Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Sunday, 29 February 2004

Scottish Tories fall prey to another botch-up

This is the same kind of botch-up that allowed Duncan Smith to gain brief, and disastrous, leadership of the UK-wide Conservative Party. Are they determined to stay a joke party in Scotland?

Saturday, 28 February 2004

'The Passion' - Mel Gibson's latest movie

I have not seen this film and had not really planned to (it is not yet on release in the UK). However, this review in Slate by Christopher Hitchens does, to use a dreadful pun, 'slate' the movie.

Some of the things he says about Mr Gibson have made coalesce some of the vague impressions I have had about Mel Gibson for some years - I cannot say why, but he has always given me the creeps. I will certainly now never pay money to see this film (thus contributing funds to this person's cause), but if it is in some years shown on television I probably will watch it as a sort of cultural experiment. But for now I think I have learned all I need to know. (Link thru Andrew Sullivan - whose review I had already read a day or so ago.)
California State Supreme Court declines to ban gay marriage precipitously

At the urging of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer had asked the State Supreme Court to halt further gay marriages and to annul marriage licences already issued. The court has declined, and instead has asked opponents of gay marriage to file papers with the court at the end of the week.

I think what this means, reading between the lines, is that they want the bigots to justify themselves in a court before they (the court) are prevailed upon to deprive some citizens of their equal rights. This is a very fundamental issue, where the US does not have an entirely unblemished record, and it is right that the court is insisting that the issues be clearly stated so there can be no fudging of the issues involved, rather than simply bowing to partisan political pressure.

Friday, 27 February 2004

The battle for the 'Telegraph' Group is now wide open

Conrad Black has been lambasted by Judge Leo Strine in a Delaware court, who said Black had:

"breached his fiduciary and contractual duties persistently and seriously"

The 'sweet deal' earlier announced by Black to sell the Hollinger group to the Barclay Brothers is now off and the operation will likely go to auction, presumably obtaining the best price for ALL the existing shareholders, consistent with satisfying the competition authorities as to the implications for the diversity of the British press as well as the suitability of potential purchasers to own a major newspaper group.

One cannot help but feel that this latest twist in the saga at last restores some sanity to the process by which this company is to be reorganised for the future.
Roman Catholic Church in US begins, possibly, to address the sickness at its core

It is pleasing to note that at least a start has been made by the Church (of which His Holiness the Pope is still the 'capo') in addressing the crimes committed in its name over many years by employees who were shielded by the Church for far too long.

But there is still a lot to do - there is no place for complacency - in the US and in a number of other countries.
An anniversary from history - fire at the Reichstag

Seventy-one years ago today. A lot has happened to the world since then. (Amusingly, there is a slight 'Guardian moment' in the date quoted at the top of the linked page - good to see some things don't change!)
What's your country?

According to this, I'm Spain:



You're Spain!

You like rain on the plain, as well as
interesting architecture and
a diverse
number of races and religions. You like to
explore a lot,but sailing,
especially in large groups,
never really seems to work out for you.
Beware of pirates
and dictators bearing bombs.
And for heavens' sake,
stop running around bulls! It's just not safe!

Take
the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid


Link thru Rittenhouse.
Tourism to Saudi Arabia - well it's certainly an idea

Whether it's a good one is perhaps less certain:


The supreme commission for tourism's website lists those who will not be allowed in: Jews; people with Israeli stamps in their passport and

"those who don't abide by the Saudi traditions concerning appearance and behaviour"
and
"those under the influence of alcohol".


I lived in Jeddah for a couple of years in the mid-1970s and this reminds me of an incident shortly after I arrived in the Kingdom and before I bought my own car so was using taxis quite regularly. One day my journey took us past the 'Guest Palace', a large edifice located in the Corniche area, just down the doad from where the US Embassy was located (this was before all the embassies moved to Riyadh, of course). The taxi driver excitedly pointed to the Guest Palace and told me this was where Henry Kissinger had stayed recently; "and he's a Jew you know, he's the first one ever allowed in officially" the driver informed me, with a look on his face which seemed to be a mixture of shock, mixed with a certain pleasure for it showed just how 'modern' the country was.

I enjoyed living there, though, as it was certainly at that time very safe from a personal security point of view - it really was not necessary to lock a car door overnight with valuables inside, as I inadvertantly proved on two or three occasions. This link to some (pretty poor quality - sorry) photographs I took when I lived there shows that it is not all desert, though.
British television stations 'Channel 4' and 'Five' in merger talks

I heard a snippet about this on BBC Radio4 this morning, but here is a more detailed report on what is apparently going on. I wondered a while back, when Channel 4 abandoned its major (in British terms) involvement in firm sponsorship, if this wasn't a harbinger of things to come - it seems to have been.
ESA Rosetta launch delayed for a second day

... this time by technical problems. The whole project sounds exciting, but extremely audacious in its complexity - start the animation just to see how complex the whole mission is going to be. If it succeeds it will surely be a technical triumph.
Spying at the UN .... unimaginable or simply inevitable?

