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

Monday, 27 February 2006

The 'Power Inquiry' and Baroness Helena Kennedy

I've just been reading about this 'Power Inquiry' thingie, fronted by Baroness Helena Kennedy, and my first impression is that it seems like an incredible mish-mash of all sorts of mixed-up ideas; some, at first reading, strike me as potentially workable, and acceptable, others seems frankly designed to push various political agendas.

I don't have particular qualms about lowering the voting age to 16, for example - if a person can marry at this age then I think there is at least an argument for them being able to vote, and of course for those who leave formal schooling at this age, get a job and probably start to pay tax, then its seems a reasonable argument. On the other hand I do wonder whether 16 is too young for any of these things to become the defining age - consent, marriage, etc. But that is unlikely to change, so 'turning the clock back' is not really an option.

Where I do take issue is the idea that one might tick a ballot paper to contribute to a political party, or indeed (and even more so) the idea that political parties should, in any way, be funded by the state. No! I never want to see this. This seems an idea being pushed for purely political reasons by people such as the LibDems - and I saw their President, Simon Hughes, opining to this effect on BBC News 24. It may be a reasonable idea to have some kind of 'cap' on donations to political parties - that would force these monsters (all of them!) to get back to the priciple that they should communicate directly with their electorates - hustings meetings yes, yet more television appearances no, broadly speaking. This would put smaller political parties, such as the LibDems, at less of a competitive disadvantage with the two main parties, I suppose, and that seems like a reasonable enough idea, even if I don't support them - better that way, in any case, than by funding parties centrally who cannot get support themselves!

Oh, and there is the privacy angle, which just goes to show that this purported idea is certainly not a move to re-engage politics with the public, but to entrench yet more deeply the existing political [party] structure into the fabric of the nation! What am I getting at? Well, the idea that one might tick a ballot paper to donated something like three pounds to a favoured party - firstly, at a technical level, this implies some kind of centralised database which would contain one's bank account details - in other words this is tacitly accepting the universality of a massive database necessary to administer the government's ID Card scheme. Secondly, the ballot is supposed to be secret - if I say I want to give money to one party then it blows the whole idea of a secret ballot out of the water. And do I wish, under any circumstances, to establish some kind of centralised record of which party everyone in the country votes for? No! Is it, in fact, a completely mad and dangerous idea to put this kind of knowledge (and power) in the hands of whomever is able to have access to such a database (e.g. the government, the police)? Yes!

In summary, I think this is yet another report put out on a Monday to grab the 'news agenda' for a few hours or days at the beginning of a week and highly unlikely ever to come to anything much. Indeed the shoddiness of many of the conclusions, and those who seem to be pushing them, makes me very suspicious of this whole little episode. Be very wary of members of the established political 'elite' saying they wish to do something for the public! Do you buy things from every chancer that comes to your door trying to flog you 'tat', entirely for their advantage and not your own? Well, it's that straightforward!

Sunday, 26 February 2006

Filthy lucre - ahem

As you can see, I've signed up for 'Google ads' - I have moved the code for the ads to the top left column, for a combination of ready visibility, without being too 'in your face' by being at the top of the middle panel (as the software puts it when you sign up initially). As the traffic to this site is relatively small, I don't expect this will make much difference [*]. I've really done it because I'm intrigued to see how it all functions. Let's see how it goes ...

[*] Although as an unabashed capitalist roader, I have no qualms about raking in millions should that highly unlikely situation develop ... rofl.

Saturday, 25 February 2006

US has expanded Bagram prison to rival Guantanamo

A very lengthy and chilling article in the New York Times describes what the US is doing at its Bagram base in Afghanistan. Currently roughly 500 inmates are held there indefinitely, without charge or trial, but unlike inmates at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without even theoretical recourse to legal advice. As many as 600 have been held there at times during the past year. Unlike Guantanamo it is rigorously closed to visitors, with the sole exception of the Red Cross. Conditions there, according to one Defense Department official quoted in the New York Times, are worse than at Guantanamo: "Anyone who has been to Bagram would tell you it's worse."

The prison at Bagram was apparently originally designed as a 'screening facility' for those who would in due course be moved elsewhere, for example to Guantanamo itself. However since the US Supreme Court ruled in June 2004 that detainees at Guantanamo could launch claims against their captivity before a US federal judge, the Pentagon has effectively ceased to add new detainees there and seems instead to have substituted Bagram because it is currently beyond the reach of the US judicial system as no cases have so far been brought before a US court in an attempt to contest such detentions.

I have been wondering what fall back options had been planned by the US Administration since the June 2004 US Supreme Court ruling, which it fought tenaciously to prevent - now we know! And let us not assume naively either that the US has ceased to 'render' (aka kidnap) alleged terrorist suspects across international frontiers to destinations unknown simply because of the PR exercise that has been mounted to counter the protests against such a practice when it was alleged to invlove European nations both in the transits and possibly in the detentions. The US Administration is almost certain to have found other ways to replace the routes through Europe theoretically (I hope!) no longer open to it.

The US must now be regarded as in some respects a rogue nation. And the really important fact about the US is that it is completely capable of doing more or less whatever it wants - unlike other 'rogue nations' such as Iran and North Korea, and whilst we may be justifiedly fearful of what they might do, the ability of these nations to ride roughshod over the interests of the whole of the rest of the world pale into insignificance when compared with the US. I have spoken before about the new Age of Authoritarianism that I fear we are entering into; well this news about the continuation and expansion of the deplorable methods the US seems to have no qualms about using to hold detainees indefinitely is just one more sinister sign of the way the world is moving.

US paratroopers face charges for gay 'porno' site

Seven U.S. army paratroopers from its elite 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, have been charged with engaging in sex acts in video shown on a homosexual pornographic website. Of these, three face courts martial on charges of "sodomy, pandering and engaging in sex acts for money". The remaining four are to receive various non-judicial punishments.

This is obviously far more serious than simply going after people who happen to be gay and may have transgressed the bizarre "don't ask, don't tell" policy enforced within the US armed services. One imagines that similar sanctions would be made whatever the sexuality of those involved, and quite rightly so. To be flippant for a moment, though, it inescapably brings to mind one of the most homo-erotic mainstream movies ever made; I refer of course to Top Gun: it is very difficult to believe that it was not made at least partly for a gay audience, however much it may also have acted as a recruitment tool for the military in its search for red-blooded heterosexuals with a spirit of adventure.

Gay couples given joint parental rights in France

The Cour de Cassation has said both partners in a homosexual couple may exercise parental authority, not just the biological parent. The change coincides, interestingly enough, with the first marriage involving a gay couple in France. There it is possible to contract a civil union, but for full marriage a trip to Belgium is eesential.

Friday, 24 February 2006

'Shoot-out at Dodge' or in this case Stirling Council

Stirling Council has failed in its second attempt to fix the Council Tax for the coming year, with a rise of 4.5 per cent. With only 11 members, following the death of one of its Councillors, Labour is unable on its own to have a Quorum in the face of a boycott of meetings by the 10 member Conservative opposition, which is calling for Council Tax to be held at its existing level, as has already been announced by Glasgow.

I was much amused earlier this afternoon to watch Prime Minister Tony Blair speak at the Scottish Labour Party Spring Conference, this year being held at Aviemore, telling us how much he appreciates the work Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell is doing - oh yes, there is complete unity of purpose, he would have us believe, between Labour at London and Edinburgh. I resist the temptation to guffaw, with difficulty! How do you feel about the growing scandal known as the McKie affair Tony? Is the Executive completely on-message there too?

Surely Labour's iron grip on the Scottish central belt cannot be slipping slightly after so many decades of one-party rule? I doubt it, but I live in hope!

Suicide bomb attempt on Saudi oil facility at Abqaiq

First alerted to this via The Religious Policeman, BBC report is here. It is the first attack on Saudi oil installations, a policy long advocated by al-Qa'ida; Friday is of course the weekly holiday in Saudi Arabia. The facility handles roughly two-thirds of the Kingdom's oil exports and production is said, by the country's Oil Minister, Ali al-Nuaimi, to be unaffected.

Is this the beginning of something?

UPDATE: (Saturday 25FEB06 03.40 GMT) Al-Qa'ida claim responsibility for the attempted attack, report Reuters.

It's OK to treat gay hotel guests like lepers in Hampshire!

Two gay men, Kevin Smith and Jose Ruiz, had booked an hotel room with double bed in the White Hart Hotel in Overton, rural Hampshire. On arrival the hotelier Robert Bush initially declined to let them occupy this room, suggesting instead they he give them a room with twin beds, but on finding he had none available let them have the room.

