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

Thursday, 31 May 2007

Legality of CCTV cameras open to doubt

The Telegraph online has a report which quotes the chairman of independent watchdog CameraWatch, Gordon Ferrie, as saying:

"Our research shows that up to 90 per cent of CCTV installations fail to comply with the Information Commissioner's code of practice, and that many installations are operated illegally. That has profound implications for the reputation of the CCTV and camera surveillance industry and all concerned with it."

However, the report also quotes Ken Macdonald, Assistant Information Commissioner for Scotland as saying:

"We welcome the initiative by CameraWatch to promote compliance with the Data Protection Act. We are not aware of any evidence that supports the suggestion that 90 per cent of CCTV cameras are not complying with the ICO Code of Practice. We don't believe there is any such evidence. Where we receive complaints that CCTV is being used in breach of the Data Protection Act we will investigate. We have a range of enforcement powers at our disposal."

Whilst I would like to believe that Mr Ferrie's organisation may have come up with a method of thwarting the surveillance state by demonstrating the illegality of the vast bulk of CCTV installations in the country with the most CCTV surveillance in the world I must admit I am sceptical. I find it difficult to believe that at least one defence lawyer in a court case has not latched onto this idea before when attempting to defend his/her 'crim' client.

On a related matter there is now a TV 'industry' devoted to programmes which are simply re-runs of police surveillance tapes of the 'car chase' variety; I have often wondered just what is the legality of using these tapes to satisfy the thrill-seeking instincts of a prurient television audience. Perhaps it is simply because the type of person caught up in these police chases has neither the intelligence nor the financial resources to obtain the professional legal counsel to allow the use of such tapes for public entertainment to be challenged in court. And how does this use fit into the Data Protection Act?

Did they read the same article?

Compare and contrast.

Additions to blogroll - May 2007

I haven't formally updated my Blogroll for quite a long time, but I have in fact been adding new blogs to those I read regularly in my blog aggregator and a few of these have already crept in unannounced into the blogroll. Many others haven't - although they undoubtedly merit a place there too. Well, it's time to put that right. Similarly I conduct regular pruning of the blogroll, one of the basic criteria for which is non-activity for three months.

In the past I have written a paragraph about new blogs I add, but I am abandoning this practice and replacing it with just a few words of comment. This will make it a speedier process to write these posts and with a bit of luck lead to more regular updates in future. In general my blogroll reflects a few main strands - gay bloggers and those who write about politics and current affairs; sometimes these strands overlap, sometimes not. I like to include blogs within my blogroll by people who have a wide range of political viewpoints, some of which I happen to disagree with strongly. However all write well and interestingly and whilst 'profanity' has no place in my own little blog (see my Terms of use) many of those I link to have a very different policy and that is just fine by me; to each his or her own. Now, on with the show:

asterism - sophisticated and balanced commentary by an Iraqi who has spent most of his life in London.
BellgroveBelle - a recently-elected SNP Councillor; let's see how she performs for real.
come back to what you know - A young gay blogger; he writes on an eclectic range of topics and he writes well.
Come into my World - fluffy, amusing and with lots of nice pictures of good-looking totty; nothing too naughty, though. - whilst an indispensible resource for those interested in developments within the Conservative Party, it can be a haven of extremely reactionary viewpoints.
doctorvee (Duncan Stephen) - a young Scottish blogger and a long overdue addition to my blogroll.
Ewan's blog (Ewan Watt) - a newish blog which generally makes sense.
Fisking Central - on a mission to puncture balloons.
Green Ribbon, The - news, opinion and analysis from London Irish journalist Tom Griffin; brings another perspective to British politics.
High Maintenance Hags - amusingly describes his blog as "My wonderful harem of fag hags. I love them all, but I don't put up with any of their female tomfoolery." A familiar dilemma for gay men!
Holyrood Chronicles - a refreshing look at the Scottish Parliament and Executive.
Ian Hamilton QC - the blog of a Scottish nationalist and a QC. Infuriating, but very interesting; well-written goes without saying.
Inveresk Street Ingrate - the gentle delusions of a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain living in New York; I read this to remind my why I'm not a socialist, but don't let that put you off.
Life in London Town - life in London as seen by a cute (his description) young and affluent Asian gay guy.
Longrider - libertarian blogging goodness. Quirky.
MacNumpty, J. Arthur (Will Patterson) - refreshing commentary on Scottish politics.
Martin Kelly - thoughts from the west of Scotland; and what thoughts they are! Nuf sed.
Reactionary Snob - trenchant commentary from a libertarian Edinburgh advocate.
NHS Blog Doctor - a candid commentary on healthcare issues in Britain.
NO2ID - the blog of the campaign against ID cards and the database state.
not the record - lively 'rants' on Glaswegian and Scottish politics.
Obsolete - that strange thing, leftist commentary that's actually worth reading.

Phew! I'll try to do this a little more frequently from now on.

Labour don't like it up 'em - sore losers in Scotland

Look, so far as I'm concerned, a plague on both SNP and Labour houses! I make no secret of my less than cordial views about anything that bears the taint of 'socialism', a political philosophy which has proved itself in practice to be quite inimical to 'democracy', wherever in the world it has been tried, despite the theories upon which it is supposed to be based (*). However, Alex Salmond is now First Minister of Scotland having been successful in 'besting' the Labour political machine in Scotland in a more or less fair fight.

Labour, both in Scotland itself and the London leadership are having great difficulty coming to terms with the 'will of the people'; I'm not particularly happy about it either, but I have to live with it just like everyone else. However, for a better example of churlishness than this example from Labour you will have to search hard. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (not to mention Tom McCabe) need to grow up, and fast!!

Even Her Majesty the Queen got in a helicopter to Holyroodhouse to receive Her new First Minister and from the television reports I have seen both behaved with impeccable decorum, whatever their private thoughts might have been. It's time for Tony Blair to quit his global perambulations and meet with the new Scottish Executive - and to do it with magnanimity and grace. As for Gordon Brown, well he has just confirmed to everyone who ever sees the ghastly television footage above how unfitted he is to be Prime Minister - 'pathetic' and embarrassment (for him) are the words that come to mind.

(*) I've expressed the same kind of thoughts before in this blog, and occasionally in comments in other blogs, and generally there has been at least one apologist for 'socialism' who has criticised me for my blanket condemnation. Tough! Name me one country in the world where 'socialism' has resulted in long-term benefit for the people it is theoretically designed to help. Some things 'socialists' do have proved positive, I grant you, but the overall results of this pernicious system are always overwhelmingly negative for the human condition. You are welcome to try and demonstrate otherwise. A small suggestion - the record of the Labour government over the past ten years under Blair and Brown would not, in my view, be a good place to start.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Party 'prank' in Nairn, gone wrong

You come across a bottle of aftershave during a party. You decide it'd be fun to pour some of it on one of the other party-goer's hair. Oh, what fun! Then you think it'd be a real hoot to set it alight. Oh, did I forget to mention that the person to whom this friendly gesture was applied was asleep on a settee at the time? Ah, Nairn, what a great place.

Torture lite?

The so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques employed by the US, and sanctioned (indeed championed) by the highest US civil authorities (i.e. the President, the Vice President and the former Defense Secretary amongst others) have been used before - and called by the same euphemistic term. But war crimes trials after World War II brushed aside the same kinds of attempts at 'justification' on the parts of the Nazis who employed them - and punished them accordingly. They were sentenced to death.

Read about a very relevant 1948 war crimes trial here in Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish.

I've written about torture in various situations many times since I began this blog over five years ago, but my most explicit comments about it are here, in a post dating from March 2005.

I remain hopeful that one day 'we' (and by this I mean the people we traditionally count as friends and allies - principally our American 'cousins') will realise just how much damage we are doing to our own interests by indulging in the barbarity we condemn in others. Our own British government has its own process of enlightenment to go through - a realisation that in its professed (and I am assuming genuine) desire to 'protect' us from terrorist threats it is destroying the very freedoms and liberties we enjoy and which many generations have struggled to achieve (the news report I link to relates to just one of the many assaults on our freedoms which this government seems intent on pursuing).

PS/ Read the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Article 2.2 is quite clear:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

The current President of the United States, George W Bush, is guilty of crimes against humanity by sanctioning and defending torture (even if he chooses to call it "enhanced interrogation" techniques!) by forces under his control; the sooner his administration is replaced by another, Republican or Democrat (I don't mind), which is aware of international law and obeys it, the better! Will I live long enough to see Bush arraigned before the Hague court? I somehow doubt it.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Where's Bill?

