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

Saturday 31 May 2008

Truly, truly pathetic - and weird too

to whoever views this post, regular as clockwork
(apparently from Norway)

This gentleman posted one of his occasional very enlightening 'treatises' on his suggestions for solving the world's and this country's ills in another blog where, aparently, he has 'guest posting' privileges; the post in question may be read here; the post is entitled " Isolationism's Time Has Come".

Like many of the notions posted by this gentleman over the years (which I have been reading less frequently of late, for various reasons, mainly relating to my sanity and blood pressure and my desire to retain some semblance of the former and to prevent the latter from soaring to dangerous levels), it presents what for many (and me certainly) might be considered 'unconventional', 'novel', perhaps even 'courageous' ideas. Nevertheless it is probably instructive to have such ideas presented from time to time, and I would defend his right to do so, whatever I may think of these underlying ideas.

However, the host blog permits comments, whereas the writer does not (and has never done so, at least for a long time), so far as I am aware, in his own blog. One of the comments posted has aroused the ire of said gentleman and provoked (or more neutrally, perhaps, 'caused') him into publishing a post in his own blog here employing what is I suspect not 'irony' when he entitles it " A Spineless Coward..." ; naturally and as usual he is not permitting any comments in his own blog. It is perhaps debatable who deserves more the name of 'spineless coward' in this particular little spat. Obviously I do not condone threats of physical harm, but given the nature of the other person's blog (which I have scanned briefly), I would venture to suggest that the comment he made might possibly be more accurately classified as rhetorical flourish than a genuine intent to do physical harm, given the opportunity. The querulous riposte of this gentleman with a further comment of his own and a post in his own blog (where no comments are permitted, I remind readers), is probably a better indication of the weight that rational individuals may feel justified in placing on what he writes. My own reaction is one of mirth, coupled with pity. Nevertheless I admire his willingness to write in the way he does and bring inevitable opposing and mocking comments down upon his head even if I find extraordinarily curious his unwillingness to permit comments in his own blog. The owner of the host blog chooses to give him guest posting privileges and I certainly admire his openness.

PS/ I have never referred, and most probably will never refer, to this gentleman by name in this blog, nor do I link to his blog in my 'blogroll' even though he, to this day, links to my own little blog in his blogroll; long-time readers of my blog will surmise correctly that there are three reasons for this - the first reason is included in my 'Links Policy' and the second is because I like to maintain my own no doubt idiosynchratic notions of 'propriety' and finally, quite frankly, because it gives me a perverse (and perhaps somewhat childish) pleasure to withhold such linkage; however, I have linked several times in this post (and occasionally in earlier posts some years ago), so I hope this is some small 'compensation'. Now I must go wash my hands and pour a stiff drink down my throat!

"The Power of Dreams". Smashed.

Were you watching Channel4 on Thursday evening (29th May)? I was. Well, if you were too, you may recall having seen an advertisement during the 'Come Dine with Me' programme which was quite spectacular - I think it was the mid-point advertising break around 8.30pm - basically it showed some stunt parachutists jumping out of a light aircraft and free-falling in formation, whilst spelling out the name of the car manufacturer one of whose advertising slogans is included in the title of this post; I speak of course of 'Honda'.

As usual with Honda ads it was innovative and highly-sophisticated - so sophisticated that nothing so vulgar as showing an actual car was included. Here's a link to a story carried in a UK tabloid the next day (the Sun) about the stunt. Here's another link to a story about the advertisement.

So far so good. After the parachutists had spelled out the name, we saw them breaking formation and pulling the ripcords to release their parachutes. Excellent stunt, another 'winning' advert for Honda!

Unfortunately yesterday the stunt team must have been undertaking another flight and it seems to have gone badly wrong - for reasons as yet unknown the wing came of the light aircraft and the parachutists had to attempt to jump to safety - however, two were killed (the Spanish pilot and one of the parachutists, a Brazilian). The accident took place near Toledo. Spanish news reports here (in Spanish) and here (in English). There is a brief BBC report here.

One wonders what other visual wizardry Honda has got up its sleeves for our 'edification' and amusement in days and weeks to come? I wonder, in particular, whether the ad will have the follow-on on Sunday suggested by the Sun in the linked story above?

Some will probably say that such advertising is both dangerous and wasteful, quite part from the fact that it is employing huge resources in support of sordid economic gain. If such criticisms are levied I would wish to dissociate myself from them. Life is sometimes dangerous and 'dreams' sometimes involve a risk. The 'health & safety' merchants would have us wrapped in cotton wool, fearful of stepping out of our doors, but I hope Honda will not allow its somewhat whimsical approach to advertising its products to be stopped in its tracks by this tragedy.

Thursday 29 May 2008

"The Spine" (*) suffers a setback

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Contractor Fujitsu-Siemens has, probably justifiably, walked away from the NHS e-record contract; to coin a phrase, the 'spine' has not landed. Rather, it has crashed. [Geddit?!]

