Monday 27 June 2011

What should we do about Greece?

If someone asked me what's the biggest news story that's been interesting me in recent weeks, I'd have to say the financial crisis taking place in Greece.

Before you start thinking that's boring, I'm gonna click onto something more interesting, hold on a minute!

This is interesting - you've got Euro politicians and political commentators arguing this is the biggest crisis to hit Europe since the Second World War!

I've been giving this story a lot of thought. There's a number of questions that I've been thinking about in the last few weeks.

1. Is there much point in giving the Greeks anymore money?

2. Should the Greeks even be in the Euro? Would it be better for them to leave?

3. Does this crisis just prove that there's a limit to how much economic and political integration you can have in Europe?

Greece is well and truly f*cked! I'm sorry I can't think of another word that best sums up the situation the country is in.

The Greeks have no money to pay their national debt which stands at around 340 billion euros - that's one and-a-half times the value of everything the country produces.

In return for a new EU Loan to stop the country from going bankrupt, the Greek government is having to implement severe austerity measures, which means government spending cuts, jobs loses and tax increases.

No wonder the Greeks are feeling the pain and taking to the streets to protest against their leaders. If I was Greek I'd be thinking why should we stay in the Euro if it's going to mean so much economic pain.

What's best for Greece?

It's generally accepted now that it's only a matter of time before Greece defaults on its debt repayments, so what should it do next.

Probably leave the Euro. Write off some of its debt, and devalue its currency which will hopefully mean a return to economic growth.

Greece has too much debt which it can't meet. It doesn't matter how much more loans the EU give the Greeks, they're never going to be in a position to pay it off.

One of the things I've discovered is that nobody in Greece pays taxes. Well only half the population. They have a small private sector and a huge public sector. The country simply doesn't generate enough revenue to pay its debts.

There's probably no point in throwing more money at Greece if it can never pay this money back.

What's best for European Union?

The complete opposite from what I can see.

The last thing the EU wants to see is Greece default or even leave the Euro. If that happens the Euro itself is at risk. Not only that, it would mean enormous losses for the European Central Bank, which would be humiliating, but also for a number of French and German banks.

On top of this, there's the domino effect everyone keeps talking about. If Greece defaults on its debt, then the worry is that Portugal and Ireland will do the same and have their debts written off.

The question of Spain

Last week I was watching a video featuring the BBC's economic and business editors Hugh Pym and Robert Peston give a briefing on the Greek crisis. Interestingly they talked about the issue of Spain being crucial to what's going on.

The EU doesn't want the Greek crisis to spread to Ireland or Portugal (this could cause problems for British banks). If it did it could potentially spread to Spain which would the nightmare scenario for the EU.

Spain's economy is bigger than those two countries along with Greece, but it's economy is only just emerging from recession. If Greece, Portugal and Ireland needed a bailout it could knock the Spanish economy back into recession, which would be a disaster for the Euro. Spain itself could even need a bailout. The costs for that would be huge.

Hope you're keeping up with this!

Their opinion is that by propping up Greece with further loans, this will hopefully allow the stronger and more important Spanish economy to grow, so that if Greece was to default sometime in the not too distant future Spain would be in a stronger position to counter any domino effect.

It's complex stuff, but it got me thinking; what's best for Greece simply isn't in the best interests of the Euro, the EU, and particularly Germany.

I don't really know much about Greece's economic and political history, but from what I've learnt in recent weeks, I'm beginning to wonder whether Greece should have been admitted to the Euro in the first place.

The economies and political cultures of some of the Europe's southern states are completely different to those countries in the north.

You can't have a one size fits all economic model for all of Europe. I suppose this is the argument that Euroceptics use.

Although I don't consider myself a Eurosceptic, I understand where they're coming from. There's probably a limit to how big the Eurozone can realistically be.

Germany are the real winners

I'll probably sound like a real Eurosceptic when I say this, but Germany appear to be the biggest winners from having the Euro and the crisis in Greece. For years countries like Greece used to borrow cheap cash from the EU and they used that money to buy lots of German goods.

German exports have benefited from having the Euro. If they still had their old Deutsche Mark it would have been valued a lot higher against other euro currencies which would have harmed German exports.

For the Germans its better that they keep the Euro going in the long run. Great for them but not what you want to hear if you're Greek.

See this wasn't that boring at all was it?

It's complex but fascinating stuff as it's made me think more about the benefits of having a single currency. Who really gains from it? Maybe a common currency only works with a smaller number of countries who have similar political and economic cultures, like many of the northern European states.

We might be facing tough times here in Britain but at least we're not Greek.

Sunday 26 June 2011

Two tickets for the 100m qualifiers

I found out which tickets I've got for the Olympics this week.

I have to say I've done pretty well by getting tickets for the athletics qualifying session on 4 August which includes the 100m.

