Brae: first impressions

Maybe it’s only wishful thinking: after all, what seems like ages ago I’d spent my best and most formative days here. Nevertheless, ever since coming back in January it seemed to me this city was perceptibly closer in character to Glasgow than the one where I’d spent most of the intermediate years had been. The architecture, the way people look and behave, even the weather . . . On my second Sunday here I had a stroll around the city centre and later noted down in my diary that “it can never be Glasgow or the Brae of old but I can relearn to like this city like I never liked Budweis”.



Top BBC salaries

The Guardian had a pleasant surprise for me. I expected the usual whining of extremely well paid females that they wanted to be paid even more, as much as their yet more extremely well paid male counterparts. But the article did mention the real problem:

“Quite a lot of people are pissed off because of the gender gap, but there are lots of people who are pissed off that this is a big swerve taking the focus off the real story, which is the gap in pay between ordinary producers et cetera and management on six-figure sums. […] All this means is that women on those programmes identified as gender pay gap will get more money. Men won’t be taking pay cuts, so it will just mean even less money to go round on the troops.”



Il y a huit ans, quand la population du monde était en dessous de sept milliards, j’ai cité Christopher Isherwood, ou plutôt Mr Lancaster.

Aujourd’hui, l’ONU dit qu’il va y avoir dans six ans plus de huit milliards.

Voici la citation pleine: “They breed like vermin. That’s the real menace of the future, Christopher. Not war. Not disease. Starvation. They’ll spawn themselves to death.”

Et même si la planète pourrait continuer à nourrir les nombres en hausse, il reste le problème mentionné par Kurt Vonnegut en Abattoir 5 ou la Croisade des enfants:

O’Hare had a little notebook with him, and […] he came across this, which he gave me to read:

On an average, 324,000 new babies are born into the world every day. During that same day, 10,000 persons, in an average, will have starved to death or died from malnutrition. So it goes. In addition, 123,000 persons will die for other reasons. So it goes. This leaves a net gain of about 191,000 each day in the world. The Population Reference Bureau predicts that the world’s total population will double to 7,000,000,000 before the year 2000.

“I suppose they will all want dignity,” I said.

“I suppose,” said O’Hare.

Je ne suppose pas qu’ils vont l’obtenir.


Claon-bhreith nàdarrach

Leugh mi aiste car neònach mu “implicit bias” an latha roimhe. Bha an t-ùghdar air IAT test a ghabhail agus chuir e iongnadh air gum b’ e an toradh “slight automatic preference for white people over black people”. Air dè bha e an dùil? An robh beachd romansach aige gun robh e gun chlaon-bhreith buileach?

Dh’fheuch mi aon dhe na deuchainnean cuideachd; b’ e an toradh “strong automatic preference for Gay people over Straight people”. Chan eil sin buileach ceart: tha e gu math follaiseach gu b’ fheàrr leam, ceteris paribus, fireannaich gèidh na fireannaich dìreach, ach ’s ann eile-sheòrsach a tha na càirdean as fheàrr agam uile, agus cha chreid mi idir gum b’ fheàrr leam boireannaich gèidh na fireannaich dìreach.

Ach b’ e an seantans a bu chraicte na leanas: ” In popular culture, it is hard to think of a female equivalent to Sherlock Holmes, for example, a detective whose astonishing deductions were a product of his singular genius.” Nach do chuala an sgrìobhadair a-riamh mu dheidhinn Bana-Mhaighstir Marple?


Sweden to reintroduce conscription

The Swedish government has decided that as from 1 January 2018, conscription into the country’s armed forces would be reactivated.
BBC: Sweden brings back military conscription amid Baltic tensions
The Local: Why Sweden is bringing back the draft
Government Offices of Sweden: Sweden re-activates conscription
It’s interesting to consider how one’s perception of conscription is influenced by one’s country of origin. The Local suggests that to Brits it may “sound archaic”, but support amongst Swedes themselves is said to be strong. Having been drafted myself in the then Soviet Bloc, I’m used to the sentiment of young men there and then: “two wasted years of one’s life”. Then again, we never expected to ever actually have to fight: we reckoned there were but two possibilities for an Iron Curtain country, peace and total nuclear destruction.



