Monday, June 25, 2007

Salaam Salman


News that Salman Rushdie is to get a knighthood has been met with mixed emotions. Some elements in the Islamic world have condemned the award outright – a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry said that to honour “an apostate and one of the most hated figures in the Islamic world” indicated that Britain supported “the insult to Islamic values”.

I wish I knew enough about Rushdie's work to make a relevant comment. I don't.

What is interesting is the remarks by Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett. Jack thinks Salman's books a bit too difficult to read (and he has a large Muslim population in his constituency); whilst Margaret says she is “sorry” if any offence has been caused.

I think the word I'm searching for is hypocritical. Yes, hypocritical wimps fit rather nicely.

Let's be clear. What debate there should be about an honour for Salman should be about the literary merit of his work. I'd be happy to hear reasoned argument about the quality of his writing. I'd be interested to know about his views concerning the writing process and how he communicates with readers. I'm not really interested in his views about Islam (if he has any).

It is clearly wrong and clearly ill-liberal to denounce Mr Rushdie because one of his books may offend some members of the community. That's what writers do. It's part of their job. It's probably in their job description, somewhere. If not – it ought to be.

This is not the whole story.

Media commentators have queued up to defend Rushdie. Voltaire (a very dodgy Frenchman) has been dutifully trotted out to declaim again - “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. It's all very western liberal politico-correctico. It's all very predictable.

Unfortunately, the powers that be have left out an important part of the argument. We are not free to say whatever we want to. We cannot publish anything we like. We would be extremely foolish – if not criminally insane – to insist that blaspheming against Allah is a really good thing to do. It clearly is not. Nor should it be.

Some have tried to submit that a Christian outcry against Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code is on a par with Muslim fury over Satanic Verses. They are being foolish or disingenuous. Dan Brown's book, which I have read, is an entertaining mystery story and Jesus' divinity is not questioned by the author. Christians may think it a bit crazy – but even if Jesus did marry and father children it would not affect the basic tenets of their beliefs. My understanding is that Muslims believe that to question the divinity of the Prophet is not only blasphemous but also an act that is prescribed punishment. If that is the case, then it is patently unfair to expect Muslims to forego that part of their beliefs that the rest of us may find offensive.

In a week where the death of Bernard Manning has brought legions of critics out of the woodwork to declare that no only was he not funny but he was also a racist and a bigot, it seems oddly perverse to “defend” Rushdie simply because his racism and bigotry is aimed at people we currently don't particularly like. We are not free to preach racial hatred. We are not free to incite violence against others of a different faith or creed. Therefore; we cannot demand that everyone else follows our lead. We must allow other faiths to judge for themselves what is right and proper. Even is we don't like it.

Mr Rushdie is entitled to be honoured for his writing. He is not immune from being censured by religious leaders. Some Muslim leaders should realise that dragging up the past and re-living old wounds is counter-productive. They simply pander to the prejudices of the right-wing conspiracy theorists.

I really must read The Satanic Verses.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Premiersip Milch Cow

Dodgy Owners.

Definition: milch cow - noun - something or someone that is seen as a source of easy income or profit.

Definition: money laundering - refers to the conversion or "Laundering" of money which is illegally obtained, so as to make it appear to originate from a legitimate source.

Put these two definitions together and you have the Premiership.

The Times says:

Frauds, thieves, tax dodgers and forgers aren’t welcome here

We answer the key questions relating to the 'Fit and Proper Test' that Thaksin will have to pass before taking charge at Manchester City

The key point in the resume of the Fit and Proper Persons test is (not surprisingly) at the end – where it says:

Has anyone failed the Fit and Proper Persons Test yet?

Not yet.

So, it's all window dressing? Pretty much – in my view.

Disregarding Roman Abramovich and other big-time Russian crooks, the very dodgy Glaser family who now own (with a hefty mortgage) Manchester United and an assortment of Icelandic wide-boys and an Egyptian conspiracy theorist – what cannot be in doubt is the opportunity for money corruption in football.

