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

Friday, 30 July 2004

Homophobic Peer stands down from BA board

Baroness O'Cathain has stood down from the board of British Airways (BA), where she had been a non-executive director for a number of years, after the airline was threatened with a boycott as a result of her anti-gay voting record in the House of Lords.

BA had strenuously opposed the boycott because, as it rightly pointed out, its record toward gays is in general good, but it seems likely that behind-the-scenes 'suggestions' were made that she should step down because of the controversy she had caused (this is of course not how BA is reporting it, but I think my interpretation is more likely to be accurate). BA has had to bow to commercial realities. Good riddance, M'Lady!

Thursday, 29 July 2004

Saudi Arabia proposes a new exclusively Moslem force to help stabilise Iraq

The Saudi proposal for a Moslem multi-national force to help stabilise the situation in Iraq sounds hopeful, assuming that Arab and other other Moslem states are willing to commit forces to do this. It seems that the proposal has been cautiously welcomed by the United States and the Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has, for his part, called on the leaders of Arab countries to close ranks to help Iraq. The proposals have come during an arab conference in Jeddah.

From what I gather, the Saudis realise that the instability in Iraq is affecting their own internal security. It seems that it will not be neighbouring states that might provide troops (I suppose for fear that they might overstay their welcome and threaten Iraq's existence within its present borders) and some of those whose names I have heard mentioned include Morocco and Malaysia. However, these are not particularly wealthy countries so presumably someone would be required to fund the operation - I imagine this is where Saudi Arabia can play a role: it helped to finance the US presence in the area during the first Gulf War, as of course did Koweit.

On the other hand I heard a gentleman, whose name I did not catch unfortunately, being interviewed on the radio whilst I was in my car a little while ago. He was from the Arab League and indicated his strong view that this whole plan is a non-starter because ... well he gave various answers, but the two themes which ran through his pusillanimous and negative comments could basically be summarised thus:

- the situation is very dangerous in Iraq and no member country (of the Arab League) would wish to commit forices under such circumstance. Trying, with difficulty, to remain 'neutral' in my remarks, all that I can say is that of course it is dangerous, that is why Iraq (Moslem and Arab brethren) needs help in their time of need;

- no member country (of the Arab League) would agree to commit troops whilst US forces remain in Iraq. Again trying to remain measured in my remarks, surely the whole point is that if fellow Moslems can help out in Iraq then it will be safe for the US (and the UK and other countries) to remove their troops that much more quickly.

The real reason for the Arab League reluctance, of course, is their determination that the Coalition presence in Iraq shall never be a 'success', and if the price for that is that Iraqis will suffer, then too bad! Whether the Arab Union will adopt a more enlightened stance is to be hoped for, but not necessarily expected. The inter-country bickering which has often characterised relations within the Arab world is a powerful negative influence and of course many tyrants fear an Iraq which may become a prosperous stable democracy, so jeopardising their own sorry futures.

There is also, in my experience, considerable resentment in some Arab countries which have Presidential styles of government, and which are only in the most theoretical sense democratic, at the wealth of some of their Gulf fellow-Moslem states which are still run as absolute or semi-absolute monarchies, for example Saudi Arabia, Koweit, the UAE and Qatar. In earlier times, before the discovery of oil, the wealth and sophistication of the arab world was all located in countries such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq and they rather looked down their noses at the backward Gulf countries, the inhabitants of which they often regarded as illiterate peasants. There is a lot of internal arab politics going on in this present situation, quite apart from the other basic confict over Palestine and Israel.

Vietnam remains a sinister communist police state ...

... despite hopes that 'Doi Moi' might lead to a more open attiude by the authorities toward [even mild] internal dissent. Cross the wire (set very low anyway) and this is what will happen to you.

New 'Links' section added - Aggregator Sites

I have added a new 'Links' section in my right-hand column, where I plan to include links to websites that aggregate recent posts to blogs that have submitted their URLs. This kind of website is very useful as it brings to my attention blogs which I might never have come across otherwise. If your own blog meets the criteria for any of these aggregator sites then it is simple to add it to the database, although new URLs added may not appear in the lists for some time. At present there are only two links in this section:

- The UKBlogs Aggregator is for blogs written by UK bloggers and is a good way of finding new blogs in the UK; there are a surprising number although many are of only limited interest to people outside the blogger's own circle. Nevertheless I have already identified a few which make for interesting regular visits and I doubt very much if I would have found them any other way;

- QueerFilter is, as the name suggests, a blog aggregator for gay and lesbian bloggers worldwide, although as the filter also suggests it is easy to filter the results to show only those which meet a number of criteria (country of blogger, gender, etc). A very useful and flexible resource.

I'll be adding further links in this section if I come across useful ones.

Complaint over 'gay slap' comment upheld by BBC

An ineffectual blow delivered during a Six Nations Grandstand game this year was described by commentator Brian Moore, a former England International, as a 'gay slap'. The match between Scotland and England took place last February. As this report indicates, ten viewers complained at this reinforcement of gay stereotypes. The complaint has been upheld. I regret I was not one of the ten who complained; I heard the remark, but assumed complaining would be ineffective. Next time (if there is one) I'll know better ...

Wednesday, 28 July 2004

National Trust for Scotland to allow gay commitment ceremonies in its properties

I read this report with some pleasure. It seems the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) is happy to allow various of the properties in its care to be used by gay couples for their commitment ceremonies. I remembered hearing at the time about the negative comment that the other National Trust (the one in England and Wales) had received when it was rumoured it might do this and was surprised - after all it is only the hire of a venue for an event that everone who attends will be on their best behaviour for and does not (unfortunately) have any legal significance.

It so happens I have been a member of the NTS for literally decades - since I was about 13 years old in fact, and am quite heavily involved (since I came back to live in the UK some years ago) with the local members' centre. The open attitude does not entirely surprise me, as I have met a number of the most senior people in the organisation a few times. I can only hope that their enlightened attitude will not be affected by any comments they receive from our own bigots here in Scotland (hint - think 'Stagecoach').

Are the police correct to threaten dismissal for BNP members?

A recent meeting of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has decided that police officers and staff who join the British National Party (BNP) face dismissal.

The BNP is an odious party with odious beliefs. Very few, other than BNP members, would find that statement in any way controversial.

However, the BNP is not an illegal organisation, nor is membership of the BNP illegal. There is room for debate as to whether it should be made illegal and there are things to say about that both from the 'yes' and 'no' sides of the argument.

The fact remains that the BNP is not an illegal organisation.

Imagine some scenarios from a few years in the future:
- (Dateline 17 July 2009) The ACPO have announced that police officers and staff in possession of CDs which include songs performed by 'Westlife' (and a number of other boy- and girl-bands) face dismissal. Whilst such CDs are not illegal, the ACPO considers these songs to be a crime against culture;
- (Dateline 25 March 2011) It has been decided by the ACPO that membership of the Labour/Conservative/Liberal Democrat (*) Party is not appropriate for police officers and staff because the ACPO believes that such membership would compromise unacceptably their impartiality in dealing with members of the public and as a result such police officers and staff face dismissal. (* - delete inapplicable)

Does this sound far-fetched? Possibly, but I could imagine a climate of opinion developing in which it might come to be seen as unobjectionable in either case given unforeseen events.

The ACPO policy is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!

The police exist to enforce laws passed by Parliament. The police do not exist to make law. The ACPO has exceeded its authority in making this policy decision and it needs to be challenged quickly.

It so happens that in my more paranoid moments I could be persuaded that the good of society would be best served if all 'socialists' were strung-up from the nearest lamp-post, but I think that if this policy were ever to be followed outside of my more lurid imaginings then it would prove only that the world had gone completely mad.

Perhaps a more sensible policy might be to make it a requirement for employment within the police that police officers and staff declare membership of a given range of organisations which might include political parties and other organisations such as the 'Freemasons' or any close religious affiliations they may have, for example. I would need some convincing that any of this was a good idea, though.

As it stands, the ACPO policy is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!

Tuesday, 27 July 2004

France: 'Mariage gai - Nul et non avenu' (Nul and void)

The marriage last month of gay couple Stephane Chapin and Bertrand Charpentier has been declared nul and void by a court in Bordeaux. This is on top of it already having been declared invalid by French Justice Minister Dominique Perben.

I think what the authorities are trying to say, although perhaps one cannot be absolutely certain, is that they do not wish marriages between people of the same gender to take place, despite the contention of the lawyers retained by the couple that no article in the French civil code forbade the marriage of two persons of the same sex and no text defined marriage as "the union of a man and a woman". Is there something I am missing here, or is it just the public confirmation of the profound prejudices which characterise French society?

