Ben Lomond

 

A friend and I managed a walk up Ben Lomond a couple of weekends ago, one of the more popular peaks in the Scottish Highlands. We were not short of fellow travellers, with the mountain being quite busy.

I managed a couple of nice shots on the way up and on the way back down, but sadly the top was just cloud! Ah well, an excuse to do it again in better weather (although I’m not sure there is such a thing as ‘better weather’ in the Scottish highlands…) This shot was my favourite from the day, I think it captures the drama of being up there in the clouds pretty well.

Slow Worm 

This is a Slow Worm – which is neither a snake or a worm… 

It’s actually a type of legless lizard common to the British Isles. A friend and I found this little fella – it is apparently a male by its markings – on the way back down Ben Lomond a couple of Sundays ago. We originally thought we’d found an Adder, but some Googling put us right. 

He’s a wee cracker, and was quite happy to pose for some pictures before slithering away under a rock (not that slowly, either).

Thanks for visiting 🙂 

K

Alcohol, Drugs and Media Cognitive Dissonance 

I spotted this article in a tabloid newspaper. It follows the same formula as most articles about young women dying from taking ecstasy (the media don’t seem to care as much about young men – or anyone else part from young women – dying from taking ecstasy, curiously).

To put it in context, in Scotland in 2015 there were:

  • 15 deaths from ecstasy-type drugs – this being one of the highest rates ever recorded
  • 1,150 alcohol-related deaths

If the newspapers were to report alcohol-related deaths the same way, they would have to print three front pages for each alcohol-related death EVERY DAY.

While this is undoubtedly a tragedy, in the context of drug and alcohol-related deaths you have to wonder why this one tragedy warrants a front cover story. Perhaps because the publishers cynically know that people care more about a young women dying than the scores of older men dying of alcohol-related deaths each year.

Also, the article fails to mention that many ecstasy-related deaths result from the nature of our drug policies. Ecstasy is illegal, therefore we cannot control it’s strength, it’s purity, whom it is sold to or where it is sold; the best we can do is tell people not to take it – when we know for absolute fact that asking somebody not to do something greatly increases the likelihood that they will do it. It’s called reverse psychology – people have a negative reaction to being persuaded or convinced out of a belief, and thus rebel against persuasion. Likewise, deterrence through threat of punishment doesn’t work either, and we’ve known this for decades. But that’s another rant…

Why don’t tabloids report deaths related to alcohol in the same sensationalist way they do ecstasy-related deaths? Perhaps it’s a case of mass cognitive dissonance, with two conflicting opinions about two drugs, despite both being drugs. Conflicting opinions about the dangers of one over the other, despite the evidence showing that it is the legal drug that is most dangerous.

Perhaps it’s because alcohol is the drug of choice for the elite, the media included and ecstasy is the drug of choice for the young and increasingly marginalised?

(not to say they don’t enjoy some Cocaine between friends after a long hard misreporting drug-related deaths to sell more papers – more cognitive dissonance, coupled with corporate greed)
There’s a drug policy debate in Parliament today, several years after the government’s own report finds that decriminalisation is a better approach than the current one, that punishment does not deter use, and that decades of punitive drug policy have failed outright, with drug use and drug-related harm, including deaths, practically rising year on year.

This isn’t because drugs are inherently dangerous – it’s because our drug policies are inherently dangerous, and the corporate media are party to perpetuating anti-drug myths that in turn maintain our current approach – patently the wrong approach – cognitive dissonance and all.

Corbyn and the corporate media elite 

Image credit:wikipedia

This fantastic post by Chris Renwick is doing the rounds on social media, and I thought it was worth sharing on here: it sums up a lot of my thinking about the elite and their collusion with the media and big corporations – to essentially screw the rest of us over and maintain their privelage and influence.  

Regardless of what you think about Corbyn, Chris makes some very good points about the corporate media, and the rest of the elite sh*tting themselves at the real respect of change if Corbyn is elected.

Here’s what I’m really struggling to understand. All I’ve ever heard from people, for years, is:

“bloody bankers and their bonuses”
“bloody rich and their offshore tax havens “
“bloody politicians with their lying and second homes” 
“bloody corporations paying less tax than me”
“bloody Establishment, they’re all in it together”
“it’ll never change, there’s no point in voting”

And quite rightly so, I said all the same things.

