Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Twitter joke trial - conviction quashed in High Court

The origins of this case go back 2 1/2 years when a man, Paul Chambers, posted a message on Twitter which read: "Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!!" in relation to the closure of Robin Hood Airport in January 2010 because of adverse weather conditions. Paul Chambers had been intending to fly to Northern Ireland to meet someone he had earlier 'met' through exchanges on Twitter. No-one amongst followers who read the message soon after it was posted seems to have found the message alarming in any way, they treated it as a joke. This happened on 6th January 2010; five days later on 11th January an off-duty security employee of the airport was apparently searching at home for any mention of 'Robin Hood Airport' on Twitter and came across the 'offending' tweet and although he thought it was just a joke he reported it to his 'line manager' who thought likewise, but 'in accordance with procedure' reported it to the airport police who thought likewise also, again 'in accordance with procedure' reported it to South Yorkshire Police who, on balance, thought likewise (that it was a joke and not a credible threat, just to drive the point home), after however arresting Mr Chambers and interrogating him. Next the matter was referred by South Yorkshire Police to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) who decided there was a case to answer. As a result Mr Chambers was charged, prosecuted and convicted at a Magistrates Court with the conviction later upheld on appeal before Doncaster Crown Court in March 2011.

The High Court has now overturned the conviction (read the full judgement of the High Court here (.pdf file)), basically because there was no criminal intention or act - in other words it was a joke.

I remember hearing about this case soon after Mr Chambers was arrested in January 2010 and thought the whole idea of him being arrested was completely ridiculous and indeed a 'joke', although of course no joke for Mr Chambers who lost his job and effectively became unemployable.

No-one involved in investigating this case, at whatever level, seems seriously to have believed that the offending tweet was anything but a joke, perhaps in poor taste, but a joke nonetheless. Nevertheless the jobsworth mentality involved in following processes dictated by 'in accordance with procedure' meant that in order for those involved to protect their own backs (read the linked article on 'jobsworth' for more on this) they had to report it on up the chain, even though none of them thought there was any credible threat or risk. Indeed in the High Court deliberations the point was made that even after the relevant tweet was noticed by the off-duty airport security employee there was no evidence of any increase in the 'threat alert' at the airport or indeed that any other action was taken at the airport as a result of the tweet. So, all these jobsworths did what the rules said they had to do, this includes the CPS, just in case, one supposes, anything untoward did occur they could not later be held to have overlooked their duties.

Until of course the High Court comes along and, rightly, concludes that Mr Chambers had contravened no law so had no case to answer.

I'm afraid I must also introduce an element of raw partisan politics into this murky affair, because this touches directly upon the freedom of expression of all of us - as is pointed out here, a climate of fear grew up (and was actively fostered by the Labour government by their deeds and actions, as exemplified by the reference to Home Office advice in the linked article, not to mention the Labour supporter being physically ejected from a Labour Party conference for heckling, which I wrote about here) which led many people to worry unnecessarily about saying what is in their minds - not just the usual and sensible prohibition on shouting "Fire!" in a crowded public place when there is not in fact a fire (or saying at the airport check-in "I have a bomb in my bag" for a joke, as another example). The quashing of Mr Chambers' conviction goes a little way toward re-establishing freedom of expression in this country! And perhaps will allow Mr Chambers to get a job, too.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Keynesian Economics - the illusion exposed

So you STILL think a Keynesian economic model is a good way to run an economy do you? For many years I have believed it is a dangerous drug with disaster written into its genes. The financial madness we are currently living through is but the latest episode. People want to blame someone else, anyone else, the current targets are 'greedy bankers' and the financial markets, when they should really be looking themselves in the mirror - politicians are afraid to tell voters the truth and the voters are quite happy to go along with the lie, indeed the voters punish any politician sufficiently mad or courageous (take your pick) to puncture the myth. Watch this to see the whole scam laid bare, almost literally:

Me? I haven't believed in Keynesian scam economics for a long, long time - a much better, healthier system is available though, commonly known as Austrian Economics. You? You have to ask yourself a very simple question - do you want to waken up and face reality or do you want to continue to take the soma, which in this context is all that Keynesian economics represents?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

North Korea and that "incident" in Glasgow

There was a very unfortunate incident yesterday evening in Glasgow prior to a women's football match involving the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK - more commonly known as North Korea) competing in a London 2012 Olympics football match, when the flag of the 'other' country on the Korean Peninsula was shown in error. LOCOG ('London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games') have apologised for the error and after about an hour's delay the DPRK team agreed to return to the field of play after having walked off when they saw the wrong flag being shown.

