Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The fate of the elderly

Martyn describes himself as "man from York; writes stuff" on his blog. Typically self-deprecating. This morning he has posted a story about his paternal grandmother, which I fear is not that remarkable, but is immensely sad. A story in which a very vulnerable woman was faced with leaving the only place she could call home, because an "institution" was closing. The power lies in Martyn's telling - as ever. Please go and read it. As ever, it made me think, especially about the fate of my own grandparents, and indeed my mother, although they fortunately never found themselves in that position. And then, I found this, a brief report on Guardian Unlimited, about another elderly woman forced to leave the place she felt was home, a care home, and moved to another care home, because the first one closed. She died of an overdose shortly afterwards. And then I realised - we really are bastards to elderly people, aren't we? Do we really care at all?

Anyway, thanks, Martyn - for making me think.

Changing the subject - am posting from Budapest, from a wirelessly enabled cafe. Appear to be more of those in Budapest than in London, where you always have to pay for wireless access. Photos later.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Suspending University Exams

As one university exam boycott (by staff) meanders to a close, another is just getting going. In view of Bangladesh's participation in the World Cup, students at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology are refusing to take their exams, so long as their team is still in the cup. After a siege on the VC's office (we haven't had to resort to that but apparently there have been similar scenes in other universities where the authorities have been more heavy-handed), the students' requests for the postponement of exams have been acceded to.

What will be the response?

There has been a spate of fatal or near fatal stabbings/knife attacks recently. Perhaps the most shocking was the fatal stabbing of a student on a train at the weekend. This is in the same week that the police are holding a nationwide knife amnesty, offering people the opportunity to drop knives into special bins in police stations, with no questions asked, whilst presumably being video-ed by the ubiquitous CCTV. What is the next step we can expect as a result of these awful crimes? Airport-style (and, I should say, public-building style) metal detectors at the entrance to every train and school? What is the correct balance here between the risk of harm to individuals as against the general restriction on liberty posed by enduring endless personal and property searches? And will policy responses be considered responses, or the type of knee jerk reactions of which we have seen so many in recent weeks?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

What is the Guardian's policy on the Union?

I didn't know it was the Guardian's policy to foster the break up of the UK. However, after yesterday I have to say I am compelled to conclude that it is. In the print edition, in a perhaps little read corner, there appears "what we've learned", which I think is a sort of compilation of bits of rubbish read by the editors during the week. I suspect the bits of rubbish include Johnny Grimond's rant against Scotland in the Economist, as we can read here that:

"The English subsidise the Scots by roughly £1,000 per Scot per year."

Now, even if public spending per head is higher in Scotland than it is in England, in fact it has been rising more slowly in Scotland (a part of the UK which is indubitably poorer than average) than in England (a part of the UK which is indubitably richer than average) since devolution. All of these figures, of course, conceal the fact that there is massive diversity in wealth, etc. within England and Scotland, which mandate fiscal transfers within those parts of the UK, as well as across the UK as a whole. However, public spending allocations in Scotland are the result of political choices made in Holyrood and Westminster, not the result of some sort of structural bias against England or the English in public spending allocations across the UK.

It seems to me unarguable that the current state of political arrangements across the UK cannot be the final settlement. Devolution has produced some interesting outcomes, especially for Wales and Scotland, and potentially for Northern Ireland, but it has also thrown up the as yet unanswered "English question", which politicians in Westminster, of all parties, routinely shy away from.

What is equally clear is that an unwillingness amongst politicians to grapple with difficult issues can give rise to negative reactions, and the unleashing of forces which are inimical to the long term survival of the United Kingdom. It seems to me to be irresponsible journalism to describe the issue of public spending outcomes in the UK in terms of "the English subsidising the Scots". The Guardian, the Manchester Guardian as was, would doubtless shy away from a headline or trailer that read "the southerners are subsidising the northerners", and would want to see a complex argument developed instead of idiotic simplicities which recognised the differing levels of deprivation and the differing needs of the north and the south of England. Why then should they not apply the same degree of care and caution when describing the relationships between public spending in England and public spending in Scotland?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Me, drunk? Never

Instructed by Numptie, I took this test. It bears no relationship to the "truth". As all my friends will know.

You're a Depressed Drunk

You know that distinct taste of tears and vodka real well.

Dogs & Beer

Apologies to regular readers for my absence, lots of things to do etc.. I am known for my love of dogs; in fact I like them much more than I like many people, some of whom I am not allowed to mention here on pain of death (BondWoman is a hard task master) but they know who they are! I am also known for my love of beer and it has been said, again by BondWoman, that my natural habitat is the pub; well today I found this which combines both passions...

"The Soft Underbelly of Devolution"

Over at The Sharpener, my second post on "The Soft Underbelly of Devolution" (phrase courtesy of Brian Taylor of BBC Scotland).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Village, Leith

Continuing our series of "pub of the week" posts (see here, here and here), here is a quick post on the pub which is effectively our "local", The Village, on South Fort Street in Leith. It's an interesting place, although I couldn't recommend visiting it for the ale. Deuchars IPA handpumped and Belhaven Best on electric tap was about the limits of that. But it certainly has quite a funky atmosphere (much improved by the smoking ban IMHO), with art on the walls, interesting colour schemes, and - above all - a reputation to maintain as the venue for the weekly gigs hosted by the Leith Folk Club. Now here we are really getting to the nub of the matter. It is a great little venue, and somewhere where you can go and see bands like the Tannahill Weavers, as indeed we did this week "en blog famille" as it were, in very intimate and knowledgeable surroundings. Crazily, after living here more than twelve months, this was the first time we had frequented the Leith Folk Club. I have no doubt we shall go back.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Immigration and Citizenship

Anti-immigration campaigners seem to like to have it all ways in their campaigns. They object to 'floods' of immigrants, saying it is not what people 'want'. They object (rightly, in my view, as it happens) to the Home Office unilaterally increasing the qualifying period from four years to five before a non-EEA national working in the UK can apply for indefinite leave to remain. As fees are payable for the necessary visas and work permits, they denounce this as an egregious tax on those who have taken the lawful route to immigration, when those who have taken the unlawful route apparently enjoy unlimited state handouts (I think those in asylum detention centres or receiving below subsistence levels of welfare benefits might beg to differ, but there we go). But now, as it is reported that levels of citizenship acquisition are at record levels, they denounce Government's policies on allowing access to UK citizenship by non-nationals, even though this is precisely the lawful route from immigration to integration praised in the previous article. Mere inconsistency, or full-blown hypocrisy? I leave you to decide.

