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

Thursday 31 August 2006

Has Blair completely lost his mind?

To paraphrase Shuggy. Blair's latest authoritarian initiative, spotted through Gary at A Big Stick and a Small Carrot in his amusingly titled post We're all going on a Soma Holiday seems to indicate that our Tony has got far too much sun during his Caribbean vacation.

Whether his intitiative is anything more than a headline-grabbing exercise in spin, as so many other hastily cobbled-together policies announced by Blair and other senior members of his Government have been, is anyone's guess, but the sheer bizarre nature of what he seems to be proposing (he is after all, Gawd help us, Prime Minister - not some alcohol-soaked denizen of the local bar) is almost beyond parody. What exactly does he mean when he says he envisages intervention in people's lives "pre-birth even". What exactly does he mean when he says he wants to force teenage mums to take help to head off difficulties? What form will this 'force' take and what, precisely, are the difficulties he refers to? What precisely is the practical action which lies behind his use of the phrase 'pussy-footing' when referring to action he thinks is necessary, but which may be resented by those at whom it is directed? His statement that:

"If we are not prepared to predict and intervene far more early then there are children who are growing up - in families which we know are dysfunctional - and the kids a few years down the line are going to be a menace to society and actually a threat to themselves."

has sinister implications, in my view, when his use of the phrase 'pussy-footing' is considered. Or is all of this just one more in a long line of meaningless ill-thought policies by a Prime Minister who is now very probably nearing the end of his tenure?

Even vomit has its uses, in Aberdeen ...

... definitely not nice ones, of course.

I've heard of projectile vomiting, a la Barry Humphries's character Barry McKenzie, but using a basin of vomit as a weapon of assault is a new one on me. It strikes me that it is this kind of ignorant, drunken behaviour that would merit public humiliation such as a day in the stocks being pelted with over-ripe fruit, or a seat in a ducking-stool - not this namby-pamby being 'bound over' for six months to be of "good behaviour", useful as this avenue might be as an adjunct to a proper punishment. I would have no desire to physically injure this person, or anyone else, simply to curb such odious action and a bit of exposure to public opprobrium, and the knowledge that this would be the consequence of anti-social behaviour, might very well stop the aberrant behaviour in the first place.

Now, li'l ol' Bill is going to try and calm down and get the rather alarming manic gleam out of his eye ...

Wednesday 30 August 2006

Public inquiry into pylons plan

Scottish and Southern Energy (the modern name for Scottish Hydro-Electric and Southern Electricity, now one company) want to build 600 pylons over a 137-mile route to take renewable energy from wind and wave farms in the north of Scotland to central Scotland, where most Scots live; the pylons would run from Beauly (near Inverness) to Denny, not very far from Glasgow.

The Scottish Executive have just indicated that the link will go to a public inquiry, a move that has been welcomed by opponents from the 'green' lobby, though even Eleanor Scott, Green MSP for Highlands and Islands is quoted as saying:

"The upgrade does need to take place - in a careful and considered way - if Scotland is to make the most of its renewable energy resources and make our own contribution to tackling climate change."

- the sub-text of what she is saying, to me, is quite obvious. There are absolutely no votes in carrying out policies (i.e. not doing this, or something similar) which would lead to people having to curtail significantly the energy they consume to run all the electric gadgetry in their homes - such as the computers (2), televisions (5), video recorders (4) and DVD players (3) in my home. Not to mention all the other creature comforts that I have come to take for granted - like having my home centrally heated (currently by gas, a non-renewable energy source). I do not believe I am in any way atypical of my fellow-Scots living in the central belt of Scotland who, alas, are not so favoured as we probably are by having local sources of renewable energy on our doorsteps.

I've thought for a number of years that it is inevitable we will require to build new nuclear generation capacity to replace generating plant (nuclear, gas, coal, etc) which for various reasons may have to be replaced or diminished. If those who are opposed in principle to projects such as that proposed by Scottish and Southern, in order to meet the government's targets for renewable energy, then they will have to realise that their opposition may come with a severe price - no longer being able to switch the kettle on to boil water whenever we feel like it, or getting used again to living in colder houses, as when I was a young child. I sympathise with the 'green' desire to have our countryside remain completely unspoiled, but frankly I don't think they have thought through some of the consequences of their opposition if taken to a logical conclusion.

Local murder updates - Alistair Wilson (Nairn), Renee Macrae (Inverness)

This week's Nairnshire Telegraph (no online source) says that Northern Constabulary's handling of the investigation into the doorstep murder of Alistair Wilson in Nairn in November 2004 is to come under a second independent review by Grampian Police. My most recent post on this murder is here. There are links to all my posts on this murder, so close to where I live, in the right-hand column under the heading 'Murder in Nairn' articles.

My view for a while has been that the trail has gone cold, as it seems that not even a motive has yet been established for the killing, far less any real leads which might result in the killer being caught; whether the Grampian Police review will throw up further 'lines of inquiry' is not known, but I suppose the thinking is that fresh eyes may see something that the local force and the earlier review (carried out in February 2005, with results not released) have so far missed.

On the other hand, in the far older murder inquiry involving Renee Macrae and her son Andrew, both of whom disappeared in 1976, it is clear that Northern Constabulary continue to hope for a breakthrough as they have just announced that an "evidential gap" has been closed and that a report will be passed to the Procurator Fiscal "within months" once the inquiry has been taken a little further, with a view to the Crown establishing whether a prosecution is now justified.

Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, worst in Scotland for health hygiene

This is NOT the headline of this BBC story; you have to read the article quite closely to tease this fact out of the welter of detail.

It is one of three hospitals in Scotland given an 'Amber' grading for their level of compliance with national cleaning specifications:
- Raigmore NHS Trust, Inverness - 83.1 per cent;
- Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary - 84.1 per cent;
- Royal Alexandra Hospital, Paisley - 84.4 per cent.

Douglas Seago, head of facilities management for NHS Highland, which operates Raigmore, said the figures were disappointing and is quoted as stating:

"It was primarily down to the level of monitoring and staff becoming used to a new system.

"In June we managed to achieve an 89% compliance and in August we are looking at a 92% level of compliance.

"So in quarter two we will be in the green band and we will be achieving the over 90% average."

I do not wish to be unnecessarily cynical (that'll be a first! - Ed.), but Mr Seago's comments remind me of a Soviet-era Industry Minister telling comrades how wonderful everything is and that tractor production is, yet again, breaking new records. Time will tell how successfully the filth has been reduced - a future report, based on externally audited reporting, will with luck bear out his estimates.

Tuesday 29 August 2006

Nairn and the A96 Corridor Masterplan

Further to my earlier post (9th August), I have now located the Halcrow report online within the Highland Council website here. (OK, I confess, the link was actually in a Highland Council public notice published in this week's Nairnshire Telegraph). From that link you need to scroll down the page to the 'Inverness' section and click on the link there - it is to a large '.PDF' file.

