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

Friday, 30 January 2004

Gilligan resigns from BBC as Hutton Inquiry fallout continues

Andrew Gilligan, the journalist at the centre of the storm which has embroiled the BBC in the crisis which developed over the summer following the suicide of David Kelly and culminated with the report issued by Lord Hutton two days ago, this evening resigned from the BBC. He has not gone quietly, however, as he has not entirely accepted Lord Hutton's judgement:

"I again apologise for it. My departure is at my own initiative. But the BBC collectively has been the victim of a grave injustice."
"I love the BBC and I am resigning because I want to protect it. I accept my part in the crisis which has befallen the organisation. But a greater part has been played by the unbalanced judgments of Lord Hutton."

Whether this will be the last resignation from the BBC over this crisis is not yet clear, but there are rumours that at least one more may be on the way out.

Whatever one may think of this whole affair it seemed to me quite impossible that Gilligan could remain with the BBC in the light of the consequences of his sloppy journalism. Threats yesterday by his union, the National Union of Journalists, to fight for him to remain in post were quite unrealistic and it is gratifying that this has quickly been realised.

However, the fallout from this whole affair for the BBC is by no means over I suspect. I hope to write about further developments and my own 'take' on these and possible future developments in the next few days.

Thursday, 29 January 2004

Royal Navy appoints first female commanding officer of a warship

I was a little surprised to read this story as, without ever having thought about it much, I kind of assumed this would already have happened. Seems like a good idea to me. Lt Charlotte Atkinson is now Commanding Officer of HMS Brecon, a mine counter measures vessel, recently returned from a 3-week mission patrolling the waters around Northern Ireland and in preparation for another mission. Lt Atkinson, who joined the RN in 1994, has apparently earlier served in the Falklands and the Antarctic and recently returned from a two-year exchange with the Royal New Zealand Navy.
Hutton Inquiry fallout continues - Greg Dyke resigns from the BBC

Greg Dyke, Director General of the BBC, has just resigned. He is currently speaking 'live' on BBC News24. This is probably a necessary move in the light of Lord Hutton's report yesterday, but I think that a media person of his calibre will still be missed.
Wi-Fi networks: security said to be improving

I found this article quite interesting, specially as I've been considering installing a wi-fi network in my home, to give me the luxury of being able to use a laptop around the place, and using my desk-top in my study for things which need desk space.

Wednesday, 28 January 2004

Hutton Inquiry - the fallout begins

I am just watching Andrew Marr on BBC News24 who is reporting rumours that at a meeting of the Governors of the BBC, due to take place in about a half an hour, the resignation of the Chairman (Gavyn Davies) is expected to be tendered.
The Hutton Inquiry is published today

I have been watching live coverage of this important event for about the past three hours. First, we had 90 minutes during which Lord Hutton read out to an almost totally hushed audience a summary of his conclusions, together with some final observations.

Broadly-speaking Lord Hutton concludes that the major factors which culminated in the death by suicide of David Kelly, a civil servant and weapons expert who had been part of the team investigating the presence, or not, of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, are attributable to errors and faults made within the BBC by individuals and by weaknesses in its editorial and managerial procedures. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is exonerated of wrong-doing, specifically 'lying', in any of the statements he made prior to or during the inquiry relevant to this matter. Within the government, criticism is restricted to failings attributed to the Ministry of Defence, but the overall nature of this criticism is much milder than that levelled at the BBC.

The full report is available here.

Following Lord Hutton's live report, we returned to the Chamber of the House of Commons to see a statement from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, followed by a statement from the Leader of the Oppostion, Conservative leader Michael Howard. As could be expected Mr Blair was very happy (and no doubt relieved) to have his probity affirmed by Lord Hutton - I was very impressed by his speech, even though I don't much care for him and like even less the government he leads. Some of the gloss, however, was rubbed off my initial reaction by the coruscating analysis by Michael Howard who quoted numerous paragraphs from the Hutton Report which shone, he contended, a fuller light on the substance of Lord Hutton's findings. Undoubtedly the text of this exchange will be up on the House of Commons website in the next few days (it usually takes, in my experience, at least one day for this to happen as the words actually spoken must be transcribed and checked first).

The debate about the merits of the case for going to war (I personally remain very comfortable about this matter) to unseat Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq will undoubtedly continue as will an analysis of the detail within Lord Hutton's report. What is very clear, however, is that Lord Hutton has done his job with extreme care and that his report carries enormous authority.
A wintry scene at the Nairn shore

The view looks over the cricket pitch, toward the beach and the harbour and was taken about 10 minutes ago.

We British often complain about our weather - it is never very hot or sunny for very long, and forward planning for outdoor events always has to take account of the possibility (... the likelihood) that it will rain heavily on the day.

