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

Friday, 30 September 2005

Good to see naked prejudice get an airing ...

... maybe the aims of this Aussie are innocent enough, very probably they are - he sounds as if beer is his main preoccupation in life, and why not after all - but some of the comment on what he says he wants to achieve says a great deal, for all its brevity.

Since when has not wanting to be beaten up, or not to be treated as some kind of pariah, been wanting 'special treatment'? It kinda reminds me of the remark in Schindler's List when Ben Kingsley's character says he hopes the 'special treatment' Liam Neeson's character has promised him isn't what he thinks it means!

On the whole, I prefer to see this kind of prejudice freely aired - at least it is clear who the bigots are, no guessing required ...

Wednesday, 28 September 2005

Police State Britain - how Labour deals with its dissidents

Our Labour governing party is currently holding its annual conference at Brighton. For 'believers' I would have thought this should be a time of brotherly behaviour (this is the Labour Party, after all, and don't they all call each other 'brother' or 'comrade' or some such?) suffused, inevitably by lively debate - isn't that what a conference, any conference, is supposed to be about?

Not in Blair's Britain it ain't! Everything must be stage-managed to the nth degree, and dissension is not permitted - lest it spoil the soundbites to be picked up by the news media for later broadcast, no doubt. For people who, whatever I may think of their politics or their comments, are undoubtedly within the Labour fold, the treatment meted out is certainly intriguing, and the pathetic climbdown when the nonsense of the way they have allowed/required conference security to behave toward 'brothers' in the Labour Party is revealed.

That's for their friends, this is what happens to people they really don't care about, or people who are so indiscreet as to reveal the spin that is being foisted upon the public. This government has a track record of taking 'revenge' on people who have the temerity to hit home with serious criticism of their activities, but some people have the resources to fight back effectively. Others don't.

Nairn - the end of the rainbow!

... some pictures taken from my apartment about 30 minutes ago:

A rainbow arcs into the sea across the beach

Within a few moments a double rainbow had formed

... and the other end of the double rainbow

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Newsflash - quiz says I'm socially liberal, econonically conservative ...

... and no surprise there:
You are a

Social Liberal
(80% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(68% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

I particularly enjoyed the bit at the end where one is able to write any kind of dictatorial law one wishes, but I'm not going to tell you what I answered there because I'm sure the agents of our own government would be round in a flash (ha! ha!) to have me taken off to the 'funny farm', because I don't believe that free-thinking is any longer particularly acceptable in the UK, so far as they are concerned.
(thru AKLand - again)

Monday, 26 September 2005

Blunkett - just one of Labour's slimeballs

Not everyone in the Labour Party is a slimeball, of course. Some seem really decent people (for politicians). But Blunkett ain't one of those.

I care not one whit for his alleged relationship with blondes, brunettes or whatever - even if they are half his age. IT IS NONE OF MY BUSINESS, and neither party would appear to have broken any law.

However, this article by Roy Hattersley in today's Guardian seems only to confirm just how despicable this man is.
(thru Guido Fawkes blog)

Through early morning mist I see ...

... an amusing quiz to decide what your character is from the popular 1960s(?)movie/TV series 'Mash'. This is me:

Click here to take the M*A*S*H quiz!

- could have been worse, it could have been 'hot lips' Hoolihan!
(thru Alan at AKLand)

Saturday, 24 September 2005

NHS monopoly fails patients - again!

According to a report in the Daily Record, one of Glasgow's major hospitals 'ran out of mops' earlier this week and the shortage was not rectified for two days.

Can you imagine a commercially-run establishment of any kind, far less a hospital where hygiene is supposed to be a major factor, running out of something so basic as mops? One imagines that some Soviet-style five-year plan for the production of mops is to blame - or simple inefficiency on the part of the people who are supposed to be running our shambles of an NHS!

Do the letters M R S A mean nothing to these people?

It is not as if the Victoria Informary has a perfect record so far as cleanliness and control of infection is concerned - if this statement put out by NHS Greater Glasgow in April this year is a guide, or this report from the Scottish Executive Health department relating to a salmonella infection there in December 2001 and January 2002. Or this report in the British Nursing News Online issue of October 2002 (scroll down the page) reporting on nine cases of MRSA having been confirmed there.

And still they can't ensure that basic supplies, such as mops, are always available?

(An elderly relative, in the days when this still meant that British hopsitals were a by-word for cleanliness and order, was many years ago Matron of the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow. She has had, unfortunately, her own major health worries in recent years, but I know how bad she feels that basic standards within the NHS have deteriorated so much since the role of matrons has largely been dispensed with for reasons of 'efficiency'. Some efficiency!)

I'm not sure if an attempt at major 'reform' of the NHS will help - it has become so monolithic and schlerotic that it needs an axe taking to it. We need to find a better way of offering health care. Thankfully I am able to afford private health care whenever I need it!

Friday, 23 September 2005

Poor old Charlie, such a nice man, but really!

Charles Kennedy, giving his speech as Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party on the final day of their conference at Blackpool:

"When this Labour government fails - which one day it surely will - the party that is ready for the challenge of government will be ours. I will lead this party into the next election as the clear alternative to a discredited Labour government. It's my ambition to lead the first government in the liberal tradition of the 21st century."

- of course he's got to say this kind of thing, in an attempt to send the Party away on a high-note, but does he really believe he is likely, except in his Walter Mittyesque daydreams, to become Prime Minister?

Charles Kennedy, whatever else one may say about him, is in my view a genuinely decent person; he has just hitched his wagon to ideas that have not galvanised the British electorate in a very long time. If, after the next election, things turn out as he says he hopes then I will refer back to this post and issue a heartfelt mea culpa; that's a promise!

