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

Saturday, 26 February 2005

Is Cuba exhibiting simple common sense, or an absurd level of paranoia?

I pose the question purely ironically. This latest nonsense from Cuba would be hilarious if it were not so tragic. But this is what life is like when you live in a socialist paradise; some of the latest policies remind me of life in some other communist countries I count myself 'fortunate' to have experienced at first hand.

Scotland's secret shame

This is the title of a BBC1 Panorama programme to be shown tomorrow evening. It is billed as a documentary about the hatred and bigotry between the two major Christian strands in Scotland, specifically Protestantism and Catholicism.

However, I take issue with the overall title of the programme, because in large parts of Scotland one's religion (or lack of one) is of no moment. This particular focus of bigotry and hatred is most frequently found in the western central region of the country, basically centring around Glasgow and the Strathclyde/Ayrshire regions. Pockets of this kind of bigotry do exist elsewhere in Scotland, of course, but I believe no more frequently than in any other part of the UK. I have never lived in Glasgow or the surrounding areas, but I do have family connections in the area.

A few vignettes from my own personal experiences:

For part of my teenage years I did not live in Scotland, I lived in the Isle of Man (IoM). The first time I ever travelled completely on my own I would have been about 13 or 14 years old; I was sent, for reasons that are not important here, on a 'plane trip (my first experience of travelling in an aircraft) to Glasgow, in transit to Inverness (by train) and had to transit Glasgow, but was visiting some relatives in Glasgow for a meal whilst waiting for the Inverness train. My parents had been warned by these relatives that the Saturday I would be passing through Glasgow was the day of a Rangers/Celtic match. I knew, vaguely, that they were rival teams (I have never had any interest in football) and that this rivalry was reinforced by their respective religious adherences, but I could never bring myself to take it very seriously - how could such a bizarre thing really cause people to fight each other? Somewhat naively I thought that the fact that I had a blue shoulder bag and a green scarf was a bit of a joke and in any case would show to everyone that I was completely neutral - walking between the town centre airport bus terminal and Queen's Street Station taught me how foolish my nonchalance was. Nothing bad actually happened to me (luckily), but two different groups of football supportes each took exception to one of the two colours I was (mostly innocently) sporting; luckily they had enough beer/lager inside them that even I, a somewhat overweight teenager, could speed myself out of harm's way. I can still remember the shock of my Glasgow relatives on seeing the colours of my bag and scarf - they made me conceal both when we were travelling back into the city for me to catch the train. This happened in the 1960s.

Another event was much more recent - just a few months before the 1997 election that brought 'The Dear Leader' Tony Blair to power. It happened in my own drawing room. A guest, a friend of one of the Glasgow relatives I referred to above, knowing that I was (at that time) closely involved with the local branch of the Conservative Party, asked me how I felt about the possibility of a Catholic becoming Prime Minister. Frankly I had no idea what the person was talking about; I was not aware that Mrs Blair was a Catholic, that their children were apparently being brought up in the Catholic faith and that Tony Blair himself was said to have attended Mass with his family from time to time - nor, when the matter was drawn to my attention by this guest's question, did I even really understand what the fuss could possibly be about, and said as much. However, the fact remains that for some people in Scotland such a question seems to be completely normal, and my complete indifference as incomprehensible to them as their prejudices are to me. It can be no secret to anyone who has read my blog from time to time that I have absolutely no time for the Labour Party ('New' or 'Old'), irrespective of my current attitude toward the Conservative Party, which since September 2001 has been pretty contemptuous, too, but whatever feelings I have about the Labour Party and its current leader, Tony Blair, are completely unaffected by whatever religious affiliation any politician may have, so him having a wife who is Catholic and perhaps having Catholic religious sentiments himself, was something I simply did, and do, not care about.

My own background, whilst mainly mildly Protestant, does include some members who are Catholic, or who have become Catholic through marriage. Big deal, move on, is my attitude. But in Glasgow, and some nearby areas, such blindness about religious affiliation is much less frequent, even today. That's the truth. Some towns in that area are known as mainly Protestant, others mainly Catholic. Traditionally access to public sector employment, under local council control, could be affected in practice by one's own religious affiliation. It is said now to be less so. Who knows where the truth lies now? I understand both Rangers and Celtic have, in recent years, tried their best at club level to sideline sectariansism and the worst aspects of it have probably passed into history, but every so often something will happen which makes one realise that the old prejudices have not gone away. I shall watch tomorrow evening's programme as an exercise in anthropology.

Inside gossip mounts about who will be Mafia's next boss ...

Yes the real Mafia, the Roman Catholic Church is apparently rife with gossip about who will become the next 'Capo di Capi' upon the demise of John Paul II. Yawn .... zzzzzzzzzzzz

'Evil implications' of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill

I have written before about the pernicious nature of the government's current proposed legislation to 'protect' us from terrorism. However, Spy Blog has a particularly riveting article about some of the malign implications of various of the detailed clauses of this Bill, specifically the section covering Powers to make control orders - worth a few moments of anyone's time to read it thoroughly.

