Saturday, 31 July 2010

Joe McElderry: TheTwitter Outing

Earlier today both the Daily Mirror and Sun* brought us the 'exclusive' story that last year's X-Factor winner Joe McElderry was gay. For those of you who have forgotten he was Cheryl Cole's fellow Geordie.

There was a mixture of reaction through the LGBT community. From so what pop star comes out as gay is not news. To at last someone comes out as gay without being forced to by the tabloids. But then of course no everything in black and white is also so simple. As Pink News is now reporting it was Twitter pranksters that led to this revelation in today's press. Indeed as Joe said:

"I think the Twitter thing was the point when I realised I was gay. I'm feeling good about it, it's liberating. Now I can just get on with my life."

Now that is a good positive mental attitude for the young man to have, but what if he wasn't so positive about it? Being forced to come to terms with anything is hard enough in our private lives, think about the end of a relationship for example and the pressure that leads to each one of us to readjust our lives especially with all those mutual friendships.

At the time of the David Laws forced outing I wrote in anger at the Stonewall attitude that people who are in the closet don't deserve any sympathy when things fall apart. As anyone who is gay will tell you, you are never totally out. There are always mini comings out that you have to undertake on a day to day basis. There is always someone else who you haven't met and there may well be a decision to made in that conversation of whether to tell them or not, especially if the conversation gets around to partners.

To do it publicly like those in the public eye do adds to other pressures. The whole world or at least the millions that read a certain tabloid will know. The multimedia world we live in will then pick it up and no doubt, if like me you don't read the original source, you will soon find out. It is a scary enough though even telling family and friends for most people without letting the whole world know. However, even if you're not in the public eye it isn't always easy. As Andrew also posted there was the unprovoked homophobic attack in Perth earlier this week.

Or course the above is only assuming that every lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered individual is at that time happy with their own sexuality. That is an oversimplification, a generalisation too far. Many of us in or friends of the LGBT community know of individuals who are struggling with themselves. What if poor Joe had been one of those? Would we have a tragedy on our hands of the making of others.

Yes it would be good if everyone could be out and proud of who they are in a society that doesn't care. Sadly our society isn't as all caring, loving and accepting as we'd hope. Sometimes that starts within the household of some LGBT youth as they are growing up, it can certainly occur, like with Joe, when they are at school and as I've shown it can also come from strangers. Some of those people just cannot cope, they just aren't confident and can be a real threat to their own well being. That is why I vehemently oppose the exposure of anyone's sexuality for whatever reason by any third party.

We have to make that decision every day, whether we let everybody know or who we should tell. Sometimes it is going to be fine, but occasionally it will be a risk, it is then that the decision is made whether it is a risk worth taking. If someone decides not to let the whole world know it doesn't make them any less gay than the Drag Queen shimmying at the head of a gay pride parade, nor does it mean then need to me more out than they are comfortable with.

* Sorry I'll still not link to Merseyside's most hated tabloid (though Andrew Reeves has)

Belfast Pride and their Hero

There has been a full week of events in Belfast for Pride which will culminate with the parade later today. Yeah today is a parade where Orange and Green and the other colours on the Pride flag will not be giving the Parade's Commission too many headaches. Indeed there were no issues for the Commission with the parade or the counter demonstrations.

However, even in Belfast where religion is often such a dividing line for other reasons there is a ray of hope for members of the LGBT community who have faith. The Rev Chris Hudson the minister of All Souls Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church has been named Belfast Pride Hero of the Year.

While there are people like Rev David McIlveen and his Sandown Free Presbyterian Church who are vocal opponents of the LGBT community*, there is an oasis of hope in South Belfast. As a non-subscribing church All Souls is independent of any ruling body. Two years ago the Rev Hudson, complete with dog collar, took part in the Belfast Pride Parade. Last Sunday there was a public meeting held in his church as part of the Pride week celebrations, outside was a poster saying 'It's Ok to be gay and Christian'.

The meeting discussed the biblical references in the bible, of which Hudson says:

"Leviticus is quoted quite a lot, concerning 'man lying down with another man', but Leviticus is a priestly code for Jewish priests. It's a list of behaviours, trying to set the priests of Israel apart. They were trying to outdo each other."

As for Paul's references in the New Testament he added that Paul did not condemn homosexuality as is widely believed, but the "quite licentious Greeks" he found worshipping various gods and goddesses.
"There was no concept of homosexuality as we understand it today."

So while Iris Robinson may have had her little pastor friend ready to pray for gay men to become straight, there is a minister in Belfast prepared to pray for and with gay Christians, a worthy Belfast hero for Pride in the 20th year of the event.

* McIlveen did on Tuesday attend the Belfast Pride Talks Back debate event. Where he was apparently given an attentive hearing which is probably not what he will be returning today.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Is There Death on Mars?

Researchers have discovered some rocks on the surface of Mars which are similar to some in Australia which have revealed fossilised remains of the earliest life on Earth were discovered.

Yeah a team for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in California (SETI) have identified a trench in the Nili Fossae which has rocks similar to those in Pilbara region of NW Australia. They contain carbonate which is what life turns into in many cases when it is buried.

The white cliffs of Dover contain calcium carbonate, limestone, to give them their distinctive white chalk colour.

The rocks at Pilbara contain some distinctive features (stromatolites) which scientists believe were causes by microbes. Dr. Brown from SETI said:

"The Pilbara is very cool. It's part of the Earth that has managed to stay at the surface for around 3.5 billion years - so about three quarters of the history of the Earth.

"It allows us a little window into what was happening on the Earth at its very early stages.

"Life made these features [stromatolites]. We can tell that by the fact that only life could make those shapes; no geological process could.

"If there was enough life to make layers, to make corals or some sort of microbial homes, and if it was buried on Mars, the same physics that took place on Earth could have happened there."

However, the Nili Fossae is not on the list of possible Mars landings in the foreseeable future the area being too risky to land at. So while robot geologists can look at other parts of the Mars-scape they may not get to this key site. It may have to wait until human geologists can get there.

Just wonder if we'll end up seeing Tony Robinson clad in a spacesuit presenting Time Team from the surface of the red planet.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

First Socialism, Now Chartism: Labour's Gravestones

You will of course not see the word (S)socialism in any Labour party manifesto since 1992. Of course this was a result of the removal of Clause 4.

There is another precursor to the Labour party through the labour movement: Chartism. The People's Charter of 1838 laid out 6 principles, in he language and context of parliament of the day they were.

  1. A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.
  2. The secret ballot. - To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
  3. No property qualification for members of Parliament - thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
  4. Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the Country.
  5. Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones.
  6. Annual parliaments, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelve-month; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

Now Jack Straw and Labour's argument against the change in constituency sizes is all to do with point one. As David Miliband has just written for Comment is Free "according to the electoral commission, there are currently more than 3.5 million eligible voters missing from the electoral roll, and there is no way that problem can be significantly tackled in just six months". While it may be true that not a lot can be done about in 6 months one has to ask what had Labour been doing about over the last 13 years. Years indeed that there were boundary reviews.

