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

Friday, 28 November 2008

Police State Britain - Even MPs are not immune from Labour's 'Big Brother' politics

Conservative immigration spokesman Damian Green MP has been arrested; according to the Metropolitan Police:

"The man has been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office."

According to reports, Mr Green was arrested this afternoon at his constituency home and 'counter-terrorism officers were involved in searches of his home and offices'. Even supposing such an arrest was justified (which I strongly suspect it was not), why is it being dealt with under 'anti-terrorism' legislation?

Is it that the person that was arrested last week (a Home Office official appparently believed to be the source of the material passed on to Mr Green) proving more difficult to 'break' than anticipated? The real question is why the government thought it wise to conceal from the public factual information which it has every right to know and which Mr Green made known? For example:
- The November 2007 revelation that the home secretary knew the Security Industry Authority had granted licences to 5,000 illegal workers, but decided not to publicise it;
- The February 2008 news that an illegal immigrant had been employed as a cleaner in the House of Commons;
- A whips' list of potential Labour rebels in the vote on plans to increase the pre-charge terror detention limit to 42 days;
- A letter from the home secretary warning that a recession could lead to a rise in crime.

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown MP, denies being complicit in the arrest, or aware of it before it happened. One assumes this is true and indeed that no other member of the government was aware either, for if they were they have a great deal of explaining to do. If the police acted solely on their own initiative, quite difficult to believe when a senior politician is involved, then they will certainly have their actions scrutinised closely. It almost seems as if they have confused the interests of the country as being the same as the undoubted embarrassment to the Labour government of having concealed information from the public (which they had no right to conceal), only for it to be 'leaked'. Is it now going to become an anti-terrorism matter to reveal the incompetence (or duplcicity, take your pick) of our Labour government?

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

All my blogrolls temporarily disabled

I have taken the reluctant decision to disable temporarily all my regular blogrolls and various other information which I source from what are effectively blogrolls, too. For between the last two and three weeks, my blogroll hosting provider ( has been partially inoperative because I understand that the firm is currently in the process of a major re-write of the code which runs the site. Although my blogrolls have continued to be provided during this partial down-time (although editing the lists by users has been impossible), it has become abundantly clear during the past week in particular that a major side-effect of this has been a very slow-to-load blog page, so much so that most potential visitors here will probably have grown bored/frustrated with the long page-load time and navigated away elesewhere, as evidenced by the very sharp decline in the numbers of visitors here in the past week.

My blog page should I hope be loading much more quickly now that all the the blogrolls have been disabled, but I must apologise to all those whose blogs normally appear in my blogrolls for this 'force majeure' temporary disablement of my link to them; rest assured that I shall be restoring my blogrolls as soon as it is prudent to do so. If the delay in restoring full service at continues for very much longer I will have to consider carrying out a full re-build of my blogrolls and hosting the data elsewhere, but this would be a very considerable task which I am reluctant to undertake unnecessarily; all I can say is that I continue to monitor the situation closely.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The Americans didn't trust Tony Blair either

... if you believe what a 'whistle-blower' at the US National Security Agency has said. According to David Murfee Faulk he came across a personal file on Tony Blair during the course of his work at an NSA covert listening post as a US army Arab linguist. This is despite a long-standing agreement between the two countries not to engage in mutual spying in their dealings. It really doesn't surprise me though - and I daresay British espionage agents take every opportunity they get to reciprocate against US officials, including the US President. I would expect no less of British personnel, even if this is done with extreme discretion. Whilst we may be close allies with the US, and they with us, our interests don't always coincide and it is both foolish and dangerous to be deluded into thinking that they do; it seems that the US at least is under no illusions about this, if this story is true.

More understandable and obvious, perhaps, is this bizarre 'revelation' that an electric samovar, gifted to Her Majesty the Queen by a Russian aerobatic team about 20 years ago and since kept in the corner of a drawing-room at Balmoral, has been removed after a security sweep judged it to be a potential security risk, because of its 'arcane Eastern Bloc wiring'. Given that The Queen is resident at Balmoral for only relatively brief periods each summer I doubt if much of major political significance could have been overheard, although as She and other members of the Royal Family were there when Diana, Princess of Wales died 11 years ago perhaps it might have been possible to have monintored something other than the usual tedium of an upper-class family enjoying one of their holiday homes.

The return to Socialism and the New Puritanism of Labour

Yesterday's 'pre-Budget' speech by Chancellor Darling has finally stirred even the BBC's political and economic correspondents to wonder where Labour under Brown is leading us. The 'solution' to our economic crisis, brought on by over-borrowing and over-spending by the public and Government over the past decade, is apparently to try and encourage more of the same to try and 'buy our way' out of the recession. I don't believe a word of this, of course - these policies are going to lead us even further into the mire in a few years time. The Government's only objective is to try and fool the voting public into voting for it at the next elections (European and Westminster), after which even they are now forced to admit that taxes will have to rise and government spending to fall, both substantially. The 'spin' from both the Government and, regrettably and embarrassingly the Bank of England, that 'deflation' is going to be more than a fleeting near-term problem is one I find exceedingly difficult to accept. I think that the government's continuing reckless reliance on borrowing (and debt-fuelled spending by the public to try and keep the economy turning) is going to result in further sterling weakness and the an increase in the cost of borrowing and that this will pretty soon feed through into severe inflation. The basic problem is that the government (and the US and other governments are pretty much the same) is afraid and reluctant to allow market-forces to do what needs to be done - to let failing banks fail and to let those who deal with such banks, borrowers and lenders, to suffer the consequences. Their fear results from concerns with their own electoral prospects, not to mention social stability. However, lancing this financial crisis by allowing that to happen, whilst exceedingly painful in the short-term unfortunately and inevitably, will result in a lot less long-lasting trauma. The real solution is to reduce and simplify taxation dramatically and to 'fund' this by slashing public expenditure and to give the Bank of England back much of the regulatory authority it lost when it was theoretically made independent of government interference in setting interest rates. The simplistic management-school idea of splitting regulatory authority amongst three groups has not worked - no one, in practice, knows who is in charge. The lie that 'capitalism' has failed needs to be attacked vociferously. Free market economies should not be unregulated economies, a subtle distinction that Labour apparatchiks such as Brown just don't 'get'.

