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

Saturday 31 March 2007

A brave and honourable Amercian draws a line in the sand over the use of torture

The man in question is a US military prosecutor who, it so happens, had a former Marine 'buddy' who was co-pilot of United 175, the hijacked 'plane which crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center on 11th September 2001. Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch is the brave and honourable man in question; he has declined to proceed with the prosecution case against Mohamedou Ould Slahi, suspected of being involved in the recruitment of the terrorist cell which included the hijacker who piloted that particular aircraft into its target. Why? He concluded that the "core of the government's case - had been taken through torture, rendering them inadmissible under U.S. and international law". This brave man also knows that using evidence obtained by way of torture is itself a war crime and that the persons seeking to procure such prosecutions, President George W Bush and Vice President Richard B Cheney, have secured immunity for themselves, under US if not under international law, when the Military Commissions Act was passed last year. This brave American officer and military prosecutor is basically suggesting that his Commander-in-Chief and his deputy go find themselves another 'dummy' to carry out their illegal [under international law] 'diktat'. One wonders what 'consequences' will, in one way or another, be visited upon him for his disobedience during the remaining time this particular President remains in the White House. I salute this fine man.

Friday 30 March 2007

Telling it like it is about torture and the 'war on terror'

Do you have to destroy something in order to save it?

We want to save our democracies in the 'war on terror', don't we? I thought so for a while, but over the past few years it's become quite clear that some (in positions of great power) are prepared to subvert what we have struggled to achieve in terms of liberty and freedom over several centuries in order, supposedly, to preserve same.

This is the story of one of the agents we have asked to carry out what one can only call 'torture' on our behalf.

Another testimony doesn't have an online source other than the place I got it from; I quote it in full:

The truth hurts, and it hurts America most of all:

"We now fail to tell the full truth about our human rights conduct, or that of our allies in the War on Terror. Increasingly, we avoid application of universal standards: whether the rules against torture and cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions. But the United States cannot lead the world with moral authority unless we hold ourselves to the same high standards that we demand from others. The U.S. has put its own human rights practices center stage by promoting double standards for our allies, and arguing in favor of 'law-free zones' (like Guantanamo), 'law-free practices' (like extraordinary rendition), 'law-free persons' (who are dubbed 'enemy combatants'), and 'law-free' courts, (like the system of military commissions, which have failed to deliver credible justice and are currently being challenged in our courts for the recent stripping of the writ of habeas corpus). Through these misguided policies, the Administration has shifted the world’s focus from the grotesque human rights abuses of the terrorists to America’s own human rights misconduct, leaving other, equally pressing issues elsewhere ignored or unaddressed," - Harold Hongju Koh, Dean of Yale Law School, in testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Mar. 29, 2007

Have we protected our democratic institutions, or our own souls, as a result? I could leave this as a rhetorical question, but I prefer to make my view unequivocally plain. No, we have not!

(I make no apology for the fact that both the links for this post, and for my previous post, are from the same source - Andrew Sullivan; I often disagree with things he writes, but he has been on my blogroll almost since I began this blog nearly five years ago and would I think be a worthy addition for those who don't currently blogroll him)

Catch-22 updated

Bizarre, and sad.
(thru Andrew Sullivan)

AP-7 motorway extension from Cartagena to Vera reportedly now open

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

I seems that the new extension of the AP-7 motorway from Cartagena to Vera opened today, after apparently having been inspected on 28 March. From where I live (just outside Mazarron) I can see the motorway in the distance and with my binoculars I have certainly seen a little traffic on it in both directions.

I was up in Torrevieja today myself and on the way back on the A-30 Cartagena-Murcia motorway section noticed that the barriers across the entry to the AP-7 Cartagena-Vera extension had been removed, but as I was in a hurry to get back didn't try it, but instead used the familiar route via Fuente Alamo/Cuevas de Reillo/Las Canovas. However I plan to take a run to Cartagena tomorrow just to try it out and will update this post with my findings.

Reports I have are that the costs of using this motorway are as follows:
- Cartagena to Las Palas/Tallante 3.15 Euros
- Las Palas/Tallante to Mazarron 1.75 Euros
- Cartagena all the way to Vera approx. 8 Euros (*)

One point to bear in mind is that there are apparently no petrol stations on the motorway at least as far as Mazarron; I don't plan myself to go down to Vera on it, but if I see any more information I will post updates here.

This post updates my earlier post here.

PS/ I just found this report on 'Yahoo! Espana' dated 29th March 2007 - it's in Spanish, but there is a rough English translation here.

(*) Postscript: Saturday 31MAR07 01.10 RST - there is a comment in my earlier post and information in a link included in it seems to indicate that the overall each-way cost for the full route is around 11.00 Euros. I now plan to make the trip down to Vera sometime next week, just for the fun of it - also of course so I can know from first-hand experience how much it costs.

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.

Thursday 29 March 2007

British resident to be released from Guantanamo 'shortly'

(Please see UPDATE at the end pf this post)

Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi national and long-term resident of the UK (since 1985), is to be released 'shortly' from the US illegal detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has been held since he was arrested during a business trip to Gambia in 2002. There is no word if or when his business partner, Jordanian citizen Jamil al-Banna, will be released; he was arrested at the same time as Mr al-Rawi.

Presumably the US authorities have realised that they have been able to gather absolutely no evidence to present before a court (even the ludicrous 'military tribunal' show trials it is still planning for others it holds in its power) that can plausibly be used against this individual.

As I have said here many times before (and a fourth relatively recent post on the matter is here), the US should close its illegal detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, forthwith! If it has evidence against any of those it holds there then it should bring them before a federal court in the US where the 'evidence' they present against any of those detained can be subjected to proper US judicial procedure; the proposed military tribunals are simply show trials which are unlikely to convince anyone other than a few of those who still support blindly the current US President and his Administration.

UPDATE: (Sunday 01APR07 22.50 RST) Bisher al-Rawi arrived back in the UK today, having been released from his illegal detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba by the American authorities. His best friend Jamil al-Banna remains in American detention in the legal limbo of Gunatanamo Bay, Cuba.

The ad that won't be showing in San Fransisco

An ad. for a cutely-named male 'personal lubricant' (ahem, watch it! - Ed.) called 'Boy Butter' will not be shown on cable channels in, of all places, San Fransisco because the cable operators there deem it too controversial. Although not specifically designed for the 'gay market' the makers thought it would go down well (so to speak!) in markets with a high gay (and presumably Gay-friendly) population and the ad. will air soon on mainstream channels in both New York and Los Angeles. Maybe the folks in San Fransisco are just showing a bit of post-modernist angst, possibly because (I suppose) the ad. might be felt to stereotype gays, using as it does quite a suggestive script. Anyway, judge for yourself:

More embarrassment for Labour in Falkirk West

The campaign manager for outgoing 'independent' (and former Labour) MSP Dennis Canavan, who is standing down at the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections, has announced he will be supporting Michael Matheson, the SNP candidate, rather than the Labour Party candidate, the infamous Dennis Goldie.

It seems like the Labour Party have some kind of a death wish in Scotland; we have our Prime Minister hyping up scare stories about the risks for Scotland of 'independence' (aka 'separation') thus irritating even staunch 'unionists' (but proudly British and Scottish ones) such as me, we have a probably-soon-to-be-Prime Minister who can seem to do nothing without irritating either the business community (rises in business taxes for smaller businesses) or the general English population [simply because he is Scottish, apparently, although I think personally it is because he is an ideology-obsessed economic moron and a lot of even traditional 'Labourites' down there have at last seen through the nonsense he spouts] and we have a Labour Party constituency association choosing an unpleasant individual such as Mr Goldie as its candidate for Holyrood.

As I keep on repeating here I am no friend of the Labour Party, 'new' or 'old', but one does wonder just what they are playing at. Probably it's just the arrogance of being in power for ten years (just the same kind of tiredness that affected the Conservatives, although it took them a few years longer to get there).

Finally, I was deeply saddened and confess to wiping away a tear or two when I read very recently of the travails in Mr Canavan's personal life; it is terribly, terribly tragic and he has my deepest sympathies. Whatever I may feel about Mr Canavan's politics, nobody deserves this.