When they returned later from dinner it was to find they had been locked out of the hotel and had to stay with the friend of one of the pair. The next morning matters took a more sinister turn, allegedly, when the two men said that Mr Bush had threatened them with a firearm and said: "I'm a bloody good shot!".

As almost always happens in deplorable cases such as this, Mr Bush is quoted as making the following comments:

"I am not homophobic. I have friends who are gay."

But he added: "In a small village like Overton everyone watches everyone else all the time. I would have had the mickey taken out of me for a couple of weeks. I have a good reputation and like to keep my reputation."

- in other words he is a homophobe. People like the despicable Mr Bush are not only bigots, they are cowards too, as they refuse to accept that they condemn themselves out of their own mouths - just why would his so-called 'good reputation' have been damaged by offering hospitality to two paying guests (who are not invloved in any illegal activity merely by being a gay couple), the service that I have always naively supposed was the prime purpose of those in the hotel trade?

Judge Tom Longbotham, in his comments to the jury at the end of the 3-day trial said that "although the case had elements of Fawlty Towers they should not try Mr Bush on feeling or emotion", after having heard Defence Counsel Charles Cochand describe the reaction of Mr Smith and Mr Ruiz as:

[as] over-sensitive [and they] had blamed Mr Bush for locking them out and "saw what they wanted to see".

Extraordinary!! Not, very unfortunately, at all unbelievable!!

Mr Bush was acquitted.

Mr Bush, who is "not a homophobe", has now sold the hotel.

Moral - the good citizens on that jury have spoken and their judgement must be accepted, but it is clear evidence that raging homophobia is present not only in our legal profession, but amongst a significant proportion of citizens in that part of the country - and quite possibly elsewhere, too! (It brings to mind notorious cases in the US South of the 1950s when a white jury was unlikely ever to convict another white person of the murder of a black person.)

Labour Mayor Livingstone brings shame on London

(NB: See the updates at the foot of this post. In the 2nd update, in particular, I find myself obliged to recant my original analysis of this whole development; I got it badly wrong and I can only say: Sorry!)

London Mayor Ken Livingstone has been suspended for one month by the Adjudication Panel for England for having 'brought his office into disrepute' by 'comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard'. This is merely the latest stain on a maverick career.

The Labour Party is shamed because it showed just what a vacuous, shallow ideology lies behind it when it agreed to allow Mr Livingstone to re-join the Party for the sole purpose of having a member as Mayor, as it is highly probable he would have been re-elected whether he stood again as an 'Independent' or as a member of the Labour Party, their own potential candidates standing no hope whatever against him. Those Londoners who chose to vote for this individual can reflect upon the kind of man they supported at two mayoral elections; with luck they will choose someone fit to hold public office and to be their Mayor at the next election.

UPDATE: (Saturday 25FEB06 03.35 GMT) There has been a great deal of debate since Livingstone's suspension from his mayoralty duties for four weeks was announced, much of it focussing on the outrageousness of an unelected 'quango', in the form of the Adjudication Panel for England, having the power to suspend or otherwise interfere with the democratic mandate of elected officials. The homepage of this organisation has this as the final paragraph:

"The Adjudication Panel for England consists of a President and members who were appointed by the Lord Chancellor after consultation with the Deputy Prime Minister."

- so it would appear that Lord Falconer and John Prescott MP are those responsible for appointnemnts to this body. What more needs to be said? The judgement in respect of London Mayor Ken Livingstone may be read in this .PDF document. Oh, I understand that Londoners may feel outraged that their elected Mayor has been suspended in this manner. If Ken Livingstone were a 'fit and proper' person (by any rational assessment) to hold public office then I would have unreserved sympathy with their reaction; as it is my sympathy must be tempered by my views of their sanity in electing this person. Naturally this is a highly subjective comment and flies in the face of democracy, but there it is. I say in the header banner of this blog that I 'strive' for objectivity; I don't say I always come close to achieving it!

2nd UPDATE: (Saturday 25FEB06 10.00 GMT) The purpose for which the Adjudication Board for England was originally set up seems to have been changed radically in order to 'trip up' Ken Livingstone, who has always been a 'thorn in the flesh' to New Labour. I'm afraid that my original analysis of this whole situation seems to have been wholly misguided, and I now fiind myself in complete agreement with those who consider the suspension of Livingstone to be an outrageous assault on democracy, however many warts it may sometimes display. Mea Culpa.
(Via notes from a small bedroom)

Thursday, 23 February 2006

Who says Scots are dour and unimaginative?

Well, such cannot be said of Adil Latif, an almost blind young man who plans to jump out of a helicopter and snowboard down a mountain to raise money. If you want to help to sponsor his effort, planned for this coming November you can do so here (it's in aid of disaster relief for the recent earthquake in Pakistan).

Church of Scotland may sanction gay 'marriage' blessings

Coinciding with the first civil partnership agreement involving an MSP (Margaret Smith, MSP for Edinburgh West is to 'wed' Suzanne Main next month), it seems that the Church of Scotland (CofS) is considering sanctioning gay 'marriage' blessings; if this is approved at the General Assembly in May the CofS will become the first major Christian denomination in the UK to take this step. Its Legal Questions Committee is reportedly recommending that "ministers who conduct services to mark civil partnerships should not face discipline".

'Rainbow nation' South Africa seems to have a problrm with lesbians

According to this Reuters report, being gay and female carries its own particular problems in South Africa. Despite is very enlightened Constitution, one area theat seems to have been less scrutinised is the tradition of patriarchy there - obviously gay ladies don't quite fit the profile! The price for such 'sinfulness' seems to be rape.

Begorra - the land of leprechans goes pink!

According to a poll in the Irish Examiner the Irish broadly support gay marriage or partnerships.

Now, don't go passing on this info. to Pope Benedict ...

Wednesday, 22 February 2006

To ban or not to ban - blood donations by gays

Students in Aberdeen will be protesting tomorrow at the lifetime ban on gays donating blood in Scotland. I suspect there are many others whose blood is less useful in transfusions than that of at least some gays - but blind prejudice lives on.

Scotland backs gay work rights scheme

The Scottish Executive has signed up to Stonewall's Diversity Champions project aimed at tackling homophobia in the workplace. Laws are one thing, hearts and minds are another.

Guernsey gay - no way!

A tale of homophobia in the States? Sounds suspicioualy like it.

RMT attempts blackmail over 2012 Olympics

The ever-lovely Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT makes his pitch for more money for his members during the forthcoming London Olympics in 2012:

"People will tell you the Sydney Olympics was one of the smoothest running, public transport wise. What they had done was put an attendance bonus in place where it gave a benefit to people to come to work, to make sure the Games run smoothly and give the company flexibility on the running of the services."

So, merely for turning up as usual our cousins in Sydney got extra money. Oh, no doubt regional transport services will want to run additional services during this period, possibly during the night, for which it would be reasonable to pay some kind of special rate, but that is not what is being talked about here.

What would happen if Transport for London (TfL) did not agree to similar terms being agreed for London? Well, I'm sure you can guess what this cockney charmer has said, but here it is:

"I imagine if our members don't get the same as other groups of workers have, we could have difficulties."

It's not very difficult to read the coded message there, is it?

Council of Europe awaits response from 5 nations

Belgium, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Italy, San Marino and Georgia have failed to provide information to the Council of Europe by the deadline of Tuesday 21st February on allegations of covert CIA prison transport flights which are alleged to have occurred as a means of transporting terror suspects for 'interrogation'. Secretary-General Terry Davis has reminded all five countries that: "their failure to reply is a clear breach of the Convention [*], which underpins the defence of human rights across the continent."

As our police forces, and our Home Secretary, are wont to remind us - if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. So, get on with it you five countries!

[*] European Convention on Human Rights.

England and Wales stats out for gay civil partnerships

From 21 December last year, the first day civil partnerships were permitted In England and Wales, until the end of last month, there were 3,648 civil partnership ceremonies. As you would imagine, significant numbers took place in Brighton and Hove and various parts of London (Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, etc) with other popular areas all being in the south-east, with the exception of Devon which also seems to figure prominently; is this the preponderance of naval personnel (just askin'...) or is there some other factor I'm not aware of? I am, however, somewhat surprised that Manchester does not rate a mention; I wonder if it is social constraints 'oop north'?

Tuesday, 21 February 2006

'Brokeback Mountain' - Bill's two sentence review

A fine film and I enjoyed it; it would be wonderful if it was complete fiction. God, I am angry.

Is the Prince of Wales for real?

HRH The Prince of Wales is suing the Mail on Sunday for breach of confidentiality and copyright for having published a part of his private journal.

Oh yes, I quite agree that Prince Charles should have the right for his private thoughts and private diaries to remain confidential, but if media reports (reporting evidence given to the court) which I have heard today are a guide then he does not appear to have taken very great care, himself, to keep his blessed journal private. Surely even he must have realised some of his comments were highly-explosive?

