The Snow In The Summer or So-So

06/26/2006 - 07/02/2006

Mon 26 Jun 2006

Games lesson

M'learned friend Quirks had 15/8 against the Dutch making the last four; effectively, an 8/23 chance of beating Portugal and (England or Ecuador). What are the chances of that?

NL over PT - 24/40
EN over EC - 27/40
NL over EC - 29/40
NL over EN - 21/40

So, by my reckoning, it's 24/40 * {(27/40 * 21/40) + (13/40 * 29/40)}, which comes out at 22656/64000 ... a 35.4% chance. Decimal odds of about 2.82, so very much in line with the 2.875 that my correspondent got. Certainly more decent than England's pisspoor showing on the pitch, the 1:0 result flattered to impress.

All of this is, of course, made academic by last night's edition of ITV's new and unusually funny comedy show. Not entirely sure what it's called - Play Your Cards Right, because there was a lot of waving about of the little pieces of paper. Or Four Square, because there were sixteen yellows and four reds in the game. Or just a complete farce, the likes of which we've not seen since the heyday of the Keystone Cops. Anyway, at the end of the day, after the minute-by-minute comedy commentary of the season, the final score is Netherlands - Portugal 0:1, so Portugal will go on to face England in the last eight. Ball one at 4pm Saturday, kicks from the penalty mark at 6.30.

Foreign Dispatches has a dispatch from Korea (S) lamenting the team's early exit. FD is not sympathetic to an exceedingly jingoistic group of supporters.

To expect Korean soccer "fans" to graciously concede defeat to a superior side is as unreasonable as expecting them to admit that they were outplayed by both France and the Togolese.

Hmm. Looks like the English aren't even going to win the Most Zealous Fans competition this year. Not even the best in the world at mindless jingoism, these English.

The venerable William Rees-Mogg remembers the Victorian era's cult of games.

The exaggerated worship of games players infantilised the school, with senior masters joining in the athletic hero-worship which may be natural for 14-year-olds but is not for grown-ups.

By Mogadon's time, this was but a distant memory, at least until the current veneration of St Wayne of Rooney and holy relics like St David of Beckham's Vomit, which has magical powers, don't'cha, like, know? Mogadon fails to note another society where sports players are more worthy of respect than people who can string together a sentence, but then he's still ticked off that these blasted colonials claimed victory in their Revolutionary War.

More games, then, and a Dungeons and dragons-based doohickey for Livejournal users. It takes names from your reading list and puts them into the gameplay. Yes, you too could wield the Wand of Jiggery Pokery.

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posted 26 Jun 2006, 18.29 +0100

It's all common sense

The LSE is on the attack once more. The academics exposed the sham of Labour's identity register plans last year, and were rewarded by ad hominem attacks from Charles Clarke - the former interior minister has not had the grace to apologise for these slurs. Now, the human rights centre there is looking over the top of its half-moon spectacles at David Cameron, and preparing to deliver quite the ticking off. Yesterday, Mr Cameron said that he wanted to abolish the Human Rights Act, and replace it with a Bill of Rights. On its own, this is a framework worth considering - a fundamental charter of freedoms and obligations would provide a sound basis for a more formal British constitution. However, any politician who suggests that the replacement would be based on "common sense" is not talking the language of improvement, but is trying to shore up prejudices.

Grayling suggests that governments don't like being told what to do, and with some merit. The European Convention on Human Rights is the basic yardstick by which all governments are judged. It's a minimum standard, one that constrains the government, not the people.

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posted 26 Jun 2006, 19.01 +0100

Two Songs a Week, number 7

In the Euro-hits round-up yesterday, I mentioned that Three Lions has become a top 20 hit in Germany. How does a record about the mediocrity of the English football team become a hit in Germany? Simple: it's the incredibly sophisticated German sense of humour at work. And it's helped by the fact that the side defeating England in the penalty shoot-out was...

Things are slightly different just over the border in the Netherlands, and not only because they've also got a decent football side. The completely bonkers Hermes House Band made their version of Three Lions in 2004, featuring a slight but very necessary re-write of the chorus, and a completely new second verse. Here, for your delectation, is that Dutch version.

Football's coming home; lyrics, David Baddiel / Frank Skinner / Ian Broudie / Robin Maas; music, Ian Broudie; performance, Hermes House Band.

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posted 26 Jun 2006, 19.30 +0100

Two Songs a Week
A great miscellany

Elsewhere in comments, Quirks makes an interesting suggestion about Endemol's willingness to make sensible offers on the Dutch show Miljoenenjacht and the company's propensity to making stupid offers on the UK version Dull or No Dull. This is a very valid point, and I'm sure that The Commentariat would welcome something new to think about.

In passing, does anyone else think that the show should have been promoted with that well-known sportsman Mr E. Fudd saying, "Zeer zeer stil ben, jaag ik miljoenen. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha." No? Oh.