While Miliband is saying that "the government intends to arbitrarily reduce the size of the commons by 50 seats" this is only a 7.7% reduction. In fact up here in Scotland for the 2005 election we did see a redrawing of the boundaries roughly on equal footing while there a 18.1% reduction of seats from 72 to 59. Miliband is also talking about "the rigidity of the arithmetical formula means that traditional communities are bound to be split up".

Maybe he would care to explain to me and Charles Dundas and the residents of Blackburn how in the recent General election I was seeking to represent the majority of the northern part of Susan Boyle's village, while Charles was seeking to represent a southern segment included the Britain's got talent singer. This was a boundary change carried out under Labour and the Boundary Commission.<

What they are all missing is in point 5. The chartist realised that the only way to have equal constituencies was based on the number of electors. Believe it or not this measure of equality is part of the Labour movement's historic fight. It is part of their history just as it is the Liberal Democrats seeing as the Liberals brought that into effect via the Reform Bills are are attempting to correct it again, now that it has got out of equilibrium.

As for the exceptions of the two island seats in Scotland and 3 most northerly mainland seats. Yes four of them are currently represented by Liberal Democrats but it hasn't always been so. Indeed Orkney and Shetland was for many years the only Liberal seat in Scotland before Jo Grimond had other hard working members to join in in the extreme conditions of those large, remote, scattered, far off (even from Edinburgh never mind Westminster) seats.

Seeing as I've had Labour MPs challenge me on the size of what STV seats would mean even in my area, which would be less than these seats are currently, it seems rather two-faced of Labour to no suggest increasing that acreage.

However, I will agree with Labour on one point, the public consultation must still be maintained for the recommendations. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that the recommendations must come up with seats of equal-ish size. That is something that can be dealt with my amending the proposals rather that scuttling the entire ship though.

PS You didn't hear anyone argue for the 6th and never fulfilled Chartist ambition o annual elections to make sure MPs would "not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now" during the expenses issue. Wonder why?

What Mark Thompson is After

Click here to vote in the Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2010
Mark Thompson has just posted a rather timely reminder that there are only TWO days left to vote for your favourite blogs of 2010 in the Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2010. Having just starting reading my copy of the magazine this morning. I had too good a time at Wagamama last night to start when I got in, I'd say very worth while.

The poll is run by Total Politics (backed by ) and for the second year running it is also being co-promoted/sponsored by Liberal Democrat Voice and LabourList.

A quick reminder or instruction as to the rules folks:

1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.

Mark says it would be rather spiffing if you voted for him, I say go ahead just as long as the following mathematical formula applies

Number beside Mark Reckons > Number beside Stephen's Liberal Journal (as per rule 2 above)

ie 2 Mark Reckons > 1 Stephen's Liberal Journal (simples - just remember to include at least another 3)
See having been working hard in the campaign trail I know that the higher the preference the better, preferably number one. I'm sure Mark would concur.

Lord Alli Calls for Full Marriage Equality

Labour peer Lord Waheed Alli who tabled an amendment in the last Parliament to allow religious civil partnerships is calling for full marriage equality. Writing on the Labour Uncut blog he said:

"[In] the final weeks of the last parliamentary session, I was proud to see that the energy for change hadn't flickered out, as over 100 peers came to a late-night debate and overwhelmingly supported my amendment to the Equality Bill in a bipartisan vote. The amendment allowed religious groups who wish to do so – like Liberal Jews, Quakers and Unitarians – to conduct civil partnerships at their places of worship. It was a huge step, and a fitting end to the series of reforms enacted under a Labour government.

"But clearly, full equality will only be achieved when civil partnerships are recognised as marriage. Just as with my amendment to the Equality Bill, we will need to do it in such a way that respects the religious freedoms of others, so that all couples, including gay couples, have the right to choose between a secular marriage and a religious marriage.

"This will be an important next step."

It is indeed an important step, it one that should not be forced on any religious grouping but as Lord Alli points there are some that have already expressed a desire to have to option to carry out a religious same-sex marriage either as a faith group or as a couple. The fact is that the major protesters against it are those who want to defend religious freedom for their own view of religion while not allowing religious freedom for others.

There should be a religious freedom enabling, but not demanding, that religious same-sex marriage can be carried out. Then those that want to offer the service or who want to partake of it will have the option to be married as they want.

While Lord Alli points out this is the main step for equality here in the UK he echoed the message in many Pride parades across the country this summer, that the main challenge in years to come is from outside the UK. "As we look at the plight of gay men and women around the world, we realise that this is not a journey that’s coming to an end: it’s a journey that has barely begun."

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Labour's 11 Week U-Turn

In the Labour party manifesto for May they had as point one under The next stage of national renewal:

  • Referenda, held on the same day, for moving to the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons and to a democratic and accountable Second Chamber.
It is there in black and white.

So how do they respond to just such a bill that will be introduced to move to the Alternative Vote for Westminster elections? The shadow cabinet, who bear in mind are largely the cabinet that framed said manifesto, say they will be voting against it.

Jack Straw says that the bill being introduced with a reduction in the number of members, which both Coalition partners stood on, which will require boundary changes is gerrymandering. How on earth Labour can thing equalling out the size of constituencies can be construed as gerrymandering is something I'd already dealt with. Though to summarise to resist equalising the representation for each MP is actually more like gerrymandering to any sane individual.

Mark Harper, the constitutional affairs minister sums up the reaction to Labour's ludicrous assertion by saying:

"All this bluster simply highlights the fact that Labour MPs do not believe in seats of equal size and votes counting equally across the whole of the United Kingdom."

It does look like the inclusion in the manifesto was to try and wean some Lib Dem supporters back to vote Labour and to try and prepare the way for possibly a Lib-Lab pact after the election. Labour failed on both counts when it became obvious that they cannot be trusted in either circumstance. This new turning away from their own manifesto pledge is further proof of that.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

What are Early Learning Centres Made Of?

There is the 19th century nursery rhyme What are little boys made of? it goes.

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails
That's what little boys are made of !
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice
That's what little girls are made of!

The reason that this comes to mind is that Jennie has mentioned this from the Early Learning Centre website.

For the little princess in the family we have great feminine outfits like Butterfly Fairy, Sleeping Beauty, Ballerina and Nurse’s uniform. Why not add a medical case for that extra touch of authenticity.

The boys are catered for too, with great Doctor, Policeman & Fireman uniforms, not to mention fantastic Pirate and Knight costumes. All these can be combined with a range of accessories so your child will really look the part.

Now hang on a cotton picking minute. I was one of four boys in my school choir, I did drama, I even wore tights for the ball scene in the school pantomime. All this before the age of 12. Plus my mother's old brownie uniform was part of me and my brother's dressing up box and often got used for military purposes.

When we were growing up we played football with the family next door, there were six of them and two of us. Only one of us fulfilled those childhood dreams of playing football for Northern Ireland, that would be the elder daughter of the family next door.

