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

Monday, 31 August 2009

Nairn Blogmeet Update - Wednesday 2 SEP

The Nairn bloggers' blogmeet on Wednesday at 7.30pm will be at the Classroom, the same place we used the last time; if the Classroom proves to be very crowded we may later move to the nearby Albert Inn, but we'll be meeting up at the Classroom to start the evening off.

As I mentioned last week, it will be the second meeting of bloggers in Nairn; three of us turned up for our first blogmeet back in February (Graisg at A Gurn from Nurn and Brian at MyNairn, plus me) and I think we had an interesting evening, exchanging views about blogging and 'this and that'; we're all hoping that a few more local or visiting bloggers will be able to join us this time around to exchange our sometimes very different ideas. See you on Wednesday, I hope!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Majority 'oppose' Megrahi release

An ICM/YouGov survey poll in Scotland has revealed that a very significant majority of Scots opposed the release of convicted Pan-Am bomber Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison, because of his advanced prostate cancer, so that he could return to Libya 'to die' with his family. I wrote my view of the release here (I was strongly opposed) and followed it up with another article a couple of days later, to respond to some of the anonymous vitriol I had received through the comments in another local blog as a result of my stated view (which I stand by still, incidentally).

The just-published opinion poll reveals that my views on this matter are not in any way atypical of the majority of Scots, despite efforts by certain SNP politicians and apologists for the policies of that political party (mainly those who themselves share the political aims of the SNP) to use relentless 'spin' to try and show that it was their view that had majority public support. It didn't and it doesn't! Just as the public support for the SNP itself has taken a well-deserved beating compared to the position it held in the opinion polls a year ago.

Nairn Blogmeet - Wednesday 2 SEP

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Nairn bloggers are planning a blogmeet next Wednesday at 7.30pm; the precise location has yet to be finalised (the place we went last time is excellent, but may be a little busy at this time of year, however there are a few other places nearby that will be good, too). It will be the second meeting of bloggers in Nairn; the first was held back in mid-February and three of us turned up on that occasion (Graisg at A Gurn from Nurn and Brian at MyNairn, plus me) and all three of us are planning to be there again this time. We're hoping a few more local bloggers will be able to come along and join us next week so we can have a general chat about the habit/drug/obsession that blogging is for some of us.

If you have a blog and are based in Nairn or the Nairn area (e.g. people from places such as Forres or Inverness or in-between, etc) and would like to come along, it'd be great to meet up and exchange ideas. Indeed if you live elsewhere, but have a blog and happen to be in Nairn next week, please get in touch with one of the three of us by email; my contact information is in the right-hand column under the 'Feedback' section or click here. It should be good fun I hope.

UPDATE: See my later article with full details of where we'll be meeting here.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

It's been some days since I blogged here

... and it may be a few more before I get the time other than to look in occasionally. For the past week I've been completely preoccupied with producing material (and ideas) for a forthcoming meeting of the owners of the place where I have my home in Spain and that has taken almost all of my time. Apart from that the rest of my time revolves for the moment around visiting my mother in the nursing home where she now lives and getting the last details of her move from her former home sorted out administratively - electricity, council tax, etc. I hold her Power of Attorney so am having to get all her affairs adjusted to suit her new circumstances - apart from the frustration of dealing with various organisations (bank, utilities) and government agencies, whose level of efficiency is 'variable' to put it at its kindest, it is in some ways a rather sad task because her former quite independent life is really definitively at and end. We are very lucky that she remains pretty normal mentally (if a little forgetful), but physical ailmments have made life quite difficult and painful for her - we all get old, but it's different for everyone I suppose. So if I do look in here again in the next few days it will most likely be as brief as this article - apart from that, all is well here.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Bill's not popular in some quarters locally it seems

My recent article on the release of Abdel Basset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi from his incarceration in Scotland, as a result of his terminal illness, so that he could return to Libya to be with his family has provoked a certain amount of comment. I expressed a view about that which some people share, whereas others do not. Fair enough, it's what debate is about. A number of people have commented here on both sides of the argument, that's as it should be. I do not pre-moderate current comments in my blog and provided they do not violate the Terms of Use here (see the top of the right-hand column for the permanent link) I never delete comments, but I do enforce the Terms of Use rigorously; further down the page from the same link you can see my 'Links Policy'.

Another blogger in Nairn was kind enough to alert his readers to my article with a short article in his own blog and I left a brief comment there to thank him in the comments for that article (scroll down from the last link to see all the comments).

