Thursday, January 29, 2009

John Martyn RIP

From the beeb:
"Singer-songwriter John Martyn has died at the age of 60.

The folk, blues and funk artist was widely regarded as one of the most soulful and innovative singer-songwriters of his generation.

He was born in Surrey but grew up in Glasgow. He was appointed an OBE in the New Year Honours.

A statement on his website on Thursday said: "With heavy heart and an unbearable sense of loss we must announce that John died this morning.""
I'll write something more substantial in due course. Right now I'm kinda gutted. It's an overused phrase but the man was a genius. Here he is with the great Danny Thompson in 1973.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pride cometh before it...

Alex Salmond, former economist for the Royal Bank of Scotland speaking in February last year:
"The Scottish banks are amongst the most stable financial institutions in the world."
Oh dear.

Alex Salmond on the 'arc of prosperity':
"SNP Leader Alex Salmond has today called for Scotland to join northern Europe's arc of prosperity, with Ireland to the west, Iceland to the north and Norway to the east all small independent countries in the top six richest nations in the world."
Oh dear, oh dear.

And now this:
"THE Scottish Government's £33 billion budget was tonight rejected by the Scottish Parliament after a knife-edge vote."
That's a wee shame for them, so it is.

Making cheap shots isn't particularly helpful in these times of economic trouble.

But it is emotionally desirable. Furthermore, I have no particular interest in being helpful, so I would just like to say:
Ha ha!
Seriously though - there probably isn't that much point in being serious about this because while they've proved a bit pricey already, I reckon the SNP will be able to purchase themselves another couple of Green votes and get the budget passed because the Tories have already given their support.

The Conservative and Unionist Party supporting the Nationalists, who would have thunk it? Anyone who pays the slightest attention to Scottish politics, I would have thought.

Anyway, perhaps I'm misreading it but this whole mini-crisis looks rather Westminster to me. Where's the new constructive, consensus politics we were told devolution would bring? It's something of a political science cliché to describe the British Parliament as one of the weakest legislatures in the world in relation to the executive - but not any less accurate for it being one. The passage of budgets through the Commons demonstrates this. No second chamber veto and there's nothing unusual for them to pass through Parliament without any amendments of any kind being made.

Salmond's an arrogant twat almost all of the time - and he's certainly been one here - but it strikes me that he's also bringing some of the Westminster assumptions with him, which aren't helping. Bringing a budget to a legislature with either PR like all other European countries - or to a legislature enjoying independence of tenure from the executive, as in the US - is always going to be rather more difficult than our rubber-stamp shop. How much more so when you're in a minority government? Yet Salmond & Co are behaving as if something really weird has just happened to them. And so are most of the commentators - which is why I think this crisis will turn out to be a bit of a disappointment for crisis fans.

Same with this business of the SNP threatening an election. But the First Minister does not have the prerogative of the British Prime Minister to call an election. Everyone understands this - but the threat to resign from government will be sufficient, I reckon, to get enough bottles crashing - another reason that this crisis might prove to be rather boring.

Perhaps Alex Salmond will learn a little humility from this episode - but like Scottish independence, I can't imagine this happening any time soon. Salmond isn't stupid and I bet he's secretly glad Scotland never gained its independence on any of the various occasions when his hubris led him to predict it. Because regardless of whether they played a part in making it, electorates invariably punish sitting governments for economic mess. And while they obviously will claim otherwise, there is absolutely no reason to believe that things would have been any different in an independent Scotland with the Nationalists at the helm. For while there are plenty of examples of Mr Salmond saying some rather foolish things and making some rather reckless predictions, no-one seems to be able to remember the former economist for the Royal Bank of Scotland calling for better regulation of the financial sector.

Annoyances (Scottish - miscellaneous)

Heard briefly a couple of fairly annoying items on the radio today. One had to do with the polis trying to track down the fuckwits that trashed Manchester. The Manchester cop kept referring to them as "so-called football fans" - the implication being that they weren't interested in football, only in having a barney.

As if it's a zero-sum game or something? The reality is some of them like watching football and smashing stuff up and starting fights. My tribe - and some of my tribe are complete and utter arseholes. There's just less of them than in the other tribe. Ahem...

