scotlandGiven the tightening in the opinion polls in recent days, including two with the Yes vote ahead, (although one was a very small sample), there has been a sudden rash of fevered speculation about what would happen if Scotland votes “Yes” to independence on Thursday, UK time.

All the way along we have been predicting a narrow win – perhaps a very narrow win – for the No vote, even when polls were showing a huge lead for the Noes.

But we confess the current volatility in the Scots electorate is giving us some pause for thought.

It’s clear from looking around the edges of the debate that there is considerable momentum for the Yes side as people get nearer and nearer to the day. Their rallies have been rowdy, good natured and well attended. In contrast, “No” activities have seemed mean and mealy-mouthed. A strong air of hurt rejection characterises much of the No campaign, whether it be the ludicrous announcements of some retailers and banks that they will relocate to England if the Yes vote gets up (they won’t) to the ever more strident allegations from English politicians that an independent Scotland is heading for economic ruin and an uncertain currency future, and probably outside of the EC at that. So there, and yar boo sucks.

This angst is all playing right into the hands of the Yes campaigners, of course, who simply call this further evidence that the English think of the Scots as less intelligent, less capable and less important in the world scheme of things – which is exactly what the English do think, of course. Democracy is an interesting thing, sometimes. Sometimes the people can see quite clearly what politicians deep, core opinions are, and they use their vote accordingly.

Anyhow, this “making your mind up” thing just before the actual day is a growing feature of elections and votes of all kinds, evidenced worldwide, born of less ironed-on support for one party or another, or one position and another.

We’ve seen it a lot recently: the last minute swing to the Liberal-National Coalition that toppled the last Victorian state government in Australia, the small but significant decline in Lib Dem support prior to the last General Election in England, a swing to Obama in the last few days of the last presidential election, Kevin Rudd doing better than expected at the last Federal Election in Australia, especially in Queensland, the pushing of the FDP below 5% in the last German elections as their supporters fled to both right and left in the last 10 days … yes, the “last minute swing”, to someone or other, is now so common as to be almost predictable. Politicians know it – it’s why you rarely hear a pollie say nowadays “Yeah, I reckon we’re home and hosed, we’ve got this,” because they know that’s a sure-fire formula for last minute desertions or abstentions.

So, given the general ineptness of the No campaign, a Yes victory is possible. They have the all-important “Mo”. We also suspect that the polls are somewhat under-estimating the Yes vote, as it is the nature of people’s responses to pollsters that they tend to report supporting the status quo more enthusiastically than they report supporting radical change. Radical change nevertheless sometimes occurs – witness the recent rise in support for the National Front in France, for example, which well outstripped its opinion poll performance.

What no-one appears to have discussed, however, is what will happen next week if the Noes win, but by a wafer thin margin. 50.5% to 49.5% for example.

Scotland will be seen to be split down the middle – and we’re also betting that the split will reflect historical strains in Scottish society that have never quite been resolved. We expect the Yes vote to do better amongst the University-educated, (Scotland has a fine tradition of intellectualism), amongst the poor and disenfranchised (for whom it is a useful way to express a generalised disgust with those that govern them, and Westminster in particular), and the “old Scots” – those that self-identify as members of the great Highland nations, that were never entirely subdued by the English.

Roman Catholics will also, we predict, heavily favour “Yes” over Protestants, the young will be more enthusiastic than the old, and so on.

Does it matter? Yes, it does. A Scotland that is still part of the Union, but where that Union is patently obviously deeply unpopular with large swathes of the population, is a Scotland where government’s legitimacy will be essentially harmed. The No vote needed to win big to put this to bed, and they’re not going to.

A notable feature of the debate in the last couple of years has been the idea that “Westminster” is somehow inherently flawed – unwieldy, or corrupt, or unresponsive, or all three. To combat that malaise, which is very real, a substantial effort to create yet more effective devolution of power will become a core priority in the wake of a narrow No win, but it would delivered to a country that will be exhausted with concepts of constitutional change.

Whilst many believe that the British peoples would do well to become a federated nation with much greater powers devolved to the English regions, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the general public’s appetite is likely to be a long way behind that idea and focused on other more pressing issues like jobs, and economic health generally. Not to mention the fact that another uncertain Middle Eastern war apparently looms.

So Scotland might well be left with just the slightest taste of “freedom” on its lips, but essentially nothing substantial changed at all. That’s not going to be good for the basic compact between Government and the governed that lies at the heart of good civic compliance.There is nothing inherently and enduringly stable about British society than any other – remember the poll tax riots?

And in simple terms, all that means is that all the talk of this being a “once and for all” decision – an oft-repeated construction which suits both sides right now – might be, and probably is, a little hasty. If the No vote only wins by a poofteenth and a bit, we don’t expect this issue to go away.

What would we do, if we were resident in Scotland today? (One of the peculiarities of this vote is that you get a vote if you live there, wherever you’re from, but not if you were born there and now live elsewhere. Who dreamed up that little nonsense?)

Well, we have always been deeply wary of the way the British civil service works to mangle and strangle necessary change.

 

"But I love you." "Look, it's not you, it's me."

“But I love you.” “Look, it’s not you, it’s me.”

 

Westminster often moves turgidly slowly to enhance public freedoms, and to emancipate those whose position is hemmed in by lack of opportunity or rights. Far from being a notable and consistent reforming body, steadily pursuing the path to enlightenment, Westminster actually behaves erratically, sometimes going through great bursts of action (say, the establishment of the National Health Service, the de-criminalisation of homosexuality, the freeing of the colonies, the abolition of the death penalty – or in purely economic terms, Margaret Thatcher’s rolling back of trade union power, and her selling council houses and public assets) interspersed with periods of rigidity and retreat (how ridiculously long it took to emancipate women, a century of mistakes in Ireland, the failure to reform British industry pre-Thatcher along European enterprise lines being the most obvious recent example, the fact that the landscape is still blighted by urban decay in so many old Victorian cities, and perhaps lagging so far behind Europe in creating new “Green” industries to replace old ones).

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, we believe, as an article of political faith, that Government that is nearer the people it governs is usually better Government. Faster, more quick to make necessary change, better informed to resist foolish change.

That’s why we are, on balance, convinced of the Yes camp’s arguments. We don’t think an independent Scotland inside the EU would really be all that different to the Scotland that is inside Britain now, and we are reasonably certain the EU would (after some huffing and puffing) admit an independent Scotland, just as we believe they will admit an independent Catalonia eventually. Independence would be a boost to Scottish morale, and give the Scots the absolute right to chart an innovative and successful course, without constantly looking over the shoulder to see what someone in Birmingham, Kidwelly or Ballymena thinks. And if they don’t work it out, well, the residents of Lyme Regis, Pembrook or Derry won’t be paying for their errors, will they? That seems just fine to us.

Re-writing boundaries is a continual project: there’s no reason to believe that where we stand now is where we always will stand. We need to roll with the punches, and move on, as friends. What we need to be very aware of is that will be most urgently required not if Scotland votes for independence, but if it very narrowly doesn’t.

You’ve heard of glass-bottomed boats. Now make way for the glass-bottomed kayak!

 

 

Seattle-based company Clear Blue Hawaii is marketing a new transparent kayak called the Molokini. It’s made from the same polycarbonate material used in bulletproof glass and fighter jet canopies. It looks so good, we reckon it’s a fashion accessory as much as a great way to explore.

 

The company markets the two-seater kayak as an ideal way to view marine life (the company says in ideal situations, you can see up to 75 feet down). If you’re lucky, you might even see a dolphin or two or a turtle swimming below you.

 

 

Plus it has the added benefit of making you look like you’re floating on top of the water.

The boat sells for just under US$2,700. For what we think would be the experience of a lifetime, we reckon that’s cheap. Might be time to break open the piggybank before the Great Barrier Reef is destroyed by a combination of sunlight, acidification, and waste dumping. We just hope the hole in the top is big enough for us to get in it, or a little judicious dieting might be required!

 

plane

If only he WAS going to be flying one of the jets, Abbott might not be quite so enthusiastic.

In the last couple of weeks, we have watched dismayed as Australia has become perhaps the most gung ho of all the world’s nations waiting to wade in and “stop” IS – the so-called Islamic “State”.

Let there be no mistake – we also think these appalling thugs need expunging from the world, and as soon as practicable.

But we are alarmed and worried by the enthusiasm with which the Australian government – especially Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – have not just fallen in lock-step with our Western allies. but have been seen to be stoking the fires of conflict with a triumphalist air that amounts to “Look at us, we’re strong leaders, and you want strong leaders, right?”

We are undoubtedly already seeing the first signs of a deeply unpopular government using the conflict to bolster its electoral fortunes – a so-called “khaki election” looms – and given that our bravura chest-beating almost certainly increases the likelihood of a terrorist attack against Australians, that’s a very risky card to play. Nevertheless, for a Prime Minister with a Government that has proven itself both tone-deaf and gaffe-laden, the conflict with IS is the gift that keeps on giving. “Hey! Let’s all stop worrying about Medicare co-payments and go BOMB something, already!”

This rhetorical style has been echoed to a lesser extent by Cameron in the UK and the Republicans in America, especially the surely past-pensionable John McCain, but much less so by a carefully-nuanced President Obama. It’s almost as if Barack phoned Tony and Dave and said “Ramp it up a bit, will ya, cobbers? We’re a bit bruised over here and I have to be a more laid back.” Surely not?

There’s no question that IS are pretty much the worst of the worst going round at the moment, but let us be absolutely clear what their murderous public tactics are designed to achieve. These are people playing a long game, who have no respect or care for their own lives or for others. They are trying to drag the democratic West, against which they have a visceral, systemic hatred, into a seemingly endless conflict in a war zone where the alliances and influences shift weekly, and where the sectarian divisions are about as deep as it is possible to find them. It’s virtually impossible to “pick winners” in this environment, because this week’s ally is last week’s mortal enemy. As even Abbott himself once presciently remarked about Syria, “it’s a choice between baddies and baddies”.

We have already seen America co-operating with Iran and Russia to attack IS – both countries currently under sanctions and blockades from the West. We have seen America calling openly for Iran to aid in the fight against IS, despite the fact that they already are, a call that has been rejected by the top Ayotollah, despite the fact that this is exactly what they are already doing.

We have moved from being a day away from air strikes against Assad in Syria (thankfully averted when it became clear that the gas attacks on the Syrian public were probably carried out by rebels, and perhaps that the White House knew that all along, and even allegedly that the rebels were deliberately encouraged to do so, under Western guidance) to now cautiously needing to support him against IS, which will lead to the partial abandonment of the non-extremist Syrian opposition, or what may be even more bizarre, the joining of Assad with his former enemies to create a newly viable Syrian state to defeat the IS and Al Nusra insurgents.

How anyone is supposed to conduct a sane rational policy in this environment is beyond us. It’s a floating, shifting miasma of shifting lines, and we see no end to it. We are reasonably sure, though, that bellicose trumpeting is the least helpful thing we can do, especially as we have no idea how that plays amongst the general public in the contested regions.

What IS knows is that in this confused environment, mistakes can and will happen. IS and their backers know that the first time a bunker buster hits a school in Mosul there will be a flood of worldwide sympathy from both within the Sunni Muslim community and without it, and there’ll be a fresh rash of recruits flooding to a simpler, less complex view of the world than that offered by democracy. The angst and confusion created by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza will be seen to be just a shadow of what’s going to happen in northern Iraq and parts of Syria. Indeed, the mistakes (and concomitant slaughter of innocent civilians) are already happening, even if they’re not being widely reported in mainstream media.

