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

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Credit where credit is due?

I've just had a letter from my credit card company advising me that my credit limit has been increased by roughly 30 per cent; obviously I had not requested this increase, nor do I need it (I've never paid a penny of interest on credit card debt, ever). I use my credit card solely as a means of payment where my debit cards (Maestro and charge cards) are not accepted and the full outstanding amount is always paid by me online within a few days of the charge having been incurred and almost always several weeks before I receive the credit card statement showing recent charges and giving me several more weeks before interest starts to accrue on it. That's the way I like it.

However, it interests me that banks are still trying to push more credit at people. Obviously despite the warnings that most people are over-extended with debt, the banks are still behaving like 'drug pushers'; they can't help themselves and want the party to continue.

As for me I shall be continuing with more or less my usual level of expenditure; for example, I mentioned a week or so back that I had ordered a new relatively inexpensive computer and have been working happily with it for a few weeks now quite happily. What I have not mentioned until now, however, is that it was my intention to order a second new PC immediately after I received the first one and I had got it set up and running and was happy with it. So less than a week after receiving the first machine I order the second one and have been using it too, very successfully, for a couple of weeks now. Both are manufactured by Asus, but whereas the first of the two runs Linux and instead of a hard drive has a solid-state flash drive (40GB), the second runs Microsoft XP and has an 80GB hard drive. I have equipped each with a 16GB SD memory card and these hold all my photographs and documents and mean that I can switch all my portable data between any of my 4 laptops quickly and easily; the two Asus machines also each allow me 20GB of online 'cloud' storage space, although I haven't so far used any of that. Having the data in several different places also provides its own back-up and I have a fairly simple regular routine for keeping all copies of the data updated with additions and changes - I've been doing this for years anyway and is a worthwhile, but often neglected, discipline. The best part of these new machines (apart from them being highly-portable and with LONG battery life between charges, is that I no longer have to use my machine equipped with the horrid Microsoft Vista.

Anyway, barring strikes, riots and civil commotions (a phrase I always recall from insurance policies on documentary credits when I was involved in trade finance operations for years in the bank I worked for) and catastrophic inflation or complete economic collapse, I expect to be able to continue more or less as normal. I make no apology for this, nor do I gloat at those in a less fortunate position. However a rule I have always lived by is that I have never been particularly extravagant in my personal tastes, at least in terms of my disposable income. I have never owned a 'flash' car for example and it has been many years since I bought one with a loan. I have always enjoyed travel and have, to be quite frank, hardly counted the cost from day to day, but such travel and vacations have always been financed out of my current resources requiring absolutely no borrowing whatsoever. I have always lived 'within my means', but I am not in any way 'mean'; that's the way I was brought up. We never went away on expensive holidays when I was a child and whilst we always had everything we anted at home it was comfortable but never lavish and special treats were saved for special occasions - I knew my parents could not afford certain things others in my class at school had. This never bothered me. Yes, since I have been an adult I have occasionally stayed at very expensive hotels and resorts (at my own expense), but I have also made use of much more modest establishments much more often. 'Status' in travel or in my personal possessions is unimportant to me; I don't need to prove anything to anyone.

So yes, although my credit card issuer tells me I am a 'valued Credit Card card-holder' I have absolutely no intention of deviating from my normal prudent and very transient use of the credit limit offered, but only until I can get online and pay it off. I am perfectly well aware that the card company makes no money out of me, but I agree with them that I am a good credit risk; I've been paying an annual fee for my charge card for over thirty years and although I pay nothing for my credit card would certainly not object to paying one on that too for the convenience of having it if they ever decide to start levying one. But I'm certainly not going to help my credit card company out by taking on borrowing I don't require - I try and live well within my means. It's a great pity, in my humble opinion, that a lot more people don't behave similarly.

Sachs, Brand and Ross

I did not hear the 'infamous' broadcast; I'm not a Radio2 listener. I do usually watch Jonathan Ross of a Friday evening on BBC1 and find it amusing, if crude. I have watched Russell Brand on Channel4 before and find him very amusing, surprisingly articulate and completely surreal and a living example of how little I understand the psychology of women who, at least according to Russell Brand himself, find him sexy and attractive.

I've now heard/watched recordings of their broadcast including the parts which consisted of telephone 'prank' calls to Andrew Sachs telephone answering machine. The content is crude, vulgar, profane, cruel and malicious - all in the name of humour. Brand has now done the 'decent thing' and resigned, after having been (along with Ross) 'suspended' by the BBC.

However the cynic in me is forced to point out that Russell Brand has a new comedy series starting tonight on Channel4 (Russell Brand's Ponderland); perhaps that's really the only reason Brand has resigned from the BBC so readily. Channel4 were advertising this last evening, so one must assume his new series there is still going ahead.

I really don't mind the fact that some people are paid a lot - if the BBC is mad enough to pay Jonathan Ross GBP18mio for a 3-year contract then that is for the BBC to decide. However, we as citizens really need to re-consider whether we wish to continue to bankroll this institution to the same extent and in its current format. My view for a few years has been that the BBC licence fee should be abolished and that the BBC should become a subscription-based news channel, possibly supported by some form of advertising - a little like Channel4. If the BBC wishes to continue to provide the universal service it tries to, from the highest- to the lowest-brow, then it needs to understand that taxpayers shouldn't be expected to continue to foot the bill.

I don't think I'm a 'prude' (although I dislike profanity intensely) and if people, me included, wish to watch people like Jonathan Ross then we should be permitted to, but I don't think everybody should have to pay for it through a licence fee; I can make the choice about subscribing to it or not myself, thank you very much. I have heard it mentioned that the kind of calls which Brand and Ross made to Andrew Sachs's telephone, in a work situation, would at a private company have resulted in their immediate dismissal, also that it is an offence to make such calls. If this is true I am at a loss as to why both were not summarily dismissed by the BBC. I respect Andrew Sachs's decision not to bring the police into the case, so I have nothing to say about that aspect of the case.

The Obama 'Infomercial'

I just watched Barack Obama's 30-minute prime-time broadcast from last evening on YouTube. Bear in mind that it is a paid-for 'informercial'; make of it what you will:

... and here's the Republican candidate, John McCain, telling Americans how it's been under the current Republican president:

"The last eight years haven't worked very well, have they?"

It's really a choice between 'hope' (Obama) and 'fear' (McCain); personally I go with 'hope', although I doubt very much Obama can work miracles, but what does McCain offer - vague promises that the next four years will 'be better', without really a shred of evidence to show how he might make it so. My own little pocket of fear so far as McCain is concerned is how would it be if, tragically, McCain can't go on as President for any reason (probably relating to his age and known health issues), we had a President Palin? If that doesn't give your average American voter pause for thought, then I'll be really worried.

What's really going on in the economy

I haven't written here for several days now and here's why. I'm just so depressed and worried. My view for a long time (since May 1997 at least) is that our Labour government would lead us, again, into economic disaster. Well, the obvious signs that this had happened first began to show up three or four years ago when the implications of the off-balance sheet items in the government's financing mechanisms started to show up big-time. Now we are told that the way out of this recession/depression we are just entering into is to SPEND, SPEND, SPEND our way out of trouble. We're also told that inflation is not the problem as deflation is and that inflation is going to trend down provided we just keep ploughing more money into failed companies. All this additional 'investment' is coming from two sources - borrowing and running the printing presses even faster. And yet we're told that inflation won't eventually take off big time? I just don't buy it.

