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

Monday 24 December 2007

Bill signs off for Christmas tomorrow

I take this opportunity to wish everyone who passes this way the 'Compliments of the Season'. I shall be busy with entertaining until the middle of next week so may not get much chance to post more here before then.

With my Very Best Wishes for a Joyous Christmas and a Peaceful, Happy and Prosperous 2008

My homemade Christmas Cake with very Scottish seasonal trimmings

Click here to see a larger image.

Sunday 23 December 2007

Blair becomes a Roman Catholic ...

... why is this news? It's certainly not much of a surprise.

The Roman Catholic Church is no worse than any other church within the Christian community of faiths or other religion or belief system based upon myth and most major religions are full of deeply flawed individuals. I expect that I am offending a lot of people by writing as I do, but frankly I really don't care. I've had to listen to so much nonsense spoken by Catholics, Anglicans, Moslems, Jews, Baptists, Mormons, Revivalists, Jehovahs Witnesses, etc., etc., that to expect me to take them seriously is far beyond what is reasonable. So some Catholics don't think it appropriate that he be accepted into their faith? It's no real surprise - they are all so wacky that a Widdecombe or a Winning (the luckily 'late') would be doing no more than providing reassuring confirmation of their general strangeness. The awful Ruth Kelly we are told tried to inflict her weird prejudices on the nation last year; we must at least be thankful that Blair did not let what may be his own personal beliefs influence the policies of his government unduly. The awful Cormac Murphy O'Connor has presumably felt that the media-value of a high-profile convert such as Blair to his faith outweighs the flaws in Blair's law-making record from an orthodox Catholic viewpoint (age of consent equalistation, Civil Partnerships, gays in the military, etc). Nothing illustrates more clearly the cynicism of the Catholic Church, and ultimately its moral bankruptcy (if that were needed after the scandals in many countries over many years involving priestly paedophilia and the cover-ups, until secular law caught up with it and forced it to make monetary recompense) than the acceptance into its 'loving fold' of a man such as Blair whose actions when he was in power so flagrantly breached the Church's teachings.

For those who are exercised on this subject, Fraser Nelson in the Spectator had an interesting article last month - some of the comments are variously illuminating or bizarre. What else would one expect from many of these people?

For those who notice my current greeting in this blog wishing visitors a 'Merry Christmas', it should be noted that this sentiment is purely secular in nature - I have no religiously-based intention in mind, but I enjoy a holiday as much as anyone so if Christmas provides an excuse for one then I'm quite happy to play along for the sake of an easy and pleasant life. Go in Peace ...

Saturday 22 December 2007

Bouncers and the off-spring of 'important people'

A curious story which leaves me a little uneasy.

A bouncer at a night-club in Edinburgh decides, we know not why really, to refuse entry (re-entry) to a young man who has exited the club, apparently, to find out why his younger brother, 17-years old [*], has been refused entry. He is himself then refused re-entry to the club by the steward (aka 'bouncer') and allegedly, according to the bouncer, lunged toward him during which there was an 'accidental collision of heads'. The young man, again according to the bouncer, then said: "Do you know who my father is? You will get 12 years for this".

Obviously I have no idea of what really transpired and it may be that this story has been very poorly or incompletely reported. However there is no indication in the story that any of the basic facts, as mentioned above, are in any way inaccurate.

It so happens, though, that the father of the two young men is a High Court judge and it appears that the 'threat' to the club steward allegedly uttered by the older of the two brothers had real teeth, for the judge (sheriff) in the case has sentenced the bar steward to 240 hours community service, the maximum punishment he could impose. For good measure the sheriff has instructed the Clerk of the Court to write to the authorities "to ensure he never worked in this type of industry again".

Now it may be that the sheriff has acted entirely correctly, perhaps because he is in possession of the full facts which, perhaps, have not been included in this story. However, something about this whole scenario, from what I read, makes me think the whole case stinks to high heaven; it almost reads as if one member of the legal profession has acted to protect one of his own and automatically taken the side of the children of his fellow judge. On the other hand it may be that the person who wrote this story has some agenda of his/her own and that the reporting of this incident has been slanted to speak to that agenda.

