Archive for December, 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 62,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Looking Back On 2012

Well, 2012 is almost over and it seems as though the world didn’t end in some Mayan catastrophe. So let’s have a look back at some of the highlights of what was an action packed year in so many fields.

Why not start with sport? And what a sporting year 2012 was, with Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France, Andy Murray taking his first Grand Slam title, Spain adding another international football trophy and Europe producing an incredible comeback to pinch the Rider Cup. Then there was the London Olympics, with more success for Wiggins and Chris Hoye on the track, new heroes including Jess Ennis and Mo Farrar emerging and more brilliant performances from the incomparable Usain Bolt.

Chelsea won their first Champions League trophy, Manchester City took the EPL in injury time of the very last game and Celtic won another league as well as reaching the last 16 of the Champions League with a great campaign that included a win over Barcelona. What an achievement for Sky Sports’ manager of the year Neil Lennon.

It was quite a year for sports then. But it did have its darker side too. Lance Armstrong was stripped of many titles after a doping scandal, racism in football remained a massive issue in many countries and Rangers FC went bust owing millions. (It’s the season of goodwill, so after a lot of debate I decided to include this here rather than the highlights …)

In world politics, we saw uprisings in the Arab Spring, Palestine admitted to the UN, a new leader anointed in China, the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy and Obama beating Romney to the US Presidency. But the year ended with the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that bought gun control back to the top of the American political agenda.

Here in the UK we saw the phone hacking scandal, which led to the exposure of police, political and press collusion. The Leverson Report eventually recommended a new system of press regulation, but it remains to be seen if this will be implemented in full. And more banking scandal news saw the exposure of rate fixing as well as many more large bonuses.

It was not a good year for the British state, with many controversies that were once dismissed as left wing conspiracy theories being exposed as reality. Security service involvement in the murder of Irish lawyer Pat Finucane was finally confirmed, as was the torture of prisoners in Iraq. And the Hillsborough families finally saw official recognition of police cover up and lies in the aftermath of 96 Liverpool fans’ deaths.

Allegations of police conspiracy during the miners’ strike also refuse to go away, with many bogus charges and unsafe convictions being challenged. The full story of police behaviour and army involvement during the strike has still to come out.

In UK politics it was the year of the double dip recession, more government cuts and a proposed benefits freeze. But there is no economic plan B and so austerity will continue. The budget was a complete mess, with pasties and caravans suddenly in the news as Chancellor George Osborne was forced into a series of u-turns as his plans unravelled. The tax cuts for the rich remain in place though. And Tory divisions on Europe and marriage equality continue to dog David Cameron.

The Tories under Cameron and Osborne have continued to lose support while Nick Clegg and his Lib Dems remain trapped in the coalition knowing than an election would lead to massive losses. Labour has a large poll lead, but has Ed Miliband really captured support, or is this simply a protest against an unpopular government? For me he has still to set out a real alternative to the current shambles – but he has time to do so.

In Scotland the big news was the announcement that agreement had been reached for Westminster to transfer the power to hold a single question independence referendum to the Scottish Parliament. But the vote won’t actually take place until 2014. Strangely, given that success, it was actually a pretty bad year for Alex Salmond, who was forced to apologise to Parliament over wrongly denying education spending cuts and caught out by giving a misleading impression over the lack of legal advice on the EU. New Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont caused controversy by beginning a debate on universal entitlements, but overall she has made a decent start in her new position.

There were other big news stories in 2012. It was a bad year for the BBC with details of the Jimmy Saville abuse scandal emerging, to be followed by criticism of the Corporation’s role in the whole affair. Meanwhile the discovery of the Higgs Boson pushed scientific understanding forward, while the Olympics as an event were a massive success, but only after security failings almost derailed things.

The weather was even more of a talking point than ever, with everything from early droughts to late floods recorded. Who can say that there is not something to climate change? And, amongst the showers, much of the summer was spent on a series of events to try to persuade us that being ruled by the same person for sixty years is a good thing.

