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

Thursday, 29 January 2009

English as she is spoke (possibly a new series?)

Lots of things fascinate me about the English language, both as spoken in Britain and in its many variants throughout the world, whether when spoken by people for whom it is a first language or those (much more numerous) people for whom it is a second language or purely a business language. So many things have flitted through my mind on this subject over the years; most times I simply note them mentally and pass on. However, a few stick in the mind and that's what this post is about (one at a time though - a whole list in one go might become tiresome); maybe I'll write later posts with other 'gems' or curiosities I have noticed.

OK, to kick this off: some words strike me as faintly ridiculous or incongruous, specially when compared with other words. Example 1:

- 'laughter' is pronounced LAFFTER and generally denotes something happy, joyous even;

- precede with the four letters 'mans', however, and the reamining eight letters are pronounced completely differently - MAN-SLOTTER - and take on a wholly different class of meaning. The same change in pronunciation occurs when the single letter 's' precedes the eight letters.

Whenever I /read/hear/see a report of a murder case in which the crime is classified as 'manslaughter', my usual reaction is to say to myself an ironic MANS-LAFFTER. To say so out loud, however, would lay me open to the charge of crass insensitivity when discussing what is usually a tragic occurrence.

So, why the change in pronunciation? Usually when I have posed such questions before the only response available has been 'just because' or similar. Does anyone have anything more sapient to say on the matter?

Just how 'stable' is the PM?

Not very, it is becoming increasingly clear. Apart from possibly being a personal tragedy for him and his family it is quite possibly a factor (a major one?) in how the markets seem to be assessing the relative strengths of the UK and our fellow advanced countries' economies, who all have their own major problems to contend with. See here and here.

If what is written in the Telegraph opinion piece is based on real conversations with high-level Labour insiders (and I suspect it may be) then it is really a very worrying sign. One can imagine political opponents wanting to 'put the boot in', but when your own side starts briefing the press in this way then it is clearly alarming, and that's a mild way of putting it.

Interactive video - the shape of YouTube to come?

This'll get the juices flowing, or something, even for a gay-boy such as me! Most amusing:

(thru Andrew Sullivan)

Tragedy averted on Stranraer-Belfast ferry

How close was this from turning out like this? On this occasion the passengers and the shipping company have been pretty lucky, I'd say.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Scottish Parliament rejects Salmond's SNP budget

The Scottish Parliament (SP) today rejected the Scottish Executive's (aka 'Scottish Government's') budget proposals. The vote was 64 on both sides and the Presiding Officer (aka 'Speaker') cast his vote to defeat it, citing precedent that casting votes should not change the status quo, which accepting the budget proposals would have done. Apparently the Green Party withdrew its support shortly before the vote and the the support of the Conservatives was not quite enough to swing it Alex's way.

It seems First Minister Salmond wants MSPs to forego the first week of their February holiday (why a February holiday, by the by?) so he can bring the budget before the SP again. I heard him speak on the radio at 8pm during the news bulletin implying that if he couldn't get his budget through it might necessitate 'going to the people'. No doubt a lot of hard political bargaining will be happening in the next few days amongst all the Parties. Which amongst the two principal Parties might lose/gain most from an early election? Whilst the SNP looks and is feeble, and its hold on power is precarious, the Labour lot are hardly more popular, with the toxicity of Brown's 'leadership' down in London unlikely to help their cause, even in their Scottish heartlands.

And we are only pretty near the beginning of this downturn/recession/depression, call it what you will. I haven't seen a great deal of discussion in blogs (those in the UK at any rate) so far about the unrest and violence which has occurred in recent weeks in a number of countries across Europe (Greece, Iceland, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria - can Estonia and Hungary be far behind?) with a general strike planned in France tomorrow. How quickly is it likely, if at all, that this unrest will spread to our little island? Who knows, but I suspect that before this thing is through we're going to see much more of this kind of thing and perhaps much worse - today's little difficulty in the SP might then come to seem merely a quaint reminder of what may then seem like better times.

OK, OK Cassandra will shut up ...

Bill on Twitter

I've just joined Twitter a short time ago and have so far been testing and trying to learn. I've posted messages both on the web from my PC, also thru my mobile (cell) 'phone. It all seems to be working as 'described on the tin'. Next stage will be to customise my Twitter page a little and to try and customise a little how the embed appears in the blog (see right column of blog near the top for this).

To follow me on Twitter, go here.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

BoJo on Blair

The name's Blair, Sir Ian Blair. London Mayor Boris Johnson didn't think much of this man, or his handling of his job whilst Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, some time before he became Mayor. And told him so in a startlingly-frank exchange of correspondence. Well done, Boris!

I called for Blair to be sacked as long ago as September 2005, then in January 2006 urged him to shut up, as it was becoming very clear he seemed to have a habit of speaking without first thinking, so I reacted with great pleasure last October when news that he had resigned emerged, helped on his way by the self-same Boris Johnson. I repeat: Well done, Boris!

(thru Fraser Nelson writing at the Spectator 'Coffee House')

DEC appeal for GAZA

Here's the video that the BBC and Sky have declined to transmit. Three channels - ITV, Channel 4 and Five have shown it. Thank you.

(Please see my earlier post about the BBC's refusal to transmit this video)

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Celebrating the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns' birthday

Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of the man often regarded as Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns; he was born on 25th January 1759 at Alloway in Ayrshire and died on 21st July 1796 at the age of 37 in Dumfries. The National Library of Scotland also has a website devoted to Robert Burns and the ubiquitous Wikipedia entry is here. Happy Birthday!

I've selected a couple of his pieces of writing to include here; the second is one of his best known works and is included as a rather fine video-clip, followed by some notes, whereas the first is probably rather less well known, but he wrote on such a vast array of subjects that it is difficult to make a choice and these two are mine. Enjoy!


My curse upon your venom'd stang,
That shoots my tortur'd gums alang,
An' thro' my lug gies sic a twang,
                   Wi' knawing vengeance,
Tearing my nerves wi' bitter pang,
                   Like racking engines!

When fevers burn, or agues freeze us,
Rheumatics gnaw, or colics squeeze us,
Our neibor's sympathy can ease us,
                   Wi' pitying moan;
But thee - thou hell o' a' diseases -
                   They mock our groan.

Adown my beard the slavers trickle,
I throw the wee stools o'er the mickle,
While round the fire the giglets keckle,
                   To see me loup,
An', raving mad, I wish a heckle
                   Were in their doup!

In a' the numerous human dools,
Ill-hairsts, daft bargains, cutty stools,
Or worthy frien's rak'd i' the mools, -
                   Sad sight to see!
The tricks o' knaves, or fash o' fools,
                   Thou bear'st the gree!

