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Archive for April, 2011

Male members of St Andrew’s Golf Club, founded in 1843 as St Andrews Mechanics’ Golf Club, can relax. There are no plans to let women actually join the exclusive club.

But women could be allowed into the traditionally all male domain of the members’ lounge in the clubhouse.

It has been reported that club members are being asked to “consider” whether the club’s current Constitution should be changed to comply with the Equalities Act of 2010.

Now let’s ignore the notion of a club considering whether it should comply with the law. It probably says much for the membership that there has to be a debate. What exactly does this new legislation mean for the club?

The Equality Act does not ban single sex clubs, but it does outlaw discriminate by private clubs on the basis of gender. And this affects St, Andrew’s because at present only members (all male of course) and their male guests are allowed to use the members’ lounge.

Club officials have set out three possible three options and a special meeting next month will make the final decision.

The first option is to continue to operate in the same was as always. Somehow this seems to be interpreted as requiring a ban of women from all areas of the clubhouse. This is not supported by officials, mainly because the dining room would suffer!

The second option is to ban all guests, male and female, from the members’ lounge. This is also seen as undesirable, because of a possible drop in turnover.

The third option is the one recommended to members. This would involve changing the operation of the clubhouse to permit access to all public areas to members and their guests, irrespective of gender.

Yes, this debate really is happening in 2011, not in some bygone age.

Wonder how long it will take the worthies to consider offering membership of their club to women?

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Rangers have been convicted on two charges of sectarian behaviour by European football’s governing body, UEFA. Rangers’ fans will now face a one match away ban in European competition.

UEFA also imposed further suspended sentences of one away game and one home match, which will remain in place for three years. Any repeat of the behaviour will trigger the additional punishments. The club has also been fined 40,000 Euros (£35,000) with a further 40,000 Euros suspended.

Rangers have three days to submit an appeal once they receive the full written decision but have yet to indicate whether they will do so.

Rangers had argued that the club was doing what it could to eradicate sectarian singing by its fans. The club was also reported to be unhappy that a report from FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) had resulted in charges, while the UEFA match delegates gave favourable reports on its fans’ behaviour in the games.

The decision to find Rangers guilty came after a meeting of UEFA’s Disciplinary Committee in Nyon. The UEFA independent disciplinary inspector will have made the case for the prosecution, and a written statement from Rangers would also have been discussed.

The Committee will also have considered the record of Rangers fans in recent years, which has been poor to say the least.

The club was previously fined £13,300 for supporters’ discriminatory chanting and £9,000 for attacking their opponents’ team bus during an away game against Villarreal in 2006. And UEFA issued a fine of £8,280 for Rangers fans’ behaviour during a match against Osasuna in May 2007.

The following year, at the UEFA Cup final in Manchester, fans were involved in city centre riots. The club escaped a fine on the technicality that UEFA only had jurisdiction inside the stadium.

A further fine of £18,000 was imposed by UEFA for fan violence when the club played Unirea Urziceni in Romania in November 2009.

So it was perhaps surprising that once the club was found guilty of two separate charges, leniency was shown. An immediate ban of Rangers’ fans from one or more home European match had been thought likely at one stage, but UEFA has apparently given the club another chance to sort out its longstanding sectarian problems.

Two questions sprig immediately to mind in light of this verdict.

Firstly, will the punishment have any effect on the future behaviour of fans? Well, it might have more chance if the club would actually take action, such as banning those found to be signing sectarian or racist songs. And a statement from the club that there songs are wrong, and not simply that they get them into rouble, would be a good start.

But the suspended nature of the most severe punishment must surely be a good incentive to fans to remove the offending songs from their repertoire. And if fans do decide to reform in the best interests of the club that would be a step forward.

The second question is why Scotland’s football authorities have never taken action against Rangers? Sectarian singing is not reserved for European matches; it can be clearly heard at every domestic game that the club plays and has been for many years.