Abu Qatada finally left the country while Andrew Mitchell left the government after the Plebgate scandal, which won’t go away. Louise Mench left the Commons while Nadine Dorris left for the jungle, although unfortunately this was only temporary.

Several famous names did leave on a more permanent basis. Celebrity deaths in 2012 included first man on the moon Neil Armstrong and veteran actor Jack Klugman. Singers Levon Helm, Davy Jones, Robin Gibb, Donna Summer and Etta James all took a final bow, as did musicians Jon Lord and Ravi Shankar. Jack Ashley, MP and tireless campaigner for the disabled and architect Oscar Niemeyer also died, as did other big names such as Larry Hagman, Vidal Sassoon and Gore Vidal.

So 2012 was quite a year – and I’m sure there were a few other stories that I missed out on. Whatever your particular highlight was I hope it has been a good one for you.

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SpockSo is everyone busy preparing for the Winter Solstice celebrations? Or will you be celebrating Christmas instead?

Now some will see this as a silly question, as everyone “knows” that 25th December is Christmas Day, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, while the Winter Solstice is a totally separate occasion on 21st December.

But it’s actually not as simple as that.

The Winter Solstice does indeed happen on 21st December. Technically this is the moment in time when the earth tilts furthest from the sun. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. The word solstice comes from the Latin phrase for “sun stands still”.

The Winter Solstice is essentially the year’s darkest day, but it’s almost never the coldest, as oceans are slow to heat and cool and the seas still retain some warmth from summer.

For thousands of years the winter solstice has been celebrated as the rebirth of the sun by societies who placed astronomy and the turning of the seasons at the centre of their beliefs. One of the functions of Stonehenge, built at least 4,000 years ago, is to mark the time of the solstice.

And as many of these societies worshipped the sun as a deity, the idea of the winter solstice marking the birth of a god an ancient one.

Roman pagans introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between 17th and 25th of December. The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule”. The victim was then forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week.

At the festival’s conclusion on December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman.

This was actually based on an older Greek festival. The ancient Greek historian Lucian (in his dialogue entitled Saturnalia) describes the festival’s observance in his time. In addition to human sacrifice, he mentions widespread intoxication, going from house to house while singing naked, rape and other sexual license and consuming human shaped biscuits.

On December 25th, many pagan Romans celebrated Natalis Solis Invincti, the Birthday of the Invincible Sun God, Mithras. The Mithras cult originated in Persia and rooted itself in the Roman world in the first century BCE.

And then, somewhere around 320 CE, the Christian church decided to import the Saturnalia and Mithras festivals into its own rituals, hoping to bring the pagan masses in with it. Christian leaders did indeed succeed in converting large numbers of pagans by promising them that they would continue to celebrate the Saturnalia.

But they decided to rename the festival to make it less pagan sounding. They chose to mark the final day of the festival, December 25th, with a special mass to mark the birth of Jesus, calling it the Christ Mass. The earliest Christmas holidays were celebrated by drinking, sexual indulgence and singing naked in the streets – an early form of carolling, perhaps, although I guess it has changed a little since then!

So it was a deliberate decision of the Christian church to locate Jesus’ birth on 25th December. Nowhere in the bible is the date mentioned. There is no suggestion in Christian mythology that the nativity even took place in December.

And indeed many of the traditions that we now associate with Christmas come from very different, and non Christian, traditions.

The Celtic festive of Yule is celebrated at the solstice; the name refers to the wheel of life. The winter solstice was considered a mysterious and powerful time. After the longest night of the year the sun is seen as growing stronger and the eventual return of the warmer season is welcomed

The Celtic tradition of bringing sprigs of holly and ivy into the home pays homage to the masculine and feminine elements. Both plants are evergreen, a reminder in itself that the earth never dies, but merely sleeps during the winter months. The male element is represented by the prickly holly, with its sexually potent red berries. The mistletoe is the female; entwining, gentle yet powerful. The idea of “decking the halls” seems to have started in London in the 15th century.

