Friday, November 30, 2012

Six Billion Communities Of One

Social media does not have the potential to create one community of six billion. However, it does have the potential to create six billion communities of one.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

'All The Things You Are'

(From Kern and Hammerstein, to my mind the greatest standard of them all: and you have never heard this song performed properly unless you have heard it being sung by a 120 piece choir in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum)

"Time and again I've longed for adventure,
Something to make my heart beat the faster.
What did I long for? I never really knew.
Finding your love I've found my adventure,
Touching your hand, my heart beats the faster,
All that I want in all of this world is you.

You are the promised kiss of springtime

That makes the lonely winter seem long.
You are the breathless hush of evening
That trembles on the brink of a lovely song.

You are the angel glow that lights a star,

The dearest things I know are what you are.
Some day my happy arms will hold you,
And some day I'll know that moment divine,
When all the things you are, are mine!"

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Maiming Of George Square

Why can't they just leave the heart of Glasgow alone? Is there no other civil project, either proposed or underway, within the city limits of Glasgow upon which the money that is suggested will be spent on this vanity project could be better spent instead?

This is heartbreaking. There is no need for this vandalism. Please leave one of Scotland's great public spaces alone.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Great Is Thy Faithfulness"

(For some reason this hymn doesn't seem to appear in the 'Celebration Hymnal'. I can't understand why not, if only because it's a wonderful piece of church music, a celebration of Divine Providence which seems to be ecumenically unchallenging. It  crossed my radar this year via 'Songs of Praise', and provides a welcome and wonderful contrast to the liturgical Dadaism known as 'The Folk Mass')

"Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever will be.
 

Refrain:
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.  


Refrain:
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!


Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!  


Refrain:
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!"

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Apologies

Circumstances entirely outwith my control have resulted in fluctuations in both my dopamine and serotonin levels that can only be described as Plinian, and my D1 and D2 receptors are twinkling like fairy lights. Energy levels which are extremely high in the morning are non-existent in the evenings. My consequent apologies for the lack of posts.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

'Wake Me Up When September Ends'

(My favourite song, written by the great Billie Joe Armstrong, PBUH, to whom all best wishes are extended for a speedy return to health)

"Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
wake me up when September ends

like my father's come to pass

seven years has gone so fast
wake me up when September ends

here comes the rain again

falling from the stars
drenched in my pain again
becoming who we are

as my memory rests

but never forgets what I lost
wake me up when September ends

summer has come and passed

the innocent can never last
wake me up when September ends

ring out the bells again

like we did when spring began
wake me up when September ends

here comes the rain again

falling from the stars
drenched in my pain again
becoming who we are

as my memory rests

but never forgets what I lost
wake me up when September ends

Summer has come and passed

The innocent can never last
wake me up when September ends

like my father's come to pass

twenty years has gone so fast
wake me up when September ends
wake me up when September ends
wake me up when September end"
-

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Friday, November 16, 2012

The Top Of My Head, Part VII - Did Kenny Everett Have Tourettes?

Not the sort of question that many of this blog's large number of newly acquired readers might expect to see being raised here, I'm sure, but an interesting one nonetheless, and one to which I will soon return. 

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Thought For The Day

(The consequence of a difficult evening) -

The Lord's my shepherd, I'll not want
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; he leadeth me
The quiet waters by.


My soul he doth restore again
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness
Even for his own name's sake.


Yea, though I walk through death's dark vale
Yet will I fear no ill
For thou art with me, and thy rod
And staff me comfort still.


My table thou has furnished
In presence of my foes;
My head thou dost with oil anoint
And my cup overflows.


Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me,
And in God's house for evermore
My dwelling-place shall be.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Resignation Of Kirk Ramsay



Mr. Ramsay has finally resigned from his post as chairman of Stow College. On 'Newsnight Scotland' last night, he explained that the device he had used to record a meeting he had attended with Mike Russell, Education Minister in the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government', was known as a ‘smart pen’. He used it as he suffers from tinnitus, and suffers hearing difficulties when in large, acoustically challenging spaces. He was one of about one hundred people at the meeting. He indicated that he circulated the personal notes he had made with the assistance of the smart pen after having had some concerns about the subsequently circulated minutes. He said he was requested to meet Russell on what was indicated to be a ‘private matter’, that Russell was reluctant to shake his hand, and that Russell had three civil servants in attendance with him when he told Mr. Ramsay that he believed he should resign. 

Stewart Maxwell, the nationalist chairman of Holyrood’s Education Committee, indicated his belief that the device is known as a ‘spy pen’. He indicated his belief that his committee’s function is fact-gathering – presumably he therefore accepts Mr. Ramsay’s version of how Russell demanded his resignation without the need for any evidence to be taken upon that. 

While criticising Mr. Ramsay’s actions, Maxwell strayed as close to the boundary between free speech and slander as I have seen a mainstream politician go in some time. It was he who labelled Mr. Ramsay’s device as a ‘spy pen’, thus, to my mind, suggesting that Mr. Ramsay had only brought the device to that meeting for the purpose of recording Russell.  Mr. Ramsay’s statement that he used this implement to help him overcome a disability which prevents him from hearing what is being said round about him just bounced off Maxwell. Although he had heard Mr. Ramsay speak, Maxwell took no account of his presumably verifiable disability at all. 

