Thursday, 30 June 2011

If FIFA is open to everyone...time to end Nigeria's homophobic practise

FIFA aren't having the best of times in dealing with homophobia in their sport. When they awarded the 2022 World Cup a country where homosexuality is illegal, their 'elected' demagogue Sepp Blatter said, "I'd say they [gay fans] should refrain from any sexual activities." He said when it was rewarded that people were too concerned about a tournament that was 12 years away (of course FIFA had only just awarded their most advanced tournament deal that far in advance.

He did try to clarify his position by saying:

"You see in the Middle East the opening of this culture, it's another culture because it's another religion, but in football we have no boundaries. We [FIFA] open everything to everybody and I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings be it on this side or that side, be it left, right or whatever.

"But this gives me the opportunity to say that in Fifa, and this is in the statutes of Fifa, whether it is in politics, whether it is in religion, we don't want racism, and we know what this means, and neither do we want discrimination. What we want is just to open this game to everybody and open it to all cultures and this is what we are doing in 2022."

Eucharia Uche who led the homophobic witch hunt in her squad
So let us go forward less than 12 months and the Women's World Cup, where one of the competing nations Nigeria, has gone on a witch hunt of their team to purge themselves not of bad players but of good players who were lesbians, or merely accused of lesbian activity.

Surely if FIFA truly are open to all they should have condemned this member nation of taking such action. Surely they should have implemented some sanction for a National Federation so openly homophobic to proudly declare that they have eliminated homosexuality from football in their country.

There is a petition to be signed (you don't need to include your mobile phone number as I found) to hold Sepp Blatter to his own words that World Cups are open to all, without prejudice and discrimination.

The President of the German Federation is behind this campaign and has issued the following statement:

"Our association resolutely combats any kind of discrimination. This also includes the fight against homophobia. The current issue around the coach of the Nigerian national team certainly requires further discussion. But this can only be done by the tournament host, which is FIFA."

The Women's World Cup is in full swing and FIFA is trying desperately to make the story go away and even trying to discredit the idea that there is a problem on the Nigerian team. But Nigeria's coach was very  clear when she spoke to The New York Times, when she said  "Homosexuality is a dirty thing, spiritually and morally it is very, very wrong".

Artful Thursday 6 -Tour de France

6There are many ways that the Tour de France which starts on Saturday has been captured in art. By far the most common way is through photography there are a great many images going back over the previous 97 races that can sum up the competition, the pagentry, the scale of the Tour. I have decided to just chose one of two of the leader in a close, physical battle on a mountain stage. In this picture Raymond Poulidor (who came up against the eras of both Jacques Anquetil and Eddie Merckx and never wore yellow in Paris) is taking on Anquetil.

Of course there are many monuments and statues dedicated to the Tour. This rather spectacular one is at a service station near Pau, often the gateway to the Pyrénées; indeed you can see the mountains in the distance. It illustrates the strugles, the twists and turns and the joy of triumph all in one.

Le Tour de France dans les Pyrénées (1995) by Jean-Bertrand Métais, l’Aire des Pyrénées nr. Pau

This David Gerstein Armstrong sculpture works just as well in 2D as a picture as a 3D Sculpture.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

And another thing...PCC says the Chancellor lied for #No2AV

The Press Complaint committee has upheld two complaints from Electoral Reform Services Ltd that the Chancellor George Osborne, as reported in the Daily Fail and the paper that shall not be named, LIED (OK the language used is that he was wrong) about the use of machines and that Electoral Reform Services Ltd would benefit from a Yes vote on 5th May.

Of course the whole issue of cost was a central tenet of the No2AV teams campaign. It was their opening batsmen, their leading goal scorer, their Oscar winning script, all rolled into one. Of course referendum communication we learnt during the campaign are not held by the Advertising Standards Agency code of conduct. But the PCC has found that the Chancellor has told untruths to fight this campaign, he may argue that he was merely echoing the statement from the No campaign. But if that was based on such a falsehood surely the Chancellor should have been more careful about what he said.

As I've pointed out before, such a breach by the Chancellor of the Treasury's own advice may actually be in breach of the ministerial code. While the PM take action against so senior a member who has broken the code. He restricted the role of the Business Secretary over the BSkyB takeover, about to take place tomorrow apparently, because he said publicly that he wasn't about to bow the knee to the mighty Murdoch. Yet his Chancellor has bowed the knee to the head of the Tax Payer's Alliance and their usual tactics to spread falsehood for political self preservation.

The only part of Westminster voting reform that was up to the public was the voting system, the Conservatives had already secured a reduction in the number of members which favoured them unfairly under the current system and required a change in voting system to provide a check and balance.

Well done George mission accomplished on that one, though it's hardly cricket. More Eton Wall Game. Oops did I spot that.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Jam Tarts are slowly catching the smarts

Craig Thomson seen promoting a kids reading scheme
It may be losing sponsors. It may the lose of fans. It may be the public outcry. But slowly the Jam Tarts aka  the Jambos aka Heart of Midlothian Football Club or just plain Hearts are catching up with public opinion over Craig Thompson.

Here is a brief recap of events.

On 17th June the 20-year-old defender pleaded guilty to lewd, libidinous and indecent behaviour towards two girls, aged 12 and 14 over the Internet. He was fined £4000 and placed on the sex offenders register.

A week later, 24th June, the club issued this statement. Opening with the line:

"What's happening with the club today is not a new thing. For almost 7 years we have been fighting to shield the club from crooks, criminals and thieves. Many of the top players at the club have felt the bitter results of the swindles that have been carried out with them on their own skin."

Continuing with a clear reference to the Thomson affair to conclude with:

"Mafia are dragging kids into the crime, in order to blackmail and profit on them. It is not possible to separate these people from pedophiles, and you don't need to do that. Each year we are forced to fight against these maniacs harder and harder. We are standing in their way not letting them manipulate the game of football in the way they want. As such they undermine us in every possible way they can.

"The task of the club is to tear these kids out of hands of criminals."

That's right even though the player admitted guilt for the crime in a court of law it is still some external forces fault.

On Saturday they said that they had carried out their own investigation which had "provided a complete picture of the entire circumstances relating to the case" and "accepted that there are sufficient mitigating circumstances that provide significant assurance that the player's conduct, no matter how distasteful, was the result of a grave error of judgment due to naivety and possible wrong outside influence rather than anything more sinister and it will not be repeated." Therefore they seem to take the opinion that they are a higher court than the procurator fiscal.

On Sunday the BBC published a story about a call to sack the player.

Yesterday the clubs drink's sponsor was the first to formerly sever ties with the club.

Today the club have suspended the player. However, as with their statement on Friday they are still claiming mitigating circumstances.

"In reaching this decision, the club accepted that there are sufficient mitigating circumstances that provide significant assurance that the player's conduct, no matter how distasteful, was the result of a grave error of judgment due to naivety and possible wrong outside influence rather than anything more sinister and it will not be repeated." 

Apparently at the time of the conviction the Club knew of the guilty plead. Therefore what mitigating circumstances could there have been. If he was not guilty they should have fought that through the courts, it is not like Romanov (the Club Chairman and owner) doesn't have a team of lawyers at his disposal.

What any Scottish football fan is well aware of in that Romanov has a victims attitude. A footballing decision on the pitch goes against him, it is the SFAs fault. His player punches the lights out of another player on the park in front of 20,000 fans it was the opposition player's face that moved into the fist of the Hearts player.Therefore one of his players pleads guilty to a crime that he will know leads to him being placed on the sex offenders register (not a pleasant situation to be in if you are innocent) it is 'obviously' somebody else's fault.

It is time for the Hearts Board to grow a pair and do the right thing. Finally realise that they were not responsible for the player's actions but are responsible for the message that they send out in light of his conviction.

Monday, 27 June 2011

A Church that floats

The bible doesn't have the best of times with maritime adventures.

Jonah tried to flee on one but was caught up in storm, drew the short lot to appease the gods and was thrown overboard.