I just don't know, but I am very uneasy with this case. What would the outcome have been if the young man (described as the 'victim' of the bouncer in the article) had not been the son of a high court judge, but instead the son of say, an office worker or a road-sweeper? Has a spoiled young man from a professional family been given a free pass because a bar steward has declined to accept his unruly behaviour? I'd like to think not, but this case leaves me wondering.

Regular visitors here will know that, whatever else I am, I am no kind of socialist and my natural instinct would be to look askance at the unruly behaviour of an apocryphally 'thuggish' club steward and sympathetically at the reaction to this situation by a young man 'of good family' and that may indeed be what has happened here. But in this instance I really don't believe it.

[*] It sounds as if the bouncer may have been quite correct in refusing entry to the 17 year-old brother, as one imagines that alcohol is widely available in such clubs; the story certainly gives no indication that the club steward acted incorrectly in that matter at least.

Monday 17 December 2007

Vignettes from married life in Spain

A couple of items I noticed in the Spanish press today:

Vignette 1 ...
A woman in Gines, Seville has been gaoled for four months (reduced from an original sentence of 9 months) for breaking Spain's gender violence laws by slapping her husband in front of their two daughters. The couple are in the process of separating and were having an argument about the custoidy of their children.

Vignette 2 ...
A Guardia Civil officer in Cambados (Pontevedra) has shot his wife dead outside the Guardia Civil barracks. The couple, who have been separated for a year, met in the street and he asked her to take him back. An argument ensued, culminating in a single fatal bullet wound to her heas.

Moral of this story - well, there isn't one really I suppose, except that it pays not to anatagonise someone whom you were formerly in love with, specially (in the latter case) if their employment allows them to carry a gun. These two cases illustrate neatly the consequences of what presumably was once love turning into something approaching hate.

Sunday 16 December 2007

Thatcher's grandson plays football ...

... American football, that is! A propos of nothing very much, but I thought it was interesting how fate and circumstance can affect a young person's life. Michael Thatcher is the grandson of former PM Margaret Thatcher whose son Mark and his wife spent most of their married life in South Africa, where Michael apparently played cricket and hockey.

Following on from the marital difficulties between his parents and some problems his father had with the South African authorities, Michael moved with his Texan mother, Diane (née Burgdorf), to the US where he now plays American football for his high school football team. Watch him in action here and read about his exploits in more detail here (the article tactfully omits the detail that his father is barred from entry to the US because of his nefarious activities in Africa - allegedly bankrolling insurrection in an African state).

Where would this young man be now, and what sports would he be playing, had his mother not been American, but for example Russian, French or Italian? No doubt if she had been Australian he'd currently be playing Australian rules football, I expect, and not the American version.
(thru Andrew Sullivan)

Friday 14 December 2007

News Corp. and slick advertising

I don't like Rupert Murdoch and do not read any News Corporation publications, nor do I subscribe to Sky, but credit where credit is due: the company has a very slick piece of advertising today to celebrate its acquisition of The Wall Street Journal.

In the newspaper I take, The Daily Telegraph, the adverisement covered two and a half full pages - I expect it was the same in other national newspaper across the UK and probably world-wide in major markets. Two of the pages were a timeline of the progress (and astounding it is, for sure) of Murdoch from his rescue of the Adelaide News (one of his daddy's newspapers) in his native Australia in 1954 to the purchase of The Wall Street Journal this year. What particularly struck me was the entry for 1981:

"Time is runnin' out."

We save The Times from closure. Today it's Britain's most respected nespaper.

I just bet The Daily Telegraph loved printing that last sentence! On the other hand, I suppose they may just have said to themselves that as it was paid advertising and not illegal they were prepared to take Murdoch's money and print any old rubbish. I rushed to check the Telegraph's editorial page and was reassured to see that they haven't echoed the 'paid for' claim there.

Police State Britain - HoC resistance hardens

The government's latest proposals to increase the period terrorist suspects may be held without charge from 28 to 42 days will, it seems (thank goodness!), not succeed except with a struggle. The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has reached the conclusion that the government's case for an increased detention limit has not been proved. According to the committee's Chairman, Labour MP Andrew Dismore:

"If the government is genuinely concerned to build a national consensus on counter-terrorism policy, it should drop this ill-conceived proposal and work with us and others to identify better ways of ensuring terrorism suspects are successfully prosecuted.