The use of a Christmas tree seems to come from 16th century Germany. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.”

And the eating of turkey on 25th December seems to have been imported to the UK from a native American custom.

So Christmas is merely the Christian version of several very much older festivals based around the Winter Solstice. And any talk of the true meaning of Christmas should really include the honouring of ancient festivals that go back much further than 1,700 years.

It’s only logical after all, as Mr Spock would surely say.

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In last week’s Autumn Statement George Osborne told the House of Commons that he had missed all of his own economic targets and therefore had to extend the period of austerity and make further cuts. Plan A isn’t working so let’s try Plan A again, in effect.

As part of his proposal, the Chancellor wants most welfare benefits for those of working age to be increased by a mere 1% per annum for the next three years – well below the expected rate of inflation in each year. A cut in other words. And he will introduce a bill to the House of Commons in order to force a vote on the matter.

Osborne and his boss David Cameron think this is all a jolly common room wheeze. A little political game to put the opposition on the spot, meaning they must either support their cuts, or oppose them and risk being called wild and reckless spenders.

Now for a moment let’s ignore the callous spectacle of a couple of millionaires playing politics with the benefits relied on by the poorest in society to live. Let’s forget that most of those who would find themselves with less money every week are working and on low incomes, exactly the “deserving poor” that this government pretends to support.

Let’s look at this from the point of view of the Labour opposition. What should they do?

Frankly if they do not propose an amendment to uprate all benefits by at least the rate of inflation in each year then they deserve the condemnation of every decent person in the country. And if they go along with Osborne and Cameron’s cuts then they will betray everything that the Labour Party has ever stood for.

There are times when courage and conviction are required. And this is exactly the occasion where Ed Miliband must stand up and show us what he is made of.

But in fact I actually don’t accept that the Tory trap is as clever as the posh boys think. And I believe that a positive case for protecting the poorest in society from the Tories’ economic failure can be made if Labour has the political fortitude to do so.

We know that the tabloid press likes to portray everyone on benefits as workshy scroungers. And yes we all know that there are some who milk the system. Just like there are some companies, large as well as small, who cheat on their taxes. But there are many more people on benefits who are unemployed and would love to work, or who can only find part time work, or earn a low wage and would be delighted to earn enough not to have to rely on top up benefits. The fact that they cannot find such jobs is simply not their fault. The economy is so weak – a triple dip recession cannot be ruled out – that the jobs simply do not exist in most parts of the country.

The basic rate of Jobseekers Allowance is currently £56.25 per week for those under 25 and £71.00 for those aged 25 or over. Do you think George Osborne could live on £71 for a week? He probably spends more on a bottle of wine to have with Sunday lunch. Yet he thinks it right to make a cut in such a paltry amount just to play a political game.

Remember that each and every MP can claim expenses of up to £160 per week for food – on top of an already healthy salary. And they have restaurants in the House of Commons where meals are subsidised by the taxpayer too. There’s no risk of our elected representatives having to choose between food and heating as the temperatures fall below zero.

A letter in the press last weekend from 59 charities and other leading organisations stated that the proposed cuts would plunge many more children into poverty and put at risk the principles of the welfare state. They say that the cuts are “punitive, unfair, and must not happen”.

Come the Commons debate Ed Miliband will have an opportunity to stand up for the forgotten millions in Britain today. He will have the chance to lead opposition to cuts that would cause yet more misery and hardship for so many who are already struggling.

He must take up the challenge – but not just because it could be a politically popular move. He should do so because it is the right thing to do.


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Mr Green and The Share Issue

In the latest instalment of this year’s longest  running saga, Charles Green is now offering to sell you some shares. But these are not shares in the old Rangers Football Club (in liquidation). Or even his shiny new The Rangers Football Club of division three.