Shocking abuse ...

Three British soldiers have been convicted and jailed for Iraqi prisoner abuse. I continue to think that the action to remove Saddam Hussein from power was completely justified, but it is salutary to be reminded that evil (or simple idiocy) is not restricted to any one nation's armed forces. I am not so naive as to believe that this is the first or the last time that British military personnel have participated or will participate actively in extremely questionable practices whilst performing their duties.

Thursday, 24 February 2005

On having a 'comments' area in one's blog ...

Stephen Pollard has just posted this remarkable entry in his blog. Of course he, like every other blogger, has the right to decide who, if anyone, may post comments. But for a journalist, whom I have generally admired, who has as part of his self-introduction on his blog:

This is my weblog.

It’s an outlet for all the things I think need to be said, and those which I want to share with my readers. Some postings are my newspaper columns and other articles; the rest are written for this blog.

Agree or disagree (as if any sentient being could possibly disagree!) as you see fit; and do, please, do so via the ‘comments’ buttons.

Remember – this blog is never knowingly understated.

I do wonder if his decision is not a little, well, short-sighted. In any case, if he is going to continue with this new policy, then he really needs to alter the wording of his self-introduction to take account of his change in policy. I doubt if I will bother visiting his site very much in future - it suddenly seems almost irrelevant. This particular 'Emperor' really does seem to have no clothes.

Sunday, 20 February 2005

'Simpsons' Springfield to legalize gay marriage

According to CFCN.ca in Calgary, an upcoming episode of The Simpsons will have the mayor of Springfield say: "Springfield: a place where everyone can marry — even dudes.". It's not known yet who will be 'coming out' on the show; surely it can't be Homer? I expect this episode won't air for a while yet here in the UK, though.

Saturday, 19 February 2005

The engagement is announced ...

... but it's a different kind of engagement. The BBC report that "A gay couple have become the first same-sex pairing to announce their engagement in the Times forthcoming marriages column". This announcement is made in anticipation of the passing into law later this year of the Civil Partnerships Bill. I'll be cracking a bottle of champagne later this year, with a little luck, to mark this occurring.

Podcasts - the new Blogs

I had bever heard of Podcasts before, but this New York Times article (registration required) reveals they are becoming the latest thing - Blogs really are so out of date, it seems. Sigh ...

Turkey and its policies on homosexuality - in an EU context

Turkey has no laws penalising homosexuality - seemingly a good sign. On the other hand, it has no laws protecting homosexuals against discrimination - apparently it did have such a law, but it was quietly dropped in the recent past, something that worries members of the LGBT community there, who hope that the EU will bear this in mind when looking at Turkey's overall human rights record to assess whether its application to join should proceed. I agree that this should not be overlooked.

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Weeks 76 to 87

Twelve weeks after last writing here, I have now been on 'Lifetime Maintenance' (LM) for a full twelve months, having reached my target of 65 Kg on 12FEB04. In the past twelve weeks I have managed to maintain my weight at almost what it was the last time I wrote here; my weight last Sunday was 63.7 Kg (140 Lb), a small increase of 0.2 Kg (0.5 Lb) since I last wrote here on 22nd November 2004. Over the Festive period, I gained roughly 1.5 Kg (3.3 Lb), briefly exceeding my original target weight of 65 Kg, but once Christmas and New Year were past I quickly began to attack the problem by spending about a week on the 'Ongoing Weight Loss' (OWL) phase before switching onto the 'Pre-maintenance' (PM) stage for several weeks until my weight dipped below 64 Kg again. My overall weight loss since I started this 'way of eating' on 15th June 2003 is 34.3 Kg (75.6 Lb) - almost 5 1/2 stones. Measurement indicators for the last 12 weeks:
- waist up 0.1 inches at 30.3 inches (total reduction 14.7 inches);
- hips up 0.2 inches at 37.6 inches (total reduction 10.9 inches);
- thighs up 0.1 inches at 21.4 inches (total reduction 7.1 inches).

I am amending my target weight down from 65 Kg to 63 Kg and it will by my aim, during the coming twelve weeks, to reduce my weight by about 0.7 Kg (1.6 Lb), to bring me to about this new target level; I'll write here again in early/mid-May 2005. You can read an expanded version of this entry here. Or click on the permanent link under 'Atkins Diet' in the column to the right, to read the full story.

Friday, 18 February 2005

Murder in Nairn - police search for men sighted in town on the night

Northern Constabulary have announced they are looking for a number of unidentified men sighted in Nairn on the night of the murder, and in particular one man who fits the description given by the wife of the murdered man, Alistair Wilson, Veronica Wilson. They have now released the information that this man "almost bowled over" an elderly couple as he ran from the area of the murder scene; this seems to confirm my impression almost since the beginning of this tragedy that the police have rather more information than they have been prepared to announce earlier. One can only hope that the murderer will be traced soon. In related news about this case, Mrs Wilson appeared in a lengthier television interview last evening in which she expressed her continuing mystification at the motive for the murder of her husband, and wondered out loud whether it may have been a case of 'mistaken identity'. My most recent previous article on the murder is here.

