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

Saturday, 30 September 2006

David Cameron launches video blog

David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, has launched a new videoblog, link here (*). There doesn't seem to be a RSS/Atom feed yet, or if there is one I can't find it. There are several short clips of Cameron at home with his family, eating in the kitchen, etc and one shortly after his return from his recent visit to India which seems to have been done in his office. All very professional so far as his presentation is concerned as he's a very fluent speaker and seemingly completely at ease in front of a camera speaking spontaneously, although some of the camera work is a bit 'jerky'. There's also a video of an interview with Sen. John McCain, potentially a Republican Presidential candidate for the next US elections, that is very interesting - his views on Guantanamo and the Geneva Conventions, with which the present administration has played fast and loose, get an airing of course, of particular interest because he was himself a prisoner of the North Vietnamese in Hanoi (being held at the notorious 'Hanoi Hilton', a grim establishment close to the centre of the city) during the conflict there.

Cameron's recent blogging efforts whilst he was in India on a visit showed that he has excellent communication skills 'on the hoof' and he seems to be continuing with this on his new, and presumably more permanent, blogging platform. All the videos which were on the 'India' blog have been included in the archives of the new blog, too, and there are three or four newer clips to coincide with the new blog's launch. I'll look forward to seeing it develop - although I hope a web feed will be organised soon.

(*) The link seems to be down just now; perhaps too many visitors have caused it to crash?

Monday, 25 September 2006

Barroso calls for pause in EU enlargement ...

... after the entry of Bulgaria and Romania, although he "would like Croatia to join as quickly as possible, if it fulfils all the criteria".

My translation into plain English of what he is actually saying: Don't let Turkey in.

It's for sure someone is telling 'porkies' in Manchester

Given the choices, it is pretty clear to me to whom it would be wisest to lend credence. Naturally the story is being covered by Guido.

Carnival queen ... is indeed a 'Queen'

David Birch, a gay 15-year old has become the 'Carnival Queen' in the quiet Somerset village of Axbridge.

He's a brave young man - I hope his 'reign' will be long and happy.

Sunday, 24 September 2006

Charles Clarke - supreme chump!

Not that I ever doubted it, but Charles Clarke proved beyond doubt this evening just why he was such a hopeless Home Secretary. He now regrets his outburst only a few weeks ago in which he characterised the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, with "absolutely stupid behaviour" and of being a "control freak". Not that I disagree with his basic assessment of Gordon Brown. No, it is the realisation of just how much emotional turmoil exists in Mr Clarke, as evidenced by his dramatic and sudden reversal of viewpoint, that is the most startling. Tony Blair may have lost his political touch, but one quite recent thing he got absolutely right was to ditch Charles Clarke.

Who runs this country, our government or religious groups?

Quite extraordinary! When I first read this article by Mr Eugenides I was merely unpleasantly surprised - now I have read the Sunday Times article he links to, I am outraged:

POLICE have agreed to consult a panel of Muslim leaders before mounting counter-terrorist raids or arrests. Members of the panel will offer their assessment of whether information police have on a suspect is too flimsy and will also consider the consequences on community relations of a raid.

Members will be security vetted and will have to promise not to reveal any intelligence they are shown. They will not have to sign the Official Secrets Act.

Just who are these Muslim leaders? What legal status do they have which authorises them to represent anyone? How will the police impose sanctions upon those they 'consult' if their promises to retain the confidentiality of the inteliigence they are made party to are flouted? I repeat the last sentence from the Sunday Times article: They will not have to sign the Official Secrets Act.

What do the police think they are playing at? Are they going to start consulting so-called representatives of some mythical 'Association of Drug Dealers' or the 'Amalgamated Guild of Burglars and Purloiners of the Property of Others' before carrying out arrests of suspected drug dealers and thieves? No, of course not! It is about time that the police, and our political leaders, got on with the jobs we have given them without trying to pander to the prejudices of one segment of the population to mask the incompetence of their own intelligence and operational services.

If it weren't for the strict rules I have against the use of profanity in this blog, I'm afraid my post on this matter would have been more colourfully worded.

Labour and 'Police State Britain'

The elderly Labour activist Walter Wolfgang, who last year was manhandled and ejected from last year's Labour Party conference after heckling Jack Straw, has this year been barred from the conference floor; although he is a member of the party's National Executive Committee he has, unlike all other members of the NEC, been granted only a visitor's pass and this will allow him access only to the balcony. He will not be able to join the party's ruling body until after the conference has formally ended. The explanation given by a Labour Party official in the linked article sounds entirely spurious, made up simply to exclude this one person.

I don't care for Mr Wolfgang's opposition to the Iraq war, or for the Labour Party in general (surprise, surprise - Ed), but this kind of pettiness from the governing political party surprises even me. It is downright sinister.

