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

Wednesday, 31 March 2004

The chilling face of xenophobia in Russia

An Afghani has died in a Moscow hospital after, apparently, having been severely beaten by a gang of Russian skinheads a week ago. According to a nationwide poll carried out by St Petersburg University's social studies institute, reported in this BBC story:

- one in three young Russians describe themselves as nationalists

- one in 10 of the 16- to 19-year-olds said they would take part in "nationalistic pogroms" if paid to do so

Pogroms have been a sporadic feature in Russia and Eastern Europe for many centuries; the only period, so far as I am aware, free of this curse was during the period of Communist rule, although there were other kinds of brutality practised throughout that period. The victims this time around may be different, but the sentiments which drive the perpetrators (as the picture in the artilce I link to illustrates) remain just the same.
Barbarism in Falluja (Iraq)

Today's horrific attack on two vehicles carrying four civilian contractors, of US nationality, in Falluja is quite sickening. The group were shot and burned in their cars, then dragged through the town, dismembered and two of the charred remains hung from a bridge.

Elsewhere in the country, 5 US soldiers were killed in a bomb attack west of Baghdad and 3 British soldiers were injured in al-Basrah when their vehicle was struck by an explosion.

The barbarity of the Falluja attack, and the spectacle of cheering crowds exulting over the kicking, stamping and dismembering of other human beings .... really, all one can do is retch. Completely incomprehensible.
Gay Partnership Bill proposed for UK

The government today tabled the bill announced in the Queen's Speech opening this session of parliament to provide for civil partnerships for gays in England and Wales. The law would provide for many of the rights currently available only to heterosexual partners who marry - the surviving partner would benefit from a dead partner's pension and grant them next of kin rights in hospitals. It would also exempt them from inheritance tax on a partner's home. There will be a mechanism for dissolving partnerships, similar to divorce for married couples and it will oblige provision to be made for the maintenance of a partner's children should the partnership be dissolved.

So far as Scotland is concerned, the Scottish Executive announced at the time of the Queen's Speech that it did not plan to legislate separately on what is a devolved matter, but would propose that Scotland would simply adopt the legislation passed at Westminster for England and Wales - as both the SNP and LibDems (who are in any case in coalition with Labour in Edinburgh) this is highly unlikely to pose any difficulty here.

There will be one major difference between the legislation as it applies in England and Wales and as it applies in Scotland - as with heterosexual marriage, the civil partnerships legislation in Scotland will provide for 16- and 17-year old gay couples to register their partnerships without parental approval, something that will be required in England and Wales (just as it is for heterosexual marriages). It is speculated that, as a result, gay 16- and 17- year olds from England and Wales will head 'north of the border', just as has happened for centuries with young people heading for Gretna Green to get married.

All this is fine and dandy and I am pleased this will probably happen. But until it is passed I don't plan to break out the champagne - although Michael Howard (Conservative Leader) has said he personally will vote for this legislation it is not clear that some other Tory MPs will stifle their objections, or indeed that the few Labour MPs who probably object, too, will similarly choose to acquiesce without a struggle. Then there is the question of how this legislation may fare in the House of Lords. In summary I am optimistic, but cautiously so.
The threat of terrorism in the UK remains severe

The arrest yesterday of 8 individuals in connection with the discovery of a cache of a half tonne of ammonium nitrate fertiliser in a self-storage facility in Hanwell, West London appears to have thwarted plans for major bomb-making efforts here in the UK. The eight, all UK citizens born in this country, are apparently of Pakistani descent. No doubt we will hear in coming days where this investigation is leading.

Whilst this is obviously good news, it would not be prudent to become complacent. There are very probably other plans being hatched of which we, the public at least, know nothing at present. It is said that the arrests and security raids yesterday were the culmination of several weeks of surveillance and planning - I hope that if there are other terrorist outrages in the planning stage that the security forces are similarly alerted before real damage can be done. The article I link to makes the point that ammonium nitrate was used in other recent acts of terrorism elsewhere (Bali, Istanbul and even Oklahoma City, which was not even moslem-related).

I am not sure what the bomb-making materials were which were discovered a week before the Madrid disaster, and that thwarted plot is also thought not to be moslem-related. What I am saying is this, though - the fact that a major plot was discovered one week in Spain didn't prevent a 'success' occurring a week later. That's why, even if we can be pleased that a potential threat here seems to have been averted, it doesn't mean that another plot may not succeed in coming days or weeks.

Tuesday, 30 March 2004

Colonialism with a modern twist - object-driven takes on new meaning

It seems Canada and the Turks and Caicos may be thinking of cozying up in some kind of constitutional arrangement which could see the Caribbean island group become a Province of Canada, going from being a colony of the United Kingdom to becoming an integral part of a former Dominion of the UK. I am sure this will be convenient for us, too - the remaining colonies (aka 'Overseas Territories' in present-day parlance) really continue to have this status because they choose it. It seems both sides think they could benefit - the southern province attaining Canadian welfare levels and the 'metropolitan' territory gaining access to Caribbean beaches for its sun-starved residents, without the tiresome need to go to another country. Neat, eh? (Courtesy BoiFromTroy)
The Conservative 'gay summit' and what it means

Now that this event has occurred, how should one react? To be perfectly honest I'm not certain as there were some confusing signals from the party which now tells us it wishes to 'move on' from the bigotry it preached, and practised, until now. This quite amusingly ironic Guardian summary of what went on at the gay summit yesterday gives what I think is a suitable initial assessment.

Words are nice, but action is better and we still have to see what actually occurs when votes are tabled before Parliament - it is quite clear that Anne Widdecombe, and she is evidently not alone, is nowhere near convinced that, even if her views are sincerely held (which I am sure they are), her willingness to proclaim loudly her dissension from what the party leadership currently wants the public to believe is not likely to achieve the objective of garnering more votes. After all, only 5 Conservative MPs bothered to turn up (out of 165) for the summit. All it is likely to do is to cement the loyalty of the reducing, mainly elderly, segment of the population which thinks as she does. I can admire the 'heroism' and 'integrity' of this stance, but the bottom line is probably that it means that one cannot have confidence that should the Conservative party be returned to power it will not try to resurrect these policies. The probationary status must continue for the present, I fear.

Monday, 29 March 2004

Scottish Parliament could have had a permanent home on The Mound!!

I have wondered about this ever since the Scottish Parliament first occupied the Church of Scotland's Assembly Hall on The Mound as a temporary measure pending establishment of a permanent home.

