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

Tuesday 31 October 2006

"Gay snub crew appeals rejected" - the correct decision!

This is the case of the Glasgow firemen who last June refused to hand out fire safety leaflets at Glasgow Gay Pride, citing moral objections.

I didn't blog about this at the time because I wasn't blogging about much of anything then and I saw it as just yet another tedious example of ignorant homophobia. Of course a number of the 'usual suspects', some bloggers and tabloid journalists, thought the refusal by the firemen to distribute the material was one they were entitled to make and that the disciplinary action against them was 'political correctness' gone mad.

Anyway, three of the firefighters and a crew manager who lodged appeals against the disciplinary action they received have seen them rejected and Deputy Chief Officer Eileen Baird upheld the decision to issue a written warning to the crew. She also decided that one watch manager should not be demoted, but is to be transferred out of Cowcaddens, Glasgow.

The thing that 'homophobes' (and even if that word is based on a flawed interpretation of its derivation, its usage is clear and well-known and understood by most people to whom the term 'homophobe' is not applicable) need to get into their thick skulls is that most homosexuals pay their taxes just like everyone else. That Glasgow Gay Pride, just like other Gay Pride events around the country, is conducted with the full knowledge and the approval of the local policing authorities and that it is completely unacceptable for public servants to take moral stances about citizens going about their lawful activities. I am in no way a 'militant' nor indeed have I ever participated in a Gay Pride event, but I support wholeheartedly those who do. I also refuse to tolerate the possibility that my sexuality may affect negatively the quality of service which public servants are prepared to deliver to me (*). It is not my usual style, but I am driven here to express my feelings very clearly:
We're here, we're queer, and we ain't goin' nowhere!

Get used to it.

(*) On the only occasion when this kind of thing had the potential to affect me personally, it did not in fact involve public servants, but employees of a private company, the car dealership where I purchased and serviced my cars at the time. The word 'Poof!' had been scratched quite deeply into the paintwork of the boot of my car when I was in a pub attending a regular social meeting of gays and lesbians, etc., which the publican and his wife allowed us to hold several times a month, and some of the local youths in the small town it took place in decided to induge in some petty vandalism against 'poofs' and 'dykes' by defacing some of the cars parked there. I was a little nervous about the reaction I might receive when I took my car for repair to the garage, but I must record here that all the staff I met, from the dealership management to the people in the workshop who actually did the repair work, behaved impeccably toward me and I was not made to feel 'uncomfortable' in any way; maybe I have just led a charmed life (apart from having my car vandalised, of course).

Shock! Horror! I find myself in agreement with Bob Crow, RMT Union boss

(See postcript at the end of this post)

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has always seemed to me to be a relatively harmless, if misguided, individual. Besides which his role as Mayor of London doesn't give him much scope for inflicting his lunatic policies on someone like me who lives a safe 500 or so miles away from 'The Smoke'.

Of course I do visit London occasionally and during my visits I normally make some use of the Underground system to get around, so I am not personally disinterested in whether a convicted terrorist can gain employment within the Tube network. When I first heard a few days ago that a son of Abu 'the hook' Hamza, the gentleman convicted earlier this year for incitement to murder and racial hatred and sentenced to seven years in gaol, had been employed as a labourer on the underground I wasn't unduly alarmed - I don't believe it is justified to punish people solely on the basis of crimes committed by their friends or family when there is nothing to suggest they they have themselves committed any crime. I can even understand that the contractor for Transport for London, with whom he gained employment, acted perfectly correctly in employing him as there was at the time no knowledge of him having received a prior conviction for criminal, terrorist activities in Yemen in 1999. I understand the man in question, Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, has been dismissed since this conviction came to light. All very proper and correct, in my view.

However, what I cannot understand is remarks Mr Livingstone is quoted as making:

"Has he broken any law here in Britain? [No, so] we are happy to have him working for us."

I am forced to agree with Labour MP Andrew Dismore who wants conviction for terrorism-related activities anywhere in the world to be a bar to employment on the Underground. Frankly I think it should be a bar to any but the most innocuous types of employment anywhere in the UK. Mr Livingstone, please note!

Postscript: The linked article above has been modified since I began to write this post and Mr Livingstone is now reported to have performed a U-turn:

"Mr Mostafa has convictions in Yemen. These must be taken into account."

- but not without attempting to diminish the effect of his earlier outrageously irresponsible attitude, until it became clear to him that even a very left-wing union boss and a Labour MP had taken exception, by saying this:

"They should have been brought to light by those doing the security checks, the failure to do so must be investigated."

- undoubtedly lessons need to be learned for the future, but this failure does not diminish the crass lack of judgement shown by Mayor Livingstone.

Tessa Jowell and online gaming as 'a mark of quality'

Our so-called Culture Sectretary wants the UK to be "world leader" in internet gambling and to offer a "hallmark of quality" to players around the world.

The good lady believes that banning this activity would drive it "underground" and fuel crime.

Frankly I've heard a lot of nonsense issue out of this Labour apparatchik's mouth on numerous occasions before, but I don't recall hearing something quite so, perhaps not 'silly', but definitely 'tacky'. No doubt she'll be recommending similar policies for various currently illegal activities such as procurement of prostitution, child sex and pornography and drugs? After all these activities are likely, unfortunately, always to exist and HAVE been driven underground by the legal prohibitions imposed upon them, so one cannot question Tessa Jowell's basic analysis of the situation relating to gambling, online or otherwise. Or is the inconsistency in treatment solely based on the revenues (through taxation) that might accrue to the Government by regulating this activity in the way she suggests the driving factor? The nearest parallel I can find to the situation Labour seemingly wants to create is for tobacco where the Government earns huge amounts from this regulated 'vice' whilst officially disapproving of it.

My overall attitude is that most of the activities I refer to above should not be illegal, however what sticks in my craw is the inconsistency of the Government's attitudes and policies, a sort of 'nanny state' gone wild coupled with a mendacious attempt to disguise what this so-called policy is all about - to rake in further large amounts of tax revenue, whilst dressing it up as a way of protecting the public. I thought the job of a Government was to run the affairs of state, not to operate what can only be called a 'protection racket'.

Monday 30 October 2006

Blogger back up and running

I just had a response from Blogger support and they confirm there had been some outages over the weekend, hopefully now fully resolved.

However, as I've just returned from an evening of wine tasting (Argentinian wines this time) I'll not be doing any blogging until tomorrow. The wines were good though and I had one of the best Chardonnays I've had in a number of years, not the usual nondescript stuff that Chardonnay often is nowadays, specially from Australia. Right, dog walk then bed!

test post 30oct06

Another test. I've just posted quite easily on another basic Blogger blog so I wonder whether my difficulty with posting here results from it being a Blogspot "plus" account which I was advised some weeks ago by Blogger/Google would have its FTP posting privileges withdrawn by the end of October, in connection with the general changeover to Blogger Beta. Hopefully I'll know more when I get a response from Blogger later today or early tomorrow when they get into work in California after the weekend.

Sunday 29 October 2006

test post 29th OCT

Blogger has been acting up today - there are so few posting that I'm sure I'm not alone.

Economist Adam Smith to feature on new Bank of England £20 note

Adam Smith, author of the one of the most influential economics treatises ever written, 'The Wealth of Nations', is to appear on the Bank of England's TWENTY POUND notes, to replace composer Edward Elgar, early next year. The man whom many regard as having invented "the concept of competition and market forces" will, incidentally, be the first Scotsman to appear on a Bank of England note, although he already appears on a FIFTY POUND note issued by one of the Scottish note issuing banks (Clydesdale Bank).

