Sunday, 31 August 2014

Tottenham 0 Liverpool 3



At the start of the season, the season after Suarez, I predicted that this will be Raheem Sterling's time. In a year or two's time maybe Real Madrid or Barcelona will be offering silly money for this Liverpool prodigy and playing their usual mendacious games to unsettle him. Today's game against Spurs, a potentially tricky early fixture when they were published during the summer, Sterling made me look even more prescient than usual. He was red hot. He is going to be a superstar - the most exciting young talent to emerge from Melwood since the days of Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard.

This was Brendan Rodgers' 100th game in charge of Liverpool and the progress under him has been stratospheric. How Manchester United fans must be hoping that their new manager will be able to have a similarly transformational impact. The impact on Sterling in particular has been one to embellish Rodgers' CV.

Three games into the new season, and notwithstanding the disappointment of Monday night when the result didn't tell the whole story of a decent performance, this was the Liverpool of last season, this time no longer a surprise package. The fluidity of movement was there, the searing pace was there and so was the ole football at times, and without a Uruguayan in sight. Rodgers had set up his team to capitalise on Spurs habit of pressing high up the pitch, Liverpool exploited it and turned it into a weakness, a weakness that yielded three goals and could have produced even more, a couple to new signing Balotelli who looked impressive if a little rusty and short of match practice.

Spurs had started the season well under their new young manager, but Liverpool showed them that there is a long way to go. For the Reds however this season is rich with possibilities. It's early days but this season looks like being every bit as exciting as last as we enter September.

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This is the last Interlude for a while. This blog will be getting a makeover and lots of new features this week. Sunday Funnies is being retired completely. Interlude will be an occasional feature when I am away or during the holidays. This blog is going 7 days a week and so there will be no need for a musical interlude.

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Sunday Funnies

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Friday, 29 August 2014

Come on Boris, Jump on the Clacton Bandwagon



I like Douglas Carswell. He is an oddity of course, as are so many politicians, but he is man of ideas, integrity and principles. All of which makes it hard to understand what on earth he was thinking of when he decided, apropos of his Euro scepticism, to jump ship to Ukip in a way that will make life harder for the Conservatives and it more likely we will have Wallace as our prime minister next year with all that that means for the chances of a referendum. Wallace is trying his best to avoid the subject of Europe and talk of a referendum. He doesn't want us to have one. His chances of getting away with it are made all the stronger if the right splits and decamps to Ukip who have no chance whatever of delivering any of their policies, such as they are. They have even less chance than the Lib Dems, even if they are ahead of them in the polls. On the contrary, the fourth party of British politics, the Lib Dems, could easily join forces with Labour and prevent exactly what Carswell and Farage want.

Carswell is trying to present his defection as a principled one, and to be fair to him he is at least resigning his seat and forcing a by election. Unfortunately for him his previous statements and rationale for this defection do not really add up. For all Ukip's stance as a an anti politics party, this looks like an attention grubbing politician trying to rationalise his determination to go from a little fish in big pond to a fish wishing to jump to a pond that is actually a puddle and in which he can be a big fishes' little brother. David Cameron has promised a referendum, that is what Carswell and the rest of us want. The fact that Cameron may then end up arguing that we should stay in the EU is entirely beside the point. It is up to those of us who want to get out to persuade the British public that ours is the better case. Throwing a fit of pique before the prime minister has even had a chance to renegotiate and set out his case looks and is stupid and counterproductive. Worse, it may mean we end up with a different prime minister who will say: referendum? What referendum?

Peter Oborne has beaten me to it this morning but I was about to make the same suggestion. Bring on Boris. He should stand in Clacton against Carswell, use his popularity and charisma to strangle this rebellion at birth and earn the undying gratitude of his leader, his party and maybe even the wider nation. The Eurocrats will be rubbing their hands in glee this morning at this ill considered move by Douglas Carswell because it makes Britain leaving Europe, which so many of us want, less likely. Thus far most Euro sceptics are seeing this for the disaster that it is. It goes against all that Carswell has recently said on the subject. But if Boris were to step up and take the risk of standing, claiming he is doing so for the same principles that allegedly motivate Douglas Carswell, he would be in a position in which he couldn't possibly lose. Better yet the chances are that he would be in parliament before Christmas, maybe just after the Tory conference. He would look like the next Tory leader. Come on Boris, do it for your country and your party.

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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Muslims Are Not A Race



If you want to know how the scandal of at least 1400 children being abused, raped and treated like slaves in Rotherham, South Yorkshire happened and was then ignored you only have to look at recent events of the last few days and weeks as a reference point. Look back at the reaction when the Trojan Horse conspiracy was first alleged and investigations announced. Look at the British born Muslims heading off to foreign and, to them, alien lands to fight for a cause they neither understand or can have any true sympathy with. Look at what is written in the left wing press about these events.