Clare Short, a former Labour cabinet minister and apparatchik (albeit of the 'bolshie' variety) par excellence, lobbed her hand-grenade of venom at her Party leader yesterday morning on BBC Radio4's 'Today' programme, asserting that the UK had intercepted telephone conversations to which Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the UN, was a party. Is anyone really surprised at this? It certainly didn't shock me out of my bed when I heard her on the radio yesterday morning!

I know nothing more than the average citizen about 'spookery', but I have always assumed that the need for timely intelligence information would always take preference over any such nicety as the Vienna Convention (which deals with international diplomatic law), or any other law which seeks to inhibit illicit activity. I expect all governments indulge in this from time to time; I'm not exactly condoning it (but nor am I condemning it, because I am sure it sometimes proves vital in enhancing our national security), but it seems to me to be completely naive to imagine that it isn't happening all the time - and Mr Blair's reaction to the whole matter at his press conference yesterday revealed, by intelligent inference and scrutiny of his body language, considerably more than he might have imagined (in my view). And listening to Boutros Boutros Ghali, a former Secretary General of the UN who was interviewed on the 'Today' programme on BBC Radio4 this morning, he didn't seem at all surprised either - he always assumed he was being bugged and rather than bleating about it thought the best strategy was to develop better means to detect/prevent it happening, whilst accepting that the 'psychological perception' that it was happening would change subtly, and inevitably, one's behaviour. A grown-up attitude, as is this, it seems to me.

Thursday, 26 February 2004

Give us your skilled, your young, your educated ....

Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell has announced plans to try and arrest the forecast decline in the resident population of Scotland (or read full text here), which it is estimated could drop below 5 million as early as 2009. Mr McConnell told MSPs:

"The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has agreed to our request to allow all overseas students from summer 2005 who graduate from Scottish universities who wish to remain here to live and work, to stay an additional two years. They will be allowed to stay in Scotland and seek any type of work during this time. And after that, they can switch into other legal migration routes."

Personally I find this very encouraging and look forward to a more diverse future. I suspect though that not all residents of Scotland feel quite so sanguine about this and it is a fact that the Scottish Executive has been running televised public service announcements for the past several months in an effort to combat the racism which undoubtedly exists in some parts of Scotland, visible mainly in large population centres in the Central Belt which tend, quite naturally, to have the highest (but still pretty low) proportion of non-indigenous (i.e. non-UK indigenous) residents.

One would imagine that those coming from the new EU accession countries would not be affected by the sometimes mediocre climate we have here, perhaps something that does not appeal to the vast majority of those whose original countries of residence have a somewhat warmer climate than ours (from my own past I know how difficult it was to get people to accept transfers to parts of Canada far away from the Pacific Ocean within the organisation I worked for - most preferred to go to Vancouver or nearby, rather than to Montreal or Toronto, for example. And who could blame them, beautiful cities as those two are?).
Howard withdraws Conservative 'whip' from Ann Winterton

The good lady has apparently made another racist remark, this time at the expense of the Chinese who died recently whilst cockling at Morecambe Bay. A couple of years back she was sacked from the Shadow Cabinet [scroll down the page to entries made on 5th May, 2002] for having made racist remarks about 'two a penny Pakis' during an after-dinner speech.

Unfortunately there are a lot of people inside the Conservative Party (and, let us be honest, in the other Parties, too) who probably think this way. Few are like Ann Winterton, though, in being quite so breezily unapologetic about expressing such views.
Maybe the Conservative Party really is changing ...

As I noted a few weeks ago, the Conservative Party's new leader Michael Howard announced he would personally vote in favour when the government's proposed Civil Partnerships bill comes up before the House of Commons. The contrast in the emerging policy of the main British right-of-centre political party in this area with that increasingly being espoused by the American Republican party is beginning to look quite stark. Some of the reasons for these differing approaches are discussed in this Guardian article.

The article also discusses a forthcoming 'gay summit' to be staged by the Conservative Party at the House of Commons during which some of the issues affecting gay people in Britain will be discussed - the ideas behind the summit are further explored in this article.

