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

Tuesday, 31 January 2006

Some British Muslim leaders now oppose religious hatred laws

In what the Telegraph rightly calls an unlikely alliance of humanists, secularists, Muslims and evangelical Christians now say they oppose the government's religious hatred legislation.

In a letter to the Telegraph today the group writes:

Religious hatred

Sir - We, as leaders of some of the main organisations representing the views of Christians, Muslims, secularists and humanists in this country, are calling on MPs to vote tonight to reject the Government's proposals for a wide-ranging new offence of religious hatred and instead support the cross-party Conservative-Labour-Liberal Democrat amendments.

As people with strong views on religion, we know how easy it is to offend those with whom you disagree and how easy it is to resent what others say, and see insult in it.

But we also recognise that a free society must have the scope to debate, criticise, proselytise, insult and even to ridicule belief and religious practices in order to ensure that there is full scope - short of violence or inciting violence or other criminal offences - to tackle these issues.

The amendments that we hope will be supported will deliver the Government its election pledge of a new law, but one that would cover only threatening words or behaviour, would be restricted to intentional offences only and would have a clear statement in law that protects legitimate free expression.

Tonight's vote is the last chance to protect this precious liberty that we all enjoy.

Keith Porteous Wood, National Secular Society
Hanne Stinson, British Humanist Association
Colin Hart, Christian Institute
Don Horrocks, Evangelical Alliance
Dr Ghyasuddin Siddiqui, Muslim Parliament
Manzoor Moghal, Muslim Forum
London WC1

Superficially this might be seen as a positive move, but I'm afraid the involvement of organisations such as the Christian Institute and the Evangelical Alliance does make me wonder. The others may be perfectly moderate organisations genuinely wishing to see unnecessary and damaging legislation kept off the statue book, I don't know enough about them to judge, but the two I mention are certainly not moderate by any stretch of the imagination and their involvement troubles me a lot as to what their underlying motives may be.

Naturally, you will not be surprised to learn, I have formed a view about that. It strikes me that the recent criticism of Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britian, for anti-homosexual remarks he made during a radio broadcast recently (even although it was later decided by the police that his comments did not warrant prosecution), may have persuaded these other groups that it would be dangerous to set a potential precedent by having the religious hatred proposal become law as this might be used at a later stage to justify the introduction of legislation to protect members of the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) communities in the same way that the Sex Discrimination Act and the laws against racial discrimination already in place protect those two major segments of the British population. A number of the groups who signed the letter above have regularly made comments about the GLBT communities at least as deplorable as those made recently by Iqbal Sacranie.

On balance I would prefer not to see the religious hatred proposals become law, but the support of at least some of the signatories to the above letter does make me doubtful that my initial reaction is the correct one.

UPDATE: (Wednesday 1FEB06 01.20 GMT) The government has been defeated in its attempt to overturn two Lords' amendments to its Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. The Bill as amended will, according to Home Secretary Charles Clarke, now become law; his blustering that they (the government defeats on the amendments) were 'merely a political act' on the parts of those opposing its will is laughable and shows just how defective is his understanding of what democracy is all about.

Police State Britain - ID Card campaigner on file for life

Of course Mark Wallace hasn't broken any law and he hasn't been charged with anything. Nevertheless under the Terrorism Act 2000 our increasingly dictatorial government and its agents the police will keep his details on file indefinitely. Yes, under the Act the police have wide powers to designate any area they decide may be targeted by terrorists and once this designation has been authorised by the Home Office the police have extensive powers to stop and search people at random. And then to keep the stop-and-search records indefinitely and any videos they take (and they did videotape Mr Wallace as well) for seven years.

Mr Wallace was stopped outside the Labour Party conference in Brighton last September whilst collecting signatures for a petition against the introduction of ID Cards. The government and the police are naturally not very amused that someone should brazenly, but even in today's Britian perfecctly peacefully and legally, solicit supporters in opposition to legislation they want to introduce. But we have now reached a stage in this country where legislation is being used not simply for the ostensible purpose for which it was introduced, to reduce the risk of terrorist acts being carried out in this country (something most people, me included, are generally in favour of), but to intimidate and potentially blight the futures of people who diasgree with its ideas for new laws, but who are in no way acting illegally.

Podcast - 31 JAN 2006

A new podcast is up today - to listen, click on the 'Podcast' link under Blog Links at right.

This week I touch on two topics:
- today is the final day for filing your UK self-assessment tax form; if you haven't submitted your form by close of business today and paid what is due you will automatically be subject to a GBP100- fine; why give money to this grasping government unnecessarily, eh?
- the NHS is an institution supposedly beloved my most Britons. Whilst even I think it has many positive aspects, overall I think it has become just to big and unwieldy, so I concentrate today on two of this government's current 'initiatives' to highlight this.

If you have comments on today's podcast (clarity, content, etc), do let me know.

Sunday, 29 January 2006

Discrimination at work against gays still rife

Despite recent legislation supposedly protecting gay and lesbian employees from disrimination at work, it seems many continue to experience harassment and worse. Despite what the political editor of The Sun, and many others, have said in the past week about the Simon Hughes situation in the LibDems being unnecessary because he should have 'come out' years ago, because there was no longer a stigma in revealing a gay or lesbian aspect to one's sexuality, this kind of job-related homophobia still represents the reality for many homosexuals in this country. It is why I continue to have a certain degree of sympathy for Mr Hughes and even more for Mr Oaten, despite the criticisms I have made of their different behaviours in this blog in earlier posts. I no longer have to care about this because I choose not to work any longer, but it is true that I was quite discreet about my personal life when I did work, even if many of my colleagues most probably had worked out I was gay years earlier, quite apart from the fact that many of my married heterosexual colleagues were hardly in a position to criticise anyone, including me, if their own occasional moral lapses were a guide. Attitiudes do not always march in tandem with changes in legislation.

Saturday, 28 January 2006

The Senior Service gets Rhapsodic!

Yet another post all about high culture from Bill ...

Crew aboard HMS Campbeltown let their hair down in the Indian Ocean with a spirited rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody; you'll need to press the 'pause' button until the bar is a third or half-way full to watch it uninterrupted, though, as it's obviously a very big file, even for my 2Mb broadband connection. It's good to see that the military do get to have some fun in their spare time!

Now, from that fine page I noticed another link to a video put together by British soldiers serving in Iraq. In fact I saw this on the BBC some weeks ago (maybe around Christmas-time?), but some enterprising person has had the clever idea of putting it on the web for everyone to enjoy - great! (NB/ Removed link in September 2006, because I discover the video in question has been deleted from YouTube by whomever uploaded it in the first place ... sorry!)

As I said at the beginning of this post, it was going to be another in my series designed to stimulate the superior intellects of all you fine readers ... I enjoyed it, anyway.

(thru the Inchbrakie blog)

For lovers of David Hasselhoff ...

As a kid I used to drool over David Hasselhoff in the Kit car in Knight Rider, but have never ever watched a whole episode of Baywatch - one of those bizarre things when one programme 'grabs' you, but another leaves you completely cold.

Anyway, this cheery tune shows the boy Hasselhoff wearing some bizarre outfits whilst singing (not bad actually!) along in a pretty ludicrous music video. May brighten up an otherwise gloomy day, I hope.

(thru Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish - since he 'went commercial' for Time magazine recently there's a reliable feed for his blog, so I've been following it a little more closely than for the past two or three years)

Friday, 27 January 2006

Religious college dismisses student for being gay

John Brown University in Arkansas dismissed Michael Guinn from college on 13th January, he contends, because he violated campus 'lifestyle' guidelines which Mr Guinn believes were tougher than those required of other students, specifically tailored to the fact that he is gay. John Brown University has declined to discuss the case in detail.

It appears some of the disquiet felt by John Brown University may relate to Mr Guinn's online 'blog' as well:

"They said they didn’t check up on me, but they would pull out three-ring binders full of my blog entries printed out."

