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

Friday, 31 August 2007

Diana - ten years on

Don't panic. This blog remains as much of a Diana-mania-free zone as its writer was ten years ago at the time of her death. It was sad, of course, but apart from that I don't have more to say.

My immediate task for the next hour is to take some obsolete household things (too bulky for my wheelie-bin) to the council disposal point, a task I have been putting off for some weeks, but as I shall be changing my car tomorrow I thought I'd use the old car for this mundane final task. It's intermittently sunny here today, and quite warm when it is, so I want to take advantage of that, too.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Hot blood in Spain: a woman dog-walker has been stabbed to death by a fellow dog-walker

Talk about Latin (or should that be Hispanic) passion getting out of hand! A woman dog-walker in Madrid has been fatally wounded by a fellow dog-walker. Her two dogs, naturally enough, turned on her assailant, who left the scene leaving a bloody trail and headed back to his apartment.

The attack apparently occurred after a violent quarrel broke out between the two, who had it seems been involved in a 'relationship' (one assumes not a business relationship). It is not entirely clear from the report, but it would seem that he was followed to his apartment by onlookers who had seen the incident and was attacked by them so he fled and was eventually rescued from his pursuers, who were in the process of beating him up and lynching him, by the police. Wow! This is a clear warning not to to arouse the fiery emotions of the Spanish.

Monday, 27 August 2007

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigns

I interrupt my brief semi-hiatus to mark this happy day - the scandal-prone and ineffective drone, Alberto Gonzales, has at long last resigned (New York Times). As yet there is no official reason for his resignation; no doubt the Administration will come up with some story to feed to the US press and public, but I don't think too many, even amongst Republican loyalists, will be fooled into thinking this is anything other than a further crushing below to the already depleted credibility of President George W Bush.

Other US reports (thru Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report):
The Politico
CNN Political Ticker - suggesting Michael Chertoff may replace Gonzales
Houston Chronicle - reactions from both sides of the political divide
Barack Obama - one of the Democratic Presidential hopefuls.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Light posting for a couple of weeks ...

I'm afraid that my posts here are going to very very light, although perhaps not entirely non-existent, over the next couple of weeks. As always around this time of year, I have been putting off really getting down to do my tax filing for the year to 5th April 2007, but if I'm not to be rushing around too much during the latter part of September, now is the time to get started on this boring task. I like to get the tax return in by the end of September so that the Inland Revenue do the calculation, even though I always do my own independent calculation so that I can cross-check it with what I am told I owe - I saw the first broadcast this year of the amazingly cringe-making 'Tax doesn't have to be taxing' advertisement on TV a couple of weeks ago, and that brought home to me that time is creeping on.

Luckily I have all the paper-work to hand to do the number-crunching necessary to fill in the form. Once I get this year's filing ready for mailing (hopefully by about 10 September) I must turn my attention to converting the spreadsheets/databases I use to a format suitable for use on my 'Vista' laptop, as a lot of the software I have been using on 'XP' (and previously on '98') no longer works on the new platform. Whilst most the actual data is readable on 'Vista' compatible software, there are certain anomalies which I must address, before I can rely on it; I am still working on getting the extracting of information between various kinds of spreadsheets, which I use for different purposes, to work properly. It's a real bind.

So from tomorrow morning I shall be busy completing my paper-work filing (I have a tray piled high with things that have been dealt with, but not filed in their proper folders - I have got a little lazy with this in recent weeks), which should allow me tomorrow afternoon or Tuesday morning to get down to inputting figures into the spreadsheets (in my 'XP' laptop) which will throw out the various income headings and tax calculations, etc. As a result the time I have for blogging will be severely reduced - but there are many good blogs to look at in my Blogroll in the column at left, if you care to.

As for me, I usually have videos playing in the background in my study whilst doing this work and I have a whole library of discs and tapes to choose from - I find this helps make this annual task on behalf our 'Darling'(*) Chancellor slightly less tedious, if no less irritating.

(*) For non-British readers, this is actually the man's name, not in any way how I feel about him! Ho! Ho!

Sunday YouTube - Poland: a young dummer with rhythm

This young drummer, by the name of Igor Falecki and aged 4-years at the time of this video, does seem to enjoy what he is doing and be pretty good at it, too. A quick look in YouTube will reveal a number of other videos of this young man in full drum-mode, some taken a little later when he is all of 5 years old - but I prefer the charm of this earlier effort:

Or they could think about moving the capital ...

... a feasibility study is to report shortly on building a second Thames barrier. If global warming really is happening, then it won't only be places such as the Maldives which risk losing territory to rising sea-levels. What'll they do in 100 years - build a third barrier (or will it be the fourth by then), or will it have been thought better to move government out of the over-crowded and more importantly low-lying south-east of England? Environment Minister Phil Woolas may think people need to face up to the seriousness and imminence of what might be coming - I don't think trying to hold back the tide addresses the threat fully.

Black cats and paths, crossing thereof

If you're in the UK and a black cat crosses your path, as one did when I was out driving last Sunday, it is thought by some to be a sign of good luck. Not the case in Italy, however.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Kennedy speaks in language that is only distantly related to plain English

Charles Kennedy, former LibDem leader, spoke today at something called the "Scottish Parliament's Festival of Politics" on Friday, undoutbedly some new-fangled part of our 'devolution settlement' of which I have previously been unaware. What is a 'festival of politics', though? Am I paying for it?

Anyway, to get back to Charles Kennedy. In response to a question ("Are you going to be the comeback kid?") he responded:

"When you have been the leader of a national political party obviously you know what is involved, you are still of an age where you have got something to contribute, but you don't have the relentless and remorseless demands upon you in quite the same way."

Please let me know what that is supposed to mean. It doesn't seem like a straightforward response to a pretty simple question, to me.

When asked about his health, he responded:

"I'm happy and fulfilled in what I'm doing and it's up to me to keep it that way."

Delphic, or what? I suppose a translation into Englush might be that it is up to him, and no-one else, to ensure he stays off the booze; I can certainly sympathise with him and I hope that he succeeds, whatever his future is in political life.

On his decision to admit that he had a problem with alcohol:

"I think individuals have got a right to a degree of privacy, even if you are in the public eye, where medical situations are concerned.

"But if you find that degree of privacy is going to be eroded then you may just as well tell people about it.

"The issue for me wasn't so much that, it was obviously the political implications, which became clear fairly soon thereafter. But that's water under the bridge."

Can you make head or tail of this? Honestly?

Look, I don't 'dislike' Charles Kennedy, indeed I think he is basically a pretty decent fellow (for a politician). But I really don't see why anyone should have to put up with this complete nonsense. Surely even the LibDems, whatever their views on the competence and value as an asset/liability of their current Leader (Sir Menzies Campbell), can't be so foolish as to buy this snake-oil? Or is it only just another ephemeral part of the Edinburgh 'fringe'? Let's hope so! Not that it matters much, because who really cares what the LibDems do?

Nairn Community Centre - photographs of the frontage and car-parking area

Some more photographs of the the new Nairn Community Centre, taken yesterday - this is the first time I have been along Viewfield since the building site barriers have been removed and I could get in to the car-parking area to take a look. The whole area looks neatly finished and no doubt when we've had our next bout of heavy rain the new surfaces will be flushed clean of the little remaining building residue and dust. A few of the access features at the front of the building are not clear in the first photograph, because of the remaining building barriers on the main road, but it won't be too long, I suspect, before those are removed too, to reveal what I think is a reasonably-attractive new feature for Nairn. No doubt there wil be considerable disruption when it comes to redeveloping the existing community centre and the supermarket, but the overall result will undoubtedly be a huge improvement in the town's appearance - I can't wait to see it happening.

