Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Paul Ince, if we forgive his abberation whilst playing for "Manchester" United (look at the maps people) was a great footballer and his work with Macclesfield Town and MK Dons seemed to point to a decent manager in the making. Then one of the Premier League big boys came knocking.
Blackburn Rovers sought, and got, special dispensation from the Premier League for Paul Ince to manage them because he didn't have all the necessary qualifications to manage in the top flight. Is it then any surprise that he has struggled in what is regarded as one of the toughest leagues in the world? Having sought, and got, said dispensation, Blackburn Rovers should have given him more time to turn things around. Put together a decent run, just four or five matches and suddenly things are looking up.
However, what is the point in having minimum qualifications for Premier League managers and then handing out special dispensation to various managers? Avram Grant at Chelsea also lacked the necessary badges.
For Paul Ince though, I hope that he finds a job soon back down in the lower leagues and that he can kick start afresh his once promising career as a football manager.
Friday, December 12, 2008
However, with the news that the Auto Workers Union have basically scuppered the bail out plan for the big three American car manufacturers, the question needs to be asked - whose backs are you protecting?
Refusing to accept pay cuts in order to guarantee the continued viability of the car manufacturers is simple short-sightedness. The union leaders, those tasked by their members to look after their best interests, have in effect stabbed their members in the back.
Given the choice between a pay cut and no job, I am fairly sure that in the current financial climate the members of the AWU when balloted would vote for the former.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Of course the Irish government claim that in no way have they been bullied by the bigger countries that treat the EU as their own little cabal, in particular France and Germany.
According to current EU rules all 27 member states must ratify the Lisbon Treaty in order for it to become a reality, therefore according to EU rules, the Lisbon Treaty is dead, as was the constitution before it.
For the Irish government to run a second referendum, when the Irish electorate have already given their verdict on the question placed before them is arrogant in the extreme.
If this goes ahead, and the EU disregards its own procedures and rules, then one can only hope that the Irish again vote down the Lisbon Treaty - and that the leaders of the various nations in the EU learn to listen to the people. It is called democracy.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Today though is Armistice Day, the day when the guns fell silent over France and Belgium at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. While in Britain it was Remembrance Day on Sunday, there is something special about marking that moment when the world woke up from its collective insanity to try and bring peace again to Europe. Unfortunately the old wounds and scores to be settled ensured that Ferdinand Foch was right to decry Versailles as a "20 year armistice".
So today, take a couple of minutes to remember the fallen.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
This summer has seen once again football transfer fees spiralling out of control, with utterly obscene figures being quoted for various players. apparently Kaka of AC Milan was wanted by Chelsea, who were willing to pay in excess of $150 million, even Liverpool splashed $40 million on Robbie Keane. In order to pay for these exorbitant fees and the salaries which players receive, ticket prices continue to rise, the cost of a replica shirt goes up and more and more ordinary working fans are being squeezed out of the game.
It is getting to the point where you juts have to accept that football has lost its soul, gone are the days when a club like Celtic could win the European Cup with the majority of players coming from with 5 miles of Parkhead. Clubs as famous as Nottingham Forest, who themselves has won the European Cup, have faced bankruptcy in the face and plummeted through the divisions. Today there are teams such as Oxford United who I remember watching on TV as a top flight club playing in the Conference.
It is getting to the point where I often wonder why I bother going along to the pub twice a week to watch a game to watch a group of millionaires flounce around the pitch. Perhaps I am getting to the point where football has outlived its usefulness, no longer is it a conduit for my bad days, no longer doesn't Liverpool beating Manchester United leave me buzzing for days.
