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

Saturday, 30 October 2004

Spring Forward - Fall Back

Clocks go back one hour tonight in the UK, from BST (GMT+1) to GMT. So that's it for another summer, until 27th March next year, when the clocks will go forward again. More information about time-keeping in the UK is available here (this link also appears permanently in the column on the right in the 'About this site' section near the end).

This change will have no effect on the time-stamps used in this website as GMT is used throughout the year.

Friday, 29 October 2004

'The Times' joins stable-mate 'The Sun' ...

... as a tabloid. Apart from the titles, will one be able to tell one Murdoch rag from the other?

Gordon Brown's desperate legacy becomes ever more glaring

The 'tax and spend' policies of the Labour government, about which I've written many times before, are now beginning to show up in ways that even Gordon Brown can't pretend away. Do you believe the Chancellor, or do you believe The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR)?

EU Constitutional Treaty - signed on this day - 29th October 2004

I have just been watching on BBC News24, the signing of the European Union Constitutional Treaty in Rome, in the same venue where the original Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957 to establish the forerunner to the EU, the European Economic Community.

Whilst I have difficulties with some aspects of the new Treaty, I believe it is undoubtedly a major and gratifying further step on the road to continuing peace, security and prosperity in Europe.

Some photographs of the preparation for this major event are here. You can also read the full EU Constitution in any of the EU languages by clicking here.

Of course, before the EU Constitutional Treaty can enter into force it must first be ratified by all 25 member states within two years. There is therefore still a long way to go, but this day remains a memorable one.

Wednesday, 27 October 2004

The 'Hobbits' really did exist ...

... if a recent discovery on the Indonesian island of Flores is accurate. The discovery of the skeletal remains of a small human species, perhaps about 1 metre (3 feet) tall, which has been dubbed Homo floresiensis, is being classified as 'sensational', specially because it is believed that members of the species may have been alive as recently as 12,000 years ago, with some believing that some could even be alive today in remote forested areas of Indonesia.

UPDATE: (Friday 29OCT04 14.00 BST) There is an extremely interesting discussion on this new find by author and anthropologist Desmond Morris here.

Blunkett changes ID card scheme

Home Secretary David Blunkett is dropping plans to combine new compulsory identity cards with passports and driving licences. A pity he couldn't drop the whole ID card scheme altogether! I await next month's Queen's Speech with bated breath ...

Vote on new EU Commission delayed

The EU Commission President-designate, Senhor(?) Jose Manuel Barroso, announced to the EU Parliament this morning that he was no longer in a position to propose a vote on his new Commission and that a delay was therefore requested.

The delay results from strong opposition within the EU Parliament to the nomination of Signor Rocco Buttiglione as justice and home affairs commissioner; Signor Buttiglione was nominated by the Italian government of Prime Minister Signor Silvio Berluscone. The opposition to Signor Buttiglione is based on his views on homosexuality and single mothers, although some [centre-right MEPs] imply that it is an attempt by centre-left MEPs to force a more left-leaning Commission upon the EU. My earlier articles on the controversy surrounding Singor Buttiglione are here and here.

My view is that with a high proportion of EU member states currently having centre-right governments the likelihood of a significantly more left-leaning Commission being acceptable to anyone (EU member state governments or the majority of MEPs) is highly unlikely. I consider myself centre-right in my politics, but what is at issue here is whether the Commission should be influenced by religious viewpoints per se, or whether it should remain a basically secular body. Also at issue of course, and perhaps of even more far-reaching importance, are the respective levels of power within the EU wielded by the Parliament (an elected body) and the Commission (a body whose members are nominated by EU member state governments). The existing 'democratic deficit' which many say exists in our EU governance, and I am certainly amongst those who take this view, is one of the principal reasons for the disillusionment with the EU amongst many even of those who are fundamentally in favour of the EU, such as me. Those who are viscerally opposed to the whole EU project are obviously not happy now, but would be even unhappier (I would imagine) were the Parliament to gain increased powers.

In any case, quite apart from the question of Signor Buttiglione's suitability as a Commissioner, this is a power struggle between the Executive (the EU Commission) and the Legisalture (the EU Parliament) and Senhor Barroso has has had to face the reality that his Commission as originally proposed was highly likely to be rejected in toto by the Parliament, this being the only option open to it in the absence of the power to reject individual Commissioners.

Today's delayed vote should have been the prelude to a meeting in two days time at which the 25 EU member state Heads of Government were to meet to sign the new EU Constitutional Treaty, prior to the new Commission taking up office on 1st November. Whilst it is likely that the Treaty signing will still go ahead as planned (at least I haven't heard anything to the contrary at this stage), Friday's meeting will now undoubtedly be dominated by behind-the-scenes negotiations aimed at resolving today's fiasco. From my point of view, and that of many commentators I have been listening to, the hope is that some of the other EU governments will prevail upon Signor Berluscone to withdraw Signor Buttiglione's nomination and substitute another more acceptable person as Italy's commissioner to the EU, but I understand that this matter is highly-controversial in Italian domestic politics so we will just have to wait and see what happens.

