Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Sunday- On a Budget Edition

First off, HURRAH!- having already subjected myself to geographically driven inflation by ending up living in our fair (but pricey!) nations capital, the freeze on alcohol duty comes as a welcome relief to my creaking wallet. No such luck for the smoking fraternity however, as baccy duty rose by 37p a pack. Whilst I recline in my hypocritical delight at such measures, smokers are left to face the tight-chested future once more the poorer.

This is the first budget I've experienced as a tax-payer, having sat through previous editions as any self-respecting economics & politics student would- hungover, on the couch. This change meant two things. Firstly, I was unable to subject myself to watching the live TV coverage of the great event- no watching the Helicopter following the ministerial car from No.11 to the House of Commons like the dullest ever episode of Police, Camera, Action!, no listening to the rhetorical din of George Osborne smugly decimating the country's future like he's reading last weeks shopping list. I don't know why I used to do it- it's torture. Take my word for it, an interest in politics far from precludes the dark, quite possibly arrestable, thoughts that cross one's mind when, ready to resume your life, the Chancellor having taken his seat to bawdy exhortations from his own benches, you see the Shadow Chancellor/Leader of the Opposition rising to launch into a string of poorly written jokes and objectionable soundbites. To know that the next hour of your life is sunk into the same all-encompassing catatonia as the previous- just because 'it's the budget'- is one of those moments that, whilst tragic at the time, must one day come in handy at 'meetings'.

The second difference of my new salaried-ness was that I am now able to enjoy the full delights of budget calculators. Having previously been smashed to the tune of about £7 a year by previous rises in alcohol duty, this year I was able to play properly and find out the true extent of the Chancellor's shenanigans on 'real people' like me. Turns out George's income tax changes have gone and saved me about £190. Bingo! Good budget right?

Spot the tax-cut for the rich...
Well, would have been better had I been what's known as 'filthy rich'. The highest earners were gifted a tax cut on the basis that they weren't bothering to pay the 50p rate. Whilst Osborne grandstanded on his moral objection to tax evasion he effectively gave into it, as the rich, like a bratty child manipulating their parent, got their own way. As Osborne retired having finished his budget he was greeted by a congratulatory slap on the back from his pal Cameron, a slap carrying the gratitude of the country's, now slightly richer, millionaires. By the way, we're all in it together...

Any debate around the above, however, has been somewhat derailed by fuss kicked up around the Granny tax. The hysteria around 'the raid on pensioners' illustrates nicely the yawning failures of the media coverage surrounding the budget. In the weeks leading up to the event the papers are filled with unsubstantiated claims of cuts to this and grants to that, and following the delivery they devolve into concocted attacks and raids by the Chancellor. In the end, the only way that George Osborne gets away with his pretence of trying to help the whole country, and not just the wealthy tribe, is because the media coverage somehow manages to beat him for disingenuous-ness. The budget is a distinctly unsexy event. The media coverage makes it up like a West End tart.

Things I like this week: A list of some of the things I'm enjoying at the moment.

  • Homeland- Out the loop was what I was. After recommendations from numerous friends I've started catching up on this. Can't stand the titles but apart from that it's pretty good. Intrigued more than Gripped at the moment
  • Audiobooks- again on the recommendation of friends, I made use of the free trial available at Audible. For me, novels should be read, so I've sought to expand my mind with a bit of history and used my one free credit on the first volume David Renolds' Empire of Liberty. Commuting and learning- the wonders of the iPod.
  • Real books- Re-reading Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, better known for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. A few books I've loved first time round have succumbed to the sophmore effect and left me a little disappointed. This is not one of them. Superbly crafted characters, explored through a brilliantly innovative narrative technique, placed against the wondrous backdrop of rural Oregon. It's a brilliant book.
  • The Boss- Is Bruce Springsteen a guilty pleasure? I've got friends who can't stand him, and I kind of get how the stadium rock, working-class sloganeering schtick can grate, but for me he gets away with it cause it all seems pretty genuine. The new album's a fine listen, filled with big tunes, the Okie Springsteen drawl, and some good old leftie tub-thumping

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Sunday: Time is Now Edition

Beyond Civil Partnerships: Last Sunday, the Roman Catholic Church, ever the bastion of impeccable morals, stepped up its embittered crusade against gay marriage. Whilst a letter by two senior Arch-Bishops opposing the notion of guy and guy, girl and girl, tying the knot was read out across the nations Catholic places of worship, John Sentamu did his bit to keep the Church of England on the same retrograde path by wading in with his opposition to the notion on the Andrew Marr show. Whilst the offending parties claimed that such opposition did not represent a form of discrimination, there persistent inference that gay marriage would destabilise society left them wallowing in the fear and bigotry of their own arguments.

Marriage itself is a peculiar institution. It's basically based on the somewhat unfulfilling notion that a relationship requires some kind of material validation, yet manages to provide a somewhat justifiable sense of acceptance and reassurance to religious and non-religious alike. With time it has become as much an institution of the state as the Church- something that wouldn't have happened had the Church not been quite so keen on wielding it's Holy influence in times past. No longer the sole property of the Church, marriage must reflect the kind of society we live in. In a modern, tolerant society, in which each holds the other to be equal, gay marriage should clearly be allowed.

A couple of weeks ago I heard a really interesting point made on a podcast in a discussion about gay marriage. The speaker believed that in 50 years time, those that oppose gay marriage now, will be viewed much the same way those who opposed Civil Rights in the 1950s and 60s are seen. Though the statement was made in an American context, I believe time will play out with the same results over here. As the generations shift and, with it, attitudes change, we are moving inexorably towards the legalisation of gay marriage. This is undeniable in Britain, where all three major parties are in favour of it and with every malign outburst to the contrary, its opponents place themselves on the wrong side of history.

Joy of 6: 6music turned 10 years old this week. I got a Digital Radio in 2004 but only came across 6music a couple of years later. Since then my dial (or the Digital equivalent of a dial) has barely been touched. There've been a few aberrations- George Lamb, the horror!- but overall 6music is a station that opens your ears to any number of artists that you've never come across before, and never would if you spent all your days listening to Radio 1, Absolute and Xfm. Diehards may whinge about the playlists but you can't be listening to Peel sessions from The Fall and Captain Beefheart b-sides all the time. For every overplayed dirge there's many more brilliantly crafted, exquisitely executed tunes, old and new. For now, this gem is getting me out of bed each morning.