No, these shares will come from yet another company: the rather grandly titled Rangers International Football Club PLC.

There are now rather a lot of different companies around containing the word Rangers in their name, so perhaps a not-so-short recap is required.

It all started with Rangers Football Club, formed in March 1872 and named after an English rugby club. This club incorporated to become Rangers Football Club Ltd and later became a public limited company as Rangers Football Club PLC. In February it went into administration, ceased to play professional football and is now in the process of being liquidated by BDO. Its name has, confusingly, been recently changed to RFC (2012) PLC.

Then we have the totally separate The Rangers Football Club Ltd, formed in 2012 as Sevco Scotland Ltd. It bought the assets from the former SPL club and is currently playing in Scotland’s third division.

And now we have Rangers International Football Club PLC, founded last month and already on its second name, having started its life as Rangers Football PLC. It is this body that is issuing shares – and hoping to raise £27,000,000 in the process.

Charles Green’s plan is that Rangers International Football Club PLC will become the owner of The Rangers Football Club Ltd. So rather than selling shares in a football club, Green is actually selling shares in a company that will have a football club as a subsidiary. I guess you could call it a Newco owning a Newco.

Green has stated that £17,000,000 of pledges have already been received from business investors, leaving £10,000,000 of shares to be sold. Taking into account the shares already owned by Green himself and others, the company would be worth £50M.

Now why would anyone buy shares in a company that owns a football club? Well, there are two reasons for buying shares.

Firstly, business investors buy shares to make money. That means they think the company will either make a profit, allowing it to pay them a dividend, or that its share price will rise and they can sell at a higher price than they bought for. Will a fourth tier Scottish football club be able to deliver this? Clearly there are some who think that it will – although the need to reward investors can be at odds with the needs of a football club at times.

Secondly, fans buy shares through emotional attachment, the desire to be a part of something. They can own a piece of the club and have the right to be consulted, to attend Annual General Meetings. (Note for fans of the former Rangers – Annual General Meetings, like annual accounts, are supposed to happen each and every year.) Fans don’t expect a return on their investment; they expect any money made to be reinvested in the club.

So there are likely to be two types on investor – and they have very different aims. But then that’s true for most football clubs.

In order to sell shares Green has issued a lengthy prospectus in the form required by law, and that gives a range of information about his plans. There are some interesting things in there.

Apparently a risk to the new company is that it is “financially dependent on the Club’s supporters who are concentrated in Scotland.” What about the 500,000,000 worldwide supporters of The Rangers we have been told about? Where have they gone?

Another risk is that “A weak performance in league and cup competitions could cause revenue to fall”. An interesting statement given that The Rangers have already failed in the Ransden’s Cup and the Scottish League Cup this season. And with an away tie to an SPL club in the Scottish Cup to come, that could become a hat trick of cup exits.

Part 7 of the extensive document is titled Information On The Company. In its introduction it claims that “Having played in the SPL since its inception, the Club was voted out of the SPL in July 2012 and began preparing to rebuild from Division 3 of the SFL.” A somewhat inaccurate statement on several grounds. And, strangely, words like liquidation and newco are entirely absent.

The myth of the Zombie Rangers continues, it seems. Still, we all know the truth:

No matter how Charles Green attempts to dress it up, a newco equals a new club. When the CVA was thrown out Rangers as we know them died.”

Who said that? Football journalist Jim Traynor. Yes that’s right. The same Jim Traynor who has just been appointed as Director of Communications for The Rangers.

Under Assets, the prospectus states that there are two key properties owned: Ibrox Stadium, valued at £65.2M and Murray Park, valued at £14M. Now given that the new club bought these assets from the old club for a sum of £5.5M, I’m sure that liquidators BDO will be taking note of their reported current value.

