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

Thursday 30 September 2004

Terrorism cannot, and must not, ever be appeased

The title above is the final line on the memorial tributes I have posted, to mark four major acts of terrorism over the past three years; links under 'Memorial Pages' at right. Of course, it is easy for me to adopt this attitude when neither myself nor anyone close to me is currently in danger, as Ken Bigley is. He is the unfortunate British citizen who is being held hostage in Iraq. Tony Blair undoubtedly wishes he could, somehow, get this man out of Iraq safely, but the truth is that it would be highly counterproductive to entertain any notion of acquiescing in the terrorists' demands for two female Iraqi detainees to be released. There are many other British citizens in Iraq who would likely be placed in greater danger were he to do so.

This is quite apart from the practical reality that these two ladies are being held under the control of the US military in Iraq, albeit technically under the jurisdiction of the interim Iraqi government. Quite apart, also, from the horrific reality that Mr Bigley's two fellow-detainees, both US citizens, have already been cruelly and horrifically murdered by the same group of terrorists, which is hardly an incentive for the US to co-operate in the ladies' release, should the British government have sought this.

Why is all this happening? It seems clear to me that the kinds of terrorist who perpetrate these outrages are very astute politically in that they appear to have an acute awareness of which 'buttons to push' to cause the maximum discomfort to the governments of democracies such as the UK. It is absolutely no coincidence that the series of pitiful videos of Mr Bigley pleading for Tony Blair to help him have been released during the week of the Labour Party conference in Brighton. Just as the terrorist outrage in Madrid earlier this year seemed calculated to affect the result of the Spanish general election and the swift ending of Spanish military involvement in Iraq soon afterward. The terrorists hope somehow to drive a wedge between the UK and the US. There is no way they can be allowed to succeed; a firm stance by Tony Blair and the government is the only way forward, however painful.

Labour government holds the line on its Iraq policy

The Labour Party is currently holding its annual conference at Brighton. Today a motion calling for British troops to be brought home from Iraq very quickly was defeated by a margin of four to one. Although I had to go out before Jack Straw completed his speech, a resume of the whole thing I have now seen makes considerable sense, politically at least, even if I bridle at some of the quasi-socialist rhetoric his speech was larded with.

I don't agree with much that Tony Blair's government has done but, as I have said before, its policy on Iraq has generally been spot-on. I was never much concerned, personally, with whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or not, but if claims that they existed were what it took to achieve the political majority in the House of Commons to sanction our forces going there, then from my point of view I was happy to go along with it. The only downside, that WMD would not be found, would be for Blair to deal with, which from my longer-term perspective is a wholly good thing, but his conviction on the necessity of intervening in Iraq achieved what I saw (and see) as the great advance there - the removal of Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath Party from power. I've written about this aspect a number of times before, but most recently in July; my views since then have not changed in any significant way.

Turkey - a useful round-up of PM Erdogan's policies

I wrote few days ago about developments in Turkey which may affect its application to join the EU. In an article based on an interview with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Chris Morris (BBC Correspondent, Turkey), discusses the various contrary forces in Turkish society. There are lots of good things to say about some of the changes, 'reforms' if you will, that Erdogan has implemented since he came to power a couple of years ago, but as recent developments have shown, there are worries that secularism may be being dismantled bit by bit. There is no doubt he is walking a tightrope domestically, between those who want further modernisation and those who would rather see religion achieve a more prominent role in public life.

Gurkhas get some good, but very overdue, news

Gurkhas who have served at least 4 years in the British military will be allowed to apply to stay in the UK and to apply a little later for naturalisation as British citizens. Applies only to those who joined after July 1997 (I suspect this is to exclude those who were in HK upto June 1997). This news is very good, so far as it goes, it's just a pity that there are seemingly gratuitous exclusions in this long-overdue change.

Wednesday 29 September 2004

New link added - Boris Johnson has recently been started by Boris Johnson. He is a British journalist, editor and, lately, a Conservative MP. Last year he became Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party. He cultivates an impression of being an amiable 'buffoon', but that is very far from the reality; he has a very sharp brain and a ready wit, as his frequent appearances in television comedy/satire programmes easily testify. There is absolutely nothing 'bland' about Boris Johnson.

