Coupe de cheveux

Après plusieurs mois (neuf, moins un jour), j’ai osé aller à la coiffeuse. Et même si, vers la fin, mon nez (qui voulait couler) et mon cou (qui voulait tousser) m’ont plutôt ennuyé, j’ai survécu. Comme toujours, après un temps tellement long il est agréable d’avoir soudainement les cheveux courts qui … rétrécit ? je pense une coiffure comme celle-ci, au lieu des cheveux qui atteignent les épaules.

 

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.

 

Suffragettes

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.

 

35 millions de Canadiens

Apparemment, le recensement canadien n’a pas été fait en 2011, mais l’année dernière, et les résultats clés ont été publiés ce mois: il y avait 35 151 728 habitants. Je me suis étonné que le tiers des trente-cinq millions vivent aux trois villes les plus grands (Toronto, Montréal et Vancouver) et les deux tiers à 100 kilomètres (62 milles) de la frontière sud. C’est bien plus fou que l’Écosse avec sa Central Belt . . .

 

December ’16 news

December news in February, hmm . . . anyway, here goes:

There were some minor surprises in politics. The Icelandic Pirate Party was asked to try and form a new government (but would later fail to become part of it). Donald Trump sort of broke decades lasting pretence that the US doesn’t recognise Taiwan (more publicity stunts would follow). The European Court of Justice ruled against the Snooper’s Charter (giving the UK government another bad reason respect the referendum result and leave the EU). And the SNP disclosed that despite the comtinuing devolution of powers from London to Edinburgh, the Scotland Office’s budget rose over the last five years by 20% (although a much more interesting question was how much would Derek Mackay have to compromise to have his first budget voted through Holyrood).

A sadder surprise was the death of George Michael at the age of 53 (making me look up what was it he sang at all, the biggest surprise being Freedom! 90). On the other hand, air an làimh eile, bha deagh naidheachd ann gun do chomharraich Tormod MacGilleathain an t-ochdadamh cho-là-breith aige (’s dòcha gum bu chòir dhomh The Leper’s Bell a cheannach mar faidhle Khindle is a leughadh a-rithist).

More good news were the opening of a new Edinburgh railway station and the reopening of Kelvingrove Museum’s Life Gallery (pity I may never see it again).

The sporting surprise, for me at least, was how close to each other the teams at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership were: Partick Thistle, last (ie 12th) three matches before the end of the month, got by just two wins to the 6th place and after a Hogmanay draw ended the year as 7th. Another sports-related news was Andy Murray’s knighthood; but to be honest, I admired more Lynn Faulds for rejecting her MBE – or rather, for her reasons to do so.

 

Step by step

Tomorrow it’ll be a fortnight since they discharged me from the hospital. And man, was I in bad shape. Unable to swallow even liquids and croaking rather than speaking, sleep-deprived and generally weak, with tinnitus, a nose both blocked and runny, and too many skin problems to list here …

I’d been warned the radiotherapy would keep kicking in for another week – that is to say, it would last a week before the side effects even started going away. Which proved to be true. There was very little improvement my body made during that first week.

This week was better. While the changes appeared imperceptible from a day-to-day perspective, they seem almost impressive in retrospect. My neck no longer looks like I was badly sunburnt yesterday. I laid off the painkiller and the expectorant. I don’t tire as quickly/easily. Bit by bit I tidied the flat and nearly caught up on my languages- and internet-related backlog. And so on. I’m even blogging now.

Most tellingly, while last Thursday I only managed one swallow of tea, today I’m into my third cup, in addition to a cup of coffee, three bread rolls (soaked in tea or bouillon before being put into the mouth), and a baby food jar – and I’m not done yet. I can’t have haggis, but I do mean to have tattie mash this Burns Nicht.

Sure, many troubles persist. I salivate too much to leave house without a pack of paper tissue; I can’t gargle; morning hypotension remains an everyday occurence; my voice seems to get, if anything, worse; there’s more. (And it will be some time yet before I can enjoy a bona fide dinner worth its name. I never enjoyed eating much; I’m sure I’ll turn into an epicure for a while now.)

Still, I feel I’m through the worst. Patience, that’s the order of the day now.

 

November ’16 news

Quite a lot happened during the 30 days. The bad news first.

