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

Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Are the wheels finally coming off the sleaze-ridden Labour wagon?

Of course it is not the Labour Party alone that very possibly has questions to answer, but it is the Labour Party that has a Treasurer who felt forced to announce to as wide a public as possible that he was being kept in the dark by the Party's political leadership about the way his Party funds itself - and that Party is currently the governing Party and its Leader is our Prime Minister.

Gaelic zealots openly flout local democracy

Yes, that's right. A Caithness councillor has correctly observed that there are few Gaelic speakers there so has suggested that planning permission be refused for the placement of Gaelic language road signs in that part of the Highlands.

Such arguments cut no ice whatsoever with Cllr Hamish Fraser , chairman of Highland Council's Gaelic select committee, who prefers to spout anti-democratic and dangerous nonsense such as this:

"In that area there are many Gaelic names and, I am sure, there is Gaelic spoken there. (How, exactly, is he 'sure' - presumably not on the basis of anything so mundane as solid research?) But at Highland Council we have a policy and we are agreed to that policy and that applies throughout the region. Areas cannot be selective." (Who, exactly, is he 'we' who have made this policy decision?)

House of Lords capitulates in ID Cards battle

By 287 to 60, the House of Lords has today accepted a 'compromise' in its battle with the Government on the indroduction of ID Cards.

The so-called 'compromise' is that UK citizens will not be required to apply for an ID Card when renewing a passport until 2010, but after that they will! I call it a 'capitulation'! Of course the House of Lords at least fought the fight against this iniquitous legislation for quite a prolonged period, whereas our weasly MPs in the House of Commons long ago accepted the Government's platitudes!

This Government is really the most despicably dishonest crowd of shysters! Their manifesto promised that ID Cards would be 'voluntary', not 'compulsory', and weasles such as Charles Clarke, Home Secretary, want us to be believe that they have abided by their manisfesto commitment when tying this to obtaining a passport - as with all this Government's LIES it is perhaps technically correct (just) for them to maintain this position, but in the real world which everybody else inhabits (who is not a paid lackey of this Government), it is the most blatant skirting around the truth to pretend that having to get a passport because one wishes to (or has to) travel abroad makes it 'voluntary'. The implication in the tortuous logic which this Government would have us believe is that in order not to be obliged to obtain an ID Card, one must accept that one is confined, passportless, within the borders of the UK for the rest of one's life.

What one really needs to do is to get the people from the Campaign for Plain English to subject political manifestos issued before elections to the closest syntactical and linguistic scrutiny and to provide translations into plain English so that the electorate is in a position to understand what political parties, specially the Labour Party(!), are actually saying. They have done this for years with regard to insurance policies, with some degree of success in recent years.

I really cannot write any more just now about this - I am far too angry!

Mary Scanlon seeks Tory nomination for Moray by-election

I read (*) in today's Telegraph that Mary Scanlon MSP is seeking formal selection to stand as the Conservative Party candidate in the up-coming by-election for the Scottish Parliament in Moray. The vacancy arises because of the recent death of Mrs Margaret Ewing MSP, who was the 'first past the post' member for the seat for the Scottish National Party.

Mary Scanlon MSP is currently one of the two Conservative 'list' MSPs for the Highlands and Islands Region, the area in which I live; she was number two in the Conservative Party 'list' of seven candidates for the area.

Whilst Mary Scanlon MSP has many 'sterling' qualities, she is a lady who fell greatly in my estimation because of the support she gave for the odious campaign of Mr Brian Souter (one of the co-owners of the Stagecoach transportation company) in his efforts to prevent the repeal in Scotland of 'Clause 2a' (the equivalent in Scotland of the odious 'Clause 28'), the regulation which until its repeal discriminated against gay people in the UK, whilst posing as a mechanism to 'protect' children, but which in fact (amongst other things) classified even long-term relationships between homosexuals/lesbians as 'pretend family relationships'. So, of course, I lost the admiration I had earlier had for Mary Scanlon when I saw at close quarters (as a former Vice President and member of the Executive Committee of what is now the Conservative Party's Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency association) because of the opportunism of her support for Souter's campaign, despite what I believed (and still believe) to be her own more moderate personal opinions, the opportunism arising because of the support she calculated she could garner within the ranks of many of the mainly elderly Conservative voters in the area. So about 18 months later, after the election of Iain Duncan Smith as Leader of the Conservative Party, I resigned.

Spool forward a further 18 months, about a year ago, when I happened to run into the former Chairman (a lady, as it so happens) of the constituency association at the gym we both use; she is a delightful lady and we had a very enjoyable - and lengthy! - discussion about matters political (we are both 'political junkies') and it was not long before she mentioned her own much more recent and total disillusionment with Mary Scanlon, a disillusionment which was apparently increasingly shared by a number of other senior people within the local constituency association as well as by a certain number of ordinary members because of their belated recognition of her blatant 'opportunism'.

The relevance of all this? Well, if Mary Scanlon wins the Conservative's formal selection, which will be decided this evening, to stand as their candidate in the Moray by-election she will, under Scottish Parliament rules, be required to stand down immediately from her current role as a 'list' MSP for the Highlands and Islands region. Whilst not wishing to minimise the 'courage' Mary Scanlon may be displaying, I suspect it may have been her own recognition of the fact that she might not achieve even second place in any future Conservative 'list' for the Highlands and Islands Region elections for the Scottish Parliament, the next due to be held in 2007, so almost guaranteeing the loss of her place at Holyrood - so she chose to 'jump ship' in September last year when she was adopted as Conservative PPC for Holyrood for the Moray constituency.

If she is formally adopted by Moray Conservatives in Elgin this evening, and succeeds in winning election as the 'first past the post' MSP there (which would be a remarkable achievement) I will be left wondering just how long it will be before the Conservative Association in Moray comes to form a similar view to me of her as an 'opportunist', a view it seems rather too many others within the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency association now share with me for somewhat different reasons?

(*) - there does not appear to be a link for this in the Telegraph website, as the article perhaps appears only in the Scottish print edition, which is where I saw it.

UPDATE: (Sunday 16APR06 15.50 BST) See later story here about alleged unethical activities by Mary Scanlon (or her supporters) during the course of the by-election campaign.

Tuesday, 28 March 2006

Mass strike and riots in Paris!

Neither blogs nor the internet existed the last time there was rioting on this scale in France in 1968 (since last winter of course!). If you can receive BBC News 24 there is currently live coverage of what is going on in the Place de la Republique in Paris; it seems that the vast bulk of those taking part in today's 24-hour strike are peaceful and that it is a small minority who seem to be bent on inciting violence.

Luckily the strike over pensions in the UK today seems to be without violence so far.

Sunday, 26 March 2006

Thou mayest not smoke the noxious weed in enclosed publick spaces

From today it becomes illegal to smoke tobacco in any enclosed public space in Scotland, in a law passed last year by the Scottish Parliament.

As a lifetime non-smoker I might be expected to support this legislation, but in fact I have grave doubts about it. Until the government gets its act together and decides whether it wishes to continue to profit by hefty taxes on the consumption of this product, or whether it wishes to make it completely illegal, I think the government should keep its paws off smoking. People like me simply don't visit smoky pubs and I doubt very much if I'll start using them simply because of this change.

