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

Saturday, 30 May 2009

MPs tawdry claim dismissed as a "genuine mistake"

Now here's a simple question. Is it a "genuine mistake" because, well because it was actually a "genuine mistake" or because it has now been exposed to the disinfectant of the sunlight of public exposure as a tawdry, mean-spirited and self-serving attempted(*) [mis-]use of public funds?

(*) Labour MP Frank Cook, MP for Stockton-on-Tees, has a claim for GBP5- in respect of a church donation rejected by the House of Commons Fees Office.

MSP expenses - and 'right and proper claims'

So far in the expenses 'crisis'/'witch-hunt', MPs have been in the firing line, whereas MEPs (subject to an election next week, curiously enough) and MSPs have been curiously immune from criticism.

As far as our MSPs are concerned, it's not because they are any 'better' or even that they are less 'venal' than MPs. No, it's nothing like that at all. Really it's because their own grubby expense-claim habits were brought under some kind of control a few years back, after some unsavoury episodes became public and were subsequently subjected to the disinfectant qualities of having sunlight shone upon their expenses by having them published in detail in the Scottish Parliament website.

So far, so good, but as teachers sometimes said to certain fellow-pupils in my youth - "don't take your books to the top of the class, because you'll soon be heading back to the bottom soon enough"! For there remains room, ample room it seems, for 'grubby' claims by MSPs whenever they think it will pass unnoticed. Such is the case for 15 MSPs who thought it was appropriate to claim as expenses the cost of wreaths they purchased to lay on behalf of the Scottish Parliament at Remembrance Day. Apparently these claims were 'within the rules' so legally they have done nothing wrong.

Why do I find their claims noisome though, and why, now that their claims have become public knowledge, have the 15 so readily 'caved' and agreed to pay back the money? For the latter it's no doubt at least partly because in the current 'witch-hunt' climate over expenses at Westminster a spotlight is being shone upon many who have done nothing, or very little, wrong. It's not the money in these cases that bothers me - for I assume the amounts involved are pretty minor. No, it's the very idea that these quite well-paid folks should consider it worth their while to claim back such minor sums, rather than simply consider it a privilege to be able to lay a wreath on such a solemn occasion. The MSPs claiming seem to think that their every move can be chargeable back to the tax-payer. They seem to have the jobsworth mentality that the State (i.e. the tax-payer) should pay for everything they do when, to be brutally frank about it, it is they as partisan politicians who gain the public 'kudos' of appearing on a solemn occasion. It is significant that it is MSPs from political parties which tend to believe that the State should play a greater, rather than a lesser, role in public life who are implicated in this particular 'grubbiness'.

Now I would consider it quite normal that certain wreaths laid genuinely on behalf of the public, or corporate bodies (public or private) should be paid for out of public or corporate funds. For example the wreath which our Head of State, Her Majesty the Queen, lays on behalf of the whole nation should certainly come out of public funds. So should those laid by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leaders of other political parties represented in Parliament. So far as Scotland is concerned I would consider it perfectly normal that the wreaths laid by the First Minister and the Leaders of the other political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament should similarly come out of public funds. Similar considerations should also apply to wreaths laid by the heads of local government around the country - Mayors, Provosts, Conveners and the like. But I see no reason why individual MPs, MSPs, Councillors and the like should consider it their right to claim back for such expenses - if they don't want to pay for their wreaths, and don't consider it a privilege and an honour enough to be permitted to lay them and again to be brutally frank that the 'political kudos' they gain as individuals is reward enough, then they really shouldn't bother laying them in the first place.

The reversal of the natural order of things?

Is the world turning upside down?

Just a few moments ago I took screen-shots from my embedded weather data 'gizmo' which reveal the stark truth - today at 12.58 BST the temperature was 25 degrees Celsius at Inverness airport (about 7 miles from my home in Nairn, Scotland), whereas at 13.00 CEST today the temperature was 22 degrees Celsius at Murcia-St Javier airport, roughly 70Km from my Spanish 'casa de vacaciones' near Mazarrón.

Accordingly it's shorts and deck-shoe weather up here in Nairn today!


Weather reversal - 30 May 2009

Inverness airport - 12.58 BST - 25 degC


Murcia-St Javier airport - 13.00 CEST - 22 degC

- to be quite frank, such an occurrence [a happy one for me] is such a rare event, it's well worth blogging about!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Solidarity with Susie

I've just come across a story about an American expat (lady) blogger, married to a Saudi Arabian national and living in Jeddah, whose blog susie's big adventure has been blocked from being accessible within Saudi Arabia, although it remains viewable elsewhere. There is no clear reason why the Saudi Arabian Communications and Internet Technology Commission have taken this action, although it may be that the fact susie's big adventure was recently mentioned in a high-traffic website, which resulted in a dramatic rise in visits to her site in April, in particular, may have brought the blog to the Saudi Arabian authorities' attention.

As you can see from reading her blog, it is pretty anodyne and level-headed, although she does allude to the restrictions placed on women there, for example in a recent article about the fact that women are not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia she links to a video showing Saudi Arabian cleric Dr. Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Fawzan explaining why women should not be allowed to drive. It's laugh-out-loud funny in some parts, of course, but it perhaps goes some way to explaining the action taken against her blog within the Kingdom by a very sensitive, some would say paranoid, regime. Embedding has unfortunately been 'disabled by request', so you'll have to visit YouTube to see it here.

I don't know what, if anything, fellow-bloggers can do to help Susie, but at least I can do my little bit to publicise the domestic censorship that she must contend with in Saudi Arabia. As she writes, though, her own family and friends back in the States can continue to read her blog (one of the principal reasons she started it) so even though she has been obliged to switch commenting to pre-publication 'moderation' (so she can retain some control over what is said in her comments area) she remains able to post new blog entries and modify the template. However, she cannot any longer respond to comments through her own comments area as she cannot visit her own blog. I lived in Saudi Arabia before the internet was even thought of and quite enjoyed being there; we had our own problems there in those days, just as those who live there today have their own. A deeply weird and disfunctional society it remains.

(PS/ Funnily enough I wrote fairly recently about possible changes which might one day in the not too distant future permit women to drive in Saudi Arabia. However the power of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices can never safely be overlooked there, even by those who in theory govern the country.)

Perspective is everything!




- you didn't really think I'd post a porn video here, did you?

(The French advertising standards people obviously didn't get the joke.)

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Film review: Star Trek

As I have mentioned here before, I am an unashamed Star Trek 'addict', not sufficiently obsessed to have ever gone to an ST 'convention' or to have dressed in costume, but I do like the show and have done so ever since I saw the original Star Trek in the late 1960s on the black-and-white television we had at home then (colour television transmissions were available to most of the UK only from about 1968 if I recall correctly and colour televisions were pretty expensive then).

Anyway, at the weekend I took myself off to see the latest movie (the 11th I think) in the Star Trek series. The official website for the new movie is here and a cast-list is here. The main official Star Trek website is here.

This movie is supposed to be a new take on the Star Trek saga, set sometime before the time-frame of the original television series when the characters from that series were in their younger years (and therefore played by completely different actors, as all the original actors are either dead or quite elderly now) and sometime after the most recent television series Star Trek: Enterpise. I had never seen most of the actors before, but there are a few familiar faces from other movies and television series and of course Leonard Nimoy, 'Spock' from the original series and a number of the earlier Star Trek movies, has a cameo role as a time-shifted 'Spock'.

Basically the new movie is a very slick production indeed and I think the transition into a new storyline is handled very well for a new generation of younger 'addicts' as well as being readily-acceptable to people of my generation who watched the original series as teenagers. CGI plays a big part in the new movie, a technology which simply didn't exist in the 1960s or even really when Star Trek: The Next Generation kicked-off an earlier revial of the franchise on television. As with a lot of newer movies, I found the whole experience very loud and noisy - cinema sound systems are so much more powerful than in earlier years, but an extremely enjoyable 'wheeze' and no doubt it is a platform upon which Paramount can build in future years if they think it will prove commercially viable - and based on the evidence of this latest movie I think that is pretty likely. More please!

