Saturday, October 20, 2007

Grace Under Fire

It wasn't what I wanted, but it was brave and it was close. Congratulations the Bokke, but no shame on England. There are ifs and buts, there always are in sport, but the big but is that England can move into a new era with a lot of pride.

For more reaction, especially on the evil one, see the microblog.

I'm off to get into double figures.

Bataille des Bokke III

Stade de France, 8PM
It's time to head into the the Village to issue local Aussie Doktor Doob with an England Shirt (albeit the old blue change strip - to make the Doktor wear the white would be a cruel and unusual punishment for him).

It's been an amazing few weeks but one way or another it will be over by around 10PM tonight. The Springboks have been the only team to live up to their billing this year, and will present an incredible challenge to an England side that have manged to both fall short of and then far excede expectations of them. Their team have shown a calm confidence and have largely avoided the indiscipline that has marred some other of their great sides, though Burger still always seems to be have something of the Danny Grewcock about him. In Jake white they have a truely great coach who has displayed imense dignity while some of his peers, and some of his more politicised compatriots have let themselves down. The scenes from Paris of the supposedly overbearingly arrogant Springbok fans getting paralytic with supposedly overbearingly arrogant England fans, and exchanging nothing more than noisy banter have bourne testimony to the great ethos of the game.

To the several South Africans I know, I wish you as well as I can for one who natural hopes to see you finish second.

England though...what the hell are you doing to me! A roller-coaster ride doesn't even come close to describing the emotional highs and lows. The acheivments have been such in the last couple of weeks that there's no way that things can ultimately end up feeling any other than a high, but if the odds are beaten and the Springboks turned over I can't imagine just how it will feel.
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition

This is not the Paris of the pool game last month, this is not the Paris of Jannie de Beer and his drop goals, this is a Paris that hasn't been as close to being an English possession since not long after the days of Henry V. Stade de France is Twickenham for a day - even the French unions are cooperating by making Saint-Denis as easy to reach as TW1 is on a typical match day. It's a home game.

Here was the battle plan from last week:

Just one more time, one more time.

Good luck.

Clinging on Coat Tails

Dr De'ath writing over at the Devil's Kitchen has set the stage nicely for this evening, picking up on Will Greenwood's piece in the Telegraph on his memories of the 2003 victory:

"Tessa Jowell, the Minister of Culture, Media and Sport, is in the room for some reason. God knows who invited her. There is a highly amusing moment when a group of us are trying to have our photographs taken and she is trying to slide in on the shot from one side. As we are taking our positions Mongo Moody turns to the Minister of the Crown and says: "Look, sweetheart, I don't know who you are, but can you f**k off? Can't you see we're having our picture taken?"

Source: Daily Telegraph

Were England to pull off an unlikely victory today, I'd like to think that the obligatory invitation to Number 10 might receive a similar response, considering the Troll who lives there's propensity to shafting England.

Speaking of shafting the country, the Devil himself has a fine assault on David 'Boy Blunder' Miliband's pathetic justification for the weapon of mass deception he and his vile boss are attempting to unleash on us all.

Same S***, Different Treaty

Barroso and Socrates
Stitch-up Done
To call the documents that have emerged from the process that culminated with last week's Lisbon summit opaque is, to say the least, an understatement. Considering the fact that when Parliament debates the reform treaty in the New Year even they will not have a consolidated version of the treaties, as revised, to consider, this well-planned incomprehensibility comes as not the greatest of surprises.

Whatever one's views on the policies of the various components of the Independence and Democracy grouping in the European Parliament, they at least seem committed to informing the public debate in a way that more Eurofanatic organisations either only pay lip service to or actively despise.

This report from their EUWatch, on the impact of the treaty changes, is typical. True, in some of he commentary and choice of quotations they make clear their stance on the wretched project, but the heart of the document is a level headed analysis of what really is in the documents that the EU, and member states' governments so badly want us not to understand.

The simple statistical analysis is damning for Brown:

Even with four 'red lines', even if we are to take hope over experience and believe they will prove effective, it is abundantly clear that there is still a hell of a lot of substance to he proposed changes. To return to the ludicrous 'tidying-up exercise' argument is simply insulting to anyone other than the most rabid Eurofanatics or those without the wit to care.

Once more an organisation might have had promise and genuine worth to the people of Europe, has proved to be nothing more than a politician's plaything. Once more its latest incarnation is born in a climate of deceit and contempt for those that it claims to serve.