Steve Beers, vice president of student development, commented (sorry, this is a very lengthy article) upon the reason for his dismissal thus:

"We work redemptively with all students who struggle with behavior issues in their lives, and we discipline students after we have credible, substantial and typically repeated evidence of violation of our Community Covenant."

Not how Mr Guinn sees it:

"There are many blogs with JBU students smoking hookah pipes, gambling, drinking beer and smoking in pictures."

- all it seems are violations of JBU's code of conduct. None of this particularly surprises me because one often hears surreal stories about the social pressures of living in Bible Belt America; even though I live on what are the finges of what I sometimes refer to as Scotland's Bible Belt I have to say that this culture is not quite so pervasive, although I know that some of my friends who had more personal experience of it when growing up believe differently.

Malaysia - Anwar Ibrahim sues Mahathir Mohamed

Former Deputy PM of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim is suing former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed.

This case dates back to 1998 when Mahathir Mohamed, then Prime Minister, sacked his then Deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim on charges of sodomy and corruption. Anwar Ibrahim was later jailed after convictions of sodomy and corruption were upheld.

However, after demonstrations in January 2004 (dispersed by police) against new PM Abdullah Badawi by Anwar Ibrahim supporters protesting at his continuing incarceration, despite promises from the new Leader that he would aim to foster Malaysian democracy, Anwar Ibrahim was released from prison the following September after the sodomy conviction was overtuned by the country's highest court. At this stage, and still today, the corruption conviction remains so preventing Anwar Ibrahim from running for elected office until 2008.

Mahathir Mohamed has other bees in his bonnet, for example his outburst against Jews at a major Islamic conference in 2003, an incident that earned him a welcome rebuke from US President George W Bush.

Anwar Ibrahim and his supporters have contended throughout the whole sorry period since 1998 that all the charges against him were fabricated by Mahathir Mohamed solely because he viewed Anwar Ibrahim as a political rival and resorted to the dirtiest of tactics to malign and destroy him. I have a great deal of sympathy with this interpretation - it so happens I have met Mahathir Mohamed and have to say that I found him a most unpleasant and bigotted individual (not because of my sexuality, but because of my nationality - he doesn't care for white people either). I hope Anwar Ibrahim is successful in his case against Mahathir Mohamed.

Sir Ian Blair - Shut Up!

The Commissioner (aka 'Chief of the Foot in Your Mouth Division') of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, really needs either to learn to think BEFORE he speaks, or to go gracefully - or be got rid of.

He has the barefaced effrontery to speak about 'institutional racism' in the media when the police services are hardly paragons of virtue in this area, even if they are undoubtedly trying to improve. Not fast enough though - it's dangerous to be coffee-coloured in London at times of high tension, don't you know, as Jean-Charles de Menezes (an innocent Brazilian) found to his cost. Then Sir Ian Blair couldn't/wouldn't get the facts out quickly afterward, until evidence forced him to concede the man had been killed 'by mistake'.

The police urge us to think of ID Cards and all the other attributes of a Police State as our friend - 'If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear' - don't make me laugh!

Hamas, Palestine and Israel

Just like the bank's computer in the Little Britain sketch, Israel says 'no' to dealings with Hamas, the victor in the recent Palestinian polls.

Whilst the fundamental problem of Hamas's refusal to accept the right of Israel to exist continues it will very likely be impossible for the Israeli government to change its current policy. On the other hand I would like to see Hamas call the Israeli bluff by renouncing its terrorist past. Unless both parties are prepared to talk to each other the prospects for a peaceful resolution of their dispute will likely remain as remote as ever. Surely the disappearances of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon from the political scene should be seen as an opportunity by both sides to try to shift into a more positive direction for both their people's sakes and that compromise on both sides is likely to be necessary. Sigh.

Canadian PM-designate stakes claim in Arctic

Stephen Harper, Conservative PM-designate after Canada's recent elections, has staked his country's continuing claim to Arctic sovereignty, in the face of US pressure that the north-west passage should be designated an international territory. I have been reading about this dispute between friends for at least the past 18 months, fuelled by the prospect of the north-west passage becoming a reliable channel for navigation if global warming continues to develop, with the Canadian military increasingly willing to [try to] defend the country's claimed sovereignty.

That's one side of the coin.

It's not yet clear what Mr Harper plans to do about Canada's law permitting gay marriage, though. It has been feared that he would attempt to overturn this legislation, but all that has been said to date, since the election, is that he intends to "deal with the same-sex marriage issue early in his mandate, but not immediately" - so that's all very clear, then. Ho, hum ...

Cunard buckles and gives full refund after cruise debacle

Queen Mary 2 passengers are now being offered a full refund, instead of the 50 per cent earlier offered. No doubt the threat of a sit-in by passengers at Rio de Janeiro, coupled with the reality that a class action by several hundred such passengers had been launched, has forced a welcome reassessment by Carnival.

Consumer action and commercial reality - a powerful force that Cunard has had to accept through (no doubt) gritted teeth! Yes!

Czech Republic set to offer gay unions

After having passed though the Czech Senate (45 of 65 Senators voted 'yes'), a law permitting same-sex civil unions awaits only the signature of the President to become law. If passed, the Czech Republic will become the first post-communist country, and the 13th European Union member nation, to permit civil unions between same-sex partners, even if the present legislation will continue to forbid joint adoption by such couples.

Caymans Islands dips toes in gay cruise market once more

After the debacle of a 'gay cruise' to the Cayman Islands having been refused permission to dock at the last moment in 1998, a cruise ship with about 3,200 gay passengers abroad is scheduled to arrive in the islands next Tuesday (31st January) with officials at the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Port Authority (speaking under condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the gay cruise) saying:

"The Government has no policy of discrimination and will not practice discrimination against anyone,” a spokesperson said.

"All law-abiding visitors are welcome and will be treated in the same manner despite sex, race, religion and culture. We don’t question people’s sexual relationship, we’re only concerned if they don’t comply with our laws and way of life."

I do hope all parties involved know what they are doing. My hope is that the people of the Cayman Islands have taken on board the fact that gay tourists want what most other tourists want - a happy holiday with good memories - and if they are not assured of a decent reception they will avoid spending their holiday money on people who despise them, as happened with a cruise to the Bahamas in July 2004. I wish all 3,840 passengers a happy holiday and hope that this won't be a 'holiday to remember' for all the wrong reasons ...

On va suivre les francais ...

... ou peut-etre meme les norvegiens (I'd have like to have been able to write that last bit in Norwegian, but that's beyond my meagre liguistic skills, I'm afraid).

It seems that Highland Council thinks that the French model (a targeted lower fuel tax) for coping with rising fuel prices in rural areas such as this is appropriate, whereas a local economist thinks the Norwegian model (automated petrol pumps which function like cash machines) would be better as the French model, he contends, might lead to fuel smuggling.

Me, I've no idea, but given the problems that I understand arise from trafficking in agricultural diesel fuel (which attracts a lower level of fuel tax) for uses that are not agricultural, I suspect that the Norwegian solution, or something like it, might be better in the long run, even if not so easily sellable to a gullible public.

Thursday, 26 January 2006

It's 'good to be gay' in the West Midlands

Or at least Stonewall has found that:

"West Midlands is one of a number of police forces which has definitely made big improvements over recent years.

"Advertising and recruiting in gay media sends a good message to new recruits who may not have seen the police as a potential employer.

"As a general rule the police were not the most gay-friendly employers. I think it speaks volumes for the progress they have made."

(Story carried in Trinity Mirror icCoventry website)

Remembering the Holocaust - Never again!

The Holocaust

- Scotland's memorial at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh;
- Auschwitz in pictures;
- video testimony from, Esther, a survivor of the Holocaust (*)

(*) Click on her image, or the images of the other survirors whose stories appear. There are also links from the first link above to several other relevant stories. Spend a few moments browsing them, please.

