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

Friday, 31 December 2004

A happy, but sombre, new year ...

In memory of the 125,000+ men, women and children who have perished as a result of the earthquake near Sumatra, on the morning of 26th December 2004, and the subsequent tidal waves ('tsunamis') which have affected many countries around the Indian Ocean

A disaster of epic proportions occurred last Sunday morning, when an undersea earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter Scale off the north-west coast of Sumatra, one of the largest islands in the Indonesian archipelago, caused destructive tidal waves in countries around the rim of the Indian Ocean, some of the areas affected being thousands of miles from the epicentre of the earthquake. At the time of writing 80,000 are estimated to have died in Indonesia alone, although this number is expected to be revised upwards significantly once more information becomes available. In Sri Lanka more than 28,000 have perished.

The BBC main news page for this tragedy is here.

Unfortunately many of those in affected areas, and who survived the initial disaster, are still in very serious jeopardy. There is a need for clean water, food and emergency supplies (shelter, fuel, etc.) as well as medical emergency staff and supplies to minimise the very real risk of dehydration, starvation and the spread of disease from increasing the number of fatalities in the days and weeks to come. The orderly disposal of the remains of those who have died is necessary for disease prevention, and many of the bodies must be placed in mass graves without being individually identified, obviously a very distressing necessity for those left behind, but absolutely essential if they are to avoid infection. Following on from the initial emergency assistance, there will be an ongoing need for aid to help survivors rebuild their lives.

I know one of the areas affected, Phuket (Thailand), quite well having holidayed there on at least a dozen occasions over the years, specially when I lived in that part of the world and was accustomed to taking a few days break there a couple of times a year.

If you feel able to help by making a donation to aid those who need help NOW, you can do so by contacting:
- the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) website, or if you prefer
- various groups (including the DEC) and individual charities and agencies linked to here.
I urge you to consider making a donation, however small, if you can.

On that somewhat sombre note, I repeat my earlier message by wishing all my readers:
A Peaceful, Happy and Prosperous 2005 and beyond.

Thursday, 30 December 2004

On getting to understand the EU Constitutional Treaty

"The European Constitution in Perspective", put out by the British Management Data Foundation

I just received my copy of this weighty tome this morning; so far I have read only the foreward and the section entitled 'Background to the Constitution' and scanned the remaining chapters. Although I have read the actual constitutional treaty (or pretty large parts of it, at any rate) on the EU website, this publication consolidates the whole thing in one simple to handle document and, most valuably, provides something the basic texts do not - a very detailed and useful index. For example, one can very readily locate this text from 'The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union', which forms Part II of the Constitutional Treaty, under the Index heading 'Discrimination - Fundamental Right':

Article II-81 Non-discrimination

1. Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.

2. Within the scope of application of the Constitution and without prejudice to any of its specific provisions, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.

- In all there are seven articles under the section entitled 'Equality'. So far as I am concerned it was the apparent attempt by Signor Buttiglione to remove 'sexual orientation' as one of the discriminatory practices to be prohibited which rendered him unsuitable to be EU Justice Commissioner. If it had not been for this, I would have been prepared to accept his assurances that his personal beliefs would not affect the way he proposed to act had be been appointed a Commissioner.

For those who are interested in a fuller understanding of what is in the Constitutional Treaty and, importantly from a UK perspective, using this understanding to help decide how to vote in the referendum we have been promised on whether the UK should ratify the Treaty, I would recommend that you get a hold of a copy of this publication. I obtained mine through Amazon and the link is here; it costs GBP27.50 (about EUR39.00 or USD50.00) and this seems a small price to pay for something so important. If you cannot afford to have your own copy, then you should suggest that your local library (or main library, at least) acquires a copy.

Whether you are basically opposed to the EU, an EU Constitution or further EU integration, or whether you are (like me) basically in favour of these concepts, having a sound basis for one's beliefs seems, to me, vitally important and far more useful than basing one's own opinions on received opinion and 'prejudice'. The EU Constitutional Treaty was signed on 29th October in Rome by all 25 heads of Government of the EU member states, but before it enters into force it must first be ratified by all the members, and in a number of these countries the decision to ratify or not will be guided by the results of referenda; the UK is one of these countries: read more about this process here.

A brief hiatus in my hiatus ...

My houseguests left yesterday after the Christmas weekend and I decided to have an evening off, before getting back into posting entries - it was great to do nothing, but watch a video, read my book and attempt to get my diet back onto a more sensible level after the inevitable (although enjoyable) excesses of the past few days. We had roasted duck, rather than turkey, on Christmas day; I find duck or goose to be much more enjoyable as a festive treat than turkey and apart from anything else one is not left with such a huge quantity of meat afterwards.

On Christmas Day morning we awoke to find that quite heavy snow had fallen during the night and I enjoyed my first walk that morning with my dog through the park adjacent to my home, specially because the snow was clean and fresh. Even better was the fact that by about two days later most of the snow had disappeared, even if the roads and pavements became quite treacherous in the process, with successive thaws and refreezing of ice. Here's a photo::

Part of the Leisure Park and Putting Pitch at Nairn on Christmas Day morning 2004, looking out over the sea

I'm not sure how much more, other than the post about the EU Constitutional Treaty (already prepared and which I will upload shortly), I will be posting before the year end. In any case, after that and in case I don't get around to writing much more, I take this opportunity to wish all my readers -

A Peaceful, Happy and Prosperous 2005 and beyond.

Saturday, 25 December 2004

Avoid Earth - 29th April 2029

I had not planned to write here until the middle of next week, but I think this warrants a mention. I keep an eye on NASA's Near Earth Object Program (click on 'Impact Risk' from there) and for quite a while now there has been one object which was flagged up as having a fairly remote possibility of impacting the Earth, but quite a way into the future (reference 1997 XR2, 0.230 km diameter, year 2101 - 1 on the Torino scale, the lowest classification). More recently a second object has been flagged up has having a similarly remote likelihood of hitting the Earth, somewhat sooner, but still comfortably far in the future for someone like me who will probably be dead long before this might happen (reference 2004 VD17, 0.580 km diameter, year 2091 - again 1 on the Torino scale), although it is twice as large as 1997 XR2.

Just a few weeks ago I noticed a third object had similarly been flagged up, initially with a classification of 1 on the Torino scale, but I noticed some days ago that this had been raised to '2'. This evening, its classification has again been raised, this time to 4 on the Torino scale. This object is called 2004 MN4 and has a diameter of 0.390 km and the highest current likelihood of it colliding with Earth appears to be on 13th April 2029; the likelihood is currently put at 2.2e-02, which converts to a 1 in 45 chance it may strike - another way of looking at it is that there is 97.80000000% chance the asteroid will miss the Earth. I shall be watching for updates on the Near Earth Object Program website in coming days and weeks to see whether further observation of this object's trajectory seem to be increasing or decreasing the likelihood of a strike. What is striking, to employ a bad pun, is that this object appears to have an orbit very similar to that of Earth, and that even today it seems to be quite close to us (see * - at end of message), although one presumes this does not currently pose a risk - to see its orbit in relation to Earth, click on 'Orbit diagram and elements available here' link from the 2004 MN4 page; you can vary the time frame to any date you wish.

