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

Monday, 31 March 2008

[Jesus] just got the Xbox 360 and said he could care less

One of the blogs I have been reading off and on for some years (at least two, maybe four or five, who knows) occasionally comes up with an even more than usually surrealistic offering. I now dip in only occasionally, but they do seem to come up with beauts! Makes that other surrealist hangout seem somewhat tame, good as it often is, too.

Mazarron - Semana Santa Fireworks and a sunset

First off, there's a photograph of a nice sunset I took from my terrace a few evenings ago:




Sunset - Mazarron Country Club
27 March 2008

Then there is a photograph and a brief video taken last night at the beach in Puerto de Mazarron, where a firework display rounded off the celebrations for Easter 2008:



Puerto de Mazarron - Fireworks - Semana Santa
Easter 2008 - 30 March 2008
(A still photograph and a video)



Thursday, 27 March 2008

A Bill to neuter Parliament

Imagine the scandal if Her Majesty decided to diverge from the official script written for Her by what is supposed to be 'Her' Government and told the unvarnished truth about what the crowd of scroundrels who govern us are, after being thwarted the last time they tried it, once more attempting to do:



What Her Majesty the Queen might say -

My Government will enact legislation to avoid the tiresome necessity of having to get the approval of Parliament before repealing any Act of Parliament it chooses, something my forebears used to be able to do until a little local difficulty [regicide and an inter-regnum] put paid to this .....

[we are sorry to interrupt this broadcast, but Her Majesty has unfortunately suffered a mental breakdown and has had to be hospitalised (i.e. has been taken into custody by the State Law and Order Commission)]


Basically, as the ever-excellent SpyBlog points out, the government wishes to sneak a section (Part 6 Article 43) into a Bill just published entitled 'The Governance of Britain - Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill', which will effectively ressurect the pernicious terms of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill granting the government the legal right to over-turn any piece of legislation by simple Ministerial fiat, effectively turning the UK into a dictatorship, which the government had to back-down from after the outrage aroused a couple of years ago once its terms became widely understood. Perhaps Brown and his cronies think we will just roll over and accept it this time.

I do hope that this Government is turfed out at the next general election; the last Conservative government did a number of silly things, some pretty unpleasant things, too, during its 18 years in power, but nothing approaching the pernicious kind of legislation that the present Labour government seems to specialise in.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

'Christian charity' means ...

... wishing good health and long life even to individuals such as this; Cardinal O'Brien has it seems been fitted with a heart pace-maker, following recent dizzy spells associated with a heart murmur he suffers from.

It might be tempting to assign the Cardinal's health problems to the [rightful] veangeance of the 'Almighty' for some of his less charitable (and dare I say it unChristian) views, even if I support his call for a 'free vote' on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, although for purely libertarian reasons, not because I share his viewpoint on the 'evil' that this would represent. Yes, I know of his repugnant views and the stance he adopted on the possibility of children being adopted by same-sex couples when legislation on adoption was being debated a few years ago.

But then I, who do not believe in a 'God' and who as a consequence am hardly going to call myself a 'Christian', actually do believe in the fundamental goodness of all people, even people such as Cardional O'Brien. It would be extremely pleasing if many of those in the hierarchy or the Roman Catholic Church (and indeed in the hierarchies of many other Christian and non-Christian religious bodies) could once in a while promulgate views of inclusiveness rather than divisiveness. If, as I hope, Cardinal O'Brien will now enjoy many years of renewed vigour, having been fitted with a pace-maker, I can also hope that he may recall and begin to practise what is supposed to be the basis of the religion he preaches rather than the proscriptive moral posturing into which his Church has become diverted (and perverted) in its efforts to retain its traditional pastoral power in countries where significant numbers of its adherents reside. The views of O'Brien and senior people in his clique of co-religionists would be less farcical, if not more acceptable, had their stance on kiddie-fiddling over many years by priests not been so lamentable

Thursday, 20 March 2008

More on the Vista PC saga - software incompatibility is the problem ...

