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

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Red wine in moderation 'good for the heart', but may cause bowel cancer

After my previous post, on the risks associated with of being left-handed, I come across another article in today's Telegraph which takes aim at the simple pleasures that millions of people enjoy. For years I've been reading that a glass of red wine a day is helpful in reducing the risk of heart disease; now it seems that a couple of [large] glasses a day increase the risk of getting bowel cancer by 25 per cent. Just as with the schizophrenia report, though, the person behind this study, Prof Tim Key, Cancer Research UK epidemiologist and deputy director of the cancer epidemiology unit in Oxford, is quoted as saying, to try and put some kind of perspective on this alarmist report:

"The research shows quite clearly that the more alcohol you drink the greater your risk of bowel cancer.

"The increase in risk is not large but it is important that people understand they can reduce their risk of a number of different cancers - including bowel cancer - by cutting down on alcohol."

On balance I think I shall continue to enjoy my occasional (not necessarily daily) couple of glasses of wine. Obviously I don't want to get a disease which is likely to cause pain and probably premature death, but on the other hand I don't particularly wish to live for ever - I'll take my chances with a bit of moderate enjoyment.

Lefties more at risk of being complete 'wackos' ...

... of course that's not precisely what the study which the Telegraph reports on has to say. What it does say is that the left-handed have a slightly greater propensity to develop schizophrenia than the right-handed. On the other hand the leader of the study, Dr Clyde Francks of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, is quoted as saying, no doubt in an attempt to soothe the feelings of persecution (recurrent, heh) which were welling up in me when I read of this:

"People really should not be concerned by this result. There are many factors which make individuals more likely to develop schizophrenia and the vast majority of left-handers will never develop a problem. We don't yet know the precise role of this gene."

- OK, OK, the twitching has [mostly] stopped! In case you have not picked up on it yet, I am left-handed. My, my, and I had always attributed my quirky brilliance to being a sinistral; maybe I need to count myself lucky not have exhibited other traits of this 'condition'!
(thru Mr Eugenides)

Mis-directed 'hissy fit' from Alan Duncan, gay Tory MP

Alan Duncan is, in my view, one of 'the good guys' - let me be quite clear about that. However, his outburst about the two-facedness of the LibDems is rather amusing and, frankly, a wee bit ridiculous. Look we all know the LibDems are completely shameless in their willingness to get down into the gutter and to say different things in different parts of the country if they think it'll get them a boost electorally; that's not in dispute.

What I find a little (no, a lot!) ridiculous is that Alan Duncan has to go back to the 1983 campaign involving Simon Hughes to find a case of an admittedly pretty unpleasantly homophobic campaign run by a LibDem. One certainly does not need to go back anything like that far to dredge up sickening homophobia from a Conservative - only as far as the last General Election, in fact, when the lady who is now shadow minister for community cohesion, Sayeeda Warsi, ran a pretty unpleasant ant-gay campaign in her [luckily unsuccessful] effort to become an MP. The Shadow Cabinet may present a veneer of tolerance and inclusivity toward the gay community, but I'm afraid that, in this instance, the LibDems are quite correct to highlight the very recent voting record of far too many Conservative MPs in matters affecting homosexuals. The veneer of tolerance does not extend far beyond the parliamentary Conservative Party, in any case - it is only necessary to read the comments any day of the week on to see what a lot of people professing themselves to be Conservatives really think about homosexuality - and the Conservative support for 'the family' is a pretty unsophisticated code phrase for what they really mean; it's really a dog whistle issue to let its homophobic supporters know they won't advance gay rights any further than they are absolutely forced to. I doubt very much whether any Conservative government would ever have proposed to legislate for Civil Partnerships, for example. OK, they now say they support these, but for any further advance in gay equality I don't think one would want to rely on a future Conservative government to push it forward.

As somoeone who is instinctively a Conservative I take no pleasure from writing this, but I grew tired some years ago of having to make excuses for the Conservative Party and of having to make compromises with my conscience in order to support it. It is certainly a lot better than when I left it in disgust in 2001 - but it is still on probation so far as I am concerned when it comes to matters of gender equality.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

"The Germans suffered the same as we did."

The words of the last known surviving British soldier to have fought in the trenches of World War I, Harry Patch (109), during a visit to the trenches where he fought 90 years ago.

What do any of us 'youngsters' know, really know, of the horrors that people like Mr Patch suffered? Not much, I suspect. At any rate I salute this fine old gent. Read more about him here.

Yet another personality thingie: 'The Everything Test'

I'm a sucker for these tests; of course some of the questions are very difficult to answer relevantly for non-Americans, but it is probably not too far out in its assessment of me, even if certain of the specific findings are rather false (but I'm not specifying which those are - that's for me to know and you to guess).

The Everything Test

There are many different types of tests on the internet today. Personality tests, purity tests, stereotype tests, political tests. But now, there is one test to rule them all.

Traditionally, online tests would ask certain questions about your musical tastes or clothing for a stereotype, your experiences for a purity test, or deep questions for a personality test.We're turning that upside down - all the questions affect all the results, and we've got some innovative results too! Enjoy :-)

You are more logical than emotional, more concerned about self than concerned about others, more atheist than religious, more loner than dependent, more lazy than workaholic, more traditional than rebel, more engineering mind than artistic mind, more cynical than idealist, more leader than follower, and more extroverted than introverted.

As for specific personality traits, you are outgoing (100%), intellectual (74%), innovative (64%), greedy (60%).

Young Professional70%
College Student45%
Life Experience

Your political views would best be described as Libertarian, whom you agree with around 68% of the time.
Your attitude toward life best associates you with Upper Class. You make more than 88% of those who have taken this test, and 13% more than the U.S. average.

If your life was a movie, it would be rated PG-13.
By the way, your hottness rank is 62%, hotter than 55% of other test takers.

brought to you by thatsurveysite

(thru Alan at Recovery Beach)

'Mr Gay Europe' - to be held in Budapest 1-5 August

Through this story in The Huddersfield Daily Examiner (obviously not one of my daily reads), about local police officer Mark Carter, who happens to be Mr Gay UK 2006, I learned that there is a Mr Gay Europe competition too, and it's to be held this year in Budapest from 1-5 August.

I've never been completely comfortable with beauty pageants, whether of the 'gay' or the more traditional female variety, but on the other hand I like looking at good-looking men just as much as any other [gay] man. The UK competition isn't shown on terrestrial television any more, although it was shown for a couple of years (about a decade ago) on Five - it was quite good, but always struck me as rather 'louche' rather than simply 'camp', mostly because of how (and by whom) it was organised. However, I do think there is a case for holding this kind of competition and the entrants from some of the eastern European countries are probably pretty courageous, coming as they do from some very conservative societies, in social matters. On that subject it is noticeable that there is no entrant from Russia, one of the most anti-homosexual (as well as being 'homophobic' of course) nations in Europe - I imagine it would be just too dangerous for any entrant from this lovely place to 'come out' to the whole of Europe for fear of what would happen when they returned home. I am a little surprised, but pleased, to see an entrant from Poland, though - and I hope his bravery will not have repercussions back home and the same can be said for several other entrants, too.

Sunday YouTube - South African national anthem

The post-apartheid South African national anthem is one of the most attractive around I think, and I now know what the Xhosa words mean; you can, too, if you watch this video:

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Blogroll update - some Spanish additions

I mentioned a little while ago that I have been looking to find some sources of news and comment from within Spain to add to my website; until recently I hadn't had much success in finding the quality of writing I like to include in my blogroll. However, a few weeks back I did come across some worthwhile sites and I'm now adding them to the general blogroll (two links) and the news media blogroll (one link).

