Monday 29 August 2005

Wrong but indefatigable

A couple of weeks ago Andrew Neil wrote about the Scottish Raj, that group of state-educated Scots who have come to dominate so many British institutions:

Andrew Neil says the English should stop worrying about the invading Jocks: the northern grip on the nation’s politics, media and business is being irrevocably weakened by the dumbing down of the Scottish education system

George Galloway may not be a paid-up member of the inner circle of the Raj but he is a wonderful example of the benefits of the old system of Scots education that's been destroyed by his erstwhile colleagues. Of course, I’m thinking of his mastery of words, not his politics. George Galloway was undoubtedly the best speaker at the twenty-one events that I have attended at the Book Festival. Speaking for an hour without notes he told us that he had now addressed 1,995 public meetings since 9/11, and it showed. But what about the content of his speech? Ah, there’s the rub.

Some things I agreed with: Scottish Labour MPs are “a miserable sheep-like herd” and Parliament as a whole is “a toxic bubble of arrogance.” He told us that he saw running along the parliamentary benches “a shiver looking for a spine to run up.” A few of us knew that Galloway wasn’t the first to use that phrase, but it got the desired applause. We were told that Tony Blair was taking away our traditional liberties (true), but Galloway simultaneously supported the Left Alliance - mainly ex-Communists - in the forthcoming German election.

Galloway strongly opposed Scottish nationalism and did so far more impressively than any Labour or Tory voices that I have heard. "People in Newcastle and Liverpool aren't foreigners," he shouted. He dealt resolutely with a heckler who accused him of exhibiting the “Scottish cringe”. A big majority of the predominately Scottish audience supported Galloway on the independence question.

He thought that Kenneth Clarke would be the best choice for Tory leader as none of the others would adequately oppose Blair, but this was without any mention of the EU. On ID cards, Galloway gave us a good quote: “People trust Top Shop more than they trust the Top Men.” This was in answer to the suggestion that private companies issue so many cards that we shouldn’t worry about a government one. The audience seemed to be largely anti-ID cards.

Unsurprisingly, Galloway completely failed to understand the link between personal and economic freedoms. The people of poverty-stricken Tanzania had “rightly risen up against water privatisation”. No mention of course of that country’s history of socialist mismanagement that created the poverty, nor of the disaster of Scotland’s continuing water nationalisation.

Mr Galloway remains an unreconstructed collectivist - “Some people are poor because others are rich.” How many times have we heard that? And how many times does it need to be disproved?

As I left I turned to my neighbour and said: “Great speaker, but wrong in so many ways.” “You’re probably right,” was the reply. And I think I am.

New Orleans

Photos here. Fastest coverage here.

Saturday 27 August 2005

Mr Rushdie signs for Mrs Farrer

Salman Rushdie at the Book Festival

I commented to Catherine Lockerbie (director of the Festival) that there wasn't any obvious sign of increased security for this event. "He wanted it that way," I was told. Then Catherine said, "Of course, just because you don't notice it doesn't mean there isn't a security presence..."

A surprise

I went to the Frontiers and the Internet event last night. Both speakers - Chris Atton and A L Kennedy - acknowledged that they were firmly on the left. I spoke during the questioning period and gave a little plug for this blog as well as pointing out that very many bloggers were libertarians. You could have knocked me down with a feather when A L Kennedy replied:
"Have you heard of Lew Rockwell?
We both read Lew's site almost every day.

Friday 26 August 2005

It's all about the oil!

And there was I thinking that the Book Festival hadn't been too controversial, although let's not forget that George Galloway has still to appear. On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings we went to the Visions of America events, expecting them to be filled with Guardian-reading haters of George Bush and all his works. Not so: on both nights we heard balanced discussions from the (American and British) speakers as well as contributions from the (American and British) audiences. But today made up for all of this transatlantic blandness.

We were promised:

A vital investigation into the deep influence of evangelical Christianity on America's far right and domestic and foreign policy - shaped by eighty million born again Christians, among them George W Bush.
Barbara Victor appeared to be your standard-issue leftist Democrat, complete with the full repertoire of anti-Bush prejudices - she did after all work for CBS, like the recently deposed Dan Rather. Ms Victor was however fairly normal as these people go, and even understood that evil must sometimes be confronted.

