29 September 2005

The shame of Scotland

The BBC website records the end of the saga:

A Kosovan family whose eviction sparked a row over dawn raids on failed asylum seekers have been deported.
The Home Office confirmed it had deported the Vucaj family, who were taken from their Glasgow flat after their asylum application was rejected.
Witnesses said the family endured heavy-handed tactics during the eviction, prompting friction between the Home Office and Scottish ministers.
The family's supporters expressed sadness at the deportation.
Members of the group Positive Action in Housing (PAIH) said they were heartbroken for the family.
Director Robina Qureshi said 13-year-old Saida Vucaj called her in a distressed state at 0420 BST to tell her the family were being deported. Seconds later the phone went dead. Robina Qureshi said: "I was fool enough to think that children and photographs and lobbying and a visit to the first minister only seven days ago might change hearts, might win some form of reprieve. Instead, the family are being woken at dawn - yet again, so nothing's changed there - and being 'sent back' to Kosovo or Albania taking with them the clothes on their back and their Glasgow accents."
The Green Party deserves credit for pushing the matter; and I have nothing but admiration for the schoolkids of Drumchapel and their efforts to save their schoolmates. The Scottish Executive has been criticised, probably with some justice, for failing to prevent this family from being deported. To be fair to the First Minister, he has at least taken a position on the issue. But, bearing in mind that this is a reserved matter, one might ask what has been the position of the Scotland Office and Secretary of State Darling - keeping their heads down is the obvious answer.

And what about John Robertson, the Westminster MP responsible for the Drumchapel area? Absolutely nothing on this matter on his website (here) and no indication that he has ever raised the matter in parliament (here). Why not? What is he getting paid for?


A great article by Nora Ephron in the New York Times:

"I broke up with Bill a long time ago. It's always hard to remember love - years pass and you say to yourself, was I really in love or was I just kidding myself? Was I really in love or was I just pretending he was the man of my dreams? Was I really in love or was I just desperate? But when it came to Bill, I'm pretty sure it was the real deal. I loved the guy.
As for Bill, I have to be honest: he did not love me. In fact, I never even crossed his mind. Not once. But in the beginning that didn't stop me. I loved him, I believed in him, and I didn't even think he was a liar. Of course, I knew he'd lied about his thing with Gennifer, but at the time I believed that lies of that sort didn't count. How stupid was that?
By the time Bill got involved with Monica, you'd have thought I was past being hurt by him. You'd have thought I'd have shrugged and said, I told you so, you can't trust the guy as far as you can spit. But much to my surprise, Bill broke my heart all over again. I couldn't believe how betrayed I felt. He'd had it all, he'd had everything, and he'd thrown it away, and here's the thing: it wasn't his to throw away. It was ours. We'd given it to him, and he'd squandered it.
I bring all this up because I bumped into Bill the other day. I was watching the Sunday news programs, and there he was. I have to say, he looked good. And he was succinct, none of that wordy blah-blah thing that used to drive me nuts. He'd invited a whole bunch of people to a conference in New York and they'd spent the week talking about global warming, and poverty, and all sorts of obscure places he knows a huge amount about. When Bill described the
conference, it was riveting. I could see how much he cared; and of course, I could see how smart he was. It was so refreshing. It was practically moving. To my amazement, I could even see why I'd loved the guy in the first place. It made me sadder than I can say. It's much easier to get over someone if you can delude yourself into thinking you never really cared that much.
Then, later in the week, I was reading about Bill's conference, and I came upon something that made me think, for just a moment, that Bill might even want me back. "I've reached an age now where it doesn't matter whatever happens to me," he said. "I just don't want anyone to die before their time any more." It almost really got to me. But then I came to my senses. And instead I just wanted to pick up the phone and call him and say, if you genuinely believe that, you hypocrite, why don't you stand up and take a position against this war?
But I'm not calling. I haven't called in years and I'm not starting now. "

But at least we did once fall in love with Clinton. Nobody is ever - ever - going to write like this about Jack McConnell.

The semiotics of ties

Mary Ann Sieghart in The Times comments on the significance of what they wear round their necks:
"The subliminal message of the conference set was quite clear from the moment you entered the hall. New Labour is real Labour. The only colour was red: bright scarlet, suffusing the stage like a bordello. No messing around with purple or lime green, as in previous years. This was the real thing.
Then we had the symbolism of the ties. Brown always used to wear a bright red tie, just to show that he was more Labour than Blair, who usually settled for something suitably imperial, such as purple. This year, though, Brown wanted to make the point that he had moved back to the centre, and so wore a pink tie, while Blair had to prove that he shared Labour’s core values. So his was a very dark pink, verging on red.
Before he made his speech, the Prime Minister was overheard saying to a friend: “My tie’s darker pink than Gordon’s!” Ner-ner-nah-ner-ner . . . "

There's a PhD in this for some bright young politics student.

No such thing as bad publicity

The Prime Minister's wife seems to court press attention, here in The Independent:
"At the family planning stall Cherie Blair showed none of the bashfulness of her youth when she held up a mango-flavoured condom for the cameras. Luckily, the folks at the stall had hidden their collection of dildos before she arrived."

And here in The Herald:
"CHERIE Blair be came embroiled in a kiss-and-tell exposé yesterday. As she toured the exhibition stalls at Labour's annual conference in Brighton, the prime minister's wife revealed the time and place of her first kiss – at the age of seven.She appears to have been lucky. It was a memorable event. She could even the recall the identity of her childhood sweetheart and had welcomed his father, Denis, to No 10 after her husband became prime minister."