... and, according to the diagnostics I've had carried out here over the past couple of days (when I was therefore PC-less), it is not just any old software which is at fault! The engineer tells me that my hardware is perfectly OK, though, so that's good of course. Anyway the software which is causing the problem is none other than the AOL software, the latest version of which is called 'AOL VR'. The 'VR' stands for Vista Ready - it is appears that it is nothing of the kind!

I have been using 'AOL VR' ever since I purchased this lovely Vista-equipped machine and, as regular readers will know, have experienced problems with it (the PC, that is) regularly almost since I got it in May last year. I had, I think perfectly understandably, thought that the magic 'VR' for this version of the AOL software meant that it was actually compatible with Vista; foolish, trusting person that I am!

I can still access my email which, because I have used AOL as my ISP for many years (8 or 9 I think) is on an AOL account, via web-mail but it is much less convenient than it was whilst using the AOL spoftware, because that integrates internet access and email in one platform - it always worked pretty well in XP.

However, because I must now access the web (and my AOL email) using another web browser (IE or Firefox) there seems little practical advantage in retaining AOL as my broadband ISP in the UK; it is by no means the least expensive service I am aware of for comparable broadband speeds, but I had left it with AOL simply because it was the easiest option as it was convenient to retain my AOL email address. Now I think when I return home to Scotland in May I shall have to switch my broadband to another supplier, which I understand is sometimes a time-consuming and not particularly easy operation. In fact I already have another web email address (@yahoo.co.uk) but have never used it apart from testing it occasionally. I think when I do switch my broadband supplier I will not use whatever email address I am given by the new people and instead start to use my yahoo account, as that is likely to be less-dependent on whatever ISP I happen to go with.

I am pleased I seem to have, finally, got to the root of the problem with this Vista-PC; the software engineer (an ex-Microsoft software developer who helped develop XP before he left the company to come and live in Spain, and who speaks quite highly of Vista, too, whilst accepting it does have compatibility issues with some software) told me they always avoided using AOL because it was so flaky and never recommended people to use it either. If anyone in the UK (north Scotland in particular) has any recommendations for suitable alternative ISP broadband providers in that region of the UK, I'll be glad to have them to help me make my choice (a few of my friends there who have gone with some of the cheaper providers have had no end of problems with them so I would prefer to pay a decent price for a decent quality of service).

PS/ The alternative, of course, is to stick with my instincts and be 'shot of' Microsoft once and for all and get myself an Appple MAC-equipped machine when I get home, stick with AOL, and rid myself of the prima donna Vista once and for all! I have really grown weary of having to accommodate myself to the whims of Microsoft with its continuing software 'improvements' which always seem to result in increasing complications in making things work and if you don't comply with their increasingly stringent 3rd-party software requirements you are right royally .... well things just don't work. Now I must get back to my dinner and the salad to follow the excellent steak I have just eaten and of ocurse the excellent Douro wine I am sampling this evening.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The spouse from Hell

I use the word 'hell' above advisedly, not as a swear-word, but merely as a sympbolic representation of the place whence one (i.e. me) feels this lovely lady must have come.

Her whining interview yesterday after the divorce settlement with her former husband Sir Paul McCartney was announced was, if this is possible, even more nauseating in its self-serving awfulness than her previous efforts to plead her case. Now we learn (link above) that her evidence in the divorce case was "inconsistent, inaccurate" and "less than candid". She still gets a pretty good whack for a brief marriage, I'd have thought, and frankly if I was Sir Paul McCartney I'd have thought it a small price to pay to be shot of this noisome woman in legal terms (*), however costly in absolute terms - set against his estimated wealth, though, it is relatively minor.

