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

Saturday, 30 April 2005

Question Time Leaders' Special - Scotland and Wales

Alex Salmond appeared last evening in a Scotland-only version of Question Time, hosted for the event by Iain Macwhirter.

You can see links to his performance below:
Alex Salmond - video, BBC text report (part of programme only).

I am no supporter of the SNP (surprise, surprise!), but I thought Alex Salmond performed pretty well, although at the same time I don't think the questions were as hard-hitting as those to the UK party leaders in the programme the previous evening; I think the questions to Salmond were of a similar intensity to those lobbed at Kennedy, probably reflecting the real likelihood (or lack of it) that he and the SNP will have much more influence after the election than at present.

In Wales, the leader of Plaid Cymru (The Party of Wales), appeared in a similar programme, hosted by David Williams, and you can see links to his performance below;
Elfyn Llwyd - video, BBC text report (*).
(*) - I haven't been able to trace a text report for the Wales programme, but as the video is available anyone who views it can make up their own minds.

Obviously I am not so familiar (or, in reality, engaged) with Welsh politics as I am with UK and Scottish events, but Elfyn Llwyd seemd to hold his own pretty well, before a rather polite audience - some of the questions were 'barbed', it is true, but the whole event seemed to be conducted with calmness on all sides. How it might affect Welsh voting patterns is way beyond my competence to judge. One interesting thing, though, is that the marvels of the internet and video streaming allow me (living in Scotland - or Timbuctoo for that matter) to watch a programme from another region of the UK which in earlier times I would have been unable to see.

OSCE team is to scrutinise UK election

A few years ago one might have been mildly insulted to think that our democracy was being put under the microscope by a bunch of outsiders. Personally I welcome the involvement of the OSCE, given the recent controversy over the integrity of postal voting, in particular, although I understand it will be rather low-key (11 monitors for a country with 60 million inhabitants). My hope, though, is that the report will neither be unnecessarily alarmist, nor unusually bland. We may be an 'old democracy', but I hope we are mature enough to receive sensible criticism in the right spirit.

If you can't command a majority, why you just create one

Blair's Labour Party and the House of Lords. (Anyone for an ID Card Bill, M'lud?)

Sigh ...

Say NO to the BNP!!

Six years after the Admiral Duncan pub bombing by David Copeland, a right-wing BNP-supporting nutter, I hope that this Party receives the support it so richly deserves at the coming election:
N O N E ! ! !

Viet Nam - 30 years on

Today is the 30th anniversary of what, a little later (legally), would be the formal reunification of the country - although South Vietnam effectively ceased to exist thirty years ago today, it in fact lingered on as The Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, under the control of the National Liberation Front (NLF) which, with North Vietnamese forces, had 'liberated' it, until the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam was inaugurated on July 2, 1976 . Thirty years ago today, however, a tank (tank number 843 of the 'North Vietnamese' army) stormed the gates of the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam and that country ceased to exist as an independent nation:

Socialist Republic of Vietnam (1976 - to date)

Republic of Vietnam - aka 'South Vietnam' (1948 [1955] - 1974) - R.I.P.

For those interested in vexillology, there is an interesting website dealing with this topic for the former South Vietnam here

There is no escaping the fact that my emotions are conflicted at this time. I have had, in one way or another, contact with Vietnam for almost all of this period. Before I go on, please forgive the narcissism of this post, because this is [after all] a blog called 'Bill's Comment Page' - it does not pretend to be a news resource. With that out of the way, let me continue. In early March 1975 I arrived to live in a place called Djibouti, then a French 'Overseas Territory'. One of the other staff in the office there, who I came to know and become very friendly with, was a young Vietnamese man who had been adopted by a French family a little earlier, for various complicated reasons (partly to do with the former status of an Indo-China under French control) I won't detail further here, and whose father (whom I also came to know well and liked) had been a member of the diplomatic service of the former South Vietnam. My friend and his wife (also Vietnamese) had, as French citizens, come to live and work in Djibouti and managed to arrange it so that his father could live there, too - so this former Ambassador opened a very successful Vietnamese restaurant. Although I didn't know 'xxxxxxxx' particularly well on 30th April 1975, the date of the 'fall of Saigon', having been in Djibouti myself only for about two months at the time, I knew enough about his situation to realise just how poignant was this day for him and more especially for his father.

In fact, my first putative 'contact' with Vietnam was somewhat earlier than this. Some eleven or twelve years before this, whilst I was at school, I chose as a project the 'Vietnam War' as in the mid-1960s this was a major news event. As part of that project I, as a boy of twelve or so, wrote a letter to the US embassy in London asking for information about US involvement there and received back, almost by return, a huge amount of information including pretty detailed drawings of the various aircraft and helicopeters in use there at the time; suffice to say that I had more than enough material to complete a very successful end-of-term school project.

Skipping forward about ten years after 1975 to early 1985 found me having just arrived to live in Paris, where a small number of Vietnamese (and a couple of Cambodians and a Laotian, too) were also working in our office there. Indeed three or four of the Vietnamese in Paris had worked, until 1975, in our former office in Saigon, and the others had worked elsewhere in what had been South Vietnam. You learn a great deal about what makes people 'tick' when you begin to know about some of the actions taken by perfectly honest and decent people in times of adversity - 'selling' of passage out of Saigon by a former Saigon staff to friends and relatives in the place of some others of our former staff who were as a result forced to remain in the country after its surrender (one of whom, a particular friend, was subjected to coercive and permanently disfiguring treatment at the hands of the 'liberators' for information he was thought, erroneously, to possess), all of whom were later working together during my time in Paris. Yes, life is complicated - and some scars do not heal, whereas others do, at least partially.

The BBC has a particularly good 'timeline' and other material (including video and audio links) on Vietnam, accessible here - the link takes you to the events of 30th April 1975, but if you scroll within the 'Timeline: Vietnam' box, you can get an overview of events affecting the country between 1954, when Dien Bien Phu fell to the Viet Minh and 1995, when the United States restored diplomatic relations with Vietnam.

There are two excellent novels which explain, for a western reader, a lot of salient information about Vietnam and the West's (particularly U.S.) involvement with the country and Asia in general, and the naivete and lack of scruple that was too often displayed. Both were written in the 1950s. The Quiet American, by Graham Greene, is possibly at least known by title to many people in the UK, whereas the other, The Ugly American, by William J Lederer, is probably less well known in this country; both are well worth reading. I was given copies of both by my boss when I arrived to live and re-establish our company presence in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in April 1992, just as he had been given copies when he himself arrived there in 1962 to work in the office the company had there then.

Vietnam is a beautiful country with some lovely people; it is also a sad country. I wrote earlier in this article that my emotions are conflicted when discussing Viet Nam - it is a country I both love and loathe. It will be no secret to anyone who has read much of my blog that my sentiments on 'socialism' and 'communism' are not positive; although I had experienced some of the malign effects of these types of social and political regimes during earlier visits to China, the USSR, Poland, East Germany and Vietnam itself I had not, until 1992, lived in a communist totalitarian country (is there any other kind of communist regime? - 'no' is the simple answer) - living in a country where 'Big Brother' really does control most aspects of most people's lives is a salutary experience for someone used to life in a democracy. Naturally, as a foreigner, my life was considerably less restricted than that of most Vietnamese - at least I and other foreigners could get on a 'plane out for a bit of 'fresh air' (politically speaking) whenever necessary. Many ordinary Vietnamese felt they had to risk their lives in flimsy craft in their attempts to escape by sea, risking not just storms and sharks, but pirates, too. Vietnam today is making slow progress in the direction of improving the lives of its citizens, whilst still maintaining internal control by means of a pervasive one-party regime; read about some of the developments there in the official English-language Viet Nam News and Vietnam celebrates its 30th anniversary of reunification today.

Yes, my feelings are mixed. Nevertheless, Happy Birthday, Viet Nam!