Frankly, there are some things about the wives of politicians I would prefer not to know...

28 September 2005

Bonfire of the directives - or just good housekeeping?

The Independent reports that the EU Commission is at last proposing to do something about red tape:
"One-third of planned EU legislation was shelved yesterday in an attempt to ease burdens on business and shed the European Commission's image as a source of endless red tape.
In an unprecedented initiative, the Commission named a host of draft laws which it intended to scrap following a comprehensive review. The announcement reveals the extent to which the tide has turned in Brussels since the heyday of Jacques Delors.
The "bonfire of the directives" means the end of proposals covering everything from measures for the recovery of cod and hake stocks to rules to improve the production and marketing of honey.
The European Industry Commissioner, Günter Verheugen, said he screened 183 Bills and
ended up axing 68 of them, adding: "This is how we will be able to cut red tape and ensure we alleviate the burden on small and medium-sized enterprises, and the economy at large. Europe really means business. We all want better regulation and we all want better legislation."
Measures to be withdrawn
* Amended directive on labelling, which would tighten rules on labelling of drinks with more than 1.2 per cent alcohol.
* Proposed directive on weekend bans for lorries, would have clarified rules on restrictions on key strategic routes across Europe.
* Proposed directive on safety, which would harmonise professional requirements for civil airline cabin crews.
* Proposed directive to standardise pack sizes for coffee.
* Proposed regulation to allow associations and foundations to operate across the EU.
* Proposed measure to improve honey production. "

But wait a minute. These proposals were never going to be adopted. Many of them have been proposed by the Commission but never found favour with the Council of Ministers. For example, the labelling of drinks rules were originally proposed by the Commission in 1999 but the Council has never agreed even to consider them. Similarly, the weekend bans for lorries were proposed by the Commission in 1998, modified by the Commission in 2000 and 2002 but remain blocked in the Council of Ministers. As for airline cabin crews, this proposal is being dropped because it has already been integrated into another proposed regulation.

In these circumstances, this is less of an attack on red tape and more a tidying-up exercise of clearing out the stuff in the back of the fridge that is never going to be eaten. There will be no actual reduction in red tape.

No porridge in porridge

The Scotsman reports that the menu in Scottish prisons is less than healthy:
"Menus are rotated every four weeks, with prisoners given a standard breakfast of cereal and a morning roll with jam.
One typical lunch menu at Barlinnie consists of an orange- juice ice lolly and a choice of either macaroni and chips, chicken curry with rice or two lorne sausage rolls.
Dinner the same day offers a choice of smoked sausage and chips with brown sauce, pasta flutes with bolognaise sauce or a tuna mayo baguette with fruit and crisps. The dessert is mixed fruit jelly and ice cream."

Neither healthy nor edifying, but what can you expect on a budget of £1.57 per prisoner per day? I accept that prisoners go to prison partly in order to be punished, but does that preclude decent food?

27 September 2005


Inchbrakie (here) had the courtesy to link to this blog; so I am happy to return the compliment.

Relatively recent start. Interesting (although perhaps a little obsessed with rats on Canna).

Tram crash

The Evening News
reports that the cost of the Edinburgh tram developments is soaring:
"Experts now believe it will cost £634m to create two lines into the city centre. The news will come as a huge blow to the city council, which has secured just £375m for the project. Officials at TIE today said original estimates had failed to include inflation and blamed the time it takes to receive Royal Assent for the delay...
The Evening News revealed last week that a funding black hole had emerged over the tram plans network, when it was thought the final cost was to be £539m.
Since December 2003, TIE has quoted the full cost of creating the two lines - one route to the north of the city and another between the city centre and Edinburgh Airport - as £473m.
But a report by TIE lodged with the Scottish Parliament yesterday reveals that the cost of creating the two lines, based on 2003 prices, is £484m, and that £150m has to be added to account for inflation.
It is thought the Scottish Executive will come under mounting pressure to meet the bulk of the shortfall in the event of the two bills passing through parliament and receiving Royal Assent in the spring of next year.
However, the council may also have to borrow tens of millions of pounds to help bridge the gap."

Although I was initially sympathetic to the case for the trams, this is now getting out of hand. The Council and the Executive are being asked to invest in faith that the economic benefits will justify the costs. And it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that the trams will not replicate the scandal of the Parliament.

Blood on the tracks

Herald journalist makes idiot of herself (here):
"The reality is, yes, that Dylan was a great balladeer of his time, but one who proceeded to become the most over-rated global act of the past 50 years. He is the pop equivalent of trainspotting; he has fostered a particularly acute type of nerdy, intense, sensitive fan: men of arrested emotional development who can quote the lyrics of his songs verbatim and have mythologised him into some kind of Arthur Rimbaud. There has been more pseudo-cultural dross written about Dylan than about almost anyone else on this planet, with the possible exception of Diana, Princess of Wales. In response to demand, Dylan created a brand which he has been flogging, in a surly way, ever since. So if we are kind, we read irony into his motives; if we are not, we anticipate he will end up like Frank Sinatra, a dismal icon touring unto death.Artists are always best separated from their art. To confuse creator and creation is to invite crashing disappointment. A fan may love the work; they should, in my experience, stay well away from the creator, for they are likely to be let down. J D Salinger was right: give the fans nothing, and threaten them with a shotgun if they bother you.For artists, in real life, have a tendency to be grumpy, ordinary, arrogant. They have weak voices and unkind eyes. They like money too much. They are rarely sensitive or special enough to deserve the undying love their fans wish to give them. Those who adulate Bob Dylan, the pop musician who wrote some wonderful songs but then
forgot to retire, would do well to remember that.

