To ‘Proud’ Brit-Scots

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When you catch a British nationalist’s argument to inspect its worth all you get is a cold handful of nothing.

To boast you are the respected inhabitant of two lands, a Scot and a Brit, is self-delusion.

You are not treated with double the respect, only with twice the indifference.

Loyal affection is a gift that inspires others. To withhold it is to constrain love. Why choose a kind of bondage? There is no enduring happiness in that.

What man wants to be rootless, without a place to call his true home? You may be born in one place, and disliking  it, move to another, but you cannot say you were born in both. There are two nations in the Act of Union, Scotland and England. You can admire both, but you cannot be both in culture, in values, in ambition, in language, in thought.

In saying you are servant of two masters, you betray an insecurity, an obsequiousness, a craven strand in character you cannot throw off for fear of falling foul of the name makers of either nation. You seek preference but lose integrity. Do you see identification to both as a transaction? You do this for me, and I’ll do that for you? If so, it’s time to find a new allegiance.

There is nothing to stop you being bonded to one nation, and benign to the other. Nobody but a fool thinks that love for one presupposes hatred for the other.

Do you choose neutrality?

No man of decision pronounced indecision a safe haven.

If you choose neutrality you cannot be proud of being a Scot and a Brit. You have chosen empty air, nothing. The two are not indistinguishable, one from another. They are not two sides of the same coin. They stand for opposing ideals. In the case of Scotland and England, the ‘British’ State stands for war and bombs, for isolationism and racism, for poverty and annihilation.

Do you think silence is the best form of diplomacy? If one land is taken from you by law or Act of God, do you think to call on the other for recompense and protection? The two nations have their own law systems, one built on precedence, the other on common sense.

And if one says it is more powerful than the other and will impose its will, do you champion that inequality to feel safer seen on the winning side? If you choose to stay back will you be surprised if either land claims you are disloyal to them?

To be British and Scottish is no great matter, until one nation calls upon you to make a choice. That choice might be a war in a far flung land that is not your own. And the call to war might not be one you share. What will you do then? Will you try to serve both and accept the possibility of death as a futile gesture to divided loyalties?  Will you stand apart and condemn one or the other for their stupidity? Or will you send your son to die?

Caution in love is fatal to happiness.

How do you imagine people will know the truth about you, about what you stand for, if you stand for opposing ideologies? That is an absurd place to be. How do you persuade one nation they are in the wrong in some fundamental doctrine?

When the politics of one land is at odds with the other how do you serve your loyalty? A small portion to one side, the larger to the other? If the nations are in dispute, to avoid praising both or condemning both and appearing a hypocrite, do you scurry away and hide until one side or the other is placated and peace reigns?

Do you avoid unpleasant consequences of taking a stand? Or if confronted to make plain your allegiance to an opposing faction, do you avoid responsibility by lying to both? There are thirteen pieces of silver in that profound failure of commitment.

You see, a choice has to be made sooner or later.

One can be a Brit or a Scot and shake hands in humanity’s brotherhood. And who would not wish to choose that path for one may be honoured as a Scot and a ‘Brit’ by both nations, effigies erected to you in all lands if you have achieved great things. You can claim to be loyal to the human race. There is happiness of a sort in that.

But when the time comes for your bones to be laid to rest you can be buried only in one country. Which one will it be?

Posted in Scottish Politics | 24 Comments

An Act of Self-Interest

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The Act of Union – a law allowing nobility to profit over the masses. So, what’s new?

The tenets the 1707 Act of Union are as plain as the nose on your face – admittedly part of your anatomy difficult to see from where your eyes sit, unless viewed in a mirror.

The Act states unequivocally:

… “Two Nations”.

It does not state in any manner, way or form that two nations shall become one, act as one, or should be indistinguishable one from another.

There is nothing in the Act about one nation taking second place, being the poorer nation and remaining so, or having no place in world affairs.

Nor does the Act contain caveats that one nation shall control all power over taxes, money distribution, trade agreements, and foreign affairs. It makes clear the two sovereign nations shall remain so and separate in all but trade, banking, and the rights of peers.

I repeat: it does not legislate that the greater the population in number, the greater the say in domestic affairs, and all international political matters.

Equal and Sovereign

It states clearly that “both nations shall be equal and sovereign”.

What it doesn’t record is the brutally honest, self-interested remark of one English member of parliament: “Good. We have Scotland on the wrack now.”

I am reminded of this as we pass the second anniversary of Scotland’s plebiscite to secure genuine democratic representation, to address the glaring, unjust imbalance in power, a movement demanding sound constitutional change in favour of the people, not an elite. I’m prompted to do so by the expected crowds of democracy supporters massing on Glasgow’s Green to reaffirm allegiance to justice and fair play.

September 18th, 2014, is what I refer to in my darkest moments as Epic Fail Day.

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Signatures to the Articles of Union 1707

If you twist my arm I’m sure to say yes

Let no one try to convince you that Scotland sold itself willingly. The population weeping in the streets is well recorded by observers of the day, and by painters since. There were celebrations in England, but none in Scotland. Scotland fell silent.

Scotland had a population about one-eighth the size of England, probably the equivalent of Switzerland, and as nothing to the population size of Spain where today Podemos the protest group of Catalonia masses tens of thousands at the pitch of a marcher’s whistle.

After the massacre at Culloden, Scotland had no army one could talk of as a powerful resistance force. Scotland was vulnerable to attack in an age which didn’t have tanks or machine guns or bombs, only foot soldiers and men on horseback dispersed around the countryside, and without leadership or the will to come together.

Scotland’s urge has always been outward

Though voluntary migration was underway, the infamous Highland Clearances had not begun, a black episode in our nation’s history akin to genocide by forced emigration.

It was a time of English legal ingenuity that contrived successive laws to strip clan chiefs of territorial power, and turn them into renting landlords. British nationalists claim some did so willingly, but then who would not denuded of influence and wealth?