However, the reality is that British weather is pretty equable - we don't have extremes of heat or cold for very long, we rarely have droughts of any significant duration and we don't have the extremes of weather (hurricanes, typhoons, twisters) or geological disturbances (earthquakes, volcanoes) that some parts of the world do have to cope with. Basically, we are very lucky.

And, historically, what some see as lousy weather and the limited range of foods which, traditionally, we could produce here have probably spurred our desire, quite often, to venture away from our little island, perched precariously at the western end of the Eurasian landmass and at the eastern edge of one of the larger oceans in the world.

Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Who's been a naughty boy, then?

Well, it seems as if it's the married third most senior officer at the army's Headquarters in Northern Ireland, who is now facing a court martial for, amongst other antics, posing in front of a webcam whilst 'stripping' for his girl-friend. More seriously, in my view, are allegations that he revealed sensitive military secrets to the lady in question in numerous e-mails. Tut, tut.

Serious as this whole matter is, it does have its ribald side. The version of this story on the web doesn't, unfortunately, carry the images which appear in the print newspaper today - when I first glanced at them I thought he looks uncannily like Peter Sellars in the 'Inspector Clouseau' films.

Homophobia in the military

(Please see UPDATES at end)

Jason Van Steenwyk of 'Iraq Now' (link in my blogroll at right already) posts, as a military officer, what I can only describe as a homophobic rant (however, please read the three updates at the end of this message). On the other hand, even though some of what he has written in the past has not 'gelled' with me, I accept that he is a fine writer and that his views are honestly held and always, even in this latest article, clearly and fairly expressed.

However, whilst accepting that I know nothing about the true situation in the US (or indeed the British) military, I have read over the past year or so a number of reports written by present and former US military personnel who happen to be gay. Some of them were forced to leave the military because of falling foul of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, or because they were 'outed' by someone. The experiences recounted seemed to me to be much more diverse than the generalised absolute homophobia which Jason Van Steenwyk would have us believe is the norm, although some of the cases I have read about certainly do bear out what he writes.

On balance, I suspect that whilst he accepts the political reality that the US military will, sooner or later, be forced to accept openly gay personnel amongst its ranks, he does not like this prospect one little bit. Fair enough - he lives in what passes for a free country, just as I do. But in this instance I think he has perhaps allowed his own prejudices to cloud his normal seeming objectivity in assessing what is the overall current position.

Incidentally, in reports I have read about the British military since the absolute ban on gays serving in the military was done away with a few years ago, the fears that the sky would fall in seem not to have been borne out. Some officers I have heard speaking about the matter before and after the change have expressed surprise, in fact, at how relatively smooth has been the change and that whilst acceptance may not be complete it has been nowhere near as negative as many had feared.

Jason, it will happen, get over it.

Update: I have been re-reading and re-reading his post and am now not so certain that the views I attributed to him are accurate, as the phraseology employed is, on reflection, somewhat ambiguous in a few areas. Nevertheless, I felt years ago when Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the early part of Clinton's presidency, during which time the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was formulated that it seemed curious that a body (the military) theoretically subservient to the will of the civilian authorities could, it seemed, coerce adoption of an alternative policy to that which had initially been planned by the President. We had the same problem for years with our own military, until eventually the matter was taken out of the hands of our government (that is the reality) by the fact that cases brought before the ECHR against the British government by dismissed military personnel who were gay resulted in judgements which exposed the breaches of the ECHR by the UK government over many years because of its pandering to the arguments of the miltary. It seems to me that in a country which considers itself to be a democracy worth the name the military must take account of changes occurring within the society it is there to defend.

2nd UPDATE on 29 JAN 04: I have just read Jason's latest posting on this matter and am happy to have the overall content of that post have the last word on this matter. The final italicised paragraphs of 'name withheld', seem to me to be very reasonable. One deviant predatory homosexual is no more representative of all homosexuals than is a deviant heterosexual (or white person or black person, etc) representative of all members of those other categories.