Heard on the Today Programme

I'm not always fully awake when listening to the Today Programme, but something jolted me out of my slumber today. For once it was not the desire to strangle whichever politician was adorning the 8.10 slot, but instead something very funny. Bizarrely, the Today Programme decided to fulfil its public service mission this morning by sending out a reporter to try and smuggle a garden gnome into the Chelsea Flower Show in order to test out its rule banning said gnomes from its "naice" gardens. There was then an interview with a very posh gentleman clearly implacably opposed to garden gnomes as a fundamental lapse of taste. The interviewer pressed her case - would it be the case, she enquired, that other ornaments such as toadstools and fairies would be unacceptable and should be banned. Without missing a beat the posh gentleman replied: "If you ban fairies there wouldn't be any gardeners...."

The programme proceeded sedately on its course.

Monday, May 22, 2006

More lazy photo blogging

It's been a funny few days chez The Original BondBloke. First, we had a tremendous peak on Friday with lots of extraneous visitors stopping by because I blogged the piano found on Ben Nevis earlier in the week. It later became big international news, provoking masses of google searches. Even today, Bondbloke is on the first page of the search results. I wonder what the visitors thought when they arrived...

But mainly, the Bonds have been very busy recently refurbishing a flat for Junior Bond, and I find it surprisingly difficult to compose posts when I have sore hands from handling a wallpaper scraper in anger for two days. We are making reasonable progress on the destruction phase of the refurbishment so far, but there is a long way to go. Pictures below...I forgot to do the before ones, so there will only be during and after.

Anyway, I thought I would resort to some lazy photo blogging to make up for the lack of proper input, but forgot that I find it damn difficult to position photos easily on blogger, so in fact I have spent longer on this post than on many of my more substantial ones!

Anyway, above you will a picture of part of the Sultan's Elephant street installation, which brought London to a halt a couple of weeks ago. I was intrigued to find this outside the British Academy when I went there for a meeting.

And then all has not been lost on the walking and exercising front. Although the weather has been deteriorating, we managed to have a lovely day out a week last Sunday on a walk over Arthur's Seat, with a friend this time, to the Sheep Heid in Duddingston. The Sheep Heid is another one of my google search favourites. Brings a lot of passing trade to this blog. Again we are on the first page of the search results, for my very affectionate review.

This weekend, with the same friend and her partner, we took to the car and went over towards Loch Lomond, to find better weather than the dreich rubbish we were experiencing in Edinburgh. We succeeded, and had a lovely drive ending up at Inversnaid Pier overlooking Loch Lomond from the east, and walked up to Rob Roy's Viewpoint to take snaps. I hope that Bondbloke will blog this properly on the "outdoor" blog and put his photos (much better than mind) on flickr. But he is dog-tired from a surplus of very physical work on the new flat. So I leave you with a couple of gorgeous pictures of that for your delectation and delight... You won't believe just how much input into previous renovations on that flat the famous firm of "bodge-it, leave-it and hope" has had. Or maybe you would. I'm sure everyone has seen it before.

Bondbloke contemplating what to do about the fact that the glass window between the kitchen has simply been covered up with linoleum tiles and hardboard and painted/papered over. He attacked it - violently. It doesn't look anything like that now!

The corner of the small bedroom. Just a smidgeon of the acres of yellow-painted wallpaper we have all been busy removing. Stubborn stuff, thick stuff, with goopy glue. Not like modern wallpaper at all.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

How to Clean your Toilet

This was sent to me by someone who thought I would find it amusing; actually I found it hilarious and present it for your amusement:-

Instructions For Cleaning The Toilet
  1. Lift the lid on the toilet and fill it with 1/8 cup of animal shampoo.
  2. Take the cat in your arms and stroke it gently while slowly moving in the direction of the toilet.
  3. At a suitable moment, throw the cat into the toilet bowl and close the lid quickly then either stand or sit on the lid.
  4. The cat will now start the cleaning process and will produce plenty of foam. Do not be concerned about the loud noises coming from the toilet; your cat is enjoying himself.
  5. After several minutes flush the toilet to start the ‘Power Wash’, pre wash and then flush again for the main wash cycle.
  6. Ask someone to open the front door and ensure that no-one is between the toilet and the front door.
  7. Get off the toilet seat and from a safe distance open the toilet lid quickly. The cat will dry off naturally due to the high speed he will be moving from the toilet to the front door.
  8. The toilet and as a bonus, the cat will now both be clean.
With best wishes
The Dog
And here are the photographs:-

The Cat

The Dog

Potty Training

I found an interesting piece of video which I think brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "potty training" and here I present it for your comment.

There will be a follow up piece to this when I can find it...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Pig Olympics

I found this earlier and thought it rather interesting; but then I am a great pig lover! I will say nothing other than to say that I know a few people that these porkers may have given a run for their money...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Piano found on Ben Nevis

Perhaps Roadrunner, who is one member of this blog team who has been up Ben Nevis and who has a demonstrable interest in music, can shed light on this...

Truly wierd.