Harriet Harman continues on her 'soundbite politics' and 'dog whistle' campaign against prostitution. Whilst I would agree that human 'trafficking', for sexual or other purposes, is deplorable, there are lots of undercurrents to what Ms Harman wants to see happen. Basically the government doesn't have the guts simply to ban prostitution (and perhaps even they know that such a ban would be largely futile), instead they propose ever more outlandish formulae for controlling and discouraging an activity of which they disapprove on moral grounds, using the 'cover' of trafficking to advance their agenda. I am neutral about prostitution; I don't believe that all prostitutes are coerced, although some/many(?) undoubtedly are, nor do I believe that all purchasers of such services are inherently wrong to do so; I would far rather see this age-old feature of human society recognised and regulated as a lawful activity for those that choose to pursue it - I think that would do a lot more to diminish unsavoury practices than Harriet Harman's shrill rants. The other strand to this government's moral duplicity is the emphasis on 'foreign' prostitutes; many of these foreign prostitutes probably come from other EU member states so have every right to be here, but Labour are undoubtedly using this phraseology as a way of trying to seem 'tough' on immigration to try and defuse the impact of far-right political parties on Labour's own electoral base; I've seen analyses over the past few days seeking to explain away the rise of far-right political support mainly in traditional Labour areas by saying that this is 'inevitable' because Labour areas tend to be more urban, whereas Conservative/LibDem areas tend to be more rural. Possibly there is some truth in this, but I think it is more probably simply a reflection of the more authoritarian mind-set of most people on the 'left' of politics - the lie that the BNP, for example (which I have tacitly played along with above, but only for the sake of making what I am writing comprehensible to readers, not because I believe it myself!) is 'right-wing' is clear to anyone who compares certain aspects of their policies (on their website) with the policies that the Labour government has been busy furthering these past 11 and a half years - ID cards, centralised databases, higher taxation, dramatically-increased state control of most economic sectors, incompetent economic management, centralised decision-making, etc, etc. The urban/rural split cannot explain away these factors. The original title I had in mind for this article was "The return to Socialism and the New Fascism of Labour" and perhaps, on reflection, that would have been just as appropriate.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Citi never sleeps - but it is having a stroke

When the world's largest bank by assets this time last year suffers the kind of declines in its share price which Citibank has experienced in the past week, then one must wonder if anyone at all is now safe in the maelstrom which is engulfing the [western] world's financial markets. Citibank has seen its market value shrink from USD192bn a year ago to less than USD19bn now. The announcement of in excess of 50,000 job cuts a few days ago really shook me when I heard about it, on top of the redundancies earlier this year; however this behemoth still employs about 300,000 even after getting rid of about 75,000 this year. Could the whole bank be sold to try and keep the show on the road? That, at any rate, is what was being being speculated in The Daily Telegraph yesterday. Absolutely extraordinary. Citibank is not just an investment bank of course, it is a major retail bank and brokerage.

Today The Sunday Telegraph has a further report of 'crisis talks' this weekend by the bank to try and secure a capital injection from a wealthy investor or the US government or those existing sovereign wealth funds which already hold stakes in the bank (from the Middle East and Asia). Although it seems to be considered unlikely that a break-up of the bank will result, predators are nevertheless circling (well, one in particular) to see if juicy parts of the portfolio can be picked up. That bank happens to be the one where I spent all my career and my recollection is that Citibank was one of the very few banking groups in the world that was regarded as a really serious rival and competitor in most markets; one can imagine that Citibank has been studied in depth for years. My own personal contacts and friendship with Citibank people date back to my earliest days as a banker and continued on and off in various locations. Suffice to say that whilst events in the financial markets over the past year and a bit and more recently those affecting the two major Scottish-based financial institutions (HBOS and RBS) have caused me deep concern, I have to confess the news that Citibank of all banks has suffered such a precipitous decline in its fortunes is just, well, stunning.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Barack Obama, 'Change' and LGBT policy

US President-Elect Barack Obama now has a website on the .GOV domain (i.e. an official US government server) Change.Gov - The Office of the President-Elect and there is a dedicated page there devoted to his Agenda for Civil Rights which includes a section on Support for the LGBT Community which I reproduce below in full:

Support for the LGBT Community

"While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."
- Barack Obama, June 1, 2007

The Obama-Biden Plan

* Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. Barack Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.