3rd UPDATE: (Sunday 5JUL09 15.28 BST) I was amazed this morning when consulting my overnight site stats to observe that this blog article has been linked to again by Jason, in a new article he published yesterday, 4th July 2009 ('Happy Independence Day', by the way, to any American readers). I've also now published this morning a further article on this topic in my own little blog which you can find here. The thing that strikes me about this whole question is that the issue of whether gays should serve in the military or not is, so far as the UK is concerned, now a done deal and I have not heard or read any commentary in years from anyone who knows about serving in the military (which I do not) suggesting that the change we made quite few years ago was wrong and should be reversed; it is simply now a non-issue. The US is a big strong country and no doubt knows its own business best, but for this particular Briton (who admires the US greatly) I confess to being quite mystified how a country so devoted to freedom and liberty and equality (although that last only came to pass so far as non-whites are concerned relatively recently) can continue to enforce such discriminatory practices with a straight face. Forgive me, but it is truly bizarre. Only last week I was reading about a military linguist (an Asian-American Arabic language specialist) who deliberately challenged the "don't ask, dont' tell" by announcing that he is gay and now faces discharge from the military. How many Arabic linguists have been discharged since 2003 for this reason? I understand it is several hundreds. Pure and utter madness in my humble opinion, but of course what the US does in this regard is none of my business, although it does seem remarkably short-sighted. It is quite clear that quasi-religious 'moral' zealotry does not reside solely in certain Islamic states, such as Iran, but is alive and well in the 'Land of the Free', the United States of America. As I mentioned above, a sincere Happy Independence Day to any American readers who pass this way.

PS/ I won't be permitting any more comments in this very old blog entry. There were at the time many comments to it, but when I changed my commenting system from 'Haloscan' to 'Google' at the end of 2008 unfortunately all the old 'Haloscan' comments were lost, including those in this post. However anyone who wishes to post further comments is welcome to do so in the more recent article referred to in the '3rd UPDATE' above. Apart from anything else, comments on old articles require me to pre-moderate them before they appear and I have always been happy to allow reasonable (i.e. no profanity and not offensive) comments to appear without prior moderation by me, so if you post comments to my latest post on this topic they will appear at once. I am not censoring anything, simply trying to make maintaining this blog more manageable. I hope you understand. However, please be aware that I will delete any comment which contravenes the 'Terms of Use' I have designed for this blog - there is a link to these in the top right column of the blog.
Holocaust Memorial Day - 27 January

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK. 27th January marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. A series of television programmes is being shown here this week to remind us of the horrors which blighted much of the third and fourth decades of the 20th century, the purpose being to try and ensure that such horrors are never repeated; this year the 'theme' is From the Holocaust to Rwanda, one of a number of outrages on an industrial scale that have taken place in more recent years. Another is Cambodia.

Yesterday I watched a recording of a television programme broadcast the previous evening in which Hungarian Jews who had survived the Holocaust recounted their experiences; it is one of the documentaries prepared by the Shoah Foundation. The tone was straightforward, not histrionic in any way. This added to the power of the programme - all those who spoke were quite young during the Holocaust years and the matter-of-fact narrative style most of them managed to achieve (despite understandable emotional interludes) when describing the horrors they had experienced and witnessed, and the effect these had upon their perceptions of what was going on around them, made for very difficult, but essential, viewing.

Less appreciated until more recent years was the particular opprobrium in which the gay community was held by the Nazi authorities (and rather too many governments, even today) and this commentary is useful as a way of bringing attention to this aspect of the wider Holocaust as it affected its major victims, the Jewish people.

Never again!

Saturday, 24 January 2004

Will the rest of the US, then the world, follow where California may lead?

It is often said, with some justice in my view, that innovative developments regularly happen first in the 'golden state', then are gradually adopted throughout the rest of the United States, followed in due course by many other countries around the world.

This proposal from California State Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) may perhaps be, and I hope it is, another example. Of course, getting this law through the California State Assembly is certainly not a foregone conclusion and even if it does pass that hurdle it is by no means certain that Governor Schwarzenegger would not veto it, specially given the recently re-stated views of President Bush on gay marriage in his 'State of the Union' message earlier this week.
Avian flu claims sixth victim in Vietnam - in the south, this time

A 13-year old boy is reported to have died in Ho Chi Minh City, the first time a case has been confirmed in that part of the country. The BBC also reports that the WHO has reported an 8-year old girl in the city has tested positive for the virus and is in a critical conditon (I have been unable, so far, to find mention of this in the WHO website).

A friend, and former colleague, will this weekend be emigrating from Ho Chi Minh City to Australia, a move that has been hoped and planned for over many years - it may seem trivial in the wider scale of things, but I do hope (being extremely partisan on this matter) that these major health concerns will not jeopardise the move.

Friday, 23 January 2004

Is funding within the UK, as defined by the 'Barnett Formula', due for reform?

This article seems to think so, and I agree. It seems to me increasingly untenable in the light of the devolution settlement as it affects Scotland, in particular.
Hypocrisy masquerading as moral outrage

Jenny Tonge, not hitherto one of my favourite people I have to confess (I've always considered her a rather smug 'do-gooder'), has made some heartfelt comments about the state of mind, and of desperation, which might lead people to commit what are known as 'suicide killings'. She went so far as to say:

"If I had to live in that situation - and I say that advisedly - I might just consider becoming one myself."