But then at the same time the romantic in me can still enjoy the wonders of football. I must admit to having something of an affair with another club, Charleston Battery. Mrs Velkyal and I went to see a match when we were in South Carolina last year, the Battery versus Houston Dynamo. Since then I have kept an eye out for their results, doing very nicely in the USL1 - the American equivalent of the Championship - and tomorrow they will play in the Lamar Open Cup Final against D.C. United of the MSL. This is the American equivalent of the F.A. Cup and I am hoping that Battery will take another scalp and be the first USL side to win the Cup in many a year.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Mrs Velkyal remarked that perhaps it is not an increase in drug abuse in the city, but rather the fact that we are more aware of it - in the same way that when a woman is pregnant, all her acquiantances seem to get knocked up as well. While I can see the validity of her argument, hoping of course it is not some rather unsubtle hint that she wants to start a family already, I am not convinced.
When I arrived in the Czech Republic in 1999 it was still ok to smoke pot in public, indeed many pubs and clubs had an almost permanent funk in the air which has thankfully gone in these less permissive days. But it is only recently that I have seen people shooting up with any regularity, in broad daylight and with no sense of shame. Even this morning on my way to the metro station to come to work there were a couple of girls sitting on a bench in the park around the railway station quite openly prepared to take a hit.
I think what shocks me most about the junkies in our area is not the fact that they leave their rubbish lying around in the street, but rather that they have no sense of shame - indeed they almost flaunt their anti-social behaviour in the full knowledge that few people will comment or do anything. It was Dietrich Bonhoffer I believe who commented that the reason bad people win is because good people do nothing, and still that rings true today. While I wouldn't want to label the junkies as "bad" people per se, I do feel that in rejecting the norms of society they have forfeited their right to the protection and benefits of the state.
Our society has become so "rights" obsessed that we have forgotten the responsibilities inherent in the nature of society. In our well meaning attempts to create a safety net for the disfortunate in the welfare state, we have created a hammock for the lazy, the unscrupulous and the downright corrupt. Our culture is now one of abrogated responsibility and the enfeeblement of civil society, where good, ordinary people look the other way and expect the powers that be to solve their problems for them.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
I have to admit that I am always staggered at the stupidity of people who want to stand in the cold just so they can boast of being one of the first owners of some plastic and metal which lets them talk to a random "friend" in Australia who they "met" online. Even more staggering to me is that people seem to think that a phone will somehow revolutionise their lives, someone even suggested to me that it was great to be able to watch videos on it. Maybe I am a total luddite, but isn't the cinema a great way to see films, especially if you go with your friends, have a couple of beers before hand and maybe a curry on the way home? Or even renting a DVD, getting a crate of ale and inviting some people round?
Within a purely Czech context, I read today that the iPhone which has been released here doesn't support the Czech language, as such all the menus and features are in English. Also if a Czech speaker wants to write an SMS to a friend, it is impossible to turn off the predictive software, so you end up with English words. So you have to tip your hats to Apple for failing to provide a key service to the Czech market for this product, especially relevant when you realise that 10% of all SMSes globally originate from Czech mobile users.
And the price for the basic 8Gb piece of gizmo lunacy? Without a subsidised contract, 12,000CZK which at the current exchange rate is $750, current price for the same iPhone on Amazon? $284. Could someone explain to me how it is possible to justify the iPhone at almost 3 times the cost on the Czech market than the American? Are not the production costs the same? Sure it costs a bit to transport products, but buying the 16Gb version from Amazon.de is the same price as the 8Gb version in the Czech Republic and unless I missing something, salaries are much better in Germany and the USA than here in Prague.
To add a little perspective, 12,000CZK is half the average net monthly salary in Prague, outside of the city it is closer to two-thirds the average salary. I assume there are very few people in the US earning just $568 a month - under $7000 for full time work, or that many Germans have salaries comparable to the average Czech salary. So how do you justify the price tag?
Because idiots will believe the hype and splash the cash. Sometimes I despair.
A major part of the problem has been the herna bar on the ground floor of the building - a herna bar is basically a pub with slot machines which is usually open 24/7. Just yesterday I was discussing with Mrs Velkyal and a couple of other residents that we could get a petition raised of residents to have the bar shut down, or look into getting their licence revoked on public safety grounds.