* Fight Workplace Discrimination: Barack Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees' domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. Obama also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

* Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: Barack Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.

* Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: Barack Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.

* Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell: Barack Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. Obama will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.

* Expand Adoption Rights: Barack Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.

* Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, Barack Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. Obama will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. Obama also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS. He will continue to speak out on this issue as president.

* Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. Barack Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.

- of course this won't satisfy those gays/lesbians in the US who set such store by the name 'marriage' for legally-recognised same-sex relationships, but these policies, if achieved, would give the US LGBT community all they want in practical terms and envisages Federal recognition, a vital consideration. US hang-ups with religion are a mystery to me, I freely confess, specially in a country where religion has no official status of any kind and indeed is barred from any such status by the country's Constitution. I hope the US LGBT will keep its eye on the main issue and support this agenda - even with the Democrat majorities in both Houses of Congress I don't expect it will get through without a fight from the religion-lobby.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Britain's lost its marbles!

OK, I've succumbed - I give in. I've never watched this so-called dance contest that has been generating far too much comment in real news bulletins, when it's just a dance competition of the 'reality TV' variety. From what I have read and heard, ad nauseam, over the past week or so, former political commentator John Sergeant is a hopeless dancer. On this matter I have no opinion, nor do I care one way or the other. He has now withdrawn from the competition. Now, please, please, please ... move on! It amazes me that this has been mentioned throughout today on news broadcasts every five or ten minutes and is number two in the billing on this evening's 6pm main news bulletin on BBC1. Get a life, for Gawd's sake!

It reminds me most closely of the hysteria that gripped the nation when a drunkard washed-up former football player, who had received a replacement liver on the understanding he would give up drinking, proceeded to continue to drink hmself to death, after which followed the most nauseatingly lengthy and favourable coverage over days, particularly on the day of his funeral when one might have imagined he was some kind of secular saint rather than a tragically flawed individual. Another instance of the hysteria to which this nation is prey every few years was the circus which happened after the untimely demise of Diana, Princess of Wales - no link here, there can be no-one on this planet who hasn't heard far too much about this already.

It's on occasions like this that I feel like a foreigner in my own country.

Slow loading of my blog page

Both this blog and my other blog (see link in right bar) have been loading VERY slowly for the past three or four days; although I thought I knew what the problem was/is I've become less certain that I do, because of various other things I have noticed. I don't think it has anything to do with my blogs per se, because I have seen that a number of other blogs seem to be having their own problems, too, although not of precisely the same nature - perhaps it's something that is sweeping parts (at least) of the internet. I'm monitoring the situation and will do what I can (which may not be much) to improve it.

A 'Star Wars' tribute to John Williams

The Star Wars series has never been my favourite sci-fi extravaganza, although it's good, but I have generally liked John Williams's contributions over many years to a huge variety of films and this is a very slickly-produced video tribute to him:

(thru R*YAN)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Massive rise in racist attacks in Inverness

Local newspaper The Inverness Courier carries a report from local police body Northern Constabulary that there has been a dramatic rise of 72.9 per cent in racist attacks in Inverness this year. The main targets of these incidents are English people, with next in line for targetting being Poles, of whom there are significant numbers in and around Inverness in recent years.

There are divergent views about the causes, or even if in fact the seriousness of many of the recent attacks matches their severity twenty years ago. For example, the Courier reports that one Independent councillor (originally from Glasgow, apparently) attributes the anti-English feeling to a rise in 'nationalist' sentiment, whereas Highland Council's London-born leader (and leader of the LibDem group in the Council) says there is no link to SNP sentiment and believes the situation was worse 20 years ago in his personal experience. The SNP group leader insisted there is no place for racism in society.

The police figures reveal that the majority of the perpetrators are Scottish (given the fact this is a city in the north of Scotland, this is to be expected in my view and it would be surprising if it was not the case) and other than Poles the other non-British victims include Pakistanis and mixed race people. Incidentally I would query the use of the word 'racist' to categorise crimes against English residents in Inverness; after all your average English person is racially pretty much the same as your average Scottish person and there has been so much mixing through marriage between all the peoples of these islands over several hundred years that they are to all intents indistinguishable racially I'd have thought. It'd be equally ridiculous, for example, to describe as 'anti-semitic' attacks by an Arab on a Jew as both are semitic peoples.

The rise in these crimes is prompting Northern Constabulary to set up a new 'hate crime' reporting system, which will go live in the new year, and this 'will enable incidents of racism, homophobia and religious conflict to be flagged up to officers anonymously', according to the report. Northern Constabulary's website is here.

Monday, 17 November 2008

"Seek immediate medical assistance for erections lasting more than four hours ... "

No I haven't finally gone totally 'ga-ga', or at least I don't think I have! This is an extract from an advertisement for Viagra which punctuated all three of the commercial breaks during a 45 minute interview on CBS with US President-elect Barack Obama; I've not been to the US for quite a few years (and not at all during the Presidency of the 43rd President - a deliberate choice on my part) so had not seen this particular very 'cheery' advertisement for the ubiquitous sex-enhancement drug before which ends with the phrase 'Viva Viagra!' (to the tune of 'Viva Las Vegas!'). See the full interview embedded here (scroll down the page a little), although I have now discovered how to embed it here myself, too:

Watch CBS Videos Online

It is refreshing to see a future US President who seems so normal and can respond spontaneously to diverse questions in complete sentences with humour. We haven't seen one of those for, oh I would say for roughly eight years! Mind you, and to be scrupulously impartial, I'd have to say that Mrs Laura Bush, just like Mrs Michelle Obama, seems an articulate and charming individual, too, so one must assume that her husband does have some redeeming features not immediately obvious to outsiders.