The High Court decided triggering Article 50 must be first approved by the Parliament, and different lawyers later figured they could make some dough out of challenging whether leaving the EU means automatically leaving the EEA as well.

Even so, Brexit still has a chance; across the Pond, Trump has become US president, while Republicans still dominate the Congress. Surprisingly, he began by claiming the US would quit the TPP trade deal, which may mean the axe for the TTIP too; let’s hope the presidency won’t likewise mean the axe for the Aberdeen Bay Wind Farm.

One side effect was that the de facto final approval of the Snooper’s Charter went by almost unnoticed by the media.

Also, eight military bases in Scotland, including Fort George, were chosen for closure; CLÌ Gàidhlig did fold at last; T in the Park is to skip 2017; but the saddest day was probably the one on which we learned that Leonard Cohen had died. (This even made me post specifically about that, while the article about Fidel Castro’s death I didn’t even read.)

And of course, the first storm of the winter and the consequent floods came to the South; nevertheless, the North experienced the sunniest November on record. Which brings us to the good news.

Holyrood voted to finally put an end to the tax freeze, at least for the top four bands. Andy Murray became world number one. Kelvin Hall reopened after the first phase of its refurbishment. All three Quensferry Crossing towers are now connected. Beavers were allowed to stay in Scotland.

Across the Pond, marihuana for recreational use was legalised in the 5th and 6th US states (California and Massachusetts); and globally, the Paris climate deal came into force.

Given that Trump may yet do his best to sabotage the Paris deal, several big bad news, a few wee heartwarming ones. Seeing where the world’s heading makes one wonder whether there’s really any reason to envy the younger ones …

 

CalMac is Serco

Dar a bhuannaich CalMac an cùmhnant ùr airson aiseagan an iar, cha robh beachd agam am b’ e rud math no dona ann. Ach a-nis, thàinig cha mhòr aig an aon àm dà naidheachd: (1) gu bheil cùmhnantaiche Seatruck aig Serco a dh’fhastaicheas obraichean bhon taobh a-muigh na Rìoghachd agus gam pàigheadh (gu laghail) nas lugha na am bun-tuarastal, agus (2) gu robh CalMac am measg nam buidhnean a fhuair duais Living Wage Foundation am bliadhna. Tha fhios gun do dh’fhuasgail mi gum b’ e co-dhùnadh math an cùmhnant.

 

La visite des parents

Ce n’était pas mauvais, après tout. Il est vrai qu’après hier soir ensemble, ils sont venu chez moi matin aujourd’hui et j’avais à passer plus de temps avec eux. Mais ils ne voulaient pas que les rendez-vous aient duré trop longtemps. Et étrangement, il y avait souvent des moments de silence ; c’est normal que je ne sais pas de quoi parler avec des gens, mais ils (surtout elle) sont généralement plutôt bavards. Peut-être qu’ils étaient fatigués après leur voyage. Cependant, ça signifiait que je devais, au lieu de me méfier de questions indiscrètes, me méfier que mon esprit n’erre pas.

 

October ’16 news

For almost a half of the month I was still boozing and thus offline, but I stopped this in time to learn that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (well deserved, there is no reason why songs’ lyrics should not be perceived as literature) and that Nicola Sturgeon announced the Indyref2 bill (published a week later – it is virtually the same as the first one).

As regards culture, it is also worth mentioning that the Burrell Collection (one of the few really famous Glasgow museums I never found time to visit) closed for a 4-year revamp. As regards politics, it is also worth mentioning that proposals for Westminster constituencies’ boundary changes were published (the Tory government sticking to the idea that there are too many MPs elected by voters and too few Lords chosen by the PM).

Getting a bit more international, the EU-Canada trade deal called CETA was blocked by Wallonia but after some more negotiating signed anyway (I wonder what they promised them). Getting completely international, it was amusing to read that the Icelandic Pirate Party became the joint second in number of seats in the Alþingi (with the Greens, which too tells us how different Icelandic politics is from ours most).

What else? The minimum price saga drags on, while the one of the oil rig grounded on Lewis is over (at least as far as we are concerned), and work to spoil Edinburgh city centre has begun.