I resigned from the Conservative Party in September 2001 a few days after the last leader, Mr Iain Duncan Smith, was elected to the post - specifically because this had happened. With his replacement a few months ago by Mr Howard, when the Conservative Party had finally come to realise what an electoral millstone they had produced for themselves with Mr Duncan Smith, I was cautiously hopeful that the party had drawn back from imminent political oblivion. I have already been in contact with my local party association, of which I had been a vice chairman until my resignation, to advise them of my changing views and whilst it is too soon to say I am ready to re-join the party, it is certainly becoming a possibility. Fundamentally I remain a 'conservative', but the homophobic policies the party had been indulging its reactionary membership with were completely unacceptable. If a more sensible stance is gradually taking the place of the bigoted policies of both William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith then I may in due course give the party another chance, although whatever happens I shall provide them with no practical assistance other than perhaps paying a membership subscription, in advance of the next general election. The membership locally who voted for Iain Duncan Smith to become leader are still around and I want there to be no misunderstanding that it is they, and those like them elsewhere in the country, who got the party into the mess that Mr Howard may now be in the process of clearing up for them.

Wednesday, 25 February 2004

GCHQ trial collapses

Katharine Gun was accused of having leaked a memo which she saw in the course of her work as a translator at GCHQ, the main monitoring centre for the British intelligence services. After having made a formal plea of not guilty earlier today to the charge of having breached the Official Secrets Act (1989), the prosecution barrister announced that the prosecution would offer no evidence against Ms Gun. No explanation was offered.

It is believed that the government was anxious that documents the defence would have insisted be brought before the court, to aid their client's defence, should not be revealed as they would prove 'embarrassing'. The already leaked memo alleged that the US and/or the UK bugged key UN members' delegations to the UN last year.

It becomes clearer by the day that our government, and that of the US, played 'fast and loose' with their tactics in the run-up to the recent Iraq war. It may be that if the documents Ms Gun's legal counsel had insisted be revealed had become public, that serious breach of diplomatic regulations would have been shown to have happened - this would, rightly, have caused a furore. It seems that the less painful option of allowing their case against Ms Gun to be dropped has been chosen. None of this affects my attitude toward the wisdom of our action in Iraq - I still support it fully, but I just wish that our government had stated clearly its justification for participation as the need to rid the world of Saddam Hussein's regime. A good enough reason for me and, more importantly, I suspect most Iraqis.
Scotland's version of 'Groundhog Day' ..
.. Holyrood building costs hit GBP 430.6 million - and counting



Just 7 days (!!) after my last post on this subject the estimated final cost has risen again. There are fears, and very sadly these are probably justified, that the cost will eventually reach (or exceed) half a billion pounds.
Commenting by 'Haloscan' seems to be down

I've just noticed the 'comments' link below my entries has disappeared and I can't log onto my account. Normally I wouldn't have bothered mentioning this, because I would have assumed that the server was out of service temporarily. However, an error message I've tried to send to them at the e-mail address on their website has been returned as 'undeliverable', because the address is not valid. This makes me wonder what is going on.

UPDATE: ... and as at the time of writing (1.30PM GMT) seems to be back online, I'm pleased to note.

Tuesday, 24 February 2004

'Tit for Tat', or a ban based on genuine findings?

The US is restricting the import of luxury meat products from France. It may be an entirely genuine move based on honest research findings, or it may perhaps be a retaliatory measure. I cannot say, but the synchronicity of this move with steps taken only a few hours earlier by the WTO and the EU is curious, to say the least.
President Bush wants constitutional amendment banning gay marriage

This is no real surprise; his thinking on this matter has been very clear for some time. Whether this issue will, of itself, make any difference in this November's US Presidential election seems to me to be doubtful because it appears that both the current Democrat front-runners (Kerry and Edwards) seem to be opposed to the possibility of gay marriage also, from what I have read.

Luckily the religious 'wackiness' (of the Catholic and 'fundamentalist' varieties), which is fuelling the moves to have this anti-gay constitutional amendment enacted and which infects the US, is not likely to transfer wholesale across the Atlantic.

It has always seemed to me to be most peculiar, as an aside, that in a Republic where the inculcation or display of religious beliefs on Federal property is said to be impermissible, that US Presidents (of both varieties, Republican and Democrat) almost always end their public pronouncements with the words 'may God bless the United States ..' and even more peculiar that on the reverse of US paper currency appears the phrase 'In God we Trust'. I live in a country where there is technically a state sponsored religion, but it is of a pretty mild sort (even if I disagree strongly, as might be expected, with some of the uses to which the privileges afforded such religious bodies are put), and I would frankly be amazed if anyone here seriously suggested that such a ridiculous phrase be put on our currency in the UK. It may be OK for Her Majesty the Queen to end Her Christmas Day message with 'May God bless you all' or similar, but if a Prime Minister took to doing this regularly I think most people would find it quite risible.

