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

Thursday, 30 June 2005

Roman Catholic Church forced to pay for priestly paedophilia

An award of GBP635,684 has been made against the Archbishop of Birmingham and the trustees of the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church for 'failing to prevent' the systematic and regular abuse over a ten-year period by an employee of the Roman Catholic Church (namely a priest) of a boy who, when the abuse commenced, was a mere eight years old. The perpetrator, Father Christopher Clonan, died in Australia in 1998 whilst on the run from British police.

In a remarkable and curiously-worded statement, the Archdiocese of Birmingham has said:

"The Archdiocese deeply regrets that a priest should have totally misused his position of trust in such a way and apologises again to those who have been abused and offended.

"This trust was placed in him by the Church and especially by his parishioners. The damage that he has done is deep and lasting.

"The Archdiocese hopes that this settlement will bring some resolution of the distress and anguish experienced by the claimant and his family."

A number of things in this statement interest and offend me. Firstly, the use of the word offended - more appropriate words to use in this context would have been outraged or disgusted. From what I have heard in the news today, the platitude at the end is unlikely to be borne out as the victim, known only as "A", now suffers from schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder and is thought unlikely to ever be able to have a stable life.

Given that this shocking case is hardly unique in its history, I'm afraid that the statement put out by representatives for "A" strikes me as a much more realistic appraisal of what has occurred in this case and what the Roman Catholic Church needs to to, urgently, to sort itself out:

"We very much hope that the Church will now offer realistic compensation to all those who have been sexually abused by Catholic priests so that victims and their families can be spared the trauma of giving evidence."

Whilst the public acknowledgement of the Church's conduct represented by this award is very welcome, it is not nearly severe enough. This is the organisation, remember, that recently tried to sway Spanish legislators from passing a law to permit same-sex marriage (see previous story) because it dares to categorise gay relationships as a perversion and opposes not only disease-prevention measures for those engaging in sexual intercourse, but opposes as a matter of policy any form of abortion in any circumstance, even when a woman has been raped. An evil and deluded organisation.

Shuggy has a suitably brief and pointed way of saying what he thinks abut this case.

Spain's Parliament votes to legalise gay marriage

Spain's lower house of parliament (the Congress of Deputies) yesterday voted 187 to 147 to legalise gay marriage and adoption of children, becoming the third European nation (after the Netherlands and Belgium) to allow marriage between same-sex couples, despite being presented with a petition, signed by 600,000, by a Roman Catholic group opposed to the legislation. The vote overturns last month's rejection of the legislation by the upper house, the Senate, and will take effect in a month. Excellent news!

Just why is it ...

... that communist tyrants and their philosophers get such seemingly uncritical adulation?

BBC Radio4 is running a poll at present to decide whom amongst the 20 remaining in the final short-list listeners will vote for as the 'greatest philosopher'. In the short-list are:
St. Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, Rene Descartes, Epicurus, Martin Heidegger, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, Plato, Karl Popper, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Arthur Schopenhauer, Socrates, Baruch Spinoza and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

According to this Economist article (subscription required), the front-runner for votes at this stage is Karl Marx. Call me a simple fellow, and some (inexplicably) do, but this sad progenitor of a dismally failed philosophy of how best to organise society seems, to put it no stronger, a curious choice. Now of course I am a commiited Radio4 listener, warts and all, but I haven't yet voted. Whether you follow the Madsen Pirie reasoning that "The BBC audience is increrasingly isolated from reality", or the Economist's own suggestion that some degree of meddling may have gone on in the voting so far to achieve this result, is a subject for lively debate. However, I tend to go with their suggestion that the best way to achieve a better result is to cast a vote for someone who has a decent chance of displacing Marx and who at the same time espouses much more reasonable ideas - they suggest David Hume, currently third-placed by voters. I have yet to decide, but am certainly going to give him my serious consideration.

Now the spur to write this little article, as my first after a few days away, was a very pithy article in today's Telegraph, by none other than Boris Johnson (and I link to this as well, because the article is reproduced in his blog today). He points out, in the trademark Johnson fashion, how curious it is that it is somehow considered cool to sport t-shirts bearing images of gentle tyrants such as Lenin or Castro (still in power and continuing to run Cuba into the ground, for heaven's sake, so there can be no excuse for him!), whereas anyone sporting a t-shirt bearing the image of Hitler or Pinochet would rightly be considered, to put it no more strongly, extremely insensitive and possibly completely crazy. Just what is going on in the collective psyches of rather too many of my fellow British citizens that none of this seems to appal them?

Just why was it considered appropriate for the traitor Melita Norwood to remain unprosecuted and permitted to live out the remainder of her sorry existence, by then Home Secretary Jack Straw (who denies being a Trotskyist, but is quite happy to accept that his beliefs can be traced back to Stalinism!), when she was unmasked as a spy in 1999 on admitting being "Hola", a KGB agent exposed by Vasili Mitrokhin after his defection in 1992? Contrast this with the very justified prosecutions of some (relatively) minor Nazi apparatchiks in recent years, all of course equally or more aged and infirm than the late Norwood. It is, truly, very curious.

Most curious of all, though, is just how far too many people in the UK seem supinely to be allowing this current New Labour government to walk us down the path into a modern and highly-sophisticated Police State. The ID Card Bill scraped through the Commons just a day or so ago, because too few of the party-hacks who populate Labour's benches had the gumption to vote against their Party's line and there are continuing efforts by the Government to dilute the right to trial by jury, to dilute the ancient rights that come with habeas corpus, not to mention their efforts to restrict our rights to free speech.

Unfortunately, and I have news for Boris Johnson, there is nothing at all inexplicable about any of this. It's what socialists do, even if they try to hoodwink us by using such euphemisms as New Labour to try and mask who and what they are - authoritarian, almost to a man (or a woman).

Friday, 24 June 2005

Away until next Wednesday ...

I have been very remiss not posting anything here for a few days - possibly I've been having a little 'blog burn-out', which doesn't often happen to me, but well, this week it seems to have struck. My time has in fact been quite occupied (mainly with personal financial matters, which I won't bore anyone with here) and the spells of idleness that would otherwise have existed have been devoted instead to visits to the gym - probably better for my health, in any case, than sitting in front of a keyboard. However, I really will now be away for a few days, until late on Tuesday evening in fact. I've not been to Durham before, but a few days there and visiting the surrounding parts of north-east England will undoubtedly recharge my mental batteries (I hope!). Probably I'll be back on here again sometime around Wednesday 29th June - meantime, there are a number of interesting blogs you might care to visit, if you have an idle moment, in my blogroll at left. See ya!

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

Out of the mouths ... comes a safety device

A 12-year-old Scottish boy from East Kilbride has come up with an innovative idea for warning aircraft about to use a runway of any obstruction/debris which might affect them. It is thought to be just such debris that resulted in disaster for the French Concorde in 2000, which led not so very much later to the grounding of the whole Concorde fleet.

It seems that Daryn Murray's idea requires some more development, but from what I read in the linked article the British Airports Authority (BAA) is interested in his idea, which involves having a small remote-control camera which rolls along a track at the side of a runway and is able to relay messages to aircraft about potential obstruction on the runway having, according to Daryn, the ability to "detect debris up to as small as a nut".

Monday, 20 June 2005

Archbishop Sentamu moves to disown his anti-gay past

Archbishop John Sentamu appears to be moving to disown his earlier somewhat 'frosty' attitude towards homosexuality; whilst this is welcome, it remains to be seen how this will affect practical policies within the CoE - for example, the CoE's exemption from recent employment discrimination laws which outlaw discrimination against homosexuals in employment, or the disgraceful treatment meted out to the former Canon Jeffrey John when he had been nominated as a Bishop. Of course, no-one likes to be called nasty names, but the old saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" springs immediately to mind. I can live with nasty names, but it's the Sticks and stones in the form of the discriminatory policies of various kinds that the CoE still indulges in that need to stop. NOW!

Note: This post also appears as the 3rd UPDATE of a post yesterday (here), but I wanted to include it in a new post to high-light it, and my reaction to this news, more clearly.