It is always pleasing to hear that big companies are treating all illnesses properly, rather than shunning the staff who are ill. And it is gratifying to hear of qualified personnel who are prepared to give up of their time to help others.

Two religion links: An protestant evangelist wonders why his church has turned its back on Jesus. And the blogosphere is the friend of information but the enemy of thought, claims Alan Jacobs. True, but only if you equate the blogosphere with the post-and-comment sites. Those where we try to think about what we're writing, where we don't whore after every comment, seem to have slipped beneath the writer's radar. Which is a shame.

For instance, Jery Pournelle's site, which last week cast a careful eye over the situation in Guantanamo Bay.

Pardon the interruption - Het Grauniad on how to minimise those oh-so-annoying breaks into your train of thought.

But Ian Messiter didn't turn into a bay tree.

The iconic - and ubiquitous - Will Shortz.

And finally.

The overall picture of a department not fit for purpose in any of the respects he described I think is and was fundamentally wrong, and I think John was wrong to use those descriptions as I told him before he gave evidence to the select committee.

-- Charles In Charge of a knife, in to-night's Nosenight. Hat-tip to Iain Dale.

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posted 26 Jun 2006, 20.04 +0100


Tue 27 Jun 2006

Sports, man

Two more world cup matches. Italy beat Australia 1:0 thanks to a generous penalty; on the balance of play, this was a fair result, but the match deserved a dose of extra time. Switzerland fell to Ukraine on kicks from the penalty mark following a 0:0 draw, and a match so boring that the BBC highlights were restricted to less than two minutes. I fully expect the viewing figures to be smaller than the snoozing figures. Perhaps even as small as Switzerland's goals conceded across the tournament (nil).

20/20 cricket begins its brief season to-night. Again, the format's immense televisual appeal is stymied by the daft decision to keep cricket off terrestrial television. I've never actually seen a match, only heard the radio commentaries by tiresome local commentators.

The Sportsman newspaper

The Sportsman, then. 124 pages, tabloid format, £1.20. It's a betting paper, giving full previews of the day's events - and only that day's events, there's a separate edition for Sunday. The emphasis is on the odds of things happening, where there might be value, but the blurbage is accessible to the sports fan who doesn't care to bet.

The middle 64 pages are a pull-out racing section, containing tremendous details of every horse running in every race, and extended details of the previous day's racing. Well, up to the press time of about 8pm. For the uninitiated layman, this is tediously boring stuff.

There's a few pages on greyhounds, six pages on betting exchanges, and a short opinion piece. Surprisingly little in the way of hard sports news, and this issue breezed past the European and UEFA Cup draws in little more than a quarter-page. Television listings are restricted to sports on television and radio, but the lists are comprehensive, including full details for the obscure Eurosport 2 and Setanta channels.

Ultimately, The Sportsman is a niche paper, designed for the betting person. I'm not a betting person, but there would be enough to keep me interested for a half-hour or so.

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posted 27 Jun 2006, 19.15 +0100

Daily gubbins

Let us be amongst the first to support Patrick Cormack's call for an annual veterans' day holiday, falling in late June.

In domestic politics, Xenophobic and legal nonsense, said Ken Clarke. A comment on the Labour party's latest proposals to force all foreigners to wear a yellow scarf on their head? Er, no; a comment on David Cameron's proposal to scrap the Human Rights Act.

Charles Clarke on Newsnight last night, and On the Ropes to-day. It's not a Geoffrey Howe moment, but it is a Norma Lamont speech, one that robs the government of its moral certainty.

A stroke of genius. All misspolings and non-standard typography are per the original.

All persons entering Canada may be required to present proof of citizenship and identity. U.S. citizens are encouraged to show a U.S. passport. If they do not have a passport, they should be prepared to provide a government-issued photo ID (e.g. Driver’s License) and proof of U.S. citizenship such as a U.S. birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or U.S. passport.

So, if you do not have a pass-port, you should be prepared to show ... a pass-port. Blimey, these United Stations think of everything.

Including inequitable extradition treaties. That well-known bunch of anarcho-lefties, the Institute of Directors, will be marching on the Home Office this Thursday afternoon in protest against this very matter. Is this going to be the first ever march where the majority of participants wear a suit and tie?

Finally, the latest odds for Thursday's elections. Bromley 'n' Chislehurst - C 1.15, LD 7, UIP 200, Lab 600. Blaenau Gwent, Westminster seat - Ind 2, Lab 2.1, others not fully quoted. Blaenau Gwent, Assembly seat - Ind 1.55, Lab 3.9, others not quoted. As I've said all along, the point of interest in Bromley is the LD taking second; Labour finishing behind the nationalists in fourth would be a remarkable show of discontent, but consistent with the Anyone But Labour results in Blaenau.