We also find out a bit about The Rangers’ key directors and employees. As well as nice little pen pictures of their massive achievements, we learn that CEO Charles Green earns “an annual salary of £360,000 per annum (plus benefits and expenses including accommodation costs)”. Green is also entitled to a bonus of a further £360,000 if the club wins promotion from the SFL. Quite how that might happen given that Green has stated several times that The Rangers will never play in the SPL, I really don’t know. Walter Smith gets £50,000 per annum for his role as a non executive director, as do several others.

We also learn that The Rangers’ manager earns a basic £700,000 per annum, which is apparently “commensurate with his experience and the payment received by people similarly employed in the football industry.” Yes, it really is Ally McCoist they are talking about here. Experience? On Question Of Sport maybe.

And I’m sure that statement will be of interest to all other third division managers. I don’t know exactly how much any of them are paid, but I would be willing to be that none are on anything like thirteen grand a week.

So that’s the current state of play with The Rangers. Investors are now required to raise funds that would allow essential repairs to the stadium, as well as to strengthen the playing pool. Once the current ban on new signings has finished of course.

Well, do you fancy buying shares in a new company that owns a new third division football club? If so, they will cost you 70p per share and you have until 1:00 p.m. on 18 December 2012 to apply.

I think I’ll pass.

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Celtic defeated Spartak Moscow last night to secure a place in the elite last sixteen of the Champions League. Qualification for the lucrative knock out rounds is the reward for a superb European campaign by Neil Lennon’s side.

The qualification process began for Celtic back on 1st August with a home match against HJK Helsinki.  A 4 – 1 aggregate win was followed up with two 2 – 0 wins over Helsingborgs, which took Lennon’s young side into the group stages of the competition, in with the big boys of European football.

Seeded fourth in a group containing Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow, Celtic were given little chance of a top two place. Indeed ITV Sport immediately sent out a tweet saying “Bye bye Celtic.”

The group kicked off with a home game against Benfica and a cagy 0 – 0 draw was not perhaps the ideal start. But a thrilling 3 – 2 win in Moscow gave a platform for Lennon’s men to build on. A trip to the Nou Camp was next and it was to be heartache for Celtic. An injury time goal gave Barcelona all three points when an unlikely draw was so nearly secured.

The second half of the campaign saw a thrilling home victory against Barcelona in the return match. One of Celtic’s greatest European results meant that qualification was a real possibility – although a defeat in Portugal meant that everything would come down to the final match.

Simply put, Celtic had to better the result that Benfica achieved in Spain against a weakened Barcelona side, already assured of winning the group. Celtic’s victory in a tense match was made even more nerve wracking by the knowledge the other match stood goalless. A single goal for the Portuguese side would have made the result at Celtic Park irrelevant, but Benfica failed to take their chance. It was joy for Neil Lennon and Celtic, finishing second in the group with 10 points.

Qualification for the last 16 is a superb achievement for a side from the fourth pot, who were ranked as the 63rd best team in Europe at the start of the season. Only Celtic, Malaga and Borrusia Dortmund of the eight clubs from the lowest tier of seeding have qualified for the knock out stages.

And the magnitude of the achievement is shown even more clearly when you consider that the likes of Chelsea, the current champions of Europe, and EPL winners Manchester City are both out of the competition.

The draw for the last sixteen takes place on 20th December. Celtic can play any of seven clubs: PSG, Schalke, Malaga, Borrusia Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern Munich or Manchester United. There are some fine teams within that list of group winners – but only the last two are pot one teams, and both Dortmund and Malaga are seeded below Celtic.

So is the last eight a realistic possibility? It won’t be at all easy – but it is certainly not impossible. And none of the teams on that list will fancy a trip to Celtic Park in February.

Whatever happens in the next stage of the competition, tremendous credit must go to Neil Lennon and his players for their performances in Europe so far. As well as bringing in a tremendous financial boost to the club, the coefficient points achieved will improve the club’s standing in Europe, making future campaigns that little bit easier.

For the Celtic fans there have been new memories made and new heroes created. And the journey is not over yet.

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