Friday, March 21, 2008

(Not) my new car

At long last the Car Club have delivered their car to my parking space outside the flat. All the convenience of my own car without the attendant hassle – and if one other person in the street gives up their car too we’ll start to see some progress in dealing with the chronic parking problems in the area. Result!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Five years ago the war in Iraq began.

It was a war justified to the public and world audience on the premise that Saddam Hussein’s regime had successfully developed a weapons programme which could kill human beings on a biblical scale. If successfully deployed, these weapons of mass destruction would cause untold levels of harm to thousands in the Middle East and, thanks to the missile system he was developing, even directly to the fringes of the European continent. If these weapons were to get into the hands of terrorists, the danger posed by Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons arsenal would be spread worldwide.

Today’s newspapers carry countless facts about the war and this country in turmoil. The financial cost of the war. The number of Iraqi civilians, soldiers and journalists who have died in the five years of conflict. Iraqi inflation.

There also are stories today about defiant statements made by those politicians who took us to war, declaring their continued belief that victory, one day, will be theirs and how those who criticise the actions of the UK and US Governments in taking us to war implicitly support the return of a dictatorial regime in Iraq and the return of Saddam Hussein from the dead.

The important fact remains that this is a war based on a lie. There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Saddam Hussein had no links to Islamic terrorist organisations.

Iraq is a tragedy. It is a tragedy because thousands have died, and millions displaced, while many more continue to live in fear. It is a tragedy because the world is not now a safer place because of these actions. It is a tragedy that because of the actions of the US and UK five years ago it is now impossible to see a peaceful solution for the population there in either the near or distant future, with or without the continued presence of foreign troops. It is a tragedy because of the crisis in the international community caused by this bilateral action without the support of the United Nations without a basis in international law.

But when our leaders lie to us to justify war, it is beyond a tragedy. It is a fundamental challenge to the social contract, the underlying principles of our civilisation. And that’s why it’s important to remember, to challenge, and to change.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another nail in the coffin of youth

Today I repaid my final instalment of my Student Loans.

I now look forward to spending the monthly savings on slippers and cardigans as my wife and I contemplate our move away from the bright lights of the big city..........

PS - My new geeky web toy

I'd been thinking of having a regular 'link dump' here setting out stuff I've read and thought others should read. Rather than having to take time out to blog on a set of links each day, I found that Google Reader allows you to share links instantly, and that they have a Blogger widget for this task. So from now on, please consider the new links to the right as the things that I've read today that have caught my eye. ---> Enjoy.

Not the time to worry

Although I’ve been a fairly regular air passenger in the past, I’ve always been a nervous flyer. On my way West across the Atlantic last year I got a decent case of the jitters mid-flight (not related to my wedding two days before!), but landings have always made me a bit nervous.

Well, it looks like I’ve been worrying at the wrong time.

It appears that forty-five percent of the crashes happen on landing, but remarkably these crashes account for only 2 percent of all the fatalities. The worst crashes are those when you are climbing or cruising (14 percent of crashes, but 37 percent of fatalities).

So that should put my mind at ease.

Monday, March 17, 2008

“I want to gaze at sunsets”

This is a beautiful and thought-provoking piece of radio.

I believe in a work ethic, and that my work is not only important to me but is an integral part of who I am. But after five years of knocking my pan in for the job, my boss and (hopefully) the greater good I now have a different perspective on my work, my life and politics.

When I was drunk enough at my stag night last year to seek answers from my father on the most important emotionally driven issues men always have trouble asking each other, I asked him for one piece of advice to help me as a married man. He told me to always put my family first. Not his family, or my mother’s family. My new family.

That simple advice helped me complete the journey I’d been on since I left my previous job.

I’d learned to appreciate my life, and understood that it wasn’t only OK to do things that I enjoyed, like playing golf and getting home in time to eat a meal with Debbie, it was essential.

So here’s to putting your priorities in order. Gazing at sunsets, and putting your family first.

£77.50 - the benefit of a clear green conscience

I read this announcement this morning, which made me think of the number of sustainable transport initiatives operating in Scotland already, including the one I recently joined – the City Car Club in Edinburgh.

My trusty Renault Laguna went for its MOT last month and didn’t return. If I’d have known the Scrapyard was going to give me £77.50 for it based on its weight I definitely wouldn’t have spent an hour clearing out 3 years of accumulated crap from the boot ;)

So I joined the Car Club. It cost £75 upfront, and £5 a month to bring the insurance excess down from £500 to a more manageable £100, and costs me £4.50 an hour to drive, which includes tax, insurance and petrol. It’s currently working out slightly cheaper than running my old car, but I’d expect it to save me in the medium term as I don’t have repairs to pay. I’ve booked on the phone and online so far with no problems.

The best thing about it is the fact that after a couple of quick emails to the Car Club, they are due to put one of their cars in my private parking space outside my flat. The car will be available to all members, so anyone can hire it, but it’s going to be pretty handy to have immediate access to a car at my doorstep. I’ve already found that I’ve been able to book the car I want in the location I want every time of asking, so although I don’t expect a 100% record forever, I know that it’s likely that I’ll be able to book it when I need it. If having the car on my street acts as an incentive for more members, they’ll look at putting new cars in the area to cope with demand.

So I’m driving a smaller car, reducing my own emissions. I’m also driving less, as having a direct hypothecated cost for stepping into a car stops unnecessary journeys, and I’ll hopefully also help to reduce the parking chaos in the streets around me as more people nearby get rid of their own car to take advantage of the new Car Club vehicle on their doorstep.

So this is a win-win-win: for my pocket, for my neighbours, and for our environment.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The challenges of power

I was sad to read this week that both the Tartan Hero and Granite City blogs are to, albeit temporarily, stop blogging. I know both Mark and Grant and they've both produced some good work, some funny, some interesting and some thought provoking. I always wondered why it seemed to me that supporters of opposition parties semed to be far more active (and effective) in the blogosphere in Scotland and England. Think about it - Iain Dale and Guido v Labour Home or Recess Monkey. No contest if you're looking for quality blogging. In Scotland, Labour only really seems to have Kez and Terry Kelly who are read widely by non-supporters (for wildly different reasons!), or am I missing someone? Perhaps if the election of Mark and Grant as Councillors last year has put paid to their blogging, perhaps opposition will mean a new wave of quality Labour and Lib Dem blogging in Scotland?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What's the best mobile broadband? Not 3.

The Guardian ran a short piece yesterday morning of the relative merits of the various 3G broadband services which have become available in recent months. It’s a decent overview, but fails to mention the service that I use , 3 Mobile’s Pay As You Go service.

I signed up a couple of months ago in order to use the service on my daily commute from Edinburgh to Glasgow. I thought that it would be useful to be able to catch up on the papers and a bit of work on my travels, but wanted to dip into the service, rather than committing myself to a 12 month contract.

The ‘dongle’ cost £95 and I can but top ups from £10. The software works fine, no problems there, but it’s in the service levels and cost that the problems begin.

Despite the reassurance of the shop assistant, the 3G service is not universally available on the journey to and from Glasgow Queen Street, so you be often ‘dropped’ from the service on route, which is both irritating and time consuming. But my main gripe is with the cost of the service.

I used it the other day to do some work on my way back from a meeting. I stopped for about an hour and went through my emails, firing off a few short replies. I downloaded three or four short Word documents and a small Excel file. I ran up £10 worth of charges, making this service far more expensive than even a regular hotel’s broadband service, which usually provides unlimited downloads in a set time period.

My dongle is now consigned to the bottom of my briefcase – for emergencies only. I’m posting this from the train – on a far more reliable, free service.