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posted 27 Jun 2006, 19.27 +0100


Wed 28 Jun 2006

World Cup Qualification and European Athletics

A quick word about last Sunday's Lebrecht Live, on the subject of whether sport is art. It was a decent enough discussion point, but there were too many guests to allow proper insight. Robin Cousins, Barry Davies, Mark Glanville, Justin Cartwright, Jude Kelly, someone not billed on the website, Norman and Olwyn, there was just one voice too many to really get to grips with the subject. A shame. (My view? Done well, sport is an improvised form of dance. Done badly, such as that night's Netherlands - Portugal match, it's an improvised physical comedy.)

I would, at this point, like to comment on the quality of play in yesterday's achtelfinals, but the BBC has seen fit to not show its highlights reel via the red button this morning. The results: Brazil - Ghana 3:0 ... Spain - France 1:3.

With the final eight now confirmed, it's time to look at the allotment of places for the next World Cup. The arrangements for this year's tournament were Europe 14, Africa 5, S America 4.5, Asia 4.5, N America 3.5, Oceania 0.5, that's got to be my starting point.

Perhaps the crudest measure of the balance of power is to add together appearances in the last 16 of this tournament and the last, giving the following places by continent:

Europe 9 +10 = 19
S Amer 2 + 3 = 5
N Amer 2 + 1 = 3
Africa 1 + 1 = 2
Asia   2 + 0 = 2
Oceana 0 + 1 = 1

The chances of getting this through FIFA's congress is, to put it mildly, nil. It's fair to say that Europe should be able to access 14 places, any reduction would diminish the quality of the tournament, though I'm not yet ruling out the prospect of a play-off against another continent.

South America is surely entitled to a fifth place as of right, without having to play off against opposition. Asia's play-off place might go, as sides from that continent have only made the last 16 when playing in front of their home fans.

Reducing African and North American representation would increase the number of quality matches in the first round, but at the expense of the global reach of the tourament. I'm therefore thinking of holding Africa at 5, and North America at 3, giving Oceania an automatic place.

That is assuming a ceteris paribus situation, and we're not having everything remaining the same. Two matters, in particular, complicate planning for the next tournament: it's to be held in Africa, and the successful Australian team move from Oceania to Asia for the next tournament.

Africa's situation is further complicated by the fact that the World Cup groups also act as qualification groups for the continental cup. The organisers will be faced with the question: should South Africa be gifted a place in ACN '10, as well as that winter's world cup? Two basic options present themselves.

1) Gift South Africa automatic qualification for ACN '10, and split the remaining sides into four groups of seven (or six), rather than the current five groups of six. The group winners qualify automatically for the WC, top three in each group plus the two best fourth-places join South Africa and the hosts in ACN '10.

2) Force South Africa into the 5x6 qualification process, group winners to WC, top threes to ACN. But what if South Africa doesn't win its group? Play-off between the two lowest-scoring group winners, perhaps...

Australia's defection from Oceania must surely reduce that continent's representation right down, perhaps to just a quarter-place. Who would they play against? And Asia suddenly gains a team able to win away from home, and perhaps an entitlement to retain the half-place.

Crunching everything, I think the following arrangement would work:

Europe - 13.5 places, same arrangement as the 2002 qualification process. (Groups of 9, winners make finals, runners-up in play-offs.)

North America - 3.5 places. Same arrangement as 2006, qualification produces a top-6 for round-robin. Fourth-placed side enters the European play-offs.

South America - 5 places, top five in 10-team round-robin.

Asia - 4.5 places. Same arrangement as 2006, hopefully without the cock-ups. Sides finishing third in their group meet Africa 5 and Oceania 1, winners of those matches play-off for the last final place; this mini-tournament might have to be held on one site a la the World Club championships.

Africa - 4.25 places. Fifth team (assuming SA will play in one of 5 groups, highest-scoring runner-up if SA wins group, lowest-scoring winner if SA doesn't win group) meets a third-placed Asian side.

Oceania - 0.25 place. Play-off against an Asian side.

Of course, whether the football is the main matter, or the corporate shilling, is for FIFA to decide.

Elsewhere, the Sports Economist takes a game theory approach to fouling.


In proper sport, it's European Cup week-end. The traditional country-versus-country meeting is in Malaga this year, with Germany looking to take a hat-trick of wins in the men's event. Britain scraped in because there are nine lanes at the track, so will be fighting to avoid three relegation places. France, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, and Finland are the other competing teams; the last two are promoted this year.

On the women's side, Russia hopes to take a tenth successive win. Poland, Germany, Ukraine, France, Spain, Romania, and the promoted nations Great Britain and Sweden will be battling for second. Top two in the male and female events will compete for the World Cup in Athens in mid-September, against sides representing continents.