When the so called Trojan Horse scandal first emerged the usual suspects in The Guardian, Channel 4 News and the BBC tried to claim that there was nothing to see, that this was all hysterical right wing, Daily Mail style hype. And of course, it was claimed, it was racist or Islamophobic. Birmingham Council, one of the more incompetent local authorities in the country and a haven of left wing groupthink - this was where they decreed for a while that we should have a Winterval rather than Christmas - played their usual game of denying that various things had happened which nobody had alleged whilst ignoring those that had been alleged. Nobody, for the record, claimed that some Birmingham schools were teaching Muslim kids to be terrorists, although that didn't stop Birmingham angrily denouncing the claim anyway. What they did claim was what was subsequently shown to be true, that these schools were teaching a separatist and sometimes downright racist curriculum and that they had been taken over by governors and other activists with a clear agenda to teach and indoctrinate in a way hostile to British society and British values at taxpayers expense.

For certain sections of the left wing press though this clear example of racism against the rest of the country - anyone who isn't Muslim - was instead another example of white racism or Islamophobia. They have gone quiet about that since, but this was their initial reaction, their instinctive response. It tells you a great deal.

And such would have been the case in Rotherham when the subject of Asian men abusing white girls was raised. Many no doubt refused to believe it. Many more looked the other way for fear of opening a can of worms and being accused of racism. Even when this scandal was exposed last year there were writers and journalists at the BBC, Channel 4 or The Guardian who refused to label the men asian or to acknowledge that this was a problem associated with one particular 'community.' Fortunately the report of Alexis Jay left no doubt about this. It was racism, pure and simple.

And this is a clear example of the very racism the left claim to so abhor. It is the racism of brown men regarding white girls as commodities, as being less worthy, as being chattels, as being whores. It is unlikely that any of these men were remotely religious. But being Muslim is now regarded as akin to race. Islam is irrelevant, creed is irrelevant. A huge part of our population regard themselves as part of a newly invented race called Muslim and see themselves as separate and distinct from the rest of us as a consequence. That is how Asian customs, anathema to western sensibilities and about which the left would rage if espoused by Jeremy Clarkson or a Tory MP, come to be regarded as sacrosanct. Then, thanks to the wooly minded lefties, they are given special protection. It's not hard to see how, for a certain kind of man, this can come to mean that women with a different moral outlook, a western mindset and a greater openness to issues regarding sex, mixed relationships and female emancipation could be ripe for exploitation. Better still, thanks to the determination of public servants not to invite accusations of racism, men behaving in this way became untouchable. Yet if any of their own sisters or daughters decide they want to marry outside their race, behave in a way regarded as shameful, they would react with horror and outrage and cast them out or worse.

And the same is true of this modern species of jihadist heading abroad to fight for their Muslim brothers and sisters. Religion is an afterthought. Some even have to read crib sheets to learn about the religion they are fighting for because that is a sideshow, a fiction they have created in their credulous heads. They are fighting for a race or tribe that simply doesn't exist. They are crusaders for a religion which means different things to different people and for which there is no one interpretation. The lefties tell us that theirs is a perverted form of Islam, that Islam is a religion of peace. Nonsense. Religion can mean anything you want it to mean, as much or as little as you like. There is plenty in all of the major religions that can easily be pointed to as justification for the most appalling, medieval behaviour. Yes the reasoning behind these interpretations can be specious and absurd, but then that is what religions do. It's why they are so useful.

This scandal, these ruined lives, can be laid at the door of these men, these paedophiles and rapists first and foremost. They behaved like misogynistic, bigoted monsters with a huge peppering of hypocrisy added to the mix. But it can also be laid at the door of politicians and columnists who have been engaged in a 40 year cultural cringe called multiculturalism. Britain's long history of slowly accrued rights and laws is being undermined by the very people who claim to uphold and revere those rights and laws and they are being undermined by their determination to accommodate demands that have never been expressly voiced and to which we need give no credence anyway. Britain is a tolerant, law abiding democracy in which men and women are equal by and large and all have the right to worship as they please, dress as they please, eat and drink as they please within the confines of the law and the rights of their neighbours and fellow citizens. Yet for some reason some have been allowed to import customs and attitudes that are alien to our civilisation and have been told that any challenge to them is racist or phobic of their beliefs or customs. People come to this country, often risking life and limb to do so, because we are a civilised, tolerant country which respects the law. Why are we not more confident and proud of that? Why are we not more prepared to defend it and regard it as non-negotiable?