I fully accept that Jenny Tonge could probably have phrased her comments better, but it is just ridiculous to say, as has the Israeli ambassador Zvi Shtauber:

"I can tell you one thing, we must stand up against such remarks, which are an incitement against the state of Israel and against Jews."

Similarly, the reasons given by Liberal Democrat Party leader, Charles Kennedy, in commenting upon her 'sacking' as Liberal Democrat spokesperson on children:

"Her recent remarks about suicide bombers are completely unacceptable. They are not compatible with Liberal Democrat party policies and principles. There can be no justification, under any circumstances for taking innocent lives through terrorism."

- strike me as a rather too obvious bowing to comment in the media. His final sentence is quite correct, of course - it can never be justified. But it can, perhaps, in extremis be understood.

I leave some final comments (and before I am roundly attacked, I do not equate the current policies of the Israeli government with those of any totalitarian government, past or present) on this matter:
- personally I could easily understand Jewish victims, or potential victims, of the Nazi holocaust in the late 1930s and the 1940s upto 1945, having decided to attack their tormentors in ANY way available to them. Indeed, a common saying by those who founded the only democratic country in the Middle East, the State of Israel, is "Never again!", and I cannot quarrel with that either;
- whether the current circumstances on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean justify the ruthlessness (whatever the level of desperation) of the so-called suicide killers is a topic worthy of debate, but the reaction to the comments of Jenny Tonge seemed to me to be totally out of proportion and deliberately to misconstrue what seem to me to be views reflecting the genuine compassion she shows, albeit (in my view) clumsily expressed. The expression of sincerely held views must be permitted, roundly condemned if necessary by reasoned argument, but attempts to curtail discussion by the utterance of unsubstantiated allegations about the motivations of the person making the original comments is equally abhorrent;
- I think both Israel (with Ariel Sharon) and the Palestinians (with Yasser Arafat) could be better served with other leaders;
- of course, Ariel Sharon IS the demoocratically elected leader of his country whereas Yasser Arafat, however popular he may be, is not;
- both sides really do need to consider what is in the best interests of their peoples for the future and whether their current policies, as directed by their current leaderships, meet these interests.
Digital broadcasting - the pace of change hots up in the UK

I went 'digital' about 8 months ago and now have two of my four television sets equipped with the necessary digital decoders. One of the decoder's signals can in fact be accessed by televisions in any room in my home. I can also, of course, receive many of the digital radio programmes now being broadcast as channels on digital terrestrial and satellite platforms. As this story makes clear, the government's plan to switch off analogue broadcasting signals for television and radio at an indeterminate date in the future may be slowing the pace of change, so far as consumers purchasing new equipment is concerned. The article proposes a definite switch-off date (say 2010) so that people know it's for real. I think there is probably some sense in this argument, provided that poorer people are assisted to make the change - I am no socialist, but it would certainly be massively retrograde for all sorts of reasons to allow a two-tier ability to receive broadcasts to develop.

In fact, I am expecting delivery of a new analogue widescreen television in the next couple of days, to replace a unit in my main living area. Why this seemingly short-sighted step? Well, I don't think it is quite so short-sighted as might at first appear - specially as dedicated digital television receivers are capable of receiving only the free terrestrial digital broadcasts and not those which are broadcast by satellite, for which (unless one opts for a basic range of channels, mostly available for free by terrestrial signal, too) a monthly fee is payable. So even if the analogue signal is switched off in 2010, my new unit will still function using a set-top box. It is undeniable that the lack of VCRs with digital reception capability built-in, so far as I am aware, has not been understood by most people, though. What this means is that once analogue signals disappear, one would need a digital de-coder for each of television and VCR (or DVD-RW - which are steadily reducing in price at present) if one wishes to watch a different programme from one simultaneously being recorded.

So far I haven't bothered buying a digital radio, though, specially as I can listen to digital radio through my television set-top boxes, but as the cost of the radios is coming down all the time, I am sure it will not be long before I do. Once, of course, I have verified that a digital radio signal is avaialble in my area - last time I checked my postcode for availability, it hadn't reached here yet. Like most people, I have numerous radio receivers so it will be some years before I contemplate replacing them all, though - but a six-year lead-in for analogue switch-off doesn't seem too unreasonable to me.
View the ISS from where you live

It is possible to view the International Space Station orbiting with the naked eye from most parts of the Earth. The link shows upcoming orbits which might (weather conditions permitting) theoretically be viewable from where I live over the coming week. It is easy to change the viewing location to where you live.
Photographs of Mars - No highways, but there are suspected water-formed valleys

The ESA (European Space Agency) has published an early batch of unprecedentedly detailed stereo photographs of Mars, taken from the Mars Express probe, currently orbiting the 'red planet' at an altitude of 273km.
Other links for work currently going on relating to Mars exploration are here, and the ESA website has more of its high-resolution photographs.
Chicken Flu - and the repercussions begin in Europe