A lot of Scotland’s population still lived in our highland glens. Back then we still had large tracts of land where arable farming could  support a decent existence, the grassy slopes of more mountainous areas left to cattle farming. Perthshire today is a much contracted area. Records show about half of Scotland’s population lived north of the River Tay, not as now, where the Clearances caused the vast majority to live one on top of the other in the central belt, crowded in tenements. (English architects are noticeably amused by most of Edinburgh’s five storey tenements built without an elevator-lift.)

The typical Scot was a country dweller, our national poet, Robert Burns, the perfect example. One estimate suggests that in 1700 only five per cent of the population lived in towns. You only need read of the history of our nation to see how Scotland lagged behind more urbanized societies such as those in England, France or even Spain, and was on a par with the Scandinavian countries of the kind we are fond of using as examples to follow for a modern small state. People forget how much the Scottish population lived off the land, including fishing communities, in order to cultivate supplies.

The times were ripe for a take-over.

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A brazen lie is a crime perpetrated on a nation

We are forever reminded that ‘Scotland bankrupt’ was the outcome of the disastrous Darien adventure. This is a lie.  To begin with, no British nationalist will remind you that the scheme was designed to establish an international trading post for Scotland, constructively thwarted by Westminster conspiracy to block our trading routes and retain them for England. Banks and individuals were warned against investing in the scheme.

The Darien Scheme is the first line of ridicule by ignorant British nationalists and the media – which is probably one and the same. Bankruptcy has no basis in historical fact. Scotland had enough currency circulating to sustain it. England knew that, that is why it had the luxury of raising our taxes to pay for the loan – it wasn’t a freebie, it wasn’t a grant for “subsidy junkies” – it was a tax guaranteeing the English Treasury would regain what it offered, and with huge interest.

Even so, we only got half the loan, the other half offered in worthless company debentures – England still at war with France was the nation near bankruptcy!

We paid for the loan in onerous taxation – a sure fire way of keeping a population indebted and meek. You could argue we paid for the sale of our own country.

You can also argue we paid for it a second time when Westminster grabbed oil in Scottish waters to spend on its own interests, and squander on eradicating democratic institutions it still dislikes, such as collective bargaining by unions.

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An evicted family, Lochmaddy, 1895. The Clearances continued until 1958, some say longer

Unionism in all its nastiness

Besides  the need to refill their empty bank accounts, two things swayed the Scottish nobility that negotiated and signed the Act of Union.

The first was, the notion of a Union was not an alien idea. We were in a union of sorts when  Cromwell swept north of the border, putting resistance to the sword, (over 2,000 in Dundee) and swathes of Scotland under English placemen. Our English cousins are apt to overlook that little skirmish in our history, telling us we never had it as bad as Ireland.

The origin of Cromwell’s appearance lay in the Regal Union of 1603 when James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I to the crowns of England and Ireland. (I live close to the brig where James was attacked by robbers and driven off by a farmer, but I digress.)

James was eager to go all the way, and in 1604 commissioners from England and Scotland discussed a union of parliaments and a scheme of common citizenship. Anybody who wants to study that period will be surprised by the comparisons with Alex Salmond’s vision for an autonomous Scotland, one conjoined with England’s Crown, and its trade.

Despite James’s keen support, the idea foundered. The Scottish nobility feared a loss of influence in a London parliament, while the English were concerned that the Scots would be favoured in the new arrangement by the presence of a Scottish royal master. Let no one say Scots resentment is a one-way street. English parliamentarians have always been wary of a Scottish accent in their corridors of power.

There’s little difference between that attitude and today’s English votes for English laws.

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A Highland battalion in World War 1 – Scotland has a long history of fighting and dying on behalf of other countries

Westminster rule sucks, okay?

It might seem odd to us in this age that there existed a time when rule from Westminster was considered practically, bureaucratically, and politically, impossible to institute.

Professor Tom Devine puts it succinctly in his history of Scotland: “The difficulties of ruling Scotland from Westminster soon became apparent in the latter stages of James VI’s reign – and even more so during that of his successor, Charles I, when they were instrumental in provoking the crisis that led to the outbreak of the Civil War. Union was enforced between 1652 and 1660 by Oliver Cromwell, but at the Restoration of 1660 and the return of Charles II it was dissolved, to the relief of the majority in both countries.”

The second weakness for Scotland lay in its harvest. We depended on a good crop. A bad harvest meant buying food from others, hence the need to find new avenues of trade and barter. Faced with the proposal of a union the population was still susceptible to tales of the devastating famines of the 1690s when food prices rocketed way out of the pockets of ordinary folk.

Also several landed estates were devoted to producing substantial quantities of grain for export not for internal consumption. Scotland could easily feed itself, but our economy was not organised to do that. We were in thrall of the money men. It was ever thus.

An alien Act

There is one other  aspect of our history worth remembering when asking why  Scotland submitted to English rule. On 5 February 1705 the House of Commons in London passed legislation which would alter the landscape of relations between Scotland and England. The Alien Act recommended to Queen Anne that commissioners be appointed to negotiate for union between England and Scotland and, if the Scots did not comply and if discussions were not advanced by Christmas Day 1705, severe penalties would be imposed. [My emphasis.]

All Scots, except those living in England, were to be treated as aliens. (How different is that from the spiteful warning made during the Referendum Scots would be ‘foreigners’.) Our exports would be blocked. You don’t get a more naked piece of economic blackmail than that designed to bring the Scottish parliament to the negotiating table.

“Leave the United Kingdom and you leave the pound” warned the  effete chancer and chancellor George Osborne. English politicians enjoy  using force to gain advantage.

Those days are gone.

If anything came out of the national debate over self-governance regained, it was the truth that an autonomous Scotland can be self-sustaining, given that it retains links with other nations. Trade is open season for all countries. Domination by a neighbour state, told what to do and how to vote, is a forced choice we can jettison in the 21st century.