Is anybody surprised? Quite apart from my lack of surprise, I can't say I'm disappointed either. Centralised databases don't have a particularly high acceptability rating in Bill's estimation.

(*) UPDATE: (Thursday 29MAY08 09.47 BST) A commenter has pointed out this is not 'the spine', so the title of this post is inaccurate, if 'catchy'. I noticed the term wasn't used in the linked report and wondered why that was, but I assumed it had to be part of the same thing; obviously I was wrong.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry axed from September 2008

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Superfast Ferries have today announced they will discontinue their ferry service from Rosyth in Scotland to Zeebrugge in Belgium effective mid-September 2008. The service was exceedingly convenient for passenger and freight transport between Scotland (and the very north of England) and Belgium and from there elsewhere in Europe. I've also used this ferry link for a couple of years now to facilitate journeys by carfrom Scotland to my holiday home in Spain.

This is a huge disappointment to me, if not exactly an enormous surprise. I have used the ferry several times and found the 18 hour crossing an ideal way to take my car to Europe, avoiding the alternative lengthy drives to Hull, or even worse to Dover, Portsmouth or Plymouth. For my next trip to Europe with my car I had been planning to use the ferry to travel to the Netherlands for Christmas and New Year at the end of this year for two or three weeks - I'll now have to look at alternatives and, because I would have been travelling with my elderly mother, was reluctant to fly, the ferry service being a much easier mode of travel for her and for those accompanying her, may decide to cancel the trip altogether; the only viable alternative ferry crossing (Hull to Zeebrugge) involves an additional 5 hours of driving over the 3-hour trip to Rosyth and therefore, for practical purposes, would require an overnight stop.

It seems that rising fuel costs may be at the root of the decision to axe the link. Although very popular with passenger traffic, freight traffic is probably the real revenue generator and the increase in diesel costs and the fact that the crossing is now only every second day (since the seond ship was taken off the route a couple of years ago) may have made this crossing less attractive to freight hauliers.

In any case it's a real shame. The Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') says it is hoping to identify an alternative carrier so that the link can be maintained - I hope it succeeds, but know that shipping (freight particularly) is a cut-throat business so am not certain if another carrier will be able to devise a more viable model than Superfast, seemingly a pretty efficient operator, was able to come up with.

UPDATE: (Thursday 18SEP08 23.43 RST) Pleasing news today! A replacement operator for the Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry link. Norfolkline, is to begin operating the link next April; I have written about this welcome development here.

Police State Britain - just another tale from a formerly free country

A Dorset council, Poole Borough Council, is to be investigated by the Information Commissioner to investigat the covert collection of information about individuals under scrutiny. Motives for gathering this information seem to include verifying whether families really live in the catchment areas of particular schools, presumably ones thought by parents capable of providing their children with a decent education, to verifying whether illegal harvesting of cockles and clams by fishermen is taking place. The council justifies the 17 investigations it says it has carried out since 2005 by saying they are authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

In a country where, increasingly, citizens are seen as mere 'chattels' of the State this seems increasingly 'normal'; personally I see nothing at all 'normal' about these methods. The Council is elected and paid for by citizens either through their council taxes or grants which central government allocates from the tax revenues it receives (i.e. extorts) from tax-payers around the country - I think these realities need to be forced down the throats, if necessary with sharp sticks, of the bureaucrats and politicians who presume to run our lives in such a high-handed manner!

It is highly-instructive that the Speaker of the House of Commons tried by all means, and at considerable cost to us taxpapers, to thwart the release of information about expenses claims by MPs until forced to do so by the Information Tribunal, so now we have the documentary evidence of just how grasping many of our MPs are. Now our elected reresentatives' latest wheeze is to suggest voting themselves an annual automatic GBP23,000 to defray expenses for second homes, without the need to provide any receipts!

We are regularly told that the justification for increasingly 'Big Brother'-like surveilance of our daily existence is that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, but it seems that our elected representatives wish this to apply only to the people who elect and pay them, not to themselves or to the apparatus of the State. Enough is enough! I think we citizens need to re-assert our sovereignty over these jumped-up quasi-dictators and ensure they understand that there are limits to what citizens can be expected to tolerate.

I hope Poole Borough Council is severely chastised for its covert information gathering and made to understand it must desist from such tactics in future.

More post offices in Scotland scheduled for closure

Those affected in this round of post office closures are in north-east Scotland; more than 40 post offices, mostly rural, from Forres in Moray to Lochgelly in Fife are affected.

My attitude toward an earlier round of closures in Highland Region was somewhat ambivalent; I recognised the difficulty some people ('service users' in the jargon) would have after the closures took effect, but on the other hand most of the affected branches were relying on a very small number of customers, and even if the potential numbers of customers were greater, many of those potential customers had never been over the thresh-hold of these post offices in many years so it was difficult to understand how their objections to the closures could plausibly be entertained.