"Etre et Avoir" - a fine movie

I just finished watching Etre et Avoir on BBC2. It's a film about a year in the life of a country schoolmaster in France with a mixed-age class of pupils aged from 4 to 10. It's a really delightful movie, very simple but unexpectedly touching, specially at the end. I had heard of it when it was first released in 2002, but don't think it showed in cinemas in this area. Anyway, I'm really glad to have seen it at last. Read about it, or indeed buy it, here.

And now it really is time for bed!

Sunday, 19 June 2005

Queen Mary 2 after leaving Cromarty, off Nairn

The liner Queen Mary 2 was on its first visit to Cromarty today, although it arrived far too early this morning for me to contemplate being at the shore to see it arrive. This is the vessel about thirty minutes after it cleared the Sutors at Cromarty, roughly half an hour ago. I estimate Queen Mary 2 would have been about 13 kilometres (8 miles) distant when I took this photograph and as I don't have a very specialised camera lens, I think the enlarged image is not too bad:

Queen Mary 2 - off Nairn - 19 June 2005

Although a massive ship, the Port of Cromarty is one of the fine natural anchorages in the country, and plays host regularly to passenger liners as well as acting as a repair facility for oil/gas rigs from the North Sea, so even such a large vessel seems small, although it remains impressive.

Labour's latest sinister manoeuvres to stifle dissent ...

There is a riveting post today at Spy Blog about the 'whistleblower' diplomat James Cameron (no relation), the gentleman who revealed the visa scams taking place at our embassy in Bucharest (Romania). Spy Blog links to an article in the Sunday Times. His revelations led to the resignation of Home Office Immigration Minister Beverly Hughes.

Naturally enough neither Beverley Hughes, nor former Home Secretary David Blunkett, both of whom were required to resign in disgrace as a result of this and, in Blunkett's case, other immigration scandals, remained long out of the Government. Blunkett is now, Gawd help us, Secretary of State for Works and Pensions, whereas Beverley Hughes has been likewise been rehabilitated as Minister of State (Children) in the Department for Education and Skills.

This is how Labour and its increasingly tame Civil Service and legal system (in this instance in the guise of the Crown Prosecution Service [CPS]) attempts, and very often succeeds, in ruining people who try to speak out against it, whilst simultaneously protecting those of its own number who breach flagrantly the trust that the public has every right to expect from its elected leaders. I was criticised in a comment to a recent post for going over the top and asked to 'calm down' because I suggested that Dr John Reid should consider resigning to take responsibility, as Secretary of State for Defence, of the complete fiasco over security revealed at Sandhurst (my post is here, the comments are here). Naturally enough Paul Evans is a committed Labour voter ("I have always been"), and he seems to see it as his business to seek to deflect any criticism of his (not my) Labour Government. Well, until this seemingly power-crazed Government finally drags me away kicking and screaming because I won't shut up about the crass way it is demeaning our democracy, I will decline respectfully to follow Mr Evans's kind advice and instead make sure I keep up with the information that the excellent blog Spy Blog takes the trouble to assemble and publish, even if I am always interested in reading the comments of people whose views differ from my own - that is the essence of what free debate is all about.

New Archbishop of York views gays as 'sinners'

Like everyone else in the UK yesterday who heard of it, I was interested to hear that the Church of England (CoE) had apppointed to its second most senior position John Sentamu, until now Bishop of Birmingham. Mr Santamu immigrated to this country from Uganda many years ago, as a result of a dispute with the then Uganda dictator Idi Amin, and is the first black Archbishop in Britain. So far so good. The spin being put upon the appointment by the BBC was that the appointment was universally to be welcomed because he represented a 'modernising' and 'unifying' influence at a senior level within the CoE. I was vaguely uneasy at this, even when his appointment was loudly praised by CoE 'top dog' Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, himself supposedly a 'reformer' too, but I didn't have the material readily to hand to identify quite why this 'spin' was making me uneasy.

The blog Tottyland is excellent in a number of ways, specially for gay men, but Bill (at Tottyland) often injects a serious and pointed note into his entertaining posts and he has done so once again in this post. He points to an article in Friday's Scotsman which clarifies exactly why my unease arose, whilst highlighting the 'whitewash' linked to above, that the BBC had indulged in. According to Richard Kirker, general secretary of the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement:

"I cannot pretend that we are anything other than disappointed that a person that has not shown himself to be a particular friend of the lesbian and gay community has been appointed.

"We would have preferred someone willing to openly challenge homophobia and advocate justice for all whatever their sexual orientation."

Mr Kirker, a former curate in the Church of England, said alarm bells began to ring after the Bishop:
"presented a very anti-gay motion at the 1998 Lambeth Conference".

I suspect that the way Archbishop Sentamu may seek to further a resurgence in attendance at CoE services may be to appeal to an increasingly evangelistic wing of the Church - and this may well have negative implications for the gay and lesbian communities, even those who are not themselves church-goers, because of the undue influence that the CoE, as the 'established' Church in England, is still able to wield.

UPDATE: (Sunday 19JUN05 09.50 BST) It seems that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams may be attempting, cautiously, to introduce a slightly less virulent tone on LGBT matters into his Church by higlighting, during an interview with Melvyn Bragg, to be screened at noon today on ITV, the "plain prejudice and bigotry" of which he says there is an "awful lot" (thru a brief report in today's Sunday Telegraph) - well, its an overdue start, I suppose.

2nd UPDATE (Sunday 19JUN05 13.55 BST) I have now watched Melvyn Bragg's lengthy (hour long) interview with Rowan Williams. The segment devoted to 'homosexuality' was around 12 or 13 minutes, in other words most of one part of the programme between ad-breaks, but it must be stated in all fairness to him that he dealt with the matter carefully and sympathetically. It seems clear where his own sympathies lie, even if he is attempting to 'manage' a very difficult situation in his Church. Not that this will stop me speaking-out vociferously when I feel he seems (again) to be black-sliding. (Unfortunately ITV do not have online streams of their programmes)

3rd UPDATE (Monday 20JUN05 13.50 BST) Archbishop John Sentamu appears to be moving to disown his earlier somewhat 'frosty' attitude towards homosexuality; whilst this is welcome, it remains to be seen how this will affect practical policies within the CoE - for example, the CoE's exemption from recent employment discrimination laws which outlaw discrimination against homosexuals in employment, or the disgraceful treatment meted out to the former Canon Jeffrey John when he had been nominated as a Bishop. Of course, no-one likes to be called nasty names, but the old saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" springs immediately to mind. I can live with nasty names, but it's the Sticks and stones in the form of the discriminatory policies of various kinds that the CoE still indulges in that need to stop. NOW!
(Note: This 3rd UPDATE also appears as a new post on 20JUN05 (here), as I wanted to high-light it, and my reaction to this news, more clearly)

Saturday, 18 June 2005

We're all doomed ... at least potentially ... no, seriously!

The Economist has a very timely article (subscription required) in the latest issue about the risks associated with a collapse in house-prices in major economies around the world, where price inflation in recent years appears to have spiralled almost out of control.

Oil prices have soared from around USD10/barrel in 1998 to over USD50/barrel in recent times and the latest information I have is that "West Texas Intermediate crude oil reached USD56.75 during trading this week". According to today's Telegraph, Brent crude yesterday rose USD1.54 to close in New York at USD57.84, with oil trading at USD58.10/barrel, a rise of USD1.52/barrel. All this is said to be driven by buoyant demand in the US, although China is increasingly becoming a major factor, too.

There are persistent rumours, too, about the ability of utility suppliers to provide adequate supplies of gas to consumers (industrial and residential) during the coming northern European winter, not least to the UK, where domestically produced gas supplies (from the North Sea) have fallen more sharply than had been forecast and the ability of the interconnector between Belgium and the UK to supply the winter shortfall is being questioned. In any case, the price of this form of energy seems certain to rise considerabbly. There were similar fears for the UK's gas supply last winter, although the system appears to have coped, despite warnings at some points that the security of supply was dangerously low. How will we fare this coming winter and will the forecast that factories may be forced to shut for "days, weeks or longer in order to cut gas use", as suggested by World Gas Intelligence, an industry analyst, prove to be unduly alarmist? I am not competent to judge, but it certainly gives pause for thought.