UPDATE: Whether this constitutional amendment has any chance of passing the considerable hurdles any amendment faces before it can be adopted is, I suspect, rather doubtful. The Founding Fathers did their job so well, and with such foresight, that very few changes have been thought to be required in the 220 or so years since its ratification and only one amendment has rapidly been reversed by a later amendment (that on alcohol prohibition), because it came to be seen rapidly as unworkable. With this latest proposal seeming to be merely a pre-election gambit by Bush to try and wrong-foot his Democrat rival, whoever is ultimately chosen for this role, I would imagine that if Bush is defeated in November, and perhaps even if he is victorious, the push for this change will quickly lessen. Or perhaps I am just indulging in wishful thinking.
Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Weeks 34, 35 and 36



I reached target on Thursday 12th February 2004!!

Before and after shots - the one on the left dates from November 2002 and the one on the right was taken on 15th February 2004.

It was pretty obvious by Wednesday evening that I was there, but I preferred to wait another day before confirming it to myself; between then and the next 'reference' date on Sunday 15th February my weight had not varied discernibly so I then felt confident that I had identified my CCLM ('Critical Carbohydrate Level for Maintenance') as 48g carb a day. The following Sunday (22nd February) my weight was almost the same, having varied only by about 0.1 Kg (0.2 Lb) so far as I could see. I have quite deliberately slightly exceeded my original target, but only by about 0.3 Kg (0.6 Lb) so that my weight a couple of evenings ago was 64.7 Kg (142.7 Lb). Overall I have reduced my weight since I started this WOE ('way of eating') on 15th June 2003 by 33.3 Kg (73.4 Lb) - that's a few pounds in excess of 5 stones!! Measurement indicators for the last 3 weeks:
- waist down a further 0.1 inches to 30.9 inches (total reduction 14.1 inches);
- hips down 0.3 inches to 38.0 inches (total reduction 10.5 inches);
- thighs down 0.2 inches to 21.7 inches (total reduction 6.8 inches);
and if I can stay at these levels for the foreseeable future I will be perfectly contented.

A few weeks back I got myself a couple of pairs of 31 inch waist jeans and they are extremely comfortable, although at the same time I also got a few pairs of 32 inch waist chinos as I didn't quite yet have the courage to go for 31 inch for those, too, but whilst they fit very well I think that the next lot I purchase in a little while will very probably be 31 inchers as well (assuming I haven't allowed myself to 'balloon' meantime - fat chance!!)

I won't write here again about my 'Atkins' experiences for roughly another 3 months (toward the end of May 2004) - that's my initial significant target period to remain roughly the same weight as I am now, although I will shortly put up a link to some more detailed weekly diary entries I kept online during my weight loss period; they contain pretty detailed information about my diet and perhaps may be of practical interest to others who are thinking of giving the Atkins WOE a go.

Friday, 20 February 2004

Estonia and Scotland build commercial ties - the new Europe takes shape

During the mid-1990s, just a few years after Estonia broke away from the now-defunct USSR, there was a football match between the Scottish and Estonian national teams. This prompted a core of Scots to start businesses in this newly-liberated Baltic nation and has resulted in numerous Estonian and Scottish links through marriage.

Talinn, the capital, was formerly one of the Hanseatic League of cities which, for centuries fostered trade between themselves and other European countries, such as Scotland. Estonia will soon join the EU as one of the 10 new member states scheduled to join on 1 May 2004.
King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia says homosexual marriage should be permitted

King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia has announced in his website, in his 2nd text for 20th February (article 50 for February 2004) that gay marriage should be allowed as part of the diversity of humanity. His remarks were made after having seen television pictures of same-sex marriages in the past few days being carried out in San Fransisco (whose Mayor has for some days authorised the issuance of licences for such marriages, resulting in round-the-block queues and people camping outside City Hall to take advantage of this dispensation). The King's hand-written remarks are, as usual, in French - see the top two paragraphs of the first page of his manuscript text. The home page for his website is here. Link through the Guardian.

Thursday, 19 February 2004

Five Britons to be freed from Guantanamo Bay

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, just announced that 5 of the 9 Britons being illegally held (this is obviously my description, not the Home Secretary's) are to be released and returned to the UK. I shall believe this when they actually arrive on British soil, though.