Where'er that place be priests ca' hell,
Where a' the tones o' misery yell,
An' rankèt plagues their numbers tell,
                   In dreadfu' raw,
Thou, TOOTHACHE, surely bear'st the bell,
                   Amang them a'!

O thou grim, mischief-making chiel,
That gars the notes o' discord squeel,
Till daft mankind aft dance a reel
                   In gore, a shoe-thick,
Gie a' the faes o' SCOTLAND'S weal
                   A towmond's toothache!

Now a rather better known, if not necessarily 'better', piece:


In my edition of Burns' Poetical Works and letters (* - see at end) the notes on this poem say the following:

Notes on 'To a Mouse

"It is difficult to decide," writes Currie, "whether this address should be considered as serious or comic. If we smile at the 'bickerin' brattle' of this little flying animal, it is a smile of tenderness and pity. The descriptive part is admirable; the moral reflections beautiful, arising directly out of the occasion; and in the conclusion there is a deep melancholy, a sentiment of doubt and dread that rises to the sublime." Gilbert Burns tells how the poem was the outcome of a real incident. The poet, while farming with his brother at Mossgiel, was holding the plough, with John Blane, the hired man, acting as driver, when the little creature was observed running off across the field. Blane, having the pettle, or plough-cleaning utensil, in his hand at the moment, was thoughtlessly running after it, to kill it, when Burns checked him, but not angrily, asking what ill the poor mouse had ever done him. The poet then seemed to his driver to grow very thoughtful, and during the remainder of the afternoon he spoke not. In the night-time he awoke Blane, who slept with him, and reading the poem, which had in the meantime been composed, asked what he thought of the mouse now.

Incidentally inside the frontispiece of my copy of Burns' poems, referred to above, there is a poem in the pencilled hand-writing of the person from whom I received the book, her signature appears on another blank page at the front and I know her writing from when I was a child (she died in the 1970s, when I would have been in my mid-20s); so far as I recall she had given me the book some years before her death, although I cannot remember exactly when, but wonder if it may have been around my 21st birthday and from the date of publication (see * below) I wonder if it may have been one of her own 21st birthday gifts. I suspect strongly that the poem must have been written by her, as she had been an English teacher in a grammar school (in Cumberland) for many years, but grew up on a croft on the Black Isle, just north of Inverness; she was an aunt of my father. It is very short, but it seems to me that it is very definitely written in the style of Burns. Anyway, here is the poem:

On a Visit to Inverness

There's nothing here but Highland Pride,
And Hielan Scab & Hunger,
If Providence has sent me here,
He did it in his anger.

* - The Poetical Works and letters of Robert Burns. Introduction, Notes, and Glossary by Robert Ford, Collins (Glasgow 1903)

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Bill does what the BBC won't do!!

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Visit the Disasters Emergency Committee website to make an online donation;


Make cheques payable to:
DEC Gaza Crisis


Post to:
DEC Gaza Crisis,
PO Box 999,
London EC3A 3AA

- or go to any Post Office quoting Freepay number: 1210.

I generally adopt a pretty hands-off attitude toward the regular criticism of the BBC for its alleged partiality in reporting various aspects of the news. In my experience the BBC is pretty impartial, most of the time and it does try to broadcast competing points of view. My own position on the political spectrum being what is called somewhat 'right of centre' (basically I am for small government and low taxes which, in 'socialist' Britain under either of our two main political parties in recent decades, is something of a 'no no' for rather too many of my fellow-citizens) I do try and factor that into my usually tolerant attitude toward the perceived (by me and many others) 'left-wing' bias in reporting and general commentary by the BBC.

However, the BBC has said in the last few days that it won't broadcast an appeal by the charity organisations 'umbrella' group Disasters Emergency Committee for donations to relieve the human suffering in Gaza, stating that it (the BBC) does not wish to open itself to the charge of potentially aiding and abetting Hamas as some of the funds might end up in their coffers, or in something they run (e.g. a hospital or school). Hamas is the governing political party in Gaza, having won an election there against rival party Fateh; I don't recall hearing that the election was particularly flawed or "undemocratic", no more than many others in many other parts of the world, at any rate.

However, what the Disasters Emergency Committee are trying to do is to help a little in relieving the real, ongoing human suffering currently being experienced in Gaza and I think any suggestion that they may be assisting, inadvertantly or deliberately, one or other side in the conflict is not only despicable, but faintly ludicrous. Some guest commentators in the media have, over the past few days, suggested (and in the case of Tony Benn, stated as a fact) that the BBC has been influenced by Israel not to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. Personally I don't believe this for a moment; if the BBC is (so far) resisting the strenuous requests of a British government minister to reverse its policy, then I think it is vanishingly unlikely that it is instead listening to the alleged pressure from a foreign government. It is pleasing that the BBC's commercial rivals have now agreed to broadcast the appeal.

It is theoretically possible, I suppose, that there are those within the BBC itself who have a partiality toward Israel and who might be seeking to advance its cause completely independently of it and without its knowledge, making use of their executive influence within the BBC; my view is again that this is extremely improbable as such influence would inevitably become public sooner or later. No, I think that what is going on here is part of the delayed fall-out from the infamous Andrew Gilligan/Dr David Kelly affair, in which the BBC was found (largely erroneously as it turned out, in my view) to have falsely accused the Government and the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, of having been dishonest in their statements about the level of equipment and readiness of Iraq's military, as a result of which both the Chairman and Director-General of the BBC left or were dismissed from their posts precipitately. The BBC has become afraid of offending anyone, probably because it fears that any accusation of this may lead it to lose at least part of its revenue, the compulosry licence fee, payable whether viewers ever watch the BBC or not. This latest unsavoury episode is yet one more reason for either ending the licence fee completely or at least the BBC's monopoly on receiving its proceeds.

Finally, if you wish to donate to the 'umbrella' fund for charities appeal for the humanitarian suffering in Gaza, please visit the Disasters Emergency Committee website to make an online donation, or send your donations by post as follows:

Visit the Disasters Emergency Committee website to make an online donation;


Make cheques payable to:
DEC Gaza Crisis


Post to:
DEC Gaza Crisis,
PO Box 999,
London EC3A 3AA

- or go to any Post Office quoting Freepay number: 1210.

This has been a public service announcement by Bill's Comment Page, which is very pleased to do something that our national broadcaster, the BBC, has declined to do.

UPDATE: See my later post here, where I have embedded the DEC Gaza appeal video.

Friday, 23 January 2009

The UN and 'freedom of expression'

Do these folks have any clue what it means?

TV crew expelled from UN meeting on freedom of expression
- and the crew expelled were from the very 'high brow' Franco-German cultural channel ARTE, not some tabloid trashy sensationalist outfit. I've watched a few programmes on that channel in my time and have always found it to be impeccable in its standards, if a little self-consciously 'intellectual'.