Tuesday 28 September 2004

Wine tasting season gets off to a good start

One of my passions is wine. My knowledge is moderately good, I like to think, but there is still a great deal more for me (and my palate) to learn. For the past seven or so years, a few years after I came back to live in the UK permanently, I have been a member of the Inverness Wine Appreciation Society (IWAS). IWAS holds monthly wine tastings from September until May, with a few other supplementary events on top.

Yesterday evening we had our first tasting of the season, this time devoted to the wines of the Campania region of Italy. Campania includes the cities of Naples, Salerno and Sorrento. The wines we tasted came mainly from the Benevento and Avelino areas, which are located inland, east of Naples and north east of Salerno. We tasted four whites and two reds. First up was:

- Falanghina - Cantina del Taburno DOC 2003 13% about GBP9.99, white; this was really quite good, with a citrus nose, and a fruity taste (specifically pineapple and ripe pears)

followed by:

- Greco - Cantina del Taburno DOC 2002 12.5% about GBP10.95, white; this had a good finish and improves in the mouth. The nose was honeyed (I detected peach and pears with a touch of sea air), and in the mouth it was packed with peachy fruit, with a touch of flint and a very light 'spritz'. Really not bad.

- Greco di Tufo - Feudi di San Gregorio DOCG 2003 12.5% about GBP12.99, white; rather nice, but a little 'odd', not really my thing. The nose was intriguing and attractive, very sweetly fruity with a 'bubblegum' and honey aroma, and the taste was fruit with very light notes of resin. Rather overpriced, in my humble opinion.

- Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio - Mastroberardino DOC 2003 12% about GBP9.99, white; a delicate honey and fruit nose, with an agreeable and delicate fruity and honeyed taste. A delicate and nice wine and good value.

- Lacryma del Christi del Vesuvio Rosso - Mastroberardino DOC 2003 12% about GBP11.45, red; a bright ruby red wine, similar to 'Beaujolais Nouveau', the nose of shoe leather and very little else. In the mouth there is a lot of tannin, with notes of white pepper, but apart from that very little body, which makes me wonder whether even the necessary ageing (to mellow the tannins) would result in a much better wine. Certainly at this stage it was in need of a few more years to mature, but I doubt I'd waste my money at this or even a much lower price in the hope it might eventually come good.

- Taurasi - Feudi di San Gregorio DOCG 1998 13.5% about GBP21.95, red; a deep purple red colour, with a lovely nose hinting of tannin, oak and chestnut. In the mouth there is some tannin and loads of fruit. It needs at least three more years and probably a few more in addition. This is a really very fine wine and if anyone wants to gift me a case I'd really be very content.

So, this time our wines ranged from around GBP10 to GBP22 (USD17 to USD37), retail, although in a restaurant they'd probably be 50% to 100% more. Case purchasers could probably get a better deal from wine merchants other than the somewhat pricey outfit most of these wines were sourced from, perhaps 15 or 20% lower than the retail prices I mention. I regard tasting wines as a learning experience and it is not necessary for all the wines to be 'good' for them to be worthwhile; some of the most valuable lessons come from tasting less-than-good wines and at least I will know not to buy one of those we tasted last night for my own consumption. Usually we have around 30 to 35 members in attendance, although last night (probably because it was the first of the season) we had somewhat fewer, but as the speaker was good and the commentary lively, it was still a very interesting evening, followed by a very enjoyable salmon-based meal.

The reputation of Campania has been growing in recent years, probably because more care is being taken by the winemakers, thus giving them access to higher price-brackets.

Next month is probably going to be a tasting of wines from the French Provence region.

Book returned to Inverness Library 100 years overdue

... Yes, that's right - 100 years! Luckily the GBP5,000 fine has been waived.

Is Jack Straw of this world?

I've often had the feeling that there is something other worldly about Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

A part of Straw's comments that is, inexplicably, not included in this article is that he opined that he did not immediately recognise Robert Mugabe because he was sitting in a dark corner. As this photo shows, there was absolutely nothing dark and gloomy about that area of the room; I watched the video of it on BBC2 Newsnight last night and I had no impression that the corner was suddenly illuminated for the handshake (by a flashbulb, for example), but was lit to a fairly high degree of ambient light throughout.

