Thursday, February 28, 2008


Off for what should hopefully be a relaxing family weekend - despite a forecast of snow!! Heck I might even find some time for a bit of online poker due to the wonders of hotel wifi.

I've been doing a little more tidying up on the blog template recently, as well as adding a translation section on the left, courtesy of all powerful Google.

I can't imagine how much it would have cost to get a site of this size translated into multiple languages a few years ago. Now it's entirely free.

Maybe that Rising Sun icon will get a few clicks as the Japanese influence at Celtic grows, courtesy of Koki Mizuno. I really hope that guy is a success - not only since he looks skillful and quick, but because his name is such an absolute gift for song writers!

My language skills are almost nil, so it's difficult to know how good a job these robotic translation services do. All I know is they are 100% more effective than anything I could come up with.

It's been a long time since I trawled through the blogroll, so that's another thing on the todo list for next week.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

More Fun With Donald McVicar

In the early days of this blog I had an entertaining correspondence with Donald McVicar, SFA referee-in-chief.

The basis of the correspondence being that referee Stuart Dougal had inadvertently confessed on the SFA Whistleblower website to wrongly awarding a penalty against Celtic during a game against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, when the actual aim of the article was to justify the decision.

Here's another interesting example from the same site.

Last season - Celtic player Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink scores a late winner against Inverness Caledonian Thistle (them again!), celebrates with crowd, and is booked by referee Iain Brines - which is effectively a red card as it is his second booking of the game.

Utterly and indisputably correctly, according to both Mr Brines and Mr McVicar.

Not the unerring certainty of the words. The complete lack of any scope for interpretation of this rule...

Iain Brines: "I had no option to show the card....instructions over the past three seasons have been perfectly clear. The player ran off the pitch and over the track to the terracing boundary where he was surrounded by spectators..."

Donald McVicar: "Clubs, managers, players and all those closely involved in the game are aware that spectators should not be encouraged to run down to the perimeter wall or fence. This is a proactive measure to reduce the risk of injury to fans who might fall or be trampled in the rush.

If anone[sic] is in any doubt about the serious[sic] of the instructions they need only contact any of the Police Match Commanders at games or the club Safety Officers, all of whom have clear views on the need to be preventative. It is most unfair for those in the media to brand referees as killjoys in such situations. They are only carrying out instructions."

No scope for interpretation. It must be a booking. Fair enough them; no complaints.

But wait, what's this I see...

Celebrating? Or Escaping?Or
Hmmm, looks to me like wantaway Rangers striker Daniel Cousin celebrating with the crowd after scoring today against Gretna. Either that, or he spotted a tunnel in the Broomloan Road Stand that he hoped led to Fulham.

No matter, a booking no doubt. After all, as Mr McVicar says that is what referees are instructed to do. Mr Brines ASSURED us there was 'no option'.

Except, of course, there was no booking.

It seems today's referee - Calum Murray - doesn't know how to follow instructions.

Will we see an apology on The Whistleblower? Don't count on it.

Will we see Mr McVicar accept the decision was wrong? I doubt it.

Will we see more examples of dodgy decisions over the remainder of what looks sure to be a tight run in? You betcha!

If there's one thing about 'The Establishment' it knows how to close ranks in an hour-of-need.

Look for more invisible hand balls, mysterious offsides, debatable penalties, and more subtle influencing - such as the amazing Aiden McGeady booking count - as The Establishment attempts to fend off three-in-a-row for Celtic.

When Robert Met Shaun

So maybe I was a bit harsh on that Robert Marsden guy. All problems and not enough solutions.

To redress the balance, may I respectfully suggest he takes a lead from Shaun The Sheep, and shapes up a little.

Hint: Whole episode is funny, but it really picks up around 4:30 when the Stallone influence kicks in.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tough Love Now!

Spotted this story doing the rounds today, and could scarcely believe it.

Robert Marsden, age 40, weighs 41 stone and requires daily visits from carers. Due to his enormous bulk, it sometimes becomes difficult for the carers to move him. So they have to revert to the established procedure and call the fire brigade for assistance!

Which means TEN firefighters in two fire engines are dispatched to his house to shift him. This has happened FOUR times in a single week.

I have no problem with the carers summoning assistance. Otherwise sooner or later someone is likely to end up getting hurt. A friend's wife had her knee ligaments damaged when the hospital she worked in failed to provide proper lifting equipment, so I'm well aware of the dangers.

On so many other levels this is very wrong.

For starters, why does it have to be the fire brigade who are called out? Surely this is a golden opportunity for getting private enterprise involved.

Someone like Reliance - who do prisoner transfers - would be a good candidate, though with their record they'd probably end up going to the wrong house, or inadvertently heaving the guy away and dropping him at Barlinnie.