Is there any question Bishop sees this as her chance to leap Malcom Turnbull and become Abbott's obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her "death stare", we'd be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

Is there any question Bishop sees this conflict – and that with Russia in the Ukraine – as her chance to leap Turnbull and become Abbott’s most obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her “death stare”, we’d be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

But that’s only the half of it. We cannot deploy hundreds of Australian troops (and thousands of Americans) plus people from all parts of the globe, and not expect some of them to fall into IS hands.

If we see that the road to war has been greased by the appalling executions of journalists and aid workers, not to mention the mass slaughter of civilians, Peshmerga and Iraqi army fighters, then imagine what will happen the first time video is released of a clean-cut Aussie or Yank fighter pilot or special forces hero having his head clumsily sawn off for the camera.

The calls for “boots on the ground” would surely become irresistible, especially if a newly-bolstered Iraqi army makes no discernible progress in recapturing rebel-held areas, or in forming a more broadly based Government capable of yoiking together Sunni and Shia in a workable state.

Having failed once to pacify Iraq, there is little doubt that we are very close to being dragged into the same maelstrom again, with a side serve of Syria and for all we know Lebanon and God knows where else as as well. We do not purport to know what the answer is – although one thing we cannot understand is why the Arab states, who are at least as much at risk from IS as anyone else, especially Saudi Arabia, cannot be prevailed upon to play a much more intrinsic role – perhaps they are so aware of the powder keg many of them sit upon that they dare not risk enraging them by sending ground troops to attack the Sunni IS as 85-90% of Saudis are Sunni – but as a start we could at least begin by not looking so goddamned happy to be heading off to war again.

We are not alone in our caution, which frankly borders on despair. This excellent opinion piece by experienced Middle East hand Paul McGeogh in the Sydney Morning Herald deserves to be widely read. His neat skewering of the lack of Arab co-operation, the unseemly rush to attack and the lack of an exit strategy (yet again) is spot on, and echoes our own concerns.

war sheepIt seems to us that only those who have actually fought wars show real reluctance to engage in them again. That is rarely politicians, especially those who have spent their entirely career crawling slowly up the political ladder.

Having seen the slaughter of innocents, the gore, the messy incompleteness of most military solutions, military men are almost invariably more cautious before setting off to the trenches once more.

But politicians revel in the limelight. It’s that set jaw, that gleam in the eye, the grimly-expressed determination. Not a hint of doubt, or worry, or regret. Nothing is allowed to ruffle their seeming purposefulness.

The prelude to war always looks to us like people with their egos way out of control about to play roulette with other people’s lives, and right now, it sure as hell looks that way again.

A woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease holds the hand of a relativeAccording to a report emanating from Paris (carried by AFP) long-term use of drugs commonly prescribed for anxiety and sleeplessness is linked to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s, a study said on Wednesday. Whether chronic use of benzodiazepines actually causes the brain disease is unknown, but the link is so glaring that the question should be probed, its authors said.

Dementia affects about 36 million people worldwide, a tally that is expected to double every 20 years as life expectancy lengthens and the “baby boom” demographic bulge reaches late age.

Researchers in France and Canada, using a health insurance database in Quebec, identified 1,796 people with Alzheimer’s whose health had been monitored for at least six years before the disease was diagnosed.

They compared each individual against three times as many healthy counterparts, matched for age and gender, to see if anything unusual emerged.

They found that patients who had extensively used benzodiazepines for at least three months in the past, were up to 51 percent more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The risk rose the longer the patient had used the drug.

But the investigators admitted the picture was foggy.

Benzodiazepines are used to treat sleeplessness and anxiety – symptoms that are also common among people just before an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. In other words, rather than causing Alzheimer’s, the drugs were being used to ease its early symptoms, which could explain the statistical association, they said.

“Our findings are of major importance for public health,” and warranted further investigation, said the team.

“(…) A risk increase by 43-51 percent in users would generate a huge number of excess cases, even in countries where the prevalence of use of these drugs is not high.”
The paper, published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is led by Sophie Billioti de Gage at the University of Bordeaux, southwestern France.

In a comment, Eric Karran, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the study gathered data over a five-year period only, whereas Alzheimer’s symptoms often appear a decade or more before diagnosis.

“It is difficult to tease out cause and effect in studies such as this,” he said. “We need more long-term research to understand this proposed link and what the underlying reasons behind it may be.”

If you are concerned

Your first step, of course, is to ask your GP or health professional. Benzodiazepines are a class of drug commonly known as tranquillisers and sleeping pills. Benzodiazepines are available on prescription only in Australia, and are mainly used for problems relating to anxiety and sleep.

Approximately 10 million scripts are written annually in Australia. Apart from a fall in prescribing in the early 1990s, prescribing rates have remained fairly constant, with a slight increase in the last few years.

It is estimated that one in 50 Australians are currently taking a benzodiazepine and have been taking the drug for longer than 6 months.

Women are prescribed benzodiazepines at twice the rate as for men, and older people (over 65) receive most of the benzodiazepine scripts for sleeping problems.

The most common benzodiazepines prescribed in Australia are Temazepam, Diazepam, Alprazolam and Oxazepam.

The following is a list of oral benzodiazepines available in Australia. Benzodiazepines are often produced by different drug companies and there may be different trade names for the same drug.

Long Acting
Generic Name Trade Name
Diazepam Valium
Ducene
Antenex
Diazepam Elixir
Diazepam –DP
GENRX Diazepam
Valpam
Clonazepam Rivotril
Flunitrazepam Hypnodorm
Rohypnol
Nitrazepam Mogadon
Alodorm
Clobazam Frisium
Short Acting
Generic Name Trade Name
Alprazolam Xanax
Kalma
Alprax
Alprazolam
Alprazolam –DP
GENRX
Zamhexal
Temazepam Normison
Temaze
Temtabs
Oxazepam Serepax
Murelax
Alepam
Lorazepam Ativan
Bromazepam Lexotan
Triazolam Halcion

More information about benzodiazepines, their uses, and their brand names can be found here.

We stress we do not intend this article to cause alarm, or to encourage anyone to stop taking drugs they have been prescribed. Articles of that kind abound on the internet, and to the contrary we are of the belief that one of the reasons these drugs are prescribed so often is because they are inexpensive and effective. If you have any concerns, speak to your health professional.

However we do agree with the report’s writers that any possible causal link between them and Alzheimer’s needs to be investigated if only for it to be dismissed.

Dealing with sleeplessness

Chronic use of any drug is likely to have uncertain effects. Where benzodiazepines are prescribed for assistance with sleeplessness, we would opine that other ways to address the problem should be tried as well.

These include ensuring you have adequate physical exertion during the day (as people age they tend to become more sedentary), avoiding TV and other stimulants like smartphones and computers for at least 30 minutes before sleep, seeking to calm anxiety about whether you will go to sleep with positive awareness of your overall wellness, employing relaxation exercises, (simple deep breathing can make a huge difference), meditation, and keeping the bedroom at a mild temperature, neither too hot nor too cool. It is unwise to eat a large meal to close to bed-time. Better to eat a snack that is large enough to satisfy your hunger and then enjoy a more substantial breakfast. Reading a book is a classic and successful way to calm down before sleep, but be aware that reading a book on a Kindle or iPad can have the opposite effect – the bright light confuses your brain into thinking you want to still be awake. Similarly, lighting for reading books should be bright enough to let you see, but not too bright.

A positive decision not to worry about life issues overnight is a wise move to combat sleeplessness as well. Write down a list of everything you feel is unresolved in your life, and make a determination to tackle it the next day. Nothing can be done while you lie in bed anxiously awake anyway. This simple act of intention can result in better sleep.

It is a sad fact that sleeplessness creates a vicious circle in our lives – tiredness creates anxiety and sense of worry about our achievement and problem solving ability – the anxiety thus created keeps us awake – we get more tired and more anxious – and so it goes on … For some people it can be a devastating cycle, resulting in deep depressive episodes during which their life can be at risk, and in our observation benzodiazepines are often employed by health professionals to break the cycle. But the natural state of the human body is to sleep, and it appears that we need to find natural ways to encourage it to do so instead of simply popping a pill.

If stories like this don't explain to the knuckle-heads why gay marriage is right, then nothing will. Gay people don't want to be "partnered", they want the right to be married.

If stories like this don’t explain to the knuckle-heads why gay marriage – we prefer the term “marriage equality” – is right, then nothing will. Gay people don’t want to be “partnered”, they want the right to be married, like everyone else.

 

What a beautiful story. Life affirming. Heart warming. Gentle.

More than seven decades after beginning their relationship, Vivian Boyack and Alice “Nonie” Dubes have been married. Boyack, 91, and Dubes, 90, sat next to each other during Saturday’s ceremony.

old hands“This is a celebration of something that should have happened a very long time ago,” the Rev. Linda Hunsaker told the small group of close friends and family who attended.

The women met in their hometown of Yale, Iowa, while growing up. Then they moved to Davenport in 1947 where Boyack was a teacher and Dubes a book-keeper.

Dubes said the two have enjoyed their life together and over the years they have traveled to all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada, and to England twice. “We’ve had a good time,” she said. Boyack said it takes a lot of love and work to keep a relationship going for 72 years.

Longtime friend Jerry Yeast, 73, said he got to know the couple when he worked in their yard as a teenager.

“I’ve known these two women all my life, and I can tell you, they are special,” Yeast said.

Iowa began allowing gay marriage in 2009. The two women say it is never too late for a new chapter in life.

Amen.

One of the more interesting things about the current debate in Scotland over the referendum on independence (which is becoming closer, although we still predict, at this stage, that the Yes vote will just fail – but watch this space) is the confusion about what will happen to the currency if Scotland votes yes. Coletta Smith at the Beeb wrote an interesting article laying out the options, which we provide a briefly edited version of below.

Begins: 

As the people of Scotland weigh up how to vote in the independence referendum, they are asking questions on a range of topics from the economy to welfare.

The Scottish government says it will continue to use the pound post-Yes, but the UK government, supported by the other Unionist parties, says it cannot. They say a “currency union” will no longer be acceptable.

So what is a currency union?

People shaking hands

It’s when countries with different political systems decide to share a currency. The Euro is the biggest example of this, but it’s perhaps not the best comparison as so many countries were involved with widely different types of economy. Greek’s rural islands are a long-way from Germany’s industrial powerhouses. Scotland and the rest of the UK’s economies are much more alike. So what are the pros and cons of sharing the pound?

Paper with interest rate sign on it

There is an understanding when you join a currency union that you give up some of your economic power. Scotland wouldn’t be able to change its interest rate, even if the economic picture in Scotland was different to the rest of the UK. It also means that limits may be placed on the amount it can spend in its budgets – that’s to help prevent situations like the Eurozone crisis.

Currency Unions can also fall apart if people feel that one country is much stronger than the other, as we saw in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

On the plus side it would make life easier for citizens of Scotland not to have to change currency; it would make life easier for businesses on both sides of the border who would only have to operate in one currency, and it would mean the Bank of England would still be the lender of last resort.

That would mean that Scotland’s large financial services sector of banks, insurance and life assurance companies would still be supported by an organisation with much bigger resources than the Scottish government.

But will Scotland be able to use the pound? The foundation of disagreement can be found by going back to February this year when the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats made a joint statement saying that if Scotland votes for independence, they would not be able to still use sterling – whichever party was running the UK.