The Scottish Executive doesn't actually think it necessary to remain in Scotland to govern the place; perhaps they should get their priotities in gear and leave us alone all the time - and quit passing completely unnecessary legislation.

Spring forward once more ...

Clocks go forward in the UK by one hour during tonight, from GMT to BST - until October. We had snow here a couple of days ago, but it lasted only one day and today was decidedly Spring-like. Indeed a weather forecast this evening mentioned that my little corner of Scotland (around the Moray Firth) could expect temperatures of 14 or 15 C tomorrow - it seems that winter is finally over!

Saturday, 25 March 2006

Protests in Minsk over disputed result of Belarus election

Neeka's Backlog alerted me to the demonstrations currently taking place in Minsk in protest at the allegedly rigged re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in last Sunday's election. Thru Neeka's Backlog there is also a link to the minsk_news community where l_u_f_t has posted a series of excellent photographs about what is going on there.

The BBC report on current events in Belarus is here.

Are we beginning to see a repeat of Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution'? Difficult to say at this stage, but it seems that the old certainties that allowed dictatorial Communist regimes to maintain themselves in power for so long in so many countries of Eastern Europe may be breaking down in yet another country. One can but hope.

The largely domestic, and in some ways quite 'petty' concerns of many in the comfortably wealthy nations of the world (such as much of Europe, North America and various other countries such as Japan and Australia, etc), often blind us to the day-to-day struggles which people in less fortunate nations have to face. Whatever develops in Belarus, I hope that violence will not form too large a part of it and I hope, too, that President Alexander Lukashenko may soon realise that the game is up and not unleash his security forces to quash dissent.

UPDATE: (Sunday 26MAR06 00.28 GMT) Lukashenko is playing hardball with the protesters. It now looks as if this whole situation could get out of control and become quite ugly.

Friday, 24 March 2006

Gay sex attacker sentenced to five years in gaol

Cyrus Winton was sentenced today at the High Court in Glasgow for having lured and sexually abused a number of young drunk men whom he lured into his car before driving them out of the city where he assaulted them at knifepoint. It seems that attacks have taken place on men irrespective of their sexuality and that at least one straight men has been attacked.

Winton is a sick and dangerous individual; I expect he will require careful watching long after he completes his prison sentence.

Zut alors! Il parle en anglais; la France ne l'accepte pas!

And with that (or thoughts analogous to it) Monsieur le President de la Republique Francaise Jacques Chirac withdraws (or 'storms') from an EU summit meeting!

The incident happened when Monsieur Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, the French president of the employers' association UNICE, chose to address the meeting in English, stating that English was the working language of that session and the accepted business language of Europe. Anyway, Monsieur Chirac wasn't having any of it and flounced out, accompanied by his Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy and his Finance Minister. Thierry Breton.

C'est avec le plus grand respect, Monsieur le President, que je vous nomme 'cretin', 'cornichon' et 'nigaudinos'.
(It is with the utmost respect, Mr President, that I name you 'hopeless fool', 'berk' and 'booby'.)

Scotland has a national antherm - it's called 'God save the Queen'.

Our First Minister, Jack McConnell, is exercising himself over a suitable 'national' anthem for Scotland - we have one already and it's called 'God Save the Queen'.

Now, back in the 'real world' of petty Scottish politics I would have to say that the song being used for Scotland at the Commowealth Games in Melbourne, 'Scotland the Brave', is one of my favourites and if we have to have something other than the correct song, 'God save the Queen', then that seems like a good choice. But, whatever happens, let's puhleese not have that maudlin' song 'Flower of Scotland' - what a depressing dirge that is! I squirmed with embarrassment when it was [badly] sung by some unknown woman at the ceremony to mark the start of the reconvened Scottish Parliament in 1999 - let's have no more of it!

So, Mr McConnell, I've had my say. Happy now? Now perhaps you can get back to your 'day job' of managing the enterprise that is Scotland.

PS/ I like 'Highland Cathedral' (very much!) too, Jack, but it is a bit of a dirge - not really suitable for the dynamic thrusting Scotland that I, and one hopes you, want; all very well for the last Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, to have that played when he left Government House, but not entirely suitable for modern Scotland, I think.

Thursday, 23 March 2006

Untimely absence. Web-design problems.

I have been very pre-occupied this week with resolving some web-design problems in another website I operate so have not had the time to devote to current affairs for the past few days, notably the continuing 'cash for peerages' scandal, the UK Budget delivered by Gordon Brown yesterday and the Iraq situation. Good news today, of course, is that Briton Norman Kember and Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden were rescued in Iraq earlier today after what is reported to be a 'weeks-long operation led by British troops and involving US and Canadian special forces'. This is a happy outcome, specially after the senseless killing a few weeks back of American Tom Fox, the fourth person captured with those freed today.

The other good news, from my point of view, is that I have resolved the HTML problems I had been encountering on the other website I mention above and have almost finished uploading the amended pages to the server, so I will be able to devote more time to this blog - once I have had lunch that is!

Monday, 20 March 2006

The moral compass

Yet more confirmation that I'm an unreconstructed 'Libertarian'! I'd say that, although this quiz is designed principally for an American audience, it is strikingly accurate for me - I hardly had to think for more than a few seconds before answering any of the questions in the 'long poll', the answers seemed to me to be so clear-cut. It seems, however, that whilst my views on economic liberalism are shared by more than just a vanishing minority (even in socialism-infected Britain!), my views on this when coupled with my similar views on social liberalism are shared by only a very few. Luckily I have lived my life on the basis of my beliefs, though, and have therefore placed myself in the position of being as completely independent of the dependency-culture favoured in this country, by all the major political parties to various degrees, as legislation permits.

Your Score - You scored -1 on the Moral Order axis and -7 on the Moral Rules axis.

The following items best match your score:
System: Liberalism
Variation: Economic Liberalism
Ideologies: Ultra Liberalism, Progressive NeoLiberalism
US Parties: No match.
Presidents: Ronald Reagan (86.02%)
2004 Election Candidates: John Kerry (76.20%), George W. Bush (72.05%), Ralph Nader (58.31%)

Of the 170164 people who took the test:
0.2% had the same score as you.
95.8% were above you on the chart.
1.2% were below you on the chart.
39.8% were to your right on the chart.
52.5% were to your left on the chart.

- Distribution table is here;
- To take the test click here.
(thru Gavin Ayling - amongst others)

Saturday, 18 March 2006

Google and US Goverment both [seem to] get some of what they want

A US federal judge has denied a US government request that Google Inc hand over a sample of keywords that customers use to search the internet, but requires that the company produces some of the results of such searches. But anyone can produce such results, simply by keying in weird word-combinations into the Google search box, and I'm sure the fertile imaginations of US Homeland Security officials can come up with some good ideas; at the very best, I think this is a Phyrric victory for the US Government - and it shouldn't surprise anyone to know that I got the link to that Wikipedia article via a 'Google' search!

The arguments are arcane, but probably far-reaching. Nicole Wong, Google's associate general counsel is quoted in a company website as saying:

"What his ruling means is that neither the government nor anyone else has carte blanche when demanding data from Internet companies."

- the full comment is available on the Official Google Blog - here.

