Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Ed Milliband - Labour's Saviour?

Congratulations to Ed Milliband on winning the election to become leader of the Labour Party.  It is of course too early to say what impact he will have either on the Labour party itself or more importantly, on Labour’s electoral fortunes.  However there are a couple of comments worth making.
The first is about the manner and margin of victory, and in particular his reliance on the votes of Trade Union members.  Already this is being used against him as some try to portray him as a prisoner of the Unions.  All this of course is just nonsense.  Some of it is nothing more than simply sour grapes on the part of the losers.  David Milliband’s supporters in particular seem most annoyed that their man lost.  
However much of this so-called outrage comes from our old friends in the Tory Party and their friends in the right wing media.  And these attacks are completely in tune with the Right’s continuing fear of and hostility to Trade Unions as the representatives of working people.   How dare ordinary workers interfere in the natural order of things!   Unfortunately this view seems to be shared by some members of the Labour Party, especially by many of its MPs, who appear to feel they are entitled to ever greater privileges.
If you look at the actual votes, it is clear that on a one member one vote election, then Ed Milliband would have won on the first round of voting.  Lenin’s Tomb has kindly produced the following table.
Candidate PLP CLP Unions Total
Ed Milliband 84 37980 87585 125649
David Milliband 111 55905 58191 114205
Diane Abbott 7 9314 25938 35259
Ed Balls 40 12831 21618 34489
Andy Burnham 24 10844 17904 28772
As Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb puts it rather nicely:  “Why shouldn’t the individual voices of ordinary voters decide this?”  After all the only Trade Unionists who voted are members of the Labour Party.
Looking to the future, who is likely to be more representative of potential Labour voters in the next general election - the MPs who helped get us into this economic mess and presided over the party’s worst electoral result, or ordinary working people?  I know who I would rather trust.
We will have to wait awhile to find out what policies that an Ed Milliband Labour Party might offer the electorate.  At this early stage he has made a promising start by making a clear break with New Labour.  However his biggest problem may well lie with his colleagues in the Parliamentary Party (PLP).  As the above voting record shows the majority still seems to be stuck in the now discredited Blair/Brown neo-liberal approach.  
I wish him well as the country desperately needs a forceful and credible opposition to the current nasty Coalition.  Somehow he has to find a way to articulate opposition to the forthcoming cuts in public services while at the same time avoiding or at least minimising the loony left tag that the Tories and their media allies will throw at him.  His possible impact on next year’s Scottish elections I will leave for another post, after the dust has settled a bit.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Postcards from Konstanz

This autumn we had the good fortune to make a couple of short trips to southern Germany.  From Zürich it is a relatively short journey to get to Germany.  Our first trip was to Konstanz.  This was in fact our second visit to Konstanz.  The first was in December 2001, when Cosimo drove us there to see the Christmas market.  It was lovely, but was very cold and it snowed all the time.  Still we had great lunch in a restaurant in an old railway carriage and managed to wander around the market a bit.  The following photos give an idea of how cold it was.