Jesus's disciples set out on one on the Sea, it got stormy and he came walking on the water.

As for Paul he got shipwrecked in the Med and ending up founding the basis of the Maltese Tourist trade.

However, one is planned to be used as a Church in Belfast's Titanic Quarter. One that will be cross denominational, cross community, with each denomination being asked to nominate a chaplain for the venture. Catholic and Protestant all in the same boat for the growing residential element of that newly developing quarter.

Rev. Chris Bennett (who featured on this blog before as our Titanic walking tour guide) who is one of the chaplains for the Dock Church says:

"To avoid being identified with one community or another, this shared space will be something radically different to the familiar church buildings of all traditions - a boat moored in the heart of the Titanic Quarter.

"Each denomination will be invited to provide a chaplain to the boat, just as they currently provide chaplains to work in shared spaces in universities and hospitals across Northern Ireland."

The business plan has been published and now the people behind hte project are looking for a suitable vessel, passenger ship or riverboat in the £250,000 - £400,000 price range to serve as the Church, community centrre and cafe.

Before anyone makes jokes about using a boat as a church in the Titanic Quarter, may I remind you all "That she was alright when she left here!"

#TDF The Teams 6 - HTC-Highroad

Cavendish first and Renshaw second in Paris 2009
There is no surprise that this team has two objectives. One is to get Mark Cavendish to the front of as many sprints as the Manx Missile can get to, the other other is that Tony Martin places as high as possible in the General Classification so therefore the team is designed with engines to help both to their goals.

Mark Cavendish (UK) 26 This years Tour isn't that good for him. Though that shouldn't stop Cav climbing from his tie for 12th for most stage wins. He currently has 15 one less than the great Jacques Anquetil. Expect that to be matched on stage three into Redon.  He may climb into 8th equal with France's Jean Alavoine on stage five to Cap Frehél, although watch those cross winds. Stage 6 unless he has improved his performance on uphill finishes may be beyond him, but stage 7 is ideal for the Missile to be launched into Châteauroux. He'll be struggling with the mountains from then until stage 15 to Montpellier. If this produces a fourth stage win he will have matched the first non-French winner of the Tour François Faber's 19 stage wins. All that would remain then would be the Avenue that the Manxman has owned the last two years the Champs-Élysées. By the end 20 stage wins is possible, with the help of the other eight men, but Cav will have to be perfect. 5th Tour Start: best 131st (2009) Six stage wins 2009, 2nd in the Points Classification (2010)

Tony Martin (Ger) 26 Last year didn't have so good an overall Tour, but did well in the Time Trials only losing out to Fabian Cancellara. Being the same age as Andy Schleck has meant that he has also missed on on winning the best Your Rider competition in the Tour, despite holding it for a long time in 2009. He will be the teams focus when the road goes up and Cav is sitting uncomfortably in the Autobus. He won Paris-Nice this year, including winning the Individual Time Trail a feat he repeated in the Volta ao Algarve. With ITT wins also in the Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour of the Basque Country look out for him come Grenoble. But also expect him to ride in the mountains more like he did in 2009, that year he was second in the Tour de Suisse and picked up the Mountain Jersey en route. 3rd TS: best 36th 2009

Mark Renshaw (Aus) 28 The Aussie's cheif task as in every Tour recently has been to make sure that with 200 metres to go in a mass sprint that there is a little Manxman on his back wheel and a clear chance for his change to hit the line first. Renshaw was kicked off last year's Tour for a head butting incident, but his charge carried on winning stages. In 2009 he gave Cav such a good lead out up the Champs-Élysées. he'd love to do that again some day with the man in front wearing green. I don't think that will be this year however, but he is an important cog as Cav focuses in on 20 stage wins. 4th TS: best 149th (2009)

Lars Bak (Den) 31 Having been national Time Trial Champion 3 years in a row and 5th in this year's Paris-Robaix he will be using his time trialling skils largely in pursuit of the escapees on the stages that Mark Cavendish is looking to win. Tour Debut

Bernhard Eisel (Aut) 30 He is another of the big engines in the crunch stage of the Manxman's train. A sprinter in his own right but he will sacrifice his all to help establish Renshaw and Cavendish in the right point. he finshed 4th in the Green Jersey himself in 2006 but will sacrifice it all for the sprint leader of this team. 8th TS: best 108th (2006) 4th in the Points Classification

Matt Goss (Aus) 24 Another sprinter on this team who could win stages on his own if Cav isn't there. He has won the sprint jersey in this year's Tour Down Under, a stage in Paris-Nice and won Milan-San Remo. He has a first and second pllce finish in stages of last year's Giro d'Italia and came third in a stage of last year's Vuelta a España. He is making his first start, but in years to come may well move teams to take on Cav as so many other young sprinters have had to do. Debut Tour.

Danny Pate (USA) 32 New to HTC this year the one time cyclo-cross US junior champion is a power house that will do long stints at the front to chase down a breakaway so their man can take the stage win. He'll then be one of the riders to help Martin for as long as possible in the mountain passes. 3rd TS: Best 95th (2008)

Teejay van Garderen (USA) 22 The young time trialist is another guy who will sacirfice himself at the front of a pursuit to bring the race back together for their man. He came 3rd in the 2010 Critérium du Dauphiné upsetting Alberto Contador in the Prologue, coming 5th and best Young Rider in this year's Tour of California he's earnt his first start in the Tour. Tour Debut

Peter Velits (SVK) 26 His twin brother Martin has not made the HTC team for this year, but his 3rd in the Vuelta a España (2010) including winning the ITT on stage 17, means that he will be the chief supporter for Martin in the Mountains. He was the most compative rider in the 2008 Tour on the road to Alpe d'Huez, wonder if he will do the same again this year. 4th TS: best 32nd (2009)

Stage wins are the main aim and getting as good a finish for Martin as possible a secondary objective. But the site of Cavendish arms raised in triumph is big business to try and lure in potential new sponsors to this team, and it needs them before the end of the Tour to keep going.

Dear Ken, I'm not susceptible to bribery nor a sub-species

Venal adj
1 : capable of being bought or obtained for money or other valuable consideration : purchasable; especially : open to corrupt influence and especially bribery : mercenary venal legislator;

2 : originating in, characterized by, or associated with corrupt bribery venal arrangement with the police;
Definition for the Merriam-Webster dictionary

Now this may be news to London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone, but I am not for sale. Nor are the values of the Liberal Democrats. Nor am I a sub-species, he should ask Michael Connarty if he considers me to a political sub species or not.

Look at the situation that the country faced last May. Labour could have formed an administration with the Liberal Democrats, it still wouldn't have had the number of MPs to force through any legislation so would have had to have bribed Northern Irish Unionist, all the Nationalists and whoever to get anything done.

Would such a government have been stable?

Looking at what the SNP seem to be demanding up in Scotland where they have a majority Government the answer would be no. We would now be finding ourselves highly unpopular with overseas investors and without the support of the Eurozone to even be forced to bale us out, who knows where our economy would be.

What the Liberal Democrats did by forming a coalition with the Conservatives was create some stability. We don't have an administration that lurches from one bill to the next uncertain of whether they will be able to afford to do anything on the whim of a really small party. If Ken thinks we are being venal for the sake of our own party he should look at the results in the polls last month. People have been punishing our party while we still wait for the medium term results of what we have been seeking to do come into light.

Tough decision have been made, ones that Labour put off until they had hoped to win a fourth term maybe. The problem being that in putting them off the decisions that had to be made got tougher. In the nine months from when the Liberal Democrats approved the pre-manifesto at Autumn conference 2009 until the election the following May, even in the month of the election campaign itself, figures emerged that made things we promised into things we aspired to. That is how bad things were getting, when all the while and even in last week's BBC Question Time Labour were still blaming it solely on a world wide situation and unable to look at the fact that because it was worldwide nobody else was in a fit state to help us out. We had to help ourselves, not simply blame everyone else.

