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

Tuesday 18 October 2005

Time runs short - Bill goes on 'hiatus' until 5th November

This will probably be my last post until I return from a visit to Spain, for which I depart on Thursday. As I indicated here in early September (you'll need to scroll to the penultimate paragraph of that post), I am planning to purchase a property there to use as a 'holiday home'. The areas I am looking at are in the province of Murcia and the very southern part of the province of Valencia; most probably I will find what I am looking for to the west of Cartagena or in one of the small inland towns in the area around the city of Murcia.

I have been considering this move for some years, but various things have come together recently to spur me to make the move now. As well as starting to learn Spanish a while ago (making reasonably good progress [*], thanks for asking!), I've also started the rather long-winded procedure to ensure that my dog can travel with me toward the end of next year (2006) and, more importantly, be allowed back into the UK without quarantine when we return in early spring of the following year (2007). My plan, at least for the first few years, is to spend three or four months there during the winter. Since returning to live in the UK in 1994, after more than twenty years elsewhere, mostly in countries with much warmer climates than Britain, I have found January, February and early March each year to be the most difficult so have decided that I will opt out of this 'pleasure' in future years.

Anyway, all this is getting ahead of myself a little! I still have to focus in on the property and acquire it; I have no definite views on whether it will be a 'new build' or an existing property; I have seen a number in both categories that seem suitable. So all that remains is for me to get off and make my choice. I'll be back in early November.

[* - I had never studied Spanish before, but had heard that it was relatively easy to acquire a basic knowledge and this indeed seems to be the case. I already speak French quite fluently and Arabic moderately well and both are proving useful - a number of common Spanish words seems to have roots in Arabic and of course a lot more have roots common to English through the Latin family of languages. The method I am using is not conventional classroom or self-study, but a semi-interactive CD course put out by a fellow called Michel Thomas; his teaching method is very low-key, but the learning process is insidious and seems to be amazingly effective - once I've completed the 8-hour course, I'll do the Language Builder course (which I have already bought), then I'll get the advanced course - through Amazon, though, as I got the first two courses at Borders and paid the full price, rather than the price Amazon offers them at.]

Tory MPs say 'no' to Ken Clarke

Ken Clarke MP has been eliminated from the race to become Leader of the Conservative Party. Votes were as follows:

David Davis - 62
David Cameron - 56
Liam Fox - 42
Ken Clarke - 38

Total votes cast - 198

The three remaining candidates will face another vote by Conservative MPs on Thursday to eliminate one of the three and the final two will face a postal vote of the whole Party membership with the result expected on 6th December.

Davis has done slightly less well than predicted publicly (earlier predictions were for 66 [then 65] votes) although a number of journalists have indicated that privately the Davis camp hoped for 80 or so in the first rouond.

Of the two who were likely to be eliminated at the first hurdle (Clarke and Fox) it is probably tactically better for Cameron that it was Clarke, as the speculation is that the great bulk of the Clarke votes will switch to Cameron; no-one seems to expect more than a very few to transfer to one of the two 'right wing' candidates.

For Davis and Fox I suspect the possibilities are somewhat more complex. Conventional wisdom might say that the Fox votes might slip away, very largely to support the other 'right wing' candidate, but it is possible that at least some of the Davis supporters might decide that as he has failed to achieve his predicted target for votes that the best chance of securing a 'right wing' victory is to switch to Fox. Fox and Cameron are pretty evenly matched age-wise and both are media-savvy. If this is what happens it will be a pretty clear indication that a strategic decision has been taken to go for a younger generation of Leader. It is also possible that some of the Fox and/or Davis supporters might move across to Cameron, recognising that the momentum he has achieved in the past few weeks makes his the 'winning team' - and the natural human instinct is to want to be on the winning team!

All this speculation is moot - the result of the next round will soon enough be known to make it clear the choice the Party membership will be given. My hope is that it will be a Davis/Cameron stand-off, when I would expect Cameron to wipe the floor with Davis. If it is a Cameron/Fox face-off, always a possibility, then I suspect that the final outcome might be much less certain although Cameron would probably win. But Fox is very media-savvy and looks as if he is a 'people person' who would be able to charm the only electorate which counts in this race, the full Party membership, but in this case I think any chance of a Conservative Party victory at the next General Election will have been kissed goodbye. I am not non-partisan in this contest, of course. Of the available candidates, the choice is clear - I want David Cameron to win on 6th December. A Cameron victory will certainly not guarantee a Conservative victory in 2009/2010, but I believe he is the only potential Leader who can make the changes necessary to fit the Conservative Party once more for government - and with a fighting chance of convincing the British electorate of this.