Tired old Formula: Now I understand there are people out there that enjoy watching a sport in which the best competitors are provided with the best machines (in my view proper sports don't involve engines) and are then told to race, inducing a spectacle in which the idea of fair competition comes somewhat in line with that found at a Las Vegas casino. I am aware fans of such a sport do exist and they have every right to do so. But... I can not, for one minute, imagine their being enough of them to justify whichever channel that has the rights to broadcast it spending a small East African nations GDP promoting its coverage of it. BBC were guilty of it a couple of years ago when they took over from ITV, and now Sky are promoting their coverage as if they've won the rights to Jesus's coming out party. The whole she-bang kicked off in Melbourne this weekend. Certain things will have me awake at 4.30 in the morning- Formula 1 is not one of them.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Weekend Rugby Predictions

Thought I'd squeeze these outs before Saturday's finale. Through 12 matches I've picked 10 winners, only denied my perfect record by Leigh Halfpenny's last minute penalty on the opening weekend in Dublin and the France and Ireland 'like kissing your sister' outcome in the Paris rearrangement. Not a bad effort I'd say. Anyway, here's my final look into my (egg-shaped) Crystal Ball.

Italy over Scotland- Looking to have it both ways here. If Italy win then I can chalk up another correct prediction, if Scotland win... wait, Scotland never win. There have been some promising performances by Scotland this Championship, but claiming improvement when you're still not winning's like claiming

Wales over France- Everyone seems to believe that the French team- not just this French team, but any French team, ever- are forever pregnant with a mind-blowingly good performance that they could deliver at any moment. This performance, it would seem, is forever stillborn. The French have been unimpressive in their distinctively Gallic way this Championship. In Cardiff, Wales will have enough to ensure this doesn't change.

Ireland over England- Whilst my game picks have been pretty accurate, my Championship picks of an Irish victory have gone somewhat astray. However, on Paddy's day I see them getting the job done. Plus the English rugby press have had nothing to whinge about for a couple of months. Those short-sighted, knee-jerk polemics won't write themselves...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Sunday- Spreading Santorum Edition

Republican Primary definitions: Google 'Santorum', the former Pennsylvania Senator and contender in the ongoing Republican Presidential Candidate race and one of the first results you'll get will be the following:

Santorum 1. The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex. 2. Senator Rick Santorum

Figured a picture of this Santorum was preferable...
This helpful definition comes courtesy of Gay rights activist Dan Savage, who in 2003 took issue (as most reasonable people who wish for a tolerant society would) with Rick Santorum's comparison of consensual sexual contact between adults of the same sex with child rape and beastiality. An effective campaign raised the above definition to the no.1 return when one searched for 'Santorum' on Google. Rick Santorum's Google problem was born.

But why should Rick Santorum be the only candidate with an alternative definition to his surname. Here are some suggestions for the other three remaining competitors left battling the Republican Primaries.

Romney 1. The failure to seal the deal despite your competitors being a bunch of loony, crackpot hooligans
Example. I was out last night and me, Dennis Nielsen and Timmy Mallett were chatting up this girl. I totally Romney'd- didn't even get her number.
2. Former Govenor Mitt Romney

Gingrich 1. The confusion of serial philandering and lunatic spoutings with charisma
Example. His own troubles later in life stemmed from his youth, when he had Gingriched his fathers multiple affairs and recollections of 'that crazy night me and Buzz Aldrin decided to colonise the moon'
2. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich

Ron Paul 1. A guy 20 years older than everyone else in a nightclub, whom nobody's quite sure why they're there and what they intend to achieve 
Example. There were a right couple of Ron Paul's out last night. Was chatting to one at the bar and he thinks we should return to the gold standard- joker!
2. Congressman Ron Paul

Arsenal- executors of footballing karma: Last week, North London Derby. Gareth Bales breaks into the Arsenal box and flings himself to the floor, deceiving Mike Dean into awarding a penalty that Adebayor scores to put Spurs 2-0 up. 
Diving- worse karma than being Welsh
Final score: Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2

This week, Anfield. Luis Suarez is slipped through in the box and flops over the onrushing Szczesny. Dirk Kuyt misses but Liverpool go 1-0 up minutes later.
Final score: Liverpool 1 Arsenal 2

Lesson. Don't go diving against the Arsenal.

Six Nations Picks: I chose France to beat Ireland. France didn't beat Ireland, but Ireland didn't beat France either so I'll score that a half point to me. Probably a fair result for both teams in the end, though the Irish can probably take a few more positives out of it than their hosts.

Wales over Italy- The prequel to the main event in Cardiff the week after when the Welsh seek to beat the French and achieve a well-deserved Grand Slam. I pity anyone who has to come into contact with Jonathan Davies over the next two weeks

Ireland over Scotland- Scotland have gone from a period of pathetic hope-destroying defeats a couple of years ago, to an infuriating series of spirit-uplifting but ultimately futile performances in recent times. Ireland will in all likelihood have a bit too much for them at the Aviva.

England over France- France have done nothing through their first three matches to convince me that they can beat decent opposition who come in and give it a real go. England put in a positive performance against the Welsh and I think they can ride that to a victory in Paris here, one that should convince the bodies at the RFU of Lancaster's suitability for the job long-term.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Sunday- Patronise the Plebs Edition

You Trots just don't understand: This government may be Conservative by name but they are in fact pretty radical by nature. Less than two years into office and they have already enacted major changes in the Education system, raising fees for Higher Education and Academising much of Secondary. For a good year now they've been battling to alter the form of the NHS whilst they also go about attempting to radically overhaul the Welfare system. The ambition may be admirable, but, for many, the ideas sure as hell aren't as they seek to make life harder for those who don't exactly have it easy at the moment. But raise an opposition voice to this Government and be prepared to be smeared, patronised and ultimately ignored by a group of Ministers who consider it a success to have their breeches only part-dampened as they piss into the wind.

Education illustrates this perfectly. When the tuition fees faff was happening there was no attempt to engage with dissenting voices. Opposition was either labelled as hard-left, Commie activists, or condescendingly told that, despite representing this country's intellectual future, they were too simple to understand the benefits of being saddled with three times more debt than the current system. 'But you'll pay less per month' whinnied Nick Clegg, conveniently obscuring the fact that payments will be lasting much longer. Reforms of Primary and Secondary Education are the same. Oppose them and Michael Gove's on his soapbox calling you a 'Trot'. A concoction of condescension, obfuscation and rudeness seems to be the tonic for the government in the face of opposition.

A Tory 'listening exercise'
In the past week NHS reforms and the Workfare scheme have raised issues for Cameron & co. The majority of the medical profession apparently 'don't understand' the NHS bill and thus were excluded from the minority coalition of the willing that was assembled on Monday. Whilst Lansley might have had a few awkward moments on the way in, I expect the government weren't too bothered with the raving former-Union official that accosted him, as it plays into their narrative of their reforms being opposed by outdated lefties, ignoring the variety of professional bodies also standing against the reforms. As for Workfare, oppose the coldblooded exploitation of the jobless and you're a 'job snob' according to Iain Duncan Smith. Sainsburys, Waterstones and others obviously disagree as they pulled out the wrong-headed coalition scheme. Even Tesco's pulled out...when Tesco show more moral conscience than you, you might want to reassess your plans. But it wouldn't appear so. The government seems intent on continuing to kick the shins of those it fancies, resorting to smears, and an explanation that they just don't realise bruised shins are good for them, when they dare complain.

