Saturday, November 22, 2014

Beginning - Middle - End

LC and I went to see "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part One" last night. It's a very well-made film, the performances are all perfectly fine, and it's generally good. But there's one fundamental problem: half of it is missing.

The reason splitting a single novel into more than one film is simple. A novel has a very obvious structure - a beginning, a middle, and an end. Even in the case of a middle volume of a trilogy, this is still true - "The Empire Strikes Back" might end on a cliffhanger, but it still stands alone as a film in its own right.

Splitting one book into two (or more!) films means breaking that structure: B/M/E becomes B/M/E/B/M/E. It just doesn't work.

And so, "Mockingjay, Part One" suffers from exactly the same problem as "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One" (and, no doubt, "Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part One") - they've stretched the half of the novel, the bit that's supposed to build up to the climax of the series, out so it's a 2-hour film, and then stopped. And we're left with a film where nothing much happens, and then we get left hanging.

Once Part Two is out, and even better when we have them on blu-ray and can watch them back to back, it will no doubt be fine. But as long as it stands alone, it's just not good.


On the plus side, this does mean that Part Two should be one to look forward to. It basically starts with the climax of the series, can cut straight to the chase, and should therefore be a lot of fun. It's just a real shame that the price for that is that this film has been sacrificed for the sake of an extra opening weekend at the box office.

#57: "Red Dwarf: Backwards", by Rob Grant

Friday, November 21, 2014

The UKIP Narrative

In the last few weeks we've had two by-elections, as a consequence of which we now have the first two UKIP MPs. And in both cases the media have described these as Tory losses and UKIP gains, showing a massive swing to UKIP and the start of a massive shake-up of British politics.

There's just one problem with this narritive: in both cases the winner of the election was the person who was the MP beforehand. What's more, both Carswell and Reckless were, by all accounts, both good and popular local MPs.

So, what we have is not necessarily a big swing towards UKIP as an outworking of the known phenomenon that the incumbent always has a big advantage in an election - it's much easier to remain elected than to become elected. (Which is not to say there isn't some sort of a swing going on. Of course there is. But it's certainly not of the size that may be being presented and may not even be in the direction that's being presented.)

The reason this is important is that we have a General Election coming up. If the by-election results show a massive swing from the Tories to UKIP then that means UKIP can expect to win many seats, where if the results show a much more modest swing then it means UKIP can expect to win only a few seats.

And, yes, based on the results from last night I'm now much more confident of my prediction that UKIP will get between 0 and 5 seats at the General Election. Specifically, they will probably hold Carswell's seat, might hold Reckless' seat, and may possibly gain 1-2 more seats due to defections (and then hold them). And Nigel Farage will probably win a seat, provided he chooses it very carefully.

But I doubt they'll get much beyond that. The First Past the Post system just favours the two big parties to too great an extent.


Band was a bit... odd... last night. The evening started easily enough, with us taking the learners through the material we'd been covering. No issue there. After which, I went and asked the pipe major if the band would be getting the pipes out that night.

At this point he said no, but that he wanted the learners to practice some marching and also starts and stops. Great, I say, and go tell my learners to get their pipes and head through so we can do that.

However, mere moments later they came back, because everyone in the hall was working on chanters instead. So, okay, maybe things had changed. In which case, let's get the chanters and go join them.

But that promptly fell apart, because the rest of the band were working on tunes that the learners have never touched. Which is fine, but not of any use to those learners. So we went back through to instead work on the tunes that they do know.

That lasted two minutes, before the pipe major came looking for us - he wanted us to get our pipes out to play some tunes with the band!

It's worth noting that my reaction to this is more bemusement, with a side order of amusement, rather than annoyance - it was actually quite funny seeing all the plans change every couple of minutes. And the practice on the pipes at the end was no bad thing.

