Friday, October 20, 2017

Nationalizing Northlink? Not So Fast!

When I was yet in Scotland (and even thereafter), I wrote extensively about Scottish ferries, particularly those serving Orkney and Shetland. This week, Around Orkney featured an interview with a representative from the Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT) union, which is advocating for the nationalization of the Northern Isles ferry services that serve Orkney and Shetland. I have to be honest: the idea that anyone would actually suggest this sort of boggles my mind.

To the members of my American audience who may be reading this (and who may not be familiar with the term), "nationalization" means that the government takes over a private enterprise and runs it. So, for example, Social Security is a nationalized pension program. It denotes the running of a service or production effort as a function of the government.

The Scottish Government, which has been held by the Scottish National Party (SNP) for many years (see also: prior discussion of the SNP), has come under frequent criticism by Orkney and Shetland for treating the Northern Isles as an afterthought. This sentiment mirrors that in other areas of Scotland. To vastly oversimplify matters: the bulk of the SNP's voters reside in the "Central Belt" between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and those areas get budgetary priority from the SNP. As I've noted previously, the SNP has consolidated things like police control centers (about which I've posted before, and which continue). Rural Scots have regularly expressed their worries that this consolidation, which eliminates local knowledge and institutional memory, would result in diminished service. That contingency seems to be playing out through incidents such as the mistaken dispatch of an air ambulance to Shetland when it was supposed to have gone to Orkney. The trend continues in other sectors, such as Highlands and Islands Airports investigating the possibility of introducing "centralised surveillance" (which I think means consolidation).

The BBC also reported this week that despite the controversies about subsidies for the Northern Isles ferries connecting Orkney and Shetland with Scrabster and Aberdeen; and the inter-island ferries connecting the various Orcadian and Shetlandic islands; the Scottish ferry services have enjoyed a doubling of their overall subsidies in the last decade. So, it sounds as if more money is being thrown at ferries, but that money isn't getting to Orkney or Shetland.

Basically, when you add all of this up, nationalizing the Northern Isles ferry services sounds like a fantastic way to get a ferry service that takes passengers straight from the Firth of Clyde, up through the Minch, through the Pentland Firth, and on down past Aberdeen and into the Firth of Forth, and back again. But, what do I know?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Separated by a Common Language: Orcadian Dialect Edition, Part 5

In years past, I've posted not once, but twice, the words from the entire season(s) of BBC Radio Orkney's Orcadian dialect word game, Whassigo. I'm at it again, despite a shorter season during the 2016/'17 season (owing in part to some staffing disruptions at Castle Street during the Spring of 2017, the April 2017 episode seems to have been lost to history). I'm once again late in posting them, having originally intended to do so in April or May of this year; however, as I've been rather busy this year, and I got to it earlier than I did in 2016, so I'm not apologizing!

I'm not sure if this is a constant, but I've now been following the program long enough to have caught the quiz master, Orkney Islands Councillor Harvey Johnston... REUSING WORDS FROM PRIOR SEASONS! (Cue dramatic music.) This included the word "skiggan" (Norse for clear, transparent, bright, and clean) in both February 2015 and April 2016; "skreeo" (from the Old Norse for a shriveled, dessicated person or beast) in December 2016 and in October of 2017; and "rammelgoforth" (a rash and hurried person) in April 2015 and October 2017. Scandalous! A modest proposal: the august Mr. Johnston should consult the 1866 Etymological Glossary of the Shetland & Orkney Dialect to keep things fresh. And now, without further delay... The words!

October 2016
  • "snoddy" - a thick cake of oatmeal (from Old Norse for a lump of dough)
  • "misleared" - to be misguided
  • "planker" - laying out land after the end of the runrig system
  • "streelka" - a notion
  • "russey imp" - a cord made from a mare's tail hair
  • "cowtheist" - Scots word for being friendly

    November 2016
  • "cooter" - the end of a plough that digs into the ground
  • "frugsy" - untidy or messy
  • "fimro" - a peedie crab that runs about, related to a Norse word meaning "quick"
  • "tusky" - Old Norse word for stormy, foul weather
  • "sarro" - excrement, otherwise unpalatable food
  • "grunyasie" - ugly, from a Norse word meaning the snout of a pig

