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

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Police State Britain - ID Card data to be used to resuscitate unsolved criminal cases

(I have added a postscript to this entry a couple of hours after I originally uploaded it - please read it. Thank you.)

When I posted the update here about having received a reply from 'The Dear Leader' Tony [Kim il-Sung] Blair after the closure of the ID Card petition I must admit I was so incensed by the infernal arrogance and cheek of the man that I did not read the whole thing as thoroughly as I should have! Fortunately other blooggers subjected it to rather more careful scrutiny than me. Hidden within the text is this little [further] erosion of our civil liberties:

I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

Luckily Longrider links to a Telegraph article which it says contradicts assurances 'given by Tony McNulty, a Home Office Minister, when the legislation was going through the Commons in 2005. Mr McNulty said there were safeguards against state agencies "for want of a better phrase, going fishing in the database".'. Now we learn, in this most underhand manner by slipping it in to the Prime Minister's email, that these assurances were possibly meaningless, in the Prime Minister's view at least! Read also what Mr Eugenides has to say about this.

Blair and his gang of incompetent criminals have completely lost sight of the fact that this is supposed to be a democracy where civil liberties and due process are supposed to be the system - not some crude totalitarian regime where the citizen exists only to serve the needs of the 'State'! It is frankly becoming urgent that we get rid of these quasi-dictators at the earliest possible opportunity. The Conservatives are pledged to abolish ID Cards and all that goes with them (i.e. the ID Card 'database') and they must be held to that promise; likewise the LibDems have always been opposed to ID Cards.
My fellow citizens, you know what to do!

PS/ A special note to Labour Party supporters and voters; I am basically a Conservative Party supporter, but I left the Party when it elected Iain Duncan Smith as its Leader and abstained from voting or deliberately 'spoiled' my voting paper whilst he remained Leader; similarly I did not take part in any political activity prior to the 1997 election because I judged that 18 years was quite long enough for a political party, any political party, to be in power contiuously. I would ask you to think very seriously whether you can in good conscience continue to support a government led by Mr Tony Blair, indeed one led by senior people many of whom are tarnished by their arrogance and, worse, their incompetence during the 10 years Labour has been in power. If you can bring yourself to vote for another Party [not the BNP!] at any forthcoming election (local, regional or national) then I would urge you to do so, failing which I would ask you to at least consider abstaining or 'spoiling' your own voting papers whilst the present government maintains its current policies which, in my view, are turning the UK into a Police State. I know the natural instinct is to support the Party one has always supported, but sometimes it is necessary to put such considerations to one side in the interests of the country we all love, whether you think of it as the UK as a whole or England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland as more important focusses for your affections. Please.

Carnival at Aguilas (Murcia, Spain) - 20 February 2007

Yesterday evening I went with a group of people to the Carnival at Aguilas; it is the most important 'carnaval' in Murcia province and is one of the more important pageants of this kind in Spain. Overall it was a very enjoyable evening, except for the fact that it started drizzling rain just before the parade began and the rain continued (and strengthened a little) throughout the evening, which was in any case already quite cool. However, glasses of sangria and a few creamy coffees laced with Cointreau kept my spirits up!

Carnaval de Aguilas, 20 FEB 2007
The parade begins

... and continues in colourful style

Male, and very 'butch', ballerinas

A 'scary' wolf!

Decidedly dodgy-looking cops!

The 'moonie-boot' dancers' float...

Another colourful and lively group!

A 'cute' orange-clad male dancer!
(in the style of Tottyland)

Bill in his silly Carnival hat!

Pretend money handed out by the
gent on the 'banknote'

Click here to see larger images.

Saturday 17 February 2007

Good riddance! French Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon has died.

This unrepentant sad excuse for a human being has died aged 96 in his sleep. Read the obituary here - but be warned, you'll need a stiff drink. A truly noisome and poisonous individual!

I must really be like him!

Amazingly I didn't answer the 'favourite food' question as jelly beans which he apparently always had on his desk, but this quiz still said I was most like him:
You Are Most Like Ronald Reagan

People tend to think you're a god - or that you almost ruined the country.
But even if people do disagree with you, they still fall victim to your charms!