The EU will today ban importation of chicken from Thailand, which has been affected by the latest outbreak, along with a number of other south-east Asian nations. The fear apparently is that the virus may acquire human-to-human transferability. It seems that the EU, along with Japan, are the major importers of Thai chicken. On my many visits to Thailand (on business trips and as a tourist), in a number of different parts of the country, I have never once had a 'tummy upset', so I hope that the Thais are able to contain this outbreak rapidly and that their export markets and their tourist industry may not suffer too much. (Update: the BBC has more on the possible economic impact of this disaster for Thailand)

The chicken I buy almost always says 'UK produced' and is normally free-range, so I hope I'm safe for the moment. The same for eggs, usually locally produced (very locally).

Thursday, 22 January 2004

Religious extremism from a Christian (Catholic) cleric and a Moslem (Wahhabi) cleric

One of the proteges of Pope John Paul II has, like his spiritual leader, told a bishps' conference in Belgium what he thinks of homosexuals and of the concept of 'one person, one vote':

"I am prepared to sign here in my blood that of all those who say they are lesbian or gay, at most five to 10 per cent are effectively lesbian or gay. All the rest are sexual perverts."
"Politics, democracy. Don't make me laugh. The right to vote, what is that all about? I find it strange that a snot-nosed, 18-year-old has the same vote as a father of seven. One has no responsibilities whatsoever, the other provides tomorrow's citizens."

These are the views of Cardinal Gustaaf Joos, one of the very many elevated last October by the Holy Father to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his pontificate. (And, not coincidentally, to stack the college of Cardinals - who will elect his successor - with those who share his views)

In Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh, the grand mufti and its most senior Islamic cleric, believes:

"Allowing women to mix with men is the root of every evil and catastrophe. It is highly punishable. Mixing of men and women is a reason for greater decadence and adultery. This is prohibited for all. I severely condemn this matter and warn of grave consequences. I am pained by such shameful behaviour in the country of the two holy mosques."

His remarks were made in response to a speech made by Lubna al-Olayan, the country's most prominent businesswoman, in her opening speech to Jeddah's annual three-day Economic Forum. Her call for change in the Kingdom:

"Without real change there can be no real progress. If we in Saudi Arabia want to progress we have no choice but to embrace change."

was received very favourably in the hall and it is reported several dozen stepped up to the microphone to praise her.

It might be thought that, in these two instances, the reactionary agendas being advanced can safely be left to nebulous 'forces of history' which will prevail in due course. I caution against such complacency - history shows that whenever one group's cherished beliefs and entrenched privileges are threatened it is necessary for those who oppose them to be extremely vigilant, and unremitting, in efforts to thwart them. One need only think of the struggles to achieve female suffrage in this ocuntry in the early part of the 20th century and similar struggles to end racial discrimination in the United States in the 1960s and in South Africa a couple of decades later.

Wednesday, 21 January 2004

Child executions - the US is in good company

Amnesty is launching a campaign to ban the execution of child offenders worldwide. The US is apparently responsible for 13 of the 19 such punishments since 1998, and according to this report it shares the dubious role of child executioner with China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen - all, of course, true democracies. Good company for the world's only superpower to keep, no?
Nonentity hits back at critics (and not very effectively, of course) ....

The one-time quiet man tells the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conferences journal Briefing:

"I don't regret what I did."

Former Conservative Party leader and 'University of Perugia' graduate Iain Duncan Smith really does need to keep quiet, or if he must talk he should be visiting a confessional rather than spewing bile to 'Briefing'; it looks to me as if he is now intent on creating the same kind of dissent he helped to foster during the last Conservative government.

Monday, 19 January 2004

'Death in Service' takes on new meaning in Finland

This remarkable story is very sad.
British police get gay sensitivity training

Indeed, Scottish police no less! Perhaps I missed this in the British media, but this report makes encouraging reading. Of course, the final dismissive comment from a Scottish Conservtive MSP does not surprise me - the new more tolerant policies (at least on the surface) promoted by Michael Howard do not yet seem to have penetrated the fossilised Scottish Tories of David McLetchie
Conrad Black out ..... Barclay brothers in

The Telegraph group is passing out of the control of Canadian maverick Conrad Black and into the hands of the reclusive Barclay twins. Good news to get shot of Black (and possibly, with luck, his 'journalist' [aka 'propagandist'] wife), around whom financial and legal controversy circles and most probably good to be in the hands of new owners who are reputed to be long-term investors who tend not to interfere in the editorial policy of other titles they own.

UPDATE: It seems the transfer of the Telegraph's ownership will not be as straightforward as had first appeared to be the case, for reasons that seem understandable.