Killer of Luke Walmsley (14) named as Alan Pennell (16), of Grainthorpe, Lincs

I wrote yesterday about this tragic case, after the guilty verdict was announced against the killer, a fellow pupil. At the time the killer's name could not be published because of his age.

Today Mr Justice Goldring sentenced the murderer to detention for life, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 12 years. At the same time the judge has lifted the reporting instructions which forbade naming the killer, who we now know is Alan Pennell; he was 15 at the time he killed Luke.

Mrs Jayne Walmsley, Luke's mother, spoke at a press conference this morning after the sentencing, describing the killer as follows:

"He was an evil boy who was a bully.

"That boy convicted of killing him today still has some form of life in front of him. Luke has not.

"We as a family are now trying to rebuild our lives without Luke. Trying to be strong for each other, especially his sister Lauren.

"There were no cameras in the locker areas and none in the alcove where he was killed.

"I do feel that there should be CCTV and it should be monitored during classroom changes."

I'll come back to this in just a moment, but meantime there is this link to an article in the Daily Telegraph today which throws light on the characters of the two boys -Luke Walmsley is said to have been sporty, academic and popular whereas Alan Pennell os described as a persistent, inarticulate bully feared and despised by his peers. It seems also that Luke had not wished to remain behind for his usual rugby practice on the day he was killed. It is speculated that he had heard that Alan Pennell had been stating openly for several weeks that he wished Luke harm and it may be that Luke feared something was going to happen on that day.

Now, back to Mrs Walmsley's remarks. I can only glimpse a small part of the loss and anguish that she and Luke's father have experienced every day since Luke's killing, or what they will probably continue to experience for a very long time to come. I am hesitant, however, at the wisdom of having CCTV cameras tracking pupils and staff throughout every second of the school day, although perhaps there is a case for having either active supervision or CCTV surveillance in locker rooms and perhaps in key corridors between classes. I am generally of a 'libertarian' right-of-centre bent and consider that continuous surveillance is to be avoided at almost any cost. Nevertheless I recognise the emotions which have led Mrs Walmsley to express herself as she did.

Spiderman 2 - a review

This film has been showing here for the last couple of weeks, but I hadn't really had time to go and see it - also I prefer not see movies in cinemas packed to over-flowing so prefer to wait until most of the initial frenzy has worn off. It is however a film I really wanted to see as I had enjoyed the earlier one and Tobey Maguire is obviously a pretty skillful young actor - his performance in Pleasantville was the first I saw of him and it was obvious he was likely to become quite successful.

Anyway, as I mentioned in my previous post, I thought a good way of passing a few hours whilst my dog was undergoing tests at the vet on Monday would be to go see Spiderman 2. I've read many reviews of the 2nd outing for this comic character, but I was confirmed in my desire to see it by what The Indepundit had to say.

It lived up to what I had heard about it. I'd split it up into three main segments: a high octane first section, a lull in the middle phase, reaching a further crescendo of action toward the end. The special effects are pretty amazing and the evil (by nature or circumstance) characters don't disappoint. Maguire gives his usual 'geeky' performance with great aplomb. The plot is, of course, rather thin, but that doesn't really matter. This is a movie experience where you are overwhelmed by the visuals and the sound. The over-the-top nature of the Marvel comics version, specially the newspaper editor, is faithfully reproduced. Well worth seeing.

Monday, 26 July 2004

My dog has not been well, but at least I now know what is wrong ...

For the last three or so weeks my dog Tara has not been a well doggie; she has had a persistent cough, but otherwise has remained moderately 'frisky' and her appetite has been good.

As I noticed she was not well a day after I got her back from the kennels, where she had been placed for a long weekend, I wondered if she had contracted the dreaded 'kennel cough'; the next day I took her to the vet and she advised she didn't think Tara showed the symptoms of that malady, but in any case gave her an antibiotic injection with instructions (to me) to contact her again after the following weekend if all still was not well. Unfortunately her conditions remained as bad as before - regular coughing fits, as if she was trying to bring up phlegm, but not succeeding. Another dose of medication was prescribed, this time a ten day course of antibiotics by tablet. Still no joy, so I took her back last week to the vet again and an appointment was arranged with the vet's main practice in Forres, a town about 12 miles east of Nairn (where I live), for her to have an endoscope, ECG and X-rays done.

All that happened today. The upshot is that the X-rays and endoscope revealed that her heart has become quite enlarged and is exerting pressure on her windpipe and her lungs, which show signs of having quite a lot of fluid in them - hence the coughing and efforts to bring up phlegm. Luckily, though, the ECG show that her heart function is quite normal in rhythm. She is also somewhat overweight - 12Kg, whereas she should ideally be just under 10Kg. She has been prescribed two lots of drugs, the first to deal with the fluid in her lungs and the second to encourage her heart to work harder; the present course will last for a week, but will likely be continued for a while longer after further check-ups. My job is to bring her weight down, by reducing her diet a little. The anasthetic she was given this morning, so the endoscope and X-rays could be done, and no doubt the stress of the whole experience, has left her 'whacked' - I hope she will be a little better in the morning. Already, however, the coughing has stopped, so I assume the drugs are already beginning to have the desired effect. She had another anasthetic about four years ago as she had to undergo a small operation to remove a small [luckily non-malignant] growth on one side of her muzzle and I recall her being quite subdued for a few days after that, so I knew what to expect.

Tara is now very slightly over ten years old so, with a little luck and assuming we can 'crack' the present problem, I will have her around for some more years yet.

To occupy a few hours of the time Tara was at the vet today, I took the opportunity to see a movie - that will be the subject of my next posting.

Don't panic!

The government has today published a booklet to advise citizens how to react and behave should there be an unforeseen crisis, for example a terrorist attack. Every household in the UK is to receive a copy of the booklet and the awareness campaign is supported by TV spot ads, which began this evening.

I will comment further when I receive my copy of the booklet, meantime the Home Office website has details.

Google searches that surprise me

Just a little while ago, there were two Google searches which alighted on my little blog:
- "Luke Walmsley gay"
- "Luke Walmsley bully"
from different IPs, one from an identifiable source in the UK, the other anonymous (although I know the IP, too).

Why today? Luke Walmsley was murdered last November. Well, today the verdict at the trial of the alleged killer was announced and the fellow-pupil who stabbed him to death has been found guilty and will be sentenced tomorrow.

I feel, frankly, appalled at the mentality of people who can even contemplate putting such queries into a search engine, particularly today. What purpose does it serve? Whether he was gay or not is completely irrelevant - I am frankly not interested in knowing if the killer had as a motive that he suspected Luke Walmsley was gay or not; such a motive would not be acceptable, if it existed, in any circumstances. The evidence I heard on the radio earlier this afternoon indicates that the killer had a long-standing grudge against his victim and had uttered threats against his life well before he carried out the act. As for Luke Walmsley being a bully, well I have over the months since the murder heard no glimmer of suggestion that this might have been the case - possibly quite the reverse.

Have people got nothing better to do than to put these kinds of queries into a search engine? What are the motives behind such queries?

The killer cannot be named for legal reasons, because of his age.

Sunday, 25 July 2004

Link added - Sore Eyes (John Robinson)

I came across Sore Eyes earlier this evening when scanning down The UKBlogs Aggregator. Sore Eyes is a blog by John Robinson - he has a lively writing style and covers a wide range of topics, some serious and some frivolous. He seems to be a film and music buff. In his old blog he tells us he is a civil servant living in North Shields in the north of England.

France, Turkey and the EU (and the US-psyche)

There is an interesting article in Newsweek about a supposed change in the policy of President Chirac, therefore presumably France, toward the accession of Turkey to the European Union. France has until now been firmly opposed to this, but the article suggests that Chirac's position has changed and that he will now support an application by Turkey to join the EU. It is suggested this flows from commitments by Turkey to purchase Airbus aircraft and suggestions Turkey may seek to acquire French nuclear [power-generation] technology.

The article also discusses the rivalry which has developed between Chirac and French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who remains firmly opposed to Turkey joining the EU.

Whilst all this is very interesting, and to some degree enlightening, it is also clear that the current running through this article is one I have touched on before; the basic opposition in the US toward further EU expansion and integration; the US seems to believe that an enlarged and more integrated EU, specially one dominated by France and/or Germany, will be a 'rival' to the US itself.