Now if only our Government would start to apply his economic theories rigorously!

Irish unity advances by the back door, thanks to 'dem pesky Gays

Ironic isn't it. After decades of strife between the Republic of Ireland (RoI) and the UK over that part of the island of Ireland which we in the UK call 'Northern Ireland' and those who wish this part of the UK to be re-united politically with the RoI call the 'north of Ireland' some Irish citizens have found something they like about 'the north'. The fact that civil unions are now available throughout the UK to same sex couples has apparently attracted upto 100 such couples upto the north to tie the knot, even though such unions are not currently recognised in the RoI. However, the UK version of civil unions does grant all the important rights (tax, inheritance, pension rights, etc) as well as the obligations that apply to heterosexual married couples. Note for US readers - I understand this is different in the case of the US where those States that grant civil union or marriage rights to same sex couples can only ensure their validity within State law as the Defense of Marriage Act stymies recognition of these statutes in other States, which renders them highly second-rate in the practical rights conferred.

This week the Irish Department of Justice will receive a report from a working group set up to look into recognising civil unions in the RoI and it is being reported that a positive recommendation is likely, perhaps helped by the fact that five such unions have been conducted since August by the British Embassy in Dublin involving at least one British citizen in each couple.

Note: The sly pun in the title of this post is quite deliberate - just my little joke.

Sunset at Nairn harbour yesterday evening

The view is taken from the eastern pier of the harbour, looking west over the west pier toward the beach beyond:

Sunset at Nairn - 28 October 2006
- taken at about 6pm

Click here to see a larger image.

At long last, His Holiness the Pope talks sensibly about paedophilia within the Church ...

... and says the Church must prevent it happening again (click on the link at the right from there to watch/listen to what the Pontiff had to say).

For several years I have been railing in this blog and on my main website about the cover-up tactics adopted by the Church in relation to the crimes of its employees (priests, Bishops, Cardinals) in either perpetrating acts of paedophilia or of covering up such activity by Church colleagues and in colluding to provide miscreants with positions within the Church in areas away from where the original crimes had been committed, only for them to commit new crimes in their new positions. It is gratifying that at long last the Holy Father has spoken so clearly about this sickness at the heart of the organisation he leads; now we will be watching closely to see that his words are followed by action. He made the declaration during the visit to the Vatican of a number of Bishops from Ireland, where sex scandals involving paedophilia have bedevilled the Church for decades. Only recently I was castigated in his own blog by a visitor to this blog over a post (see here and here) I had written imputing base motives to some members of the Catholic Church, including both the present and the last Pontiff, in relation to their abymally poor and indeed outrageous mishandling of this scandal in the Church; if this latest move by Pope Benedict XVI signifies genuine change then I am truly glad.

PS/ However, read here (New York Times) about the latest 'crackpot' draft policy being proposed by US Catholic Bishops on how the Church should conduct its ministry toward gays, entitled "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care"; it will be voted on by the next meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops when it meets in Baltimore between 13-16 November; this document does not seem to give much evidence of any change in the tired old policies of the Church with regard to demonising activities of which it disapproves.

False alarm over 'aircraft crash' off Nairn shore

5.15pm - flash news item on BBC News24 saying reports were just coming in that a light aircraft had been reported as going into the sea just off Nairn, just before 5pm. I looked out of my window and indeed saw that a Royal Air Force helicopter was hovering offshore near the harbour. I dashed along to the harbour (about a 10 minute walk from my home across the links) and walked out to the end of the pier at the east side of the harbour - got talking to a fellow who told me he had been there all afternoon with his fishing rod. He told me he had indeed seen a light aircraft flying over but had certainly not seen it crashing into the sea and had wondered why the Coastguard had suddenly appeared a little earlier and why a couple of lifeboats were circling the area with the helicopter overhead. It now seems, thankfully, that the whole incident was a false alarm, although apparently the alarm had been raised completely innocently and with benign, not malign, intent.

... Nairn returns to its normal state of very little happening. It was a lovely sunny late afternoon though and I got a couple of beautiful sunset shots, which I may post up here in the morning once I have downloaded my digital camera.

Oh and one last thing - don't forget that tonight we put the clocks back one hour to GMT until next Spring; the winter really is upon us.

Saturday 28 October 2006

Bush forced into a corner on civil unions?

President Bush is interviewed alongside First Lady Laura Bush and squirms as his meagre intellect sees no way out of acquiescing that gays should not be denied the rights that civil unions would bring, without making him look like a complete s..t [*):

- the classic weak bully cornered in the most lethal of settings, an apparently cosy domestic chat with an interviewer in the presence of his wife.

That's how I read the body language in this revealing interview, anyway.
(thru Andrew Sullivan)

[*] ... and Bill almost, but not quite, breaks his own rule about the use of profanity in this blog; I hope my regular readers will forgive this near-aberration on my part.

Friday 27 October 2006

"We do not torture" says President Bush ...

... has he talked to his Vice President lately? (read more here)

It would be amusing were it not so grotesque. Can even President Bush really believe the nonsense he spouts?

It's not just Americans who 'misbehave' in Iraq, it's apparently British too...

... I've been following the court martial going on at Bulford Camp in Wiltshire for some time, but the latest evidence makes my stomach churn; the apparent random nature and the gratuitousness of the alleged abuse shames us as a nation, if it is upheld.

Is anyone convinced by the Scottish Tories?

As someone who has been contemplating rejoining the Conservative Party in response to the more sensible strategy being developed by the UK-wide Party under David Cameron, it is difficult to muster much enthusiasm for the Scottish part of the Party if this is the best they can offer ahead of the Scottish elections next May.

Alan Cochrane has an article in today's Telegraph, not yet on the website so far as I can see, describing the Scottish Conservative Leader Annabel Goldie's performance at First Minister's Questions yesterday - she seems to think her role in 'opposing' Jack McConnell is to offer him support against the Scottish National Party's 'rottweiler' Nicola Sturgeon, with her already-announced intention of trying to prop-up a Labour minority administration if that is the result of next year's election, in an effort to support the Union (with England). He also points out that the policy conference referred to in the link from the first paragraph above is being held in private, so that her pretence that "All eyes are on us now" is both fatuous and inaccurate.

Rosie Kane following in the footsteps of Tommy Sheridan?

Rosie Kane MSP has just been gaoled for two weeks for refusing to pay a fine of GBP300- incurred during a protest outside the Scottish Parliament in a model submarine last year over the presence of nuclear weapons in Scotland. Just like former Socialist colleague Tommy Sheridan, who seemed to take pleasure in 'martyring' himself in anti-nuclear and other protests, the feisty Ms Kane has gone for the empty grandstanding option - what a bunch of pointless idiots these Socialists are! I cannot imagine that anyone other than fellow 'comrades' are in any way impressed by this kind of behaviour - this is what those few who actually voted for her in the Glasgow Shettleston constituency (2,403 votes or 14.52 per cent) get for their loyalty to a failed ideology. She became an MSP, as did Tommy Sheridan, only as a result of the 'list' system; in Glasgow the Scottish Socialist Party got 15.6 per cent in the Glasgow Region (see Table 18), entitling them to 2 of the 7 list MSPs for the area. Of these two MSPs, one has now left the Party, the other is in gaol - 'nuf sed.

PS/ Just to add to the SSP woes, it seems that even the RMT union (led by firebrand Bob Crow) has broken off all relations with the Party, saying it is not in its members' interests to remain affiliated.

Wednesday 25 October 2006

New Jersey State Supreme Court backs rights for same sex unions ...

