To thine own self be true

Archive for November, 2007

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

Posted by Polonius on 18 November, 2007

Yesterday, Scotland’s kick-ball team went down to another memorable defeat. We really do seem to have a knack for bumbling through the group stages of major tournaments doing almost enough to stay in until, in the last game, we have to beat one of the strongest teams in the world, sometimes by a preposterous margin. The most memorable example was perhaps the 1978 World Cup, where the nation had hyped itself up, partly through an excruciatingly embarrassing team song, to a level of confidence totally unsupported by the objective facts. After the usual mediocre performance in the first few games, we came to our last group match. To stay in the competition, we had to beat the Netherlands, one of the strongest sides in the world, by three goals. In the 68th minute, Scotland went 3-1 up; suddenly even the most level-headed dared to dream. The dream lasted four minutes.

Yesterday’s challenge was similar. We had to beat Italy, the reigning World Cup champions. The margin was immaterial – one goal would do. Even a draw would leave open a chance (but that would then depend on Partick Thistle beating Brazil, or something equally unlikely). We had home advantage (and Italy had never beaten us here); even the torrential rain was on our side. Still, it was a herculean task.
In this household, we’re not terribly interested in the game, so we hadn’t (unlike my mother!) taken out the necessary month’s subscription to Sky to get TV coverage. Nor was I sufficiently interested to go out to a pub to see it. But I dipped into the radio coverage between household chores. Until I heard, with 15 minutes to go, the score stood at 1-all. We’d scored once already, we could do it again. In the next few minutes, we came close twice (bear in mind, I’m going by the radio commentary). The commentators were agreed that the Italians were knackered. Sadly, it was not to be, and the Italians sealed it with a goal in the last minute.

I saw TV interviews with both managers after the match. From those, and commentaries I’ve subsequently read, it seems Italy’s winning goal followed a poor decision to give them a free kick that probably should have gone the other way. But Scotland seem to have had the advantage of two off-side decisions that denied Italy a legitimate goal and gave Scotland a more debatable one. The officials were poor, but we can’t complain.

While musing on this game, I was reflecting on the meaning of the term “national sport”. Wikipedia has an interesting article on the subject. But surely you can’t legislate for taste? It’s the shortest law I’ve ever read, but what’s it for?


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World’s worst crop circle

Posted by Polonius on 10 November, 2007

I live in an obscure little village between Glasgow and Paisley called Ralston. It’s a village in the southern English sense, where they pretend that some arbitrarily-delineated group of roads has its own identity, distinct from the next few roads in the seemingly endless continuum of homogeneous conurbation. North of Ralston is Barshaw municipal golf course, a quite decent course available to the public.

North of Barshaw is a strange little oasis of farmland, complete with its own crop circle. Unfortunately, it’s been made by drunks, and it’s not very circular.

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Plastic bags – good or bad?

Posted by Polonius on 1 November, 2007

Today’s PM programme on Radio 4 did a piece to mark 6 months of the ban on plastic bags in the Devon town of Modbury. A search on the BBC News Web site reveals several articles on the subject, but all seemingly aimed at one vital sector of the BBC’s demographic. Let’s not forget that the BBC has a duty to its viewers, and some of them are not the most discerning. They invented That’s Life and now The One Show for people who would like to keep abreast (Fnarr! Fnarr!) of current affairs through The Sun, but lack the necessary level of literacy.

How do plastic bags compare with the competition, which I’ll assume is paper? I’m finding it very difficult to find any figures, but let’s at least consider what the issues are. Plastic is well-suited to reuse; paper rapidly disintegrates, especially when wet. The manufacture of both doubtless produces unpleasant chemical by-products. In the absence of any information to the contrary, let’s assume that paper produces one quarter of the chemical by-products of plastic. If you use a plastic bag four times, that’s parity; eight times and it’s half the chemical impact.

The most immediate threat to the environment today is atmospheric carbon dioxide. If, as seems likely, the energy used in manufacturing bags is generated from fossil fuels, some atmospheric carbon will result. Assume that paper requires a quarter of the energy of plastic. The same argument applies as for chemicals.

But then there’s the carbon incorporated into the bag itself. Paper rapidly breaks down, liberating carbon into the atmosphere to wreak its terrible impact on the environment. Plastics can lock it up for 400 years, helping to buy us time to find a long-term solution. Discarded plastic bags may be unsightly, but they could be part of the solution, rather than of the problem.

Of course, I’m making assumptions here in the absence of data. Does anybody have any data?

Posted in Environment | 3 Comments »