Will 'Teflon Tony' weather this storm of sleaze?

More developments in Labour's ''Peerages for sale' scandal. I expect it's not just Labour that's involved, though, but they do seem to have taken the whole thing to a whole new - much lower - level. The unctuous Patricia Hewitt, Health Secretary, doesn't even sound as if she believes the guff she comes out with!

Previous instalment in this unfolding saga of political scumbaggery.

Fresh mussels - off the menu!

These particular mussels, anyway!

Friday, 17 March 2006

Inverness golf and hotel complex plan approved

The plan will involve two 18-hole golf courses, a driving range, clubhouse and a 57-bedroom hotel at Castle Stuart, Dalcross, near Inverness. Dalcross is the airport for Inverness.

There have been rumours for some months that developers wished to create a satellite settlement outside Inverness, which has been growing rapidly in recent years, with an eventual population of around 10,000 people. The site favoured was in the Castle Stuart area and the new settlement is to be called 'Castle Stuart'. There has been a lot of local opposition to this plan, both from within Inverness itself and from Nairn, where I live, as there are fears (which I don't share) that the area is becoming over-saturated and that local service won't be able to cope. For years this area, which has a total population of not much more than 200,000 in a land area of roughly one-third of Scotland (about 10,000 square miles - the largest local government area in western Europe), has suffered from high unemployment and the sparse and mainly spread out population has meant that most local services are concentrated in the few existing urbanised areas, which together house at least half the total population. Now that the local economy is at last growing a little healthier, albeit with a high proportion of 'makey-workey' state sector employment, there are some stick-in-the-muds who want there to be no new development, because they find it convenient for this whole area to remain an empty, beautiful (but bleak) outpost. I am glad to see that the local planning people have overridden the local objections to the golf and hotel complex and I hope they will continue to back innovative developments for our area, which can only bring in valuable new investment and vibrancy to the local economy.

Royal Navy sailors allowed to march in EuroPride London in uniform

Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, speaking to journalists aboard HMS Somerset, a Type 23 frigate anchored in the Thames, said:

"I don’t mind what people’s sexual orientation is, provided it doesn’t affect a ship’s operational efficiency."

Vice-Admiral Adrian Johns, Second Sea Lord and Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command, speaking at a conference held by Stonewall, said:

"We came to realise that sexual orientation was not something that could just be put to one side, because there is potentially a direct impact on operational efficiency.

"When people can’t give 100 per cent to their job because they are being intimidated or they are scared or they are preoccupied with hiding their true identities rather than playing a full part in the team, operational efficiency is degraded."

This seems like a sensible and pragmatic policy by the First Service, which will avoid the shameful victimisation of valuable naval personnel in earlier years, as then practised throughout the British military in general. The EuroPride Parade will take place this year in London on 1st July.

St Patrick's Day - 17th March 2006

As a Briton who is one quarter Irish (a grandfather came from a small village near Cork) I have a certain ancestral affection for the 'Emerald Isle'. For this weekend's celebrations in Northern Ireland, some civil servants in Belfast have helped to redecorate the reptile house at Belfast Zoo by giving it a lick of green. No doubt I shall celebrate in my own eccentric way by having a liqueur glass of Creme de Menthe this evening.

Happy St Patrick's Day to all my readers!

UPDATE: (Friday 17MAR06 10.40 GMT) It seems that my St Patrick's Day sentiments of 'bonhomie' are not shared, so far as gays are concerned, by the organisers of the St Patrick's Day parade in New York. Twats!

2nd UPDATE: (Saturday 18MAR06 11.05 GMT) But the Americans, some of them at least, are finally wising up to Gerry Adams - this one made me smile!

Complete 'round objects'!

Yet another scare story high on vague warnings, but no hard facts, about the alleged dangers of the Atkins diet.

As someone who has lost 5 1/2 stones on 'Atkins' (commenced June 2003, reached target Feb 2004) and since reaching target over two years ago maintained a pretty steady weight on the 'lifetime maintenance' atage of the diet, I think I am reasonably well-qualified to express a view. The Atkins diet is the best thing that has happened to me in a very long time; I plan to stay on it until the day I die and if I continue to feel as good as I have felt since I started it not far short of three years ago I shall be very happy indeed! For full details of my experiences on 'Atkins', see the relevant section in the right-hand column or click here; I would add that both my cholesterol levels and my blood pressure have shown marked improvements, too.

Thursday, 16 March 2006

Illegal actions should be condemned, not lauded!

Bill puts his 'po-faced' hat on (sorry about the mixed metaphor)! Some chancer cons some poor woman out of GBP20- with a bogus fine for smoking in a public space, ten or so days before the relevant law takes effect in Scotland, although it's not clear if the precise circumstances would give rise to a fine even then.

But to read the comments (scroll down the page) of some bloggers, one might be forgiven for thinking that this was quite amusing; I fail to see the joke! And I have to say I'm pretty shocked, and disgusted, by their moral delinquency. I'm probably being unduly 'rough' on the middle of these links, as I suppose the comment is intended ironically.

As I'm in this sour mood, though, here's another pretty deplorable kind of comment; physical looks are no guide to the moral worth of a person - and yes, it is 'childish' as the writer himself recognises in the title of this post.

Now I'm going to pour myself another glass of Sercial (a gloriously dry and nutty variety of Madeira) and crack a few more walnuts, as an aid to shutting out the ugliness (or vacuity) of some people's thought processes.

Gay barman in 'rape lie' court case

"A GAY barman from Bishop's Stortford, who told police he had been raped, is being tried for perverting the course of justice" - report in the Herts & Essex Observer.

Obviously I have no knowledge of what actually happened, but it strikes me that a gay man is almost the last person on the planet to put himself through the trauma of making a claim of rape to the police, with the attendant publicity that this will probably cause; it is undoubtedly pretty traumatic for a woman to make a claim of rape, too, as traditionally her own morals are often brought in as a 'defence' by the perpetrator; I hope the police have good grounds for taking the action they are taking. I suppose it is just possible, however, that Daniel Schwan is some kind of masochistic attention seeker!

Incidentally, a certain so-called 'gay news' outlet appears to have more or less copied the Observer's article and is passing this off as being by a ' writer' - this seems to be a regular practice at that website, although this is one of the more blatant examples of 'passing off' that I have seen, even there! (Miiaaooowwwwww!!!)

(PS/ I make no claim that my little blog is any kind of 'news resource' - I have few resources to allow me to generate genuine 'news stories' unless something important happens to take place on my doorstep, which it does only very occasionally. All this little blog represents is my comments on what is happening in the world, or at least those very few items of news that I choose to focus on.)

Irish PM to officially open Gay Equality offices

Bertie Ahern, Irish Taoiseach ('Prime Minister'), is to officiate at the opening of the new offices of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN). Eoin Collins, Director of Policy at GLEN said:

"We are delighted that Mr Ahern has agreed to open our offices. Over the past while, the Taoiseach has been making very strong statements about Ireland’s position in the world, the need to attract the highest quality people to Ireland. He has also talked about being very ambitious for Ireland. That’s one of the things GLEN are about, being very ambitious for the gay community. We’re talking about building us into that mainstream agenda, so that diversity and equality for gay people is actually part of Ireland’s success story.