Sunday 16 October 2005

Conservative leadership contest turns nasty (err ... nastier)

The 'nasty Party' got rid of Michael Portillo because of his youthful same-sex dalliances, now it seems it is trying to do the same with the allegations surrounding David Cameron. If the substance of this Scotsman article is true then it brings new meaning to David Davis's nickname of 'Basher Davis' - he may simply be a hypocrite, to boot! As for the latest controversy, that surrounding Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, well it just goes to show that there are some nasty, nasty people around!

I must say it makes me wonder whether people like Francis Maude and Theresa May ever become disillusioned with some of their Conservative colleagues. Sometimes I think a lime pit would be the best solution to the problem in parts of the 'nasty Party' - that's what one sometimes has to do when an infection is raging out of control.

Did I 'do drugs' in my youth? The simple answer is 'No!' I've never been able to understand the folly of smoking tobacco, far less cannabis, but I have equally never adopted a 'holier than thou' attitude about it, even when being offered some at a party. And I do drink alcohol, of course. Pleasingly, though, I have managed to kick the 'caffeine' habit (aka 'addiction') in the past couple of years. In a few of the countries I lived in cannabis, especially, was in pretty wide use - it does have a rather distinctive smell when smoked! And when I lived in Djibouti a pretty high proportion of the local population, and of our staff, used qat on a daily basis; the glazed eyes and soporific demeanour, not to mention the lump of 'cud' which distended one cheek of users, were dead giveaways!

People who have used more serious substances occasionally in their youth have obviously broken the law (as have those who used cannabis, albeit at a less serious level), but those who have overcome an addiction deserve praise, not calumny. I am not so naive as to think that a few of my acquaintances and/or friends over the years have a completely untarnished record in this area.

Wednesday 12 October 2005

.. and just to prove my point about the value of keeping government on their toes!

In the previous post I wrote about attempts to curtail free speech as a cover for preventing government-insiders publishing their memoirs.

Well, a Norfolk couple could surely have gained many years without worry, stress and financial loss if someone in Norfolk County Council or the Department of Transport had spoken out twenty years ago about what the Local Government and Parliamentary Ombudsmen have ruled is a case of maladministration by local and central government for having refused to purchase compulsorily the home of a now elderly couple whose home was blighted by plans, since abandoned, to construct a new by-pass within four metres of their house. In the words of Local Government Ombudsman Jerry White:

"I conclude that the council could not reasonably have refused to buy Swans Harbour had the matter been considered properly - as it should have been - in October 1992."

and Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham:

"I consider that the Department should have given clearer guidance to the council about their new power to purchase properties, which would be badly affected but not technically blighted by the proposed new road."

Now Norfolk County Council chief executive Tim Byles is quoted as saying:

"We are very sorry indeed about what has happened and the impact that this matter has had on Mr and Mrs Balchin.

"On behalf of Norfolk County Council, I offer our sincere and unreserved apologies to them."

Now this is all very well, Mr Byles, and I imagine Mr and Mrs Balchin are duly grateful for your kind words, but tell me this Mr Byles, will any of the personnel employed by Norfolk County Council or the Department of Transport suffer in any way for having ridden rough-shod over the rights of a couple of innocent citizens who found their lives turned upside-down by an uncaring and arrogant administration? Go on, surprise me!

Free speech to be curtailed under the guise of ...

... well, under the guise of preventing ex-Whitehall staff from making money by publishing their memoirs as "Government insiders".

Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, and other civil servants like him, must really grow up and not take the British public for idiots (or at least not all of us poor suckers)! Confidentiality is one thing, and the Official Secrets Act etc is in place for this purpose, but seeking to put in place measures to prevent people (sometimes called 'whistle-blowers') from letting us know the sordid things that are being done in our name by elected politicians and some of their, in theory, impartial civil servants is quite another!

