I’m off to see some friends in Dubai and Lebanon for the next 10 days or so.  I doubt I will be sober enough to blog much.

See you when I get back, after which I will be having my remaining two wisdom teeth yanked out.  Now that’s something to look forward to.


England Thrashed

Well, that was embarrassing.  The highlight of England’s world cup is therefore a 1-0 win over Slovenia, whose population is less than 2m and most people confuse it with Slovakia.

It was a good game to watch without a doubt, especially with England coming right back into the game after Germany inexplicably fell asleep immediately after the second goal.  They will need to learn to stay awake for 90 minutes if they want to win this thing for the fourth time (unless we cruelly suggest that West Germany, which no longer exists, was an altogether different country).   I was glad that the game ended 4-1 rather than 2-1, because had Lampard’s disallowed goal been the only thing dividing the two sides, we’d have four years of deluded English fans saying “We woz robbed!” and assuming they’d have won the inevitable penalty shoot out to go on and win the tournament, completely forgetting the generally woeful football that England have played in South Africa.

And woeful it was.  Despite some good attacking play, a few good chances, and the two goals (allowed or nay), England were outplayed for most of the match, and the word doesn’t even do justice to how the Gemans took apart the English defence.  Who was supposed to be marking Muller when he scored their third goal?  “World class” Ashley Cole that’s who: Muller was standing all on his own and had time to tie his bootlaces before belting in the shot that put the game completly beyond England.  So where was he? Standing about with the central defenders, watching on helplessly.  England’s defence never held its position properly and were embarrassingly outpaced on the break.  And as for their positioning before the first goal – which would have pleased anyone who had the German keeper in their fantasy league team and picked up unlikely points for a goal assist – the less said the better.  What I will say is credit to Klose for staying on his feet under Upson’s challenge.  He could have gone to ground and won the free kick; he didn’t, and scored the opening goal instead.

No doubt there will be dozens of calls for lessons to be learned from this beating, but alas I fear the wrong ones will be learned for the umpteenth time.  Take this piece of commentary from the BBC’s live feed:

You know, man for man, no-one will never, ever convince me that this Germany team has this much more ability in it than the England one. But the likes of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry just haven’t turned up. It’s hard to fathom why.

Well, yeah.  That’s the biggest problem the whole country has.  Nobody will ever be convinced that the players are not all Peles, Beckenbauers and Zidanes who mysteriously fail to play like them on every occasion.  Until the scales fall from your eyes and you realise that the players are really very ordinary then it’s always going to be “hard to fathom why” they got run off the park by a team of not-so-ordinary Germans.

Mark Lawrenson wasn’t any better in his analysis:

When they come away with England, something happens to these very good players. They play as a collection of individuals, not a team.

If only they did!  At least then we might have seen some good individual performances in a disjointed team.  Instead we had rubbish individual performances in a disjointed team, hence the 4-1 thrashing.  The players are not very good, and the results prove it time and again.

Garth Crooks is another who doesn’t get it and is fervently searching for some other explanation:

I’m in shock. I can’t believe we’ve seen some of the best players in the world, performing on the biggest stage of the world, not performing at all.

Not so shocking if you understand they are not and never were some of the best players in the world.

Chris Waddle gets it:

Why don’t the FA look at other countries and say ‘how do they keep producing this talent?’ Where is our Plan B? We haven’t got one. The back four can’t control the ball, can’t pass, we lack so many ideas it’s frustrating.

Yup.  It’s back to the drawing board.  Burgle a German sperm bank and start building for FIFA 2034.


Ignorant Brits in Bars

I haven’t watched England playing football in a bar for years, but last night I did because I have an American friend staying with me and we wanted to watch both games simultaneously.  I soon realised why I stopped watching England matches in bars.

A Chelsea fan – who else? – spent 90 minutes roaring boorish, ignorant, remarks at the TV, seemed to think the Slovenians were Russians and referred to them as such throughout, and several times called the German referee a Nazi.  When Joe Cole came on he abused him as a traitor for leaving the club next season, perhaps not realising that his contract is not being renewed leaving him with little choice but to go elsewhere.  His remarks about the Algerians I will not repeat on here.

Last time I watched an England match in a bar, I think the same bloke was behind me.   No doubt the next few days will be filled with WWII references which the rest of the world forgot in the 1950s.  I’ll be watching the game at home, praying for a German win if only to shut up those who make England an international embarrassment.