British nationalists have their ambitions arse over tip. They are ruled by a colonial mentality they cannot shake off; they revel in the past and the dubious benefits of a British Empire, slave trading and all. Today they want employees on no hours contracts, profits stored far away to avoid legal taxes, and the right to raid your company funds and pension and sail away. England has voted to reject the rest of the world that does not share its values, while happily remaining under the thumb of the United States of America.

Meanwhile small nations prosper, none screaming independence is a bad thing.

Let gatherings of the like-minded celebrate freedoms to be won, freedoms to come, and dignity regained, not commiserate about lost opportunities.

I, for one, refuse to believe we’re so craven, so fearful of tomorrow, that none of us feel ownership of our country is worth fighting for, no matter the odds.

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum | 52 Comments

Clipped Wings

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Stuart Campbell, editor of Wings Over Scotland. Deplored by the right wing of all political parties as too wee, too weak, and too poor to defend the disenfranchised, which indeed he is in all respects, but that hasn’t stopped him trying

Illusory free speech

Wings Over Scotland, the “low grade propagandist” site, (according to Michael White of the illiberal Guardian) got into a spot of bother. It had its Twitter account suspended all of a day and a night.

Most newspapers and columnists announced the suspension incorrectly as a ‘ban’, wishful thinking on their part. A few honourable journalists complained it was undemocratic. Those keen to have their idea of justice implemented laughed.

Yeah but no, but yeah, but no

All manner of pundits and opinion formers felt compelled to preface their not-above-the-shoulder flag waving with the sneaky caveat “love him or loathe him”.

The public has to be reminded, for we are truly stupid, that a political figure might not be liked by some quarters of society, especially those Campbell criticises for their brazen falsehoods and their cruelties.  In addition, stipulations imply those praising him are not actually his bosom buddies. They might like what he writes but would never be seen choosing drapes with him.

Despite being so patently loathsome, Stuart Campbell, editor of the site, is “essential reading”, a case of, we tolerate people like Campbell to show we are terribly fair-minded.

How to make a non-compliment

Do they adapt their mean-spirited crap for other people in the public eye?

“Picasso, love him or loathe his misogynist portraits of naked women with both eyes on one side of their face, he’s a great painter.” Or how about, “Love or hate her crass impersonation of Maggie Thatcher, there’s no doubting strident Theresa May takes her new job seriously.” Or worse still, “Love or loathe lesbianism, each unprepossessing leader of Scotland’s opposition parties is doing a fine job of holding the SNP to account.”

The more you treat readers as dummies to be given an opinion rather than letting them form their own the sillier it gets.

Why do journalists feel it necessary to tell people what to think? Like the colonial mentality of Michael White, could it be they see themselves as high-grade propagandists?

When did libertarian become authoritarian?

The source of the ban was an extremely ‘low grade’ and over-wrought Daily Express hack to whom concocting wild exaggeration is her entire career. Her prose is akin to drunk Jackson Pollock tossing oils from paint pots in all directions.

As I am apt to remind, an exaggeration is a lie. Poor research proffered as fact is also a lie.

The hack in question, Siobhian McFadyen, knows how to work a policing system to her advantage. She spat at anybody who suggested she calm down. She’s the troubled kid who screams, “Don’t touch me, you paedo!” when endeavouring to separate the oik from a playground fight. The little sod hopes you’ll retreat in case you get tainted. Errant children have learned the trick of accusatory slander.

A hack on the wrack

McFadyen claims to be Scottish, and probably is, but her name is the Irish female equivalent of ‘Patrick O’Toole’.  I dropped three one-sentence tweets into her time line, always in the third person, my way of showing disapproval without being accusatory. I was taught early never to write anything about anybody that you wouldn’t say to their face. And anyhow, even a bat crazy harpy has the right of reply.

In her effort to besmirch she managed to imply the crudity of the Wings’ emblem, (an unresolved design) is a proto-Nazi insignia. The emblem is a frizzy haired lion sitting astride art deco wings, as if it has a paw caught in a live power socket.

Nevertheless, tired of that well-worn gibe thrown at Wings by the pig ignorant, I sent McFadyen a photograph of Jaguar car’s hood ornament, the one used before the more familiar leaping predator.

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An early Jaguar hood emblem. The ‘SS’ stands for Swallow Sidecars, owner Sir William Lyon’s first company, a name he thought inappropriate for racy sports cars

A flash in the cess pit

Though I knew the site would be reinstated as swiftly as it was closed, for the complaint had absolutely no basis in reality, you could see a suspension of Wings Twitter coming a mile off. It’s an easy target.

Campbell is not scared of words, especially lewd expletives. To the casual reader crude language must appear unnecessary, and defamatory, as bad as some of the gutter trolls who inhabit the denizens of the spirit world, determined to keep civil rights a matter for Westminster to dispense or withdraw on a whim. They know Campbell’s existence is the tetanus jab to their rabid cause. He has a rare ability to interpret complicated statistics and graphs, lampooning government concocted versions created to fool the population.

Nevertheless, when you take into account the growing influence of the site, it’s massive readership, and the incessant attacks made on its integrity to silence it, you can understand why he blocks so many with a simple, “Fuck off!”

SNP HQ is PC, OK?

You can sense the SNP applauding Wing’s tenacity and naked honesty, but keeping well back lest the party hierarchy gets associated with Wings were it ever to be sued. It doesn’t pay to be too close to untamed mavericks, the old disease of upright institutions. If correct in that observation, it’s a shame they do that for they would do well to employ him as an antidote to Unionist lies.

Then again, Campbell is not a member of the SNP, doesn’t vote SNP, and the site not politically aligned. He is a former Lib-Dem supporter now rootless, lost in his humorous make-believe world of bear-infested Bath where he lives and works, and appears to thrive on a diet of teeth curling sugar injected drinks.

