Sunday, November 30, 2008

In A Fog

Following an 8 week spell in which I hadn't attended a football match, I turned up yesterday for the 5th time in 11 days at Sheffield FC's ground.

The freezing fog of the morning had burnt away and the sun was shining although it was still bitter cold. A hundred or so boys and girls in football kit and sportswear provided a guard of honour as the teams ran onto the pitch and later engaged in a half-time penalty contest. This is a great form of community involvement. It also boosts the size of the crowd as parents also turn up. I suspect that they are allowed in free, but it is likely to have a future spin-off at the turn-styles.

The game against Lincoln United was going well. There was some good play, except that both sides were given to hoofing the ball in the air. At half-time Sheffield FC had the edge due to a goal by Goddard.

The fog was rolling back in by half-time as Martin and I made our way to the Coach and Horses pub. It got worse as we looked at the half-time League score on their telly - but as luck had it, it hadn't got into the pub! We returned to the ground to find out that the match was abandoned.

Sheffield FC are now into a bit of chaos over their league fixtures. Although that are level pegging in the league with 4 wins, 2 draws and 4 defeats; they are third from bottom in the league with 6 games in hand of the team above them and between 3 and 9 games in hand of everyone else.

The main problem has been cup runs. We have played 14 cup games, 10 league games plus yesterday's abandoned match. Yet our cup runs have mainly come to nought. We have been in 5 competitions and have been knocked out of 4 of these. We remain in the Unibond League Cup and had a worthwhile and lucrative run in the FA Cup, just failing to make it to the first round proper.

When I made it back home, I picked up on the news from the Premiership. My team Sunderland lost 4-1 at home to Bolton. Our half-time fog had been in the wrong place.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Welcome The Iraqi Referendum

The Iraqi Parliament has agreed to a plan that would see the withdrawal of US troops from their country by the end of 2011 and their removal from the streets by the end of June, 2009. It leaves open the question of whether the US will then obtain future bases in their country. And whilst a referendum will be held about the current decision, this will not take place until July 2009 after US troops have been returned to their barracks. A rejection of the plan would then speed up troop departures and would probably create a political situation in which the US would find it more difficult to establish permanent bases in Iraq.

Western Security Contractors (such as Blackwater) also become subject to Iraqi law.

Whatever the shortcomings are about the referendum and its timing, it does give the Iraqi people a voice in the changed situation that has developed since their last General Election. It will need to be democratic and open, with its decision being honoured. It opens up the prospect of the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by around the end of 2009 (instead of 2 years later) by a decision of the Iraqi people themselves. We need a democratic decision with the Iraqi people deciding what they want on this matter - one way or the other.

A Twist From Chimbonda

Here is a another picture of Pascal Chimbonda in Sunderland's change strip. He will be found seated on the hallowed turf of local Sheffield FC's ground. The incident occurred yesterday evening when he did one of his trade mark 180 degree turns and twisted his ankle.

He hobbled on for a period and seemingly recovered, but he was subsituted after 60 minutes. I'm not sure whether he was being rested for a place in Sunderland's first team on Saturday or whether he is now on the injured list.

He was playing in central defence in a cup game between Sheffield United Reserves and Sunderland Reserves. The Blades are currently playing their 2nd XI home games on Sheffield FC's ground.

Although Chimbonda played well, I am not sure why Roy Keane (who was at the match) was trying him out in central defence - where his qualities are known. I would have liked to see how he can play in the midfield. For when he plays at right-back, his strength is coming forward into attack rather than blocking opponents.

Chimbonda was a regular in Sunderland's first team at the start of the season, but for some unknown reason he has recently been dropped entirely from the first team squad.

In yesterday's game, Sunderland Reserves dominated the proceedings and won 3-0. From a Sunderland perspective (which I share) there is a fine report here.