During my professional career I occasionally had to write reports on matters which might be quite sensitive and some of the detailed analysis was at times not at all the kind of thing that I or anyone else in their right minds would have wished the persons or organisations referred to ever to become aware of - and suitable precautions were taken! It's all very well to have views, and I am glad in most ways that the Prince of Wales seems to have those in abundance (and I might even share some of them!), but a certain discretion - specially of a person who is barring accident going to become our next Head of State - in how he deals with written material seems badly needed. Most DIY centres now sell small safes so homeowners can keep valuable documents securely - frankly I suggest HRH get himself down to B&Q or Homebase (or more probably Chubb or Tann - for example here) fast and acquire suitable storage for things he really does wish to keep private. And don't give a key or the combination to any of your flunkies, Sir!

The 'Naked rambler', and you can't but admire him ...

... finally arrived yesterday at John O'Groats after having left Lands End last June, although not without the minor inconvenience of several arrests and jail terms along the way. Interestingly enough he seems to have travelled across the length of England without undue incident, but once he crossed into the territory of the 'Presbyterian heartland' (aka Scotland), the home of the kilt [*], things took a decidedly downward spiral. That Kirk minister near Dingwall (about 25 miles west of here) really does need to get a life (!), as do the others (including the various Police Forces involved) who made a nuisance of themselves. All they succeeded in doing was to make themselves look silly. Scotland is my homeland and I am generally-speaking proud to be a Scot (and British as well!), but foolishness such as this harmless enough indiviudal found here does make me wonder.

In other news, the weather in the 'arctic wastes' of northern Scotland is presently quite cold ... suffice it to say, quite apart from any other considerations, that alone is more than sufficient to make me unlikely to consider emulating the hardy Stephen Gough.

[*] - and yes, it is true that by tradition no underwear is worn by any true Scot when wearing the kilt, even if I personally find the idea of vigorous Scottish country dancing attired thusly to be beyond my courage level.

Holocaust denier David Irving to appeal ...

... but he doesn't appeal to me
At all!

The free speech aspects are worrying, yes, but I am afraid I just cannot bring myself to care in the case of this particular individual.

Monday, 20 February 2006

Is Cameron shifting the Conservatives to 'the left'?

I pose this question because a person who is referred to as 'a close ally' of Lady Thatcher (Robin Harris, ex-speechwriter and member of Lady Thatcher's No 10 policy unit) has apparently written an article for a magazine, due to appear shortly, that that accuses Cameron of following a 'potentially disastrous' strategy which risks losing significant Tory 'core' support, by having "systematically repositioned the party to the left".

As a former member who is anxiously waiting to see if the initial hopes that Cameron could re-engage the Party with a wider band of the electorate, rather than a fringe rather too far to the right (this is my somewhat jaundiced assessment), will be realised, I have been waiting for just this kind of development (Mr Harris's winge) with some anticipation and confess a little guiltily that now that it has happened I feel a certain relish. Of course, I have no desire whatsoever to see the Conservative Party move 'to the left', but it seems to me a no-brainer that it must move leftward somewhat to what might be described as a 'centre-right' position if it is to attract back people like me (who has mostly abstained since 2001) or those who have actually joined another Party - which I never have and see little likelihood of me ever doing! I thought for some years that the Conservative Party would have to continue its slow decline in electoral popularity until it reached a stage where, in desperation, the Party would realise that it had to change if it was to survive. As part of this evolution I always imagined that some of the more die-hard 'right-wingers' would inevitably have to be lost as supporters as they were unlikely to agree to even a minor shift in policy to slightly less extreme territory.

I had thought that the nadir had been reached during the final months of the disastrous period as Leader of Iain Duncan Smith (whose election as Leader was the catalyst which caused me to resign my membership), but it was clear that Michael Howard was not the man to take the hard decisions necessary if the Party were to be resuscitated - even though I have always quite liked Howard's tough, but civilised, stance, together with his special brand of linguistic precision. When I first became aware of the name of David Cameron, perhaps about this time last year, I had no idea that he would very quickly become a potential Leader (nor had anyone else, I suppose), but even though (and to a certain extent because) he and George Osborne are both considerably younger than me, I knew enough about their reputations to think that here, at last, was the kernel of something that might be quite exciting - if only the Conservative Party had the good sense to see it. We now know that the broad membership of the Party did have the necessary level of realism to allow Cameron to come to the front. Throughout its history the Conservative Party has on several occasions shown this ability to take unexpected and radical decisions involving major shifts in strategy. The fact that someone such as Mr Harris is the latest in a series of people with antedeluvian ideas on what the Party should do in terms of policy to come out into the light is, to me, a real sign that the 'Cameron strategy' is beginning to work.

Of course, no segment of the Party's support, however marginal, should be alienated without careful consideration and certainly not just for reasons of cynical 'short-termism', but it seems to me that the soul of the Conservative Party is being fought for at present. I hope that calmer heads than Mr Harris will continue to guide policy in the Conservative Party and that Mr Cameron can be allowed to get on with what seems to be a fairly long-term strategy of repositioning the Party where it can be a plausible right-of-centre alternative to the cynical bunch of spin-meisters who govern us at present. I continue to hope that I shall feel able in the not too distant future to re-apply for membership, perhaps even before the 18 month period of the consultation bodies Cameron has set up has elapsed, but this is very unlikely to happen if the views of people like Mr Harris begin to be taken seriously within a growing segment of the membership. It is perfectly true that certain aspects of what Mr Cameron seems to be saying about health and education strike me as rather too close to NuLabour for my liking, but believe it is far too soon to start agitating against him (indeed that would be absolutely disastrous). Having said that, a political party cannot stray too far ahead of what public opinion seems to want, even if it is also the job of a politcal party to seek to persuade an electorate that its policies, even if they involve major change, are the right way to go; it is in this final part that I hope Mr Cameron's longest-term strategy lies - to convince the British people that its devotion to a 'big state' is not in their own long-term interests, however comforting it may seem to be, for a while, always to have 'nanny state' taking care of all aspects of one's life. Time will tell.

Brokeback Mountain takes four trophies at BAFTA!

Although I'm already booked to see it in early March at Eden Court (actually at Bught Park temporary location) I'm also planning to see it on Tuesday evening as I just saw it's to be shown at 'Vue' as well. Now that it has won four BAFTAs, I simply can't wait until the March showing - although I think, from what I've read on some other blog reviews, that a second viewing will be very worthwhile as a lot of people, gays especially, come out of a first viewing a little shell-shocked. We'll see ...

Sunday, 19 February 2006

Podcast - 19 FEB 2006

A new podcast is up today - to listen, click on the 'Podcast' link under Blog Links at right. It is a little over seven and a half minutes long (if you still see a link to last week's podcast at right, you may need to refresh your browser).

This week I have devoted the programme to two broad areas:
- several pieces of legislation recently passed by the House of Commons, namely the Bills on measures to counter terrorism and to introduce ID Cards and the Bill to severely curtail the right to smoke in England;
- The UN's condemnation of the US prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and its demand that the prison be closed. Whilst I support strongly these calls, I develop the idea that it is merely symbolic of wider long-term changes that are occurring in all developed democracies that will usher in an age of increasing authoritarianism for us all and which will make the tolerant democracies that many of us inhabit today seem like distant and fond memories in only a few years time. I know this is a depressing conclusion, but sadly this is exactly what I see developing now.

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

Howard Flight joins Globalisation Institute

You remember Howard Flight don't you? Who he? Well for a brief period until shortly before the last general Election he was Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, until he fell foul of the cardinal rule, before an election, of telling the Brititsh people that their devotion to government spending (aka 'investment'), necessarily funded by higher and higher taxation and increasing levels of personal and national debt, was fun while it lasted, but cannot go on for ever. He predicted that, should a Conservative government be elected, its announced cuts in taxation would only be the start of a process. So, the man stepped out of line - but Michael Howard went way too far in withdrawing his accreditation to stand as a Conservative candidate.

But Flight, whilst often coming across (at least to me) as a somewhat awkward, slighlty Dickensian, figure is in fact nothing of the kind - he seems to be a highly successful individual WHO KNOWS HOW ECONOMIES WORK and this announcement that he is joining the Globalisation Institute shows that at least one organisation has the right ideas.

Friday, 17 February 2006

Russia would be outraged by 'Gay Pride' parade

Plans to hold the first gay pride event there this coming May have been vetoed by Moscow city authorities on the ground that the idea has 'outraged' society. Can't say I'm surprised - this is the country that likes tough government after all, seeming to prefer the joys of living under a new Czar, aka President Putin, rather than continue their timid steps toward something most of us would recognise as 'democracy' in the early- and mid-90s. For gays that meant the decriminalisation of homosexuality as recently as 1993 - and the planned 27th May event was to have commemorated the 13th anniversary of the change.