"Illegal" Immigration

Regular readers of this blog may be aware of my aversion to using the term "illegal" immigration, because it is not clear to me how humans can be "illegal". I also think it is unnecessarily emotive. But this is not meant to be a serious post about immigration policy, or about the case for open borders, for example, which is canvassed in an interesting way at Stumbling and Mumbling today. Nor is it a commentary on the rather entertaining performance of IND official Dave Roberts before the Commons Home Affairs Committee yesterday.

No, let me content myself with this homily. Once upon a time there was a moment when the UK was "pure". Somebody somewhere knew where everyone was, and who everyone was. There were no "illegal immigrants". And then someone put the Home Office in charge, and everything went wrong. People forgot that if you didn't brand foreigners with a big "F" on their foreheads when they came into this marvellous country then you might reach a stage where you didn't actually know how many of them there were, and where they were, and you wouldn't be able to distinguish between those who are "nice" immigrants, with "decent, hardworking families", to coin a Blairite phrase, and those who are "nasty" immigrants, who are "illegal", who abuse the health service, cost us taxpayers money, dirty the streets, etc. etc. (you get the picture).

The offensive thing about Blair's and Reid's reaction to this whole pallaver is that they have not gone on the offensive and made the obvious point, namely that only totalitarian states know for sure how many foreigners there are in the country, what status they have, and can act easily to get rid of them if they want to. The USSR, for example, or the DDR. No, on the contrary. They make clear that they actually want to turn the UK increasingly into a society which, if not quite totalitarian, is certainly one that is so surveillance dominated that the differences become increasingly hard to spot. Because what do they say is the answer to all of this? At PMQs today,

"Mr Blair also outlined two measures to help the country reclaim control of its borders.
He said: "First of all, we need to introduce electronic borders.
"And secondly, we need identity cards both for foreign nationals and for British nationals if we want to track people coming in and out of our country and know the identity of people here."

Goody goody. That's just exactly what we all want.

The thing that makes me sick about the Tory Party is that they seek to set a repressive and restrictive agenda on immigration, and the management of non-nationals, and yet proclaim that they are a party to protect our ancient civil liberties. I don't normally use naughty words on my blog, but that is the biggest load of bollocks that I have heard in ages. Liberties apply to all, not just to some. There are a few bloggers out there as well who would do well to remember that point.

Ramblin' Man

Last evening I had the enormous pleasure of attending a gig by Ramblin’ Jack Elliot – a legend of the folk movement, companion to Woody Guthrie, and early influence on Bob Dylan. The final three numbers in the set were worth the ticket alone, and much more besides: Tim Hardin’s ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ was simply the best version I’ve ever heard; his picking on ‘Freight Train’ was extraordinary; and the finale of ‘Don’t Think Twice’ almost made me reconsider my confirmed view that no one can sing Dylan better than Dylan. Well, Jack almost does. Oh – and his stagecraft, his stories, histories…If you get the chance then go see him.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The language of immigration

I won't rise to Milligoon's previous post on the AUT action, except to say that those interested in this should read the information supplied on the AUT website, which details the bad faith of the employers, before making a judgment, rather than just relying on the somewhat sensationalised reports in the press. Anyway, since Milligoon is clearly a comedian, no one is going to take him too seriously are they?

This post is intended to draw your attention to the serious debate now being joined as to whether or not the UK should impose transitional measures in relation to labour migration from Bulgaria and Romania, two countries which are expected to join the European Union on 1 January 2007, provided they get the green light from a Commission report, which is expected imminently. Since it seems likely that Ireland will not follow the line it took with the EU8 workers, and will impose transitional restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers, then it would indeed be likely to be the case that the UK would stand alone, or more or less alone, if it did not impose transitional measures. A Migrationwatch UK report warns of what it sees as the dire dangers of this, indicating to us by-the-by (and totally irrelevantly) that "Bulgaria has 700,000 ethnic Turks and there are 2.5 million Roma in these two countries." Well that's all we need to know, isn't it, about those countries? If there are Turks and Roma there...well for sure we won't be wanting them here...

The reason I picked this up to blog today, is that on Euractiv - a news site which is not normally given to hyperbolic language - this news was reported, with reference to the Migrationwatch materials, under the objectionable headline "Next enlargement round could flood UK labour market". I think responsibility newscasters should absolutely avoid the language of "flooding" and "swamping" when discussing labour markets and immigration. It is offensive language, and it leads to hostility towards foreigners which leads in turn to them being judged on their difference from "us" (the indigenous population), rather than their own qualities or societal contributions, whatever those may be. I don't know where the language of "flooding" stems from in this case. I couldn't find it in the Migrationwatch report, but of course it may have been in a press release which was what the Euractiv report was then based on. Or it may have been Euractiv's own invention, in which case, shame on them.

But the other point to make is the utter one-sidedness of the reporting of these questions. Both Bulgaria and Romania are desperate about the depopulation effects which have occurred alongside their transition to market economies and (developing) democracies under the rule of law. They have plunging birthrates and there has been mass emigration, including of many skilled workers. Wouldn't a fuller picture of migration patterns which have occurred even before EU accession be a better basis for discussing what might happen after accession than scaremongering about the UK's labour market, which seems to have done really well out of EU8 migration? What about mentioning the fact that there are already well over 200,000 Romanians in Spain, for example? Whatever decision is made about the free movement of workers, it seems that Romanians and Bulgarians will migrate. The only question is whether, when they migrate, they will receive proper protection, status and respect as "regular" migrants. Moreover, it seems clear that although certain political factors might point in the other direction, it is essential that Romanian and Bulgarian accession is completed without delay, in order to assist these countries in resisting harmful demographic effects in the context of transition, by giving a boost to their international standing and to the position of their economies within an increasingly globalised European single market.