Politicians don't want their electorates (not just in the UK, but over the whole of the western world) to realise just how badly their governments have messed up - and how much the electorates themselves have messed up by continuing to borrow increasingly large sums without the underlying income to ever pay it back. There may be a few individuals like me who have no debt, but we are in a vanishingly-small minority, unfortunately. So now the cry is to reduce interest rates to encourage more borrowing. I ask you, just how crazy is this?

I came across these two videos in the AngloAustria blog, they are interviews with a guy called Peter Schiff on the Bloomberg channel just a few days ago. Frankly I can't fault the man's logic at all; the man is not an 'alarmist', even if what he says is exceedingly alarming. Unfortunately my view is that he is simply telling it like it is. Pain cannot be put off forever; I think people need to realise that the sooner the debt-mountain cancer is lanced, the quicker economies can be rebuilt on a sounder basis - and trying to borrow our way out of trouble to put off the evil day is only going to prolong the agony for far longer, even if in the short term it seems to provide some relief. It's a lot like drug addiction; the really hard part is weaning people off the drug. The harsh truth is that real living standards in the western world have got to fall dramatically for most people for a while and that some won't make it through to the other side; naturally the politician who said such a thing would have no chance of being elected, because most voters are hopelessly addicted to the debt and borrowing drug. OK, now that I've cheered everybody up, please watch these videos:

Part 1

Part 2

Who amongst our politicians has the courage to get back to economic reality? Obviously not Brown, and unfortunately not Cameron, either. And, frankly, who can blame them with the myopia that afflicts most voters - although I believe strongly that if one of them stood up and told the truth for once they would be surprised how many people would be receptive to it.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Spring forward, fall back

The subject at issue this morning is: would I already have been awake for over an hour this morning (and it's still not 8am) if it wasn't for the fact that the clocks went back an hour last night? Maybe for you it's different, but for me it's a definite 'no'! So today signals the real beginning of the winter season. It may be lighter this morning at this time than we have grown used to over the past few weeks, but that won't last long - by mid-December in this part of Scotland daylight won't really begin until not long before 10am. However, I can console myself by thinking that Spring is only 5-6 months away. Have a good day!

Friday, 24 October 2008

And I'm not even an American, but ...

... it seems the lack of my vote, according to an email I just received from a couple of weeks in the future, will have important consequences!

(thru Bill at Bill &

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Scottish 'Government': more money than sense!! And peddler of 'propaganda'?

Where to begin with this?

Today I received a envelope, addressed to 'The resident', sent to one of my residences (OK, so shoot me! - lol) with the envelope helpfully marked 'THIS IS NOT A CIRCULAR' and bearing the legends of 'The Scottish Government' and 'NHS Scotland. Inside I find a letter which addresses me as 'Dear Sir or Madam'. There are two other enclosures within the envelope: firstly, and excitingly (I being of the 'Vicky'-type, aka 'Little Britain') a 'High Street Gift Voucher' for £5.00 (GB5.00) and a leaflet put out by something called the 'Scottish Centre for Social Research' and entitled 'The Scottish Health Survey'. We'll return to this a little later, never fear.

For the moment I want to focus on on the voucher for GBP5.00. It is headed up 'Love2shop' - they've got my number obviously! In any case it appears to be a perfectly valid voucher, which it seems I can spend at a variety of high street outlets (mentioned on the voucher are: Principles, HMV, Homebase, Boots, Virgin Megastores, Iceland, Woolworths, Wilkinson, River Island, Warehouse, WHSmith, H.Samuel, Focus, New Look, Carphone Warehouse, Halfords, Adams Kids, Comet, BHS, Mothercare, Waterstone's, and JJB) - it's even got a holographic logo on it and serial numbers on the back so I plan to go spend this money in the next few days; if these idiots are mad enough to squander our money (my taxes) in this way I'm unapologetic about recouping a very small small portion of this squandered money, To be quite honest I've never heard of a few of these outlets, but there are quite a few of the outlets named locally, so I won't find it too difficult.

Now, back to the leaflet accompanying the letter and shopping voucher! It explains that earlier surveys have been carried out in 1995, 1998 and 2003 and that from 2008 it will take place yearly. Apparently around 6,000 adults and 2,000 children are invited to take part each time. According to the letter I will be visited (or at least one of my addresses will be visited) in the 'next few days' by a named interviewer (whom I do not name here; she is, after all, just a 'paid lackey'). In any case the 'objectivity' of this whole exercise may be judged by perusing the 'Did you know?' section:
- A third of men and women think that their general health is 'very good';
- Around 1 in 5 men and women and just over 1 in 10 children eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day;
- Around 3 in 10 men and women smoke cigarettes, smoking rates have been steadily declining since 1995;
- Younger adults are more likely to smoke, but older people who smoke tend to smoke more cigarettes per day;
- About 1 in 4 men drink more than 21 units of alcohol a week and about 1 in 6 women drink more than 14 units;
- Men spend an average of 7 hours per week being physically active and women spend and average of 5 hours;
- Men are more likely than women to take part in sport while women are more likely than men to do heavy housework;
- Three quarters of boys and nearly two-thirds of girls aged 2-15 spend at least an hour a day doing physical activities;
- About 2 in 5 men and women have a long-standing illness, this rises to 2 in 3 of those aged 75 and over.

Some of these statements may appear intrusive or controversial (many are both in my view) and the 'What are the questions about?' segment are, in my view, both facile and patronising.

I have not yet decided whether I shall meet with the person who is scheduled to visit me in the next few days. Meantime I must register my protest at the Scottish Executive's profligacy with taxpayers' money'- I doubt I am the only one who believes the Scottish Excecutive (aka 'Scottish Government') must have far too much money available if it can afford to send out GBP5.00 vouchers to all and sundry to try and persuade them to allow such intrusion and self-exposure to its agenda - ultimately it is taxpayers (such as me) who are paying for this largesse so it seems, apart from anything else, rather a 'circular' way of going about its business.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Brilliant! I like this a lot ...


Read more here.

(Thru Andrew Sullivan. Not everyone feels the same, though.)

Westminster 2009/2010 - let battle commence

I thought I would continue my previous practice of publishing all 'propaganda' from political parties that happens to drop through my letter box; first out of the stocks for the next Westminster parliamentary elections which will presumably happen in 2009 or 2010 (unless the shocking state that our present Labour government has got us into leads them to call a 'snap' election before the end of this year - probably unlikely), is Scotland's self-styled 'national' party, the Scottish National Party (SNP), introducing us to their PPC for the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey constituency, a gentleman by the name of John Finnie whom we are informed in the leaflet is a former policeman, hence the slightly witty banner title in the second image below.

As readers of my little blog will know well, I am not a supporter in any shape or form of the SNP and I plan to publish any further political propaganda leaflets which drop through my letterbox from whichever political party they come (well, if I am honest, with one exception - I will not publish any material from the BNP, nor have I ever linked to their website and have no intention of ever doing so):

SNP PPC leaflet - SNP
INB&S - October 2008

(Click any image to see an enlargement)

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Tax time again!