Naturally Chief Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin has weighed in with some words of wisdom on behalf of Russia's Moslems. Predictably, Andrew Sullivan has weighed in fulminating about Moslem blackmail and of course he's not wrong, but ...

... it comes across as rather disingenuous, to put it mildly, to focus in on that single aspect to this whole sorry affair, specially when he links to the same Independent article as me, which has this as well: Russian Orthodox Church has called it "the propaganda of sin". Bishop Daniil of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk yesterday condemned the plans as a "cynical mockery" and likened homosexuality to leprosy. And Andrew can't, surely, not have read about the notorious skinhead gangs in many Russian cities who are homophobic as well as racist. Frankly I can understand why some gay rights groups there feel it would be imprudent to hold this march - neither Andrew nor I have to face the kind of vicious hatred from quite a lot of our societies (even if they don't care for us much) that gays in Russia do. 'Islamophobia' is no better than homophobia in my humble opinion.

Italy and rape

The supreme court in Italy has issued a verdict based on a judgement that the rape of a woman is mitigated if that person was 'sexually active' (i.e. not a virgin) - even when it concerns a 14-year old girl. This has provoked a furious reaction in Italy. Unsurprisingly.

Doubts over Conservatives' devotion to inclusivity...

... or at the very least in parts of its Welsh grassroots. Even though the recently selected prospective Conservative candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in the next Welsh Assembly has no sooner been selected than he mysteriously stands down, the hard question must still be asked - why was he ever selected in the first place? Probably because his odious views on homosexuality are still widely shared is the sad likelihood. I don't quarrel in any way with his right, or that of anyone else, to think as he does, but it is indicative of the changes that are evidently still required within the Conservative Party in some of the kinds of supporters it seems to attract.

Case upheld against the BBC for 'political balance'

My feeling has usually been that the BBC is, over time, reasonably fair in its reporting on domestic political matters, but occasionally its gets it badly wrong, as in this news bulletin shortly before the last General Election. And the Governors of the BBC agree.

I have thought for a few years that it is increasingly anomalous for official scrutiny of the BBC to be an 'in-house' affair - it should be treated like any other broadcaster and subject to the same stringent rules. The licence fee should also be drastically curtailed and then phased out and the BBC forced to concentrate on its core activities - the proliferation of services it now provides, all funded by the whole public (so few are TV-free that it amounts to the same thing) gives it an unfair competitive advantage compared to channels which must run their businesses by taking account of the fact that we are supposed to have a free market economy in the UK. If we need a 'state broadcaster' then the model should base itself on Channel4 - and their news reporting and analysis is pretty good, too. In fact, do we really need the BBC when Channel4 exists? I'm sure there would be many willing investors if the BBC's assets were to be sold off.

Finally got wireless connection from my laptop!

Happy to say I have finally got wireless connection from my laptop. I must say this is one of the least intuitive setup procedures I have ever had to endure. Thank goodness it seems to be over.

UPDATE: (Friday 17FEB06 11.10 GMT) And now I've got it working through my AOL browser, rather than through the clunky IE. The wireless connection is excellent and I envisage doing a lot of my blogging in future from the laptop.

Thursday, 16 February 2006

Bill can now go eat dinner! Wireless router working!

Well, after seemingly fruitless effort I have at long last managed to get my new wireless router to work! Now I can go and have dinner - and a glass of wine is, I think, warranted. No more tonight - I need some time away from a keyboard and screen.

Bill tears his hair out - wireless router won't work!

I wrote last week about having got an additional PC, in the form of a laptop so that I could have internet access throughout my home wirelessly, whilst still having my desktop wired up in the study. I received the wireless router I had ordered today and can I get it to work with my desktop PC? Can I heck! I've been trying to connect either via USB or Ethernet, but am quite obviously doing something wrong ...

... so I'm off for a walk!

(Obviously I have re-connected my existing Broadband modem to enable me to have this online winge.)

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Weeks 88 to 139

It is almost a year since I last wrote here about my experiences on 'Atkins'. This does not mean in any way that I have somehow stopped following the 'Atkins' way of eating; far from it. It is simply that it is now so much a part of my way of life that I no longer think about it much, so have missed several of the '12-week' cycles I had chosen to follow to write about it here previously. However, I have just recently passed another quite significant 'milestone', so I thought it was a good idea to mention how I am getting on and, most of all, to give encouragement that if I, a lifelong 'fattie' can do it, then so very probably can you. The milestone is that on 12th February this year it is two years since I reached 'Target' on Atkins on 12FEB04.

For most of the time since last writing here, last year, I have remained below my target weight of 65 Kg, but I must confess that around October/November last year I did allow my weight to creep up to around 67 Kg, managing more or less to get back below target just before Christmas. Since then I have been hovering just above or below target, and am currently about 64.8 Kg. Exactly the same, in fact, as when I reached target two years ago! However, it is my aim to lose a little more so that I am hovering between roughly 63 Kg and 64 Kg - this is when I felt most comfortable and was in this range for most of the period from APR04 to MAY05.

My overall weight loss since I started this 'way of eating' on 15th June 2003 is 33.2 Kg (73.2 Lb) - somewhat over 5 stones. Measurement indicators since I last wrote here:
- waist up 0.7 inches at 31.0 inches (total reduction 14.0 inches);
- hips up 1.0 inches at 38.6 inches (total reduction 9.9 inches);
- thighs up 0.4 inches at 21.8 inches (total reduction 6.7 inches).

The 'positive' aspect of the slight increase in both weight and measurements since I last wrote is that this is probably at least partially (if not wholly) due to the fact that for about a year I have been going regularly to the gym, so there is rather more muscle on my much better-toned upper body - and muscle fibre weighs more than fat. You can read an expanded version of this entry here. Or click on the permanent link under 'Atkins Diet' in the column to the right, to read the full story.

Wednesday, 15 February 2006

'Dictatorship Britain' in the making?

I have had a series of posts in the past entitled 'Police State Britain', but a whole new level of alarm is warranted by a piece of legislation currently wending its way through Parliament. I first came across the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill about ten or so days ago [*], but in the last couple of days it has begun to get more mention, including this article in The Times today.

The purpose of this proposed legislation is summarised here:

enable provision to be made for the purpose of reforming legislation and implementing recommendations of the Law Commission, the Scottish Law Commission and the Northern Ireland Law Commission; to make provision about the exercise of regulatory functions; to make provision about the interpretation of legislation relating to the European Communities and the European Economic Area; to make provision relating to section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972; and for connected purposes.

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

Part 1
Power to reform legislation etc
Order-making power

1 Purpose
A Minister of the Crown may by order make provision for either or both of the following purposes—
(a) reforming legislation;
(b) implementing recommendations of any one or more of the United Kingdom Law Commissions, with or without changes.
An order under this section must be made in accordance with this Part.
In this Part "legislation" means a provision of—
(a) any public general Act or local Act, or
(b) any Order in Council, order, rules, regulations, scheme, warrant, byelaw or other subordinate instrument made under a public general Act or local Act, but does not include any instrument which is, or is made under, Northern Ireland legislation.

- what this means, baldly stated, is that the Government will be able (should this pernicious legislation ever make it onto the statute Book) to amend or replace legislation of more or less any kind by Ministerial order, without going through the troublesome procedure of presenting the changes as proposals before Parliament and the even more troublesome procedure of trying to get a majority there.

The Explanatory Notes to the Bill summarise the extent of what the Government aims to achieve with this legislation.

In case you think that I, or Daniel Finkelstein (in his 'Times' article linked above) have been supping too much fermented grape or grain juice, the Commons Regulatory Reform Committee said it was "the most constitutionally significant bill" for some years. In the words of Andrew Miller, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston:

"This bill must be scrutinised with particular care. Our report recognises that there is widespread support for removing redundant regulation and costly red tape. But the problem many people will have with part one of this bill, as drafted, is that it provides ministers with a wide and general power that could be used to repeal amend or replace almost any primary legislation. That can't be right. We need extra safeguards."

The Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons last week and now goes to committee. I hope that this Bill, which has the potential to have vastly more importance than almost any other legislation currently before Parliament, will at last begin to recieve the public and media scrutiny it merits. As with the memos 'slipped out' on the afternoon of 11 September 2001, one gets the impression that the Government is keen for the spotlight to remain on its ID Cards Bill and its Terrorism Bill (vitally important as these are) as a way of diverting attention from where it really needs to be focussed.

