Thursday, 30 July 2009

Congratulations, Chloe!

One of Guide Dogs' latest "sponsor a puppy" success stories is Chloe, who has settled happily into her new life with first-time guide dog owner Pat.

Chloe and Pat met before training together, to make sure they were a good match. The training helped Chloe to learn the routes Pat needs to take her round her home town. At first they worked with a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, who taught Pat the commands for telling Chloe where to go; then Pat walked the routes with her husband. Soon Pat and Chloe became confident enough to go out alone, and now there's no stopping them!

[Excerpted from "giving" magazine; to learn more about sponsoring a guide dog puppy go to http://www.sponsorapuppy.org.uk/.]

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Spin bowlers never die

After all the Glamorgan disappointments, at last some good news. Robert Croft has signed a new two-year deal with the county. The management is hedging its bets in not guaranteeing playing appearances in 2011, but I believe Croft will still be nicking batsmen out in Olympic year. Like goalkeepers, great spin bowlers seem to go on for ever.

Let's face it, if he hadn't spectacularly turned his back on England five years ago, he would be spoken about now as a possible replacement for the disappointing Swann.

Googlepong

Recycling doesn't always come up smelling of roses, if the engineering isn't right. There has been a failure at Google's new Aussie HQ originating in the system which uses "sewer mining" to provide "grey water".

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Glaslyn Morgan

Former Neath Borough, Neath Port Talbot County and Coedffranc Community councillor Glaslyn Morgan died in the middle of last week. I knew him only in the last few years before he retired as a councillor in 2004, but found him a companionable and witty man. An unreconstructed socialist to the end (changes of party allegiance notwithstanding) he was nevertheless ready to work across party boundaries to the common good.

I hope that someone will find time to write a full memorial tribute which does justice to this remarkable man and his long career.

The funeral will be on Thursday 30th July at 14.00 in Y Capel and 14.40 at Coedfranc Cemetery.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Captions courageous


The photo alongside was issued in connection with a campaign for the early detection of melanoma which Peter Black has championed.

The caption on the South Wales West Liberal Democrat website is the rather tame "Peter Black highlighting ... molewatch". The picture cries out for something more creative.

Please do not send entries here, but if you email eleanor.burnham@wales.gov.uk, you will receive an appropriate response. ;-)

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Electrification scheduled at long last

Will Speaker Bercow give Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson a severe talking-to for yet again making a major announcement outside the House of Commons? It is clear that the timing has everything to do with PR, coinciding as it does with the first UK cabinet meeting in Wales.

If the decision had been made a year or two ago, work could already have started, helping to alleviate the effects of the depression in South Wales and ensuring that the improvements to the rail service come in when the recovery is under way.

It is a great example of the stop-go, short-term thinking of politicians. This is true of both Conservative and Labour ministers. There should have been a rolling programme of electrification. A team was built up for the electrification of the former London Midland & Scottish main line in the 1960s, completed by 1974. There was then a two-year hiatus before work started on the East Coast main line finishing in 1991. It would have been natural then to move on to the old Great Western lines between London, Bristol and Swansea, instead of allowing the expertise to dissipate. Of course, Labour will point to the well-known dislike of railways on the part of prime minister Thatcher. But Labour should surely have picked up the dropped baton in 1997.

Having said all that, I still welcome the prospect of clean, fast trains between London and South Wales, giving a boost to high-tech jobs in Swansea and Baglan. After that, the electrification team should move on to the Valley Lines, the home of surely the most antiquated train units in Britain and hardly a fitting service for a 21st century capital city.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Sarn Helen and motors

Chris Williams, of "Rights of Way Alliance Neath" has a letter in this week's Neath Guardian about a proposal to restrict access to Sarn Helen between Banwen and Aberdulais. Unfortunately, letters to that journal are not reproduced on the Web, but some flavour of his message can be got here.

If it were merely a matter of keeping motor vehicles off the ancient road, then I would have no objection. Roman civil engineering survived 18 centuries but was clearly no match for all-terrain vehicles. Even well-shod, walkers find it hard negotiating the churned-up pavement in places.