Advertising Success

Since the dawn of the professional era, Rugby has always punched above its weight with advertisers. Not only does the the TV audience for any big game overlap with a sought after demographic, but it's a sport brimming over with positive images of strength, speed, teamwork and passion.

2003 produced probably the best series of ads ever with the Nike's 'Keep the Ball Alive' campaign. Sadly they were never screened in the UK, allegedly because some chinless wonder in the Advertising Standards Authority felt they were a bit too rough.

This is what we missed out on:

Don't try this at home.

Many adverts play on Rugby stereotypes, though now and again an attempt is made to break with tradition. This example is a case in point, though the stereotype being broken is about our Gallic cousins, not the sport itself:

With kevball's greater numbers, any attempt to make comparisons between sports is usually avoided, or attempts to put the round ball game on a par with god's own sport, such as the Lewsey v Crouch Powerade commercial:

I prefer Land Rover's approach, again featuring Lewsey:

Anyone unfamiliar with the game may wonder why Land Rover would choose one of the girlie backs as a figure of intimidation. Matt Rogers, of Wallabies fame would be able to explain why Lewsey is a player the Springboks will be glad not to be facing this evening.

Here Lewsey perfectly legally takes his revenge on the none-too-bright Rogers' pathetic bitch-slap on him a few minutes earlier:

Apparently, Rogers, a keen surfer, has had to use a specially adapted board ever since this incident as the mangled state of his ribcage makes it too uncomfortable to lie on to paddle out on a normal one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Winning Ugly

Punch and Judy
A win but no knockdown
A win's a win, and most seem to have chalked today's PMQs up as a win on points to Cameron, but it wasn't an especially good showing.

He gave his opponent too much latitude to manoeuvre back onto safer territory on the hospital questions.

He needed the EU referendum attack, one that is to all intents and purposes indefensible by Brown, to consolidate a comfortable but unspectacular win. As strong as the EU line is by Cameron, he can't use it every week.

If it wasn't for basic incompetence by Brown, he might actually have managed to have given his troops something to cheer or jeer about spontaneously, but in the space of a few minutes he managed to:
  • Exhibit basic dishonesty by referring to Cameron as an economic advisor to the Norman Lamont, in order to try and score some additional 'Black Wednesday' points, whereas every biography going into details describes his role as being a political adviser.

  • Show that he has not the slightest self-knowledge of his weaknesses by completely stuffing up two simple jokes

  • Ironically make a hash of his pre-prepared soundbite about Cameron's supposed love of pre-prepared soundbites.

  • Succumb, after Miliband's schoolboy whining yesterday, to wishful thinking by referring to William Hague as Foreign Secretary.

  • Demonstrate an inability to think under pressure, by continually making jibes at the Liberal party, unrepresented in the current parliament, rather than his intended target, the Lib Dems.
Overall though, Cameron is on the right lines. One person who does have some work to do on the Conservative benches is George Osborne. In the attacks Brown made on the Conservatives, only one was not based on a dubious regurgitation of ancient history, that of the alleged £6 billion 'black hole' in funding Tory plans. How he used it - it seems to be the only punch the great clucking fist has to throw at the moment.

If Osborne's team can either restore faith in his original funding proposal, or find some other revenue source that would receive popular support, they will have dealt the Prime Minister another body blow, and leave him almost completely out ammunition.

On a more consensual point Brown offered very sincere sounding congratulations to the England Rugby team, and best wishes for the final. I will try and put aside my scepticism about to what extent our Scottish Prime Minister will truly be rooting for Vickery and the team at the weekend, even in view of this fine article from the Times on NuLab's inverted snobbery about any sport other than chavball.
In a recent article on the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, The Observer's political editor Nicholas Watt, made great play of unearthing the fact that as an 11-year-old Miliband was a terrible goalkeeper who once let in seven goals in a schoolboy match.

He goes on: “Cabinet colleagues have rallied to Miliband's defence. Aware there is no place in the New Labour tribe for non-footballers.” So there it’s official, you can’t help run the country unless you’re into football.


Maybe one day we’ll have politicians with the courage to openly admit their preference for rugby over football – just don’t hold your breath!

Source: The Times

I can't remember which blogger made the comment about New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark's joyless, miserable face when attending the France v All Blacks quarter-final, even before her country's team began its familiar choking routine (no, not the haka).