One of my nephews loves his gymnastics and is very good at it. But it isn't one of those sports that is seen as butch and macho, like football or rugby. At least not until later in life. As one of the kids who just loved to run I got ribbed for it at school. I even got to wear a predominantly green (the girls' uniform colour at our school) honours tie for it in the sixth form. Neither of those are seen as sports for men until you get really goo at it. Look at poor Tom Daley and the abuse he got as a public example.

I was also read recently, and I will try and refind the source, some man being interviewed about their childhood saying that they had their action men have sex together because their parents wouldn't buy them a Barbie because that was too gay.

I guess the moral of this story is that don't limit your children's imaginations or ambitions by stereotyping the genders. They will find other ways to use them themselves. In this day where we have female firefighters and male nurses. There are female doctors and male dancers. Have you seen how much lace in on a Jack Sparrow costume? Almost as much as the ballerina's tutu.

So maybe the earlier learning centre should stop gender stereotyping in its advertising. Thus speaks this New Romantic teenage boy from the 80s. Yeah gel, mouse or spray the hair got it all.

Big GREEN Apple at Heart of the State of Empire

The news that the Empire State Building is to retrofit in an environmental way is great news and a great example. If the world's most iconic tall building can do this and produce 40% energy savings why can't the rest of the US and the World for that matter.

For the refit all 6,514 windows are to be stripped out, before being renovated with a insulating film and a mixture of inert gases. This will make them 4 times better at heat and coolness retention. At the high tech end the world largest wireless network will be set up allowing valves and vents to be controlled centrally. The four central chillers have been replaced with a smart air circulation systems installed.

The net effect of the 40% savings, which is what is being focused on for households on a smaller scale in the USA is 100,000 metric tonnes of carbon off their footprint over the next 15 years. The equivalent of taking 20,000 cars off the road. If this was replicated across just one fifth the large buildings in the USA it would amount to 2.3bn metric tonnes, or the amount of greenhouse gas pollution produced by the whole of Russia in a year.

Can it be done. Yes it can.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Time for the BOTY Nominations

Last years little shindig in Old Harry's Bar, Marriott, Eastbourne was so jam packed that I was fortunate to turn up early with Lionel to claim a good spot near all the action. Sadly Mike Fealty the big man behind Slugger O'Toole was mistakenly told that the upstairs bar was Old Harry's so I had to step up to claim the BOTY for best non-Lib Dem Blog as a contributor. Titter ye not, tis true.

Yes there may be just under a week left to vote for the Total Politics Blog of the Year but the main event of the summer has just been announced. Yes that is right the Lib Dem Voice BOTYs are entering their fifth year. Men, women and elephants of the Lib Dem blogosphere will be getting sweaty palms, or around the collar or itchy trunks. But don't also forget there is more than just the best blog that gets awarded in the veritable smorgasbord of awards.

This year’s awards are as follows:

  • Best new Liberal Democrat blog (started since 1st September 2009)
  • Best blog from a Liberal Democrat holding public office (The Tim Garden Award)
  • Best use of blogging / social networking / e-campaigning by a Liberal Democrat
  • Best posting on a Liberal Democrat blog (since 1st September 2009)
  • Best non-Liberal Democrat politics blog
  • Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year

  • Full details of the classifications can be found on Lib Dem Voice. As are details of the esteemed judging panel. It would appear that Costigan Quist has done a Reggie Perin the the pile of clothes and shoes seen beside Eastbourne pier at the end of conference last September were merely a decoy, as the esteemed mystery man or woman or cuddly toy whose Himmelgarten Cafe was winner in 2009 maintains the tradition of last years BOTY winner sitting on the panel.

    He will be joined by:

  • Prateek Buch, who blogs at consider, evaluate, act
  • Jonathan Calder, who blogs at Liberal England
  • Lee Chalmers, co-founder of the Downing Street Project, leadership consultant and blogger at Lee’s random blog: Leadership, politics and women’s stuff
  • Ryan Cullen from Lib Dem Voice, who also runs Lib Dem Blogs and his own blog at The Artesea
  • Helen Duffett (that’s me) from Lib Dem Voice and also my own blog
  • Mary Reid, former Kingston Upon Thames councillor, who continues to blog at Mary Reid
  • Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire
  • Ros Taylor, Deputy Editor of the Guardian’s Comment is Free
  • Andy Williamson, Director of Digital Democracy at the Hansard Society

  • Please feel free to nominate this blog indeed as Iain Roberts said on Liberal Democrat Voice early in the period for consideration.
    "Stephen Glenn celebrates his well-deserved success. Recognise his genius, damn you!"
    And who are we to argue?

    Indeed the Hon. Lady Mark kindly when posting my Slugger acceptance speech said 'At some point, it would be nice if Stephen won an award himself.'

    So make it happen. All recognition of my genius will be happily accepted by emailing Helen Duffet at

    Balls Quitting Labour Leadership Race is Well...Just...That

    There was speculation over the weekend that once the largest union Unite had given its endorsement to Ed Miliband and not Ed Balls that the latter would step down from the leadership race. He is however being backed by the Communication Workers Union.

    On Radio 4s World This Weekend Balls has denied that he is quitting, coming out saying that he was "fighting to the end and I'm fighting to win". He went on to say that he was never a front runner for this race having neither the early organisation of some of his rivals, nor the CLP (Constituency Labour Party) and union endorsements of his rivals.

    "My message to local party activists, councillors and union members is this: I am fighting to defend the jobs and front line public services in your local communities.

    "I will carry on fighting to stop unfair tax rises and the withdrawal of essential benefits, I will carry on fighting to defeat a coalition hell-bent on cutting public services, putting up VAT, cancelling new schools and turning recovery into a double-dip recession.

    "I am fighting to win this leadership contest to continue these campaigns, to give a voice to our communities and constituents and to show that as leader I would be best placed to set out an alternative plan for jobs and social justice for our country."

    I'm a wee bit concerned with that middle paragraph and am wondering what he was doing about the unfair tax rises and if not withdrawal the obstructing of people being able to access essential benefits easily under the 13 years of Labour. Also during the election Labour were relying on the first quarter's mediocre growth figures as signs of recovery. The second quarter, 2/3 under the coalition government have show significant strengthening (which could all be down to one month) and less chance of a double dip than there may have been going into May's election.

    I'm glad that Balls is not stepping out of the race, just wish he and the other contenders will start to admit they have left the UK economy in a state and stop trying to blame everything on someone else. It isn't becoming of them and the British public won't be taken as fools.

    Sunday, 25 July 2010

    What Do Points Make? #TDF

    Today as in every year since 1975 the Tour de France is heading for 8 circuits of the Champs-Élysées. Most of the prizes have been decided.

    On the Col Du Tourmalet on Thursday the Polka Dot Jersey for the King of the Mountains was finally planted firmly on shoulders of Anthony Charteau (BBox). The challenge from fellow Frenchman and the old man of the Tour Christophe Moreau (Caisse d'Espange) failed to close the remaining gap.