Hearing Maxwell speak brought back to mind the very dark days of Margo MacDonald’s departure from the SNP, on account of the leaking by someone within the SNP that she was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. When that recollection is added to the way in which Mr. Ramsay’s perfectly reasonable explanation for having brought his aid into the original meeting with Russell was peremptorily brushed aside by Maxwell, as on message a nationalist as it’s possible to be, a very disturbing impression is created of a very negative attitude towards disability and the disabled being held by senior members of the Scottish National Party. It might make some of us disabled wonder just what future there might be for us, what place we might have and what role there might be for us, in an independent Scotland. Even although it was obvious that he had been heavily briefed, if Maxwell’s complete sidestepping of the issue of Mr. Ramsay’s disability is anything to go by there might not be much going for us at all. 

But The Tartanissimo’s gone one better. He’s said that, "It's not illegal to take a recording device into a meeting - it is unethical, certainly." The man needed that device to do what he was there to do as well as he possibly could. If any employer made any observation about an employee like the one Salmond made about Mr. Ramsay, Trevor Phillips and his honchos would be kicking their door down screaming blue murder. Yet Salmond feels he can get away with it, and this case is a classic example of that over-confidence of his which all too often slides into arrogance and which makes one very wary of what a Scotland outwith the Union would be like, and fear for the attitude with which it would be governed. Protecting Mike Russell’s backside from the trouble he has got himself into by exerting inappropriate influence on Mr. Ramsay to resign is more important to Salmond and the rest of them than acknowledging that the disabled sometimes need aids to do their work.  Are the disabled not to hold senior roles? Are we just to sit in bath chairs all day long, playing dominoes and watching ‘Countdown’? Is that what they think of us? Having heard Mr. Ramsay speak, one would imagine that his answer to the question ‘Does he take sugar?’ might be an abrupt one formed by years of experience in industry. He might even be the sort of disabled person who doesn’t even consider himself to be disabled; yet because he took an aid which helps him overcome his disability into a meeting , he’s been accused of bad faith on  account of the consequences of having used it. 

In my opinion Maxwell also accused Mr. Ramsay of hypocrisy, albeit indirectly and in an unpleasantly sly manner. He said that Mr. Ramsay had either rebuked or reprimanded a member of Stow College staff for having recorded a meeting with him. One reason why this might have been the case which immediately sprang to mind was that in the absence of any other information on that matter other than Maxwell’s apparent assertion that all recording of all meetings is unwarranted (in these trying times, it provides only the coldest of comfort to learn that Alex Salmond might not be planning to repeat the mistakes of  Richard Nixon, perhaps preferring Tony Blair’s cosy, unminuted sofa style of government  instead), Mr. Ramsay might have been right to record Russell while it might have been wrong of someone else to record Mr. Ramsay. Let’s hear all the facts, not just Scottish nationalist assertions. 

The role of the civil service in all this has to be looked at. Were the three characters that turned up with Russell at his private meeting with Mr. Ramsay civil servants or special advisers? If they were civil servants, is it the role of the civil service to help a minister demand that a private individual take action which the minister has no power to compel them to? Is that what the civil service is for? Is this how Scotland’s governed? And if they were special advisers, who are they? Just who is either providing Mike Russell with obviously bad and politically inept advice, or just not telling him that a course of action he proposes is politically inept? Either way, if they were SPADS they would not seem to be advising with any great degree of competence. 

Mr. Ramsay rounded off his contribution to ‘Newsnight Scotland’ by saying that he felt Mike Russell can’t take criticism, an observation of which he appears to be the living proof. If Russell cannot handle being criticised or even being questioned, he needs to either grow up or get out of public life. Mr. Ramsay said that he felt he had been subjected to summary justice, something he might expect in Syria in the 21st Century rather than Scotland in the 21st Century. Sadly, the attitudes to which he has been subjected are only too similar to those of Scotland in the 17rth Century that they merely affirm my deeply held suspicion that the soi-disant, ersatz ‘Scottish Government’ shares the authoritarian, oppressive mindset of the dunghill lairds and bare-arsed chieftains who drove the country into the ground. Wha’s like us? None you’d want to mention.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

'Why Impose The Law On Her?


As unfortunate and ultimately sad as this case was, its circumstances are so unusual, indeed probably so incapable of duplication, that absolutely no general principle regarding the legalisation of abortion in the Republic of Ireland should be drawn from them. 

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Some More Scratchings Of The Head At What's Going On

By what process of bi-polar fugue did David Cameron jump from being handed a list of alleged paedophiles to demanding vigilance against a 'gay witch-hunt'? What was in his head? 

Was he invoking the name of a sexual minority as a smokescreen, verbal teargas, to avoid having to deal with the card being handed to him by Philip Schofield? Or was he suggesting that paedophiles are homosexuals? Without passing comment on either proposition, it seems to have been a very radical mental leap. 

Partcipating in this thread on tax has sharpened the focus of some thoughts about that issue, and the most prominent of these is that when a right-wing loony says that tax is theft they are spouting nonsense. In our country, tax is not theft. Tax is a product of law, and as such it cannot be theft. Describing tax as theft is not unlike calling an apple an orange and expecting people to believe you. It is a nonsensical comment, fevered gibberish. The unwelcome advance of ideology into Parliament has made tax a far more divisive issue than it should be, for sure, and it will remain divisive while people continue to believe that something which is perfectly legal is in fact illegal, a form of civic schizophrenia.

