The Loneliest Jukebox

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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Proposals to End a Member State’s National Veto in the EU

 MEP decries changes which would further centralise power in Brussels

Which EU Treaty change could transform the character of the European Union, by tipping it from a group of nations into the monolithic superstate of Eurosceptic nightmares?

Since November last year, proposals to remove the national veto have gathered momentum. The abolition of the veto right granted to all Member States by the voting rules of the European Council was proposed by the rapporteurs, four German MEPs led by–who else?–arch-federalist Belgian Guy Verhofstadt. If EU current democratic shortfalls are clear to see, the abolition of the national veto would make things far worse.

As it stands, an individual Member State can use its vote against the implementation of common foreign and security policy, and on matters of the multiannual financial framework. Unanimous voting is required to set policy in 34 areas where it currently applies: if agreement can’t be reached–often following enormous pressure and moral blackmail from the major EU players–decisions remain at the level of national competencies. A handful of exemptions in the proposal, such as for the admission of new Member States, do not disguise its overall centralizing drift.

In the EP, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) claims to have “engaged in good faith with representatives of the other five groups involved in the drafting of the proposals,” despite seeing the measures as hasty and unnecessary. For Jacek Saryusz-Wolski MEP,

The national veto is arguably the most important safeguard against undue usurpation of power in the hands of the Union, and is of particular importance to the smaller Member States and their national democracies whose influence would be greatly diminished.

In contrast, the EP rapporteurs are proposing to deprive Member States of this fundamental right. On paper at least, the right of veto provides the smaller and medium-sized countries to participate on equal footing in EU politics. Inequalities among the Member States–including the weight of their votes in the Council–can be levelled when the veto right is used.

Paradoxically, the key goal of EU enlargement–which would still require unanimous Council ratification–would become less attractive to candidate members who find that, on arrival, they would no longer have a veto.

Unpicking the proposals further shows other competencies that Member States would lose. Under the proposals, shared competences would include seven new areas such as public and reproductive health; education; foreign affairs, external security and defence; civil protection; industry; external border policy; and cross-border transport infrastructure. There’s even a new one, previously exercised by nation states, on the EU entering climate change negotiations.

Under the principle of subsidiarity, there is no reason for EU-wide intervention in these areas:

From Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union:

The procedure for Treaty change, Paragraph 2:

“These proposals may, inter alia, serve either to increase or to reduce the competences conferred on the Union in the Treaties.”

According to Saryusz-Wolski,

Abolishing veto in the medium-term perspective would lead to the dominance of the biggest Member States, and in the long run it would contribute to a disintegration of the EU. Thus, promoting such proposal is utterly anti-European, shows a grave error of judgement, and reflects lack of political imagination.

Supporters of the proposals may counter that currently EU decision-making is too slow and that the national veto is part of that problem. Critics, meanwhile, claim rightly that the Union’s inflexibility comes from it taking too much on, by hijacking policy in areas that could be dealt with much better at the national or local levels.


Read on: Jacek Saryusz-Wolski MEP (ECR Group) “Why we reject the Treaty change proposal”, first published 19 Dec 2023.


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

A Rum Lot

As long as I can remember, my parents would say "blackcurrant rum" as shorthand for a time before 1969 when they had fun. Presuming that the story behind this involved getting tipsy, I vowed to source them some blackcurrant rum  which is actually more difficult than it sounds.

I ordered some online for them as an Xmas stocking filler, which arrived late.

Anyway, the reason for the shorthand is from the time when they organised a housewarming party in the late 1960s and laid on the booze (some of it stored under the stairs, to this day). Hey, it was the 1960s.

A neighbour's mother asked for blackcurrant rum — when it was about the only drink they hadn't bought in ready for their guests. Harumph!

Meanwhile Mum and Dad hate the taste of rum.

I'm going to have to drink it myself now.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Duffed up: Music and the Seven Year-Old Tough Guy

My lockdown reading includes Graham Duff's Foreground Music: A Life in Fifteen Gigs.

There's an early bit that reminds me of me:
"From a very young age, I'd loved the theme tunes to TV spy and detective shows ... To me, this is such exciting music. It suggests mystery, tension and menace. Something I don't hear in any of the pop music that comes my way." (p.2)

I remember thinking like that for what seemed like a long time, which is probably why I am rubbish at the '10 influential albums' game on social media. But I remember a time later when I was about 13 and saw this attitude to pop as being a bit weird. If memory serves, this was prompted by Smash Hits asking Todd Carty (then of Tucker's Luck) for his top 10 songs, and they were nearly all excerpts from Ennio Morricone soundtracks. (Apologies Todd, but I'm not enough of a pack rat to have kept that particular clipping.)

