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Brexit Schmexit

26 June, 2016 (23:43) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

I was going to write a lengthy post today, but really I’m still too down about the referendum result, and, I have to say, increasingly angry. Meantime, I’ll just leave this here.

The EU is cutting us some slack because it recognises that in 4 days we’ve become a basket case (although the message is clear, it just wants us to go, and who can blame them?) Four. Days.

Basket Case

Basket Case



The Morning After the Night Before

25 June, 2016 (12:48) | Dead Water | By: Ian Burdon

In the 1992 Film “A Few Good Men”, PFC Louden Downie, not the sharpest knife in the cutlery tray, doesn’t understand why he has been given a dishonourable discharge from the Marines. “What does this mean?” He says. “I don’t understand…”

I was reminded of this when word came through that Cornwall, having voted “Leave” in last Thursday’s referendum, is looking for guarantees it will still receive EU funding. If the Indy is to be believed, the Council had been assured by the “Leave” campaign that the funding wouldn’t be lost. The mendacity of the Leave campaign and the naivety of the Council are both noteworthy, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot of this now as funding dries up for infrastructure and research.

Yorkshire is also in the same position, it seems, as, I believe, is the whole of Wales.

It is still too soon after the result to comment with complete rationality. My personal reaction has been a kind of numbed disbelief in the stupidity of it all. To the extent that I’m angry, it is not at people who voted Leave for reasons that felt real to them, it is that we had the damned referendum at all. Writing in the FT, James Blitz says that this was a tactical failure by Cameron. It strikes me as fundamentally a strategic rather than tactical failure, but the point is now moot.

And, of course, there is Scotland.

I thought the text of Nicola Sturgeon’s statement yesterday was very interesting. Of course the IndyRef2 stuff is the raw meat for the “Freedom!” brigade, but the whole of what she said was more nuanced. It was nuanced because there is a problem with the dreams of Europe I am seeing.

Yes, there are benefits of staying in Europe under the terms currently negotiated by the UK as a Member State: that, after all, is why I voted Remain.

But that isn’t what we’ll get if we have IndyRef2 and a subsequent Scottish accession to the EU, whether fast-tracked or not. What we will get is accession under the terms of the Copenhagen Criteria, and we will get them as a peripheral nation/entity with severe economic problems. Scotland does not currently meet the Copenhagen Criteria. The criteria are to have:

  1. stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  2. a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU;
  3. the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.

It is the third criterion that is the main problem for an “independent” Scotland–adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.

Negotiations for joining the EU cover the conditions and timing of the candidate’s adoption, implementation and enforcement of all current EU rules. These rules are divided into 35 different policy fields (chapters), such as transport, energy, environment, etc., each of which is negotiated separately. You’ll find them here.

Naturally, they include all of the things from which the UK, as Member State, negotiated an opt-out, notably use of the Euro, and Schengen. They are not negotiable. Nicola knows this, which is why her statement was nuanced and why I think we are unlikely to see IndyRef2 any time soon. As David Ross noted on Twitter

More when I’ve thought about this some more.

Never Again

16 June, 2016 (19:25) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

I grew up with the myth of the post-war consensus. I’m a child of the fifties (just) and a child of hope. The generation before mine had come home from WW2 vowing “Never Again” and set about putting together the things that helped my generation grow in a healthy, free environment–the NHS, expansion of education, pensions, and housing. Before the end of my first decade, men walked on the moon. By the end of my second decade I had a grant to attend university in the days when academic curiosity was a valid reason to be there, and it wasn’t just seen as an instrumental activity en route to a gilded career. Even the Thatcher years, with their mean-spirited gurning at notions of social solidarity and society didn’t erase that, try though they might.

Since the Scottish referendum of 2014, I have very deliberately kept out of any debates on social media about politics. Of late, that means making almost no comments about this awful EU Referendum. Burning up the keyboard doesn’t help, doesn’t convince, and, in the end, doesn’t much matter. I’ve stood back when otherwise sensible people post nonsense and repeat lies, contenting myself with muting their voices until things get back to normal.

