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

Monday 29 September 2003

Discrimination against gays still legal in the UK, but there are signs of change

For many years, discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender has been illegal in this country - but an exception to this policy of 'inclusion' is that gays are not similarly protected.

Soon there will be legislation in force protecting certain employment rights of gays - unless of course you work for a religious organisation as these bodies successfully lobbied for them to be an exception.

However, there is nothing to prevent someone saying, for example, that they don't want to (and won't) rent a room or other accommodation to a gay - such action based on race or ethnic origin would be quite rightly seen as outrageous, however. And, of course, it is against the law.

Just as there is nothing to prevent a holiday company from advertising holidays for "heterosexual couples only". A company called 'Sandals' has been doing this for a number of years and when, some years ago, I read one of their attractive full-page ads in a glossy magazine it was only by reading a miniscule line of print that one could see this policy. It shocked and angered me.

Now London Mayor Ken Livingstone has decided that the London Underground may no longer accept advertsising posters from 'Sandals' for display in the London tube, and the new policy is described in this article in today's Independent.

I strongly welcome this move, although I must say I do have certain reservations about the potential 'unintended consequences' of this policy if it were to be formalised into law. I think that VERY careful drafting will be required. The reason is that I think it is unrealistic to force holiday-makers to be exposed to situations they wish not to be exposed to in their private lives, as completely distinct from their public and professional lives. This cuts both ways. For example, as a gay man, I often book holidays through a 'gay' travel company - it caters predominantly for gay/lesbian clients (although not exclusively so) and I find it easier to deal with them so I do not risk being placed in a situation that I might find uncomfortable - to give an extreme example, if I found myself in a resort or a hotel which had a large proportion of extreme Christian evangelists, say at a convention or a conference. It is also true that this and other 'gay' holiday companies advertise specific hotels and resorts which are 'exclusively' gay, although I have never so far taken a holiday in one of these places - it's not really my style.

However, I can see no escape from the result that if it becomes unacceptable for 'Sandals' to advertise as they do, then it must be equally unacceptable for 'gay' holiday companies to advertise some of their holidays as they do. Frankly, would I in any case want to go to a place full of 'honeymoon' couples, or full of families with young children who quite obviously have a lot of 'steam to let off' during their annual summer vacation in the sun? In my case, the answer has to be no. In summary, I think this is yet another 'populist' move by Ken Livingstone to get publicity, specially as the story appears on the day the Labour Party conference at Bournemouth is due to begin.
Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Weeks 14 & 15

I didn't write here about the week before last for two reasons - I have been quite busy, but I have to confess that I had become a little downhearted by the reduction in the rate of weight-loss; however, although in week 14 I recorded the lowest weekly weight-loss so far (0.3 kg, 0.6 lb), that figure itself contained the seeds of a correction in my diet, or more precisely my fibre intake (a mixture of psyllium husk powder and wheat bran in water); I referred to this in my entry a couple of weeks ago. I am pleased to say this seems to be working well and my weight-loss has resumed a more acceptable level. In week 15 I lost a further 1 kg (2.2 lb), so for the two-week period the reduction was 1.3 kg. My weight is now (as at Sunday 28th September) 75.5kg, a reduction of 22.5kg since I began (or 49.6lb) - I have 10.5kg to reach my target of 65kg. Measurement indicators for the two weeks week show modest, but reasonable, reductions:
- waist down a further 0.5 inches to 34.5 inches (total reduction so far 10.5 inches);
- hips down 0.4 inches to 41.9 inches (total reduction so far 6.6 inches);
- thighs down 0.4 inches to 23.5 inches (total reduction so far 5.0 inches).

Thursday 25 September 2003

What can he have been on when he wrote this?

Andrew Sullivan writing comment about what is described as a 'smart' e-mail of the day (and it does seem pretty balanced and thoughful, I'd have to agree):

Sullivan's logic bomb

"And the burden of proof was on Saddam to prove he didn't have them, not on the West to prove he did."