The real star of the show was Revd Dr Michael S. Northcott BA MA PhD. I was probably in some danger of being thrown out of the event as I struggled to refrain from alternately laughing and booing. The Reverend Doctor could earn good money on the Fringe presenting a parody of the whole statist, tranzi, leftist, self-hating, anti-western mindset. Yes, we got the lot: capitalism, the environment, Bush (both of them in fact), the Shah of Iran, the Palestinians, the Christian "Right" (including Billy Graham), more capitalism, Ronald Reagan, global warming, the blessed Jimmy Carter and on and on and on. We were certainly getting our money's worth. At least Ms Victor said that she had told Arafat to his face that he was a thug. The Rev Dr would have found him to be "indefatigable".

I couldn't possibly have written down everything that was said, but how about these:

(1) Being forced to take off our shoes at US airports is a form of religious ritual described in the Bible.

Nothing to do with Richard Reid then?

(2) The British are more restrained than the Americans because: "We didn't bomb Belfast over the IRA."

One would have thought that a church minister would have known that the majority of Belfast's population are pro the union and against the IRA.

(3) The US imports 60% of its oil from the Middle East and that explains the war on Iraq. Mutterings of agreement from the audience except from yours truly who shouts: "rubbish". The actual numbers are these:

Imports from the Persian Gulf: 14% of consumption
Imports from elsewhere: 49% of consumption
Domestic production: 37% of consumption.

(4) The American media is in the hands of the Republicans!
I don't suppose that the Reverend Doctor has read this? No, probably not.
And that's only part of it. I imagine Mr Galloway will put on a bit of a show on Monday. I'll be reporting on his performance.

Canny investors

No real surprise here:
FIRST editions of Ian Rankin's books fetched £900 at auction yesterday.
On Tuesday we went to hear Michael Fry and Allan Massie at the Book Festival. I'd already obtained a signed copy of Michael Fry's history of the Highlands and my wife queued up for Allan Massie to sign a copy of his new book. And whom should I spot in the queue? None other than Ian Rankin, eagerly clutching an about-to-be-signed first edition!

Wednesday 24 August 2005

The Festival(s)

Of all the events going on at the moment the Book Festival is what interests me most. When I was leaving Charlotte Square on Tuesday evening I noticed that George Galloway had been added to the schedule and is to appear next Monday. I managed to get a ticket and will report later. What a pity we couldn't have been treated to a Galloway/Rushdie debate! (Rushdie is speaking on Saturday afternoon.)

On Saturday morning I went along to the Cartier-Bresson exhibition at the Dean Gallery. This is by far the best photographic exhibition I have ever seen and is a must for anyone in Edinburgh. It's on until 23rd October. I also recommend the Edinburgh Photographic Society's 143rd (!) International Exhibition at the EPS base in Great King Street.

I've been thinking about purchasing a digital SLR, but seeing the Cartier-Bresson photos tempts one to follow his example and simply use a Leica with one lens and some black and white film. This is one of my efforts back in the days when I used b&w for almost all of my photography:

Professor FA Hayek at the Alternative Bookshop in London.

Monday 22 August 2005

West Register House

Book Festival

Edinburgh Book Festival
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

At the end of my 12th visit!

Albert Memorial Charlotte Square

Between Innerleithen and Heriot

Scott's View

Scott's View
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Eildon Hills

Eildon Hills
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

A break from the Festival this morning.

The economy

F&W reader Neil Craig has a letter in today's Scotsman

It's a wonderful world...

... for some.

The parasite class is at it again:

KEITH Raffan, the MSP who resigned after he claimed more than £40,000 in car mileage expenses, has applied for a pension from Holyrood, it was revealed yesterday.

Mr Raffan, whose travel claims are being looked at by Scottish parliament officials, has claimed that he is entitled to the pension at the age of 56 because he is unable to work.

Forget for the moment Mr Raffan's utter uselessness as a politician and focus instead on his apparent unemployability as a result of having a "bad back". We might charitably think that he was indeed entitled to draw his pension early. The problem is, you see, that I'm one of those awkward buggers who like to check the small print. Like this:
The value of the former MSP's pension can be calculated by multiplying his average salary over the past 12 months by the years of "reckonable" service. The figure is then divided by 50. With five years' service and nine years to go before reaching 65, Mr Raffan would be entitled to around £15,000 per annum.
An MSP's salary is around £50,000 pa. So, £50,000 multiplied by five and divided by fifty gives not £15,000 but £5,000. Fortunately, the Herald explains all:
If an independent doctor's advice agrees with his claim, he could be paid about £15,000 a year, what he would expect to earn as a pension if he had remained an MSP from the start of this year until the age of 65.
Aha! So the "reckonable service" isn't five years, but 14 years. Am I the only person who is outraged by this? Millions of private sector workers fund their own pension investments. If they are unfortunate enough to be unable to work beyond 56 because of a "bad back", guess what? Tough shit! No one enhances those pensions as if one had really worked to 60, never mind 65. But the private sector pensioner does at least get to enjoy a warm, satisfying glow from having to subsidise the Keith Raffans of this world through ever escalating taxation.

