Monday, December 31, 2007

Bank Holiday New Years Eve

Thomson are currently trying to increase sales by campaigning for a new Bank Holiday. I don't think we need another; I just do not see the point of everyone having to take the same day off together. Indeed, some of the Bank Holidays we already have seem random to me; May day, the August Bank Holiday, the Spring Bank Holiday are completely random and don't really seem to celebrate anything. Maybe someone can enlighten me?

In any case I seem to have a hard enough time getting into my local branches as it is. I went for a walk round the local High Street to tie up some financial loose ends today, New Years Eve, as it is during my holidays and banks only seem to be open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. To my surprise, two of my least favourite banks were open (HSBC and Abbey), whereas two of my preferred banks closed early (Halifax at 1pm, and Nationwide at 3pm).

First Direct, a division of HSBC, have started marketing their fee-paying current accounts on quality of service rather than level of interest rates, the latter tactic being favoured by Halifax. I usually do not notice the difference but today I did. I must admit though, I still think value for money is probably more important when choosing an account.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas!

The People's Republic would like to wish all its readers a happy Christmas in true West Midlands style:


We shall never get sick of that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Calamity? Clegg New Lib Dem Leader

Nick Clegg was announced as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats today, after beating rival Chris Huhne by 500 votes. I predicted a month ago the contest would be close but alas, I still lost money on the betting markets, mainly due to the fact that I initially backed Steve Webb at 16/1 after finding out on the blogosphere that he had got the requisite 17 nominations, but he later decided not to run. For what it is worth, I think Huhne was the better option.

I have two strategies when it comes to betting. The first is no matter what the odds, make sure you back the winner. The second is to have a punt on what you think is the value bet. The problem with the first strategy is that you do not always know who the winner will be, but you are guaranteed to win money if you pick it. The problem with the second strategy is that you will lose possibly as many bets as you will win, but in the long run you should make a profit.

In future, I will have to stop mixing these strategies.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Footballers have never been renowned for being that bright but this week saw an above average barrage idiotic comments from the players and managers of the national game. It started with the appointment of an Italian coach to manage the England football team, which really ruffled the feathers of the useless English coaches that clog up the game and have not won a Premiership trophy, let alone a Champions League trophy, between them. Paul Ince was the pick of the English guys with:

"We have got enough managers in England who could do just as good a job."

They do the job so well in fact that none of the top four clubs in the country have an English manager, and you would have to go back to Roy Evans and Glenn Hoddle nearly ten years ago to find a time when they did.

Our Scottish cousins then got in on the act with this choice quote from David Moyes:

"I just don’t know how the Italians would take it if Sam Allardyce or Alan Curbishley got the Italian national job and took all their staff from England to work there thinking those people were better suited."

I think the Italians would be a bit miffed, not because Sam and Alan are English, but they have never won anything significant as managers. In fact, Sam is famous for getting Bolton into Europe, and Alan is famous for taking Charlton to the Premiership. Not exactly feats of an international class manager.

So what if the English manager is not English? Most of the Premiership is not either, which is probably why it is now regarded as one of the best leagues in the world, and our head of state has not been English for the best part of 1000 years. Quite frankly, I'm starting to think we should give the Prime Minister's job to a foreigner; they could not be any worse than what we have currently got, or are likely to get in the future.

Finally, Phil Neville claimed last night that Everton are always last on Match of the Day. Brummies know that it is of course Birmingham City who are always last on Match of the Day, and indeed last night, the Blues were last again despite it being Alex McLeish's home managerial debut against Reading; but the former Scotland manager taking charge at home in Birmingham is hardly going to excite the London and Manchester based BBC. Of course, Blues were always last on ITV's flagship footie programmes the Premiership, but at least they had commercial reasons for the running order. The BBC is supposed to be above market considerations and be unbiased.

Remember, it is thanks to the unique way they are funded.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Do Not Do the Funky Gibbon

While trawling the blogosphere I cannot help noticing the amount of bloggers, particularly those aligned to the Conservative movement, who, while commenting on the case of Gillian Gibbons and the teddy bear formerly known as Mohamed, harp on about how we are so much more civilised than Sudan and how disgraceful it was for the country to treat a foreigner in that way.

Let me make it clear that I think the Sudan authorities attitude to this incident was disgraceful, and I tend to agree that the arrest was politically motivated, possibly due to Gordon Brown's criticism of the Sudan regimes inaction in Darfur. Before we start feeling self-righteous about this however, let us consider a few instances of British "justice" in regards to foreigners in our own country.

1) An innocent Brazilian is shot dead during a time of heightened political tension. At the trial of the Metropolitan Police under Health & Safety Law, the lawyer defending the Met sums up by implying he was an illegal immigrant drug addict, despite the fact that this had nothing to do with the shooting. To this day, despite the fact that shoot-to-kill was never authorised by the Metropolitan Police, the officers involved have not faced any charges. They have got away with an extra-judicial killing. Also known as murder.

2) 17 foreigners arrested since 2001 kept behind bars for around three years without trial because the government "suspected" and in some cases still suspects that they are involved in terrorism. These men were so dangerous that they were free to leave jail as long as they left Britain at the same time. Since being released in 2005, some are still under house arrest despite never having been tried.

3) Remember the plot to bomb Old Trafford? Basically a foreigner (Muslim) who had some Man United Tickets. Although I can see the value in detaining Manchester United fans for crimes against sport, we should not be doing it just because they are foreign. Also mentioned in the same article is the arrest of foreigners involved in the Ricin plot that did not involve any Ricin.

I do not want to even start on the disgraceful treatment of technically British citizens (although they are non-white and were born in a foreign country so perhaps it does not really count) over the issue of the theft of Diego Garcia.

15 days for naming a teddy bear Mohammed? Sudan has got a lot to learn before they reach British standards of injustice.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

St Andrew's Day

No-one was more surprised than me when yesterday the big eck swapped the nation of St Andrews for the club based at St Andrews, where he will resume his cross-city rivalry with Martin O'Neill which previously took place in Glasgow.

Although he undeniably produced some fantastic results at Scotland, I am not convinced his managerial record is as good as it is reputed to be. Nonetheless, Alex McLeish signing for Birmingham City is a massive coup for both the club and the city.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Howard's End

There was delight in the People's Republic at the victory of Kevin Rudd's Labour party over the coalition in Australia, not least because it brought to an end the ten year rein of error of John Howard's coalition.

John Howard epitomised the gutter politics of Anglo-Saxon conservatism, constantly spreading lies in order to promote his indefensible policies. These ranged from persecuting asylum seekers to ignoring Australia's moral obligation to the Aboriginal peoples, from failure to ratify Kyoto (despite originally agreeing wit it), to bombing a defenseless third-world country in order to protect Australia's economic wealth. He never missed a chance to attack those who struggled to defend themselves, and it just shows how illiberal (in the classical sense) the so-called Australian Liberal party were.

At the time of writing, it looks like he has also lost his seat. As the Aussies would say, good riddance. It is just a pity a few other western conservative leaders never succumbed, or indeed have the chance to succumb, to the same fate.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

School of Terror

All I can say is this is outrageous. It is generally known that an A level chemistry student can manufacture ecstasy and certain other banned drugs, and as part of the course will make aspirin and paracetamol. So, in order to strike a blow in the war on drugs as well as the war on terror, why doesn't the government go the whole hog and ban chemistry altogether? Then we can all do mickey mouse degrees in law and politics, like our Glorious Leaders.