Monday, 25 May 2009

European Parliament elections - June 2009

The elections for the European Parliament are almost upon us once more (Thursday 4th June in the UK, Sunday 7th June in many other EU countries). When I returned to Scotland from Spain last week the election literature for these elections from several of the political parties awaited me so I will as is my usual habit be recording for 'posterity' images of the leaflets I have received through my own letter-box. This year I have so far received literature from:
- Conservative Party (Scottish Conservative and Unionist);
- Labour Party (Scottish Labour Party);
- Liberal Democrats (Scottish Liberal Democrats);
- Scottish National Party;
- British National Party.

Click on any image to see a larger version plus additional images

Conservative Party (Scottish Conservative and Unionist)


Labour Party (Scottish Labour Party)


Liberal Democrats (Scottish Liberal Democrats)


Scottish National Party


British National Party


Click on any image to see a larger version plus additional images

The last time there were national elections I did not actually receive a leaflet from the lovely folks (irony alert! - Ed.) at the British National Party so did not include an image of their leaflet (although I had seen it elsewhere locally), but this time I did, so I am. I am doing so through 'gritted teeth' of course, but on the basis that 'sunlight is the best disinfectant' I think it necessary to expose these awful bigots for what they are and what they say they believe in (see 'Section 2: Membership' on pages 4 and 5 in particular), however 'reasonable' they may try to persuade us they are; it is unquestionably a racist political party. (NB/ If that document is unavailable online in the BNP website for any reason, I have uploaded a back-up copy into my own website server and you can find it here.)

The BBC has details of political parties and candidates standing throughout the UK here (click on the region that interests you to see more detail). For Scotland the link is here, but I am reorganising the information presented there in the 'house-style' of this blog. As you will see there are many political parties putting up candidates for which I have not yet received their election literature:

Political parties standing in Scotland and their 'list' candidates in order of preference

Conservative Party
1 - Struan Stevenson, 2 - Belinda Don, 3 - Helen Gardiner, 4 - Donald MacDonald, 5 - Gerald Michaluk, 6 - PJ Lewis

Labour Party
1 - David Martin, 2 - Catherine Stihler, 3 - Mary Lockhart, 4 - Paul McAleavey, 5 - Kirsty Connell, 6 - Nasim Kham

Liberal Democrats
1 - George Lyon, 2 - Euan Robson, 3 - Robert Aldridge, 4 - Patsy Kenton, 5 - Douglas Herbison, 6 - Clive Sneddon

Green Party
1 - Elaine Morrison, 2 - Chas Booth, 3 - Kirsten Robb, 4 - Alastair Whitelaw, 5 - Ruth Dawkins, 6 - Peter McColl

Scottish National Party
1 - Ian Hudghton, 2 - Alyn Smith, 3 - Aileen McLeod, 4 - Drew Hendry, 5 - Duncan Ross, 6 - Gordon Archer

British National Party
1 - Gary Raikes, 2 - Charles Baillie, 3 - Deborah McKnight, 4 - Roy Jones, 5 - Maxwell Dunbar, 6 - Elise Jones

Scottish Socialist Party
1 - Colin Fox, 2 - Angela Gorrie, 3 - Johanna Dind, 4 - Nick McKerrell, 5 - Raphael De Santos, 6 - Felicity Garvie

Socialist Labour Party
1 - Louise McDaid, 2 - David Don, 3 - Katharine McGavigan, 4 - James Berrington, 5 - Claire Watt, 6 - James McDaid

Christian Party - Christian Peoples Alliance
1 - Sheila McLaughlan, 2 - John Smart, 3 - Brian Ross, 4 - Archie Linnegan, 5 - Christine Cormack, 6 - Isobel MacLeod

Individual Candidate
1 - Duncan Robertson

NO2EU - Yes to Democracy
1 - John Foster-Grime, 2 - Tommy Sheridan, 3 - Leah Ganley, 4 - Stuart Hyslop, 5 - Ajit Singh Uppal, 6 - Thomas Morrison

Jury Team
1 - Alan Wallace, 2 - John O'Callaghan, 3 - Stuart Brown, 4 - Melville Brown, 5 - Austin Compson-Bradford

United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
1 - Peter Adams, 2 - Paul Henke, 3 - Donald MacKay, 4 - Peter Neilson, 5 - Mike Arthur, 6 - Paul Wiffen
- the order in which names appear within a political party's list has been decided internally by that political party. Because the election uses a form of 'proportional representation' voters have no choice between individuals, instead they must choose one political party to vote for and the more votes within a region which that political party receives, the more of its 'list' will be elected as MEPs. The number of MEPs is reducing this time, in 'anticipation' of the ratification and coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty (aka the 'European Constitutional Treaty', the very similar rejected/failed treaty which preceded it); however, there will be 18 'phantom MEPs' elected - and paid - to comply with the current rules of the EU, although these 18 'phantom' MEPs will apparently not be permitted to vote in the European Parliament; although I am generally in favour of the EU this latest 'manoeuvre' is a travesty of democracy, not to mention the fact that the EU budget has not been signed-off by the Court of Auditors of the EU in the past 13 or so years! However much in favour of the EU one may be, as I am, the folks in Brussels and Strasbourg are testing the patience of even people like me to the very limit with their anti-democratic manipulation of both EU treaty law and whatever level of accountability exists. I have not yet decided how to vote although I must confess I am considering for the first time ever voting for one of the slightly less mainstream parties as a protest, even though I do not share their view that withdrawal from full membership of the EU is desirable - I speak of course of UKIP. Failing this I will most probably vote Conservative, as I usually do. I will mention here which political party I finally decided to vote for once the results have been announced.

PS/ (dated Thursday 13AUG09 08.26 BST) I have just realised I have not yet fulfilled my commitment in the final sentence above. I used my vote for my 'default' choice, the Conservatives. Although I am no longer a member and continue to have recurring doubts that they have really 'changed' their fundamentally anti-gay agenda (when the cameras and microphones are safely out of the way), a vote for them is probably the least 'evil' in general policy terms; that's about the best that I am yet prepared to say about them. The circumstance surrounding the creation of their new EP grouping leave many questions unanswered.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Church of Scotland says 'yah boo sucks' to the bigots

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has confirmed the appointment of openly gay minister, Rev Scott Rennie, to be minister at Queen's Cross Church in Aberdeen, dismissing the protests by those opposed to the appointment of a 'practising'(*) gay man to the position; he has the support of the majority of the parishioners there and of the presbytery. Rev Rennie has already been a minister at Brechin Cathedral for some years, apparently successfully and without incident.

Although I'm not a member of the Church of Scotland (or of any church), I was brought up in its traditions and it always struck me as a relatively moderate institution, certainly when compared to some of the other 'sky fairy' offerings out there. However what we're talking about here is employment practices and I have as much right to 'pontificate' (ho ho - geddit?) about that as anyone else. My earlier article on this topic, criticising another blogger for his self-confessed homophobia and his remarks about this particular case, provoked a lively verbal exchange with one of his acquaintances. I'm sure many people who hold deeply unpleasant views are delightful company in a social setting, but I'm afraid that however nice someone may be toward those considered part of his social set I think it's pretty revealing how people think and write (in the case of a blog) of people who are somehow 'different', so I remain to be convinced.

Friday, 22 May 2009

"Serious risk of a suicide" in MP expenses scandal

I'm just listening to Nadine Dorries MP (Conservative) on the 'Today' programme whining on about the 'terror in the eyes' of some people around Westminster because of the 'McCarthy-ite witch-hunt' being mounted currently by the Telegraph.