Below is an image of the Highland Council public notice, from which you will observe that a series of manned exhibitions of the option proposals is to be held in mid-September; the exhibition in Nairn is being held on Thursday 14th September 2006 and will be open to the public between the hours of 12.30-21.00 at the Nairn Community Centre, King Street. I shall be visiting it myself and hope that many others in Nairn will do likewise:

Other meetings are being held on Monday 11th and Wednesday 13th September at Inshes Church, Inshes Retail Park, Inverness and Culloden Library, Keppoch Road, Culloden respectively.

"... we were just having fun. We thought it was funny."

US Senate candidate for Rhode Island Stephen P. Laffey clarifying why he wrote articles denigrating gays whilst he was a college student. He describes copies of the articles he wrote, which were sent to the Providence Journal anonymously, as attempts to smear him. I always thought a smear involved implicating someone in things they hadn't actually done, not things they themselves admit having done.

We are all helpless with laughter. No really.

Gay love in the mountains

Nepal sees its first gay marriage. They look a happy couple!

Sunday 27 August 2006

Who killed the newspaper?

That's the somewhat provocative title of the lead story in this week's Economist magazine (UK print edition), highlighting a prediction by Philip Meyer in his book The Vanishing Newspaper that the printed newspaper will die out by early 2043. The premise of the article is that, as in so many things, it is necessary to 'follow the money' - the young aged 15 to 34 in the UK are said to spend 30 per cent less time reading national newspapers if the begin using the web. And who of that age does not use the web? Advertising revenue, specially for classified ads, is leaving the print media for the internet at an "unseemly" rate according to the article.

I am sure the article is correct, although I do have reservations on how complete the rout of the main stream media (or what is currently mainstream) will be. Perhaps this is a function of my age, but I think getting news from the internet is a very different experience than using a newspaper - it is at the same time hugely easier to get information from an enormous range of sources by using a news aggregation website (such as Google or Bloglines), but it is at the same time a much more random operation. For example, how likely is it that I would have seen in the future an article similar to the Economist article I link to at the top of this post if I was reliant on happening to chance upon it in an online version of the magazine. And would it matter? I'm not exactly sure, but I have noticed the loss of coming across sundry bits of information by browsing through print newspapers and magazines which seems to occur with the much more focussed searches which one has to input into website query boxes in order to try and get to the kind of information one wishes to access.

With encyclopaedias, for example, it is a very different experience to wade, or browse idly, through the 30 or so huge volumes of the old-style Encyclopaedia Britannica, with 32,086 pages of print, even if you could find a recent version to buy, or would want to spend the money to possess it, or have the space to store it. For the last 7 or 8 years I've had the Encyclopaedia Britannica on CD-ROM uploaded to my PC and whilst I find it great fun, occasionally, simply to browse through the list of articles and click at random, in practice some of the randomness is lost over the print version. Use of PC or online sources of information seems to require a completely different technique, it seems to me. For the user it is essential to focus in on the general area of interest in order not to be overwhelmed by too much information; for the publisher it means targetting those at whom one's message is best directed. Advertisers are beginning to take full advantage of all of this in a way they never could with printed sources of information. I suspect that, in the long run, there will always be a place for specialised print media, even if for most purposes we will come to rely on online sources. It will be a very different world.

Friday 25 August 2006

Bill gets himself SatNav enabled

That's a jargon enriched way of saying I just purchased a SatNav device. Whilst I don't need such a gadget for my day-to-day driving, I've been on a few journeys recently where this facility would have been useful and will at the beginning of next year be making one of the longest journeys by car I have ever attempted when I plan to travel (via a North Sea ferry to Zeebrugge from either Rosyth or Hull) to the southern Netherlands and after a few days there travel on to the Murcia region of Spain, where I will be spending about 3 months before heading back to Nairn in mid-April. I've done the trip to the southern Netherlands before, but from there on (apart from a section in France) it will be new territory for me by car until almost at my Spanish destination. Trying to manipulate paper maps whilst driving, which is what I would have done until now, and indeed would have been the only option until the last few years, is fine for shorter journeys, but would have become extremely cumbersome with maps of a sufficiently large scale to make the journey I am planning comprehensible. So I have taken the technology-based route to try and make the whole thing easier.

My machine is made by TomTom and I have gone for the GO 710 model, which has full mapping of western Europe. After getting the thing out of its box and getting it up and running (not quite as simple as is promised on the box) I thought I would take a brief trip to see it in action; sure enough, it took me the 25 or so miles for the short trip I decided on and used exactly the same route I would have, although on the return journey it took me by a somewhat different route, but not in my view the most rapid. However the slight detour it wanted me to take encouraged me to investigate the menu options in more detail so I now understand better how to get it to follow the parameters I set. I've also programmed in various tentative journeys, including the one I plan to take in going to Spain this coming winter - the level of mapping detail is quite extraordinary and the instructions the machine delivers are easy to follow. Verdict - so far it seems like an excellent purchase.

Thursday 24 August 2006

How will Spain view this Scottish court ruling?

Sheriff James Smith, sitting at Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court, has ruled that provided a 19 year old delinquent, Trevor Scott, provide documentary proof that he has been out of Scotland on a pre-arranged family holiday in Spain for two weeks, he will grant bail and delay imposition of a 'restriction of liberty order', of which four have already been imposed on him in the past year.

Just what does a delinquent have to do in Scotland today for our courts to impose punishment rather than a reward? And how does the good Sheriff imagine his cavalier attitude toward another country will be viewed there, even one as tolerant as Spain?

South African cabinet approves gay marriage

It's not law yet, of course. But the South African cabinet has given its blessing (Reuters article) to a bill allowing gay marriage. The bill must still be approved by South Africa's parliament, although no date has been fixed yet for that debate to happen. South Africa's high court, in a ruling issued last December, said that as same-sex unions must be allowed under the country's constution, Parliament had one year to amend the current definition of marriage, failing which the law would be changed automatically to permit same-sex unions.

Developments are awaited. Fingers crossed! Let's hope the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada can soon be joined by South Africa as one of the sadly few nations (as yet) which recognise same-sex marriage.

Yes, it's true, most Jamaicans are raging homophobes!

Despite what rap artists Beenie Man and Buju Banton would like us to believe, solely in order to save their music careers in my opinion, a considerable number of their fellow countrymen/women are raging homophobes. I reproduce in its entirety this article from The Jamaica Star online:

PEOPLE's POLL: Should homosexuals be marked?


The issue of homosexuality and what some say is the general homophobic attitude of Jamaicans, is a topic that never grows old. Several debates and discussions have been centred around this issue and the detractors are just as vocal as the proponents.

We wanted to know how people felt about this issue, so we asked:

Do you think homosexuals and lesbians should be marked in some way so that the general public will know who they are?

Yes - 61%

No - 36%

Don't Know - 3%

The majority of the respondents felt that homosexuals should be marked. Although this is not really a surprise, considering the general attitude of Jamaicans, we must wonder why exactly this 61 per cent wants to be able to identify the homosexuals and lesbians.

Many will think this is just proof of the violent attitude some Jamaicans have towards gays and will believe that the 61% who said yes, want the homosexuals to be marked so they can abuse them.