That remains my basic attitude, but there probably comes a point where the continuing closures will fuel an increasing downward spiral as more and more people no longer even have the possibility of using a local post office; the remaining network might well become increasingly irrelevant, particularly as many of the transactions previously channeled through post offices have been diverted elsewhere so that the remaining purely 'post office' business is no longer sufficient to help support the other business such post offices transact. I am not entirely sure where I am going with this, but the continuing rounds of post office closures do, more and more, begin to resemble 'slash and burn'. If this continues, will any but major city centre post offices exist in 15 or 20 years time?

Sunday 25 May 2008

Leave the Swiss alone!

Amusing as this article by a BBC journalist in Switzerland may be, in some ways, this really just highlights that different countries order their affairs differently and in the case of Switzerland that's generally a whole lot better than most other countries, including most sepcifically the UK.

Saturday 24 May 2008

And the winner of Eurovision 2008 is ...

Well, as with the two semi-finals earlier in the week, I wasn't 'live-blogging' this evening, but I was preparing it throughout the evening; also, as I already commented on most of the entries during the semi-finals (1st semi-final, 2nd semi-final), I won't do comments on the performances, except for the big four (UK, Germany, France, Spain) and last year's winners (Serbia), all five of whom were exempt from the semi-finals. Sorry - slight alteration - I treacherously abandoned Denmark and France, instead voting for Russia, so I added a few comments there, too.

(09.58 BST Sunday 25MAY08) There's a summmary scoreboard of all the results on the BBC's Eurovision website here.

(23.38 BST) You can see a full table of results on the official Eurovision website here - you will need to click from there on the scoreboard for 'THE FINAL', just below the photgraph of Dima Bilan, the singer of the winning song from Russia.

(23.07 BST) And the winner is Russia with 272 points!

(22.45 BST) I think it is turning into a two-horse race between Russia and Greece.

(22.30 BST) San Marino has given 6 points to the UK, the first of the evening! Thank you! I'm publishing this now, but will be updating it several times before the final results are known.

(22.20 BST) - I just saw that the UK has given its 12 votes to Greece so London Preppy will be happy, but my vote for Russia is as nought, more or less.

(22.15 BST) OK - the performances are over and voting has closed. We are just awaiting the start of the announcement of the votes.

This evening's entrants:


United Kingdom - a lively tune, well-performed by Andy Abraham and the backing group. In a fair world it would do quite well, even if I don't think it's a 'winner'.


Germany - four quite pretty young women, singing a lively song, unfortunately seemed a little out of tune to me - one or two of the singers were reallly off-key. So no good, I'm afraid.


Bosnia & Herzegovina










Denmark - This was my favourite from the two semi-finals. Did my vote go here? Sorry, but no.


Ukraine - Placed 2nd

France - a very catchy tune, sung by a very eccentric-looking bearded man with bearded accompaniment. I like this a lot. Did my vote go here? Sorry, but no.


Greece - Placed 3rd

Spain - a jokey effort. Brave, certainly. I doubt if it will do well.

Serbia - a nice ballad sung by a very pretty woman andanice backing group. Quite a sophisticated song - may do very well. Could they win two times in a row?

Russia - Well, this very good-looking young man pulled off an even better performance than in the 1st semi-final. I may have to switch my vote! Bill deserted Denmark and France to vote for Russia! Winner!


Rats squabbling on the sinking Labour ship

Cherie Blair (née Booth) says in her book that Alistair Campbell said something or other, he has written to the newspaper which is serialising her book to insist he didn't.

Now I suppose I do care a little what is the truth of the matter, but only a little. Both these people are pretty noisome creatures, in my humble opinion, so my interest in them is appproaching zero, specially now both are away from 10 Downing Street. I was going to write a little more, but I decided to save myself the bother - Eurovision is on right now, much more interesting!

A review of 'The Uncommon Reader' by Alan Bennett

I received my copy of 'The Uncommon Reader' by Alan Bennett only a couple of days ago and have already devoured it - it's a delightful little book (only 124 pages, those pages somewhere between A6 and A5, using a largish typeface) whose premise is that Her Majesty the Queen has an interest in reading ignited by a freak concatenation of circumstances, which start with some of Her corgis taking an unexpected turn when returning to Buckingham Palace after a walk in the gardens, thus bringing Her into contact with the Westminster Mobile Library which, unbeknown until then to Her, visits the Palace every week. To be polite She borrows a book - and this is the beginning of a whole new phase in the life of Her Majesty, culminating in ... well the punch-line at the very end is very clever and creeps up on you only once the significance of what She has just said sinks in.

Naturally, as it's written by Alan Bennett, the prose is simple, straightforward, mercifully concise and elegant. It's a clever little book that quickly draws the reader in, well worth the few hours it will take most readers to zip through it.

Eurovision 2008 - Bill's favourites for tonight

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Of course I can't vote for the British entry (pretty good, but not brilliant, though it is in my opinion), but I'm going to indulge in a little pre-competition 'plugging' of my two favourites for tonight, namely Denmark and France:



One of the lead singers is cute, one is rather 'eccentric'-looking. However, both are good cheerful songs, for me a requisite for the classic Eurovision song.