One tends to think that the feminist focus on already well-off females getting paid as much as their already well-off male colleagues (while ignoring the overall societal inequality) is comparatively new. It was with some surprise that I read, in TM Devine’s The Scottish Nation: A Modern History, that Helen Crawford, a prominent Scottish suffragette, had herself remarked about the movement at the beginning of the 20th century, “The women who became most prominent in the WSPU were middle-class women to whom the best paid professions were closed because of their sex”.

One likewise tends to think that first came universal male franchise, followed by gradually widening female one. Here again I was disabused by the book, learning that while single women and widows could already vote in local elections in 1882, as late as 1911 only slightly more than a half of Glasgow males had been enfranchised, giving grounds for fears that “to give the vote to women from the propertied classes would both strengthen the electoral advantage of the Conservative Party and […] do nothing for the majority of women in the country who belonged to the working classes”.

Ecclesiastes was right again. Nihil sub sole novum.


An e an aon chàball?

Am Faoilleach 2010: Tha guth ann (agus tha e coltach nach e a’ chiad ghuth a bharrachd) air càball eadar na h-Eileanan is tìr-mòr: Naidheachdan a’ BhBC 15/1/10:

“Thuirt Comhairle nan Eilean Siar gun dèan e feum dhan eaconamaidh ionadail agus gun cuir e neart ris an argamaid airson càbal-dealain fon mhuir eadar na h-Eileanan is Tìr Mòr airson ceangail ris a’ Ghriod Nàiseanta.”

An t-Sultain 2012: Tha an t-Urras Steòrnabhaigh an dòchas mòr: Naidheachdan a’ BhBC 10/9/12:

“Tha fios againn gu bheil cosgaisean mòra an cois a’ chàbail ach chaidh gealltanas a thoirt dhuinn gum bi sinn air ar ceangal ann an trì bliadhna eile.”

An t-Samhain 2012: Chan eil SSE ann an cabhag ge-tà: Naidheachdan a’ BhBC 8/11/12:

“Chaidh an ceòl air feadh na fidhle an t-seachdain seo chaidh nuair a dh’innis SSE nach biodh cabal mòr dealain eadar na h-Eileanan an Iar agus Tìr Mòr deiseil ann an 2015 mar a bha dùil.”

Amsaa, amsaa . . .

An Gearran 2017: Thuig feadhainn anns na h-eileanan mu dheireadh thall: Naidheachdan a’ BhBC 10/2/17:

“Bu chòir gabhail ris nach bi càball dealain ùr eadar na h-Eileanan an Iar agus Tìr-Mòr agus plana ùr ullachadh mu choinneimh sin, a rèir Urras an Rubha agus Shanndabhaig.”

Ach, gu follaiseach, cha do thuig na h-uile:

“Chaidh an dà chuid Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is Urras Steòrnabhaigh às àicheadh beachd Mhgr MhicSuain.”

A bheil iad a’ bruadar nan dùisg – air no ’s e caochladh chàballan a tha annta?



Putting aside the rehab and the car-crash-broken-clavicle emergency, I wasn’t an inpatient since my meningitis when seven years old. If I wrote this blog shortly after those three days ended, it would probably have been a long blog indeed. However, more than a month has passed, and I no longer feel like describing the stay in detail. Suffice it to say that I was anaesthetised within a second, bore inability to smoke reasonably well, read a lot (even in French!), ate well, even though after the operation my throat understandably hurt more than before, and that my idea of going to work the next day had been naïve: I was put on sick leave.