I agree entirely with the writer (whom I chatted to twice at the match) that El-Hadji Diouf and Daryl Murphy had poor games. Yet they both came on as substitutes in Sunderland's last premiership game. I had finally come to the conclusion that they should both be substituted this time, when Keane did exactly that. I just hope that his motive was the same as mine and that he wasn't saving them for the next Premiership game.

Due praise is given to numbers of Sunderland's regular reserves in the report I have linked to above. I would, however, also add left-back Nathan Luscombe to the list. He was particularly creative in the second half.

For a Sunderland supporter it was a good night out. Especially as I used my free bus pass to travel the short distance too and from the ground and then only paid a £1 concessionary entrance fee. It wouldn't even pay for the time it took Chimbonda to twist his ankle.

Margaret : Your Chance Has Arrived

Given that Gordon Brown and Margaret Beckett are reported as looking for means to boost house building, is there still hope that we can move towards a major Council House building programme?

Margaret Beckett as the Minister for Houing has a final chance to go out in a blaze of glory on this one and retrieve her past reputation for being a socialist.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thumbs Up

Yesterday evening Sheffield FC were at home to North Ferriby United in a Unibond League Cup game. We expected the worst as our opponents play in a higher Unibond Division to ours and are pressing for promotion. Furthermore our team experienced a humiliating defeat on Saturday from the bottom team Brigg Town, who had been without a league victory until they turned us over 2-0.

But you can't apply logic to football. We were transformed and outplayed our opponents from the start with a smart passing game. Admittedly things went wrong at some stage. A defensive blunder enabled our opponents to take the lead via Alex Davidson in the 32 Minute. We also had two goals disallowed and when a North Ferriby defender belted the ball into the crowd it nearly burst my thumb. The pain only made the subsequent gain more enjoyable.

Once Dave slipped out just before half-time to get the drinks in for Martin and me, we scored two quick goals from two of our stars Steve Woolley and Scott Partridge. It is a pity that we haven't a bar like the one at Gresley which overlooks the ground. But we are working on that one.

The start of the second half was delayed as a substitute linesman had to be found. Once in action again we pressed on. But again a defensive error cut across our efforts. Peter Davidson put the scores level after 58 Minutes. But with Smudge (Paul Smith) marshalling our forces from the left-back position with free kicks, corners, centres and defence splitting passes, we felt that justice would emerge.

After duties at the County Council at Matlock. Janet turned up for the last 20 minutes of the game. Just in time to see us run riot. Scott Partridge ran onto through passes in the 73 and 88 minutes. Each time you knew that he would not miss the net. He had added a hat-trick to the 4 he had scored in the first round of the cup. Then on 90 Minutes, Daz Winter scored a well deserved 5th goal.

So whilst Dave only saw us win 3-2, Janet his wife saw us win 3-0. It was Martin and myself who saw the full 5-2 victory. And it wasn't until we got back to the Coach and Horses at the end of the game that I noticed the swollen state of my thumb. But it was a small price to pay for a fine evening.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lost - Our Political Opinions

For a UK political blogger, the most helpful link I know has been "Political Opinions" run by Grant.

Unfortunately, his site seems to be facing its third crisis.

First of all in September 2007, Grant decided to pack it in. Numbers of us helped to pursued him to continue with his vital service.

Then this September, the site was highjacked for a period before Grant was able to restore it.

And now (unless Grant is in transition to a new service provider) he seems to have been hijacked again, this time by 1&1 Internet.

I hope that Grant is back soon - you can check here to see if he is now back or this is still 1&1.

The history of my past comments on this saga can be found via the label below.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Spend And Tax - Update Added

Tomorrow's Pre-Budget Statement should seek (a) to stimulate demand in the economy, (b) with the knowledge that monies will need to be paid back at some stage - although if the package works and demand grows then some of the payment for it will be self-financing. I will judge what is proposed by Alistair Darling to the extent that it fits in with the following pattern. But I won't be holding my breath.