My hope is that those MEPs who have voiced their opposition to Signor Buttiglione will not be prevailed upon over the next couple of days to withdraw their opposition, although I am reasonably sanguine that their opposition is far too firm for that to be a major risk. Watch this space ...

(Note: an article similar to this would have appeared here earlier today, probably almost five hours ago, were it not for problems with posting to my 'Blogger' site. This has been a recurrent problem over the past several weeks and I strongly suspect this problem does not originate on my computer or in my own Broadband connection as I have no difficulty with any other website I post to. It is very irritating to lose a whole article when uploading it!)

UPDATE: (Thursday 28OCT04 00.45 BST) Sad, but not surprised, that some of the usual dinosaurs of the Conservative Party have rushed to voice their support for Signor Buttiglione.

2ND UPDATE: (Saturday 30OCT04 09.40 BST) It seems clear that the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berluscone has accepted that his original nominee for Italy's EU Commissioner will have to be dropped. Good news, and if the alternative suggested in this article (Mario Monti) is correct, then it seems pretty good news all round.

Tuesday, 26 October 2004

Where words mean just what the powerful say they mean ...

... for example, when the current US Administration talks about its 'adherence' (or not, as the case may be) to the Geneva Conventions. This time the sliding values attributed to certain words are being applied to, possibly, prisoners taken in the Iraqi conflict. Despite what has repeatedly been said before.

Aberdeen Councillors ban National Front march

Aberdeen Council's licensing committee yesterday afternoon banned a march by the 'fascist' National Front, scheduled to take place in the city on 28 November next.

Quite apart from its policy of 'phased and humane repatriation of all coloured people currently resident here', by no means the most wacko policy the organistation lists in its 'Statement of Policy', one of its policies included under the heading of 'The Family' is: 'The NF would repeal the laws permitting homosexuality and its promotion'. This seems, on the face of it, to propose restoring the position pre-1967 when homosexuality was illegal throughout the UK.

A very dangerous organisation indeed - let no-one be fooled by the attempts of the organisation's 'Scottish organiser' to sound reasonable; a cursory glance at the policies this odious organisation espouses is all that is needed to reveal it for the neo-fascist organisation it is.

Thursday, 21 October 2004

Doubts over biometric facescan technology

New UK passports issued after the ned of next year will include new technology for identifying the bearer, including biometric facescans. It seems these fail to work correctly in 10% of cases. This technology is quite obviously not yet at a stage where its use should be contemplated in 'live' situations.

Home Office Minister Fiona Mactaggart's bland assurances that the public should not be concerned:

"This technology is not foolproof. No country is looking just to depend on the biometrics technology. They are relying on all the other things that are used."

do not reassure me one little bit, specially when she goes on to say that immigration officials will also be allowed to question people at airports just as they do now. Well of course that is only right and proper, but what it will likely mean in practice is that the flaws in this technolgy will:
- allow some people to pass through who should not be permitted to do so;
- cause a lot of inconvenience, and quite possibly distress, to many people who are incorrectly identified as not being in conformity with the documents they carry.

I have never made any secret of my dislike of the whole notion of carrying ID cards, but to have our passports based on such a 'hit-or-miss' technology is not likely to increase public confidence that our government is acting in the public's best interests, but is quite possibly going to inflict a further layer of confusion and distrust at the government's motives. I think the government is blurring two concepts - 'protection' and 'control' - which a government in a democracy has no business blurring.

Wednesday, 20 October 2004

At last! EU to sue UK over heavy-handed customs

It seems that the EU may launch court action in the European Courts of Justice against the UK for the heavy-handed manner in which our Customs & Excise deal with those returning from trips to other EU countries with significant quantities of alcohol and tobacco, an activity made worthwhile (and sensible and legal) because of the much higher duty rates here than in many of our EU neigbours, coupled with the coming into existence some years ago of the Single European Area, which is supposed to allow for the free movement of people and goods throughout participating countries.

Whilst there are some limitations on what may be brought across borders by individuals, it is pretty clear that the UK authorities are flouting not only the spirit, but the letter, of the regulations - purely as a way of protecting tax revenue regimes which are wildly different from countries such as France and Belgium. It is time that the UK government was forced to face up to the implications of the Single European Act and stop seizing innocent people's cars and goods when they return from perfectly legitimate shopping trips.