"We can see no reason why the proposal to extend the limit for pre-charge detention to 42 days should be brought before Parliament at this time."

I'm not naive enough to believe that this rebuke will stop the government in its tracks, but it is a hopeful sign that common-sense may ultimately prevail. The Committee makes the point, as have many others, that a better approach, less damaging to basic civil liberties in the long run, would be to permit 'the use of intercept evidence, such as evidence from phone taps or bugging, in courts and to continue questioning suspects after they have been charged', as happens in many other European countries. Now I don't particularly like that option either, to be quite honest, but I consider it a whole lot better than simply locking people up for increasingly lengthy periods without charge.

If the evolution (i.e. lengthening) of the period of detention under this government is any guide, its current efforts to achieve 42 days (instead of the 56 or 58 days originally mooted, until the howls of opposition became too loud) will not be the last. It's not so long ago that the limit was only 7 days, up from the original 3 days, after which it was increased from 7 to 14 days, then doubled to the present 28 days, after the original proposal to have 90 days was defeated in Parliament. Most of these increases have taken place during the period since 1997 when the present government came into power; it is observed that no earlier government tried to increase pre-charge detention very much even during the height of the threat from the IRA. The government really does need to reassess its priorities, if only for base electoral purposes - there comes a time when even the most docile of voters (including Labour ones) rebels. If Labour does not wish to test this theory to destruction then it needs to think long and hard before the next general election, as people like Labour MP Andrew Dismore have presumably begun to. Labour's increasingly draconian (and misdirected) anti-terrorism laws will not be the only factor of course - think ID cards, the destruction of Britain's formerly excellent pension-provision regime, the sale of the nation's gold reserves at fire-sale prices, the huge increase in public long-term debt (including off balance sheet items), the misguided devolution projects, etc.

If you think I am being melodramatic then read what the ever-excellent Spy Blog has to say about the latest amendment to the Terrorism Act 2000, by Statutory Instrument rather than proper parliamentary scrutiny, which creates new criminal offences. One almost wonders whether the 28 to 42 days detention proposals are the smoke-screen that allowed this measure to slip through with few people noticing.

Need I go on?

Wednesday 12 December 2007

Sporadic posting - even after my blog's resurrection

There's a lot to write about just now, but I simply don't have the time (and to some extent the inclination - or rather my priorities are elsewhere just at present) to do them justice.

I've had to devote quite a lot of time over the past few weeks to family matters which, when everything is said and done, are of far more importance to me than writing posts here; it's at times like this that these basic facts are starkly accentuated. It's also true that I'm beginning to think a lot about, and plan for, my relatively imminent departure for the winter to Spain at the end of January - meantime of course I have got quite a lot to do in the run up to Christmas. So far as blogging is concerned I have been concentrating in the past week on a major redesign of my recently-started blog devoted to matters Spanish (link near top of right-hand column); I'm just about done with the redesign there and hope to make it 'live' during this coming weekend or perhaps a few days later. Once that happens I shall have a little more time, and inclination, to devote to writing a few posts here and in the other blog.

I don't generally add huge numbers of comments to other blogs, but in the past few days I have been adding a few to stimulating posts at some of my 'favourite' blogs, some of which have touched on UK or Scottish matters. Some of my favourite blogs are written by people who have very different outlooks from my own -that's what makes them interesting and stimulating for me. Now, I've got to get off to Inverness for a few hours - I feel a dose of retail therapy coming on!

Friday 7 December 2007

Gay young man executed in Kermanshah, Iran

More public exceutions in Iran.

Makvan Mouloodzadeh - aged 21
executed in Kermanshah, Iran
5th December 2007

A 21 year old young man has reportedly been executed in Iran on 5th December for having allegedly committed the crime of 'gay rape' (i.e. gay sex) at the age of 13 years. (thru Bill at billandkent, who had it from Towleroad)

Earlier this year I wrote here about public executions in Iran when a woman and two men were hoisted aloft on a crane by the neck. I last wrote about public excecutions of gays in Iran here. It will be recalled that President Ahmandinejad, during a recent visit to the United Nations in New York, gave the students at Columbia University the benefit of his considered thoughts on the matter:

"In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who has told you that we have it."

