Friday 26 June 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-06-26: Introducing Freddie

This is Freddie, the latest addition to our family.

We had thought of waiting longer before adopting another cat, but Belle seems to really miss having another feline for company, and when we dropped by the Blue Cross shelter last week Freddie captured our hearts at once. We brought him home on Sunday and so far he is settling in nicely.

Freddie is a one year old male, named for Freddie Mercury because of his exuberant and outgoing nature. He is one of the friendliest cats we have ever met, and demands affection any chance he gets. We think he may be either a Bombay cat or a Burmese-domestic cross; but no matter his ancestry, he's a very handsome, playful and affectionate feline. He even tolerates being poked, prodded and grabbed by our baby son without complaining.

For now we are keeping Freddie separate from Belle in the spare room. They have glimpsed each other a few times when the door is open and neither one seems at all hostile, so we are optimistic they will soon be getting along well.

Here's to Freddie having a long and happy life in our home!

Thursday 25 June 2015

Death and Facebook: Now with extra creepiness

Somewhere in the Facebook servers, an algorithm "pushes" anniversary reminders of your posts. Today, it pushed a photo of my cat Dexter, taken exactly three years ago:

As regular readers of this blog will know, Dexter passed away six weeks ago tomorrow.

How dare Facebook pretend that it cares?

Wednesday 24 June 2015

The Downfall of Sir Tim Hunt

A couple of weeks ago, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Sir Tim Hunt made some highly sexist remarks in a speech to the World Conference of Science Journalists. Soon after, he resigned his post as an honorary professor at University College London.

Sir Tim Hunt. Source: BBC News
Hunt is reported to have said:

Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.

There are two aspects of this I find interesting: The depth of Hunt's cluelessness, and the question of whether he should have kept his job.

Friday 19 June 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-06-19: In memoriam Dexter

We will scatter Dexter's ashes in our back garden tomorrow.

Below the fold are some more pictures of our much loved cat, as a chronicle of his life with us.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Not just a cat

Something a family member said, talking about Dexter's passing last month:

You tell yourself he's just a cat, but it still makes you sad.

She's lost pets herself, and knows how hard it is; but in fact, I don't tell myself that. There is no "just" about it. He was a cat, no more and no less.

Belle and Dexter in the garden.

Thursday 11 June 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-06-12: Belle

I have captured the fuzzy red toy. It is mine now.

Why can't you be happy: Follow-up

Reflecting on yesterday's post, the interests of the English left and Scottish nationalists are in conflict at a very basic level.

By definition, the English left wants to reform the British state.

Short of the breakup of England into independent statelets (not a likely or widely desired prospect) or a violent revolution (likewise), they are stuck within existing structures. Any change must come from incremental reform of those structures. Historically speaking, Scotland and Wales have made a strong contribution to progressive reform of the UK. English leftists hope this will continue in the future.

By definition, Scottish nationalists want to leave the British state.

The inclusive, civic, mildly socialist strain of Scottish nationalism is admirable in its way; but it deliberately contrasts itself with the rotten condition of Westminster. These nationalists believe attempting to reform the UK is not worth the effort. Instead, they want to set up a shiny new state of their own.

Maybe their analysis is correct about what is best for Scotland. There are certainly rational arguments to support it. However it carries an implicit message to English reformers: We are not committed to helping you. Our priority is to get out. We wish you well, but in the end, any aspirations you may have for England are not our concern.

When you put it like that, it is hardly surprising the English left regards Scottish nationalism with distrust and hostility.

If you ask the English left to support Scottish independence, you are asking them to sacrifice tangible interests for a point of principle -- specifically, the natural justice of an independent Scotland -- with which most of them do not agree in the first place. No matter how you spin that, it's a tall order.

Tuesday 9 June 2015

Why can't you be happy for us: Scottish independence and the English left

A friend recently posed this question:

Why is it that the English left is so comfortable with the independence of everywhere from Australia to Zimbabwe, but so bitterly and viscerally opposed to Scottish independence?

The Scottish independence movement has explicitly postitioned itself to the left of the Labour party. (The policies of the SNP in government are not exactly hardline socialism, but that's a topic for another post.) In the referendum campaign, the Yes side did not rely on narrow, reactionary appeals to blood and soil. Instead it adopted a progressive civic nationalism, arguing independence offered a better chance to build social justice in Scotland.

The nationalists firmly believe in the rightness of their cause. In theory, their fellow leftists in England should be natural allies. Yet in practice, the reaction has ranged from indifference to hostility. Why could this be?

