Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Farewell! God knows when we shall meet again.

(Please see UPDATE at end)

This quotation from Romeo and Juliet (Act 4, Scene 3) is my way of saying that this little blog, like all good things in life, is coming to an end. I have thought about stopping writing here on many occasions over the past five and a half years, but this thought has until now been a relatively fleeting sentiment; for the last few weeks, however, I have begun to look at blogging as more of a chore than a pleasure. One of the factors that kept me blogging in the early days was that there were still relatively few UK-based bloggers in 2002, when I began this blog, writing about current affairs, politics and 'gay issues'; this continued to be the case until two or so years ago. Since then there has been an 'explosion' of what might be called serious bloggers tackling a wide variety of issues and from all points of view.

For several years, until probably about a year and a half ago, there hardly seemed to be sufficient hours in the day for me to write about all that I felt needed to be covered; during the last eighteen months or so, though, the occasions when I have felt a burning need to offer the world my views on any given topic have become fewer and fewer and have usually been connected with elections here in the UK, or in parts of it, or on matters relating to homosexuality and in particular the attitudes of various religious denominations towards it. On some issues, too, I have begun to feel that my writings have become a little like a worn record, specially on topics that I feel strongly about. It is possible that there may be a national election here before the end of this year, but I doubt very much that I shall have the time to devote to covering it if it happens, for reasons (see also related blog) that are probably clear to those who have visited at all regularly, so rather than keeping this blog going in dribs and drabs, which is what I have been doing in reality for several months now, I have decided that it is better to call a definitive halt. As I mentioned earlier, there are now numerous UK-based bloggers writing from all sorts of points of view and a few write about things at least partly from my perspective on a variety of issues. In other words there is unlikely to be any shortage of commentary for those who seek it.

It is not absolutely impossible that I shall resurrect this blog after a period of dormancy, but I think it unlikely. I have mostly had fun writing here, though. Finally I would like to thank all those who have been kind enough to visit my blog from time to time or regularly and to those who have let me have their comments in response I offer an especial 'Thank you', even to those who have occasionally not been at all complimentary about what I have written; I have found all the interactions which my writings have provoked to be both interesting and stimulating. My very best wishes to all those who pass this way over coming days, weeks, months and years - I don't plan to delete this blog, simply to leave it in place as a record of one person having for five or so years been a blogger and who is now one no longer.

UPDATE: I just couldn't keep away! My blog was 'resurrected' on 21st November 2007 - you can read the 'reinaugural' post here.

Alisher Usmanov - an update

I wrote about a week ago about the attack on free speech successfully carried out by lawyers acting on behalf of Alisher Usmanov and followed it up with a related post a few days later.

It seems clear now that Mr Usmanov is edging ever-closer to owning sufficient shares in Arsenal football club to give him a 'blocking stake' in the company. I have, as I have written before, no interest in football so its ownership is of no interest to me. Whether Mr Usmanov is a 'fit and proper person' to be in control of a British company is another matter. On the other hand there are many other British companies whose ownership is in the hands of people of questionnable character both British and foreign, so Mr Usmanov, if he is indeed such a person (and I do not assert this - although there seems to be compelling evidence), would hardly be the sole member of such a group. In any case, attempts to block commentary on their client by Schillings have backfired badly - it was even carried on the national news earlier this week as a result of the storm created in the British 'blogosphere'!

However, one aspect of quite a number of the articles posted by other bloggers that detracts, in my opinion, from the value of this campaign are negative comments on the physical appearance of Mr Usmanov who, from photographs I have seen, is not slim (and this is not yet, even in NuLabour's Britain, a crime); frankly this is the kind of schoolboy playground taunting that is hardly conducive to anyone taking seriously protests by bloggers about the very grave attack on freedom of speech which Mr Usmanov and his lawyers represent.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Boris to be Conservative mayoral candidate in London

Boris Johnson has been overwhelmingly selected as the Conservative mayoral candidate in London. This was very much the expected outcome and I think the correct one; it will certainly be an interesting campaign given the high profiles of both Johnson and Livingstone.

I heard Boris on the 'Today' programme earlier this morning (before the results of the Conservative mayoral candidate selection process had been announced) and I must admit I did have a sinking feeling at one point with his 'buffoonish' answers; however, at one point he did come down to earth and speak quite seriously and sensibly - it would be a pity to lose the joyously surrealistic tone of the classic Boris Johnson comment, of course, but he does need to drive home the point that he is not only a big personality but a clever person with good ideas. As I live a long way from London I can't vote there, but if I could it would certainly be for Johnson - I have the feeling that he would do the job well and competently, whilst injecting a dose of much-needed 'fun' into our national life.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Police State Britain: Dorset cops destroy message calling for referendum

Some person this morning chose to write a message in the sand on the beach opposite the Labour Party Conference venue in Bournemouth (at about 11am apparently). By 1.20pm, just after the morning session of the conference had closed, and by complete coincidence (do you believe that? - I must admit I don't), six mounted cops walked in line along the beach, 'accidentally on purpose' destroying the embarrassing message. Read more here.

Very sinister, I'd say. Of course, this is the country where a woman who was simply reading out the names of the British military personnel who have been killed in Iraq, in front of the Cenotaph in London, was arrested (*). It is becoming increasingly clear that even peaceful dissent is no longer tolerated in this country by the 'forces of law and order' and our government.

(*) As regular readers here will know I strongly supported British involvement in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and our presence there since - but I believe in free speech, that's all. And in any case the lady was only reading out a list of names of brave men and women whose families have lost them forever; a respectful gesture I would have thought, however one may feel about the war. I also support strongly UK participation in the EU and whilst I am broadly supportive of further integration in Europe thought that both the now rejected Constitutional Treaty and the current Reform Treaty are not in our best interests for reasons I have written about here many times before, but even if I had been in favour of both think it is essential that the population is asked to confirm the decision the government wishes to take on our behalf without consulting us.