(Please see UPDATE at end)

My posts here will be even more sporadic than usual for the next day or two as I absolutely MUST knuckle-down and get my tax filing completed as the dead-line for submitting paper returns is at the end of October. I've actually had all the raw data input into my own semi-automated spreadsheets for two or three months now, so all the sub-totals are just to be plucked out and added to the form, but I've had other more attractive outlets for my time which have diverted me from getting on with it, quite apart from the fact that seeing so much tax-payer money being squandered by the government in the past few weeks (on completely counter-productive financial sector rescue packages, etc) that I wasn't inclined to rush to get the form done. However, as I don't care to do it online yet I do now only have a few days left so the evil task cannot be put off any longer.

Incidentally, I have been startled over the last week to see/hear several Ministers spout the 'lie' that UK borrowing as a proportion of GDP is now lower than it was in 1997, or indeed at any time in the past! Statistics can prove anything, but it's all those pesky off-balance sheet items (which I seem to recall hearing that the Office of National Statistics isn't entirely happy with) on PFI and other accounting 'wheezes' that have allowed our former Chancellor and current Prime Minister Gordon Brown to 'spin' this notion.

Until later this week then ...

UPDATE: (Tuesday 21OCT08 07.25 BST) Excellent article by Fraser Nelson in the Spectator blog about the nonsense of putting the bail-out/nationalisation of Northern Rock off the balance sheet! This is how the lie that national debt is only 37 per cent has been 'achieved'.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Gay chef murderer found guilty

As expected, former 'Mr Gay UK' Anthony Morley has been found guilty of the murder of Damian Oldfield. Morley was found to have slashed Mr Oldfield's throat before stabbing him several time and then cutting sections of flesh from his chest and thigh which he then proceeded to cook partially in olive oil and herbs. After this he walked into a nearby takeaway restaurant wearing a bloodstained tee-shirt, telling staff there he had killed someone who had tried to rape him.

It would appear that the jury (correctly in my view) gave this defence argument short-shrift. My own feeling is that Morley was (and probably still is) conflicted about his own sexuality; the fact that he apparently had a girlfriend when he became the first winner of the 'Mr Gay UK' competition in 1993 may be a small clue. The case is obviously both gruesome and sad for all concerned, for Morley himself, but specially for the family of Mr Oldfield.
(My earlier brief blog article about this crime, during the trial when I first heard about it, is here.)

The Telegraph article linked to above does not mention what sentence Morley has been given; presumably the sentencing hearing will come later.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Bush 43 legacy: the torture presidency?

Harper's Magazine looks in depth at what George W Bush's historic legacy might be and comes to the conclusion it will probably be -


- a conclusion I came to a long time ago. Read the article (some of the information it contains is new) and see what you think.
(thru Andrew Sullivan)

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Labour and the SNP squabble over financial crisis and its implications for Scotland's future.

Gawd give me strength! Have the SNP and its hangers-on and Labour and its hangers-on nothing better or more productive to do with their time and energy right now than to squabble like children over whether the current financial crisis will affect Scotland's prospects as a continuing member nation of the UK or as an independent nation, positively or negatively?

I'm not sure quite who started this squabbling match although I think the first 'skirmish' I saw was yesterday (Monday) in a couple of the SNP-leaning blogs that I read regularly (here and here), followed in pretty rapid succession this morning by a Labour leaning blog I read here. Then I noticed that Labour, in the august personage of Prime Minister ("I don't want to make a political point, but ...") Gordon Brown has appeared portentously saying that Scotland would not have had the resources on its own to have 'rescued' the two nominally-Scottish banks included in those 'rescued' by the British government, followed in quick succession by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond describing as 'ridiculous' such claims. I reference a BBC report which addresses some of these issues.

I've no doubt that this will be a fertile subject for study by economists and political strategists in months and years to come, but I think that it is highly-inappropriate right now, whatever view you happen to take of the role of Scotland either within a continuing UK or separated from it. We have much more important things to worry about right now!

When the time comes to look at this issue, however, I think it will need to be subjected to a greater degree of analysis than the 'bullet point' summaries the two sides of the arguemt have attempted so far. The SNP, for a start, makes many assumptions about the role Scotland might play post-separation/independence in the EU and about the repartition of oil and gas reserves in the North Sea following on from it; similarly the Labour Party wishes to look at present-day political realities as a guide to how a post-separation/independence Scotland and the rest of what had been the UK might organise themselves. For example, as an analogy, it would be relevant to look at the relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland before and after the period when the Irish currency maintained a fixed exchange rate (at parity) with the UK currency; that is the point, in my view, when Ireland's destiny economically-speaking might have been said to have begun to diverge from that of the UK; the decision of Ireland to merge its currency and economic policy within the Eurozone merely continued this process, it did not start it. In the case of Scotland the disproportionate importance of financial institutions incorporated in Scotland within the UK economy is a very important factor; both the RBS and HBOS conduct a majority of their activities outside Scotland and in the case of RBS in particular a very significant proportion of its activities in recent years is outside the UK and the EU entirely. There are a great many imponderables about how a post-separation/independence Scotland might have dealt with current circumstances, always supposing that the current events affecting either/both the RBS and HBOS could have or would have happened were not Scotland within the UK. We really cannot say for certain, whatever view you take of the merits/demerits of independence/separation. Just for starters, would a 'UK' without Scotland have followed the same policies over the past few years without Gordon Brown as Labour Chancellor and would a putative Scottish government have followed significantly different policies than it has within the current UK? Similarly, would financial services regulation have followed the same pattern in Scotland or in the rest of the currently-defined UK if the currently-defined UK had ceased to exist some years ago?

In other words I believe the petty bickering between partisans for the SNP and Labour of the past few days (and continuing this evening) is completely pointless (although the implicit assumption that the EU has collectively provided a support package is not exactly how it happened, from what I can gather, rather it is a case of coordination of independent national responses of countries within the Eurozone, largely to accommodate the [justified] scruples of Germany about supporting a pan-Eurozone support package). No doubt a proper and rational analysis of the economic relationships between Scotland and the present UK and between it and a post-Scotland UK is possible, and desirable, but I believe that in the midst of the current crisis is not the time.

Finally I do not believe that anything about the current crisis relates specifically to the size of the national economies involved, rather it relates to the regulatory regimes in place; yes a 'small' country such as Iceland has been hard hit, but so have been countries with large (the UK) and huge (the US) economies. However, other countries have not been so massively affected, both large and small, because they have in practice had in place more robust internal regulatory regimes even if the globalised economy in which we all operate has left them almost as vulnerable as everyone else. To summarise, knee-jerk reactions attempting to favour one view or the other relating to Scottish separation/independence from the UK are the last thing we all need right now.

"I don't like this tie. It makes me look like a spiv"

I just heard the classic remark in the title from Jack Woolley, who unfortunately suffers quite severely from senile dementia, in that classic story of imaginary rural life in Britain (rural England more specifically), The Archers. His wife, Peggy Archer, seems to have had what is probably a stroke in yesterday evening's episode, and this evening he is being 'prepped' by Matt, the prosperous businessman 'boyfriend' of her rather louche wealthy daughter Lilian, for a visit to the hospital to see Peggy.

I've seen a lot of ties that make the wearers look like spivs in my time (a conclusion usually confirmed by mercifully brief-acquaintance with the wearers), so whilst poor old Jack may have completely lost his mind, and he himself comes from a pretty hard-nosed Birmingham background (in the storyline, you understand), he has not lost his nose for a wide boy (or in the memorable literal translation into Arabic of one of my fellow Arabic-students when referring to such people: "huwa walad' areed")! Lilian's boyfriend Matt is definitely one of those!