Now we learn (and I have never heard about it before, and I wonder why) that the CofS would have been perfectly happy to continue the arrangement on a permanent basis. Rev David Lacy, convener of the Kirk board in charge of the premises said:
"We would have been delighted with that. But they weren’t interested."
"It is a missed opportunity. The idea was certainly a runner and I sent copies of the proposal to Donald Dewar and David Steel, but neither of them showed any interest at all."

I think that David Steel, who is (unlike Dewar) still alive, should be called back before the Fraser Inquiry to be asked for an explanation. He should be forced to face up to his platitudes and obfuscations over the past four years.
A voice of sanity from Israel

The Sunday Telegraph yesterday had a very interesting piece by Avraham Burg, a Labour-Meimad party member, who was Speaker of the Knesset from 1999 to 2003. (Apparently a translation published in Forward, from an article in Yediot Aharonot). In it Mr Burg lays out what he sees as a more sensible path for Israel's future as a viable state than that being laid by the current Israeli administration, which he fears is bringing about the doom of the Zionist dream. He ends his article by saying:

"What is needed is not a political replacement for the Sharon government but a vision of hope, an alternative to the destruction of Zionism and its values by the deaf, dumb and callous.

"Israel's friends abroad - Jewish and non-Jewish alike, presidents and prime ministers, rabbis and lay people - should choose as well. They must reach out and help Israel to navigate toward our national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace, justice and equality."

There is a countervailing argument in the same issue of the Sunday Telegraph by Con Coughlin in which he urges "Don't write off Ariel Sharon".

Whilst I try to understand the difficulty facing Sharon when his principal Palestinian counter-party, Yasser Arafat, seems in practice unwilling and/or unable (take your pick) to make peace with Israel (and Con Coughlin reminds us of his rejection of Ehud Barak's plan espoused at Camp David three years ago), it seems to me that Sharon's policies are not likely to give any prospect of security for Israel except by imposition of increasingly authoritarian policies toward Palestinians. It is this fear for what he sees as an inevitable future if the current policies continue to be followed which seems to have driven Mr Burg to write his article. Of course, the changes he advocates could only work if there were to be a Palestinian leader who was willing to make compromises too, for the mutual benefit of the two communities.

I find it difficult to believe that past Israeli leaders (for example Shimon Peres, Golda Meir or even Yitzhak Rabin), whatever their private views, would have found it in their country's long-term interests to continue the policies now being followed. Will enough Israeli voters see in time where they are being led? I would like to think so, but ....

Saturday, 27 March 2004

Goodbye GMT, hello BST

Tomorrow morning (28 March) at 1 a.m. the UK will move one hour forward from 'Greenwich Mean Time' to 'British Summer Time', heralding lighter evenings and the prospect of summer just a few months away. It will still be light in the morning for most people and instead of sunset being at around 6.45 p.m. as it is at present, it will become 7.45 p.m. By the time we reach midsummer, almost perfect daylight will remain until around 10.45 p.m. at this latitude and longitude (N57:35:18 W3:52:27 ), and it will not really become properly dark all night. We will return to GMT for the winter at 2 a.m. on Sunday 31 October - more information about time changes in the UK is available here.

I'm going to take a break from this blog for the rest of the weekend - have a good one!
Moscow bans Jehovah's Witnesses - not everything in Putin's Russia is bad (wry wink!)

Apparently a Russian court has barred this crackpot group of so-called Christians from operating in Moscow. Donning my 'politically correct' hat for a few moments, this is obviously a deplorable move, restricting a perfectly valid belief system. Alternatively, and having witnessed (to coin a phrase) the dubious practices of this outfit of weirdos, I can't really get overly worked up about this - obviously we can't follow the example of the Russian court here in the UK, but I dearly wish we could.

No doubt similar scruples explain why the ban on Scientology, put in place in 1968, was lifted in 1980. The French authorities, much more recently, were sufficiently worried to contemplate a ban in Paris.

Friday, 26 March 2004

Obituary: Sir Horace Phillips - rejected by Saudi Arabia in 1968 as British ambassador, because he was Jewish

I don't make a habit of studying obituaries regularly, although I usually glance briefly at the obit. page of The Daily Telegraph (my main daily newspaper). Today there was an obituary in the Telegraph which was more than usually interesting.

Sir Horace Phillips was born in Glasgow in 1917, the grandson of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe (presumably sometime in the second half of the 19th century). After leaving school at 18, he joined the Inland Revenue as a clerical officer, but during and after World War Two (1940-47) he served in Iraq, India, Burma, Ceylon and Malaya with the Dorsetshire and Punjab 1st regiments, emerging with the rank of major. He discovered an aptitude for languages, too, and became fluent in Japanese, learned in order to interrogate Japanese PoWs. Later he was to add Arabic, Persian, French, German, Italian, Turkish, Indonesian and Swahili (some of this text, and much of the history recounted in what follows, is taken straight from the Telegraph obituary).

In 1947 he entered the Foreign Office, serving first in Persia, then in Afghanistan. Postings in Saudi Arabia (please remind yourself of the title of this piece and read the following two paragraphs), Aden, Iran and Bahrein followed, culminating in his appointment as ambassador to Indonesia in 1966.

In 1968 he was named ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a country where he had already served as First Secretary from 1953 to 1956. Now we come to the interesting, tragic and outrageous part. The Jewish Chronicle in London wrote a piece revealing Horace Phillips' Jewish background, a story which was apparently picked up in the Middle East press. Soon afterwards he was rejected as our ambassador by the then king of Saudi Arabia, King Faisal.

Rejected - because he was a Jew.

Later appointments as ambassador or High Commissioner followed in Tanzania and Turkey, from which posting he retired in 1977.

The Telegraph includes a very interesting detail in its obituary. Phillips wrote to its obituary desk in September 1980 (i.e. after his retirement from the Foreign Office), normally an unusual thing to do, but in the circumstances it is very understandable, and said the following:

"You may think it presumptuous of me to write this. But just in case, when the time comes, I merit an obituary, could the following be borne in mind, please?

"When, in March 1968, King Faisal withdrew his agreement to my appointment as next British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia because I am a Jew, it was widely stated in the British press that I was an 'ex-Jew' or a 'non-practising Jew'. Some of this may have been inspired by official comment seeking to play down the embarrassment. As a serving diplomat, I could not myself reply. But the fact is that I have always been a practising Jew, and am to this day a member of Garnethill Synagogue in Glasgow, where I was brought up in the tradition. Any statement to the contrary in an obituary would give great pain to my family and friends, and dishonour my memory in the Jewish community."