The UK's National Space Centre website has this report about object 2004 MN4:

Asteroid 2004 MN4 Torino - rating increased

"The asteroid, designated 2004 MN4, has had its Torino Impact Hazard Rating raised from two to four. Such a rating applies to a close encounter, with 1% or greater chance of a collision capable of causing regional devastation.

Dr Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen’s University Belfast advised the NEO Information Centre that the object would remain observable until summer 2005 and will be observable on many more occasions before the potential impact date. This will allow scientists a good window of opportunity to continue observations and refine their understanding of the asteroid’s orbit.

The Italy based NEODyS, who monitor the risk from newly discovered asteroids and comets, say, "Most likely, that is in 59 cases out of 60, the impact probability will go to zero after enough new observations have been obtained and processed."

* - in fact over the past week and for the next few days this object appears to be very close to Earth and I imagine (and hope!!) that the only reason it has not been flagged up as an urgent threat is that because it is actually occurring now, its orbit is under the closest possible scrutiny and its present orbit has been tracked with great precision. Of course, 20 or 30 years into the future the calculations are probably not yet quite so accurate. Now, unless something equally 'dramatic' comes to my attention, I will be silent until the middle of the coming week - rest assured.

UPDATE: (Monday 27DEC04 11.30 GMT) The 2004 MN4 page is now showimg the impact risk at the increased level of 1 in 37 (up from 1 in 45).

2nd UPDATE (Tuesday 28DEC04 11.10 GMT) The 2004 MN4 page now shows much better news; the 'danger' pass in April 2029 has been completely eliminated and there remain (at time of writing) only two passes where there is a Torino scale reading of '1'. Panic over ...

Wednesday, 22 December 2004

Time to take a break for Christmas

A great deal has been happening in the past few days, domestically and internationally. At home, we have had the resignation of an illiberal and duplicitous Home Secretary; the passing, with the connivance of both the Labour government and the Conservative Official 'Opposition' of the first reading of the ID Card bill through a House of Commons where a very significant number of MPs couldn't be bothered to turn up to vote on this momentous issue; the condemnation by the Law Lords of the Government's policy of detaining indefinitely, without charge or trial, foreigners suspected of involvement in terrorism, a judgement which our quasi-dictatorial government is so far choosing to ignore. Elsewhere, two French journalists have thankfully been released safely from their four-month long captivity in Iraq, although the mechanism by which their release has occurred is not clear; Tony Blair has been visiting the Iraqi Interim Government at Baghdad and British troops at al-Basrah (and at the same time US troops are sweeping Mosul after yesterday's attack, the deadliest on Americans in Iraq since the invasion to oust Saddam Hussein last year), followed by a visit with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and then with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

With luck (a lot of luck!) there will be relative peace during the next few days, over the Christmas period at least, and we will not return from our breaks to find that our own Government has taken further steps to erode our liberties whilst we were not looking. I hope, too, that my fellow British citizens will waken up to the damage to their freedoms that has already been perpetrated, all in the name of fighting terrorism; we need to remember what we are fighting for. We should not be aiding and abetting the terrorists by acquiescing in restrictions on our own hard-won freedoms; once these are lost it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to roll back the powers that the state, in the guise of protecting us, is garnering to iself.

Now with this somewhat gloomy assessment of our domestic situation here in the UK, I'll sign off until the middle of next week and leave you with this:

With all good wishes
for a Joyous Christmas
and a Peaceful, Happy
and Prosperous
New Year

My Christmas tree this year

... and a reminder of what Christmas Day is supposed to represent
(a small Nativity display I have in my home)

(On a somewhat more ironic level I must thank Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, for making my Christmas break all the more noteworthy; today I received my Inland Revenue statement for the first interim payment of this year's tax bill, payable by 31st January 2005. No doubt the motive is to remind tax-payers not to overspend at Christmas, but of course he probably wants us to spend enough to give our rickety ecomony the appearance of health. I shall spend at my normal moderate levels - that's why I am one of the [relatively few?] people with no debts of any kind and this, coupled with a number of other factors, makes me a happy man. Go in Peace.)

New link added - HoneyTom

I've been reading HoneyTom off and on for quite a few months now and it suddenly struck me, when reading some of his recent posts this evening, why haven't I added his name to my blogroll? Well, that particular omission has been rectified. HoneyTom describes himself as a young journalist who now lives in Cromer (Norfolk); he is also gay. He writes well and amusingly on various things, specially those which affect the gay community. Give his blog a whirl; I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Tuesday, 21 December 2004

Torture at Abu Ghraib and at Guantanamo - yet more allegations

There are yet more allegations that torture (aka 'coercive techniques') took place at Abu Ghraib well after the earlier revelations were uncovered and for which a number of miliary personnel have been punished, or are in process of being investigated. It seems that the FBI (for goodness sake, the FBI!) say they have uncovered evidence of wrong-doing, allegedly authorised by an Executive Order signed by US President George W Bush, according to documents obtained by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act. The White House has apparently denied that such an Executive Order was issued.

One of the documents obtained relates to Guantanamo and details quite astonishing allegations of treatment of detainees there.

Of course the White House is now saying that these findings will be investigated fully. What else can they say when a Federal agency has apparently put in writing such explosive findings? Even with all I have written on this subject over the months, these latest allegations (which I first heard about a couple of days ago, but wished to read a little about first, before commenting here) completely astonish me. What does the US Administration think it is playing at? America contra mundum?

I remind readers that, at the time of writing, Donald Rumsfeld remains the Secretary of Defense of The United States of America and that this gentleman apparently retains the full confidence of George W Bush, President of The United States of America.

It seems pointless to write any more at this time. I await developments with interest.

Who are the 'idiots' who want to bring back Blunkett?

Very Judgmental of me, I know, but I am not one of those who desire that David Blunkett return to front-line politics very soon, or indeed ever. I am sick and tired of hearing people say that 'for a blind man' he has done well to get so far. Well, perhaps he has - okay, I am being curmudgeonly, he has done superbly well, alright?

However, his status as a blind man does not merit any allowance, so far as I am concerned, for being one of the most illiberal Home Secretaries ever to run that department. The fact that someone in this very powerful position not only seeks to impose the power of the state even more forcefully onto the lives of the rest of us, but then proceeds to steal from us by using rail tickets issued to him as an MP for purposes not authorised is completely unacceptable. Paying the money back only mitigates the offence, it does not negate it; whilst saying 'sorry' is welcome, he still needs to face the consequences of his actions, as any other public official would have to.

