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

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Gillian Gibbons and Sudan - why is nobody mentioning Darfur?

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Over the past couple of days an amazing story from Sudan has come to prominence - a teacher, of British origin, in a primary school in Sudan, held a competition amongst her pupils to name a teddy bear; the kids apparently chose the name 'Muhammad' (or 'Mohamed', depending on how you transliterate the name of the Prophet [Peace be upon Him]) as one of the pupils, also named Muhammad, thought it would be cool to name the teddy bear after himself.

So far, so harmless.

However, we are told that 'a parent' complained to the school authorities that this was a deliberate provocation to Islam and and insult to the Prophet. An official from the Sudanese Embassy in London has on several occasions today referred to the complaint by 'a parent' (on BBC 'Today' this morning and just a short time ago on BBC 'Newsnight' this evening), but none of the inteviewers have sought clarification about the identity of this 'parent' who lodged the complaint. For example, does the parent exist?

The story has been peddled by the official from the Sudanese Embassy that it is normal for a complaint from 'a parent' to be followed-up by the authorities there, just as it would in the UK. I have two things to say about this particular aspect of this story: first, I agree but it is not clear that the 'teacher', were it in the UK, would immediately have been arrested an held in custody; secondly, the impression is somehow being given by the official from the Sudanese embassy, and not challenged by interviewers on the 'Today' or 'Newsnight' programmes, that Sudan is a perfectly normal country with a fully independent judiciary operating according to rules analagous to our own (as perhaps it had and did soon after its independence from the UK). Would it were so!

Then we, or at least me, suddenly remember some of the other recent news stories issuing from Sudan involving that part of the country called 'Darfur'. More specifically the charges against the Sudanese government that it has sponsored genocide in Darfur.

Briefly, I think there is rather more to this story about a British teacher supposedly insulting the good name of the Prophet Muhammad [Peace be upon Him] than is at first apparent. I rather suspect that Gillian Gibbons is an entirely innocent pawn in a rather sordid game of politics. I hope that the British government will ensure that this British citizen is properly represented and that her rights are protected.

UPDATE: (Thursday 29NOV07 20.15 GMT) I heard in a news report earlier this evening that the person who reported the 'teddy bear' incident to the Sudanese authorities was an 'office worker' at the school; it is possible, I suppose, that this 'office worker' is also a 'parent'. Perhaps we will hear more about this in due course. From news reports this evening it seems that Ms Gibbons has been convicted of one of the three charges against her and sentenced to 15 days in gaol, after which she is to be deported. I hate to pre-judge, but it looks very much as if this whole case has been concocted and that a suitable 'formula' has been found to satisfy both the prejudices of those in Sudan who have been whipped up into a state of righteous indignation against this 'infidel' teacher and of the equally righteous indignation of people in Britain who (like me) are outraged by this idiotic case. I suspect (and I certainly hope) that Ms Gibbons will be treated with 'kid gloves' by the Sudanese authorities whilst in their custody untill she is safely out of Sudanese airspace.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Labour general secretary resigns over donations scandal

Labour general secretary Peter Watt has resigned in the wake of the 'proxy donations' scandal. He admitted he was aware of the arrangements used by David Abrahams to 'launder' money into the Labour Party under the names of others.

Now we learn that David Abrahams also uses the name 'David Martin', specially when planning applications are being applied for. The whole affair begins to stink to high heaven. Read a little more about this enigmatic character here.

Listening to the Labour stooge on the 'Today' programme this morning (a woman - I don't recall her name, I'm afraid) say how 'shocked' she was by the revelations of their law-breaking was quite funny. She insisted they thought they had a system in place to vet thoroughly all donations - checking that the person donating actually lived at the address given and appeared on the electoral register. The fact that the donor lived in a type of property and in an area of a city where the ability of the resident to provide regular donations of the level and frequency of those ostensibly given by Ray Ruddick ("I can't stand Labour - I can't stand any politicians") and Janet Kidd was unlikely, unless they had other sources of funds. I'd have thought that significant, regular donations from such sources perhaps required some further clarification just to be sure that the money was 'clean' and not just 'laundered' (quite a good joke -eh?!) as it turns out to be, by someone who claims to be a 'very private person', but uses another name to apply for planning permissions where Labour Party people have a say in granting permissions or not. The truth is that the Labour Party's so-called system of checking the source of large donations it receives is so full of holes as to be hardly worth the name! I think the whole reason for this lackadaisical attitude to compliance with laws they have enacted themselves is ideological - any socialists I have ever met seem to beleive the 'justice' of their cause is so obvious to any person of good will that any possibility of cheating by one of their members is so unthinkable to them that they do not actually do any proper checking at all. For example in the organisation I worked for I had to certify, in writing, on a regular basis that certain things had been done or had happened as a normal routine part of my professional activity. Fair enough. What if I hadn't actually done what I'd said I'd done, though? Simple - every so often there were both internal audits and external audits of our activities in great detail; it is fair to say that the internal audits were a great deal more 'forensic' than the external audits, because the consequences of things being discovered later in an external audit would be extremely serious for the organisation itself as either laws might have been broken or shareholders deceived. No system is ever absolutely foofproof, but it needs to be sufficiently robust so that more than a casual scrutiny does not reveal it to be completely illusory. Labour's problem is that it seems to 'assume' its people act honestly, openly and conscientiously, but does not actually do any checking to see that this is the case, nor (it seems) are the people who act on its behalf required to certify, in writing, that they have carried out its own internal rules.

