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

Monday, 31 January 2005

Murder in Nairn - DNA tests on witness samples

DNA samples recovered during forensic examinations of the area are to be compared with DNA samples taken from witnesses known to have been in the area subsequent to the murder of Alistair Wilson, with the aim of eliminating them from the inquiry.

There is reported as yet to be no known motive for the murder. Where are Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot when you need them? My most recent previous article on this matter is here.

UPDATE: (Friday 4FEB05 00.40 GMT) DNA tests on witnesses are to be carried out at Nairn Police Station over the next two days.

Sunday, 30 January 2005

Unbelieveable! Even Germany has surely taken logic too far ...

It seems that unemployed women in Germany, who are under the age of 55, can be deprived of their unemployment benefits if they decline to take up jobs offered through jobcentres (Nothing controversial there, on the surface. Similar rules now apply in the UK, I believe.)
- even if the job offered is to work as a prostitute.
Amazing! (thru Stephen Pollard)

Saturday, 29 January 2005

ECHR criticises Sweden for compuslory detention of gay man with HIV

The European Court of Human Rights found that Sweden had violated the rights of a gay man with HIV by keeping him in isolation for about seven years (1994-2001) through the issue every six months of a renewal of an isolation order under Sweden's Infectious Diseases Act.

Sweden is often held up as being a model of a democratic European country with a moral conscience. However, it is the country that continued to use its 1934 law to forcibly sterilize people, who were disabled mentally or physically, until 1976. Many seemingly 'civilised' countries based parts of their legislation on eugenics in the 1930s - it was not just Nazi Germany - but Sweden continued with these policies right up until the mid-1970s.

So I am not particularly surprised by this latest example of that nation's 'liberality'.

Is the Foreign Office colluding in Uganda's anti-homosexual laws?

Chris Stentaza was a teacher at a church school who was dismissed from his job after speaking at a gay confernece in Manchester fifteen months ago. There is now a warrant out for his arrest in Uganda, which punishes homosexuality with life imprisonment.

He has been invited to be part of a delegation scheduled to meet the secretary to the Church of England's commission responsible for last October's Windsor report, which aims to keep together the Anglican worldwide communion in the wake of the controversy over the promotion of gay clergy within the Church.

He has been denied a visa for the UK on various grounds - and from reading this Guardian article it seems that every time he overcomes the problem that has been raised another objection is found (more like excuse!) to deny him a visa. Why is this happening? Could it be an upcoming election and the sensitivity over 'immigration', or are relations with Uganda simply so important that we cannot afford to jeopardise them when all that is at stake is one victimised gay man? Frankly he would seem to have grounds for claiming asylum here, if he wanted, but probably doesn't (I expect he is being invited simply to speak as part of the delegation); the threat of life imprisonment merely for being gay would seem like a preetty good justification to me. But, what do I know? The government is threatening to confine any one of us it chooses, indefinitely, on grounds which may never be revealed. This is the Alice-through-the looking-glass world we now inhabit.

Read more about machinations in the topsy-turvy world of Anglican politics in this 365gay.com article.

Friday, 28 January 2005

Bullies outgunned by the law

No doubt the perpetrators, in the way that bullies often do, protested that it was "only a bit of fun". However, this time these bullies have been exposed as the vicious inadequates they are.

Police State Britain - Charles Clarke comes clean

The Home Secretary, in an interview with Rachel Sylvester published in today's Telegraph, is quoted as saying:
"Protecting national security must come first.

"Just because somebody's wife wants to chat with her friends about going shopping that's not therefore a reason to let somebody cause a bomb explosion at Bluewater."

and
"I accept that an individual is different to a family but where there is an individual who is deemed to be a threat on security grounds we need the powers to stop that person engaging in terrorism.

"I'm not seeking to attack the innocent, I'm seeking to make [the control orders] work for the others."

and he criticised
"lawyers who believe that an individual's rights are absolutely paramount and that they come ahead of the need to protect society as a whole".

- one of those quotes sounds suspiciously like a reformulation of "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear", that hoary old cliche used by dictatorships everywhere and even tried from time to time by spokespeople for our own police forces! If you believe in democracy, fought for over centuries in this country, and the danger which the Government's latest policy wheeze represents for these hard-won rights, then you should read the whole interview.

In today's Telegraph Alice Thomson has a comment piece on Rachel Sylvester's article which is very helpful in explaining the implications of house arrests both for the suspect and his/her family and friends. Where I disagree strongly with Alice Thomson, however, is her 'solution' to the conundrum which the Home Secretary faces (and I accept that he does) - she wants the Human Rights Act to be repealed; this is the same line that was being peddled in an editorial in yesterday's Telegraph, where Joshua Rozenberg, Legal Editor has his usual very balanced analysis of the risks and 'benefits' associated with this proposed new legislation.

This is all very well (or rather, it is not!), but the Human Rights Act incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK domestic laws and as a direct consequence of that:
- homosexuals and lesbians may now serve in the armed forces, ending the long-standing discrimination and risk of blackmail (often followed by dismissal) which they often experienced;
- the homosexual age of consent was lowered from 18 to 16, to bring it into line with the general age of consent.

Now these 'minor' side-effects of repealing the Human Rights Act may not matter much to the Telegraph or to Alice Thomson (indeed the former opposed the Act at the time, because in part it was opposed to allowing gays to serve in the military and to equalising the age of consent), but they matter a great deal to people like me.

The solution to our problem with terrorism is NOT to destroy our democracy in the process. Nor is it to remove equality from a sector of the population, specially one which has so recently more or less gained it, for the sake of 'expediency'. Where would this end?

Thursday, 27 January 2005

Never again! (vain hope?)

Today is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet army. It is estimated that about 1,100,000 people were murdered there by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Of these, about one million were Jewish, with Gypsies, Communists, homosexuals and sundry other groups of 'undesirables' comprising the remainder.



"First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist,
so I said nothing.
Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat,
so I did nothing.
Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist.
And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew,
so I did little.
Then when they came for me,
there was no one left to stand up for me."


Pastor Martin Niemoller

- you can read more about Pastor Niemoller here, how he voiced his opposition to the Nazi policies promulgated by Adolf Hitler's regime, how he ended up in various concentration camps before being freed by the allies in 1945. The article also contains some very interesting observations about the way the wording of his poem has been distorted (and indeed, manipulated) to suit the purposes of various individuals and groups in the years since the end of the Second World War upto very recent times.

It would be comforting to think that a horror such as the Holocaust could never happen again. Unfortunately several similar events have taken place in much more recent times, not to mention the tens of millions who perished in the USSR under Stalin. A few that spring readily to mind include Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Sudan (happening right now!) - so it is salutary, and necessary, to be reminded. Having a Holocaust Memorial Day will probably not prevent such things from happening again, but if it causes one less such occurrence than might otherwise have occurred, then it is a very small price to pay, even if some people risk being bored by such 'charades'.

Roughly 11 million people were killed in the Holocaust. Six million Jews and five million non-Jews (Slavs, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Political Enemies, Jehova's Witnesses, sympathetic citizens, etc). This figure includes the camps as well as the mass graves in the countryside, killings on the street, organized shootings (such as Babi Yar when 100,000 were killed at Kiev in September 1942 by the Nazis, etc.) and basically, any person singled out for their religion, political beliefs, or their sexual persuasion.

In some of the other atrocities I mention, the following estimates of fatalities are:
- During the 4 years (1975-9) of the Khmer Rouge between 2-3 million people were killed or forced out of the country. This was about 1/3 of the population;
- Rwanda - 500,000 to 800,000 killed in the four months April-July 1994;
- Bosnia - the UN estimates roughly 8,000 were liquidated; this is disputed by the then Serbian authorities;
- Sudan. This is still continuing, so the numbers are not clear, but estimates vary from 50,000 to 250,000.