Never again!

'Basher' Prescott's department bullies its staff

A parliamentary committee investigating the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), John Prescott MP, has found a catalogue of discrimination against black and disabled staff.

It would appear that the ODPM does not quarrel seriously with the committee's findings as the linked report says (but does not name) "the department's top civil servant acknowledged that the bullying and intimidation was of real concern". The committee said:

"The department should take steps immediately to reinforce the message that bullying and intimidation is unacceptable.

"It should ensure that all staff are confident, such reports will be taken seriously."

The committee also criticised the failure of Mr Prescott himself to appear before the committee:

"We believe that the most senior minister in a department should make himself available to a parliamentary select committee when his presence is sought."


Sort it out, Prescott! Oh, and our beloved PM Tony Blair should take urgent steps to see he does!

(Not that I am overly hopeful - this government has a track record of getting back at people it sees as a threat or who have embarrassed it.)

US aligned with Iran in anti-gay vote at UN

The US has reversed its policy by backing an Iranian initiative, as reported in this Reuters story "to deny United Nations consultative status to organizations working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people" in a vote last Monday at the United Nations. Sickening!!

PS/ I read about this early yesterday in a posting in another apparently gay-leaning blog which styles itself as a 'news' medium, but nevertheless rarely if ever provides attribution for the 'exclusive' stories it carries, so I have never linked to it in my blogroll or any post. Calls to press offices when some spokesman or other confirms something or other that is already circulating widely on the internet (blogospehere or MSM) masquerading as 'exclusive' reports make me laugh. Yes, this is Bill making one of his quite rare Miaowww!! 'bitchy' comments - lol. I've read a number of other similar 'news' reports in that blog in recent weeks, but where I have written about the same event have always used attributed sources which I have almost always seen well before having seen the report in the other blog. My little blog is headed up as a 'Comment Page'; I don't pretend it is anything else - but then I'm not trying to flog advertising space. Bill signs off with another Miaowww!!

UPDATE: (Thursday 26JAN06 18.20 GMT) This is an update to my 'PS/' above. I've just noticed that the so-called 'news' website I referred to actually has the impertinence to recycle comments left there by appending them onto stories where they were never made - I suppose it makes his advertisers think that this 'blog' - for that is what it is - is much more popular than it really is (I had left a comment on one entry and it now appears on two other posts!! as well). Shoddy tactics in my view!! (The website is - you can find your own link there if you wish to.)

So Simon Hughes is gay ...

Simon Hughes has been forced to admit he is gay as a result of revelations about his participation in online gay chat websites put to him by The Sun newspaper. I've just been listening to an interview with The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh discuss how the story was obtained and why they chose to publish it now.

A few days ago I wrote that Simon Hughes is a creep. I still think the man is a creep, even if I have some sympathy with his denials (even as recently as twice during the past week, in interviews) that he is gay. Despite what Trevor Kavanagh says in his interview referred to above, society still makes a 'big deal' of being gay and whilst Simon Hughes may hope that his admission will have no material effect on his becoming leader of the LibDems I don't think he really believes that, and nor do I. Trevor Kavanagh also said in the interview that it was widely believed that former Prime Minister Edward Heath was gay. Now, I have no knowledge of whether he was gay, or not, but if it is true that he was then the very fact that he never 'came clean' about it is a pretty strong indicator that he (Heath) felt that to admit this would have been disastrous for his political prospects, specially in the 1960s, when homosexuality was still illegal until 1967, and probably also in the 1970 election, just a few years later; whatever the Conservative Party leadership knew at the time, I doubt very much they could have contemplated continuing to support him had his alleged sexuality been public knowledge and I think it highly doubtful that the electorate of that time would have voted them into power if they had known that the next PM would be gay - simple fact, so far as I am concerned.

So to summarise, Simon Hughes is a creep (for his homophobic election campaign against Tatchell in the 1980s), he was possibly also at the time a hypocrite (Jae, a gay LibDem member in Greenwich, hates Hughes's guts for his hypocrisy). Despite this I still have a certain degree of sympathy for this creep's predicament. However, I tend to share Nosemonkeys's viewpoint as expressed here - he's a Lib Dem, so it is largely irrelevant!

UPDATE: (Thursday 26JAN06 11.55 GMT) I was listening to a recording I made last night of some radio programmes I had to miss because I was doing other things - one of the programmes I had wanted to record was not in fact broadcast because it was replaced by an "Any Questions? Liberal Democrat Leadership Special", as usual hosted by Jonathan Dimbleby - I had been unaware such a programme had been scheduled almost at the last minute. As might be expected some of what was discussed is particuarly pertinent (for what was not said!) to the 'outing' of Simon Hughes by The Sun just a few hours later. Naturally, being a LibDem 'event' the whole tone of the questionning was superficially very civilised, but there was rather a lot of subtle (and some pretty unsubtle) back-biting comment by various of the leadership candidates about the others; highly amusing and a very clear demonstration of why the LibDems remain a joke Party. You can listen to the programme here - probably only online until tomorrow evening, though, when the next programme is broadcast.

2nd UPDATE (Thursday 26JAN06 17.55 GMT) I've just been watching an interview with Peter Tatchell on BBC News24 in which he explained in quite a lot of detail, and fairly convincingly, why he believes that Simon Hughes is not homophobic. I still think he is a 'creep', but am happy to accept what Tatchell says in this matter because he obviously knows Hughes personally and has observed his voting record in the House of Commons ever since he was elected.

3rd UPDATE (Friday 27JAN06 15.20 GMT) There's more knawing at this particular bone in Guido Fawkes' Blog here - after having read this and the comments that were there when I read it I have to say I tend to share Guido's quite harsh verdict, notwithstanding my continuing sympathy (to an increasingly limited extent, though) for Simon Hughes' predicament.

Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Sir John Cowperthwaite (1915-2006) - Rest in Peace

Who he? Well, he is widely credited with putting in place the policies which allowed Hong Kong, where he was Financial Secretary from 1961 to 1971, to become not just a trading outpost on the coast of China but a regional economic and manufacturing powerhouse.

How come? Well he ensured that the HK government kept its fingers out of the serious business of allowing Chinese entrepreneurial flair to transform the territory. Taxes were kept low, business flourished, but the government nevertheless managed to build massive quantities of low-cost housing for the huge influx of immigrants from mainland China who, by hook or by crook, were determined to reach the promised land which they believed, quite rightly, Hong Kong to be under his economic tutelage. His strategy was to allow laissez-faire economic policies do the work of raising real incomes dramatically whilst fuelling an export-led boom, not to mention high levels of individual savings - my amahs knew the gold price, by the hour, much better than me and their knowledge of how stock markets functioned wasn't bad either.

Commenting on the mechanism which governed the HK Dollar peg against Sterling (later, after his time, against the US Dollar) he remarked that even the management of the Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corp., now ubiquitously known as HSBC, did not necessarily understand the system they operated on the government's (i.e. his) behalf:

"Better they shouldn't. They would mess it up."

- slightly insulting for me as a former HSBC employee(!), but possibly at the time not so far from the truth, although I think by the time I was around, in the 1980s, I think most of us (... er) understood the peg against the US Dollar, just about.

Sir John Cowperthwaite died last weekend aged 90 and you can read a full obituary in today's Telegraph here. This exponent of free-trade, in the finest tradition of Adam Smith etc, leaves a proud legacy which today is having a big impact on the Chinese economy next door - and by extension on the whole world. Not unfortunately in the UK, where Gordon Brown follows quite different, and far less successful, policies.

Discrimination or provocation - you decide ...

... far-right groups in France have at long last been barred from serving soup with pork meat in it to homeless people who are Moslem or Jewish.

It's amazing to me the ways some people find to be cruel and hurtful to other people. Sigh.