I was never a fan of the Beatles and have no particular feelings towards McCartney or anyone else formerly in that group, but let it be noted that the judge in the divorce case categorised his evidence as "consistent, accurate and honest." Perhaps McCartney is the 'monster' Heather Mills seems to have tried to claim; who really knows what goes on inside a marriage except the two individuals concerned. However, in my humble opinion (the opinion I formed when I first heard of their marriage) poor old Sir Paul McCartney is evidently one of those men who needs female companionship, preferably with a strong-minded woman. In his first wife it appears that both he and she found what they required; there has never been any suggestion, so far as I can recall, that their marriage was in any way unhappy or a 'mistake' for either party, despite how unlikely to outsiders it at first appeared (she was from a wealthy, perhaps even 'patrician', American background). I cannot help but feel, though, that Sir Paul has learned a very embarrasssingly public and expensive lesson in the dangers of too quickly jumping into a new relationship following the death of his first wife.

(*)It is highly-unlikely, unfortunately, that we have heard the last of Heather Mills; she very regrettably does not seem to have the self-knowledge to appreciate just how ridiculous her media-grabbing posturing is and the media will of course lap up all her utterances because it makes good 'copy'; that in itself is its own sad commentary about what seems important in our society.

PS/ As I wrote here last week I have had major PC problems recently, still not resolved. My PC is working again after a fashion, but 'crashes' at inopportune moments. I'm also without certain items of (paid for) software until I return to Scotland in May and have access to the original software discs or back-up discs (for certain software downloaded from the internet). I should have been having the PC looked at today by a PC engineer to try and diagnose if the problems are solely operating-system ('Vista')/software-related or whether there is an issue with some of the hardware components; his return from England today was apparently delayed so I hope he'll be able to take a look at the PC tomorrow morning once he is back in Spain. Apart from that, though, things are going well here in Spain. I took delivery last Friday of the final items of furniture for the living-room; the temporary furniture the furniture shop had kindly let me use has been taken away and replaced with what I ordered - it is altogether much more satisfactory and makes much better use of the space available and is just as attractive as I had envisaged. Similarly, work began last Thursday on the landscaping at the front and side of my house here - it'll be a few more weeks before it's all done (and as this week includes several public holidays in Spain because of Easter it will be delayed somewhat), but already it is taking shape and the work done so far makes me think it's going to be successful.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Lord Goldsmith: "Well I don't see why they shouldn't"

This was the noble Lord's response to a question from John Humphrys on the 'Today' programme a short while ago about whether one could expect citizens of the UK, who oppose a monarchical system and instead favour a republican system, of whom there are apparently several millions, to swear an 'oath of allegiance' to Her Majesty the Queen.

Firstly, I do not think it is very 'British' to expect all children, as is being suggested by the Labour government and its representative on Earth, Gordon Brown, to swear an oath of allegiance as some sort of a rite of passage into adulthood. The idea will quite rightly be seen as risible, by most people. And I, broadly-speaking, am a pretty strong supporter of a monarchical system, for all sorts of reasons.

It's perfectly true that people in the military, the police, even MPs (if they want to receive their Parliamentary allowances, that is) must swear an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen, but some MPs have refused to do so, notably MPs representing Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, but there have been others. Just how out of touch is Lord Goldsmith with the political realities of the UK. Equally, just how out of touch is he, and the rest of this sorry Labour government, with the whole notion of what it means to be 'British'?

Frankly I understand the problem - it would be nice to have some focus of the low-key pride, patriotism, whatever you want to call it, that most people in Britian feel even if they almost never put these thoughts into actions or words. However, that is a part of what it is to be British. Most British people are pretty uncomfortable with overt signs of unalloyed 'patriotism' except in very specific cases. For example, the 'Last Night of the Proms', which another Labour politician, equally out-of-touch (i.e. Margaret Hodge), thinks is 'divisive'. I really do not think anyone in this Government has the first clue about what even they wish to achieve, far less how to get there. But is the journey worth making? I seriously doubt it. OK, so persons becoming naturalised British citizens now have to go through a citizenship ceremony, which includes an oath to the Queen, from what I gather - fair enough, if people wish to become British they'd probably be prepared to jump through a hoop in order to achieve that objective if they were sufficiently keen. I accept, too, that some people may find such ceremonies genuinely moving and who am I to deny them this simple pleasure?