Blogs dumped - my '3-month' sifting routine

I have just carried out one of my periodic scans through the continuing relevance of those included in my blogroll; as a result about a dozen blogs which (mostly) haven't been updated in at least three months have been removed. I'm in process of preparing additions of new links to the roll so removing the 'deadwood' will keep it more or less manageable.

MSPs support adoption law reform for Scotland

MSPs from all the important political parties in Scotland have expressed support for adoption law reform to give unmarried and same sex couples the opportunity to adopt children jointly; eligibility will still, and quite rightly, be based on individual assessment. At present adoptions involving unmarried or same sex couples include only one of the partners as the legal parent. One political party has, though, simply spouted the usual formula adopted when something is proposed with which many probably don't agree, with a spokesman announcing they will permit s 'free vote' on the matter - you won't need more than one guess to find out which Party this is [*]. There has also, equally unsurprisingly, been vocal opposition from one of the major faith groups to the proposed changes.

As you will see from the dateline of the first link above, this is not a 'new' story - I overlooked writing about it earlier because I was pre-occupied with completing my tax return, but one item of note from that document that is relevant here is that the box about marital status now includes the following options: "Say if you are single, married/in a civil partnership, widowed/a surviving civil partner, divorced/civil partnership dissolved or separated", as a result of the Civil Partnerships Act having become law last year.

[*] Another interesting point was highlighted only this morning (on 'The Politics Show' on ITV2) by Michael Brown, now a journalist although formerly a Conservative MP, who left politics soon after it became known he is gay as a result of a minor tabloid scandal. He noted that whilst David Cameron has recently, and bizarrely, 'apologised' for Thatcherism, he has not yet chosen to issue a mea culpa for his own personal voting record in the House of Commons in pretty recent times on matters touching on homosexuality - so the question remains whether the Conservatives have changed as much as they wrould have us believe. Until we hear a lot more about their detailed policies, rather than the 'mood music' that we have had since David Cameron became Leader, it is impossible to say.

Friday, 22 September 2006

On why it is essential to keep gays out of the military ...

... according to arch-homophobe and Family Research Institute 'guru' Paul Cameron; sharing my surname with this charming individual adds new meaning to diversity! If you haven't heard of Paul Cameron before, then you can read a biography of him here and details of his activities here. He gets The Daily Show treatment with Jason Jones, most amusingly:

(shamelessly lifted from Andrew Sullivan - whose blog has become so much better in recent months, since he took the Time shilling)

I've written before about arabic language skills in the security services and the US military, the latter particularly relevant to The Daily Show spoof.

Yes, it's true - I'm a capitalist and proud of it

At least according to yet another of these polls with which, more or less, I agree.

You Are 92% Capitalist, 8% Socialist

You're a capitalist pig - and proud of it.

You believe that business makes the world great...

And you'd never be ashamed of being rich!

(thru Gavin Ayling - who seems to be a lot more 'socialist' than me)

"Free at last!"

OK, so I take the good Martin Luther King Jr's cry during his famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in August 1963 a little out of context, but the sentiments are (in a way) just as heartfelt. Today I sent off my completed Tax Return for the tax year 2005-2006. Of course, this is only the very beginning of the saga that is taxation in the UK - I'll get the statement from the Inland Revenue in late November or early December with their calculation of my tax liability and the first instalment will be payable by the end of January 2007, with the balance to be paid by the end of July next year. However, at least by getting my return in before the end of September will ensure they are responsible for the calculations, based on the return I have submitted; of course I do my own separate calaculations as well, to cross-check with the figure they will send back in due course.

It's a bind, but I suppose it is one of the prices we must pay for the joy of living on Airstrip One (the designation for England [*] in Geroge Orwell's novel, Nineteen_Eighty-Four). I may refer to myself as 'an escapee from Room 101' in the header banner for this blog, but so far as UK tax is concerned, that ain't happened quite yet! A bizarre thing this year is that 'Tax Freedom Day' became three days later as a result of the 2005 Budget and now falls on 3rd June for 2006, which it just so happens is my birthday - of course I did celebrate my birthday this year, but perhaps not quite so heartily as usual! What this means is that the Government 'grabs' in tax what people earn in almost HALF the year. This is the latest that 'Tax Freedom Day' has been since 1988, which coincidentally is just a year before Labour were turfed out of power the last time. One can only hope that it will be a twofer!

The good news (immodest as usual - Ed.) is that I shall have a little more time to devote to blogging over the coming few weeks.

[*] He uses 'England' rather than 'UK' in his introductory paragraphs, so far as I recall; quite where this leaves Scotland or Wales is anyone's guess.