The Chancellor George Osborne believed that would be the end of the issue, and called on the Scottish government to announce a Plan B for the currency.

However, the response came back that the statements were “bluff and bluster” and that if a Yes vote happened a more practical decision would be reached.

There is simply no way of knowing whether that is true or not. It is possible that after negotiation the UK may agree to share the pound. But for now, this central issue of the referendum is the one with the least clarity for voters.

So what are the other options?

The Unicorn coins

If it turns out that Scotland isn’t able to use the pound in a formal currency union, there are a few other options. They include;

  1. Keep the pound – Countries across the world do this with the dollar, like Hong Kong and Panama. They call it “dollarization”, so this option has become known as “sterlingization”. It has all the advantages of simplicity, but would mean Scotland having no control at all over interest rates and other monetary policy decisions. It would be a little like being on a roller coaster, you’re in for the ride even though you don’t have any access to the controls.
  2. New currency – Way back in history Scotland used to have its own currency. It would mean the Scottish government would have total control, but would be a huge change and an unknown quantity so it might not be trusted. There is a fear that people might pull their money out of the new Scottish currency and move it into the rest of the UK, which would be seen as a safer bet. Scotland would also be totally responsible for bailing out its own banks and savers should anything go wrong. Some pro-Yes backers, including Jim Sillars and Dennis Canavan are in favour of a Scottish currency.
  3. Different currency – Could it be the the Euro or even the dollar? The Euro might not be all that popular these days, but once-upon-a-time Alex Salmond was keen for Scotland to join the Euro, describing Sterling as a “millstone around Scotland’s neck”. Although the Euro has weakened dramatically in recent years, it’s unlikely to stay that way forever. Others suggest Scotland should use the dollar, and become a petro-economy. That’s because a big chunk of Scotland’s economy depends on oil and gas – an industry which operates in US dollars – and that it might not be the wildest idea in the world to adopt the dollar as its currency.

The White Paper reminds voters that even if a formal currency union was created between Scotland and the rest of the UK “it would of course, be open to people in Scotland to choose a different arrangement in future”. Ends …

Fascinating stuff. The Wellthisiswhatithink crew think that if – big “if” – Scotland votes yes, then the right thing for the Scots and the rest of Britain would be for them to have their own currency, linked to their own economic policies. That seems only fair to the Scots, as well as the English, the Northern Irish, and the Welsh.

black and whiteWhich leaves the fun opportunity to name it.

Our vote would be to call it the Scottie, and have a pair of little terriers on the reverse face like the Black and White whisky label. They’re so cuuuuuute! Then again, we are not entirely engaged in the matter and cannot honestly say we have given the matter exhaustive thought.

What do you think a new currency should be called?

Send us your suggestions and we’ll see they’re passed on.

We are reminded the Irish named their independent pound the “Punt”.

Apparently, they wanted it to rhyme with the colloquial term for “Bank Manager”.

Thanks to an interesting article published by Ancestry.com, we now know that many of us have surnames passed down to us from ancestors in Britain.

Apparently, last names weren’t widely used until after the Norman conquest of England and Wales in 1066, but as the country’s population grew, people found it necessary to be more specific when they were talking about somebody else. Thus arose descriptions like Thomas the Baker, Norman son of Richard, Henry the Whitehead, Elizabeth of the Field, and Joan of York that, ultimately, led to many of our current surnames.

“Come and see the violence inherent in the system!”

They still name people after their profession in Wales. Our long lost but much loved cousin Roger, who started a life as the owner of a footwear business, was known universally as Roger the Shoe. Until he sold the shops and took up a smallholding, at which time he became, proudly, Roger the Pig.

Apparently there are perhaps 45,000 different English surnames, but most had their origins as one of these seven types.

Occupational

Occupational names identified people based on their job or position in society.

Calling a man “Thomas Carpenter” indicated that he worked with wood for a living, while someone named Knight bore a sword.

Other occupational names include Archer, Baker, Brewer, Butcher, Carter, Clark, Cooper, Cook, Dyer, Farmer, Faulkner, Fisher, Fuller, Gardener, Glover, Head, Hunt or Hunter, Judge, Mason, Page, Parker, Potter, Sawyer, Slater, Smith, Taylor, Thatcher, Turner, Weaver, Woodman, and Wright (or variations such as Cartwright and Wainwright) — and there are many more.

This kind of name also gave a clue about whom a servant worked for. Just adding an S to a name indicated a feudal relationship with someone else. So someone named Vickers might have been a servant to Mr. Vicker, and someone named Williams might either have served a William or been adopted by him.

From the obscure fact department: in medieval England, before the time of professional theater, craft guilds put on “mystery plays” (“mystery” meaning “miracle”), which told Bible stories and had a call-and-response style of singing. A participant’s surname — such as King, Lord, Virgin, or Death — may have reflected his or her role, which some people played for their whole life and then passed down to their eldest son.

Describing a personal characteristic

Some names, often adjectives, were based on nicknames that described a person. They may have described a person’s size (Short, Long, Little), coloring (Black, White, Green, or Red, which could also have evolved into “Reed”), or another character trait (Stern, Strong, Swift). Someone named Peacock might have been considered vain, and so on.

From an English place name

A last name may have pointed to where a person was born, lived, worked, or owned land. It might be from the name of a house, farm, hamlet, town, or county. Some examples: Bedford, Burton, Hamilton, Hampshire, Sutton. Writer Jack London’s ancestor, for example, probably hailed from London.

From the name of an estate

Those descended from landowners may have taken as their surname the name of their holdings, castle, manor, or estate, such as Ernle or Staunton. Windsor is a famous example — it was the surname George V adopted for the British royal family to replace their original German name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha during World War I, because they had a home at Windsor Castle. Another Royal anglicised his name from Battenberg (a small town in Germany) to Mountbatten for the same reason. The Queen’s current husband, Prince Philip, also adopted the name Mounbatten, even though he was originally Philip Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg. Quite a mouthful.

From a geographical feature of the landscape

Some examples are Bridge, Brooks, Bush, Camp, Fields, Forest, Greenwood, Grove, Hill, Knolles, Lake, Moore, Perry, Stone, Wold, Wood, and Woodruff. Author Margaret Atwood, for example, is probably descended from someone who lived “at the wood.”

Patronymic, matronymic, or ancestral

Patronymic surnames (those that come from a male given name) include Benson (“the son of Ben”), Davis, Dawson, Evans, Harris, Harrison, Jackson, Jones (which is Welsh for John), Nicholson, Richardson, Robinson, Rogers, Simpson, Stephenson, Thompson, Watson, and Wilson.

Matronymic ones, surnames derived from a female given name, include Molson (from Moll, for Mary), Madison (from Maud), Emmott (from Emma), and Marriott (from Mary).

Scottish clan names make up one distinct set of ancestral surnames. These include Armstrong, Cameron, Campbell, Crawford, Douglas, Forbes, Grant, Henderson, Hunter, MacDonald, and Stewart. Anyone with these names has Scottish heritage hiding in their history somewhere.

Signifying patronage

Some surnames honored a patron. Hickman was, literally, Hick’s man (Hick being a nickname for Richard). Kilpatrick was a follower of Patrick.

We have a coat of arms. Ner. Mind you, like "namign a star", we suspect everyone can have a coat of arms if they hunt on Google long enough ...

We have a coat of arms. Nyah nyah. It’s three eagle’s heads rampant, or something or other. Mind you, like “naming a star”, we suspect everyone can have a coat of arms if they hunt on Google long enough … We know more than a few people who own one square foot of Scotland and thus have a legal right to call themselves Laird. Which isn’t far from Lord. Which is only one step away from being bumped up to business class on international flights. Yes, we’re onto you.

And how the hell did we end up with the unusual name Yolland, Dear Reader, which we have been patiently spelling to people over the phone for half a lifetime?

Well, originally this was a West Country Saxon name something like “Attenoldelande” which means “lives at or nearby the cultivated land”. There is some record of a family seat in Lancashire, and there is a Yolland Wood in Devon, near Plymouth. And that’s about it.

So once upon a time, all the Yollands, Yoldelondes, Yelands, Yolandes, Yealands, Yellands, Yeolands, Yallands, Yellens and all the rest were … well, serfs, basically.

Although they may have been free tenant farmers under a Saxon lord. But more likely serfs.

Anyway, before we launch into more quotes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, we simply note that our lineage has been around a very long time, and we have mud under our fingernails.

So there.

executionSurely the strongest argument against the death penalty is the number of times more modern investigation techniques – or simply  more aware and less biased – investigation techniques reveal innocent victims – for they are victims, too – who have spent half a lifetime locked up for a crime they never committed.

It is simply never worth risking executing innocent people – an irreversible step, of course – in order to exercise revenge against theoretically more “proven” killers, when the burden of proof can often rarely be high enough to absolutely ensure a miscarriage of justice cannot take place.

How many of these people would have been murdered by the State were it not for advances in DNA and for the efforts of the legions of anti-death penalty advocates, lawyers and campaigners worldwide just beggars belief. How many innocent people have been executed is less clear, although one we are certain of was Troy Davis.

This story makes the case better than a hundred leaflets. The state was sure these men were guilty. They coerced confessions from young men of weak IQs. This HAS to stop. An immediate moratorium on all death penalty executions should apply everywhere in the world, and especially in America, a country we hold to a higher standard than some.

https://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/24896051/half-brothers-freed-after-three-decades-in-prison/

The Death Penalty Information Centre website in the United States should be required reading for any resident of that nation who cares about what is done in their name, and anyone, indeed, anywhere, who is uncomfortable with death sentences.

 

 

So, if you’ve going to Germany to experience Oktoberfest for beer and sausages this European autumn, chances are you might want to stay away from the wild boar while you’re there: sausages and stews made from which are a delicacy in the forested areas of Europe.

A new study from the German government, reported by The Telegraph, shows that more than one in three wild boar killed by hunters in the region are too radioactive to be safe for humans to eat.

Since 2012, hunters in the Saxony region of Germany have had to get any wild boar they kill tested for radiation. In one year, the state reports that 297 of 752 boar tested contained more than the safe limit of 600 becquerels of radioactive material caesium-137 per kilogram for human consumption. Some boar tested had radiation levels dozens of times higher than the safe limit.

Saxony is 700 miles from Chernobyl, where a 1986 explosion at a nuclear plant sent radioactive material into the atmosphere.Subsquent rain and wind carried the radioactive material far and wide across Europe.

It’s thought that boar are more susceptible to radiation contamination because their diet consists of mushrooms and truffles that are buried in the ground and hold radiation longer than other vegetation. As a result of the contaminated meat, the German government has paid out thousands of euros in compensation to hunters, which have to destroy anything that tests as unsafe and cannot sell it for profit.

Even though it has been 28 years since the Chernobyl disaster – we remember it like it was yesterday – The Telegraph points out that experts say the radiation could be around in unsafe levels for another 50 years. Yummy.

OCD-AlphaOrderOnce upon a time, as we have described before, we went down with a bad dose of OCD. That’s the illness caused by f***** up brain chemicals that makes people do things over and over again … tap their feet a certain number of times, never say the letter P, or, most commonly, check that they’ve turned the gas cooker off thirty times or wash their hands repeatedly in very hot water with lots of soap.

We got the germy version. Big time. So we will confess to being 100% more aware of hygiene issues than  the average poor sap, even if that is about 10,000 times less aware of it than we used to be, as we are largely recovered from the illness, thank the Lord.