One anecdote sticks in my memory though. In a room of four I was probably the oldest. Yet at one moment the others amused me by complaining about today’s young people. You know the mantra: “We were different [viz., better]”. After which they used such examples to prove the point as made me think “Well I remember when I was young, and we did exactly what you say the young of today do, not what you say you did”.


No pride flag in Abingdon … so what?

Abingdon-on-Thames Town Council decided not to fly the rainbow flag during next year’s pride parade in nearby Oxford. Oxford Pride chairman Robert Jordan is “shocked and appalled”. A Mark Holton from Swindon, Wiltshire claims that “by not flying the flag [the council] suggests it’s ok in Oxfordshire to be homophobic”. Some PinkNews commenters go even further.

I’m rarely shocked. And I think it quite possible that behind the 7 votes against the flying of the flag may be nothing more than homophobia. Yet I think it just as possible that behind the 6 votes in favour may be nothing more than political correctness. And I’m appalled by people who say “if you don’t shout out loud you love us when we tell you it means you hate us”.

This is one of the ways to ensure we remain outliers.



Bha mi a’ cnuasachadh agus a’ cnuasachadh . . . agus dh’fhuasgail mi gu bheil mi airson ‘Fàgail’. Seadh, ’s mathaid gum biodh e na bu mhiosa dhomh fhèin, ach on a tha mi dhen bheachd gum biodh e na b’ fheàrr do mo dhùthaich, tha e nas onaraiche mar seo.


Gender equality in 21st century

When I read that the three candidates shortlisted to appear on the RBS’s new £10 note were James Clerk Maxwell, Mary Somerville and Thomas Telford, I thought: Maxwell’s discoveries may have been vital for our understanding of electromagnetism, for the RGB color model and for the kinetic theory of gases; Telford’s legacy includes the Menai Bridge, the Caledonian Canal and many roads still used as A-roads today; Somerville seems to have been notable mostly for being a woman scientist at a time when this was still unusual; but surely in such contest between two men and a woman, whatever their respective merits, the woman must win, these days? Surprise, surprise, she did.


More useless tips against insomnia

I’ve already complained here about the BBC take on the subject. A recent article in The Guardian was, if possible, even worse. The twelve tips proposed may work for some, but definitely not for me.

Not using my laptop two hours before bed? Man, I live on the Net. A bath or shower immediately before bed? The explanation about body temperature looks nice, but I know from experince that this puts sleep off for at least two hours, even if I was drowsy before. Tried and tested. No alcohol in the hours before bed? So when do you drink, at work? The 90-minute rule is self-contradictory: if you can decide to fall asleep at a certain time and do it, you don’t need the help of such tips. Moreover, it’s in contradition with the later tip that attempting to stay awake helps one fall asleep. And so on until the statement that “we all underestimate how much of the night we spend sleeping” – no siree, I’ve always counted ‘sleeping’ as the time between looking at the clock for the last time before sleep and for the first time after sleep, so I can’t possibly underestimate the time I’ve been actually asleep.

The only sound advice is the one about segmented sleep, but I’d already read about that elsewhere and began practising it (after day shifts) before seeing this.

Incidentally, years ago at the comments section of some similar article somebody sighed there were always comments about personal experience to the contrary, as if such anecdotes could disprove general results concerning majority of people. They can’t, only it cuts both ways: it follows you should read such articles as interesting statistics about others, rather than useful information about yourself. Ultimately you have to find out what works for you using the good old empirical method.


Feminism vs equality

A recent Guardian article blatantly shows what feminism on the ground is about. Under the title ‘Scotland is at a tipping point in terms of gender equality’ you can read that “we can’t take progress for granted: only 34% of MSPs are women, a reduction of 5% since 2003” and for the next election, of all SNP candidates “50:50 is still out of reach with 42% of constitutency and 45% of regional candidates being women. But of new candidates, an impressive 68% of constituency and 52% of list candidates are women, with 70% of those selected in open contest”.

