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

Monday 30 June 2003

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Week 2

Another good week. Despite being away for most of the week, and indulging in the odd glass of white wine, I lost a further 3kg - weight now 91.5kg. Total weight loss so far is 6.5kg (14.3lb). Waist is again down - by 1 1/2 inches to 41 inches (btw I miscalculated last week - loss then was 2 1/2 inches, not 3 1/2). Losses in other areas too, with a specially good cumulative 1.6 inches from my thighs. I'll continue with induction for at least a further week, although I think I will probably do it for a minimum of 2 months - I quite enjoy it and am never hungry, which for me is pretty amazing.

Sunday 29 June 2003

Homosexuality and the Church of England

I have deliberately posted nothing so far about the crisis currently playing itself out in the Church of England. Partly this is because I am not a member of that Church, so what it chooses to do is only of peripheral interest to me. On the other hand, I have over the months posted quite a lot about the scandals affecting the Roman Catholic Church in various countries (for example the UK, US and Canada) - and I'm not a member of that Church either.

Why the difference? Well, it's really boredom with the attitudes of many so-called 'good' church-going people and the fact that I find it difficult to remain engaged in arguments which seem so sterile and so repetitive. However, I will make a very few remarks about some of my feelings about this whole fiasco.

The Church of England a while back adopted a policy that whilst active homoseuxal activity was acceptable (or at least tolerated) for the Church's lay members, it is not acceptable for the clergy who are expected to be celibate if they are homosexual. This seems like a crazy and unworkable policy to me, but that's the way it is. The logic behind tolerating what are classified by Church doctrine as 'sinful' activities by the laity, whilst insisting that similar behaviour by the clergy is forbidden, is very confused - in my humble opinion.

The current crisis centres around a person called Canon Dr Jeffrey John, who has been named as the next Bishop of Reading by the Bishop of Oxford. Dr John has been in a monogamous homosexual relationship with a partner (also a clergyman) for well in excess of twenty years, but has stated that his relationship has been purely 'platonic' for many years. So, theoretically at least, his current lifestyle for many years would seem not to contravene Church policy. So-called 'evangelists', however, don't see it that way - and of course they mostly deny they are 'homophobic'. I find it difficult to take such denials very seriously.

Certain parts of the Church of England and some of its overseas dioceses are threatening to break away and to take the assets they control with them. It seems this would be a major blow in terms of loss of personnel and in loss of financial resources. Far be it from me to interfere in the internal affairs of what is after all just one of many religious 'cults', but I'd suggest that whilst the Church of England within the UK should take note of what some of its overseas dioceses are saying, their decision must be based upon the situation in this country. One of the strong objections, for example, comes from Jamaica - a society notorious for having vurulently anti-homosexual attitudes. I really don't see why a modern western European nation should take much heed of the views of a culture with such wildly different social attitudes on many matters.

Unfortunately the Church of England occupies a special position in the UK in that it is the 'established' religious denomination in England and Wales, the major component of the UK and the leader of this particular 'cult' (the Archbishop of Canterbury) by tradition sits in the upper parliamentary chamber, the House of Lords. It is also a fact that this 'cult' has a drastically diminished membership in recent decades, but it continues to exercise an influence upon our social climate which is now quite out of balance.

The argument for 'dis-establishment' becomes stronger by the day, in my view. The same can be said of the Church of Scotland within Scotland. If the members of these 'cults' wish to live by certain codes of conduct, then good luck to them, provided they do not contravene civil law in so doing. However, I stronlgy resent the influence these 'cults' have on the whole population, whether members of these Churches or not, for example in gaining exemption from very recent legislation guaranteeing non-discrimination against homosexuals in their employment.

That is really all I have to say about this matter - for the present, at least.
I've been away ....

I've been away for most of the past week and the few days I have been here I have been much too busy to post anything here. Sorry about that. Anyway, I've had a very enjoyable time down in Edinburgh this past week - it's nice to be in a relatively major city occasionally - there's a lot more going on than in Nairn, which is a very charming place, but is of course rather slower-paced.

