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

Saturday, 25 May 2002

President Bush and the 'War on Terrorism'

It's been reported in the past several days that the main players in this effort (mainly the Americans, supported by 'bit-players' such as our own Government) are coming round to the view that removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, an admirable aim in my view, may require much more lengthy preparation and evaluation [of the potential consequences] than seemed to have been the case only a month or so ago.

Some of those I read regularly, notably Andrew Sullivan (link at right) and Mark Steyn [a Canadian commentator syndicated in a number of newspapers], have been writing that they are disappointed at the apparent change - they would prefer 'tough' action sooner, rather than later, if I have read their comments accurately.

Since his somewhat controversial election President Bush has, I think, confounded many of his critics with his level-headed and measured approach to all manner of things, no doubt guided by the sensible (and rival) advice he receives from various of the people in his administration (Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice, for example). So far as his approach to the post-11th September world is concerned, I would say he has generally been 'spot on' - and the realisation of the implications of trying to unseat Saddam Hussein by force are I think beginning to be considered in a way they have been ignored, it would seem, since last September. I lived in Abu Dhabi during the Gulf War of 1990/1991 and well remember my conflicting emotions when the 'coalition forces' (dominated by the US) decided to observe strictly the terms of the UN resolutions which had authorised them to act to reverse the illegal occupation of Koweit, and not press on to Baghdad in an attempt to topple the Iraqi regime. I thought then, and still think, that this was the best opportunity to achieve this [in physical terms], but on balance I think the then President Bush acted correctly. Despite the public posturing sometimes, of various Western leaders, I think that behind-the-scenes calm reflection made them realise that the forces that could be unleashed were they to remove Saddam Hussein by force were ones that they could not hope to predict or control. I strongly suspect that the current US administration is, quietly, trying to look rationally at the way ahead and to calmly assess the implications of any actions they take.

Andrew Sullivan may rail all he likes at the need to rein in what he calls "Islamo-Fascists", but I consider much of his postings on this subject (in contrast to a lot of other sensible things he writes) to be ignorant and silly, even more than they are partisan. Luckily, his counsels appear to be followed only to a very limited degree by those who matter in the US administration.

Mind you, not all that President Bush has done is [in my ever so humble opinion] sensible - the tariffs on steel imports into the US, for example. On the other hand, for a supposed 'hawk' his rapprochement with the Russians under their current leader, President Putin, seem to show progress can be made - it seems that some economic indicators recently in Russia are better than they have been for some years and perhaps Putin, for all his earlier reputation as a hard-line supporter of the status quo, is the man with the intellectual and managerial skills to profit both his country and the wider world.

I haven't posted here, or on my main website, for most of the past week as I've been working on updating the look and functionality of my main website (sort of a 'time for change' as I'll be having my 50th birthday in about a week). I am still not happy with some of what I've done, or what remains to be done, but I think the really hard work is over - until I decide another change is warranted, I suppose.

Wednesday, 15 May 2002

..... but Cy Scott, 18, and his date, Paul Alexander don't

The two were barred from entry to their prom at Robert E. Lee High School near Baton Rouge, Louisiana - even though they had already paid for their tickets.

In explanation, East Baton Rouge Parish said there is an "unwritten rule" that same-sex couples will not be admitted to proms, either as friends or in relationships. Such a blatant example of creating "rules" to bar people that some other people don't like. Homophobia, in other words.


Saturday, 11 May 2002

Marc Hall gets to take his 'beau' to the ball

A judge in Oshawa, Ontario (Canada) has ruled that a gay high school student may take his boyfriend to a school ball, despite the objections of the school board.

Marc, a student at a Roman Catholic high school in Oshawa, had been forbidden to take his boyfriend to the ball because, in the words of the school board: "We do not discriminate against gay students, but we do not agree with a homosexual lifestyle". Such goobledegook! The school board was discriminating against a gay student by forbidding him from taking his boyfriend to the ball and any pretence that it was not doing so defies logic. The school board was simply too cowardly to admit what its real motives are.

Judge McKinnon, in giving his ruling, saw through the school board's homophobia for what it is, and said that Marc may take his boyfriend to the ball. He gave his ruling just a few hours before the ball was due to take place and, for good mesaure, forbade the school from cancelling the ball. Way to go!

Friday, 10 May 2002

Antarctica - "Iceberg 10 times bigger than Manhattan falls into Sea"

US Scientists reported yesterday that a large iceberg fell into the sea in the past two weeks. Full story is on Reuters.

Unlike the shelf which broke away recently (but which was already floating in the ocean), this report seems to indicate that the new ice has fallen into the ocean - perhaps with implications for sea levels around the world. This may be of much more importance than any other story around at the moment if it indicates that things in Antarctica are beginning to move rather faster than is comfortable.