It is true that the EU is probably the only potential rival, economically, to the US. Whether it is a potential military or political rival is far less clear. And in any case I think it shows [regrettably typically-American] naivete to have its world-view limited by what seems to be a blind loathing of all things French, to the extent that it is a point of serious discussion in certain quarters that one of the rivals in the forthcoming US Presidential election is "too French-looking", or renaming "French Fries" as "Freedom Fries" - of course, we Britons call the latter "Chips" anyway, a name Americans reserve for what we in the UK call "Crisps". Now, apart from this detour into some of what separates two major forms of English (British, the original and best [that's a joke, by the way, just to irritate], and American), this American obsession with France is bizarre. It smacks, frankly, of some kind of inferiority complex amongst some Americans. The US is the most powerful nation on earth, what do they (or should they) care what France thinks? Apart from the normal courtesies of relations between civilised countries the answer should probably be 'not much', once you get over the trade links between the two of them, which I expect are reasonably significant. The fact, however, that there is such an obsessive negative view of France from a pretty important segment of the US population speaks volumes - they really do care, but seem to hate themselves for caring, what France thinks and does.

Just a final couple of points. I used to read Newsweek regularly, indeed I subscribed to it for many years (mainly when I lived in the Middle and Far East) and I always considered it a vastly superior publication to its main US rival, Time, although neither compare in quality to The Economist. How Newsweek and Time compare nowadays I can't really say as I now read neither very frequently. However, when the writer of the article in Newsweek can say "The admission of a populous, nationalistic, Muslim Turkey (with the most votes in the Union) would certainly dilute Paris's influence.", all I can say in response is that the writer really does need to check his facts - Germany, with a population of 90 or so millions, is vastly larger than Turkey with about 65 or so millions today. Of course,to be fair to Newsweek, it may be alluding to the very different demographics of Turkey and most of the present EU member states who have ageing populations, as in many industrialised countries. Turkey has a very different demography with over 60% less than 30 years old (in 1997, the latest figures I have). I got the Newsweek link from Andrew Sullivan - that really says it all, so far as obsessive anti-EU(ism) - to coin a word - is concerned.

But so what? We in the UK favour the entry of Turkey into the EU, just as we favoured the entry of the ten countries which joined in May this year. Scare stories about a "nationalistic, Muslim Turkey" might wash in the US mid-west, but frankly they don't wash here.

Once your DNA gets taken by the state, they'll have it forever

It appears that if a DNA sample is taken by agents of the state (i.e. the Police), in connection with an offence which it is alleged you may have committed, it will not be destroyed even if no charges are ever brought against you or indeed you are found not guilty. This seems to be another case where the hoary old "You have nothing to fear, if you have nothing to hide" argument is being used to try and justify what is in fact a monstrous extension of the power of the state over the individual. Obviously I am delighted that Big Brother wants to watch over me and the whole of society [not].

I was alerted to this alarming article in the Daily Telegraph (by the always excellent legal correspondent Joshua Rozenberg) by White Rose; my only excuse for not having read the article myself yet is that summer weather tends to make outside activities more attractive - another 'weakness' which the state (and our beloved New Labour government) is not slow to exploit. Even if Parliament has now risen for the summer recess, the state is still in the business of burying its steely talons deeper into our necks.

The catalogue of blunders revealed in this article in the Scotsman made by 'the authorities' when conducting telephone surveillance operations is yet another example of the extension of the power of the stae in what seems to be, in practical terms, a completely unchecked manner. As Simon Davies, of the watchdog group Privacy International, said:

"We already have grave reservations about the huge increase in this sort of snooping. When you realise they are making such basic errors, it makes you wonder how far you can trust them to do the job correctly, even if you do accept that they are doing it with the best of intentions."

As for the blunder when a police officer had his mobile 'phone bugged, surely he has nothing to hide, so should not be in any way concerned - it always brings such matters more sharply into focus when the person affected is one of the 'watchers', doesn't it?

Saturday, 24 July 2004

How unlike, how very unlike the home life of our own dear Queen

This shocking incident [irony alert] disrupted the Governor-General of Australia in full flow during a speech to the Family Council of Queensland in Brisbane. The very location of this stunt adds to the piquancy, both for the state's name and for the fact that a former State Premier was noted for his 'traditional' views, although I daresay things are different now. It amused me anyway ...

NB/ I've often wondered about precisely where the title I have used came from; I knew it alluded to the late Queen Victoria as a commentary from an audience-member during a play, but this scholarly article gives the low-down, if you are interested.

Children and 'pocket money'

In a somewhat surprising finding, a survey reveals that children in Scotland receive the most 'pocket money' per capita in the UK, followed by those in the south-west. Curiously, or perhaps not so curiously, these are not the wealthiest parts of the country; the part that is, the south-east, gives its children considerably less.

I seem to recall that, in the dim and distant (sigh!) days when I received 'pocket money', my level of pocket money always seemed 'adequate', if not exactly generous and like most children I probably spent most of it on sweets, although I did spend quite a bit of my limited resources on books, magasines and even charity (I've supported one particular charity continuously since I was about thirteen).

The only amusing incident I can recall is that one month my father forgot to give me my allowance and I didn't bother to mention it because I had enough money saved at the time for several months anticipated spending. However, the following month I did ask for my allowance for that month along with the allowance for the previous month that he had forgotten about, adding that I wanted late interest at the Bank of England base rate for the overdue period and that this would amount to an additional amount of 'X' (I forget how much it was, probably only a few tens of pennies). My father and my mother exchanged startled glances and he said, "sorry, son, here it is" - no arguments, just a bewildered look on both their faces. It is probably now no surprise to anyone why I found myself making banking my career!

Princess 'pushy' Michael of Kent and racism

I referred a while back to an alleged gaffe by the wife of one of HM The Queen's cousins whilst dining in a New York restaurant.

Her attempts to retrieve her reputation continue; I am coming to the conclusion that she, as an individual, is probably no more culpable of harbouring racist thoughts than many other people of her generation whose cultural upbringing makes it almost impossible for them to open their mouths without making worse a situation in which they have inadvertantly found themselves. I concur with the article - stop digging!

'Beenie Man' goes on US tour

A number of UK concerts by this Jamaican rap artist were recently cancelled because of protests by the gay community, supported by advice from the Police that they would endanger public order. Lyrics in many of Beenie Man's songs extol the virtue of killing gays and lesbians. There is, in fact, no 'hate crime' in UK law protecting gays and lesbians, but fortunately we are [like any other citizen] protected from those advocating physical harm, or actually carrying out such physical harm.

Now it is reported that this person is to tour the US and give a series of concerts, probably singing many of the songs for which he has become famous/notorious. I hope that the US authorities will act to prevent him performing those of his songs which advocate violence aganist gays and lesbians. Free speech is one thing, but the incitement of violence surely does not count as legitimate free speech.

UPDATE: (Saturday 24JUL 16.10 BST) With reference to an exchange in the comments section for this post, this is a link to a recent post on 19 July about another Jamaican rap artist who, it is alleged, doesn't just sing about violence against gays and lesbians, but carries it out.

Prisoner and court security in Scotland

There has been a great deal of comment recently about the private security firm Reliance, which is now responsible for much involving the custody of prisoners and their movements to and from courts during trials within Scotland. Before these functions were 'contracted out' of the public service, it was the Police and Prison Service which assured these functions.

This latest story, about three prisoners having been left inadvertantly overnight (and perhaps for the weekend?) in court cells after the close of business, allegedly because of an oversight on the part of Reliance, really gives me no clearer understanding where responsibility for this lies (I deliberately avoid using the word 'blame').

It has been alleged, almost since they took over their duties, that Reliance is incompetent in performing what it is contracted to do and that things were much better in the days before it was contracted out. Perhaps this is so - I cannot say. Perhaps it is those who object, on principle, to services such as this being contracted out ('privatised', if you will) who are concocting scenarios to throw doubt on Reliance's abilities. It strikes me that it would be very easy for those functions still in the public service to make life awkward for an 'interloper' of whom they disapprove. At any rate, the reporting on this issue (whether from the media, or from the Scottish Executive) needs to go a whole lot further in examining what is really going on, rather than relying on reporting which is content to examine the matter only on the surface.

We hear little nowadays of how BT or telecoms in general, or BA or UK airlines in general (to name just two) were superior prior to privatisation of the state [quasi-]monopoly providers - because they most certainly were not. On the other hand there are continuing claims that the privatised railways are a 'shambles' compared to the situation under British Rail, when any dispassionate analysis reveals that things were pretty awful under British Rail, too, and there was precious little that could be done about it by the suffering public; exactly the same situation we still live with under the quasi-monopolist behemoth that is the National Health Service (NHS).

My instincts in the case of Reliance are that the company is probably reasonably competent, but is the victim of 'cussedness' on the part of the public services with which it must deal, who depserately want the policy of contracting out custody services to be reversed. But I cannot be sure - we really do need an independent examination of what is going on.

Friday, 23 July 2004

Scottish Parliament building may not be finished on time ...