- and I don't mind at all, because I think he was indeed the finest US President I can remember.
(thru timrollpickering)

Friday 16 February 2007

Anglicans 'chicken out' of expelling US Episcopalians

(Please see UPDATE at the end)

That's my take on what has happened in Tanzania, at least! Conservative Anglican Bishops had been campaigning for an expulsion to punish the American church for having ordained a gay bishop, but a report to church leaders at its meeting in Tanzania has concluded that the US church has 'largely met' demands for it to conform with orthodox teaching, despite the decidedly (and rightly so) half-hearted compliance shown by the church there. My cynical view is that this report has found as it has because saner counsels in the Anglican communion have realised that to expel the wealthiest part of the church, which provides massive aid in one form or another to the poorer parts (many of whom have been most vociferous in their calls for the expulsion), would be the purest madness. This whole affair would be hilarious were it not for the sad light it shines upon the distortions of the teachings of Jesus Christ which some 'conservatives' want to become the new orthodoxy so that their own prejudices and homophobia might prevail. Well, sucks to Bishop Akinola of Nigeria, amongst others!

UPDATE: (Saturday 17FEB07 09.45 RST) Not that everything is now 'hunky dory' in the Anglican Communion, no very far from it! It is reported that seven Bishops from the 'developing world' have declined to share Communion with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams over the presence in Dar es-Salaam of the leader of the US Episcopalian Church. As I have written before, the Anglican Communion was effectively broken some time ago; this simply takes it one stage further - I would suggest that all concerned now accept what has regrettably happened (because of the prejudices of the people represented by these seven Bishops and others) and that the Anglican Communion as previously understood no longer exists. Move on.

The 'year of the golden pig' gets underway in China

More than 150 million people are expected to be travelling home to be with their families in China to coincide with the start of the Year of the Golden Pig, a once every sixty years event - children born during the year are believed to have especial luck (and hospitals are said to be gearing up for a baby boom as a result). The annual Chinese New Year migration is apparently the world's biggest human migration, involving 2.17 billion passenger trips on trains, planes and buses.

Nairn to hold Women's Golf Curtis Cup tournament in 2012

I may be away from Nairn at present (in Spain, where the weather is more clement at this time of year), but Nairn is where I live for most of the year so I take an interest in developments there. Anyway, I've just read that the 2012 Curtis Cup will be held at Nairn Golf Club (between 8-10 June), one of the two golf clubs in the town (*). The Curtis Cup is a competition "between the best women amateur golfers in Britain and Ireland, and America". Nairn Golf Club celebrates its 125th anniversary that year; the last major tournament it hosted was the Walker Cup (the equivalent male amateur golfing tournament involving the same three countries) in 1999.

So major sporting activity in the UK in 2012 won't just be centred on London, where I understand there is a minor sporting event called the Olympics taking place.

(*) The other golf club in Nairn is the Nairn Dunbar Golf Club.

Wednesday 14 February 2007

Petition to scrap ID Card scheme - deadline 15FEB07!

(Please see the UPDATES at the end)

I just had a look at some of the other petitions on the Downing Street website (after signing the one on vehicle-tracking and road pricing) and found this euqally important - much more important really - petition:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to scrap the proposed introduction of ID cards.

The deadline to sign this petition is 15th February 2007. If you agree that introduction of ID Cards is a pernicious scheme to monitor citizens for who knows what [political] ends then you should sign the petition. It is highly unlikely to fulfil the multifarious purposes for which the Labour government says it wishes to introduce them - to combat terrorism, reduce crime, etc. The database which will be required to back-up the scheme the government wants to introduce is a direct threat to our civil liberties by this and future governments (of whatever political party). It will cost huge amounts of money (probably much greater than even the current rising estimates) and will either fail spectacularly at a technical level, or in the unlikely event that it can be made to work turn us into a nation of helots.

I applaud the Conservative Party for last week having placed the contractors for this scheme 'on notice' that a future Conservative government will abolish ID Cards - and we must not let the Conservative Party renegue on that promise.

Please, please sign the petition! (so far there are only 25,242 votes recorded - sigh ...) Click here now to sign up!