I'm taking a broad definition of the "English left", including but not limited to the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. It has the following reasons to oppose Scottish independence:

  1. Electoral self-interest: Labour and the LibDems want Scottish (and Welsh) MPs to counterbalance the Conservatives. Obviously it didn't work so well this time, but historically it hasn't been a bad strategy.
  2. Shared interests across the UK: They see themselves as part of a UK-wide movement which transcends divisions between England, Scotland and Wales. The latter two provide leadership and ideas as well as raw votes. Four of the last five Labour leaders were Scottish or Welsh (including Blair, born and raised in Edinburgh), as were four of the last six Liberal leaders.
  3. Federalism: They support devolution, and may want to extend it to some form of home rule or federalism; but they don't see anything inherently oppressive about Scotland remaining within the UK. As previously noted, Scotland elects MPs to the UK Parliament, which Australia, Zimbabwe et al. never did, so anti-colonial arguments do not apply. (If anyone will get a raw deal under the Conservatives it's the north of England, who don't have a devolved government to protect their interests.)
Scottish nationalists may think any or all of these reasons are mistaken. But I think a large proportion of the English left believe them or something similar, so that's what they have to engage with.

There are exceptions, of course. George Monbiot and Billy Bragg have argued Scottish independence is just the shot in the arm the English left needs. In addition, it will be interesting to see how the left in England responds to the rise of the SNP in Scotland. Both Labour and the Lib Dems are still in shock from the general election, and I think it will take them at least a few years to come to terms with the defenestration of their Scottish MPs.

That said, I think the reasons I have listed above are strongly held and will prove difficult to shift -- if it is even desirable to do so.

Friday 5 June 2015

England, awake

I recently wrote about how the SNP showed change is possible within our political system. Even the safest seats are vulnerable to a well-organised and inspiring opposition party.

In England, the SNP were not on the ballot paper. A plurality of voters backed the Conservatives.

The Conservatives aren't promising a better tomorrow. Oh, they want to tinker with health, education, and policing as all governments do, and they have their obsession with the EU. That is not the core of their electoral appeal.

They want to cut taxes, slash public services, deregulate and make life easier for business; but I don't think the typical Conservative voter believes this will bring a new golden age of joy and prosperity.

Here is the Conservative promise: If you are one of the 64% of Britons who owns a home, and you have a good job or pension, tomorrow will be pretty much like today. That's all.

(Corollary: For the other 36%, including all of the poor and most people aged under 30, tough shit.)

It's not noble or ambitious, but it resonated with frightened voters in these uncertain times.

It's a depressing truth, and I fear the consequences. As a resident of England, I am seriously concerned at the damage the Conservatives may do to public services in the next five years. However, Tory victory was not inevitable. If some alternative party inspires the English to come out and vote in sufficient numbers, the Conservatives will be beaten.

What could this alternative be? I don't know. It wasn't Ed Miliband's Labour, with their vapid platitudes carved into a stone tablet. It wasn't the clowns and xenophobes of UKIP either, for which I am grateful.

I can only hope that before too long, someone better comes along to knock the Conservatives off their perch.

England! awake! awake! awake!
Jerusalem thy Sister calls!
Why wilt thou sleep the sleep of death
And close her from thy ancient walls?

Thy hills and valleys felt her feet
Gently upon their bosoms move:
Thy gates beheld sweet Zion's ways:
Then was a time of joy and love.

And now the time returns again:
Our souls exult, and London's towers
Receive the Lamb of God to dwell
In England's green and pleasant bowers.

— William Blake

Yes, I've read a poem. Try not to faint.

— Malcolm Reynolds, Serenity

Cute Cat Friday 2015-06-05: Belle

The cat is in the bag once again.

(There's a lot of competition, but this may be the cutest photo of Belle ever.)

Wednesday 3 June 2015

On Charles Kennedy and Alex Salmond

Charles Kennedy, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, passed away on Monday. He was an exceptionally decent, principled and humane politician. My sympathy goes out to his family, friends and colleagues.

Charles Kennedy.

I will remember Kennedy for one thing above all else. In 2003, Tony Blair was marching the country to war in Iraq, with the enthusiastic support of Iain Duncan Smith's Conservatives. Kennedy was one of the very few senior politicians who stood up to say it was a dreadful mistake. He was a voice of sanity in an insane time. Like Robin Cook, another principled opponent of the war, he has left us far too young.

It is unfortunate that the mourning for Kennedy has been overshadowed by Alex Salmond's ill-judged remark:

In terms of the independence referendum, I don’t think his heart was in the ‘Better Together’ campaign.

Salmond later clarified:

I have made no claim whatsoever that Charles Kennedy was either a Yes or an SNP supporter. He was not. He was a committed federalist all of his political career.

Very well. Let us take Salmond at his word. If he doesn't mean Kennedy was a supporter of Scottish independence, what on earth does he mean?