Then there was the Scottish budget, which at the time of writing looked uncertain to pass. The thing that got me was John Swinney speaking in Parliament going on about how minority government presented challenges but it meant the other parties had an obligation to 'look beyond party politics' - which is to say, vote through the budget. They're in opposition you daft bastard - they're not obliged to do anything of the sort. They would be if they were in a coalition with you. But they're not. Hence the minority government status. Honestly!

And then there's this about the 'Scots language':
"SCOTS language teaching should be boosted in primary and secondary schools, a government-commissioned study says."
This is the finding of a government-commissioned study? Now there's a fucking surprise. I used to argue with my dad about this cos he was into all this shit. Scots isn't a language, it's a dialect and like dialects everywhere it is - with all due respect to Rabbie Burns and all those who make a living in the kitsch industry that surrounds our 'national bard' - primarily spoken, not written. Anyway, the article helpfully provides a sample of Scots:
"IT WIS the best o times, it wis the waurst o times, it wis the age o mense, it wis the age o gypitness, it wis the epoch o belief, it wis the epoch o incredulity, it wis the saison o Licht, it wis the saison o Mirk, it wis the Spring o howp, it wis the winter o wanhope, we haed awthin afore wis, we haed naethin afore wis, we wis aw gaen straucht tae Heivin, we wis aw gaen straucht the ither wey – shortlies, the period wis sae muckle like the noo that some o its maist rummlesome lang-heidit fowk threaped its bein taen, for guid or ill, in the superlative degree o comparison anely."
It's from a 'Tale of Two Cities', which you might have been able to guess from the first line. If they hadn't provided a translation, I wouldn't have known what the rest of it meant either. "Muckle like the noo", indeed! Who the fuck talks like that? Nobody talks like that.

Finally, of all the things to worry about in this Calvinist shithole, I would have thought a takeover in Scotland by a religion that forbids the eating of pork and drinking alcohol wouldn't be very high on the list. Personally I worry more about things like: what if I'm out walking one day and a passing seagull has a heart-attack and plummets to earth whilst I'm looking up at the sky? Because I might lose an eye - or even be killed. Yet apparently there are some who think that not only is this possible, it's actually happening. See, for example, the comment from some fuck-nugget under this post on Harold's Place:
"I do take your report very seriously and it does show a consistent creep of Islamification of parts of Scotland.

I find it suprising (sic) that there isn’t lots of dissent from the Scottish people who are known for their sectarian views and forthright expression of them."
That was part of the comment that wasn't deleted - I'll spare you the rest. See that kinda shite? Ah pure cannae be daein' wi' it - know wha' I'm fuckin' sayin' 'nat?

Friday, January 23, 2009

On blogging and accountability

There's a rumour going around that Steven Pollard was seen outside a primary school dressed in a gimp mask asking children if they'd like to see his puppies.

If the story's untrue, please tell us Mr Pollard - I would like nothing more than to write that it is nonsense...

Update: It seems that this story is indeed completely untrue and we can state without equivocation that Mr Pollard, were he to have a penchant for wearing gimp masks, would only do so in the privacy of his own home.

There's an interesting lesson to be learned here nonetheless. When I phoned Mr Pollard's office, I could get no answer - only a lot of heavy breathing. But as soon as I posted this, he was swift to deny the allegations. Perhaps he should be much swifter with such allegations in the future.

Follow the link here and you'll understand the point I'm making.

Steven Pollard: The question on everyone's lips is, "When did you last beat your wife?"

Filed under: WTF?

H/T: Waste Management Central

Size matters

Fellas, forget pummeling your flesh in the gym or reading the latest Kama Sutra-lite sex-manual because the time you spend doing this would be better spent earning as much dosh as you can: research shows unequivocally that size matters - the size of your bank balance, that is:
"Scientists have found that the pleasure women get from making love is directly linked to the size of their partner’s bank balance.

They found that the wealthier a man is, the more frequently his partner has orgasms.

"Women’s orgasm frequency increases with the income of their partner," said Dr Thomas Pollet, the Newcastle University psychologist behind the research.