Kinloss RAF base 'off-limits' in security scare

The BBC are reporting that a cordon of security has been thrown around RAF Kinloss because a man is loose on the base with a loaded rifle - the incident is said NOT to be terrorist-related.

Reading between the lines, it is being speculated that it has more to do with rumours recently that the base is to be downgraded or closed in a 'restructuring' of the UK's armed services with a loss of 1,500 jobs there and a further 400 at nearby RAF Lossiemouth; there have been so many 'restructurings' (aka 'reductions') in the UK's military over my lifetime that one tends to lose count. I report on this only because RAF Kinloss is close to the town of Forres, about 8 miles along the road from here. I often see RAF Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft departing on or returning from missions and of course military jets often do exercises over the area, including pretty low passes over my immediate vicinity. One cannot but be closely aware of the bases' existence.

UPDATE: (Wednesday 20OCT04 18.35 BST) The body of Flight Sergeant Philip Herring, 40, was discovered in close proximity to a high-powered rifle on the base this afternoon. It is stated by the police that there were no suspicious circumstances, so one must assume (until further clarification is available) that he has taken his own life.

Lebanon gay group fights to have law changed

Hurriyyat Khassa (Private Liberties) has launched a publicity campaign to have article 534 of the penal code overturned; this punishes those guilty of "sexual intercourse against nature" with a one-year jail sentence.

Lebanon is a beautiful country which I know slightly, having visited it twice for relatively brief periods whilst on business trips. In addition I have been fortunate enough to know a number of Lebanese business acquaintances and colleagues over the years. Despite its troubled recent past, it is certainly one of the more progressive Arab nations - with hard work I hope that Hurriyyat Khassa and Helem (and other groups) can make things better there.

Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Alan Hollinghurst takes 2004 Booker Prize

The Booker prizewinner for 2004 was announced earlier this evening. It has been won by Alan Hollinghurst for his novel The Line of Beauty. Some background about the novel and comments on this year's competition is in this Guardian article.

One of Hollinghurst's other novels The Swimming Pool Library was one of the first serious gay-themed novels I read, not long after it was published, and as this latest novel has received excellent reviews, I expect it won't be long before I read it too.

An honest politician ...

After having, admittedly, a few doubts that Boris Johnson was just another 'politican on the make', after the recent furore surrounding an editorial (free registration required) published in The Spectator (of which he is Editor), it is pleasing to report that he has responded in a sensible and intellectually honest manner, accepting that there were matters which required his apology, which he has now given, but reiterating that there were matters raised in the original article which needed to be said. I am relieved and glad to say that my faith in at least one politician has been restored.

Monday, 18 October 2004

Our own values matter ...

... and must not be sacrificed in our efforts to thwart terrorism. I do not know the truth behind what is going on here (a British diplomat, formerly in Uzbekistan, has been suspended on full pay after having been recalled to London), but coupled with the detentions without charges or trial at Guantanamo, a few in the US itself, and detentions at Belmarsh here in the UK, it is a worrying sign that the freedoms we are supposed to be protecting are perhaps being subverted, quite possibly irreversibly, by our own governments in our efforts to defeat terrorism and despotism. Is not this the terrorists' own purpose - to reveal to the world our willingness to abandon our own values? If we are ever to prevail, it must not be by adopting methods best left to tyrannies.

Am I being over-dramatic here? I would like to think so, but ...

Sunday, 17 October 2004

I'm 'Gourmet Girl' ... in a manner of speaking





(thru Shadow Footprints)

Highly amusing, but my 'amour propre' remains intact

There was an amusing outbreak of academic 'eye-scratching' reported in a BBC online article today as preview tapes and newspaper articles appeared ahead of a new television series on Channel4 by historian Dr David Starkey. Apart from seeing numerous trailers for the series on Channel4 in the past few days, I became most aware of some of Starkey's more trenchant remarks in an article in today's Sunday Telepgraph.

Now, as a Scot, whilst I might find some of what Starkey has to say difficult to hear, I would be hard put to fault his overall analysis. Of course, Starkey does specialise in making some pretty stark (keep those puns in check! - Ed.) comments which seem designed to shock. He also possesses one of those 'cut-glass' speaking voices which make the effect of his utterances all the more notable (ironic, really, given his own 'modest' origins, about which he is pleasingly open). I really do feel that people such as 'leading Scottish historian Neal Ascherson' (quoted in the BBC article I link to above) need to adopt a less defensive posture when responding to remarks such as those made by Dr Starkey. Incidentally, a couple of evenings ago Starkey was one of the guests on 'The Week in Politics' (Andrew Neil's late-Thursday vehicle on BBC2) and debunked in a few well-chosen words 'right-on' Labour MP Diane Abbott who has taken good care that her own child will not have to suffer the consequences of going to the local 'sink' comprehensive school, by sending the child to a private (aka 'public') school. Of course, this topic has been covered on the programme before, but as they were about to discuss education it seemed relevant. I like Diane Abbott a lot - her politics are not to my taste of course - but she is very amusing and does often talk quite a lot of sense (not on the war in Iraq, though!), and she is usually pretty voluble, but she quickly shut up when Starkey was so inelegant as to bring the matter up to expose the 'straw man' nature of Labour's education policies.