To Increase Economic Demand

1. Increase Pensions and other Benefits.

2. Increase Expenditure on Social Provisions in areas such as Health, Social Welfare and Education.

3. Finance a Council House Building Programme.

4. Take over houses that have been repossessed and rent these out to their former owners.

5. Raise the Income Tax Threshold, without allowing the wealthy to benefit from this.

To Pay For This Programme

A. A Wealth Tax.

B. Windfall Taxes on Super Profits and Bonuses.

C. Raise Income Tax on the Top Earners.

D. Corporation Tax Increases.

E. Work also for International Taxes on currency and other forms of speculation. With the proceeds being used to overcome third world poverty.


On moves to increase demand in the economy, Alistair Darling produced thin versions of the points I made in 1,2,3 and 4 above - although he covered a wider and more problematic range of issues. Whilst there was nothing about a specific Council House building programme (my point 3), social housing was included in the capital spending that is to be brought forward from 2010-11. So perhaps I should be half satisfied with this half of his equation.

On moves to pay for his programme, Alistair included none of my points A,B,D or E. He did include the much trawled and future promise of an extra 5% income tax band for those earning over £150,000. Whilst this is a mild version of my point C, I am aware of the significance of such a change of principle. I once asked Tony Blair if we could not move towards a more progressive element at the top end of the income tax scale. To which he said that we could not go into a general election promising an income tax increase. Gordon Brown answered the same question by saying that nothing was set in concrete. It is nice to see that we are now out of the concrete, even if I did ask my questions over ten years ago!

Frozen, Teetotal And Defeated

Yesterday afternoon everything looked set for Sheffield FC to record a thumping home victory.

Their opponents, Brigg Town were without a League win all season, having drawn only 3 games and lost 13. Earlier in the season Sheffield FC had recorded a 5-0 win at Brigg's ground and only last Tuesday they had seen off high flying Durham City with an impressive performance.

But it turned out to be a pretty miserable afternoon. It was freezing cold and I was on medication which ruled out a half-time pint. Worse still Sheffield FC suffered a shock 2-0 defeat.

We conceded two sloppy goals, nothing went right for us when we put the pressure on and we finally resorted to hopeful and unimpressive long range punts at goal in the final 20 minutes.

At half time we were 1-0 down and I then dashed to the Coach and Horses for warmth and companionship. I was with Dave and Martin who had pints in front of them. When Tom joined us with his drink he was astonished to see that I was abstaining. I pointed out that my medication did not permit alcohol and that the instructions went on to say the tablets' side effects could lead to constipation and a lowered sex drive, but unfortunately they did not lower my urge for alcohol when the temptation was all around me in a pub.

I soon decided it was time for me to return to the ground. For once I was back in time for the second half kick off. Brigg went straight up the field and scored their second goal.

Once the dismissal game was over, Martin and I dashed for the bus to get away from things. I was hardly going back into the pub to watch others drown their sorrows.

I can only hope that the weather, my medical condition and the football pick up for Tuesday evening's game.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

King Charles - The Last

Here is Johann Hari at his best in today's Independent.

Watch Your Back, John

At long last I made it to a football match at Sheffield FC's ground. This was on Tuesday evening and it was 8 weeks since I had attended. On the surface it looked as if we were in for a drubbing.

It was the second round of the Unibond League Cup. Our opponents, Durham City play in a parallel league. Although they are in fifth position, they are unbeaten and have sufficient games in hand of the teams above them to readily take over the top spot.

In contrast, Sheffield FC have a middling league record and have suffered so many injuries that when the teams ran out onto the pitch I only recognised five of our players - two of whom used to occupy the substitutes bench.

But my fears were soon put to rest. After 13 minutes we had established a two goal lead and were pouring on the pressure. We were three up after 63 minutes and seemed to be coasting it.

Jez Mitchell, a new signing had provided the assist for Mick Goddard's opening goal and added the two other goals. In the first half he had three carefully placed shots which just crept past the Durham post. Then a Durham defender made a dramatic save by blasting the ball against his own post.