PS/ In an amusing aside I note that the visitor stats for my post on this matter yesterday show I received a visit from someone using the Electoral Commission server - let's hope their in-depth investigation of this sleaze goes a good deal further than looking at what random bloggers are writing. Can I suggest an independent audit of the Labour Party's accounts? Maybe if I'm visited by the Electoral Commission again they'll see this comment and follow it up, or am I being naive and over-optimistic?

Monday, 26 November 2007

"We're Labour - the law is for others"

Yet another case of the Labour Party and its supporters blatantly breaking the law. I heard the good David Abrahams waffling on the radio this morning, later repeated on BBC News 24, that he wanted to keep his identity secret to avoid the press hounding him and he didn't carry a 'rule book' around with him - fair enough, but the law is the law, even for a Labour supporter. It is no defence to claim ignorance of the law. We still don't know whether anyone within the Labour Party, locally or nationally, deliberately encouraged Mr Abrahams to provide his donations in this manner.

Incidentally, how easy would it have been for the two supposed donors (one his secretary and the other a 'friend and colleague' of the secretary) to say no to Mr Abrahams, had they wished to do so, and not suffer repercussions in their employment or work prospects? Sounds like undue influence to me. The reports I saw yesterday indicated that one of the donors, described as a 'jobbing builder', hated the Labour Party, indeed all politicians, and would never give money to it - if true this sounds as if his name has been used without his agreement. How will the Labour Party squirm out of that one?

The Labour Party begins to sound more and more like the late Mrs Leona Helmsley, a property tycoon in New York who thought taxes were for the 'little people'. I thought it was the 'little people' that the Labour Party was set up to support, but like a lot of what socialists believe in, this is just another example of their self-serving habits of deception and misinformation.

A timely question for US Presidential candidates

Lynn and Pat Mulder of Florida pose a timely question for all the candidates in the upcoming Presidential elections. Jae (where I saw this video - thanks) implies it need be asked of Republican candidates, and whilst I certainly agree with him about that, I think it could usefully be asked of all the candidates, including at least some of the probable frontrunners from the Democratic Party. Further, with a suitably amended question, I'd like to see this asked of candidates in British parliamentary elections (particularly Party leaders - all of them!) and of course not forgetting the leadership of various religious denominations. I agree that the Republican Party, seemingly dominated as it is by the religious right in the US, needs watching, but so do many others who can be very 'mealy-mouthed' unless not forced to answer direct and very pertinent questions like this:

Sunday, 25 November 2007

My latest great MP3 gadget

Soon after getting my first MP3 player a couple of years ago (as a Christmas gift - thanks again!) I realised that apart from being a great gadget capable of carrying around quite large music or speech files in a tiny volume, allowing me to dispense with the notion of carrying around CDs, it had some limitations. It meant that I could only listen to music through headphones and not through speakers. I solved that problem last year when I got a set of dedicated MP3 speakers, when I was buying my second (or was it my third? - *) MP3 player - this was great last winter when I was in Spain as I could carry almost 100 CDs worth of music with me and play them through a speaker system, albeit not a very powerful one, in the house I was renting out there.

Then a couple of months ago I heard about the idea of an MP3 player with a built-in FM tranmitter, allowing music played on the gadget to be listened to either via the standard ear-phones or through any suitable FM receiver. However, when I began seriously to look for sources (mainly Amazon or my local Argos stores) they always seem to be out of stock of these particular items. In any case last week I finally asked at the counter of one of the Inverness Argos stores (there are two) if these items had been withdrawn or if they were just popular and in short supply. The assistant said probably the latter and looked up in the computer to see if one was available anywhere else in the north of Scotland; there was one in Elgin (45 minutes from Inverness, 30 minutes from Nairn) and a second in Oban - over two hours drive away, so I reserved the one in Elgin and went there the next day to buy it.