UPDATE: (Tuesday 20FEB07 00.15 RST) I have received a 'personal' email from the Prime Minister on the closure of this petition. Basically its message can be summed up as telling those who signed it that the government plans to carry out its policy unamended; the whole petition scheme is a sham, in fact it might more properly be called a 'SCAM' as its real purpose appears to be for the government to gather personal information (names, addresses and email addresses) of those who challenge its policies - it is extremely sinister. I have reported the Prime Minister's email as 'SPAM'. Any further messages I receive from the Prime Minister as a result of completing this petition will also be reported as 'SPAM'. I do not accept the conditions applying to completion of these petitions that one implicitly agrees to receiving upto two emails; I for one do not!

2nd UPDATE: (Wednesday 21FEB07 09.16 RST) See my later posting here, which discusses an important piece of policy information which our crook of a Prime Minister has slipped into his email and which I missed when I scanned through it.

Petition against Labour's UK road-pricing scheme ('tax')

(Please see the UPDATE at the end of this entry)

I have just signed up to the petition to stop the Government from introducing a vehicle-tracking and road-pricing scheme. You can too by filling in the form here (the petition remains open only until 20th February 2007, so get a move on!)

I can see there may be a need to try and reduce traffic congestion and the consequent pollution and squandering of the planet's scarce energy resources. However I think that better mechanisms could be found to achieve this end than by coupling it to vehicle-tracking which I regard as a further sinister move by this government to tabulate citizens and their movements for its own political ends. I regret to write this, but I simply do not trust this government (or possibly a future government, of whatever political party) not to abuse the huge amount of personal data they are trying to accumulate on us, of which vehicle-tracking is just one more piece. That is even supposing that it would be able to get the thing to work even with the huge amounts of 'investment' required for all the software and equipment to run it - which I doubt, given the government's abysmal record with implementing technology.

UPDATE: (Sunday 18FEB07 10.33 RST) In the emollient words, aka 'Blair-speak', of our beloved Prime Minister we see, perhaps, the first signs of a [partial] climbdown in the government's plans to introduce road pricing; and as one of the signatories to the petition I'm promised an e-mail in the next few days from him. Golly, I do feel honoured and am positively tingling in anticipation (Steady now - Ed.). Observing (get the sly pun?) that he 'welcomed' the petition [and I just bet he does!]:

"... not because I share the petitioners' views - I don't - but because I know the country needs to have a full debate on how we tackle road congestion and this petition has helped spark it.

"Over the next few days I will be sending out a response to everyone who has signed the petition against road charging explaining the problems the country faces and why I believe road pricing is surely part of the answer here as it is in many other countries.

"I'm not kidding myself that this will change people's views overnight.

"I am convinced, however, that the focus on this issue that the e-petition has brought about will help improve our understanding of the problems and the realisation that there are no cost-free answers.

"And that surely has got to be good news for the health of our democracy and for the chances of our country coming up with the right and sustainable solutions to the long-term challenges we face."

More on this in due course.

Monday 12 February 2007

If I were a Mormon I might have been named ...

... Arville Caramon. Not bad, but I think I'll stick to the one I have - it suits me just fine.

To find your Mormon name just click here
(thru La vie ou l'avis de Thierry du Var)

Sunday 11 February 2007

Homophobe and bigot favourite to be selected as Labour MSP candidate

Dennis Goldie, a Labour Party councillor, is said to be the favourite amongst three candidates to be selected as the Labour Party candidate in the Falkirk West seat being vacated by Independent MSP Dennis Canavan in the Scottish Parliament. Some Labour people are said to prefer a less divisive candidate.