... for its scheduled opening in eight days time. No surprise there. I haven't been down to Edinburgh myself lately, but this report makes it sound as if a project which is already three years late and GBP390 million over-budget, will not be able to obtain the crucial 'occupation certificate', without which it will be impossible for staff to be moved into the building. The whole situation would be laughable if it weren't so downright shoddy and outrageous.

Sacha Distel dies, aged 71

French singer Sacha Distel died yesterday 'after a long illness' (assumed to be cancer). I have a soft spot for a few French singers and actors (for example Catherine Deneuve, Johnny Hallyday, amongst a number) and Sacha Distel, whilst perhaps not amongst those, was certainly a talented individual who always provided good value; he had one of those French accents which was escpecially delicious to hear when he spoke English, which he did with a high degree of competence. By all accounts, and despite his somewhat 'rakish' reputation in Britain, he led a perfectly normal and stable life. Rest in Peace. An obituary and an article.

Mandelson rumoured to be named UK's new EU Commissioner

Peter Mandelson has twice resigned, so far, from high office in controversial circumstances, but rumours (no doubt fuelled by leaks orchestrated by 10 Downing Street) that he is now to be named as our sole EU Commissioner (*) from the UK are swirling around.
* - reduced from two until now, to make way for the new countries which joined the EU in May 2004.

It is only a week ago since there was another telelvised attempt to explain Mandelson to a not-so-loving public (the occasion was an interview by former spin doctor in chief to Tony Blair, Alistair Capmpbell, broadcast on Five TV) and like all such attempts to resurrect this man's political reputation was clearly orchestrated to prepare a credulous public for his return to a major position in public life.

The fact that Peter Mandelson is a gay man should not blind anyone to the fact that he, like Tony Blair, is a danger to British democracy - even if I was surprised to hear the vehemence of Germaine Greer last night on 'The Week in Politics', Andrew Neil's political slot on late-night BBC2 television. She cited many of the themes that have been exercising me for several years about this government and whilst I don't go quite as far as she did last night in using 'scare' language to describe some of the changes planned or passed by this government, I definitely agree with the broad thrust of her arguments. Just a few - ID cards, trial by jury, satellite monitoring for road pricing purposes of all vehicular traffic, various measures taken purportedly to protect us against terrorism, the emasculation of the House of Lords. Peter Mandelson has been a prime political strategist for this government since before it came to power and has undoubtedly continued to exercise his skills in employing propaganda since he resigned for the second time a few years ago. On the two occasions he held high office he showed in different ways his unfitness for such positions; it is folly of an almost unimaginable scale to allow him anywhere near high public office again, gay man or not. This is a direct reflection on Tony Blair and calls his own continuing fitness for high office into question, depsite my firm belief that he was correct in his basic strategy over Iraq.

UPDATE: (Friday 23JUL 11.30 BST) Mandelson's nomination as an EU Commissioner is confirmed.
2ND UPDATE: (Friday 23JUL 13.15 BST) It is being reported on the main BBC1 lunchtime news that Blair had wanted to bring Mandelson back into the cabinet, but backed-off in the face of strong opposition from several other members of the cabinet. At least this shows there are some people in the cabinet prepared to stand up to Tony Balir and prevent him from making an even more outrageous appointment.
3RD UPDATE: (Friday 23JUL 15.10 BST) I've just seen Mandelson interviewed by Mark Mardell on BBC News24. He's a slick speaker, no doubt about that, but his assertion that only those who are generally anti-EU will be opoosed to his appointment whereas (according to him) those who are pro-EU will be glad to have a strong proponent of the EU like him in Brussels, is glib to say the least. For the reocrd, and to confirm what anyone who has been reading my blog for a while will already know, I am fervently pro-EU. He seems to equate the EU with himself; rather arrogant, but no surprise there.
4TH UPDATE (Saturday 24JUL 10.20 BST) The propaganda war to resurrect the reputation of Peter Mandelson continues. Read this and see if you are any more convinced than me.

US House of Representatives passes Marriage Protection Act

The vote was 233-194 and was passed largely because the House is controlled by the governing Republican party, although about 27 Democrats voted for the change, too - indeed without them it might not have passed at all!

The lower house vote comes only a week after the Senate rejected the Federal Marriage Amendment to the US Constitution. The present vote will have the effect of allowing states not to recognise gay marriages contracted in states where this is permitted (e.g. Massachusetts) and is seen as a stratagem, in an election year, to by-pass the US Constitution by making law not subject to higher Federal judicial review. Most commentators I have read seem to think that the US Supreme Court would, given its current composition, overturn this legilsaltion as unconstitutional if a case was brought before it. The most assertion is that this could happen because of the safeguards included in Section 1. of the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution, but I have no competence to comment on how likely or not this is, except to comfort myself that most commentators seem to think it is unlikely this latest act will survive unchallenged.

Gay partnership blessed by Church of Scotland minister

There was a very interesting segment on 'Newsnight Scotland' tonight (Thursday) on BBC2.

Two gay men identified in the programme as Rab Wickstead and his partner Alex Valentine, who were filmed openly for and spoke during the programme, today had their relationship blessed by a Church of Scotland minister, the Rev. Iain Whyte. It seems that selected CofS ministers are now being authorised, if they choose, to bless gay relationships. Reverend Whyte stressed at the beginning of the blessing ceremony that it was in no way a 'marriage' (that would, in any case, be illegal here at present - unfortunately), but at least he and the CofS are making a small effort to adapt.

Of course such blessings have been conducted discreetly for some years by ministers/priests of various religions here in the UK, usually without the overt approval of the church organisation concerned. This is the first time, however, that I am aware a major UK church has addressed the issue directly by allowing such blessings to take place semi-officially. It does represent a small step forward.

As a non-religious person such matters are entirely irrelevant to me personally, although I recognise that for the couple involved it was obviously very important for their relationship to be 'recognised' by a minister. Whilst I do feel pleased for the couple, specially as one of the two is suffering from terminal cancer, I am sad for them that they cannot be married like any other loving [heterosexual] couple. I am also sad for myself because I feel so grateful for such a small thing; even today, the position of gay people in society remains so precarious in many ways that even small glimmers of hope are welcomed [almost] without qualm.

There is no link [yet] that I can trace on the BBC website, except this - if you scroll down until you reach the 'Newsnight Scotland' section and click on the link included there, you can watch the programme for yourself - this segment starts about seven minutes into the programme, so unless you want to watch the whole thing you can use the pointer on the media-player screen to fast-forward. This edition will only be up on the site until tomorrow evening, though, when it may well be replaced (although as 'Newsnight Scotland' only airs Monday thru Thursday it may perhaps remain up until Monday; I'm not sure). If I do find a link to this story in print format on the web tomorrow I will add it to this post - ironically the first weblink for a print article I have seen is on the Scottish TV (i.e. a commercial station) website.

UPDATE: (Friday 23JUL04 08.55 BST) Here is a link to this story in the Scotsman; additional details not provided in either the television broadcast link or the other link above are given.

Thursday, 22 July 2004

Government plans major cuts in UK military

The government yesterday announced major cuts in Britain's military strength affecting all sectors of our armed forces.

The changes are said to be part of a plan to make them, according to Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Michael Walker:

"more suited to 21st Century challenges",
and would
"allow Britain's armed forces to remain... the best in the world".

Some are criticising the moves, specially various of the opposition political parties (Conservative, Liberal Democrat and SNP - that I have heard about so far), no doubt at least partly because it will have a major effect in areas of the country affected by military bases being closed or reduced in size. It is estimated that 20,000 jobs will be lost as part of the efforts to modernise the forces. On the other hand, Army head General Sir Mike Jackson has been quoted as saying they would provide:

"increased capability, greater continuity",
and
"A lot of what has come out is exactly what we want from our future army structure".

The heads of the other two main arms of the military were perhaps less enthusiastic in their reactions.

As a non-military person I do not feel qualified to make any comment about the merits of the changes, although it does seem that whilst our smaller forces will at least remain reasonably close to the forefront of the 'technology of war', the raw ability to place boots on the ground to deal with crises in various parts of the world at short notice will inevitably be curtailed. I have been reading for months about the strain of maintaining, and providing acceptable duty rotation for, our forces in various areas (Northern Ireland at home and Afghanistan, Iraq and perhaps Sudan in the near future); also the capability of ensuring that the value of military intervention is not lessened by an inability to provide the personnel to help rebuild afterwards - Iraq and Afganistan are examples of this, both for for the UK and the US. What seems to be happening is that very difficult choices are having to be made to make the best use of what are finite resources - as a taxpayer and a citizen I have a foot in both sides of this argument.