The only people I feel sorry for in this whole situation are the already born child and the soon to be born child, who certainly don't deserve to have the parents (whoever they are, exactly) fate has given them. I also have some sympathy with the nanny, who has been the unwitting, I imagine, pawn in this unppleasant confrontation between Blunkett and Quinn/Fortier.

The idea that Blunkett should be allowed anywhere near a position where he can have an effect on my life, ever again, appals me. It is no secret that I abhor most of what the Labour Party stands for, so I am not exactly neutral, but his early return would really be a nonsense. Would you really want Cecil Parkinson (for non-British readers, a former Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s administration) back in your government?

UPDATE: (Tuesday 21DEC04 13.40 GMT) The Budd Report on Daivid Blunkett is now out - the nanny's visa was speeded up. So much for 'integrity', Blunkett's earlier protestations of complete innocence notwithstanding; of course he is sorry, now that he has been found out. This is the typical reaction of a bully and a cheat when cornered by the truth. 'nuff sed.

Monday, 20 December 2004

ID Card bill passes first hurdle in the House of Commons

An appalling thing happened this evening in the House of Commons; MPs voted 385 to 93 in favour of allowing the bill to go forward.

My view is that we should have nothing to do with this sinister legislation. Say no to ID Cards!!

Murder in Nairn - widow's plea

Mrs Veronica Wilson this evening appeared for the first time in a television plea for anyone with information which might lead to the apprehension of the murderer of her husband, Alistair Wilson. Her earlier plea was made off-camera. A memorial service for Mr Wilson has been held at St Ninian's Church here in Nairn. My most recent report is here (with links to earlier reports).

A 'modernised' Tory Party - will it ever happen?

The Herald has an interesting article, part fact-based gossip really, implying that Alan Duncan MP might mount a bid for leadership of the Conservative Party after the next general election, specially if the Party does as badly as many fear it will. (The link to the Herald story above appears to be sticking at present, but this BBC round-up of the Scottish press mentions it briefly - scroll down the page)

Throughout its long history the Conservative Party has 'renewed' occasionally itself by making sometimes gradual, sometimes radical, changes to its policies to keep it in touch with the changing aspirations of the British people; of late, however, it has become stuck, tending to look in on itself, rather than out at the country around it which has moved on. This, in my view, largely explains its malaise - it has been stuck at around 30-33 per cent in the opinion polls for a decade, and it can never hope to get back into government with this level of support. The cause of the malaise is its social policies, as usual, and this time it is these policies as they relate to 'lifestyle' which are the problem. A paradox, really, because if the Conservative Party is anything it is a Party which believes traditionally in individual choice, socially and economically, within a framework of law to ensure that this individual choice does not harm the interests of others. This is very different from the Labour Party, which has always seemed to favour a framework of law to enforce uniformity, although of course they dress up this desire to control and dictate the lives of others as 'equality'.

A few years back I had hopes that the re-invented Michael Portillo was the man to make the change. He had thrown off his earlier image as an ultra-hawk 'darling' of the Party and become something of a Renaissance man - cultured, open-minded, frank, audacious. My eye-opening moment, though, was the reaction in the hall to a speech he gave to the Conservative Party conference in 2000, which I wrote about here (in the 'comment' section of my main website, which pre-dated this blog); the lukewarm reaction he got then was confirmation of my growing disillusionment at the time that the right-wing of the Party was, dramatically, in the ascendant - and which reached its peak (or more properly, a new 'nadir' at the time) after the 2001 general election, when Iain Duncan Smith became leader in September of that year, the Party having decisively rejected Portillo's calls for modernisation.

Alan Duncan certainly has the skills and the presence to make a credible leader; however, he is an 'opnely gay man'. Can the Conservative Party make the decisive leap and elect a man like him as Leader? If it can, then it may finally be on the way back to the mainstream of British politics. I am not particularly optimistic, though, with people such as Tebbit, Widdecombe and Lady O'Cathain still around and very vocal - I live in hope.

Saturday, 18 December 2004

Bertie accepts what anyone with any sense already knew ...

... that it is unlikely (more like absolutely beyond any reasonable belief of what might happen, in the real world!) to be a breakthrough in the political process in Northern Ireland before Christmas. Of course, if it does happen, wouldn't it be great - but then cold hard reality impinges. Well done, Bertie, for telling your staff to take time off over the festive season, rather than indulging in yet another round of late-night brinksmanship simply to give both sides of this interminable argument further media exposure.

Friday, 17 December 2004

Deep-fried Mars bars - myth or reality

How to increase your risk of heart disease, obesity and loads of other health problems - come to Scotland and enjoy what seems to be a national 'delicacy'.

According to a study by NHS Glasgow, as reported here, it is very much a reality! According to the survey 22 per cent of Scottish 'take-away' restaurant offer these for sale, and one of the 500 chip shops included in the survey said they sell upto 200 a week, mainly to children.

Even before I began the Atkins diet, when I was a lot bigger than I am now, I must say I had never been aware of these things during my very occasional visits to chip shops (for fish and chips), but then I don't live in Glasgow. I now eat lots of fish, but not in batter, and of course I no longer eat things like potatoes, so chips are out. I still count myself so lucky to have discovered the Atkins diet; it has changed my life (no exaggeration) and, even if I might wish I had known about it 20 years ago, I now plan to live this way for the rest of my much slimmer and happier life.

EU offers to open membership negotiations with Turkey

This is certainly good news, although whether the projected start date of 3rd October next actually marks the day is still open to doubt. A pre-condition for the talks is that Turkey must eventually recognise the government of Cyprus, already a member of the EU and that this must happen prior to the talks commencing. Talks with Croatia (UPDATE - Sat 18DEC04 00.55 GMT - with certain conditions) are now due to start next April.

You can link easily to any of the member and canditate countries by clicking here, then on any of the national flags of the 25 member and 4 (at present) candidate countries.

UPDATE: (Friday 17DEC04 23.59 GMT) A formula has been found to allow Turkey tacitly to recognise the Cyprus government, so the talks for Turkey to negotiate entry to the EU can go ahead. A positive result.

Ofcom orders further cuts in Broadband pricing

Ofcom is ordering BT to make further cuts in prices to its wholesale customers who buy its "local loop unbundling" packages. As a result there is likely to be pressure on ISPs to reduce their prices to consumers (such as me!) for Broadband connection. We had a small reduction earlier this year and the prospect of a further cut early next year will be very welcome. Merry Christmas, Ofcom!

The government's idea of what it means to be British ...

A 100+ page handbook called A Life in the UK, will be used as part of the 'Britishness test' for immigrants who want to become UK citizens. Ten of the things it is said we all need to know are listed here.

I daresay it won't do any actual harm, but I doubt if forcing immigrants to learn, parrot fashion, this load of 'tosh' (click on 't' then scroll down the page) will do much good either. Now that is a genuinely British word which everyone in Britain needs to know as it can be applied to so much of what our government does.