This time we went by train with Emma and Alessio.  The ostensible reason for the trip this time was to visit the Sea LIfe Centre.  This is right by the lake, just opposite the railway station - very handy.  Unfortunately the centre itself is not that great.  All the creatures seem stuck in pretty cramped tanks of one kind or another.  The displays were well enough arranged and there was lots of information about the river Rhine and the sea creatures.  One thing that did take me by surprise was to discover that flat fish have faces, with eyes and mouth and so on.  I suppose I had never seen a flat fish from eye level before.  Below is a photo of one.  Strange and lovely creatures.
After a quick tour of the Sea Life Centre we then wandered around the city itself.  Konstanz is bisected by the river Rhine and lies on the banks of the Bodensee, or Lake Constance as it is known in the English speaking world.  It is a very beautiful city which dates back to the middle ages and was the venue for one of the Catholic Church’s famous or should it be infamous Councils in 1414-18.  This Council is in fact the inspiration for the stunning 10 metres high statue of Imperia which stands at the entrance to the harbour.  It was created by Peter Lenk and erected in 1993.  Imperia was apparently a courtesan who features in a short story by Balzac.  So this statue is a bit of a satire on the Church.
The old part of the town is still replete with centuries old buildings.  It is a joy to walk around and as it is quite a small city you can walk around the whole place quite easily.  An interesting fact about Konstanz is that it was not bombed during the Second World War.  The city is contiguous with Switzerland and apparently the Konstanzers kept the city lights on during the nights so that allied bombers would think it was part of Switzerland.  True or not, the city does have some remarkably intact buildings.  A few can be seen in the following collage.
Konstanz is also, it seems, a favourite place for couples to get married.  The most popular place is the old Council Chambers, a Renaissance building in the heart of the old city.  Here there is a special wedding room and a lovely inner courtyard for receptions.  While we were there, some kind of reception was in fact in process in the courtyard.  Here is the beautiful façade.  If you look carefully you can just spot some of the participants at the reception.
Konstanz is quite famous for its churches and the main cathedral is very impressive inside, with lots of baroque decorations as can be seen in this collage below.
For lunch we found a really nice Italian restaurant which served very good traditional Italian food, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.  The prices were cheaper than in Switzerland too.  Alessio liked the place and was quite taken by the many Pinocchio statues lying around the place.  He even got one as a present to take home.
In addition to the city itself, Konstanz is an attractive place to visit for its situation on the Bodensee.   This is the third largest lake in Europe and is shared mainly by Germany and Switzerland, though Austria has a small part of the lake at Bregenz.  We have visited Bregenz and a few of the Swiss lakeside towns and all are very pretty and well worth a visit.  If you want to find out more about Konstanz and the area your can visit their website here.  I end with this collage of scenes from the waterfront in Konstanz.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

What does independence mean for Scotland?

This post has been prompted by an interesting post in a new blog on Scottish politics - Better Nation.  The post there takes as its starting point the following quoted from Iain Macwhirter’s Sunday Herald column last week:  “But  then I’ve never really understood the point of having a referendum on independence anyway because no-one really knows what independence means any more.  Flags and armies?  Hardly.  Border posts and a separate currency?  Definitely not.  The minimalist definition of independence would be the Scottish Parliament plus tax powers - and that’s likely to happen anyway.  Scotland already is a nation.  It is a question of acquiring the lost accoutrements of a state, and that process is already underway.”
Now I have to say that the above is a pretty pathetic statement and I will return to Macwhirter later.  However Malcolm Harvey, popularly known as Malc, in Better Nation gives him the benefit of the doubt and claims that the question that Macwhirter is really asking is: What does independence actually mean?   Now this is a fascinating question, but I fail to see what relevance it has to the political campaign to achieve independence for Scotland.  
For the background to this debate is the claim by Macwhirter and others that the SNP is no longer in favour of independence, but would be happy to settle for what is termed devolution plus.  There is of course no real evidence that this is now SNP policy, unofficial or not.  The SNP has for decades taken a gradualist approach to Scottish independence and devolution plus would be  regarded by many as a further step along this road.
However minute examination of what independence means in the 21st century is best left to academia.  For in the real world the Macwhirter definition is an exceedingly minimalist one - domestic policy plus some tax powers.  I am not aware of anyone else who would accept this is any kind of definition of what independence means.  While it is true that virtually all independent countries are to some extent constrained in what they can do in certain areas - through membership of international bodies eg the EU, NATO, the UN etc - nobody as far as I know has claimed that this means these countries are no longer independent.  The key is whether or not a country has the power to decide which international agreements to sign or not.  
And it is precisely this power - the right to decide to join or not to join in international institutions, that both Macwhirter and Malc omit.  At present Scotland does not contribute to any of these important international institutions, though we are of course bound by their decisions.  This I would contend is one of the key benefits of independence - we will have the right to participate and contribute directly on our own.
A particularly worrying aspect of this debate is that it is used by some/many as another way to muddy the waters of independence.  As one of the commentaries to Better Nation wrote:  “the promotion of independence is being stymied because of an insistence in setting out exactly what decidions and independent Scotland might reach before we talk about achieving the right make those decisions.”
This I believe is precisely what Macwhirter in his column is hoping to achieve.  For it is important to note the Macwhirter and others like him, such as Gerry Hassan, are not committed supporters of independence.  Formerly closely attached to the Labour Party they have become more and more disenchanted by that party and have seen the SNP as a progressive alternative in Scotland.  But both are at heart deeply committed to the UK.   And just for the record if you are not sure what independence means, just ask some Danes or Slovenians.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