Ken should have taken note that his own party were offering stuff to the Lib Dems last May as well. There is just one thing they were flicking through a catalogue and picking out things that the Lib Dems they knew would like, without wanting to change too much of what they wanted, or being able to ensure that when they placed the order that they would be able to deliver.

Last Thursday on STV Sophie Bridger even got her Tory Opponent in the Inverclyde by election to say that the Lib Dems had secure more fairness that would have been present in a Conservative minority government. As one of the tenets of why I am a Liberal Democrat is to bring fairness (not just when times are good but also when they are bad) I think we are doing things along the right lines. We still have a way to go of course, but soon that too I hope will be visible to all. But people like Ken are still moaning about the problems but incapable of giving coherent solutions, that is the current Labour malaise.

#TDF The Teams 5 - Vacansoleil-DCM

Vacansoleil-DCM are making thier debut in the Tour and indeed only one of their riders has riden the Tour before.

201 Roman Feillu (Fra) 27 The French sprinter has started three Tours but has yet to finish, but he had three top ten finishes in his first Tour won. He also managed to pull on the Yellow Jersey (along with the White Jersey) after stage three of the 2008 Tour. But both were short lived. He won three stages in this years Tour Méditerranéen. He doesn't have the raw speed of some of the top sprinters but if he can get into a break away that stays away he may have a chance of picking up a stage win.

202 Borut Božič (Slv) 30 The Slovenian has won the 6th stage on the 2009 Vuelta a España. He has also won a stage on this years Tour de Suisse. Having won the Tour de Wallonie in 2007 and 3rd in Paris-Tour in 2009. He is another sprinter on this team, so may also pick up a stage through a breakaway move, as he has done to get some of his most sucessful finished in classics.

203 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) 24 The young rider won the Mountain Classification in the 2009 Tour of Britain. This yeaar he has stages wins in the Tour de Suisse (7th) and Paris-Nice (1st) as well as the Circuit de Lorraine (3rd) in 3 which he took overall honours.

204 Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) 28 This rider in last year's Tour de Pologne claimed both the Sprinters and Mountain classifications. His Grand Tour experience includes a 12th in the 2009 Vuelta a España. He should be the highest placed of the team. Though may not be even in the top 20 come Paris.

205 Björn Leukemans (Ned) 33 Has had a number of top ten finishes in recent classics 7th Amstel Gold 2011, 9th Liège–Bastogne–Liège 2011, 6th Paris-Robaix 2010. With the first week of this weeks Tour being like some of those classic races you may well find him trying to race away from the field on some of the stages with the tougher finishes.

206 Marco Marcato (Ita) 27 Yet another sprinter on this team selection. With various stage podiums and performances in one day classics, 8th in the 2010 Amstel Gold Race. Likely to be used as a lead out man for Feillu.

207 Wout Poels (Ned) 23 The young Dutchman was the best Young Rider in this year's Tour Méditerranéen coming 3rd overall. A star for the future, though having also cocme 4th in this year's Vuelta a Murcia he may well be in contention for the White Jersey.

208 Rob Ruijgh (Ned) 24 A utility rider for the team who has yet to make his mark on any race. Though came 8th on stage one of this year's Dauphiné Libéré.

209 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) 28 The time trialist in the team having picked up a number of prologue wins in his career, this year's Tour of Belgium and the 2009 Tour de Picardie. Although he also picked up the Mountain Classification in the Three Days of De Panne while riding to second overall earlier this year.

With an inexperienced team with none having completed this tour it will be hard for Božič to make an impression but with sprinters looking to set up Feillu, or maybe with guys looking to get into breakaways on days that the psrinters teams aren't going to give chase they may pick up the odd stage win.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

PM's Constituency Chairman Dies Suddenly

This morning he was quoted in the Mail on Sunday as saying "There's no reason to join the Tories. We've come over as voracious, crass, always on the take".

This evening David Camerons's West Oxfordshire Constituency Party Chairman Christopher Shale has been found dead in a toilet in the VIP area at Glastonbury. His sudden death is not being treated as suspicious but as David Cameron has said ""a close and valued friend - a big rock in my life has suddenly been rolled away".

Having lost one such friend myself very suddenly recently my thoughts are with Mr Shale's wife and three grown up children, other family members and friends, including the Prime Minister. 

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Peace to bridge the Foyle

As a son of (at least) four generations of City of Derry* today marks an auspicious day for the City.

Since they have had the statue Hands Across the Divide two hands out stretched and not quite touching.

Hands Across the Divide (1992) Maurice Harron
Now from today there is the Peace Bridge. As one of those from Protestant descent whose direct family lived for as long as they could on the predominantly Nationalist west side (renamed from the Cityside in recent BBC coverage), though with lots of family on the east side (again renamed from the Waterside) I'm used to being on both sides of the City. But for many in the city they have never crossed to the other side of their city. There is less need to these days. Apart from maybe shopping which is in an area just across from the Bridge on the Cityside there is little need to venture further for most people.

Very few Protestants I guess will have walked through the Bogside area and taken in the murals of the Bogside Artists in the Poeple's Gallery. Very few from the Cityside will have ventured over to the Waterside Theatre. For the City of Culture 2013 surely it is time to embrace each others culture, or at least to not be afraid of being in each others presence.

The One Show had a sneak peak of the Bridge during the week and sent one person from each community across the bridge to meet in the middle. I happened to like that item a lot as my Dad's cousin George Glenn was one of the two people they interviewed and used for the meeting.

I for one hope that the Peace Bridge is sign of a shared future and that people will start to mingle in Londonderry again. The River Foyle for too long has been a divide (there are tiny exceptions). The City has changed a lot in its attitude and outlook. Here's to a bridge to a shared future.

*And I'm using the term as written on the family's 1901 and 1911 census returns.

Friday, 24 June 2011

It's's Norn Iron where were you sporting moments

Last Sunday, or actually early Monday morning all of Northern Ireland seemed to still be awake. The reason of course was a young 22-year-old from Holywood winning the US Open (you should see the signs all over Holywood). It will go down as one of those where were you moments in Northern Ireland's sporting history, indeed for many younger poeple it will be that when where you allowed to stay up late moments.

Here are some highlights from that final round.

Of course for my generation that stay up late moment came in 1985. Dennis Taylor completed the absolute greatest comeback in World Snooker history, having lost all the games in the first session, he came back to win it on the final black.

Then of course was there 1982, wee Northern Ireland had to beat Spain, the hosts, to progress to the next phase of the Wolrd Cup. We were down to ten men after a sending off. Then magic happened.

It's's gin o'clock

There is gin on my mind today. Some would say that gin is always on my mind.

Anyway back to the subject at hand, my favourite gin is Scotland's own Hendrick's*.Well the following is a video of something they say they will be unleashing today as the Bristol Foodie Fest

Of course bringing up gin leads me straight to the last gig I saw in Edinburgh before moving back to Northern Ireland. It was a solo Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy. Of course on a night like that there was only one option of beverage for me that night.

* Other gins are available through the various distillers of such spirits, providing you are of age.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

#TDF The Teams 4 - Omega Pharma-Lotto

The Belgian team Omega Pharma-Lotto could well be Team Jurgen for this Tour as three of their team go by that name, including the team leader.

031 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) 28 The team leader finished 5th in last year's Tour de France the best performance by a Belgian since Claude Criquielion in 1986. He is a time trial specialist (indeed Junior World Time Trial Champion in 2001) but in the 2009 Tour he kept apace with the climbers and came in 15th. He'd crashed on stage four and lost 6 minutes that day so last year proved it was no fluke when he raced through to 5th place. His warm up was a repeat 4th place in the Critérium du Dauphiné. He may well be in contention again this year, he is at what is termed the ideal age to win Tours. Contador and the Schlecks may have to watch out as he could make up a small deficit even after Alpe d'Huez in that final time trial.