Friday, 29 April 2005

Gay hustings in Northern Ireland deemed a success

I hadn't heard this hustings meeting was planned, but it seems to have been successful, even though the UUP, Sinn Fein and DUP people were not present, either because they could not, or would not, attend. Ah well, those Northern Irish know their own business, I daresay, but it seems a very peculiar notion of 'success' to me. Northern Ireland sure could do with a more positive attitude on many things, not least homosexuality.

UPDATE: (Saturday 30APR05 0900 BST) Unfortnately the organising group The Rainbow Project seems to be suffering a funding crisis; yes, it surely is a 'success'.

Conservatives and homophobia - they just can't leave it alone, can they?

Ken Andrew, the Tory parliamentary candidate for Carshalton & Wallington in Surrey and Sayeeda Warsi, the Tory candidate for Dewsbury in West Yorkshire are both reverting to traditional Tory tactics to appeal to their aged core vote. Truly pathetic!

Is this what Michael Howard's inclusive Conservative Party is all about??!! What is he going to do about it??!! Very little, it would seem.

Mad book banning proposals in Alabama

Even for the religious right in America this latest proposal from Alabama State Representative Gerald Allen is pretty deplorable:

"I don't look at it as censorship," CBS News reports State Representative Gerald Allen as saying.

“I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children... It's not healthy for America; it doesn't fit what we stand for."

- referring to his proposal "that would stop public school libraries from buying new copies of plays or books by gay authors, or about gay characters". As is pointed out in this RainbowNetwork article the law, if passed, would mean that books by Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal would have to be banned as well as Alice Walker's novel, The Color Purple, which has lesbian characters. Now I don't think the world would be a great deal worse off if every work by Gore Vidal disappeared forever as it's mostly pretentious nonsense (just a personal view, you understand), but if people want to read his books they should be allowed to. As for Tennessee Williams, well he's one of the greatest American authors of all time, whatever his sexuality.

For just how mad this proposal is, though, note that Shakespeare was initially going to be on the list until, generously, an exception was made for the 'classics'. Incredible! (Of course, Alabama was the home state of Governor George Wallace forty or so years ago, so perhaps the whole proposal isn't so surprising after all.)

Question Time Leaders' Special

Yesterday evening's Question Time, hosted as usual by David Dimbleby, was quite interesting. Unfortunately the leaders of the three main political parties did not appear together for questioning by the studio audience, but serially - Charles Kennedy for the Liberal Democrats came first, followed by Michael Howard for the Conservatives with the grand vizier himself, Tony Blair for Labour, climaxing the evening.

You can see links to each of the three's performances below:
Charles Kennedy - video, BBC text report;
Michael Howard - video, text report;
Tony Blair - video (*), text report (*);

- (*) the video clip and text report have been shortened to cover only part of the questioning of Blair, some way through his half hour, when the questioning turned to GP appointments. However, the whole 90 minute programme video link is here - fast forward on your media player to about 58 minutes into the programme to see Blair's whole performance;

- there is also a text summary of the questions each of the three was asked, together with their responses, here, so you can read the whole Blair half-hour;

- BBC analysis here of the various performances, by Nick Assinder;

I agree broadly with this analysis, but my comments are these:

- Kennedy probably came off best, possibly because the questions were mostly gentler. Few (even Mr Kennedy himself) expect the LibDems to have to form a government next week, even if they improve their representation in Parliament, so I suspect that at this stage no-one really cares much, one way or the other, what the LibDems say, as it is probably just not that important;

- Howard was given quite a rough ride, but in my view responded pretty robustly to all the questions and 'barbs' thrown at him. Some of the questions were sensible, if pointed, some were completely off-base;

- Blair managed to hold his own pretty well throughout the questioning on Iraq, even if what he was saying was hardly popular with many of those in the audience. People either believe he 'lied', or that he did not. I suspect strongly that he did not lie, although he seems to have 'moulded the argument' very much to achieve the result he wanted. However, where he really came unstuck was when the questions moved on to a discussion of GP appointments. It is quite obvious that this was complete news to him, and equally obvious that it was not just some isolated incident that one particular questioner wanted to highlight. At the end of the programme he was sweating profusely and looked really pleased that the whole thing was over.

In summary - Kennedy performed well; Howard on balance did reasonably well given the hostile nature of some of the questions; Blair started off pretty robustly, but was completely unmanned by an unexpected line of questioning. His was certainly the most revealing performance.

Lady Thatcher takes a break ...

... and good for her, I say. I know it is not fashionable amongst most gays to speak kindly of Lady Thatcher, but despite all her faults (and the prejudices she allowed to gain a foothold whilst she was PM) I continue to believe that she was a great Prime Minister, probably amongst the top three of the 20th century - Churchill was obviously Number 1. She changed the face of British politics and altered the course of Britain's economic destiny from one of seemingly irrevocable decline to the relatively buoyant situation we enjoy today. She and her government laid the foundations for this - don't let Blair and Brown pretend different!

It seems the good Baroness has left for a short break in Venice in the final days of the election campaign - it is pleasing that she now has the good sense to accept that she is no longer physically strong enough to take part in Conservative pre-election campaigning and that in any case others, younger and stronger than her, must be left to get on with it. I only wish Lord Tebbit would behave with similar discretion.

The joys of mobile telephone photo messaging

As a follow-on from my last entry about the Bandstand here in Nairn, I thought that as it is a nice day, if blustery and intermittently showery, I'd walk up into town to get my newspaper, rather than take the car [and no, I shall not be voting 'Green'] - on the way back I took this shot of the Bandstand with its new and 'attractive' scaffolding from the other direction, looking out over the cricket pitch toward the Soutars at Cromarty - similar to the one in the previous post, taken last August.

However, this photograph was taken with my new mobile telephone camera - I got it a couple of months ago, but only learned a few days ago (courtesy of a 'tutorial' from a nice lady at the o2 shop in Inverness, where I bought it) how to send photos to my email account. Pretty remarkable detail for such a tiny gadget, I'd say:

Nairn links and cricket pitch - 29 April 2005

Nairn bandstand repairs begin, at last ...

Nairn has few iconic landmarks, but for people who know the area or the town its Bandstand certainly fits the bill. Since coming to live in Nairn about five years ago I have come to know it very well, mainly because it is what I see out of my windows across the cricket pitch and because I take regular walks around it during my dog-walking duties (pleasures really, but you get my drift ...). Anyway the Bandstand roof, a lead-covered pagoda-style affair, was quite badly damaged last winter during a storm and bits of the lead were left hanging off dangerously. The 'instant fix' was to secure the remaining bits of the roof in place and to remove the dangly bits for safety reasons, then of course the whole thing was surrounded by a security fence - not pretty, as you can imagine.

Yesterday when I opened my bedroom blinds the first thing I noticed was a lot of activity by Highland Council people and various other contractors - later in the day (after my trip to Inverness to the gym, etc) it became clear that they had been erecting a scaffolding platform around the roof, seemingly preparatory to doing some work on it - we can but hope! I took the photograph below about 30 minutes ago and although all the people who were there earlier have now disappeared again, I'm hoping it won't be too long before they are back to get on with the work.

Nairn Bandstand - 29 April 2005

Nairn Bandstand - 'anyone for cricket?' - August 2004

It will certainly make the Nairn Games day in August much more enjoyable (here is my post about last year's event).

Thursday, 28 April 2005

Election 2005 - the political parties and gays

I posted an entry a few weeks back about two forthcoming panel-style hustings meetings to be held in London and Birmingham, respectively, with the aim of identifying the attitudes of various of the political parties on gay 'issues'.