Both the blogs I'm linking to are based in Barcelona, but I shall be looking for quality writing in other cities (obviously cities such as Madrid and Sevill, etc). Anyway, here goes:
Barcepundit (Jose Guardia) - the sub-heading is 'My English is not perfect? Well, it's not my mother tongue, so sue me!', but in fact it's very adequate and the occasional awkwardnesses of usage are more than offset by the quality and breadth of the writing. The only 'negative' feature is that comments are not allowed, although there is a prominently-displayed email address, and a link to the sister-site in Spanish;
Inside Europe: Iberian Notes (John) - describes itself as 'News, politics, culture, history, languages, all live from Barcelona by John. Our focuses are Barcelona, Catalonia, and Spain.' John doesn't say anything about himself (although I suspect he might be American, or just possibly British) and there is neither email contact nor a link to the archives that works. Nevertheless he writes well so I'll add the link and see how it goes. He does permit comment.

The News Media link:
Think Spain - I'm not entirely sure who is behind this, but it carries quite a lot of useful general news about Spain (national and regional), translated into English, from what seem to be a wide range of Spanish news media sources. The main web page is full of advertisements (property, etc), but the RSS feed is quite good if you use a news aggregator to add it to.

Gay kiss no-go at the Coliseum and homophobia in the Netherlands

A male gay couple who kissed in front of the Coliseum in Rome have been arrested and charged with 'lewd conduct'. If convicted the men could be gaoled for upto two years.

It won't surprise anyone that the police have naturally denied their action was motivated by homophobia, but it will also be no surprise that they have nevertheless been unable to demonstrate that a heterosexual couple has ever been arrested for kissing there. Gay group Arcigay has called for a "national gay kiss-in" at the Coliseum on August 2 to highlight just how ridiculous are the police's actions.

Meanwhile in Amsterdam a 'hetero boat' is to be added to the city's gay parade on water to show solidarity with gays and lesbians who have been attacked physically for the similar 'crime' of kissing in public; it seems that homophobic attacks have been increasing recently in Holland.

Highland Council's 'Independent'-led administration a little too independent for some tastes ...

Well, it hasn't taken long for the new council 'regime' in Highland to show signs of its inherent flaws. The coalition of an 'Independent'-led grouping with one of the smaller groupings, the SNP, was bound to have some tensions. Independent Councillor Roddy Balfour's 'unreconstructed' views about the merits of the costly renovations currently being carried out on the Eden Court theatre complex - he thinks it is a waste of money. Trouble is he was recently appointed to the post of chairman of the education, culture and sport committee. His resignation has been demanded, but he is refusing to go. The dilemma of trying to co-ordinate the views of 35 'Independents' into a coherent, consistent policy-making agenda is now being revealed with brutal clarity - is it better to maintain some kind of discipline within the Independent grouping (which probably means replacing Mr Balfour in the committee) or to revert to the older 'cats in a sack' style of 'Independent' politics in this area and the consequent re-assertion of the former dominance of unelected council officials in setting policy? Mr Balfour naturally has support for his views about the Eden Court refurbishments, and I have heard many similar views over the past few years locally. They're not exactly views I share, in this particular instance, although being scrupulously honest that probably reflects my own outlook on 'culture' as against 'sport' in the allocation of public funding (I refer to the use of 'Common Good' money some years ago when the new local football stadium, a private concern, received considerable help when it was being built on a new site on reclaimed land).

Soon after the May elections I wrote about some of my worries about where Highland Council may be heading in policy matters - it seems that at least some of these worries are now coming true; see here also.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Ex-Minister Gisela Stuart calls for EU referendum

Former Labour Minister, Gisela Stuart MP, has called for a referendum on the new EU 'amending' Treaty. What is interesting about Ms Stuart is that she is not only reckoned to be 'pro-EU', but she was one of the British representatives in the group which drew up the now-defunct EU Constitutional Treaty, overseen by former French President Valery Giscard-d'Estaing.

According to Gisela Stuart, who probably knows as much about what is in the EU Constitutional Treaty as anyone (well, apart from political 'junkies' such as me who have made it their business to know the details pretty thoroughly), she has 'read an "unofficial" translation of the new amending treaty and "all the big items" from the previous document had been retained.' She is quoted as saying:

"The red lines that we now say we have secured and therefore don't need a referendum, actually those red lines were already protected in the constitutional treaty on which we were prepared to give a referendum. Nothing has changed.

"This is now a question of trust. It is a question of having given a commitment to a referendum on a document which we say is good for Britain.

"We actually should ask the people to endorse that. If we are so confident it is good, we should have the confidence to ask the people.

"The foreign secretary and the Europe minister, who at the moment deny this treaty is substantial enough that we should be bound by that promise, they are either being deliberately disingenuous or ill-informed."

As a reminder, I consider myself 'pro-EU', but I would have voted 'no' in a referendum, had one been held, not because I have gone off the idea of further EU integration, but because I felt that the EU Constitutional Treaty was a complete dog's breakfast which was designed to be understood properly only by an 'elite'; the French and the Dutch put paid to that nonsense!

So far the new amending Treaty is available only in French (except for the very brief 'preamble', which is also in English); I downloaded it last night (it's in 'PDF format) and have only glanced through it briefly so far, but I intend over the next couple of weeks to study it in considerably more detail - whether I shall go to the extent of printing out all 160 or so pages I have yet to decide, but I may do so unless I can buy a printed version soon. If you want to read/download it yourself please visit the EU Council website here. Some notes about the recent IGC are here.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Can massive price inflation be far behind?

The current severe flooding in significant parts of England, including in many farming areas is focussing attention on the likely high levels of damage to crops - and the likely resulting increase in food prices. However, food prices have already been rising significantly for some time and further above-inflation increases are likely to continue once the immediate crisis of the flooding is over. My diet precludes me from eating bread, but most people do eat it and it seems prices have gone up by around 15 per cent in the past year. The price of eggs (which I do eat a lot of) has gone up by around 18 per cent and I have certainly noticed this - as indeed have I noticed a general and signficant increase in my monthly food bill over the past couple of years.

China has recently cut back on the land allocated for bio-fuel production (from maize), because the shortage of animal feedstock which has resulted has raised the price of pork by 43 per cent, the most commonly consumed meat there. Even products as mundane as ice-cream have not been unaffected as a result of the continuing push in the US to turn land over for the growing of bio-fuel crops at the epxense of reduced food-crop production.

I doubt if there will be actual food shortages in wealthier countries; we can still [for the moment, at least] outbid other countries bidding to source food from wherever it is produced, but it will certainly cost more - I think quite possibly a LOT more before too long. The fact that other major food-exporting countries such as Australia have also had their own problems for several years (drought in its case) is only exarcerbating the problem.

For food producers, though, the general increase in prices obtainable for crops and livestock has been good news - at least until the recent flooding during the peak growing season in England, although the overall economic impact is likely to be minor, given the small size of agriculture in the UK economy, even if the visible impact on daily life across parts of England has been huge and the clean-up costs and the impact on insurance and future insurability is likely to have longer-term effects.

However, painful as it is for those living through them, the current flooding in England is a side-show when compared with world-wide trends in food and energy resources, even if some feel (see at end) that the fears about the impact of bio-fuel production will blow over. Possibly it will, but I predict that the erosion of the value of money will have accelerated considerably for some years before that happy day arrives; individuals need to consider carefully their own strategies for living with this over coming years.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The US, the UK and the US 'renditions' programme - and the UK proposals to extend detention without charge to 56 days

The Inteeligence and Security Committee has passed its report on 'Rendition' to Parliament on the day that Parliament breaks up for the summer recess. A coincidence? News reports were full today of the Prime Minister visiting a power station in the flood-affected part of England which was critically threatened with being affected by flooding and was protected with help from the emergency services and the army. All well and good, and very necessary.