Sunday, 18 January 2004

Malaysian police disperse Anwar Ibrahim supporters

Even though Dr Mahathir Mohamed is, thankfully, no longer PM of Malaysia, his successor Abdullah Badawi is not following through on the promises he made when he took office to right some of the wrongs done by his predecessor in weakening democracy. I can't say I'm enormously surprised.
Lord Black gets it from Rittenhouse

Highly amusing and accurate remarks from James Capozzola about the noble Lord and his travails at Hollinger (owner of the 'Telegraph' group, etc). I'll ignore his rude 'republican' comments about our system of titles as understandable from a mere 'colonial' (Just my little joke!).
'Brokeback Mountain' set to break another Hollywood gay taboo

Ang Lee's upcoming movie Brokeback Mountain will apparently show an overt gay relationship between two cowboys in Wyoming in the 1960s. Gay cowboys - certainly gets this gay boy's juices flowing! I'll anticipate seeing what becomes of this project.
British military procurement for the Iraq campaign precarious?

The controversy surrounding Geoff Hoon seems to be growing. Having no military experience whatsoever I have no idea what is the truth, but the anecdotal statements from numerous people who have such experience seems to indicate that there may be a long-standing problem. Outrageous if true.

Saturday, 17 January 2004

Salmon consumption - the pros and cons

I eat quite a lot of salmon, generally three or so times a week. I love it. Since starting on the 'Atkins' diet about 7 months ago, though, my consumption of it has become much more regular - usually sauteed fillets, but quite often smoked salmon, too. However the recent controversy caused by publication of a report alleging that Scottish farmed salmon, in particular, may have unacceptably high levels of toxic contaminants (from the fish-meal on which they are fed) has certainly caused me to wonder whether I should cut back a little. This Economist article is pretty balanced on the matter, as you would expect from this magazine (may not be available yet to non-subscribers).

I just hope that it will not be reported that fresh tuna (I had a tuna steak for dinner this evening) or swordfish, both of which I like a lot as well, will not become similarly suspect. Meantime, I will be continuing to eat fish of various kinds, including salmon. And beef, chicken and pork, too ....
Some optimistic news from Indonesia

A gay kiss on television, the first in the world's most populous Moslem nation, causes a startled but generally favourable reaction.
A socialist 'paradise' on earth

North Korea, in case you were wondering ....
How a Home Secretary reacts, or at least how this one does

David Blunkett with his usual stark honesty, and his usual stark ineptitude, tells us what he felt on hearing of the death by his own hand of convicted murderer Harold Shipman.

Anyone may blurt out things better left unsaid, on occasion, but this Home Secretary has seemed to make such a habit of coming out with idiotic statements and so-called policy 'initiatives' that one wonders if it remains wise to leave this loose cannon in post. Tony Blair so far evidently thinks so, unfortunately.

Friday, 16 January 2004

Pseudo-intellectual nonsense or genuine musical art?

The BBC Symphony Orchestra this evening performed works by John Cage, including what is described as a "seminal silent work", cutely entitled 4'33" - in case it is not obvious, this is the duration of the silence during which the orchestra sits ...... sits ..... then sits some more ..... doing ..... nothing. I just watched it repeated on BBC4 television; I forebore from 'listening' to it live on Radio3 earlier in the evening.

From my commentary, I think you can see how I would answer the question I pose in the title.

Thursday, 15 January 2004

Link deleted

I have deleted Slugger O'Toole from my blogroll. Frankly, anyone masochistic enough to want to know what is going on in Northern Ireland, with its incessant bickering over what most of the rest of us consider to be trivial nonsense, will undoubtedly be resourceful enough to find the link for themselves. I plan to save myself the bother of reading anything about that part of the UK for the forseeable future. Grumpy rant over - sorry....
Camp Delta, Guantanamo - a timely reminder from Amnesty International

Amnesty is writing to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, asking him to use any influence he can with US President Bush in ensuring a swift resolution of the scandal that is the continued detention, without charge or trial, of persons at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The joys of using a blog aggregator

A couple of weeks ago I started using a web-based blog aggregator (which allows many of my regularly read blogs with RSS feeds to be scanned quickly). This has completely transformed the way I look at tracking what is going on and, very importantly, allows me to skip postings which are of no interest to me, without having wasted too much time scanning through acres of text.

I am using Bloglines, which I found fairly easy to set up and, a bit of experience gained, exceptionally straightforward and useful in practice. Link thru Shadowfoot acknowledged.

Wednesday, 14 January 2004

Free speech in Britain

I've resisted joining the debate about Robert Kilroy-Silk, former Labour MP, and his 'plain speaking' (or 'hate speech', according to some) remarks about Moslems and the fact that his puerile morning chat-show on BBC1 television has been withdrawn pending an inquiry into the remarks, made in an article published in a British tabloid. However, this sensible commentary in a generally sensible forum just about sums up my view of this whole matter, so I'll adopt it as my own reaction.