I've written a few times before (here and here, for example) about what all this might mean for the way we have grown used to living. Energy is the driver for a great deal of what goes on in this world. We have always found a way in the past to solve our energy problems, but that does not mean that major social, economic and political changes have not come in the wake of these changes and the same groundswell for radical change could well be developing faster than many realise. Some of the changes that have begun to occur in recent years, for example the increase in what amounts to state surveillance and control of the lives of citizens even in what pass for 'mature democracies', are not at all to my liking, but I have the feeling that some of the changes to come may dwarf those so far seen or projected.

Do I really feel as apocalyptic about our futures as this might seem? Well, not entirely, but I certainly do wonder. Curiously enough, David at Freedom and Whisky has been writing on a similar theme earlier today, although perhaps not in the 'Mystic Meg' way I have permitted myself here.

Thursday, 16 June 2005

But will Dr John Reid resign?

Defence Secretary Dr John Reid succinctly summed-up the pigs-ear that security seems to be at Sandhurt when he described the scandalous lapses in security there as having "no excuse" and opining that the Sun newspaper had "done us a service".

Frankly, so far as I am concerned, the fact that Prince Harry is currently undergoing training there is only one of the factors that makes these series of lapses in security so shocking. We are not, after all, talking about the local TA centre, or indeed the local branch of Tesco where, in peacetime, security might not be the first thing that enters the heads of those who manage such installations. No, we are talking about the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Britain's elite training centre for its army officer corps. I'd lay a wager that things are better organised at West Point or at St Cyr!

So my question is this: Is Dr John Reid going to do the honourable thing, accept that these lapses are his responsility as Secretary of State for Defence, and offer his resignation to the Prime Minister? I very much doubt it, but this is what used to happen in the UK when a department under the control of a government minister fell short of what we, the tapxpayers, have every right to expect of our government. This Labour Government is rarely honourable, it mostly seeks to duck and dive to avoid taking responsibility for the crass way this country is now managed on our behalf. I won't be holding my breath ...

Marvellous! This typifies what it means to be British ...

A recently-retired couple decided, soon after visitng the coastal village of Aust, next to the mouth of the Severn in Gloucestershire, in 1990, that they would set themselves the task of visiting every coastal settlement, from minute hamlet to large seaside resort, around the coastline of Great Britain. Ken and Pat Hathaway, from Littleover, Derby, have taken fifteen years to complete their self-appointed task, during which time they have steadily worked their way anti-clockwise around the coastline of the major island of the British Isles, maintaining a diary with laconically brief entries for places visited, together with taking photographs. I hope they get their diary published in book form - I would certainly buy a copy.

Although unfortunately the online article I link to does not include any photographs, the print edition of today's Telegraph does show a few for illustration and, interestingly enough, one of these shows Mr Hathaway posing seated on a rock on the shore at Rubha Reidh (a remote rocky outcrop on the western coast of Ross & Cromarty, on the mainland just north of Skye), where my father was one of the three lighthouse-keepers - this is where we lived when I was born and although the family left there when I was about 18 months old to go and live in Edinburgh, I have of course been back a few times. It is a beautiful part of Scotland, if rather remote even today and it is pretty bleak in winter, too.

Ken and Pat Hathaway completed their odyssey in April this year with a visit to Beachley, Chepstow, just under the Severn Bridge, where they celebrated with a bottle of champagne to accompany their fish and chips. Now, what could be more British than that?

UPDATE: (Thursday 16JUN05 17.10 BST) Another tale of British true grit (and indeed Canadian, too) is here.

Minor template changes

I've just put in place a number of relatively minor template changes which you may wonder about next time you visit (assuming your browser 'refreshes' the image, that is):
- I have changed the link to the blog's main page from the slightly opaque 'BlogHome' to what I think is the more readily understandable 'Current Posts';
- I have moved the 'Mini Comment Area' (aka 'Shoutbox') to below the 'Feedback' section in the right-hand column; this seems more logical and puts more potentially relevant links at the top of the page.

I am working on another change, but am still testing it on a parallel (un-publicised) blog until I am satisfied it is satisfactory. Although I am reasonably happy (and I hope you are, too ... 'Feedback' anybody?) with the new 3-column layout I launched about a week ago, I think the main panel needs to be a little bigger, but of course to do that I probably need to reduce the typefaces in the left- and right-hand columns a little to avoid having too many links which flow onto a second line. It sounds a simple little problem, but the way the blog template is designed means it is not quite so simple as it might first appear. I should be able to modify the different typeface sizes in use in the blog separately, but not all seem to respond to the coding changes in the way I imagined they would - so until my 'deep thought' processes (for any Asimov fans out there!) yield results, this change will have to wait. Sorry for the entirely narcissistic nature of this post, although for me one of the interesting aspects of having a webpage or blog is the opportunity it affords to increase my amateur knowledge of HTML and JavaScript coding; my 'nerdish' tendencies still surface from time to time, I'm afraid ...

Wednesday, 15 June 2005

Hot air in Scottish Parliament ... but this is not news!

The white-elephant 'green' Parliament building in our pretendy capital Edinburgh is aparently reaching the sweltering temperature of 25C (77F)! Gee! Those folks should get themselves off to Tokyo where offices are to reset their thermostats to 28C (82.4F) as an energy-saving measure!

Obituary (Professor Peter Campbell) R.I.P.

Professor Peter Campbell appears in an obituary in today's Telegraph, although he died a couple of months ago, aged 78 (17 June 1926 - 21 April 2005); I am surmising, but I wonder if its appearance today is because his name was flagged up a couple of days in advance of what would have been his 79th birthday, only for it to be realised that he had already died.

Why am I writing about him? Well, his life and recent death seem an appropriate 'handle' on which to base a post about the current Conservative Party discussions on who will become its next Leader. Professor Campbell was the founding head of the Department of Politics and International Relations at Reading University, as well as being openly homosexual and a loyal member of the Conservative Party. Naturally this brought him into conflict with various 'factions' within the Party from time to time, although it would appear that his unfailing civility and precision tended to see him 'best' his opponents in an argument. This example, taken from the obituary linked to above, is revealing:

He was a studious letter-writer. In 1982, for example, when Peregrine Worsthorne, referring to the decriminalisation of homosexual acts, denounced Roy Jenkins's efforts on behalf of "queers" in an article in The Sunday Telegraph, Campbell responded with a pained but patient letter setting out the reasons why homosexual acts should not be criminal in circumstances in which heterosexual acts are not criminal (Worsthorne responded: "I regret having given offence.")

Of course, against this, the obituary notes also that his letters to the then Party Chairman, Norman (now Lord) Tebbit, remained largely unanswered. It observes, again quite accurately, that within certain parts of the 'gay rights movement' it was (and perhaps remains?) unnacceptable for homosexuals to confess to being Conservative - prejudice is certainly not restricted to the right-wing of British politics!

Obviously I had read Rachel Sylvester's article in last Friday's Telegraph about a potential bid by Alan Duncan MP to become Leader, but my own assessment was that the likelihood of him succeeding was about as likely as a snowball surviving for more than a milisecond in Hell. On the other hand, until Mrs Thatcher's election as Leader there were many in the Party, and elsewhere, who considered it very unlikely that a woman could become Leader - Mrs (now Lady) Thatcher is on record as believing this herself, too. The Conservative Party has a long history of introducing radical changes, reinventing itself if you will; this has been its strength for two centuries. So, stranger things have happened. Whether Mr Duncan is suited for leadership, if his homosexuality was not inevitably a factor, is perhaps not absolutely certain, although in my opinion he is most certainly no less eligible than, for example, Dr Liam Fox or Sir Malcolm Rifkind. It is naive, though, to ignore the fact that there are younger Conservatives who confound the supposition that prejudice and plain nastiness (for recent random examples see here and here) is solely a factor of the Party's aged membership profile - in fact the terms 'prejudice' and 'plain nastiness' are valid, in my view, for each of those two posts. Luckily, not all of those who profess Conservative leanings of a younger generation are so generally distasteful - for example here; even when writing about controversial subjects, he does seem to contrive to make his arguments in a pretty civilised manner - and possibly by writing that I might have forever damned him in the eyes of some more traditional Conservatives (if anyone cares what I think, and they probably don't).

