Friday 29 May 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2014-05-29: Belle

In need of some lap time after being in the cattery while we were on holiday.

I believe Dexter occupied more of Belle's energy than I ever suspected.

Here's the scene at 5 am today:

Belle: The sun is up. Feed me! (Prod, meow, claw at blankets.)
Me: OK. (Gets up, shuffles downstairs. Puts cat food in bowl and bowl on floor. Goes back to bed.)

So far, so normal. I expect Belle to eat breakfast and then go amuse herself, but it is not to be.

15 minutes later:
Belle: I've eaten now. I'm bored. Play with me! (Prod, meow, claw at blankets.)
Me: No. Need sleep. (Leads Belle into hallway, closes bedroom door, goes back to bed.)

5 minutes later:
Belle: I'm still bored. Play with me! (Meows, scratches noisily at door.)
Me: No. Need sleep. (Leads Belle downstairs, closes doors to kitchen and living room to keep her there.)

2 hours later:
Me: (Gets up, showers, goes downstairs. Belle is standing by living room door and meowing.)
Belle: There you are. Love me!
Me: OK. (Pets Belle for a while, then has breakfast.)

20 minutes later:
Me: (Sits down to tie shoes.)
Belle: Hey, there's a lap. I want to sit there! (Jumps into my lap.)
Me: (Pets Belle for a while. Considers calling into work to say, trapped on the stairs by a needy cat. Reluctantly dislodges Belle from lap and goes out.)

It's tiring, but I must admit it's very sweet of her. We might adopt a new playmate for Belle in a few months. Meanwhile, I'll deploy the cat toys and laser pointer to see if I can wear her out this evening.

Services to Democracy

Political parties like to pretend they own votes, but they don't. The SNP proved that on election night.

The first-past-the-post electoral system used to elect the UK government is archaic and unfair. I've said so myself, as have many others. In our fully justified railing against the system, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that we still have a vote. The UK is a democracy, however dysfunctional.

Parties say past elections and opinion polls determine the future. They make claims like "only we can beat That Other Party in this seat". They openly ask for tactical votes, from anyone who dislikes them less than their opponents. The example below was put through my letterbox in Cambridge, and it's far from the worst I've seen.

Strictly speaking, and with all due respect to Julian Huppert, this is not true. There is no such thing as a marginal seat, or a safe one. There are only parliamentary seats.

I've never stood for election myself; but I have gone hitchhiking, and I imagine some similarity. You make yourself visible, stick out your thumb, and hope for the best.

Friday 22 May 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-05-22: Belle

Photo of Belle taken the day after Dexter passed away.

I think she misses his company, but she is a young and adaptable cat. We might adopt another cat to live with her, but not for a while.

We are very grateful Belle is happy and full of life. Even though we miss Dexter, life goes on.

Saturday 16 May 2015

Rest in peace, Dexter

Dexter passed away on the night of Friday 15 May 2015.

He was a rescue cat and we don't know his exact age, but we think he was about eleven years old. He died of severe anaemia. He had contracted feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), most likely when another cat bit him a few months ago. The anaemia was likely to have been a complication from FIV.

The picture below shows Dexter enjoying the sun on Monday. At the time, we had no reason to think anything was the matter. His end was very sudden; at least he didn't suffer for long. He will be cremated, and we will scatter his ashes in our back garden where he had so many happy times.

I'll write more later about how much Dexter meant to us. For now, I just want to say he was the warmest, gentlest, most adorable feline companion anyone could ask for. We loved him very much. We will miss him terribly and remember him always.

I have set up a Just Giving page for donations to the Blue Cross animal welfare charity in Dexter's memory.

Dexter, 2004? – 2015

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

    — Emily Dickinson

Friday 15 May 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-05-15: Dexter

I have sad news about Dexter. He is suffering from severe anaemia and has been with the veterinarian overnight, receiving intravenous feeding and a blood transfusion.

He's a brave and much loved cat and we are hoping for the best. Here is a photo of him shortly before he went to the vet, still happy to purr when he is scratched under the chin.

Saturday 9 May 2015

Friday 8 May 2015

My Election Night on Twitter

For your edification and amusement, some of my Twitter activity from the long dark night of the election is below the fold. Shockingly enough, it contains NSFW language.

Cute Cat Friday 2015-05-08: Belle

I am much more beautiful than anything you could see on this silly computer screen.

Thursday 7 May 2015

Election wishes and early reaction

I'm writing this around midnight on election night, as the results begin to come in and we digest that shocking exit poll:

I've said what I want in Cambridge: Re-election of Julian Huppert, our excellent Liberal Democrat MP. What about the UK as a whole?