However, there is a suggestion that there is a long-term aim of closing the walk to all public access. I have even been told of people legitimately walking the the right-of-way being dissuaded from doing so. If this is so, then vigilance is needed to keep this marvellous scenic route open.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

1934

There was an interesting Prom talk on Radio 3 in the second interval of the first night concert. It put the year of 1934, when three major British composers died and two were born, in context. The unemployment marches were covered, and even one noteworthy sporting event: Fred Perry winning the Wimbledon men's singles championship. However, the compiler missed one with even more current resonance: the Lord's test match, virtually won single-handed by Hedley Verity. This was the last time England beat Australia at HQ.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Guardian Councils

Denis MacShane, in the Independent last Thursday, inveighed against the Dangerous Constitution Bill. "Now the Commons has a new supervisory body which is a British version of Guardians – a concept instituted in Iran and other nations where the raw democracy is considered too messy. [...] Under the new rules, MPs who write books have to report how many hours they worked researching, thinking and writing them. [...] The same rules apply to QCs like the late John Smith who could not have been an MP, let alone Labour leader under these provisions. For party bosses this is a perfect mechanism to reduce MPs to being poodles living in permanent fear of the new 'Council of Guardians' and its Commissioner."

(Iran's Council of Guardians vets all parliamentary candidates for adherence to Islam. This is presumably a major reason for the USA declaring Iran to be undemocratic. However, not only is there a de facto bar to a US citizen entering Congress, the money to fund a campaign, there is also the need to subscribe to the Abrahamic God. If there is an atheist, agnostic or even a Buddhist member of Congress, I have yet to hear of him or her. To that extent, the UK parliament is more liberal than Congress.)

In the same issue, there was a report from Israel that Shin Bet had effectively become the Guardian of the Judiciary: "Israel's internal security service has been given a de facto veto over the appointment of judges in an unprecedented decision that has the country's embattled liberals up in arms.

"The move by the Judges Selection Committee on Friday is likely to make it harder for members of Israel's Arab minority and others with views that are not mainstream to become judges, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (Acri). Zahava Galon, a former MP of the dovish Meretz party, said the decision was 'a scandal'. She said: 'We are turning into a kind of police state with Big Brother everywhere. A judge shouldn't have to pass the Shin Bet's tests. This is just something that isn't done.'"

I am optimistic that, now it has been exposed, this vetting will not long survive scrutiny in one of the most open societies on earth. There are also signs in Iran that internal fissures, aggravated by the recent demonstrations against a probably stolen presidential election, may lead to the end of the Guardian Council there. But I can't see the Mandelson/Brown government, with its Stalinist tendencies, giving up its chance to turn MPs into elected employees.


John Hartson

Let us hope that the cancer which was diagnosed last week is only a temporary check to the career of a man equipped for a great managerial career. It was clear during his playing days that he was more intelligent than your average target man, and was capable then, as now, of giving a good reading of a game in both English and Welsh.

He may have upset a few Jacks with his expressed desire to manage Swansea, but surely the opportunity is there to take some Football League side into the Premier League and keep it there. After that, who knows? John Toshack can't go on for ever.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Glamorgan: believe and follow your instinct

On the morning after yet another match in which Glamorgan's opponents escaped with a draw, it was good to hear (Radio Wales sport, 8:30) Jason Gillespie confirm that Glamorgan's problem is not lack of talent. After a year in the Glamorgan dressing-room, the Australian test quickie was impressed but said that the players needed to believe in themselves more, and follow their natural instincts.

Amis on Carter & Birtwistle

John Amis is not a natural curmudgeon, and there is no doubting his musical credentials, so it is gratifying to cite him in defence of my impressions of two of the doyens of modern music. In the course of a report from Aldeburgh, he writes: "[Elliott] Carter was present and warmly acclaimed – he is 101, the oldest composer around, a genial lovely guy. But his music is not very listener-friendly, not a melodic fragment within hearing distance, too cerebral ever since his excellent Cello Sonata and first String Quartet composed some sixty years ago. There was also an interesting film shown about him and his music; Boulez and Barenboim testified to his greatness; so I listened hard, but alas without even a soup├žon of pleasure or comprehension. 15 works of his were played during the Festival (I was there June 12 – 23) and there was a similar number of works by Sir Harrison Birtwistle which meant that listeners who like a melodic fragment or two were disappointed. I remember Sir Harry saying on the radio once: 'I’m not in the entertainment business'. True, he aint. But the audience applauded and it was great to have him there. The only piece I enjoyed was his orchestral work An Imaginary Landscape (1971), wild, exciting, with a few scraps of melody and accompanied by a hefty storm raging outside. But note the date; a fairly old work."

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Memento

It is unsharp, but at least it is my record of Mitchell Johnson having delivered the first ball in a Test Match on Welsh soil - and Andrew Strauss leaving it.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Blogging will be lighter


You can keep your Michael Jackson concert tickets, and your Michael Jackson memorial tickets, there is only one ticket which really counts.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Another synthetic attack by Labour

On top of the accusation of spending cuts planned by the Conservatives (as opposed to "challenges" to Labour ;-)), the Tories are now accused of homophobia. Today's Independent piece by Jane Merrick sums up the battle so far. MP for Rhondda, and Deputy Leader of the Commons, Chris Bryant went so far as to say: "If gays vote Tory, they will rue the day very soon."