032 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) 28 The Belgian rider has had a good 2001 so far. He also has a prestigious quadruple wins in a row. First he won the Brabantse Pijl, then he repeated his success of 2010 winning the Amstel Gold Race, breaking free on the Cauberg. Three days later, he won La Flèche Wallonne dropping his rivals on the final climb of the Mur de Huy and finally he won Liège–Bastogne–Liège beating the Schleck brothers in the sprint. He has also won the Paris-Tours classic in back to back seasons. He apparently didn't have the Tour on his schedule for this year until his very successful spring and he was called up into the 9 man team. This racer is a classics rider who should do well in the open week of the Tour.  5th Tour Start: Best 70th (2005)

033 André Greipel (Ger) 28 Has moved from HTC-Highroad to make his Tour debut. He had the second most wins in the 2009 season. The reason why he wasn't part of the HTC-Highroad train before now is that he is a sprinter just like Mark Cavendish. He will be hoping that Omega Pharma-Lotto can give him a lead out like he has had from his former team mates, or better, as he will be looking to prove that he is as good as Cav. Debut Tour

034 Sebastian Lang (Ger) 31 A time trial specialist who won the German nation title in that disciple in 2006. IN the 2008 Tour he actually held the King of the Mountains jersy from Stages 12-14 when after being part of a 13 man breakaway after the rest day he secured enough points to gain the jersey. It was the year that the eventual winner was banned for drugs offences, so although he finished 5th in the Polka Dot Jersey he was actually the 4th legal rider in that competition on the point awarded on race days. Whilst he is ok on small hills he won't be in contention in the high mountains. 7th TS: Best 65th (2005)

035 Jürgen Roelandts (Bel) 25 The young Belgian has won nation road race titles at U17 and U19 level before securring the seniour title in 2008.He was best young rider in the 2010 Tour Down Under. This will be his second Tour having come 120th last year. 2nd TS: Best 120th (2010)

036 Marcel Sieberg (Ger) 29 A domestique who has moved from HTC-Highroad this year. He came 2nd in Kuurne–Brussels–Kuurne in 2009. 2nd TS: best 120th (2007)

037 Jurgen van de Walle (Bel) 31 A journeyman cyclist in the Pro Tour, although he has won Halle–Ingooigem twice in 2009 and 2010. 3rd TS: Best 63rd (2010)

038 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) 26 Making his first Grand Tour appearance. A lead out man for the team. One career triumph of note Vlaamse Pijl (2007). Debut Tour

039 Frederik Willems (Bel) 31 Another journeyman cyclist. He picked up a win in Étoile de Bessèges (2006). But will be like most of this team helping Van Den Broeck as much as possible.

The two stars on the Omega Pharma-Lotto team are Jurgen Van Den Broeck who may have hopes of a podium in Paris and Philippe Gilbert who will looking at where he can use his Classics experience to pick up a stage win.

Update Philippe Gilbert won the Belgian national championships on the weekend before the weekend before the Tour for the first time in his career.

#TDF The Teams 3 - Team Radioshack

Without Lance Armstrong who announced his retirement in February the team that bears his Livestrong armband on their left sleeve are without a named leader. Not that there isn't a list of options to take on that mantle. They are also going to the line with 12 times starter sprinter Robbie McEwan, who although he as been losing out in recent years to the new generation of sprinters still has been up there in the mix.

So who are the nine men to carry on the legacy of their former leader and Tour legend. After all two of their team have podiumed in Paris and three more have been in the top 10 of the General Classification.

074 Andreas Klöden (Ger) 36 The big German (at 6ft he is big for a cyclist) has been 2nd twice in the Tour, in 2004 behind Armstrong and in 2006 (after the exclusion of Flold Landis) behind Oscar Pereiro. In 2004 he was meant to be a domestique to fellow German Jan Ullrich, but after riding a great time in the final time trial ended up 2'31" ahead of his team leader. This season he won the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and finished runner-up in Paris-Nice. 9th Tour Start: Best 2nd (2006)

075 Levi Leipheimer (USA) 37 Was third behind Contador in his first win in 2007, as well as three other top ten finishes. For many years was Armstrong's right hand man in the mountains but did seem to crack last year when the pressure was applied and trailed in 13th. However, this year he has come back strong and for a warm up won the Tour de Suisse. 9th TS: Best 3rd (2007)

072 Chris Horner (USA) 39 He may be the old man of the team, but Horner was the best placed of the team's riders in last year's Tour making it into the top 10, just over 12 minutes down. Having started the Tour as support for Armstrong he was only released to ride his own race once the legend had cracked in the Mountains. This year he started out by dominating the season opening Tour of California. 4th TS: Best 10th (2010)

Any of the above three were they to win, would become the olderst winner in Tour history and all three are still hungry enough to want it.

078 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) 31 The Ukrainian has often found himself to be a Super Domestique for some of the top riders. He was the best young rider on the Tour in 2005, when he finished 12th. But his best rides in the Grand Tours have been in the Giro, where he finished 3rd in 2003 and 5th in 2004. In 2007 as Super Domestique to Contador he ended up finsihing 8th in the Tour. Although in recent years his form has been poor finishing only 85th last year. 7th TS: Best 8th (2007)

071 Jani Brajkovič (Slo) 27 The Slovene has that rare thing, a victory over an in form Alberto Contador, which he acheived in the 2010 Critérium du Dauphiné. Matching him in the mountains and then beating him over a longer time trial, he has been the Slovenian Time Trial Champion. He rode last year's Tour mainly in support of Armstrong and came in 43rd. But he's been 7th in Paris-Nice and Tour de Romandie this season. With the younger legs he may be the man to assume the leadership over a 3 week tour. 2nd TS: Best 43rd (2010)

079 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) 34 The Basque man and former Euskaltel-Euskadi rider has been 5th in Paris twice (2003, 2007). In that 2003 Tour he had some great finishes against Armstrong and Jan Ullrich in the mountains. He is therefore alwaays considered a great climber but also is a decent time triallist which does not always go together. However, he didn't race last year and has not got the form of some of the others on his team that would earmark him as a contender to lead the team. 10th TS: Best 5th (2003 & 2007)

073 Markel Irizar (Spa) 31 Another Basqu member of the team. A domestique in the team, but like Armstrong is a testicular cancer survivor. Debut Tour

076 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) 31 The three time Kazakh National Time Trial Champion (2003-05) and once the Road Race Champion 2002. He is the only Kazahk to have follow Johann Bruyneel, the Team Manager, from the Astana days to Radio Shack. Has come 148th twice in two previous starts. 3rd TS: Best 148th (2009,10)

077 Sérgio Paulinho (Por) 31 Picked up a stage win last year on the medium mountain stage from Chambéry to Gap. A third member of this team to have been their national Time Trial Champion (2008). He was also the Silver Medalist in the Road Race at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Radioshack may well have one of the highest average ages of any of the teams, possibly a legacy of the Armstrong cadré. Without someone designated as leader it may be a bit of a free for all to determine who that is through the Pyrénées. I don't fancy their chances of a top five finish with this squad unless Brajkovič comes through strong.

#TDF The Teams 2 - Saxo Bank- Sunguard

The team that will wear the single numbers on their backs because they are the team of the champion are Saxobank-Sunguard. The former team of the Schleck brothers will now be header by Alberto Contador, who after a year of legal proceedings will be taking to the start line at Passage du Gois. Here is a look at the time.