Except they’re not going to get back to what we thought of as normal: too many genies are out of too many bottles; too much poison is in the water supply, too much foetid miasma in the air we breath. And that poison has today led to the murder of Jo Cox MP.

This is not the country I grew up in; it is not the way my parents brought me up to think and behave; it is not the way I have tried to bring up my own kids. It falls short of what it ought to be, scratting and snarling around in a fouled gutter of pettiness and unkindness.

I said the post-war consensus was a myth, and it was; but it was a pretty damn good myth. And, like all myths, it is at heart a creation myth that embodies an understanding of what we ought to be, what we could be. It is the myth of a good society emerging from the ashes of war (as, for all its imperfections, is the European Union).

I find Nigel Farage to be a disgraceful, lying shit of a man, who for too long has dripped his small-minded foulness into our daily lives. However I agree with him on one thing: I do think it is time to reclaim the country, but to reclaim it for what it ought to be. This nonsense around us is not who we are. We are better than this.

#should be writing

23 May, 2016 (19:47) | Writing | By: Ian Burdon

The story that was accepted by Fox Spirit earlier this year was originally written, in first draft at least, in summer 2014. It went through several revisions before I submitted it, but it is a two-year-old story.

In the interim I have written a series of 11 interlinked stories that, cumulatively, come to 105,000 words. My first readers like them and, after a revision process, so do I. Anyway, they are now with an editor for assessment prior to me thinking about what to do next with them.

I didn’t start out to write stories in what is essentially a horror genre, but that’s what came out, at least for the most part, on one way of looking at them. Having said that, I haven’t gone out of my way to adopt or follow any genre tropes, and when I’ve spotted them I’ve either deleted them or tried to subvert them. To the extent that “influences” are consciously invoked as part of the writing process, mine are Muriel Spark and George Mackay Brown, with side orders of Njall’s Saga, Dorothy Dunnett, Christopher Priest, M John Harrison, and a half-remembered Len Deighton novel. Not that anyone would see the influence, that’s not how it works.

But there are also elements from my time on the Childrens’ panel in Lothian Region in the early nineties, and my reading of 17th century criminal cases in Scotland, especially witch trials.

So now I’m wondering what’s next. I have three things in notebooks at various stages of development, all novels (I think): one is a direct follow on to the stories I’ve just finished; the second is a strange mash-up of Muriel Spark and Sandy McCall Smith set in post-WW2 Edinburgh; the third is something mixing some of what I did in my Honours year in my first degree with the Umberto Eco of Foucault’s Pendulum.

At present the follow-on volume is most likely, in part because the other two will require more research than I currently have time to do. In any event, they should keep me out of mischief for a while.

Drive-by Posting

7 May, 2016 (19:42) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

I’ve been in Spain for most of the week. Alas it was work not play, but a change is as good as a rest and all that.

Two good things came out of the trip:

  • I read Edna O’Brien’s A Pagan Place which I loved.
  • I got home to find I live in a constituency that no longer has an SNP MSP and to a Parliament in which the SNP no longer have a clear majority. I would have preferred it if the main opposition was not the Conservatives, but I’ll take the rough with the smooth.

Plus ca change

17 April, 2016 (23:56) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

In 1970s East Kilbride town centre was a pub called The Tower. It later became “My Father’s Moustache” (I know) and is now, I believe, once again The Tower.

Anyway, The Tower was the place to go for live music which, in the late seventies, was always heavy music (not Metal: Metal hadn’t been invented yet). On a Saturday a band would usually play a lunchtime and an evening show upstairs, and the sets would mix covers and self-penned stuff. The standard was generally pretty high and often exceptional.

One of the remarkable things about it was that anything could be bought and sold in there and we all knew it, whether we took part or not. This was usually under the noses of the local Drug Squad who were always recognisable because they were the only ones who looked like hippies; everyone else looked like bikers.