The poll was conducted on July 15 and 16 by Johnson Survey Research Limited

Sample size: 1008 residents

Age of sample: 18 and older

Sampling error: +/- 3.1 %

I paticularly like the way part of the first paragraph is phrased: "... and what some say is the general homophobic attitude of Jamaicans". As if there was ever any doubt! The fact that a newspaper/media-outlet in a Commonwealth member nation sees fit to publish such an article, based on this odious research, appals me! Calming down a little (yes, please do - Ed) I suppose it is at least a sign that some sectors of Jamaican society are aware, and possibly care, about how their country is viewed elsewhere - enough, at least, not to have censored through shame the results of this opinion poll.

And no, boring as it may have become, I will not shut up about this.

A novel approach or an attempt at subtle PR ...

... you decide.

The people behind the proposed development at Tornagrain, a new town of 10,000 to be located between Inverness and Nairn on the A96, want to involve the public in developing the plans. Whoever is behind this approach has certainly bought into the requirement to assuage the fears, justified or not, of some who might seek to thwart this development; the UK planning process, not to mention Scottish and local rivalries are undoubtedly minefields that need to be factored into any major investment in this part of the world. As I have said in some recent posts, I hope certain local interests don't succeed in throwing the various development plans for the Inner Moray Firth area off course; if this initiative can aid in this I wish it well.

Tuesday 22 August 2006

But there are supposed to be fires at crematoria!!

Undoubtedly this was a serious blaze, but something about firemen having to put out a major fire at a crematorium (in Edinburgh) struck me as incongruous.

No-one was injured. I'd have thought that most of those who might have been injured in such a blaze were already dead - this being a crematorium, and all.

Friday 18 August 2006

Aristocrat's defence in theft case is as damaging as crime

I just read this story in yesterday's Daily Telegraph(*).The facts of the case appear not to be in doubt. A young man, who happens to be the scion of one of England's oldest aristocratic families, has admitted stealing a cheque for about GBP117,000 from an elderly neighbour, after the envelope containing it had erroneously been delivered to his family's home in Wimbledon, London. The funds were the proceeds of the elderly lady's maturing pension policy.

No, what interests me about this sad case is the defence which his defence counsel has put forward on his behalf, presumably with his client's approval. The defence counsel has said Andrew Curzon suffers from dyspraxia, a condition which makes him unable to think logically, "particularly when under stress". Andrew Curzon was hoping to become a barrister. Doesn't being a barrister quite often require such a person to 'think logically', and does not the profession of barrister provoke a certain amount of 'stress' from time to time, albeit at a purely professional level?

My reaction when I read this story is that the defence is a novel variant on that used to defend the young Lord Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited, the novel by Evelyn Waugh about English upper-class life between the two world wars, when he was arrested for drunk driving, after having visited a brothel and his defence counsel described him in court as "a young man of good family who was unused to drink". Sebastian had no desire to become a barrister, of course, nor indeed to take up any other professional or remunerated activity so the main danger he represented was probably to himself. My conclusion in the Andrew Curzon case is that his erstwhile future potential legal clients have had a lucky escape from being defended by a barrister who cannot think logically, "particularly when under stress".

(*) I did not get around to starting to read yesterday's Telegraph until I was in bed last night and only read this article when I awakened this morning. I probably won't be reading a newspaper at all for the next few days as I'm away for the weekend in a few hours - be seein' ya!

Thursday 17 August 2006

Scottish Socialism

I've just been watching a segment on BBC2 Neswnight Scotland about the trials and tribulations that have recently affected the Scottish Socialist Party as a result of the recent libel trial involving the party's former Convener (aka Leader) Tommy Sheridan. I've not commented on this whole affair, or indeed the Party, at all or much (respectively), before.

Anyway, the person being interviewed for the programme from the SSP was Alec McComb (have I got the name at least partially correct?) and he was quite calm and matter-of-fact, even quite sensible in a surreal kind of way. One of the questions he was asked touched on a rumoured rapprochement, politically, between Tommy Sheridan and George Galloway. Mr McComb(?) said they represented the 'Unionist wing of Socialism' and that the SSP remained a Party striving for a 'Socialist Republican Scotland';I may mave got those adjectives the wrong way round. This is all part of the falling-out between the SSP and its former Convener, I suppose, but care little.

Anyway, the thought struck me (quite forcefully!) that if I imagined even in my worst nightmares that Socialists of the SSP variety ever stood a serious chance of catching hold of the reins of political power in Scotland then you would not see me for dust! 'Republicanism' (monarchist that I am) I could just about stomach, but as for 'Socialism' - NEVER!!

Luckily the SSP variety of socialism is not soon likely to come to Scotland, in my view. The country is already far more left-of-centre than I would wish it to be (witness the high proportion of the senior figures in both our London and Edinburgh governments who come from a Scottish Labour Central Belt background). So even though I am in the process of splitting my time between the UK and Spain, I don't need to abandon Scotland just yet, although it is possible (to put it no stronger) that I may in the next few years move my UK base to the south coast of England, partly for the sake of the slightly milder climate there, but also (if I am honest) because the prospect of living in a part of the UK which returns a Conservative MP to Westminster attracts me; I have tentatively been exploring my options in this matter for about a year already.

Completely tangential to this whole discussion, I happpen to have switched over from BBC2 to BBC News24 after Newsnight Scotland finished and am now watching the 11.30pm edition of Hardtalk - the guest this evening is former Socialist Prime Minister of France, Laurent Fabius - he was PM during part of the time I lived there during the mid-late 1980s. He is now 60 years old and still has ambitions to become President. Lordy, Lordy what a disaster that would be! Chirac is a pretty poor example of a statesman, but the President during my time there (Mitterand) was much worse. Despite some of the inelegancies which affected Fabius's period as PM (the fiasco over blood transfusions and HIV cross-infections and the similar fiasco at the time of the Chernobyl disaster and how that may/may not have affected France, for example), I have never thought of him as a crook in the mould of Mitterand or Chirac, but I still worry that this socialist intellectual might succeed to real power in France. He would make Zapatero in Spain look mild by comparison - and he at least seems to have some practical and sensible domestic policies.

I don't like Socialism! Regular readers of this blog are, I have no doubt, unsurprised.

Wednesday 16 August 2006

Is the future of the Scotland to Belgium ferry link assured?

Superfast Ferries have operated a very welcome ferry service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge for several years now. When the service first began there was financial assistance from the Scottish Executive which lasted for a number of year, three I think, and during this time the service operated six days a week, using two vessels to maintain the service. I made a round-trip on the service during this time and have to say it was the nicest ferry I have ever used; the cabins were immaculate and the food, although pricey, was excellent in both restaurants. Many of my friends and family members have used the service, too, and all were very pleased to avoid a long car drive down to England.

Soon after the end of the subsidised period Superfast announced it was cutting the service to three time a week, retaining only one vessel on the link. Now I learn, from a Press Release dated 8th August on the Superfast website, that the vessel used to operate the service, Superfast X, is being sold in early January 2007 and that "Attica Group intends to replace Superfast X on the Rosyth-Zeebrugge service", although no information is as yet provided when this will happen, whether it is to be simultaneous with the sale of Superfast X or whether it will be later.