It is not clear whether they are going to be charged with anything when they arrive in the UK. If there are valid charges which can be brought against them, or the other 4 Britons, then I am all in favour of them being charged and, if convicted, being sentenced to whatever punishment is considered just (excluding the death penalty, which has already been ruled out we are told). Otherwise they need to be released. Period.

The others amongst the 600 or so detainees at Guantanamo Bay need to be treated similarly - charged forthwith, or released. It is simply unacceptable for the United States, normally a bastion of freedom and democracy, to behave like an international gangster and hold people indefinitely without trial. They have not dared to hold any US citizen in Guantanamo, and for good reason. It is becoming increasingly clear that, whilst I strongly suppported our and the US governments' actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, this present US administration has lost all sense of proportion in what is right and wrong for the government of a democracy. The verbal gymnastics which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been using to try and justify his government's monstrous actions no longer washes (after two years!!), if it ever did.

Wednesday, 18 February 2004

South Africa goes into denial (again) about AIDS treatment

I did not know that "beetroot and lemons were part of the ideal diet for HIV-positive people", or were part of ANY recommended 'treatment' for HIV or AIDS, but this is apparently the view of South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. She also thinks that "people on anti-retrovirals might in future be weaned from the drugs in favour of African traditional medicines".

One wonders if this represents a return to the policy of denial until recently espoused by South African President Thabo Mbeke.
Holyrood building costs hit GBP 421 million - and counting

Whilst the Fraser Inquiry into this fiasco continues, the clock is still ticking on the costs of building the new Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood, an increase of GBP 20 million since the last estimate was published in September, at which time we now learn that the real estimated cost even then was GBP 411 million! Our parliamentary representatives who are supposed to be overseeing this project never thought to tell us, the paying public, about this - this is no surprise, unfortunately.
Homophobia in West Lothian - SNP, Tory and Independent

SNP councillor Eddie Malcolm objected to GBP 511 being granted to a gay switchboard (out of a total budget of GBP 4.3 million for voluntary organisations) and was supported in his objection by Tory councillor Tom Kerr and Independent councillor Duncan MacLean. Read his explanation here and see if you believe it any more than I do.

Saturday, 14 February 2004

Countries I have visited

Through the Rittenhouse Review comes this interesting link, which I have used to create my own world map of countries I have visited, some only quite briefly:


create your own visited country map
or write about it on the open travel guide

The countries I have lived in include, in chronological order of the first occasion I lived there: United Kingdom, Morocco, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Hong Kong, France, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam.

Thursday, 12 February 2004

Is the Anglican church in England thawing toward gays?

This Times article certainly makes me wonder if there might be grounds for cautious hope, if not yet outright optimism.

Wednesday, 11 February 2004

Left-wing idiocy from Polly Toynbee in the 'Guardian'

In an article charmingly entitled 'The real reason why we should fear immigration', leftie journalist Polly Toynbee couches her bigotry in the guise of protecting British jobs:

The better answer is to raise pay to a level people can live on. Let employers pay the fair market price - not one subsidised by tax credits.
and
People are right to fear immigration if it is used as a way to keep pay down.

This is of course the economics of a 'command led' economy, such as that operated in the former USSR until it collapsed under the weight of its own illogicality.

This ignoramus about matters economic ignores that in the recent cockle-pickers tragedy at Morecambe Bay (when about 18 Chinese illegal immigrants perished because of the greed of illegal gang-masters paying them what she chooses to describe as 'slave' wages - I originally heard (elsewhere) that this was as low as GBP1 per day, although I have since read reports that interviews have been conducted with members of family (in China) of a couple of those who perished who indicate that whilst they were certainly being paid low wages, they were a great deal more than that. Whether they met the UK 'minimum wage' is not clear though. Of course, China is another 'socialist paradise' where there is democracy and freedom for everyone. The Chinese economy is booming, we have all heard about it, but it is not booming for everyone, and with the residency restrictions placed on 'peasants' moving from the countryside to the large cities (where the work is mainly located) it has the same kind of 'internal passport' policy that plagued the failed USSR.

The only part of Ms Toynbee's article that makes ANY sense is that we need a beefed-up employment inspectorate to ensure that the minimum wage is paid to everyone. As Ms Toynbee surely knows, there are many people who reputedly are paid less than this and that some of these people are British citizens who, for various reasons, are reluctant to claim what is their due under the law. But in the case of the 'cockles' at the heart of this tragedy, they mainly go for export to Spain and undoubtedly their final cost to the Spanish importer has a bearing. Sure, the British could make everything domestically and pay higher wages to all people working here, but our export markets would reduce drastically, given the competition (which we can do nothing about) from China, India, Eastern Europe and many less-coddled parts of the world.