Whether Obama will prove to be a successful President is yet to be seen, but I think the omens look hopeful, at the very least.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

National Debtline for Scotland: 0808 808 4000

The Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') has set up a national debt hotline to give people who have got major financial problems, or are rapidly approaching the stage of having them, advice on how to ameliorate their situation. I don't often have much good to say about the Scottish National Party and its activities, but this is an exception; I think the aims of this project are worthy and I hope the execution lives up to these. Introducing the hotline, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is quoted as saying:

"As the recession bites, families across Scotland are feeling the pressure financially, with increases in food prices, rising bills and mortgage and lending uncertainty all adding to the headache.

"National Debtline will provide the best possible support for people with debt problems. The advice is free, confidential and independent.

"The main message we want to get across is for people to take control of their debt, before it controls them.

"This government will do all it can to help those in difficulty, and that's why I would urge anyone experiencing financial problems to call National Debtline."

The National Debtline number is 0808 808 4000.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Charitable giving and common humanity

I posted an article earlier today about an encounter I had this afternoon with a seller of 'The Big Issue' magazine; this resulted in a comment from a regular local visitor to my blog. I quote below the text of a comment I posted there in response to his comment because I think this is a topic (charitable giving) that deserves to be amplified upon:

"I know what you mean, but with respect you remind me a little of my Biology master at school a LONG time ago in the Isle of Man who used to 'rail' against Oxfam because he believed they spent too high a proportion of the donations they were given on admin rather than on those they were supposed to be helping. Whilst I was somewhat suspicious of one person who was selling 'The Big Issue' in Nairn almost as a full-time job for a lengthy period (the person I referred to in my article) it does not mean I have become suspicious of everyone who sells that magazine as a way of self-help.

Of course I have no interest whatsoever either, or not much at any rate, in what is in the magazine, but I recognise it as a valid way for people to try and help themselves without resorting to simple begging and I recognise too its worthy aim of trying to give sellers a little self-respect. Similarly, I have heard stories before about people who are supposedly 'exploiting' people by begging, but then going off to their nice cars and nice homes/apartments - no doubt some such stories are true, although I tend to believe most are apochryphal and (I'm sorry to say, somewhat judgmentally I suppose) often used as excuses by people who simply don't wish to help their fellows who are in difficulty, even if they have the means to do so.

Whilst accepting that I may at times be naive and give to people who don't deserve/merit it, I would rather occasionally be taken for a gullible fool than always deny those who may deserve a little help when they need it. I may sometimes be rather more cynical than is healthy, but I like to think I have not lost all sense of humanity and empathy for others who may have a genuine need; standing outside Somerfield for hours on end in the warmer summer weather is a very different proposition from doing so at this time of year when like the person I saw today who was obviously frozen stiff - I can think of a lot more comfortable ways of spending such a lengthy period, if I was as desperate as it seemed to me the person I met today was.

Incidentally, and an aspect I did not mention in my article, before I went into the shop I noticed that everyone was studiously avoiding acknowledging speaking to this fellow. When I came out of the shop I had already decided to buy an issue of the magazine from him and went straight up to him and proferred my money before he had to ask, then he tried to engage me in a little conversation; I noticed afterwards, whilst I was going to my car, that 3 or 4 other people had then given him money and taken his magazines; frankly I think my act of 'breaking the ice' by speaking to him had given a number of others the courage/excuse to do likewise, so I am doubly-glad to have done what I did today by giving him the common courtesy of acknowledging his existence. If he is there tomorrow or next week when I go for my newspaper I fully intend to engage him in conversation again, even if I don't buy a duplicate of the magazine I got today, simply to make him feel that he is not invisible and is not a 'pariah' - it is far too easy for middle class people like me to walk by on the other side of the road and I have no intention of succumbing to that easy way out. Life is going to be tough for a lot of people over the next few years; I don't want to be one of the people who ignores at a very practical level what is happening to people less fortunate than I am lucky enough to be."

I know that a lot of people in this country ARE generous, but there are also many who are not. The attitude toward charitable giving in the US seems to me a lot more open and less hide-bound by cynicism - and is helped by a very generous tax regime which encourages people to give to those in need in lieu of taxes. I give to a number of charities on a regular basis under 'direct debit' and 'standing order' arrangements and this too gives me the possiblity of increasing the benefit to such charities by allowing them to claim an additional amount from the Inland Revenue equivalent to the tax I will already have paid on the amounts I have given to the charities; I encourage anyone who makes regular charitable donations to increase the value of their contributions by allowing the beneficiaries to benefit from similar tax clawbacks.

The issue with "The Big Issue"

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Most of us will have seen people on the street, or near shops and supermarkets, selling copies of The Big Issue, a weekly magazine produced for homeless people to sell - the current sale price in the UK is GBP1.50 and I read from the website that the vendor gets to keep 80p, having bought the magazine from the publishers for 70p. I knew the basic mechanism already, but wasn't sure of the precise 'deal' for vendors. Read more about the history of 'The Big Issue' here.