Thursday, 17 February 2005

Sorry for the absence ...

... over the past couple of days. Some urgent family matters came up, in parallel with (I have to admit) some pleasurable occurrences as well, which have precluded me from posting anything here over the last two days. With luck by roughly tomorrow afternoon I should be about back to normal, but now it is definitely time for bed - I will be very glad to get my head on the pillow tonight.

Monday, 14 February 2005

Missing Highlanders - the scourge of suicide

I have just been watching a documentary on BBC Scotland in their 'Frontline Scotland' strand, entitled Missing Highlanders. The programme was about suicide in the Highlands, which is more prevalent in this part of Scotland than elsewhere in Scotland; the suicide rate in Scotland is already considerably higher than in the rest of the UK. Specifically the programme dealt with the particularly high incidence of suicide amongst young[-ish] males. Unfortunately there does not seem to be an online link to an article about this programme and the BBC Frontline Scotland website appears not to have been updated recently.

The programme focussed on a few of the [many] such suicides which have happened in the area recently, including four during last year, all of whom were friends and members of a local football team. Some other cases were discussed also, but the programme did not attempt (rightly) to cover every suicide - there have simply been too many for a 30 minute programme to cover.

The programme carried interviews with the parents and some friends of various of the suicidees, as well as with a local MSP and the local NHS Trust. The usual "he was a happy boy" or "he had been troubled and turned to drink and/or drugs" were heard, but various of the participants seemed to place blame on the local psychiatric care some of those who had committed suicide had turned to for help. In some cases no outside help had been sought at all. The point was made that many males, and Highland Scots in particular, are reticent or completely unable to talk about any personal 'issues' that may be troubling them.

I have no knowledge of any of the cases discussed, but one word that was conspicuous by its absence from this programme was homosexuality. Another curious absence from the programme was any mention of the Samaritans (or the local Inverness branch), the national and worldwide organisation (with associate groups) which seeks to provide emotional support, specially to those contemplating suicide. I have no idea whether homosexuality has been considered as a possible factor in at least some of the cases which have occurred locally (but not mentioned on-screen so as not to 'frighten the horses'), but from my own personal experience, both as an individual and in some of my charitable voluntary activities over the years, it is unfortunately often a very major factor (amongst others), specially in relation to suicides by young males.

Alcoholism is apparently more prevalent in this part of Scotland than elsewhere, too and many of those who have committed suicide (but not all) were known to have been suffering from depression, but as was pointed out in the programme the underlying causes were not known.

In addition to the word 'homosexuality', I'd like to mention a few others which occur to me and which were also not mentioned during the programme: 'religion', 'Bible belt', 'repression' and 'closed mindedness'.

Foods that are bad for you - anything containing trans fats

Trans fats, otherwise known as partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils (or shortening), are increasingly recognised as being dangerous - unless your aim is to clog up your arteries. This New York Times article (registration required) gives the low-down - please read it.

These fats are found in many processed foods, such as biscuits and potato crisps (US - potato chips), but in many other kinds of foods, too. Food manufacturers favour them because they are cheap and because their charactersitics make them easy to use in their automated processes. But they are not good for you. Unlike in the US, foods sold in the UK seem to have carried details of ingredients such as these (in the small print) for many years - it may cost a little more to buy products which use alternative and healthier oils and if you can afford these then you should certainly take the trouble to search them out.

Since I began following the Atkins diet (about 20 months ago) I have studiously avoided all foods which contain partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils, as Dr Robert Atkins strongly advised this in his books. In any case, as I now eat mainly Atkins-friendly food, my consumption of processed or pre-prepared food is negligible. Atkins own products (such as 'Advantage', 'Breakfast' and 'Endulge' bars) contain NO trans-fats and I do use those occasionally, when I don't have time to prepare food from scratch.

Of course most people won't be following the Atkins diet - it is castigated by some 'experts' as being dangerous (not a view I share of course, but that's a different subject) - but even on conventional diets there is something to be gained by avoiding foods which use this cheap fat for the convenience and higher profit manrgins of the manufacturers. Get into the habit of reading the small print on food packaging and avoid those which contain trans fats (partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils).

Saturday, 12 February 2005

What has happened to our moral compasses when discussing 'Immigration' and 'Asylum'?