As one of the nerdy intense sensitive men of arrested emotional development who regard Dylan as a genius, I would invite the young woman who wrote the above to consider whether abuse and unsupported assertion constitute valid criticism. "Artists, in real life, have a tendency to be grumpy, ordinary, arrogant." What rubbish!

23 September 2005


From the Official Report of yesterday's question time (here):
"Nicola Sturgeon (Glasgow) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Scottish Executive's Cabinet.

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): Cabinet next week will, among other things, receive a progress report following this morning's debate on the children of asylum seekers. I join other colleagues in welcoming the pupils from Glasgow who were with us for that debate and who have an immediate concern in its content. I give them an absolute assurance that, while we believe in a fair, consistent and firm immigration system, which has to include deportation and removal in some cases, we also believe that it is very important, given our child welfare and education responsibilities here in Scotland, that such a system is handled appropriately. That is why we want to have a protocol with the Home Office that involves Scottish education services and social services before decisions on the implementation of any orders for removal."

After months of claiming that the Executive had no responsibility in this area, it is nice to see the First Minister doing the decent thing and agreeing to pursue the Home Office. But would it be excessively cynical to wonder why the Home Office would agree to operate differently in Scotland? Never mind: with a swish of his cape and a loud tada, the First Minister has jumped off the hook - at least for now.

22 September 2005

16 months

I don't intend to comment directly on this story:
"Former Labour MSP Mike Watson has been sentenced to 16 months in prison for starting a fire which endangered lives at an Edinburgh hotel last November.
Earlier this month, Lord Watson had admitted wilful fire-raising.
Passing sentence, Sheriff Kathrine Mackie said a social enquiry assessment had concluded there was a significant risk of Watson re-offending.
However, the sheriff reduced his sentence from 20 months to 16 because of his pre-trial guilty plea."

But the following reaction seems less than charitable:
"The sentence was announced from the platform at the Scottish National Party annual conference in Aviemore following a debate about the House of Lords, and was met with a large cheer from delegates."

Falling off the wagon?

For those who don't read Wonkette, here is an extract from The National Enquirer:
"Faced with the biggest crisis of his political life, President Bush has hit the bottle again, The National Enquirer can reveal. Bush, who said he quit drinking the morning after his 40th birthday, has started boozing amid the Katrina catastrophe. Family sources have told how the 59-year-old president was caught by First Lady Laura downing a shot of booze at their family ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he learned of the hurricane disaster. His worried wife yelled at him: "Stop, George." Following the shocking incident, disclosed here for the first time, Laura privately warned her husband against "falling off the wagon" and vowed to travel with him more often so that she can keep an eye on Dubya, the sources add. "When the levees broke in New Orleans, it apparently made him reach for a shot," said one insider. "He poured himself a Texas-sized shot of straight whiskey and tossed it back... Bush is under the worst pressure of his two terms in office and his popularity is near an all-time low. The handling of the Katrina crisis and troop losses in Iraq have fueled public discontent and pushed Bush back to drink. A Washington source said: "The sad fact is that he has been sneaking drinks for weeks now. Laura may have only just caught him — but the word is his drinking has been going on for a while in the capital. He's been in a pressure cooker for months."

Please bear in mind that The Enquirer is not always renowned for its reliability. But if it has got this one right...

21 September 2005

Dicing with the future

Not at all sure what to think about this report in The Herald:
"A super-casino at the home of Rangers FC yesterday became the first development of its kind in the UK to be granted planning permission. Rangers and their Las Vegas partners, headed by US billionaire Sheldon G Adelson, received approval from Glasgow City Council for their £200m project at Ibrox stadium. However, the scheme is still subject to approval by the government. Mr Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands empire, is the prime mover behind the plans, which
include housing, an entertainment complex with a casino, a hotel, conference facilities and a leisure centre. Rangers and Las Vegas Sands said the project would help restore the fortunes of a rundown area around Ibrox in the south-side of Glasgow by creating more than 1200 jobs."

Nor does the history of Las Vegas Sands offer re-assurance:
"Yesterday's decision to approve the Ibrox masterplan should come as welcome relief to Mr Adelson who was criticised for allegedly "horrific" working practices last year. A dossier on Mr Adelson's business practices and history compiled by Unite Here, an American trade union, listed a host of allegations against him. Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon, told ministers during the second reading of the Gambling Bill: "Earlier this year, the Nevada Gaming Commission imposed a $1m (fine) on Venetian casino, which he owns, for rigging contests and violating other Nevada gaming regulations. He is in ongoing litigation with the United States Equal Employment opportunity Commission over issues dating back to 1999."

I can appreciate the need for jobs and regeneration but is the development of a whacking great casino the best way of delivering them?

20 September 2005

Tesco and jobs

A typically misleading statement about new jobs in the retail industry, in this case from the BBC:
"Supermarket chain Tesco has announced plans to create 7,500 new jobs after unveiling an 18.7% rise in first half profits to record levels.
Pre-tax profits for the 24 weeks to 13 August rose to £908m ($1.6bn), beating economist
forecasts of £886m.
Sales at Britain's biggest grocer rose by 14.1% to £18.8bn, with UK same-store sales up 8.2%.
"We remain confident that we will make further progress in the second half," said chief executive Terry Leahy. "
If Tesco opens new stores or expands existing stores, it will create jobs. But because the retail market is mature - additional groceries bought from Tesco will inevitably lead to fewer groceries bought elsewhere - the vast majority of jobs created by Tesco will be offset by the loss of jobs elsewhere, usually in the local butchers, bakers and cornershops. There will be very few new jobs.