In Nairn, where I live, the place where I have seen a 'The Big Issue' vendor most frequently is outside or close to the Somerfield supermarket, although I have occasionally seen a vendor in the High Street between the Co-Op and Boots.

I don't always buy a copy of 'The Big Issue' when I come across a vendor; like most people I don't like to feel I am being 'morally black-mailed' by some of the rather too hard-sell attitude of some of the vendors or of more conventional 'charities' or 'begging' activities. However, I do take a copy quite often. In Nairn since I have lived here (September 2000) I have often noticed a vendor, but it is probably true to say that I have noticed them more frequently and regularly in the past two or three years. For a while, about a year or 18 months ago, I was buying regularly from one particular vendor who seemed always to be there, but I began to find his 'importuning' activities outside Somerfield were becoming rather too intrusive, so I stopped visiting Somerfield for a while and would instead visit either Forres or Inverness to fulfill even the quite small shopping requirements that I usually carried out at Somerfield.

A phenomenon I began to notice about a year ago was that whereas in the past all the vendors I had ever seen in Nairn appeared to be 'white British', they were often from then on non-white (Indian, Pakistani, Eastern European or Arab-looking) and instead of being almost exclusively male there was occasionally a female amongst their number; my 'buying' habits from these folks did not change noticeably, I don't think. In general I support the whole 'ethos' which seems to lie behind 'The Big Issue', even if I readily confess that the decidedly 'socialist' tone of the magazine itself (which I rarely do more than glance through before disposing of it) is not at all to my taste. However I accept completely that the aim behind the magazine is worthy and deserving of support, specially as I am unreconstructed capitalist - the emphasis on encouraging vendors to rely on their own skills is something that appeals to me.

The specific reason for me writing this article today is that at Somerfield earlier today I noticed a swarthy-looking young man when I entered the supermarket (I assumed he was perhaps an Arab or perhaps from south-eastern Europe) and although I never buy from them on entering the supermarket I often do when leaving (when I am more likely to have change in my pocket) and today I had decided I would indeed buy a copy when I was leaving the supermarket. I checked on the price first (now GBP1.50, up from the GBP1.20 the last time I purchased) and the young man answered in English in an obviously-foreign accent, but not an Indian/Pakistani one. Instead he asked me if I speak Spanish - I responded that I speak a little and we proceeded to have a conversation in broken Spanish (the broken Spanish being on my part, of course), as his English is patchy, to say the least. Who knows why he has ended up where he is (perhaps he has been laid off from seasonal farm work now that winter has come), but he asked me if I could find him work painting or decorating and when I said no to that, whether I had a pet he could walk; since my dog died last year the answer to that is 'no', too.. I conclude he is someone who is simply down on his luck and who is looking for any work he can find, but who is meantime selling 'The Big Issue' as a final alternative before straight begging; if he's there over the next few days (although I won't write about it in detail here - I don't believe in violating people's privacy) I may find out a little more and perhaps be able to help him in a small way.

My final comments about this today: if you come across someone selling 'The Big Issue', don't just ignore them and walk on by. Even if you don't plan to buy a magazine from them, I think most of them appreciate that someone acknowledges their presence and interacts with them as a fellow human being; their self-esteem alone may not nourish them, but even that can be helpful. Better still, of course, is if you can buy a copy of the magazines they sell and give them a few more pennies with which to eke out a living.

UPATE: (Saturday 21.40 GMT) Following on from a comment made on this article, as well as posting my own comment in response I have incorporated it in a further article here with my additional remarks.

The wages of 'sin' ...

... is exposure. That pesky 'freedom of information' culture has bitten some fine pillars of the community who are bleating about being 'outed' (geddit? - lol) as having donated amounts above the disclosure thresh-hold to the 'Yes on 8' campaign in the recent elections in California (held concurrent with the Presidential election-cycle), the State Proposition which, since it was approved by a small majority of voters, has taken away the right of same-sex partners to marry there. Here's Frank Schubert, campaign manager for 'Yes on Proposition 8' moaning about the 'injustice' to his donors:

"It's really awful. No matter what you think of Proposition 8, we ought to respect people's right to participate in the political process. It strikes me as quite ironic that a group of people who demand tolerance and who claim to be for civil rights are so willing to be intolerant and trample on other people's civil rights."

Completely pathetic, Mr Schubert, and totally disingenuous! The reality is, as Fred Karger, a retired political consultant and founder of 'Californians Against Hate', who compiled lists of donors to the 'Yes on 8' campaign from publicly available sources has stated:

"My goal was to make it socially unacceptable to give huge amounts of money to take away the rights of one particular group, a minority group. I wanted to make the public aware of who these people are and how much they're giving and then they could make a decision as to whether or not they want to patronize their businesses."

People in the US, just like in the UK, are completely free to donate however much or little to whichever cause they wish to support, within the laws of the two countries. No one is suggesting any of the donors have broken any law. However, everyone (me and you and all the donors, as well as all the protesters) is ultimately responsible for whatever we do with our time on Earth. Larger donors, above the disclosure thresh-holds, are perfectly free to make their donations, but they should have thought about the potential consequences to their careers and businesses before doing so. Some of their customers (gay and no doubt many 'straight' customers too) might be disconcerted that a firm or a person they dealt with supported something so disgusting as taking rights away from one segment of the population. Why aren't these folks shouting to the roof-tops how glad they are to have supported a cause in which they believe? Or are they only happy to support bigotry and hate when they think they can remain in the shadows? Democracy and freedom of information imposes discipline as well as granting rights. Actions have consequences. Peaceful, noisy protests with as much publicity as possible are a necessary consequence.

