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

Thursday, 31 March 2005

My oh my ...

... geek talk for advertisers, focussing on the male grooming market and with (just like this blog, in some ways) a focus on the gay segment of that market.

Wednesday, 30 March 2005

First the Stability Pact, now the Services Directive

Now I am not in any way 'eurosceptic', but even my somewhat idealistic belief in the positive effects of the EU is being tested by the latest example of fudge and downright short-sightedness in the way the EU is run, in practise. Of course I do not agree with everything the 'Torygraph' has to say about the EU, but this opinion article in yesterday's Daily Telegraph makes some pretty potent points.

It may be politically convenient for President Chirac to appease the socialist lobbies in France by opposing moves to liberalise intra-European services, in order to maintain salary levels in France that would come under pressure if competition from lower-cost EU economies for services was to become easier, but I doubt very much that such protectionism is in France's long-term best interests. The same kinds of arguments were put forward in the UK from the 1940s to the end of the 1970s in the UK by Labour and by many unions, but these efforts succeeded only in crippling the UK economy and leading to it becoming wildly uncompetitive in world markets. The remedial action taken under the early years of the Thatcher administration was indeed painful, and the fallout in terms of job-losses and rising unemployment produced scars in the social fabric of the UK which remain, to some extent and in some quarters, to this day. Nevertheless this drastic action did allow the UK to regain ground lost in previous years by forcing British indistry to improve its productivity.

Our government has a policy, of course, relating to the Services Directive and the changes to it which have just been agreed (almost at the point of a French gun) and the government naturally, I imagine, does not accept the Telegraph's analyis of what was agreed last week. However, a country which struggled for years before finally freeing itself from tyranny has the guts to say what it thinks about France's latest anti-competitive grandstanding, but whilst doing so seems to display a very pragmatic and reasonable attitude.

The other major recent fudge is the Euro Stability Pact. This has for several years past been applied unevenly (and this is a charitable and deliberately bland way of putting it). Basically if you are one of the EU's lesser economies, the European Council will not hesitate to start action against you, but if you are France or Germany this simply will not happen. It stinks.

Murder in Nairn - Alistair Wilson to be buried next week

Four months after his murder, Alistair Wilson is to be buried in Fort Wiiliam, it was announced this evening. The motive for the killing remains unknown. My most recent previous article on the murder is here. There are links to all my posts on this murder, so close to where I live, in the right-hand column under the heading 'Murder in Nairn' articles.

Monday, 28 March 2005

Let's tango on the Pampas ...

... I've been hearing and reading for a while about the gay scene in Buenos Aires (Argentina), and its increasing popularity amongst an international gay audience, but this very interesting article in China Economic Net (CEN) is quite in-depth. What is even more extraordinary, and this is why I am bothering to write about it here, is that such an article can appear in CEN, although I imagine it is seen mainly by non-Chinese, and those outside China itself.

Sunday, 27 March 2005

Gym'll fix it ...

... not that there's anything wrong, but I couldn't resist the bad pun! Yes, I joined a Gym a couple of weeks ago and so far am enjoying it a great deal. I am going about twice a week and find the programme of exercises I have been given to be within my capabilities, but sufficiently challenging to be useful; there is a target for improvement over the intitial two months and I have already inched a couple of the exercises up the scale with comfort. In the last few years several Gyms have opened in Inverness, but the one I go to is one of the LivingWell group and the one here is well equipped and very pleasant to use. I tend to go toward the middle or end of the morning for two or so hours and at that time of the day it is not too crowded at all - a mixture of males and females, mainly middle-aged. After the programme of exercises I spend roughly another 45 minutes in the pool, steam room and sauna. I particularly enjoy steam rooms - it really opens up the pores. My main aim is to improve my general well-being, increase my stamina a little and to strengthen my upper body; I have never been an athletic person.

Soon after starting to lose weight on the Atkins diet I began to do brief periods of light jogging during my daily walks with the dog - this has helped to increase my general stamina already and some of the lower-body muscles, but I felt over the winter, when I wasn't doing so much, and no cycling at all, that a regular programme would be helpful. I had been thinking about it for a while, but never having been in a Gym before was a little hesitant to take the plunge - a friend at the wine society brought the subject up at a recent tasting and invited me along as a guest, so that got the ball rolling. I must say I am quite pleased that he did.

Now he tells us!

A cack-handed Liberal Democrat: Steel admits giving MSPs control over Holyrood was mistake.

As if we didn't know that already! Lord Steel was of course, as Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, the person who presided over this mess. Grrrrr!

We're now on BST folks!

Saturday/Sunday 26/27th March is the night the UK miraculously moves from GMT to BST for the summer, until 30th October that is, when we move back to GMT for the coming winter. The change happens, officially, at 02.00 GMT (03.00 BST). In other words, just about 30 minutes ago. Why am I not asleep yet? A very good question ....

Information about timekkeping in the UK is here.

Saturday, 26 March 2005

Taiwanese march to denounce Beijing threat against the island

At least half a million people marched this afternoon in Taipei to protest the recent National People's Congress in Beijing during which a law was approved calling for the use of "nonpeaceful means" to halt any Taiwanese attempt to declare independence from the mainland (registration may be required).

For present-day Taiwanese the Chinese proverb about living in interesting times has taken on fresh meaning.

Och, we'll hae nae skirrrts here!

Camridge University has outlawed the wearing of 'national costumes' at graduation ceremonies, which means that Scots may no longer wear kilts. Obviously some of the more idiotic amongst our so-called intellectual and/or big-government 'glitterati' take this amiss, one even seeing this as a slight relating to 1746; talk about being thin-skinned! Have people nothing better to get agitated about?

Friday, 25 March 2005

Death-wish Flight

Deputy Conservative Chairman Howard Flight has been forced to resign after a tape recording of remarks he made to a Conservative Way Forward Group on Wednesday was passed to The Times, implying that the Party's announced changes in public spending (and the taxation to fund them) were only the tip of the iceberg, but that it was necessary to be reticent about the true plans in order to assist in winning the election. This paraphrases the substance of his alleged 'crime' - letting the cat out of the bag.

Naturally Labour's 'attack dog' John Reid (Health Secretary and one of the biggest absorbers [wasters?] of public sector 'investment' [aka spending] in the country) was on the airwaves to denounce Flight's remarks. Parallels are of course being drawn with Oliver letsnotwin Letwin's remarks prior to the last General Election about supposed plans to cut spending more drastically than had been announced in the Conservative manifesto.

It has come to a strange, surreal world when the public can be convinced it is good to be taxed highly, when the evidence of the last eight years is that the significant increase in the overall tax-take, to fund increased spending [sorry 'investment'] spending in areas such as health and education has not produced commensurate perceptible improvements in public services. Until the Conservatives are prepared to go a great deal further than they have so far, and trumpet loudly plans to cut drastically taxation and public spending, then they may, perhaps, be going in the right direction - but so slowly as to make precious little difference. The British public have been fed on the soma of tax and spend for so long that they have forgotten that there is another way - by providing basic public services and by taxing at the minimum feasible level and allowing people the liberty to use their own efforts productively for their own benefit; this is how vibrant societies have pulled themselves and all their peoples into higher average standards of living. The socialist model of inadvertantly punishing the entrepreneurial innovators in our society has been proved, over many decades and in many countries, to be nothing more than an ersatz comfort blanket, and not a very effective one because all it does is stultify society by slowing necessary change and modernisation.

