Monday, July 31, 2006

The Campaign For Real Wicketkeepers?

Jonathan Calder exhibits great delight at the selection of Chris Read for England ahead of Geraint Jones, heralding it as a victory for the purist.

I'm not immediately convinced. Not that I'm saying Geraint Jones is a quality 'keeper - far from it. But it is only knocking three centuries this season for Notts that has Read back in the England team. His wicketkeeping has little to do with his inclusion.

More to the point, when Read first made the England team in 1999, his keeping had one serious weakness - going at everything with his hands first, rather than trying to move his feet into the right position before taking the ball. I haven't had a real look at his glovework since, but it will be interesting to see how well he fares at Headingley, traditionally a bowler-friendly ground. I suspect that James Foster may well have been a smarter choice.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

It WAS Too Good To Be True

I thought it was suspicious that Floyd Landis could ride so well given his dying hip. Perhaps I should have been more alert this lunchtime when I noticed a large number of my hits were coming from people searching for "Landis doped".

All I will say is this (I had more, but it has been lost somewhere in Blogger): cycling clearly has a systematic doping problem. Even riders like Lance Armstrong who vehemently deny doping have shady links. Having thrown out riders connected with a Spanish drugs probe, le Tour still hasn't been able to prevent its top performers from doping. Sports, as a whole, are too congratulatory when they return many negative doping tests. Often, they may prove nothing other than a weakness in the testing system itself. The prevalence of masking agents, combined with the knowledge of when many testing programmes target athletes, means that there are many loopholes to get around.

The other question that must be asked is - does banning the drugged athlete solve the problem? Drugs are only effective in combination with a specialised training regime, and behind every instance of drug taking is a specialised trainer and medical team. If the people behind the offence are not punished, then surely the problem is just passed on elsewhere?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Bishop of London, Iain Dale, and the Community

Like Iain Dale, I frequently despair for the Church of England. It seems to have lost the moral clarity that is necessary for it to offer true guidance. Of course, this is partially down to the fact that it is a state religion, and the whittling away of the royal prerogative means that elected politicians, rather than clergymen, play too great a role in deciding the upper echelons of the Church. It also needs to stop beating itself up over the issue of homosexuality - the sooner the Church realises that it can have a far greater impact on the world through encouragement rather than fire and brimstone, the better.

Nevertheless, Dale misses the point when he criticises Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London (who, remember, was too traditional to be acceptable as the Archbishop of Canterbury), for saying that flying is a sin.

I could scarcely believe what I was reading on the front page of the Sunday Times today. IT'S A SIN TO FLY SAYS CHURCH. Now I think I've got a good grip on the definition of sinning (no comments please!), but I can't see where in the bible it mentions air travel, or driving an Audi (as I do), being in need of repentance. The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Richard Chartres disagrees...

The crucial message of the Bible, surely, comes through the commandment of Jesus that you should do unto others as you would have done unto you. In other words, the crucial objective of a good Christian is to behave decently towards others. That in itself requires working in the community to make it a better place. For all that the truths of God are meant to be absolute, we cannot divine the true nature of their meaning as humans - we can only do our best to approximate. The greatest way for man to have a beneficial impact on Earth, however, must surely be to work within the community to make it a better place.

Now, the question then comes as to what sort of impact actions such as driving a gas-guzzling car or a trans-Atlantic flight has on the environment. If you do believe that they have a negative impact on the environment that will lead to humanitarian catastrophe in the future, then it is a tremendously selfish act to continue to use them - and, indeed, a symptom of sin. That, of course, is a matter of interpretation. But if the Bishop of London believes in the negative impact of these, then he is surely well within his rights to issue sermons on the subject?

Why, then, is it a symptom of sin? Because if you believe it causes irreversible damage to the planet, but continue to act in such a way, then you're placing your own convenience ahead of the needs of the community, both in the present and in the future. In the present, because you're unnecessarily using up resources; for the future because of the damage you will cause. Putting the interests of yourself above the interests of community is precisely the sort of selfishness and materialism that leads to a breakdown in society. Being a good Christian is not just about a personal relationship with God, it's about living your life to make a difference to your community.