Personally I am looking forward to watching David Starkey's upcoming series, even if I may require to use my blood pressure monitor after each episode!

Wednesday, 13 October 2004

The pot calling ...

... the kettle black? There is absolutely nothing inaccurate in this report from Xinhua, indeed it is a model of absolutely facctual reporting. The article is entitled: Homosexuals struggle for recognition in US, and relates to the struggle there for partnership and/or marriage rights for homosexuals. Fair enough. However I do wonder if whoever wrote this article was in fact making an ironic comment about the status of homosexuals in the People's Republic of China itself and the person who authorised the title either let it slip by accidentally, or did not appreciate the irony involved.

Civil Partnerships Bill receives Second Reading

The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly last night (426 to 49) to give the Civil Partnerships Bill its Second Reading. Also, in a surprise move, the government has announced that it has changed its stance toward equal pension rights for gays and lesbians who form civil partnerships by announcing that those in registered same-sex partnerships will be able to accrue equal pension rights in respect of those in public sector pension schemes from 1988.

Earlier amendments by the House of Lords, which were characterised (correctly) as designed to 'wreck' the bill, were removed by the House of Commons, with the agreement of the Conservative Party (some of whose members in the House of Lords were most closely associated with the amendments) and it, apart from a few diehard opponents [the usual suspects], supported the Bill.

Altogether a pretty good result. However, until the signature of HM The Queen is on the Bill to make it law, I will hold the champagne on ice ...

Tuesday, 12 October 2004

For those who think the war in Iraq was wrong ...

... rush over to read a brillant satire at PooterGeek; well worth a few moments of anyone's time.

Very clever!

UPDATE: (Wednesday 13OCT04 11.25 BST) Another excellent post (and links from his post) today by PooterGeek, a very explicit follow-on from the one I referred to yesterday. This also, I strongly suspect, has relevance to the negative comments I was the subject of in the comments area of another blog a few days ago, which I wrote about here. Some people, it seems specially to be those with 'right on' left-wing views, which they would describe as 'liberal', take it extremely unkindly when their views are challenged - then the polite veneer very quickly vanishes. I doubt if this will deter me, though.

Out of an enormous pool of candidates a new chairman is chosen ...

... although when the pool to choose from is only one the choice is probably not very difficult. The Scottish Conservative Party has chosen as its new chairman the sole Conservative MP in Scotland, Mr Peter Duncan MP. He replaces Mr David Mitchell; I know little about Mr Duncan apart from what I see in the media, but it certainly seems to be a positive move to have divested itself of Mr Mitchell, certainly not one of my favourite people.

Whether Mr Duncan can galvanise the Party in Scotland ahead of the next general election, and help to boost the Party's representation in Parliament will depend, in reality, on policies being developed centrally from London. Whilst the recent conference showed the Party not to be completely moribund, and to have some of what could be worthwhile economic policies, it still has a very long way to go - and in Scotland the task seems almost insurmountable, with a dwindling and elderly membership. Mr Duncan will need all the luck he can get.

Travel company ends ban on gay couples

A travel company which bases its 'offer' to the public on existing to serve couples only has just, and unexpectedly, ended the ban which excluded gay couples from its services, which I understand are all-inclusive resorts in warm and sunny locations (it appears that a major market target for such holidays is recently-married couples taking a 'honeymoon', and of course gays are in most jurisdictions not permitted to 'marry'). It would seem that Sandals has finally, at least in theory, bowed to mounting commercial and official pressure and to the prospect of an appearance on BBC Radio4 'Today' programme this morning, to try and defend the policy it has just abandoned. How this will work out in practice for the first gay couples intrepid enough to travel with them remains to be seen.

Welcome as all this is, there are certain aspects of the 'Sandals' saga (and that is not a punning refence to another travel firm) which have always troubled me. I have understood that the basis for the former policy seemed unquestionably to be one of homophobia, and this was never seriously challenged by the firm in question. On the other hand if people choose to holiday amongst people whom they are comfortable with, and only such people (i.e. heterosexual couples), then it seems harmless in a way - there are, after all, gay travel companies which advertise holidays and some of the options they offer are promoted as being to hotels or holiday complexes which are advertised as 'exclusively gay'. What is the real difference? Another aspect of this whole situation which is not spoken of at all, so far as I can see, is that holidays promoted as being for 'couples only' (whether straight, gay or both) remain discriminatory with regard to single travellers, who in any case often must pay a premium for holidays where they are permitted to take them.