This is why I included 'vain hope?' as part of the title of this article.

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

EU constitution referendum question announced

The Electoral Commission have decided the wording of the question which will be submitted to the UK electorate in the referendum about ratification of the EU Constitutional Treaty by this country:
"Should the United Kingdom approve the treaty for establishing a constitution for the European Union?"

I am glad that the wording is relatively simple, but I am not sure how I shall vote. As readers of this blog may know, I support in general terms the principle of having such a treaty, but I have enormous reservations about the length and complexity of the final text.

Oman arrests at least 100 suspected extremists

They were allegedly planning attacks aginst a festival which began with the start of the Eid al-Adha. The festival will end on 18th February and roughly two million are expected to participate. It seems a cargo of arms has also been seized. The last arrests of this kind in Oman were in 1994.

I write about this because I lived in Oman for several years, and in a number of adjacent countries for similar periods. Until now Oman has not been regarded as a potential target for extremists.

Bush administration paid right-wing journalists to write opposing gay marriage

Two right-wing columnists were paid by the Bush administration to write articles opposing gay marriage and to support the Bush administration's efforts to have a constitutional ban on such unions enacted. Maggie Gallagher, when advised by Washington Post journalist Howard Kurtz that he was working on a story about the pay-off (USD40,000) she had received, belatedly advised her readers in a column: "I should have disclosed a government contract when I later wrote about the Bush marriage initiative. I would have, if I had remembered it. My apologies to my readers.". So it was all down to a poor memory. Yeah, right!

Similarly Armstrong Williams was paid about USD250,000 to write in support of the Bush administration's 'No Child Left Behind' law. It seems these payments may have violated federal law because of their non-disclosure to the public or to Congress. Tribune Media has dropped Williams's column subsequent to these revelations.

President Bush is quoted as saying: "It's wrong.". Bush added he has instructed his cabinet not to allow it to occur again. "We value our reputation with the press" Bush said, "And the press must remain independent." That's all right then - he has just been re-elected, so can afford this candour now. But would even this have been offered had the evidence to back-up these revelations not been available? Silly question ...

Britain is now, officially, to become a Police State

The death-knell of democracy in the UK, as we have known it, was sounded today at a little after 12.30 pm. The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, rose to read a statement to the House of Commons about the government's reaction to the recent Law Lords ruling that detention of foreign nationals for indefinite periods without trial breaches the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Law Lords ruling stated that indefinite detention without trial of foreign nationals was discriminatory, because it applied only to foreigners and not to British nationals. Well, you can guess what is coming can't you, if not in detail then at least generally? This morning's newspapers were predicting (for example the Telegraph) that the government would actually comply with the ruling by releasing the twelve currently being detained illegally. I was not convinced that this was what was going to happen, but I couldn't put my finger on precisely why; my instinct was that some mechanism would be conjured up to allow the government to continue to hold these people.

To 'comply' with the Law Lords ruling, the Home Secretary is proposing to replace these illegal detentions with what are being called "control orders". Unlike the current detention regime these will apply to British nationals as well - so neatly circumventing the 'discrimination' judgement.

The control orders will provide for house arrests, tagging and controls on the use by affected people of technology such as mobile telephones and the internet. They will not have the right to be informed of the nature of the reasons for control orders being issued against them. There will be no requirement for charges to be laid against them or for their 'guilt' to be tested in a court of law - ever.

This has happened before in the UK, but only in time of war - during World War Two certain individuals who were considered a threat to national security in a time of national emergency were detained. Today's 'war on terror' is, however, a completely different situation - it could go on for decades.

From what I have heard since the announcement was made it is unlikely that there will be major opposition within Parliament (at least within the House of Commons) as it seems that the bulk of MPs consider these steps necessary, if 'regrettable' - decidedly not the word I would use. The fact that the orders will require to be renewed annually, as are the current detentions, is of little comfort given the seemingly supine nature of the bulk of our legislators.

What was announced today is nothing less than proposals for Britain to become a Police State. Today is the day when the terrorists have succeeded in subverting, perhaps fatally, any vestiges of what remains of democracy in this country.

UPDATE: (Friday 28JAN05 11.20 GMT) I wondered a little if I was perhaps being a little over-dramatic in my assessment of where the Government's latest wheeze was leading us. It seems, however, that people other than myself are beginning to voice their disquiet - even people such as George Churchill-Coleman, former head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad durng the late-80s and early-90s who was involved in efforts to counter the IRA in its mainland terrorist activities He probably does not strike most observers as a closet 'anarchist'. (Link to this Guardian article thru Guido Fawkes blog)

Taking the correct highway exit ...

... I couldn't resist linking to this - major choices await whoever is driving that car! Paul at No Milk Please muses on reality shows and how they could be made more interesting, as well as the joys of travelling on standby tickets.

Just a question of perspective ...

... is it better that one guilty man go free, or that one innocent man be executed in error? This Ohio case has dragged on for 18 years; now a federal appeals court in Ohio, the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals, has ruled that a convicted murderer must be retried within 90 days or set free, and in their judgement declared: "Because constitutional errors have undermined our confidence in the reliability of Richey's conviction and sentence, we reverse the decision."

I have to 'fess up. I am against the use of capital punishment, which I consider merely state-sanctioned murder. Murder is wrong. I am not neutral in any way on this issue.

Scotland's land laws are crazy - and becoming crazier by the day

A Highland community is being given ballot papers to decide whether 'they' wish to buy a 40,000 acre estate, which is being put up for sale by the current owners. Of course the community won't be buying it at all! These so-called 'community buy-outs' are a complete con - we, the taxpayers will be required to stump up. It is nothing but a mechanism to bring increasing swathes of the country under the ultimate control of the state.

I have absolutely no objection to a Highland, or any other, community buying land, houses - whatever they wish - I just don't want to be required to pay for it for them, through my taxes. I can understand some landowners wanting to divest themselves of holdings here, though - the political climate indicates that some compulsory purchases, at firesale prices, could soon be forced through by our crazy Scottish Executive - better, from their point of view, to get out while they still can. I would much rather property sales and purchases were left to market forces - period.

Tuesday, 25 January 2005

Final four British Guantanamo detainees land near London

I am just watching on BBC News24 as the RAF aircraft carrying the four British detainees, who were the last British citizens to be held by the Americans at its Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba, lands at RAF Northolt.

I have written many times about the status of the detainees held at Guantanamo and my view that all those held there should either be charged with crimes, or released. Thankfully in the case of these last four British citizens this part of their ordeal is now over, although as it seems that at least two of the four were held in solitary confinement for upto 18 months it is not clear what is their mental state. It seems clear that they will be held for questionning by the authorities here, but if the experience of the previous five who were returned back to the UK in March 2004 is a guide, they may be released quite rapidly. I was listening earlier this afternoon to John O'Connor, a former Commissioner at Scotland Yard, and he gave the impression that it would be almost impossible for the men not be released quite rapidly, unless there are genuine charges which can be laid against them. I watch with interest ...

UPDATE: (Wednesday 26JAN05 22.23 GMT) So dangerous were these four that although they had to be locked up at Guantanamo for upto three years, all four have this evening been released from custody without charge. One presumes any 'evidence' against them cannot have been particularly compelling. However, as we all now live in what will probably soon become one giant police control zone, I suppose it does not matter much.

Bill pays tribute ...

... quite literally. Today I made the '1st payment on account due for the year 2004-05' on my income tax. I always file my tax return well in advance of the 30th September deadline, so all I have is to do (apart from coughing up!) is to verify that the Inland Revenue calculation is accurate - for the last few years the inaccuracies that plagued the early years of 'self assessment' seem to have largely disappeared, I am pleased to report.