I have nothing particular against Tesco but let nobody pretend that the company is somehow doing us a favour.

Intelligent design and penguin sexuality

The Guardian does not seem to take this story seriously:
"Thank heavens. News from New York looks set to demolish those last pockets of resistance to the theory of intelligent design.
Ever since the March of the Penguins documentary premiered in the US, weirdo evolutionists have resisted the Christian right's claim that the struggle of the penguins to nurture their young is a parable for monagamous life under God. Sure, penguins are devoted parents, they concede, but what isn't mentioned is that they stay with each mate only for one breeding cycle (kind of like Ulrika Jonsson).
Well, I'd like to see them interpret the following as anything other than a wondrous sign from God: Roy and Silo, the famous gay penguins at Central Park Zoo, have split up. No word on whether they underwent one of those appealing courses to "cure" homosexuality, but Silo now has a girlfriend called Scrappy. Admittedly, according to the Chicago Tribune, Roy is now hanging around "a few sexually immature penguins" ... "

No sign of compassion for the penguins' families here. Penguins have privacy rights too, and if they wish to stay in the closet (or perhaps the refrigerator?), then it should not be for The Guardian to poke fun.

On the other hand, The Independent tries to take a more grown-up line (spoilsport?):
"Some of those involved with the film are trying to take the heat out of the argument. Laura Kim, a vice-president of Warner Independent Pictures, its American distributor, summed up what not a few thought by saying: "You know what? They're just birds."
You can see her point. If we take our anthropomorphism too far and start seeing moral messages in animal behaviour, we're likely to end up disappointed. Some penguins are monogamous child-rearers; and others are gay. But neither one set nor the other is obeying any moral code that may exist in our minds.
They're not really amusing, waddling, dinky versions of us at all. They're Antarctic seabirds doing what comes naturally."

Nursery rhymes

The Guardian discovers a new nursery rhyme:
Baker Tony's Pizza

Baker Tony baked a pizza
Very round and thin
He said he added olives
But he never put them in
The stuff that he had grated
And sprinkled on to please
Was only yellow sawdust
Although he called it cheese
The rich tomato topping
Was nothing more than dye
So Baker Tony's pizza
Made all the children cry

By Angela Martin, aged 57

Not exactly Byron or Shelley; but it has a certain political flavour (or not).

17 September 2005

Soaring ambition, or maybe not

More fall-out from Lorraine Davidson's biog of the First Minister reported in The Scotsman:
"JACK McConnell wants to be Scotland's First Minister for at least ten years, handing over power only after he has won the 2011 election. Mr McConnell, who became First Minister in 2001, has told close friends that he intends to serve a full second term in charge of the Scottish Executive after the 2007 election, fight the 2011 election and then walk away from Bute House early in a third term. Details of his plans are contained in a biography of the First Minister, Lucky Jack, published next week and serialised in The Scotsman from today."

Apart from the hubris (he'll look pretty silly if he gets turfed out in the 2007 elections), it is interesting that the focus is on what Mr McConnell wants to be (ie First Minister) rather than on what he wants to do. Perhaps being in power is achievement enough for him, but it might have been more inspiring to read about what he wants to do with that power.

16 September 2005

Tut tut tut

From The Daily Record (here):
TWO leading entrepreneurs have been branded "idiots" by Jack McConnell after they criticised him in public. Rail firm boss Janette Anderson and software specialist Ian Graham attacked the FirstMinister in a meeting of Scottish business people at Holyrood last Friday, when he had been expecting to be praised for cutting business rates.
Anderson, who runs First Engineering and is one of our top businesswomen, said the Executive did not help Scottish companies compete in the rest of the UK or "fly the flag" for Scottish business.
But McConnell slammed the pair at a Labour MSPs meeting this week. One shocked MSP said: "It was remarkable. Jack was asked how he thought the conference had gone and he said it was fine until 'those two idiots' stood up". It really isn't the kind of thing the First Minister should say
about two leading Scots business people just because they expressed an opinion which he didn't like."

Not good politics either. The Scottish business community will not forget it.

15 September 2005

Not so funny

Knockabout stuff reported in The Scotsman:
"PAT Lally, the veteran Glasgow politician, stormed into the Cathcart by-election yesterday, flanked by a group of suitably maverick supporters and with his very own campaign song.
"We're on the road wi' Lally's army" may not propel the 79-year-old former lord provost to pop stardom, but it certainly had enough surprise value to make his opponents sit up and listen when it was unveiled at an Edinburgh press conference.
It didn't seem to bother Mr Lally that the original 1978 version, by Andy Cameron, marked Scotland's ignominious defeat under Ally McLeod at the World Cup in Argentina.
Indeed, Mr Lally, who is standing in the by-election as an independent, tore into his version - which was written for him by a friend - with gusto...
Mr Lally also demonstrated that he intended to inject his own brand of political wit into the contest.
Asked what he thought of Jack McConnell, Mr Lally replied: "His name is vaguely familiar. Basically, I agree with everything the New Labour candidate said about the First Minister."