There are many problems in this country, but a return to old-style 'socialism' with a semi-closed economy and exchange controls (else the currency would plunge through the floor), as practised by the Labour Party until they were kicked out of office in 1979, is definitely not the way to go.

Racism in this country must be fought, Ms Toynbee, not pandered to in the way that your article suggests we should.
Holyrood and the Fraser Inquiry - the dirt begins to fly in earnest

The analysis in the Scotsman of the current progress of the Fraser Inquiry into the fiasco that is the Scottish Parliament Building overspend summarises very clearly the dangers of allowing groups of people with no expertise in what they are supposed to be overseeing to spend a great deal of money belonging to other people (i.e. the tax-paying public).

Barbara Doig is an unattractive character (sorry, that is just my view), but she alone so far, of those I have heard, seems to have tried to ask some hard questions about who had been contracted to design and build this edifice, as well as the elected officials who were not exactly disinterested parties in the matter of procuring for themselves an ever more lavish working environment without any regard for those who would have to pay for it. One can hardly blame Barbara Doig for accepting a 'move sideways' so as to escape the mad Alice-in-Wonderland shortcomings of the project management and financing of this project.

Monday, 9 February 2004

Howard pledges support for Civil Partnerships bill

This is encouraging. Read the full text here.
Blunkett's latest idea - a British 'FBI'

Several different policing and crime investigation bodies are to be merged to form the "Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA)", announces Home Secretary David Blunkett. At first glance, this seems like a worthwhile idea, but knowing the history of this man for proposing hare-brained schemes which are quickly forgotten and left unimplemented, I will wait to see what actually happens.

In the Guardian article I link to above, however, one aspect interests me. It is mentioned that "Last year the home secretary announced plans that would allow foreigners to become chief constables for the first time." and that "He has already put ex-Boston police chief Paul Evans at the helm of the Home Office's Police Standards Unit." It is not clear that this legislation (if this is required) or change in regulations (if that is all that is required) has actually happened yet. This is relevant to SOCA because the Guardian article says "There were unconfirmed reports at the weekend that former New York police chief Bill Bratton could be named as head of the new organisation. Mr Blunkett is an admirer of Mr Bratton's zero tolerance tactics that saw crime in New York City fall by more than a third during his tenure."

Personally I have no qualms about a foreigner, as such, performing this kind of function provided they have taken an oath of allegiance to the Crown, as I think is required for police personnel and indeed for MPs (which is what Mr Blunkett is, quite apart from being a Privy Councillor, which I imagine he is also). Being made a Chief Constable is quite a different matter from being merely an expert advisor, which is what has happened hitherto, so far as I am aware.

Specifically in the case of a US citizen, however, is such a person permitted by the US Constitution to take such an oath, pledging allegiance to a 'foreign power', specially a monarchical one? Would such a pledge not be the equivalent of treason under Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution? Just a question...

Friday, 6 February 2004

Shocking , but good to see the Surrey Police taking an uncompromising position

Two Surrey Police officers have been accused and charged with rape, apparently whilst they were on duty. This is an outrageous crime, quite apart from being a grotesque abuse of authority, and is now before the courts.
Scottish support for same sex civil partnerships

RainbowNetwork reports the "overwhelming endorsement of 86% of respondents to the Scottish Executive's consultation on same sex civil partnerships has been warmly welcomed today by organisations supporting equality and stable family relationships."

Excellent news! Of course, all that now needs to happen is for this to be translated into legislation before the Scottish Parliament.
Speed dating goes gay in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh branch of upmarket store Harvey Nichols is to hold the first gay speed dating event in Scotland; it seems the event scheduled for 21st March is likely to be a huge success. It's good to see the 'pink pound' being recognised so positively.
Is this man for real?

Geoff Hoon, UK Minister of Defence, testified yesterday, whilst giving giving evidence to the defence committee, that:

"Since it was not a big issue at the time, it was not a matter we discussed"

referring to the exact status of the Iraqi weapons to which the '45 minute' delivery label had been attached. It seems hardly credible.

As one who was strongly in favour of the action to remove the odious Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and who remains firmly of that view, I am nevertheless nonplussed at the seeming lack of attention to details which really do matter, coupled with a meticulous attention to the minutiae when it serves only to cover one's own back. I think Hoon tests my credulity somewhat beyond previously tested limits!
A 'pushy female' delivers some well-deserved chastisement

Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield, a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University and the first female director of the Royal Institution, has delivered some merited criticism to anonymous critics who have threatened to resign from the Royal Society is she is made a Fellow of that august body:
"I think it is a great pity that those who do not have the courage to identify themselves can make unsubstantiated criticisms both of my science and of my activities in public communication."
and
"When it comes to engaging with the public, many scientists would argue that they do not have the time, the experience or, indeed, the motivation to give talks to the great unwashed. After all, it is no small feat to take your life's work and passion and strip it of all technical terminology and jargon to make it accessible. It involves ignoring the peer-revered trees to reveal the entire wood to a general audience in a clear, accurate and appealing way. Small wonder that, until now, such endeavours have been left to a small minority of media-hungry, luvvie apostates who, in the eyes of many 'normal' members of the white-coat community, are marginalised as 'real' scientists."