Pope Benedict is likely to live-up to his pre-coronation reputation ...

... I've been reading about the likelihood that the new Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, is to issue instructions that will have the effect of imposing [an attempt at] a bar on gay men joining the priesthood. Frankly, my reaction when I first heard about this, several days ago, was that it was a prime example of non-news; it brought to mind that old saw, when expressing mock surprise about something that is obviously no different from expected:
"Is the Pope catholic?"

Anyway, here is one of many 'news stories' about this, for those who may have had their heads in the sand, ostrich-like.

Police state Britain: Sir Ian Blair should be sacked. Now.

In yesterday's Telegraph I read an amazing article (but hadn't time to blog about it immediately) about a speech given by Sir Ian Blair at the annual conference of the Police Superintendents' Association, in his capacity as Metropolitan Police Commissioner. In other words, the senior police officer in the country. This is part of what he said:

"One idea is to have some police officers - paid more and with more powers - to impose an interim anti-social behaviour order, for instance, or suspend a driving licence."

"There is something here about making justice more immediately apparent, not only to the offender but also to the society that the offender is irritating."

"In the same way that we've developed officers with lesser powers, maybe we should develop officers with more powers so they can instantly do things," Sir Ian added. "Instead of saying to a driver, 'We will report you for proceedings to be considered by a court' we say, 'Sorry, your driving licence is now gone and in 14 days it will come up before the court'."

- just recall for a moment that in London very recently we had the case of such summary justice in action. A Brazilian gentleman, whatever his immigration status may have been (and I think this is irrelevant here), was shot dead because, well the charitable explanation is that it was an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. Or because of his milky coffee complexion. Take your pick.

But the best bit of what Sir Ian Blair said was this piece of impertinence; he conceded that such powers should be dispensed with care:

"and without turning the place into a police state, which would be unfortunate".

- note that last word "unfortunate". Who does this man think he is? (*) It would quite simply be a disaster and a betrayal, by him and people like him, of all that this country stands for. And in any case, if some of the actions already carried out and the policies he advocates now are not already precisely what a 'police state' is all about, then they are a pretty good simulacrum.

Luckily there are some senior police officers who have not completely lost touch with reality by forgetting that this country remains, just, a democracy. In the words of Rick Naylor, president of the Police Superintendents' Association:

"We police with consent and part of that is because the public see us as being approachable. If the public fear us more because of increased powers that approachability will be damaged."

Oh, and just to round off this tale of incipient fascism at the heart of the British police, read this salutary account reprinted in the Guardian of the experiences of another recent London tube traveller:

'This Reuters story was written while the police were detaining me in Southwark tube station and the bomb squad was checking my rucksack. When they were through, the two explosive specialists walked out of the tube station smiling and commenting: "Nice laptop." The officers offered apologies on behalf of the Metropolitan police. Then they arrested me.' ...

- if you haven't already done so, I recommend you click here to read the whole story. (thru Europhobia)

You know, some people think you have to take drastic measures in drastic situations. I might be tempted to agree, in some circumstances, but it seems to me that Sir Ian Blair (and his namesake Tony Blair, together with other members of this government, notably Charles Clarke and David Blunkett amongst the more senior ministers) have quite lost touch with what it is we should be trying to protect - our democratic institutions. If we lose the protections they afford, then the terrorists will have won.

Sir Ian Blair must be dismissed. His replacement should be someone who understands better what the role of the police is in British society, and it is not to be like Sir Ian Blair, an increasingly out of control power-crazed lunatic.

(*) The final part of this paragraph has been appended as a post-publication addendum.

Thursday, 22 September 2005

To Mohammed al-Waili - GET LOST!!!

The Governor of al-Basrah has demanded an apology from the UK for carrying out a recent raid to rescue two British service personnel, who had been handed over to militiamen by rogue elements in the Iraqi police in the city rather than follow the instructions of their own government in Baghdad to release the two men to British custody, in accordance with standing arrangements in place between the Iraqi authorities and the Coalition forces.

It has been said many in the past, and not just by those who were simply opposed to the war and use every opportunity to denigrate what is being done in Iraq, that it was a 'mistake' to have disbanded the Iraqi Army immediately after the war - well, that's as maybe, but my own view is that it was probably necessary, if this outburst by the al-Basrah Governor is any guide. It was never going to be easy to help Iraq become a democratic and peaceful nation; I remain convinced it was correct to make the effort.

New links added - September 05

I don't usually add links to my blogroll on first reading (I normally like to take a while to get to know them first), but these two blogs are, for different reasons, worthy of going in immediately:

The Current Outlook is written by Paul Brookfield who describes himself as "a British teenager who has an interest in news, politics, TV and the Internet. This blog is essentially a collection of mumblings." - it is relatively new, well-written and lively. I share a number of his views, but luckily by no means all, from what I have read so far.
(I found this via a comment he left on Garry's blog, A Big Stick and a Small Carrot)

Joe's blog & bird dog is just started, as is another new blog by the same person called millie & meander. It seems as if they are going to be photo-blogs taken in and around Nairn by a fellow-resident of the town, with what appears to be an environmental slant. The curiosity for me is that I know Joe through occasional encounters whilst we are both out walking our respective dogs and I believe he lives not very far away at all from where I live. I hope he manages to keep up both his photography hobby and that he will continue to share some of his photos here.
(thru Graisg at A Gurn from Nurn who, incidentally, has sadly indicated he is discontinuing his English-language blog, although he plans to continue his Gaelic-language blog - not that I can read it, unfortunately)

Give them both a whirl!