Three member states (United States, Canada and Israel) have already stated they will not attend the forthcoming conference in Durban during April, for which the Geneva meeting was a prelude, whereas three EU member states (the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands) are only threatening to boycott the conference if the resolution proposed by various of the world's tyrannies is accepted. On the other hand I observe that Israel has prevented western news media from entering Gaza of late, so its presence among the 'boycotters' seems, frankly, somewhat hypocritical.

Police State Britain - Clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill


You can find the Coroners and Justice bill on the UK Parliament website here and the full text in .PDF format is here and clauses 151-154, referred to below, are on pages 107-120 (* - see at end; see also '+' at end) of this .PDF online version of the Bill).
The Ministry of Justice website page on the Coroners and Justice Bill is here.

I have received the following in an email from no2id:

This is one of the most serious threats to our liberty and privacy we've yet seen. Please read this carefully, and act now.

The government is trying to remove all limits on the use of our private information by officials. This means taking your information from anywhere and passing it anywhere they like - including medical records, financial records, communications data, ID information....anything at at all.

The Database State is now a direct threat, not a theory.

Clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill, due for its first debate in the Commons on Monday 26th January, would convert the Data Protection Act into its exact opposite. It would allow ministers to make 'Information Sharing Orders', that can alter any Act of Parliament and cancel all rules of confidentiality in order to allow information obtained for one purpose to be used for another.

This single clause is as grave a threat to privacy as the entire ID Scheme.

Combine it with the index to your life formed by the planned National Identity Register and everything recorded about you anywhere could be accessible to any official body.

Quite apart from the powers in the Identity Cards Act, if Information Sharing Orders come to pass, they could (for example) immediately be used to suck up material such as tax records or electoral registers to build an early version of the National Identity Register.

But the powers would apply to any information, not just official information. They would permit data trafficking between government agencies and private companies - and even with foreign governments. They would permit government departments to obtain information from private companies and individuals, too.


We need you to do three things:

1) Please write straight away IN YOUR OWN WORDS to your MP via - do it this weekend, if not before. The Bill is being rushed through Parliament, even as we write.

Ask your MP to read Part 8 (clauses 151 - 154) of the Coroners and Justice Bill, and to oppose the massive enabling powers in the "Information sharing" clause. The Bill contains a number of controversial provisions, but to the casual reader it appears mainly to be about reforming inquests and sentencing. It is due its Second Reading in the Commons on 26th January 2009.

Request your MP demand that the clause be given proper Parliamentary scrutiny. This is something that will affect every single one of their constituents, unlike the rest of the Bill. There is a grave danger that the government will set a timetable that will cut off debate before these proposals - which are at the end of the Bill - are *even* discussed.

2) Write letters to your local papers. Point out that this will affect every single person in the country. Highlight the fact that the information sharing powers in this Bill are overwhelmingly unpopular *- when people know about them - and that they are being sneaked in without publicity*.

A YouGov poll in the Sunday Times on 18th January (details here: ) shows that the public opposes these new powers by a factor of 3 to 1 *against* - 65% of people asked said they would give government "too much power", only 19% thought not.

3) Tell as many people as you can. And find out more yourself. We have created a new page on the website dedicated to 'data sharing' which contains links to the key documents and a brief explanation of each.

Please read it, and pass on this link:

Let your friends, family, colleagues and anyone who might share our concerns know that the battle for their privacy is happening NOW. The more people we reach, the more we hope will act.

Don't complain later if you or someone you know or care for is affected by this pernicious legislation and you have done nothing now! - Write to your MP!

(PS/ I have just written to my own MP on this matter; I look forward to seeing if Danny Alexander MP, or another MP, takes up this matter during the parliamentary debate next Monday.)
* - a commenter kindly pointed out I had made an error in noting the pages concerned, so I have now amended them. Thanks.
+ - and the same commenter has added a further useful detail: "and because I'm a bit sad, and actually read the whole thing (and commented too quickly as it turns out), you can add 'Schedule 18' which is the substance of clause 154. Schedule 18 can be found on pages 185-190." Thanks again.

Police State Britain - Counter Terrorism Act 2008

"Attempting to elicit information" and secret DNA sampling and data sharing etc. come into force on February 16th 2009

Read this post from the ever-excellent Spy Blog and follow the link from there. Feel the chill run up your spine?

Because I can't put it better than Spy Blog I'll simply quote what is written there:

The War on Photographers , and Military Historians and Biographers etc. intensifies, by making it a serious terrorist crime to "attempt to elicit" information e.g. name, address, photograph etc.,about a current or former member of the Police, Armed Forces or Intelligence Services.

It does not matter if there is a legal defence available to you in Court, it is too late for your liberty and career, once you have been tainted and blacklisted, by being arrested under a terrorism law, even if you are never charged or are found not guilty.

How soon before this law is used to threaten, harass and arrest political demonstrators or activists, who take photos of the Police etc. who are taking photos of them ?

Why are former members of these organisations covered, without exception i.e. including all those who have been kicked out for treason, espionage, corruption etc and those Walter Mitty fantasists or con artists, who exaggerate their former military careers, skills or experience, for vanity or to swindle people.?

How soon before this law is invoked by those in the Police, Military or Intelligence services who want to hide or cover up incompetence, corruption or worse from investigative journalists or other investigators ?

Then on the Counter-terrorism Bill - covert DNA sampling and analysis with no effective safeguards:

Keep guard of your teacups, they may be stolen from you by official burglars or undercover agents, who want to secretly sample your DNA or fingerprints, if Home Office Minister Admiral Lord West's ideas on how this bit of the Act is going to be used are true.

These powers exist and will come into effect on 16 February 2009. Based on past experience of this Government's tactics in using 'extreme' clauses, designed for use solely in "exceptional" circumstances, for purposes way beyond what was originally envisaged, but not statutorily defined as being limited for use in such situations, it is likely that one day, sooner or later (and probably sooner), these new powers will be diverted for use against you or someone you know.

Truly the "Police State" has arrived in Britain!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Tesco gets planning approval for 4th Inverness store ...

... amid dissent within the Council, silenced by the planning committee chairman.

Now, does anyone think this planning committee decision affecting Inverness will be 'called in' by the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') as was similar council approval for a Sainsburys in Nairn? Of course, 'over the border' in Forres (i.e. Moray, rather than Highland Region) supermarket chain Lidl seems to have been able to move with remarkable speed.

What is it about Nairn? Mind you, things are not advanced here (in my humble opinion) by the rather 'beggar thy neighbour' attitude of too many Nairn residents, groups of whom have 'successfully' (if that is the right word) blocked most commercial developments in the town for decades, never mind years!