Treasury wonk sends out embarrassing email

I can't help wondering if 'junior clerical officer Robbie Browse' is some kind of weird pseudonym for HRH Prince Philip - he also is recorded as having made some pretty embarrassing comments about our Chinese cousins. Story is here.

Radio 4 to drop 'UK Theme'

BBC Radio4's new controller, Mark Damazer, has decided that the UK Theme which currently heralds the day's programming on 'his' channel at 5.30am is no longer appropriate. Killer quote from Mark Damazer:

"You can't run Radio 4 if you just try and please everybody all of the time"

- surely that is the whole point of your remit, Mr Damazer!!! Either click on the 'audio' link from the above link, or here, to listen to excerpts from this music, interspersed with the question and answer session with Mark Damazer and the BBC 'Today' programme presenter Ed Stourton about the proposed change, as well as comments from the composer's widow about the music.

I think it is a great pity that this music is being dropped; it is friendly and uplifting and pulls together music from all parts of these isles in a most engaging way. Rather than simply getting rid of it, I'd be happy to see it updated by having other intercuts of music from some of the diverse communities that now form a significant part of the British population - perhaps music from parts of the Caribbean, India, Pakistan and Hong Kong to complement the music from the four component parts of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)?

Hopefully this new fellow won't want to remove 'Sailing by' as well, the music played shortly before the close of proceedings and the national anthem 'God Save the Queen' just before 1am, prior to the channel handing over to the World Service for the night.

PS/ You can listen to a somewhat 'scratchy' recording of the complete UK Theme music here.

Tuesday, 24 January 2006

Tanya Arkipova - Rest in Peace

Tanya was a friend of mine. I learned from today's Nairnshire Telegraph (the local newspaper which, alas, has no online presence) that Tanya died last week in Malta, where she was spending the winter. She was 62.

Tanya was a highly amusing and unusual person - a true original. She was a transexual who started out life as Ronald McHattie, although that was a LONG time before I knew her. I have taken the liberty of reproducing her photograph and the article about her which appeared in today's paper:

Tanya Federova Arkipova
Rest in Peace

Life won't be quite so colourful this coming spring and summer in Nairn.

UPDATE: (Thursday 2FEB06 13.55 GMT) Funeral arrangements are - funeral service on Monday 6th February at 12 midday at the United Reformed Church, Nairn, interment thereafter. Important notice: (through D Chisholm & Sons, Funeral Directors) - NO BLACK TO BE WORN.

Boy, does that man look uncomfortable ...

... President Bush responds to a question about the film 'Brokeback Mountain'. Golly, I almost feel sorry for him, almost.
(thru Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish)

Simon Hughes - creep!

What a creep Simon Hughes is! I watched him wriggle last night during BBC2's Newsnight when asked to confront the slimy reality of his politics in alluding to the homosexuality of an opponent as an election strategy. He won the election, so what does it cost him to apologise now? Well, not doing so now might damage, he thinks, his chances in the LibDem leadership race - that is the only reason he has chosen this moment to apologise - he could have done this at any time in the last 23 years! (Last night's Newsnight is online here until this evening if you want to see what he said - the main interview is about ten or so minutes into the programme)

Peter Tatchell, Hughes' victim, is a great deal more forgiving than I would be in similar circumstances. The Daily Mail carries a report here.

'Peter Simple' (1913 - 2006) - Rest in Peace

The Daily Telegraph columnist 'Peter Simple' died yesterday at the age of 92. He was born Michael Bernard Nathan in the West Riding of Yorkshire, but later changed his name to Michael Wharton (his mother's maiden name) when he signed up for the Royal Artillery on the outbreak of the Second World War.

The surrealistic world of Peter Simple created by Michael Wharton provided his loyal readers, of which I was one, with much innocent amusement for many years. I will miss him.

You can read his full obituary in the Telegraph here.

Bill launches himself into 'Podcasting'

Yes folks, I’ve decided to join the podcasting revolution by putting some of my thoughts on audio, for you dear readers and listeners. If the idea works, I plan to change the content roughly every week. The previous week’s recording will not, unfortunately, be archived because this would take up far too much bandwidth.

The first Podcast, available from today for about the coming week, is on the topic of 'Rendition'. You can listen by clicking on the PODCAST link under the 'Blog Links' heading at the top of the right-hand column. It is an audio version of a post I uploaded a short while ago - you can read it here; the post itself will of course remain available for as long as this blog exists, just like all my other posts.

Naturally I shall be intrigued to read any comments you may have about my Podcast - is it clear and audible for example? I don't plan for my Podcasts ever to be longer than 5 minutes and the one I put up today is rather less than 4 minutes in length - that's probably quite enough for most people, I imagine.

Just why is rendition used?

Rendition has recently become a buzz-word, specially in relation to the US practice of transferring people it holds under its control around the world. The best-known example, and the reason why I did not used the word 'alleged' before the phrase 'US practice', is of course the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a location chosen specifically because it is not (the US government contends) subject to normal US judicial procedures.

We know that other instances of 'rendition' exist because both Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice have alluded to it in their public pronouncements.

However, I have not heard them, or other members of the US administration, quizzed as to precisely what is the purpose of the practice of 'rendering' someone to another geographic location carried out and to whose control, if not direct US control, they are 'rendered'.

So I have a few questions:

- Is it to save money? (The equivalent of taking a low-cost flight, rather than with a national carrier at higher cost?)

- Is it to avoid the scrutiny of the US judicial authorities by carrying on activities with those held under control which would be illegal under US law?

- Is it simply a euphemism for the 'disappearances' which occur(red) at various times in places such as Colombia, Argentina or Chile?

- Does the US pay for whatever goes on to those held under control when they have been 'rendered' to wherever they have been 'rendered'?

These and many other questions are swirling through my mind, and have been for the several years since the base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was first used for this purpose after the Taliban was removed from power in Afghanistan - I've written about it often enough in this blog?

So Mr Bush, Mr Cheney, Mr Rumsfeld and Miss Rice - what is the purpose of rendition? Pretty please, can't you let us know the answer, then we'd feel ever so reassured that all you fine people have our, or even the American people's, best interests at heart? (Of course, just to be clear, what I am really asking about is 'extraordinary rendition')

(You can listen to an audio version of this post, which will be online for the coming week, by clicking on the PODCAST link under the 'Blog Links' heading at the top of the right-hand column.)

Monday, 23 January 2006

Killers of gay barman, David Morley, sent to gaol

The four young thugs who beat and kicked David Morley to death were sentenced to lengthy periods in gaol today - this is a very good result. I would have wanted them to be sent away for life, quite frankly, but it appears that Mr Morley Senior is staisfied with the result although, as he is said to have remarked, he saw little sign of remorse on the part of the killers.

As I wrote here I still don't understand why this brutal slaying attracted a charge of manslaughter, rather than murder. All part of the joy of living in a country where it has been decided that hate speech against gays by Iqbal Sacranie doesn't actually count, I suppose - my detailed views on that particular subject are here.

Protecting the Vatican from Homosexuality

The title above is shamelessly filched from Proceed at your own risk - the post is of course to mark the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Guards who protect His Holiness the Pope - and fine figures of men they are, too, even if the harlequinesque costumes distract the eyes from the beauty of those who wear them. It's worth reading some of the comments, too!
(thru Bill at Tottyland)

- and even this BBC article has a nice photo, too.

Democracy (of a kind) breaks out in Kuwait

A very special kind of democracy of course. I hadn't heard that the late Emir had died recently (silly me), but it appears that the succession may not be as clearcut as it normally is in autocracies, even if the parliamentary revolt seems to be governed by factionalism for an alternative to the ailing new Emir.

UPDATE: (Monday 23JAN06 23.25 GMT) And he's gone! And 'the other' branch of the royal house, in the form of Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, will get to rule instead - no surprise there then.