The SFA has a complaint from a Dundee United supporters group on its desk following sectarian singing at the recent game at Tannadice between the two teams.

Will it take any action? Or will the problem continue to be swept under Scottish football’s carpet?

In an ideal world Rangers fans would have an epiphany and realise that there is no place for sectarianism and racism. But that is unlikely to happen in the case of the hard core bigots who form part of the clubs following.

Perhaps being forced to change their ways by the football authorities is the best we can hope for.

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Thoughts on That Wedding

According to all of the newspapers, television and radio, many blogs and even the woman on the number 9 bus there will be a wedding in London tomorrow.

Not big news really, is it? There are probably many weddings taking place in London every day of the week. But this one seems to matter more because of the occupation of the groom. William Wales, who is marrying Kate Middleton, is apparently “second in line to the throne”.

So we’ve been treated to earnest discussions about whether David Cameron will wear a morning or a lounge suit, who has or hasn’t received an invite and whether the word ‘obey’ will appear in the vows. And there’s live TV coverage of the event itself to come, presumably complete with highlights programmes later in the day.

Now as a republican atheist who doesn’t believe in marriage, the nuptials of a royal taking place in a big church mean nothing to me.

I wish the two young people luck in their future relationship, but apart from that I really couldn’t give a damn about their wedding and will be finding something far more interesting to do.

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Google has been found guilty in a Texas court of infringing a software patent and fined $5m (£3.2m).

The software, related to the Linux kernel, is used by Google for its server platforms and may also be used in its Android mobile platform. Google had claimed that all of the software is open source, that is available for anyone to use.

The case resulted in a victory for a firm called Bedrock Computer Technologies which has also sued some of the biggest names in the IT world including Yahoo, MySpace, Amazon, PayPal, Match.com and AOL

But what does this decision actually mean? I’m sure Google wouldn’t miss $5m, but there are wider issues.

“The implication here is really that there is a huge number of Linux users who will be required to pay royalties if this patent holder knocks on their doors in the US. This is definitely a major impediment to the growth of Linux and makes companies, including Google, that rely on open source code particularly vulnerable to patent threats,” said intellectual property activist Florian Mueller.

But Google has said it will continue to use open source software and will fight the judgement.

“The recent explosion in patent litigation is turning the world’s information highway into a toll road, forcing companies to spend millions and millions of dollars defending old, questionable patent claims and wasting resources that would be much better spent investing in new technologies for users and creating jobs,” said a Google statement.

There are a whole raft of high tech cases due to come to courts, many relating to technologies in the rapidly expanding smart phone market, where Apple is facing challenges from Android and Windows phones.

Oracle is also suing Google, claiming that Android technology infringes on its Java patents. Apple is suing Samsung for copying its designs, while Samsung is countersuing for violation of patents. Other suits may follow from Apple, which is said to be ready to sue other manufacturers who use Android in their products.

And, not to be left out, Microsoft has lodged a suit focusing on the Nook e-reader and Nook Colour tablet which both run the Android OS.

It seems that the biggest technology companies spend a great deal of time and money on legal issues. Maybe between them all they could get together and invent a computer program that sorts all this stuff out without the need for court cases.

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It is only nine days until Scotland’s voters go to the polls to elect a new Parliament. But this third Scottish General Election is proving to be a strange one.

Many argued against the scheduling of the Alternative Vote referendum on the same day as elections for the devolved bodies in Scotland and Wales, fearing that the debate on future voting systems would not receive the full attention of the electorate.

But perhaps the opposite is happening. Voters might just see the spectacle of Tory and Lib Dem coalition partners attacking each other in the media on a daily basis as more interesting than the Scottish vote.

And the rather lacklustre campaigns being run by the major political parties in Scotland certainly doesn’t help. Their approach is perhaps only interesting for what they have not done.

The Scottish National Party has not been campaigning for independence, the sole purpose of its existence. Instead it is running something of a presidential campaign arguing that Alec Salmond is the best candidate for the post of First Minister.