Does this room look dark to you?

I also heard some 'Sir' somebody or other on BBC Radio4 'Today' this morning suggesting that it was not always easy to distinguish people "because there were so many black faces around" at the UN! Amazing, outrageous, and a whole lot of other things forbidden by my rules on language in this blog! Mugabe has one of the best-known faces on the planet; the explanation simply does not wash! So much for this government's so-called ethical foreign policy! The desire not to 'make a scene' is no excuse - and of course, no 'scene' was necessary, simply a decision to walk away.

Guantanamo - the travesty continues!

Read this; this whole scenario makes me want to spit.

Is it in any way connected, do you think, with the fact that there is to be a Presidential election in the US in the very near future?

Monday 27 September 2004

Morbid aspects of an online presence

What happens to one's online presence after death? I had never really given this any thought before, but this discussion, morbid as it is, seems to cover a lot of ground relating to this. My own registered domains (of which I have two) are registered for the maximum 10 years, although the associated hosting arrangements are renewed every year. However, blogs such as those on 'blogger' are proxy accounts so I assume they will continue long after whoever wrote them has turned into dust. And in any case, once I'm gone what happens to my online 'pearls of wisdom' is of vanishingly little interest to me, so I don't think I'll dwell on this subject any longer ...

"Hit man ordered to kill Tatchell"

Peter Tatchell is not my favourite person, but his recent campaign against the singing of lyrics featuring calls to kill gays, and which have begun to have a major effect on the commercial viability of the artists who sing them, have seemingly begun to bring a sinister response which neither Tatchell nor anyone else deserves. It seems the police are taking very seriously the threats on Peter Tatchell's life and there are fears a hit man may have been hired by supporters of some of the affected reggae singers. I can only hope that the police will be successful in thwarting these vicious efforts.

Thursday 23 September 2004

Turkey faces no more obstacles to negotiating EU entry

EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen has concluded talks with the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, by announcing that he sees no further obstacles to commencing detailed negotiations for Turkey to enter the European Union. A formal report by the European Commission on the way ahead is expected to be published on 6th October.

Whilst I am in general very much in favour of Turkey joining the EU, there were quite obviously worries that recent moves in Turkey to introduce a reformed penal code would jeopardise fatally any possibility that full EU membership for Turkey could happen. A particuarly contentious issue was the effort, by some hard-line "Islamists" within the ruling Party, to introduce a clause outlawing adultery.

The Turkish Prime Minister last week complained that the EU was 'interfering' in Turkey's internal affairs, but he has now apparently confirmed that the clause will not be included in the legislation. However, I would make the point that if Turkey did include such a clause in its new legislation, it would be impossible for Turkey to join the EU. This is not 'interference', simply a clear statement that applicants to join the EU 'club' must abide by certain minimum standards and that failure to do so makes membership out of the question. However, this scenario seems thankfully to be fading. Read the EU's country profile on Turkey here.

Wednesday 22 September 2004

Links - UK Politics

I've added a new section to my links in the column at right. The 'Links - UK Politics' section shows links to many of the political parties which operate throughout the UK or in parts of it. The list is not entirely exhaustive, although I will be filling in most of the gaps.

There is, however, one party that I shall not be linking to and I don't plan to mention which it is here, either, although those familiar with British politics will no doubt be able to deduce fairly easily which that is. Whilst I try to be impartial in including links which represent a broad spectrum of opinion, there are certain limits to my tolerance, and I make no apology for this; I detail my reasoning in my 'Links Policy' page .

I'm launching this links section now because we are currently in the first week of the annual conference season (currently the Liberal Democrats and the SNP are holding their conferences) and the Labour and Conservative parties will be holding their conferences in coming weeks. Also, we are probably going to have a General Election in the UK next spring, although of course it does not have to be held until May 2006, so this conference season is probably more important than most. Enjoy ... if that's the right word!

Renewed worries about potential rise in sea level

About two years after the Larsen B ice-shelf broke away in Antarctica, it seems that the glaciers which flow into the area have begun to move much more rapidly than before, it is being presumed because the ice-shelf is no longer there to retain them. Unlike the ice-shelf, this would have an effect on sea levels and if this were to happen in some other parts of the continent the effects on the rest of the world could be truly dramatic.