The question one must ask though is why this idiot has not been expelled from the Labour Party; he has 'form' as a person who flings wild accusations at his political opponents (and has been censured by the Standards Commission for this) quite apart from his 'homophobia' which, whilst not a crime, certainly makes him an unattractive character - he is a political liability (I would have thought) for a major mainstream political party, not of course that I act as a paid or unpaid adviser to the Labour Party (very droll - Ed.).
(Thru Bill at Tottyland)

Adding labels to all my posts

With the new version of blogger, which I started using early December last, comes the opportunity to add labels to posts as well as various other 'gizmos' which have become familiar in the past couple of years in other blogging platforms. Now that I seem to have got my blog feeds sorted out since the change (when they were disrupted) I have taken the plunge and started to add lables to my posts, but as there have been almost 2,000 (!) in the nearly five years this blog has been up and running it will be a lengthy job - so far I have done about 80 of the more recent posts and I estimate I'll take at least a couple of weeks to wade my way through the rest; but a glass or two of fino along the way will surely help ... next month I'm hoping to visit the home of sherry, Jerez, during a trip down to Granada and Seville, so no doubt there will be a huge variety of producers for me to sample then. Yum! Yum!

Saturday 10 February 2007

Sacked for being gay in Scotland?

That's what top estate agent Gordon Lockhart is claiming at an employment tribunal. It may of course just be a coincidence, but it seems that soon after revealing to one of the directors of the firm he worked for, Re/Max, that he is gay and after returning from New Zealand where he had entered into a civil partnership agreement with his partner Leon Gray he learned of his dismissal . The firm claims that he was dismissed because of "poor levels of customer service", even though he was their top salesman in Scotland and had won awards for his high performance three years in a row. The claim by the firm that his status as an independent contractor rather than a direct employee means that the employment tribunal has no jurisdiction in the matter may complicate matters, but sounds like a ruse to me to allow the firm to engage in clear discrimination - unless it can present cast-iron evidence to back up its claim. I await the outcome of this case with interest.

Tax in Britain under Labour - by 18 Doughty Street

Is tax, and the way it seems to have gone up in recent years (since May 1997 in fact) getting you down? This video clip by 18 Doughty Street highlights the issue of where tax could strike next - collecting your rubbish by the local council for example (not a joke apparently, according to a segment on BBC Breakfast this morning). A tax to pay for our political parties? - well, they've thought of what wheeze already, too!

Like everyone else who pays tax in Britain I know how much various taxes (mainly of the 'stealth' variety!) have gone up under our socialist government and been squandered on Gordon Brown's so-called 'sound' economic management; what will he try if/when he becomes Prime Minister? And the horrible thing is that no mainstream Party offers any other agenda, only the wacko fringe outfits.
(thru Gavin Ayling)

Friday 9 February 2007

A petition to the Archbishop of Canterbury

I noticed in my email inbox this morning an email from someone called Jeff Martinhauk, a person I had never heard of before, but his email seemed not to be 'spam' so I took a chance and opened it; I am glad I did. In his blog he describes himself as an aspirant to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion; he attends an Episcopal Seminary in Austin, Texas. He adds that he is a single parent of two children which he and his former partner were able to parent as the result of a generous surrogate mother. He is gay.

He has had the idea of petitioning the Archbishop of Canterbury ahead of the forthcoming meeting of Primates of the Church of England in Tanzania. The object of the petition is to seek to have the Archbishop of Canterbury re-examine his actions in the light of it being one of the founding principles of the Church to 'work for the marginalized, to work to bring the "least of these" to the center of society'. This certainly seems to me to encapsulate a large part of what Jesus preached. I have therefore signed the petition - you can sign it too by clicking here (please do so as quickly as possible as the petition will close on 10th February so it may be sent to Lambeth Palace prior to the Archbishop's departure for Tanzania).

You can read Jeff Martinhauk's open letter to the Archbishop here, a post in his blog for which the main link is here.

As regular readers of my blog will be aware I am not a member of the Church of England or of any other church; my own background is in the Church of Scotland tradition. However I have often written here about the attitudes of various major religious faith groupings (Christian, Jewish and Islamic) toward homosexuals and matters of sexual orientation in general, urging them to adopt inclusive practices toward ALL human beings, whatever their race, creed, gender, nationality or sexual orientation. I have therefore been glad to show my support for this wothwhile initiative.

Thursday 8 February 2007

Another Scottish Council announces below-inflation rise in Council Tax

(Please see UPDATES at end)

This time it is Stirling, which has announced an increase of 1.8 per cent in its Council Tax rates for the coming tax year. Naturally this, together with the claimed "difficult" policy-related savings amounting to £2m, will have nothing whatsoever to do with the upcoming Scottish Parliament and Council elections if you believe the announcements. Ahem.