Why has this story not been more widely reported?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

You May Take the P*ss, but You Will Never Take Our Freedom

Nick Huhne and Chris Clegg have both pledged to lead a campaign of civil disobedience against the dreaded ID card should they be elected leader of the Liberal Democrats, but according to the Stirrer fellow Birmingham Yardley MP and failed prospective leader candidate John Hemming is planning a rather different form of civil disobedience against a particularly vicious attack on our civil liberties. He is planning a pub crawl to protest against police spying on pubs where they make astonishing claims that people are breaking the law - by getting drunk.

In a letter to the landlord of the Prince of Wales in Moseley, where JRR Tolkien reputedly used to court his wife, the police confirmed

"there is clear evidence in the premises…of numerous people who are drunk/intoxicated."

People getting drunk in a pub? Never!

Now, recently we have been getting used to the police taking the p*ss. But getting p*ssed to take on the police? Only on Broad Street on a Saturday night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Football and Geography

"I'd like to play for an Italian club, like Barcelona"
Mark Draper, formerly of Aston Villa

I found myself like most of the country in the strange position of being a supporter of Israel on Saturday night and they did not let us down (unlike certain national football teams a little closer to home). Did anyone else notice the irony that the result of a football match between Israel and Russia had the potential to decide whether England would qualify for the European Championships? This crime against geography is presumably because UEFA and FIFA allow countries to join continental federations based on history and politics rather than actual physical locations.

Of course, Israel is also in UEFA because a few countries in the Asian federation do not recognise its right to exist. Which got me thinking: if the People's Republic actually got independence from the old country and was recognised by the United Nations, but not Westminster could we then apply for membership of CONCACAF and play World Cup Qualifiers against the might of Mexico, USA and Canada? It is one benefit of independence that we could sell to the people of Birmingham

But let's not give Alex Salmond any ideas.

Friday, November 16, 2007

W-Huhne Will Be Next Leader of the Lib Dems?

Can someone explain to me why Nick Clegg is the clear favourite to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats? As I write on Betfair Clegg is 1/3 while Huhne is 13/4.

There are three reason why I think the race is a lot closer than this.

1) Huhne comes across better than Clegg
2) Huhne already has experience at contesting a leadership election
3) Huhne is reaching out to the left of the party (who make up the majority of the grass roots) on the issue of Trident

In the last Lib Dem leadership election Huhne was favourite on Betfair despite all the polling evidence that Ming Campbell was ahead. There were claims that someone was deliberately keeping Huhne's price down to make him the favourite, the point I guess being that members of the Lib Dem party who are undecided will go with the majority so it seems the winner has the clear backing of the party. Is someone doing the same thing this time for Nick Clegg? I simply cannot believe that Huhne is so far behind.

Update 17/11/07: The political punters blog bible Political Betting has just written a very similar article

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Finally Moving On

Some long awaited good news regarding Birmingham's transport network finally arrived this week like buses in two's. On Monday Digbeth Coach Station finally closed for its long overdue revamp, hopefully giving future passengers who come to Birmingham by coach at least a better first impression of our city. The day before on Sunday, Central Trains were replaced with the new franchise responsible for the West Midlands network, branded London Midland.

Is this an indication that our city has stopped competing with London and is now trying to leech of the London brand? I bet there will not be any trains in London being branded Birmingham South-East.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

PRoBrum Right-Leaning?

I love these kind of quizzes which map out your position on a two-dimensional political spectrum and compare you with current parties and political leaders past and present. I find them useful because I struggle to find a mainstream political party I fit in with These quizzes give me an opportunity to find out what the differences are. I am surprised to be right-leaning in this version, but I think part of the problem is that it defines neo-liberal politics as being right-wing, an opinion I disagree with (I believe free-markets are a centrist position that have been adopted by the right due to the success of socialist economics during the middle part of the twentieth century). A previous version on an American Scale had me as a Democrat.

Comparing myself with the 2005 UK political spectrum I am closest to the Liberal Democrats which I have always suspected, but this can be misleading due to the fact that the party is polarised between the Liberal and Social Democratic founding traditions. Thankfully, I am on the opposing side of the quadrant containing the BNP.

Interestingly nearly all modern political leaders are in the same quadrant as the two main parties, authoritarian neo-liberals. Is this because this is the most practical form of politics? I hope not. I think it shows that politicians are inclined to award themselves too much power as it keeps them in work. I believe most people who take this test will find themselves in the libertarian half of the chart, indicating to me that the growing chasm between electorates and their leaders does not involve positioning on the traditional left-right political spectrum, but is instead a failure by current governments to recognise that most aspects of life do not need to be legislated over, and that citizens must be given the freedom to live the lives they choose to live.

Hat-tip to Some Random Thoughts.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

New St Pancreas

Why is it that we can spend £800 million on largely cosmetic changes that will improve the connection between London an Paris /Brussels, but we cannot spend £550 million to improve the state of Birmingham New Street, a pivotal station in Britain's railway infrastructure and a terrible eyesore in the middle of our city.

I think we all know the answer by now.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Eleven Plus... Three?

Some people may claim I took part in a form of child abuse yesterday morning. I invigilated at an 11+ exam. Ironic, as I generally oppose selective education despite working at a grammar school.

It is not quite as simple as that however. I think that education should be tailored to the individual pupil. Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) should be educated in environments that are targeted to these needs. I am a firm believer that disruptive pupils would benefit from special schools staffed by teachers who are experts in dealing with behavioural problems, where they cannot disrupt the majority of students who are not disruptive. Similarly, in my opinion students with above average intelligence should go to schools staffed by teachers who are experts in dealing with academically gifted children where they will benefit from the competition with other similar students.

My problem is that 11 is not a good age to do this. Children develop at different rates and the 11+ is prejudiced against late developers. Not to mention pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds. At 11, we just end up with an educational apartheid where intelligent middle-class students end up in well-staffed, well-funded grammar schools and those who aren't as intelligent or come from the wrong background have to hope they can get into a decent less discerning school. It may not be the case any more that failure to get into grammar school means you are destined for a life of low-paid manual labour, but the reality is that you are a lot more likely to get into a top university if you go to a grammar school. Indeed, most of the relatively low proportion of students who get into Oxbridge from state school actually come from grammar schools, where they are used to coaching pupils in the Oxbridge admissions process (which is different from that of other universities). It is possible for those who failed to get into a grammar school at eleven to get a place at the sixth form later on but most students do not even consider this option and in any case the places are few.

My solution? Adopt the American model of elementary school, middle school and high school. Selection at 14 is a lot more sensible than selection at 11. By that stage it is pretty obvious whether a student is academically oriented or more suited to vocational qualifications. In practice, even under the comprehensive system, streaming is rife after 14 as teachers decide whether the student in a certain class should sit the higher or middle tier examination papers, determining the maximum grade a student can get at GCSE. The Government plan for diplomas could even fit quite well into this situation, although it is really designed for a comprehensive school model.

We are not there yet however. Yesterday I saw a room full of young students who had the hopes and dreams of their parents on their shoulders. And the background of the parents would be a major factor in whether those hopes and dreams came through.

Why not let those eleven-year olds keep their innocence for a few more years? They are too young to be victims of a socially divided national joke of a discredited education system.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

H&S Training for Office-rs Overdue

The Metropolitan Police have been convicted of breaching Health and Safety Law when they killed Jean Charles de Menezes in the wake of the failed July 21st bombings.

I propose we send Gareth from the office give them some much needed Health and Safety training. Learning how to correctly place a hot cup of coffee next to a monitor will clearly reduce the probability of accidentally shooting an innocent person in the head seven times.

An excellent summary of the court case has been presented here.

Personally, I think anyone who defends the police on the grounds of stopping potential suicide bombers in future is advocating legalised terrorism. By the police. On anyone they do not like the look of.

Ian Blair has so far refused to resign.