'Halls of Residence' for MSPs?

When I first read this article I did a double-take, but on reflection I don't think it can be dismissed as a completely ridiculous idea. No doubt they would have to be somewhat more spacious than the average room destined for occupancy by a university student. However, a sort of 'apartotel' with each unit having a bedroom, living-room, small kitchen and bathroom would I am certain work out a lot less expensive in the long run; they would probably be furnished in the same way that a mid-price hotel chain might furnish a suite and have a maid service, just like an hotel. MSPs, or at least those whose constituencies are not in Edinburgh itself or within easy commuting distance of the city would be guaranteed a unit; the numbers of constituencies to be provided for could easily be decided by a committee set up to look at travelling times and costs of getting from a constituency to Holyrood; those not on the provided-for list would be expected to meet their own accommodation requirements in and around Edinburgh, just as they did before becoming MSPs. Probably travel allowances would have to remain more or less as they are to allow MSP's to get back to their constituencies most weeks to handle constituency matters. There would therefore be no need for any kind of mortgage/housing allowance, simply allowances to cover accommodation in the 'MSP Hall of Residence', but not elsewhere. It could be made quite attractive to live in, I'm sure, and no doubt there would be a concierge service and common areas for meetings (a cafe and/or breakfast room and a few lounges/meeting-rooms of varying sizes, possibly bookable, for meetings). I am not a supporter of the Green Party, but it seems at the very least an idea that is worth looking at a little more closely. Quite apart from anything else it would stop all the bickering about the personal advantage some MSPs are said to have taken of the current system. It would also relieve MSPs from outwith Edinburgh of the hassle and anxiety of finding accommodation near Holyrood in the days and weeks after being elected. If people wanted to purchase accommodation in Edinburgh then it would be a purely private matter for them and not financed in any way by taxpayers.

Crazy?

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Difference in location, difference in tone

I may have posted a few days back about the iniquity of a number of British bloggers having their online presences eliminated at the whim of a wealthy foreign person of dubious reputation who has the means to employ legal paid help in this country to assist him in keeping criticism under wraps, by threatening a webhost here. All of these unfortunate bloggers deserve our sympathy and support, but there is no getting away from the fact that not all of these bloggers are people I would consent to have any personal dealing with, under any circumstances. Louses (lice?) may have the same rights as everyone else, but some soon revert to type when given half a chance:

Sweet - a post on the restored website of Boris Johnson MP by Tim Ireland;

and

Sour - a post at the temporary website of Tim Ireland; see para. 4) in particular. Graceless, I'd say. I've never linked to Bloggerheads in my blogroll, and have read his posts only occasionally (when mentioned in some of his allies' blogs that I link to) because he's not in my Bloglines subscriptions either; I don't plan to change this situation in the light of recent events. Obviously though, Tim Ireland should be able to publish his thoughts for those that wish to read them, so to that extent (and to that extent only) I continue to support his efforts to maintain an online presence and to receive redress from those who caused his blog to disappear.

No doubt Boris Johnson knows his own business, but I do find his choice of method of hosting his blog to be curious, to say the least. But that's just me.

2,000 days blogging, 2,268 posts - and counting ...

... I normally mark my 'blog birthdays' only on the anniversary of the day I started this blog, 3rd April 2002. However, it so happens that today marks the 2,000th day my blog has been in existence and this 'marker' post is the 2,269th I've written so far. Now, I think I deserve just a teensy-weensy glass of the excellent Chateau Rieussec 1986 Sauternes I opened a couple of evenings ago to go with some delicious, creamy fois gras; this afternoon, however, I'm drinking a glass with a Belgian truffle. Delicious!

I have only a couple of bottles of this vintage left, purchased I think in around 1991 or thereabouts and it remains in remarkably good condition; a luscious honeyed mouthful with notes of apricot and spice and not in the least cloying, despite its sweetness, although I think that it will be better to use up the remaining bottles in the next year or two. I see from the latest Wine Society price list that a bottle of 2002 vintage currently retails for £33.00 (around $66.00).

What it's really like for gays in Iran!!

Despite the ridiculous lies and posturing of President Ahmandinejad during a question-and-answer session yesterday at Columbia University, the truth is rather different!!



The truth about the treatment
of gays in Iran!!



Amir escaped from Iran in August.
He is now in Turkey.



Two gay teens who were hanged
in Mashad in July.



Click here to read more.

A U.S. audience reacts to Ahmandinejad on homosexuality

(Please see updates at end)

President Ahmandinejad of Iran is currently in the US for the opening session of the UN and spoke yesterday at Columbia University's 'World Leaders Forum'. In a question and answer session he touched on the subject of homosexuality. Speaking in Farsi he made the claim that:



"In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who has told you that we have it."

- well, if you'll believe that you'll believe anything! The students in the audience certainly didn't buy his story and responded with a mixture of laughter and boos. See and hear for yourself:



Although it is not entirely clear from the video-recording, it would appear that in an earlier question he had been asked about sexuality and women, but must have responded instead about 'criminals and drug-smugglers' (a common way in Iran for describing people the state doesn't like, such as homosexuals, before hanging them in public) and the moderator had to bring him back to the real question he had been asked, but had obviously tried to obfuscate about.
(thru Joe at Joe.My.God.)

UPDATE: (Tuesday 25SEP07 09.33 BST) I have just located a source for a transcipt of the dialogue with President Ahmandinejad at Columbia University - the link is to a download of a 'Word' document (the source website is here).