2 Argentinian Films

Argentinian films are more conspicuous by their absence than anything else.  At least over here in Scotland.  However the recent award of the Oscar for Best Film in a Foreign Language to an Argentinian film may help encourage more cinemas to show films from Argentina.  I must admit that I have seen hardly any Argentinian films so it was with no great expectations that I went to see The Secret in Their Eyes, the winner of the Oscar which was shown last month at the DCA.

As it turned out this is a very good film and well worthy of the Oscar.  Directed by Juan José Campanella and based on the novel by Eduardo Sacheri, the DCA billed the film as a thriller, which surprises me as it is not at all like a thriller.  It is in fact quite difficult to categorize the film.  There are elements of various genres in the film.  On the original posters it is billed as "a crime, a mystery, a love".

While the acton does revolve around a murder and the tracking down of the murderer, this is only really the backdrop as it were to the film.  In the first place the murder took place some 20 years or so earlier and we soon find out who did the killing.  So there is no great mystery to be resolved there.  However these scenes take place in the dying years of the Presidency of Eva Perón.  This was the beginning of the "dirty war" against civilians and the murderer was released to act as an agent of the secret police.  This brought the film`s protagonist, Benjamín Espósito, the legal counsellor who led the case into conflict with the secret police, and Benjamín has to flee Buenos Aires to find work in provinces.  This does provide us with some edge of your seat moments, but these are not prolonged enough to justify calling the film a thriller.

All these events are told in flashback as Benjamín, now retired and back in Buenos Aires, tries to write a novel about this case and in particular find out what happened to the murderer.  Many of these scenes are quite comic as Benjamín`s assistant, Pablo Sandoval, is often drunk and the pair of them make a suitable odd couple.  It is in fact Pablo who makes most of the breakthroughs in the investigation.

However the heart of the film for me was the simmering, but unfulfilled romance between Benjamín and his then boss, Irene Menéndez Hastings.  She comes from an upper class background and Benjamin can never quite summon up enough courage to declare his love.  Now that he is retired and researching for his novel he is often in contact with Irene again, who is still the boss of the department.  It is clear that their feelings have not changed, but can Benjamín overcome his fears?

This is an exquisitely filmed work with a tremendous cast.   Guillermo Francella as Pablo Sandoval and Pablo Rago as the husband of the murdered woman are excellent.  However the two leads are simply outstanding - Ricardo Darín as Benjamín and Soledad Villamil as the lovely and demure Irene.  Darín in particular puts in a powerful performance and his role dominates the film.  However he and Villamil clearly have some chemistry between them and you can feel the tension and hidden passion in their scenes together.

As a Scot I was particularly taken by the first appearance of Soledad Villamil.  Introduced as the new boss of the department her last surname - Hastings - was pronounced as in Spanish, ie without sounding the H.  Immediately, Irene corrected the person and stated that her name was pronounced with the H as Hastings was a Scottish name.  Oh, how easily we Scots can be pleased.  Even for non Scots this is a great film and well worth seeing.

To complement this post I thought I would briefly recommend the other Argentinian film that I have seen recently.  This was last year and was shown on TV.  Nine Queens (Nueve Reinas) was produced in 2000 and was written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky.  It also stars Ricardo Darin.   Here he plays a con artist who enlists the help of another, younger conman in order to carry out another money making scam.  This revolves around the Nine Queens of the title, which refers to a rare group of stamps.

The scam becomes ever more complicated as more and more characters become involved.  With a fair amount of double dealing going on, you are never sure until the very end just who will come out on top.  This is a very clever and subtle film with fine performances from all the cast.  Ricardo Darín and Gastón Pauls play the two conmen and dominate the film though the supporting cast are all good, especially Leticia Brédice as the love interest.  I enjoyed both these films and must somehow try and see more films from Argentina.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Media in Scotland

A free press is regarded by many as one of the key characteristics of the Western World.  It is however rarely questioned, especially by members of the mainstream media, just what it means to have a free press.  For most people a free press and by extension a free media is one that is free from control by the state.  In that sense most of the media in many parts of the world is indeed free and independent. 