Dale may disagree about the effects of his Audi on the environment, but that doesn't mean that Chartres is bowing to political correctness.

Alan Johnson and Private Schools

I never thought this day would happen. Finally, a Labour Education Secretary has made some positive, realistic noises about Britain's education system. Far from seeing the destruction of the private schools as a socialist shibboleth, Alan Johnson actually recognises the benefits that they provide to many:

He said: "I don't think it is betraying the human race to send your child to private school.
"But I do believe we have to want the state sector to be as good or even better."

The furore has been caused because Johnson assisted one of his constituents in finding a private school for her son - "She just doesn't have a suitable school close at hand and he is a very bright boy who wants to do science." To me, the assistance Johnson has given is entirely right, and what any responsible MP should be doing.

Private education, of course, is one of the remaining bugbears of the socialists. Gordon Brown famously railed against Oxbridge accepting private school students in the numbers they do - despite the fact that the example of "bias" he picked turned out to be anything but. Yet despite their supposed belief in the state sector, Labour MPs seem very bad at trusting their local state schools with the education of their children. Oliver Letwin was chided when he said he would go out on the streets and beg rather than send his children to a Lambeth comprehensive, yet MPs like Harriet Harman, Tony Blair and Diane Abbott are all prepared to send their children to selective or fee-paying schools.

It is a peculiarly British mentality that aims at the destruction of its best schools. The iconic schools, like Eton and Harrow, do command unimaginable resources. But there is a quality to their education, too, that is something that the state sector should aspire to emulate. The question should not be "how can we destroy good schools?" but "how can we make our bad schools more like the good ones?"

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Too Good To Be True?

Every year, the Tour de France allows amateur enthusiasts the chance to ride one of the toughest stages of le Tour under race conditions - that is, with roads closed and support stations for refuelling. In a fit of sadism, sports editors from publications across the world seem to be sending their journalists on this gargantuan task. With some relish, no doubt, given that this year's chosen stage involved the climb up L'Alpe d'Huez, considered the holy grail (ie hardest) of mountain climbs.

And without exception, the journalists attempting it have found it a hellish task. One was a former pro cyclist himself.

This year's Tour has seen the victory of Floyd Landis in one of the most remarkable comeback stories known in sports. Having seized the lead on l'Alpe d'Huez on Tuesday, Landis then struggled to cope with the pressure, and seemed to fly out of contention the day after, losing eight minutes in a single day. His team was by no means the well-oiled machine of Lance Armstrong's (a team, incidentally, previously augmented by the skills of Landis himself), which meant that his struggles could not be bought off with effort from his team-mates. His Tour looked over and done.

On the following day, however, with 130km in the stage to go, Landis made a solo dart for glory. A successful one at that; he pulled back 7 and a half minutes of his deficit, and made the remaining time up in a time trial on Saturday. Today's final stage ended up as little more than a victory procession for him, crowned as winner in Paris.

The story is all the more remarkable because Landis has a degenerative hip condition that means his hip is slowly dying. That makes it impossible for him to walk without a limp, cross his legs, or mount his bike with his left leg first. Apparently after three or four hours of cycling he is in tremendous pain. Yet he could still summon up the reserves of energy to mount an unbelievable, monumental, solo comeback.

Is that a story that sounds too good to be true? Can a man in that condition really win such a gruelling event in such breathtaking fashion without artificial aids to performance?

The question I really want to ask, though, is - does it make any difference?

There is no doubt that merely to complete the Tour de France is an act of no little sporting ability, and huge powers of self-denial. Those are facts that are not changed by doping. If you pumped my bloodstream with EPO, I wouldn't suddenly be able to climb L'Alpe d'Huez at speeds that could see me challenge for a yellow jersey. And to be honest, those who can - even without taking drugs - are probably doing some serious harm to their bodies in the process.

Certainly, there is a moral minefield to be navigated in legalising doping in sports. In particular, young athletes must remain banned from taking drugs until their bodies are developed enough to cope with the events. But the drugs scandals that seem to envelop cycling every year suggest to me that doping is rife in the sport. And pretending it isn't means that only the unlucky or the scrupulously honest are published.