2nd UPDATE: (Tuesday 25SEP07 15.54 BST) Here's a video-recording of President Ahmandinejad of Iran being introduced by Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University. It is very rude and very blunt, but absolutely the unvarnished truth and I consider it highly-justified in the circumstances; any illusion that President Ahmandinejad might have had that he could use his appearance at Columbia University as some kind of propaganda coup was effectively shattered by this timely if curmudgeonly introductory speech of 'greeting' to an 'honoured guest':



Bravo!
(thru Andrew Sullivan here)

3rd UPDATE: (Thursday 27SEP07 09.05 BST) It's not a particular surprise to me, but in official transcripts of President Ahmandinejad's appearance at Columbia University on Monday there is no mention of the questions, or his answers, relating to gays. Either whoever runs official propaganda outlets in Iran thinks pretending the 'problem' doesn't exist will make it go away (it won't!), or they know that publishing his blanket denial that gays exist in Iran would be greeted with as much derision there as it was in New York. However, I'm pleased to say that the news is already out in Iran (the internet makes it very difficult for this type of thing to be kept completely quiet) and my little blog has already received a number of hits from Iran in the past few days as a result of web-searches on Google or Yahoo! .

Monday, 24 September 2007

'Big Brother' Brown gets the Labour Party to show it loves him by agreeing to stifle dissent

Inconvenient topics, for the Party leadership, will helpfully be kept off the agenda at Labour Party conferences as a result of a resolution passed at Bournemouth. The leadership has succeeded almost wholly in convincing unions and constituency Labour parties that the change is good for them and the Labour Party. Whether the promise to review the change after two years will ever happen is anyone's guess, although the cynic in me tends to doubt it - specially as we will then definitely be heading into another General Election, if one hasn't already been held. The only ones who seem to be against the change are some of those on the left of the Party; Stalin and Trotsky anyone?

Brown and prospects for an election

The media (naturally hoping to fill up the tedium of Labour-conference week) is abuzz at the prospect of an imminent 'snap' election. I can't get quite so excited. Sorry.

Some bloggers are also getting their knickers in a twist about it (I won't bother linking - they're easy enough to find).

Firstly, there is no reason for an election to be called; Brown's government has a comfortable working majority and Labour's mandate runs until May 2010; if Her Majesty grants a request for a Dissolution in the next few weeks, if one is asked for, then let's be quite clear - the time and expense of holding an election now will be used/wasted solely for the expediency of the Labour Party and Gordon Brown. If he does call an election this Autumn my opinion of him as a manipulator and a coward will only be strengthened - however he won't manipulate everyone. Far too many media 'pundits' (right of centrists amongst them - did anyone else see Janet Daly on Head2Head last evening, for example?) seem to think that Brown's recent 'satisfactory' handling of terrorist threats in any way outweighs his abysmal mishandling of the economy over the past 10 years - piling yet more debt onto the public accounts, contracting for a great deal more debt which, by what is almost but not quite sleight-of-hand, is kept out of the balance sheet, tying the hands of the Bank of England by 'liberating' (*) it and separating responsibilities between three bodies who don't seem to coordinate their activities anything like enough and certain parts of which are pretty ineffective anyway.

My view is quite clear: if Brown calls an early election this Autumn, under the guise of seeking a personal mandate (he does not need one under our system), it is a sign of weakness, not strength - and if enough people understand in time the trickery that is being attempted if he does 'go' then perhaps the outcome will not be so straightforward as the polls predict.

Do I think he will call an election? I have no idea. I have no intention of going through my life trying to second-guess his thought-processes. If it happens, it happens. Whoever I vote for it certainly won't be Labour.

(*) I confess that at the time I thought this was a 'good thing'; possibly I was wrong. In retrospect, and we have had 10 years of experience of Brown to guide and inform us, it looks a lot more like the classic Brown/Socialist/Civil Service tactic of 'divide and rule' - emasculating a robust regulatory system by splitting responsiblities between several bodies, the easier to manipulate it from the sidelines without having to do it in public.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders changes his tune on gay marriage

I read about this gentleman's change of heart a couple of days ago; OK, so a Republican mayor of a major city in the US decides to change his public stance on 'gay marriage', which he had formerly been opposed to. When campaigning in 2005 he had stood on a platform which included support for 'civil unions'. Here in the UK we have what are called 'civil partnerships', so I think that for at least some people outside the US the significance of the debate on the ways in which gay 'relationships' should be treated is not always fully understood. I don't profess to understand it fully myself. In any case I decided then that I had other things to think about than yet another Republican in America deciding to change his views on how to treat homosexuals.

Now I have decided to write about it, for reasons which will become clear if you care to read further. My immediate reaction when I read the original story was that someone with at least partially-negative views about homosexuality (he had supported 'civil unions' but opposed 'gay marriage') had changed his views because he was faced with a situation where he knew someone close to him, his daughter, who is homosexual and he had to confront the clash between her happiness and his own views. Of course I don't scorn his change of view (on the contrary, I welcome it), but I am somewhat cynical that he is brought to this change only now that he realises that his own daughter is 'one of them'! I well remember some years ago a neighbour and good friend (now dead, sadly) voicing very negative views about homosexuals, during which he said he had never met a homosexual. Perhaps he had never knowingly met one, although I thought even then that the level of naivete he was displaying was quite extraordinary; I wrote him a letter, which I'm forced to admit (neither with sorrow, nor with glee) that I did not hand to him - he was an old man in ailing health with an equally ailing wife, also now dead. I bit my tongue and remained silent. The implication from what I have written is that I am not fully 'out', which is the situation, although I suspect that many of my friends and acquaintances and certain members of my family have a pretty good idea of the situation and I know that a few read this blog from time to time.