Wednesday 28 March 2007

Yet more crackpot subsidy pleas for Western Isles

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Frankly Highlands and Islands Enterprise Innse Gall should know better and be ashamed of themselves for this flagrant effort to ramp up the subsidy junkies of the Western Isles in a spurious effort to 'create' more jobs.

Now I have no strong objection to economic aid being provided to areas of the country for specific purposes where, one would hope, this could act as the seed for genuine economic growth. But we all know that in this case that this is unlilkely to happen - not with many objectors in those self-same Western Isles objecting to the exploitation of one of the few major natural resources they have, by the creation there of a massive wind farm which would provide a significant amount of electrical energy for export to the Central Belt of Scotland and help to defray the economic subsidy the area (indeed the whole of the north of Scotland, in one way or another) already receives. These people are not prepared to help themselves, far too often, but they want the taxpayer to continue to pay out money for their upkeep. This also seems like a pretty blatant attempt to screw yet more money out of the Scottish Executive ahead of the upcoming local and Scottish Parliament elections in May. Frankly I'd tell them where to get off except that unlike so many of those other subsidy junkies (our MSPs and local politicians) I'm not seeking election or re-election to anything! So this blackmail might just work.

(PS/ On Thursday 29MAR07. I just noticed a pretty lengthy visit to my little blog this morning, whilst consulting my site stastistics, from the 'Highlands & Islands Enterprise' server. Welcome! I do hope you enjoyed my little tirade - and 'Have a Nice Day!')

UPDATE: (Sunday 08APR07 10.05 RST) I wonder now if this has any connection to moves by the local council to start Sunday ferry services to Stornoway on Lewis, from Ullapool? Are the suggested subsidies a 'carrot' to the island's religious zealots (aka bigots) to persuade them to accept Sunday sailings?

Prresumably this doesn't apply to women servicemen too!

This is logical I suppose and will apart from anything else no doubt add warmth in the high mountain air of Afghanistan, but I suppose that any female personnel serving there aren't expected to try and grow beards as well.

If you're not American, your American torturers can't be prosecuted!

That's what this disgusting ruling amounts to, in my humble opinion. A Reuters report is here.

What's all this nonsense about the right not be be tortured being guaranteed only to US citizens under the US Constitution? The convention against torture applies to ALL human beings, whoever they are and whomever does the torturing! There are NO exceptions. The US is, I believe, a signatory of the Convention against Torture. Or am I wrong about that, too?

Sunday 25 March 2007

Flamingoes at the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra

When I was in Seville yesterday I was speaking on my mobile to some friends who live south of Malaga near a place called Mijas (not far from Fuengirolla) and they suggested that on my way from Seville to Malaga today I pop off the motorway as it is the right time of year to see flamingoes at an inland lagoon near a place called Fuente de Piedra. So that's what I did. The lagoon and its surrounds are a nature reserve; however, the lagoon itself is much reduced in size at present because there has been so little rain in the past few years. The people at the very well organised visitor centre advised that there were flamingoes to see if one was prepared to walk a fair distance around the edge of the lagoon - it took about twenty-five minutes of pretty brisk walk to get to the right area, but it was worth it!

Flamingoes at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, Andalucia
25 MAR 2007
(Junction Km 132, A92 Seville to Malaga motorway)

Click here to see a larger image.
(There are a couple of additional images as well)

After visiting the nature reserve it was less than an hour to Malaga; whilst the motorway is excellent, parts of it reminded me of a helter-skelter. The last 40 Kms or so into Malaga seemed to be mainly downhill with quite a few sharp bends and tunnelled sections. The arrival at my hotel was once more possible only as a result of my good friend 'Mr Tim', the helpful voice of my SatNav unit! Tomorrow I shall have quite a long drive home to Mazarron; it's about 380 Km and according to my SatNav would take around 4 hours, so with a break for coffe or lunch I'll round that up to 5 hours. I'll just have time to unpack the car and do some shopping at the supermarket before going up to the kennels to pick up the dog. I spoke with the kennels yesterday when I was in Seville and they tell me Tara has settled in well and is a 'proper little lady'; I could have told them that already!

Two exhausting but exhilarating days in Seville

First, a comment about going by car into a large city which one has never visited before. Seville is quite a large city - a little less than three-quarters of a million people. It has a complex road network with motorways entering from several directions. My hotel was located pretty close to the centre of town and only a 10 or 15 minute walk from the main places I wanted to visit. A year or so ago I think (indeed I am certain) that I would have become completely lost in the very fast-moving traffic, whilst trying to consult a road map and drive. It is at times like this that the modern wonder of SatNav shows its true worth. The unit I have allows you to key in a street address, and in many cases the name of the hotel, one wants to find. In this case my TomTom, which now costs a lot less than when I bought mine (but no matter!), took me straight to the door of the underground carpark of the hotel, even after I had misunderstood a few of its instructions and the ever-patient 'Tim' (I have the UK English male voice selected) had been obliged to recalculate new routes to get me out of the mess I was creating for myself. Thank you 'Mr Tim'!

I arrived in Seville in the second half of the afternoon after a very pleasant time in Sanlucar de Barrameda (see my previous post) and an enjoyable short drive through at times quite attractive countryside. It was too late to visit any of the places I wanted to, because it takes several hours to make a visit worthwhile. However what I did do on Friday afternoon was to check-out the layout of the Alcazar and the Cathedral so that I wouldn't waste time on Saturday finding my way about. Armed with my trusty Lonely Planet guide for Spain I spent a couple of hours in lovely late-afternoon warmth finding a route through the Jardines de Murillo (rough translation only, I'm afraid) and the Barrio de Santa Cruz, stopping on the way there for a glass of wine and on my return at another place for some coffee. Mission accomplished.

Saturday morning I decided would be best devoted to a tour of Seville's Real Alcazar and I spent roughly three and a half hours happily wandering about with the audioguide I had rented. After that I was ready for a glass of Fino and some cured ham in a little place in the Barrio. Then it was on to the Cathedraland the Giralda.

I took dozens of pictures yesterday, almost 100 in all, but the few below are some of the better ones; the first four are of the Real Alcazar and the following seven are of the Cathedral or are taken from the Giralda.

Real Alcazar and Cathedra, Seville
24 MAR 2007
Patio de las Munecas

Patio de las Dencellas

A map tapestry in the 'Sala de Tapices'

A corner of the Alcazar gardens

The Giralda of Seville Cathedral

One of the two massive Cathedral organs

The gilded Altar in the Main Chapel

Part of the ceiling in the Chapter House

Patio de los Naranjos

The Cathedral and the Bullring in the distance

A close-up of the Giralda

Click here to see larger images.

Sanlucar de Barrameda and a visit to a Manzanilla Bodega

On my way to Seville from Jerez on Friday I passed by Sanlucar de Barrameda in the morning and visited the Bodegas Pedro Romero, one of the well-known makers of manzanilla in this coastal city. I was extremely fortunate to be offered a personal guided tour immediately upon my arrival there at 11 a.m. and did not have to wait until the scheduled visit time of midday. The guide available was a young German lady who, however, spoke little English. When she discovered that I spoke French though her face brightened and that's the language the tour was conducted in. I love the freshness of Manzanilla; it is a little lighter in style than fino sherry, attributed they say to the effect of the humid and salty air on the coast. The luscious Pedro Ximenez style was also a treat; I have only sampled this a few times before, but a bottle was included as one of the several bottles I acquired at the end of the visit!

Bodegas Pedro Romero, Sanlucar de Barrameda
23 MAR 2007
A view of a small part of one of the bodegas

Staff at work carrying out the criadera and solera rotations

Glasses of Manzanilla drawn straight from the barrel.

Click here to see larger images.

On Saturday I spent a full day visiting the Alcazar and the Cathedral in Seville and took many photographs - once I've had a few hours sleep (and the clocks go forward an hour tonight!) I may get aroound to doing a post later in the morning about these visits, or possibly I'll do it when I reach Malaga in the late afternoon of Sunday.