Of course I can't relax for too long - the next self assessment form will drop on my mat sometime around 9th or 10th April and the 2nd payment on account for 04/05 will be due by 31st July. All very necessary to help allow Gordon and Tony to continue their undoubtedly (if I weren't too simple to understand) sound policies of income redistribution, so as a good citizen I pay up 'meekly'. Not that I have much of a choice, whether I am called a customer or a 'victim', in the words of Liberty Cadre.

Monday, 24 January 2005

More links added - under 'UK Politics' heading

A couple more links to add:

UKIP 'watcher' site
UKIP Uncovered - by a UKIP supporter who seems to be at odds with the Party leadership (seems also to be a big supporter of the just-resigned Robert Kilroy-Silk MEP). Bills itself thus - 'What motivates the leaders of the United Kingdom Independence Party?'. This blog does not appear to have a feed, so following it will be a pain. A recent message on the blog queried whether it continues to be useful, now that RKS has quit the Party, so its continuation is not certain. The person who writes it seems also to be behind a Conservative 'watcher' site (Teetering Tories).

Conservative 'watcher' site
Teetering Tories - bills itself thus 'Conservatives! Capable of Considering Country?'. Written by the same person as behind a UKIP 'watcher' site (UKIP Uncovered), so comes at the Tories from a different angle than the other Conservative 'watcher' site (Tory Trouble) to which I already link.

(PS/ Thanks to Stuart of the Independence blog for the link to the UKIP Uncovered blog.)

Another Tory reveals just how out of touch they are ...

Rainbownetwork reports that Tim Collins, the Conservative Shadow Education Secretary, has criticized next month’s Gay History Month calling it "achingly politically correct."

Now I've always thought of Tim Collins as being one of the slightly more palatable senior-ish Tories from amongst the younger generation. However it seems that a minor matter such as bullying, specially when it affects young gay people, isn't thought worthwhile of the effort of being combatted. The bold Mr Collins instead thinks that "we ought to protect the innocence of young people at that age". Unlike him, Paul Patrick, co-chairman of Schools Out, one of the organisations running the event, has said it was desperately needed as "homophobic bullying is rife in many of our schools".

Pathetic, but more than pathetic, it is shameful.

If I was a trekker, Nepal would be the place to go ...

... according to this interesting article in NewKerala. It seems that some tour companies there have spotted the marketing opportunity represented by the gay and lesbian communities and have begun to specialise in providing these and other groups with friendly and courteous services. It's good to read of cases where common humanity is being partnered with enlightened commercial self-interest. Unlike in Jamaica, for example.

A 'primer' on Opus Dei, for those following Ruth Kelly's career

I've been fascinated over the past couple of weeks to read that a recently-appointed member of the Cabinet, Ruth Kelly MP, is a member of 'Opus Dei'. She replaces Charles Clarke as Education Secretary, he having been moved to the Home Office upon the resignation of David Blunkett as Home Secretary.

I know next to nothing about 'Opus Dei', so this BBC primer on the subject is quite interesting. Whether it will entirely stifle the voices which have described it as a 'cult' is rather unlikely (in my view). Long-term readers of this blog will know that my views on religion (any religion) are highly equivocal so I tend to regard any and all religious practices as being somewhat 'cultish' in any case.

Youth banned from own home for three months

It seems a youth in Leven (Fife) has become the first person in Scotland to be banned from his own home, having been served with a closure order under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2004. I'm not sure exactly how I feel about such situations - it will no doubt (assuming the youth observes the ban) be at least a temporary improvement for his unfortunate neighbours, but I wonder where he will have gone meantime and what mayhem he may cause there.

In my less 'enlightened' moments I could think of appropriate long-term solutions, but expect that if I put them down in writing I'd risk the strictures of nanny.

Friday, 21 January 2005

You'll have had your tea?

Said to be the traditional greeting to a visitor when arriving at a certain kind of Scottish household, specially in our nation's capital, Edinburgh. I thought of this when I read this story. I must not mock, though - I'm sure there's a serious point here. Incidentally I don't drink tea, or coffee - I drink plain cold water instead (much healthier), when I'm not drinking wine and I use energy-saver bulbs wherever I can. Cheers!

Gays really are just like other people ...

... yes, some of them are crooks, too.

Thursday, 20 January 2005

The price of homophobia in the war on terror

There is an interesting editorial in today's New York Times, commenting on the fact that 20 fluent Arabic speakers have been turfed out of the US military since 1998, solely because of their sexuality - they are gay. As an Arabic speaker myself, although nowhere good enough to be a professional translator, I know how vital it was to me during my time living in the Middle East to be able to read the odd newspaper article, or listen to the radio locally (or the BBC in Arabic). How much more vital must it be for people engaged in military operations? The stated aim of combating terrorism unfortunately seems to take second place to the necessity of ensuring that no 'dangerous elements' such as non-closeted gays are able to remain in the US military forces.

Of course the "don't ask, don't tell" policy didn't start under this Administration, but under Bill Clinton. What is equally true is that this policy was adopted (reluctantly) by Clinton to respond to the vehement opposition to complete abandonment of prohibition of gays in the military by none other than the Secretary of State Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who in this area at least is no liberal! All the "don't ask, don't tell" policy achieves is to force people who want to be honest about who they are to live a life of concealment and quite probably deceit - is this sensible?

Go figure... (as my North American cousins might say)

New links added - under 'UK Politics' heading

I have been following a couple of political 'watcher' blogs for quite a while now, but I wanted to wait until I had a source for comment on the third major political party before adding any of the links here. I discovered the third last evening, through another blog (which I'll write about shortly, because it seems to be one of the best Scottish weblogs I have come across), so here the three are:

Conservative 'watcher' site
Tory Trouble - bills itself as 'Plumbing the depths of the Conservative Party';

Labour 'watcher' site
Labour Watch - bills itself as 'Exposing the failings of the Labour party at local and national level - in the interests of political balance, of course';

Liberal Democrat 'watcher' site
Liberal Democrat Watch - bills itself as 'Liberal Democrats: In politics, being ridiculous is more damaging than being extreme'.

You'll find the permanent links to these three blogs in the 'UK Politics' section of my blogroll in the column on the right.

I'm actively looking for 'watcher' links for other significant political parties in the UK, whether regionally or nationally (e.g. Democratic Unionist Party [NI], Green Party, Plaid Cymru [Wales], Scottish National Party [Scotland], United Kingdom Independence Party) - if you know of links to blogs which give a different perspective on these parties than is available in their own websites, please let me know so I may add them to the list. Indeed if there are other parties which have 'watcher' sites keeping an eye on what they are saying and doing, then I'd like to know about them, too.

Wednesday, 19 January 2005

Updated bio - 'who is Bill?'

I have updated my brief online bio Who is Bill? to include some information about my position on the political spectrum. I have done this because, as the author of a blog devoted to current events and as someone who is also quite politically-minded, I came to feel that not to have covered this topic in my online bio was a definite omission. It may also help to clarify my thinking for newcomers to my blog who may, because of my sexuality and quite 'liberal' attitude toward matters of social policy, about which I write fairly frequently, have assumed I must lean toward Labour or the LibDems. Definitely not so. Life is a good deal more complex than this. It is probably true that amongst the 'out' gay community there are more left- than right-wingers and in real life my views have often caused irritation amongst some of my gay acquaintances who seem to have very blinkered views about politics, but I think it is a healthy sign for diversity to exist in any grouping, however loose. I hope the amended bio will avoid any similar confusiuon in future.