Time for democratically elected Police Chiefs?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

World Championship Weakend

What a dire weekend for British sport. After the pathetic exploits of the Scottish and English national football teams on Wednesday, the World Championship weekend ended without a single British winner.

In the Rugby, a disallowed try possibly turned the outcome of the World Cup. I am a big believer that England is disadvantaged in Rugby as every other nation that takes the sport seriously hates us, with the possible exception of New Zealand and the South Sea islanders. As a result, it is difficult to get a neutral referee. A few decisions went against England in the final, including decisions on blocking as well as the try. However, South Africa were probably the best team in the tournament even though they had a rather easy draw and most England fans would have taken a second World Cup Final appearance if offered before the tournament. As for the try, there was enough doubt not to award it. Well done to both England and new World Champions South Africa.

Well done also to new Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. Coming into the final race he was outsider in a three way title fight for the championship, but drove a faultless race to pull it off against all odds. Over two years ago I predicted on this blog that Raikkonen would come to dominate the sport; it is great to see him finally fulfilling his potential even though he defeated Lewis Hamilton in his amazing d├ębut season. I have also pointed out on this blog a couple of times the FIA's bias towards Ferrari. Even with the odds stacked against him the wise money would always have been on Raikkonen, particularly after Bernie Ecclestone said he would like to see him win to Martin Brundle before the race. As we may recall back in the early days of the Blair government, what Bernie Ecclestone wants, Bernie Ecclestone tend to get.

I will not dwell too long on the two Brum teams being beaten by those representing an inferior northern city either.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Usi 9mm

There has been a lot of discussion recently about foreign takeovers of British football clubs. My opinion is that if football is a business, as we are constantly being told it is, it cannot protect itself from globalisation which is a natural part of free-markets. Having said that, we don't want any old Johnny Foreigner running our clubs. There must be a certain probity about the character of any potential investors.

I believe the two Birmingham clubs have done well here. I doubt any Villa fan would want to go back to the bad old days of Deadly Doug. Randy Lerner, as well as having a great name for a student of sex education, has humbly said he is a steward of the club and it appears that the club is finally moving in the right direction after many years of neglect. There are a few question marks over Carson Yeung, not least as to whether he will actually take over at St Andrew's, but he seems to have an understanding of the city and football and could be an important contact in the emerging superpower that is China, giving the city and the club access to the huge Premier League marketing potential available in the country..

Other cities have been less discerning however. Manchester City have allowed the former Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Sinawatra with his questionable record on human rights to take over the club. Meanwhile in London, the probity of the Arsenal-owning hopeful Alisher Uzmanov has been questioned recently by quite a few blogs concerned at his recent efforts to silence certain online critics, which affected among others Tim Ireland and local councillor Bob Piper's fine weblogs.

Many club owners are now saying foreign investment is vital to be able to compete at the highest level. However, should we be more careful about the types of people who are taking over our national sport?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

One Out All Out

I may be a bit annoyed at not getting my public sector annual increment in pay, but you have to laugh; UNISON are balloting their members on strike action over the issue, but the process of sending out ballot papers have been delayed... because of the postal strike.

Isn't it ironic.

Monday, October 15, 2007

No US Re-nay-agan on Environmental Treaties

This, my 200th post, is part of blog action day, where bloggers around the web unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind - the environment.

There is not much doubt that the main environmental concern at the moment is global warming. In 1997 the industrialized nations signed an agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the Kyoto treaty. American President George W. Bush refuses to abide by the terms of the treaty, claiming he "does not believe the science".

I doubt he understands the science. The right wing, fearing that socialists are using global warming to further their political arguments have adopted three positions; to deny the science behind global warming; to argue for technological solutions rather than "economically damaging restrictions"; or, like David Cameron, embrace global warming and its economically damaging solutions in an attempt to become electable.

Back in the late 1980's and early 90's, the big environmental concern was depletion of the ozone layer. Back then, America also had an idiot for a leader in the form of Ronald Reagan; and some would argue so did Britain. However the similarities ended there. Margaret Thatcher graduated in Chemistry from Oxford and actually did understand the science. She persuaded Ronald Reagan to sign the Montreal Protocol, the Kyoto of its day and as a result, ozone depletion is beginning to subside.

What does Margaret Thatcher think of global warming? Well according to a recent article by the ASI (based on her book Statecraft), she is firmly in the second camp, believing it is a problem but one that can be overcome by human ingenuity rather than damaging restrictions. It is a position which I tend to agree with. There is no point telling people what they can and cannot do, or charge them more in an attempt to stop them doing it; in a free country, we will make up our own minds based on our own desires and most people will not stop to think about the long-term consequences.

What price a scientifically savvy Prime Minister who can influence America on the environment?

Could it cost us the Earth?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

CHSG Presentation to IRP

I have posted the presentation made by the City Hospital Supporters Group (CHSG) to the Independent Review Panel (IRP) opposing the planned removal of emergency surgical and trauma and emergency paediatric beds from City Hospital on Support City Hospital blog. It is a concise summary of the case against the proposals and is well worth a look if you care about the future of emergency acute health services in the central/ west Birmingham and Sandwell region.

Update 19/10: I am clearly an idiot. I have now added in the links so you can actually look at the presentation should you so desire.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Day Out in London

Last Saturday, I spent the day in our glorious capital to see what the "greatest city in the world" has to offer visitors. This is the second trip I have made to London this year after an earlier trip to Lords; I seem to be getting soft on the old cockney hometown in my old age

After arriving at Euston after 1 hour and 45 minutes, a time which has not reduced and had perhaps even lengthened since the late 1980's/ early 90's, we walked to the British Museum in a vain attempt to see the current Terracotta Army exhibition. Unfortunately they only release 500 tickets each day at 9am, and as we had got there a bit later it was of course sold out. We decided to have a look around the rest of the museum which contains one of the largest collections of stolen goods in the world. The exhibits were stolen, plundered and borrowed, taxed, teefed and generally robbed from across the whole of the known world at the height of the Empire, and they even have a room celebrating this. They had the cheek to ask for a £4 donation; obviously I did not provide one, as crime should not pay.

I was expecting to be asked to leave a donation at St. Paul's Cathedral as well, but they had the cheek to charge an admission fee because there was not a service going on. All museums should now be free, but St Paul's get round this by claiming they are a place of worship. As a Catholic, I did not buy this excuse as I did not see anything that resembled any Papal authorisation.

A slight detour took us into the City of London, which is tiny compared to the City of Birmingham. Here I realised Londoners love living in the past, as their garbage trucks carried the title of cleanest city 2004., a title which was won in March by Birmingham. Perhaps they lost it because they failed to clean up such an out of date notice.

A walk across the (previously) wobbly Millennium bridge led us to a pub where we had some lunch and then we went to the Tate Modern. The most surreal exhibit of the day was actually in the pub beforehand however, where England beat the Wobblies in the Rugby World Cup. Until I got home and checked Teletext, I was a bit worried that we had eaten lunch in the Tate Modern and the game was actually a piece of Modern Art where England's victory represents the dreams of our youth, before we are crushed with the reality of an Australian victory in the grown-up world. Gladly, I was mistaken.

As dusk arrived we "flew" on the British Airways London Eye, which despite its sponsor was running pretty efficiently and not affected by any strikes. There are some great views of London and the surrounding landmarks from the wheel which I exploited to the full by taking out my trusty digital camera and snapping away to my heart's content, as were my friends and fellow travelers in the pod. According to some people the police would have been justified in stopping me to check that I was not planning some atrocity because I am asian look like a terrorist, but not my white friends were taking exactly the same pictures of exactly the same landmarks. Apparently my belief that this is an example of racially prejudice is wrong; I am actually a victim of politically correct thinking, which is clearly a far worse crime.