 

Well, no

I had some expectations but they were not fulfilled. I got no rest from noise: in spite of the old adage “silence heals” the hospital room was equipped with a telly. I know that people here are addicted to noise, but for me, lying between a guy watching a TV programme and another concurrently watching a film on a laptop was so unbearable it drove me with my Kindle to a corridor armchair.

Which wasn’t the worst. That came when the latter bastard woke up at 2am and began watching another film, waking me up as well and driving me to the corridor armchair for another two hours.

And the cure proper hasn’t begun either. They just made the mask for me (during which procedure I experienced a panic attack, possibly caused in part by sleep deprivation, so that we almost had to stop it and then start all over again) and discharged me for another two and a half weeks. The first bona fide treatment should only happen on the 23rd.

Ah well, at least I may get less irksome roommates then. Not that the chances are great, in this town.
 

ETA, 13/11/16: And it went on: on Thursday they phoned to tell me Monday’s CT scan didn’t come out well because of my fillings, so I should have a PET/CT scan done this week. Neither was that all: once I’m checked in the hospital next week, I’d have a PEG tube inserted, and only the following day the radiotherapy can finally begin . . .

 

September ’16 news

The only really ‘new’ story was that of the first Church of England bishop’s publicly coming out.

The rest were either developments of old stories, mar an co-dhùnadh gun tèid an clàr-ola bho Leòdhas dhan Tuirc, the first charge in the Volswagen fraud, David Cameron’s resignation as an MP, and the approval of Hinkley Point C; or things which were expected, like the TV licences becoming necessary for legal watching of iPlayer programmes and the publication of Scotland’s legislative programme for the next parliamentary session.

Of course, as I said earlier, since the 15th of the month I’d been on a bender, so I have no idea what was happening during the second half of the month.

 

August ’16 news

Not a bad month for transport: the ScotRail strikes over guards were finally called off to allow further negotiations; Queen Street station tunnel reopened and so did Glasgow Subway; and the Tay Road Bridge was 50 years old. The exception was the oil rig, travelling from Norway to Turkey, which was blown ashore on a western Lewis beach instead, losing thousands of gallons of diesel and later temporarily moved to a bay on the other side of the island.

Of course, there were the Olympics in Rio, but I’m not into this kind of showbiz, so I’ve only seen Ross Murdoch qualify to semifinals and my namesake create a new British record before ending 5th – yet later with not one but two silver medals from relays (the first with 2 other Scots, or 3 if you count in Renwick). But somehow I admired no less Ieuan Lloyd, whether bottle-fliping or dabbing – and even more than all these Nick Skelton. Winning an equestrian gold aged 58 … can you beat it? (Of course, I couldn’t help noticing that Team GB ended second in the medal table, with 16 Scots getting such a disc or two.)

In other news, bha briseadh-dùil ann mu dheidhinn fo-thiotalan air BBC Alba, on a tha Urras a’ BhBC dhen bheachd nach urrain dhaibh leigeil le luchd-amhairc an roghainn a dhèanamh; Michael Russel was appointed the Scottish government’s Brexit negotiator, although the UK government later indicated they’d only pay lip service to negotiating with Holyrood; Poles overtook Indians as the largest migrant group both in the UK and in Scotland (which slightly surprised me, I thought they’d already done so); and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation named (on p 10) both ‘my’ Keppochhill and Tommy’s Wyndford among the 5% consistently most deprived areas in Scotland since 2004 (which didn’t; but it is interesting that the allegedly most and least deprived areas in Scotland are only about 7 miles distant).

 

June ’16 news

Except for the EU referendum and its aftermath, which will probably remain not just the news of the month, but the news of the year, precious little happened, and none of it good. In Orlando, Florida, a religious maniac murdered 49 people in the Pulse gay bar; and a series of rail strikes began over disagreement between ScotRail and the RMT about more driver-only-operation trains. It seems obvious that at least one party is rather economical with the truth when describing the talks, but which one it is only the participants can know.

 

May ’16 news

Of course, the main news was the elections and the aftermath. Before that, Sir David Attenborough became the latest celebrity nonagerian, and the BBC White Paper was unveiled: mostly it seemed to be about money and encroaching on the broadcaster’s independence, with some specific proposals for Scotland agus moladh airson leantainn le craoladh sa Ghàidhlig.