... but leaves it up to "... the democratic process" to decide whether such unions may be called 'marriage' or something else.

I know some purists within the gay community will see this as not good enough, as they think that nothing less than an institution recognised as a 'marriage' will do, but to me what really matters is that the rights granted by that union, whatever it is called, are exactly equivalent to those conferred upon a heterosexual couple by the institution traditionally known as 'marriage'. And in that context, it seems to me, the important part of the New Jersey ruling is where it states that same-sex couples are entitled to:

"the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes."

- this is pretty much what we now have in the UK since the Civil Partnerships Act came into effect almost a year ago.

However, as the New Jersey legislation obviously has most importance for Americans here is what two prominent US bloggers have to say on the matter - Andrew Sullivan describes it as "A sane and wise decision ..." and the InstaPundit (Glenn Reynolds) says that, despite what one might at first think it represents "... a clean win for gay marriage advocates, not a partial victory.".

And just to show how 'nerdy' I am ...

... I tried one of the other quizzes. I seem to recall I did another similar quiz a few years back which had me living into my nineties - what happened to me!? At least I still have over thirty years to go, so that's something - lol:

I am going to die at 86. When are you? Click here to find out!

Oh dear, it could have been worse ...

... but my self-assessment was just about right; at least I have few self-delusions:

I am nerdier than 50% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

(PS/ Normally I would give an attibution for this kind of post, but I have seen this on somewhere between 6 and 12 blogs in the past several days and don't remember where I first saw it; I'm also pretty sure I may have done this or a similar quiz 3 or more years ago)

Tuesday 24 October 2006

Michael J Fox on stem cell research

If you have ever known anyone who has succumbed to Parkinson's Disease, as I have, then this moving political advertisement by Michael J Fox, ahead of the US mid-term elections in a few weeks, in support of permitting stem cell research to try and find a cure or remedy for this awful malady, will have you in tears; it certainly shocked me and moved me deeply to see how much his physical coordination has degenerated since I last saw him when he published a memoir a few years ago:

I became aware of this advertisement as a result of an article in today's Daily Telegraph here. I am just grateful I do not live in an otherwise advanced country such as the US where extreme religious views seem to dominate not only medical research, but so many other aspects of life.

Sounds like a cover-up to me ...

... I am no great lover of ITN news reporting, but they have been providing news reports recently of the ways in which wounded military personnel are treated, showing some of the good along with the bad. The MoD and the government have now apparently issued an edict that all future cooperation with ITN is being withdrawn and although the MoD expresses dismay at some of the coverage as being a "hatchet job" does not provide any specific rebuttal of any item reported by the news channel. Instead the Government and the MoD resort to the, in my view, weasel option of suggesting that the families of those depicted without 'permission' having been obtained "may have been caused distress", without, naturally enough, providing any evidence (never mind credible facts) to back up their allegations that what 'may' have happened actually has occurred.

Frankly I am somewhat amazed at the conclusion reached in this Samizdata article. Nothing in The Times article indicates that it is military personnel who are objecting to the ITN coverage (and the only person they do refer to in this category indicates his own concern at the way soldiers are being cared for); the criticism of ITN seems to originate entirely from the political leadership of the MoD. The MSM, in the form of ITN may indeed be at fault here, but if it is then the Government and the MoD should have the decency to state clearly the facts behind their dismay, not resort to wild assertions. Coming on top of the recent statement by the army's top person that it risks being 'broken' by what is being asked of it in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere on resources which are severely stretched and, according to many who seem to know a lot more about it than me, either inadequate or non-existent, this leaves rather a sour taste in the mouth. A successful military, which is what I would like to see us have, unfortunately costs a great deal both in terms of money and the human resources required to carry out some of our national policies [*] and politicians need to realise that; so do we as citizens.

[*] ... and I readily accept that many of my fellow citizens question the basic involvement of our military in places such as Iraq and/or Afghanistan, but in a democracy (and however much I may dislike the present crowd of shysters that rules us) the way we express our views is ultimately through the ballot box; we do not undermine our military by under-resourcing them once we have committed them and our country to a course of action.

Sunday 22 October 2006

In Vietnam, little has changed ...

... despite doi moi, it's still basically the same repressive communist police state - just like every other communist state that has ever existed.

When I lived there, it is a fact that our faxes and telexes (internet operations were in their infancy then), and probably our telephone calls, were all monitored and visitors to the homes of foreigners were likewise tabulated closely. Vietnamese citizens were subjected to far more obtrusive controls. Clearly, little has changed at root.

People who write blog posts beginning "I've got a post up at ..."

You know one of the things that has bugged me about blogging for a long time is the self-important tone of some of them. And one thing that particularly irritates me is to read regular posts at certain blogs which start off "I've got something up at [name of blog] on [subject matter]"; in my early days of blogging I did occasionally follow some of those links and in a very few cases found a blog I was unfamiliar with which I discovered made worthwhile reading and which I have gone back to without further prompting (aka 'plugging' - Ed.) by some of the contributors in their own blogs at regular intervals whenever they have contributed something to a particular 'group' blog. Even more irritating is a blogger who rushes to tell us that some other blogger (who has his/her own perfectly good blog) has a post up at a 'group' blog in which they are participants, too.

There are some successful 'group' blogs (a few of which are in my blogroll, representing quite different political perspectives) and generally these don't require constant 'plugging' by people who instinctively, in my opinion, realise that without their incessant self-publicity very few people will ever visit them and indeed many such 'group' blogs have come and gone over the years after only a very brief period of activity. My basic premise is if people have got something to say then they should write it in their own blogs - quality writing will attract its own audience. On the other hand if they are contributing to a 'group' blog then by all means do so, but don't bore me with constant self-important reminders of the fact whenever they happen to write something new for that venue - a mention of the 'group' blog in question in their regular blogroll is quite adequate.

There is another kind of 'group' blog that I find novel, though, and which I think seems to work at least for brief periods. This is where a blogger invites someone to be a 'guest' blogger, often when the blog-owner is going to be away on holiday or on a business trip and won't have time to blog, or ready access to the internet, or simply wants a period of 'down time'. Often-times the 'guest' blogger has his/her own blog which they either continue with in parallel or, occasionally, put into dormancy for the period they will be 'guest' blogging. I've found a few interesting new links that way. I would have no objection, personally, to being an occasional 'guest' blogger elsewhere, or indeed to having one in my little blog from time to time and for brief periods; however, my little blog has never pretended to be anything other than my own 'witterings', a sort of electronic 'mimd dump' for me - I am always grateful to those who visit and comment from time to time in a rational way.

However, and back to the main topic of this post, be aware that constant plugging of having a post up in another blog by some bloggers tends to make my eyes glaze over; not only do I now very rarely click on the [inevitable] link to the other blog being referred to, but I tend to reduce my visits to the person's own blog, a process made much easier and more stream-lined since the advent of the pretty-universal use of RSS feeds and aggregators a few years ago. I regard such circular self-publicity as the blogging equivalent of onanism.

Friday 20 October 2006

Claire Short resigns Labour 'whip', but not the Party ...

Claire Short, MP for Birmingham Ladywood, has resigned the Labour 'whip' and has announced she will sit as an Independent for the remainder of this Parliamentr, having already announced that she is standing down at the next election.

There are two ways of looking at this, I suppose:

- a principled stand by someone who has always said plainly what she thinks (at least most of the time). Even though her political outlook is radically different from my own, I suppose one has to admit she has always (mostly) shown integrity.