However there is more to the media than just freedom from state control.  If not the state, then who does control the media?  This would seem to be a pretty important question.  But alas, one that the media itself rarely asks, or bothers about.  For example is it not just as important that the media fairly represents the diversity of opinions and cultural background of the peoples who make up the readership?

This is particularly important for us in Scotland, where, though free of government control the mainstream media is anything but representative of the readers and viewers. 

One aspect of this Scotland shares with just about all other countries.  Namely the mainstream media routinely offers but one world view.  And that one view is not just pro capatalilst, but increasingly neo-liberal in its economic and social prescriptions.  It is also, at least in North America and Europe, very neo-colonialist in its treatment of other peoples.  While alternative voices do get the occasional space in the media eg greens and left wing critiques, they are drowned out by the torrent of pro-establishment voices.

Where Scotand differs from this is that in addition the media here is completely unrepresentative of the views of Scots on what we might term the constitutional question.  Thus all the mainstream media in Scotland is not just opposed to independence, but in the main ferociously hostile to the very notion of Scottish independence.

What makes the situation even worse is that in addition to the Scottish based media, we face a barrage of UK titles on the newstands.  All the main UK, ie English papers are on sale in Scotland.  Which of course takes away market share from Scottish papers, thus reducing their financial viability.  It goes without saying that the English based papers are all totally opposed to Scottish independence.  Now this is not an argument in favour of banning English papers in Scotland, but to point out how different the situation here is from other countries.  In Denmark for example I am sure you can buy the main UK and German newspapers, but are all of them on sale in every town in Denmark?

And of course TV is dominated by the BBC which is supposed to be the British Broadcasting Corporation, but in most respects is really the English Broadcasting Corporation.  What this means is practice is that the BBC is very strongly committed to maintaining the UK and therefore hostile to Scottish independence.  BBC Scotland is very much a poor cousin with little in the way of resources to produce credible programmes on its own and would not be allowed to present independence as a viable option.  The same is true for the independent network, which is in the main controlled from London.  Scottish Televison (STV) does try to promote Scottish programmes, but again is underfinanced.

Thus we have the situation in which an important strand of opinion on a vital political issue – independence – is not just unrepresented, but is actively and often ferociously attacked by all parts of the mainstream media.  This is surely not what is meant to happen with a free press?  After all if the media is free from state control then you would expect some parts of the press at least, to reflect the views of what is a substantial part of the population. 

Look at the numers for example.  Opinion polls and actual voting in elections show that support for independence ranges from 25% to 40% of the electorate.  Let us say that around a quarter of the population is strongly committed to independence and another 15% are quite favourable to the idea of independence but not as yet completely convinced.  That is a lot of people, which in turn represents a huge marketing and money making opportunity.  Why is it that nobody has made anything of this prospect.

This would seem to indicate some kind of market failure.  Capitalists are supposed to meet the needs and wants of the people, especially if there is money to be made.  Could it be that the main financial institutions are more ruled by their personal and institutional committment to the UK than to making (even more) money by exploiting a commercial opportunity.  Again one would expect that some in the mainstream media would be analysing this, but no.  It does seem that in the UK British nationalism triumphs over commerce, at least as regards Scottish independence.

It is clearly something similar with regard to the lack of any mainstream left wing newspapers or media outlets.  Once again all studies show that large numbers of the population of all countries are much more left and progressive than the traditional media and the traditional political parties.  So why are their views unrepresented in the media? 

All of the above has a serious side to it.  One of the main, if not the argument in favour of a free media is that without a free media, people are not in a position to make up their minds in relation to the key decisions that affect them.  Such as whether to vote for independence or to vote for an alternative economic system.  A media that is unrepresentative of the views of the people means that our political choices are diminished and devalued.  Which of course suits our establishments just fine.  Can it be changed?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Photo of the Month - August

I tend to take a lot of photos nowadays.  This phase began in 2003 with the birth of Liam, our first grandson.  As your typical doting grandfather, I just had to take photo after photo of the new baby.  So a digital camera was required.  The first was a 3.1 magapixel Olympus, which served me rather well for five years.  I then bought a more advanced, but still very simple point and shoot Panasonic, which I promptly destroyed by getting it soaked in the Adriatic.  So I now use another Panasonic, an 8 megapixel Lumix with a 10x zoom.  A lovely little camera.