But it would be really good if we could have a consistent plan of action laid out so that we actually know what's happening. (And, actually, it would be even better if the main band could vacate the big hall for a few practices, so that those of us teaching the learners could go through things like marching, starts, and stops without distraction.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fascinating, but Irrelevant

I must say, I'm finding the lead up to the General Election really quite fascinating. So much is going on that it's almost impossible to predict, and it seems that almost anything could happen.

And yet, at the same time, it's largely irrelevant, both in terms of who eventually wins and even in terms of my own vote.

The thing is that, regardless of what happens, we'll end up with one of two things: either a Tory-led government or a Labour-led government. That may be a majority from one party (unlikely), a coalition with some other party (maybe), or a minority (probably the most likely).

But here's the thing: it doesn't actually matter.

If the Tories win, there are a further 37 billion pounds worth of cuts coming. The scale of those cuts is such that it's not really a matter of where they'll cut, or even what their priorities are - everything will need to be cut to the bone.

So that's simple, surely - can't have a Tory government.

The problem is that, at conference, Ed Balls committed any incoming Labour government to follow the Tories' spending plans. Which means that, if Labour win, there are a further 37 billion pounds worth of cuts coming. The scale of those cuts is such that it's not really a matter of where they'll cut, or even what their priorities are - everything will need to be cut to the bone.

And, in the face of £37b cuts nothing else really matters - there's so little flexibility left that the parties might as well not bother with any other policies, because there's no money to fund them.

It really doesn't matter who wins.

Looking more locally, it's also irrelevant, this time because my options are few. In Falkirk there are three options: vote Labour, vote SNP, or waste your vote - UKIP, the Lib Dems, and the Tories might as well not stand, because they have no chance.

But Labour in Falkirk have been an absolute disgrace. Firstly, they're responsible for foisting Eric Joyce on us for the past 17 years. But now, just as we're getting rid, they've somehow contrived to make things worse, firstly by imposing an all-women shortlist (which I object to on principle), and then with the scandal surrounding the selection of the candidate.

The bottom line is that voting for Labour, in Falkirk, and for me, is simply not an option. It has to be the SNP.

(There's one caveat to this. There was a suggestion that Dennis Canavan might stand as an independent candidate. I don't think that's particularly likely, but if he did then that would shift my vote.)

And so, the General Election is actually rather irrelevant to me - it doesn't matter who wins, and the destination of my vote is already determined, if only by a process of elimination.

Yet it's still rather fascinating, because of three big questions:

  • Just how well will the SNP actually do? Surely they'll get more than the 6 seats from last time, but how many? (One set of poll results even suggested they'd get 57 of the 59 Scottish seats - with one Labour and one Lib Dem MP left - but that must be just as unlikely as them getting fewer than 7 seats. Mustn't it?)
  • Just how badly will the Lib Dems do? They're clearly on course for near-annihilation in Scotland, and almost certain to lose a lot of seats elsewhere, but how many? Will they remain the third-largest party, or slip to fourth? Or fifth?
  • And, of course, just what will UKIP do?

Some Predictions

As I said, it's really hard to predict what might happen. Still, here are my best guesses:

I expect the Tories to end up as the largest party, but to fall short of a majority. Further, I expect them to fail to find any coalition partners, and to end up forming a minority government for the next five years. (And, as a consequence of that, I expect the mooted EU referendum for 2017 to fail to appear.)

Consequently, I expect Labour to be the second largest party. I don't really have much to say here, except that an awful lot depends on how they react to the loss. Will they finally engage in some much-needed introspection, reconnect with their principles, and start to win back some repect; or will they simply shuffle the roles and carry on?

I expect the SNP to win somewhere in the upper 20's in terms of seats and to be the third largest party. In theory, this could make them kingmakers for the next parliament, but I don't see this happening - they can't be seen to empower a Tory government (because the Tories are absolutely toxic up here), and I don't think a Labour government could be propped up using SNP votes against the majority will of the English. Besides, Labour hate the SNP.

Conversely, the Lib Dems are heading for near-annihiliation in Scotland, and won't do much better elsewhere in the UK. They'll probably retain about 10 seats.