It should be a fun evening ...

PS/ Much as I like Spain, the less said about its entry this year the better; the only other song this year with which it is at all comparable (in silliness) is the entry from Ireland, which is not in the final (thank goodness). No doubt both these songs are 'ground-breaking' in their surrealistic humour, but if this is the case I have to report it's way beyond me!

UPDATE: (23.27 BST) Please see my later post with the results of the competition - won by Russia!

Eurovision 2008 - Scorecard for the final tonight

(Please see UPDATES at end)

If you will be watching the final of the Eurovision Song Contest from Belgrade tonight (as I shall) you may care to know you can print out a scorecard here (it's in .PDF format). The main BBC Eurovision website is here.

On other less-important [irony alert!] matters, it is good to know that the rest of the country is catching up with my long-standing (i.e. pre-1997) views of the Labour Party and its former Chancellor of the Exchequer and its present Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Why, even the caravanner knows things have to change! I doubt, however, that this particular 'leopard' can change his spots in any meaningful way - not meaningful enough at any rate to fool the British public again at the next General Election, if indeed he is still the Leader of the Labour Party then. Even if the Labour Party does decide on the 'nuclear option' and replace Brown, I doubt it will improve their electoral prospects for the next election more than marginally.

Now, back to more important matters, there are just about 9 hours until the start of the Eurovision Song Contest final tonight!

UPDATE: (23.27 BST) Please see my later post with the results of the competition - won by Russia!

UPDATE: (Saturday 16MAY09 15.00 RST/CET) You can find the scorecard for the 2009 final through the link here.

Thursday 22 May 2008

Eurovision 2008 - 2nd Semi-final - who goes through?

Right, well I'm not going to be 'live-blogging' this evening exactly, but I am preparing this post whilst watching the acts, so should be able to publish it very shortly after the evening's entertainment has run its course.

My views of the songs tonight:

Iceland - Quite nice loooking male and female lead singers in a very Icelandic 'ice-gods' way. Good voices. Traditional 'Europop'. I like it. Bill says 'YES' Voters says 'YES'

Sweden - Strange looking female in a Scandinavian ice-maiden way. Again traditional 'Europop' sung in English. Bill says 'YES' Voters says 'YES'

Turkey - Nice looking male lead singer with a band. Good voices. Rock ballad. I quite like it, but not sure it is quite the right sound for Eurovision. Voters says 'YES'

Ukraine - Very beautiful female, singing in whatever(?)/English. Backing good-looking male dancers. Good beat, good voice. Bill says 'YES' Voters says 'YES'

Lithuania - Striking-looking long-haired man. Good voice singing in English, powerful ballad, but not Eurovision material in my view.

Albania - Quite a pretty young woman, but too much make-up (!!) - sung in Albanian. Good voice singing a ballad. Not certain. Voters says 'YES'

Switzerland - Stylish black-suited/shirted male singing in Italian. Good, but not perfect, voice singing a ballad. I like it. Bill says 'YES'

Czech Republic - Quite beautiful female with similarly-beautiful backing female dancers. OK song, but voice no good.

Belarus - Cute-looking male singer (black satin shirt and pants), female dancers. Nice boppy voice, but his voice is not great. I think not.

Latvia - Pirates (male and female). Very much a traditional 'Eurovision' song of the old school. Very amusing. Voters says 'YES'

Croatia - White and black suited males. Sung in Serbo-Croat. Excellent voices. Seemed to be a witty song. I like it. Bill says 'YES' Voters says 'YES'

Bulgaria - Heavy-metal/Hard-rock band (you see how out of touch I am?), very beautiful female singer with good, but not perfect, voice. I liked it though. Bill says 'YES'

Denmark - Good looking laid-back male singer. Excellent voice. Ballad with a good beat - basic 'Europop'. The best song of the evening! Bill says 'YES' Bill voted for Denmark! Voters says 'YES'

Georgia - Very beautifull (blind?) female, disguised as Goth. Goodish voice, beat ballad. Voters says 'YES'

Hungary - Very beautiful female (voice 'a la' Celine Dion!), male pianist. Very nice slow ballad. Bill says 'YES'

Malta - Very beautiful female with very nice-looking male dancers. Good song with a good beat. Bill says 'YES'

Cyprus - Beautiful (coquettish?) female. Nice song and good beat, but not really 'Eurovision' material, I think.

F Y R Macedonia - Trendy males and females, all nice looking. Song with a beat. I like it. Bill says 'YES'

Portugal - Female singer, excellent voice. Not really 'Eurovision' material in my view. Voters says 'YES'

In summary I'd say the general quality of the songs this evening was rather better than on Tuesday. However, perhaps because there were more good songs to choose from, I was somewhat less successful in choosing the 10 to go through to the final as I got only 5 'correctt':
- the 5 I chose which didn't get through were Switzerland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Malta and F Y R Macedonia;
the 5 which the voters chose (and I didn't) were Turkey, Albania, Latvia, Georgia and Portugal.