This kind of nonsense makes me so angry! Frankly, if people want to write about some of the less-savoury things that go in government departments (or in private companies, for that matter), sometimes bordering on illegality, and some other people are prepared to pay money for what they write, then it seems a fair exchange to me. Or are we to be turned into some kind of socialist collective under the 'Great Leader' Tony 'Kim il-Sung' Blair where freedom of speech is severely curtailed. The solution to render the memoirs of people like Lance Price unworthy of publishers bothering to print them is for government and some civil servants to stop doing things that are questionnable legally and/or morally!

Tuesday 11 October 2005

PC restored to earlier settings ...

... Phew!!!

I wrote last Saturday about a suspected viral attack which had caused my PC display to behave weirdly. I still don't really know precisely what caused the problem, but I have managed to restore my PC to an earlier system point and this seems to have cured the problem; I'm going to remember this procedure for the future, in case it happens again! Now I can go to bed happy ...

Saturday 8 October 2005

Vatican 'testing the waters' over probable new policy toward gays?

It seems that an Italian newspaper has received information concerning a long-awaited amended policy on gays being accepted into the priesthood. The sources indicate that gays who have been 'chaste' for three years and exhibit no external signs indicating they are gay or might be attracted to persons of the same gender then they might be accepted into seminaries for training leading to ordination as priests.

The Vatican it seems has confirmed that the policy will be published shortly, but has decined to discuss its probable contents in any way.

What does all this mean? Well, it had been rumoured some weeks ago that the new Pontiff would live up fully to his reputation as a 'traditionalist' by decreeing a blanket ban on gays in the priesthood. I wrote about these rumours here. A lot of commentary in catholic-leaning websites seemed to indicate worries that a blanket purge of homosexuals was being planned and the likelihood that if this were rigorously applied wuld lead to paralysis for the Church, specially in countries such as the US.

As to what these latest rumours might mean, several possibilities seem to bear consideration:
- the Vatican has authorised a leak in order to 'test the waters' on how such a modified policy (the 3-year 'chaste' rule) might be received in important markets for the message it peddles, such as the US; for example, does it go far enough in placating the right-wing and the liberalisers not to risk bringing the Church's operations there into [more] ridicule and complete chaos;
- it is a completely unfounded rumour and has no relation to what the Vatican is considering publishing as its latest policy on the matter;
- there are a number of other subsidiary comments that might be made; perhaps I'll do this in a later post.

If the 3-year 'chaste' policy is being considered, it seems to me to be somewhat confused as to principles and aims. Aren't all priests supposed to be celibate? I thought that was the point? Why should it make a difference if a [trainee] priest is heterosexual or homosexual in his tendencies; the Church has always, for whatever bizarre psycho-sexual reasons, prescribed celibacy on the part of its foot-soldiers. I think it is really coming up against the reality that, whilst many priests of whatever sexual proclivity may have been celibate always, there have always been some, both heterosexual and homosexual, who have not achieved this 'perfect state', whether by interfering with little boys or other priests, or having it off with female parishioners - some of them undoubtedly just as underage as some of the males certain of their colleagues may have had dalliances with. How anyone can possibly have confidence in an organisation which imposes, as this leaked new policy seems to, dishonesty and concealment amongst its practitioners is beyond my understanding of what the words 'honesty' and 'integrity' are supposed to mean. Why anyone should be expected or prepared to seek counsel or guidance from people who are expected to struggle constantly against their own inner urges (whether heterosexual or homosexual) and quite possibly become twisted and unbalanced themselves as a result, is equally beyond me. When I need help or advice with something I generally try and talk to people who don't have to lie to themselves constantly, because I'm afraid that my view is that if they have become so habituated to lying to themselves regularly then they have quite possibility lost the objectivity to give advice to anyone else.

One awaits with bated breath to see just what circumlocutions the text of this new Vatican policy will employ to satisfy the needs both of orthodoxy and of the practical realities of operating a 'business' (which in some ways is what the modern Catholic Church is) in the early 21st century in societies where people have grown used to thinking for themselves and not following blindly policies laid down from 'on high'.

UPDATE: (Saturday 8OCT05 14.35 BST) According to Toronto priest Father Alphonse de Valk the rumours published in Corriere della Sera are all part of the gay rumour mill at work within the Vatican by so-called homosexual factions which wish to water down Vatican policies. Sounds an eminently rational man to me - NOT - this Father Alphonse de Valk! What a bunch ... (I do recall that in the 1930s another crowd of bigots believed that all the world's ills were attributable to a coterie of secretive financiers and bankers 'with hooked noses'. That particular 'rumour' was just as false as I expect this latest scare story is.)