UKIP are a bit of a wild card. By this time tomorrow I expect them to have 2 MPs, and they may even go into the General Election with a few more if some more Tories do indeed defect. And yet, I don't expect a major breakthrough for them - they might get 5 MPs, but might well end up with none.

Unfortunately, I expect the Greens to lose their one existing seat. A shame.

#56: "Nightblade", by Liane Merciel

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Scotland v England

Yes, it's another football post. Don't worry, though - should be the last for a while.

I rather enjoyed the match last night. Largely because it's actually quite rare for the TV to have football on that I care about, what with Sky getting the rights to all our qualifying matches, us never actually managing to qualify, and Scottish football in general being pretty poor.

I felt the result was about right, with one caveat (which I'll get to). I was very glad that it wasn't a humiliation, though it was pretty obvious that England weren't playing at full intensity. (That said, had it been a 'real' match, I suspect the result would actually have been 2-0 England and the match much less enjoyable - in a 'real' game Scotland would almost certainly have gone for damage-limitation rather than trying to win the match.)

The one caveat I have to put on the result is Scotland's goal. The truth is that while Scotland's performance was generally okay, there wasn't really any point at which they looked like scoring. The goal was extremely well taken, but it did seem to come out of nowhere. Though I guess you have to take your chances when you get them.

Conversely, England's three goals weren't unexpected - each was well worked and the result of good play. That's a really bad thing for Scotland, because two of the three were the result of exactly the same sort of defensive problems that caused them to lose to Germany (and, indeed, England last year).

The bottom line from last night's game is to confirm what we knew already: England are a good way ahead of Scotland in terms of football. But it tells us virtually nothing about how England compare with any of the bigger nations - for that, they ideally need to play Spain or Italy.

(The follow-on from that is that it would be good for us to have a rematch, probably in Wembley, next year to see if we've progressed any. But the prospect of such a match should be less appealing to the England management, since we're not the right test for them.)

In the meantime, there are several positives that Gordon Strachan can take from the past year or so. Progress has definitely been made. But in some areas, and particularly in defense, he does need to think again.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Car Four

I picked up my new car on Saturday. It's another Ford Focus, silver, eighteen months newer than the previous one, with 50k miles on the clock. So the whole accident thing is now more or less dealt with - I need to arrange to return the courtesy car, but then I'm done.

The 'new' car is actually a good bit older than I'd expected to get, and has rather more miles on the clock. However, it had clearly been taken very good care of, it's immediately familiar (being essentially the same as the last car), and was a good bit less expensive than I'd intended as well. So, I'm pretty happy with that.

(Ideally, I'll get about 6 years out of this car, and another 100,000 miles. Realistically, I think that may be over-optimistic. But even if I only get half of that, it will still make for a very good deal.)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Time's Up

Surely the time has come for Ally McCoist to be replaced as Rangers manager?

The thing is, given the way Rangers have been playing for the past couple of years, there is absolutely no guarantee that they'll win any given match. Yes, they will win most matches, but on any given day they might draw, or lose. What that means is that there is no reason to be confident that they could gain promotion via the play-offs - these require them to win at least two one-off matches, which still remains the most likely outcome but can't be one they're comfortable with.

That means that they need to win the Championship. Second place just isn't enough.

And the truth is that Rangers should be able to win the Championship, despite the presence of Hearts and Hibs in the division this season. The thing is, Hibernian have had huge problems on the field for the past several years, while Hearts' financial woes are scarcely less bad than those at Rangers - just not as well documented. Further, given Rangers' comparitively massive squad, certainly the size of the wage bill, and the nominal quality of the players that are available, they really should be able to win this one.

And yet they continue to stutter, losing to both Hearts and Hibs but also, worse, dropping points to the supposed 'lesser' teams, while Hearts rack up the points week after week, even when away to more difficult sides. (Though, sadly, Falkirk just haven't been doing too well this season either. I had hoped they would be in the mix, though it seems Queen of the South and Raith Rovers are putting in better challenges for the remaining play-off spots.)