Thursday 22 March 2007

A day in Jerez

(NB/ As well as today's visits in Jerez described below, soon after my arrival the previous evening I visited the Bodegas Gonzalez Byass - home of 'Tio Pepe', perhaps the best known fino sherry brand - please read about that visit here.)

Well today I spent the whole day being a 'tourist' in Jerez de la Frontera (I mentioned yesterday that I would probably visit either Sanlucar de Barrameda or El Puerto de Santa Maria today), having decided that there was more than enough to keep me occupied in Jerez today. Again it was a day of brilliant blue skies, but it was very cool during the morning (probably around 11 or 12 degC maximum) although it became pleasantly warm, in sheltered spots out of the wind, for a couple of hours in the afternoon. After visiting the bank to get some cash out of the 'hole in the wall' I spent an enjoyable spell in the Cathedral - a very ornate mainly 18th century structure, built on the site of the main mosque in Scheris (the Arabic name for the city during Moorish times). Then it was lunch in a tapas bar, one recommended by the receptionist in the hotel, and very good it was too - a small selection of tapas and a glass of Fino went down very nicely. Thus refreshed I was ready to visit the Alcazar, the 11th-12th Century Almohad (Moorish) fortress, located next to the Cathedral. The Alcazar contains many interesting features (the city gate, a mosque, an oil mill, a parade ground, beautifully laid out walled gardens, arab baths and various other things including the Villavicenzio Palace - see below.

The Villavicenzio Palace contains an artwork display (the photographs below were from an exhibition there just now), a quaint 19th Century pharmacy and on the top (third) floor a camera obscura; in these structures the external image is generally projected onto a horizontal white matt convex surface. As I was the only person there, along with the guide, for that session this afternoon I was able to move freely around the projection surface as the guide (a very pleasant young woman) panned around through the full 360 degrees of the city, rasinig and lowering the convex surface to bring close and distant objects into sharp focus; including birds landing on various of the buildings - quite extraordinary! The guide gave a running commentary on what was being shown and this was both highly informative and entertaining. The only time I have ever been in a camera obscura before was as a young child when I was taken to visit the Camera Obscura in Edinburgh, where we lived at the time.

On my way up to the Camera Obscura area I had passed through the art exhibition area and noticed there was an exhibition of very brightly coloured, mainly acrylic, paintings, some of which were homoerotic and some were what can only be described as pornographic. I discovered that this style of art is called Costus (the article is in Spanish, but a rough translation is here). Broadly speaking the paintings are a little like advertising posters, generally having a 'rude' or over-the-top theme. The paintings are of women, or men or mythical animals, although some have still-life themes. In an explanatory article in an English-language magazine at the time of the first major exhibition of these works (and which forms part of the exhibition I saw) the English translation of the term given to this style of painting is far too rude for me to mention it here, but I think a rough approximation is 'rude pictures'. Naturally I was drawn to the pictures with a pretty obvious homoerotic theme (CARE! This link may not be safe for work!). I took quite a few photographs of the paintings, although all those I include here are amongst the least 'rude'.

Costus Exhibition, Jerez de la Frontera - 22 MAR 2007
Del Chochonismo ilustrado a la Serie Andaluza (1981-1989)
Canos de Meca (Costus, 1987)

Chico de Sanlucar (Costus, 1987)

Chicos (Costus)

Click here to see larger images.

Tomorrow I leave for two days in Seville, but prior to travelling there I will visit Sanlucar de Barrameda in the morning and early afternoon - I hope to visit the Bodegas Pedro Romero, one of the well-known makers of manzanilla in this coastal city.

Gordon Brown's 'final Budget' - a con, as usual!

In what is being billed as Chacellor Brown's final Budget (he is expected, unfortunately, to be our next Prime Minister in the near future) he announced a series of fine-sounding tax giveaways. When I first heard the summary reports of what he had said, just shortly after he had finished his Budget speech, I was as usual left with the (false) impression of - 'Oh, that's not too bad!' - because of course what was being reported was the cut of 2p in the basic rate of income tax, together with the 2p reduction in Corporation Tax. However, at the back of my mind I asked myself how, exactly, was all this to be paid for? This government has being running very large deficits in recent years and has also been responsible for a dramatic rise in government borrowing, all to pay for the huge increase in state hand-outs Brown has presided over.

As expected it was not long before a cursory scrutiny of the details of his Budget revealed that there were less obvious factors, which the Chancellor had cannily not announced in his speech, which more than neturalise the effect of some of his headline 'giveaways', for example the reduction in 2p in basic income tax is [possibly more than] neutralised by the abolition of the 10 per cent starting band rate for income tax! Against the drop in Corporation Tax for companies of 2p must be considered the rise in tax for small companies from 20p to 22p. I have no doubt that, in coming days, further detailed analysis of this Budget will reveal more that the Chancellor was curiously silent about during his speech.

As usual the Chancellor promises further 'efficiency savings' of 3 per cent which supposedly will release funds sufficient to increase spending on 'front-line services' by GBP26bn a year by 2010/11. In my view this is 'code' for saying that bribes for votes to the proletariat are to be increased yet again; the citizen is now simply the 'client' of the State, not the master, even if constantly increasing transfers from the productive parts of the economy to the government's likely voters are necessary to keep the present crowd of shysters in power. One really does wonder just how gullible the average Labour voter is!

A visit to Bodegas Gonzalez Byass, Jerez de la Frontera

Last evening I visited one of the places I have wanted to visit for YEARS, the Bodegas of the Gonzalez Byass sherry company. I am an avid sherry drinker and of all the styles of sherry I prefer Fino, of which this company's 'Tio Pepe' is one of the best and it is certainly one of the most widely known. Although I tend to drink Fino most often I also like Oloroso and Amontillado sherries, at least the 'dry' or 'medium dry' versions. I am not specially fond of 'sweet' sherries, although some of the special blends of Gonzalez Byass's sweeter sherries are very fine. A sherry tasting accompanied by tapas rounded off the visit very nicely. Naturally I acquired a few samples of the products the company makes in the lavishly-appointed on-site shop after the visit!

Bodegas Gonazalez Byass, Jerez de la Frontera - 21 MAR 2007
A small part of the 'Tio Pepe' bodegas

Yours truly in the Bodegas 'La Concha'

Barrels maturing in the Gonazalez Byass 'Tio Pepe' (fino) bodegas

Click here to see larger images.

Wednesday 21 March 2007

Bill does The Alhambra in Granada

These are a very few of the photographs I took at 'The Alhambra' in Granada, during my visit on 20th March. I didn't get around to posting these before because I was completely exhausted after walking around The Alhambra for the whole day; it is a very hilly site and although the weather was not overly hot (quite cool in fact) the sun shone bright so the effect of many hours spent in bright sunshine, even when wearing my Panama hat for most of the day(!), was significant.

The Alhambra, Granada - 20 MAR 2007
A quiet corner in 'Generalife'

Naturally fed fountains in 'Generalife'

Looking towards the Palacio de Carlos V and the Alcazaba

A view from the Alcazaba towards the snow-capped Sierra Nevada

Click here to see larger images.

Granada to Jerez de la Frontera

About a four hour drive has taken me to Jerez, where the hotel I am staying at seems to be not a million miles from the Gonzalez Byass bodegas; indeed I have just spoken to the nice people there on the telephone and they tell me there is a tour at 5.30pm this evening so I plan to go for that; the nice young lady at the hotel reception has also confirmed that it should take no more than about 20 minutes on foot so I shall avoid the hassle of taking the car. She also mentioned that there is a very nice bar not far from the Gonzalez Byass bodegas where they serve good tapas; she tells me she visits it often when she goes to town, so I shall probably give that a whirl this evening after the tour.

Tomorrow I shall go either to Sanlucar de Barrameda (where Manzanilla is made) or to El Puerto de Santa Maria, the third side of the 'sherry triangle' and both on the coast; the young lady at reception gave me the names of two bodegas, one in each place, so I shall undoubtedly try one or the other.

It has been quite 'cool' here today, although with brilliant blue skies the whole day; the temperature has mostly been in the range of 12 to 15 degrees C, although at one point during the drive here it may have reached 17 deg C briefly; this is five or six degrees cooler than we had just a few days ago, but the forecast is for 21 or 22 deg C over the weekend.