The country, quite apart from the Conservative Party, can ill-afford to cast aside people such as Howard Flight - he has exactly the right ideas. He should be praised, not pilloried.

UPDATE: (Friday 25MAR05 16.40) OK, so Flight spoke out of turn - and quite why he did it is still a maystery - but Howard is going completely over the top in his efforts to bar Flight from even standing as a Convervative at the next election. I may have vehement disagreements with the Conservative Party over its social policies, which remain pretty much in the dark ages, but to try and outlaw an obvious Conservative such as Flight is plain ridiculous. Howard really does need to get a grip and retain a sense of proportion. It must surely be a sign of true desperation.

Thursday, 24 March 2005

Tara on the beach - briefly sitting still






Tara on Nairn beach, about a half hour ago

This afternoon turned out very pleasant here in Nairn - it's the first day I have been out this year wearing only a short-sleeve shirt and no jacket for any length of time. The tide is quite far out at present so there's a lot of sand to walk and run around on - glorious! More pictures of Tara here.

St Kitts bans gay Windjammer cruise

Yet another Caribbean island decides to kick its own tourist industry in the teeth by preventing a cruise ship carrying, on this voyage a largely gay clientele, from landing on its shores. The S.V. Polynesia, a 248-foot schooner carrying 110 passengers was prevented from disembarking passengers as it approached Charlestown, Nevis. The vessel operates cruises run by Windjammer Barefoot Cruises Ltd, a Miami-based firm. Fair enough - countries set their own rules, but why any gay person should want to visit such a place is curious - until one reads what Randolph Hamilton, an official at the St. Kitts Tourism Authority had to say about the incident:

"We have had gay passengers and cruise ships and there has never been any problem in the past."

- I've also written in the past about the less-than-welcoming reception that gay cruises receive from some Caribbean islands; it seems, sadly, that St Kitts may have to be added to that sorry list.

Curiously enough, some years ago I enjoyed a Caribbean cruise on another of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises Ltd's vessels, the Fantome, among the world's largest four-masted schooners. The cruise I was on was not primarily 'gay', and as usual on Windjammer trips only a very small number of the roughly 110 passengers aboard were not US citizens, three so far as I recall; basically the passengers were fairly young (or young-at-heart) and were probably best-described as middle-class middle-Americans, a mixture of singles and couples, some with their teenage children on board. Tragically, the Fantome was lost (make sure you have the sound switched on for this link) in October 1998, suffering this ill-fate to the fury of Hurricane Mitch.

UPDATE: (Saturday 26MAR05 01.40 GMT) Furious back-pedalling from the St Kitts authorities. How credible are their protestations? Not very, is my assessment!

Wednesday, 23 March 2005

Tackling homophobia within the Police

There was a very interesting programme on BBC Radio4 a couple of days ago, titled 'Out in Force' - there doesn't appear to be a link to an online recording of the programme, but there is an article about it here. (Important - see update dated 26MAR05 at end of post)

The programme used as its format a report on a voluntary course attended by police officers on how to recognise and combat homophobia within the police force and the course was led by a recently-retired gay police officer. His overall verdict is that whilst things may be improving there is still some way to go. For example, one charming scenario from the course ran as follows:

Vic [course leader Vic Codling] splits all those before him into groups. Rank plays no part. Superintendents team up with PCs and civilian administration staff with hard-bitten detectives.

Each group is given a test scenario to see how they view a range of imaginary situations involving gay officers.

One group insists that they see nothing wrong with regularly referring to fights involving gay men as "handbags at dawn" over the police radio. "It's a common expression in the force," says the group's leader.

Vic disagrees and insists such remarks can cause great offence. But he is also keen to point out that many gay and lesbian officers have much more to deal with than ill-judged words.

Another incident which struck me as specially significant, not referred to in the article, but covered in the programme, related to a discussion during the course about whether a gay female police officer should inform a female rape victim (I specify 'female' because there are also male rape victims) of the fact that she is a lesbian in case that victim might object to submitting to the evidence collection procedure necessary in such cases being conducted by a gay female officer. Almost all those on the course, supposedly a [self-selected, because the course is voluntary] group of more tolerant police officers, thought the victim should be given the choice and the discussion became quite heated. When course leader Vic Codling asked whether it would be acceptable for, for example, a BNP member who had an aversion for people from ethnic minorities to decline to be searched by a police officer from such an ethnic minority, all those present thought it would be wrong to accede to such racism, but (and this is where the heat came into the discussion) insisted that it was different from a rape victim not wanting to be dealt with by a female gay police officer and that the victim should not be obliged to accept such an officer. There was of course no suggestion that the female police officer might have behaved in any way 'inappropriately' up to that point in the interview with the victim.

The consensus seems to be that things are improving, but it seems that the Police still have some way to go (another example? - tying a gay police officer to a chair and threatening him with a baton to force him to reveal who else in the police station is gay) to rid themselves of homophobia internally, to back up the PR that gay members of the public should have confidence in the treatment they will receive from the police when reporting crimes they have been the victim of because of their homosexuality.

UPDATE: (Saturday 26MAR05 22.40 GMT) A commenter advises there is a link to the broadcast on the BBC Radio4 homepage, but it will likely disappear when the next programme is broadcast on Monday - be quick! (Try here if that doesn't work, although that will probably be superseded quickly, too.)

Tuesday, 22 March 2005

Pawnbroking - still a fact of life in the UK, apparently

The practice of 'pawning' one's personal belongings for cash and then shortly thereafter buying them back at a higher cost, is apparently a growth industry in the UK - the fastest growing sector of the finance industry according to this.

This kind of hand-to-mouth existence has not gone away, however prosperous the UK might seem on the surface, even although we have been told for ages about the massive levels of personal indebtedness. I shall watch tonight's programme with interest - it's a world I know nothing about (well, almost - some years ago I became involved peripherally in arrangements to buy back for a family trust considerable quantities of antique and valuable jewellery which had been placed in 'hock' by a lady [in both senses of the word] who had a drink and gambling problem - but that is not the kind of problem I think this programme is going to be dealing with).

Student deaths in al-Basrah in Mahdi Army attack

Zeyad of Healing Iraq is reporting that an attack last week by Sadrists and Mahdi Army militiamen on a group of students in al-Basrah resulted in two dead students, and he makes the point that he has seen little mention of it in the media. So far as I can trace it remains unreported on the BBC.

Zeyad wonders why there has as yet been no reaction from Governorate council (of the al-Basrah district), the police, or the British forces in Basrah. So do I ....
(There is of course a lot of reporting about recent outrages in Baghdad, but the South seems not to get the same coverage.)

Sunday, 20 March 2005

Roman Catholic official 'tolerance' in Scotland

This is what a Roman Catholic bishop in Scotland has to say about the possibility of homosexual teachers being appointed to teach in faith schools.