The Mormon Church (which reportedly gave in excess of USD20mio), certain demographics (a high proportion of African-Americans for example), various dentists, accountants, veterinarians and diverse commercial firms (such as Container Supply Co., Inc. of Garden Grove, Calif., which gave USD250k) are now reaping the consequences of their vote for or financial support for this odious legislation. As Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry is quoted as saying:

"In any fight, there will be people who say things they shouldn't say, but that shouldn't divert attention from what the vast majority are saying against this, that it's a terrible injustice. Anyone who steps into a political fight aimed at taking away fundamental rights from fellow citizens opens themselves up to criticism. The First Amendment gives them the right of freedom of speech and to support political views, but people also have the right to criticize them."

- I repeat, actions have consequences!

PS/ Read also these articles:
- Gay Group's Complaint Says Mormons Hiding Prop 8 Contributions;
- Bill Marriott: Marriott International did not contribute to the campaign to pass Proposition 8;
- Complaint filed over Mormon aid to Prop. 8.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Interest rates cut. Tax to be cut? Borrowing to go up?

Has our incompetent government finally lost the plot completely? The fantasy-land that our Prime Minister inhabits is quite possibly going to lead to further increases in government borrowing to fund the tax cuts which it is rumoured are to be announced. The 'spin' of the past few weeks that 'deflation' is what we must all fear for next year, as the currently higher rate of 'inflation' is somehow a temporary phenomenon, is one I simply do not believe. These tax cuts are supposedly designed to encourage 'consumers', well to consume more - this in a country where average personal unsecured debt is already sky-high! The idea that the government might fund a decrease in tax by cutting government expenditure is seemingly a 'no no', as is any notion that it might encourage people benefitting from a reduced tax-take by the government to save a little [more].

The currency of this country, the Pound, has already lost a substantial part of its value in the past few months against major trading currencies (notably the US Dollar and the Euro) and remember that a large part of the imports which this country purchases from abroad are denominated in US Dollars - quite how we are to avoid a major dose of inflation here is beyond my simple understanding. Mind you, it's also a mystery to me quite why the US Dollar seems to have strengthened so substantially recently when that country's external borrowing is so huge; in fact it's not really a mystery at all, their debt is so huge that there really is no hope of the lenders getting their money back, ever really, and even if they could get it back there is no place else for them to lend it to in sufficient quantity or with much better security, so they are stuck with the situation they (the lending countries) are in. I think the answer to all these questions is that we are all playing a huge game of musical chairs - furiously playing the game, but I think the music is going to stop pretty soon and many of us are going to be left without chairs. Debt is now so huge in many 'advanced' countries that I think that the sub-text of this whole catastrophe is to 'solve' the problem by trashing the currency and those who have saved (and until now funded) the whole show by leaving their assets effectively worthless (and by 'their' I mean 'our', because I'm one of the world's savers). The harsh reality is that those who are badly-indebted in this country (and in many others) have more votes than the savers - and that is what the bottom-line is so far as our politicians are concerned. Mark my words.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Ewan McGregor, actor, on Scottish nationalism

After the SNP rapid-rebuttal machine was out in force a few months ago to try and downplay what one Scot in the public eye had said about Scotland's relationship with the rest of the UK, here's another prominent Scot telling how he see things:

Ewan McGregor quoted:

"If they did choose to make Scotland an independent country, I'd still live in London. I like the idea of Great Britain, of us all being together."

(taken from 'thebigquestion' on the inside back page of today's Sunday Telegraph 'Seven' supplement)

Now of course Ewan McGregor's views (or mine, for that matter) are of no more intrinsic importance than those of any other Scot who happens to take a similar or wildly-different view (for example what would seem to be the views of tennis-player Andy Murray, from some of his comments), but it does serve to illustrate that not all Scots are prepared simply to fall into line with what the SNP and its hangers-on would have us believe is becoming the orthodoxy of opinion by Scots, famous and not-so-famous. The result a few days ago in the Glenrothes by-election is a clear enough indication that the SNP still has a very long way to go before it can hope to make numerous more dramatic gains in its Westminster representation, something that would hardly pose a problem were their support so overwhelming as they sometimes try to pretend to themselves and to us. The difference between these two by-election results is much more likely, in my view, to have had a lot more to do with the personal reputations of the previous Labour MPs for whom replacements had to be found than to have anything to do with a supposed nationalist 'surge' in Glasgow East.