And it is time to recognise that this is a problem that is unique to one section of our society, one faith group - Muslims. This is not to paint all Muslims as such of course, many will have been just as appalled as the rest of us by this scandal. But it is something that peculiarly afflicts only one particular religious group.

This country has attracted immigrants throughout its history, refugees from wars and hostility or those in search of a better more prosperous life. Most have managed to fit in successfully without compromising their background, beliefs or their culture. What is it about Muslims and their religion which makes them so keen to cut themselves off, to make themselves so discrete and separate to the point that they even demand the right for their women to actually physically separate themselves with an idiotic garb designed to keep them from the eyes of others? Then they angrily denounce our reactions to this, which is actually plain rude and disrespectful of the majority culture, as racist or phobic.

Read the Quran and you will find nothing more or less idiotic than the other major religions. They are all as bad as each other when you read them properly. It's just that the other religions have found a way to edit this out, to 'interpret' them in a way better suited to modern sensibilities and improved knowledge. Islam has not gone through this process to the same extent. Of course most Muslims do what everyone else does and ignore the inconvenient bits, but a substantial minority take it all literally, adhere to it rigidly, genuinely regard it as perfect and incontrovertible. We laugh at Christian creationists, but their Islamic equivalent are nothing like as funny.

Perhaps it's just that this particular made up religion is younger than the others and thus hasn't had time to evolve properly. Perhaps it's that it doesn't have the same authority structures which can impose a common interpretation from above. But it is a problem and a real one however much the PC brigade refuse to see it. It's a problem that is ruining lives just as religion always does. But it shouldn't be ruining them in this country. This should be a haven from that. It should be a haven for Muslims and non Muslims alike. Idiotic religious fundamentalism and backward practices legitimised by it ought to be a thing of the past. Thanks to the moral relativists of the left it is very much a part of our present, and an increasingly dangerous and divisive one. It really is time we stood up for our own values and proclaim them as superior and non negotiable. We would be doing everyone including all Muslims a favour by doing so.

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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Woes of Disunited United



It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the plight of Manchester United, dumped out of the Carling Cup by a club that didnt exist ten years ago on the day they broke the British transfer record buying a player that one of their chief rivals for the title of biggest club in the world no longer requires. They were dumped out of this cup competition before their main rivals, clubs that qualified for Europe, are even participants.

This is Manchester United, a club kept in its lofty position despite being bled dry by its absent owners by the genius of one man and now exposed as being woefully deficient in all areas. Sure they have the wherewithal to break the transfer record, but what they really need is a revolution - a revolution they are ill equipped to achieve. Even Fergie took a few years to bring about his revolution. In Van Gaal they have appointed a sexagenarian who is required to do the equivalent in months, perhaps even weeks. Suddenly the reign of David Moyes can be given a certain perspective. The club and squad bequeathed to him was one that had been raised to heights no other man could have achieved. Now one of the acknowledged greats of world football is about to prove it all over again. It wasn't Moyes, it's just that he and now Van Gaal are not Ferguson. That squad which Ferguson managed somehow to lift a championship with was thin and has got thinner. The old man could not face yet another rebuilding job and who could blame him. But in reality he allowed the resources of his club to become stretched and diminished following departures and retirements. Moyes was given an impossible job, Van Gaal too.

United will struggle this season. Maybe worse. A new broom has been brought in who must learn about his club, his players and the most competitive league in world football all at the same time whilst delivering quality football and keeping the turnstiles rotating. It can't be done. It won't be done. It is a further disaster waiting to happen and this season they don't even have the Champions League as a distraction and welcome source of funds. They have signed a couple of players, are paying them mega salaries and will finish this season even more ignominiously than the last. Who is to bet they won't have another manager this time next year? What they actually need is new owners.

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Salmond Blusters and Wins - His Arguments Remain Idiotic



Well that was a waste of time wasn't it. If these debates have resolved anything, other than Alex Salmond's gift for evading questions and his spectacular unsuitability to be anything more than a domestic, polarising politician, it is that these debates are not all that they are cracked up to be. They add little to the political debate. They are just prime minister's questions but without the intervention of lowly backbenchers. Salmond, having lost the argument in the first debate by refusing to engage in it, showed his thuggish side by constantly interrupting and making smart Alex remarks. Darling became irritated and it descended into a shouting match. Nothing was resolved and few if any will have been persuaded either way. Wallace, as one of his big ideas in the stead of actual policies, wants to make this kind of occasion a regular part of our political firmament. God forbid!