"I think his appearance sends out a very powerful statement about this government’s basic commitment to treating lesbian and gay people as equal citizens. We’ve had presidents launching things before, but this is centre of power coming to the lesbian and gay community. I think that’s a very important thing, and it’s something we want to build on. It’s also a fun occasion. It’s really a time to celebrate the emergence of lesbian and gay people into the mainstream of Irish life."

In a country that has the reputation of remaining very true to its Catholic traditions it is good to see this kind of step by a political leader.

Two golds for Scotland at Melbourne!

Scotland won two Gold Medals today at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne! BBC link: Caitlin McClatchey, 20, won the 200m freestyle, while David Carry, 24, took first place in the 400m freestyle; there's a video link there so you can watch both performances and the flag ceremony at the end. As David Carry said when he was interviewed just after winning his event, it's not every day that Scotland is at the top of any medal league table, so it's worth a mention. Well done to the two of them!

Czech Parliament passes gay rights law

The Czech Republic has become the first former communist nation in Europe to pass legislation permitting same sex partnerships. Just enough votes in Parliament were received to override the veto of President Vaclav Havel in February. So, if that is closer to your own view, you can share the pain of President Havel when he made this statement: "[the law is] a defeat for all of us who believe that the family in our society is fundamental, unique, unrivalled". For myself, I prefer the sentiments of leading gay rights activist Jiri Hromada: "The law is a compromise. It will harm no-one and will make many happy.".

Wednesday, 15 March 2006

What does Labour's Treasurer do?

And how does the Labour Party organise its finances? Jack Dromey, the Treasurer, has announced he was completely unaware of various loans taken by the Party, amounting to several million pounds and has, remarkably, felt the need to call in the Electoral Commission to investigate.

Of course, no-one would expect Mr Dromey (Deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union and, incidentally, husband of Harriet Harman) to know every little detail, but surely to goodness a Treasurer should at least see monthly printouts of financials - one assumes the Labour Party does have computerised accounts and even if these are not very efficient, I daresay they get statements of their various accounts from whichever banks they deal with - you know, just to know what's coming in and what's going out. This whole affair is beginning to sound very 'fishy' - if I was a 'shareholder' (i.e. a paid-up member of this organisation) I'd be asking some hard questions!

I'm just watching Jack Dromey just now on BBC2 'Newsnight', speaking with Jeremy Paxman. I have to say he sounds a sensible man who does not sound like a 'patsy' - oh yes, this is shaping up to be a really top-grade scandal.

UPDATE: (Friday 17MAR06 11.10 GMT) This scandal just seems to go on growing! And the solution, in this writer's view, is NOT to have state funding of political parties - political parties need to spend less money, not more, and get back to dealing with the people they hope will vote for them as individuals, not as 'cattle' to be exploited for their political, and it sometimes seems monetary, benefit by means of increasingly sophisticated 'marketing strategies' which are in the main crude propaganda exercises.

At last, charges have been brought!

Quite why it has taken so long for this to happen is not clear to me; one strongly suspects that the authorities (police, CPS, government) have been forced to bow to the pressure of public opinion, although with the blatant nature of the actions of the demonstrators on 3rd February it should have happened the same day - and would have, I suspect, had the demonstrators not been Moslems. Whilst I agree that it is necessary to avoid giving unnecessary offence to people expressing their views based on their religion, the views of the much larger non-Moslem community, not to mention the views of very many moderate Moslems, need to be taken into account. Free speech - yes. Incitement to violence and murder - definitely not!

Tuesday, 14 March 2006

Legislation planned to outlaw anti-gay discrimination

The Department of Trade and Industry is to introduce legislation to ban discrimination against gays in the provision of goods and services.

This is designed. for example, to end the practice of denying same-sex couples hotel accommodation by some hoteliers, or similar discrimination in the case of restaurant table bookings, ensure that same-sex 'wedding lists' are available to those planning civil partnership ceremonies on the same basis that retail outlets offer such services to prospective heterosexual marriage partners, etc. Similarly it will become unlawful for predominantly gay venues to exclude heterosexuals.

I think a lot more good than ill will come from this legislation if it is passed. I will be interested to see which Members of Parliament choose to support this proposed legislation and which choose to oppose it. For example, will some of the 'usual suspects' come out of the woodwork? Will, indeed, some of these surprise us by their reformed attitude?

Monday, 13 March 2006

Want to help prevent Britain become a dictatorship?

I speak of course of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill which I wrote about here.

Well, a new website called Save Parliament has been launched with the aim of opposing this iniquitous piece of anti-democratic legislation. If you share my view, you may feel that this new website is a useful resource to aid in providing information about the Bill and what you can do to oppose it.
(thru The Current Outlook)

Guantanamo - it needs to be closed fast!

There was a series of extraordinary articles in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday concerning Britain's involvement in Iraq as a partner with the US. I am tired of repeating it, but I will repeat it once more just for clarity; I completely supported the invasion of Iraq for the purpose of removing Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath Party from power there. The plans were very quickly successful, but it began to be clear within a few weeks of the 'conclusion' of this phase that the follow-on rebuilding of Iraq as a successful democracy was not going in any way according to plan - largely because it became clear rapidly that there was no detailed planning for how this was to be carried out and those 'plans' which did exist, and which were seemingly improvised at short notice, seemed to be unravelling before our very eyes. For example, the person first named to head the Coalition Provisional Authority (the website now advises that link will remain valid only until 30JUN06 and has not been updated since the CPA was dissolved and people are being referred to the US Embassy website in Baghdad), when he had to be withdrawn very rapidly and replaced by another nominee, because it was quite clear his ideas on how to run the CPA did not accord with those of the US Administration.

Basically, far too few military personnel were 'on the ground', post-conflict, to ensure that law and order was rigorously maintained and many of those that were there seemed neither to have the training, skills or inclination to provide the support necessary to the Iraqis to help them build a stable democracy, the stated aim of the whole exercise. Whatever the faults that may be attributed to the military, largely American although the other military forces there are not immune from all criticism of course, the basic error has clearly been at a political level - and this is largely attributable to Washington because the Americans, quite simply, 'called all the shots' by virtue of their overwhelming power; the British government has largely, and necessarily, followed the American lead.

Anyway, after that lengthy and somewhat rambling preamble, I started to write about the Sunday Telegraph articles which appeared yesterday. Two of the reports were by Sean Rayment and related the story of a British SAS soldier, Ben Griffin, who refused to fight in Iraq and has left the Army over what he termed the "illegal" tactics of United States troops and the policies of coalition forces and in the main article inside the newspaper he related how Ben Griffin said, after having served alongside US troops in Baghdad during a three month spell there that: 'I didn't join the British Army to conduct American foreign policy'. Amongst the direct quotations attributed to Mr Griffin:

"I saw a lot of things in Baghdad that were illegal or just wrong. I knew, so others must have known, that this was not the way to conduct operations if you wanted to win the hearts and minds of the local population. And if you don't win the hearts and minds of the people, you can't win the war.

"If we were on a joint counter-terrorist operation, for example, we would radio back to our headquarters that we were not going to detain certain people because, as far as we were concerned, they were not a threat because they were old men or obviously farmers, but the Americans would say 'no, bring them back'.