I suspect that this area of law and/or practice will have to evolve further if all these inconsistencies are to be ironed out.

Monday, 11 October 2004

Scotland may legislate to outlaw anti-gay hate crimes

The Scottish Parliament's Working Group on Hate Crime has recommended that Scotland be brought into line with the rest of the UK, where legislation outlawing anti-gay hate crimes was brought into law during 2003. The new legislation, if passed, will similarly cover disabled people.

This will certainly increase the sense of security of gay people in Scotland - there has been a rising incidence of hate crime against gays in many parts of Scotland in recent times. Even those who are not in any way gay are at risk if they are suspected of being gay; very recently, in a village only about five miles from where I live, two adult brothers who had not seen each other for many years were greeting each other warmly (embracing) in a pub when others in the pub, suspecting them of being gay, attacked them brutally. Ironically, and tragically, the reason one of the brothers was back in their home area was to attend the funeral of a close family member. This, and more, is an example of the dreadful price that mindless bigotry costs us as a society.

Buttiglione rejected by key EU Parliament committee

I am pleased to see that, after I had written last week about the anti-gay remarks made by Signor Buttiglione, he has been rejected by the Civil Liberties Committee of the EU Parliament. This is not binding, but may cause incoming European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to reconsider the composition of the new team.

Interestingly, I had a pretty detailed response today (well before the Committee's vote) to the query I sent to the online EU feedback area, which indicated pretty much what I had already understood - that the EU Parliament may only reject the whole Commission, not individual nominees; this is the same 'poison pill' that allows the Parliament to reject an entire budget, but not individual parts of it. It'll be interesting to see over the next couple of weeks how this develops.

UPDATE: (Thursday 14OCT04 00.25 BST) It seems there is stalemate between the EU Parliament (and the views of its President, Josep Borrell) and the incoming EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso; the former does not want Signor Buttiglione to be confirmed, the latter continues to voice his support for him. The EU Parliament seems to be threatening the 'nuclear option' if Senor Barroso won't move, or preferably remove, the Italian nominee; it seems that even moderate MEPs may back this move. There could be a 'shootout at the OK corral' on 21st October. Let's hope Senor Barroso sees sense before then!

Fun on the internet

I noticed an allusion to a post of mine here a few days ago, in another blog, which I'll call hlaehhan (Old English/West Saxon [-ing]) Giraffa camelopardalis (ultimately of Arabic derivation); you can visit it here.

Of course differences in viewpoint are what the blogging community is all about - or at least it is from my point of view. It is good to read other views and to have one's own preconceptions challenged. However, expression of differences of viewpoint can sometimes stray over into what is really ad hominem commentary, however carefully couched in seemingly gentle terms; I noticed a mild form of this in the posting which made the original allusion; I overlooked this because of its mildness and because, well, it amused and interested me too. ("but two particular opinions have disappointed me somewhat: Bill’s and Jon’s. This isn’t to say I dislike these two guys, just that I do not agree with their sentiments on this occasion.")

Since then, however, there have been two other examples which, I confess, have cumulatively begun to irritate. I try not to let whatever prejudices I may have influence my postings here, or if this is unavoidable (as it quite frequently is), then I very usually talk about these feelings fairly openly - in other words I meet the prejudice head-on, I do not try and couch my remarks in a [disingenuously] oblique turn of phrase, when anyone of moderate education who reads it will already have 'read between the lines' anyway, to get at what I am really saying - so with the quoted remarks above, which I chose to ignore.

In one of the comment responses by the writer of the blog in question, were included the following:

"Bill, I notice you’ve got a little banner stating ‘striving for objectivity’ on your website. If that’s the case "
- notice that "If that's the case". A striving for objectivity is what I aspire to, I did not say I had necessarily achieved it, but nor (to be frank, and in an ad hominem comment of my own) has the writer of the other blog, nor do I think he is even aware of any such matter (another ad hominem comment, of course).

"and I don’t say that with any disrespect as, again, if you take your media from the most conventional sources you tend to get a very biased picture of the world."
- to be quite honest he has no idea of the range of media I use to [try and] acquaint myself with what is going on in the world and is once more an attempt at couching some unwarranted assumptions in what one supposes are hoped to be read as innocuous comments.