In any case the reason for this particular ramble on my part is that I have seen quite a few talking-heads on my television over the past few weeks, during the course of the financial debacle we are still living through, who are very obviously wide boys, smartly-dressed city-boys or politicians or journalists of course, but wide boys nonetheless who I wouldn't trust for an instant. Incidentally in this illustrious group I would not include that old-Labour reprobate Dennis Skinner who I saw on television either this morning or yesterday wearing a deep red shirt and an equally glaring red tie - no doubt there was a political message in his choice of attire so different rules apply in his case; I may not like his politics, but I do respect him at least.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Visions of the future ...

London lawyer Czechout, author of the Made in Scotland blog has some grim visions about a possible future that might flow from the current financial crisis. I doubt that these visions will become reality (and I certainly hope not), but it may well be true that some things we have taken for granted for decades will change. Personally I think (and have thought for some time) that a major shift in the balance of power in the world is underway, as a result of the unsustainable living standards we have grown accustomed to in western countries, way beyond the income generating capacity of most of our economies, coupled with the fact that many formerly poor countries now have access to enormous liquid reserves, plus their own lower (but admittedly rising) labour costs give them a tremendous competitive advantage; maybe Russia will be one of the new wealthy nations, but I think both its wealth generating capacity and its political stability rest on rather shaky grounds. China, India and Brasil (to name but three) are probably very different cases indeed though. As a commenter to Czechout's article recommended, I plan to 'Cheer up!' - we will undoubtedly get through the current difficulties eventually.

Obama / Osama - an accident or done by design?

A county in New York State has sent out absentee ballot voting papers with a miss-spelling of pretty major proportions. Yes, in Rensselaer County, near Albany (the State capital) ballot paper have been sent out to several hundred voters with the Democratic Presidential candidate's name shown as 'Barack Osama' instead of 'Barack Obama'. County election officials say that the 'typo' was not picked up despite being subjected to three separate sets of proof-readers. The Albany Times Union reports that 300 ballot papers were affected, one of which went to Edward McDonough, the county's Democratic elections commissioner, who says he didn't notice the error himself. Because of worries that some people might correct the miss-spelling, which would invalidate these votes, corrected ballot papers are being sent to all those affected. Although both political parties, Democrat and Republican, accept it was an unfortunate error, not everybody entirely believes this. At least they didn't put his middle name on the ballot papers and make the 'gaffe' even more blatant!

(thru Kenneth in the (212))

New link added - Yapping Yousuf

I haven't done a 'link added' post in quite a long time, even if I've been updating my blogroll (additions and deletions) quietly over the months. However occasionally a new blog comes along that merits a special mention because of the liveliness of its writing - such a new blog is Yapping Yousif which according to its author is the: "blog of Yousuf, scottish labour activist, formula 1 fanatic, economics geek, extremely infrequent gym user...". It won't surprise many that a lot of what he writes is complete left-wing nonsense (in my opinion) as his world-view is radically different from my own, but there are nuggets in what he writes that I find myself agreeing with too. However, whatever he writes is in a lively and interesting style and reveals a thoughtful individual so he deserves a mention in my blogroll.

It's particularly appropriate, too, to add his blog now as the Scottish blogging world saw the 'retirement', hopefully not permanent, of Kezia Dugdale's Soapbox which I wrote about earlier in the week (her blog never actually made it into my blogroll, only into my feed aggregator and as it's effectively been removed from public view it won't go in now, at least until it re-appears again, if that ever happens).

Matthew Shepard - murdered 10 years ago today

Matthew Wayne Shepard
1 December 1976 - 12 October 1998
- Rest in Peace -

Matthew Shepard was brutally tortured and murdered ten years ago this month in Wyoming, for no other reason than that he was 'different'; he was gay. As a result of this he died in hospital ten years ago today.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Japan news - the great and the embarrassing (if you're British!)

One of the blogs I've been following for a few years now is one written by an Englishman living in Tokyo as it gives an often whimsical insight into life there. Anyway his latest blog article covers two items which have made the headlines in Japan, but I expect have hardly been noticed elsewhere (specially the second story below).

The first story is entirely serious - basically the fact that this year's Nobel Prize for Physics has been won jointly by three Japanese scientists for:

... their groundbreaking theoretical work which investigated the hidden symmetries among sub-atomic particles. Judges praised them for their outstanding contribution to the scientific world regarding their exploration of the nature of matter, and for making significant progress towards answering questions about how the universe began.

- no doubt followers of the Nobel Prizes in the scientific community will have been well-aware of this, but I don't recall it having been mentioned in the UK in the non-scientific media. Congratulations to the three!

Now on to the real 'meat' of this article, Englishman's second theme, which is about a story about a westerner (thought to be British, although one of the commenters to his article wonders if he was Spanish) who took a dip, in the nude, in the moat surrounding the Imperial Palace in Tokyo - obviously people were bemused and the police not amused. I'm embedding the AP video news report below for your amusement, but I do urge you to visit Englishman's article too, as he has a lot more pictures with some of his trademark 'bubble' comments and they are quite funny:

(It so happens that this is the only part of Tokyo that I have even a passing acquaintance with as when in that city I always stayed at the Imperial Palace Hotel, just across the park from the moat outside the Palace, as the office was very close by.)

Friday, 10 October 2008

The UK government and its slowness to act over Icelandic banks

I've castigated our Labour government often in the past (including earlier today) for their fundamental lack of understanding about how markets work, but this article about queries and warnings the government had received in July illustrates even more clearly just how hopelessly complacent they were a few months ago when perhaps they might have begun to take steps to protect British depositors, whether private, charities or councils. Notice at the end of the linked article the weasel-like obfuscations of the junior Treasury minister responding to questions in July from the Parliamentary Treasury Select Committee.

Darling's gamble over council cash deposits

The Spectator links to an article in the Times which illustrates just what ignorant bunglers our current government comprises. Over the past few days, since the collapse of Icelands's banking system, and the decision of Iceland's government not to honour debts of banks it has nationalised to depositors in Britain, Britain has taken 'tit for tat' measures against Iceland by freezing Icelandic assets in the UK (quite how 'legal' all of this is I've no idea). At the same time the British government has said it will indemnify all British private depositors with failed Icelandic banks, regulated under the UK FSA. However this indemnity excludes corporate deposits and deposits by local councils around the UK. Earlier in the week I heard a figure of GBP1bn for such deposits being mentioned, but this was 'pooh poohed' by some spokespeople as being an exaggeration, but it turns out, now that all the figures are trickling in, to be roughly correct.

Naturally enough councils around the UK are somewhat alarmed at this turn of events, so it seems they are now 'threatening' to withdraw ALL their deposits from private institutions and instead place them in Government securities (aka 'Gilts'). These deposits represent, apparently, TENS OF BILLIONS OF POUNDS and if they carried out their 'threats' would probably cause a 'run' on all banks affected. What's our government going to do, do you think?

A few caveats, however. I think councils which had deposits with these Icelandic banks needs to asks themselves a few questions and to answer those questions honestly. Much has been made in the past few days that they were actively encouraged by the government to invest their funds for the best possible return and they say they were recommended to place some of their funds into these Icelandic banks by their professional investment advisers and in any case they were authorised under UK financial regulations to take deposits here and had good 'credit ratings' from the major ratings agencies. So far, so good; their story would seem to be 'watertight'.