However, the idea that we need to have some kind of symbolic gesture by every person born here when they reach adulthood is, to me, the very essence of what being British is NOT about. They may do what they like in the US, France or Thailand (where the monarch is genuinely revered as I know very well), but to try and create some kind of artificial substitute in the UK will simply lead to ridicule and to that thrawn, obstinate trait in the British character which often objects to being forced to do anything, except under circumstances of extreme duress. For example during the Second World War the British people accepted, generally speaking, that all sorts of things would have to change until the crisis was over (ID cards, rationing, controls on movement, etc), but pretty soon after it was over the whole system was dismantled and the Prime Minister who, most people would agree, led us to victory, was turfed out of office. Such things are completely inexplicable to people who are not British, from what I gather, but to me it was absolutely inevitable in the British context.

Until the Labour Party and its acolytes take a reality check and look at the reality of the people they aspire to govern, for the moment - until we turf them out! - then they will come up with this kind of 'un-British' notion. Personally, though, I have no hesitation in ending this with 'God Bless your Majesty', although many would be extremely uncomfortable; in my 'defence' of course (if such a thing is needed) I don't really even believe in God so my words are somewhat meaningless, even if the sentiment is sincere - like a lot of things in Britain; it's part of the bizarre conundrum of what it means to be British!

Monday, 10 March 2008

More PC problems today, but I'm cautiously optimistic ...

... foolish person that I am!

I 'knew' yesterday's reinstall of Vista wasn't going to be a very long-lasting affair; I've come to know this horrid operating system quite well and I know now when things are not going right, even if they 'work' after a fashion. I'm not going to bother going into the sordid details, suffice to say that if you are ever faced with a similar Vista problem, ignore all 'recommendations' to reinstall from the onboard 'factory settings' version - all that does is reinstall the system that, for whatever reason (*), caused the problem in the first place.

And so it proved. Earlier today (i.e. Monday) I decided that the freezing-up and general problems I was experiencing necessitated a complete reinstall from the back-up software supplied for emergency use by the PC vendor (in my case Fujitsu-Siemens) to do a 'clean' reinstall of the operating system. This is a long-winded process and necessitates a follow-on reinstall of all the drivers, etc. Plus all the other software that needs to be reinstalled (that I have with me here in Spain or can download from the internet) - the whole process takes many hours!

I suspect that this latest reinstall will be a little more durable than yesterday's, although given the fragility of the whole Vista 'catastrophe' of an operating system I have little faith that it will last beyond, say, four or five months - I last did this rigmarole in October 2007 and we're now only in early March, for heaven's sake! I think when I return to Scotland in May I shall be buying an Apple machine and going over to whatever its called OS-X?? - although I've heard that there are certain problems with 'Leopard', too.

So I am back online after a fashion - who knows for how long? Grrr!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

PC problems again -Oh! my Lordie, Vista!!

When I powered down my PC last night, everything seemed to be fine. Switching it on this morning I was faced with a message telling me it could'nt start normally and was attempting to do repairs - and that I wouldn't lose data. Famous last words!

Some minutes (many minutes) later another message informed me that Vista would need to be backed up and I would lose data on the machine. As you can see I am back online, after a fashion. However, I have lost a lot of very recent data (not backed-up in the past few days), but more importantly, many items of software for which the back-up discs are back in Scotland. I've been able to download a few pieces of software from the web, but have not got them all configured correctly yet. However, there are a certain items of software that will have to wait until I get back home to Scotland in early May. Vista is an absolute pest!

Saturday, 8 March 2008

"It takes a lotta money to make a person look so cheap ..."

What a woman! The incomparable Dolly Parton intros 'Jolene' with a string of one-liners:



Classic!

I haven't really been in the mood to blog in the past few days; sitting out on the patio most afternoons, dozing in the sun, and an occasional walk up over the hills - much more diverting, dontcha know?! A couple of photographs, from earlier this week and a couple of weeks ago:



Mazarron and Torrevieja
5MAR08 and 22FEB08 respectively



An early morning view from my front patio
near Mazarron (Murcia)



Sand scultpure on the beach
Torrevieja (Alicante/Valenciana)




Click here to see larger images.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Police State Britain - 'stun gun' use described as 'wicked' by a judge in court

The use of a device of a similar kind to that used by the police has been described as wicked by a High Court judge in Edinburgh. Habitual criminal Steven Burns was told by Lord Clarke that he had committed:



"... a wicked, unprovoked and vicious attack on an innocent member of the public.