[*] I regret to say it somehow moved down my agenda (for personal reasons well away from matters relating to blogging). This lamentable lack of attention on my part was exacerbated because it went completely unmentioned by all except one of the blogs I read regularly and my own pre-occupations allowed it to drift off the radar, so much so that I forget exactly where I first spotted it - slaps wrist!

'Gorgeous' George gets royally toasted by The Sun

I don't buy The Sun , but for a marvellous expose of George Galloway MP for the buffoon that he is, this Valentine's Day prank is a joy to read.
(thru Guido Fawkes)
- by the way, I observe that all the comments about his post in Guido Fawkes' Blog are uniformly supportive of Galloway and full of denuciations of 'The Sun'. My reaction: for goodness sake - lighten up! Galloway has far too thick a skin to let this little incident bother him, I'm sure.

Tuesday, 14 February 2006

It costs the Pentagon a lot to keep the military gay free!

The US policy of don't ask, don't tell in its military has resulted in 10,000 gays and lesbians being discharged since former President Clinton signed the policy into law in 1994. According to a University of California commission of military experts this policy has cost a minimum of around USD364m in the ten years 1994/2003. Ah well, the US is a rich (if heavily indebted) country so I am sure this small sum is considered a worthwhile expense in the fight to try and keep such evil influences out of its military.

Northern Ireland DUP politician resign in gay prostitution scandal

What would one do without The Advocate? It reports that Paul Berry has resigned from 'Dr' Ian Paisley's DUP over allegations that he had met a male prostitute for sex. I have no particular views about him having [allegedly] patronised a gay sex worker, but I do have certain feelings of schadenfreude because if someone allies him-/herself with a noisome Party such as the DUP then, quite frankly, I think that person deserves all the opprobrium that is going.

Incidentally, I recall that when I first heard about this last July I felt that there was a certain parallel with a case several years ago involving a senior executive working for arch-homophobe Brian Souter of Stagecoach. That individual had been arrested, as I recall, in an hotel in Houston for having also patronised a gay prostitute - his former boss was not amused and soon dispensed with his services.

Moral of this - 'karma'. Hypocrisy is not an attractive character trait and often receives its own amply merited 'reward'.

New links added - February 2006

A bumper crop of blogs (or other similar entities) that have come to my attention of late:

Angloaustria (Jack Maturin) I started reading this Oxfordshire-based some weeks ago and find it stimulating; he has a refreshingly direct attitude toward the nonsense that our quasi-socialist regime foists upon us day by day. I have to confess that I had to look up what the first word in his mission statement ('Misesian Views From an English Perspective') means, but once I did it tallies very closely with his free market, small state, philosophy as expressed in his posts, so there is no question of having him up under the Trades Descriptions Act! A worthy addition to my blogroll.
Baker, Gerard - Times journalist. A new blog by Assistant Editor and US Editor of The Times (the London one) - writes with a fresh and intelligent style, as you would expect of a professional journalist. Tells us: "Blogging has simply become an essential component of modern public dialogue. Not to blog is to leave oneself outside that ever-broadening conversation."
Bailey Blog, The (Richard Bailey) Richard Bailey writes from Cambridgeshire and tells us he is a press officer with the Conservative Party (planning to stand for local election later this year) and a former army officer (The Highlanders). Whilst obviously somewhat partisan in his politics he seems ready to discuss matters sensibly with those who differ. Worth watching in coming months.
Best Gay Blogs - the title gives the aim of this blog (and the associated discussion forum) and expresses their aims succinctly. If you are not gay, much of the content (and interest) may pass you by, or repel you. So be it, but I have found this resource, in the short time I have known of it, an amusing and interesting diversion. (Of course I found this through the excellent Tottyland)
ChickYoghurt I've been reading this Hove/Brighton-based [*] blog off-and-on for quite a while, but until recently it's tagline about vituperation, and the posts themselves, was rather too strong meat for my ever so delicate sensibilities, however whilst still as direct and 'take no prisoners' in tone as ever it seems somehow to have decided to marshal the arguments with just a little less unnecessary aggression. Seems to be on everyone else's blogroll already, but if you are one of the few where it's not, you could do worse than to add it. [*] Assuming, that is, that my blogwise / Google Earth site tracking can be relied upon.
Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns, The - the title pretty much says what it is, as does this amplification on the theme: "Frequently updated witty rants, opinions, news, and humour from the mind of Samantha Burns". A blog by a Canadian and her Canadian boss and collaborator. A quirky outlook which doesn't entirely hide the serious points being made.
Daily Ablution, The (Scott Burgess) The blog of a UK-based American, who bills his blog thus: "Washing brains since 2003". He writes on a wide range of topics, usually from a right-of-centre perspective. Lively and well-written. I've been reading this for so long that I thought it was already in the blogroll, but the omission is now corrected.
England Expects - "Engaging the enemy more closely - Broadsides from Brussels". Whilst there are some interesting posts, probably the most useful feature of this blog is its pan-European blogroll.
Farah's Sowaleef - the subheading for this extraordinary blog is "The everyday natterings of an exhausted, repressed, and bored "Saudi" Arabian chick". Having lived in Saudi Arabia quite a few years ago, and met a small number of 'well-born' young Saudi women socially with their families (my time there was probably not typical of many foreigners), this is perhaps not quite such a surprise to me as some others. Nevertheless it is an intriguing glimpse into another world for most of us. It is worth following the links in some of the comments, too.
Flogging the Simian - a Romanian blog written (in English) by 'Soj' which I have only recently discovered. Gives a decidedly novel (to me) interpretation of current events. Is rather quirky - I like it. I don't necessarily agree with what is written - the challenge to my views is part of what I like about it.
Hebdo Bondy Blog - "Pour voir la France, l'Hebdo s'installe en banlieue. A Bondy plus précisément, où il a ouvert un micro bureau dans lequel se relaient ses journalistes. L'expérience va durer le temps qu'il faudra pour comprendre et raconter les maux français, les pieds dans les cités plutôt que le derrière dans les cafés du quartier latin". A French-language blog started by some Swiss, which aims to enlighten the world on what is behind the disillusionment and frustration of much of the immigrant community in France 'condemned' to live idly in the suburbs, a situation which sparked the riots there a few months ago. I have been following this blog avidly since shortly after it started; the style of language used is fairly easily accessible for a fluent non-native speaker such as me. If you are reasonably fluent in French, I urge you to give it a try.
How to make a peat fire - tagline "Using online information services and building peat fires in the Outer Hebrides." A blog based in Berneray in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Writes from the perspective of someone living in a remote community, nevertheless plugged into the modern world.
Our Scotland - not in fact a blog; instead it is a discussion forum. Quite lively discussion, with a somewhat limited range of participants, though. I had an email recently asking for inclusion here, so am happy to oblige - visit and take part as you see fit.
Right for Scotland - describes itself thus: "Right of Centre Commentary from a Delusional Socialist Heartland" and thus "I'm the bad man your mother always warned you about". Can be quite confrontational in nature, but is interesting and it is certainly good to see there are at least a few non-socialists living in Glasgow.
Secret Dubai diary - "Intrigue and adventure in the United Arab Emirates". I have lived in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi and identify with a lot of what is written here. Written by a female UK expatriate it discusses what life is like in the UAE pretty openly, whilst respecting the constraints of living in what is both an astonishingly enterprising place and a very conservative society.
Spy Blog - "Watching Them, Watching Us". I have no idea why this was not put into my blogroll MONTHS ago, all I can say is 'sorry' for the oversight. I read every post that is published and regular readers here will know I link to this blog often in my posts on matters relating to the doings of this government. I find it invaluable for keeping up with the arcane detail of crucial bills being forced through parliament by our quasi-dictatorial government. Essential reading.
Stumbling and Mumbling - the rather infradig sub-heading "A snotty nosed little provincial oik" belies what is in fact a well-written blog with a very definite bias toward economic analysis of pretty high quality, as well as of someone with an interest in guitars and a highly sceptical view of politicians and all their works.
thumping the tub (by 'Michael the Tubthumper') - a Glasgow-based quite recently started blog of well-written rants intermixed with reasoned argument, from a left of centre and pacifist perspective, seems to specialise in debunking. Stimulating and amusing by turns; as you might imagine a lot of what Michael writes is not to my taste at all, but never mind that - it's worth a few moments of anyone's time.
UK Freedom - "The blog for a free and prosperous United Kingdom written at the very heart of Brussels". A Euro-sceptic blog which is quite amusing and indeed quite informative, even if I don't (mostly) share what seem to be the views of 'Gillibrand'.