Well I never, this seems to turn on its head presumption of innocence - does Sullivan really want to move us to a "presumed guilty until proved innocent" style of law?

Wednesday 24 September 2003

The EU's latest financial scandal - some comments

The Independent today reports on a developing scandal in the EU in which roughly Euro 920,000 was diverted into a secret slush fund - it seems that the Head of Eurostat (ultimately the Spanish commissioner Pedro Solbes Mira) may be forced to resign. If he declines, it is suggested that Romano Prodi (President of the European Commission) may be forced to sack him to fulfil his pledge on taking office that he would have a 'zero tolerance' policy with regard to corruption, specially after the previous Commission had been forced to resign en masse. The matter has been investigated by Olaf, the EU fraud section, and it appears the report is so sensitive that hardly any information will be released publicly.

Of course, there have been questions raised for months about financial irregularities in the EU, specially after the suspension from duty of a Dutch and a Spanish (?) official for having had the temerity to blow the whistle. I well recall hearing the Welsh windbag Neil Kinnock (Deputy President of the European Commission) during a BBC Radio 4 interview trying to convince listeners that there was nothing to be concerned about and stone-walling the interviewer by declining to talk about the substance of the allegations raised.

EUObserver reports on another scandal involving the European Commission’s technology directorate and the group’s health unit, C4, involving the skimming of millions of Euros by means of fraudulent contracts with Greek companies. The Olaf report to Kinnock seemingly states that the scale of this malfeasance makes the Eurostat scandal seem "almost insignificant" by comparison.

This is just the latest scandal affecting the EU's finances - which of course we all pay for.

Shocking as all this is (and it certainly is), Glenn Reynolds over at InstaPundit naturally puts his own 'slant' on this story when he says:

As reported in InstaPundit

"When you consider all the attention that Enron got in Europe, it's interesting that scandals like this one don't get much attention in the United States" (referring to the Eurostat affair)
"Maybe this sort of thing just isn’t news because it’s so common?" (referring to the Technology Directorate scandal)

Who knows why the US media don't cover EU scandals very fully? Although Glenn doesn't spell it out, I get the feeling he is implying that a liberal East-coast media is far too tolerant of the faults of the evil EU. Frankly, if this is what he is implying, I doubt it very much.

No, I think the reason that the ENRON scandal was covered VERY fully in Europe, and in the US and everywhere else in the world, is the vast scale of the ENRON collapse - we're talking $60 billion or so here, after all!! I expect the US media judges that, whilst the EU corruption is a worrying scandal it is just in a different league to the effects people in the US and many other parts of the world suffered when ENRON went bankrupt and that is the REAL story. If Glenn Reynolds really does think the way he writes, rather than indulging in cheap point-scoring for an adoring audience, then it shows just how 'sound' is his judgement.

Tuesday 23 September 2003

The United Nations session commences amid universal 'bonhomie'

Well ... not quite. But I see some positive signs nevertheless.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan kicked-off proceedings with an impassioned speech reminding members why the UN had been set up and recounting that it had helped to build bridges between opposing nations. In the view of some (but not me) he 'rebuked' the United States for taking unilateral action in Iraq; it is true he said this action was to be regretted (which it certainly is - or at least the need to take the action), but went on to warn members it was unrealistic not to face up to the dangers represented by terrorism. As a diplomat, Mr Annan is required to do the near impossible - appear neutral and 'paternalistic' in the face of a wide diversity of opinion amongst various members. Just a few quotes to show what I mean:

Addressing Assembly, Annan warns UN at crossroads over issue of unilateral action

"The unilateralism of recent events has called into question the decades-old tradition of global consensus on collective security and brought the international community to a fork in the road, portending a moment no less decisive than 1945 itself, when the United Nations was founded."
"Now, some say this understanding is no longer tenable, since an 'armed attack' with weapons of mass destruction could be launched at any time, without warning, or by a clandestine group. Rather than wait for that to happen, they argue, States have the right and obligation to use force pre-emptively, even on the territory of other States, and even while weapons systems that might be used to attack them are still being developed."
"This logic represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last fifty-eight years."
"But it is not enough to denounce unilateralism, unless we also face up squarely to the concerns that make some States feel uniquely vulnerable, and thus drive them to take unilateral action."
"In short, Excellencies, I believe the time is ripe for a hard look at fundamental policy issues, and at the structural changes that may be needed in order to address them. History is a harsh judge - it will not forgive us if we let this moment pass."