New links added - January 2005 - batch 2

I've just added a second January batch of 9 blogs to my blogroll; some are long-established, but a few have only just been started (so who knows how long they will continue) and recommend them for your attention. They are in no particular order below:
Backword (Dave Weeden) - an eclectic mix of views from a British perspective. I find it quite difficult to 'classify' the writer, but he writes well and is stimulating to read.
Blimpish - the name probably says it all. Describes him(?)self as born and living in the provinces of England. Writes from a rightish-of-centre point of view, and whilst what (s)he writes is very interesting, some of the posts can be very lengthy so you need to be dedicated to read them all.
Blognor Regis - worth a visit if only for the header bar which is one of the more attractive I've seen. Like me the author is a former Tory voter. He writes on a wide range of topics, from cycling to politics, from current affairs to the EU (which, unlike me, he seems to oppose).
Freedom and Whisky (David Farrer) - A libertarian, now living back in Scotland and writing from Edinburgh. Stimulating and wide-ranging in its scope. I've been reading this blog for well over a year, but somehow had overlooked putting it onto my blogroll- omission now rectified.
Independence - a brand new blog from someone called Stuart Dickson who describes his blog as "A blog for Scottish independence". It's early days yet, but he seems to write well and reasonably rationally, even if a lot of what he writes is hardly to my taste (I believe in the UK); I don't believe we need 'independence' in Scotland as I think we already have it, as an equal (if junior) partner with England and the other countries of the UK - 'separation' is the correct term for what these people want. Anyway, rant over - visit this site to get a very different Scottish perspective from my own.
Stephen Pollard - weblog of a British journalist. Trenchant commentary on all manner of things. Self-description: "Remember ? this blog is never knowingly understated"; this is certainly no exaggeration. He recently published a biography of David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary.
Lose the Delusion - James Ker-Lindsay has as a subtitle for his blog 'Proudly Battling Euroscepticism' and advises he is British, but now lives in Cyprus where he runs a think-tank whose business is to analyse politics in South East Europe. Quite opinionated (why bother with it otherwise?!), but well-written and enjoyable to read.
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
- an interesting and surreal blog written by Harry Hutton, residing in Hong Kong. I've no idea who Harry Hutton is, but his brand of humour strikes me as either British or (perhaps) Australian. No matter, it's an entertaining read and it even smuggles in some semi-serious commentary amongst the humour.
No Milk Please - Paul G. is a thirty-something gay Asian living in Chicago, Illinois. I have been reading this blog more or less since it began, well over a year ago and, although I now visit less regularly (mainly because until recently he didn't seem to have a feed for his blog), I always find it an engaging and thoughtful read, filled with both angst and wry humour. He explains that the title of his blog is not because he is lactose intolerant, simply that he dislikes (intensely) milk and all milk products.

UPDATE: (Saturday 26MAR05 20.35)

Tuesday, 18 January 2005

Glimmers of protest in the 'hermit kingdom' of North Korea

The Telegraph carries a mind-blowing report today about signs of dissent against President Kim Jong-il, the ruler of this totalitarian state. The protest apparently took place in the city of Hoeryong, in the north-east border area of the country, and took the form of a poster of Kim being defaced with the following slogan:
"Down with Kim Jong-il. Let's all rise to drive out the dictatorial regime."

- shown in video footage smuggled out of the country, which included a voice-over opining:
"The gentle and ordinary people of North Korea need a new leader," a male voice says. "There is a great potential for democracy in this country."

In western terms these may seem mild protests, but the gravity of the offences for the perpetrators, if caught, is likely to be of the most extreme nature. Having lived in a number of pretty autocratic countries, I can perhaps understand a little better than many others just what these 'mild' protests may cost the brave souls involved (after all, in one such country a friend spent 13 years in a 're-education' camp, suffering permanent physical damage in the process, for having offended the regime which controlled his country, whilst another friend and former colleague emerged from his 'questionning' by the authorities with both emotional and physical impairment). It is possible that, even now, investigations are being conducted in the city where it happened, partly as a result of the publicity given to the reports in South Korea and in the wider world.

Some other dictatorial regimes have collapsed pretty rapidly once protests within those countries began to become frequent (East Germany and Romania, for example) and it is not impossible that this might happen in North Korea, but I fear their emergence from their particular brand of socialist hell may be much more prolonged and costly for those who contribute to it happening. And it may never happen, or at least not for a long time.

(By the way, I noticed this report about a week ago in the BBC website, about the North Korean regime's views on male grooming - this exemplifies, in a minor way, just what living under the gaze of 'Big Brother' is all about.)

The revelation of British military abuse at al-Basrah ...

... one had heard rumours, but today we were shown some of the photographs being used as evidence against three soldiers of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in their courts martial being held at Osnabruck in Germany. One of the three has already admitted being guilty of one of the 'lesser' crimes.

The allegations and photographs are deeply shocking and it may have been unorthodox, but was certainly timely, for General Sir Mike Jackson (Head of the British Army) to voice his utter condemnation of what seems to have occurred. It will be very interesting to learn, in due course, the verdicts handed down in the courts martial, but whatever transpires will most likely not protect the Army (and the UK as a whole) from the damge to its international reputation, most pertinently in Iraq itself. These alleged incidents invite comparison with what occurred under US jurisdiction at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and whilst it seems the British transgressions were much more limited in scale and the period when they occurred, this is only small comfort. It may be that our military effectiveness in the al-Basrah area is reduced by these revelations, as a result of the changed attitude toward our forces by many Iraqis; this may be why Jackson was provoked into making his statement before the conclusion of the courts martial hearings.

I have always believed that it was right to act militarily to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and I still cannot renege on that belief, even if the post-removal phase seems to have been handled quite badly in some respects. It would be hypocritical of me, someone who has never (luckily) had to serve in the military, to attempt to blur my support for our participation, in Iraq, now that these horrors have been revealed - bad things happen in war, even in the best regulated of armies and it would be naive to think that our forces would somehow be immune from such faults, or that similar things might not recur.

We must hope that the elections at the end of this month can be conducted without too much additional violence and loss of life; this won't cancel out the abuses by US and UK military personnel, but a good election process will at least show that some good is flowing from this sorry situation.

Airbus A380 to be unveiled officially later today

The largest ever civilian airliner, the Airbus A380, will be unveiled officially later today at Toulouse, south-west France. Built by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), it has taken over 30 years of continual development to reach this point. Various countries have been involved in Airbus over the years, including the UK, France, Germany and Spain. All the wings on Airbus aircraft have, for example, been built in the UK by BAE Systems, which owns 20% of Airbus, the rest being owned by EADS. The A380 is expected to enter into service in Spring 2006, when Singapore Airlines is scheduled to be the first operating airline.

A truly marvellous achievement for Europe and a worthy commercial rival for Boeing.

(I was fortunate enough to have visited Airbus at Toulouse some years ago, when I was involved in aircraft finance deals for several aircraft being purchased by various airline clients of the organisation I worked for. The assembly hall for the various versions then in production - A310, A320 and A340 - was pretty huge and impressive, but by the sounds of it is dwarved by the hall required for the A380.)

Murder in Nairn - murder weapon to be re-examined

It seems that the assumed murder weapon, a gun found some days after the murder down a drain in Seabank Road, is to be subjected to further forensic examination in Northern Ireland for any trace evidence. Presumably events over the past thirty or so years have resulted in great expertise in such matters in NI.

This is the first mention I have heard of this crime in some weeks; it is obviously going to take a lengthy period to trace the killer, if this ever happens. My most recent previous article on this matter is here.

Monday, 17 January 2005

Tories need to decide whether they want to win ...

... and to start taking the [hard] decisions which may allow this to happen four or five years from now. As I've written before, the idea that the Party might win the coming election is highly unlikely. That's the reality.

Rachel Sylvester has a very timely article in today's Telegraph in which she contends that the defection of Robert Jackson to Labour a few days ago has "all the hallmarks of an Alstair Campbell operation"; as I wrote in the article immediately preceding this one, the timing and circumstances of Jackson's move are certainly curious, so her glimpse into what may have been behind it seems to have, at the very least, a grain of authenticity.