However, I don't recall any mention in any broadcast news report today any mention of the report (.PDF file). Pages 64 to 69 contain the summary of conclusions and recommendations. Some of these are pretty explosive:

E. (first two sentence) In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the UK Agencies were authorised to assist U.S. "Rendition to Justice" operations in Afghanistan. This involved assistance to the CIA to capture "unlawful combatants" in Afghnaistan. (I don't think I have ever heard this acknowledged before and certainly not in any explicit way)

F. SIS was subsequently briefed on new powers which would enable U.S. authorities to arrest and detain suspected terrorists worldwide. In November 2001, these powers were confirmed by Presidential Military Order. We understand that SIS was sceptical about the supposed new powers, since at the time there was a great deal of "tough talk" being used at many levels of the U.S. Administration, and it was difficult to reach a definitive conclusion regarding the direction of U.S. policy in this area. Nonetheless, the Committee conludes that the SIS should have appreciated the significance of these events and reported them to Ministers. (But evidently did not appreciate it, nor report it, it would seem)

G. The Security Service and SIS were also slow to detect the emerging pattern of "Rendition to Dentention" that occurred during 2002. The UK agencies, when sharing intelligence with the U.S. which might have resulted in the detention of an individual subject to the Presidential Military Order, should always have sought assurances on detainee treatment. (But presumably, it is implied, did not)

J. (first sentence) After April 2004 - following the revelations of mistreatment at the U.S. military-operated prison at Abu Ghraib - the UK security and intelligence Agencies and the Government were fully aware of the risk of mistreatment associated with any operations that may result in U.S. custody of detainees. (Just consider how revealing that sentence is)

K. (Please note the apparent censoring of parts of this section - I prefer not to quote any of it; you can read it for yourself, if you wish)

U. (final sentence) We accept that the Agencies could not have foreseen that the U.S. authorities would disregard the caveats placed on the intelligence, given that they had honoured the caveat system for the past 20 years. (I find this acknowledgement of U.S. duplicity quite extraordinary)

V. (first, third and fourth sentences) This case shows a lack of regard, on the part of the U.S. for UK concerns. .... They then ignored the subsequent protests of both the Security Service and the Government. This has serious implications for the working of the relationship between the U.S. and UK intelligence agencies. (In other words it seems like there are severe reservations about continuing our relationship in security matters with our American cousins)

CC. Where, despite the use of caveats and assurances, there remains a real possibility that the actions of the Agencies will result in torture or mistreatment, we note that the current procedure notes that approval is sought from senior management or Ministers. We recommend that Ministerial approval should be sought in all such cases. (Please remember that we are talking about dealings with our closest ally here - this is really quite remarkable)

DD. The Committee considers that "secret detention", without legal or other representation, is of itself mistreatment. Where there is a real possibility of "Rendition to Dentention" to a secret facility, even if it would be for a limited time, then approval must never be given. (In other words it is no longer safe to trust our American allies. I've thought this for a few years myself, but it is a revelation to read it in a parliamentary report)

I have only highlighted the most extraordinary parts of the summary report, but there are many other details that are themselves rather surprising and worrying - read the whole report for yourself.

It is even more bizarre that on the day that this report is published (but not in any way surprising, given this government's record on 'spin' and 'media manipulation'), that today was the day that the Prime Minister announced his desire to extend the maximum period of detention without charge from the already unprecedentedly lengthy 28 days (for a country which considers itself to be a 'democracy') to an even more shocking 56 days.

I remind readers that all this happened on the day that parliament wnt into recess for the summer. Enjoy your summer, but I caution against forgetting about the authoritarian agenda of our government under both the last and the current Prime Ministers.

This post should really have been given one of my 'Police State Britain' titles!

Government loses landmark tax case, but ...

... Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs are not taking a simple matter of losing a case in the House of Lords lying down. A Treasury spokesman has indicated it is going to bring forward changes in the tax laws to make what until now has been perfectly legal into something which is illegal.

This whole case seems to me to boil down to an assertion by this [socialist] government that it may dictate how private enterprises may distribute their net income (i.e. profits) and decree that certain classes of shareholders have less rights than others, because their income is paid to them in the form of dividends and the level of their income places them in a lower tax bracket than certain other shareholders who actually work for the business, and the government thinks it should be able to tax the income of the lower-earning shareholder at the higher rate at which the higher-earning shareholder is taxed. The motive for the changes the government proposes is described as achieving 'fairness'; I can think of another word for it!

Midweek YouTube - Spoof Australian tourism ad.

Not quite what the tourism folks 'down under' had in mind when they launched their recent ad. campaign to encourage visitors to Australia.

Western Isles hospitality impugned. Justifiably?

It seems that festival-goers to the Hebridean Celtic Festival have had the temerity to complain about the poor levels of service they received whilst there. The numbers of complainants is quoted as 200 - a remarkable number, given that most people don't take the time to complain formally, they simply mutter to themselves that they are never going back (in my experience).

What is the reaction to this from Lisa Maclean, project co-ordinator for Who Cares Wins, funded by development agency HIE Innse Gall? Is it to recognise there is a problem that needs to be dealt with? No of course not, silly! This is the area which, according to Ms Maclean couldn't possibly have such a problem because it's 'a part of the world famed for its hospitality'! Stuff and nonsense! Try and get a drink there on a Sunday. Until recently it would have been vain even to try and get there (or more likely leave the place!) on a Sunday!

But there's more. Not content with seeming to imply somehow that the complaints are not justified the good lady goes on to say:

"The main grumble was from customers having to wait so long to be served and staff not being as attentive as normal.

"You have to remember that this was festival week which is when they are busiest and when staff were under the most pressure."

Well if this is such a busy and important period, presumably financially quite important too for the Western Isles's economy, then I think that rather than whining about how they are too busy to deal competently with visitors who are paying good money to be there, they should pull their fingers out and gear themselves up for the influx in future! After all people don't go to the Western Isles to get a rich golden tan; if visitors are to be enticed back then they need to know that they are not simply going to be treated as a nuisance by the locals. Ms Maclean has a lot to learn about the hospitality business. So do the good people of the Western Isles, by all accounts.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The US under G W Bush and 'torture'

There is a fascinating critical analysis here (by Philip Carter at Slate) of the policies relating to persons held under the control of the 'tender mercies' of the current President of the United States of Amercia, George W Bush. I think that in the years and decades following the departure of President Bush from office the American people will have a lot of soul-searching to do for the 'crimes' committed in their name by their President. Particularly facinating is the link to an Executive Order signed by President Bush on 20th July 2007; I quote it in full because I predict that this document will be of crucual importance in years to come when this period of America's history is being evaluated by future historians:

Executive Order: Interpretation of the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3 as Applied to a Program of Detention and Interrogation Operated by the Central Intelligence Agency

By the authority vested in me as President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107 40), the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (Public Law 109 366), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. General Determinations. (a) The United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces. Members of al Qaeda were responsible for the attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, and for many other terrorist attacks, including against the United States, its personnel, and its allies throughout the world. These forces continue to fight the United States and its allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, and they continue to plan additional acts of terror throughout the world. On February 7, 2002, I determined for the United States that members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces are unlawful enemy combatants who are not entitled to the protections that the Third Geneva Convention provides to prisoners of war. I hereby reaffirm that determination.

(b) The Military Commissions Act defines certain prohibitions of Common Article 3 for United States law, and it reaffirms and reinforces the authority of the President to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.

Sec. 2. Definitions. As used in this order:

(a) "Common Article 3" means Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

(b) "Geneva Conventions" means:

(i) the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, done at Geneva August 12, 1949 (6 UST 3114);

(ii) the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, done at Geneva August 12, 1949 (6 UST 3217);

(iii) the Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, done at Geneva August 12, 1949 (6 UST 3316); and

(iv) the Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, done at Geneva August 12, 1949 (6 UST 3516).

(c) "Cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" means the cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

Sec. 3. Compliance of a Central Intelligence Agency Detention and Interrogation Program with Common Article 3. (a) Pursuant to the authority of the President under the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including the Military Commissions Act of 2006, this order interprets the meaning and application of the text of Common Article 3 with respect to certain detentions and interrogations, and shall be treated as authoritative for all purposes as a matter of United States law, including satisfaction of the international obligations of the United States. I hereby determine that Common Article 3 shall apply to a program of detention and interrogation operated by the Central Intelligence Agency as set forth in this section. The requirements set forth in this section shall be applied with respect to detainees in such program without adverse distinction as to their race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth, or wealth.