The banal reality of battle

I have, very fortunately, no personal notion of what it might be like to be in the midst of an armed conflict - few of us do. However here is is a short segment from the writings of someone who very definitely did:

... from "Memoirs of an Infantry Officer" (Chapter 4 - 'Battle')
- by Siegried Sassoon

The Germans had left a lot of shovels, but we were making no use of them. Two tough-looking privates were disputing the ownership of a pair of field-glasses, so I pulled out my pistol and urged them, with ferocious objurations, to chuck all that fooling and dig. I seemed to be getting pretty handy with my pistol, I thought, for the conditions in Quadrangle Trench were giving me a sort of angry impetus. In some places it was only a foot deep, and already men were lying wounded and killed by sniping. There were high-booted German bodies, too, and in the blear beginning of daylight they seemed as much the victims of a catastrophe as the men who had attacked them. As I stepped over one of the Germans an impulse made me lift him up from the miserable ditch. Propped against the bank, his blond face was undisfigured, except by the mud which I wiped from his eyes and mouth with my coat sleeve. He'd evidently been killed while digging, for his tunic was knotted loosely around his shoulders. He didn't look to be more than eighteen. Hoisting him a little higher, I thought what a gentle face he had, and remembered that this was the first time I'd ever touched one of our enemies with my hands. Perhaps I had some dim sense of the futility which had put an end to this good-looking youth. Anyhow I hadn't expected the Battle of the Somme to be quite like this ...

All this may have happened just over ninety years ago, but similar actions continue to this day. Humanity still has a great deal of growing up to do before such actions will no longer be thought (and indeed often be) necessary.

Dizzy spots 'anonymous' Labour-backed anti-Tory attack blog

(Please see UPDATES at end)

Dizzy reports that the obvious 'attack-blog' has been joined by another rather more secretive and mischievously-named attack-blog, Conservative and Unionist Blog (which has as its URL ""), but that has not prevented Dizzy managing to track down who and what is behind it - it may look 'polished' at first glance, but a very few moments perusing it reveals it to be a pretty crude affair. Possibly it gives some of the more 'nerdy' (than usual) Labour apparatchiks some childish pleasure, but it shows how desperate and deluded they are if they think this kind of nonsense can withstand even the most cursory scrutiny. As some commenters on Dizzy's article have remarked, why don't Labour have the courage of their convictions and present their ideas openly and honestly, rather than engaging in this kind of deceitful misinformation?

UPDATES: (Sunday 11NOV08 14.45 GMT) I started to write this article at around 13.27 GMT today (see time-stamp), but it won't actually have been uploaded and made live until shortly before 14.00; I know this because I see that my subsequent article is time-stamped at 13.59. Amusingly, hidden amongst the visitors in my site statistics is a visit from "" barely twenty minutes later as the time-stamp of the visit is 14:17:29; obviously the folks there must be maintaining a regular vigil on those who visit their site, too - so a friendly "hello" from me to you ... (Sunday 11NOV08 15.15 GMT) The fun continues; the person behind the "" blog confides his blog has been 'spammed' and so the rest of an article is no longer visible and we'll just have to take his word for it; well forgive me if I've heard that one before! There are some more amusing comments in Dizzy's blog, too. These Labour-supporting bloggers have no idea, do they? It's just too easy to have fun at their expense; it sounds more to me as if the mocking laughter he has provoked has made him concoct this story about 'spammers'. Laughable! As for me being some kind of Tory-apologist, well you only have to read the 'Who's Bill?' page (link at top right of blog) to see where I stand on that issue; Tory-leaning I may be, even today, but I ain't no apologist for them. Again, laughable!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Colin Powell on President Elect Obama

A very powerful and moving reaction from Colin Powell in the wake of Barack Obama's election success. The link is to a CNN video - it may take a while to load, but the wait is worthwhile.
(thru Andrew Sullivan)

Alex Salmond - parochial as usual

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond naturally finds a Scottish connection in the victory of Barack Obama; OK so his auntie's granny, fifty-seven times removed wis frae Bonnie Scotland!

It brings to mind the rigidly locally-minded Aberdeen Press & Journal article decades ago entitled "Aberdeen man killed at sea" to break the story of the Titanic going down. I ask you ...

Obama wins, unfortunately so does Prop 8 in California

Barack Obama is President-Elect and will become the 44th President of the US next January - it is a good result. Blog poll coverage is here (FiveThirtyEight) and the BBC coverage is here. I watched the evening's events in the US until a little after 3am GMT this morning, when it had become pretty clear Obama would win even if he hadn't yet reached the magic barrier of 270 Electoral College votes - I went to sleep happy.

Against this happiness, however, is the news from California that State Proposition 8 has succeeded with 3,854,984 (53.1 per cent) voting for it and 3,168,671 (46.9 per cent) opposing it, although as I've been watching the figures have been slowly changing, indicating that not all results are yet in, but if anything the scale of the defeat (for the 'no' vote) seems to be growing slightly - but see UPDATES below. As a result the right of same-sex couples to marry, granted by the California State Supreme Court only a few months ago, has been eliminated. If you compare the results map on that page, with the map of the California results for US President, the split between most of the coastal counties (Obama) and the inland counties (McCain) is starkly clear - with some of the crucial coastal or near-coastal counties (such as Orange County, Merced County, Stanislaus County, San Joaquin County, Sacramento County, Yolo County and Lake County) supporting Obama for President, but nevertheless supporting Proposition 8 to eliminate some citizens' rights); social liberality seems very much to be a function of being near the ocean.