    "December" 2016
  • "skreeo" - a shriveled, dessicated person or beast, from the Old Norse
  • "parago" - wool of a mixture of different colors; a known term among Westray and Sanday knitting circles
  • "rillagory" - speaking carelessly or gossiping
  • "oonwandin" - something no one expects, such as the Spanish Inquisition
  • "charve" - to be headstrong, bold, or audacious, recently commonly used in Rousay, from the Old Norse word "jarfer" (sp?)
  • "peese" - a line to please or pester

    February 2017
  • "kammo" - a knock on the head
  • "ongelid" - a strong gale, from Norse "ang" (against)
  • "kulkie" - the horizon
  • "simmy" - to wander about aimlessly, wasting time; to "simmy about"
  • "camsho" - a rude, ill-tempered person
  • "baileyment" - a state of prosperity or vigor

    March 2017
  • "swarf" - to overturn or capsize
  • "tivish" - to handle someone in a rough manner
  • "swarral" - a large, inanimate object ("But not a coo, unless it's dead.")
  • "klimse" - being so dehydrated you can hardly speak, from a Norse word meaning "to be rendered speechless"
  • "muller" - a pebbly beach
  • Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    YouTube Train Videos: Thurso to Inverness

    A few months ago, I accidentally discovered that there are people who will ride the trains in Scotland, point a camcorder out the window, and then post the entire thing on YouTube... Sometimes years later. The first one I discovered is included below, and was recorded in April of 2002 - that's actually almost three years before YouTube was even founded.

    One of my favorite memories of all time took place on the 10th of September, 2004. I'd just completed my first visit to Orkney, and was en route to Glasgow to fetch a resupply package that I'd sent myself at the office of a professional contact. I sat on the left side of the train, looking rearward, and spent part of the journey reading Nineteen Eighty-Four. I saw a stag out the window. (Not the one in the linked post, obviously.) In 2013, I wanted to take the train back down from Thurso to Inverness, but owing to time constraints (generally speaking, the imperative to get to Aberdeen in a timely manner), I always ended up taking the bus from Scrabster to Inverness, then charging from the bus depot to the train station to make my rail connection with mere seconds to spare. I went the other direction twice: once when I commenced Operation Bold Brigand, and again after graduation. In the latter case, inclement weather prevented the MV Hamnavoe from making its scheduled trip from Scrabster to Stromness, so I enjoyed the opportunity to get a great night of sleep and a lovely Scottish breakfast at the Weigh Inn - thanks entirely to the kind coordination of the train's refreshment cart sales lass and her taxi driver boyfriend.

    Ahhhhhhh... Memories...

    Friday, September 15, 2017

    Shetland Croft for Sale

    My old buddy Tom Thumb has suggested that I retire with my lovely bride to Fethaland, a (presently) uninhabited Shetland isle. We traded a couple of jokes on the topic. A good chuckle was had by all.

    I could be convinced to visit Shetland again. Under virtually any realistic circumstances, actually living there would be a pretty tough sell.

    Thursday, September 14, 2017

    Debacle in Shetland: More Chaos Down South

    I've been doing a pretty solid job at posting on this blog, so let's keep it rolling!

    In 2013, I posted about chaos at the south end of Shetland. This morning, the BBC reports that pilot error was to blame for a January incident at Sumburgh Airport in which a test pilot overshot the runway. The BBC neglects to mention whether the intersection of the runway with the road played any role in the incident.

    The Shetland Ponies may comment on this... If I can get my PowerPoint file opened up at some point soon. I'm getting behind. Oof!

    Tuesday, September 12, 2017

    Brexit and Scottish Fishing

    A few years ago, the BBC's Coast program did a segment on fishing in Northeast Scotland. The presenter interviewed several Scottish fishermen about the impact of European Union fishing regulations upon their livelihood. Yesterday, NPR ran a segment on Brexit's impact on French fishing, eighty percent of which takes place in British waters. Some casual Googling yielded three interesting articles.

  • Scottish fishermen given Brexit assurance
  • Scottish government says UK is right to leave fishing deal
  • Brexit: Gove confirms foreign access to UK fishing grounds

    I'll be honest: watching from afar, I'm torn on Brexit. I listen to Around Orkney most mornings, and there's been no shortage of news reports about how difficult Scottish farmers have it under the European Union. The fishing example is another big example of this: Scottish fishermen have seen their livelihood threatened by EU fishing restrictions, but we're supposed to be concerned about the livelihood of French fishermen and their French customers who may no longer be able to take eighty percent of their daily haul out of British waters. And the European Union might impose harsh tariffs on British industry as a result. A few weeks ago, I also saw an article about the European Union banning loud and/or inefficient vacuum cleaners. Recognizing that there are very real practical concerns about how Brexit will impact both United Kingdom subjects and Europeans, it seems like these concerns stem in large part from proverbial "too big to fail" root causes.