She goes on to analyse why, in her opinion (and in mine - it's uncanny how her article mirrors much of my own thinking and sporadic writing here over the past year or two), the Conservative Party still has so far to go before it is likely to win at a General Election. Of course, the quotations I included in the previous article speak to the same problem - the almost complete refusal of the Tories "to accept the scale of the problems they face", sentiments attributed to Lynton Crosbie (a political strategist brought in from Australia by Michael Howard) in Rachel Sylvester's article. One paragraph of her article reads:

"There is a space on the electoral landscape for a modern centre-Right party, but my guess is that it will be one which is avowedly liberal, both socially and economically. The commitment to ID cards would have to go. Tax cuts would fit into that agenda - but matched by an equal emphasis on reforming public services. Those blue-rinses who are forcing out women candidates would have to be taken on and beaten. There would be no more space for ambiguity over gay rights and family values."

and she goes on to make the [probably valid] point that Michael Howard "as an instinctive authoritarian" is not really suited to lead such a Party. You can read the whole article here. Jackson's prospective replacement at Westminster, Ed Vaisey, is perhaps amongst those who might help the Conservative Party make the radical changes in policy necessary to succeed. This is a trick the Party has managed several times before in its long history as a way of renewing its relevance to British society. It must make a decisive break with the dead-end policies that have led it to its current downward spiral; it will be painful, no doubt about it, but the alternative is oblivion. I have said more or less the same thing many times before and I begin to wonder why I still care - the simple truth is that I continue to believe that the Conservative Party, suitably refreshed in policy terms, is the best group to govern this country and to replace the 'charlatans' we currently have to deal with.

The latest Conservative defector to jump ship ...

Robert Jackson, the Conservative MP for Wantage in Oxfordshire has chosen to transfer allegiance to Labour, and his BBC profile is here.

What has prompted this post, however, is a post this evening by The Candidate, in which she says (or rants, in fact), and I quote verbatim large parts of it, for your 'edification' and enjoyment:

So some old wet has crossed the floor. Robert Jackson, former junior minister and (falls off chair with surprise) supporter of Ken Clarke.

[...]

Now of course sometimes people's views change, but you can make many friends in politics (as well as an equal number of enemies), and to cross the floor while still in office is a spiteful move, which will hurt the most those friends and supporters who have worked hard for you over the years, some of whom will sympathise with your own views.

The decent and noble way to do these things would be to stand down at the earliest decent opportunity (i.e. in May) and then leave it a term or so before joining the other side. To do the act with timing that was clearly calculated to try to damage the party says more about the defector than the party he/she is leaving.

[...]

There is an encouraging side to all this. The rabid Europhiles have clearly admitted defeat if they are now leaving. Good riddance to them. We must be doing something right (no pun intended) if Jackson and his ilk are leaving.

It was largely as a result of the confused policy direction of the wets that did so much to hasten the Conservative decline in the 1990s. OK, we probably would still not have won in '97, but Blair's majority would have been contained at a more decent level, and we could have been so much closer to retuning to power now.

Frankly the only question left is: why did he wait so long?

It is certainly curious timing for an MP to transfer allegiance so soon before the expected date of the next General Election, when he has already decided to leave Parliament at the next election, but it needs to be repeated (again and again, if necessary) that whilst MPs may hold a party whip they are elected, legally speaking, as individuals to represent their constituents, all their constituents - they are not elected as creatures of any political party, even if they generally support one of them. There is absolutely no legal requirement on an MP to resign his/her seat if he/she wishes to cross the House.

I think an eloquent silence is the only appropriate 'response' to the rest of the ridiculous post from The Candidate, quoted above. However, I cannot resist one remark - if this is the standard of argument which the Conservative Party intends to employ in the expectation that the people of this country will give it a winning majority in the forthcoming election, then I very much fear they are likely to be sorely disappointed. My disappointment is that we are likely to be lumbered with another Labour administration, but unfortunately that is a less bleak prospect than allowing the increasingly idiosynchratic and out of touch Conservative Party back into power.

Sunday, 16 January 2005

The view from one of my windows today ...




A mobile oil platform parked offshore at Nairn


I often see oil and gas platforms 'passing by' on their way to and from the Cromarty Firth (just at the other side of the Moray Firth from here), where they come for repair and maintenance at Invergordon every so often, but they are generally moved by one or more tugs. This version appears to be somewhat different, however, being itself a sea-going vessel. I am assuming the tall legs, currently seen above the vessel, are gradually lowered into the sea with the ship part of the vessel being 'cranked-up' the legs as it moves into deeper water, with the legs eventually resting on the sea bottom - comments from anyone more kmowledgeable than me about this kind of vessel will be welcome.

The Cromarty Firth used to be one of the major safe harbours for the Royal Navy, long before the oil industry became important in the UK. The other safe haven for the British Fleet in this part of the country was at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. Incidentally, the German Imperial Navy was interned at Scapa Flow after the Armistice at the end of the First World War and later scuttled by its own personnel.

Saturday, 15 January 2005

Cassini-Huygens probe lands on Titan, a moon of Saturn

A marvellous joint project between ESA and NASA. So far, most of the images obtained have been b&w, but the first colour photograph was released today.

It is extraordinary how well this complex project seems, so far, to have performed. Having been launched in 1997 and the Cassini spacecraft having been in orbit around Saturn since July last year, with mid-course manoeuvres required in April 1998 and June 1999 around Venus, around Earth in August 1999 and finally around Jupiter in December 2000, there have been many occasions when the mission could have failed. The successful landing of the probe on Titan and even more the apparently successful gathering of large amounts of data during the process, was no foregone conclusion, as the experience of the under-funded Beagle 2 last year demonstrates. Well done to all those involved in the Cassini-Huygens project!

For more photographs of Saturn taken by the Cassini mission click here.

Wednesday, 12 January 2005

Shootout at the OK Corral - averted

The US Administration and the European Union have agreed not to sue each other before the WTO over allegations of illegal subsidies given to major aviation industry participants Boeing and Airbus. Sensible move - litigation could only have damaged both sides.

Don't mock your boss or your firm in your blog ...

... else you could be shown the door. The blog which caused the problem is here.

LibDem List MSP Keith Raffan replaced by Andrew Arbuckle ...

This bland BBC report about a Liberal Democrat stepping down last week for 'health reasons', said to relate to a back problem may not, if this LibDemWatch report has any substance, be the entire story. A more complete mainstream media report on this matter, than appears in the BBC story, is in the Scotsman today. It would seem certain LibDems haven't changed much since the time of Lloyd George (scroll down page to entries for 1911 and 1916-22), since which time Liberals have never been entrusted with power in Britain. There's surely a lesson for today's electorate here. In the interests of 'full disclosure', I understand Mr Raffan was formerly a Tory MP.

The Party with the death-wish; it's the Conservative party, of course

The Conservative Party seems to limp from one debacle to another, unfortunately. This fills me with genuine sadness. Today I read in the Telegraph that one of the very few female Conservative PPCs has been deselected by her constituency association. Sue Catling has been turfed out by Calder Valley Conservative Association, after having reduced the Labour majority by half to only 3,000 at the last General Election. Of course, there are two sides to every story and I don't have personal knowledge so can only go by what I read. However, Telegraph columnist Alice Thomson (a generally reliable commentator on Conservative politics, in my experience) seems to have no doubts about what is going on, when she refers to the deterioration of the situation over the last 30+ years, from the time Margaret Thatcher was making her way in politics, by ending her article thus:

"If the Tories do not put more women in the Commons soon, the voters might not return more Tory men."