But being a bit germ aware does actually make some sense in today’s very busy and rushed world. We often take shortcuts with personal hygiene nowadays, or lay ourselves open to risk simply by being unaware, and there are some really nasty bugs around. Anti-biotic resistant staph we know about, and the world is positively swimming in E.coli (literally, often) which can make us very unwell, not to mention salmonella, which can hospitalise or kill you. (We have had members of our family go down with it – mythology it ain’t.)

Er, no thanks,

Er, no thanks,

So here’s today’s list of ten things you really need to think about. Even if you haven’t got OCD.

Unless you/re eating in this toilet-themed restaurant in China you wouldn’t eat off your toilet. But you might be surprised at the items that are dirtier in your world.

So 1. Your cell phone.

Your cellphone is disgusting. Trust me. It is an absolute holiday resort for germs.

If you don’t believe me, go here, where you can actually find out how many germs are living on your trusted companion right now.

germs on cell phoneWe are actually quite careful about our phone’s hygiene level, and we got the result that currently, there are 674,100 germs living on our cell phone: that’s the equivalent of 135 toilet seats!

Not that we’re paranoid, or nuffink. But seriously, who washes their hands after using their cell phone?

No 2. Your BBQ grill

Now we know you would never glance at the BBQ and say “I’ll clean it after”, right? Not even once.

You will always rigorously clean your grill immediately after cooking on it, even if you’re sitting down by the pool with a belly full of Vic Bitter and sausages with the biggest food coma of all time on the horizon.

dirty bbqOr even if you did leave it till next time, just that once, you would never hope for the best and stick a steak on top of the charred leavings of last time, on the basis that all the new fire you’re about to crank up is bound to clean up anything that’s grown there since last time? Eh?

Yeah, We hear you.

Just be aware that any food left on your grill immediately becomes a five star Michelin restaurant for nasty bugs of all kinds just floating around merrily in the sunshine.

Cooking on an unclean grill is seriously risking a tummy upset for you and the crowd, at the very least.

3. Your “clean” laundry

clean laundryNot to put too fine a point on it, crap clings to your underwear, whether you can see it or not. When you throw your undies in tub, you transfer about 500 million E. coli bacteria to the machine.

On top of that, water tends to settle in the bottom of front-loading machines, making it a breeding ground for germs. Then you wash your clothes in that mess.

To make sure your clean clothes come out actually clean, do a load of whites first so you can use chlorine bleach to sanitise the machine.

Or dedicate a cycle to underwear and use the hottest water the undies will bear without shrinking with a color-safe bleach substitute.

Also, run an empty cycle with bleach once every month to keep your washer free of bacteria. Easey-peasey.

4. Your toothbrush

Careful. They bite back.

Careful. They bite back.

When you flush your toilet, it can spray aerosolised droplets over six metres, says Dr Philip Tierno Jr, director of microbiology and immunology at NYU’s Langone Medical Center and the author of The Secret Life of Germs. It’s called a “plume”. Such a pretty name for such a horrid thought.

One option is to put the lid of the loo down before flushing. But it’s only a partial solution because it usually isn’t a perfect seal.

So if you leave your toothbrush out on the bathroom sink, it will almost certainly be showered with tiny drops of whatever you just flushed.

Stowing your toothbrush in a cabinet away from the flying faeces might be a good idea. Running it through the dishwasher will also eliminate germs, according to a 2011 study in the American Journal of Dentistry.

As a minimum, run it under a hot tap before using, or an even easier option would be to soak your toothbrush in a mouthwash that contains cetylpyridinium chloride, like Listerine, for 20 minutes.

5. Your kitchen sponge

Your dish or surface sponge is probably the nastiest thing in your kitchen. It’s just out to get you, we tells ya’allkeep-kitchen-sponges-clean-1!

It’s damp and constantly in contact with bacteria, making it a prime place for germs to proliferate.

Rather terrifyingly, there’s a one in three chance your kitchen sponge has staph just sitting on it, according to a Simmons College study. (That’s twice the contamination rate of your toilet.) And it could be harbouring up 10 million bacteria per square inch.

What can you do? Watch it in very hot soapy water or even in a light solution of disinfectant before using. If that seems a step too far, then vinegar is a natural disinfectant, so try dousing it in that, rinse it out with clean hot water, then do the dishes. Throw old sponges and cloths away more often, and use new ones.

6. The buttons in an elevator

5Going up? That elevator button could be crawling with more bacteria than a toilet, a new study from the University of Toronto found. Up to 40 times more.

And another large study from Saudi Arabia found that 97 per cent of elevator buttons in offices and residential buildings are contaminated. One in 10 had germs that could cause food poisoning or sinus infections.

Using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser after you press the “up” button should kill any bacteria you picked up, the researchers say. And for elevator button read … door handles, stair handrails … etc.

Sure, it’s not healthy to be constantly using hand sanitiser all day long, but before you touch food that you’re going to put in your mouth? That’s actually a smart idea.

7. Your computer

keyboardHow often do you chow down a sandwich at your desk while tapping away at your computer? Those keys, and now your hands, are swarming in potentially harmful bugs. Especially if more than one person use the computer.

Your hands, the keyboard. Your hands, the sandwich. The sandwich, your mouth. Your mouth, your gut. You get the picture.

But it’s not just your keyboard. It’s other people’s keyboards. And their mice. And other people’s tablets. It’s all because too many people don’t wash their hands thoroughly after visiting the loo despite health experts warning that rushed or ignored hand washing can lead to diarrhoea,vomiting, food poisoning, flu and the spread of MRSA.

Stop it already!

Stop it already!

There’s a new problem looming. British media regulator Ofcom suggest that consumers are so addicted to smartphones and tablet computers that over one in ten – 11%, in fact – now view video content on a device such as the iPad in the bathroom. It’s estimated that around 20% of 18-24 year-olds do so on a regular basis.

And if they’re not washing their hands, you can be damn sure they’re not washing their bloody iPhones and iPads.

8. Your ATM

atm-germsSwab tests recently conducted of public surfaces in six major cities revealed that ATMs are among the worst carriers of illness-causing germs. Starting to get the picture? Anything that is touched regularly by lots of people is a potential source of infection. The problem is very simple – bank staff don’t head outside to clean the keypads on their ATM with anti-bacterial or disinfectant wipes.

The tests showed that 41% of automated teller machine keypads carry germs that can cause colds and the flu.

Washing your hands afterwards or a hand sanitiser after using an ATM will help you in only picking up cold hard cash, and not a cold along with it.

9. The petrol pump.

everything bathroomYour hands could actually be germier after washing them than they were before.

That’s no exaggeration: one 2011 study from the University of Arizona found that one in four refillable soap dispensers in public bathrooms was contaminated and pumped out bacteria.

Another study tested whether those potentially disease-causing germs could be left on your hands after washing.

The short answer: yup.

Hot air dryers can also blow up to 45 per cent more bacteria onto your hands, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.

If you have a choice, use soap dispensers that have bags of soap in them that are replaced, rather than those that are refilled by pouring more soap into them.

It might sound nuts, but you can wash the taps (faucet) before you use them, and after washing your hands, use paper towels to dry off, and then use them to turn off the taps and open the door as you leave.

Better momentary embarrassment because someone looks at you strangely than a handful of gut-wrenching oooby-goobries.

So, feel better now? Yeah, us too. Remember these simple rules to drastically reduce the risk to yourself and others.

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after going to the toilet.
  • Always wash your hands before eating.

It’s a warzone. Good luck out there.

This very important article in Vox, based on Russian research, reveals an apparently staggering level of support for ISIS in Europe, and in France in particular, where one in six people report supporting the extreme terrorist Sunni group that has been slaughtering Christians, Shias, Sunnis who don’t agree with them, and anyone else who gets in their way.

And the level of support rises as respondents get younger.

 

Very, very worrying.

Very, very worrying.

 

We somewhat doubt the veracity of the research and wonder if people are confabulating “ISIS”, “Gaza” and “Hamas” in their minds. In any event, it’s a sad and sorry finding even if it’s only partly accurate, and the radicalisation of Islamic youth is one of the most distressing and tragically predictable outcomes of the growth of so-called “identity politics”, which is now playing out throughout the West, and increasingly in a new black-white divide in America, as well.

But despite this survey it would be wrong to see this phenomenon as something unique to young followers of Islam. Indeed, as one of the sources quoted in the article remarked:

The rise of identity politics has helped create a more fragmented, tribal society, and made sectarian hatred more acceptable generally. At the same time, the emergence of “anti-politics,” the growing contempt for mainstream politics and politicians noticeable throughout Europe, has laid the groundwork for a melding of radicalism and bigotry. Many perceive a world out of control and driven by malign forces; conspiracy theories, once confined to the fringes of politics, have become mainstream.

It is so. This isn’t a religious thing. It’s all about contemptuous disenchantment and disempowerment.

That said, the fact that we actually find most interesting in the graph above is the much LOWER figure – virtually negligible, in fact, in polling terms – in Germany.

In our analysis, this can be explained by three simple factors.

Whilst there is racial tension within Germany – particularly where the Turkish immigrant population is concerned, it is less of a problem than elsewhere.

Even with the persistent (if small) growth in Neo-Nazi skinhead violence, the vast majority of Germans utterly reject the balkanisation of politics based on race. Given their recent history, and the efforts the State makes to prevent racial abuse or anything that smacks of it, this is laudable and not at all surprising.

Another differentiator, of course, is that much of the Islamo-fascism currently being exhibited in the world is explicitly anti-Israeli and by extention anti-Jewish, and expressing sentiments that could possibly be interpreted or misinterpreted as anti-Jewish in Germany is still well-nigh impossible, again for very obvious reasons.

The third reason, and this is very significant, is that the German economy is significantly wealthier and more successful than the British, or the French. There is plenty of education and work to be had, and both are the perfect balm for the vast majority of young people, of all racial backgrounds, who might otherwise be led into more extreme conclusions about society.

Recent riots in France were painted as "Islamic" by commentators, in fact, as the placard being carried by one demonstrator, it was more accurately an explosion of frustrated youth violence, like previous riots in the UK and elsewhere.

Recent riots in France were painted as “Islamic” by commentators, but in fact, as the placard being carried by one demonstrator says, it was more accurately an explosion of frustrated youth violence, like previous riots in the UK and elsewhere.

Unemployment – especially youth unemployment – is the perfectly fertilised and endlessly productive seed bed for extremism of all kinds, whether you look at 1789 France or France last year, 1917 Russia, 1933 Germany, 1970s Northern Ireland, the “Arab Spring” of 2011, or America, France and Britain today.

And where that unemployment falls most onerously on any particular racial or religious groupings, particularly a grouping that considers itself as a minority, then you have a recipe for immediate and predictable disaster.

But even when that miserable judgement is made, it is the generalised “anti politics” trend that concerns us most – even more than any passing fad for Islamic extremism that threatens us today.

The simple fact is that when people perceive their leaders as corrupt, when people perceive them as petty, when people perceive them as habitual liars, (with plenty of evidence), when people perceive them as lacking in required levels of intelligence or leadership skills, then they do not blame the individuals as much as they blame the system. And variously, they turn (and they can turn very quickly) to revolutionary creeds – Marxism, Fascism, religious extremism: whatever is around and easily grasped as a panacea, really.

Anti-democrats don't start out carrying a sign saying "crush democracy". They know it frightens the horses. And they can be alluring - Stalin was quite a hunk as a youngster.

Anti-democrats don’t start out carrying a sign saying “crush democracy”. They know it frightens the horses. And they can be superficially attractive – Josef Stalin was quite a hunk as a youngster, for example.