Sunday, 22 January 2006

Cool new aggregator blog link added

the World as a Blog - blogs that have added GeoURL tags to their template (*), and whose blog posts 'ping' to show up in this rather cool world map whenever there's a new post to report. There's a permanent link to this and other aggregator links under the 'Aggregator Sites' heading at the top of the left-hand column of this blog. (Unfortunately I have had to remove one of the aggregator links I've had up for a while ['UKblogs Aggregator'] - these things tend, in my experience, to stay active for a while until the server that handles the traffic becomes overloaded; let's hope this latest link functions as a longer-term replacement for another global GeoURL links page I had a link to until a couple of years ago until it disappeared in its turn.

(*) - if you haven't already added GeoURL tags to your blog template then click on the 'more info' link from the above page, scroll to the bottom of the page, then click on the relevant link at the 'How do I?' section.

Does not compute, or am I being dim?

(You must be joking! - Ed.)

OK, what's all this about then? It seems that Australian embassies are declining to provide their citizens with certificates attesting to their 'single' status, necessary for them to marry in many other countries.

It seems the motive behind the refusal is to make it impossible for Australian citizens to contract same-sex marriages overseas, where these are permitted, as such marriages are abhorrent to the Australian authorities. Fair enough, or at least not fair enough at all(!!), but bear with me please.

It's not clear from the PlanetOut article, but this surely implies that Australian citizens have to ask their government for permission to marry by disclosing the name (and presumably gender) of the prospective spouse. Surely they can have no objection to a hot-blooded Australian man bagging some foreign 'sheila', or is this simply a blanket-ban on marriages scheduled to take place in countries which permit same-sex marriage, even if it's not a same-sex marriage that's being contemplated. The blood must be rushing to poor old John Howard's head way down-under, methinks.

Poor Mark Oaten, poor Mrs Oaten ...

... and foolish Mark Oaten.

I call Mark Oaten foolish, not from any sense of moral superiority (because I would have a great deal of difficulty in maintaining such a stance), or because I think what he is alleged to have done is necessarily wrong. No, I call him foolish because he has behaved with an extreme lack of caution and political judgement in recent weeks.

Lots of married men, and some married women, 'pay' for sex in one way or another. Some pay for it, cash down, no questions asked. Some pay for it by buying the other party expensive gifts, taking them for lavish and expensive meals, or even setting them up in good quality apartments and providing them with a monthly allowance - quite a lot of men, and I don't doubt some women too, do some or all of those things. So let's quit the unnecessary moralising, shall we? Some kinds of what is commonly known as 'prostitution' are pretty distasteful, of course, but the fact that Mark Oaten has used a male, as distinct from a female, prostitute is completely beside the point in my view.

However, we don't live in a world which shares my rather relaxed view of these things. Specially when it concerns people who for one reason or another are in the public eye, there are always complete sh**s such as Rebekah Wade, or various other muck-raking journalists, who are prepared to further their commercial ends by exposing the foibles of others, even when their own lives have certain rather unsavoury elements, if the stories I have read of domestic violence in her own household have any validity. So Mark Oaten, who only a few weeks ago launched his campaign for leadership of the Liberal Democrats, must surely have known that his own personal life had elements which would be a tremendous scoop for a newspaper after a sensational story; that is what is so foolish about Mark Oaten's recent actions - I'd go so far as to call them completely crazy, when he had this potential Sword of Damocles hanging over him. It seems that his own constituency LibDem party is being supportive at present, but as can be seen from that same article this view is not universally shared even amongst LibDem voters.

So we've dealt with the 'foolishness' aspect, the lack of judgement if you will. Now we come to the self-deception which Mr Oaten seems to have exhibited, possibly for very many years. Infidelity is not a good thing to indulge in, I think, but Mark Oaten is not the first man (or woman) to have erred in this way - and is probably not the only one even amongst current Members of Parliament. If it is true that he had a prolonged relationship with a male, not just a one night stand, then it is probable that he has bisexual or homosexual tendencies which I would be very surprised to learn have only become apparent in very recent times. Lots of people have become married in the hope of sublimating their own sexual feelings, usually because they find it easier to conform with what is traditionally expected - I have no doubt that some men (or women) succeed in having reasonably happy and fulfilled lives having made this compromise, but it is my view that many in this situation end up by becoming deeply unhappy and may well end up devastating the person they are married to.

Self-acceptance is really what I am talking about. It took me a great many years fully to accept my own homosexuality, although in my case I very fortunately avoided the trap of allowing myself to fall in love with a woman (something that might easily have happened on one occasion in my early 20s) in the hope that I could 'change', and the even more tragic outcome, for her and for me, of getting married and condemning the two of us to a marriage which might have started out happy, but I am certain would have caused the two of us, and probably any children, great pain over succeeding years.

I hope Mark Oaten and his wife can work out between them some way forward which will allow their lives, and those of their children, to return to some kind of tranquility - happiness will probably take somewaht longer. I hope that they will make for themselves the time, and be allowed the privacy, to work out their problems. In the long term I suspect that this incident will have little effect on LibDem electoral prospects nationally - I didn't expect to see a LibDem government in my lifetime before and I don't expect it now.

Saturday, 21 January 2006

Get private finance, build the facility, then change the rules to get it back ...

... it's how modern Scotland works, folks!

Not so very long ago we had the spectacle of the financial package which had created the Skye Road Bridge being unwound by the Scottish Executive to bring it back into public ownership and abolish the toll on its use, designed to service the financing used to build it. Would it have been built by 'the state' had not the outside finance been available? Probably not.

Now we have the spectacle of the same thing happening with my local airport, Inverness Airport. The level of financial understanding which can have the following statements juxtaposed just about sums up the Scotland that we now live in:

(The background to the deal)

The private finance initiative (PFI) contract for the Inverness Airport passenger terminal has been bought out by the Scottish Executive for £27.5m.
The deal requires operators Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) to cover a tax liability of £8.4m.

This takes the full bill to more than £36m. It is understood the terminal cost £9.6m to build.

An interested party opines

Inglis Lyon, managing director of HIAL, a state-owned company which operates nine other airports in the north and west of Scotland, said the buy-out meant it would no longer be financially penalised for increasing passenger numbers.

"It also unlocks the potential for us to bring Inverness Airport into profitability, thus eliminating the need for revenue subsidy from the Scottish Executive in the future.

"By funding this buy-out, the Scottish Executive has shown great commitment to the long-term development of a major driver in the regional economy."

- all this is well and good (perhaps), but it is not clear to me how the whole operation is to become self-financing in the future if the projected increase in passenger traffic, therefore aircraft movements, is to be achieved by a likely reliance in the further growth of low-cost airlines which have so far been attracted to our region because of the relatively low landing charges imposed on them.

I don't quarrel with the convenience of having greater flexibility in travelling options locally (why would I?), but it seems to me that this is yet another recipe for future public subsidies being required to keep the thing afloat because of the social good it brings (which I don't for a moment dispute), but it seems perverse to burden the state with yet more debt when a suitable model (PFI) exists to make such subsidies largely unnecessary. It's politics, do you see?

As with the Skye Road Bridge I have to ask the question: could the new terminal at Inverness Airport have been built without recourse to outside private finance? It undoubtedly could, but I very much doubt that it would, have happened at all - and certainly not so quickly.

Thursday, 19 January 2006

'Intelligent design' not science says Vatican

Amazing! For once I can agree unequivocally with something which the Catholic Church believes. The Vatican, according to this Reuters report of an article appearing in Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, states that:

"Intelligent design does not belong to science and there is no justification for the demand it be taught as a scientific theory alongside the Darwinian explanation."

So much for the attempt by some Christian conservatives in the US to claim that its belief in 'Intelligent design' is shared by the Catholic church.

Just how was 'Fathers4Justice' done to death?