If you told me 3 months ago this is all I'd get, I would have been really disappointed; but now I'm beginning to appreciate just how lucky I am.

I wanted to apply for tickets in Friday's second round of applications but couldn't because I'd already got tickets in the first.

If there's one good thing you can say about the ticketing controversy it's that at least all the events are going to be played out in front of packed crowds. And that applies to such minority of minority sports like handball.

The demand for tickets has been unprecedented and in comparison to previous Olympics, it's looking like 2012 will be the best attended ever.

Despite my good fortune I'm still unhappy with the ticketing process. There's been a lack of transparency and a clear explanation on how the tickets have been allocated.

Even though we've been told that all the tickets have sold out, there's still a third round of ticket sales taking place at the beginning of next year. There's meant to be a further 1 million available but mainly for football, which I have no interest in seeing, and other events like volleyball, and boxing.

With almost no chance of getting any other tickets, I know I'm going to saviour every minute of the 4 hours I'll be spending in the Olympic stadium next summer.

Monday 20 June 2011

Wimbledon is here - just don't expect a British winner

Wimbledon starts today and our yearly obsession with tennis begins.

Yes I do sound cynical! I actually love Wimbledon, I've been watching it since I was a kid. I just hate the annual 'will a British player win Wimbledon this year' question we hear every year.

Below is the blog I wrote 2 years ago about the chances of Britain producing a winner.

Despite Andy Murray, we’re still rubbish at tennis!

What's slightly sad or even ridiculous is that I don't need to write a new blog on this subject. What I wrote 2 years ago still applies. In fact if blogging had been around 25 years ago I would have written exactly the same thing.

Of course Andy Murray does have a chance but as we've seen with his previous Grand Slam final defeats, it's unfortunate for him that he's playing in the same era as two of the all time greats in Federer and Nadal.

The wait for a British champion will continue.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Olympic tickets: I'm one of the lucky few!

Up until a few days ago, I thought I was one of the many thousands of disappointed people who didn't get any Olympic tickets.

After looking at my monthly bank statement which arrived last Thursday, it turns out I was successful after all. I noticed I had £46 taken out of my bank account. I'm not sure what I've got, but I think the tickets are either for an afternoon session of athletics or a preliminary round of basketball.

There's still a number of tickets left which you can buy in the second round of sales on a first come first serve basis. Having looked at what's available, the options are limited. You've got very little chance of getting reasonably priced tickets for popular sports, like athletics, cycling, diving, gymnastics and swimming.

Don't get me wrong, I feel privileged to get any tickets - but that doesn't mean to say I agree with the process.

When two thirds of people who applied for tickets failed to get anything at all, then you have to say the ticketing system used was totally flawed.

I've had this discussion with other people and I don't understand why the tickets couldn't have been allocated on a first come first serve basis.

People would still have missed out, but plenty of other events work on the same principle, so why is the Olympics any different?

Today I was reading some thoughts by the the former England rugby union star Brian Moore in his Daily Telegraphy blog.

He made some interesting points about 75% of tickets being made available, with a further 8% going to Olympic sponsors. That leaves 17% of tickets unaccounted for. His question quite rightly is where are these extra tickets being allocated, and why have the public not be adequately informed about the true number of tickets available?

I know there's no perfect system, but I think it would have been better if the sale of tickets had be staggered over a period of a few months, and that each individual buying tickets were limited to a set number of sessions they could purchase.

There surely must have been a better system available whereby more people could have purchased tickets for at least one event they applied for.

On a personal note, I live within 20 minutes walk of the Olympic stadium and I'm in one of 5 official Olympic boroughs. It's probably asking too much to expect that some of the tickets be reserved for local residents in those 5 boroughs.

We're now going to have a situation whereby the majority of residents in East London, will have the world's greatest sporting event taking place on their doorstep, and they'll have no opportunity to attend it. I don't think that's right.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Boring daytime radio playlists

A few months ago my team at work moved offices. One of the plus points of moving was being able to listen to the radio again - or so I thought.

After three months I'm beginning to hate commercial radio as a result of their boring and predictable playlists.

Predictable in the sense that you could safely bet your entire life savings predicting what songs will be played everyday.

Capital FM is the station of choice in our office, which usually means listening to a Groundhog day selection from the likes of Rhianna, Adele, more Rhianna, Black Eyed Peas, and Lady GaGa.

What’s worse is that even stuff I like, I’ve started to hate. I love Adele and bought her second album when it first came out, but I don’t want to listen to her at home anymore because I hear her everyday at work.

As for Rhianna, I’m sick of hearing this girl! I was always pretty indifferent to her, but I’ve reached a point where everytime one of her songs comes on, I stop working, start shaking my head, before muttering to myself:

“For gods sake, you only played her 10 minutes ago!”