Regardless of whether Landis was doped or not, the triumph of his victory was remarkable. He is unfortunate to live in an era where the smell of drugs will forever linger over any successful cyclist, as there will always be cynics such as myself who suspect chemical enhancement. But I try to keep in mind the greatness of the achievement regardless of whether drugs are used or not. Because to beat a field on such a tough course, over such a prolonged period of time, takes a huge amount of effort. If we can't stop people using drugs - and increasingly, I think we can't - we might as well allow ourselves another chance to marvel at their achievements.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Abrogating Responsibility - Again

The Commons Standards Committee absolutely defies belief. Apparently, although John Prescott broke the ministerial code in not declaring his cowboy visit, he won't have to ride off into the sunset because he's admitted to having the visit and has declared it. Is the Standards Committee of this world?

If that logic is applied, then stealing shouldn't be a problem - provided that the moment you are caught, you return the stolen items to their original owner. The whole point of the ministerial code, surely, is that it removes the need for a culture of suspicion, because the public are aware of the extra-curricular meetings and dealings with interested parties. A truly transparent - whiter-than-white - government doesn't cover these things up. Would Prescott's behaviour have been acceptable if he hadn't been found out by the press?

Blair, of course, won't take any action that might precipitate a high-profile election within the Labour Party. He knows that any election to replace Prescott as Deputy Leader would make his position entirely untenable, as it would emphasise his lack of support among his own troops. But not to sack someone for breaching the ministerial code completely breaks the point of having it in the first place. Making good on an error is not good enough - Prescott was trying to keep the meeting secret from the public, and if he hadn't been found out we'd still be none the wiser.

How can 30% of the country still believe this shambles of a Government deserves to be re-elected? Time after time after time, Blair keeps treating the country with contempt. He realises that short of a military coup, he can do whatever the hell he likes and get away with it. We have to call him out. The Government is full of crooks and liars. And crooks and liars who refuse to take responsibility when they are wrong.

What we are seeing today is a manifestation of Blair's inability to answer the question at PMQs. All he continues to do is say that the Tories were bad when they were in government. That was nine years ago - it will not do. Where there have been problems, they have had more than enough time to fix them. If new problems have arisen, it is their fault. Yet all they ever do is harp on about the Tory record. They can't escape accountability forever.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Abrogating Responsibility

John Reid is trying to prove himself to be the hard man of the Labour government. All that he actually proves is that the Labour government has horrendously mismanaged the Home Affairs brief - in just about every single area it is responsible for. The scale of rebuilding faced is entirely down to the Labour government. If there had been these problems one term into their reign, then maybe we could have given them more time. Now, however, they have turned a department into a total mess - and they cannot be allowed to wriggle away from the electoral consequences.

The plan to turn the Immigration and Nationality Directorate into a semi-independent agency must also be stopped forthwith. Good government rests on accountability - which means that there must be some path through which the politicians involved can be held accountable for their actions at the ballot box. (Incidentally, this is another reason - apart from incompetence - that John Reid should not be Home Secretary, for no English voter can hold him accountable for his actions).

If the IND is siphoned off to be merely an agency, then no doubt the Government will treat it as something at arms length, and any hope of trying to deal with matters such as the backlog of asylum applications, or the number of illegal immigrants in Britain, will be lost in a trail of unaccountability. Future governments won't be held responsible, as we will just be told that "it is in the hands of an independent organisation". If government is to work, it needs people to stand up and be counted, and to admit when they are wrong. Taking things away from ministerial control is not the answer.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Worrying State of Affairs

There seems to be a culture change that is occurring among the political class. It begins with the campaign to cancel Third World debt. It's a policy I've always been opposed to - the biggest problem in Africa is corrupt governance that embexxles money away from the people and spends it on presidential palaces and weapons. That's why the loans weren't successful in the first place. And to me, there is something seriously wrong with allowing people who have entered into a serious agreement to back out of it. Would a court in this country allow someone to get out of repaying a bank loan because they later decided they couldn't afford repayments?

Unfortunately, the answer now appears to be yes. There's been a new addition to staple TV adverts recently. Alongside the ambulance-chasing lawyers, there are now adverts from companies like "DebtMatters" who claim to be able to help sort out financial crises - "using government legislation that allows you to freeze up to 75% of outstanding commitments". I don't know the nuts and bolts of all of this, but it seems like the government is legislating against people taking responsibility for their own affairs. Far from forcing people to face up to the fact they live beyond their means, instead the government seems to encourage profligacy.