Wednesday, 8 May 2002

Tomorrow is European Union Day

The 9th May is European Union Day; the following text explaining the background to the adoption of this date as 'EU Day', is taken from the EU website:
On the 9th of May 1950, Robert Schuman presented his proposal on the creation of an organised Europe, indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations.
This proposal, known as the "Schuman declaration", is considered to be the beginning of the creation of what is now the European Union. Today, the 9th of May has become a European symbol (Europe Day) which along with the single currency (the euro), the flag and the anthem, identifies the political entity of the European Union. Europe Day is the occasion for activities and festivities that bring Europe closer to its citizens and peoples of the Union closer to one another.

Tuesday, 7 May 2002

More Dutch reactions and news about Fortuyn Assasination

More reactions from Dutch politicians and members of the public in this Reuters report.

Some Dutch reactions to Pim Fortuyn Killing

Radio Netherlands has some initial reaction from Dutch politicians; there are links from this page to other articles about this.

Monday, 6 May 2002

Dutch 'right-wing' politician Pim Fortuyn killed

Mr Fortuyn was killed today whilst leaving a radio station at the Hilversum media centre near Amsterdam, after completing an interview.

Mr Fortuyn recently did well in local government elections in Rotterdam on a platform advocating amongst other things that immigration into Holland cease, particularly in the case of Moslems. He was expected to gain a significant proportion of the votes in the upcoming Dutch general elections.

He differed from some other right-wing politicians in that whilst he called for new immigration to cease, he wanted those already in Holland to stay and become fully integrated into Dutch society. He regarded Islam as a 'backward' religion, perhaps one reason being that homosexuality is regarded as sinful by that religion. However, the Roman Catholic religion likewise regards homosexuality (or, at the very least, its practise) as sinful. Mr Fortuyn was himself gay, and cared not who knew it. More importantly, he was formerly a Professor of Psychology and whilst new to the Dutch political scene had quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with - much to the consternation of the Dutch political establishment which had earlier tried to dismiss him as an unimportant maverick.

Predictably, Andrew Sullivan (link at right), focusses on Fortuyn's views on Islam to indulge in yet one more rant about that religion. May I remind Mr Sullivan that Yasser Arafat, whether or not he is a supporter (or instigator) of terrorism, and he may well be (if the evidence Ariel Sharon is apparently presenting to the US government is found to be conclusive), is in fact a Christian and not a Moslem, as is a significant section of the Palestinian population.

As a gay man I deplore the attitude toward homosexuality of Islam, but having lived in a large number of Moslem countries in the Middle East, I found it no more a barrier there, in practise, than in any other country in which I have lived, whether notionally capitalist or communist (and I have lived in a number of such countries, too). Catholicism, and indeed many Protestant sects, likewise deplore homosexuality.

As for the degree to which Mr Fortuyn's policies were 'right wing', the fact that he happened to have been gay is no help - gays can hold views just as extreme or liberal as any other section of the population. Mr Fortuyn was obviously a highly-sophisticated individual and it may well have been an over-simplification to consider him right wing in the same way as Jean-Marie Le Pen or Jorg Haider, for example, but his gayness is no indication by itself that he was/was not every bit as extreme as some believed him to have been. I have read quite a lot about him in the last month or so and still could not make my mind up on the matter.

Mr Fortuyn's murder is certainly deplorable, specially in a traditionally peacable nation such as Holland (even if its policies in its erstwhile colony Indonesia, a largely Moslem nation, were equally deplorable) and it is at least possible that there will be further repercussions for Dutch democracy. I share Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok's shock at such an outrage.

Sunday, 5 May 2002

FURTHER UPDATE - Ann Winterton and “10 a penny” Pakistanis

It seems that Iain Duncan Smith offered Ann Winterton the opportunity to resign over her racist joke, but she refused, opining that her apology was sufficient. So she was sacked.

What seems to flow from this is that my suggestion that there would have been no apology had someone present not chosen to make it public is 'spot on'! Ms Winterton obviously apologised only because she had been exposed to public opprobrium, but her refusal to go gracefully indicates to me that she doesn't really get it - she doesn't really understand that to make such racist remarks, under the guise of humour, is unacceptable - specially so in a senior politician.

The chairman of the rugby club where she was speaking has said he does not really understand what all the fuss is about, in effect. What a sad commentary!

Le Pen concedes victory to Chirac

It seems that computer estimates are that in excess of 80% of those who voted cast their vote for Chirac; it is thought that many left-wingers backed Jacques Chirac to avoid any risk of Le Pen doing well. Turnout is thought to be very high.

Great news!

No doubt normal hostilities between the left- and right-wing Parties will resume for the Parliamentary elections in France next month.

UPDATE - Ann Winterton and “10 a penny” Pakistanis

Just a few moments ago it was announced that Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative Party Leader, has summarily sacked Ann Winterton for what he describes as her 'offensive' and 'racist' comments - WELL DONE!

I don't think a lot of Iain Duncan Smith, but I acknowledge that on race issues he has in recent times been unambiguous. Now if only he would adopt a similar stance with regard to the homophobia in his Party.

Ann Winterton and “10 a penny” Pakistanis

Ann Winterton, a senior Front-bench spokeswoman for the Conservative Party is reported to have alluded to “10 a penny” Pakistanis as the punchline to a joke she told in a speech at a rugby club dinner. Various people, including the usual bunch of Labour Party attention-seekers (Ann Cryer MP for one), have categorised her remarks as ‘racist’ and have called for her resignation; let’s examine this shall we?