    Yesterday it was as you were for Yellow and White (Young Rider) as last year. Alberto Contador (Astana) was 31" ahead of Andy Schleck (Saxobank) in the time trial into Pauillac. It means that Contador leads by 39", an irony not lost on many which was the exact time difference he took out of Schleck following his chain falling off when he was attacking Contador on the Port de Bales on Monday. It means that Contador is in Yellow and Scheleck will equal Jan Ullrich with a third successive White Jersey. The top three have all been the best young rider because Denis Menchov rode a good time trail yesterday to displace the Olympic Champion Sammy Sanchez from the final podium.

    Lance Armstrong in his last Tour will be on the podium but only as a part of the best team as Radioshack have won that prize.

    However, the real excitement lies in the Green Jersey competition for points. The current standings are:

    • Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) 213
    • Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) 203
    • Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 197
    The point allocation on the line will be 35 for first, 30 for second, 26 for third, 24, 22, 20, 19 etc. There are also two intermediate sprints on the Champs-Élysées offering 6,4 and 2 points. It means that three teams will be working hard to secure the Green Jersey today.

    If Mark Cavendish can repeat his performance in the French Capital from last year and win on the famous boulevard. The Norwegian would have to be second to stay ahead and the Italian if he was seventh would be equal on points but behind the Manxman on stage wins therefore losing his lead. The question is will any of them be in a position to take the intermediate sprints as often these go to a breakaway, or will the teams keep up the tempo for the full eight circuits to give their men a chance to get a shot at the 12 points on offer.

    This will be an exciting afternoon on the approach to Paris, especially for three sprinters and a busy one for their teams.

    Saturday, 24 July 2010

    The Hurricane has Passed

    I remember once about 10 years passing a rake of a man on a street in Belfast. Initially I didn't pay him much attention until up close I realised it was two time World Snooker Champion Alex Higgins.

    Sadly the image to the left was similar to the only time I actually saw the man in the flesh. Even back then the people of Northern Ireland were never sure which of their failed sporting heroes would last longest. The two geniuses of Irish sport Higgins and George Best had both had their battle with alcohol but also for Alex there was the ever present cigarette which led to his eventual death today from Throat Cancer.

    However I do remember him in his excentric prime winning his second Wolrd Title at the Crucible in 1982, exactly a decade after his previous triumph at the highest level of his sport. Indeed 1972 was Alex first ever appearance in the World finals as a young 22 year old. He really did breeze unto the snooker scene like the Hurricane he was nicknamed after.

    But also it was the way that he played the name that the nickname referred to. Like the player to take on his mantle Jimmy 'The Whirlwind' White you were never quite sure which Alex would turn up at the table with his cue, pint and cigggie. He would take the most audacious risks in the days when you have the great safety exponents such as Ray Reardon, Terry Griffiths, Doug Mountjoy, Eddie Charlton and of course fellow Ulsterman Dennis Taylor.

    If his style of play came off you thought he was a genius, if it missed by a narrow margin you would consider him a fool. He also would move around the table briskly often ready to cue the next shot before a red had come to rest in the pocket or the colour had been placed back on its spot by the referee.

    Higgins like Best was a force of nature. He was not somebody you'd tell a youngster to emulate the style of, he just did what he loved to do in the way that he loved to do it.

    Yes there was controversy that followed him at times. Getting into fights with officials, the press or opponents. But he played the game in the right spirit, even if his tie was loose or not worn at all against the underlying ettiquette of the game. He was the people's champion because he brought excitement to the game.

    If he were at his prime today he would still fit into the top level of players because like the youngsters today he was prepared to take on the long, seemingly impossible pots.

    In the end he survived a mere three years less than my non-smoking, non-heavy drinking father. Which would propably be as much as a shock to my father as it is to me. But I add the second picture to the right as one that remembers him at his prime.

    Alex Higgins 18 March 1949- 24 July 2010

    Slamannan Knife Attack on Pull Out Bride

    Slamannan (point on map) isn't the centre of the universe, however today the village at the western end of the Linlithgow and East Falkirk constituency is at the centre of the media's attention for very unfortunate reasons.

    A 32-year-old mother of two children (named locally as Lisa Whyte) who pulled out of her wedding at the last minute yesterday is currently fighting for her life in Glasgow's Southern General Hospital, having had her throat slashed. The incident happened at around 10 am this morning.

    The news just in is that a man of 37 has been arrested in Newcastle. He has been taken to hospital apparently with self inflicted injuries. The police are waiting to question him but he is expected to appear in court on Monday.

    Police are still looking for any witnesses to come forward to speak to them.

    The children are currently being looked after by grandparents. My thoughts are with them and the woman's family at this traumatic time.

    Update The man arrested has since been named as he victim's fiancé Steven McKee.

    Where the Tour was Won #TDF

    Well we now know where the Tour de France was won. It wasn't beating the man it was man on the point of being beating taken advantage of the opponent he swerved around on the Port de Bales.

    Without the 39 seconds that Alberto Contador gained from that incident Andy Schleck would have gone into this time trail still 31 seconds ahead and not 8 behind. In the end the gap that Alberto Contador picked up off Andy Schleck in today's time trial was 31", without Port de Bales they would have been tied on time.

    Senate Hearing From the International Outlaws of the World,,,

    ...OR why they are right to refuse...

    ...OR how America still thinks the West must be won

    So Kenny MacAskill and Jack Straw have both said no to the US Senate enquiry on Megrahi. Tony Blair had apparently been invited and indeed his airfare would have been covered, although the Senate are saying this was a draft letter which had been leaked to the press.

    However, when you look at the USA's record on implementing International Laws the fact that they are looking to have a hearing into a criminal tried under Scottish Law and released under Scottish jurisdiction on compassionate grounds show how the USA just do not get it. Here is a rundown on some of the human rights treaties that the USA has either not signed or ratified and the company they keep.

    Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted 1979 USA has yet to ratify it although they have signing it in 1980. They team up with Iran, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Sudan and Tonga.

    Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC) 1989 USA singed it in 1995 but it has yet to be presented to the Senate for approval. Only Somalia lines up as a fellow none participant.

    Convention Against Enforced Disappearance 2006. Only 81 signatories (16 NATO allies) thus far and not in force but USA have not taken any action.

    Mine Ban Treaty 1996. Again no action at all from the USA along with China, Russia and 34 other nations.

    Convention on Cluster Weapons 2008. Signed by the majority of NAO nations and many other US Allies. But only half the 30 ratifications needed to trigger the convention. Of course the USA are not in the 98 signatories.

    Tellingly The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) 2006 enforced in 20088 with 140 signatories. You know the score, no action from the USA.

    Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) 2002 enforced since 2006. Signatories include include the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Austria, France, Spain, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Brazil, and Mexico. But not the USA.

    So before the USA start to probe into another nations legal system and release decisions maybe they should look at their own record on international issue. They have a poor record in signing up to or implementing international actions. so what right do they have to want to interfere. I personally feel that MacAskill, Straw, Blair et al are quite correct in refusung to turn up at the pleasure of the international outlaws of our world. If the USA is not going to support the rights of others as many other states have they have no right to interfere in the humanity of others.