Next to me Dave was busy on his mobile, letting the absent Martin know when each goal whizzed in. Near the end, however, the tide turned with Adam Johnson (73 Minutes) and Tommy English (83 Minutes) putting Durham back in the game. But it was only just that we held on for a 3-2 victory as we had dominated most of the game.

Events were enlivened when the Sheffield FC supporters heard the referee regularly shout out to the Durham captain Stephen Harrison, calling him "Steve". A series of wisecracks came from the terraces on the assumption that Steve was the ref's son. If we hadn't gone on to win, I think that there would have been calls for a steward's enquiry.

When Dave, Janet and I settled into the Coach and Horses pub after the match, it was time for chats with the visitors. I originate from Easington which is just eight miles east of Durham, so I was keen to find out what gossip I could.

I came across two Durham supporters. One was from Shiney Row and the other was from Murton Colliery. John Cummings (photo above) whom I know well, is the MP for the Easington Constituency and he worked at the pit at Murton. When I mentioned this the reply came back "why I, I used to wash his back for him at the pithead baths".

I next talked to the Durham City goalkeeper Craig Turns, as the programme said that he was born at Easington. It turned out that he had been born at the maternity hospital at Littlethorpe, Easington Village and that he really originated from nearby Seaham. But that was fine as our son was born in the same "baby farm" and the first job I ever had as a railway clerk was at Seaham.

The programme notes also said that Tommy English a Durham goalscorer was born at Easington. But he had left the crowded pub before I could discover whether he was another product of the baby farm. I had shouted at him from the touch line about his Easington connection, but I didn't hear what he shouted back. Perhaps I incensed him that much that he ran up the field and scored!

Four of the Durham team had been on Sunderland's books at some time (including "Steve" and Craig the goalkeeper), whilst two others were born in Sunderland. But although (like John above) I am a Sunderland supporter, this did not undermine my support for Sheffield FC. My chance to support Sunderland from the terraces will come on 26 November when Sheffield FC host a match between Sheffield United Reserves and Sunderland Reserves. There is only once that I ever supported a team playing against Sunderland Reserves and that was when they played Easington Colliery Welfare. I am hardly going to desert the lads to support a bunch from Bramall Lane.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Lot Of Harlots ?

The economic downturn does not stop for breath. Financial and business decisions are made which circulate the world in an instant. Each loss of confidence, spreads its own momentum. So the answer for some politicians is to seek to re-establish growth (and hence confidence) via measures such as interest rate cuts, tax cuts, co-ordination and Bretton Woods-style regulations.

But they have a job on their hands. Not least because free media outlets also have their own worldwide momentum. They feel obliged to probe and undermine each fresh statistic or other piece of news, even if their new concern is diametrically opposed to what they argued yesterday.

So when our dangerously high rate of inflation falls back somewhat mainly due to a fall in petrol prices, then we are presented with the danger of our moving into a form of deflation on the style of inter-war years. This "news" will probably sap financial and business confidence even further and help bring about just what the media is "predicting".

So does this mean that I favour a State controlled media? No, but it would help if we had commentators with a mixture of intelligent and individually consistent outlooks. Instead, we find that Rudyard Kipling, Stanley Baldwin and John Lloyd were near the mark in seeing the mainline press (et al) as "exercising power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages."

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Problem With Gordon

This is from today's Guardian -

"Gordon Brown tonight called on the world's most powerful industrial nations to agree a programme of immediate and coordinated tax cuts to prevent the global economy sliding deeper into recession."

If the world economy is moving into a deflationary position, there is a problem with a co-ordinated programme of tax cuts. In a deflationary situation and with instability, there is an interest in people hording any newly found money from income tax or VAT-style cuts, which can be done by holding it in banks at even low interest rates as well as keeping it in their purses and wallets. For if money will be seen as increasing its value, people will wish to keep hold of it as some form of protection for the future. It will then only be via a growth in unemployment and the possibility of cuts in wages and benefits that the newly impovished will be obliged to spend the bits they have.