Inland What-pire?: Went to the BFI last night to watch David Lynch's Inland Empire, as part of their David Lynch season. I had heard (though not seen) of Lynch's work before, and was aware it was pretty weird. However, nothing quite prepared me for this.
The film is three hours of indecipherable rubbish. I enjoyed the odd five minutes, but with the film that long it's like enjoying the odd drop as you're waterboarded. Maybe I just don't get it, but you'd have to be some kind of loony film buff to appreciate whatever was going on on screen. Even the A4 sheet that was meant to introduce you to the film made zero sense. And the worst the end as I roused myself from by brain-ached stupor, people clapped. They clapped. What?

Six Nations Update: Just over half-way in and I'm 7-1 for my predictions. Admittedly I've basically picked the favourite in every match so far, with only a late Welsh penalty in Dublin depriving me of a perfect record. No surprises in the the first or last matches of this weekend. The England-Wales match was great entertainment. England have a promising group of players who could be delivering big things in a couple of years if they can stick together. As for Wales, it's all about the present. Victory against Italy will set up a shot at a Grand Slam against a French side coming off three matches in consecutive weekends. Exciting times for the immense Sam Warburton and his crew.

As for next weekends rearrangement:
France over Ireland- I want to pick the Irish as I think they're marginally the better team, but their horrid record in Paris cancels that out. Both teams need to impress next weekend, as England look ready for a scrap in the last two matches.

When the Brits were fun: Some moments from the past, because cutting off a speech because of TV isn't very rock'n'roll.

The obvious
Confusion reigns
They say musics gone downhill
And because I'm a Manics (and Comprehensive School) fanboy, how to deliver an acceptance speech

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Sunday: Falklands Dick Swinging Edition

Colonial Kerfuffle: The Falklands War-like most wars- is really quite a sad event in history. Across 74 days, 649 Argentinians, 255 Brits, and 3 Falklanders lost their lives. For those military personnel that survived, there are the harrowing memories of a brutal combat that shall forever remain with them. It was a war fought out of patriotic passions rather than any more tangible strategic aims, and the resulting nationalistic fervour in Britain helped propel Thatcher to her 1983 election victory. It is an event to be reflected upon with austere remembrance, one that you would hope two mature nations may be able to diplomatically move on from.

Or not... Thirty years on and the Falklands conflict, and the remaining issue of the islands national attachment, appears as a chance for British politicians to undo their responsible foreign policy zipper, whip out their tumescent patriotic credentials, and give the Argies a good slap to the face (similar Female metaphor applies to Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner). While both countries may feel strongly about their respective cause, the nature of the 'debate' is infantile, aimed at bolstering nationalistic reputations in their respective countries.
Spot the British bit...

Argentina seem to have decided to go for the glitz and glamour approach to promoting their cause. It started when they decided to rename their equivalent of the Barcalys Premier League after the Crucero General Belgrano, the cruiser sunk during the Falkland conflict, literally turning the issue into a political football. Since then they've had a celebrity endorsement (from Sean Penn) and a publicity stunt when they reported British actions to the UN. You've got to admire the imagination of the PR guys on the Argentinian side.

On the British side it's been a case of incidental visits to the islands by national public figures. First, Prince William was sent there on a 'routine' posting, a failure to comprehend that nothing an heir to the Throne does is remotely 'routine' in the geo-political scheme of things. Then David Willets popped by on his way to Antarctica, before a bunch of MPs from the Defence Select Commmitee swing by next month. It's all horribly unsubtle and crudely undignified. The Falklanders wish to remain British at the moment, hence the British interest in the islands (oh, and something about oil reserves). But the Government seems to be gambling at the moment that jamming various politicians and royals down their throats won't induce a gag-reflex against the pathetic macho posturing that supposedly represents an attempt at a diplomatic, 21st century, foreign policy.

Six Nations: So as expected, England and Wales took victories last week to move to two wins out of two in this years Six Nations. England have greatly benefited from having the two weakest teams in the Championship in their first two matches. This has allowed Stewart Lancaster to determine who's ready to play for him, and who's repeating the mistakes of the World Cup and are likely to be suffering a similar hangover to the World Cup in the new dawn of English rugby that follows the tournament. Wales looked good again, though the Scottish exuberance at tackling anything in red that moved (an exuberance that stems from a similar tactic used on Saturday nights out in Glasgow) cost Andy Robinson's side a decent crack at the game. Were next weeks match taking place in the Millenium Stadium it would be a no doubt Welsh win. The fact it's not balances the encounter, but enough for an English victory?

Ireland over Italy- Anyone disagreeing here? Outside of Murrayfield, it's hard to see where the Italians can ever pick up away-victories. The French postponement probably benefits Ireland who can play the Welsh match out of their system here, and head back to Paris a restored, more confident team.

Wales over England- Excluding the last five minutes of the first half against Italy, the English defence has been pretty strong so far. Wales, however, present a bigger, bulkier, simply better, backs-unit that the Scots or the Italians have, and one that should be able to cause the English mid-field problems. I expect it to be tight-margin of victory- less than 7 points- but for Wales to edge a victory that sets them up for an emotional charge at the Grand Slam through their last two matches back in Cardiff.

France over Scotland- Scotland does everything right. It's witty, it makes eye contact when it's listening, and it knows all the right flirty body contact. Then it leans in for the kiss and headbutts the girl. France recoils, grabs Scotland by the balls, and twists until it squeals. Minimum 15 point French victory.

Braquo- This week I finished off the last few episodes of the first season of Braquo, a French cops drama shown on FX before Christmas that had been sitting on the old Sky+ since then. I came across it as a TV Pick of the Sunday Times, and there was a lot of acclaim for it being thrown about- even some talk of it in the same breath as (control yourselves) The Wire.

Now I haven't seen The Wire so I can't comment directly on that comparison, but I would suggest Braquo probably isn't the Second Coming. But that doesn't mean it's not good. Eddy Caplan and his gang are cops dealing with the scum of the Paris criminal underworld- they're damn good cops too, if perhaps a tad overenthusiastic. Braquo's driving energy comes from the tightrope that Eddy and the rest of his crew, Walter, Theo and Roxanne, must try to walk as they try to clear the name an old colleague, balancing the need to deal with some bad guys, capture other bad guys, whilst the whole time not turning into bad guys themselves. As the season progresses, all four find themselves drawn further and further into a web of assaults, murders, hostage-takings, drug-dealings, internal police politics, family breakdowns, and sex, a fair bit of it their fault. As the season progresses, it also becomes clear that there's no hole you can't get out of by simply hiring a van, loading up on guns and ammunition and pulling on balaclavas. Easy!