Prompted by the death of Dave Greenfield, I was thinking about my own musical development recently. One missing link between spy themes and pop for my prepubescent self was quite different to that of Graham Duff, who says "To be honest, with their sleazy and aggressive attitude and lyrics about sewers and shagging nubiles, I think they sound like the kind of lads I try to avoid at school. Put simply, The Stranglers sound like bullies." (p.13)

Whatever it makes me as a kid sound like now, this side of The Stranglers drew me in at the time. To my TV-obsessed ears, it was tough guy pop music. Plus with a band member older than my mum, I hoped to get her to like them too (no chance!). And with Greenfield's keyboards, I thought I'd got the musical continuity with my beloved safari-suited TV secret agents.

It would take me a few years and experiences to untangle all these conflicting sentiments personally. Foreground Music does similar work in thoughtful and touching detail.

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Friday, February 01, 2019

New insights into insulin production

Researchers have uncovered a previously unknown process in the production of insulin.

The team from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, identified a crucial contributor to the emergence of insulin as a mature hormone.

Proinsulin is the precursor of insulin, but the transition between the two forms cannot be achieved unassisted. The scientists found that a substance named glucose-regulated protein GRP94, which they characterise as a proinsulin chaperone, helps insulin to achieve its correct structure - in effect by folding the hormone. Independent management of GRP94 could help the development of novel drugs in future.

'In the long-term we also hope we will be able to increase the production of insulin, ease the large production burden of beta cells in connection with type 2 diabetes and to maintain their secretion function for longer without the need for insulin injections,' says Associate Professor Michal Tomasz Marzec.

This work contributes to a long history of insulin research, most famously working with a canine model, aiming to tackle diabetes in humans. This used cellular models and human isolated pancreatic islets. It has been written up in the scientific journa
l Diabetes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A perplexing performance: on reposting the Portland dog parks hoax

There was some debate in and around my employer when our Facebook page linked to an account of the discovery of a hoax research paper purportedly involving dogs. Some correspondents pointed out that reposting the story was risky, as it could harm the reputation of animal research. The article, “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at Portland dog parks”, is now officially retracted from the Journal of Feminist Geography: Gender, Place and Culture.

Had the observational work on canine behavior that the pranksters, writing as ‘Helen Wilson’, depicted actually taken place, it would have counted as animal —but not biomedical/veterinary research, with minimal severity and human intervention.

James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian submitted the work as one of 20 hoax papers, seven of which were accepted for publication. Some people friendly to my employer's goals suggested that by drawing attention to fake academic work of low quality, we were providing activists with ammunition for their arguments.

If the paper been submitted to a journal dealing with genuine biomedical or veterinary research, the absence of research ethics panel documentation from a host university, or the ethical oversight of a journal’s scholarly editorial board, would have made the hoax unlikely to succeed. The regulation of legitimate animal research tends to be very strict.

The paper's authors suspected that the Journal of Feminist Geography editors would welcome an account of foul hounds and their evil owners because it confirmed the journal’s prejudices – reflecting what the hoaxers call the rise of ‘grievance studies’ in the academy. Sure enough, publication occurred, further illustrating the unnecessarily porous borders between the natural sciences and the humanities, and the unhelpful tendency to anthropomorphise animal behaviour.

Both the type of ‘findings’ that had been faked and the shoddy standards of the publication – which failed to ascertain the writers’ true identity – could damage the standing of the research community as a whole. There is also the ethical issue of whether submitting hoax papers is the right way to expose such shortcomings.

However, the success of the hoax, which could have continued for longer had it not been unearthed by journalists, shows that researchers and publishers need to be extra vigilant about studies using animals, especially given the criticism from activists and the arguments about the need for the use of animals as a routine part of biomedical research.

On balance, publicising the Portland dog parks hoax may help to clarify the difference between thorough science, pseudoscience and science badly done. The hoaxing was initiated by opponents of what they see as confirmation bias and advocacy research. It’s certainly not the only way to make such a case, but it has helped to clarify one problem in present-day academic publishing, where quality can be sacrificed for quantity and ideology. Good scientists have nothing to fear when careless academics slip up.

(Held over from November 2018)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

South Quay reflections

South Quay reflections

For me, the core of the 'old' new Docklands includes a memory lane. The wider Docklands includes a recent former workplace, which maybe one day will also seem historic to me. My memories of the area are informed by two very different phases of my life: as a teenager sent to live with his Aunt in East Ham in the mid-1980s, and as a resident of Bow Common Lane in 2004-2006.