Anway I now take photos not just of our now three grandsons, but all sorts of other photos as well.  Most of them just end up in a file on the PC.  A few get printed out each year for an album and some get posted on Facebook.  However I rarely look at them afterwards.  So the idea for this post is to revisit the latest photos and select a few to reflect what I have been up to, photographically speaking, over the previous month.

First up is August and as we were in Switzerland visiting Emma & Co for part of the month, most of the photos come from there.  I tend to take more photos when away on holiday.  August 1st is Switzerland`s national day and we all celebrated this with a brunch at a local park - Park im Grüene.  Here is Alessio with his new best pal, Madison, who was also on holiday.
From the same day, below is a photo of Arlene, one of Emma`s oldest friends in Switzerland. A Canadian, Arlene has the happy knack of putting on a glamorous pose naturally.
The next few photos were all taken in either Kilchberg, which is where Emma lives, or in Ruschlikon, the next town along the lake.   The first is part of a window display for an interior design shop.
Below is a photo of pebbles through the waters of the Zürichsee.  Most of the lakeside has lovely clear water.
Next is one of the many natural meadows you find all over the place.  There are lots of these, usually quite small protected nature reserves.
I find I like to take many photos of flowers, and below is a lovely group from a garden in Kilchberg.
I end this section with one of Alessio in the rain.  He just loves to be out and about in the rain and is always up for a pose.
The next few were all taken in Zürich.  The first is a wooden sculpture of footballers which lies just inside the grounds of FIFA`s headquarters in Zürich.
Second is this scene from the flea market at Bürkliplatz.  The bus from Kilchberg into Zürich arrives at Bürkliplatz, so we often have time to wander around the stalls.  Some very fine and interesting stuff.  A lot of it is too large for us to take back to Scotland, but this collection of hats was most tempting.
Finally a collage of photos from the Botanical gardens.  This is a favourite place of ours as there is plenty of interest for both us and Alessio.
The Swiss collection ends with a couple of photos from a bit further afield.  First up is this traditional style building which houses the local museum in Sarnen, the capital of one of Switzerland`s smallest cantons, Obwalden.
Finally a fine view of traditional half timbered houses from Horgen, one of the larger towns on the southern side of the Zürichsee.
Not too many photos this month from Scotland, but here are two that I liked.  First up this view from the beach at Monifieth across the Tay estuary to Tentsmuir forest.  I wanted to try and capture the feeling of looking through the vegetation.
For August I could not fail to include at least one photo of Liam and Jamie.  Liam had his 7th birthday on 29th and here he is about to blow out the candles on his cake with a little help from Jamie.