¡Hasta Luego!

Tuesday 20 March 2007

SNP take the Souter shilling!

I didn't get a chance to write about this yesterday, but it deserves not to go unmentioned here, specially as I wrote just a couple of days ago about my own evolving attitudes towards the separation (aka 'independence') of Scotland from the rest of the UK.

It was announced on Sunday that the boss of Stagecoach (a major bus and train company) Brian Souter is to donate GBP500,000 to the SNP. Mr Souter is the arch-homophobe who spent around GBP1m of his own money for his 'Keep the Clause' campaign in 2000 to try and prevent abolition of Clause 2a (aka 'Section 28'), the section of the law which sought to prevent supposed 'promotion' of homosexuality and classified such relationships as 'pretend family relationships'. Support for this campaign by the Scottish Conservatives was a direct contributory factor in my decision to resign from the Conservative Party in September 2001 (scroll down to bottom), and I could have no truck with any Party which went soft on this issue.

This is relevant because whilst the SNP has generally been moderately liberal on this issue in policy terms there are 'leading lights' in that Party who have supported homophobic policies (e.g. Roseanna Cunningham). I would like to hear Alex Salmond deny categorically that this donation from Brian Souter will influence SNP policies towards alternative lifestyles such as homosexuality or Civil Partnerships in any way and certainly not negatively. Bigotry of the kind with which Mr Souter has regularly been associated deserves no place in mainstream politics; the recent controversy over admissions to church operated schools shows very clearly that this issue is not dead in Scotland.

Monday 19 March 2007

Mazarron to Granada

After taking Tara to the kennels I continued on up toward Alhama de Murcia to join the AP7 motorway south to Andalucia. Once past Lorca (the farthest south on this road I had been hitherto), the route quickly becomes quite circuitous, specially after one crosses over the 'border' from Murcia into Andalucia. Some of the scenery is quite spectacular, even before one has really come to the Sierra Nevada area, with its snow-capped peaks (very pretty). The only negative to today's trip was that it was very windy, so there was a lot of dust in the atmosphere and going through some of the spectacular scenery I mention (wide and deep valleys, gorges, etc) and there were fierce cross-winds for lengthy sections so one really had to concentrate hard on the driving, just to keep the car from drifting across (or off!) the road.

In any case, after my arrival here I had a very pleasant walk around the area near the hotel (it becomes quite cool as soon as the sun begins to get lower in the sky, despite the clear blue skies) and had a very satisfactory late-evening dinner. So I'm all primed for my visit to the Alhambra tomorrow. So, off to bed!

Sunday 18 March 2007

Bill goes on 'walkabout' to Andalucia

More precisely it'll be a 'driveabout'. Tomorrow, after taking Tara to the kennels, I shall head off down the motorway for Granada where I'll be spending a couple of nights. Obviously on my agenda is a visit to the Alhambra, a place I've wanted to see for many years.

Next on the itinerary is Jerez de la Frontera, again for a couple of nights, and I hope to visit a couple of sherry bodegas whilst I'm there. Don't you just love sherry, in all its varieties - although I favour fino mostly; probably I shall visit Sanlucar de Barrameda as well, for the Manzanilla produced in the area. This will in fact be the farthest I shall be from Mazarron during the week I'm away.

After that I shall head for Seville, where I'll be on Friday and Saturday next and where, apart from consuming tapas, I plan to visit the Alcazar and the Cathedral.

Sunday will take me to Malaga for a final night before returning home to Mazarron. Whilst there I hope to visit the Picasso Museum.

In theory all the hotels I'll be using during the week have in-room wi-fi access so I hope to blog a little during the week. If I cannot in fact get online then you won't hear more from me until a week tomorrow.

¡Hasta Luego!

Saturday 17 March 2007

UK selects Eurovision entry - "Flying the Flag (For You)"

The United Kingdom selected its entry on Saturday evening for this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Helsinki. Of the six possibles, my estimation is that two or three of these were pretty good; the rest were rubbish. At least the one chosen, "Flying the Flag (For You)" by a foursome called Scooch was in the top two of the songs this evening, in my opinion - I hope and believe it should do pretty well. The UK Eurovision website is here - you can hear clips of all the songs by clicking on the link from each entrant's page.

I watched the show earlier this evening, but missed the second show later in the evening when the winning entrant was announced. My review of the evening's peformances is as follows, in the order they sang (so far as I recall):

(Don't It Make You) Happy!
- performed by Liz McClarnon
A cheery song, but with pretty limited lyrics. She had quite a good voice, but at times her voice seemed slightly off-key. Not really a contender, in my opinion, even if not too bad.

I Can
- performed by Brian Harvey
With the deepest respect, no he can't!!! Not a great song although not intrinsically a bad one either I suppose, but an atrocious performance! The on-line clip is well performed so he obviously can sing, but his showing this evening was, to put it charitably, less than stellar. Off-key singing, lousy in every way. And a comment about the 'back-story' of this performer - I really don't care if he had a car accident a couple of years ago, nor would the Eurovision voters in May I supect. All that counts is that he can perform consistently well and control whatever nerves he may have; this he signally failed to do this evening.

Big Bro Thang
- performed by Big Brovaz
This was really quite good. Two women and two men, funkily dsressed and with a funky kind of rap song to sing. This all-black group all gave good perfomrances and had decent voices; their choreography was pretty good too. This was one of the two best songs of the evening. I think it would have stood a real chance as it was definite Eurovision material, but a little different - 'black' but in a definite British way if that makes sense.

I'll Leave My Heart
- performed by Cyndi (Almouzni)
A sort of Celtic ballad; a really good song and very well performed by a young (French-)woman with a superb and powerful voice. A decade or more ago this kind of ballad would definitely have been winner material, but in recent years all the winning entries seems to have to have some 'gimmick', usually assocaited with outlandish costumes and complex choreography. I rated this number three of this evening's performances (and not number one) solely because I thought it probably no longer fitted in with what is likely to win; a great pity because the song was good and the performance was excellent.

Flying the Flag (For You)
- performed by Scooch
A two-male, two-female foursome singing a 'pop' song, classic 'Europop' in fact - camp, colourful, lively, quite fun. All four, male and female, are quite 'easy on the eye' - an important consideration for Eurovision, which (let's face it) makes no pretence to being 'high culture'! It was with Big Bro Thang one of the two top songs of the evening and the song finally chosen to represent the UK this year. The choreography and the costumes were excellent - very 'kitsch'; I think it deserves to do pretty well - who knows it might even win, although there is now so much partisanship amongst various groupings of entrant countries that it is impossible to predict!

They Don’t Make 'Em Like They Used T)
- performed by Hawkins & Brown
A rather attractive black woman and a frankly unusual-looking white man with atrocious teeth. Nevertheless I thought their performances were witty and the song was quite good with her quite powerful voice and his characteristic falsetto blending very nicely, set-off with her elegant dress and his baroque get-up. Might have done reasonably well if it had been chosen as I wonder if the eccentric perfomances might not have appealed to the voting audience in May, but for me it fell just outside the top three this evening.

The only other entry I wrote about for this year's competition is that from Spain and you can read my views on that here.

Friday 16 March 2007

Sally Clark - Rest in Peace

Mrs Sally Clark has passed away at home, her family has announced. She was 42 years old at the time of her death and, according to the family solicitor, had never fully recovered from the appalling miscarriage of justice she suffered, adding that whilst not in the best of health was not suffering from any disease when she died. Her death is in the hands of the coroner.

A sad end to a tragic series of events. Rest in Peace.

UPDATE: (Tuesday 20MAR07 22.47 RST) The comments for this post highlight the fact that apart from there being a variety of viewpoints on issues surrounding Sally Clark (R.I.P.), there are also some pretty malicious people around on the internet. I have not so far deleted any comments on this post (there are 10 at the time of writing), but I may have to revise this decision if there are additional comments which seem to be pointless or deliberately designed to sow discord and uncertainly as some of those already included might seem, with a less charitable view than mine, to be designed to do. I regret very much that what was intended to be a simple, and heartfelt, tribute to a lady whose life was blighted by false accusations and an erroneous conviction, has been marred by such unseemly bickering. I request ALL commenters to think carefully before continuing their squabbling here!

