Friday, 26 September 2014

Footsore And Free Of Fancy

Have you ever had one of those days?

I had a strange one while on holiday on a very hot Mediterranean island .... On the first day I put on my favourite holiday sandals of many seasons .... They were German and practically indestructible, or so I thought. I walked to the main strip, when suddenly I felt my heel dragging. I looked down expecting that I had snagged something, only to find to my surprise that the heel had simply crumbled away and was hanging by a thread.

Realising that the game was afoot so to speak, I ripped off the offending heel and limped on. Two minutes later the same sensation on the other foot, and yep, you guessed it, the other heel had done the same thing. That by the way is German efficiency for you, the heels degrade at the same speed. None of that one shoe fine, one worn, for the Germans.

Hot Footing It Across Town Had A Meaning For Me .... Footsore And Free Of Fancy

Now in dire straits, with both feet on bare concrete I turned in to the nearest tourist store and purchased some plastic replacements for the princely sum of 8 Euro's and 30 Cents.  'A week', that's all I hoped for..... But no, just one measly hour later, the right sandal just fell apart. I was now in bare feet again on baking side walks. I staggered back to the store of purchase, but with no suitable replacements, I took my refund and hot footed it (literally) down the strip, this ordeal included crossing a metal bridge barefooted ..... twice (boy was that an experience!), until I found another store with alternative sandals.

All in all a morning that both I and my footsore feet won't forget in a hurry.

Tourist Scams

Edinburgh has of course a lot more to offer the visitor than just the Festivals of August. Apart from the architecture and historical attractions, it even has a Disney link via the 1961 movie 'Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog'. The story of which is that in 1865, an old Scottish Crofter visits Edinburgh with his little a Skye Terrier, 'Bobby', but sadly the shepherd dies.
John Gray - Supposed Master of 'Greyfriars Bobby'

His little dog remained faithful to his old master, sleeping on his grave  ..... according to legend he supposedly spent the next 14 years guarding the grave of his master until he died himself on 14 January 1872. Also according to the legend, when the faithful hound died the good burghers of Edinburgh put up a statue of 'Bobby' on a drinking fountain outside the church graveyard, and that its there to this day even now.

Tourists Are Still Attracted To Bobby's Statue
In the Disney version of the tale a lot of school children stopped the caretaker from having Bobby evicted from the graveyard .... all together now ah ... well maybe not. Disney followed this up with a two part TV special about the legend of Bobby. There has since been a remake of the movie in 2005, with its own version of the tale. 

Greyfriars Bobby's Grave (Presumably Bobby mark II)

Of course the legend has been challenged as just another shaggy dog tale. One historian suggested that in fact, Bobby would go out hunting rats in the church yard and was also kept well fed by the locals. He even suggested that there were in fact two dogs involved, with those before 1867, differing in contemporary drawings and paintings and being a rather ugly dog, with those depicted in later paintings, who looked just like the statue on the drinking fountain. His claims are backed up by examination of the minutes of meetings at Edinburgh City Council for that time, which suggest that the truth about there being a Bobby mark I and Bobby mark II, was well known at the time.

Seemingly, there never was a crofter or shepherd. The original Bobby was a local stray mongrel which had originally hung around the grounds of the George Heriot's Hospital, but was considered a nuisance there, so the hospital gardener dumped him in the grounds of the local Greyfriars Kirk, where he was 'adopted' by James Brown, curator of the graveyard. Mr Brown started spinning the tale of the shepherd and his faithful dog to visitors of the church, apparently to generate some monetary tips .... So when the first 'Bobby' died, he simply bought another 'Bobby' (without making any effort to match the dogs looks), to carry on earning the gratuities. 

However even by then, the legend was attracting so many tourists to the Scottish capital, that councillors chose to ignore what was effectively a confidence scam. The graves in the photographs accompanying this post can still be seen in the Kirk graveyard, the entrance to which is a but a few yards from the famous statue and tourist site.

Nothing much changes the Sun, and 150 yrs later I can't help noting that all the 'William Wallace' tat that the tourist shops sell, is basically Mel Gibson, which is another sort of scam when you think about it. 

William Wallace As Mel Gibson

Observations From Foreign Climes

Cultural Invasions : The British tourists refusal to countenance eating 'foreign food's' while visiting those countries, is slowly changing those same lands. For instance vast chunks of the Mediterranean hinterlands, Islands and the Coastal Strips, are now effectively colonised by the working class British holiday maker.