What is certainly iniquitous about the British way of paying tax is that so much of the per capita tax burden falls upon those unable to afford expensive professional advice on how to avoid it. Tax avoidance really is, to use Ralph Nader's phrase, 'the rising tide that lifts all yachts'; the more tax you avoid, the more expensive the advice you can obtain in order to avoid paying even more tax. That being the case, if it is the case that HMRC provides advice to taxpayers on how to avoid tax it should stop doing so. Now, that really is theft; taxpayers who take advice from HMRC on how to avoid tax consult public servants that those who do not have the wherewithal to avoid tax fund in order to collect tax. In other words, in the UK the poor who pay tax via PAYE fund tax collectors who advise the rich on how to avoid tax. This is nuts, and it's got to stop.

I would be all in favour of a very much simpler tax sytem, with lower rates set for all types of tax for far longer, provided that a universal expectation of payment is enshrined within the law. Company law should be amended to the effect that the veil of incorporation and the duty to maximise returns to shareholders are at all times secondary to the obligation to pay all lawful taxes at full rate. Every limited company or trading instrument should be required to appoint an individual known as the 'Nominated Taxpayer', and if that vehicle is found to have evaded tax or otherwise failed to comply with its tax obligations it would be that individual who would face both civil and criminal penalties. Fining companies does not work, as fines then come to be treated as part of the normal cost of doing business. This encourages lawlessness on the part of companies, and the encouragement of lawlessness is contrary to public policy at all times and under all circumstances. A simple system of low tax which is expected to be paid on pain of harsh penalties - now that's one aspect of post-Soviet Russian civic culture that we could be doing with a good dose of here.

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Thoughts And Musings On The Current Scene

Although George Entwistle has resigned as Director-General of the BBC over failures of management which led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly branded a paedophile, it has been very interesting to note just how much attention and scrutiny those failings have received when one also considers that the original story, that a senior member of Margaret Thatcher's government was a paedophile, seems to have died completely. 

If it is the case that that suggestion is now considered to be completely without foundation, someone at the BBC should be saying so. If it remains the case that that speculation is still deemed to be possibly based in fact, my view is that the BBC should be pursuing it with all rigour, albeit in an appropriately managed way. If it does not do so, it will give the impression of having lain down in front of its critics. Much of what they say has been justified, for sure: but the original story doesn't quite seem to have totally gone away. One might have thought that the BBC might consider investigating the speculation to its fullest extent, if only because any potential victims might now be even more unwilling to come forward than they ever were before, rather than watching itself being torn apart while trying to stroke the lions.

The criticism which has been levelled at Mr. Entwistle and the BBC Trust in relation to the size of his compensation package strikes me as being really rather unfair. The man has resigned from a very well-paid job with appropriate speed. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the matter, as a professional manager his reputation as a manager will have suffered as a result of this. If the BBC was willing to offer him more than he might have been strictly entitled to, perhaps in order to ensure a speedy departure, Mr. Entwistle would have been a fool to turn it down. If the mere incantation of the phrase 'sanctity of contract' was all that it took to preserve the pension rights of Frederick Goodwin, a man whose actions have damaged and continue to damage far more people far more deeply than Mr. Entwistle's either have or ever will, then it's good enough to allow George Entwistle to receive his full severance package; and if the BBC Trust, notionally independent of state interference in their affairs as they are, have elected to enhance it for reasons of their own, that would seem to be entirely a matter between them and Mr. Entwistle. 

It has been fascinating to see just how much political opposition has been mounted to Mr. Entwistle's severance arrangements. There's so much bandwagon-jumping going on that I'm half expecting a Tory MP to turn up on Sky News singing 'King Of The Road'. Mr. Entwistle is quite a rare bird in British public life these days, a public figure willing to take responsibility for his actions. Compare his honourably prompt resignation with the greasy way Andrew Mitchell tried to hang on and hang on after behaving in what was, in my view, a far more grossly offensive manner than Mr. Entwistle ever has. Mitchell remains a member of the House of Commons, albeit a politically spent one with no hope of ever sitting on the front benches ever again - the blowback from the McAlpine situation might make it very difficult for Mr. Entwistle to work in a senior management role in broadcasting ever again, and only then in another country; it might not be too far beyond the mark to think that his career in the UK is over. It's hard not to wonder whether a lot of the Tory glee about this incident has been fuelled by the BBC's completely appropriate reporting of Mitchell's loutishness. One resignation I would like to see is that of John Whittingdale from the chairmanship of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee. My reading of his comments is that he has slyly queried the propriety of Mr. Entwistle's severance arrangements, presumably without full knowledge of the precise terms of his contract nor of all other factors which might have influenced the BBC Trust towards the compensation they agreed. Given that this is a matter upon which the committee he chairs might have the power to call witnesses, it is hard to see how he has not compromised his impartiality by blurting out his blurt.

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, the severance package has also been criticised by Harriet Harman, the very same Harriet Harman who, as David Lindsay has rightly pointed out, was a high officer at the National Council for Civil Liberties at the time it was associating with the Paedophile Information Exchange. There is no reasoning with such monumental hypocrisy. It absolutely beggars belief.

On what is really only a slighter lighter note, the treatment of Nadine Dorries by her party has been, in my view, atrocious. Even before she opened her mouth to criticise them, Ms. Dorries was a living, breathing rebuke to David Cameron and George Osborne  - although as a working class woman from Liverpool she would never have had anything in common with them socially, of the three she was the one who had done what the other two are always saying should be done but have never done themselves; she started a successful business and sold it for a very great deal of money. She might be more vocal than they're accustomed to, and single-minded, and speak with an accent they are accustomed to think comedic, but she is nobody's fool and all three of them know it. She would seem to be admirably qualified for any number of ministerial roles. Her background in nursing would seem to qualify her admirably to be a minister for health, while her business experience might just be what's required at the DTI. However, their own innocence of the real world and of what it takes to start a successful business there means that they just can't handle someone with the independence of mind that is needed to keep a business going; and for that reason, she will always possess far more independence than they can handle without getting a ministerial office she might grace. More power to her. 