Gerry Adams is outraged ...

... tough!

UPDATE: (Friday 17DEC04 10.15 GMT) I now read the three convicted Irishmen have fled Colombia. Figures!

Craig Murray - a brave man or a fool?

Craig Murray is the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan. He was suspended on full pay in October from his post in Tashkent and recalled to London.

The Foreign Office (FO) contends he was withdrawn from Tashkent for 'operational reasons', whereas Mr Murray contends his suspension is related to his criticism of the use of intelligence allegedly obtained under torture by the Uzbekistan Government and passed on to western countries (specifically the US and UK). He further alleges that the FO had tried to force his resignation a year ago with "untrue" disciplinary charges, which were dropped later.

In this BBC article, also from mid-October, are discussed the pros and cons of an ambassador speaking out in the way he has. It is a pretty balanced article, I think.

Mr Murray has stated that he has evidence that appalling torture and murder has been, and is being, carried out in Uzbekistan and that the war on terror declared by US President Bush has led to a blind eye being turned to the brutal practices of the Uzbek regime and the use being made by western goverments of information so obtained. The claim that information originally obtained in Uzbek torture cells has been passed on from the CIA to MI6, who have used the information, is hotly denied by the Foreign Office. Nevertheless a report by the FO has praised Mr Murray for drawing attention to human rights abuses in Uzbekistan.

Why am I writing about this now. Tonight I have been watching the latest edition of 'Hardtalk' on BBC News 24, in which Mr Murray was interviewed by regular presenter Tim Sebastian (there are as yet no links to this programme in the Hardtalk website, though). I had seen brief interviews with Mr Murray before, but this was an altogether more thorough affair. Mr Murray is clearly very sincere in what he is saying, but equally clearly he is under emotional stress, which is said to have caused his health to deteriorate resulting in severe hypertension.

So I come back to the questions I pose in the title - is he a brave man or a fool? Or deluded? I strongly suspect he is not deluded, but he is definitely a brave, or at least a courageous, man. Was he a wise man to have spoken out; probably not, if 'wisdom' in such matters is regarded in a purely utilitarian way, particularly from his own self-interest, at least in the short term.

I have written about torture before, in relation to the revelations about US practices at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. As I wrote then, the International Convention on Torture outlaws torture, without any qualification. It is never justified, or justifiable, on any pretext whatsoever. Nevertheless, in commenting on the decision by the Court of Appeal last August to uphold the indefinite detention at Belmarsh of foreign nationals supected of terrorism (i.e. the decision which has yesterday been overturned by the House of Lords), the then Home Secretary David Blunkett was quoted as saying:

"We unreservedly condemn the use of torture and have worked hard with our international partners to eradicate this practice. However, it would be irresponsible not to take appropriate account of any information which could help protect national security and public safety."

- so what the good man appeared to be saying, to paraphrase, is that whilst we condemn torture unreservedly we are still prepared to use any information that comes our way, in order to protect national security, however obtained (and by implication, even if obtained by torture).

I am a simple fellow, but does not this contravene the spirit and the letter of Article 2 of the International Convention on Torture, which states:

1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

- well, doesn't it?!

So I must conclude that Mr Murray is not only a brave man, but he is not a fool. He may be wrong, but I suspect (with a sinking heart) that he is not that, either. It is necessary, sometimes, for individuals to speak out on matters of conscience - however painful the consequences may be for themselves; if he is 'guilty' of anything, then it is that alone.

Thursday, 16 December 2004

Croydon torturer (of gay man) convicted at Old Bailey

I am pleased to read in that Michael Danells, 36, has been convicted of the brutal torture and murder of gay man Peter Greenfield last April and, rightly, faces a life sentence.

When I wrote about this case last week I remarked that I had read NOTHING about this monstrous crime in any of the mainstream media (written or broadcast). So far today I have heard NOTHING else about it, either on BBC News 24, or anywhere else. Very, very curious indeed, even with all the other major stories today which have been given prominence. I have written asking for clarification to the London News section of the BBC (link through their website here) and will be very interested to hear what they have to say; If I have missed an earlier report on the BBC website, I apologise to them.

If anyone else reading this can throw light on why this story seems to have been largely ignored, except in the gay or very local media, please let me know.

Law Lords to rule today on terror detentions in UK

Since shortly after the deplorable outrages on 11th September 2001, the UK has had anti-terror legislation permitting the indefinite detention without trial of foreign nationals suspected of terrorism-related activities. Under normal circumstances such persons would have been deported from the UK back to their home country or last country of residence. However, the UK cannot do this because the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) forbids, rightly, such deportations where those deported would probably be faced with persecution, including the death penalty, in the other country.

The Law Lords are scheduled to issue their ruling today (UPDATE: 16DEC04 11.15 GMT - ruling issued, see end of story) on the legality of such indefinite detentions without trial. These detentions are being compared to the detentions by the US at it base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; whilst there is some similarity, of course, there are important differences, too:
- all the detainees have the option of leaving the UK, rather than remain in detention, although of course this is not really an acceptable option given the likely consequences in the other country;
- the UK detainees are, however, being held within a clear framework of law (however flawed and misguided the laws being used may be) and have recourse to the highest judicial review that the UK can offer, as the current deliberations of the Law Lords amply demonstrate. This is absolutely not the case for those detained by the US at Guantanamo, a location chosen precisely because it is beyond the effective jurisdiction of the US legal system, despite efforts to have the actions of the US Administration sanctioned by the US Supreme Court.

The British government's position is far more complex and nuanced than that of its US counterpart. I accept readily that a country has the right to protect itself. I am also strongly in favour of compliance with the requirements of the ECHR (the European Court of Human Rights website homepage is here). It will be extremely interesting to learn how the Law Lords resolve this apparent conundrum.

UPDATE: (Thursday 16DEC04 11.15 GMT) The Law Lords have ruled in favour of the detainees by deciding that the detentions contravene human rights laws. Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, in his ruling, said:

"Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law.

"It deprives the detained person of the protection a criminal trial is intended to afford."

while Lord Bingham said that the rules surrounding the anti-terror legislation were incompatible with the ECHR as they allowed:

"detention of suspected international terrorists in a way that discriminates on the ground of nationality or immigration status".

As is mentioned in the BBC article from which I take these quotes, the case was heard by a panel of nine Law Lords rather than the usual five because of the constitutional importance of the legal challenge. It is not yet clear what the government plans to do in the light of this important judgement.

Wednesday, 15 December 2004

Blunkett resigns as Home Secretary. Happy! Happy! Happy!

David Blunkett announced his resignation as Home Secretary shortly after 6pm today. Whilst I am very happy this has happened, I have no intention of 'gloating' nor of making any comment about his purely personal life, although this does not mean I shall avoid comment on aspects of his personal life which are found to have touched upon his public role. Sad as I may feel about the manner of his going, his departure is unquestionnably, in my opinion, a good thing.