Questionable Action

Pay strike set to shut down universities. I know I am going to get panned for this, and I am also aware that I am not that well qualified to make any informed judgement about all of the issues surrounding this action by academics, but I will say my piece anyway. I am aware of some of the issues under discussion as I have been informed about them; however I still think that it is wrong that students should have to suffer, especially at the most stressful time of year, and in some cases of the end of university life, for them. It seems to me that academics see this as the only way to make their point, and I have to ask whether or not they have explored any other form of action to make their point, i.e. withdrawing from administrative duties etc. I am afraid that, even at the risk of alienating myself from my friends, this time my sympathies lie with the students.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Patron Saint Day

He may be gone, but he's not forgotten. I am, of course, referring to our estimable founder - Bondbloke. For this is the official Bondblokeday. Yes, today is Bondbloke's birthday. And on behalf of us all, his Bond-family, I'd like to wish him a very happy birthday - wherever he is. Oh, and that goes for any of his alter-egos that might still be lurking in the shadows of this - or other - blogs...

In Britain they first came for the foreigners…

A long post and an important warning from the Ministry of Truth.

Really different views about the Human Rights Act

I wasn't going to blog on this issue about the Human Rights Act, but now that Milligoon as offered us "differing views" on the Human Rights Act, while only citing the views of some papers that he and I both agree peddle objectionable views rather than those where we might disagree, I think I do need to state the case for the Human Rights Act 1998.

I am wary as the next person of the dangers of giving too much political power to judges. Judges should judge (and in so doing they should be guided above all by the rule of law, absolutely not by the court of public opinion). Parliaments should legislate (but not as often as they seem to do in the UK). And executives should initiate and execute policy. Lacking a written constitution, in the UK we often find those functions becoming far too confused, with inadequate checks and balances. Moreover, we have the pathetic spectacle of a party which - when in opposition - vehemently defended civil liberties, now in government leading the opposition to the very act which it trumpeted as one of the most important innovations for the British Constitution in hundreds of years.

As usual, all sorts of hard cases are being used as the basis for making bad policy, and - if the government carries out the threat not only to repeal the Human Rights Act but also perhaps to pull the UK out of the European Human Rights Convention altogether - as the basis for making bad law. The Afghan hijacking issue is, as Marcel Berlins points out in a trenchant defence of the Human Rights Act, a very difficult case. But it is a rule of law question, and a procedural question, and not really a human rights question at all. If the Home Office cannot be bothered to apply the rules which exist and which have been agreed by Parliament, just because someone thinks the case for deporting Afghan hijackers is an open and shut case, then this is a very slippery slope indeed. The rules are there for very good reason, to protect all of us against oppressive executive action, and those who are complaining about the absence of executive action now will be the quickest to complain if such action were directed towards them in the future in circumstances where their procedural rights were infringed. Moreover, as Berlins and numerous other commentators have pointed out, the tragic case of Anthony Rice, the rapist who killed a woman nine months after being released on licence is nothing to do with the application of the Human Rights Act in the courts and probably nothing about human rights at all. Here we are back to the essential issue which lies at the heart of the debate about foreign prisoners deportation scandal. If the prisons and other services are so poor at promoting rehabilitation, and recidivism is so high, then that is something we should look at rather than knee jerk blame for the HRA.

So we are offered more public services reform, to address a criminal justice system apparently in chaos. Make me laugh, why don't you? When will these self-defined reformers actually start to realise that having public services in constant reform, nay revolution, is actually a receipe for failure in relation to routine tasks such as managing probation or deportation processes, because public servants are constantly demoralised by being told they are failures. And constantly confused by changing systems. Funnily enough, they then live up to that "ideal" when they fail to apply routine administrative systems properly.

One last word in the HRA and its origins. It enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, drafted at the end of the 1940s under the aegis of the Council of Europe, in the shadow of a Europe which had been a human-rights-free space for quite a number of years. It has undoubtedly assisted the process of transition of numerous countries from that date to this one in relation to the promotion of values such as the rule of law, protection of the individual, and indeed democracy and good governance. However, it is often forgotten that the ECHR is an exceptionally "English law" instrument, in which the positive influence of English lawyers on the drafting of the provisions particularly on procedural rights was paramount. The ECHR actually reflects much more of an English common law philosophy of civil liberties protecting the individual from oppressive state power than it does some sort of American notion of human rights as trumps in intersocial relations. That philosophy generally also pervades the work of the Court of Human Rights in interpreting the Convention. But the Convention is a living instrument, and it is the only genuinely "European" legal instrument that we have. Those who wish to see the UK opt out of that European legal instrument guaranteeing basic standards of civilised society are not opting for some sort of transatlantic vision in which the UK is closer to the US. Hardly. I don't think those advocating that view would be happy with the UK having the type politicised Supreme Court we see in the US. So what exactly are they looking for? For the UK to divest itself of its last remnants of civilisation in the name of "protecting the public"? Well, go on then, tell me.

Update 1.30pm In his comment, Milligoon says we agree on this. I don't know. The interaction between politicians and judiciary all seems one way to me. The politicians berating the judges for not doing "tabloid will", and preferring to apply laws which Parliament has passed. Anyway, what I want to know is does he agree with this leader from today's Guardian, which I have just digested with my sandwich:

"The government is not running this attack on the judges and the Human Rights Act because our judges have lost their reason, or because the 1998 act is a charter for anarchy and lawlessness. It is doing so because Labour strategists are neuralgic about defending the party's positioning on law and order against the Conservatives and because ministers are running scared of a confused and often xenophobic press campaign against a piece of legislation of which the government ought to be proud. Every time that a foreigner commits an offence, some newspaper finds a way of blaming the Human Rights Act. Every time an ex-prisoner reoffends, some politician finds a way of twisting the facts to hold the Human Rights Act responsible. Every time that a court rules against the police, or the immigration authorities or the prison authorities - and none of these things happens very often - the Human Rights Act becomes the convenient whipping boy. With Labour's ratings low, and with a continuing haemorrhage of electoral support, Downing Street clearly believes that it is easier to join a lynch mob than to stand up to it."

If you can't (or indeed don't want to) beat the intolerant xenophobic tabloid press, then why not join them. Clearly a vote winner.

