15 April 2010

"Erasing David" - Documentary on Dodging the British Surveillance State

(Wow, two topical posts in one day! Thanks to Anne Marie for this one.)

The UK is a surveillance state.

Issues of surveillance and civil liberty are an interest of mine, and the UK has become a laboratory for how a democracy can learn to treat every citizen as a potential criminal. More importantly, it seems like every crackpot "next step" in US surveillance has already been tried on a smaller scale over here--with often disastrous results that have exposed millions of British residents to identity theft and outright humiliation or abuse.

Of course, surveillance may be less intrusive in smaller cities like Edinburgh, as I mentioned in a previous post, but it's still pretty bad and getting worse. The justification here is the same as in the US: if you're not doing anything wrong, then you've got nothing to fear. But the problem is that the folks on the other end of the camera/search engine/government database are human, too, and thus as susceptible to the corrupting influence of power as the rest of us. And let's face it: information is power, and there's a heck of a lot of it lying around these days. Even with surveillance powers conceived with the very best intentions in mind, it's only a matter of time before they're handed over to someone who will abuse them.

Anyway, to the real point of this post: there's a fascinating film by the name of Erasing David coming out in the UK on April 25 that attempts to personalize issues of surveillance that politicians and the media are all too happy to leave abstract. In the film, David Bond tries to disappear for thirty days while a team of private investigators, using whatever information they can find, try to track him down. In the process, they try to make it painfully clear that the UK has become an identity thief's playground, and that the UK already has the infrastructure, if not the actual practice, of a police state in place.

But that's probably enough libertarian ranting for one day.

Airport Closures Due To . . . Volcanic Dust?

You heard me right. According to the BBC, a plume of volcanic dust from an eruption in Iceland has blown into Scottish airspace, causing the cancellation of all flights to and from Scottish airports today. We actually have some friends stuck in Scandinavia and on the Continent because of it, and it's throwing a wrench into campaign plans for the upcoming general election (though in a country this small--is it really such a big deal to drive or take a train?).
Can't see anything obvious out the window here, but it's supposed to be a high-altitude problem, probably obscured by the lower clouds scudding through.

14 April 2010


After a marathon 7.5-hour installation, we have a new boiler and heat in all radiators, including the one that was broken when we moved in. We also have a fine layer of dust on all dishes near the sink due to the repairmen drilling the wall to fit the new ventilator, but all in all, I'll make that trade. Especially because, impelled by some inner knowledge I could not articulate, I covered the cranberry scones, thereby saving tomorrow's breakfast.

Now taking bets on what apartment fixture breaks next!

Justin's computer: 2-1
Kitchen table: 3-1
Nana's patience with horrible clomping children upstairs (the Demon Spawn) - 5-1
Something we never saw coming: 6-1

12 April 2010

A Walk Down the Water of Leith

The Water of Leith is a small river that runs from the Pentland Hills through north-central Edinburgh to Leith, where it flows into the Firth of Forth. A public foot-and-cycle path, the Water of Leith Walkway, follows the river from Balerno on the southern outskirts of town all the way to the old Leith waterfront.

Last week, I took a long stroll along the lower stretch of the Water of Leith. I started at the Dene, a deep ravine on the northwestern edge of New Town. The Dene is home to Dean Village, a tiny medieval town built astride a weir (or dam) that used to power the city's grist mills.

Just downriver from Dean Village is the Dean Bridge. Designed by Thomas Telford and built in 1833, the bridge soars over 100 feet above the floor of the ravine.

After the Dean Bridge, the path passes a Victorian mineral spring, St. Bernard's Well.

As you can see from the photos, the vegetation in the ravine is very dense, especially for April. This is a common phenomenon here in Scotland, which I mentioned in a previous post: you add a tiny bit of elevation or exposure to the wind, and the land is barren, but it doesn't take much shelter to get you a borderline jungle.

The river exits the Dene at Stockbridge, a posh neighborhood just north of New Town . . .

. . . then past the Stockbridge Colonies, a collection of parallel row homes originally built as cheap housing for workers.

Now, the Colonies rank among the city's most coveted real estate, and are especially popular with arty types. They're famous for their odd second-story front doors.

After Stockbridge, the river skirts Inverleith just south of the Royal Botanic Gardens and passes into Canonmills, Stockbridge's slightly less posh little cousin.

Below Canonmills the river widens noticeably and the older architecture flanking its upper stretches is replaced by new construction.

On the approach to Leith, the river even passes through an industrial estate (not pictured) and by another old weir.

After that patch, though, the Water of Leith Walkway ends with a final pleasant sight: the old harbor in Leith, pictured below.

I'll end here: Leith deserves its own post, and a more thorough exploration than I was able to give it after such a long walk.  Also, if I could do it again, I would probably have ended my walk at Canonmills or shortly thereafter--there wasn't much to see on the last stretch, and there are buses that run directly from the city center to Leith.

11 April 2010

Spring is Here!

(The question is, how long will it stay?)

I know that we here at the Educated Burgher have often made light of Scotland's mercurial weather. Mother Nature's whimsy can have an upside, though: the last two days have been unseasonably warm, up to about 60 degrees Farhenheit. After the winter we've just had, that feels like t-shirt weather!

The daffodils are out on the Meadows, too. I assume this means that, while the warm weather won't stay for long (seriously, I think it was warmer today than it ever was last August), Spring has finally sprung.