While her decision to join the cast of 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here' might seem strange, to my mind it is, perhaps equally strangely, one with quite important constitutional implications. Whom does she serve? Does she serve electorate, party, or Parliament? My view is that as a Member of Parliament her first allegiance is to Parliament, a view from which Edmund Burke might not have demurred. If her absence from Parliament is permissible within Parliament's rules, I can't really see any normative difference between her participation in this show and the acquisition of multiple directorships by a certain of male Tory MP - he's where he is because he's an MP, she's where she is because she's an MP, and neither of them are in the House of Commons as a result. Sauce for the goose is quite literally sauce for the gander. There has been an awful lot of nonsense spouting from the demi-backward 'They Work For Us' brigade (they don't, you know) about how much she will be entitled to claim in salary while she's away, as if Members of Parliament were some kind of staff - they're not; they're the bosses. They're all our bosses. The sooner this is understood the better, for the widespread habit of thinking of MPs as being employees of some kind, like temp secretaries or contract cleaners, is wholly corrosive of public understanding of the nature and role of Parliament.

The Conservative Party doesn't seem to think so, however. She has had the whip withdrawn  - and if you think that Nadine Dorries had not understood that that would happen before she went to Australia, you are up a gum tree. They have thrown down the gauntlet of party discipline at her feet, and she has picked it up and thrown it right back at them, and fair bloody play to her as well. She is her own woman who has achieved her own success in life on her own terms, and that success in life means she owes the party far less than Cameron and Osborne owe it. Even without her independence of mind, or her opposition to their libertinism inherent in her desire to revisit the abortion laws, or even if she hadn't been a Scouser, that very success might have been enough to make some of them fear her and thus hate her. While some patronise her as 'Mad Nad', a disgustingly demeaning and ungallant nickname of the type that would have thrown Hazlitt into a rage, Ms. Dorries might just be the type of MP this country needs, and has been lacking for too long - one who might just be so determined to do something to promote public understanding of Parliament that she's willing to be humiliated at the whim of the public every day for weeks. If she emerges from this show as 'Queen Of The Jungle', which I rather hope she does, she will have earned a new, more fitting nickname - Dorriana!

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Resignation Of George Entwistle

Having been irrevocably compromised by the McAlpine business, he had to go, of course; yet at least he had the good grace to do so quickly

I do hope that this episode is not used by the more thuggish Tory loonies as an excuse to kick the BBC merely for being the BBC, and try to undermine its independence merely because it is independent rather than on account of some management failings in one of its departments suffered in relation to the broadcast of a very difficult and sensitive story which so far has seen nobody either lose their life or go to jail. 

That is the sum and total of the McAlpine episode. A mistake was made, it was corrected quickly and the D-G went of his own accord. To my mind that shows that the BBC works just fine the way it is, but they won't leave it alone. It's in public ownership, you see, and they just can't stand that at all. That it can be in that state and still not be compelled to parrot their views is what the Tories hate about it. 

Amidst all discussion of the BBC at the moment, I detect the stench of a crisis that the right-wing thugs and loonies will not allow to go to waste. I hate to say this, but I think this time they might get their way.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Confidence Of Michael Russell

'Was Cinema Sgire all that worthwhile? Why give people expensive electronic video equipment when you could more practically present them with a notebook and a pencil? If they saw themselves on a TV monitor would that really make their existence more, what was the word, 'valid'? Did the locals fail Mike Russell, or were his schemes inappropriate to their needs?'


I bought my copy of Mr. Cooper's rather wonderful wee book for a pound. There it was, just waiting to be picked up. Funny, that.

I couldn't but help recall that quote when I read of how the erstwhile Mike Russell, the Anglophone sometime J. Arthur Rank of publicly funded Gaelic language cinema, has demanded the resignation of Kirk Ramsay, the chairman of Stow College, for having taped a meeting they both attended. Mr. Ramsay is quite correct to describe Russell's comments as being 'disturbing'. Russell has no power to subject him to industrial discipline; he's not his boss. It would be open to Russell to formally complain to Mr. Ramsay's board about his behaviour, but he doesn't seem to have done that. Instead, he's demanded that he resign because he, Russell, no longer has confidence in Mr. Ramsay, a person who doesn't work for him and whose behaviour seems to have been completely legal.

Russell's spokeshuman has indicated that "(m)aking and distributing a secret and surreptitious recording of a confidential meeting is inconsistent with the behaviour expected of the chair of a publicly-funded college." The tautology represented by its fifth and seventh words notwithstanding, so breathtaking is the presumption behind this statement that you have to wonder whether its maker was wearing a tartan tammy or a Chairman Mao bunnet. It is not a statement of opinion. It is instead an attempt to excommunicate Kirk Ramsay from the further education sector; to declare him anathema. If the Education Minister has no power to discipline Mr. Ramsay, then it the business of nobody but the board of Stow College to determine whether his behaviour was appropriate. Provided that Stow College properly accounts for the funds it receives from the public purse and complies with all relevant employment and equality legislation, it is hard to see just what business it is of the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' to even have an opinion about who might be in charge of Stow College and how they discharge their duties, never mind going ahead and expressing one. It is not difficult to detect an air of threat in the spokeshuman's words, as if the Executive considers itself competent to determine how people unconnected to it are expected to behave. If that is the case, then it suggests an authoritarian mentality verging on the totalitarian. Does Russell object to his behaviour being subjected to scrutiny and comment? That's the impression this episode has given me.