A quick tube ride across town took us to Covent Garden where in traditional London style we were ripped of for dinner. A dash back to Euston left me back in Birmingham before midnight.

I realised on my day out that London is a city on the move. I don't think it is the greatest city in the world yet, but some of the buildings that are planned are certainly moving it in the right direction. After the doldrums of the Thatcher years, where much money was made but few iconic buildings were build, London is finally starting to fulfill the potential it has. Maybe one day they will even deserve the title of greatest city in the world.

Not yet though. And you'll never get a Brummie admitting it.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


The University of Central England has renamed itself as Birmingham City University and a current student is not impressed. Apparently they were struggling to market the former Polytechnic under the old name, and no-one was sure where it was. Well the clue was in the name, but it is understandable that including the name Birmingham will attract potential students and be a useful marketing tool due to name recognition. Indeed, some have argued that the West Midlands should be renamed Greater Birmingham in order to attract investment (and I would argue that Sandwell should be renamed West Bromwich), but I am sure our Black Country brothers would have some real issues with this.

If they can just persuade Aston University to include Villa in their title, they will be well on their way to being regarded the second best Uni in Brum - behind the original and best Birmingham University, of course.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

I Don't Miss Cricket...

The cricket season is over and I am suffering symptoms of withdrawal. Warwickshire had a shocking season, being relegated in both league competitions and underachieving in the other two, including missing out on Twenty20 Finals day at Edgbaston. Ashley Giles has taken over from director of cricket Mark Greatbatch, and immediately pulled of a coup; he poached former South African and Warwickshire bowler Allan Donald from the England set-up to become the new bowling coach. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who picks a local side over the nation should be given the freedom of the Republic.

The international scene saw India and Pakistan make up for their World Cup humiliation by contesting the final of the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 Cup. India go on to play the convicts in November, and hopefully will continue their fine form.

On a personal level, I won my Telegraph Fantasy Cricket Super League and Super 10, finishing in the top 100 of the Warwickshire supporters league. I am now legally obliged to change my name to Mrs Element, who probably took up 50 of the other 100 places.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Political Incorrectness Gone Mad

Iain Dale has an interesting blog but it is at times ruined by his small minded conservatism. In a recent post Iain Dale's Diary: Political Correctness and Racial Profiling he defend racial profiling, claiming

"... that political correctness has to go out of the window when dealing with terrorism."

I have pointed out in the comments that when the IRA were bombing this country, white people were not being disproportionately stopped and searched.

Conservatives love to say that racism works both ways; but they don't half prefer the old-fashioned way.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Coconuts for All: Boris for London

London loves to think of itself as a major international city but when you look at the Mayoral candidates for the two main political parties it seems to be a rather different story: Red Ken for Labour, vs Bumbling Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party. Both have their place in politics but let us be honest, both are also a bit of a joke. A major international city should have future Prime Ministers and Presidents vying to cut there political teeth as Mayor. Compare for example London with New York; it is quite possible that next years presidential election may see a three way fight between Hillary Clinton, the current New York senator for the Democratic party, Rudi Guiliani, the former New York mayor for the Republicans, and Michael Bloomberg, the current mayor who may stand as an independent. Compare this to London, who have settled for comedy political sideshows as their major candidates.

Having said that at least London have got a mayor; the main political parties in Birmingham have stitched us all up ensuring that the current shambles of a council will remain to make non-decisions. This effectively means for the foreseeable future we will be stuck between an indecisive and incompetent ConDem coalition, or an arrogant and unaccountable Labour administration. Their blogging political lackeys, such as Prague Tory or Political Hack rubbish the independent such as Sir Digby Jones, Karen Brady or Carl Chinn, but have they had a look at who is vying to run Birmingham at the moment? For the Conservatives, Mike Whitby Whitless, who spends most of his time distancing himself from Labour inspired regeneration projects and coming up with ridiculous alternatives in their place. And the inconvenient truth is that Al Bore is aptly named. I'm not usually a fan of personalities taking over politics, but I think a charismatic leader is exactly what Birmingham needs to take itself forward. Our local political parties are bereft of such talent at the moment.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

United Blitzed by Coventry

Coventry pulled of one of the biggest results in recent Midland's footballing history last night by beating the mighty Trafford Borough at the Theatre of American Dreams. Blues face them on Saturday in the league and so will need to be ready for the backlash, after going out of the Carling Cup last night to a Robbie Savage's new team, and beating Liverpool 0-0 at Anfield on Saturday.
Villa were also stunned by Martin O'Neill's former club Leicester, meaning that Coventry are probably the best chance of West Midlands success in the league cup this season.

It would be great to see the Sky Blues back in the top flight, and hopefully under Iain Dowie's leadership they will be making a return next season. Coventry used to be legendary at staying up. The 96-97 season epitomised this, with Coventry needing to win on the last day away to Tottenham, and Middlesbrough and Sunderland needing to lose. Somehow they pulled it off, and they finally went out of the top flight after 34 years in 2000/01 season after losing to the Villa.

As Ron Atkinson used to say, if the Titanic was built in Coventry, that wouldn't have gone down.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Two Become One

Birmingham Airport has scrapped plans for a second runway in favour of proposals to extend the existing runway and build a third terminals. Earlier this year business leaders agreed this was the way forward for the airport, as it would open up the West Midlands economy to destinations such as China and the US, and potentially lure business travellers away from the likes of Manchester and Heathrow. The proposals will please local residents and green campaigners who opposed the second runway, and there is even an argument that being able to travel further from Birmingham is actually a "green" proposal because it will save unnecessary journeys by car to airports further away. On the other hand, green campaigners will still point out that this is an expansion of air travel, and according to the Stirrer Friends of the Earth have asked Birmingham Airport if they can make these developments carbon neutral.

The airport hopes that the changes will be in place in time for 2012, when London will be hosting the Olympic Games. A further expansion of the airport should not be necessary for another two decades, at least 2030.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

London Loses Monopoly over Board

The new version of monopoly where cities of Britain replace the streets of London certainly caused a bit of a stir at the Independent London Tourist Board, also known as the BBC. BBC Breakfast spent most of the morning sneering that Liverpool, the European Capital of Culture for 2008, had replaced Old Kent Road as the cheapest site. Meanwhile the BBC website took pains to point out that London was valued at less than Stoke-on-Trent, Derby and Birmingham despite house prices being twice as high in London. Helen Martin, global brand director for Monopoly, put London's plight down to "big city apathy".

Big city apathy? I guess that is why the biggest city in Britain, Birmingham, managed to finish in the top 8 (admittedly partly due to a campaign by Metroblogging Birmingham). If London is not as well loved by the BBC as the establishment would like to believe, don't pretend its a big city problem. With a resident population of around 10,000, London is not even a big city.

Voting for the positions on the board certainly was a great publicity stunt, but of course it would have been fairer to assign the plots by population. As a result, Newcastle and Edinburgh did not even make the board.

However, any methodology that puts Brum ahead of the Cock-ney's can't be all that bad.

Unless you work for the Beeb of course.

Remember, it's thanks to the unique way they are funded.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ferrari, FIA still F-up F1

I've pointed out on this blog before the "closeness" between Ferrari and the FIA, but surely McLaren's recent punishment in the spying scandal of a fine of £50 million and the loss of all points in the constructors championship was justified, right?

Wrong. Yet again the FIA has judged in favour of Ferrari despite the lack of evidence behind their claims. This is really becoming a joke. I think it is high time the manufacturers who own the major teams in F1 pulled out there cars from this debacle and start their own championship. Then the FIA can watch 22 Ferrari cars fight each other in some semblance of a sporting event, the outcome being a Ferrari win which for once they won't have to manufacture.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Colin McRae 1968-2007

There must be a curse on British rally drivers. After Richard Burns' untimely death nearly 2 years ago, his great nemesis on the dirt track Colin McRae died in a helicopter accident this weekend.