Monday, 6 September 2010


September has always been one of my favourite months.  The weather is usually still pleasantly warm.  Indeed in recent years September is almost a summer month - no doubt the effects of global warming.  Gardens are full of late summer colour with asters, dahlias, fuchsias and Japanese anemones for example all in full bloom.  However the signs of autumn are there such as the ever darkening evenings, the changing colours of leaves and the appearance of bright red berries on rowan trees.  For September is the month of the Autumn Equinox, which this year will occur early on the morning of 23rd.  Of course for people living in the southern hemisphere, this day will be their Spring Equinox.  For us northerners, make the most of this day, when the hours of day and night are of equal length, for thereafter it is all downhill towards deep midwinter.
To cheer us up a bit there are plenty of things to do in September.  If you have never been to a genuine HIghland Games in Scotland then one of the most famous is held in Braemar in Royal Deeside.  Known as the Braemar Gathering this event has been going on for something like nine hundred years.  The usual attractions will be on display - Highland Dancing, Piping, Tossing the Caber, Putting the Stone, Throwing the Hammer and Tug of War.
For beer lovers Munich is the place to be in September.  Despite its name, the Oktoberfest will start on 17th September, though it does run on into early October.  This year is the 200th anniversary of the festival so expect something extra special.  This will include daily horse races which are included to remind everyone of the origins of the festival - a horserace to celebrate a royal wedding.
Another great city to visit for something special in September is Barcelona.  There you can participate in and enjoy Barcelona’s biggest annual festival - La Mercè.  This is dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy, the main patron saint of the city.  The festival has been on the go for over a hundred years and is very popular with all Barcelonins.
The heart of the festival are the traditional celebrations of Catalan culture:  the sardana, a communal dance;  the castellers - the human castle builders;  the street parades and the exciting correfoc or fire run with the dragons and devils spitting out fireworks.  Here is a video showing highlights from previous years.  Barcelona likes to celebrate not just its Catalan heritage, but its tradition as an open city which welcomes people from all over the world.  To this end La Mercè includes a programme of events which celebrate the culture and traditions of a guest city.  This year Dakar, the capital of Senegal will add its own colour and joie de vivre to the festivities.
September is also a pretty important month this for those of a religious persuasion.  Ramadan, which started in August, comes to an end on 9th of the month and is followed by Eid-ul-Fitr.  This celebrates the breaking of the month of fasting.  Eid-ul-Fitr is a joyous time, but its underlying purpose is to praise God and give thanks to him. It is also a time when old wrongs are forgiven and money is given to the poor.

This year September is also the most important month in the Jewish year.  Three key religious celebrations take place this month.  It all starts on 9th with Rosh Hashannah, also known as the Jewish New Year.  This is also the start of the 10 Days of Repentence, when you say sorry to God for all the bad things done in the past year.  It all comes to a conclusion on Yom Kippur, which falls on the 18th this year.  Also known as the Day of Atonement, this is the holiest day of the year for religious Jews.
For Hindus September is the month for celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi.  This is the birthday of Lord Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati, the God of wisdom.  On this day, 11th September this year, Ganesha bestows his blessings on his devotees.  It is celebrated with devotional songs, dances and processions.
My branch of the Rutherford family has three events to remember in September.  The first was the marriage of Alexander Philp and Elilzabeth Robertson.  This took place on 15th September 1879 in St. Andrews.  Their daughter LIly Philps was my paternal grandmother.  My aunt Betty was named after her grandmother, Elizabeth Robertson.  The second was the birth of my maternal grandfather, James Davidson Henderson who was born on 23rd September 1882.  Alas, he died long before I was born.  The third event to remember is the birth of the youngest of my grandchildren.  Alessio Cameron Turi was born on 3rd September 2006 in Kilchberg, Kanton Zürich, Switzerland.  So a very happy birthday to Alessio.  Below you can see Alessio blowing out the candle on his birthday cake.
The modern and traditional birthstone for September is Sapphire.  This stone symbolizes truth, sincerity and constancy.  The metaphysical properties associated with sapphire are clairvoyance, insight and interpretations.  Deep blue is the colour most favoured as a birthstone.  The one below is star of Bombay sapphire.  
Asters are the birth flower for September.  This is a lovely flower which is usually in full bloom in September.  Blues and purples are the most popular.  In Greek mythology asters were created from tears from Astraea, the goddess of innocence.  The flower represents daintiness, love and magic.  To give someone a bouquet of Asters means that you feel that person has cast a magic spell of love on you.  So here’s hoping September brings us all a little bit of magic. 

Friday, 3 September 2010

FC Barcelona - the new season starts

Another football season has finally begun in Spain.  The first matches were played over the last weekend in August.  As usual Spain was the last of the major European leagues to start.  And promptly close down after just one round of matches due to the qualifyers for the next European Championships.  Not the ideal way for clubs to prepare for a long season.

Barça have made a fine start to the season.  They have already one trophy, the Spanish Supercopa winning 5-3 on aggregate against Sevilla.  They also started the league campaign with a 3-0 away victory over Racing Santander, including a first league goal for their star signing, David Villa.  But what are their prospects for what is likely to be a long and hard season ahead?  

