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

Sunday, 31 December 2006

A sad, and probably accurate, forecast about Iraq ...

... in the wake of the execution of Saddam Hussein and the way, and by whom, it was carried out. Zeyad at Healing Iraq has a link to a mobile telephone video recording of Saddam being hanged and a translation of what the exchanges were just prior to the trap-door being opened; the comments are less inflammatory (but still somewhat inflammatory) than some have been reporting, it would seem. Zeyad also has some comments about what he thinks (fears) might be in store for Iraq now; unfortunately the 'permalink' for this post is defective, but it is entitled "Saddam Hangs (Updated)" and was posted on 30th December 2006 at 1.25pm.

Bulgaria and Romania join the EU as member states at midnight tonight

Two new members will accede to membership of the European Union at midnight tonight when Bulgaria and Romania become the 26th and 27th member states.

Without wishing to minimise the work that will be required to integrate these two new member states into the framework of the EU, given their much lower levels of GDP per capita than any existing member (even amongst the eight eastern European countries which acceded a few years ago), I remain strongly in favour of bringing as many countries within Europe (i.e. including Turkey - that is a political judgement I have no hesitation in making) into the EU when conditions are right.

So I welcome warmly these two new member states.

I have updated the EU page within my own main website links page to the member countries' profiles within the EU website.

Saturday, 30 December 2006

Test post to verify new feed links work

As mentioned in my previous post, since moving to Blogger Beta at the beginning of December my blog feeds have ceased to function properly; i have now put in place links to two replacement feeds - and I hope they now show up!

Subscribing to my blog feed ...

... since switching to Blogger Beta a couple of weeks ago it seems that my existing blog feeds no longer function properly; apparently this is a known issue with older-style templates such as mine.

To receive my up to date feeds, please amend the link you use in your blog aggregator to this (http://billcameron.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default) - a permanent link to this updated blog feed is at right near the top of the column.

Alternatively, you can subscribe to this feed (http://billcameron.blogspot.com/atom.xml).

Speculation is rife about the imminent execution of Saddam Hussein

There are strong rumours tonight that Saddam Hussein is to be executed early morning Saturday, Baghdad time, perhaps around 6am (or about 03.00 GMT).

I oppose the death penalty, even for monsters such as the former President of Iraq; quite apart from my moral objections, though, it seems to me that death in this case would be far too easy on the former tyrant - surely a much more fitting outcome and punishment would be for Saddam Hussein to be kept under conditions of strict security for the remainder of his natural life?

However my qualms are of no importance, I suppose. The Iraqis appear to favour execution as punishment and if lancing the boil that Saddam's life represents is thought likely to have the potential to reduce violence there then I cannot see much utility in 'manning the barricades' over this issue. I don't rejoice in the prospect of any human being dying, far less a human being being deprived of life in an officially-approved execution, but the world will carry on very nicely without him. In summary, "Good Riddance, Saddam!" .

UPDATE: (Saturday 30DEC06 03.47 GMT) The deed has been done; it was reported on BBC News24 about 30 minutes ago and is now confirmed here. Two of his co-defendants are also reported to have been executed. I can now go to bed, if not happily, at least with some sense that a malign influence has been removed.

Thursday, 28 December 2006

Christmas Day and Boxing Day 2006 - busy but enjoyable

I finally got to bed at about 1.30am on Christmas Day morning and was up again and in the kitchen to commence preparation of breakfast, canapes and lunch by about 8.15am. Busy, busy! - but very enjoyable and, thankfully, entirely successful.:


8.45am - preparing breakfast.

3.45pm - 'Plating-up' the starter course for lunch

4.00pm - lunch is served.

4.40pm - the turkey is revealed.

5.00pm - Bill toasts the turkey.

Boxing Day 2.00pm - Bill can relax.

Click here to see larger images.

Sunday, 24 December 2006

It's Christmas Eve and Bill signs off for a few days

Like many people, I expect, I have a pretty full schedule of activities for the next few days, not the least of which will be cooking up and serving turkey, etc., tomorrow. Last evening I baked a virginia ham (a particular favourite which I do every year), as well as made various home-made 'sweet meats' and chocolates ('mendiants' for Christmas). My guests will be arriving this afternoon, and a couple more for lunch tomorrow, so I'll be quite busy very shortly; luckily we are out for lunch on Boxing Day, as it's our mother's birthday.