Because of the possible uncertainty of the replacement vessel's arrival coinciding with the sale, I looked at the other routes operated by the company because I recalled earlier in the year an announcement that two of the three vessels (Superfast VII and Superfast VIII) used on its Baltic seas services had been sold, although they would continue to operate under Superfast livery until "the end of 2007 at the latest", under the new owner. I also read that the third vessel used in the Baltic, Superfast IX, has recently been sold as well.

From what I can see from the company's website for the Adriatic Sea services (its home area), these are unaffected, but it is quite clear that a major restructuring is underway, seemingly with a view to reducing the company's indebtedness. Shipping is by its very nature a cyclical business, as I know from my professional past, but it may be that the increasing costs of fuel and the rise in international terrorism in recent years is affecting the company, as it seems already to have done to a number of others, both in the ferry and airline industries, not to mention the well-known problems with the company which operates the Channel Tunnel between the UK and France.

Apart from the wider economic effect of the loss of a direct ferry service between Scotland and Belgium, which may not actually happen if the latest press release can be taken at face value, it will complicate my own plans if the service does disappear because I had planned to use it in January and April of next year as part of my travel plans to and from Spain as I much prefer to drive on the Continent for a longer distance if I can thereby avoid the long trek down to Plymouth (via the M6 and M5 chaos) to take the crossing to Santander in Spain. The other alternative is to use the Hull to Zeebrugge route, but so far as I am aware pets are not carried on that route.

I doubt if we will know before about October or November of this year what Superfast has in mind for 2007 for the Scotland to Belgium route; I will just have to keep my fingers crossed!
(The most recent media report that I can trace was in October 2005 when the service was cut back to three times a week.)

UPDATE: (Monday 9OCT06) See my later posting on 9th October, here, after the sailing schedule for 2007 was announced.

Tuesday 15 August 2006

What's the difference between the UK and Mexico?

Not as much as one might think. They have an emergency situation where steel barriers are erected around Congress after the outbreak of fighting with political demonstrators.

We just have an 'exclusion zone' around Parliament and a woman who is arrested merely for reading out the names of the war dead in Iraq at the Cenotaph. No, there's not a lot of difference. We also have extra-judicial killings and arrests. No, there's not a lot of difference.

Conservatives do voter research in Scotland

I had a letter today from David Cameron, Leader of the Conservaitve Party. I think, from the the way it is addressed, that it is being sent to all voters in my constituency and possibly to all voters in Scotland, or perhaps only those in selected constituencies (the line of small print immediately following my address appears to be taken directly from the references on voter rolls).

I haven't yet responded to the questionnaire, but plan to do so in the next couple of days, although I shall probably accompany it with a short explanatory letter - I fully realise that the questionnaire is probably designed to be machine-scanned so that a large volume of responses may be processed rapidly, but I hate this kind of tick-box questionnaire, specially where the options provided for are designed to focus one into responses of the compiler's choosing. I did at one time design questionnaires and always prided myself that they were both readily susceptible of analysis, but permitted respondents to give full expression to their viewpoints by providing adequate space for brief verbal responses and 'open' options with narrative boxes to give more flexibility in responses. They were actually designed to elicit valuable information from respondents from a wide range of cultural, linguistic and ethnic backgrounds and were therefore designed to be as transparent, from a cultural perspective, as we could make them - the development of that part of the business (banking support) hinged on their practicality and the integrity of the data collected.

Having said all this, I applaud the fact that an effort is at least being made to find out what people really think about some of the issues that Mr Cameron seems to be pushing to the forefront. At the same time I do not plan to be 'forced' into providing one of a few pre-programmed responses in order simply to validate a pre-planned agenda. An exercise in consultation must, to have credibility, employ rather more subtle tactics in my opinion. See what you think:

Wallace Bandstand, Nairn - renovations almost complete

The protective fencing which has surrounded the Bandstand was at long last removed early today, after several months during which the structure has been extensively renovated. Hooray! I write Hooray! because I look straight out at it from my apartment so it is of personal interest to me.

The Wallace Bandstand, Nairn links - 15th August 2006

Please click here to see larger images

The Bandstand was constructed in 1884 in honour of John Wallace, an eminent citizen of Nairn who became a pioneer in the Victoria colony in Australia. It is made mainly of cast iron, with a lead roof. It has just undergone several months of costly renovation, made possible by a grant of £50,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, approved in August 2005. It had fallen into considerable disrepair in recent years and had, moreover, suffered a certain amount of vandalism over the past two or three years. It is an A listed structure. The (almost) completion of the restoration has been done just in time for this year's Nairn Highland Games scheduled for Saturday 19th August; the grass behind and to the left of the photographs is the Nairn Cricket Pitch, with the clubhouse visible at bottom-left; the building where I live is to the left of the photographs. The cricket field is also used for the Nairn Highland Games; the tall white pillars are only erected for this event and will have been removed again by early next week after the Games are over. It has been restored using the same colours as records indicate were used when it was originally constructed, not the black colour which was used in recent years. There are plans for the Bandstand to be used once more by the community, for example for musical performances during the annual Nairn Jazz Festival and performances by the local military brass band during the summer. The remaining work to complete the restoration of this fine landmark is, I understand, the laying of a tiled floor in the Bandstand (currently plain concrete), the design of which will be the result of a competition open to local schoolchildren.

As it was a nice sunny day after a grey sky in the morning I decided, however, to take some photographs of another fixture of Nairn links - 'The Toorie'. It was constructed anonymously, overnight, in August 1859 and the alleged background to this event is recorded on a brass plate affixed to it:

'The Toorie', Nairn links - 15th August 2006

The structures behind 'The Toorie' are part of the Fun Fair, which comes to Nairn every year about a week prior to the Nairn Highland Games, scheduled for later this week. It is located just beside the Wallace Bandstand and is adjacent to the cricket pitch, just to the left of the photograph

The plaque explaining the history of 'The Toorie'
Please click here to see larger images

Isle of Man will equalise the gay age of consent from 1st September

Finally! At long last! Effective 1st September 2006 the Isle of Man is to equalise the age of consent for gays with that for heterosexuals at sixteen when the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act comes into force. The way this change is being presented by some in the IOM, as indicated in the linked article, is odious!

As long-standing readers of this blog may remember I spent most of my teenage years living in the Isle of Man so although I am not Manx I take a particular interest in what happens there.

PS/ See also my earlier post in March this year, at the time The House of Keys (Manx Parliament) repealed section 38 of its Sexual Offences Act

The 'Mob' wants its money!

The 'Mob' in this instance is the BBC, our licence-fee funded national broadcaster. They get quite upset when people don't pay their ransom demands. They don't actually break knees, of course - I have no doubt they see this as a tragic weakness in the law.

Naturally I do not condone law-breaking so pay my licence fee by annual Direct Debit. However it seems that citizens of Scotland's two largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, are ranked second and fifth respectively in the UK for non-payment of this tax on possession of a television receiver - even if one never watches the BBC's output. The sooner we move to a BBC which has to rely on its own ingenuity to generate its income, without Government compulison, the better it will be. The other publicly incoroporated television network, Channel 4, provides pretty high quality programming, including pretty good news programmes and supports itself with advertising. It is time the BBC was forced to adopt this or a subscription model instead of its current system, which has led to it becoming a bloated monster.

