Sunday, April 30, 2006

The things he will do to get a photo

This post is basically a series of pictures showing what BondBloke is prepared to do in order to get a picture. A picture which he has subsequently posted on A Sensual Eye. This was during our recent trip to Lunga just before Easter. Lunga is basically in Pat the Chooks territory, and in the weather we saw it in (again) in early April a sight to behold. When we were there in late December, BB spotted a millstone on the ground which he wanted to photograph, but he was unable to find a suitable angle. This time round he was a great deal more persistent, as this series of photographs showing up a tree, and in photographing mode, and subsequently out of his tree (a regular state of affairs) shows you. To work out whether it was worth the effort or not, you have to compare the photograph on here of the millstone, taken by me from ground level, and the photograph on A Sensual Eye, taken from the eagle's perch. You can judge for yourselves, and let me know what you think!

Bonds elsewhere

Just a quickie. Over on BondBloke al Fresco there is a post detailing yesterday's walk in the Den and Hill of Alyth. Just a sample picture on the left to whet your appetite. Wasn't the weather just fantastic yesterday? Well it was in Central Scotland, and I hope it was where you were yesterday as well. Sadly it's not quite the same today, but it's still ok.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Two years after enlargement

Coverage of EU themes on this blog recently has been rather thin. I can hardly blame this on my creation of a separate blog on EU stuff, as I haven't posted much there either yet. Sorreee...

Anyway, it may not have escaped your attention that we are running very close to the second anniversary on 1 May of the historic fifth enlargement of the European Union in 2004, including the eight states of central and eastern Europe which escaped the yoke of "state socialism" in 1989.

My own personal favourite "enlargement story" involves being in Copenhagen on 1 May 2004 - where the picture here was taken. Copenhagen is where all the really important decisions about enlargement, and its conditions, were taken. So it was ironic that I was there - for a conference unrelated to enlargement - on that day. Anyway, on 1 May 2004, I purchased a pair of Ecco shoes (a Danish company) in Copenhagen clearly marked "Made in Slovakia". How very prescient that was, given the recent events regarding the shifting of car production to Slovakia. Anyway, at the time, the shoes felt very "European" in a rather complete sense.

Over the next few days, I am going to be watching out for the tenor of press coverage on "two years after enlargement", and see to what extent it presents the story with all its warts. Here's a snippet about one downside of the generally positive cultural interaction resulting from enlargement. In Dublin last week, a friend of mine mentioned to me the rash of deaths of foreign nationals in car crashes in Ireland, notably the four Polish men killed in a crash in Cork last week. My friend works for an organisation which provides support for immigrants in Ireland, and he is concerned, as are many, about an apparent lack of awareness amongst newcomers to Irish roads about some of the dangers which lie in wait for them especially if they bring certain "habits" of speeding and overtaking with them. I don't want to sound too prejudiced, but I have to say that having travelled by car in a number of central and eastern European countries in recent years that there is a good deal of driver education to be done to reduce the risk for all concerned to acceptable levels.

Anyway, over the next few days I am planning to blog about coverage of enlargement on the EU law and politics blog.

One to wind up the loonies

Numptie will be so annoyed that he didn't get this first. Serves him right for not reading the Guardian. But this will really wind up the loonies at the Cross of St George. The campaign to replace St George as the patron saint of England with someone more saint-like and slightly more English. The case is irrefutable if you look at the facts. But as David McKie points out:

"Demands appear every mid-April for George to be replaced by someone in the same exemplary league as Andrew of Scotland, David of Wales and Patrick of Ireland. But by then it's too late to get anything changed. The time for campaigning is now, when there are still 361 days left to dump him before next year. "

Start by adding your voice here, and at Comment is Free!

A remarkable post

A remarkable post by Rachel from North London on how she personally is affected by Home Office incompetence, for which Charles Clarke is most definitely politically responsible, and which should, in any normal political times, lead to his resignation. Rachel's honesty here is almost painful. Clarke's lack of honesty staggering.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A cautionary tale

Perhaps this is not one of the most salient matters on the mind of LibDem donor Michael Brown, recently arrested on accusations of fraud in Majorca, but this snippet from The Times is a cautionary tale:

Mr Brown, an expatriate Scot, who was arrested at his home in Majorca, is also accused of lying to get a new British passport by pretending that he had accidentally put his own through a washing machine in Spain.

The moral? Never pretend to wash a passport. Actually wash it. And send the Passport Office the results.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More on civil liberties

I was somewhat perturbed to discover that someone else had written a post called The Great Civil Liberties Debate. However, Euan MacDonald's contribution to the Transatlantic Assembly is infinitely better than mine, and I am sure each of us independently came up with the post title. However, I recommend you to have a look at the MacDonald piece. In a piece of balanced criticism of the manner in which the civil liberties issue has been argued by Ministers on the one hand and some journalists on the other hand, he takes the latter to task: "By seeking to attack the Government on as many civil liberties questions as possible at once, its critics all-too-often allow for weak argument, which rely upon hyperbole and the existence of the other, stronger arguments for all apparent strength of their own, to creep into their work." Thus it weakens the argument to make generalised assertions about attacks upon civil liberties, especially if some of the changes can be relatively easily responded to with technical arguments. The example MacDonald uses is the removal of the right to trial by lay jury for complex and technical fraud offences.

As MacDonald says, Blair uses this technique very effectively in his email exchange:

"In attacking these claims one by one - which, in reality form a very small part of Porter's criticisms - Blair appears to be giving a very full, frank and reasoned rebuttal of all of the points raised. In fact, to my mind, he does not even begin to formulate a response to the most powerful of the criticisms."

The last point is the killer point. As MacDonald rightly points out (in terms which are relevant to the arguments made in the comments section of my earlier post on this question):

"Porter quizzes Blair in terms of one of the central themes of his defence - that these protections are what the public wants, and that those who criticise them are "out of touch" with what the public want - with the very valid assertion that civil liberties are often there to protect individuals from the whim and caprice of the majority; in this regard, Blair's populist justifications appear to be simply the wrong type of argument to achieve the result he seeks. Again, Blair does not answer this particular criticism."

In other words, with some arguments, Blair simply does not reply to the points made by the journalists, although the effect of his cumulation of technical arguments makes it appear as if he is being full and frank in his rebuttals. As MacDonald says, the argument gets more interesting once we get down to the details of what has and has not been done, and what the implications are both under this government, and under other future, as yet to be elected, and potentially even more authoritarian governments. Such governments may be elected by a majority. That does not mean they will not be a tyranny, against which some or all of us will need to be protected. And then where will our civil liberties have gone? Down the drain marked "The world is different after 9/11 or 7/7 or since yuffs started throwing bricks at old ladies" [delete as appropriate]. As Chris Lightfoot says in a similarly detailed demolition of Charles Clarke's recent speech at the LSE on civil liberties, such generalised assertions about modernity just will not do as the basis for such radical legislative interventions.

This business of heaping up a whole pile of technical assertions which don't answer the fundamental underlying point about the direction of policy is not unrelated to another rhetorical technique which Bookdrunk at Rhetorically Speaking has identified in Blair, namely bait and switch. I had to resort to (yes, you guessed it) Wikipedia in order to get a proper understanding of this concept (it stems from fraudsters), although Bookdrunk does a good job of applying it to our case of civil liberties and points out how often this is the type of reaction on encounters in one's comments box when blogging "liberally" as it were:

"Residents of blogistan should recognise this bait and switch from our trolls - when someone proposes the means (ID cards, imprisonment without trial, straight-only marriage - you name it) to a particular end (the protection of the family, justice, public safety) and you disagree with those means, then someone else accuses you of actually being an enemy of families and justice, and a friend of the terrorist. It's buoyed by the ever popular false logic of "something must be done": crudely put, there are terrorists so let's lock everyone up just in case because something must be done."