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Turkish EU accession talks likely to start on 3rd October

It seems that talks to discuss the detail of Turkey's possible accession to the European Union will begin as scheduled on 3rd October next. There has been some doubt that this would happen, at least partially because Turkey has so far declined to 'recognise' Cyprus; it states that it will do so only only after an international agreement, possibly sponsored by the United Nations, is reached to end the division of the island. The compromise that has been reached, to allow the accession negotiations to begin, is that Turkey recognise Cyprus at some stage during the process, which are expected to take 10 years or more.

This is obviously not an ideal situation as it is essential for every EU member to, at the very least, 'recognise' every other member. There can be no question of Turkey ever becoming a member until it formally recognises every other existing member - and Cyprus is, for better or worse, already a member.

Why do I use the phrase for better or worse? Well, when I last wrote about this (just before the ten new members joined the EU in May 2004), here and here, I made pretty clear my view that it would be a positive move were Turkey to join the EU. In the first of these two posts I referred to the alleged (by the EU's Gunter Verheugen, no less!) machinations by the Greek Cypriot government to engineer the scuppering of reunification between the Greek and Turkish parts of the island (no doubt prompted by the Greek Cypriot Communist Party, AKEL, having withdrawn its support on failing to have the referendum delayed), which was to be the subject of a referendum in both parts of the island. There was no down-side in this action, so far as the Greek Cypriots were concerned, because it had been agreed and in my view probably tacitly engineered by Greece, that the southern part of the island would join the EU as a full member, irrespective of the result of the referendum.

I am pleased that what I believe have probably been the further machinations of Greek Cyprus, and perhaps Greece, to have the start of negotiations with Turkey for its possible entry delayed, possibly forever if they thought they could get away with it, been thwarted.

Of course, quite apart from this there are a number of other EU members who have strong doubts about, or even a visceral objection to, Turkey ever joining the EU, very largely based (in my view) on their wish to see the EU remain a purely Christian grouping, although of course they play down this aspect. In any case, I always thought that the European Union was a secular body, not a branch of any church, Christian or otherwise! Some also doubt the validity of Turkey's claim to be considered as a part of Europe at all and I'm afraid I consider this to be simply a reflection of the racism which exists in some parts of Europe's population. Turkey must, of course, be held to the same standards as any other EU member, but it seems to me that different criteria are being applied to Turkey by some, for the basest of political reasons, than for example were applied to Slovakia prior to its adhesion to the EU , in connection with its shocking treatment of its 'Roma' population over the years.

To end on a positive note, though, and whilst I accept that the negotiations for Turkish entry to the EU will be long and tortuous, I am glad that the door has not simply been slammed in Turkey's face.

Monday, 19 September 2005

I won't see a century, but it'll be close ...

... according to an intriguing site, The Death Clock, my projected date of death is Monday, 21st May 2046, so I have about 41 years to go - if this really does happen then I may live to the ripe old age of ninety-four. I put it down to all the champagne I drink!
(thru The Devil's Kitchen)

An insight into Tony's 'modus operandi'

Our beloved Prime Minister Tony Blair isn't, it appears, above indulging in a bit of naked racism and profanity when it suits his purposes. It's just embarrassing when one of your former spin-doctors is so indelicate as to reveal this the 'the great unwashed'.
(thru Inchbrakie, in turn introduced to me a week or so ago thru Freedom and Whisky)

Bill is disaffected with Royal Mail!

Yes, indeed he is. A couple of times recently, importaint items of mail I have sent by recorded or special delivery have gone astray, quite apart from a number of other important items sent by ordinary mail which appear never to have arrived at their destinations either. In one case this caused a delay of several months in unlocking a significant sum of money. Mostly these lost items have involved mail sent abroad, but as a number of different countries are concerned, with the only common factor being Royal Mail services, my 'finger of suspicion' inevitably points in their direction.

Today, for the second time, I have resorted to using the services of courier company DHL. This is not cheap (it costs roughly 50 pounds to send a one-off item), but it is sure. In view of the importance of the items today and a few weeks ago it is a price I feel obliged to pay when necessary. It irritates me intensely that I have to go to these lengths to achieve something that most of us have become used to taking for granted all our lives, but in recent times the old certainties when using a utility as ubiquitous as our postal service have broken down. Simple as that.

Inverness makes it onto a banknote!

The Royal Bank of Scotland has just issued its first fifty pound banknote since 1727 and has chosen to feature a picture of Inverness Castle on the reverse to recognise the growing importance of the 'Highland Capital' (apart from having been my birthplace, of course!). The decision apparently came about as a result of a suggestion by a member of staff at the Harbour Road main office in Inverness during a recent visit by RBS Group Chief Executive Sir Fred Goodwin. The new note was unveiled at Inverness Castle.

Murder in Nairn - Crescent Road blocked off

Police bollards are across both ends of Crescent Road in Nairn today and a large police van is parked just outside one end of the street - this is where the home of murdered man Alistair Wilson is located (just along the road from where I live). I notice also that there are two white vans parked in the car park of the Havelock Hotel, just across from the Wilson's home in Crescent Road and they appear to be being loaded with material. I cannot state whether the material is being removed from their house, or indeed whether it is simply related to the hotel, but it is curious that the road is blocked off by the police.

Note: just as I type this, I am watching a policemen remove the bollards from the end of Crescent Road visible from my study, so it appears that whatever they came to do has finished for now, at least. There are no new updates on the Northern Constabulary website to indicate just what may be going on.

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.

