Friday, July 8, 2011

Photos on Friday : Barcelona, Besalu and (possibly) Girona

In spite of the 'sensational' news that the News of the World is to be replaced by the 'Sun on Sunday' (will life ever be the same again?), and even in spite of the supreme irony of Tory-supporting online posters suddenly becoming the friend of the downtrodden working man and lamenting that "the workforce have been hounded out of their jobs by Ed Miliband" (!), I must admit I'm feeling distinctly "politicked out" at the moment. So I thought I'd do a trial run of a potential new regular non-political feature, and one that is considerably less time-consuming than Word-Search Wednesday at that. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Photos on Friday, in which Scot Goes Pop! showcases the very finest in travel photography from all around the worl...well, OK, it's my holiday snaps.

I thought I'd start with some more of my Catalan pictures from last September.  The first one is from the very picturesque small town of Besalu, the second is...I'm not quite sure, it might be from the top of Barcelona Cathedral, but I think it's more likely to be the Arab Baths in Girona.  The third could also be either the interior of Barcelona or Girona Cathedral (I really must learn to take notes).  The others are all definitely from Barcelona, though!  As ever, click to enlarge.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A critic of the Murdoch empire? Get out of your parents' basement and GROW UP.

When a UK news story makes headlines across the Atlantic, it's always entertaining to read right-wing reaction on the online comments threads. Over at the CNN website, there seems to be a pro-Murdoch/Fox News rebuttal squad in operation, although trying to work out the exact relationship of the 'rebuttal' to the comment being 'rebutted' is something of a challenge. A few choice examples...

BinaryTruth : Fox News Channel is the greatest domestic terrorist threat in America today.

jerrycc : I just read about America's lost generation of boys in their 20's languishing away in their parents basements playing video games, surfing the web and refusing to work or grow up. I guess you do exist.

A nerve was hit, I think we can conclude.

Monkeynuts : Hugh Grant should get a knighthood for some of the interviews he's given in the last few days. The man's a genius.

GDINY2 : Here in the US, a knight is a piece on a chessboard and not some effete, callow schmuck who has to be called "sir" to establish his masculinity. Try moving out of the middle ages, limey.

Chess? Masculinity? What? But no, absolutely, let's move out of the middle ages and become an egalitarian country, America.

cummings01 : What has happened to the Britain I knew and loved?

jerrycc : Socialism destroyed Britain a long time ago.

Quite right. If you want to know how the media in Britain came to be completely dominated by a single right-wing Australian billionaire, look no further than "socialism".

'Ye dinnae ken me but I ken you'

Three years ago, there was an infamous incident in the world of curling when the Scottish women's team ended up playing their concluding games at the World Championship with only three players. What had seemingly happened was that the skip Gail Munro had been dropped from the team, her third Lyndsay Wilson had refused to play without her, and Munro had subsequently refused to re-enter the team to fill the gap left by Wilson. Yesterday, however, Munro won a defamation case against the then-national coach Derek Brown, and it is now clear that everything was not quite as it appeared.

Leaving aside the catastrophic breakdown in the relationship between the players and the coaching staff, what leapt out at me from the judge's ruling was this extraordinary account of how the public had reacted to Munro on the basis of false information -

"Some of the local population where she lived had sympathised with her, but others had not. By way of illustration she described having been out for lunch recently and overhearing her name mentioned. When she had turned round an older gentleman had looked her in the eye and said "Aye, ye dinnae ken me but I ken you. You're the lass that didnae play for your country"."

Even if that hadn't turned out to be untrue, it has to be asked - what is with some people that they think they have a God-given right to intrude into the lives of strangers like that? I think if I'd been in Munro's position I'd have been tempted to reply - "Don't you think there's probably a very good reason why I dinnae ken you?"

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The amateurism of modern journalism : a small example

A couple of days back, I discussed how startlingly amateurish journalists can be sometimes. A good example of this can be seen right now in relation to a subject that I've raised on this blog in the past - Dr. Aubrey de Grey's predictions that a breakthrough in life extension technologies may be made in the next few decades. If you type his name into the Google news search function, you'll see a flurry of uncannily similar news reports from the last 24 hours, all of which seem to have been modelled on a single report from Reuters. Nothing wrong with that, so long as the journalists concerned have checked for accuracy. But as it is, many of the articles contain an identical error. For instance, this is from the Daily Mail -

"It's a milestone that few, if any, of us expect to reach.

But the first person who will live to see their 150th birthday has already been born, according to a leading scientist.

Even more incredibly, Aubrey De Grey believes that the first person to live for 1,000 years will be born in the next two decades."

And this from Opposing Views -

"A British doctor claims we are not too far away from virtually living forever -- in fact, he thinks the first person to live 1,000 years will be born in our lifetime."