Friday, 9 January 2004

Obituary: Brent Benaschak (founder Whistler Gay Ski Week)

An obituary today in The Daily Telegraph marks the passing on 30th December last, at the age of 41, of Brent Benaschak. I write about this only because I think it is interesting, and pleasing, that this newspaper chooses to publish this occurrence, given its seeming difficulty in accepting sexual diversity in modern British society and the changes in our legislation which have been required, and some more which are still required, to accommodate this. It ends the obituary with what is often seen as a code phrase, however: "He never married". In this particular case this hardly seems necessary. One wonders if the obituary writer is being ironic.
A "regional accent" unsuitable for foreigners learning English in the UK

According to the Home Office, that is!

Much embarrassment was caused to Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell yesterday when Scottish National Party leader John Swinney read out a letter a young Russian lady had received from the Home Office, informing her of its refusal to grant her a visa to learn English in Scotland, because:

"You cannot satisfactorily explain why you have chosen to attend an English course in Scotland rather than your other options of Oxford or Cambridge, where you should face less difficulty understanding a regional accent."

Scottish political commentator, Alan Cochrane, gave us his reaction:

"Their message was that anyone who wished an entry permit to Britain and who said that their reason was to learn English in the Scottish capital had to be 'at it', because of the well-known fact that, at least according to the those who order our affairs in the Home and Foreign offices, none of those 'Sweaties'* knew how to speak English."
(* - which he helpfully explains means "Sweaties: Sweaty socks, jocks. Geddit?")

I am not in favour of the Scottish National Party and its policies, but it is ignorant thinking like this, in our own Government of all places(!), that will strengthen its cause. Some regional accents are more pleasant to listen to than others, I would have to agree, but all are as valid as any other - it is time that certain officials in the Home Office were reminded of this.

Tuesday, 6 January 2004

The right to defend one's home - or not

Before Christmas, the influential BBC Radio4 Today programme launched a scheme to allow listeners to choose ideas for possible legislation to be presented before Parliament by Labour MP Stephen Pound, as a Private Member Bill (i.e. one which did not have explicit government backing). He agreed, in advance, to take forward any idea which was shown to be the most favoured by listeners, with the proviso that simply-expressed ideas would obviously require to be refined by legislative drafters (civil servants who exist to put legislative ideas into a form suitable for possible legislation). Many of the suggestions were downright weird, but eventually a short-list of 5 legislative ideas was selected (tabulated from those most frequently suggested) for listeners to vote on.

The idea which found most favour with listeners, and coincidentally the one which I chose to vote for myself, was:

1st place:

Law 5: "The proposal to authorise homeowners to use any means to defend their home from intruders"
(It garnered 37% of the vote, the runner-up having received only 30%)

Read what all 5 ideas were by clicking here. The Honourable Stephen Pound MP did not, however, care for the choice of the listeners and remarked:

"The people have spoken, the bastards!"
(I break my own rule in allowing that word onto my weblog only because the person who used it is a duly elected MP and because he was himself, I understand, quoting a reaction to electoral defeat of a Californian US Senate candidate)

I don't always, indeed not very frequently, agree with Mark Steyn, but his reaction to this is shared by me 100%.

Despite efforts to portray Tony Martin, who emerged recently from prison after serving a sentence for having shot dead a burglar at his hime (a ne'er to well, if ever there was one), as some kind of weird misanthrope, he has sounded to me to be pretty normal, bearing in mind a certain eccentricity, in the television and radio interviews with him that I have heard.

I quite agree that the drafting of any legislation such as that outlined in the winning idea would be a complex matter, but the pooh-poohing of the idea as unacceptable by Mr Pound displays exactly why so many people are disenchanted with our politicians and our political orthodoxy.

Monday, 5 January 2004

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Weeks 27, 28 and 29

I am now on 'Pre-maintenance' (PRM), the 3rd stage of this 'way of eating' (WOE), since 10th December. I seem successfully to have slowed my rate of weight loss down so that over the 3 weeks I lost a further 1kg (2.2lb). The results each week were not precisely even - it would have been surprising if they had been - but I am very happy I managed to negotiate Christmas and New Year without major dietary mishap., even though I did allow myself some latitude with a few chocolates and candied fruit. My weight is now (as at Sunday 4th January) 67.0kg, a reduction of 31.0kg since I began (or 68.4lb) - I now have 2.0kg (4.4lb) to reach my target of 65kg. Measurement indicators for the 3 weeks:
- waist down a further 0.4 inches to 31.7 inches (total reduction so far 13.3 inches);
- hips down 0.4 inches to 38.8 inches (total reduction so far 9.7 inches);
- thighs down 0.3 inches to 22.3 inches (total reduction so far 6.2 inches).