A true diplomat to the end, this gentleman has exposed in a very proper and elegant way the sickness at the heart of the ruling regime in Saudi Arabia. I lived in Jeddah myself from 1977 to 1979 and enjoyed my time there, but I have never been under any illusions that it was, and remains, a deeply bizarre and troubled society.
US pre-election recriminations escalate in the wake of Richard Clarke testimony

The central premise behind this article, written by a Democrat, is either a cynical effort to damage the Bush administration, or the simple truth - I have no idea which it is, but the ferocity of the White House response to what Clarke said, under oath, is striking and worrying. It certainly cannot be dismissed and I suspect we have only just begin to hear about the way this US administration has conducted itself.
Telephony by Broadband - VOIP may make this a radically cheaper option

I had not heard of VOIP (voice over internet protocol ) before, but this article is really interesting although it seems I'll still need to keep my landline BT phone number to make it all work, unless Broadband subscriptions can somehow be uncoupled from (or incorporated within) telephone line rentals. But the days of actually making voice calls using a conventional telephone line may quickly be over.
The Conservative party and the gay vote

Next Monday's one-day summit for young gay men and lesbians called the Way Ahead, to be hosted by Charles Hendry, shadow minister for young people and Conservative party deputy chairman, is meant to be a practical demonstration that the Conservative party's attitude toward homosexuality is changing, and for the better. I certainly hope so, but as this pretty balanced Guardian article demonstrates there is some cynicism (which I share) that this change is possibly not one of conviction, but is simply a move to attract voters (gay and otherwise) who were put off voting for the Conservative party by its intolerant attitudes and policies toward gay people - I am certainly amongst those who chose, for the first time since I was able to vote, NOT to vote Conservative at the last elections here (Scottish parliamentary and local) in May 2003. I wrote about Charles Hendry in February 2002 (before I began this blog, so the article is in my main website's comment area), when he was apppinted to his youth role within the party, expressing my scepticism that he could be effective, but I am certainly willing to be convinced otherwise - I will await the results of Monday's conference, over coming months, with some interest.

UPDATE: (Sunday 28MAR03 10.15 BST) Unfortunately, I fear the comments made by the person who has commented on this post state nothing less than the unvarnished truth. With its blatantly homophobic record I am afraid it is very much up to the Conservative Party to demonstrate by concrete steps, not just fine words, that it really has changed - and for ever. So far as I am concerned it is definitely 'on probation' - a first step will be to see how its MPs and Peers actually vote when gay-relevant subjects come up in the Houses of Commons or Lords. For example, if the usual suspects mount rearguard actions to try and stop change, then I will expect instant withdrawal of the Party whip by Michael Howard - no pussy-footing around with anodyne comments! And the comments made about the Conservative 'Gay Group' are absolutely spot on - I haven't seen the latest attempt at George Orwellian 'Newspeak' by them, but its current leadership inspires me with no confidence at all, which is why I have refused to renew my membership for a couple of years - I cannot begin to understand what their motivation can be; it certainly does not seem to have ANYTHING to do with the advancement of equality in this country. (I better stop before I self-combust in a fit of rage ... sigh)

Thursday, 25 March 2004

EU appoints anti-terrorism coordinator (aka 'terror tsar')

Mr Gijs De Vries, deputy interior minister of The Netherlands between 1998 and 2002, has been named to this new position, reporting to the Council of Ministers through Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy and security chief. The bare bones of Mr De Vries's job description do not really give much of an idea, certainly to the ordinary person, of what precisely he will be doing so I will wait awhile before making any comment about the utility of his role. It seems to me it could either be extremely useful, or a recipe for yet more bureaucracy and open to the conflicting political agendas of the more powerful EU members - I hope it is the former.
Chinese traditional medicine may really work

This is an interesting report - I wouldn't be at all surprised if at least some of the potions commonly prescribed in non-western medicine do rather well, despite the scoffing of many western scientists. I recall years ago in Hong Kong that my amah had a bad dose of 'flu and after trying more or less conventional western remedies for a few days told me she planned to take a pill obtained from a Chinese traditional pharmacy - it was huge (at least as big as a 50p coin). After 27 hours (!!) of non-appearance by her, I asked my mother (who fortunately happened to be visiting at the time) to go to her quarters to see if she was OK. At first she was quite concerned as she found my amah lying comatose and fully clothed on top of her bed, but after a few moments ascertained that she was indeed breathing. About 5 hours after that, she appeared and seemed to be almost fully recovered. Quite why this stuff worked (maybe she was knocked out, so giving the body time to do its work in peace), but it certainly seemed to. I've had a similar experience myself with a homeopathic 'flu remedy.

Wednesday, 24 March 2004

Coretta Scott King says gay rights are civil rights

The widow of Martin Luther King Jr has denounced the idea of having a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, in pretty explicit terms:

"Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages."

Bravo!! Courtesy USA Today.
Blogrolling seems to be out at present

May come back at any time, I suppose. For the present, therefore, my blog links are inactive.

UPDATE: (25MAR03 01.40) Blogrolling links seem to be functional once more.
European Union enlargement scheduled for 1st May 2004

The European Union will undertake the largest single growth in membership in its history on 1st May 2004, when 10 new members will join, bringing total membership to 25. A further 3 potential members are possible additions in coming years, although not necessarily at the same time. As a fervent 'europhile' I believe this will be a positive step for our future, that of the UK and Europe as a whole.
(The links above and at the top of the right column open in a new window - to return here, just close the window.)
EU fines Microsoft record amount

The long-awaited outcome of the EU investigation into Microsoft's commercial practices was announced today with a record fine of EUR497m (USD613m; GBP331m).

EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monti, in announcing the fine said:

"Dominant companies have a special responsibility to ensure that the way they do business doesn't prevent competition...and does not harm consumers and innovation."
- and following last week's last-ditch talks between the software giant and the EU he announced:
"It is essential to have a precedent which will establish clear principles for the future conduct of a company with such a strong dominant position."

Microsoft has already announced its intention to appeal the fine, although its cash wealth is unlikely to be significantly impacted by it. However, the outlawing of its practice of bundling software and guarding the source code of its software jealously may have a more profound effect - assuming, that is, that the EU can make its policies stick. Microsoft has already, largely successfully, weathered efforts in the USA to inhibit its quasi-monopoly status and it will require the EU to maintain its tough stance for a prolonged period, in my view, for this to have any long-term bottom-line impact at all. Microsoft products remain popular, not becasue they are the best or because they are the most stable in operation, but because they do generally work (after a fashion) and people are familiar with them - it took me many years before I finally started using Windows 95, for example, and I hated it, but its very ubiquitousness (and that of the later flawed Windows 98) made it the easier option. Even the constant 'hacker' attacks on Windows XP seem not to be affecting its dominant position, although for the record I do not use 'Media Player' - I have not found it very difficult to circumvent the software's inbuilt desire to make me do so.