SNP and Scottish independence receives a huge boost from respected banker

Sir George Mathewson, the former Chairman of The Royal Bank of Scotland has delivered a massive boost to the SNP and the cause of Scottish 'independence'. He has distanced himself from the 'fear culture' of some who oppose separation and is quoted as saying:

"It's difficult to forecast the future, but I see no circumstance where independence would be a serious [economic] disadvantage"

- the timing of the publication of his views, no doubt deliberate, coincides with Tony Blair's scheduled attendance at a Labour Party rally in Aberdeen today, at which he was expected to repeat his and Gordon Brown's earlier warnings that independence would 'force financial institutions and other big firms to flee the country, destroying the Scottish economy'.

I am not instinctively in favour of separating Scotland from the United Kingdom, not because I have ever 'feared' such a development, but because I feel 'British' in the way that Gordon Brown says he does - perhaps the only area where he and I share a common view about anything! However I have also thought, more or less since the terms of the Devolution settlement that Labour put in place soon after it came to power in 1997 became known, that this changed relationship was likely to cause increasing tension between Scotland and the rest of the UK, particularly its major component England. And so, regretfully, it has proved. I also quickly began to believe, although I felt reticent about voicing my developing feelings, that Devolution as we have it now could only ever be a half-way house and that either it would be reversed and the status quo ante reinstated or that full separation (aka. 'independence') would be almost inevitable in due course. It has been very clear almost from the beginning that a return to the pre-1997 siutuation was highly unlikely, even if I continued to try and delude myself into thinking that this would, somehow or other, gain currency as a future course. However this seems increasingly fanciful, specially because of the increasingly strongly expressed views within what seems to be a growing part of the English population that this is no longer even a desirable aspiration. My remaining delusions about this are now therefore nearly gone and I have come to the conclusion that the UK as we have known it for the last 300 years is finished.

Is it therefore better now to embrace the idea of Scottish independence positively, knowing (as I do) that we Scots being the resourceful people we are will make it work? I haven't yet quite taken this final step, but I have to say that I am coming close to it. Because of our geographic proximity and because of the close personal ties that bind a high proportion of both Scots and English (and Welsh and Northern Irish) to each other I think that whatever happens in the political settlement between the two nations these ties of family, friendship and economic interdependence will endure. The SNP is rather too left-of-centre in its politics for my tastes, but perhaps it has come time for a Scottish political party that is right-of-centre to embrace, for the future good of both Scotland and England, the idea that we move forward to a healthier and different relationship. The Scottish Conservatives would be ideally placed to fill a much-needed role in an independent Scotland if they have the vision to embrace it - I am almost at the stage where I see independence as not only inevitable, but desirable. I see the public endorsement of this by Sir George Mathewson as perhaps a, if not the, tipping-point.

See also the follow-on article in today's Evening News. The BBC's reporting of Tony Blair's riposte to what Sir George Mathewson had to say is here - Blair makes himself look even more absurd that he has often seemed in recent times.

We are living in interesting times ...

The perfect 'Google'!

This has, so far as I'm aware, happened only about five or six times since I began this blog almost 5 years ago. What is a perfect 'Google'? Well I think it's when the result of a Google search comes up with only one answer. This morning when scanning my visitor stats I noticed that this had happened once more; all I know about the visitor is that he/she seems to hail from Bournemouth in England and if you click here you'll see where it takes you (at least for now)!

On how to get a dog to pose for a photograph!

The weather has been good for the past couple of weeks so a few days ago I decided to go to a secluded and quiet beach near here - all I'll say is that it is a few kilometres west of Mazarron and Bolnuevo and is approached down a dirt track at the start of which a height barrier has thankfully been placed, so preventing the place being colonised by camper-vans. It was quite a breezy day, but the beach itself was perfectly sheltered and warm enough to sit on the beach in shorts or swimming costumes, although no-one (and certainly not me!) thought the sea was anywhere near warm enough yet to go in - give it a few months. This beach does not become crowded even in summer - there is a little café at the top of the hill behind the beach, approached only by a steep path, but apart from that it is not developed at all.

How to get Tara to pose?
13 March 2007
Answer: not easy!

Tara explores around the edge of a rocky promontory

... and here is the almost perfect shot!

Click here to see larger images.

Wednesday 14 March 2007

An interesting tax proposal from the SNP ...

... what do others think? The SNP is proposing to abolish Council Tax and replace it with a 3p hike in income tax rates, already provided for in the Scotland Act which set up devolved government in Scotland. The SNP say all but 10 per cent of 'top earners' would pay less tax, but that the new method would result in a reduction of GBP450m when compared with the current Council Tax, to be made up by grants to Councils from the Scottish Executive.

I'd want to see a proper independent analysis of the financial implications of these proposals, or publication of full details of the independent study the SNP says it has commissioned. I'd also like to know where the Scottish Executive is to source the additional GBP450m it says will be required to compensate Councils. Apart from that I'm not opposed in principle to the idea - except of course that I want to see government activity and the tax required to fund it reduced overall; it seems increasingly clear that their proposal to reduce the number of departments in the Scottish (which I wrote about here) is NOT designed with this in mind, but is instead desgined to concentrate the same or increased power in fewer hands - and this proposal to tie Councils even more closely to central government ('Scottish Executive' that is) funding than at present will make that aspect of the situation even worse than at present. There are also major imbalances in population density in different parts of Scotland (e.g. Glasgow and Strathclyde, as compared with the Highlands) which would seem to imply that there would be much greater deficits to fund, when compared with Council Tax, in low population density areas such as the Highlands than there are even now. So whilst as I say I am not opposed in principle to the SNP idea I do believe it needs to be subjected to the most intense independent appraisal so that the full implications are worked out in advance.

Tuesday 13 March 2007

New Bank of England 'Adam Smith' note enters circulation today

The Bank of England is putting its new GBP20 note, with a portrait of 18th century economist Adam Smith on the reverse, into circulation today, although the previous version (featuring Sir Edward Elgar) will continue to circulate for some years.

I wrote about this last October when the introduction of the new note was announced. Even the richest folk in the world think Adam Smith is a pretty cool dude.

Monday 12 March 2007

Torture - a reality in today's Scotland

Torture, yes torture. Not conducted by the State (at least not so far as we know), but by individual Scots on other Scots. The latest abominable case I have read about involves beating, slashing with a knife, stubbing out a cigarette on the victim's head and scalding her with hot water. The victim, Tammy McGregor (aged 19), was lured to a tenement flat in Aberdeen by former lover Lee Holt, 27, and Donna O'Neill, 21 and subjected to two and a half hours of abuse. The two entered guilty pleas and will be sentenced on 18th April, after 'background' reports. I've no idea what these background reports will prove; these two are evil sadists and require severe punishment; I hope they receive it.

A similar kind of case I wrote about a little over two years ago took place Alness, although in that case the three people involved had earlier also shared accommodation in Aberdeen before moving to Alness. In that case the victim was a male and the abusers were a man and a woman.

A common feature between the two cases is that the victims were both described as vulnerable or with learning difficulties. The cases don't paint a very attractive picture of Scotland, do they?

SNP Salmond promises smaller government for Scotland ... or does he?

SNP Leader Alex Salmond says that a Scottish Executive controlled by his Party would cut the number of Scottish Executive departments by a third and appoint 16 Ministers. Sounds good - I'm all for smaller government.

But what exactly does he mean? Will this involve a real reduction in the number of civil servants who administer the country on behalf of the Scottish Executive (and we voters), or will it simply mean that the same number of civil servants will report to a smaller number of political appointees. In other words, is Mr Salmond proposing a real reduction in government and the scope of its activities, which I would welcome whole-heartedly, or simply a re-organisation albeit with some savings in a few salaries of Ministers? I'd love to know.

'Cash for Honours' scandal. Drip. Drip. Drip.

More information drips out of the steaming cesspit that is 10 Downing Street. Through Guido (who had it from Iain Dale) I learned that Ruth Turner reportedly began her famous memo with the words: "Oh F**k, Levy Has Asked Me To Lie For Him" (my rules against the use of profanity in this blog oblige me to disguise slightly the word that Ms Turner is said to have used - sorry).