The new 'Nairn Community Centre'
- frontage and car-parking areas (23 August 2007)

Click here to see larger images.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

'The Bourne Ultimatum' - a review

I went to see this film on Thursday afternoon. The third episode in the film adaptations of the Robert Ludlum Bourne series of espionage novels, The Bourne Ultimatum is a roller-coaster of action, blood and guts from beginning to end. Jason Bourne is still trying to find out who he is and where he came from and this film, with much [realistically] simulated bloodshed and general mayhem leads him to fulfil his quest. It's every bit as exciting as the first episode, The Bourne Conspiracy, although I'd say the determination to 'thrill' the audience with an almost non-stop series of derring-do and jerky camera effects is so over-the-top it nearly gets in the way. Without spoiling it for anyone who hasn't yet seen it, the ending leaves open the possibility of a fourth episode in due course - no doubt this will utimately depend on an assessment of its bankability and the continuing ability of lead actor, Matt Damon, to appear youthful and convincingly indestructible. I was laughing more or less throughout the movie and I found the whole thing commendably cathartic. If you like mindless escapism (as I do!) then it's worth a couple of hours of your time.

The mainstream media tries to 'understand' blogland and the web

In its relentless desire to try and 'understand' blogs and to 'explain' them to its readers we have this latest example from Giles Turnbull in the Telegraph. Excuse me, but 'yawn'. As this article (dated October 2005 - almost two years ago) makes clear, tumblelogging is not new - and I came across this article after just a very brief Google search on the topic. Some 'bloggers' have been doing this, off and on, for years - even if they didn't necessarily label what they do as tumblelogging, some like to write long and oftentimes boring diatribes that are interesting only to themselves and, just possibly, their mummies (sufficiently anaesthatised with alcohol and/or drugs, one supposes) - a certain little devil springs to mind, whereas others have always preferred to write all or mainly much shorter, pithier pieces - some indeed have always just posted photos with little or no commentary. Why, even the blogger I link to doesn't write only long diatribes, some of his posts are more than just usually short and pithy. However, apart from my general snarkiness, there's room for all kinds of bloggers - even the few MSM journalists who take the trouble to write interesting blogs worth visiting more than once. It's the sheer laziness of so-called journalists like the good Mr Turnbull that gives the MSM a bad name.

Fire at Aberdeen Crematorium ...

... not normally a problem as fires are part of the normal procedure at a crematorium. However what occurred at Aberdeen Crematorium was evidently not part of the usual procedure and a service at the crematorium has had to be be rescheduled for today, after the family and crematorium staff were evacuated safely.

On a personal note, I should add that my late father was cremated in Aberdeen, so whilst this story has aspects of irony, it also has a personal interest for me. I have every so often taken my mother to visit the 'Garden of Remembrance', where there is a small plaque commemorating my father, either on the anniversary of his death about 26 years ago (earlier this month), or around Christmas-time. Had he lived their 60th ('diamond') wedding anniversary would have been in early July this year.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Midweek YouTube - Fiat cars (Brasil)

Apparently this is regarded as a 'classic ad.' in Brasil. I don't see it myself, but maybe that's just because Fiat cars don't do it for me; I don't recognise the 'Palio' name - perhaps it's not sold in the UK, or under a different name. It is mildly amusing though.

Mood of the moment ...

Norm had an apt post up a couple of days ago and as it kinda reflects my mood at the moment I quote it for those who might have missed it:


This being the time of year that it is, you might even find yourself tempted to follow a link that goes to the posing of the question:

Is blogging dead?

Should you be so tempted, let me rather urge upon you these questions as being slightly more interesting:

Are the dead blogging?
Are the blogging dead?
When is a blog a dead blog?
How many people have died blogging?
How many people have died from blogging?
How many people have died for blogging?
How many people are dying to blog?
How can you tell the dead bloggable from the only moderately bloggable?


All interesting questions, about which I have reached only partial conclusions.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Sunday YouTube - India: the beauty of nature

I thought it was appropriate in the anniversary week of the 60th anniversary of Indian independence to focus on the timeless beauty of the country from the very personal perspective of Dr Erach Bharucha. I hope you enjoy watching this short film as much as I did:

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Tesco exposed (again) for gouging Highland motorists.

Tesco is charging 4p more for a litre of petrol at its 'Tesco extra' store in Inverness (95.9p) than it charges at its store in Elgin (91.9p), about 40 miles east of Inverness. Both stores are supplied with fuel from the same facility, located at the Longman Industrial Estate in Inverness, a very short distance from the Tesco in Inverness.

Why the difference? Very simple really. There is a large 'Asda' in Elgin, and there is none in Inverness (whose application to open there has been delayed by planning concerns - I wonder who is behind the delays, heh?). A further difference is that Asda has a national pricing policy which applies to petrol as to everything else it sells, whereas Tesco prices according to local market conditions - but as Tesco has a more dominant position in Inverness, apparently, than any place else in the country (Britain, not just Scotland) it is effectively the 'market maker' so its claim to be following the local market in its pricing policies is, to say the least, disingenuous!

Well I live 15 miles east of Inverness and about 27 from Elgin, so I think I'll start increasing the frequency of my visits to Elgin as I quite like Asda as a supermarket anyway, so Tesco will be deprived not just of my petrol purchases, but my grocery puchases, too. Not that one person will make much difference, but if enough people start taking direct action as consumers, maybe Tesco will eventually be forced to behave better. Tesco has not been a purveyor of 'pile it high, sell it cheap' for many, many years - its undoubted convenience has become like a drug for far too many people and we need to wean ourselves off it!

Friday, 17 August 2007

Skype on the blink ...

(Please see UPDATE at end)

... I thought initially that my difficulty in getting online to Skype was a problem with my Vista laptop (which I wrote about on Wednesday), and although I have had a few continuing glitches with that (see below), it seems that the problems logging on to Skype have a quite different explanation - the whole network has been down since at least yesterday morning, and I think probably since the evening before. Latest report I read, says that some users in Asia (not in India, it seems) and Europe are now able to get online, however I haven't so far succeeded in doing so, so my little bit of Europe is obviously not one of the fortunate bits that can.

As for my Vista laptop (which it so happens I'm not on right now, but was until a few moments ago, as I wanted to check my Skype access on my XP machine and I can't get online there either), I'll write about that in due course, particularly if things starts to go 'hay-wire' again. The problem I alluded to above seems to have corrected itself, for the moment, after it started its 'St Vitus Dance' rolling-screen routine I've become far too familiar with, which requires it to be switched off with the power button. Then it wouldn't start. It then went into an automated Vista CHKDSK routine (you know, the very utilitarian white print on a black screen that Windows goes back to when things go very wrong with its front-end 'pretty bits' such as Windows) which seems to have dealt with whatever problems caused it to happen. I await with trepidation what might happen next, without warning.

I've got quite used to the convenience and low-cost of Skype since I first used at about 20 months ago - I hope it gets back to full-functioning quickly.

Update: (Friday 17AUG07 13.53) I've just got back online with Skype and successfully completed a test call; none of my online Skype contacts are yet showing on the system, though - it's obvioulsy getting back to functioning, but it will probably be a while before it's fully up and running. I've had the impression that the service has been a bit 'clunky' and slow for the past week or so - perhaps it was building up to a crisis; I hope they've got to the root of the problem, unless it's just a simple case of network congestion as the service becomes increasingly ubiquitous. In which case I suppose one might expect further problems once they think they have everyone connected again. I'll wait and see ...

'Big Brother' (err... 'Big Sister') - Swedish style

A man in Stockholm was forced to accompany a police officer to the police station and give a urine smaple, because she suspected that he had "unusually large muscles, particularly large arm muscles, which are a sign of steroid use". The urine tested negative for steroids.

An officer at the police drugs unit suggested the arresting officer had been "a bit too ambitious".
(thru Andrew Sullivan)

Is this what we've come to? A maverick police officer armed with far too many powers for the comfort and safety of your average citizen gets bizarre notions into her (in this case) head and frog-marches a perfectly ordinary (if muscle-bound) citizen off for a urine test, 'just to be sure' there is no illegal use of steroids? What next?
- You're too fat, sir - you must be over-indulging in health-damaging fats, carbohydrates or alcohol and will be a charge on the health services in the future. Please accompany me to the station so your blood can be tested. Couldn't happen? Well there have been reports over the past few years alleging that some medical treatments have already been withheld from patients considered obese, not on medical grounds, but because the lifestyle was disapproved of.
- You're too thin, sir - you must be suffering from bulimia. Please accompany me to the station so a psychologist/psychiatrist can evaluate why you are doing this to yourself.