Thursday, 21 September 2006

Internal politics in the Highlands

I noticed this story this morning about fears being voiced by the local Chamber of Commerce's chief Executive, Simon Cole-Hamilton, that the Inverness Area Committee within Highland Council may be dispensed with in a bid to reduce the number of meetings around this (vast) region which councillors must attend. I have heard, I seem to recall, similar rumours in relation to Nairn, too. It is not entirely clear to me what are the 'politics' behind the rumoured changes, nor the reactions to them, although I do wonder if it is not somehow connected to the forthcoming changes in the way local elections are conducted by introducing a form of proportional representation to the recipe, lessening the impact of individual votes on the fates of councillors or the 'parties' in whose names they sit.

Is the push for this change (the reduction in the number of 'Area Committees') coming from Councillors or from officials at Highland Council for 'administrative' reasons? Is it coming from existing Councillors who believe the upcoming changes in the electoral system will so insulate them from the vagaries of fickle voter popularity that the time, trouble and effort of participating in local Area Committees is no longer of benefit to them? I just can't get the notion out of my head that some kind of 'fast deal' is being played on residents of the Highland Council area to emasculate further what little influence they currently have over their local government - in the guise of increasing that influence, naturally, by means of the purportedly fairer system of proportional representation. Or am I reading this whole situation completely wrongly, or too cynically? (Surely not! - Ed.)

Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Boost for gay equality in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong SAR government has lost an appeal it lodged because of a ruling in the High Court in August 2005 against a law that homosexual sex ('sodomy' as it is called in the law) where one of the men is younger than 21 is punishable by life imprisonment, whereas for heterosexuals the age of consent is 16. A panel of three Court of Appeal judges has upheld the earlier High Court ruling and dismissed the governmnet's appeal. Chief Judge Geoffrey Ma is quoted as saying in his judgement:

"At one stage, societal values dictated that buggery was some form of unnatural act, somehow to be condemned and certainly not condoned. These values have changed in Hong Kong.

"I cannot see any justification for either the age limit of 21, or, in particular, for the different treatment of male homosexuals compared with heterosexuals."

It is gratifying to observe that the judiciary in Hong Kong remains as impartial as it has mostly always been in its interpretation of the [validity of] the laws it is asked to hear cases under.

Hong Kong law is based in some respects on an older variant of English law, indeed when I first lived in Hong Kong in the early 1980s homosexual sex of any kind was completely illegal, just as it had been in the UK pre-1967. At that time the 'story' was that to relax the law, as had gradually happened in the UK, would offend the sensibilities of the Chinese population of Hong Kong, although when I lived there again in the early 1990s, after the law had indeed been relaxed, the sky had not fallen in (surprise, surprise - Ed.). The truth about where the opposition comes from to granting equality to homosexual relationships, in terms of the age of consent, confirms what I had always suspected; that in Hong Kong, just as in most other parts of the world (for example Scotland or the United States, to take two random examples), visceral objections always come from the same place - church and other Christian groups. It has become increasingly difficult to maintain the 'story' that the opposition results from feelings within the Chinese community, specially with the recent and increasing tolerance toward homosexual relationships just across the border in the rest of China.

As the plaintiff's lawyer in the original High Court case has pointed out, the law nevertheless remains in force in statute, even though the Court of Appeal ruling denies the government the ability to enforce it.

Sunday, 17 September 2006

Pope Benedict on Islam - the controversial speech

I have refrained from any comment so far about the controversy surrounding Pope Benedict XVI in relation to a speech he gave at the University of Regensburg recently. In any case this is a video recording I have found of the relevant part of his discourse, in German, followed by an English translation, of which I do not vouch the accuracy. Before this, the following paragraph gives my own views on the matter.

Whether it was correct, or wise, of the Pontiff to couch his discussion in quite the way he did is a matter for debate. I have no particular love for the Catholic Church (or indeed any other religious faith) and I have railed regularly in this blog about some of the policies espoused by the present Pope and by his predecessor, particularly those concerning his Church's policies towards homosexuals. However, what is in absolutely no doubt whatsoever is that I defend the right of the Holy Father, and those who criticise him for what he said in his recent speech, to express their views freely and in more or less whatever fashion they choose. Even in our Western democracies, of course, freedom of speech is not absolute - one may not falsely shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre with impunity, for example, nor may one make statements deemed to be 'racist', etc. With those provisos, however, I defend the Holy Father's right to say what he likes in the same way that I defend the right of Moslems to make their displeasure known by peaceful means - whatever I may think of the Catholic Church, or indeed the Presbyterian Church, it is absolutely unacceptable for the Pontiff, or anyone else, to be made to feel they cannot express themselves without fear of physical retaliation by those who do not share their views. We cannot allow ourselves to be forced into the position of curtailing our own freedom of expression in order to appease those who object to the expression of such views - similarly, Moslems should be able to express themselves equally openly, provided they do do peacefully and without threat or use of violence. The killing of an elderly Italian nun in Mogadishu (Somalia) may or may not be related to the present controversy involving the Pope (it is a largely lawless country in many parts and may, I suppose, be an unconnected act of barbarity), but if it is in response to the Pope's speech then it is a clear signal of just how great is the threat to the freedom of expression which we cherish and which we must defend.