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Bill's battle with his weight

All my life I have had a problem controlling my weight. Over the years I have tried many different methods of trying to rein it in and many have worked temporarily, for a few years (specially those based on controlling calorie and fat intake), but ultimately I have found all such diets to be unsatisfactory because I was always left feeling hungry and with no fundamental change to the types of foods I was eating, other than to reduce the quantities.

This demands a degree of will-power which, I am sorry to have to acknowledge, I do not always possess in sufficient quantities. Some years ago, therefore, I decided to give the Atkins 'way of eating' a go and had major success in losing weight and in maintaining that weight loss for several years after I reached my 'target' weight; the page link is to the section of my personal website where I cover in considerable detail my experiences whilst following the Atkins 'way of eating', more or less warts and all. However, for roughly the last 15 to 18 months I must record that I have gained back a rather too significant amount of weight, although nothing like as much as when I first started to follow the Atkins method.

The Atkins 'way of eating', despite the criticism it receives from people who have never taken the trouble to find out about it properly and instead follow the media scare-stories that it involves too much protein and little else and will eventually end by damaging your liver and increasing your cholesterol.

The truth is that the main basis of Atkins is to control carbohydrate intake and that protein plus certain vegetables (particularly green salad vegetables plus radishes) form major components. The purpose is to control blood sugar, which in turn controls the rate of insulin production, which in turn controls one's appetite. It is a matter of body chemistry. I know from my own expperience that following the initial 'Induction' stage strictly is the easiet stage of Atkins - one is never hungry and 'cravings' do disappear, generally speaking. I know from my own experience, too, how much my blood pressure has improved (admittedly usually the case when there is significant and controlled weight loss, whatever diet method is followed), but equally-importantly I know just how beneficial Atkins has been for my cholesterol levels. This may be counter-intuitive to those who cannot get past the fact that butter is not 'banned', nor is salt, but it does work - and tests I have had done by my doctor confirm this to be so.

However, it is undeniable that once one gets past the 'Induction' stage, onto the later stages ('Ongoing Weight Loss', 'Pre-Maintenance' and 'Lifetime Maintenance'), it can become a little more complicated if one is not careful. During these stages one adds back into the diet, in a slow and progressive manner, small quantities of things not permitted during 'Induction', including certain fruits (berries of various kinds), certain vegetables (excluding things such as potatoes, carrots and parsnips because of their high carbohydrate/sugar content) and nuts. A little too much of these 'treats' has a rapid effect on the appetite, because the sugar they transfer quickly to the blood-stream triggers insulin production and a little later renewed food cravings. Although alcohol is prohibited during 'Induction' it is permitted in limited quantities during later stages, but alcohol reduces inhibitions as well as adding sugar to the blood, even in quite small quantities.

Anyway, I have decided that I must return for a while to strict adherence to the 'Induction' stage of Atkins, but reinforce this with some motivational messages to myself. I have already had to size-up some of my clothing again and it has gone quite far enough, so I have created some signs, which are being placed at strategic locations throughout my home here and in Spain. However, the sign below is valid for anyone trying control their diet, whatever method is followed. The image is in .JPEG format, but I have also prepared a .PDF version (in landscape A4 size) for people who may wish to download it and print it out for themselves (click here). Wish me luck!

"Change has come to America"

Take a look at the quickly-transformed official website of the White House to reflect the priorities of the new regime in Washington.

Under 'the AGENDA' in the top menu bar, the Civil Rights section seems to confirm the new President's intention to make real progress on LGBT rights, firstly under the 'Combat Employment Discrimination' section:

Combat Employment Discrimination

President Obama and Vice President Biden will work to overturn the Supreme Court's recent ruling that curtails racial minorities' and women's ability to challenge pay discrimination. They will also pass the Fair Pay Act, to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

and the 'Expand Hate Crimes Statutes' section:

Expand Hate Crimes Statutes

President Obama and Vice President Biden will strengthen federal hate crimes legislation, expand hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, and reinvigorate enforcement at the Department of Justice's Criminal Section.

- but even more comprehensively under the section entitled 'Support for the LGBT Community', which I quote in its entirety:

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

* 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. President 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, President Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.
* Fight Workplace Discrimination: President 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. The President 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: President 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: President 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: President 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. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
* Expand Adoption Rights: President 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, President 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. The President 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. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.
* 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. President 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.

This reproduces what was included in the temporary post-election official Change.Gov - The Office of the President-Elect website (now no longer operational, of course), which I wrote about soon after the election here.

However, as I mentioned in that earlier post, this probably 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 community 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.

PS/ I haven't taken a look at the satirical website in at least a couple of years, but am pleased to see it is still operational and carries a very amusing article entitled Full Text of President Bush's Emotional Farewell Speech Cataloguing His Unparalleled Competence and Intelligence; it does of course lay it on with a trowel.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Midweek YouTube - Barack Obama inauguration speech (part). Plus the UK's disaster

I've been too angry the last day or two to post much here; yesterday's predictably futile throwing of yet more public money at the banks by the British government has been analysed accurately by the markets as a complete waste of time and they have accordingly marked down UK bank shares, massively, as well as marking down the Pound, particularly against the US Dollar. There are even rumours apparently that the sovereign debt of UK PLC might be marked down (seemingly quashed for now - see here), too, just as that of Spain was a few days ago. See also Telegraph 'comment' article here. One market 'guru' (aka 'speculator') is now suggesting that people should dump any Sterling they may have as soon as they can (see also here) - in fact this is something I have been thinking about doing for a while (at least the last few weeks) although I haven't actually done it yet, although I shall probably end up splitting my GBP deposits into three - GBP, EUR and USD - as this may at least protect me from the worst effects of the current currency turmoil, although I have also been looking at gold for a proportion.

In any case, I have had rather more to concern me these last few days than to be blogging here, but I did settle down this afternoon to watch the whole investiture shebang and I thought that this segment of Barack Hussein Obama's inaugural speech was a pretty fair summing up of what he seems to be about:

I haven't posted a 'Midweek YouTube' for almost exactly a year (since just before I left for Spain last winter, in fact), and although that series of posts generally looked at advertising from a serious or humorous point of view, or at moral issues from similar perspectives, I thought that today's events in the capital of the United States (a'aaSimah alwilaayaat almutaHidah alamreekeeyah - see '*' at end) - which I include in Arabic because I can actually read it so know that it is accurate, rather than the perhaps more appropriate Swahili (given Obama's paternal heritage), of which other than the word Jambo ('Hello') I have no knowledge - would be a suitable event with which to resume the series.

(* عاصمة الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية - obviously the arabic version should be read from right to left)

Monday, 19 January 2009

S&P downgrades Spain's long-term debt rating

As was reported to be a possibility last week, Standard & Poor have officially downgraded their rating for Spain's long-term debt from AAA- to AA+. Spanish Economy Minister Pedro Solbes claimed in an interview published yesterday that whilst the downgrade was not "an insignificant issue" ("un tema despreciable"), it did not go "further" ("más lejos"). He downplayed the change by stating that Spain had only acquired triple-A status during late 2004. S&P confirmed that Spain's short-term rating remains at A-1+.