He was an incredibly exciting driver to watch, but I don't think he ever really achieved as much as he could have done in the sport. While already famous among those who followed the world of rallying, he was considered a mythical figure like Lara Croft in the US due to the computer game named after him.

There must be some classic races going on in the next world at the moment.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lend Me Your Years

Can you believe it. Due to Bill Clinton and Oprah, Kiva has run out of businesses to invest in. What sort of world do we live in when we cannot lend to the poor without interest?

The founder of the People's Republic celebrated the passing of another year on Friday. One is feeling rather old.

The good news is he no longer has to spend time in exile in West Bromwich to earn the taxes he is forced to pay to Her Majesty and her government, who do not recognise his independence. A new job has been obtained in the former spiritual and physical home of the People's Republic. I won't mention the organization I work for, as I suspect JRD168 would not be impressed. Maybe more on that later.

While I assimilate to my new job (as part of a foundation which lets just say I failed to get into when I was a bit younger), I am temporarily taking a break from both writing and reading blogs. Hopefully soon I will be back, bigger, better, angrier and more Brummie than ever.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Wow for Wales

I lead a sheltered life, so I was pleased to spend some of Saturday at Barmouth in mid-Wales. This follows on from the trip to Edinburgh just over a week ago which mean I have visited both Scotland and Wales for the first time in the last fortnight (I guess I had to get it in before the Kingdom fell apart after the SNP's victory in the Scottish Parliamentary elections earlier this year).

I was very impressed with my first trip to a British beach. I think Wales is one of Europe's best kept secrets; I never thought it would be so good. The drive through Wales had some breathtaking scenery, and when we arrived at the beach, apart from some trouble finding adequate parking, we found a pretty empty beach with golden sand and the sun shining. One of my friend who has been to other beaches in the UK claimed this was the best he had been to, and planned to come again with his girlfriend. The other friend who accompanied us said mid-Wales was generally the best Britain had to offer in terms of beaches.

I guess the only bad point is there is no direct motorway so it is difficult to get to, but I guess that is also the reason it was empty. I would certainly recommend Barmouth to those who have never been. In the contest between Wales and Scotland, I think Wales comes out the winner so far, but I'm sure there will be plenty of future trips to both countries to make further comparisons.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Day 4

The Prisoner by the Aireborne Theatre Company@ Underbelly's Smirnoff BabyBelly

We started of out final day with a play about a musician imprisoned in an autocratic regime. Nothing that has not been done before but it was well done.

Ismo Leikole - Rogue State Finland @ Laughing Horse at Edinburgh City Football Club
Next some more free comedy this time by Ismo the Eskimo (well he is Finnish really), who was apparently in the crowd at Asian Invasion last night. Told some very good jokes about Finland, but his best was "I hear George Bush has declared war on drugs. Now I've done some stupid things on drug in my time, but...". Given that English probably is not his first language, this is genius

Joanne Neary's Little Moments @ Pleasance Courtyard
Possibly saved the best until last. Described as "One-woman fast show" and "the funniest thing in Edinburgh", the series of sketches went down very well with the audience. Included extract from her diary as a teenager ("I wouldn't waste my best stickers on a prop"), dances she made as a child, and several characters, surely it is a matter of time before this one hits the small screen given some of the tat that passes for comedy nowadays.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Day 3

Howard & Mimi @ Gilded Balloon Teviot

After failing to pick any spectacular shows on the previous two days we almost chose todays at Random. After visiting Edinburgh Castle in the morning we decided to take advantage of the 2-for-1's at the Gilded Balloon. The first was a charming two person play about a cat and a dog whose owners move in together and have to learn to get along. A Paul Kerensa/ Churchill-esqe "Oh yes, yes, yes... oh no, no, no" helped continue our links to previous shows.

Jarleth Regan - Nobody Knows Jarleth Regan @ Gilded Balloon Teviot
...I'm not sure if anyone will on this performance. The show started with a video of him making the trip from Ireland to Edinburgh, coinciding with him walking through the door at the right moment. Unfortunately this delayed the start due to a power-cut. He advertised his "alternative cards" (in much the same way Stephen Grant advertised his patented modern "inventions"), and handed out Jarleth Regan fans (because he did not have any in Edinburgh at the moment).

Women Fully Clothed @ Gilded Balloon Teviot
Five Canadian women do sketches on what it is like being a woman in Canada. You can tell I did not relate to it much but I suspect this would be great for the (dare I say more mature) women who find themselves at the fringe. Like Lucy Porter at one point they sing a song with more practical words (I forget which one it was).

Shelley Cooper: Reality Cheque @ Laughing Horse at the Counting House
Shelley says she used to do the big venues at the Edinburgh Festival but decided to do free shows because "paying £10 to see someone you have never heard of is not the Fringe". A free show therefore, she played quite well to the small gathering, and seemed to take a liking for me (she was joking I think, playing on the fact she is transgendered). She was pretty sharp however.

Asian Invasion @ Laughing Horse at Jekyll & Hyde
They managed to bring 4 people up from Birmingham, and despite the title of the show only one and a half were asian (a number our foursome managed to beat). Annette Fagan, of Afro Carribean origin (Asians are a bit thick you see, she said she was West Indian) kicked-off with an outfit bought for £10 for Primark, except for the shoes (she tiefed them). Then a half-Irish/ half-Indian comic came on who should have been funnier. As an Catholic of Indian origin who grew up among the Irish community, I'm sure he should have had funnier jokes, but I can't think of any at the moment. Next came Johnny Showaddy-waddy Soho. They don't make comedy like this anymore (there might be a reason). Don't talk to him about the number 63 - good old fashioned Brummie humour. Finally Darminder Singh, another comedian on the bill at the British Oak headlined the line-up with some goodness gracious me style humour. All-in-all, a great show if you are Brummie, but could have been funnier if you weren't.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Day 2

The Early Edition @ E4 UdderBELLY's Pasture

An aptly named early morning panel show hosted by Andre Vincent (possibly also known as Phil Jupitus, although this can be disproved by visiting the show they are in together) and Marcus Brigstocke, who buy the morning papers and discuss them over free pastries and coffee. A bit like Have I Got News For You.

Genesis by Paul Kerensa @ Just the Tonic at c soco Urban Garden

I have seen Paul Keresa @ British Oak Comedy Club before and he was quite good; this time he was poor. He took a humorous look at the old Testament, but forgot to bring the jokes. Aided by a couple of fellow comedians including another headline at the British Oak, Andy Kind, which only succeeded in breaking-up the rhythm of the act rather than improving it.

Galois de Galle by EUTC and Hi5 Theatre Company @ Bedlam Theatre
I did my MSci Thesis on Galois Theory, and have a soft spot for the French revolutionary republican genius who was shot at the tender age of 21 after producing some of the most imaginative mathematics in history. New even to me was the claim he volunteered to die in order to start a revolution, rather than the more commonplace rumour that he died in a duel over a girl. Porquoi!? Even non-mathematicians would enjoy this (I think).

Taken for Granted by Stephen Grant @ Pleasance Courtyard
The best part of this act was the warm up computer. I also found out people from Hartlepool are known as monkey-hangers, before he continued into a Simon Brodkin-esque attack on people who are not racist, but...

Lucy Porter's Love-in @ Pleasance Courtyard
Our second glimpse of Lucy who also did an interview for the Guardian for Mark Watson's 24 hour jamboree. Lucy got all our hopes up by claiming she was single and was going to have a cynical look at love. By the end of the show she was still together with some guy she had met and everyone loved love again. A special acknowledgement goes to the stage-hand who iced the flapjack with the names of a couple picked-on at the start of the show.