Tells it all. More men than women means inequality; for shame! More women than men means progress; bravo! Then again, today’s feminists’ approach to gender equality reminds one of Mr Cameron’s infamous “We’re all in this together”. Yes, all animals should be equal, but only as long as I’m among those animals that are more equal than others. Except that usually they take care not to make it so glaringly obvious . . .


The Government and the Lords

For many people, the most important outcome of the tax credit cuts defeat in the House of Lords is the delay in getting worse off. (I say delay, because I have no doubt Mr Osborne will continue finding ways to push the plebs yet deeper into the mire.) But there’s also an interesting side issue: the contitutionality of the rejection. The Government is quite happy to make the House mushroom, but they hate it not to toe the line. The House is all right when some people are to be rewarded by being made members; it is not all right when it actually votes.

It’s quite simple in fact: If the Lords shouldn’t have the right to vote against a financial measure, they shouldn’t have the right to vote about it to begin with. Otherwise the vote is only a fake agreement, a sham. Not completely dissimilar from elections in the former Soviet Bloc: there, too, the outcome was determined in advance in high places, but a pretence of general support for it had to be kept.



Much can be said about the current ‘immigration crisis’ in Calais. Indeed, much still is being said. (From 25 July, when I first had a notion about writing a post about this topic, I accumulated 19 bookmarks to pages I thought I might use, including an update about the Hungarian fence. I’ll relish the moment they’re removed and my ‘blogging hints’ bookmark folder suddenly down to a quarter of its current size.)

Don’t worry. I’m too lazy for a lengthy description of something most of us have for some time followed on a daily basis anyway. Too lazy to link to every single twist of the story, like the thousands attacking the Channel Tunnel at the height of the affair, some of them dying, the proposed legal measures done to show something is being done (for they are by and large toothless), the bizarre comparisons to the Berlin Wall, the squabbles about terminology . . . I’m likewise too lazy to dissect, point after point, a strange recent article by Patrick Kingsley, the import of which seems to be “there are much worse immigration crises than the one in Calais, so we should sit down and do nothing, or better still, give those poor refugees a hearty welcome”.

Because when we’re talking Calais (not the other places, to which Mr Kingsley tries to divert attention), not much needs to be said. Only the basic aspect, which sadly isn’t mentioned often enough, not even by the government: we are not talking here about people fleeing from danger. We are talking about people who are in one safe country trying to get – illegaly – into another. An attempt at stealing through the Tunnel from France to England is no more a ‘humanitarian’ issue for being perpetrated by somebody from Africa or the Middle East than if it were done by an EU citizen.


Rewilding Scotland?

In addition to the recently ended Knapdale Scottish Beaver Trial and Paul Lister’s vision of bringing in wolf and bear to his Alladale Estate there is now a charity called Rewilding Britain interested in the reintroduction of lynx, beaver and wolf. Opposing these plans are, for instance, the Scottish Crofting Federation.

Usually I tend to side with ‘environmentalists’, but this is one of the cases where I’m more in favour of protecting the animal called ‘human’. I can understand the arguments for reintroduction, like Trees for Life hoping lynx might prevent wild deer from doing too much damage to young trees. I can understand the arguments against, like Ramblers Scotland being against the miles of fence envisioned for Alladale. But claiming that the lynx is somehow a “keystone species” for an environment from which it may have been absent for a thousand years is, to say the least, strange. (Also, in the words of the SCF’s charwoman, some areas perceived as ‘wild’ by city dwellers may be as spick and span as a town park in the eyes of those who live and work there.)

Because one important aspect of the debate is that reintroducing long-extinct species is somewhat similar to introducing new ones, as the environment itself has changed in the meantime. Like it or not, the roles have changed: the farmer is now the native species and the lynx the (potentially) invasive one.



Sometimes you come across an article which seems to consist of truisms presented as revelations and things not borne out either by other sources or your personal experience.