These cuts are not the first, of course, to have happened in the last few decades; I recall hearing every few years during my adult life that force reductions were being undertaken. There is an excellent graphic in today's Daily Telegraph (print edition only) showing the changes which have occurred between as recently as 1990 and the present. More tenchant views on what is going on are expressed here than are used in some of the other links I have used.

The cuts will particularly affect Scotland in that the six (remaining) Scots army regiments will be merged into only one or two units. However according to this report the notion that any of the six will disappear entirely, in some form (specifically referring to the Black Watch and the Highlanders), is discounted by Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin; as not all the details have yet been published, or perhaps even decided (amazing - perhaps they were awaiting reactions before doing so!), we will just have to wait for this to become clear.

UKIP MEP's gender blunder costs him a place on a key EP committee

Sorry for all the acronyms in the title above; in case any of them are unclear, this is what they mean:
- UKIP / United Kingdom Independence Party
- MEP / Member of the European Parliament
- EP / European Parliament

Now, to the story. Godfrey Bloom MEP made some bizarre comments a few days ago concerning the role of women "of child-bearing age" in the workforce. At least partly as a result his wish to join the women's rights and gender equality committee of the EP has been thwarted and he will instead sit only as a potential substitute member.

The leader of UKIP's EP representatives, Nigel Farage, has stated that the party's 11 MEPs hoped to disrupt and delay new EU legislation and it was feared that the work of the committee was likely to be disrupted by his presence. A neighbour back home in Yorkshire (which forms part of his constituency) is quoted as describing him as a 'buffoon'; from his appearances yesterday in television interviews (the first time I recall having the pleasure of seeing and hearing him) I would have to agree that this categorisation seems entirely apposite.

New link added - Bill and Kent

Bill and Kent are a gay couple living in Coventry, Connecticut and write on a wide variety of topics, with a focus on matters affecting the gay community in the United States. They post some lovely photographs, too, taken near their home and from their various travels. I have been reading their blog for some considerable time, but I probably wouldn't have come across it had I not noticed the link in Shadowfoot's blogroll.

Wednesday, 21 July 2004

Why use a 'mule' when you can get a dog?

Or how to exploit man's best friend and subject a couple of them to death or needless suffering. Two desperados who attempted to bring cocaine into the UK, surgically implanted into the stomachs of two dogs, are told by the trial judge that they can expect lengthy prison sentences. I hope the sentences they are given will ensure they are kept out of circulation for a very long time!

An interesting take on Senator John Kerry

I came across an article about the upcoming US Presidential contest that is a little different (at least to ones I have read before). It does not pretend to be non-partisan, as it's written by the vice-chairman of Republicans Abroad in Hong Kong, Mark Simon. The article appeared in The Standard, one of the main English-language newspapers in Hong Kong. It seeks to extrapolate from Senator Kerry's absence from the recent Senate vote on Bush's proposed 'Federal Marriage Act', thus according to the article abandoning a core group of supporters, gay voters, who have according to the article raised millions of dollars for his campaign, by suggesting it confirms/reveals what many have said about his character.

As usual, I remain 'neutral' on US domestic politics, except to observe that those whom one might have expected to support the gay community are, when push comes to shove, often little better than those who openly oppose the gay community. We see the same political expediency at work in the UK, with regard to the Labour and Conservative parties. Politics is a rough business. One's "friends" are often little better than those one might more usually consider one's principal "adversaries".

Pink pound, pink dollar - but spending is discretionary

I've been reading a lot in the past week about a 'gay family-values' cruise which was taking place in the Caribbean and which was scheduled to stop in the Bahamas. There was some speculation that protests against such 'deviant' visitors might take place.

It seems that a high proportion of the passengers on the cruise ship decided that, if this was the attitude of the places the ship was to visit, then they wouldn't go on shore excursions and spend their money on people who despised them.

The economic consequences of this for some of those in the Bahamas are described here; sad as I am, in a way, that business was damaged on this occasion, another part of me is grimly amused. It's a simple fact that tourist spending is entirely discretionary and I for one can easily understand the reluctance of the passengers on this cruise to pump money into economies where the spenders, as people, are not wanted. I daresay there were plenty of onboard diversions to keep them amused.

There are a number of countries seeking to attract tourists (for example many Caribbean nations and places such as Egypt) which are, frankly, best avoided if you are gay. Not to worry, though, there are many other countries only too happy to welcome free-spending and generally trouble-free visitors - a category into which very many gay people who take regular vacations fit very easily. I would much rather spend my money in countries which welcome my custom.

Tuesday, 20 July 2004

The bizarre internet searches some people indulge in

Occasionally I notice a visit to my little site which has happened as a result of a Google search of a more than usually weird nature.

Earlier this evening, someone visited as a result of searching for 'Swahili pussy'; now I have used both those words separately, but never together and certainly not in the context I think the searcher was looking for. Whilst the search is not precisely 'profane' in nature (and you won't find profanity anywhere in any website I am responsible for) it is probably in very questionnable taste, if that phrase means what I take it to mean. Just goes to show there are some unusual people out there.

The wonders of home photo printing and digital photography

For the last four or so years, specially before I got myself a digital camera (that was about two and a half years ago), every time I have a 35mm film developed I have asked for a photo-CD as well as the usual set of prints; this has made getting selected photos into my PC that much more straightforward, not to mention improving the quality dramatically over what one can usually achieve with a scanner.

This is fine for sending attachments to e-mails, or for uploading pictures to websites, but I've always found printing out usable 6"x4" glossy (or matt) prints to be a pain using most commonly available printers (I have a couple of Lexmark printers and an HP too). It's easy enough to print out photographs on A4 size paper, of course, and I have achieved very good results using both glossy and matt photographic quality paper. However, I don't always want to have A4 size prints, and positioning 4"x6" (10cm x 15cm) photo paper accurately in my printers tends to be hit or miss - in my experience.

To try and solve this problem, I've been thinking for some time of getting a dedicated 4"x6" photo printer. In recent months Kodak have been advertising widely (in the UK) their dedicated printer docks for use with Kodak Easyshare digital cameras, and as my present digital camera is made by Kodak (4MP) I have considered one of these. However, I'm thinking of changing my digital camera (or more precisely gettting an additonal one - probably 5MP or 6MP), which may well not be a Kodak. So I have concluded it would be better to get a 6"x4" photo-printer which is not dedicated to Kodak Easyshare cameras.

So this afternoon whilst in town doing some shopping I picked up an HP Photosmart 145 printer and, naturally, rushed to set it up once I returned home. It was remarkably straightforward to do this and so far I have printed several photographs using two different qualities of 4"x6" glossy photo paper - it is simplicity itself and the results are really very good, specially on the higher quality paper although the other paper produces perfectly acceptable results, too.

Some of the photographs I have printed out so far were taken using my digital camera, some using my 35mm camera and transferred onto the PC from photo-CDs. The printer itself has several slots to take the flash cards straight from most types of digital camera, but I haven't bothered to use that so far as I find it more convenient simply to upload selected photos from the camera direct to the PC and delete the rest. Altogether I think this new little printer is a worthwhile addition and will encourage me, perhaps, to keep my photograph albums more up to date than they have been in the past few years - in the UK I paid just under GBP100 (something like USD180) for the HP 145, so with the costs of paper and ink to add in it probably isn't strictly cost-effective, but in terms of convenience it is a winner. The simple ability to do this so easily at home is something that could scarcely have been envisaged only a few years ago.

There may just be a glimmer of change, even in Vietnam

I realise this is a specialised interest, not likely to be noticed (or thought important) by many other people, but as a former resident of Vietnam and with a number of firm friendships formed there, some of which remain valid to this day (of an entirely 'non-initmate' kind, just to clarify), this article interests me a lot. The parameters within which gays, or anyone else who challenges even in the most trivial way the social or political order in Vietnam, must operate are very tight; that even the kind of thing portrayed in the article can happen is something of a step forward even if, in practical terms, not very much else has probably changed.

PS/ Incidentally, and on a completely different tangent - or perhaps not so different after all if you sympathise with Mr Forrest, the subject of the posting prior to this - this happens to be post number 666, according to my 'Blogger' article count indicator. I thought that was an amusing aside that I should share.

Mr Forrest, proprietor of Cromasaig B&B, shows his true colours

If there was ever any doubt that Mr Forrest was a raging homophobe (you know the kind, "I've got nothing against them, but..."), then this must surely dispel it:

"No-one is doing anything about this. The way I read it, this new law would make us take them [gay people] whether we like it or not.

"That is going to destroy tourism in the whole of Scotland. It's about time somebody stood up and said this is our moral stand against what's happening in this country.