Now comes the other side of this seemingly rosy picture. Apparently the rates on offer by these Icelandic banks were rather higher than many others in the market and at least one council, Brighton and Hove (according to the BBC 6 o'clock news this evening who interviewed someone from that council), thought this sufficiently of concern to withdraw its deposits before the crash. This really high-lights a timeless truth; councils (and indeed private depositors) need to be more honest with themselves and accept that if they place deposits with an institution which is somehow able to pay a significant margin of return above that offered by other deposit-takers then there is usually a reason for this and a part of that reason may be increased risk for depositors. The reason, the only reason, that our disgustingly self-interested government has rushed to indemnify private depositors who have lost out in this collapse is because they represent a great number of votes, councils don't - even if they are managing funds on behalf of those other voters the council-tax payers. I really wish to know how our government is going to wriggle out of this one!

Finally, I have just been watching another interview with the Icelandic prime minister - he has changed his tune somewhat since yesterday. Yesterday he seemed to suggest that the British depositors of Icelandic banks were not his problem, but that of the UK government. Of course I am well aware that Iceland is facing an unprecedented national crisis as it is effectively 'bankrupt', but the realisation that the UK authorities have blocked Icelandic assets in the UK said to be worth around GBP8bn has probably made him re-assess his earlier belligerent reaction and adopt a more cooperative posture because he knows that, whatever the rights and wrongs of what the British have done, he will have to deal with the consequences at least in the short term.

These issues are just a microcosm of some of the 'beggar thy neighbour' actions that governments around the world might begin to take if the world financial system continues to spiral out of control. I tend to doubt that this particular US President any longer has either the domestic or international prestige to calm the markets, any more than our own Prime Minister does (*). We enter this weekend in what is really a very alarming position - I am apprehensive about what the coming week may bring.

(*) And this report indicates the very limited extent of Brown's influence outside his own family - not zero undoubtedly, but pretty close to it.

Ex-'Golden Girl' takes aim at Sarah Palin

Betty White, one of the Golden Girls, has a 'pop' at Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, on the Late Late Show hosted by Craig Ferguson earlier this week; she's assuming the 'spoof' role as a speech-writer for the McCain campaign:

- most amusing!
(thru Queerty)

Norwegian MP takes advice from fortune-tellers

No, this is not some surrealistic imagining on my part, but it made me laugh a little in this gloomy economic climate. Norwegian MP Ms Saera Khan has been calling up telephone fortune-tellers and in a three-month period ran up a bill of 48,000 Kroner (GBP4,590, USD7,750). Ms Khan is an MP for the ruling Labour Party, but Labour's parliamentary leader Hill-Marta Solberg confirmed that advice from fortune-tellers had not influenced government policy. Well, that's good to know.

The 'habit/addiction' only came to light when parliament in Oslo said it would no longer cover her bills, which the good lady had been charging to it as part of her parliamentary allowances; she has, she has said, paid the money back. She admitted that in one nine-month period she had made 793 calls to fortune-tellers over a period of 133 hours; she was calling so often, apparently, that she was told to stop calling by some of the fortune-tellers. You really couldn't make it up!

It makes me wonder where this fine gentleman takes his advice from, although he seems rather to be trying to perform the role of fortune-teller and financial guru himself to the rest of the world community; one looks on in fear and trembling that they may actually follow his advice.

DNA records rise at fastest rate ever ...

More than 722,000 records were added to the DNA database last year, the largest ever increase in a year - so far. There are now more than 4 million DNA records held, or as the National Policing Improvement Agency charmingly puts it, the largest DNA database per head of population in the world. Utterly revolting. Read the rest of the linked article for the rest of the outrageous 'Police State' propaganda with which it is replete. The fact that it is thought largely to comprise totally innocent people is completely irrelevant to these quasi-fascists (I debated whether to leave the 'quasi-' qualification out of that, but have left it in just for the present; put it down to my boundless and probably misplaced optimism and continuing attempts to believe these people are not actually 'evil').

PS/ On a lighter note, this is the first blog article I have prepared using my new sub-notebook PC (an Asus Eee PC 1000), which I received yesterday and which I wrote about here. It seems nice so far and has been extremely simple to set up and use; I was online less than five minutes after switching the machine on and the 16 Gb SD card I got now holds all my backed-up photographs and documents with more space to handle quite a bit more so leaving the on-board memory free for other things. I'll write more about the new machine in due course.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Iceland, finance and the Russians

When I heard early this morning that Russia might provide about 4bn Euros to Iceland to help it withstand the financial storms which are lashing it just now (see also here), my immediate reaction was to ask what is the quid pro quo going to be? This Spectator article speculates, too, and may provide some clues as to what's afoot, given Iceland's strategic location between Russia and North America.

RBS and me

Intriguingly I had a telephone call a short while ago from the Private Banking (PB) department of RBS seeking to set up a telephone appointment for me; apparently my PB contact is taking time off as a result of illness and the replacement person wishes to speak with me and one assumes other clients of the ill colleague. Probably this is just a routine call having no especial significance, but just at this time one cannot help but wonder if it is at least partly designed as a reassurance that things remain well within that bank and that clients such as me should not be unduly alarmed at what we are reading and seeing in the media. I'll know in a few days time and may or may not decide to write further here when that happens, depending upon how I feel afterwards.

Obviously I am as concerned as anyone at what has been happening in recent weeks and days, however there is not a lot I can realistically do that I have not done already and the solution is certainly not to exacerbate whatever problems might exist at various financial institutions by lots of people thinking about withdrawing sizeable funds from one of the UK's and the world's largest banks; I certainly would not wish to keep that kind of money in liquid form (whether paper or gold), as I would obviously have to try and provide some security against theft, so I would be obliged to try and decide which other institution(s) might be as good or better a home for it. Frankly, best to leave such funds as I do have where they are, for better or for worse; if that bank were to fail then there would be few other safer havens, I fear.

Labour, or at least Kezia Dugdale, isn't blogging (any more)

I am sure readers will immediately identify the genesis of that title, an election slogan in the run-up to the 1979 general election, in which the then Conservative Opposition told it like it was concerning the governing Party of the time:

- an advertisement voted in recent years as having a major impact on the voting public and their decision to turf Labour out that year.

Sounds familiar now, because Labour has once again bled the British economy dry and it seems likely that the British voting public will take the decision at the next general election to turf them out again, just as the Scottish voting public chose to do at the last Scottish Parliament elections in May 2007, much to the displeasure (how could they do this to us? - was the plaintive collective whine from the UK and Scottish Labour establishments) of a Party grown too used to quasi one-party rule in Scotland for the previous five+ decades.

Now I learn, as a result of an article posted by Jeff at the SNP Tactical Voting blog, in which he writes about an 'interview' with Kezia Dugdale of Kezia Dugdale's Soap Box, of her decision to 'retire' from blogging - in fact if you click on that link it will bring up a Blogger page which informs people that:
"This blog is open to invited readers only"

- so presumably blogging continues behind a barrier, although I have no way of checking as I do not have the pleasure of being on the good lady's Christmas card list. Here's how she responds to one of Jeff's questions:

Why did you decide to hang up the keyboard?

Blogging has become too much of a risk. I have an inclination that the vast majority of my readership are SNP activists just desperate for me to trip up spectacularly. I'm not risk adverse and this is no act of cowardice but I have to make a judgement about whether or not blogging almost daily for the next three years, in the run up to the next Scottish elections, is good for me personally, good for my career and good for the Labour Party. I've decided that for now, and certainly the immediate future, it isn't.