The Labour opposition, lacking it seems a heavyweight political figure to give it focus, has spent much of its time attacking the Westminster coalition. While this should be popular with a majority of Scots voters, it does not distinguish the party from the SNP.

In a previous blog I wondered how the Nationalists would fare in an election as a party of government rather than one of opposition. It seems that the question has largely been moot, as the SNP has not really being forced to defend its administration’s record.

But, in a tacit admission that they got it wrong, Labour is now looking to change track and will spend the final week of the campaign focusing on its main rival for power. So things might get a little interesting after all.

The Scottish Tories and Liberal Democrats meanwhile are trying to keep their heads down. And what they are definitely not doing is arguing that their Westminster government is something to be proud of. The exact opposite is, in fact, the case. For both parties this election is all about trying to minimise the damage caused by the coalition, although it seems that the Lib Dems will fare far worse than their partners.

The opinion polls, as often happens, have been a little confusing. An early Labour lead vanished and then the SNP opened up a gap and has been consistently ahead since. The latest polls show the position to be very close, with a large percentage of voters still to make up their mind.

And with the new boundaries on which this election will be fought throwing up many marginal seats, a small number of votes here and there could change the entire picture of the final results.

It is unlikely that any single party will secure a majority of the seats available, leaving the possibility of a coalition. Would Labour or the SNP make a deal with the Lib Dems? Could the Greens or the likely independents, Margo MacDonald and George Galloway, have a role to play? Those are perhaps questions for after the votes have all been counted.

At present Alec Salmond will be confident of retaining his position as leader of the largest party in the Scottish Parliament. Meanwhile Labour knows it will need to perform much better in the final days of the campaign if it is to return to government.

The final week in this election is a crucial one.

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There is always a certain amount of media hype in advance of a Glasgow derby. Many past games have been tagged as “the most important ever”. But this time around that claim can be justified.

The seventh Glasgow derby of the season will take place at Ibrox on Sunday. On the field, it is a game of great significance in the title race. It is not technically a league decider, although a Celtic victory would make Neil Lennon’s men very strong favourites for the championship.

A draw and Celtic would retain a slight edge in the finishing straight, while a Rangers victory would give the advantage to Walter Smith’s side.

But it is the incredible off field happenings that make this such an important fixture.

This has been a season unlike any other. The events of the past nine months have seen turmoil in Scottish football to an extent never seen before. The story has at times involved intrigue; at others farce. We’ve seen refereeing controversy in abundance, resignations and allegations, an officials’ strike and threats of legal action aplenty.

If it had been scripted in advance no one would have believed it. Mind you it would have taken John Le Carré to write it – with a little help from John Cleese.

The events of the last week, with parcel bombs sent to the Celtic manager and two other public figures with a connection to the club, have shocked the world. And this is not hyperbole: the story has featured in newspapers from every part of the globe.

There have been those who have called for the derby to be postponed given the potential public safety considerations. But it will go ahead. And that means there is great responsibility on every one of the fifty thousand plus people who will be involved.

The players must concentrate on football. There cannot be repeats of Diouf’s disgraceful behaviour from the last league match. Both sides must make this a football match, not the type of confrontational and angry clash that it could definitely become.

The fans must behave themselves. Now I know that’s a big ask. And I have no fears regarding the away fans, who have shown many times that they will support their team and act sensibly and reasonably.

I can’t say the same for the home support. There are those who will use the occasion to sing their songs of hate, despite the knowledge that their club will suffer. They will believe that the world’s media will see this as defiance, when in fact it will be seen as further proof of their despicable nature.

On eighteen minutes, Celtic fans will pay tribute to Neil Lennon. The significance of the timing is that Lennon wore the number eighteen while a Celtic player.

It is impossible for any of us to understand what life has been like for Neil Lennon of late. He is in his first season as a manager, and in a high profile job which brings professional pressure and stress.