Well, Bill's here. But he's not been posting much here of late. I've got a lot I want to write about and indeed I have number of draft posts at various stages of preparation on a variety of topics:
- the usual anti-'gay' outrages and my frustrations with these;
- the 'war on terror' and how our very souls are being compromised by some of the things our government, and others (notably the US), is doing in relation to this;
- part of the previous point, but deserving of its own comment, so-called 'coercive interrogation techniques', more usually and simply and accurately called 'torture';
- the internal politics of the UK and its constituent parts, obviously in my case with particular reference to the machinations of Scottish politics and the imminent (unfortunately not immediate) change of Prime Minister;
- a few other sundry matters.

In fact there is so much I want to write about that I think I have gone into some kind of information overload and I find it impossible to 'push the button' to publish any of what I have written so far, because so many other things keep cropping up to add. So I am going to take a few days completely away from blogging to try and 'reboot' my mental processes; walk on the beach, just have a few days when I am not going to feel 'guilty' about not 'pushing the button' and do other things I enjoy doing. With a bit of luck I'll get back some of my blogging 'vrrooomm' by next week.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

What the BNP is really still about ...

... if there were ever any doubt that the BNP is not still the bunch of racist, ignorant thugs that I have always believed them to be, then this at the West Brom Blog is the perfect antidote.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Freedom of Information Act and MP's self-voted exemption

A petition to the Prime Minister seeking an overturn of the exemption MPs have voted themselves to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act has been launched. The petition is in the following terms:

'We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to implement a full Freedom of Information Act. There is no justification in Government business being executed in a shroud of secrecy. The Government works in our name, therefore access to ALL business should be free and immediate.'

If you are a British Citizen or resident in the UK I urge you to consider adding your name to this worthwhile initiative. To view the petition and add your signature please visit the 10 Downing Street website here.

(thru Justin at Chicken Yoghurt)

Saturday, 19 May 2007

A message of peace and love ... not!

Those crazy loons at the Westboro Baptist Church (i.e. the notorious Phelps clan) have just produced a recording corrupting one of the sweetest (sickly sweet, really) songs of the last few decades into a message of hate and bile. Even the late Jerry Falwell is far too 'liberal' for these people. It's so awful it makes you want to laugh - it is extraordinary how some people use the freedoms they enjoy to indulge in this sort of baleful nonsense - but that's what 'freedom' sometimes entails; who said everyone will always act sensibly? I give you the Westboro Baptist Church (*) at a communal 'singalong' - enjoy! it gave me a laugh, anyway - luckily I don't live in Topeka:

(thru Englishman in New York)

(*) These are the people who picket military funerals to mock the dead military saying it is their own fault and that it is God's vengeance for tolerating homosexuals and other people they don't like.

Friday, 18 May 2007

New laptop tearing-out hair alert!

Note: I have almost no hair! OK, my new laptop seems to work fine and I have been able to get online with it whilst the LAN cable is connected. However, so far I have had no success getting it to connect wirelessly. I thought earlier on that I had corrupted the profile in the router itself so I wouldn't even be able to connect wirelessly with my older laptop - luckily I was able to sort that out with a factory-reset of the router and reconfiguration.

I think my next port of call will be my ISP, through whom I purchased the router, to see if there are any compatability problems because my new laptop uses Vista rather than XP; the router manufacturer's website seems to indicate that there may be, but as it is written in a kind of tech-speak jargon I am not entirely sure.

Off for a long walk on the beach!

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Bill has a new notebook PC

I just took delivery earlier this afternoon of a new notebook PC, to supplement the notebook I have already. The new machine has a 12" screen and is amazingly nice to use (I'm using it right now) and amazingly small whilst still having a good and very sharp screen and a full-size keyboard; it is going to be a lot easier and practical to carry this machine around. It is the first machine I've had which uses Microsoft Vista ('Home Premium' version). Currently I'm online using a LAN cable, as that is pretty straightforward to do. I haven't yet set up access through my home wi-fi network; I expect I'll get round to doing that tomorrow as I recall when setting it up for my existing notebook that it took me quite a long time to get it operating correctly - I prefer to be 'morning-fresh', so to say, for that kind of task!

My existing notebook is only slightly over a year old and uses Windows XP; it is perfect, too, but as it has a 17" screen I found it a little bulky for truly portable use; it took up rather too much room in my overnight luggage, for example, when I was travelling to/from Spain recently so I decided some time ago that I would get myself a smaller notebook and use the 17" notebook as my principal 'desktop' machine in my study. I have semi-retired my main desktop last October or November, although I still use it sometimes when I need certain files which I didn't bother to transfer across to the laptop; it's also useful when I need to check-up on my archive emails.

All my recent PCs have been Fujitsu-Siemens; my latest notebook is the 4th of the brand I've had and I like them (I tend to replace PCs after about 3-4 years and think I'm now on my 8th machine since starting down the PC route in 1982). Really I've had no problems of any kind with any of the machines I've had, apart from the normal 'getting to know' phase when new - I've always gone for decent-quality brands and have avoided certain brands like the plague when I read reliability reports about them in PC magazines. Obviously I'm going through the 'getting to know' phase right now with the new 12" machine! And on that cheery note I will bid you farewell, probably for the rest of the evening.

Birds, and eggs, on the roof!

Seagulls are pretty common around here and can become quite aggressive in Spring-time when they are about to hatch their eggs. It doesn't help, either, when visitors sit in the harbour car park eating food and throwing out tidbits to the eager and apparently always hungry gulls.

However a gull which decided to build a nest on the top of a car at Inverness airport's long-stay car park had its hopes of parenthood dashed when the RSPB agreed to Inverness Airport's request to have the nest and the eggs destroyed "In line with our duty to minimize the risk of bird strikes at the airport, ...". Sad, but probably necessary.

L'Entente Cordiale takes on new meaning

As expected the new French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has appointed François Fillon as Prime Minister. Monsieur Fillon is a Senator from the Sarthe region in north-west France. He and his Welsh wife, Penelope, have been married for twenty-seven years and have five children. Unusually, her sister Jane is also married to M. Fillon's brother Pierre, an eye surgeon.

François Fillon is apparently considered a 'moderate conservative' in French politics and is said to possess great conciliatory skills, which will undoubtedly be of great value if Président Sarkozy is to push through the economic reform policies France so badly needs.

Estonia hit by 'cyber-war' and points finger at Russia

One of the newest members of the EU, Estonia, says many of its state and commercial websites are under sustained 'denial of service' attack (see here) from servers in Russia which, according to Estonia, are Russian state-controlled servers. Russia denies any involvement.

This apparently relates to a simmering feud between the two countries ostensibly over the relocation of a Soviet war memorial in Tallinn, the Estonian capital.

I think this is just the latest example of Russia, under President Putin (a former KGB operative) attempting to hold other countries to ransom. It is no secret that Russia dislikes intensely the fact that former constituent parts of the old Soviet Union (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) have, in their eyes, 'gone over to the enemy' by joining the EU and NATO. Those three countries counter, correctly, that they are simply returning to their rightful places within the mainstream European family of nations. Undoubtedly there will be further examples of the Russian bear's petulance in coming years; I hope the EU supports forcefully Estonia both because it is a member state of the EU and because if it doesn't it will only encourage Russia to further acts of international brigandage.

Of course this whole article is written in the assumption that Russia is behind these attacks. If it is not then I apologise, but I think it highly likely that it is the source. No doubt this will become clearer in coming days.

"Tories talk coalition with Plaid" for Welsh Assembly

Politics seems to be moving into even more uncharted territory in Wales than it has already done in Scotland, as the Conservatives there have confirmed they have held coalition talks with Plaid Cymru to consider the possibility of forming an administration there; Nick Bourne, Conservative leader in Wales, said "his party was only interested in a coalition with Plaid and the Lib Dems, ruling out a 'stability' pact" and would insist on places around the cabinet table as the price for their support.

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones confirmed talks had taken place, "but stressed that discussions continued with Labour".

As a reminder, the make-up of the new 60-member Welsh Assembly is as follows:
- Labour (26)
- Plaid Cymru (15)
- Conservatives (12)
- Liberal Democrats (6)
- Others (1)

It seems a lot can change in one week!

Nairn councillor confirmed as Highland Council Convener

Nairn 'Independent' Councillor Sandy Park has been confirmed as the new Convener of Highland Council with Jean Urquhart, an SNP Councillor representing Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh confirmed as Vice-Convener.

