April 30, 2007

I get up in the morning. I have a mug of tea to get me going, followed by a half glass of fruit juice.

At lunch, I have a chicken wrap and a bottle of fruit juice.

I get home, and go for a jog. On my return, I eat an apple.

Later, when I’m hungry, I go and spoil it all by nipping out for a bag of chips, from which I make numerous chip butties.

A truly Scottish diet.


April 27, 2007

When saying in my previous post that no party aside from the SNP stands out from any other, I’d clearly forgotten about the Scottish Christian Party. I’d never heard of them before (my previous addresses in the derelict regions of Lanarkshire, which have struggled to be anything but commuter towns ever since the coal mining went away, were unsurprisingly devoutly SNP, Lib Dem, and Labour strongholds). The Scottish Christian Party looks to be a whole different sort of dangerous.

I’ve taken an extract from the wikipedia page on the party:

  1. legislation to ban abortion
  2. increased taxation on alcohol and tobacco
  3. initiatives to bring personal responsibility to bear upon self-inflicted disease (such as alcoholism)
  4. Zero Tolerance on drug possession
  5. curfews for the under 11 year olds, with mandatory intervention of child protection agencies in relation to any child 10 years or younger that is found unaccompanied on the street after 9:00pm
  6. return to use of corporal punishment in schools
  7. greater observance of a weekly day of rest (Sunday)
  8. seek limits around coastlines to preserve stocks of fish and sand eels
  9. promotion in school of chastity before marriage
  10. re-instatement of Section 2A (also known as Section 28), thus calling for the end of the promotion and “the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”
  11. re-introduce corporate readings from the Bible in all Scottish state schools
  12. science curriculum should reflect the evidence of creation/design in the universe
  13. will publicise the catastrophic effect of ungodly behaviour on the life expectancy and health of people, whom God loves and we should love; particularly homosexuality, excessive drinking and the use of addictive substances
  14. restore the right for parents to smack their children
  15. Mind Pollution Levy on 18 Certificate Films, DVDs, CDs, Video Games and Top Shelf magazines
  16. seek to re-establish the principle of the innocent party in a divorce being acknowledged in any divorce settlement
  17. oppose the practice of altering birth certificates to reflect gender re-orientation surgery
  18. provision of Christian religious education should be mandatory
  19. promote biblical alternatives to the current criminal justice system
  20. that Mechanical Copyright Protection enjoyed by songwriters should be extended to featured recording artists and record producers
  21. that a minimum royalty percentage (the level of which should be decided through consultation with the music industry) should be paid to featured recording artists and producers on exactly the same basis as is currently paid to songwriters

Like, WOAH. Don’t these guys sound like a bunch of wackos? It’s the anti-alcohol, anti-tobacco, anti-drug, anti-abortion, anti-sex, anti-contraception, anti-INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT BRIGADE.

1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18 are all just crazy talk. These guys clearly don’t believe in individualism. More than half of their policies are crazy talk.

A bigger concern with all of this is that there are people out there who believe that religion can, and should, be a strong part of Government. It shouldn’t. It never really has been, so why should it now.

For centuries, we operated with two controlling bodies: the church, and the state. In most people’s lives, the church was the more important part. The church had power. For instance, the church was initially the group who provided what eventually became the Poor Law: benefits, food, shelter for people temporarily down on their luck. That Scotland was allowed to keep its own Church distinct from England’s was one of the selling points of the Union — for as long as Christianity prevailed, we largely governed ourselves. Most Governments since the Union have taken the viewpoint that Scotland is a country within the UK, not an extension of England (Thatcher being the notable Prime Minister who thought otherwise), so for a long time we had our own church, and distinct representation at Westminster. One primary reason the Union has lasted so long is that we were granted rather a lot of freedom by this arrangement.