"We have to do it because everyone just seems to be following the gay line. Everyone seems to be supporting this minority group who make up 0.2 per cent of the population. How can 0.2 per cent of the population of this country effectively rule it, apart from the fact that 50 per cent of the Members of Parliament we have are p***s anyway.

"I have support locally to stand as an MSP. People have said it's a good idea and it's about time somebody stood up for them. I have no political affiliation and would stand as an independent on moral grounds."

He added: "Can you imagine old Mrs McPhater in Harris taking a couple of p***s in? I think not.

"They wouldn't even be let in the door, whereas I was being reasonable and saying they could have a twin room."

As for that last bit, the notion that any self-respecting gay person would consent to sleep under the roof of a property owned by Mr Forrest, after he had stated his objections to renting a gay couple a room with a double bed in the most objectionable of terms, is simply ludicrous. He cannot imagine for one minute that he is fooling anyone.

All that said, however, if Mr Forrest wants to stand as an MSP then he has every right to do so; he has broken no law, as things stand. Whether the good folk in his prospective constituency truly merit having him as their MSP is something I hope they will ponder carefully before casting their votes. Undoubtedly, if he were to be elected, there would be a certain 'celebrity' value for homophobes from far and wide in coming to stay at Cromasaig - then the sobriquet 'Bible belt' for that part of Scotland would not be mere ironic reference.

Monday, 19 July 2004

Jamaican rap artists don't just sing about violence against gays ...

... they allegedly act out their vile lyrics in real life, too.

The venality of parish pump politics is exposed ...

... amidst fierce denials of any wrongdoing, naturally. It is embarrassing when pesky underlings just can't keep their mouths shut, isn't it? The article I link to carefully avoids mentioning the party affiliation(s) of the two councillors involved, but it doesn't take much imagination to realise the reality - think 'Animal Farm'.

The UK has the 'Open University', the South Pacific uses satellite broadcasting for tertiary education

A 'good news' story and something that would have seemed fantasy only a few years ago. 12 island nations in the South Pacific, straddling five time zones and covering 33 million square kilometres of ocean, are the catchment area for the University of the South Pacific (thru BBC website story). The OU can be visited here.

A 'small country far away' ...

In the days before the internet I might never have become aware of this, or certainly not anything like as quickly. Flooding and dozens of minor earthquakes have struck the North Island of New Zealand's Bay of Plenty region. About 1,500 have been evacuated from their homes and a spokesperson for Whakatane District Council is quoted as saying that "This area still looks like a large swimming pool". As this story, when I linked with it, was date-stamped 07.46 GMT Monday 19th July I suppose it may not have percolated into the radio or television newsrooms yet, but at least it should make it to BBC News24 during the course of the morning. I'll be interested to see if it makes the main 6pm bulletin today. One would normally expect a country like New Zealand, with which we have pretty close historic and cultural ties, to be very well reported here, but for many reporters it has perhaps just become another 'small country far away'. I'll report back tomorrow on what I observe here during today.

On the other hand the forest fires currently affecting parts of Califormia and Nevada are being prominently reported on BBC News24 this morning and are of course reported on in the BBC website as well. The usually comprehensive Drudge provides a link to the story here, although when I read the AP story his headline that the fire had 'jumped the lines' had been retracted; perhaps his link dates from an early period, or perhaps he didn't read the whole story before linking.

What am I on about? Well, accuracy really ... and objectivity ... or at least 'the striving for' of this highly-elusive commodity. I know I commit howlers of my own from time to time; this is not so much criticism as observation and a reminder to myself of the need constantly to re-examine news items I come across.

UPDATE: (Tuesday 20JUL04 00.55 BST) Well it doesn't look as if the flooding and multiple earthquakes NZ's North Island experienced last night made it on to television news bulletins here - certainly not the ones I watched (BBC News24 and BBC1).

Saturday, 17 July 2004

Outsourcing and globalisation can work two ways ...

... as a young American who has got himself a job in Bangalore, India with one of that country's software and service giants, demonstrates only too clearly - this New York Times article (free registration required) is a timely reminder that opportunities come to those who seek them out.

Anti-gay discrimination to be written into UK law

According to an article in the Independent, the government is to draft legislation to forbid "discrimination against homosexuals in goods and services", the plans being announced by Jacqui Smith, Equalities minister. Apparently the move is a direct result of the recent incident at the Cromasaig guesthouse at Kinlochewe where a gay couple was refused occupancy of a room with a double bed, although the owner said he was prepared to rent them a room with twin beds - he made clear his dislike for their 'perversion' which led him to make known this room-letting policy in what very many people saw as an unnecessarily crude and offensive manner. If this legisation comes to pass, and gets past the probable attempts by Tory bigots in the House of Lords to derail it, we will have Mr Forrest to thank for the change - so 'Thank you' Mr Forrest!

"Mistakes were made, but no-one was to blame" - the Butler report summarised

I have delayed writing about the Butler report, not because I had not formed clear views about it, but because I found I had no time yesterday and for most of today (Friday) to blog about it.

The report concluded, amongst other things, that the intelligence reports that Iraq possessed WMD prior to the invasion were fatally flawed. It also concluded that the government had not knowingly deceived.

I have never believed that Tony Blair, much as I dislike his sanctimonious quasi-socialist Labour mantra, was a liar. I wrote as much when the British government published the now-discredited document about Iraq's alleged WMD capability in September 2002, amplified in a much lengthier article in my main website - scroll down to 3rd article - where I wrote this, in part:

"It is possible, I suppose, that Blair is a participant (willing or unwilling) in a grotesque plot to label Saddam Hussein as a dangerous tyrant in order to justify action against Iraq, so that 'the West' might gain control of the oil resources of the country with the second-largest reserves on the planet. Whatever I may think of Blair and his New Labour government, and my opinion of both is not particularly high, I have yet to conclude that he is a liar. Nor do I think he is completely mad - which I consider he would need to be to acquiesce in a military adventure purely for the purpose of securing oil supplies from a region which is already lacking in much political stability; the resources that would need to be devoted to maintaining control of a 'conquered' Iraq for any length of time would probably be immense."

My views in the rest of that article remain broadly the same, too.

I have always believed that the main justification for invading Iraq was 'regime change'. Of course the Labour government could not say this, whatever its senior members may privately have believed (and I have no personal knowledge to help me decide), because such a stance would have been political suicide within the wider Labour party and in the country as a whole. The only way the Labour government could obtain political support for its policy of participating with the US in the invasion of Iraq was to stress a belief that Iraq represented a danger beyond its borders, hence the 'deploy within 45 minutes' claim amongst others.

So far as I am concerned, this allowed the operation to go ahead and lead to Saddam Hussein being 'taken out' and that is all that I cared about. The fact that this might come back to haunt Tony Blair and his government was, and is, quite immaterial to me - I am no fan of him or his party, but I am quite happy to acquiesce in a policy which will achieve objectives I believe are valid if the only price to be paid is potential political oblivion for Tony Blair. Think 'useful idiots'.

The US administration was much less coy in accepting that removal of Saddam Hussein from power was a major part of its policy, because the political imperatives in the US are quite different. Nevertheless, President Bush has suffered a certain amount of 'flak' domestically for pursuing this policy. When his administration came to power I was glad that Gore had been defeated; as an outsider I have no strong views one way or the other about the merits of the Republican or Democratic parties, but I did form the view that Gore was not the right man to be President. Clinton may have been (and remains) a 'slime ball', but he was an effective President, just as I think Bush 41 was pretty effective, too. Gore may be physically quite big, but he would have made a 'small' President (in my view) and Bush 43 at the very least spared us that.

When he came to power I had no particular liking for Bush 43, or dislike for that matter, but his views on social issues have become increasingly odious to me so I should not be sad to see the back of him, if that is what happens this November. But he did get rid of Saddam Hussein and for that, at the very least, I continue to be grateful. If, like Blair, he pays a price for this in the forthcoming election then what do I care? Cynical I know, but that should be nothing new for a politician.

Tory shame in Howard's Folkestone constituency

I'm sure that this councillor, who happens to be a Tory, is not the first in history to have a criminal record, but Kent is also the council which has enacted its own 'Section 28' because the national scope of this noisome legislation was recently abolished. And it is, of course, a Tory council.
 
As well as expelling this deviant councillor, it would be more reassuring if the Tory council (as a whole) had its party affiliation withdrawn by Central Office; then, perhaps, I might begin to believe that the Conservative Party is undergoing genuine reform. But not just yet; the latest outburst by Scottish Conservative MSP Phil Gallie, railing against VisitScotland for its action in deleting the Cromasaig B&B from its listings, is a salutary reminder that not that much has really changed in this party of dinosaurs.