But on top of that he has had to deal with death threats, sectarian abuse everywhere he goes and of late having his, and his family’s, life turned upside down. He has an escort everywhere he goes. He and his family have been moved to a safe house several times in the middle of the night because of threats.

And now some vile idiot has sent a bomb to him.

No one would blame Neil Lennon if he decided that he had to walk away. But he has shown courage and mental strength in abundance as he carries on with his job in spite of everything he has been put through.

And that’s why the Celtic support will show their appreciation to one of their favourite sons on the eighteenth minute.

It would be a great gesture if the Rangers supporters were to join in. And I’m sure some will, as they sympathise with his situation. After all, who could support harassment and violence against a man simply because of his religious beliefs?

But the message boards are full of plans to disrupt this mark of respect. And if the bulk of the Rangers support goes through with this, they will again show themselves up as the bigots that many of them in truth are.

There is always considerable interest from press and television around the world for this match. But this time around it will be magnified as journalists look to see how events off the field will impact on this particular football match. And we should all be aware that any trouble will be reported around the world.

I hope that come Sunday evening the main talking points involve good football and players’ performances. And not refereeing decisions, unsavoury incidents or the actions of the crowd.

But I have a bad feeling that Scotland will again be let down by those who think they have some bizarre right to express their racism and bigotry everywhere they go.

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Authors are worried that the illegal copying and distribution of e-books is costing them sales – and therefore income.

The Publishers’ Association has already sent out 32,000 warnings to those infringing copyright this year, and the problem is likely to increase as e-books begin to form a larger part of publishers’ revenue.

At the moment only 5% of book sales in the UK come from e-books but the figure is much higher, at 13%, in the US – and it is likely that the trend will be replicated in Britain.

Unpublished books by best-selling authors such as James Patterson are already being offered as downloads before their official release, while Dan Brown’s novel The Lost Symbol, his follow-up to The Da Vinci Code, could be found on 1000 illegal websites a week after its release.

“It is going to become more of a problem in the future as the UK becomes more attuned to e-books,” said Scots author Ian Rankin.

“Musicians have other ways of making money; they can play live. When authors play live, by going into a bookshop to give a reading, we are not paid. The only money we make is from our writing and if people start stealing our writing, we are losing out.”

The seriousness with which the publishing industry is taking the piracy threat is demonstrated by the fact that London publisher Random House now employs 10 anti-piracy monitors searching the internet for e-theft.

“Three years ago we didn’t spend anything on anti-piracy. Now we’re spending many tens of thousands of pounds on it,” said Ian Hudson, deputy chief executive of Random House.

Illegal music downloads have provided a threat to the livelihood of many artists. Now it looks like the pirates are targeting authors.

So if you see a site advertising cheap downloads of the latest novels, pass it on by. To use the service is to take money from the author.

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Why I’m Voting No To AV

We don’t get too many referenda in this country. And when one does come along I’m usually involved somewhere along the line, campaigning for one outcome or the other.

But not this time.

The forthcoming vote on whether the UK adopts the Alternative Vote (AV) leaves me rather unexcited, which is a strange position for a self confessed political anorak to take.

This referendum comes about as part of the coalition deal that brought the Liberal Democrats into government with the Conservatives. It’s a compromise solution as part of a wider compromise.  And what’s being offered is a voting system that no one would have anywhere near the top of their wish list – not even Nick Clegg.

Now if this was a referendum with several options, and it had been given its place by being organised for a day not already taken up with other elections, I would be interested. If it was a proper debate about the best way to elect our MPs I would enthusiastically take part. But it’s not.

Perhaps the most noticeable thing about this campaign, if it can even be called that, is the strange bedfellows it has created. Ed Miliband and Vince Cable on the same platform? David Cameron and John Reid speaking at the same event – and on the same side? Who would have expected that?

So what would a change to the Alternative Vote mean?

Well, the current Westminster system is First Past The Post. Voters mark an X on the ballot paper to vote for their preferred candidate. And when all the votes are counted, the one with the most votes wins. It doesn’t matter whether that candidate has 70% of the total vote or 35%, just that they have more votes than any other candidate.