After this we had a speech from the US President, George W Bush. As trailed widely, it offered no 'apology' for the action taken by the coalition, but instead stated clearly his aims and hopes for Iraq; that it become a stable and prosperous democracy which would neither threaten its own people or its neighbours. A refreshing reiteration of what the removal of Saddam Hussein was all about. Just a brief quote:

President Bush Says Democratic Transition in Iraq Won't Be Rushed

In his speech, Bush said the United States was working on a new Iraq resolution that will "expand the UN's role in Iraq. As in the aftermath of other conflicts, the United Nations should assist in developing a constitution, training civil servants, and conducting free and fair elections."

But he insisted that the speed of the process of transforming Iraq into a democracy should not be influenced by outside parties - it should neither be speeded up, nor retarded. It was quite obvious he was looking straight at the delegations from certain countries whilst making these remarks.

Then we had the interesting sight of the President of France, Jacques Chirac, not quite managing to live up to the slightly more conciliatory tone seemingly presaged by his US media interviews prior to his UN speech:

Nul ne peut agir seul au nom de tous

"Dans un monde ouvert, nul ne peut s'isoler, nul ne peut agir seul au nom de tous et nul ne peut accepter l'anarchie d'une societe sans regle. Il n'y a pas d'alternative aux Nations Unies."

My translation: In an open world, no-one can isolate himself, none may act alone in the name of all and no-one should accept the anarchy of a world without rules. There is no alternative to the United Nations.

Now I agree in principle with many of the sentiments Monsieur Chirac seemed to be expressing, but the practical reality is that his country (and he specifically) had stated clearly his intention of vetoing any resolution which would have authorised military action against Saddam Hussein prior to the conflict. The choice was therefore to leave a murderous dictator in power or to remove him by force. The unilateralism of the coalition was forced upon it by the obstructionism and pusillanimity of France in particular, aided and abetted by Germany and Russia.

There was in reality no choice. I am glad that the UK participated in this dreadful, but essential, task.

There will be more hard choices to make in the months and years ahead - the point I think Kofi Annan was making, and as he said there is not the option of closing ones eyes to this reality, whilst retaining a modicum of credibility.
Is 'anti-globalisation' the reason the poorer countries stay poor?

There was a very interesting and powerful programme on Channel 4 on Sunday evening (I've only just had a chance to watch my video recording) by Johan Norberg, the Swedish author of "In Defence of Global Capitalism" and one of the world's leading advocates of globalisation.

His contention is that those countries that became rich a long time ago (Europe, North America) and those which have become wealthy more recently (East Asia) did so because of their ability to export goods they could produce cheaply to countries that could pay for them - and more importanly who allowed access to their markets. He believes that globalisation eventually leads to greater democracy, and as no democracies have ever fought each other, to a redution in conflict.

In modern times he focussed on Taiwan, Vietnam and Kenya. Taiwan has become enormously successful, initially by producing lots of things cheaply, for export, in 'sweat-shop' conditions and later by producing more technologically sophisticated items - with Taiwan having living standards comparable today to those in Spain. In the process it transformed from being a dictatorship to a pretty robust democracy. Vietnam is still at the 'sweat-shop' stage and of course is a communist tyranny still. Kenya is hampered greatly by limitations on imports imposed by wealthy countries on the things it can produce best - agricultural produce and textiles. Except for cut flowers, where the EU has allowed it very low tariffs, and for some vegetables, it is impossible for them to farm profitably for export - specially when the EU (and the US) have enormous subsidies for their own agricultural producers, which allows them to export to the very poorest countries and so undercut local producers.