    Friday, 23 July 2010

    The Dichotomy of Devolved Proportionality

    Labour Tweeter Lawrence Mills has asked myself and Caron if we had seen this Caledonian Mercury article and also what we thought of it. Well first off I'm taking exception at the quote from strategists and plotters who apparently say:

    "They couldn't possibly do that. Not even the Liberal Democrats could be in power in two places at once, in two different coalitions, with two different partners pursuing radically different policies."

    Well seeing as I'm currently reading Micheal McManus's brilliant biography of Jo Grimond I know it is not a new argument. But I also know it is misconstrued.

    For a start Lib Dems are in a devolved area of responsibility with a whole host of parties across the country in different council affiliations. The result is that not every council where the Lib Dems are the largest party or the smallest party can be accused of pursuing radically similar policies, that would be a nonsense. That is the result of coalitions, which if AV or a proportional election system were to come into Westminster would lead to more of the same; just like it always will do in Holyrood.

    From history the Liberal party during the 60s were very careful to maintain their distinctiveness from the other parties when Wilson was having his shrinking majority issues. It is something that even today in Westminster we are determined to keep our Liberal identity. Today the Times [no links behind paywalls here] said that the Cabinet at Chequers today will rule out inviting prominent Conservative unto the Lib Dem Conference platform and vice versa. The reason being that the Lib Dems, in particular, were insistent that we must protect our separate identity. However, there will be crossover at fringe events, which as anyone who has ever attended a party conference will know is not something new or startling.

    So it possible say yo be in power with the Tories in Westminster and Labour in Holyrood? I'd say yes. The one thing that the Liberal Democrats will do in either place to to bring our Liberal values to the fore. Yes there will be/have been compromise in both, but that is the nature of proportionality and power sharing.

    The Liberal ethos is a mind set, listen into a debate at a Lib Dem conference and you will hear that coming to the fore. There are complexities within that mind set of course and while we do actually discuss our party policies it is always from the Liberal heart that binds us. Maybe that is something that is missing from the other parties' policy platforms. For the others here has been no tugging at the heart strings of members to come up with it, there is no ownership at grassroots level and there has been no debate cutting through to the crux of the matter.

    That is why the Lib Dems can trust their elected representatives, they have sat in the hall, heard the party speak and know just what the party want. Therefore they can be trusted to make compromise in coalition that retains the identity of the party, it is also why I would trust a Lib Dem identity to be maintained in whatever formation we would end up supporting. Whereas a Labour or Tory seems willing to cut their heart out when it is convenient.

    Thursday, 22 July 2010

    Tourmalet Act Two #TDF

    On Tuesday the bulk of the field rolled into Pau together after following the sequence of mountains that set up Eddy Merckx for the first of his five yellow jerseys. O t would have been a year if it had existed that Eddy would have won the white jersey for Best Young Rider along with the Yellow, Green and Polka Dot that he did actually win in 1969. It would have been a singular achievement.

    Today will be like a case of retracing your steps as it the riders had lost something. Normally having reached Pau after tacking the Pyrenees in a westerly direction the Tour will put the mountains behind them, but not today. We're heading back in, and back to the Tourmalet. But before we get there it is no stroll in the park.

    The first major climb of the day is the Col de Marie-Blanque. Not particularly big at only 1035m. However, the last 4 km of the ascent average 10% gradient. Next up is the Col du Solour which was climbed but not categorised on Tuesday as part of the ascent of the Col d'Aubisque this time it is being approached from its toughest northern approach, earning it the Premier Category classification. From the Solour the last 56.5km are very familiar to the riders, they were only here on Tuesday heading the opposite direction.

    It is back up the Tourmalet with a longer ascent and with a steeper kick near the end. This is the last mountain of this years tour and surely one on which several of the leading GC contenders are going to have to attack on. Schleck will need time over Contador at the top if he is to follow him as a winner of the Yellow and White jersey in the same Tour, this is Andy's last year eligible for the young rider category and while he'll be emulating Jan Ullrich with a third success along with Contador and Laurent Fignon he'll want to have won yellow and white together.

    Behind the leading two the 2003 winner of the white jersey Denis Menchov is going to have to open up a gap on Sammy Sanchez the Olympic Champion who is 13 seconds ahead of him and the somewhat better time trialist over a long distance. Although they both had the same time over the short Rotterdam prologue. Three previous winners of the young rider category have never filled the podium positions in Paris, so this year's Tour may just make a little bit of history in that way.

    Even further back there is a possible battle to be the laterne rouge (the last man). German Bert Grabsch (HTC-Columbia) currently brings up the rear at +3h 55' 10" but only 2 minutes 1 second up the road is Italian Adriano Malori (Lampre).

    Wednesday, 21 July 2010

    My Top Ten Blog Posts of the Last 12 Months

    I see that my good friend Caron has done a little navel gazing and listed her top ten blogs as viewed by her readers over the last 12 month. 'Tis the season for introspection in the Blogosphere after all so I thought I may as well follow suit.

    So as is traditional with these things here they are in reverse order of page views.

    10. No Matter What: Stephen Gateley 1976-2009 my initial an then growing tribute to Stephen Gateley as news and details of his death came into the public domain.

    9. Next is my reposte to Irfan Ahmed about the choice of Lib Dem targeting: Target Seats Were Based on Evidence at the Time Irfan

    8. My annual look at the state of things in China Kung Hei Fat Choy 2010

    7. Rather appropriate for today's Cambama declaration in Washington Oil Be There For You

    6. Someone I don't want to sit in the psychiatrists chair of, Tory Bear Pop Psychiatry Gone Political.

    5. Here's one I almost forgot to post. A is for Airbrushing Part ii

    4. One of the Question Time failures gets into the top 10 BBC Fail to Answer my Concern

    3. The sad story of what was happening to Kerry Robertson and he son Ben: Fife Council Child Snatchers.

    2. For this one I'm glad to have been on service. Applying for a Postal Vote: Deadline Tuesday 20 April I hope almost a thousand of you were able to vote as a result.

    Which leads to the grand winner, my most popular blog post of the last 12 months was actually written in March last year. While people say a picture speaks a thousand words it is certainly true of this post, most searches that hit it are from google images or the equivalent on other engines.

    1. Chinese Deathly Whispers

    As this was actually written outwith the last 12 months I'll also mention the post that would be tenth it I only counted those written over the last 12 months. My View on Sports Personality of the Year posted before the event and looking at the merits of the short list.

    Tuesday, 20 July 2010

    Tourmalet Act One #TDF

    Crossed Tourmalet STOP Very good course STOP Perfectly passable STOP

    So read the Telegram sent by Alphonse Steinès on 28 January 1910 to his boss Henri Desgrange about the possibilty of including the Col de Tourmalet on that year's 8th Tour de France. That isn't the whole story however.