If I can be a wee bit po-faced, at what stage does this begin to verge on contempt - both for the electoral process and for the voters of Cathcart?

14 September 2005

Newspaper gets a bit steamed up

The first impression on reading this analysis in The Scotsman might lead you to think that the Scottish Executive's budget is about to be slashed:
"A ROOT and branch review of Scottish public spending which will result in hundreds of millions of pounds being cut from the Executive's budget is expected to be approved by the Cabinet today. Tom McCabe, the finance minister, will tell his colleagues around the table at Bute House that they must plan to make substantial cuts in their spending for the first time since the Executive was established under devolution.
Mr McCabe will tell the coalition government that the impending Whitehall spending review planned by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, will force them into making "tough" choices.
With the backing of Jack McConnell, the First Minister, the finance minister will seek Cabinet agreement to introduce a new a "zero baseline budget" scheme for each of the 15 Executive spending areas, ranging from health, through education, transport and justice.
Mr McCabe will tell his colleagues that outside experts will be brought in to look at their budgets, identifying spending priorities and suggesting cuts in areas no longer considered important. "

It is only a careful scrutiny that reveals a rather different message:
"The finance minister's move comes the day after Holyrood's finance committee told ministers that despite Mr Brown's decision to postpone the UK government comprehensive spending review by a year to 2007, there would be far less cash available to Scotland through the Barnett Formula funding mechanism.
Based on analysis from Professor Arthur Midwinter, a public finance expert, the committee warned the Executive - which is planning to spend £27.1 billion this financial year rising to £30.4 billion in 2007-8 - that savings made were not enough to cope with the Whitehall-led public spending slowdown which will bite in three years.
Prof Midwinter's paper warned the Executive that it faced "fundamental choices on public spending, between continuing to rely on more modest levels of incremental growth to advance the budgetary strategy, or to undertake a rigorous and systematic review exercise with a view to releasing resources to fund priorities". "

In other words, the continuing increase from £27.1 billion this year to £30.4 billion in 2007-08 is more or less safe. But thereafter, the continuing increase may be less than during the current period. But Scottish Executive spending will continue to increase, albeit more slowly. This may well cause Ministers problems given the existing commitments to increased spending on various fronts but it is surely misleading of The Scotsman to suggest that "hundreds of millions of pounds" are to be "cut from the Executive's budget". I suppose some dead tree journalists are arithmetically challenged.

I should add that there is nothing new in the idea that the rate of increase in the Executive's budget might eventually have to slow down. So why all these histrionics?

Cathcart - this might be fun...

The Herald digs out some splendid quotations by Charlie Gordon in order to liven up the launch of Labour's campaign in the Cathcart by-election (here):
"Examples of Charlie Gordon's "old-fashioned debating style"

On community planning "I don't give a rat's arse about community planning."

On New Labour "We're the most modern council in Scotland. It doesn't suit me to use all the New Labour bullshit, because it doesn't go down well in this town, so what we're doing is pragmatism."

On Jack McConnell and the relationship between central and local government "One day you're up, the next you're down. I'm not clear if we're in a four-year war, because Jack might change tack again."I was going to say, 'Jack's a pragmatist' – but that's to impute to Jack a degree of sophistication.""Whether it's a case of him being influenced by the last person who sat on him, or it may be more Blairite than that and he looks at the headlines and says, 'they say we should do X'." "I hope I'm wrong because he's running the country here."
But there is also space for The Herald to have a dig at the Tories:
"A short walk away, Richard Cook, the battered-looking Tory candidate, launched his campaign by standing quietly outside the Victoria Infirmary in the rain. His day job is in waste. Sometimes the symbolism in Cathcart can be merciless."

Sausage gentrification

The humble banger is being appropriated by the bourgeoisie. From The Herald (here):
"Sausages, which were once staple fare in the UK, fell out of fashion as palates were refined through exposure to a wider variety of foreign foods.However, people are now rediscovering sausages and it is estimated 189,000 tonnes will be consumed this year."Although not an obvious food to have benefited from an increasingly prosperous population, sausages have seen a notable shift towards more premium positioning," said David Bird, a consumer analyst at Mintel, whose survey uncovered the trend... Sausages are also creeping on to menus in some of the smartest restaurants, including the Ivy in London. Edinburgh and Glasgow now both have restaurants specialising in bangers and mash.Jonathan Crombie, of Crombie's, one of Edinburgh's most famous butcher shops, said: "Premium sausages have definitely become very chic. You just have to look at the number of high-class restaurants and top hotels who are now offering all sorts of varieties."One of the problems with people's perceptions of sausages is that, after the Second World War, there was a marked decrease in quality as meat just wasn't available, and so people's memories of sausages in childhood are tainted by that."The sausage has become a high-quality product again and, as people's palettes [sic] have developed, they are willing to be more adventurous with flavours."We do 45 types of sausages, including varieties such as whisky, hog and wild thyme. I did a champagne and truffle sausage for a wedding, which came in at £35 per pound."

Champagne and truffle sausages indeed! Some of us mourn the days when sausages consisted of little more than sawdust with a hint of mechanically recovered meat.