"The Americans had this catch-all approach to lifting suspects. The tactics were draconian and completely ineffective. The Americans were doing things like chucking farmers into Abu Ghraib [the notorious prison in Baghdad where US troops abused and tortured Iraqi detainees] or handing them over to the Iraqi authorities, knowing full well they were going to be tortured.

"The Americans had a well-deserved reputation for being trigger happy. In the three months that I was in Iraq, the soldiers I served with never shot anybody. When you asked the Americans why they killed people, they would say 'we were up against the tough foreign fighters'. I didn't see any foreign fighters in the time I was over there.

"I can remember coming in off one operation which took place outside Baghdad, where we had detained some civilians who were clearly not insurgents, they were innocent people. I couldn't understand why we had done this, so I said to my troop commander 'would we have behaved in the same way in the Balkans or Northern Ireland?' He shrugged his shoulders and said 'this is Iraq', and I thought 'and that makes it all right?'

"As far as I was concerned that meant that because these people were a different colour or a different religion, they didn't count as much. You can not invade a country pretending to promote democracy and behave like that."

There is much more in the article. He says he expected to be 'placed under arrest, labelled a coward, court-martialed and imprisoned for daring to air such views', but instead was allowed to 'leave the Army with his exemplary military record intact and with a glowing testimonial from his commanding officer, who described him as a "balanced and honest soldier who possesses the strength and character to genuinely have the courage of his convictions".'

Max Hastings, a noted British military historian and generally a strong supporter of Britain's foreign policy under whichever Party is in power, in his comment article in the Sunday Telegraph, reaches broadly the same conclusion as Mr Griffin about the wisdom of British involvement, alongside the US, in Iraq.

We have all learned what happened at the detention centre in Baghdad at Abu Ghraib and the more recent stories of the activities of some British soldiers in al-Basrah, so it is pretty remarkable that, having voiced the comments he has that Mr Griffin has been treated so fairly by the Army. In reality I expect his exemplary record made it impossible to do anything else - and more pertinently probably because others in the British military hierarchy share his views about the way operations are being conducted in Iraq and are every bit as appalled as he is.

Now, you may be wondering, just what has this to do with Guantanamo? In a way, nothing at all. After all it is a 'fact' that Saddam Hussein, whatever his many faults, had absolutely nothing to do with the Taleban regime in Afghanistan, with Osama bin Laden or with al-qa'ida, even though many Americans, from President Bush on down, often seem to give the strong impression they believe otherwise. Most of those detained in Guantanamo were as a result of the confict in Afghanistan to get rid of the Taleban administration there and, after the horrific events of 11th September 2001, attempts to capture Osama bin Laden and to reduce the influence of al-qa'ida, so the connection with Iraq is practically non-existent. Except that the inept policies in Iraq appear to have allowed and attracted a whole coterie of al-qa'ida and other terrorist fellow-travelers to that country and led inexorably to the current parlous security situation there, particularly in the central areas of the country dominated by Sunni Moslems.

The same bizarre thinking on the part of the current US Administration led to the setting-up of a detention centre for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - deliberately chosen, it would appear, as a place outside the direct control of the US judicial system. The three young men, collectively known as the 'Tipton three' who appeared in Channel4's feature length documentary-drama , 'The Road to Guantanamo', shown for the first time in the UK last week - and repeated this evening at 9pm on 'Channel4 More Four', are hardly a good advertisement for Islam or indeed for British youth. Even so, it was still a shock to me, despite having heard many reports of alleged practices there, mainly from lawyers acting on behalf of the detainees or their families and occasional reports originating from the Red Cross, to see the reality of the treatment meted out to the suspects both in Afghanistan and, at least in the intial stages, at Guantanamo. The film was first released at the Berlin International Film Festival in mid-February and there was an online report about it in the Der Speigel website, which covered it at the time. I have not heard anyone from the US Administration denouncing the Channel4 film as some kind of exaggeration, far less a complete fabrication.

However, what the US Administration has done is to mount a renewed effort to try and convince us in Britain that its policies in Guantanamo, whilst a 'difficult sell', are sound - this task has fallen to Colleen Graffy, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (and I can't help wondering if the length of her job title is in inverse ratio to her importance in the State Department decision-making hierarchy). I heard her being interviewed by John Humphrys on BBC Radio4 'Today' last week and wrote about that here. The surreal arguments she deployed on behalf of the US Administration did not convince me and I gained the distinct impression that she was not entirely convinced either, intellectually or morally. The good lady appeared again yesterday in a subsequent interview with Colin Marr on 'Sunday AM' - you can watch the video stream of the whole programme until next weekend; it lasts an hour and the introductory segment on Guantanamo starts about 27 minutes in, with the interview with Ms Graffy starting roughly 29 minutes in - link to it from the interview report above, or click here. The interview link above has a full transcipt of the interview; my impression when I heard the whole thing yesterday and when I re-read it now is that Ms Graffy's arguments are somewhat tortuous and, after a lot of thought, in very many ways lacking in credibility.

What it all boils down to, in my humble opinion, is that whilst I share the aim of the US Administration, and our own government, that it is necessary to combat terrorism strenuously, we are undermining our own democratic societies by some of the methods being employed in these efforts. Guantanamo is a prime example of this. If everything is so 'hunky-dory' there, and detainees are being treated so well, then why not transfer them all to a detention centre within the United States of America, subject ultimately to the normal US judicial system? Even more, why not bring any chanrges against the suspects that the US administration feels are justified, in a regular military or civilan court within the US? It is striking that the British suspects were all released by the British authorities within hours of their repatriation to this country because there were simply no credible charges against them - ironically, one of the three made the unarguable comment toward the end of the film that he could prove he was not in Afghanistan during much of the period his American interrogators insisted he had been because he was on paole from prison here in the UK at the time, and reporting to a police station every day, whilst one of the others stated he had been working at a branch of electrical store 'Curry's' - really, you couln't make these stories up! I am left with the distinct impression that many of the others still detained have as little real connection with 'terrorism' as the three naive young British Muslims - but they don't have the eyes of the western world upon them as the three young Britons did because of their nationality. Yes, the programme left many things unsaid - there was no mention of the atrocities in New York and elsewhere in the north-eastern US on 11th September 2001, just a few days before the three left for Pakistan and subsequently for Afghanistan, for example.

However, the US Administration's policy of holding people for indefinite periods, without charge, at Guantanamo is wildly counter-productive if the aim is to win the hearts and minds of moderate Moslems in the US, Europe the Middle East and the rest of the Islamic world. Guantanamo needs to be closed without delay in our own self-interest! Oh, and I may as well repeat it here yet again - President Bush needs to replace his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, as he is one of the prime architects of this whole idiotic policy; I would ideally advocate replacing Vice-President Dick Cheney for similar reasons, but he holds a key constitutional role within the US political system so cannot so easily, or practically, be got rid of unless his reported health problems [fortuitously?] intervene, as they have apparently done in the case of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Attorney General faces up to 'Police State' Britain

Firstly, The Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, has apparently not broken any law merely by recording, even covertly, telephone conversations with the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, as is reported here by the BBC.