Monday 14 August 2006

Boo Hoo! My childhood toffee of choice is no more!

What's this, you ask? Well, although I must confess I haven't bought or consumed their products in many years (decades even!), it seems that the makers of Highland Toffee, Millar McCowan, have gone into receivership. The firm also made 'Pan Drops', a particular favourite of my paternal grandmother (long since deceased, of course) and one of my memories of childhood summer holidays at my grandparents' was being given occasional 'sweeties' by her, particularly some of her Pan Drops. Apart from that a lot of my summer holiday 'pocket money' went on things like Fry's Turkish Delight and Cremola Foam; I spent a fair few summer evenings with a slightly queasy stomach after a day of over-indulgence. Aaahhh - innocent childhood memories!

The view from Oban is beautiful, but ....

... I have always thought it a weird place - or more specifically that some of the people who live there are strange. Read this.

I remember reading some years ago that Oban was destined to be one of those places that people from big cities would go to escape big-city crime, etc. I thought it ignorant of the facts then. I still do. It is beautiful though.

UN Charter - Chapter VII

I have noticed this morning a significant number of searches arriving at my little blog in connection with a post I wrote a few days ago, after the adoption by the UN Security Council of Resolution 1701. The queries relate to a reference in paragraph 10 of the Resolution to Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

As quite a high number of those queries seem to emanate from the servers of various governments and international institutions, I thought it might be useful to put a link to the UN Charter in a new post and to reproduce here Chapter VII of that document:


Article 39
The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Article 40
In order to prevent an aggravation of the situation, the Security Council may, before making the recommendations or deciding upon the measures provided for in Article 39, call upon the parties concerned to comply with such provisional measures as it deems necessary or desirable. Such provisional measures shall be without prejudice to the rights, claims, or position of the parties concerned. The Security Council shall duly take account of failure to comply with such provisional measures.

Article 41
The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.

Article 42
Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.

Article 43
All Members of the United Nations, in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, undertake to make available to the Security Council, on its call and in accordance with a special agreement or agreements, armed forces, assistance, and facilities, including rights of passage, necessary for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security.

Such agreement or agreements shall govern the numbers and types of forces, their degree of readiness and general location, and the nature of the facilities and assistance to be provided.

The agreement or agreements shall be negotiated as soon as possible on the initiative of the Security Council. They shall be concluded between the Security Council and Members or between the Security Council and groups of Members and shall be subject to ratification by the signatory states in accordance with their respective constitutional processes.

Article 44
When the Security Council has decided to use force it shall, before calling upon a Member not represented on it to provide armed forces in fulfilment of the obligations assumed under Article 43, invite that Member, if the Member so desires, to participate in the decisions of the Security Council concerning the employment of contingents of that Member's armed forces.

Article 45
In order to enable the United Nations to take urgent military measures, Members shall hold immediately available national air-force contingents for combined international enforcement action. The strength and degree of readiness of these contingents and plans for their combined action shall be determined within the limits laid down in the special agreement or agreements referred to in Article 43, by the Security Council with the assistance of the Military Staff Committee.

Article 46
Plans for the application of armed force shall be made by the Security Council with the assistance of the Military Staff Committee.

Article 47
There shall be established a Military Staff Committee to advise and assist the Security Council on all questions relating to the Security Council's military requirements for the maintenance of international peace and security, the employment and command of forces placed at its disposal, the regulation of armaments, and possible disarmament.

The Military Staff Committee shall consist of the Chiefs of Staff of the permanent members of the Security Council or their representatives. Any Member of the United Nations not permanently represented on the Committee shall be invited by the Committee to be associated with it when the efficient discharge of the Committee's responsibilities requires the participation of that Member in its work.

The Military Staff Committee shall be responsible under the Security Council for the strategic direction of any armed forces placed at the disposal of the Security Council. Questions relating to the command of such forces shall be worked out subsequently.

The Military Staff Committee, with the authorization of the Security Council and after consultation with appropriate regional agencies, may establish regional sub-committees.

Article 48
The action required to carry out the decisions of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security shall be taken by all the Members of the United Nations or by some of them, as the Security Council may determine.

Such decisions shall be carried out by the Members of the United Nations directly and through their action in the appropriate international agencies of which they are members.

Article 49
The Members of the United Nations shall join in affording mutual assistance in carrying out the measures decided upon by the Security Council.

Article 50
If preventive or enforcement measures against any state are taken by the Security Council, any other state, whether a Member of the United Nations or not, which finds itself confronted with special economic problems arising from the carrying out of those measures shall have the right to consult the Security Council with regard to a solution of those problems.

Article 51
Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Incidentally there is a section in the left column of this blog which includes links to international organisations specially relevant to the position of the United Kingdom in the world (section heading - 'UK in World') and one of the links there is to a section in my own main website dealing with the United Nations, which itself leads to a link to the United Nations homepage - at that website, the Charter itself may be viewed by clicking on the About the United Nations link, after you have chosen the language you wish to use on the UN homepage - you will find the link to the UN Charter under the section entitled Main Documents on the 'About the United Nations' page.

I trust this information will prove useful to those researching the detailed terms of Resolution 1701.

Sunday 13 August 2006

Where's Israel, George?

Gavin at The Whiskey Priest has a photo of the Levant, taken from the website of the Respect Party (Leader - George 'Gorgeous' Galloway Esq MP), which seems to have changed an important detail (see the bottom of the photo). Shall we say it's an exercise in political fantasising rather than an accurate portrayal of the facts on the ground in that part of the world. Gavin also has another link to a video of a recent appearance by the 'Gorgeous' one on SkyNews. Those of a delicate dispositon may care to dose themselves with a stiff drink (or two!) before watching this ranting tirade.

Whilst I deplore what Galloway stands for, naturally I respect (pun intended) his right to say what he does - I'd rather people like him be free to state plainly their views so there can be no doubt in anyone's mind who and what he stands for. If democracy means anything then it means welcoming free expression of diverse viewpoints.

Confessions of an Asimov/Heinemann aficionado

Figures ...

You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer

Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you're from.
And while you may have some problems being "normal," you'll have no problems writing sci-fi.
Whether it's epic films, important novels, or vivid comics...
Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world!

(thru Swede and Czech)

Gay Pride parade attacks in new EU member states

About 15 participants in a gay pride parade in Tallinn, Estonia were injured when they were attacked by protesters, several of whom were reportedly arrested by police.

At least in Estonia the police were acting to protect the right of citizens to assemble peacefully, whereas last month in neigbouring Latvia the police simply looked on and did nothing to halt attacks on gays taking part in a pride parade in Riga. The pride parade itself had been banned by the city authorities citing guidance from the Latvian Interior Minister Dzintars Jaundzeikars and despite Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga vetoing a measure stripping sexuality from its non-discrimination law and stating that it was unacceptable for the Riga City Council to refuse the parade permit.

Estonia and Latvia are not the only new EU Member States which allow or practise discrimination against gays and Poland has come in for harsh criticism from the European Parliament, criticism which has been roundly rejected by Polish Prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz::

"I know Poland a bit better than the European parliament does, and I have not encountered such behavior."