Torture - is it ever justified?

For me the answer is very clear and simple. No prevarication. No dissimulation. No hiding behind lengthy [pseudo-]moral arguments. The answer is:

No!

Torture is never justified.

Ever.


I was incredibly disturbed yesterday when I read Tim Worstall's post entitled Deliberately Painful Executions, which he rather lamely concluded by saying: "As at the top, I don’t accept the contention that there are crimes that deserve the death penalty, so fortunately I don’t have to accept the latter part of the argument either." This strikes me as not exactly a cop out, but rather a glossing over what, to me, is so simple. I, too, am against capital punishment. However, not all instances of torture necessarily end in death for the person upon whom it is inflicted. In fact it may be part of the plan NOT to kill the person, simply to carry out torture, so that it can be remembered for the rest of the person's life. The two issues are quite separate and need to be looked at square-on and separately. Tim was, of course, commenting on a post by Eugene Volokh (a blog I read occasionally, but not regularly) where, for me, the most pertinent 'snippet' is this "This is a question that defenders of the death penalty must ask themselves. (I doubt that the death penalty as currently administered has much of a deterrent effect; I think it's justified because some people deserve to die, and it's unfair to their victims and the victims' families not to execute those people.) It's likewise the question with regard to deliberately painful death penalty." where he seems to indicate that certain crimes merit, or at least justify, torture.

Frankly when I read Tim's and Eugene's posts yesterday I wondered if I had gone to sleep and re-awakened in some post-apocalyptic world where orthodox western morals had been completely turned on their heads. Of course we had a former Home Secretary (David Blunkett) asking, only semi-rhetorically and quite recently, whether one could really justify not using intelligence gained as a result of torture, not obtained by us directly, of course (we want to keep our hands clean), but by some other nation acting as our proxy. This is alleged to be the practice of the US, for example. The sanctioned methods being used at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and in US military custody in Afghanistan and Iraq (excluding the excesses which have hit the headlines) cannot be excluded from this, either, in my view. The simple fact, Mr Blunkett, is that you either believe that torture is never justified, or not. If you believe it is never justified, as I do, then any use of intelligence obtained by such methods is equally reprehensible.

Why is it reprehensible, though? Isn't it right to inflict retribution or revenge upon miscreants, specially if the payback is allegedly the prevention of a terrorist outrage? I think the purpose of [the threat of] punishment is to deter those who might wish to commit an offence, or to endeavour to rehabilitate those who do. It is not to take revenge by inflicting pain by doing the same or similar back to the person against whom action is being taken. In other words I do not believe in 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' and this is even more true if the crime has not yet even been committed (in the case of trying to extract intelligence from those believed to have knowledge of a future planned crime).

I was relieved to read this morning that the moral debate against torture still rages and that those who seek to justify it under certain circumstances are being faced up to with robust argumentation. Ezra Klein links to an article by Justin Logan in which his overall judgement on Volokh's conclusion is: "I just find that hubristic and disgusting." So do I.

Justin Logan links to two other articles, though, expressing different sides of the argument. First to Kevin Drum, in the Washington Monthly, who writes:

"These are all punishments that have been commonly accepted at various times and places in human history, but aren't any longer by anyone we consider civilized. And this gets to the heart of the moral intuition question. Aside from material advances, the primary achievement of human civilization — slow and spotty as it's been — has been moral progress: we don't keep slaves anymore, we don't execute heretics, and we don't allow eight-year-olds to work 12-hour days in front of power looms.

But this progress has been tenuous and halting, with our inner demons never far from the surface — and accepting a reversal in our slow march toward moral improvement is playing with fire: as both recent history and current history demonstrate, the veneer of civilization continues to be mighty thin. We should be working to build up the veneer that protects us from our demons, Eugene, not sand it back down."

- you can read the whole article to get a flavour of what that 'These are all punishments' bit is all about. This really is the crux of this issue. Are we to allow the thin veneer of civilised behaviour which we have developed slowly and painfully over several hundred years, and which protects us from parts of our past which were cruel and unspeakably awful, to be weakened by resorting to such barbaric techniques with the aim, allegedly, of protecting these self-same civilised standards? For me, the danger of subverting our own civilised standards is just too great.

Kevin Drum is also quite correct in concluding that Eugene Volokh has not resiled from his earlier position (unlike Matthew Yglesias, who does buy this argument) out of any acceptance that it was wrong, but merely that it was not politically feasible. Quite repugnant!

I repeat, and make no apology, indeed I trumpet it from the rooftops:

No!

Torture is never justified.

Ever.


UPDATE: (Friday 25MAR05 09.10 GMT) A parliamentary foreign affairs committee's human rights report alleges that the government has declined to 'come clean' about whether the British government has made use of information gained under torture, even thought it condemns the use of such methods and says it does not encourage or instigate them in others.

Saturday, 19 March 2005

Do you know exactly what's in the new Civil Partnerships Act?

No? Well, I expect few of us know more than the 'headline' features. Pink Weddings, in collaboration with Gay.com, is organising a roadshow around major centres in the UK (although all those mentioned in this article happen to be in England, not all of them 'queer' hotbeds, so far as I was aware - doesn't Edinburgh, at least, qualify?).

Of course, Pink Weddings and Gay.com are both comemrcial organisations with, one imagines, a vested interest in increasing the take up of Civil Partnerhips by same-sex couples, but this seems nevertheless like a worthwhile effort to increase awareness of the pros and cons for those considering entering into such a commitment. I alluded to some of these pros and cons in my only post so far (apart from the one immediately before this), about the recent Budget here.

First the grey vote, now the gay vote

This is the title of an article appearing in today's Independent. It relates to recent interviews given by Michael Howard to Cosmopolitan magazine (for the female vote) and the Budget last week which had pretty shameless (and hollow, of course) pandering to the 'senior citizen' vote [GBP200- off Council tax for one year ... I ask you, how cheap is that!]. It seems that the three principal Party leaders have now been interviewed by Independent journo Johann Hari for Attitude (a gay magazine, out of the Desmond stable).