In other news, the European Commission (EC) is forecasting that the Spanish economy will contract by 2 per cent during 2009, compared with the Spanish government's forecast of a 1.6 per cent reduction, and the EC believes that the Spanish unemployment rate will reach 16.1 per cent (against a forecast by Sr Solbes of 15.9 per cent) during 2009 and rise further to 18.7 per cent in 2010, roughly double the EU average. The EC revises downward its inflation forecast for the Eurozone to 1 per cent (1.2 per cent for the EU as a whole) and it forecasts Spain's public deficit will reach 6.2 per cent of GDP during 2009, because of increased unemployment benefit payments and the financial stimulus package adopted last November, as against the more optimistic forecast of 5.8 per cent by the Spanish government itself.

Whichever figures you choose to place credence in, the likelihood is that things will get considerably worse in Spain before they begin to get better; whilst the EC hopes to see small growth (of 0.5 per cent) throughout the EU in 2010, recovery in Spain is expected to take somewhat longer.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Not quite what it seems

- banned in France, but it appeals to my sense of humour. One of the benefits of being a two-car family, I suppose.

Friday, 16 January 2009

A nation is about to return to reality ...

I hope the reality of the Obama Presidency lives up to its initial promise. Eric Holder, Obama's nominee as US Attorney General, gives clear answers before his Confirmation Hearing about torture and other minor matters, such as the Geneva Conventions and the limits of Presidential power under the US Constitution, which the Bush administration acted as if it could override at will.

Barack Obama himself gave a pretty clear indication in an interview with ABC a few days ago about just where he stands on the issue:

"Vice President Cheney I think continues to defend what he calls extraordinary measures or procedures and from my view waterboarding is torture. I have said that under my administration we will not torture."

Amen to that. I've felt constrained to write a fair bit about torture in the past few years, unfortunate but necessary.

It will be good to have a US back that doesn't make me want to upchuck. I hope I can still write this in four years.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

He was NOT a number! Patrick McGoohan - RIP

Sad news that actor Patrick McGoohan has died, aged 80, in California. His Wikipedia entry is here.

Patrick Joseph McGoohan
19 March 1928 – 13 January 2009
~ Rest in Peace ~

He was NOT a number!

He will probably be best remembered as the co-creator and star of the 1960s television series The Prisoner in which he played the role of 'Number 6'. It was one of my favourite television programmes as a child and my recollection is that when it was originally broadcast in the UK it was in black & white, although repeats I've seen in recent years have been in colour.

My interpretation of the programme at the time, I recall (I would have been 14 or 15 when it was first broadcast), was that it portrayed what this country might become if we adopted an East German or Soviet style of government and is undoubtedly one of the formative influences of my youth and why I loathe and fear authoritarian and socialist/statist forms of government, but little did I imagine that our own government would increasingly try and tabulate and monitor every aspect of our lives, whilst using increasingly intimidatory methods. I do not want to be forced to carry an ID Card, or to be entered in a national database register - in short:

I am NOT a number!

- so the whole premise of "The Prisoner" has assumed an especially topical relevance in the UK in recent years, despite it being a programme first transmitted over 40 years ago.

His other major role from my childhood was Danger Man, another of my favourite shows soon after we first had a TV in the house (from about 1959 or 1960 I think). Obviously I had a schoolboy 'crush' on Patrick McGoohan, long before I knew anything about being gay - he was stunningly good-looking in earlier years and aged remarkably well, too. I will remember him.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

EU Entropa art installation is a brilliant spoof ...

(Note: to download the complete EU Entropa document in .PDF format, please see the link at the end of this article.)

... by and on the Czech EU Presidency who commissioned it to inaugurate their 6-month Presidency of the EU. I had viewed a story about this several days ago and downloaded the full .PDF document containing all 27 elements of the installation, representing each EU member state, and had spent a pleasant and amused hour studying each of the images and the accompanying commentary, together with the details of the artists from the relevant countries credited with producing their own country's representation. I did think that many of the entries were somewhat obscure and some of the text commentary even more bizarre, but I must admit I just assumed it was far too sophisticated for li'l ol' me to understand. Now I see that my instincts were quite sound and this whole installation, intended by the Czech EU Presidency to be a gently mocking commentary on the pretentiousness of the EU is in addition, and completely brilliantly, a marvellous spoof on the Czech Government itself, which commissioned it! The artwork is NOT the work of 27 artists, one from each of the EU member states, but is in fact the work of one very clever Czech artist, the man whom the Czech authorities commissioned to 'sub-contract' the individual countries' entries out to artists in those countries, but who in fact has made the whole thing up, himself.

I am very much pro-EU, but I think the said David Černý is a wickedly clever person; I do hope the Czech Presidency does not 'chicken out' and accede to the growing calls to censor at least parts of it, for example the Bulgarian segment, which depicts it as a series of squat toilets, based on its past subjugation within the Ottoman Empire:

Or for that matter the UK, which is depicted - well it isn't depicted at all (top left of the image below), supposedly a reflection of the UK's detachment from EU affairs:

Just below where the UK segment would be, if it were there at all, is that for Germany, supposed to represent its motorway network, but rather too similar to a 'swastika' for some, or the mordant humour of the French 'contribution' (top right) with the word 'Greve!' ['strike!'] plastered across an outline map of France.

The supposed artist for the UK entry is one Khalid Asadi, whose listed credits and commentary to 'his' contribution (or lack of it, rather) I quote in full, so you can get the full flavour of the hoax:

Khalid Asadi - UK

Selected Exhibitions:
2007 - YCN at the RCA, Royal College of Art, London
2007 - YCN in Stockholm, Stockholm
2006 - Please hold the line, Cornerstone Gallery, Liverpool
2006 - Us v's Them, Hannover
2006 - Little and Lots, Here Gallery, Bristol
2005 - DO NOT REMOVE, Atkinson Art Gallery, Stockport
2005 - The Beer Mat Show, Alicante
2005 - Changing 8 2005, Cornerstone Gallery, Liverpool
2005 - Summer Exhibition, Salt Gallery, Cornwall
2003 - RANT 1:ABC, ABC Cinema, Southport
2003 - The Postcard Show, Surface Gallery, Nottingham
2003 - The A6 Show 2003, Arthouse galley, London
2002 - The Sefton Open, Atkinson Art Gallery, Stockport
2002 - The View Gallery, Liverpool
2001 - The Studio, Southport
2001 - The View Gallery, Liverpool
2000 - Treble zero, Snow Gallery, Leeds
1998 - Gallery over the Shop, Southport
1998 - Windsor House, Harrogate

Commentary on the UK installation:
If art and associated attitudes are not to become pleasing-appearance ready-made, but a living, albeit perhaps fleeting, organism, art should be able to improve exactness of its message in the time allotted to it and thus, paradoxically, define itself in history. This improvement of exactness means that its individual, selectivesieve can cover the so-called objective sieve. Where their nodes do not coincide, 'free space' opens. Energy of the free space is proportional to the power of sharing, or, more precisely, it is the sum of the freely pulsating words which, in this context and in each specific time, is able to define (tangle up) different meanings naturally through spontaneous intuition. These screen points are spatial holograms of historical memory, experience, and therefore each such new overlap becomes another non-linear tangle to the naked eye.