Best in Stand-up 99-Club Royal Mile @ White Horse
Nice to end the night in a traditional pub on the Royal Mile. An Aussie called Yanni kicked it of followed by Ana Vidal, who could not have cared less but she was very funny. The second half did not live up to the warm-ups, with an Elvis Costello look alike and another bloke with glasses. Much funnier than some of the shows we paid to see.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Day 1

A week ago today I found myself in Edinburgh for its famous Fringe Festival. Here is a brief review of what we saw on day 1.

Footballer's Boyfriend @ Theatre Workshop by Brian Wharton

A camp gay rodeo ride was promised in the booklet, and we certainly faced a long trip across town to see a story about a young man who fell in love with a Premiership footballer in the 1980's and had a roller coaster ride of a relationship with him. Apart from the obvious anachronism (the Premiership started in the 90's) and the fact he was clearly scouse but the footballer played for "City", it was a reasonable start to the trip.

Simon Brodkin: One Man Comedy Club @ Pleasance Courtyard

We missed the second show we wanted to see trying to get back across town, but got in to see this later instead. It does exactly what it says on the tin. He plays (in order) a cockney wideboy compere who goes a bit to far forcing people to down pints and going through people's bags, then a boring political American comedian called Ramirez who spoils our fun taking the mick out of Americans, followed by a scouse footballer whose book title intends to prove to us he was straight (the footballer's boyfriend), followed by Brodkin as himself (he would not have created a character that bland), with the hairiest back in comedy. The guy is actually a great actor and quite funny.

Stephen Kay Amos - More of Me @ Pleasance Coutyard

Quite simply the funniest comedian I saw at the fringe this year. Should be on telly, but as he explained he has to wait until Lenny Henry dies (it's equality: one in, one out). Starts of as a long-haired preacher, which could be related to Brodkin's description of him blacking-up and putting a mop on his head to experience racism, if we were trying to link all the shows together in some weird way. Only down point was him taking the mick out of Birmingham, although to be fair that was because my friend had put us in the firing line after cheering when someone else said he was from there. Spent all night taking the mick out of a posh boy in the second row, who got up and moon-walked for us all at the end. Who says comedy doesn't break down barriers?

Mark Watson's 24 Hour Jamboree to Save the Planet beginning @ the Festival Fringe Office

My friend did not believe that this would actually last 24 hours. I spent at least half an hour trying to convince him it would. It seemed to take forever to start, and then took about an hour-and-a-half for some of us to do a conga from the Festival Fringe Office to the Stand. On the way it was decided that the group would try to get a "celebrity" to come along, the favourite being God-hater Richard Dawkins, who trumped Dom from Dick and Dom, Michelle McManus and some Green MSP. We left after 2 hours at the Stand because they did not have room for all of us. They planned to sing songs, be carried in to a book launch at Waterstones (whichever did not kick them out) and many other wholesome activities. They even gave out a mobile phone number so we could text them to ask them where they were and rejoin the fun.
6/10 (but only because we stayed for 1/12 of the show)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Deaf Leopard

Please keep it down.

I got my ears syringed today and everything seems a bit loud. It appears my ears have been blocked for a few years and I can't believe how much noise is actually in the world.

Before I went to the doctor to sort this out, I was slightly concerned that I was losing my hearing at a young age. The last couple of weeks really have made me appreciate my hearing, a sense that I previously along with many others I suspect considered secondary to sight.

I had checked out NHS direct beforehand and noticed that ringing in the ears, a feeling of them being blocked, and pulses and hissing sounds in the ears can actually be a sign of wax blockage. A high powered jet of water later I can suddenly hear everything and life feels a bit different.

Anyway, I have been at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival over the last few days. I am planning to write some reviews about what I saw over the next few days so you can have some ideas on what to go to if you are going later in the month, or you can see what you are missing if you are not.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Middle-Class Inner City Gun Crime

I am thinking about live blogging the Heaven and Earth show on Sunday mornings. In a discussion about gun crime which centred on Manchester (of course), I have just heard some muppet claim that middle-class footballers, or upper-class footballers will not help solve gun crime.

He is quite right; that's because they don't exist.

Middle-class (or upper-class) armchair critics talking nonsense on semi-religious shows won't solve gun crime either.

Then Nina Myskow chips in, claiming she lives in North London and has never seen a Street Pastor.

I should hope not. If Nina Myskow was seeing Street Pastors, they are probably patrolling the wrong streets at the wrong time.

Why exactly do middle-class media-whores believe they live in the 'hood?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Curse of Brown

It really has been a baptism of fire for Gordon Brown (with the attempted car-bomb at Glasgow airport)...

... and water (with the flooding in Sheffield and Gloucester)...

... and just when you think things can't get any worse, foot and mouth disease makes a comeback.

Has anyone seen TB?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New Street?

Reading up on the long-overdue £128 million investment announced by the Government yesterday, I noticed the following things:

1) It is only £128 million and not £350 asked for the complete redevelopment of the station. It will be spent "underground" on the rail infrastructure and platforms, so this naturally lighted glass structure has not yet been agreed.

2) Most of the money is coming from increased fares. The Government has actually cut funding for the railways so the passenger will be paying 75% of the costs in 2014 rather than 50% now.

3) The Government was interested in the more sensible Grand Central Station idea

4) There will be no decision until 2012 at the earliest whether or not to build a new line between London and Birmingham, despite the fact that the current route is predicted to be full by 2016. There is talk of resurrecting the disused Grand Central route, but this would have the same maximum speed (125mph) as now and there are no plans for a high speed rail link, which has previously been mooted (see link for 2)

All in all, not such a great deal then. It is good that there will be some investment in the station of course, but it is likely in 10 years we will still have a concrete station stuck between a car park and a shopping centre.

A far cry from the station that was once written about in the following manner:

"that station alone is enough to make one proud of being a modern Englishman".

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies..?

I was very suspicious of the news this week detailing evidence from one hospital in one month that the liberalization of the drinking laws had led to a three-fold increase in alcohol-related A&E admissions. Very suspicious because i work as an information analyst at a hospital close to Birmingham City Centre and have done two studies into this which suggest there has been absolutely no impact. My colleague looked at the subject again this week as a result of this story breaking and came to the same conclusion. I really suspect there is a hidden agenda behind this story, because it is questionable to present data based only on one month. I looked at a years worth of data, and in one of the reports took into account many conditions that may be related to increased alcohol consumption, but found no significant changes.

It should also be noted that it is not very easy, at my hospital at least, to produce this information, as the data from A&E is pretty difficult to interrogate. I doubt it is very different at St. Thomas' hospital because of the nature of A&E data. I would put this down to an increased awareness and recording of alcohol problems by the medical staff in A&E, as opposed to a genuine increase.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Perfect Role

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair took up his role as Middle-East envoy today. Many people have criticised his appointment due to his perceived bias towards Israel during the war on Lebanon, but I believe he has exactly the right experience for the job.

In the Middle-East, talk is cheap and no-one delivers on their promises.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ken Hardeman Dies Aged 72

After spending three weeks at City Hospital, Birmingham with a chest infection and breathing difficulties, Ken Hardeman died today aged 72. Currently a Conservative councillor for Brandwood and in charge of regeneration, he popularity spanned the political divide.

From a personal point of view, Ken was the first politician I ever voted for in a time when the Conservatives had a chance of winning the ward of Moseley and Kings Heath. It is sad to hear of his illness and death.