The EAA has also tried to revise history by retrospectively disqualifying Duane Chambers from his events during 2002. This revisionism pushes GB down from first to third in the 2002 European Cup, and claims to strip Mr Chambers of his individual 100m title, and GB of her gold in the 4x100m, at that year's European champs.

This is historical revisionism of the worst kind, trying to pretend that something didn't happen when there are millions of witnesses who will vouch that it did. It is claimed that Mr Chambers had been using performance-enhancing drugs, but these were not detected by the testing equipment of the time. While the records of eastern-bloc drugs cheats of the 1970s have been allowed to stand, the governing bodies are now taking it upon themselves to change race results many years after the event.

In fairness, the European body is only following orders from the IAAF, a body that is now pretending Britain didn't compete in Malaga when this will come as news to those people who were definitely there. Still, why should we expect intellectual honesty from a body that has successfully killed its sport by being as corrupt and venal as FIFA.

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posted 28 Jun 2006, 19.27 +0100

News and Culture

Slightly behind the curve, Jessica Duchen writes on the demise of Warnerclassics.

Tracy-Ann Oberman rather misses the attraction of Top of the Pops (A Demi Grauniad registration required).

Presenter Fearne Cotton (pretty, blond [sic], one-time CBeebies [sic] presenter) got "styled" - with loads of black kohl, hacked-up bed-head hair and ripped T-shirts - in an attempt to make her all heroin-chic.

Pull the other one, Oberman, it's got bells on it. The only reason anyone watches ver Pops was for Fearne Cotton, a one-woman Pan's People for the cognoscenti. Just wait until Spellebrity Island begins, and she knocks ten bells out of Patrick Kielty.

Clear the handkerchiefs!

A lot has happened since the original pro-celebrities Bogies match. Charles Clarke has been relieved of his duties at the helm of the Professionals team, the Celebrities are electing a new speaker, and the judges have spoken. What did the judges say? Bogies!

Ooh, an 8.8 on the snot-o-meter! That can only mean that the control orders imposed last March are not actually lawful, because they don't meet the requirement for a trial before indefinite detention. High court judge Mr Sullivan said, "The home secretary had no power to make the orders and they must therefore all be quashed."

The interior minister, Mr John Reid, said, "Grr. Snarl. Growl. Woof. Grrrr," before biting the furry cover off of the microphone and chewing it. The department's lawyers are expected to take the case to appeal next week.

By-election odds: Bromley remains odds-on for the Tories, but they're out to 1.28. Blaenau Westminster seat has shifted Labour overnight, they're now 1.50 with Any Other around 2.30. The Assembly seat remains safe Ind, around 1.50.

And finally, Letters You Would Only Read in the Telegraph. The subject is Josephene Rooney, who was sentenced to three months in prison on Monday for refusing to pay her council tax.

Is it really necessary to handcuff a 69-year-old woman? We now live in a police state where this sort of thing is done without second thought. Only a radical reform of the legal system can prevent complete alienation of the ordinary law-abiding majority.
-- Graham Senior-Milne, Norham, Northumberland

That was a Letter You Would Only Read in the Telegraph. Goodnight!

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posted 28 Jun 2006, 20.00 +0100

Culture| News

Thu 29 Jun 2006

Two Songs a Week, number 8

Another record from the lower reaches of this week's German charts, and one I've had on high rotation for many months. Lisa and Jessica Origliasso, who perform as the Veronicas, write power pop with attitude. For instance, in the lyrics of their lead-off single 4 ever [sic], there's a clear expression of confidence; in the harmonies, a contradictory sense of doubt and fragility.

The same dichotomy is present on other tracks from their debut album, The Secret Life of.... It remains to be seen if the duo will live up to their early promise, and having to cancel tour dates (including shows in the UK, grouch) through vocal nodules is a worrying sign. Still, we already have one of the classiest pop tunes ever.

4 Ever: words, music, and performance - The Veronicas.

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posted 29 Jun 2006, 18.44 +0100

Two Songs a Week

Things you don't expect to see when drawing the curtains at 6.55 on a late June morning: fog. Thick enough to make me think that there was a fire around, and it was smoke.

So, Blue Peter unveiled a new presenter last night. It's the third new presenter in eighteen months, and perhaps lacked the event television that we've come to expect from a moment like this. Andy Akinwolere is presenter number 32, he's a twenty-three year old chap, originally from Nigeria, and is plucked from the relative obscurity of being a show-runner on the CBBC channel. An interesting choice, and he's clearly in the Matt Baker / Peter Duncan / John Noakes mould - the rascally lad who will run around and do silly things. Good sailing to him.

This year's summer expedition is to south-eastern Canada - Carolina North, Carolina South, Georgeia, Louisiana, Texas. If any readers happen to see any of the team filming, do say hello. We do have to take issue with Geth's claim that they'd never filmed in that part of the world before - see the Sixteenth Book's description of the Houston Superdome.