So from the brief, calm interlude which I'm currently enjoying, I take this opportunity to wish everyone, wherever they are, a Peaceful and Joyous Christmas and a Very Happy New Year. A scene from early this morning 'chez moi' is below:


8.15 am 'chez Bill' this morning.


Click here to see a larger image.

Thursday, 21 December 2006

No, I haven't gone away (yet), just got very busy ...

... partly because of the run-up to Christmas, but to be truthful more because of planning for my imminent lengthy visit to Spain where I'll be from mid-January (staying here in a rented property as my own little house won't be ready until November next year), returning to Scotland toward the end of April. Assuming I can get my laptop to work with the wi-fi networks in the hotels I'll be staying in during my trip out to Spain I shall do a daily blog on my journey south from Holland and through France and Spain. Otherwise it'll be limited to occasional blogs once I get there.

There's been lots to write about (Blair and his shoddy excuse for a Government, the 'cash for Peerages' scandal, the worsening situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the prospect of elections to the Scottish Parliament next May, etc., etc.), but I simply have not had the time to devote proper attention to these and the many other issues that I would normally have covered. Luckily, though, there are many other quality blogs to read and comment upon, a few of which are included in my blogroll at left.

Now if you want some mindless glee watch this rather clever video uploaded to YouTube; persevere until the end (if you can) for the punchline which, because of what has gone before, is something of a non sequitur. Personally I found it a way to lighten the mood of gloom coupled with the frenetic activity I've been experiencing over the past couple of weeks, what with the horrendous murders in Ipswich, the usual transport chaos in the run-up to Christmas and, in my case, the mad, hectic schedule I shall be dealing with during the next six days of catering and entertaining - much as I enjoy doing it, the whole thing does require meticulous planning to ensure that there are no items I've overlooked until too late. Tomorrow, for example, is 'pick up turkey day' and the last day I'll have available to do the final bits of food and gift shopping, if Saturday's and Sunday's tasks are to be accomplished.

(thru 'Til the Cows Come Home)

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Pinochet dead - am I bovvered?

The old monster has finally died. Whilst I can't say I wished him dead, it would be hypocritical of me to pretend I am sorry that he has now succumbed to his recent heart attack. It would further be remiss of me not to record my view that whilst he was a vicious tyrant, he did allow the Chilean economy to be put on a much sounder footing than it had been under his predecessor, Salvador Allende (a crypto-communist); the nearest parallel I can find is with Franco in Spain - unpleasant methods, but which ultimately left his country in better ecomonic shape. Read world reactions here.

A judicious debunking of so-called 'ethical food'

This week's Economist has one of the best and most succinct 'debunkings' of ethical food I have ever read. The article in question is here (available only to subscribers to the print edition), but a brief summary of what it says is roughly as follows:

Organic Food
Organic food may be produced without man-made pesticides and fertilisers, but conventional agriculture requires much more land to produce a given quantity of food and has been the driving force, throughout history, for deforestation. The harsh reality is that not all of the world's population could be fed adequately using organic farming methods. The eco-lobby is silent on this important aspect.

Fairtrade
Farmers get paid more because such products are sold at a higher price, but because these commodities are often wildly in surplus the prevailing market price tends to be low. By propping up the price, Fairtrade encourages farmers to grow more, rather than diversifying in other crops, so depressing prices further. Fairtrade tends to achieve in the medium- and long-term exactly the opposite of what was intended. On the other hand it gives rich consumers the smug impression their generosity is helping to give farmers a better life, when what it usually does is tie these farmers into the production of low-value commodities.

Locally-produced Food
Sounds logical, when first looked at. However, more people live closer to a supermarket than a farmer's market and almost half of all 'food miles' involve cars going to/from the shops. When, in addition, the energy used in production as well as transport is calculated, local food may in fact be even less 'green' than most people imagine. Producing lamb in Britain is far more energy-intensive than producing the same meat in New Zealand, apparently and the aims of the 'local produce' movement in any case contradict the whole notion of Fairtrade, because it discourages us from buying produce from poor countries. In fact the 'local produce' market looks suspiciously like protectionism masquerading as concern for the environment.

Summing up, the Economist article suggests that concerned consumers in the rich world need to use the power of their votes to force action by their governments by introducing a global carbon tax and reform (genuine reform, that is) of the world trading system and by abolishing farm subsidies to allow poor-country farmers to compete on a level playing-field. Free trade in other words.