Oh, and England might have beaten Slovenia and finished an impressive second in the weakest group of the tournament, but I doubt the Dutch, Argentines, Brazilians, and Portugese are too worried.  If England were any good, they’d be playing Ghana next.


The Problem is England’s Players

Unsurprisingly for somebody who is unemployed (yup, I don’t start the new job until September; this is a good unemployed) I have been watching a fair bit of the world cup.  I’m not just watching it because it’s a world cup either, I am a pretty big football fan and one of the things I missed most about living in Sakhalin was not being able to watch the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League.  I can also quite happily sit through a cricket match played in any of the three main formats, plus any game of rugby league and southern hemisphere rugby union (I find the northen hemisphere game too slow).  So I like watching sport, lots of it.  Through my school years I proved to myself and everyone else that I am utterly hopeless at team sports and a few individual ones as well, but watching them is something I’ve always enjoyed.

So it’s the world cup, and England are being absolutely true to form in playing appalling football against supposedly lesser nations and whilst they are not being thrashed 3-0 they might as well be.  Before I go any further I must confess there are people who can offer far better analysis and commentary on England’s woes and other footballing matters than I, namely James Hamilton and the superb Zonal Marking.  I highly recommend James’ post regardless, ZM only if you are genuinely interested in football tactics on a deeper level.

Theories abound as to why England are performing so badly, but I believe I know why and the answer is frighteningly simple: the players are simply not good enough.  And that’s about it.  There are many factors which go into making a player good: fitness, skills, mental strength, etc. and James’ site is an excellent source of discussion on sports psychology, but the sum total is failing England’s players and has done so for years.  An old boss of mine in Manchester who had been watching live football every weekend for years told me this over ten years ago.  See those world class players?  They’re not.

And they weren’t, and they aren’t.  True, English players play wonderfully well in the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League and often turn out performances which would make you think they are world class, but when it come to the ultimate test – performance on a world stage against world class opposition – they come up short time and again.  True, it is possible to succeed in a major international tournament without being world class, e.g. Greece in Euro ’04 and Italy in WC ’06, but a claim to being world class must be supported by top performances against all-comers.  And for every England v Germany in 2001 or England v Argentina in 1998 there are half a dozen mediocre or downright awful performances, and in a tournament where you are only guaranteed three games and should you progress you have to win every game from then on, there is probably only room for one poor performance from a tournament winner.  England have served up two, and the game against Slovenia will be no pushover.  (Incidentally, and I know this will sound like I have seen a unicorn, but I actually know a Slovenian, and I haven’t mistaken her for a Slovakian either.  Listening to the commentary on the world cup, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m the only one who knows where it is, let alone knowing somebody who carries a Slovenian passport.  She’s the only one I’ve ever met though, and I did wonder how they found eleven fit men when she assured me there is none whatsoever, forcing her into the loving arms of a cheeky Brit!  But I’m digressing, using my blog to make fun of people who can only defend themselves in the comments or by, erm, belting me one next time they see me.)

Anyway, back  to England and their pitiful performances.  Like I said, there are several factors which contribute to a player being “good”, and England are failing at two or three of the most important.  Firstly, their skills aren’t any good, especially in the midfield.  Their passing is awful, they lose possession, their first touch often lets them down, and their positional play is rubbish.  Secondly, their attitude is all wrong, and it’s been wrong for as long as I can remember.  You can see it in the body language, they have no confidence in their own abilities, and they are visibly nervous as hell on the pitch.  They don’t look or act like winners, they look and act like a bunch of losers.

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Macondo Aftermath Descends into Farce

This business with the BP oil spill is turning into a farce.  If ever there was a need for some sensible heads on the shoulders of adults to prevail then this is it, but alas the whole affair resembles a circus.

First we had Obama saying he expects BP to pay for the loss of income to oil field workers resulting from his knee-jerk ban on new offshore drilling, thus introducing the concept of arbitrary law into US business planning.  BP has stumped up $100m for this cause, which will last about a week or two at oil industry rates.

