Friday, 21 August 2009

David Mitchell's Soapbox: Waste

David Mitchell's Soapbox: Waste

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Over the past 24 weeks, the comedian David Mitchell has presented a series of observations on a range of random issues. They are essentially 4 minute rants delivered in the familiar Peep Show sarcasm mould. I'd recommend you have a look at his others via the above link.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Lockerbie Families Deserve Inquiry

It's not often that Hernandez dips his fingers into the bowl of world politics, but the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds today merits consideration. The move has caused widespread anger, most notably in the US with President Obama describing it as a "mistake". On the face of it their anger is perhaps understandable. Megrahi was convicted in 2001 for the murder of 270 people of which 189 were American. He was sentenced to 27 years yet has served just 8, having lost an appeal in 2002. Aside from the arguments for his release, the Scottish Government's handling of the affair has been utterly shambolic. Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill's bizarre decision to visit Megrahi in Greenock prison earlier this month has fuelled specualtion of a deal preserving diplomatic relations with Libya. And today, the SNP have predictably attempted to use the worldwide exposure as a nationalistic points-scoring exercise, clearly a reminder that Scotland now makes its own decisions and is a separate entity from the UK.

The delivery of MacAskill's statement at todays press conference also had a rather odd tone, almost 'sermon' like as noticed by the BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor. It is reasonable to assume that the tone was for the benefit of the US audience, particularly the reference to a "higher authority". Apart from airy references to Scottish morals, values and beliefs, the statement lacked any real justification or reasoning, perhaps a hint that there were in fact diplomatic motives behind the release. Despite MacAskill's assurances, it seems unlikely that his release was motivated purely by 'compassion' or 'mercy'. Can we assume that from now on any prisoner with a terminal illness will be released and allowed to return to his family?

There is growing suspicion (in Scotland at least) that Megrahi's original trial may have been flawed and that his conviction may be unsafe. Many believe, including some of the families themselves, that Megrahi has been made a convenient scapegoat. Tam Dalyell, the former father of the House of Commons, has persistently argued Megrahi's innocence, saying that:

"Mr McAskill has arrived at the right decision on compassionate grounds. I do not accept his endorsement of the guilt of Mr Megrahi, whom I continue to believe had nothing whatsoever to do with the crime of Lockerbie".

Tellingly, back in 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission recommended that Megrahi be granted a second appeal, suggesting that the full facts did not come out through the original trial. It does seem unlikely that Megrahi could have acted alone and organised the bombing without significant support, if indeed he was involved at all.

Whether he was responsible for the atrocity or not, Megrahi has only months to live. It appears that he has sacrificed any chance of clearing his name in order to spend his remaining time with his family. For the sake of the Scottish legal system, it is essential that a full public inquiry is held into the case. Otherwise the real tragedy will be that the victims families will be denied closure, as reflected in the words of Jim Swire who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing:

""I think for those of us who have looked carefully at the evidence and have doubts, we cannot achieve that until we're quite sure that it really is true and it could be proved that it were true that he was the one that did it. It's no good trying to have closure on false foundations"

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Big Season Ahead at Anfield

Liverpool came agonisingly close to clinching the Premier League last season, and it was only Manchester United's superior depth of squad that won it in the end. Glen Johnson remains the only new arrival at Anfield this close season, and further additions will be needed if Liverpool are to realistically compete for the title again this season. There is still a feeling that the side is over reliant on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard for goals, so a top class striker should certainly head Benitez's priorities. I would put forward Eidur Gudjohnen as a potentially useful addition. The ex-Chelsea man is an intelligent forward who could in theory provide an ideal foil for Torres. He is currently struggling to command a regular berth in the Barcelona team and a move could suit all parties - and is likely to come relatively cheap as well. However David Villa remains the most sought after striker in Europe, and Fernando Torres has made no secret of his wish to line up alongside his international striking partner at Anfield. Villa would not come cheap, but the estimated £30m generated from the sale of Xabi Alonso, together with the unspent part of the current budget, could provide the funds needed. Alonso will be a big loss, but Liverpool will not suddenly slide into mid table obscurity as a result of his departure. Alonso is undoubtedly a class act - arguably the finest passer in Europe - but he can be replaced. It is comforting to remember that Liverpool's best result of last season - the 4-1 drubbing of Manchester United at Old Trafford - was achieved without Alonso. Rumours have focused on the Roma midfielder Aquilani as a replacement, although admittedly I know next to nothing about him. For my money Mascherano would be a more serious loss to Liverpool than Alonso, so it is pleasing to hear of reports that Barcelona have cooled their interest in the Argentinian. I also believe Benitez needs to strengthen the centre back position, and he could do worse than Fulham's giant Norwegian Brede Hangeland.

Apart from further signings, I would like to see some of the younger players step up to the plate this season. In particular, Emiliano Insua looks a reall prospect in the full back position, and should provide healthy competition for Glen Johnson and Fabio Aurelio. Martin Kelly is highly rated at Melwood and this could be a big season for the England U-19 international. He could be the long term successor to Jamie Carragher. In midfield, local lad Jay Spearing is a fiesty competitor with a touch of the Steve McMahon about him and who impressed when he was given the opportunity last season. Up front it could be the right time to blood Daniel Pacheco and Kristiaz Nemeth. I remember watching Pacheco last pre season and even then he was obviously a class act - fantastic technique and a neat finisher, albeit a little raw. Nemeth looks a special player and has been on the fringes of the first team squad for some time, but was badly hampered by injury problems last season. Benitez obviously knows better than I do as to when the time is right for them, but if Alex Ferguson is prepared to give the likes of Macheda and Welbeck an opportunity in big games, I see no reason why Nemeth and Pacheco shouldn't.

The Russian Experience

One my long standing travelling ambitions is to do the Trans-Siberian Express railway journey from St Petersburg to Vladivostok. From the Guardian website, Marcel Theroux (the big brother of Louis) provides an interesting flavour of what long distance locomotive travelling in Russia might entail. With regard to the young Russian couple in the first part, you'd be quite right in thinking 'HOW THE HELL DID HE GET HER?!'