Does this imply that her name may be coming out soon and she's getting a pre-emptive rebuttal in? She's spinning the story that grown MPs were, on induction into the 'club' (i.e. Parliament), given the 'nod and wink' by the fees office that ACAs were not expenses, but 'allowances' and the job of the fees office was to help MPs 'get them out' (the maximum amount of expenses claimable). If this scenario is true, and I accept it may be, this does not mitigate the personal liability of those who 'milked' the system for all it is worth. Not all MPs chose to go down this route. Frankly her story sounds like she wants to portray perhaps herself and some others as 'new boys and girls' being 'shown the ropes' by the 'old lags'.

However honest an MP may have been before his/her election, any that succumbed to this "don't rock the boat" mentality deserve all they get if their own moral compasses didn't give them guidance as to what was right and what was wrong. I know that in the organisation I worked for it was well-known that some of my colleagues exploited expenses claims, whereas others hardly claimed anything; I was certainly very much one of the latter. I recall also on a few occasions when I was on courses/seminars involving personnel from other very well-known companies that 'per diem' allowances were regarded by some as a simple way of boosting one's regular income by spending as little as possible and pocketing the bulk of such allowances, or using the old 'taxi bill' ruse. Sometimes the brazenness of the people who did this was quite surprising.

To summarise, whilst I certainly hope that this necessary clearing out of crooks and cheats from our public life does not result in a suicide I don't think that any of us need feel at all reticent in continuing to press hard for reform or be sorry in any way that the Telegraph is carrying on, at least for the present, with its daily exposures of the facts of what some of our MPs have been up to. There are some MPs in all political parties who have behaved honourably, whether they happen to have personal wealth or not. Let's not be fooled by the 'spin' designed to get the public to lay-off those quite numerous MPs who have been using every ruse their fertile imaginations could come up with to con the public purse out of money that cannot be justified when submitted to objective scrutiny.

Feisty lady, but she's no Betty Boothroyd!

Surely this must be a joke, or possibly simply a piece of self-serving publicity dreamed up by its subject?

I'm sure she does have a few Tory supporters (aka 'quite a lot', if you believe a word of the linked report) , just like she had when she mounted her very short-lived and rather laughable candidacy as Leader of the Conservative Party. Personally I believe that now, as then, this is a complete non-starter.

Monday, 18 May 2009

High noon for 'Gorbals Mick'

- well not quite, he's lived to fight another day - just. However, it was a sad sight to behold, this mediocre man floundering under the superficially polite, but quite brutally pointed, questionning of his fellow MPs:



A vignette from this afternoon's bizarre, almost surrealistic session in the House of Commons is only partially caught by the embedded video-clip. I watched the proceedings 'live', tearing myself away from the afternoon's activities of putting away garden decorations and furniture and sweeping the patio and other outside tiled areas in preparation for my departure from Spain tomorrow, alerted by the television on pretty high volume when it came time for Speaker Michael Martin to make his statement to the House. He was nervous. He was blustering. He was (as usual of late) querulous. The vignette I refer to above, however, came when Speaker Martin asked the Clerk of the House for legal guidance - the poor old buffer, Speaker Martin that is, is obviously a little hard of hearing and failed to understand immediately what the Clerk said, so Speaker Martin asked him to repeat his comments. Maybe I am reading too much into what happened next, but I don't think so - in any case it seemed to me that the Clerk irritatedly half-turned to speak to the Speaker again with a somewhat dismissive tone and gesture, before turning back to face forward. The whole 'body language' of this gesture seemd to scream at me that the poor Clerk was tired of having to defer to this nonentity and pretend that the Speaker is his nominal surperior and accordingly gave him the bare minimum of respect and deference.

This is what we have come to in the 'Mother of Parliaments' - procedural delaying tactics being used [by the Speaker, by the Government, you decide] to thwart the clear view of the House and what seems to be an overwhelming view (if you believe the media) in the country that people are totally 'fed up' (that's a euphemism given my self-imposed injunction against profanity in this blog) with our whole political class and their cheating and lying. I don't think there's too much time left for Parliament to sort itself out, lest the firestorm I wrote of a few days ago really takes hold. Britain is a pretty stable country politically, but I reckon there is a real danger that matters could spiral out of control, given the parlous state of the economy and the growing numbers of the unemployed, if our Government and Parliamentarians don't 'get a grip', and soon.

Bill's going home ... (to his other home, that is)

Tomorrow I shall be leaving the Murcia region of Spain, where I have been spending the past three months in order to escape the rigours of the post-Christmas part of a Scottish winter, and returning home to the Highlands of Scotland for the summer - let's hope we do actually get a summer this year! In any case, what I can definitely look forward to are the splendid long daylight hours that we get in northern latitudes during the couple of months before and after midsummer's day toward the end of June. I plan to be back in Spain for about a month from mid-September, when the weather will have lost the burning heat of July and August, but still be very pleasantly warm during the evenings:


- for a blog from the other perspective, click here.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Eurovison - irregularities in televising 2nd semi-final in Spain

I was much disappointed when it became clear on Thursday evening that I wasn't going to be able to vote in the second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2009 from Moscow, as it seemed that Spanish broadcaster TVE wasn't transmitting the show 'live' here, but instead broadcast it about an hour later, meaning that all the other countries' votes had been collated and announced before we had seen it here in Spain. I had various Twitter exchanges with Jae about this on Thursday evening, but with no clear view emerging about what had happened. Earlier today Jae left a comment on my blog post about the final last night, linking to a news item in a Eurovision fan website indicating that there was an ongoing discussion about this and how it seemed as if TVE might be fined, or even that the Spanish entry might face disqualification for their breach of the rules in not broadcasting the show as they had requested specifically and committed themselves to do as a result of 'technical difficulties'. As you will discover if you try and click on that last link, it probably won't work - the whole website seems to be unavailable. Dirty work at the cross-roads? Who knows?

In any case, a little more searching on the internet unearthed this news report in WikiNews which discusses a lot of what seems to have gone on. It is pretty awful if true that various deceitful machinations were at the root of the scheduling 'snafu', but at least it shows that I wasn't going completely bonkers on Thursday when I couldn't find the show - it simply wasn't being broadcast 'live here'. I did of course see the programme 'live' on BBC3, but I still couldn't vote!

Paedophile rings and the ways they can be tracked, exposed and punished

I saw with shock reports a week or so ago about what was being described as the most serious case of systematic organised paedophilia in Scotland. Another useful link to this story is here.

I just came across a blog post from around the same time as the two media links above in the ever-excellent Spy Blog which takes the writer's usual clinical and detailed look at different aspects of how this case was cracked. It is a very lengthy and complicated article, but will repay the effort to read it in full and [in my case attempt to] absorb it all.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Eurovision 2009 Moscow - Final - 16 May 2009



And the Winner is
(see at end for final votes)

N O R W A Y


When I did live-blogging during the 1st Semi-Final and the 2nd Semi-Final of the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest from Moscow, I re-published them after each country's contestant performed. This evening I'm including the earlier comments for the 20 countries who reached the final from the 1st or the 2nd semi-final, and will modify these tonight 'on the fly' only where differences in their performances tonight seem to merit this, whilst I will still be live-blogging the five countries who didn't have to go through the semi-finals hurdle. This evening I'll also again be trying to post regular updates on my Twitter page as well. The official Eurovision website is here and you can download a scorecard for this evening's final through the link here.

Jae is also live-blogging the event.

The Russian TV presenters tonight are A LOT more easy on the eye than the two characters who presented both the semi-finals

Contestants this evening, and my thoughts on their efforts are as follows:

1 - Lithuania
Love
[My reaction during 2nd semi-final - Male singer playiing piano. Also another male and two female backing singers. A romantic ballad, quite lively, though, and quite a nice tune. Will it get thru to final, though? Sung in English and another language, presumably Lithuanian?]
- good performance tonight.