Controversial speech by Pope Benedict mentioning Mohammed

English version: raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.

It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor.

The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an.

It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.
In the seventh conversation controversy edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war.

The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat.

But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature.

The BBC carries the text of the 'regrets' issued this evening by The Holy See:

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The pastoral visit which I recently made to Bavaria was a deep spiritual experience, bringing together personal memories linked to places well known to me and pastoral initiatives towards an effective proclamation of the Gospel for today.

I thank God for the interior joy which he made possible, and I am also grateful to all those who worked hard for the success of this Pastoral Visit.

As is the custom, I will speak more of this during next Wednesday's general audience.

At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.

These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.

Yesterday, the Cardinal Secretary of State published a statement in this regard in which he explained the true meaning of my words.

I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect."

Recent divergences of policy within the Catholic Church, since the accession of Pope Benedict XVI to the Papacy last year, are examined here and I must admit that I, to some extent, sympathise with his desire for 'reciprocity' in dealings with other faiths, although I cannot but note that the Pontiff has only recently made some notably hostile comments about the recent change in the law in Spain, by the elected Government of that country, in relation to its marriage law affecting homosexuals; of course the Pope can continue to express his displeasure, if he chooses, but he will have to understand that Spain is a secular democracy, no longer open to be coerced, as might have been the case in previous times, into following at least some of the policies of a Church with which a majority of its citizens evidently now disagree.

Bill Cameron - prize chump!

That's me I'm referring to, by the way, not some other Bill Cameron!

I have just come up from my garage after having failed to start the car; I now await the arrival of the breakdown assistance person. I think I left one of the interior lights on - the one above the driver's seat - and as I've not used the car since Friday afternoon (so far as I recall) it has had not far short of 48 hours to run the battery flat. Idiot! Luckily I had no important journeys planned for today - just a trip to Forres, about 10 miles east of here, to indulge in some mild 'retail therapy', so the money I have saved on that little expedition will no doubt be redirected to any call-out charge.

UPDATE: (Sunday 17SEP06 18.00) The breakdown assistance vehicle turned up quite rapidly, at about 1.47pm, having come from Inverness (about 15 miles from here) and had me going within about 10 seconds - most embarrassing. Then I went on the round-trip to Forres, with a little add-on so totalling about 25 miles in all, to give the battery a chance to take on some charge. Now I just have to try and not make the same mistake again. In fact I have now worked out WHY this thing happened; on Friday on arriving back home I noticed whilst unloading purchases and the dog from the car that something was missing from my left jacket pocket (a pack of 'Kleenex', if you're interested) and that it had fallen down the very narrow gap between the driver's seat and the central console. I have discovered before, when I dropped the house keys down there on one occasion, just how difficult it is to extricate items which have been dropped there! Naturally after jiggling the driver seat back and forth on its electric tracks, unsuccessfully, I flicked on the overhead light to help me see what I was doing and I retrieved the pack of 'Kleenex' after 5 minutes or so. Of course I must then have forgotten to do the reverse flick on the light switch! Doh! I don't remember this problems on previous Honda Accords I have owned - I must mention this in the next customer survey I receive.

The Conservatives in Scotland - a new push?

David Cameron made his first major speech in Scotland at the end of the week, promising never, ever [to] take Scotland for granted, acknowledging that the Pary's position here is "pretty dismal", with the Scottish Conservatives largely being considered irrelevant in Scottish politics (the last bit is the view of this blogger - Ed). Now I read that Party Chairman, Francis Maude, has met people from two gay organisations in Scotland, during the same visit to Scotland by Cameron, saying:

"I'm passionate about the equality agenda. We work very closely with Stonewall in London and as Conservatives in Scotland we want to have the same relationship."

I hope all this works, of course. Quite apart from my generally 'Conservative' tendency, the Party in Scotland has a long way to go to break out of its tired old persona, a move which becomes ever more necessary given a recent poll indicating that sentiment for Scottish 'independence' seems to be growing, even allowing for the froth generated by the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections.

Gay killer on run for two months ...

... but police, who only recently confirmed he had absconded, apparently thought it was 'not necessary' to infrom the public. One is tempted to wonder if this is because only gays are thought to be at risk it is not of sufficent interest to 'anyone who matters', even though he is thought to be responsible for a string of robberies of gay men since July. For as Inspector Mark McManus of Calderdale CID is quoted as saying in the Rochdale Observer:

"On each occasion the suspect struck up a relationship with his male victims before threatening and robbing them, sometimes in public places and on other occasions at their home addresses.