That's to say, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), available at the Office of Public Sector Information website, it is not in any way illegal if the recording is made for the sole use of the person doing the recording using equipment which is under their control. It becomes a civil, not criminal, offence only if a communication (telephonic or e-mail) has been recorded and shared unlawfully; it can be made lawful by seeking the consent of the person being recorded.

This still leaves the important question of why Sir Ian Blair has felt the need to record covertly a conversation with Lord Goldsmith; assuming it is not for any purpose (*) which could rise to a civil liability offence under the RIPA then, being charitable ("as I am, always": you must be kiddin', shurely - Ed.), it is purely for the purpose of serving as an aide memoire.

(*) On the other hand, if Sir Ian Blair is making this recording, and others (we learn), for the purpose of 'back-up' (i.e. 'protecting his own back'), or even as source material for a future autobiography, then use of material from such recordings becomes useable only if he first seeks the consent of those with whom the communication took place.

It is very common, when telephoning banks or insurance companies, or even the local council, to be presented with a recorded voice message informing callers that "calls may be recorded for training or security purposes", etc, and whilst one might not be particularly happy with this it can in no way be described as 'covert'; I have even, in the past, used this technique on my own telephone - although I have not used a recorded message for the purpose when taking calls personally (+), rather I have simply told the person with whom I was speaking that I was recording the conversation - as this has always been when speaking with companies or orgnaisations which were themselves using this same technique then they were hardly in a position to object. (+) - And of course I use a recording machine on my telephone to take messages when I am not available, or do not wish, to take a call myself and the message I leave makes this very clear.

No, what this latest sorry episode from Sir Ian Blair reveals is the extent to which 'Police State Britain' has become a reality and the way in which the mentality of the state apparatchik, which is the only term to apply to someone such as Sir Ian Blair, has taken hold. As I have written several times before, the whole attitude of 'if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear' exemplifies the way the police in this country now think. On the other hand, if Sir Ian Blair truly believed this mantra, then he would simply have said to Lord Goldsmith something on the lines of: "By the way, your Lordship, I'm going to be recording our conversation - you don't mind, do you?" - the fact that he apparently DID NOT DO SO tells us all we need to know!

Sunday, 12 March 2006

Wow! - the searches which people 'Google' and which arrive here!

I thought I just had to share this prime example of a bizarre Google query string which somehow arrived here (with my little blog as the first result when I checked):
"wealthy gay websites,gay escorts market/demand"
- noted from my overnight visitor stats. I am left wondering whether the individual who typed this into his/her browser was simply doing research or seeking out potential (possibly personal) commercial opportunities - the mind boggles! (According to my stats the query came from someone in a town in Nevada - so I am at least relieved to know that several thousand miles separate us.)

Abba comes together to combat homophobia from the Polish President

From The Local - Sweden's News in English comes a report that Abba have come together for the first time in a decade to sign memorabilia for auction in support of gays in Poland and the money raised will go to Warswaw Pride, badly in need of support after the attacks on it by Poland's President, Lech Kaczynski, who last summer banned gay pride celebrations in Warsaw.
(thru the beatroot)

Funnily enough I referred to another protest against President Kaczynski just a few days ago during a visit he was making to Berlin to speak at a university conference, and it is good to see that life is being made as difficult as possible for him - naturally as the President of an EU member nation he must be given a certain amount of 'respect', I suppose, but he must not be allowed to forget what membership of this organisation requires - freedom and equality for all EU citizens, and that includes Polish citizens!!

New links added - March 2006

Just a couple of new links this time, but I wanted to get them up quickly rather than waiting until I had some more to batch with them; both discovered thru the ever-excellent (even if not always to my taste) Normblog:
beatroot, the (Peter Gentle) - describes his blog as 'Politics and current affairs of Poland, Central Europe and the EU from a British journalist in Warsaw' and this seems a very fair description of what this excellent blog seems to do; it will be good to add a parspective, even a foreign one, to the politics of a country new to my 'blog firmament';
land of sad oranges, the (Fayrouz Shagrawi) - an editor at the Ma'an Independent News Agency in Bethlehem/West Bank who also teaches English to pupils studying for Bagrut (high school exams in Israel) at a school in East Jersulalem and who says: 'This blog is my attempt to clutch to sanity, and give another voice from Palestine'. This is a brand new blog that has not really had time to establish itself properly, but if she can find the time and energy to keep up reasonably regular posting then it should be worth following to get a Palestinian perspective on an unstable region.

Friday, 10 March 2006

It's bracing here on the north-west coast ...

... politically speaking. Yet another of these political map thingies; no real suprirses for me there, I've taken many other similar tests and come out in roughly the same place - it's where I feel comfortable:

NW-You would feel most at home in the Northwest region. You advocate a large degree of economic and personal freedom. Your neighbors include folks like Ayn Rand, Jesse Ventura, Milton Friedman, and Drew Carey, and may refer to themselves as "classical liberals," "libertarians," "market liberals," "old whigs," "objectivists," "propertarians," "agorists," or "anarcho-capitalist."

- to take the test click here.
(thru Gav's POLITICS)

First gay MP to 'wed' partner this summer

Ben Bradshaw MP, a junior minister in the government, is to 'marry' his partner of 12 years, Neal Dalgleish, in a civil partnership ceremony later this year. He will be the first MP to enter into such a 'wedding' since the Civil Partnership Act took effect last December. Good luck to the happy couple!

Thursday, 9 March 2006

"Better to be a fascist than a faggot"

... so says Alessandra Mussolini (the granddaughter of Benito Mussolini, Italy's wartime fascist dictator), whose far-right political party was welcomed recently into a coalition by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in advance of next month's Italian general election. It is frightening that people so close to power in one of the EU's major constituent nations are actually thinking such things, and it is even more terrifying that some are giving voice to them!

Thank goodness some peaceful protesters made clear what they think of such bigotry during a visit by Polish President Lech Kaczynski to Humboldt University in Berlin to give a speech on European affairs.

American Red Cross calls for equal treatment for gay blood donors

At long last, common sense seems to be breaking out with regard to the donation of blood by gay men:

"The AABB [American Association of Blood Banks], ABC [America's Blood Centers] and ARC [American Red Cross] believe that the current lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with other men is medically and scientifically unwarranted and recommend that deferral criteria be modified and made compatible with criteria for other groups at increased risk for sexual transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections," the groups said in a joint statement issued at the conference (*).

(*) "Behavior-Based Blood Donor Deferrals in the Era of Nucleic Acid Testing", hosted by the US Food & Drug Administration.

US Congress succeeds in derailing Dubai Ports plans

Opponents of the takeover of P&O's US interests by Dubai Ports World (DPW) have succeeded in derailing the plans, already strongly supported by US President Bush.

Good old-fashioned US 'protectionsim' with an added dose of bigotry has succeeded in showing the whole world, and more especially the Islamic world, that however moderate, friendly and open an Arab nation may be to the rest of the world, in particular to the western world, it makes no difference to many of those who matter in the US - you are still just Arabs and we don't want 'your kind' running some of our ports. What about all the US-owned businesses in almost any country around the world you care to mention? What about the enormous levels of US debt internationally and the fact that the US has been living way beyond its means for many, many years?