For proof of how pointless these debates have been we only have to look to the argument about who won and who lost. Darling won the first one because he managed to expose Salmond's evasiveness, although quite a few of us had noticed this beforehand. Salmond managed to win the latest, not because he was less evasive but because he had managed to think up a way of making his evasiveness look less egregious whilst thinking of some questions that Darling would not be able to answer. Darling's mistake was that he failed to simply hold up his hands and admit that there aren't ways that a Scottish government could create jobs, but that is because he is a socialist and they think that governments can create jobs rather than merely create the conditions for jobs to be created. That's why Labour always leaves government with unemployment higher. It's why an SNP run Scotland would be such a disaster for the country they claim to love. Just take a look at France.

Salmond reverted to type for this debate, leavened by a little trick he has clearly been told to use which involved him periodically going walkabout from his lectern. This was clearly meant to make him look more sincere. In reality it made him look like a liar trying to look sincere, like someone who looks in your eyes too much to try and persuade. It was like the debates of 2010 when Clegg pioneered the looking straight down the camera ruse. It looks and is contrived. The others quickly followed and the public cottoned on. In Salmond's case it was rather undone by the fact that he was shouty and aggressive and kept interrupting his opponent. Darling retaliated. The viewer was left in a haze of incoherence. Television and radio does not cope well with people talking at the same time.

And Salmond is still refusing to answer the question on currency. His big idea on this is that, if Scotland votes Yes, it will, he avers, give him the authority of the Scottish people to negotiate for the retention of the pound. And so it does, not that anyone ever doubted this. But it ignores the fact that those with whom he will be negotiating will also have the authority of the rest of the country to look after their interests. It is not in the interests of the rest of the country, mostly England, to stand as guarantors for Scotland via the Bank of England. That is why all three major parties have insisted that they will offer no such deal. That is simple economic realpolitik.

The idiocy of the SNP remains as stark as ever. Scotland votes for independence because the SNP believes it will be better alone and better able to govern itself free of the influence of the rest of the country of which it is a part, chiefly of course the English. But then the English are expected to become benign where before we are alleged to have been selfish and mean. We will allow the Scots to keep the pound. We will be lenders of last resort. We will give Scotland a voice in setting our interest rates. If we don't they will refuse to take their share of the debt, presumably though if this nuclear option is taken we won't respond by refusing to hand over their share of our foreign currency and gold reserves. The world will not look askance at a country that has just reneged on its debt obligations and will carry on lending to this new, tiny country bent on a socialist spending spree.

The SNP position then remains one of a peculiar kind of interdependent independence. They must become independent to free themselves from a country with a troubling tendency to vote for Tories. Yet this newly independent state, which already has the right to form its own government responsible for much more than Westminster, will then rely on its southern neighbour, which will be much more likely, shorn of Scotland, to have a Tory government, for much of its economic health. The terrible Tories will, faced with a vote for independence, become beneficent and generous and obliging. Makes you wonder why they want to be independent at all.

The attitude of the rest of the country, as a poll revealed just last week, is that Scotland of course has the right to go its own way if wants to. But if they do they are on their own. This is hardly an unreasonable attitude. It is however most inconvenient to the Yes campaign and Alex Salmond. And so last night he simply ignored it. It is to be hoped that his countrymen will have more sense. The signs are that they have.

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Monday, 25 August 2014

Manchester City 3 Liverpool 1



In Liverpool's last game, a bit of a struggle, I remarked on the resonances with last season. And so they were here too. The Reds went down to a convincing Manchester City win, a two goal loss with City showing their class, finishing and ruthlessness. Yet at times Liverpool were the better side, playing good, flowing football with all but the end product to show for it. Prior to this City threatened. At the end of the first half they threatened. The difference was that they scored. This ultimately was what divided the two sides. Post Suarez Liverpool look a little less threatening, especially against one of the best defences in the league. Fortunately watching on was new signing Balotelli. He will be needed.

This was always going to be a tough fixture for Liverpool so early in the season as the rebuilding and strengthening continues while City consolidate. The consolidators came top, much as they did in May. But it was a narrow margin then and was again tonight. This Liverpool team, with its added strength in depth can and will be a force this season. This game if not the result showed that.

Richard Attenborough



Richard Attenborough, who died over the weekend, was for years the face of British film making. That he came to be so was for a mixture of reasons, his big personality, his avuncular nature, his achievements as an actor, producer and director. It was also because, for so many years, the British film industry became so diminished that Attenborough, who always remained on these shores, was the big fish in its shrinking pool. Nevertheless he personified the industry he so loved and was one of its greatest advocates. The fact that that industry is now in such rude health is in no small part down to him.