UPDATE: (08.55 GMT) The Prop 8 result in California seems to be evolving, with the gap becoming somewhat narrower, so perhaps the final result will be less bad (if not different overall) than I had feared - visit the Prop 8 results page to see the latest position. (10.09 GMT) So far about 80.9 per cent of the votes are in, with the margin continuing to narrow, but probably not by enough. (13.54 GMT) Voters in both Florida and Arizona have voted to outlaw gay marriage in these two States.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Barclays and freedom from government meddling

I have become increasingly infuriated over recent weeks by the naked ambition of the Labour government, and its apologists and hangers-on, to bring about the effective nationalisation of much of the banking sector of the UK. This was made excruciatingly obvious at the end of last week by the strident criticism of Barclays Bank in 'daring' to spurn the capital funding offered by the government and instead to make its own arrangements to procure the required capital funding to boost its capital ratios to the levels now required by the FSA - there were even idiotic and disingenuous comments that it was somehow 'unpatriotic' for Barclays to be seeking funding outside the UK. Stuff and nonsense! The Labour government tells us regularly that it believes in the 'free market', but the past few weeks have revealed what I have always believed - that given half a chance they would revert to their 'socialist' roots and seek to take even more of the productive parts of the economy into public ownership - there to stifle all initiative and creative activity. Just look at what has happened to Northern Rock since it had the misfortune to fall into the State's hands. The bickering over the merger of HBOS with Lyoyds TSB, complicated because of the desire by some to see theoretical 'management' stay in Scotland (as if that has really existed ever since Bank of Scotland merged with Halifax some years ago) has thrown this ulterior motive into sharp relief, and in order to achieve this the 'socialists' (in both the Labour and Scottish National Parties) would rather see Bank of Scotland fall even more blatantly into the hands of the State.

Fraser Nelson has an excellent article in the Coffee House at the Spectator which reproduces a letter from Barclays Chief Executive John Varley to staff about what the Board has decided is best for the company's future.

As a small shareholder in several of the British banks involved in the current government bail-outs, as well as a couple of those which have, thankfully, been able to avoid this fate (including Barclays), I have to state clearly that I applaud Barclays' actions. My own investment portfolio has suffered badly in recent months (to the tune of several tens of thousands of pounds), as has everyone else's as a proportion of their overall holdings I expect, but I am very clear that I would rather that the companies I invest in remain free of even partial government ownership - the criticism of some lenders for not passing on base rate reductions to borrowing customers is clear enough evidence that the government's claims that it would not try to interfere in the management of the banks it has managed to get its claws into is just so much empty rhetoric. As a saver I have also suffered a reduction in the rates I am being paid - all in the cause of the banks trying to maintain and increase their margins. It is true that some banks have behaved very foolishly - but they have been prevented from suffering their just fates (bankruptcy) because of the desire of the government to 'protect' depositors and mortgage borrowers - I put 'protect' in quotes because what the government is really doing is trying to protect its own voter base at the next election, NOT the longer-term interests of either depositors or mortgage borrowers. Pain averted now is merely a greater pain delayed until the future by the distortion of the markets in which the government has indulged.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Lavatorially adhered


Sarah Palin speaks with Nicolas Sarkozy impersonator

This is a telephone conversation between Republican Vice-presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin and Canadian (Quebecois) comedian Marc-Antoine Audette, alias French President Nicolas Sarkozy - Audette and his partner are well-known for their spoof calls to celebrities and politicians. Frankly after listening to this it's impossible not to like the woman, even though it's rather sad just how ignorant she shows herself to be - there were quite a few obvious clues dropped into the conversation pretty early on that this wasn't quite what it was pretending to be, after all (*). See what you think:

(thru Alaskan blog Mudflats)

(*) - OK, so she might not have twigged when the guy who spoke initially, before passing the call over to 'Nicolas Sarkozy' announced his name as Franck Ouvrier ('Frank the Labourer'), in the style of 'Joe the Plumber', but when 'Sarkozy' said an adviser was Johnny Hallyday (famous French pop singer) one began to believe he could say anything he liked and she would fall for it.

Having had my little fun, however, I think this election could easily turn out much closer (and perhaps differently) than many seem to be expecting. In any case I know only too well that I know nothing about US politics and really very little about Obama or McCain either - I thought, along with many others in 2000, that Bush could be a 'consensus' President and that Gore would have been hopeless and look how differently that (the first part at least) turned out!

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Blogrolling - a glitch in the system it seems

I have just become aware that has some major problems which are preventing blogrolls being updated or added to in any way; the page which the link takes you to (just at present, at any rate) gives details of what the problems are.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that my blogrolls weren't appearing properly in my blog; almost all websites have brief periods of 'down-time' occasionally and as blogrolls had started to appear in my blog again after a few days I assumed that all was back to normal. However as I had no occasion until today to visit the website I remained blissfully unaware of their continuing problems. I was able to work around the particular problem I was faced with today by adding the new link into the coding of my blog template in a way that should be completely transparent to visitors, but changes to most of my blogrolls using similar 'work arounds' will not unfortunately be possible without deviating from my usual alphabetic blogroll ordering so I will not be adding any other new links just for the present. If it seems that the problem is going to remain for considerably longer I may make completely new arrangements for my blogrolls, but as this would be a laborious and time-consuming task I am going to leave things as they are for now.

Article heading list for latest 6-month period (April to September 2008) now up

The archive of 'Article Headings' for the latest 6-month period is now available - click here for the period April 2008 to September 2008. Normally this would have been published at the beginning of last month, but a combination of forgetfulness, sloth and being busy with other things militated against this.

There are permanent links in the right bar to this and earlier 6-month 'Article Heading' indices, immediately below the standard 'Blogger' monthly archive links.

Watch and weep ...