- now if you understand any of that, then you're a great deal more intelligent than me!

Well done, David Černý, and well done too to the Czech Government which brought us this gem of modern art, masquerading imperfectly as pseudo-art when it is in fact a quite brilliant commentary on the EU and its member states, quite apart from being a completely subversive take on the pseudo-intellectual posturing of much of what passes for modern 'art', the art equivalent of the Emperor's New Clothes.

Here is the statement for the moment appearing in the Czech EU Presidency's website about the fiasco they and we have been the unwitting (but in my case highly-amused) victims of:

Statement by Alexandr Vondra concerning new information about Entropa

I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that the creator of the work of art Entropa was in fact David Černý and that it was not made by 27 artists representing all EU Member States.

The contract between the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic and the artist clearly stated that the creation should be a joint project involving artists from all 27 EU countries. David Černý bears full responsibility for not fulfilling his assignment and promise. In this situation we are now considering further steps. We will publish more information on the subject on Thursday 15 January 2009.

Last update: 13.1.2009 21:47

I am of course now unable to locate the complete Entropa .PDF document on the EU website, so I have uploaded my copy of it to one of my own websites and you may download it here (it's a large file, so will take a few minutes to download, depending on your internet connection speed).

Obama on gay marriage and civil unions

Now that Barack Obama is about to become US President there is increasing scrutiny of the detail of what he has said about various political issues at various times and how his views may have 'evolved'.

I came across a very interesting look at how his views on the subject of 'gay marriage' have changed since 1996, when he was running for the Illinois State Senate for the 13th district. At that time he was quite clear that he supported 'gay marriage'. By 2004, however, when his transformation from a State to a national politician was beginning he had modified (see also here) his public views to say that he did not support 'full marriage' for gays, but instead supported 'civil unions', and his reasons for changing his views were quite clearly stated in terms of naked political strategy:

Q: Do you have a position on marriage vs. civil unions?

I am a fierce supporter of domestic- partnership and civil-union laws. I am not a supporter of gay marriage as it has been thrown about, primarily just as a strategic issue.

I think that marriage, in the minds of a lot of voters, has a religious connotation. I know that's true in the African-American community, for example. And if you asked people, ‘should gay and lesbian people have the same rights to transfer property, and visit hospitals, and et cetera,' they would say, ‘absolutely.' And then if you talk about, ‘should they get married?', then suddenly ...

He was pinned down with further questions, eliciting these further remarks:

Q: There are more than 1,000 federal benefits that come with marriage. Looking back in the 1960s and inter-racial marriage, the polls showed people against that as well.

Since I'm a product of an interracial marriage, I'm very keenly aware of ...

This continued:

Q: But you think, strategically, gay marriage isn't going to happen so you won't support it at this time?

What I'm saying is that strategically, I think we can get civil unions passed. I think we can get SB 101 passed. I think that to the extent that we can get the rights, I'm less concerned about the name. And I think that is my No. 1 priority, is an environment in which the Republicans are going to use a particular language that has all sorts of connotations in the broader culture as a wedge issue, to prevent us moving forward, in securing those rights, then I don't want to play their game.

And then:

If Massachusetts gets marriage and this gives momentum to the proposed federal Constitutional amendment against gay marriage?

I would oppose that.

According to Windy City Times he called later to clarify he was opposed to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and that he proposed the two State bills (in 2004) banning same-sex marriage. WCT states that he has remained consistent with this 2004 view during his Presidential campaign. WCT concludes its report by writing: "A rose is a rose is a rose, but civil unions are not “marriage” unless 100 percent of the benefits are the same across all states and the federal government."

It will be instructive to see what he does now that he has the power and prestige of Presidential authority to back his views, even if such power is in practice limited by what he can get through Congress.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Dubai's potentially precarious economic situation

Highlighting all sorts of factors about Dubai that many who know little about the place may find surprising, to me this article has the ring of truth (based on my personal knowledge of both Dubai and its wealthier neighbour Abu Dhabi).

(thru the excellent Dubai-based blog Secret Dubai Diary - the relevant post is here. If you are not familiar with this blog, it will pay you to scroll down the main page to get a flavour of current events in Dubai, particularly as it is increasingly being negatively affected by worldwide economic trends.)

Spain's 'Sovereign Debt' ratings under scrutiny

Yesterday's shock news is that one of the major ratings agencies, S&P, is contemplating (FT article) a revision downward of Spain's sovereign debt ratings; the immediate result in the markets was a widening in the spread between Spain's 10 year government bonds and those of Germany to its widest level since the launch of the Euro in 1999. This followed on from last week's warning that S&P was considering similar downward revisions of the sovereign debt of both Greece and Ireland.

The one positive factor in Spain's case is that it is, as the FT article points out, better placed to take on higher budget deficits than many other Eurozone countries (as a way of 'buying its way' out of recession) because it maintained budget surpluses during its many years of strong economic growth and as at the end of 2007 it had public debt of only 36.2 per cent of GDP, according to Eurostat.

It is noticeable that the Euro is trading off its end-2008 highs in recent days against other major currencies; a British right-wing and highly Eurosceptic newspaper columnist, Simon Heffer, has been writing (scroll down the page to the section headed 'I'm loath to say I told you so but...') about a possible 'correction' of the Euro/Sterling rate in recent weeks, to counteract the recent severe fall in the value of Sterling - time will tell; I often disagree strongly with what he writes, but this time I think he may well have a point as the only thing that seems to have strengthened the Euro against Sterling is possibly hysterical market sentiment, not that both the Eurozone and Sterling economies (not to mention the Dollar economy) are all in a mess, that is undisputed, unfortunately - on the other hand the Eurozone doesn't have Gordon Brown running its financial affairs (unlike the UK) so that must be a point in its favour, specially whilst the ECB countinues to be bound by the pretty strict rules laid down by Germany's Bundesbank at the Euro's inception as a condition of Germany joining the Euro. It is being speculated here that the European Central Bank may reduce Euro interest rates, so reducing the yield differential as against USD instruments - the Spain Economy Watch blog also has a great deal more commentary about how these and other factors may affect economic prospects in Spain and in other Eurozone countries.

