The Snow In The Summer or So-So

06/07/2004 - 06/13/2004

Mon 07 Jun 2004

Normal service resumes...

Well, the second test has finished with England (526 and 45/1) skittling out the Kiwis (409 and 161) cheaply in the second innings, then knocking off the required handful of runs without incident. England takes an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the three-match series. This gives England a strong claim to be primus inter pares amongst the middle-ranking sides - the Anglos have beaten New Zealand and the West Indies, held their own against India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. After a brief interlude this summer when the Windies come back, it's off to South Africa for a series against the second side in the world, followed by the visit of the undoubted champions next summer.

And it's normal service in the West Indies, where the hosts declared at 559/4, leaving Bangladesh requiring a mere 276 to force a fourth innings. Sarwan's 261* came within a whisker of beating the opposition single-handed; the declaration came when Chanderpaul had reached 101*.

Normal service in Germany, too, where the football side has been beaten by Hungary. Other European Championship warmups almost went to plan; Latvia drew 2-2 with Azerbaijan, Switzerland got a useful 1-0 win over Liechtenstein, and Spain beat Andorra by the same 4-0 scoreline as France made a week earlier. No surprises in Africa, where all three Group C fancied sides win.

In Australia, though, a bit of an upset. The hosts were held to a 2-2 draw by the Solomon Islands, which means the Aussies will meet the Solomons in the two-legged play-off next year for direct qualification to the World Cup a chance to play the 5th South American side.

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posted 07 Jun 2004, 19.39 +0100

Sport
Vote...

Over the coming weekend, the European Union will vote for its MEPs. Under the current constitution, the European Parliament doesn't wield a huge amount of power, but it does act as a plainly democratic check and balance to some of the Commission's plans, and ensures that the Grand European Project doesn't lose sight of the people it's helping. If you're seeking assistance in determining your vote, look at lVotematch, which will map your preferences onto the leading European Parliamentary groupings.

As regular readers will know, I'm very much in favour of closer ties with Europe, and I'm in favour from conviction more than from pragmatism. Sure, a counterbalance against the US is good global geopolitics, and even better economics, but far better than that is the EU's role as a bulwark against the senseless destruction that's blighted this continent throughout her history. The capitalists are pleased because it's a bit closer to an open market (let's not mention the agricultural subsidies, eh? Oops) and the statists are pleased because the EU imposes high standards and a quality of life.

In determining my vote, the main point is consistency with regards to the Euro. I reckon that Britain is suffering from being outside the single currency, and there's no way I'll vote for a party that proposes maintaining the UK's isolated position. So, no danger of voting Tory or Labour; nor for the UKIP and BNP, which both advocate complete withdrawal. The Greens' position is to abolish the Euro; this would preserve the UK's status outside the currency, but force twelve other countries outside as well, and hence isn't going to happen.

The blocs within the EP are (in approximate spectrum order, from the left):

  1. European United Left / Nordic Green Left - the extreme militants. Expect RESPECT and the Scottish Socialists to join this block, in the improbable (but not impossible) event that they get elected.
  2. Green / European Free Alliance - the not so extreme but still extreme militants. Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru sit here.
  3. European Liberal, Democratic, and Reform Party - would that be the Liberal Democrats' home?
  4. Party of European Socialists - features the Labour party, but also some left-wing bedfellows from elsewhere.
  5. European People's Party / European Democrats - the Christian Democrat ED bloc was joined by the British Conservative-dominated EPP in the last couple of years. Prone to splits - the Tories have been in and out, and a group of 25 is large enough to organise in the EP.
  6. Union for the Europe of Nations - the fascist right.

There's also the Europe of Democracies and Diversities - the UKIP's group, and I think one of the Unionist MEPs has sat here. And there's the Sundry Independents, a collection of people like Ian Paisley. Er... I expect Martin Bell would join this group.

Now, how closely am I matched with the six main groups? According to Votematch - which concentrates on the real issues, not those debated by the heavily-parochial UK media - my best fit is with the EFA, followed decently closely by the ELDR and EUL. The PES comes in slightly below zero, while I'm heavily unhappy with the EPP, EDD, and UEN. In short, nothing too surprising; the Greens beat the Lib Dems and Scot Soc; Labour is minimal, the Tories, UKIP and racists are nowhere.

Why, I hear you ask, should you go out on Thursday and vote. Here's a short set of reasons.