Oh dear, what a sad country to be a citizen of. Perhaps I will feel a little less soiled [*] when this rotten crowd of sleazebags is driven out of office - which I hope will be sooner rather than later.

The BBC report on the latest developments is here.

[*] I know I probably come across as a stereotypical 'maiden aunt' with my funny rules on profanity, etc., but I don't care. I am sure many people (indeed I know many people) regard me as a wart on the face of humanity because I am unashamedly a gay man, but the filth I read earlier today in links back through the blogger profile of a person who had written a rebuttal of a comment I had made in another blog confirms me in my belief that seeming pride in use of shocking language for 'effect' is not something I have any desire to emulate, however provoked I may feel on occasion; when such language is used by someone who professes to be a 'Christian' as it was in that other blog comment it robs the counter-arguments of any validity in my view, not that the lack of such profanity would have materially affected my view, if I'm honest.

How undiplomatic!

No political content here, but this just struck me as appalingly amusing:

JERUSALEM — Israel has recalled its ambassador to El Salvador after he was found naked, bound and drunk, according to Israeli media reports confirmed Monday by a government spokeswoman.

The longtime diplomat, Tsuriel Raphael, has been removed from his post and the Foreign Ministry has begun searching for a replacement, said ministry spokeswoman Zehavit Ben-Hillel.


Ben-Hillel said the reports were accurate and that Raphael has been recalled, although he did not break any laws.

"We're talking about behavior that is unbecoming of a diplomat," she said.

- I'll say!
(thru The Council of Lemurs)

After this example of Israeli 'diplomacy', I thought it would be fun to dredge up other recent incidents of acts calculated to enliven relations between otherwise friendly countries:

- John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, on a US Presidential candidate. Gauche, or what?!

- Segolene Royal, French Socialist Presidential candidate on Quebec and its position as part of Canada. It brings to mind a speech made by French President Charles de Gaulle in Quebec many years ago, no?

- A few years ago, admittedly, but still thrilling in its lack of sensitivity to a larger neighbour during a [recurrent] financial crisis, not to mention that it shows a complete disregard for the diplomatic niceties; Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle tells it like [he thinks] it is on the subject of Argentina: "The Argentine situation is an Argentine problem: a bunch of thieves from top to bottom."

- And of course who can forget Boris Johnson MP giving us his considered views on Papua New Guinea and the lessons its "cannibalism and chief-killing" has for the modern-day British
Conservative Party, even if that is light relief when compared to:

- The efforts of Patricia Hewitt MP and Robin Cook MP to improve Anglo-Indian relations with an 'ethical' foreign policy; sad that India didn't see the joke! Nor of course did Prime Minister Tony Blair! This followed Cook's earlier sterling efforts at ethical diplomacy whilst he was Foreign Secretary, offering to act as a mediator between India and Pakistan in the Kashmir crisis, an offer which was stingingly rebuffed by the Indian Prime Minister. Oops!

There's lots more, but that's probably enough for now ...

About time too! Homophobic chants to be outlawed at Scottish football matches

Sectarianism has, more or less, been brought under control in Scottish football, even if there are outbreaks of the old habits from time to time. Racist abuse has also been tackled - not eliminiated, but tackled. Now the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland has issued guidelines to all eight forces instructing them to extend the recent clampdown on those other two scourges of Scottish football to anti-gay slogans. And about time, too!

Arguments about it being good to "Let off steam!" , as described in the linked article, are just an excuse to indulge in mindless bigotry. I am glad it is being confronted.

PS/ I don't like football and have never been to a match, but it is useful to remember that such unpleasant behaviour occurs only rarely at rugby matches. It's not a gentle sport, and the people who play and watch it aren't 'wimps', but they generally seem perfectly capable of 'letting off steam' in less divisive ways. That's one of the reasons why I like rugby.

When visiting Thailand, don't 'diss' the King!

Seriously. Thais respect their monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Anyone who might even remotely be thought not to have shown sufficient respect to Him can expect very harsh treatment at the hands of Thai courts - as Swiss man Oliver Jufer is learning. Jufer faces at least 7 years in prison after pleading guilty to defacing several portraits of the King; the country's Lese Majeste laws provide for a maximum of 75 years prison term, but he is expected not to be punished that harshly (and as Mr Jufer is 57 that is an important factor).

At one time I used to visit Bangkok on business very frequently (upto two or three times a month) and the hotel I used was adjacent to Lumpini Park (a little like Hyde Park in London in its importance as a 'green lung' at the heart of the city), which was surrounded by extremely busy traffic arteries. Often I would be leaving the hotel to walk down to the office at just before 8 a.m. - the first time I heard the national anthem being played from louspeakers all around that area, and everyone stopping and standing to attention, I was quite startled; the traffic comes to a halt as well. As a foreigner you were expected to do it too.

The Thais are lovely people. But you disrespect their King (especially the present holder of the title, who is genuinely revered) at your peril.

Sunday 11 March 2007

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Weeks 140 to 195

I am just coming to the end of week 195 and tomorrow will commence week 196. Normally I would have written this entry around mid-February, but I just didn't get around to it. A complication (although a pleasurable one) is that this is the first winter I am spending in Spain. I left home on 11th January, arriving here in Spain on the 19th and will leave here again on 11th April and expect to return home on the 21st. The 'complication' is that I have neither a weighing scale nor a measuring tape, so I am unable to say precisely how I am doing, however I will give an honest (warts and all) appraisal of where I think I am.

If you would like to read the remainder of this entry please click here, when you will be taken to the latest post in my Atkins diary within my main website. If you wish to read more about my experiences on the 'Atkins' diet there is a permanent link in the right hand column under the 'Atkins Diet' heading.

And who would that be, Bishop, the BNP or UKIP?

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Motherwell has indicated he will not be voting for Labour this time, because many of their policies over issues such as civil partnerships 'fly in the face of Christian tradition'. Normally I wouldn't give two hoots about anyone not voting for Labour, but this bigot is trying to dress up his bigotry as some kind of act of conscience. When he says he will vote for the Party which 'best supports Christian values' I expect he has conveniently forgotten the teachings of Jesus Christ which I have always understood to include tolerance and love for one's fellow men and women. Which Party will best support his world-view? The BNP? UKIP? Certainly none of the mainstream Parties. Taking this away from gay issues, how does Bishop Devine feel about living in a country which allows abortion, or contraception, both practices which Catholic doctrine abhors? Really Bishop Devine needs to 'get with the programme' and realise this is not rural Ireland or Italy or Spain of 50 years ago where the 'flock' could be expected to follow whatever the local priest said. I expect and hope that the voters of Motherwell and elsewhere in that part of Scotland will use their own judgement when deciding whom to vote for, even if I wish not quite so many of them would vote for Labour as they have probably done blindly for 'tribal' reasons for decades, but because they had actually thought through the issues and made their own choices, even if their regular choice of Labour seems the most complete madness to me.

Scottish Tories scrape through the conference, just ...

... but the squabbling recommences immediately afterward. That about sums it up, I think.

I wrote here a few days ago that I thought it probable that "on the surface all will be sweetness and light tomorrow at the conference, but I think most Scottish Conservatives know in their hearts that all is not well". That, more or less, is what transpired. David Cameron praised the Scottish Conservative leadership under Annabel Goldie and used his conference speech to issue a mild rebuke to David Mundell:

"People send me all sorts of interesting advice about Scotland - although, frankly, sometimes it would perhaps be best if they kept it to themselves."

after having earlier declined to contemplate removing Mr Mundell (from his position as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland). Mr Mundell did not appear at the conference on Friday, in a change of schedule (ho! ho!), but when he did speak on Saturday he attempted to defuse the damage publication of his memo had caused by paying tribute to Annabel Goldie:

"I believe a great deal has been achieved in the party both across the UK and here in Scotland in recent months, but one thing is clear.

"We will not be able to continue to change as a party or make the electoral strides we want to if we cannot have a full and frank discussion within our party without fear that anything which is said will make its way into the media.