In all but the most select of resorts or upper-class hotel areas, every second bar and restaurant has 'fish and chip's on the chalk board menus, and even more offer 'All Day British Breakfasts' with 'English Bacon' (as opposed to the Danish bacon 'luxury' variety item which was the case 30 years ago). The rest of the food being offered is equally predictable ... Burgers and Pizza etc, but also now increasingly 'Chinese Buffets' and 'British Curry' houses are springing up.

Of course this all stems from the fact noted earlier, that the British working class generally practice food conservatism (See the arrival of Italian food in the 1960's UK), which means for example that Paella is hardly ever tried in Spain, or Moussaka in Greece. So even though many Brits will eat 'an Indian or a Chinkie' while in Europe, all actual continental food is avoided. I will admit at this point, that I personally don't consider aubergines a foodstuff, full stop, and certainly not as an acceptable vegetable to accompany a meal!!

Another 30 or 40 years of this, and we may have left a permanent mark on many of these societies. I was struck by this fact, not just because of the 'British food' issue (which occurred to me while I was trying to find something different on a Mediterranean Island resort - still manageable, but either with a bit of effort, or with a price premium to pay), but also by the ubiquitous presence and influence of Sky Sports TV, which is almost a must for many bars. This has for example introduced the English term 'man of the match' to the Spanish main written press (I read it in a Spanish sports report). I am sure that there must be some concerns in many of these countries (to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon tourist penetration).

The British Are The Cultural Borg Of Europe

However we British holiday in such vast numbers in the Mediterranean, Aegean and increasingly the Black Sea, albeit generally in the lower end of the tourist market, that all the countries we visit, have to either adapt to our food fads and TV requirements in the resorts, or risk losing the mass tourist trade. So while they may detest our lack of manners, or our not feigning any interest in their languages and cultures, they have still been culturally assimilated to some degree by providing for our needs.

For instance I have noted there has also been an increasing number of non British girls appearing with body tattoos. This was not a native trend in southern Europe until very recently, but with virtually all British girls under 30 (and many much older ladies as well), seemingly sporting them these days, it seems that many daring (or daft) local girls have now picked up the fashion from them, and so Spaniards, and Italians as well as Germans and Nordic girls also displayed them.

Whether this can simply be seen as a part of globalisation, or just a peculiarity of British spending power combining with their innate resistance to 'European ways', I can't say.

But the other wandering European tourists such as the Scandinavians, Germans or the Dutch have had no such impact on the Mediterranean area. There are no resorts that I have come across in Europe where the Brits have to bend to another's ways ..... so for example on the recent resort I was on there was also a strong local food presence but only in the 'Old Town' (a small taxi ride away), where historic buildings added the premium value required for those establishments to compete with the 'pub' in the lower end tourist hotel areas where the Brits predominate. There were Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians in the area, but largely they were quiet, or went to the 'old town' .... but even there it was British cultural expectations that dominated.
I of course found a Swedish restaurant, where the 50 or so Swedes, Norwegians and Danes ate and danced to Swedish cabaret most nights, and after an 'Old Town' night, generally made that my main point of call for food ... Viva ABBA is all I can say, or would have said, but guess what? Yes the Nordics sing and dance much of the time in English ('Delilah' by Tom Jones is a particular favourite it seems), or many English songs in Swedish ( 'Delilah' by Tom Jones is still a popular song when sung in Swedish) ..... So it seems we did our cultural job on Scandinavia in the 1960's.

On a side note, foreign languages make for different beats to accommodate the requirements of the language cadence, so it can be entertaining to hear 'classics' in another language, which is maybe why despite it being an entirely Nordic audience (bar me), more than half the songs were in English ... Kinda a ghost in the machine so to speak.

Anyway getting back to topic,  we may have lost our physical empire, but our cultural conquests continue unimpeded. We are like the Borg ... "Resistance Is Futile. You Will Be Assimilated!"

Cry Devo .... Max

Well the votes were counted, and either there was a brink stepped away from, or a big chance lost ..... depends on your point of view .....

Lost Chance Or Playing Safe?

Now we will see a scrabble to make 'Devo Max', plus the retention of the 'Danegeld', aka known as the 'Barnet Formula' money (which is between £1,600 or £2,000 per annum, per person, extra public spending in Scotland than in the rest of the UK), be made palatable to the rest of the UK, after the three main UK parties just offered it without bothering to ask the rest of us ~ that's Democracy UK style for you.

Cats out the bag though, and we want an English Only Parliament (not the Lib Lab dominated regional governments that Labour and the Liberals are trying to foist on the English again) .... so we shall see what we shall see.

Friday, 19 September 2014

A Sticky Situation

Just like buses, you wait all day for a summer madness story, and then three come along at once ....