The irony is that Attenborough's larger than life personality has in many ways overshadowed his not inconsiderable achievements in the art form which made him famous. Yet to my mind he was always something of a workaday director. His films were entertaining and well made, but lacked the flair of others. He was an artisan amongst artists. When he told Steven Spielberg that his Oscar for Gandhi as opposed to Spielberg's ET was an injustice he was quite right. Few watch Gandhi nowadays, it was a decent if overly worthy biopic of a subject that transcended all it touched. It was the legend of Gandhi himself which won the Oscar. ET has stood the test of time as a work of great cinema. Yet the achievement of Attenborough was getting the film made at all. The same was true of Cry Freedom, his brave and slightly naive take on apartheid. Yet for all of his skill and courage at making epic films like this his finest film as a director was the very quiet, very English Shadowlands set in Oxford and telling a story of love. It's a beautiful film, and one of Dickie's last as a director.

Attenborough stood out more as an actor and later a producer than as a director. His performances as Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock and his brilliant turn as a cold hearted mass murderer John Christie in 10 Rillington Place were what he excelled at. Sure he could play the stiff upper lipped Englishman, but he was better at the villains. Perhaps he was just good at playing against type. These two great signature performances, alongside John Hammond in Jurassic Park, were the antithesis of the caring, compassionate, loving man who always had a kind or reassuring word for the lowliest of performers. He will be much missed.

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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Crusaders for Fascism, Nihilism and Savagery



I'm not going to join in with the rest of the media by publishing a picture of that vile, deluded, cowardly moron with what seems to be a British accent brandishing a knife next to a journalist whose sole crime was to be an American. I am going to join in the chorus of revulsion and disgust that this man was murdered by being beheaded - he wasn't executed - by these self righteous bigots acting in the name of nobody but themselves and their sick, cretinous medieval mindset.

Look at them in the picture above. These are nothing other than fascist bully boys and bigots. The jihadists have gone from some imagined war against people attacking and killing Muslims, to attacking anyone who is not Muslim, believes in the wrong type of god or prophet or even fails to follow Islam in a way that they consider correct. These sad, twisted inadequates full of hormonal rage are essentially chippy nihilists. Unfortunately for those in their way, their teenage rage is being fuelled by the usual kind of cynics who exhort them to kill and maim, all for some inchoate cause they cannot quite define except in some chaotic reference to a new state nobody wants, nobody has been hankering for but which they will, if allowed to, create anyway. They will do so through extreme violence including beheading, butchery and rape. They are religious crusaders with modern weapons, modern inadequate educations and a sick notion of what morality, humanity and decency actually means. They have no real coherent cause, certainly no coherent reason for their fascist resentment of the western societies that raised them, fed them, educated them and gave them the wherewithal to go on their pathetic crusade for nothing.

Enough of the political hand wringing, multicultural apologias and willingness to blame ourselves for this teenage rebellion gone berserk. Those perpetrating this savagery deserve the most exemplary punishment. Those encouraging and consorting with them deserve much the same. Nobody deserves what is being meted out by these halfwit sociopaths. Britain, this decent, accommodating melting pot certainly does not deserve the notoriety this maniac has lumped upon us. It's only just over a year since one of our own soldiers was murdered in a similarly brutal and savage way. How many more wake up calls do we need before we crack down on this crackpot medievalism?

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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Liverpool 2 Southampton 1



So the season is underway and the Reds are off the mark. It so nearly wasn't the case - Southampton were often the better side - but it is early days. Liverpool looked sluggish, but this was not so much a post Suarez hangover than the shock of the Premier League on players who are still getting up to speed. Southampton can be encouraged that, despite the exodus they have suffered, they put on a great show and really deserved to get at least a point.

Liverpool fans won't care. Last season the first game was a nail biter too and the result only gained after a Simon Mignolet penalty save. It would take a while for Liverpool to find that style and panache that so excited us. This weekend after all is being shared with the final test match of the summer.

But there were encouraging signs. Sterling for my money can be every bit the player that Suarez was  but hopefully without the personal problems. This could be his season. Sturridge also has the opportunity to shine even brighter than he did last term alongside the likes of Coutinho and the new crop of stars who will be gradually introduced to Brendan Rodgers' new look team. Of those who were, Lovren already looks the part and Lambert came on and caused trouble almost immediately.

This was still recognisably the Liverpool side of last season, albeit without the rip-roaring start and early goal we came to expect. Southampton came to suppress and did it well and Liverpool took their time to find their rhythm. When they did though it was in the form of a lovely goal worthy of the best of last season. Unfortunately we were also reminded of last season's often ponderous defending, notwithstanding Lovren's decent debut. Yet this was a first win and against the run of play. That is encouraging. But the Reds will need to step up a gear in the weeks to come. The fixture list demands it.