Bush Administration moves to remove job protection for gays

In a subtle (aka 'underhand') but far reaching-change it seems that protection for gays from discrimination or harassment in employment is being curtailed. The way this is being done seems to indicate it is a quite deliberate move to roll-back the hard won modicum of protection that gays in the US have enjoyed under Federal Labor Contracts since the signing of an Executive Order by former President Clinton.

Tuesday 21 September 2004

Bush, Kofi Annan and the UN

There was nothing particularly objectionable in UN Secretary General's speech to the General Assembly of the UN today, it struck all the right notes - the desirablity of the 'rule of law' being the soundest policy to adhere to in the conduct of international relations. He delivered what some are choosing to interpret as a 'rap on the knuckles' to various of those present and listening to him, and in particular to the US Administration led by President Bush. In reality his most stinging criticisms were directed at some other countries, notably the government of Sudan.

President Bush is being interpreted by some, in the light of his speech, which came a little after Annan's, as striking a 'conciliatory' tone.

My interpretation of today's event was somewhat different. First, I simply do not accept that the decision by the US, the UK and a number of other countries, to invade Iraq with the aim of removing Saddam Hussein, was 'illegal'. I am tired of repeating what I have written many times before - the justification was not the supposed presence of weapons of mass destruction, rather it was the wilful disobedience by Saddam Hussein in the face of numerous UN resolutions.

The notion of the 'rule of law', as espoused by Kofi Annan, is a noble one and, in an ideal world, is one that most of us would wish to live by. However, we do not live in an ideal world; we must deal with some people who may pay lip-service to notions of common decency and civilised behaviour. Saddam Hussein could, by no stretch of the imagination, be said to have even done that. The notion that a few more months of investigation by the UN weapons inspectors would have altered in any fundamental way the long-standing despotic rule of Saddam Hussein or his policy of wilful disregard of the will of the UN is, to put it mildly and with as much restraint as I can muster, not entirely certain.

The US and its coalition allies, which of course include the UK, have indeed made some errors, most notably what seems to have been an incomplete strategy for how to deal with Iraq once the removal of the pre-exisitng regime had been accomplished. But the decision to remove that regime was, and remains, a sound one. No one, not the French or the Germans or the Spanish under new leader Zapatero, and most certainly not Kofi Annan, will ever convince me that it was anything other than a marveloous and noble deed to rid Iraq of the rule of Saddam Hussein.

There are many areas where I take extreme objection to President Bush's policies, notably his continuing desire to pass the "Federal Marriage Amendment", or his continuing desire to outlaw stem cell research, and his (as I see it) pandering to the worst elements of far-right Christian bigotry, but removing Saddam Hussein from power, or the Taliban regime from power in Afghanistan, are completely different cases. In the long run I have little doubt that a world in which Anglo-Saxon, or American, notions of what democracy is all about, prevail, will be a much healthier place - and a world in which idealists such as Kofi Annan and (I hesitate to include them here because of their often-times pusillanimity) the French may safely follow in relative peace and tranqility their notions of democracy.

Bush's refusal to accept the false notion that non-western, and non-Christian, cultures are to be held to lesser standards than western and nominally Christian cultures is sound, just as it is patronising to assume that differences in culture can justify non-adherence to the highest democratic standards. It is always striking to me how it is some of the more despotic rulers on the planet who whine about 'interference' (Saddam Hussein, Kim il-Sung, Robert Mugabe, Mahathir Mohamed, etc etc) when it is only their repression, to varying degrees, of the genuine 'rule of law' in the countries where they represent supreme authority that allows them to remain in power. I'm afraid there is a line to be drawn when claims of this kind are in reality the most complete 'humbug'.

Today President Bush, in one of the better speeches I have heard him make, made the world take a reality check on what the 'rule of law' and 'democracy' are about - the advancement of freedom and prosperity across the whole world, without distinctions based on superficial factors such as race, religion or culture.

Monday 20 September 2004

Scotland's reputation for being 'canny with money' is ill-deserved, it seems

Scots save the least of any part of the UK, and the 10 areas where people are least likely to save regularly are all in Scotland. I'm afraid I put it all down to the policies of the current Labour government, specially those of Chancellor Gordon Brown with all the so-called 'credits' available to people, which make it less and less necessary (or indeed possible, with the various levies placed upon savers) to put money aside for a 'rainy day'.