In reality, as the quickest of internet searches would have revealed, de Grey has been saying for many years that he thinks the first 1000-year-old has probably already been born, and indeed may now be in the latter half of middle age. In this case, the journalists are potentially doing him a favour by (unwittingly) toning the prediction down, because the boldness of his claim tends to encounter instinctive resistance, but even so it's a very sloppy reporting error. So how did it happen? Presumably, de Grey told Reuters that the first 150-year-old had probably already been born, and that the first 1000-year-old was probably less than twenty years younger than that person. Someone then put 2 and 2 together, made 22, and took that as an indication that the first 1000-year-old was due to be born in the next twenty years. A whole series of news outlets went on to take their cue in herd-like fashion.

This sort of thing is, alas, scarcely uncommon in journalists' reporting of pronouncements by scientists. At the height of the BSE scare, every new snippet of information was heralded by hysterical headlines suggesting either that millions were about to die, or that the problem was now completely over - in spite of the fact that the information itself was almost always extremely ambiguous. It seems that many journalists are simply allergic to ambiguity, nuance or detail - but even if that won't be changing any time soon, it would at least be a start if they actually wrote their own articles from scratch, rather than using a ready-made template and very superficially "putting it into their own words".

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

'You do not speak for Scotland, sir'

Gerry Hassan has written a very detailed analysis of last night's Newsnight debate on 'the future of the Union'. I must say that personally I wouldn't be quite so effusive about Rory Stewart's performance - he's undoubtedly very articulate and has a 'screen presence', but he got himself into very unwise territory when he flatly informed a Scot in the audience who gave primacy to a Scottish identity that "you do not speak for Scotland, sir". Stewart's proof for this assertion was that his own father is Scottish, lives in Crieff and is "very proud to be British". This, of course, is the classic Tory delusion that got them into such a pickle over the Poll Tax - forget about elections and opinion polls, authentic Scottish opinion is represented by their father or third cousin once removed, or that well-bred chap they once canvassed in Drymen. Admittedly, for as long as there is more than one view held among the public, no-one can literally claim to speak for all of Scotland, but what evidence we have on majority opinion is clear enough - the Scot in the audience was much closer to speaking for modern Scotland's aspirations than that British imperial throwback Rory Stewart, former Deputy Governor of two Iraqi provinces. No wonder Rory still thinks there is something terribly "precious" to be lost if the Union bites the dust - how many other thirtysomething Scots have been given the wizard opportunity to rule a conquered Middle Eastern country? Would never happen under independence.

While we've seen much worse from Paxman, he was scarcely the most even-handed moderator, allowing Michael Portillo to wax lyrical for several minutes about the supposed historic British tradition of anti-fanaticism, but almost biting Joan McAlpine's head off when she tried to introduce a bit of balance by pointing out that one of the first acts of the British state was a pogrom in the Highlands of Scotland. "Oh, we're not going back to that," he groaned after an apparent Damascene conversion about the unimportance of British history, "I want to look forward". Earlier, he had taunted McAlpine about the failure of the "Scottish banks", but ten seconds later airily brushed off a member of the audience who pointed out that many of the bankers in those "Scottish banks" were English. My own point would have been more that those banks failed under UK rather than Scottish regulation, but doubtless Paxo would have regarded that as a "cheap shot" as well. He's certainly the expert on those.

The other thing that leapt out at me from the debate was the utter incoherence of the argument put forward by the representative of the English Democrats. Once again, it seems that underneath the veneer they are classic right-wing Brit Nats, who are lashing out at Scottish and Welsh presumptuousness with an affectation of English nationalism. What England is crying out for is an equivalent of the SNP or Plaid - a left-of-centre (or at the very least centrist) civic nationalist party that believes in English self-government for the right reasons.

Questions to which the answer is 'look into my eyes, look into my eyes, don't look around the eyes, the eyes, the eyes, you're under...when you wake up you will under NO CIRCUMSTANCES remember you have just asked me a question'

A quick follow-up to the UNANSWERED question I asked of our Labour Hame friends the other day -

You recently claimed that Alex Salmond had no need to call a referendum in order to secure new powers for the Scottish Parliament, citing the Calman process as a precedent. Why, then, is Labour peer (and Labour Hame contributor) George Foulkes tabling an amendment to the Scotland Bill that insists the Calman proposals can only come into effect after an affirmative vote in a referendum?

In your own time, guys...

Monday, July 4, 2011

ComRes poll : signs that many English voters do not "get it" about self-determination

Stuart Dickson has alerted me to the details of a new poll.  It's difficult not to raise a smile at the fact that in the wake of the SNP triumph, the first survey that the BBC decided to commission on the subject of Scottish independence was among English voters only.  Have they employed David Aaronovitch as their polling consultant?!  Here are some of the key findings -

A referendum is planned to be held in Scotland asking people if they support Scotland becoming an independent country. Do you think that Scotland should become a fully independent country, separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, or not?

(NB. Note the embarrassingly neutral inclusion of the word "separate" in the question - Alan Cochrane must be so proud.)

Yes - 36%
No - 48%

Nothing hugely of interest here, given that it's a decision voters in Scotland will take on their own. However, perhaps there are a few signs that the unionists' "Britishness is the new Englishness" propaganda campaign is starting to bear fruit south of the border. They ought to be careful what they wish for, though - at this rate they won't be able to taunt us with the line "Scottish independence is less popular in Scotland than in England" for much longer!