Moving on. Here in the UK we have had 'civil partnerships' for the last few years. These provide, in legal terms, effectively the same levels of priveleges and obligations that come with 'marriage' for heterosexuals and a marriage is no different, legally, whether it is conducted in a church or registry office, or in recent years in any other place authorised to conduct marriages, mainly hotels and the like. The status granted by marriage or civil union is recognised throughout the entire UK, wherever it is conducted. The UK, whilst techincally a Christian country (and religion is protected and privileged in one way or another throughout the country), handles its religion in a fairly low-key manner. Politicians, except in Northern Ireland, are not in practice obligated to declare some kind of religious affiliation - generally speaking it is a matter of little or no account to most people.

In the US the situation is quite different. It is almost impossible to imagine a prospective politician not having to declare some kind of religious faith. The country may officially be 'secular', but 'In God we Trust' is the country's motto and appears on its banknotes. A lot of voters in the US appear to care deeply about religion and politicians have to bear this in mind, whatever their own inner beliefs might be - although I do not wish to imply that the beliefs they do profess are 'fake' in most cases. I am sure they are not.

Another difference is that in those [relatively few] places that allow 'civil unions' (or the even fewer that allow 'gay marriages') the extent of the rights that they grant is generally quite limited and certainly does not carry any weight outside the State where they took place. They give no right to any Federal benefits. The term 'marriage' in the US is linked in most people's minds with religion, even though civil marriages take place there, too. A far greater proportion of people in the US than in the UK claim some kind of personal religious faith.

I think it is in this context that the short speech given by the Mayor of San Diego needs to be viewed. He is I believe coming up for re-election relatively soon; it will be interesting to see how he fares, if he stands again. In any case the Governor of California, also a Republican, has consistently vetoed any attempt to make gay marriage state-wide, however 'moderate' he is said to be; it's nice to be accepted locally, I am sure, but if that acceptance stops at the city or State limits, then it's not really enough, any more than is the lack of access to Federal benefits. Call me a complete cynic, but I was rather disgusted by the level of emotion the Major displayed when making his speech - frankly it made me feel quite sick! I saw the video below on Jae's blog come back to what you know; he remarked that it did not require any comment (so I am left not actually knowing what he thinks about it - although as he is lucky enough to live in a committed relationship with a partner it is probably obvious). As this post shows I think it requires a great deal of comment, though - frankly I wanted to throw a cup of hot, scalding coffee over my computer as it was playing as a wild variety of emotions was swirling around my head! See what you think:


Saturday, 22 September 2007

'Sweary Blogging' and Usmanov

There's an interesting post up at J. Arthur MacNumpty in which I find nothing untoward, mostly, indeed I agree with more or less all the points made - I made my own small contributuion here on the web censorship that has been successfully carried out by Alisher Usmanov acting through his lawyers Schillings, even if they have not shut down discussion, in an oblique way unfortunately, of the underlying issues (the alleged background of Mr Usmanov). I do want to comment about one aspect of what he writes, though.

At one point Will (aka J. Arthur MacNumpty) writes:



Swearing is not the biggest threat to bloggery

", ... I hope that he realises that the threat comes from Usmanov for forcing the plug to be pulled, not from me (or anyone else) for using naughty words."

The 'he' referred to above is Tim O'Reilly, to whom Will refers here, with a link to a post by Angry Steve here. All this leads back, eventually, to the article written by Tim O'Reilly that got Angry Steve started and Will to take up the issue.

My own attitude toward what happens in my own blog is laid out in my Terms of Use and Links Policy (there are permanent links to both near the top right column of my blog). I have no desire to tell (or even suggest to) any other blogger what [s]he should or should not write in their own blogs, or allow others to write in the comments there. My views, which I enforce rigorously, apply only to this blog. As Angry Steve puts it, and I have modified what he has actually written without I believe changing the meaning in any way:



Blogs need content warnings? Tim O'Reilly needs a reality check

You come in to my electronic home, and tell me how to live? *** off! [Be off with you!]

You've come to this site to read my rants. MY RANTS, d****t [forsooth]. You can agree, disagree, ***k off, I don't care. But you came here of your own free will.

- let me be very clear, I share this attitude completely. I choose not to express that attitude, however, in ways that involve swearing. And I hope that my somewhat subfusc substitutions above are seen in the ironic way I intend them.

What all this boils down to is that I share Will's basic premise that censorship is a far bigger threat to blogging than swearing, per se, ever will be. And if he, or Angry Steve when he writes "But sometimes it's just funny" feel that the use of swearing or profanity adds something then who am I to naysay them? I don't permit it here, or in comments here - that's all. And if people don't like it then they have the perfect solution - don't visit.

Why, though? Some of the bloggers who use swearing regularly are highly-intelligent and expensively-educated people and write very entertaining and informative posts. Indeed I read some of these bloggers very regularly and comment very occasionally there, too. However, I do not feel I have to justify myself to anyone - this is my blog and I'll do what I like here and I don't like swearing or profanity. I do however live in the real world (and as someone who had 'Poof' scratched into the paintwork of his car a few years ago, I know all about that, thank you very much)! It's a matter of choice. There is only one thing that truly irritates me about some bloggers and that is interminably long posts about nothing very much, or about topics that the blogger has covered ad nauseam in the past - there are 'swear-bloggers' in this category, but there are also bloggers who rarely or never express themselves in this way, too. My solution to this kind of tedium is simply to cut down my visits, or stop reading entirely; having a feed reader helps enormously in sifting out the worthwhile from the dross, or indeed the gross.

Now I have rabbited on quite long enough! I'm writing this sitting up in bed (it's now 9.05am) and I do need to get up, take a shower and get some breakfast.