I wrote about the likelihood of these appointments a couple of days ago here.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Find Madeleine

(Please see UPDATE at end)

I have, like everyone else I imagine, seen reports about the horrific abduction of a young girl whilst on holiday with her parents in sourthern Portugal. She was abducted from their holiday apartment whilst the parents were dining in a restaurant only fifty or so metres away. I'm not a parent of course, but I can readily empathise with how any parent would feel in similar circumstances - complete horror and being sick with worry about what fate may have befallen their child.

I understand a 2-minute video was shown this evening at a football match in Glasgow attended by a large number of Spanish football fans there to cheer on the Sevilla team. Seville (i.e. Sevilla) is not in fact very far from the Spanish border with Portugal, so I imagine this may be why it was thought worthwhile to show the video at this event. I hope some good might come of it.

The reason I have included the photograph of Madeleine above is because I had not fully appreciated until I saw the series of images in the video exactly what the distinctive feature about the iris of one of her eyes meant - the photograph shows very clearly what is involved. You can visit the website by clicking here, or by clicking on the photograph above.

UPDATE: (Wednesday 12SEP07 00.30) A lot has been happening over the past few months and the pace seems to have quickened considerably in the past week. The public prosecutor in Portugal is now reported to be about to pass a file to a judge who will decide what further action is now needed; the naming of both parents as 'suspects' has been covered extensively. If the parents are innocent their treatment over the past week, in particular, will come to be seen as monstrous. If the parents are guilty then it is they who will ultimately be seen as monsters. I have no partiuclar view either way, although the events of the past week have at times left me slack-jawed with astonishment for a variety of reasons. My general view is that we must leave it to the Portuguese judicial authorities and not pre-judge anything. On a more trivial note, the media coverage that I have seen of this case has been exhaustive and exhausting - endless broadcasting and newspaper reports 'hung' on the flimsiest of factual information. As a bystander I can make no useful comment on the substance of the case - what has happened to Madeleine McCann and who is responsible?

Salmond announces new Scottish Executive cabinet

Our new First Minister, Alex Salmond, has just announced his first cabinet since taking over the Scottish Executive earlier today. As well as five 'cabinet secretaries', 10 junior ministers were named. The Scottish Executive website gives fuller details here; these will be submitted to the Scottish Parliament this Thursday for confirmation.

The artihmetic of the new Scottish Parliament will require the SNP to rule by consensus. Basically however it remains a 'socialist'-type Party, so unless the Labour Party, Lib Dems and Greens are being particularly obtuse expect the SNP to be able to prevail provided it does not present Parliament with anything so vulgar as a proposal to hold a referendum on 'independence'. I somehow don't think it is all going to go so smoothly as that last sentence might suggest.

Conservative volte face on grammar schools

It's happened; I've obviously been asleep for many years and suddenly awakened to a world where some dystopian nightmare is being played out; it's the equivalent of the Conservatives choosing to redefine the meanings of words as if they had suddenly decided that the colour hitherto known as 'white' will henceforth be known as 'black'.

David 'Two Brains'(*) Willetts has spoken these words, which one must presume reflect his current beliefs:

"We must break free from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright poor kids.

"We just have to recognise that there is overwhelming evidence that such academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it."

(*) But amazingly so often 'no sense' and gaffe-prone to boot!

This is at complete variance with the facts as I have experienced them. How many members of the Shadow Cabinet (or the Cabinet, for that matter) send any school-age children they may have to the local school within their catchment area? Not very many, I think!

No doubt in localities with relatively small populations it is sensible to have only one secondary school and perhaps to 'stream' by ability within that school, but in larger population centres the differences between secondary schools (i.e. comprehensives) have come to reflect in practice the social position and level of affluence (or lack of it) experienced by those living in the various schools' catchment areas. If you live in a 'poor' area you tend to have a 'poor' school and children, of whatever academic ability, are less-likely to be exposed to people from different kinds of backgrounds. In more affluent areas it is likely that parents will be more aggressive in ensuring that the local comprehensive in their area provides a 'good' education for their children and because they will probably tend to be better educated themselves will have more ability to have their voices heard. Affluent parents can afford to buy property within the catchment areas of 'good' schools so perpetuating the social divisions politicians of all parties say they wish to diminish - but it is noticeable they take very good care that their own children have the opportunity to receive the best education, often by using their own resources and often outside the state-funded educational system.

In my own case I passed the dreaded '11 plus' barrier and so was eligible to go to one of the three selective schools in the city I lived near at the time (Aberdeen); two of the schools are no longer 'selective' (the two where no fees were payable) since the introduction of comprehensive education. I did not come from a 'poor' background, but I did come from a 'modest' background, but going to a grammar school gave me not only a good education, but equally importantly allowed me to mix with school-friends some of whom came from much more affluent backgrounds than I did. Quite frankly it opened my eyes to what was possible in the world and gave me aspirations to 'better' myself - that there was a wider world out there which I could participate in to the full extent of whatever abilities I might have. In my adult life I have been able to mix pretty easily with a very wide range of people, whether viewed from a social, ethnic or economic perspective and the fact that I spent many years working abroad amongst people of different cultures to my own only added to my social mobility. I believe my 'life chances' would have been severely affected had I been consigned to the local secondary school where I would inevitably have failed to find the intellectual stimulation I could have benefitted from amongst my fellow pupils and the teaching staff there

The affluent in society will always organise themselves to ensure that their own offspring receive a 'good' education. Less affluent people often have similar aspitrations, but find themselves trapped in their own areas and by the lower-quality educational opportunities that are often the only ones available in their catchment areas.

However this idea that 'selection' is somehow wrong is not only harmful to academically-gifted children, but to children who are not so academically-gifted, too. They too need an educational regime geared to their particular capabilities, not to be judged to have somehow 'failed' because they don't have high academic abilities, so it doesn't really matter what kind of second-rate educational opportunities they have available; this was the stigma associated with failing the '11 plus'. Undoubtedly the world needs nuclear physicists, doctors, accountants, teachers, etc., but it also needs engineers, mechanics, designers, hairdresser etc. (and yes, shop workers or call-centre workers, too), where conventional ideas of what it means to be 'intelligent' are not necessarily appropriate. And adequate resources need to be devoted to their education, not simply the 'leavings' after the educational needs of the more academically-gifted have been accommodated - I'm afraid it is this idea that somehow the less-academically gifted are 'failures' that led to the resentment which in turn led to grammar schools being almost completely abolished. All this has led to is a catastrophic skills-gap in the UK, where the be-all and end-all has become a university degree, sometimes of dubious quality and worse, low-value in the employment market. At the same time we have ended up with a situation where people with skills that society badly needs (plumbers, electricians, proper nurses, etc.) are in short supply. Normally in a market-led economy such shortages would lead to such people being able to command higher rewards and indeed this has happened in some respects with people such as plumbers where more people have been attracted into such trades because of the lucrative financial rewards that have become more prevalent, but the state-funded occupations (nursing, teaching, etc) have badly-distorted normal market mechanisms.

However the fundamental problem is that some occupations are seen, even by 'socialists' nominally devoted to the concept of equality for all, as 'high status' and others as 'low status'. Frankly I can live my life quite confortably with a shortage of certain of these highly academically-gifted people, but if I need an electrician or an engineer and one isn't available life becomes uncomfortable quite quickly. We really do need to re-assess how we look at tradtionally low-status occupations, even where essential to the smooth functioning of society, and reward them accordingly both financially and terms of the status they are accorded. My feeling is that soon enough market forces would then correct the shortages which currently exist.

I really don't think the Conservatives latest 'wheeze' for short-term sound-bite gratification, by pretending that selection is 'damaging' to the poor, is at all convincing; if their own children had to live with the consequences of the damage this kind of thinking has wreaked on British education in the last 30 or 40 years then I don't think they would be making such absurd policy proposals based on a flawed analysis.

Jerry Falwell dies aged 73

The Rev. Jerry Falwell has died at the age of 73. I am sorry when anybody dies and I express my condolences to his family. However, I hope this gentleman has managed to take heat-proof garments with him on his journey into the 'great unknown', because I surmise he has probably gone to a place where it is unbearably hot - or at least I hope he has.

(Read more about this person here.)

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Nairn councillor set to be Highland Council Convener

(Please see UPDATES at end)

According to this week's Nairnshire Telegraph (no online presence) one of the Nairn (Ward 19) councillors, Councillor Sandy Park, is very likely to be chosen as Convener of Highland Council this Thursday, following a week of negotiations which have culminated in:
- Councillor Park being confirmed by 32 of the 35 Independent councillors (the other 3 are on vacation) as the 'leader' of their group;
- a deal between the 'Independents' and the Scottish National Party (SNP), which with 17 councillors is the 3rd largest group in the new Highland Council to form a coalition.