001 Alberto Contador (Spa) 28 The Spaniard has won all three Grand Tours, France 3 times 2007, 2009, 2010, Italy 2008 and 2011 and Spain 2008. However, it is that latest Grand Tour victory in a very tough Giro this year that may affect his chances of three-peating. With his ability to start his defence hanging in the balance until earlier this month he said he was going to Italy and to win, which he did. All his major challengers rested in May when the Giro was on, and will come to the Tour fresher than the Spaniard. Though he will have something to prove when he takes to the roads of France, that he is the best. Never underestimate him. 5th Tour Start: Best 1st x3 (2007, 09, 10) Best Young Rider 2007

002 Jesús Hernández (Spa) 29  Jesús will give his all in the mountains for his long team mate Contador. He has often been seen riding with Alberto in the high peaks but has never really risen to individual glory himself. 2nd TS: Best 140th (2010)

003 Daniel Navarro (Spa) 27 Another tough Spaniard who has joined from Astana along with Contador. He'll also be there on the high mountains with his team leader. He took individual honours on Stage 5 of the Critérium du Dauphiné this year. 3rd TS: Best 49th (2010)

004 Benjamín Noval (Spa) 32 The fourth and final Spaniard on this team, who also came from Astana at the start of the year. Both his previous stage wins in the Tour have come in the Team Time Trial (2004 and 2005) as part of Lance Armstrong's US Postal squad.  He has been a loyal Domestique to 5 Tour winners (Lance Armstrong twice and Contador's three wins). 6th TS: Best 66th (2004)

005 Richie Porte (Aus) 26 The young Tasmanian was 7th Overall in the 2010 Giro d'Italia, wore the Pink Jersey from stages 11-13 and ended up as the winner of the best young rider competition. Although he will probably always rank winning the 2008 Tour of Tasmania as his greatest ever victory even when he wins a Grand Tour.  In 2009 riding the Baby Giro he won 5 stages including a Time Trail. He may be someone to watch in the future but may be close to the top ten in the GC this year as well. Debut Tour

006 Chris Anker Sørensen (Den) 26 The Dane is another good rider in the mountains. Indeed his stage win in the 2010 Giro Stage 8 to Mount Terminillo he broke away on the final climb to the summit. He won the Mountain competition in this years Tour de Romandie and came 6th in Liège–Bastogne–Liège. He lives in Luxembourg and therefore as the Danish Federation do not give licences to cyclists living overseas he races under a Luxembourg licence. 10th TS: Best 34th 2009

007 Nicki Sørensen (Den) 36 Not related to his namesake on the team. He has been Danish Road Race Champion three times and proudly worn the Red and White national jersey in three Tours. In 2009 he won stage 12 from Tonnerre to Vetel when the peleton allowed a group of six to stay away, with 20km to go Sørensenattacked and stayed away: he was also awarded most combative rider on that stage. He's also won an individual stage in the 2005 Vuelta a España. But is most commonly seen helping his team leader. 9th TS: Best 20th 2002

008 Matteo Tosatto (Ita) 37 With 13 years of Pro Cycling  behind him, his knowledge on the route will be invaluable to Contador and the team. Another work horse rather than big name rider, he has though won stage 18 on the 2006 Tour from Morzine - Mâcon, though that was teh day after the last mountains and before the last time trial. He also has won a stage in the 2001 Giro. 8th TS: Best 116th (2009)

009 Brian Vandborg (Den) 29 The time trialling specialist on the team. In 2006 he won the Danish National Time Trialist title and came 4th in the World Championships. He's also been 2nd in his national time trial championships 3 times and 3rd once. He could be a lead out man in a finish if required, or if he gets in a break away could make a break from far out. With the individual time trial being the penultimate day over 42.5km it may be a matter of who is left with gas in the tank. Maybe expect him to try and get into a breakaway in the first week. Or as we move from the Pyrénées to the Alps to try and make a long break if he is allowed to. 3rd TS: Best 116th (2009)

Of course when you have one of only 5 men to have won all three of the Grand Tours Saxo Bank-Sunguard's main aim is to insure that a 4th Tour de France and 7th Grand Tour comes the way of El Pistolero.

Update Nicki Sørensen will start in the Danish national colours having won that title once again the weekend before the Tour.

#TDF The Teams 1 - Team Sky

It is that point that the team are finalising naming their nine man teams to take on the 98th edition of the Tour de France.

So I'll start my look at the teams with the one with most British interest Team Sky

Team Sky's Tour de France squad
111 Bradley Wiggins (UK) 31 The Olympic gold medalist of course turned his attention to the road after Beijing. With his winter training in 2008/9 led to him coming fourth in the 2009 Tour equalling the best performance by a British cyclist in the Tour. Last year with Team Sky it was rather disappointing in the Tour for Brad. However, this year the team leader has shown some form. He came 3rd in the Paris-Nice Classic, he had a stage win in Bayern-Rundfahrt and comes into the Tour in the back of his win in the Criterium du Dauphiné.This year he hasn't raced the Giro d'Italia in the led up like he tried last year so may be ready to compete in the General Classification (GC) once more. 5th Tour Start Best 4th 2009

114 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) 24 The Young Norwegian completed his first Tour last year and was up there in the group sprints twice making the podium. He also won a stage at Bayern-Rundfahrt after which he pulled on the leader's jersey and had two podium finishes in the Criterium du Dauphiné. An injury hit early season may mean he is fresher into the fight for the Tour. May be looking to sneak a stage win when the other top sprinters aren't paying attention. 2nd TS 116th,  6th in points

112 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) 33 The Argentine-born Spaniard is seen as a Classics specialist having won Züri-Metzgete (2004), Circuit Franco-Belge (2008) and 3 podium finishes in Paris–Roubaix. With some of the 'flat' stage not being so flat at the finish he may well be the sort of man to look out for. However, he will be an invaluable lieutenent to Wiggins in these stafe. He won stage 11 in 2003 (Narbonne-Toulouse) when he mimed firing an arrow in celebration to mark his family name. Last year on Stage 13 Rodez-Revel he was deemed the most combative rider a stage over 5 small climbs. 9th TS Best 73rd 2005

113 Simon Gerrans (Aus) 31 The Aussie had a 2010 Tour in which he was involved in a number of crashes including one on stage 8 where he broke his arm. However, he is one of a small band of cyclists who has won stages on all three of the Grand Tours, Stage 15 2009 Tour de France, Stage 14 2010 Giro d'Italia and Stage 10 2010 Vuelta a España. He also came third in the Amstel Gold earlier this season on a tricky uphill finish like some of those in the first week. His Tour stage win came when he broke away from the rest of the break away on the lead into the finish. 6th TS Best 79th 2008

115 Christian Knees (Ger) 31 Is currently the German nation champion he joined from Milram at the start of the year. A previous winner of Bayern-Rundfahrt in 2009, he helped Geraint Thomas to the title this year. He knows how to survive in the mountains but will give a great deal of firepower to the sprinter's lead out train. 6th TS Best 21st 2009

116 Ben Swift (UK) 23 While if may be Swift's first Tour de France he has already competed in the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España. Indeed he came third on stage 2 of the 2009 Giro. He has also won King of the Mountains competitions on the Tour of Britain and Giro delle Region. So he may be a sprinter to challenge on some of those uphill finishes in the first week. Expect him though to be part of Boasson Hagen's lead up on tradition group finishes though. Debut Tour

117 Geraint Thomas (UK) 25 The Welshman wore the GB national colours in last year's tour. Last month saw his first profession win in the 5 day Bayern-Rundfahrt race. His strong stage finishes in last year's Critérium de Dauphiné saw him wear the Green Jersey on occaions, a competition he ended up 5th in. He completed last year's Tour in 67th place as the 9th best young rider. 3rd TS Best 67th 2010

118 Rigoberto Urán (Col) 24 The young Columbian is like most of his countrymen who have riden the tour a climber. Top five finishes in the Volta a Catalunya and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He came 52nd in the 2009 Tour riding for Caisse d'Epargne. 2nd TS Best 52nd 2009

119 Xabier Zandio (Spa) 34 Another mountain specialist who has joined Sky this year from the famous Banesto team. Along with Urán will be helping Wiggins through the high mountains amrking the attacks and bring their leader to where he has to be at the foot of the final climb. Starting his eleventh Grand Tour and 5th successive Tour de France. 5th TS best 22nd 2005

Overall Sky are also one of the teams to watch in the Team Time Trail on Stage 2 as this video of them training for last year's Giro d'Italia shows.

Update Team Sky will start with two riders in national colours, Bradley Wiggins in the GB hoops and if he overcomes shingles Edvald Boasson Hagen in the time trial.

Artful Thursday 5 - Belfast Street Sculpture

Today I'm going to look at some of the sculpture you would find out and about on the street of Belfast.