Well at a certain point, I suppose emigration remains an option, but boy am I glad I've at least migrated north of Hadrian's Wall.

Human Rights Problems

Differing views on Human Rights Act

Most people have differing views about the Human Righs Act, and none more so than BondWoman and myself; although having said that our views are not that far apart, and both of us are so far distanced from the views being at present expressed in the tabloid press. Views such as:

"a disgraceful piece of legislation"
The Scum


"We mustn't dream of upsetting Brussels"
Daily Mail

But then what would we expect from such a bunch of scaremongering louts as write for these organs of the gutter! What we have is a perfectly good piece of legislation; however the big problem that we have is the constant tinkering of elected politicians in matters that should be left to the judiciary. What is the point of having a judiciary if every decision they take is going to be questioned, tinkered with or simply ignored by the politicians because it does not fit with their idea of how things should be; absoloutely no point at all!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

MilliGoon is a Recidivist

Yes I am guilty of recidivism - I got a hard time for my previous post concerning Angelina Jolie; not so much for the written content but for the "almost pornographic" photo that accompanied the post. I actually thought it quite harmless, to the point where I repeat the offence and give you the picture to the left as a slightly less offensive image of this stunning female.

As I got into hot water previously I thought that I would offset the offence this time by providing some eye candy for the ladies also; ladies I give you Johnny Depp!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Danger Rat

I found this earlier which made me smile even though there is a very serious side to the story; I mean what are the sniffer dogs going to do now? A sniffer rat can get into to places a sniffer dog can only imagine; so maybe the sniffer dogs are going to be making deals with cats, and taking out contracts on these sniffer rats. The question is will the cats trust the dogs not to chase them after it is all sorted, and will the dogs trust the cats to keep their side of the deal; an interesting problem indeed.

An Actor's Life

It seems to me that actors have such a hard life; just take this quote from Ray Winstone in The Observer "I had to keep kissing Angelina Jolie"; I feel so sorry for him having to endure the hardships of having "to keep kissing Angelina Jolie". And it isn't as if she is a particularly beautiful woman or anything, just a stunning example of the female form, as the picture (left) undoubtedly shows. If he finds this task so onerous maybe I could offer my services as a stand in next time he has "to keep kissing Angelina Jolie"; I think that I could adequately steel myself to undertaking this obvioulsy unnpleasant assignment...

Update in response to Cliff's comment:
I want it understood right here and now that I was offereing my services to stand in for Ray Winstone; I mean how could anyone even think that I (see pic left) look anything like Angelina Jolie! I would even extend that offer to cover any future difficulties he may have in "having to keep kissing" any of the beautiful actresses that he has to work with, as he seems to find this an onerous task.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ruth Kelly and Equality Policies

There is a lot I like about the post-1997 Labour Government equality policies. I like the positive duties on public authorities in the fields of race, disability and now gender. I like the support for Article 13 EC introduced in 1997 and for EU directives based on Article 13 introduced in 2000, which required unanimous agreement amongst the Member States and which cover the fields of non-discrimination on grounds of race, disability, age, sexual orientation and religion. I like the civil partnership legislation, although I wish it would be extended to heterosexuals (how much better to have *your* relationship recognised by the state, rather than being told by the state that through a contract it is creating a relationship for you). I am so far ambivalent about the replacement of the various separate commissions like the EOC and the CRE with the overarching Commission for Equality and Human Rights, because I fear it may not be adequately resourced. I don't like the fact that like public institutions in recent years, bodies such as the Commission for Racial Equality have been constantly restructured and refocused, and there has been constant revision and reviewing of the arrangements for covering equality within the framework of government departments.

And I absolutely don't like the appointment of Ruth Kelly as Minister for Women with overarching responsibility for equality matters in her capacity as Minister for Communities. I was in particular perturbed by her manner of evading questions about sin and homosexuality when pressed by journalists in the last few days.

At risk of offending those close to this blog who might think that expressing this objection is an expression of intolerance of someone's "private" views, and that calling for their replacement amounts to excluding those professing the Catholic faith from holding certain types of public office, or to discrimination against Catholics, I still hold firm to my objection to her appointment.

Of course, the difference between Ruth Kelly and Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian Minister nominated to be EU justice and home affairs commissioner (and thus with responsibility for human rights and equality matters), whose appointment was effectively vetoed by the European Parliament in 2004, is that he was a great deal more outspoken with his views (perhaps apeing the evident belief of his master Silvio Berlusconi, that you can say things that are unbelievably offensive and still largely get away with it), and Kelly has largely kept her own counsel about most matters, has insisted on the private nature of matters of conscience, and has asserted (in a manner which is not necessarily inconsistent with having a difficulty at the private level with homosexuality as such) that lesbians and gays should not be discriminated against in the employment or social sphere because they are lesbian or gay. Such an argument can of course simply be sustained on the grounds of the irrationality of such acts of prejudice. Anyway, the Labour MEPs who were so vehement in their objections to the socially conservative Buttiglione are not adopting the same posture on Kelly. In fact, Michael Cashman MEP has come out explicitly in her favour.

A neat post from Bookdrunk at Rhetorically Speaking makes the point about the public/private interface much more clearly than I could, and I dare to cite it in full:

Objections to Ruth Kelly are already being framed as a kind of religious intolerance. To make that claim means completely failing to recognise the doublethink at work here. If a person is seemingly confirmed in certain prejudices and has made no attempt to recant them, is it not in the slightest bit odd that the same person would be put in charge of challenging those very same prejudices? Kelly is fully entitled to whatever religious beliefs she chooses - but to pretend that the Catholic Church's position on gay people is compatible with advancing or protecting gay people's interests is ludicrous. Unless we embrace a kind of internalised hypocrisy as a virtue, her beliefs make her a bad candidate for this job. She's entitled to those beliefs but we can't pretend they don't raise huge questions about her competence to take on this role.