The Wings site has done a tremendous amount of good for the democratic process in terms of open participatory journalism, hitherto non-existent in Scotland. Jeering at hypocrisy is standard fare. It’s unswerving in its mission to lay bare contradictions uttered by our politicians, and expose the hidden agendas of the British establishment. Its work is unparalleled.

I see no reason why an editor should not call the sputum of a foolish hack “an utter disgrace”, or a fabricator of political untruths a chronic liar, and for that matter, a scooped spade what it really is, a bloody shovel. But sometimes I wish Campbell wouldn’t give free ammunition to the adversaries of Scotland’s ambitions.

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Mark Zuckerberg he knows where you live

The real story – it’s censorship, dumbass

Few newspapers noted the troublingly obvious.

We know of Google’s craven submission to Chinese authorities in censoring certain words and historical data, but it quit the huge Chinese market for those reasons. The owners of Twitter gave no reason for the suspension or the reinstatement of Wings. They acted as über-editors. Twitter and Facebook – that censored a Vietnam war photograph not once but three times – have become the most powerful editors on the planet. This is a deeply worrying development.

The famous 1972 photograph of a group of people running away from a US napalm attack, one naked little girl in their midst, the skin on her back scorched and peeling, appeared in an essay on Aftenposten’s Facebook page, (Norway’s largest circulating newspaper) in an article about photographs that altered public opinion.

Facebook wrote to the editor of Aftenposten demanding the publication remove the image from its Facebook page – declined to wait for a reply, and removed the image before Alfenposten could respond.

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Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg. Oh, look, a female first minister of a small country

Censorship cannot be justified on the basis it protects public taste

Furious at the censorship, the editor of Aftenposten wrote a front-page letter to Zuckerberg, rebuking the social site for its inability to “distinguish between child pornography and famous war photos”. Espen Egil Hansen continued, “I am upset, disappointed – even afraid – of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society. I am worried that the world’s most important medium is limiting freedom instead of trying to extend it, and that this happens in an authoritarian way.” [Slightly abridged.]

After a sustained furore that included a widely broadcast protest from the Norwegian prime minister, Erna Solberg – unbelievably her post was also deleted – Facebook reinstated all the posts and the picture. Zuckerberg, self-styled libertarian for free speech, turns out to be a bit of a dictator.

Bullshit has wings

With the exception of The National newspaper, no intervention was made by the editors of our ‘Better Together’ UK newspapers on behalf of Wings, or by our First Minister. Quite frankly, that isn’t good enough. We elect these people not only to protect us, but our democratic outlets too.

In full sarcastic mode, BBC Television’s Brillo salesman, Andrew Neil, posted, “What a loss to civilised and informed discourse”, perfectly exposing his vanity and insecurity in one neat sentence.

BBC jerks aside, Facebook’s gizillionnaire founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is in the news again this time because he’s promoted himself facilitator of US-Israeli foreign policy.

He’s meeting some of the worst extremists of the Israeli parliament (my term for anybody who bombs, shoots, poisons, and walls in citizens) to discuss ways of stopping Palestinian ‘extremists’ (an Israeli term for anybody who retaliates against Israeli occupation) using Facebook as a means of communication. You can be certain he has the backing of Obama and the Pentagon. Expect soon his award as ‘Great Mensch of the State’. JK Rowling must be envious of Zuckerberg’s power.

Your privacy belongs to others

By what authority are Internet giants set over and above the electorate and governments? How are they to be sanctioned by law for breaching civil rights, other than reacting to  public outrage?

An hubristic journalist seeking revenge for some perceived hurt is a minor annoyance compared to the power of mega-wealthy media owners, harvesters of lonely Internet souls. Facebook and Twitter have become Purgatory, the place where you must wait indefinitely until judged innocent or guilty, or agree to purification.

Posted in Scottish Politics | 10 Comments

A Company Above the Law

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What a to-do! The legal team of Volkswagen has walked out of an Irish court after the judge ruled that the case, which involves a motorist suing the company following the emissions scandal, is legally fit to proceed. Imagine if you’d done that in a court of law – arrested before you reached the front door.

MSM hacks tell us we live in a democracy

That’s how far we have eroded democracy when a global company feels able to turn its back on a court’s ruling and walk away. Indeed, the withdrawal of hard won civil rights goes much further.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal, (TTIP) – a brazen misnomer to camouflage the reduction of civil rights, if ever there was one – will allow companies to sue councils and governments if they are refused entry into an industry or social service to establish private investment and ownership.

Broad swathes of European  population are opposed to the ‘free trade’ agreement as is the EC itself. Some 145,000 European citizens voiced their disapproval in a “public consultation” undertaken by the European Commission, with many expressing fear that US companies might seek to overturn EU laws on genetic engineering, environmental protection and food quality.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The hurdle is special rights given to TTIP investors, who would be able to challenge countries in special international dispute settlement panels that bypass national courts. It’s a pill that even those who believe in the deal are having difficulty swallowing.

Hence, we have an incident where Volkswagen’s legal representatives feel able to tell the high court of a country to take a flying f….

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VW cars are sold internationally, only the USA is to be compensated

You get a free car, and you, but NOT you

Volkswagen will pay billions in compensation to the USA government for defrauding VW drivers, but refuse to pay a penny to UK and European VW drivers because our emissions regulations are more relaxed. Whoopee!

The company screws up the environment with toxic emissions to favour its bottom line profits. Will the autocratic head of VW be seen in the dock? Martin Winterkorn is above the company, which itself is above the law. He was ‘removed’ for reasons of safety.

Over the last few years we have seen any number of international companies, banks included, exhibit muscle by claiming in various ways they are above the law. The banks’ motto was ‘too big to fail.’

They are tyrannies unaccountable to government or electorate. Volkswagen is only the latest in a long line.

And there’s more

Readers know I like to keep my eye on what happens in Ireland. The Republic is the nearest place that overthrew colonial rule and survived. So I was bound to notice that VW have shown their distaste for the Irish courts by turning their back on a court’s decision.