IDS claims his comments about gays distorted

I am disinclined to believe Mr Iain Duncan Smith's claims that his remarks that same-sex couples are 'irrelevant' to the family policies he is shaping for the Conservative Party on behalf of current leader, David Cameron, have been "distorted". However, I am willing to accept that it is a possibility, if a remote one.

It is remarkable, though, that during the period when IDS 'led' (*) the Conservative Party he signally failed to utter the words 'gay' or 'homosexual' in public. In his interview with David Frost on Sunday 20th January 2002, for example, he swerved away from responding to Frost's pretty direct questionning in any meaningful way (the link is to a post in my main website before I began writing this blog).

Frankly Iain Duncan Smith has 'form' and seems to me to be protesting just a little too much, even if he is now prepared publicly to utter the word 'gay' in an homosexual context - I suppose one must record this as a step forward.

(*) I put the word led into 'scare quotes' because the manner in which IDS performed when he was theoretically at the helm of the Conservative Party does not justify classification as 'leading' in any meaningful sense, in my opinion.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Just switched to Beta Blogger

I have just switched to Beta Blogger and this is a test post to check it seems to be working correctly.

PS/ Now that I've switched, successfully it seems, I have a Google search bar at the top; not something I particularly wish to have, but I suppose it's the 'price of progress'.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

"Window on your World" - me at 5pm

Today the BBC PM programme on Radio4 is asking people to send them images taken at 5pm when the programme comes on air. This is my effort:


Bill's Kitchen and dining-room at 5pm today


Click here to see a larger image.

Here's what I said in my email to the PM programme:

Hello there
I'm attaching a photograph taken just as the pips were sounding 5pm.

It is taken in the kitchen part of my kitchen dining-room; I have just come through to prepare an early supper as I shall be going to a chamber music concert[*] in a couple of hours. You can see my laptop on the dining-table through the room-divider, where I am logged-on (wi-fi) to my own blog. On the menu tonight is rib-eye steak and a salad, followed by stewed cranberries with pine kernel nuts and cream ... I will probably have a glass of Merlot to go with the steak!

Cheers!
Bill Cameron
Nairn, Scotland


[*] - Postscript: the concert earlier tonight was excellent; a quartet of young musicians (the Navarra String Quartet, comprising two Dutch violinists, one Dutch viola player and one English cellist) gave a very enthusiastic and polished performance of works by Haydn, Mozart and Shostakovich; they are all at an early stage of their professional careers, but I sense that they will have a long and successful future, collectively and individually; they currently study at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Civil Partnerships one year on

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported that in the first nine months since the Civil Partnerships Act entered into force a year ago, 15,672 gay and lesbian couples have 'wed' with 90 per cent taking place in England (somewhat higher than the overall proportion of the population who live there). Over 900 couples took the plunge in Scotland over the period.

The ONS highlights that the age-profile of those getting 'partnered' has changed quite dramatically over the period with the proportion of those under 35 having doubled to 25 per cent, whereas for those over 50 the numbers halved to around 24 per cent. The gender balance of those getting married appears also to be evening-out after the initial balance in favour of male partners. After a little thought I have come to the conclusion that the reducing age-profile was probably quite predictable; undoubtedly in the early days the fact that 50 per cent were over 50 years old owes much to the fact that many of these couples will have been together for many years, decades in some cases, and had been waiting for a long time to be able to make their situation legal in the eyes of the law. The corollary is that the proportion of younger couples partnering is likely to continue to rise for at least the next few years as civil partnerships becoming increasingly ubiquitous, if not always accepted by all members of the couple's acquaintances and family - the current 'gay storyline' in the Archers is undoubtedly not just dramatic licence for the sake of a radio 'soap'; if, unlike me, you are not a sad 'Archers addict' you need to know that so far the father and the step-father of both Ian and Adam respectively and Adam's grandmother have all declined to attend the 'wedding'.

It's true we in the UK haven't come quite so far as South Africa where since last week full same-sex marriages have come into force, but I think the first year of civil partnerships here must be regarded as a major success.

Monday, 4 December 2006

I read only in moderation ... honest!