Rather more facetiously, for all we know there might even be an issue of mic envy at work here - at least Kirk Ramsay caught something on tape that was worth recording.

It would be very interesting to know just what motivated Mr. Ramsay to tape that meeting. It could be that case that he and his colleagues had lost confidence in Russell before he lost confidence in one of them. The comments of Russell's spokeshuman regarding the confidentiality of the original meeting notwithstanding, the amount of money which is spent on further education means that its competent administration is a matter of public interest. The recorded discussions do not seem to allude to any issues which might suggest a presumption in favour of confidentiality, such as the personal or medical status of individuals or the welfare of children. That being the case, if the public interest demands that legally made recordings of meetings be legally released into the public sphere then I cannot see why Russell could possibly demand that their maker resign because he no longer has confidence in them. Such a demand could give an impartial reader the impression that Russell's judgement is unsound, and his political skills underdeveloped.

On the other hand, there does seem to be a substantial school of thought which believes the SNP to be a troupe of arrogant authoritarians who do not easily suffer being crossed, do not like being challenged and who just cannot handle being thwarted. With such people in charge of us, the future of our beloved wee land looks very grim indeed.

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Friday, November 09, 2012

The Proposed Disinterment Of Jimmy Savile


Matter which has been burned remains matter. It must either be stored somewhere or disposed of somewhere. The current level of animosity towards Savile suggests that it would be impossible for his cremated remains to be discreetly reinterred at another location, or scattered privately - regardless of the fact that he was buried  suggests that he either did not wish to be cremated or left no clear instructions to that effect, it is unlikely that any location on these islands which was dear to him would consent to his remains being scattered there. That leaves only one other option, that of scattering his ashes at sea, and if that were to be suggested I would have no alternative to believe that this whole issue has been carried to a morally unsatisfactory extreme. 

I can think of only two other men whose actions in life have been thought so foul that even their mortal remains were deemed anathema and unfit for interment in the places in which they died, with their ashes having to be scattered at sea as a result. Those men were Adolf Eichmann and Osama bin Laden. One must be very careful what one says about such things, but a society which considers Savile's actions - and I certainly do believe he behaved in the manner alleged against him - to have been on the same moral plane as Eichmann's and bin Laden's is one which has lost its moral compass, has lost the ability to discern the difference between great wrong and greater wrong, and has become, in a different way, as morally distorted as he was.

If Savile's remains were to be disinterred and cremated, it would represent a point of no return for our civilisation. Things would stay the same on the surface for a while, there would be no actual change in how we go about our business but there would be a change in our patterns of thought. The taboo of letting the dead rest in peace, or perhaps not, as the case may be, but certainly the practice of leaving their remains alone, would be broken for what would be widely believed to be a good reason. Yet once you do that to one person you don't want next to your grandmother until the end of time, it's less of a problem doing it to other people, for what would probably be less significant reasons. One of the beauties of Christianity is that it resolves the fear of death. For Christians the options are simple, so you try to live your life in such a way that you qualify for the only one worth having. What not just puzzles but actively alarms me is how an increasingly less Christian society would react, should the abuse of human remains become widespread. Courtesy of the false religion/pseudo science known as economics, many more people enjoy a great deal less security in life than they used to; yet if death has nothing else going for it, it does provide one with a degree of security. The attainment of that security, a wiping away of life's troubles, is what motivates all suicides. The disinterment and removal of human remains, whether for reasons of policy or, more basely, in order to cultivate popular opinion, or even just to look as if one is doing something, undermines that security. The single-souled, unilifed private individual will become aware that they can be got at and abused even in the grave, their flesh subject to a lesser degree of protection from assault in death than it had in life. 

This would not a be a good move. There are any number of good moves which could be made, such as, for example, the immediate publication of all material held on Savile by MI5, in full and unredacted. That will not happen, indeed it wouldn't surprise me if it's buried forever, but I for one would dearly love to know what those charged with securing the state knew about an individual who seemed to enjoy immediate access to some of the country's highest office holders. There could be a statement of regret from the Royal Family over their poor choice of Rasputin. He even seems to have advised the Prince of Wales over his marital problems, but no royal apology will ever be forthcoming. These would be good moves, but disturbing the sleep of the dead for no real reason other than you don't want to be associated with them anymore would be both immoral and counterproductive. The repose of the nation would be disturbed by James Savile even more than it has been already, and that wouldn't be fair. 

And if that were to happen, we would show that the nation in the world most in need of prayers would be our own.


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The Resignation Of David Petraeus

Seems like the good general oversaw one surge too many.

Sorry, I couldn't resist it. I'm a bit childish that way. 


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Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Case Against Permitting Mass Dog Ownership



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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

On Country Life

That the notorious misanthrope Chris Packham was against the badger cull means that I'm automatically in favour of it, and I've been having great fun gaming a number of badger end of life scenarios, such as whether they might go down in a hail of gunfire to the strains of Barber's 'Adagio for Strings', like Willem Dafoe in 'Platoon', or try to make their getaway disguised as stoats before being caught out by cunning gamekeepers, like Gordon Jackson in 'The Great Escape'. 

Although of peasant stock, I'm a city boy through and through, so country issues tend to flit across the peripheral vision. However, one thing about the whole business with ash trees brings a question to mind. It might show a fevered tendency to conspiracy theory, but it might be worth asking. 