If Scotland was to become independent, do you think England would be better off or worse off, or would it make no difference?

Better off - 19%
No difference - 51%
Worse off - 21%

A surprisingly encouraging finding - if we can take it at face value, perhaps the myth of Scotland being "subsidised" by the fabled hard-pressed English taxpayer isn't as deeply embedded in the popular consciousness as we sometimes imagine.

Do you think a referendum should be held in the rest of the United Kingdom before Scotland is allowed to become an independent country, or not?

Yes - 45%
No - 47%

Commenting on this finding in the BBC report, Andrew Hawkins of ComRes is brazen enough to say this -

"That almost half of the English feel that they would like a say over Scotland's future suggests that the Union should be England's as well as Scotland's to determine."

No, it doesn't, Andrew, it suggests that almost half of English voters simply do not "get it" about self-determination.  I dare say the overwhelming majority of Argentinian voters think the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands should be a matter for them to determine, but that doesn't mean they have a point.

Newsnight will apparently be discussing the poll this evening.  I've no idea if Jeremy Paxman will be in harness for this one, but if so I dare say we all know what to expect...

Just how amateurish is modern journalism?

There's an utterly bizarre piece by Carl Packman running on Liberal Conspiracy at the moment entitled 'The Orwell Prize, Johann Hari and nicking words' which basically argues that Hari should not have the Orwell Prize withdrawn from him because George Orwell himself was guilty of much the same crime when he "copied" the plot of Nineteen Eighty-Four from We by the Russian author Zamyatin.  Packman specifically calls the two plots "identical".  Well, from memory, I've read Nineteen Eighty-Four three or four times and We twice, and indeed I read the two more or less back-to-back when I was studying English Literature many moons ago, so I think I might just have spotted it if they had been identical.  There are certainly many broad-brush similarities - both novels feature a protagonist who rebels against an ultra-totalitarian state by falling in love with a woman, whom he ultimately betrays after psychological conditioning by not caring about what happens to her.  But that kind of borrowing of ideas, which I gather Orwell openly acknowledged, falls light-years short of what Hari has done.  Packman's own title gives the game away - Hari quite literally "nicked words" by directly lifting responses from interviews conducted by other people, and by using passages from the published work of his interviewees.  In what sense did Orwell nick the words used in Nineteen Eighty-Four? He didn't.  Argument falls.

This is of course just another example of a sustained attempt by some to defend Hari on the grounds that everyone is "at it" to some degree.  But even if that were true, it's not so much a vindication of Hari as it is an argument for a root-and-branch reform of modern journalistic practices.  My own minor brush with this kind of thing came as a result of the fact that I used to be an active contributor to Wikipedia.  There were a number of occasions when something written in the mainstream media seemed uncannily close to my own Wikipedia edits, most notably parts of a Sunday Times profile of Alex Salmond that appeared in the run-up to the 2007 election.  That wouldn't constitute plagiarism, of course, because it's perfectly permissible to copy Wikipedia articles without attribution, but all the same it was startling to realise that some professional journalists operate - seemingly routinely - in such an amateurish way.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

America's selective contempt for the rule of law

It's no great surprise to learn that US support for "freedom and democracy" in Libya carries a price tag - namely that the Libyan rebels basically kidnap a man, hand him over to US forces, and allow him to be bundled off to America without any extradition process to be "tried" for a crime that he has already been convicted of and punished for in Scotland. (Indeed, technically that punishment is still ongoing, because Megrahi remains on licence, and to the best of my knowledge has obeyed all the conditions of his compassionate release.)  It's also no surprise to discover that American "respect" for Scots Law as the proper jurisdiction to deal with the Lockerbie case was conditional on getting the outcome they wanted, and that they feel perfectly at liberty to win themselves a second bite of the cherry by blackmail and brute force.  And it's certainly no surprise to see the fingerprints of the clueless, clownish Senators Menendez, Lautenberg and co all over this latest development.  Their wild demands for Megrahi to be snatched from Libya to face American "justice" would have remained utterly impossible had it not been for the thousand-to-one chance of the Arab Spring happening when it did, so how they must be purring with pleasure at the luck of it all - not the Libyan people's luck at finally having a chance to control their own destiny, but the senators' luck at having a bargaining position to cynically exploit for petty electoral advantage.

There is, of course, a glorious irony here - if US politicians feel able to unilaterally overrule the Scottish legal process and decide that Megrahi has not been punished enough, that means they know he has something to be punished for.  And yet if they regard the outcome as the Scottish legal process as illegitimate in some way, then they should of course be reverting to the status quo ante, namely that Megrahi is a man who is innocent in the eyes of the law, who has an astonishingly thin circumstantial case against him, and who therefore may or may not be found guilty of the charge against him by a US court.  So in what sense do they already "know" he's guilty?  Why, because a Scottish court has told them so.  What remarkably selective respect the US authorities have for the rule of law.