The right of Associations to choose their PPCs has always been sacrosanct, and I generally think this is a good thing, but it becomes a liability when local grassroots membership is so out of step with trends in wider British society. I've talked about this before in another context (ad nauseam, mine, in fact), but it is a problem that the Party will somehow have to solve if it is to re-engage with a larger segment of the electorate.

Even on a day when Tony Blair was wrong-footed by Michael Howard at PMQs, because of the apparent fratricidal conflict between Blair and Gordon Brown, the inability of the Tories to improve their poll ratings serves to confirm the increasing irrelevance of the Party in British politics. Unless something dramatic happens, and soon, I fear that the long-forecast meltdown may not be far away. And it is Blair, and he alone, who will choose the date of the General Election.

Tuesday, 11 January 2005

Can this be true?

I'm sure some who read this blog would wonder about it, too! Anyway, try it for yourself and see where it places your skills:




Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence



You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well.
An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly.
You are also good at remembering information and convicing someone of your point of view.
A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.

You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.




Four remaining Britons held at Guantanamo [may] have been released

It has just been announced in the BBC1 one o'clock news that the four remaining Britons held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be released after prolonged negotiations with the US. The announcement was made by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in the House of Commons a short while ago. This has been strongly rumoured to be about to happen since early today.

This is long overdue, but welcome nonetheless. I will not count this as having happened, though, until the four are back on British soil - it is expected this may be some weeks away and one wonders why. Maybe they (the American and/or the British authorities) are trying to get the four to sign disclaimers? It is really most curious.

It is expected that the four will be repatriated to the UK and probably questionned by the Metropolitan Police prior to further action being taken. It will be recalled that five Britons were repatriated in March 2004 and that all were released from police custody, back in the UK, within days of their arrival here.

As I have stated before, I reiterate that if there are charges which can plausibly be made against any of the four, or indeed any of the five who were released earlier, then they should be charged promptly and brought before a proper court and, if found guilty, punished. Whilst I am very happy that all the Britons known to be held at Guantanamo are now to be released into British custody, it is quite unacceptable that they, and all the others who remain, have been held in limbo for several years in a location deliberately chosen in an attempt to place them beyond the reach of [the normally well-respected system of] US justice. Those who remain at Guantanamo, of whatever nationality, need to be charged with something and if there is nothing they can be charged with then they should be released forthwith.

Monday, 10 January 2005

Blair or Brown - or neither? You decide ...

As always, Boris Johnson cuts to the chase with a pithy analysis of the current 'spat' (aka kids throwing toys out of prams) between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Now I can't see me voting Labour under almost any circumstances, but I can certainly see the difference between the spinmeister Blair and his dour Chancellor. Of course Brown is fond of artful spinning, too, and once you have read the detail (and analyses) behind his various Budget statements, one quickly comes to the conclusion that one has been 'mugged', fiscally speaking. I suppose the difference between the two is that Blair presents a [superficially] somewhat more acceptable facet of left-politics in the UK, not that left-politics is ever acceptable of course.

Whether this latest proxy row between Blair and Brown means that Boris's Party stands a cat in h..ls chance of winning a general election this Spring, if that's when it is, is highly questionnable. I doubt John Reid (whom I heard on Radio 4 this lunchtime, urging at least one of these two colleagues to pipe down) will have to get used to life without a ministerial car anytime soon. I also heard Neil Kinnock opining Brown's centrality to the whole Labour 'project' - highlighting just why Blair cannot simply get rid of Brown. What about the LibDems then? No, really? Well, on present form, I see both the Tories and the LibDems gaining at Labour's expense - but I believe it most likely they will be able to continue with a reduced, but probably workable, majority after the the projected election. Assuming the two gents in question can contain their mutual irritation at least a little.

My choice is a bleak one; my natural instincts lean toward the Conservatives but, for reasons readers of this blog are well aware of, it is highly unlikely I could coerce my finger to put the 'x' in their box for the present, not to mention that I live in a part of the country where Conservatives are a pretty rare phenomenon, in any case, so my vote is probably of little consequence; I dislike intensely anything even vaguely associated with 'socialism', so that rules out Labour and perhaps the LibDems for me, too. So it will be a choice between abstaining completely, or spoiling my ballot paper by writing 'none of these' across it, or voting for one of the inconsequential 'joke' candidates who might pop up. 3pm is lunch-time in this house, so I'll pop off now for that pre-lunch glass of madeira.

UPDATE: (Tuesday 11JAN05 10.50 GMT) A quite extraordinanry interview this morning with John Prescott, Deputy PM, on BBC Radio4 'Today' - listen to it by clicking on the link in the right panel here (for the rest of today, after that on the 'Listen Again' link in the left column on the same page). The Parliamentary Labour Party had, it seems, a pretty heated meeting last evening when back-benchers and some more senior people apparently called upon Blair and Brown to work together. Reading between the lines, it seems clear that everyting said in Robert Peston's soon to be published book, Brown's Britain: How Gordon Runs the Show, serialised in The Sunday Telegraph a couple of days ago, is largely accurate. However, the comment I want to make here is about John Prescott himself. He is often characterised as being something of a dinosaur and a buffoon who mangles his words. That has largely been my view, too, but this morning he showed himself very equal to James Naughtie's 'interrogation' - he is either a lot cleverer than most people have ever given him credit for, or he was very well briefed in advance. I tend to think it is a bit of both, but probably more of the former than the latter. Whatever one thinks of John Prescott's politics, and I would probably agree with very little of what he says in this area, there is no doubt that, for a senior politician, he has more integrity than most. He was blunt this morning about the antics of his two colleagues, but about many others, too. All in all, a pretty good performance. Mind you, not everyone is so disposed to be as charitable as me, when it comes to discussing Prescott (link thru The England Project). I can't quarrel, though, with Pollard's contention that Prescott is incompetent, however well he may be learning to handle himself in radio interviews.

Friday, 7 January 2005

would you hit a lady - well, would the lady hit me back?

What is he on about? I came across the OneWord site whilst reading the latest post at The Shower Room. The idea is to write something (anything you like) in 60 seconds, using the word they supply you with - this week's word is HIT.

I submitted my entry 7th January at 2.02 pm (the OneWord website time that is - here it was 9.02 pm). For what it's worth, it reads:

would you hit a lady - well, would the lady hit me back? that would certainly get my attention - and probably all those around us, too. or a hit record might come of it - or a miss. why not?

Integrity in blogging - or lack thereof

I recently linked to a newish blog called The Candidate which describes itself in its strapline as: "The random and vaguely on-message musings of a Conservative candidate in the 2005 UK general election."

It seems to be, in reality, rather more "on-message" than would necessarily be understood from its somewhat ironic billing. I notice that a recent and moderately lengthy post, and the associated comments, has somehow 'disappeared' from the blog. The subject was a perennial bugbear of Conservative campaigners around the country, namely the alleged 'dirty tricks' perpetrated by one of the other political parties, the Liberal Democrats. Lots of mud is thrown around in politics in all directions about so-called dirty tricks, of course, but I do wonder if it wasn't some of the comments made about this post that have caused 'The Candidate' to chicken out and pull it. For example, a comment I made myself to that post which alluded both to the post's subject and to one of the [many] fundamental problems the Conservative Party still faces if it is ever to regain power in this ocuntry. One of my particular 'bugbears' is gay issues, and whilst I readily admit that I am perhaps not entirely objective when discussing this topic, I try not to let that colour my posts on the matter too much. In any case I alluded, in my comment to the now-disappeared post, to the problem of simmering homophobia which continues to exist in many of the Conservative Associations around the country and most recently came into the public domain when almost the entire leadership of the Falmouth and Camborne constituency Conservative Association was suspended and subsequently removed from office by the Conservative Central Office becasue of the events surrounding their attempts to have Ashley Crossley, their PPC for the next General Election, removed on spurious grounds related to his alleged 'unsuitability', but which really were to do with the fact of this gentleman's homosexuality and the difficulty some in the constituency association have in accepting the fact that the Conservative Party is struggling to lurch into the mid-20th century, even if we're already at the beginning of the 21st century.