The E45 road near Sunne in West Sweden was the scene of an unusual accident when the road became impassable following a strange accident in July 2014.

A lorry's back-doors flew open and the load poured on to the road .... police had to hose down and clear 330 feet (100 metres) of roadway.

The Road To Tosseberger Was A Sticky Patch

And the cause of this was a vast amount of preserved fruit, known as pancake jam in Sweden. Now even I have to admit, that's an unusual traffic jam ..... sorry!

But strangely, this only a week or so after a mash up on a road in A64 near Malton, in Yorkshire when a lorry accidentally shed its load of ..... mash potatoes, at about 3.30pm on the 21st of June 2014.

One witness said: ‘It was like a sea of white. I was about a mile away from where it happened but I could still see it."

Mashed Potato ..... like a sea of white"

North Yorkshire Police closed the road for several hours after the incident, but nobody was injured in the incident ..... but unbelievably, this was actually the second potato spillage in the UK that month, there was another similar spillage at  Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, when a lorry spilled its load of mashed potato that was due to be used in animal feed.

The road was closed for three hours, while rescue workers scraped the potato from the road and hosed it down. 

Laughter Is The Best Medicine

The increasing hard Islamification of Turkey continues apace, as the Islamically 'conservative' ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), take an ever deeper grip on Turkey. The Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc recently declared that women shouldn't laugh in public as he made an anti-feminist speech.

He was railing against "moral corruption" in Turkey, but apparently its all down to the loose morals of women, particularly in the area of Turkey that is dominated by Constantinople, err sorry Istanbul, where the population are often descendants of westerners who settled there in Byzantine times, and who later converted to Islam after the Turks finally defeated the Greeks in 1453, those who didn't convert, faced ISIS like hard times.    

"A man should be moral but women should be moral as well, they should know what is decent and what is not decent,"  he declared, but then rounded on womankind who "... should not laugh loudly in front of all the world and should preserve her decency at all times."

He then attacked Turkish TV soap operas, and criticised the 'use of cars and mobile phones', which he claimed encouraged women to spend hours on the phone swapping recipes .... this should be ringing alarm bells, because its what Saudi clerics also preach about women ... no cars, no independence. However he did mention in his speech that Turkish men shouldn't become womanisers .... well that's a balanced argument then.   

Remember, they are already trying to ban alcohol via restrictions, and free speech is also under threat, but still this is the Islamic party that thinks that they should be allowed to join the European Union, as they are as democratic and respecting of women's rights as Denmark .... well perhaps in a 100 years, if Denmark and the rest of the continent is overwhelmed by immigration from Muslim lands ... but if not, then never.

#kahkaha Laughter ...

In response many women have launched a laugh back campaign under the hashtags #kahkaha (laughter), #direnkahkaha (resist laughter), and #direnkadin (resist woman). These are accompanied by pictures of them laughing .... Among the many images posted were the wife of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ..... laughing under her head scarf.

Two Dead Quangos

What bloody use are the Advertising Standards Authority and its stupid twin brother Ofcom? I ask because there have been a series of ridiculous judgements by these two organisation, who are quite obviously scratching around for reasons to exist.

The Advertising Standards Authority has recently banned a Jaguar TV commercial which shows two F-Type convertible sport cars driving down a closed road. It took the view that two racing cars .... well, er, 'Glorified Speed'.

And Ofcom, well they are once again having a go at the Top Gear TV show .... because the show featured Jeremy Clarkson et al, looking at a bridge they had built on the River Kwai as a local man walked across it. Clarkson remarked: "That is a proud moment. But there's a slope on it." ....  to which co-star Richard Hammond replied: "You're right. It's definitely higher on that side." .... however innocent this may seem, this it appears was both a truth, and a racial insult. Although I had to have the racial insult explained, apparently, 'a slope', can refer to Asians with slanted eyes.

Quangos Burning

Now I am not here to defend either Jaguar or Top Gear - although it seems that the BBC is trying to destroy its most popular younger male orientated TV show .... no doubt to be replaced with more episodes of EastEnders ... That'll bring in more women at least.

No, it was the basis of these actions that makes me sure that these two organisations are both past their useful life. Top Gear has a UK viewing figure of around Five Million while the Jag advert, if shown during a popular sports game, could well be seen by at least 8 to 10 million.

The number of complaints against Top Gear was two, I'll repeat that, just 2 complaints out of 5 million viewers .... so 0.000004 of the viewers complained. Statistically, that means that no one was offended.

Similarly, the number of complaints against the Jaguar Advert was was two, and I'll repeat that as well, just 2 complaints out of 5 million .... so again the best justification was 0.000004 of the viewers complained. Again, statistically, that means that no one was offended.