I can't get the feeling out of my mind that it is at least partly because she is a woman, and a clever and forthright one at that, which has particularly irked her cowardly detractors - 'cowardly' because they are unwilling to put their names to their criticisms. The final longer quote really says it all, I think.

Thursday, 5 February 2004

EU immigration in the wake of this year's expansion

There have been 'scare' stories running in the British media (this 'Guardian article is just one example) in the last few days that there is a danger of an influx later this year of 'benefit cheats' entering the UK from some of the 10 countries scheduled to join the EU in May. The subject was even addressed in the House of Commons during PMQs this week when the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, responded to a question from Michael Howard. Amazingly his response was reasonably clear and straightforward and signalled a general agreement with what Mr Howard was suggesting - this is not often the case in these two gentlemen's exchanges.

However, a worrying aspect of this matter is that it refers to 'Roma' from Slovakia and elsewhere (see at the very end of the 'Guardian' article). There is damning evidence that the human rights of 'Roma' in Slovakia have been routinely violated over many years and allegations that this has continued until very recently. See also here. It is crucial to Slovakia's plans to join the EU that its human rights record be 'clean' enough to satisfy EU standards in democracy and human rights, etc - whether this is genuinely the case is, in my view, still open to some considerable doubt.

The peculiarity of this particular debate, within the UK, is that the UK has chosen to permit immigration from accession countries immediately they join the EU whereas the other likely potential target countries for significant immigration (Germany, France, Holland) have taken advantage of clauses in the accession treaties for the joining countries which permit them to delay 'free movement of labour' rights for some years. I admit to some ambiguity of views myself about this matter, but I am troubled that a blind eye appears to be being turned toward the potential human rights abuses which may still be occurring in at least one of the accession countries in order not to slow down the EU expansion process, a process of which I am otherwise hugely in favour. But human rights are not trifling matters and the EU, if it is to remain true to its founding principles, must not gloss over such matters.

Tuesday, 3 February 2004

UK teen 'hacker' gets 200 hours community sentence

Joseph James McElroy (18), a student at the University of Exeter, was today sentenced at Southwark Crown Court as punishment for "unauthorised modification of computer data and impairing the performance of a computer under section three of the 1990 Computer Misuse Act", after having been convicted at Bow Street Magistrates Court in December. He had hacked into US Department of Energy computers responsible for US energy supplies and for the integrity and safety of US nuclear weapons.
Hit counter temporarily disabled

I use 'Bravenet' for hit counters, indeed for hosting my main website, too. 'Bravenet' seems to be having a problem today so I have temporarily disabled the hit counter here as it was preventing the page being loaded, at least on my browser. I'll restore it when things return to normal at 'Bravenet'.
UPDATE: 'Bravenet' seems to have come back to life so I have restored the hit counter here.
Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Weeks 30, 31, 32 and 33

I continue on 'Pre-maintenance' (PRM), the 3rd stage of this 'way of eating' (WOE), since 10th December and am now probably only two or three weeks away from reaching my target weight. I have slowed down my weight loss slightly more than when I last wrote here about this subject (on 5th January) so that over the past 4 weeks I lost a further 1.4kg (3.1lb), and for direct comparison with the previous time, over the past 3 weeks the loss was 0.9kg (2.0lb). During one of the weeks I lost almost nothing (around 0.1kg so far as I could measure it) so I cut back my daily carb intake a little from 47g to 45g for a week and seem to have regained momentum thereby. I am now pretty certain that my final CCLM ('Critical Carbohydrate Level for Maintenance') will be 47g or 48g carb a day - although as I have begun to take more exercise in the past four months - mainly light jogging - I suspect I may be able to push this to aroung 50g carb a day longer term. My weight is now (as at Sunday 1st February) 65.6kg, a reduction of 32.4kg since I began (or 71.4lb) - I now have 0.6kg (1.4lb) to reach my target of 65kg. Measurement indicators for the 4 weeks:
- waist down a further 0.7 inches to 31.0 inches (total reduction so far 14.0 inches);
- hips down 0.5 inches to 38.3 inches (total reduction so far 10.2 inches);
- thighs down 0.4 inches to 21.9 inches (total reduction so far 6.6 inches).