As I always buy Attitude anyway, I'll look forward to reading the full interviews, and will try to assess just how cynical the various leaders' remarks are when it comes my turn to head for the voting booth. [Unfortunately, I do not think there is an on online version of 'Attitude', so you have to buy/borrow it to read it]

Friday, 18 March 2005

New links added - March 2005 - batch 2

Here are six more additions to my blogroll; if some of them are unfamiliar I'd like to recommend that you pay them a visit to see what you think. They are in no particular order below:
Ezra Klein - Ezra is an undergraduate student at UCLA. I first came across him when he wrote on another blog (Panadagon, by Jesse Taylor, also in my blogroll), which he did for about a year upto the recent (November 2004) US Presidential Election. He writes stylishly on a wide range of topics, with a definite focus on Democratic politics.
Vividblurry - written by Toby, who describes himself as a diaffected student living in Washington DC. His writing is irreverent and frequently amusing although it is not entirely frivolous. He is gay.
A K Land (Alan Kennedy) - a Scottish blogger from Paisley (near Glasgow) whose postings have become more frequent in the past few months. Seems pretty liberal in outlook and has a parallel blog in Spanish.
Walking the Streets - the writer is a Traffic Warden, writing under the pseudonym Bill Sticker. He writes, well how can I put this, from a viewpoint that most road-users probably haven't considered before. Unfortunately his(?) blogfeed doesn't seem to work very well - I have been tracking his blog for a while, but apparent lack of postings (as shown on my feed aggregator) led me to think he had ceased blogging.
Whiskey Priest, The (Gavin Whenman ) - a young Londoner who is a student at Reading. Is a LibDem supporter. Unfortunately he doesn't blog very often.
Katherine's Adventures! Katherine Kirkpatrick is a young American student currently on a short study period in the UK, during which time she has been acting as an intern for an MSP in the Scottish Parliament (I understand a Scottish Tory). Her writing style is breezy and she gives a very fresh perspective on Scotland and its politics and many other things besides. Great fun to read.

Arrests at Saudi 'gay wedding'

The Guardian is reporting that 110 men have been arrested at a "gay wedding" in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, of whom 80 were released and the other 30 faced charges in a Jeddah court last Wednesday (reporting from Al-Wifaq).

The article refers to a similar incident last year in Medina, which I wrote about at the time, in which Al-Jazeera reported that two Chadians and 50 others had been arrested at what was suspected to be a 'gay marriage'.

Homosexuality is definitely not an unknown phenomenon in the Kingdom (I speak from personal experience), but it has evidently become a much more dangerous activity in recent years. These arrests are just additional symptoms, I am afraid, of the conundrums which face Saudi society generally.

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Alarmingly accurate, I'm afraid

Trivia alert, for OC watchers:

You scored as Kirsten. You are a perfectionist. Be weary of being too rigid and limiting your openness to varied experiences. Neat freaks are just as irrational as slobs. A half messy person is, in fact, the ideal. Optimal evolution (according to the research) is dependent on a sufficient amount of random variation and being overly regimented inhibits variation.

Kirsten

72%

Summer

50%

Marissa

39%

Sandy

39%

Luke

39%

Anna

33%

Caleb

28%

Jimmy

28%

Julie

22%

Seth

17%

Oliver

17%

Hailey

6%

Ryan

0%

What OC character are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

(thru Tottyland)

Self-publicising hyperbole alert

... for yes, it is he.
(Now I admit I may have written this under the influence of just a little too much amontillado but, nevertheless, you be the judge; read a few of his earlier delicious posts for a fuller and 'Scottishly' superb flavour)

Now I suppose this particular posting of mine could, in one sense, be accused of being guilty of the same 'sin' - except self-publicity it ain't! I do wish he'd give us a break ... onanism does get a little bit tedious.

In 'blogger-speak' this fisking has been ...

UPDATE: (Tuesday 22MAR05 23.50 GMT) Amusingly, my remarks seem to have gotten under the skin of Dear Stuart (two mentions for this post in his latest effort?!) - really, like a dog with a bone. Anyway, his blog is popular - and deservedly so; the self-publicity is merely a[n amusing, to me,] distraction.

Wednesday, 16 March 2005

Lesbian and gay couples to benefit from same tax regime as married couples

A detail from today's Budget. On the date that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 comes into force, 5th December 2005, tax laws will be amended to place same-sex civil partners on the same level, for tax purposes, as heterosexual married couples; this will allow civil partners to benefit from exemptions relating to the transfer of assets between partners under Inheritance Tax (IHT) or Capital Gains Tax (CGT) legislation. They will become subject to the same limitations as married couples in their freedom of action as to how their individual incomes may be treated.

All this seems very reasonable and long overdue.

Tuesday, 15 March 2005

The EU and its proposed Constitution

Now I am broadly in favour of having an EU Constitutional Treaty, even if I have some reservations with the document that has been agreed. Others are completely against the EU, even before we get around to discussing a Constitution. Fair enough - lots of viewpoints.

However, when I read this about plans to spend GBP5.5 mmillion (Euros8.8 million) on a campaign to explain what the Constitution is all about, I thought, no, surely it cannot be April 1st already - have I been asleep for a couple of weeks? This princely sum is to be spent across the whole EU, twenty-five countries with, Oh I don't know, 320 million residents or thereabouts, not just the UK. This works out at at less than 2p per head - you won't get much publicity for that, for or against the Constitution, even if it could all be done in one language, which of course is not realistic anyway.

The other big joke in this article is the contention (source not stated) that 'only 11% of EU residents have read the constitution'. I would be absolutely amazed if anything like that level had read the Constitution; I can just about believe that around that level might have heard of it and have a vague idea of what it is all about, in the most general terms. Naturally the Conservative shadow Europe minister Graham Brady is quoted as saying:

"British taxpayers are among the biggest contributors to EU funds and it is unacceptable for these funds to be used to finance propaganda in support of the European Constitution that would be bad for Britain.

"Even if the British government says that it won't use these funds, we need assurances that neither the European Commission nor the European Parliament can use this money to pay for campaign material in Britain."

- now I don't want an unbalanced information exercise either, but there does need to be a modicum of information to allow voters in those countries that are having a referendum to use their votes sensibly, one way or the other. Or do the Conservatives think it too dangerous to let people know the implications? Well I suppose it is just possible that the Conservatives will win the forthcoming General Election and be able to set the agenda themselves. Splash of cold water on the face - ah, that's better, I think I must have been asleep whilst writing that last bit. Maybe I'll find tomorrow, I live in hope, that the BBC article was just some kind of elaborate wind-up ...

Paxo jibe rouses Commons 'numpties'

Jeremy Paxman, you gotta love 'im. His response to 'Dr' John Reid, in a recent edition of BBC2 Newsnight, who had taken offence (genuinely, or for rhetorical purposes, you be the judge - I know what I think!) by stating that Paxo was belittling him becasue of his Glaswegian accent, was to retort that a "a sort of Scottish Raj" was running the country. Exaggerated, no doubt, but it is not completely and utterly ridiculous as the Commons motion signed by 20 Scottish MPs seems to imply. Those behind this motion all appear to be Labour MPs, rallying round the pugnacious 'Dr' John Reid. Good luck to them - at the cost of making themselves look ridiculous, they have at least added to the gaiety of the nation, so to say.

On a more serious level, people 'happy in their own skins' are not constantly on the defensive when people such as Paxo use their well-honed interrogatory interviewing techniques to attempt to get more than bland 'Party-speak' from those they interview. Paxo applied the same ruthless techinque years ago against then Home Secretary Michael Howard, by asking the same question 13 (or was it 12?) times, but Howard remained pretty imperturbable (outwardly - I bet he was seething inwardly). Reid appears, to me, not to be 'happy in his skin', a puzzle really because he is obviously a very clever man, even if I detest what he stands for. That's the only thing wrong with Paxo's remark, of course; the Raj, in general, ruled India with miniscule numbers largely by bluff and would rarely let slip the fragility of their position because they truly believed they were 'superior' or 'blessed' - Reid has, quite obviously, no such inner strength to succour him, but is still stuck in the mindset that he is a 'supplicant', rather than the one who (with his colleagues) actually does run the country.