"During the course of this inquiry, police have worked with the gay community, via various media outlets, to inform them of the robberies, warn them of the potential danger and seek information.

"Despite extensive police inquiries he remains at large and we warn the public not to approach Dewhurst but to contact local police if he is seen."

Possibly I am being harsh (surely not - Ed.), as it appears the police have been warning the openly 'gay community', except that a lot of gay men are rather secretive about their 'proclivities' and might not necessarily be aware of police warnings to the openly gay community. It's a case of not wanting to alarm the public, I suppose.

First gay marriage between Spanish military personnel

Two Spanish Air Force privates have become the first gays in the miltary known to have taken advantage of Spain's recently-passed law on gay marriage, by 'tying the knot' in Seville last Friday.

Congratulations to the happy couple!

Saturday, 16 September 2006

Sobrevivente / I will survive

I noticed this video link in a post at Swede&Czech, who in turn got it from Made in Brazil. The men (mostly) ain't pretty, but they belt out "I will survive" in Portuguese with gusto! Enjoy!

Reorganisation of my blog

I have just completed a number of quite major changes to my blog. This is a part of the reason why I haven't posted much in the last few days, although I've also been quite busy in the real world, too.

The only change which regular visitors may notice is that the information about navigating this site, which used to appear immediately below the 'header banner', has been relocated to a new section under my 'Blog Links' section in the right-hand column, using the link name 'Navigation' (naturally enough - Ed.).

The major changes, however, are unlikely to be noticed, assuming that I have carried them out correctly. What they involve is the way that images and web pages are linked to from this blog. Until now I have hosted some of the web pages and images I link to from the blog within the 'Blogger' host, although a great deal more of such images and some of the web pages linked to have been hosted on my own 'Main Website' (see heading the right-hand column for the link). The change is that all web pages and images linked to which appear in the static blog 'template', are now hosted on my own 'Main Website', unless some of those images are hosted by the providers of various of the services I use, as part of their terms and conditions. Obviously, the links in the various 'blogrolls' I use (nine at present, as it so happens) are also hosted by and only the link codes are included within my own blog's template.

All of these changes are ones I have been meaning to carry out for some time, specially since I switched hosting of my 'Main Website' earlier this year (I wrote about that here), a change which provided me with a great deal more hosting space, but as they cumulatively involved quite a lot of programming effort I have been 'putting off the day'.

However, what has finally spurred me to action is an email I had from earlier this week. My blog is hosted on the '' host, but is in fact classified as a 'Blog*Spot Plus' account because of a small payment I made to several years before it was acquired by and they have very generously maintained the privileges granted to 'Blog*Spot Plus' accounts ever since, one of which was the granting of FTP access for uploading non-blog content, like binary files, as
well as the ability to create subdirectories for my blog, within the Blogspot host. Blogger have now advised that they are soon to 'retire' the Blog*Spot Plus feature from Blogger; I understand that the change is all part of the programming changes involved in launching the new version of Blogger, about which many other bloggers have written in recent weeks, as they have been 'beta testing' the new version.

Apart from the changes I have now made I plan to continue running my blog in more or less the same way for the foreseeable future. I have on a number of occasions considered transferring hosting of the blog completely to my own 'Main Website', which undoubtedly has plenty of available space, but as I have generally always been happy with Blogger I see no real need. Many other bloggers have very negative views about Blogger both as a hosting mechanism and as a a blogging tool. I have been frustrated, too, from time to time with Blogger, specially during down-times, also with the limitations on post categorisation that the system imposes on users, specially compared with some other blogging tools such as MoveableType. However, I have enough experience with other website hosts to know that most have their drawbacks occasionally and I understand that the new version of Blogger, which I have not yet used myself, addresses many of the limitations in the present version. In short, I am sticking with Blogger for now.

Scottish bathing beaches 'pass the test'

A Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) survey over the three summer months has found that all of Scotland's bathing beaches have, for the first time in two decades, passed water quality tests. Generally, therefore, good news.

The results for the two beaches in Nairn which are included in the survey are here:
Nairn (Central);
Nairn (East).

I used the word 'generally' earlier because there was a very brief period in early August when the results for Nairn were less than optimal, apparently caused by agricultural run-off during a period of heavy rain. Whilst all beaches along the Moray Firth coast were affected, only Nairn seems to have failed the test on one day - the lesson must be that we need to do better as such 'glitches' (relatively brief though they might be) do nothing to help the local tourist trade, quite apart from the risks potentially posed to local users of the beaches.

The results for all the beaches surveyed are available here, by clicking on the region of Scotland which interests you.

Just sack them! (part two)

The health service union, Unison, has said staff at NHS Logistics will hold a 24-hour strike next Thursday to protest the sale of the network to German firm DHL. It will be, if it goes ahead, the first national strike in the NHS for 18 years.