I have written earlier about similar recent below-inflation increases in Council Tax in respect of Renfrewshire and the Borders.

Does anyone think that next year's increases will be similarly low, when there is no election due?

UPDATE: (Thursday 8FEB07 17.20 CET) Since I wrote this I have discovered another article (again from the BBC) which have fuller details of Council Tax increases across Scotoland. It seems that the increases this year are the lowest since 1993. My own Council, Highland Council, has announced an increase of 2.5 per cent; naturally I have no objection to a 'low' increase, just the cynicism of this maneouvre by Councils in the year when elections are being held, specially when the general rate of inflation in the economy has been edging up, not down, for several quarters.

2nd UPDATE: (Thursday 8FEB07 23.45 CET) It seems that the average increase in Council Tax rates across Scotland is 1.9 per cent, considerably lower than inflation; my suspicion is that this is a deliberate move to fool the voters (as happens every 4 years) before the upcoming Local Council and Scottish Parliament elections.

I hope the police have some kind of evidence ...

... to back this up. There have been so many cases recently of the police arresting people on suspicion of terrorist activity amid a blaze of publicity then releasing them quietly without charge a few weeks later that I hope they have something concrete to back this up; otherwise the suspicion will be that they are acting merely to curry favour with the perceived wishes of the government.

Personally I expect 'justice' from our legal system

SNP justice spokesman Kenny McAskill says what taxpayers (presumably Scottish taxpayers) want is this : "They expect it to go towards victims of domestic violence or those suffering accidents at work. They don't expect it to go towards a convicted drug dealer pursuing his whim and fancy. He put himself outside the law. He was punished and £5,000 would be better spent seeing justice for victims."

What I expect from our legal system, Mr McAskill, is 'justice', although I am perfectly willing to concede that what people mean when they use that word is open to wide interpretation. However, I am pretty certain that what Mr McAskill says they want is true only for denizens of our tabloid newspapers, such as the Record, the Sun or the Daily Mail. Less of the political grandstanding Mc Askill, the Holyrood elections are still 3 months away!

Frankly I would rather leave the application of Scotland's laws in the capable hands of the Court of Session; I don't want some jumped-up politician of the SNP, or any other, variety trying to manipulate the Court's rulings to their own populist agenda. People used to say the same kind of thing, Mr McAskill, when calls were first made for women to be allowed to vote; think about that, Mr McAskill.

Delay in opening of AP-7 motorway extension from Cartagena to Vera

(Please see UPDATES at end)
***STOP PRESS*** Motorway extension opened on 30 March 2007! - see 3rd and 4th UPDATES at end.

The Auto-Pista del Mediterraneo (AP-7) extension from Cartagena to Vera should have opened by the end of December 2006, but was apparently delayed because of what were said to be minor technical difficulties; however it now appears (if I have understood this article correctly - see the final section) that it relates to a dispute between the Mayor of Mazarron, who says there are safety fears, and an official in Aguilas (not far from the termination of the new extension at Vera) who says there are no remaining problems and that it relates to political disputes involving the Socialist Party (ie. the governing Party).

The AP-7 (toll) and the A-7 (toll-free) sections of this motorway, alternating and parallel in some areas, runs from near the French border along a large part of the Meditteranean coast of Spain; the new toll section of about 114 kilometres will provide an alternative to the toll-free route which runs further north and inland. When another motorway from Mazarron to Totana is completed (possibly by late 2007 or early 2008) this will provide much better and speedier road connections from where my holiday home is located near Mazarron and the motorway network north to France and south to Andalucia, not to mention a much better route to the airport at San Javier (MJV).

I have no idea of what the real position is; I just hope they get this new section of motorway opened as soon as possible as it will make travelling to Cartagena and to San Javier (for the airport) much more convenient, speedy and less circuitous.

UPDATE: (Sunday 11FEB07 19.28 RST) An article dated 31st January, which I have just found today, seems to indicate that the delay in opening the new section of motorway may be indeterminate, as it will depend on inspections to be carried out on various tunnelled parts of the new road where there have been safety concerns before the 'green light' can be given for its opening.

