Design thinking?

(Estimated reading time: just over 1 minute)

On Saturday we travelled across the new Queensferry Crossing.

It’s a lovely looking bridge (see Modern can be beautiful). And, it will last for more than 100 years.

Also, it’s claimed that it will be able to withstand winds and stay open in situations that would have closed the Forth Road Bridge.

So that all sounds good. Maybe even great.


The design of the roads to the bridge doesn’t seem to have been addressed. The queues that plagued the old bridge are impacting on the new one. Four lanes of traffic still reduce to two at the entrance to the bridge.

This seems like a lost opportunity.  Shouldn’t an iconic project have created a better solution to multiple problems? Presumably, the project objective was achieved – build a more robust bridge.

But what limited the vision?I know that more work = more cost. But is that the real – or only – reason?

The Scottish Government has been criticised whenever the Forth Road Bridge was closed to traffic. Yet, complaints about regular, daily delays for drivers barely register at a national level. Is the problem the difference between FUBAR and SNAFU?

Lack of vision, economy, oversight or cynical approach? Whatever the reason, it’s not great, and it takes the shine off an impressive piece of infrastructure.


Jagged edges

(Estimated reading time: 1 minute 30 seconds)

I’ve watched the recent events in Charlottesville with a mixture of fascination and horror. As I’ve been doing so, two quotations have strayed across my path.


No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin…

Nelson Mandela

HT: Amy Cuddy

If accurate (and I believe that it is), this means that our preferences, biases and obsessions are based on culture. So, we must choose to pick up a flag with a swastika; carrying a burning torch; wear a white hood. But why would you?

Then I came across this quotation:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

 George Bernard Shaw

HT: Shane Parrish @ Farnam Street

Clearly, I don’t condone the ugly face of white supremacy that is evident in Charlottesville. But from the comfort of my liberal, privileged, white life on the other side of the Atlantic I’m puzzled and intrigued. What triggers this reaction in the modern day United States? What are the threats (real or perceived) to white people? Do they see the echoes of history in their actions?

But most of all… why do they choose a path of hatred? And, why is it not condemned in the clearest possible terms by the President?

And, why is it not condemned in the clearest possible terms by the President?

I feel that these events have exposed something about the human condition. And, as we look into the jagged edges of unreason, I am left with the outrage and questions. But mostly, I’m left with outrage.

Dealing with disappointment

I was thinking about yesterday’s entry as I listened to Mitt Romney’s concession speech yesterday.  Failing to be elected as President of the United States clearly wasn’t an experience that Romney had sought.  But it seemed to me that he dealt with it graciously and with aplomb.

Admittedly it took him a while to come out and make his speech (after the outcome was clear), and he has been criticised in some quarters for this delay.  However, I think that there is merit in allowing time to process your emotions, gather your thoughts and then react to any disappointment that comes along in life.

There were two aspects of the concession speech that I thought were noteworthy.

Firstly, Romney went beyond the bare minimum of thanking his supporters, congratulating his opponent and walking off.  He was almost statesman-like when he said:

“At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the nation’s work.”

This didn’t give the impression of a quick ‘tick the box’ speech, but rather it was crafted to set a positive tone for his followers.

Secondly, I thought he demonstrated integrity by not hiding his disappointment while offering to pray for Obama.

“I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction, but the nation chose another leader. And so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation.”

While Mitt Romney wouldn’t have been my choice for President, I thought the way he handled himself in defeat was classy – and a lesson to all of us when we face disappointment.

Recognising the state we’re in!

So I heard the news today:

William Hague has said the UK will recognise the Libyan rebel council as the “sole governmental authority”, as Gaddafi-regime diplomats are expelled. (full story here)

… and my first thought was the scene from Good Morning Vietnam, when Adrian Cronauer gives the news his own brand of spin:

“We’re back. Here’s the news. All the news that’s new and approved by the U.S. Army, the sweetest-smelling army in the world. (imitates Teletype) Great Britain recognized the island state of Singapore. How do you recognize on island? You go, “exc… Hey, wait. No, don’t tell me. Wait, wait, didn’t we meet last year at the Feinman bar mitzvah? You look a lot like Hawaii. Didn’t we meet last year at the Peninsula Club? No.”

But then my mind started moving in a different direction. What criteria does a government apply when recognising another governmental authority?

Does democratic election come into the equation? It doesnt apply in Libya – but it would/should have in Zimbabwe and Burma.

Does the use of force to conquer territory count? If so, what chance of peace in areas of political turmoil?

Or is the prerequisite that we – and our allies – have thrown our military power into the equation and we dont want to look stupid?

Im not a fan of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, but this country recognised it in the recent past when it suited us. And going back to my examples of Zimbabwe and Burma – if we cant have an ethical foreign policy, can we at least have a consistent one please?

Death of a martyr?

I’m a bit ambivalent about writing this entry. But it’s been bouncing around in my head all day, so…

I’m more that a bit concerned about the celebratory aspect associated with the death of Osama bin Laden. I saw something on the interweb saying that it was the perfect end to the perfect weekend – the fairytale wedding followed by the death of the bad guy. That jars with me.

Now I know that Osama bin Laden was responsible for many evil acts – acts that were callous, cowardly and designed to strike terror into the hearts of many people. So I don’t feel any sympathy for him. But nor do I want to rejoice in his death – for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I’m concerned about what has become/is becoming of our humanity. I remember my sense of revulsion at the celebrations in the Middle East after the 9/11 atrocities. Why is this any different?

Secondly, I’m concerned about how the so-called ‘Muslim world’ will view our ‘Western/Christian’ reaction. Will one death lead to more radicalisation, more terror, more death and mayhem?  I suspect that his death will be portrayed, by those who wish to perpetuate violence, as the death of a martyr.

Finally, I’m concerned that we may have removed the head of a terrorist movement, but I’m not clear what we have done – if anything – to deal with the underlying issues. Bin Laden and his associates were able to appeal to a particular group of Muslims, to encourage them to plan and execute outrageous acts of terror, over a period of many years. Has anything really changed?

I’m concerned.

When crowd-pleasers don’t!

The economy is in a bad state, the opposition has just elected a shiny new leader, and it’s your party conference. How to make an impact? Hmmmm????

Trotting out a tried and tested, typical Tory triumphalist tub-thumper (like immigration) won’t fit the bill for the new Tories. they need to be seen to be fair (can’t give up the middle ground remember). Of course – the solution is obvious, hit at those sponging off benefits, but only the ones that can afford it – for now. So, the ideal candidate has to be universal child benefit. And it’ll be fair because we’ll only apply it to the well off – it’ll be a masterstroke. That’ll bring the audience to their feet, cheering to the rafters.

And… it wasn’t. Many of the faithful don’t like it. Why should they when it affects them?

The problem with this sort of policy on the hoof (which in my opinion plagues British politics) is that there is no vision and no clear thinking. So under this proposal a family with one parent earning £50,000 a year will lose the benefit; but their neighbours who both work and each earn £40,000 a year will keep it. Oops!

Then to make it worse, they announce that there will be tax breaks for married couples with a higher-rate taxpayer. It sounds like a compromise, probably because it is.

For my tuppence worth, I do think that universal child benefit should be withdrawn from higher earners. BUT this should be in the context of an overhaul of our complicated, cumbersome tax system, based on a family approach to taxation. This would not be straightforward, but it would be more sensible. But that’s back to the vision thing again, and radical ideas are difficult to design, plan and implement in the life of one Parliament. So it’s back to short-termism then. Oh well, at least the party conference season is over for this year. Maybe there will be a big idea next year. Or maybe not!