Thursday, 15 September 2005

Police State Britain - another step to 'Big Brother' Land

Completely unsurprisingly our joke of a Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, is supporting calls by the police to be able to hold terror suspects for upto three months without charge, far less trial; currently the limit is two weeks. The proposals include:
- Outlawing "glorification" of terrorism;
- Offence of acts preparatory to terrorism;
- Law against giving or receiving terror training;
- New offence against indirect incitement of terrorism;
- Powers to tackle bookshops selling extremist material;
- Using phone-tap evidence in courts being considered;
- Pre-charge detentions powers extended from two weeks to three months.

Using phone-tap evidence is one of the 'more reasonable' ideas, I suppose, but holding people for upto three months without charge is an horrific expansion of state control over the individual. It frightens me.

Also, just how do you define "acts preparatory to terrorism" or "indirect incitement of terrorism"? How do we know that this, or a future government, will not interpret this to mean people, like me, who occasionally write pieces pretty critical of what the government is doing? After all it is only a few months since the right of assembly in the immediate vicinity (a 1 kilometre radius, I believe) of the Palace of Westminster was severely curtailed as a way of trying to halt the activities of one individual who had been positioned across the road and protesting loudly for a couple of years about the activities of some of the 'nice people' who run our lives from that location - even if the incompetent shower who govern us in fact drew up their dictatorial legislation in a way that will prevent everyone else from protesting, but not the person at whom the legislation was aimed!

Read what Spy Blog has to say about this here. And for Spy Blog's pertinent remarks about the Home Office's sinister incompetence, read about its plans for yet more legislation to control the uses made of the internet, despite the fact that pretty draconian catch-all legislation already exists.

Anton Webern (1883 - 1945)

Today BBC Radio3 is broadcasting the entire oeuvre of Anton Webern, the Austrian composer who died, under dramatic circumstances, sixty years ago today. You can listen live, if you are not in the UK and able to tune into Radio3, by clicking here (then, if necessary, click on the 'Listen Live' link on that page).

Webern's works total about five and a half hours of broadcast time and interspersed throughout the day is a variety of other works - just at present Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.5 ('The Emperor') and, for an hour at midday works by one of my other favourite composers - CPE Bach - are being broadcast as part of Radio3's 'Composer of the Week' series.

Webern's works are not, perhaps, the easiest to listen to, but his influence on classical music since his death in 1945 has been profound.

Scottish Borders to go digital by 2008

The Borders and Dumfries and Galloway are likely to be switched-over to digital television broadcasting by 2008, when it seems the analogue signals will no longer be broadcast. The rest of Scotland is expected to follow a year later.

I got my first digital 'set-top' box a couple of years ago and use it for watching a lot of television now, but also to listen to the radio as well. The quality of the pictures and sound is generally far superior to analogue signals.

But there are problems with using this new technology. Oh, provided you live in a good area for digital signals (as I do), then there is no difficulty in getting it to work after a fashion, but a bit of 'juggling' may be required. For example, whilst most modern TVs have SCART sockets, some older models do not. If you have one of the latter then you need to make sure that your set-top box doesn't just have an RF 'loop through' (they all have that, so far as I can see, so the signal can be fed to VCRs, etc), so that the RF output signal channel can be modified so it does not clash with any other local TV signal; what this means is that if your TV is without a SCART you either have to get one of the more expensive set-top boxes, not one of the 'cheapos', because they are the ones most likely to allow the RF output signal channel to be adjusted - or you need to replace TVs without a SCART socket. Simple as that - but it costs, of course. I now have four digital tuners so I can receive a digital signal in every room, either direct or through my flat's data system.

The other ill-publicised fact is that once analogue signals are switched off, you will need at least two digital tuners to enable one TV/radio station to be received whilst recording another. Also, for most people, you will require a digital tuner for each television, unless (as mine is) your home is wired to transmit signals from a main 'base station' to the other rooms. I find that, with the increasing numbers of channels available, I am actually watching less television than before - a lot of what is broadcast is complete 'tosh' - and what I do watch (apart from news broadcasts) I generally record for watching later at my convenience, and I can then fast-forward through the ad-breaks if it's from a commercial channel.

People who have the spare cash to throw around will just migrate, but I think poorer people will find it more difficult and more elderly people may just find the change too complicated, unless they are hand-held through the whole process. In a few year's time the old days of analogue broadcasting will seem like a distant memory - enjoy it while you still can!

Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Can Dr Mahathir be added to the list, pretty please ...

... of people whom Malaysians are to be invited to vote for to be their country's first astronaut aboard a Russian mission in 2007?

On the other hand, what have the Russians ever done to me, personally, to deserve such a fate? Naturally I wish whomever is eventually chosen, in the real world, to go on this mission a safe and productive experience.

Readers may gather that Malaysia's former Prime Minister, arch-homophobic bigot (indeed bigot, generally, covers it better) is not at the top of Bill's list of favourite people. I met him only once, business commitments having made this unavoidable, but suffice it to say he would never appear on any guest list of mine. Here endeth the rant according to Bill ...

Conservatives shadow defence spokesman talks (again!) about gays

Do these people seriously wish, ever again, to govern this country? It seems to me to be a pertinent question. Gerald Howarth seems single-minded in his determination to keep Conservatives out of government for a very long time ...

... not of course that I believe most people in Britain care very much, either way, about 'gay rights'. Probably most people are either indifferent or mildly antagonistic. But what most British people are not is 'extremist' in their views. People like Gerald Howarth undoubtedly have some following and this is fair enough, but holding the views he does seems a long way from seeking to entice all but a freakish minority to vote for you.

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

'New Look' for the Autumn

I've begun to play around, yet again, with the 'look' of my blog. So far, the main change is I have put up a new header logo - do you like it? I'm not entirely sure if I like the new logo myself - I may tweak it a little over coming days. Apart from that I've removed the grid framework I used to have to separate the columns and the header sections; I think this gives the page a 'cleaner' look. I am still thinking about a number of other changes, although one 'test bed' idea I have up on a test site at present is leading me up design and colour-scheme paths I'm not sure if I want to follow.