2nd UPDATE: (Wednesday 14FEB07 00.50 RST) An email correspondent, who had found this post, writes and provides a link to another possibly useful source of information, namely an extract from the Official Bulletin of Murcia Province (the link is to a .PDF file), which appears to indicate that important meetings will take place on 20 and 21 February in the City Halls of Cuevas del Almanzora and Cartagena respectively; presumably the insepctions referred to in my previous update above will have been carried out by then.

3rd UPDATE: (Friday 30MAR07 18.47 RST) The Cartagena-Vera extension of the AP-7 seems to have opened today; I will try it out myself tomorrow to confirm and will report my findings here. See my later post on 30MAR07 here.

4th UPDATE: (Sunday 01APR 07 00.01 RST) I travelled on the Mazarron to Cartagena section in both directions on 31MAR07 - read my report about the journey here.

Wednesday 7 February 2007

A trip to a Spanish Monastery

(Please see UPDATE at end)

We finally seem to have got over the period of rainy and quite cold weather we've had for the last 10 or so days; today it reached about 17.5 degC, really quite pleasant, and almost totally blue sky most of the day. After a trip to town (Mazarron) to mail some things at the post office, I decided to take a trip into the hills beyond Totana to a monastery near the mediaeval hill town of Aledo; the Hermitage of Saint Eulalia of Merida dates from the late 16th century and is located in very pretty countryside in the Sierra Espuna:

The entrance to the Church

The altarpiece

Illuminating a 'candle'

Monastery and hotel complex

Click here to see larger images.

I shall undoubtedly be back up there in coming weeks as there is a large statue of Jesus Christ on a nearby hill overlooking the monastery which, according to the lady in the information office at the Monastery, affords tremendous views over the surrounding countryside and down to the sea; photos to come.

UPDATE: I did make a trip back up to the Monastery later in the month when we walked up the hill to the see the view from there and to see the statue of Jesus Christ from close-up. The photographs above plus some additional photographs taken on my later visit are here.

Frankly I'm amazed - I'm not completely ignorant of the Bible

I am not a religious person; I don't think I'd classify myself as 'anti-religious', exactly, but 'areligious' is probably a more accurate assessment. What I am might best be called 'spiritual', I suppose. At any rate I did less badly at this little quiz than I thought I would, but to be honest a lot of the answers I gave were pure guesswork so some of my guesses must have been correct; I'm always suspicious of multiple-choice questions because however carefully they are compiled they still give you the correct answer as one of the choices so with a choice of 4 answers for many questions one is highly unlikely, even in complete ignorance (which I do not claim - I have after all been subjected to low-level religious [Christian] dogma all of my life), to get much less than 50 per cent or so. I think this places my result in better context:
You know the Bible 69%!

Wow! You are truly a student of the Bible! Some of the questions were difficult, but they didn't slow you down! You know the books, the characters, the events . . . Very impressive!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

(thru Gavin Ayling who, coincidentally, achieved precisely the same result)

Tuesday 6 February 2007

More amusing 'mischief-making' from 18DoughtyStreet

Those witty people over at 18 Doughty Street have put together a video clip showing what the aftermath of the next General Election could, just possibly, be like, if the two main Parties are neck-and-neck in parliamentary seats with the LibDems the key to choosing the next Government. Highly amusing - specially the bit with Tim Montgomerie outside BuckHouse (well, She certainly wouldn't invite him in, I trust) referring to having contacted those right-wing wackos at Cornerstone for comment - this is all too reflective of where Mr Montgomerie seems to reside in the political spectrum.
(Thru this post at Conservative Home - click here to view the video)

I daresay we can expect more amusement from the apoplexy the Hamster may experience at this latest outrage; there are humorous people in Aberdeen, but poor Gary seems to have been missed out when the Good Lord was passing out that particular characteristic; one is reminded of a record with the needle stuck in a groove; the poor lad has got it bad.

Has this blog disappeared? A resounding 'No!' ...