Under the Alternative Vote, rather than simply marking an X voters can list their choice of candidates, i.e. first, second, third, etc. The first preferences are counted and if any candidate gets a majority of votes, they win. But if not, the votes of the bottom candidate(s) can be redistributed according to the preferences shown. This continues until one candidate gains a majority.

Voters can still vote for only one candidate if they choose. But if that candidate is eliminated from the ballot, their vote cannot then be passed on to another.

There are two key reasons why I will be voting No to the Alternative Vote.

Firstly, I don’t think AV is a good electoral system. It’s not in any way proportional – the number of seats a party ends up with is not related to the number of votes it receives. And is it really fair that a candidate supported by 45% of the electorate can be beaten by one gaining 25% of first preference votes? That type of scenario can, and will, happen under AV.

I also think that AV tends to lead to negative rather than positive voting. Most people will vote first for the party they really support and then look to use their other preferences to keep out the one they really don’t like. In Scotland, how many SNP supporters would have Labour as their second preference, or vice versa? Instead, the Lib Dems or Greens would be the likely beneficiaries – not because the voter supports them or their policies, but simply to oppose someone else.

My second main reason for voting no is that I think a Yes vote could end the debate on voting systems that has only just started.

We now use a variety of different systems for Scottish Parliament, local government and European elections. So there is real evidence of how these systems work in practice that could inform a reasoned debate. But instead we are given one option, and a bad one at that.

I would much rather see the Single Transferable Vote used in mutli-member constituencies for Westminster, as it is for Council elections in Scotland. This is actually the system that the Lib Dems favour, but they couldn’t persuade Cameron & co to include it as an option.

Some Yes campaigners argue that adopting the AV system would be one step on the road to a more radical reform of our voting system. But I don’t see it that way.

My view is that a No vote now will keep the debate alive, rather than having politicians argue that the issue has been settled. And then there might just be the opportunity for the full and proper debate I mentioned to take place.

The referendum takes place on May 5.

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The Mentality of Rangers Fans

Sectarian and racist singing by Rangers fans has again got their club into hot water as the European footballing authorities act, while here in Scotland the issue continues to be ignored.

But how do Rangers fans feel about the position their club is now in?

This is not a scientific study. I haven’t conducted any opinion polls or commissioned research. It is simply an article based on what I read and what I hear as a football fan living in Scotland.

I think there are three main types of Rangers fan who can be crudely described as Decent, Reformed and Unreconstructed.

I don’t know what proportion of the fan base makes up each group, although it would appear that there are more of the third group among those who regularly attend games.

The Decent Rangers fans are those who, quite simply, support a football team. Their loyalty comes through family influence or friends’ support and their sole interest is in what happens on the field of play. They don’t like the sectarian signing and try to ignore it.

The Reformed Rangers fans are largely middle aged. They sang the sectarian songs in their youth, whether through belief in the sentiments or to fit in with the crowd. Now they either realise that these songs are wrong or recognise that they bring trouble to the club, so they sit silently.

The Unreconstructed Rangers fans are the hard core. With allegiance to the Orange Order or other similar groups, they believe that Rangers is a Protestant club and should always remain so. They are defiant when it comes to sectarian songs, arguing that they are part of the club’s tradition and that true fans will not bow down to outside pressure.

The reaction of the three categories of supporters over the years perhaps explains why sectarian singing is still heard at Rangers games.

The Decent fans say little. OK, it can be difficult to challenge fellow fans at a game but their silence has allowed the club to continue to pander to the bigots. They know that the Decent fans will continue to back the club.

The Reformed fans are largely silent too. But that might be changing as those who have come to believe that the interests of the club must come first appear to be becoming more vocal. The argument that the fans must bow to the will of UEFA or the club will suffer might just be gaining ground.