Back-pedalling one thought: European Union to expand.

Cryptography on wedding rings, or how to inscribe a message into a small space that only makes sense when decoded by its pair. Good thinking, especially for marriage-minded geeks.

A short conundrum - on the rise of the iconic Will Shortz's cross-words, and the rise of the sudoku puzzle.

Recent history: a fantastic Eurotrib article tracing the recent history of Kosov@, and the story of the disastrous NATO invasion of 1999.

By-election watch: the Political Betting punditocracy reckons on another C landslide in Bromley 'n' Chislehurst, with Lab getting buried by the UIP. Blaenau Westminster has no consensus, Lab might just squeak the seat back, but it'll be a cliff-hanger. WA looks set to go to Mrs Law.

For those planning on staying up, Blaenau has traditionally declared between 1.30 and 2am; the extra work in splitting the WA from Westminster votes should be compensated by the reduced turnout. Bromley 'n' Chislehurst should follow around 2.30.

In terms of spin, "Tories run close in safe seat by-election" is a non-story. "Labour loses safest seat. Again." is a fantastic headline.

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posted 29 Jun 2006, 19.45 +0100


Fri 30 Jun 2006

Blaenau! That's good!

Now over to a man with a very dull voice with the classified results.

Blaenau Gwent

DAVIES, Independent  12,543 (11/10)
SMITH, Labour        10,059 (4/6)
LEWIS, Plaid Cymru    1,755 (50/1)
KITCHER, Lib Dem      1,477 (100/1)
WILLIAMS, Cons        1,013*(100/1)
HOPE, Loony             318*(500/1)

LAW (Independent) wins the WA Plate

Bromley and Chislehurst

NEILL, Cons          11,621 (1/7)
ABBOTTS, Lib Dem     10,988 (3/1)
FARAGE, SLRBPHOFOR    2,347 (9/1)
REEVES, Labour        1,925 (14/1)
GARRETT, Green          811*(100/1)

Result stands after stewards' enquiry

So, Labour still can't win its safest seat, and the bookies' favourite is overturned by Dai Davies, the independent candidate. A ringing endorsement for the troubled party from its erstwhile heartlands there. Even if Alan Hope hadn't run, the combined Loony vote wouldn't have won the seat.

Over in urban Kent, the Lib Dems just fail to pull off a surprise to equal their 1962 capture of Orpington, but they ran the Tories very close. Too close for comfort, in the view of Iain Dale. It takes the attention away from Labour's candidate falling behind Nigel Farage of the Suspiciously Like Racist, But Preferring His Own Form Of Reactionaryism party. It's the first time the governing party has finished behind a fringe candidate in a by-election since the Liverpool Walton poll, and that was fifteen years ago next week.

Now, what happens if we replicate each of these results in their individual regions? In south Wales, not much happens; the Conservatives might pick off a Con-Lab marginal in Cardiff, but the enhanced showing for Plaid doesn't translate into seats, or even pressure on seats.

However, repeat that Bromley result over south London and urban Kent, and look what happens. Bang! Bang! Bang! Falling over like nine-pins. Eltham, C GAIN. Lewisham E, LD GAIN - that's Bridget Prentice picked off. Dulwich, LD GAIN, and Tessa Jowell is looking for a new income to pay off her mortgage. Stretham, LD GAIN. Thurrock, C GAIN. Dartford, Medway, Gillingham, Chatham, Sittingbourne, all C GAINS. Ten seats gone, just like that.

And, just as a bit of fun, let's run the rule over both by-elections, and construct a parliament based on the average transfer between the three major parties.

Just look at the big names fall! Glenda Jackson, Frank Dobson, Gerry Kaufman, all gone. Barbara Follett, you're history. Phil Woolas, do you want fries with that? It's celebration in Norwich, where Charles Clarke is no longer blighting the city. And R Kelly becomes an unemployed mother-of-four. It's not all plain sailing for the Tories - Oliver Letwin and David Heathcoat-Amery are on the losing side of squeakers, both returning majorities in single figures. The scores on the doors:

Conservatives 274 (+84 -8)
Labour 243 (+0 -112)
Lib Dems 95 (+33 -0)
Nationalists 11
Others 23

All of which leaves the Tories some 49 seats adrift of an overall majority, so we'll do it all again. Such fun.

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posted 30 Jun 2006, 18.53 +0100

Qualified sport

The Tour de France begins to-morrow in Strasbourg (UK live coverage on Eurosport, week-ends on ITV3, nightly highlights on ITV4) and - depressingly - there's another drugs bust. With Lance Armstrong finally out of the picture, 1997 champion Jan Ullrich was the pre-race favourite, but he's been booted out over yet more drugs allegations. Ivan Basso, runner-up behind Armstrong last year, is also not going to take part.