The Birmingham Post have a tribute here.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Prince of Formats

Prince gave away his new album Planet Earth free with the Mail on Sunday today, to cries of protest from the music industry. How can he slap in the face the shops that have built his career they cry. Why will people buy a CD by a top artist for £10 when they can get one for free?

All completely irrelevant. The music industry has been deliberately trying to hold back new methods of distributing music in vain attempts to try and make more money. They seem to delude themselves into believing people actually want to buy CD's; they don't and the tide has been moving from CD's to digital downloads for quite a while now. Of course, the music industry hate digital downloads, not because much of it is being done illegally (as a response to the music industry trying to hold it back) but because they can charge us much more for a CD for very little reason. Instead of us buying a track we want for 79p from iTunes, they insist on filling the CD with up to three B-side songs we do not particularly want so they can put it on a portable medium and charge us five times as much for it. A CD only costs about 50p to make, but after all the marketing, packaging and salaries are paid for, suddenly the cost shoots up to around £4 for a single, or £10 for an album.

The truth is the music industry is becoming irrelevant. The Internet has democratized music. Artists that would not have been give a chance by the "experts" provide their music on sites like Myspace to people who are prepared to listen to it. No longer are we told what we can listen to by middlemen making a quick buck out of other peoples talents. We can decide what we want and pay a reasonable price for it, if there is a price at all. It is an example of good capitalism (giving the people what they want) defeating bad capitalism (big business restricting the market and bumping up prices) - and long may it continue.

What about the music shops and the middleman? Well they will just have to get used to it. They can either embrace it and continue in the business, or they can die out.

After all, you can't stop progress.

Friday, July 13, 2007

ID Cards and Segregation in the Real World

I have not been blogging much recently because I have become addicted to the phenomenon of web 2.0 know as Facebook. If you read blogs, you probably know that this is a social networking site where you can post information about yourself and associate with you friend letting them know you are alive and what you are up to. It got me thinking that if the government wanted to create a bottom-up version of a national identity database, facebook would be a pretty useful model - but let's not overestimate the intelligence of our democratically elected officials.

It was fascinating catching up with people I have not seen for the best part of 10 years. I was surprised to find that many of my asian friends were still unmarried. If you believe the press, at the age of 18 (or sometimes younger), they are shipped to the subcontinent against their will where they are forceably married to someone they have never seen before. Well actually, no. For second and third generation immigrants, the truth is closer to this - caught between two worlds that leave the individual at a loss. I should know - as an asian catholic I too have struggled to find a suitable future spouse.

While we are at dispelling media myths about ethnic-minority communities, particularly in the wake of the Glasgow-London terrorist attacks, you might be interested to know that none of my muslim friends appeared to be involved in terrorism, and many seemed to be more integrated than me! One was actually dating a white girl, while another had actually joined the group opposing the academic boycott of Israel.

But of course, these kinds of stories do not sell newspapers, so it will be up to blogs like this to inform interested British people what really is going on.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Londres 2012

London is currently not parte de angleterre apparently. In an astonishing piece of treachery, even for the cockneys, they have decided to take entente cordial a bit to far and are hosting the opening stages of this year's Tour de France. Which in French means "Tour of France". I.e. currently London is part of France.

Presumably this means Birmingham is currently the nation's capital?

This is all in aid of London 2012 apparently. "Promoting sport" is part of the official excuse, but I suspect the France have decided to pull out all stops to host the 2012 Olympics. After Paris' failure this time two years ago, they have decided simply to annex the winner.

I've always maintained there is an advantage to an independent nuclear deterrent.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

We Shall Never Surrender

The recent terror attack attempts in London and Glasgow are sickening, seemingly designed to corner the new British administration into a more antagonistic position.

It is refreshing to see no links to Birmingham in this one though.

I have added a terror alert status to my sidebar, but I will not be taking down my links to Taking Liberties.

After all, maintaining civil liberties and fighting terrorism are not mutually exclusive.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Three is the Magic Number

Fascinating. With Brown's new cabinet grabbing the attention of all the media, you would have had to look very carefully to notice this interesting piece of news. It has previously been alleged that Blair threatened to resign if he was question under caution by police as Prime Minister. I can't find any evidence that this was under caution, but it would make sense.

Perhaps Blair is still writing his legacy from beyond Number 10.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Britain Welcomes Regime Change

After over 10 years in power, the only Prime Minister I have experienced in my adult life has finally decided to hand over the reigns to his best mate Gordon Brown, signaling the end of an era, and the start of another. If I can be bothered, I might bore you with my thoughts on Blair's legacy. As for Brown, I think it is only fair to give him a chance. Let's hope he is a wise and popular leader.

I await the announcement of the new cabinet with interest. Are we finally going to have the important but historically overlooked role of Secretary of State for Birmingham. After all, the Conservatives have a shadow Secretary Minister for the City (no kidding).

Gosh, they do get excited when they win a seat in a city north of the glorious capital don't they?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Birmingham's Heavy Metal Legacy

When I heard about the BBC TV series the Seven Ages of Rock, I was interested in watching it until I found out that the first episode was about Jimmy Hendrix. No true history of rock could start at the rock adolescence of Jimmy Hendrix as one Points of View viewer put it; rock started in the 1950's with the likes of Bill Hailey and the comets.

When I heard they were going to have an episode on heavy metal however, I had to watch. Would they mention Birmingham's pivotal role in this successful genre. Amazingly they surpassed my expectations, and effectively attributed the founding of heavy metal to Birmingham.

Tony Iommi, lead guitarist for Black Sabbath, lost his fingers in an industrial accident. To help him play the guitar, he slackened the strings which produced a heavier sound. The music was inspired by the hard working-class sounds of the industrial factories. And it was a conversation between two of the band members which bravely asked the question: people go to see horror movies - why don't they listen to horror music?

So Black Sabbath's role in the origins of heavy metal were shown. Along with Deep Purple, they went on to pioneer the genre. And just like their home city Birmingham, while the music soon got a hard-core following, the "critics" and "experts" panned it.

So far so good (so what?). What I did not know is the influence of another Birmingham band, Judas Priest on the genre. They embraced the term heavy metal, and gave it the leather-clad look (here London gets a mention; the lead singer of Judas Priest came up with the idea for the apparel after visiting a bondage shop in Soho. Typical of the cockneys to lower the tone).

So there you have it. Sod the "Madchester" indy revolution, Birmingham produced one of the longest running music genres of modern times, and along with fantasy books (inspired by JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings) the city really has given a fantastic albeit dark legacy to the world.

Why not celebrate Birmingham's Heavy Metal musical heritage at the Metal symposium on Friday 13th July 2007 (it had to be that date didn't it?).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Taking Liberties

I went to see the film "Taking Liberties" today, which has been extensively advertised by bloggers and has been heralded as Britain's answer to Fahrenheit 9/11.

If you have not seen it yourself I would certainly recommend it. You probably will not find out anything you did not already know, but it is a useful consolidation of the many reports of heavy-handed policing in the British post 9/11 era.

I can't help thinking that someone was trying to prevent me from seeing the film however. When my friend and I went to purchase tickets for the film, we were helpfully informed "You do know it is a documentary don't you?" Yes, that was why I was buying the ticket. Did they ask potential viewers of Pirates of the Caribbean if they knew it starred Johnny Depp? How strange.

Then I noticed the paper flyers which give a description of the film incorrectly summarised the plot of Oceans Thirteen on the Taking Liberties flyer! Was this so people would walk out in disgust after five minutes? When I left the screen after the film, the flyer had disappeared! It's a conspiracy I tell you!