So effectively, what we can watch, what we can say or do is circumscribed by just two people (or maybe four, but I suspect that they may be the same two people). Now surely to trigger any actions, these two organisations must get a statistically significant number of complaints before they can act?

How can they act so harshly when just two complaints come in? To put this in perspective, the most complained about TV show in the UK this year was 'Big Brother' with 965 complaints, but incredibly popular, so ....? Its still on air, and no action taken. Even the drama 'Ripper St' attracted 88 complaints, but remained on air untouched by action. The Tom Cruise movie 'Jack Reacher' had 26 complaints .... but nothing. So why do two complaints cause warnings and removals for other programmes?

If their modus of action, is that any complaint is sufficient to act, then they are nothing more than censors, acting arbitrarily. As far as I can tell, there is no way to complain about their decisions, or the fact that they are acting unreasonably, in responding to single figure complaints.

In other words, just another couple of Quangos, who are acting like unelected governments, and who are now just laws unto themselves.     

The Dream That Was Once Argentina

Its interesting in a schadenfreude kinda way to watch as Argentina blows up economically again .... I mean I have no sympathy for them as a nation. In between bouts of dictatorship, they have usually interspersed populist governments who whip up bouts of anti British fervour in order to distract a rather stupid population from the economic woes that that they are facing.

El Presidenti Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is no exception to this, and in fact has rather modelled herself on the Hugo Chavez model of government, only with out the vast oil reserves that he had to lessen the damage of his policies by bribing the poor ..... So after the previous debt default of 2001-02, we can now add another as they have failed to pay the 'Vulture Bond' holders in the US who won a judgement there, to force Argentina for old bonds to be paid in full. Technically this means that Argentina is in default again ..... which as they are already locked out of the international money markets means they will merely remain so for longer.

So although the Kirchner government is in denial "We're not going to default, they'll have to invent a new term to define what's happening" she has proclaimed ... to deafening silence. But except for a few vague promises from the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) of support from the group, in her battle against the "vulture funds" little more is on offer. They also suggested that the organisation's new 'Development Bank' could well offer her an economic lifeline .... or maybe not. We shall see.

In the meantime interest rates on corporate debt is likely to increase and also the new default may spur some capital outflows, thus exacerbating an already bad shortage of hard currency, and so put renewed pressure on foreign exchange reserves and the almighty peso.

I say 'Almighty Peso, because there was a time when the idea that Argentina wasn't going to flourish, and the Argentine Peso wouldn't rival the US dollar in the Americas, would have been laughable. Argentina had what was referred to as 'Argentina’s Belle Époque', a period before the outbreak of the first world war, when the country claimed to be the world’s true land of opportunity.

Argentina Belle Epoch - They Weren't Even Anti-British Then - see the Union Jacks in Top Left Picture.

In the 43 years leading up to 1914, its GDP grew at an annual rate of 6%, which made it the fastest growing economy in the world for that period, outstripping even the USA. European immigrants flocked to find work in the agricultural sector, which was propelling Argentina’s expansion.

In 1914 half of Buenos Aires’s population was foreign-born, and the country ranked among the ten richest in the world. Whilst it still ranked below Australia, Britain and the United States etc, its economy was ranked above France, Germany and Italy. It's income per head was 92% of the average of 16 rich economies, and it looked down its nose at its South American neighbours. By comparison Brazil’s population was less than a quarter as well-off, and the rest where nowhere, and even at the end of this epoch in 1928, there were more cars in Argentina than in France, and more telephone lines than in Japan.

However this was its zenith, and although it has had periods of growth in the past 100 years, including a commodity boom around soya over the past decade, these economic bursts have only allowed Argentinians to remain wealthier than some of their neighbours. But its position as one of the world’s most vibrant economies is an almost forgotten memory. For example its income per head, is now just 43% of the level of those same 16 rich economies, and it trails Chile and Uruguay, and possibly even Columbia in the Southern Americas.

Argentina's GDP Per Person Going The Wrong Way ......

A lot of this can be laid at the feet of its corrupt or inept politicians, because if the Argentina government in the pre-WWI era led to economic boom, its history since the 1920's has indicated what happens when the politics goes wrong .... Firstly there has been a succession of military coups (First in 1930; followed swiftly and regularly by others in 1943, 1955, 1962, 1966, and 1976) .... this seems to have set the rot, because although the election of 1989, marked the first time in more than 60 years that a civilian president had handed power to an elected civilian successor, it hasn't stopped the inexorable decline into bad debt, boom and bust (with more bad debt).