She's damn right, of course, that's exactly how he does it, and it's also what I've had in the comments box today. Not that I mind of course - that's in the nature of blogging - but I wanted to get it straight in my mind what argumentative techniques were being applied to me .... and why they were wrong. Oh no, I've fallen into that trap again, just like TB: "I'm right and you're wrong". Now, there we are, that's me back where I started with this - with Nosemonkey's lovely little post ("The Shorter Tony Blair") on the infamous email exchange.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The great civil liberties debate

Many have written more eloquently and more effectively than I could about the pernicious nature of the views on civil liberties propounded by Tony Blair in his Observer email exchange with Henry Porter this past weekend. I thought it worthwhile pursuing the point a little further, however, since someone saw fit to put the following in the comments box to a previous post in which I made a throw away comment about "TB's utterly ridiculous views about civil liberties". The commenter says: "you mean his absurd opinion that people should be free to lead their lives without yobbos heaving bricks at their houses or blowing them up on the tube?! "

No actually, I mean the ridiculous view that people should be presumed innocent until found guilty. The ridiculous view that personal freedom of movement should not be restrained unless due process has been followed. The ridiculous view that young people should not be demonised as responsible for much broader and deeper social ills. And so on, and so on.

But more specifically, I think it's worth referring to a short piece by Marcel Berlins in today's Guardian, where he exposes very effectively what rubbish Blair, as an ex-lawyer (I stress the ex- because I cannot see him ever making a living at it again, can you?), talks about legal process in the UK. Berlins very generously refers to them as Blair's "muddled thoughts":

[Blair] writes: "This government gave British citizens for the first time ever the power to challenge executive action or legislation, through the incorporation of the European convention [on human rights]." Utter, complete nonsense. I cannot believe that he has not heard of, or has forgotten, the vibrant procedure of "judicial review", under which thousands of citizens (and others) successfully did what Tony Blair now claims was impossible until Labour came to power. He writes also: "The point about the Human Rights Act is that it does allow the courts to strike down the act of our sovereign parliament." It does no such thing, as his government made absolutely clear time and again during the debates that accompanied the passing of the legislation. Did Tony Blair write those emails himself, or was it some ignorant Number 10 lackey?

What an interesting question.

Brown-nosing It

In the context of an earlier RR post, this report from today’s Herald is especially interesting. It has always been likely that the financing arrangements between UK Government and the devolved administrations would become one of the weakest points of the devolution settlement. Today’s report of what some might regard as Treasury interference simply adds more fuel to that particular fire. But fair to say that financing the devolved administrations is only one issue that needs to be tackled. Another one is the status of the Civil Service in the devolved administrations. Notwithstanding devolution, the civil servants that work in the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly Government (though not the Northern Ireland Assembly) remain part of the UK Civil Service. Up here in Edinburgh, it seems to me this inevitably must lead to some degree of conflict of interest in the policy advice they give Scottish Ministers where this might result in a policy outcome north of the border which runs counter to UK policy preferences. And while potential conflicts of this sort may be mediated politically as long as the political map of the UK and the devolved administrations remains broadly ‘red’, this is likely to become more problematic once the electorate throw up a different political configuration across the Queen-dom. Interesting times ahead…

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Spring is Here!

After what appeared to be some initial reluctance (mainly involving sticking his head under the duvet), I persuaded BondBloke out and about today, into Fife (birthplace of Ian Rankin). This involves crossing the Forth Road Bridge, and on such a fabulous day, weather-wise, as today, that was a pleasure in itself with fabulous views.

We parked in the Craigmead car park (GR NO227062 for the cognoscenti) up above Falkland (famous for its palace and its royal hunting grounds), on the small country road between Falkland and Leslie (at last...something not on Wikipedia!) and followed Walk 27 in Jarrold's Pafthinder Guide to walks in Perthshire, Angus and Fife. It was an easy-to-follow route over East Lomond (hill), down into Falkland and then back through the grounds of the Falkland estate through a gorge with waterfalls and many hidden corners known as Maspie Den. You can see some sample pictures on the left - the first by me, and the second by BB.

Along with these physical features we also saw lots of wild flowers, numerous larks (well, mainly we heard them), and even some birds which I more or less recognised like the Gray Wagtail. I was given a bird book recently which I am supposed to take out on walks with me, but I am always so much better at relying on BB's considerable nature study knowledge. Sign of a country childhood and a more engaged period of primary school study than I can recall for myself.

In the end, BB was so enthused that he decided to set up an entire new blog to cover his outdoor activities. At least, those outdoor activities which are fit for public consumption. So, in a fit of keyboard activity when we got home whilst yours truly read the newspaper to see if there was anything to blog about (other than TB's utterly ridiculous views about civil liberties - Nosemonkey summarises these brilliantly) and then cooked dinner, BB set up yet another Bondbloke blog, this time "Bondbloke Al Fresco". This one doesn't have anything on it yet, but I suspect it will soon have a report of our walk on East Lomond...
I'll link it from the sidebar when it does have content. Anyway, with the breaking of spring, I am looking forward to exploring more of Scotland on foot and on bike.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Sheep Heid, Duddingston

I was away in Dublin for a couple of days on work - hence no posting. Well there might have been posting in principle, except my laptop has been taken away to the laptop hospital, so mobile computing is somewhat difficult at present. But...I can still go to pubs. BondBloke and I trekked to the Sheep Heid in Duddingston, taking the direct route from Leith, through Pilrig Park, up Easter Road, and over Arthur's Seat. We were definitely ready for a couple of pints when we got there.

Now, the Sheep Heid is hardly in need of more lavish praise from the likes of us. It gets enough anyway, along the lines of "little gem in the city", "wonderful little pub hidden away behind Arthur's Seat", and "no smoking in the bar long before the law came in" (well, some time last year actually). But praise it none the less I shall. We go there four or five times a year, I guess, at the weekend, or on a holiday when we take a long walk over the Seat, and we wind up round the back needing a pint some time in the afternoon. The atmosphere is always relaxed and friendly, the beer whether the various guest beers, or the pub's own "Sheep Heid" is excellent, and the staff are really really helpful. It's comfortable, with open fires, a restaurant upstairs which we have never visited, a barbecue out the back in the summer, games for the winter such as scrabble and a skittle alley, which was being invaded by sixty cyclists in bizarre yellow jackets as we left this afternoon. Yes, folks, there were sixty bikes in the Sheep Heid car park at about 3pm, and none of them appeared to be locked. I wonder if the local bikes thieves in some of the dodgier estates around about clocked that. I'd also like to point out the excellent "Sheep Heid" innovation of the "Quote of the Day". See for yourself on the left.

Finally, in keeping with RoadRunner's excellent innovation of offering an anecdote to go with the pub we visit, here is mine on the Sheep Heid. Please remember that when it happened, we had only recently arrived in Edinburgh and I was not at all used to the cadences or spelling of Scots. However, I was (and am) a careful student of guidebooks, and it came to my attention that there was a really highly rated pub round the back of Arthur's Seat that we could walk to, which was called - as I pronounced it - the "Sheep's Hide". How was I to know that you pronounce Heid as "heed" and that it means "yer 'ed" not "yer skin"? Anyway, BB was keen to try out this hostlery (as always), although he thought this a very rum name for a pub, so he did. So off we went. And when we came round the corner and saw the sign, he started laughing and has rarely stopped since. Since that time, he has never missed an opportunity to ridicule my Scots prononciation of a pub that is, of course I now know, simply the Scottish equivalent of the good old English "Sheep's Head".