- he can't have looked very hard!

Poland, Latvia and any other EU Member State which think they can discriminate against gays or other minorities in their midst must be reminded forcefully, and repeatedly, of their obligations. If necessary consideration should be given to delaying payments from EU budgets to such countries until they comply. I see no reason why I, a citizen of a country which is a large net contributor to the EU budget and who himself pays a significant amount of tax, should help to support EU Member States which do not treat all their citizens equally and fail to protect them from anti-democratic elements in their midst.

Saturday 12 August 2006

An alternative view of American mid-east policy

I've had in my blogroll almost since I bagan this blog, not because I agree with much of what is written there, but more as an exercise in trying to fulfil my aim to be scrupulously objective in presenting blogs having differing viewpoints. However I happened to read one of Justin Raimondo's articles there today ("Bush vs. Condi" - article dated 11th August) and it strikes a chord with me - since this whole Hezbollah/Israel/Lebanon conflict began a few weeks ago I've had a sense of deja-vu, that Israel was getting into the same kind of mire it last ventured into in 1982. It strikes me that those with the best long-term interests of Israel in mind would not be encouraging Israel to pursue its current path; at least until it seemed to be willing to sign-up to the Resolution agreed at the UN last night. Justin's article, as usual larded with supporting links, highlights some of the dissentions which appear to be opening up within the US Administration - Ms Rice may not have the complete confidence of the President that most of us had imagined. Let's hope she can survive the behind-the-scenes undermining of her position (possibly by Cheney and Rumsfeld, surprisingly led by Bush himself[?]). As I have written before, Israel is presented with a very unpalatable dilemma - almost whatever it does is likely to have negative consequences for it, but continuing down its 'attack, attack' path can only succeed, in my view, in digging itself into an even more untenable long-term position with its Arab neighbours, even those with whom it might have had hopes of establishing a modus vivendi, such as most Lebanese.

Tony Blair - a 'pretty straight guy' and his Government

This film summarises the joyous years of Blair, truly glory days for the UK. Not.

Fifteen years of the Internet - nostalgia alert!

Earlier this week there were numerous mentions of the fact that it is 15 years since internet software was released to the world by CERN. So far as I recall my first experience of going online using my own PC at home was in about October or November 1991, just two months or so after that, when I logged onto Compuserve in the United States when I lived in Hong Kong. This was vastly expensive because not only was there the cost of a trans-Pacific telephone call, but it cost about USD10 an hour to be online at Compuserve in the early days, so it wasn't a facility I used very much - however, it was exciting simply to be able to do it. My PC at the time was a Sharp laptop with a black-and-white LCD screen and a rathery rickety 56Kb portable modem plugged into the serial socket at the side; it was the first PC I had of my own with a built-in hard drive, 20Mb I think, which in those days was pretty cutting-edge (I got it in 1989 or 1990). My two earlier machines, the first purchased in August 1982 (at a cost of about GBP2,200 equivalent when I was in Hong Kong), didn't even have a built-in floppy drive, but it did have a built-in cassette tape drive, both for storing software and data - I got a dual 5 1/4 inch floppy drive unit for my Christmas present to myself in late-November 1982, costing about GBP800 (in HKD).

However, I had been online 2 or 3 years before that, using an IBM PC in the office in Abu Dhabi to log onto the company's (a bank) own online banking intranet, at that time available only to corporate customers, offices and staff. Basically one could do all of the usual things (set up stading orders, make transfers) although I used it principally to manage my securities account in Hong Kong. For office purposes also to manage the accounts of various of our more important private clients.

It wasn't however until I was back living in the UK in 1994 that I had my own internet account, initially for about six months with an online news service, run by The Times newspaper I think, but it was very clunky and rather expensive for the fairly limited service provided. I think it was during 1995 that I signed up with Compuserve in the UK as an ISP, providing me with an email address and access to the internet and Compuserve newsgroups which, in those days, were pretty active. The monthly fee (about GBP7 I think) provided 5-hours of online time, beyond which it cost about GBP1.20-1.50 an hour I think, in addition to which there was the cost of a local 'phone call. Oh, and I think you were limited to about 20 emails a month(!!!) before additional charges kicked in. We've come a long way in a short period of time.

Innovative approach to AIDS prevention in Yunnan, China

I must admit that this kind of story is quite refreshing, coming from China, although as its on the official news agency website Xinhua one needs to look at it with critical eyes. Nevertheless official attitudes at a practical level do seem to be softening - a hopeful sign.

Aye, there'll be lots of skirlin' this weekend in Glasgow ...

The World Pipe Band Championships, involving 8,000 pipers, are taking place in Glasgow with 230 participating bands from all over the bagpiping world. Get those earplugs ready.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 adopted unanimously

The Security Council has just voted 15-0 for the Middle East resolution calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. The Lebanese government is likely to discuss the resolution later today (Saturday) and and an adviser to the Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, has cautiously welcomed it. The Israeli government is believed to be going to discuss it on Sunday and the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, will apparently recommend emdorsement to his Cabinet, despite some reservations about its content, although until that occurs the Israeli military effort is thought likely to continue.

The resolution calls for the deployment of upto 15,000 UN troops, up from the current level of 2,000 , to south Lebanon (probably largely supplied by France) to assist the Lebanese miltary in taking back control of the area, to prevent a power vacuum which would probably otherwise result on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the area.

Although Qatar, currently a member of the Security Council, voted for the resolution, its Foreign Minister stated in a speech to the UN shortly after the vote that it still contained imbalances in favour of Israel. it is not clear, from anything I have heard or read so far, what Hezbollah's attitude to this whole 'solution' will be, and it seems to me that without its acquiescence (even in the absence of its full agreement) this plan is not likely to succeed. We must hope that both the Lebanese and Israeli governments give it their full backing as a first step.

The draft text of the resolution may be read here and I reproduce it below:

The text of a UN Security Council draft resolution aimed at ending the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Recalling all its previous resolutions on Lebanon, in particular resolutions 425 (1978), 426 (1978), 520 (1982), 1559 (2004), 1655 (2006) and 1680 (2006), as well as the statements of its President on the situation in Lebanon, in particular the statements of 18 June 2000 (S/PRST/2000/21), of 19 October 2004 (S/PRST/2004/36), of 4 May 2005 (S/PRST/2005/17) of 23 January 2006 (S/PRST/2006/3) and of 30 July 2006 (S/PRST/2006/35),

Expressing its utmost concern at the continuing escalation of hostilities in Lebanon and in Israel since Hezbollah's attack on Israel on 12 July 2006, which has already caused hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides, extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons,

Emphasising the need for an end of violence, but at the same time emphasizing the need to address urgently the causes that have given rise to the current crisis, including by the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers,

Mindful of the sensitivity of the issue of prisoners and encouraging the efforts aimed at settling the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel,

1. Calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations;

2. Reiterates its strong support for full respect for the Blue Line;

3. Also reiterates its strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized borders, as contemplated by the Israeli-Lebanese General Armistice Agreement of 23 March 1949;