"I am deeply disappointed to have found myself drawn into an attempted distraction but I remain resolute in our sole objective of seeing an increase in the number of Scottish Conservative councillors, MSPs and MPs.

"I have to say, ladies and gentlemen, I cannot remember a conference where there have not been attempts to divert us from our main business."

- but he made no apology for the actual content of his memo and his remarks quoted above sound to me as if they were specially concocted to help get the Party and himself through what was going to be a difficult conference session. Although Ms Goldie and her deputy Peter Duncan are reported to have applauded 'dutifully' at the end of Mundell's speech her hands reportedly remained unmoved during his opening comments during which she sat stony-faced. Ms Goldie for her part used the old Conservative standby in her own closing speech to say that if the Scottish Conservatives controlled the Scottish Executive (after the May elections) she would take a tough line on law and order - but as no-one, not even amongst the faithful in the conference hall I imagine, seriously imagines there is even the remotest chance of that happening, this pledge strikes me as the words of a lady who knows the game is up and just wants the disaster area that is the conference to end as quickly as possible so that she can receive the obligatory 'standing ovation' and get herself off home - no doubt to a much-needed stiff drink. So much was predictable.

Now I see that the Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday newspaper has news in today's edition of a second memo written by Mr Mundell which has 'leaked' its way into the public prints, in which the hapless Mr Mundell apparently tabulated his views on each of the Party's 18 MSPs. No-one, not even the apopleptic Mr Eugenides, can bring himself to disagree with the basic points Mr Mundell is reported to have made in this latest memo, even if he considers it the height of folly to have written it all down. At one level I agree with the good Mr Eugenides, but to be quite honest my stronger feeling is that the Scottish Conservatives have been living in political 'la-la land' for so long that the harshness of the lesson they are currently being forced to learn about themselves, that they are completely out of touch and need to re-think everything about how they do politics in Scotland, has not come a moment too soon. As well as writing about the leaked memo, Alan Simpson at 'Scottish Tories are Doomed' reports on another Scotland on Sunday article (which I had not seen before) about the lively comment taking place throughout Scottish Tory political blogland and concludes by speculating that the Scottish Conservatives will take a long time to rebuild their fortunes, but that it would be unwise to write them off completely, even given their current parlous situation (that last bit is my comment).

Can the Scottish Conservatives hold onto their current level of representation at Holyrood after the forthcoming elections in May? Possibly. It is highly unlikely, in my view, that they can expect any improvement. Their main job should be to get through the next seven and a half weeks until polling day wihtout shooting any more bullets into their collective feet; if they can do that then I hope wiser heads within the Party (who exist, I hope) can at last begin to examine what they should be doing as a Party in today's Scotland, because the way they have been doing things in recent years is leading them to slow extinction. Do enough people yet recognise this and have they got the courage to change course?

Saturday 10 March 2007

"The Ordination of Abomination"

I came across this video on YouTube this evening whilst researching my last post. I don't know what to say about this man, except that he seems to have strong views about the unacceptability of having homosexuals ("sodomites") and women ("feminists") play any role whatsoever in the 'true Church'. It's a lengthy video (10 minutes), but I think it is worth watching in full - it made me want both to laugh and to cry. Now I am going to have a nice glass of port; I need it!

Did you enjoy that? Do you agree with it? Any of it? Are there many people in Britain (he sounds British) who think like this gentleman? Is he a Christian? Is this a spoof? These are just a few of the thoughts which crossed my mind as I was watching.

US conservative Episcopalians reconsider their ties with Nigerian Bishop Akinola

Consevative Episcopalian dioceses which broke away from the US Episcopalian Church last year, because of doctrinal differences over the ordination of gays and the appointment of Bishop Gene Robinson to the Bishopric of Boston, and subordinated themselves to Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria, have been reconsidering the wisdom of the move, in the light of the draconian anti-gay legislation likely to be passed by the Nigerian Legislature in the near future.

Just last month Archbishop Akinola was one of seven Anglican Church leaders who declined to take Communion with Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and with the head of the US Episcopalian Church, Archbishop Katharine Jefferts Schori - she is not only Primate of a Church which has appointed a gay Bishop, she is also a woman and that is something some of the conservatives don't like either, even if (in my view) they failed to expel the US Episcopalian Church from the worldwide Anglican Church, so formalising the de facto schism in the Anglican Communion, because wiser counsels realised it would be folly to cut themselves off from the financial support which the wealthy US Church has always, because they are good Christians, been prepared to make available to less prosperous parts of the Anglican Communion.

Now the US conservative Episcopalians are bleating that they were not really aware of the pending legislation in Nigeria. Well it serves them right! They should have done a bit more research before subrodinating themselves to the authority of a Church Leader even more bigoted and homophobic than themselves. They are being forced to face up to the real character of the man, Bishop Akinola, they now recognise as their spiritual Leader. By their fruits ye shall know them.

Police Chief 'banged to rights' for mobile phone usage

A senior policeman with Strathclyde Police, Chief Supt Kenny Scott, has been fined GBP60 and had 3 points added to his driving licence for using his mobile 'phone whilst driving. He was off-duty at the time.

I don't know what the circumstances were in this case, but I find personally it requires some discipline not to reach for the mobile if it rings when I'm driving, but so far I haven't given in to the temptation. Whilst I am in general supportive of the ban it is difficult to believe that simply talking to a passenger (or being talked to by a passenger) is not at least as distracting. I do swig from a bottle of water whilst driving and I have read in the past that people have been fined for this too - so I had better watch out I suppose!

Friday 9 March 2007

Uncomfortable truths some Tories don't want to hear

I wrote yesterday about a memo sent by David Mundell MP, the only Conservative member sitting for a Scottish constituency at Westminster, to Conservative leader David Cameron.

Now I read that [David] Cameron refuses calls for Mundell to go. Well of course he does! David Cameron, whatever one might think of him (and I generally think positive thoughts, just to be clear), he is not some kind of village simpleton. Does anyone other than a few completely out of touch Scottish Tories seriously think that Cameron is going to get rid of the only Conservative who has managed to be elected in a Scottish constituency to Westminster in 10 years? Frankly, if I believed in God I would ask Him to give me strength! Read the comments to the ConservativeHome entry to get a flavour of just how disfunctional the Scottish Tories have become; it is truly sad.

Was it wrong of Mr Mundell even to write the memo, if he believes Cameron needed to hear his views? Of course I may be completely wrong, and Mr Mundell too, about the view that the Scottish Conservatives need to change if they are to begin to stand a chance of gaining more votes in Scotland. But I don't think I am.

I completely agree that it is highly embarrassing that the memo was leaked to the Daily Record and this newspaper chose to publish their story the day before the conference was to begin in Perth. But what do you expect from a Glasgow-based Labour-supporting low-rent scandal-sheet? Who leaked the memo do you think? Do you think it was David Mundell or David Cameron who leaked it? I would be astonished if it was either of these two. ConservativeHome says it is trying to verify information it has received about the identity of the leaker and thinks that GBP5,000 or GBP10,000 may have been paid by the Daily Record for the story. I expect that when/if the source of the leak is identified the motive for doing so will be clear and not at all to the credit of certain 'reactionary' elements in the Scottish Conservatives.

Glasgow scientists may have made progress in combatting cancer

Like almost everyone else I'm sure, I have lost close family and friends to various forms of cancer over the years. So I was interested last evening (but too tired to blog about it then) to see that a team of scientists at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow think they have devised a promising new method for attacking cancer cells, making use of a chemical which in tests on mice 'caused cancer cells to "commit suicide"' and seems to be effective against several kinds of cancer cells - 'including bowel, cervical and bone cells'.

No doubt this is at a very early stage, but I do hope they and other scientists around the world can make real progress in the cancer in coming years.

Earl and Dowager Countess of Cawdor make peace to help develop Nairn

The Earl of Cawdor and the Dowager Countess of Cawdor have, amazingly, agreed to try and put aside their long-standing and fierce dispute in order to go ahead with development of 274 acres (100 hectares) of land on the outskirts of Nairn into housing, parkland, a sports centre and an arts centre.