That's why gays are classified in Iran as 'rapists'; let's call this 1984-style 'Newspeak' for what it is - a lie!!!!!!

Send a Parcel to our Boys/Girls in Iraq & Afghanistan

IMPORTANT - Please see update at end

Surprise Supplies is a scheme which aims to send parcels to every single member of the Armed Forces currently serving in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. A lot of them receive little in the way of support parcels from home and they really do make all the difference. We are all aware of the disagreeable circumstances these soldiers are working in and this is a small way of our acknowledging what they do on our behalf.

The scheme is very simple and all you need to do is to put together a small parcel containing a few goodies and then send it in the post addressed to one of the addresses below. It will mean such a lot to these wonderful men and women serving so far away from home to know that people are thinking about them and that we value and appreciate the sacrifices that they are making.

It would make even more of a difference if you could organise for a group of people (your friends, colleagues or staff for example) to put together as many parcels as you can. Please forward this blogpost to all your friends and family and ask them to do the same. There are over 14,000 servicemen and women serving overseas in Afghanistan and the Middle East so the more parcels that we can send out the better.

How does it work?

All you need to do is to put together a parcel (or parcels) containing a few ‘goodies’ with a value of not more than £10, address the package to one of the addresses at the end of this post and then take it to the post office/put it in the post.

Royal Mail will deliver the parcel free of charge to the British Forces Posting Office who will then ship it on to the relevant BFPO number.

Padded jiffy bags and old shoe boxes are the best for packing things in but any kind of old cardboard box or packet will do. Use tissue paper, newspaper, bubble wrap and anything light to stuff the package and stop things rolling around.

Postage is only free of charge if the parcel weighs less than 2kg and they are very strict about this so we recommend that you weigh your parcels before taking them to the post office.

There are lots of women serving out there too so although the mailing labels says ‘a Serviceman’ if you would like to put a parcel together for a woman please just amend the label accordingly and it will be given to a female.

What do I put inside?

One of the main elements of this scheme is to provide a bit of variety. Therefore if you can, use your imagination to the full and think of a cross between Christmas stockings and tuck boxes and you will be on the right track. It is very hot in Afghanistan so please do not send things that melt such as chocolate. Alcohol (and pornography!) are forbidden but this still leaves plenty of goodies such as:

Biscuits, cake - homemade wonderful but bought wonderful too – but think long life like fruitcake, gingerbread or malt loaf. Anything in a tube, vacuum pack or tin to perk up their rather basic rations is great - toffee sauce, (M&S does a good range of savoury and sweet sauces in tubes) condensed milk, salsa dip and cheese straws, cream cheese, fish paste, chutneys, chorizo sausage, dried fruit and nuts, mint imperials, chewing gum and everyone loves Jelly Babies.

Soduko books and magazines – Nuts, Zoo and FHM we are reliably informed are the most popular but also the Week for current affairs and any kind of magazine will be very welcome, the more varied the better as there is lots of time for reading and magazines get swapped and shared around.

Candles (for illumination, not scent), lip salve, moisturiser, medicated talc, deodorant, toothpaste and cotton socks (M&S do a great range of cotton socks that are v. popular – black and olive green are good colours). They also have to drink vast quantities of water so any powder flavourings in a package like Berocca, Vitamin C sachets etc. would be both light and immensely appreciated. Finally old fashioned pick ‘n mix sweets are particularly recommended but please keep the contents within £10 for the sake of equality.

Who will get my parcel?

Your parcel is being sent to one of two addresses in either Iraq or Afghanistan. From there they will be distributed throughout theatre. You won’t know who has received your parcel but you can be sure that a deserving soldier will be very grateful. Please do write an encouraging message inside your card for your soldier but please sign with your Christian name only and do not give your address as we do not want the soldiers to feel obliged to write thank you letters.

What is Surprise Supplies?