I was somewhat sceptical that the FM signal would be strong enough to make the reproduction of music on a radio or hi-fi system sufficently good to make it comfortable to listen to, but as this gadget cost less than GBP40- I thought why not give it a whirl. I have been pleasantly surprised; it works well in the car and the MP3 unit can be tucked away in one of the glove boxes and gives excellent results on the car stereo. It's also good on various Hi-fi units and radios around my apartment. Sometimes one has to juggle a bit with the ear-phone cables (which must be plugged into the MP3 player when the FM transmitter is on) to get a good signal, but it's not difficult to achieve a perfectly good result. All in all it's a great gadget.

The big advantage of using a proper hi-fi system, rather than my MP3 external speakers, is that the quality of amplification of the signal is so much better and you can get a decent volume without distortion. It's also very flexible in that all I need to carry is the MP3 player itself, not a set of speakers, too. Once I have a proper stereo system in my Spanish house, the problem to taking music back and forth will be easy for my stays there.

* - all my MP3 players are flash-drive models, rather than hard disc units - much more reliable I think. I have several on the basis that if one does ever break down, then I have several 'spares' to take up the slack - I can also keep a unit in various jacket pockets for when I go out walking. All four of the MP3 players are the ITronics brand - inexpensive, but totally reliable so far - the earphone cables need replacing occasionally when the joints get frayed, and the menu system is tricky to get used to (they're all different, for goodness sake, even though of the same brand!) on one or two of them, but overall they are pretty good I think and very good value.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

This blog is hereby 'resurrected' ...

Well, you may be thinking, it didin't take him (i.e. me) long to renege on his merciful promise to save us all from further dreary comment! My last post here, theoretically 'signing off' for good, was on 30th September last, but as a Prime Minister (MacMillan) once said - "Events, dear boy, events." Hmmm ...

Maybe I'm just an irredeemable internet junkie who can't keep away from a regular 'fix' of pontification. The spur for this change of heart has been developing over the past few weeks firstly with the unfolding fiasco of the Northern Rock and its need to get outside help as quickly as possible to stop it going belly-up (and thereby jeopardising a fair few jobs in the north-east of England, a Labour stronghold). Naturally, billions of our tax pounds have to go to such a worthy cause as trying to save the Labour Party from electoral oblivion. And who am I to object to this use of public funds? It is obvious to all that we have, these past ten years, been living in the best-managed major country in the world (according to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, that is).

Now we come to the latest example of the incomptence of those who govern us! The personal details of almost HALF THE POPULATION OF THE UK (roughly twenty-five million people) have been cavalierly treated by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, until earlier this year presided over, for these past wonderful ten years, by 'Big Brother' Gordon Brown. Half the population is now at risk from identity theft and fraud as a direct result of policies put in place by Gordon Brown. The head of HMRC has resigned yesterday, but is this really enough? The Prime Minister apologised today for this debacle, as well he might, but it is simply no good to conduct yet another 'review'; the last time thousands of records were mishandled by the same department, just a few months ago, we were told steps would be taken to ensure that such things couldn't happen again. Whatever measures were taken have, to put it mildly, been completely ineffective!

How was it possible for a 'junior' employee at HMRC to circumvent the rules Gordon Brown read out at PMQs? Having worked in a bank, and at one time been responsible for the data security of our operations in the country where I worked at the time, it would have been completely impossible for a 'junior' employee to duplicate records onto recordable media without me knowing about it. A security system worth the name does not just rely on a rule book, but has a system of checks and balances to ensure that no one employee can circumvent whatever rules are laid down.

On the radio this morning and later in the day (so far) three things have struck me particularly:
- the guy in charge of the Data Protection Office (on the 'Today' programme) made the uncontroversial comment that security must not just be aimed at preventing criminal acts, but must be idiot-proof, too;
- this same gentleman agreed with the 'Today' presenter that the government may have contravened the Data Protection Act. Quite extraordinary!
- a Lord Errol (?sp), described as a Cross-bencher, speaking on 'The World at One', queried why the National Audit Office had the right to seek information from the HMRC on the tax details of citizens? Perhaps its request was orthodox, but I think this line of inquiry is worth pursuing.

There's a very great deal more that needs to be said about this shambles of a government, but I must go out now to visit the hospital where my mother has been for the past week or so.