I suppose things might change next week. If Rangers can go to Hearts and get a win, that reduces the gap back down to 3 points, which isn't insurmountable. But given the relative play of the two sides this season, the reverse seems more likely, widening the gap to 9 points, which probably is.

(Cynically, since the surest way to ensure a win is to sack the manager the week before...)

Of course, whenever talking about replacing the manager, an obvious question must be raised: who can you get who is better? Well, right now there is one name that springs instantly to mind, a manager who is currently out of a job, but who has spent the last several years getting exceptional results from a team with minimal resources, and even as he lost his better players every season due to financial pressures. Better still, he's another manager with clear Rangers-minded credentials.

Stuart McCall.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

So far, so good

Back in September I posted about what Scotland would need to do to qualify for the European Championships in 2016. We're now four matches in, and so far things are progressing nicely.

I said I figured we would need to:

  • Beat Georgia at Ibrox on the 11th of October. Done.
  • Beat the Republic of Ireland at Parkhead on the 14th of November. Done
  • We absolutely must beat Gibraltar at Hampden on the 29th of March.
  • We need to beat Georgia in Georgia on the 4th of September.
  • We need to beat Poland at Hampden on the 8th of October.
  • We absolutely must beat Gibraltar in Portugal on the 11th of October.

Of course, we were beaten by Germany in Germany, which probably surprised nobody. However, we did manage to pick up a point against Poland away from home, which is rather better than expected.

And so we end the year with 7 points out of a possible 12, with Poland leading the group on 10, Germany and the Republic of Ireland on 7 each, Georgia on 3, and Gibraltar with 0 points.

Looking forward, you would still expect Germany to top the group with near-maximum points. Realistically, we're in a three-way race with Poland and the Republic of Ireland, with one guaranteed qualification spot and one play-off spot up for grabs.

At the moment, Poland are very clearly in the driver's seat, having unexpectedly beaten Germany. The one thing that does stand in our favour is that our next match is Gibraltar at home, while Poland and RoI are yet to meet. (Ideally, both the Poland/RoI matches would end up as draws. But almost any split of those six points could help us.)

(Of course, knowing us, we'll contrive to slip up against Gibraltar. That's a match that we should win, but that doesn't mean we will win it. But the thing is that if we don't win it, we can probably forget about qualification entirely.)

So, bring on March!

#55: "Winnie the Pooh", by A.A. Milne (a book from The List)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

¿Si Catalunya?

One of the consequences of the Scottish independence referendum was that I became quite aware of the situation in Catalonia, largely because of the argument that Spain would veto an independent Scotland's request to remain in/re-enter the EU in order to send an example to their own independence movement.

So, it was with some interest that I've been following the events over there in the past few months.

Right from the top, I need to note that there is a key difference between the situation in Catalonia and the one in Scotland: the UK constitution allows for referenda of this type, and thanks to the decision of the UK government to enable the referendum it was entirely legal; conversely, the Spanish constitution states that any referendum concerning the make-up of Spain itself is a matter for all citizens of Spain, and so a referendum about Catalan independence would need to be conducted Spain-wide. (This is also why Spain would have been wise not to oppose Scotland in the EU, since the example made should have been about following established legal frameworks. But I digress.)

After the most recent elections, the regional government of Catalonia decided to hold a referendum anyway. The Spanish government, predictably, moved to block this in the courts. The Catalans, less predictably, held it anyway - albeit in an unofficial and volunteer-driven manner.

And so, on Monday, we found that some 1.6 million Catalans had turned out to vote 'Si'. (This equates to an 80%-ish result for independence, but on a turnout of about 35%. Because of this, and the unofficial nature of the poll, which will have skewed it heavily towards 'Si', the result is largely irrelevant. The sheer number of voters, however, is not.)

Predictably, the Spanish government have declared this meaningless, and are intent on business as usual.