PS/ I've just noticed that one blog (other than Guido) that does not mention the Usmanov story is Samizdata; ironic really given the meaning of the Russian word 'samizdat'. Freedom of expression is for everyone - right-wingers, left-wingers, communists, fascists, homophobes, spaced-out hippies. Equally I think it is fine for people to express disagreement with the views of others. It's only when that freedom of expression moves on to certain actions that the law needs to step in.

Friday, 21 September 2007

An invite to a civil partnership ceremony

I had an email from a couple of good gay friends this evening; they have been together for almost twenty-five years. The email was to warn me to keep a particular day in November free, because I'll shortly receive an invitation to a 'wedding'; I must say I'm pretty excited. They are good people and I like them a lot; I recently (a couple of months ago) attended the 80th birthday party of one of the pair and it was a great afternoon. I had wondered if/when one of the gay or lesbian couples I know would 'tie the knot' and I'm really happy that this seems to be the first. I'm looking forward to the happy day when I can witness this long-term couple formalise their relationship before the law.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Internet censorship - alive and well in Britain

(Please see UPDATE at end)

You'll search in vain this evening for the following blogs:
Bloggerheads;
Craig Murray;
Bob Piper;
Boris Johnson.

Why?

Well it seems that Alisher Usmanov doesn't like what they [or some of them, at least] have been saying and has got his legal firm to threaten them and their common internet host and as a result the latter has 'pulled' them; some have disappeared merely because they share the same host as those who have 'offended' a rich and powerful individual.

Read more here, here, here and here. Forbes magazine has a laconic write-up; the little that is written there is quite telling.

I have zero interest in football so if this gentleman wishes to take control of a football club I am largely indifferent, if this was all that was at issue; it seems, though, that the football club in question is somewhat exercised by the prospect, according to the BBC. The Guardian focusses on the way some use legal suasion to try and head off discussion of matters they would prefer remain undiscussed.

UPDATE: (Friday 21SEP07 10.25 BST) The original 'offending' article written by Craig Murray can be found by placing the Uzbekhi/Russian gentleman's full name in front of ".blogspot.com" for anyone who may be interested; please note that the comments to that reposted entry list several other places on the web where the article can be found. I had not read Craig's article before, now I have - and the alleged information is now in my brain, and anyone else's who reads it, whatever a London law firm may care to try and do about it. We know! Let freedom prevail!

Monday, 17 September 2007

Northern Rock - some thoughts

(Please see UPDATE at end)

I don't have an account relationship with Northern Rock - I haven't had one for almost ten years (I just checked my files). I do have a small number of Northern Rock shares which are now worth considerably less than they were only a few days ago and much, much less than they were worth at the beginning of the year; however, even at their highest value the absolute amount was still pretty small so I have never been unduly concerned; I tend to be a long-term investor in whichever shares I own and accept that some will fall in value, but this is normally [more than] compensated for by a rise in value of other shares in my reasonably well diversified if relatively modest portfolio.

Why have I not had an account relationship with Northern Rock for about ten years though? At one time I did have a couple of quite significant deposits there (in excess of GBP50k), but the way the accounts were administered seemed to me to be unsatisfactory for me as a customer (I dealt with them by post only, never through a branch); I came to feel then, as I feel today, that their business-style is very aggressive both for depositors and borrowers (the latter from anecdotal evidence only). So when the desposits came due I simply put the money elsewhere. I must record that there was no particular difficulty, or delay, when I withdrew the funds though.

Just at present I am, however, experiencing a delay in releasing some funds from another institution; instructions about a term deposit falling due earlier this month were given last month and I await the cheque with the proceeds. It should have been here last week, but has so far not arrived; telephone inquiries seem to show there is no particular problem, simply that there has been an administrative foul-up, but I do wonder if there is not come cash-flow problem in that other institution, too, which is contributing to the delay. Obviously the amount of my deposit (substantial for me, but miniscule in terms of the overall business of the institution) will in itself be insignificant, but perhaps I am not the only customer experiencing a delay there and perhaps if this is the case their aggregate value is of more importance. My call on Friday seemed to show the matter would be resolved, but another today showed it had not yet been done. I was assured that action would now be taken urgently; I hope by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest to have the cheque. If it has not arrived by then I will have to take steps to release other monies for some expenditure I need to make in the next couple of months; if I need to do this it will be, to put it mildly, extremely inconvenient.

I am not in the business of spreading rumours and possibly helping to create a problem where none exists, so I am not naming the institution concerned for the time being; it is one of the largest in the country and has not so far been mentioned in any reporting on the current 'credit crunch' so far as I am aware, either online or in print. There are a few good journalists who have, in the past couple of days, tried to exercise some degree of intelligence in the way they are reporting recent events in UK financial markets, but most have decided to go for sensationalism shorn of much balance or context - which in my view has contributed substantially to the numbers of people who have felt it necessary to queue up outside Northern Rock branches to withdraw funds, despite the assurance that there is an open-ended guarantee in place from the Bank of England to meet any deposit withdrawal. I am hesitant even to be writing this article; I had written an earlier, somewhat different, version a few days ago but decided not to press the 'publish' button. As a former banker I know very well that confidence and trust are commodities not easily earned, but very easily lost and I do not wish to contribute in however small a way to the wave of 'jitters' sweeping the UK at present.

UPDATE: (Thursday 20SEP07 20.50 BST) Well I am happy to say that the cheque turned up yesterday; I am still not entirely convinced it was totally unconnected with the 'credit crunch' we have heard so much about in the past week, though. I suspect it is more than just Northern Rock which has serious problems; and it is no good saying that Northern Rock is 'solvent', if illiquid - the whole point is that unless people or organisations such as Northern Rock are able to meet their obligations on time (for example when that involves a requirement to roll-over short-term borrowings in order to fund longer-term extensions of credit, and the sources of such short-term borrowing have dried up) then I don't consider that to be a sign of an organisation which is 'solvent', whatever Alistair Darling may have been urging us to believe over the past week. Whilst the immediate crisis is over in terms of having people queueing outside Northern Rock branches around the country, the share price of that bank has continued to fall and this evening the share price is less than a third of what it was just a week ago, itself a lot lower than it was at the beginning of the year; will it even exist as a separate entity in a year's time? Or even by the end of this year? Is anyone interested in, or indeed capable of, acquiring it with the markets in the state they are at present?