Sunday 22 June 2003

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Week 1

A reasonably successful week. I experienced the usual 'withdrawal' symptoms when starting on a diet, whether as a result of cutting-out caffeine or sugars (from carbohydrates) is not entirely clear, but these had diminished by day 4. The most amazing thing with this diet is, however, the diminution in hunger pangs - I have eaten NOTHING outside of normal 'Atkins Induction-style' mealtimes and have had no particular desire to do so. Apparently this is because of the severe reduction in carbohydrate intake and the consequent reduction in blood sugar and elimination of 'spikes' in blood sugar levels. Weight is down 3.5kg from 98kg to 94.5kg, a reduction of 7.7lb on the week - probably about 2 to 2.5kg is water reduction, normal in the first week of most diets. More remarkable, though, is the 3 1/2 inches waist reduction and reductions in other key body areas (chest, hips, thighs).

Saturday 21 June 2003

EU Constitution - we need one, but Giscard d'Estaing's effort ain't it

My reading of the draft treaty produced by the EU Convention, led by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, left me feeling that the brief of codifying, and most importantly clarifying, the existing treaties into one document and setting out a 'blue print' for the future of the EU had not been met. Rather it seems to me to be an immensely complicated document which would be impenetrable to all but a very small percentage of the citizens of the EU. Unlike the admirably simple, and mercifully brief, US Constitution. Undoubtedly the fact that Giscard d'Estaing comes from a country that produced the Code Napoleon, and is now on its fifth constitution in just over two centuries, has been a major factor in this urge to further compicate rather than simplify.

The Economist magazine this week suggest that the most suitable destination for this draft EU Constitution Teaty is the waste paper bin - I tend to agree.

The Economist also has a much more detailed analysis in its current online version, although the implication of possible future action for the UK, latent in its final paragraph, is not one I share - even though the possibility of such action is a welcome addition (in my view) to give the whole venture a measure of real democratic accountability, at least potentially:
Is there any way out?
As it happens, there is. The constitution includes the first formal statement that a country can leave the EU. Two years notice is all that is required.

This is one clause that the US Constitution does not possess, so far as I am aware, and is to me its one glaring weakness.

Friday 20 June 2003

Hain edits speech after rebuke from Prime Minister

Peter Hain, speaking in Cardiff this evening, amended his widely trailed speech about possible changes in taxation rates, by denying there are any plans to raise taxes.

Nevertheless his trailed remarks prior to the speech have triggered widespread comments from various Labour-types that they would quite like to tax the rich; I paraphrase, but that is the general tone of the comments by Labour's new generation of class warriors.
Labour tax-raising agenda - the agenda that 'dare not speak its name'

The Labour Leader of the House of Commons (and part-time Welsh Secretary) will this evening give a speech, widely trailed in the media, asking whether raising the top tax rate for those on higher incomes should be considered as a way of allowing those presently caught by the existing 40% top rate to be exempted by raising the threshold for that level of tax. In a BBC Radio4 Today programme interview this morming Peter Hain (see profile) defended his thoughts, whilst confirming that going back to the 'punitive' (98%) rates imposed by previous Labour administrations was 'out of the question'.

The Treasury and Tony Blair (currently in Greece for an EU summit) have reacted angrily to Mr Hain's ideas, saying: "it is Chancellor Gordon Brown who makes decisions on taxation".

In the six years of this Labour Government there have already been large increases in taxation and/or diminution of allowances, to fund a major resdistribution of resources to the state supported sector. Most recently National Insurance (NI) contributions have been raised by 1% (effectively a 10% raise on the current level of that 'tax') and soon after Labour came to power in 1997 the relief on tax for pension contributions was abolished.

The effects of these policies?
- it seems that the effect of the NI contributions raise was not fully factored in when agreeing budgets for the education sector so that despite the much publicised increases in funding many schools throughout the country are having to let go teachers to meet their budget targets.
- the abolition of tax relief on pension contributions in 1997 seems to be a major factor in why many company pension schemes have become so heavily underfunded and why many have been terminated, not just for new employees but in some cases for existing employees, too.