It got me thinking, is this what commercial radio is all about these days - playing the same 15 tunes all day everyday? It’s pathetic!

When did commercial radio become so boring?

I'm picking on Capital FM a bit, but they're not the only culprits. Heart FM and Magic are no better.

As for the supposedly ‘alternative’ radio station xfm, that’s just Heart FM for Indie kids. Safe and predictable indie with the same 10 records played everyday.

I don’t remember commercial radio being like this. Is there really such a lack of records out there that means stations have to continually play the same thing?

Thankfully there is an alternative and it comes in the form of Radio 2. It’s funny as when I was growing up Radio 2 always had an image of being a bit safe and middle of the road. It was a station for people who thought everything on Radio 1 and in the charts was for the kids.

Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting old, but I love Radio 2. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to think I’ve got a bit of an edge when it comes to my music tastes.

Even in my mid 30s I still love my Hip Hop and I’ll never get tired of underground House music, but Radio 2 ticks just about every box I want ticking when it comes to daytime radio.

Compared to commercial Radio, Radio 2 is pretty radical with a playlist that’s like a breath of fresh air. Their playlist is described as ‘Adult Contemporary’ or AOR. Well maybe I’m an AOR type of guy these days.

When I listen to the radio I want to hear stuff that’s around today, but I want to hear older stuff as well. Records I grew up listening to in the 80s and 90s along with older classic tracks. This is Radio 2.

I want records that make me think: ‘Yes… this is exactly what I want to hear right now, or ‘I haven’t’ heard this record in years!’

Not ‘I just heard this song 10 minutes ago, and it’s the 5th time today I’ve heard it’

Commercial radio doesn’t do this, well not the stations I’ve been listening to.

Thank god for Radio 2

Saturday 11 June 2011

Basketball's NBA Finals

With the end of the football season there’s been a void in my sporting life, thankfully it’s being filled with US basketball’s
NBA Finals.

For the last month I’ve been watching the end of season playoffs. The 16 teams with the best end of season records compete; we’re now down to the last two. The Miami Heat who won the Eastern Conference title, verses the Dallas Mavericks who won the Western.

Game 5 Highlights

Last Thursday was Game 5 of the 7 game series. Dallas won to go 3-2 up in the series. They need to win one more game to become NBA champions for the first time in their history.

It’s going to be tough as the next game is back in Miami. Should Miami win to make it 3 all in the series, they'll have home advantage in the 7th and final game.

I have to say I’ve been loving it. Miami are the NBA's glamour team. They have two of the league's best and most famous players in Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, along with their other star Chris Bosh.

This should be Miami’s championship, but I’ve been discovering that Dallas have their own superstar in the 7 foot German player Dirk Nowitzki. I’d never heard of him until a few months ago, but the guy's a legend. Should Dallas win, it will cement his place as one of the greatest players that’s ever played the game!

I’ve always thought that if I lived in America, basketball would be my number one sport. I think it’s the only sport that could come close to capturing the same feelings and emotions I have for football.

I played basketball for my school team for 7 years and loved it. Our school was one of the best in the Midlands. Growing up it was always difficult to follow the sport, but now with cable TV, the Internet and twitter I’ve been able to follow this season’s action in more detail.

Game 4 Highlights

After visiting Boston last year I decided to start following the Boston Celtics, the most successful team in NBA history. Unfortunately they got knocked out in the 2nd round of the playoffs by Miami.

I’ve always been aware of who the star players have been in basketball, at the moment it’s people like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal (although he’s just retired).

What I’ve enjoyed in the last few months is learning about the different teams and discovering players I’d previously never heard of.

There’s Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls who’s turning Chicago into a winning team for the first time since the Michael Jordan era; but by far biggest and best player I’ve discovered is Dirk Nowitzki at Dallas.

Game 3 Highlights

When it comes to sport, Americans love their stats. According to the stats, when Nowitzki retires he will go down as one of the all time greats. It’s interesting that he’s proving so dominant as the star of the finals was meant to be Lebron James.

He joined Miami last summer in a controversial move from his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. He decided to join forces with his great rival Dwayne Wade to create a ‘Dream Team’ that would win the Championship.

It may still turn out like that, but they have to win Game 6 to keep the series alive. Wade or ‘D Wade’ as he’s known has been doing his bit, but the critics are questioning whether LeBron is doing enough in these finals.

That’s one thing I notice about American sports, there seems to be a bigger emphasis on star players and match ups between the star players. Nowitzki seems to be coming out on top, but there’s still a lot of basketball to be played so lets see what happens in Game 6. I can’t wait.

Dallas beat Miami 105 - 95 in Game 6 to clinch the series 4-2 and become NBA champions for the first time.

Highlights below