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

Wednesday 28 May 2003

EU – European Convention – Draft Constitution

The European Convention, headed by former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, published Volume I, Revised text of part one of the proposed Treaty to establish a Constitution for the European Union (document CONV 724/03) on 26th May 2003. You can download the full text of this document and other texts in draft format, in English, by visiting the EU European Convention website and clicking on the relevant links from that page. (NB/ All documents appear to be in PDF format so you will require a PDF reader to access them; if you do not already have this, it is available for free download from The documents are also available in the other official languages if the EU, if you require these.

Whilst I am generally in favour of further integration within the European Union, it is inevitable that there will be much ‘horse-trading’ between the Member States (present and prospective) before compromises are reached allowing some form of revised Treaty establishing the EU Constitution to be adopted by the member States.

Within the UK there is already much debate about precisely what the Constitution will mean for British sovereignty; in other Member States, specially some of those with smaller populations, there is a fear that the establishing of a fixed Presidency (rather than the rotating six-monthly Presidencies we have at present) will reduce their importance and ability to influence events when compared with member States with larger populations.

The other major EU-related debate within the UK at present relates to whether we should adopt the Euro € as our currency; again, I am generally in favour of this, but I certainly recognise that our adoption of the common currency would have major impact on the management of the British economy in terms of interest rates, employment levels and competitivity. It is good that we are having the debate as, perhaps, some of those countries which have already joined have begun to realise (for example, Germany with its high unemployment levels or Ireland with its high levels of inflation).

The British Labour government of Tony Blair has adopted the position, at present, that adoption of the Constitutional Treaty does not require a referendum and that as a ‘representative democracy’ it is more appropriate for this decision to be taken by Parliament, because the general public would not be in a position to judge the issue on its merits. The government further states that the Constitutional Treaty is merely a ‘tidying up’ of the present position by consolidating existing Treaties into one document. I find the basic premise of these arguments to be wrong (not to say outrageous); if the British people are not considered competent to judge such matters then there really seems little point in having a vote at all. No, this matter needs to be decided by all of us, and we must all be prepared to accept the outcome, whatever it is, whether it represents our own views or not. This is the difference between a democracy and a dicatorship, Mr Blair.

Saturday 24 May 2003

Congratulations to Turkey - Eurovision Song Contest Winners for 2003!!

I think the winning song was among the top three songs of the evening - so, in my humble opinion, the result is reasonably fair - or as fair as these things ever are.

The one country that this year received NO votes was, of course, the United Kingdom. A very unusual occurrence. However, there is one comment I have to make - it was a pretty awful song; personally, I voted it 4th from the bottom, so at that level I think it is reasonably fair.

The more important reason, however, why 'we' received NO votes this year had nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the entry, but had everything to do with a certain recent military adventure in which the United Kingdom participated - of course, I refer to the war to liberate Iraq from the thuggish Ba'ath regime of Saddam Hussein.

In summary, the Eurovision Song Contest is a bit of fun - or that's the way I look at it. It is a small price to pay, to have received NO votes, for having participated with our good allies the United States of America in the successful effort to remove Saddam Hussein.

Once again, though - sincere congratulations to Turkey!! Next year, Ankara (or Istanbul?).

Wednesday 21 May 2003

Free at last! – Juad Amir Sayed emerges after 21 years in hiding in Iraq

Juad entombed himself in a basement ‘cell’ in his family home in Karada (a village about 90 miles south-east of Baghdad) in December 1981, after deserting from the Iraqi army and failing in attempts to flee across the border to Iran, a cousin with whom he hoped to travel having been executed in Baghdad.

He emerged soon after hearing about the toppling of the statue in Firduus Square of the deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on 9th April. Only his mother (Aziza Masak Dahish), who passed food through a trap-door, and four siblings, knew of his presence.He kept in touch with the news outside by listening to the Arabic service of the BBC World Service on the radio and headphones he had with him in his hiding place.

A tragic, but nevertheless heart-warming tale – read more in this Daily Telegraph article.

Tuesday 20 May 2003

The ‘Fog of War’ and honesty, or the lack of it, in war reporting

Last Sunday’s BBC television programme ‘War Spin’ by reporter John Kampfner has attracted a lot of attention from bloggers. A large part of the programme focussed on the events surrounding the rescue of US Pfc Jessica Lynch, who had been captured early in the war and was finally found, thankfully alive and relatively unscathed (physically – who can say what the longer-term emotional effects of captivity will be), in a hospital in an-Nasiriyah.