It seems that the advance of the 'Police State' and 'Big Brother' isn't only happening in Britain! Yesterday I read about an even more draconian system being developed in China - where of course the 'one child' policy has already led to female infanticide being practised, particularly in rural areas, and an imbalance in genders with there being too few women for men of similar ages to marry. If you read right to the end of this article you'll see that the US is getting in on the act, too - but of course we knew that already, since the Patriot Act was made law.

It is clear that now a police office needs only the flimsiest of reasons to require one to accompany them to a police station. It is clear also that the police in many countries now regard themselves as existing solely to protect the interests of the 'State', not to protect the citizen. Ask Jose Padilla.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Andrew Sullivan stresses over his forthcoming 'big day'

I've been reading Andrew's blog more or less since he began it (indeed it was reading his blog that got me thinking I should start my own little blog, and I did so not long after). In recent posts he has alluded occasionally to the fact that he is about to get married (to his male partner, for the few people in the blogosphere who may be unaware that Andrew is an unapologetic gay man). In his post on the subject today, however, he writes about his feelings as he approaches the 'big day' and his pre-wedding 'jitters', specially because he will be saying his vows in the prsence of his own and his partner's supportive families. The fact that he is just about to get married has just hit him - and it's pretty extraordinary and wonderful that a gay couple can do this.

I've criticised Andrew over the past few years for quite a lot of what he has written (although of late when his blog moved first to Time and more recently to The Atlantic the quality of his writing, and the relevancy of his views, has improved dramatically), but on this occasion particularly, I'm extremely happy for him - I hope he and his husband-to-be will enjoy many more happy years together.

Two prostitutes and a bag of cocaine later ...

I've just noticed an extraordinary piece in Jan Moir's Wednesday column (it's on page 3 of the online verion of her column) in the Telegraph. It is almost surreal, although few things surprise me now when it comes to right-wing politicians who profess Christian (in his case, Catholic) values. In the words of Cosimo Mele, 50-year-old MP and a former member of the centre-Right UDC:

"Of course I identify with Christian values, but what have those got to do with going to bed with a prostitute?"

Now I have no particular objection to him frequenting prostitutes (and no doubt a confession to his priest and a few Hail Marys will resolve the issue so far as the Church is concerned), but what about the cocaine, signor? And the hospitalisation of one of the young women involved from a drug overdose? Hypocrisy, matey!

Investment markets - to stay in or to sell...

There's no doubt I've been perturbed by the turmoil sweeping the financial markets recently, on the back of people over-extending themselves by over-borrowing and by the 'sub-prime' difficulties some influential lenders have got themselves into in consequence, and the latest news this morning, which seems to indicate that there is still further for the market to fall before it reaches a new equilibrium. The rises seen earlier this week, after last week's falls, were perphaps only a brief respite.

My outlook remains, broadly speaking, 'Don't Panic!' - in the words of Corporal Jones. I've gone through severe dips in the markets before and some of my investments have gone belly-up in the ensuing fall-out, but overall my [small] portfolio has performed moderately well, principally because there has been a pretty good spread of markets and sectors (and vehicles). Nevertheless I am watching, as best I can, what is going on. I don't think we've seen the worst yet, but at some point the markets will reach a base from which they can recover - the trick is not to start following the herd and make matters worse by over-rash actions. At least I don't have any personal debt (of any kind) to worry about. Will inflation begin to rear its ugly head once more, or will we see a period of deflation rearing its head, as it did in Japan for a number of years when markets there were in the doldrums? Now, where did I put that valium? I jest.

Alex Salmond's 'Conversation'

I downloaded my copy of the SNP's propaganda document (aka 'White Paper') today off the web (thanks to the link here). It's a lovely-looking document; I'm trying to say something positive about it. So far I haven't read it in detail, but it seems to be, at first glance, a profoundly self-serving document, rather like the speech the good man gave when introducing it.

Anyway, yesterday I had one of the regular YouGov survey emails I get , inviting me to take part in a survey about 'various matters' - what it was about was in fact the 'National Conversation' proposal, presumably directed only at people in Scotland as the whole survey was only relevant to us. It was in fact one of the more interesting surveys I've seen from YouGov in a while and was obviously designed to gather information about initial reactions to the new 'White Paper'; whether the survey is being conducted for a specific sponsor or purely as an information-gathering exercise by YouGov I have no idea. One of the questions offered various 'ways forward', from the ones that Mr Salmond proposed (status quo, increase in devolved powers, independence) with one crucial addition not offered by 'wee Eck' - that the Scottish Parliament should be abolished and that our constitutional arrangements should revert to the status quo ante (i.e. prior to the enactment of the Scotland Act). That's the option I chose - I know it is highly unlikely ever to happen and is even more highly-unlikely to be an option that we are offered in any referendum, certainly not by the crowd currently in power in Edinburgh, but it's what I would wish, ideally, to see happen. The Scottish Conservatives have been bought and paid for, unfortunately, with their acquiescence in the 'List MSP' charade which gives them a presence in the Scottish Parliament which they would be unlikely to have (and certainly not at its current level) under a purely FPTP system. A few questions in the survey focussed on views of Salmond, Brown and McConnell - I assume the content of the questionnaire was finalised before it was known that McConnel was resigning; my ratings for Brown and Salmond were almost the same for every question, those for McConnell were somewhat different; although I don't like his politics one little bit I think that of the three I rate McConnell as the best human being; I couldn't ever imagine 'liking' the man, but in my view he inspires a certain level of 'trust' that I could never imagine feeling in relation to the other two gentlemen; he doesn't give me the 'heebie-jeebies' the way the other two do. Having said this, I can't say I'm particularly sorry to see him go - he would never have been leader of Scottish Labour or First Minister in consequence, but for the unfortunate political demise of his immediate predecessor.

I make no apology for my seeming (and actual) curmudgeonly attitude toward the very notion and principle of the Scottish Parliament. I do not support it; I simply have to live with it and to that extent I accept it as a fact of life and one that I must deal with in as positive a way as I can manage. However my own personal attitude is that I am 'British' first and 'Scottish' second, immensely happy to be both of course. I'm constantly hearing that this is now very much a minority viewpoint, but so what?

As for increasing the powers the Scottish Parliament has already - I'm unconvinced of the need for this and even more unconvinced of the wisdom of the Parties which say they support continuance of the UK in accepting this as a potential outcome. One of the powers that exists already and which has not, so far, been used is the tax varying powers, which allow a variation of 3p in the pound either way. The political reality is that an increase of tax in Scotland would be massively unpopular amongst the Scottish electorate and a reduction of tax here would arouse even more anger in England than has already started to become apparent because of the 'West Lothian' question and other issues (drugs availability, free care for the elderly, student fees, etc). What additional powers does the SNP suggest, short of its ultimate desire for 'independence' and what additional powers are the other parties prepared to agree to in a (forlorn) effort to try and defuse the SNP's thunder? These are the real and awful questions, and strategies, that lie behind this SNP 'gambit' - and yes, it is just like chess. The SNP is maneouvring the other Parties, little by little, into a tacit acceptance that the status quo is not an option, according to Mr Salmond at least. I do not for one minute accept that any change (other than abolition of the Scottish Parliament!) is necessary for our constitutional arrangements. I will observe the developments over the coming weeks with great interest. I don't often agree with Lord Forsyth, but I share his view that an early referendum is not only desirable, but essential. Then the SNP's silly ideas could be buried for at least a[nother] generation; I believe that the Labour/Conservative/LibDem joint policy of absolute opposition to a referendum is profoundly misconceived.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Another couple of days hassle with Windows Vista!

Yesterday morning I did as I often do - quite early on, about 7.30am or so, I switched on my Vista-enabled laptop and sat up in bed browsing the web, checking emails and writing a couple of blog posts. After I'd done all that I closed the lid of the laptop (putting it into 'hibernation' mode), got up out of bed and did all the usual things - showered, shaved, dressed and then went through to get my breakfast. Nothing out of the ordinary. Later in the morning, after I'd been using my other laptop (which uses Windows XP) in the study, I wanted to use the Vista machine again for something else - so pulled the lid up as usual. After the usual password screen things started to go downhill fast. Oh, I got online OK, but after a few moments the keyboard locked-up. Switch-off, re-start - same nonsense after a few moments; tried it a couple of times after that and got same result so thought I would do a 'restore point' to an earlier date suggested by the system. That seemed to work, but pretty soon the whole thing locked-up again. After my experiences last month (see here also), I was becoming pretty fed-up with this machine and as I had other things to do yesterday I switched it off and used my other machine when I needed to. It was becoming clear, though, that I would probably have to do another re-install, but I simply didn't have the time (or the stamina) to contemplate that yesterday.