China, whilst still a one-party tyranny, now has a very robust economy in parts and appears to be moving, very gradually, to a somewhat more free society in some respects. A lot of this is based on it being a huge exporter of raw and manufactured (and increasingly high value) items to the US and the EU.

Norberg's ideas make a lot of sense to me, indeed they bring into focus a lot of my own ideas gained from my experience of living in various developing countries, amongst which Vietnam. Some of the countries I have lived in, in the Middle East for example, could certainly not be called democracies in any way, but in practical terms the inhabitants were pretty free and were certainly free to develop their own potential in economic terms - the UAE is a shining example,

Johan Norberg considers the 'anti-globalisers' to be ignorant and dangerous and that genuinely free-trade is the route to more widespread wealth - I tend to agree (sorry, I agree completely!).

Monday 22 September 2003

'Section 28' anti-gay legislation almost gone

By 18th November one of the most hateful pieces of anti-gay legislation will be gone from the statute books throughout the whole of the UK.

Not before, of course, a last minute effort to introduce a 'spoiling' clause in the repeal legislation by Baroness Blatch, Deputy Conservative Leader in the House of Lords, last July. The Conservative Party really do still have a lot to learn before they can be trusted with government ever again.

Saturday 20 September 2003

A weekend of culture - Beethoven's Complete Piano Trios

Yesterday evening began a three evening cycle of concerts here in Nairn of all Beethoven's piano trios. The performances are being given by one of the UK's leading chamber music ensembles the 'Barbican Piano Trio'. Last evening's performance, when we heard four of the trios, was very enjoyable and I am looking forward to this evening and tomorrow with pleasurable anticipation.

We are lucky here to have a small group which from September to April each year brings very decent quality professional musicians and singers to perform for us, on an at least monthly basis, in an intimate but very well-organised setting.

Friday 19 September 2003

New link added

I don't add links very often, but this one has to be there. The Adam Smith Institute blog is a source of quality comment from a free-market perspective and I have no hesitation, after only a few days of viewing, in recommending it as a valuable source of comment.

Thursday 18 September 2003

A salutary reminder about the reality of life in Castro’s Cuba

A powerful letter is published in the Daily Telegraph today from three former Presidents of post-Communist eastern Europe. All three were political prisoners in their own countries during the time of madness that was the Communist era in that part of Europe.

Lech Walesa (Poland), Vaclav Havel (Czech Republic) and Arpad Goncz (Hungary) wrote their letter six months to the day following the sentencing of 75 Cuban opposition leaders to lengthy terms of imprisonment. The three criticise the EU policy of “constructive engagement” and the American policy as a failure. They believe, correctly, that it is necessary for Europe and the US to adopt a common strategy based on making it unambiguously clear that “Fidel Castro is a dictator and that for democratic countries a dictatorship cannot become a partner until it commences a process of political liberalisation”. It should be remembered that these three countries will become members of the EU next year - they will add a necessary dose of clearheadedness to the EU's sometimes confused policies. It is to be hoped the US, too, will note their concerns.

Read the letter, and an accompanying article in today’s Daily Telegraph.
The Hutton Inquiry - where are we now?

I've written very little about this tangled tale so far. As we now seem to be beginning, at least, to hear a little of what really happened it is now time, perhaps, to offer a few comments.

My impression is growing that there have been a series of errors of judgement made by the Government, the intelligence services and by the BBC. It also seems clear that Dr Kelly may have, perhaps inadvertantly (and HE isn't now available for cross-examination), made unsubstantiatable comment about the basis for some of his comments to Andrew Gilligan, the BBC Today programme's political reporter, who now seems himself to have made subtle but significant mistakes in the way this information was presented.