To whoever it was, I am the bearer of bad tidings. It has been confirmed that Brown's miserable mug will be putting in an appearance at the final.

Disgrace Under Pressure

Experiment over
Back in the days when some were foolish enough to give Brown some latitude, I had little good to say about his first cabinet with the possible exception of David Miliband.

I felt it was a bit of an experiment, true, but he was one of the few in the team I felt could pleasantly surprise us all. In some ways it was a chancy experiment, being so different from the usual type of figure to fill the foreign office berth, but in a role that is often less pointedly political in domestic terms it was still an appointment I had an open mind about.

There is though a risk with any step into the unknown, and with hindsight the presence of that volatile element, the EU, in the foreign office brief should have set off alarm bells even before his non-performance on trans-Atlantic affairs in the early days of his tenure.

Judging by the only news feed I've read on the matter, from that bastion of right-wing Euroscepticism, the Guardian it sounds as if now the Batshit (as some like to call Miliband) has really hit the fan:
The normally calm foreign secretary David Miliband demanded an apology when a Labour committee chairman accused him of succumbing to EU bullying just as Neville Chamberlain had appeased Adolf Hitler.

The row came in an evidence session in which Mr Miliband failed to convince the European scrutiny committee of MPs that Britain had successfully defended its so-called red lines ahead of the EU summit on the new treaty in Lisbon this week.

Source: The Guardian

Note the key phrase, "Mr Miliband failed to convince". He failed to convince a committee chaired by, and with a majority from his own domestic political party on a matter that is vital to the government of which he is part. The ever irrelevant Independent may give him an easier time tomorrow, but nobody else will.

What is worse, not only did he get beaten like a ginger step-child (I'm partially licenced to use that term), but he lost his temper in the face of what will hardly be the toughest audience he will ever face. What may happen to Miliband in the face of more difficult meetings with genuinely hostile opposition, opposed not only to his role in domestic politics, but potentially with a deep antipathy to everything this country stands for, is anybody's guess.

It's too big a risk to take. It's astonishing that a few months ago some were touting Miliband as Prime Ministerial material, but then I suppose that just days ago some were saying the same of Brown.

Non-Story of the Week

Man Booker Prize
The Telegraph today reports what would have once been called a 'dog bites man' story, but I'm inclined to call an 'England pulls off unlikely victory leaving all true Englishmen with bad hangover' story, with the truly astonishing news that, in their own words: "'Depressing Irish saga' wins the Booker Prize".

Apparantly it was expected to be a fight between Ian McEwan and a little known New Zealand author Lloyd Jones, according to the bookies. This seems to have been lapse of judgement by the bookmakers. I'm more or less functionally literate, and enjoy McEwan's books, and from the Telegraph precis, Jones' offering about the civil war in Papua New Guinea sounds like something that might be worth reading. It's amazing that such material even made the shortlist.

The winner, having sold 2901 copies in the UK since May (as opposed to McEwan's populist 130,000+), by Irish author Anne Enright is:
"A desperately bleak Irish family saga featuring a suicide and sexual abuse"


Robert Harris, the bestselling author of novels such as Fatherland and Enigma, said in an interview that authors were being forced by agents to write 'Booker-winning' novels that were “grim and unreadable and utterly off-putting for many readers”.

Source: The Telegraph

No surprises there then. It just fuels the suspicion, and I make no accusation against Enright, not having read, nor intending to read her offering, that the intrinsic literary value of a book counts little in comparison to ensuring that it meets, as Harris implies, the arts community's definition of award-friendly subject matter.

I guess the real question is why these awards, so divorced as they are, as the latest Nobel Peace Prize demonstrates, from the realities of day-to-day literarty interests for the majority of us, still justify so many column inches.

The unremitting misery of so much 'quality' fiction is as unreal to a huge segment of society as the superficial glitz and glamour of Tinseltown, as drooled over in tabloidland.

Who does this particular 'middle England' look to, to recognise fine authors bring to light less well known gems?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Finding a Purpose

Sir Menzies Campbell
Time for a new challenge?
Yes, the title could apply equally to the Lib Dems in general, as well as their latest ex-leader, but I thought it was time to do the obligatory Ming piece (no rhyming slang intended).