As you will see from the final comment there, Graisg (who runs the A Gurn from Nurn blog) has closed the comments, presumably because of the tone of some of the comments, many of which refer to me in, ahem, 'uncomplimentary' terms. What follows in the box below is the text of a comment I was going to leave there, plus provide myself with a lazy route to another blog article here by re-cycling that comment into this blog. In the event, because Graisg has now closed off the comments, this is the only place where what would have been my comment will now appear, so here it is 'for the record', as they say:

Hi all

Thanks for all the frank comments about me - it's interesting to read them.

Blogs are personal journals. Every blogger makes his own rules - mine have evolved over the years as a result of some quite unpleasant incidents, a few of which have spilled over into real life (and which I will not discuss here) and I make no apology for them.

I have always been pretty open in my blog about who and what I am; sometimes that carries a cost. Many blogs operate by different rules and good luck to them. I do not allow 'anonymous' comments and have no intention of modifying that; it is possible to set up a GoogleID or OpenID without divulging any significant information; that provides a basic minimum of identification. I have an OpenID myself which is necessary to comment on certain blogs I like to visit from time to time.

Similarly my policies for linking to other blogs are clearly laid out in my 'terms of use' file; this relates to the remarks that iRight made about me. I don't believe that if I had 'de-linked' The Gurn (as I did indeed inform Graisg by email [* -see below] I would do because of an article iRight had posted [t]here whilst Graisg was away if it was not removed) that it would have caused Graisg much loss of link-visits, but I can only assume, and be grateful, that after reviewing the post in question himself he decided it was preferable to take it down; it had not the remotest connection with me personally or anyone I know, I might add. I do not necessarily reciprocate links to my blog, nor do I ever request a reciprocal link if I happen to link to another blog. I do not regard the number of people who link to me as some kind of competition.

As Graisg has stated a number of times in his blog, it is easy to set up a blog - anyone who has a PC can do it, even the homeless can have a blog through a local refuge centre. One of my oldest blog links (which I am proud to say is reciprocal) is with a person who lives in north Florida and has been battling with depression and drug addiction for many years - he was, I understand, formerly an IT specialist who lost his job, wife and home and for several years lived on the streets along the north Gulf coast of Florida and for most of that time he managed to continue to blog and a few grateful folks like me tried to offer him some support, moral and material. Luckily he now has a home and a partner (a lady who escaped from a wife-beating husband), but they battle with debt and the constant risk of eviction. Why do I write all this? Because everyone has his own story and I do too. I like to learn about other people's life experiences - that is why I blog.

I've been blogging since April 2002 and in the early period there were very few bloggers in the north of Scotland, or for that matter in the rest of Scotland or the rest of the UK; many have fallen by the wayside over the years, unfortunately, but they are personal journals and no one is obliged to maintain one, or to read them. I am so glad that in recent years there is a growing number of local blogs in and around Nairn so that all tastes may be catered for. Graisg does an excellent job here catering for the particular niche he has created for himself. I would not dream of trying to emulate him :) Brian's is a more recent blog and it is excellent too, in a different way. There are now several other local or fairly local blogs which I visit regularly and enjoy.

My blog has never pretended to be solely about Nairn, sorry if that upsets some people, but perhaps someone else can set up another blog to write about it, just as Graisg and a few others do so well already.

Now that I've written such a lengthy comment [t]here (and I should, in my defence – lol – point out that I do not pre-moderate comments on current posts as Graisg chooses to do) I now have the material for an article in my own blog - so thanks for that. Being a lazy sort, I'm not too proud to recycle comments I make elsewhere into posts in my little blog.

Have a great Sunday!

- as is mentioned above, this comment will not now appear in Graisg's blog, because he has barred further comment in that post. For the record, as Graisg himself points out in the comments, Graisg and I differ in some aspects of our personal 'ideologies' about a number of things, but on other matters we tend to think pretty much along similar lines; I like and respect him. Indeed he and I and another local blogger, Brian at My Nairn, had the only recorded Nairn 'blog meet' (so far as I am aware) some months ago and I think it's true to say we all enjoyed the experience. A few other local bloggers (and regular commenters in Graisg's blog) were invited to participate, but preferred to maintain their strict anonymity apparently; as I mentioned in the box above, all bloggers are different. Wouldn't it be a boring world if we were not?