Of course, times change. I believe modern-day church attendances are around the 20% mark. Over time, Government slowly but surely sucked up the power that the church was losing, and so prior to devolution we were more centrally governed from outwith our boundaries than ever before. Devolution restored the balance somewhat (whether it’s inadvertently found a tipping point whereby independence is inevitable, only time will tell).

Within that percentage of the population who are regular churchgoers, I’d like to think that most aren’t so totalitarian as the Scottish Christian Party. I hope to see them receive as few votes as possible.


April 26, 2007

I’ve written a couple of times on the topic of the upcoming Scottish elections on May 3rd. My choices are still not pinned down, in part because no party makes any clear point ahead of any other. The standout is SNP, if only because of their radical aims to see Scotland as an independent nation again.

I do find it interesting, however, to see one of the other parties creaking under its own weight. Labour’s landslide win at Westminster in 1997 was long overdue, and I think Tony Blair has done a pretty good job. No prime minister can ever be perfect, but I do think Tony’s done well in his fairly long term. (The Iraq war is probably his biggest slip, but interviews with him I’ve read/listened to via the New Scientist and Newsweek make it quite clear that he was/is passionate about this topic and that the war, for its flaws, will do good in the long term; to our credit, the UK arm of the war seemed to better handle the peacekeeping operation than the American troops, but perhaps that was the spin the UK press deemed appropriate for us.)

So it’s with great interest that look to Jack McConnell, leader of the Scottish Labour wing, and try to figure out why we have a First Minister who, essentially, bumbles his way along while avoiding the heavy topics.

Now, fair’s fair. Sitting at the top of the pile he’ll attract the Big Guns, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I think Labour’s trying to pull the tactic that worked so well for them in 1997 — dish the dirt on the other parties. Name-calling. I suspect this is something McConnell is not comfortable with, but he probably has his colleagues and a PR team behind him gunning strongly for this tactic. The impression of McConnell I get is that he would rather focus on the real topics that should be up for discussion, the old stalwarts of education, health, transport, taxation, etc. But sitting at the head of his party with a direction chosen by his PR team with which he is not comfortable, he squirms his way through interviews. I’d say it’s already a PR disaster, but everything’s too close to call before May 3rd.

For reference, I plucked the following Newsnight interview from over on Tartan Hero:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Interestingly, the majority of part three covers youtube, bloggers, and political bloggers.


April 25, 2007

Hmm. It appears that the BBC’s finally spotted the UK’s woefully poor maths teaching. I’m not so sure we need a pre-entrance exam to University as tricky as the one suggested in the news article (which I could not answer off-hand, not without a good day of revision), but it would be nice if our educational system was given a bit of a push into the 21st century.

We can totally teach our kids better. There shouldn’t be shame in doing work, there’s too much of a bleeding heart mentality here (“that’s too hard,” “that’s too much work”… etc).

I’m not suggesting that we chain kids to their desks until they’re 18, but we can teach them harder and faster than we do in the latter primary and most secondary years without taking much away from their personal time. Think kids are bored because school is boring? More likely, quite a few kids are bored because the material isn’t coming fast enough.

Maths and English must be core subjects all the way through school, as all who use these tools well can benefit. Second languages should be taught more rigorously here. IT should be taught thoroughly also. Much of the rest should be optional on a school-by-school, or pupil-by-pupil basis.

I’m not aware of any upcoming overhaul of the UK’s educational system. Years ago, Scotland had an excellent educational system, with reading and writing rates beyond most (if not all, at times) other countries. Over the last century, however, we’ve lost our edge, and other countries have surpassed our teaching. Some of our Universities still rank highly, but I fear for primary and secondary education.

Won’t somebody, please, think of the children?


April 24, 2007

Students ignorant about condoms. Right. Get this:

… more than one in 10 of the 2,200 who took part in the survey did not know how to put a condom on correctly.

Perhaps I’m missing something here, but would somebody care to explain the incorrect way of putting a condom on? It’s fairly simple. You make sure you’re pointing the condom the correct way, and you roll the damn thing over your erect penis. Where’s the confusion?