Naturally though, and as was to have been expected, INSTANALYSIS (aka InstaPundit) presents a very superficial and one-sided analysis, if such a word can be applied to the glib judgements of this man (why is he so highly-regared, even by fellow right-wingers one asks - is it blindness or an unwillingness to subject what he writes to basic scrutiny?) when he classifies yesterday's events as "MORE BAD NEWS FOR THE BBC". He cites in 'evidence' an article written by Paul Waugh, Deputy Political Editor of the Independent and whilst it is true that yesterday's events were bad for the BBC and Andrew Gilligan, it is not only they but the government and the intelligence services who came out badly in yesterdays events, in my view; just one small example to show what I mean:

"A week before publication, Downing Street ordered the dossier to be sexed up"

Mr Gilligan has again admitted he was wrong to claim that Dr Kelly had said this. But the BBC reporter says he stands by his other claim that Dr Kelly had alleged that the dossier "was transformed in the week before it was published, to make it sexier".
We know that the dossier did undergo substantial changes in the week before publication. The 45-minute claim in the main text was changed by John Scarlett, the JIC chairman, from a "may deploy" to the stronger "could deploy" following a suggestion by Alastair Campbell.

I think we must wait a little longer to be in a position to reach a better judgement of why Dr Kelly chose to take his own life and whether the justification for going to war, as presented by the Government, was vaild. I am in no doubt, however, that it was justified to remove Saddam Hussein from power although perhaps not for entirely the same reasons that were presented to the public by the Government to justify its action. The saga continues ....

Monday 15 September 2003

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Week 13

A smaller reduction of only 0.7kg this past week, but I'm not grumbling. My weight is now (as at Sunday 14th September) 76.8kg, a reduction of 21.2kg since I began (or 46.7lb) - I have 11.8kg to reach my target of 65kg. Measurement indicators for the week continue to show reasonable, although smaller, reductions:
- waist down a further 0.2 inches to 35.0 inches (total reduction so far 10 inches);
- hips down 0.3 inches to 42.3 inches (total reduction so far 6.2 inches);
- thighs down 0.1 inches to 23.9 inches (total reduction so far 4.6 inches).

I'm making some adjustments to my diet; basically a slight raising of my salad/vegetable intake and a reduction of my cheese intake, coupled with increased fibre intake - anyone familiar with Atkins' diet principles will understand what this is all about. I've also added some more nutrient supplements to my daily intake, at this stage vitamin B complex and vitamin E, to add to those I take already - I have recently started to study closely Atkins' book on "Vita-nutrient solutions" and although I was initially VERY sceptical of these ideas have come to believe that some parts, at least, are well worth following.

Friday 12 September 2003

11 September 2001 - A Memorial

If you get the chance, and specially if you have Broadband (as it's a large file), you might care to have a look at this memorial page. It is very moving and visually stunning. My thanks to InstaPundit from whose blog I obtained this link.


Wednesday 10 September 2003

Differences in strategy may jeopardise gay partnership rights in Scotland

The Edinburgh Evening News reports today on the seeming difference in approach to legislating for gay partnership rights in Scotland. The Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') is thought to favour using a procedure known as a 'Sewel motion' to allow the UK government ('Westminster') to legislate for Scotland in a matter that is 'devolved' to the Scottish Parliament.

The UK government has in its legislative programme a proposal to give same-sex partners many of the rights enjoyed now by married couples, but would not extend these rights to heterosexual partners living together who are not married.

The Scottish Executive may feel that it can avoid the bitter controversy which surrounded the battle to have 'Section 28' (clause 2a) repealed in Scotland, by aligning the legislation in Scotland with what is being proposed for England and Wales. This piece of legislation forbade the 'promotion' of homosexuality and referred to same-sex relationships as 'pretend family relationships'.

The Scottish Green Party wants there to be legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament which would extend civil partnership status to co-habiting unmarried mixed-sex couples as well as to same-sex couples. The argument for not doing this in England and Wales was that mixed-sex couples always have the opportunity, if they choose to exercise it, of marrying and thereby enjoying all the legal benefits (and obligations) this status confers. This was largely a 'sop' to the Conservatives who purport to be concerned that the special status of 'marriage' be preserved, but who appeared ready to acquiesce in the gay civil partnership proposed legislation (at least in the House of Commons - how some in the House of Lords will react is anyone's guess).