(b) I hereby determine that a program of detention and interrogation approved by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency fully complies with the obligations of the United States under Common Article 3, provided that:

(i) the conditions of confinement and interrogation practices of the program do not include:

(A) torture, as defined in section 2340 of title 18, United States Code;

(B) any of the acts prohibited by section 2441(d) of title 18, United States Code, including murder, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse, taking of hostages, or performing of biological experiments;

(C) other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel or inhuman treatment, as defined in section 2441(d) of title 18, United States Code;

(D) any other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment prohibited by the Military Commissions Act (subsection 6(c) of Public Law 109 366) and the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (section 1003 of Public Law 109 148 and section 1403 of Public Law 109 163);

(E) willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual in a manner so serious that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, threatening the individual with sexual mutilation, or using the individual as a human shield; or

(F) acts intended to denigrate the religion, religious practices, or religious objects of the individual;

(ii) the conditions of confinement and interrogation practices are to be used with an alien detainee who is determined by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency:

(A) to be a member or part of or supporting al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated organizations; and

(B) likely to be in possession of information that:

(1) could assist in detecting, mitigating, or preventing terrorist attacks, such as attacks within the United States or against its Armed Forces or other personnel, citizens, or facilities, or against allies or other countries cooperating in the war on terror with the United States, or their armed forces or other personnel, citizens, or facilities; or

(2) could assist in locating the senior leadership of al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces;

(iii) the interrogation practices are determined by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, based upon professional advice, to be safe for use with each detainee with whom they are used; and

(iv) detainees in the program receive the basic necessities of life, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care.

(c) The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency shall issue written policies to govern the program, including guidelines for Central Intelligence Agency personnel that implement paragraphs (i)(C), (E), and (F) of subsection 3(b) of this order, and including requirements to ensure:

(i) safe and professional operation of the program;

(ii) the development of an approved plan of interrogation tailored for each detainee in the program to be interrogated, consistent with subsection 3(b)(iv) of this order;

(iii) appropriate training for interrogators and all personnel operating the program;

(iv) effective monitoring of the program, including with respect to medical matters, to ensure the safety of those in the program; and

(v) compliance with applicable law and this order.

Sec. 4. Assignment of Function. With respect to the program addressed in this order, the function of the President under section 6(c)(3) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is assigned to the Director of National Intelligence.

Sec. 5. General Provisions. (a) Subject to subsection (b) of this section, this order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity, against the United States, its departments, agencies, or other entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.

(b) Nothing in this order shall be construed to prevent or limit reliance upon this order in a civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding, or otherwise, by the Central Intelligence Agency or by any individual acting on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency in connection with the program addressed in this order.



July 20, 2007.

It's also instructive to read the comments at the foot of the Slate article; a lot of people (the 'base', in the terminology used to describe those who support the present Administration), seem to see nothing wrong in the use of torture - I've been reading comments in various US media websites and blogs for the past three or four years which, I regret to say, bear this out.

As the Slate article observes, exactly how one defines 'torture' is critical to how the latest Executive Order is interpreted. As Andrew Sullivan might say (this is where I got this story from), the 'money quote' from the Slate article is here:

"The order does its damage by cleverly incorporating reasoning of the 2002 and 2003 torture memoranda. It defines "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment as treatment that violates the 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, mirroring the language of the United States diplomatic reservation to the Convention Against Torture. This sounds reasonable on its face. But it eviscerates Geneva's prohibitions by equating them with a permissive line of Supreme Court jurisprudence. In the context of domestic cases about police and prison guard misconduct, the court has ruled that only behavior that "shocks the conscience" is out of bounds. This frees field agents to implement techniques that sound innocuous, but aren't—like "fear up" and "futility"—in ways that stop just short of violating the law. And because it doesn't repudiate the administration's stance that interrogators torture only when they cause severe pain or suffering, the order will fuel suspicion around the world about our practices. Most of Europe and Asia think we use torture in our detention facilities, and they still will. "

I've written about 'torture' often in this blog, but my most explicit post on the matter was written way back in March 2005. I'll undoubtedly write about it again and make no apology for 'banging on' about this serious stain on what western democracies are supposed to stand for. I doubt that President Bush will ever be called upon to answer personally for his crimes before the International Court of Justice at the Hague, but he should be. His attempt in this Executive Order to add yet another layer of legal obfuscation to mask what his Administration has been up to these past six or so years will not stop people coming back to study his actions. Indeed the very fact of issuing this Executive Order will only fuel, quite justifiably, increased scepticism about his conduct of the Office he has been entrusted with over his two terms as President.

Brutality in Tabriz: a grotesque public hanging in Iran

Warning: the video below is of a graphic nature and shows the public hanging of a woman and two men in Tabriz, Iran. Do not click the 'play' link if you are overly sensitive. The persons being executed are raised slowly on a crane - there is nothing 'humane' about these brutal and prolonged killings; this is reported to have taken place on or shortly before 15th July 2007. I embed it here because this is the reality of what is going on in a country such as Iran.

Allahu-akbar ('God is Great') indeed! The use of these words in this context sullies the name of Islam!

NB/ The original 'Live Leak' video available through the link below has disappeared from the internet some time ago, but I have recently (11MAY2015) discovered the same video on YouTube so that is what is embedded here now - it is just as horrible as I recall the original was, although perhaps the quality is no quite so good. I noticed, via my site visitor statistics, that someone had viewed this article today from Dubai in the UAE and that prompted me to try and find a replacement for the original video.

(thru Andrew Sullivan, in turn thru Arash Kamangir, an Iranian exile living in Canada.)

Monday, 23 July 2007

If I was American, I think I might vote for this man ...

... he's a libertarian and desirous of small government. No doubt there will be things about him NOT to like, but so far he seems much more straightforward than almost any politician I have ever heard.

I give you Ron Paul:

(I'm afraid this is a 65 minute interview, but well worth watching, with a Google executive as one of a regular series of interviews the company conducts with public figures of all kinds)
- his campaign website is here.

Readers of my blog will know that I supported the war in Iraq for a simple reason - the need I saw to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Even though I wrote recently that whilst I recognised (who could not?!) the catastrophically poorly-executed follow-up to the invasion and his overthrow, orchestrated by the current US administration and strongly supported (in a modest way consistent with our own resources) by our own government - supported by people like me [no supporter of our government in other matters], but otherwise by relatively few people outside a close coterie of this Labour government's own inner grouping.

However listening to Ron Paul speak has, I must admit, taken me a lot further along the road of evaluating my own attitudes more openly than I had been prepared to do, quite honestly, until the refreshing 'cold shower' of this man reminding me of what I have always thought I believed in: personal freedoms; small government; low taxes. This has made me face-up more openly (although I have been on this journey for some months and even more so in my private thoughts) to the fact that my support for many things, including the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, may have been completely flawed as it went against my basic belief in small government and low taxes and of course personal freedom. Was Iraq under Saddam Hussein a threat to this country? No. Did that country, prior to the 2003 invasion, have links to terrorist groups such as al-qa'ida, likely to cause us harm? No. You get my drift?