At this early stage, things look good.  There has been quite a turnaround in players with five of the first team squad leaving and three new signings arriving.  So it is a fond arrivederci to Ibrahimovic, Henry, Marquez, Chygrinskiy and Touré Yaya.  While we offer a warm benvingut to Villa, Mascherano and Adriano.   In addition the club has managed to loan out once again a number of fringe players who no longer have any future at the Camp Nou.  These include Hleb, Càceres, Henrique and Keirrison.  All in all it has been pretty good business in a financial sense for Barça.  They only had to make a net outlay of around €10 million.  Which given the age of austerity we all live in, is not bad at all.

What about the football though?  How will all the comings and goings affect the team`s performance on the field?  Here again first impressions are positive.  In the first place none of the players leaving were automatic first choices.  Touré left precisely because he was second in line behind Busquets for the defensive midfield role.  While even Ibrahimovic had lost his place during the run in to last season`s finale.  With the arrival of Villa, his place was even less secure.  The other players leaving hardly played at all last season.  Of course in the case of Ibrahimovic there were other non footballing reasons for his departure

Of the newcomers the big signing was David Villa from Valencia.  A proven goalscorer both with his club and the national team, Barça really wanted to sign him last season to replace Eto`o, but this was not possible and Ibrahimovic came instead.  However, now they have their man and he is likely to do very well with Barça.  Unlike Ibrahimovic he can play anywhere across the front line.  In fact some would argue that his best position is attacking from the wide left.  This will be crucial for Barça as Guardiola wants a very flexible front three with lots of interchanging of positions.  In particular Messi is likely to play as often as not in the centre forward position.  At least he might start there, but with complete freedom to move about.  In Spain this role is known as the falso delantero. 

Javier Macherano is the other big signing.  The captain of Argentine is a first class defensive midfielder.  It is though, a rather surprising signing, in as much as he has come knowing that he is unlikely to be first choice.  However Mascherano has made all the right noises and expressed his willingness to compete for a place and to be at the service of the team.  I have always liked Mascherano as a player and this looks like a very good piece of business for the club.  The third newcomer is another Brazilian from Sevilla - Adriano.  He seems to be a very versatile player who can play either left or right back and also in midfield.  He is unlikely to become a regular player but offers good cover for a number of positions.

This is very important for Barça, as Guardiola believes in running a very small first team squad.  The current one has only 19 players, including the two goalkeepers.  Which is a very tight group for such a long and possibly arduous season.  However Guardiola prefers this as it makes for a more competitive squad in which everyone is guaranted to play a fair number of matches.  In addition of course, Guardiola will call upon players from the B team to cover any real emergencies.  Already some of these youngsters have played for the first team and a few of them will get their chance during the season.  So look out for the likes of Jonathan dos Santos and Thiago Alcantara in midfield, and Sergi Gomez, Andrew Fontàs and Marc Bartras in defence.

Once again the main targets will be the league and the Champions League.  How likely?  It has to be said straight off that winning three league titles in a row is a very, very rare occurrence.  It was last achieved in Spain by Johann Cruyff`s legendary Barcelona Dream Team, when they managed to win four in a row between 1991-1994.  So an enormous task awaits them.  Once again the main challenger, perhaps the only challenger will be Real Madrid.  They will be desperate to prevent Barça from winning again and to this end they have not only signed lots of new players, but also a new coach in José Mourinho.  Mourinho of course has a great record of winning league titles in Portugal, England and Italy, not to mention the odd Champions League as well.  So Real will be hoping that he can repeat the magic at the Bernabéu.  Not that even Mourinho will find this easy.  Like last year he has to create a winning team from a large number of players, some of whom are very good.  If anyone can one is tempted to say that Mourinho is the one to do it.  It should certainly make for an exciting season.

As regards the Champions League, once again it is hard to see beyond the usual suspects, with Chelsea, Manchester United, Inter Milan as the most dangerous rivals.  Silvio Berlusconi is spending big money again and AC Milan may also prove a real threat.  And of course if Mourinho does  manage to weave his magic, then Real Madrid will also be in there as real challengers.  

All in all this is shaping up to be an exciting and enjoyable season.   Particularly with the arrival of Villa, Barça should be an even greater goal scoring threat than last season and look fair to rival the triple winning team from 2009, at least in terms of goals scored.  We will need to wait till next May to find out if they can also repeat the winning of titles.  Visca Barça!