Ah, but there was 'once a dream that was Argentina. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish... it was so fragile'.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Wiping The Smug Smile From A Politicians Face

Alex Salmond is a typical politician in that he will do anything to get attention ... he knows that the political tide is still rising and that devolved government has given him a platform that he almost can't fail from .... if not this time then next time, but like all the chancers who are in politics he seeks any publicity. 

So when the chance came to have cold water poured over his head, instead of over his arguments, he naturally grabbed it ... although ostensibly it was for a worthy cause, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which is an activity involving dumping a bucket of ice water on someone's head to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research.

So as hopefully this may well be the last time this blog bothers to deal with this man here's the smile being wiped from his face for the first time this week.

Wiping The Smug Smile From A Politicians Face

... something a lot us would like to do to a lot of politicians.

Scottish Independence - Unanswered Questions

So here we are, less than a week away from the Scottish Independence vote .... so what are the questions the voters should wrestle with?

Well here's a few that would be on my mind if I still lived in Scotland:

Currency: If not the £Pound Sterling (GBP), then what? A well explored question, but hardly definitively answered by Alex Salmond who has simply waffled on about:

(a) 'We are entitled to keep the Pound.'
(b) 'They can't stop us using it.'
(c) 'We will cry, and not pay our debts if they stop us using it.'
(d) 'Maybe we can use the Pound like the Panamanians use the US dollar?'
(e) 'Using the Pound doesn't make us a colony!'

Politics: What sort of politics would an independent Scotland be going to have? The Scottish Conservative party will simply be wiped out, or totally irrelevant - even though they attract about 14% of the devolved election vote (SNP 45%, Labour 32%, Libs 8%), and up to 17% of the Westminster election vote (SNP 20%, Labour 45%, Libs 19%). Which just leaves Scotland with three left leaning parties .... a very strange type of politics, where the Scottish Labour Party may be the least left-wing party?

European Union: Someone is going to have to apply to enter the EU, and apparently it won't be the rump UK (which is a pity as it would solve the problem of the EU referendum, because we would never vote to join again), but that means that even if 'fast-tracked', for at least 18 months Scotland would be outside the EU and not guaranteed to be allowed in ..... something it really needs to stay solvent (EU subsidies to replace lost UK funds).

Borders: If Scotland is outside the EU, then England has to put up border crossings and start applying immigration controls .... it has no choice, that's EU law. This also means that there will no free movement of goods and money between Scotland and the EU (including the rump UK).  However even if the SNP manage to get some sort of waiver on the border issue, while awaiting entry into the EU on some sort of fast track, what many fail to realise is that Scotland's exit from the Union, would make the likelihood of rump UK leaving the EU itself in a referendum, all the more likely, thus reintroducing the questions of borders again with Scotland in the EU and rump UK now out.

Passports: What passport will Scots now use? They can't carry on using UK/British passports, so will need a new one issuing immediately, before the Scots can travel anywhere. Then the questions arise, who qualifies for these passports? Anyone living in Scotland on a certain day, (including Poles and English etc living there), or will there be racist policies to discriminate against non-Scottish residents and only give them to those 'born in Scotland' .... but then what about those Scots living in England, or their children? This is one of the most tricky of the unanswered questions, as the SNP have already *disenfranchised all Scots resident in England from the independence vote, but presumably can't do the same for passports?

*Of the 26-man Scotland football squad named for the Euro 2016 qualifier against Germany on the 7th of September, only four players are eligible to vote in the referendum ... ironically even Gordon Strachan, the Scotland manager doesn't qualify. There are estimated to be 830,000 Scots living in the rest of the UK who are not qualified to vote, and who will like the rest of the players, go from living in our country – Britain – to being a foreigner, a Scottish person in rump UK. This situation will equally apply to the 400,000 English living in Scotland ..... there is also whiff of borderline racism in the background to this debate, as an anti-english streak has always been inherent in Scottish society, and this has been stirred up again in the current campaigning.   

The Big Questions Not Answered

There are no doubt many more such questions, but these are enough to make me wonder about the anti-independence campaign led by Alistair Darling, because of these questions, only the Pound has been exploited .... dumb. Personally I think we are stronger together than apart, but eventually we will now split, because the SNP's deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon has already said that they will just keep asking until the Scottish public 'get it right' with another vote in five years time, and then again until they win.

Ah well, ultimately its up to the Scots, and only the Scots ... oh, and all the other residents of Scotland, but not the Scots living elsewhere, so we shall just have to wait and see. Lets hope that Mr Darling and his team don't later rue not questioning Mr Salmond, on the other issues outside of the pound.

