservatives got rid of Thatcher in 1990 after the Poll Tax, despite she being their most successful leader since Churchill (perhaps more so, since she never lost an election). It's also why Tony Blair and New Labour, interestingly, can be legitimately classified as conservative.

Whether the promised 'Committee of Inquiry' into electoral reform is enough for the Lib Dems remains to be seen: Labour (Brown or otherwise) will presumably offer the Lib Dems an immediate referendum on electoral reform. Nick Robinson says the Lib Dems may not go for full coalition but might go item-by-item and let him govern for a bit, prior to the next election in the next few months or possibly years. Still, you have to imagine Cameron's team sounded the Lib Dems out before making this offer.

Results still not yet in, of course. And they may not be for some considerable time.

Odds on next election date? November or perhaps next May? Probably depends on how Nick Clegg responds to David Cameron's offer. Nothing other than a Con-Lib agreement will prevent another election pretty darn soon.

7 May 2010: Hung

Well, that was a mess of an election. And I don't just mean the polling station debacle, which may yet lead to legal challenges in a significant number of constituencies (although I don't know if these are marginals or not, so it may not matter, but it may).

I write this at 12.43am eastern, coming up to 6am in the UK, and it still hangs on a knife-edge as to whether the Conservatives (maybe plus some friends from Northern Ireland) will have more seats than Labour plus Lib Dem. Neither faction will have enough (predicted the BBC, whose coverage is being carried without commercial interruption by C-SPAN over here) to form a government. So, let the horse-trading begin.

There are some questions I have at this point that Dimbleby et al haven't really looked at yet: like what if LibLab happens but they also need some friends in Northern Ireland, and yet Sinn Fein (who tend to take seats that the SDLP used to take) don't sit in Westminster on principle? I suppose they're counting on Plaid and the SNP. Or what if Cameron's Ulster support isn't quite enough? Edit (7.45am): even though the LibDems were a deep disappointment after Cleggmania, it's been pointed by (by David Owen of all people) that the only way to actually get a strong government out of this is Con-Lib pact of some kind, and so it may not be quite as out-of-the-question as possible. Those two just seem so, so far apart though.

And the Green Party winning a seat in Brighton? If nothing else a triumph despite the system rather than because of it. But you know what I think of first-past-the-post. Maybe she'll have the deciding vote in the new Parliament?

Oh, and vote share of course... second in a row that no party gets over 40% of the vote.

But here's the thing for right now: already we can see that whatever happens in the next few minutes/hours/days/weeks, there will one day be another election. And tonight's weird, sometimes freakish results have left more than several constituencies suddenly as marginals that are held (mainly by Conservatives, although there are a few others) that will look very shaky if we ever get back to 'politics as usual' in the future.

And maybe that's the question: given that the really big story of the day (aside from Pompey of course) is the debt crisis spreading from Greece across various other states in the Eurozone, will there be room for politics as usual? Who's going to sort out the huge deficit that was borrowed to dig Britain out of the hole?

1am. C-SPAN just stopped their live BBC feed and probably time for me to go to sleep.

On the upside, Esther Rantzen lost her deposit.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

6 May 2010: Imbalance

Plymouth Argyle have announced Paul Mariner is no longer manager, but will remain on as Head Coach while the new manager search is conducted. No word on his future after that: presumably it'll be up to the new manager.

Meantime Pompey have, seemingly, got away with it. Despite rules and laws against almost everything they've done over the last few months/years, they've now (seemingly) got the agreement of all the creditors, including the HMRC taxman, and also the Football League and Premier League to go for 20p in the pound payment on all non-secured debts (which HMRC have always said they'd never do), and they'll liquidate the old club and start a new one (which the Football League have always said means you drop at least two divisions) and it will all happen with no further penalties or deductions, and they'll be debt-free and can start again. Oh, and they're applying for their place in Europe after all. And all the parties involved are fine with it.

How on earth did they do it? Saints, Bournemouth, Palace, Chester City, Luton, Wimbledon, Aldershot and plenty of others presumably have huge grounds here for legal appeals on the sanctions applied against them for much smaller offences. And isn't trading while insolvent illegal in the UK? Only if you're not Pompey, it would appear. They're special.