This morning after breakfast I switched on the pesky machine again and as expected the same problems recurred - keyboard lock-up. I had to go out for a good bit of the morning until mid-afternoon, but when I got back I decided that I would set about doing the re-install. It's done and I'm on the Vista machine now. It all seems to be working OK for the moment. I did, however, decide that one thing I was definitely not going to do was to re-install the Norton anti-virus programme disk that came with the machine - its interface is one I have never found user-friendly and since I re-installed it after doing the full Vista re-install last month, Norton has never really functioned properly. I've already spent whatever it was (£60 or so!) to updgrade early from the trial period, but frankly it was money wasted and I'm writing it off. I didn't quite have the courage, however, to dispense entirely with A/V software entirely (as was suggested to me last month by one of my fairly regular visitors to the blog), so searched in the Windows Vista help screen for suitable software providers - there are 7 or 8, one of which is Norton, but I've gone with Microsoft's own effort 'Windows Live OneCare' and am currently on their 90-day trial period. It seems to work a lot more smoothly than Norton A/V ever did and the interface seems to be a lot more intuitive. It's too early to say everything is fine, but I am cautiously hopeful.

The latest re-install went quite smoothly and a little more quickly than the last time because I knew better what was happening. I am also more aware now of how the re-install works; basically it stores everything from before the re-install in a back-up folder, so I now have two of those (one this time and one from last month). So I was able to copy all the contents of the 'Documents' and 'Pictures' folders from the latest backup straight into the current installation's folders and not have to copy everything laboriously from my other machine using a USB stick. I was all done in about 10 minutes, rather than the 1hr+ it took last time.

Right, so I'm watching the latest episode of 'Heroes' on BBC3 right now, so I'm going to get back to giving my full attention to that - it's one of the better series to come out of the US of late; I think I'm becoming addicted! The other recently-started US import, 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip', which shows on Thursday evenings on More4 is quite good, too, but I'm of the view that I can take it or leave it - I'm not bothering to record it and if I miss an episode then it's just too bad.

¡Hasta luego!

Midweek YouTube - Nescafé instant coffee (Germany)

This advertisement dates from 1978. How to describe this ad.? Well, shall we put this delicately? The word 'thrusting' comes to mind, 'phallic' too. Then the phrase 'ūber alle' gets an airing. Yes, definitely a product that seems to be aimed squarely at a German market!

On a lighter note, the use of the dramatic music (Richard Strauss - 'Thus spake Zarathustra') made me think not of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, but rather the 'Naked Gun' film series with Leslie Nielsen and Patricia Presley, whose love-making was usually accompanied with similar dramatic music and visual inter-cuts. On the other hand you could read the book the title came from and plunge deep into philosophy.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps ...

... India will awake to life and freedom ...

This is part of the speech given by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India at its independence on 15th August 1947, sixty years ago today:

Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi (as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was known), together with Muhammad Ali Jinnah for Pakistan (whom I wrote about yesterday), were the two principal architects of and intellects behind the struggle for Indian independence:

Celebrating sixty years of Indian independence
15th August 1947 - 15th August 2007

Mahatma Gandhi
'Father of the Nation'

Jawaharlal Nehru
First Prime Minister of independent India

Click here to see larger images.
India is probably destined to be one of the major economies, with commensurate influence, in Asia and the wider world in coming decades. Its development since it gained independence has not been entirely even, but in recent years its economy has grown steadily and whilst there remain huge numbers of very poor people, the economic progress has percolated down to a significant proportion of the population already. The country is generally reckoned to be the world's largest genuine democracy. In a message to the nation ahead of the anniversary of independence, President Pratibha Patil, the country's first woman president, declared:

"Growth, when unevenly spread, dwarfs overall prosperity.

"We have to ensure equitable growth for all. The fruits of economic development must necessarily touch, especially, the living and working conditions of our toiling masses and people below the poverty line.

"For our nation to rise and claim its glorious destiny, we must realise that it is our billion hands that can shape it."
Happy independence day!

Bill's silence on 'The Scottish Six' and the 'Referendum on Independence'

I have taken the decision, for the moment, not to discuss in detail two recurrent themes of Scottish political life:
- the desirability or otherwise of having a dedicated 'national' news broadcast at 6pm to replace the current national news broadcast from London;
- the wish of the SNP governing party in Scotland to hold a referendum on independence.

In general, though, I am unconvinced of the need for a separate 6pm news broadcast from Glasgow to replace the perfectly adequate service we now enjoy, specially given the often lamentably-poor quality of the 'Scottish News' currently on offer from Glasgow at 6.30pm. It sounds suspiciously like duplication of effort for purely and nakedly political purposes. Undoubtedly complete reform of the BBC is necessary (the desirability of continuing with the BBC's ambitious aims to offer a 'universal' broadcasting service across all available categories, funded by a licence fee, for a start), but that is a much bigger issue affecting a lot more than Scotland.

As for the wish of the SNP to hold a referendum on independence, and whilst I am not specifically 'opposed' to the notion, it is abundantly clear from the recent Scottish Parliament elections that the great majority of residents of Scotland do not favour 'independence' as an outcome - my fellow-Scots were perfectly at liberty to vote for the only significant political party that offered this as a policy, but chose not to do so in sufficient numbers for the SNP to be able to force such an issue through the Scottish Parliament, far less stand even the remotest chance of getting the answer it wants from a referendum.

In summary, the reason why I have chosen at this time not to comment at length and in greater detail on these two 'burning issues' is that they are merely part of the political dance being performed by the SNP Scottish Government to disguise the fact that its minority position in the Scottish Parliament makes it impossible for it to push through any substantive policies [and as a traditional Scottish Grace before meals puts it "an' may the Lord be thankit"], without the acquiescence of the other political groupings. I am not willing to participate in Alex Salmond's divisive strategies - there are already far too many in both the media and even the other Scottish political groupings (bizarrely enough), not to mention some of the usual suspects in the Scottish 'blogospehere', who seem only too happy to be manipulated by him. I listened to Nicola Sturgeon on the 'Today' programme this morning, incidentally, and even she in my view found it difficult to make her Party's policy on holding a referendum sound at all convincing when subjected to close questionning - and she is normally a very astute political operator as well.

I'll give these matters due attention when the summer is over and the Scottish Parliament is no longer in recess.

SNP and its 'Mickey Mouse' economics on ferry fares

The Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney has announced phasing in "road equivalent tariffs" (RET) on a trial basis, route by route:

"I believe that the way forward is to consider the benefits of introducing a road equivalent tariff (RET) approach to setting fares in Scotland.

"This approach would not just benefit islanders by providing cheaper fares but could also boost island economies by attracting tourists and supporting businesses."

I would like to think that his vision expressed in the final sentence above might come to fruition, but unless it does, all this represents is a politically-motivated move to provide subsidies, under the guise of RET. And if the views of Alf Baird, a professor of maritime transport at Napier University's Transport Research Institute, on the desirability of 'a move away from state-owned services', are valid (and in my view they certainly are) then operating these RET policies would make glaringly clear whether lowering prices in the way Mr Swinney suggests is viable. Commercial companies, unlike governments, can't insulate themselves from the market by conjuring up additional revenue in the form of taxes.

I've written about this subject before.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Pakistan celebrates 60 years of independence from Britain

Pakistan came into being sixty years ago tomorrow. Formed out of the provinces of Balochistan, East Bengal, the North-west Frontier Province, West Punjab and Sindh of the former 'British India'. The new country was a geographic curiosity in that it comprised two separate 'wings' called West Pakistan [the current territory of Pakistan) and East Pakistan, separated by the country formed a day later, India. The 'partition' of India was a product of religious difference, with Pakistan being established for its mainly Moslem inhabitants and India for its mainly Hindu population; the process of partition caused much bloodshed in both communities accompanied by huge population movements in both directions. The man regarded as the 'Father of the Nation' or 'Great Leader' was Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Since then East Pakistan (i.e. East Bengal) has separated from the rest of Pakistan and in 1971 became the new country we know today as Bangladesh; the separation was not peaceful and was a product of the difficulty of managing a country consisting of two separate parts, with a generally hostile country in-between; the hostility was of course mutual.