2 - Israel
There must be another way
[My reaction during 1st semi-final - an Israeli-Arab and Jewish joint effort as a female duo sung in English, Hebrew and Arabic. It's quite tuneful and not at all bad. Morally I'd like it to do well, specially given the title of the song, which is pretty much what the song is about in the context of that troubled country. If it gets through to the final (and I think it should) I'd hope it'd do pretty well.]
- voices are both a little shaky tonight in parts; a shame.

3 - France
Et s'il fallait le faire
- Patricia Kaas is a class act and the dramatic ballad she's singing gives her the opportunity to show off her high standards. Cannot imagine it will win though - it's good she's singing in French, but it's not really Eurovision material (in my humble opinion). Go on, prove me wrong Eurovision voters!

4 - Sweden
La Voix
[My reaction during 1st semi-final - blond Scandinavian beauty (female) with a lovely effortless, ethereal voice singing with a female backing group. It's a really nice ballad. Should do well. A class act.]
- the chorus is fantastic and shows off her voice to something like its full extent, but the actual song is very pedestrian.


5 - Croatia
Ljepa Tena (Beautiful Tena)
[My reaction during 2nd semi-final - not bad ballad. Male singer, good-looking with good voice, female backing. Black-clad and booted. Might do well.]
- a better performance than in semi-final, both lead singers are doing the song proud and he is one sexy-looking man. Woof!

6 - Portugal
Todas as ruas do amor
[My reaction during 1st semi-final - female singer with nice instrumental backing (guitars, flute[?] and accordion). Unfortunately her voice is no good even though it seems quite a nice ditty - sun in Portuguese. Doubt if it will get too many votes.]
- same problems with uneven quality of her voice, I'm afraid, although the song is good.

7 - Iceland - placed 2nd
Is it true?
[My reaction during 1st semi-final - a woman singing in English with a female backing group and male instrumentalists, singing a lovely ballad. She has an excellent voice, she's absolutely in control and confident. A pleasure to watch professionals at work. They're all, male and female, nice looking, too, which certainly can't hurt. Definitely my favourite so far.]
- every bit as good and confident as in semi-final; she has lovely pale blue eyes. I like this song a lot.

8 - Greece
This is our night
[My reaction during 2nd semi-final - Sexy slim white-clad man singing a boppy bit of Europop in English with female backing. He can visit me anytime! Might do well - definitely a sexy song with appropriately sexy dance-routine.]
- decent performance with a great body and gyrating pelis, but the song isn't that great on second hearing.

9 - Armenia
Jan Jan (Nor Par)
[My reaction during 1st semi-final - dramatic female group singing what is I take it traditional style of Armenian music, but jazzed-up a little and sung in English. It's really rather catchy and not at all bad, but I do wonder if it isn't just a little too different to be successful in Eurovision.]
- really not my thing, I'm afraid.

10 - Russia
Mamo
- what an awful dirge! I'm sure her mother loves her and that she's a good singer given half-way decent material to perform. No! No! No!

11 - Azerbaijan - placed 3rd
Always
[My reaction during 2nd semi-final - Male/female duo singing lively ballad in English. Both are quite nice-looking in a central-Asian way, trendily dressed. Not bad at all. (Twitter seems to have locked up - I can't post or get the site to refresh - maybe overloaded?]
- a good song and they're performing a little better than in semi-final, I think. May do well.

12 - Bosnia & Herzegovina
Bistra voda
[My reaction during 1st semi-final - sung in Serbo-Croat(?), by a male lead, male/female all regency-garbed in pale cream - all nice-looking. Quite a nice song, and although his voice is good, it's a little weak at times. Not rubbish by any means, so it will probably do very well amongst neighbouring countries where this style of song probably appeals more than it does to me.]
- a better performance than in semi-final, but not a winner I suspect.

13 - Moldova
Hora din Moldova
[My reaction during 2nd semi-final - lively ballad with female singer and male dancing backers. Sung in Moldovan(?) Not bad!]
- lively, but no, I don't think i see this as a winner, on reflection.

14 - Malta
What if we?
[My reaction during 1st semi-final - lovely voice from a female (rather plump) singer. She started off a little shakily, but soon got into her stride. It's rather a nice ballad, very traditional and quite catchy - probably not right for modern Eurovision I suspect. No doubt will get many votes from the UK as usual and deservedly so.]
- I'm liking this even more on a secoond hearing. I can imagine listening to this again. Is it a winner? I think it might be. She's on form tonight.

15 - Estonia
Rändajad
[My reaction during 2nd semi-final - Lovely, pretty black-haired woman with a great voice singing a dramatic ballad with a definite beat to it. I like it, even if I don't understand it. I think this is a quality song and is being very well-performed. Should certainly get to final.]
- she's on form tonight and this is a great song; a pretty flawless performance. it has a very memorable few passages. Might just do it!

16 - Denmark
Believe again
[My reaction during 2nd semi-final - Ronan Keating lookalike singing (if I heard Paddy O'Connell correctly) singing a song by him. it's really a very nice ballad and as the singer is very attractive could do well with yoounger females (and gays of course!). Should get to final, I think, if there is any justice.]
- yes, he's a looker and it's a good song. I'm uppin this a little from the semi-final rating I gave it. He's doing it justice.

17 - Germany
Miss Kiss Kiss Bang
- It's a stylish song and I like it, swing in tight shiny pants. Yes! Yes, it should do very well, if there is any fairness in this world. It's a confident song that is what it is.

18- Turkey
Düm Tek Tek
[My reaction during 1st semi-final - Turkish version of Europop by a dramatic red-clad mainly female group, with one man. Slight middle-eastern elements, but jazzed-up to appeal to a wider European audience. I rather like it, it's catchy and being well-performed; now there's a sexy dance going on with the lead-signer and another male sort of acrobat-dancer. pretty good I'd say.]
- a good song, but I rate it as for semi-. Not the winner in my opinion.

19 - Albania
Carry me in your dreams
[My reaction during 2nd semi-final - Nice boppy tune, she's a pretty girl, but dressed in something like a little girl would wear for a party frock. Rather a weird green-masked/clad spiderman type of backing dancer and two other almost vampire-like fellows. Not a bad tune though, sung in English and very competently performed. Will probably get thru to final.]
- same frock as in semi-. She has a good voice though and is very confident and the backing-singers and dancers are good. Could do well, even if to me it's not a winner, but what do I know?

20 - Norway - placed 1st
Fairytale
[My reaction during 2nd semi-final - Young male violinist who also is the singer. Nice-looking young man and his voice is rather good. Singing in English. A sort of ballad with violin interludes and a dance/acrobatic troupe. Words a bit strange from someone so young, but could do well because it is a simple tune with easy words. Likely to get to final, I think.]
- he seems to be a good violinist, but he's no great singer. Sorry, I don't share the euphoria about this.

21 - Ukraine
Be my Valentine! (Anti-Crisis Girl)
[My reaction during 2nd semi-final - She's a looker, good voice, singing a sort of rock ballad in English. Quite erotic, with the gladiator-like bare-chested male dancers accompanying her. A good routine. Should do well, I suspect. There are some good songs tonight, but not as good as the 1st semi-final on Tuesday, in my view.]
- I still like this, it's quite sensual. Could it go down well with Eurovision voters?

22 - Romania
The Balkan Girls
[My reaction during 1st semi-final - think a singing troupe of 'Varoomshkas' or 'Amazons' - all very pretty and the song is quite fun and lively (sung in English). It should do well - there are quite a few good songs, so it's going to be difficult to choose; although as I don't know if it's being broadcast in Spain (or on which channel) I've no idea how I can vote in any case.]
- this is definitely one of the ones I'd tip to take this thing tonight. They're all pretty and the song is good and they're performing it well.