I haven't heard how the London meeting went (it took place on 15th April), but I've just read an interesting report on the UKIPwatch blog about some of what happened at the Birmingham meeting on 25th April. As may be inferred from the fact this report appears on the UKIPwatch blog, it does not reflect well on UKIP - it is good to expose as widely as possible what a bunch of weirdos UKIP is, so I am reproducing the UKIPwatch post in its entirety, although if you prefer to read it on that site click here:

Carry on at Question Time

This week marked another embarrassement for UKIP, as again one of their members made a fool of themselves in front of the cameras.
A cross panel debate entitled "Queer Question Time," which took place in Birmingham was delayed by half an hour as UKIP Parliamentary candidate for Halesowen & Rowley-Regis, Nicole Sinclaire demanded a more prominent role in the debate.
Ms Sinclaire, political assistant to UKIP deputy leader Mike Nattrass, was not given a place on the main panel, which was reserved for the three main parties to discuss homosexual perspectives in the current election campaign.
Panel members including, ex international development secretary Clare Short repeatedly asked Ms Sinclaire to leave, when she started to raise her voice and disrupt proceedings. The organisers were left with no option but to call the police, who subsequently arrested her.
Ms Sinclaire later claimed that she was protesting against a lack of democracy, due to the fact that smaller parties were not invited to join the panel.
It seems hardly surprising that an invitation was not extended to UKIP, considering their position on homosexuality. In 2004, UKIP candidate for the London mayoral elections Frank Maloney, said that he would not be campaigning in Camden because there were "too many gays" there. UKIP also align themselves with the League of Polish Families party in the European Parliament. This is an extereme nationalist party that describes homosexuality as "a condition which is unacceptable."

Source: Birmingham Post, April 26th, BBC News, 29 April 2004

- although UKIPwatch don't provide a link to the BBC article (query date they mention, though), a little research has taken me to the article I presume they were referring to - the link is here.

Of course, whilst I don't agree at all with the UKIP policy on withdrawal from the European Union, it is a perfectly valid point of view - we are a democracy, after all. However, it is all the anciliary policies they seem to espouse that justify the use of the term 'weirdo' when describing them. It seems perfectly clear UKIP was not invited to attend (perhaps they should have been, but that is a slightly different subject), so they chose to gatecrash the panel's table and attempt to hijack the meeting - they were rightly ejected. I would normally have preferred to have a Party represented which seems to despise gays - that's what free speech is all about - but this would, I suppose, have been like having a National Socialist Party delegate attending a meeting of the World Jewish Congress, nice in theory, but pretty repugnant in practice.

You can read my earlier post, written prior to the meetings having taken place, here.

Wednesday, 27 April 2005

Bill goes gaga ...

... Do you ever mislay things? Or is it only me? Anyhow, this morning, sometime between getting out of bed and returning to my shower-room after having said 'good morning' to Tara, I reached out my hand for the remote control that operates the bedroom music/radio-system - only to realise it wasn't where I usually leave it, atop a drawer unit in the bedroom just outside the shower-room. I hadn't left it on the night-table, either, where I know I had used it earlier in the morning to switch on the system, as I do every morning just prior to getting up, as the clock radio on the night-table isn't powerful enough to give me the blast of Radio3 that I need whilst showering - the soothing tone of my clock radio is fine to waken me up to Radio3, though. I still have not located the pesky little thing (and yes, it is qute small, probably about twice the size of a credit card and only about two or three times as thick). I even thought I might have put it in the washing-machine with the load I put on this morning (don't ask!!), but when the wash-cycle had finished I was able to verify that, at least, I haven't gone completely barmy, as well as having become forgetful. It must be here somewhere, as I haven't thrown anything out today. That's what comes of having far too many possessions, I suppose.

It's not the first time I have lost and/or mislaid things. About a year ago I found a gold ring I had 'lost' at least three years previously - I found it in a little-used shoe in one of the shoe racks in my clothes closet. Quite how it got there I cannot imagine. That ring, which I hadn't had very long when I mislaid it, was to replace a gold and diamond ring I lost a couple of years before that - as that was in my previous house the chances of recovering that one are non-existent; I have the feeling it must have dropped into the stream or pond when I was cleaning the pond filter one day. Or what about the time (quite a few years ago, long before I had any right to be forgetful) I spent nearly an hour looking for my spectacles only to discover, when I happened to pass a mirror, that they were of course actually on my face and I was looking through them.

Enough!! I've got to go for the last walk of the evening, so I can get back in time to watch Desperate Housewives at 11pm on E4; yes, this is another show I watch regularly - it's a hoot, and a necessary break from the non-stop politics we are subjected to just now.

UPDATE: (Thursday 28APR05 08.45 BST) Well, proof positive that Bill is either completely gaga, or getting there fast! First, the good news, I found the remote control when getting into bed last night - it was way down under the sheets. However, I had partially stripped the bed yesterday in my efforts to find it, but obviously had not gone down quite far enough. Now it's time for the Reith Lecture (recorded last evening from Radio4) whilst following my morning bathroom routine, then I'm off to the gym followed by the dentist, so I won't be back here 'til late this afternoon.

Tebbit sticks his oar in ... again

Lord Tebbit, one of the Conservative Party's 'grandees' and in my opinion one of the most malign influences on its regeneration has accused the Conservative candidate for Thanet South, Mark MacGregor, of being a "destructive force" within the Conservative Party and that he, Tebbit, would not go out and campaign for him. Fair enough, it's a free country, but to place this in context it is useful to bear in mind that Mr MacGregor has for many years been regarded as a 'moderniser', so is hardly likely to appeal to a 'traditionalist' such as Lord Tebbit. Does Lord Tebbit really think he is helping his Party's cause by saying this within days of a General Election, though?

Och, ye'll nae wear your kilt here, laddie! (2)

Another case of the savage hand of scholastic authority wielded against a youngster of Scots origin who wanted to wear his kilt to a school event, in this case a high school prom in Alexandria, Minnesota. It does sound a bit harsh; and I'm sure Eric Schulzentenberg has braw knees, too! (thru Dave at backword)

This is the second such incident recently - the last one I heard about was at a graduation ceremony at Cambridge University. My post entitled Och, we'll hae nae skirrrts here! adopted, on reflection, rather too whimsical (and snide) a tone - maybe we (Scots) do need to be a bit more forthright about this kind of thing. Soon they'll be banning that other Scottish heritage item, the deep-fried Mars bar!!

Election 2005 - the political messages in my area

I thought it might be interesting and/or amusing for people outwith Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency to see the messages we are being given by our local candidates in the election to be held next week on 5th May. Most of the Parties' messages are displayed in two images, although a couple have only one, but there is a very rough equivalency in the overall size of the images for each Party, although those which have two images are probably a bit bigger overall, to make the messages legible. The images are in Party order, rather than candidate order (as in my previous posts on the matter). I have not yet finally decided how to cast my (postal) vote, but as I mentioned in an earlier posting it may just go to the Publican Party as a sort of protest against the ever-increasing regulation of our lives, even though I am neither a smoker nor a pub-goer; their platform certainly doesn't seem any more bizarre (if parochial) than any of the others.

Here goes:

Conservative Party

Green Party

Labour Party

Liberal Democrats Party

Publican Party

Scottish National Party

Scottish Socialist Party

"This has been a public service announcement by Bill's Comment Page"

Blair and the war in Iraq

Over the weekend the legality and the justification for the participation of the UK in the war to oust Saddam Hussein from Iraq has been brought up as their latest pre-election campaigning stance by the LibDems, followed by the Conservatives and the SNP/Plaid Cymru.

My position on this remains broadly what it has been for quite a long time - since well before the start of the military operations, in fact - that it was an evil necessity to remove the brute Saddam Hussein from power. As I wrote in July 2004 (click here for full post) when the Butler Report was published:

"I have always believed that the main justification for invading Iraq was 'regime change'. Of course the Labour government could not say this, whatever its senior members may privately have believed (and I have no personal knowledge to help me decide), because such a stance would have been political suicide within the wider Labour party and in the country as a whole. The only way the Labour government could obtain political support for its policy of participating with the US in the invasion of Iraq was to stress a belief that Iraq represented a danger beyond its borders, hence the 'deploy within 45 minutes' claim amongst others.