    On the 27th Steinès had asked an innkeeper near the Tourmalet for directions to pass over it. The innkeeper barked back 'you can barely cross it in July'. However, Steinès was underterred and hired a car and driver Dupont and drove up the cart path that was the route over the 2115m pass. Near the top after 16km of climbing he was stopped by snow, and even though it was 6pm he got out in his city clothes and continuted on foot. After 600m Dupont turned back, shouting 'The bears come over from Spain when it snows', but Steinès continued. He was found at 3am having fallen several times and been lost by a police search party. After food and a hot bath he dispatched his telegram to Paris.

    When it was announced in the itinery of the Tour several of the big names protested and 26 said they would not ride. Lucien Petit-Breton, the winner from 1907 and 1908 said 'It's murder....those bastards want our skin!' he did not finish the 1910 Tour. Gustave Garrigou ended up 3rd that year and won the following year said 'People were telling us about avalanches, road collapses, of the killer moutains and the Thunder of God!'. Riders told reporters 'Desgrange is sending us into a circle of death!'

    In the end of course the race did climb up the Tourmalet on a stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Pau. The first attack came from Charles Crupelandt, who had won the opening stage to Roubaix, then came one from François Faber the previous year's winner, then Emile Georget. But eventually it came to Octave Lapize to take on Faber, the rest of the field and the Col. The previous days to Luchon over the first Pyrenees he had won the stage and it was he who was the first man to summit on the Tourmalet, marked by the momument shown. Riding on to Bayonne on the coast to complete the stage as winner. The on to Paris to win the Tour itself in what was the only time he finished the race.

    So today the peleton pass over it on their way to Pau, but they'll be back on Thursday to finish on its summit and the last climb of the 2010 Tour de France.

    Contador Apology #TDF

    Alberto Contador has issued the following apology for his not noticing the 'mechanical' of Andy Schleck yesterday and then taking advantage of it for pretty much the last 24 km of yesterday's stage.

    Wonder what Andy Schlecjk would rather have. An apology recorded in your hotel room, rather that on the podium or in the press interviews afterwards, or 39 seconds back? Hmm tough call.

    I reckon most of the neutral cycling fans will be backing Andy Schleck everytime he goes on the attack today or on Thursday.

    Monday, 19 July 2010

    Eight Seconds #TDF

    Eight seconds has featured before in the race for the Maillot Jaune in the Tour de France. In the 1989 Tour it was the gap that Greg LeMond took the race by over Laurent Fignon when the Champs-Elysees witnessed a time trial final stage. Today however it wasn't a matter or man against man that led to eight seconds.

    On the Port de Bales Andy Schleck had his Saxobank team setting the pace. One by one they led him up the Col closing down the gap with the head of the race. Then about 3 km from the top of the Climb Schleck attacked but Contador took some time to respond, but then calamity, the Luxembourger's chain came off. Contador raced on up the hill while Schleck stopped at the side of the road to sort it out. He then had to climb through all the dropped riders from the group that his teams pace had got rid off in pursuit. At the summit he was about 20 seconds behind at the summit. Ready to chase the larger group down the slopes to the finish.

    In the end the group in front managed to edge further out crossing the line 39 seconds ahead of the Maillot Jaune. Meaning it had changed hands by that 8 second margin to the defending champion, who may or may not have been in trouble on the Port de Bales. However, there is previous that you don't attack the leader when he has a disaster outside his control in a tight race. Look at Jan Ullrich hold up for Lance Armstrong here, from 2003.

    If Contador felt he had to take advantage of that and couldn't beat Schleck man on man maybe he really was starting to struggle in this tour. Schleck has seemed in control and more and more confident with each stage he has worn the yellow for. However Andy hasn't given up hope yet as he has just tweeted.

    The incident will overshadow the fact that the French Champion Thomas Voeckler won the stage in a solo effort from the day's long breakaway to mark the 100th anniversary of the Tour climbing the Pyrenees today.

    Update The view of the pros Robbie Hunter who's had to abandon this year' Tour 'Contador should have waited,had he waited everybody would have opinion this was not cool!'. Chris Broadman former British rider in the Tour and now part of ITV4's team 'I predict a spirited moral debate, lets call it 'Chaingate'.

    A Case of History Repeating It's Heights #TDF

    One hundred years ago today the first of the big mountains* were included in Henri Desgrange's vision of the Tour de France, the Porter-d'Aspet and the Col des Ares were on that first day. He had been reluctant to include the big mountain passes fearing that the riders would die in the mountains from over-exertion, exposure, brigands or bears. His assitant Alphonse Steinès persuaded him otherwise, of which more tomorrow, that it would be doable.

    Today both those original climbs are merely category 2 climbs at 1069 and 797 metres respectively. However, today they will be drawfed by the 1755m Port de Balès, though it was only first used in 2007, it will be the third Hors Catégorie climb on this year's Tour.

    Here what an amateur cyclist made of the ascent of the Port de Balès prior to that first ascent of this hill.

    The 21.5 km descent into Bagnères-de-Luchon is full of twisting bends as this video of Sky's recognisance of the stage shows.

    Yesterday after seeing Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador marking each other and almost playing games on the ascent to Ax-3 Domaines I suspect there may be a little bit more of a test from Schleck today. He still needs to gain some further time over the next three days 31 seconds may not be enough for him in the final time trial. Yesterday he merely showed he is able to take anything that Contador could lay at his feet.

    * The Ballon d'Alsace had been included in 1905

    Sunday, 18 July 2010

    That Centenary is Looming Up Ahead #TDF

    As I wrote at the start of my Tour de France coverage is marking the centenary of the grand mountains hitting the tour. Tomorrow is actually the repeat of a 100 year old stage. On Tuesday we climb two famous two Pyreneean peaks the Col d'Aubisque and the Col du Tourmalet (which gets an encore on Thursday) 99 years and 363 days after they were first climbed.

    However today is the first of four tough days in the Pyrenees.

    Today after what has been an most strenuous transition phase between the Alps and Pyrenees the peleton has set out from the relative plain of Revel 220m above sea level. Later today at 102 km into the stage they will start to go uphill, and keep going up until the top to the Port de Pailhères at 2001m at 155.5 km. then after 18 km descent it is another 9km climb up to the ski station of Ax 3 Domaines. The former is a Hors Catégorie but that doesn't mean the First Catégorie climb to finish will be any easier. There will be no respite between one and the other. Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador could attack on the Pailhères to try and mark their authority on the other.

    On the Pailhères there are two steep segments with an average gradient of 9.5% and then over 10% for two kilometre stretches. This is similar to the ascent into Mende on Thursday when Contador pulled 10 seconds back on Schleck but this time it isn't the end of things.

    The climb to Ax 3 Domaines is also the mountain that in 2003, the centenary Tour, Jan Ullrich broke Lance Armstrong and a certain Alexandre Vinokourov the winner of yesterday's stage started that move. Of course Vino then launched the move for his team mate in the leading group, this year he is riding for Contador. You wonder if history might repeat itself, but then Vino has attacked hard in the last two days so may not be up there again today.