23 - United Kingdom
It's my time
- It's good and she's doing it well tonight. Hope her voice remains true. I can vote for this tonight, as I'm in Spain, but I've not yet decided. Altogether very creditable, tho'.

24 - Finland
Lose Control
[My reaction during 1st semi-final - funky rock song in English, with a female and male lead singer (both very trendy and nice-looking) and assorted male/female backing. The song doesn't appeal to me, but it is well-performed and may well appeal across Europe; it's quite a sophisticated performance I think.
- I like this more than in the semi-final and they're doing it very well.

25 - Spain
La noche es para mí
- a good song, but there are some flat notes I'm afraid. I like the melding of Europop with middle-eastern influences, but it's not a top-rate performance. I can't vote for it anyway, as I'm in Spain just now.

Voting
OK - I just voted and I have cast my vote for Iceland. My other top pick was Estonia - I gave both 8 1/4 points tonight, but I like the idea of Iceland having something to celebrate, although they would probably be devastated if they won, given their present financial situation. other top-scorers for me tonight were Azerbaijan, Malta, Germany and Finland.

And the Winner is
Norway (387 points)

Iceland - placed 2nd (218 points)
Azerbaijan - placed 3rd (207 points)
- you can see details of the final points total of every participant in the final by visiting the official Eurovision website here.

Congatulations to the winner, Norway! I'm not surprised Norway won, even though quite why this happened escapes me. I'm very happy that Iceland did so well, without quite winning - it would have been a real burden for a country with such a small population to have won, even without its present financial woes. Azerbaijan did very well, too, to reach third place and it was well-merited.

Is a firestorm about to engulf Britain's parliamentary democracy?

I speak of course of the MP expenses controversy. I've written about it only once so far, last week when the main focus of the Telegraph's revelations was on the governing Labour Party.

Last Sunday the focus shifted to the main opposition Conservative Party, although the LibDems and a few other political parties received 'honourable' mentions too. What struck me about most of the Conservative cases was their sheer pettiness - relatively small amounts in many cases (not all) with the claimant MPs in many of those cases being extremely wealthy people. Yes, it did cause a little mirth in the media when their expenses faux pas included claims for tennis court repairs or to clear something so aristocratic as a moat, but these are no more really meriting of mirth than is a claim for a very costly television or home cinema system. One of the biggest 'try-ons' I heard about just yesterday (or perhaps the day before) concerned the former 'Father of the House' Labour MP Tom Dalziel (he of the 'West Lothian Question' fame) who claimed GBP18,000 if you please(!) for bookcases to hold his copies of Hansard (so we are told), just a few weeks before he was due to step down as an MP upon his retirement; it's that last detail that astounds me. Having visited his home as a member of a bus tour a few years ago, I must say I can't think where he would have fitted these bookcases in what is a rather cramped home, albeit the home of a minor aristocrat in a very grand setting - it seems to me it was obviously just an attempt to get us to pay for the upkeep of his 'stately home', just like Hogg the moat-repair merchant! An honourable mention must also go to Andrew Mackay and Julie Kirkbride, a couple (or should that be a 'brace') of Conservative MPs who each claimed one of their two homes as a 'second home' (not the same one of course!) so they were able to claim for both their homes on MPs expenses. If that's not actual fraud, it must surely come pretty close to it as it certainly seems to me to bend the spirit of the rules beyond breaking point, if not necessarily the letter of the rules; I'm not an expert.

Anyway in the last week things have moved on rapidly - now I read (again in the valiant Telegraph) that the police are setting up a special panel to look at whether criminal prosescutions should follow; I'm sure that in a number of cases they should.

Although the 'Dear Leader' seems finally to be waking up to the seriousness of the situation (politically and socially), it is the leader of the Conservative Party who is still taking the lead - basically it is he who is behaving much more like a Prime Minister than the actual Prime Minister. It is a clear demonstration of the differences in the personal qualities of the two men.

Finally Speaker Michael Martin - now here is a man there is really no excuse for. He has to go voluntarily, or be dragged kicking and screaming out of the Speaker's chair (by tradtion Speakers-elect are dragged toward the chair).

Now I move on to more pleasurable matters - the Eurovision Song Contest will start in 20 minutes or so! Please forgive my haste ...

Eurovision 2009 - Bill's favourites for tonight

There are a number of good songs this evening and I have selected four of those I think are amongst the best:

Iceland - "Is it true?"

- a great song from a lady with a lovely voice (8 points in my own personal poll).

Estonia - "Rändajad [Travellers]"

- a very catchy song from another lady with a good voice - the fact that it is not sung in English (so I don't understand the words) seems irrelevant as it is such a nice song (8 points in my own personal poll).

Greece - "This is our night"

- a lively and catchy clubbing/disco song from with a sexy bit of male 'totty' as the singer with an equally sexy female dancing group. Very camp - exactly what Eurovision is all about (7 3/4 points in my own personal poll).

Sweden - "La Voix [The Voice]"

- a Scandinavian beauty with a lovely ethereal voice singing a pretty nice song, mainly in English, however the song itself isn't the best I heard - her voice could do so much more, given the right material (hence my vote of 7 1/2 points in my own personal poll).

Other strong contenders for tonight (links are to YouTube videos):

Coming through from the semi-finals:
Azerbaijan - male/female duo singiing a lively song in English; if the singers can keep their voices in tune they could do well (7 3/4 points in my own personal poll);
Romania - dramatic girl group singing well in English a catchy tune (7 3/4 points in my own personal poll);
Finland - a sort of catchy rock ballad with a trendy male singer and three female singers (7 3/4 points in my own personal poll).

Exempt from semi-finals:
Germany - a stylish swing number sung in English by a very sexy man with an excellent, confident voice;
Spain - a lively song largely in English, with Spanish and Moorish overtones, sung by a beautiful sexy woman withh sexy male dancers backing her up.

I haven't yet made up my mind where my vote will go; obviously I cannot vote for Spain, because one can't vote for the country one is in on the night, but I probably wouldn't anyway because although it is a good song, I think there are better. As for the British entry, well it is good this year, no doubt about that, and if Jade performs it well tonight I might just vote for her, but failing this it will be a choice for me, on my present reckoning, between Iceland and Estonia (see embedded video-clips above) - my only worry with Iceland is if they can afford to win the competition under present economic conditions.

So, until this evening folks ...

(PS/ Bearing in mind this article I wrote this morning about the arrests made at a PRIDE demonstration in Moscow today, I hope the event tonight will go ahead smoothly, of course I do. On the other hand, I don't think the atrocious and homophobic behaviour of the Russian authorities shoud go entirely unmentioned either, so I hope at least some of the contestants will have the courage and 'backbone' to make at the very least a discrete signal of some kind that they disapprove of what went on this morning, for example by sporting small 'rainbow' badges somewhere on their costumes. See Associated Press news report here.)

Moscow police break up Slavic 'Pride'

There have been a number of arrests this morning in Moscow by police of gay rights activists taking part in a PRIDE march. Even more sinister are these closing sentences in the BBC report:


The city authorities had outlawed the parade saying it was morally wrong.

Permission has been given for a counter-demonstration by nationalist and religious groups.


Now that the Netherlands has been knocked out of this evening's Eurovision Song Contest (BBC microsite), will any of the other contestants have sufficient backbone to boycott the event?

I'd like this to be a fun evening, but quite frankly not at the price of accepting meekly this travesty! I hope some at least of the western contestants can make clear their views by, for example, displaying rainbow badges somewhere on their costumes or something else like that, even if they don't feel able to mount a full boycott themselves.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Eurovision 2009 Moscow - 2nd semi-final



As with my post a couple of evenings ago on the 1st Semi-Final of the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest from Moscow, this post will be re-published after each country's contestant has performed and this evening I'll also be trying to post regular updates on my Twitter page as well. The official Eurovision website is here and you can download a scorecard for this evening's semi-final through the link here (a link to download the scorecard for the final will appear there in due course, too.).