But then someone comes along that’s different. He upsets the bankers and the rich. The Tory politicians hate him along with most of the labour politicians. The corporations throw more money at the politicians to keep him quiet. And the Establishment is visibly shaken. I’ve never seen the Establishment so genuinely scared of a single person.

So the media arm of the establishment gets involved. Theresa phones Rupert asking what he can do, and he tells her to keep her mouth shut, don’t do the live debate, he’ll sort this out. So the media goes into overdrive with:

“she’s strong and stable”
“he’s a clown”
“he’s not a leader”
“look he can’t even control his own party”
“he’ll ruin the economy”
“how’s he gonna pay for it all?!”
“he’s a terrorist sympathiser, burn him, burn the terrorist sympathiser”

And what do we? We’ve waited forever for an honest politician to come along but instead of getting behind him we bow to the establishment like good little workers. They whistle and we do a little dance for them. We run around like hypnotised robots repeating headlines we’ve read, all nodding and agreeing. Feeling really proud of ourselves because we think we’ve came up with our very own first political opinion. But we haven’t, we haven’t come up with anything. This is how you tell. No matter where someone lives in the country, they’re repeating the same headlines, word for word. From Cornwall to Newcastle people are saying:

“he’s a clown”
“he’s a threat to the country”
“she’s strong and stable”
“he’ll take us back to the 70s”

And there’s nothing else, there’s no further opinion. There’s no evidence apart from one radio 5 interview that isn’t even concrete evidence, he actually condemns the violence of both sides in the interview. There’s no data or studies or official reports to back anything up. Try and think really hard why you think he’s a clown, other than the fact he looks like a geography teacher (no offence geography teachers) because he hasn’t done anything clownish from what I’ve seen.

And you’re not on this planet if you think the establishment and the media aren’t all in it together.

You think Richard Branson, who’s quietly winning NHS contracts, wants Corbyn in?
You think Rupert Murdoch, who’s currently trying to widen his media monopoly by buying sky outright, wants Jeremy in?
You think the Barclay brothers, with their offshore residencies, want him in?
You think Philip Green, who stole all the pensions from BHS workers and claims his wife owns Top Shop because she lives in Monaco, wants Corbyn in?
You think the politicians, both Labour and Tory, with their second homes and alcohol paid for by us, want him in?
You think Starbucks, paying near zero tax, wants him in?
You think bankers, with their multi million pound bonuses, want him in?

And do you think they don’t have contact with May? Or with the media? You honestly think that these millionaires and billionaires are the sort of people that go “ah well, easy come easy go, it was nice while it lasted”?? I wouldn’t be if my personal fortune was at risk, I’d be straight on the phone to Theresa May or Rupert Murdoch demanding this gets sorted immediately.

Because here’s a man, a politician that doesn’t lie and can’t lie. He could have said whatever would get him votes anytime he wanted but he hasn’t. He lives in a normal house like us and uses the bus just like us. He’s fought for justice and peace for nearly 40 years. He has no career ambitions. And his seat is untouchable. That’s one of the greatest testimonies. No one comes close to removing him from his constituency, election after election.

His Manifesto is fully costed. It all adds up, yes there’s some borrowing but that’s just to renationalise the railway, you know we already subsidise them and they make profit yeah? One more time… WE subsidise the railway companies and they walk away with a profit, just try and grasp the level of piss taking going on there.

Unlike the Tory manifesto with a £9 billion hole, their figures don’t even add up.

And it benefits all of us, young, old, working, disabled, everyone. The only people it hurts are the establishment, the rich, the bankers, the top 5% highest earners.

Good, screw them, it’s long overdue.

Mon yersel’ Chris, couldn’t have put it better myself. We’ve had generations of poverty and suffering despite being the sixth richest country in the world. It’s time the elite, corporations and the super rich paid their fair share. 

Glasgow Dental Hospital

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Via Wikipedia:

The Glasgow Dental Hospital and School is a dental teaching hospital, situated in the Garnethill area of the city centre of Glasgow, Scotland. Dental students have been educated in Glasgow since 1879, and the Dental School began issuing the Bachelor of Dental Surgery Degree of the University of Glasgow in 1948. The current hospital is based in a 1931 Art Deco building on Renfrew Street. Designed by Wylie, Wright, and Wylie, is protected as a category B listed building. There is also a larger extension fronting Sauchiehall Street built in the brutalist style by Melville Dundas & Whitson in 1970. The West of Scotland Postgraduate Dental Centre is located adjacent to the Dental School and provides post-graduate and distance dental education.