All this, of course, is a way of saying that today (apart from being quite busy with a number of other things) I haven't felt that any of the great burning issues currently in the news have provoked me into writing here - so I haven't ...

... although I would like to add my congratulations to the England Cricket Team for their success in regaining the Ashes from Australia. Well done! It is so nice to see a sporting event where both sides seem to remain genuinely on good terms with each other. I am not a great afficionado of cricket (even though I have our fine local cricket pitch just outside my home), but I was impressed with the cheery and dignified way that the Australians dealt with their defeat. Their time will no doubt come again. Good on ya!

Monday, 12 September 2005

It's easy to scapegoat unpopular minorities Mr Johnston!

In today's Telegraph there is a very interesting piece by Philip Johnston in which he sets out with admirable clarity just why Inheritance Tax is 'a bad thing'; I agree with almost everything he writes. It is not good for the people who have to pay it, of course, but nor is it really very good for society as it has all sorts of negative consequences to balance against the relatively paltry revenue it raises.

Then he goes and spoils it by taking an utterly gratuitous swipe at gays and lesbians in committed relationships who will soon, if they choose to go through the process of registering their relationship under the soon-to-take-effect Civil Partnerships Act, benefit from the same protection against this iniquitous tax as is currently enjoyed by married couples. This is what I would call the correction of a wrong - I have a number of gay friends who have been in committed relationships for many decades and a few of these couples have already suffered the demise of one of the partners, with difficult financial consequences for the remaining partner. The tax is a bad tax, period. It is bad for long-term couples who currently, until the law takes effect this coming December, have few ways of protecting themselves should one partner die. It is bad for the 'Miss A' that Philip Johnston refers to as well. But no, Mr Johnston chooses to draw his otherwise sensible article toward its final points with a cheap swipe at a group probably disliked by many of his newspaper's readers (specially elderly ones):

"To add insult to injury, the Government has introduced a law that allows a homosexual or lesbian couple to avoid inheritance tax on the death of a partner, but not a son or daughter living in the same house as the deceased parent."

The tax needs to be phased out for everyone, including the son or daughter Johnston refers to.

It is far too easy for newspaper pundits or politicians of a certain kind to appeal to the baser instincts of people. It's really no different than people castigating groups in society for being 'dirty', as currently happens all too often with immigrants and 'travellers' or 'gypsies', illegal or otherwise, and used to happen with people of Jewish faith more than most people would dare to do nowadays. The same goes for the way some people refer to Moslems.

Go on, Tony, make Blunkett Home Secretary again ...

... if you dare!!

I had already read Stephen Pollard's post about the background to some of the quotations in his recent biography of David Blunkett, but this splendid post by Dave at backword has prompted me into making the comment I didn't have time to make earlier. My reaction - shocked, but in no way surprised. Indeed I referred to Blunkett as a 'bully and a cheat' long before it was known how Lord Stevens would characterise him in his own memoirs - it pleases me greatly to have confirmation that my judgement of this odious individual is by no means unique.

Hard cases make bad, bad law ...

... and whilst the situation that provokes this thought is not precisely that, it is broadly analagous. Apparently Kent Police have seized the entire print run of the September issue of 'The Voice of Freedom', the journal of the odious British National Party (BNP). Whilst I have no truck at all with anything to do with that bunch of scumbags and what they stand for, it is not entirely clear, from this article, that Kent Police had any specific grounds for seizing all copies of this publication. I will be watching carefully to see whether the copies are quitely released later, without any charges being filed against the BNP, or not. Just because I abhor the BNP and all its works does not mean that I will not comment when what looks as if it might, just possibly might, be an abuse of power that is taking place - if so it would be interesting to know precisely why Kent Police have acted in this way 'on spec'. If the content of the publication does justify its seizure, fair enough - I want to know that, too.

UPDATE: (Tuesday 13SEP05 14.45 BST) The above linked story has been updated to say that Kent Police are now handing back almost all the seized magazines, presumably because there are no grounds in law for laying charges against the BNP. Kent Police say they are continuing to hold a few copies in case there are grounds for a prosecution - I think this is just for face-saving purposes. What this foolish knee-jerk action has done, in seizing the magazines in the first place, is hand the odious BNP a propaganda coup; they are likely now trumpet the seeming fact of police harassment. What nincompoops and political ignoramuses the police, and whoever was behind their action, have shown themselves to be!

Homophobic crimes to be punished more harshly

Whilst I, in general, support what is going to be included in the forthcoming Sentencing (Scotland) Bill to be presented before the Scottish Parliament (the 'of course' seems superfluous, coming from me), the worries raised by solicitors (see end of linked article) need to be thought through carefully by people better qualified than me to understand the precise scope of these worries. As for the worries raised by the Catholic Church, then it is very simple - I couldn't give a proverbial monkeys!!

Sunday, 11 September 2005

MI5 wants to 'erode' our liberties to protect us ...

... genuinely scary stuff!! So, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller's disappointment at not being able to prevent the July bombings is to be assuaged by an 'erosion' of our liberties. Naturally, she assures us, this is for our own good. Stuff and nonsense!

The way I see it is this. We are seemingly under threat from a group of people, some of them home grown, who want fundamentally to change the way our democratic society works, by in essence 'eroding' our freedoms and enforcing social policies they find more amenable. And to get their way they are prepared to loose off bombs on crowded commuter trains, even if it means their own deaths in the process.