13 September 2005

Unintended consequences

Tell people not to panic and, of course, they will. From the Evening News (here):
"PANICKING motorists today besieged petrol stations across the Capital fearing threatened blockades of oil refineries would leave them with no fuel. There were scenes of chaos as drivers began queuing even before petrol stations opened at 7am.
Petrol suppliers said they hoped to be able to keep up with demand today - but warned they would have to rely on getting through new deliveries if the situation continued.
The panic-buying came as Chancellor Gordon Brown urged the world's oil producers to increase their output to curb soaring prices.
Hauliers and the Tories accused Mr Brown of being out of touch with the scale of the problem facing families and businesses. They demanded immediate cuts in tax to bring prices down.
There were massive queues at petrol stations and supermarket forecourts across the city today...
Phil Flanders, director of the Road Haulage Association in Scotland, appealed to motorists not
to panic buy. He said: "It's a bit ironic that some petrol stations are going to run out of fuel and then hauliers are not going to be able to fill up. There is no need for panic buying. Most people don't do huge mileages and this just causes total chaos. If everyone just does what they normally do things will be fine."

11 September 2005

Bad news day?

To read the opening paragraphs of this Scotland on Sunday story, you might think that licentiousness was running amok in Glasgow:
"ONCE Presbyterian Glasgow is rapidly becoming the UK's 24-hour party city as liberal licensing chiefs "wave through" dozens of applications for late-night drinking.
The city has relaxed its rules on bar opening times, allowing dozens of new 'hybrid bars' - which provide dance floors and DJs - to stay open alongside night clubs until 3am.
The move is aimed at creating a cafe society in the city for people who do not want to queue to get into a club. Police say there has been no increase in violence.
But some licensees now warn that increased binge drinking will be the inevitable result. They say the increased number of bars competing with clubs for late night custom has led to a price war in which premises are forced to offer ever cheaper alcohol in order to compete...
The city is now allowing more bars to stay open longer by granting them entertainment licences on the basis that they meet conditions, such as supplying a dance floor or providing music. The bars include venues such as Corinthian, Tiger Tiger and Campus."

But read on:

"There were 162 entertainment licences in Glasgow at the end of 2004, a 12% increase from two years previously. "

Which means that precisely 19 new licences were granted over the two years up to the end of 2004. What about the dozens of applications being waved through? Is there any evidence to justify the story? Who cares, as long as it gets a headline...

10 September 2005

Less than grateful

It's really not fair. The First Minister makes the economy his first priority; he announces a reduction in business rates; he invites business people to the Parliament and feeds them wine and nibbles the night before. Are they grateful? Not according to The Scotsman (here):
"BUSINESS leaders yesterday seized the opportunity of a major business-political conference to issue a stinging attack on Jack McConnell, the First Minister, and his administration's commitment to business.
Speaking in the opening session of the second Business in Parliament conference, Janette Anderson, chief executive of Glasgow-based rail infrastructure company First Engineering accused the Executive of "failing to fly the flag for Scots business", and the political class in general of bogging down economy-enhancing infrastructure schemes in parliamentary procedure.
She also accused the Executive of focusing on hi-tech businesses such as life sciences and IT at the expense of traditional "basic" industries.
Her tone was picked up by, among others, Ian Graham of software firm Graham Technology, who launched an equally scathing critique of the government's procurement policy, which he said
discriminated against indigenous companies."

09 September 2005

Asterisks galore

Was this a racist remark? From The Scotsman (here):

"A FOOTBALL fan has been convicted of racially abusing ex-Celtic player Craig Bellamy by calling him "a wee Welsh b*****d".
Kevin Bonar shouted the remark as he watched Hearts play Celtic at Parkhead last season. Bonar's lawyer argued his actions were not an offence and that the care worker should be cleared.
But Sheriff John Baird yesterday branded it "flagrant behaviour" and convicted him of a racially-aggravated breach of the peace...
Questioned by Bonar's lawyer, Iain McSporran, why he had been arrested, PC McLeod said he believed it had been "a racist comment".
Mr McSporran then asked what would have happened had a fan abused Bellamy's ex-team-mates John Hartson by calling him "a fat b*****d" or Neil Lennon "a ginger b*****d".
The PC said he would have told off the person involved - but would not have arrested him or her as that was not deemed an offence.
Bonar - who had denied the charge - was fined £250."

Seems a bit harsh. But those who attend Parkhead on match days are probably sensitive souls who are unused to swearing or to sectarian or racist epithets. But the good news: it is not an offence to call Mr Hartson a fat b*****d.

08 September 2005


From the New York Times (here):
"NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 7 - In the downtown business district here, on a dry stretch of Union Street, past the Omni Bank automated teller machine, across from a parking garage offering "early bird" rates: a corpse. Its feet jut from a damp blue tarp. Its knees rise in rigor mortis.
The sight of corpses has become almost common on the mostly abandoned streets of New Orleans, as rescue and evacuation operations have taken priority over removing the dead.
Six National Guardsmen walked up to it on Tuesday afternoon and two blessed themselves with the sign of the cross. One soldier took a parting snapshot like some visiting conventioneer, and they walked away. New Orleans, September 2005.
Hours passed, the dusk of curfew crept, the body remained. A Louisiana state trooper around the corner knew all about it: murder victim, bludgeoned, one of several in that area. The police marked it with traffic cones maybe four days ago, he said, and then he joked that if you wanted to kill someone here, this was a good time.
Night came, then this morning, then noon, and another sun beat down on a dead son of the Crescent City.
That a corpse lies on Union Street may not shock; in the wake of last week's hurricane, there are
surely hundreds, probably thousands. What is remarkable is that on a downtown street in a major American city, a corpse can decompose for days, like carrion, and that is acceptable.
Welcome to New Orleans in the post-apocalypse, half baked and half deluged: pestilent, eerie, unnaturally quiet. "

Nothing one can say.