If you are asking me for a prediction, well I would be wary of making one this early. Chelsea for me are the early season favourites thanks to the Mourinho factor and the excellence of their signings, not to mention the remarkable price they got for David Luiz (did PSG mistake him for someone else?) Arsenal have recruited well and will be more of a threat this season. Man City will remain strong. Barring some last minute transfer rush, I can't see the other side of Manchester being too much of a threat. Van Gaal has his work cut out and may now be feeling a certain sympathy for his predecessor.

I think most Liverpool fans will be content with a decent showing in the Champions League, maybe a cup run and fourth place. My prediction this season is for Chelsea to win it, City second, Arsenal third and Liverpool fourth. But a lot can still change, not least before the end of this transfer window. For now that would represent progress.

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Saturday, 16 August 2014

Review: The Expendables 3



I have not had the pleasure of seeing the first two films in this most unlikely franchise. This is generally the sort of film I would pay good money to avoid until being forced to watch it by someone with the remote control who likes a bit of shoot 'em up action and thinks character development and coherent scripts are overrated. And yet this blog is starting, from next month, a regular Film of the Week Review on Saturdays. And so I thought I would try this one as a kind of dummy run, with the emphasis on the dumb.

Apparently the first two films managed to create this series by being knowing and ironic. This was hard to tell from the 3rd attempt. It was more like when footballers at the end of their careers head off to America to ply their trade and earn a last big payday. It resembles football, but surely it is ironic? Similarly this was definitely a movie and definitely had some shooting in it. Perhaps the irony had to be simply assumed given the combined age of the cast and their phoned-in style performances. Things are a bit desperate in the Stallone and Schwarzenegger households these days. I get that. But Harrison Ford? No wonder he looked so embarrassed.

This has a stellar cast, or at least it has a big cast of people who used to be big, even if now we cannot really understand why. There are posters for it on the side of London buses. So huge is the cast that it takes the entire length of a London bus to fit them all in. The names are presumably supposed to impress us. Instead they just make us shake our heads sadly and start to see where Robin Williams's depression must have come from when asked to make Mrs Doubtfire 2.

These are expendables apparently. Yet they seem to have been having a great deal of difficulty in actually being expended, hence the third film. Still such a criticism would imbue the film with a degree of coherence and plot it simply does not have or perhaps feels it needs. So huge is the cast indeed that they rarely actually appear together. Perhaps that many egos does not fit on a screen, even one wide enough to include Stallone and Arnie. But you would think that a band of brother desperadoes might from time to time actually appear together and fight together. Isn't that sort of the point?



In the end this is one of those films which was probably pitched as something like Ocean's Eleven crossed with The A Team with a nod and a knowing wink to Rambo. Unfortunately, given its stellar cast (well, it would have been stellar 20 years ago) this is all detracted from by the fact that all of the stars must be seen and given their lines and their chance to be stars. Thus we have an interminable beginning, an equally interminable ending full of (further) knowing winks and sign-offs. In the middle we have a lot of not very well executed CGI shots that you could easily recreate on your X Box and which saved the elderly stars from having to exert themselves. Harrison after all has recently held up shooting of the new Star Wars film by having a door fall on him. If only something so exciting had happened in this. If it had it would have been a computerised door.

Expendables 3 is appearing on a bus near you this weekend. Oh and it is also in cinemas. On balance the bus was better.

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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Robin Williams



I didn't get chance to write this yesterday, but feel I must join in with the expressions of sadness and admiration for Robin Williams who, it seems, has taken his own life after a battle with depression. Depression is a battle. Those of us lucky enough to just experience it in its mildest form cannot know how debilitating and life sapping real depression can be. It is an illness every bit as enervating as the most painful forms of cancer, and indeed may be worse because it saps your very soul. When even the prodigiously gifted likes of Robin Williams and, earlier this year, Philip Seymour Hoffman can fall victim to it perhaps it will be a wake up call for those who dismiss it as a trivial and very modern affliction.

We find it hard perhaps to imagine that Robin Williams, possessed of such manic energy and great gifts, could feel depressed. But that mania was the opposite side of his real character. Like many comedians he took up performing to combat his repressed and shy true nature. That true nature came out in his some of his more memorable and thoughtful performances such as in Dead Poets' Society, The World According to Garp, the Fisher King and his Oscar winning performance in Good Will Hunting. The  apparently spontaneous humour we saw in Good Morning Vietnam and Aladdin in particular, but before that when he was introduced to the world as Mork in Mork and Mindy was a performance, this was the mask he created and which led to his success.

The reaction to Williams's death has been one of shock and profound sadness because, like the best comedians, he touched our lives and we felt close to him as a consequence. The very best comedians are those who are funny but thoughtful and introspective too. We loved him because he was funny but also a genuinely lovely, caring and generous man. No doubt at the end this was something he had lost touch with. That is the tragedy of depression.