It seems likely that SNP councillor Jean Urquhart will be chosen as Vice Convener.

Councillor Park has described the SNP as the Independents' "preferred option" as coalition partners, according to the Nairnshire Telegraph report. My comments here seem to have been scarily prescient. (If I'm not careful I'll probably find myself burnt at the stake as some kind of a witch or magician! - careful, Ed.).

I quote in full one short paragraph from the Nairnshire Telegraph report published today:

"Councillor Park said they had discussed partnerships with all the groups, but there was no doubt that he had been personally angered by what was seen as an attempt by the Lib Dems to hijack the process earlier in the week."

- it will be recalled that the Lib Dems have 21 councillors so one must speculate that they had imagined that they, as the second largest group and the largest political party group in the new Highland Council could count on the 35 'Independents' choosing them as their coalition partners as a matter of course and that perhaps they expressed this view in terms which Councillor Sandy Park found unacceptable.

Not being a cyncial person (no, of course you're not - Ed.) I think that the choice by the 'Independents' of the SNP as their coalition partners may possibly be because:
- at least some of the 'Independents' are in fact closet supporters of the SNP; or
- they have made a calculated assessment that relations between Highland Council and the new minority SNP Scottish Executive are likely to be better with an SNP coalition than if they were in coalition with the Lib Dems.
(And it may be a combination of both these factors I suppose.)

Another interesting matter mentioned in the Nairnshire Telegraph article is that because Councillor Sandy Park is likely to become Convener he will no longer (as he did until the recent election) perform the functions of Provost of Nairn and that it is likely that it will be the local SNP councillor, Councillor Liz MacDonald, who will assume the functions of provost and not either the other 'Independent' councillor or the Lib Dem councillor. The conditions I alluded to in my earlier post here may be in process of being laid for the 17-strong SNP group to dominate, in practical terms, the policy-making agenda of Highland Council simply by virtue of their party organisation, something which the 'Independents' obviously lack. No doubt I am being way too cynical (I hope).

UPDATE: (Wednesday 16MAY07 11.48 BST) The SNP group in Highland Council begins to flex its muscles in setting policy agendas; I suspect the larger group of 'Independents' will have rings run around them in various ways in months to come.

2nd UPDATE: (Thursday 17MAY07 14.25 BST) Councillors Sandy Park and Jean Urquhart are confirmed as Convener and Vice-Convener, respectively, of Highland Council.

L'Escroc prononce ses adieus

Soon to be ex-President Chirac of France spoke in his final televised broadcast to the French people as President this evening, urging them to "always stand united".

His presidential immunity will expire one month from tomorrow, the date he stands down formally as President, and he faces the prospect of potential questionning by "a judge investigating an illegal party-funding scheme dating back to his 18 years as mayor of Paris". Interesting times ahead for him - and for us.

Bill gets his name in lights!

A little bit of harmless vanity, doncha think?

I got my name in lights with

(thru Jay at Council of Lemurs)

New Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer - who he?

I confess to being completely unfamiliar with the name of the new Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, Alex Fergusson MSP; apparently he is (or was, before his appointnemt) a member of the Scottish Conservatives. Although I have no interest in football I thought momentarily that somehow the manager of Manchester United football team had somehow been 'transmogrified' into an MSP and a Conservative one to boot, except I quickly realised that the other Mr Fergusson spells his name slightly differently! For those, like me, who have until now remained blissfully ignorant of the man who is to be the new Presiding Officer, Alex Fergusson's profile may be read here. I wish him the best of luck in trying to control the Scottish Parliament; he seems to be respected on all sides, luckily, but he will surely need luck as well as all his seeming skills as "an astute political operator".

So-called 'Independents' on Highland Council in coalition with SNP members

Some years ago I railed against the tendency of some people who were previously so-called 'Independent' Councillors on Highland Council who subsequently stood as 'List' candidates (i.e. effectively protected from the wrath of their erstwhile voters) in Scottish Parliament elections and more or less automatically became MSPs for the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats - for example Peter Peacock MSP, who was at one time my 'Independent' Councillor when I lived in Culloden and he in Balloch who subsequently 'came out' as a Labour Party member!

Now I learn that the 'Independents' in the newly-elected Highland Council are forming a 'coalition' with the SNP. For information, the make-up of the 80-member Highland Council is as follows:
- Independent (35)
- Liberal Democrats (21)
- Scottish National Party (17)
- Labour Party (7)

Whilst I accept that, at a practical level, cooperation between the various political groupings is essential if Highland Council business is to be conducted smoothly, particularly as the number of 'Independents' has dropped from 53 to 35 at the recent elections and they do not therefore any longer have an absolute majority (if 'Independents' can ever be said to have had a 'majority' as they were not only supposed to be politically neutral from the major political party groupings, but independent vis-a-vis each other, too), I hope that this 'coalition' does not presage a situation where in fact a political party holding only 17 out of 80 Council seats effectively dominates the policy-agenda because it has a party organisation (SNP) behind it and because the Scottish Executive is under the control of a minority SNP administration.

I find the words of the SNP leader within Highland Council, John Finnie, to be somewhat indicative of the fact this may turn out to be the reality in the 'Brave new Scotland' we now inhabit:

"We have a range of Highland MSPs, which I think people would understand, gives us access to the Scottish Executive which may not otherwise exits.

"I would think and would clearly be calling upon those personal contacts to see what we can do to perhaps look at funding issues."

- either the redaction of this comment is flawed or Mr Finnie's command of English is suspect; I would hope it is the former. In either case, though, I have only a vague idea of the probable meaning of what Mr Finnie attempted to say, but if I have gleaned a meaning it seems to be that if Highland Council wants to 'screw' money out of the Scottish Executive SNP minority administration it will have to toe the SNP line!

In my local newspaper (The Nairnshire Telegraph - there is no online edition) last week one of the two 'Independent' Councillors for Nairn (Ward 19), Sandy Park, opined that the days of an 'Independent' Highland Council are numbered if not actually over. The 'coalition' with the SNP appears to bring this situation one step closer to reality. There has been a fiction for many years (decades!) that Highland Council (formerly Highland Region) was genuinely 'Independent', but in many cases it was an open secret that 'Independent' Councillors did in fact have political leanings of one kind or another (and all the major political parties were involved). Personally I would rather that many of the 'Independents' would abandon the fiction at the next election and have the courage to stand under the political banner they feel most comfortable with if the days of an 'Independent' Council are genuinely over, as one of the Nairn 'Independents' believes. Let's end the fiction!

Monday, 14 May 2007

The biter bit - John Sweeney, Panorama and Scientology

(Please see UPDATE at end)

I have always found the Church of Scientology to be a highly sinister organisation, but they would no doubt say I am simply a victim of the propaganda of the prevailing orthodoxy; perhaps I am, but if so I am by definition not qualified to make any objective assessment of the matter. However, whatever one might think of the the organisation (official site), or have read about it (as in this Wikipedia article), or how it is viewed in various countries around the world, they have certainly scored an enormous propaganda advantage by provoking John Sweeney, a reporter for prestigious BBC current affairs programme Panorama into an extraordinary outburst. It is truly a case of the main-stream media (MSM) being a victim of the same tactics it has often used to try and intimidate those it is reporting on; this time the intended victim has very effectively turned the tables:

Now, suitably refreshed by that interesting clip, I suggest that if you are in the UK you tune into BBC1 this evening to watch the Panorama programme devoted to Scientology; it is to be broadcast at 20.30 BST, but will be available to watch on the Panorama website after it is broadcast this evening probably for about a week until the next edition is broadcast.

I couldn't care less what the Church of Scientology thinks, but for me it is a cult with all the negative connotations included in the Wikipedia article I link to; my views on organisations as diverse as the Roman Catholic Church to the Jehovah's Witnesses or other organised religious or quasi-religious groups are pretty much the same - they may do some good in the world, but there are usually negative aspects to their activities which make me very suspicious of them.

UPDATE: (Monday 14MAY07 21.02 BST) I have just watched the Panorama broadcast; yes, whatever one may say about John Sweeney having 'lost it', Scientology is indeed a deeply scary cult. Frightening. The Scientology person in the programme did his job well, trying to pick holes not only in Panorama's reporter's remarks, but his methodology, too, but not well enough to cloud my judgement of the weirdness of this belief-system; he more or less 'lost it' at one point, too, almost losing the ability to articulate what he was saying so seeimingly intense was the apparent level of his anger; perhaps it was genuine and not simulated as I half-suspect. Weirdness in itself is no crime, just so long as they don't inflict it on others. Of course it appears that all criticism of them is motivated by malice in their eyes; classic paranoia if you ask me!