I can't say I'm too unhappy with any of the choices this evening - the poorest songs (in my opinion) didn't get through, and those that did (even those I didn't choose) were all at least reasonably good. However, for me the 'star' of both Tuesday and Thursday was Denmark; we in the UK could not vote on Tuesday, but at least I was able to vote for my favourite from both semi-finals, Denmark, tonight. I like the Danish song a lot!

To recap from the 1st semi-final, here are the 10 countries from Tuesday who, like the 10 successful nations high-lighted in green above, go through to the final on Saturday:

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Roll on Saturday!
PS/ I think for me it will probably be a choice between Denmark and France - obviously I can't vote for the UK entry with Andy Abraham, but even if I could I don't think that would affect my choice - but I'll make up my mind between those two, Denmark and France, on Saturday ...

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Eurovision 2008 - 1st Semi-final - my evening and the results

Well, I'm currently watching the 18th out of the 19 songs being performed tonight by Russia. Just Greece to go.

My views of the songs tonight:

Montenegro - not a great song - quite a pretty male singer, but I don't think it will go through

Israel - Excellent singing voice, sexy male singer and dancers - Bill says 'YES' - Voters says 'YES'

Estonia - Lively song - female and male singers

Moldova - Romantic ballad - good voice - pretty female - Bill says 'YES'

San Marino - ballad - strange looking male

Belgium - bizarre song - pretty female

Azerbaijan - camp operatic ballad - camp male and gothic male - Bill says 'YES' - Voters says 'YES'

Slovenia - good singing - beautiful but alarming looking female

Norway - good ballad - good voice - very pretty female - Bill says 'YES' - Voters says 'YES'

Poland - good song - very beautiful female - Bill says 'YES' - Voters says 'YES'

Ireland - the Turkey was a complete turkey - rubbish!!!

Andorra - good song - female plus female group - Bill says 'YES'

Bosnia & Herzegovina - rubbish song, badly sung - bizarre male and female singers - Voters says 'YES'

Armenia - powerful song, but sung out of tune - very beautiful female - Voters says 'YES'

The Netherlands - tuneful song - very beautiful female singer and good looking male dancers - Bill says 'YES'

Finland - a male kind of 'hard metal' band - Voters says 'YES'

Romania - Romanian/Italian ballad sung by a very good looking male and a pretty female - Bill says 'YES' - Voters says 'YES'

Russia - romantic ballad - very good looking male - Bill says 'YES' - Voters says 'YES'

Greece - nice song with slight middle eastern overtones - quite a pretty female with male dancers - Bill says 'YES' - Voters says 'YES'

OK, I seem to have got 7 out of the 10 which the voters wanted:
- the 3 I chose which didn't get through were Moldova, Andorra, Netherlands;
- the 3 which the voters chose (and I didn't) were Bosnia & Herzegovina, Armenia, Finland.

The next semi-final is on Thursday.

Police State Britain: plans for telephone and email database

Officials in the Home Office have apparently drawn up draft plans, possibly to be included in a forthcoming Communications Bill, for a database to be created to contain details of all telephone calls and e-mails with the details being held on file for 12 months.

Absolutely crazy and monomaniacal if you ask me. It sounds just like the kind of completely off-the-wall idea that must have flowed out of a brain-storming session, where free thinking and lateral thinking have a place, into the real world after the session was over.

Quite apart from the civil liberties implications of this idea, which if implemented would take us very far down the road towards the kind of 'Big Brother' Orwellian state discussed in the novel '1984', does anyone really believe that the Home Office, or anyone else, could be trusted with this level of information about people in terms of their ability simply to manage it competently and securely?

Eurovision 2008 - 1st Semi-final - 20 May 2008

(Please see UPDATE at end)

This year the Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Belgrade (Serbia) and for the first time will comprise two (rather than one) semi-finals, before the final takes place next Saturday evening.

The first semi-final takes this evening (Tuesday) and the 19 nations competing will be:

San Marino
Bosnia & Herzegovina
The Netherlands

See the official scoreboard here and the main Eurovision website here.

The second semi-final takes place on Thursday and a further 19 nations will compete:

Czech Republic
F Y R Macedonia

Ten countries from each semi-final will go forward to the final next Saturday; they will make up the 25 finalists with the following 5 countries:

- the four 'big' countries (i.e. the ones who pay the most):

United Kingdom

- plus last year's winner and this year's host nation:


The BBC Eurovision website is here and from here you can listen to all this year's songs (if you are more of a masochist than me).