I don't plan to write again about the interminable Conservative leadership issue until after the summer, unless there is definite movement before then - there are many more productive uses of my time, as this lady seemed to be implying here.

UPDATE: (Wednesday 15JUN05 20.25 BST) Convervative MPs voted today to, effectively, ditch the system put in place by former Leader William Hague MP by stripping the Party's 'grassroots' membership of a direct say in electing a Leader - this is certainly a step in the right direction if the lack of wisdom that grassroots demonstrated in selecting the disastrous Iain Duncan Smith MP as Leader is a guide.

BT moves to shore up telephone revenues?

Fixed-line telephone providers are increasingly faced with the reality that people can now make telephone calls worldwide, effectively for nothing or a miniscule cost, through their PC Broadband connections - this seems to be BT's latest attempt at fighting back against this trend and I am sure it will appeal to many traditional fixed-line users, although whether those more savvy about the possibilities now available will be entirely taken in by this is less certain.

Of course, we do need a connection to some kind of network, be it through a copper wire, optical cable or a wi-fi connection, and that has to be paid for, but the notion that one must continue to pay by the minute or the second for time spent on the telephone is rapidly losing credibility. Providers who offer more relevant pricing plans geared to meet today's technical possibilities will, sooner or later, displace the tradtional telecoms providers I suspect.

US sees sense over its visa waiver scheme

More time is to be allowed by the US for 27 countries (largely in the EU) to issue passports with biometric information encoded, thus avoiding the introduction of excessively cumbersome schemes for the issuance of old-fashioned visas. The new deadline is apparently to be August 2006; the deadline had already been extended from 2003 to October 2005.

Why has the US now done this? I suspect strongly that it is lobbying from various interest groups within the US, specifically the states (e.g. Florida, California) which receive large numbers of tourists from many countries in Europe, Australasia and Japan. Ultimately, money talks - and the huge deficits that the US continues to run, and the large revenues that spending by tourists generates in some parts of the country, have forced a bit of necessary realpolitik through the skulls of this US administration.

Microsoft warns of critical flaws

Another set of critical updates has been announced for users of the ubiquitous Microsoft software - if you haven't yet done so, I suggest you download the patches ASAP!

Monday, 13 June 2005

The BBC has gone completely stark-staring bonkers!!

I am twenty-five minutes through the 10pm news broadcast on the BBC's principal channel BBC1 (may not yet show tonight's broadcast in the video stream) and:

The news for the defendant in the verdicts in the case was uniformly good and I am, of course, pleased for Michael Jackson - it must be a great weight off his mind.

However, I must question seriously the judgement of the BBC in filling an entire news broadcast with this. A brief mention at the beginning of the programme that a verdict was imminent, plus perhaps cutting into the broadcast to carry the verdicts live (although I would have been quite content to wait until the end of the news broadcast for this information), would have been much more than adequate.

I neither like nor dislike Mr Jackson, but I am frankly not that interested in this court case, nor have I been since the whole 'circus' began. It certainly does make we wonder what the BBC thinks it is playing at! Now, at 10.33pm we are onto an item about something much more relevant - a court appearance by ex-dictator Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

The Jackson case is being carried live on BBC News24 as well, of course - and they continue with live coverage from California. Fair enough, a 24-hour news channel has to find things to fill up its schedule - no different from CNN or Sky News, etc - but the BBC flagship channel?
NO!!NO!! NO!!

Update at 10.47pm - Incredibly, the same thing is being continued on Newsnight on BBC2 - so far we are about 12 minutes into this programme and it has been entirely devoted to the Jackson case as well.

Campaign to oppose introduction of ID Cards

I oppose strongly the introduction of compulsory ID Cards in the UK; if you share this view, please consider signing an online pledge to register your opposition to this pernicious legislation. Unless we make it very clear to the Government and our legislators just how opposed enough of us are to these proposals, then in a very few months time it may be that the Government is able to push this legislation through Parliament. The wording of the pledge you will be asked to sign, if you decide to visit the online pledge site is:

"I will refuse to register for an ID card and will donate £10 to a legal defence fund but only if 10,000 other people will also make this same pledge."

If you would like to sign this pledge and you have the right to vote in this country (wherever you reside) please click here.

Do I read? Yes I do ...

I've been 'tagged' by Alan and David to take part in a round-robin (aka Book Meme), this time about books and booklists. So here is my small contribution:

Number of books I 'own'
For the unashamed 'capitalist roader' that I am, some of what I write here may perhaps surprise and/or startle some readers. I possess, probably, around 700 or so books at present. A few years ago I gave rather more than 1,000 of my then collection of 1,300 or so books to a local library and they seemed quite pleased to have them. Over the previous ten or fifteen years I had probably disposed of, mainly by similar donations, a further 500 or so books. Apart from a few books, which I expect I shall always keep (indeed I have several copies of some, in different bindings) I have never felt it sensible to 'hoard' every book I have ever purchased; I read most books once only and I'd rather others get a chance to read them, too, rather than them cluttering up shelf-space gathering dust; even though my small library has been catalogued in a PC database for the last 20 or so years (one of the first things I used a PC for when I got my first personal computer in 1982) and placed them in alphabetic-order by author on my bookshelves, I decided many years ago that having books two-deep on shelves was neither very elegant nor convenient. So I conduct regular 'pruning' to allow me to justify the acquisition of new titles every so often.

The last book I purchased
It is in fact some months ago, as I have a number of unread or only partially-read and recently-purchased books in my 'in-tray'. Apart from an analysis of the EU Constitutional Treaty (a riveting read, I think you'll agree - not), the last novel I acquired was The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst; this won the 2004 Booker Prize. Hollinghurst is a fine writer of dialogue and has a very fine touch for social nuances. The first book I read by this author, The Swimming Pool Library, some seventeen years ago, opened my eyes to modern quality gay-themed writing and his latest effort reveals that Hollinghurst has continued to develop as a fine writer; well worth the effort required. In fact the last book I purchased was not 'new' to me, but a further copy of one I already have several copies of, this time in a more luxurious binding, of the ubiquitous The Lord of the Rings - it is one of the books (this includes all the copies of it that I have - some of these have their own special meanings for me for various reasons) that I will keep always. I have read this book seven or so times so far, and expect that I will read it many more times before I am carted away. There are many less-expensive editions - see here and here, for example).

The last book I read
One of the problems I have increasingly been finding is that pressure of other activities (not work, of course, as I don't do that) has restricted the time I have available to read. Quite apart from worthwhile activities, however one might describe these, there is the time taken to research and write some of what appears in this blog, the availability of more and more entertainment outlets (a multitude of television channels, radio channels, concerts, cinema, etc) which all reduce collectively the time available to sit, read and absorb what one has read. If anything ever provokes me to discontinue this blog, it will very probably be this kind of consideration. Anyway, to get back to the point, the last two books I read include, firstly at a more serious level, In Defense of Global Capitalism by Johan Norberg, put out by the Cato Institute - he gives the lie to the arguments of the (far too many!) anti-globalist cranks who plague our lives. In a more frivolous vein, Trust Fund Boys by Rob Byrnes - a real disappointment, I'm afraid. Byrnes writes gay-themed books designed primarily for a gay audience and this story of two gay sheisters on the make infiltrating themselves into wealthy gay circles in New York is both brittle (which can be fun, but here is scarcely credible) and shallow; his earlier book The Night We Met, about a youngish man who falls in love with the gorgeous son of a mafia capo is highly readable and funny: perhaps he'll return to form with later novels.