Monday, 13 February 2006

I'm changing host for my 'Main website'

As I wrote here about a month ago I have been experiencing some problems with the existing host for my main website at Although these problems resolved themselves after about a week I have decided, nevertheless, to take the opportunity almost a week of downtime on that website gave me to re-examine my existing hosting arrangements and to identify what I hope will be a better and more stable host in the longer term. I have now registered with the new host and will shortly begin the process of uploading all the webpage files to the new host server. This change will unfortunately affect the way certain links in this blog operate - basically they will not work until the changes are complete, but I do not think this should result in enormous inconvenience to anyone here (those affected will be a few of the links in the right hand column and some images used in earlier posts).

Once this begins to happen only a temporary 'holding' homepage will be available at '', although there will be a subtle change in this temporary homepage once the domain name server change has propagated across the web - the propagation process for such changes can be anything from a few hours upto 48 hours, depending on how congested the web happens to be at the time I start the process, but my previous experience of making such changes is that they usually happen remarkably quickly. In any case, it will quickly be obvious to anyone visiting the temporary homepage on the new server - this is as much for my benefit as anyone else's, so I can monitor the change closely.

My hosting arrangements with the new host are at a higher level of service than those I have now (and cost more, of course), but I hope to be able to do certain things in future on my 'main website' which until now have not been possible - some of these changes may potentially affect the way I update my blog (the one you are reading), but I have not finally decided yet what form any changes will take, but obviously I will write about that here in good time as necessary.

UPDATE (Monday 13FEB06 16.20 GMT) Remarkable! I just changed the domain name servers about 10 or 15 minutes ago and already the temporary homepage of '' is visible - you might need to do a 'hard refresh' to see it. Now I can get on with the easy job, although it is a bit of a slog, of uploading all the revelant files (there are probably close to a thousand, there may be more, I've never really counted) to the new server.

2nd UPDATE (Monday 13FEB06 18.05 GMT) I have completed uploading all the pages for my 'main website' ( to the new host server, including a full 'HomePage' to allow visitors to navigate the site. In theory, provided I have made no errors, the change of host should be completely transparent to visitors. The whole process has been a lot more painless than I had anticipated and I am happy that my meticulous advance planning seems to have helped. Note: if you do notice any missing links either there, or in this blog (linking to the other website) please let me know, either in comments to this post or via the 'Feedback' link in the right-hand column. Thanks!

Can you pass a citizenship test?

People who apply for naturalisation as British citizens after November last year are required to take a 45 minute citizenship test to help officials decide if their applications should be granted; the Home Office confirmed that because of the deadline they were overwhelmed with apllications trying to beat the 1st November deadline and that the backlog of about 70,000 will take until May or June this year to clear.

However, I amused myself by taking the test the BBC had concocted out of 'Life in the UK', the book produced to help applicants learn about what it means to be British, to see if I would (if I were not a native-born Briton) qualify. Luckily I do, but I still got 4 of the 14 questions wrong! The questions I didn't get right:

Life in the UK says to be British means you should...
- I answered 'c' (be part of a modern European democracy, one with a tradition of sharing our ways with the world – and allowing the world to bring its ways to us), instead of 'a' (Respect laws, the elected political structures, traditional values of mutual tolerance and respect for rights and mutual concern), mainly because I was fooled into thinking that 'c' must, under a Labour government, be the PC answer. If I had gone with my first instinct I would have put 'a'.

According to Life in the UK, where does Father Christmas come from?
- I answered 'a' (Lapland) instead of 'c' (The North Pole); I'm afraid I still think I was right and that the official answer is complete nonsense!

According to the book, where does the myth of Father Christmas come from?
- I answered 'b' (Pagan myths updated by Shakespeare) when it apparently should have been 'c' (German/Swedish immigrants to the USA). Alright, but who cares? Who cares if an immigrant applying for citizenship knows such trivia - not me, that's for sure!

Back to that pub. The police turn up with the ambulance and an officer asks you to attend an interview at the station. What are your rights?
- I answered 'b' (You must go. Failure to attend an interview is an arrestable offence), instead of 'a' (You don't have to go if you are not arrested, but if you do go voluntarily you are free to leave at any time ) which admittedly sounds more logical and traditional. Maybe I've got it into my head that this Labour 'junta' had already introduced the response at 'b' - even if they haven't, it wouldn't surprise me if they tried to. In any case, I'll remember that one for the future - one never knows, I suppose, when that little snippet of knowledge might come in useful (unlikely if one is within a mile radius of Parliament or any other place the Police choose to desginate as being 'restricted' when being arrested would seem to be almost automatic if the Police, for whatever reason, take a dislike to the 'cut of your jib').

Sunday, 12 February 2006

Revolting abuse by British military in Iraq

Sunday newspaper The News of the World has continued its reputation for sensational scoops by publishing details of a video it has apparently received from a whistleblower. I often criticise this newspaper for indulging in bottom of the barrel journalism, but credit where credit is due - this time their revelations, if ultimately proved to be true, will have been an immense public service.

I feel revulsion and horror that some of our military can have given themselves over to behave in this barbaric fashion; I am under no illusion that soldiers sometimes behave in ways which might charitably be described as 'rough and ready', as in the recent case of nude and brutal hazing of new arrivals within their ranks, but this latest kind of savagery is of a completely different order. I always wondered if the American behaviour at Abu Ghraib would ever be echoed by we British - now we know! I supported the war, and am perfectly well aware that things may be done in war situations that would not be acceptable in civilian life. I am not going to be hypocritical - I am glad that our military has always done such a good job defending this country, but if we say we are hoping to leave Iraq a better and more democratic place than when we arrived then it seems to me that military misbehaviour by our own troops at this kind of serious level is not going to aid that process, quite apart from the moral delinquency which it betrays.

Gay adoption ban in Ohio 'doomed'

According to this report from The Enquirer (Cincinnati) a proposal to ban gay adoption 'is likely to die' as legislative leaders focus on Ohio's lagging economy. 'Scott Borgemenke, chief of staff to House Speaker Jon Husted, dismissed the bill on Friday as discriminatory and said Husted, a Dayton-area Republican, has other priorities':

"There's a growing concern within the Republican party of continuing to introduce this divisive legislation. We don't think there's some cottage industry of homosexual adoptions. We do believe people are losing their jobs."

I don't know Ohio well, but I'm pretty sure he is correct! I don't necessarily discount the views of State Rep. Ron Hood, the Ashville Republican sponsoring the bill that:

"Studies have shown that the optimal setting to raise children is in a traditional setting with a mom and a dad."

- indeed I was brought up in such a home myself and had a very happy childhood (but my parents were not bigots even if they were certainly neither hippies nor avant garde). However I seriously doubt if his other views that "children raised by gay parents have increased risk of physical and emotional problems and might question their own sexuality" is likely to be materially affected by the sexual orientation of their parents, adoptive or otherwise - if someone is heterosexual, then no-one on earth is going to turn them gay(!), nor of course do I believe that gays can be made 'straight' by counselling, far less by aversion therapy. The underlying bigotry of State Rep. Ron Hood is clear; it seems he would prefer to concentrate on the issue of gay adoption rather than on what is probably the more immediate concern of improving the job prospects of his fellow Ohio citizens.

Sir Ian McKellen criticises Hollywood attitude toward gays

Speaking at the Berlin Film Festival, Sir Ian gave his thoughts on movie-making in California as it affects gays:

"The film industry is very old fashioned in California. It is very, very, very difficult for an American actor who wants a film career to be open about his sexuality. And even more difficult for a woman if she's lesbian. It's very distressing to me that that should be the case. It's not true of actors on the other side of the American continent, on Broadway, where people are very at ease with being open and honest."

- although it is not discussed in the article, I imagine that, apart from the undoubted conservatism of some 'movie moguls', they know that gay movies have traditionally been [or perceived to be] the kiss of death at mainstream box offices across what is a much more 'religious' country than the UK (for example) and have therefore been unlikely to receive the financial backing required. It will be interesting to see if the recent success of Brokeback Mountain (which I am booked to see in early March) will have a long-term effect.

UAE gaols 26 for organising a gay wedding

An Abu Dhabi court gaoled the 26 men (one of whom was Indian, no information is given about the other 25) for organising a gay wedding in an hotel.

In the surrealistic world of the United Arab Emirates (where homosexuality is pretty common - I speak from [mostly pleasant] experience) the public prosecutor "accused" the group of homosexuality, only to be confounded by the group having the temerity to defend themselves in court saying they "were proud of their act and were keen to practice it". I admire their courage and hope they will survive this unjustified incarceration.

Three gay 'weddings' a day in Scotland

Scotland on Sunday has a comprehensive report on the levels of civil partnerships being registered in Scotland since it became law just before last Christmas, and it appears that about three have been conducted every day (173 over the past 53 days), with ceremonies booked and due to take place over the next three months standing at 385. As one would expect, Edinburgh (67 civil partnerships registered and another 178 booked) and Glagow (44 civil partnerships registered and another 81 booked) lead the pack. Traditional marriages (i.e. male/female) in each city still dwarf these figures, with over 300 being carried out a month in each city.