In one sense I'm a bit disappointed to see the departure of Ming, and not from the standpoint of someone who is broadly a Conservative supporter and has liked the poll numbers, but as someone, who, as I have posted earlier, I felt brought a lot a certain dignity to party leadership, something Brown will never have, but perhaps Cameron can learn. That said, he really had to go, and while it hasn't been exactly pretty it could have been a lot worse. A media narrative had become unstoppable, while most people know other issue were in play, I will give a lot of credence to Ming's claim that these were a major issue in his decision.

Another figure I think is worthy of some defense is his deputy, Vince Cable. He seems to figure prominently in most people's lists of likely knife-wielders, but as one of the few MPs I've ever met personally, albeit briefly, it doesn't seem to fit. Sure, he made a rather damaging statement on the leadership, but I've got a feeling he would have been in the loop, rather than leading the pack.

On one side you could argue that he was a big loser from Ming's bizarre attack on people who's incomes, by his own constituents standards would be very modest, but while he may put his hat in the ring, most likely outcomes from the latest Lib Dem upheaval will be not positive for Cable. At heart, he's never seemed much of a politician, in the prejudicial sense of the word, and I think the role attributed to him in recent events seem most unlikely.

As for Ming, I can't imagine that beyond the natural bluster about staying at the heart of politics, that the Commons will hold much appeal to him for any great length of time. I can't help feeling there is a role for someone of his ilk, who seems to have a very genuine commitment to public service, beyond being an occasional voice in the upper house. Even as someone who is, too all extents and purposes, a Conservative, I would more than happy to see him step in to one of those roles in national life where neutrality is essential, and political controversy a certainty.

The historical example of chairman of the BBC governors isn't around, but something of that nature would seem ideal, just like Ashdown's role in the Balkans. He's a good man and deserves something meaningful, and although disagreeing with him on many things political I know there are roles I would be delighted to see him in, if and when they become available.

Best wishes Sir Menzies. Now for the Lib Dem donkey derby.

Recruitment Drive

Pienaar and Mandela
Spirit of '95
It's out and about in the Village tonight, trying to make sure that in the battle for the hearts and minds of Rugby's neutrals that England comes out on top in support at the weekend. Against any other team than South Africa it would be a hopeless task; however circumstances have conspired to bring together the two teams in world rugby most hated outside their home nation.

Antipathy to England is a time honoured tradition. Despite occasional attempts at more modern justifications about the style of play or allegations of arrogance, still lie largely rooted in ancient grievances, real or imaginary, except perhaps in the case of New Zealand and Australia who seem to believe they should be allowed a duopoly on wild and sometimes over the top celebration of their teams' successes.

The case against the Springboks is one that I actually believe is one that is becoming increasingly unfair, though the South African government and the sport's administrators there must bear no small part of the blame for this unfairness. For all the wonderful scenes of 1995, with a beaming, Springbok shirt clad Nelson Mandela presenting the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar, the question of race continues to dog the national team.

There is no doubt whatsoever that in the early post-apartheid era that the sports administrators deserved most, if not all, of the blame, lagging far behind the average Springbok fan in a whole hearted acceptance of the new multi-racial society. While Afrikaner and English South African supporters learned to sing the new multi-national national anthem with pride, South Africa's rugby administrators did little more than half-heartedly cease to discriminate.

Over time though things changed, as a new generation of coaches, free from much of the political baggage of the past drove home the message that the highest levels of South African rugby would indeed be the very best the country had to offer, regardless of creed or colour. This is how sport should be, but there is a massive problem. For all of the SARU's best efforts, Rugby Union is disproportionately popular, at least in terms of participation, in the white and especially Afrikaans speaking community. The inevitable outcome is that while Springbok starting XVs will, in terms of racial makeup, possibly representative of participation levels at the grassroots, it is unlikely that it will represent the makeup of the country as a whole for some time to come.

In time things will change for rugby in South Africa, but politics is increasingly a sport of the here and now, and element of the South African government and its agencies have tried playing hardball, attempting to impose unrealistic quotas and launching quite personal attacks on senior figures in the game there.

It's all been horribly counter productive. Jake White, who has a better than evens chance of taking home the trophy at the weekend already knows that his reward for any success will be to be forced to reapply for his job, something as a matter of pride he is unlikely to do instantly tainting any victory.

Sure, there are a few die-hards in the South African rugby establishment, there are enough closer to home, but they will pass on and a new generation will assert itself. Is though a young talented coloured player likely to feel more or less likely to aim for the top of the sport, as a result of his government's continuous witch hunt?