4. Calls on the international community to take immediate steps to extend its financial and humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people, including through facilitating the safe return of displaced persons and, under the authority of the Government of Lebanon, reopening airports and harbours for verifiably and purely civilian purposes, and calls on it also to consider further assistance in the future to contribute to the reconstruction and development of Lebanon;

5. Emphasizes the importance of the extension of the control of the Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 (2004) and resolution 1680 (2006), and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty and authority;

6. Calls for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution based on the following principles and elements:

strict respect by all parties for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Israel and Lebanon;

full respect for the Blue Line by both parties;

delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including in the Chebaa farms area;

security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Lebanese armed and security forces and of UN mandated international forces deployed in this area;

full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006) that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state;

deployment of an international force in Lebanon, consistent with paragraph 10 below;

establishment of an international embargo on the sale or supply of arms and related material to Lebanon except as authorized by its government;

elimination of foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its government;

provision to the United Nations of remaining maps of land mines in Lebanon in Israel's possession;
7. Invites the Secretary General to support efforts to secure agreements in principle from the Government of Lebanon and the Government of Israel to the principles and elements for a long-term solution as set forth in paragraph 6 above;

8. Requests the Secretary General to develop, in liaison with key international actors and the concerned parties, proposals to implement the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), including disarmament, and for delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Chebaa farms, and to present those proposals to the Security Council within thirty days;

9. Calls on all parties to cooperate during this period with the Security Council and to refrain from any action contrary to paragraph 1 above that might adversely affect the search for a long-term solution, humanitarian access to civilian populations, or the safe return of displaced persons, and requests the Secretary General to keep the Council informed in this regard;

10. Expresses its intention, upon confirmation to the Security Council that the Government of Lebanon and the Government of Israel have agreed in principle to the principles and elements for a long-term solution as set forth in paragraph 6 above, and subject to their approval, to authorize in a further resolution under Chapter VII of the Charter the deployment of a UN mandated international force to support the Lebanese armed forces and government in providing a secure environment and contribute to the implementation of a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution;

11. Requests UNIFIL, upon cessation of hostilities, to monitor its implementation and to extend its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the safe return of displaced persons;

12. Calls upon the Government of Lebanon to ensure arms or related materiel are not imported into Lebanon without its consent and requests UNIFIL, conditions permitting, to assist the Government of Lebanon at its request;

13. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council within one week on the implementation of this resolution and to provide any relevant information in light of the Councils intention to adopt, consistent with paragraph 10 above, a further resolution;

14. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.

PS/ Please see my later post on Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to which reference is made in paragraph 10. of the Resolution.

Friday 11 August 2006

Conservatives choose gay A-list candidate for Eltham seat

David Gold has been selected to fight the Eltham seat for the Conservative Party at the next General Election. Mr Gold stood for the Brighton Pavilion seat at the 2001 General Election and in 2005 helped the winning candidate in the Peterborough contest.

Labour held Eltham in 2005 (sitting MP is Clive Efford) with a reduced majority of 3,276 after a swing to the Conservatives of 5.7 per cent from the 2001 Election result. The seat was held by the Conservatives from its creation in 1983 until the Labour landslide in 1997 (Labour majority 10,182), although the Conservatives retained the seat in 1992 only with a very slim majority of 1,667.

It is certainly a good sign that the Conservative Party is choosing a gay candidate in what may be a winnable seat, specially given that the other two potential candidates seem to have themselves been pretty credible. In fact, the Eltham selection is not exactly 'news', having been decided on 31st July, but it is apparent that boundary changes are felt to make it a likely Conservatove gain at the next election. I will watch future nominations with much interest.

Named - 19 air bomb plot suspects

Nineteen of those arrested yesterday morning have now been named and their assets frozen.

One presumes, and hopes, that charges and prosecutions will follow quite quickly, always assuming that the intelligence which resulted in their arrest proves valid. The credibility of the authorities hinges on this happening, given some other recent 'false alarms' which have already resulted in an erosion of trust in the government.

Thursday 10 August 2006

UK Threat Level - 'CRITICAL'

Effective 2am last night the UK threat level has been raised to CRITICAL and a short while ago a statement was read by Home Secretary Dr John Reid. The text, from the Home Office website, reads:

Home Secretary issues terror statement
10 August 2006

The Home Secretary has made an official statement about this morning's major counter terrorist operation to quash a significant terrorist plot and the subsequent increase to UK threat levels.

'Overnight the police, with the full knowledge of Ministers, have carried out a major counter-terrorism operation to disrupt what we believe to be a major threat to the UK and international partners.
The police, acting with the Security Service MI5, are investigating an alleged plot to bring down a number of aircraft through mid-flight explosions, causing a considerable loss of life.
The police believe the alleged plot was a very significant one indeed.
At 2am this morning the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre raised the UK threat state to its highest level – “CRITICAL”.
This is now being publicly announced as I promised to Parliament last month.
This is a precautionary measure. We are doing everything possible to disrupt any further terrorist activity.
This will mean major disruption at all UK airports from today.
But as far as is possible we want people to go about their business as normal.
The police will provide an update on the operation later this morning and Ministers will keep the public regularly informed.'

Similar information is on the MI5 website (but at the time of writing the server there seems to be almost overloaded, so the page may load slowly or not at all).

The background is a suspected major terrorist threat to blow up several aircraft in mid-flight, probably over the North Atlantic. The BBC Radio4 Today rolling news programme has been carrying updates during the programme about the procedures being imposed at airports throughout the UK - basically, it is complete chaos with almost all cabin baggage being prohibited and reports of flights being severely delayed or cancelled. Passengers are being recommended to cancel their journeys if at all possible. The rumour is that liquid explosives may be involved as, for example, mothers are being asked to taste baby-milk before being allowed to take it on board for their babies.

Thank goodness I do not have a flight planned in the near future. It is obviously going to be a complete bind for at least the next several days. It is infuriating how our lives can be disrupted by terrorists - they must not be allowed to succeed in their aims, either to cause terrorist mayhem or simply to discrupt our lives like this.

UPDATE (Thursday 10AUG06 11.05 BST) - As usual Spy Blog has a more critical appraisal of what these latest security measures may imply. Many of the views expressed there reflect exactly my own private feelings which I chose not to include in my post as originally written. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance - with ALL that this implies.

Wednesday 9 August 2006

The 'crackpot' brothers who now run Poland ...

... read a good article about the brothers Kaczynski here; Kate Connolly is admirably restrained whilst remaining factual, in her assessment.

Planning for the long-term future of Nairn

The local newspaper, The Nairnshire Telegraph (no website), has a front-page article in its 8th August edition about proposals for the medium/long-term development of the transport infrastructure of Nairn. The main thrust of the proposals is the creation of a by-pass to take heavy through-traffic on the A96 Inverness/Aberdeen trunk road away from the town and to create new zones for residential and commercial/industrial development around the town. Various options seem to have been proposed by Halcrow in a report it has prepared on the 'A96 corridor' on behalf of the Scottish Executive.