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Autonomous Thinking

In what was a busy and varied working day in the life of RR, yesterday also saw me attending the lunchtime launch of a new academic paper on the subject of fiscal autonomy for Scotland. The paper is written by two senior economists – Ronnie MacDonald and Paul Hallwood – and tackles the subject of fiscal autonomy for Scotland from an entirely economic perspective. Knowing, as I do, just how excited some of the Bond’s readership gets over matters appertaining to Scotland’s economic and political relationship with the Union, I felt it incumbent on me to bring to your attention the publication of this important paper.

It is a fairly easy read, and comes to the very firm conclusion that complete fiscal autonomy for Scotland would be likely to raise economic welfare in Scotland. The reasoning is straightforward. Transferring responsibility for raising the (tax) revenue that finances Scottish public spending from London to Edinburgh will carry with it incentives for Scottish politicians of whatever hew to manage public spending more efficiently. That is, to minimise the tax burden and (under one view) thereby to unlock greater economic energy from which all benefit. The present mechanism for financing Scotland’s public spending (the Barnett formula) by contrast, provides no such incentive. In this set up not only is the Scottish Executive free from responsibility for raising the revenue it spends (this arriving as the bloc grant from London), but even if the Scottish Executive manages the economy well, and Scotland’s rate of economic growth rises as a consequence, the rewards from this success accrue to the UK Government (via higher tax revenues flowing from Scotland) and not to the government that engineered the success. So why bother too hard? Ergo – the incentives to improve Scotland’s economic (and social) performance under the status quo are bad, while the incentives under fiscal autonomy are good. It’s a neat little paper and worthy of close consideration. There are still some details that worry me (e.g. why, in economic terms, retain the Union at all?), but this paper is a good place to begin to address them. And what about the remainder of the UK? Well, the Barnett largesse (sic) coming to Scotland vanishes. This is, presumably, good – particularly for some of our readership (and you who I’m talking about, don’t you?). Ah, but under full fiscal autonomy the Petroleum Revenue Tax largess flowing the opposite direction also, at least in principle, vanishes too.

I don’t know Paul Hallwood personally, but I do know Ronnie MacDonald very well, he and I being close friends in, and graduates of, the same degree programme long ago in the 1970s. And let me tell you – not only is he a pretty damned smart economist, he was one hell of a guitar player back then. And I mean seriously good. Indeed good enough to be invited to re-locate to London and become a career session guitarist! Oh – and a great landscape photographer to boot. And a really nice guy. Anyway, go have a read at this paper. It’s a good contribution to an important topic. Let’s hope it generates a discussion worthy of its analysis!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Plumbing even greater depths

It shows, of course, how far out of touch with popular culture this blog (or this blogger, maybe) is. However, I have only just become aware of the spat between British and German tabloids about the battle of Angela's bum. That is, the rather tasteless publication by the Scum (I'm not going to link them) of paparazzi pictures of German Chancellor Angela Merkel getting changed into her swimsuit when on holiday at Easter. I mean, really. Whatever next? TB in the altogether? Perhaps he would be pleased. You may recall Sir Christopher Meyer's memoirs referred to ball-crushingly tight trousers, so we can only show that unlike Merkel (on whose behalf the German tabloids are getting rampant), Blair likes showing what he's got in that department...

But in reality, as this much more sobre assessment by the German weekly Der Spiegel shows, what are seeing is the beginnings of the phoney war running up to, and probably running through, the FIFA World Cup in Germany in June. Don't get me wrong. I will be supporting England. But I just cannot stand all the jingoistic and sometimes frankly racist crap that goes with it. Can we not have football without the tribalism? RoadRunner...over to you...

Plumbing the Depths

For reasons that need not detain you, dear readers, earlier this morning RR found himself standing outside the BBC office on Edinburgh’s Holyrood Road being interviewed by one of our local TV journalists. There we all were - camera man, sound man, interviewer, and your humble servant setting sound levels, waggling light meters, and all the rest of the set-up stuff. A couple of minutes in to the interview proper, and just as RR had begun to fire on all cylinders, a plumbers van sped past whose driver proceeded to disrupt our filming by blaring his horn and shouting something mercifully indecipherable in our general direction out of the window. Quick as a flash our BBC camera man turned his lens on the van as it sped into the distance. Rather puzzled by this, I sought an explanation. It turns out that our camera man exacts his personal retribution on these irritants by placing an emergency, and entirely bogus, call to their plumbing company at around 2am on a Saturday morning demanding their immediate assistance and giving as geographically inconvenient an address as is credible. Nice one…

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A remarkable woman

I've been a devotee of the obituary pages for years, and sometimes you find quite remarkable people there whom you have never heard during their lives. Such is the case of Brede Arkless, a pioneering woman climber whose energetic life course (first woman to qualify for admission to the elite Union Internationale des Associations de Guides de Montagnes; eight children; guiding and mountaineering on apparently every continent of the world twelve months of the year) puts us all to shame. Such as the gems we sometimes find on those pages.

As a coda to other developments, it's my duty to report that after BondBloke's premature departure, we will do our best to maintain the quality (and most of the qualities) of this blog, although we may not manage to post so often (depending upon my capacities to cagole my colleagues...). We can't promise to be as adept as BondBloke was with the large typeface, or with the red pen, but we'll see if we can find some controversial topics to provoke debate, as well as some good stories to keep you going. I've mastered some of the arts of managing a blog, and I will see whether I can correct the clock to BST from GMT. Advice in the comments section would always be welcome. Anyway, you can always visit BB in his new "home", Numptie's Revenge, for which the link can be found on the right.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Farewell Dear Friends

This will be BondBlokes last post! I have decided to bow gracefully out of this blog as I have become totally bored by the loonies who inhabit cyberspace; and the biggest bunch of these are those who wave the English flag over at The Cross of St George! Their idea of a reasoned debate is to wade in with abuse and insults, accusing people of being racists, morons, dickheads etc. etc. and only when their remarks are turned back on them do they plead for a reasoned debate; well if there are morons in cyberspace they are doing a very good job of proving it. As I say, I have become totally bored with the whole thing and feel that I have nothing constructive to contribute here, and have other more interesting projects that I want to engage myself in; at least more interesting that fending off loonies who can't even be bothered to think before opening their big mouths. This will not be then end of my involvement in this blog, as I am sure that the other members will continue to pester me to do the day to day management of the blogroll etc., but as soon as I can train BondWoman I will even be handing that over to her.

The Star Bar

On Thursday evening last week the Bond-Team paid a visit to the Star Bar in Edinburgh’s New Town as part of its pub-of-the-month feature. I first visited what was then called the Star Tavern way back in 1974 when I arrived straight off the farm to study in Scotland’s capital city, rather grandly billeted as I was in student Halls of Residence just around the corner in the Georgian splendour of Drummond Place. And, some 32 years later, I am still struck as I had been back then by the cosy intimacy of the Star. The bar area is pleasant and roomy, sufficiently so to house one of these table football games that you find in every café and bar in rural France. From there a few steps lead to up to a modest seating area from whence one can access the beer garden on nice days (though not too late in the evening as the residents of the New Town get a bit shirty about noise levels – a problem that also has been visited upon the Cumberland Bar’s beer garden only a stone’s roll down the hill from the Star Bar). It would be misleading to imply that the beer per se is the strongest feature of the Star. But it is alright, with the Deuchars being reliably good and the Guiness, as always, providing the backstop for the discerning drinker should all else fail. No, the real selling point of this quaint hostelry is the juke box. It is simply first class – with an excellent array of music to suit almost every taste. Moreover, there is a mercifully low representation of post-1970s music: I say no more.