Bugs in PC display - viral attack?

I noticed last evening whilst browsing the web that my screen display seemd to, quite suddenly, have changed - display font sizes had become considerably smaller. I was still able to read the text on the website I happened to be looking at when the change occurred, but it did mean sitting closer to the screen to do it comfortably.

This morning, hoewever, the weirdness has continued. When clicking through to certain of the blogs in my Bloglines subscription page, the font of the blog posts is so small as to be completely impossible to read. Then I suddenly noticed that my desktop theme colour scheme (which I modified a long time ago to be a lot less harsh than the default Windows 'blue' theme) had suddenly reverted to the default setting and when I went into the Display control area to try and re-selct my previously saved theme found that the several versions I had saved (again, a long time ago) had all disappeared.

It seems clear that I have been the victim of some kind of viral/worm attack yesterday evening. I did have a flash warning about the possibility from the anti-virus service that I subscribe to a couple of days ago, as well as (of course!) having my firewall enabled.

Has anyone else been experiencing 'unexpected events' or general 'weirdness' with their PC's display or behaviour generally since yesterday?

Wednesday 5 October 2005

Naturally PooterGeek gives value ...

... even when announcing a [hopefully] brief halt in production.

There's a 'Lotto Scotto' money goin' a-beggin'

A large National Lottery prize remains uncollected. It is GBP5.4 million! The ticket was apparently purchased in North Lanarkshire, just south of Glasgow, for the draw on Saturday 10th September last. The winner has until 9th March 2006 to make a claim.

Who says we Scots [residents] are careful with our money?!

Cameron, Clarke and Davis - main Conservative hopefuls have spoken

I refrained from posting yesterday after the speeches of David Cameron and Kenneth Clarke because I thought it better to wait until what I consider to be all the main contenders had spoken. David Davis just finished speaking a short while ago.

I already gave my view of Malcolm Rifkind's here - relevant part:

Malcolm Rifkind [is] a personable fellow, but really he needs to stand aside and let others get on with the real business - I watched his speech this afternoon and am just now seeing him speaking as part of a question-and-answer panel in the conference hall. He is never, never, never, never (etc, but you get my drift) going to become Leader, far less win an election. Let's move on, and quickly!

- so unless Liam Fox produces something truly (and unexpectedly) momentous this afternoon I think we have heard those we need to consider seriously.

David Cameron
Cameron spoke (as indeed did Rifkind) seemingly extemporaeously and with a very relaxed demeanour. The vocabulary he uses is modern, contemporary, without being any form of faux 'yoof speak' - in other words he took the conference hall with him, but at the very least will not have alienated non-Conservatives and potential younger voters, quite the reverse - people who are not absolutely opposed to everything about the Conservatives will, I think, have found his ideas quite attractive.

The speech itself (click on 'video' link to to see a recording) was short on specifics, but full of points designed to trigger emotion amongst listeners, very much in the style of a Blair, or a Reagan. Although he quite obviously comes from a stratum of society different from most other people in the country, I think it fair to say he would strike most people as decent and clever. He knows how to deliver a message and he seems to have a worthwhile message to deliver. Whilst a few apects of what he said (or what I thought he was saying, in code) did not particularly appeal to me, it was on the whole a very positive performance.

Kenneth Clarke
I like him; he should have become the Leader in 1997 and I voted for him in the 2001 run-off, although I would have preferred that Michael Portillo had been in the run-off, too, instead of that mediocre man, Iain Duncan Smith, and in that case Portillo would have been my choice.

Most people of his generation deliver their speeches from a lectern, and this is what he did yesterday. It was a good and powerful speech (click on 'video' link to to see a recording), yes, but for the life of me I cannot share the view of most commentators that it was a 'great' speech - he is a serious and quite witty speech-maker so injected a fair amount of humour, but a lot of it was about past success - for many younger voters throughout the country, people who will be eighteen at the time of the next election, they will probably have only vague childhood recollections of who this man is. It's a great pity, but whilst he would have made a good Leader in 1997, and might even have won the 2001 election if the Conservative could have got past their EU-hangups to choose him then, but I think his time is past. He would still make a good leader of the Conservative Party, even today, and would provide a powerful source of opposition to Tony Blair in House of Commons jousting, but I just don't think he could any longer galvanise a sufficient proportion of the wider electorate to take the Conservatives back to power in 2009 or 2010.