In comments to Wednesday's World Cup qualification musing, Quirks proposes a full-on intercontinental playoff; I've seen something similar proposed on one of the football fora I visit. To précis:

Europe - 9 groups winners qualify directly, nine more to the play-offs.

Africa - South Africa qualify as hosts, the 5 groups of 6 take one further round to become 3 of 5, and these 15 join ZA in the ACN. 3 winners to WC, 3 runners-up to play-offs.

Asia + Oceania - two elimination rounds reduces to 3*6, winners to WC, runners-up play-off.

S America - top three in round-robin to WC, three more to playoffs.

N America - top three in final six to WC, next two to playoffs.

22 winners, 20 runners-up will have a fully random draw to play home-and-away for the last ten places.

Overall, this is a darned good system, and makes qualification for the contest a properly international affair. Which, perversely, may work against the idea.

Somehow, I doubt that the African federation would reduce the qualification for the ACN to something as quick as a pair of knockout rounds, it doesn't exactly encourage the mid-rank teams to advance, and qualification for ACN '10 is based primarily on performance during summer '08. A neutral ground play-off for the group winners would be possible.

Oceania - there are matters of continental pride here. Let the continent play out to find two winners (and surely New Zealand can't mess this up) and put them in with 16 Asian winners. (Hmm, sixteen from 46 - maybe cut the groups down to 3*5, allowing us to almost mimic the current first-round structure: 15 groups of 3, winners only progressing.)

N America - not sure about the pick 5 from 6 process. Maybe two groups of 4, winners to WC, thirds to qualification, seconds play off.

But these are minor changes - it's a very good proposal, and one that I hope FIFA would look at sensibly. Oh.

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posted 30 Jun 2006, 19.23 +0100


Sat 01 Jul 2006

Somme you win, Somme you lose

At 7.30 on this morning in 1916, the Battle of the Somme began. Almost 20,000 would not see sunset.

It would be pleasing to find the fans of war were silenced to-day. That there were no chants revisiting the enmities of two generations ago. More chance of pigs flying than England's football fans growing up.

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posted 01 Jul 2006, 10.06 +0100


Upon further reflection, it's clear that Charles Clarke's intervention this week wasn't a Geoffrey Howe moment. It wasn't even a Norman Lamont moment. It was a Michael Mates moment; fantastic entertainment while it lasted, but forgotten within the week.

Football, and - as I've expected all along - Argentina folded as soon as they were faced with decent opposition. Anyone can make a million passes against Serbia, but it was clear from their match against Mexico last week that Argentina weren't all that. So it proved against Germany, where the hosts just shaded the match throughout. A German victory on kicks from the penalty mark was, if anything, flattering to the Argentines.

In the other quarter-final, Italy beat Ukraine 3:0. It was, perhaps, a better match for the purist than Australia-Ukraine would have been.

Amongst the search terms that have brought people here this month:
chest kate winslet
avril lavigne wealth
dead ringers - james blunt piss take
hallmark channel new series gilmore girls
jonathan maitland recycling
legal ownership of a cat
public records boer war colonials

In answer to the substantive questions: no, I have no idea when Hallmark viewers will see whatever series they're up to. Nick viewers will see season 4 from September, and no spoilers past that point, please and thank you. It's impossible for people to own cats, but perfectly possible for cats to own humans.

On the nation's former favourite radio station, it's all change in the evening and early morning. Regrettably, the changes don't include replacing Zane Lowe with Mary Anne Hobgoblin, Annie Mack, or a recording of the speaking clock. The current two-hour semi-specialist shows at 9pm are replaced by one-hour semi-specialist shows under the overarching banner of In New Music We Trust. 10pm sees Colin Murray move from daytime's Colin And/Or Edith Show, thus cementing his place as the new John Peel Marc Riley. These shows will run Monday - Thursday, meaning the end of the eponymous Lurpack Live after almost ten years. Other stuff - something different each night, and not at all clear from the press release - will happen after midnight to an audience of students and truck drivers, before the daytime schedules kick in at 4am and everyone retunes to avoid JK And/Or Joel.

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posted 01 Jul 2006, 11.13 +0100

Mug update

Mystic Mug writes: ...four millimetres of rain. Oh, hello, Mystic Mug here, with some results from this year's prediction competition.

Cheekbones said - Ghana would make the last eight in the football world cup. Well, I tried, really I did, but even Mystic Mug couldn't force Brazil down to second in their group, so Ghana fell out in the last 16. A shame. 0.4 to all except Cheekbones and Brig.

Quirks said - Eastenders would introduce a Wednesday episode. Nope. And they don't have enough shots of Daphne, the gorgeous coffee mug who lives in the caff. A third of a point to everyone except Quirks.