- that Claire Short is just one more rat leaving a sinking ship, and as she is already a rebel who is leaving Parliament in the next year or two, this is simply an empty gesture taken by yet another selfish politician.

She has stated recently that she would like to see a 'hung Parliament' (and so would many people, although perhaps not in the way she means! - Ed.) as a means of curbing the arrogance of a Downing Street cushioned by too-large majorities since her own Party came to power; the linked article reports she is not actually resigning from the Labour Party, merely the 'whip'.

That last detail clinches it - this is just another empty gesture from a washed-up 'Labour' politician!

Wednesday 18 October 2006

God, I hope Cruddas becomes DPM after Prescott!

I know nothing about Jon Cruddas MP, but this story about him bidding to become Deputy Prime Minister after the departure of John Prescott raises the tantalising prospect of reading newspaper headlines, not to mention blog entries, based on his wonderful name. Unfortunately he seems to be classed as an 'outside candidate', but at least this story has brought his name to my attention. Sorry for my juvenile humour, but it brings to mind a history master in my youth who used to recount a tale from his own childhood about another pupil called 'Smellie' and the fun my teacher used to have in asking this lad 'Are you smellie?'. (It's time for his medication - Ed.)

Mark Oaten and Belinda Oaten give first joint interview ...

... since it was revealed in January that he had made use of male 'prostitutes'. Mark Oaten and his wife Belinda today (Tuesday 17th October) gave a joint interview to Martha Kearney on Woman's Hour about their relationship since the revelations of husband Mark's sexual shenanigans provided both shock and titillation for a jaded British public in the run-up to the recent LibDem leadership election (let's not complain too much - without the story about Mark Oaten and analogous revelatons of 'sexual deviancy' on the part of Simon Hughes, another of the Leadership candidates, that would indeed have been a 'yawn-fest'); you can listen to a podcast of the interview from the link above for the next several days. We learned from the interview that Mr Oaten is 'not gay', according to both parties. He was not actually asked, I think, if he is bisexual, which seems to me to be the most plausible explanation. Not that I care very much, but the wittering on by Mark Oaten, especially, but also by wife Belinda that it was a 'complex issue' with many factors contributing to his straying from the marital bed were not very convincing. The only point of interest was when Martha Kearney asked her point-blank if she feared there were more revelations to come, to which she inevitably replied 'no', but added in a momentarily steely voice that if there turn out to be additional 'skeletons' then "he knows the consequences". So I hope for his sake, as it appears he wishes to continue with his marriage, that his protestations are not shown to be inaccurate. And there, folks, I propose to allow this tragic couple to exit stage left and say no more about them.

Report to Procurator Fiscal in Renee MacRae murder inquiry

The 30-year old disappearance/murder of Inverness mother Renee MacRae and her 3-year old son Andrew has potentially moved a little closer to a resolution with the delivery of a police report to the Procurator Fiscal, following the announcement by the police at the end of August that an "evidential gap" had been closed.

Monday 16 October 2006

Very depressing - the war in Iraq has probably failed ...

... unless a radical change of strategy happens fast. I have always been supportive of the need to remove a brutal and sadistic tyrant, Saddam Hussein, from power in Iraq and for me the suspected possession of 'weapons of mass destruction' by his regime was not critical to that support; I thought that the moral arguments were themselves sufficient justification and my own earlier contacts with Iraqis and Koweitis who had personal experience of Saddam's tyranny seemed to me to be key. In a post I wrote in the comment section of my main website in September 2002 (amplifying a briefer post in this blog at the time here), which dealt with the impact of the now discredited 'dossier' our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, used to support the case he was gearing-up to make for action against the Iraqi regime, I nevertheless did refer to some anxieties I had, but tended at the time to discount these because I could not believe they could be true:

It is possible, I suppose, that Blair is a participant (willing or unwilling) in a grotesque plot to label Saddam Hussein as a dangerous tyrant in order to justify action against Iraq, so that 'the West' might gain control of the oil resources of the country with the second-largest reserves on the planet. Whatever I may think of Blair and his New Labour government, and my opinion of both is not particularly high, I have yet to conclude that he is a liar. Nor do I think he is completely mad - which I consider he would need to be to acquiesce in a military adventure purely for the purpose of securing oil supplies from a region which is already lacking in much political stability; the resources that would need to be devoted to maintaining control of a 'conquered' Iraq for any length of time would probably be immense.

I still have not come to the judgement that Blair was a 'liar', but it is unfortunately all too clear that his (and my, at the time) confidence in the strategic planning and objectives of the US Administration led by President Bush, aided and abetted by his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld and his Vice President, Dick Cheney, was wildly inappropriate in the light of the way the post-invasion phase has been so chronically mismanaged, as I wrote here on a related matter only a couple of weeks ago.. The final words of Norman Geras in his post yesterday on the matter are sobering, but irrefutable and mirror closely my own steadily developing view over the past three or so years, a view that began to form in my darkest thoughts only a few months after the invasion and removal of the tyrant:

Had I been of mature years during that time, I hope I would have supported the war against Nazism come what may, and not been one of the others, the nay-sayers. The same impulse was at work in my support for the Iraq war. Even so, I am bound to acknowledge that, though I never expected an easy sequel in Iraq, much less a 'cakewalk', I did not anticipate a failure on this scale, and had I done so, I would have withheld support for the war without giving my voice to the opposition to it.

I also share Andrew Sullivan's view as expressed here, however:

I stand by my good-faith belief that ridding the world of Saddam's tyranny was a great and important thing. I even stand by my naive but sincere faith in the Bush administration in 2002. But I was wrong, as events have proven. And the human carnage in Iraq today, taking place because the U.S. refused to provide order after the invasion, renders the justice of the war deeply compromised. A war that was not, it turns out, the last resort; a war that has authorized torture; a war that has led to a civilian casualty rate of around 7,000 a month; a war that has unleashed far more terrorism than it has stifled: whatever else this is, it is not the just war some of us once supported. It is in another category now.

That does not mean our moral responsibility is to abandon Iraq even further. It may require the opposite. But it does mean that we have witnessed a moral failure on an epic scale.

As a non-American I don't see utility in echoing his final sentence, however, in which he says: "I cannot see how voters with consciences can reward those who let it happen.", referring to the mid-term elections to be held in the US in early November. Hindsight is a wonderful and dangerous thing, but I do wonder if my reaction in December 2000 (in my main website, long before I began this blog) at Bush's ultimate success in the election of November 2000 against Al Gore was completely and utterly wrong in the light of all that has happened since:

Vice-President Al Gore has, at last, accepted that all legal efforts to allow him to continue his struggle to be declared President-elect have been exhausted. His 'concession' speech was superficially generous, but a more than cursory study reveals it to be a mean-spirited bowing to the inevitable. With luck, this character will never again be a presidential candidate.

Would Al Gore have handled the events of September 2001 and subsequently better and more competently? Unfortunately we are where we are, but it is clear that a completely new strategy for Iraq is urgently required - either to withdraw quickly (a shameful course I do NOT advocate) or to double and if necessary triple our military effort there; whether even the US is capable of mustering the additional 'feet on the ground' to do this without the active and major help of additional allies, inside or outside NATO, is I'm afraid a factor that needs to be looked at urgently and dispassionately and diplomatic efforts to enlist that additional support developed accordingly.