Gordon Brown has done a few good things (e.g. making the Bank of England independent), but his monetary policy as it affects savers has been almost exclusively negative. It's all very well to encourage people to save by exhortation, but if the economic framework which makes it attractive to do so is removed, then they won't. Simple, really, but socialists never learn, specially when ideology gets in the way.

Party conference season kicks off with the Liberal Democrats

The major political parties will all be holding their annual conferences in the coming few weeks. The first is the Liberal Democrat conference, being held at Bournemouth this year. The question being posed this time: is the coming election the one where the LibDems will supplant the Conservatives as the 'official opposition'? The BBC's in depth section on the Liberal Democrat conference is here. A less impartial view on what is likely to result from Bournemouth can be found in the Scotsman, which has tended to take an increasingly right-wing stance in recent years, although in truth the Scotsman has a point in the assessment it makes.

What some far-right so-called "Christians" believe ...

Jimmy Swaggert, speaking before an audience (aka 'congregation') in New Orleans, decided to let the nation know what he thinks about gay marriage. His broadcast was carried on stations in all 50 US states without apparent incident, but has caused serious disquiet (rightly) in Canada where it was broadcast on Omni 1, a Toronto multicultural station, provoking the issuance of an apology by the station to its viewers, because 'hate speech' is a criminal offence in Canada.

What has caused the outrage. Well, this:

"I'm trying to find the correct name for it ... this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men. ... I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I'm gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died."

It seems the audience applauded. And it seems that no-one in the US has spoken out to condemn this bigot. Presumably gays there have heard it so many times before, specially from someone who has been arrested for soliciting a prostitute, that they think it is not so important. I beg to differ. Such remarks need to be challenged every time they are made.

Sunday 19 September 2004

Home Office contemplates ban on BNP members as civil servants

It seems the Home Office is considering whether to bar civil servants from BNP membership.

I loathe the BNP and what it stands for. Anyone who has ever read my blog can be in no doubt about that. However, it is a legal political organisation. Whether it should remain so is a separate question and I personally would not weep bitter tears (or indeed, tears of any kind) were it to be made illegal, although there is the danger that were this to happen it would drive the movement underground. In any case, for good or ill it is a legal organisation.

I wrote recently about the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) having decided to ban BNP members from the police and that I was deeply opposed to this.

Of course I have a great deal of sympathy with both the ACPO and the Home Office in their desire to try and ensure that people who have highly undesirable political ideas are not allowed to occupy positions where they may allow these beliefs to affect the way they behave toward members of the public.

Either we are a free country or we are not. Membership of a legal organisation should not, in and of itself, be grounds for barring employment as a public servant. If an organisation is considered extremely dangerous to the state then it should be made illegal - let the concerned organisation sue the government if it seeks to have the ban reversed.

Autumn season of culture has an auspicious start

Yesterday evening was the first concert of the season at Clifton House under the auspices of the Nairn Performing Arts Guild (NPAG).

Valentin Schiedermair, a quite well-known German pianist, gave a recital including works by Scarlatti, Beethoven, Scriabin and Schumann. It was very enjoyable and as Clifton House is only a couple of hundred yards from where I live it is very convenient, specially as I don't need to take the car. A coincidental benefit is that I can have a glass of wine prior to the performance and continue to sip it during the evening (the wine glasses there offer generous portions).

Next up on the cultural front are three concerts in early October, the first of Renaissance Music from Scotland at a country house venue near to Nairn (no web link), with the next day a string quartet (Johnston String Quartet), formed a few years ago at the Royal Northern College of Music, in Manchester; it will be at Gordonstoun School, only about a half-hour's drive from here. The next NPAG performance is the following week and will be by the Kodaly Quartet, performing works by Dohnanyi, Mozart and Schubert.

It's a good beginning to an autumn and winter of music in this area.

Hunting ban bill yes: gay partnership bill no

I read last week that the gay partnerships bill was to be delayed from passing its next reading in Parliament and at the time noted, with curiosity, that the bill to ban hunting was to be rushed through. I've written about the latter already so won't rehash my views on that.