I do not happen to agree that Henry Kissinger is any kind of war criminal; the mention of 600,000 deaths in Cambodia, for example. I am not sure where this figure has come from, but it is clear (although the exact numbers are unknown) that somewhere around 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians were liquidated by the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, until the Vietnamese (for whose style of government I otherwise have little respect) thankfully invaded Cambodia in 1979 to stop the madness there, even if their motives for doing so were not entirely laudable (in my view). Having visited both countries a number of times and having lived in one of them I am closely aware of the violently differing ideologies which have continued to influence events there to this day. Many interpret these differences, and what flowed from them, quite differently to me - fair enough, that is what reasoned discussion is all about.

Naturally if the writer of the other blog wishes to continue the discussion in the comments area of this blog, then I shall be happy to do so and will extend him every courtesy, whatever our divergence of viewpoints. Equally naturally I shall expect him to extend me a similar level of courtesy in this blog, if he chooses to visit and comment here. Unfortunately, I no longer feel it comfortable or appropriate to continue the discussion in the comments area of the other blog (I will shortly endeavour to make a brief comment there to flag this post in my blog).

UPDATE: (Monday 11OCT04 13.10 BST) I note that the post and associated commentary, to which the above post relates, seems to have disappeared from the other blog since I wrote my post and added a 'flagging' comment there; whether this is temporary or permanent I have no idea. The link to the other blog here will remain active for a short while, until this becomes clearer, when it may be deactivated.

2nd UPDATE: (Monday 11OCT04 20.30 BST) The post, and an additional comment by the author, is now back up on the other blog; I will leave it to others who may read the whole exchange to make their own judgement. As for me, life is far too short to be goaded into further comment; if he wants to leave a comment here, it will be dealt with courteuosly (as is my habit), but I will not be drawn into his name-calling style on his blog or anywhere else.

Saturday, 9 October 2004

Holyrood Parliament building inaugurated in style

The weather in Edinburgh (indeed, here too) was reasonably kind today - cold, but bright, and it didn't rain. Her Majesty The Queen gave a perfectly judged speech before those assembled in the new building; this was the culmination of what was a morning filled with pageantry, but which maintained a human scale. It now falls to those who represent us there to perform - we will have to wait and see whether that happens.

Some photographs of today's events are here and some photographs of the building at various stages are here.

Friday, 8 October 2004

Link added - Romseyredhead (Sandra Gidley)

I just discovered the recently-launched Romseyredhead blog this evening. Sandra Gidley is the MP for Romsey in Hampshire, and is a member of the Liberal Democrat Party. Of course I expect I will have differences of viewpoint with Ms Gidley, but it will certainly be interesting to read what she has to say about current events. Incidentally, I think that hers is the first blog I have linked to written by a woman; there seem to be fewer blogs written by females, or at least of a kind I find it worthwhile to read (but perhaps I just don't get out enough!). I recently linked to another blog by an MP (Boris Johnson - see blogroll at right), who is a Conservative, so it seems only fair to add a LibDem. Now I am in search of a worthwhile blog by a Labour MP; surely there must be one which I can read without grinding my teeth down to the gums ...

UPDATE: (Friday 8OCT04 23.15 BST) Well, a little research reveals that there are already a (relatively small) number of MPs from all the major political parties who have their own blogs; I have in mind to blogroll at least one Labour MP very shortly to balance the two I already link to - see above - but there will probably be others from various Parties I could add in due course.

After my earlier post - the sickening reality of terrorism in Iraq

It is being reported that Abu Dhabi television has video evidence (see * below) which appears to substantiate claims that Kenneth Bigley, a UK citizen who had been held hostage in Iraq for some weeks, has now been murdered brutally by his captors. As I have said in this blog before: Terrorism cannot, and must not, ever be appeased. Painful as it is, Tony Blair would have been entirely wrong to consider, even for a second, interceding in this matter in an effort to have the two female Iraqis currently being held in Iraq under nominal Iraqi authority (but in reality under US control), whatever the justice or injustice of their continuing detention. (* - I stated earlier that Abu Dhabi TV had aired the video. I now understand this is incorrect; it seems that a Reuters correspondent has seen the video, however, and reported that it shows Mr Bigley being murdered)

I offer my sincere condolences to Kenneth Bigley's family and friends, if his demise is confirmed, as looks (unfortunately) increasingly likely.

WMDs - lack of in Iraq - my reaction

My reaction a few days ago to the report that WMDs did not exist in Iraq was "So what, Iraq is hugely better off with Saddam Hussein out of power".

Within the UK the only way the government could obtain agreement in Parliament for our participation in the war to liberate Iraq was if there had been WMDs and that they represented a real danger. Personally I never really believed that Iraq still had a great capability in this area. My attitude has always been that this allowed the vital object to be achieved - the removal from power of a vicious, bullying thug who had held Iraqis in subjection for far too long already and who, if given half a chance, would try and do as much damage to the region and the wider world as he could, for reasons of self-aggrandisement.