Ash trees seem to constitute a largish proportion of the national woodland. If they were found to be diseased and required to be destroyed, would this make privatising those woodlands in public ownership, a move which memory makes me think was on the cards a couple of years ago, a more attractive proposition?


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The Solution To The Global Metals Shortage

There is a great deal of unwanted metal currently in circulation in the UK. Most of it will not be hoarded, but merely hidden. 

If its owners can be permitted to surrender it anonymously, something they might be willing to do even without compensation, its reclamation might go some way to solving the global metals shortage. 

Let's face it, if you live in Chile the presence of the words 'Jim'll Fix It' on your car door probably won't make any difference to you.

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The Coalition's Determination To Create A Vagabond Class

While one can only praise any attempt to improve child welfare, how the coalition will actually improve the lot of any teenager leaving the care system by stripping of them of their entitlement to Housing Benefit for no reason other than that they are a teenager is beyond me. 

To my mind, this is another policy which suggests that the government is intent on creating a vagabond class, a drift in direction which became apparent after the riots of 2011. It does not seem to matter to them that taking this sort of policy to its natural conclusion would lead to the creation of 'cardboard cities' and Indian style shanty towns whose inhabitants would to all intents and purposes become a caste of untouchables, universally considered unfit for any but the most menial type of work yet always a useful scapegoat for all of society's ills. 

Although I'm sure many Conservative MPs are not in the habit of original thought (I'm sure some of them do have original thoughts from time to time, but don't make a habit of it; not really the sharpest knives in the box, a lot of them, even some of the ones with firsts), it should be obvious, even to them, they you can't keep pushing people without some of them eventually pushing back. But they don't get this. The atrophy of their critical capacities engendered by years of exposure to partisanship and ideology now causes them not merely to fail to understand but to be incapable of understanding that you have to make an effort to live with your neighbours in peace, even when they're poorer than you are and have had a harder start in life than you have. The fury, the rage, with which they seem to wish to attack their neighbours by actively making their lives more difficult through quasi-penal reforms of the benefits system, or else by conducting psychological warfare on your neighbour by constantly threatening such quasi-penal reforms, means that they must be asked whether they actually want to live in peace with their neighbours, because to my eyes a lot of them don't seem to want to. 

And if they don't want to live in peace with their neighbours, why are they in politics?

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Sunday, November 04, 2012

Royal Mail's Glasgow South East Area Collection Office

I'm needing to take a break from the dopaposts for a few days, having discovered, inevitably the hard way, that I had been working at them rather more intensively than I should have been. This loss of energy has not really been helped by having had to make a journey to Royal Mail's new Glasgow South East Area Collection Office yesterday morning.

The facility is brand new, so my Glasgow A-Z was of no use whatsoever. Inconveniently situated for the pedestrian and apparently almost completely inaccessible by public transport, it is situated in the only part of the city of Glasgow in which I have seen pine trees growing wild - I had never seen any at all until yesterday. 

The industrial estate in which it is situated is so vast that at one point I had to resort to establishing my bearings by checking the position of the sun, and a quick recce of the local topography while on site suggested that the easiest way for me to have got there from our house would have been to paddle up the Clyde in a canoe. The days of the Cockleshell Postmen might be upon us sooner than we think.

In years to come, knowledge of the location of the Glasgow South East Area collection office, the G72 postcode area's very own El Dorado, might become arcane, forbidden, almost gnostic; and being able to claim in truth that you know that it exists for you have been there may lead to the speaker being regarded with wonder, if not awe. Maybe I should hire myself out as a guide; after all, I don't just know the way in - I know the way out as well.

There is a lot of public goodwill towards Royal Mail, an entity which for years has been threatened with what, if it happened, might well be illegal privatisation. However, when it seems to do everything in its power to keep people away frome their mail, such as by siting its collection offices in locations so remote you wonder whether Glasgow has a district called Roswell, it doesn't give the impression that it's working very hard at maintaining the public's goodwill.

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Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Top Of My Head, Part VI - The Sorrows Of Peter The Great

One of the most widely repeated anecdotes about the life of Peter the Great concerns the day he decided to learn bootmaking.

Off he went to the cobblers' workshop, did a day's work and by its end had made a pair of boots. The cobbler wanted to lavish gifts upon him, but Peter refused, insisting that as he had merely done a day's work, he should merely receive a day's pay. 

It was impossible not to think of this story when one read of 'Miron', one of the patients whose histories Oliver Sacks recounted in 'Awakenings'. Miron's Parkinsonism improved dramatically when he was given the chance to resume his old trade, under hospital conditions. He was a cobbler. 