* - for the record, here is the text of the email I sent to Graisg and which is referred to in the box above:

Hi [Graisg's real name is redacted]

I noticed an article entitled "[redacted]" on your blog last night and when I first read it I thought it a rather unpleasant piece of 'gossip' with a nasty tone of 'innuendo' lurking in it; reading the by-line of the author brought no surprises. What I find particuarly unpleasant with this article is the cowardice of the author who permits him/herself to make thinly-veiled allegations, but is of course careful to 'name no names' - probably because he/she knows the [redacted] concerned and might find it embarrassing if he/she encountered the [redacted] in the High Street or at church. It is basically no better than a scurrilous poison-pen type effort. Last evening and still today there have been no comments on this article.

I know nothing about the facts of this [redacted] and on reading my copy of this week's Nairnshire [this is the local newspaper in Nairn] am none the wiser. However, if this is the type of article you are going to permit to appear in your blog, then the sooner I get myself out of this nasty, incestuous, inward-looking place the better! Your blog seems to be developing into a sort of village ducking-stool for people with grievances to air their petty prejudices 'anonymously'. Is this really the direction you want to take it in?

You were kind enough to take down an article [again, not an article written by Graisg himself and which of course was not remotely connected to me personally either, or to anyone I know] I wrote to you about a couple of weeks ago; what you do, if anything, in this instance is your business entirely, but I have to tell you frankly that if there are more articles of this nature appearing in your blog I shall be removing it from my blogroll as it is verging very close on contravening my personal 'terms of use' for links in my own blog. I apologise for my temerity in writing to you as I do, but rather than simply removing the link to your blog in my blogroll without notice, I felt it only fair to let you know the direction my thoughts are taking.

With best personal regards

I'll finish off here, by echoing my final remark in the 'comment' above:

Have a great Sunday!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Scotland sends a convicted murderer home "to die"

(Please see UPDATE at end)

I watched poor Kenny MacAskill MSP (Scottish Justice Secretary in the SNP Scottish Executive) stand up today and spend a tediously long period trying to justify the unjustifiable. I have to say that whilst watching him read out his statement I had a sneaking admiration for his even delivery and stamina - as if he thought that D..R..A..G..G..I..N..G out his statement for so long would confuse the issue.

If the verdict of guilty against Megrahi is unsafe, as some seem to believe, then the evidence against him needs to be re-examined carefully and dispassionately - and this could have been done many years ago if there was any substance to it; indeed two appeals have taken place already and been rejected. If his conviction was not unsafe, in other words if he was correctly convicted, then I think his sentence of life imprisonment should have meant just that. Until his conviction is overturned, for me he is guilty - and for Kenny MacAskill, too, on the basis of what he took so long to say today.

So, according to Mr MacAskill we in Scotland let people out of prison because they're going to die imminently, out of 'compassion'. I wrote my views about that here, when I made a passing reference to the Megrahi case. They are no different today now that the Megrahi case has hit the headlines. What about the people who were killed when that aeroplane blew up over Lockerbie - they didn't get to go home to die with their families! Nor for that matter, I expect, do other convicted criminals who happen to die of old age, or a heart attack, or a stroke, whilst in prison. We are all going to die some day - it's part of human existence, indeed of every living creature. The fact that someone happens to be dying of some incurable disease in prison does not make them any more deserving of 'compassion' than any other criminal serving a prison sentence who happens to be going to die there.

MacAskill waffled on for ages trying to confuse the issue by dragging out his decision not to grant release under the Prisoner Transfer Scheme with Libya agreed by the UK government, when the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') had sought an exemption for Scotland for any Lockerbie convictee (i.e. Megrahi), when that decision had no bearing - apart from trying to make yet another tedious political propaganda point in the SNP's campaign to sow dissent wiith the UK government - on the decision he took to release Megrahi on grounds of 'compassion', saying it was in a noble Scottish tradition. It's not one I've ever heard of. My analysis of this is that it is yet another example of the SNP Scottish Executive playing yet another cyncial game to try and wrong-foot the UK Government by strutting its devolved power before the world. Mind you it's no different than the cackeyed reasons Jack Straw, UK Justice Secretary, gave for releasing Biggs 'to die'. I'd rather MacAskill and Straw excercised compassion in their own time, not on my behalf. Pass the sick bag, Alice!

And we have, as any fool could have predicted, this criminal being given a hero's welcome back in Libya and using our Scottish Saltire as part of a crude propaganda exercise. Well done Mr MacAskill! I'll need that sick bag again, Alice!