Speaking for myself, I have no special knowledge of what really happened, but I think that some of the questions raised by Kampfner are interesting, if only to try and understand how the reporting of the war was ‘managed’ on all sides – the Iraqi, of course, but it would be naïve to think [in my ever so humble opinion] that our own side, the US and British, did not indulge in judicious news-management, too. And quite right, say I – it is an integral part of war strategy to ensure that news is presented in a way that helps the war effort of the side issuing the news. I would be amazed, and very upset, if our [the US and British] side had not done this. I am not one of those who think that war reporting should be absolutely open and ‘impartial’ – specially where total openness might place our [US and British] military personnel in danger. 24-hour news reporting is all very well, but only up to a point. For example, the recent ‘revelation’ that CNN in Baghdad, prior to the war, had soft-pedalled reporting of certain aspects of what they knew was occurring in Iraq, for fear of placing some of their local employees in danger from the ‘goons’ of the former Iraqi regime, was no revelation to me. Having lived in some countries that could by no stretch of the imagination be characterised as democracies, of the far-right and the far-left variety, I have some inkling of the powerlessness in the face of absolute state power that citizens of such countries experience – as a foreigner I was to a large extent ‘insulated’ from the capricious nature of state power there, but I knew well that unthinking comments from me might have serious repercussions for our local employees. So CNN’s discretion in Iraq (albeit paradoxical in a news reporting organisation, a paradox which I as a banker was thankfully spared) is very understandable to me, indeed it sounds like common sense.

Some bloggers, though, appear to see things very differently – one of the wonderful features of the internet is the wide variety of viewpoints expressed. It is healthy, speaking personally, to be exposed to so many different interpretations of events – again, some bloggers seem to see things VERY differently.

Now, back to this BBC programme about the events surrounding the rescue of Jessica Lynch.

Andrew Sullivan opines that “John Kampfner's Jessica Lynch scoop falls to pieces”, citing in evidence a CNN interview, by their Leon Harris with Kampfner – the CNN article bears the title “BBC correspondent defends Lynch documentary”. Naturally, Sullivan provides no quotation from said interview in support of his contention, because there is none. I think the CNN interview is very fair; whatever Harris thinks of Kampfner’s contention that the rescue was somehow staged as a way of boosting US domestic morale when it seemed as if the war might not be proceeding entirely smoothly.

For his part, Glenn Reynolds (‘Instapundit’) says Kampener is “Backing away from the Jessica Lynch story”. Again, he provides no quotation from said interview (to which he links in’evidence’) in support of his contention. Because there is no such statement or implied statement, from Kampfner, for him to quote.

Pejman Yousefzadeh links to a Glenn Reynolds (‘Instapundit’) posting in which the latter poses the question, pretty sensible actually [in my humble opinion, that is]: “Would American special forces, getting to a "command center" just after its commanders were hustled out, really show up firing blanks?”

On the face of it, I would be surprised too, but simply to pose the question (as does Reynolds) is not in and of itself evidence that it did not happen just like that, if one accepts that it is theoretically possible that Kampfner is not a liar and has not simply ‘made up’ his story.

‘Instapundit’ then links to a posting by someone called Toby Blyth (of whom I have never heard before, no doubt an omission which reflects my own ‘insularity’, but if so I want to learn from my ‘betters’) which contains the following amazing, and outrageous, paragraph:

“I am sure that had the BBC been on the ground in Germany in May 1945 it would have found plenty of Germans to 'prove' that the US was spinning tales of Nazi atrocities to justify unilateral intervention in WWII (funnily enough I think the French and Russians were appeasing even then, and 9 million Britons signed an anti-war petition in 1938 - plus ca change, mon ami, plus ca change) ...This anti-US hysteria is getting pathological.”

Now I readily accept that there are some people, of both left- and right-leaning tendencies in the UK, who might fairly be described as “anti-US”, but I really don’t see how that has any relevance to the outrageous, and unsubstantiated (and unsubstantiatable), contention in the first part of the paragraph, about the reactions of those US and British military personnel and official reporters who made the appalling discoveries they did when they came upon the horrors within various of the Nazi concentration camps toward the end of WWII. It is this kind of mindless concatenation of unrelated events in a vain effort to bolster a viewpoint that makes me very wary of the devotion to objective ‘truth’ of some bloggers.

Speaking as a British person, there are many aspects of the lead-up to the 1939-45 conflict which are in retrospect shameful for British, French AND Americans. Luckily we had one man, awkward and cussed individual that he was, in the person of Churchill, who showed what had to be done, however painful. Would the US have come into that war had not their Pacific base at Pearl Harbour have been attacked by Japan? This is one of the great conundrums of that period to which there is no definite answer. Would the UK have survived alone for longer than it did (from the fall of France until the entry of the US into the war), without that intervention? Another of the great imponderables, but very possibly not, in my view. Without Pearl Harbour, and after the UK had been defeated, would the US have mounted its own action against Germany and/or Japan, or would it have reached an ‘accommodation’ with them – who can say? Would, in these circumstances, the Nazi atrocities have been uncovered, or would they simply have become a part of [a largely unknown] history? Inflammatory and poorly-argued paragraphs, such as that written by Toby Blyth, don’t impress me one little bit, and the fact that some other bloggers that I had thought knew better should refer to such remarks favourably does make me re-evaluate the credence I should place in their future postings.