I did not share some of the more hysterical reactions toward the Governor of the Bank of England I have seen in some blogs and newspapers over the past couple of days; I thought he acquitted himself pretty well this morning before the Select Committee of Parliament, as did the Deputy Governor. The fault for the shambles that has overtaken the UK financial sector over the past week or so lies squarely with the idiots who govern us, most notably our Prime MInister and for the last ten years Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown MP; his reputation as a 'prudent' steward of the nation's finances is laughably erroneous, as I have been saying ever since I began writing this blog five and a half years ago and before that on my main website's comment pages; before that (and whilst I was still closely involved with the Opposition political party) I would tell anyone who would listen that his policies would ultimately lead to disaster. I take no pleasure in being proved right.

However, whilst it is convenient for a lot of British people to complain whenever things go wrong, and oh! how we have seen that this past week, many of these people will have been the 'saps' who voted the current shower of incompetents into power in 1997; as always people reap what they sow! Naturally what is occurring in the UK just now is to a large extent tributary to what is going on over the Atlantic where the profligacy of our American cousins for many, many years may be beginning to feed into the world economy in a serious way. Where all this is going to lead is something I hesitate to speculate about; except to say that I fear things are going to get a good deal worse over the coming months and years. Individuals will have to work out their own strategies to weather what is coming - and the wisest will not be placing their reliance on what the UK or any other government seeks to reassure its citizens it is doing; let's face it the horizons of most politicians stretch no further than the next opinion poll or election.

As for me, well things are OK - I am relatively asset rich and completely debt-free. However, if inflation is allowed to become resurgent again, as it could do if the efforts to stave off the current liquidity crisis continue to involve the pumping of more money into the markets by various central banks around the world and the cheapening of the price of credit that some have been allowing over recent days, then the day of reckoning may be delayed, but it will catch up with all of us eventually. If there is to be a genuine restructuring then I'm afraid that there will have to be pain for some of us - however electorally unpopular that proves to be for the political party with the courage to do put in place the necessary policies; none of our current major political parties seems prepared to contemplate this. Indeed, whith their focus on winning elections and with populations interested only in their short-term comfort and standard of living, who can blame them? Is all this depressing enough?

Actually, whilst I have been incredibly busy over the past couple of days, I am in an extremely good frame of mind at present; as I mentioned above it's all a matter of having formulated one's own strategy. I can't know if my own is by any means perfect, but I am pretty confident it is a whole lot better than that of many (most?) others; and a half bottle of claret helps, too.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Sunday YouTube - Bhutan: Phama

This is a very beautiful music video which is apparently a 'tribute to all the parents of Bhutan':



(If you don't know much about Bhutan, like me, you might be interested in knowing a little more about it - click here, here and here.)

Friday, 14 September 2007

The seedy nature of Polish politics

I seem to be on a quest for 'seediness' this morning. However, this story doesn't just concern a minor local election as this one did, it involves the Polish presidential elections in 2005, when there were a series of bomb scares, which all turned out to involve sophisticated fakes. The scares were said to be the work of something called the 'Gay Power Brigade' which sent a lengthy manifesto condemning Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski, who was running for president, to Warsaw media outlets (newspapers and wire services).

Polish police have now abandoned the hunt for the 'gay bomber' as they concluded soon after they began their investigation that there was no such group as the 'Gay Power Brigade'. Suggestions made by Poland's LGBT community that the whole bomb scare was a plot by Kaczynski's Law and Justice party to gain power can at the very least not be discounted entirely. One wonders whether the police have in fact abandoned the hunt because the most likely lines of inquiry might have led ever-closer to those around the deeply-homophobic pair at the head of Poland's government apparatus, brothers President Lech and Prime Minister Jaroslav Kaczynski.

The timing of this development is especially interesting, because the ruling coalition collapsed last month, precipitating parliamentary elections to be held next month, two years ahead of schedule. It is being speculated that the Left and Democrats, a centre-left bloc dominated by former communists, could hold the balance of power.

Expect to see more anti-gay scare stories being revealed in coming weeks in this strongly-Catholic country.

The seedy underside of British political life

A local election in Waltham Forest, east London, may be long over, but allegations about the conduct of the winning candidate rumble on long after.

Labour councillor Miranda Grell is alleged to have spread rumours about her Liberal Democrat opponent, Barry Smith, that he is gay (which seems to have been widely known, anyway), but that he claimed to be married and more importantly had a 14-year old Thai boyfriend; obviously this would be illegal, if true. However, she has admitted telling one voter that he is gay and had a "19-year-old Thai boyfriend", not in itself illegal but undoubtedly designed to alienate any potential voters for Mr Smith. Ms Grell said she believed in hindsight her remarks were indiscreet. Reports indicate that Mr Smith has a long-term 39 year old Malaysian boyfriend; Barry Smith is 56 years old.

Councillor Grell claims she is the victim of a plot concocted in revenge for her electoral victory.

Stuff and nonsense! She knew precisely what she was doing. Whatever she said was clearly designed to turn people off her opponent and it succeeded. Whether she is a 'homophobe' herself I have no way of knowing, but it seems very clear that her intention was to expoloit anti-gay sentiments amongst some voters.

Other references here and here.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Midweek YouTube - Sunday Times (South Africa)

This advertisemnt dates from 1985 and a great deal has changed in South Africa since then!