Five books that I like a lot
I'll try and limit myself to just five, although I may mention a few more as 'asides' to some of these:
- The Glass Bead Game (orig title Das Glasperlenspiel) by Hermann Hesse, considered his greatest novel and one of the later he wrote, for which he won the 1946 Nobel Prize for Literature. I first read this in my early teens (i.e. in the mid-1960s) when I was beginning to dabble in Eastern philosophy, principally Zen Buddhism, but with a few other oddities thrown in. It is written as a biography of Joseph Knecht, several centuries in the future, who rises from very humble beginnings to become the leader and spiritual guide of a remote province, Castalia, which is devoted to strictly disciplined learning, meditation and intellectual pursuits, principal amongst which is 'The Glass Bead Game'. This book has had a profound influence on my thinking for most of my adult life. Since then I have read a number of his other books which, whilst somewhat 'dry' (like all his writing), were thought-provoking, too - e.g. Rosshalde, Peter Camenzind, Knulp, The Journey to the East, Steppenwolf, plus some more besides.
- The Plague (orig title La Peste) by Albert Camus. Although I first read this in English, in my late teens, it is the first book I ever read with reasonable comfort in French, some years later, when I lived in Casablanca. The story related is of a plague which affected Oran, a city in Algeria, during the 1940s; Camus was born in Algeria and spent most of the early years of his life there. However, this is only the ostensible purpose of the book - it is thought to be in reality an allegory for the German occupation of France during World War II, during which Camus worked for the French Resistance. He was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature. Other books of his I have read include The Outsider, The Myth of Sisyphus (possibly his most profound work), The Fall, plus more besides.
-Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. This, and some of the later novels in the series, first appeared as serialisations in The San Fransisco Chronicle. In the first book a young woman called Mary Anne Singleton travels to San Franscisco for a short vacation from her Cleveland, Ohio home - and decides not to go back home. She finds lodgings in the magical world of '28 Barbary Lane', owned by the highly-eccentric Mrs Anna Madrigal. Other tenants include a young gay man, Michael Tolliver (who is living out his gay fantasies well away from his highly conservative home state and parents back in Florida); Brian Hawkins a law-school drop-out from Chicago (if I recall correctly), who is now a waiter in cheap restaurants to pay for his highly-sexed existence as a raging heterosexual in a city where there seems to be little competition as so many other men are gay although he and Michael become close friends and 'cruising buddies' (each with their separate targets, of course); and last but certainly not least, the somewhat sinister and older Norman Neal Williams whose cover story is that he is a vitamin salesman, but is in fact a seedy private investigator looking into Mrs Madrigal's background on behalf of her estranged wife. I first read this in the mid-1980s and found it unputdownable, it is laugh-out-loud in parts, as well as tragic and horrible, all in one glorious mix. I quickly obtained copies of later books in the series and others as they were published, for example More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City, Baby Cakes, Significant Others and the final book in the series Sure of You. Armistead Maupin is a great chronicler of the vicissitudes of life, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s and although obviously US-based seemed to me to have a lot to say to at least some of those of us growing up in the UK at the time, whether gay or straight;
- Foundation by Isaac Asimov. This was not the first, by any means, of Asimov's books I read. I have always been an addict of sci-fi and had read many of his short story collections from my early teens onwards. However, Foundation represents the first instalment in what would become a highly-complex set of tales set in the distant future when Earth, and humanity's links to it, had long been forgotten and deals with the final stages of the galaxy-wide and ossifying 'Galactic Empire' and the nascent science of 'Psychohistory' and the formation of the 'Foundation' and the hidden 'Second Foundation', designed to avoid a longer period of anarchy than would otherwise have occurred after the collapse of the 'Galactic Empire'. I cannot count the number of times I have read this and the other books in the series, culminating with the final novel Forward the Foundation, published in 1993 shortly before Asimov's death. The quality of the writing diminished, in my view, in some of the later books (becoming rather too obviously formulaic), but the earlier books are unputdownable and for addicts like me even the later novels are a must;
The Warden by Anthony Trollope. This is the first of six novels in a series known as 'The Barsetshire Novels (or Chronicles)' and like the others in the series it deals with lives and internal politics within the Church of England in Victorian Britain. The characterisation of the social nuances of life within this stratum of English society in the mid-Victorian period is very fine and some aspects of life then seem to deal with a culture very different from what we are familiar with, most of us at least, today (although some of it lingers on - I vividly recall for example, a friend and colleague who, when we were both in our mid-thirties, would always stand with a ramrod-straight back at attention, quite literally, whenever he was speaking to his father on the telephone some thousands of miles away in the UK and refer to him as 'Sir', not 'Father'; life in my family was never quite so formal, I am happy to say). The other novels in the series are Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington and The Last Chronicle of Barset;
- I could add many more here, but I will limit myself to five main titles.

To pass this on, if they wish to take it up of course, I'd like to nominate the following:
Stephen Newton, Robin (Giant Grizzly), Brian Logan, (Shadowfoot), Charlie Williams (Playing for the Wrong Team) and Guillaume Barry at Un swissroll.

Thursday, 9 June 2005

'Educayshun' - Andrew spits bile

A very amusing and apt explosion of outrage today by Andrew at non-trivial solutions. Now, I don't express myself here, or anywhere else, using quite the vocabulary that Andrew employs in this post, but I share completely his sentiments. Just to show how crazy is this world we now live in, though, read the first comment to this post here, by one Jarndyce. Perhaps the writer is being ironic and I do him/her a disservice?

Anne Bancroft (1931 - 2005) - Rest in Peace

The actress Anna Maria Louisa Italiano, born in New York on 17th September 1931, died on Monday 6th June 2005, aged 73. She is survived by her husband, the actor/director Mel Brooks, and their son Max. Read her full obituary (courtesy The Daily Telegraph) here.

Best known for her role as Mrs Robinson in the 1967 film The Graduate, where she played the older woman seducing her daughter's boyfriend, played by Dustin Hoffman - even a gay teenager, as I was a couple of years later to realise I was, was smitten by the fantasy she represented. I have seen very few of her other films, but one which I have since watched many times is Torch Song Trilogy (1988) (VHS version - a Region 1 DVD [NTSC] is also available here), in which she plays the stereotypical Jewish mother who is unable to accept her son's homosexuality; the son is played by Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the stage play. Whilst her role in that film is unsympathetic to gays, she plays the part with such wit, style, honesty and realism that it is quite moving.

Rest in Peace, Anne Bancroft. Respectfully.

Nairn Central Beach - Seaside Beach Awards 2005

Nairn Central Beach has been awarded 'Seaside Award Beach' status for 2005, although it has not retained the 'Blue Flag' status it regained last year after a year's absence. The two awards are similar although there are differences in the detail, with the 'Blue Flag' seeimingly being in a slightly higher category - here is a page which compares the two awards.

Nairn Central Beach
Seaside Beach Award holder - 2005

(Photograph taken earlier today)

This is the 'Nairn Central' Beach page listing, providing fuller details of what is available.

My view - it is a clean and safe beach, assuming that simple precautions are taken. It is also often quite windy, but even today when the wind is quite strong it is not cold - I would describe it as 'bracing', whereas on Tuesday it could be described as having been 'balmy'. For those planning a visit to Nairn, I hope you enjoy it!

UK criticised over human rights

It is painful to read of one's country being criticised in this way, but the use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) has seemed to me for some time to have veered away from the primary purpose of this legislation to one of repression and limitation of freedom, because of the capricious ways in which it is increasingly being applied, even if even I have occasionally welcomed some such uses.

UPDATE: (Thursday 9JUN05 16.25 BST) There's an article about this in today's Telegraph by its ever-excellent Legal Editor, Joshua Rosenberg here. I quote just a very few of Mr Rozenberg's comments about the report issued by Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, as they express exactly how I feel about this whole matter, although the first sentence of the final quote should perhaps not be included in my approbation - I'm sure Joshua Rozenberg was merely expressing himself in his often laconically witty and pointed style:

"Nevertheless, it is disappointing to be reminded by the commissioner how far we have strayed from the ideal of human rights."

"What is so alarming about the commissioner's report is the revelation that so many relatively minor inroads on civil liberties have gone unremarked and unnoticed." (His following paragraph, somewhat lengthier, is also absolutely pertinent)

"For example, did you know that it is now an offence to enter Britain without a valid passport unless you can prove you are a European national or you have a reasonable excuse? Fair enough, you might say: asylum seekers routinely destroy their travel documents to make it harder for them to be deported. And it is a reasonable excuse to prove that you never had any documents or that you could not prevent their destruction. But how can you prove a negative? How can you, as an asylum seeker, prove that the agent who brought you here deliberately confiscated your documents? As Mr Gil-Robles says, a properly formulated offence would require prosecutors to prove that asylum seekers deliberately destroyed their documents rather than expecting them to prove the opposite."