To such a player I would say, do not listen to the same government whose attitudes on so many other, even more important issues, defy all common sense. Look instead not only at the team at the weekend, but the crowd, and your countrymen enjoying autumnal Paris. No, the numbers are not equal, yet, but nor is there segregation. The travelling support is that of one nation.

Get away from the politics, both national and supporting, and at least from the pictures I see, the spirit of '95 is alive and well. I just hope it's a spirit that bonds in commiseration, not celebration in a few days time!

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Beginner's Guide

This weekend will doubtlessly see an even larger number of temporary converts to Rugby than the one just gone, and perhaps even more than in 2003 thanks to the kick-off time.

As a public service I felt that I should do my part in explaining the rules of the game. No, for those adept in the art already I do not mean the laws of Rugby Union, but the rules for supporting your team, be it England, or, in the case of the other home nations, the Springboks.

Frankly there has been too much lightweight, socceresque behaviour around the Village. Hopefully the following short film, albeit from a Kiwi perspective, may help teach some amateurs the error of their ways. I would put a 'strong language' warning on it, but hey, I don't do it in the blogroll here, so why start now:

Those that do not drag themselves out of their pit at obscene hours to watch Tri Nations rugby, and indeed many that do so, may be unfamiliar with the voice of the film, Jed Thian. As well as contributing to the Rugby Roundtable blog which, even though All Black focused, is always an entertaining read, he is also the voice of The Alternative Rugby Commentary, which provides a much better audio channel for games involving the ABs than any mainstream broadcaster can muster, especially the rather anodyne NZ output.

How badly we need something like that here. To be able to switch of the ramblings of twat-of-all-trades Jim Rosenthal, and the fairly average Barnes and Harrison that ITV in desperation had to borrow from Sky, would truly be a blessing.

That said, Jed doesn't quite get everything right:

Though it should be said that he is no carping Kiwi, coming out with a much more balanced assessment of the ABs' exit than much of the mainstream New Zealand media could manage.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Some Things Never Change

Fighting...but which cause?
As I wrote, as slowly and drunkenly as I write this this, my previous post, the news came in that John Howard had announced the date of the Australian General Election, November 24th, showing guts that our own Prime Minister so clearly lacks. OK he had to go soon anyway, but his demeanour was so different to the skulking Brown.

Sadly though, I was listening to News 24, who yet again trotted out the predictable line that it Howard's electorally precarious position was entirely due to Iraq and climate change. It might not fit with the opinion of any anti-Howard Australian I've ever met who generally just feel "it's time for a change" or any more methodical polling which tends to rate these issues as being pretty low down the priority list, but I suppose it fits better with the BBC agenda and I guess that's what counts.

How weird it would feel in these days of a spin, to hear a voice that reported the news as it is, rather than the news as those reporting it wished it was.


England Rugby
England v France
Saturday, 8:00PM...
Next Week Too
To paraphrase, nay pretty much quote the words of one of my favourite tunes, 'These days turned out like nothing like I had planned'.

I'm still almost more surprised by the way the game panned out than the result. There's always a question about France, the traditional line being being 'it depends on which French side turns up on the day' but even having watched most of the game a second time already Laporte's game plan still eludes me. That's it for neutrality though, let me say the only two words that really matter.

We won.

Tomorrow every English rugby supporter can watch Argentina battle South Africa battle for the privilege to play the defending champions in the final from the best seat in the house.

It's been a huge top flight day of sport for me. I'm not that bothered about the Sri Lanka result, and the fact that some overpaid chav got off his fat arse and finally did something vaguely useful has thankfully been relegated to the 'other sport news' section of most TV news bulletins pleases me immensely.

By 19:50PM though, as a Leeds boy, lucky enough, despite a Union background, to appreciate the stunning intensity of both codes I'd seen the only hometown team I support, mercilessly destroy the overwhelming favourites, St Helens, in the Rugby League Grand Final. I thought that that would be as good as it would get...

The Rhinos go home with the title in the bag. On the Union front there is still work to be done; I still need a result at the club level to make the weekend complete, but I have faith on that front, and England know the challenge that face them be it from the Boks or Argentina. It's going to be another great week, whatever happens.

One more step England, a big one, but one that you've proved you are more than capable of taking.