Of course I shall be recording and/or watching the two semi-finals and watching (and perhaps recording) the final, but after last year's even more nakedly-partisan cometition than usual, my interest has lessened considerably so I doubt if I will bother 'live-blogging' any of the three evenings of 'entertainment' this year. For me the whole competition is on a sort of probation this year. I still plan to enjoy the fun and 'camp' aspects of the three evenings, but I will be taking the whole spectacle a lot less seriously than in earlier years. If the voting this year is even a little more realistic and objective than last year's nadir then I might just possibly reconsider my even more cynical than usual attitude toward the whole competition. Meantime it is relegated for me to the category of vaudeville, redeemed only by the opportunity the competition affords to ogle my particuar taste in 'eye candy'.

UPDATE: I posted here after this evening's show with my impressions plus the countries which have been selected from the 1st Semi-final to go through to the final on Saturday.

Saturday 17 May 2008

Drugs in the army - soldiers dismissed in batches

And these are just a few recent cases involving Scottish regiments (I expect that the situation is much the same in English, Welsh and Northern Irish contingents):

Date: 17 May 2008
Regiment: Royal Regiment of Scotland
Battalion: Black Watch
Location: Fort George (near Inverness)
Number who failed tests for illlegal drugs : 10
Specific drugs idenntified: not mentioned (*)

Date: 13 Nov 2007
Regiment: Royal Regiment of Scotland
Battalion: Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
Location: following return from Cancun (Mexico) after participating in exercises in Belize
Number who failed tests for illlegal drugs : 17
Specific drugs idenntified: reportedly heroin and cocaine (unconfirmed by Army)

Date: 22 Mar 2007
Regiment: Royal Regiment of Scotland
Battalion: Royal Highland Fusiliers
Location: Glencorse (near Penicuik, Midlothian)
Number who failed tests for illlegal drugs : 20
Specific drugs idenntified: cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis (plus others?)

Date: 22 Feb 2007
Regiment: Royal Regiment of Scotland
Battalion: Royal Scots Borderers
Location: Dreghorn Barracks (Edinburgh)
Number who failed tests for illlegal drugs : 10
Specific drugs idenntified: not mentioned

As is mentioned by an Army spokesman in one of the reports, recruitment is conducted in mainly urban areas throughout the country and the drug problems within the Army are a reflection of those within British society as a whole. Sad, but realistic, unfortunately.

(*) There's a fuller report about the latest incident here.

Friday 16 May 2008

Just music ...

Of all composers my favourite is Johann Sebastian Bach. I have rarely heard a piece of music composed by him which did not immediately enthrall me and 'take me out of myself'; the world really seems somehow a better place when one can listen to the musical genius of this man. I could have chosen many other pieces for this evening's post, but I hope you will agree that this performance of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor [BWV 565] performed by Ulrich Böhme on the Sauer organ in St Thomas Church, Leipzig (Germany), is a superb example of sublime music:

Unfortunately the recording above, whilst superb, is slightly curtailed at the very end, so I am embedding another very fine performance of this music, this time performed by Diane Bish on the organ of St Bavo Church, Haarlem (Netherlands). Enjoy!

I had a good session at the gym today (I wrote last week that I was joining a gym again after a break of about a year) and I feel good now, so I just wanted to spread a little of the joy that I experience when listening to Bach's music.

California Supreme Court Affirms Right to Gay Marriage

Tremendously good news coming out of the US and from various American bloggers (some serious, some whimsical).

The California State Supreme Court has struck down two state laws that 'limited marriages to unions between a man and a woman'; the ruling comes into effect in 30 days and was voted with a 4-3 majority. California Chief Justice, Ronald M. George, wrote the majority ruling:

"In view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship,” he wrote, “the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples."

The ruling draws on a similar ruling of six decades ago overturning the then ban on miscegentation (marriage between persons of different racial groupings) and will make California only the second US state, after Massachusetts, to permit same-sex marriage. However, rulings in California often trigger changes elsewhere in the US and, ultimately, the rest of the western world. Our Civil Partnership Act in the UK already gives people much the same rights (and obligations) as marriage confers upon heterosexual couples, but for some the use of the word 'marriage' to authenticate their relationships will undoubtedly provide additional comfort.

California gay [and Republican] blogger Boi From Troy has several posts (earliest first) which are all worth reading:
A Day of New Beginnings?
Equality for All!

"I’m going to defer on the politics of this for now and just let everyone enjoy, discuss and revel. After thirteen years, today, I am fully a Californian."

"…for the first time in history…" (by a guestblogger)
Goodbye, Mister Tonight
Video: LA Press Conference on Historic Court Decision
Some YouTube videos of the event are available here and I embed the one featuring Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for your (I hope) pleasure and information:

The implications for the forthcoming US Presidential election are discussed in this New York Times analysis (registration required); California governor Schwarzenegger has already stated he will uphold the ruling and oppose any initiative to overturn it. I suspect that this ruling, however postively I and many others may view it, will trigger the same kind of odious electioneering practices that marred the last two Presidential elections - that's perhaps a worst-case scenario, but it's as well to be prepared.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Police and CPS condemned for 'fake' claim about Moslem TV documentary

Channel4 television and production company Hardcash Productions have today been totally vindicated for a 'Dispatches' programme (Undercover Mosque) detailing the extreme views being propagated in some mosques.