Friday, 16 July 2004

The 'revelation' that the BNP are nasty thugs

When the BBC trailed a forthcoming programme that 'would rock the British political establishment' about 10 days ago, they revealed only that an undercover operative had been infiltrated into an unnamed political party. My initial impression was that a genuine scandal was to be revealed and that the political party involved would be one of the major ones (Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrats); if it had concerned one of those then that would have classified as a genuine and major revelation.

A few days before transmission, however, the trails started to include the information that it was the British National Party that was to be the subject of the programme and I began to think that, well, I knew that already.

In the event, the programme indeed showed the BNP to be a sinister bunch of bigots with a fair sprinkling of thugs amongst them. The interview with the leader of the party, shown a little later in the evening, drove home how dangerous these people are. It is true that Griffin condemned those whose contributions showed them to have perpetrated various kinds of violence and thuggish behaviour and confirmed that they had been expelled from the BNP. It is difficult to believe, however, that the party leadership had been totally unaware of their activities prior to the programme having been so indelicate as to have recorded their 'confessions' (aka 'boasts') on film. My impression is that they were quite happy to tolerate such activities by members, provided it stayed out of the public eye.

Whilst I don't consider the programme to have been in any way a 'revelation', because none of what was revealed was any particular surprise to me, it was indeed a shocking confirmation that there are people in this country who are evil or badly misguided, take your pick. The idea that the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK who have voted for this crowd of misfits at recent elections will somehow be shocked or shamed into changiong their views, as has been suggested by many in the media commenting on the programme, is naive and misguided; whilst many of them are perhaps not as extreme in their views as some of those who appeared in the programme, they do hold views which have bigotry as a major component. The 'mole' in the programme, who joined the party out of conviction, but who became disillusioned with some of the tactics he saw being employed was, in one way, a hopeful sign - but I did not get the impression that the views which caused him to join the BNP had changed in any fundamental way. At the same time I imagine that both he and the undercover reporter will have a certain justified fear for their own safety for the forseeable future so for both men it demonstrated a good deal of courage.

As a continuing firm believer in the value of free speech I do not favour the notion that people who espouse unfashionable views should be prevented from expressing them; it is far better that people who think this way should be given every opportunity to reveal just how vile they are rather than risk them going 'underground' and becoming more difficult to track. But of course free speech can never be translated into a licence to carry out acts of violence, physical or emotional, on people they dislike or whose views they disagree with. I will be very interested to hear whether the police believe there are now grounds for taking action against various of those who took part in the programme.

New link added - PooterGeek (Damian Counsell)

PooterGeek is a lively, opinionated and well-written blog by Damian Counsell. He lives in Cambridge and describes himself as a bioinformatics specialist and tells us: "Say it loud: I'm beige and proud". I agree with quite a lot of what he writes and seem to disagree with quite a lot, too, but in any case it is rarely boring. He seems to have a left-leaning viewpoint; I won't hold that against him. I am pleased to be able to add another quality weblog from the UK.

Wednesday, 14 July 2004

U.S. Senate rejects Federal Marriage Amendment

The attempt to ban gay marriage, by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, has suffered a [welcome] blow. The U.S. Senate has failed to give the amendment the 60 votes required to allow the amendment to pass to the next stage. The vote was 50 to 48 in favour, so it cannot go forward to the next stage - if you want to know how this works, you can read about it here. For existing amendments to the Constitution, click here.

So far 38 states have banned homosexual marriage, but President Bush hoped to circumvent attempts by some of the remainder to legalise this by making a change to the Constitution. It seems highly unlikely that he will succeed in having this amendment passed before the U.S. Presidential elections in November. What happens after that is anyone's guess. For now it is effectively dead. I am interested in this because, like it or not, what happens in the United States often affects us indirectly (and to a greater or lesser degree) in the UK and elsewhere in the world eventually. Wonderful!

France will hold referendum on EU Constitutional Treaty

French President, Jacque Chirac, used his address on the occasion of Bastille Day to announce that France will hold a referendum during the second half of 2005 on whether France should ratify the EU Constitutional Treaty. Countries which have already announced they will hold referenda are the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK.

Whilst I remain generally in favour of the notion of having an EU Constitutional Treaty, I have grave reservations about the draft that has been agreed so far. However, it is absolutely essential that all EU citizens have an opportunity to say whether they want it or not, so I welcome the French announcement. Politicians must accept the popular verdict, whatever it is. However, all citizens likewise have a responsibility to inform themselves of what is being proposed so they are in a position to vote in their national referenda, if one if to be held in their own country. Visit the relevant EU website section here - it is heavy reading (I know!), but if poeple don't take responsibility then it will be too late to complain later about what has been decided.

Anti-semitic attack in Paris probably never happened

I wrote a few days ago about a shocking physical attack on a young woman, accompanied by her child in a pram, which apparently had taken place on a suburban train (RER) near Paris.

Now it transpires that the attack probably never happened:

"Cette mere de 23 ans a finalement avoue lors de sa garde a vue mardi au SRPJ de Cergy-Pontoise (Val d'Oise) qu'lle avait menti, a-t-on indique de sources policieres. Elle a reconnu s'etre dessine elle-meme les croix gammees sur le ventre."

My translation: This mother aged 23 years finally admitted whilst in police custody (at SRPJ, Cergy-Pontoise, Val d'Oise) that she had lied, according to police sources. She acknowledged that she had herself drawn the swastikas on her stomach.

I was alerted to this development by Un swissroll here.

The motivation of this young lady for inventing this 'attack' is not clear. Perhaps it was simply to gain attention. Perhaps (and all too likely, in my view) it was an expression of the deep antipathy which exists in France toward outsiders, North African arabs in particular. This incident highlights all too clearly the danger of emotions being inflamed by faked or exaggerated incidents for purposes which remain opaque at this stage.

UPDATE: (Monday 26JUL 22.45 BST) The young lady was sentenced today and given a four-month suspended sentence, as well as being placed on probation for two years and ordered to get psychiatric treatment. Her motive, as described in the linked article, sounds decidedly bizarre - hence, no doubt, the requirement that she undergo psychiatric treatment.

Sunday, 11 July 2004

Brief hiatus

I'll be away from tomorrow for a couple of days. Back by Wednesday most probably. Have fun!

Shocking anti-semitic attack in Paris

A young woman, with her baby in a pram, has been savagely attacked in a train in Paris, the motive apparently being that she might be Jewish; papers found in her purse indicated and address in the 16th arondissement and the attackers apparently said words along the lines of 'only Jews live there'. As it so happens she is not. They cut her clothes with knives and marked her stomach with swastikas, as well as cutting her hair. Nobody came to her assistance!

Jean-Paul Huchon, president of the Ile-de-France region surrounding Paris, despairing of the lack of reaction from fellow passengers and recalling the French deportation of Jewish children during German occupation in World War II, said:

"And now, we let people be attacked like this without reacting, without doing anything."

Quite.

The French are lovely people (mostly) and I enjoyed living there, but there is something in the French character, despite their pride in their country being a haven on many occasions for refugees, which is blind on certain matters - and this is one of them! In this attack, and others against Jewish people and places of worship recently, the perpetrators have been 'of north African origin', but unfortunately metropolitan French have a by-no-means unblemished record themselves in this area as the quote above indicates all too clearly. The comedian Coluche is no longer around (he was killed in a motorcycle accident years ago), and ironically he was himself an immigrant (from Italy), but his stock-in-trade jokes often centred around French xenophobic tendencies, whilst getting his audience to laugh at themselves. Despite this I don't think they have ever faced up to their own deep attitudes to race and nationality - whether it be Indo-China or Algeria.

It so happens I lived in the 16th arondissement when I was in Paris and I'm not Jewish either, but so what? The part of town where our office was (near the Opera House) had a lot of financial institutions in the area and employees who were not metropolitan French were unusual, in my experience. Our office was a notable exception - we had staff from most of the major religions and of various ethnic origins (Arab, Caribbean, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc) - although it is true that our internal policy of complete indifference to such factors was not always shared by some of our French employees. I wrote only a couple of days ago about recent racist outrages in France and a speech made by President Chirac; it is all very well throwing up your hands in horror when such outrages are perpetrated, but unless the government is going to have a fundamental rethink about how it handles the problem, and how it educates all sections of the population to live in harmony (and this includes the political elite who seem to ignore this mostly), then I don't see a great likelihood of positive change. [Who am I to talk? - we have our own difficulties in Northern Ireland in religious terms and in the north of England because of racial and religious differences. So of course does the US in some cities between the various ethnic groups.]