Highly conveniently for the government, the founding member of Fathers4Justice has announced that the group will disband, following on from the deeply unhelpful antics of some erstwhile members, whom we are told have engaged in bar-room discussions about a possible kidnap attempt on the youngest child of Prime Minister Tony Blair. It is pretty clear that members and former members must have been under quite close surveillance if their conversations in a bar were being monitored so closely. The police, whilst admitting that such preliminary discussions have taken place, as reported, seem to have accepted that the likelihood of them being carried over into action, far less successful action, were rather remote - specially when you consider the 'security bubble' which undoubtedly surrounds the Prime Minister and his family.

So just who were the dissidents, apparently already outlawed by the Fathers4Justice group before the recent revelations? I just have a nagging worry that these people were perhaps not genuine 'militants' at all, but agitators infiltrated into the group with the express aim of discrediting it? After all, however foolish their activities have been to date (demonstrators climbing up the facade of Buckingham Palace or throwing powder-dye 'bombs' in the House of Commons chamber), they have been notable principally for their publicity-value, not for their 'nastiness', and were deeply embarrassing to the government and the security services. Far be it from me to suggest that any member of the government, or the security services, is behind these recent events - naturally, I would never dream of doing such a thing. Nevertheless something about this whole non-story stinks to high heaven and I am left wondering what is really behind it.

Saturday, 14 January 2006

The New York Times on George Galloway in the CBB

The NYT headlines (free registration required) 'gorgeous' George as being eccentric - fair enough, not perhaps the word that immediately springs to my mind, though. This will be my first and last posting about the current series of Celebrity Big Brother, as I have not been watching it - the pumped-up egos and pumped-up lips of has-beens give me indigestion.

Friday, 13 January 2006

Friday 13th

Just why is Friday 13th of the month believed by some people to be unlucky? Well this Wikipedia article lifts the lid. It has never really affected me (touch wood), but it is interestiong how widespread is the belief in a particular day of the month being somehow a harbinger of bad things.

Fresh trial bid after court error

A bureaucratic error led to a judge throwing out a case brought by the Crown's ineptitude, in what seems to have been a fit of pique. No doubt we all have days like that from time to time - although perhaps not in a manner which makes us a public laughing-stock (this applies to the Crown - possibly the judge's frustration is understandable).

There have been many reports about this over the past couple of days, and I did not feel inclined to comment here (although I did allude to it in a comment at another blog), but what amused me in this article is the quite witty and pertinent comments made by Scottish Conservitive Leader Annabel Goldie in the Scottish Parliament(scroll down to the bottomm of the article in the first link above):

"I suspect that what is alarming is the suspicion that this case is a symptom of a wider problem within the system and a demonstration of judicial frustration that an accused, quite simply within a Scottish prison, could not be located by the Crown Office.

"I don't know whether it's reassuring or discomfiting to see the lord advocate scurrying around the parliament briefing the first minister."

- she's not usually my favourite person, but she does come out with some clever lines occasionally.

How convenient ...

... government admits files accidentally destroyed.

Weird police priorities

Even for, no specially for, a gay man I find this totally bizarre.

Have the police not got better things to do with their time - for example, not shooting innocent young Brazilians going about their business in London? I'm all for stamping out homophobia, but there are appropriate cases and some that are just silly. Luckily the CPS have a better idea of what is prosecutable, or indeed worth prosecuting.

Wednesday, 11 January 2006

My main website has sprung back to life

After roughly 7 days of stasis, my main website has sprung back into life (see my earlier post about this here). Whilst this is obviously welcome I have learned a valuable lesson from this lengthy period of down-time - the lack of feedback from the hosting company thoughout this whole period has led me to make the firm decision to change the way in which I host this site. As the current hosting arrangements are valid until about mid-March this year I have plenty of time to finalise alternative arrangements and to upload all the files to the new host so that by the time I switch the host name servers with my domain registrar the change should be seamless for visitors; that's the theory anyway - let's hope it all works as smoothly as I envisage.

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Gay marriage in plastic, it's fantastic ...

I recently started to follow timmy ray's blog (not yet added to my blogroll, as I have been busy), and this post of his deserves to be shared. Just follow his instructions when linking to the film clip - as he says, it is really quite sweet and of course the message at the end is highly pertinent! (NB/ It may take a few moments to load, so be patient.)

Gay police suffer religious hatred

According to this article in the Times there has been a resurgence of what would once have been called 'canteen culture' , but in this latest version the homophobia has been taken up by other officers based on their religious beliefs.

The article reports that "police managers were unsure of what action to take". I really do think the police need to get their act together and stamp out this kind of unacceptable behaviour! Inaction on their parts seems to me a very clear indication that they think such homophobic reactions are just fine and dandy! Well, they are not! Or perhaps some of them even share these views ... perhaps it needs an undercover reporter to document some of these alleged incidents, just as happened a few years ago when virulent racism was uncovered in some police forces.

Antipodeans in a flurry over same-sex kiss at a cricket match ...

... and no, this is not some story about two cricketers indulging in a bit of on-pitch snogging!

It seems that two young women attending a cricket match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka at Napier decided to have a quick peck on the lips. So? Unfortunately, this was picked-up by on-pitch cameras and broadcast on the big screen at the pitch, prompting a security guard to warn them to desist and not to repeat their behaviour, although the crowd was cheering.

Two reactions followed. A local cricketing official apologised for the guard's actions and encouraged the young women to return and enjoy themselves. However an official at the Westpac stadium in Wellington took a different view saying that guards there would be instructed to intervene to stop similar behaviour.

Whilst it's not relevant to the point I wish to make, it so happens that in this particular instance one of the two women is a mother of three and her boyfriend was present and laughed at his partner's actions. If he doesn't mind, then it seems to me it is of no concern to anyone else. What's wrong with two people showing mild affection?

What's wrong? Well, the Westpac stadium official in Wellington clearly thought their action was inappropriate for a 'family stadium' (whatever that is!).

Labour Cabinet Minister Chris Carter, who is gay, seems to me to have put this in its proper context, though:

"It seems to me that this is a human rights issue. If there's no kissing allowed at all, then fair enough. But if opposite-sex couples can kiss, then . . . same-sex couples should be allowed to as well.

"It seems to me, as an ordinary gay person, that this is very surprising and unfair."

Last month we in the UK saw, happily, the coming into force of the Civil Partnerships Act. It occurred to me at the time that this was likely, in due course, to raise a number of analagous incidents in this country. How many gay people, for example, would be comfortable walking around any city or town in Britain simply holding hands - a sight which is quite common amongst heterosexual couples? Very few, I think, except perhaps in parts of Soho in London or parts of Brighton or Manchester. It's possible that physical violence might not always follow, but it is certainly probable that the couple in question would be made to feel uncomfortable. Now that we have civil partners, however, it is inevitable and absolutely natural, I think, that same sex couples may occasionally, when the mood takes them, stroll through their local communities holding hands, just as any other couple might do. They might even occasionally exchange a peck on the cheek, just as any male/female couple might occasionally feel inclined to. Get used to it.

On the pronunciation of 'Menzies'

There has been quite a lot of comment in the past few days about the correct way to pronounce this name, because of the possibility (probability?) that Sir Menzies Campbell MP may become the next Leader of the Liberal Democrats, to replace Mr Charles Kennedy MP who resigned from the position last week as the culmination of a long period of doubts raised within his Party about the continuing wisdom of him remaining.

I have not commented in this blog before, and I am not going to start now, about what is a matter solely for a Party which is (in my opinion) highly unlikely ever to achieve power in the whole of the UK during my lifetime, even should I succeed in living for several more decades.

This BBC article does, however, contain quite a lot of interesting information about the ways some names such as Menzies can be pronounced, and why. It ends with an amusing poem, which I quote in case you do not see the article yourself:

A lively young damsel named Menzies
Inquired: "Do you know what this thenzies?"
Her aunt, with a gasp,
Replied: "It's a wasp,
And you're holding the end where the stenzies."