In a longer, related post, she develops other points about the difficulties of Kelly's candidature. The basic point is important. As Colin Richardson points out on Comment is Free, the basic legislative framework is in place (although you can certainly expect New Labour to keep fiddling with it ad infinitum), but it remains the case that 'real' equality for the types of groups protected by equality legislation is not achieved. Hence a real champion of equality is needed in that position. There are still complex processes of social exclusion which make, for example, issues of multiple discrimination particularly challenging. We need to go beyond non-discrimination instruments to introduce more mainstreaming, to challenge the way policy is made, as well as the outcomes it produces. Even if I were not already fairly underwhelmed by Kelly's record on policy delivery in other departments, I would be actively questioning whether she can and will deliver on *this* policy.

Phew, what a relief

Missing bike found. Not just any old bike, but a bike which had travelled 335,500 miles in over forty years, which was stolen just after its owner reached these shores. The UK may have loutish bike thieves. We can all attest to that. We encounter them all the time, including in the supposedly secure garage under our building where they sawed through one bike with a hacksaw to get at another one recently, but at least they have 'taste'. This bike was abandoned in a local park; being old fashioned, it wouldn't have had much value in the local pub and so wouldn't have added to the £1bn that criminals have apparently made selling stolen goods in pubs to people who just turn a blind eye to the origins of what they buy. Presumably between supping pints and adding their voice to the urgent need to deport all 'foreign' criminals.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Not For The Squeamish Coffee Drinker

The title says it all really, this could put you off coffee for the rest of your life...

"Explosive" underwear gift sparks bomb scare

"Explosive" underwear gift sparks bomb scare! This brings a whole new meaning to red hot lingerie, especially when combined with chocolate cake; the possible ideas for the combinations of the two are positively endless. It also makes me wonder if the intended recipient had a good birthday!

Monday, May 08, 2006


How many posts have been titled "miscellaneous"? A quick round-up of things that caught my eye just now.

First off, I was spooked by the picture in the centre spread of today's Guardian, print version only of course for pictures, of a sky shot taken in St. Peter's Rome of the Pope ordaining fifteen new priests from a variety of countries, who had all taken a dramatic prostrated position on the carpet. Not a woman to be seen amongst those dressed up, as far as I could tell. A few in the "audience". Does anyone else see a problem in this?

Second, a great catchphrase from Bookdrunk at Rhetorically Speaking, commenting on Roger Knapman, UKIP MEP and majoring in hypocrisy (about whom I blogged yesterday on the EU law and politics blog): "immigrants are only cool when they are half-price".

And finally, better discussions than I could manage of the foreign prisoners, deportation and UK policy issue than I could manage, by Brian Barder, and his various commentators.

Update in the morning I remembered in the night the other thing I wanted to refer to in this post, and that was a snippet from the Guardian obituary of Lord Simon of Glaisdale, famous for being the last (in this case Tory) law officer to be appointed to the High Court on finishing his stint as a law officer (solicitor general). A good example of patronage now gone. But of greater interest is a snippet which pertains to his work in the House of Lords, after he was appointed a Law Lord and sat for many years as a pretty active crossbench (and rather eclectic) peer (he died at 95). Thus during the Thatcher years:

"He supported the encouragement of the free market under Margaret Thatcher, but not her centralisation of power. His bete noire was the recurrent resort to Henry VIII clauses (as a Lords committee put it, "a provision in a bill which enables primary legislation to be amended or repealed by subordinate legislation with or without further parliamentary scrutiny"), giving ministers uncontrolled powers."

I think we can safely say, therefore, that he would have been unhappy about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill containing the mother of all Henry VIII clauses.

Royal Scottish Academy Annual Exhibition 2006

This looks quite an interesting exhibition, and I am quite determined that I will go along and have a leisurely browse this week, all in the interests of supporting my new found friends here at bondbloke of course. Not that I have that much interest in art, but I do think that I should do my bit to bring some cultural content to the blog, and I think a review of an exhibition like this is a pretty good place to start; sort of jumping in at the deep end so to speak.

Watch this Space!

Is There A Cure For Consumption?

Blair resists calls to step down is the BBC headline; I am not sure how he thinks he is going to hold on to power, as he is only clinging by his fingernails at present. We all know why he is refusing to go, he wants to hang in there for the ten year thingy; how bloody pathetic! He also says that he "has a lot to finish", again how bloody pathetic; as if a new leader could not see through all of the reforms that are planned, and maybe even reverse some of the worst excesses of this morally bankrupt bunch of lunatics! The bloody man HAS TO GO and the sooner the better for all concerned; and then maybe there can be a decent leadership election to choose a new leader for the Labour Party, which is something that has been worrying my good friend Numptie recently. Now he really does get agitated at any whiff of the undermining of democracy. I am the first to agree that there has to be a smooth transition of power, but surely it makes sense for that transition of power to happen as soon as possible to give the new leader time to settle in and make plans (which will include trying to salvage the reputation of the party) for fighting the next election. I have tactfully avoided mentioning that other fellah who is supposed to be taking over the reins from TB, a) because I like him even less than old consumption and b) because, like Numptie, I think it all smacks of totalitarianism by the back door!

An important political test

"tampon teabag" (yes really) has set us all an important political test to see whether we are left wing or right wing. I suggest you go take it. (And read the comments too...)

A Poetic Revival

I was listening to the Today programme this morning, and there was an interesting piece about the revival of poetry. Now I happen to think that poetry is a very important part of life; maybe I don’t read as much as I should do, but that is mainly because there are so many other things to read, so many other thoughts that need expression. I also scribble the odd poem myself, not as often as I should I suppose, and I find it very therapeutic, a very good way of dealing with the stresses and strains of modern day living. I leave you with a humble effort of mine own:-


Lying back on the grass
Staring at the sky, as
The clouds scuttle past,
En route to some future
Assignation with the
Hills, to dump their rain.