In any case, tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of Pakistani independence (those who still call themselves Pakistani and those who now call themselves Bangladeshi); I wish them all a Happy Birthday!

The BBC has an interesting historical essay on Pakistan here, which concludes: "It is the story of a society that has been going round in circles for the last 60 years"; it's a sober assessment. Her Majesty the Queen and Prime Minister Gordon Brown send their tributes celebrating the country's birthday.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Sunday YouTube - Morocco: hip-hop "Issawa style"

A lively mixture, mainly in Arabic with some French. Generally I find 'rap' or 'hip-hop' music to be pretty unlistenable. However, this has a definite beat which I find quite attractive:

There's no 'message' in this at all, but as I lived in Morocco for a couple of years a long time ago (well before almost everyone in this video will have been born!), and have visited a few times since, I have a 'soft spot' for the country.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Russians suffer 'Titanitc' embarrassment

The Russians' recent move to claim sovereignty over part of the Arctic ocean-floor revealed itself as not only an assertion of Russian power (and energy-resource grabbing), but as somewhat farcical now that it is revealed that some of the images used by a state-controlled Russian television channel to 'report' this event were in fact taken straight from the film 'Titanic'.

Tempting as it might be to snigger at this crude manipulation of commercial film footage for political propaganda purposes it is yet another signal of the danger which a resurgent Russia under 'Tsar' Putin represents; the man is dangerous.

US church cancels memorial service for gay navy veteran

How a supposedly Christian organisation in Houston (Taxas) deals with people whose lifestyle it does not approve of. I'm afraid I find it very difficult to contain my rage when I read this kind of pseudo-sympathetic claptrap from the church's pastor, the Rev. Gary Simons:

"We did decline to host the service - not based on hatred, not based on discrimination, but based on principle. Had we known it on the day they first spoke about it - yes, we would have declined then. It's not that we didn't love the family.

"Even though we could not condone that lifestyle, we went above and beyond for the family through many acts of love and kindness."

The deceased is Cecil Howard Sinclair and his sister described the church's actions thus: "It's a slap in the face. It's like, 'Oh, we're sorry he died, but he's gay so we can't help you.'" - she described some of the church's comments about the alleged content of some pictures [when staff members putting together his video tribute allegedly saw pictures of men "engaging in clear affection, kissing and embracing."] as "a bold-faced lie".

There's so much more I could write here, but I think it is simpler for people to read the linked article for themselves; it's clear enough to me just how much of a charlatan this so-called Christian pastor is.

Deputy mayor of Treviso (Italy) calls for 'ethnic cleansing' of gays

Amazingly, the deputy mayor of a major Italian city is calling quite openly for the 'ethnic cleansing' of homosexuals from the area. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the city hall of Treviso calling for his resignation. Even more amazingly, and whilst a copy of a recording of Giancarlo Gentilini making these remarks has been obtained by prosecutors to 'see whether they broke the law', no criminal probe is [yet] underway, according to Italian media reports!! What are they waiting for?!

Watch for yourself what Giancarlo Gentilini said:

One of the comments on the YouTube website has this translation into English:

"...So I'll immediately give orders to my police chief to perform an ethnic cleansing of fags. Fags need to go to other cities of the region that are willing to take them in. Here at Treviso there is no possibility for fags or their kind."

My knowledge of Italian is not great, but quite a number of the comments on the YouTube site would appear be praising this bigot. Quite chilling.

Friday, 10 August 2007

We're all doomed!

According to a Met Office study, global temperatures will plateau over the next couple of years before recommencing an inexorable upward movement. All sorts of dire things are in store for us - floods, droughts, you name it.

I'm not a climate-change sceptic, I simply don't know either way. I wonder if scientists do either. At any rate we'll soon have the empirical evidence ourselves as we live through the next few years. It seems that scientific opinions on what is happening vary wildly and that a huge battle is raging to win over governments and populations to a belief in one particular scenario (of future disasters, naturally). I repeat, I'm not a 'sceptic' - I prefer to think of myself as 'open-minded'.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Crazy justice - Inverness style!

Frankly I have rarely read something more shameful than this.

Some idiot drives at 115mph on the A9 just south of Inverness; the maximum speed limit on public highways anywhere in the UK is 70mph. The judge accepts some sob story that the accused requires his licence so he can take his baby to hospital on the two or three occasions a month when emergency admission to hospital is required as the child 'does not keep in good health'. What kind of idiot is Sheriff Phillip Mann? James Macgee, the person who committed the offence, should have been thinking about the potential risks to his regular hospital-runs when he chose to drive at a speed 64 per cent in excess of the maximum permitted anywhere in this country, even on motorways and the A9 is certainly not a motorway!! The only possible justification for driving at this speed might have been if he had actually been rushing the ill child to a hosptial, but that does not appear to have been the case. According to his defence solicitor:

"He was in a queue of traffic on the single carriageway then came to the dual carriageway and accelerated.

"The car was more powerful than the one he had prior to this and had just bought it one month beforehand. This was the first opportunity he had to drive the car on the open road."

In other words an immature driver has wantonly broken the law and a clever lawyer has had the chutzpah to peddle an argument involving a poorly child to get his client off. Pathetic! This brings the whole notion of speed limits into disrepute.

Minor excitement - I just got my new vehicle registration number

I just had a 'phone call from the car dearlership where I'm buying my new car, for delivery on 1st September, with details of the registration number - I don't go in for personalised numbers (I'm not quite that vain!) but was able to choose the final letter to make the three-letter sequence at the end a little more memorable, in fact almost lexicographic (for anyone who knows me in 'real life' and happens to see me 'tootling' around next month).

I alluded to the fact that I was taking test drives for new cars last month. In fact I've gone with Toyota, a brand I've never owned before, and its 'Auris' range - this is the replacement for the ubiquitous 'Corolla' range. Of the other vehicles I tried I liked the Mazaa6 a lot, but the latest version of the Honda Civic doesn't 'float my boat' at all. This is a big disappointment to me, because my present car, and the two before, were all Hondas (in the 'Accord' range) and I really liked the old version of the 'Civic', but in the new one the rear-view is appallingly bad, however smart and 'space-age' the vehicle looks externally; it was otherwise excellent to drive and would no doubt have given me several years of almost trouble-free motoring. As well as the three recent Hondas, I also owned two 'Civics' (much, much earlier versions) when I lived in Jeddah and in Muscat in the late 70's and the early 80's, so it's a brand I know well and like and may well return to it in future.

I haven't owned a Mazda for over 20 years (I had two, first in Jeddah then in Hong Kong, in the mid-70's and the mid-80's), but the 'Mazda6' was good to drive and comfortable and the model I was looking at was pretty well equipped. However, I had made the decision, some time ago, to get a physically slightly smaller car as now that I no longer have a dog (and don't plan to 'replace' her) I decided that I shouldn't back-track and go for a vehicle similar in size to my present one. This won't be inconvenient in any way, except possibly when I'm driving down to Spain again next winter (when I plan to take a number things to leave there in the new house), but I think with careful planning it won't be too much of a hindrance. Either next year of the year after I'll be buying and leaving a car out there anyway, so won't want to drive the whole way after that in any case.

The Toyota 'Auris' was good to drive and pretty comfortable (and has a decent rear view) and the model I'm getting has the all-important cruise-control, plus a few other little gizmos I have come to favour and the brand has a reputation for extreme reliability - so I'm pretty happy overall with the choice I've made. Now, all I have to do is 'phone the insurance company to arrange the change of insurance.

Oh, and another little snippet' of Bill's life - late last night I suddenly decided to re-commence a couple of tapestry projects I began some years ago, but had left half-done; the one I've gone back to will eventually become a cushion-cover and depicts a bunch of black grapes with leaves - I want it to be ready as a little house-warming gift from myself to the new place in Spain. The other project is considerably more detailed (smaller and more complex stitching) and depicts a Chinese blue-ware plate; it will eventually be framed and used as a wall-hanging, probably here in Scotland. I started doing tapestry about 10 years ago as I had always wanted to do it, but never had the time when I worked - now that I no longer have a dog, I'm planning a return to tapestry as one of my 'displacement' activities, alongwith some more exercise - speaking of which I've got my morning sit-ups to do...