Hold on to your hats folks; the ride has only just started - it could get much more bumpy.

Inverness-Dusseldorf flights summer 2009

(Note: this post has been heavily-amended since I first wrote it)

I had missed the announcement last October that there are to be direct flights between Inverness and Dusseldorf weekly on Saturdays, operated by Lufthansa, during the summer months (July-September) of 2009; however, I did spot this today - workshops designed to help local businesses in the north of Scotland make use of the new route to Europe's wealthiest country; businesses need all the help they can get even at the best of times, but during the current recession/depression it may well be vital.

As for passenger traffic, I did a few sample journeys on the Lufthansa website and whilst the costs are quite high (about GBP250- to GBP270- depending on date, for a return journey), it involves a journey time of less than two hours and the flight times seem pretty convenient (mid-morning/early-afternoon). With luck these summer flights might help to bring in additional tourists from Germany and other nearby areas (in the Netherlands or Belgium most likely) to the north of Scotland and there will undoubtedly be those from here who could make use of this route, too, for trips to that part of Europe.

Even using Ryanair or easyJet to fly at that time of year (from Inverness via Luton or East Midlands) the costs would probably not be very much lower and the journey times would certainly be longer. NB/ However, closer study of these two websites shows their flights are completely impractical - where they exist - because either one would have to spend a night in transit, or get oneself to a UK airport not served from Inverness, eg. London Stansted.

PS/ I've just been checking the flybe website and indirect flights (via various places such as Manchester, Birmingham and Southampton) are available between Inverness and Dusseldorf for less than GBP100- in June this year; generally much longer journeys times, of course, than for a direct flight and naturally you have to contend with flybe's reliability record when considering the wisdom of some of the connecting flights.

Not edifying, but some publicly-expressed self-awareness at the end ...

US President George W Bush during his final press conference as President of the US:

(Answering a question about mistakes during his presidency)

"Gotcha. I have often said that history will look back and determine that which could have been done better, or, you know, mistakes I made. Clearly putting a "Mission Accomplished" on a aircraft carrier was a mistake. It sent the wrong message. We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless, it conveyed a different message. Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.

I've thought long and hard about Katrina -- you know, could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. The problem with that and -- is that law enforcement would have been pulled away from the mission. And then your questions, I suspect, would have been, how could you possibly have flown Air Force One into Baton Rouge, and police officers that were needed to expedite traffic out of New Orleans were taken off the task to look after you?

I believe that running the Social Security idea right after the '04 elections was a mistake. I should have argued for immigration reform. And the reason why is, is that -- you know, one of the lessons I learned as governor of Texas, by the way, is legislative branches tend to be risk-adverse. In other words, sometimes legislatures have the tendency to ask, why should I take on a hard task when a crisis is not imminent? And the crisis was not imminent for Social Security as far as many members of Congress was concerned.

As an aside, one thing I proved is that you can actually campaign on the issue and get elected. In other words, I don't believe talking about Social Security is the third rail of American politics. I, matter of fact, think that in the future, not talking about how you intend to fix Social Security is going to be the third rail of American politics.

One thing about the presidency is that you can make -- only make decisions, you know, on the information at hand. You don't get to have information after you've made the decision. That's not the way it works. And you stand by your decisions, and you do your best to explain why you made the decisions you made.

There have been disappointments. Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way.

Anyway, I think historians will look back and they'll be able to have a better look at mistakes after some time has passed. Along Jake's question, there is no such thing as short-term history. I don't think you can possibly get the full breadth of an administration until time has passed: Where does a President's -- did a President's decisions have the impact that he thought they would, or he thought they would, over time? Or how did this President compare to future Presidents, given a set of circumstances that may be similar or not similar? I mean, there's -- it's just impossible to do. And I'm comfortable with that. "

The man is clearly not a fool, however much I (and many millions of others, both in the US and elsewhere) came to see him as a deeply-flawed individual whose conduct in office will have [negative] repercussions for many years to come, and the first and penultimate paragraphs above show a startling level of self-awareness, however belated is the public expression of it. Who knows how 'history' will view him eventually, but my assessment right now is that he is the worst US President of my lifetime; for all his flaws Nixon did have real political vision (e.g. relations with China). Let's hope the next US President makes better use of his time in office.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Prince Harry and his alleged 'racist' remarks

Frankly I do despair sometimes of the tinpot little dictators who form part of the fourth estate in Britain! It is really hilarious when this deplorable rag, owned by a company whose founder is an unashamed republican (nothing wrong with that per se, but both he and his 'organs' do, notoriously, have 'agendas'), tries to come over as 'outraged of Wapping'! Let's face it, this concocted story has little to do with real moral outrage and much to do with getting media coverage and, more importantly, a way of supporting sales of this newspaper. End of ...

Naturally the BBC (and undoubtedly other media outlets) have had great fun with this story, too. They have to find something, anything, to fill their 24-hour news service, after all! And news about the Royal Family, particularly where they have allegedly made a gaffe of some kind, always makes good copy.

In this particular instance the only matter of relevance, in my opinion, is whether Harry's army colleague, Ahmed, was offended by being referred to as 'our little Paki friend'. If he was offended, then Harry needed to make his apology. If he wasn't then this whole story is just media froth. As for Ahmed's relative, shown in this video (scroll down to embedded video of gent wearing sunglasses) his comments seem completely contrived (prompted by the interviewer, it almost seems), when he suggests that cadets shouldn't have nicknames for each other, but should show 'more respect' for each other. What planet is this man living on? I have more to say on that particular subject (nicknames, not planets - lol!) - read on.

Coming back to that News of the World story and the video it publishes: if you watch to the end of the video you will see that the final part includes an off-screen soldier asking of Harry, in a jocular tone, "are your pubes ginger, too?" - Harry seems not to hear clearly what he has been asked (or makes out that he has not understood, at any rate) so the soldier repeats his question, to which Harry responds 'Yes, they are'. His head hair is 'ginger', so it is natural that his genital hair may be ginger, too - and I'm surprised his soldier-colleagues haven't already seen these in the showers, anyway. In other words, these are soldiers (just like any other young men) 'taking the mick' out of each other. That's really all that needs to be said, but you know (probably despairingly - lol) that I have a great deal more to say on the subject, from my own personal experience!

- From Morocco (Casablanca), the colleague who was known as 'le Noir' ('the Black') to everyone in the office. The young man in question was a VERY good-looking person (think Denzel Washington, or Adrian Lester) who was VERY black, presumably because (as my Morcoccan secretary explained to me when I had queried her about his nickname when I first heard it, soon after I arrived in Casablanca) he descended from sub-Saharan slaves. He was well-liked by everyone in the office and had a great sense of humour himself. He was a very witty and amusing young man. He referred to himself as 'le Noir', too.