Kelvingrove Museum

 

The main hall of Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, mid September 2016 (click for larger image)

Kelvingrove museum is one of my favourite places in Glasgow. It’s always worth a visit if you’re in the area, even if just for a few minutes to grab a coffee and soak up the stunning architecture around you. I had no idea, but apparently the museum building is based on Italian palaces in the Italian baroque style, which I see now that its been pointed out. I also wasn’t aware (thanks Wikipedia) that Kelvingrove is the second most visited museum in the UK outside London and the most visited attraction in Scotland. And no wonder! the place is beautiful and the exhibits are amazing.

One of the things I love the most about Kelvingrove, like many of the museums and galleries in Scotland, is that it is free to the public. This isn’t because of the generosity of some rich collection owner, but because all the art in Kelvingrove is owned by and on behalf of the people of Glasgow. That’s right – if you live in Glasgow you own that art, so go and enjoy it! (if you’re that way inclined). I’m as working class as they come, but after learning about my joint-owned art collection I took a day out to admire the paintings.

I’m a big fan of Salvador Dali, and have been since I was younger. I was totally unaware that his painting Christ of St. John on the Cross (click the link to see the painting) was part of the Kelvingrove art collection. I’m not religious at all but this is one of my favourite paintings. It’s unlike any of his other paintings and Dali wasn’t religious himself, so the painting’s contents are out of character for him – at the time he was better known for artsy surrealist films and a slew of weird advertising appearances. I love the perspective Dali uses in the painting; this is just my interpretation, but by placing the viewer above Christ, looking down on him as he looks down upon the world, Dali seems to be speaking to the man-made nature of religion. Specifically, I think he’s pointing out that man created Jesus and therefore man is God, and that’s why the viewer (‘man’) is placed above Jesus in the painting. Just my interpretation, of course, and I’m definitely no art expert.

On an unrelated note, I’ve been doing a lot of black and white photography lately. The problem I always find with this is that I start building an unconscious bias to black and white and forget about colour altogether, then I always get to a point where I’m stuck with indecision about which to use. This is definitely one of those situations… Black and white or colour?

More pictures of Kelvingrove to come…

Black and white or colour? (click for larger image)

Birdman

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Most people in Glasgow avoid the city Centre pigeons like the plague – and some probably believe they are avoiding the plague. When I saw this guy my automatic reaction was that he was going to end up pretty ill from handling ‘wild’ (do you call them wild when they’re habitat is a city centre?) pigeons – especially given this is in Glasgow, not the cleanest of cities on its best day. However, despite my reaction, and similar reactions from puzzled onlookers, I was wrong.

Seeing this guy handle the pigeons without fear of the plague, or whatever, prompted me to do some Googling on the subject of urban birds and disease. I learned two things. The first is that there is actually an organisation called PiCAS – the Pigeon Control Advisory Service – who are the experts on controlling pigeons in a non-lethal manner (yay for the pigeons!), and the second, all the talk about pigeons being ‘rats with wings’ that spread disease is nonsense, even those greasy little city centre pigeons are probably fine. And, this is backed up by vets, various experts and agencies deal with birds, Public Health England, and even the Centre for Disease control in the US.

So as it turns out there’s no need to be afraid of our numerous winged neighbours. Except for seagulls, obviously. That lot are brutal.

At any rate the pigeons on Sauchiehall Street seemed to love this guy, given that they were happy to eat right out of his hand. I think he may actually have some experience with birds, or perhaps he’s a vet, because he was also checking the birds for injury and seemed to know what he was doing. There are certainly some of the city centre pigeons that could do with some R&R, that’s for sure.

Cuts to Scottish Welfare Fund – A hint of things to come? 