Irish news outlet RTE reported that Roscommon-based VW owner Eithne Higgins (a good Irish name) is suing VW because the emissions scandal may impact her car’s road tax, after Volkswagen admitted incorporating electronic devices to manipulate emissions during official testing.

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Paul Fogarty (centre) VW’s Irish counsel. Doing his best to hide his car’s exhaust pipe?

Slippery lawyers says it all

Volkswagen’s legal representative, Paul Fogarty, said the court proceedings were “utterly unsatisfactory, unfair and inappropriate”, and duly walked out in a tizzy, (I don’t mean a Renault car) after Judge Devins, the presiding judge, said she would hear Higgins’ case.

It’s reported that Fogarty informed the judge that no company representatives will be attending the hearing following Judge Devins’ decision. Fogarty also called into question the legality of the court’s determining of the case. How’s that for bare-faced cheek?

The case will continue, although RTE reports that Evan O’Dwyer, representing Higgins, accused Volkswagen of attempting to stall or interrupt the process multiple times. Car fans might recall the CEO of VW assuring owners VW was humbled by what it had done, and everybody would receive compensation, in some cases a new car. That guarantee didn’t last long.

Blighty sucks up to VW and buys more diesel cars 

What we get is token criticism, the pretence that we live in a democratic state where the citizen is protected from exploitation.

Volkswagen has come under criticism for holding its stance on offering No compensation to affected customers despite US customers being compensated. Several parliamentary committees urged the Tory government to take salutary action, but so far it’s all Brexit means Brexit but not justice means justice.

VW malfeasance gets bigger by the day, but company executives take shelter in knowing other car companies probably did the same thing, and what government is going to ban or restrict entire conglomerates from selling their  vehicles to unwary Brits?

An Italian consumer group also found the Volkswagen fix being applied to their subsidiary company cars ineffective, after an Audi Q5 that had been recalled showed higher emissions post-fix. Fiat used a similar method of manipulating emissions as Volkswagen. Oh dear.

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Judge Devins – ruled VW must still share cheat  statistics though they left the court

The incompetence of the UK government

Had it been the Scottish Government there would be cat calls of derision aimed at the SNP, demands for its administration to resign en masse, and call an election.

So far, big bad companies have largely focused their sights on developing nations, which are forced to accept these kinds of provisions just to be granted the right to export to rich countries. You could say investor protection is traditionally a law of the strongest.

And if anybody thinks such cases will be few in number, ever since these clauses started becoming commonplace in trade treaties, companies like Exxon and Dow Chemical have invoked investor protection measures in hundreds of different cases.

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Behind Ethnie Higgens comes a County Mayo law firm with hundreds more claimants – the floods gates are open!

VW, go home

For my part I’d have to ask myself, if VW produced a car that ran on air, and had no servicing costs, would I still buy from VW knowing they are a dishonourable and dishonest company? The answer is no – the air would probably be recycled, bought cheap off airlines jam packed with viruses. Wait until the Chinese discover their smog is part due to cheating car companies. So far, VW has had it really easy. Oh, boy.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Hell and High Water – a review

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Jeff Bridges and Gill Birmingham, as perfect a pairing as Chris Pine and Ben Foster

There’s a moment late in the film when Jeff Bridges, playing a curmudgeonly Texas Ranger, sits down on a homestead porch to discuss the case he and his partner, a Comanche, had worked on. He crosses his legs, and places his hat on the toe of his boot. It’s an action only an actor comfortable with his skills could do, an experienced actor well involved in his characterisation. That simple gesture tells me it was improvised, it wasn’t in the script.

This is a fine movie. A very fine movie.

The dividends pile up. The script is full of nuance, layered with surprise dialogue, all of it authentic. There’s insight in abundance. It’s written by the same award winning author of Sicario, Taylor Sheridan, who takes a cameo role. The acting is superb all-round, a constant delight, and what is more, a director with a company in Glasgow helms the entire enterprise, David Mackenzie.

The basic story hangs on two small-time ranching brothers, Toby and Tanner, played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, pushed to bankruptcy, facing mortgage foreclosure, about to lose their small holding, who take revenge on the banks they blame for their downfall. We are in recession, still are, the story of our times.

Shooting up banks? Bring it on! We’re cheering already.

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Those Texan skies are real big, dude. A man could lose his way just going for a piss

There’s plenty of bank robberies beautifully shot and executed to keep us happy, but the pace is held firmly on front porches and backyards, in gambling casinos, bars and diners. The pace allows room for apposite country and western songs to boost a mood, and twanging guitars to accelerate melancholy.

Mackenzie appears to let the actors work their way around a scene, like chewing tobacco, ruminating, then when they’ve sucked all the goodness out of the baccy, spit it out, bite off another piece, and start chewing again. The movie is all the better for it.

There are sequences that have you wondering when all the talk will end. When it does you realise you’ve learned something important about the characters, human ambition and redemption. The long takes fixed on long conversations are justified. The conceit yields poignant rewards

Mackenzie and Sheridan, (the latter grew up in West Texas and has an ex–U.S. marshal for an uncle) are far more interested in exploring the men’s off–the–clock behaviour than throwing them at facile action sequences.

We get two pairs of tough, hard bitten, driven men, the bank robbers and the Texas Rangers hunting them down. Director and writer suffuse the plight of both pairs with a faded melancholy. You really do feel their pain.

Hell or High Water’s metronomic pacing has the languor of a nightmare chase in slow motion, an oppressive stillness in the day’s searing heat; a pair of tough bulls caught in quick sand and struggling to free themselves.

The photography matches like with like. At sunset, Toby and Tanner share a beer, mock-wrestle, getting in one more moment of affection before a fateful day of robbery; outside a motel at dusk, the elder Hamilton hoping to trap the robbers, wonders aloud about what the retired life has in store for him. His hobby is teasing his Comanche partner with mock insults; it’s a Texan thing. But you know he holds him in high regard.