It seems to me that this is a mistake, and a bad one. The turnout at this unofficial referendum, and the results of other polls in Catalonia, have very clearly showed that there is very strong support over there for having a referendum. Support for independence, on the other hand, is much less certain.

Legal obstructionism of this sort, however, can only serve to harder that support - it sends the message that the will of the people is irrelevant. The government doesn't trust them to make the 'right' decision, so won't let them make any decision. In the best case, this feeds support to the pro-independence parties (or, over here, UKIP); in worse cases it leads to Unilateral Declarations of Independence, to civil disobedience, to violence, or worse. (And the argument that the constitution doesn't permit it is awfully weak - constitutions can, and have, been changed, including in Spain. All that's needed there is the will.)

In my opinion, David Cameron was absolutely right to sign the Edinburgh Agreement, to enable the referendum, and then to fight and win the resulting referendum. It's one of very few things I think he's managed to get right while in government. (Further, in my opinion, the government here would be wise to put in place a clear legal mechanism indicating when, and under what conditions, Scotland can have another referendum. Because otherwise we're potentially facing this exact same problem in a few years time.)

(And, yes, that does mean that I support UKIP's goal of having a referendum on the EU, even though I would absolutely vote to stay in. Doing so seems the surest and quickest way to kill UKIP off. Though surely the powers-that-be must know this. If I were cynical, and I am, I might be inclined to think therefore that the reason they don't do this is because they want UKIP around, to soak up the "none of the above" vote.)

As for the topic of Catalan independence itself: I strongly support their desire to have a referendum. Beyond that, though, it's a matter for the Catalans themselves; I don't qualify for an opinion.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Quick Update on my Car

My Car has indeed been written off. So I'll need to go get a new one as a matter of some urgency.

In terms of the insurance pay-out, the amount I'm getting isn't a huge surprise: less than I'd hoped, more than I'd feared, and a little bit more than I'd expected. So that's a win, I guess - though the reality is that I'll be spending a few thousand pounds that we don't really want to have to spend in order to get the new car (since you always buy the car that's 'right' for now, rather than the direct replacement for what you had before).

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Doctors, rated

Having gone through the year reading a Doctor Who novel and short story per month, I've been giving some thought to the various incarnations of the character across the years. That being the case, I thought I'd post briefly about where they rate in my estimation. So, from the best downwards...

The 'Good' Doctors

While I don't think there's ever actually been a truly bad portrayal of the Doctor, it is true that some have been better than others. These, therefore, are the Doctors that I consider to be the particularly good portrayals of the character.

The Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker

Yeah, the inevitable choice. The thing is, Baker was both my first Doctor and also was the one who laid down so much of the groundwork for everything that followed. Therefore, he stands at the top of the heap.

The Tenth Doctor: David Tennant

And then, close behind, is the best of the four 'new' Doctors, David Tennant's Tenth. Although his tenure probably went on too long, and although RTD's writing became quite tired by the end, Tennant had some fantastic material to work with, and he embodied the character perfectly. A great Doctor.

The Eleventh: Matt Smith

Given the almost impossible task of following DT, Matt Smith took the character in a very different direction, and excelled in the role. Good stuff.

The Fifth: Peter Davison

More than any of the others, Davison was "my Doctor", and as such he ranks very highly in the order. His era also represents the last point where the 'classic' series was as good as it should be - unfortunately, what was to come was not all that might be hoped.

The Ninth: Christopher Eccleston

Given the big task of bringing the show back, Eccleston did extremely well with the role. By striking just the right balance of silliness and seriousness, he established the format of the show going forward, and gave it a really strong foundation from which to proceed. In some ways, it's just a shame he was followed by such strong Doctors, as it means he is rated relatively low amongst the 'new' Doctors despite an excellent portrayal.

The Third: Jon Pertwee

I'm not hugely familiar with this Doctor, as he's a little before my time, but what I have seen is familiar enough to fit right alongside the Fourth and the Fifth - you can see a clear progression from each to the next. And there's a clear warmth to the character which means there's no doubt about his placement.

