13 May 2010

And we have a government!

To briefly recap - in the UK parliamentary system, the Prime Minister is the head of the party with an absolute majority (326 seats) in Parliament. If no single party gets a majority, this creates a "hung Parliament." The parties then enter into negotiations to form a coalition with other parties until the necessary number of seats can be cobbled together.

Britain's last election, as I blogged before, ended in just such a hung Parliament. The Liberal Democrat party had to choose whether to ally with the Conservatives, which would immediately result in a new government, or ally with Labour, which would require a few other fourth-party MPs to throw in their hats. Negotiations were pretty intense. Labour leader and former PM Gordon Brown resigned as head of his party, possibly to give the Lib Dems a way to ally with Labour while plausibly maintaining their position as the party of change. (Brown resigned while I was at work, prompting cheers from certain Labour-supporting employees. Dancing around the office while singing "Bye-bye Brownie" may have also occurred).

Labour labored (har!) in vain, however. The Conservatives and the Lib Dems have agreed on a deal. Much of their platform is available here but some interesting highlights, at least as far as I'm concerned, are:

- eliminating the proposed National ID Card system and the next-generation RFID passports.
- capping non-EU migration. (This may or may not be terribly helpful, as many of Britain's unpopular immigrants are from the EU, or at least aren't here legally in the first place)
- officially pledging not to join the Eurozone
- planning to convert current welfare programs into welfare-to-work (the idea kicked around during the campaign was to strip benefits from anybody able to work who rejected three job offers; not sure if that's what they'll settle on or not).
- reforming schools, particularly by allowing local start-up schools similar to US charter schools.
- retaining Trident, the British nuclear sub program

There's lots more in there but those are some juicy/controversial bits. What will actually be translated into policy is anybody's guess.

11 May 2010

The Wild Haggis Beast!

In response to a recent survey that revealed 1 in 5 Brits think the haggis is an actual animal native to the Scottish highlands, BoingBoing asked its readers to submit their own drawings of what they think a wild haggis would look like. Here are the results!

A Pint of Heavy, Please

They say a language has the most words for things that are important to its speakers. Scottish beer jargon combines two of the most important things in any Scot's life: booze and taxes.

In the 19th century, ale brewing styles shook out into four broad categories based on the excise taxes applied to alcohol. While originally various types of beer were brewed in each category, eventually the different categories each became associated with a particular brew. In the 1970s, almost a century later, these categories were revived by the new "real ale" movement (the UK's equivalent to the microbrewing craze). So today, people still refer to beers by the tax (in shillings) a hogshead of said beer would have incurred in 1885.

The main categories are as follows:
  • 60/- (aka "Light") under 3.5% ABV
  • 70/- (aka "Heavy") 3.5%-4.5% ABV
  • 80/- (aka "Heavy" or "Export") 4.0%-5.5% ABV
  • 90/- (aka "Wee Heavy") over 5.5% ABV
Of these categories, the 80/- (pronounced "eighty-shilling" or "eighty-bob") is by far the most common, and has become perhaps the iconic Scottish ale. 80/- is a mild, malty, red-brown brew, usually sweet with a bit of a biscuity flavor.

The other appellations have fallen out of use for a variety of reasons. Cheap lagers have pushed out the 60/- style, for example, and English, Irish, and American varieties (pale ales, bitters, porters, stouts, etc) have encroached upon the scene. But the 80/- every bit as Scottish as haggis and whisky--Caledonian in Edinburgh and Williams Bros. in Alloa make the best examples, if you ask me.