The BBC's Nick Assinder gives his analysis of the Cameron/Clarke speeches here.

David Davis
Considered by most people to be the front-runner, certainly me included, at least until I had heard him deliver his speech. He is not the man I would choose if I were still a member of the Conservative Party - but you probably knew that anyway, if you are familiar with my blog.

He is not an inspiring speech-maker; he looks very presentable, but is no Clinton or Thatcher when it comes to speech-making and took the safe option of delivering his speech from a lectern with a text. He speaks confidently, though, and makes an effort to introduce a little humour into his words, even if like the rest these 'jokes' are delivered rather woodenly. But none of that would matter, not in the least, if I liked what he said.

Davis delivered what I think could be classified as a very traditional Conservative speech (click on 'video' link to to see a recording) - law and order, rights and responsibilty, taking back "our power as a sovereign nation". He wants the Human Rights Act either radically revised, or repealed - appealing directly to the instincts of core Conservative voters. However I don't think this kind of policy agenda is going to appeal to enough of the wider voting public for the Conservatives to stand more than a vanishingly small chance of getting back into power. Yes, he wants us not to give up any of our fundamental freedoms, and I completely share his ideas here, particularly his disagreement with leader Michael Howard when he opposed the introduction of ID Cards. However, I just don't accept that emasculating or repealing the Human Rights Act is the solution. The real reason he has latched onto this, in my opinion, is because (whatever he may feel in the core of his being, and I have no way of knowing what that is) he knows that many died-in-the-wool old-style Conservatives do not like the idea of an equal age of consent, gays serving in the military or the soon to take effect Civil Partnerships Act. The first two of those reforms (or steps into decadence, if you take a different view from me) were wrung out of the present government as a result of cases threatened or brought before the European Court of Human Rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, prior to this having been incorporated into British law as the Human Rights Act. We have been hearing all week that most Conservatives know they have to change, but far too many of them equivocate when forced to contemplate anything other than token changes - none of this is going to fool the wider public.

However, and equally, none of this means that David Davis is now likely not to become the next Leader of the Conservative Party. It seems that his speech has not been greeted by activists with excessive enthusiasm, but they could still easily choose him as their Leader. My view, after having heard David Davis speak, is that if they do then they won't form the government after the next election. If they do want to do that, then I take a different view from Ann Widdecombe (surprise, surprise!) who is a Clarke-supporter, they need to make a more radical change and choose David Cameron to give themselves a better chance. If they do indeed do this then I think I will probably take a 'punt' on him and re-join the Party. That about sums up what I think needs to be done.

Here's what Guido Fawkes thinks - the Al Gore comparison is cruel, but not entirely off-base, unfortunately.

Monday 3 October 2005

Turkey - EU negotiations going ahead as planned after last-minute doubts

I wrote on 20th September that:
"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."

But it almost didn't happen. Several EU member countries have public opinions strongly or very strongly disfavouring Turkish membership of the EU. Up and coming politicians in both France (Sarkozy) and Germany (Merkel) oppose it, reflecting large segments of public opinion there. One country, however, has even more visceral objections. It is Austria.

Austria has given many fine things to the world - two at random are the waltz and Viennese coffee, seasoned with figs. I'm not sure that Sigmund Freud fits entirely comfortably on the positive side of the balance sheet, though.

Austria, however, also gave the world the person who initiated the worst period in modern European history - I speak, of course, of Adolf Hitler. Thank you, Austria.

Who knows the real reason(s) why your average Austrian, or German or French person, is so deeply opposed to Turkey joining the EU? Demographically Europe will have many problems in coming decades in finding sufficient younger people to do the work necessary to support a much increased percentage of elderly citizens. Where is this labour to come from? For a few years I have no doubt that the eight former communist new members will provide good sources of cheaper and skilled workers, but that will not last forever - their living standards will quickly rise and their birthrates will likely soon be little different from many long-standing EU members. What then? Turkey seems like a good solution, to me, for them and us. Turkey is no shining democracy, of course, but it seems to me much more likely that we can encourage it to continue to become more democratic, and prosperous, by holding out the hand of friendship and partnership, rather than by slamming the door to them on any possibility of joining us in the EU.