Thus it shouldn't be a surprise that political parties are now trying to get the taxpayer to bail them out for their own financial mismanagement. It's not the fault of the public if the political parties can't engage the public enough to fork out some cash to pay for their activities. Political parties don't have a right to exist in and of themselves. It seems to me as if Labour have been living well beyond their means in an attempt to shore up their power - and if they can't back it up, then they should have to suffer the consequences. Not expect to find some convenient location for someone to write a blank cheque for their incompetence.

Lines I Wish I'd Written, #1

Jim White, yesterday's Telegraph:

Like the 70mph motorway speed limit, the foil on KitKats or Margaret Beckett, the fact that it was still there, long after it had served any useful purpose, will be enough to induce mass mourning.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Why Political Correctness Goes Mad

A letter from yesterday's Telegraph:

Sir - A colleague brought back a box of loose tea from his holiday in Sri Lanka. When it came to the office juniors' turn to make real tea, they had no idea how to do it, and ended up putting the tea leaves in what they called a "tea sieve" and pouring the water through it into the cup.

This important British ritual should be taught as part of the National Curriculum, before it dies out.

Jonathan Yardley, Wolverhampton

I hope this letter was written with tongue somewhere in cheek. But knowing the usual lack of grip on reality possessed by most Telegraph correspondents, it seems entirely plausible that Mr Yardley genuinely believes the words written in his name. Even if they don't, they are indicative of a broader attitude that ultimately leads to the state of affairs the right complains so bitterly about - the old dictum of "political correctness gone mad".

How far this can be said to be true, of course is questionable - and I will return to the theme. But here, there is a quite simple formulation employed by the writer. Situation A is something that is a desirable characteristic in people - therefore it should be enforced by the state. Regardless of what situation A is, the basic formulation of looking to the state to guarantee its adoption is all too common.

Why should children be forced to learn how to make a cup of tea? Surely if the taxpayer pays for their education, there are far more useful skills that could be passed on? Some that actually have some relevance to the modern world, for example.

But all too often, the Government is the repository of action in the minds of people. If an attitude like that prevails, the state will inevitably reflect the interest groups closest to power. Only a spirit of greater vigilance over the operation of government can preserve our liberty.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Get Your Snobbery Right

Arrogance and a haughty attitude are what we have come to expect from Jeremy Clarkson. Sadly, his sneering tone has now adopted that terrible fashion of the English middle-classes - outright, hypocritical hatred of America. I say hypocritical, because far too many of the criticisms of America made by Brits would be seized upon as insufferable, intolerable American arrogance if the two positions were reversed.

Jeremy Clarkson's article in the Sunday Times this weekend proved nothing except for the fact that he is a bilious, hate-filled man, and that he must walk around England with his eyes closed.

And I really don’t like the way that every small town looks exactly the same as every other small town. Palmdale in California and Biloxi in Mississippi are nigh on identical. They have the same horrible restaurants. The same mall. The same interstate drone. Live in either for more than a week and you’d be stabbing your own eyes with knitting needles.

I wonder when Clarkson visited an English small town for the last time? If he did happen to stroll around the town centre, I reckon we could all have a fair stab at what he would see. A Pizza Hut, and/or a Pizza Express, probably. WHSmith would undoubtedly be the biggest newsagent. If he wanted music, a Virgin or an HMV wouldn't be too far away. Or a Marks and Spencers, a Debenhams, a Boots, a BHS, a Carphone Warehouse, a Waterstone's, a Borders, a Caffe Nero, a... well, you get the drift.

Indeed, it was an article in the Times itself a year or so ago that made the point most forceully. With a headline along the lines of "Are all British towns the same?", it had a photo of a typical high street. At first glance, I thought I recognised it as Oxford. Later, I realised I was wrong - it had all the right shops, but in the wrong order.