I hope there will not be similar easily-avoidable (with a bit of care!) gaffes in coming days, although the linked report says that LOCOG have not yet established who made the offending video-clip. Don't they have such 'minor details' on file of who their sub-contractors are, if only so they can settle production invoices? The cynic in me now wonders if there will be found on the production staff someone from one or other of the 'two Koreas' who was trying to make some kind of point. Whatever the case, it was rather unfortunate - it's not as if the two flags are in any way similar (the way for example that the flags of Italy/Ireland or Netherlands/Luxembourg might at first glance be mixed up). One could hardly have imagined a gaffe likely to cause more upset than this one, specially as the two countries are technically still at war with each other.

In any case, here is the anthem and flag of the DPRK; the tune is quite rousing, whatever else one might say about it and that country:

Monday, 23 July 2012

Sir Chris Hoy to carry the Union Flag for GB at Olympics!

Sir Chris Hoy is to carry the Union Flag for Great Britain this coming Friday at the Opening Ceremony of the XXXth Olympiad in London. He is a very worthy recipient of this honour, just as he was when he carried the Union Flag at the Closing Ceremony of the XXIXth Olympiad in Beijing four years ago. London will become the only city to host the Olympic Games three times so far - it hosted the Olympic Games previously in 1908 and 1948.

Whilst I do not want to introduce 'politics' into this article, nor am I going to shy away from an article I wrote here in August 2008 about the participation of Scottish athletes in the Great Britain team, which referred to comments made by the then Chris Hoy, awarded his Knightood in the New Year Honours for 2009.

I hope that all of us in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland will get behind the Great Britain team, wherever in the United Kingdom individual members of the Great Britain team come from - not forgetting of course that as host nation this time around I hope that the athletes from all the participating countries here will have an enjoyable and successful time in London and the other venues where Olympic sports will be taking place.

Beware of scam calls - "Government Grant Scheme"

I had a telephone call earlier today from what is almost certainly a scam outfit. I was asked initially if I was "William Cameron", I responded querying who was calling. The person (a Scottiah male voice, with a well-spoken Glasgow accent) said he was calling about/from the "Government Grant Scheme". As I invariably do, I then said quite politely "no thanks, goodbye" and hung up. I was in bed at the time, propped up with a laptop on my lap, but only looked at the caller number a little later, after having blocked future calls (I pay for a service called 'choose to refuse') and was a little surprised to see it was listed openly rather than being 'withheld' or from a foreign proxy, as is so often the case with these cold-call scams. In any case the number was a Glasgow number (0141 438 2187) and a quick Google search threw up this, with a number of the links confirming this is indeed a scam outfit.

I think most sensible people can recognise this kind of call for what it is almost immediately, but some more gullible folks or perhaps some elderly folks with poor hearing might be fooled by these con-artists. So this is a warning just to be careful and not to be drawn into a conversation with such people. I am never rude when I hang up, by the way, I always say something like "no thanks, goodbye" and hang up, then block future calls if possible with my 'choose to refuse' access code. Job done!

PS/ Like many others, I subscribe to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) which theoretically should stop cold-calls, but as has been mentioned recently in the media the rules are being flouted by some less-reputable (and some otherwise seemingly pretty reputable) outfits; 'choose to refuse' is a second line of defence for me which I began to use over 10 years ago.