Although I have been hearing about Ron Paul for a number of months, vaguely, I had not taken the trouble to try and find out much more about him until I read this post in (you guessed it) Andrew Sullivan's blog in which he links to a YouTube post by a person who admits to having no interest whatsoever in politics and who has never voted, but who has nevertheless become captivated by hearing Ron Paul speak - even to the extent of sacrificing ten hours of video-game time to politics[!] to try and find out more about him. And the young man in the video does not sound like any kind of ignorant fool to me either, indeed he sounds like a pretty thoughtful and intelligent young man who has, it is probably safe to say, a moderately comfortable middle-class existence and who has never felt the need to struggle for much in his life, just like most people in prosperous western capitalist countries, me included. If Ron Paul were some kind of demagogue then this ability seemingly to galvanise the support of otherwise apolitical people might be seen as sinister, but I don't discern any sign of demagoguery in him - he seems like a patently sane individual. There are lots of videos on YouTube of him being interviewed or giving speeches; just key 'Ron Paul' into the search box there. Even if he probably stands little real chance of being successful in next year's US Presidential elections, it is just possible (with luck) that some of his simple ideas, plainly stated, might have some small influence on whoever becomes the next President. Could we be that lucky? See what you think.

Serial Spanish bank robber finally arrested in Portugal

(Please see UPDATE at end)

A Spaniard who is suspected, over a 13-year period, of having robbed 31 banks has finally been arrested in northern Portugal.

His method of operation followed a pattern - "The Loner", as he came to be known, always carried out the crimes at the same time of day (late morning) and always disguised himself with a fake beard and a dark wig and he carried a gun; it is not mentioned that he ever used it or indeed that it was a real gun.

What interests me about this story, though, is that over this 13-year crime spree the amount he is alleged to have stolen amounted to €600,000 (perhaps £408k), an average of about €20k per crime, although the last robbery he is suspected of in Spain was only €6k. One cannot help wondering if the amounts he was stealing were such that the effort to catch him was not particularly intense, despite his notoriety and the obvious anger that must have been aroused.

NB/ Of course I did not come across this story completely randomly; I have been making efforts over the past several weeks to improve my sources of access to news about Spain, as I plan to be spending at least one third of my time there each year from now on so I have actively been looking for news about Spain. Naturally I have often read the IHT (the link above), specially when I lived in Paris. However, I have discovered one source, in English, of what seems to be reasonably well-written reports about Spain - I'll link to it shortly, once I've evaluated it a bit more. More interestingly I've also discovered very recently a couple of Spanish blogs, in English, which are both well-written and seem to be well worth reading; again I'll be evaluating them a little more before putting them in my blogroll; no doubt I'll be taking this forward over the next few weeks.

UPDATE: (Sunday 29JUL07) I now learn that this person is more dangerous than I had surmised - he is supsected of two murders during the course of his robbery spree.

Subsidy-junkies on the march again in Western Isles transport plea

The Scottish government (aka 'The Scottish Executive') is to examine bringing in a new tariff regime to cut ferry fares to the Western Isles. Translated into plain English what this 'study' amounts to is a renewed attempt to try and justify a way of providing greater subsidies for sea transport to this part of Scotland, as pledged by the SNP in its election manifesto. I have no doubt this will be an issue in local politics there in the run-up to the next Westminster elections where, surprise suprise, the local MP just happens to be a member of the SNP; for Orkney and Shetland the MP represents the LibDems.

I last wrote about efforts to foist this additional expense on the public purse in the run-up to the recent Scottish Parliament elections. The constituency MSPs in both the relevant areas (.PDF file) (Western Isles and Argyll & Bute) are both members of the SNP; for both Orkney and Shetland the consituency MSPs are members of the LibDems.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Sunday YouTube - possibly a new series?

... and this one's educational, too! Enjoy the amazing weirdness of YouTube - it seems everything is there if you look for it ...

A replacement bloglink: Deutschland uber Elvis

One of my relatively recent bloglinks, Headbang8 of High Maintenance Hags, announced in his blog some months ago that he was moving from New York to Munich as a result of a job move, motivated by a desire to take a relationship forward (difficult/impossible whilst in the good ole' USofA); now he has started a new blog called Deutschland uber Elvis (geddit?) to reflect his new city and retiring the older blog.

In fact I had noticed yesterday a new link here from his new blog and had already added it to my blogroll then, but now that he has made a 'formal' announcement of the change I'll 'retire' the old blog from my blogroll - if his first post at the new place is a guide, readers can expect the same kind of quirky and witty posts they've grown used to, I am glad to say.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Hong Kong's highest court rules against discriminatory anti-gay clauses

Who'd have thought it? The Court of Final Appeal in Hong King has ruled that the clause in a 1991 ordinance (i.e. a law) which distinguishes between public (as defined) sex acts between two people of the same gender and similar acts by people of different genders is discriminatory. Chief Justice Andrew Li is quoted as saying in the ruling that the law targets homosexuals and "does not criminalize heterosexuals for the same or comparable conduct."

The case arose when two men, who were engaging in sex in a parked car, were charged under the law and they contested the law and lower courts ruled in their favour; the government appealed to the 'supreme court' to have the ruling reversed. The government, according to the Director of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, Law Yuk-kai, 'could not prove the reason for singling out gays in the ordinance, while the Basic Law guaranteed that everyone shall be equal before the law'.

A homophobic law has been thwarted. This is good news.

Friday, 20 July 2007

What's it all about? "The Zeitgeist"

A very interesting movie - perhaps you might skip the first 11 or 12 minutes, but from then on it's riveting stuff. Keep your sceptic's eyes very firmly on the ideas being punctured and those being promoted - and remain sceptical about everything.

It's very long, I'm afraid, almost 2 hours long, but surely at least as worthwhile as watching yet another 'soap' on television. Get going here.

Gull bandit

A gull in Aberdeen not only lives in the centre of a large city, as do many thousands (millions?) of fellow gulls in most sea ports, this gull has worked out how to get itself a free snack and is apparently becoming something of a celebrity locally - click on the 'watch' link to see a video of the culprit at work.

Junk(ie) government

The Cabinet of our marvellous NuLab government has eight admitted law-breakers in its ranks - these criminals have openly admitted to having used a banned substance (cannabis) in their youth; frankly why anyone should pay a blind bit of notice to what these aspiring authoritarians instruct, cajole and blackmail a far too docile population into doing beats me!

And I'm not just taking a 'pop' at the Labour Party and its cohorts, there are probably just as many in the Conservative proto-government (and LibDem and other Party) ranks who have similarly flouted the law 'in their youth'; a plague on all their houses!

Some of the laws are admittedly silly, probably some of those relating to drugs amongst them, but these are the people (or in some cases their parents) who passed the laws, so they had jolly well better get used to obeying them themselves. Perhaps the only way to bring home to these people just how serious is their contempt for the law is to ban them from public life - harsh, I agree, but perhaps it will persuade a few of those at university today to think about the careers they aspire to have in 10 or 30 years time and to do their studying within the law - or face the consequences.

I'm deeply opposed to capital (and indeed corporal) punishment, but the recent execution of a corrupt senior government official in China who had licensed fake drugs and taken bribes is perhaps something we might consider emulating from time to time "pour encouraqer les autres".

Handicapped diving off La Azohia (Mazarron)

Now this I can imagine doing!

Floating on air over Bolnuevo (Mazarron)

Paragliding looks fun, if scary; I shall be content to watch!

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Cash for honours - no charges to be brought

Nothing to see here. Move along now. All very convenient. Perhaps a little too convenient?

Alistair Wilson murder in Nairn - DNA update

(Please see UPDATES at end)

I wrote last month about renewed efforts by Northern Constabulary to contact 'a large number of men asking them for a voluntary DNA sample as part of the investigation into the murder of Nairn banker Alistair Wilson'. I wondered if I would be contacted to give a DNA sample, as I live so close to where Mr and Mrs Wilson lived (and she and the children still live) - well today my wondering was answered, for I had a telephone call a little while ago from a police lady asking if I would be prepared to give a sample. I said 'yes' and rather than visit the police station over the weekend, which was an option offered, I opted for them to visit me at home on Monday next. Like most other people in the vicinity I had a visit from the police soon after the murder occurred to give a statement - I wrote about that here (see the 'UPDATE' near the end).