At least that catastrophic folly has been avoided. The negotiations will be long and difficult and, however much I may wish Turkey eventually to become a member of the EU, it will have to be on the basis of them adopting our ideals of democracy - which means, for a start, no more routine torture in its police stations and hospitals - the pressure on Turkey to maintain its progress toward eliminating such practices must not be relaxed. It is some kind of positive sign that both Greece and Cyprus apparently support the start of negotiations with Turkey; we and the Turks themselves must, by our actions and their behaviour aim to re-assure the Austrians that the withdrawal of their last-minute objections was not folly.

Conservatives in Blackpool kick-off today

The Conservatives are holding their annual conference in Blackpool this year, Britain's version of windy city - don't take the allusion too far, though, Blackpool ain't no meat-packing capital.

Anyway, the Conservatives are at Blackpool and amongst other challenges facing the Party (how to make themselves electable, for a start!) is to get around, finally, to choosing a Leader to replace Michael Howard, who announced immediately following the May election that he wished to stand down once a new Leader could be selected. Of the declared candidates for Leadership, we have heard so far only from Malcolm Rifkind, a personable fellow, but really he needs to stand aside and let others get on with the real business - I watched his speech this afternoon and am just now seeing him speaking as part of a question-and-answer panel in the conference hall. He is never, never, never, never (etc, but you get my drift) going to become Leader, far less win an election. Let's move on, and quickly!

Prior to Rifkind, I saw Francis Maude, Chairman of the Party, give his welcome address, the thrust of which was that the Party must become one which "understands and reflects today's Britain" - naturally he received a gratifying round of appluase, but it was very instructive to see/hear the reaction of the conference, a little later, to the speech given by Alan Duncan - some parts were well received, other parts were received in near complete silence, the bits where at least a modest round of applause could have been expected to occur. Everybody knows, now, that Alan Duncan is gay - he is not a 'gay campaigner', any more than I am, but nor is he any longer prepared to dissimulate about this (again, just like me). No surprises, there, then. He criticised, very directly, certain Conservative-run councils around the UK (note by Editor - notably the area covered by Michael Howard's own parliamentary constituency in Kent) which have refused to permit Civil Partnership ceremonies to take place in their areas under the legislation soon to come into effect to permit Civil Partnership between same-sex couples - this was one of the parts of his speech that was received in a very lukewarm manner by the conference. I wrote recently about a shadow defence spokesman (Gerald Howarth) taking issue with the prospect of same-sex couples (whose relationships are registered under the Civil Partnerships Act) occupying married quarters in military accommodation. It is this kind of thing that make me question, again and again, whether the Conservative Party recognises, at core, that there is a problem and that changes need to be made, not just changes sufficent to pay lip service to what so many Conservatives still refer to, dismissively, as political correctness. Maude and Teresa May both reiterated their view today that it is no good hoping that the Conservative Party can rely on increasing disillusion with the Labour government propelling the Conservatives, inevitably, back into power - Maude emphasised that there is nothing inevitable about it.

Later this week we may begin to get a better understanding of whether this message is beginning to sink in to the minds of those at the conference, but it is not until later, when the leadership election is over (possibly in December) that it will be clearer whether, by their choice of a Leader, the Parliamentary and the wider Party have really embraced the need for change. At this stage I am neither pessimistic nor optimistic; as a former Conservative member, albeit one who still (amazingly enough!) wishes it well, I am content simply to observe. I hope it can change.

Yes, Poland is a Catholic nation.

I've liked almost every Pole I've ever met; friendly, intelligent and capable. But never, ever, forget that Poland is a Catholic nation with all the hang-ups associated with that condition.

Article heading list for latest 6-month period (April-September 2005) now up

The archive of 'Article Headings' for the latest 6-month period is now available - click here for the period April to September 2005.

There are permanent links in the right bar to this and earlier 6-month 'Article Heading' indices, immediately below the standard 'Blogger' monthly archive links.