Asda opening in Inverness - after years of obstruction

(Please see UPDATE and /PS at end)

Asda is about to open its store in Inverness, after years of being stymied by rivals and partial local opposition. Generally a very positive thing, in my view, although I expect I shall continue to do the bulk of my shopping locally in Nairn at our recently-opened branch of Sainsbury, or at one of several Tesco outlets in Inverness or Forres. However, the addition of more competition in Inverness for Tesco can only be a good thing.

The only negative aspect is that Asda has been 'outed' as one of those which pays milk producers way below their cost of production, leading to planned protests by farmers outside the store on its opening day. As someone who does not consume milk, although I do buy cream, this is not of great personal interest to me, but it is probably true that whilst the farmers are being poorly treated, they perhaps require to take heed of economic reality - over-production inevitably leads to lower prices in a free market so perhaps some of them do need to shift their production to other things.

UPDATE (Thursday 26JUL2012 21.55 BST) I had my first visit to the new Asda store in Inverness yesterday afternoon and this is my report - I haven't had time to write about it until now. Although I had driven by the area some months ago, whilst it was still under construction (in the intervening period I have been at my home in Spain for several months), and although a little distance from it the signage was quite satisfactory and distinct, on approaching the turn-off into the carpark I was a little surprised by how 'obscure' the site is, because the car parking area is raised on a 'platform' several metres above the by-pass which takes you to it - no doubt this is a function of the hilly nature of the site which I had not fully appreciated during the construction phase. In any case, when I arrived at the parking area, and despite it being quite full (albeit with a few vacant spaces fairly close to the entrance, and a little distance from the store entrance) I was lucky to 'bag' a spot very close to the main entrance, just as someone was leaving! So, no long walk for me - I assume it would have been very different two days earlier on opening day.

Apart from my more recent visits to an Asda store in Elgin (and my last visit there was at least a year ago), my only previous experience of visiting this supermarket chain was quite a few years ago (when I lived in London whilst studying Arabic) when I visited their Isle of Dogs branch as my apartment in the Docklands area was only a 10 minute drive away. In general, I'd give the new Inverness store a 'thumbs up', but I have to record some slightly negative comments, too. In general, the store gave a rather 'enclosed' feel, a bit like the Tesco store in Dingwall and to some extent like the main Tesco store at the 'Retail Park' in Inverness, which although not using the same somewhat oppressive colour-scheme as its Dingwall branch or the new Asda Inverness store (which is not true of the Asda store in Elgin either, at least the last time I visited it), has recently become rather tiresome because of the end-of-aisle display units that Tesco has over the past year or so begun inserting there, specially on the aisles at the rear of the store and which project out in to the aisles and effectively make for a very congested environment.

The Inverness Asda is a large store, comparable in size I think to the largest of the Tesco stores in the city (at the retail park) and of course, at least from my first relatively brief visit, seems to have most of the requirements of a weekly shop for a family, but I did get the impression that the fresh fruit and vegetable offering was rather less extensive than is available at Tesco and indeed at the considerably smaller Sainsbury in Nairn, whilst the meat and fish offering did not seem specially remarkable either, even if I did get some very nice-looking ribeye steak, one of my favourite cuts, from what I thought was a somewhat pedestrian offering.

On balance I enjoyed my visit and purchased a few useful things, although because it is located halfway or two-thirds of the way across the city from the eastern side of the city, the closest approach from where I live in Nairn, I don't think I shall be making very regular return visits. Incidentally, I did not notice any dramatic differences in price from main local rival Tesco, bearing in mind that Asda does not have any point-earning 'loyalty card' scheme, as both Tesco and Sainsbury do. An interesting experience, nevertheless.

/PS (Monday 6AUG2012 15.55 BST) I observe that this article has been looked at twice now (according to my site stats) from a server of Wal-Mart (the parent company of Asda) in Bentonville, Arkansas, USA on 3rd and 6th August respectively; one hopes (that is to say, I hope) that this reflects mere interest on the part of a 'parent' in the doings of a far-distant minor 'off-spring' - in any case Welcome! I must admit I am slightly amazed by the interest of a major corporation in the minutiae of its operations, which I suppose is a very practical illustration of why it is so successful.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Waitrose in Scotland - the serious and the not so serious

I wrote an article here in January this year about the prospects of additional Waitrose stores opening in Scotland, following the news the company wished to have 20 stores here in the next five years (instead of the 3 soon to be 4 they had then - in fact since then I realise that the 4th branch in Newton Mearns opened last year).