Here's a plan, some bean counter says, take the money you have, go to England and buy a football club; the government will welcome you with open arms. No-one will question where the money came from, no-one will ask about dodgy-finance – as long as you appear to be a milch cow to the idiots who inhabit the terraces and you make a few (perfectly legal) contributions to political parties – you should have no problems. And, you will be welcome to stay in England as long as you like. And you can effectively launder your money – if needed – under the relatively free guise of becoming a patron of a football team. Bottom line – this is a win-win situation.

What about the Premier League? Spokesman, Dan Johnson, told BBC Radio Five Live, “We have a fit and proper person test which is based on objective criteria, there is a schedule of offences which does also reflect any offences that someone has been prosecuted for overseas as well. It is a tricky one because he hasn't been prosecuted for anything yet, and also we are a football competition.”

Translation: as long as you have not been prosecuted for wrong-doing – it's none of our business and we will do nothing.

What would happen if he was found guilty of the charges he is facing? Dan says, “That is something we would have to look at.”

Nice one, Dan. In other words, even if Mr Shinawatra is found guilty in a Thai court of wrong-doing the Premier League may decide that this does not disqualify him from owning a team. After all, I can hear them say, what sort of court is a Thai court? Can't trust those Wogs anyway! This guy is bringing in lots of money – who cares where he got it!

Somebody should. And, someone should require that all Premiership clubs are PLC's with on-one allowed to own more than 10% of the shares. Simple. No need for checks that aren't checks on Asian criminals.

Works for me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Woeful West Indies

It's just not cricket!

Song lyrics – to the tune of “Rare Old Times”:

Raised on runs and wickets,

Heroes of renown,

The passing tales and glories,

That once was Kingston Town,

The hallowed balls and wickets,

The haunting children's' rhymes,

I remember West Indies cricket,

In the rare old times.

I was raised on the great West Indies team of the 80's. At that time it was almost impossible to imagine anybody beating them. Haynes and Greenwich to open; Richie Richardson; Sir Vivian Richards – not to mention the bowlers – Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Joel Garner – the list is almost endless.

It was – and remains – almost impossible to imagine anyone beating them.

How sad to see how the mighty have fallen. England have completed a white wash, winning the test series 3-0. What is worse is the manner of the winning and, more importantly, the losing.

Facts are a good to average England team have trounced as poor a test side as can be imagined. Some of the West Indies greats must be sick at what they have witnessed. What has gone wrong?

First, the organisation and politics involved in selection have crippled the team even before a ball was bowled. It is hard not to feel sorry for Darren Ganga who came expecting to play second fiddle to the experienced and respected Sarwan, only to be thrust into the limelight with no support from the management or the rest of the team. Watching him struggle with the bat and the leadership was painful. What's worse, he seemed to get no help from his team-mates. There is an agenda there, but who knows what it was?

Except for Chanderpaul, the batsmen were just boys waiting to be slaughtered by the English pace attack. Some of them are not good enough to play in a county side, much less an international one.

The bowling was worse. Nothing appeared to be planned and no bowler attempted to do anything to trouble the English batsmen. Is there really no West Indian spinner? What, no-one? Is Ramdin really the best wicket-keeper in the Caribbean? Seems a nice lad – but cannot bat and is only adequate with the gloves. Are there no pacemen left in the West Indies? Except for Fidel Edwards the rest are all medium pace journeymen. Is this really all the West Indies can produce? Why?

There seems to be no talent coming through. What talent there is heads for American sports as fast as they can run, catch or throw. That's where the money is and who can blame them. All the Curtley Ambroses are playing basketball and the Courtney Walshes are on the baseball diamond. Any big, strong lads from the islands are at U.S. universities on football scholarships.

Can nothing be done? Probably not. The next generation of WI cricketers are already lost. We may see the day soon when they will struggle to beat anyone. In 25 years they may be playing in the ICC tournament for non-test playing nations.

What a tragedy.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Saturation Point

Overkill or What?

Well. Here we are in June. The middle of June. Still we suffer from football overkill. Papers are full of “non-stories” about the Stevens Inquiry into bungs.