Thursday 18 August 2005

Here comes the next one

Scotland must be the world leader in setting up think tanks to discover the causes of economic growth:
A HIGH-powered group of politicians and businesspeople will today seek to kick-start the stalled debate over using devolution to make Scotland a modern, more prosperous nation.
The Presiding Officer of the Scottish parliament thinks that:
"We have been a parliament good at engaging with civic Scotland, but we have not done enough with wealth-creators, academia, artists, free-thinkers and entrepreneurs."
On the contrary George, you've done far too much with wealth-creators and entrepreneurs. That's precisely the problem. I'm sure that the academics and artists enjoy the benefits of public funding but what business needs is simply to be left alone.

The most hilarious quote is this:

There will be one staff member, but Mr Reid will arrange for much of the basic research to be done by some of the 50 staff of SPIC, the Scottish Parliament information centre, many of whom have PhDs.
Truly, you couldn't make it up.

Sound money

The Englishman draws attention to the Telegraph story about the proposed coin competition.

From the Telegraph:

An open competition to find new designs for the reverse of the 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p coin is to be held by the Royal Mint. The designs are to be changed better to "reflect modern Britain, and will need final approval by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor.
The Englishman's response:
Of course in one way this is very good news but this constant need to "reflect Modern Britain" - new, new, new - is just boring and tedious. When we had real money the back of the Penny never changed, why not bring back Britannia back.
I agree that Britannia would be ideal but it's not going to happen, is it? So lets suggest some "appropriate" designs that really do "reflect Modern Britain".

Three suggestions:

(1) An exploding backpack.

(2) A spin doctor.

(3) A "human rights" lawyer who doubles as a failed property speculator.

Tuesday 16 August 2005

"Hark, hark, the dogs do bark...

... the beggars are coming to town."

This was supposedly sung in London when James VI arrived from Edinburgh on the 1603 shuttle to claim the English crown.

I attended an excellent presentation by Leanda de Lisle at the Book Festival this morning. Although I'd sworn to severely limit book purchases this year I'm afraid that I gave way with this one. The Telegraph's man in Scotland, Alan Cochrane, asked Ms de Lisle whether there was a similarity between London's reaction to the arrival of James and his entourage and today's English feelings about the Scottish Raj. Answer: Yes.

The talk was chaired by BBC Scotland's political editor, Brian Taylor. He told us a good story. When he was covering the Robin Cook funeral Taylor complimented the Minister of St Giles on still using the King James Bible. The superb reply: "Well, he was one of our parishioners!"

(Brian Taylor also chaired last night's sell-out talk by Christopher Brookmyre. For those who don't know, Brookmyre's novels are full of black humour, chaotic events and mutual back-stabbings. How appropriate, therefore, to note the presence of the Scottish Tory leader in the row in front of me!)

Monday 15 August 2005

Unfair trade

Why am I not surprised by this news from Perthshire:
But, following pressure from local schoolchildren, the council is set to introduce fair trade goods to school canteens and cafeterias.
It's so sad to think that a few children have fallen for the "fair" trade con. But no - it's not just a few:
An 800-signature petition was created by pupils from Kinross, Crieff, Pitlochry, Auchterarder and Perth asking that Fairtrade produce be sold in their schools.
And, unsurprisingly:
It was backed by local MSP Roseanna Cunningham and other politicians.
I find it deeply disturbing that a bunch of economic illiterates have brainwashed 800 schoolchildren into advocating policies that harm people in the third world. On the other hand, perhaps I'm wrong. After all, there was a 97.3% pass rate in this year's Standard Grade exams, although the rate did fall to a disturbing low of 96.7% in economics.

Friday 12 August 2005

From Jenny Geddes to nuclear button?

I was outside St Giles' today for part of the Robin Cook funeral. All (except one) of Labour's high heid yins were there together with various Tories, Nationalists and LibDems. Gordon Brown arrived on foot from the direction of the City Chambers. Other cabinet ministers arrived by car, with John Reid having what looked like a sizable security escort.