There are a number of other important and interesting factors which have been identified in the Scotland on Sunday article. The ratio of male/male and female/female civil partnerships has so far been 2:1. Several very discreet ceremonies have taken place in the tradtional place for 'runaway' marriages - Gretna! The discretion is nothing unusual though, because the bulk of the ceremonies throughout Scotland have been entirely normal and 'traditional', with family and friends being present. There has been an east/west split, with more taking place in east coast councils than those in the west. Two areas have had 'no demand' for civil partnership ceremonies - Midlothian and Western Isles - although as I have already written, the council in the latter has attempted to ban, or make extremely difficult the carrying out of such ceremonies so the 'no demand' finding there must be open to question. Four councils (Stirling, Moray, Highlands, Scottish Borders and Argyll and Bute) declined to respond to the Scotland on Sunday inquiries - that, by the way, seems to be five (not four) councils.

The figures for the levels of traditional marriages which continue to take place are the best possible rebuttal for the mindlessly homophobic comments of the Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti:

"This new law has created a fiction of marriage by implicitly basing such publicly recognised partnerships on a sexual engagement. This can only diminish the special status of marriage."

Conclusion - the world continues to turn on its axis quite merrily. As with the abolition of the ban on gays serving in the military the negative fallout from this change has been negligible or non-existent.

Friday, 10 February 2006

Having fun with my new laptop

I wrote a couple of days ago that I had ordered a new laptop to allow me to make use of a wireless network I want to install at home - well, it arrived this afternoon and (apart from taking time to eat and take the dog for a walk) I have of course been having fun getting it working. That was pretty straightforward and indeed within half an hour of switching it on I was online using my existing wired broadband connection, but at least I have got most of the important bits set up and this is the first blog post I am writing on it. The machine is a Fujitsu-Siemens, just like my desktop, and has a rather smart 17" widescreen, although I think I shall get myself another mouse to use when I'm at home with it, as the built-in mousepad, whilst functional, is not so easy to use as one you can move around the desk; I've found the same with every laptop I've ever used.

In a few days time I'll be installing the wireless network itself and then will come the fun of blogging wirelessly from wherever in my home I choose, although I expect I shall still use the desktop in my study quite a lot of the time. Right then, this has been a purely narcissistic post, just to test various things to do with Blogger on my new machine, but as I must still take the dog for her final walk of the evening before we both pop off to our respective beds I had better close now.

Isle of Man lowers voting age from 18 to 16

The IoM is to become the first part of the British isles to lower the voting age to 16, a move which will affect roughly 2,000 16- and 17-year olds in the island. A report a couple of years ago by the UK Electoral Commission recommended no change in the UK, though.

I do find part of the final paragraph in the Guardian article somewhat ironic: "It is not the first time the island has led the way in democratic reform." This is true, but it is also not the first time that the IoM has been very slow to put reforms into law either - see here.

US gives Federal funds to anti-gay faith-based groups

US President George W Bush has signed legislation giving USD500m to faith-based groups 'to promote and strengthen opposite-sex marriage'. Speaking at the White House signing ceremony, President Bush said:

"[It] allows faith-based groups that provide social services to receive federal funding without changing the way they hire."

- what this means, in plain English, is that 'faith-based groups are able to circumvent local and human rights laws that are supposed to protect LGBT workers'. In the weasel words of Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary Wade Horn: 'the financial windfall is not intended to specifically oppose same-sex marriage', it's just that, according to Horn: 'none of the money could be used to promote or support same-sex marriage in Massachusetts where gay marriage is legal. The money also could not be used to support gay families where civil unions or domestic partnerships are allowed'. So, that's all right then! Not!

One really does wonder sometimes whether the US is a genuinely democratic country, or a Christain theocracy - oh, I know their Constitution is supposed to keep religion out of government, but frankly it's becoming rather hard, in religious terms, to distinguish between the US and some other theocracies, such as Iran, judging by the policies of this US President.

Wednesday, 8 February 2006

Podcast - 8 FEB 2006

A new podcast is up today - to listen, click on the 'Podcast' link under Blog Links at right. It is slightly under six and a half minutes long (if you still see a link to last week's podcast at right, you may need to refresh your browser).

This week I have devoted almost the whole programme to the events surrounding the so-called 'cartoon' controversy and some of its repercussions, specially in this country. Naturally I mention the recent conviction of 'Abu Hamza' on charges of incitement to murder, too. And I round it off with a reminder that no-one should be fooled by the government's employment of all these events to try, yet again, to justify the introduction of ID Cards. No! No! No!

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

Super-excitement - a new Laptop is winging its way to me!

(Or how to blow a 'grand' in under five minutes ...)

After dithering for some time, I've finally ordered myself a new Laptop and it should (so the man on the 'phone said) arrive in the far frozen wastelands of northern Scotland by Friday. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the PC I have, of course, but it is a desktop machine so I can't indulge myself with surfing the net, or doing other things with it, except in my study. With the new machine I plan to set up a wireless network in my home, so I can use the laptop wherever the mood takes me and just use the desktop when I want to be in my 'office'.

Like the existing machine, the new one is from Fujitsu-Siemens (whose retail agent is Nice PC) - this is a brand I know well and have found to be pretty reliable over the six or so years I've had my last two machines; the new machine won't have quite so large a hard disk as the existing one (80GB instead of 120GB), but as I use only about 35 or 40GB of my existing machine it should be much more than adequate. It will however have a larger size of RAM (1024MB instead of 512MB) and a somewhat higher clock speed so all in all I think it will probably suit me very nicely.

Israel - a bastion of freedom for gays in the Middle East!

I have many criticisms of Israel in its handling in recent years of relations with Palestinians, but one thing is very clear - Israel IS a democracy, warts and all, and is willing to demonstrate in the clearest possible terms its commitment to equality and openness for its homosexual community. The High Court last year insisted that a march through Jerusalem last summer to celebrate Gay Pride should go ahead, despite attempts by the authorities in that city to ban it. Now the Jerusalem District Court has handed down a 12-year jail sentence on an ultra-orthodox Jew, Ishai Schlussel, who stabbed and wounded three of the marchers in the Gay Pride event after having convicted him on a charge of attempted murder. The court also ordered that NIS 280 million (about USD 60 million) be paid as compensation to the victims. Yes!

Northern Ireland - yet more anti-gay bigotry!

I've written many times in the past about incidents of hompophobia in Northern Ireland particularly, it seems, in the city of [London]Derry.

Now it seems that what are being called 'vigilante' posters have been appearing this week calling for victims of such hate-campaigns to fight back. Whilst I have a lot of sympathy with the attitude of those who one presumes are responsible for these posters and who must be facing lives of fear and frustration when faced with "stabbings, death threats, graffiti and even excrement posted through letterboxes", I must say that violence is not the way. On the other hand, I hope this will be a wake-up call for the police and other services to start protecting ALL our citizens and to root out the hate-mongers.

Surely Northern Ireland has enough problems with its history of religious strife? Have some people in that part of the UK got some kind of death-wish that they wish to discourage investors from helping to make life there better for everyone?

The EU - schlerosis or dynamism - you decide

I'm one of those right-of-centre people who is fervently pro-EU, even if I wasn't over the moon about the constitution as it was written. So I am very pleased that the European Commission has recognised that it is the three countries (the UK, Ireland and Sweden) that chose not to restrict labour movement from the 8 new EU members from eastern Europe immediately they joined the EU almost two years ago who have perfomed as 'good Europeans' - and it has not harmed our unemployment levels in any way, rather the presence of valuable additional labour from the 'new' countries has helped our economy (and the improved availability of people able and willing to do the practical things that need to be done).

It is disappointing that both Germany and Austria say they are going to extend the restrictions. On the other hand, Spain and Finland say they are going to lift them from 1st May this year and a number of other countries (Belgium, France and the Netherlands) are said to be looking at some lessening, too. The whole point of having the EEC and then the EU was to have unrestricted movement of labour, goods and services throughout ALL of the member countries - countries which have the right attitude have nothing to fear from openness, but those which have restrictive policies tend to have less vibrant economies. I had hoped that under their new Chancellor the Germans, at least, could start to get back their reputation for being a growing economy so I am am rather disappointed that they seem determined to keep their onerous restrictions in place for as long as possible.

Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Blogrolling is down - page-loading is very slow as a result seems to be experiencing problems at present. I make great use of them for various of the lists which appear on my page (the main blogroll, media links, podcast link, etc) and as a result of the problems at my page is extremely slow to load. If the problem persists I will obviously have to take remedial action, but as this will require a considerable amount of laborious re-coding effort I will delay doing so for now.