So what does MI5 suggest our reaction should be? They suggest, in a manner that 'Sir Humphrey' might have called innovative, or even audacious, his euphemisms for unwise and completely and utterly crazy, respectively, effectively saying that our only option is for our own authorities do the terrorists' work for them. To be quite honest I would rather continue to accept some degree of risk to my personal safety than sacrifice one iota of the freedoms that many generations have struggled and suffered to achieve, in the probably illusory hope that by introducing some further means of keeping tabs on the British public generally we will somehow be better 'protected'. From whom do we really need protecting? We are after all apparently the most 'CCTVed' nation on the planet already! One imagines this is yet another angle that is being used to persuade us to accept that ID Cards are essential. No! No! No! It doesn't wash, dear Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller!

Here is what Spy Blog has to say on the matter.

Saturday, 10 September 2005

Another story about changing attitudes to gays in China

Universities in China are now holding classes to help their students thnk about their attitudes towards homosexuality. What to me is just as remarkable as the fact that such courses, however ill-balanced thet may at times appear (by seeming to equate homosexuality with HIV/AIDS), is that this article appears in the Taipei Times - relations between the mainland and the 'rebel' island used to be glacial, now there are major links (not at an official level, of course!) between the two, driven by all sorts of factors, from investment to family ties.

Can this really be true?

It is alleged in this discussion board thread that a mother has been arrested and held in custody for non-payment of her TV licence, despite it further being alleged that she produced documentary evidence that she had paid for a licence.

To clarify and re-confirm my views on TV licensing in general, I would rather see an end to the compulsory TV licensing regime and other methods (e.g. subscription?) employed to fund public-service broadcasting in the UK.
(thru Bishop Hill)

'Brokeback Mountain' takes Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival

Yes! I've been waiting for this tale of gay love between two cowboys, in a film made by Ang Lee, to come to fruition for quite a while - now I just have to hope it won't be too long 'til I can get to see it myself.

"The Last Night of the Proms"

And now, on a much cheerier subject than my last post ...

The Saturday of The Last Night of the Proms is, to me, the real signal that summer is nearly over. This evening I shall spend my time innocently enough, watching the live transmission from The Royal Albert Hall, the first half on BBC2 and the second and more boisterous half on BBC1 (you can listen online, if you are not in the UK, by clicking on the link here), in the company of a bottle of champagne, a box of handmade chocolates and some other delicious bite-size edibles.

I am not a jingoistic person, few British people are, but I must admit that the final stages of 'The Last Night' see me coming over all patriotic, putting the stereo radio feed volume up quite high (I watch the TV, but listen to better quality sound through radio equipmnent), specially for the last five or so minutes, and lose myself in knowing just how wonderful it is to be British. Corny, yes, but who cares! Oh, and I'll be waving not just my little Union Flag, but several other little flags from various parts of the world. It's not an evening just for British people to 'let down their hair' (which I have very little of, anyway!), but for anyone else, here in the UK or elsewhere, to revel in the joy of being alive and listening to great music being made by skilled musicians before a lively and good-natured audience. Enjoy!

UPDATE: (Sunday 11SEP05 13.30 BST) Now I know why coverage from the 'Prom in the Park' from Belfast dried-up during the live broadcast last evening. Sigh ...

World Trade Center - 11 September 2001

It will be four years tomorrow since the horrific attacks on the United States which destroyed many lives, altered a central New York landmark radically, and forever, and triggered changes in the ways in which most governments around the world react to events which in the current shorthand are described, accurately enough, as acts of terrorism.

Four years ago the 11th of September was a Tuesday and was I busy on my computer, as I have been this past week or so, putting together the final details for my tax filing. The TV was on in my study, with the volume turned quite low. Just after 2pm (UK time), programmes were interrupted with a flash news bulletin showing incredible live pictures of one of the two World Trade Center towers ablaze. The commentary veered wildly from one idea to the next, at that stage, as to what precisely had it occurred. Amongst the speculation it was suggested it might simply be a tragic accident, possibly a small 'plane with an inexperienced pilot that had veered off from its assigned route for reasons unknown.

A few moments later I was transfixed, as I expect anyone else who witnessed it on the ground or on live television was, by the sight of a largish-looking aeroplane ploughing into the other tower.

This was no accident!

And then, just about an hour later, first one and then the other tower simply disappeared into themselves in torrents of debris. Although it was perfectly clear to me, watching here in the UK, that when the first of the two towers seemed to have collapsed that this is exactly what had happened, the UK-commentators seemed unable immediately to say it - I suspect their minds simply could not accept what their eyes were seeing and they tried at first to suggest that it was simply the smoke billowing around the remaining building that was obscuring the other tower. I found myself shouting at the television - "It's gone! It's collapsed!" - and weeping uncontrollably, just as I am not ashamed to say I am doing right now. The horror of that day was not over, no, not by a long way; news of other 'planes having veered off course started to come in, then the pictures switched to the Pentagon in Washington DC. Then the news of the fourth 'plane having crashed came in.

We still remember

The three photographs below have been taken from the website of an eye-witness to this tragedy and his website can be seen here. Please take the time to scroll across his page to see the full dreadful series of photographs, together with his simple and poignant commentary.

There is a moving and quite lengthy tribute to the tragedy, in words, music and pictures, here (It is a large file so will take a few moments, even on a fast broadband connection, to load - please be patient). My own small tributes to this and other recent major terrorist outrages (*) can be found by clicking here, or there are permanent links in this blog in the right-hand column under the 'Memorial Pages' heading.