First up a tribute to a favourite son Clive Staples Lewis.

The Searcher (1998) by Ross Wilson
 This next piece is now somewhat hidden by a building site but can be found in front of the Waterfront Hall.

Sheep on the Road (1991) by Deborah Brown
Finally today just along the River Bank you will come along another statue with a number of different names to the locals.

Beacon of Hope (2007) by Andy Scott

I'm sure I will be looking at and sharing more in the future.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Paddy on Lord's Reform

Sometimes there is a contributer to a debate that makes so much sense and makes the arguements so well you don't need to add comment. Therefore I think I merely need to give you the words of Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, or just plain Paddy to most of us, from the debate in the House of Lords on Lords' Reform yesterday.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, I apologise to the noble and learned Lord; in my enthusiasm to get at the arguments, I attempted to barge in ahead of him. That was not my intention and I hope that he will accept my apology.
I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that in a democracy the minority is always right. That thought has given me much comfort over the years as a Liberal, and it appears that it will have to give me comfort in this debate as well. I spent an engaging hour and a half yesterday in the House of Lords Library, looking through opposition speeches made in December 1831 to the Great Reform Act 1832 and to the Reform Act 1867. Five arguments were put forward. The first was: there is no public call for such reform beyond those mad radicals of Manchester. The second was: we should not be wasting our time and money on these matters; there are more important things to discuss such as the Schleswig-Holstein problem, the repeal of the corn laws or the crisis in the City that caused Anthony Trollope to write his wonderful novel.

A noble Lord: Not in 1832.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: No, but in 1867.

The third argument, which was put so powerfully—indeed, in bloodcurdling terms—by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, was that if we were to embark on this constitutional terra incognita, the delicate balance of the constitution would collapse around us; mere anarchy would rule upon the world.

The fourth argument put forward in those debates was, “No, no, let us not disturb the quiet groves of wisdom within which we decide the future of the nation by letting in the rude representatives of an even ruder republic. God knows what damage we shall do if such a thing should happen”. The last and fifth argument was the argument actually used by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, just a moment ago: “if it ain’t broke, don’t mend it”.

Those are the arguments that were put forward against the 1832 Act, the 1867 Act, the 1911 Act—every single reform that we have ever had—and they are the arguments that are being put forward now. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. Perhaps I might explain before I come to the substance of the argument.

The first argument is that there is no public interest in this matter. Of course there is not; it is our business, not the public’s. The public have made it very clear that they do not trust our electoral system in its present form. Is there anyone in this Chamber who does not realise that the dangerous and growing gap between government and governed that is undermining the confidence in our democracy must be bridged? It must be bridged by the reform and modernisation of our democratic institutions, and we have a part to play in that too. This is not about what the public want, it is about us putting our House in order.

The second issue is that there are more important things to discuss. I do not think so. Frankly, we have been very fortunate to have lived through the period of the politics of contentment. The fragility of our democratic system has not been challenged because the business of government and democracy has been to redistribute increasing wealth. If we now come to the point at which we must redistribute retrenchment, difficult decisions, hard choices, I suspect it will come to something rather different, as we see on the streets of Greece today and as we saw on the streets of London not very long ago. This is very important.

The third is that we are embarking on a constitutional journey into terra incognita. Of course we are. We do not have a written constitution in this country. I wish we did, but we are told that the genius of our constitution is that it is unwritten, that it responds to events, that it develops, that it takes its challenges and moves forward. Oliver Cromwell did not have to say, “We will delay the Civil War until we have worked out the proper constitutional relationship between Parliament and the King”. In 1832 they did not say, “Let us hold this up until we have decided what proper constitutional balances would be achieved”. If you believe in the miracle of the unwritten constitution, you must believe that our constitution will adapt. You cannot argue that that is a good thing and then say that we cannot move forward unless we know precisely and in exact detail what will happen next. Of course this will change the balance between us and the other Chamber. It will not challenge the primacy of the other Chamber, but it will challenge the absolute supremacy of the other Chamber—that is called check and balance.

The fourth argument is that this will disturb the gentle climate of wisdom in this place. I have no doubt that there is unique wisdom here, although I have to say that I do not believe it is necessarily evenly distributed—maybe in some places it is, but not everywhere. However, I am not persuaded that there is less wisdom in the 61 second chambers that are elected, that there is less wisdom in the Senate of the United States, or the Sénat in France or the Bundesrat in Germany. I do not believe that the business of election will produce less wisdom than we have here now—rather the contrary. It is not wisdom that we lack; it is legitimacy. My old friend, Lord Conrad Russell—much missed—used to say, “I would happily exchange wisdom for legitimacy”, and I will tell your Lordships why.

This is where we come to the final point—the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd: “If it ain’t broke, let’s not fix it”. It is broke; it is broke in two fashions. First, our democracy now and our institutions of democracy in this country do not enjoy the confidence of our people in the way they did. That confidence is declining. We have to be part of the reform that reconnects politics with people in this country. If we do not, our democratic institutions will fall into atrophy and may suffer further in the decline of the confidence of the people of this country. If noble Lords do not realise that, they do not realise just how difficult the current situation is in Britain.

We in this Chamber cannot leave this to others to do. We must be part of that reform, modernisation, reconnection and democracy. It is said that this House does its job as a revising Chamber well. So it does. It is allowed to revise, change, amend legislation, but is it allowed to deal with the really big things? It does the small things well, but is it constructed in a way that would prevent a Government with an overwhelming majority in the other place taking this country to an unwise and, as we now know, probably illegal war? No, it would not because it did not. I cannot imagine that the decision to introduce the poll tax and the decision to take this country to war would have got through a Chamber elected on a different mandate and in a different period, or if there had been a different set of political weights in this Chamber from the one down the other end.

The truth of the matter is that we perform the function of a revising Chamber well, but that is not our only function. We are also part of the checks and balances in this country. The fact that we do not have democratic legitimacy undermines our capacity to act as a check and balance on the excessive power of the Executive backed by an excessive majority in the House of Commons. That is where we are deficient and what must be mended.

The case is very simple to argue. In a democracy, power should derive from the ballot box and nowhere else. Our democracy is diminished because this place does not derive its power from democracy and the ballot box but from political patronage—the patronage of the powerful. Is it acceptable in a democracy that the membership of this place depends on the patronage of the powerful at the time? We are diminished in two ways. We are diminished because we do not perform the function that we need to perform of acting as a check and a balance on the Government, and we do not do so because we are a creature of the Government’s patronage. I cannot believe that noble Lords find that acceptable in this Chamber .

A noble Lord: Time.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: Perhaps noble Lords will forgive me, I will finish now. I have already strained my time but I ask for patience. The Leader of the House is right. We have spent 100 years addressing reform in this House. It is time to understand why that is necessary—both to make our place in modern democracy and to fulfil our proper function to provide a check and balance on an Executive who may get too powerful. We turned our hand to this 100 years ago; it is time to finish it now.

Is the recent violence the UVF flexing their muscles?

The violence in East Belfast on Monday which led to gunfire has led to some serious questions.

Yesterday in the Northern Ireland Assembly Alex Maskey (Sinn Féin) opened the Matter of the Day debate stating that this was a UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) attack on the nationalist Short Strand. This was not disputed by either of the Unionist speakers who spoke after him. There was universal condemnation of the violence and support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) as they had to deal with the aftermath: last night there was tension in the area once more.

If it was the UVF what were they trying to do? Mark Devenport uses the term flexing their muscles, but to what end? Surely this attempt to show a flexing of muscles is not what the people on the lower Newtownards Road want? Many of them are happy with the peaceful way people can go about it that part of Belfast with out fear, intimidation and a heavily armed policing presence.

When you look at how the assaults by dissident republican groups are universally condemned by leaders and the people the flexing of such muscles will only have a negative effect.