Three or four hours later I received a message from the landlord to say, thank you for calling the police, that he knew the situation was bad and that he had cancelled the herna bar's rental contract. So hopefully in a month or two the place will be closed down and the problem solved.
The closing of the herna bar is also an opportunity, unfortunately not one I can take because of our plans to cross the Atlantic. We live in an area which is enjoying a lot of inward investment, with the main railway station being renovated, new businesses moving into the area and of course the large number of tourists in the area. Thus for someone with a little nouse and the intention to set up a higher quality establishment, this soon to be vacant bar space would be an excellent investment.
But today I am just enjoying the fact that making a fuss gets things done, rather than meakly sitting in the corner saying "but what can I do"? I am also enjoying the fact that we have a really fantastic landlord who takes on board the concerns of his tenants.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
In particular I was thinking about internet dating sites, and the kind of adverts you get on them - you know the thing, "blonde 45 years young mother of 2 seeks soul mate, must be......". Has our world in its headlong rush to be "modern" forgotten the simple pleasures of going to the pub and meeting random strangers? I have a softspot for the "going to the pub" approach as that is how I met my wife, who is in many ways my polar opposite. Would she have replied to a classified saying "nearly 30 football fan seeks woman, must like beer, football, loud music and in-depth philosophical/religious/political discussions"? I am not so sure. My wife asked me in return if I would have answered an ad for "27 yr old wannabe homemaker searching for a hard working male with good sperm and sexual ability, must be clean cut, willing to listen to hours of drivel and likes the paranormal". Hmmm, quite. Yet here we are, and as I just said to her, thank god for pubs and being forced to talk to people.
Technology is making us a less human, less forgiving society where a person can be rejected simply because he or she doesn't share our values and interests. For our world to truly progress we need to rediscover the people around us, the community that we would in any other age be part of. For us to build "tolerant" societies we need to be actively engaged with the people around us, to realise that just because the neighbour likes jazz rather than rock doesn't make them any less worthwhile; just because someone didn't go to university doesn't negate their intelligence; just because someone likes the same sports isn't a basis for a relationship.
I was encouraged this week to read that only 5% of British people don't know their next door neighbours by name, I imagine in Prague that would be the exact opposite.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
I must admit that my wife being in hospital just a few weeks after the wedding wasn’t one I particularly relished. I am not very good with medical things at the best of times, unless of course it is medicinal whisky. The day of the operation was quite possibly the longest I can remember – the wedding day went by in such a flash. I was practically on a knife-edge waiting for news that everything had gone ok. Everything went very well, and although for a couple of days she looked like the bride of Frankenstein, she was soon up and about. Even just a few hours after the operation, in between vomiting, she was bright enough to crack a few jokes.
As for the wedding itself, as I already said, everything went by in such a blur – but it was the happiest and best day of my life – yes even better than May 25th 2005 (for those not sure, I will give you a hint, Istanbul). But everything went so well. The ceremony was wonderful – although when the official declared that we had considered our “property rights”, we both almost giggled. Everyone seemed to get one famously, the reception was a blast and Chris made it from the wastes of Kazakhstan, happy days.
Our honeymoon was spent in Tunisia, one of the most liberal of Muslim countries on earth and officially one of my favourite places. Any country that can effortlessly mix North African cuisine with a French attitude to life has to be a good place. Part of me was a little nervous, the wife being American and there having been some Islamic fundamentalist activity in the country. But everyone we met was awesome and genuinely seemed happy to meet an American – usually followed by the question, “but why you come to Tunisia”? I sometimes wonder if politicians and idealists cause more problems in the world than they solve.