Quirks also said - England wouldn't make the last eight in the World Cup. You've got to give them points for trying, but the Anglos have managed to scrape a place in the last eight, where they will play an insufferably dull game against Portugal. Half-points to Jiggers, Weaver, O'Mel, and Cheekbones.

All of which makes very little difference to the leading positions, and adds sixpence to the bank. It's the Times - Express next, in two weeks.

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posted 01 Jul 2006, 11.35 +0100


Sun 02 Jul 2006

Hot and sultry

It is all together too hot round here. 22 degrees at 10am, heading to thirty-something by nightfall. At this rate, I'll think it's perfectly acceptable to listen to the Macarena in public.

More world cup shenanigans, and England have lived up to pre-tournament expectations, going out at the quarter finals following kicks from the penalty mark. Rather wish I'd had the gumption to back my hunches with hard cash, but that's Mystic Mug's realm. If there's any justice, we'll be able to get back to some sort of normality, and stop feting the regal Ed Rooney as the greatest thing since chips. After putting a tackle into the opposition's tackle, he will miss England's next competitive match qualifier at home to Andorra.

In the day's big match, France beat Brazil 1:0, with lots and lots of good attacking football. The semi-finals bear a striking resemblence to your stereotypical European Nation's Cup last four - Germany, Italy, France, and a bunch of lucky journeymen.

Other sports news: Sri Lanka overwhelmed England in the one-dayers, winning the series 5:0. Even the weather didn't save the home team, who were hopelessly outclassed and must now be worried that they won't survive the group stage of the world cup. Fancy that, eliminated on bowls from the popping crease by Canada... Venus Williams lost her Wmbldn title yesterday, she's never looked in good form, and lost to Jankovic of Serbia. Andy Murray holds British hopes into the second week after ousting Andy Roddick in three sets, but Andre Agassi's time is over following his loss to Nadal... Glenn Hoddle has resigned as manager of Wolves, saying he wants to work with an ambitious team; could he be linked with the vacant national coaching job of Australia?

Arts news, and Jasper FForde talks to the Torygraph about his new book.

Under the cover of the world cup, things have been going sour for the British armed forces in Afghanistan. A Conservative spokey was on this morning's Broadcasting House saying that his party had been pushing for lots more troops, and pointing out that lots more will be arriving in October.

Still with the Tories, and it looks as though the simplistic answer to the West Lothian question is preferred - bar Scottish MPs from voting on devolved matters. The correct answer, at least in these parts, is to allow similar levels of devolution throughout the country.

Boris Johnson bristles against the scope creep of the damned Yankees. It's interesting to see that he doesn't call for closer ties with Europe as a counter-weight.

The Church of England is considering recognising St Alban as England's patron saint. In COE tradition, St Alban was the first English martyr, killed on 22 June early in the fourth century near the Roman settlement of Verulanum. His crime was to wait for a Thameslink train; his symbol is a gold stripe on a dark blue background.

Woof! Microsoft will offer its programs in a new language: Alsatian. We've been unable to confirm suggestions that this change has been made so that the software can be used by John Reid.

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posted 02 Jul 2006, 11.18 +0100

Music in week 26

Most-heard ten.

keane                4
pink                 4
beatfreaks           4
the 1900s            3
lily allen           3
orson                2
haddaway             2
daz sampson          2
corinne bailey rae   2
oliver pocher        2

Big new release in France is Nadiya's second single - the casting show winner has put the rock anthem, er, Roc in at number 2. Florent Pagny also lands in the top 5, while Belgian champ Mike's Good morning Mike can only make position 3. Hurrah to Flanders, where the Veronicas have another hit, When it all falls apart. Brainstorm hold down places 1 and 3 in Latvia, and Norway's new number one is from Ravi, entitled As to i osjlo. Two in the top 20 from a supergroup of Espen Lind, World Idle Kurt Nilsen, Alejandro Fuentes, and Askil Holm; in Sweden, there's a hit from footballer Henrik Larsson. Margaret Berger is singing the praises of every regular member of the ISIHAC team, starting with Samantha. And Germany's new football hit is a version of The Farm's All together now, performed by Goleo VI and Atomic Kitten. Watch out for Crazy Frog Does Embrace in two years...

North Europe's Top Twenty

 20 16 Depeche Mode - John the revelator
 19 re Bob Sinclar - World hold on
 18 12 Nerina Pallot - Everyone's gone to war
 17 15 Red Hot Chili Peppers - Dani california
*16 19 Pakito - Living on video
 15  8 Primal Scream - Country girl
*14 NE Basshunter - Boten Anna
 13 13 Snow Patrol - You're all I have
*12 NE Pink - Who knew?
*11 NE Muse - Supermassive black hole
 10  7 Mary J Blige / U2 - One
* 9 10 Annoying Thing - We are the champions
  8  6 Lordi - Hard rock hallelujah
  7  3 Feeling - Fill my little world
  6  5 Gnarls Barkley - Crazy
  5  4 Keane - Is it any wonder?
* 4  9 Infernal - From Paris to Berlin
  3 11 Beatfreaks - Somebody's watching me
* 2  2 Nelly Furtado - Maneater
* 1  1 Shakira - Hips don't lie

The Basshunter track is a fairly typical slice of contemporary dance, one that's incredibly successful in Scandinavia and is doing precious little elsewhere. Pink has been climbing across the continent for a few weeks, and Muse are mostly receiving support in their native UK.