Welcome to Texas, home of the Alamo

I’ve been to Texas, stayed there a whiles, as they say, stared out a few long horn cattle for something better to do. It’s an American state of infinite dust and sudden floods, hard extremes, extreme poverty with families living in shacks, tilling a half acre of arid soil for subsistence, visiting their local greasy, friendly diner Saturday night, fifteen miles down the dirt track for a brace of beers. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum, extreme wealth, where oil millionaires and their just as rich lawyers park their gleaming white V12 Ford, four door trucks by their favourite £100 bucks a bottle restaurant for a T-Bone steak.

There are universities, but mainly for teaching business strategy, the law, and football, Houston Dynamos, Laredo Heat, and San Antonio Scorpions, plus basketball teams called Houston Rockets, Rio Grande Valley Vipers, and Texas Longhorns Men’s Basketball.

You don’t see much art as we Europeans know it, not that you go looking for it, but when you stumble over something of real worth it turns out to be a chapel created to hold great colour studies of Mark Rothko. Somebody somewhere cares. There’s no art to be found in the scattered communities and barren locations of this story, not even folk art.

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The Rothko Chapel, Houston – an affirmative spiritual experience

This is a film about flesh and blood individuals, and all four know they ain’t going places that are good to be in. Mackenzie and Sheridan embellish the central quartet with highly engrossing characterizations of rural-Texas types; especially vivid two waitresses played by Katy Mixon and Margaret Bowman, the former forlorn and sensing possible companionship in Toby, the latter a tough-talking server whose opening line to her customers is the confrontational “What don’t you want?” The screenplay is full of carefully observed speech patterns and one-liners that get a person through the day.

Hell or High Water takes pains to show how an amateurish bank theft might actually play out in a state where every Tom, Dick, and Maverick carries a concealed weapon legally. After Toby and Tanner grab a handful of dollars from a two-bit bank branch that turns out to be more crowded than they expected, their getaway drive is attacked by a volley of gunfire not from passing cops, but from civilians in plaid shirts and pickup trucks.

Later in the sequence, when Bridges’ Hamilton shows up on the scene and propositions a pedestrian for a ride to a good vantage point, the ragtag strangeness of the scenario harkens back to an earlier comment of Hamilton’s, growled after an exchange in a parking lot: “God, I love West Texas.”

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Foster and Pine; a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do

Bridges in particular is having a lot of fun, dressed in tan shirts and red ties and delivering his lines as if his mouth is full of cotton balls. He’s a sheer delight to watch. He plays with us, delivering us a slow, very slow, and slower Texan drawl that appears to be grounding to a halt before he finishes a sentence. He creates a memorable character.

Pine, normally a clean shaven ‘pretty boy’ actor, more used to ambling across the flight deck of a Star Trek spacecraft, is here pressured to give a seriously deep performance, with Foster, an actor associated with the weird and the wacky, his perfect foil. Foster plays a guy he knows well from previous roles, the loner, the crazed ex-con. He’s the brother their mother rejected, and his whole life is a rebellion against hurt.

Pine has the edge in performance over Foster. He impresses with the silent, restrained introspection of a man who knows he’s doing wrong but has to do it to fulfil his sense of justice. He’s all regret, hunched shoulders, shuffling feet, and downward glances.

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David MacKenzie, director, and partner in the Glasgow based Sigma Films

A little about David Mackenzie: Frequently introduced in interviews as ‘Scottish’ – there’s no mistaking that brogue – he was born in England, Corbridge, Northumberland, to be exact, and made his name making decidedly non-commercial art house moves, Young Adam, (2003) Asylum, (2005) Starred Up, (2013) and Hallam Foe, (2007). He got there after studying at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee, now part of the University.

His choice of subject matter is eclectic, impossible to categorise, to be honest, but what he does have in abundance is the ability to direct actors to get the best from them, or at least, allow them to find their way into the role without direction imposed.

Mackenzie cites a trip he took to Alpine, Texas many years ago as having “a formative experience” on him in making Hell Or High Water. When he was sent Sheridan’s script, “It was love at first sight. I love the way it moved, the sense of place and people and its connection to the great movies of the 1970s that I really loved. But also felt like it was snapshot of contemporary America with resonance of the past, a slightly poetic song to the change of the Old West.”

No director will say the screenplay was crap, the fee attractive. But in this case  Mackenzie hardly had to develop the script with Sheridan, it was and is that perfect. He is admirably served in his quest to craft a good film by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens. There’s an Academy Award nomination waiting for both, maybe Bridges too. It loses out on five stars because the women in it are abandoned housewives, or screechy.

Near the film’s end Pine says ruefully, “My parents were poor, their folks too, generation after generation; it’s a disease.”

Don’t we know it. Don’t we know it well.

  • Star rating: Four and a half stars
  • Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges
  • Director: David Mackenzie
  • Writer: Taylor Sheridan
  • Cinematographer: Giles Nuttgens
  • Duration: 102 minutes.

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Apple’s iCar

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Gordon’s Murray’s experimental iStream city car – great to drive say testers. Companies who buy into the design will create their bodywork to suit

Reports of an Apple iCar are bouncing around auto business Twitter lines. What evidence is there to suggest it’s Apple’s next logical product?

Gordon Murray is one of the cleverest automobile engineers on the planet, another fine engineer of Scottish parentage, a tradition Scotland is proud of. His iStream experimental vehicle is a “hoot to drive”, according to those lucky enough to get their hands on one. It has to be under consideration by Apple as a starting point.

And so it should be considering Murray’s track record in F1 racing design, and the now legendary first McLaren sports car. These days he runs Murray Design, his own design company. He invented the iStream construction  approach and has patented it.