It really is time we as a nation, and our Government (which nominally acts on our behalf) to resist the naked blackmail which some unions, particularly in the publicly-owned parts of the economy, seem determined to re-introduce into British public life. If this planned strike, and later strikes which are threatened, goes ahead then the Government should sack those involved.

(This post follows an earlier post on a similar theme last week.)

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

The security of police data - sketchy in Lothians and Borders at best!

Yes, folks! Roll up! Want some Lothians and Borders crime files - just pop along to your nearest car boot sale. The police, speaking though a spokesperson, attempt to deny responsibility saying they use a specialised firm to dispose of sensitive information. Doh! Once again, the dead hand of bureaucracy seems to think this kind of nonsense will fool anyone - it is quite obvious that whatever contract they have with the so-called specialised entity they use is not worth the paper it is written on and needs to be looked at fast!

The same article reports that last month weapons and crime evidence were found dumped in a skip in Peebles. Get you act together Lothians and Borders police!

Tuesday, 12 September 2006

"Gay sailor axed for rookie romp"

The clever title comes from The Sun newspaper which reports the case of a Naval Fitness Instructor at HMS Raleigh in Plymouth who got a little too close to a recruit. As the article also reports, in another case of sexual indiscretion at the same base "five staff are accused of flings with female recruits".

Pending investigation by naval detectives, Fitness instructor Sam Connell has been ordered off base with an hour's notice. This has nothing to do with 'homophobia' it would seem, and as I am glad to report. It has everything to do with inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, whatever the genders of those involved.

However, the insider at HMS Raleigh (whoever he or she is) is quite correct, if the quote in the article is accurate: "He is obviously very attractive to men of the same sexual persuasion." He sure is; The Sun helpfully includes a very nice photograph!

RAF Nimrod bodies returning to Kinloss - Rest in Peace

(You are respectfully directed to the update at the end of this post)

Rest in Peace

The bodies of the fourteen military personnel killed in Afghanistan recently when a Nimrod aircraft crashed are being returned home to RAF Kinloss, just along the coast from here. One of the twelve locally-based men lived in Nairn, just up the road from here in Seabank Road and I understand that the mother-in-law of one of the men lives in my building (although I do not know her, as I believe she has only recently moved into her apartment).

This tragedy has obviously hit the local communities in the area deeply.

UPDATE: (Tuesday 12SEP06 11.50 BST) I just saw about six minutes ago a military transport flying quite low over my apartment building in the direction of RAF Kinloss, and as I write it is being shown live on BBC News24 landing there - at the moment it is taxi-ing off the runway into the base. So sad ...

Sunday, 10 September 2006

Homophobia and the Daily Mail

This story has it all. The Daily Mail gets to assist in spreading the dirt about a Hollywood actor rumoured to be gay, gets to condemn him for not being 'open' about it, gets to spread speculation that the release of a photograph showing said actor, John Travolta, kissing another man on the lips, will be the kiss of death to his acting career. And one other juicy snippet about Travolta is cheerfully relayed - his adherence to Scientology, about which you can read more here.

Frankly I've never much cared for Travolta as an actor, but can't the man be judged on his ability in his career, not on whom he chooses to exchange a kiss with? Is this really so important? The people behind trash tabloids such as the Daily Mail obviously think it is and their far too numerous readers presumably agree.

Just sack them!

Quite surreal - off-the-wall campaigning by a civil service union agitating for a national strike of civil servants to protest about 'pay, job cuts and privatisation'. The correct response would simply be to deliver a P45 to all of them.

We really don't need all these hangers on, as would quickly become evident in the days and weeks following implementation of this radical suggestion. Life would continue much as usual - except of course for the fact that the productive parts of the economy would start to flourish, with long-term benefits for all.

Saturday, 9 September 2006

Pope condemns gay marriage as 'folly'

Nothing unexpected in this of course; this time his remarks are directed specifically at Canada to coincide with the visit to the Holy See of Bishops from that country.

It always perplexes me why people are expected to follow the dictates of the leader of a disfunctional cult which imposes celibacy on its personnel, male and female, and believes impeding one lot of people from being happy together (same sex couples) will somehow protect the institution of marriage for those unions it does condone. Not of course that all its personnel always observe the celibacy rule; why, some of them are notorious for their own abuse of vulnerable younger people who were exposed to their influence and whose misdemeanours were for years covered up by this self-same cult, until a torrent of revelations about it flouting of law finally forced it to clean up its act. The Pope's continued whining about the extension of full human rights to all citizens would be laughable were it not so poisonously destructive.

Thursday, 7 September 2006

The 'Jack Traven' of Central Scotland!