Tuesday, 23 March 2004

Labour MP Frank Field proposes a better way of providing health care than the NHS

This article, which the Adam Smith Institute blog describes as 'brave' certainly makes interesting reading. Whilst it may be brave, it seems to me it is simple common sense and it surprises me that no Labour MP has realised this or had the courage to say it before. Undoubtedly we do need some kind of publicly-funded healthcare, but the monolith that the NHS has become is not the way a modern and prosperous country should be doing it.

Possible new method of minimising transmission risk of HIV/AIDS

This idea, if it works out, could assist in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. I hope it succeeds.
The EU and Turkey - could it and should it become a member?

This clear statement from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is very welcome, so far as I am concerned.

Attempts by some politicians, exemplified by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, to dismiss the possibility of Turkey ever becoming a member of the European Union have always struck me as quite despicable.
Holyrood: claustrophobic cells for Scottish MSPs - at huge cost

This Scotsman article shows the first interior shot of an MSP's office in the new Scottish Parliament building that I have seen. I suspected from the exterior pictures I have already seen and from seeing the building itself last summer, that the interiors mights be somewhat 'poky', but this interior photograph seems to indicate rather a claustrophic space. I am sure a much simple rectangular window design in the same space would have let in a LOT more light - and, very importantly, been much less expensive. The other thing that strikes me about this crazy window design is that it will probably be more complicated for the exterior cleaning teams who will have to try, every so often, to keep the Edinburgh grime off as the 'pods' stick out from the facade of the building - no doubt this will add to the long-term costs of maintaining this building.

As for the individual refrigerators, I don't find this in and of itself too strange, but wonder why each MSP needs one - couldn't there have been communal water-coolers and drinks (hot and cold) dispensers on every floor. Surely MSPs aren't going to lock themselves away in these grim little boxes for hours on end? And in any case, isn't it better in organisational terms to encourage them to congregate around the watercooler or in the restaurants or cafeterias which, one assumes, form part of this massively expensive complex?

Friday, 19 March 2004

"Keep going well, keep going Shell" - or not

This old advertising slogan for Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil major, has a somewhat ironic tone now in the light of the dramatic announcement, the day before it was due, that publication of its annual report is being delayed and its annual general meeting postponed from April until June. The revelation of a second significant reduction in its announced proven reserves of oil has had a major impact on its share price and investor confidence generally, so far claiming the jobs of the Chairman and the boss of the exploration arm.

Modern economies are highly dependent on abundant affordable energy - we may well be entering a long forecast new phase when energy will once more become a scarce commodity, with all the political and economic consequences which flow from this. I suspect we ain't seen nuthin yet!
House of Lords 'reform' is put on hold

I have no especial attachment to the idea of having hereditary peers continuing to play a part in one of the legislative chambers of this country. But I do object strongly to a government, or anyone else, multilating a functioning (and pretty productive) part of our democratic process without proposing someting definite, and preferably at least as democratic in its nature or at least not open to partisan manipulation, to replace it.

The government has finally abandoned its current plan to push legislation through abolishing the right of the current rump of less than 100 hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords. It states that it will attempt to pass legislation when it has reached a 'consensus', but after 7 years in power this excuse is wearing thin.

The government's desire to have a wholly appointed second chamber has no more democratic legitimacy than a chamber including hereditary peers - there needs to be some kind of public and democratic input on who may sit in the 'revising' chamber, precisely with the aim of acting as a check on the effectively unlimited power of a government with an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons. This is something this government absolutely wishes to deny the British people, it would appear. This desire to maintain the supremacy of the House of Commons at all costs has its origins in the time when Parliament sought to limit the power of an absolute monarchy, but is no longer justifiable in an era when our monarchy, which I support broadly, is largely symbolic in nature. The notion of the absolute sovereignty of parliament derives from the same 'divine right' philosophy that cost the Stuart dynasty the throne and it is time that this government realised (and indeed other political parties, too - think Sir Edward Heath and his very similar views on this matter) that its power derives from the voters and that they have a right to demand a say in the composition of the House of Lords, just as they already have a right to choose who may sit in the House of Commons. My personal preference is to have a wholly elected second chamber, perhaps using some kind of proportional representation (althoough this has the obvious danger of allowing the major political parties to select their 'placemen' for the proportional lists).

Thursday, 18 March 2004

Bible Belt idiocy - 'get outa town'

The Tennessee county that tried to stop the teaching of evolution now wants to prohibit homosexuals from living there, period. The heading summarises what I think about this.

UPDATE: And now a hasty retreat, amid spurious claims that their odious scheming was somehow a misunderstanding.
The traumas which homophobes put themselves through

I do have a guilty secret - I watch one of the most trashy, vulgar programmes on British TV. The same things draw me to it as drew me in the 80s to 'Dynasty' with its back-stabbing and general nastiness, but always coupled with a knowing 'wink' at itself - the actors always seem to be having such a good time behaving in a completely 'over the top' way. There are other attractions of course, and one of these includes scenes involving one of the characters, the subject of this story - it seems that the religious and so-called 'family values' bigots amongst us have succeeded in having a short scene axed from an upcoming episode, even though it is broadcast post-watershed (after 9pm) and far more explicit things have already been shown involving heterosexual scenes.

But they haven't yet succeeded in the case of another British TV soap, according to this. I almost never watch this programme (northern terraced houses aren't my idea of a setting for entertainment), but from all I hear this storyline may be interesting in a few weeks time, if it airs.
Individualism is certainly best

At last the importance of individual remittances home by 'guest-workers' to their families in their countries of origin has been recognised as being much more significant, and probably a great deal more productive, than channeling all aid to developing countries through governemnt-to-government transfers. From my own experience in the Middle East, in particular, I know that hundreds of Bangladeshis, Indians, Pakistanis and Phillipinos came into our offices every month to send a very significant proportion of their earnings back home to support their families. Probably even more important were those thousands who did not come to our or similar offices, but instead sent their money back by less orthodox methods (in a western sense) - probably cheaper and probably reasonably secure methods, too.