To come back to Iraq, I strongly supported the action to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and I am glad I live in one of the countries which brought this about. But this does NOT mean that I have any intention of abandoning an attempt to understand the background to some of the events during the recent action and I think Kampfner’s report, including the remarks in the programme by various of the US and British government and military personnel who contributed, will help in due course to contribute to a balanced interpretation of what really did happen. The attempt by some, including the bloggers I refer to above, to close down the discussion is one that has to be resisted - even if I agree with them as to the basic rightness of the actions we [the US and UK and a few others] took in Iraq and may have to take elsewhere in the future (e.g. North Korea) for our and the world's long-term security.

Saturday 17 May 2003

Morocco is hit by deadly bomb attacks

(Image from BBC news website)

Casablanca, the country’s largest city and its commercial hub, was hit during Friday night by five explosions (including at least three car bombs). The Interior Minister Mustapha Sahel is quoted in a BBC report as saying that the attacks "bear the hallmark of international terrorism", adding that 10 suicide bombers were among those killed. It is estimated that at least 24 have been killed, with dozens more injured.

Having spent two very happy years living in Casablanca, quite a long time ago now, I find this latest terrorist outrage particularly sad. It is not yet known who was behind these attacks, nor why at least some of the targets were chosen (for example, the Belgian Consulate).

Wednesday 14 May 2003

Anti-gay discrimination still rife in almost six dozen countries, says Amnesty International

According to Amnesty International, more than 70 countries have laws prohibiting same sex relations which violate the fundamental human right to freedom from discrimination enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty is drawing attention to the habitual anti-gay policies in Egypt on the second anniversary (on 10th May) of the 2001 arrest of more than 60 men in Cairo, the majority of whom were on the Queen Boat, a night club moored on the Nile. The men were subsequently prosecuted for "habitual debauchery" and "crimes against religion" in a mass trial - the largest ever in Egypt's history for such offences - and were sentenced to up to five years in prison.

Over the past few weeks The Sunday Telegraph has been running articles in its 'Travel' section urging Britons to start visiting various Arab countries again, as hotels and other tourist-dependent parts of the economies of a number (Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, to name but three) have suffered in the run-up to the military action against Iraq, and as a result of the fears of some travellers that some popular holiday destinations in the Moslem world have become less welcoming of Western tourists. The articles have tried to re-assure travellers that there is a warm welcome for visitors. I readily accept that this is, in general, completely accurate - I have lived in or visited a significant number of Arab, and some other Moslem, countries.

However, it is a fact that this welcome does not extend (at least in more recent years) to visitors who are homosexual, in some of these countries, notably Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. Frankly, whilst I know and like many of the affected countries, I will think very carefully before visiting any of them for tourism in the foreseeable future - the same could be said, incidentally, for Malaysia (whose current Prime Minister has very homophobic views). There are many countries available for me to visit, with well-developed tourist infrastructures, where one's sexuality is not an issue.

Countries such as Egypt will have to get used to the fact that people like me, with high disposable incomes, are able to visit more or less any part of the world we choose to go to, one or more times a year. Many of us (gay people, that is) will I suspect choose to avoid those countries which see fit to discriminate on the basis of sexuality - it's all a matter of market forces. Why should I contribute to countries which behave in such a manner?

Thursday 8 May 2003

A perfect rainbow over Nairn

This was the view from my living-room about a half hour ago - a perfect rainbow from the beach across the cricket pitch.

Saturday 3 May 2003

Conservative ‘success’ in Thursday’s elections has probably consigned them to defeat at the next General Election

Shadow front bencher Crispin Blunt MP, who announced his resignation from the Shadow Cabinet just as the polls were closing on Thursday, stating that the party would never be re-elected under Iain Duncan Smith, has said he will continue to press for a change of leadership.

It is probable now that there will be no real challenge to Duncan Smith’s leadership of the Conservative Party in advance of the next General Election, which does not have to be held until May 2006. Which probably means, in my view, that any chance that the Party might win the next election has been dashed – of course, with some of the policies that the Conservative Party currently espouses, I am not in any way sorry about that. The real tragedy, though, is that we will probably have a third round of ‘New Labour’ – and in the past couple of years it has become quite clear that this Labour government is no different from previous ones in its inability to manage the economy when things get rough. The cushion provided by the last Conservative Chancellor (Ken Clarke), which allowed Gordon Brown to seem to succeed for a few years, has unfortunately been squandered by pouring additional public money into the non-productive state sector, without even the virtue of having carried out ANY sensible reform of the socialist leviathan that is the NHS. Same goes for many other sectors of the state-run economy.

And the increasing ‘nannyism’ of the state welfare system means that a growing proportion of the population receives state handouts of one kind or another. Being a state administered ‘socialist’ system, though, its administration has been shambolic and the slogan for family credit [“it’s got your name on it”], for example, shows just how grubby is the whole system.

Despite the attempts by supporters of Duncan Smith to belittle Crispin Blunt, he seems like a pretty sensible and straight-forward individual to me, and more importantly to the members of his Reigate constituency association who last evening re-affirmed their full support by re-adopting him as their candidate for the next election – and they know he is correct, too, about the Party’s prospects at the next election with Duncan Smith as Leader.