Now if you know your movie plots, you'll remember that Jack Traven was the character played by Keanu Reeves (mmmm!) in the movie Speed. However, now Scotland has its very own 'Jack Traven', although in this case the driver is a criminal who has been convicted for taking a bus and leading the police (3 vehicles and one helicopter!) on a 50-mile chase before they had to resort to a stinger device to blow out the tyres (that didn't stop him!) and finally came to an end only when he drove through a farm gate and a fence became entangled in the wheels.

26-year old Scott Cruikshank had already been banned from driving 21 times (!) before stealing the bus and has now been sent to gaol for two and a half years and given two life driving bans by Sheriff Lindsay Foulis at Perth Sheriff Court. Cruikshank's "curiosity" (as it was quaintly described by his solicitor Martin Morrow) has at least taken him temporarily off our streets, although whether this young man will observe the life driving bans when he is released from prison in due course is not known, but given his past behaviour I suspect that he may not.

Highlands IT expert and child porn addict gets probation and community service

A computer website designer, based in Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast of Highland Region, has been convicted of downloading almost 18,000 pornographic images of young children and has been sentenced at Inverness Sheriff Court to a maximum of three years probation and 225 hours of community service (nowhere near children, I hope!) and has been placed on the sex offenders' register for three years.

This part of the world may be beautiful, but it is afflicted with just the same kinds of problems as most other areas, indeed in some ways more so than most (if the suicide statistics in Scotland and the Highlands are a guide). Sigh ...

Has life become just a bowl of cherries for Blair and the Labour clique?

(See the UPDATES at the end of this post)

This thought was prompted because I am sitting here eating from a bowl of delicious ripe cherries whilst watching the 1pm news on the beeb enjoying the spectacle of the Labour Party in self-destruct mode. Hazel Blears (earlier), Jack Straw and Ruth Kelly hedging her bets, mouthing some guff about Blair having "earned the right" to choose the timing of his own departure from office - complete stuff and nonsense - before going on to suck-up to the presumed next labour leader, Gordon Brown, saying he is the "obvious" choice to replace Blair and would make an "excellent" Prime Minister.

Will Blair still be Prime Minister at Christmas, let alone at the end of May next year? It wouldn't surprise me if he is gone in weeks, not months. Can a General Election be far behind that happy event?

Quite, quite delicious - now, back to that bowl of cherries.

UPDATE: (Thursday 7SEP06 15.47 BST) I watched a short while ago Blair's statement during a visit to a school in which he indicated that this year's would be the last Labour Party conference he attends as its leader - hurrah! However, he stated he was not going to give a precise date for his departure. Earlier in the afternoon I had watched a statement made by Gordon Brown that he supported the PM fully and would leave it to him to decide on the precise date. So far, so good. However, shortly after Blair's own statement was broadcast, a statement was read out from a Brown acolyte, Doug Henderson, that this settles nothing and that a precise date is required. The Labour Party's self-immolation continues apace - what fun! No doubt the blogosphere and the media will happily add more fuel to the fire - I hope to do my little bit here in my own little blog to hasten the departure of this sorry excuse for a government!

2nd UPDATE: (Thursday 7SEP06 18.33 BST) According to this, Tony Blair was jeered by pupils at the school at which he made his statement earlier today - funny how that didn't make it on to the televised news, eh?!

Wednesday, 6 September 2006

For 'Monopoly' read 'Monopsony', or you could just say Wal-Mart

A monopoly in the market is when one company supplies most or all of a given product or service to a multitude of buyers - and can, theoretically, charge what it wishes to in order to supply that product, purchasers having no choice but to accept the terms offered if they wish to acquire the good or use the service. In such circumstances governments often impede pure market dynamics in order to 'protect' buyers from price-gouging.

A monopsony, on the other hand, is when one company is the only or dominant purchaser of a given product type, irrespective of whether that product is supplied by one or many suppliers. It is often referred to as a buyer's monopoly. This is where US retail giant Wal-Mart enters the picture. Through Ezra Klein, writing here, linking to this article in the Wall Street Journal, I am alerted to the influence Wal-Mart has come to have in setting the terms of sale of a class of product. The product in question is what Hollywood produces - films (aka 'movies', for US readers). What has happened is that Wal-Mart has intervened to warn studios not to give Apple a better deal for selling movies digitally through its video iPod download service, than those offered to Wal-Mart for selling physical copies of the same movies in DVD format. The 'warning' has been quite sufficient to modify drastically the studios' original plans for electronic sales via Apple's iPod service. It can do this because it alone is responsible for over one third of all movie sales in the US. As Ezra Klein remarks, Wal-Mart's actions are perfectly rational from its point of view - however, whether it is a happy situation for the retail purchaser is much less certain.

Wal-Mart is the owner of Asda, a major supermarket retailer in the UK.

Blair and the Labour succession

Everyone else in the British blogosphere (an example, at random) and the UK media (example here) is rabbiting on incessantly, trying to read the tea leaves of when Blair may hand over to a successor as leader of the Labour Party and therefore Prime Minister.