    The other question is hot the rest of the GC riders will shape up behind the top two. Any of them might crack and the result is that the top 15 or so could easily reshuffle with minutes at stake for a poor day. As I said earlier it is not like we have had a nice relaxing and smooth transition from the other mountains. The climb to Mende and then the little Côte de Saint-Ferréol. Neither major for time shift but would be felt in the legs.

    Friday, 16 July 2010

    Lack of Zac Answering Hack

    I have spent a lot of time in Richmond Park and Kingston North, being a Kingston graduate I actually did a training run around the Park for a start.

    Of course at the local MP recently became the billionaire Zac Goldsmith. He has questions to answer about his expenses in the 23 days before the campaign. So he came into Channel 4 News studio to answer those questions. It appears that he spend all this time merely asking why he wasn't allowed in to the studio earlier. Not getting on to the questions that are the height of the issue.

    It is absolutely car crash TV. It is the absolute avoidance of the issue. It is a sham there clearly is something there to hide because he spends so much time talking over Jon Snow. The fact is that he doesn't even know the difference between the long and the short campaign.

    BTW standard across the country for council and general election campaigns on the same day is two sided posters one side for the GE candidate one for the council candidate.

    Also the jackets are a capital cost brought in for this campaign. Yes if they get used in further campaigns there is a usage cost entailed, but that is for future campaigns and only if said items get used (for example Corex posters). All of that is very clear in the guidelines and only becomes complicated when people try to hide election costs.

    See also Alex Folkes asks some pertinent questions about the rants about re-use.

    As for the Trikes apparently "they cost 2p a mile, they can take passengers, carry leaflets and they are surprisingly fast." They were also embossed in Back Zac and Tory. How do I know? Zac told us here. So surely if they are doing all that there has to be some cost involved not none.
    Also if they are so good at delivering leaflets it seems a shame that so many were wasted doing away all the greeness of their use.

    Alex Cole-Hamilton Selected for Edinburgh Central

    Candidate selection is an odd campaign. For a start it is one of the most lonely because it is you who has to get around all the electorate as best you can and that can be every evening for four weeks and still not get everyone in, or even gain access to every stairwell.

    When you add on the fact that you are doing it in Edinburgh with it hills, the gorgeous weather that we had in June and the fact that I do not own a car I can fully recommend it for a cardio workout. You do however, meet some amazing people who are members of the party who live in the area you represent who do not all get or want to get to party events. It also doesn't matter if some of them only know the candidates as the double-barrelled one, the ginger one, the Irish one or the woman, they'll be using their methods to identify which one you are or the others are when you meet them.

    It was also a fun campaign between the four candidates. Text messages, Facebook status updates and Tweets going back and forth kept the campaign on a friendly footing. We then attended the hustings the only time all four of us were actually in the same place at the same time. I know that if I had entered that room undecided at the start I would have still be scratching my head at the end of it all.<

    As I said it can be a lonely existence but I'd like to thank Caron who allowed me to come to hers to relax every once and while and Kieran for the odd post canvassing drink. Also the support of others from near and far. It may have been lonely however there was one glorious evening that I got a message from Alex Cole-Hamilton that said that he must have been following in my footsteps that evening, I know for a fact that at the end I was also following in his. I suspect that I stated at the southern end of Comely Bank and worked my way clockwise round to Stockbridge and he may have started in Stockbidge and worked he way around as well. Another time I was sat in a members kitchen when John Loughton rang them on the phone.

    Anyway earlier today the Edinburgh Central selection was declared and Alex won a very amicable contest. Now all we have to do is go out then and win the seat next May, I'll be offering my support in whatever way I can as this is a key seat for the Lib Dems over the next 10 months.

    Vita, Veritas, Victoria to the Oak Wood of Calgaich or Colmcille

    Then one hot day when fields were rank
    With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
    Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
    To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
    Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
    Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
    On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
    The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
    Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
    I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
    Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
    That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.
    from Seamus Heaney's Death of a Naturalist

    Well last night the city of my father, my father's father, my father's father's father and at least his father as well* was awarded with the privilege of being the UK's first City of Culture in 2013. Doire, Lunnonderrie, Daire Calgaich, Doire Cholmchille, the Maiden City, Stroke City call it what you will, Derry/Londonderry is about to make history.

    As well as Nobel Laureate Mr Heaney above, Restoration Dramatist George Farquhar, authors Joyce Cary, Seamus Deane, Jennifer Johnston and Neil McCafferty all add to the rich history of culture in Northern Ireland's second city. Which is being build on all the time by new contributions to culture of a variety of forms.

    Then there are the City Walls the only remaining intact example in Ireland and one of the finest in Europe dating from 1613-1619. The history dates back to the 546 when St. Colmcille,like a lot of my family crossed just over the county boundary from Donegal to set up his monastery.

    In the 1600s it was the livery companies from London who came over as part of the plantation to built the City on the West side of the Foyle across from the earlier monastic settlement. It was the first planned city in Ireland with roads off the the central diamond within the walls leading to the four gates of the strong defensive pattern that was followed by many of the North American British colonial settlements.

    So from the architecture, through the literature, to music and even the mural of both communities and other aspects there is a thriving culture in the City. Like myself there are Donegal influences in there as well as rural Londonderry and Tyrone. It is a river community and a last stopping off place for many emigrants embarking on the trip to America. But now it is embarking on a new trip to prepare for the future as the City of Culture to showcase the best that the place has to offer to draw people in rather than bid them goodbye.

    The City motto is 'Vita, Veritas, Victoria' - 'Life, Truth, Victory'. In 2013 they will embrace life to the fullest, the city probably won't ignore the truth of its past but move forward to a shared future and make the most of this victory with the eyes of the country upon it.

    * Beyond that needs some more genealogical digging.

    Thursday, 15 July 2010

    Once Upon a Time in a Polytechnic Not Too Far Away...

    Episode IV: A Dying Hope*

    When I was only two Margaret Thatcher took away free school milk, yet somehow I still got mine through my primary school days. When I was a student and I was old enough to do something about it she started to completely phase out grants for students and replace them with loans.

    So it was that one of my first campaigns and indeed I think my first public march was on Westminster in the late 80s shouting for 'Grants not Loans'. The basic argument is the same that the more people have to pay for their own education the more you price out those with ability from the poorer areas of our country who might just make a difference to our world.

    I'm going to cite an interest in this as one of those who wouldn't have gone to university without assistance was the son of late french polisher and a quality controller in a shirt factory. He lived in a two up two down without an inside toilet, bathroom or telephone. The only advantage he had over some on the other side of the Derry walls was that as a protestant he would have a vote when he came of age. Because that person was the first of the Glenn's to go to university my father. He went on to a career in teaching when he affected the lives of many and inspired them either to take maths seriously or to get involved in computers when they were still a novelty and then beyond.