Of course I'm perfectly happy to give a sample of my DNA so it can be eliminated from their inquries; I daresay most other men living in the immediate vicinity are also being asked to do the same. The only query I shall have when I receive the visit next Monday will be to ensure that my DNA sample is destroyed once it is eliminated from this inquiry; I have no desire for, or intention of consenting voluntarily to, it being stored indefinitely (an article I wrote in July 2004) or as the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, suggested in one of his final utterances of totalitarian madness earlier this year, added to the massive ID Card database the government is planning as a useful resource for aiding police with any future inquires about crimes which may happen in the future - in other words an attempt to have the DNA and fingerprints of every citizen on file 'just in case'.

My most recent previous article on the murder is here. There are links to all my posts on this murder, so close to where I live, in the right-hand column under the heading 'Murder in Nairn' articles.

UPDATE: (Monday 23JUL07 10.17 BST) As I mentioned above, when I published this article last week, my visit from the police was scheduled for this morning (at 10am); the two officers - a female and a male - arrived precisely on time and left just about 5 or 10 minutes ago after having taken my DNA (swabs from the inside of both cheeks, taken separately) and prints of the 4 fingers on my right hand. I asked about what would happen after my DNA has been eliminated (as I presume it will) from their inquiries; the 'consent' form had two options. Option A was to allow them to use these samples for this inquiry and to retain the information indefinitely until I ask them to remove it. Option B was to allow them to use these samples solely for this inquiry and to destroy them once eliminated. I chose option B and one imagines, therefore, that this is what will happen - I trust. In addition they wanted two forms of identification, one photographic, so I used my driving licence and one of my bank cards; they did not note down the details, but simply verified that the photograph was of me and that the names on the documents are mine. I have in fact been obliged to give finger-prints (but never DNA swabs, of course) in many of the countries where I have lived as they obliged one to possess and carry around an official ID card, something I am deeply opposed to in this country.

2nd UPDATE: (Saturday 18AUG07 10.25 BST) I just had a letter from the police (Northern Constabulary) confirming that my DNA has now been compared with the unidentified sample taken at the crime scene and that it does not match and has therefore been 'eliminated from this investigation' - I do hope they actually destroy my DNA sample as they promised!

3rd UPDATE: (Saturday 8SEP07 14.10 BST) After thinking for a week about the precise content of the letter I had received from Northern Constabulary (referred to immediately above), I decided to write to the Chief Constable to clarify the position and to request confirmation that both my DNA samples and fingerprint samples had been not only eliminated from the inquiry, but destroyed. I have now had a letter back from the Senior Investigating Officer in the Alistair Wilson murder inquiry confirming that my DNA samples have been destroyed and that the resultant profile has been removed from the database; the fingeprints I provided them with and the polaroid photograph they took have also been returned to me. I am pleased that a polite, but pointed, request by me has met with a civilised and reasonable response. Copies of my exchange of correspondence with Northern Constabulary may be viewed here.

Church of England loses gay job-dscrimination case

A gay man seeking employment with the Church of England has won (Times) his claim for "unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation" and is likely to receive substantial compensation. The Telegraph's report is here.

It is clear that, despite the disgusting exemptions granted to religious organisations under the Sexual Discrimination Act, which provide them the right to discriminate against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people in matters of employment, that there are limits to what such 'cults' can get away with under this law. I would like to see the Act amended to repeal these exemption completely, but the tribunal's decision is at least a move in the right direction.

BBC in phone-in competition scandal

It is all very well for the BBC to apologise for having misled the public by doctoring phone-in competition results as a "breach of [our] editorial standards", but what appears to have occurred in the BBC Scotland case used as the 'peg' for this report is much more than that; not only did the BBC conjure up fictitious 'winners', genuine telephone callers' entries were not taken into account. Such telephone calls are generally made to 'premium rate' telephone numbers and the BBC receives a proportion of the revenue received. So it has received a pecuniary advantage without having provided a service, whilst not disclosing this to the callers. It sounds like fraud to me; I hope the police will start to investigate.

It so happens I have never called one of these competitions, but I am a licence fee payer. I have believed for some time that the case for continuation of this compuslory 'viewing tax' (whether one ever watches the BBC or not) is weak; it now seems non-existent. End the licence fee now!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Theatre trip to Pitlochry

I'm away for most of today (until mid-evening) on a visit to Pitlochry (about 70 miles south of here) to visit the theatre there to see The Magistrate; it should be at least mildly amusing and as it is grey here again today (lovely yesterday, though) that will make a suitable diversion.

My test drive of a potential new car yesterday went well (Mazda6); I'll be having another test drive tomorrow (Honda Civic).

Monday, 16 July 2007

Further update on my Vista laptop trials and tribulations

Well I re-installed Windows Vista and all the drivers and utilities (an amazingly lenghty process!) and then fired the thing up and it seemed to install correctly. I re-installed my ISP utility and that, too, seemed to work fine.

That took me up to about 2pm this afternoon - when I had to go out for a few hours.

Although I had already, of course, put on the firewall, etc - I hadn't at this stage re-installed the anti-virus software (Norton). That's what I've just been doing and that seemed to work OK - LiveUpdate, etc, anti-virus software switched on. All seemed to be OK. Last thing to do was to run a full scan - and this too seemed to be working OK, until roughly 270,0000 files had been scanned (see * below) then the whole thing freezes up!

Switched off at main power button and back on - told it to do a normal re-start. OK. Did a further full scan and it blocked up AGAIN after roughly 230,000 files. Frankly, I'm completely fed-up with Vista! I want to go back to XP!

* I recall from a full scan before this whole nonsense started a week ago that there were something like 170,000 files in all for my anti-virus software to scan. Looking at the window as it was scanning today it is clear that ALL the software and files from before I re-installed Windows Vista this morning have been stored in an 'old' section - so the re-formatting has not in fact booted anything out at all - so the re-scan is possibly still coming up against whatever the problem was before.

To repeat: I'm completely fed-up with Vista! I want to go back to XP! (For information this post is being done on my Vista machine - yes, it works after a fashion, but is obviously still not 100%>)

Right, I'm off to get supper. Tomorrow I'm taking a test-drive of a possible replacement for my existing car - maybe I'll be in a better mood after that. Sigh ...

Update on problems with my Vista equipped laptop

I wrote last week about the major headache I am having with my very recently-purchased Vista enabled laptop. I've been doing quite a lot of research since then and apart from confirming what I had already found out (that I am not alone in having problems with this new operating system - the range of problems is many and varied and I seem to have a lot if not all of them!), I have been in touch with various people more expert than me.

In summary, the 'solution' appears to be to re-install the whole operating system, drivers and utilities. I am pretty good about doing regular back-ups anyway, but it seems that provided I stop the machine going on-line (by switching off the wi-fi connection) I can use it in a limited fashion, so have been able to copy various items that hadn't already been backed-up, so I got that done about an hour ago.

Right now I am in the process of doing a full re-installation from the back-up disks supplied with the machine; obviously all the anciliary software (some free, some paid for disk versions, some paid for and downloaded over the internet [let's hope the product licence keys will let me download again!]) will need to be re-installed and of course all my data will be lost from this machine and will need to be restored from my back-up copies.

Possibly part of the problem has arisen because Vista is (apparently) so different from earlier versions such as XP that a lot of anciliary software does not work on the new operating system - so I will not be re-installing certain software I have used for a while and wished to continue to use; I'll have to find other options for this. If the re-installation works, well and good, but if there are recurrent problems I may consider trying to 'downgrade' back to XP; all this is for later, though ...

Brokeback Mountain - Christian Edition

Quite amusing!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Catholic Church in Los Angeles coughs up USD660mn for decades of sexual abuse

In order to avoid a humiliating exposé of the sexual abuse against children perpetrated by its 'paid agents' (aka priests and other church officials) over several decades the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to pay USD660mn (GBP330mn) to 552 people who claim to have been sexually abused - and although now their claims will not be heard in court, it is pretty safe to assume that these claims were so overwhelmingly true that the Church felt it had no option but, finally and at the last moment, to accede to the agreement. It is of course not the first time that criminal activity by employees of this religious 'cult' has resulted in severe financial penalties, but this is the largest sum it has yet agreed to pay. I heard on the radio earlier that the Church will have to liquidate some of its real estate holdings to make the payment.