If a few people along the way, such as Blair or Bush, have to suffer the political fall-out of there being no WMDs, then so be it; it's a small price to pay in the wider scheme of things. I realise that my completely cynical and opportunistic attitude on this matter is probably one that will rub some people up the wrong way, but I try to be honest in this blog and that is exactly how I feel.

There is an excellent post today by Alaa in The Mesopotamian which says it like it is from an Iraqi point of view; the point of view of someone who cares deeply for his country, not one of the scum (some of whom may even be Iraqis) currently indulging in tactics to disrupt the democratic future of Iraq by terror tactics. They must not be allowed to succeed.

Holyrood maintenance costs likely to be high

It is suggested by the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body that in its first year of operation the new Scottish Parliament building will cost around GBP640,000, plus a further 'reactive' cost of GBP206,000 to maintain. Independent (formerly SNP) MSP Margo MacDonald is quoted as saying:

"I won't be at all surprised if this figure is simply the starting figure and we end up spending £1m a year."

I rather suspect that Ms MacDonald may well be correct, indeed that she may be unduly optimistic; experience over the past few years has taught me to take the utterings of the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body with the proverbial pinch of salt.

Tomorrow we have the 'excitement' of the Offical Opening of the new Scottish Parliament building by Her Majesty The Queen. Although I have put the word excitement in 'scare quotes' above, and whilst it does reflect my somewhat sceptical (read very sceptical) attitude toward the whole devolution project, on numerous grounds, it is true that as a reasonably patriotic Scot I am in fact quite excited by tomorrow's shindig and will no doubt be recording it in case I want to watch it again; I will endeavour to refrain from further sarcastic comment on the building costs until after the event is over, as a mark of respect to Her Majesty - whoever is responsible for this whole mess, it certainly ain't Her.

Climbie social worker loses claim for wrongful dismissal

Lisa Arthurworrey, the social worker implicated in the scandal surrounding the death by neglect and torture of Victoria Climbie, has lost her claim for wrongful dismissal against Haringey council.

It may well be true that heads higher up the ladder should have rolled, too, but it is good that this excuse for a 'social worker' has been told where to get off with her outrageous claim. She was incompetent, at the very least, and has no business being allowed anywhere near children in any future employment situation.

Mind the gap!

Anyone who has ever traveled on the London Underground is likely to have heard this refrain from a disembodied voice over the public address system, but it seems that manhole covers are now a regular target of thieves throughout the UK (and in exotic locations such as Shanghai, too) because of their high value as scrap metal. Will it be lamp-posts next?

Why am I not surprised?

It seems there are no grounds for criminal investigation into any aspect of how decisions were reached in relation to the building of the permanent home of the Scottish Parliament. After all, it's only public money ...

Wednesday, 6 October 2004

My dentist has been suspended ...

... and this is why, it is alleged. Like some others, I am slightly concerned (note the British understatement).

EU Justice Commissioner - "homosexuality is a sin"

I thought when I first came across this report that it must be some kind of sick joke. But no, it seems that the recently-named new Justice Commissioner of the European Union really did say this.

I urge anyone who reads this to send a protest direct to the EU, using the 'Your direct line' link under the links section entitled 'Interact with the EU' from the EU main index page. This is the text of a message I have just sent:

Subject:
New Justice Commissioner - Rocco Buttiglione

Question(s):
I have just read, with shock, the remarks made by Signor Buttiglione that homosexuality is a sin; his further statement that the rights of homosexuals should be defended on the same basis as the rights of all other European citizens is little comfort as I find it difficult to believe that he will be able, entirely, to separate his own deeply-held personal views from any aspect of his official duties, specially as I read that he tried (and failed) to remove from the Charter of Fundamental Rights non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

I am well aware that there are strongly-held opposing views on various aspects of matters relating to homosexuals (whether they should be allowed to marry or not, for example), but to have a man such as Signor Buttiglione in a position so important as Justice Commissioner is both deeply upsetting and disquieting (or even 'terrifying', and I do not exaggerate) for the future.

Has this person been confirmed in the position he was nominated for? If so, why?

Thank you for your urgent comments.

I have on occasion sent messages to the EU in the past and although one always receives an automated acknowledgement, I have also somewhat later always received a fuller reply in addition, although whether anything actually happens as a result of such comments is not known, but if one doesn't write about such matters then one can't complain later.

Read about Signor Buttiglione and his controversial views on various matters, ranging from homosexuality to immigration, in this BBC report.