I make no comment about this right now (although see below), but I think it speaks for itself. One of the other responses to a question from Jeff that I thought especially pertinent was this one:

How relevant is blogging to modern-day Politics as a whole?

Extremely. Blogs, comments forums, phone ins, letters pages, YouTube, all collectively set the mood music for Scottish Politics... the SNP know that and they utilize it very effectively. But I also think it's a very seedy environment - the vast majority of bloggers operate anonymously. And with anonymity, accountability completely evaporates...
Blogging is no longer, in my view, a proper vehicle for debate. It's been saturated by partisan venom and that can be quite debilitating.
I'll write a post and then 95% of the comments that follow will be negative. That doesn't mean I'm wrong every single time... but it does begin to feel that way when the blogosphere leans so heavily towards nationalism and/or a right wing agenda.

I hate to be judgmental, but have you ever read a more nauseating piece of defensive codswallop in your life? It is no secret to anyone that I am right-of-centre in my politics; I am also one of those bloggers who is pretty open about who and what he is, by the standards of the Blogosphere at any rate and I would agree with her that the impression I get too is that there seem to be fewer 'left wing' than 'right wing' or, in Scotland, 'nationalist' blogs; I agree also that there is a lot of 'venom' out there. But is the correct response to this to reduce yet further the number of left wing blogs? Far be it from me to give advice to anyone, but I'd have thought the best way for someone who (for whatever bizarre reason - that's just my little joke, by the way!) wants to further a left of centre political agenda would be to engage in reasoned debate, rather than (and I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but I see no way of putting it otherwise) running off in a huff.

In the first quote above are included these factors contributing to her decision: "I have to make a judgement about whether or not blogging almost daily for the next three years, in the run up to the next Scottish elections, is good for me personally, good for my career and good for the Labour Party". I can certainly sympathise with her worries about whether blogging is good for her personally (I know how mentally fatiguing and stultifying emotionally it can become to write several blogs a day over many months or years), but I find the other two reasons she cites quite extraordinary. Is the Labour Party and its ideology so fragile that people who work to further its policies and activities might see their careers within the Labour Party or elsewhere placed at risk as a result of their blogging activities and is the Labour party really so frightened of open debate? There is no mention at all about 'democracy' however. I wonder why? And you don't get someone like John Redwood, whatever you think of his politics, coming over all defensive when he writes something controversial and it attracts criticism; he attempts to rebut opposing viewpoints with reasoned debate and he certainly cannot be regarded as the 'darling' of the whole Conservative party, having attracted his own share of visceral criticism from various Conservative quarters over the years.

I can't finish without mentioning her response to another question though:

How do you see the next few years of Scottish Politics panning out?

I think Labour will win a fourth term. I think the Scottish Parliament will grow in stature, with more powers and that minority government is here to stay. I think the Historic Concordat will fall apart spectacularly. I think that class sizes and student debt will be higher in 2011 than they were in 2007 and I think Iain Gray will be the next First Minister of Scotland.

Does Kezia know something most of the rest of us don't, or is this just a piece of empty bravado? Time will tell of course, but I tend to think that at least parts of her predicitons will not, ...err, come to pass.

I have only been reading Kezia's blog for a relatively brief period and I can't say I agreed with much of what she wrote, but if I wasn't interested in at least making myself aware of different viewpoints the very last thing I would have done was to have started up a blog over six years ago and making it my business to link to and read a pretty wide variety of other blogs, both 'big' and 'small'. In any case, farewell Kezia. I'm sure if you do decide to open up your blog again to everybody you will be welcomed back as another badly-needed voice.

The trial continues ...

This is the phrase with which many newspaper reports of court proceedings end in the UK, particularly when the case being heard is of a salacious or grotesque nature.

Well this case definitely falls into the 'grotesque' category. A former 'Mr Gay UK' is on trial accused of having murdered and partially eaten the cooked parts of another man with whom it is thought he had a relationship and with whom he had just had a sexual liaison. When arrested the accused apparently told the police he had been raped.

Obviously we have only heard the prosecution case against Anthony Morley so far, so it is probably wrong to pre-judge, but unless there is something very strange indeed going on (with the way the case is being dealt with - we already know that the details of the case itself are decidedly strange, of the "couldn't make it up" variety) and unless the defence can come up with a novel case for the defence then the outcome of this trial seems from what I have read so far a foregone conclusion. But as I said it is wrong to pre-judge before all the evidence is in.

Monday, 6 October 2008

The modern face of the Church of England

What a sick shower these people are.

OK, so the Bishop of London has given the Stock Exchange chaplain a 'wrap over the knuckles' for suggesting all gay men should have 'sodomy' warnings tattooed on their bodies, but it is quite extraordinary that this bigot was ever a chaplain to begin with; I just don't believe that his 'unorthodox' views have only developed recently, unless he has undergone some kind of profound mental transformation recently. No, the truth is (I think), that his odious views were probably quite well known before to his associates in the Church and they chose to do nothing about it until he actually put his views in his blog, when it couldn't really be covered up any longer. His plea that his remarks were satire and not to be taken seriously are belied by his follow-on comment, absolutely typical of his knid of bigot:

'What I have got against them is the militant preaching of homosexuality.'

Well, Rev. Peter Mullen, I'm even more upset by your militant preaching of 'sky fairy' malarkey! I thought Christianity was supposed to be about love and compassion?

Frankly, people who believe in ANY kind of organised religious dogma need their heads examining! When will people grow up and realise there are no 'sky fairies' and that when we die, well - we die. And that's it.

Accentuating the positive, a very miserable positive

The turmoil in the world's financial markets is now (as we heard over the past weekend) beginning to affect Europe severely too, resulting in the Euro falling against the dollar and, incidentally, against the pound - my latest information shows a pound to be worth roughly 1.29 euros, as against 1.23 about a week ago. I won't be cheering too loudly though - who knows what any of these bits of paper ('fiat') money will be worth tomorrow!

Saturday, 4 October 2008

My PC experimentations continue

I've just ordered myself a new notebook computer which I hope will arrive during next week. I've written before about my experiencess with Microsoft's current main operating system being marketed to consumers, Vista, (here, here [final 'PS/' paragraph], here, here, here, here, here and here).

It's only partly to do with my Vista problems, however - even if it's the main reason. In addition to that I've grown fond of notebooks which, because they have small screens, are very portable and pretty light; my current main notebook (the one using Vista) has a 12" screen and if it were not for the horrible operating system would be a terrific little machine. Another 'however' is that during one of my periods of extreme frustration with Vista I [probably not entirely inadvertently, if the truth be known] spilled a full sherry glass of Pedro Ximenez sherry (very sweet sherry indeed) over the keyboard and since then the keys have been very sticky, making it necessary to use an external keyboard, which is a bore. My sub-conscious has obviously been telling me to dump this innocent machine and 'get shot' of Vista!