For me much the more important aspect of his resignation is what, if any, effect this will have on the legislation which he would have been chaperoning through Parliament, connected with security and identity card issues, etc. It is still far too soon to know if his political demise, at least from the Front Bench, will have any effect at all. I'd like to fantasise that this will result in plans to introduce ID Cards being abandoned, at least for the present, but I cannot be sanguine.

Labour 'dirty tricks' - allegedly

It is alleged by a former assistant to Labour MP Cathy Atherton (whose website is here), MP for Falmouth & Camborne, that she asked him to "dig the dirt" on a gay Conservative rival. Paul Phillips alleges he was asked by the MP to look for anything "salacious" in the past of Ashley Crossley, who is running for the Falmouth and Cambourne seat.

Paul Philips apparently refused and resigned from his job, citing:

"As a gay man, he feels it is offensive to think of someone's sexual orientation as something salacious that would be given undue prominence because he is not heterosexual."

and is now beginning proceedings against Cathy Atherton MP for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Readers of this blog may recall that I wrote about Ashley Crossley last August, concerning the attempts of some members of his constituency association to deselect him as Conservative PPC for the Falmouth and Camborne constituency, on the grounds that he was 'not good enough' for the job, but stating (and please stifle your laughter here!) that they had 'no problem with his sexuality'. His Conservative web profile is here, and the local association website is here. (I am including links to both Atherton's and Crossley's web presences as an attempt to maintain a semblance of neutrality)

If Mr Philips succeeds in his tribunal claims it will show that the Labour Party is little better than the Conservative Party, when push comes to shove, in its willingness to exploit the perceived prejudices of potential voters in order to weaken others. I don't consider myself more than usually prudish, in fact I'm not prudish at all, but it is salutary to learn of the latent bigotry which underlies the present and the earlier matters touching upon the possible candidacy of Ashley Crossley in both our major political parties.

UPDATE: (Wednesday 22DEC04 16.35 GMT) Relating to the earlier story from August, that I referred to above, the Telegraph reported yesterday that "virtually the entire leadership of [Falmouth] Conservative association was sacked yesterday for allegedly promoting the UK Independence Party". Five of the six who have been sacked, including the Chairman and Treasurer, have been barred indefinitely from holding office in the local association or from standing for election under the Tory banner in the area. The sixth has been barred from holding any office in any Tory association and from standing for any elected public office as a Conservative candidate for at least a year. Ashley Crossley remains the consituency PPC for the next General Election. A necessary purging of bigotry, it seems.

Another 'Wow!', this time for Google and its 'Google Print' project

Google is planning to scan in digital form books from five of the world's major libraries and make them available over the internet, subject only to various copyright restrictions. A pretty amazing project! The five libraries concerned are: Oxford's Bodleian Library, Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan and the New York Public library.

Wow! - Millau Bridge (viaduc de Millau) opened in southern France

The Millau Bridge (viaduc de Millau) was inaugurated today by President Chirac of France. The bridge is the world's tallest, being more than 300m (948 feet) high, and traverses the River Tarn close to the town of Millau. It is expected that the new bridge will dramatically reduce congestion in the town, specially during the busy summer months, by linking two parts of the already existing motorway. France has a history of building spectacular transport infrastructure and public buildings; this latest example was financed entirely by the private sector, in exchange for the right to charge a toll fee for crossing the bridge for 75 years, although the government may pre-empt this arragement after 2044, if it proves more profitable than projected.

What can one say, but Wow!

(I feel a bit of a 'heel' for mentioning a pertinent fact, though - President Chirac chose today as the first occasion (this 'Figaro' article is in French) when he would be seen in public with disgraced former-Prime Minister Alain Juppe, since the latter was convicted and sentenced to a 14-month suspended prison sentence and banned from public office for a year. He was PM when the architect - Norman Foster of Britain - was chosen)

Tuesday, 14 December 2004

Murder in Nairn - Crimewatch appeal

There is to be a segment this evening on the BBC 'Crimewatch UK' programme on BBC1 at 9.00pm ('Crimewatch UK update' is on BBC1 at 10.35pm). Visit the 'Crimewatch' website.

I heard on BBC News24 a short time ago that the gun found about a week ago on Seabank Road has been confirmed to be the murder weapon and that a man was seen to board a bus from Inverness to Nairn about an hour before the shooting and may be connected with the crime; neither of these two reports has yet been included in a linkable article, so we will need to wait and see what develops (NB/ In fact, since I wrote this just a few moments ago, the first link at the top of this story has already been amended on the BBC website to confirm these two matters).

UPDATE: (Tuesday 15DEC04 23.40 GMT) Murdered banker's wife (off-screen), mother and sister took part in this evening's Crimewatch programme.

Conservatives back Labour ID card bill - why?

Michael Howard has won an internal Shadow Cabinet debate and as a result the Conservative Party will support the Labour government's bill to introduce compulsory ID cards.

As readers of this blog will be aware, I am deeply opposed to the introduction of ID cards and I consider it a completely retrograde step for the Official Opposition to support its introduction. A very worrying decision.

The only sizeable party to oppose the Bill is the Liberal Democrat Party.

- visit the NO2ID website.
- you might also care to visit The England Project and in particular this post.

UPDATE: (Wednesday 15OCT04 09.20 GMT) The likely level of dissent amongst Conservative MPs is discussed here; 30 members is not far short of 20 per cent of its parliamentary representation - not enough, but still significant. I read in comments of another blog that this is the moment to 'bring back IDS'; I hope this was said in jest, but the harsh reality is that there are still [far too] many Conservatives who not only think such idiotic thoughts, but moreover put them in writing - terribly sad and deluded, if the aim is ever to win power in this country again! IDS is most definitely not the solution! My opposition to ID Cards is based neither on the anti-EU, nor quite obviously the anti-gay, agenda of a number of those who seem also to be opposed to ID Cards, even though I am quite happy to align myself with them on this one issue.

Sunday, 12 December 2004

Ukraine - Viktor Yushchenko poisoned with Dioxin

Further to my article last Wesdnesday, it is now being reported that the Ukraine opposition leader was affected by dioxin poisoning, probably administered orally.

On a not entirely unrelated topic, here (subscription required) is a link to a leading article in this week's Economist magazine which assesses future relations between Russia under Putin with the West; it is a sober analysis which hopefully will remove any remaining illusions that even if a new cold war is not necessarily imminent, it is clear that such relations are likely to entail many challenges and/or dangers.

Friday, 10 December 2004

Ex-Conservative homophobe MP joins DUP

Basingstoke MP Andrew Hunter has joined the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the leading Protestant political grouping in Northern Ireland, and will become its first MP to represent an English constituency.