"But it is harder to ignore the commissioner's concerns about our own young people. Anti-social behaviour is unquestionably a social blight, says Mr Gil-Robles, but he doubts that the "excesses" of Asbos or the high levels of juvenile detention are either fair or effective."

"Of course, he's only a foreigner. But he may be right."

For "ned", read "chav"

Whilst this report is mildly interesting, for students of linguistics, this is the first and last time you will ever see either of these or other similar words used in this blog. I could not have imagined that I would ever agree with Rosie Kane of the Scottish Socialist Party about anything, but like her I deplore the use of this kind of patronising terminology to demonise other groups of people; the objects of this derision are people, too, however odious their behaviour seemingly often is.

I recognise, though, that the fact I do not have to live in close proximity to people often described in these ways may open me to the charge of a rather too 'liberal' middle-class attitude; fair enough, perhaps in some ways true, but in reality about as justified as similar claims about those not living in communities with a high proportion of immigrants to this country adopting very 'tolerant' attitudes. Not justified at all. People who justify the use of such terminology are no better than those who use derogatory terms to describe (and stigmatise) people from other countries, cultures or religions. These terms say as much, or more, about the users than about the objects of their 'affections'.

We're a' John (Jock) Tamson's Bairns
(from a traditional Scottish song by Dr Joseph Roy, expressing the view that 'we are all God's children', or more prosaically, all human beings are equal)

Wednesday, 8 June 2005

Gay man stripped of driving licence

When I first read this article about a gay man in Sicily having been stripped of his driving licence, after the authorities discovered his sexuality, I thought that it must surely be a joke. But it seems simply to be a factual account of what happened. Amazing - and outrageous.

Tuesday, 7 June 2005

The new Pope is just as reactionary as the last one

In an unsurprising move, Pope Benedict XVI has condemned same-sex unions. Fair enough - if people who actually believe the nonsense he preaches wish to follow his injunctions, good luck to them. However, we luckily do not live in a theocratic state so can safely ignore this antedeluvian nonsense - and the law authorising same-sex unions in the UK is scheduled to take effect toward the end of this year. The Roman Catholic Church is not the only 'cult' to promlgate such views of course - my remarks are aimed equally at other cults which share similar beliefs in this matter. The Pope is free to express his views, but they really have no relevance to the society I live in - so shove off, Papa!

Monday, 6 June 2005

Switzerland approves referendum on gay partnership rights!

Switzerland approved on Sunday a referendum, called by right-wing religious interests, by deciding to authorise gay partnership rights; this link is to the Un swissroll blog, which is written in French, but the author of this article, Francois Brutsch, was invited by Norman Geras at normblog to post a similar article in English as a guest-blogger on his blog - you can read it here. The law had been approved by the Swiss Parliament in June 2004, but Switzerland's citizens are able to call referenda on all manner of subjects and this is what happened with this one.

Francois Brutsch and his colleague on Un swissroll, Guillaume Barry, have a number of other interesting posts in the last few days dealing with this issue (all in French, of course) here and here - the latter is the post by Guillaume Barry and in that, as well as talking about the gay partnership rights referendum, also refers to another referendum conducted on the same day by which Swiss voters approved Switzerland's adhesion to both the Schengen and Dublin agreements. This is very significant as it opens Switzerland's borders to the Schengen passport-free zone; Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, had declined to join the European Economic Area in 1992 - the BBC has a concise article on both referenda here.

Note - although I would undoubtedly have come across Francois Brutsch's articles at Un swissroll later this evening, I need to record the fact that I was alerted a little sooner than I otherwise would have been to what had happened yesterday in Switzerland by a timely post by the ever-excellent BoiFromTroy here.

They'll be breakin-oot the whisky in the Hielans the nicht!

Several projects in the North of Scotland are to benefit from European Union funding, it seems. This may help to counterbalance this some years ago, or this more embarrassing lapse just a couple of years ago.

'Queer Eye ...' crew on the pitch for Boston Red Sox game

Shock, horror! Four of the five crew members of popular Bravo TV programme 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' (QEFTST) tossed out the ceremonial pitches (Boston Globe requires registration, I'm afraid) for the Boston Red Sox game yesterday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It seems also that some team members of the Boston Red Sox agreed to take part in an episode of QEFTST's upcoming series, to raise funds for charity, whilst at their training camp at Fort Myers, Florida recently. The Red Sox team members raised USD100,000 in donations and corporate sponsorships to rebuild a Florida Little League team's hurricane-damaged fields. Sounds like a good deal to me. In return, the Red Sox invited the TV show's stars along for the match to help publicise their new programme season (which I hope will be aired here reasonably soon, just as the last series was). Of course there was some grumbling from the stands - one can only imagine what these kinds of people thought at the spectacle of Sir Elton John singing at Diana, Pincess of Wales's funeral some years ago.

My namesake issues another completely 'barking' report about gays ...

... yes, it is one Paul Cameron of whom I write. His latest nonsense is here. Read what someone at the University of California at Davis has to say about this sad excuse for the name 'Cameron'! UC Davis also, and very helpfully, have a biography of this individual.

Ten reasons to refuse and boycott ID Cards...

Paul Vigay lists 10 reasons why ID Cards are not a good idea - indeed why they are a very bad idea!
(thru White Rose)

Sunday, 5 June 2005

New 3-column blog layout

I have been thinking for several weeks (in fact for a lot longer, in an inchoate way) about whether it would be a good idea to convert my blog from a 2-column display to a 3-column display and, now that (I hope!) the first version has been coded correctly, have decided to go ahead and launch it in the hope that any defects will show up in the next day or so.

The 2-column display bascially used the original format I took from the basic blogger template I decided to use when I first started this blog over three years ago, although since then I have very considerably altered the template coding to a colour scheme and font style which I found more pleasing, as well as adding all sorts of 'bells and whistles'. This used the then-common format of having the main blog panel as the left-hand column, with the right-hand column being reserved for various links (blogrolls, etc).

However, a lot of more recent template designs have reversed this, with the 'links' column being on the left and the main blog panel on the right.

Some blog template designers have gone further and used a 3-column display format, with external links in the left-hand column, the large middle panel reserved for the blog posts, and the right-hand column reserved for (in the main) internal links or other sundry uses. This is the model I have now decided to follow. It has taken some considerable re-coding effort to modify the template to achieve the 'look' I want. At this stage I have not changed the basic colour scheme or font sizes in any way as I want to be sure the new format is fully debugged before I make further changes in due course.

Part of the 'fun' of having a blog, so far as I am concerned, is to use it as a method of increasing my knowledge of web design and HTML coding; I hope also to have a blog page that is reasonably pleasing to look at (whatever some people may think of the content of various of the things I write in my posts) and that, crucially, the typefaces used in various parts of the blog are clear and easy to read. I do try and make sure of this before I launch changes, by conducting 'test runs' on a parallel blog I use solely for this purpose (but make no effort to publicise as it contain no meaningful posts, simply test messages), but unfortunately blogs sometimes display differently on different web browsers. This is why I will be particularly grateful if you can let me know if you experience any difficulty over the next few days when loading my blog. Is it legible? Does the formatting seem to be functioning normally? Are there particular problems you experience when viewing my blog on your own web browser?

My aim in making the change was to make the links to other blogs, the internal links and various other kinds of links and sundry items more readily viewable without having to scroll down an interminably long single links column on the right-hand side - even I was beginning to find it difficult to navigate as I have gradually added more and more links.

Apart from the 'technical' aspects to do with viewing and reading my blog, I am of course interested to know whether you have any comments of a more general nature about the new format. Good or bad, I will be grateful to learn what you think.