Tax cuts for the poor makes sense as the poor have little option but to spend the bit they have (and the world is full of poor people), but in other areas would it not be better for Governments to increase their own expenditure rather than to give across the board tax cuts? The building of Council Housing and its equivalent being an alternative.

The problems with a move to increased Government expenditure is that (a) it might get bogged down in long term capital programmes which would not do what is needed to stimulate demand in the short-run and (b) numbers of Governments throughout the world are corrupt and would misuse such a programme. So Governments would need to use their expenditure to provide people with consumer type goods. In a world that has wide areas of poverty this is by no means an incorrect approach - although international co-ordination would be essential to the tackle corruption problems.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Housing Crisis - Council Housing Solution

Austin Mitchell the Chair of the Housing Group of MPs had this fine letter in "The Times" on Tuesday. Here is an extract -

".....your lead story (“Council homes for life ‘to be scrapped’ ”, Nov 10) isn’t a forecast of the Green Paper on social housing, but a last-ditch attempt by a tiny group of ideologically motivated barm-pots, some of them in Communities & Local Government, to achieve their longstanding aim of destroying council housing.....Yet....the idea..... foisted on an embarrassed Chartered Institute of Housing (not the other way round, as your article implied) in an attempt to push it on our new Housing Minister, Margaret Beckett.....won’t work. The Labour Party won’t wear it. Nor will the councils. Margaret is a Labour minister, not a Blairite, and she’ll give it the short shrift it deserves because she recognises, as we do, that the only answer to the acute shortage of public housing for rent is to build more. Indeed, the only way to get more housing built in a credit crisis is to finance the councils to put builders back to work and to regenerate estates so they’re not ghettos."

It is over to you Margaret.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Little More History

I remember purchasing a copy of the Pelican edition of H.G.Wells' "Short History Of The World" in my mid-teens when I was making my way to a football match at Sunderland's former ground at Roker Park. It was a fine day and as I arrived at the ground early, I sat on the terraces at the Roker End to start reading. I was soon absorbed by its short early chapters with titles such as "The World In Space","The World In Time" and "The Beginning of Life."

I was so taken by the book that when I later arrived in Iraq in 1955 as a National Serviceman without my small library, I purchased a second copy. It is stamped "Coronet Book Shop, Rashid Street, Baghdad", although I suspect that I purchased it in Basra where I was stationed.

Now over half a century later, the excitement I felt when reading Wells' history has now been re-experienced thanks to my reading the book shown above. It is Ernst Gombrich's "A Little History Of The World" which has recently been published in English in a paperback edition (Yale University Press, 2008, £6.99p).

Whilst Gombrich wrote this book for children, adults will find it a delight. Especially, if they have an inquisitive child or grandchild to read it to - gradually, short chapter by short chapter.

The first edition was published in 1936 (the year I was born) in Vienna and it is, therefore, targeted at a mid-European audience. But this itself helps to broaden English reader's horizons - be they old or young.

In Britain, parents and grandparents will always be able to take an excited child to the British Museum, especially to follow up the fine sections on Antiquity.

I would have liked to have seen a chapter on Sub-Saharan Africa and the nature and impact of the Slave Trade, which included the base it provided for much of the initial industrialisation in Britain. And I am also concerned that young girls might be unable to identify with Gombrich's historical sweep as women are sidelined in his history. Why this is so could fruitfully have been faced and more could have been made of the role of women such as Cleopatra, Joan of Arc and Elizabeth I.

But Gombrich's book is to be absorbed and enjoyed, rather than criticised. The final edition includes a chapter based on his own experiences from the end of the First World War when he was 9, up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. This rounds his work off for us. It also has an extra relevance for me in that I was myself approaching 9 at the end the Second World War.