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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Game's Up For Scottish Independence



Well that all seemed to go rather well didn't it? The Commonwealth Games are over and everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves. Scotland and Glasgow, with the aid of some nice weather, looked splendid, everyone got along famously, the sport was entertaining and the home nations won lots of medals. All in all everyone seemed to have a good time.

But we should remember that all of this was part of Alex Salmond's cunning plan. Scotland would show the world how good it was and, more importantly, show itself what it was capable of. In addition to the anniversary of Bannockburn, this would fire up Scottish pride and patriotism just in time for next month's vote on independence.

It doesn't really seem to be working out that way. Patriotism is not the same as nationalism. It seems to be coming as a revelation to the Nats, but it is perfectly possible to be a proud Scot whilst at the same time being a proud Brit. We saw it at the Olympics. And we have seen it in Scotland's Games. The English were generously applauded. It was as if we are all part of the same country. Who would have thought? Perhaps the Scots just don't like the England football team. It's hard not to have a certain sympathy with that.



Tonight, following his period of Games related purdah which, like everything else with Salmond, was selective, the First Minister renews hostilities in a debate with Alistair Darling. Even this has not gone according to plan. For months Salmond held out for a debate with David Cameron, but the PM would not oblige, not unreasonably pointing out that he, despite his surname, is not Scottish and has no vote in the referendum. It is for Scots to decide and to debate. Dave has had his say of course as have many of his ministers, but he was not about to play Salmond's game. And so, as the polls stubbornly refused to budge, Salmond accepted a debate with Darling. The expectation is that he will win, but that may not go according to plan either. Salmond's smugness and evasions tinged with aggression turn off as many people as they attract. Fans of Alex will be determined to be impressed, but he is unlikely to convert many waverers - which is exactly what he needs to do.

The slow build up to this vote was Salmond's choice. It was he who chose the length of the campaign, the date of the vote, even the age of the voters in a cynical decision which has come back to bite him. Apparently 16 - 18 year olds, if they can be bothered to vote, will do so overwhelmingly for the union. The youth of today, eh?

Yet all that this long campaign has achieved is to expose how little independence has to recommend it if viewed rationally. The SNP have repeatedly been forced into assertion after assertion in the face of evidence and expert opinion to the contrary. Their independence magnum opus may as well have been completely blank, so little did it actually say with regard to the questions people want answered. Scotland will, the SNP say, be allowed instantly into the EU. The EU's protestations are immaterial. Scotland will continue to use the Pound, despite a show of unity from all three major parties saying the opposite. Oil will be plentiful and fund Salmond's socialist utopia despite all the experts thinking otherwise.

And now, in addition to all of these inconvenient truths, Alex has smugly dismissed as bullying or simple lies, it seems the Scottish people don't see any reason for such far reaching change. The cyber loonies that the SNP may or may not encourage call such attitudes treachery. For the rest of us it just seems like good sense. What is it that independence is supposed to fix? What is so terribly wrong with the current settlement, a settlement that seems to be working rather well? The Commonwealth Games proved the opposite of that which was intended. Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish competing in a friendly games and enjoying each other's successes. Independence looks and sounds irrelevant, especially as so many of the athletes train together in state of the art facilities in England paid for with lottery grants.



Essentially all we have had from Salmond is bluster wrapped in the Saltire. The SNP's case, such as it ever was, has fallen apart thanks to the exposure they encouraged with their 18 month long campaign. They told us they had legal advice saying Scotland would be allowed to stay in the EU. There was no such advice. They tell us they will be able to use the Pound having abandoned the Euro, despite it very clearly being against the interests of the rest of the UK to be lender of last resort to what would become foreign banks. Having once boasted of world beating Scottish banks like RBS, Salmond now sees them as part of a problem that is probably foisted on Scotland by its being in a union. There will be child care paid for by voodoo economics the SNP cannot make add up.

The economic case is risible, and nobody can really understand what the point is, in this globalised world, of creating a border in place of the current notional rather than national one. The SNP offers revolution alongside the status quo, a new Scotland will throw off the shackles of England whilst hanging on to those like the monarchy, the BBC, currency and EU membership it considers desirable or necessary. The perfidious English will, when it suits, become generous neighbours willing to share and indulge the Scots rather than protect their own interests.