In the classic choice between a rock and hard place, I would prefer the next government to be led by Labour, not the Conservatives.

I don't trust Labour to govern on their own. Ed Miliband has grown into his job somewhat, but he and his party are still deeply uninspiring. For Loki's sake, they thought putting "Controlling Immigration" on a coffee mug was a good way of getting votes. That said, I greatly prefer Labour to the Conservatives as a party of government.

My preferred outcome would be a Labour/LibDem coalition. (A LibDem majority would be nice, but let's keep this at least somewhat grounded in reality.)

This is less likely than a minority Labour government trying to pass legislation on a vote-by-vote basis. I'd be pretty satisfied with that too.

That said, if this exit poll is accurate, we will almost certainly see a minority Conservative government supported by some combination of LibDems, DUP and UKIP. That's very close to my nightmare scenario. Cameron can get Tory policies through, but only by appeasing the most reactionary elements of Parliament. We would also be subjected to two years or so of an EU referendum campaign, possibly followed by a British exit. It's a depressing prospect.

SNP surge

The BBC exit poll predicts the SNP to win every single seat in mainland Scotland, with only Orkney & Shetland being retained by the Liberal Democrats.

I supported a No vote to Scottish independence, but this isn't a repeat of the referendum. It's about electing representatives to govern the UK, including Scotland. I've recently argued the SNP are a responsible, moderate, social democratic party and should be treated as such.

If the SNP aren't devils, they aren't angels either. I am deeply skeptical of their claims to skip past thorny practical difficulties with nothing but the power of good intentions. Like all politicians, they are prone to duplicitous behaviour and convincing themselves that what's good for their careers is good for the country. If there is one thing we should have learned from Tony Blair and New Labour, it is to be cautious around leaders who say they are "whiter than white."

It's hard to remember after the Iraq War and financial crash, but there was a period from about 1995-2002 when Blair and New Labour were enormously, genuinely popular. The SNP has borrowed heavily from the Blairite "things can only get better" playbook. Neither Blair nor Sturgeon would appreciate the comparison, but it has substance.

In its day, New Labour was a formidable election-winning machine, and so it is with the SNP. They have done well in government at Holyrood, and in the general election have run a smarter and more principled campaign than Tories or Labour. They deserve to reap the benefits.

I am a little concerned about the prospect of a wipe-out for other parties. The SNP are competing in a four-party system, and could take a clean sweep of seats on, say, 48% of the popular vote. It would be a very impressive achievement, but the other 52% would still deserve representation. The system would be letting them down in a big way.

On the UK stage, my optimistic hope was that the SNP, for all its faults, would be a progressive influence on a minority Labour government. If we see the extreme scenario of big wins for Conservatives and SNP, the SNP will have very little influence on UK government policy, and both parties will actively exacerbate divisions between Scotland and England. I don't believe that would help either nation.

Still, we should be patient and wait for the full results to come in.

Election night drinking game

The campaigning is over. (Thank Cthulhu for that.) If you have a vote, please use it, but I'd be grateful if it is not for UKIP.

The next parliament promises to be more fractured, and fractious, than any in living memory. Before then, we have an eventful night ahead. I'll be on Twitter from about 10 pm as the results come in. I have ample supplies of beer and popcorn, and I'll try not to startle the cats by shouting at the television.

Dexter and Belle are eager to see who will be Prime Minister what's for dinner.

I've composed a drinking game to get us through the night. It's simple and not especially partisan. Play with the beverage of your choice: Wine, beer, tea, Ardbeg, lemonade, or whatever. I won't judge.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Bringers of Chaos 3: We have met the enemy and he is us

In Part 1 and Part 2, I looked at reasons not to panic over the rise of the SNP. The UK political classes seem determined to panic anyway.

Both Labour and Conservatives talk as if the SNP are a new Jacobite rebellion, marching south to seize power at the point of a claymore. They have indulged in hysteria for the sake of short-term partisan advantage. The consequences could be profound.

The SNP's method of taking power. Note the absence of guns, bombs and bayonets.
Source: Daily Telegraph

Friday 1 May 2015

Bringers of Chaos 2: Keep calm and look at Canada

(Part 1 of this series looked at reactions to the SNP's likely victory in the general election, and reasons why it will not be as cataclysmic as many believe.)

The rise of the SNP may be unprecedented in the UK; but as luck would have it, there is a recent parallel from across the Atlantic. We have seen what happens in a British-style parliamentary democracy, when a left-wing nationalist party wins a large proportion of seats.

I am referring to the Bloc Québecois, from the French-speaking province of Québec in Canada.

Flags of Québec and Canada.

Cute Cat Friday 2015-05-01: Dexter

Casting a long shadow.