I think that whilst the problem of 'dirty tricks' is very real, to focus on this issue whilst attempting to ignore the more basic problems the Conservative Party faces internally (such as the virulent homophobia which exists in parts of the grassroots of the Party, if less so nowadays in its leadership) is extremely short-sighted. How can the Conservative Party ever hope to renew its membership with younger members if it remains so wildly out of tune with present-day British society?

In summary, I will leave the link to 'The Candidate' in place for the present, but unless the writer either re-instates the post, or at least gives some explanation in her blog about its removal, then frankly it is pointless to continue to link to it. The thing about the internet is that one's writings, however banal and inconsequential, or vital and earth-shaking, remain in the minds of readers long after attempts to consign them to the MinTruth 'memory hole' have been made. If the person behind 'The Candidate' doesn't have the integrity to stand behind what she has written, then frankly she has no business ever being elected as an MP. (Indidentally, as there is no e-mail link in her blog, I am unable to communicate directly the substance of my post)

UPDATE: (Friday 7JAN05 13.30 GMT) A propos of the mention of 'racism' in the Conservative Party in the comments for this post, this post in the Tory Trouble blog is highly illustrative.

2nd UPDATE: (Sunday 9JAN05 17.37 GMT) I have placed a message both in the comment thread for this post, and a similar message in the comment thread of 'The Candidate' blog where I made my original comments as follows:

"To 'The Candidate'
I must unreservedly apologise to you. Sorry. I can only assume that I had been looking at an archive page and not realised this.
In any case, I will be following your blog with interest in the months to come.
"

To clarify, I am now happy to acknowledge that 'The Candidate' did not delete a post from her blog and to which I had added a comment, as I alleged. I apologise to her unreservedly.

Well that showed me, did it not? Specially in view of the title I chose for this post; there is a certain irony. The heated exchange which I started did, however, throw up some interesting comments even although it has brought be some [justified] embarrassment.

Thursday, 6 January 2005

New link added - January 2005 - a one-off

I 've just come across 'My Life As A Morrisons Employee' (Updated on 30JAN05 - see end of this post), which seems to be written by a pretty disgruntled employee indeed. A lot of the comments (mostly 'anonymous') are similarly negative about this supermarket chain. I happen to live in a small town whose only decent-size (still pretty small, though) supermarket was a Safeway store and it now operates as a 'compact' store, still under the Safeway brand, but supplied and run by Morrisions since the takeover. However, because it is a 'compact', it will soon be sold to Somerfield - not my preferred supermarket chain by any means. I expect even more of my weekly shopping will be at a Tesco in one of two nearby towns, or occasionally at a large Asda in a town slightly further away. If you are a food shopper in the UK, and you have recently come to know the Morrisons brand, then you probably need to read this blog. The store under Safeway management in this town was pretty abysmal and it certainly hasn't got any worse as part of Morrisons, but it still bears no comparison with Tesco or even with Asda. Unfortunately we don't have either Sainsbury or Waitrose in our part of the country. (Link thru The Policeman's Blog)

UPDATE: (Sunday 30JAN05 14.25 GMT) I have deleted the link to 'My Life As A Morrisons Employee' from my blogroll because the original blog, which was amusing if very acerbic, has been deleted and replaced by what seems to be an attempt by Morrisons to control what is said about them, so as a mere corporate propaganda tool is no longer of any interest to me at all. Added to which my local Morrisons (formerly a Safeway) has now become a 'Somerfield' supermarket instead, it being quite small and therefore one of those which Morrisons had to divest itself of when it acquired Safeway.

Blackmail is an odious crime ...

... just like hate mail. The law thinks so, too, and this blackmailer has received a prison sentence of two and a half years for his crimes.

Hate mail is an equally odious activity. I read this post yesterday evening and found it interesting, if somewhat flippant - some of the strange comments it elicited are superficially amusing, but are in reality pretty odious, too.

US military trial in Texas investigates alleged murder by its personnel in Iraq

Army Sgt Tracy Perkins, 33, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, aggravated assault, obstruction of justice, and lying to investigators and could receive up to 29 years in prison if convicted. It is alleged that he and another soldier, 1st Lt Jack Saville, forced Zaidoun Fadel Hassoun and Marwan Fadel Hassoun into the River Tigris at Sammara on 3rd January 2004, at gunpoint, resulting in the death by drowning of Zaidoun Fadel Hassoun.

Zaydoun, it may be recalled, was a cousin of Zeyad, author of the Healing Iraq blog. Zeyad first wrote about this here, with follow-ups here and here. At the time, some American bloggers (of whom this, followed up by this even more weasel obfuscation, is an example) had difficulty accepting the theoretical possibility that an Amercian military personnel could have committed such an act. This was before the revelations about what had been going on at Abu Ghraib, for which incontrovertible photographic proof was (amazingly) provided by the perpetrators, which gradually filtered into the public domain. But not, of course, before the similarly grtoesque revelations about the My Lai massacre, many years before in Viet Nam.

None of this is to suggest that the US military is any worse than any other military in the world, indeed it probably has as good or a better record than most others. What it does show, though, is that the US is inhabited by fallible human beings, no different in essence from any other nationality. It generally manages to 'clean up after itself', in a strictly legal sense, when required. Whether this will ever happen in the case of the detentions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is not yet certain - indeed some recent indications are that, if the current US administration gets its way, the detainees at Guantanamo will be left to rot in the modern equivalent of a mediaeval dungeon, without having been charged or tried, forever. I have a sinking feeling that in 40 or 50 years time, a future US President will be called upon to issue a formal apology for this travesty of justice currently being perpetrated, just as the US governement in 1988 apologised for the wholesale detention of Japanese-Americans during WWII. I still hope that the US will eventually live up to its best ideals, not down to its worst paranoia.

Wednesday, 5 January 2005

What a load of utter twaddle in the Guardian ...

... nothing new there, then!!

Decca Aitkenhead says that Jamaican homophobia is entirely the result of the policies of its former evil colonial rulers, the British. It's true that at one time the UK had pretty vile anti-gay legislation on its books, most of which (but not all) is now gone. Aitkenhead relays the views of H J Paterson, Prime Minister of Jamaica: "Let me make it very clear," he said. "The laws of Jamaica must be determined by the parliament of Jamaica, and that right we will maintain. We will never - never - compromise."

Fair enough, Jamaica is an independent country and can do whatever it likes. But I'm afraid that I have no plans to keep silent when this hypocrite Paterson makes a play for wealthy western tourist money. We western tourists, and certainly those amongst us who happen to be gay, have every right to choose where we spend our leisure time and money and as I am certainly no masochist it would be pointless, not to say completely idiotic, for a gay person such as me to go to Jamaica and expect to enjoy the visit. I'm quite happy to leave them to their poverty-ridden independence - they'll get no interference from me. I can go to any number of attractive destinations, some of which I just wrote about in my previous post, and be made welcome as a gay man.

As for the Guardian and Ms Aitkenhead, I am frankly extremely angry (spitting angry, in fact!!) at this so-called 'liberal' wailing about the evils of our colonial past; countries which have become independent, and their Guardianista apologists, should grow up - I have no intention of acquiescing in the guilt-trip they seem to want to wallow around in. What disgusting and misguided idiots!!

Rant over ... calm is being restored. A pre-lunch glass of fino is what I need. See you later.

Where to go for a gay-themed winter break ...