It all threatens to get a bit riotously silly. But the factor that helps pull it off is the French-ness. The show oozes Gallic cool from every dangling-out-the mouth cigarette to every cocked-gun in your face. From the steam of BMWs, to the bar in the Police station, to Eddy's residence on a house-boat, the show feels cool, but more, so looks amazing. It wouldn't have worked in New York, or London, nor Copenhagen (which seems to be the centre of good TV at the moment with The Killing and Borgen). The show works and the reason it works is a French thing. Just don't let that put you off!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Sunday: Banker Hunting Edition

Reclaiming Responsibility: Don your deerstalker and load up your shotgun. The now annual Banker hunting season is in full swing and not a hefty bonus, nor an errant Knighthood, are safe from the foxhounds of Cameroon opportunism or Milibandian rhetoric.

On Monday, Stephen Hester, uberboss of RBS at the moment, decided to waive his bonus worth a little under £1m. Now Hester runs RBS right now, when the bank is majority owned by the Government, from whom the money provided in the bailout kept the bank alive. Whilst it would have been nice if Mr Hester had somehow stumbled across his morals in the pocket of one of his briefcases and chosen to decline it voluntarily, the manner of the decision was somewhat brought on through a public haranguing. And quite right to, for the bonus for Chief of a lucky-to-be-alive bank like RBS was clearly absurd. Things aren't quite as bad as they were at the depths at RBS, but the money machine's certainly not pumping out profits like it used to.

Fred Goodwin was uberboss at RBS when the money machine was lubed up and spurting out profits like mass-produced chocolate biscuits. For that, they gave him a Knighthood. Fred Goodwin was also uberboss at RBS when things got uberbad. For that, on Tuesday, they stripped him of his Knighthood. The fall from grace puts him in the good company of Nicola Ceaucescu and Robert Mugabe in having been demoted from Knight of the Realm. Without wanting to draw a comparison between the scale of destruction caused by these three unhappy musketeers acts, there is a parallel in  the way that the awards were handed out by an easily impressed, cosy cabal of elites at the top of the British establishment, disconnected from both the  troubles and value-system of those commoners in the real world. One could almost say it makes the Honours system appear ridiculous.

Amusingly, both main political parties managed to find themselves straddling the fence on an issue on which there was only one side to be. Labour drew up Hester's Brucie-bonus contract and Knighted Fred the Shred for services to bad nicknames. The situation was basically all their fault. Ed Miliband, however, did a pretty good job of ignoring what he'd been involved in a few years ago and going successfully on the offensive. For the Tories, it provided some good headlines, and whilst some genuinely see the sense in the actions, stripping a rich man of  undeserved money clearly still rankles with many enough to provide some petty, whinging column inches for the Daily Telegraph. It is a strange world. Labour, former members of the Royal Society for Bonues and Knighthoods for foxes, and current members, the Tories, both sit smiling while the hounds tear the beasts apart.

Cool Fact of the Week: (Courtesy of Slate's Political Gabfest- well worth a listen, especially this being an election year) President Tyler, 10th President of the United States (1841-45), born 1790, still has grandchildren alive. Best of all, one of them thinks Newt Gringrich is 'a jerk'.

Setting an example: Seems like this was the week for the great and the good (or the deceitful and bigoted) to fall on their swords.

Chris Huhne has always been a careerist egomaniac, happy to trample upon anything in the cause of self-advancement. That seems to include both his marriage and the maxim that you don't lie on matters of a criminal nature. For the Lib Dems Huhne was like a dodgy kitchen appliance that was broken, but not quite faulty enough to get rid of. Finally, this week, it blew up on its own accord as Huhne was charged with perverting the course of justice by trying to pass his speeding points on to his wife. Whilst the Government made all the right noises about being sad to see him go, one senses that on both sides of the coalition the Champagne corks were hitting the door as it closed behind him.

Just an all-round good guy...
And then John Terry. Sir John Terry of Stamford Bridge. Is it possible to find anyone who isn't a Chelsea fan willing to say a good thing about John Terry? To be fair to Chelsea fans, quite a few of them can't stand him as well. Whether it's taunting American tourists at Heathrow in the aftermath of 9/11, carrying on affairs with teammates girlfriends, or racially abusing fellow professionals, Terry has always done his best to uphold the highest levels of coarseness, degradation and ignominy. This week facing a criminal charge of using racist language, and the terrifying prospect of the FA's justice system (in what othe profession could you make such overtly racist comments and keep your job?) he was this week stripped of the England captaincy. I fully believe in innocence until proven guilty but John Terry puts forward a good case for the opposite.

In related news, Harry Redknapp's tax evasion trial is drawing to a close.. What a wonderfully high moral standard the high-achievers of our society exhibit...

Six Nations Picks: Made before the weekends games

Final Table:
1. Ireland
2. England
3. Wales
4. France
5. Scotland
6. Italy

This weeks games:

England over Scotland: First the history. England haven't won north of the border since 2004. Scotland haven't scored a try against England at Murrayfield since 2004. If Scotland can keep it tight they could edge a kicking contest, but I fancy the new England crew, without the baggage of players of old, to put on a bit of a show and take a 10-15 point victory.

France over Italy: I know Italy won this fixture last year and that the plucky Romans keep improving but at the Stade de France I can't see anything other than a Gallic victory.

Ireland over Wales: Ireland will be out for revenge after their quarter-final defeat in the World Cup. A glance at the Heineken Cup quarter finals would suggest that Ireland have the strongest pool of talent to choose from at the moment, and I expect that to play out over the course of this Championships.

Made after the weekends games

So... were it not for a couple of questionable decisions by Wayne Barnes in the last 15 minutes of a match that brought the Six Nations to light, I'd be a perfect 3-0 after the first weekend. Bradley Davis deserved a red card, and even with a yellow he deserved to cost Wales the game through a moment of brute idiocy. It's a credit to the rest of the Welsh players that they kept at it, dragged themselves back into the game with a 14-man try, before, in a moment of cruel irony, Barnes gave them a penalty for a rather innocuous tackle on the returned Davis. As for Ireland, with eight minutes to go and a penalty just inside their own half against 14-men they should have kicked to touch. Sexton's speculative effort took time off the clock, but provided the Welsh team with a brief rest period instead of knocking them further on to the back foot. If he makes the kick fair play, but in the circumstances the option more likely to lead them to victory was to bury Wales deep inside their own 22.

Anyhoo, on to next weeks picks:

England over Italy: So the English didn't exactly impress the way I though they might at Murrayfield but they ground out the win. After a solid defensive performance, the Italian challenge should allow them to get a good workout on the offensive side of the ball and move to two wins out of two.

France over Ireland: Can't say we really learned much from France's performance on the weekend, but what we learnt from Ireland is that without O'Driscoll the midfield defence is liable to be punctured at any moment. Ireland have a terrible record on French soil, and I think weakness in the centres, along with the blow of today's defeat, tots up to a French victory.