It sounds almost outlandish now, surreal even, that a newspaper should include in its pre-publication advertising a story titled: "Afrikaners with coloured blood. We publish the names!" but that's the way things were then (and the mis-spelling of AIDS is noticeable, too). Of course it was only 18 years before this that the final laws against miscegentation were overturned in the 'melting pot' country, the USA, so South Africa wasn't quite so unusual as it seemed and some countries, India for example, have not yet entirely eliminated the social barriers to inter-mixing of all their citizens so that articles such as this need to be written.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

'Star Trek' addiction - hopelessly caught in the web!

I'm afraid I have a confession to make - that's me above. I was watching Star Trek IV ('The Voyage Home') a couple of days ago and this morning I've been watching Star Trek 'Insurrection' - just a couple of weeks ago I finished watching, for the third or fourth time, the entire 'Enterprise' series and that followed-on immediately after I had completed perhaps my fifth or sixth viewing of the entire 'Voyager' series - which itself followed .... You get the picture?

So when I saw that Jay at come back to what you know had done a post about a quiz on this vital topic, vital for the future of humanity, etc, etc (surely you jest - Ed) I was immediately attracted, just as moths are to light:




Your results:
You are Jean-Luc Picard


A lover of Shakespeare and other
fine literature. You have a decisive mind
and a firm hand in dealing with others.


Jean-Luc Picard - 65%
Will Riker - 65%
James T. Kirk (Captain) - 60%
Chekov - 50%
Geordi LaForge - 50%
Data - 42%
Spock - 40%
Leonard McCoy (Bones) - 40%
Uhura - 40%
Worf - 35%
Mr. Sulu - 25%
Mr. Scott - 20%
Beverly Crusher - 2-%
Deanna Troi - 0%


Click here to take the "Which Star Trek character am I?" quiz...

You will note that only the original 'Star Trek' series and the follow-on (many years later) 'Star Trek - The Next Generation' seem to be covered by the quiz. However, probably my favourite series was 'Voyager', because I think 'Captain Janeway' was good, although to be honest the presence of the gorgeous Garrett Wang ('Ensign Harry Kim') might have had something to do with it, too!

PS/ I had to make quite a lot of adjustments to the code which this quiz produces to make it format correctly in my blog - it works the way it comes, but it does look terribly higgledy-piggledy and amateurish. Obviously I haven't altered the basic result in any way.

Lawyers do have their uses ...

... ask Colin Montgomerie. It is not clear if this is the simple case of police incompetence that the linked report seems to paint it as, or whether it is something a good deal more subtle.

Madeleine McCann

I have written only one post before this about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann; I have updated that post tonight. I don't plan to write any more about it until and unless something of substance develops. I see little utility in endless speculation in the absence of 'facts' on which to base theories about what has happened to her; there is more than enough of that in the British and Portuguese media, not to mention the 'blogosphere' where there are both fervent supporters and detractors of the girl's parents. Some of the recent developments have been extraordinary, but I suspect that our sensibilities will face more shocks before it becomes clear, if it ever does, what fate has befallen this young girl.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Sunday YouTube - England: Eddie Izzard on religion

Need some inspiration to get you back in church of a Sunday morning? Probably Eddie Izzard isn't the place to go, after all he tells the truth (albeit dressed-up just a little for comic effect, like himself), but it made me laugh anyway ...


Saturday, 8 September 2007

DNA samples and fingerprints - you can get them back ...

... at least it seems you can if you live in the area policed by Northern Constabulary in Scotland. I wrote recently about the latest developments in the Alistair Wilson murder inquiry. As mentioned in the 1st and 2nd updates to my post linked above, I was visited in July by a couple of police officers who took DNA swabs and fingerprint samples, together with a polaroid photograph and had later confirmation that as my DNA profile did not match the remaining unidentified profile recovered at the crime scene it had been eliminated from their inquiry.

After thinking for a week about the precise content of the letter I had received from Northern Constabulary, I decided to write to the Chief Constable to clarify the position and to request confirmation that both my DNA samples and fingerprint samples had been not only eliminated from the inquiry, but destroyed. I have now had a letter back from the Senior Investigating Officer in the Alistair Wilson murder inquiry confirming that my DNA samples have been destroyed and that the resultant profile has been removed from the database; the fingeprints I provided them with and the polaroid photograph they took have also been returned to me. I am pleased that a polite, but pointed, request by me has met with a civilised and reasonable response. Copies of my exchange of correspondence with Northern Constabulary may be viewed here. From something I heard in the media last week, I understand that the way in which the police treat DNA samples and fingerprints they take in the course of their work is somewhat different in England and Wales than it is in Scotland; I understand that the police in England and Wales retain DNA samples and fingerprints for some years, perhaps even indefinitely, if they feel they can get away with it.

Of course, whilst I am happy that the Scottish Executive (or as some would have us call it, the Scottish Government) has always (and not just since May 2007) adopted a somewhat different stance than the UK Home Office in this matter, I am under no illusion that we live in Scotland in an entirely beneficent society; it is a fact that my fingerprints and the polaroid photograph had not actually been destroyed when I received the letter dated 17 August 2007 from Northern Constabulary, otherwise it would not have been possible to return them to me now! If I had not requested information about their fate it is very likely that that they would have remained on file indefinitely and not been destroyed.

The second letter from Northern Constabulary dated 5 September 2007 states that my DNA samples have been destroyed and the profile eliminated from the database; I must take it on trust that this has happened (and I am prepared to do this); however, it is not entirely clear that this occurred at the time their first letter was written (17 August 2007) or only after they received my letter dated 27 August 2007.