He believes the phenomenon is an "evolutionary adaptation" that is hard-wired into women, driving them to select men on the basis of their perceived quality."
The comments under the article are really funny. There's a few like me who reckon this is just the latest from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious but a majority seem sceptical - for reasons that should be, well, bleeding obvious frankly. Some from skint and therefore rather defensive men and quite a few from women - the sort of women who expect us to believe them when they say, "Looks aren't that important - what matters is personality and a good sense of humour".

Yeah, right.

No rich men left any comments - they're too busy earning huge amounts of money and giving gorgeous women multiple orgasms.

People are such unbelievable liars when it comes to this sort of thing, aren't they? But this might be a genuine problem with the research: people don't tell the truth to themselves when it comes to sex, what hope has a researcher got?

Clearly further investigation is required. I liked the comment left by some spirited lady offering to conduct a controlled experiment. But that still isn't going to keep enough variables constant, is it? I've got a better idea. I would be willing to offer myself in a research capacity with a representative sample of women and do a before and after thing; we go once as I am now - i.e. fucking skint - and again after I've been given a huge amount of dosh and see if there's any difference. If the experiment fails, I think I could live with the disappointment. Exactly the sort of hard work, sacrifice and commitment to the primacy of science that Obama was calling for in his inaugural speech, I feel.

Daniel Craig: desired by women everywhere on account of his engaging personality and quirky sense of humour.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Puritanism and the inauguration

Sometimes I think I'm basically a libertine but with a puritan streak a mile wide - on other occasions I think it's the other way around. I say this as a way of trying to impose a bit of structure on the thoughts cluttering up my mind after watching Obama's inauguration because it's this theme of puritanism that keeps recurring.

Part of this has to do with the content of the speech itself. I heard and welcomed what most people heard and welcomed - what I assume is an implicit rejection of torture as well as the illiberalism of the measures introduced under the Patriot Act and so on.

Others noted the "tough-mindedness" of the speech, with its call for sacrifice and struggle and all that. But in this context there was one line that struck me as being remarkably puritan - and it was the reference to people who who "prefer leisure over work". Very Protestant Ethic, it seemed to me - but maybe that's because I'm a lazy bastard. Weber's point, though, is that the notion - which is implicit in what Obama says here - that work per se is a virtue is something that has religious roots because it is from the perspective of individual utility, irrational.

This brings me to the other part, which has to do with people's responses. Chris Dillow's, for example, is way too puritan for me:
"Instinctively, I don’t share the left’s excitement about today’s inauguration of Barack Obama... It’s just another chief executive taking a job that he’ll probably do more or less averagely."
How Calvinist is that? The man should be made an honorary Scotsman, I tell you. From the March on Washington to walking into the White House - just another inauguration like any other? Nah.

Having said this, I think on balance I prefer this slightly Vulcan approach to that of people like Polly Toynbee - someone I often think of as a bit of a puritan herself. Here, though, she's got religion alright - but it's of the happy-clappy variety:
"There has never been a day like it for Britain's postwar generations. As that inauguration speech echoes out, the globe itself seems to inhale a mighty, collective intake of breath, frighteningly audacious in its hope.

A BBC World Service poll shows a tidal wave of optimism about what Obama will do, spread out across a rainbow of nations. Here is the world's wish list: first save global finance from ruin; next get out of Iraq; then fix the climate and bring peace to the Middle East. Yes he can, is the world's expectation."
Because the world has just elected Santa, you see - and to suggest otherwise is just lazy British cynicism.

I get the sense there's a few people out there that wish they were American today. David T's taken it a bit far though. Ain't much to this post: chunks of the speech are reproduced with the only comment being, "These were the moments at which I wept, with pride." What kind of pride is that, then - national pride? I didn't know he was American* - there was me thinking he was an English lawyer with a blog about Muslims.