A combination of extreme low weight, and cheap manufacturing costs has to be attractive to Apple for their iCar. All that’s missing is choice of material to clothe the car, and whether or not Apple will lock their version into the philosophy of driverless vehicles.

Unlike the Smart For Two, Murray’s iStream city car has three seats, driver in the front, passengers in the rear. The cleverness of his design carries on to a super-easy and cheap to make chassis perfect to apply to most car shapes and categories, high crash safety elements, and it gives amazing miles per gallon.

The car is also equipped to be used as an electric vehicle. Murray has been busy selling the innovative design to various companies including motorbike specialist, Yamaha. Each car company can give it the coachwork they want, it really is that versatile.

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Yamaha’s version of Murray’s iStream innovation

I mention Murray as an introduction to the highly secretive Apple vehicle because I’m pretty sure his design landed on their desk.

If they are incorporating it into their version of a city car, and the batteries don’t combust like Samsung’s phone, (joke) we are in for something revolutionary – the kind of thing Apple does well – the product we didn’t know we needed it until Apple produced it.

In this instance Apple won’t confirm or deny they are designing the car.

Electric cars are in the forefront of most car maker’s plans. Until now they were ignored in favour of mighty oil company profits and the internal infernal combustion engine. Car magazines that repeat neo-liberal think tank hand-outs warning of national electric grid burn outs when we all plug in our electric cars at once, are near silent. That can only mean investors are putting their money into electric car companies.

Tesla cars show range can be 300 miles or more on one boost. And Scandinavian countries, plus California, show us how charging points can be installed everywhere useful in a very short time indeed. So, what evidence is there Apple really are about to produce an all-singing, dancing, electronic ringing, electric car?

An attempt at a liaison between Apple and Mercedes-Benz was confirmed by insiders who say Apple was interested in a joint venture with the German car maker for the eventual production of the iCar.

However, aggressive deal making by Apple officials is claimed to have annoyed Mercedes-Benz boss, Dieter Zetsche, who dismissed the electronics giant. Asked about Apple he told journalists, “We don’t wish to be contract manufacturers like [Taiwanese] Foxxconn”.

Talks with Fiat-Chrylser boss, Sergio Marchionne, also fell apart when it was revealed the Italo-American company had partnered with Google for the development of autonomous driving technology. Apple isn’t of a mind to share with any electronics rival.

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Apple’s Sunnyvale factory unit could be for anything – but isn’t

Apple are keeping their plans hidden behind a veil of secrecy. There’s a large aluminium building (US: pronounced aloo-manam) in an industrial estate in Sunnyvale, California, where the work is assumed to be happening.

The unremarkable factory unit is known simply to Apple employees as SG6.

Sunnyvale council documents reveal a shell company formed by Apple leased the site in November 2015. But ask Apple to explain what they hope to achieve in it and you receive steely silence for your curiosity. All-in-all, denial by Apple that they are moving into the car business doesn’t stack up against the evidence flying around by word of mouth, and in the ether. Ask and expect to get the reply, “You may think that, but Apple couldn’t possibly comment.”

Neighbours who live near Apple’s mysterious, nondescript factory report crazy noises they hear coming from behind the complex’s walls after nightfall. One resident said the noise “sounds like someone waving around a large piece of sheet metal.” Others have spoken of “bangs and thumps,” in addition to the constant beeping of reversing trucks.

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BMW’s i3 – electric cars should look ultra-contemporary, just not like the i3

With Renault already producing a division of electric town vehicles and Jaguar about to produce a small SUV, automobile press hyperbole claiming Apple’s vehicle could be the most significant car to emerge “since Karl Benz’s ground breaking Benz Patent-Motorwagen motorised carriage 130 years ago” is just so much puff.

It might look something as ugly as the otherwise praiseworthy BMW i3 electric car.  Or it might look as silly as Sinclair’s S3.

The Japanese used to be the most exciting innovators in super-modern concepts; not so much lately. World recession, and the Tsunami coupled with nuclear fallout from the damaged reactors near their factories has slowed Japan’s car manufacturer’s progress. And the two big ones, Toyota and Nissan, still have a tendency to produce bland boxes, or novelty design for a ‘younger set’ that doesn’t constitute technical advancement.

A car without oily bits and only few moving parts is to be welcomed. Service costs will be minimal. What battery replacement costs will be is debateable. But it’s significant that, outside offering a £5,000 grant towards the purchase of an electric car, the British government has done very little to tell us the way to a better environment, and better car ownership, is to go electric.

They have done nothing so far to build a grid of recharging points across the UK. They encourage us to buy electric cars, but not to use them. This allows big business interests, sceptics, and naysayers to assert electric cars are a waste of time and money.

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Renault’s Twizy – saw one in Edinburgh recently, first one. It’s tiny and makes you smile

All new domestic garages should be built with a mandatory charging point. All chain petrol stations, especially motorway stations, should be given two years to install a recharging unit, small privately owned garages a grant to encourage them to comply.

Instead we are immersed in the seriously retrogressive parting with Europe and all its technical cooperation. We  expect to get more neo-liberal austerity, more violent welfare cuts,  less of Scotland’s earnings given back to it, all  dished out by a female prime minister rather than a man.

Apple’s market value is at least ten times that of BMW, almost $600 billion. It could offer a home recharging point with every car, and assist garages to install them if it wanted, rather like some television companies offer a television if you rent their satellite system.

When asked about the rumours Apple president, Tim Cook – probably undergoing therapy after the EC hit Apple with a salutary tax bill – only adds to the mystery, saying, “I don’t have anything to announce about our plans.”

Will Apple announce a car that’s ‘the next bigt thing’? And how revolutionary will it be? Do we even want an iCar? Shouldn’t Apple stick to making things they are good at, like loads of money? Or overcharging selling iphones and iPads. (I’m only asking.)

I’m told the project is code-named ‘Project Titan’. You heard it here first, but say nothing.