"So far as I am concerned, this allowed the operation to go ahead and lead to Saddam Hussein being 'taken out' and that is all that I cared about. The fact that this might come back to haunt Tony Blair and his government was, and is, quite immaterial to me - I am no fan of him or his party, but I am quite happy to acquiesce in a policy which will achieve objectives I believe are valid if the only price to be paid is potential political oblivion for Tony Blair. Think 'useful idiots'."

If Blair in due course is ousted, in one way or the other, because of his firm support for, and initiation of our participation in, the war then this is a small price to pay. I dislike Blair, the Labour Party and most of what it stands for, but I am very happy to acknowledge that on this one matter Blair acted completely as I would have wished. It is disappointing, yes, that no WMD have been discovered, but as that was never what I believed to be the main justification for the war I cannot become too overly excited about it. When members of other political parties (LibDems Charles Kennedy or Menzies Campbell, for example) state that the war was not only illegal [which it might have been, but frankly I don't care, so don't bother coming back to that, so far as I am concerned!] but immoral then one can see just how opprtunist they are. They cannot escape from the grim conclusion that they would have preferred to leave Saddam Hussien in power and the Iraqi people to continue to suffer - Menzies Campbell has just been on the BBC Scotland lunchtime news here trying to postulate that "well you can't be sure of that, because the regime was crumbling" - frankly this kind of refusal to face up squarely to the practical consequences of the policies advocated by his Party disgusts me; the regime may have been crumbling, but I reckon it would have limped along for several more years if permitted to do so, specially as the regime was widely believed (and now known) to have diverted large portions of the 'oil for food' revenues for military and other government purposes theoretically forbidden under the UN sanctions regime.

Of course, however strongly I feel about this there is no way I will vote 'Labour', but the events of the past few days have cured me of any glimmer of thought that I might vote LibDem or SNP. I feel I might as well just abstain, or vote for the Publican Party (who have a candidate here) - although I am not a pub-goer, nor have I ever smoked, they at least seem like a harmless enough bunch. Now, much more important matters beckon me - lunch, for example.

UPDATE: (Wednesday 27APR05 21.55 BST) Not that it makes any difference to how I feel about the necessity for military action being required to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, it seems that the legal advice Mr Blair received from Attorney General Lord Goldsmith may have been considerably more equivocal than the public has, until now, been led to believe.

Postal voting - a complete shambles

I've held a postal vote ever since it became readily available as an option, and I received my voting papers last Friday or Saturday. Still haven't returned my completed ballot paper, though - so there's still time for one of the seven candidates here to 'bung' me a suitable sum (erm .... that is a joke, by the way).

However, this example of some of the mistakes which appear to be occurring with postal voting, togther with cases of fraudulent vote applications in the names of others makes me wonder just how secure our whole electoral process is. Postal voting is a worthwhile idea, but it does need to be above taint.

PS/ It is some days since I posted here. Sorry. The election does seem to have descended into far too much of a slanging match, with too much invective and not enough fact. All the major parties are guilty of this - none is exempt, unfortunately. Blair, Howard, Kennedy and Salmond are all each as bad as the other. It is really depressing ...

Saturday, 23 April 2005

Pope Benedict XVI launches anti-gay salvo

The Vatican is not happy with a new law in Spain, a nominally Catholic country, which has just granted marriage rights to same-sex couples.

When the Catholic Church revises its policy on contraception and the inhibiting of disease tramsmission during sex (by the use of condoms), and various other matters, then it will have a right to speak on issues in the secular world relating to the human condition. Until then it should just
Shut UP !!!

The Pontiff's view on how the scandal of paedophile abuse by priests should be dealt with may have been modified in a benefical way as some parts of this New York Times article suggest, although this remains (in my opinion) to be demonstrated, but it does not explain why disgraced Cardinal Law was very recently permitted to say a Mass for the late Pontiff, Pope John Paul II.

Whilst it is perhaps wrong to pre-judge a man so early in a new job, I am certainly not prepared to be fobbed off by the spin we are being fed that Cardinal Ratzinger, the scourge of gays, has somehow metamorphosed into a benign old man after becoming Pope Benedict XVI.

Does it matter what goes on in schools?

The usual kneejerk response from a union, in this case the National Union of Teachers (NUT). The union's General secretary Steve Sinnott, commenting on a forthcoming documentary to be broadcast on Five, about the secret filming carried out by a supply teacher to expose unruly pupil behaviour, said: "Low-level disruption is a significant problem in our schools. We do not need underhand methods for a cheap documentary to expose the problem." .

Now I would in most circumstances agree that illicit filming infringes a person's 'rights', but there are times when it is the only way to expose something that is either not known about, acknowledged or even imagined. How often does one hear the stock reply 'but you have no evidence' when some misdemeanour is being highlighted? Too often. Sometimes it is necessary to adopt devious tactics to expose bullies and cheats. Of course, such people (or in this case, perhaps the parents whose poor parenting skills will be exposed) cry 'it's not fair' when their wrongdoings are exposed.

I still can't quite work out, though, why a teachers' union representative should object to a light being shone upon a matter that must affect quite a lot of teachers, members of his union or other unions. Is it because the programme also exposes just how useless his union has been in this particular matter?

Read a synopsis of the programme to be broadcast next Wednesday at 8pm here.

Friday, 22 April 2005

Microsoft and gay rights

Washington, Microsoft's home state, has been debating a gay rights bill which would grant protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Microsoft is generally recognised as having a pretty enlightened attitude toward matters affecting gays and had, until recently, supported the passing of this Washington State bill, but has recently amended its stance, according to the company, to 'neutral'.

The company states that this change in policy is because, in the words of this article in The Seattle Times, "it was narrowing its lobbying focus to issues such as education, transportation, computer privacy and business competitiveness".

Others take a less charitable view of the change and point to pressure exerted upon the software giant by Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Redmond's 3,500-member Antioch Bible Church (Redmond is where Microsoft is headquartered), who has it seems advised the company that he would organise a "national boycott of the company's products if it did not withdraw its support of the bill" (quote from the same article linked to above).

Of course I have no way of knowing what is the truth. Bill, at billandkent (also in my blogroll at right) has given his thoughts on the matter here, and I reproduce these below:

"So today I’m sitting at my desk at work. My phone rings. I answer it. It’s a representative from Microsoft wanting to sell me a new 'add on' product to a Microsoft package my company already owns. I’m the IT Manager for the company I work for.

"I reply, 'Why?' He starts to tell me about the product and what it will do... I interrupt with, 'No. I want to know why!' He said, 'I don’t understand.' I said, 'Washington State has been trying to pass a gay rights bill for the last three decades. Yesterday, it lost by one vote. This after Microsoft withdrew it’s support for the bill. So, my question to you is, why. Why did Microsoft pull it’s support for the gay civil rights bill in Washington State and why should I, as a gay man, give you, a representative of Microsoft, time of day?'

"He said, 'Well, I don’t know what to say.' I said, 'When you figure it out, you can call me back.' I hung up the phone.

"Two hours later I get another phone call from Microsoft. They are having a web seminar that they felt I would be interested in participating in. I said, 'Why?' You get the idea.

"It’s a small world. I don’t live in Washington State. This bill would have added job protections for gay workers, and I do know something about that. I know what it feels like to be fired for being gay. At the time it happened, I felt degraded, useless, humiliated, and powerless.

"Today, I got my power back!

"Microsoft can go to hell."

Can the good pastor really organise a boycott? Who knows, but the religious-right in the US does seem to have a great deal of influence, so perhaps it isn't so far-fetched as some might perhaps like to believe. Like many, many others I use Microsoft software on my PC. I'll watch with interest as this story develops.

UPDATE: (Saturday 28MAY05 11.13 BST) See my later posting here, which reveals that Microsoft seems to have bowed to pressure from disgruntled employees dismayed at its just-announced 'neutral' stance on LGBT issues by severing ties with an anti-gay advisor (who, one imagines, got them into this mess in the first place).