"The fact you initiated this attack by the use of a stun gun made it all the more sinister. It was also cowardly.

"Your criminal record is appalling and conveys to my eyes a man who has absolutely no respect for the law and simply refuses to learn his lawless conduct must stop."

I suppose context is everything, but the fact that Burns's victim, Craig Samuel, has been severely injured and permanently disfigured whilst using a device 'of a much lower strength than used by law enforcement authorities' will have little effect on plans to deploy these vicious devices amongst those, in theory, employed to protect the public (and not simply used by the State as a means of controlling and coercing citizens to its will, as seems increasingly to be the case).

Monday, 3 March 2008

The Outer Hebrides and religion - and its impact on tourism promotion

I've never been to the Outer Hebrides and everything I've ever heard about that part of Scotland makes me more and more disinclined ever to contemplate a visit.

If it's not the 'wee Frees' fretting about Sunday ferry services, it's that other religious 'brand' scuppering efforts to promote tourism, because these religious bigots seem to think there's something wrong with being able to see the bodies that the Good Lord chose to give us.

What's one to do with a community that won't help itself, as was exemplified recently by its rejection of plans to build renewable power generation capacity there, despite the wish of the local authority for it to go ahead? Personally I think all central government subsidies to this part of Scotland and the UK should be cut off summarily. Why should the rest of the country continue to subsidise areas like this which reject practical efforts to help them improve their economic lot?

Alan Duncan to 'marry' his partner

Conservative MP Alan Duncan is to take part in a Civil Partnership ceremony with his partner James Dunseath, according to this article in the Telegraph and the couple's announcement today in the Court & Social pages of the same newspaper.

Alan Duncan will be the first member of either the Cabinet or the Shadow Cabinet to become civilly partnered. I offer he and his partner my sincere congratulations.

PS/ It is remarkable how the Conservative Party, often thought to be (and actually being) 'behind the curve' on so many changes affecting social life in Britain is occasionally surprisingly ahead of it with this latest development and the election of the first female Prime Minister in 1979. Of course, MPs and MSPs (possibly AMs too, for all I know) from other political parties have already taken part in Civil Partnership ceremonies; the day will come I hope when such events become so ubiquitous that they go remarked only by their close friends and family and by the wider public only because they happen to be in the public eye, not specially because they are gay.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Are all creatures to be welcomed in the Scottish Highlands?

My instinctive reaction would be to say, in general, yes. However, I think a basic look at some of the practicalities, and some of the implications, of introducing or re-introducing certain of these creatures into the Highlands, outside of a zoo or wildlife park setting is required.

These thoughts are prompted by an obscure (to me at least) organisation calling itself the "Wolves and Humans Foundation (formerly known as 'The Wolf Society of Great Britain')" which thinks that a time might come when their will be public support for the re-introduction of wolves, in the wild, into the Scottish Highlands:



"A time will come when media reports will generate a public demand for the government to look seriously at the reintroduction of wolves. We want to be at the table when that happens. What I have tried to organise before and still want to do is hold a major conference, maybe in Inverness, bringing together scientists and communities."

There's a lot to analyse in these three brief sentences! How will the media reports that Richard Morley, speaking for the organisation, evisages come about? What will cause the media to start writing about them? Will his organisation have any hand in trying to get such a debate started, or are we expected to believe that out of the mists of the Highlands will come forth a public clamour for this to be discussed seriously? I very much doubt the latter!

I think the idea of re-introducing wild animals, specially pack hunting animals such as wolves, back into the wild in Scotland is a very bad and dangerous idea; I have no doubt there might be a place for such creatures in some of the extensive areas of woodland and moor in the area, provided that the perimeters of such areas make exit from the area as difficult as possible. Now an anecdote about my personal experience of living in the Scottish Highlands, from about ten or so years ago, but which is replicated in many similar locations in the Highlands today.