He resigned from the Conservative Party in early October 2002, announcing at the time his intention to join the DUP and to stand for the Northern Ireland Assembly (currently suspended). As discussed in an article I wrote at the time (in my main website's comment area), he had been required to resign from the right-wing Monday Club (which was itself supended from the Conservative Party) in late 2001, although he did not sever his connection with extreme right-wing magazine Right Now! until May 2002. Right Now! shared its mailing address with the Monday Club and both have very anti-gay views and policies as well as views on immigration and asylum that can only be compared with those of the BNP. Mr Hunter is just formalising his links with his spiritual soulmates in the DUP, for example the Rev Ian Paisley, its leader.

Police take no action on 'Gay Jesus' play

A play currently being put on in St Andrews, called Corpus Christi and written by American playwright Terence McNally, portrays Jesus and his disciples as sexually active homosexuals. This has, perhaps unsurprisingly, attracted criticism from what might be called the 'God Squad', in this instance an outfit called Christian Voice.

I have no idea whether Jesus was gay or not. However, if we are to believe what is written in the Bible, He preached acceptance of people of all kinds and was notably vocal in his criticism of the religious [and closed-minded] orthodoxy of His own day. In any case, the Police are very sensibly taking no action. Luckily this country is not [yet] a theocracy.

Murder in Nairn - widow speaks out

Mrs Veronica Wilson, the widow of murdered banker Alistair Wilson, has today spoken for the first time:

"I am just still in absolute disbelief," she said.

"There was no known reason for this to happen, so I cannot even begin to understand why someone has done this, not just to my husband but to all of us - I don't even know if it is true or real.

"It would make it easier if I thought there was something in my husband's life but it just makes no sense.

"For me and the boys to move on I need to know who did this and why - I can't imagine ever moving on without knowing who and why.

"I can't believe that this person has cold bloodedly killed my husband, my children's father.

"I can't believe that they did this and that they did it on our down doorstep with all of us in the house.

"There was no reason for this to happen, but even if they had something against Al, they have taken away our home.

"For me to lose my husband in any normal circumstances would be hard, but how can you explain to my boys that their daddy has gone?"

- tragic. My most recent article (with links to earlier articles) is here.

Thursday, 9 December 2004

UK 'discriminated against Roma' - Law Lords ruling

The UK's 'supreme court', the Law Lords, have decided that the British government's immigration rules discriminated on racial grounds against Roma (Gypsies) seeking entry into the UK. The discrimination involved preventing people, mostly Roma, from boarding UK-bound flights from Prague (Czech Republic). As the Czech Republic is now a member of the EU, this particular problem has disappeared, as EU citizens have free right of movement within the EU.

However, it is salutary that such practices ever occurred and the Home Office must learn lessons for the future. As Amnesty International's director of refugee affairs Jan Shaw said:

"That the government's own asylum policy was being operated discriminatorily is bleakly ironic given that discrimination often lies at the heart of serious human rights abuse, not least in the Czech Republic.

"Discrimination and police ill-treatment of Roma in the Czech Republic are still being reported to us."


Torture in Croydon. But he was 'only' a gay man.

How can I have missed this? It happened last April. Doing a Google search shows up quite a lot of references, but these are all either in the gay media, or very local media. I see no references in mainstream media. I've done searches on both the BBC and the Telegraph (reg. required) sites and come up with nothing. And even the references I have found seem not to be contemporaneous.

Why? Is it because he was gay? Or because he was a drug addict? Who knows, but it sure is curious.

Northern Ireland was in danger of succeeding ...

... but bravely fought off this challenge to its supreme role as the champions of argument for the sate of argument.

Does either side (however you choose to define it) actually want peace? They both (indeed all of them - because there are many more than two) say they do. But is it true? For as long as I can recall I have thought the Rev Ian Paisley was intransigent and unlikely ever to agree to peaceful co-existence with those who desire reunification with the Republic of Ireland. But his statement that all major problems were resolved, except for photographic evidence of the de-commissioning of weapons held by the IRA and its factions, seems at the same time both hopeful and reasonable. Gerry Adams, however, considers such a requirement to be a 'deliberate humiliation' relaying, he says, the views of the Irish Republican Army. The linked article above seems to confirm this.

I think that if peace with co-existence between the two major strands of opinion was really the desired outcome, a more productive route for the IRA and Sinn Fein to take would have been to have called Paisley's bluff by agreeing to provide the photographic evidence he has stated will satisfy him, and to observe whether he would, in practice, follow through on a power-sharing NI Executive.

Personally I don't much care whether NI remains a part of the UK or whether it becomes a part of the Republic of Ireland, or even if it becomes a completely separate political entity. What I would like, though, is for NI's inhabitants (on both sides) to agree that either they must agree to live together or that one side will have to 'vacate the premises' to let the other get on with it. As I doubt the latter is a realistic option (and the 'ethnic cleansing' of one side or the other is quite obviously not an option that could be countenanced by the British or Irish governments, or the EU, the UN or the US), then living together seems to be what they are going to be left with.

To both sides I say: Enough already! Decide like grown-ups what you want to do, then do it! I think this is probably the point of Austen Mitchell's proposal that he be the author of a photographic archive to document the de-commissioning of weapons, which I read about here. Bascially he is calling the bluff of both sides - do they genuinely want peace, or not? I do not care to mock his gesture.

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

New Zealand civil union bill likely to pass today (i.e. tomorrow)

Parliament in New Zealand is likely Thursday 9th December to pass the Civil Unions Bill; this will permit gays to formalise their relationships and enjoy the benefits currently available only to married couples. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that there will be no last minute delays (or delaying tactics) mounted by those opposed to this legislation.

UPDATE: (Thursday 9DEC04 14.15 GMT) Yes! The legislation has passed, by 65 votes to 55. Naturally this legislation will impose responsibilities, as well as grant rights - a pretty fair trade-off.

Coronach - 'A Musical Pepys Show'

I just got back from a most enjoyable evening of 17th century English and Scottish music, accompanied by readings from the diaries of Samuel Pepys. The music is lively and played on modern reproductions of traditional instruments including strings (fiddles and violas), wind (recorders and flutes), a keyboard (spinet), lutes, a harp and accompanied by vocalists for some of the pieces, courtesy of Coronach (I'm afraid this website is not maintained effectively so the links are not working properly; the music is, however, very good). The readings from the diaries were witty, lively and at times 'bawdy'. As with an earlier concert of Scottish Renaissance music I attended a while back, the concert took place in a country house close to Nairn, an ideal venue for this kind of music.

Large oil find announced, west of Shetland

What is being described as a 'significant' oil find has been made by ChevronTexaco west of Shetland in the Faroe-Shetland channel. If this discovery proves to be as important as is thought, then it may ensure that the UK's oil production capacity does not diminish quite so rapidly as had been feared. Over the past thirty years domestic oil production has made a significant contribution to Britain's balance of payments.

Murder in Nairn - gun found in drain about half a mile from crime-scene

A gun has been discovered in a drain about half a mile from the house where Alistair Wilson was shot on his doorstep. It is too soon to say whether the weapon is linked to the murder and the police are subjecting it to forensic examination. My most recent post on this tragedy, with related links, is here.