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Subtle US irony, or an amazing lack of self-knowledge ...

The US is considering the request from the UK to release five people from its detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who although not British citizens have prior to their detention been resident in the UK. I wrote about the British request yesterday.

However it seems, according to the BBC report I link to above, that:

A senior US official said Washington would seek guarantees that the men would be treated humanely and would not be allowed to pose a security threat.

This must be some kind of subtle irony from the US administration that I have hitherto been unaware of! Frankly I think it is a lot less likely that the UK will mistreat these five men than the US, which has held them in legal limbo under grtoesque conditions for some considerable time!

The next bit of the story is equally amazing:

When asked whether the US considered the men dangerous, the official replied: "We believe they are."

OK. So why hasn't the US been able to concoct some credible justification for charging these men with something before a recognised and credible court in the US mainland? I have absolutely no doubt that if these people are released into British custody they will be treated humanely as a matter of course and if the British government has credible reasons to hold them in detention it will do so, but if it does not have such reasons it won't; this country, unlike the US, operates according to the rule of law (even if I don't like some of the laws the Labour government has passed, it is clear that our own judicial system has called our Government to book on occasion in the past few years to force it to act in accordance with the law and don't doubt that such a sanction will be repeated if necessary). What this is all about is an attempt at face-saving by the US - it has dug itself into a very deep hole with its policy of illegal detentions at Guantanmao and as President Bush approaches his final year in power his administration is scrabbling to try and sort out its dirty little 'indiscretions' - it is probably desirable for the UK to [continue to] play along with this charade, at least until the five are released from detention, but at least as pertinently until our troops are able to withdraw from Iraq (and Afghanistan). With the benefit of hindsight, and whilst I don't regret in any way our initial involvement in these two 'theatres', it is clear that our acquiescence in the flawed policy agenda of the current US administration over the past few years (since 2001) has not been wise - nor has it resulted in a diminution of the threat from terrorism which we face, rather the reverse.

Midweek YouTube - Monganga medicated soap (Zaire)

This advertisement is in French, but the style of presentation is typical for this kind of product; the lady in the ad. is wearing a white coat to imply that she is some kind of researcher or perhaps has medical qualifications. The ad. dates from 1993 and is not so different from similar items that one might see in this country; after the medical bit at the beginning the shots change to images of happy people using the product and getting 'satisfaction' from it.

(NB/ The version of this video-clip embedded originally has disappeared, because according to YouTube the account associated with it has been deleted, but fortunately another version exists currently in YouTube, so I have updated the embedding on Sunday 19th January 2014 - see also * below.)

The punch-line at the end has the presenter saying that the product "merits its name"; the name Monganga is the Lingala (a west African language) for a doctor.

* The second link originally placed here (from an educational institute in South Africa) has also disappeared, so I have replaced it with a similar although less detailed article about the family of languages to which Lingala belongs - please click here to read it.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

A welcome rebuttal of parochialism in the Highlands of Scotland

The Chairman of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, Simon Cole-Hamilton, has a very welcome article in today's Inverness Courier in which he makes a strong case, both in terms of hard-headed business common sense and in terms of culture and aesthetics, for the wisdom, in the longer term, of investing significant resources in the redevelopment taking place at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness. This is in sharp contrast to the 'spat' within Highland Council which resulted in the resignation from chairmanship of the education, culture and sport committee of Councillor Roddy Balfour, who is strongly opposed to the expenditure, describing it as a 'waste' of money.

Today I read in The Nairnshire Telegraph's latest edition (no online presence, I'm afraid) that in addition to the 'spat' I referred to above, some of the comments made by Highland Council convener, Councillor Sandy Park (former Provost of Nairn), have necessitated an apology from him to Councillor Balfour. The Nairnshire Telegraph reports that during the course of the dispute Councillor Park commented, in reference to Councillor Balfour:

"If somebody, especially a chair with a £300m budget, goes off the straight and narrow, then we have to - basically like I do at home with my dog - take him to heel."

Highly undiplomatic language! His later 'apology' also makes interesting reading:

"I made a flippant remark and I have apologised for it. But as far as resigning, it has never entered my head. I have had a vote of confidence from my colleagues and have 100 per cent support from my administration. It was a throw-away line and not meant to cause offence."

Well, I give Councillor Park the benefit of the doubt about not meaning to cause offence, but I think it high-lights the difference between being a provost of a small town, with its parish pump politics (see later in this article), and being convener of Highland Council - still not a huge job, but obviously a more high-profile one. Councillor Park needs to think a little more carefully in future how he expresses himself, even if I (on balance) agree with his underlying sentiments with regard to Councillor Balfour.

Naturally Nairn continues to live up to its well-deserved reputation of shooting itself in the foot. The Nairnshire Telegraph also report today, with a front-page 'splash', about objections being raised by our SNP Provost, Councillor Liz MacDonald, to the terms under which supermarket operator Somerfield is being permitted to acquire part of the additional land for its proposed town-centre redevelopment of its premises. She thinks that the supermarket operator is being given "too good a bargain" given the recent rise in local land values. She also professes disappointment with the scale of the proposed redevelopment:

"I am concerned that the Somerfield group has too good a deal. They are getting the community centre site, the King Street buildings; the only bit left is the school. The will have carte blanche on car parking. Why should we sell off such an asset at less than market value.

"It's a big downgrade from the former Safeway proposals."

Her last point is echoed by the main editorial in the newspaper and there is certainly truth in what she says. However, I have a few comments of my own:
- is the deal on the land agreed and signed? If yes, then it must stand or commercial contracts mean nothing in an SNP-dominated Scotland. If not, then undoubtedly there is scope to re-think the terms, but the potential downside must be recognised clearly - further delays or even a pull-out;
- the redevelopment of the centre of Nairn has been dragging on for a decade, at least, and has suffered various delays. Locals blame it on the changing ownership of Safeway (subsequently if briefly Morrisons, before the arrival of Somerfield) and no doubt this was a factor, but a far greater reason for the delay was the constant bickering within Nairn which led to an earlier proposed developement being scrapped after a public campaign against it, aided and abetted by local (parochial) business interests;
- there is a letter in today's newspaper from the Association of Nairn Businesses which continues the fine tradition of bickering and delaying tactics, disguised as helpful suggestions;
- it is remarkable that businesses with interests beyond the boundaries of Nairn have the stamina to continue with their business development efforts here in the light of the local climate of suspicion of outsiders and fundamental parochialism. Comments relative to the mooted retail park at Balmakeith (on the eastern outskirts of Nairn) within the letter illustrate this attitude perfectly.

UK Government seeks residents' release from Guantanamo

BBC News24 is just reporting the Foreign Office have now requested the US authorities to release five of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who were legally resident in the UK prior to their incarceration, but are not British citizens. This represents a change of policy by the UK, which has hitherto said that it cannot act on behalf of people who are not its own nationals.

Generally speaking I am very pleased at this development as the continuing existence of the illegal detention regime operated by the US at Guantanamo is a scandal which stains America's democracy. Perhaps the change by the British government is designed to 'help' the US close the site, by agreeing to take off its hands at least a few of those it continues to detain, but the real solution is either for the US to charge those it holds before a court in the US itself, where there is proper recourse to the norms of the US justice system, not to subject the detainees to the 'kangaroo' courts which not even its own military lawyers believe in any more and are becoming more and more vocal in denouncing. If it cannot do these things, credibly, then the detainees should be released. Period.

The US must be aware that should it release these five people into UK custody it is highly unlikely that grounds will exist for them to be detained in the UK if and when they arrive back here, any more than there were with the British citizens who were released from detention at Guantanamo some time ago.

Monday, 6 August 2007

A cowardly bully is gaoled

Just a tale of life in an unremarkable English town. A landlord, Alan Pickersgill, takes over a pub; he happens to be gay and to have a gay partner - nothing out of the ordinary there, at least in contemporary Britain. A customer called Michael Wood, who doesn't like 'poofs', makes a series of unpleasant remarks to the new landlord and is 'barred' from the pub. He returns to the pub, not wanting to accept that he is barred, makes more unpleasnt remarks to the landlord and grabs him by the throat. He is escorted from the pub by staff and customers. Some time later he is arrested and charged with common assault.