STUC chief suspended

A sad story in The Herald:
"THE leader of Scotland's trade union movement was yesterday suspended on full pay, with its general council citing a duty of care to him and also to other staff as the reason for the move. Bill Speirs, who has been general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress for the past seven years, and a leading figure in the Labour movement for more than 25, last night claimed his colleagues had failed to inform him of the highly unusual suspension before The Herald contacted him.The 53-year-old said he was subsequently told: "It is not a disciplinary matter, rather a question of duty of care."Speaking at his terraced home in the south side of Glasgow, Mr Speirs said he had been off work ill for the past three weeks. He said: "I have been under a good deal of stress lately because of the pressure of work, and I am hoping to have some kind of stress management programme in place when I get back."The workload has increased tremendously over the past few years because of the increased membership, demands on the political side arising from devolution, and the STUC's move to a new headquarters . . . I have had 117 evening meetings in the past year."According to colleagues, Mr Speirs has occasionally been off work with health problems throughout this year, and made a phased return during the summer. But he had not recovered, and general council members said they were forced into the extreme measure of suspending an unwell employee with great regret."

Mr Spiers always struck this observer as one of the more engaging characters on the Scottish political scene, and we hope he gets better soon.

But there is something strange about this tale. Why would the Council of the STUC formally suspend one of their employees instead of simply telling him to take a couple of months of sick leave?

06 September 2005

Inspiration or perspiration?

What can one say about the First Minister's address on the new legislative programme? How Mr McConnell displayed his rhetorical skills? How he demonstrated the coherence of a programme that will double the maximum penalty for carrying a knife, that will create new powers to ban fizzy drinks from schools and that will update, simplify and extend (all at the same time) crofting legislation? Here are his opening flourishes (and, if you think the punctuation looks odd in places or the occasional finite verb is missing, blame the orator's speechwriter):
"Presiding officer.
Today, I want to make a statement outlining the Executive's programme until 2007.
It is a programme:
• for justice and respect
• to ensure no child is left behind or held back
• for health improvement
• and for growing economic prosperity for all of Scotland to share
A programme based on a vision of a strong and ambitious Scotland and a Scotland where today's opportunities are not just available to some but accessible by all Scots whatever their background or culture.
It is a tough and challenging series of actions for the remaining 19 months of this parliament.
But first Presiding Officer. This is the first time parliament has met since G8 Scotland. The outcome of that summit surpassed the expectations of many.
For Africa in particular, significant progress was made. And I am proud of the way in which Scotland responded - to what was an incredibly challenging week.
I would like to put on record my thanks to all those who made it such a success."

Shame that the First Minister has not read this morning's Guardian (here), which makes it clear that the minimal success of the G8 Summit has subsequently crumbled into dust.

Then there is the magnificent peroration to the speech:
"In conclusion. Halfway though a parliamentary session, the easy thing for a coalition government to do is to settle down into the delivery of a partnership agreement.
This programme is intended to break that mould. This coalition has the partnership agreement as a minimum requirement. It does not reflect the scale of all the things we want to do.
Devolution is working for Scotland. We are a country that is on the way back up. And now we are aiming for the to go further. [sic]
Our economy can - and will be more successful. More people will share in that success. Young Scots will have an array of opportunities open to them. Our communities will be safer and respect will be restored.
A vision for Scotland - the best small country in the world."

Why does he want to break the mould of the partnership agreement? And would it not be better to focus on delivery rather than on vision? And is being a country that is on the way back up consistent with being the best small country in the world? My ambition may be limited, but I think I would settle for being a bit better than we are, rather than seeking to be the best and failing.

03 September 2005

Same again, again

The Scottish Executive's legislative programme is revealed in all its glory in today's Times, thus continuing the tradition whereby the details are selectively leaked by the Executive to favoured journalists. While this is less than respectful to the Parliament which should be told first, nobody seems to care any more. Anyway, here it is:
"The First Minister hopes that the Bills on subjects from education and adoption to crofting and animal welfare will give Labour’s coalition with the Liberal Democrats a new sense of momentum over the next 18 months.
The centrepiece will be legislation reforming aspects of Scotland’s criminal justice system, including a wide-ranging Police Bill that will outline how ministers intend to crack down on the Scottish scourge of knife crime. It will usher in a licensing scheme for the sale of non-domestic knives and similar objects, an increase in the minimum purchasing age from 16 to 18 and a ban on the sale of swords. The penalty for possession of a knife without good reason could be doubled from two to four years. The Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency will be redesigned as a national crime-fighting body.
There will also be the continuation of measures aimed at reducing reoffending and Executive officials have been busy in recent days studying ways of toughening up the bail rules as a
result of the Rory Blackhall murder in Livingston. There is also expected to be measures ending the automatic release of prisoners serving sentences of less than four years.
There will be a Family Law Bill, making divorce easier in Scotland, and an Adoption Bill giving more adoption rights to unmarried and gay couples."

Equally dispiriting is the focus on youth crime. For how many years (decades) have Ministers been generating headlines on the need for more effective policing of the ned culture? And the impact on the real world?

02 September 2005

Would anyone like to be a candidate? Anyone? Please...

You don't get many chances like this. From the UKIP website:
UKIP in Scotland will shortly be selecting a candidate to fight the Livingston by-election, caused by the death of Robin Cook.
If you are interested, or know of anyone interested, please let me know and I will pass details on straightaway.
It would help to have potential candidates who are Scottish.
We need to build up UKIP in Scotland ahead of the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections where we will be aided by the proportional representation system.