It will also encourage me to return to H.G.Wells. For his own short history is drawn from his larger work entitled "The Outline Of History" which I went on to buy second hand at 8 Shillings and 6 Pence in the days of old money, but which I have only used for reference purposes to date.

But above all it will lead me on to Gombrich. For after he produced the original edition of his little history (which has 40 chapters!), he went on to become the leading art historian of his generation. So I at last need to get hold of a copy of his international bestseller "The Story Of Art" - it has sold 6 million copies to date!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bloggers And Blears

In a talk to the Hansard Society, Hazel Blears (left, but not politically) has made the following attack on political bloggers.

"Perhaps because of the nature of the technology, there is a tendency for political blogs to have a 'Samizdat' style. The most popular blogs are rightwing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes. Perhaps this is simply anti-establishment. Blogs have only existed under a Labour government. Perhaps if there was a Tory government, all the leading blogs would be left-of-centre?

But mostly, political blogs are written by people with disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.

Until political blogging 'adds value' to our political culture, by allowing new voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair"
(I suppose a quote is Samizdat!)

If she wishes to look for an alternative set of political blogs to those she attacks, then she should examine the links in the column to my right. Not to mention my Archives which cover 400 entries on top of this one (although some are about football and not politics - as are a few of my links).

To attack political bloggers on Hazel's basis is like being rude to those who talk politics in pubs and clubs, on buses and trains and even at organised political meetings. Just because numbers of people talk crap, it does not mean that they all do. Nor that their chosen avenue of expression should be damned.

If she wishes to raise the standard of political blogging, then she should join in as numbers of her parliamentary colleagues do. On second thoughts, I haven't came across anything yet to indicate that Hazel has anything to offer in raising the standard of debate whatever avenue she decides to use - certainly nothing she says from the green benches. But there I go again fueling cynicism and despair.

The Pain Of McCain

Perhaps I am becoming an old cynic, but the BBC's current euphoria over the election of Barack Obama reminds me of its 1997 enthusiasm over the election of Tony Blair. But I do have higher hopes for Barack.

For one thing, he will be obliged to shift US foreign policy. For otherwise he will come to be known as Barack O'Bomber.

My interest in John McCain (above) is that he is my age. This means, of course, that we have always been the same age. So I can follow the dramatic events in his life and remember the more mundane things I was doing when he was going through the traumas of being a POW or was engaged in the excitements of his high level political career in the USA. (I was, however, around 38 days before he was born. But I don't remember that much. It might, however, give me the edge on gravitas.)

What can he now do? Well like all of us at 72, he can keep on reminiscing. Better still, he could get himself a personal blog and click into my comment box now and again.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Congo - We Need More Than Bandages

..... the debate about Congo in the West – when it exists at all – focuses on our inability to provide a decent bandage, without mentioning that we are causing the wound. It’s true the 17,000 UN forces in the country are abysmally failing to protect the civilian population, and urgently need to be super-charged. But it is even more important to stop fuelling the war in the first place by buying blood-soaked natural resources. Nkunda only has enough guns and grenades to take on the Congolese army and the UN because we buy his loot. We need to prosecute the corporations buying them for abetting Crimes Against Humanity, and introduce a global coltan-tax to pay for a substantial peace-keeping force. To get there, we need to build an international system that values the lives of black people more than it values profit.

The above is from Johann Hari's Column in the Independent on Thursday.

UPDATE. 4 NOVEMBER.....Here is a serious contribution on the situation in the Congo from "The Bickerstaffe Record" entitled "Is Tanzania the DR Congo Solution?" . One of my greatest regrets is that when I was in Tanzania in 1998 at the time of the Al Qaeda attack on the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam, a meeting that I had fixed up with the late and great Julius Nyerere was cancelled. What Nyerere helped to achieve in Tanzania is rightfully praised and is seen as an example for the Congo in the above thread.