Anyway, I've ordered one of these sub-notebook things which are becoming increasingly popular, without a built-in DVD/CD read-write drive and with a solid-state memory rather than a hard drive - the model I am going for is the Asus eee PC 1000, which has a 40 GB solid-state drive and runs on GNU Linux as its standard operating system; amongst the various other bits and pieces I've ordered at the same time is a mini external DVD/CD reader-writer to allow me to load other software into it as well as a 16 GB SD memory card to make use of the slot the machine is equipped with the extend the main SSD memory, plus a few other smaller add-ons. Apparently users of this model also get access to 20 GB of secure online storage (i.e. 'the cloud') to store files such as documents or photographs. Once I'm familiar with the machine, I'll probably get another 2 GB memory card to increase the RAM from the supplied 1 GB of RAM. The machine has a 10" screen and, because it has no built-in DVD/CD drive it is compact and pretty light, ideal for taking back and forth on the 'plane to Spain and of course solid-state flash drives are a lot less prone to damage than hard-drives. No doubt the next development will be increased SSD flash-drive memory (from the current 40 GB maximum) and I can well see myself getting another machine once this happens - they are relatively inexpensive and can now probably be regarded as just another easily-affordable consumer durable, unlike my first two machines which cost me around GBP2,500 each in 1982 and 1984 money, that would be a lot more now! I'm currently on my 8th PC and the Asus will be my 9th, if my recollection is accurate - I expect I'll be well over the 10th before too many more years pass!

YouTube never ceases to amaze me; there are a lot of video-clips there (as I discovered last night) demonstrating the Asus eee PC 1000 and other PCs - here's just one of the more interesting ones I found:

- unlike the fellow in the video-clip I shall NOT be putting Vista on it(!) although I might add XP in due course; there are lots of other video-clip reviews of people doing that and I found it was always a pretty stable system, even if it's a bit old-hat now.

Once I've received the new machine I'll undoubtedly be boring-on about it some more!

Friday, 3 October 2008

Things must be desperate - Mandelson is back in the Cabinet

Look I have absolutely nothing against Peter Mandelson's ability to do a competent job in Government, he seems like an intelligent fellow and most people seem to agree he did a not-bad job in Northern Ireland and that when at the DTI he probably did an OK job too. His similar role in the EU as the UK's sole Commissioner there, even if I certainly did not agree that all he did there was entirely wise, is generally reckoned to have been pretty successful too. Whether I agree with David Blunkett that bringing Mandelson back into the Cabinet as Business Secretary is a good thing is another matter entirely. Also, whether I'd want him on my Christmas Card list is a very different matter, but I suppose we all have to deal with people who have a rather too easy attitude toward probity; I've written about him in this area a few times the past after all (here and here for example).

What worries me though is the fact there is a long-standing history of animosity between Brown and Mandelson (ever since the latter supported Blair to be Leader in 1994) and the way Mandelson seems to rub so many people in the Labour Party up the wrong way (I think a part of the reason why he arouses such strong feelings amongst many others in the Labour Party is that he is very much a 'champagne socialist' and he is very clever and doesn't care who knows it and, however much the official stance of the Labour Party is to be 'right on' with notions of homosexuality, one can't help feeling that many of his fellow 'comrades' in the Labour Party find him a bit of an enigma.); that wouldn't worry me in the sightest if they were all private individuals or even the Opposition, but Labour is (Gawd help us!) still the Government of this country and the last thing we need right now is yet another cause of internal bickering in our Cabinet, although I must admit I was, despite myself, reasonably impressed with Brown's comments on it today when he seemd to acknowledge their earlier differences and stress only the need to 'pull together'. So in one way it might be regarded as reasonably positive, but I'm afraid at the back of my mind a voice is shouting that things must be really desperate for Brown to bring one of his arch-foes back into his Cabinet and to have to speak about him so positively.

The Palin-Biden Veep 'jousting match'

(Please see UPDATE at end)

I am always wary about writing about US Presidential politics because, frankly, so much of the dynamics of politics there is (after a lot of thought and scratching my head) a complete mystery to me. The fact that we speak more or less the same language makes people tend to think we are the same in other ways, but over the years I've come to realise that there are some pretty major differences that make a lot of what goes on there less straightforward that one might think; no doubt they feel the same way about the British. Anyway, let's plough on.

Since McCain and Obama chose their respective running-mates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, some weeks back I've been reading quite a lot about them, although probably more about Palin than Biden as she seemed to be the one that most US commentators focussed on, because of her newness to national politics. I've also been reading a lot of blog commentary about her, mostly very sceptical or worse, but I've also made a point of reading some of the 'Republican blogs' where she seems to be well-liked. No doubt there are blogs about Biden, but I haven't come across them so far - he is so much better known in national politics, that there seems to be less need felt to focus on him. As a result I, as an 'ignorant furriner', know a lot less about him than I do about her - so I've gone to that 'fount of all knowledge' Wikipedia to read his Bio; for balance, Palin's is here.

There has been a lot of talk in recent days/weeks that Sarah Palin is a 'joke' and by choosing her as his VP running-mate McCain has scuppered his chances of victory at the election; US politics and commentary on it is so 'partisan', however, that it is very difficult to establish who is saying what and what their motives are. Having read a lot about her, particularly some of her recent televised interviews, her being an in-over-her-depth joke seemed to be the reality, but I just had a niggling feeling at the back of my mind that it is very unwise to underestimate her, despite her rough edges and the controversy surrounding her political and personal history in Alaska. As for Biden, well the 'vibe' seemed to be that he was very knowledgable about 'foreign affairs', an area where Obama is weak, but that he was 'gaffe-prone', and I've seen several video recordings of examples of this in recent weeks - interestingly though, he always seems to have the mental and verbal agility to recover very rapidly from these lapses.

Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to watch the whole debate 'live' on television and, courtesy of the BBC News channel was able to do this as they carried the live feed. Of course it was in the middle of the night here in the UK (2.00 to 3.30 am) so I watched it whilst snuggled up below my duvet and trying to keep awake. A blow-by-blow blog of the event on the BBC website is here

My initial impression, for about the first 30 minutes or so, was that Palin seemed to be wrong-footing Biden pretty consistently with her rapid-fire repartee which was both 'folksy' and 'emotional', whereas he seemd rather wooden, even if the content of what he was saying had a LOT more substance, even at that stage.

I thought the 'moderation' of the debate was almost non-existent; neither candidate was really challenged in any way and it seemed both could say more or less whatever they wanted and not be 'called' on it except in the most low-key kind of way (I understand that the rules under which the moderator, someone called Ifill, operated were hammered out in great detail between the candidates' campaign staff so she was probably very restricted in what she was allowed to do, so that may explain some of this, but still). Certainly in the segment on 'homosexuality' and 'marriage' for gays, Biden was pretty clear on what he was saying, and I'm sure some of the more conservative viewing public will have been duly outraged; Palin was in one way pretty clear about where she stood on the issue too, although I think she was rather ambiguous in some of what she said and made remarks about what Biden had said that were 'emotional' rather than 'factual' to appeal to the Republican evangelical 'base' undoubtedly, and she fudged one or two key aspects. Ifill's moderation of this segment was particuarly low-key. This is a 'hot button' issue in the US so a little bit more clarity could have been forced out of Palin, I think - although the moderator's guidelines, as I mentioned above, may have prevented this happening (I know nothing about Ifill's interviewing style and reputation, however, so cannot really make any kind of proper judgement about this).

In the second thirty-minutes my impression was that Biden began to fight back against the barrage of empty 'sound-bite' nonsense being spouted, with great verve and gusto, by Palin, which was beginning to grate on my ears by this time as it was becoming very repetitive and seemed pre-scripted (and being read from notes on her lectern). However, Biden remained reasonably 'respectful' and in check and he didn't ramble on too much (something he is prone to do, I undertsand) although he almost forgot to follow the stern warnings he will probably have received about this, from Democratic Party media advisers, on one or two occasions.