No mention of who will supply the required deposit, which will inevitably be lost. But look on the bright side, you would be able to spend at least three weeks canvassing in one of the more delightful new towns in West Lothian. Potential UKIP candidates may wish to note that Livingston is located a bit north of St Albans...

Putting the boot in

The Herald editorial shows no compunction about kicking a man when he's down:
"What compounds Mike Watson's crime and further impugns his character is that after the event he attempted to dissemble and deny it. He tried to conceal matches and continued to deny his guilt even when confronted with damning CCTV footage, stills of which were obtained by The Herald. Yesterday, his solicitor conceded that the case might never have come to court without this evidence, handed over to police by this newspaper. Watson changed his plea to guilty only yesterday.Under these circumstances it is essential that he should receive an exemplary punishment. Anything other than a custodial sentence would be inappropriate."

The man's career is in ruins. What additional purpose would be served by sending him to prison?

Furthermore, The Herald might be a bit less pleased with itself if it were to remember that it sponsored this drunken evening at Prestonfield House and presumably played its part in getting politicians and press liquored up.

01 September 2005

If it can't be indexed, it shouldn't exist

The Onion reports a rather worrying development in Google's quest for world domination:
"MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA—Executives at Google, the rapidly growing online-search company that promises to "organize the world's information," announced Monday the latest step in their expansion effort: a far-reaching plan to destroy all the information it is unable to index.
"Our users want the world to be as simple, clean, and accessible as the Google home page itself," said Google CEO Eric Schmidt at a press conference held in their corporate offices. "Soon, it
will be."
The new project, dubbed Google Purge, will join such popular services as Google Images, Google News, and Google Maps, which catalogs the entire surface of the Earth using high-resolution satellites.
As a part of Purge's first phase, executives will destroy all copyrighted materials that cannot be searched by Google.
"A year ago, Google offered to scan every book on the planet for its Google Print project. Now, they are promising to burn the rest," John Battelle wrote in his widely read "Searchblog." "Thanks to Google Purge, you'll never have to worry that your search has missed some obscure book, because that book will no longer exist. And the same goes for movies, art, and music."

New Orleans

These are a couple of extracts from a New Orleans blogger (Interdictor) who is holed up in the city, watching the mayhem:

"Thursday, September 1st, 2005
2:15 am Getting Some Rest

It's been a very long day. I'm going to crash for a bit and try to get 5 hours or so of sleep. I apologize again that I cannot respond to each IM. I am trying. We've got that IRC channel going and I'll try to get in there for a while later in the day. I am going to debrief the police officer completely in the morning. He was utterly fatigued, thirsty, and wanted to find out what the hell was really going on. Security has become a major concern now, because the NOPD is ineffective and the looters terrorists are roaming the streets. Word is now that they're lighting buildings on fire, but I can't confirm that. Anyway, we have to run guard shifts and patrol and it limits our downtime. It is a zoo out there though, make no mistake. It's the wild kingdom. It's Lord of the Flies. That doesn't mean there's murder on every street corner. But what it does mean is that the rule of law has collapsed, that there is no order, and that property rights cannot and are not being enforced. Anyone who is on the streets is in immediate danger of being robbed and killed. It's that bad. I will be back on around 0700 or so I think."

"12:35 am Outpost Crystal's Police Officer

More from the Police Officer. I'm typing as fast as i can while he talks to us:

He's only hearing bits and pieces. The people in the city are shooting at the police. They're upset that they're not getting help quickly enough. The fireman keep calling because they're under fire. He doesn't understand why the people are shooting at the rescuers. Here it is 5 days ago the Mayor said get out of town and nobody went and now they're pissed. The National Guard was at the Hilton, but now the Hilton is evacuated. When they said the CBD was gonna get 6 feet of water, it seems like everyone evacuated.He turned the corner onto Canal Street and it looked like a flea market. People breaking into every store, going to the neutral gound (median) and trading and selling everything.They broke into Winn Dixie Monday Night. Do they
steal food? No. Cigarettes and liquor. Store was a mess. All the meats were going to waste so the districts went over there to salvage food for officers. Many cops have been eating MREs.The Iberville Housing Projects got pissed off because the police started to "shop" after they kicked out looters. Then they started shooting at cops. When the cops left, the looters looted everything. There's probably not a grocery left in this city."

Blondes are more popular

The Guardian records the end of an era:
They drink half as much red wine as they used to, barely anyone wears a beret, the bidet has been banished from their bathrooms ... and now they've stopped making Gauloises. Le pays, as the French do not say, is going to les chiens.
The Franco-Spanish cigarette firm Altadis confirmed yesterday that it was closing down the last factory in France still turning out its near-mythical dark tobacco brands, and moving production to Alicante to be "closer to the consumer".
The plant, in the northern city of Lille, once produced 12bn pungent Gauloise and Gitane "brunes" a year, but consumption of France's favourite gasper has slumped as light-tobacco brands such as Marlboro and Camel have come to dominate the market.
Lauded in songs, featured in films, dragged on by such inveterate addicts as Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Serge Gainsbourg, choked over in cafes from Cannes to Calais, Gauloises and Gitanes were as much a symbol of Gallic identity as baguettes and Bordeaux wine.

In the absence of Gauloises and Gitanes, how will today's youth be able to convey that aura of cosmopolitan sophistication?