Surprise Supplies came about because of an idea Lexi Douglas had whilst her son was serving in Afghanistan in 2007. She regularly sent him parcels stuffed full of cakes and other nice things and when Charlie wrote home he said how appreciated they were but that not all of the boys received parcels from home so he would share his out with them. Lexi told her friends and they volunteered to send parcels and the idea grew from there. You can read more about it HERE

Send your parcels to:

(For parcels to AFGHANISTAN)
A British Soldier
c/o Capt. S Beattie MBE
HQ Task Force Helmand
Lashkar Gah
BFPO 715


(For parcels to IRAQ)
A British Soldier
c/o JI Branch
Op Telic
BFPO 641

PS/ I sent off a parcel to each of the addresses today and now that I have assembled the 'goodies' for each, I know roughly what to buy for the other packages I plan to send over the next couple of days (I plan to send 4 more packages to each of the addresses, so that I will have sent 10 packages in all by the time I have finished). Each package with the contents below weighs just under 1 kilo (about 2lb) and the contents cost just a little more than the £10- suggested in the rules, but not so much more that I can be said to have completely ignored the suggested maximum; the contents listed below cost £12.45 for each parcel, with the cost of the 'Jiffy' bag, the Christmas card and the decorative bows and sticky 'Greetings' labels being minor extras. Each parcel I have sent/will send comprises (this is just my idea, you can vary it to suit your own tastes):

- Padded envelope ('Jiffy' size 3);
- Christmas card with a personal message inside, signed with forename only;
- a couple of small decorative bows (the kind you stick on presents); the package should be fun and colourful as well as useful;
- a small SuDoKu puzzle book (gift-wrapped: everyone needs to be able to unwrap at least one present, whether you're a child or an adult);
- small bag of 'Liquorice Allsorts';
- packet of almonds and raisins;
- tube of high-strength vitamin C 'fizzy' tablets (nice to drink and good for you);
- small tube of Lip salve;
- small bottle hand-cleansing gel (does not require water)(*);
- small tube of intensive hand cream (*) - you could instead send a small tube of foot cream.

(*) I got small 'travel' packs in the travel accessories section of my local Tesco superstore. I bought everything except the SuDoKu books in Tesco, the SuDoKu books came from Borders. No doubt other supermarket chains have the same or similar items.

If you can afford to send even one parcel it will I'm sure cheer up the brave soldier (male or female) who receives it. Please give as generously as you feel able.

PPS/ I have marked/will mark all my 'Jiffy' envelopes with the following: "Suitable for a male or a female soldier".

PPPS/ Most of this blog post is reproduced verbatim from here; I do not otherwise link to this blog because I have a personal disagreement with the writer, but I am happy on this occasion to link to and to acknowledge the source.

Note: The first link above is to a page on the Telegraph newspaper website, but for the past few days this seems to be completely unavailable (perhaps it is a DoS or simple excess activity over the festive period), so here is a .PDF link to the original source, with the main website address here.

Important UPDATE - the period for sending out parcels for Christmas to troops in Iraq and Afghanistand has now ended (on 7DEC07). I have myself had difficulty in desptaching the parcels I prepared as I have been told that the whole basis of this scheme was unworkable, because MOD regulations specify that parcels may be sent only to named soldiers. This is just a big a disappointment to me as anyone else, specially as I am now left with the contents of 10 parcels to make use of, probably by handing them to the Salvation Army or other similar charity.

'Walter Mitty' speaks (through a spokesman, naturally)

I heard the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, David Rowan, speaking with John Humphrys on the 'Today' programme this morning defending the article they published about a telephone interview he says they had with Mr Abrahams; at one point he said words to the effect that if Mr Abrahams still continued to deny the interview had taken place he could sue and they (the paper) would see him in court. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

Labour sure do have some interesting 'supporters'. Of course, so do the other Parties, except I think the supporters of other Parties, however dishonest and/or eccentric they are occasionally proved to be, do at least seem to live on planet Earth (not, I hasten to add, that I am suggesting the protagonist in this case is some kind of space cadet, no, not at all). He sounds like an entirely suitable supporter for a Party of incompetents such as Labour.