The Doctors With Potential

There are two Doctors who showed a great deal of promise with their portrayal, but who barely got a chance with the role. So...

The Eighth: Paul McGann

The TV movie was terrible, but I was always left with the sense that, given better material, McGann could have been a great Doctor. And then came "Night of the Doctor" and, sure enough, he could. Still, he doesn't really have enough to properly be rated amongst the others, and so he fits here.

The War Doctor: John Hurt

Likewise, with only a single episode there's no real way to rate the War Doctor. Given the calibre of his other work, I have little doubt Hurt could have been a fantasitc Doctor (indeed, the BBC could do much worse then some War Doctor specials), but without more episodes to tell, he appears here.

The Weaker Doctors

Which brings us to the weaker portrayals of the character, the ones I don't rate so highly. Sorry.

The Twelth: Peter Capaldi

I really wanted to like Capaldi's portrayal. I can see why they felt the need for a new direction and I can see what they're trying to do, but... I'm sorry, it's just not for me. It's possible that this isn't Capaldi's fault - that perhaps Moffat's tenure has reached an end the same way RTD's did - but too much of the season we've just seen has been 'off', and too much has just been a mess. I'm sorry, but I'm not a fan.

The Sixth: Colin Baker

This portrayal was just killed by the first few scenes of the first episode. That and some truly woeful costume choices just destroys the character. It also didn't help that the show was visibly tired by this point, and so Baker never really gets a chance to show what he can do. He probably does the best job possible with the material he has, but it's really not enough to save this portrayal.

The Seventh: Sylvester McCoy

And, finally, there's McCoy. Just like Baker before him, I think he does the best job possible with the material he has, but that material just isn't all it can be. Worse, this portrayal just leaves me cold - too many of his stories seem to be running from one scene to another followed by some Machiavellian rant, followed by a happy ending. I may be maligning him, but alas I have much the same reaction to McCoy as to Capaldi, only with less good material to work with. (And whereas Colin Baker at least benefits from the excellent "Revelation of the Daleks" and "Trial of a Time Lord" stories, McCoy doesn't seem to have equivalent classic stories to point to. Hence their relative positions.)

The Missing Doctors

I haven't placed the First or Second Doctors in my ratings because, although they have plenty of material from which I could make a rating, I haven't seen enough of it to see where they would be placed. And so I've left them off entirely. Perhaps, one day, I might track down all the episodes and watch through them... but probably not.

So, to Recap

4, 10, 11, 5, 9, 3, 8, W, 12, 6, 7
Not rated: 1, 2

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Raggedy Man

And so we come to the last of the series about the Doctor Who novels and stories. November is the month of the Eleventh Doctor, who at the time of the 50th anniversary was the last.

This month's short story was "Nothing O'Clock" by Neil Gaiman, one of my favourite authors. It features the Doctor and Amy, which puts it somewhere in the first year of their travels.

Unfortunately, it's not great. The issue is really that it's just too short - there's an interesting idea here, and it's written well enough, but just as it gets going it ends. It's almost as if the author had the nugget of an idea lying around, he was asked to do a Doctor Who story, and he just bashed it out. A shame.

This month's novel is "The Silent Stars Go By", by Dan Abnett. Abnett is an author I hadn't read before, but one I had heard of - he's regarded as the 'good' author of Warhammer novels. (Of course, since those are game fiction, 'good' is a relative term. Anyway, having never read his books, I can't say.)

This one features Amy and Rory, and fits somewhere in their second year. And, again, it's... okay. The story starts pretty well, and goes on just fine for a while, but then it seems to run out of steam. And although there is then one rather well-done twist in the tale, that's not really enough to redeem it. Worse, we have that twist and then, scarcely a few pages later, everything is neatly resolved and done. It's a shame, but it means that this novel fits with a lot of the others in the bracket of being "okay but not great".