The little bird, she go more than 'tweet, tweet, tweet' ...

I just spotted this link, and it is pretty amusing (and not a little amazing). You'll need Macromedia Flash to view it. (thru PooterGeek)

Monday, 14 March 2005

The chickens come home to roost for Sinn Fein-IRA

The repercussions of the McCartney murder and the Northern Bank robbery in Northern Ireland are finally beginning to have an effect on their major backers amongst the Irish 'diaspora' in the US - Senator Edward Kennedy (D Mass) has indicated, through his spokespeople, that he will not meet with Gerry Adams, as he has done every St Patrick's Day since 1998. I read yesterday, too, that President Bush has likewise declined to receive Mr Adams during his current visit to the US and has indicated he is unlikely ever to do so again. These visits of the 'acceptable face' of Sinn Fein-IRA to the US, during which considerable funds are probably raised for the 'get the British out of Northern Ireland' campaign have been a sickening reality for many years.

I have written over recent months on a number of occasions about the increasing incidences of homophobic attacks taking place in Northern Ireland over the past couple of years. The latest incident I have read of concerns a student in Londonderry/Derry who has been forced to flee his home after being beaten by two men, claiming to be IRA members, who promised further punishment should he have the temerity to report the matter to the authorities. These anti-gay attacks, whilst obviously very serious, and something I naturally feel very strongly about, are merely symbolic of the wider dilemma facing Northern Ireland and the UK generally. How to negotiate, if this is even possible, with people who have not entirely plausibly severed all links with factions who see the use of violence as a means of achieving their political aims. People who, moreover, seem to have widened their sphere of activity beyond the purely political, but who have become a simple criminal gang that indimidates whole communities into compliance to its will for personal gain.

Despite evidence that this been happening, for years, the Irish 'diaspora' in the United States have continued to support, financially, their compatriots back in Ireland. It has taken the McCartney killing, and the refusal of his family to play the Sinn Fein-IRA game, to force Sinn Fein and the IRA into even minimal acknowledgement of their culpability. It has taken this event, also, to force the Nationalists' paymasters in the US to reassess their blind support for people such as Gerry Adams. I will observe with interest whether this marks a genuine change or whether, once the murder recedes a little, the money faucets will quietly be opened once more and whether people such as Senator Kennedy will resume contact with Sinn Fein, specially if it is felt to be of use in his next Senatorial election campaign.

As someone who is partly (i.e. one quarter) of Southern Irish and Catholic descent I have nevertheless always felt it difficult to understand the internecine squabbling between the two major communities in Northern Ireland. In particular, since both the UK and Ireland have always had open borders for each other's citizens and both are now EU members, I believe that whatever genuine grievances may once have existed amongst the Catholics of Northern Ireland have long ceased to have any relevance in the Northern Ireland of today. Luckily we have so far been able to handle the divergent views on what Scotland's future relationship in/with the United Kingdom should be in a much more civilised manner.

UPDATE: (Monday 14MAR05 23.50 GMT) Don't interfere in politics, is what Martin McGuinness says to the sisters of the murdered Robert McCartney. Nice. Or something.

Sunday, 13 March 2005

Links deleted from my Blogroll - March 2005

I am deleting the links below from my Blogroll either because they have not posted new entries in a while (I have used two-three months as a guide) or because they seem to have disappeared completely:
Brian's Culture Blog (Brian Micklethwait)
Candidate, The
Iraq at a Glance (A.Y.S.)
Shadowfoot (Brian Logan)
I'll be keeping these links in my Bloglines RSS/XML feeds for a while, in case any of them are resuscitated, but meanwhile I want to reduce the clutter in my Blogroll a little.

UPDATE: (Monday 14MAR05 00.10 GMT) Brian at Shadowfoot has been in touch with his new URL, so I've added that back in - Shadowfoot (Brian Logan).

Reports of my decease are, happily, premature

I have observed in my visitor statistics a great number of visits today emanating from Canada, as a result of search engine queries for 'Bill Cameron'. I often get a few visits from Canada and the US, as a result of search engine queries, and had become aware that there were other people called 'Bill Cameron' in both countries - there are, after all, many people of Scottish descent there, so it is not really surprising. However, the number of such visits today has been quite out of the ordinary.

A little research has revealed that a[nother] gentleman by the name of 'Bill Cameron', a Canadian writer and journalist, has died in the very recent past - yesterday I think - and a news report about his demise is on canada.com here. This will put some visitors on the right track, I hope.

Friday, 11 March 2005

House of Lords doing a very necessary job

Home Secretary Charles Clarke can bleat all he likes:

"It's been a stick in the mud response, simply trying to put heels in the sand and prevent the elected House carrying its proposals through.

"I argue that the country needs a bill which prevents terrorism and protects our people."

- but the government's bill is most certainly NOT designed to protect this country's fundamental values - democracy and the rule of law. Placing restrictions on people without bringing charges against them or bringing them before a court, or even informing them of the substance of the suspicions the authorities harbour about them, is not the characteristic of a democracy, but instead of a totalitarian dictatorship. This is where Charles Clarke and his boss Tony Blair are leading us.

In time of war, emergency procedures may be required - everybody (or at least most people) accepts this. However the threat of terror, whilst undoubtedly something we need to take steps to protect ourselves against, is being used as an excuse to ditch seven or so hundred years of our history in which we have wrenched power, little by little, away from autocratic rulers and placed limits upon their ability to (excuse the vulgarity) stick it to the rest of us. How long will the threat of terrorism exist? Ten years? Twenty years? Fifty Years? A century?

What Charles Clarke is asking the House of Lords to do is to acquiesce in the demolition of the controls which keep the Executive in check and allow the citizen to go about his or her business, within the law, without interference by the State. The House of Lords is bravely resisting this. Charles Clarke is well aware that there is broad revulsion in the HoL, amongst Labour peers as much as their Conservative, Lib-Dem or Cross-bencher colleagues, at what this government is seeking to impose upon the country. It is cheap and dishonest of Charles Clarke to continue to say the contrary.

Coupled with the government's desire to introduce other measures, such as compulsory ID Cards, the diminution in the role of jury trials, restrictions on the right to conduct peaceful demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament, the ability to designate wide areas as out of bounds for peaceful protest (I heard on the radio this could even mean the whole of Greater London, for example), etc, etc, etc, what the House of Lords is attempting to do is vital for the health of our democracy.

Thursday, 10 March 2005

SNP leader says 'independence not popular'

In an amazing revelation (not), SNP leader Alex Salmond MP has finally come clean and admitted what most Scots knew already:

"An overwhelming majority of people in Scotland want more powers for the [Scottish] parliament, not necessarily for independence, although a substantial proportion of people do, but none the less want more power for the parliament."

- cutting through all this wishful verbiage, the bald truth is that relatively few people in Scotland (and certainly far less than a majority) want to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom. The central premise for which the SNP exists is simply not supported by enough of us to make it likely to happen.