I watched the programme when it was broadcast and was astonished when I heard later that the broadcaster and production company had been accused by West Midlands Police and the CPS of 'selective editing' and 'distorting' (i.e. faking) the filmed material and evidence they had gathered. They were also accused of 'undermining community relations'. Media wathcdog Ofcom, to whom the police referred their allegations, has thrown them out declaring that the programme had "accurately represented the material it had gathered and dealt with the subject matter responsibly and in context". Ofcom also stated that it was a "legitimate investigation, uncovering matters of important public interest” and that each quote was "justified by the narrative of the programme and put fully in context".

The allegedly (by the police and the CPS) 'distorted' commments by Moslem clerics included the following:

— Whoever changes his religion from al-Islam to anything else — kill him in the Islamic state

— Take that homosexual and throw him off the mountain

— By the age of 10, it becomes an obligation on us to force her [young girls] to wear hijab, and if she doesn't wear hijab, we hit her

— Allah created the woman deficient

— If I were to call homosexuals perverted, dirty, filthy dogs who should be murdered, that is my freedom of speech, isn't it?

In exactly which context would such comments ever have been justified? The police and CPS need to explain exactly what was their thinking when they made the allegations they did.

It is stated that a 'six figure' sum in libel damages is being paid by the CPS and West Midlands Police for their outragreous attempt at stifling legitimate exposure of shocking utterances. However, although this sum will undoubtedly come out of a police and/or CPS budget, it will ultimately be borne by all tax-payers as it is they who fund theoretically public services such as the police and the CPS.

Now that this ridiculous case has been thrown out, when are the police going to recommend a prosecution by the CPS against those Moslem clerics who uttered those obnoxious sentiments, quite clearly in contravention of British law? I am not holding my breath!

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Cost of Inverness southern by-pass could exceed GBP200mio!!

It is being 'privately-'admitted (*) that the cost of the planned Inverness southern by-pass could reach GBP200mio, way above the current 'conservative' estimate of GBP120mio (itself well above the initial estimate of GBP83mio). On this basis, I suspect that GBP250mio might be nearer the mark eventually!

I know, despite the somewhat narky tone of the previous sentence, that this by-pass is becoming increasingly necessary. However, according to the linked article, at its eastern end the by-pass will involve a 'Trunk Link Route' (TLR) to link-up the A82, A9 and A96 and is likely to involve the demolition of either the Tesco store there or Inshes Church, a pretty recent construction itself. There are also numerous new 'executive-style' homes pretty close to the Church.

Later in the article, however, it is indicated that Highland Council have more or less committed to retaining the retail centre where Tesco is located, so things probably look bleak for Inshes Church and some nearby houses! I imagine that tonight's public meeting, held earlier this evening at Inshes Church, will have been a lively affair!

Another question that needs to be asked is if the high costs likely to fall on Highland Council as its share of funding this development will impact adversely on other parts of Highland Region? We in Nairn know already how parsimonious Highland Council has been with expenditure here, as compared to Inverness (e.g. the unwillingness to fund proper repairs to the Baillie Bridge across the River Nairn at the harbour, as against the wilingness to pay a significant sum to provide such fripperies as seasonal lighting on a bridge across the River Ness for use on special occasions).

(*) Not so very 'privately', as the details are splashed across an Inverness Courier article. Either the 'officials' referred to are very naive, or the Courier's reporter a venal knave (or possibly both) or the Courier article is completely made up. I doubt the latter is the case.

Gym'll fix it ... ?

Yes! I'm just about to start going to a gym again, after a break of about a year. Long-time readers of my little blog may know of my long-standing (lifelong, really) struggles with efforts to keep my weight under some modicum of control and my pretty successful efforts with the Atkins diet a few years back to reduce my weight significantly on a long-term basis, and (unlike with previous different diets I have tried) to keep it there.

Atkins has been fairly successful for me, but there is no getting away from the fact that my weight has, over the last 6 months or so, begun to creep up again because I have been ignoring some of the 'rules' which make this diet work; that's largely a self-discipline and will-power problem I have to solve on my own and I know myself well enough to avoid making rash promises - I am trying, but the facts about my progress, and success (or not), will speak for themsleves in coming months. External issues do have an effect however - I no longer have my pet doggie Tara so have less incentive to at least go out for regular walks several times a day. I also like good food and I like nice wine. The weight gain so far is not in any way dramatic, but I know where this trend is leading and I desperately wish to avoid continuing down this self-destructive, if comforting, route.

However, all these so-called external factors are really just excuses - if I really wanted to do it, I would be doing it; as the slang has it "simple as ..."!

In about an hour's time I go for my initial 'orientation' visit to the new gym I joined last Saturday and I'm looking forward to it. As for the rest - getting back to controlling my food-intake better and taking regular exercise (not just of the gym-variety), well that will be a work in progress as it has been for most of my life, quite apart from getting a few more hours sleep at night (television and internet addiction to be curbed!). I'll report back in due course on how I'm getting on, warts and all.