The Star Bar is, to my mind, a pleasant and welcoming place. As some of the web sites explain, the bar has been through a few incarnations over the past decades. Indeed, when I first visited the Star back in 1974 it was, unbeknown to me, a gay bar. I was taken there by a fellow novice student I met in Halls – his name was Dave. We’d go drinking there quite often, and I thoroughly warmed to its friendly atmosphere while remaining entirely oblivious to the sexual orientation of much (though by no means all) of its clientele – including Dave. But Dave and I chummed around during that first year of my University education, he and I both being a bit older than most of the first year intake. He was a really good bloke. I remained unaware of Dave’s sexual preferences until the 1975 summer break when I bumped into him in Rose Street one Saturday afternoon. His face was a mess of black and blue, and he clearly had taken one hell of a kicking. He told me why. For no reason, he’d been attacked and very badly assaulted leaving one of Edinburgh’s underground gay clubs. Dave never returned to University, and I never saw him again. And I don’t know what became of this very kind and gentle person who befriended a country yokel new to the sophistication of the Edinburgh cityscape and University life. Every time I drink in the Star Bar I can’t help thinking of Dave. So, if you want a good pint in a warm and friendly Edinburgh bar, then go and seek out the Star Bar. Oh – and have a drink for Dave.

The EU In or Out?

About a week ago I met someone, who I suppose could best be described as a small businessman, who made me stop and think; at one point the conversation turned to the EU, and this man made the statement that he thought that Britain would be better out of the EU altogether. For several reasons I find it quite astounding that someone in his position could even begin to think in this way; his reasons are that the EU 'rules and regulations' make it that much harder for him to run his business, when in fact the particular problems he was moaning about do not stem from EU 'rules and regulations' at all in that the legislation his making life difficult for him is purely home grown legislation. How can any intelligent person think that by pulling Britain out of the EU will make the 'rules and regulations' go away; whether within or without any business wishing to trade in Europe will still have to abide by them, either that or they will have to find new trading partners.

For a very long time I also thought that the whole Europe thing was a complete waste of time, and I am still not totally convinced by it; however, I am enough of a pragmatist to realise that it is better to inside fighting and making a contribution to the said 'rules and regulations' rather than to be sitting outside looking in and having absolutely no influence whatsoever in the decision making that would affect me. As I say, I am still not totally convinced that the EU is a good thing, but I do think that it is very much the lesser of the available evils, as to be outside of it would mean a degree of ostracisation from Europe driving us towards closer ties with the U.S. and all that this would entail, and that thought scares the hell out of me.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Falkirk Wheel

We just got back from visiting the Falkirk Wheel (and a few other sights to the west of Edinburgh) with some family members who are visiting. I was blown away by the wheel, which we saw, as you can see on the left, on a beautiful blustery but bright day. I'd read about it, and even seen pictures, but nothing could prepare me for the scale and impressive nature of this unique boat lift, which replaces 11 locks between the Forth/Clyde canal and the Union canal which took half a day to navigate, with a fifteen minute trip through the air. The engineering is impressive, but I'm not necessarily the person to appreciate that. However, the linking of the engineering to a clean and simple aesthetic design is what really strikes the eye. Also, where a short aqueduct has been built out into the air to carry the Union canal, the simplicity of a concrete structure has been combined with semi-circles of concrete which in turn reflect the circles which hold the bits of canal level as they sweep through the sky.

Anyway, anything I can say does not give a full verbal impression of the visual experience. I can only call upon everyone who hasn't done yet to go visit it!


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Musical States

Posted on behalf of Roadrunner

Well, the poll to determine that US State which has made the greatest contribution to contemporary music has run its course. And I can now announce that the result is a dead heat between New York and Michigan with each recording 30% of the votes cast. Next up was Tennessee with 22%, followed by California on 7% and Texas and Illinois brining up the rear with 6% each. I’m tempted to let it rest at that, but as the poll originator I feel a moral duty to break the tie by casting my own vote – which will go to Michigan, making it the very narrow winner. But only just…All in all I think the results just about get it right, although I am a bit surprised that California was so far behind. I mean – summer of love, Doors, surfs up, and all that Byrds/Jackson Browne/Eagles/Sly Stone/Chilli Peppers and Zappa stuff. Not that I’m complaining. Detroit does it for me, although Texas is where I’d like to hang out!

Thanks to all who polled. And for the grumblers – which inevitably included my dear friend Norm – well I guess I’d have to acknowledge that Louisiana might have made the list, although as a lover of the blues, not having Mississippi was a bit of a faux pas methinks! Ho Hum. Live and learn…

Should expatriates be allowed to vote?

In the light of the role of Italian expatriates in the very narrow victory of Romano Prodi’s centre left coalition, I was going to post on the question of “should expatriates be allowed to vote?” Some interesting discussions are to be found here and here. Expatriate voting is, of course, a global phenomenon. It is especially important in places like Mexico or Latin America. It is very common within Europe.

Obviously there are various principles which could be applied when deciding whether expatriates should be allowed to vote: an ethnic nationalist conception of citizenship, for example, leads to the conclusion that expatriates of the same ethnos automatically have an interest in participating politically in the original home polity. Alternatively, if expatriates are very distant (physically, temporally, perhaps even psychologically) from the original home polity, and are more integrated into the host polity, perhaps to the extent of holding the citizenship of that polity as a dual citizenship, and consequently being able to vote there, then it is hard to argue that their political participation in the home polity is necessary either to secure their democratic rights or to ensure the democratic inclusiveness of a home polity which has seen a great deal of emigration. And there are lots of positions between those two. In reality, as the Italian case shows, many expatriate voting rights are introduced with a view to gaining party political advantage. Equally, as Berlusconi now knows, and Prodi enjoys to his advantage, this can backfire! The law of unintended consequences.

However, rather than focusing on expatriate voting as such, I decided to concentrate on the specific case of voting in national elections by those EU citizens (about 1.5% of population amongst the old EU 15 Member States; perhaps more if one takes into account the new 10 Member States despite the labour market access restrictions, but I have yet to see any convincing figures) who are resident in other Member States, under the EU free movement rules. This is because the Commission itself has said that this group consistently complain about the fact that they are excluded from voting in all national elections a lot of the time. For example, most cannot vote in the host state without taking on citizenship. The exceptions are UK citizens in Ireland, and Irish, Cypriot and Maltese citizens in the UK. Many cannot vote in their home state, if they stay outside the home state for long enough. For example, UK expatriate voting rights expire after fifteen years outside the UK. Furthermore, the EU positively encourages inter Member State migration as part of the single market programme, and since it does not encourage (or indeed discourage) free movers to take on the nationality of the host state because it guarantees them equal treatment based on their home state nationality with those who have the host state nationality. It seems therefore reasonable to argue that as a necessary corollary of the EU’s development, and in particular its claim to offer a form of ‘citizenship’ to all the nationals of the Member States, that there is a case for a comprehensive right to democratic representation amongst EU citizens which should apply irrespective of residence, and should not extend only (as it does at present) to local elections and European Parliament elections.