It makes me incredibly sad to read this article, reporting comments by Michael Howard MP, the son of immigrants to this country. It seems that Mr Howard's paternal grandfather may have entered the UK as an 'illegal immigrant' during the 1930s; it seems also that Mr Howard's own father had stated that both his parents had died in Romania when entering the country as 'economic migrants', when [one presumes] he knew that his father was in reality living in London. Mr Howard speculates that this may be why his own father mis-stated the facts, perhaps in order not to jeopardise his own entry, or the continuing [perhaps illegal] residence in the UK of his grandfather.

I cannot possibly imagine what it must have been like in the 1930s for people affected by Nazi policies on racial purity, although I can perhaps get a glimmer of what it might have felt like under the category of 'moral degenerate' or 'deviant', given the fact that I am gay and living in a world where pretty odious things are still being said about homosexuality (even by a few members of our legislature, upper and lower houses). But it gives me real pain to have to recognise that I live in a country where a person whose own grandmother (the wife of the person who may have been an 'illegal immigrant' living in London) perished in Auschwitz feels it necessary, or appropriate to [have to] make the kind of declaration Mr Howard [feels he] has [been forced into], possibly to de-fuse the 'revelation' which someone (perhaps a journalist, perhaps a political rival) may have been about to make.

Even though I cannot put myself in the place of a Jew living in Europe in the 1930s, I'm afraid I can well understand the mounting apprehension when living in areas where my rights were gradually being whittled away; who can deny that they might not have attempted to flee what was happening and, if necessary, attempt to get into another country by fair means or foul, if it meant the difference between survival and death or penury, yes even if that meant telling the odd 'lie' or two. People have to do some pretty awful things in awful situations and who am I, who live pretty comfortably and have travelled and lived in various parts of the world in a sort of coccoon of relative privilege, to criticise what some gentleman may have felt he had to do sixty or seventy years ago. Remember, this man's wife died in Auschwitz in 1944. Their son (Mr Howard's father) would have been some kind of weird son if he had considered, even for a moment, 'denouncing' his father, for whatever reason.

In a broader context Mr Howard is said to have admitted he was not sure if his grandfather would have been allowed into the country under his party's [current immigration and asylum] proposals and is quoted as saying:

"I cannot answer that. We have not yet worked out how the points system will operate."

- what an appalling thing to think, let alone say! If he is not absolutely clear that the rules his Party is proposing would permit a gentleman such as his grandfather fleeing a potential horrific fate then he should consider, with great urgency, clarifying what the draft rules will be and if necessary altering them so that he can be certain that refuge here would not be refused under similar circumstances. I would find it completely unacceptable that such a person be refused admittance, at least temporarily and until the danger back home had passed. Trying to include such people in overall 'quotas' is absolutely disgusting. What is equally disgusting is that the climate now exists in this country when the very notion of such an immigration regime being contemplated by any mainstream political party - and both of the two main parties are flirting with this notion in their different ways - is not condemned outright by all right-thinking people. I can understand that it is necessary to address the fears of some sectors of the population, who may or may not be 'bigotted' or 'racist' in their views, but this should not include such vile accommodation of such views.

Friday, 11 February 2005

Synthetic Phonics - sounds interesting!

A seven-year study by Hull and St Andrews universities at primary schools in Clackmannanshire (Scotland) have shown that children taught to read using 'synthetic phonics', irrespective of their background, are at age eleven upto three years ahead of their peers, taught to read by more traditional methods, in their reading ability.

This teaching method was also featured this evening in a segment on BBC2 'Newsnight', using as an example a primary school in an inner-city area of London, with a high proportion of pupils from homes in which English is probably not the first language. They too seemed to be well ahead of their peers in their reading ability, of whatever background, taught to read by other methods.

Remarkable! I hope that this teaching system will be rolled-out across all UK schools, assuming no flaws are found in the research methodology.

Is this the LibDems 'playing politics'?

Chris Smith MP has been 'disinvited' (first time I've ever seen this word) from speaking at an event in his own constituency to launch 'Gay History Month' (something else I have never heard of before). I assume, from the tenor of this article in RainbowNetwork, that Islington Council must be controlled by the Liberal Democrats. The article goes on to quote Smith as recalling that a neghbouring MP, Jeremy Corbyn, was prevented from turning on the Christmas lights recently.

The article further quotes Terry Stacy, the Liberal Democrat councillor who was invited as saying: "We had to whittle them down to seven, and Chris was one of those we dropped." Naturally it would be quite wrong to accuse those friendly Liberal Democrats of 'playing politics'. As readers of this blog will be well aware I am no supporter of ANY Labour politician, whether (s)he happens to be gay or not; nor, of course, have I much time for your average Liberal Democrat. Even for the LibDems, though, this whole episode does strike me as more than a little petty, indeed 'grubby' seems more apposite.

Thursday, 10 February 2005

ID Card bill receives Third Reading

The ID Card bill received its third reading this evening in the House of Commons and now passes to the House of Lords. Votes were 224 for, 60 against - a majority of 160. 19 Labour and 11 Conservative MPs rebelled against their respective party whips. The bulk of Conservatives seem to have abstained.