The biggest misuse of condoms is surely people slipping them on directly prior to penetration, thus allowing plenty of scope for HIV transmission via precum, amongst other diseases (note, that it’s probably not possible to get pregnant from precum). Another misuse is when people “forget” to put them on at all.

But I’m confused how 10% of the voluntary participants in this study (who you’d assume were experienced or rapidly gaining experience in the sack) didn’t know how to put a condom on correctly.

Could somebody please enlighten me?


April 23, 2007

As we men get older, we merely get fatter and balder. I’ve heard this off many people.

Today, I picked up a CD as I sat at the computer. The ego-plus-shiny-surface combo satisfied, I was singing along badly to some old-time rock when I noticed two things: One, that my hairline is definitely creeping slowly backward. Two, that I’m looking decidely chubbier than I ever have before. That I recently had to invest in a new pair of trousers with a waist size I’d never before considered myself filling comfortably, this might be minor cause for concern.

I could probably do with a shave, but that’s beside the point. I suspect I may have to partake in regular exercise to allow me to continue my otherwise balanced (ie, healthy & unhealthy) lifestyle.


April 23, 2007

So, today Boris Yeltsin died from heart failure, aged 76. Unsurprisingly, his passing is bringing him both praise and criticism for his career.

I’ll offer up some praise. He made mistakes. His plans were not implemented in the short term, and possibly never could have been. But for his failings, he brought an end to Communism in Russia. That’s the one huge ‘pro’ that outweighs all the ‘cons’ I see.


April 22, 2007

I’m standing outside of the train station. There’s a group of people huddled together, with an array of yellow banners, badges, leaflets, and clipboards. The SNP look to be canvassing. Standing amongst this group is Nicola Sturgeon, deputy leader of the party, also campaigning against the majority Labour vote to win a seat in this particular part of the city. It’s always interesting to see somebody from the TV standing in front of you in the street.

I watch quietly, off to the side, to see what they’re doing. While they’re talking, a gent in his thirties approaches the group. He’s recognised Nicola, and he’ll realise that she’s running for the local elections in this area. He tries to get her attention.

“Nicola. Nicola… Nicola

She either ignores, or doesn’t hear. He’s not being obnoxious or impolite, though perhaps he is just a touch forward. Eventually, she notices, and moves toward him.

“Nicola, you’ve got ma vote. Nicola, you’ve got ma vote. Ah cannae even get a job at the moment. Nae fuckin’ money.”

She steps over to him, doesn’t say a thing, and shakes his hand. She walks away. He’s determined to have his say.

“Nicola… Nicola…”

She takes a leaflet off a fellow canvasser, and hands it to the poor guy. He stumbles away.

She seems to have his vote either way, but she wasn’t exactly an advert for herself or her party. Too busy to talk to a voter? Come on.

I’m not sure what he’s wanting out of the SNP. Does he actually want a job? Or does he want a bigger state handout? Scotland’s been slowly but surely working off the socialist leanings it had to adopt after two world wars to survive. We don’t want to step back.

What’s important for Scotland?

  • Governance. Whether that means increased power in the devolved parliament, or total independence, I do not know.
  • Transparent taxation. All the parties win votes by campaigning for lower taxes, but they’re never clear on how they’re going to lower taxes and improve everything else. I want an honest-to-god tax, straight up. Tax my income. Don’t tax my income, my home, my car, my fuel, my miles, my air travel, my beer. We have no clue how much tax we actually pay, because most of it is hidden away from us.
  • Education and healthcare for all. Total left-wing stance on these issues.
  • Improved infrastructure. Maintain and improve basic amenities: electricity, water, gas, data, travel. Private companies who offer services over this infrastructure is great. Encourage any public transport scheme, improve bus links, build new rail lines, open up tram links. I’d heartily suggest unifying the ticketing scheme used by all forms of Scottish public transport, and the publishing of a guide to services.
  • Politicians who speak to the people. My previously neutral stance of Ms. Sturgeon has gone downhill somewhat after her behaviour today.