Sunday 15 October 2006

Robert Fisk on 'Desert Island Discs'

I've been listening to 'Desert Island Discs' pretty regularly for many years; it's broadcast on BBC Radio4 on Sunday mornings with a repeat the following Friday. Today it was the turn of Robert Fisk, a well-known journalist, who has concentrated on foreign journalism, mainly involving the Middle East and he has lived in Beirut for about 25 years. In some quarters his style of reporting causes immense irritation, because of its alleged anti-Western and pro-Lefitsh slant. His journalism seems to come under fire from a certain type of 'conservative' American, some of whom I would classify as 'right-wing nutjobs', although some are merely right-wing. He has even had his name turned into a verb, to fisk, and someone whose writings one person does not like is, using this terminology, subjected to a 'fisking'. Fisking involves subjecting a piece of writing to intensive textual analysis with the aim of demolishing, or rendering ridiculous, the arguments it contains or the position it takes. It is a term that is said to have come into existence only in 1999, but it is since the dawn of the internet phenomenon called blogging that it really acquired its current meaning with the writing of an article in late 2001 by Andrew Sullivan (to read the article click here and scroll down to the 9th December 2001 articles and locate the article about Robert Fisk).

When I heard that this gentleman was to be the subject of 'Desert Island Discs' this week I therefore wanted to make sure I heard it, because it is often quite revealing of the personality behind the name; the new presenter, Kirsty Young, an excellent journalist still finding her feet in my view (although with a much 'sexier' voice than her predecessor, Sue Lawley, a very skilled interviewer indeed) and this is the first of the three or so programmes she has done so far that I felt was essential listening.

Now, on to the real purpose of this post. The 8 pieces of music (in one case it was a speech) he chose were:

'Desert Island Discs' - Robert Fisk

- 1 Dies Irae (Requiem) / Benjamin Britten
- 2 Adagio for Strings / Samuel Barber
- 3 This was the Finest Hour (speech) / Winston Churchill, June 1940
- 4 Mellow Yellow / Donovan
- 5 Canon in D Major (opening) / Pachelbel
- 6 The Lord is My Shepherd (Psalm XXIII) / Irvine
- 7 Beirut Hal Zarafat / Fairuz
- 8 Hatikva – the national anthem of Israel / Naftali Herz Imber & Samuel Cohen
(various versions of 8 available for download here

Record (favourite) - number 2
Book - Thomas Mallory's Le Mort D'Arthur
Luxury - A violin (his own, restored)

- to see the accompanying article about Robert Fisk click here, whilst for full details of all his choices click here.

Personally I found all this choices (except the book, which I don't know) to be first rate, although some of the accompanying comments less so. Whatever one thinks of his politics and his journalism, though, I think this programme showed him to be a very substantial personality, although he himself seems to feel his life may have been wasted because of some of the choices he has made - that judgement by him strikes me as rather sad.

Tories sign up to Stonewall's Diversity Awareness Programme

The Conservative Party, under David Cameron (and the Chairmanship of Francis Maude), seems to be making further genuine moves to re-position itself in the eyes of homosexual and lesbian voters. After his recent speech to the Party conference in which Cameron stated his support for same-sex partnerships it does seem that the Conservative Party is, at last, making deeper changes in an effort to 're-educate' some of those within the Party about what will not only be electorally successful, but what is morally right. As Francis Maude puts it:

"It seems to us absolutely the right thing to do. It’s not just about gay, lesbian and bisexual people . . . people should see us as a party that is inclusive and respectful of everyone in society. We haven’t always been seen as that."

Unfortunately that last sentence is all too true but, just as with alcoholics, it is not until a person/group is prepared to 'own' its own former beliefs and the effect they have had that genuine change is possible. The Conservatives do now seem to be taking the practical steps they need to take. Or as Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, puts it:

"They want to demonstrate publicly they are taking this issue seriously. I think with Cameron it is not just an issue of trying to win gay votes. He genuinely believes it’s the right thing to do. You do not get votes or good recruits if you look slightly twitchy whenever the word homosexual is mentioned."

So true - I suspect I am just one of many gays who has distanced himself (scroll down to the latter part of this page) from the Conservative Party over the last few years for just this reason.

Ben Summerskill adds that Labour have declined an invitation to join the diversity programme (extract from Sunday Times article linked above):

"Perhaps there is a small element of complacency there."

UPDATE added at 0934 BST: Perhaps it is just 'complacency', but if this Cabinet split over schools policy is true then it indicates that the Labour Party has more deep-seated problems in the attitudes of some of its key players towards gay rights and faith schools! Why, even The New York Times has a lengthy article about the debate over faith schools in the UK as it affects Moselms.

Of course there are still some within the Conservative Party who take a different view of the changes Cameron wants to make. Ann Widdecombe, MP for Maidstone and the Weald, is quoted as stating:

"We should be promoting traditional marriage — that is what the Conservative party has always been about. I don’t think this plan is remotely progressive. It’s going back to ancient Rome, not going forward."

However she has already announced (or so I recall) that she will not be standing at the next election so I think that one can probably safely discount her views and those of a few of the other 'dinosaurs' within the Party. I wrote in my post about Cameron's conference speech that I was just about ready to re-join the Party; I am edging ever-closer to that decision with this latest announcement.

Even Respect MP George Galloway gives Cameron his grudging approval.

Saturday 14 October 2006

The SNP promise Scots a diet of Caviar!

I just couldn't resist that post title, it has little to do with the content of this post, or at least not much. Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy Leader of the Scottish National Party, today gave her speech to the annual conference of the Party, this year held in Perth. Apart from sucking up to the boss:

"It seems the Scottish people think Jack McConnell is more conceited than Alex Salmond.

"And let's be frank - that takes some doing."

she promised us that good times are coming:

"We will give councils the funding to cut local tax across the board.

"And we will guarantee that the benefit is passed direct to taxpayers by putting a ceiling on the level of local income tax.

"Be in no doubt - our government will deliver fairness for local taxpayers and we will put a stop to the local tax hikes that Scotland has suffered for far too long under Labour."

Quite where the money is to come from to provide this bounty is not clearly explained. Possibly it's to do with "Scotland's oil"? Or, as Mr Salmond puts it:

"Scotland's only small to those who think small. It's time to think big."

Should one feel confidence or disquiet? Next May I and fellow Scots will have to make up our minds. I cannot pretend that I view the prospect of an SNP triumph with equanimity - more like abject terror.

Haloscan temporarily (?) unavailable ...

... it seems that Haloscan is currently out of commission; as a result comments and trackback are currently not available. Sorry about this - I hope things will return to normal soon.

UPDATE: (Saturday 14OCT06 17.10 BST) Ah good, they're back - maybe it was just a Saturday software update.

2nd UPDATE: (Saturday 14OCT06 23.15 BST) ... or maybe not. Haloscan seems to be down again.

Is gaining power all that matters to the LibDems?

According to this story in Halifax Today the LibDems on Calderdale Council are contemplating an alliance with councillors representing the British National Party (BNP) in order to oust the current leadership, dominated by the Conservatives with the support of Labour councillors. One understands that the current set-up may be unpopular in some quarters, but is there no alliance that a Party such as the LibDems will not shun in order to gain power? Frankly I can hardly believe this story, even of the LibDems, but it does seem to have some credence. Quite extraordinary - and shameful, if true.
(thru West Brom Blog)

Friday 13 October 2006

Spy Blog - hosting update

If you are interested in freedom, and the preservation of freedom, you need to read Spy Blog. I just noticed an announcement about a hosting update for this blog - please update both your blogroll (or add it to your blogroll!) and your RSS feed to the new host :

Criticisms of Bill's little 'rants' ...

(NB/ Please see the two updates at the end of this post.)