An elderly lady wearing a Livingston FC scarf pressed in front of me and then tied her scarf to the railings opposite the Cathedral. She complained to the news photographer next to her that Blair wasn't present. "Working on his sun tan, hen," replied the photographer. "Fake, like everything else about him," I commented. Everyone agreed.

I then saw the arrival of Kinnock, Straw, Darling, Blunkett and Prescott. When the latter was on the point of entering St Giles', he paused for a while and waited for a sidekick to catch up with his cabinet box. No other minister had one. Surely he's not going to work on his papers during the funeral, I thought. Then I realised: in the absence of the Sun King, Prescott's in charge. Did his case contain the nuclear button? I then had frantic visions of the most intelligent member of the government jumping on the red box and accidentally setting off something Jenny Geddes could not have imagined.

And who was Jenny Geddes, some of you may be asking.

She was a parishioner of St Giles' in the old days:

The legendary Jenny Geddes famously threw her stool at the head of the minister in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, beginning a riot which led to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms that included the English Civil War.

Gordon Brown at Robin Cook's funeral

Thursday 11 August 2005

A script from the Edinburgh Fringe

Among the thousands of shows at this year's Edinburgh Fringe quite a few are examining terrorism:
... from high drama to stand-up. An opera looks at suicide bombers and has questioned the war on terror.
Several shows have looked at unfolding events in Abu Ghraib jail, others have examined US foreign policy and a musical has been produced.
Questioning the war; Abu Ghraib; US foreign policy. Yada, yada, yada - just what we'd expect. As it happens, a script has come into my hands that was deemed "inappropriate" for public performance. I wonder how well it would have done:
"Good evening. This is the BBC News and I’m Dim Dhimmi.

Our special guest tonight is Osama bin Laden who is here to discuss yesterday’s nuclear destruction of, err, where was it again? Somewhere up north I think. Ah yes - Birmingham.”

“Good evening your Excellency.”

“Hi, Dim. Peace be upon you. And you may call me Ozzie.”

“OK Ozzie. Now what I want to know is why you nuked Birmingham. I mean, what were the root causes. Presumably you were protesting against our government’s support for President BushHitler’s war of aggression against Iraq?”

“Iraq? Where’s that?”

“Come off it Ozzie, you’re winding me up. It’s in the Middle East.”

“Oh yeah, I remember it now. A bit below stairs for my liking. I much prefer Marbella.”

“So why did you nuke Birmingham?”

“Because we hate you.”

“I don’t understand. And anyway, why Birmingham?”

“The name came out of the hat. It could have been anywhere really. But look on the bright side Dim – there were thousands of good Muslims in Birmingham and now they’re all in Paradise. Hey, they've probably got a few decent Balti restaurants up there now. Maybe even an Allah Villa Football Club!”

(Ozzie slaps his sides and laughs uncontrollably with shoulders heaving, Heath-style.)

“You mean you just nuked Birmingham at random?”

“Sure Dim. Oh shit, what time have you got?”

“Ten fifteen.”

“OK, time for the next one.”

“You don’t mean …”

“Sure. A nuke a day keeps the Crusader away. Or nook as Bushie calls it.”

(Ozzie extracts a pair of dice from deep within his robe. He rolls the dice on Dim’s desk.)

“A six and a two. That’s eight. Let’s look up my list. Damn, this really is confusing – so difficult reading from right to left, don’t you think? Ah yes, number 8. It’s Paris!”

“But you can’t nuke Paris! The French are on your side. They supported you at the United Nations.”

“But you don’t get it yet Dim. We hate you all. And anyway, that Dominique de Villepin – who needs a Frog hairdresser? I wouldn’t even trust him to trim my beard.”

(Ozzie extracts his mobile from his robe and punches in a code.)

“My God, I’m getting a message from the producer that Paris has disappeared. Was that you? And on the BBC!”

“Sure, Dim baby. Now do you get it?”

Tuesday 9 August 2005

Smart, successful Scotland?

Chris writes about the nightmare of the year. Now I'm a crusty old blogger who can even remember the days of the IBM 360, so I don't exactly know all of what Chris is going on about except this: Edinburgh University isn't customer focused. And that's wrong. Hey, even I've worked out that Firefox is better than Internet Explorer and I've got a Flickr account. So why can't the University get its act together? I know, I've said it before: could it just be something to do with the fact that the University is financed by the state?

Can anyone help this gentleman?

Here is his question:
But Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist party leader, said: "It is completely incomprehensible why the British have the necessary technology, but we don't."