Why more productive? Because it keeps this money out of the hands of potentially corrupt officials in the receiving countries, quite apart from by-passing some of the more wasteful international bureaucracies which have developed to channel official aid to recipient countries.
The benefit of having an accountable system of justice

A Libyan, known only as 'M', held at Belmarsh prison in south-east London under Britain's draconian Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act, must be released. This judgement was handed down by Lord Chief Justice Woolf and denies the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, the right of appeal against the judgement. 'M' was accused of being a member of an extremist Islamic movement in Libya, but it appears that evidence to support the various allegations against him could not be presented.

If there were evidence which would stand up in court, I would be amongst the first to agree that 'M' should be held, tried and, if found guilty, convicted. Some will undoubtedly say that to release such a man who may well be a danger to this country is folly. Undoubtedly this is therefore an extremely difficult situation - how will I feel if, in a few months time after his release (assuming this occurs - I am just hearing on BBC News24 that this is likely to happen later today) he is found to be provably responsible for some new terrorist outrage? Pretty rotten! However, and there has to be an 'however', we must decide what kind of a judicial and political system we wish to have in this country. Do we want to live in a country where the State may lock people up indefinitely and without trial? Whilst current anti-terror legislation purports to permit such action only in the case of non-UK nationals (which is already an outrage, in my view) it is only in the last couple of weeks that David Blunkett floated the idea that similar legislation include UK nationals in its scope. Are we to save our democratic systems by subverting them? Now that would be folly!

I think it is highly reassuring that the high-handed attempts at subverting the rule of law by this Home Secretary have been roundly defeated, at least in this one instance. The motive behind the heading I have chosen is probably pretty obvious, but in case it is not, let me state it clearly. It remains an outrage that the world's most powerful nation and one of the strongest upholders of democracy, in theory if not always in practice, continues to hold around 600 people in legal limbo outwith the control of its own judicial system.

Now I think something flows from today's judgement. Democracies do have a right to protect themselves. If a person's continued presence in this country is deemed to be deleterious to our national security then I would find it difficult to argue that a claim for asylum in this country by such a person should be granted unless that person voluntarily agrees to being held in detention as the price to pay for not being deported and returned to a country where life may be in danger. I have no illusions that such an argument would itself be regarded as an outrage by some and that legal arguments against deportation might be prolonged and difficult (and there would need to be checks to ensure the government did not use such arguments merely as a way of denying legitimate asylum-seekers succour in this country).
High Court tax judgement has major implications for international sports stars and entertainers

The High Court has ruled against tennis star Andre Agassi in his claim that sponsorship income he received was not liable to UK tax. The funds are paid by a German company to Agassi's US-registered company, but Special Tax Commissioners judged that the Inland Revenue had a valid claim ( because of the Wimbledon connection) and this view is what has been upheld in the High Court. This Scotsman article goes into a great deal of detail about some of those it may affect.

I am not clear how the UK policy (old and new) compares with those of other major jurisdictions although I recall that a few years ago tennis star Boris Becker was fined heavily by a German court for tax evasion. It does not sound as if the ruling on Agassi implies anything specifically dishonest, though, merely a reinterpretation of regulations. The real question to me is, is there any risk of this ruling discouraging various of those potentially affected from performing in the UK? Probably the risks are minor, but I hope it isn't yet another example of a Labour government stifling enterprise in the name of 'equality' by rounding-down (i.e. 'socialism').

Monday, 15 March 2004

Spain, Iraq and al-Qa'ida - an amazing piece of journalistic detective work

I've just been watching an absolutely amazing segment on BBC2 'Newsnight'. Apparently, Norwegian intelligence monitored an Islamist website last autumn (the website has since disappeared) which in the course of a 50-odd page online document spent 8 pages discussing Spanish politics and the significance of the Spanish general election on 14th March the following year and how it could be used to force withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq because it was believed they could not accept more than a small number of casualties there. This was projected to have a follow-on effect on Tony Blair with regard to British participation. It seems that this intelligence was NOT passed on to Spain becasue they (the Norwegians) assumed it related to possible action in Iraq and never imagined that action on Spanish soil was planned.

No web links I can trace so far, but if this story has substance, then undoubtedly we'll hear more about it in the next few days.

Sunday, 14 March 2004

Ruling Popular Party defeated in Spanish election

In a surprise result the governing party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar won only 38% of the vote with the victorious Socialist Party taking 43%, with most of the votes now counted.

It is widely believed that the Spanish electorate felt the government, which was expected to win, had manipulated the release of information to the public in the wake of Thursday's bomb attacks in Madrid, by immediately claiming their certainty that Eta was responsible and initially discounting the possibility that al-Qa'ida could have been behind them.

It may be difficult to extrapolate the Spanish result to the US or to the UK, because it seems that the opposition to the war in Iraq was much greater in Spain even that it was in the UK. In the case of the US, it seems that feelings are more evenly split between those who broadly favoured the action taken and those who viscerally opposed it.

I suspect that this surprise result will have further repercussions which I hardly care to speculate about just yet, although I fear they will not be positive.
China endorses private property

In a major change to its 1949 constitution, China's parliament has stipulated that "Citizen's lawful private property is inviolable". As Premier Wen Jiabao said:

"These changes to the constitution are of great significance to the development of China."

So far as human rights are concerned the wording in the constitutional change is:
"The state respects and preserves human rights."and the words "martial law" have been removed from the document and replaced with "state of emergency".

This last is said to have been a major factor in the Tiananmen Square democracy protests in 1989. I doubt very much that China is about to abandon its single party collective dictatorship and replace it with anything we would recognise as 'democracy' any time soon, but these changes are undoubtedly of great significance, specially as it is widely believed that China will become a very major (and perhaps the predominant) world power as this century progresses.
Renewed tension in Georgia as Saakashvili is barred from Ajaria

Recently elected Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has been barred by troops loyal to Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze. His visit was apparently part of a campaign for the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The President's convoy was halted by warning shots, although Mr Abashidze's son, Giorgy (mayor of Batumi), has indicated he sees no problem with a visit from the President, but only if he entered without a special military unit accompanying him - perhaps not an offer that Saakashvili is likely to take up unless he has a death wish, although of course politically dramatic and courageous moves such as this have occasionally turned a whole situation around against all expectations.