On a recent walking tour of the ‘old’ Docklands started at South Quay. It is not something I can remember as the Docklands proper – i.e. part of a district containing working docks – as that was before my time. In the mid-1980s, the rise of the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) as an entity separate from the old Greater London Council was a point of controversy. Ken Livingstone, then GLC leader, was critical of the loss of central control. Local residents were already expressing fear of being pushed out.

On both sides, reinforced by the left-wing politics of the decade, the connections between the LDDC and the Thatcher government also sharpened the conflict. One contrast between the two phases in Docklands history is the use of spatial markers to differentiate the two areas. An indicator of change in the area during the 1980s was graffiti on approach to the Isle of Dogs that read ‘loot Asda burn Barratts’. While the slogan likely originated with the Class War anarchist group rather than local residents, it is interesting that a relatively low-end supermarket and a mid-market mass housebuilder (that now markets its ‘executive home’ builds under the separate ‘David Wilson’ brand) were then seen as signs of gentrification. Also symptomatic of change is the way the graffiti lives on in the V&A-curated works of Laura Oldfield Ford, long after it was cleaned off the wall.

The politics of 1980s resistance to gentrification was sometimes problematic. For instance, the slogan ‘Island homes for Island people’ was originally aimed at the ‘Yuppies’ arriving in Canary Wharf, but once detached from its source it became increasingly directed at Bangladeshis moving home within Tower Hamlets. At my Aunt’s house we discussed the less charged politics of creating opportunities for disabled sports; the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) would set things up, the LDDC hosted occasional consultation exercises and the London Marathon was (then) actively hostile.

Whereas gentrification seemed like the headline issue in the affected boroughs, at home we talked about personality clashes within the LDDC – the personal was the political. In contrast to the 1980s, some geographical markers are less conspicuous and less conspicuously political: the ubiquitous bollard borders being symbolic of this. Without elevating their political significance, in the style of the ‘This is not a Gateway’ project (2007-2014/17), it appears that these simple objects mark off the different territories.

Once inside the territory, a mixture of vests – hi-vis and stab – are part of the framework of officious officialdom, huffing, puffing and often bluffing about how individuals should behave on its patch. The street-level indices of gentrification have changed, but it’s questionable whether the label of gentrification can still be applied, given the sheer cost of the properties involved. One symptom of this is the coffee-table book we saw in a South Quay estate agents: where else would find a hardback of Louis Vuitton City Bags: A Natural History on a coffee table?

Friday, April 06, 2018

Remembering My Aunt

My Aunt, Julia Allton, who died suddenly in 2016, was an accomplished singer, a tireless sports campaigner and contributor to numerous charities.

After teacher-training at Nonington P.E. College in Kent in 1968, she completed her probationary year at a Leicester school. Her first love was music and, unsatisfied by teaching, she applied to the Royal College of Music and was awarded a full-time place on the Opera Studies course. With no scholarship, she funded herself through early-morning cleaning, evening bar work and a Saturday job in Harrods. Subsequent financial help from the Vaughan Williams Trust and the Young Musicians Trust helped her to complete two years at the RCM.

After gaining further experience singing in concert halls and churches throughout the country, she made her debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1977, singing in the chorus of Aida. She acquired her Equity card and joined the entertainment industry, performing in pantomimes, music halls, local clubs and as a Blue Coat entertainer for Ladbroke’s holiday group.

In 1981, she was appointed Senior Lecturer for ILEA, specialising in PE. This led to her work with people with a disability. Based in Tower Hamlets, where she was voted ‘1982 Sports Personality of the Year’, she was a Council Member for the National Society for Epilepsy. She also worked with the Disabled Living Foundation, with Mencap and was on the Executive Committee of Docklands Boat Trust, an organisation which fund-raised to buy a fully wheel-chair accessible canal boat. Working with wheelchair athletes led Julia to campaign for their inclusion in the London Marathon, completing it herself to celebrate her 50th birthday. Alongside this, she studied with the Open University to gain her BA.

Moving to Skegness to be near to her parents, she opened her home for holidays for the disabled and offered assisted living for permanent residents. Other ‘residents’ over the years were cats and dogs, especially Gordon Setters, which she rehomed. She was a volunteer hospital driver and locally she supported the RNLI, the Day Centre, Natureland, and St. Barnabus Hospice, among other organisations, and gave much of her time to Skegness Methodist Church.