One of the moderately regular visitors to my little blog, and in the past a relatively regular commenter on some of my posts (until I asked why he did not permit comments in his own blog - since which time he no longer seems to comment here, although I still notice his visits from time to time), has just written a post in his blog, dated 3rd October 2006 (but which I have just come across - see [*] at the end of this post), dedicated to cricitsing me as, as I suppose one might say, a 'perpetrator' of something he calls Totaligayrianism - golly, he's coined a word just for li'l old me, I am flattered.

Whilst 'revving up' to the substance of his criticism he notes, in passing, that I do not link to him although he links to me. My 'Links Policy' is available here or as a permanent link near the top of the right hand column. In addition to what is stated there, I observe that I have never asked to be linked to by another blog; if another blog chooses to link to me then obviously I am pleased and happy and consider it an honour. I link to a largish number of other blogs, but never request or make a pre-condition of being linked to in return; some of those to whom I link are kind enough to link to me also, some do not. Reciprocity in linking is neither requested for this blog nor observed by this blog.

The post I wrote to which he takes exception is here. Anyone who is interested is welcome to read both his post and my own and make up their own minds. Suffice it to say that I find his analysis both of my post and the situation I refer to within the Church to be flawed, but I am perfectly content to leave it to others to form their own opinions.

If the writer chooses to comment either on this post, or the earlier post to which his own post is dedicated, then I shall endeavour to respond. Similarly if he opens up his own blog to comments then I may comment there, either on his post criticising me or on others of his posts from time to time. I feel no obligation, however, to waste time here by writing another post in my own blog on a topic I have already covered ad nauseam. If and when I choose to write another post about the Roman Catholic Church or other churches or faiths I shall do so in my own good time.

[*] Frankly I do not visit his blog very often; it does appear in my 'Bloglines' feeds, though, so I visit occasionally if I come across something that interests me, which has not been often of late. I noticed his post dated 3rd October 2006 only because I noticed a visit to my own blog from the permalink for that post in my site statistics earlier today. The lack of open comments in his blog is certainly one of the reasons why I visit only rarely, quite apart from the content of the blog, in which I find little to interest me; I am writing this as openly and honestly as I can. Apart from this, I have been passing a lovely day up here in Nairn, where it has been unseasonably warm and sunny, and in visiting my mother to deliver her prescription medicines to her and to resolve one or two other matters for her.

UPDATE: (Saturday 14OCT06 09.33 BST) I note from my overnight site statistics that a person from the IP address normally used by my 'illustrious detractor' visited a few hours ago seemingly homing in on this post, but has not left a comment; more's the pity as I should have enjoyed reading his bons mots over breakfast - I shall have to make do with the more uplifting material to be found in this morning's batch of junk mail.

2nd UPDATE: (Saturday 14OCT06 09.45 BST) I have just discovered, by tracking back to his blog from another visitor here from that blog (thanks for the minor increase in my traffic, by the way, most grateful), that he has in fact posted what one imagines must be a considered 'riposte' to my little effort - you can read it here, if you wish for some innocent amusement. My commiserations, old bean, it must be a dreadful burden to bear.

Wednesday 11 October 2006

Google buys YouTube ...

... and who can blame founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen for having enormous grins on their faces:

Yes, they've struck it lucky, but I applaud their enterprise and the sheer verve of their innovative creation.

'Six Feet Under' - the final six and a half minutes

'Six Feet Under' was one of the best recent dramas on television; I watched all the series avidly, not least because of its gay storyline running throughout. Here's a clip of the haunting final minutes of the final episode of the final series; yes, we all must die some day - just not too soon, OK?

(thru Andrew Sullivan)

Tuesday 10 October 2006

Internet TV channel 18doughtystreet starts well ...

I've spent most of this evening since 8pm watching the new internet TV channel 18 Doughty Street and whilst it certainly hasn't been perfect it has been generally pretty good. The sound at the very beginning was quite low, and difficult to hear on my laptop (although just about OK on my desktop with external speakers). However, after a few 'foghorn' events, they seemed to resolve the volume problem after about 40 or so minutes and since then it has been pretty stable. The picture, although small, is perfectly clear and with no sign of jerkiness.

The programmes themselves have been rather good; the first hour has probably been the weakest as although Tim Montgomerie writes the very popular he is not a 'natural' on TV, but perhaps he'll become more confident over a few days broadcasting. The talk amongst a group of young English 'neo-conservatives' was probably the programme of the highest quality (although I didn't agree with all that was said) and I found the discussion very interesting. The interview with Australian PM, John Howard, by Tim Montgomeries was in fact very interesting, too, and Tim performed a lot better in that. I don't care for John Howard as a politician, the source of the antipathy I feel for Iain Dale, but it would be churlish of me not to record that Iain Dale has given a pretty polished performance throughout the evening. At present there is a general discussion going on loosely based around a review of tomorrow's newspapers and they are discussing the North Korea situation in that context at present. I won't spend a whole evening again watching this, but I'll undoubtedly dip in for a half hour or so most evenings it is on as I think this channel will become a valuable resource for right-of-centre political debate - so long as Stefan Shakespeare continues to bankroll the venture, I suppose. I hope he does.

'Death of a President' - part 2 of my review

Part 1 of my review is here.

After having arrested a Syrian suspect, he was put on trial and eventually found guilty and sentenced to death. The evidence, according to the programme's scenario, was sketchy, but he was nevertheless alleged to have been in league with al-qa'ida, etc. Subsequently whilst the convicted man was on death row, appealing his conviction, it became clear that a suicide at the time of the assasination was in fact the killer, but his suicide note had been discounted by investigators. However, one of his sons was convinced that the awful truth was that his father had indeed done the deed. The man was a Gulf War I veteran, who had become disillusioned with current US policy, according to the scenario, specially after one of his own sons had been killed in Iraq. The programme ended with the Syrian languishing in prison, although it was almost certain he had nothing to do with killing Bush.

What do I think of the film? Well, I'm pleased I watched it, because how else could one attempt to make any serious comment (unlike some). In any case, despite its attempt at being a 'documentary' of a (hopefully) fictional future occurrence, it did at times seem to descend into being merely a polemic against current US policy, and the current President in particular. I don't care for some aspects of US policy either, nor indeed to I [any longer] rate the 43rd President as being worthy to hold the office (but as a non-American my views are irrelevant), but I do think the makers of this programme lost all sense of objectivity in their endeavour to present a quite partisan viewpoint. In summary it was interesting, but I won't waste time ever trying to see it again.

The Knives are Out and 18 Doughty Street launch today

Tuesdays 6.30-7.00pm live here on Resonance104.4fm - the link is to the streamed live feed of this London-area FM station (blog link is here - there should be a podcast up on the 'blog' link there in due course). Two of the regular participants are regular bloggers Guido Fawkes and Recess Monkey. I'm just listening to it now; whilst it certainly is 'of the moment' and it is something of a novelty, I'm not sure that the quality of the participants is high enough to make it a regular listen. However, I'll try it this week and next to give it a fair chance.

Also launching today, at 8pm, is 18 Doughty Street, an internet TV programme concentrating on current affairs and politics, with no requirement to be 'balanced and fair' - should be lively. Click on the 'Tune in' link from the link above from 8pm tonight to see what's on offer.

'Death of a President' - a review (part 1)

I'm just watching a recording of Death of a President, broadcast on More4 last evening in its premiere in the UK. This is a fictional 'future history' with the plot involving the assasinantion of the US President whilst on a visit to Chicago. However, the plot isn't a notional fiction - it uses as its principal 'dramatis personae' the killing of the current President, George W Bush. Whatever one might think of him, one does wonder at the propriety of making such a film. Would I be amused if a film plot involved the murder of our Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II, or indeed Tony Blair, our Prime Minister? (definitely the latter is not one of my favourite human beings)

In one word, no.