(* - there have been numerous additional terrorist outrages in the past few years, on a smaller scale, but still awful for those directly concerned)

New addition to blogroll - The Devil's Kitchen

A link by Gary at A Big Stick and a Small Carrot has alerted me to the presence in the blogosphere of a new, quality, right-of-centre blog billed as originating in Edinburgh and going under the name of The Devil's Kitchen, although who the person behind that pseudonym might be is not revealed to us. From what I can gather, having read a fair bit of his recent output as well as at least some of his writing from earlier periods, he (if the photograph may be taken as a true likeness) certainly knows how to string his ideas together in a very attractive way; whilst there is a great deal of what he writes that appeals to me (his general ideas on economics, etc) there is some of course that I find less appealing (or, to be blunt, that I find completely off the wall) - what he is not is uncontroversial, but the quality of the writing is such that it is a pleasure to read, even when some of the topics he discusses often, and at length, seem to tend toward monomania. Another interesting side to his personality seems to be revealed by another blog to which he contributes, called Kandinsky.

My one serious reservation is his recent attempt to form a rather (no, let's not mince words here - not rather, but outrageously) PRETENTIOUS 'DK Party' with a full complement of other bloggers calling themselves members of his 'DK Cabinet'! What a load of (*) [* - insert vernacular for 'waste material' here]! There are very few worthwhile 'group blogs', or 'participative' blogs - it is possible that The Devil's Kitchen may develop into one of this illustrious group, but the omens do not at this early stage look very hopeful. The person behind this blog seems to write with great fluency and skill on topics that matter to him, as do at least some of those he has 'recruited' to his gang - I think this kind of pretendy puffed-up kind of 'DK Cabinet' idea will quickly become very tired and the initial amusement factor will quickly become mere tedium. [In the way that Nanny Knows Best has moved from what started as a clever, accurate and amusing notion to an insistence on referring to the fictional 'Nanny' in every post - talk about Chinese water torture!] Why can't people just write what they think without dressing up their ideas in some pretend personality or grouping that exists only in their imagination? Possibly its the same kind of sentiment that makes some groups of little boys and girls form their own little groupings with their own arcane little codes and little practices. At least our own beloved pretendy Scottish Parliament does, unfortunately and at great cost, exist in the real world: its great 'merit' is to expose (just for the sake of confirmation, although none is needed) just how vacuous are socialism, the Labour Party and its collaborators the Liberal Democrat Party.

Anyway, if after my little diatribe you still wish to do so, you could do a lot worse than to give The Devil's Kitchen a whirl.
(Readers who manage to wade their way through this whole post might characterise it as being 'double-edged' - and they would be right.)

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Isle of Man set to equalise age of consent

The Isle of Man (IoM) is at last going to equalise the age of consent to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR); however it is debatable whether it will abolish its equivalent of 'Section 28' (known as Section 38 in the IoM) as the ECHR does not oblige it to do so. Having spent most of my teenage years living in the Isle of Man I pay attention to what is going on there and I obviously take an interest in matters as they affect gays, too.

All may not be right in China, but ...

... the fact that such an article can be published in Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency website, at all is pretty revolutionary. Things may be difficult for gays in China, as they are in many other countries when you scrape just a little under the surface of seeming 'tolerance', but there does now seem to be a genuine attempt at least to discuss the matter rationally in China.

If you take the trouble to scroll to the fourth page of the Xinhua article you will find this very interesting observation at the end by Wang Xiaobo, wife of the late Li Yinhe (referred to as "China's top expert on homosexuality"):

"Any sexual relationship that is long-term, stable and built on love should be respected. Gays should take a positive attitude towards life."

Even if this enlightened attitude is not universal in China (or, I expect, anything like it), the same is true of many western countries - one only has to know of some of the legislation passed, or being discussed, in the US recently to understand this.

The Xinhua article is reprinted from China Daily, reporting on a government report published last November and part of this report (on page two of the article) states:

Last November, government agencies published a report that put the number of gay men in China who are "of a sexually active age" at 5-10 million. Scientists say this is the low end of the estimate. They figure that there are around 30-40 million homosexual men and women in total.

In 1997, China's Criminal Law decriminalized sodomy. In 2001, homosexuality was removed from the list of mental disorders by health authorities.

But the changing law does not necessarily change public perception. Most gay people interviewed for this story agree that the single biggest source of pressure and stigma comes from their own families. "My employer doesn't care about my private life, and the neighbourhood grandma is not nosy any more. But there's no way I can get past my own mum and dad," said Lu Youni, a Guangzhou high school teacher.

Most parents cannot imagine in their wildest dreams that their children could be gay. They usually do not pick up the subtle signals that hint that their kids may be attracted to those of their own sex. When revelation dawns, it is normally such a shock that it feels like falling into a vortex of tongue-tied humiliation.

- there is a lot more in this article that is extremely interesting. The fact that it all comes from a Chinese government report is, to me, pretty stunning.

Saturday, 3 September 2005

Gays blamed for hurricane devastation ...

... go on, your havin' me on!? But no, one of those wacko religious fundamentalist outfits that the US seems to specialise in seems to believe that the devastation meted out to New Orleans is a result of the city fathers welcoming dem gays. According to Repent America director Michael Marcavage:

"Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city."
"From 'Girls Gone Wild' to 'Southern Decadence,' New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. May it never be the same."
"May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits, and bring us trembling before the throne of Almighty God; [God] sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust [Matthew 5:45]."

Although I look at most religious matters from the perspective of a complete outsider, I find a lot more to empathise with in the sentiments of the Rev Susan Russell, president of Integrity, an LGBT Episcopal group:

"The scripture that comes to my mind is 'Jesus wept.'"
"Jesus weeps today for the loss of life in New Orleans and he weeps that his gospel is being hijacked by the rabid rhetoric of the religious right -- that is in its own way as destructive to our national fabric as Hurricane Katrina has been."
"What needs to happen is people of all backgrounds need to unite and focus instead on helping bring supplies to the people in need. Hurricane Katrina did not discriminate in its path of destruction, and neither does God's love."