UPDATE: (Friday 8OCT04 13.30 BST) EU Parliament President Josep Borrell has entered the fray, in an interview given to a French radio station, stating - "Quite frankly, as a Spanish citizen, I wouldn't want to have a justice minister who thinks that homosexuality is a sin and that women should stay at home and have children under the protection of their husbands. I don't think that at this moment in time we can have such people in charge of justice - especially justice... Perhaps if he were in charge of beetroots, it wouldn't be so serious." Well done; it is good to hear someone senior speaking out against this nonsense, although I tend to doubt it will do any good in this instance.

Yes, the 'Holocaust' did happen and it was pre-planned

This riveting transcipt of a speech given by Heinrich Himmler at Poznan (Posen), for which there is a German text and an English translation and of which there is an on-line recording you can listen to, provides a very clear rebuttal of so-called 'holocaust deniers' who claim that the holocaust never happened or that it wasn't planned at the highest level of the Nazi Party. (thru Un swissroll, who got it from normblog)

Now that this period will soon, in the next few decades probably, fade from living memory, it is even more important that vital evidence which can substantiate beyond a shadow of a doubt that what history tells us happened really did happen (and was not simply a horrible nightmare) is preserved scrupulously and used to thwart the deniers.

Tuesday, 5 October 2004

Many grassroots Tories remain as homophobic as ever

According to a survey carried out by the BBC, and reported by uk.gay.com, 53 Conservative constituency chairmen from 110 surveyed across the country told the BBC they were against giving the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples, whereas 35 of the constituency chairman support legislation to give equality to lesbian and gay couples, while 22 refused to answer or did not know.

It is all very well for the Leadership of the Party to try and portray it as more modern in its outlook (as Theresa May did today, once more), but the harsh reality is that a large proportion of Conservative Party activists around the country have not changed their homophobic attitudes, not one little bit. Naturally I will be listening to the rest of the week's activities in Bournemouth with some interest, and I have to say that some of the 'economic' noises being made seem quite sound, and leader Michael Howard made a very good speech today, which was quite moving in parts.

Nevertheless one comes back, again and again, to the realisation that whilst the Party may be fiscally liberal, on social matters the grass-roots of the Party remains as bigoted as ever. Sigh ...

Sunday, 3 October 2004

UK Customs continue to flout EU Internal Market rules

UK Customs continues to penalise with draconian fines and vehicle seizures those who are exercising their right to import alcohol and tobacco products from other EU countries. The attraction of doing this is that taxes ('duty') on these products is considerably higher in the UK than in most other EU countries, specially France - which is the closest country to the UK and probably the most-visited by Britons for this purpose.

The European Commission will meet UK Customs and Excise officials in Brussels this coming Thursday to hear how the UK plans to address the issue, in a bid to avoid court action being taken by the Commission against the UK, before the European Courts of Justice, the body which oversees observance by member states of the terms of the various EU treaties. Whilst there may be a case for acting to thwart individuals who bring large quantities of goods into the UK in order to sell them on for profit, which is against the rules, there have been too many cases reported of people who were certainly not engaged in such activity suffering puntive fines and vehicles seizures.

As Frits Bolkestein, the European Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union is quoted as saying:

"I recognise and support strongly member states' efforts to fight excise duty fraud - but this must not be at the expense citizens' rights to take full advantage of the Internal Market.

"Cross-border shopping is a fundamental right under EU law and should not be regarded as a form of tax evasion - even if it does give rise to revenue losses for the UK exchequer."

Quite.

Saturday, 2 October 2004

How the NHS works, if you are powerful

Our beloved Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has just undergone a minor operation in a NHS hospital for a heart murmur. Of course, I am pleased that it seems to have gone well and that he is likely to make a full and speedy recovery (if what we are being told by the Downing Street propaganda machine is accurate). However, it is interesting to note just how quickly Tony has been treated, for what is essentially a non-critical complaint - again if what the propaganda machine is telling us is correct.

But what if you are not Prime Minister, but you have exactly the same medical complaint and you are exactly the same age - well, here's what happens. It's not the first time our so-called egalitarian Labour government has tried this kind of joke on the British people; I recall years ago an interview with the late Barbara Castle MP who justified her treatment in a private ward by saying "as a government minister it would obviously be inappropriate for me to be treated in a public ward". Yes, the nomenklatura still look after themselves first.

Friday, 1 October 2004

Article heading list for latest 6-month period (April 2004-September 2004) now up

The archive of 'Article Headings' for the latest 6-month period is now available - click here for the period April 2004 to September 2004.

There are permanent links in the right bar to this and earlier 6-month 'Article Heading' indices, immediately below the standard 'Blogger' monthly archive links.

Problems with Blogger template updates

I've been trying to update my Blogger template for some hours, but it seems to 'stick' before completion. I've notified Blogger, but until it is resolved I won't be posting further entries here (assuming this one succeeds).