Personally I have no objection to the Scottish Green Party proposals and can see that there is great merit to them, but my fear is that by their action in raising this matter they will jeopardise the passing in Scotland (whether directly by the Scottish Parliament or indirectly through Westminster) of legislation to give gay partners some protection in terms of next-of-kin rights, pension rights and inheritance, for example.

Tuesday 9 September 2003

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Week 12

A further reduction of 1kg this past week. My weight is now (as at Sunday 7th September) 77.5kg, a reduction of 20.5kg since I began (or 45.2lb) - I have 12.5kg to reach my target of 65kg. Measurement indicators for the week continue to show reasonable reductions:
- waist down a further 0.3 inches to 35.2 inches (total reduction so far 9.8 inches);
- hips down 0.3 inches to 42.6 inches (total reduction so far 5.9 inches);
- thighs down 0.2 inches to 24.0 inches (total reduction so far 4.5 inches).

Monday 8 September 2003

At last, some common sense from a senior Anglican on the issue of homosexuality

In an interview with the Guardian, one of Africa's most senior churchmen denounces the arrogance and intolerance of some of his fellow clergymen over homosexuality, the issue that threatens to split the worldwide Anglican communion.

In the interview, the Most Reverend Winston Njongonkulu Ndungane, Archbishop of Cape Town and Primate of Southern Africa, implicitly criticised his colleagues for undermining the 70 million strong communion with their denunciations of the election in the US of an openly gay bishop. Archbishop Ndungane said: "There is an attempt to divert us from the major life and death issues in the world. There is a woman waiting to be stoned to death for adultery in Nigeria and yet we are not hearing any fuss from the leadership of the church there about that. People are going hungry across the world, the Israelis are building a fence around the Palestinians, HIV/Aids is a global emergency... these are major, urgent, issues which should be a priority for the Church and we must not lose our focus on that."

He went on to say "The Episcopal church is an autonomous province with its own procedures and processes which determine its own decisions. It is full of good people and they have followed one of the most transparent and democratic processes of decision-making in the whole Anglican communion. It is very arrogant to assume that the people in America do not know what they are doing. We have got to respect their decision.”

His final comments seem specially sensible and appropriate: "Our church must learn how to live together as a diverse community.”

Monday 1 September 2003

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Weeks 10 & 11

I lost 1kg in each of the last two weeks, a reasonable result I'm quite happy with. My weight is now (as at Sunday 31st August) 78.5kg, a reduction of 19.5kg since I began (or 43lb) - I have 13.5kg to reach my target of 65kg. Measurement indicators for the week also show reasonable reductions:
- waist down a further 0.7 inches to 35.5 inches (total reduction so far 9.5 inches);
- hips down 0.7 inches to 42.9 inches (total reduction so far 5.6 inches);
- thighs down 0.7 inches to 24.2 inches (total reduction so far 4.3 inches).
(PS/ It is a coincidence that the total reduction for all three measurements is the same for this two week period - they were not precisely the same when the weeks are viewed separately)

I also visited my doctor last week so he could take a blood test; I wanted to be sure that what is going on inside my body reflects how I feel - which is great. I am pleased to say that my blood tests were very satisfactory and my blood pressure is completely normal now. I also take my own blood pressure regularly, using my own monitor, but it is useful for this to be confirmed by my doctor.
Scottish Conservatives go (once more) for the 'homophobe' vote

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Centre for Health and Wellbeing is has been awarded £1m lottery money from the New Opportunities Fund and is also receiving £136,000 from health boards and trusts in the Lothians and Borders. Scottish Tory health spokesman David Davidson, however, said gays and others should use the same NHS services as everyone else. He added: "I do not see why they should have a parallel health service."

I presume the Conservatives will be telling us next that there should not be special clinics for people with mental illnesses or pregnant women? Are they going to suggest that all people with particular needs should go to the same clinics or A&E units. I doubt it very much. No it is a clear case, yet again, that the Conservatives (or too many of them, at any rate) are simply bigoted and playing to the bigoted views of those whom they hope will vote for them. Fat chance!