Now having drawn attention to the 'tastelessness' of the plot, or even of its 'lese majeste', is the premise of the film plausible or remotely justifiable? The premise is certainly valid - after all, a number of earlier Presidents have indeed been assasinated whilst in office. Justifiable? There I am less certain.

At the time of writing (1.45am!) I have just watched the initial suspect questionning following the confirmation that the President is dead and the various theories and conjectures being postulated. The whole film is designed in the style of a documentary 'after-the-fact' and waht I am watching now is speculation about Syrian involvement.

A few comments before I go to bed. I saw earlier today (i. e. on Monday afternoon) an interview with Syrian dictator, President Bashir Assad, a former opthalmologist and presidential heir to his father, the former dictator. The real and fictional worlds are bizarrely aligned. Just as the news from North Korea yesterday echoed some of the earlier segments of this film.

I will post the second part of this review in the morning, after having had a few hours sleep. After attending a lecture last evening and consuming a few glasses of Crozes-Hermitage and a couple of small post-supper glasses of Marsala, I do now need to go to bed. I will view the rest of the film in the morning with fresh eyes and write again after that.

Read the concluding part of my review here.

Monday 9 October 2006

Scotland to Belgium Ferry - route assured for 2007!

Good news! I just had an email from Superfast Ferries advising that booking is now open for 2007 sailings from Rosyth to Zeebrugge. I've just checked the website and the online booking forms are now operational for next year, too; there isn't yet a press release giving details of the vessel they'll be using, but I daresay that will appear soon enough. This is important to me as I plan to travel down to Spain in early/mid January and return toward the end of April, using a ferry crossing to Zeebrugge as part of my itinerary. The alternative, had the Rosyth service not been operating, would have been to trek all the way down to Hull, which would have necessitated a hotel stop on the way down from the far Arctic north which, figuratively speaking, is what Nairn feels like in the winter. Assuming the weather in the second week of January isn't too horrendous it is an easy 4 or 5 hour journey (with a stop on the way for a meal) down to Rosyth, altogether a far more civilised prospect. So I am very happy!

Other good news is that building of my little holiday home in the Murcia region of Spain is now underway and the latest photographs I had a few days ago show that the basic framework of the house is already taking shape. Of course I shall be staying in a rented house this winter as my own property isn't scheduled to be ready until end-November next year.

See my earlier post in August, here, for some of the background to this.

North Korea - it's really serious ...

... so serious that the Chinese have been prepared to reverse their longstanding policy of shunning the new Japanese prime Minister's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, because of his regular visits to the Yasukuni shrine, even though the new man, Shinzo Abe has declined to 'make clear' whether he has already visited or will visit the same shrine himself.

That's how serious it is. I first became 'majorly' alarmed about the potential danger that North Korea represents to us all in late 1993 when I still lived in that part of the world, when former President Clinton was having his own difficulties in getting the North Korean regime to behave in accordance with its agreements. More recently in January 2003 I wrote about some of the difficulties of managing relationships with that country (scroll down to second entry) and whilst some aspects of that post read rather strangely now, those parts that touch on North Korea remain as frighteningly valid as ever.

UPDATE: (Monday 9OCT06 09.40 BST) North Korea claims it carried out a nuclear test earlier today, an event seemingly confirmed by a 'seismic event' identified by South Korean and US intelligence services.

Sunday 8 October 2006

To boldly (and expensively) go ...

A model of the Starship Enterprise, used in the title sequences of the original Star Trek series, has just been sold at auction by Christie's in New York for the modest sum of USD576,000 (GBP308,000); pity I missed it.

Friday 6 October 2006

Genuine commentary or viral advertising for 'webcameron'?

I came across this video on YouTube. It is a commentary on David Cameron's recent launch of his 'webcameron' videoblog - link here. As the comment which already appears on YouTube makes clear, the commenter and me (at least) are left wondering whether this is a genuine commentary by a younger Briton on what Cameron hopes will be an innovative way of making contact with a wider range of people in Britain, particularly younger people, or whether it is one of these 'viral adverts' one hears so much about. In summary, I haven't yet entirely made my mind up whether I'm actually buying into clever viral advertising propaganda by posting about it, but for what it is worth here it is:

Thursday 5 October 2006

Bournemouth Council harbours Conservative homophobe

Just a day after David Cameron made an attempt during his final speech at the Conservative Party conference held this year in Bournemouth to show how much the Conservative Party has changed and become genuinely 'inclusive', a Conservative councillor in that fair town reminds us just how far some Conservatives have yet to travel before one can finally be assured that the Conservative Party merits being entrusted with power again:

"One of the councillors who's made the complaint has only been on the council three years. I've said before, I've more experience of life, of business in my little fingertips than the people who are making complaints. I'm not a practising Christian but I have really strong Christian views. I believe in the law of Moses. I'm not a religious fanatic. As long as they do it behind closed doors, I don't mind, but now they [homosexuals] control the media, the television. They have much stronger control over this country than they should have."

Completely irrelevant arguments about a critic having been on the Council only for three years don't impress me! His other comments seem to counter his own protestation that he is not a 'religious fanatic'; if it walks like a duck, if it talks like a duck, then very probably it is a duck ...

'Guru of Nairn' attempts his first videocast

(Please see note at end of this post.)

I've just put up a test 'videocast' to establish whether I have got the technicalities worked out. The good news is that it seems to work so I may possibly take this a little further in due course. The test is only 31 seconds long, but of course uses quite a lot of bandwidth; currently it is hosted on my own main website's server, but if I decide to go ahead with this I will probably start uploading my videocasts to YouTube, as most other people do. On my browser it opens up Windows Media Player - presumably it should work for anyone who has this installed.

Click on the 'LATEST PODCAST' link on the right to see the test videocast - any comments about viewability and audibility will be welcome. Of course I didn't have the benefits of a make-up artist to apply 'pancake' before making my debut, nor have I made any other special effort with my dress or appearance - I hope it's not too frightening!

Note: The test videocast link has now been disabled as the test is complete - thanks.

Wednesday 4 October 2006

Cameron's keynote conference speech generally hopeful

I'd say David Cameron's second speech to the Conservative Party conference, delivered today, was generally excellent - not a barnstorming performance, but a solid indication of where he wants to take the Conservative Party - and that mostly sounds very positive to me. The only part that made me wonder was his reiteration of his intention, if he becomes Prime Minister, to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. Now, so far as I understand it, the Human Rights Act was intended to incorporate into British laws the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; prior to its incorporation it was necessary to take cases under that convention to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, a cumbersome and expensive procedure which the incorporation of similar provisions into UK domestic law, in the form of the Human Rights Act, was designed to simplify. The Convention was written in the immediate aftermath of World War II, with the close involvement of British lawyers. Is Mr Cameron also proposing that the UK withdraw from the Convention, adherence to which is a prerequisite for membership of the European Union? On the assumption that the answer to that question is "No", I wonder what is the purpose of Mr Cameron's proposal; what is it in the Human Rights Act which he finds unacceptable and which is not already catered for in the Convention? Anyway, here is what he said on the matter:

"I believe that yes, the British people need a clear definition of their rights in this complex world. But I also believe we need a legal framework for those rights that does not hamper the fight against terrorism. That is why we will abolish the Human Rights Act and put a new British Bill of Rights in its place."

What is it in the Human Rights Act that is not in the Convention which inhibits the fight against terrorism? I need a lot more clarification on the SPECIFICS of what he wants to achieve.