Now that I have received back the fingerprints I provided (and the two sheets on which they were recorded) I have been able to confirm what it was I actually gave my consent for. There were two 'consent' options on the form I signed and the Consent "B" option, which I signed, reads:



In connection only with the investigation and prosecution of the offence for which the samples were taken. Namely...(Murder of Alistair Wilson)... at the conclusion of which my data will be removed and destroyed.

Signed ______________ Witnessed by______________ Date___________

- it is quite clear that this had not happened in respect of my fingerprints. In fact the precise wording of the consent above seems ambiguous; I think it is designed to re-assure cranks like me who are concerned about such mundane matters as 'civil liberties' that their data will be eliminated (and destroyed) when it is established that a person is unconnected with the case, but what it actually says is that such elimination and destruction will occur only when the offence for which they were taken, in this case a murder, is concluded; from what I understand a murder file is never closed until the case is solved - the much older (1976) Renee Macrae case in Inverness is a case in point. Whether the wording of the Consent "B" option is the result of carefully constructed artifice, or merely the deficient grammar and syntax often seen in official correspondence, is anyone's guess, but the message I take from this whole experience is that the police, and officialdom in general, must be watched carefully and reminded once in a while of what the limits are on what they may do. Whilst I am prepared to 'trust' the police, I do not intend at a personal level to sleepwalk into a dictatorship.

I imagine my request for clarification about the fate of the samples I provided in this case was somewhat unusual, but I would hope not entirely unique. Any other resident of Nairn who has recently provided the police with samples in the Alistair Wilson inquiry would be well advised, in my opinion, to seek similar clarification from Northern Constabulary, even when they are advised that they have been 'eliminated' from the inquiry. Don't assume anything.

The European Commission exposed

Whilst I classify myself as generally a Europhile I am in no way blind to the many flaws in the way the European Union functions, nor the way in which the nomenklatura (permanent officials) seek to grasp further powers to themselves. Of late I have been reading the blog of a libertarian from Belgium (yes, truly) and his latest offering Life of a European Mandarin makes truly fascinating, but not surprising, reading. Derk-Jan Eppink, a former Dutch official in the European Commission, has written about his experiences there - in the extracts quoted, his opinions on the negotiating tactics of various member countries are given, but curously there are no comments about the British; perhaps we really are of no account, or just too 'maverick'. Luckily Vincent De Roeck, the author of Libertarian.be, writes many of his posts in English (and I don't understand Flemish/Dutch), even if almost all the comments (sigh) are in Flemish.

The chimera of religion exposed ...

... by, of all people, Christian lawyers and the Church of England. The truth is that when the myths and make-believe spouted by organised religious organisations are subjected to close scrutiny by those with no vested interest in continuing the whole charade, then those who do 'believe' what the church preaches find it difficult to argue the case convincingly even to themselves.

Personally I have no desire to prohibit anyone believing whatever they like, however crazy I might find it, just so long as these loons confine their fantasising to the private realm and are no longer able to inflict it on all of us through the legal system, the recent exemptions granted to religious bodies in their employment practices being a case in point. That's the kind of thing that really cries out for someone to sue the church!

PS/ My tax filing for this year was completed and sent off a couple of days ago, but I decided that Thursday evening and yesterday should be 'me' time. Some 'retail therapy' on Thursday and a glorious walk along the beach and river in Nairn yesterday afternoon (a bright, sunny day here in Nairn with a strong and surprisingly mild wind blowing in off the sea), followed by the first half of a bottle of a bottle of a very good Australian Shiraz which has been sitting in my cellar maturing for some years (I have only four bottles of that dozen left to sample, but I think they still have a few more years left when they will make good drinking). This evening, however, marks the real end of summer for me; the Last Night of the Proms this evening will see me sipping from a bottle of champagne and consuming a few of my favourite Belgian chocolates, whilst awaiting the final few rousing moments of joyful patriotism (I'll try and keep the volume control within reasonable limits). Whatever flag you want to see being waved around in the Royal Albert Hall I expect you'll not be disappointed - even those of my fellow Scots who prefer to see the Saltire alone flying on Scottish public buildings! I'll resist the temptation to make further snide comment, though with some difficulty. Enjoy the evening!

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Piers Morgan takes a fall ...

... whilst riding a Segway along the promenade at Santa Monica; the former Mirror editor once mocked President Bush for having fallen of this innovative 'personal transport'. Karma indeed!



(thru Barcepundit, who got it from Say Anything)
- naturally the Daily Mail is there to record this [latest] fiasco by Morgan; in journalistic terms he has always struck me as a sort of 'posh thug', pretty similar to the tactics often adopted by the Mirror's arch-rival tabloid 'rag', The Mail.

PS/ I'm still on my short 'hiatus' whilst compiling my tax filing for this year; it's going well, I'm glad to say, and I should be back to slightly more frequent blogging by the end of the week.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

New link added - John Redwood's Diary

I've been reading John Redwood's Diary for almost two months now and I have to say it is one of the better, calmer and most rational blogs written by someone who is a politician; obviously he writes from a particular political perspective (a couple of biographies are here and here). Some aspects of John Redwood's views irk me a lot, for example his Euroscepticism, but as he is clearly someone who bases his views on most things on rational analyses he is well worth reading to gain another perspective. His views on economic matters seem to me to be entirely reasonable - indeed I agree with almost everything he writes in this area. One of the things I like aobut him is that he has a life beyond politics and is clearly someone who could easily do something else much more highly-remunerative if he chose - unlike both many in the current Labour government and some even in his own Conservative party; some, particularly 'socialists' and their apologists, think this is a negative factor - my view is diametrically opposed to this. His blog-posts are prolific, although as I have been reading him only since the parliamentary recess began I shall be interested to see if he is able to keep up the pace when Parliament is sitting again.