The reason I bring this up is because I went to see Wilko Johnson the other night and was mightily impressed by the support act, Joanne Shaw Taylor. For some reason I found myself reminded of Saturdays in the Tower. But with two notable differences. Firstly, the lead vocalist and guitarist in those days would not have been a woman; secondly, she is better than any of them were.

This is Joanne:

Blocking the Night Away

3 April, 2016 (20:17) | Rants | By: Ian Burdon

I’ve been hanging around the internet for a long time. I first went online in the Computer Lab at the Law Faculty in Edinburgh University. The experience was mostly based on pinging text around, and email was Pegasus I think. Around the same time, roughly 1991 to 1993, the Lab first started experimenting with Gopher and Mosaic.

National Geographic turns you away

National Geographic turns you away

Back then, the notion of netiquette was important and was, for the most part, observed, particularly in early mail lists and on Usenet. I remember when I encountered my first real troll, back when troll had real meaning as someone who went out of their way to antagonise other participants. The highest achievement of the successful troll was to provoke a flame war, the most virulent of which destroyed lists entirely. (Yeah, I know, what a fogey I am, getting nostalgic: ee lad, I remember when trolls were trolls, not like today, you lot ‘ave it easy, don’t know you’re born…)

One of the important things about those early days was that advertising on the internet was frowned on, and universally derided as spam. The world has changed, of course, and perhaps it is only oldies like me, who absorbed netiquette by osmosis and trial and error, who still have a visceral detestation of advertising on the internet. Are we spitting into the wind? Yes; but it is important, like cursive handwriting and tolerably good grammar.

These days, advertising is ubiquitous and all-pervasive. Many, if not most, commercial models seem to be built on advertising revenue, and freedom to advertise in as obtrusive a manner as possible is assumed to be an entitlement. However, as a consequence, consumers and end-users have taken to adopting adblocking add-ons to their browsers, and this is causing problems, especially for websites that suck on the advertisers’ tit.



In response, sites have started to identify users using adblockers and stopping them viewing content entirely. I got the message shown in the pic on the Guardian website a couple of days ago, though it seems to have been an experiment as I haven’t had it since. And, before anyone accuses me of trying to access content for free, I do still buy the newspaper, though admittedly not as much as I used to. I also have assorted tools in place to try and stop tracking, and routinely refuse cookies unless I specifically want them for site recognition, etc.

So I was interested to read THIS and the link through to THIS.

They seem to me pretty much to nail it. Although I dislike advertising in principle, the reality is that you have to be pragmatic. And it isn’t as if paper copies of papers and magazines did not carry advertising. The difference is that online ads aren’t like the old static ads that just sit there on the page: they sing and dance and shout and scream, pop-up and pop-under and block access to content, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. And they presume to follow you around, working out what you like so that they can, wait for it, make the ads “more relevant”. What was that I was saying about entitlement issues?  The notion that I might want to see as few ads as possible is not one of the relevant considerations.

It isn’t just online either. I watch little TV, but when I do I keep the remote handy to mute the sound if the channel I’m watching carries ads. I suspect the growth of HBO and Netflix, aside from quality content and innovation in presentation, has a lot to do with the absence of ads there too.

Part of the issue here is that we haven’t adjusted to the implications of the always-on, always-connected world. I don’t know how content providers are going to address the issue, but I’m pretty sure that it won’t be through the extension of the post-war advertising paradigm.

ADDED:- I reminded myself that back in 2008 I wrote:

Business models driven by advertising will likely fall in the face of increased awareness and use of advertisement blocking functionality as add ons to or integral parts of internet browsers.

It just took a bit longer than I expected.


27 March, 2016 (21:03) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

An old college contemporary of mine, now a vicar, posted a sermon on his blog earlier which set me thinking. This is NOT a direct reply to Tony, just some thoughts occasioned by reading his words, which concerned the impact of the short ministry of Jesus compared to that of longer lived classical philosophers.