Thursday 6 December 2007

Police State Britain - government tries for 42 days detention

In the government's latest 'pluck a number from the air' effort to increase the period when a person may be detained without charge, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is to try for 42 days instead of the current 28 days. Earlier efforts to go for 56 or 58 days met with strong opposition. The 28-day limit was itself a climb-down for the government as it had wished to have 90 days.

If the government does succeed in its latest effort to further erode the rights of citizens, then I very much doubt that it will be satisfied forever with 42 days; I expect it would be back after a few more years trying for 56 (or perhaps 72?) days. The parliamentary opposition, and Labour MPs of good conscience too, must continue to resist the efforts of the quasi-dictatorship which rules us to increase its powers under the guise of 'protecting' us.

PS/ See here for a Telegraph blog post on thia latest government attempt at face-saving.

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Why I do very little DIY ...

... I know my limitations.

Unlike a person in Fife who cut through a gas pipe when doing a DIY botch-job that necessitated the evacuation of residents of his (*) Dunfermline street.

(*) The story doesn't in fact specify the gender of the DIYer, but I bet it wasn't a woman; they are far too sensible.

Monday 3 December 2007

Jackie Baillie on Newsnight Scotland - blood pressure alert!!

I speak, of course, of the latest scandal that has engulfed Labour since just before the weekend - the illegal donations accepted by Wendy Alexander MSP for her campaign for the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party. I find it quite astonishing that she has not resigned already. Why is she not under investigation by the police?

Throughout today I have had to endure Labour toadies obfuscating, prevaricating and downright stone-walling in their so-called responses to straight-forward questions about the circumstances surrounding donations made by a gentleman called Paul Green, a non-resident of the United Kingdom (he apparently resides in Jersey). Acceptance of such donations for UK electoral purposes is illegal. No ifs or buts!

So I have just watched the surreal performance of Jackie Baillie MSP giving today's Labour Party line that the law-breaking by Wendy Alexander was 'unintentional' and that she is 'not dishonest'. The fact that Ms Alexander has broken the law, admitted doing so and has been shown to be a liar having denied that she knew Mr Green was not entitled to donate whereas she had prior to this written to him at his Jersey address thanking him for his donation. People standing for election are expected to know the law governing elections; when I stood (unsuccessfuly) for election as a local councillor some years ago all of us in our group of candidates were given guidance as to what we had to do to comply with electoral law and I imagine that similar procedures are followed by all the major political parties (and if not they should be); possibly some of the very small parties or independent candidates may not have the resources to know all the finer detail, but the rules governing donations are a pretty basic part of electoral law and there is no excuse for any candidate seemingly wilfully remaining ignorant of them. The explanations offered by a large political organisation such as Labour over the past couple of weeks simply will not wash!

As I wrote here, Labour people really do seem to think that laws don't apply to them. They do and their protestations of ignorance of the law are irrelevant; it is laughable, too, for the Labour Party and its apparatchiks to claim ignorance of this particular law, or 'good intentions' in both the David Abrahams and the Paul Green donations scandals, because the illegality of these donations arises out of legislation pushed through Parliament just a few years ago by this self-same Labour government. Don't these clowns take the trouble to inform themselves of the content of the legislation they champion?

As for the nonsense also being peddled today and for the past few days by these brazen crooks that the 'problem' is one for all political parties to solve and that the 'solution' is to have some kind of tax-payer funding of political parties - no! no! no! The solution is for politicians, of all political parties, to obey the law! The should also pass legislation limiting both the amount of any individual donation to a political party (the suggestion is that this be £50,000-, and it should certainly be no higher) and the amount that a political party may spend on campaigning for election.

Until the political parties get it into their heads that we DO NOT owe them a living and that they are expected to abide by the laws that they themselves have passed over the years then I will continue to treat them with considerable suspicion. They are merely our paid servants, not our masters. Neither they nor we should ever forget this.

PS/ So it's not just Harriet Harman and Wendy Alexander, now we learn it's Peter Hain too! These serial law-breakers make it increasingly unlikely that the explanations that it has all been an unfortunate 'oversight' can retain any credibility. It's almost as if there has been a deliberate strategy by the ruling political party to flout the law, the arrogance of power having made them think they can forever get away with illegality; it's yet to be shown they are wrong, unfortunately.