It is obviously highly-embarrassing for the Labour Government that its true agenda has dared to peep into view with Mr Hain floating the idea of raising direct taxation - hence the strong reaction from the Treasury dismissing his ideas, but it is highly-unlikely (in the view of the commentators I have heard today) that Mr Hain would float these ideas without the approval of Downing Street - whether of No 10 or No 11 is moot. Mr Brown has seemingly been very successful in managing the economy sice he became Chancellor in 1997, but that 'seemingly' hides a lot of detail which has begun seriously to affect the economy in a negative manner - for the last year I have been reading analyses of the government's funding and spending programmes and it has been almost universally speculated that tax raises would at some stage become necessary to pay for the spending levels outlined in his Budgets - it seems to me that Mr Hain has revealed what is really going on, probably with the tacit support of certain senior members of the government (Mr Blair?) as a way of exposing the flaws in bitter rival Mr Brown's macro-economics.

Wednesday 18 June 2003

Britain may soon have Gay Partnership legislation

According to the Independent: "A revolutionary Bill giving gay and lesbian partners the same legal rights as married couples will be included in the Queen's Speech with the personal agreement of Tony Blair." I hope this Bill is passed successfully, but I expect that there will be fierce rearguard action by various groups I would describe (well, he would, woudn't he? - Ed) as bigotted and/or homophobic. The coming parliamentary session should be 'interesting' (as the Chinese proverb has it).

The same article also reports that The Employment Equality Regulations 2003 was approved by the House of Commons last night; this outlaws discrimination against homosexuals in the workplace and it is said that the exemptions granted to certain categories of organisation (e.g. religious) are drawn narrowly so that, for example, teachers in religion-denominated schools will be protected. This is obviously very good news indeed, although I hope that practical experience confirms that the exemptions are not used for spurious and homophobic purposes.

Sunday 15 June 2003

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Day 1

I began the Atkins diet 'Induction' stage this morning, after having partially started it yesterday. I had enough in my refrigerator to get started, but did a modest shopping trip more fully based on Atkins principles today. My initial aim is to reduce my weight from its current 98kg to 70-75kg; for a height of 1m70 that will be a lot more reasonable. I hope also to normalise my blood pressure, currently borderline high. I'll comment briefly here on a weekly basis about my progress.

Wednesday 11 June 2003

Trupti Patel cleared of triple child murder

Mrs Trupti Patel, a 35-year old pharmacist from Reading (Berkshire), was today cleared by a jury at her trial for the alleged murder of three of her children between 1997 and 2001. The jury took less than two hours to reach their verdict.

It seems that this disturbing case raises questions which further research may help to answer. Microbiologist Dr David Drucker and colleagues at Manchester University have discovered a faulty gene which means the immune system of some babies doesn't work well enough to fight everyday illnesses. "The baby will respond less well to infection," he said.

It will be recalled that in the recent Sally Clark case (see the earlier article in my main website), in which the mother was accused of murdering two of her children, the jury acquiited Mrs Clark after the prosecution evidence was found to be grotesquely flawed.

Undoubtedly there are cases where mothers do kill their children, but these two cases illustrate vividly how much there is still to learn about the causes of infant deaths.
Deletion from my 'Blogrolling' list

Ziad ( from Koweit hasn't been posting anything recently, really since shortly after the 'end' of the war in Iraq - he said he wouldn't be posting much/at all in future. This is a pity, in my view, but there it is - whilst the link isn't technically 'dead', I'm removing it for the present, but will keep an occasional watch on his blog in case he resumes posting. (I don't like my blogrolling list to be cluttered up with inactive blogs and I'm pretty selective who I include in it anyway - lists with hundreds of links seem pretty pointless to me; who ever has the time to plough through them?)