Scottish Jig Speeds Up

With the vote on Scottish Independence very rapidly approaching, Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist party has already had rows with UK politicians, and the men from the ministries ... with claim and counter claim about the benefits, or costs that Scotland will incur or gain, if they vote for or against independence.

Essentially the SNP claim everyone in Scotland would be £1,000 better off each year, and the Westminster Parties have said they would only benefit by staying in the UK, and by £1,400 per annum.

Alex Salmond's Dance Of Political Expediency .....

Who knows the truth of these claims, certainly not me  .... both sides are making claims, but they are essentially dancing to the same political expediencies i.e. Saying whatever is needed to win the vote.

I won't even bother to wade through the claim and counter claim, but I will pick on another subject ..... Money management. On this, there are some irrefutable facts, which the Scottish people should really consider before that X goes onto the ballot paper.

I lived in Edinburgh for 5 or 6 years, and there were numerous wastes of tax payers money while I was there ...  but here's a few historical instances for consideration:

The Parliament Building: Scheduled to open in 2001, it finally did so in 2004, more than three years late, and with an estimated final cost of £414 million, many times higher than initial estimates of between £10m and £40m.

The Edinburgh Tram System: Construction began in June 2008 and the first tram ran on 31st May 2014, but on a system only half the original planned track length. The scheme was costed in 2003 at £375 million. In May 2008, when contracts were signed, this had ballooned to £521 million. However, once extra interest payments are factored in, the final cost is expected to top £1 billion, although officially it still stands as £764 million. The trams will run at an operating loss over the next 15 years and need an initial start-up loan of up to £3m and they will have to be subsidised by the formerly profitable bus service.

The Colony of Darien: Ironically of course the last time Scotland was independent it went bust through an imprudent colony scheme, at Darien in Panama. The colony they named 'Caledonia', and the town they called 'New Edinburgh', but the costs were enormous, as the colony had been funded by public subscription, with between a quarter and a half of the available wealth of Scotland invested into the scheme.

Within nine months of setting sail from Leith, most of the colonists were dead. A second fleet sailed in 1699, not knowing that the colony had already been attacked and burned to the ground by the Spanish, and abandoned by its few survivors, and so the Scots were bankrupt. Despite claims by nationalists, that somehow the English sabotaged the colony (as if England should help Scotland set up a rival colony), the truth was that it was a massively ill conceived idea for such a small and poor country on the northern edge of Europe. They then joined the Union with England and Wales, and the English Parliament bailed out the Scottish debts in return for the political union. Scotland thrived as part of the new British Empire with Glasgow becoming the second city of the Empire.

And my view of Scottish Independence? .... well I believe that the argument should be that:

'United we are strong, divided we are both weaker. No 'Devo Max', you don't try to bribe your partner to stay in a relationship, as it always ends in tears later on. So go or stay, its Scotland's choice, but the decision should be because that's what you want to do. But lets make the break clean, if break we must .... No shared currency. Independence is all or nothing.

What Rough Beast Slouches Towards Bethlehem

We are about to enter what can only be described as a 'Scots Week' of a different kind than that which happens every year in Blackpool .... Yes is the moment when 'destiny calls' (as Alex Salmond would say), or the British Isles is politically dead, which is what the Labour Party must fear. For make no mistake, the 'Devolution', which has led to this potentially epoch making moment was Labours bastard child .... one that was never meant to be born, or if it was, would be stillborn.

Labours Scottish grandees were so overtaken with the hubris of an almost unbroken series of decades of absolute power in Scotland, that they dismissed any fears of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), ever being in the position to take that power off them, as nonsense. When Tony Blair questioned them over this, they described the nationalists as wild eyed dreamers, or hairy wild-men from the highlands who would never be more than a fringe group.

There were warnings of course, the Scottish Labour MP Tam Dalyell for one. He had held the view in 1997 - that a devolved Scottish parliament would be the first step on the road to independence ... he was of course ignored by the grandees of the Scottish Labour party. Now he is entitled to say ‘I told you so’, certainly there will be no apologies from those now very quiet grandees. But of course the majority Labour party view was that a strong Scottish parliament within the UK, would see off the SNP as an electoral threat. The late Labour Party leader John Smith, said that devolution would represent the “settled will” of the Scottish people, and George Robertson, later defence secretary and secretary general of Nato, said it would “kill nationalism stone dead”.