Undoubtedly from a domestic Russian point of view, showing support for the Ajarian leader Abashidze will play well with many Russian voters in today's elections - Mr Putin, already massively likely to win, is hardly likely to suffer by following such a popular course. Frankly, though, the relative stability of Russia in recent years is being bought at huge price and carries (in my view) enormous long-term risk for the world's genuine democracies.
Madrid train bombs - five in custody - discovery of al-Qa'ida videotape claim of responsibility

Angel Acebes, Spanish Interior Minister, says that a videotape has been recovered in which al-Qa'ida claim responsibility for Thursday's outrages, but he cautions that it has not yet been authenticated.

The Interior Minister also confirmed the arrest of five people, three of whom are Moroccan and the remaining two Indian. The suspects links, if any, with Moroccan extremist groups have not yet been confirmed, according to Mr Acebes.

The fog of uncertainty about who has perpetrated these crimes may be lifting, but it would seem the Spanish authorities are being careful before amending their original assumption that Eta is responsible so it seems sensible to await their conclusions before rushing to judgement - even if it is perhaps becoming sickeningly clear that my initial worst fears are being borne out.

Friday, 12 March 2004

How unlike the life of our own dear Kim ...

Say what you like about South Korea, but its politics are much more interesting than those of its neghbour to the north. President Roh has been forced to step down after having been impeached by parliament.
Two convicted of January 2003 Cape Town gay slaughter

Yesterday in the city's High Court, waiter Adam Woest, 27, and taxi driver Trevor Theys, 44, were convicted of nine counts of premeditated murder. The two slit the throats of nine male escorts (including the owner of the Sizzlers gay massage parlour) before shooting them, a crime which shocked South Africa as even for that country it was one of the most gruesome ever murder sprees. One survivor managed to get to a telephone and call for help, but the two murderers would not testify in court so their motives are unclear.
In pictures: Spain's anguish

Some moving photographs here.
A fascinating glimpse into British social mores

This analysis of where one shops for food amongst the big supermarkets seems to throw an uncanny light on how modern Britain remains socially (and economically) quite stratified. The sophistication of some of the supermarket operators in targetting their offerings at defined segments of society is quite revealing.

Not all the supermarket brands are represented in the area I live, which is in itself quite revealing in some ways (although as a low population density area the market probably does not exist for the full range, anyway). We do have a number of non-supermarket outlets for more specialised foodstuffs, though, and one of the better ones is located only a few miles from where I live I'm glad to say, as is an excellent farm shop.
Tony Blair's prescient speech last week comes quickly and grimly to life in Madrid

This article in The Scotsman will, I hope, cause some the doubters and scoffers amongst its readers and in the wider UK community to reassess their views on the dangers posed to civilised societies in all parts of the world.

Regular readers of this blog know that on most issues of politics I have little time for Tony Blair, but I remain of the firm belief that on this issue he is absolutely correct and consistent in his views; even before the trauma of '9/11', when dramatic measures were being taken by the Italian authorities to try and counteract the anti-globalisation activists from disrupting a meeting of world-leaders in that country during the summer before the tragedy in New York, Tony Blair issued statements which were unequivocal in their nature and which, I confess, I thought were completely 'over the top' at the time. It was only in the context of '9/11' that I began to perceive that there must really be a lot more going on in this world than most of us, who live pretty comfortable and uneventful lives, could ever imagine. Events like yesterday's horrific attacks in Madrid serve, for me, to bring these hard realities into even greater focus.
Shock! Horror! A gay kiss on 'The Archers'

To add a touch of lightness to a sober few days, this review of last nights's 'momentous' gay kiss, between characters Adam and Ian on BBC Radio4's longtime tale of country folk, touches just the right note. I have been an avid listener to 'The Archers' for many years (even when I lived in Hong Kong some years ago, where it was carried by the local relay of BFBS, the British forces' network) and while it has almost totally ceased to be about what it is supposed to be about (country folk), instead being much more an idealised portrayal of country life seen through the rosy view of many city-dwellers, it remains a very powerful piece of popular drama where, whatever disaster befalls some of its denizens (the death of character John under a tractor in recent years, for example) it still conveys the comforting notion that life in a small community must always be better than life in a big city, even though the reality may be slightly different.

Thursday, 11 March 2004

Ireland may be trying to back-track on gay rights

Whilst travel passes may not be the most serious thing in life, it sounds as if it might be symbolic of a belief by the Irish government that a relatively small minority can have rights taken away with barely a whimper raised in protest.
US citizen arrested as suspected spy for Saddam Hussein's Iraq

Susan Lindauer, aged 41, has been detained in the state of Maryland under accusation of having met with Iraqi agents at the UN in New York from 1999 to 2002. Without rushing to judgement, if true this seems to show that duplicity knows no boundaries.

UPDATE: Via BoiFromTroy (who had it from Sullivan) comes this Smoking Gun story about her background and her alleged 2002 visit to Iraq.
The role of 'grannies' is to help look after their own children's offspring

... or so this Finnish research would have us believe. If this is true it seems to me to beg at least as many questions as it answers, specially in the context of westen[ised] soceities today where grandparents are less willing to act as unpaid carers, having in many cases the wherewithal to 'party' long after their own parenting days are over.

It strikes me that this has echoes in the debate about inheritance and care costs for the elderly which rages in the UK - often the loudest critics of requiring the elderly to [help] pay for their own care are their children, who hope to inherit the family home when the parents finally 'kick the bucket', or sooner if they can get them into a care home first (which someone else will have to pay for). Relatively few nowadays are prepared to have their parents live with them in their declining years, although this would obviously make looking after grandchildren easier for the physically-fit elderly. Just a few cynical thoughts .....
Madrid terrorist outrage - but who is responsible?

The Spanish authorities have quickly attributed these attacks to Basque separatist movement 'Eta', although the scale of the carnage (more than 173 fatalities and many hundreds injured - blood donations have been requested for upto 600 casualties), takes their previous activities to a whole new level, if true.

Whilst the Spanish authorities apparently have considerable expertise in monitoring the activities of domestic terrorists, it is also equally clear that this latest massacre is on a much larger scale than has ever been attempted before by Eta; it is also apparently in some respects not in character - for example, because Eta normally gives prior warning of imminent attacks. So perhaps the Spanish government is correct, specially as there is a general election scheduled this coming Sunday in Spain. However, there are doubts and until it is definitiely assigned to one group or another I prefer to keep an open mind on the matter.

UPDATE (11MAR 16.05): BBC News 24 is reporting 182 fatalities and at least 900 injured.

Wednesday, 10 March 2004

British Guantanamo prisoner releases - two of five released without charge

One of the five, Jamal Udeen, was released yesterday evening within hours of the men's return from Cuba.