This week is also the beginning of the official end of summer, or as I prefer to call it, the first day of the football season. I am not a big fan of the summer, mainly because of the absence of competitive football – and before anyone says, “well what about the Euros?”, Scotland weren’t there so they don’t count. The first day of the season also has a greater meaning for me this year, it marks the beginning of my final football season in Prague. Hopefully by the end of it Liverpool will be celebrating number 19, an FA Cup and a Champions League. We can dream.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Now I have another couple of days at work before flying out to Tunisia on holiday - 12 days of lounging around in the sun and recharging batteries. Hoepfully I can keep my eyes open at work until then.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
It is becoming increasingly clear that across Europe there is a backlash against the "ever-closer union" so beloved of the Eurocrats. The people of Europe are stuck between a rock and a hard place, the EU allows us to freely move and live throughout the Union, though the number of people who do so is inevitably minute. Yet the EU wants more power - the power of a nation-state to rule over the daily lives of the people living in the state.
And here is the problem, especially for Britain. The British people are a head strong, stubborn bunch - look at the nations where British people have settled and they are certainly not known for backing down in the face of threats to their national integrity. Yet here are our leaders, elected by the people, walking the nation into the European super-state which no-one in Britain wants.
Putting the needs of Britain before the needs of the EU is often shown to be somehow racist, yet the needs of Britain are pressing ever harder; the need for investment in education; the need to protect British industries; the need for British people to live without constant interference from the State.
I have come to the belief that Britain has more to re-gain from leaving the European Union than it has to lose. Britain has no need of the EU, we have the Commonwealth and our special relationship with the USA. British and Irish people are simply not Europeans, we are simply too stubborn and proud to let the bureaucrats rule. Thank you Ireland for making your voice heard, the challenge is laid squarely at the feet of the Eurocrats - listen to the people.
Friday, June 06, 2008
Watching that speech made me realise that this man is the best hope for America at this key turning point in history. The very things that his opponents pick up as weaknesses are in fact strengths, and harnessed properly give him the opportunity to radically re-shape America, to create a "more perfect union". Barack Obama is the walking talking melting pot. Half Kenyan and half White American he is in many ways a post-race politician, and while his detractors raise the race issue, they simply show themselves to be racist.
Here is a man so skilled in soaring rhetoric that he has engaged the hearts and minds of countless young people across the US and brought them into a system which many saw as failing and irrelevant. That in itself is a change worth celebrating - when citizens lose contact with the political system that governs society, they slowly lose their voices - society is like a choir, if you don't sing then why are you there?
As you can probably guess I am something of a fan of the senator from Illinois. As a Brit, I can't vote, but as a Brit moving to the US next year, I dearly hope that the president will be Barack Obama, I dearly hope that America can look beyond the shade of a man's skin and re-discover the values that made their nation great. The world looks to America for leadership, America it seems after 8 years of George Bush is looking for a true leader.
Monday, May 12, 2008
The city’s public transport is everything that it should be, clean, efficient and regular – although the ticketing system is something that a Ph.D in astrophysics would be useful in understanding. For example, you can buy a ticket for 2 euros allowing you two hours worth of travel, with unlimited changes as long as you go in a single direction. We couldn’t work out if the day ticket was for a period of 24 hours after validation or just until the end of the day on which it was validated.
Prague and Berlin are very different cities. Whereas Prague has an unmistakable energy to it – it is a city where everyone it seems is trying to be the trendiest person on earth. If the trash magazines were to say that this month’s ideal look is an orangutan costume with bright green stilettos then that is all you will see on the street until the magazines say otherwise. Berlin however is exceptionally laid back, and while there is a sizeable artistic community in the city, it doesn’t translate into being fashionable for fashion’s sake.
Berlin is also a very open city, not just in terms of the people being very helpful and friendly. The city seems to have given over more space to pavements and cycle paths, as such people spend more time on the street. Almost every restaurant had a large number of table and chairs on the pavement, and they seemed to be doing a booming trade. Admittedly we were staying with friends in the most popular part of Berlin for sitting around in a café or bar. Within minutes of the apartment were several Indian restaurants, a Turkish kebab café or two, Arabian restaurants, various Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese establishments as well. On the last night of our stay we stumbled upon a superb Arabian restaurant with wonderful service, excellent Lebanese wine and lamb which just fell apart in your mouth – in short the best restaurant meal we have had in a long time.