But how should this be achieved? At the moment, the EU does not have the competence to order the Member States to allow resident non-nationals to vote in their national elections. And arguably it should not have such a competence. At this stage, however, I am simply at the stage of canvassing options, which I have narrowed down to the following:

1. Preserve full national choice in this matter as we have at the moment.

2. Member States could be encouraged to give a form of citizenship automatically to resident non-nationals to allow them to vote in national elections. This is rather like the US model for the various states, except that automatic citizenship acquisition in the state of residence was imposed by the Constitution as part of the development of US citizenship and is not a choice of the states. In the EU context, this would probably need to go hand in hand with encouragement to allow dual home/host state nationality, so that home state voting could also be possible.

3. To facilitate home state voting either loosen registration requirements (as in France where it is not hard to register to vote even if you actually really live elsewhere) and/or have generous expatriate voting arrangements with or without specialist expatriate representation (France, and now Italy have such specialist representation arrangements) and/or remove the temporal limitations (e.g. as in the UK). This means a move towards comprehensive expatriate voting for EU citizens resident in other Member States to ensure they don’t fall down a ‘democratic crack’.

It is worth noting that in the context of points 2 and 3, as a matter of principle a position needs to be taken on whether dual voting in the home and the host state in national elections is a problem. It is not permitted in the case of European Parliament elections which all EU citizens can vote for provided they are resident in the Member States or are resident in other states but are covered by their home state’s expatriate voting rules, because it is clearly wrong that any person should have two votes for a European Parliament elected under universal direct suffrage. In contrast it is not so clearly wrong that the individuals may have two votes in separate national elections.

4. The less likely option is that EU measures will be adopted by the Member States to require themselves to adopt such rules allowing resident non-nationals to vote. It would require a formal extension of competence under the treaties first (i.e. all the Member States would have to agree upon that, and there would have to be national ratification of such a Treaty), and this is both unlikely and, perhaps, undesirable.

5. The EU might start trying to persuade the Member States to do this, by pointing to examples where it happens – UK/Ireland – as best practice for democratic inclusiveness.

6. Finally, the Member States could be encouraged to start agreeing with each other to allow non-nationals to vote. This would be quite easy for Ireland. Ireland has the necessary legal provisions in place for a Minister to make an order allowing other categories of EU citizens to vote in its national elections, on condition of reciprocity. So if the Finns were to decide that the Irish could vote in their national elections, then Ireland would necessarily do likewise. However, it is an interesting question whether one could design an institutional format to structure the encouragement amongst the Member States to develop the trust and reciprocity necessary to extend their voting rights to each others’ citizens.

Scottish Joke

This was on the blog of someone who was in the list of referring URLs on our sitemeter. So in that sense it was found by chance.

"A young Scottish lad and lass were sitting on a low stone wall,holding hands, gazing out over the loch. For several minutes they sat silently.

Then finally the girl looked at the boy and said, "A penny for your thoughts, Angus.""Well, uh, I was thinkin'...perhaps it's aboot time for a wee kiss."

The girl blushed, then leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

Then he blushed. The two turned once again to gaze out over the loch.

Minutes passed and the girl spoke again. "Another penny for your thoughts, Angus."

"Well, uh, I was thinkin' perhaps it's noo time aboot time for a wee cuddle."

The girl blushed, then leaned over and cuddled him for a few seconds.

Then he blushed. Then the two turned once again to gaze out over the loch.

After a while, she again said, "Another penny for your thoughts, Angus.""Well, uh, I was thinkin' perhaps it's aboot time you let me put my hand on your leg."

The girl blushed, then took his hand and put it on her knee. Then he blushed.

The the two turned once again to gaze out over the lock before the girl spoke again.

"Another penny for your thoughts, Angus." The young man glanced down with a furled brow. "Well,noo," he said, "my thoughts are a wee bit more serious this time."

"Really?" said the lass in a whisper, filled with anticipation.

"Aye," said the lad, nodding.

The girl looked away in shyness, began to blush, and bit her lip in anticipation of the ultimate request.

Then he said,"Dae ye nae think it's aboot time ye paid me the first three pennies?"

The Green Eyed Monster

It seems that jealousy has reared its ugly head amongst those 'nice' people over at the CoSG, as they have posted an item about the SNP wanting to force a referendum on Scottish Independence; if they think that they are going to get similar concessions out of this government then they are far more deluded than they appear to be. After having got a bloody nose from previous referenda aimed at giving areas of England regional autonomy you can be sure that John Prescott will not agree to anything approacing such an idea at any point in the forseeable future.

Iran and Nuclear Weapons

This blog seems to be almost grinding to a halt. So let's have something a bit controversial for a change. I am no fan of nuclear weapons. Not at all. I was a member of CND in the 1980s and went a nice hippy march to Molesworth Air Base. But if one were to don a neo-realist international relations hat for a moment, is it correct to say that Iran having nuclear weapons would make the Middle East less stable? Surely, there must be a plausible argument that it will make it more stable - on the assumption that the weapons are obtained on the basis of deterrence not with an intention of first use. On that basis, Iran could plausibly suggest that it makes the Middle East more stable, on the basis that other countries with nuclear weapons already pointing at their country would be less likely to use theirs, for fear of retaliation in kind. Or have I got my neo-realism all about face?

In other news, there is something of a blog outing to an Edinburgh pub this evening, so hopefully there will be a review of that tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


BBC NEWS World Africa Sudan man forced to 'marry' goat

I love playing with words, but I cannot top this story with any pun that I could think up, it just has to speak for itself. I also have to admit to missing it when it originaly broke, and that it was sent to me by a friend.

Pub sales soaring despite ban on smoking

Nuff said. Presumably the silent majority of non-smokers who previously didn't like going to pubs are coming out to drink.

There are cautionary words about rural pubs in the article, which only appears to canvass opinion and statistics from the pubs in Scotland's cities. We went in a couple of rural pubs this weekend, and our limited experience indicates that there will be a trade off between regular smoking (and drinking) clientele and passing trade, often consisting of families with children, who are more likely to eat in pubs with the smoking ban in place. That was certainly our experience, as we were with a family with a child who would have sought out different places to eat if the pubs had not been smoke free.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bonds Away

Picking BW up from the airport this morning and going to spend some quality time with the West Coast, back on Monday late, so probably nothing from us until Tuesday...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Knowing Me, Knowing You BB

Snaffled from BondWoman.

Apparently “What you are supposed to do is copy this entire blog entry and paste it onto a new blog entry that you’ll post. Change all the answers so they apply to you, and then publish! Leave a comment if you do this. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little (random) things about your friends and readers, if you did not know them already.”

Sounds simple enough.

What time did you get up this morning?
7.15 am Bloody builders next door!!!!!

Diamonds or pearls?
Oohhh, diamonds every time dahling...

What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
Good Night, and Good Luck. Go and see it!.

What is your favourite TV show?
The Magic Roundabout

What do you usually have for breakfast?
Toast, & coffee but prefer a "full english" where possible.

Favourite cuisine?

What food do you dislike?
Parsnips - the sqawn of the devil.

What is your favourite CD at the moment?
Ozzy under cover

Morning or night person?
Depends on what I am doing, and who with...

Favourite sandwich?

What characteristic do you despise?
Small mindedness especially in those who should know better!

Favourite item of clothing?
Whatever I am wearing.

If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would it be?
Not at all fussy really as long as there is beer available.

What colour is your bathroom?
A light blue actually.