If you care about whales, please watch this ad.

It seems that Lord Ashcroft, a donor to and former treasurer of the Conservative Party, has funded the production of a short advertisement to try and persuade a number of Caribbean nations (Antigua and Barbuda; Dominica; St Kitts and Nevis; St Lucia; and St Vincent and the Grenadines) to oppose attempts by Japan to resume commercial whale hunting at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Anchorage, Alaska from 28-31 May 2007; the advertisement is narrated by Sir Trevor McDonald, a prominent and well-respected newscaster in the UK who is originally from the Caribbean. The Caribbean nations have received fisheries aid from Japan and might therefore be considered to have hitherto supported the resumption of whaling purely as a result of this financial aid. The advertisement is designed to encourage the Caribbrean countries to switch sides.

Obviously a major objective of the advertisement is to gather support from amongst the populations of these Caribbean islands so that they might exercise pressure upon their governments, but it seems that both CNN and MTV (part of TimeWarner and Viacom, respectively) have declined to carry the advertisement on their East Caribbean networks. Undoubtedly both have major commercial interests in Japan.

I would like to do my small part to circumvent Japanese efforts to prevent this advertisement being shown by including it in my little blog, courtesy of YouTube:

PS/ I hold no special brief for Lord Ashcroft, although the fact that he seems to have become something of a 'hate figure' for some on the 'left' of British politics (for example, read the comments made by Ben Bradshaw, Environment Minister, in the House of Commons in the linked Daily Telegraph article above) is already a factor in his favour so far as I am concerned! He has a record of supporting worthwhile causes, notably CrimeStoppers; whatever one might think of him he does support 'good causes' and is prepared to put his own name, time and money into them. Another good example of his altruism is his efforts to assemble the largest collection in the world of Victoria Crosses, under the control of a charitable trust set up by him; the trust intends, apparently, to put the collection on public display in London in due course.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Eurovision and the questionnable validity of the result

(see UPDATE at end for a link to the full official scoreboard for this year's Eurovision Song Contest)

I've blogged extensively, some might say far too extensively, about Eurovision, but I've just come across a pretty amazingly blasé admission of cheating in a blog I read occasionally (I came across it because it is from Ukraine and it started around the time of the 'Orange Revolution' there). I quote the post in full in case it is modified subsequently, just to show how blatant the manipulation is; if this is replicated by a high number of voters then the whole thing must be regarded as even more of a farce than I have come to believe that Eurovision has become in recent years. Here is the post in full from Neeka's Backlog:

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Serbia has just won the Eurovision - I liked Marija Serifovic's voice.

I voted, like, 14 times for our Verka Serdyuchka (I'm in Moscow, not Kyiv, so I'm allowed to do that), and I also voted four or five times for Romania.

Ukraine came in second, and I'm sort of glad, maybe because we have Euro-2012 to prepare for, and hosting the second Eurovision in three years would've been too much.

Estonia gave 12 points (the highest mark) to Russia.

Turkey gave 12 points to Armenia.

Very strange - and moving.

Then there's all the diaspora voting: "France" giving 10 points to Armenia, "Portugal" giving 12 points to Ukraine.

Israel gave its 8, 10 and 12 points to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (maybe not in this order, though).

All the former Yugoslav countries voted for Serbia.

Maybe Eurovision should replace politics. Eurovision and the World Cup (football). This would make the world such a passionately friendly place.

by Veronica Khokhlova - 5/13/2007 02:30:00 AM

In theory mutiple votes from one telephone number should be rejected, but who knows if the mechanisms to allow this work? Even if they do there is nothing to stop someone using multiple telephone numbers. Eurovision doesn't matter much, of course, but this open admission of cheating, with no qualms whatsoever, shows just how flawed telephone voting is. I regret to say that Eurovision has now become an embarrassing shambles - unless something radical is done to tighten up the way it operates then I think that we (i.e. the BBC) should consider reducing our financing of it drastically; if that means we don't appear in the final, then so be it. I voted for Ukraine, by the way, but the winning entry from Serbia (whilst much better than the atrocious effort from Bulgaria) was a pretty mediocre effort.

PS/ I posted a comment in Neeka's Weblog post on the Eurovision results:

'Tactical voting' is one thing, but your blatant admission that you may have voted well a dozen times for your own country ('legally' because you happen to be in Moscow) and 4 or five for another just throws into even more doubt the whole validity of the result. For the record I voted, once only(!), for Ukraine.

Here's what Veronica Khokhlova (the person behind Neeka's Weblog) responded in the comments thread:


Yes, I'm a minor cheater. In 2005, I voted more than once for Moldova. Just kept sending SMS's until time ran out.

Part of my reasoning is, if multiple voting weren't allowed, they'd be counting only one vote from each phone number. Technologically, it shouldn't be that hard, right? But I don't think this is the case.

As for the legality of my voting for Ukraine because I "happen to be in Moscow" - well, everyone does it: Ukrainians in Portugal, Armenians in Russia and France, Turks in Germany, etc. It's part of the fun - and also says much about the contemporary migrant and other diaspora communities.

While we're at it, the Russian TV guy in Helsinki said yesterday that from his Russian cell phone number, he was voting for Belarus, and from his Finnish number, he was voting for Russia.

And one off-topic bit - multiple voting is in my blood, I guess: in 2004, I cast three votes for Yushchenko, all 100 percent legal. Was way more fun than voting for Verka Serdyuchka yesterday, though.


You see just how bad things have become. I will be campaigning from now on for us (the UK) to withdraw from this farce. I have no objection to the UK not winning, after all it wasn't a great song (although better than some of the horrible entries we've put up in recent years), but the tactical voting aspect, and the realisation of just how much cheating must be going on, has soured the whole thing for me.

UPDATE: (Monday 14MAY07 10.45 BST) Click here for the final scoreboard for the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest.

"Mme Sarkozy" parle a la 2 - more or less!

I came across this amusing 'interview' with a certain Cécilia - not really of course, but it's good for a laugh anyway!

- it's a little outdated as it was obviously recorded well before the elections, probably around October last.
(thru la vie ou l'avis de Thierry du Var)

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Bill liveblogs Eurovision 2007

UPDATE: (Monday 14MAY07 10.45 BST) Click here for the final scoreboard for the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest.

23.03 And the winner is:



22.49 The Maltese give their 12 points to the United Kingdom. Entirely predictable, but very welcome as at least we no longer have 'nul points'!

22.45 The Swiss announcer from Berne is truly 'dishy'! As you'll see I've given up commenting on the votes - it's all so predictable. Sigh.

22.35 The United Kingdom is the only one without points now. Cyprus gives its 12 points to, you guessed it, Greece!

22.32 The Portuguese votes are being given by a very hunky-looking man. Wow!

22.30 Ukraine, Serbia and Russia in top 3 spots at present. No Western countries getting a look-in. To be fair all the top songs (excepting Serbia, in my view) were pretty good.

22.16 Voting is about to begin, The EBU are ready. They're only announcing the top votes, all the other lower votes are registered automatically already.

22.09 Seems Blognor agrees about Ukraine. Yes, I think we did underestimate them, and some of the other Eastern-European countries, too. If they do get it I think it will be well-deserved. The Finns are putting on a good show - these things seem to get more elaborate (and outlandish) every year.

21.50 Oh, by the way, I won the Lottery tonight! No, not the jackpot, but at least I'll have GBP10- more in my pocket, he he!

21.48 - Right I think Ukraine have it; I'll be voting for them. Runners-up for me were:
- Tier 1 - Russia, Romania, Moldova
- Tier 2 - France, Latvia, United Kingdom, Turkey.
Now I'm off to do some personal things (i.e. visit the toilet!) and get some salad then some chocolates. See you shortly!

21.45 Moldova - the final song of the evening. Lively violin introduction by the lead female singer. A dramatic way to start a quite tuneful ballad, sung in English. Lively dance back-up. Quite a catchy tune and she has a powerful voice. Should do well; might even win, but I think Ukraine probably have it, just.

21.41 Armenia - A very romantic ballad sung by a white-shirted, black-trousered (with cummerbund!) male singer. All very romantic and sexy. Backing group is good, but there is no dance-routine. An excellent classic Eurovision song, but I'll be surprised if this is the right formula to win this thing nowadays. A pity, but a very good effort.

21.37 Turkey - a Turkish version of Europop, sung by quite a nice-looking and pelvic-thrusting man. Very sexily-clad group of four women accompanying and doing dance-routine. My overall impression is it's quite louche, sung in English. Pretty good - and I'll leave my door unlocked for him!