Maybe one of the airport baggage handling companies could take the contract. They are used to lumping heavy inanimate objects around. Perhaps the prospect of being exposed to their tender hands would motivate Mr Marsden to rediscover his mobility.

Taking my flippant free marketeers hat off, let's get down to the fundamental issue.

This guy is forty, unemployed, spends most of his day in bed, needs daily carers, and regularly requires the assistance of the emergency services. He claims he does not understand 'what the fuss was about'.

Well let me enlighten him. The fuss is about the fact he contributes nothing, while living off state benefits and routinely draining the state coffers due to his ridiculous weight. The state coffers funded by the rest of us who actually get out of bed in the morning and go to work.

Unless he does something to improve his condition there's no prospect of that drain diminishing, or him ever contributing a penny in tax until the day he dies. He is, effectively, a parasite gorging on the rest of us.

'My weight isn't something I like to discuss. It comes up in every conversation I have. I am tired of talking about it.' he says.

Credit where credit is due, at least he doesn't try to hide behind some mysterious medical condition. He is fat because he eats lots, and expends no energy.

How does he maintain his gargantuan weight? Given his obvious lack of mobility, he can't be routinely popping down to the shops for two litre bottles of Coke and family packs of crisps. The food must be brought to him; presumably by his carers or family.

Isn't this an obvious opportunity for some 'tough love'? Why are we paying for this guy to stay fat with the assistance of the local council, when all it's doing is prolonging his nonsensical condition.

Instead of Doritos and Monster Munch, why not just stick him on a lettuce and carrot diet until he is thin enough to get his own food?

No doubt human rights legislation would have something to say about that, but what rights are someone really entitled to when they have eaten themselves into a state of utter helplessness?

There are schoolkids in Scotland being told they can't study the courses they wish to because the council can't afford to fund them. Surely their rights are more important when it comes to allocating council cash?

The only positive thing I can see in Mr Marsden's current state is if he can't move, he can't be sat beside me on a train or plane.

If the carers can't give him some tough love, at the very least, the next time the fire brigade are called out, they should make a stand and nail his kitchen door shut.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Road To Somewhere

At first glance the building of a new piece of motorway is hardly something to get excited about.

While bridges and buildings can impress through aesthetic splendour or engineering brilliance, a motorway is rather more mundane. Not much more than a big slab of tarmac built purely for functionality.

Yet I was both excited and relieved when the Scottish Government finally gave the go-ahead for the M74 Completion project.

Excited, because the final five mile stretch of motorway is so glaring an omission from the Scottish road network that it beggars belief.

Relieved, because it has taken a scandalous fourteen years since the completion of the previous phase to commence work on this phase. By the projected completion date of late-2011 an incredible seventeen years will have elapsed.

Seventeen years! Children have been born, reared, educated, and left home in the time it takes us to build five miles of motorway.

Of course some of the delays were self inflicted, as the environmental lobby made full use of the legal and planning processes to attempt to prevent construction ever commencing.

As the legal battles unfolded I've lost a lot of respect for the environmental lobby. I'm all in favour of saving the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, boosting public transport links, etc.

I'm also well of the 'M25 effect' - that boosting capacity simply boosts demand - but on the M74 link the environmental lobby seems to have mistaken connectivity for capacity. The fact is that a key link that should exist does not, which forces thousands of vehicles each day to route along the M8, causing congestion, pollution, and mind searing frustration.

For over a year I was subjected to the 'M8 slog' on a daily basis. I hated it.

A work colleague, who was clearly a masochist, commuted daily from Edinburgh by car. He told me he felt unable to properly converse with anyone for an hour after arriving at work, as it took him that long to depressurise from the journey in.

Eventually we both resigned.

Were the government proposing to widen the existing M8 route to ten lanes wide in each direction, I'd be out chaining myself to a tree too. They are not. They are putting in a sensible alternative route.

I'm equally glad to see the Scottish Government is also pressing ahead with several other major transport schemes.

The relatively new Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) administration may have gotten lucky to an extent in that several schemes devised by the old Labour/Lib-Deb coalition were nearing fruition when they came to power, but I have been impressed by how they've chosen to implement them and the apparent speed with which they have set the wheels turning.

The Edinburgh Airport Rail Link was one such scheme. The SNP undoubtedly did the right thing in canning the original risky and potentially ruinously expensive 'tunnel under the runway' scheme in favour of a more austere overground scheme tied in to the new Edinburgh trams route.

The SNP weren't keen on the trams, but I am. I've yet to visit a city with a tram network that didn't impress me. Somehow trams feel more secure than buses. They are better suited to moving large numbers of people, and electric power is infinitely preferable to diesel in an urban context.