  1. This is your best chance to influence the direction of Europe. In the current European setup (Commission, Parliament, Council of Ministers), the only directly elected body is the Parliament. It doesn't have a direct veto on proposals, but that's because direct vetos are an Anglo-Saxon obsession. The European way has always been to negotiate right down to the fine detail; if there's even a threat that the Parliament won't pass some proposal, it'll be reconsidered.
  2. Your vote counts. Even in the UK, where closed lists and D'Hondt (not Sainte-Laguë) are the order of the day, every single cross will make a difference. In Southern England, a party needs just 9% of the vote to be sure of a seat, and could get one with barely 7%. I really dislike the way parties in the North East require 20% of the vote to obtain one seat, when in some other regions that's almost enough for three. Nevertheless, at the bottom of the poll, we're dealing with just a few hundred votes between parties.
  3. It gives Peter Snow something to do. He's no David Butler, still less a new Bob MacKenzie, but the thought of an election night show without Snowy and his gimmicks just isn't fun any more.
  4. Those of you who have postal votes: fill them in and post them. Now. To-morrow night will be too late. I'll see the rest of you down the polling station on Thursday.

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    posted 07 Jun 2004, 21.00 +0100

    Politics

Wed 09 Jun 2004

If I hadn't watched The Cram...

...I'd never have known about the planned duet between 28 New Pence and The Cheeky Girls. Or that there are only nineteen (or was it eighteen) hours of prime-time soap per week. Hmm. Think I'd have been better off not knowing, somehow.

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posted 09 Jun 2004, 19.31 +0100

Anyone would think there was an election on, or something

Braving an unexpected (but very welcome) heavy shower, the Conservatives dropped off a personally-addressed leaflet this evening, their third local communication of the campaign. There's nothing new in the leaflet, nothing that I've not covered in previous commentary, but these salient points stand out.

Longbridge ward has been very marginal in recent years. In early 2000, there were plans to close the massive car factory just over the road; though the immediate threat has lifted, the plant has shrunk in the four years since.

Labour held the council seat in 2000 by a whisker. In 2002, there was a combined cyclical and by-election, and again Labour retained both seats by a very narrow margin. Last year, Labour coasted home with the luxury of a 10% majority. In all three elections, the Conservatives were close behind, the Lib Dems a distant third.

The Conservatives have sent three local leaflets. Labour has sent none at all.

See you at the polling booths, by which time (hopefully!) I'll have decided how to vote.

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posted 09 Jun 2004, 19.38 +0100

Politics

Thu 10 Jun 2004

Things we never knew...

1) PC printer ink costs sixteen times as much as fine Champagne.

2) "Sally has all the maternal instincts of an ironing board."

3) I got to vote. The fascists in Florida have done it again and denied people the vote for no good reason. Yet another reason to avoid that benighted, moron-led province like the plague. (More on provinces that don't let criminals vote.)

4) Reasons to join the National Bolshevik party number one: hot girls. Two: it's an even bigger joke than the United Kilroy-Shaft Party.

5) "Don't be stupid, he'd never resign willingly."

6) lUp is down. A month and a half ago, the PDRUP's anti-tourist unit claimed that world terrorism fell last year. The PDRUP's anti-tourist unit has to-day confirmed that world terrorism rose during 2003, to its highest level in twenty years.

7) "Now my English is very good. One day, I hope to understand Loyd Grossman."

8) Labour candidate found with a car full of votes. Postal votes. Allegedly completed independently, and certainly not influenced by his party. City council party leader Sir Albert Bore (sic) said that he'd have a word with Tony to say the postal vote idea was completely barking.

9) New Zealand 295/4 on the opening day of the final test.

10) Zimbabwe will not play any more test matches until the new year. The side has already stopped playing first-class cricket.

11) I've been waiting eleven years to crack that joke against anyone but England.

12) The best preview of Sunday's polls around.

13) Alanis Morediskettes marries One Of The Guys Off Of Two Guys, A Girl, And A Pizza Place? Will she ever stop ripping off teen dramas for her career moves? As if pretending to be the new Angela Chase wasn't enough...

14) Last year, Vaiko Eplik was the lead singer with Claire's Birthday Ruffus, and performed the seventh best song at Eurovision 2003. This year, the Baltic Times reports he's playing in Jesus Christ Superstore as Judas.

15) And Ruslana, winner of this year's Eurovision, has challenged Stefan Raab to a drinking contest. That we would like to see!

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posted 10 Jun 2004, 21.49 +0100

Sun 13 Jun 2004

British Failways

The Sindie reports that the government's considering lfar-reaching reform on the railways.

According to the report, the Government will take back the running of the railways. The Strategic Rail Authority goes, just four years after Labour set it up to, er, "give long-term direction to the industry." The leaked report claims the concept of the SRA was misplaced because it could not be given sufficient autonomy, but it's all because the SRA has a license to spend money.