Let's hope the cover-ups perpetrated by this sick organisation in matters of sexual propriety toward young people in its pastoral care are a thing of the past! I wouldn't bet on it, frankly, but at least a clear message has now gone out that the secular authorities are no longer prepared to tolerate what has gone on for so long.

It is probably too much to hope for that the hypocrisy of this and other religious organisations in their attempts to dictate to how other people how they should live their lives, is over. The simultaneous flouting of their own rules, and subsequent cover-ups, not to mention their blatant flouting of the criminal laws of various jurisdictions where it operates, has robbed it of much of whatever moral authority it once had.

"La Marseillaise" - a day (or a century) late, but never mind!

A recording of "La Marseillaise" supposedly from a century ago; whoever this gent is, he has a fine voice and pretty clear diction. Vive la France!

The new 'Nairn Community Centre' nears completion

I have been meaning to take a photograph of this for the blog for a few weeks now, but finally got one today as it is a warm(ish) sunny day and I decided to walk up into town - about 6 or 7 minutes - to get my Sunday newspaper, etc.

I understand it is scheduled to be ready for occupation during the Autumn. It will then become possible to commence the much-awaited (and long overdue) renovation of the centre of Nairn by removing the existing very 'tired' Community Centre on the other side of the A96 (King Street) to allow a larger superkarket to replace the existing one, etc.

The new 'Nairn Community Centre'
- nearing completion (15 July 2007)

Click here to see a larger image.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Fraudster convicted ...

... yes, I speak of 'Lord' Black of Crossharbour who has today been convicted on three counts of fraud and one of obstructing justice by a jury in Chicago. He was found not guilty of nine other charges of 'racketeering, wire fraud and tax evasion', so comparisons with Scarface are entirely inappropriate even if the locations of their convictions are similar. It is reported that the Conservative Party has 'withdrawn the whip' as a result of his conviction as he sat as a Conservative in the House of Lords. From all I have ever heard about him his downfall couldn't have happened to a nicer person.

Black and his company Hollinger International formerly owned various influential newspapers, notably the Telegraph Group in the UK, the Chicago Sun-Times and The Jerusalem Post. One benefit of his disappearance from the Telegraph is that regular readers (such as me) are no longer confronted with the frequent 'comment' pieces he caused to be published in his erstwhile organ (with apologies to Private Eye).

News reports I have read indicate that his lawyers have announced that an appeal will be lodged against his convictions, in the hope (no doubt) that he will ultimately be spared many years residence in the Federal pen(itentiary). Good luck ...

Thursday, 12 July 2007

James Martin Capozzola - Rest in Peace

I learned today with great sadness that James Martin Capozzola, who ran The Rittenhouse Review blog, which had as its by-line: "A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture", a pretty accurate summary of what James and his blog were all about, passed away early last week after a prolonged illness.

James began his blog in April 2002, coincidentally just about 11 days after I started my own little blog - we have been on each other's blogrolls almost since the beginning. Of course I did not know him personally, but our occasional email exchanges were always stimulating and worthwhile. I am sorry to see him go - he will be missed (indeed I had noticed the paucity of his recent posts and had wondered about that), although I had often read his posts about some of the difficulties of his personal life including his recurrent bouts of ill-health.

There is a brief announcement posted in his blog shortly after his death by Lynn Haddock and a lengthier tribute is on Suzie's Suburban Guerilla blog. You can see a photograph of James with a friend in another brief and poignant tribute here.

James Martin Capozzola
- Rest in Peace -

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Major problems with a laptop using Vista!!

I have two laptop PCs - the one I am writing this on right now, which uses Windows XP (purch Feb06) - and the other uses Windows Vista (purch Jun07).

I had been using the Vista machine yesterday evening with no problems (the XP model too) and switched it off normally last thing at night. I wasn't aware of any problems then with it. I had been doing all the normal things I usually do - a bit of browsing, reading blogs, updating a couple of my websites (I use IPSwitch Professional for FTP transfers) and all seemed to be happening just as usual, i.e. normally.

This morning I switch the thing on and get to the point where a passowrd must be entered to get it to start-up, it accepts that, up comes my screen saver and then it just sits there. Although I can move my mouse around the screen, none of the basic software has loaded so there is no way of even closing it down again in the proper manner. After 10 minutes waiting I take the plunge and switch off at the power button and a little later try to boot it up again. I'm then taken into the 'startup normally' or 'safe mode' options screens (because I couldn't close it down normally a little earlier) and I try 'start-up normally'. Same things happens each time I try this - precisely nothing! (I tried it 2 or 3 times just to be sure) Next time I try the 'safe mode' option and do a restore to an earlier date.

This seems to work and I get booted-up and online to update Vista (because I had to go back to a notional 21JUN) - that seems to work. I get online and find that Norton Internet Protection/Anti-virus says it needs attention. I get online updates for that and that seeems to work except it says that the anti-virus part is switched off - I try to switch it on, but it keeps returning the same message. It takes me to a screen saying I need to buy an update and I wondered whether the initial 3-month period 'free' is up - which I was surprised about - but anyway - so I buy the update and install it. It seems to install except it won't switch on the anti-virus part of the software, although the internet protection part says it is on. I check to find out if my Windows Firewall is on - discover with alarm it is not, so switch it on pronto.

I seem to be able to get online briefly, then the key-board freezes. Every time I re-boot it works for about 5 minutes, seemingly normally, then the keyboard freezes. I think I have reached the end of my abilities to solve this problem alone, so the next step will be to seek assistance from a 'PC doctor'. I just got back from a minor shopping trip and a short walk to try and clear my thoughts and am really writing this as a 'mind-dump'. I shall not swtich on the other machine again until I get it looked at by someone who knows more about it than me, as I fear I may only be making the situation worse with each 'solution' I try. A short while ago I did a 'Google' search for problems with Vista and discover there seems to be a lot! Other people seem to have this freezing-up problem, too. Luckily I've got the XP machine to work on meantime, but inevitably I'll be putting blogging way down my list of priorities until I get the other machine up and running normally.

Other things to do this month include making a decision about replacing my car at the end-August/beginning-September year change or whether to leave it for another year (my car is 2 1/2 years old so will need an MOT next February, but I shall be in Spain then with a car from here so if I keep it I'll have to get the MOT done before I leave). I'm coming to the view it will be simpler to change the car now and be done with it; the model of Honda I was thinking of getting (to replace my Honda of a different model) didn't get a very favourable review in the latest 'Which?' car guide, surprisingly to them and to me, so I'm looking at my options. A switch of make is possible, perhaps to a Mazda6. We'll see. Other problems are to do with the building management where I live, not so much with the Factor as with dealing with other residents; I'm the Chairman of the Res.Assn. and frankly it's a real pain dealing with certain individuals - they seem to think I have nothing better to do than to deal with their pointless 'gripes'.

OK? You get the picture? Bill is one frustrated person right now. I'm off - updates as and when.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Sign up to the petition for Alex McIlveen

The Remittance Man has started a Petition to the Prime Minister for the parking ticket 'awarded' to Mr Alex McIlveen to be quashed, after having read a newspaper article here. He was one of the brave people who helped to subdue the attempted terrorists at Glasgow airport on 30th June 2007. Mr McIlveen left his taxi in order to take part in this valuable action and was subsequently asked by Police to make a statement, during which time his abandoned taxi received a parking ticket. Given the circumstances I think there is a strong case to be made for this parking ticket to be quashed. If you agree, please click here to sign up to the petition, which reads as follows:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to quash the parking ticket issued to taxi driver Mr Alex McIlveen at Glasow Airport on 30/06/07."