Our 'hero' does not like this at all. Four days before the court case is to be heard, he returned to the pub and was asked to leave by a another member of staff. He returned and asked to shake the landlord's hand; the latter understandably refused, pointing out that a court case was due to be heard in four days. The barred customer then punched the landlord on the nose.

The man has righlty been convicted of common assault for the first offence and pleaded guilty to common assault and witness intimidation for the second incident. He has been gaoled for 12 months and ordered to stay away from the pub for two years. The judge remarked:

"We live in a tolerant society and homophobic remarks are totally unacceptable. These two incidents must have been very upsetting. People are entitled to go out for a quiet drink without this sort of thing going on."

I hope Mr Wood can, in the words of his defending barrister, make a "clean start" and also get help for his long-standing drink problem.

In any case it is good to see the law taking a robust attitude to this kind of anti-social behaviour directed against other law-abiding members of the community; homophobia is perhaps becoming just as unacceptable as racism has become - a long overdue development.

Civil Partnerships really are just like 'marriage' in the eyes of the law

This is the first case of a person being prosecuted for entering into a civil partnership with another person of the same gender whilst still married to a person of the opposite gender. The law regards this as bigamy, just as much as if it were a bigamous marriage. The lady who committed the offence, by lying that she was single both to her civil partner and to the registrar who solemnised their civil partnership, has been given an eight-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to do 100 hours community service.

Sad as this case may be for all concerned, I regard the court judgement as a very postive signal that civil partnerships have real status under the law and that the responsibilities they impose are just as important as the privileges they grant.

I wonder how long it will be before a case of bigamy occurs where a person who has already entered into a civil partnership goes on to contract a marriage without having first dissolved the civil partnership? Such is the diversity of human relationships that I suspect such a case will occur sooner or later.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Extreme summer heat in southern Spain takes its toll

A 34-year old farmer in the Murcian town of Alhama de Murcia died last week in hospital after having been affected by heat-stroke; so far 38 people have been affected by sun-stroke in Murcia province, of whom 3 have required hospitalisation. Alhama is less than 15 miles from where my Spanish home is located.

Yesterday afternoon the temperature in Cordoba (further south in Andalucia) reached an oven-like level - 49 degrees C! The good news is that cooler temperatures are expected next week, also that public campaigns about the dangers of prolonged exposure to high temperatures and the need for proper hydration seem to have lowered casualties from last year's levels.

This is not a problem we suffer from in Scotland, generally speaking,

Finishing touches to Nairn's Wallace Banstand

The floor of the Bandstand was tiled a few months ago and this commemorative plaque has been placed in the centre of the floor. At the beginning of this year, electrical cabling was laid underground to the Bandstand so that flood-lighting could be installed; I plan to add a night-shot when a suitable occasion arises as it looks most impressive at night now.

The Wallace Bandstand, Nairn
- floor tiled and plaque laid
(photograph taken on 4 August 2007)

Click here to see a larger image.

PS/ Sorry that I got the tips of my shoes into the photograph - my arms are the length they are.

Nairn Community Centre - new building update

I took another photograph of the new Nairn Community Centre yesterday (it was a lovely, sunny and quite warm day) and it seems to be edging ever closer to completion; the stairs and ramps leading to it from the main road, the A96, seem more or less complete and the main entrance at the back of the police station, just to the left of the new Centre, seems to be almost ready, too, as is the car park. The protective (paper/plastic?) on the external wall cladding was removed last week and it seems that parts of the exterior will be a sort of celadon green colour, where it is not white painted concrete or glazed - it really looks quite attractive. Through the glazed part at the front it seems it is being fitted out as the reception area with what look like wooden shelving being installed, unless it's to be bookcases - no doubt we'll know soon enough.

The new 'Nairn Community Centre'
- close to completion (4 August 2007)

Click here to see a larger image.

Sunday YouTube - North Korea: Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang

This hotel in the 'capital of willows' rises to 105 floors and a height of 330 metres (1,083 feet). It has roughly 360,000 square metres of floor space. Construction began in 1987 and ceased in 1992 in it present state. In 2006 it remained unfinished and unoccupied; if ever completed it would be the tallest hotel in the world and the seventh tallest building. Undoubtedly a proud symbol of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea:

- read more about the country in its Official Webpage; a window into a very different kind of mindset than most of us are familiar with. Interestingly the registrant and administrative contact for this website are in Tarragona, Spain.

PS/ Curiously, but entirely coincidentally (*), there is a very interesting article in today's Sunday Telegraph about the difficult living conditions in North Korea which make some escapees prefer a life of prostitution across the border in China.

* - In fact I have a reserve of suitable YouTube clips for both my Sunday and Midweek YouTubes sufficient for the next several months - the one about North Korea above simply happened to be the next in line for a Sunday outing.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

If this is the best Labour have got on Boris Johnson ...

... well it ain't much. Funny how we've never heard these remarks from Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler before - for example when Boris was first appointed to David Cameron's Shadow Cabinet.

Could it be something to do with the fact that I heard Ken Livingstone on the 'Today' programme a couple of days ago suggesting that Johnson would be difficult to beat:

"I know a lot of people say Boris will be a walkover. I think Boris is the most formidable opponent I will face in my political career.

"He's got a high profile, he's a charming and engaging rogue, that's why I want to get on to what he believes in and will do, rather than whether you would want him as your next door neighbour."

Livingstone's instincts are probably correct, but I expect we'll be hearing a great deal more of this kind of smear tactic against Boris in the run-up to the Conservatives selecting their candidate - then if it's Boris that's chosen I expect the next phase of Labour's campaign against him to be rolled out. As an MP with one of the most eclectic mixtures in his personal background of any MP, both ethnically and religiously, I find these comments from Labour apparatchiks somewhat laughable. Of course it's true that Boris Johnson is a somewhat gaffe-prone individual, but Ken Livingstone is easily his rival in that particular field and he was only accepted back into the Labour fold a few years ago because Labour knew that their own preferred alternative candidates would never beat him in a million years. Whatever one may think of Livingstone's politics, he is a wily operator and seems, bizarrely, to have the kind of charisma that appeals to a lot of Londoners. He will be difficult to beat, but Ken recognises a fellow-maverick and that seems to be what the good people of London go for - that's the danger Ken sees clearly. However, I don't think the clumsy attacks that Abbott and Butler mounted in the trail of Mrs Lawrence's comments will have a lot of traction.

Finally, whilst Mrs Doreen Lawrence, mother of murder victim Stephen Lawrence, has every right to hold whatever opinion on Johnson, or indeed any other matter, she cares to I really don't think that her views are worth any more than any other citizen of this country, or London. Of course it's convenient for Labour to use her comments to partisan effect (even though this lady has a record of attacking this Labour government too when she feels it necessary) - perfectly understandable, that's politics; but that's all it is.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Chris Langham convicted of downloading child porn

Down-loading images of children being abused, or of child porn, is a crime - Chris Langham has rightly been convicted of this crime. He was acquitted of other charges of indecent assault involving an underage girl and of serious sexual abuse. He is remanded in custody until sentencing on 14th September next.

Why, though, is it a crime 'merely' to download such images? Quite simply it is because the children appearing in this material are being abused, often physically, but always emotionally. Viewing (and paying to view) such images encourages the foul people who produce this filth. If people such as Chris Langham did not download such images, usually for payment (or perhaps by 'swapping' similar sick images with others with similarly perverted impulses), then the producers would have no incentive (almost always financial) to coerce their child victims into this trade.