Thursday, 21 April 2005

Gaelic in Scotland - 'equal respect', but not 'equal validity'

The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill passed on Thursday by the Scottish Parliament seems, to me, to have struck the correct balance. Peter Peacock is not my favourite person (he was at one time my local councillor, when he called himself an 'Independent' and when I lived in Culloden), but his remarks on this matter seem very apt to me:

"This bill gives clear recognition to the language as an official language, commanding equal respect with the English language.

"There is a real danger that the interpretation by the courts could result in a meaning of the status that this parliament does not intend and could not be delivered.

"Using the phrase equal validity in the bill carries a significant risk that the court could rule that the bill should result in the right to demand the use of the language in a wider range of circumstances than is intended."

It is right to support the promotion of Gaelic as a living language, in my view, but it would be completely out of proportion to give it a legal status equivalent to English, given that only slightly over one per cent of the population of Scotland describe themselves as speakers of Gaelic.

My position on the political compass

I've tried this kind of test before several times and they mostly give similar results, although the test this time around was much more 'transparent' than a couple I have tried before which seemed mainly desgined for an American audience.

However, the important thing is that this much more 'culturally neutral' test has produced more or less the result I expected:

Economic Left/Right: 5.75
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.67

What this means is that I am a little less to the right in economic matters than Milton Friedman, although I am still well to the right,
I am somewhat more 'libertarian' on social matters than him.

Try it for yourself here.
(thru Dave at backword)

Wednesday, 20 April 2005

The Scottish Standard has started firing staff

Interesting report here from David at Freedom and Whisky, commenting about the recently-launched publication in support of Scottish 'independence'. I wonder if Stuart will trumpet this as loudly as he did the launch?

Tuesday, 19 April 2005

Who's Your inner European?

It seems that for me the verdiict is:

Your Inner European is Italian!

Passionate and colorful.

You show the world what culture really is.

- try it for yourself.
(thru The Cabarfeidh Pages (Highland Warriors))

It'll come back to haunt you ...

Guido trumpets the removal of a post yesterday by another blogger and suggests that it cannot be sent into the memory hole because on the internet there are such things as RSS feeds. I hadn't seen the post in question, but I followed his 'suggestion' and was able to read it using the method he high-lighted.

Surprise, surprise, Guido seems to have taken down a post himself today (the one entitled - Conservatives Hold Rome). I had read it earlier when it was on his blog (posted 4.45 pm, updated 4.57pm according to the RSS feed log) but it is of course still available in the RSS feed. Whether it's the first or the second paragraph that has caused second-thoughts I cannot say. Maybe it'll be back 'in due course' (Oh goodie, as Guido might say), or maybe not ... hee hee.
(Off-line back-up copy of original text maintained, in case it reappears in modified form.)

I do enjoy reading Guido's blog, it's fun, but this case of the biter bit was just too tempting to ignore.
(Knowing the way these things work, this will probably come back to haunt me, too ... ho, ho)

UPDATE: (Wednesday 20APR05 10.35 BST) It's back, but with a slight change; see below:

Old Version:

Conservatives Hold Rome
By Guido Fawkes
Its Joseph Ratzinger! Takes the name Benedict XVI. First Bush in 2004, now Ratzinger in 2005. There will be much be wailing and weeping from the chattering classes tomorrow. The White House will be pleased.

If Michael Howard were to actually win the general election Guido fears that Harold Pinter would take his own life.

... and the new version:

Conservatives Hold Rome
By Guido Fawkes
Its Joseph Ratzinger! Takes the name Benedict XVI. Nobody expects the German Inquisition! First Bush in 2004, now Ratzinger in 2005. There will be much be wailing and weeping from the chattering classes tomorrow. The White House will be pleased.

If Michael Howard were to actually win the general election Guido fears that Harold Pinter would take his own life.

- the time line in the blog for the new version is 5.43PM 19APR05, but in the Bloglines aggregator this updated version is not yet shown, indicating (I suspect) it must have been put in sometime after the later post entitled That Botox Question which is datestamped in Bloglines at 9.12AM 20APR05. Very interesting ...

2nd UPDATE: (Wednesday 20APR05 13.12 BST) the reposted entry referred to above now appears in the Bloglines log and shows, as suspected, that it was re-posted after the later post entitled That Botox Question at 9.13AM 20APR05.

Election 2005 locally - Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey - lists closed

The lists have now closed. The only change since the last time is the addition of the Publicans Party, who oppose a smoking ban in pubs - read a news article about them here. Here is the official list as posted on the Highland Council website - the list is in PDF format; the BBC website page has not yet been updated, at the time of writing, but undoubtedly will be shortly.

The links here are to the constitiency websites of certain of the Parties, or in cases where there are no local websites, a profile page in the Party's main UK website or Scottish website. The list is in alphabetic order based on the names of the prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) and any updates will be shown in the same order, NOT in Party political order:
Alexander, Danny - Liberal Democrat
MacDonald, George - Scottish Socialist
Macleod, Donnie - Green
Rowantree, Robbie - Conservative
Stewart, David - Labour (updated link)
Thompson, David - SNP
- if I discover (or anyone can let me know of) a local Party website for any of those where I don't know it now, in particular for the 'Publicans Party', I will include it in an updated list.

New Pope - Pope Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger)

Well, the Capi have chosen their Capo - he is to be Pope Benedict XVI (16th), formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He is a German theologian, considered a very traditional conservative, and a close ally of the last Pope. He is highly unlikely to modernise, one imagines, any aspcet of the strict adherence to traditional doctrine of the last Pope. He is 78 years old, and although he looks to me to be in robust good health (*), if his appearance on the balcony at the Vatican is any guide, it is probably unlikely that his papacy will be very long and certainly less long than his immediate predecessor. Brief BBC report here.

What a shame! This criminal gang will undoubtedly continue the same path they have trodden in recent years.

* - UPDATE (Wednesday 20APR05 13.17 BST) I heard on the 'Today' programme this morning that Pope Benedict XVI is thought to have a weak heart; it was a discussion with a couple of Church 'experts', although exactly who they were I cannot say (they sounded like members of the Catholic hierarchy). Despite what I write above, about my disappointment that such a 'conservative' Cardinal has been elected as the new Pontiff, I wish His Holiness a long, healthy and happy life as I do believe in treating others as one would oneself wish to be treated; it's a pity that not everyone in the Roman Catholic Church (and some others) does not think this way, and reflect those thoughts in practice and in their words.

New Pope chosen - identity as yet unknown

Well, those folks in Rome have chosen their new Pope - bells are ringing, white smoke billowing. (Info. live on BBC News24)

More later ...

Scottish Greens launch election manifesto

Yet another of the smaller political parties has launched its manifesto for the coming General Election. The Scottish Green Party want to 'combat climate change'. A full copy of the manifesto is available here (click on the PDF link on this page to open the manifesto or download a copy), or you can see (*) a print-resolution PDF version here (* - when I tried it, this version didn't open properly; perhaps the problem will be corrected in due course).

Key policies:
- the regulation of supermarkets to limit the damage, as they see it, being done to home food production by their purchasing power;
- cancellation of the M74 extension;
- redirection funding to boost production of renewable energy.

Apart from these policies, which whilst I don't necessarily agree with them (or care), don't strike me as completely nonsensical, there are naturally enough other more 'controversial' policies which may strike some (me, for example) as being at the least impractical or in a few instances a complete nonsense:
- 'make trade fair' (I've no idea what this vague statement implies - I hope Freetrade products aren't part of it);
- cancel third world debt (all of it? just like that? no checking to see whether previous funding has been misspent?);
- increase foreign aid (i.e. create more 'third world debt' for the future, unless it is better applied and monitored and its aims more closely defined).

That's enough, I think, for these 'dreamers'.