Contestants this evening, and my thoughts on their efforts are as follows:

1 - Croatia
Ljepa Tena (Beautiful Tena)
- not bad ballad. Male singer, good-looking with good voice, female backing. Black-clad and booted. Might do well.

2 - Ireland
Et Cetera
- Female singing group. Boppy Europop, quite good, but a bit old-fashined. Doubt if it will do well enough to get through to final.

3 - Latvia
Probka (Traffic Jam)
- What a tuneless racket. If this gets thru to the final, I will finally despair that I've really lost it! Competent performance with awful material, I suppose.

4 - Serbia
Cipela (Shoe)
- Comedy troupe, bizarre song (apparently supposed to be funny) - very eccentric. Can this really do well enough to get to final? Dance troupe is amusing and accordion is a nice touch. Lead singer has sort of gravelly-voice and shock of dyed-blond air with dark roots. Truly eccentric altogether.

5 - Poland
I don't wanna leave
- Pretty female singer with decent strong voice singing in English, voice a little off-key at times. Not too bad I suppose, but I doubt if this ballad is right for 2009.

6 - Norway
Fairytale
- Young male violinist who also is the singer. Nice-looking young man and his voice is rather good. Singing in English. A sort of ballad with violin interludes and a dance/acrobatic troupe. Words a bit strange from someone so young, but could do well because it is a simple tune with easy words. Likely to get to final, I think.

7 - Cyprus
Firefly
- Young very pretty woman with nice voice (breathy but true if a little shaky at times) singing a quirky tune in English. Could get to final - if she can coontrol her voice, which is getting shakier by the second. Maybe not - her voice is really falling apart now. What a shame!

8 - Slovakia
Let tmou (Fly through darkness)
- male/female duo singing in Slovak(?). Sounds like a ballad, OK - but not my thing.

9 - Denmark
Believe again
- Ronan Keating lookalike singing (if I heard Paddy O'Connell correctly) singing a song by him. it's really a very nice ballad and as the singer is very attractive could do well with yoounger females (and gays of ocurse!). Should get to final, I think, if there is any justice.

10 - Slovenia
Love Symphony
- rather a dramatic orchestral introduction; violins, oboes, a sort of balkan gypsy song, tuneful and nice, sung not in English. Decent female singer we hardly have seen yet - she is a rather attractive blond. Not a bad effort.

11 - Hungary
Dance with me
- very sexy male singer with equally-attractive female back-up, very trendily dressed. Nice sexy song. Think it will do very well - could be a clubbing song for the summer?

12 - Azerbaijan
Always
- Male/female duo singing lively ballad in English. Both are quite nice-looking in a central-Asian way, trendily dressed. Not bad at all. (Twitter seems to have locked up - I can't post or get the site to refresh - maybe overloaded?

13 - Greece
This is our night
- Sexy slim white-clad man singing a boppy bit of Europop in English with female backing. He can visit me anytime! Might do well - definitely a sexy song with appropriately sexy dance-routine.

14 - Lithuania
Love
- Male singer playiing piano. Also another male and two female backing singers. A romantic ballad, quite lively, though, and quite a nice tune. Will it get thru to final, though? Sung in English and another language, presumably Lithuanian?

15 - Moldova
Hora din Moldova
- lively ballad with female singer and male dancing backers. Sung in Moldovan(?) Not bad!

16 - Albania
Carry me in your dreams
- Nice boppy tune,, she's a pretty girl, but dressed in something like a little girl would wear for a party frock. Rather a weird green-masked/clad spiderman type of backing dancer and two other almost vampire-like fellows. Not a bad tune though, sung in English and very competently performed. Will probably get thru to final.

Twitter is still on the blink! All I get is my homepage intermittently and messages that it is overloaded.

17 - Ukraine
Be my Valentine! (Anti-Crisis Girl)
- She's a looker, good voice, singing a sort of rock ballad in English. Quite erotic, with the gladiator-like bare-chested malle dancers accompanying her. A good routine. Should do well, I suspect. There are some good songs tonight, but not as good as the 1st semi-final on Tuesday, in my view.

18 - Estonia
Rändajad
- Lovely, pretty black-haired woman with a great voice singing a dramatic ballad with a definite beat to it. I like it, even if I don't understand it. I think this is a quality song and is being very well-performed. Should certainly get to final.

19 - The Netherlands
Shine
- a rather dated effort. Europop of yesteryear, with glittery-suiited rather past-it looking men and some eccentrically-dressed women. 80s disco music. Will it get the nostalgia vote? Happy and boppy ditty. Maybe deserves to get to the final for being determinedly cheerful.

Update on Spanish TV
- the channel that should have been broadcasting this live carried on broadcasting a live tennis match instead and has only in the last 10 or 15 minutes gone over to broadcasting this, presumably a time-delayed recording, so we won't be voting in Spain for quite a while I suspect. I have no idea how this works, for the Spanish votes to be counted.

Voting
- none in Spain???? It should have been on TVE2 earlier (from 9pm CET), but they continued with a live tennis match until after 10pm so we are only now (as I type this at 11pm) on number 13 - Greece. Unless it was on another TV channel I don't get, but I do get most of the channels on digital TV so have no idea what happened.

2nd Semi-final Qualifiers
As they're being voted through:
Azerbaijan
Croatia
Ukraine
Lithuania
Albania
Moldova
Denmark
Estonia
Norway
Greece

I'm pleased that none of the real 'duds' got through tonight. I'm sorry, however, that Hungary didn't make it as I thought it was a very good effort and after Greece (and Germany of course!) it was amongst the best for 'male totty', as well as being a pretty good song I thought.

PS/ A reminder of who qualified in the 1st semi-final on Tuesday (in alphabetic order this time):
Armenia
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Finland
Iceland
Israel
Malta
Portugal
Romania
Sweden
Turkey

- plus the 5 pre-qualified countries who will be in the final, comprising the 'big 4' because of their major financial contribution to funding the whole event, plus of course the winner last year and the host of this year's competition, Russia, all in alphabetic order):
France
Germany
Russia
Spain
United Kingdom


Next stop Saturday for the final!

- that's it from me for Eurovision tonight (probably - lol)!

Elgin hospital closes two wards after Clostridium difficile deaths

Dr Gray's hospital in Elgin has been obliged to close two wards after two deaths and 12 other positive tests for superbug Clostridium difficile. Six people remain in quarantine there. Two strains of the infection have been detected, indicating that different sources may be responsible.

NHS Grampian have arranged for "acutely-ill patients to be transferred to hospitals in Aberdeen and Inverness".

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Eurovision 2009 Moscow - 1st semi-final



This post will be re-published after each country's contestant has performed. The official Eurovision website is here. I can't see which channel if any it's being broadcast on in Spain (all the channels seeem to be covering a live debate in the Spanish parliament in Madrid, so I'm watching it on BBC3 from the UK.

Contestants this evening, and my thoughts on their efforts are as follows:

1 - Montenegro
Just get out of my life
- a woman singing and doing a dance-routine with a man. Not a bad example of 'Europop'; her voice isn't terribly strong (a little off-tune), but it's a lively attractive song. Sung in English.

2 - Czech Republic
Aven Romale
- sort of comedy gypsy-song, sung in English by an moustachioed man with backing group. Quite amusing and clever, but I doubt if it's really Eurovision material.

3 - Belgium
Copycat
- Elvis lookalike with slicked-back hair performing in English a lively 'boppy' song; not bad and I suppose it's an original theme. best Belgian song in a long time, I think. Should, in a fair world, do quite well.

4 - Belarus
Eyes that never lie
- blond man wearing tight white suit and bare chest under his zippered jacket singing in English quite a lively ballad. Starts off very 'cheesily', but gets a bit better. Not really too bad, I suppose, but a little over the top and not really my taste. Suspect it will go well in Eastern Europe, though.