Let's hope the House of Lords shows a little more backbone and throws this anti-democratic measure into touch.

Blow by blow coverage of this whole ID Card bill tragedy is at Spy Blog - well worth keeping an eye on for the latest news.

A calm and rational report on socialism ...

... for it said no more than the bare truth. I refer to Tim Worstall's admirable fisking here of an article in today's Guardian by someone called Neil Clark. He is described as a writer and broadcaster specialising in east European affairs; that's as may be, but just because he specialises in this it does not mean what he writes and broadcasts has any relevance to a calm and rational understanding of the situation in eastern Europe then (before the fall of Communism) or now.

Having lived in or visited a few of these so-called socialist paradises myself, the mendacity and wrong-headedness of Neil Clark's analysis is simply breathtaking. Oh yes, in the circumstances Tim's 'colourful' post is indeed a model of calmness and rationality!

Scotland's representation at Westminster is dropping ...

... from 72 to 59. This is all part of the 'devolution settlement' to bring constituency sizes in Scotland into line with those in the rest of the UK. This seems a reasonable compromise consequent upon the Scotland Act, which created the Scottish Parliament.

However, what is certainly NOT reasonable is the decision taken by the Scottish Parliament, and acquiesced in by the UK Parliament at Westminster (in contravention of the Scotland Act), not to make the similar reduction in representation in the Scottish Parliament envisaged by that Act. Why? Simply because of the self-serving jobs-for-the-boys mentality which pervades Scotland's Labour-dominated political scene. The high-taxation, high-spending Labour 'nomenklatura' seem to see preservation of their own positions as 'placemen' in our public life as their main aim.

Scotland swirls further down the socialist plughole

Under the Land Reform Act passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2003, communities were given the right to seek to force landowners to sell property, even against their consent. The law is about to be tested in the Western Isles where a community of crofters (and there's another more long-standing idiotic legal scenario in itself!) is going to attempt, through a vehicle called The Galson Estate Trust, to buy some land on the Galson Estate (a 55,000 acre estate owned by the Graham family) with what seems to be the avowed aim of preventing the building of a wind turbine farm, which many of the residents oppose.

I will probably be denounced as a complete Philistine, but we are talking about tracts of moorland with few human inhabitants. Frankly if an enterprising firm wants to build a wind farm, and the [present] legal owners of the land are happy for this to happen, then what is the logical objection? The objection, logical or not, is of course preservation of the natural environment. So what is so special about this environment? Beats me!! A windswept, pretty barren and unproductive landscape - no doubt with great 'grandeur', though - and I just count myself fortunate not to be trapped in such a place. How much is the annual subsidy for transport to and from this place, to allow the residents to continue their seemingly idyllic way of life? I expect this is quite an important factor. And just where will the money come from to fund this forced buy-out? Silly question! Perhaps the local inhabitants should be forced to face the economic realities by cutting off these subsidy junkies from their supply for a while!

Anyway, that's not the main point of my rant - why should an owner be forced to sell property he doesn't want to, under the terms of the crazy Land Reform Act? Our First Minister, Jack McConnell, and Scottish Labour's coalition partners the craven Scottish Liberal Democrats under their leader Jim Wallace, our Deputy First Minister, say they want to encourage inward immigration and investment into Scotland. I respectfully suggest to these fine gentlemen that the legal framework they have put into place with the Land Reform Act is not likely to further these aims.

Charles to marry Camilla

I've just heard a newsflash on BBC Radio4 that Prince Charles is to marry Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles and that a statement is expected from Clarence House shortly.

What do I think about this? Doesn't concern me in the slightest - perhaps we might be able to take this non-news off the headlines for good. Once the partnership rules for same-sex couples take effect, life will be even better.

UPDATE: (Thursday 10FEB05 10.10 GMT) Here is a BBC link for this story. The speculated date of the marriage (6 April) sounds as if this could be to coincide with the start of a new tax year - frankly this anodyne aspect of the announcement is, for me, the only point of mild interest about it.

Wednesday, 9 February 2005

Royal Navy releases tsunami earthquake images

The Royal Navy has released images taken as part of a mission by HMS Scott, a Royal Navy survey ship, with the participation of a team from Southampton Oceanography Centre at Southanpton University, of the seabed in the area where the Indian Ocean earthquake occurred on 26th December 2004, resulting in the devastating series of tidal waves (tsunamis) which killed so many people in the area. It is hoped that this research will help to plan where sensors need to be placed on the seabed so that future occurences might be predicted.

Deal to ban 'homophobic' reggae

The BBC reports that: "The reggae industry is to refuse to release or stage concerts featuring homophobic songs under a global deal struck with gay rights groups." - this is good news. It is a truce, in that past performances will be forgiven and forgotten, with the reggae industry committing to prevent performance or release in future of songs with homophobic content. This whole agreement has come about because of the commercial damage suffered by various reggae performers whose concerts were affected by cancellations, bans or protests, resulting in record sales falling.