And so we come to the end. As noted, the best novels were "Beautiful Chaos" (the tenth), "Only Human" (the ninth), "Players" (the sixth", and then "Last of the Gaderene" (the third). As for the rankings of the Doctors themselves... that's a post for another day - after I've seen the last episode of the current season.

#54: "The Silent Stars Go By", by Dan Abnett

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Just a Thought

Scottish Labour find themselves in the awkward position of having to find themselves someone to lead them into the 2015 General Election and then into the 2016 Scottish Elections. Ideally, the person they want would be an MSP or, failing that, someone who intends to enter the Scottish Parliament in 2016.

That being the case, I wonder: would this not be a good time to dispense (perhaps temporarily) with the rule that the leader has to be a current MP, MSP, or MEP? (And, perhaps even more crucially, the rule that if they lose/give up their seat then they must resign.)

The thing is, the (Westminster) Labour party's favoured candidate, and the media's favoured candidate*, is Jim Murphy. To be honest, he's probably as good a candidate as they've got (though I think I'd prefer Darling), but he does have the big weakness that he's an MP rather than an MSP.

(* I'm not sure whether this is because the media are totally useless, and so simply don't know who the other candidates are (or how to use Google), or whether they've decided he's their favoured candidate. Either way, it's not good.)

Because of the current rules, this gives rise to a very awkward situation: in order to be leader, Murphy must stand as an MP in 2015, and yet he presumably does so with every intention to stand as an MSP in 2016, just one year later, and then resign his Westminster seat, forcing an expensive (and unnecessary) bi-election.

Would it not be better to instead make an exception to the rules, elect Jim Murphy leader but have him stand down in 2015, and instead lead the fight in 2016. (And he can be pretty much be guaranteed a seat - in addition for fighting a constituency he can be placed at the top of a regional list, which is as close to a sure thing as you get.)

Otherwise, we get some guaranteed silliness, and real potential for an actual farce in the making. Suppose Jim Murphy is named leader but then he loses his seat in 2015. It's highly unlikely, but the latest polls actually make it a possibility. In which case he would have to resign as leader, prompting another leadership contest to go into 2016. (And, since Labour are almost certainly going to lose that election, there may well then be pressure for that leader to resign. As I said, a farce.)

(There has been some talk of an existing MSP standing down in order to let Murphy have 'his' seat, in a bi-election that potentially takes place on the same day as the General Election. But that's not going to happen, for two reasons. Firstly, the electorate tends not to like being taken for granted in that way, so there's absolutely no guarantee that even Jim Murphy would win that bi-election. Secondly, and probably more importantly, the MSP who stood down in this manner would be losing out of tens of thousands of pounds that gets paid to MSPs who leave office on the day of the Scottish elections - stand down early and you don't get it.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Carefully Nurturing My Annoyance

My courtesy car arrived yesterday. It's exactly like my own car, except that it's 8 years younger, and nearly 100,00 miles fewer on the clock, is faster, is black, and is generally awesome.

The big problem is that I'm going to have to give it back in a short while, after which I'll either get my car back or, more likely, have to go out and buy a new car. Either way, I'll be left with a car that will be, I'm sure, perfectly good and fun to drive, but is just not quite as good.

That being the case, I've been formulating a list of hugely nitpicky little things about the courtesy car that I just don't like. If I carefully nurture this annoyance, perhaps when the time comes I'll not feel so bad about giving it up.

Thus far, my list is quite comprehensive:

  1. When I plug my MP3 player in, it insists on playing the tracks in alphabetical order instead of album order.

And that's it. Plus, I feel that that criticism is somewhat dented by the fact that my own car doesn't even have an MP3 player socket at all!

Heck, I even found that the voice-activated controls managed a Scottish accent! Oh, and did I mention that it has voice-activated controls?

(That said, it didn't recognise my instruction to "transform and roll out!" See? This car just sucks!)