    I dunno. I realize this post really isn't very coherent, but that's how confusing this Brexit business is. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, it seems like stuff like this fishing issue would have made it difficult for some folks not to vote "yes" on this thing. Then again, the unknowns make it pretty easy to sympathize with those who thought that the nebulous drawbacks outweighed the potential benefits of a "yes" vote.
  • Monday, September 11, 2017

    RAF Saxa Vord to Reopen

    BBC Radio Shetland and Shetland News report that the British Ministry of Defence has confirmed that the Royal Air Force radar station at Saxa Vord shall be reopened. Readers of this blog may remember that I saw RAF Saxa Vord during my ill-fated geocaching adventure in the adjacent Hermaness wildlife refuge. As terrifying as that particular debacle ought to have been, I enjoy fond memories of looking across the little harbor to see the disused radar station.

    I've lost track of the number of times that British interceptors have been scrambled to "escort" Russian military aircraft in the last eight or nine years. RAF Saxa Vord was disestablished in 2006, and the MoD cancelled the procurement of the BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft in 2010. It stands to reason that with Russia flying sporadic bomber patrols adjacent to British air space, and generally attempting a post-Cold War strategic resurgence, the current coalition government's decision to reverse the Blair era decision to close RAF Saxa Vord makes strategic and economic sense.

    I can't guarantee that the Shetland Ponies will refrain from comment on this topic in the coming days.

    Sunday, September 10, 2017

    A Scottish Twist on an American Wedding

    Let me start this post by saying that I feel awful for having neglected this blog for the last couple of years. There's plenty of stuff of Scottish interest that could have been posted, and going forward, I hope to pick up the pace. First up: a post about a very special wedding. Ours!

    In nine of the more than four hundred posts I've published to this blog, I've mentioned someone named "Lady Jaye". She and I "met" digitally before I left for Scotland, but didn't meet in person until I came home. In 2016, my dear friends at BBC Radio Orkney helped me to propose to her using their Friday request program(me) and a classic Proclaimers song that was featured in the phenomenal 2013 film Sunshine on Leith...

    ... and she said "Yes!", and we got married in her hometown in August. The crew at Radio Orkney did a follow-up interview with us the morning after the wedding, which ended up being retooled as a BBC Radio Scotland segment and making the BBC News website. In the words of Ron Burgundy, "That escalated quickly!" You can listen to that radio segment here, and check out the article here. Someone at the University of Aberdeen obviously caught wind of it, because we were also congratulated via the University's alumni relations Facebook page.

    We're hoping to get to Scotland at some point in the foreseeable future. In the mean time, we're pretty thrilled to have added a bit of Scottish flair to our otherwise American wedding.

    Saturday, March 25, 2017

    One More Edition of the OHBC

    Continuing on the theme of Scottish comedy, here are the last couple of clips of Gregor Fisher as Angus, presenter for the Outer Hebrides Broadcasting Corporation on Naked Video.

    That's some first class Scottish comedy!

    Monday, March 13, 2017

    Reaction to the Proposal for Another Scottish Secession Referendum

  • BBC: Scottish independence: Nicola Sturgeon to seek second referendum
  • BBC: PM: SNP 'tunnel vision' over independence 'deeply regrettable'
  • UK Government for Scotland Facebook Page: The UK Government Response to the First Minister
  • Sky News: British public opposes second Scottish referendum - Sky Data poll

    I suspect that Scots get as frustrated with me commenting on Scottish politics as I get when folk in the United Kingdom comment on American politics. Even so, I find myself hard pressed to explain why the SNP is angling for another referendum. I may comment on it further in the coming weeks and months, or I may leave well enough alone; but it didn't seem right not to post a little something on this occasion.
  • Saturday, February 18, 2017

    More Scottish Comedy from the OHBC

    Continuing on the theme of Scottish comedy, here are more clips of Gregor Fisher as Angus, presenter for the Outer Hebrides Broadcasting Corporation on Naked Video.