This is precisely why we have frequently labelled America a ‘pre-Fascist” state* – not because we believe there are organised groups of people seeking to subvert the American constitution and replace it with some Hitler-style figure – there are such groups, but they are still largely fringe dwellers, and there are also big money groups that wield far too much malign financial power over the political system, such as the Koch brothers, but their influence is still basically visible and trackable – rather, it is because the fracturing of America into potentially warring tribes is so very palpably obvious when viewed from a distance, matched (equally obviously) by an increasingly careless disregard for civil rights and privacy from the authorities.

A frightening realisation that often comes later in life is that democracy, in all its expressions, contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. The very thing that makes democracy so worth preserving – freedom of opinion and the resulting freedom of speech – is the very weapon that can tear it down.

History teaches us, again and again, that there is a tipping point when a majority of people despair of the system and when they do they are prepared to consider a replacement – any replacement. Or it can be a highly motivated minority, with good organisational skills.

Shorn of the wonderful, soaring rhetoric of its core principles by the behaviour of its key players – our political leaders, and the media – democracy simply seems increasingly and hopelessly out of touch and irrelevant. All it needs is a half-credible populist to repeat the people’s complaints alluringly, and the complaints are worldwide, and they are devastatingly simple and enticing:

“I don’t trust them”, “They’re all just in it for themselves”, “They don’t know what to do”, “They’re just taking the piss out of the rest of us, and we’re paying”, “They don’t care about us.” “What can I do? They won’t listen to me.”

At one and the same time, powerful cabals in business and the military foolishly consider they can take advantage of such unrest to position themselves to take over as “a strong voice”, to run things (skimming off the top, of course) while the hubbub of dissent dies down, until – inevitably – they realise they have seized a tiger by the tail, and they can’t control it. “Temporary” restrictions on freedom become permanent, and apply to these fellow travellers as much as they do to the rest of us. They imagine themselves isolated from the crackdown by their money, except – as they invariably discover – they are not.

Anti-politics. It is louder in the West than we can remember at any time since we started paying attention in the 1960s.

“They don’t care about little people.” “Just a bunch of snouts in a trough.” “They’re all stupid.”  “There’s no real difference between them, anyway. It’s all a game.” “I just don’t trust ‘em. Any of ‘em.”

Indeed, as we write these phrases, it is all we can do to stop from nodding in agreement. They are so seductive.

A son of the aristocracy, Churchill never lost his early passion for democracy that was often found in those days in the ranks of the independently wealthy.

A son of the aristocracy, Churchill never lost his early passion for democracy that was often found in those days in the ranks of the independently wealthy.

Except if we are seduced by them, we will hate what comes after. As Winston Churchill supposedly famously remarked:

“Democracy is the worst form of government, it’s just better than all the others.”

Actually, and somewhat ironically, the most famous defender of modern democracy might not have actually generated those words, although in his lifetime he did say a lot about democracy, especially when its survival was threatened with the horrors of German and Austro-Hungarian Nazism, Italian and Spanish Fascism (amongst others), and Soviet-style “marxism”.

Churchill did say something like this in the House of Commons on  11 Novem­ber 1947) but it appears he was quot­ing an unknown pre­de­ces­sor. From Churchill by Him­self, page 574:

Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

So, although these are Churchill’s words, it is an amusing historical footnote that he clearly did not orig­i­nate the famous remark about democracy. We wonder who did. Anyhow, here are some orig­i­nal things that the great man did say about democracy over 70 years in public life:

If I had to sum up the imme­di­ate future of demo­c­ra­tic pol­i­tics in a sin­gle word I should say “insurance.” That is the future — insurance against dan­gers from abroad, insur­ance against dangers scarcely less grave and much more near and con­stant which threaten us here at home in our own island.
Free Trade Hall, Man­ches­ter, 23 May 1909

At the bot­tom of all the trib­utes paid to democ­racy is the lit­tle man, walk­ing into the lit­tle booth, with a lit­tle pen­cil, mak­ing a lit­tle cross on a lit­tle bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or volu­mi­nous dis­cus­sion can pos­si­bly dimin­ish the over­whelm­ing impor­tance of that point.
House of Com­mons, 31 Octo­ber 1944

How is that word “democ­racy” to be inter­preted? My idea of it is that the plain, hum­ble, com­mon man, just the ordi­nary man who keeps a wife and fam­ily, who goes off to fight for his coun­try when it is in trou­ble, goes to the poll at the appro­pri­ate time, and puts his cross on the bal­lot paper show­ing the can­di­date he wishes to be elected to Parliament—that he is the foun­da­tion of democ­racy. And it is also essen­tial to this foun­da­tion that this man or woman should do this with­out fear, and with­out any form of intim­i­da­tion or vic­tim­iza­tion. He marks his bal­lot paper in strict secrecy, and then elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and together decide what gov­ern­ment, or even in times of stress, what form of gov­ern­ment they wish to have in their coun­try. If that is democ­racy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.”
House of Com­mons, 8 Decem­ber 1944

Stirring stuff. And how unlike any modern politicians that come to mind, except, perhaps, the trio of dead American heroes, JFK, RFK, and MLK. Little wonder that they seized the imagination so thoroughly, and are still revered to this day, even though their feet of clay have been comprehensively documented. They talked about the principles of Government, not just the outcomes.

Democracy is more than a system, it is a concept.

Democracy is more than a system, it is a concept that breeds a system.

In today’s world, once again – and urgently, in our view – we need to make the argument for democracy itself. Not for nothing do the appalling leadership of extremist Islam, epitomised at its most horrible by ISIS, reject the very concept of democracy at the very same time as so-many of their co-religionists seek to acquire and embrace it. ISIS and others of their ilk know they are engaged in a death struggle for their narrow view of the universe against the very principles that democracy uniquely espouses: the principle of protection under the law whoever you are, whatever your creed, sex or colour, true justice that is separated from the government and which can hold the government itself to account, freedom to express oneself fearlessly, genuinely participatory government, the rights of women and minorities to be treated as equals, and much, much more.

For our own internal stability, and in defence of those who dream of democratic freedom everywhere, we need to make our passion for democracy loud and clear, recapturing why we believe it to be superior to the alternatives.

Even if we don’t care about personal freedom, let us carol from the rooftops that it has been shown to be more economically successful – and more sustainably – than any other system.

Even Communist China, containing fully one-third of the world’s
population, enjoying its hugely successful democracy in chinaexperiment in State-directed capitalism, is increasingly recognising that it cannot endlessly stifle the opinions and behaviour of the governed.

They have recognised that they can release a gale of innovation and improvement by asking the opinion of their own people (a truly alien view for the whole of Chinese history thus far) and thus they are taking faltering steps to introduce more freedom into their system without triggering a cataclysm of change.

As just one measurement, the level of openly critical comment in China today is measured in vast multiples compared to even ten years ago, as is the nationwide passion to tackle corruption, which has been endemic in China since time immemorial.

How ironic that the People’s Republic of China – until recently a vile and periodically vicious autocracy – is cautiously embracing a belief set that we seem essentially content to see wither on the vine. Certainly when measured by the public behaviour of our elite.

If nothing else, our leaders and opinion formers should be arguing for the success of liberal democracy as an economic vehicle – not, please note, arguing in favour of unfettered capitalism – as the proven way forward for humankind.

The evidence is that democracy spreads wealth better than any other system, to the widest possible number of people, even while it grapples with the excesses of the runaway freight train of capitalism. Democracy actually restrains the worst features of capital’s behaviour – environmental vandalism, for example. (And if you want to see the results of capitalism that is not fettered by democracy, both in terms of economic failure, cronyism, violence, and environmental vandalism, just have a look at Russia today.)

But more than mere words, more than argument, we need to make democracy work for the governed.

As a beginning, we need to act with utter ruthlessness when evidence of corruption or rorting the system is uncovered.

Sad Statue of LibertyWe need to be deeply suspicious of centralising power, and passionate and enthusiastic about devolving power to the lowest practical level concomitant with effective decision-making.

(For this reason, we are tentatively in favour of Scotland voting for its independence next month, despite acknowledging that it might not appear to be a sound decision economically, at least in the short term. Not that we think it will.)

We must watch our security services and police like hawks, ensuring that the work they do is effective, but that their understanding of the proper limits on their powers is thorough and genuine.

We must defend and encourage media diversity, because a plehtora of opinions expressed openly is the best possible way to generate the ideas we need to successfully navigate our new century and beyond. Anything that compresses media ownership into fewer and fewer hands, blithely covered up with promises of editorial independence that everyone knows are false – is actively dangerous. NewsCorp, and those like unto it, are bad for the health of democracy. “State-owned” news outlets – unless protected by the most rigorous legislation – are a contradiction in terms, wherever they are.

We must encourage bi-partisanship, not because we want our democracy reduced merely to fudge and lazy compromise, but because the public needs to see – to witness – people of good faith working together on their behalf or the social compact with the governed will collapse.

It follows that the role of Opposition is to oppose what it truly believes to be wrong, rather than simply “everything”, and that Government should habitually respect and consider the opinions of those who disagree with it. The impasse between Obama and the Congress in recent years was an economic annoyance, to be sure. But it was a political catastrophe.

Where disagreement is genuine, then the debate should be conducted with civility. Even when one considers another person foolish in the extreme, misguided, or lacking perception, the skill is to make that point in such a manner that they will at least consider you may be wiser or in possesion of a better idea, and also so you may carry public opinion with you. And so that the public can see your good intentions, and not just your muscular antagonism.

We “dumb down” our debates at great cost and at our peril.

If something is “dumb”, the people know they can do without it. When politicans dumb down their discourse, when they are relentlessly trite or scathingly negative, encouraged, aided and abetted by a media that has an increasingly – vanishingly – small attention span, they are not playing some clever stratagem.

In risking a backlash against democracy itself, they are lining themselves up to be thrown in a prison, or worse, by the tidal wave that replaces what they blindly thought was inexorable and irreplaceable. They are beating ploughshares into pikes, and putting them into the hands of those who – when they aren’t even offered complex, thoughtful or educated opinion to consider – can see no reason why they shouldn’t adopt simpler ideas expressed in slogans.

working mensAs democracy swept across Europe in the mid-late 19th century and into the 20th century, it was buttressed by wise souls who ensured that every village, every town, had facilities for the dis-semination of ideas and knowledge, for the edification of the working poor, (such as with the Working Men’s Institutes of Britain), so that they would become participatory members of a new compact.

The privileged who led these conscious efforts to uprate the skills and learnings of the poor were driven by belief, not by an empirical calculation that they were providing a safety valve for the expectations of the people. They believed that a government of all cannot exist if the all is disenfranchised through ignorance or lack of opportunity. So they set about creating the knowledge that would let people fully participate.

Yet today the efforts of those great communicators have been hijacked. Today they are largely directed into providing an endless diet of sport, or reality TV, or mind-numbing time-consuming soap opera and unedifying “popular” drama. Modern media resembles nothing more than an electronically-delivered diet of “bread and circuses” – a tactic for mind control, remember, employed by the Roman dictatorship very successfully for 400 years. “Don’t worry about how we are governing, or who for – here’s a load of bread and a free ticket to watch the gladiators. Come back tomorrow for more of the same.”

And today, devoid of any understanding of why democracy matters, the governed have essentially lost interest, and satiate themselves instead on a diet of moronic “entertainment”.