The polls have consistently shown a lead for those who wish to decline Salmond's offer to be a prime rather than a first minister. That ultimately is all that this about. The SNP is a juvenile hotchpotch of deluded romantics and chippy English haters with a few socialists in the mix who resent the fact that England from time to time elects Tories. Tonight Salmond will try his usual tricks, smile smugly, evade and obfuscate. Next month his people will get to vote at last and will end the dream. A record turnout is expected. I strongly suspect that the polls are flattering the Yes campaign. The end result will be one that even Salmond won't be able to put a positive spin on.

Interlude

Interlude

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Great War and the Echoes of History



A century ago today the world changed. Or at least it began to change. We had no idea how much it would change on that day. We just knew that we were on the brink of a new war, amidst all of the usual talk of how it would all be over for Christmas, others saw the calamity to come including the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, who spoke the famous words about the lamps going out all across Europe. The Liberal Cabinet that most reluctantly took Britain to war was divided and there were principled resignations. Ultimately that Cabinet, and then Parliament, was persuaded that Britain must be involved.

And yet as we look back on those events and on the horrors that followed, there are as many theories about why prosperous Europe took that step that sunny August day as there are books and television programmes telling the story. There were few illusions about how bloody and gruesome a war would be - although the reality was grimmer and the cost greater than anyone foresaw - and yet for a variety of reasons the major powers lined up and the formal declarations were issued. Perhaps even then they hoped that sanity would prevail. But war once started and shots fired proved unstoppable. Once blood was spilled, nations invaded, towns despoiled the febrile atmosphere grew. Young men volunteered for action, whole villages and towns marched to war, so many never to return.

Some of course went into it believing it was for their greater glory. Europe was on the cusp of modernity and democracy and yet autocracy was still the rule in many of the continent's greatest powers. Germany has long been blamed for this war because of the role of Kaiser Bill. Certainly it was for fear of a dominant Germany in addition to the excuse of aged treaty commitments that Britain entered the war. But the Kaiser's belligerence was not unique. It was shared across many European capitals even if it ultimately led to the downfall of so many of the regimes and ancient institutions across Europe. Britain cannot be acquitted of it, it was just that we were more concerned with our empire and were having problems with that part of it across the Irish Sea.



The Great War as it became known, even more tragically became the First World War. The seeds of the second were sown by the first. But the provenance of that second war is well known. Germany was blamed for the first and made to pay. This led to the second, although the process was nothing like as inexorable as often portrayed. Hitler and Naziism were nearly avoided. Good men made bad decisions, much as they had done in 1914.

Are there lessons for today? Of course there are. History never repeats itself exactly but there are always echoes, echoes in human frailty, hubris, belligerence and also timidity. The long, complex road to where we are today has its roots in those events of 1914. Today we are surrounded by the legacy of that day and its consequences: in the map of Europe, in international relations, in the continued febrile chaos of the middle east, in alliances and animosities, internecine rivalries, international institutions, hotlines between capitals, weapons of mass destruction and arrogant assumptions about spheres of influence.

Unfortunately history teaches us that all too often we learn the wrong lessons about such seminal events. Should we square up to the bully, appease him or do a deal with him for fear of what might replace him? Should we turn back from recent disarmament to show intent? Will events in one small country that has little to do with us create a domino effect and a situation we cannot ignore? History is echoing once again. Unfortunately echoes can be confusing. You can never be entirely sure where they are coming from and what made them.

Interlude

Interlude

Friday, 1 August 2014

Riding With The Stig



Summer Interlude



This blog is taking a break for a few weeks. This is to say that my posts are going to be less frequent, although not necessarily non existent. It depends on what happens in the news, where I am and what I'm doing. I plan on being somewhere to distract me completely. Blogging will be the last thing on my mind.

Nevertheless I have selected some music for you to enjoy during August. The blog returns refreshed and with a new look in September. More details in the coming weeks.

Starting things off then is a Rihanna Interlude special. This blog loves Ri Ri.

















Away for August



It's August. Apparently it is now fashionable for people to go away for the whole of August, rather like our hard working royals. This new trend even has an acronym - AFA. Now I am by no means a slavish follower of fashion, but this happens to be one that I am very keen on.

Accordingly this blog is going into what parliamentarians call recess. But never fear, this will not become a blank space. I have selected and programmed an eclectic selection of music for you to enjoy in my absence. There may well be occasional posts too, but they will be irregular and dependent upon internet access, what's in the news and how good a time I am having. If I write nothing then come to your own conclusions. But do check in from time to time. Or subscribe and you will be informed. It's free after all. We don't even have advertising thanks to the bizarre and arcane rules of Google.

I am going to be travelling during the month. I'll tell you all about it when I get back.

This blog will return in September with a new look, new features and a few being brought back by popular demand. To make way for these features I shall be retiring Sunday Funnies. Interlude will become an occasional feature for when I am away or during holidays. Starting now. See you in September.