As Brett Lock of OutRage! said: "The main players in the dancehall reggae industry will attempt to regulate the industry themselves to ensure that there aren't any violently homophobic or gay-bashing lyrics in the future. As a gesture of good faith, the Stop Murder Music coalition has agreed to suspend our aggressive campaigning against murder music. So we shall not be picketing concerts or calling for prosecutions to give the industry the space to regulate and reform itself."

I hope that the reggae industry lives up to its commitment - this will allow everybody, including gay campaigners and reggae musicians themselves, to get on with their lives peacefully. That's what I would like to see.

(I was put onto this story by an article in The Advocate)

Tuesday, 8 February 2005

It made me laugh, anyway ...

If you are a fervent supporter of Veritasparty.com, the new Robert Kilroy Silk vehicle, you might not find it quite so amusing, I suppose, but for the rest of us this is a hoot, if undoubtedly tasteless. (thru Lost in Westminster)

Is it 'contemptuous' to tell it like it is?

According to Mark Lazarowicz, Labour MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, Dominic Grieve (the Shadow Attorney General) showed 'contempt' for Scotland simply for saying what he thinks about why Scotland is losing out on its share of talented new immigrants, and losing many of its own talented citizens, because it was "not a very attractive place" for people to come to, elaborating by saying "That is due to the fact that you have a bloated public sector and Scotland generally has suffered economically as a result. That is not going to change and even if we were to allow unlimited immigration, immigrants will still be going to settle in the south-east of England until Scotland gets its economic act together."

Of course these home-truths are not going to appeal to the likes of Mr Lazarowicz. Scotland has effectively been a one-party [Labour] state for so long that any other way of doing things is anathema to them. Scotland has very many fine qualities, as do many of the people who live here or who originated here, but it does absolutely no good to be blind to the fact that Scotland, even more than most of the rest of the UK, does have a bloated public sector which may [possibly] serve some kind of useful purpose in the myopic politics which Labour preaches, but is most certainly not conducive to the economic development, hence increase in well-being, of the Scottish people in the longer term.

Or, as Robert Burns said (in the final verse of his poem 'To a Louse'):
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An' foolish notion
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us
An' ev'n Devotion

Defrocked Roman Catholic priest Paul Shanley convicted of raping a boy

Yes!

Former priest Paul Shanley, now 74, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for raping a boy at a Massachusetts church in the 1980s. Shanley was arrested in May 2002 and extradited back to Massachusetts from California.

I won't further belabour my views about the scandal of sexual abuses perpetrated by employees of the Roman Catholic church and the response of the Pope to these abuses - one must just pray that the Church has finally learned the lesson that it cannot flout the secular laws of the nations in which it practises its cult.

Now, be good and brush those teeth!

A research team at Columbia University has found that people with gum disease are more likely to develop atherosclerosis - a narrowing of blood vessels - a condition which can precede a stroke or heart attack. It's good to know that my obsessiveness about oral hygiene, apart from making me feel better about myself, may actually be doing me real good.

Murder in Nairn - police hunt for car in new clue

Detectives are following up a new clue and want to trace a light-coloured Honda CRV and its occupants; this vehicle was apparently seen in Nairn on the evening of Mr Alistair Wilson's murder, when an 'agitated' man was seen to enter the vehicle in Lodgehill Park. My most recent previous article on the murder is here.

Monday, 7 February 2005

Holyrood and the BBC tapes

It seems that, at long last, the BBC (and Kirsty Wark) will have no place to hide once the Inquiries Bill passes at Westminster - then the BBC will be obliged to hand over the tapes from its documentary series The Gathering Place, as the BBC says it always complies with the law. We'll see what happens ...

The perils of Broadband - a salutary tale

I'm one of the estimated 5 million people in the UK with Broadband access, a facility I've had for about a year and a half now. It has certainly made my life online a lot easier than before, although I do not think I actually spend a lot more time online than before. My ISP offers unlimited bandwidth for about GBP30 a month with a speed of 1GB, but frankly I doubt if I use it much more than when I had to rely on a 56K modem, also with unlimited time online. On the other hand, there is no denying that I spend a lot more time at the computer simply cruising in a sort of mental neutral gear than in the days, about nine years ago, before I had regular internet access on my home PC and used it mainly for very practical matters. One of the big efficiency-increasers is the proliferation of RSS feeds, but like all such innovations it has a downside - access to so much information and comment (from all over the world) that the job of sifting through reams of articles seems to have become more important that simply keeping abreast of the basics of what's going on in the world; I have to confess that I delete at least 70 per cent of the RSS feeds my aggregator pulls up for me without reading even the headline or article summary - life is just far too short.