If this article is true, then it seems that the gay partnership bill may have been delayed at the request of the Rev Dr Ian Paisley, leader of the DUP (the largest so-called 'Loyalist' party in Northern Ireland), because the conference being held at Leeds Castle in Kent between the various political parties there (which has, unsurprisingly, broken up without positive result) and the UK and Irish Prime Ministers precluded DUP MPs being in the House of Commons, where they would have opposed the bill.

Politics is a dirty business, I know that. I am not naive. However, Tony Blair is even more of a slime-ball than I would have imagined. Base political motives caused him to force through the hunting bill, base political motives caused him to delay the gay partnership bill. Is remaining PM really that important to you, Tony?

Friday 17 September 2004

'Blogrolling' links

I have disabled the 'Blogrolling' links for the present as over the past few days the 'Blogrolling' website seems to bave had intermittent and lengthy downtime. This has slowed down or halted completely the loading of my blog; I hope the matter will be resolved or worked-around shortly to enable the links to be restored. Sorry for any inconvenience.

UPDATE: (Friday 17SEP04 23.25 BST) I've now re-activated the 'Blogrolling' links as the website appears to be functioning again - after a fashion. Loading still seems a little slow to me; I'll leave it overnight and see how it is performing in the morning.

Paedophilia is WRONG, as a number of men have just found out!

I have commented many times in the past about paedophilia, how wrong it is, but how it must not automatically be conflated with homosexuality (the victims are often youngsters of the other gender to the perpetrator).

In this case, however, the paedophiles involved are very probably homosexual, although one cannot necessarily rule out that they are bisexual, I suppose.

Like the police inspector in the case I am stunned by the casual and blatant way the men who have been (and others who may well be) convicted seem to have thought it acceptable to 'trade' a human being for sexual gratification. It would be obscene whatever the age of the victim, but is made even more so by his young age.

BNP win local government seat in east London

The BNP, regarded by most people (including me) as a dangerous and racist Party, have won a seat on Barking and Dagenham Council, to represent the Goresbrook ward. I am not a supporter of Ken Livingstone, or the Labour Party (whether of the 'Old' or 'New' variety), but he is quite correct when he comments:

"The BNP is a fascist party. Wherever they are elected racist violence increases. Every concession to racism or Islamophobia by mainstream parties assists the BNP.

"These results show the BNP is now a bigger threat then (sic) ever before. Every progressive Londoner should wake up and join the movement to stop the BNP because they threaten everything which makes London such a wonderful diverse city."

I'd add only that as well as their other phobias, they espouse homophobic policies, too.

Wednesday 15 September 2004

On! On! - in the House of Commons, forsooth ...

Just two days ago we had 'Batman' posing for five-plus hours (!) on a ledge of the facade of Buckingham Palace.

Today there was a further humiliation - a group of protesters penetrated the Chamber of the House of Commons (click on the video link here to see the whole sequence of events), to show their opposition to the likely passing today of rushed legislation (see next paragraph) to ban hunting using hounds in England and Wales. Many thousands of in general much more peaceful protesters gathered in Parliament Square outside, although there were a number of violent clashes.

As expected the bill to ban hunting with hounds received its Second Reading today with a large majority for the government (356 votes to 166). I have no views of any kind about hunting, strong or otherwise. However, the way in which this legislation is being forced through Parliament only reinforces my belief that this government is taking yet another step toward reducing our democracy to a battle based purely on class hatred. In the past few days, even those who want hunting with hounds to be banned have admitted that their principal motivation is not aimed at the welfare of foxes, rather it reflects their obsession with curbing what they see as the curbing of a sport, with only partial accuracy, to be the preserve of the 'upper classes'; some of those protesting today did not look to me me to be by any stretch of the imagination members of an 'upper class', rather they looked to me to be a cross-section of British society. What it does seem to be is a clash of views between town and country dwellers. Naturally the Labour backbenchers who allowed this government legislation to succeed are preponderantly the representatives of urban constituencies and of course the UK is primarily an urbanised society so on the basis that the majority in a democracy rule, then this is certainly, on the face of it, democratic. But whether it is right for the urbanised majority to ride roughshod over the views, and the lifestyle, of a rural minority is less clear.