Sounds and smells assault
My ears and nose, those
Of nature, and living,
That we never notice
In the busy bustle of
The busy beehive of life.

The lark on high singing
The joys of existence.
The acrid smell of tar,
From road resurfacing.
These somehow blend
In the harmony of life.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Convoluted Academic Language

This one - which could be understood as a piece of self-criticism - is for Cliff, who appears to be taking a break from blogging to find his voice.

The author of this piece about convoluted academic language in the Guardian engages in a delicious piece of auto-criticism by reprinting one choice sentence of his own:

"Using large, computer-based corpora linked to databases of socio-geographical information about speakers does, however, give us access to a bird's-eye view of what present-day spoken usage is, and we must surely accept as 'good' spoken English that which is widely attested across speakers of different ages, genders, social and geographical backgrounds, that is to say, our common coinage, the plain, everyday talk of the plain people of the speech community, and not just that of its super-skilful members who command the airwaves and the public platforms."

He freely admits that this sentence, which provoked outrage from the intended rather generalist reading audience, is "simply too long; it could have been said in half the words, or in two or three separate sentences." It also contains some pieces of jargon like "corpora" and "socio-geographical".

As he said - and I take this as a message to me, an academic, writing on a blog and reacting in a prickly way sometimes to suggestions that I don't make my message clear or that I "overintellectualise", everyone needs to remember their audience:

"Texts are for readers, not for their writers, and we should respect our readers by choosing our grammar appropriately, so that it helps, not hinders, the processing of the specialist vocabulary and concepts."

I'll try. I really will.

Will they listen?

The BBC reports on a letter which Tony Blair has sent Hazel Blears, issuing her with her instructions on what she is supposed to do to revitalise the flagging Labour Party. Mr e-Blair, famous for so long for not having an email address, tells her that it is time to rethink the party's website. Incredibly, for a party which seems to be being rapidly repudiated by its supporters and members, with a rapidly declining membership, he says:

"We must move from a mainly passive one where supporters interact with us, with local party members and with each other."

Now if this were actually to happen, with the Labour government reacting constructively to what many of its supporters who are deserting the party because its civil liberties agenda and the loss of the remnants of its reputation for competence are saying, that might in fact recover NuLabour's position with its core electorate. On the contrary, with John Reid promising the same old policies on getting tough with foreign prisoners as he writes in the News of the World as the new Home Secretary.

Unity is worth reading on this. Noting Reid's view that

"[UK citizens] believe that the government and their wishes are often thwarted by the courts. They want the deportation for foreign nationals to be considered early in their sentence, and are aware that this was overruled by the courts,"

Unity comments that

"There may be readers of the News of the World who also believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy as well - it still doesn’t mean they’re right.

Just to be clear on this, there may well be occasions when the government, and certainly the readership of the News of the World, have their wishes ‘thwarted by the courts’ but when it comes to deporting foreign nationals, this happens because the courts are doing their job and upholding the rule of law - and not just any old law but the Human Rights Act and Britain’s obligations under the European convention of Human Rights and the UN Convention Agaist Torture.

There is more at stake here than simply whether we deport a few foreign criminals. It’s about whether we live up to our obligations under international laws and treaties - which, it’s worth noting, were agreed and entered into by politicians, and not the courts - and even more than that it’s about whether we wish to be considered a civilised society and live up to standards, laid down in international law, which dictate that you do not deport someone into circumstances which put their life and bodily well-being at serious risk from regmies which do not espouse those standards and values.

It should be a matter of the deepest possible shame for Labour supporters that we have yet another Home Secretary out there in the Murdoch press pandering to the xenophobia of the ignorant instead of taking a stand for civilised values and the rule of law."

Indeed. I wonder if Labour will get this message through their website, and if so, whether they will act upon it. I'd bet not, because presumably they calculate that 200,000 Labour Party members are a great deal less important than 3.5 million odd News of the World readers (requires registration).

Life's A Beach

Browsing through news items this morning I came across something that proves that inside every adult there is a child just waiting to break out. I found this a fascinating article which brings a whole new meaning to uilding sand castles!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Tay Bridge Disaster

I was more than pleased to accept an invitation to contribute to this excellent blog and hope that I can fit in without too much trouble. I thought that in keeping with the location of this blog my first post should be something Scottish.

'Twas a grim winter night back in the dim and distant past, the 28th December 1879 to be more precise, when Mother Nature decided to create a disaster of immense proportions; a disaster which gave rise to one of the finest poems ever written by a man who, in my opinion, was a poetic genius! For the more ghoulish amongst you greater detail of the disaster, complete with piccy's, can be found here.

The Reshuffle - Blair's place in history

I was gobsmacked when I discovered that Margaret Beckett had been made Foreign Secretary yesterday. It does seem to me that her only expertise in international affairs is occasionally towing her caravan overseas (although doesn't she prefer the green fields of Britain?). Iain Dale has suggested an amusing little gizmo to put on the back of the van from now on.

I was even more devastated to hear that we now have Geoff "Buff"Hoon as Europe Minister. Why is that Blair seems to think that he can occupy the same job for ten years or so (and Gordon, of course, but that's another matter), but everyone else has to play musical chairs every few months, with the resultant drop in efficiency because Ministers are not on top of their briefs (and we all know what happens when that's the case)?

Having racked my brain, the only plausible explanation I can come up with for Beckett's appointment as Foreign Secretary is Blair's perpetual concern with his place in history. In this case, he does not want it to be said having been Prime Minister for nine/ten/eleven/twelve years (delete as appropriate) he never appointed a woman to one of the three great offices of state. Now he has.


This one I couldn't resist

You Belong in Amsterdam

A little old fashioned, a little modern - you're the best of both worlds. And so is Amsterdam.
Whether you want to be a squatter graffiti artist or a great novelist, Amsterdam has all that you want in Europe (in one small city).