Do Brits seem to think it is all that terrible that Newbury and Darlington, Swindon and Cambridge, Middlesbrough and Derby are roughly interchangeable? Does living for more than a week in any one of them drive people to "stab their own eyes with knitting needles"? Of course not. But that doesn't stop Clarkson from indulging in the fashion of knocking the Americans. We might like to feel superior to our more powerful cousins across the pond, but it really isn't doing any good. It's like one of Clarkson's hated lard-arses pointing out other fatsos in the street, when if he looked in a mirror, he'd soon realise he needed to start exercising as much as those he criticses.

A Little Word Can Say A Lot

The Labour Government's cowardice in bending to the harassment of the US legal system is a huge scandal. The primary duty of the Government is to protect its citizens. That's something the Government spuriously claim when it comes to ID cards, yet the minute it comes to actually protecting someone's freedoms and liberties, that principle seems to go out of the window.

The so-called Natwest Three have not been tried in Britain for their alleged offences because the Serious Fraud Office and the CPS couldn't find enough evidence to bring them to trial - despite their repeated pleas to be tried in England. Yet our Attorney-General sees sufficient reasno to allow them to be sent to the US to be tried for the same matter. If that really is how our legal system operates, it is scandalous.

The Government cover-up and spin operation is equally disturbing. Leaving aside the nonsensical notion that the UK should abide by a bilateral treaty that has not yet been ratified by the other country, they try to deny the treaty gives Britain a raw deal Every Minister, including the Prime Minister, who has spoken on the matter has tried to argue that the extradition treaty puts "roughly equal" burdens of evidence on the US and the UK. The key word, of course, being roughly. Or virtually, or analogous to, or any of the other phrases that have been used. Not a single person has been able to say that they are the same standards - because they know that would be a flat-out lie.

A Government that truly cared about protecting its citizens would end this nonsense immediately. Instead we get all sorts of insulting comments from our Government, who seem to think they can pull the wool over our eyes - whilst sending people who couldn't even be tried in Britain to face trial in America. And in the meantime, known terrorists are apparently harboured in America, who refuse to send them for trial here. The system is a nonsense, and our Government is a pure, unadulterated disgrace.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Going Nuclear

I'm delighted today to see that the Government is proposing to build a new wave of nuclear reactors. Opposition to nuclear energy has always been one aspect that makes it very difficult for me to take the environmental movement seriously. After all, if pollution of the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels is going to lead us to environmental catastrophe, then surely all viable alternatives must be used as far as is possible?

The fact is that there is neither the reliability nor the popular will to transfer all energy generation to renewable sources. Were wind farms sufficiently able to supply Britain's energy needs, I would happily see turbines in place of reactors. Could we utilise HEP more effectively, I'd be arguing for cascades. But the fact remains that trying to rely on renewable energy sources cannot meet Britain's growing energy demand. And if we want to stop the more heavily polluting sources of energy, building new nuclear sites seems the only responsible means of fulfilling demand.

Sometimes I do wonder what planet the environmentalists live on. The fact is that renewable energy sources cannot, in the short-term, help the aim of substantial reduction in carbon emissions. And it is that, after all, which is supposedly the major problem. Nuclear reactors have their risks - but at the same time, do we have reason to doubt their management? Do we really staff them with Homer Simpson clones who don't have a clue what they are doing? 19% of our electricity supply today is nuclear, and we haven't had a meltdown in Britain yet. Is it just a matter of time, or do the environmentalists throw about the word Chernobyl in a spate of fear-mongering?

Fear-mongering, of course, is the stock-in-trade of the green lobby. No-one doubts that searching for reliable renewable energy is highly desirable. The capability right now doesn't exist. By the time new reactors are built, it would still seem doubtful. Either we can meet the rise in demand through nuclear energy, or we can look to fossil fuels again, or the environmental lobby can piss off every single person in this country by demanding compulsory energy shortages until scientific advances are made. And yet again, they'd be engaged in a self-defeating process. Is all they want to do to crow from the sidelines? If not, then they'd better start making more positive contributions to the debate. I'm getting sick of their endlessly negative tone.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Meritocracy, not Quotas

The Guardian, as ever, proves that it is totally incapable of enjoying an event for what it is. Over on the Comment is Free blog, Martin Jacques has written a remarkably miserable piece about this year's World Cup. Those of you who thought it was a worldwide festival of football are, apparently, wrong. Instead, it's a manifestation of racism - with white teams dominating the way at the expense of our poor, oppressed African brethren.