Favourite brand of clothing?
Blue Harbour.

Where would you retire to?
Conemarra on the west coast of Ireland.

What was your most memorable birthday?
Definitely my 40th. Can't even remember what happend, so it must have been good...

Favourite sport to watch?
Cricket, not any of these wimps games like footie or rugby...

Who do you least expect to complete this?

Person you expect to complete it first?
Whoever gets to it first and thinks it is a good idea.

Person who is least busy?
Definitely not me, BW and junior see to that.

When is your birthday?
May 15th. But then I might just be lying.

What is your shoe size?

Would love a 'doggie' but Bw vetos the idea ( honestly it would not be fair on it).

Any new and exciting news you’d like to share with us?
I am thinking of quitting blogging.

What did you want to be when you were little?
An astronaut.

What is your favourite flower?
The fuchsia

What date on the calendar are you looking forward to?
15th May 2011

One word to describe the person who you snaffled this from?

Knowing me, Knowing you

Snaffled from Gordon.

Apparently “What you are supposed to do is copy this entire blog entry and paste it onto a new blog entry that you’ll post. Change all the answers so they apply to you, and then publish! Leave a comment if you do this. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little (random) things about your friends and readers, if you did not know them already.”

Sounds simple enough.

What time did you get up this morning?
8.15 am (am on the last day of a trip to the US and my body has sadly now just adjusted...and I'm coming home today)

Diamonds or pearls?
None of the above

What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
Good Night, and Good Luck. Which we thought was fascinating.

What is your favourite TV show?
Watch very little TV... The News, whatever sport is on terrestrial.

What do you usually have for breakfast?
Toast, but treat ourselves to a "full english" (or should that be a "full scottish") at weekends sometimes

Favourite cuisine?
Indian or fish

What food do you dislike?
Beatroot and sprouts. Both works of the devil.

What is your favourite CD at the moment?
Whatever I have most recently downloaded from (try it!)

Morning or night person?
Both, or neither really. Makes little difference.

Favourite sandwich?

What characteristic do you despise?
Bitterness on the part of those who have no reason to be bitter.

Favourite item of clothing?
A reddish coloured fleece. Or possibly my fleecy dressing gown. There's a theme there.

If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would it be?
Possibly Japan, because some good friends moved there a while ago and it would be great to go and see them in situ and experience the differences in culture, and so on. But I'd be too embarassed to get in the hot springs that they go to quite regularly. In the buff.

What colour is your bathroom?
White, basically.

Favourite brand of clothing?
Lands End.

Where would you retire to?
I'd love to have enough money to go south in the winter and come north in the summer, and always be near water and have a little boat to potter around the islands such as those off the west coast of Ireland.

What was your most memorable birthday?
Probably my 40th. Great party!

Favourite sport to watch?
Rugby League, but mainly on the grounds that I'm/we're deprived of it at the moment because we don't have Sky Sports.

Who do you least expect to complete this?
My fellow bloggers on here.

Person you expect to complete it first?
Absolutely no idea...

Person who is least busy?
Generally not me, but I guess I must be sufficiently chilled to do this.

When is your birthday?
September 17th. Exactly one month after Gordon from whom i snaffled this.

What is your shoe size?

No. No suitable accommodation. BB pines for a doggie sometimes.

Any new and exciting news you’d like to share with us?
I made myself a new blog yesterday. I'm coming home today! Hurrah. Missing home.

What did you want to be when you were little?
Can't honestly remember although there was a phase when I thought I might become a solicitor...Nuff said.

What is your favourite flower?
Am horticulturally illiterate, but colourful things look nice in the garden and in parks.

What date on the calendar are you looking forward to?
9 May. Completion date on purchase of a flat for Junior Bond.

One word to describe the person who you snaffled this from?
Blogger-supreme (or is that two?)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

More of Our Art Heritage Goes Abroad

Another Turner masterpiece leaves these shores for the collection of someone with more money than sense. I am not saying that the Turner sold today, for a record sum for a British painting, is not worth the money paid for it, it most definitely is. What does annoy me is that the arts have been starved of money for so long by successive govenments that it almost impossible to save such masterpieces for the country; when something like this come on the market our national galleries have to go begging to try and raise the money to be able to bid for them. Yet we enter into an illegal, immoral war in Iraq, and suddenly money is no object, cash is thrown into the defence pot as if it were water.

Greater England...

Instead of more from me, a very perspicaceous post from Bill Jones on "The Identity Crisis of 'Greater England'". I wonder if it will get the CEP-ers going again?

Gibraltar, Commonwealth Citizens and the European Parliament elections

A lengthy post about the above topic was here. It is now here. In recognition of the very diverse readership of this blog, I decided it was probably better to blog about something rather niche in a different place.

It's a bit of a "bare blog" at the moment. I hope that BondBloke will help me turn it into something better. Otherwise, if he doesn't I can always threaten to bring my turgid stuff back again!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Rendition Flights

Watching the news tonight and there was yet another story about rendition flights. I know that once again I am on a topic that has already been touched on elsewhere by RoadRunner.The story tonight was about evidence gathered of rendition flights using Scottish airports for refueling, and Amnesty's call for a public enquiry; MEP's are also concerned and want answers to these questions. Meanwhile, protestors are doing their best to keep this subject in full view of the public; whilst at the same time Jack Straw is denying that such flights are using UK bases and airports. I find myself asking "who do I believe?", the answer is simple I believe people like Amnesty by a country mile before I would believe anything that this morally bankrupt government says; after all we have had nothing but lies from this government for so long now that I cannot bring myself to believe anything they say; if Tony Blair told me that the sun will rise tomorrow, I would want ot wait and see it for myself before believing him.

A public enquiry is needed into the whole issue of rendition flights, and whether or not they are using UK airports; and it should be a totally independent inquiry, not something overseen by one of Tony's mates who will do exactly what the government wants (sweep it under the mat).

A step in the right direction

Via the blog of the American Constitution Society, news of a step in the right direction. They report that women in Kuwait voted (and stood for election) yesterday for the first time in history. It was *only* a by-election for a seat on a Municipal Council, as women missed the opportunity to vote in the main municipal elections because the suffrage bill was delayed, and the election was won by a male candidate, with a woman coming second. But this is a monumentally important step towards real universal suffrage, presaging women's full participation in future elections in a country which is making some tentative steps towards constitutionally based democracy. Reuters reports:

Tuesday's vote paves the way for women to take part in 2007 parliamentary elections, the first since Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah took office in January on the death of his brother. Several women have already announced they would run.

Historic, perhaps, but bizarrely not important enough to receive much coverage in the UK. The Reuters link on the ACS blog did not work, so that led me to make a Google News search on the topic. The only link to UK media that came up on the front page of my search was a very brief one to the Scotsman, which did not cover the result. Only by clicking on "All 152 related" did the BBC report come up.

A Comments Policy

Due to a recent fracas with those nice people at the Campaign for an English Parliament, I have thought out and constructed a comments policy which is very much based on those to be found on other blogs, notably - This is Not my Country - Laurelin in the Rain - Biting Beaver, all of whom I thank for the inspiration. I will add here that the regular commenters on this blog can feel free to ignore this as they are a good bunch and would not transgress these rules - I hope!

If you leave insulting, abusive, vulgar, rude, racist, bigoted or vindictive comments make no mistake your comments will be deleted. I treat everyone with a bit of respect; that is until respect for me is cast aside. This is my space and if you can’t respect that then I don’t want to hear what you have to say.