All very interesting of course. However, not very productive. I have mixed views about Blair - he made Labour electable (boo!) by seeming to dampen down (hurrah!) the wilder excesses of socialism (boo!) which had rendered the party unelectable (hurrah!). From a traditional Labour perspective (boo!) he followed US President 'dubya' Bush into Afghanistan and Iraq, getting rid of odiously tyrannical regimes in the process (hurrah!). He helped Labour to ditch Clause 4 (hurrah!), but gave us a Chancellor who has presided over a huge transfer of resources from the productive parts of the economy to the unproductive by use of crude redistributive policies (boo!).

Do I want Blair to remain as PM? No. Do I relish the prospect of a Brown, or a Reid, or a Milliband, or a Johnston becoming PM to replace him? No. Labour itself, mercifully, has become tired and jaded and needs to give way to another party, possibly a re-invigorated Conservative party under David Cameron. That is the ONLY topic which interests me. The present little local difficulty concerning Blair and Labour's internal and petty party politics is mere political fluff - I am happy to leave obsessing about it to others.

Blame low wages on globalisation not immigration, says Cameron

(See the UPDATE at the foot of this post)

Speaking to business leaders in Mumbai during the second day of his India visit, Conservative leader David Cameron referred to depressed towns in the UK:

"... where the winds of globalisation feel like a chilling blast, not an invigorating breeze."


"So we can't just celebrate the benefits of globalisation. We must also be honest about its costs, because the alternative is that people project their fears and anxieties on to other ethnic groups or other countries."

I certainly commend his effort to damp down the rise of anti-immigration sentiment in the UK, a phenomenon which rears its ugly head here from time to time and of late has arisen as a result of the high numbers coming from the new EU member states, about which little can be done in practical terms (even in Belgium, which strictly speaking currently has restrictions on granting work permits on such new arrivals, as do most others amongst the pre-2004 EU-15".

However I cannot really see the utility of making such a speech in India, of all places, specially having just officiated at the opening of a JCB factory in Pune; I don't imagine the whole production at this new factory is to be used within India or within the rest of the 'developing world', any more than the vacuum cleaners produced by Dyson in Malaysia are all used in that country. The message he is trying to put across is hardly likely to receive much of a sympathetic ear in Mumbai, notwithstanding the polite smiles at the speech of a visitor. Does David Cameron expect companies and workers in India or other rapidly-developing countries voluntarily to forego the benefits of having export-led industrial production or call centres within their borders? I used the word 'utility' earlier beacuse I cannot see the purpose of giving this speech to this audience, unless he intends it as a veiled warning that unless producers in India and other countries show restraint in competing with western industrialised countries, a new era of protectionism in the latter will be the result. Even if such a threat were real, does he really believe that some form of protectionism can ever be more than a stop-gap solution. Unless he tries to sell his message in the UK his speech in India sounds like a rather empty gesture - the wrong message to the wrong audience.

I don't doubt that David Cameron's message in India is intended to have a far more subtle and long-term political impact, specially back in the UK, but if there is a message it seems to me it must be a wake-up call to UK employers, employees and educators that our future lies in moving further along the track of technical and business innovation, not on some simplistic appeal for everyone to be nice to each other by agreeing not to compete with each other. I'll be looking out for future signs of where Cameron seems to be taking his party, in political terms, with speeches like this.

UPDATE: (Wednesday 6SEP06 16.50 BST) My post above was written based on the BBC article I link to above; it now seems to me that I was unduly harsh in my analysis, because it would appear that the quotes included in the BBC article were highly selective, almost designed to make Cameron appear out of sympathy with the very concept of 'globalisation'; however, there is here an edited video recording of the speech referred to above, which he gave in Mumbai yesterday, which throws an entirely different and much more balanced light on what he was saying, in my view.

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

Remembering Terrorist Outrages - 3rd September 2004 and 11th September 2001

... We still remember ...

Two days ago was the second anniversary of the barbarous school hostage-taking in Beslan, North Ossetia (Russia), in which it is estimated that at least 331 perished, and next Monday will see the fifth anniversary of the horrors which affected the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and involved four civilian aircraft all of whose passengers and crew perished - in all 2,973 are confirmed as having died (excluding 19 hijackers) on that day, with a further 24 missing and unaccounted for. My sincere condolences to all those whose family, friends and colleagues were killed in these outrages, so needlessly and brutally. Rest in Peace.

(Permanent links to memorial pages for these and other recent terrorist outrages are in the column on the right under the heading 'Memorial Pages'.)

Monday, 4 September 2006

David Cameron is in India ...

... read about it here.

This sounds like a genuine effort at being open. The first couple of posts are lively and informative - if he continues with this kind of fresh approach he could quickly become a cult blogger. Added to blogroll for the duration of his visit.