PS/ Already I have noticed a few drawbacks myself. Obviously the main blog panel is somewhat narrower in the 3-column display than it was in the 2-column display so the posts themselves occupy a greater space vertically; once one scrolls down past the links in the left- and right-hand columns, the middle panel still has a long way to run on the main or archive pages with a lot of empty space on one or other side. Also the narrower middle panel means that the width of any image/photograph I can include in a post will really have to become a little less, if it is not to distort the blog layout - I have noticed that in some of the archive pages the width of photographs has caused part of the middle panel and/or the right-hand column to scroll off to the right of the screen on my display. I will need to think about the implications of these factors, apart from any faults you may identify, when deciding whether to keep this new format or whether to revert to the 2-column display format.

If you fancy listening to some enjoyable background music ...

... to mark my return to blogging after a few days absence I thought I should draw your attention to this; you could do worse than tune in to a recently-started Scottish podcast called the tartanpodcast. All we know (*) is that the host of this blog/podcast is called Mark and he lives in Glasgow; apparently he is married with two children. He is not a musician or a broadcaster, in fact he runs a small window and office cleaning business. His podcast features modern Scottish band music and whilst I don't listen to this kind of music very often I have to say it is actually quite pleasant to listen to and Mark's commentary, with his nice Scottish accent in the voice-over commentaries, is quite interesting and quirky to listen to - give it a whirl!
(thru this article on the BBC Technology website)

(*) Or more precisely this is all he wishes to reveal; however, it is perfectly easy to find greater detail, if you know how to use the internet to search for such information (I have done so, but will obviously respect his wishes and not mention further details here). I mention this only to highlight the fact that a lot more information can 'leak' over the net than many people seem to realise; it is as well to be aware of this (and you can be very sure that I cannot be the only person who knows this).

Thursday, 2 June 2005

Bill goes quiet for a couple of days ...

... Tomorrow is my birthday (the 53rd, it so happens) so I'm going to take a rest from blogging for a couple of days as there will be lots going on tomorrow and on Saturday. I'm sure there are plenty of interesting blogs you can visit meantime - a very few of these are included in my blogroll at right; have fun!

Christians boycott gay-friendly Ford

I've written a couple of times recently about Microsoft and its troubles with the 'anti-gay lobby' (here, and a little earlier here).

Now it is the turn of the Ford Motor Company. I read in today's Telegraph that an outfit called the American Family Association (AFA) is launching a boycott against Ford, with claims it has given thousands of dollars to gay rights groups, offers benefits to same-sex couples and actively recruits gay employees. In response, a spokesman for the company, vice president of human resources Joe Laymon, is quoted as saying:

"Ford values all people, regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and cultural or physical differences."

The thing is that Ford, along with fellow US car-maker General Motors, is currently struggling to increase sales, these having fallen 10.5 per cent in May to 283,994 units, with the year-to-date decline in sales a significant 4.1 per cent. Specially hit are sales of sports utility vehicles (SUVs, or 4x4s in British parlance) and trucks. This contrasts with rising sales trends for Japanese rivals Toyota and Nissan.

Who knows where this might lead? Outfits such as the AFA (and in the UK there are a couple of similar outfits - I won't name them here as these people thrive on publicity and I don't plan to add to it!) may potentially be able to influence the policies of major US corporations. Microsoft has, it seems, been able successfully to resist and thwart the efforts of the Christian-right to force it to change its generally even-handed policies toward all kinds of different employees, but Microsoft is a highly successful and profitable organisation even if, in business, nothing is certain for ever. Ford, on the other hand, is going through a very tough patch and whilst I don't doubt it will do its utmost to stay true to its similarly even-handed policies may perhaps eventually be forced to modify these, perhaps subtly in the short term. Where is this all leading? The pendulum-swing to the right in the US may not yet have run its course and, sooner or later, such trends often flow across the Atlantic to our shores. Already you can read the kind of thing that worries me in the blog of a young Conservative-supporter; amongst some decent (or at least semi-decent) analysis he does also express himself in ways that do make me wonder where this could lead, if people like him gained the ascendancy. One cannot comfort oneself by thinking complacently that it is only amongst the elderly that such notions are increasingly being spoken aloud, even if I don't necessarily believe that the Conservatives will head back to their recent right-wing stances with the aim of trying to increase their popular support. The conventional wisdom is that only Parties which occupy a broadly centre-left or centre-right position in the political spectrum can succeed in the UK, but some younger people with Conservative leanings seem to see things differently. The Labour Party has its own much more left-wing fringes too, of course, but these are more a threat to our economic well-being than to 'lifestyle minorities'. We live in interesting times - and not just in relation to the current traumas in the European Union.

UPDATE: (Monday 6JUN05 15.50 BST) Someone has sent me an interesting link about what are said to be 'gay' products (you are advised to make sure your irony alert monitor is in full working order before reading this or any other posting on that site) - I've never really thought of it like that before, although it is perfectly true that when I was replacing my car a couple of months ago I looked seriously at the Toyota Prius and even had a test drive in one - which I enjoyed a lot, so I suppose my 'gay credentials' are secure ... ho, ho; I finally decided to replace my existing Honda Accord with the updated version of the Accord - I've always liked Honda; they are comfortable and I never have any problem with them. I do not, however, own an iPod.

An SNP/Tory coalition at Holyrood?

I'll be interested to read what Stuart has to say about this, if he chooses to discuss it. Apart from my generalised dislike for the idea of Scotland taking itself out of the 'United Kingdom', as I'm perfectly happy being British, my other generalised worry about the SNP has always been its seeming devotion to socialist ideals; a moving away from this aspect of their traditional policies would certainly make me look at them in a slightly more favourable light. I've been drafting and re-drafting a post on this kind of topic, in relation to the recent travails of the Scottish Conservatives, for some weeks, but have still not quite worked out what I think is going on in Scottish politics at present.

Of stardom, male beauty and general weirdness

As a change from my normal kind of post about what seem to be 'serious' topics, I thought I'd indulge in a little light relief in the form of this surreal article in the New York Times (registration required) about [what is said to be] current feverish discussions over the potential conflicts with a number of forthcoming movies ('War of the Worlds' and 'Mission: Impossible III') in which actor Tom Cruise is involved, and his most recent love-interest. Any movie with Tom Cruise in it is likely to be a huge box-office draw; he is a good actor and he looks, well, just divine (Ooh er, missus!); he is also a well-known adherent of The Church of Scientology (official website here), an organisation of belief systems to which he is passionately devoted. However, some of his recent behaviour and requirements on film-sets have, allegedly, caused disquiet in parts of the industry. For my part, I have to say that whilst I still like to see Tom Cruise in a film, my realisation some years ago of his adherence to this church or 'cult' has left a slightly sour taste in my mouth - perhaps my instinctive negative reaction (as with the recent Mel Gibson vanity piece The Passion Of The Christ) to this kind of thing passes most people by, as commercial success seems to continue unabated for these two 'believers'.

All this for a new kind of vending machine?

A person, described as an 'inventor', has dreamed up the idea of selling alcoholic beverages by machine. My initial vision, when I heard about this, was that it would be some really sophisticated kind of device which would, for example, pull the beer pump and get just the right depth of froth on the top (or not, depending in what part of the country you reside) and respond appropriately when the punter receives his drink and says something along the lines of "nice one, mate!". What it is, in fact, is a pretty standard kind of vending machine for pre-packaged merchandise (like bars of chocolate or bags of potato crisps/chips) with, according to the story, some kind of smooth gearing that will prevent the liquid content from being shaken during delivery. Wow! What it may do though is allow pub-owners to reduce the quantity of bar-staff they need to employ and the costs involved; being the cynic I am, I can see the attraction of that to the bottom-line. There's also the possibility, I suppose, that not having quite so many human drinks-dispensers (aka bar-staff) on the premises will make it easier for the smoking lobby to resist efforts to ban smoking in pubs.

The Netherlands delivers its 'no' verdict

As expected, voters in the Netherlands have voted-down the EU Constitutional Treaty by an even greater margin than had been predicted. Roughly 61.4 per cent voted against, with only about 38.6 per cent approving ratification. The Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, quickly announced that he would respect the result (which is advisory, not mandatory), even though he had campaigned vigorously for a 'yes' vote. Turnout was a very creditable 62.8 per cent, more than twice the level considered necessary.