21.34 Bulgaria - A good singer singing what to me is an amazingly-awful song. Back-up is good. Whole thing is very lively, but I just don't get it at all. It'll probably win! No, surely not?!

21.29 Romania - In English and Romanian(?) and French and German. Bowler-hatted male singer, with sailors(?) and gypsy-clad male group. Very lively and attractive song. The skinhead sailor-suited singer is, well, just wow! This is really good stuff.

21.25 United Kingdom - classic Europop, pretty well performed with a nice routine nased on an airline crew; back-drop is excellent. Very camp and amusing, and quite sexy. Could do reasonably well, but probably will be overtaken by the Eastern Europeans.

21.22 Blognor doesn't rate Latvia very highly.

21.21 Ukraine - Very lively song in German. Great dance routine. Will probably win. Completely banal, of course, but they have fulfilled the Eurovision brief, so probably do deserve to do extremely well. Will they win it? Slurp - more champagne required and some chocolate to keep up my strength!

21.17 Serbia - A very serious looking woman wearing heavy black spectacles, with black- and red-suited female back-up. The song is excellent (in Serbo-Croat[?]), but not really Europop material, I'd have thought. But what do I know? It might appeal to fellow Balkans and other Eastern Europeans.

21.13 Germany - White suit and homburg, grey shirt. A very suave jazz song in German breaking into English. Back-up of grey-suited men, some wearing cloth caps. All very 'hip'. There's a good swing to the song, I expect the lyrics are good, but it goes over my head. Might be a little too sophisticated, I suspect, for Eurovision. A pity, as it's good.

21.09 Russia - Three black-dressed and sexy Russian female beauties belting out a very lively song in English. Two female back-up singers and a male guitarist. All very sexy and really a very polished effort. Will certainly do well.

21.06 Latvia - Well you can't accuse them of following the crowd! Three top-hatted gents singing in Italian! A very romantic-sounding ballad and they all have pretty good 'Il Divo' kind of voices, not as good-looking as Il Divo, but altogether a very polished and impressive performance.

21.03 France - Wow! Revolutionaire! They're singing a very attractive and lively ballad in a mixture of English and French. The bilingualism is the revolutionary bit! A very catchy tune and performed with great verve. I'd vote for it! I like the red-clad second singer, the bald one!

20.58 During the break I've been over at Come into my world - he's not live-blogging, but if you're after some pretty men then he's always good value!

20.55 Sweden - Wow! Viking bare-chested androgyny! A cheery and lively Europop effort in English, quite amusing lyrics. Back-up band of drums and guitarists. All very lively and good fun. The performers are not good-looking, but they do their stuff very well. I like it.

20.52 Georgia - A very pretty woman in a sexy tight red dress sings a rather unusual ballad in English. Back-up dancers are grey and black clad cossack-style dancers. Not my kind of music at all, but it is quite sophisticated and might do quite well. Very well performed and she has a haunting voice, perfect for this song.

20.48 Greece - A London-born Cypriot sings in English. He is good-looking and sexily-dressed in white and grey. The four female back-up dancers are in white and blue bikini-skirts. It's a lively kind of Europop with Greek overtones. Will either do really well or flop completely. I think the former.

20.45 Lithuania - Black-leather-clad woman sings in English and plays guitar. Backed-up by several guitarists also in black and in silhouette - all very sophisticated. The song is good, with vague Spanish/Latin overtones. It's a good song and logically should do quite well.

20.41 Hungary - A jean and t-shirt clad reasonably-pretty woman sings a jazzy kind of ballad in English. A very polished and sophisticated effort. Well and simply performed. Logically it should do very well, but the voting this evening may not follow [my kind of] logic - we'll see!

20.38 Slovenia - A sultry black-haired beauty wearing a tight leather(?) or silk(?) dress in black with grey pleating. All very dramatic. A powerful song and she is a good singer (not in English), and it will likely do quite well - won't win, in my opinion, though.

20.34 FYR Macedonia - A very pretty female singer singing a nice tuneful ballad, presumably in Serbo-Croat(?), breaking into English. The dancers backing her up are a mixture of peasant-style good-looking men and women. All in all quite sexy and polished. Will certainly do well - it's a good song.

20.30 A break for the two presenters from Finnish TV to strut their stuff. A cute man and a pretty woman, dressed in grey and green respectively.

20.29 Finland - the host nation has a female, rather sinister and punk-looking person singing in English. The song is good and she can sing.
Back-up band is not bad. Almost no choreography. Tune-wise it's good, but I'll be surprised if it wins.

20.25 Ireland - Celtic Europop, accordions, guitars and a whistle. Song is quite nice, but I think the singer's voice is a little less than perfect, unfortunately. Will certainly get a few points, but unlikely to win.

20.22 Take a look at Blognor Regis, also live-blogging. Most amusing commentary!

20.20 Belarus - Sexy and good-looking male singer with two female and two male dancers, all five in black. Song is in English. A very stylish performance and I think it will do well.

20.15 Spain - a sexy boy-band singing a very lively Europop type of effort in Spanish with some English thrown in. If any of these lads wants to drop in on Nairn they can expect warm welcome here! Pretty good.

20.10 Bosnia & Herzergovina - pleasant sounding ballad. Not in English so I've no idea what it's about, but the costumes are somewhat 'dreamy'. Might do OK.

20.05 Well I've got champers opened and I'm primed for the off. Terry Wogan is ''on form' with the usual corny humour.

Eurovision 2007 - final tonight in Helsinki!

UK entry performed by Scooch

"Flying the Flag"

Good Luck tonight!

The excitement is, well, creeping upwards and I shall be putting a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator later this afternoon, by which time I shall also have purchased my 'fix' of hand-made Belgian chocolates, to help pass an evening of Wogan's witticisms and the voting marathon which will follow the performances. It's being shown tonight on BBC1 television from 8 - 11.15 (it usually over-runs by a few minutes).

The talk is that Ukraine's entry, Dancing Lasha Tumbai, performed by Verka SERDUCHKA is the favourite; it's actually quite a jolly song (sung in German) and the performers are colourful and colourfully-dressed and seem in the preview video to be having a great time - it should do well, I think. Next year Kiev? - Although I think having it from Odessa would be good, too! The 'Diana lookalike' pretty-boy Koldun from Belarus has a good song to sing, so he may well do well, too. You can see videos of all the entries including these two by clicking on the links here. You can download and print a scorecard by clicking on the link near the top of this page - makes it much easier than trying to scribble on the minute spaces in the RadioTimes print edition.

Amongst many others who 'blog' Eurovision, I shall be watching what both Blognor Regis and Come into my world have to say, although when he gets round to posting tomorrow (as he's out to a musical tonight, he says) what Jae at Come back to what you know has to say should be amusing as he is usually good value, too.

For the record, these are the 24 finalists for tonight's show:
(+ - countries which came through from the semi-finals on Thursday)

1. Bosnia & Herzegovina
2. Spain
3. Belarus (+)
4. Ireland
5. Finland
6. FYR Macedonia (+)
7. Slovenia (+)
8. Hungary (+)
9. Lithuania
10. Greece
11. Georgia (+)
12. Sweden
13. France
14. Latvia (+)
15. Russua
16. Germany
17. Serbia (+)
18. Ukraine
19. United Kingdom
20. Romania
21. Bulgaria (+)
22. Turkey (+)
23. Armenia
24. Moldova (+)

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Eurovision 2007 - Qualifiers from semi-finals

The following 10 countries (out of the 28 who competed tonight) have qualified to go through to the finals on Saturday 12th May in Helsinki:

1. Bulgaria - will perform in 21st position
4. Belarus - will perform in 3rd position
6. Georgia - will perform in 11th position
9. Moldova - will perform in 24th position
15. Serbia - will perform in 17th position
18. FYR Macedonia - will perform in 6th position
22. Hungary - will perform in 8th position
25. Slovenia - will perform in 7th position
26. Turkey - will perform in 22nd position
28. Latvia - will perform in 14th position

Apart from Turkey, the rest are all Eastern European countries who have probably voted in a couple of blocs for each other. Not all are 'rubbish' songs, by any means - although in my humble opinion the songs from Bulgaria, Belarus, Moldova, FYR Macedonia and Latvia were amongst the worst of the evening. I thought the Serbian, Hungarian and Turkish entries were pretty good, specially the Hungarian one.