I read an interesting post on this issue a few days ago on a blog I have come to have a lot of respect for over the past several months (SNP Tactical Voting), but the seeming contention in the post there that I referred to above that somehow the law has 'gone after the wrong person' by going after the consumer of this muck, whereas it seems as if the producers are left untouched is in my opinion wrong-headed; Jeff suggests that to download one or a very few images is not too serious; I disagree. Yes, the producers are evil people and if it were as easy as Jeff suggests (without turning the whole world into a 'police state') to track them down then I would be eager to see them punished severely. However, the fundamental point is that viewing these images, even if it is only 'a few', encourages those who produce them to lure more children into the trade. I commented on Jeff's post in his blog and he responded to my comments with comments of his own. Suffice to say that I disagree strongly with the whole basis of Jeff's analysis - read the exchange for yourself if you are interested and make up your own mind. Some of Jeff's comments in his main post are also curious (the paragraph which begins 'To me, that line of defence is very similar to the "I was just curious" approach taken by drug users or one-time homosexuals ...') and seem to conflate a lot of separate issues. Frankly I resent it strongly that whenever 'paedophilia' is mentioned, someone always brings 'homosexuality' into the conversation however irrelevant it is to the issue at hand; Chris Langham seems to be interested solely in viewing images of young girls, not young boys, so I doubt very much that he has homosexual tendencies. There are of course homosexuals who are also paedophiles, but it seems that description does not apply to Chris Langham, the first part at least.

However, as the issue is raised I will comment. Whom one chooses to have sex with, provided both parties are over the age which the law sets as the 'age of consent' is no-one else's business and personally I make no judgement on whether a person who has sex with a person of the same gender once or 'a few' times is a homosexual or bisexual, but I'm afraid the repressed individuals who then go on to claim that they are nevertheless 'completely straight' or some such nonsense as 'just making do' may be convinced by their own arguments, but I don't think anyone else is fooled. Whether someone who uses an illegal drug once, and never again, is an 'addict' is a different question; if it is a genuine once-only thing then they are probably not, but just as with alcohol it is extremely difficult to be completely honest with oneself on such matters. Ultimately, though, if someone wants to damage his/her own body or mind by using drugs, or alcohol excessively, then this is that person's business, so far as I am concerned - until that indulgence spills over into affecting other people (for example thefts/muggings to feed drug habits, becoming violent or a dangerous driver through over-use of alcohol). A child being invloved in porn or physical or sexual abuse is a crime because the perpetrators and consumers are exploiting a young person, directly or indirectly, who requires the law's protection. Chris Langham is not entitled to do 'research' which involves such practices.

Signs of hope for tolerance of gays in Northern Ireland

I may not particularly like the messenger, but I have great pleasure in acknowledging the efforts of Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness MP, to show solidarity with the gay community of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has an unfortunate history of homophobia, but recent efforts to tackle this, it would seem with some success, are extremely welcome. The Belfast Telegraph has a second report on the Gay Pride week in [London]Derry.

What is specially heartening about this development is that it seems to indicate that the recent outbreak of peace in Northern Ireland is establishing genuine roots. It is notable that First Minister, The Rev. Ian Paisley MP, is not quoted in the linked articles; he is undoubtedly (I would imagine) as opposed as he ever was to the 'evils of sodomy', but is keeping schtoom for the sake of the peace process he has helped to bring about, along with Martin McGuinness; I don't under-estimate the significance of this. Whilst Paisley's son (who works in the Office of the First Minister, his father) has not resiled from the anti-gay comments he made recently, his father would seem to have decided that maintenance of the recent agreement between the two major opposing wings of NI politics is more important than a reversion to doctrinal posturing. Maybe the Northern Ireland peace process really is for keeps, this time.

The Cawdor saga rolls on - Nairn sure is in 'interesting' hands

It's just a [continuing] tale of ordinary bickering, aristocratic folk. Maybe it's something about the air Nairn, but the two local major 'landed gentry' families seem to specialise in their family squabbling spilling over into the public prints. Over course the Brodies no longer own the land around Brodie and with the death of the old Brodie a few years ago that family is probably a 'busted flush'.

Anyway, back to the Cawdors. They remain major land-owners in the area. Bickering between the Earl and the [Dowager] Countess continues before the Court of Session, althoough if this story is to be believed peace may be about to break out between the two rival factions; a statement issued on Tuesday states: "... all the outstanding disputes between them [will be] settled amicably out of court in the very near future.".

However, other parts of the statement are interesting for the style of language employed:

"The Cawdor Maintenance Trust, of which the dowager is a trustee, is shortly to carry out a public consultation exercise to inform a proposed planning application for part of this area.

"Both the dowager and Lord Cawdor have expressed a genuine interest in hearing the views of local people on the future for the seaside town."

Note the use of reported speech, particularly in the second paragraph; whilst the two of them no doubt have a 'genuine interest', that sentiment is not expressed directly, as would have been a little more natural, in the form "... the dowager and Lord Cawdor express a genuine interest ...". That would possibly have made this statement sound more like an effort to interact with the people of Nairn, rather than the lord and lady addressing the peasantry.

For my part I hope that these people can sort out their internal family strife, preferably sparing us any further airing of their squabbling in public. I hope also that when final decisions are being made about the Inverness-Nairn part of the 'A96 Corridor', the planning authorities will prioritise the interests of all parties in the area in a sensible manner; the Cawdors, as major land-owners whose properties will certainly be affected by any developments to the west of Nairn, obviously have a legitimate interest, but of far greater importance are the interests of the whole population of Nairn and the surrounding areas - their interests need to be kept firmly in the forefront. Anyone participating in the 'public consultation' proposed The Cawdor Maintenance Trust needs to bear in mind that it can never be a truly impartial study as it will necessarily, in my view, always have an underlying agenda of prioritising the interests of the Cawdors.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Another hypocrite is exposed

Honestly, and I mean this very sincerely, it gives me no pleasure at all (not even a very mild form of Schadenfreude) to report that yet another religious bigot has been found wanting in the good taste and decency department. Tommy Tester, 58, pastor of a Baptist church in Bristol, Virginia has been charged with indecent exposure and DUI. It seems the poor man also offered blow-jobs to the officers who were sent to investigate. I hope at least that the skirt he was wearing flattered his figure and that the police officers he propositioned were reasonably good-looking. No doubt this was an 'aberration', although perhaps the good Rev. Tester needs to re-assess where he is in the gender spectrum and face up to who he is - I hope he can recover from this scandal and that his Church and his parishioners can give him the time and the space to work out his 'demons', as the good Christian folk they undoubtedly [would wish to persuade the world that they] are.

18 years for homophobic murder in Blackpool

23-year old Scot, Marc Goodwin, will serve a minimum of 18 years in gaol for his homophobic murder of 57-year old Malcolm Benfold in Blackpool on 30th January this year. His two accomplices, James McNamee and Joseph Williams, received lesser sentences. I am pleased to see this crime being punished quite severely, in terms of what the laws allows; it is also pleasing that justice has taken a relatively brief period to be carried out.

Jean Charles de Menezes shooting - IPCC report due

The fall-out in the wake of innocent, but still dead, Jean Charles de Menezes's shooting in London in July 2005 continues. Teflon-Blair (the Met. one) seems to have escaped censure once more.

'Desperate Househusbands'

I enjoy watching Desperate Housewives; like a lot of American TV series it is slickly-produced and the writing is top-notch. Now I read that the next season (the fourth), due to start airing end-September 2007 in the US, is to introduce a male gay couple to Wisteria Lane; no doubt I'll enjoy watching it a few months later when it starts in the UK.

Golfing tantrums on the green

I like the 'idea' of golf, but I've never personally been able to work up much enthusiasm for playing this particular game. It has always seemed to me like a good walk spoiled and efforts by friends in various countries (including Scotland, of course) to get me to take up playing have borne little fruit. The nearest I ever came to succumbing was when I did serious research about purchasing a set of left-handed clubs when I lived in Dubai. However, I saw sense in time!

But golfers do take their little rules extremely seriously - and 'serious' crimes like this are considered completely unacceptable and drastic and humiliatingly public punishments are the result if the club committee upholds complaints by one member about the conduct of another. 'Drastic' in this context equates to being suspended from the club - it could have been worse, I suppose, he could have been expelled. An exquisite aspect of this particular incident is that 'news of the dispute reached Sir Fred Goodwin, the head of Mr Lindsay's employers [The Royal Bank of Scotland]'. This is the allegedly adult equivalent of a school headmaster chastising an unruly pupil and terminating a disciplinary interview by saying 'I have no alternative but to inform your unhappy parents'. God, how I despise the juvenile conduct of everyone involved!