Sunday 7 August 2005


Even the communists realised that there's got to be some kind of accounting system, even if the one they had in mind was somewhat bizarre:
But there has to be some planning : without the mediation of money, society will have to organise an accurate system of bookkeeping, in order to keep track of the amount of labour-time contained in every produced good. Precise accounting will see to it that nothing is wasted.
How amusing therefore to read that our own home-grown leftists haven't quite mastered the art of accounting:
The debt-hit Scottish Socialist Party faces a hefty fine or possible police action for failing to submit its accounts to a financial watchdog.
The deadline for the accounts was 7th July. The comrades were granted an extension to 4th August but missed that too.

I note that:

... the delay was not a "debt problem or a political problem, but an administrative problem".
Of course.

Under socialism we'd get plenty of politics (and debt!) but mere administration would take a back seat. Needless to say the great man has demonstrated that economic calculation is impossible under socialism but it's certainly doable in 21st century Glasgow. Perhaps the comrades are stuck on working out the true value of one hour of Tommy Sheridan's "labour-time".

Friday 5 August 2005

Buses back

I haven't followed the intricacies of the Edinburgh bus dispute. As I expected a deal has been done. The story in today's Evening News is fascinating:
"The militants shot themselves and the union in the foot. People were so outraged by the wildcat action, Lothian Buses was inundated with phone calls.

"There were elderly people, mothers with children, the disabled, even a woman in a wheelchair ringing up to complain. The next morning the T&G leaders realised they had to come in and take control of the situation. They decided they would settle a deal rather than allow the militants to run the show."

This is what the militants had been up to:
Regional T&G leaders, such as Peter Williamson and Sandy Smart, who have been the union's public face throughout the dispute, were in talks when the wildcat strike action was called.

A small band of militants are thought to have waited until they knew the men would have their mobile phones off, before turfing passengers off their buses and returning to picket outside the Annandale Street depot. The drivers knew the union would not condone the strike.

And how about this:
Company targeted because it's wealthy and owned by the council
Isn't that all the more reason to privatise Lothian Buses as soon as possible?

Beyond the Fringe?

I'm very tempted to take up this offer:
SCOTLAND'S most senior civil servant has challenged critics of the public sector to spend a week with a member of his staff so they can see how hard they work.
At least Mr Elvidge has acknowledged that:
... there is a series of legitimate questions about 'busy doing what?' and how productive people are.
But the whole point is that it's almost impossible to measure productivity without there being a market. The Scottish Tories want to reduce the number of civil servants down to pre-devolution levels. But that's just not good enough: pre-devolution, schools and medical services in Scotland were almost entirely run by the state. If we are to (not that we should) force taxpayers to finance the education and health businesses it should be done by issuing vouchers. At least we'd then have the means to measure productivity rather more scientifically than by following our servants (sic) around their offices.

There again, perhaps I've misunderstood Mr Elvidge's kind offer. Following civil servants at work may well be funnier than some of the comedy shows now starting on the Fringe.

Monday 1 August 2005

Back to the 70's

This was in Saturday's Evening News:
TRADERS face a drop of up to 25 per cent in their takings over the weekend as city bus services are brought to a standstill.

Retailers who are still reeling from the G8 chaos predict they will lose out heavily as shoppers are prevented from travelling into the city centre.

The city's Chamber of Commerce says losses over the two-day weekend stoppage could run into millions of pounds.

Here's a suggestion. Every time there's one of these strikes allow any car driver who's held a "clean" license for at least five years to operate his vehicle as a taxi.

The cost of living

Here's some good news for students in Dundee:
DUNDEE has been named the most cost-effective city in Scotland for students - but nearby St Andrews comes bottom of the pile, according to a survey.
At first glance this may seem surprising:
Nationally, Dundee was the only Scottish city to make it into the UK top ten for cost-effective living, finishing in ninth place. London was the highest-scoring student destination, and St Andrews was the least cost-effective of the 24 British cities included in the survey
London is at number one. Given the very high cost of living in London the explanation must be that the capital offers proportionately higher earning opportunities for students than do other locations. I wonder if this applies to London's non-student working population as well - I don't see why not. That in turn makes me wonder whether it's fair for workers in London to be paid a "weighting" to compensate for their higher cost of living. Perhaps the weighting is too high.

Cash for bloggers!

Here we go again. The Scottish Executive keeps on spending:
EVERY adult in Scotland is to be offered up to £100 a year to improve their computer skills.
They've missed out the bit about every adult paying for this. Except of course every adult won't be paying. Only some of us. As usual.