UPDATE: (Tuesday 7FEB06 17.05 GMT) - seems to have sprung back to life, no doubt because as it is North America-based those who run it have just come into their offices a short while ago.

Monday, 6 February 2006

Busy day - 6FEB - no posts today

I am heavily occupied today with various things, so there will be no posts today and probably not until tomorrow afternoon either.

Sunday, 5 February 2006

Complaints against 'gay kiss' advert in UK rejected

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has rejected the more than 80 complaints lodged against a 'gay kiss' scene in a television advertisement from outraged viewers. One version of the advertisement for Dolce and Gabbana (D&G) showed a brief gay kiss toward the end, whereas a similar heterosexual kiss was shown in one of the other versions. In its ruling the ASA said:

"We did not consider that a kiss between two men automatically made an ad unacceptable for broadcast, or that the kiss was in itself grounds for imposing a stricter timing restriction."

- a sensible and balanced judgment in my opinion, and not before time. Oh, and now I must just go and splash on some more D&G cologne ...

Conservatives are to have a candidates' "gAy" list

The Conservative Party, under new Leader David Cameron, has already announced it is drawing up an A-list of candidates with the aim of boosting the proportion of female and ethnic-minority candidates. Now it appears that a parallel list is also being drawn up, which is being dubbed the gAy-list, with the aim of having a 'priority' list of openly homosexual candidates selected as prosepctive parliamentary candidates in target (i.e. 'winnable') seats.

I have been waiting for this kind of signal from the Conservative Party that it is finally making real efforts to put its homophobic image (and reality) behind it). It remains to be see just how the Leadership plans to impose the A- and gAy- lists on constituency associations reluctant to accept dictation in their choices of candidates from Conservative Central Office, but I think (or at least I hope) that there is now a general realisation growing in the Party that genuine change is required, not superficial gestures, if the Party is ever to regain the confidence of the electorate and that they see in David Cameron the person that can achieve this, whilst having genuine 'conservative' credentials personally. I am now almost at the stage where I think that submission of my application to re-join the Party is a viable choice, whilst still being able to look at myself honestly in the mirror.

Saturday, 4 February 2006

'The Economist' does gay

The Economist has a couple of articles in the 'Britain' section of its latest issue (both 'premium content' available for subscribers only, I'm afraid, and both only in the UK 'print edition') covering different aspects of being gay in today's Britain.

The first article talks about the gay economy and uses the 'gay village' in Manchester to illustrate many of the points it makes. For example, that a number of city councils around the UK, such as Manchester itself plus places such as London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Liverpool, have recognised that the mere presence of a recognisable gay community 'lures investors and jobs, particularly of the high-technology kind' and have been called "the canaries of the creative economy". At the same time, though, the revenue of many popular gay venues in Manchester is falling, largely because of the increasing ease of making contact with other gays through online means in recent years, but there are other factors, too: increasing tolerance throughout the city generally means that gays feel less restricted to patronising only 'their' area; female drinkers who are straight often come to the gay village because they feel unthreatened there and often hold 'hen parties' - these are not always welcomed by gay customers - and inevitably attract groups of straight men; the gay village itself is now more tolerant and less restrictive in applying 'gay only' door policies. What this all boils down to, I suppose, is that gays are becoming more accepted by mainstream British society and the 'gay economy' is maturing.

The other article touches on gay statistics, specially in the light of the legislation in force since December 2004 which makes it illegal to discriminate at work on the grounds of sexual orientation. It is apparently hoped to include a question about sexual orientation in the next UK census (scheduled for 2011), but there is debate about what exactly should be asked - as The Economist puts it, should it ask about 'desire, activity or identity'? However, before that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is to start monitoring firms' compliance with the law - then perhaps the kind I thing I wrote about here will become less prevalent. Assuming this works, then more gays and lesbians may begin to become more comfortable about being open about their sexuality in a work-place and employment situation. The Economist also mentions the fact that census forms are currently filled in by the "head of household" rather than the individuals within it and that this is thought to mask, or even distort, the results in many areas - for example 'religion' - and this may colour the results relating to sexual orientation, too. On the other hand it suggests that worries about the validity of the results obtained from recent censuses in matters relating to ethnicity and religion has been less affected by reticence about giving honest answers than statisticians were worried might be the case. For myself I will see how I feel in 2011, and how I judge the 'climate of opinion' to be then, when deciding how to answer this kind of 'optional' question.

Tony and George as you've never seen them before

The PM and 43 get it on! They do look a happy couple ... aaahhhh

Have a great weekend!

Friday, 3 February 2006

"Smoking ban to affect white van man" in Scotland

- yes, you read that correctly! It seems that when the ban on smoking in public places becomes law in Scotland on 26th March the ban will apply also to van and lorry drivers (even if they are alone in the vehicle) because such vehicles are regarded as 'business premises' and as such are covered by the scope of the law. So, when a lorry driver crosses the 'border' from England into Scotland after 26th March he will have to extinguish any cigarettes. The ban, amazingly, will also apply to overnight stops, when many drivers sleep in the cabs of their lorries.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention it also applies to farmers driving their tractors? Or that if a room in the farmhouse is used as an office it will be covered, too?

It seems that private cars remain exempt, but I am just waiting for the first case to be brought by a businessman being driven by his smoking chauffeur, or indeed a chauffeur taking his smoking boss to court when driving him around on official business.

Our beloved Scottish Executive and our even more beloved Scottish Parliament have paassed some crazy legislation before, but this really sets a new standard, in my opinion, for idiocy! I am not a smoker and have never been a smoker, but I just cannot understand why such a crazy thing is being done. Can anyone explain it to me? Who is going to enforce this ban in these conditions? Imagine it, inspectors hiding behind bollards at the side of the A74 watching lorry drivers speeding north to Glasgow ... the mind boggles!

We in the UK are generally pretty tolerant ...

... and people can say more or less what they like most of the time. It's taken us a long time, several hundred years, to reach this position and inevitably things are said sometimes, or images drawn, that offend some group or other in our society. We have even modified to some extent some of our laws to take account of the views of some of our non-indigenous citizens (for example, rules about exceptions to wearing certain kinds of headgear by employees in specific circumstances to comply with their religious beliefs); this seems fair enough as once a person becomes a citizen then his/her point of view about something has every right to be fed into the mixer of 'public opinion' to allow public policy to keep up with overall public sentiments.

However, this is basically a pretty free and open society and one of the fundamental freedoms we have come to accept, and insist upon, is the right to express our views in freedom. This is non-negotiable and extends to those who don't happen to like the publication of images depicting the Prophet Mohamed, or indeed Jesus Christ or other 'sacred' personages - they are perfectly free to express their disapproval for such publication, provided that it is done in a peaceful way. Threats of violence or intimidation by some to achieve their objectives (to ban publication and/or to demand an 'apology') are simply not acceptable. Period.

It so happens I have not taken the trouble to hunt on the internet for the images which appeared first in Denmark (months ago!) and then more recently in several other European countries. So far no British newspaper has taken the decision to publish them here. Coupled with our generally tolerant attitude one of the other things that generally speaking characterises a lot of British people a lot of the time is our instinctive respect for the feelings of others, so I can quite understand why Editors of various national newspapers have chosen not to publish - partly not to offend those who say they would find this objectionable, but because they realise that the bulk of the readership would also find it somewhat disrespectful to offend gratuitously those who are Moslems. But this is a VERY long way from saying that most British people would accept for one second the notion that it was FORBIDDEN to publish them. I may not agree with every word Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, is quoted as saying here, but I think in summary what he is trying to say is similar, as is this Telegraph editorial.

If a British newspaper does in due course choose to publish these photographs then there will be no obligation for anyone to buy a copy, or to read it. My advice to people who might be offended - just ignore it.

My comments apply equally to the controversy raised recently over the theatre production 'Jerry Springer - The Opera'. I probably wouldn't have paid good money to go and see it in a theatre, but I did watch it on television and found parts of it quite amusing, even if I found the constant profanity somewhat wearing. Similarly with the publication some years ago by Salman Rushdie of 'The Satanic Verses' - a truly turgid book I have to say, but nevertheless I think it would have been quite wrong to try and stop it being published, any more than I think it would be wrong to prevent the expression of views I find odious by people such as the BNP or some people within the Muslim community such as Iqbal Sacranie, or people within the Christian community such as Pope Benedict XVI or some of the Catholic and Anglican [Arch]Bishops.

A lot of people say they enjoy living in the UK. So do I (apart from the weather in winter, of course). Part of my enjoyment flows from the relative freedom and tolerance we enjoy here. So to my fellow British citizens, some of whom may be devout followers of religions such as Islam or Christianity, the only possible response can be:.

This is a democracy where freedom is valued.
Get used to it!