Read the posts! Not only read, but be sure that you understand what I am saying before you comment. Picking a sentence at random and commenting on it totally out of context is not acceptable to me, and any comment that does this will be deleted.

Stick to the point of the post. Any comments that are not relevant will be deleted, that is unless there is a degree of humour, or I can see some point to the comment.

The "anonymous" comment has been tested to the limit, and whilst I appreciate that all anonymous comments are not negative, a great deal have been; such comments will be deleted. I would much rather that you gave me a name to deal with, even a pseudonym is better than nothing; it also makes it easier to refer back to a comment.

If you want argue with me that’s fine, just be sure that you can back up your argument; the “I’m right and you’re wrong” type of argument just won’t wash with me, and it is a sure way of ensuring that you lose the argument, and make yourself look stupid into the bargain. But you must also be aware that I have the option to simply ignore you and not respond, and if you bore me then I will use that option.

I have been accused of censorship in the past because I deleted comments that were abusive and insulting. I believe in the freedom of speech, but not to the extent that you can come into my space and rant and rave in an abusive insulting manner; so if you find your comments deleted you can’t say that you weren’t warned.

A Proper Test Drive

Oddly Enough News Article

I think that here was one sensible lad, I mean how can you know if a car is going to suit you after simply driving it a couple of miles? Maybe it will make the sales people a little more aware and put a time or distamce limit on test drives; personally I have no sympathy with them as they do their level best to rip off the conusumer, so it is good to see them on the receiving end for a change.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Pub of the Week

An idea was floated at the back end of February which seems largely to have passed without notice, shame on my fellow bloggers, so it seems that I am going to have to take some editorial control here. On the 23rd February BondWoman did a piece entitled National Pub Week to which RoadRunner responded with a comment:-
roadrunner said...
Seems to me there is an opportunity here to have a 'pub-of-the-week (month)' slot on Bondbloke's blog... then bloggers could provide an insiders' tour of local hostleries (history, culture, amenity, range of drink, etc.) with a view to providing a much-needed guide for locals and visitors alike!
Now as I said, this excellent idea has been largely ignored by my fellow bloggers (shame on them); however it has been simmering away in the back of my mind, awaiting further action. So, last night I took it upon myself to resurrect the idea and begin the process, thus, with great hardship to myself, I set off out into the freezing night air and visited the first pub to be nominated Pub of the Week here. This great sacrifice just had to be made in the interests of the blog, and I duly rocked up at
The Malt and Hops on The Shore in Leith; I am starting off near home you understand, no point in walking too far when there are decent pubs on the doorstep.

This was my first foray into a pub since the smoking ban came into force here in Scotland, and I have to say that it was a very pleasant experience indeed; and it was great to come home and not have to throw all of my clothing into the wash. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find that smokers are falling into line in very good grace indeed, every one of them trotting outside to light up when they felt like it; one smoker even said that it was good to be in pubs without the smoke and that it made it "a much better atmosphere" in which to enjoy a pint, he said that it made a change to be able to "actually taste the beer".

But I digress. The Malt and Hops is not a large pub, I suppose cosy would describe it much better; the staff are very friendly and efficient, and the location is stunning, overlooking, as it does, The Shore. Food is not an option here, that is apart from sandwiches and 'toasties', but hey, we're not in here for the food, they have a range of guest beers, usually about five, most of which are very drinkable indeed. Last night I was particularly lucky as there were two of my favourites on tap, Old Speckled Hen and Hobgoblin; oh, the torture I put myself through for the blog... One thing it has in its favour is that there is no Juke Box with music so loud that you have to shout to be heard; the music is unobtrusive and selected by the staff, and thus quite varied and easily blocked out if you don't like it. Personally I highly rate this pub if for nothing else than the range of guest beers, some even from south of the border.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Are we lucky to be able to protest?

Here at BondBloke we don't do a whole lot of blogging of the type "go read this, it will improve you". Rather we seem to be happy enough to tell you what our views about the state of the world (and presumably, implicitly, we somehow think this might be improving or interesting or at least mildly diverting). Allow me to depart from this general practice just for once.

Over at The Quiet Road in a post about the PR problems of Condoleeza Rice's visit to Blackburn (too much protest and all that jazz), Jim writes about the relationship between protest and democracy:

[Rice] could answer this question… “what, in practical terms, is the difference between a regime that outlaws all protest and a regime that ignores all protest?” Being told that we are “lucky” to live in a democracy and have the right to protest is easily the most patronising thing a politician can say. It ignores the fact that “luck” has nothing to do with it, and that the “right to protest”, like all such rights, has been wrestled - spilling blood, sweat and tears - from those in authority by the protesters. She is paid by the people in order to serve the people. It’s time she thought about how lucky she is that we, the people, have given her the right to step down from power without the aid of a guillotine. The protesters are lucky to have their rights? I think not. Especially not when members of the ruling class feel comfortable patronising or ignoring them. Let them eat cake, eh Condi?

Indeed. It rather speaks for itself. But if I could just add one gloss. When did you last hear a democratically elected politician say: "I'm glad you came out to protest. Because it either [changed my policy/made me realise I was wrong/resulted in my stepping down from office] [delete as appropriate]." No, indeed. As Jim says, they say "I'm glad you came out to protest, because now I can say that I didn't stop you from doing that, but I have absolutely no intention of changing anything at all." Of course, we still have the sanction of voting people out of office. But will we take it here in the UK. Roll on 2009 I say! Let me at them.

The 'Race' Is On

I was appalled to read this piece in yesterday’s Sunday Herald penned by their Senior Political Editor, Paul Hutcheon. It strikes me as highly racist both in tone and intent. If the SNP policy is to delegate to its membership the decision as to who should be on the SNP list for the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections, then it is hardly surprising that individuals should opt to join the party in order to influence the outcome. Indeed, this is precisely what you’d hope for in a democracy – ordinary people taking active interest in politics. But to state that a rush to membership by “Scottish Asians” constitutes or implies an “irregularity”, is to suggest a direct link between “Asian” and “irregularity”. After all, there is nothing else in the article which implies anything untoward is taking place. And if it is the membership rush per se that is causing this pundit concern, then why the need to assign nationality, race, ethnicity – or any other descriptor – to those involved? This is basically a case of Scottish people joining a (Scottish) political party. No story.

This form of passive racism pedalled by Hutcheon (and others) should be exposed for what it is. That it appears in such a blatant form in one of our so-called quality newspapers is simply disgraceful. Maybe in his haste to condemn the SNP, Paul Hutcheon should pause to reflect on the real contribution his piece has made – which is to increase the sense of detachment and disenfranchisement that certain groups in our society feel from others solely on the basis that they are Asian. We have campaigned for years in Scotland to get racism out of sport – let’s also get it out of our journalism.

Where Scotland Leads Others Follow

I hate to say it yet again, but where Scotland leads the rest follow. I see that those nice people over at the CoSG Blog have got their knickers in a twist yet again, see "Another one for the list of inequalities", where they are complaining that the Welsh (and before anyone shouts I know that Wales is not Scotland) have free school milk, and the Scottish have free eye tests and free bus passes; well by my very poor arithmetic that makes "Another three for the list of inequalities", but let's not quibble over a matter of a couple of points, life's too short for that! However I would like make one point, and that is that the English have no free school milk because of that wonderful 'English' lady Margaret Thatcher! The lists of 'firsts' for Scotland is becoming quite long now which makes me quite pleased that I had the foresight to move north of the border. I also notice that these very nice people are calling for a new anthem, see Anthem for England?; yet again they have either been beaten to it, or are stealing Scottish ideas - see here, and here. I thought that England had a perfectly good anthem in Land of Hope and Glory, but these nice people seem to think not; and it was even written by two English men, music Edward Elgar words Arthur C Benson; maybe I could suggest that old English rugby favourite Swing Low Sweet Chariot, oh, no, that's a negro spiritual that would never do!