She may have just lost my local vote.


April 19, 2007

I’m sitting in the office and, as per my usual body rhythm, nature is calling me to partake in some sitting-down toilet-based action. I make my regular mid-morning trip to the toilet. It’s a convenient, healthy, time-efficient way of taking a pre-lunch break.

The toilet nearest to my office has not been decorated in over 20 years. I flick the light switch; the solitary light above buzzes and blinks into action. The bleak fluorescent light bounces off the stark gray wallpaper, gray linoleum floor, and gray ceiling. The wallpaper has cracked at points, exposing old wallpaper designed to look like tiles. Presumably the old wallpaper was put up in the mid 60’s when these buildings were taken over by the fast-expanding University. Sheets of toilet roll lie on the floor, and hard green paper towels overflow the bin by the door.

I look down. Here I have a toilet seat covered in multiple yellow blotches and a couple of short, thick black hairs.* I grab a handful of toilet paper and scrub thoroughly; I’d rather not sit down on someone else’s piss.

Sitting, I stare in front of me. Across the toilet on the gray wallpaper, somebody’s drawn a penis. As is typical, they’ve drawn it all wrong — if it were real, it’d be too long and thin to be useful to anybody, much like Barbie. It’s funny how our perceptions change in relation to scale.

Some things are common ground across many parts of the human race, certainly across the Western world: toilets are difficult to keep clean, and the walls of gent’s toilets will be adorned with phallus-like imagery. This amuses me. This is a toilet at the heart of a world-leading University, in a department doing very strong research, way above-par teaching. We are attracting lots of money, business relations, students, and staff. Yet there it is, evidence that even academically inclined people are still human: the drawing of a penis.

* Toilet seat etiquette is always a tricky subject (though I suspect that the only solution is for everybody to return both the toilet seat and lid to the down position, thus forcing all to use the toilet as they want, and return it to a neutral state afterward).


April 16, 2007

Solitary Einstein looking out to see.

I spotted on Time online an article on one of the most widely recognised scientists of modern times, Albert Einstein. In particular, the article appears to be an excerpt from a book, and focuses on Einstein’s chosen religion, lack thereof, or whether it actually matters at all.

For the purposes of this post, I’m not a religious man. At home, I was brought up with no religion at all. At school, I was brought up protestant Christian, as were at least three quarters of the children around my area. I was not a religious child, and so I merely went along with these rituals; to do otherwise was seen as being disruptive. I am still not a religious person, but I do not like to condemn anybody for their personal choices and beliefs. I do believe that certain practices are archaic and not appropriate in the 21st century (example, the prayer or singing of religious songs at morning assembly I had to participate in), but I also believe that the study of a variety of religions should be compulsory (especially if we’re ever to have any hope of overcoming the religious prejudices inherent in our society).

Einstein, on the other hand, was apparently passionately Jewish as a child. Not through his parents though, neither of whom harboured any religious beliefs. Some years later, still a youth, he cast off his religious leanings. From that point on, he chose to rarely comment on the issue.

But why didn’t he comment on the issue? It wasn’t that he didn’t have anything to say. I’m sure he knew a hell of a lot more about various religions than most others. Nay, it seems he chose not to comment for the best reason possible: it was not his place to use the press as a conduit to suggest that one religion was better than any other. Nor was he about to suggest atheism was superior to any organised religion. Wise. Einstein was quick to make the distinction that spirituality, an inherently personal experience, is a very different thing to organised religion. Lots people don’t understand this their entire lifetime, and some even choose to vilify those who do not conform to their chosen religion.

Like most forms of discrimination, we’d be in a far better place if we all thought like this. This isn’t indifference, or ignorance. This is education followed by acceptance and a realisation that, at the end of the day, somebody else’s choices will seldom impact your own.