Ask yourself: where are the civics classes in our schools and universities? Where are our unions, who taught people not just how but why they should defend their rights? Where are the rhetoricians, stirring our minds with ideas and concepts? (Answer, making a “Ted Talk” to their fellow intellectual and financial elite.) Why have our political parties shrunk to be miniscule mockeries of their former selves, with memberships so ludicrously small as to make them nothing more than stripped-down bureaucracies, homes for duelling apparatchicks?

Un-engaged and uncomprehending, the people are ripe to be captured by that simplest and most terrifying of ideas.

“It’s all their fault. Let’s go get ‘em.”

Who “they” are varies from theatre to theatre, of course. Alarmist? Look at that graph at the top of the page again.

Democracy is not the natural form of government for humanity. Violence is. Democracy has been hard won with the stout arms and often the lives of millions, for over 2,000 years.

Democracy will not persist if it is dysfunctional. Democracy will not persist if it is not protected. Democracy will not persist if we lose the argument.

Think about it. Discuss.

 

*For history buffs, there is a famous quotation, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

  • Many variants of this exist, but the earliest known incident of such a comment appears to be a partial quote from James Waterman Wise, Jr., reported in a 1936 issue of The Christian Century that in a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club said that Hearst and Coughlin were the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any “shirt” movement, nor with an “insignia,” but it will probably be wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.
  • Another early quote is that of Halford E. Luccock, in Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938): When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism.”
  • Harrison Evans Salisbury in 1971 remarked: “Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can’t Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling ‘The Star Spangled Banner.'”

fallenA very sad story in the newspaper in Melbourne today, noting that over 104 people over the age of 50 died in their homes in 2011, and lay there dead for a week or more before their bodies were discovered.

Even sadder is that some of those people – victims of heart attacks, strokes, and falls, for example – might have survived if found sooner. And saddest of all is that the same litany of little tragedies are surely repeated every year in every city in the world.

We live in a world which is theoretically more connected than ever. And yet, as more people live alone – especially more older people – any sense that we all live in a village with an eye on each other’s welfare is receding into distant memory.

We recall growing up in a typical middle-class street, with friends and neighbours in abundance in all directions.

Connections were not made because people were nosy and inquisitive, but simply because people were polite and caring. It would be unusual not to greet the people who lived nearby with a cheery “Good morning” when walking past them. Indeed, more so: to nod, smile and utter a greeting to complete strangers, who often became, in due course, acquaintances, and then friends. Nowadays, likely as not, people would shy back, concerned you were a nutter or from a religious cult.

We live in a colder, harder world, where the idea of a harmless conversation over the fence or sharing a quick cuppa on the back step seems immeasurably quaint.

Do yourself a favour. Do the world a favour. Go knock on their door. Any excuse will do – or just ‘fess up. “I thought we should know one another.”

Especially if they’re old, and alone. Just do it.

 

MRS TURKINGTON

She used to stand, proud and erect, the Colossus of Assembly.
Headmistress of St Catherine’s Church of England Primary
Concentrating Camp
For David and Gareth and Julie and Helen and Me.

Talons grasping the eagle-winged lectern
she would gravely announce
“All God’s Creatures Here Alive
Ancient and Modern, Number 35”
,
and God help you if you didn’t sing.
(Except he wouldn’t.
because he was silenced by a glance
from Mrs T, as well.)

She had a cane, but never used it.
If found running in the quadrangle
she just pinned you to the blue breeze-block walls
with Yorkshire-steel eyes and asked you what
exactly it was you thought you were doing?7
And whatever it was, you stopped it.

Bubble-gum swallowed, marbles pocketed.
Prize conker? Dropped it.

I heard some time ago Mrs T had died.
They found her on the floor.
No-one called, no more.
So no-one saw.

Been there for days, they said.
All thin, and gnarled, and very dead.

In later life, she’d mellowed.
Her skin had yellowed.
I used to see her in Church, a bit
when time had pushed her shoulders up in the middle.
She just got all bent, when the rheumatics hit.

Always sent me a Christmas card,
even when her life got hard.

Mum used to shove one under me nose to sign for her
so I suppose she’d always got it,
and then thought I never forgot it.

I never thought I would, but
I felt sorry when they found her,
fallen and forgotten at the bottom of the stairs.

She had a cane, you see.
But she never used it.

beaver lodge

Beaver Lodge, then home of the Attenboroughs, where we momentarily shared the high life.

So Dickie Attenborough is dead, at 90.

We knew him. Well, not so much knew him, you understand, as “We met him once”.

Back in 1987, there was an election on. The Liberal Party, for which we campaigned, had entered an uncomfortable “Alliance” with a new political grouping called “The Social Democratic Party”, which was essentially a small group of right wing rebels from a Labour Party that had been temporarily overwhelmed by the irritating forces of the trotskyite Left. The new “SDP” appealed to a sort of vaguely left of centre middle class consensus type – they’d be called “soccer Mums” in America or “doctor’s wives” in Australia.

Anyhow, for some bizarre reason lost in the mists of time deep in the last millenium, the leaders of said Alliance decided to hop on a barge and meander down the River Thames one Sunday afternoon, ending up at Dickie’s pile in Richmond. The vague plan was that there were a string of Liberal-SDP Alliance target seats in a row along the river, and this was a spiffingly good wheeze to make a news impact on all of them in one hit to try and shake loose a few of the seats that had voted Tory since time immemorial in that area. Needless to say, as a photo op it simply made the Alliance leaders look like a bunch of middle class numpties and it was largely ignored.

Attenborough and his equally well-loved brother, documentary maker David, share a happy moment.

Attenborough and his equally well-loved younger brother, documentary maker David, share a happy moment.

It is why, though, late on a lovely summer’s afternoon, we came to be standing around in the Attenborough’s charming little pied-a-terre, and standing around very uncomfortably to boot, given that we were unquestionably in the presence of the great and good … a sprinkling of theatre people, some famous politicians, a clutch of local grandees … and as we (and by we, we mean a bunch of local campaigners who had been invited to turn up to rub shoulders with the glitterati who had descended upon us) were dressed almost universally in jeans, odd t-shirts covered in campaign buttons and sporting scraggly beards, we felt somewhat out of place.

Since that time we have become more familiar with the questionable joys of small talk, clinking crystal and nodding with glazed eyes while not really listening. At that stage, however, the art form was unknown to us. So we stood near the front door of what was undoubtedly the grandest room on the planet, exquisitely furnished, and shuffled uncertainly from foot to foot, muttering darkly to one another about how we’d rather be out canvassing for votes on council estates instead of all this wank.

Suddenly, though, Attenborough himself swept through the crowd, making a beeline towards us with a tray of champagnes weaving memorably past the obstacles presented by overweight councillors and gesticulating theatricals. I am reasonably sure there were black-tied waters in attendance too, but for some reason he was doing the honours himself. “You chaps look like you need a drink!” he grinned, and his charm and bonhomie was infectious. We took a glass each and smiled uncertainly. “Yell out if you want another!” he cried, disappearing back into the maw of 200 or so of his closest friends. It was a gentle and kindly act, and perfectly typical of the man, apparently.

Richard Attenborough was one of the most famous and talented actors of his generation, with a string of credits that sound like a potted history of 20th century British and Hollywood cinema. Stolid and honourable in “The Great Escape”. Menacing and psychotic in “Brighton Rock”. Avuncular and deluded in “Jurassic Park”. Pugnacious  in “The Angry Silence”. Utterly chilling in “10 Rillington Place”.

As a director, he made some of the more important movies of the era, reflecting his own progressive view of the world, such as the memorable filmed version of “Oh! What a lovely war!” and in the historically accurate and star-filled exposition of the disastrous military adventure of Operation Market Garden in “A Bridge Too Far”, tackling courage against the apartheid regime in South Africa in “Cry Freedom”, and, of course, with “Gandhi”, the triumphal conclusion of 20 years effort, for which he received two Oscars.

Less well-known is that during the Second World War, Lord Attenborough served with the Royal Air Force, and was seconded to the newly-formed RAF film unit at Pinewood Studios after initial pilot training. He appeared in the 1943 propaganda film Journey Together before qualifying as a sergeant and flying on missions all over Europe filming the outcome of Bomber Command sorties. He saw enough of the horrors of war to imbue “Oh! What a lovely war!” with a heart-rending immediacy, as seen so well in the closing sequence of the film, below. As we remember the 100th Anniversary of the First World War, we could do no better to show respect those who fell than to play the whole film on free-to-air TV in all the combattant countries. It is a theatrical tour de force, and deeply moving.

And when they ask us, how dangerous it was,

Oh, we’ll never tell them, no, we’ll never tell them:

We spent our pay in some cafe,

And fought wild women night and day,

‘Twas the cushiest job we ever had.

And when they ask us, and they’re certainly going to ask us,

The reason why we didn’t win the Croix de Guerre,

Oh, we’ll never tell them, oh, we’ll never tell them

There was a front, but damned if we knew where.

As an aside, and notably, Attenborough and his wife Sheila Sim, who though stricken with dementia survives him after nearly 70 years of marriage, also co-starred in the original West End production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in 1952, which has since become the world’s longest-running play.

David Owen

David Owen

Anyhow, the afternoon drew on towards evening and the champagne grew warm, and then leader of the SDP, Dr David Owen, who it must be reported had looked grumpy and perfectly bored the entire time – an impression he managed to give for his entire career, to our eyes – decided it was time to leave.

He bustled his way towards the door. Attenborough, seeing his star guest leaving, struggled through the crowd waving to get Owen’s attention, seemingly unsuccessfully. In the end, he called out plaintively “David! David! Call you, darling!” but in vain: he was talking to thin air. Owen was gone.

I caught Dickie’s eye, and he smiled and shrugged. He waggled his hand to indicate “Another glass of bubbles?” but we politely demurred. We were heading down the pub for a proper drink. He smiled again, good naturedly, as if in understanding, and turned back to tending to his other more civilised guests. Momentarily, I considered suggesting he join us for a hand of dominoes and a couple of pints, suspecting he might enjoy himself more, but I didn’t dare.

Richard Attenborough may have been a luvvie, my darling Reader, but he was a ferociously talented and genuinely big-hearted version of that uniquely British theatrical caricature.

And that’s why everyone loved him. A decent bloke: a life well lived. Our condolences to his family and innumerable friends.

Footnote

In British use, luvvie is a humorously depreciative term for an actor, especially one regarded as effusive or affected. The reference is to a stereotype of  thespians habitually addressing people as ‘lovey’. When the OED revised its entry for lovey in 2008, this sense, which had by then become established in the variant spelling luvvie, was made a separate entry. The earliest quotation found at the time was from author and actor Stephen Fry, writing in the Guardian in 1988:

Acting in a proper grown-up play, being a lovie, doing the West End, ‘shouting in the evenings’, as the late Patrick Troughton had it.

1988 Stephen Fry in Guardian 2 Apr., p. 17

The off-hand manner in which the term is used here suggests that the word may already have been somewhat established in this sense at the time.

fistAs you can see by clicking the link below, a Sydney Premier Division AFL player has risked spending 20 years in jail for sucker punching an opponent during a game.

Risked 20 years in jail?

Absolutely: that’s the new available sentence for a one punch “sucker punch” – also known as “coward’s punch” – that results in the death of the victim, whether that death results from the punch itself or from a head hitting the ground.

Watch the shocking vision here:

https://au.sports.yahoo.com/afl/news/article/-/24751903/afl-player-throws-sickening-sucker-punch/

As reported, the incident occurred during the UNSW/ES Bulldogs v Western Suburbs Magpies game on Saturday afternoon.