Undoubtedly there will be more revelations in the news media tomorrow - major earth-shattering news that, for example, His Holiness the Pope is a Catholic, Icleland gets cold(er) in winter, etc.

New links added - March 2005 - batch 1

Here is another set of 10 additions to my blogroll; if some of them are unfamiliar I'd like to recommend that you pay them a visit to see what you think. They are in no particular order below:
Arthur's Seat - quite an interesting blog based in Edinburgh, commenting on a variety of subjects, such as politics, the economy and what is going on in the wider world;
Bishop Hill - we know little of Bishop Hill, because (s)he reveals little about (her)himself, but I glean that it is British-(possibly Scottish-?)based and the writing is generally of a pretty high quality on a variety of matters. It's difficult to be absolutely sure, but I detect a slight right-of-centre bias;
Englishman in New York - the title says most of what you need to know; Paul Berger is a freelance journalist living in New York. A different view of the UK, and of the US for that matter;
Guido Fawkes' blog - self-described as being about 'plots, rumours & conspiracy'. A mixture of interesting, scurrilous and amusing in varying proportions;
Jonathan Lockhart's Notebook - a Manchester-based(?) euro-sceptic who writes well; although recently he has not written much he seems to to have started again (sporadically) so may be worth following;
Liberty Cadre - a recently-started UK-based libertarian group blog with the main perosnality behind it being Andrew Ian Dodge. Whilst I take issue with some of what they write (and why not - that's what diversity is all about), most of it is pretty sound. A different take from a lot of the statist nonsense I read elsewhere;
Lost in Westminster ('Hamishmac') - the writer describes him(?)self as a staffer working at Westminster for a female Scottish Labour MP (said to be 'fairly prominent') with a marginal seat. Naturally a lot of what is written, and the views expressed, are not to my taste at all, but the quality of the writing is pretty high and (within the limits of a sensible level of professional discretion) there is a good deal of honesty in the writing here - quite a useful source for the 'pulse' of thinking in some Labour quarters;
Shuggy's Blogspot (D Grant) - tagline is "Because having a conversation is better than listening to a sermon...". Intelligent and balanced comment on a wide range of issues from a Glasgow-based teacher. You have to read quite carefully to confirm that he is to the left politically, but his arguments are usually so cogently and fairly expressed that this is surprisingly refreshing, even to somoeone rather [a lot] further to the right of the political spectrum than he;
The Skakagrall (Simon Holledge) - a Callander-based supporter of the Scottish National Party and its desire for 'independence', prior to which he was a Labour supporter. His posts are well-written and civilised in tone and are interesting as well as refreshing;
Third Avenue - the writer describles himself as a Briton living in New York. Well-written posts, although his left-wing biases sometimes get in the way. He is evidently an opera-lover as many of his posts are devoted to reviews of the numerous performances he attends - what I like about this blog is the fact that he talks about something completely outside politics with such obvious passion.

Wednesday, 9 March 2005

Demetrius Panton to stand against Margaret Hodge at general election

According to Labour Watch, Demetrius Panton will stand against Margaret Hodge in her Barking constituency at the general election expected in a few months.

I wrote about Demetrius Panton in November 2003 when he was obliged to defend himself against the incredibly foolish(*) slurs which Margaret Hodge had made about Mr Panton's emotional condition. Such arrogance has been typical of this government since it came to power - there have been regular attempts to smear those who have the temerity to criticise it, seen most recently in the cases of two families who have made negative comments about the government's NHS policies.
(* - I use the word 'foolish' because the slurs were so easily disprovable)

Whether Mr Panton can realistically hope to overturn the sizeable Labour majority in Barking is perhaps doubtful. At the very least, though, I hope his campaign will give Mrs Hodge a metaphorical 'bloody nose'.

Tuesday, 8 March 2005

News manipulation - Labour and its proposed Anti-Terrorism legislation

I have been gestating this entry for some days - probably since mid-Saturday in fact, since I first heard a breathless announcement on BBC News24 that former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens was the author of an article to appear next day in News of the World in which he was to express the strongly held view that it was necessary to pass the government's anti-terrorist legislation without further delay, anti-democratic clauses and all:

"It would bring in tough control orders against suspected terrorists or their leaders, who, under existing laws, can't be prosecuted."

"The new PTA has had to be rushed in because the Law Lords have ruled that, under the Human Rights Act, a group of al-Qaeda's spirtitual leaders who have been locked up in Belmarsh prison for several years should be freed."

"Depite all our intelligence, they decided that because of their "human rights" these figures must be set free to continue propagating their perverted brand of Islamic fundamentalism because we had no hard evidence we felt safe in producing in court against them."

"They simply should not be at liberty in this country. It is madness. for the safety of the vast majority, occaisionally we will have to accept the infringement of the human rights of high-risk individuals."

- all this without evidence having to be presented in a court of law (even one held in camera).

What it most put me in mind of was some of the rapid changes in government policy put out by Big Brother in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-four designed to whip up the population into a frenzy against some 'enemy of the state'. Now I have no idea if Sir John Stevens had planned to publish this article last weekend, but it does seem very convenient to me, for the government, that it appeared so soon after the Bill's traumatic and stormy passage through the House of Commons and just before the same Bill was predicted to receive a heavy kicking in the House of Lords. One might almost imagine, if one were in a conspiracist frame of mind, that the publication of an article by a person 'independent' of government, now able to speak more openly because no longer in-post in the Metropolitan Police, but who was thought to command considerable respect across the country, would be helpful to the government's case, specially with the Lords who would be debating and voting early the following week. Undoubtedly many of the Lords read, avidly, News of the World every week - if only to ensure that neither they nor any of their acquaintances are featured that week (that's a joke, by the way), or perhaps because the hoped-for fallout from its general readership might be thought to help in strengthening the sinews of Labour MPs who would have to look at the Bill again when it returns to the House of Commons once it has been dealt with by the House of Lords. What is exceptionally curious, though, is the blanket coverage it was given across every news bulletin on Saturday and Sunday, without really discussing any of the detail of what it said, merely the emotional 'bullet points' and with no attempt to analyse what was after all an article which was so important that it appeared on page 13 of a newspaper which, to put it at its kindest, is not a 'heavyweight' publication. 'Orchestrated' is the word which springs to mind! There is a suberb critique and demolition of it in Spy Blog - like many of the postings in that blog it is well worth reading in full.

So far, luckily, the House of Lords have resisted this orchestrated effort to browbeat them into rubberstamping this odious legislation. On Monday the HoL passed an amendment 249 to 119 to ensure that all control orders issued under the Bill, should it become law, will be made by courts and not ministers. Amongst 20 Labour rebels was ex-Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine, Tony Blair's pupil-master when he was training as a lawyer. Further defeats for the government were inflicted by the HoL on Tuesday, most significantly limiting the validity of the new legislation, should it be passed into law, to 30th November 2005 - the so-called 'sunset clause'.