That's right, the event that actually creates a global interest in the Ivory Coast and Togo is actually just a rigged competition against the poor nations of the world. What a load of tosh.

Firstly, Jacques gets some of his facts plain wrong.

In the last sixteen there was only one African side and no Asian. In the last eight, there were six European and two Latin American: the last four was a European monopoly. (Compare this with the last World Cup, where there were only three European sides in the last eight and just one in the semi-finals.)

That's only true if you don't count Turkey as a European side. But, of course, for footballing purposes, they are. Their club sides compete in Europe; they participate at the European Championships; their qualification is predicated upon their being a member of UEFA, the European football association. How on earth that doesn't qualify as European beats me.

If we want to take matters further, of course, we could look at how exactly South Korea managed to get as far as they did - courtesy of two absolutely appalling refereeing decisions, both of which denied European sides the right to get there. Their victory over Italy was refereed by an Ecuadorian, and the victory over Spain by an Egyptian. So was their success in World Cup 2002 simply a result of the oppressed fighting back against the oppressors?

The sad thing is that Jacques would think this was justified. Jacques argues that in 2002's quarter-final, England fielded 5 black players, and this year they only fielded two. According to him, this is a lack of progress. Evidently ethnic over-representation is only an issue where whites are concerned. According to the 2001 census, 92.1% of the English population is white. Only 2% are black. The ethnic group most under-represented in the England team is white; blacks are overrepresented. This isn't, of course, a problem. Places in the England team are won on merit. Yet it is a sad indictment on Jacques that far from celebrating the talent of England's black players, instead he would seem to want quotas. Perhaps he should look at South Africa to see the recrimination they bring about.

His guilt is not simply assuaged there, however. He argues that there should be more African teams at the next World Cup, preferably at the expense of Europeans. That could be a decision predicated only on politics and not on merit. If any continent deserves to lose places to the Africans, it is North and Central America. Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the USA all finished bottom of their group having failed to win a single match. Nor did the Africans exactly cover themselves in glory. Despite Jacques lauding of the Ivory Coast, they only won once. Togo lost all three games; Angola and Tunisia similarly failed to win. There's no basis on results this time to suggest the quality of the tournament would be enhanced by adding more African teams. And certainly not at the expense of European sides.

Jacques, of course, bases his argument upon the fact that Nigeria and Cameroon, traditionally two of Africa's strongest sides, completely failed to qualify. Again, of course, he ignores the fundamental fact of football. You have to beat the sides on the field. And in the case of Nigeria and Cameroon, they couldn't beat the sides they were up against. In the case of Nigeria, that involved finishing behind Angola; in the case of Cameroon, the Ivory Coast. Neither were teams who progressed beyond the group stage.

There's much to celebrate in the development of African football. Most African players now play in European leagues - at a higher quality of football that is resulting in better performances from the national sides. The number of African players in starring roles at top clubs similarly continues to grow. Arsenal get many of their youth players from African academies; the European club champions, Barcelona, feature Samuel Eto'o, a Cameroonian, up front. Such exposure to quality play will continue to raise the standard.

The drawback, of course, comes from the shambolic organisation of African football federations. The African Nations' Cup earlier this year was plagued by disputes between players and federations. Just looking at African football news now shows the problems of political interference and poor organisation. Liberia are currently threatening to withdraw from African competition. And at the World Cup itself, Togo's manager resigned - only to be later reinstated - when his players withdrew from training over a pay dispute. Management and organisational problems are what plague African national teams.

That is a problem that would be worsened by unnaturally promoting African teams to positions in the World Cup that their merit would not necessarily entitle them to. Africans have achieved the most when they have found their way into European teams. This they have done on their own merit - the top European teams have little interest in damaging their results by playing sub-par players. It is when they return to their nations and find the troubles caused by bad infrastructure that they do not perform so well. The answer, of course, is reform in Africa, not meddling from Europe. If only Martin Jacques could leave his middle-class guilt behind.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sick To The Stomach

I was really looking forward to the World Cup Final this evening. Zinedine Zidane had proved at this World Cup his genuine quality, and kept a place for himself as one of the all-time great footballers. He may have lacked a yard of pace, but his vision for the game and his unsurpassed touch were a delight for any fan of the beautiful game.