It stinks, and today's news makes the stink worse. But it appears nothing will be done, and indeed they've got away with it.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

4 May 2010: Sparksy

Apologies for lack of bloggage recently, usual excuse.

However, for those in the Plymouth area (I know this somewhat limits the relevance), you might like to know I got a call from Radio Devon at lunchtime asking if I'd be willing to go on the Gordon Sparks breakfast show, talking about what it's like being A Pilgrim Abroad (Becky's suggested re-title for this blog which I still haven't got around to sorting out). I said 'that's a bit bleddy early' but I suppose fame has its costs. Must be a slow news day over there.

So anyway, it's not (as far as I know) available for 'listen again' on the internet because Sparksy's show is the Plymouth opt-out rather than the main Radio Devon stream, which is the one carried online. Therefore it's a case of blink and you'll miss it, and indeed I was on around 7.30am for a few minutes (I write this just after being on), discussing things ranging from Argyle's hopeless season (the highlight being the Barnsley match where it was abandoned with Argyle 4-1 down, and had to be replayed from the start) to the Indianapolis Colts and Kokomo's gas tower (I guess Sparksy had been reading up on the place). Didn't manage to get a word in for Allie's books (sorry sis), but in case you missed it, she's up for the Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance for her first book.

In other news, the new Doctor Who is excellent (except for the Daleks episode), 4Store is to start handling reasoning to some extent, Pompey still haven't been wound up, we're no closer to finding a name for the baby girl due in August, the local health food store in Kokomo have started stocking Traderspoint milk (meaning you can now buy unhomogenized milk in Kokomo), I've damaged my achilles tendon so no Indy half-marathon for me this weekend (boo) and it's time to make more bacon and sausages, as I've finished off the last lot and barbecue season approaches.

Bacon on a barbecue? Yes. Best way to cook it. High up, nice and slow. Fan-blooming-tastic.

Monday, April 19, 2010

19 April 2010: Relegation

It's a sad day when Argyle get relegated, especially from this division.

It's happened twice before in my lifetime: once in 1977 when I was too young to care and once in 1992 when I was there to see it. In 1977 a rising star striker named Paul Mariner left halfway through the season to go on to bigger things with Bobby Robson at Ipswich and then England, leaving the rest of Tony Waiters' team to flounder, going down on the last day of the season away at Sheffield United. In 1992 the culmination of two years of dreadful team-building by David Kemp (putting together a series of starting 11s who never again played league football after leaving Argyle - they were that bad) was an unsurprising 3-1 home defeat by Blackburn Rovers, who were promoted as a result and who within two years had won (bought) the Premier League title.

And today was the third. As high as fourth in the table a couple of seasons ago when Ian "hollow-words" Holloway left after promising to stay forever, and old favourite Paul Sturrock coming in to take over where he left off in 2004. But it was never the same, and despite having a team that in all actuality wasn't too bad in terms of absolute quality (for which read: they're better than David Kemp's team was and may indeed continue to play league football in their careers) they never gelled, and so many players had personal issues of some sort or another (Graham Stack, Simon Walton and thumbs-up boy Marcel Seip spring to mind even before we start getting into the Scottish contingent) that the side never settled, and probably never could. Mariner's return as coach and then manager certainly brought some life to the team - they actually won a game after going behind, which they'd not done in 2 years - but it was still too inconsistent, and too late.

So today, on a warm spring evening in Plymouth, Newcastle United came to town, needing a point to ensure their position as division champions, and happy to take a win if it came their way. Two soft goals later, that was that. Newcastle will be in the Premier League next year, snapping at the heels of the big clubs I'd wager, while Argyle will head back to obscurity for another dozen or so years. They'll think about bouncing straight back of course, and may even challenge for a year or two, but the investment isn't there (the new Japanese owners have failed to provide any money at all and indeed haven't even shown up for a single game) so maybe back down to the fourth tier we'll go.