There's a nifty little promo video for the trams here.

The Glasgow Airport Rail Link falls into the same basket as the Edinburgh Airport link. A no-brainer that has taken far too long to move from the debating chamber to the construction stage.

The new kid on the block is the Forth Replacement Crossing. It's hard to think of a more compelling business case for a new bridge than 'the existing one is falling down', but it seemed to take a change of administration for this to sink in with our esteemed leaders.

The existing bridge will still likely be closed to heavy vehicles before the new one is complete, thanks to the interminable delays in getting the project off the ground. Ridiculous.

The tangible progress we are finally making should of course be seen as a positive development, but in reality the completion of all the above projects will merely bring our transport infrastructure up to a barely acceptable level.

Of the outstanding projects that I'd still consider essential, the easiest to justify has to be Glasgow Crossrail.

The cost (probably £300m+ at current prices) is actually comparatively modest in the context of the estimated £16 billion cost of the new London Crossrail scheme, or the whopping £100 billion of liabilities the UK Government has assumed on behalf of Northern Rock.

The benefits in terms of improved connectivity, capacity increases, and reduced journey times are undeniable. At a time when the local network is maxing out, this seems to be another no-brainer scheme.

When was it first proposed? 1968. FORTY years ago, and still not a solitary length of rail has been laid. Suddenly the M74 link seems almost supercharged.

It would be churlish to mock recent progress, but let's not kid ourselves. There's a very long journey ahead. One of the biggest obstacles on that journey will be the challenge of integrating transport policy more effectively with other policies.

More on that later.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Get Me Mike McCurry On The Phone

OK, so the language is definitely NSFW, and it should be 'Mein F├╝hrer' not 'Mine Fuhrer', but that's just splitting hairs.

This had me crying with laughter. Put's the average British sitcom to shame.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Clearing The Decks

Last week I received an email from a very good friend expressing some concern for my welfare.

Among the criteria he cited as the basis of his concern were: non-attendance at the pub; lack of blog activity.

It's pretty difficult to argue with the facts here. Over the entire festive period and into New Year I was properly drunk once - albeit to such a spectacular level that it went way beyond properly drunk and more into the improper level. The blog activity speaks for itself.

There hasn't actually been any dark reason behind my disappearance from both the real and virtual social scenes. Just a vicious combination of work pressures, family issues, and ill health. At this time of year I seem to attract more bugs than the average UK prison.

Time to put things right!

It's symptomatic of the state the blog has fallen into that I can kick off the regeneration by doing the almost obligatory year-end review/New Year resolutions post in mid-February.

To do so, I had to go back and remind myself what the 2007 resolutions actually were. I was expecting abject failure, and was pleased to actually find a tickable box.

For 2007 I was comparatively unambitious in my online poker goals. I set only two, yet contrived to miss them both spectacularly.

Clear $6,000

2007 was a bad year! I didn't play anywhere near as much as I expected. When I did I either played badly or ran badly. Eventually time constraints and a lack of motivation drove down my table time.

I won a touch over $1000 for the year. Which is gravely disappointing, yet in a way still feels like a victory. 'Only' making $xxxx in a given time period has to be better than losing $yyyy in the same time period?

Deepen Experience of Other Poker Variants

This goal was basically sacrificed in pursuit of trying to remedy the shortcomings in the previous one. Trying to get a high volume of hands in at the table doesn't really lend itself to variants other than Hold Em.

Anyone who has tried multi-tabling HORSE, or even mixing Hold Em and PLO, will be able to attest to the mind altering possibilities of such a strategy.

Do Some Interesting Poker Related Stuff

Box ticking time. On 1st January 2007 I wrote:

A deliberately vague target. This could mean that long anticipated Vegas return. It could be satelliting into a decent size UK event. It could be a trip to one of the EPT events.

Much as I have no desire to live the life of a poker pro, I am envious of the travel opportunities it affords. Doing something along those lines would be a nice segue between poker and my wider ambitions in life.

On 9th October 2007 I landed at McCarran Airport to commence my second Vegas visit.

More than enough was written about that on my return. Suffice to say, I consider this box well and truly ticked.

The Vegas trip pretty much put a cap on my poker time for the year. I think subconsciously I may have burnt myself out by getting a bit too results oriented.

Another lesson learned and not one that will put me off in the longer term (gotta love that phrase). Without poker I wouldn't have gone back to Vegas and got the chance to do this...

For this year I'm not setting any real poker goals. What I am aiming for in the non-poker area is a progression of my aims in terms of simplifying my life and keeping my finances on course for early retirement.

I don't see any point expanding on this at present, as I hope to write more about it soon. Time will tell whether I keep to my resolution.