- it illustrates quite neatly a lot of the pitfalls awaiting speakers of modern English when confronted with words based on old English or Scots.

But surely it is a good thing that comment is superfluous?

No, I confess I was not aware that the head of the Royal College of Surgeons is a black man. It's possible I may have been vaguely aware that the Royal College of Nursing is led by a black woman, but I can't be absolutely certain about that.

But who cares? Not me, that's for sure.

I really don't want a song and a dance to be made about every British person, who happens not to be white, who achieves some kind of social, financial or professional success, any more than I want to know that particular positions in society are held by white people, per se. We are all British so far as I am concerned.

The only aspect which might concern me relates to the seeming probable lack of impartiality in the way that some members of our society, who happen to be black, are treated as a group in some circumstances. Not being a black person I have no personal knowledge of the concerns raised by those such as barrister Peter Herbert who is quoted as saying:

"My initial, knee-jerk reaction is to say, so what? Does it really affect the lives of the majority that there is this so-called black middle class or not.

"If you still have the vast majority of our people who are five or six times more likely to be stopped and searched, more likely to be in prison, more likely to be stopped at Heathrow on their return from holiday and not going to end up in the boardroom, whatever their qualifications, if they have a so-called African accent, it's questionable whether having a so called black middle class brings any benefit whatsoever."

- he does not seems obsessed with being 'picked upon' at a personal level, but the remarks he makes in his second paragraph certainly do give cause for concern. Few would doubt that there is, very unfortunately, a basis in fact for what he is saying. It is also highly unlikely, in my opinion, that the Brazilian Jean-Charles de Menezes would have been so cavalierly 'executed' by our security services had it not been for his coffee-coloured complexion. That is the kind of thing that does concern me greatly, but as for some senior position in civil, political or military society being held by a Briton of black or asian ethnicity, as distinct from a 'white' person, I have to say I am completely unconcerned.

'Asbo TV' - do you think this is a good idea?

I know this government is obseesed with turning us into the country with the highest level of video surveillance in the world, but this latest refinement is startling, to say the least.

No doubt a middle class person such as me will be accused of not understanding the concerns of people living in deprived inner-city areas and such observations are probably justified, but I do wonder whether the residents of Shoreditch will be quite so sanguine about this whole operation once one of their number has become the unwitting participant in the snooping activities of some of their neighbours. Bizarre! We seem as a nation to be glibly sliding towards a Police State, with nary a concern.

Democracy for Scotland or simply even more cumbersome timewasting?

You be the judge.

Experience from Northern Ireland has revealed that it can take upto 20 hours to count manually local election votes under the single transferable vote (STV) system, instead of the roughly six hours it takes at present in Scotland under our current pretty straightforward first-past-the-post system. A similar STV system will be adopted for Scottish local elections in May 2007. The next elections for the Scottish Parliament will take place simultaneously, themselves requiring two separate counting exercises because of the separate constituency and list voting involved in that valuable exercise in democracy.

As we have a voting system which relies entirely on manual counting of all these votes, the human beings involved naturally get tired and therefore are prone to make mistakes as counting on the night of the election and the following day wears on. So arrangements will have to be made to stagger the counting over a lengthier period, or try and put in place some reliable form of mechanised or electronic counting. It seems that the start of counting is to delayed until the day after polling if the recommendations of the Electoral Commission are followed.

Naturally enough all this is extremely worthwhile, for it has added and with STV for local election will improve further the level of 'democracy' which we in Scotland are privileged to enjoy. I hope astute readers will have realised by now that the last sentence in no way reflects my real views on what is happening, that all these changes whilst theoretically (just possibly...) an enhancement to our democracy are in fact a gigantic waste of time and money as I doubt seriously that public administration and government in Scotland will be improved one iota by these increasingly complex and cumbersome voting systems, which have had and will have the further even more outrageous effect of entrenching a 'caste' of governing nomenklatura over us who are effectively unaccountable, at a personal level, to the mugs (you and me) who finance this whole rigmarole.

Monday, 9 January 2006

A murder scenario you couldn't make up ...

A 14-year old boy is accused of starting a fire which "killed his 11-year-old sister because he wanted to be adopted by a rich family, the Old Bailey heard". However, the police allege that a list entitled 'Operation New Life ' was found under the boy's bed including the details: "Kill family. Lose memory. Get adopted by a rich couple. It all starts."

The trial has been adjourned until Tuesday. (I expect the jury needs a rest - I certainly feel somewhat nonplussed after having read this story.)

Former top British soldier wants Blair impeached over Iraq war

Now it is no secret to any reader of this blog that I supported, and continue to support, our actions in helping to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

However, when a recently retired former British soldier suggests that our Prime Minister may have acted 'illegally' it is certainly not an occurrence that can be brushed aside. A BBC article reports that General Sir Michael Rose, ex-UN commander in Bosnia, has claimed that Mr Blair's actions were "somewhere in between" getting the politics wrong and acting illegally. He is quoted as saying:

"The politics was wrong, that he rarely declared what his ultimate aims were, as far as we can see, in terms of harping continually on weapons of mass destruction when actually he probably had some other strategy in mind.

"And secondly, the consequences of that war have been quite disastrous both for the people of Iraq and also for the west in terms of our wider interests in the war against global terror."

In the unlikely event that Blair were to be impeached for this action I would not shed any tears - I have no love for Blair (or indeed President Bush) and would console myself with the knowledge that Saddam Hussien has irrevocably been removed from power in Iraq. Those individuals whom one might almost categorise as useful idiots, Blair and Bush, have accomplished their tasks - that is really all that concerns me. Go to it, General Sir Michael Rose and those 100 MPs from across the Commons who last month called for an inquiry into the war! I would relish the fireworks.

Smiling not allowed in Big Brother's passport 'mug shots'

It seems that as part of this government's desire to 'enhance' the way it documents the citizens who pay for it, new rules have been put into place, from 12th September last, governing the photographs submitted for use in British passports. As a result "597,863 applications in the eight weeks from 12 September some 81,927 photos - 13.7% - were rejected". The rules specify that:
- The photo must be 45mm by 35mm and printed on normal photographic paper;
- The photo is taken against an off-white, cream or light grey background;
- Subjects look straight ahead with mouths shut and "neutral" expressions;
- Subjects are on their own in the picture and their head and shoulders take up 65% to 75% of the frame.

Some of these new rules look anodyne, but the one about having a "neutral" expression seems highly subjective to me. Who judges what is "neutral" and what if one has a stuffy nose? How is one supposed to breathe? Naturally this is all part of Big Brother's strategy of having us all become conformist helots who accept without question that our government is acting in our best interests and that enhancing machine-readability is more important than preventing the inevitable bureaucratic 'screw-up's that are all too likely to occur by over-reliance on mechanised checking. Really, I begin to wonder whether they would have us all bar-coded or implanted with computer chips if they thought that even the notoriously acquiescent British public would not rise up and throw these blackguards out if they suggested it!

British Muslim leader slams gay rights

This is not really 'news' of course, because Sir Iqbal Sacranie, leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, has said similar kinds of things many times before. As the linked article points out, Sacranie is not the only religious leader who has 'issues' with the laws which have been passed into statute by our democratically elected Parliament.

Naturally, as we live in a free country, I support the right of anyone to say more or less what they think - except that I have just a teensy-weensy problem when someone chooses to indulge in what is pretty clearly skirting dangerously close to hate-speech against a segment of the British population - unfortunately the sad reality is that our laws in the UK do not categorise comments against people because of their sexual orientation as 'hate speech', as they cover only comments relating to race - that is perfectly good, but similar protection needs to be extended to similar bigotry based on sexual orientation.