For most gays in Europe, the 'mecca' of choice is undoubtedly Gran Canaria. It cannot be called pretty, not in any way, but it is warm and friendly and homophobia hardly exists, in my experience. Personally I also like Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife - a lot quieter in the gay sense, but more picturesque and one can certainly eat a lot better. I haven't been to Key West in quite a few years, but it is good if the 7 hour flight and the drive down from Miami doesn't put you off. When I lived in the Far East the obvious place to go was Patong in Phuket, recently badly affected by the tidal waves in the Indian Ocean; I only went once to Pattaya and must say it was way too seedy for my taste, although I hear they have tried to go more upmarket in recent years.

If you are going to Gran Canaria, though, it's best to avoid seeing the Yumbo in daylight, if your aesthetic sensibilities are easily affected. But then, most self-respecting gay travellers aren't likely to commit such a faux pas, are they?

Tuesday, 4 January 2005

'Cocktail Wars' in the paradise island of Cuba

I had not heard of this EU diplomatic stand until now, but it sounds like it was a good idea. I expect it caused awkwardness, though, for the diplomatic staff mounting the protests, by inviting dissidents to embassy functions, which may be why the policy seems to have been dropped. However, I am glad that both the Czech Republic and the Netherlands are remaining firm; it is specially notable that the Czech Republic, formerly under a socialists tyranny itself, is one of the countries not to flinch in the face of Cuban pressure. I think that should tell those other EU countries, such as the UK, France, Italy and Germany, etc, something. No?

It is a mistake to appease tyranny. I am disappointed that this 'lesson from history' has been forgotten so quickly.

Monday, 3 January 2005

New links added - January 2005 - batch 1

I've just added these 11 blogs to my blogroll; I've been reading most of them for quite a while now and recommend them for your attention. They are in no particular order below:
Brian's Culture Blog (Brian Micklethwait) - writings about this and that, on topics vaguely related to 'culture'; often quite elegantly expressed thoughts. He also writes for Samizdata (quo vadis) and also started an 'Education Blog' (which I don't bother to follow). He describes himself as a 'London libertarian'.
The Candidate - the random musings of a Conservative PPC for the next UK general election, thought likely to occur during 2005.
EURSOC - who or what is 'Eursoc'; your guess is as good as mine and the little (i.e. nothing) that is revealed in the section entitled 'EURSOC Info' helps only to confuse; a WHOIS check reveals that the domain is owned by someone in Budapest, Hungary. Nevertheless what it seems to be is a source of deeply sceptical views on everything related to the EU and 'big government' generally and whilst I often think what is written is questionable, it does make for highly absorbing and quite often illuminating reading.
Nanny Knows Best (Ken Frost) - a UK-based blog devoted to the notion that the state meddles far too much in the affairs of the citizen, a view I tend to share. Ken Frost describes himself as a Chartered Accountant and also publishes as his main website 'kenfrost.com'.
non-trivial solutions - all we know about Andrew is what he reveals in his brief bio; that he is 'a young, male, white, metropolitan Londoner' who is not, ahem, loaded with liberal guilt. Lively and trenchant.
Samizdata - describes itself as 'a blog for people with a critically rational individualist perspective' and the people who write for it as 'a bunch of sinister and heavily armed globalist illuminati who seek to infect the entire world with the values of personal liberty and several property. Amongst our many crimes is a sense of humour and the intermittent use of British spelling'; a fair enough synopsis in my view, and well worth a few moments of anyone's time to keep up with their latest musings.
Stephen Newton’s diary of sorts... - I first came across this blog a couple or so months ago, whilst scanning posts linked to on UK Weblogs; I was hooked on this UK-based blog after a couple of visits. It's difficult to classify, but 'eclectic' probably fits as well as any other word. As well as current affairs he, for example, provides 50-word film reviews and occasional literary reviews. Lively and stimulating.
tottyland - a UK-based blog (in one of our great university cities, from what I glean) devoted to the notion of 'totty' and specifically of the male variety. It's written, of course, by a gay man and provides links to photographs of lots of juicy (but not pornographic) male 'totty', mainly sportsmen. All this is interspersed with saucy commentary of the 'double entendre' kind. My goodness, there is even some serious commentary from time to time - but not too much. What more could a gay boy ask for?
The Indepundit - I first came across Scott whilst he was in Koweit when he wrote 'LT SMASH' as a reserve officer in the US military. I'd day he's definitely right-of-centre, but by no means your usual right wing 'nut', but he is definitely a loyal military man. He often has thoughtful things to say and is well worth reading. He lives in San Diego, California.
The Shower Room - the blog of a young Canadian (of Chinese origin) in Toronto, who is gay, clever and confused. He is pretty uninhibited in how he expresses himself and whilst some of what he writes strikes me as 'unwise' it certainly makes for interesting reading as his love-life seems to veer wildly from feast to famine in a loop.
The Truth Laid Bear (editor 'N.Z. Bear' - a pseudonym of course) - he describes himself as a male [hence 'he') software development manager residing in southern California. His writing usually has style and wit, but with a message worth reading in there. He is the host and author of the 'TTLB Blogosphere Ecosystem'.

More to come in the next few days.

Sunday, 2 January 2005

An updated links policy for the New Year

After a lot of thought, and some doubts, I have decided to update my Links Policy. This change will have as its most obvious consequence the lengthening of my blogroll.

Right or wrong (and I know that many other bloggers seem to disagree with me) I believe it is important to know a little about the person(s) behind a blog to place what they write in some context. On the other hand, even before this change, I have tried to include a variety of blogs in my blogroll, in terms of what they write, the points of view they appear to favour and where they are writing from; not all those included up to now have views which I share, indeed in some cases I agree with very little of what they write. At the same time, though, all the blogs included so far are (to varying degrees) reasonably well written, lively and thought-provoking. But none take extreme points of view or promulgate 'extremist' ideas - this part of my links policy will not be changing in any way. Although I do not allow profanity of any kind in my blog or in my comment area (deleting partially or wholly comments which stray in this and certain other ways - all explained in my 'Terms of Use' for this website), some of my links have been (and will continue to be) to blogs which do include what I consider to be profanity, but which are nevertheless well-written and interesting to read.

But, and what has really made me decide to update my links policy, there is no escaping the fact that quite a lot of bloggers seem to be extremely reticent about revealing any real information about who they are - anything at all that could tie their blog-writings to persons who exist in the real world. I'm afraid that, even now, I tend to be somewhat suspicious of such people, specially because I wonder just what agenda they may be 'pushing'. I've come to believe, though, that a lot of this reticence probably has more to do with a desire to limit the amount of spam arriving in their mail-boxes and probably in most cases has little to do with any 'shady' motive, although sometimes a part of me still wonders about this. The crux, however, is that there are quite a lot of blogs that I read on a very regular basis, because they are lively and well-written even if they offer views to which I take strong exception, but which I have felt unable to link to solely because of my views on anonymity by blog-writers.

So my blogroll has remained quite short and increasingly has come to represent only a small proportion of those blogs which I have come to rely on to help me form and challenge my own views. I will continue to exclude from my blogroll some blogs written by what I believe to be complete 'wackos', even if they are superficially well-written and provide me with a certain measure of amusement, shock, revulsion, etc, when I happen to read one of their more outrageous posts. Nor, of course, do I see much virtue in including so many links in my blogroll that I could never hope to keep up with what they are writing, if I am to continue to have some life of my own outside blogging - and, yes, I do have such a life. I sometimes feel that the sole purpose of having hundreds of blogs in a blogroll is in the hope of gaining reciprocal links in other blogs as some sort of status symbol; if I link to someone, it is not in the hope (or the expectation) that that person will link back to me, although it is nice when that happens. My decision to link will continue to be based on a judgement that another blog is a worthwhile read, whilst not espousing offensive and extremist views, but I will be somewhat more relaxed about matters of 'anonymity'.

In the next few days, therefore, I will be adding a number of additional blogs to my blogroll - please look out for them.