The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has categorised Ms Winterton’s remarks as “unfortunate”, but has not called for her to resign; I think this is a balanced and accurate assessment. Her remarks were indeed unfortunate and it would have been far better if another subject could have been found for her joke, specially after local elections in which three BNP councillors were elected last Thursday and the second round of the French Presidential elections today, when the alternative to Presidential ‘immune from prosecution’ incumbent Jacques Chirac is the far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen. However, Ms Cryer’s Party ‘band-standing’ is way over the top and diminishes the good work she has done in the past in relation to gay rights; a sense of proportion please – if one were to say that in Britain whites are 100 or 1000 a penny, it might be considered slightly bizarre, perhaps unkind, but hardly racist and certainly not (so far as the numbers are concerned, if not the price attributed to them) inaccurate.

However, Ms Cryer does have a point, perhaps, when she asks: “What are they saying in private?” and it is in this context, and the context in which Ms Winterton made the remark, as part of a joke at the expense of Pakistanis, that justifies the classification of the remarks as ‘unfortunate’ by the CRE. It is easy to use ‘minorities’ or ‘outsiders’ as the butt of humour, and possibly Ms Winterton, thinking that she was speaking at a private function amongst members of a rugby club who might perhaps acquiesce, or share, her somewhat disparaging joke at the expense of a minority, allowed the normal rules of ‘polite society’ to be bent somewhat. She has since apologised profusely for the remarks, but one of course strongly suspects that this is solely because someone present took exception to the joke and chose to make it public.

At the very least Ms Winterton is guilty of a lack of political sensibility, or in colloquial parlance ‘nous’, but more seriously I think what it betrays is a mindset which thinks that it is acceptable to make minorities the object of humour in a negative way, to point them up as ‘other’ – it betrays, I strongly suspect, what she thinks [and what she assumed her audience would think] in her innermost self about some groups of people who are ‘different’ or distinct in one way or another.

I think such views are regrettably quite commonplace amongst many British people, and certainly amongst many members of the Conservative Party, but probably amongst many members of the Labour Party and other mainstream Parties, too, so no Party should attempt to make political ‘capital’ out of this – trying to pretend otherwise is shoddy. What it does point up is the need to examine one’s views dispassionately – it’s not freedom of speech which is the problem (I strongly support the right to hold unpleasant or unpopular views), but the fact that such views are rather more commonplace than many appear prepared to accept or deal with.

Saturday, 4 May 2002

Catholic church in US pulls out of agreement on compensation of paedophilia victims

The BBC (and other major news services) report that the finance council of the Catholic church in the archdiocese of Boston is pulling out of an agreement to compensate 86 alleged victims of paedophilia in the sex abuse scandal involving defrocked priest John Geoghan. The council cite the need to conserve funds to meet payments to other victims of paedophilia at the hands of Church personnel and which are likely to arise in future.

In this connection, Father Paul Shanley was arrested on Thursday in southern Califormia. He has waived his right to refuse extradition to Massachusetts.

What this will mean is that instead of the Church agreeing to out of court settlements, it may well be that major court cases against the Church and various former and current personnel will be undertaken.The Church is faced with a massive dilemna – continue to agree to out of court settlements which will quickly deplete the Church’s resources, or wait for alleged victims to commence legal proceedings and risk massive punitive awards being granted against it. One of the most despicable aspects of this latest development is that alleged victims will now likely be forced to submit to cross-examination in court if they wish to proceed with claims – what the Church seems to be hoping, I suspect, is that many of the alleged victims will not wish to face the trauma of re-living the abuse they suffered as children in court and will not proceed – my already low opinion of the Catholic Church and its monstrous attempts at a cover-up of this scandal has just fallen a good deal further.

The ‘head in the sand’ press releases issued by the Vatican after the visit of all US Cardinals to The Holy See recently (see earlier article) may well be rebounding on the Church even more quickly than I could have imagined.

The Church richly deserves whatever sanctions will flow from its past and present criminal misconduct.

Friday, 3 May 2002


The BNP, considered by most people to be a right-wing, racist and ‘fascist’ Party (and they are homophobic, too!), have won 3 of the 45 seats in the local elections held yesterday (2 May 2002) in Burnley, Lancashire in the north of England.

This is a pretty disgusting result, and one wonders what the good people of Burnley can have been thinking of. Apparently one of the Wards to which a BNP councillor has been elected is described as a middle-class and prosperous one. This should have come as no surprise, in my view – despicable views are not the province of any one socio-economic group and it is a delusion to have believed they were.

Whilst it is awful what has happened, it should not be overblown – I doubt if 3 out of 45 councillors will be able to do more than be a pin-prick in local decision-making. On the other hand, the BNP came 2nd in a number of other Wards where it had a candidate, so it would be wise not to be complacent.

Burnley, where the council is heavily dominated by Labour councillors, was the scene of clashes between white and Asian youths last summer.