Wales over Scotland- This fixture two years ago provided one of the best matches I've ever seen and on of the biggest sucker-punches I've ever felt. If Scotland could replicate their performance from that game, minus the last ten minutes, then the impotent performance against the English will be partially atoned for. Wales look impressive though. Up front they're solid, if a bit shaky in the lineout, and their backs play with an impressive mix of pace and force. A win in this could set up a cracking encounter at Twickenham in Week 3 between two unbeatens.

Musical Outro: So this Lana Del Rey. She may not be the self-made, self-financed, album recorded in her bedroom, video made on her laptop, story to make a hipster muso wet themselves. Her performance on Saturday Night Live was pretty awful, the majority of her album is pretty mundane, and her lips look like they've been fiddled with on photoshop. But... I really like this song:

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Monday: What a Match! Edition

From best to worst, ever person who plays professional sport at the highest level spends hours leading to days, adding up to years, practicing the skills that will raise their game to the highest possible level. This ranges from the fundamentals- knocking in the three-foot putt for birdie, keeping your cover-drive down and out of the grasp of eager opposition fielders - to the more elite talents- bending the thirty-yard free-kick over the wall and into the top-corner, slotting the drop-goal under duress off your wrong foot. Players at the top of their sport possess the ability to take the most difficult of skills and execute them in high-pressure situations in competition. But these flashy, high-end skills are not enough to make one transcend generations. To combine the ability to cause sharp intakes of breath from a wondrous crowd, with metronomic, unfailing fundamentals is what separates those that are merely good from those who are era-spanning great.

I joined yesterday's Australian Open final at the back-end of the second set. Djokovic, number one seed, had lost the first set 7-5, but held a break of serve and a 4-2 lead in the second. A hold each later and Djokovic was serving for the set at 5-3. He led 30-0 and created three set points for himself, but Nadal, with trademark tenacity saved each in turn before setting up his own break-point. Djokovic missed his first serve. A pressure situation no doubt, but the second serve is one of those fundamentals, practiced every day on the training courts. Professional players rarely dump their second serves in the net- to do so is a cardinal sin. To avoid this the shot is hit at height over the net, with the requisite topspin to dip the ball in near the back of the service box. Djokovic sent his serve with the necessary height, but the topspin was lacking. The ball stayed on a relatively flat course once it had cleared the net, landing long of the service line. Big error, and Nadal had the break back. Minutes later, however, and Nadal was set point down, on second serve. Whilst, the right-handers top-spin serve sees the ball move in the air in a 12-to-6 fashion (in a clockface sense from top to the bottom), the left-handers has a more 11-to-5 movement out towards a right-handers backhand, a shot with slightly more slice hit at a slightly lower trajectory. The difference in physics made little difference to the outcome, however, as Nadal, in similar fashion to Djokovic, sent his serve long, levelling the match at one set-all. Two games, two big fundamental errors, one by each player. In a match that was to go another three-and-a-quarter hours, it was pretty much the last example of fallibility either man showed.

People talk of a top four in men's tennis but a look at the facts suggest that over the past eighteen months Nadal and Djokovic have been forming their own duopoly at the head of the men's game. Andy Murray is showing signs of closing the gap yet the major victories at grand slams continue to elude him, if now by a matter of points rather than games or sets. Roger Federer's record speaks for itself, but since he last won a Grand Slam (the Australian in 2010) there have been eight Grand Slam finals (including yesterdays) all of which have been won by either Nadal or Djokovic and four of which have been contested between the two. Federer is widely (and rightfully in my view) considered the greatest player to have ever played the game. But Nadal has a 17-9 career record against him. What are you if you're better than the greatest? Then Djokovic, since he began his ascent up tennis' Mount Olympus in January 2011, has gone 4-1 against Federer and 7-0 against Nadal. If you're better than the guy who's the greatest ever AND dominate the guy who dominates the guy who's the greatest ever, what does that make you? Tennis fans could talk themselves into a metaphysical crisis trying to come to some rational conclusion within such debates. Thankfully, the play on court provides some quite phenomenal respite from such quandary's.

Djokovic did in the third set what he's done to nearly everyone he's played in the last year. In attack he mixes stunning with precision with flat, tracer-like ground strokes, whilst on defence he chases everything down, combining a sprinters pace with an agility that allows him to contort his body into the kind of positions you can normally only find model wooden men twisted into. Through the third he had Nadal doing shuttle runs from corner-to-corner on the baseline. He would drive Nadal backwards before chipping a delicate dropshot just over the net, enough to draw a desperate sprint from Nadal, but not enough for him to actually get there, leaving the number 2 seed like the kids who keep dropping 10 pence pieces into the machines at the arcade not realising they're never going to win as the money inside is glued down. It was cruel and it was emphatic. From breaking Nadal to take a 3-1 lead he held twice to love before breaking Nadal to love at 5-2 to take the set. Momentum, a factor that can swing back-and-forth throughout the course of a five-set encounter, was firmly behind the man who had so-dominated 2011.

When Djokovic won the Australian Open in 2008 it seemed that he was ready to join the Federer-Nadal cabal which dominated Grand Slam tennis at that time. The next couple of years, however, were to be a period of unfulfilled promise. Whilst Djokovic reached several Grand Slam semis, too many Slam defeats came not at the hands of the perpetual 1 and 2 seeds, but to lower-ranked players such as Jugen Melzer, Tommy Hass and Tomas Berdych. In another era of men's tennis, where the depth of quality was spread fairly evenly across the top 20 or so players, losses like this wouldn't have been much of an issue. In an era with Federer and Nadal it meant he could only be best of the rest. Then, in 2011 Djokovic brought to the court an improved game, a body prepared to endure challenges that before it would have shirked, and most importantly a mental attitude that believed he belonged at the top. What resulted was a 70-6 record and 10  Tour titles, including 3 Grand Slams. He had elevated his game not just to the level of Nadal and Federer, but beyond it.

At the beginning of the fourth set Djokovic maintained the high gear that had driven him through the second and thirds. In top-level tennis where breaks of serve are rare, serving first in a set provides a small mental advantage over your opponent. With each hold of serve of your own you take the lead. All the guy the other side of the net can do is keep up. In this case Djokovic was streaking ahead, holding to love, or confidently averting danger with a number of firmly struck winners. Nadal was clinging to the Serb's retro 90s tennis shirt, each time facing a battle to hold serve and level the score. Finally, at 4-3 Djokovic Nadal slipped to 0-40 on his own serve. What followed embodied both the mental and the physical facets of Nadal's game that make him the player he is. At 0-40 he finished a punishing rally by skipping round a backhand and whipping his trademark forehand with lasso finish on the crosscourt angle for a winner. A strong serve saved the second break point.  At 30-40 another baseline encounter ensued. Eventually Nadal pushed Djokovic out to his forehand, the Serb returned, deep but fairly centrally to the Nadal backhand. As Djokovic pushed off his right foot, anticipating the Spaniard taking the pinball approach and stretching him onto his backhand, Nadal spied his opportunity. He sent the ball back the direction it had came. It passed Djokovic by only a couple of feet, but wrongfooted he could only let it pass like a rugby player left for dead by a neat sidestep. Two strong serves won the game and we were back to 4-4.