I mentioned above that I had allowed myself some latitude over the festive period. As well as some of my own home made chocolates (I make 'mendiants' using dark and white chocolate, topped with nuts and candied fruit - much better than anything you can buy, with the exception of good quality Belgian chocolates such as 'Godiva' or 'Hediard' in my opinion), I also allowed myself one medium roasted potato on Christmas Day with my main meal. I also had a certain amount of champagne - maybe a couple of glasses each day over a three-day period - and a very few glasses of wine. It was all very enjoyable, but I did notice some cravings beginning to creep back in, which led to a couple of illicit, but fortunately minor, 'transgressions' in the form of a few too many of my 'mendiants'. Luckily I recognised what was happening and took myself off them completely and about 2 days later (by about 29th December) the cravings had disappeared completely again. Quite obviously this is something I will have to watch out for next year and be aware of the very real physical correlation between consumption of certain things leading to a desire for more. This is one very valuable thing that the 'Atkins' way of eating is teaching me.

As I am now on PRM I will be commenting here again on my progress on 'Atkins' in about 3 weeks time (26th January, or thereabouts).
In the Blogaholic stakes I got 32 - even they don't think I'm addicted

I took the Blogaholic quiz, and this is what my 32 score means, it seems:

"You are a casual weblogger. You only blog when you have nothing better to do, which is not very often. There's nothing wrong with that. But if you'd post a little more often, you'd make your readers very happy."

Link through Pejman Yousefzadeh.
New link added

I noticed a few days ago that a visitor to my site was Shadowfoot (written by Brian Logan) from New Zealand; I noticed today that he had visited again and when I checked I noticed that my little site has been added to his blogroll - for which thanks. I've now looked at his site in some detail and think it a worthwhile addition to my own blog links - he writes wittily on subjects that interest me and quite apart from anything else it's a novelty to link to someone from New Zealand.

Sunday, 4 January 2004

Tony Blair visits Basrah - speaks to British troops

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is today visiting Basrah, following his family break at Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt, where he also had talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Amongst other things, Mr Blair reiterated (quite correctly, in my view):

"If we had backed away...we would never have been able to confront this threat in the other countries where it exists."
"Iraq is now taking shape with your help and guidance in a way that would have been unthinkable a year ago."

The trick will be to keep and grow the support for this action amongst the Iraqi population; it is difficult to evaluate what is the real situation from a distance, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

Saturday, 3 January 2004

Strangled at a Christmas Party - a 10 year old girl

Imagine. You are invited to a post-Christmas drinks party with family friends. You are told you can take your children along, as there will be other children present and they can play together, in complete safety, upstairs. Whilst the adults enjoy a civilised evening downstairs, with the 60 or so guests mingling and conversing amiably.

I've been to a number of such drinks parties over the years myself and they have mostly proved to be relaxing and happy events. Indeed, this year I hosted a very enjoyable buffet luncheon for about a dozen people on Boxing Day and there were several young children amongst the guests who, as with the case I am describing, hurtled around the house whilst parents mainly occupied themselves with eating lunch and having enjoyable conversation.

For a young girl, attending the drinks party with her parents and two older brothers, the evening of 28th December turned out badly, however. Rosie May Storrie of Bottesford (Leicestershire) was discovered by one of the other children, strangled but possibly not yet dead in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Staff at the hospital in Sheffield where she was taken were unable to revive her.

Charged with her murder yesterday was the 17-year old son of some of the other guests. It so happens he is a nephew of the hosts of the party, and had attended with his own parents and brother.

Is nothing sacred? I thought I was pretty unshockable, but this incident has really got to me. I know that, statistically, murdered children are usually found to be the victims of people they knew, but the audacity of this crime (with several dozen people only a room or so away and other children playing within feet) really leaves me aghast.
Being gay in Palestinian Authority territory is not easy

This link, through InstaPundit, describes the perils of being homosexual in Palestinian Authority territory. Follow the JTA link from the article I link to, as well.
New links added

I added Iraq at a Glance (written by A.Y.S.) to my side-bar links a couple of weeks ago; he is a young Iraqi dentist, mainly based in Baghdad, although he is just in process of moving to the Basrah area as part of his training. He writes well and interestingly about happenings in Iraq from an Iraqi viewpoint.

A new blog I came across earlier today, which looks like it could be extremely interesting, is Iraq 2.0 written by Omar Masry. He is a US soldier currently based in Iraq and has an eclectic background (see the self-intro in his left side-bar). There are some nice photographs and he writes well and thoughtfully.