It is often the case that urban visitors to the countryside, whether of the 'weekend' or the more permanent variety, are often the most vociferous in endeavouring to keep the peace and tranquility of the countryside unspoilt, even if this in practice means that rural economies stagnate and make it difficult for younger people who grew up and want to continue to live there to find employment which pays a 'living wage', or to find a property they can afford to rent or buy; higher property prices in many urban areas mean also that rural-dwellers are likely to find a move to the city impossible in practical terms, whilst at the same time giving urbanites the purchasing power to outbid the local competition when rural property comes on to the market. I don't pretend to know a great deal about the economics of the countryside, but I do know that maintaining the beauty and tranquility of the countryside, for all of us (rural and urban) to enjoy, does not happen without active management - something that those who live in the countryside, and who help to keep 'pests' such as foxes under control, contribute a great deal more to than any urban-dweller.

The fact that this foolish legislation is being forced through Parliament, but will not become effective for at least 18 and possibly upto 24 months, conveniently after the expected date of the next General Election, says all one needs to say about how this Labour Government, of which Tony Blair is Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury, sees our electoral system. Merely as a mechanism to be manipulated to ensure it can perpetuate itself in power.

None of which, of course, justifies protesters breaking into Parliament. As the man with overall responsibility for domestic security I expect it is highly unlikely that Home Secretary David Blunkett will offer his resignation for yet another botch-up committed whilst he is in charge. I expect it will as usual be blamed on others - probably the Police in this instance. Grrrr!

Holyrood Inquiry report says "no single villain"

Instead, Lord Fraser reports that:

"Tempting as it is to lay all the blame at the door of a deceased wayward Spanish architectural genius, his stylised fashion of working and the strained relationship between his widow and RMJM in Edinburgh, the analysis of the auditor general is unimpeachable.

"Costs rose because the client (first the secretary of state and latterly the parliament) wanted increases and changes or at least approved of them in one manifestation or another."

"I have some surprise that he (referring to Donald Dewar) did not leave it to the parliament both on location and what was included."
"What I was asked to do was make recommendations, not write letters of dismissal.

"I trust those responsible, political leadership and civil servants, that they will read very carefully what I have identified as significant.

"I simply don't understand why if you get independent cost consultants who give you a risk analysis you then ignore that advice."

The final two sentences above need to be examined very carefully. My general reaction is that whilst Lord Fraser has reached broadly the correct conclusions, the report is not nearly hard-hitting enough; however, in the carefully moderate language that he has used, I think Lord Fraser has indicated what he would really like to have said in those two sentences, but clearly felt he could not permit himself to do in a formal report. Whilst at one level I can understand, if not condone, his extreme discretion of language, I fear that this report will quietly be filed away and not acted upon decisively. Of course there there will be a lot of 'sound and light' in the media, and on little blogs like this, but the machinery of politics and government that allowed this fiasco to happen will just grind on relentlessly and nothing will really change and few (if any) lessons will be learned. And no-one, or very few, will be forced out of positions funded by us poor suckers, the taxpayers. And politicians have the impertinence, not to mention the brass neck, to continue to wonder why the public is disillusioned with them.

Read what some others think here, plus some comments from some of our political 'betters' here, although I doubt if the political parties they represent would have given us a better outcome had they been in the Scottish Executive (.. but of course one of the commenting Parties, the Liberal Democrats, were - they have some nerve!).


The Deutsche Welle website, the online presence of the German international news broadcaster, has added a site totally in Klingon, the language of one of the alien races in Star Trek, the long-running science fiction television series.

You have to hand it to the Germans - when they decide to do something, they do it in style! I don't want to hear anyone saying, ever again, that our Germanic cousins don't have a sense of humour. As someone who has recordings of just about every episode of Star Trek, from all the various series of the programme, truly I am not obsessive about it (no really!), but it is certainly true that I like it - a lot.
(thru an article in the Guardian)

Monday 13 September 2004

The Holyrood Inquiry report - just two days now!

The report by Lord Fraser, following his Inquiry into the building of the new Scottish Parliament is scheduled for release on Wednesday. In advance of this, BBC Newsnight Scotland has just broadcast this evening a special report compiled by Simon Willis, who has been following and reporting on the Fraser Inquiry proceedings from start to finish.