    There's one more installment yet to come.

    Thursday, January 19, 2017

    Things I Missed in Graduate School

    In the three years since I finished grad school, I've discovered a veritable treasure trove of resources that would have been extremely valuable during grad school. Their absence obviously didn't handicap me, as I graduated with the highest possible honors. However, as I continue in various strategic efforts, many of them will be valuable. So, what have I found?

    I really haven't found anything that would have been significantly valuable in Strategic Theory, save perhaps for a few podcasts that might have offered some quotes or concepts. (Notably, Professor Lawrence Freedman's 2014 lecture On Strategy and Strategists. Mostly, I wish that I'd spent a bit more time reading - specifically, Strategy in the Contemporary World, On War, and The History of the Peloponnesian War. C'est la vie.

    I've discovered several items that would have been helpful for my course in Strategic Intelligence, though the most useful tool for that course really would have been a ten or fifteen minute discussion of how E wanted term papers formatted. Did you know that the CIA has a FOIA release website? That would have been useful knowledge. Did you know that the British National Archives has released a series of annual podcasts discussing releases from both the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6)? Not that I'm ever bereft of podcasts, but those could have been pretty valuable. I had no shortage of books, but it would have been nice to have known earlier than late 2013 that Intelligence Power in Peace and War was available as a PDF!

    For Strategic Nuclear Doctrine, Critical Mass did a fantastic job of assigning readings that were publicly available as PDFs, and I've linked to the bulk of those. The one item that would have been really useful was Michael Quinlan's slim volume on nuclear strategy, which was extremely useful and extremely succinct (as compared to Professor Freedman's tome on nuclear strategy, which is one of the most difficult books I've ever read). Quinlan's monograph is available from RUSI as a PDF. When CN Sister was working on her SND term paper, she attempted (too late, as it turned out) to check Quinlan's book out from the Hideous Glass Cube, but the HGC - a library - didn't keep all of its books there, so she was out of luck. This PDF would have been a great asset, but fortunately, I'd read it earlier. Global Security Issues dealt largely with the news and current events. I'd also read several relevant books from The Director's prescribed reading list. I haven't really found anything that I didn't have at the time that I wish I had.

    Which brings us to...

    The Dissertation! Several valuable resources about the Dhofar Rebellion have been released since my dissertation was submitted, but I've discovered many sources since August 2013. As with the rest of the course, the proposition that these stray items would have improved my final grade is a non-starter - I scored a coveted 19, which means that I literally couldn't have done any better. I'm still curious, though, about how my dissertation might have been different had I known about some of these resources. The Defense Technical Information Center has a handful of papers that discuss Dhofar either in passing or in depth. I also discovered the National Security Archive and their cache of more than four hundred relevant diplomatic cables, which I've written about elsewhere. While researching a single data point - Cuban troops advising the adoo in South Yemen - I also discovered three documents from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum: a memorandum, a letter, and a Q&A about a 1975 meeting between Sultan Qaboos and President Ford. I absolutely would have included more information about the various foreign alliances if I'd had that information. Three other resources that I would have used for either my dissertation, Strategic Theory, or both were the digital copies of The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan, The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War, and Insurgent Tactics in Southern Afghanistan 2005-2008. Finally, I found a pretty decent op-ed in The Guardian, published just a few months before my arrival in Aberdeen, entitled Ten things I wish I'd known before starting my dissertation; it could have been helpful for calming some of my nerves, though I think that the record shows that I was pretty confident throughout the process.

    It's tempting to think of how I could have improved my experience, if not the bulk of my scores, had I possessed these resources prior to 2016/'17. Ultimately, though, I'm not sure that I would have changed much about how that adventure played out.

    Wednesday, January 4, 2017

    Scottish Comedy from the OHBC

    Continuing on the theme of Scottish comedy, I've never actually seen an episode of Naked Video. However, a couple of years ago, I accidentally found some clips of Gregor Fisher (whom some of you may remember as Billy Mack's manager from the 2003 film Love Actually. Here are a couple of clips of Fisher as Angus, the presenter for the Outer Hebrides Broadcasting Corporation.

    There'll be more of that to come. I didn't make the trek out to the Hebrides - inner or outer - while I was in Scotland. The impression I get from both this comedy, and a segment on the BBC Two program(me) Coast, the Outer Hebrides are pretty isolated... Like, Shetland isolated!