I can't find an on-line source for the images which the Nairnshire publishes of the various options, but all involve considerable development south of the town. The options focus, though, on where the by-pass would begin at the western side of the town, whether as far away as Gollanfield, or just west of Tradespark on the existing western edge of the town; one of the options involving beginning the by-pass at Gollanfield seems to be the preferred option, so far as Halcrow's report is concerned, although all the published options seem to agree that it should terminate east of Nairn at Auchnacloich (this is where the existing Auldearn by-pass passes the western entrance into Auldearn from the A96).

All of the options would involve a considerable expansion of Nairn's population from its current level of arouond 9,000, possibly as much as doubling the town's residents, along with projections for between 2,500 and 4,350 new jobs in the area. It is certainly an exciting and innovative prospect and, if locals have the wisdom to look at them positively could result in a very welcome strengthening of Nairn's position relative to Inverness (which has itself been growing rapidly in recent years) and protect Nairn against further marginalisation in the face of the development of new dormitory communities closer to Inverness on the A96 corridor, particularly those planned at Whiteness (site of the former Barmac fabrication yard) and Tornagrain (close to Inverness airport), also at Castle Stuart where the first stage of a golfing, hotel, leisure and residential development is already underway.

This is the context in which the Earl of Cawdor, whose extensive estates in the area will be impacted by the potential changes, has strongly urged that Nairn people, and other interested landowners like himself, seize the opportunities offered by the planners by revealing his concept called 'A New Future for Nairn', which he envisages would involve about 1,000 acres of Cawdor Estates land. He considers it would be too easy for Nairn to lose out on the possibility of regenerating Nairn as a shopping destination which can withstand the fierce competition of Inverness, to which much local trade has been lost in recent decades. Both the Halcrow report and the Earl's ideas seem to have receptive ears in Nairn's Provost, Sandy Park (my local butcher) and the local Councillor, John Matheson, whose Alltan Ward is where much of the proposed development would take place.

Naturally matters are not quite so straightforward as this in the tangled matter of local interests and rivalries (which have, in the view of this blogger - a relative newcomer to the immediate area - adversely affected the development of Nairn in recent times). For example the editorial in the Nairnshire Telegraph highlights what it sees as the fact that the Cawdor Estate proposals are not in fact amongst those most-favoured by the Halcrow plan and expresses its own view (which I tend to share) that siting the western end of the by-pass some way to the west of Nairn at Gollanfield is likely to leave the greatest flexibility for the future development of Nairn and is thus the preferred option. Other potential confusion may be added to the mix by the continuing rivalry between the Earl of Cawdor and his stepmother, the Dowager Countess of Cawdor, who has issued a rival plan for the area's regeneration, pointing out that the Cawdor Maintenance Trust, of which she is a trustee, owns much of the land involved in the Earl's proposals. The Trust has appointed Edinburgh-based planning consultant Farningham McCreadie to work on the proposals for land it owns at Carse of Delnies, and that it (the Trust) has been in discussion with Highland Council for some time. Let us hope that the Earl and the Dowager Countess can work positively on this issue and not let their previous severe disagreements cloud the issues and so delay these plans.

Quite apart from these potential areas of disagreement on how to proceed is the fact that Nairn residents have themselves, again in the view of this blogger, sometimes been their own worst enemies in the squabbling which has long-delayed the re-development of the central part of Nairn, a project which is only now beginning to get underway after many years of delay with the recent commencemt of a new Nairn Community Centre, on land ceded by Northern Constabulary, so in due course freeing up the land where the existing Community Centre is to allow for the rest of the town centre regeneration to take place.

Fingers crossed for Nairn! Please don't allow petty rivalries to risk screwing all this up!

Monday 7 August 2006

Flaws in passport/ID card biometric security exposed

It seems that the security of the biometric data which the government plans to hold about us on the new 'chipped' passports and ID cards is nowehere near as complete as it would wish us to believe. The integration of large amounts of personal data on individuals within centralised databases and the recording of such information on 'chipped' passports and ID cards is inherently flawed - any security system ever devised is capable of being subverted, as has now been shown, but the potential consequences of lapses in this latest method of tabulating citizens by the state are chilling. Say NO to ID cards and the database state!

Friday 4 August 2006

Gaoled for being a burglar, caught because he is gay

The title of this post is no less than the literal truth. A trio of burglars robbed an elderly disabled man in his home at knifepoint of his life savings of GBP400- in the village of Rhymney, Gwent (Wales). However only one of the three, Lance Williams, was caught because whilst all three were filmed on CCTV when leaving the scene of the crime, only one could be identified by the victim, Nigel Jones, because of his 'mincing', 'poofy' walk, which Mr Jones recognised immediately. The 19-year old Williams has been sentenced to five years in gaol. The other two remain uncaught.

Naturally down-market tabloids have fun with this story:
The Daily Record (Glasgow) - ONLY GAY THIEF IN THE VILLAGE;
The Sun, with its usual clever punning style - Only gay on the pillage;
The Daily Mirror - GAYDAR TRAP Camp knife raider's mincing walk ends in 5-year sentence.

Of course there is no information yet as to the identities of the two burglars still to be caught, nor of course is it known whether either is homosexual or heterosexual. Who knows, perhaps the others are just 'staight acting' (and Williams is not in fact the only gay in the village), or genuinely it is their straightness which has saved them so far. I hope Mr Jones manages to recover from his ordeal.

'Kremlin on the Clyde' gets new home - on the Clyde

BBC Scotland's new headquarters has just completed its construction stage and staff will begin to move in during 2007 after the building is fitted out. According to this story, the building was completed "on schedule and on budget", that budget being GBP129mio. A hefty sum! On the other hand, it is certainly a more reasonable amount than was spent on the Scottish Parliament (GBP431mio!!), completed neither on schedule nor on budget:

Notice the similarity, though

BBC Scotland, New HQ in Glasgow

Lubianka prison, Moscow

The building reflected in the new BBC Scotland building is the SECC, known as 'The Armadillo':

SECC Glasgow, 'The Armadillo'

Tuesday 1 August 2006

New blog - High Politics - The Higlands and Islands Politics Blog

NB/ Also see 'PS' at end of this post - thanks!

I just noticed this very recently started blog, through my visit stats, and although I am in a bit of a rush this morning to get ready to go away on the short trip I referred to in my previous post I thought that this was of such local and topical interest that I should mention it right away.

The title of the blog, High Politics - The Higlands and Islands Politics Blog pretty much says what its aim is, although as it was started only six days ago (with very laudable aims - the about this site page explains pretty clearly who is behind this blog, for those who need a 'health warning') it is far too soon to say how it will develop.

However, I hope this new blog succeeds in becoming a relevant resource for politics junkies in this part of Scotland and that, most important, it succeeds in its aim of being a cross-party resource. I have added it to my Bloglines feed and to the blogroll at left and will certainly be keeping a weather-eye on how it progresses. My little blog seems already to have been added to the blogroll there, for which I am obviously grateful - thanks.

PS/ Someone, called 'Budd'(?) I think, just sent me an email about Scottish local elections - the email went into the spam folder because it wasn't a previous correspondent and I'm afraid I inadvertantly deleted it along with about 8 or 9 other 'genuine spam' messages. I have no way of retrieving deleted spams, so if you care to repeat it I shall try and do better next time.