Before I moved to live in Nairn I owned a house in an outlying part of Inverness (Culloden). When I first bought the house there were few other houses further up the hill and at one point the forest reached within 150 yards of my back garden, with only open rough heath, with a stream flowing down through it, between my property and the forest (no houses). It made a walk up into the forest a very easy procedure and it was delightful. Naturally enough some of the wildlife which made (and further up the hill still makes) its life there would from time to time move in the other direction, particularly during particularly harsh periods of the winter. It was quite common to see roe deer coming down out of the forest in the winter to graze in my front garden, for example (the back garden had a high fence enclosing it) or in early Spring some of the flowers which had started to push through; I believe also that some continued on north for the couple of miles to the shore of the Moray Firth, mainly though fields as there were few houses in between, for seaweed and salt (apparently they do this if they have certain mineral deficiencies). It was quite picturesque and it was nice to be able to peek out through the bedroom curtains and observe a deer quietly doing its own thing - on balance the damage done to my garden was small compared to the pleasure of being able to see a beautiful wild creature so close, perhaps six or seven feet from my nose.

How would I feel if, on the other hand, I were to peek through my curtains and observe a wolf padding through the bushes? How would a mother or father react when one day their young son or daughter, out in the garden playing, suddenly started to cry and then scream and then go ominously-quiet having been attacked and killed by a wolf? I bet that would generate a LOT of media interest of a very different nature than Mr Morley hopes to see! He should go and visit rural villages in parts of India or Africa to inquire of parents there how they react when their little ones occasionally form the basis of a meal for some of the local fauna!

I hope the Scottish Government/Executive has the good sense to tell the likes of Robert Morley to confine their activities to academic research and perhaps the creation of secure, if extensive, wildlife reserves. For a typically 'pithy' reaction to this story, read what the Devil's Kitchen has to say about it.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Typically small-minded

Left-wing charmlessness - always thinking the worst. Completely unsurprising of course!

Financial reality catches up with Inverness Aquadome

A 'company' (the implication being it is somehow a commercial venture, whereas it is nothing of the kind, as 100 per cent of the shares are owned by by Highland Council) operating Inverness Aquadome, a sports and leisure facility in the town/city, is being wound-up and the facility will in future be operated by the local authority direct.

Inverness Aquadome is a maginificent facility, grandiose even, for a relatively small place such as Inverness, but this change in the way it is operated (there is NO change in its ownership - this is an accounting fiction in my opinion) will of itself have absolutely no effect on the basic problem. The facility does not generate enough revenue from the 'punters' who use it to allow for the regular maintenance of a building of this size and complexity. As with a lot of publically-financed, publically-subsidised large projects, little thought goes into their long-term financial viability. The classic case was the huge stock of council dwellings in places such as Glasgow, and to a smaller extent even in cities like Inverness, which were probably pretty nice when they were built (and certainly a lot better than the housing most of the tenants lived in before), but the rents they were charged to occupy them simply did not cover the regular maintenance that the fabric of any building requires and over several decades much of this housing stock slid into desrepair.

The problem with such socialist-inspired projects is that the desire is to make a facility available to everyone, but to charge very little for using it. However, salaries have to be paid, the fabric of buildings deteriorates over time and requires money to be spent to maintain them - then when elections come along there is the desire, at least for that part of the election cycle until the election is safely over, to keep tax increases (national or local) as low as possible.

Inverness has seen the same problem over the decades with that other major local cultural venue, Eden Court.

At least this change of legal status at Inverness Aquadome will be a little more honest than the fiction that has been played out since it was built. It won't solve the basic problem of a lack of revenue or the fact that projects dependent on public finance are always at the mercy of many compteting pressures; voters don't like taxes, far less rising taxes, except when other people are involved of course! No doubt this project will be added to the long list which scrapes by from hand-to-mouth and occasionally manages to get a grant from central government (i.e. the tax-payer) or the National Lottery (i.e. the tax-payer, if only by proxy) so it doesn't actually fall down.