But this concerted attack is disingenuous. No government (except one dominated by UKIP or BNP) is going to reverse the sexual reforms of the last decade, and the Labour spin-doctors know it. The worst that can happen is that further reforms will be held up, but here Labour seems to have lost its nerve also.

I wonder whether the campaign is designed not to woo "the pink vote", as the headline-writers have it, but to create dissension in the Tory ranks. Mandelson and co. may be banking on a reaction from rank-and-file Conservatives to the obligatory defence by Cameron of homosexual rights.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

More splits in the anti-conservative vote in Norwich North

I turned to Craig Murray's blog to see what his reaction, as a former insider, was to the announcement that United Kingdom foreign aid was to be "rebranded". Instead, I find that he is yet another candidate in the by-election on July 23rd caused by the resignation of Dr Ian Gibson. As a very credible contender, no doubt fighting on a platform of human rights and for honesty in government, he is bound to take votes away from the Liberal Democrat candidate, April Pond. No doubt the Greens, with whom Joanna Lumley has associated herself, and who are strong in Norwich, will also suffer. Many people who saw the Gurkha campaign as a test of both Labour and Conservative policy and were inspired by Lumley, would be attracted by the Greens.

Murray has a perfect right to stand. In an ideal world, there would be a proportional vote in Norwich North, so that the final decision would reflect the true feelings of the electors about the state of Westminster politics - and the state of the economy, for which both Thatcher-Major and Blair-Brown share responsibility. As it is, Tweedledum and Tweedledee have been given a boost.

He is not going to win this month, but I do hope that he will find a constituency at the general election where he will be embraced - or at least given a free run - by the local Liberal Democrat party. He shares so much of our philosophy and he has so much to offer the House of Commons.

Friday, 3 July 2009

That ginger tom from next-door

I am still waiting for that well-known cat lover Peter Black to comment on the Question Time team being upstaged by a cat, so I shall provide the link myself.

Update 2009/7/4: it is now on the premier blogspot in South Wales West as http://peterblack.blogspot.com/2009/07/gwylliaid-cochion-storm-bbc.html.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Labour running out of Royal Mail excuses

The legislative log-jam has already been exposed as a spurious excuse for shelving Labour's plans to privatise Royal Mail. Now, the reason put forward is that “Market conditions have made it impossible to find a partner on terms that would make it value for money to the taxpayer” (see Liberal Voice).

But, as Robert Peston pointed out on BBC yesterday, conditions for attracting private capital were more difficult when the idea was first floated than now.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Diageo closing distillery

The multi-national drinks company has announced that it is closing its whisky distillery at Port Dundas in Glasgow. As this mini-history makes clear, this is a grain distillery, a sign that the market for blended whiskies is either static or declining.

Where there is law, there is jugaad

From the India Uncut blog:

Nepal has ordered its customs officials to wear pocketless pants, with a view to discouraging bribes. You know what’s gonna happen now, don’t you? The sales of underwear with inbuilt pockets will go up! Where there is law, there is jugaad.

Senior customs official to his deputy: Is that a bulge in your pants or are you just happy to see me?


(Punya Mishra explains: Jugaad is a Hindi word which does not have a straight forward equivalent in English. [...] the closest [...] would be “situational or indigenous creativity,” the ability to make do creatively with the tools/resources one has at hand.)

Could there be a Unison/Labour falling-out?

A little bird tells me that Unison, the Trade Union conglomerate which organises council workers among others, and which is a major contributor to Labour, is funding the stock-transfer "No" campaign in Neath Port Talbot. Unison's national policy is to reject Large-Scale Voluntary Transfer (LSVT), but some local official representatives have taken a more objective approach. I am told that this led to clashes in Wrexham, where the local branch supported the council, while the national organisation campaigned for the (successful) "No" vote.

I'm not sure where the Neath branch of Unison stands, but I do know that some staff members have objected to being unpaid propagandists for a "Yes" vote. If they have come out against Labour-controlled Neath Port Talbot CBS, at least they will demonstrate consistency, regardless of party allegiances - Unison in Swansea helped defeat the Liberal Democrat-led City Council when it mounted a LSVT vote.

As to Welsh Unison/Labour links, the Web one appears to be broken. ;-)