Nairn could badly do with a boost to its economy and this development would certainly help enormously. What would also help, of course, is taking forward the plans announced some months ago to develop a Nairn bypass the lack of which has stymied development in and around the town for decades. I think my most recent post on these overall developments in and around Nairn was in August last year and this also discussed the 'warfare' between the Cawdors.

I await developments with interest.

Thursday 8 March 2007

Allegations of Tony Blair's complicity in American CIA 'renditions' programme

The British government has always strenuously denied any involvement in, and ignorance of, the American CIA's suspected terrorist 'rendition' programme under which it is alleged that suspected terrorists were transported around the world to be 'interrogated' (aka 'tortured') at various facilities in countries around the world whose governments were allegedly prepared to carry out interrogations using methods which the US (and the UK) declined to do use themselves. It has been alleged that 'rendition flights' have passed through British airspace frequently and that aircraft engaged in these alleged missions have landed at airports in the UK (for refuelling, etc) with Prestwick Airport in Scotland being mentioned frequently in this connection. There have also been allegations that some of these rendition flights may have had as their destinations facilities in Poland and Romania, both EU members (although in Romania's case only since the beginning of this year). I have written about this frequently here in the past, although not recently.

Now through this article on the Andrew Sullivan blog, I am alerted to a Raw Story lengthy investigation one of whose observations is that:

"According to a confidential British intelligence memo shown to RAW STORY, Prime Minister Tony Blair told Poland's then-Prime Minister Leszek Miller to keep the information secret, even from his own government."

Explosive stuff, if true!

A recent EU mission to try and investigate whether there was any truth in allegations that European airspace and facilities within EU member states had been used as part of the American CIA's rendition programme met with many refusals of cooperation at an official level in Poland, although the level of cooperation within Romania was apparently much more satisfactory - see here, here and here (the last two are .PDF files). See also here.

It may take some considerable time to get to the bottom of what has been done in our names by our (US, UK and other EU member states) governments, but I hope that justice will eventually catch up with those who allowed these practices to occur. In our case it seems to me that Prime Minister Tony Blair is solidly in the frame; his lasting legacy is I think going to be irredeemably linked to his alleged complicity in allowing UK airspace and facilities to be used to facilitate, and let me not mince words here, torture.

The US insists it does not carry out torture, nor does it enlist the services of other countries to carry out torture. Except that, frankly, the definition of torture which the current US administration has authorised does not comply with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the US, like the UK, is a signatory.

My views on torture have been expressed in this blog on a number of occasions, but this post is where I believe I talked about it most fully. All my posts which touch on this subject can be seen here.

Scottish Tories and 'that memo'

The 'that memo' of the title was puportedly written by the sole Conservative MP sitting for a Scottish constituency, David Mundell MP; it was 'leaked' to Scottish newspaper and 'journal of record' [*] the Daily Record. Suffice to say the memo was not complimentary toward Conservative MSPs and the Scottish Tories' hierarchy in general, specially Annabel Goldie, the Leader of the Scottish Tories; the Daily Record under an article entitled SCOTS TORIES ARE CLUELESS gleefully told its readers today that, according to Mr Mundell, "[Scottish Tories Leader] Goldie got off to a reasonable start as group leader ... but has begun to attract adverse comment for lack of activity and strategic thought" and added for good measure "I see little in the short term that can be done to improve the MSP group situation" and that there was a '"simple lack of thinkers" among the 17 Tory MSPs and they are incapable of coming up with new policies.'. Other conclusions he drew were that 'the Tories' Holyrood manifesto was "more likely to recycle existing policy positions than come forward with anything innovative"' and damningly 'also urges that the replacement of Scottish party chairman Peter Duncan is an "immediate priority"'. The memo itself was a 4-page effort sent by Mr Mundell last June to Conservative national Leader David Cameron.

My own impression when I read about this story earlier today via Scottish Tories are Doomed and via Mr Eugenides (read the comments there too!) was that, whilst incendiary at any time, but specially now just ahead of this weekend's Scottish Tories conference beginning tomorrow in Perth, seemed to draw conclusions which I, as an outsider, unfortunately thought pretty accurate.

All very embarrassing - and David Cameron, faced with making his own speech to the Perth conference tomorrow has now issued a statement of his full confidence in the Scottish Conservative leadership: "Annabel Goldie and Peter Duncan are doing a great job. Annabel has a no-nonsense approach and is addressing the issues that really matter in Scotland. The party in Scotland is in better health now than it has been for many years and is running an effective campaign. I am looking forward to the Scottish conference tomorrow." This effusive praise does not extend to Mr Mundell.

I have no idea what Mr Cameron really thinks about this and the statement he has issued may reflect his honestly-held view. In any case the appearance of the Daily Record article a day before the Perth conference really left him with no choice but to issue a statment of support for Ms Goldie and Mr Duncan if the conference was not to have descended into farce in advance - which it may still do if 'the line' aboout the state of the Scottish party does not hold up even in the presumably receptive atmosphere of the conference hall. I think it probable that on the surface all will be sweetness and light tomorrow at the conference, but I think most Scottish Conservatives know in their hearts that all is not well at all and that their electoral prospects for the Scottish Parliament elections in May are probably dismal. I will be interested to see the reporting of what happens at Perth in coming days!

[*] Just my little joke; the Daily Record is not a newspaper I care for, in fact I loathe it and what it stands for! Indeed whenever my mother visits me to stay she is herself of course tremendously welcome, but I refuse to allow her to bring the Daily Record into my home when she arrives or to bring subsequent issues into my home for the duration of her stay. Until her failing eyesight made it pointless for her to purchase any newspaper she took both the Daily Record and the Press and Journal as her regular daily newspapers.

See later post on 09MAR07 here.

McDonald's put MORE beef in its premium burgers ...

... and the pounds go on the hips of those that consume them, one imagines. Yes, McDonald's have launched a 'Third Pounder premium Angus Beef' burger in about 600 of its outlets in Southern California, priced at USD3.99 . It comes in three versions and the calorie counts range from 720 to 860!

In my pre-Atkins days I have to confess I did from time to gorge myself on a 'Big Mac', or even a 'Double Burger', but I doubt if I'll ever touch a fast food burger again - unless I'm in a place where Hardee's have an outlet; they always struck me as better, probably containing even more calories!
(thru Andrew Sullivan, who's 'Loving it')

Yet more new Scottish political blog links

In the run-up to the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2007 there appears to be once more (as there was prior to the last Scottish Parliament elections in 2003) a plethora of new blogs, most of which on the last occasion disappeared soon oafter the election was over.

In any case, another new(ish) blog I have come across is Y is a vowel. The writer seems to be a supporter of the Scottish Conservatives. The title of the blog is certainly no indication that the spelling or the grammar employed is entirely orthodox. Neverthless an interesting (if temporary?) addition to the blogosphere for those interested in the forthcoming elections for the Scottish Parliament. (PS/ Written on 12MAR07. I have decided to remove this blog from my blogroll, because on closer acquaintance I can't really see the point of it; apart from a clever title it doesn't seem to have much else going for it - I'll leave the link above, though, for anyone who might chance upon it.

Another recently started blog I have come across, this time a supporter of the SNP (describes himself as an "SNP parliamentary researcher") is Scots and Independent; although I don't care for the writer's politics I must record that it is well and intelligently written. If the United Kingdom is to survive then those political parties which support it must rapidly attract supporters of a similar, or better, calibre; the SNP has its mavericks too, but in general it seems to attract a youngish, reasonably intelligent group of activists. This is the challenge which the 'unionist' parties must face up to.

SNP Tactical Voting is a new blog written by a Scot living in Sydney, Australia. He tells us that he has at one time voted for 'most' parties, including the SSP, but informs us he now has a "natural SNP bias". Despite this 'bias' he does seem to make an effort to write objectively and seems to specialise in probability analysis for the forthcoming elections, employing his accountancy/statistical skills to this end.

I will try and add links to other political parties relevant to Scotland as I come across them, particularly in the coming weeks those which are relevant to the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections; I will not add links to any blog which expresses overt support for extremist parties such as the BNP, however; I may be tolerant and open-minded, but I am not totally gullible, nor am I an idiot.