Yet here we are less than 20 years after the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, and not only have the SNP solely ruled Scotland since 2007 (The Labour Party couldn't ever muster single party rule, from the beginning, they had to be in coalition with the Liberals) ... but on the18th of September 2014, the Referendum on Scottish Independence will take place, with pollsters saying that it could be too tight to call. This could well be the latest and most devastating legacy of Tony Blair's 'New Labour Party' .... the destruction of the political union that forms Great Britain.

The Arguments Are Pulling Voters Both Ways

Fittingly, if this happens, the Labour Party will probably never rule what's left of the rump UK on their own again after Scotland has gone, as they have never won the majority of English seats since the landslide 1945 elections, and will surely be blamed by very many for embarking on the unwanted political course that has led to this moment, without ever really understanding that it was political Russian roulette  ..... the gun fires just once and its all over.

So the SNP only ever have to win once, and its all over, broken never to be mended again .... they can and will come back to the Scottish people with referendums time, and time again, and sooner or later they will win. So now to quote the poet 'what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?'

Friday, 5 September 2014

Where We Are In The World

With all this discussion of NATO expenditure and the Russians sabre rattling, it suggests that we may all have to spend more on the defence of Europe .... So if military might is still the big stick that places a country in the world, then this picture illustrates whose got the biggest Cojones at the big table ....

Hey Big Spender .....

What's interesting is that even in these straightened times, the USA still spends what the next 12 nations  officially spend on defence. I say 'officially', as many suspect that China, and maybe Russia as well, spend more than they officially admit to, but those estimates are in this graphic.

Of course its what 'bang you get for your buck' that counts, so for instance Chinas dollar equivalent buys a lot more domestically, so they get a lot for arithmetically less, while the UK, with its plane-less aircraft carriers, gets comparatively less for more. It will be interesting to see these figures in ten years time, when, if all the economic projections are true, China will be the big boy on the block ....

Certainly, Japan is worrying, because its announced annual increases in military spending for both the last, and next few years, and will overtake France in a few years time.

Cicada 3301 - Epiphany Is Upon You

'Cicada 3301' is the web puzzle that first appeared three years ago. The Dark Net treasure trail which runs fiendishly difficult (or stupidly dense) clues that lead to an unknown treasure that only winners ever find out about. Speculation is that its recruitment test by a major western intelligence agency, but no winner has ever talked. For those interested, this years opening clue was a picture

"Epiphany is upon you"

with the words "Hello. Epiphany is upon you. Your pilgrimage has begun. Enlightenment awaits. Good luck. 3301." .... for the more esoteric amongst you, the puzzle clues apparently take in the works of such people as Black Magician and author of 'The Book of The Law' Aleister Crowley, the 'Agrippa' poem by William Gibson, and 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' by William Blake.

There are those who claim to have solved it, but who knows .....

The Dark Side of the Internet

There are dark corners of the world, which we normally don't see (or probably want to see) .... where there is the 'Matter', there is an 'Anti-matter', for every 'Black' there is a 'White', and for areas of light there is nearly always an opposite shadow. So it is on the Internet ...... where for the 'Web', there is the 'Dark Net' (not the dark internet which is innocently something else). It has recently been on the news a lot, but never really explained .... at least not to my satisfaction. So deep breath, here we go .....

The 'Dark Net' is really a series of server hosted interconnected networks, and given the generic name "dark nets". These networks are not hidden in themselves, and well known examples are 'Tor', 'I2P', and 'Freenet', but there are many others. These networks are specifically designed to conceal the identity and location of their users and by using a variety of technological tricks, the dark nets hide the give away identifiers, the Internet Protocol address (also known as an IP address), at the same time as they let people use the web.

These dark nets substitute alternative and faked the IP address traces, which are use to navigate the genuine net, and its these that they are leaving as calling ID's, obviously they are not the actual users and these networks have become a major problem for law enforcement and intelligence networks because they are free and easy to use by anyone.

The Dark Net Covers Many Secrets

Tor Basics

Tor was invented by a US Naval Research lab to help people use the web without being traced, Tor (which used to be the Onion Router system), aids anonymity in two ways:
  1. Firstly, it can be used to browse the world wide web anonymously. It does this by routing traffic through many separate encrypted layers to hide the data identifiers that prove useful in police investigations.
  2. Secondly, there are hidden sites on Tor that use the .onion domain suffix. These are effectively websites but, as they sit on Tor, are almost impervious to investigation.
Tor has been funded by, among others, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google, Human Rights Watch and the US National Science Foundation. So this anonymity in itself is not necessarily a bad thing:

For example there are many reasons why a valid user of one of these networks may want to do this ....

  • Political activists trying to avoid censorship.
  • Reporters trying to contact, or compile reports in such places as Tibet.
  • Intelligence agencies, trying protect the lives of anti terrorist operatives for example in the middle east.