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Café Society – a review

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Stars of Café Society, and yes, Allen is both narrator and in it, played by Jesse Eisenberg, and yes, we get Allan’s Jewish neurotic shtick again

It’s that time again – a Woody Allen film hits town. Two things cross your mind: will it be as funny and clever as his best, and what in hell made him think it was okay to seduce and marry his adopted daughter? Once you push those conflicting thoughts out of your head, you decide whether it’s an evening worth paying the entrance price.

I go to see anything set in Los Angeles because I know the place so intimately and enjoy spotting streets and art deco bars. And if it’s a period piece – of which most of LA lends itself so well – it’s a double bonus, I get to see veteran automobiles, too, as big as buses. I’ve reached an age where nostalgia is a pleasant retreat from life’s vicissitudes, except in the case of Scotland’s too long delayed reformation, for which I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Woody Allen has led a charmed vocation; forever signing up with new studios on a three picture deal, and having the boss say, “Make what you want, Woody, just tell me when it’s finished.” Then again, you don’t reach Allen’s level of output if you’re somebody who defers to bosses. You acquire a steely negotiating attitude – “Okay, I’ll sign up, but the studio doesn’t rewrite the script, and I get final cut.”

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When the story trails there’s interesting cars and houses to marvel

This time around Allen gives us a story worth telling. It’s a gentle ride for the most part, about painful love, love lost, and yearning, replete with a few guys getting bumped off to liven up the proceedings.

The question littering the story is, what if? We all make good and bad decisions in our lives, but some make a serious error of judgment that alters their life forever. They learn how to live with it, and make the best of it.

Café Society is surprisingly ambitious for a late period Woody Allen. There are a number of stories interwoven around the main one of star crossed lovers, and Allen handles the complexities deftly. We follow Allen’s surrogate self from being a nice but nerdy, wide-eyed Jewish kid from Brooklyn in the 1930s, who just happens to have an uncle gloriously successful as a Hollywood agent, goes there and gets a job in his uncle’s agency, only to fall in love with his secretary, and grow up pretty fast.

Jesse Eisenberg is not my kind of leading man; those round shoulders, the skinny frame, a physicality that is painfully awkward never graceful, don’t help when he plays older than he is, and he’s supposed to have reached maturity. I found it difficult suspending disbelief, especially accepting him as a sophisticated night club owner.

As Bobby Dorfman, Eisenberg grapples with some of Allen’s nebby mannerisms and halting speech patterns, the neurotic guy we’ve come to know and expect from Allen’s central characters, whether himself in the lead, or another.

Once your ear gets attuned to his impersonation you accept that somehow Allan can’t relate to his own material unless he’s at its very centre in some manner or way.

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Steve Carell making the most of a successful Hollywood agent cheating on his wife

Newly arrived in Tinseltown, Bobby gets a menial gofer job thanks to his hot-shot agent uncle, Phil, (Steve Carell), and promptly falls for Phil’s assistant, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Although she insists that she has a boyfriend, Vonnie continues to grow closer to Bobby.

That boyfriend, it turns out, is Bobby’s own uncle Phil, yes the very same big time agent. Complication follows complication. Phil keeps telling Vonnie he will leave his wife, just not right away, not today, maybe tomorrow. “I’ve been married to her twenty-five years, goddammit! She’s a wonderful woman!” Vonnie is torn: She’s falling for this young man, but she does love her older paramour, too, he’s one hellova sugar daddy.

The twisting trysts are handled with great sensitivity by Allen. You wonder if he’s telling us a part-biographical tale, or only exhibiting how smart he is at observing the fickle ways of shallow Hollywood types.

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You can tell Jessie Eisenberg doesn’t smoke in real life

There are two stars head and shoulders above the rest, one is Kristen Stewart and the other the eminent cinematographer, Vittorio  Storaro, (The Conformist, Reds, Apocalypse Now). The film’s look is a delight, warm reds and browns everywhere, sepia tones punctuated by powder whites.  You can tell Allen is really thinking about visual storytelling despite every scene crammed with dialogue, and Storaro’s always elegant lighting makes even the most basic close up and two-shot shimmer.

Eisenberg does the best he can with a physique that never really fills out when it should, back in New York, he with his family, married with a baby, surrounded by his grumpy old dad, and kvetching mother and aunts, plus his black sheep of a gangster brother.

There we learn that the Jewish faith does not believe in an after life, a  void that has everybody worried about their mortal souls, and where they might go after death. I should add that out own Ken Stott, brings his luminous snozzle and gin gravel voice to the proceedings only just masking his strong Scots accent.

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The film received polite applause when shown at Cannes, but I suspect most of it was for Kristen Stewart

The strength of the film isn’t the occasional good gag from Allen, or some neat moments when we see human nature at work, but Kristen Stewart playing the indecisive lover of two quite different men.

That gift of a role has Stewart blow the other actors out the water. She gives us the great moments when we are entranced by her dilemma, when the camera moves in slowly to her face, her expression wracked with uncertainty. Vonnie’s indecision practically consumes her. If her performance doesn’t catch her a couple of good movies in her career trajectory nothing will. We really empathise with her predicament.

In the last act we are back in New York and here Allen finds it difficult holding our attention and the pace. My mind began to wander to earlier scenes, or check the background for familiar house and shops. The film plods blithely along, as if its creator were unsure where to focus. We see the corrosive effect of guilt on unloved ones — a subplot that recalls Crimes and Misdemeanors but never achieves the same gravity.

To sum up: lovely visuals, good to terrific performances, upbeat jazz music, and some gangster action to remind us it’s the era of Elliot Ness and Errol Flynn. There’s enough good moments in Café Society to have you buy that ticket and maybe take the wife or girlfriend along, but you leave the cinema wishing it was all just that bit better.

  • Star rating: Three and a half
  • Screenplay & Director: Woody Allen
  • Cast: Jessie Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell
  • Cinematographer. Vittorio Storaro
  • Duration: 96 minutes

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