But for the Unreconstructed Rangers fans there can be no surrender. To anyone. They believe in some twisted right to sing whatever they want about whoever they want, regardless of the consequences. They fundamentally believe that their songs are a fit and proper celebration of their Protestant superiority and that any attempt to silence them must be part of some grand Catholic/ Irish/ Celtic conspiracy.

If we accept that the singing must stop, then the question becomes one of whether the fans who believe that this is the way forward can influence this latter group.

Frankly I doubt it. The very nature of fanaticism means that reasoned argument is unlikely to be successful. If you have the stomach, have a look on Follow Follow, the website that is home to the Unreconstructed. Anyone who argues that there should be restraint is shot down in an abusive manner and usually tagged as a traitor or a secret Celtic fan.

I’ve written previously about the position that Rangers as a club finds itself in, reliant as it is on the Unreconstructed fans’ money at a time when this commodity is scarce.

But this can be seen as an opportunity for those who want to see change. Could they persuade the club that taking action against the singing of the Unreconstructed would encourage more Decent and Reformed fans to come to games?

Would those who run Rangers be willing to take the chance? Or would this be a step too far for the club? Could they be forced to alienate the bigots by acting seriously on sectarianism and thereby making their club more attractive to others?

I don’t know whether this approach has mileage. But I do recognise that a growing number of Rangers supporters are finally coming to realise that the status quo is not a long term option, as it will only bring more sanctions on the club.

So can the Decent Rangers fans take their club back from the Unreconstructed?

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News reports that actress Catherine Zeta Jones is having treatment for bipolar disorder have led to a number of very positive press stories about living with the condition.

Zeta Jones showed considerable courage in making her bipolar diagnosis public, and I wish her well in her treatment. Stresses in her life have affected her mental health, something that I can very much relate to.

There is still considerable stigma relating to mental illness. Many people continue to see it as a sign of weakness – look at some of the recent coverage of the England cricketer Michael Yardy’s battle with depression. And mental illness often features in the media in cases of horrific crimes.

So any opportunity to get the facts behind the condition into the public eye is very much welcomed by those of us non-celebrities who suffer from conditions like bipolar disorder.

Around one in four people will suffer from some sort of mental health condition during their lifetime. That means that pretty much everyone will have some experience from within their own family. And bipolar disorder is estimated to affect at least 1% of the population.

In the Guardian, Alastair Campbell wrote a fine piece suggesting that the media should concentrate more on the millions of “ordinary” people who learn to manage and to live with mental health conditions.

Whatever you might think of Campbell’s politics, he is a good advocate for those with mental health conditions. He understands the issues and puts forward reasoned arguments. He finishes his article by arguing that:

“ ..there are people with the same illness who cannot get the support they need, who still feel they have to lie about their condition to get or keep a job, and who really worry about the impact of government cuts and reforms that will fundamentally change the way mental health services are run. Those issues should be getting an airing regardless of celebrity support or involvement.”

Closer to home the Daily Record and The Herald both ran helpful articles.

In the Record my friend Michelle Howieson was given space to talk about her own battle with bipolar disorder over the past twenty years. She was frank about her battles, but finished on a typically positive note.

“It is a terrible illness to have and coping with it can be difficult but, with the right support, sufferers can come through the other side and lead normal happy lives. I’m a testament to that,” she said.

And The Herald concentrated on the fears of many people that forthcoming changes to welfare benefits could increase stress and exacerbate their conditions. Another friend, Alison Cairns who is Chief Executive of Bipolar Scotland, is quoted.

“People are being assessed as fit for work and later having these decisions overturned on appeal. The process itself has caused anxiety, stress and a worsening of their conditions for many.”

The BBC website also carries stories of those with bipolar disorder and how they can learn to live with the condition while holding down relationships and jobs.

This is the message that we all need to understand. That mental health conditions are serious and may need a variety of treatments including medication and counselling.

But by learning self management techniques and with the support of friends and family we can survive. And with the skills we learn and the strength we gain we can be positive and productive members of society.

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