5 - Sweden
La Voix
- blond Scandinavian beauty (female) with a lovely effortless, ethereal voice singing with a female backing group. It's a really nice ballad. Should do well. A class act.

6 - Armenia
Jan Jan (Nor Par)
- dramatic female group singing what is I take it traditional style of Armenian music, but jazzed-up a little and sung in English. It's really rather catchy and not at all bad, but I do wonder if it isn't just a little too different to be successful in Eurovision.

7 - Andorra
La Teva Decisio (Get a life)
- a red-haired woman with a female backing group. First ever entry from Andorra I think. Not bad, her voice was a little shaky, but she's turning it around. It's a nive 'boppy' song and is certainly the style of music for a traditional Europop effort - not bad at all.

8 - Switzerland
The highest heights
- lank-haired man with maale backing group. Song could be OK, but is being poorly-performed as singer's voice is weak and off-tune. Sorry - a thumbs-down from me.

9 - Turkey
Dum Tek Tek
Turkish version of Europop by a dramatic red-clad mainly female group, with one man. Slight middle-eastern elements, but jazzed-up to appeal to a wider European audience. I rather like it, it's catchy and being well-performed; now there's a sexy dance going on with the lead-signer and another male sort of acrobat-dancer. pretty good I'd say.

10 - Israel
There must be another way
- a Israeli-Arab and Jewish joint effort as as female duo sung in English, Hebrew and Arabic. It's quite tuneful and not at all bad. Morally I'd like it to do well, specially given the title of the song, which is pretty much what the song is about in the context of that troubled country. If it gets through to the final (and I think it should) I'd hope it'd do pretty well.

11 - Bulgaria
Illusion
- male singer with female backing group, dressed in some kind of colourful robes and cloaks. It's a tuneful catchy tune sung mainly in English with sort of Bulgarian elements and he has a really good voice. It's an unusual song, quite dramatic, but might do pretty well.

12 - Iceland
Is it true?
- a woman singing in English with a female backing group and male instrumentalists, singing a lovely ballad. She has an excellent voice, she's absolutely in control and confident. A pleasure to watch professionals at work. They're all, male and female, nice looking, too, which certainly can't hurt. Definitely my favourite so far.

13 - FYR Macedonia
Neshto shto ke ostane
- two long-haired male leads (twin brothers, apparently) and male backing group, all good-looking men (yum!) singing presumably in Serbo-Croat(?); it's a good lively rock-ballad, quite tuneful and pretty well-performed. Obviously I have no idea what it is about, but will probably do well in both eastern and western Europe as they are easy on the eye and the ear.

14 - Romania
The Balkan Girls
- think a singing troupe of 'Varoomshkas' or 'Amazons' - all very pretty and the song is quite fun and lively (sung in English). It should do well - there are quite a few good songs, so it's going to be difficult to choose; although as i don't know if it's being broadcast in Spain (or on which channel) I've no idea how I can vote in any case.

15 - Finland
Lose Control
- funky rock song in English, with a female and male lead singer (both very trendy and nice-looking) and assorted male/female backing. The song doesn't appeal to me, but it is well-performed and may well appeal across Europe; it's quite a sophisticated performance I think.

16 - Portugal
Todas as ruas do amor
- female singer with nice instrumental backing (guitars, flute[?] and accordion). Unfortunately her voice is no good even though it seems quite a nice ditty - sun in Portuguese. Doubt if it will get too many votes.

17 - Malta
What if we?
- lovely voice from a female (rather plump) singer. She started off a little shakily, but soon got into her stride. It's rather a nice ballad, very traditional and quite catchy - probably not right for modern Eurovision I suspect. No doubt will get many votes from the UK as usual and deservedly so.

18 - Bosnia & Herzegovina
Bistra voda
- sung in Serbo-Croat(?), by a male lead, male/female all regency-garbed in pale cream - all nice-looking. Quite a nice song, and although his voice is good, it's a little weak at times. Not rubbish by any means, so it will probably do very well amongst neighbouring countries where this style of song probably appeals more than it does to me.

Voting
Right - all the performances are over and the voting will soon begin. I now understand (see comments) that Spain are voting on Thursday, not tonight. If I could have voted these would have been my top choices:
- Sweden, Iceland and FYR Macedonia (probably the second although I liked the first too);
- closely followed by Israel, Romania and Finland.

Now I'll just hold fire until I see how the voting goes.

Update on Spanish TV
One channel has now switched away from the live debate in parliament in Madrid and they seem to be running through many of Thursday evening's songs from the 2nd semi-final; we've just had the Greek entry and the lead-singer is one sexy man. All interspersed with some of the best songs from previous years - softening us up for Thursday, no doubt. We've just had the belgian winner from 1958 I think, sung live in the studio by the orignal artists, now its someone called Johnny Logan from Ireland in [year not known] - song is 'Hold me Close', also live in studio by the man himself. Now we're on to 1979 with the Spanish entry, followed by 1975. All good fun.

1st Semi-final Qualifiers
As they're being voted through:
Turkey
Sweden
Israel
Portugal
Malta
Finland
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Romania
Armenia
Iceland

- most of those I can live with, although I'm sorry FYR Macedonia didn't make it, and a little sorry that Armenia and Portugal did.

- next stop Thursday for the 2nd semi-final - WHEN I WILL BE ABLE TO VOTE.

Eurovision 2009 - scorecards for semi-finals



You can download scorecards for this evening's first semi-final (begins in 10 minutes) and for the second semi-final on Thursday 14th May through the link here - the scorecards are in .PDF format for easy printing. A link to download the scorecard for the final on Saturday 16th May will appear there in due course, once the finalists going through from the two semi-finals are known.

I'll be blogging both semi-finals, although perhaps not entirely 'live', but I'll be doing my best

Blogger who's a "little bit homophobic" bores on with his petty prejudices

(Please see the PS/ at the end)

God! I thought I had got over this fellow's witterings.

Yesterday he wades into the debate about a gay Church of Scotland minister who is suffering some opposition to him taking up his new appointment in Aberdeen and comes up with this nonsense:


"As far as I am aware, within most religious circles it is (to put it mildly) frowned upon to be gay. A dead homosexual approaching St Peter at the gates of heaven will have his or her angel wings on a very shoogly peg, or so the apparent religious teachings would have us believe, Church of Scotland included.

"So if religion is inflexible in its intolerance of homosexuality, why should it be any more flexible in its intolerance of homosexual clergymen?

"Centuries old religion isn't the kind of thing you get involved with to try to change from within like your local Rotary Society. If you don't like the rules, join a different club.

"I'm with the conservative religious zealots on this one, and that's saying something!"

- actually, it's not saying anything we didn't already know - that he's highly prejudiced on this topic. As for the sentence "If you don't like the rules, join a different club.", if this idiotic statement was to be taken seriously, and applied, then folks like him wouldn't be supporting a fundamental change in our 'club' (aka 'The United Kingdom') by supporting the SNP aim of independence, they'd be going somewhere else and setting up their own 'club', just like the Pilgrim Fathers (also religious obsessives, of course) did some centuries ago. Again by this idiotic argument we'd still have slavery today - it's like something out of the script of Pleasantville where the burghers of that fine town believed in the 'non-changeist view of society'. Now I don't share the views of SNP supporters, that's no secret, but I don't dismiss their [to me 'crackpot'] ideas by telling them to cease and desist and go someplace else, just because I happen to disagree with them.