Here's what The Indepundit has to say about this sorry affair - and he is certainly no wet-behind-the-ears 'liberal'; read the comments, too, some of them are pretty instructive in showing how bigotry has triumphed here as well as giving some interesting insights into how this may affect politics in the mid-term elections later this year.

Sunday, 5 March 2006

Gay bank executive claims GBP5m for unfair dismissal

Peter Lewis is claiming for unfair dismissal against former employer HSBC, where he worked as a very well-paid trader. He alleges that the bank dismissed him because of his sexuality; the bank denies this and claims that he had sexually harassed another male employee whilst in the company's headquarters gym.

I have no idea who is in the right here, although I have my own private views on the matter (I myself am a former employee of HSBC), but I share the assessment of Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, who is quoted as saying:

"It will be a high-profile case because of the large sums of money involved. It's very unusual for such allegations to be made. If Peter Lewis is successful, inevitably there will be employers across the country that start taking the treatment of their lesbian and gay staff more seriously."

- I will be watching this case closely. So will many others in the 'gay community' I suspect.

Does anything the LibDems do REALLY MATTER?

The yawn-fest that was the LibDem leadership election race is finally over, and the new Leader Sir Menzies Campbell is making a lot of what he hopes, for political purposes, are the right noises. But does any of it really matter in British national politics? I doubt it. Had the LibDems gone for Chris Huhne I might have wondered if the woolly Party was finally beginning to get its act together, but by choosing Sir Menzies they have gone for a 'safe' choice. He is trying as best he can to make his message sound 'fresh', but does anyone outside the LibDem bubble really believe him, and will they care? I may be entirely wrong, but I suspect that talk of the LibDems holding the balance of power after the next election is yet more LibDem wishful thinking. (Trying to extrapolate from the 'parish pump' politics of the Scottish Parliament/Executive to the wider UK situation is a delusion, in my humble opinion.)

Archbishop of Canterbury on 'wrong side of history'?

It looks inreasingly as if he may be, although for that analysis to be valid one would have to accept my definition of what is the 'wrong side of history', or more specifically where I would like it to be. Rowan Williams is now expressing more clearly than ever before his fears of a rupture in the Anglican communion which might last "for decades", all because of the appointment of one man, who happens to be gay, as a Bishop in the US. Until a year or so ago I would have had no uncertainty about which future trends might prove to be on the 'right side of history', but in more recent times I have begun to have my own doubts - after all, who would have believed five years ago that the US, long regarded as a bastion of democracy, would have a government which tries to justify locking people up without trial, for years on end? Who would have believed that in our own Parliamentary democracy we would have walked into a situation where we are the most CCTVed population on the planet, all on the basis of it being for our own protection? Who would have believed ten years ago that a US President would want to add a new amendment to the US Constitution to outlaw the whole concept of gays becoming marriage partners? Who would have believed two years ago that our own government would seek authority, so far denied it, to lock people up without charge for upto 90 days, again on the grounds of it being for our own good. Who could ever have imagined that a minister of the Crown, former Home Secretary David Blunkett, could ever have mused aloud on the justifiability under any circumstances of using intelligence gained under torture as a defensive measure? So complacent belief in the idea that gay 'rights' or 'equality', or however you wish to describe it, is a one way bet is no longer a particularly safe option, in my view. Make no mistake, if a political party judges it expedient to change direction to appeal to latent bigotry in the electorate, it could happen very rapidly. Look how ready are our major political parties to exploit such bigotry when it suit their purposes in matters relating to 'asylum seekers' and immigration generally.

The right side of history may turn out to be, twenty of fifty years from now, very far removed from where I (and I hope at least a few others) have always thought it would almost inevitably lie. It is all really rather depressing.

Saturday, 4 March 2006

Dem gays get everywhere - and they won't have it!

In the surreal world that the US seems increasingly to represent, two parents in the north-west Missouri town of Savannah have objected to the presence in the children's section of the local library of a book called "And Tango Makes Three". It tells the true story of two male penguins at Central Park Zoo in New York City who jointly hatched and reared a baby pennguin. The book was moved to the non-fiction section of the library, although the Rolling Hills’ Consolidated Library director Barbara Read explained that the reason it was moved was that as it was a factual story the non-fiction section of the library was more appropriate. However, she gave the game away when she added:

In that section there was less of a chance that the book would "blindside" someone.

- in reality, it is felt better in middle America for parents not to take the risk of their 'little mites' seeing such dangerous material ('How many kiddies spend their time browsing in the non-fiction section?', they reason).

... and to continue the theme of this post "surrealism in America", there are these two competing views on how to deal with bullying in Iowa schools. First, we have the Des Moines Register which seems to take a fairly sensible and straightforward approach and then we have the Quad City Times which takes a much more 'conservative' approach, although still on the surface aiming to attack what seems to be a real problem with the bullying of gays, although they are not happy for it to be described in that way - that might force them to face up to at whom most of the bullying is likely directed and thus face up to their own prejudices.

The way Britain is heading - intimidation and fear as a method of control

For those under the illusion that they continue to live in a 'free and democratic' country under NuLabour here is what the World Weary Detective has said in what he announces is his final post in his blog:

This is the End

On Friday 3rd March 2006, the Management Board of the Metropolitan Police Service issued the following statement to all members of staff:

'Recently the organisation has become aware of a series of web-logs or blogs - where authors - claiming to be police officers - have offered their views on a number of issues in a highly personalised, often controversial manner.'

This statement is followed by 'guidance' on writing blogs. In summary, this states that although 'blogging' cannot be stopped, the 'impact of expressing views and opinions that are damaging to the organisation or bring the organisation into disrepute' must be considered. Disciplinary proceedings may be considered against posters of material that may be (among other things) defamatory, offensive or otherwise inappropriate.

I have committed no crime. I have compromised no police operations. I have received no payment for anything published on this blog. All opinions expressed are my own.

It is therefore with deep regret and great sadness that I must announce that I will no longer be submitting posts to this blog. I cannot challenge New Scotland Yard. I am weary indeed and cowardice is my bedmate. The protection of my family must take precedence.

To each and every one of you - take note of what has happened here and be afraid.

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever. - George Orwell

(thru Rachel from north London)

I've been writing for a while here about the increasing levels of authoritarianism to which we, in the 'free and democratic' countries of the world, are increasingly being subjected. The cataloguing of the population which is being carried out in one way or another in this country and in many others in recent years is just yet another chipping away at our liberties. Some of us, in jobs such as the World Weary Detective are already getting to know, in a very personal way, just what it is like to live in a country where one's every action is being observed and recorded by unseen hands who have the power to make our lives uncomfortable if they decide it is 'necessary'. Remember this the next time you hear a senior police or government official tell you, reassuringly, that:
If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

And you will recall that the Metropolitan Police is the same organisation that, last July, murdered an innocent young Brazilian going about his business and then indulged in lies and deceit to attempt to cover up what it had done and that the Commisioner of Metropolitan Police at the time remains in his post as I write.

UPDATE: (18.20 GMT) And it's not just in the UK of course, it's in the 'Land of the Free' too! (thru Andrew Sullivan - The Daily Dish)

Friday, 3 March 2006

Wandsworth said to be 'gay capital'

According to the Wandsworth Putney Guardian, the borough has witnessed 62 civil partnerships since Civil Partnerships became possible in December last. It's good to see such an accepting attitude from the local council.