Best comment I heard today was a commentator on Sky News who make the case that supporters just couldn't care less. If their manager or officials of the club have been a bit naughty in transfer deals – so what?

As long as the club is doing well – who cares? Yes, that's how low we have sunk.

Why should supporters care what skulduggery has gone on in the past to secure the services of overpaid, overpriced players at their club? Disregarding the moral dimension, they should care because as long as vast sums “disappear” in shady deals there is less chance of holding the clubs to account for their shabby treatment of supporters. Tickets overpriced? Too bad. Delia's dinners not up to scratch? Tough luck!

Simple scenario: if the club chairman thinks this or that player will make all the difference (rarely the case); what incentive is there for him to play by the rules and above board? None. Conversely, what incentive is there for him to involve the club in shady deals with other clubs, their officials or football agents? Many. Chances of getting caught? Almost nil. Lord Stevens is after the agents – not the clubs.

Bottom line: nothing of substance will change.

What is more irksome is the endless non-stories about football that populate the local press. Today is a good example. The back three pages are devoted to football. The lead story is the “non-story” about non-allegations by Lord Stevens about non-transgressions by some mangers at some football clubs. What a great story!

Lest anyone forget – four pages in are stories about Youssef Safri (a player of very little talent capped by a country of players with very little talent) who happens to be a NCFC player. The story is no story, just an ambling amusement of rambling by Safri about what he hope to do next season. Hopefully, though he forgets to mention it, his hopes include promotion to the Premiership. Instead we are treated to his estimation of the footballing prowess of Zimbabwe! The remaining stories on that page consist of the usual non-story transfer news and the sickening report that the grokles at Norwich are queuing up to part with their cash to get scarce season tickets! Sick?

Finally five pages in is the news that Beefy is to get a knighthood. There is some news of international cricket six pages in – but there are no reports about local teams, local players, or local leagues. Staggeringly shocking!

Make me PM. Get rid of Gordo. I'll ban football except for amateur matches. After all – that's where it started!!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bean Counters

Crazy Finances

The Government is expected to announce today that the NHS has made a surplus of more than £500 million in the past financial year after an aggressive drive to reduce spending by health trusts. - The Times

On Sky News this morning:

Eamon, “Can you tell us, is the NHS a service or a business?

Patricia, “It's a service, but actually it must be business-like.”

Why can't we get a real debate about NHS finances? One that focuses on the real issues. One that tells the truth about how the service is financed. A debate that is not led by the bean-counters agenda.

Could someone tell us how the NHS can go from being in debt – to the tune of millions – to having a surplus – all in the space of a few weeks? It's just a nonsense.

The truth is no-one knows what the real financial situation of the NHS is because the bean-counters make the rules, change the rules and (seemingly) change the rules for changing the rules. Only the great British public could be flannelled by such a blatant misuse of power, language and logic.

So, when the media reports about a Primary Health Care Trust being “overspent”, what does that really mean? It means that they have exceeded their budget. Who made the budget? The government. What criteria have the government used to set the budget? No-one knows. Have they tried, as you and I would have to do, to match the income of the NHS to the expenditure? Who knows?

There is no meaningful measurement of NHS income. All the money from National Insurance contributions simply ends up at the Treasury. Only a proportion of this is for the NHS, some should go for unemployment, some for pensions, and so on. What is the exact sum allocated to the NHS in a year – on which a budget could sensibly be based? Who knows?

In the absence of an income statement, there is no NHS budget. Never has been. The NHS budget is simply what the government says it is. Unless the public can understand this the politicians can simply make up numbers. The result? In any one week you get stories about expensive new drugs bankrupting the NHS juxtaposed with the story about NHS budget surpluses.

I confidently predict that the bean-counters will continue to drive the debate. After all, it's in their interest, not ours, for the issues to be presented in budgetary terms. That's their business. They will continue to shift paper clips from one side of the desk to another and publish statistics.

It's sad that the government simply abdicates its responsibilities to the very people they should be holding responsible.