"Without thought for his own safety, Mr McIlveen left his taxi to tackle the occupants of the green Jeep Cherokee that crashed into the terminal building of Glasgow Airport. He was then taking in by the police to give his statement during which time his shoes were confiscated for forensic testing. On return to the airport he found that his cab had been ticketed for parking offenses.

"Clearly this is hardly the way to treat a man who assisted in the capture of two would be terrorists and we ask the PM to use his influence to have this unjust penalty quashed."

Sunday, 8 July 2007

David Cameron and Sayeeda Warsi - is it wise?

(Please see UPDATE at end)

I was heartened last week by the appointment of Sayeeda Warsi by David Cameron as shadow minister for community cohesion. She seemed to be a person with outspoken, but sensible, views and she is a Moslem, and it seemed like a sound idea to have someone like her 'on board' to help formulate policy which might bring the various communities, ethnic and religious, together.

My only knowledge of her until now was having seen her as a panellist on Question Time on a couple of occasions and she gave the impression of being straight-forward and with a refreshingly open way of dealing with issues.

So far, so good, but unfortunately there seems to be a little more to Sayeeda Warsi than being a seemingly-modern Moslem woman with political views seemingly in tune with today's Conservative Party. She is also a homophobe. David Cameron says that as a member of his shadow cabinet, however, she accepts collective responsibility and as such supports policies supported by the Conservsative Party. This may be fine so long as she is kept well away from any involvement in the formulation of policies relating to social policy - the dangers of letting religious bigots/zealots (and I don't care if some feel these words are unwarranted - they are simply a statement of fact!) have influence over this area were shown recently when a member of the Government, Ruth Kelly, was tasked with such a role, and her attempted use of that position to exempt churches from new laws prohibiting discrimination in employment affecting homosexuals and her later attempts to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from new laws prohibiting discrimination against (i.e. exclusion of) same-sex couples adotping children.

It is futile to say, as Cameron does, that Warsi will abide by his Party's policies when all such matters are regarded as matters of conscience and only tangentially subject to overall Party policy. I am all for including Moslems, or Catholics, or staunch Protestants (i.e. the Rev Iain Paisley) in our political life - just so long as it is quite clear that the UK is a secular society and attempts by these people to impose their religious views on the rest of society will NOT BE TOLERATED. I'm afraid that David Cameron's current attempts, in his remarks on Sayeeda Warsi's views on homosexuality, to gloss over these bigotted views are not at all convincing. I will be watching closely to see how her presence in the shadow cabinet affects policy-development in practice.

UPDATE: (Friday 13JUL07 14.35 BST) I have just realised I wrote about Sayeeda Warsi in late-April 2005, just ahead of the May general elections that year, when she was Conservative candidate in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

'New' Seven Wonders of the World

An online poll has come up with a a list of places fit to be named the New Seven Wonders of the World and these are:
- Chichén Itzá, Mexico
- Christ Redeemer, Brazil
- Machu Picchu, Peru
- Petra, Jordan
- The Roman Colloseum, Italy
- The Taj Mahal, India

Whilst not everone is entirely happy with the list, the good people of Jordan certainly are:

(The traditional 'Seven Wonders of the World' are listed here)

Iain Duncan Smith - as inept as ever

What a mediocre man. In his latest foray into doing good by Britain, and 'enhancing' the electoral prospects of the Conservatives, his policy group is to suggest an increase in taxes on alcohol. According to the linked article a 'source close to the leadership had praised the work of the review group, but added that some proposals "will be adopted, others wont be" '. I think this is an elegant way of saying: "Get lost!" or "No Way!" or indeed "Are you completely out of your mind?".

PS/ I've just spotted the usual reactionary 'tosh' we have come to expect from Tim at ConservativeHome, but there is one of the comments to his post that I feel needs to be read and taken to heart 50 times a day by any well-meaning Conservative who thinks that IDS (or Tim) has the solution to their problems:

"Good God - Tim and his IDS Guru are like some 17th century puritans who want to take over all aspects of our private lives. Just because some people can live by prayer and blogs it does not mean we all can or want to. Leave our private lives alone."

UPDATE: (Tuesday 10JUL07 08.05 BST) ConservativeHome is still pushing this nutty idea; the comments are comfortingly heavily opposed to it, which at least goes to show that not everyone in the Conservative Party is as crazy as IDS and Tim Montgomerie with their very unconservative ideas on social control through an even more penal tax take on alcohol in a country which already has some of the highest taxes on this commodity in Europe.

Toxic dentifrice and other tales from China

The scandal of counterfeit products from China receives attention in the Telegraph. This is not a new problem as I recall hearing about similar things happening when I lived in Hong Kong in the 1980s anf the 1990s. Caveat emptor certainly, but better to do your 'due diligence' in advance of purchase.

UPDATE: (Tuesday 10JUL07 08.36 BST) The wages of sin is death, for one corrupt official in China. I deplore capital punishment and wonder whether (no, let's be honest, I believe that) the kind of repressive regime that operates in China is itself at least partly responsible for fostering a climate where corruption like this can exist.

Shortbus - 'to get you through the final two years of the Bush Presidency'

I had never heard of this movie before (provincial that I am):

I'm not that fond of 'modern' music, but the soundtrack is great, and I will very probably order the DVD here tomorrow (it's a wee bit late, even for me, to be buying things over the internet at this time of night).
(thru Alain at We are all made of stars!)

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Charles Kennedy - a basically decent, but flawed, individual ...

... with a wee bit of hypocrisy thrown in for good measure.

Generally I don't care for LibDems - some of their policies are OK, but many are the dilettante posturings of people who know they will never be entrusted (thankfully) with real power - unless they can succeed in getting proportional representation into national politics in the way they have helped to weasel it into Scottish politics; I am no supporter of the SNP, but at least their recent semi-success has released us in Scotland from having a bunch of nonentities (i.e. most LibDems) in partial control of the Scottish Executive.

Right, so much for where I stand. My impression, though, of Charles Kennedy is that he has always been something of a maverick in British politics - he succeeded at getting into Parliament at a very young age, so is definitiely a political anorak. Apart from a year spent working in journalism and broadcasting with the BBC in Inverness, he has never worked outside politics - indeed the whole of his working life has been, in one way or the other, at public expense. Unfortunately there is nothing unusual about this in any part of the UK generally, and certainly not in Scotland in particular. However I think he did represent something a little new when he first entered politics - a person who had no real experience of anything suddenly catapulted at a very young age into national politics, where he has remained ever since. Nevertheless he has always struck me, and the little I know about him as a local MP (for various family members and friends) backs this up, as basically a 'pretty decent kinda guy' (TM - Tony Blair - lol) - but with a certain number of human frailties, notably his tragic over-fondness for alcoholic beverages and his long-term addiction to nicotine.

However, the latest story about him having been reprimanded for smoking in a public place (a train heading for Plymouth) just a few days after the smoking ban has been introduced in England made me wonder how he might have voted on this issue in the House of Commons - here is the damning evidence of his hypocrisy. Bizarrely I had never suspected him of that particular 'weakness' until now - just goes to show he really is very typical of most of the rest of the human race.

For the record, once more, I have never smoked but am not a 'militant' anti-smoker (other than in cars I own where I forbid it as it fouls up the ventilation system irreparably) - I believe in personal liberty and am sceptical of claims about the damage 'second-hand' smoke causes to others. It is true, though, that I have found it more pleasant to visit certain pubs and restaurants since the smoking-ban was introduced a year ago in Scotland, but whether this has justified the reduction in personal freedom which flowed from the change is less clear. What is clear, however, is that Charles Kennedy voted for this extension of the surveillance and 'control it' society we live in, so he must expect to have to live with the consequences, just as every other law-abiding citizen has to.

PS/ This is the nonsense that Charlie-boy voted for; as I mentioned above, he'll just have to live with it!