Then we had Obama demanding that BP should pay $20m into an escrow account because – and this is a laugh coming from a politician – he thought BP might renege on its promises to pay or have the temerity to challenge some of the claims.  Not only was this demand illegal, but it is a guarantee that the funds in the account will be misappropriated, spent on the maintenance of a sprawling bureaucracy, disbursed according to political preferences, and unlikely to end up in the hands of those who need it.  And as The Hayride has pointed out, management of the fund has indeed been handed to a political flunky:

[T]hat escrow in the hands of Kenneth Feinberg is an absolute joke as a “third party” administrator. Feinberg works for Obama; he’s his TARP pay czar. Obama has an established record of widespread abuse when it comes to giving his administration access to off-budget money, and that’s precisely what this is. This is a slush fund with virtually no safeguards keeping that money from being misappropriated and stolen by ACORN and SEIU just like every other Obama slush fund has been; while BP might be too slow paying claims, at least we can be virtually sure that BP is going to try to keep its money going to people it actually owes it to.

Feinberg is Obama’s “pay czar” who thinks it’s OK for the federal government to cap salaries at $500,000 per year for Wall Street execs; while the TARP debacle is a completely different animal than BP claims are, if this guy starts trying to impose social judgements on who should get what based on his concept of fairness rather than the merits of the claim, it’s going to be a mess of gargantuan proportions.

Amazingly, BP agreed to this and have conjured up $20bn to pay into this account, seemingly by cutting CAPEX and selling assets.  On top of this, BP also caved in to criticism from idiot politicians by not paying a dividend to shareholders this year.  If this willingness to cravenly fold in the face of irrational, illegal, and politically motivated demands is not enough to convince shareholders, investors, and everybody else that the management of BP is piss-weak and incompetent then I don’t know what is.  Either way, the share price has taken a hammering and deservedly so.

As I said in my earlier post, share prices often reflect uncertainty rather than the scale of what is actually happening.  For a while the share price stabilised as the top-kill failed and the likely scale of the environmental damage became apparent, but since then the political uncertainty surrounding BP has increased tenfold.  One of the whackier calls has been for the US government to nationalise BP’s American assets (suits me, provided the UK government helps itself to the American assets in the North Sea plus the refineries at Fawley and Roscrowther).  But where is the certainty that some wannabe president won’t bring this up in all seriousness, Obama falls over himself to claim the idea as his own, and before you know it BP are conceding all their United States assets for…well, for what?  Why did BP cave in so readily?

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Commandos Tour de France

It’s not something I talk about much on this blog, but I’ve always been a steady supporter of the UK armed forces, especially the Royal Marines whose ranks hold several of my closest friends.  Regardless of the politics surrounding their deployment, I always thought the armed forces were worthy of support given the job they are asked to do and – perhaps more importantly – the job they might one day be asked to do in order to save the lives of my family and me.

War is hell, and the testimonies of my friends coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan don’t deviate much from this axiom, and it is with great admiration that I look upon those who have experienced it and – contrary to what (rightly) gets the most attention in the press – return to simply get on with the rest of their lives.  Of course, getting on with the rest of your life is a lot easier if you have not suffered a battlefield injury, and for those that have – and there are sadly plenty of these occurring in Afghanistan and Iraq – they need all the support they can get.  Knowing these chaps, they don’t want sympathy, they have more than enough mental strength to overcome the physical handicaps, what they need is good hard cash to pay for operations, prosthetics, and any specialist rehabilitation training and care they might need.

To this end, a group of Royal Marines is intending to undertake a 2,218 mile cycle ride following the exact route of the 2007 Tour de France in order to raise money for injured Royal Marines on what is billed as The Commandos Tour de France.  Their website is here, and their Facebook page is here.

If you’ve got a few spare quid, please consider donating.  It’s a worthy cause.


New Job

Having been unemployed for 3 months and 15 days, today I was offered a job.

In Nigeria.

Which I have accepted.

I suppose you’ll want to know why I’ve agreed to go there.  I can assure you I don’t particularly want to, I have never had any inclination to visit Africa, let alone live in one of the continent’s most violent corners.

The reason is that the offer has come from a large and well-known international oil company who has agreed to employ me in a staff position, complete with all the perks and benefits, with the aim of giving me a full career.  If this works out, I will have a secure, well-paid, interesting job with real prospects of training, career development, and promotion until I retire.  Relative to my previous jobs, this is like me playing Sunday league football and then Manchester United coming along and offering me a 10 year contract with the likelihood of renewal for a further 15.  In the oil industry this is about as good as it gets, and way beyond what I could have dreamed of getting when I got sacked in February.