Ukraine - Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned

Like many other people I have been following with a mixture of horror, excitement and fascination the events as they unfold in Ukraine. However, my knowledge of that country is so sparse that I have felt it pointless to comment here. One aspect of what has been going on there which has interested me greatly are the allegations and/or suspicions that Viktor Yushchenko, the opposition leader, had been deliberately poisoned; this is said to account for the remarkable change in his face in a very short space of time.

The first report I have read about this, on the AOL news service, is here; so far I can find no other corroborating reports to link to, although another report, from MSNBC, also apparently from the same Vienna medical institute (but quoting a different official), denies that they have established that he was poisoned deliberately. According to the first lot of Austrian specialists, though, there is now no doubt that he was poisoned, quite deliberately, although they have not yet established precisely what kind of poison was used or exactly how it was administered. Helpfully, the article includes before and after images of Mr Yushchenko; the change is nothing short of extraordinary.

Also not ascertained is who may have done this to him - although the list of candidates (through their agents, no doubt) that springs to my mind is not long. The US is [at last] beginning to react negatively and in public to what seem to be Russia's attempts to regain control over its erstwhile empire [possibly by fair means, or foul - my view], and to restrict democratic freedoms at home - see this report of remarks made by US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, during an OSCE meeting in Bulgaria.

Treatment of prisoners under US control in Iraq and at Guantanamo

I return, like a badly-worn record, to a topic I have not touched upon for some time. However, the article I refer to below deserves not to go unrecorded in my little blog, or by anyone who cares about where the 'war on terrorism' is taking western democracies. We need to fight terrorists, but if the methods we use undermine the very concepts and ideals we are striving to protect then our eventual victory will be hollow indeed.

The New York Times has a very interesting article concerning observations of brutal treatment of prisoners in Baghdad last June by two Defense Department intelligence officials, the subject of correspondence between the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon. Other correspondence refers to mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, in reports emanating from Federal Bureau of Investigation which expressed strong objections to the coercive techniques being employed on the grounds both of their ineffectiveness and unreliability.

Possibly there is an element of inter-departmental rivalry here, but the reports referred to do tend to strengthen my long-held view that the claims by the Administration that the cases of abuse of prisoners were isolated incidents, which were perpetrated by low-level officials acting without chain-of-command approval, are not sustainable.

This other report, in the Guardian, about disclosures to be made last evening by the first British lawyer to [be permitted to] visit Guantanamo should make interesting reading if the statements attributed to Clive Stafford Smith in the article are a guide. Indidentally, I heard Mr Stafford Smith a couple of weeks ago being interviewed by Sue Lawley in the popular and long-running BBC Radio4 'Desert Island Discs' programme; his background is most interesting. I had heard of him some years ago, but his discussion of the reasons which took him to the US many years ago to campaign and act in a legal capacity for death-row prisoners there whom he believed to have been ill-served by the US justice system, and more recently on behalf of some of the British detainees at Guantanamo Bay, makes for a salutary reminder that there remain decent and altruistic people in this world. No doubt, too, he is the most enormous nuisance to those who oppose him in his legal campaigns; a true, and heroic, English eccentric.

UPDATE: (Thursday 9DEC04 01.38 GMT) Upshot of the new reports about abuse in Iraq, referred to above, is that four members of a US special operations unit in Iraq have been disciplined for using electric Taser stun guns on prisoners. Whilst it is good to know that some of the miscreants are being punished, it seems (from the brief details given) that the punishments meted out are likely to be relatively minor and it is equally clear that the military authorities (and perhaps higher authorities) tried very hard to cover-up these cases of abuse. I strongly suspect there is a lot more that could be said if all the facts were known about this and other cases we do not yet know about (if such exist - I'd be very surprised if they don't, given the track-record of this US Administration). I know, I'm just a cynic; before the revelations about Abu Ghraib were proved beyond doubt to have substance there was a complete refusal by far too many people to believe that the possibility existed that any US citizen would ever do such a thing. I do not believe that Americans are any more likely to do such things than any other nationality (for example, the British), but given the right [i.e. 'wrong'] conditions and lack of supervision and/or scrutiny and/or training, not to mention a political leadership which tacitly seems to have given its operatives 'carte blanche', it is possible for the most surprising people to fall below the highest standards. It's called 'human nature'.

Tuesday, 7 December 2004

Parliament standards committee to probe Blunkett 'ticketgate'

The House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges is to probe the way in which the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has used some rail tickets allocated to him. He gave the tickets to his former lover, the married Kimberely Fortier/Quinn, whereas the guidelines seemingly permit only 'spouses or partners' to benefit.

Not to worry, Home Secretary. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear (... as someone once said).

If he had been in a long-term relationship with an unmarried person, then one assumes use of the tickets by that person would be quite legitimate. I have heard it suggested that to object to such use of non-cash benefits by a married person who happens to be having a relationship with an MP is somehow to classify that person as the 'chattel' of the other married partner. I do not think this argument bears scrutiny. The only way I could see that a long-term relationship with a person married to another would allow use of such non-cash benefits as rail tickets would be if there was a legal separation between the married partners (perhaps not followed up by a divorce because of the religious beliefs of one or other of the married partners), although as I am not a lawyer I have no idea if even this would be sufficient justification.

As I wrote in comment to an earlier post, the fact that the Home Secretary has now repaid the monetary value of the tickets in question does not absolve him of a charge of misuse of public funds, although it may perhaps be noted in mitigation to reduce the severity of any punishment which is eventually decided upon.

Who do you believe - 'Mr Bean' or David Blunkett?

We are asked by the Home Secretary to believe that a new law, which will amongst other things target "incitement to religious hatred", will not curtail free speech, whereas comedian Rowan Atkinson believes that he and others will be inhibited from using humour which satirises people's beliefs.

I would like to be able to believe what the government says about this, but the authoritarian track-record of this Home Secretary makes that an unwise thing to do, in my view. This kind of clause could all too easily have unintended consequences which it may be almost impossible to counteract by subsequent correcting legislation. Freedom of speech needs to be guarded jealously.

Intellectual onanism at the BBC

Today it was announced that there are to be major cuts at the BBC, amounting to some 3,000 jobs (or 5,300 - according to the Guardian). In amongst all the detail, however, it becomes clear that a lot of it will be mere redeployment of resources, either by moving personnel out of London, principally to Manchester or by contracting out various parts of its operaton. Whilst it is claimed that GBP320m will be 'saved', it seems clear that at least a part of this will be mere accounting ledgerdemain - moving expenditure from the 'human resources' column to the 'outsource production' column. And of course BBC News24 has been banging on about these changes all afternoon.