However what I thought were the best songs of the evening (The Netherlands, Portugal, Norway, Estonia and Austria) didn't get through. The song I thought by far the best of tonight's entries, Austria, was so much better than any of the others (with the runner-up for me being Estonia) that it seems to me that all notion of what is a decent song has been buried for the sake of tactical voting. How else to explain the success of Bulgaria in getting through, a complete 'dog' of a song?! Absolutely amazing.

I will of course watch Saturday evening's event in a light-hearted spirit and try to enjoy it. But I have to admit that this evening's sorry results have somewhat soured my view of the whole thing; in earlier years there was at least a pretence of favouring half-way decent songs, even if there has always been a tendency for particular countries to vote for some other countries and to give low or no votes to certain others. However it seems that the whole partisan nature of the voting in recent years has completely spoiled what should be a bit of fun and made it into a pretty nakedly partisan stitch-up.

ID Cards cost rises above GBP 5 billion!

Even on the day Tony Blair announced when he would resign, the Labour spin-masters couldn't resist trying to release bad news, no doubt hoping it wouldn't get much coverage. Estimated costs over ten years of the ID Card scheme have risen by GBP 400 million to a new total of GBP 5.1 billion!

I think that the ID Card scheme will be the 'Poll Charge' of the Labour Party; a fatal error in policy which will, along with the unpopularity of the Iraq adventure amongst many, eventually lead to the well-deserved kicking that Labour deserves - and I hope will get at the next General Election.

Eurovision 2007 - Semi-final tonight

(Please see UPDATE at end)

If like me you are a fan of the festival of campery that is the Eurovision Song Contest you'll probably be aware that the semi-final is being held in Helsinki tonight when 28 countries will compete and 10 will be selected to go foward to the final this coming Saturday along with the 14 countries pre-selected.

Tonight's show will be broadcast in the UK on BBC3 television (8 - 10.40pm) and the countries competing in the semi-finals are:

1. Bulgaria
2. Israel
3. Cyprus
4. Belarus
5. Iceland
6. Georgia
7. Montenegro
8. Switzerland
9. Moldova
10. The Netherlands
11. Albania
12. Denmark
13. Croatia
14. Poland
15. Serbia
16. Czech Republic
17. Portugal
18. FYR Macedonia
19. Norway
20. Malta
21. Andorra
22. Hungary
23. Estonia
24. Belgium
25. Slovenia
26. Turkey
27. Austria
28. Latvia

You can watch videos of all 42 competing countries' entries for this year's competion here and you can print out a scorecard for this evening's semi-final here (.PDF file), by clicking on the link near the top of the page.

The full official website for this year's competition is here, although the BBC version seems in many ways more complete.

UPDATE: (Thursday 10MAY07 23.10) The ten countries from the semi-finals who have been chosen to go through to the final on Saturday are listed here, together with my comments on the evening's proceedings.

Blair announces his resignation ...

... but we'll have to wait until 27th June to be shot of him finally.

John Prescott is standing down as Deputy Prime Minister at the same time.

It's a good day. On the other hand we'll most probably have Gordon Brown as our next Prime Minister - oh, joy!

Blair wasn't all bad, of course; he supported the policy of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and his sons from positions of power in Iraq. More or less everything else he did (with a very few exceptions) was wrong, or flawed, or misconceived. Some people, many people, of course believe it was his policy on Iraq that was the worst 'crime' of the lot; I don't agree with that judgement. However it did sow the seeds of his massive loss of popularity over the past few years - as I mentioned quite a while ago now - and if the only price to be paid for getting rid of the odious Ba'athist regime in Iraq has been unpopularity and political oblivion for Tony Blair (and for George W Bush in due course) then I am not overly concerned; indeed I regard it as a beneficial side-effect of pursuing his one worthwhile policy. His role as a sort of useful idiot performed a helpful function and, now that he has become tiresome in the extreme, he has realised his next useful action is to remove himself as Prime Minister.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The police and the BNP

The Guardian is reporting that Greater Manchester Police is investigating claims that it has British National Party (BNP) members in its ranks. It seems that some police officers called to enforce the peace outside a Manchester pub where BNP supporters had gathered to celebrate St George's Day (23rd April) had spotted off-duty police officers at the event.

I will repeat a comment I have made in this blog several times in the past: whilst the BNP is an odious organisation promulgating odious policies and beliefs it is NOT an illegal organisation.

The Guardian points out that Greater Manchester Police was one of the police forces where racism amongst recruits was identified by an undercover reporter; I wrote about that in October 2003. It also refers to the three-year old policy of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) under which BNP members would be dismissed from police forces, it being felt that membership of this particular political organisation is incompatible with being a police officer. My reaction at the time, and now, is that whilst I understand fully the desire of ACPO to keep racism and bigotry out of its ranks, its job is to enforce laws passed by Parliament and signed into law by Her Majesty the Queen. I am not aware that any law has been passed by Parliament, or that any statutory regulation has been introduced by the Government, to make membership of the BNP illegal. Personally I would shed no tears if membership of that organisation were to be made illegal, but ACPO has no legislative powers and it should not act as if it does.

I expressed similar views when I read in September 2004 that the Home Office was contemplating introducing a ban on BNP membership amongst civil servants and when I read in May 2005 that Scottish police forces were to screen recruits for racism, in itself a laudable aim.

Whilst I loathe and fear the BNP (I am after all a gay man, not perhaps a favourite category for these people) I do not think it wise to abandon certain of our liberties so casually by allowing bodies such as the police, or indeed the Government, to act in ways which the law makes no provision for. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, there was a very interesting programme on BBC Radio4 this evening called Turning Right (to be repeated on Sunday 13MAY07 at 5pm) about the rise of the 'Far Right' in Britain; you can listen to it again for the next week by clicking on the 'listen again' button. Amongst others interviewed was the leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, who said that he no longer believes, as he admits he did ten years ago, that the Holocaust is a myth. When asked why he had changed his mind he said:

"Because of European law; if I say I believe that, I can be extradited to France."

When asked to clarify whether this means he has actually changed what he believes rather than just what he is willing to say, he responded:

"I believe that which the law says I must believe."

He predicted that by sometime like 2040 either a political party like the BNP, or perhaps the BNP itself, could be the Government of this country; a frightening prospect. Draw your own conclusions. For myself I believe that the BNP continues to be a dangerous and loathesome organisation. Perhaps there is a case for making it illegal. There are dangers in that course of action as banning it might merely drive members and like-minded people underground, but I think this is a better and safer option than allowing the police to take the law into their own hands.

Northern Ireland - a new beginning

I'm just watching the speechifying at Stormont; I heard Ian Paisley make a very good, firm and conciliatory speech a few moments ago. Currently Martin McGuinness is making his speech, equally firm - but equally conciliatory and positive. This is such a startling thing to be able to write in relation to Northern Ireland and in relation to these two men in particular.

BBC picture

Earlier I watched the four men (Paisley, McGuinness, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern) sit down in First Minister Paisley's office to have tea together; the chemistry between all four seemed pretty good and for the first few minutes we were able to listen to their small-talk (until, I suspect, it was remembered that the microphones were 'live' and they were switched off) which seemed to be conducted in a very friendly manner.

This is the first time in the past almost four decades that one has grounds for hoping that Northern Ireland may have a genuinely peaceful future - I hope very sincerely that it all works out. It will cost us, as UK tax-payers, some more money - but if it works it will be money well spent.

They come and they go - blogs, that is

The recent Scottish elections (Parliament and Local Government) have high-lighted once again a phenomenon that I have come to recognise - just as one recognises the seasons by the migratory habits of birds such as swallows.

Six or so months before an election there is a flurry (collective noun) of new blogs - usually partisans of one or other of the political parties and with a definite agenda in mind.

A couple of weeks before the election a few of these new blogs will simply disappear or will cease to be updated.

Within a week of the election having taken place a few of the 'flurry' will announce they no longer plan to keep the blog going, or that if they do continue it will be in some different format or with a different theme; a few will ask for guidance or suggestions from readers as to what form the new blog (or continuing online presence) should take. I never give advice of this kind, but if I did decide to do so it'd be: "Do what YOU want for as long as YOU wish to do it. No-one else can tell you whether you should blog or what you should blog about. You must make these decisions for yourself."

Within three months of the election almost all of the 'flurry' will have disappeared or stopped updating completely.

I first observed this phenomenon during the last Scottish Parliament elections in 2003, there was a 'lesser flurry' surrounding the 2004 European Parliament elections, but for the General Election of 2005 the 'flurry' was much greater again and one of the bloggers from that 'flurry', after taking time out for almost a year after the election, has since transformed his blog to become one of the most popular political blogs in the UK. The 'flurry' of 2007 has been almost as great; I will be intrigued to see which, if any, are still around in six months (I have my private views on this matter, but they will remain strictly private - so don't bother asking).