Architecturally the centre of Berlin couldn’t be more different than Prague. While the former is awash with Baroque and Gothic palaces, the centre of Berlin is home to some of the most modern architecture in the western world – and yet it doesn’t seem out of place next to the magnificent cathedral or the fascinating Reischstag. One of my favourite sights was the World Clock on Alexanderplatz – largely because of a little historical anomaly, one of the towns mentioned on the clock is Pressburg. Pressburg is a town which no longer exists, though it has not been destroyed, rather it was renamed Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.
So overall we had a great time in Berlin, and we are already planning another visit – so much more to see and just to be back in a city which is relaxed yet lively, cosmopolitan yet intimate, in short, a model modern multi-cultural metropolis.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
The reason for the holiday tomorrow is that it is Victory in Europe Day (VE Day), the day when the Second World War came to an end. I like the fact of all the participants in the war, the Czech Republic is one of the few countries still to mark one of the most important dates in world history. This is after all the day when unimaginable slaughter in Europe finished. So many men far younger than I am know died so that we can enjoy the freedoms which we so often take for granted. It is good to remember their sacrifice.
Monday, May 05, 2008
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
When I was in the States last summer I saw the Hannah Montana show on TV a couple of times, and frankly speaking I would find the image of the teen schoolgirl's pop star alter ego more disturbing than the pictures by Annie Leibovitz. Disney protrays itself as the guardian of family values in the US, and yet here is a clearly pre-pubescent girl prancing around a stage in a tiny skirt, pop socks and belly revealing top - if that isn't sexualising the teen star then I really don't what is. Or is it a case that people like their role models as "innocent" fantasies rather than womanly fantasties?
If something offends, don't bang on about it relentlessly, turn off the TV and provide your kids with a different role model - you could even try being one yourself.
Yes the media is pervasive, yes celebrities are everywhere, yes the TV has an off switch.
Friday, April 25, 2008
In a city as graffiti strewn as Prague, this question is particularly poignant - can graffiti ever be considered art? I guess that depends on your concept of art, as well as your concept of graffiti - personally I find the mindless tagging of buildings with a signature to be as far from art as it is possible to get, however I am prepared to allow that there are talented artists out there creating street art with the very same tools as the mindless taggers.
So when done properly, graffiti can be art, but mostly it is a crime.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Fernando Torres has had a phenomenal first season at Anfield, and hopefully that will continue next Wednesday, but first up is Birmingham City - and I for one would give a few reserves a run out. In light of the injury to Fabio Aurelio (how unfortunate can that guy get?), I think it would be time to give Insua a run in the team until the end of the season. I would also love to see Nemeth get a couple of turns on the bench. Resting the big players is an option for this weekend's game, so I would expect a recurrence of Gerrard's neck injury, and maybe even a hangnail for Mascherano, allowing Plessis another opportunity to impress.
Despite the gloom of an away goal at Anfield, and the constant bickering of the owners, and DIC waiting in the wings let the hangman, the future is still bright for Liverpool, as long as Rafa stays of course.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Businesses no longer provide machinery or equipment, they provide "total solutions", or a favourite of mine "complex solutions" - cleaning companies in particular love to provide "complex cleaning solutions". How complex can soap and water be?
Products are no longer things to make life easier, more enjoyable or even more bearable, products are today part of your lifestyle choice, they give you an "experience". Why marketing people think this kind of language is impressed consumers is beyond me.
What I find most interesting though is the fact that nobody is stating the problem which these solutions purport to solve.
Two more tight and nervy games, a hoarse throat on Wednesday for sure and hopefully at the end of it a final in Moscow against Barcelona.
Friday, April 18, 2008
I was watching the news the other day in Marks and Spencer - they have a little seating section with a tv, I guess designed for men waiting for their lady folk to emerge from the changing rooms. On the box was a political discussion programme talking about the US missile defence system, the radar for which is planned to be in the Czech Republic.