The battle is not over yet, though. The weasel words of Home Office Minister Hazel Blears earlier today on BBC Radio4, before today's latest batch of defeats, make that clear. After today's votes she is quoted as saying:

"We are determined over the next 24 hours or so to do everything we can to make sure we get the legislation to protect national security and also is within the rule of law and compatible with the European convention."

- and I imagine that exceptional pressure will be exerted on Labour MPs by Labour Party whips to support the government. We must hope that they will remember to whom they owe their jobs when the Bill returns to the HoC - not the government, but their constituents. If they don't remember this, then I hope the electorate will punish them at the forthcoming general election - unless of course that is delayed as a result of 'unavoidable security concerns'. I haven't yet, or not quite, got to that paranoid state where I believe such a thing might be attempted. But I'd lay odds-on money that in the day-dreams of a few senior people in our government that this idea has fleetingly crossed their minds.

IRA offers to shoot killers of Robert McCartney

There I was, walking along the beach path when 'PM' on BBC Radio4 began its 5pm news summary with the 'just breaking' news that the IRA had, in the course of a 5-page written statement, offered to shoot the killers of Robert McCartney, murdered on 30th January by, it was claimed, republicans. Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather - surely those nice IRA people couldn't possibly be advocating violence, subverting the course of justice by preventing suspects of crime being brought before a court of justice? Since the murder happened, the sisters of the murdered man have conducted a very brave campaign which has forced the IRA to admit publicly that some of its members were very likely responsible for the murder; in its statement/threat/offer today it stated that two of its members and two others would, if McCartney's family wished it, be shot. The family did not wish this, instead requesting that the alleged killers be turned over to the authorities so they might face court justice.

The only alternative I can see to the IRA having completely taken leave of its senses, by issuing such a crass statement, indicating they are more than just a little 'rattled' by the level of nationalist public opposition to them in Northern Ireland in recent weeks, is that somehow this is a faked stament and does not come from the IRA at all, buth that their 'Beelzebub', the DUP, has somehow managed to issue a plausible statement in the IRA's name? No? No, I don't think that is terribly likely either. The IRA has most probably just demonstrated, once more, that they have not changed at all - they are still the same bunch of ruthless killers and opportunisits they always were.

A spat among the 'kiddies' - about Scottish 'independence' forsooth!

I have derived some .... amusement, joy, sickness in the base of my stomach, despair, feelings of sadness (take your pick) .... from this it wisnae me post by Stuart at his 'Independence' blog. I generally enjoy reading what he writes (even if I agree with not a lot of it - it is good to be stimulated), but this example:

"It was such a childish and flawed piece of writing, so devoid of fact and replete with animosity, that the intelligent commentator barely knew where to start, so I decided not to waste my time. Suffice to say that I hope Shuggy takes this opportunity to make it crystal clear that he is not accusing me personally or my SNP colleagues of racism; that he acknowledges that the Scottish National Party also bases its case for Scottish independence on civility rather than ethnicity; and that he acknowledges that it was not his defence of the Union on economic grounds that attracted my charge of cultural cringing."

- may just cure me of my 'addiction' to what he writes. Puhhlleeesse! As for Shuggy's post itself, I read it soon after it was written in the early part of February and found a great deal in it that I agreed with. I am not someone who haunts the 'comment' areas of other blogs, I tend to comment occasionally when I think I have something to contribute and am content to leave it to others if not.

Now it is no secret at all to anyone that I am not in favour of Scottish separation (aka 'independence') from the rest of the UK. I would far rather that devolution had never happened. But it has, and the likely political reality at least for the rest of my lifetime, and probably long after that is over, is that the status quo ante is never likely to be restored, so one must accept that we now do have a Scottish Parliament. It has always struck me, however, that the current disposition is not sustainable in the longterm, without the acquiescence of the majority inhabitants of these islands, 'thae English', and there are increasing signs that Sassenach complacency is getting closer to being tested to its limits. What I am saying is that, to make it clearer, there is all to play for so far as Scottish separation is concerned politically, if not necessarily economically. Some of the policies supported by the SNP strike me as eminently 'sellable' to a wider Scottish constituency, but the harsh reality is that there are wilder elements within the movement (some of whom are not on the periphery) who if they had their way would make the current pretty 'clean' official stance of the Party look tame. Of course the motivation of Labour in creating the Scottish Parliament was to attempt to defuse, permanently, the threat that the SNP poses to Scotland's continuance within the UK; so far it has succeeded in this aim. To make it even clearer, I have no visceral objection to Scottish separation/'independence', as we already are independent within the UK and I obviously have no objection to that. What does bother me is the likelihood that a separate Scotland would sail off down a path to some mythical socialist paradise, fuelled by massive public debt, high(er) taxation levels and a continuing exodus of brighter Scots to places where they can profit from their own efforts. The only aspect of SNP policy that has ever 'attracted' me is the concept of 'Independence in Europe', as I am a fervent supporter of our continuing full participation in the EU, whether as part of the UK or otherwise.

As we are now in the run-up to an anticipated general election in May, various political parties are holding their Spring conferences - this coming weekend it will be the turn of the SNP itself. A few comments about the website though - there is no mention there, so far as I can see at the time of writing, of the forthcoming conference (which I know about only from having purchased next week's Radio Times this morning), and the website still talks about the 2003 Scottish Parliament elections as being in the future, rather than almost two years ago; whoever maintains their website is not doing it very well (in my humble opinion). Probably sums up the malaise being suffered by the SNP generally.

Murder in Nairn - student background of Alistair Wilson to be investigated

In the latest twist to the tragic doorstep murder of Alistair Wilson, which occurred very close to where I live last November, the police have now announced they are to check into the victim's earlier days, including his time as a student. Whether this is an indication that Northern Constabulary are still completely at a loss as to why this man was murdered, or whether they have definite reasons for going down this investigative route, who can tell? Further developments are awaited. My most recent previous article on the murder is here.

Monday, 7 March 2005

Labour cold-calling

I had a telephone call earlier this evening. From the Labour Party (or so what I think was a recorded voice indicated). Presumably I would have been transferred to a live operator if I had spoken immediately, or maybe not - because perhaps there were no operators available to deal with me at the time. I assume that calls are made automatically and farmed out to any available operator to deal with.

The curiosity of the call, for me, though was something else entirely. You may have wondered why I mentioned above that I had not 'spoken immediately'? Well, like a lot of people (most people?), I now receive a lot of cold-calls, the telephonic equivalent of junk-mail, and I have 'caller display' on my telephone system at home and either don't pick up, or don't speak immediately if I do, for incoming calls where "WITHHELD" or "INT'L" is shown in the display window, to help me filter out this junk. In the case of tonight's call from the Labour Party the display showed "INT'L" and I would normally have remained silent until the caller spoke, but when the recording started playing I said 'hello'. Now I could have understood those exploiters of the workers the Conservatives using a foreign-based call centre to make their cold-calls (and perhaps they do, for all I know), but I confess I was a little surprised that the Labour Party does this.

Of course being an out-and-out capitalist roader (a phrase I last heard circa 1976 in China) I have no objection in principle to the use of foreign-based call centres, in particular; cold-calls from UK-based call centres can be just as irritating! But they are sometimes useful - one of the insurance companies I use seemed to start using one in India about three years ago and I notice no lessening of quality in the way my calls to that company are dealt with, perhaps even a little to the contrary.