A Magpies player can be seen chasing his opponent before throwing a left hook that instantly knocks the Bulldogs player out.

The only way you can see the very obvious and incredibly stupid assault is by clicking the link above because vision was originally posted on YouTube as part of AFL Sydney’s ‘Match of the Week’ video before it was taken down.

The disgraceful act is gaining worldwide attention, with US website The Bleacher Report posting: “Australian Rules Football is a physical game, but there is no room in the sport for a cheap shot like this.”

The incident has also been condemned on social media:

It is not clear who the players involved are, but the victim is reportedly okay. We find it simply astonishing that any young man would engage in this behaviour after all the recent publicity over the dangers of this kind of behaviour.

One thing’s for sure, he should be kicked out of his club, and banned by the AFL for a very, very long time.

 

In a development that will shock Australians already anxious about the possibility of home-grown jihadists launching terror attacks on home soil, explosives similar to those used in the 7/7 London tube bombings and maps possibly targeting two NSW locations have been uncovered in a ­suburban home.

The media are reporting that one map ­contained the words “George St’’ and “uniform’’, believed to refer to a uniform shop on the Sydney street near Central Station.

The second map had references to “brothel’’, “bridge’’ and “grave’’, believed to be a site in Newcastle.

Australian Federal Police have joined the investigation.

Daniel Fing / Picture: Channel 9

Daniel Fing / Picture: Channel 9

Police discovered the maps while raiding property in Pullenvale, north of Brisbane, last week which was being rented by NSW man Daniel Fing, 30, who was taken into custody.

The haul of explosives included 22 litres of liquid explosive material TATP, (triacetone triperoxide peroxyacetone) which is favoured by ­terrorists for suicide attacks as it contains no nitrogen and is therefore undetectable by searches looking for nitrogen traces, and which was used in the ­London attacks because it can create a military grade explosive. Given the extreme instability of the material, the threat to the local area of accidental detonation, let alone any deliberate attempt to set off a terrorist explosion, must have been very significant.

“It’s an extreme explosive. It’s made from very common household ingredients,” explosives expert Dr James Blinco from the QUT School of Chemistry in Brisbane said.

Astonishingly – and especially given the likelihood of any old crazies and ratbags only loosely-connected to any formal terrorist group deciding to perform some unthinkable act to achieve their five minutes of infamy – the recipe for TATP is freely available on the Internet, including a YouTube video which demonstrates how to make the explosive.

We have one simple question to ask Googe, YouTube, and the rest.

Why?

Especially, as a quick Google search reveals, Mr Fing has previous, bombing a love-rivals car with the very same explosive back in 2006, a crime for which he was sentenced to four years in jail.

Surely we should be seeking to reduce the free availability of information about explosive manufacture, which no one could possibly need for legal purposes? We are normally very loathe to restrict or censor information, but this one would seem to be a no-brainer, especially in today’s troubled world.

We are also concerned about the fact that this haul seems to have been discovered by happy accident. The Brisbane Times reports that a real estate agent unwittingly stumbled across other suspicious items on Wednesday night, leading to officers discovering the explosives.

In 2011, Mr Fing survived a drive-by shooting when a gunman allegedly opened fire at his home in Belmont, NSW. The man charged with Mr Fing’s attempted murder was later found not guilty. Police have not said if they know the whereabouts of a woman who was living at the Pullenvale house with Mr Fing. He is currently facing charges dating from 2012 of wounding, assault, weapon and drug possession and is due to face a NSW court on August 27.

Sheesh.

richardWe have no idea if Cliff Richard is guilty of having assaulted a young man under the age of 16, 25 years ago, or at any other time. He vigorously denies the charge, but then so have others who have subsequently been found guilty. What is undoubtedly true is that the worldwide publicity effectively organised by the police before he has been charged with anything is deeply worrying to anyone who values due process and concepts of privacy.

Famed QC Geoffrey Robertson outlines his concerns in an article we link to below, and it is well worth reading for anyone who value concepts of liberty under the law.

As Robertson points out, “Police initially denied “leaking” the raid, but South Yorkshire Police finally confirmed yesterday afternoon that they had been “working with a media outlet” – presumably the BBC – about the investigation. They also claimed “a number of people” had come forward with more information after seeing coverage of the operation – which leads one to suspect that this was the improper purpose behind leaking the operation in the first place.  This alone calls for an independent inquiry.”

We all need to consider the implications of this very carefully. Imagine, if you will, that a police officer (or team of police officers) has a suspicion that someone – anyone, you – is guilty of having committed a serious crime. If the way this matter has been conducted is to be a template for the future, then they make no effort to contact you directly, even though they know where you are, but they do confirm their investigation to the inquisitive media and invite their co-operation.

Remember, this is without proof, or charges having been laid. It seems nothing more nor less than a deliberate tactic to stir up other people to come forward with allegations or evidence against you.

This type of “fishing” behaviour, which must inevitably result in great damage to a person’s reputation before it is even known if charges will be laid, is not how police investigations happen in a liberal democracy, and it strongly implies that some Police in the UK are either unaware of the appropriate way to behave, or no longer consider themselves restrained by concepts of liberty and privacy.

Remember, Richard may be guilty of absolutely nothing at all. But we don’t expect to see him hosting any Christmas specials anytime soon.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-way-the-police-have-treated-cliff-richard-is-completely-unacceptable-9672367.html

For the record,

In a statement on Thursday, Sir Cliff took appeared to take aim at the force’s decision, saying: “The police attended my apartment in Berkshire today without notice, except it would appear to the press”.

He added: “For many months I have been aware of allegations against me of historic impropriety which have been circulating online.

“The allegations are completely false. Up until now I have chosen not to dignify the false allegations with a response, as it would just give them more oxygen.”

He also said that he will “fully cooperate” with the police.

The televised raid was also criticised by Conservative MP and Former Deputy Commons Speaker Nigel Evans, himself previously cleared of sexual assault charges by a unanimous jury vote, and currently fighting furiously to retain his Parliamentary seat following a grassroots campaign to unseat him as an MP, who told ITV:

“It appears the press knew what was happening before he did and the world’s media were camped outside his doorstep. A press helicopter was up before the police even arrived — he is quite right to be angry about that. Questions have got to be answered.”

They have indeed.

img-thingHard as it may be to believe (doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?) it is three years today since the very first article was posted on Wellthisiswhatithink.

For the stattos amongst you, in that time we have published a total of 783 articles, (about one every 33 hours or so), and received 3,631 comments from just about every corner of the planet, the vast majority of them thoughtful, educated, pertinent, and largely kind and supportive. There has been very very little trolling or hate mail.

We are most grateful for the effort you make, Dear Reader, in “keeping the conversation going”.

Our busiest ever month was April this year when a post about a customer complaint to RyanAir went viral. Only three months in the three years have had under 2000 visits and in total, we have had 252,298 visits. No, wait, 252,299 … 252,300 … oh well, you get the picture. Average daily hits are running at 1,115 so far on 2014.

By far our biggest number of posts (550) have included the category “Popular Culture et al” in their header, followed by Political Musings (359), Humour (147) and Business Management (91). We hope you will agree that our stated goal when we started, to re-report things that interest us (and always the credit them, please note) and to make our own opinions known where we feel strongly about something, has been met.

We thoroughly enjoy writing the blog, which we see as influencing world debate by one small regular drop in an ocean of opinions, (but who knows which drop is the one that causes the dam to break, eh?), but most importantly we enjoy it as a way to reach out, engender discussion between people of good will, and provide a little harmless entertainment, too. If that’s how it works for you, we’re glad. That’s how it works for us.

Science fiction author Philip Dick said it all.

Dick also famously remarked "In the middle of an irrational Universe governed by an irrational mind stands rational man." Amen.

Dick also famously remarked “In the middle of an irrational Universe governed by an irrational mind stands rational man.” Amen.

“Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups … So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

Well, we would not claim to make up whole universes. Just the occasional thought, perhaps.

But we sure as hell don’t want to leave all the reality-making to the powerful, the cashed-up, and the privileged.

Especially for those facing oppression and blind authority, the massive explosion of the blogosphere is hope, democracy and liberty in action.

Long may it continue.

_76955875_downton

We wish we could claim that headline as our own, but we must credit the Daily Mirror, who amongst people – well, pretty much the whole world, actually – spotted a plastic water bottle nestling incongruously in the latest set of publicity shots for the iconic British soap-opera-cum-drama.

As plastic water bottles don’t come along for another 60 years or so after the supposed era of the show, the mistake has been gleefully picked up on by the worldwide media. Well, it’s either a silly mistake, or it’s the best possible little publicity ploy they ever dreamed up.

Anyway. “Oh joy of snobbish, asparagus-fork-waving joys. Downton Abbey is back,” said the Daily Mail’s Jan Moir. “At first look, the fifth series appears to be just as glorious and gloriously silly as ever.”

The Times’s Alex Spence says viewers can expect the latest series to be “less gloomy” than the last, which featured a death, rape and the aftermath of World War One, adding: “The series premiere, screened for journalists in London yesterday, depicted a lighter, happier mood around the estate than during the last series.” That’s good news for the Wellthisiswhatithink household who were threatening rebellion the show had become so relentlessly gloomy. And let’s not forget there was a probable murder hinted at in the final episode, too.

“There are enough parties and drama to do the Roaring Twenties justice,” reckoned Express reviewer Elisa Roche. “The brilliant series opener will leave viewers dreaming of owning a luxurious wardrobe and a well-stocked pantry.”

Meanwhile, the Telegraph remembers Labour leader Ed Miliband’s quip that the Tory party reminded him of Downton Abbey’s “out-of-touch” aristocrats and says “It would appear the dislike is mutual.” Anita Singh wrote: “It opens in 1924, the year Ramsay MacDonald became prime minister [in Labour's first government], and the Earl of Grantham makes plain his feelings on the matter: ‘This government,’ he warns, ‘is committed to the destruction of people like us and everything we stand for.'” Well, goodness. It was bad enough when he was pissed off at Lloyd George.

michelle

“It is the rise of socialism that threatens to destroy the world’s favourite English country house for good,” agrees the Independent’s Adam Sherwin. But he adds that despite the foray into politics, life goes on as normal: “No opportunity for plot signalling is avoided – an early-hours house fire is inevitably used to expose who has tip-toed into the wrong bedroom.”

However, nearly all papers were most fascinated by the publicity shot of the Earl and his daughter, Lady Edith – played by Hugh Bonneville and Laura Carmichael. The Mirror takes the pun prize all round, describing it as a “real dampener”.

Anyway, be that as it may, we think the big news is that by the time Series 5 rolls onto our screens in January, Lady Mary is no longer mournfully turning down every suitor and is right back in the dating game. Good news. The ineffably beautiful Michelle Dockery would be worth watching reading the phone book in our quietly besotted view. Seeing her trip the light fantastic with a string of handsome beaus will be quite charming.

Apparently Ms Dockery is not at all posh in real life, indeed she’s an Essex girl originally and currently lives in the East End of London, and likes nothing better than a quick pint in her local pub to relax. Really, who knew? Our type of gal, dammit.

As always, to enjoy our huge list of bloopers, cock ups and downright F*** Ups from the world of media and advertising (amongst other things) just pop “F*** Up” in the Search box top left on this page, and press Enter.

dislikeOne of the biggest and most persistent criticisms of Facebook that you hear in people’s grumbles is that it has morphed from being a social networking site into nothing more than a mechanism to deliver you ads and sponsored PR content.