However, in general and despite the important caveat I mention above I think the speech was otherwise very hopeful. As in his speech last Sunday he made specific reference to alternative family arrangements as acceptable, the first time a Conservative Party leader has ever made such a clear statement seeming to indicate that a genuine change has taken place in the Conservative Party's attitudes - even if the reaction of those in the hall to this was not one of universal happiness:

"There's something special about marriage. It's not about religion. It's not about morality. It's about commitment. When you stand up there, in front of your friends and your family, in front of the world, whether it's in a church or anywhere else, what you're doing really means something. Pledging yourself to another means doing something brave and important. You are making a commitment. You are publicly saying: it's not just about me, me me anymore. It is about we - together, the two of us, through thick and thin. That really matters. And by the way, it means something whether you're a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and another man. That's why we were right to support civil partnerships, and I'm proud of that."

To read much of the text of his speech, interspersed with commentary, at the ConservativeHome blog click here. The BBC has its analysis of the speech here.

As for me, I received a letter last week from the local Conservative PPC, Jamie Johnston, for this constituency in the Scottish Parliament election scheduled for May next year; for some weeks I have almost been ready to contemplate rejoining the Party, but wanted to wait until I saw what was said at the Conference before making any decision. I am certainly now even more inclined to rejoin, but will probably mull it over this coming weekend before making a final decision - I'll write about that here in due course, never fear.

Tuesday 3 October 2006

US attempts to draw UK into its criminal conspiracy

That's a dramatic title. I don't use it lightly. The US has apparently suggested to the UK that it is willing to release into British custody, under strict conditions, at least nine former British residents currently being held by the US at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. These individuals are apparently not British citizens and the UK government has therefore declined to accept them; apparently the families of at least some of these individuals, residents of the UK, are also now British citizens.

It is really very simple though. The US is holding these people illegally. If it has charges which it can plausibly bring against these people and any others it still holds extra-judicially at Guantanamo Bay then it should do so immediately and bring them to trial before Federal courts in the US so that their guilt or innocence may be judged. If it is not in a position to bring charges against them then it has no business seeking to impose conditions upon another country, the UK, that it should then continue their illegal detention in the UK.

It may be recalled that nine British citizens transferred into UK custody some time ago from detention at Guantanamo, with similar requests from the US for their continuing detention here, were quickly released once they arrived back in the UK because there was no basis in British (in this case, English) law for their continued detention. So far I have not heard that any of those individuals has been implicated in terrorist activity since their return and I have no doubt at all that they remain under close scrutiny.

I supported, and still support, our participation with the US both in Afghanistan and Iraq, although it is clear that the post-invasion phase was chronically mis-planned, for ideological reasons, by the US - it would seem under the influence of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney who seem, even now, unwilling to entertain the idea that their so-called planning and strategy were completely ineffective and, much worse, contributed to the parlous situations in Iraq and Afghanistan now. This US administration, or its successor, and the UK will have to accept that military tacticians need to be given more authority and resources if we are to turn around these dangeous situations - we cannot simply 'cut and run'. However, it would be quite wrong for the UK to accept back former residents under the conditions the US administration seeks to impose, merely to salvage its own domestic ratings in advance of the mid-term elections there next month, when it is very probable that English Law would force their release soon after they set foot in the UK. The Guantanamo Bay detention centre needs to be closed urgently and the attempts of the US to [further] implicate the UK in its international brigandage is simply unacceptable and must be fiercely resisted.

Monday 2 October 2006

Article heading list for latest 6-month period (April - September 2006) now up

The archive of 'Article Headings' for the latest 6-month period is now available - click here for the period April to September 2006.

There are permanent links in the right bar to this and earlier 6-month 'Article Heading' indices, immediately below the standard 'Blogger' monthly archive links.

Sunday 1 October 2006

Pope Benedict XVI and "Crimen Sollicitationis"

As I write, BBC1 is airing in its 'Panorama' strand a programme about the systematic policy within the Roman Catholic Church of suppressing knowledge by the secular authorities of abuses carried out by priests against male and female children, paedophilia in other words, and of its policy of enforcing secrecy of what was going on both within its own ranks and by the victims of this child abuse, upon pain of threat of 'excommunication'.

None of this is news, of course, and I have written about it on numerous occasions before (earlier reports, here and here, are in the 'Comment' section of my main website, prior to the commencement of this blog). What makes the subject of continuing topicality is that the person who oversaw this policy of suppression from the Vatican over many years, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, became Pope Benedict XVI upon the death of the former Pontiff, Pope John Paul II. It is not clear that the Roman Catholic Church's basic poicy with regard to these crimes has changed all that much, apart from actions designed to protect it against the consequences, financial and other, of its crimes and the covering up of the crimes of its paid agents, aka priests, cardinals and bishops.

How Labour goes about the business of governemnt

David Cameron sums up, succinctly, Labour's nine disastrous years of government:

"Think of any issue - not just crime - and then think of Labour's response. This Government's way of doing things - the old way of doing things - is so familiar, and so depressing. Ministers hold a summit. They announce an eye-catching initiative. A five-year plan. Gordon Brown generously finds the money for it. The money gets a headline, but no-one knows what to do with it. So they create a unit in the Cabinet Office. A task force is set up. Regional co-ordinators are appointed. Gordon Brown sets them targets - after all, it is his money. Pilot schemes are launched. The pilot schemes are rolled out across the country. They are evaluated. Then revised, re-organised and re-launched. And then finally, once the reality dawns that the only people to benefit are the lawyers, accountants and consultants of Labour's quango army ... with a pathetic whimper - but no hint of an apology - the whole thing is just abandoned. We've seen too much of this in the past nine years. Headline after headline but absolutely no follow-through. It is a story of ignorance, incompetence, arrogance. A story of wasted billions - and disappointed millions. Somewhere out there, there is a place where Blair and Brown will never go. It's dark. It's depressing. It's haunted by the failures of nine years of centralisation, gimmick and spin. It is the graveyard of initiatives, where you'll find the e-University that died a death, the drugs czar that came and went ... the Individual Learning Accounts that collapsed in fraud and waste, the tax credits that were paid and reclaimed ... the Connexions service that flopped, the Strategic Health Authorities that were dropped ... the marching of yobs to the hole in the wall; the night courts that never happened at all. And still they keep coming, those hubristic monuments to big government, the living dead that walk the well-trodden path from Downing Street and the Treasury to New Labour's graveyard of initiatives. The NHS computer: delayed, disorganised, a £20 billion shambles.
Forced police mergers: the direct opposite of the community policing we need.
And then the perfect example. ID cards. When a half-way competent government would be protecting our security by controlling our borders ... these Labour ministers are pressing ahead with their vast white elephant, their plastic poll tax, twenty Millennium Domes rolled into one giant catastrophe in the making."

Not particularly 'sexy', but it lays out clearly just the kind of 'Hell on earth' we poor souls in Britain have been enduring since 1997.

Another section of the speech which made me prick up my ears and think, yes, maybe he is really changing the Conservative Party, specially because it was followed by a hearty round of applause:

"But that is not the end of the story. It is just the start. We need parents to bring up their children with the right values. We need schools to be places of discipline and order. We need to stand up for civilised values in public places. We need to design crime out of the housing estates of the future.
We've got to stop selling alcohol to children. We need the music industry to understand that profiting from violent and homophobic words and images is morally wrong and socially unacceptable. But more than this, we need people, families, ommunities, businesses to step up to the plate and understand that it's not just about stopping the bad things ... it's about actively doing the good things."