'Big Brother' may watch and track our movements nationally

Bearing in mind this is a Sunday newspaper story, it is still pretty alarming. It seems there are draft plans to introduce a national road toll scheme (possibly to replace the existing road tax, but it's not entirely clear), of upto 87p (USD1.57) per kilometre with around 10 different pricing bands based on the type of road being used - urban and trunk roads would apparently attract the highest levels of toll.

To accomplish this, though, it would be necessary to fit every vehicle with a chip so its location could be tracked by satellite so although it seems that the identity of the driver will not be tracked it will still represent a huge curtailment of individual privacy in practical terms, although according to the linked story 62% of those polled for a survey did not consider this a 'major issue; I am obviously part of the 'sizeable minority' which would have strong reservations.

Undoubtedly the meaning of the concept that 'overall' taxes would not rise needs to be examined further. It seems, from reading the article, that this is on a national level rather than an individual level. If so this imples that those who use urban or trunk roads regularly would end up paying considerably more than at present (a charge of 87p per kilometre would mount up VERY rapidly) and if overall taxes are not to rise then some rural drivers would end up paying practically nothing. I think the implications of this will not take long to be appreciated by the urban majority and the government which passes the law to allow this to happen will pay the price at the election following its introduction. For this reason alone I suspect this whole notion is simply being floated to test public reaction and like many other hare-brained schemes of this government will either disappear without trace or have to be modified dramatically.

Also it seems to me that the cost of maintaining a kilometre of rural road per user must be considerably higher than the unit cost of maintaining highly-used roads, although the charging system proposed will be weighted toward the most heavily-used routes. Rural drivers will be subsidised even more highly than they probably are at present.

In summary, apart from being (in my view) an intolerable extension of surveillance by the state on huge numbers of citizens, this scheme is more about raising taxes by stealth than it is anything to do with cutting down hydrocarbon emissions. The claim that overall taxes would not rise is hard to beleive.

Friday, 9 July 2004

Three cheers for Judge Brian Leveson

A remarkable case was heard yesterday at Preston Crown Court. Bernard Heginbotham, now 100 years old, was arrested after murdering his wife of 67 years (in itself pretty remarkable!). He killed his wife, Ida (87 years old), because she faced spending the remainder of her life in the dementia ward of a nursing home. Her health had deteriorated from that of a fit and active woman following two hip replacement operations. After a fall she was admitted to a series of care homes.

Judge Leveson described the killing as 'an act of love' and continued:

"The killing of your wife, to whom you had been married joyously for 67 years, followed by your attempt to take your own life, was an act of desperation carried out in an attempt to end her suffering and the intolerable pressure you were under as you sought to provide care and companionship for her.

"It was, in truth, an act of love and I have no doubt that you suffered a mental disorder at the time.

"The pre-sentence reports speak of it being difficult to conceive a more distressing case than this, and I entirely agree.

"It was, as you well know, a terrible thing to do but I accept entirely the circumstances in which you did it and that your feelings of guilt and remorse have been overwhelming.

"The reaction of your sons and their families as they have come to terms with their loss and rallied round to support you in your greatest hour of need says all that needs to be said about their feelings for you and the closeness of your relationship."

He ordered Mr Heginbotham to complete a 12-month rehabiliation order and said that the case provided "no benchamark or guidance for any other". In other words, he does not consider that a precedent has been set. He hoped he would enjoy the time that remained to him and said he did not believe Mr Heginbotham would find the conditions of his rehabilitation order difficult, allowing him to return home to the love and care of his family. Even the prosecuting counsel, Hilary Banks, spoke of the couple's devotion to each other and their children.

Truly remarkable and truly sad. It is immensely pleasing that the law has, in this instance, been able to temper its judgement with mercy. Judge Leveson has acted with considerable humanity.

Commons gym feedback - 'no benders here'

A user of the House of Commons gymnasium has apparently complained, anonymously of course, that the facility is being used by 'benders'; what is undoubtedly meant is that it is that awful phenonemon a 'known homosexual' that is using the gym. I daresay there have been gay patrons for years, decades perhaps - except they were most likely 'in the closet'. I'll be interested to learn how the matter is dealt with should the complainant be identified.

New link added - Great Auk (Bjarni Olafsson)

Great Auk is a recently-started blog by Bjarni Olafsson, who writes from Reykjavik (Iceland). I came across his blog earlier today - see a recent post - and it is clear that he is worth reading. I hope his English-language blog will stay active for quite a while.

Surveillance in Iceland: it will soon be as bad as in the UK

This interesting article from White Rose (who got it from Great Auk) makes for alarming reading.

I thought when I first started reading that the chips were to be implanted in every individual, not every vehicle - no doubt that comes next!

Democracy, Labour and the new Scottish Parliament at Holyrood

This is the latest wheeze for Ministers in the Scottish Executive (aka 'government) to insulate themselves from opinions they don't care for.

It is only a few day ago since we read about plan to to restrict, and make pay for, much access by the public (who pay the bills!!) to 'their' Parliament.

The unions don't like it either; even if my views on this are to put it mildly, equivocal, I would have thought a Labour government trying to 'swing' this must be completely and utterly 'barking', although truth be told it sounds to good too be true (and probably is ... sigh).

Naturally, according to Lord David Steel (former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament and all-round 'good egg' [or so he would have us believe]) whinges himself when he says:

"It is often said that we Scots don't need enemies when we have ourselves.

"These outsiders have provided a wholly different perspective from our home-grown whingers and girners."

Of course, it's not so very long since our illustrious First Minister, Jack McConnell, was being [shall we say] a little too voluble about our neighbours to the south, at least if the words of a spokesman are accurate:

A source close to McConnell said the First Minister "was particularly angered at the level of coverage of the Scottish elections in the UK media last year".

"Basically, it seems that the only time they get interested is when there is a controversy over the Holyrood building," he added.

"That is something that concerns him as First Minister of Scotland. He has raised it with the BBC governors at BBC Scotland and also with the chairman of ITV."

The source went on: "There is a serious level of ignorance in London over what we are doing in Scotland. All they think is that we have made that expensive Parliament building. There is a growing ignorance in 90% of the UK about what is happening in the other 10%."

I give up; a strait-jacket is all I am good for. Calm down!

In the quest for knowledge ...

... French and Italian scientists are planning a large underground laboratory beneath the Alps designed to detect elusive particles from the Sun's core.

I have no idea what "a huge tank filled with several hundred thousand cubic metres of ultra-pure water" means in practical terms, but it sounds like a lot. Excavation will take ten years, it is estimated.

Some crimes not deemed 'Terrorist'

In the article prior to this one, I discussed the recent rise in racist attacks in France. This news item about how some crimes have been dealt with in Florida does make one wonder just what it takes for someone to be classed as a 'terrorist' - by this definition Timothy McVeigh wasn't a terrorist either!

Racism becomes a serious problem in France

Over the past several months I have been reading reports about the growing levels of 'race hate' crimes in France. Alternatively, the seeming growing intolerance for modes of dress or lifestyles that don't fit the norm.

So serious have they become that even President Chirac is attempting to cool things down.

Forgive me for being cynical, but he is only reaping what he has sown. The campaign recently to stop the wearing of 'un-French' headgear (scarves and skull-caps, for example) was blatant pandering to the not-so-latent xenophobia that many people don't struggle very hard to keep in check. Or one might point to the recent swift action taken against a mayor in a small town who had the temerity to marry a gay couple.

Liberty. Equality. Fraternity. It is time the meanings of those three words were studied and applied more closely.

When 'budget' becomes obsession

I have to confess I have never flown on this airline, but the news that it is to ban (or 'phase out' as the blurb has it) hold baggage from next year, and a step to this nirvana is the introduction of swingeing charges for checking luggage into the hold, makes it unlikely I will be rushing to do so any time soon.

No doubt there are travellers who don't require this facility, but the claims that less than half of its 27 million passengers annually check-in baggage currently indicate, possibly, that there is a type of customer for whom this is acceptable. I strongly suspect that a lot of people end up with voluminous cabin baggage and struggle with putting said baggage in front of them on the floor, having found the overhead lockers too small for the amount they want to carry on board. 'Coach class' becomes 'cattle class'. Always provided that safety rules are complied with. A recipe for frustrations for staff at check-in counters, or at boarding gates (as check-in counters are to be abolished, too). Or a method of generating another 'revenue stream' - of course the claims to being a 'budget' airline then become more difficult to sustain.

I suppose if you had homes in every place you wanted to travel to then carrying very much would be unnecessary, but the people in that category are possibly not the primary target customers for this airline.

Not for me, thank you very much.

An 'elevated' Presidential campaign takes shape in the US

You understand, I hope, that the title is ironic.

Read this and this very unsubtle nonsense.