  • Our knowledge of Jesus and his teaching comes from the canonical New Testament, and thus contains assumptions about canonicity and authenticity of those documents as distinct from the Apocrypha.
  • There is a problem with isolating the words of Jesus as distinct from words attributed to Jesus.
  • We don’t know what Jesus was doing prior to the reported period of his ministry, or who he was associating with.
  • Even putting the best possible gloss on the sources and assuming some of Jesus’s original words have survived, the development of Christian thought from the earliest times has been influenced by other ideas in the societies of the time. This is evident even in the New Testament and the doctrinal positions adopted by Paul, a gentile convert, as distinct from the authors of the gospels, particularly John, and the Letter to the Hebrews, Let alone the bad trip of Revelations. Within the Gospels themselves we already see motifs known from other traditions cropping up–such as the Virgin Birth–and stories being presented in a way that consciously links to Old Testament sources. The New Testament itself is a collection of documents that adopt ideological and philosophical positions and that have been selected to be canonical. They bear no necessary relationship to what Jesus of Nazareth thought (and I am assuming that he existed).
  • There clearly is influence from Manicheanism (especially via St. Augustine), Gnosticism, Roman cultic and liturgical practices, and African and Asian philosophies as Christian thought develops.
  • Likewise an influence of classical philosophy via, for example, Aquinas, and Arabic thought via Averos, before we even get to the reformed tradition.
  • And Christian thought went through innumerable battles against so-called heresies and still remains divided: who can say what the relationship is between the various christian traditions and the thoughts and words of Jesus?

…and so on. And I haven’t mentioned the dating of Easter itself in the Western tradition, which was not a value-free choice (see Bede’s Ecclesiastical History regarding the Synod of Whitby, and get ready to celebrate Easter again in the Eastern tradition in about five weeks time.)

It also occurs to me that the active religious life of Muhammad (to the extent that we know about it) was relatively short, and yet his impact has been at least as great as that of Jesus if we take off our Western spectacles.

Thus, what is the impact of Jesus, as opposed to the impact of the malleable thing that is Christian thought?

Transferred From Time Into Eternity

12 March, 2016 (23:06) | Writing | By: Ian Burdon

I should be writing; instead I got dragged into a research vortex looking at 19th century Scottish Broadside accounts of executions (find them here).

I should be writing

I should be writing

These have a morbid fascination, but also provide insight and detail into social attitudes and expectations, especially about the expectation that the condemned will exhibit a dignified mien on the scaffold. And the descriptions, which at first seem precise in a way that is alien to us now, also fall into clichéd turns of phrase to describe the moment of death of the accused:”launched into eternity” is frequent, although a copywriter excelled himself with “closed her eyes on sublunary objects.”

It is also clear that some hangmen were more skilled than others. As throwing the victims from a ladder gave way to a scaffold with a mechanical drop, it took a while for the skills to be developed to ensure a quick death. Some of the descriptions make it clear that not all of the condemned died quickly on the end of the rope, but struggled and convulsed until “the world closed upon the wretched man forever.”

One poor woman, Margaret Myles, executed in 1702 for incest with her brother (David, also executed) is excoriated because she “dyed obdurately and obstinately and gave little or no satisfaction to the spectators.” Good for her, I thought.

The difficulty with getting lost in the 19th century accounts is that my story is set in the 17th century.

The problem with 17th century, and early 18th century, accounts, is that they retain the capacity to cause upset when read, particularly the cases of Hellen Marishal (aged 19) and Jannet Shank, executed in 1720 and 1711 respectively, both in the Grass Mercat in Edinburgh. In both of these cases, I found myself oddly pleased to have read the accounts, not because they’re in any way pleasurable, but because by reading them these poor women are, in a small way, still remembered after 300 years.

Into the Unknown

11 March, 2016 (20:41) | Dead Water, Writing | By: Ian Burdon

Remember I mentioned I’d submitted a short story to a call for “Respectable Horror”? The story was accepted.

More here.

I’m really quite pleased about this :-)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should be writing…