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Over at the Sharpener

Promised post on xenophobia has appeared. Probably not more considered, and certainly not more reasonable. In any event, posting on a strange blog, using Word Press and seeking to conform to posting guidelines which demand the correct placing of every comma and semi-colon, whilst worrying about what might happen during the coming two days whilst I am away in London and there is likely to be very light posting here did not make for a low-stress experience.

Knee Jerk Reactions

I am in the process of trying to compose a considered post on the knee-jerk xenophobia which has been whipped up by the Home Office's incompetence in which it allowed the issue of considering the deportation of foreign prisoners to become entwined with the question of excluding failed asylum seekers and stopping ex-prisoners from claiming asylum. However, events keep overtaking me, such as Blair's pandering to the xenophobic gallery by pledging immediate deportation of foreign prisoners convicted of serious crimes at PMQs today (I am fed up with hearing the stock response to government failings: let's have tougher laws in the future) and now the story of Ernesto Leal, whose family came to the UK as political refugees from Chile in the 1970s, and who has lived in the UK for 30 years, including his entire adult life. I picked this up via Garry, but I am also pleased to see it has been taken up quite energetically in The Herald (editorial).

No one condones the commission of the crime of GBH by Leal, for which he has served his sentence (partially in an open prison and partly subject to electronic tagging). Moreover, there is some suggestion that the pub fight he was involved in which led to the prosecution involved some racial provocation. But no matter. It still does not rank really high up on the list of offences. However, it seems clear that the decision to proceed energetically and suddenly to detain him and to deport him to Jamaica (no one seems able to explain this destination...) is something to do with those who have previously failed in their public duties needing to be seen now to be tough in order to face down legitimate criticism. Apparently the place where he was staying in London was surrounded by 30 armed police officers on the grounds he was now an intense danger to the public. And this is someone who was so little of a danger to the public that he served his sentence in an open prison and with tagging, and who has reported as required to his probation officer. Moreover, his (supportive) family say he regrets his crime, and that there is no danger of him reoffending, and those statements I take in the absence of evidence to the contrary on trust. Anyway, having been here sufficiently long to regard this indubitably as his home, Leal made the mistake of not swapping the "indefinite leave to stay" in his Chilean passport for a UK passport, which he presumably would have got if he applied before committing his offence. I am pleased to see also from the Herald that he has support from public figures such as Irvine Welsh and Elaine C. Smith, as well as his family. I add my voice, for what it is worth, to that.

The more considered post on xenophobia and the difference a passport makes will have to wait.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The best headlines have been taken

It was the picture in the Guardian (print edition, I'm afraid) that caught my eye. The couple huddled down against the cliff, with the lifeboat approaching, and their £250,000 yacht being pounded to bits on the rocks before their eyes. I'm not one to glory in other people's miseries, but I'm afraid I felt compelled to blog this one. A little bit of research on the net revealed a picture in The Scum (sorry, don't usually link there as a matter of principle), and then a much more detailed report in the The Times, under the fetching headline "Honey, I sunk the boat". In summary: man (incredibly rich, according to the Times report) buys £250,000 boat; two weeks later, man and woman set out to sail boat from Lymington to Lulworth Cove and back; on the return journey, man goes below deck and leaves woman in charge of helm; boat runs aground on famously hazardous rocks at Anvil Point in Dorset; man and woman issue Mayday alert, abandon ship, crawl ashore, and huddle on rocky cliff face watching the waves dump their boat repeatedly against the rocks until there is very little left of it.

Maybe it was not just the picture which caught my eyes in the Guardian, but also the information in the first paragraph that the owner was a banker.

The Sharpener

I've gone and joined a group blog called The Sharpener, which has been around a while, but has just been relaunched today with added "Me" and added lots of other people as well. Don't know exactly who yet, but it's all an interesting exploration, innit? It's broadly a political blog, but today's first substantive post is essentially recommendation of what looks to be an interesting cartoonist.

Go see.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Weird things about me? I don't think so

I've been tagged by Numptie, who in turn picked this up from Martyn, and so on, and so on, to reveal to you six weird things about me. I don't think that's possible, to be honest, because I am really rather depressingly ordinary. But I'll have a go, in the spirit of these things.

1. I have a bit of an obsession about Sudoku and find it hard to stop doing it once I start.

2. I have a bright orange cycling jacket which makes me a dead ringer for Easyjet cabin staff, but hasn't yet got me early access to an aeroplane.

3. My son calls me by my first name, and not 'Mum'. It does not distress me that nobody calls me 'Mum'.

4. I think the EU is interesting.

5. Even more wierdly, I think law is interesting.

6. Actually, when it comes to it, I can find almost anything interesting, even some of Numptie's obsessions...

Will that do? Can I go now?

Ming's Jag

This is a post about the other politico Jag owner (or soon to be former owner), not the one who has been most in the news recently, good old Two Shags (or is it Four?) himself. That is Menzies Campbell, who declared that he would give up his beloved 17-year-old Jaguar XJS Coupe because "he feared driving the gas-guzzling machine would contradict the party's emphasis on tackling climate change." It now emerges in the Scotsman that he has donated it to the Myreton Motor Museum in Aberlady in East Lothian, building on earlier news that it was residing in a barn on a farm in East Lothian waiting to be sold. It appears that the Museum is only taking on what is a rather common and not yet even properly vintage car because of its "interesting" political provenance.

Touchingly, "Sir Menzies' aide, former Roxburgh and Berwickshire MP Lord Archie Kirkwood, who helped with the sale, said: "Menzies is absolutely delighted. He has relatives in East Lothian and every time he visits the area he will be able to say hello to it or lay flowers on it or whatever he thinks appropriate." Aaaahhh. Altogether now.

I really am surprised to be able to blog this before fearsome Ming-watchers Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes get there. Perhaps that's down to the fact that it's a Bank Holiday south of the border, and up here we workers are still hard at it.