P. A. Romanov, known to history, for some reason presumably best known to itself, as 'Peter the Great', was, I suspect, born three centuries too early. Reading accounts of his life, it is easy to imagine Peter living in happy obscurity as a cobbler or junior clerk, entirely content with his position in life. He could do a day's work for a day's pay every day, before getting drunk every evening while watching documentaries such as 'How It's Made', 'American Chopper' or 'Deadliest Catch' (and he would watch nothing else; he would be able to program Pick TV or the Discovery Channel on the remote with his eyes shut). He would then spend all of Saturday and most of Sunday either shopping at B & Q or playing with what he had bought at B & Q before going to the pub with his mates on both Saturday and Sunday evenings, demanding the return of borrowed power tools and boring them rigid with his talk of the new decking he was building, or the new conservatory he was putting up, or the dormer windows he was thinking of putting in, before getting drunk and embarrassing himself at the karaoke; he would have been the first act to stand up, and the last to fall down. Had the two-week package holiday been invented before Peter decided to found St. Petersburg it might have saved tens of thousands of Russian lives, for Peter was the sort of guy who would have lived every moment of his life anticipating his sun holiday on Tenerife. He would have felt no need to build an imperial capital in a swamp if he could have gone to Los Cristianos instead. The Streltsy, the soldier-merchants who made their fatal and final mistake by rebelling against him for the second time in 1698, thus disrupting his Grand Embassy, could have saved themselves a great deal of trouble, and spared all their own lives, if they'd opened an ironmongers' shop instead. Peter would never have been out of it. But they elected to disrupt his holiday instead. It was that act, even more than their insolence in rebelling, that sealed their fate;  and after Peter crushed them in the manner in which he crushed them, nobody, but nobody, ever challenged him again.

But such a simple life was not to be for poor Peter; and poor Peter made very sure that poor Russia, and the poor Russians, paid the price for him not being able to live it. 

Peter was born in 1672. His father, Tsar Alexis I, died when he was three. Even taking into account medical advances over time, the issue of early bereavement occurs with astonishing frequency in histories of diencephalic disease; Tiberius lost his father at nine, Claudius at three, Caligula at eight and Nero at two. A significant proportion of the 'Awakenings' patients lost parents, particularly fathers, before contracting encephalitis lethargica. Although possibly not always the sole factor causing the development of dopamine illness, I have not seen it being explored as a factor which might suggest susceptibility to that type of condition. It should be.

Imperial Russia of the late seventeenth century having been imperial Russia of the late seventeenth century, Peter was subjected to a horrible trauma at the age of ten, when his maternal uncle was murdered in front of him by the Streltsy during their first rebellion, one which it has been suggested was fomented by his half-sister Sophia in order to pursue her claim to the regency. Perhaps understandably, Peter developed a burning hatred of the Streltsy, and the clock was set ticking for the bloodbath that Peter inflicted upon them sixteen years later. What happened in 1698 was inevitable. If it had not happened then it would have happened at another time, but it would have happened. 

After the first rebellion of the Streltsy, Peter and his mother went into what was for all practical purposes a period of internal exile, It was during that period, from 1682 to 1689, that he developed a love for what was then a most un-Russian pastime - sailing. To the end of his days, Peter was never happier than when he was out on the water, perhaps another example of that phenomenon, suggested by Oliver Sacks, that the Parkinsonian's distorted relationship with the space around them is improved by being in the middle of emptiness, such as being on a boat in the middle of the ocean. On the other hand, the water just might have provided Peter with a means of escape from a place that he had come to hate very early in life. The place that he hated was Russia. As enormous as Russia was even then, there was no part of its soil, no matter how isolated, upon which he could achieve the peace he might have felt even ten yards from its shores.

The relative peace he enjoyed during his teenage years ended in 1689, when the declining course of court politics presented Peter with what was really an all-or-nothing ultimatum. To all intents and purposes, events presented him with a hopeless choice from which he had no means of escape - he must be Tsar or die. He marched on the Kremlin and took his crown; in my view, it might have been the saddest day of his life. 

He began to develop tics and tremors shortly afterwards. As I said a few days ago, by their involuntary movements shall you know them. Those suffered by Claudius greatly reduced when he assumed the purple, suggesting that he had achieved a desired outcome. That Peter's started so soon after he took the crown suggests that he wanted to throw it as far away from himself as he could. At times he would suffer fits in which his eyes were said to roll - these may have been Parkinsonian 'oculogyric crises'. Sometimes these episodes were completely disabling, lasting for days. One of the saddest things about Peter's life is his desperate search for people he could rely on, suggesting that he had been impossibly and irreversibly traumatised by the events of 1682 and 1689. The significant skills gap suffered by Russia at that time in its history notwithstanding, he never seemed to hire a Russian when he could hire a foreigner. He would ruthlessly discard those in whom he lost interest, such as his first wife Eudoxia, and those whom he perceived to present a threat to him whether they actually did or not, such as his own son the Tsarevich Alexis, whose only 'crime' may have been to have developed an interest in the culture of pre-Petrine Russia, a cultural interest which Peter could not tolerate. Alexis 'died' in custody, the manner of his death never explained, even after he had sworn loyalty to Peter; this episode, the darkest and most shocking of Peter's life, suggests to me that sorrow and fear so dominated his character that he thought there was nothing wrong with killing his own son if it would allay his fear of him. Although his sidekick Menshikov was very capable, he also systematically and unashamedly embezzled from the imperial treasury, which of course meant he was stealing what the law regarded as Peter's own money - yet Peter could not let him go, keeping him in service after more than one personally administered beating. He caroused for years with his 'Drunken Assembly', but they could not heal the suppurating gash in his emotions. In Catherine I, he seemed to have found that one special relationship I discussed in my earlier essay regarding the life of Tiberius. Catherine was the only person to whom he would respond while suffering a crisis; yet even after having elevated her from camp follower to co-ruler, he found out that he could not rely on her absolutely when she became embroiled in a financial scandal. All autocrats must understand that they are, in the end, alone; and Peter was alone again; and he hated it. He must have felt utterly isolated.