A second, Tarek Dergoul, 26, from east London was released this evening.

One imagines the British authorities have been provided with all the evidence gathered by the US authorities - but the British police have evidently concluded that none of it would stand up in a court of law (quite a different animal from the 'kangaroo' court proposed by Rumsfeld and Bush).

So much for the 'evidence' with which the US justified (to itself, if no-one else) holding them for two years in legal limbo.

UPDATE (11MAR 00.31): The BBC (BBC News24) is reporting that the remaining three of the five repatriated to the UK on 9th March have now been released without charge.

Tuesday, 9 March 2004

British Guantanamo prisoner releases

Following on from my previous post, this New York Times article is the first mention I have seen from any US web source of the fact of five Britons having been released from Guantanamo. The UK is the closest ally of the USA in the world, according to President Bush during his recent State Visit to the UK. So far I have seen no mention of these releases in any of the popular US-based weblogs, people who comment regularly about Afghanistan and/or Iraq. To use a phrase popular amongst our American cousins, IT SUCKS!!!
Five British terrorism suspects return to the UK from Guantanamo

I have just been watching live pictures from RAF Northolt of the 'plane carrying five of the nine British suspects back to Britain. This is extremely welcome.

Now that these people are back in the UK they are apparently to be questioned by British security and police, but there is speculation they will not be charged with any crime. Whatever the truth it must be faced. If there are grounds to bring a chargeoable ofence against one or more of these men then I hope it happens quickly so they can be tried and, if convicted, punished appropriately. If, however, there are no charges which the Crown Prosecution Service believes will stand up in court, then they must be released forthwith. If we are to merit the title of democracy we should not be in the business of locking people up indefinitely just because we don't like the look of their faces or don't like their belief systems or politics. I am pretty confident that even our present Home Secretary will not be able to get away with such a brazen flouting of the basic principles of British (English or Scottish) law as a further prolonged detention of these poeple without trial.

The current US administration continues to operate outside the norms of civilised behaviour. It is clear that it is only the forthcoming presidential election there that has provoked them into even these few, and some other, releases. However, four Britons remain at Guantanamo within the overall total of some six hundred persons, all non-US citizens. All should either be charged and tried in the very near future, or released.
Homophobia watch - Singapore

Singapore is a marvellous place: clean, well-run and prosperous. It also boasts a somewhat authoritarian government, albeit a benign one. It does, however, have a pretty unreconstructed view of homosexuality. The latest example of this mindset I have come across is a recent intervention by the quaintly-named Media Development Authority (MDA) because, according to this body, a magazine entitled Manazine had published content that is 'unacceptable', apparently featuring nudity and homosexual content. Reporting on discussions with the MDA, Manazine's chief editor Arjan Nijen Twilhaar said:

"Manazine is promoting a lifestyle that integrates arts, personal well-being and mental growth. We feel we don't need female models to convey that message and like to break away from the stereotyping for men's magazines in the market today. If this format appeals to a gay reader, Manazine acknowledges that and recognises that there is strong support from the community. Manazine is proud that it can reach all sectors of society."

This is a polite way, within the political and social straitjacket of Singapore, of saying (it seems to me): we're fulfilling a need and responding to a market demand and are happy if it appeals. I'm sure there are lots of other things they would like to say, though.

Monday, 8 March 2004

Homophobia and bigotry generally in the Bahamas

This article in The Nassau Guardian makes sobering reading; it is always curious to me how so-called 'men of the cloth' can have such bizarre views, people who are able to inculcate their odious doctrine to growing children - so they become bigted adults just like their pastors and their parents. Not a surprise of course because a number of Caribbean islands (Jamaica, etc) are notorious for their strong antipathy to homosexuality in any form. Not places I plan to waste any of my money visiting.
Apparently PayPal isn't entirely secure

An alarming story here about PayPal, the payment service of internet auction house eBay. I have never used eBay myself, and have no plans to, but I do occasionally make payments through the PayPal mechanism - donations, that kind of thing - and will think carefully how much I use this system in future.

Sunday, 7 March 2004

Greece elects conservative 'New Democracy' party in today's elections

In an otherwise unremarkable, and one presumes factual, story about the Greek election results, the BBC chooses to headline its piece with the title: 'Greek conservatives seize power'. Would a similar headline have been chosen if it had been a socialist/leftwing party that had won the election rather than a conservative/rightwing one? Frankly, I suspect not. The use of this headline seems designed to plant a subliminal message that the result is somehow unfair - or is that what the BBC really does mean? Or does it reveal that a political bias does exist within the BBC, something which I have been trying to believe is not the case despite much provocation to the contrary in the past year?

Saturday, 6 March 2004

Atkins Diet - my full diary progress is now online

When I last wrote about my progress on the Atkins 'way of eating', on 24th February last, I mentioned that I would shortly put up a link to the full journal entries I kept to record my experiences from 'start' to 'target' and beyond. You can view my journal by clicking here (it will open in a separate window - simply close that window to come black to my blog). I am also putting a permanent link to this journal in my link column on the right under the sub-heading 'Atkins Online Journal'.
New Link Added

I have visited Roger L Simon's weblog a few times over recent months and think he is a worthwhile frequent visit. He describes himself as a screenwriter and mystery novellist and has a lot of interesting things to say on a range of topics.

Friday, 5 March 2004

Oil price reaches 1-year high amid fears of political tension in Venezuela

The price of US light crude slightly exceeded USD 37 a barrel in morning trading and US refiners are preparing contingency plans because of possible disruption in Venezuelan supplies. Venezuela is the third largest producing member of OPEC.

They and several other OPEC producers are planning reduced output effective 1st April and with the increasaing competition for supplies from China, now the world's second-largest consumer of oil, I wonder if this is only the beginning of a period of major increases in energy costs. Maybe it really is time for me to go live in a warmer climate.
Labour MSPs round on Gorrie for Dewar remarks

I posted yesterday (scroll down page) about some remarks Donald Gorrie MSP (LibDem) had made about the late First Minister Donald Dewar's involvement in the Holyrood project. His remarks were outspoken, extremely critical of Dewar and, in my view, deadly accurate.

Now, and predictably, a coterie of 35 Labour MSPs has signed what they pretentiously call a 'motion' (I'd call it 'griping' because Gorrie merely said, honestly, what he thinks) in which they characterise Gorrie's comments as "a stream of vindictive, half-formed utterances" and demand an apology "followed by a period of lengthy silence". Stuff and nonsense!