I shall look forward to the next election 'flurries' coming along for the European Parliament elections (2009), the General Election (could be anytime upto 2010, most likely 2008 or 2009 I suppose) and of course for the next Scottish Parliament elections (2011, assuming the probable SNP [minority?] Executive lasts that long).

Meantime I will be continuing to observe (and in a small way participating in) the 'ways of Bloggers'.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Why no referendum?

I do not favour separating Scotland from the rest of the UK; or 'independence' as the Scottish National Party (SNP) call it. The title of my little piece refers, obviously, to the noble stance (and I use that phrase in the loosest possible way) that the Scottish Liberal Democrats have adopted for some time with regard to the desire of the SNP to hold such a referendum to ask Scots (or, more accurately, all persons entitled to vote who reside in Scotland) whether they share its aspiration for 'independence', or not.

Do the Liberal Democrats believe in democracy? They certainly seem to say they do, but is this interpretation credible? Discuss.

French Presidential Elections - final results

TF1, the French television station, has a page reflecting on the 'calm after the victory' of President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy. There's also a link from that page to a flash map which gives detailed information about the percentages for each of the two 2nd round candidates in every French département. Final results overall are given as:
- Nicolas Sarkozy: 53.06 per cent
- Segolène Royal: 46.94 per cent

Turnout was a remarkable 83.96 per cent.

Of the two candidates available I think the better person won; France did not need another socialist in charge of its destiny. Now we will find out whether Sarkozy will prove as divisive as his opponents claim or whether his post-election pledge to be 'the President of all the French' will be borne out in practice. In any case I wish the new President and France good fortune in the coming weeks and months.

Nicolas Sarkozy takes office formally on 16th May - a week on Wednesday, in other words.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Currently watching "A Night to Remember"

After my blogging on the French elections earlier this evening, I'm afraid I've given myself over to supping some dry Madeira (Sercial) whilst watching BBC4 - earlier it was an interesting programme about accents across the UK in Edwardian times, currently it is an earlier version of the Titanic disaster called "A Night to Remember", with Kenneth More starring and a lot of other fine British actors (some of whom I recognise) - I think I saw this film years ago, but it is well worth watching again. In black and white. Very different from the James Cameron version.

Il a gagné!! Sarko Président!!

19.42 BST - Calls on the US not to oppose measures to protect the environment. Looks for the creation of a Mediterranean Union and a partnership between Europe and Africa. Wants an immigration policy under control, but a policy of development, with a sincere belief in European ideals. Then the usual "Vive la République. Vive la France".

19.41 BST - Equality of opportunity for all French. Calls on French to be open to all their compatriots. Calls on France's partners in Europe not to remain deaf to the feelings of their peoples and assures the US that France is at thewir side as a friend, even if they sometimes think differently.

19.40 BST - Proposes to install a new work ethic in France and a new pride in France, a new kind of authority in France. However he will do this in a way in which no person will feel excluded.

19.36 BST - Thanks his supporters. Saays he has respoect for his opponent Mme Royal and those who voted for her. He hopes to be President of ALL the French people, whether they voted for him or not.

19.35 BST - Nicolas Sarkozi comes on stage to give his post-election acceptance speech.

19.31 Jack Lang (former Socialist Culture Minister) emphasising that in his area, Pas de Calais, the vote was strongly for Royal. PPDA saying that Chirac is issuing his congratulations to Sarkozi (despite their mutual loathing).

19.27 Currently watching Le Pen reading out his post-election statement. Usual extremist rubbish! And of course he did not reply to PPDA's(*) question!

19.26 Latest analysis shows that 15 per cent of 'le Pen' vote went to Royal and 665 per cent to Sarkozi.

19.23 François Fillon, UMP Senator, is currently on-screen - he is being spoke on as one of the choices as Prime Minister.

19.17 Currently watching Nicolas Sarkozi speeding through Paris in a black Renault (very ordinary-looking car), presumably going to give his post-election speech. Think he is heading toward his Party HQ.

19.03 BST - I'm watching Ségolène Royal give her speech congratulating the new President and conceding defeat. She had 47% of the vote.

19.00 BST - Exit polls announced on French TV channel TF1 give Nicolas Sarkozi 53% of the vote - they are usually very accurate. I think it safe to say therefore that Sarkozi is the next President of the 5th Republic.

(If you understand French well, then you can watch the live stream of the TF1 election results broadcast here, then click on the screen link. Otherwise, you can watch a British version on BBC News24 if you are in the UK and have digital or satellite reception.)

(*) Patrick Poivre d'Arvor - sort of a French version of David Dimbleby.

Les Presidentielles aboutiront bientot!

18.59 BST - On parle a la TF1 d'une victoire pour Sarko!

18.57 BST - En trois minutes!

18.55 BST - Dans moins de 5 minutes on aura les résultats!

UK 'pink list' for 2007

The Independent publishes a list of the 100 most prominent gays and lesbians in the public eye. The list has apparently been published/compiled a little earlier than usual because of the recent public 'outing' (to a wider public at least) of former BP chief Lord Browne, the contention being that Lord Browne is somehow a hold-over from an earlier time as more people are now willing to acknowledge openly their sexuality. If I had more time I would write a lot about this, but suffice to say that I think it fatuous and superficial. As an example of the short (and selective) memories that some people seem to have one need only look very briefly at the list to see that the person ranked 6th there, Peter Mandelson, certainly did not 'come out' voluntarily to the wider public, but was 'outed' in the most casual (and unthinking) way by another gay man during a television interview on a late-evening news programme (Matthew Parris, former Conservative MP and more recently political sketch-writer, when appearing on Newsnight hosted that evening by Jeremy Paxman). In fact the case of Peter Mandelson is in certain ways very similar to that of Lord Browne - both tried, and failed, to keep their sexuality very low-key even if not completely hidden from their own personal acquaintances.

In fact I suggest that Lord Browne, and Peter Mandelson, far from being the exceptions remain the norm - it is the people on the list who are somewhat different and atypical. I wish it were not so, but the 'right on' attitude that the UK is now, overall, simply unconcerned with matters of sexuality is utterly 'pie in the sky', even if I accept readily that things are better than in earlier years. Only 6 people in the list hold positions in commercial organisations completely unconnected from the media, the arts or other publicly-funded activities; a 7th person (Ivan Massow - 94th on the list) does not count, in my view, as his original business activity was providing insurance services specifically to the gay community, many of whom found it difficult to obtain personal insurance in the years immediately following the outbreak of HIV/AIDS - his commercial activity did not depend upon the wider non-gay community. Indeed in the same newspaper today (the Independent) Ivan Massow has an article in which he talks sense about the true position in Britain today for gays and lesbians in the commercial world. These are the facts.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Scottish election fall-out: farewell to wee Jack McConnell

As usual, someone has put a video up on YouTube about the soon-to-be-former First Minister of the 'best wee country in the world'® - the cabal down in London must be worried!

First Minister Alex Salmond?

It seems clear that the Scottish National Party will try to form an administration over the coming days, most probably involving some kind of coalition, so that Alex Salmond MP MSP will become First Minister of the new Scottish Executive.

The composition of the new Scottish Parliament will be as follows:

- Scottish National Party - 47 (21 constituency, 26 regional)
- Scottish Labour Party - 46 (37 constituency, 9 regional)
- Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party - 17 (4 constituency, 13 regional)
- Scottish Liberal Democrats - 16 (11 constituency, 5 regional)
- Scottish Green Party - 2 (2 regional)
- Independent - 1 (1 regional)

Although the margin of success for the SNP is tiny it is nonetheless very significant - it is the first time Labour has been 'bested' in Scottish national politics in at least five decades and of course the result breaks their dominance of the ten year old Scottish Parliament. And who can be unhappy about that? The fact that breaking free of the stultifying hold over Scottish politics of the Labour Party has been bought at the price of SNP success is not, of course, something I am happy about and I suspect that the knife-edge result will itself result in considerable tensions over the coming four years, even if (one supposes) the SNP will, if it succeeds in forming a Scottish Executive, be determined to demonstrate to the Scottish electorate that it is capable of running a competent, honest government. This in order to gather support for its 'separatist' agenda should it put a referendum for 'independence' to a vote in a few years time.

The other major feature is the concentration of seats amongst the major political parties, with the 'fringe' parties having suffered significant reverses; Scottish politics is likely to be less colourful as a result, if not less controversial. My impression is that the old 'saw' (and curse) May you live in interesting times may, unfortunately, be more than a little appropriate.