Another question is where did the guns come from? It is alleged that shots were fired from both sides, yet both the IRA and UVF are supposed to have completely decommissioned their weapons as part of the Belfast Agreement, so where have guns come from to get used in this way on Monday? Were they pre-existent guns that had somehow slipped by the decommissioning observers, or are they freshly acquired? If the former that is a disgrace and we need to know why some were being held back and not declared. If the latter we have a serious issue.

If paramilitaries on both sides are using the peace to stockpile weapons once more they are really out of step with a shared future that Northern Ireland is craving. As witnessed on Monday morning when celebrating a mutual success (with only minor arguments over the flag that Rory used to celebrate his victory). No doubt a forensics and ballistics teams are doing test on the bullets that were fired to find out just what weapons were used and to try and ascertain if they had been used before.

However, witnessing the Twittersphere yesterday people don't want the escalation that was witnessed. They don't want another summer of riot and counter riot. They want to get on with living side by side in peace and harmony.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Kids with sticks running around on the Shankill

There were kids from loyalist and nationalist traditions running around with sticks on the Shankill Road yesterday.

No this isn't THAT STORY!

Picture by Brian Little in the Belfast Telegraph
What it is though is kids from fours schools St. Paul's and St. Kevin's on the Falls coming to the Norman Whiteside playing fields on the loyalist Shankill Road and playing hurling with kids from Edenbrook and Glenwood Primary Schools, in front of the head of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association).

It is believed to the first time that the GAA President has visited a game on the Shankill, indeed it is probably the first time a game under any GAA code has been played on the Shankill. But hte kids from the four schools have been training together for a year and formed a club called Lamh Dhearg or Red Hand.

The name come from the mural on the Shankill (which is Gaelic for "Old Church") which says Lamh Dhearg Abu, "Victory to the Red Hand". It does show up the strange juxtaposition that often occurs between Unionist and Irish cultures in this strange land of ours. The hurling team is an example of how the two perceived "cultures" aren't really all that different after all. These are just boys having fun with sport.

As the head of Edenbrooke Primary, Jonathan Manning says:

"It’s been very positive and the children have enjoyed learning a new sport, new skills and the physical attributes. On this occasion sport has been a vehicle to break down barriers."

and his opposite number at St. Kevin's Primary, Angela McLaughlin added:

"The children have been meeting for a while to practice their skills. Last year they travelled to Croke Park to play against a Dublin team. It’s amazing to think children from the Shankill played hurling in Croke Park and children from the Falls Road have been on the Shankill playing hurling."

When I was the age of the players and indeed to recent years these four schools would have been either side of the peace wall in West Belfast. If a sport that was once seen as a divisive symbol and used for political ends can now be used to unite, there certainly is hope for our future here in Northern Ireland. This is the sort of brandishing sticks in public that we should be encouraging while condemning the other sort, plus guns being fired that occurred in the Short Strand are last night.

One final lie #No2AV

There is nothing more frustrating than your political opponents claiming poverty when you knew that their glossy leaflets had to have cost more than anything you were putting out, they were putting them out to every door (using the free* post option through the Royal Mail).

What is worse is the when they say none of the tax payers money is spent on printing a leaflet, while telling lies about how tax payers money might be spent if you vote the other way. One does wonder how Matthew Elliot the chair of the No2AV campaign can face his colleagues now he is back to his day job at the Tax Payers Alliance. When I first saw a certain leaflet when I returned home from work at the Yes to Fairer Votes office I knew there was a cost involved that they were hiding. Now we know how much.

So here is a fisking of that leaflet with a couple of corrections in red.

Hat tip to Stuart Bonar

* A misnomer as the cost while free to the campaigns is actually taken up by the tax payer.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Our Wee Country ain't bad with a wee white ball

 For a Wee Country Norn Iron is renowned for punching above our weight when it comes to sport. We've been to three world cups. Two men from here have run three World Snooker titles and more than our fair share of Olympic gold medalists (especially in boxing).

However, as somebody said over the weekend for two men from Northern Ireland to win back to back US Open golf titles must surely have been up there at lottery odds. That is except one 22-year-old from Holywood when told about that quote said, " Well, I though I had a pretty good chance."

He had a point, he'd been in the lead before yesterday's conclusion in 6 of the 7 rounds of major championship golf this year. The previous two last year's Open and PGA he was tied for third. So yeah that would have been pretty good form. Of course there was one elephant in the room. The implosion that he went through after leading for 3½ days on the back nine of the final day at the Augusta National being the reason.

There was none of  that last night. Sure he dropped shots on twice as many holes as he had the rest of the weekend, that took his total to 4 holes and 5 dropped shot. He did eventually 3 putt on a green, but that was the 71st and that was when he was already home an dry, the closest anyone got to his score all day was when Y.E. Yang birdied the 10th to go nine under, but he'd birdied it himself, after just missing a hole in one by 8 inches to go to 17 under. it may not have been his best round of the week, a meer 69, to go with the 65, 66 and 68 from the previous days. But that made him only the third US Open Champion to break 70 on all four days.

That wasn't all he did, here are a few of the records that were set over the last four days. Lowest four-round score at the US Open, his -16 268 bettering Jack Nicklaus (1982), Lee Janzen (93), Tiger Woods (2000) nad Jim Furyk (2003). Record for most strokes under par. Quickest ever to reach -10 (after 26 holes), first player ever to reach -17, lowest 36-hole total of 131, equals biggest 36-hole lead of six shots set by Tiger Woods in 2000, lowest 54-hole total of 199, lowest 72-hole total of 268. I think you call that domination.

He's from just up the road at Holywood, he learnt his golf just around the corner at Bangor with the club pro. He is Rory McIlroy. What will be capable of next month at Royal St. Georges in The Open. He's now led after 7 of the 8 rounds of major's golf this year. He grew up playing the Northern Irish links including an audacious 61 for the course record at Royal Portrush (the home course of Graeme McDowell last year's winner) aged just 16.

Our wee man with the curly hair done grand, so he did.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Next to the ruins of Dunluce the forgotten town

Archaeology teams from the University of Ulster and Queen's University have been up on the north coast unearthing Dunluce Town.

The town  which would have been associated with the dramatic cliff top ruined castle was founded at the time of the Ulster Plantation in the early 1600s but was raised to the ground in 1641 in the Irish Uprising. Therefore it had a very short lived existance.

Evidence of wooden houses, stone walls of more substantial dweelings, a cobbled street and other remains have been unearthed as the history of this remote area of the north coast just along from the Giant's Causeway becomes known.

Hopefully the finds and possibly part of the excavation can be made into an exhibit at the National Trust site expanding our knowledge of the area, from Plantation to Rebellion. It would make a welcome addition to the Tourism trade of the Causeway Coast as this town has a very small footprint on the march of time it is very precise into just what period artefacts exist there.

Friday, 17 June 2011

It's's Nova Albion Dreamin

Yeah it is the 17 June, one this date in 1579 Sir Francis Drake discovered a new peice of the earth and claimed Nova Albion for England and Queen Elizabeth, you may know it better by another name. Over to some sixties singers to tell you more.

This was also the birthday of two twin girls Erin and Diane Murphy, who both appeared as the young Tabitha Stevens on Bewitched! so here is Erin casting a spell.

It is also the birthday of James Corden. So what better example of his work than the 2010 Sports Relief appearance of Smithy*

* Rumours that this clip was chosen because of the number of muscled sportsmen are strenuously denied.

Is Cav aiming for the Sky?

Speculation is rife ahead of the start of the Tour de France next weekend that Mark Cavendish, who is out of contract with HTC-Highroad at the end of the year, might be joining Bradley Wiggins and UK Coach Dave Brailsford on Team Sky.

When Brailsford first muted the idea of a predominently British team there where three names in the ring Wiggins, David Millar and Cavendish himself. Together these three are the top British road cyclists at the moment and each has their own strengths. While Bradley can chase the overall wins, like he did last week in the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, Millar is known for his time trialling ability and is not unknown in the breakaways, but seems settled at Slipstream-Chipotle.