Tuesday 10 June 2003

Toronto Issues Gay Marriage Licenses After Ruling

Yes!! - read here.
Why capital punishment was, rightly, abolished

The Daily Telegraph reported in today's print edition (online link here) that the 53-year old conviction of George Kelly for murder is likely to be quashed today. Mr Kelly was executed for this crime in March 1950.

I am just watching BBC News 24 and they are reporting that the conviction against Mr Kelly has indeed been quashed, with the usual reason being given that the conviction is now deemed 'unsafe'. (Online link, added shortly afterword, here)

What this means, in plain English, that a 'mistake' was made - although as crucial evidence was withheld by the police (that a statement given to police by a prosecution witness, claiming that a man called Donald Johnson had confessed to the crime to him, had not been disclosed by police) and not shown to the defence, it is not at all clear to me that 'mistake' is quite the right word here.

As Mr Kelly is dead, and has been for 53 years, this is of absolutely no help to him, although it may be of some small comfort to his relatives - for example his daughter Kathleen Hughes who campaigned on his behalf.

Monday 9 June 2003

The buck-passing starts as the Scottish Parliament building fiasco continues

According to the Edinburgh Evening News, “First Minister Jack McConnell has indicated he will back MSPs who want to launch legal action against some of the contractors involved.”

The scrambling begins to try and pin the blame on “contractors who have allowed the costs to reach £375m - almost 10 times the original estimate”. Any action will be brought by the Scottish Parliament as a corporate body under the auspices of its Presiding Officer George Reid MSP (SNP); he took over at the beginning of this parliament from the former Presiding Officer Lord Steel (LibDem). According to the article, it is believed “the corporate body’s case is based on the ‘cast-iron guarantees’ given by contractors that the final cost of the parliament would not exceed £338m.”

I suspect that what this whole mess is indicative of is that those who should have been supervising this expenditure on the taxpayer’s behalf, our Scottish Parliamentary representatives [aka the ‘Corporate Body’], have failed in their duty to do this, probably because many of those involved have never run a business or had any connection of any kind with the non state-funded economy – a consequence of this being that they most probably have little idea of how a commercial contract needs to be drawn up. ‘Corporate governance’ is something with which most have, at best, only a passing acquaintance. Undoubtedly the contracts were not scrutinised adequately by legal experts acting on our, the taxpaying public’s, behalf. Equally undoubtedly, lawyers acting on behalf of the contracting companies involved will not have been so dilatory in their activities, on behalf of their own paymasters.

It is probable, in my view, that ‘corporate fat-cats’ will be held responsible for this out-of-control spending, rather than the managerial incompetence of those charged with protecting our interests – our elected representatives, who should have employed their own experts to negotiate all the contracts on our behalf, with appropriate penalty clauses for non-compliance, having accepted that they did not have the expertise to attempt to do this themselves.

Saturday 7 June 2003

Scottish Parliament building costs escalate - again!

It seems the estimated final cost of building the new Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh has gone up by £37 million to a new total of £375 million. In the Scotland Bill/Act in 1997 the cost was initially estimated to be £40 million.

Prior to the recent Scottish Parliament elections, held in May, the former Presiding Officer (Lord Steel), stated that the total estimated cost at that time contained a margin to cover any future cost escalation, "down to the desks, chairs and light fittings", and would not rise further from its then estimated cost of £338 million (I don't have a link for this - I watched a television interview in which Lord Steel said this and a number of other things).

Now the Scotsman alleges that the latest increase was known prior to the election, and suppressed because it was feared it would affect the outcome of the election.

This is what I suspected all along, but to say so would have seemed like some kind of paranoid fantasy - if it turns out to be true then both the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties will have a lot of explaining to do. They were the two major components of the so-called 'Scottish Constitutional Convention' prior to the devolution referendum in 1997, which drew up the framework for devolution. All connected are now desperately trying to distance themselves from responsibility for the financial forecasts - one wonders whether Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians are so cavalier when spending their own money, rather than our taxes.