Update 13:35:

Sorry that should have been "Another five for the list of inequalities", I forgot the free prescriptions and care for the elderly... I told you my arithmetic was pretty poor!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ann Arbor

So, here I am in Ann Arbor, just south west of Detroit in Michigan. One of North America's premier University towns. This is where the university concert hall you can see on the left (the big square brown building with the portico, not the tower which rather reminds me of Senate House in London or the Parkinson Building in Leeds) is one of about 6 or 7 concert auditoriums across the (small) city for over 1000 people. Where the student orchestra won the Grammy for Best Classical Album of 2005. Where the student American Football arena has a capacity of over 110,000 (yes, I mean that, I have not accidentally added a zero. Follow the link for gobsmacking pictures).

According to some people, however, it is not only one of the premier university towns, it is one of the most overrated. Witness, for example, this blogger's difficulties in purchasing aluminium (sorry, aluminum) foil in downtown Ann Arbor. However, as s/he comments:

"There are three New Age candle stores within close walking distance of my house."

Very useful, I must say. Now everyone knows what presents they'll be getting :-) I got a very similar impression of the shops when I walked around this morning, although I have to say I am pleased to be literally one block from an enormous Borders.

Even more illuminating is the poster on the left which I saw on campus this morning. It seemed to be constructed out of some sort of biodegradable hemp. The gist of it is that you can do a course, for 10 credits, by just applying to go and live on a bio station in northern Michigan learning about nature. It says that "the best way to learn about Nature is to live in Nature". It's a tough life (well, not, actually).

Anyway, one way or another, I get the impression that this is not an area of the world where George W Bush and his consorts do particularly well electorally. Unfortunately, it is a haven of liberalism in a sea of neo-conservatism and evangelical and increasingly fundamentalist Christianity.

Rice and Straw arrive in Baghdad

Rice and Straw arrive in Baghdad

Have they eloped? People used to go to Gretna.

A Stage Struck Blair?

I was listening to A Point of View this morning, something that I don't often get the chance to do when BondWoman is around, and Brian Walden was discussing "New Vision" politics, all very interesting indeed. I suppose I have lived through two versions of the New Vision politics he was discussing, the "white heat" vision of Harold Wilson, - who in his own way was almost as unpopular as Blair is today, but at least he was a committed socialist, even if he wanted to get rid of restrictive practices and outdated methods of production - and the New Labour vision, which is nothing more nor less than conservatism under a red flag. Wilson's "white heat of technology" faded very quickly, but Blair's New Labour has taken a little longer to tarnish; Brian Walden puts it much better than I can:-

"The New Vision can't stay forever in its super-active phase. Slowly it deflates. I don't mean it collapses, or that everything it tries fails. I mean that a lot of the wind goes out of it and it shrinks to a normal size.

Most of its supporters stick with it, but they're not dancing in the streets any more. There's a rather sulky, disillusioned atmosphere around and a lot of recrimination. Some pundits claim that matters can't go on like this and big changes are on the way. Perhaps they are, but I sound a word of caution.

It's quite false that we can't struggle on in a messy, unsatisfactory, unidealistic country for very long. On the contrary, we can and usually do."
I think that the "rather sulky, disillusioned atmosphere" just about sums up what New Labour has descended into. Personally I think that Blair has to go, and the sooner the better, but when will it happen? The Autumn would be a very good time, too long for me, but a good time to enable a smooth takeover of the reins, but will he go? Now that is a question and a half, and Brian Walden thinks that also:-

"I know it would be more orderly for the Labour Party if Tony Blair announced he was resigning this autumn. I would expect that to happen if he showed the slightest desire to go. But he doesn't. Everything about him bespeaks a man who can't bear to come off the stage. Those New Visions last longer than you'd think."
I think that I very much agree with that, Blair is "stage struck", and will have to dragged kicking and screaming off of the political stage, but who will close the curtain, or in Brian Walden's teminology, "Who's going to go down in history as the person who wielded the dagger?", and we both very much doubt that it will be Gordon Brown because, to quote Brian Walden again:-

"Those willing to stab Wilson in the back were nobodies who had no following. The people who did have support wouldn't touch the dagger. They thought that he who kills the king can never inherit the crown."
If it's true that "he who kills the king can never inherit the crown", then I would much prefer it to be Gordon who "wields the dagger" because the thought of him as Prime Minister fills me with even more dread than having Blair!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Man's Inhumanity To Man

I listened to the repeat Desert Island Discs yesterday having missed it the first time round last Sunday. The subject was a very interesting man indeed, Ronald Searle, and whilst listening to him talk about his war experiences I could not but help wondering what his, and others who shared his experiences, thoughts of Guantanamo Bay are. The Guantanamo website tells us very little indeed, and even makes it seem a very benign place indeed; a very much different place than this tells us that it actually is. For someone like this who lived through the horror of the Japanese forced labour camps - I will not call them POW camps because they were not - for someone who recounts stories about waking in the morning and not knowing whether or not you were going to find your friend in the bed (metaphorically speaking) next to you dead or not, the whole situation of Guantanamo Bay must have a very personal, not to mention psychological impact.

The problem is that the further removed we become from the horrors that people like Searle went through, and the less and less of such people there are to remind us about such abuses of our fellow man, the more we slip back into the barbarism of such human rights abuses as are being fostered at Guantanamo Bay. What is happening in Guantanamo Bay is, in my opinion, equally as bad as anything that the Japanese did to their captives in the Second World War; prisoners here are treated as nothing more than lumps of meat; RoadRunner touched on this recently when blogging an
entirely different issue, where he discusses 'rendering', a term straight out of the abbatoir; I have to say it speaks for itself. The question has to be asked, how can we as civilsed (I use the term very loosely) human beings allow a nation like the United States, who purport to be the upholders of democracy, but who deny so many people even the most basic human rights, not to mention removing every shred of human dignity from them; how can we as thinking, caring people allow our fellow man/woman to be treated in such a barbaric fashion? How can we look the other way and pretend it is not happening, or even worse think that it is fine because we are fighting a 'war on terror'? I think that is the worst thing of all, to think that because of a particular situation it justifies our mis-treatment of our fellow man. Should we not stop, take a step back and ask ourselves why we are having to fight this 'war on terror'? Should we not try to address the issues that cause such dissidence in the first place? Because we think that we are right does not mean that we are, and that works for the terrorists also. Everyone draws attention to the religious fundamentalists/fanatics who are behind a lot of the problems; but everyone seems to ignore those political fundamentalists/fanatics who peddle their own agenda no matter how that affects other people. I happen to think that this latter group are far more dangerous because it is due to their blinkered, greed fueled actions that people become dissident, and subsequently a spawning ground for terrorists.

Seems Scotland is First Again

Original Story.

It was ten days ago, maybe even two weeks, that I saw the first daffies here in Edinburgh! Just goes to show that even down there in the South West they don't get everything first. Another first for Scotland is the universal bus pass, which now means that anyone with a bus pass can travel anywhere in Scotland, and are not just restricted to the boundaries of the issuing authority; seems that this is not going to happen in England for another couple of years. Scotland leading the way yet again...