For me having Broadband access is a little 'luxury' I would find it difficult to live without - so, yes, I am addicted - but used sensibly I don't believe it is harmful. Quite apart from anything else, having Broadband means that my telephone line is almost always free to receive calls; in the days before I had it, friends and relatives berated me constantly because my 'phone line was almost always busy, so I'd say that is probably the major benefit to me of having Broadband. And being able to order goods and services (books, theatre tickets, hotel rooms, aeroplane tickets, etc) with great convenience from my own home.

'Taking Liberties'

That's the title of the excellent first Leader(subscription required) in this week's Economist; it focuses not, as one at first might imagine, on the 'banging up' without charge or trial for prolonged periods of those suspected of involvement in 'terrorism. Instead its principal focus is on the way in which Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are being applied, despite the blandishments that:

"Don't worry, goes the typically British assurance: our powers may be draconian, but decency and common sense will ensure we don't overuse them."

- now I thought immediately, when I read that, of the cliche-ridden Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, speaking on television at the weekend (on 'Breakfast with Frost', I think) when he included this non-thought masquerading as profundity: "You have to take matters in the round ...", when attempting to justify his government's policy of locking people up, indefinitely, without charge or trial.

But the Economist goes on to give its interpretation of what ASBOs are in fact being used for:

"That's not what has happened. Obtaining an ASBO is so easy (fewer than one in 70 applications are turned down) that they have been used to tackle a wide range of undesirable behaviour. ASBOs allow the police to nail people for offences too minor to be criminal. Orders have been secured against crotchety old neighbours, prostitutes, beggars and mothers who argue with their children. Some of these people have subsequently been jailed for breaching their ASBOs: most absurdly, one man was sentenced to four months in prison for howling like a werewolf.

More worryingly, ASBOs allow the police to bypass the normal procedures of criminal justice when they suspect somebody of serious criminal activity but can't prove it. A suspected drug dealer, for instance, can be banned from using a mobile phone?a crucial tool, in his supposed profession. When he is caught doing so, he can be jailed."

What it all boils down to (just to show I can use cliches, too!) is that a legal framework is steadily being put in place which can be applied capriciously, and unfortunately is being so applied, to further the policy of social engineering at a micro-level being pursued by this government.

The Economist's final paragraph:

"Britons are lucky people, and complacent ones. The liberties they take for granted have evolved over a thousand years or so. The idea that any one government should seriously undermine them seems implausible. It isn't."

- might seem alarmist, but I think it is a warning (and not to soon!) from a respected mainstream news journal for Britons to wake up, shelve their habitual complacency, and to fight to retain the rights which generations before us struggled to achieve. Unfortunately whilst the Conservative Party leadership still supports issuance of compulsory ID Cards in the UK, they are not the alternative government we are looking for and none of the other Parties seems particularly attractive either.

UPDATE: (Tuesday 8FEB05 01.30 GMT) It has come to my attention, through Liberty Cadre and Bishop Hill, that I inexplicably (but perhaps too much fizz on Sunday was the reason!) overlooked the Sunday Telegraph article about the prospective Conservative 'climb down' on its support for the Government's ID Card bill. Now that I have read the article [properly, hic!] I have to agree that it sounds as if it is a positive change, but I remain somewhat cynical. What worries me is this quote from the 'senior Tory official' referred to in the Telegraph article:

"Unless we get them at the last minute on Thursday during the preceding report stage, which is looking increasingly unlikely, then yes, we will have to abstain. We supported the Bill at the second reading because it was a vote in principle. But if we don't get answers to the detailed points, we will end up abstaining. It then goes to the Lords and we would hope to get answers there."

- it's the second sentence in the above paragraph that perplexes [and infuriates!] me in particular. Why does Howard favour ID Cards in principle? And the rest of the quote implies that if the questions posed were to be answered satisfactorily then the Conservatives would still support the Bill. Perhaps Bishop Hill is correct and the latest statement is a formula to save Howard's 'face'; for me, however, I will wait and see exactly how the Conservative Party votes in the HoC and in the HoL - votes in Parliament are worth a lot more than anonymous leaks to the Sunday Telegraph or indications of mere abstentions. I remain lukewarm in my 'praise' for this change whilst the Conservative Party continues to be so niggardly in its support for the rights of the individual in his/her dealings with the State.

Thursday, 3 February 2005

'Veritas', the latest vehicle for the (self-)promotion of Robert Kilroy Silk

I have so far refrained from joining in the comment about Veritas, the new political party founded by former Labour MP Robert Kilroy Silk (and more recently a UKIP MEP). However I cannot let pass the revelation that Anthony Bennett, the official leader of the new group, apparently formed a campaigning organisation, People's Campaign to Keep the Pound, with Ian Anderson, a former chairman of the National Front.

Mr Robert Kilroy Silk may have described members of UKIP, his erstwhile political home, as "rightwing fascist nutters", but it would appear that he still moves in circles which few would care to emulate, specially someone theoretically hopeful of having a positive impact on UK politics.