He should have secured his legacy tonight. The World Cup Final - in what was his last game - was the perfect stage for a man of his talent to bow out. Instead, he decided to waste his legacy in a fit of pique, headbutting Marco Materazzi in the chest during extra-time. Following his inevitable sending-off, he left the French team to be ignominiously defeated on penalties.

I feel sick to the stomach now. If France had been defeated by a better Italy side, it would have been alright. They weren't; France were by far the most inventive side, and had Ribery had better positional sense (a harsher critic might say all-round ability) then they would surely have won. But for France to have lost due to a moment of pure selfishness from Zidane feels, well, it feels like he's headbutted me in the chest.

Tonight should have been the crowning glory of one of football's greats. Instead, Zidane has secured a far less appealing legacy. One whose temper got the better of him; one who sacrificed the team to the self. Despite the fact that all through his career his greatest skill was making the players around him better. A football match that ends in penalties is always a let-down. One that sees the disgrace of a legend is far, far worse.

Friday, July 07, 2006

On The Forest Gate Raid

I know it's a little while since it happened, but I was caught up with other things at the time (I'd like to say revision, but in reality it was more to do with watching the World Cup). However, it now seems to be a touchstone in news reports, especially those analysing attitudes in the Muslim community on the anniversary of the London bombings. The consensus seems to be that it has damaged relations with the Muslim community - and yet, somehow, I find it hard to be especially outraged over the raid. And it has nothing to do with the involvement of that sanctimonious cow Gareth Peirce, either.

The other staple news story regarding the London bombings in the last couple of weeks has been the "police were given a tip-off about the bombers, but didn't act on it" one. The implication being that if the police and intelligence services had noticed the significance of certain names in advance, the bomb plot may never have come to fruition. The fact that these tip-offs were usually very small in their nature doesn't seem to matter.

If the police had good reason to think there was a chemical bomb, or the materials and intent to make one, at the house in Forest Gate, then the only responsible course of action was to search the house. Can you imagine the reaction if a chemical bomb had killed thousands in London, and it was later found out that the police had intelligence on the plot and refused to act on it? Protecting us from these terrorist atrocities is a key part of the police's job.

As for it straining relations with the Muslim community - I will keep my remarks brief for now, but hope to expand on them later. The problem is one that is very much rooted in the Muslim community. But no matter what the reasons for alienation may be, committing terrorist outrages is wrong. Sadly, it is the Muslim community that is home to many of those that wish to perpetrate these outrages - and one in eight, according to recent polls, see those who commit such acts as martyrs. Yes, there is a need to build bridges. But there is a need to do so from both communities. Until it is realised that integration is a two-way process, then the underlying problems will never be resolved.

Monday, July 03, 2006

When Is A Select Committee Worth Hearing?

Today's Select Committee report into the detention of terror suspects without trial reached the conclusion that the 28-day limit was 'inadequate'. Leaving aside the civil liberties issues for the moment, and the fact that as yet, no suspect has been held for the maximum period without charge, I am more worried by the reaction of the government.

Unsurprisingly, they are already trying to spin this as a vindication for their argument for a 90-day period - even though the committee also argued that they had failed to make the case for such an extension in the Commons debate. You'd think, then, that a Select Committee report would be good enough for the Government to pay attention to. After all, if they can cite it as evidence when they are in agreement, they must be effective counter-evidence if they disagree?

Not for this government, of course. The Education Select Committee published a report showing that there was absolutely no evidence to support the continued claim that increased funding leads to an improvement in GCSE results. Yet every week at PMQs, Tony Blair proclaims the wonderful goodness of increased education funding, and rails against the Tories for opposing it. Despite the fact the Select Committee believes this case is groundless. If the Government starts rethinking education policy in the light of this, then I will be more inclined to listen to their Ministers proclaim the need for a 90-day limit. It won't happen, of course - the Labour Party is still endemically filled with the political class; those who spend their time getting told what they want to hear.