... although there have been problems with the feed over the past couple of months, since I switched over to the new version of 'Blogger' in late-November/early-December; at that point the main feed simply stopped updating with new entries.

I am tentatively encouraged, however, that I have resolved the feed problems with the kind help of the folks at Bloglines who have been able to adjust my feed subscriptions in their database so over the next couple of days, once the change has propagated over the net, that the pearls of wisdom [or folly, depending on your point of view - Ed.] which I feel the need to vent from my system from time to time will once more drop into the subscriptions of my relatively few erstwhile regular readers.

Now turning to other matters, I was just speaking a few moments ago to people back home in Nairn and just north of Inverness, respectively, and they tell me it has just begun to snow quite heavily there this morning and that the snow is lying for the moment. They were not entirely amused, he he, to hear me telling them that here in Murcia (I am spending the winter here until roughly mid-April) it is a day of glorious sunshine with highs of about 17 degC promised for this afternoon; this compensates for the quite heavy rain we've had on a few occasions over the past couple of weeks. In any case, it's one of those 'good to be alive' mornings here and I'm just about to walk into the countryside (just outside the garden gate) with the dog to take advantage of it - probably I'll go for a little run later today up into the hills (Sierra de la Almenara) just a few kilometres away where I want to visit a couple of monasteries.

Monday 5 February 2007

Test post - 5FEB07

This is a test post to check my feeds.

Next time you visit Orlando for Disney World, etc., think of this ...

... behind the glitter and prosperity there is a raw underbelly. And to try and keep hidden this aspect of what many tourists see as a 'perfect' society (with its manicured gardens and constantly smiling staff), the city of Orlando has an ordinance forbidding the feeding of homeless people of whom there are apparently 8,500 in a city with a population of 200,000. Just think about the percentage this represents (4.25 per cent in case you were busily trying to work it out) in one of the more economically buoyant States in the most prosperous country on Earth. Orlando is not alone in what appears to be its hard-hearted attitude to less fortunate members of the community, for Las Vegas has similar local legislation, whose enforceability is the subject of a federal court case in Nevada. Other places which have similar kinds of local ordinances include Dallas, Fort Myers, Fla., Gainesville, Fla., Wilmington, N.C., Atlanta, Santa Monica, Calif., and Fairfax County, Va. where "homemade meals and meals made in church kitchens may not be distributed to the homeless unless first approved by the county". Basically all these places would prefer the homeless and needy just to GO AWAY, perfectly encapsulated by this charming comment from a local blogger, calling him-/her-self Justin Credible, in response to a wisecrack on NBC's Tonight show by Jay Leno that it would be far better to make it illegal to feed a lot of the VERY FAT PEOPLE one sees 'waddling' (this is my comment from personal observation - Ed.) around Disney World:

"Feeding the homeless only encourages more homelessness. Less Homeless Less Problems Better Place to Live."

I don't doubt that for some people the presence of the indigent near their properties or businesses is 'upsetting' and perceived as 'detrimental', but the callousness of these laws should act as a reality check for anyone who goes to Orlando or other popular tourist destinations on a vacation with the firm intention of spending significant sums to enjoy themselves.
(thru Jay at The Council of Lemurs in Tallahassee, FL who himself lives very close to the breadline and whose blog I have been following for a number of years, indeed it was one of the first blogs I ever linked to when I began this blog way back in April 2002.)

Sunday 4 February 2007

Tafelsig, a Cape Town suburb, sees first Moslem lesbian Civil Union

The first lesbian civil union has just taken place in the Cape Town suburb of Tafelsig. The two ladies who have, at last, been able to get married are Sadia Kruger and Zukayna Leonard who have in their words been 'involved' for 14 years.

The ceremony had to take place at the Department of Home Affairs as most Christian and Moslem places of worship refuse to allow civil unions there. However the two ladies, who are Moslems, have stated quite clearly where they stand on the matter:

"I love Thabo Mbeki. We have been thanking him all the way today. And the lady who had the courage to marry us."
"I was born a Muslim and no one can change me. They (anti-gay people) are not God, only God can punish us. Who are they to judge me. If I sin God will not give me breath."
"When we were engaged there were many of them [gays] and there will be a lot of them tonight when we celebrate. People should follow their hearts and make the right decisions." (*)

(*) - The various quotes come from the two ladies.