This ridiculous motion is typical of a bunch of Scottish Labour socialist 'apparatchiks' who seem to be under some amazing misapprehension that free speech has somehow been put on hold since they and their English cousins in 'New Labour' came to power in 1997. I hope, and believe, that Mr Gorrie will not be intimidated and will give this 'motion' the respect and attention it deserves. I have no love for Donald Gorrie particularly, and certainly not for the LibDem Party as a whole, but I applaud his willingness to say what he thinks and not buy into the sickening 'father of the nation' nonsense we are fed by Scottish Labour when they speak of Donald Dewar.

Thursday, 4 March 2004

A positive potential effect of global warming

This is exciting - there is speculation that the North-East Passage could be open to year-round commercial shipping within a decade. This would permit commercial shipping along the Siberian shore of the Arctic Ocean and would allow the longer southern route through the Suez Canal to be by-passed, or simply give an alternative route.

If this happens it would cut shipping distances between Europe and East Asia from 11,000 to 7,000 nautical miles and cut the journey time from 35 to 22 days. Freight costs should be significantly reduced although this will depend greatly on a 'realistic' attitude by the Russian authorities with regard to transit taxes they might levy.
Aid distribution in Angola hit by port delays

The main contribution of the Angolan government is to fund the port fees for food aid being brought in, but it is delaying payment - so 1,600 tonnes of pulses and vegetable oil are blocked in the port of Luanda. Although apparently only a small part of food aid, pulses form the main protein intake for many of the most poverty-stricken Angolans, so the delay is specially harmful for growing children.

With its own oil wealth, however, there are some who say the government could do more to help its own people. Aid without a genuine local commitment can never be fully effective, it seems to me.
LibDem proposals - luckily it's unlikely they'll ever get to act on them!

It's unlikely because there is only a remote possibility, I would have thought, that they'll ever be elected to run the country - at least in my lifetime.

However, to look at the proposals for a second, whilst some don't seem entirely unreasonable (although I don't agree with them), for example scrapping some defence projects [assuming one thinks it's acceptable to leave the country undefended!], the idea we should be scrapping the Department of Trade and Industry to free up cash for other priorities just seems plain laughable, pie in the sky, nonsense to me.

The objective is to free up money to pay for 'front-line' services, which I take it means health and education. Nothing wrong with wanting to spend more on health and education, of course, but it seems crazy to scrap a department designed to help foster UK trade and industry. No doubt the current budget for that department could be more efficiently spent with, possibly, more productive outcomes, but without nurturing our trade and industries I don't see where the major income is to come from to pay for all the front-line services. It sounds good to say you're going to up the taxes (to 50%) for those earning in excess of GBP 100k a year, but these are the ones who probably produce more per capita anyway for the country and who could, if pushed to it, go and live in countries more conducive to enterprise.

This budget shows clearly why the LibDems have nothing to offer a modern Britain. Very unfortunate.
Lord chief justice, Lord Woolf, exposes Blunkett's dictatorship in the making

In an unprecedentedly swingeing attack (at least for the last 300 years or so!) on what he perceives to be the government's encroachment on judicial independence, Lord Woolf used what is described as 'militant' language to expose the major flaws in our Home Secretary's latest attempt at what is nothing less than a flagrant attempt to re-write the rule of law in the UK and to turn us into some sort of elective (and for how long would that last, if he achieves his objectives?) dictatorship:

the plan "would be a blot on the reputation of the government and undermine its attempts to be a champion of the rule of law overseas"
"I am not over-dramatising the position if I indicate that, if this clause were to become law, it would be so inconsistent with the spirit of mutual respect between the different arms of government that it could be the catalyst for a campaign for a written constitution. Immigration and asylum involve basic human rights. What areas of government decision making would be next to be removed from the scrutiny of the courts? What is the use of courts, if you cannot access them?"


Throughout his career, David Blunkett has shown himself not be the campaigner for the ordinary person, as he as a labour Party devotee would have us believe, but a believer in central 'diktat' from those who think they know better - and are none-too-subtly intent on putting in place the legal framework to allow them to trample on rights which have taken centuries to achieve. Unfortunately, with its huge majority, it is highly likely that this legislation will be rammed through what is left of our parliamentary democracy by bought-off Labour back-benchers. Chilling.
Holyrood "Dewar's Personal Memorial" says Gorrie

Yesterday at the Fraser Inquiry, Donald Gorrie (a LibDem MSP) finally said what I have believed, personally speaking, since this whole fiasco began - and by 'began' I mean when the Scotland Bill was first published by the newly-elected Labour government in London, soon after it came to power in 1997. Some choice quotes from his evidence to the Fraser inquiry:

There is a risk of someone in his position confusing what’s good for Scotland and what’s a memorial to Donald Dewar."
"In a democracy, it is not a question of Louis XIV deciding on the palace at Versailles. I find it absolutely offensive how it was done."
"I think if he was looking down on proceedings, he might think he made a bad decision. My own view is that Holyrood is the wrong site and at the time, I had never met anyone in Edinburgh who thought it was right. It was only a Glaswegian who could have chosen it."

Whether the right comparison is with Louis XIV or with Ceacescu in Romania or Kim il-Sung in North Korea, is debatable - but for sure Gorrie is telling it like it really is with his allusion (in my view).

Monday, 1 March 2004

Was this a 'Gay Wedding' in Saudi Arabia?

This curious story from al-Jazeera is most intriguing. A ceremony involving 2 Chadians and about 50 other participants was raided by police after a tip-off from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. However one of the two 'principals' Saudi sponsors (I won't go into what that means here) confirmed he had provided funds for the events, which is said to have been a rehearsal for a conventional wedding two days later. Will we ever get to know the truth?
HSBC, the world's second-largest bank, reports bumper results for 2003

As an unashamed capitalist, it gives me nothing but extreme pleasure to note that HSBC has this year recorded very healthy results for 2003, with pre-tax profits of USD 12,816 million (about GBP 7.7 billion). As a former employee it obviously gives me especial pleasure. Here is the view of the Guardian.
LoTR: The Return of the King - a clean sweep at the 'Oscars'!

The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King hit 11 for 11 at the Oscars last evening, winning in the following categories:

Best picture

Best director - Peter Jackson

Best adapted screenplay

Best music (score)

Best music (song) - Into the West

Best visual effects

Best art direction

Best costume design

Best make-up

Best sound

Film Editing

Well done! In my view all were well-merited and this suitably recompenses all those who brought this film adaptation of J R R Tolkien's masterpiece to the screen in three wonderful segments.