- from Oman (Muscat). I had heard often reference to a person known as 'Mr White' - he was head of a central branch department which controlled stationery and various other administrative matters. He had the reputation of being a bit of a 'martinet', as people who are in control of their own little 'empires' often are, particularly when far-flung branches (there were about 30 throughout the country at the time) needed something from him, although on the very rare occasions when I had occasion to become involved personally with my own branch's dealings with him, he was always very polite to me, if still 'officious' (basically I was the 'British management officer', even if quite a young and junior one at the time) - I assumed that he was a long-serving Christian Indian member of staff who was good at his job (which he was). It was MONTHS later when I met him at a bank function (a cocktail party) and realised he was a 'coal black' Omani whose real name was of course Mohamed (Peace be Upon Him) something or other. My ignorance, quite frankly, was perfectly understandable because whenever he picked up the telephone he always responded "Mr White here". When I eventually met him in person it was quite clear he was a sardonic individual who rather enjoyed the joke of his nickname and had adopted it himself; bizarrely, and apparently at his own request, he was referred to as 'Mr White' in the internal telephone directory.

- from Hong Kong. In one of my jobs there (whilst seconded to another bank by my own bank, at the request of the Hong Kong government) I was in charge of quite a large part of that bank, a small part of which was the foreign exchange dealing department. The head of that department was a very clever young Chinese man who, naturally enough (he was a foreign exchange dealer), had a very quick brain and a good sense of humour - he was also VERY good at his job. After a while we became quite friendly and he happened to mention that his wife (also Hong Kong Chinese) was a Catholic, whereas he was a Buddhist. I came to realise, however, that he really had no understanding of what being a 'Catholic' is, or of what being a 'Christian' is, because he was quite unable to understand that being a 'Catholic' meant that his wife was also 'Christian'; the first time he ever mentioned his wife to me he told me that she was a 'Catholic' and he wondered whether I was, too, or whether I was a 'Christian'. I said that I was not really a Christian, although that like most Europeans I had been brought up in a nominally 'Christian' home, but I was a little nonplussed by his question so I said that being a 'Catholic' meant that his wife was also a 'Christian', but that being a 'Christian' did not necessarily imply that a person was a 'Catholic'. I was never able, over several months, to convince him about this; it remained a complete mystery to him, despite the fact that he was a highly-educated, highly-qualified and very intelligent man. He used to ask me about the subject regularly, because he simply could not comprehend what I was telling him - I would never have referred to the subject again unasked, because my personal interest in the Christian religion is almost nil - if I have any religious leanings at all, they are toward Zen Buddhism.

Personally I have never referred to anyone as a 'Paki' or a 'raghead', although I have heard these terms used often, sometimes negatively, sometimes with affection. I've also heard others refer to me by various terms (relating to my sexuality or my nationality) - sometimes in a negative way, at other times neutrally or with affection. Like most Gweilos in Hong Kong I believe I had a rather 'colourful' nickname amongst the Chinese (Cantonese) staff I knew and I have a framed photograph of a rather amusing cartoon which includes an image of me and which illustrates very succinctly what that nickname was, in pride of place in my entrance hall; it's part of who I am, 'warts and all' and I am certainly not offended by what it implies, simply grateful for remembrance of good friends. In these matters context is all - I tend to believe that the context in which Harry has used the terms 'Paki' and 'raghead' do not reflect badly on him at all and this media storm is just another ridiculous 'storm in a teacup' over nothing or very little. The fact that I have wasted so much time discussing this matter in so much detail is a reflection, unfortunately, of just how ridiculous our country has become, specially when the current economic situation means there are much more important things to worry about. One almost wonders whether this whole story has been concocted by the government-supporting left-wing media to try and distract the populace from things which the government would prefer people not to dwell upon too closely, such as how our government has completely messed-up the economy and left this and future generations with enormous debts and the likelihood of higher tax levels to try and pay for the present government's economic mismanangement.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Original thinking on solutions for the mid-east problem

Original? Possibly, but I'd characterise them as innovative, perhaps even courageous! Just goes to show the superior quality of the letters page correspondence of The Inverness Courier.

Iceland buys 51 Woolies stores ...

... Fraserburgh amongst them, but sadly not Nairn.

Iceland, good solid name that.

Careful with money - "tight" - "Jewish?"

I've just been watching a light-hearted programme on Channel4 entitled The Hunt for Britain's Tightest Person, the object of which was for the presenter to try and find the person in Britain who is not only 'careful with money', but is possibly the most careful person with money in the country or, in colloquial parlance, 'tight' or 'mean'. All very frothy and amusing, perhaps even with things for people like me to learn in these more straitened economic times. However, one feature I found curious and disappointing from a 'right on' channel like Channel4 was that the soundtrack playing throughout the programme was what can only be described as Jewish[Yiddish]-style folk music, played on an accordion. it really seemed to be, presumably unconsciously and with no desire to offend, harking back to some pretty unpleasant stereotypes about one particular ethnic grouping, by its choices of music, to provide the 'atmosphere' for this programme. A good and interesting short programme, but I must record a black-mark against it because of this.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Stonewall's top 100 gay-friendly employers for 2009

Stonewall has published its 2009 list of the top 100 gay-friendly employers in the UK. Top of the list is Lloyds TSB and the list includes a mixture of private and public sector employers. Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill is quoted as saying:

"The index is a powerful tool used by many of the 1.7 million gay people in the UK workplace to decide where to take their talent, skills and experience. It is also used by lesbian, gay and bisexual consumers in deciding where to spend their disposable income. And 150,000 gay students studying at UK universities refer to it when deciding where to pursue their careers."

This is certainly a positive evolution of employment practices, although it remains to be seen how it will stand up to the higher levels of unemployment which may be expected over the next few years during the current recession/depression.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Second Conservative shadow cabinet member enters into a Civil Partnership

Shadow Justice Secretary Nick Herbert MP becomes the second member of David Cameron's shadow cabinet team (after Alan Duncan MP) to enter into a Civil Partnership. He 'married' his partner of nine years, Jason Eades (a solicitor), last week in a low-key ceremony at Lambeth Town Hall attended only by close relatives of both men and followed by a reception at Brown's Hotel in Mayfair (London).

In contrast, no member of Gordon Brown's Labour cabinet has so far entered into a civil partnership, although a few Labour MPs have done so.

Mr Herbert has the full support of his constituency association; according to Malcolm Gill, the association chairman in the Arundel and South Downs constituency represented by the MP:

"The reaction among activists has been very favourable. We have a well-respected MP and Jason is very popular, too. We are delighted for both of them."

This is a very welcome reaction in what is by any standard one of the more 'true blue' Conservative constituencies so is perhaps a sign that the Conservative Party really is changing.