Postal vote legal bid is launched

John Hemming, deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, has today initiated proceedings in the High Court to seek a judicial review of the postal voting system, recently shown to have been flagrantly abused in local election polls in that that city, during 2004. Royal Mail is predicting that upto 15 per cent of voters will vote by post this time around, compared with only 2 per cent in 2001.

Full disclosure: I have had a postal vote ever since it became easier to do so, originally as an 'experiment' as I wished to see how the system operated. Apart from the 2001 general election I have voted this way in both Scottish Parliament and Local elections. Given common sense and honesty, there is nothing wrong with the system. However, common sense and honesty are not necessarily always present, as the recent judgement about two local elections in Birmingham has shown. The current system is definitely open to abuse and it is completely unacceptable for the government to continue to state that it is adequate. It is not. If necessary the election must be postponed, or perhaps postal voting should be suspended, except for emergency use as as permitted in the past, until better and practical safeguards can be devised.

Interestingly, last evening on the 'This Week' programme on BBC1 (one of Andrew Neil's politics shows), Michael Portillo observed that voting fraud was also easily possible at polling booths, as constituencies generally have quite large numbers of polling stations and it is possible to impersonate other people and 'steal' their votes. I doubt if this practice has been widespread, but it does raise worrying implications for the integrity of our principal voting method, too, and may also raise the spectre (in my view) that more secure methods of individual identification need to be devised. Given my continuing vehement opposition to the introduction of ID Cards it may readily be appreciated that there is a conundrum here which I have not, quite frankly, yet resolved fully in my own mind.

Monday, 18 April 2005

Shocking news - criminal gang meet in 'conclave' in Rome

The religious equivalent of the secular Mafia started their secret sessions (aka 'conclave') in Rome today to choose their next Capo.

Is my post offensive to some devout Catholics who may, perchance, stumble across my little blog? As I wrote here and here just a few days ago, this is terribly sad, but there is nothing I can or wish to do about this; people need to be much more careful in choosing the organisations and individuals to whom they offer their devotion.

Unusual search links and visit sources

I just had, a little while ago, a visit as a result of a Google search query thus:
- but it's the source that intrigues me - it seems to have come from the Holy City Makkah al-mukarama, the holiest city in Islam. I've had plenty of visits from the Kingdom before (I did once live there, in Jeddah), but never so far from Mecca to my knowledge; the nearest I, as a non-moslem, ever got to Mecca was the Jeddah to Taif road which passes not too far from Mecca. Most intriguing. The article I wrote which triggered that visit is here, as a matter of interest.

UPDATE: (Monday 18APR05 17.05 BST) And someone in Cape Town, South Africa has alighted at my little blog as a result of a Google query reading:
what hormone is repsonsible for me not wanting sex (sic)
- the mind boggles!

Plaid Cymru launches its manifesto

Not that it affects me in the least, Plaid Cymru (The Party of Wales) has launched its manifesto today. It wants a 'fairer society' - can't really quarrel with that. They also want to increase the powers of the already existing Welsh Assembly, which does not currently have primary legislation powers, by giving it (as a step to full seperation from the United Kingdom) powers similar to those currently held by the devolved Scottish Parliament. Like its Scottish equivalent, the SNP< Plaid Cymru wants 'independence in Europe'. Visit their website here - click on the link there to read their manifesto (although it seems, from a casual perusal, still to be the previous manifesto - no doubt the latest version will appear shortly).

More manifesto launches - Scottish Socialists and Respect

Two more of the minor players in the forthcoming election have launched their manifestos:

Scottish Socialist Party
The SSP want to 'make capitalism history'. Madness, pure and simple. Naturally they also want to turn Scotland into an independent republic. For a look at a system which has failed wherever it has been tried visit their website, and read their manifesto here - the website says a PDF version will be uploaded shortly. They will have a candidate in almost every constituency in Scotland (they have stood down their own candidate in one constituency to support an anti-war campaigner).

Respect is primarily (solely?) a vehicle for George 'gorgeous' Galloway, a former Labour MP until even they decided his brand of politics was too iffy for him to remain as a member. It is putting up 26 candidates and, apart from a moderately sensible policy querying the wisdom of allowing the current system of postal voting to continue, it's pure barminess all the way. But there is no denying the man has a certain charisma so he, at least, may stand a chance in his chosen 'carpet-bagging' constituency in east London. Visit their website, or read their manifesto here (in PDF format).

Church double-standards over unions between divorcees and gays

This LA Times article (registration may be required for access) discusses the Church's different attitudes, in practice, when confronted with unions between divorcees and same-sex partners. The selectivity of the application of the scriptural texts some Church people say they believe in is quite breath-taking. The example used in the article is the recent marriage between HRH Prince Charles and the former Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles. I was aware of the protest on the day by Peter Tatchell, but I decided not to write about it at the time as I, of course, am quite happy for the Royal couple to marry whomever they choose and did not want to spoil the 'karma' of this happy day. But there are uncomfortable truths which the Church needs to face up to.

The EU and a UK referendum on the Constitutional Treaty

According to this Guardian article, 'government sources' are now admitting they might shelve a referendum in the UK if France votes 'no' in its referendum at the end of May. Of course I'm pretty pro-EU, less-certainly positive about the constitutional treaty, but this pusillanimity on the part of this NuLabour government is just the latest sign of how unfit they are for office. The point of having a referendum is, or should be, to ascertain the views of the public as a whole on a specific matter, not to advance partisan views, but such democratic concepts are obviously quite alien to our present government. We certainly need a referendum, irrespective of what the French might decide, then we all need to get on and accept the outcome, whatever it is.

I'm normally pretty pro-Japanese, but ...

... the Nipponese will have to recognise that glossing over their history is not something they can do in East Asia, with impunity. The 'massaging' of facts about the country's record during the 1930s and 1940s in school text-books is something I've heard about for years, specially when I lived in parts of what was once the 'Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere', but still there are factions in Japan, and in the government too, which seem to think this re-writing of history is acceptable. Well, it is not! Of course it is frightening what the present troubles in China could escalate into, but there's an old saying: 'You reap what you sow'.
(I have no personal or family experience of Japanese brutality, but I have friends and parents of friends who most definitely have such memories, both Westerners and Chinese)

A societal sickness in South Wales ...

... I don't usually agree with much of anything that unions ever say, but this may just be an exception. It seems that youngsters, some as young a seven years old, have taken to setting fires deliberately to 'lure' fire crews into the area, then proceed to disrupt their fire-fighting efforts by pelting them with stones. Charming, I'm sure! I am surprised, though, that there isn't legislation already on the statute books which could be used to thwart these tearaways. Please don't tell me, however, that the solution may include the introduction of ID Cards - on the other hand, giving some of these people barcodes (if they haven't already got tattoos) might be helpful, no(?), 'mark of the beast' style. (that last bit is just my little joke)

PS/ It's apparently not just a problem in South Wales.

Has Labour been duplicitous over Rover?

It seems like it has. Not really a surprise to me.

As I said here and here, the government was even at a very late stage still refusing to accept the inevitable - no doubt in the hope that the election would be over before Rover's final downfall.

Sunday, 17 April 2005

Manifestos launched by LibDems, SNP, UKIP and Veritas

I wasn't able to blog on the day the Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto. No sooner had they revealed their proposals, than the Scottish National Party, then the United Kingdom Independence Party and then Veritas revealed to an enthralled public their own plans for us, post-5th May 2005, should they have unprecedented electoral success. Net result? I got behind in putting up links to the manifestos here (aided and abetted by the fact that when I looked on their website at the time the LibDems hadn't yet put up their manifesto for Scotland, only that for the rest of the country - now done).