There was not that many people watching the film but it was a 3.15 showing. Regular readers will note that I have been posting a few articles on freedom of speech recently, but this one certainly did focus the mind. Instead of attacking the right about "the right to offend", perhaps I should be working with them to stop the erosion of freedom being perpertrated by those who seek to destroy our way of life; the Blair administration. On the other hand, it does annoy me that many opposition websites seem to spend more time defending the Iraq war and sticking up for the right to call people gay/black bastard/ ginger than concentrating on the very real threat to freedom of speech that was taking place in our parliament. As some might say, the rules of the game are changing.

Anyway, enough of my pontificating. The film has inspired me to do two things:

1) I am going to join Liberty (and I urge you to do as well).

2) I am going to join Amnesty International (unless I find out they have dropped their neutral stance on abortion)

If this is my last post, you know what happened.

Dale's End

I seem to have been removed from Iain Dale's Blogroll. It happened sometime after I posted this article attacking his position on, of all things, freedom of speech.

There would be an irony if I was removed from the blogroll of someone who believes freedom of speech is the right to offend because, well, I offended them by pointing out (using freedom of speech) that they were wrong?

I really do not have time for right-wing hypocrites. Iain Dale follows Guido Fawkes in being dumped from the select few who make the national People's Republic blogroll.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Fun Facts about Birmingham

I wanted to do another post about why Birmingham is such a great city, but found so many interesting facts that I might just link to the sites themselves and summarise my top 5:

1) Birmingham has more trees than Paris, more miles of canals than Venice and more parks than any other European City. Concrete Jungle my arse.

2) Birmingham City Council is the biggest local authority in Europe, and employs twice as many people as the European commission.

3) Birmingham is the UK’s largest manufacturing and engineering centre and accounts for 25% of the country's exports. F.W Lanchester built the first four-wheeled petrol driven car in Birmingham, hence the nickname Brum.

4) The Jewellery Quarter is the largest concentration of dedicated jewellers in Europe. Half of all jewellery made in the UK comes from Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, with a third of jewellery manufactured in the UK made within one mile of the city centre.

5) The City's annual St. Patrick's day celebration is the third biggest outside Dublin and New York and the largest Vaisakhi celebration outside Asia. Eat your heart out "cosmopolitan" London

For more reasons why Birmingham is great, please see this post. The inspiration for this article came from here, here and here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fast Cars & Women

The title of this post is what supposedly every red-blooded male lusts after. So how does Birmingham measure up in these two departments?

According to the news, not too well in the female department. A model from Stoke-on-Trent was chosen to represent Brum because beauty contest officials claim there was no-one gorgeous enough to represent us from the City itself. Surely nonsense. I think it is well known that Brummie women are amongst the best in Britain for their looks. Come on girls; if anyone thinks they could represent Brum why don't you send some photos to me and I will, ahem, promote you on my website. Can't fault a guy for trying, eh?

Not doing as badly in the fast cars stakes however. MG restarted production today under its new owner Nanjing Automotive. It is great to see car production restarted at Longbridge again. Wouldn't it be great if 10 years from now Longbridge was famed for its efficient production of competitive cars rather than the redundancies and union versus management battles that have plagued the factory for the last 30 years.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Edgbaston Lord's it Over the Rest

Just over a week ago I was at a sporting event in our "glorious capital". No, it wasn't the 3rd/4th place play-off for the Champions League, which was held at a new stadium they've apparently built in the area. I went to the traditional home of cricket; Lords.

Now being a big cricket fan I was very excited to see a Test Match at Lords on Saturday against the Windies of all teams. Unfortunately, as usual, one of the capital's main attractions failed to live up to the hype. Some bright spark decided that most of the seating at Lord's should be covered. Completely pointless at a cricket stadium given that if it is raining there will not be any play. So despite the fact it was a sunny day, we were left freezing as the wind blew under the concrete tier above us; it was like watching cricket under the Spaghetti Junction.

The play was not up to much either. The West Indies may not be half the team they used to be, but apart from Monty Panesar the bowling was rather tepid. We watched the Windies bat all day with the loss of 6 wickets. To be fair, I was comparing this to my Test match experiences at Edgbaston, the last of which was the Sunday of the 2005 Ashes. Not really a fair contest. However, I did watch the West Indies on the Sunday in 2004 where I saw both sides bat and the loss of 17 wickets.

If any further evidence is needed that Edgbaston is a better Test ground, guess which English ground has the best record for the home team? And 1902 - present has not exactly been a golden age of English cricket.

It was not all bad in the capital however. We walked around Regent's Park which is quite nice for London. Walking around North London, we found a shrine to the people who had been killed by the Edgware Road bomber which was saddening. A couple of things that I noticed since I last went to London (which was nearly 10 years ago) was that you now have to buy tickets before you board the bus there, and the amount and variation of foreigners that one can meet in the city, which obviously gives it a cosmopolitan feel. Not a complete waste of time all-in-all, but I was glad to leave the police-saturated Euston (or New Street without the charm as I call it), to get back to good old Brum.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Far-Right to Offend

Iain Dale wrote an article today regarding The Right to Offend. It repeated the right-wing myth, also proposed by the liberal hawks of Harry's Place that freedom, if anything, means the right to tell people what they don't want to hear. Interestingly enough, this is a position they share with those "great defenders of free speech", the BNP.

This is nonsense. Freedom of speech means the right to say anything you want without fear of persecution from the government. With that freedom comes responsibility. This means that although you can in theory say anything, some things are better left unsaid. If freedom of speech is not used with discretion, pressure mounts on the government to take it away in certain circumstances; and as soon as a government starts legislating on a certain area, they have a habit of not stopping.

A great example is holocaust denial. In my opinion it should not be an offence to deny the holocaust, because there should be the opportunity to have a full debate on the history if new evidence emerges. Unfortunately though, most, if not all people who deny the holocaust are idiots. Despite the overwhelming evidence that it occurred, they claim it is part of a Jewish conspiracy of one sort of another. So several European countries have made holocaust denial a criminal offence, and it is difficult to argue against it given the type of person who actually make these statements in public.

Freedom of speech is not an excuse to persecute minorities verbally, because they do not have any legitimate way of stopping you criticising them (although they can take the law into their own hands of course). The only organisation that can stop you saying something is the government, who can legislate against statements they do not like. I repeat then that freedom of speech is not the right to make offensive statements, but the right to criticise the government without fear of persecution.

To be fair, Iain's article is not about something as serious as holocaust denial. It is about a state-regulator criticising Jeremy Clarkson for calling something "a bit gay". It is not a surprise with this kind of ruling that more and more people are starting to confuse freedom of speech with the right to offend.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Brown Crowned

Gordon Brown will be crowned the next leader of the Labour party, and therefore Prime Minister of the UK after his left-wing rival John McDonnell failed to get the requisite amount of nominations. This means the next Prime Minister will not be elected, either by the public or even his own party. I find this quite astonishing. With six people fighting it out for the deputy leader, it appears the Labour party is now full of rather spineless politicians who are not prepared to fight as the underdog.

Of course, part of this is because Blair systematically got rid of anyone in his cabinet who dared to speak against him (or more conveniently they resigned), instead promoting yes-men who have said yes to GB. Robin Cook has died; David Blunkett was embroiled in too many scandals; Charles Clarke failed at the home office; Iain Dale announce the reasons why Reid did not stand. and presumably Alan Milburn has been out of the circle for too long. Alan Johnson and David Milliband were the last genuine chance for a contest but bottled it, the former looking at the easier deputy leadership instead.

I remember speaking to some Germans last year who I advised not to bet on Brown, because the favourite often falls short in the end (Heseltine/ Clarke/ Davis; maybe it's a Tory thing). I could not have been more wrong. I hope he leads Britain in a better direction than his predecessor, but I won't be holding my breath.

Does anyone know why Blair should continue to hold office now the party has spoken coup has taken place?