Friday, 2 September 2005

The tragedy that is unfolding in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama

What a tragedy. Almost unbelievable, specially in the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. Mother nature, truly, is not to be mocked. It brought home to me just how extensive is the area affected by this cataclysm when I heard a comment a couple of days ago in a BBC Radio4 news programme that more than 90,000 square miles of the US is affected more or less severely - that is almost the same area as the whole of the UK!

So much is being written about this disaster, and its aftermath, that I have felt that to add my little voice to the tumult of comment about it was rather superfluous. Lots of comment is being made about the reactions of the local, State and Federal authorities to this crisis, a lot of it critical. I know too little about a lot of the lead-up to what happened a few days ago to make any sensible comment on whether any of the visceral criticisms being made, particularly of the US Federal Government and the US President, are soundly-based or whether they are merely a reflection of the intense partisanship which has been a notable feature of US politics these past few years. So I am not even going to try. More importantly, I think, now is NOT the time. There will be plenty of time for recriminations after the immediate crisis is tackled and I have no doubt that in the vibrant democracy that the US is that the post-crisis analysis by Congress will be pedantic in its delving into the minutest detail of what might have been done better not only this past week, but long before, too.

What has prompted me to write this post now, though, is some of the comments that are being made about charitable donations to help alleviate the dreadful after-effects of Hurricane Katrina. Many organisations are acting as useful conduits for donations to help combat this tragedy and I am sure that they all do good work. It so happens that I make regular donations by Direct Debit to one of the major charities involved, namely the Red Cross (through the British Red Cross) although it is my intention to make a specific additional donation to the American Red Cross (click on the 'Donate Now' link) to aid them in their efforts in this particular case, as suggested by the British Red Cross here.

Whilst I am absolutely positive that The Salvation Army makes a vital contribution to many worthwhile causes and is undoubtedly doing so in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I shall not be making a donation through them. I used to donate regularly to The Salvation Army, both in terms of hard cash and by donations in kind, but I stopped doing so a few years ago once I began to understand just what is their policy on one particular issue - the UK part of The Salvation Army has a similar stance of course, as can be seen here. Naturally I do not presume to make any comment on what other people say about donating to this organisation (whether it be Glenn at InstaPundit, or David at Freedom and Whisky), but I prefer to offer what meagre help I can to organisations, like the Red Cross, which do not seek to impose any particular ideology or belief system upon anyone else.

What I have and will be doing ...

... I don't often write here a great deal about personal things that are going on in my life; after all, I can hardly imagine that anyone outside of my own personal circle of friends and family is much interested. However, I'm going to intrude some personal information here, at least in summary.

August isn't a good time to blog, is it? It's far more interesting to take advantage of whatever good weather we have in the summer to do things that take one away from the PC and as I'm not [yet] into the business of blogging 'on the hoof' with a wireless laptop, that means that keyboard time is severely limited in times of good weather. I also take the opportunity throughout July/August and early September to finalise my self-assessment tax return; if I could force myself to sit down and get it completed earlier then I wouldn't still have more work to do on it now. But sitting in the sun, on the rare occasions we have it here, seems to me a much higher priority. However, as I like to have them (the Inland Revenue, that is) do the calculation of tax payable, even though I do my own independent calculation as well, then I need to submit it no later than the 30th September, so I can't delay the inevitable work of putting it together any longer. So, over the next ten or so days I shall be completing the bits I haven't yet done (not a lot, in truth), then wading through the 'Comprehensive Tax Calculation Guide' to come up with my estimation of the amount I shall have to pay in January and July next year. Once I have done all this, I like to leave the whole thing in abeyance for about a week so that when I go back and double-check everything some days later, I do it with a fresh eye. Why not get it done by a professional? Well I reckon that my affairs, whilst not exactly simple, are not too complex for me to deal with myself. After all, I spent my working life analysing financial statements from a lending perspective and, just as importantly, I am Scottish and don't like spending money completely unnecessarily (ho...ho)!

So, over the next ten or so days my postings here will continue to be somewhat sporadic, although not non-existent. After that, for a few weeks at least, I hope to resume a rather more regular regime of posting entries to my blog, but this year is a little different from previous years in that I have finally taken the decision, after a number of years of thinking about it, to go ahead and buy myself a holiday home 'in the sun'. I expect that this will be happening during the second half of October, or at least finalising the choice of property will most likely be done then, although I shall have to return to the area a month or so later to complete the payment and legal side of things. Inevitably I shall have my mind on things other than blogging during this whole process, so it may be that my posts here will dry up or become rather intermittent during that whole period. I apologise in advance.

At present my aim will be, once I have acquired a property, to spend upto a month at a time there, specially during the winter months. However, as I have a dog I have no intention of consigning her to a kennel for more than a few weeks at a time, and more particularly during the winter months specially as she is now becoming an 'elderly lady' (she is now 11 and a 1/2 years old, roughly 80 years old in human terms it is said). In a few years time, once she is no longer around, I would envisage spending three or four of the winter months in the warmer climate of south-eastern Spain - for it is there that I am almost certain to buy. More about this in due course. Sorry for the completely narcissistic nature of this post.

Thursday, 1 September 2005

"Hey Jimmy (or in this case Mike), don't mess with me!"

How unlike, how very unlike, the home life of our own dear Queen. Although nothing is mentioned in the story, one has to wonder if, as they say, 'drink was taken'?