Shakira missed out on the top spot in early 2002, after Whenever wherever had the misfortune to clash with the Pop Idle phenomenon. Four and a half years later, only one of the transient performers is still under a recording contract, and the deliberately commercial Hips don't lie lands at the top spot, pushing Nelly Furtado down to second place. The Pussycat Dolls pay tribute to their favourite sort of chocolate, Buttons lands at position 3, with Neyo at 5. Lily Allen has the highest entry, and looks like being this year's summer hit, Smile is number 13 on downloads, and though it sounds like a reggae Corinne Bailey Rae, we won't hold that against her until the end of the summer. Backlash on Friday, then.

Lower down, Razorlight have riffed on Tom Robinson's old 2-4-6-8 Motorway and called it In the morning; the godfather of punk approves, saying there's nowt new under the sun. See also: the Michael Kiddyfiddler Jackson back-catalogue. A zillion old singles have been re-promoted at the rate of one a week for the past four months. Unlike the Elvis re-releases last year, none has become a substantial hit, and the series ends with his last chart-topper, 1997's Blood on the dancefloor making it to position 19, about par for the course.

Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway has already been a hit across Europe; the belated UK release makes 22, barely ahead of the rather funky Guillemots. I've not heard Long Blondes, Cord, or Larrikin Love, because Radio 1 seems to have re-discovered the concept of public service broadcasting, and now plays the new entries in full. A remarkable concept! Wouldn't help Italian goths Lacuna Coil, or Scottish funsters Belle and Sebastian, who just miss the 40.

Lostprophets' Liberation Transmission is the new best-selling album, moving past Keane for one week only. Pussycat Dolls, Sergio Mendez, and Kelly Clarkson all enjoy decent climbs. Plan B and Billy Talent both have sizable new hits, while the Crazy Frog stiffs at number 64, selling fewer copies than The La's.

Here's the good stuff on the singles listing:

 1  2 Shakira - Hips don't lie
 2  1 Nelly Furtardo - Maneater
 6  5 Automatic - Monster
 7 14 Kooks - She moves in her own way
10  4 Muse - Supermassive black hole
11  9 Zutons - Valerie
12 10 Pink - Who knew?
13 NE Lily Allen - Smile **
14  8 Lostprophets - Rooftops
17 16 Feeling - Fill my little world
22 62 Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway
23 NE Guillemots - Made up lovesong number 43
25 26 Kooks - Naive
27 23 Beatfreaks - Somebody's watching me
28 NE Long Blondes - Weekend without makeup
29 19 Keane - Is it any wonder?
33 25 Fratellis - Henrietta
34 NE Cord - Winter
35 NE Larrikin Love - Downing-street kindling
40 35 Primal Scream - Country girl
41 NE Lacuna Coil - Enjoy the silence
45 NE Belle and Sebastian - White collar boy
49 40 Orson - Bright idea
51 46 Nerina Pallot - Everybody's gone to war
53 55 Snow Patrol - You're all I have
56 60 Sunblock / Robin Beck - First time
59 63 Raconteurs - Steady as she goes
69 58 Lordi - Hard rock hallelujah
70 re Dirty Pretty Things - Bang bang you're dead
72 66 Jose Gonzalez - Heartbeats

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posted 02 Jul 2006, 19.03 +0100

Weather in week 26

The winds swung round to an easterly on Wednesday, and under cloudless skies, that's led to a rapid increase in temperatures.

26 Mo cloud               12/17, 0.5
27 Tu sunny spells        11/18, 2.5
28 We sunny spells        13/21
29 Th sun                 12/25
30 Fr sun                 15/26
01 Sa sun                 16/29
02 Su sun                 17/31

Degree cooling days passed 100 on Saturday, and stand to-night at 113, compared to 77/237 after a sweltering week last year, and 58/184 two summers ago.

The forecast: The oppressive heat is set to continue for much of southern England well into next week. Monday may be a little cooler, but relief will be short-lived, and temperatures of around 30 are possible for some days hence. Thunder showers will be a particular feature in southern districts. A vigorous low pressure area will move over Iceland on Friday, trailing a cold front that will bring rain and much cooler weather to all parts; exact timings are yet to be confirmed.

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posted 02 Jul 2006, 19.14 +0100


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