In a way, that’s hardly Facebook’s fault. It is, to its users, a “free” service, after all. So the business model demands that they sell ads.

Of course, as any good marketeer will explain, there is an unwritten compact between the advertisers and the advertised to that we ignore at our marketing peril.

Too much advertising, or too badly targeted, or too repetitive, and the great unwashed masses start turning away from the advertiser or advertisers who are pestering them to the point of distraction. You see the same effect with TV advertising. You’re watching a favourite movie, and the same advertiser pops up in every ad break, playing you the self-same message time after time after time.

Sure, the advertiser is getting their desired “reach and frequency figures”, but they are also very likely having afacebook-fail net negative effect on their market. How much advertising is enough is a much more complex discussion than the simple sheets of “Xs in boxes” that advertisers get from their media buying companies, whose skill set is generally focused on, well, buying more and more media. That’s how they make their money, after all.

Unfortunately, the way the website is set up now is making it increasingly user-unfriendly and sometimes downright annoying.

In case you doubt such a harsh judgement, read how Wired correspondent Mat Honan “liked” everything he saw on Facebook for two days. Here’s what it did to him.

It’s a great article – very informative and enjoyable. Enjoy.

Oh, and if you want to avoid a similar fate, there’s a simple solution – stop hitting that damn LIKE button!

Article begins:

There’s this great Andy Warhol quote you’ve probably seen before: “I think everybody should like everybody.” You can buy posters and plates with pictures of Warhol, looking like the cover of a Belle & Sebastian album, with that phrase plastered across his face in Helvetica. But the full quote, taken from a 1963 interview in Art News, is a great description of how we interact on social media today.

Warhol: Someone said that Brecht wanted everybody to think alike. I want everybody to think alike. But Brecht wanted to do it through Communism, in a way. Russia is doing it under government. It’s happening here all by itself without being under a strict government; so if it’s working without trying, why can’t it work without being Communist? Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we’re getting more and more that way.
I think everybody should be a machine. I think everybody should like everybody.
Art News: Is that what Pop Art is all about?
Warhol: Yes. It’s liking things.
Art News: And liking things is like being a machine?
Warhol: Yes, because you do the same thing every time. You do it over and over again.

The like and the favorite are the new metrics of success—very literally. Not only are they ego-feeders for the stuff we put online as individuals, but advertisers track their campaigns on Facebook by how often they are liked. A recent New York Times story on a krill oil ad campaign lays bare how much the like matters to advertisers. Liking is an economic act.

I like everything. Or at least I did, for 48 hours. Literally everything Facebook sent my way, I liked—even if I hated it. I decided to embark on a campaign of conscious liking, to see how it would affect what Facebook showed me. I know this sounds like a stunt (and it was) but it was also genuinely just an open-ended experiment. I wasn’t sure how long I’d keep it up (48 hours was all I could stand) or what I’d learn (possibly nothing.)

See, Facebook uses algorithms to decide what shows up in your feed. It isn’t just a parade of sequential updates from your friends and the things you’ve expressed an interest in. In 2014 the News Feed is a highly-curated presentation, delivered to you by a complicated formula based on the actions you take on the site, and across the web. I wanted to see how my Facebook experience would change if I constantly rewarded the robots making these decisions for me, if I continually said, “good job, robot, I like this.” I also decided I’d only do this on Facebook itself—trying to hit every Like button I came across on the open web would just be too daunting. But even when I kept the experiment to the site itself, the results were dramatic.

THERE IS A VERY SPECIFIC FORM OF FACEBOOK MESSAGING, DESIGNED TO GET YOU TO INTERACT. AND IF YOU TAKE THE BAIT, YOU’LL BE SHOWN IT AD NAUSEAM.

The first thing I liked was Living Social — my friend Jay had liked it before me and it was sitting at the top of my feed. I liked two more updates from friends. So far, so good. But the fourth thing I encountered was something I didn’t really like. I mean, I don’t truly like Living Social either, whatever the hell that is, but who cares. But this fourth thing was something I sort of actively disliked. A bad joke — or at least a dumb one. Oh well. I liked it anyway.

One thing I had to decide right away was what to do about the related items that appear after you’ve liked something. Let’s say you like a story about cows that you see on Modern Farmer. Facebook will immediately present you with four more options to like things below that cow story, “relateds” in Facebook parlance. Probably more stories about cows or agriculture.

Relateds quickly became a problem, because as soon as you like one, Facebook replaces it with another. So as soon as I liked the four relateds below a story, it immediately gave me four more. And then four more. And then four more. And then four more. I quickly realized I’d be stuck in a related loop for eternity if I kept this up. So I settled on a new rule: I would like the first four relateds Facebook shows me, but no more.

Sometimes, liking is counterintuitive. My friend Hillary posted a picture of her toddler Pearl, with bruises on her face. It was titled “Pearl vs. the concrete.” I didn’t like it at all! It was sad. Normally, it would be the kind of News Feed item that would compel me to leave a comment, instead of hitting the little thumbs up button. Oh well. Like. The only time I declined to like something was when a friend posted about the death of a relative. I just had a death in my family last week. It was a bridge I wasn’t going to cross.

But there was still plenty more to like. I liked one of my cousin’s updates, which he had re-shared from Joe Kennedy, and was subsequently beseiged with Kennedys to like (plus a Clinton and a Shriver). I liked Hootsuite. I liked The New York Times, I liked Coupon Clipinista. I liked something from a friend I haven’t spoken to in 20 years—something about her kid, camp and a snake. I liked Amazon. I liked fucking Kohl’s. I liked Kohl’s for you.

My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time. After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages.

Likewise, content mills rose to the top. Nearly my entire feed was given over to Upworthy and the Huffington Post. As I went to bed that first night and scrolled through my News Feed, the updates I saw were (in order): Huffington Post, Upworthy, Huffington Post, Upworthy, a Levi’s ad, Space.com, Huffington Post, Upworthy, The Verge, Huffington Post, Space.com, Upworthy, Space.com.

Also, as I went to bed, I remember thinking “Ah, crap. I have to like something about Gaza,” as I hit the Like button on a post with a pro-Israel message.

By the next morning, the items in my News Feed had moved very, very far to the right. I’m offered the chance to like the 2nd Amendment and some sort of anti-immigrant page. I like them both. I like Ted Cruz. I like Rick Perry. The Conservative Tribune comes up again, and again, and again in my News Feed. I get to learn its very particular syntax. Usually it went something like this:

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Sound familiar?


A sentence recounting some controversial news. Good!

A sentence explaining why this is good.

A call to action, often ending with a question?

Once I see this pattern, I start noticing it everywhere. SF Gate, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s web presence, uses a similar tactic.

It is a very specific form of Facebook messaging, designed to get you to interact. And if you take the bait, you’ll be shown it ad nauseam.

I was also struck by how different my feeds were on mobile and the desktop, even when viewed at the same time. By the end of day one, I noticed that on mobile my feed was almost completely devoid of human content. I was only presented with the chance to like stories from various websites, and various other ads.

Yet on the desktop — while it’s still mostly branded content — I continue to see things from my friends. On that little bitty screen, where real-estate is so valuable, Facebook’s robots decided that the way to keep my attention is by hiding the people and only showing me the stuff that other machines have pumped out. Weird.

As day one rolled into day two, I began dreading going to Facebook. It had become a temple of provocation. Just as my News Feed had drifted further and further right, so too did it drift further and further left. Rachel Maddow, Raw Story, Mother Jones, Daily Kos and all sort of other leftie stuff was interspersed with items that are so far to the right I’m nearly afraid to like them for fear of ending up on some sort of watch list.

STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND LOOK AT THIS BABY THAT LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE JAY-Z.

This is a problem much bigger than Facebook. It reminded me of what can go wrong in society, and why we now often talk at each other instead of to each other. We set up our political and social filter bubbles and they reinforce themselves—the things we read and watch have become hyper-niche and cater to our specific interests. We go down rabbit holes of special interests until we’re lost in the queen’s garden, cursing everyone above ground.

But maybe worse than the fractious political tones my feed took on was how deeply stupid it became. I’m given the chance to like a Buzzfeed post of some guy dancing, and another that asks Which Titanic Character Are You? A third Buzzfeed post informs me that “Katy Perry’s Backup Dancer is the Mancandy You Deserve.” According to New York magazine, I am “officially old” because Malia Obama went to Lollapalooza (like!) and CNN tells me “Husband Explores His Man-ternal Instincts” alongside a photo of a shirtless man cupping his nipples. A cloud that looks like a penis. Stop what you’re doing and look at this baby that looks exactly like Jay-Z. My feed was showing almost only the worst kind of tripe that all of us in the media are complicit in churning out yet should also be deeply ashamed of. Sensational garbage. I liked it all.

Screen Shot

Annoying for you. Even more annoying for everyone else.

While I expected that what I saw might change, what I never expected was the impact my behaviuor would have on my friends’ feeds. I kept thinking Facebook would rate-limit me, but instead it grew increasingly ravenous. My feed become a cavalcade of brands and politics and as I interacted with them, Facebook dutifully reported this to all my friends and followers.

That first night, a small little circle with a dog’s head popped up in the corner of my phone. A chat head, from Facebook’s Messenger software! The dog turned out to be my old WIRED editor, John Bradley. “Have you been hacked,” he wanted to know. The next morning, my friend Helena sent me a message. “My fb feed is literally full of articles you like, it’s kind of funny,” she says. “No friend stuff, just Honan likes.” I replied with a thumbs up. This continued throughout the experiment. When I posted a status update to Facebook just saying “I like you,” I heard from numerous people that my weirdo activity had been overrunning their feeds. “My newsfeed is 70 percent things Mat has liked,” noted my pal Heather. Eventually, I would hear from someone who worked at Facebook, who had noticed my activity and wanted to connect me with the company’s PR department.

But I’d already put a stop to it by then anyway, because it was just too awful. I tried counting how much stuff I’d liked by looking in my activity log, but it was too overwhelming. I’d added more than a thousand things to my Likes page—most of which were loathsome or at best banal.

By liking everything, I turned Facebook into a place where there was nothing I liked. To be honest, I really didn’t like it. I didn’t like what I had done.

We’re not absolutely sure if this photo is genuine.

It might be a clever photoshopped viral meme designed to make a point ahead of the Scottish independence poll. Or it might just be the perfect example of Rule #1 of outdoor advertising – see your medium before you stick the ad to the train, and don’t put any of it over (a) doors that move (b) big sticky-outey things that make it impossible to read your ad.

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Either way, very funny.

For more glorious F*** Ups in advertising, packaging, social media et al just put “F*** Up” in the search box top left of this page and hit enter …

flagsMeanwhile, based on the polls, if you are remotely interested in the politics of the thing, it is still looking likely that Scotland won’t vote to become an independent country, with the “yes” side of the poll declining recently, although fervent yes campaigners point to the still large number of undecideds and the fact that a larger percentage of women seem undecided in particular.

Our guess – and we’re usually right – is that the referendum will fail, but more narrowly than the current polls indicate. Still, with a month to go, there is still time for momentum to build either way as people focus more and more on the actual event.

A wrap of the movements of the polls can be found here. In reading polls, psephologists agree that what really matters is the overall look of the trends, and the averaging of them. On that basis, it should be noted that since this poll tracker began, the “yes” side of the argument has only been in the majority, very temporarily, twice.

(With thanks to Dickie Ember for forwarding us the Alex Salmond train photo.)