Sunday 2 October 2005

'Hexagon' closes in on Iraqi acquisition

HSBC is said to be close to finalising arrangements to buying a 70 per cent stake in Iraqi bank Dar Es Salaam Investment Bank. If it comes off it will be a welcome return to a country which last saw the benefits of 'our' style of banking in July 1964. I knew that after HSBC was granted permission to trade in Iraq again last year that it would only be a matter of time, even if the inevitable security considerations meant this could not happen immediately. Good luck!

Bali ... again.

Just about eleven days before the third anniversary of the last attack on Bali, the island has again been hit by a terrorist outrage, apparently the work of an extremist Islamic group calling itself Jemaah Islamiah, the same group blamed for the earlier lethal attack.

Luckily not all Moslems are to be feared; I know that very well, having lived in numerous Arab countries where I always felt welcome and safe (or as safe as in other countries I have lived in). One such Moslem currently lives in the UK and he, for it is of course The Religious Policeman, has one of his best posts today about his reaction to the latest outrage in Bali - do go and read it. Like all his commentary the underlying points are deadly serious, but written with style and wit, a real necessity in troubled times such as this.

The desk of the 'guru of Nairn!'

Alan (at AKLand) has tagged me for a round-robin of where all our pearls of wisdom emanate from, this is my small effort. The PC is temporarily located in a somewhat cramped corner of my dining-room as recdecoration of my study will commence tomorrow. I hope to get back in there toward the end of the week. Although the temporary location is a little cramped, it is (believe me!) a lot neater than the desktop in my study usually is.

Note the heavy use of post-it notes; most of these are hex colour code references for various web pages, some of the others relate to saturation and hue codes I use when preparing various graphical images.

"The guru's (temporary) lair!"

Click here to see a larger image

- now whom should I 'tag' for this? Well, I think David (at Freedom and Whisky), Gary (at A Big Stick and a Small Carrot), the Reluctant Nomad and Bill (at Tottyland) would all provide interesting and varied pictures, if they choose to take up the challenge.

Saturday 1 October 2005

Six-monthly article header index April-September 2005

I apologise, I'll be a bit late this time around getting this up on the site - hope to get it done no later than next week. Indices for earlier six-month periods are in the column at right under the header -
Article Headings
(archived for six month periods)

New question for Scottish census ...

The General Register Office, which runs census operations in Scotland, is considering (according to an article in the Edinburgh Evening News) about respondents' sexuality. They are planning to 'testbed' it by conducting a sample survey to see how it is received, before introducing it to the full census, the next one being due in 2011. There are, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which runs such matters in England and Wales, has no plans to ask a similar question. The question will be optional in the Scottish version.

I'm not sure how I feel about being asked this question. I can see that it might be useful for planners to know and, in the light of anti-discrimination legislation which will soon (at last!) cover gays/lesbians/bisexuals, etc, this may be doubly so. Whilst the current 'official' attitude toward people who are not heterosexual is broadly supportive, or at least non-discriminatory (which is not the same thing!), this might not always be so. Things change. Imagine you are a Jew in Germany during the mid-1920s, a fairly non-religious Jew who is basically just another German to external appearances, and you are asked, perfectly innocently, for government planning purposes, to give information about religion/ethnicity. Fair enough. From 1933 onwards you might feel rather differently. Just look at what is going on in Europe (Austria, Germany and France, for example) at present, vis-a-vis Moslems generally and the possibility of Turkey joining the EU. Or in the wake of the murder of Theo van Gogh recently in the Netherlands. And not forgetting, of course, what is going on amongst our cousins in the US, a country that has traditionally had considerable influence on social developments in the UK, sometimes with a delay of twenty or so years.

So whilst I broadly share the views of Tim Hopkins, of the National Equality Network, and of Stonewall, I also read with interest the comments attributed to Mike Parker, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance in Scotland: "The advantage of this type of question might be that it will give a realistic picture of how many people have that type of lifestyle and it may show the figures are a lot less than people expect." - perhaps so, but so what? Will the authorities then decide that because there are fewer than it imagined, they can safely ride roughshod, as has tradtionally been the case, because this group is electorally insignificant? I can't see the likes of Mike Parker rushing to my defence!

On balance, therefore, whilst I support broadly the idea of an optional question of this nature, I am not going to become 'starry-eyed' about it; I'll observe carefully how things develop on the ground.