Or other innocent pastimes such, as to run elaborate worldwide games e.g. 'Cicada 3301' The Dark Net treasure trail

By contrast to the dark net, on normal web networks, everything connected to the web uses its own IP address, to ensure data reaches its destination. i.e. You get where you intended to when you click on a link, and all the information being moved about on-line have IP addresses, which are widely logged and the information packets (another IP - but just your request). This is the open net, where potentially any investigating a hacker attack or anything else, has a starting point in any investigation into who was looking at what, and where they are came from etc.

Those browsing these dark nets, especially on 'Tor', can see that many criminal sites are available by searching the networks, and both the criminal networks and their customers, trade on the anonymity it offers .... almost anything goes, from child abuse, snuff porn, selling guns, selling drugs, people trafficking, and of course personal ID/password sales ... its where your bank, credit card details, or email account passwords go for resale, after hackers have harvested them from your various regular companies in well publicised hacks.

Of course its also buyers beware on this unregulated web frontier - many, probably most of the illegal goods and services being offered, are actually scams, merely seeking to steal from the gullible - much like 419 email scams from Nigerian princes inheritances, or Spanish lotto wins (even though you never entered it) ... in other words they look for the stupid, the crooked and the greedy, who will part with money in order to break their own domestic laws, only to find that they have been scammed themselves.

But even so, its obvious that a large number of the sites are 'genuinely crooked', with many domains run via the dark nets, acting as sharing points for illegal material - be that pirated movies, or images of abuse. Any investigations into who is behind the services being offered on these networks, are often futile, as the big difference between Tor (and the others like it), and the normal web we mostly use, is that we will never find out who runs a site or forum ..... however that being said, recent law agency and intelligence communities have managed to crack a few of these networks.

The silk road (a dark net site) has seen a number of arrests, although it was soon back in business, but with the FBI amongst others, admitting that it now plants hidden code on the dark net, as a way of investigating the cyber criminals .... they have even flushed a few criminal networks off the Tor network e.g.  The Utopia drugs market was forced off Tor by Dutch police. So the forces of good are beginning to make some headway .... especially against paedophiles, with a recent strings of arrests, but they still have a long way to go.

I hope that explains what the dark net is .... its a certain fact that this Dark Side of the Internet will feature a lot in the news for some time to come.

Lifes Not Fair

Some people have issues, and others only think that they have issues. In any society where pressure to have a boy child can be overwhelming, there are some people who fall into the trap of a lie, which then becomes a cover up (in every sense of the word). So its perhaps no surprise, when occasionally a story turns up, about a person who thought he / she was of the opposite gender.

In this case it was a Chinese 'man', who went to the doctors complaining about severe stomach cramps ... only for the doctors (yes his doctor did call in reinforcements for this one!), to have to explain that he was in fact genetically, and anatomically, a 'she', and that what she was experiencing was his/her first (much delayed) period pains. The 'man' was taken aback and even claimed that he and his 'wife', for married he was, had had intercourse. Although how this was achieved, or what they thought it entailed, was not explained. Sadly, in China, he err her, and the 'wife', will probably not be allowed to sort this issue out privately, and so 'D.I.V.O.R.C.E.' is likely to be the song of the day.

Of course, funny or tragically sad as this story may seem, its actually caused by the obscene pressures on Asian and Oriental societies, from China though the sub continent to North Africa, to have boys not girls as children. This pressure has led to infanticides across all these regions, from the terrible incident of the man throwing his little girl into a river to drown in front of his wife, to the more secret dirty little back street abortions, to terminate girl births. In India alone eight million female foetuses may have been aborted in the past decade ... across all the regions where this backwardness prevails ... maybe twenty million female foetuses have been aborted in the same decade.

And lets not pretend that this crime is restricted to the more socially backward areas. Asian Doctors in the UK, have been found aiding and abetting the abortions of unwanted girl first children ... nione have been struck off. We have imported this crime into our societies via multiculturalism.

Elsewhere it leads to the situation where in many parts of China and India, girls are in such short supply, that several million men have no chance of a wife, and girls are now abducted to forced marriages hundreds of miles away, but despite this, the practise of valuing boys far more continues, although some Indian states are trying to address the issue. The Chinese men can at least marry non Chinese women, but for south Asians, and those in the Arab world, the options are less easy because of caste or religious bigotry's, but even so, although they don't have so much easy control over birth genders as the Chinese,  there are now significantly more males than girls born each year.

What's the odds on that? ..... Well certainly not 50/50 as nature intended ....


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