Methinks Norm's got the bug too - albeit in his characteristically more understated way:
"It's hard to imagine a British leader speaking like this. But is America the poorer for the fact that its leaders should be able - and also willing without embarrassment - to call on a tradition of high rhetoric and practiced eloquence in cementing civic loyalty and affirming allegiance to democratic ideals? Yesterday, it didn't look like it."
High rhetoric and practiced eloquence? Bits of it were very good but I'm afraid I think Rosie Bell's right ("I expected him to say, "Lo" at some point"): soaring rhetoric that soared just a little too high - this being down to the excess of hot air. No, America isn't poorer for its capacity to stage an occasion like this - just different. There are a number of reasons why Norm is right: it is indeed difficult to imagine a British leader speaking like this but one reason is a feature of the American Presidency that I think both Norm and Chris haven't taken proper account of in what they have written about this. It is that the President of the United States is the head of the executive and also Head of State. Therefore - and apart from the peculiar significance of Obama's election - a certain amount of pageantry, ceremony, dare I say magic - is appropriate for someone who is clearly not just another chief executive. Not so for a "British leader", if by this Norm means a Prime Minister. Perhaps some would welcome it but for myself if a British Prime Minister produced a speech like this, I'd want to know: who died, and who changed the constitution, and made them Head of State?

Barack Obama's election is for a nation with a history like the United States an achievement in itself. For those who have been unable to recognise this, the word cynical might be a little harsh - but not entirely inaccurate. His election is welcome for a host of other reasons too. I'll stick with habitual partisanship and list "Not a Republican" as chief amongst his perceived qualities. Beyond this I think some people could do with calming down a bit. I'd suggest it might be an idea to judge his Presidency by his deeds, rather than his words. But I suppose that's a rather puritan thing to say.

Sorry for going on - here's an uplifting song. Polly Toynbee's in the third row, second from the left.

Update: *But apparently he is - so that's that bit spoiled.

Norm responds here. I don't disagree that "in the US politicians are generally much readier than they are here to resort to high-sounding appeals". In general, Americans are much more idealistic and positive, aren't they? This is why I could never live in America. Even by Scottish standards, I'm a miserable git; in the US I'd end up being sectioned as a depressive.

Monday, January 19, 2009

People who use historical analogies are just like the Nazis

Or simply rather dim people who haven't actually read much in the way of history. This is certainly the case when it comes to the present situation in Gaza. The stupidity and viciousness of some people really does astonish. If you fancy a break from shrieking morons read this piece by Peter Ryley. It involves no exaggeration to describe it as light. I would particularly recommend the section - hence the title of the post - on the use of historical analogies. It's not just that they are often misleading because history never repeats itself like a carbon copy; it's that people who are using them are not interested in history but rather the game of guilt by association.

That's the historical point - and while this pagan probably isn't the best person to be making it there's also a small theological one to be made. Monotheists - where are your prophets? Where are those in your midst who will resist this unflinching support for the actions of either the state of Israel or of Hamas that is so uncritical and unqualified that it imputes heresy and even apostasy to any who dissent in even the smallest way? Because this is idolatry.

Clarification: Just occurred to me that this - "It involves no exaggeration to describe it as light." - could be misinterpreted. I mean 'light' as in light in a dark world - not lightweight. Ach, you know what I meant.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Careers advice, anyone?

I reckoned that my seven-year-old son would be able to dispense as good advice as anyone else so I asked him what I should do instead of teaching.

He suggested ballet lessons - so maybe not, then.

It's just that - apart from anything else - I'm running out of schools in this part of the world that I'm prepared to go to. Glasgow has twenty-nine schools and I recently worked out that I've been in eighteen of them - along with about half a dozen shitholes in Lanarkshire. Most of them would be improved by aerial bombardment, in my view. I now regularly win games of shit-school top trumps that those of us who are widely traveled sometimes play. (I see your St Asda and raise you Govan!)