Anyway, belatedly, here goes:

Liberal Democrat Party
Charles Kennedy tells us that his Party is 'the real alternative' to Labour and the Conservatives. Whether this is true, or not, we will all know for certain when the British public gives its verdict on 5th May; I suspect we will not awaken on the morning of Friday 6th May to learn that our Prime Minister is to be Mr Kennedy. Their key proposals include:
- 50% top rate tax on earnings over £100,000
- Replace council tax with local income tax
- Scrap university fees
- 21,000 extra teachers
- £100 a month pension extra for over 75s
- Free eye and dental checks
- 10,000 extra police
- 20,000 community support officers
- Lower class sizes
- Free personal care
- Scrap the Child Trust Fund
- Scrap the Child Support Agency

I described the proposals of one of the other Parties (I think you can guess which one) as 'mom and apple pie' stuff, but those folks turn out to have been a lot less ambitious than our friends the LibDems. They seem to offer ambrosia, unless you earn more than GBP38,000 as a couple - not an exceptional sum nowadays - so there will undoubtedly be just a very few people whose apparent willingness (according to some opinion polls) to stomach an increase in their tax bills will be tested at the ballot box. You can read the full LibDem manifesto for Westminster (in PDF format) here. Non-PDF versions of the manifestos for England, Scotland and Wales are on the LibDem website here - click on the relevant links for the versions you wish to know more about.

Scottish National Party
The SNP call their effort the People's Manifesto, a pretty meaningless descriptor - who else would it be for, dogs and cats? Or are they implying that others' manifestos are for an elite? How would the 'brothers' in NuLabour react to that slight, I wonder? Anyway, on, on ... the front cover of the manifesto bears the legend "If Scotland Matters To You, Make It Matter In May" - implying, one assumes, that not to vote SNP means one does not think Scotland matters. Another pretty obviously devious statement. Main proposals, apart from taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom, are to make life better for the people of Scotland, young and old. Now who can quarrel with that? Not me, that's for sure! How is it all to be paid for? One assumes by retaining all the proceeds of 'our oil and gas' in the North Sea. The SNP manifesto is available (in PDF format) here. The manifesto highlights Norway, another small country bordering the North Sea, with plenty of oil and gas and regularly described as one of the richest (as it is in the manisfesto, too). Coincidentally I read a most interesting, and I must admit to me quite surprising, article in the New York Times earlier today - link to article entitled We're Rich, You're Not. End of Story. (free registration required) - which paints a rather different picture. For me, though, I don't doubt we Scots could run our own country perfectly adequately if we decided we wanted to. However, I am quite happy to remain British, indeed I am proud to be so - that does not make me any less proud, as part of my Britishness, to be Scottish. Yes, Scotland does matter - it does not take a vote for the SNP to validate that viewpoint.

United Kingdom Independence Party
UKIP want to 'reclaim' the nation and say 'we want our country back'. A principal part of their platform is a desire to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, although UKIP insists it is not a single issue Party; principal policies include:
- Leave EU
- Set up new trade agreement
- Restricted immigration
- Pensions raised by £25 a week
- Council tax cut by half
- Raise borrowing £30bn
- More nuclear power

UKIP hopes to win its first seat at Westminster at the coming election. The manifesto (in PDF format) is available here. Needless to say, I do not support their principal aim, nor some of the others. Incidentally, though, they have specific policies for Scotland (where they are putting up 20 candidates), with which I must confess to having some sympathy - not that I should vote for them even if there were to be a candidate in my constituency.

Some people, perhaps curelly, have described UKIP as a 'one issue' Party. One could plausibly describe Veritas as a 'one person' Party. Robert Kilroy-Silk MEP has launched his Party's manifesto with a call for a halt to 'liberal fascism', whatever that is. Why is it that so many former left-wingers (Robert Kilroy-Silk [a former Labour MP], Oswald Moseley [a former Conservative, Independent then Labour MP and founder of the British Union of Fascists], Peter Hitchens to name a few) seem to become mighty peculiar in their beliefs in their later years? Not all Veritas policies are nonsense, though - for example, they are opposed to the introduction of compulsory ID cards. In any case, if you want to, you can read the Veritas manifesto (in PDF format) here.

Other minor Parties are standing at the coming election, of course. One I have noticed is the English Democrats Party which wants, amongst other things, a separate Parliament for England. Their website and manifesto are available here. It seems they are putting up 121 candidates at the coming election, although whether they stand a chance of gaining even one seat is perhaps doubtful.

Allegations of abuse of army recruits at Fort George

Police and Army investigations have been launched into allegations of vicious beatings of army recruits at Fort George, between Nairn and Inverness, and in Cyprus. The attacks are alleged, by Royal Highland Fusiliers' soldiers, to have taken place over the past two years.

I make no judgement of any kind about these allegations at this stage; I write about them only because Fort George is located very close to where I live and is a place I have visited several times over the years. The only other comment I make now is that I hope, fervently, that this is not another Deepcut scandal in the making.

Saturday, 16 April 2005

I'm a real mixed-up person, it seems!

Another political survey - try it out by clicking here.

My results:

Page 1
- I am described as likely to be slightly internationalist and rehabilitationist, when talking about matters of crime and punishment and internationalism;
- I am described as likely to be very free-market and pro-war, when talking about matters of economics, etc;
Broadly speaking, I think this is fair enough.

Page 2
- my self-description here is slightly right-of-centre, whereas the tests conclude that I am slightly left-of-centre, when discussing matters of crime and punishment, Europe, and other transnational issues including immigration and international law. I can just about accept this;
- the recommendation in this area, that I might vote Lib-Dem is, to some extent, understandable, although I think it unlikely I will follow this suggestion.

Page 3
- my self-description here is slightly right-of-centre, whereas the tests conclude that I am very right-wing, when discussing matters of public and private involvement in the economy, international trade, redistributive taxation... and Iraq; I can once more just about accept this;
- the recommendation in this area, however, seems to me to be completely at variance with my views. It is suggested that I might vote UKIP. Never in a million years! Their principal policy, that the UK withdraw from the EU, is one I oppose vehemently! It just ain't ever gonna happen! In fact the table shows that, in this area, I am very much to the right of almost everyone else in the country, of whatever political persuasion - I am pretty 'libertarian', in other words. And so I am - I accept this. If I were to vote for anyone based on this it would be the Conservatives.

So one part suggests I vote Lib-Dem, the other UKIP. There is my dilemma in a nutshell.
(thru Alan at AK Land)

Trouble with Bloglines

I seem to be having difficulty logging into my Bloglines account to read feeds. Is it just me, or is everyone else experiencing the same problem? I've sent them a message via their contact page to query it meantime, but as it's the weekend it may be Monday California time before anything happens. Ah well, a boring (or at least an RSS feed-free!) weekend lies ahead.

UPDATE: (Saturday 16APR05 15.27 BST) I am pleased to say that Bloglines seems to be back in action.

It's fun to be gay in Derry! It's fun to be gay in Derry!

... sung to the tune of:

Young men, there's no need to feel down
I said, young men, pick yourself off the ground
I said, young men, 'cause you're in a new town
There's no need to be unhappy

Young men, there's a place you can go
I said, young men, when you're short on your dough
You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time

(Chorus 1:)
It's fun to stay at the YMCA
It's fun to stay at the YMCA
They have everything for young men to enjoy
You can hang out with all the boys
It's fun to stay at the YMCA
It's fun to stay at the YMCA
You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal
You can do whatever you feel

Young men, are you listenin' to me?
I said, young men, what do you wanna be?
I said, young men, you can make real your dreams
But you've got to know this one thing

No man does it all by himself
I said, young men, put your pride on the shelf
And just go there to the YMCA
I'm sure they can help you today

(Repeat chorus 1)

Young men, I was once in your shoes
I said, I was down and out with the blues
I felt no man cared if I were alive
I felt the whole world was so tight

That's when someone came up to me
And said, "Young man, take a walk up the street
It's a place there called the YMCA
They can start you back on your way"

(Chorus 2:)
It's fun to stay at the YMCA
It's fun to stay at the YMCA
They have everything for young men to enjoy
You can hang out with all the boys
It's fun to stay at the YMCA
Young men, young men, there's no need to feel down
Young men, young men, pick yourself off the ground

(Chorus 3:)
And just go to the YMCA
Young men, young men, I was once in your shoes
Young men, young men, I was down with the blues

Ah yes, being gay and living in Northern Ireland really sounds like a fun experience!