As I noted above that I expect soon to reach my target, I will write here again one week after the Sunday 'reference date' on which this happens - my aim is to keep my weight more or less completely stable during the week following when I reach target, to help me confirm that I have correctly assessed my CCLM. After that I hope not to let my weight vary by more than 1kg plus or minus. A daily intake of somewhere from 47g to 52g carb allows for a fairly varied and enjoyable diet so at this stage I anticipate little difficulty in being able to maintain this regime indefinitely.

Monday, 2 February 2004

Blunkett's latest plan to erode British democracy

Every few weeks or months the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, proposes new legislation which he dares to call 'reforms' with the aim, he says, of improving life in Britain in some way. They usually have one thing in common - an increase in the power of the state to interfere with or curtail the rights of the individual. Often the justification is that the proposals, if implemented, would improve the effectiveness of the Police and/or the Judiciary or that the change is required in order to help fight 'terrorism'. Another thing these proposals have in common, mostly (but not unfortunately always), is that the public outrage created soon causes the latest 'sound-bite' crackpot idea to be abandoned.

His latest outrage did not even take place in this country, but during a visit to India. Incidentally I am at a loss to understand why our Home Secretary is travelling on official business outside the United Kingdom and why he has made such radical proposals during such an excursion, even if there is a valid reason for it. Surely foreign trips are the province of our Foreign Secretary, or perhaps a Trade or Defence minister?

Blunkett has proposed:
- a major change to the level of evidence which would be required to secure a conviction by reducing it from "beyond all reasonable doubt" to "on the balance of probabilities";
- the applcation of this legislation to British nationals and allowing trials using this new level of proof to be held in secret;
- judges in cases involving evidence deemed 'sensitive' to require security-vetting;
- the withholding of 'sensitive' evidence from defendants.

Under emergency legislation, "the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act", introduced soon after the World Trade Center outrage in September 2001, foreign nationals are permitted to be held indefinitely and without trial, but in at least some of the cases they have the opportunity to return to a country of origin. This affects, currently, 14 persons - who were here ostensibly to claim asylum status. Two of the 14 have elected to return to their home countries rather than remain in prison.

The new proposed legislation would effectively extend these draconian powers to British nationals and, unlike the 2001 Act is unlikely (even theoretically) to be a temporary measure to combat a specific threat, but to alter fundamentally the tenets of British justice which have evolved over the last 800 or so years to provide increasing levels of protection for the individual against the tyrannical exercise of power by the state.

Specially worrying are indications from the main Opposition Party leader, Mr Michael Howard, that his Party would back the proposals if a 'proper' balance could be achieved to give:

"... the British people the proper protection against terrorism and not depriving innocent people of their liberty"

I have, to put it mildly, grave concern that putting such draconian power permanently in the hands of the state can result only, sooner or later, in the creation of what is effectively a police state. It must be resisted vociferously and continuously until abandoned.

Mr Blunkett has now made so many anti-democratic proposals as Home Secretary that his suitability to remain in government, far less in his current position, must be more than just seriously in doubt, for there is none. We need another Home Secretary, and quickly, for the sake of our democracy.
The Ghan sets off

I just spotted this news from yesterday, but think it is a milestone so deserving of a mention here. Yesterday the first trans-Australia train south-north set off from Adelaide for Darwin, after the recent completion of the gaps in the line to the Northern Territory city. This fulfils a dream spanning the last century and should allow Darwin to play a bigger role in the Australian economy as trade grows with Asia to the north.

Sunday, 1 February 2004

Thank your lucky stars that you don't live in North Korea

I wrote (scroll down the page from this link to find the article) in early January last year about the real danger I suspect North Korea poses and why it is being treated more cautiously than it was being contemplated Iraq could be dealt with last year at the time.

This evening I have been watching a very interesting programme 'Access to Evil' about a visit to North Korea by journalist Olenka Frenkel, shown on BBC2. All visits to that country are by specific invitation from the authorities there. The invitation was, it seems, extended so that the 'truth' (as the North Korean government sees it) could be told.

Olenka Frankel also had an article today in the Sunday Telegraph in advance of this evening's broadcast. Read the article and prepare to be shocked. Half-way through it you will probably be wondering how the person she interviewed, formerly a North Korean intelligence agent and before that head of security at Prison Camp 22, could possibly be relating what he was revealing in so seemingly calm a way. Read the final paragraph for the explanation - it is both sad and chilling.