Perhaps I could move to England and gain the benefits of the government's latest wheeze:
"Teachers are to be given "golden handcuffs" of £10,000 to stay in secondary schools in deprived areas as part of a package to improve social mobility announced by ministers today."
A bit kinky-sounding and extra money; sounds like my sort of deal. As I understand it, this is to overcome the problem of the average teacher's career in inner-city schools in London lasting about as long as a fruit pastel. To go through with it, though, for me they'd have to drop the culture of compulsory euphemism. For example, the schools in question are described as 'challenging'. In fact, they're to form part of a National Challenge, which will involve skills and 'vision' and that sort of thing. I hate that shit. If you want to keep your sanity in teaching, you have to be able to call a spade a spade and a fuckwit a fuckwit. There are some people who would disagree with this - but they all either have jobs in Ed Balls' department or in teacher training colleges, which brings me to the source of this story. I followed it from here - and was rather amused by one of the comments:
"I'd happily take up a job in a 'bog standard comprehensive'"...
Bit mental - but we'll persevere...
"In the middle of my teacher training, however, I interrupted my course because I simply got too angry with those in charge of it."
Much more rational - and one of the reasons...
"We had classes where the lecturers had us acting like children, doing children's tasks as though somehow this will make us understand what it is like to be on the other side of the classroom."
Bit of a failure of imagination on his part, don't you think? He could have had a lot of fun with that. Why didn't he throw stuff around the room, fart, incessantly demand to go to the toilet, complain that he doesn't have a pencil, then on being given one say he can't write with a pencil, feign various illnesses (Sore head? That'll be the lobotomy...) and then finally tell his lecturers to fuck off? That might have reminded them what it's like to be in a classroom, which would be good because most have forgotten, if they ever knew in the first place. And that is one of the biggest problems with teacher training colleges right there.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Recessions and voting behaviour

Paulie links to Matthew Taylor who argues that since the average family will actually be better off in 2009, that this might be bad news for the Conservatives.

I think he's wrong and by extension it might serve as a refutation of 'rational choice' models of voting behaviour that assume people vote according to their own material self-interest?

There is nothing unusual about the majority actually being better-off in recessions. Owners of businesses find their profits squeezed and some fold altogether. And it goes without saying that for those losing their jobs, recessions and depressions are a personal disaster. But most people neither own businesses nor lose their jobs and for these the general pattern is for them to see their disposable incomes rise.

What we are seeing now has conformed to a familiar pattern. Subsiding inflation - indeed the threat of deflation - means cheaper money, which in turn means existing loans are cheaper to pay off. And with actual deflation, people on fixed incomes actually see their real incomes rise. This formed part of Keynes' critique of the classical notion that labour markets 'clear'. "This is all very well in a world without institutions", he said (I'm paraphrasing from memory - I'm a lazy bastard - you know the drill by now), "but life ain't like that. In the real world, wages are 'sticky' downwards". In real terms, labour becomes more expensive so firms economise. This generally is good for people who remain in work - but obviously sucks for people losing their jobs.

But the majority that remain in work and who are almost always better off have never, to my knowledge, rewarded a government for this. It might not be quite the opposite of selfishness: perhaps the more fortunate voter thinks, "Shit, I could be next for the dole". Or perhaps they are adversely affected personally by the social costs of higher unemployment. But for whatever reason, the perception that a government has presided over economic failure doesn't bode well for them at the ballot box - regardless of the fact that a majority of the voters might actually be better off.

On a related point, I'm concerned that the government's policies might not work because of the way people's expectations of the future tend to take hold. I feel this myself. Twice in my incompetent life I've made sensible financial decisions - rare things for me. Got myself a fixed-rate thingy just before interest rates started to rise - then got myself a variable one just before they started to fall. I wouldn't like to tell any London readers how cheap my mortgage is right now because they would probably cry. But the thing is, I'm not thinking, "Hooray - think I'll go out spending for Queen and country". I'm thinking, "Better not get used to this - this ain't going to last".

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Death in Gaza and the character of Hamas

I'm not keen to add to the internet sewer on this subject so I'll be brief: the latter simply cannot be held to justify the former.

Endlessly repeating that Hamas are constitutionally committed to the destruction of the state of Israel simply isn't good enough. Notions of proportionality cannot be dismissed so easily because there is a difference between intention and capability.

In this context, those who impute great importance to what a bunch of fuck-nuggets in Dublin choose to do in their obviously copious free-time might want to ask themselves whether they haven't lost a sense of, well, proportion.

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