The 'duality' (or the ostrich-like tendencies) of the Church of Scotland ...

... or, ignore the problem and it might just go away. They hope. The Rev David Lacy, incoming Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, discusses what [not] having a moral backbone involves.

And they wonder why congregations are dwindling.

Friday, 15 April 2005

Reality TV and 'Playing it Straight'

Channel4 is currently in the second week of its latest Reality TV show, called 'Playing it Straight' (in fact it is being broadcast as I write this). The premise of the show is that a young woman called Zoe has to select whom to choose as her 'cowboy' from amongst 10 good looking men. What she is soon told is that amongst them is one or more men who are gay. There is GBP100,000 (USD183,000) to play for. The hitch? If she chooses a man who is straight, they split the loot equally - well done, them! If, however, she chooses a man who is gay, then he keeps the lot. OK? Fairly straightforward gameshow set-up.

Now I'm sure it won't surprise many people who read my blog regularly to know that this kind of show is likely to appeal to two kinds of viewer - young women and gay men, or at least those amongst these two groups who are not always out on a Friday evening (when it is shown on Channel4, repeated on C4 then E4 subsequently); I am, in my defence, sometimes out at a concert on a Friday, but not tonight or last week.

Last week when I saw the first episode I was astonished immeditately to recognise one of the males as a previous winner of the Mr Gay UK contest - surely, I thought, it can't be, or if it is then surely he will be recognised by one of the others. Now I know if you're completely straight, it may be unlikely that you'd be familiar with the winners of Mr Gay UK, but his photo was pretty well distributed at the time and, in any case, a lot of younger straight people are pretty open and have gay friends - and one of the other contestants is apparently a model, although my personal 'gaydar' puts him down as definitely straight, but nevertheless it still surprises me that he is not vaguely familiar with gay 'beauty contest' winners.

Curiously some years have been eliminated from the Mr Gay UK homepage here - I wonder why? Well read on ...

The winner of Mr Gay UK in 1998 was a gent by the name of Ben Harris, a builder from London and he, curiously, bears a striking resemblance to Ben in the show, also described as a builder from London.

I am not the world's ranking expert on 'gayness', but I'm wondering if a couple of others are not graduates of Mr Gay UK, too! Perhaps not, but I still wonder about two of the others. Indeed, one of those just eliminated tonight revealed himself to be gay, on his departure. So I was right about him, too! I think there may be at least one more (apart from Ben, that is).

Thursday, 14 April 2005

Craig Murray stands as Independent in Blackburn

Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, is standing as an Independent candidate in Blackburn, currently held (until Parliament was prorogued for the General Election) by Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. Craig Murray's weblog is here; the link has also been added to my blogroll.

Craig Murray was withdrawn as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan last October and suspended on full pay, because of criticisms he had made that the UK used intelligence gained as a result of torture of terrorist suspects by the Uzbekistan authorities. I wrote about Mr Murray last December.
(link thru Simon Holledge at The Skakagrall)

Election 2005 locally - Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey - update 1

Further to my post dated 6th April, this is an updated list of the six candidates of whom I am now aware in my constituency; the addition from the last list is George MacDonald, standing for the Scottish Socialist Party.

The links here are to the constitiency websites of certain of the Parties, or in cases where there are no local websites, a profile page in the Party's main UK website or Scottish website. The list is in alphabetic order based on the names of the prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) and any updates will be shown in the same order, NOT in Party political order:
Alexander, Danny - Liberal Democrat
MacDonald, George - Scottish Socialist
Macleod, Donnie - Green
Rowantree, Robbie - Conservative
Stewart, David - Labour
Thompson, David - SNP
- if I discover (or anyone can let me know of) a local Party website for any of those where I don't know it now, I will include it in an updated list.

I have included all these links in a new section in the right-hand column entitled: 'Election 2005 - locally', immediately below the 'UK Politics' section, in which I link to most of the Parties or to 'watcher' sites. You may notice there is no link to the BNP in this list - the omission is quite deliberate as I have no intention of linking to organisations of that nature and I make no apology; I would sooner stop writing this blog than link to it.

Wednesday, 13 April 2005

Murder in Nairn - Police reveal murder gun origins

Information about the murder of Alistair Wilson continues to be drip-fed out to the public. The latest nugget to be released is that the murder weapon was a semi-automatic German model (a Schmeisser) made about 80 years ago; police think it may have been brought into the UK during or after World War II. I saw this on the television news on BBC Scotland yesterday evening, but wanted to think a little about any possible significance of the timing of the release of this latest information before commenting. Firstly, this is obviously not 'new information'; the police must have been aware of this for weeks and weeks, so I think there must be some significance in mentioning this now - as I have postulated in a number of my earlier postings about this murder, my view is that the police have many more 'clues' as to what lies behind this crime than they are prepared to discuss until they are good and ready. I get the feeling that they are building up a network of ideas and facts surrounding the case, piecing together various details. Who, for example, amongst Mr Wilson's circle of friends, family or associates had a family member who served in Germany after the war - there must be a number of such? Or are there any others who might have kept or acquired such a weapon - German POWs for example, or other allied forces who served in the UK during the war and may be living here now (Poles, Czechs, etc)? All of this is just speculation on my part, but of one thing I am certain, the release of this information now is not mere happenstance.

My most recent previous article on the murder is here. There are links to all my posts on this murder, so close to where I live, in the right-hand column under the heading 'Murder in Nairn' articles.

UPDATE (Monday 2MAY05 16.10 BST) Northern Constabulary announce they are consulting with a ballistics expert in Germany to try and advance their inquiry into the murder of Alistair Wilson. They also revealed that the ammunition used in the shooting was .25 ACP/6.35mm calibre, manufactured by Sellier and Bellot, Vlasim, Czech Republic.

The British election gets a new soundtrack!

Yesterday evening I sat open-mouthed when Andrew Neil, Michael Portillo, Mark Mardell and company started to cavort across the screen to the strains of 'Amarillo' - completely bizarre. Andrew Neil, to be fair to him, threw himself into it, although he looked as if his heart might give out at any minute - he needs to take care, I'd say. Michael Portillo merely looked rather uncomfortable (as well he might). I suppose it puts the circus of the announcement of Party manifestos in their proper context - make-believe for a gullible public.

Guido has a brief post on this, too - his one word title 'Surreal' is entirely appropriate.

Who should I vote for?

I can just about agree with what this quiz says about me, but as it didn't ask any questions about the social policies which have caused me disquiet with the Conservative Party, it doesn't really get to my dilemma - that I may well feel I must abstain from voting or spoil my ballot paper:

Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for?

Your expected outcome:


Your actual outcome:

Labour 2
Conservative 18
Liberal Democrat -12
UK Independence Party 1
Green 7

You should vote: Conservative

The Conservative Party is strongly against joining the Euro and against greater use of taxation to fund public services. The party broadly supported the Iraq war and backs greater policing and ID cards. The Tories are against increasing the minimum wage above the rate of inflation, and have committed to abolishing university tuition fees. They support 'virtual vouchers' for private education.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

I have difficulty with at least two of the Conservative 'characteristics' shown in the box, too - in fact I'm pretty much in favour of the UK joining the Euro, even if I have become rather more nuanced in my views about the EU Constitutional Treaty, mainly because whilst I am basically in favour of having a constitution, I don't think the one that has been negotiated is satisfactory, on many levels. I'm also vehemently opposed to the introduction of compuslory ID Cards; the Conservative Party should be thoroughly ashamed of itself for supporting, in principle, this odious policy.
(thru Freedom and Whisky)