There followed a brief rain delay in which the Melbourne grounds crew took to the court like a colony of fluorescent worker ants and began drying off the playing surface with towels. The brief delay favoured neither player, and roof closed, both held serve twice to take the set to a tie-break. Djokovic moved to within two points of the title at 5-3, before netting a simple crosscourt forehand on his serve. It didn't feel right for Djokovic to win the match at this point. It would have felt like stopping the 100m final at the 70m mark. Nadal rallied, held both his service points, and took his first set point when Djokovic pushed a forehand wide. Call it gutsy, call it ballsy, call it what you like. In the fourth Nadal showed guts, balls, cajones galore. We were heading to a fifth set.

I'm no great fan of Nadal. His style of tennis is somewhat industrial, more of a machine to Federer's artwork or Murray's variety show. There's the gamemanship, the delays between points as he flicks back hair and adjusts his shorts like a fidgeting child. But most of all there's the way that on-court he just doesn't seem to get any enjoyment out of the game he's so bloody good at. It appears he gets no individual enjoyment out of points, instead seeing them as merely a means towards an end. Instead of the old stamp collector who gets enjoyment out of each item he adds to his collection, on-court Nadal appears more akin to one forced by means to collect food stamps. There is no enjoyment in the process, it is something that just has to be done. For me, the absolute level of seriousness makes it hard to like the player. However, there is little doubt that it is that intensity that has driven him to all the titles, and it is that intensity that clawed him back into the Championship match last night.

It's a fact that men's tennis is a bigger draw than the women's game. That's why, while both female semis took place during the day on Thursday, the men's were scheduled in for the prime-time sessions on Thursday and Friday evenings. I understand the commercial aspect but it's an arrangement that shows little respect for the notion of trying to ensure a fair build-up for the players that make it to the final. Whilst Nadal went through a no-doubt tough encounter with Federer on Thursday night, he had an extra day of rest on Djokovic, who went 4 hours 50 minutes in a barnstorming confrontation with Andy Murray a day later. Entering the 5th set logic suggested that Nadal would be the less weary of the two, and with the swing in his favour from the fourth, favourite to take the title. From 30-15 up, serving from 3-2 down, Djokovic missed shots on three consecutive points handing Nadal the break. But if there was one thing this match didn't do it was the expected. At 30-30 in the next game Djokovic popped up a tired looking volley to the Nadal backhand. Nadal closed in like an eagle descending upon a helpless vole and missed the backhand...yeah, he missed the backhand. Next point Djokovic took his opportunity and it was back on serve.

At 5-5 a rejuvenated Djokovic broke Nadal. He saved break point in the next games, before setting up championship point. Big first serve down the middle to the Nadal backhand and the Aussie Open title sat up for him in midcourt. He put the forehand lethally past a Nadal treading water on the baseline, retaining his Australian title, earning his fifth career and third consecutive Grand Slam (joining Laver, Sampras, Federer and Nadal as the only men to record three titles in a row). He also recorded his seventh straight victory over his Spanish opponent in a final. If Nadal merely toppled Federer from his throne then in his respective dominance of the Spaniard Djokovic is working on an act of regicide. Yet one cannot write off the man from Majorca. Until Federer, Murray or someone else can crack the duo's current dominance it will remain a reign of one in a town of two.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Sunday: Royal Yacht Edition

Slightly truncated version this week as I graduated on Friday and spent the rest of the weekend up north. The following represents my take on the week up to Thursday afternoon:

Would not have supported a Royal Yacht
Yacht you talkin' bout Willets?: Sorry, but it was too good a pun to let details get in the way. Michael Gove has taken most of the opprobrium for the deluded notion that the British public somehow owe someone whose grace-and-favour lifestyle they fund, a massive boat, but apparently he got the idea from David Willets. Now the Tories seem to have moved on to the idea that the burden for this massive waste of money should fall on the private sector rather than the struggling public purse (because I hear things are so great in the private sector at the moment there's a massive yacht-sized lump of cash floating around). More interestingly, however, the idea has also moved from the proposed boat being some kind-of Russian billionaire style play-pen for the Royal Family to the intriguingly barmy concept of it being a large sailing ship acting as a University of the Oceans. This floating centre of learning would apparently offer young people education in the maritime and environmental fields, provide them with lifelong individual and team-work skills, and teach them how to repel the Spanish Armada. That is, of course, as Mark Steel points out, when it's not being used to entertain Saudi arms dealers. And they say the Tories are out of touch...

Channel 4 News Bingo: So my office at the moment is next door to ITN headquarters. This presents itself with great opportunity for the worryingly giddy pleasure of Channel 4 News bingo. Bear with me. Channel 4 News Bingo is a game created by, participated in, and won, mainly by me. Though being the sole contestant gives me little chance to benchmark my performance against others, my record of Cathy Newman, Simon Israel and two John Snow sightings in the past month give me reason to believe I have a discernible talent in this area. Krishnan Guru-Murthy and I'm pretty sure I'll be heading to the soon-to-be-established News Bingo Hall of Fame.

Stewart Lee- Carpet Remnant World: So last Sunday me and a few friends went to the Leicester Square Theater to see Stewart Lee's latest show, Carpet Remnant World. Now Stewart Lee's had a surge in popularity in recent years thanks mainly to his BBC 2 Comedy Vehicle show- he even won Best Male Comic and Best Comedy Entertainment programme at the British Comedy Awards- but you get the sense that he rather wishes he hadn't. Watching Stewart Lee is unlike watching any other comedian- he is, one could say, a meta-comedian. He deconstructs jokes on stage, pointing out the different elements of humour in various puchlines and non-punchlines, segmenting the crowd into the different pockets of intellectual capability, some of which he satisfyingly plays up to, others that he (playfully?) showers with disdain. He's a craftsman, able to both build up and strip down his jokes, turning the separate component parts of a single joke into a collection of laughs. But was he any good?

The first half was top-form Stewart Lee as he covered topical material mixed with an undercurrent of effective snoobish contempt for pretty much the majority of mainstream comedy, UK and beyond. In the second half, however, the standard dropped somewhat. Part of Lee's schtick for Carpet Remnant World is that he has little material as he spends all his time these days either driving back-and-forth to gigs or looking after his four year-old son. If anyone can pull off a 90 minute comedy based on the premise of having no material it's him, but apart from a clever take on the old observational 'how come all jungle canyon rope bridges are broken?' joke (you know the one!), riffs on Twitter and world-based store titles weren't vintage Lee. In the end Carpet Remnant World is definitely a worthwhile hour and a half of comedy, way above what you'd get from most other comics, but for fans of 90s Comedian, 41st Best Stand Up Ever and even Comedy Vehicle it's overall a more mellow, soft-punching collection of material.