I readily accept that these are major changes in a powerful broadcaster which do need to be reported on fully, but there is an unmistakable whiff of self-interest in a lot of the reporting on the Beeb. It is clear that this is not a plan to reduce what the BBC does and thereby abolish or at least reduce the complusory fee we all in the UK must pay as the privilege for possessing a television, whether you happen to watch any BBC channel, or not. I have a suggestion - whilst it is acceptable for the BBC news department to report briefly on major events which affect its own operations, a prime case for outsourcing to another news provider would be more in-depth reporting on this topic.

Although I am not one of those people who think the BBC needs to be abolished, or who think that it is hopelessly biased this way or that (depending on one's own beliefs/prejudices), I do believe it has been allowed to grow far too all-pervasive in our national life; it does need to be cut down drastically, and these [cosmetic] changes are not nearly enough.

The debate about ID cards continues

There is another excellent post in today's Adam Smith blog, this time about the government's plans to introduce compuslory ID cards. I echo every word of what is written; the extreme unlikelihood that their introduction will achieve the stated aims (of combatting terrorism, reducing benefit fraud, etc); the extreme likelihood that petty-officialdom will become even more prevalent in our lives, when minor officials have it in their power to make one's life very awkward if one does not comply with their every whim expressed with the power of the law behind them, oftentimes on the flimsiest of pretexts. Quite apart from the important matter of whether the system can be made to work at all, or more importantly - reliably. The level of false-positives and false-negatives is said to be as high as 10 per cent, implying that a LOT of people are likely to be put to great inconvenience for no good reason if their biometric scans do not conform with the information stored in their ID card, and possible danger if those who should be flagged-up by the system are not.

Crime and punishment in Britain today

There is a very thoughtful post today in the Adam Smith blog. Like the writer I have been, and and in my case probably remain, deeply opposed on principle to the notion of capital punishment. However the arguments he puts forward, coming from a [similarly] libertarian perspecttive, are difficult to dismiss entirely. Perhaps there does need to be a change in the way we punish the worst crimes.

There is at least some justice in the world

It seems that Formula 1 racing is to cease to be the 'personal fiefdom' of one man. I'm not a particularly avid watcher of F1 racing (although I enjoy the sight of a racing driver in a skin-tight racing suit as much as anyone - gay man or lusting woman, for example), but a little more openness in this high-octane and big-money sport would not go amiss. It's ironic that it is that other bugbear of many (although not of me), big business in the form of banks, that is doing the 'St George slaying the Dragon' act this time.

What makes you British?

... naturally, there is an opinion poll to give guidance on this weighty matter. Given the diversity of people in the UK, a great number of views are present.

Monday, 6 December 2004

I'll try to do better ...

... I have just been 'pulled up' for my pusillanimity in my comments about Blunkett in an earlier post. I don't really have any excuses although I have become so fed up (and frightened) by this man's continuing efforts to turn us into some kind of police state that my mind has been focussed on other aspects of our Home Secretary's (and this Government's) performance.

It is true, though, that I genuinely have no interest in Blunkett's personal life, except where it impinges on his public duties or where he may be alleged to have abused his position. It is clear to me now that, whilst I may have separated the different aspects of his behaviour in my own mind (between what is purely personal and what affects us citizens and taxpayers), I have not been sufficiently forthright in putting these views into my postings, whilst continuing to be firm in my view that it serves no useful purpose to get down into the same kind of denigratory language used by the tabloid and some parts of the broadsheet media, when I deplore so much the use of denigratory terms when applied to gays, or other groups the majority think it appropriate to belittle or talk down to (whether based on religion or race or even disability). I will try to do better, though ...

Murder in Nairn - an update

Exactly a week after a Nairn resident was shot and killed on his own doorstep, the police have been trying to jog the memories of people passing through the town, specially those who might have been here last Sunday, too, by carrying out mass interviews with those passing through in their cars. They are anxious to glean any information about what may have led to Mr Wilson's killing as it appears that they have no useful information to work with so far. My earlier articles on this tragic and horrific incident are here and here.

Home Secretary Blunkett - should he remain in office?

I have refrained from commenting about David Blunkett's personal life as it has swirled round the media over the past several weeks and I have no intention of commenting about it now. Unless, of course, it affects his judgement in performing his official duties.

All that interests me about David Blunkett is how he has conducted himself in his official capacity as Home Secretary; the regular announcement of bizarre new policies, which collapse under the weight of their own illogic within a few days, coupled with his track record of inspiring some of the most authoritarian legislation in our history and his desire to introduce yet more such legislation. I have stated here before on a number of occasions that I think Blunkett is a danger to the UK's continuing status as a democratic nation - that's why I want him replaced as Home Secretary as soon as possible. His personal life is of no interest to me.

Do you understand what's in the EU constitution?

I suspect that only a few people have more than a vague understanding of what is in the EU constitution. There is a great detail of complex detail in it, unfortunately, and whilst I have taken the trouble to read quite large parts of the text, as it appears in the EU website here, there is no disguising that the sheer length of the various texts makes it extremely difficult to grasp the full impact of this legislation.

That's why I was so interested to read this article in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph. The publication it refers to, "The European Constitution in Perspective" is put out by a small Cotswold publishing house (British Management Data Foundation [BDMA]). This publication, whilst still lengthy at 270 pages, is nevertheless the first time what are apparently 844 pages in the website have been consolidated into one single document, accompanied by an analysis and a proper index. Whilst I did not telephone the number quoted at the end of the article I link to, I chose the more familiar route to me of going online to Amazon as soon as I had read it and ordering a copy for myself there - here is the link. It costs GBP27.50 and this seems a small price to pay to give me, with a little reading effort, a better understanding of what is involved. At least when it arrives (early January next) I will have the opportunity of equipping myself with the knowledge to use my vote intelligently when (and if) we are given the opportunity to vote in the referendum we have been promised in the UK by Tony Blair to decide whether the UK should ratify the treaty.

I hope as many citizens of EU countries as possible will take the trouble to learn about the EU Constitutional Treaty - if it is ratified by all 25 signatories within the two year time-frame allocated from signing, it will govern every aspect of our lives. That's a pretty good incentive, I think, to familiarise oneself with what is in it!

Thursday, 2 December 2004

Founder of Bilderberg group dies

Prince Bernhard of Lippe Biesterfeld, the consort of the late Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, has died at Utrecht at the age of 93. German by birth, he became a naturalised Dutch citizen and married Princess Juliana in 1937 and served with the free Dutch army during the war.

The only blemish on an otherwise worthy life was the scandal in 1976 surrounding the revelation that he had taken 'bribes' from the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, relating to sales to the Netherlands some years earlier. Queen Juliana, who died earlier this year, abdicated in favour of her daughter, Queen Beatrix, in 1980, having succeeded to the throne in 1948. R.I.P.

(The Bilderberg group, from the little information that is available, is a somewhat secretive and shadowy worldwide organisation which allows those prominent in politics, business and philosophy to meet annually.)