His report was fascinating, and pretty devastating in several places, although for those (like me) who have been following proceedings pretty closely there was nothing entirely revelatory. On the other hand it recapitulated some of the more astonishing testimonies given to the Inquiry; I single out three only becasue they are (to me) particularly striking - for their incompetence, arrogance and complacency (possibly, but not necessarily, in that order):
- Barbara Doig, the Scottish civil servant who was techincally the project manager;
- Kirsty Wark, a broadcaster (ironically often a major component of the London Newsnight team), seemingly a self-appointed 'cultural guardian' and member of the panel which chose from amongst the building designs submitted for consideration;
- Lord David Steel, Presiding Officer (i.e. Speaker) of the Scottish Parliament and former Liberal [Democrat] politician.

You can read a summary of Simon Willis's findings here, and from there you can link to an internet feed of the whole television broadcast - it is a full hour in length, but if you are resident in Scotland, or indeed elsewhere in the UK (after all, all our taxes have paid for this fiasco), then it is well worth your time to watch it if you missed the broadcast this evening.

Holy Your Majesty!!

Batman has taken up residence,presumably temporarily, on a ledge at the front of Buck House; his sidekick Robin seems to have been taken into custody quite rapidly. Jason Hatch, a campaigner for "Fathers 4 Justice", has carried out this audacious publicity stunt under the eyes of the world's media, causing embarrassment for our security forces; if they cannot protect the residence of our Head of State (Her Majesty is not currently in residence, as She is still on vacation at Balmoral), then it does not give a lot of confidence that the security of the rest of us is particularly certain.

I was just watching someone on the 6pm BBC News, presumably from the Metropolitan Police although I didn't catch his name, saying that a 'snap judgement' was made that these were not dangeous terrorists and that if they had been judged to be terrorists they would already be dead as trained marksmen have them in their sights. Despite my slightly 'arch' commentary in the previous paragraph I tend to accept this as a valid judgement; it will do no-one any good at all if this person falls from the ledge and injures himself, no doubt the reason for the authorities' patience in trying to negotiate an end to the protest.

It's not so very long ago that this same group of protesters staged a similarly spectacular coup in the House of Commons when coloured flour was thrown at the Prime Minister. Whatever the merits of their case, they do seem to have a knack of exploiting clever ways of getting publicity.

I'm back ... or at least available to blog again

I'm pleased to say that all of the personal matters that had to be dealt with, without unnecessary distractions, have now been seen to, so I can get back to the 'vital business' (being a little pretentious again, aren't we? - Ed.) of blogging here. However, more vital than all of that is that lunch now beckons so I had better go and get some delicious nutrients on board, so that my little grey cells are in tip-top condition for the blogging tasks ahead. See you a little later today. Cheers! (I'm raising a glass of champagne to my lips as I type)

Thursday 2 September 2004

Anwar Ibrahim released from prison in Malaysia

I interrupt, briefly, my self-imposed 'hiatus' to record this important development - six years to the day after the bigotted former Malysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed, sacked Anwar Ibrahim as his deputy over differences in economic policy, theoretically justified by trumped-up charges of sodomy, the country's highest court has today overturned his sodomy conviction.

Earlier this year I wrote about the Malaysian police having broken up a rally to support Mr Anwar. The new Prime Minister, Abdullah Bedawi, was criticised for not living up to his promise when he came to power last November to accept criticism and to support the development of Malaysian democracy. I am very glad that, now that Dr Mahathir is gone from political power, that Malaysia has at long last righted this wrong.

He is now to travel to Germany for treatment for the back problems he has developed as a result of a police beating. returns to its dormant state until mid-September, barring further important news ...

Wednesday 1 September 2004

An 'hiatus' in

I'm going to be taking a couple of weeks off from writing reasonably regularly in this blog, although I may look in from time to time and, if anything truly dramatic occurs, feel 'driven' to make some kind of comment. I have a number of personal matters I must attend to, real life not being willing to take 'No' for an answer and will need to devote most of my mental energy to getting them done.

Right then, I bid you farewell until somewhere around the middle of September. You may not be familiar with all the names I link to in the blog links on the right; give some of these a visit if you have a spare moment. Bye ...