As to the substance of Sir Iqbal Sacranie's remarks, I must point out to him that we live in a secular, not a theocratic, society. He is free, so far as I am concerned, to believe in the myths put out by whatever 'cult' he chooses, just as believers in other religious 'cults', such as Catholics, are likewise free - just so long as they don't try and inflict their bigotry onto the laws of this country!

Yet more political navel-gazing ...

This probably sums me up pretty well, even if it's designed principally with Americans in mind. Other times I have tried similar quizzes I have come out in roughly the same position on the charts although, if memory serves, a little further away from the centre even if I've never made it anywhere near the 'anarchist' zone - I like to think that's a good thing (just my little joke):
You are a
Social Liberal
(73% permissive)
and an...
Economic Conservative
(68% permissive)
You are best described as a:
You exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness.

You are a

Social Liberal
(73% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(68% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

(thru David at Freedon and Whisky)

Thursday, 5 January 2006

The joys of free telephony using Skype

I wrote yesterday that I had just signed up with Skype. My first experimentation with it was to make a couple of calls to UK landlines via my PC and this seemed to work well and straightforwardly - and at very little cost.

However, I had my first telephone conversation this evening PC to PC, both of us being Skype members. Whilst the quality of the sound was perhaps not quite so good as with a normal telephone (possibly because the person I was speaking with is not on Broadband, but on a dial-up modem with a much lower transmission rate than my 2Mb broadband), but nevertheless perfectly good enough to enable us to have a pretty normal conversation - entirely for free, except for our usual ISP costs for our respective internet connections. OK, both ends of this conversation were in the UK, so the cost of a normal telephone call, specially late evening, would not have been great, but the person I was speaking with this evening will tomorrow be contacting a friend in Tokyo over Skype and the normal cost of a call there would NOT be negligible, but the call tomorrow will be entirely for free, assuming it works correctly. Completely amazing! I've been reading articles in magazines such as the Economist in recent months discussing the future revenue streams of regular telecomms companies for voice communications and how services such as Skype seemed to pose a major threat. Now that I have seen Skype in action I can well understand that 'legacy' telecomms firms must be pretty alarmed at the way things are moving. For the moment I don't have any direct shareholdings in any of these firms; their future commercial success is likely to depend on them being able successfully to diversify their revenue streams away from their traditional reliance on voice communications - it will be interesting to see over coming years which are able to make the necessary adjustments to their business models and the trick will be to choose to invest in those which manage to adapt.

Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Hosting problems with main website

(See UPDATE at end of this post)

I'm having some hosting problems with my main website ( and until these are sorted out there may be some delay in completing loading my blog page ( This is because some of the images I use in my blog are in fact hosted on the same server I use for my main website, rather than on the 'blogspot' server, principally because I sometimes use these same images in my main website and it seemed sensible not to dublicate images on different servers.

Assuming the hosting problems are resolved in the next day or so the immediate problem will be over, but I am considering a number of longer-term solutions to try and ensure the problems don't recur. Meantime I apologise for any inconvenience you experience when trying to load my blog page in your browser.

UPDATE: (Wednesday 04JAN06 18.05 GMT) At least on the page of 'current posts' I've worked around most of the problems relaing to the use of images in my blog which are hosted on my main website; I have now uploaded the relevant images to the '' host. However, many similar images used in earlier posts will still not function correctly. Also in the right-hand column the links under the three headings 'My Main Website', 'Memorial Pages' and 'Atkins Diet' are to the '' website so obviously will not function correctly for the moment; if I have no resolution to the hosting problems there in the next couple of days I will have to work out a way of circumventing this problem by uploading certain of the pages to alternative servers, either to the '' server or to a couple of others which host websites for me, but I don't want to start doing this yet - life really is too short. In any case, loading my blog 'current posts' page, at least, should now work smoothly.

2nd UPDATE: (Wednesday 11JAN05 01.35 GMT) My main website has sprung back to life. Whilst I am happy about this, I have already decided to make alternative arrangements for the hosting of this site - see here; once these plans are finalised and implemented I will write again.

Tuesday, 3 January 2006

Skype me - or words to that effect!

Yes, Bill has just entered the internet telephony age, by signing up for Skype. Just amazing!

So far I haven't used it to call anyone between my PC and theirs (not being aware of anyone who actually has it up and running on their PC yet), but I have made a couple of calls from my PC to landlines - unlike PC to PC calls (which are apparently completely free) there is a small fee for calling a landline, but the call-time fee is 'peanuts' - just GBP5.00, which apparently gives about 7 hours call-time to anywhere in the world. No doubt in due course some of my contacts/friends/family will have this 'magic' gizmo installed on their PCs as well and the era of completely free telephony will have come to my little PC via my broadband connection. As a major UK supermarket chain has it - 'Every Little Helps!'

UPDATE: (Tuesday 03JAN06 20.25) I've just added a Skype button in the left-hand column in case any of my fine visitors have Skype themselves and wish to add me to their Skype list.

Monday, 2 January 2006

Riding the energy tiger ...

It seems that, for the moment, the immediate risk of energy shortgages throughout central and western Europe has been averted, but I doubt if this story is over yet. As I wrote 21 months ago, in a slightly different context, we ain't seen nuthin yet! I'd just as soon the times weren't quite so 'interesting', thanks very much! (Recently I've been paying anything from 87.9 to 92.9 pence a litre for petrol and of course domestic gas prices have risen a fair bit in the past year, too - if you haven't already budgeted for further increases, then I'd advise you to do so in the nearish future. Or get used to the idea of wearing warmer clothes at home - and if you haven't even begun to think about the geo-political changes that all this may bring ...)

Sunday, 1 January 2006

I seem to be relatively stable ...

... according to this personality test at least!

Stability results were high which suggests you are very relaxed, calm, secure, and optimistic..

Orderliness results were moderately high which suggests you are, at times, overly organized, reliable, neat, and hard working at the expense of flexibility, efficiency, spontaneity, and fun.

Extraversion results were medium which suggests you are moderately talkative, outgoing, sociable and interacting.

trait snapshot: clean, organized, regular, self reliant, tough, positive, high self control, very good at saving money, dislikes chaos, resolute, realist, trusting, hard working, dislikes unpredictability, prefers a technical specialized career, not worrying, respects authority, enjoys leadership, finisher, normal, optimistic, controlling, prudent, modest, adventurous, does not like to be alone, intellectual, likes the unknown, very practical, high self esteem, assertive, perfectionist, busy, altruistic

Advanced Global Personality Test Results
Extraversion |||||||||||| 50%
Stability |||||||||||||||| 70%
Orderliness |||||||||||||||| 63%
Accommodation |||||||||||| 43%
Interdependence |||||||||||||||| 70%
Intellectual |||||||||||| 50%
Mystical |||||| 30%
Artistic |||||||||| 36%
Religious || 10%
Hedonism |||||||||||| 43%
Materialism |||||||||||||||||| 76%
Narcissism |||||||||||||||| 63%
Adventurousness |||||||||| 36%
Work ethic |||||| 30%
Self absorbed |||||||||||| 50%
Conflict seeking |||||||||||| 43%
Need to dominate |||||||||| 36%
Romantic |||||||||||| 43%
Avoidant |||||| 30%
Anti-authority |||||||||||||| 56%
Wealth |||||||||||| 50%
Dependency |||| 16%
Change averse |||| 16%
Cautiousness |||||| 30%
Individuality |||||||||||| 50%
Sexuality |||||||||||||||||| 76%
Peter pan complex || 10%
Physical security |||||||||||||||||||| 90%
Physical Fitness |||||||||||||||| 64%
Histrionic |||||||||||| 43%
Paranoia |||||| 30%
Vanity |||||||||||| 50%
Hypersensitivity |||||| 23%
Female cliche |||||||||||| 43%
Take Free Advanced Global Personality Test
personality tests by

Bizarrely, it seems to be a reasonably accurate summation.
(thru Gay Banker at Things I can't tell boyfriend number 1)