During an interview with a Green Party MP a comment was made that it was wrong to have foreign soldiers based on Czech soil . This got me thinking:
The Czech Republic is part of NATO and as such has responsibilities toward the organisation and the allies that form that organisation. In return the Czech Republic has the might of the USA and other allies in the event of an attack - however, seemingly unlikely. The missile defence scheme is not just about protecting the USA from attack, but also provides coverage for the majority of NATO members.
Inevitably the installation of an American military base will bring benefits to wherever it is located. I don't mean in terms of money spent by the military in local shops, unfortunately it would seem that many US service people don't interact much with local communities when stationed there. However it will provide jobs and a boost to the economy. Let's not forget that outside of Prague there are plenty of areas with high unemployment. Such a base would inevitably help the local economy:
People with jobs have more money
People with more money, spend money
People with money to spend need places to spend
The places where people with money spend money become more profitable
Profitable companies can expand and create more jobs.
And so the cycle goes on.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
I have never been to Berlin before, especially as when we lived in West Germany it was firmly ensconced in the old Democratic Republic of Germany. So I am very excited about going up there. Hopefully we will be going to a Bundesliga match while we are there, Hertha Berlin are playing F.C. Nurnberg and tickets are insanely cheap by British standards (even by Czech standards they are reasonable). About 12 GBP to sit behind the goal at the Olympic Stadium!
Also on the list of things to see and do are of course the Brandenburg Gate and the remaining parts of the Berlin Wall. Of course this wouldn't be an Al trip if there wasn't planned some beer drinking and I have found a few micro-brewery type places to visit.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Monday, April 14, 2008
I have come not to expect great things from the Prague embassy - this is after all the people who employed a former StB (Czechoslovak version of the KGB) agent just after the Velvet Revolution - hurray for the vetting process.
All I needed to do was post a Notice of Marriage and get an apostille for my birth certificate. The Notice of Marriage was simplicity in itself, but the apostille turned out to be something of a nightmare. By getting the Embassy to organise it it was going to cost 3000 CZK (approximately 100 GBP), of which 30 GBP was the actual fee and the rest to get it sent by diplomatic post. They told me at the embassy that this process would take 7 weeks! But if I posted it myself, along with payment details and so on, it would take 4 weeks and I save myself 70 GBP. So I rang the FCO in London to make sure that everything was correct - having been recommended by the embassy to "check with them because they know better" - and low and behold I get an automated phone system.
Is it any wonder that people feel disconnected from politics and dealing with governments when those very same bodies have disconnected themselves from us by hiding behind automated phone services? I just want to spend two minutes on the phone clarifying a couple of things, but for my "convenience" I have to listen to a useless recorded message, and when finally forwarded to an operator, I get an answering machine which just hangs up.
So my total paperwork costs for the wedding are around 150 GBP, compared to my fiancee paying about 60 GBP for the very same documents - she is American, America looks after its people, while it seems Britain hoses its for money.
Surely in this day and age with technology as it is, it is hardly rocket science for an embassy to do apostilles in situ - or is it just Britain that likes to makes life difficult for its people?
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
I have allocated an hour every day after work to draft articles for each of my two other blogs:
Diamonds and Rust - dealing with my spiritual and religious conflicts
Fuggled - dedicated to my love of beer and my impending journey in homebrew.
This blog will be a general waffling stop, and will no doubt focus on the upcoming changes in my life, namely getting married and moving the South Carolina in 2009.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Most people that I know will already know that, but just in case there are some lovely ladies with forlorn hopes, then I am afraid I must dash them.
July 4th is possibly the most ironic date for a Brit to marry a Yank, but to be honest I can't wait. In fact I would rather just elope and get it done with.
I have decided as well to start a new blog dealing with religious and spiritual stuff that fills my head to a worrying degree at times. I haven't decided on a name for it yet but I will post it here when I have it up and running.