And it doesn't seem long ago that we were celebrating two promotions in three years, with Sparksy getting cakes in the press box and Trigger and Friio making him proclaim the unforgettable: "TWO nil. THAT'S it. Argyle are UP." Now that work has gone away, phase two never happened (what a surprise) and there's little reason to hope for much for Argyle, in all honesty. Things can always change - there was little reason to hope in the Fat Dan Years - but maybe it's for the best. As John Cleese once wisely opined: I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand.

Surely there can't be a better quote for a Plymouth Argyle fan.

Postscript: Having said that, Rob just sent me a ringtone version of a Dalek saying "would-you-care-for-some-tea" from Saturday's Doctor Who, and that's not a bad quote either. Solves everything, PG Tips.

Monday, April 12, 2010

12 April 2010: Proxy

Back from holidays and it's probably time to update the blog, seeing as the last entry was getting all excited about a midweek chart show from two weeks ago.

So Delirious ended up at number 4 for the week overall, which is pretty good considering their previous highest position in the singles chart was number 16 back in early 1999. Even better considering the band no longer exists. But I couldn't buy a copy since I was abroad, and my many attempts to use UK iTunes accounts all seemed to be found out. I need a nice UK proxy.

Talking of proxies... seems Mr Brown has asked Mrs Queen to dissolve parliament and have a general election, and she presumably agreed with a big sigh, thinking "here we bleddy go again". (Seriously, how many elections has she seen now? She must be bored of them.) I've looked into voting from here and it's curious: mainly because of the constituency system but also partly because it's badly designed. I am eligible to register to vote in the last constituency in which I lived (Southampton Test as I recall) BUT when it comes to actually voting, there are two options: (1) postal ballot and (2) proxy vote. Number 1 isn't an option because they require a turnaround time of five days from start to finish - and it normally takes a week to get stuff from the UK by normal post, so that would mean I'd receive my ballot paper some two days after the election took place, let alone sending it back again. Leaving us with number 2, the proxy vote, and it seems to me that while it's ok for me to waste my time performing my usual vote (click here for details from the last UK election - have I really been blogging that long? Sheesh) it's a little unfair to ask someone else to perform the task on my behalf.

Sidenote on the spoiling thing: Before anyone goes off on one about rights, duties and privileges, I ask you to consider (1) the purpose of having an election with no actual, real choice (they had elections in the USSR, remember), (2) the purpose of representative democracy (am I represented?) and (3) Lord Hailsham's seemingly timeless remark on the UK as an "elective dictatorship", or a place which is a democracy, but only for one single day every five years.

May be different this time, due to the possibilities of a hung parliament (despite its promising name, this doesn't involve the execution of politicians, but instead means no single party has overall control of our unseparated powers). Andy has some interesting thoughts on the runners and riders from the minor parties so that's something to consider if you'd like your vote to count. But don't forget, it's first past the post in each constituency so for your Green/UKIP/Reptile vote to count, you'd need that candidate to win in your constituency before they get around to being king-makers in any minority government. Still, if just one percent of the population protest...

No, hang on, that was Doctor Who, not the actual election. Is it just me or did 'The Beast Below' fit in very nicely with the overall election theme? What is your choice: to protest about the system and thus bring about the collapse of a corrupt, unfair system or choose to forget about it for another five years and carry on in ignorance like nothing is wrong? Steven Moffat would have known broadcast dates some time in advance, and it wasn't difficult to predict the timing of this election...

No need to say much more on the first two Moffat episodes of Doctor Who, though. They were great, just great, thoroughly enjoyable, fun, deep, everything the RTD stories promised to be and rarely delivered. And Matt Smith is better that I thought he'd be too. They could do with changing the title sequence and music, though...

Finally, if you have any doubts about corrupt politicians, check out recent history of the island of Grand Turk, where I found Cadbury's Whole Nut last week. Now there is a seriously corrupt story... it must be bad when the British government wades in, dissolves the constitution and takes over control from London. We don't do that kind of thing any more... do we? Elections to be held there by mid-2011, say the leaflets from the supermarket.

Wonder if it'll be PR or first past the post?