    The issue of fees has been a hot potato in Lib Dem conferences for a number of years now, not least because we delivered the removal of top up fees in Scotland when we were in coalition. So therefore imagine my shock when Vince Cable today announced that he was asking Lord Browne to look into the idea of a graduate tax as a matter of 'priority'. Seeing as we stood on a platform of removing fees for students when we could afford it to suddenly start talking about a graduate tax is a reversal in our commitment to education.

    I also recall that Vince defended the VAT rises with a glib comment that he never stood in front of the VAT Bombshell poster. Well lucky him. However, I was proud to be there for the launch of that poster in Glasgow. I still say that VAT is a regressive tax and has no place in a progressive society that looks out for those least able to look after themselves. Especially as even those who don't pay income tax pay some VAT.

    I'm equally glad to say I've waved a placard saying grants not loans. Kept on fighting to do away with the unfairness of the Students Loans Company. Glad that in Scotland our party has backed a minimum income guarantee for students and that we were fighting as recently as May to do away with top up fees as and when we could afford to do so.

    I do not agree with Vince that this is a priority. I object to the fact that he even thinks it is. A student priority at the moment is a way for our recently graduated to find employment, and by that I mean paid employment. Sure internships give skills but no money and that is not what our brightest spent 3 or 4 years to get their Bachelors or Masters degrees to go on to. Having graduated in the last major recession I know how tough that can be.

    * Not yet it isn't I'll be fighting on.

    No Butts, No Glory #TDF

    While Mark Cavendish did win his third stage of this years Tour de France we will have to wonder if Tyler Ferrar's (Garmin) tactic of going from 500m out zooming past Cav's lead out man Mark Renshaw would have worked. We won't know as the repeated headbutts on Ferrar's lead out man Julian Dean and then the block of Farrar an the barriers has lead correctly I think to the Columbia man's disqualification from the Tour.

    Watch the below from channel F10 at about 4:22.

    Farrar stil managed to cross the line third after all of Renshaw's attentions so you have to really wonder what if? We shall find out on the next sprinters stage which probably isn't until Saturday when Cavendish will have to follow the wheel of another team mate. Was it unlucky 13 for Cav as he loses the man he is confident will lead him to the front when it matters?

    UPDATE: Here is what Mark Renshaw had to say about the incident to Australian TV after crossing the line before he knew he was kicked off the Tour.

    Also here is the moment caught live on camera that Cav finds out and his total disbelief and his immediate reaction to defend his team mate.

    And finally here is Ferrar's take on the incident.

    UPDATE 2: Yeah I've done a little digging and found footage of the one day in 1997 that Eric Zabel who is now the sprint coach on Columbia-HTC got relegated for similar behaviour in the finish. It was throwing a water bottle and drug use that led to exclusions for the tour that day.

    Wednesday, 14 July 2010

    Bunch of Gay Footballers: Not That There's Anything Wrong With That

    Note by posting this picture I am in no way implying or speculating anything about the sexuality of any who appear in it. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    A question; which style of football would you rather have seen win the World Cup, the stylish play of say Spain, Argentina or Germany or the rather stiff and in the case of the Netherlands violent approach of Brazil and England amongst others?

    I'm sure like me you are glad that the former won. Therefore the most bizarre excuse for World Cup failure from Michael Ballack's agent Michael Becker that the alledged reason is because there were gay men in the squad. Indeed he told Aleksander Osang in Der Spiegel that he put the new adroit, lighter and elegant style of play that has become a trademark of trainer Joachim Löw's players down to their homosexuality, in contrast to the typically more aggressive and offensive German style of past years, but suggested they played too delicately to assure themselves a place in the final.

    Firstly if that is the only reason that the team played in a style that gathered many fans over the tournament not least because of their scoring four goals in 3 different matches, then why oh why aren't there any out gay footballers proud of the skills they produce in that style to delight the fans.

    But of course more worryingly and seriously at the heart of Becker's allegations is the stench of homophobia and typecasting of the gay community. Recently ITV's Dispatches showed a programme call Africa's Last Taboo the same last taboo exists in football. There are no out players at the top level of the game. Being gay doesn't make someone any less determined to succeed. Indeed faced with possible opposition such as Becker's it makes one more determined to be seen not just as an equal but as better so that nobody can dispute your commitment.

    So if some gay footballers did manage to come third in the World Cup it is something that should be celebrated, not ridiculed, mocked or used as an excuse for not going further. Hey there may even have been some in the final, we just do not know and may never know the way that football seems to think un-Seinfeld-like* that there is something wrong with that.

    * The Seinfeld TV show had an episode called 'The Outing' about homosexuality and more to the point perceived homosexuality where every time the subject was broached somebody added, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

    Sunday, 11 July 2010

    Peleton Less Deep, Mountains High #TDF

    Sylvain Chavanel took the yellow on the damp and treacherous road into Spa, he only wore it for one day after that the cobbles of the Hell of the North causing his problems. However, just as Spa is famous for Formula 1 today on a Formula 1 Sunday the French man is back in yellow.

    Yesterday on the penultimate climb up the Col de la Croix de la Serra Chavanel in a grop of 7 started to pursue the leading group of 3 including his Quickstep team mate Jérôme Pineau. Pineau had taken maximum climbers points in the first 5 climbs yesterday to secure his early hold on the Polka Dot Jersey being the only man so far to wear it. Meanwhile behind him the man who took the yellow jersey back off Chavanel Fabian Cancellara was struggling to stay with the pace and was only just ridden back up to the pack by the summit.

    On the last climb of the Côte de Lamoura the head of the race changed hands within the same team when Chavanel on his second lone breakaway of the Tour overtook his team mate in the spots. In the end he crossed the line 57 seconds ahead of Rafael Valls (Footon-Servetto) and 1'27" ahead of Juan Manuel Gárate (Rabobank). However more crucially, 1'47" ahead of the group of Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Lance Armstrong, Andy Schleck and Bradley Wiggins. However, Gerraint Thomas who had been second was 5'12" back on the leader having suffered a puncture on the last climb 10km from the end. But the maillot jaune on the back of Cancellara suffered merely in the legs and not mechanically to end up 14'12" behind.

    It means the Frenchman leads today as we skirt the toe of Switzerland by 1'25" from Evans, Schleck is 4th +1'55", Contador 6th +2'26", Nicolas Roche (the son of Tour winner Stephen) is 8th +2'28" and Bradley Wiggins has climbed to 11 +2'35".

    Today's stage is the start of the high mountains although as Bradley Wiggins said of yesterday's stage ""I think the stage was harder than a lot of people expected but it's good to get the first mountain one out of the way". Today however there are the arrival of the first category climbs to this tour. The first Col de la Ramaz is a 14km climb averaging 7% gradient. The descent is an even steeped hill getting to 10% in places so it is fast and winding. Then after the descent a minor 3rd Category climb up Les Gets before climbing 14km out of Morzine up to Avoriaz at 6.1%. Not as tough as la Ramaz but at the end of a hard day and other cllimbs just before, somebody might just lose the Tour today.

    So the mountains are here, this guy has posted a video of his reconnoiter of those final climbs.