Sharon and Abbas scheduled to meet next Tuesday in Egypt

At the invitation of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are to meet next Tuesday at Sharm el Sheik. Also scheduled to be present is King Abdullah II of Jordan, together with the Egyptian President himself. The meeting will be preceded on Sunday by meetings with both sides by the new US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

Now I understand why Secretary Rice is passing through London.

Is it too much to hope for that these two gents can work together in the best interests of both their peoples? Movement is undoubtedly required by both sides.

Bird flu resurgent in Vietnam

Vietnam has, at last, called in the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to advise on preventing the spread of the disease, in the wake of twelve deaths in the past four weeks and one million birds having been culled. 200,000 ducks are to be culled this coming weekend.

Vietnam declared itself free of the infection last year, to the dispelasure of the FAO and WHO. Let's hope they can assist in resolving the latest problem. Vietnam, as I know well, is a lovely country, but it's government is both secretive and paranoid.


This may not be true for much longer ...

A well-known ditty reflecting the perceived position of Caledonian MacBrayne in providing sea links on the west coast of Scotland:

The earth belongs unto the Lord
And all that it contains,
Excepting Highland piers and boats
And they are all MacBrayne's.

However, this may not forever continue. Unions are worried about opening up the services the company provides to tender. As usual, top priority is given to protecting members' jobs and conditions, with the potential impact on the communities served by these services coming third. These people are the true 'conservatives'; we'd still be using hand-carts if these people had their way.

'Earth-shattering' secrets revealed under FOIA

Ten of the UK's oldest state secrets have been revealed under the new Freedom of Information Act. At first glance at least some of these appear not to be of particular importance, so quite why it was deemed necessary that they should be hidden in the archives for so long is not clear, at least to me. No doubt sensitivities at the times these incidents occurred are different than nowadays, but I think what they do reveal most clearly is simply the bureaucrat's desire to obfuscate and conceal as a matter of principle.

Evenin' all .. are you gay, my lad?

Lothian and Borders Police is to survey all its employees to ascertain their sexuality in an effort "to help offer better support to LGBT officers and workers, as well as help improve the force's image amongst members of the gay community"; it sounds like an interesting idea and may, perhaps, encourage gay members of the public to contact the police if their sexuality is an issue in any attacks that they suffer (I understand that homophobic attacks in certain parts of Edinburgh have been quite numerous in the recent past).

However, I could see problems for officers and staff who do respond if there is is not absolute discretion in the way the information generated is handled - whether the 'canteen culture' has entirely disappeared is highly questionable. I seem not to be alone with these worries.

(With acknowledgements to 'Dixon of Dock Green')

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Pope hospitalised

The Holy Father has been rushed to hospital in Rome, suffering from respiratory difficulties.

Whilst I have sympathy for him as a fellow human being, I find it difficult to muster much enthusiasm that he will recover sufficiently to lead the Roman Catholic Church for a great deal longer - he has undountedly been one of the most reactionary Pontiffs of recent times, with rather too many attempts to influence secular policy being plausibly laid at his door, whilst presiding over an organisation that wilfully ignored and even covered up too many of the most flagrant abuses against children, perpetrated by some of its spiritual representatives in numerous countries.

Gaelic Language Bill likely to pass

The Scottish Parliament is likely to pass the Gaelic Language Bill, giving Gaelic official recognition and requiring all public bodies to create a language policy.

Now I have absolutely no objection to this in principle. Indeed I can see that politicially and psychologically it may be a 'sound move'. But my over-riding feeling is that it will result in large expenditures of public money to create a language infrastructure throughout Scotland for the estimated 1.3 per cent of Scottish residents who speak the language. Large parts of the country have very few Gaelic speakers - I cannot imagine there are too many living in the Borders, for example. It's the usual Labour/LibDem soundbite politics, sadly, with the taxpayers (aka suckers) picking up the tab.

Tuesday, 1 February 2005

R.I.P. - Ivan Noble

Ivan Noble, a BBC News journalist, has died. He had been suffering from a brain tumour and although he had periods of remission the tumour flared up again and last month he was admitted to a London hospice. He was 37 years old and leaves a wife and two children.

He began to keep an online journal about his disease in August 2002, soon after the original diagnosis. He recorded his thoughts, hopes and fears with great honesty. Just very recently his journal including an entry in which he said 'goodbye' to his many readers. A very brave man - Rest in Peace, Ivan Noble.

My sympathies go to his widow and children, his wider family and to all who knew him personally.

Just another tale of intolerance from Northern Ireland ...

Ian Paisley Jnr, DUP justice spokesman, on homosexuality:

"Most people in Northern Ireland find homosexual relationships offensive and indeed obnoxious and I say that from the position of research I have done."

- read the whole article to get the full flavour. I expect the rising level of homophobic violence is just another indication of what a sick society Northern Ireland is, which the rest of the UK (unfortunately) has to subsidise.