Sunday 11 May 2008

Bill vlogs Sunday - 11 May 2008

Rather than write lengthy blogs detailing the grotesqueries of the past few weeks in British politics, more specifically the fact that Gordon Brown's authority as Prime Minister is being increasingly called into question, even by supposedly loyal memmbers of the Labour Party (plenty of other bloggers across the UK are writing such posts) I thought I would continue a recently-started experiment with video-blogging and put up occasional vlogs incorporating some comment on recent political developments in the UK, or different parts of it, and couple this with some more of my domestic routine now that I have returned to Scotland for the summer.

To kick this off, today I recorded some comments (two separate short videos) whilst preparing lunch. The main theme is the slide in the popularity rating of 'The Glorious Leader' and some of the developments of recent times which led to Gordon Brown's popularity rating taking a [long-overdue] slide downhill.

Enjoy! Comment if you like ...

The above two videos total about 13 1/2 minutes and have taken an incredible 5+ hours to upload, even with my 'upto 8Mb' broadband connection - I know the upload speed of an ADSL broadband service is much, much slower than the download speed. When uploading normal webpages, even with decent-size images, the slowness of the upload speed is hardly noticeable, but when it comes to video files it is a really critical factor because of the sheer size of these files. At least this forces people like me who indulge in this kind of activity to keep it reasonably short, you'll be glad to realise!

Friday 9 May 2008

Visit stats it's better not to talk about in too much detail ...

... I wrote a brief post earlier today about a delayed exit visa from Cuba for a critic of the regime there, who is a blogger, and who has been unable to travel to Madrid to collect a prize given for her blog-writing. Already I notice in my blog stats a couple of visits from Cuba, but I won't identify who the visitors' [servers] are, just in case anyone from the island's state security apparatus ever stumbles on my little blog and decides to query with my visitors why they chose to visit the blog of a renegade capitalist running-dog such as me. On the other hand if anyone 'official' from Cuba does ever visit here then can I just say to them:

When are you going to introduce proper democracy and accountability into your corrupt and inefficient socialist system of government?

I feel a lawsuit coming on ...

... and a (despite it being in exceedingly poor taste in the circumstances) realisation that the old pantomime chant: "Look behind you!" can sometimes be of real practical value. I hope the woman wasn't injured too badly and that the shop's owners were suitably punished financially.

(thru kenneth in the (212) )

Cuba - still the same old socialist nightmare!

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez has had to miss out on collecting her Ortega y Gasset digital journalism prize from Spain's El Pais newspaper in Madrid, for her blog which is often critical of Cuba's government, because the Cuban authorities "were unable to process her travel visa application in time". A likely story!

Channel 4 and its free 'Catch-up' feature

I think this must be relatively new on Channel 4 (I don't remember it being mentioned before I left for Spain in January), but I saw it referred to between programmes a couple of days back and this struck a chord when there was a 'plug' later for next week's episode of Brothers and Sisters, to which I became addicted when the last series was run last year on E4. That 'plug' made me realise I had missed the episode from the night before, but not to worry - I was able the watch the whole programme on my PC in 'full screen' mode and enjoyed it, even more so because it was without the ad-breaks. In fact, being able to watch Channnel4 programmes whenever I want, for upto 7 days, makes this a viable alternative to recording programmes on my DVR, even if the picture quality isn't quite so good.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

"Edinburgh isn't what it used to be"

Margaret in a withering folow-up comment on Michael, the Jewish/non-Jewish contestant on this evening's The Apprentice episode, who apparently studied at Edinburgh University.


(Personally I would have fired Michael, too. The only one I would have reprieved from the final 3 tonight was Clare. The two who were fired - totally justified!)

UPDATE:(Friday 9MAY08 06.57 BST) Well I suppose it was too much to expect that Edinburgh (and its University) would brush off this off-the-cuff remark on a television reality show as hardly worth a comment and certainly not a full-blown article such as this in 'Scotland's national newspaper' The Scotsman, which of course originates in Edinburgh; comments in that newspaper are often laughably parochial and over-the-top, but commenters 2 and 7 have probably got quite close to the 'actuality'.

Bill's back!

I arrived back in Nairn yesterday afternoon, after a pleasant sea-crossing from Zeebrugge to Rosyth and a very easy drive back up north - the road, specially after Bruar, was not very busy in my direction so I made pretty good progress.

I won't write more now because I seem to have internet connection problems at home - I don't think it is a problem with my equipment, or my broadband wi-fi modem, but the internet seems to cut out unexpectedly from time to time; perhaps it's a local network problem? More later...

UPDATE: (Thursday 8MAY08 09.11 BST) Well I'm glad to say the connection problems I referred to above have disappeared; it must have been a general network problem in Nairn (or perhaps further afield).