So the price of entry into this highly prized position is an acceptance that I could be sent anywhere and that anywhere is Nigeria, for 2-3 years at least.  The good news is I am guaranteed to be posted somewhere else next time, so there is no danger of my being there permanently.  But I have put in time on the Burgan field in Kuwait (the most boring place on earth) and Sakhalin Island (both the best “hardship” location in the industry, and the best kept secret) so I am not in the least bit worried about being sent to Nigeria for a while.  The days of my worrying about being sent to work in a weird environment are long gone, and I am sure this was not lost on those who interviewed me.

So how did I get this job?  An old boss called for me?  A friend put my CV onto the desk of somebody in the company?  No.  I got the job in a manner which is known to be impossible in the industry: I applied cold on the corporate website.  I had a preliminary telephone interview, and then was summoned to Singapore to undergo three separate interviews.  For the first time in my life, and this is easier to say in hindsight than it was before today, I was sitting in front of people confident that I knew what I was talking about and my experience was pretty good considering my age.  They made me sweat for a few months, during which time I was offered not one other job, although I did have an interview for a contract position with another major oil company who gave me the impression they were a bunch of cowboys before not getting back to me to say if I got the job or not.

I am due to start sometime in September, but with contracts being prepared and visa applications this might shift rightwards somewhat.  I will be doing some travelling in the meantime, to Dubai and Lebanon in July and then Sakhalin in August, assuming I can get a visa.  My wife will not be coming with me to Nigeria, instead staying behind in Phuket to tough it out in our apartment, which is all of a sudden looking a lot nicer.  I will get six trips home (or anywhere else) per year so I’ll still be putting in time in Phuket, plus a couple of holidays somewhere else.  I am sure I will have much to blog about when I get to Nigeria, and I fully intend to do a similar job of reporting on local conditions to that which I did during my first year in Sakhalin.

I might also write a little bit more about the circumstances surrounding my sacking in February, which might serve to explain why I am able to get a senior position staff position in a major oil company but am seemingly not good enough for a third-rate outift masquerading as an engineering company which, as far as I could tell, had not managed to complete a single project in three years.  It’s time I started naming and shaming some people.


More Russian Fuckwittery

As I said in this post, I’m planning a trip to Sakhalin in August and am going through the process of obtaining a visa.

I got the letter of invitation without any problem once we’d agreed I’m not going to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, this document being compulsory and of such importance to the security of the Russian nation that they can be ordered over the internet for $30 and emailed to you within an hour.  I then filled out out the application form, which is completely different from the one which is available for download on the embassy websites and if you arrive with that one you get told to fill in the proper one.  Fortunately, I knew about this from the last time I applied so had a spare copy with me and could fill it out at home.

Which is just as well when faced with questions such as:

“List all educational establishments you have ever attended, except high schools.” Twenty character spaces are provided for writing the address and phone number of each.

“List your last two places of work, excluding the current one.” and include the name, address, your position, phone number, date of joining and dismissal, and “Your chief’s surname”.  Presumably that last one is for native Americans.  For your current  job, they give you two small lines in which to enter your position, company name, address, phone number, fax number, and email.

“List all countries you have visited in the last ten years and indicate the year of visit.” Three small lines are provided for this information; mine looks like this:

Azerbaijan (2008), Cambodia (2008), Canada (2000), Hong Kong (2010), Ind0nesia (2007, 2010), Japan (2008-09), Kazakhstan (2008), Kuwait (2003-06), Malaysia (2002, 2009-10), Netherlands (2005), Oman (2003, 2006), Philippines (2008), Qatar (2005-06), Russia (2004-10), Singapore (2001-2, 2007, 2009-10), South Korea (2005, 2007), Spain (2008), Thailand (2007, 2009-10), Turkey (2007), UAE (2003-06), UK (2003-06, 2008-09), Ukraine (2005), USA (2000, 2004), Vietnam (2008).

Needless to say, I needed a separate piece of paper and it took a couple of hours of nosing through old passports looking at smudged entry and exit stamps to figure it all out.  Not something you want to have to do when you arrive at a Russian consulate.

Anyway, I filled out this ludicrous form and went to Malaysia, where I am sitting now.  Why the hell did you go to Malaysia? I hear you all asking.  Because there is a daft rule the Russians have invented which says you can only apply for a visa at an embassy in a country in which you hold a residence permit of more than 90 days, which for most people means you can only apply in your home country.  But for some reason the Russian embassy in KL accepts visa applications from Brits even if they don’t live there (I blogged about the inconsistency and unpredictablity of Russian embassies when I was last here).