But of course it is Cav who will be the man that you want to propel to the front of the pack when the line approaches on a flat stage. He is the sprinter supreme, having already won fifteen stages in the last three Tours de France and seven in the Giro d'Italia. It is those addition wins that will attract sponsors, that additional coverage on race days that makes Cav the biggest catch in the cycling world at the end of this year. If Sky or anyone else wish to secure his services there will be a high price tag, and also possibly the need to acquire a lead out team to suit him, maybe even securing the services of his lead out man Mark Renshaw.

Of course all this talk at the moment is just speculation, no team or individual can say anything until the start of August as the grandest of the Grand Tours is out of the way.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Artful Thursday 4 - Escher

It must be the mathematician in me (and that is over 50% of my DNA) that draws me to the drawings of the Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher who was actually born 113 years ago tomorrow. Here are some of my favourites.

First up is Relativity which was first produced in 1953 in which the normal rules of gravity are not suspended but operating in triplicate. There are three distinct centres of gravity operation along each of the three dimensional axis. It is why on each of the staircases two people are able to use them in their own gravitational normality.

Drawing Hands from 1948 is a visual paradox based on the wrists lying flat on the surface of the paper with the hand raised above to draw, yet each hand appears to be drawing the other.

And of course to confuddle us all, which way is up in Ascending and Descending from 1960 inspired by the Penrose Stairs concept envisioned by Lionel Penrose in 1958.

Crossing Dublin without alcoholic temptation

In Ulysses (set on 16 June) by James Joyce the character Leopold Bloom said:

"A good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub."

Well a computer engineer, with way too much time on his hands, and way too much sobriety, thinks that he has come up with the solution. Read his explanation for more of how he used modern technology to chart his route.

However, there is a caveat. When Joyce wrote Ulysses serialised from 1918-1920 and printed in full in 1922, there were probably more pubs in Dublin. So does anyone else want to map the known pubs of that time and see if it is possible?

Although why anyone would want to be in Dublin and totally miss out a pub is anyone's guess. Sláinte.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Blogged Elsewhere: Is it normal to designate in one of two ways?

A little thought I've posted over at Northern Ireland for Reform

The other day on his blog Ian Parsley looked at what being considered “normal” is for Northern Irish politics, following on from Platform for Change’s AGM. One of his observations was:

"You cannot force Northern Ireland’s voters to adopt the English party system, which is the inherent logic of what most of those advocating “normal politics” are suggesting. Identity plays a part across the board, and we should not be too surprised that it is Northern Ireland identity which determined the Northern Ireland party line-up."

Yet Ian sees no issue in forcing parties to fit into a preconceived idea of what a Northern Irish political party should be, either Green or Orange. That surely is a dichotomy. There is a problem with Northern Irish, or should we say Assembly politics. Enshrined in the Belfast Agreement is the following clause in the safeguards under Strand One of the agreement about key decision making in the Assembly:

(d) arrangements to ensure key decisions are taken on a cross-community basis;

(i) either parallel consent, i.e. a majority of those members present and voting, including a majority of the unionist and nationalist designations present and voting;
(ii) or a weighted majority (60%) of members present and voting, including at least 40% of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting.

Problems do arise for any party that doesn’t fit into either a unionist or nationalist designation

Read more here

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Bruces' the Philopshers' Song

I'm not going to divluge exactly how this came up in conversation earlier. Suffice it to say that it was typically Pythonesque as a result of something completely different.

However, it is one of my favourite songs from the Monty Python song book. One that I also have to do a little research on to complete an article on the Philosphers' actual stance on drinking and drunkeness. But here are a collection of Bruces singing The Philosophers' Song live at the Hollywood Bowl.

It is often immitated and this lot add their own style to the piece.

Of course there is only one way to follow up on that song. A little international Philopshers' football.

Lib Dems choose Sophie Bridger for Inverclyde

Picture of me explaing something. Sophie is on the arm of the chair
Congratulation to my friend Sophie Bridger who today has been announced as the Liberal Democrat candidate to fight the Inverclyde by election. Sophie is the current President of Liberal Youth Scotland and like her predecessors is a strong voice not just for student issues but Liberal values.

I last saw Sophie on Friday at the funeral of Andrew Reeves the Scottish Director of Campaigns. With Andrew's invovlemnt both with campaigns and Liberal Youth he would be enthusiastically looking forward to, scrap that he'd already be throwing himself into, helping Sophie fight this campaign. He'd be delighted that one of the LYS mob was taking on the challenge.

With a by election pending I promised last Friday to give some time to come over to campaign for whoever was selected. I'm trying to sort out a few things over the next few days to free up some time to make it over to Scotland next week to help Sophie and the team.

Seeking the non-existant gay on/off swtich : today in Belfast

Today is one of those strange days. As soon as this story broke on the BBC website I would have expected a DM from Andrew Reeves either asking me for details, or telling me he was going to blog about it, or already had and would I like to comment.

His blog post would of course taken the line that no religion had any place to say anything about being LGBT, my riposte would of course have mentioned that the church needs to recognise the LGBT members within their midst that have not turned their back on them despite the church turning their backs, all too often, on them.

You see today in Northern Ireland one of Iris Robinson's 'christian' psychologist friends David Pickup is in Belfast to promote reparative therapy. The group holding a one day seminar up at Belvoir Parish Church, CORE supports "men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression". They see having same sex attractions as an illness that is there to be cured. They see it is being a lesser option that being straight. They see it as something that through therapy can be suppressed and heterosexual lifestyle and feelings comes into its place. They say there is some sort of switch that can turn off the same sex attractions that LGB people feel. There isn't, I've tried TWICE. They say they love LGBT people, but pressure them into feeling lesser, to feeling that they are constantly failing, from a holier than though, judgemental stand point.

Forgive me if I am wrong or stepping out of line here but part of the bible tells me I should not bear false witness. You may have heard of that bit, it is the ten commandments. Now the fact is that I am attracted to other men. That does not necessarily more that one at the same time and be promiscuous. I can be so in love that I only have eyes for one man at a time, just as a heterosexual can only have eyes for one person of the opposite gender.

I don't have issues with that. At fifteen and sixteen because that is what the church seemed to imply, or on the rare occasions it was talked about tell me straight. My church now does have some pastoral guidelines on people with same sex attractiveness. It does come over 20 years after I needed pastoral guidance, although I doubt under the guidelines at present I would seek such pastoral care at that age. My profession of faith, enough to become a member of the church, is not sufficient, now is my preparedness to donate to church funds all because of my sexuality and more to the point my not wishing to hide it under a bushel: not that I'm shouting it from the rooftops either in the confines of any Presbyterian meeting house.

See I'm a Liberal Democrat, as such I don't think anyone should be enslaved, by poverty, ignorance or conformity. The people at the seminar in Belfast today are ignorant of the harm that reparitive therapy can do and they are trying to make people who are difference conform to a norm. They say willingly, but it is most often merely so that they fit in that they submit to this. There are people out there who are Christian, or of other faiths, and LGBT.

There is a protest up at Belvoir Parish Church handing out leaflets to highlight the harm that this approach to LGBT people within the church can cause, but because of all manner of commitments I am unable to attend in person. There is a growing open LGBT community in Northern Ireland, because of our religious nature a lot of that community is of faith and have struggled, or are struggling, with that dual persona themselves. It is not an issue they have with themselves, but an issue of how the church and fellow Christians perceive them.

Thankfully according to the BBC only 15 people were inside this morning attending the seminar.

Read Also 


Just seen  David Pickup on the lunchtime news. He says that gay is a lifestyle choice and wasn't around 100 years ago. Maybe we should tell to Edward Carson QC, whose statue is outside Parliament Buildings, whose judgement in favour of the Marquess of Queensbury in the libel case brought by Oscar Wilde in 1895, led to a warrent being issued for his arrest for gross indecency* upon leaving that trial. The eventual 2 years sentance of hard labour obviously mistaken as there was no such thing as gay 100, never mind 116 years ago.

* Homosexual acts not amounting to buggery.