After the elections, while in London the Queen’s Speech allegedly included fines for companies sending spam emails without first getting consent (could it still be called spam if they did?), the new Scottish government announced that for the next eight years the operation of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferries Network will remain with CalMac, rather than being handed over to Serco. Muirfield, however, lost its right to host another Open after a vote to remain a men-only club. (I’m not sure to which degree the following criticism is due to the unadmitted knowledge that if there was a women-only golf club, men simply wouldn’t give a damn about it.) Shortly after, the Kirk voted to allow ministers in civil gay marriages, although not gay weddings within the Kirk, and the Scottish Parliament obtained its first law-making powers under the 2016 Scotland Act.

Mostly good news, then. Not so across the Atlantic, where Donald Trump in the end won the Republican presidential primaries, and Alberta, Canada had to declare emergency in response to a wildfire which destroyed about a tenth of Fort McMurray and later threatened to come back to claim more. In retrospect this kind of puts the feminists’ (and my) obsession with the Muirfield vote into perspective.

 

Another absurd research

I’m used to the Beeb telling me inanities about sleep and lifestyle in general. And I have for a long time suspected that a lot of modern ‘research’ consists in statistics done by people who don’t fully comprehend the importance of apropriate sampling. The other day I’ve come across something which possibly takes the biscuit: a study which allegedly revealed the world’s sleeping patterns by analysing data collected from an app.

The important thing to notice is, of course, that the app was released “to help people overcome jetlag [but users could share data on their sleeping habits with the research]”. In other words, the ‘scientists’ believe that if a Dutch businessman sleeps on average more than eight hours a day and a Japanese businessman less than seven and a half, a Dutch farmhand likewise sleeps more than eight hours a day and a Japanese farmhand less than seven and a half.

If those studies telling us how Britons are the fattest nation in Europe are done as scientifically as this, perhaps we have no reason to be all that worried.

 

February ’16 news

It began with another storm and when it ended we were told this had been the wettest winter on record. At least the Lamington Viaduct was repaired and the West Coast Mainline trains resumed running normally ahead of schedule.

Scottish politics was unashamedly about money: in the end, Moray Council and consequently all local authorities accepted another year of council tax freeze. And after almost a year of negotiations, the fiscal framework enabling further devolution was agreed between Westminster and Holyrood and later published. (No, I didn’t read the full text, and neither did you.)

Looking farther afield, David Cameron agreed a deal with other EU leaders on UK’s ‘special status’ within the Union and announced the date for the country’s membership referendum for 23 June. Brace yourself for the topic being from now on even more suffocatingly pervasive than the 2014 Scottish referendum was. (Personally I haven’t yet decided whether I’d prefer the UK’s leaving, for the country’s benefit, or its staying, potentially for my own.)

Looking across the ocean, all those stereotypical portrayals of stupid Yanks are being reinforced by Donald Trump’s so far astonishingly successful campaign to become the Republican candidate for US president. On the other hand, Trump is just a wealthy spoiled brat; Europe has seen psychopaths being democratically elected in the 1930s.

The saddest news was about the death of Umberto Ecco; I still remember how I enjoyed watching and later even more reading The Name of the Rose (on account of exactly those passages which for obvious reasons were omitted from the film). The death of Antonin Scalia, contrarily, kept me unemotional: the guy was an obvious bigot.

Also on the theme of endings, it was reported that The Independent would cease print editions and sell the i newspaper to Johnstone Press. Agus bhruidhinn mi mu dheidhinn an staid a chuireadh air CLÌ is Cothrom an àite eile.

 

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.

 

Google’s and Facebook’s taxes

Many articles appeared recently about the £130m Google and Osborne agreed the former should pay in UK back taxes. Generally they agreed it was a paltry sum. However, one of them also mentioned the following:

Facebook paid £4,327 ($6,643) in corporation tax in 2014, according to its latest UK results. It showed the company as making a pre-tax loss of £28.5m last year, but the firm also paid its 362 UK staff a total of £35.4m in share bonuses. It means Facebook’s UK corporation tax bill was less than the tax the average UK employee paid on their salary.

So how come there’s no such outrage about FB? After all, despite all controversies Google still remains the best search engine and map provider there is. A useful tool you can use without even registering. Facebook is just a social networking site primarily concerned with selling your data to advertisers.