WelfareFundTitle_1The Scottish Welfare Fund is a discretionary payment allocated by local authorities and funded in part through the UK Department for Work and Pensions and topped up by the Scottish Government. This is because the DWP transfers the funding for the scrapped Community Care Grant and Crisis Loan, both of which the DWP used to administer, to the Scottish Government:

“On 1 April 2013, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) abolished two elements  of the Social Fund – Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans – and transferred funds  previously spent on them to Scottish Ministers. In its place, the Scottish Government  established the Scottish Welfare Fund”

(Scottish Government, 2016a)

So the SWF is funded by the UK government (via taxes – which are then transferred to ScotGov) and then topped up by the Scottish Government. It is widely seen as the Scottish Government’s response to welfare reform, but given it is funded by UK Gov this is a little misleading – even if some (the lesser amount) is provided directly by the Scottish Government, since most of the funding for the SWF still comes from the UK government. This means that:

“For 2013/14 and 2014/15  [the amount provided by the DWP] amounted to £23.8 million. The Scottish Government topped this amount up by a further £9.2 million, giving the Scottish Welfare Fund a total budget of £33 million for  both these years.  This level has been maintained in 2015/16 by the Scottish  Government at £33 million”

(Scottish Government, 2016a)

So, given that ScotGov has championed the SWF and many in Scotland have seen the SWF as an indication of both the ScotGov’s unwillingness to cut welfare and their resistance to such cuts enacted by the UK Government, I was surprised to see this in my mailbox at work, from Glasgow City Council:

“Glasgow City Council has seen a reduction to the Scottish Welfare Fund allocated from the Scottish Government in 2016/17. Further reductions are also expected into future years”

(Glasgow City Council, 2016)

Now, this is surprising – particularly since, having loudly championed the SWF (a cynic would say this was as much about making the UK government look bad – which requires little effort anyway – as mitigating the impact of cuts to welfare on people living in Scotland), the Scottish Government have said little about this cut (lending credence to the more cynical), instead leaving local authorities to announce it individually. Why is the SWF being cut? Is there less funding from Westminster, or can ScotGov not make the top-up they have in previous years? Essentially, why has the same level of funding not been maintained and why is it expected to drop in coming years?

Looking at the bigger picture, what does this indicate about the Scottish Government’s commitment to social welfare, particularly since some welfare powers are soon to be devolved to Scotland? This includes responsibility for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – will we see a cut in provision of these benefits, intended for adults and children with illness and disability that require extra support?

The Scottish Government seem to be cutting welfare before they even have their hands on it – and given the DWP guarantee the larger element of the SWF, you have to ask if it is ScotGov’s contribution which has been reduced, leading to the reduction in funding to Local Authorities. If that is the case, why aren’t the Scottish Government using their overspend, which has occurred for the past three years, to boost SWF funding?

As someone who voted Yes in the Scottish Independence Referendum I’m conscious that had the vote been in favour of independence, Scotland would be an independent country as of this year. Given the current reduction to the SWF, what might have occurred in a Scotland where the whole welfare system is under the Scottish Government – would we now be seeing cuts across the board to match Tory cuts to the UK welfare system? This is the crux of the problem for me regarding the SNP – we will never know how capable they really are until they can no longer resort to blaming Westminster – and by that point it would be too late, should their performance be less than satisfactory. That’s a chance I was willing to take back in September 2014, but now I’m not so sure.

The SNP sell themselves on a ticket of progressive politics and social equality, but that doesn’t seem to be their practice (yes, they are more progressive than the Tories, but that says very little – they aren’t any more progressive, or socialist, than Labour in power under Corbyn might be, but this is an unknown at present). With further welfare powers and responsibilities to be devolved, we’ll soon see the SNP’S true colours – I hope they stick to the principles they championed during the IndyRef and ensure a fair and secure welfare system for Scotland, and in doing so put people first.

As always, thanks for reading.

Scottish Government (2016b)

Scottish Government (2016a) Scottish Welfare Fund Statistics: Annual Update 2015/16. Official Statistics publication for Scotland.

Scottish Government (2016b) Social Security for Scotland: Benefits being devolved to the Scottish Parliament. SSFS slidepack update, July 2016.

(Disclaimer: Any criticism of the Scottish Government or the SNP is usually perceived as an attack by some SNP supporters. Let it be noted that I am not currently affiliated with any party, either as a casual supporter or a paid member. This article isn’t intended as a political attack, but to highlight potential issues in the future of Scotland’s welfare system and to hold the Scottish Government to account on this matter – whichever party might be in charge – in the interests of everyone living in Scotland)