The two, who first met 18 years ago, have been living together for 11 years. I hope they have a long and happy married life.

Saturday 3 February 2007

Churlish behaviour forces restaurant name-change in Glasgow

At least this was my reaction when I read this unusual story about the former Hemingway's restaurant in Glasgow, soon to be reincarnated as Café Noir as a result of legal pressure at the instigation of the family of the writer Ernest Hemingway.

This reminded me of the even more bizarre (and even more churlish and wrong-headed) demand by a certain fast-food company quite a few years ago that a man change the name of his restaurant which he had named using his own name. His name was of course McDonald; so far as I recall Mr McDonald operated his resturant in some place in Argyllshire in the west of Scotland where McDonald is not exactly an unusual name - it outraged me then and outrages me still that some jumped-up junk-food company could register a perfectly valid name as its own 'property' and forbid a man who actually was born with that name from using it in his business, specially when the junk-food company was not [any longer] owned or operated by someone of that name but by someone called Ray Kroc, who had bought the original business from the man who started it. Of course this was in the days before this company went some way to clean up its act, at least in jurisdictions where it was forced to.

Friday 2 February 2007

Scottish pre-election fix, mark two

Another Scottish Council, Renfrewshire this time, has set an unusually low level of increase in Council Tax for the tax year beginning April 2007; happily (and I'm sure there is no coincidence) just in time for the Scottish Parliament elections due in May this year.

I already wrote about the recent announcement of an astonishingly low rise in Council Tax by Border's Council here.

These Councils are quite shameless!

The consequence of living in a 'socialist paradise'

Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh has criticised the 'morals' of some party members, because they show too much 'individualism' which is here used as code to describe the climate of graft and corruption which has been the subject of recent revelations in the local press. This worthy apparatchick opines:

"Improving revolutionary morals must go along with giving up individualism."

- the repressive nature of a 'socialist' regime, as encapsulated in this official exhortation, indicates clearly why such social systems are never particularly successful over the longer term, for they run counter to the natural instincts of human beings wherever they are which is to favour, generally speaking, family and friends over others. In a repressive system such as operates in Vietnam, and formerly operated in much of the communist world, the only outlet for such natural instincts is a lifetime of disobedience to official dictates, usually in minor ways that have become the 'way things are done' in such societies where petty officials expect small favours for performing their duties on behalf of the citizen, specially because their own wages are usually derisory, even if supplemented by special privileges (very low cost, but ghastly, accommodation and various benefits in kind), but in reality very little with which to take part in the cash economy (you know, to acquire those little 'luxuries' such as a refigerator or shoes and clothes, or even if they are lucky a television).

In any socialist country I have ever lived in (such as Vietnam or even France during the period it flirted with socialism in Mitterand's early years as President) or visited (China, the former USSR, East Germany, etc) the lives of locals were constrained by such factors. Official dogma is that loosening the screws on the pressure cooker that is such a society will result in complete anarchy and rampant corruption, a fear that is perhaps to a certain extent justified (just look at Russia) until people get used to the way a more free system operates and crucially until a legal and justice system is put in place which commands the general respect of most citizens most of the time. One of the functions of a sound legal and justice system is to put in place rules which will to some extent limit the freedom of the individual and his/her more selfish instincts whilst still permitting a climate of entrepreneurship to flourish, benefitting everyone in the long run. None of this exists in Vietnam or in any socialist system where the whole attitude of the average citizen is to have as little to do with the hierarchy and officialdom of the ruling Party as they can.

Unfortunately the good Ong Manh does not show even the faintest glimmer of understanding the real problems facing a society such as his Party (for the moment) governs, so his ability to see potential solutions is suspect. He no doubt sees his main function as being to maintain the primacy of the Communist Party; in my view this is not a solution, it is the major problem, even if the ideal for such a society as Vietnam and perhaps many in East Asia with their joint histories of Confucianism and Buddhism is rather more 'collectivist' and less 'individualist' than we are familiar with in Westerm countries. That it can be done there successfully is shown by such countries as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.