OK, perhaps legally we still need to go through the rigmarole of having our referendum here next year, just to confirm what everyone believes will be the result here - a resounding 'no' vote. But the reality is that with two countries already having vetoed ratification the constitutional treaty, as written and agreed, cannot now take effect. For the record, I quote the relevant clause in the EU Constitutional Treaty which lays down the circumstances in which it may enter into effect:

Article IV-447
Ratification and entry into force
The Treaty Establishing A Constitution For Europe

1. The Treaty shall be ratified by the High Contracting Parties in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. The instruments of ratification shall be deposited with the Government of the Italian Republic.

2. The Treaty shall enter into force on 1 November 2006, provided that all the instruments of ratification have been deposited, or, failing that, on the first day of the second month following the deposit of the instrument of ratification by the last signatory State to take this step.

However, naturally enough, this is not the entire picture. A sub-clause of another Article has relevance:

Article IV-443
Ordinary revision procedures
The Treaty Establishing A Constitution For Europe

4. If, two years after the signature of the treaty amending this Treaty, four fifths of the Member States have ratified it and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter shall be referred to the European Council.

- the first three sub-clauses of this Article (which are a little lengthy for me to quote here) specify the manner in which such an amending treaty may be agreed and signed. Although I have my own full printed copy of the present Treaty, you can read it for yourself, if you do not have your own copy, by consulting the EU Europa website here - all the pages linked to from there are in .PDF format, so you will need to have a .PDF reader to access them.

Obviously even this was not complicated enough for the drafters of the EU Constitutional Treaty! According to Article IV-442 'Protocols and Annexes':

The Protocols and Annexes to this Treaty shall form an integral part thereof.

and that seems clear enough. There are, however, in addition to these a number of 'Declarations' which were adopted by 'The Conference of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States', convened in Brussels on 30 September 2003 to adopt by common accord the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. These 'Declarations' are not, however, adopted as part of the finally approved Treaty as signed. One of these, Declaration 30, has particular relevance in that it basically echoes the provisions of Article IV-443(4), already quoted above, but like the Article itself merely states that if four-fifths of the Member States have ratified the Treaty and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties with ratification, then the matter will be referred to the European Council. So what is the significance of Article IV-443(4), coupled with Declaration 30? What the Article and the Declaration seem to imply is that the political will for the Treaty to pass into law exists. However, under the terms of the Treaty iself, ratification by all Member States (i.e. the 'High Contracting Parties') is required. When push comes to shove, that is what the Treaty, as signed by the Governments of the Member States, requires - the rest is just smoke and mirrors.

Whatever happens in any of the future referenda, including that in the UK (if it is ever held - and Jack Straw is to make a full statement to the House of Commons next Monday, and I look forward to this with interest), may be of crucial importance in an academic sense, but the Treaty as it now stands is a dead letter. The citizens of two Member States, France and the Netherlands, have declined to approve ratification of the Treaty by their respective governments. What else is there to say?

UPDATE (Monday 6JUN05 01.00 BST) As I have been away from blogging for the past couple of days, I have only just come across this interesting and thoughtful post by Simon Holledge at The Skakagrall; although the emphases he puts on various aspects of this 'fiasco' are somewhat different to my own, I find a great deal to agree with in what he writes, even if in referring to our illustrious Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Tony and Gordon respectively, I feel he is being somewhat unfair in referring to 'Perfidious Albion', as at least one (and probably both!) of these two gentlemen cannot be laid at the blame of poor old 'Albion'; one or both of them are genuine homegrown Scottish contributions to the disaster area that is our unlovely NuLabour Government ...

Wednesday, 1 June 2005

Top Up TV bye bye

I started subscribing to Top Up TV in early January this year as I had just acquired a new digital set-top box equipped with the card slot necessary to receive Top Up TV. I already had a couple of other digital set-top boxes, but these were suitable to receive only Freeview transmmissions (I'd had them for over a year, and found some of the additional channels very watchable). I decided that I would quite like to watch E4, however, and for that it was necessary either to go to satellite broadcasting or to Top Up TV. Frankly there are not enough hours in the day to make sensible use of all the channels available on satellite, added to which I have made the decision years ago to buy no product or service I can avoid from 'The Digger', as Rupert Murdoch is sometimes called and Sky is one of his vehicles; I stopped taking The Times years ago for this reason.

Anyway, last week E4 transmissions became available on Freeview and as I hardly ever watch any of the other Top Up TV channels I was already considering saying 'bye bye' to Top Up TV. However, the website said that from today, 1st June, there would be a new channel on Top Up TV, but they were remarkably coy about revealing what it would be - even until late yesterday evening the website didn't have details. This morning, however, the website revealed (finally) that the new channel would be British Eurosport, a channel I have seen occasionally in the past when staying in hotels in the UK or elsewhere in Europe. Apart from having almost no interest in many of the most popular sports (e.g. football), I knew that some of the weird sports broadcast on that channel from time to time would hold absolutely no interest for me, so I made the decision to cancel - and I just returned from mailing the appropriate letters to my bank, copied to Top Up TV, to cancel the mandate. I still have the three set-top boxes, of course, to watch Freeview. It'll save me GBP7.99 a month - these funds can usefully be diverted to buying an additional bottle of wine from time to time. So, Top Up TV bye bye ...

I just loathe cigarette smoking, but ...

... this judgement seems perfectly reasonable to me. Nobody under the age of at least sixty can plausibly contend, in any western country at least, that they were ignorant (other than willfully!) of the potential danger to their health from smoking when they took to using this drug. I'm only a few years younger than the unfortunate man who died a premature death after smoking 60 cigarettes a day up until his death from lung cancer, but I knew as a young child (from the age of seven or so) just how awful this habit is - my brother and I were pretty stubborn little boys and took to hiding or destroying our parents' cigarettes and whilst we were never 'punished' I can certify (oh my yes, I can certify!) that they were both pretty exasperated with our behaviour and took to keeping emergency supplies with neighbours so we couldn't get our hands on them; I'm talking here about the early 1960s. Even though our father managed to stop smoking about eight years before his death (also from lung cancer) it was obviously not soon enough; fortunately our mother stopped almost immediately after his death (in 1981) and is still with us today. Tobacco is an addictive substance; people need help and encouragement to stop smoking, but the idea that people did not know of the dangers is, and it is painful to write this, laughable.

Same goes for people who consume too much fast food who complain that they were ignorant of the dangers this represents. Good, healthy food need not be ludicrously expensive - with just a little effort, for the 'couch potatoes' out there, there are much healthier alternatives available at reasonably modest cost. Rant over ...

The 'gay condition', as outlined in an advice column ...

I've heard many of the comments raised in this type of 'agony aunt' column too many times before for them to have any strong effect on me any more. Frankly, if I had listened to the diagnoses of many of the writers of letters to such columns, and some of the replies from the 'agony aunts' too, I'd probably no longer be around to enjoy the pretty good life I now do; I expect I would have cut my wrists long ago. Let these people so worried about the 'shame' of having a gay son or daughter get on with their sad, prejudiced lives, provided they leave me alone physically (which very unfortunately often does not happen), and I'll be quite content. It's the criminal activity represented by these physical attacks against gays, for no other reason than some people think it is 'wrong' or 'perverted' to be gay, that are the scandal, not the diversity of personalities they seek to stigmatise.

Not sure I like this one very much ...

I'll leave it to others to judge how accurate or foolish this is:

You Are The Apt Mind
"I know that. And that. And yes, that too."

You have brains, and you are not afraid to show it. Your intellect and intelligence may have others constantly asking for your help with things that take a lot of thought or are difficult puzzles. Academic values are held highest in your opinion, and you may also have a bleak view of humanity. You may find trouble dealing with emotional issues, however - as they are illogical and inunderstandable. Your friends consist of intelligent and intellectual people to challange you and continue your mental growth. Even in the easiest of times, you are not afraid to show anyone just how much you know.

Which Classic Story Role Do You Play?
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(thru Brian at Shadow Footprints)