In addition, since then I've read some more news:
- the fifth store is to be in Stirling and is expected to open in early 2013 (a report last year mentioned the 5th branch would be in Helensburgh, but as the earlier link in this paragraph is from Waitrose's own press centre and was published in February this year, whereas the second link is from a newspaper article published in January 2011, I think the later link is probably more reliable - perhaps the Helensburgh store had not yet received planning approval? - but see next section);
- a newspaper report published in March 2012 reports the 7th store will be in Milngavie (Glasgow area), but it also mentions that the planning approvals for both the Stirling and Helensburgh stores (5th and 6th) were approved a month earlier and that both will open early in 2013, whilst it is hoped that the Milngavie store will open before 2014.

So that's the first seven more or less sorted out, with places such as Ayrshire and Perthshire being mentioned as on their 'hit list' amongst others. Hopefully, Highland Region will not miss out completely!

Now for a little light relief, I just came across this Daily Mash article dating from November 2011, which throws its own characteristically acerbic/humorous eyes over the issue of Waitrose in Scotland - quite funny really!

Nairn firm's revolutionary wheelchair design

A Nairn-based designer, Andrew Slorance, himself paralysed since the age of 14 after an accident, has designed an innovative wheelchair which is called the Carbon Black. The process of getting it to market has not been straightforward and the project is to be featured in a BBC2 Scotland programme to be broadcast this Thursday, 19th July at 9pm (it'll be available for a week after broadcast on the BBC iPlayer). Worth watching I think.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Rajoy's attempt to reverse gay-marriage law rejected by Spain's Constitutional Court

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Spain's economy may be in a complete shambles, but at least some sense still prevails. The Constitutional Court has rejected an appeal by the governing Partido Popular and President ('Prime Minister') Mariano Rajoy against the 2005 change in the law which permitted same-sex marriage on the grounds that it was 'unconstitutional', asserting at the time the law was changed that it flouted article 10.2, relating to protection of the family, women and children. Of course he ignored the fact that a ban on same-sex marriage would constitute gender discrimination, and segregation on the grounds of sexuality, two situations forbidden by the Constitution.

I may think that Zapatero's PSOE was a lousy manager of Spain's economy (just as was the last Labour government in the UK), but both introduced reforms of the law which brought their countries into the forefront in terms of granting badly-needed rights to enhance the equality of their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens.

It is great to know that the Spanish Constitutional Court is prepared to stand up to the government when it seeks to deprive a segment of the population of recently-won and hard fought-for rights. I recall at the time the last government introduced the change how vehement was the opposition of the then opposition and the Roman Catholic church. We are seeing exactly the same opposition to the changes currently under discussion in the UK from the very-same Roman Catholic church. Although Spain is nominally a Catholic country, whereas the UK is not, both are modern democracies which have, fortunately, moved well beyond the crude propaganda efforts of the Church and neither is a theocracy, a concept the main churches in both countries (Catholic and CofE respectively) will just have to learn to live with!

And referring back to the first line of this article, doesn't Mariano Rajoy have more important things to worry about than attempting to reverse gay-marriage laws, for example the urgent task of sorting out the Spanish economy, which still has a very long way to go (quite frankly)?!

(NB/ This article is cross-posted from my Spanish blog

UPDATE (Wednesday 7NOV2012 06.41 GMT) Spain's Constitutional Court has re-affirmed the 2005 law granting same-sex couples the right to marry. See later post here.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