The Greatest Tennis Rages: Tennis is a sport set-up ideally for the in-game mental breakdown/subsequent rage. In team sports you can throw a hissy-fit but there's other players who are quite happy to keep playing leaving your histrionics underappreciated. Tennis being an individual sport means that should you choose to stop, play also stops, leaving you the centre of attention. Not only that, but it provides you with the perfect instrument with which to take your aggression out physically, an instrument who's carbon-fibre structure crumples in the most cathartic of fashions. The tennis rage can drag your play further into the mire, rejuvenate your game or just plain make you look stupid. Here are some of the best:

Marcos Bagdhatis, 2012 Aussie Open: Apparently there was a fly on the Melbourne courts that Bagdhatis failed to kill with his first racket...or his second...or his third...I think he got it with the fourth...

Mikhail Youzhny, 2008 Sony Ericsson Open, Miami: Full marks for Mikhail Youzhny for complete commitment and a willingness to put his body on the line for the sake of his anger. And they say Tennis is a non-contact sport.

John McEnroe, 1981 Wimbledon: A master at work. A reasoned argument, starting with a clear premise, supported by evidence, employing both a rhetorical question and finishing on the rule of three (with a cracking insult when denied). If McEnroe hadn't been a tennis player he'd surely have been a Barrister.

Serena Williams, 2009 US Open: You can't actually hear what Serena says on this clip but the beeps and gesticulations make it pretty clear she wasn't best pleased with the line judge. What makes this rage so good was that it came when Serena was match point down- the point penalty she got for the outburst ended the match giving Kim Clijsters the title. You've got to admire the prioritising of a expletive-filled outburst over the chance to actually win a Grand Slam- elite level raging!

Roger Federer, 2009 Sony Ericsson Open, Miami: Is there anything Roger Federer can't do. Not only is he both the greatest and most elegant player to ever grace the game, he also has perfect racket smashing technique. Federer smashes his racket like a skilled axeman chopping wood. Watch the beauty of the high backlift, the knee-bend, the left-arm pointing towards the target, the fluid motion as he brings the whole of his upper-body through the smash and even the head-flick away from the impact for safety purposes at the end. A thing of majesty.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Sunday: 2012 Predictions Edition

I know, I know. Tl;dr. The extensive format is actually an attempt to make me stick at this blogging lark for longer that the month or so my trio of previous attempts lasted. Rather than trying to pump out two or three posts a week I'll slowly accumulate to one 'review of the week' kind of thing that'll haphazardly espouse my take on a sprawl of different subjects. It might well work. It probably won't. Enjoy it while it's here.


Seal: Bin Laden killer and all round good guy
2011 predictions: There was a lot of comment at the end of last year on the fact that 2011 had a lot of news in it. There was the uprisings in the Middle East, the injunctions scandal, the Royal Wedding, the phone hacking scandal, riots across the country, Seal killed Osama Bin Laden, and much more. Busy year, huh? Well guess what... there's going to be even more news this year! How do I know? Well there's a whole extra day! 2012's gone and snuck an extra 24 hours on top of what 2011 had. A whole extra 24 hours...for 24-hour news channels to bring us... news...for another 24 hours. Man, 2012's gonna be busy. That is of course, unless,  as per the Mayans prediction, the world comes to an end on December 21 2012, an event that would not only knock a whole potential 10 days worth of news off of 2012's attempt to eclipse 2011, but would also, rather paradoxically, provide a massive news event that there'd be no-one left to cover. Go figure. Anyway, here's some predictions for 2011:

1) Boris will defeat Ken in the London Mayoral election- the result will leave it 50-50 as to whether Ed Miliband is Labour leader at the end of conference season in the Autumn
2) Obama will win re-election in November- the Republicans will get crazier
3) There will be a major scandal within an institution of British life. Politicians expenses in 2009, the press and phone hacking last year- this year maybe the police, a major business/industry or maybe a mainstream sport
4) Said scandal will result in a 'full independent public inquiry' or FIPI for short. Any potentially big news story/event these days is greeted with a call for a FIPI by politicians- they love them. At this rate we'll soon be seeing FIPIs into George Osborne's obscene levels of smugness, Alistair Darling's bewildering eyebrow/hair colour discord, and who's punching further above their weight wife-wise- Clegg or Cameron
5) A country will leave the Euro- probably Greece
6) Man City will win the premier league. Oh, and at some stage this year Mario Balotelli will be, if not arrested, interviewed by police in relation to some bizarre antics
7) Team GB will under-perform at the Olympics but there will be some stand-out individual performances with golds for Phillips Idowu, Mark Cavendish and some female swimmer/cyclist/modern pentathlete I've never heard of
8) An Elbow song will play out the closing montage to the Olympics TV coverage- a choice not at all becoming a cliche
9) A Royal pregnancy will be announced
And finally...
10) The world will not end- The Mayan's fatalistic prediction is due to their calendar running out on the 21st December 2012. Now if they'd just pop down to Calendar Club...

Whistlin' the blues
Miliband's 5-year problem: Ed Mililband had another relaunch this week, a relaunch that was met with the usual derisory media coverage Ed Miliband seems to attract (for an example see this interview with an unprofessionally callous John Humphries on the Today program). Miliband's struggling to gain any traction at the moment and whilst a lot of this is to do with his lack of policies, lack of a clear narrative, poor communiction, insubstantial PMQs performances, and all-round shortcomings as a leader of a major political party, I think at least part of it can be put down to the establishment of 5-year parliaments by the coalition.

Since 1979 the only 5-year parliaments the UK has witnessed have been the final parliament of the Tory years (92-97) and the New Labour years (05-10) with an unpopular Prime Minister clinging to power amongst withering support. Once the coalition took power in 2010, however, they decided to effectively set 5-year fixed term parliaments as the norm (see this for a bit more detail). The rationale behind this is fairly sound- to stop governments choosing advantageous dates to enhance their chances of re-election. But why 5-years? Well, the coalition realised that it was going to take a while for economic recovery to take place. The further into the future they could push the next election (within reason of course) the more chance of them going to the country as architects of a strong economy.

So why does this affect Ed? Well, it makes it pretty hard for him to generate any positive coverage. If he was riding high in the polls at the moment its still distant enough from the next election to not really matter. He get's a little credit, but not all that much as an Opposition should be ahead in the polls anyway in a situation like we're in now. What's happened in reality is that Labour have been marginally ahead in the polls for the majority of the past year. Two years from an election and that's a solid base to build a campaign on. Three years from an election and the question is why aren't Miliband and Labour further ahead? 