I suspect the real key to why those cunning 'rascals' in the Labour Party use a foreign base to originate the calls (even if the operators themselves are actually UK-based for all I know) is to circumvent attempts to block such unwanted incoming calls. I have a feature (which I pay a small fee for) on my telephone line called 'choose to refuse' - this allows me to block calls from specific telephone numbers, very importantly even from withheld numbers. This is very useful for blocking calls from, for example, companies trying to peddle double-glazing or similar - they can call once, but only once. But this little feature does not work for calls originating abroad. Over the past couple of weeks I have had a great number of silent calls showing "INT'L" in the display window; I had assumed they were just the usual rubbish - but now I wonder if the kind of rubbish I am being subjected to is of an entirely more annoying kind. This pre-election phase has begun nastily and I fear it will descend to even worse levels of nastiness as the election process gets fully underway - hold on for a bumpy ride!

Saturday, 5 March 2005

Eurovision 2005 - the UK heats

I'm not a great lover of 'campery', but Eurovision is definitely an exception. Tonight we had the chance to choose which of the five UK contestants will represent us later in the year in Ukraine (last year's winner). I've already cast my telephone vote, but my views of the songs which I heard tonight are these (in the order in which they performed):

- Javine sang Touch My Fire. A lively song, with both hip-hop and Moroccan overtones, really quite good and might well appeal to a pan-European audience. Javine is a pretty (and sexy) young woman, too, and seems to have a good voice;

- Tricolore sang Brand New Day - a ballad sung by three men, all quite nice looking. An attractive song, but I'm not sure it is quite right for Eurovision;

- Gina G sang Flashback - although not a bad song, it was to my ears rather formulaic and 'boppy' in style and not really for today, more like five or ten years ago; she was our Eurovision contestant in 1996 when she achieved 7th place;

- Andy Scott-Lee sang Guardian Angel - a romantic ballad sung right into the microphone by a good-looking young man. He has a very good voice and if he is successful and performed as well on the night then it could be a winner - but I worry it might not appeal right across Europe;

- Katie Price sang Not Just Anybody - I thought it was quite a good song, let down by the (to my ears) slightly flat notes of the singer on several occasions. I thought at one point that I was mistaken because a few of the notes (which she achieved well) were vaguely Arabic/Moroccan in tone, but there were more flat-sounding notes later on. She could be OK on the night, but basically I think her voice is not strong enough, even if she is a beautiful (if slightly 'tarty') young woman.

For me the two front-runners were Javine (singing Touch My Fire) and Andy Scott-Lee (singing Guardian Angel). I had difficulty choosing between the two, but ended up voting for Guardian Angel, but I do wonder if Touch My Fire, which was a very good song (and well performed) might not have a wider appeal across Europe and amongst all age-groups and both genders. I'll be happy, though, if it is one of these two that goes forward as our entry. I'd also be reasonably happy if the winner is instead Tricolore (singing Brand New Day).

We'll know the result a little before 9pm this evening.

UPDATE: (Saturday 5MAR05 21.45 GMT) ... and the winner is Javine (singing Touch My Fire). A good result, specially as it was a surprisingly close call with, in my view (but not, it seems, in the opinion of nearly everyone else), Katie Price singing Not Just Anybody. If Katie Price had won I think it would have been very short-sighted - sure, she is 'gorgeous' (and that counts for a lot in Eurovision), but her voice is not of a high-enough calibre; the UK has made this mistake on a few occasions before, most notably two years ago when our entrant received, quite justifiably, NO VOTES AT ALL largely because the singing was off-key throughout. Javine does have a good voice, she looks good and the song is pretty good, too - she stands a reasonably good chance, in my view.

Thursday, 3 March 2005

Is this really how our prisons are run?

Well, I certainly have no idea, but if this kind of thing is happening then it is absolutely chilling.

I have generally always believed in the fairness and basic 'decency' of our public service, but after watching a programme yesterday evening by undercover reporters who had taken jobs within the illegal immpigrant security industry ('Detention Undercover - the Real Story', BBC1 2 March 2005 9pm), which showed numerous examples of violent and racist behaviour by guards. I am afraid I am not prepared to dismiss out of hand the possibility that prison officers really do indulge in this kind of 'bear-pit' technique to get their kicks.

The truth about the NHS is that state monopolies don't work

The latest example of the creaking bureaucracy that is the NHS is the shocking case of pensioner Margaret Dixon, whose operation has apparently been postponed seven times; I have not heard or read anything to indicate that the basic facts of her case are in dispute.

Health Minister Dr John Reid accuses the Conservatives of playing "a political game", whilst the best that Number 10 can come up with is that it is wrong "to elevate one case into a generalisation about the health service". To both Dr Reid and Mr Blair I say - balderdash!!

From my own personal experience I know that delays and procrastination in making treatment available are pretty common, and this seems specially the case in matters relating to elderly pensioners; my own mother, who has never been a Tory voter (*) so far as I am aware, is currently awaiting a date for a relatively simple procedure to relieve the chronic hip pain she suffers from. At the consultation she had last December she was told it was highly likely that the injection she requires would be done in mid-January, then when that didin't happen she was told it may be by the end of February. She is still waiting for news as to when it is going to be - meanwhile the pain continues! (* She thinks the sun shines out of Charlie Kennedy's a..e, but that's another story - he is, after all, her local MP.)

North Korea makes a joke ...

The latest ploy from the 'plucky' North Koreans is to demand an apology from the US for categorising their country as one of six "outposts of tyranny". If North Korea was not a tyrannical despotism then it would really not be necessary for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to say such things - she was merely stating the obvious.

Nor does North Korea (DPRK) help its cause when it announces it is no longer observing a self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile testing which has been in place since 1999. North Korea represents, in my view, a far greater danger to its neighbours than Iraq has done in at least the last 14 years, even though its internal politics were deeply deplorable (and fully justified our action there) - this may be the reason why the DPRK is treated, in practice, so carefully by both its immediate neighbours (Japan, South Korea and even China) and the United States.

Out with the old, in with the new ...

Yes, a couple of days ago I changed my car. However, not the make or model as I like Honda and the Accord suits me just fine at present. The old '02' model was a dark green colour and the new '05' one is a dark blue colour. Indeed, so far as I recall this is the first time I have ever had a blue car of any shade; I just felt like a change - also it is one of the few colours that comes with cream leather upholstery as standard, and I much prefer to have a light interior for my car than the standard dark grey. So here they are:

Out with the old ...

In with the new ...

I haven't been posting much here in the past couple of weeks, largely because I haven't found much new to write about and I feel that simply going over the same old ground, again and again albeit with slightly different wording, is a little tedious. Of course having a number of guests staying with me over this period has also meant that my time has been more fully occupied than usual. I hope to get back to posting here a little more regularly in the next day or so - perhaps once I see more than the one tree I have already exhibiting the beginning of Spring budding will inspire me afresh.