He told us last year he's a teensy-weensy bit 'homophobic' - I'd say it's rather [a lot] more than that. See the follow-up post to that one, too. And as usual with this person, when challenged by a commenter, he quickly admits how half-baked are his arguments (and not just on 'gay issues', but a whole lot more besides) and how IGNORANT he is - and he sure is! It truly astonishes me how much he is respected as a blogger. He tells us he is an accountant and prides himself on his statistical prowess, which he uses to try and forecast electoral outcomes - fair enough, good show ol' bean. However on a lot of matters where opinions and half-decently thought-through ideas are concerned, well I'm afraid he's basically a modern-day version of Alf Garnett, but this time with tartan trews. I hadn't been aware of his religion until recently, but he revealed here that he is in fact a Roman Catholic - this may help to explain some of his core beliefs, I suppose. Granted he is open about some of his prejudices and for that I applaud him [no, really], but that doesn't mean I'm going to ignore his basic prejudices when evaluating his seemingly oh-so-rational arguments.

I was brought up in the Church of Scotland, as it so happens, although I have a pretty mixed family background in religious terms, but I realised I did not believe in 'sky fairies' a long time ago. Quite apart from the fact I'm a gay man, I also sometimes wear clothing made of two different types of thread and do love a plate of oysters - watch this if you wonder why all this is relevant. If a religious organisation wants to proselytise any sort of weird idea, fair enough, provided they keep out of matters affecting an individual's rights in civil society, such as in this case employment matters or other fundamental rights; the Church of Scotland is very anxious to retain its charitable status (which inevitably affects me as a tax-payer) so I think, quite frankly, they should consider very carefully how they deal with employment matters. Why should it get a free ride if it allows prejudiced employment practices in its own organisation?

Now, should I press the 'publish' button on this ad hominem diatribe I've just written? Probably not, but I've had just about enough of pig-ignorance masquerading as sweet reason from this guy, so I'm letting my baser instincts have the say on this. No doubt I'll be back for more in due course, unfortunately, the next time something he writes causes a 'jaw-drop' reaction on the part of this particular reader.

PS/ (added 7 June 2009) As a belated postscript, a commenter has said this about me:

"You are seriously hard work!"

- I don't deny it, and frankly in the case of not-so-subtle homophobes such as the subject of this article, and his apologists, being 'awkward' and 'hard work' is a positive necessity! To be clear, I regret not one word of what I have written here and I think my interpretation of the comments is absolutely 'spot on'. And this is my blog so I am totally unapologetic about having the last word here on this matter as the comments are now beyond the period when all require my prior approval before appearing.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Expense fiddling and the little tricks MPs play

It's been most amusing reading the revelations appearing in the Telegraph these past few days about how our MPs spend our money, supposedly on 'our behalf'. MPs fought tooth and nail to keep details of their expenses secret and it wasn't until the Speaker [of the House of Commons] lost a court case that MPs realised the game was up. The details are due to be published officially in a couple of months time (safely after the European elections and when Parliament is in recess for the summer, of course) and there have been rumours for weeks that 'unredacted' (i.e. complete and 'uncensored') lists were being hawked around the press. Whatever. A few days ago the Telegraph newspaper published details of expenses claims of senior Cabinet members although it has refused to discuss how it came by the lists. Although there has been much huffing and puffing today from government ministers, there have been no allegations that any of what the Telegraph has published is not in accordance with the actualité (as the late Alan Clark might have put it), even if there have been some claims that individual expenses have been 'misinterepreted'; well, they would say that, wouldn't they? This brief video sums up very wittily what has been going on (I'll observe only that the potential accusation of anti-semitism inherent in the soundtrack used has been noted and considered worthwhile to risk in the circumstances):



I have neither the time nor the inclination [any more] to write multiple posts daily on this matter; when I first began blogging 7 years ago I probably would have done so, but there are now so many bloggers writing copiously and well on this and other matters that I am content to leave the vast bulk of this necessary chronicling of events to others and instead content myself with occasional observations on some of these matters and on a few other more quirky topics that come to my attention, but that others mainly haven't bothered with or been aware of. This time I'll content myself with including below a list of links to various of the Telegraph's articles on MP expenses over the past few days; it is clear that some of the 'revelations' are much more serious (and evidence a level of corruption much deeper) than others and that a few of the facts so far revealed would seem to suggest that for the MPs concerned their political careers should, in any sane and just world, be over. So far the main spotlight has been turned on the Labour Party, with a few Conservative MPs and Sinn Fein MPs coming under scrutiny too, but I've no doubt that the Conservatives, LibDems and others will receive their due attention in coming days, or at least I certainly hope they do.

My Telegraph list of links:
(First published: 7 May 2009)
MPs' expenses: how Brown and his Cabinet exploit expenses system
(First published: 8 May 2009)
Expenses: How MP's expenses became a hot topic
MPs' expenses: how Gordon Brown and his Cabinet exploit expenses system
MPs' expenses: Gordon Brown forced to defend allowances system
Harriet Harman forced to defend MPs' expenses
MPs' expenses: Gordon Brown cleaning contract
Charles Clarke demands immediate publication of MPs' claims
MPs' expenses: 'lack of moral leadership' revealed by politicians
Gordon Brown blames expenses row on 'the system'
MPs' expenses: Commons authorities ask police to investigate leak
Gordon Brown refuses to defend Cabinet ministers over MPs' expenses
Tony McNulty could face police investigation over MPs' expenses
Barbara Follett: Millionaire MP's £25,000 expenses on security over safety fears
MPs' expenses: Four ministers who milked the system
MPs’ expenses: MPs condemn parliamentary move to call in police over leaked expenses
Phil Hope: How did he fit all this into one tiny flat?
MPs expenses: The best of the begging letters
Immigration Minister claimed for women's clothing and panty liners
MPs’ expenses: Police consider whether to hunt source of leaks
(First published: 9 May 2009)
MPs’ expenses: Ministers have presided over 'scandals of shamelessness'
Harriet Harman: Deputy leader unable to claim second home cash
Gordon Brown: Cleaning cash for brother was legitimate
MPs’ expenses: Few checks on the honourable members
MPs expenses: Questions and answers
MPs’ expenses: 'Publication is defining moment of sorry saga'
Keith Vaz: £75,000 for a flat 12 miles from home
Vera Baird: Solicitor General tried to claim cost of Christmas tree and decorations
MPs expenses: Michael Martin's four-year battle to keep the details secret
Ben Bradshaw: Mortgage bill paid on home part-owned by boyfriend (* - see at end)
Margaret Moran: Second home 'flip' paid £22,500 dry rot bill: MPs' expenses
Barry Gardiner: £198,500 profit from a flat renovated with MPs' expenses
Alex Salmond claimed £800 for food on MPs' expenses during recess
MPs' expenses: minister Kitty Ussher used allowances for £20,000 house make-over
MPs' expenses: Sinn Fein claimed £500,000 for second homes
John Reid claimed for a pouffe and a glittery loo seat on MPs' expenses
(First published: 10 May 2009)
Iain Wright and Tom Watson lavish £100,000 on shared central London flat on MPs' expenses
Kevin Brennan had £450 for television delivered to family home on MPs' expenses
MPs' expenses: Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, condemns 'culture of abuse'

A few comments:
- note how a very early reaction was for the 'Parliamentary authorities' to call in the police to try and find the 'leaks', so outraged were they that a light had been shone on their corrupt 'shenanigans'
- quickly followed by a rather less knee-jerk reaction when some MPs realise that the public reaction is fury, mingled with derisive laughter, at their initial squeals condemning the Telegraph;
- the 'Dear leader' quickly tries to distance himself from the goings-on amongst his 'underlings'. True leadership indeed!
- the bald-faced effrontery of some of the claims and attempts to justify them stretches credulity way beyond reasonable limits;

(*) - there have been some comments in the media today that this story may reflect some kind of 'homophobic' prejudice on the part of the Telegraph; my own view is that whilst the copy-writer has given the piece a title with somewhat unpleasant overtones in this respect no doubt for pithiness and to catch the eye, the way the article is written is not in any way 'homophobic'.