I'd personally prefer four-year parliaments. Mainly because I'm an elections junky, but also because it offers a good balance between allowing a government to achieve things whilst also giving people regular enough chance to remove their leaders. We don't want things to become like America where the President's barely formed an arse-groove in the White House couch before he has to be out campaigning again, but in a 5-year parliament the Opposition face a pretty much Sisyphean task trying to generate positive coverage. At the moment Miliband's trying to walk up the down escalator and failing.

Econ 101: For anyone at all interested in economics (and now's as good a time as any what with the Eurozone imploding and all) I recommend you read Paul Krugman's blog at the New York Times. Krugman is a Nobel Prize winning economist so he knows his stuff, but what's best is that unlike the majority of economics academics who spend their time creating worthless models on the sandy foundations of assumptions of rationality and complete information, Krugman deals in the reality of actual policy. And he's not afraid to tell it like it is- check out his defence of his style here in a post titled 'The Mendacity of Dopes'. The world needs more commentators calling out the wrong-headed, masochistic response to the Eurozone crisis and the fallacious claims and ideas flying from the inverted reality of the Republican nomination race. Krugman is leading the way.


Infinite Jest: This week I finished reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. It's probably the first book I've read that I've felt a real sense of achievement having finished,and I mean that in best possible way. It took me two months to get through and it's an effort to read- there's a vast panoply of  characters to keep track of, the need to refer to extensive footnotes throughout (386 in total), and you have to put up with a lot of comments from other people about the fatness of the book you're reading and the smallness of the type. But put the effort in and you're rewarded with a supremely funny, wonderfully inventive, sweeping broadside at American culture, that keeps you entertained throughout. Read it!

The Iron Lady- A review: A poor spin-off of the Iron Man franchise 

(I haven't actually seen it. I haven't even seen the Iron Man's. And that's a pretty lame gag. I apologise)

(I say it's a pretty lame gag but I've just read Stewart Lee also use it in this non-review of the film- great minds and all that...)


Serious foul play is serious foul play: I didn't see Sam Warburton's red card in the Rugby World Cup semi-final. I was in bed at the time (it was at like 9 on a Sunday morning- they play Rugby at funny times in New Zealand). However,I have seen it since and the right decision was made. The aftermath of Vincent Kompany's red card in the Manchester derby at the weekend reminds me a lot of the controversy that followed Warburton's dismissal. Those vilifying the respective referees do so on two main points, both equally spurious.

Firstly, critics of the decisions point to the early stage of the game at which each 'offence' occurred. This argument often comes from those who call for more consistency from referees decision making- an ironic inconsistency in their own thought process seeing as policing the game to different standards depending on time expired is, how should I put this, inconsistent. The clock has nothing to do with how a referee should adjudicate the game. If a player puts in a dangerous tackle early in the game, as both Warburton and Kompany did, there is no basis for a referee to err on the side of lenient punishment for the sake of not 'spoiling the game'. This argument was made a lot surrounding the Warburton incident, with the loss of a man in rugby a far more damaging situation to find yourself in than in football, but it holds no water. Warburton's tackle was a red card whether it occurs seconds after the kickoff, seconds before the final whistle, or anywhere in between.

Which brings us to the second defence made of the tackles: that there was no malicious intent and in the case of Kompany that he was actually successful in winning the ball. Those who make this results-based argument show a clear disregard for the condition of those players that they are so entertained by. If, in the course of a rugby tackle (or in any situation really), you lift someone's legs above their head, the inevitability is that they will come down on their upper-body, quite possible their neck or head. This is clearly very dangerous and should be discouraged with the threat of the strongest punishment possible on the field of play. Sam Warburton may not have meant to raise Vincent Clerc off the ground the way he did, but he left Alain Rolland with no choice but to issue him with a red. In football, going into a tackle with both your feet poses a severe threat to the legs of the player you are challenging and again should be punished with a red card. It doesn't matter that Nani jumped out of the way as if Kompany had javelin for feet, Kompany did not need to go in for the tackle the way he did. Though no harm was done Chris Foy was right to let the remaining players know that if they intended to tackle in such a reckless way then their afternoon would be swiftly curtailed.

Now, I don't feel that Warburton or Kompany are dirty players but their punishments in their respective cases were correct, as were the rejection of their subsequent appeals. Rugby and Football are physical games in which injuries are inevitable. However, they are also sports that thrive on the entertainment provided by their players. Thus any reckless action by a player that is likely to endanger the fitness of another must be punished strongly, regardless of whether they cause injury.

Talking Tactics: I came across Zonal Marking this week, a website dedicated to discussions of football tactics. I've also started reading more of The Guardian's pieces on the thought processes behind the game and find them far more insightful than the banal remarks emanating from so-called pundits on TV.

This weeks Carling Cup semi first leg on BBC between Man City and Liverpool was indicative of the perfunctory nature of the Alan's Shearer and Hansen analysis and the indefatigable will of Mark Lawrenson to come across as some kind of comic quipster that the BBC provides us. Stefan Savic, in for the suspended Vincent Kompany, was identified as a weak link in the City defence. Why's that Hansen? He'll be nervous because he hasn't played much we were told. No discussion of Savic's technical ability, his strengths, his weaknesses. Just idle speculation about his potential state of mind (Savic did end up having a shocker to be fair). On the Liverpool side we were informed Andy Carroll lacks confidence, an observation from Shearer about as astute as his suit was shocking. As for Lawrenson, his 'analysis' was about as funny as your best striker breaking his leg on a 'football hilarity scale' that ranges from your team getting relegated at the low-end through to the comic majesty of the following at the high-end:

Most analysis-and this goes for the great minds of Jamie Redknapp and co on Sky Sports as well- seems entirely focused on the simple notions of form and confidence, barely scratching the surface of the different layers within a Premier League match (to be fair to Gary Neville he makes a decent stab at providing a bit more analysis- it's a pretty bad sign when Gary Neville's a leader in your field and your field isn't either being a right-back or sleazy facial hair). It's received wisdom that the best players don't make the best managers. TV should realise the same applies to pundits and and look harder to find new pundits to raise the level of analysis beyond that of the current bilge provided by "the experts".  

Aussie Open pick:  So the first Tennis grand slam of the year is upon us and I'm calling it now: this is the one Andy Murray wins. Murray gets a tough rap for underacheiving when in reality in each grand slam he enters he's up against three of the best players ever to play the game. It's a bit like turning up with your mates to perform at a Battle of the Bands only to find out the competition is The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who. This then happens at every Battle of the Bands you perform at and still, even when you come second, you get criticised. However, going into this years Australian Open Nadal's battling a shoulder injury, Djokovic still doesn't seem 100% after his fitness issues at the end of last year and Federer pulled out of a tournament due to injury for the first time in his career last week. Put this together with it being a tournament at which Murray's reached the final pretty convincingly the past two years- albeit before being beaten equally convincingly in the final- and this is his best chance yet. The final: Murray over Federer in four sets.