But it seems perhaps I do a little more than that:

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Literate Good Citizen
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Non-Reader
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz


(thru 'Doonesbury' at The Council of Lemurs)

I also cook every meal I make myself from scratch; chilled or frozen pre-prepared food has no place in this household. I don't really think I'm any kind of 'book snob', but I don't mind admitting that when it comes to what I put into my mouth (foodwise - lol) I most certainly am.

Sunday, 3 December 2006

A 'stinker' of a storm hits the Philippines

About 1,000 are feared to have died as a result of mudslides triggered by Typhoon Durian in the Philippines archipelago. Sounds horrible and it seems that Vietnam is at risk, too, so it's perhaps not over yet.

The title of this post relates to the name chosen for this typhoon; the Durian is described in the linked article merely as being "named after a spiky Asian fruit", but that is a very bland way of putting it, a bit like saying that Hitler was Chancellor of Germany between 1933 and 1945 without mentioning anything else about him! If you have ever smelled Durian (I have never eaten it) then it is not something you forget easily. On the other hand it is regarded as an addictive delicacy by certain people, even if many hotels and public transportation in the Far East ban it from their premises. I did voluntary work for a couple of years in Hong Kong and one of the others who I sometimes did evening duty rotas with was a Singaporean Catholic nun who used to suck boiled sweeties flavoured with Durian as this was the only way she could get her 'fix' and not be shunned by polite society. Read more about this delightful fruit here.

Is he gay or is he nay?

An amusing online quiz to evaluate how 'gay' you are; now I am gay, as I mention in the header of this blog (so the result is pretty much as expected), but I was interested to see how closely I fit the 'pattern'; I'd say it's broadly accurate and surely wouldn't come as too much of a surprise to people who know me well.

You Are 50% Stereotypically Gay

You definitely have some stereotypically gay traits. You might set off a person's gaydar now and then. If you are not actually gay, you could be mistaken for gay from time to time. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

How Stereotypically Gay Are You?
Make a Quiz



What about you? (... and if you're 'straight', are you man enough to divulge the result if the quiz shows you to be a 'raving poofter'? - he, he)
(thru James at The Rittenhouse Review)

Saturday, 2 December 2006

Farepak - a way out for some ...

... there was an interesting segment in today's Money Box programme on Radio4. Basically it seems that anyone who made payments to Farepak using a credit card is protected under the Consumer Credit Act for non-delivery of merchandise paid for. Certain debit cards, for example Visa/Delta cards, are also protected. There is no similar protection, however, for payments using cards issued under the 'Maestro' brand.

A few of the experiences recounted on the programme made interesting listening. Initially certain of the credit card issuers and banks tried to 'hum and haw' that no refund was due after using their cards or that any refund might take several months, but persistence paid off and one woman (who was from Glasgow if I recall accurately) recovered over GBP10,000-! The credit card companies and banks have been rather reticent about bringing this to the attnetion of those who might benefit, but it appears that a number have now agreed to write to their own customers.

If you know of anyone affected by the collapse of Farepak you could do worse than to let them know of this possible 'way out', depending on how they made their payments to the company.

As a 'middle-class' person the mindset of people who make use of Christmas savings clubs has always been obscure to me, when I have thought about it at all. Nor is it particularly easy for someone like me to understand fully what it is like to have to 'scrimp and save' for every little luxury and the pressures this can cause - and the actions such pressures can convince those affected to take, such as using this method of saving rather than putting the money into a savings account in a bank. A family member advises that a friend of hers was an agent for Farepak and that the friend, along with about a dozen people for whom she acted as agent have together lost well in excess of GBP10,000- ; I daresay there are many people around the country like me who have no personal experience of this method of 'saving' for special events, but who have people in their circle of acquaintances of friends, colleagues or employees who are affected.

NB/ I have been wanting to write a major post on the 'Farepak scandal' for some weeks and have in fact been doing considerable research, poring through publicly available financial reports, on the Christmas savings club sector. The reasons I have not so far written about it are twofold:
- an unwillingness to bring about what I, and presumably most others, fear; the collapse of, or loss of confidence in, other companies in the run-up to Christmas;
- a reticence about writing anything that might be considered actionable.
The clue to all this is that Farepak is not the only organisation involved in this trade and whilst the media have covered [at least one of] them superficially and sporadically over the past few weeks, none of the media have, to my knowledge, investigated them in any depth; perhaps they have the same reasons for reticence that I feel I have.