For example, a recent BBC article about ‘face-ism’. For one thing, the essence of the article is basically all in this paragraph:

“Although we like to think we make decisions in a rational way, we are often swayed by superficial cues,” says Christopher Olivola at Carnegie Mellon University. “And appearances are a particularly superficial, yet very strong cue.”

Against which you can put G.K. Chesterton’s words from his compilation of essays The Defendant (incidentally published just a year after Carnegie Mellon University’s foundation):

There are some people who state that the exterior, sex, or physique of another person is indifferent to them, that they care only for the communion of mind with mind; but these people need not detain us. There are some statements that no one ever thinks of believing, however often they are made.

Also, a reasonably well-referenced Wikipedia page uses the term for something distinctly different. Yet what surprised me most was the following claim: “Todorov has shown that 40 milliseconds are all it takes to form a rapid impression of someone’s personality – that’s about a tenth as long as a single blink of the eye.” I really don’t believe that within mere 40ms I can form the impression that I am looking at a person, as opposed to, say, a piece of furniture – let alone attribute some characteristic to it.



One of the mantras of the Better Together campaign before the Scottish independence referendum was that Scotland had “the best of both worlds“. I held the opposite view that a halfway devolution was worse than both devo max or full independence and no devolution at all.

July’s altercations about English Votes for English Laws confirmed this to me. The proposals angered the SNP, Scottish Lib Dems, even several English Tories, and the Government was forced, despite having overall majority, to at least amend and delay its plans.

And no bloody wonder. As long as you have neither a devolved English parliament, nor Scottish and Welsh ones with full fiscal autonomy, you can’t credibly argue that any bill with budgetary implications is purely ‘English’. (It gets even crazier with also having ‘English and Welsh only’ bills.) Not to mention the ludicrous idea that the decision which bills would qualify would rely solely on the Speaker’s discernment.

The only good thing about the proposals was that it brought some fun when the Leader of the House of Commons informed an SNP member that among the bills which would affect only England and Wales was the Scotland Bill.

Postscript, 31/10/15: They voted it through anyway. Which brings up another question: why do the Tories need this law, when they can push through what they like without it? Yes, there’s the possibility of Labour getting back to power thanks to Scottish seats, with Tories keeping a majority of English MPs; then again, such a Labour government could simply repeal the law, couldn’t it?


Gay marriage legal throughout the US

On 26 June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in a case named Obergefell v. Hodges in favour of same-sex marriages, the decision being based on the Fourteenth Amendment to the constitution.
BBC: US Supreme Court rules gay marriage is legal nationwide
En-wiki: Obergefell v. Hodges1
Here it is at last, the finale of the story: twelve years after Massachusetts became the first US state to legalise gay marriages in 20032 (the first being held in 2004); six years after Vermont became the first to legalise it through legislature rather than jurisdiction3; two years after Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act were abolished4; the US only narrowly beaten by Great Britain5 (but not by the UK6).

Of course, many are very, very unhappy about it; Adam Gopnik gives us two good reasons why:
“What the opponents of gay marriage really cannot stand […] is being criticised in the same spirit as they choose to criticise their opponents – not as holding a morality that might be too stringent to be obeyed, but holding a morality that was never really moral at all. […] The only alternatives they can recognise as real are either power or persecution. Either you are the magistrate making rules, or else you are the martyr being sacrificed to them.”

This mindset was recently exemplified by the words of the Kenyan president, who claimed it was “very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept”, happily ignoring the fact that that is exactly what his country’s laws impose on its GLBT people7.

1 – as of 26 June 2015, 2344 UTC
2 – wasn’t connected yet to read this but I’m positive I’ve heard about this on radio thanks to BBC World Service
3 – connected already, presumably must have read this both on the BBC and Pink News websites
4 – no longer following PN but still probably noticed as a BBC News
5 – England and Wales in 2013, Scotland in 2014
6 – Norther Ireland remains UK bigots’ last bastion
7 – en-wiki: LGBT rights in Kenya, as of 25 July 2015, 1922 UTC