UKIP's Farage on the Euro and ESM bailout vehicle

I'm not a supporter of UKIP (although I wouldn't entirely rule it out in the longer term), but Nigel Farage is one of the relatively few MEPs, along with Conservative Daniel Hannan, worth listening to. Here is Farage lambasting both Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council and Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission for their lack of credibility in the international markets for the latest moves to support the Euro to have much chance of bringing any more than very short term relief from the systemic problems inherent in the Euro. He also told Barroso, quite rightly, that he had made himself and all of us look like out-of-touch idiots by having the temerity to lecture others about 'democracy' when he is completely unelected himself! Anyway, watch Nigel Farage at work demolishing these small men, completely out of their depth to provide coherent strategies to even begin the job of rescuing the Eurozone from the mess it has got itself into and who seem intent on dragging the rest of us down with their doomed policies:

By the way, when is the European Union going to get its accounts in order - it has not done so these past SEVENTEEN YEARS! (Sources - here and here, but there are many more to choose from.) I repeat that - SEVENTEEN YEARS!

Monday, 2 July 2012

On the current craze for blaming "greedy bankers"

It is striking how fashionable it has become in the last week or so, indeed since the financial turmoil really got going in 2007 and 2008, to pile blame on "greedy bankers". The latest well-known people to indulge in this, both politicians, are the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Leader of the Opposition and Labour Party, Ed Milliband. My motto tends to be: Always beware a politician making 'policy' by talking about 'morality' instead, as it is usually a sign that they have no idea what to do about a particular problem, or don't want to state an obvious truth for fear of upsetting the voting public.

A couple of days ago I read an article in the Douglas Carsewell blog (he is a Conservative MP) that reported on a Coffee House article by Spectator editor Fraser Nelson. Being a politician, Douglas Carsewell, really a sort of Essex 'bovver-boy' with presumably a decent education and defintely with decidedly 'radical' views, focussed on one particular aspect of what Fraser Nelson had actually written, that if one was going to blame bankers, then one should not forget to include central bankers as targets. Fair enough, but that is not the whole story, certainly of what Fraser Nelson wrote and even more so of how I think 'blame', if it is a worthwhile exercise at all (which I tend to doubt), needs to be placed, so I wrote a comment in Douglas Carsewell's blog which I reproduce below, because I think it is probably a fairer and more complete analysis. Politicians, in particular, don't like to tell the truth to their electorates, because they depend on public votes to get elected or re-elected - but sometimes 'naughty kids' (in this case 'the public') do require to be told a few home truths; the comment was my small effort at correcting this omission:

Well, it is convenient for politicians (of all political parties, but specially that of the government of the time), to blame 'greedy bankers' and they must obviously share some of the blame, but as you - and Fraser Nelson writes - the macro-ecnonomic policies put in place by central banks, specially in the US and UK, but even more specifically (as you conveniently forgot to mention) the governments of those two countries carry an even more major part of the 'blame' or 'responsibility'.

It would be neglectful and dishonest too, although politicians who need votes always seem to gloss over the matter, not to mention the third major component of what went wrong - the borrowing public, which was very happy to run up enormous credit card debt and think that property investment and the high borrowing which almost always funded it was a one-way bet. No-one forced these borrowers to take on more debt than they could handle and in very many cases it wasn't to fulfil real needs, merely to take part in the consumer-led bonanza going on all around them. Not everyone did this and a few people, such as myself (for example) were counselling anyone who would listen amongst my acquaintances and family not to become swept up in it. And I'm not talking about 2007 or 2008, I'm talking about as early as 2002. - the signs were already very clear then of the way things were developing.

All political parties in the UK, including the then Opposition (i.e. the Conservatives), were egging on the public to borrow more, but of course without the idiocy and greed of the borrowers the disaster could not have happened. Most politicians are venal, but then most politicians are no worse than most of the people they represent who, given the opportunity for what seems like 'easy money' will not hesitate to indulge themselves. Politicians (and central bankers) don't like to tell voters the truth, but them most voters don't really want to hear the truth!

Until the borrowing public who fund much of their discretionary expenditure by borrowing on credit cards or loans (for example to fund several foreign holidays a year, or regular clothes shopping for reasons of 'fashion' rather than utility, or to have a new car every year or other year, etc) realise they are just as responsible for the financial mess we are all in and, more importantly, accept they must modify their own behaviour in the light of this, then I am afraid to say it is 'they' the public (and far too many politicians) who still do not get it!