Those news-buriers at the Department of Transport take over the allocation of train operating franchises, while the Transport secretary will oversee the rail network as a whole and "determine the role of rail and the size of the network [and] specify the key outputs in terms of safety, performance and capacity".

Notwork Rail will determine the timetable and take over the setting of safety standards for the industry. Good moves, both of these: NR knows how few trains it can run down the lines, and bringing in the "Health" and "Safety" "Executive" has been a complete disaster, with passengers being held on derailed trains for up to six hours.

The system of penalties and compensation for delays between Network Rail and the train operators is to be scrapped, with train operators working to much tighter rules, and will be judged only on punctual running of trains. Again, focussing the trains on getting from A to B has to be a good move.

Far less impressive: the regional network of passenger committees will be abolished. That removes the independent mediator between individual customers and local train companies, and is going to lead to more centralised protesting, and that's far easier to brush aside. Slapped wrists, and slapped hard.

Even worse, cuts are highly likely. Fares may go up, and services may be cut, to reduce annual spending by almost £2 milliard. It looks like we're back to the bad old days of investment when it's politically expedient, not when it's needed.

What we really need is a government that's prepared to spend as much as it takes to rescue the railways, and slash road spending to fund that project. Roads have had more than their fair share of the cake since the war. It's time to redress the balance.

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posted 13 Jun 2004, 13.13 +0100

News
Chart week 24

Fifth week at the top for Keane, holding off the Corrs. The Killers come in at 3 with Hot Fuss, pushing the Streets and Joss Stone down. Velvet Revolver Contraband come from nowhere to enter at 6, great work for a band that's still very underground. Hope Of The States The Lost Riots make their bow at 10, Deepest Blue Late September comes in at 11. Peter Andre's big comeback album The Long Road Back enters at the dizzy heights of number 24, just ahead of Bebel Gilberto (who hasn't been on any television show) and Frankee The Good The Bad The Ugly (who has.) The Datsuns Outta Sight / Outta Mind enter at 33.

With all the new entries, it's a general downward movement week; Kanye West (10-8), Hoobastank (24-22), and Emma Bunton (29-23) buck the general trend, while Calling (5-13), PJ Harvey (7-21) Ash (16-26) and Alanis (23-39) all fall faster than most. Falling short of the lists are the New Covent Garden Orchestra's tunes from Come Dancing, Finnish rockers Nightwish at Once, Yossou N'Dour's Egypt, and Louden Up Now by the unpronounceable !!! !

On the singles side, no change at the top - Mario Winans for a second week. He holds off 4-4-2's Come On England, a remake of Sexist Midnight Runners' chart topper "Come On Eileen" from 1982. This song's backed by Talk Sphit radio, who have been breaking their speech format to plug the tune every hour. Original co-writer Kevin Rowland isn't happy with the changes.

In what's become something of an international year, the first Moldovan hit ever lands at 3 - Dragostea Din Tei is performed by the Romanian trio O-zone (no relation to a North American bore band from three years ago) who mess about on an aeroplane and put subtitles on the video.

It's football season, as the Farm's All Together Now climbs from 10 to 5, and Twisted X (the new Fat Les) enter at 9 with Born In England.

Also meeting with our approval this week: Mark Owen's third single on his comeback, Makin' Out - it's not as good as "Clementine", but nothing ever will be. Speedway's third single is In And Out, and at 31, it will be. Linkin Park has charted Breaking The Habit at 39 on continental imports alone, the first time any rock act has managed to do that. They've beaten Incubus's Talk Shows On Mute to 43. The first single to be performed in Carpathian - Eurovision winner Wild Dances - lands at 47. It's still the biggest foreign hit to come from Eurovision since 1999.

Also appearing in a bizarre old week: Bobby Womack's cover of California Dreaming, The Veils' hit called The Tide That Left and Never Came Back, the Distillers' Beat Your Heart Out and Pete Burns (of Dead or Alive fame) charts with Jack And Jill Party. Slump of the week goes to Pop!, who lost one of their two CD formats from the chart, because it's almost 5% too long; they fall from 14 to 61.

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posted 13 Jun 2004, 20.04 +0100

Entertainment
Weather in week 24

Monday and Tuesday were very hot, with temperatures peaking at a sweltering 28 on Tuesday. A cold front brought a little rain in the early hours of Wednesday, and reduced temperatures to the low twenties; with the wind shifting to the north west, Friday was almost cold. There was more heat on Sunday, taking the week's Cooling Degree Count to 21, and the summer's to 43.

Predicted for next week: more heat on Monday and Tuesday, but a cold front will significantly reduce temperatures on Tuesday night, with some showers in a nor-westerly airflow later in the week.

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posted 13 Jun 2004, 21.21 +0100

News

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