#53: "Pathfinder: The Choking Tower", by Rob Lundeen

Monday, November 03, 2014

The Wrong Answer

If the criticism is made that the Labour party aren't listening to people, and the answer is "but the SNP..." (or, equally, "but the Tories...") then it is the wrong answer. Indeed, not only is it the wrong answer, but it actually proves the point - the person doing the criticising wasn't talking about the SNP or the Tories, they were talking about the Labour party.

The thing is, there are two categories of 'criticism'. There is indeed a category of criticism that is simply unthinking, contemptuous sneering. This generally comes from your implacable enemies, who would find something to object to, regardless of what you do or say. Labour gets this criticism from the likes of the Daily Mail. And the correct response to it is simply to ignore it.

But then there is the valid criticism from people who want to like you, who want to support you, and, in the case of Labour, who want to vote for you. There are an awful lot of people in that category in Scotland. And when those people start deserting the party in droves (as they are), and when they state their main issue as being that the party doesn't listen, then that's a problem - and it's one that the party absolutely should recognise and take action on.

Because the alternative is that the people who want to be your supporters will very quickly become soured on what you're saying, and move very quickly to the other camp. And then you've lost them, permanently.

(That said, the big problem that Labour have is that in fact they are listening. But they're listening to the swing voters in Middle England, since they're the ones who generally win elections for one party of the other. Problem is that their needs are significantly different, and often opposed, to those of traditional Labour voters in Scotland, in the North of England, and in Wales. And by chasing one group of voters, then, Labour open themselves to attack from the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, and even, scarily, UKIP. In which case, maybe they're done.)

Sunday, November 02, 2014

So Tired

It's been a tough weekend. Mostly, I think, because the accident just hit me a whole lot harder than I thought - it seems to have triggered a bout of IBS, with all the fun that that entails, and it's also caused some residual pain in my neck (will need to see the doctor about that). Between the pain and the pain-killers I've been taking, I've just been exhausted.

Another factor in my tiredness is that I've spent the last several days feeling unpleasantly warm, almost constantly. Whether it was in the office, on the bus home on Friday, in the living room, or wherever, I've just been cooking.

Anyway, the latest updates:

  • My car is almost certainly being written off. Apparently, the price of redoing the airbags alone in close to half the value of the car, and there's more damage than that. A real shame, but neither unexpected nor the worst news ever.
  • My journey home on Friday by public transport was a bit of a farce, but it showed me how it could be done. The first problem was that I had a brainfart when I got on the bus, and said the wrong destination. This led to me getting back off the bus and enquiring, which meant I ended up getting the next bus. I then got off that bus a mile too early, which meant a walk to the station. Either one of those two would have been enough to miss the train I needed, so I ended up getting a train to a different station in Falkirk, followed by a taxi home. So, a bit of a nightmare, but now that I know how it's done I can avoid the mistakes next time, if I'm so inclined.
  • There was a bit of an issue with getting a courtesy car sorted out on Friday, which should hopefully be resolved tomorrow. One of my colleagues has graciously given me lifts the last two days, but I'm loathe to ask too many more times, as it's a big hassle for him. So I hope this gets sorted soon.
  • My car was taken away yesterday. As the recovery driver said, "a sad waste of a good car". Sob.
  • I wasn't hugely impressed with Doctor Who last night. I think it would have been fine had I gone in un-spoiled, but alas the BBC in their wisdom decided to spoil one of the big reveals in the teaser last week and in the official trailer. As a consequence, I wanted to shout at the TV "get on with it!".
  • This morning, about 5, there was a disturbance in the stairwell, on the floor below. I don't know quite what happened, but it's just about possible that's partly to blame for my current tiredness!

And that's where things stand at the moment, I think. I'm rather looking forward to this week - with each day that passes we get closer to all the stresses gradually getting resolved. Or, at least, I hope so.

#51: "East of Eden", by John Steinbeck (a book from The List)
#52: "Doctor Who: 11 Doctors, 11 Stories", by Various Authors