Sure enough, today was no different.  I walked in, the admin lady said it would be ready either today or Friday depending on how much I paid.  The embassy is closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays so no chance of getting it tommorow, so I chose today.  I submitted my documents, then ten minutes later the lady behind the counter came out saying it would take seven days.  Seven days?!!  Where the hell did that come from?  That’s what the consul said, apparently.  So I asked why it was going to take seven days and not the usual 1-3, and suddenly the consul burst into view shouting “Vot is ze problem, I say seven days, feeneesh!” and slammed the door shut.

The admin lady looked very apologetic and said she didn’t know why this has happened, and I replied that I did: these are Russia authorities and they are being typically hopeless.  As I gathered up my documents with the intention of flying back to Thailand and sending them all off to a visa agent in London (which would probably have been cheaper in the first place), she whispered that maybe I should come back tomorrow because they usually do express visas on a Thursday morning.

“Huh?” I replied “I thought the embassy was closed on Thursdays.  And that dickhead in there said it would take seve…”

“Yes, I know,” she said “but call me at 9am tomorrow and we might be able to get your visa for you then.”

Somebody should produce a reality TV show set inside a Russian consulate.  It would be certain to generate both entertainment and wide-eyed amazement in equal measure.

I’ll call ’em up tomorrow and see what happens then.


The Dangers of a Weakened BP

As I said in this recent post, in theory BP should have more than enough cash to pay for the environmental cleanup and compensation claims resulting from the Macondo well disaster.  But as I went on to say in this post, the manner in which the US government is hounding the company is sending their share price – and hence market capitalisation – into steep decline.

The Obama adminstration is swimming in very dangerous waters here.  The absolute priority must be to stop the leak from the well, followed very closely by cleaning up the damage and settling compensation claims.  It is much more desirable that a healthy, profitable company is in the position to do these things than one whose very survival looks to be in doubt.  But Obama and his chums seem more interested in sending BP into bankrupcy in order for them to look politically tough, and this is stupid in the extreme.  If the decline in BP’s share price continues with more vindictive outbursts from the White House, there will come a point where the BP shareholders will decide that the aforementioned priorities should shift.  If it starts to look like the company is facing an existential crisis, the shareholders are quickly going to try to save what they can and to hell with the cleanup and compensation claims.  What will they have to lose if the US government is determined to see their investment reduced to zero anyway?

Once again I am indebted to The Hayride for posting the contents of this letter, which suggests politicians in Louisiana have similar concerns:

“It appears that the plan of the state and the federal government to stop the Deepwater Horizon oil leak, remediate its effects and compensate Louisiana citizens damaged by the leak is predicated on BP’s ability to pay for these objectives. I write because I am concerned about the solvency of BP. More specifically, I am concerned about the possibility that BP will seek the protection of the United States bankruptcy laws. A Chapter 11 filing by BP North America, a fully owned subsidiary of BP plc, could be used to protect the company from its creditors, including the United States government, the State of Louisiana, other states and individuals and businesses damaged by BP.”

– Louisiana state treasurer John Kennedy, in a letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal

How low will the share price have to go before the shareholders accept that BP in the USA is finished for good and they might as well cut bait and run?  If the US government keeps going the way they are, we might just find out.


Which island?

I’m planning a trip back to Sakhalin in August, mainly to take one last look at the place given the chances of my ever going back are slim, and to see a few friends.  For the first time in years I have had to organise my own visa to Russia, but I remembered the website I used in the past to get a quick letter of invitation, the document which must accompany your visa application.  Sure enough the Moscow-based agency is still going strong, and I filled out the application form listing Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk as a place I will be visiting.

A couple of hours later I got this reply:

Please be advised that Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is a city of a strict passport control. To visit this city, you are supposed to have an invitation issued by local migration authorities.

Drawing on my experience of having lived there for three and a half years, I can quite confidently tell you that the strict passport controls in place in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk consist of ordinary passport control at the airport and, erm, that’s it.  As for the invitation issued by the local migration authorities, I saw people come and go on many weird and wonderful business and tourist visas, not one of which had to be issued by local authorities.  I expect they have picked up the story that in late 2006 the FSB announced that Sakhalin would become a special border zone, but missed the one about them changing their minds five months later.

Still, it’s good to know that the tradition of Moscow not knowing what the hell is going on in the provinces is still alive and well!