In the third half-hour, however, he seemed to pull the gloves off and the disdainful tone of some of his responses to the empty platitudes Palin continued to mouth (even though she still had flashes of coherence and valid point-making) became more evident. However, I didn't feel he did this in an overly dismissive way likely to alienate viewers, or at least that was my impression.

My summary would have to be that whilst it was a relatively-easy 'win' for Joe Biden, Sarah Palin did a LOT better than many seem to have predicted and did not, probably, adversely affect the McCain too much; on the other hand I don't think she will have helped it much either so it was probably 'neutral' in that respect.

Two live-blog reports of what happened in the debate from US-based bloggers are here (Andrew Sullivan) and here and here (Nate and Sean of the FiveThirtyEight polling-based blog). Given the declared political views of all of them, I'd say their reporting is pretty balanced and any 'bias' that creeps into their remarks is very clear and easily-discounted.

UPDATE: Thru Election Debates (in turn thru mr eugenides) comes the link to this video-recording of the full debate on YouTube:

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Met Police Chief Sir Ian Blair resigns - well done, Boris!

It was with great pleasure that I heard rumours earlier today that Sir Ian Blair was probably going to announce his resignation at around 4pm today. Shortly before that I had to go out for a few hours, but I almost put the car off the road when I heard confrimation on the car radio that it had come to pass.

It has not been a secret that Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, would ideally have wished to get shot of Sir Ian and I am delighted that Boris seems to have had a hand in his long-overdue departure. It gives me exquisite pleasure to read also the letter Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has written [had to write more like] to Boris Johnson; one can just imagine her bawling out some poor Home Official official who advised her she had no option but to include the Mayor of London in the process.

I have been calling for Sir Ian Blair to go [or to be sacked] for some years, my most explicit call for this having been here in September 2005; I am glad that at long last this odious politician/policeman has been seen off!

David Cameron's closing speech at the Conservative conference

I watched the speech live yesterday afternoon and since then I've watched excerpts of it (a few of which included almost the whole thing) several times; I've also begun to read blog posts (here, here (*), here (+) and here, for example) about reaction to it, from those not natuarally inclined to support Cameron or the Conservatives, in other words people who are basically either Labour or SNP supporters.

(*) - Not in fact about Cameron's speech, but about another conference contribution, but as the general tenor of what I'm about to write touches on the same subject, I include it for reference.
(+) This is only part 1 of what she plans to write, but part 2 may be relevant to what I'm about to write, too, so it is also included for reference.

Personally I thought it was a very good speech, not a 'brilliant' one by any means, but very 'solid' and 'statesmanlike', the latter probably because of his own growing realisation (i.e. nigh on certainty) that he will, assuming the opinion polls are not completely wrong or that voting intentions do not change dramatically between now and the next election, be our next Prime Minister. The tenor of his speech recognises the fact, as it had to, that whoever wins the next election (even if it were to be Gordon Brown, however unlikely that might now seem) will have to deal with the most almighty economic mess.

However, broadly-speaking I think Cameron's speech did well what he was probably setting out to achieve; to galvanise his Party for the coming election, first and foremost, and to demonstrate that the Conservatives with him as the party's Leader, are a viable alternative to govern this country and that he personally is capable of performing the role of Prime Minister. However, what I want to look at is one paragraph from his speech on the 'Family', the first part of which alarmed me somewhat, but the final part of which made me think all was not as it might at first appear; I'll discuss my reasoning below. The full speech, from which I quote the paragraph, is here:

We will also back marriage in the tax system. To those who say…why pick out marriage why do you persist in aggravating people who for whatever reason choose not to get married I say I don’t want to aggravate anyone, but I believe in commitment and many of us, me included, will always remember that moment when you say, up there in front of others, it’s not just me anymore, it’s us, together, and that helps to take you through the tough times and that’s something we should cherish as a society.

The first part would seem to imply that anything outside of a conventional man-woman marriage would be outside the scope of what he proposes for the tax system, but I believe the bit about the standing up to make a commitment in front of others leaves open other possibilities. I think it is probable he was addressing this segment of his speech to two distinct audiences, firstly the 'traditional Tory' who thinks that the only acceptable form of family relationship is that between a man and a woman who are married and who have no truck either with people who 'live in sin', with or without children, or even, heaven forfend, two men or two women who live together in a romantic and sexual relationship. The second part, however, seems to me implicitly to recognise that two men or two women who have gone through a civil partnership ceremony, and in doing so made a commitment in public similar to that made by a man and a woman who go through a marriage ceremony together, form a 'family' too and will benefit from the tax-breaks he proposes.

The earlier part is, if my analysis is correct, designed not to alienate the 'base' whereas the later part is possibly too subtle for most of the 'base' to realise precisely what he is saying (so alientating them), whilst being designed to appeal to gays and lesbians who commit to each other in a civil partnership. I would like to be able to ask David Cameron to clarify whether my analysis is roughly correct in what it seems to imply for civil partnerships, or whether I am indulging in far too much textual analysis for my own good and he means only what he is saying in the earlier part; I doubt if I'll get a chance to hear a clear answer on that subject though, unless someone like John Humphrys or Jeremy Paxman decides to ask about it, unlikely given that the focus of their interviews with him in the near future is likely to be on economic matters, given the current parlous situation. My worry is though that the subtlety with which Cameron, being an astute politician, has chosen to express himself is designed specifically to give him 'wriggle-room' to follow whichever policy seems expedient at the time, depending on which tabloid newspaper happens to be running one of its 'gay scare' stories at the time. What all this boils down to is that whilst I basically share most of the views of most mainstream Conservatives, on social matters I have less-restrictive views (which match precisely my less-restrictive views on all other matters as I believe in 'small government' in all spheres) and frankly don't trust the Conservatives not to 'revert to type' on social matters if they see it in their short-term interests to do so.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

US elections polling data and projections

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Thru Toby at Vividblurry I've come across a fascinating site devoted to forecasting voting trends and likely outcomes in the upcoming US Presidential elections across the various States - FiveThirtyEight seems to deal in a mass of data and attempts to make sense about what all this might mean for the 4th November. Unless you follow Toby's blog as I do, however (a gay, bored, body-obsessed and ascerbically-witty blogger living in Washington DC), you might not be aware of the FiveThirtyEight blog, and that would be a pity I feel.

It's obviously a very popular site, judging by the large number of comments for most entries, and it has an admirably clear and honest 'FAQ' section where the methodology used and the political affiliations of the two people behind the site (who live in Chicago and California respectively) are laid out; their aim to present their findings in a visually-attractive way has certainly been fulfilled in my opinion; the 'FAQ' also explains, if you're not already aware of it, where the name of the site comes from. Now that we are within 5 weeks of polling day, interest in the US elections is hotting up even for me, something I vowed way back here in January to keep in check until the appropriate stage in preoceedings, but I think that appropriate stage has now been reached.

UPDATE: I've just come this interview with Dan Rather with Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight website; it's well-worth watching (even if, like me, you have no interest in baseball) -

and here's Nate Silver on the Countdown programme with Keith Olbermann; again well worth watching:

'casabill - the blog' - one year old today!

Today is the first birthday of my other blog casabill - the blog. It's been an eventful year for people in Spain and around the world. What will be next? The fall-out from this is possibly only just beginning. Whilst I was on balance opposed to the plan anyway there is no doubt that the continuing uncertainty will have a destabilising effect. Later in the week we may know more. Hold on to your hats, folks!