Isle of Man repeals section 38

By 12 votes to 9 the House of Keys has repealed section 38 of the Sexual Offences Act, the island's equivalent of 'Section 28'. Having lived in the IoM during my teenage years I follow closely what goes on there and am glad it has now joined the 21st century.

PS/ See my later post in August 2006 in advance of the coming into effect of the equalisation of the 'age of consent' in the IoM for gays with straights.

Guantanamo - the shame continues, as do US denials

A BBC reporter has conducted a 'proxy' interview [*] (the only kind that is feasible under the rerstrictions imposed by the US) with a Kuwaiti detainee at Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It makes for interesting and shocking listening.

I heard part of it on the BBC 'Today' programme this morning, followed by an interview between John Humphrys and someone speaking on behalf of the US (an Under-Secretary of something or other) whom I have, I think, heard before. As John Humphrys said at one point, he felt it was a 'surreal' experience listening to the good lady argue her case. I concur. Truly in this particular case and in the particular circumstances of the US policies at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, this is definitely a case of 'two nations divided by a common language'. Listen here.

[*] The interview questions were posed by a US lawyer on behalf of the reporter, and he took down in longhand the replies.

Royal Navy ship to host first gay civil partnership

Yes, HMS Warrior will be the venue when Lieutenant Commander Jim Phillips and Marcus Rutter get hitched in the next day or so. The civil partnership ceremony will mark the couple's fifth anniversary of their online meeting. The Lieutenant Commander is the second member of personnel in the Royal Navy to form a civil partnership. Good luck, sirs!

Whadja think the RCs will say about this, then?

Apparently Superdrug is 'confident' that VAT on contraceptives (aka condoms) is to be reduced from 17.5 to 5 per cent in the forthcoming budget. Also affected may be 'morning-after' pills. This seems like a good move to me:
- it may encourage more people to be safe(r) when having sex, whatever their circumstances;
- it will make 'making whoopee!' a little cheaper.

Expect some negative comments, though, from the Roman Catholic church condemning this lurch toward 'encouraging promiscuity', or some such nonsense.

'The vicar' clears one of his flock ...

Tony Blair seems to think that Tessa Jowell has done nothing wrong. I think this story will run on for quite a while yet - despite the Prime Minister's blatant attempt to close it down. It stinks! (Not an original comment, as many others seem to feel the same way, but I feel better for writing it.)

UPDATE: (Friday 3MAR06 09.15 GMT) A later report from the BBC, using the same photogrpahs as the story linked to above, puts a different slant on this story - one more in line with widespread opinion.

'Big Brother' watch - Cap 47, line 732

Let's get it straight, shall we? Tax evasion is a crime, tax avoidance within the law is a noble thing - and people would be mad not to arrange their affairs to pay as little tax as is consistent with staying strictly within the law. So let's have no more of this nonsence that tax avoidance is somehow wrong.

It seems ridiculous, and going well beyond the law, for the Chancellor to purport to require "accountancy firms ... to report new tax avoidance schemes to HMRC before recommending them to clients". What the Chancellor needs to do is employ tax accountants of a sufficient calibre and ingenuity to identify potential 'loopholes' in his own crackpot legislation and not expect to get such work done for free by people employed by others to find their way legally through the financial maze he is largely responsible for!!

What can you expect for only 430 million pounds?

Well, if you are going to build infrastructure on the cheap, don't be surprised if it begins to fall to bits shortly after the builder has packed up and gone!

Frankly I think the Scottish public are embarrassed that we spent so little on what is supposed to be a symbol of our nationhood. I'm sure most of us would have been more than happy to see our taxes raised a little, say doubled or tripled for a few years, if it meant we could have had a decent Parliament building, rather than a shoddy little number costing a mere 430 or so million pounds.

Thursday, 2 March 2006

Nairn shoreline on a winter day

Today was bitterly cold in Nairn, but it was one of those winter days where the sky was almost totally blue and the sun shone bright, if not very warmly. Lots of kids, and their parents, had great fun using their toboggans on the slopes of the dunes surrounding the cricket pitch in front of my home, but what interested me late this afternoon was a long walk along a couple of miles of the Nairn shore with the late afternoon sun glinting off the wet sand and the shallow water offshore:

Nairn shoreline at low tide

Sandbars at sunset

(Click here to see larger images)

Bill throws a 'hissy fit'

I have removed the blog of Iain Dale from my blogroll as a result of a post in his blog congratulating Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, for having done a 'fantastic' job after ten years in his post. In a subsequent exchange we had in comments to his blog he said the following in one of his comments to me:

What?! What a ridiculous thing to say. So I don't agree with an assertion you make. Therefore you refuse to carry on the discussion. Dear oh dear. I agree with civil partnerships, but I do not regard it as the only thing to judge a politician on. Single issues are rarely the only yardstick to judge someone by.

- well I am terribly sorry, Iain, I am sure you are a lovely person, but your 'fantastic' in reference to John Howard's record sickens me. It would have been better, in my opinion, to counteer-balance this uncritical eulogy, if you had made some reference to his absymal policies relating to asylum seekers and gays. Your attitude reminds me of Jews and other inmates of Nazi concentration camps during World War II who collaborated with their overseers, because it allowed them to live for a few days or weeks longer before themselves mostly being shoved into the ovens along with the rest. I understand the motives, base ones, behind such collaboration, but I don't respect them. My little protest will most likely make no difference to you, but so what? I only added you to my blogroll in the first place, earlier this month, because you wrote me an email on 29th January asking me to do so - in a message back to you a couple of weeks later I wrote the following:

Hi Iain,

Thanks for your email a couple of weeks back. I thought I should let you know that I've finally got around to adding a new batch of links to my blogroll, amongst which is a link to your own blog; curiously enough I had been following your blog quite closely for some months, specially in the run-up to and immediately following the 2005 General Election. If you do add my own little blog to your blogroll I shall obviously be grateful (although I do not operate a policy of necessarily reciprocating to all links to this blog, nor do I expect the same in return).

As an erstwhile Conservative (I resigned in disgust when IDS was elected Leader) I am encouraged by recent developments, but will wait a little while longer to see whether Cameron's follow-through on various 'policy reforms' matches the rhetoric before deciding whether to re-join; I certainly accept that the signs seem positive. After some of the unpleasant nonsense spouted in the latter years of Hague's leadership and during the bulk of IDS's happily brief tenure I am wary of committing myself again formally to the Conservative Party until I am reasonably certain it has changed irrevocably.

Kind regards,

- It goes without saying that what you write in your blog is entirely for you to decide, just as it is optional for potential visitors whether they choose to visit or maintain contact. I obviously had a niggle at the back of my mind about your blog before the last election, too, when I was reading it quite regularly at one point, which prevented me adding your blog to my blogroll then; I now see that my earlier instincts were valid and I am correcting the situation. Good luck!

UPDATE: (Friday 3MAR06 14.35 GMT) Oh, and I mentioned above about John Howard's appalling policies regarding asylum seekers - this is the kind of thing I was referring to!