There have recently been some suggestions that Peter suffered from Tourettes - years ago, I stuck my own oar into that debate without having the faintest idea about what I was talking about - but I don't think he did. The seizure episodes, specifically the rolling eyes, when combined with serial mention of both tics and tremors suggest more of a Parkinson's type condition being at work. Yet that is puzzling, for the Parkinsonian's energy levels and tolerance for stress are both low, and Peter set about smashing the Russia of his childhood and remaking it to his liking, combining the dictatorial ruthlessness in pursuit of domestic development of Stalin (an admirer) and Mao with the administrative energy of Henry II and the passion for war of Napoleon, if not with the accompanying competence. 

I can think of two possible solutions to this apparent conundrum. They might have required to work together to be effective and enable this enormous amount of activity, or they might have worked separately, or then again neither might have been relevant at all, but they should be considered. The first is alcohol. 

By all accounts, Peter was a prodigous drinker even in a land full of alcoholics. Peter drank morning, noon and night. His capacity for alcohol was Churchillian - without endorsing that type of lifestyle in any way, he might have been one of those people, and they do exist, of whom it could be said, as Churchill said of himself, that they got more out of alcohol than alcohol got out of them. He wouldn't have known how to phrase this knowledge in these terms, but he might have realised early in life that alcohol's properties as both a dopaminergic and as a dopamine regulator in enabling a high quality of sleep made it, for him at least, not a crutch but a tool  - a very unhealthy and dangerous tool, for sure, but a tool nonetheless. He only reduced his drinking towards the very end of his life, and at the end I don't think it was the drink that did for him.

The second was Peter's apparent need to undertake new acivities, perhaps some desire to achieve what A. R. Luria termed 'kinetic melody'. Peter was always, always trying new activities. When he ordered fleets of ships to be built, he would go and pitch in with the work, having qualified as a shipwright while away on the Grand Embassy. Being a true man of his times, he conducted autopsies. His court knew very well never to admit around Peter that they were suffering from toothache, for Peter would then get his dental instruments and insist in extracting the tooth himself. The most widely known forms of kinetic melody are those that operate through the composition and performance of music - see, for example, the Tourettic composer James McConnel's 'Life, Interrupted', in which the author describes how his tics disappear when he is playing. Kinetic melody can also manifest in the production of literature - see, for example, this blog.

To the end of his days he lamented the gaps in his formal education, but he revelled in things he could do with his hands. He could not produce forty volume histories of Rome, as Claudius did with his kinetic melody, and unlike Nero, who may have achieved his kinetic melody through music (an insight which also suggests that Nero might have been a very good musician, thus perhaps giving the lie to Peter Ustinov's ham acting), he never mastered any musical instrument other than, sadly for his court, the drum, which he tended to beat enthusiastically and predictably volubly. Yet neither Claudius nor Nero could build a ship like Peter, nor make a pair of boots like Peter. This may be of great importance to the understanding of all diencephalic disease, not just Tourettes. Kinetic melody is not found only in the creation of music and literature, and making an effort to find the activity thtough which it is not expressed but expresses itself, whatever that might be, might greatly imrpove the quality of life of all sufferers of dopaime illness.

For all his activity, for all his flaws, he could be a throughly wretched person. The balance of probabilities suggests that he had his own son killed not because of anything that he had really done but because of what he might represent if his interests were permitted to develop further - the act of a mind wholly dominated by suspicion and fear. His fairytale city on the Neva swallowed blood and treasure, and Peter couldn't have cared less. He put aside his first wife for no reason more significant than that he was tired of her. And Peter spilled blood, oceans of blood. 

One of the most personally interesting aspects of Peter's history is that he seems to possess the widest and deepest range of behavioural symptoms of all the subjects of these essays. To that extent, the nature of Peter's illness, whatever it was, can be said to turn 360 degrees and advance in all directions. It was, to use Sack's term, truly 'infinite'. He was a raging obsessive-compulsive; the single-mindedness he showed in building St. Petersburg was matched by his attachment to his green coat, and even penetrated so far down as his use of the whalebone cutlery he insisted on taking with him everywhere he went; if presented with any other utensils he simply wouldn't eat. In later life he became addicted to spa cures and to taking the waters at Carlsbad, giving him an opportunity to leave the land he loathed behind him. He suffered extreme rage attacks, with Menshikov not the only courtier to have felt the Autocrat's fists. As I wrote earlier I don't think he died of the drink; given the incredible speed at which he lived his life, it is possible that he might, as has been suggested by Sacks in the context of other patients, have just decided to go, desperate to achieve a 'quietus'. 

Yet that was not the worst of his symptoms - that was his 'algolagnia', the desire to do harm or see harm being done to other people. 

In his monumental book 'Peter the Great', Robert K. Massie spends at least two pages preparing readers for his description of the violence with which Peter suppressed the Streltsy in 1698.  A month long bloodbath culminated with Orthodox priests who had encouraged the rebellion being hanged from the Kremlin walls. As they hanged, Peter's court jesters, dressed as priests, taunted them until they died. 

Algolagnia was exhibited by other subjects in this series. Claudius was suspected of having refused clemency to gladiators so that he could see the expressions on their faces as they died. But nothing matches the barbaric joy in killing that Peter displayed. His was a sad life. It began sadly and traumatically; but the events of 1698 show that despite everything he did, no matter how grandiose (one Russian historian, quoted by the late Professor Lindsey Hughes in her books on Peter, compared his pursuit of naval schemes to the Politburo's wastefulness in running a space program, a brilliant analogy), it was a life that was lived sadly. 

The life of Peter the Great therefore produced two tragedies. The first was that Peter had no choice but to be Tsar of Russia, a land he hated. 

The second was that poor Russia had no choice but to have Peter as its Tsar.

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