PS/ To me, just to be clear, it's completely irrelevant that the US government objected vociferously to the prospect of Megrahi being sent back to Libya. We have our legal system and they have their's and they have done many things in recent years which have been found by many in this country to be revolting or merely unjust in recent years, and precious little notice have they taken of the views and sensibilities of what is supposed to be their closest ally in the world. The fact that there is a different Administration in the US today has not changed the fact that Guantanamo remains open and that the US is, many believe, still consigning people they capture to treatment that wouldn't be tolerated on US soil. I am very pro-American, but rank hypocrisy makes me heave!

UPDATE: (Sunday 23AUG09 14.10 BST) One of the other Nairn bloggers, Graisg, kindly wrote a brief article in his blog to alert his readers to my article; he expressed no view about what I had written. I placed a comment in his comment for that article to thank him for high-lighting my blog (obviously it has increased 'hits' here, specially from local people, although most of the 'hits' seem anyway to have come from the US). However, a number of the comments there were, ahem, somewhat uncomplimentary about me and I planned to post my own further comment there - however Graisg had closed off comments because of the nature of some of the earlier comments (I think) so I have written a new article here, which includes word-for-word what would have been in my comment.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Nairn Highland Games - 15 August 2009 (part 2)

I have been atrociously tardy in posting the second and final instalment of my small photographic record of last Saturday's Nairn Highland Games; it has been more or less ready to upload since early this morning, but I had other matters to attend to that needed to take precedence, so sorry about that.

As usual, by early evening on Saturday a lot of the temporary infrastructure (tents, marquees, fencing, etc.) had already disappeared and the field itself and surrounds looked pretty litter-free; extraordinary really, when one considers how many people were around the field for most of the afternoon (as noted by the Nairnshire in this week's edition it was very well attended and it was certainly one of the best attended Games in my nine years of living in Nairn). By Sunday lunchtime much of the funfair on the links had already left and the rest was mostly already loaded back onto their trucks and by Monday lunchtime all had gone.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Council employees were on site to dismantle all the other temporary infrastructure (e.g. the tall white flagpoles which surround the field, the stand, the country dancing platform) and all the porta-cabins had been removed. On Tuesday top-soil was brought in to fill the hole left after the sand had been removed from the long-jump pit and I've no doubt that tomorrow or the next day the new soil will be levelled-off and new turf added back, so that in a month or two this annual event will hardly be noticeable. All that will remain, for a few weeks, on the cricket field will be the lane and circuit markings. The logistical effort in putting all the infrastructure in place during the days preceding the Games and then removing it again so efficiently and speedily very shortly afterwards is no doubt considerable and I am full of admiration for those who organise it and those who carry it out.

Now, onto the remaining two brief videos and and a few of the photographs I took during Saturday afternoon. The videos show, respectively, a brief excerpt from one of the competitors in the piping competition followed by the final part of the march of the Isle of Skye Pipe Band, whilst the other shows three of the 'tug-of-war' rounds/sets (I don't know what the correct word is for this sport). The five photographs include three of various parts of the Scottish Country Dancing competition, one of the same solo piper who appeared in the first of the two video-clips and finally one of the Massed Pipe Bands preparing to commence their second circuit of the field during the afternoon. And the sun shone on the event - despite the weather forecast predicting it might be quite different; it's one of those occasions where I'm glad it was wrong! Incidentally I spent most of Sunday afternoon across at Rosemarkie on the Black Ise, where I was attending the annual Garden Party at the nursing home where my mother recently took up residence and was told that they had heavy rain on Saturday, so we in Nairn were very lucky with the weather we had just a relatively few miles away across the Moray Firth.

A piper and the Isle of Skye Pipe Band

Three rounds of the Tug-of-War competition

Nairn Highland Games - Saturday 15 August 2009

Click here to see enlargements of all these photographs, where you will also find detailed descriptions of each photograph.

Click here to see enlargements of all these photographs, where you will also find detailed descriptions of each photograph.

You can see the first part of my 2009 Games' report here.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

A clarification about comments in this blog and on video-clips in my YouTube account

Some 'twat' going by the YouTube moniker of 'MegaPeteB' has been making pointlessly insulting comments on a couple of my YouTube videos. Let me be quite clear, I have no intention of allowing my video comments areas to be used by people such as this illustrious gentleman to hone their [so far futile] efforts at wit and have deleted the comments in question and disabled comments in the affected videos. I make no pretence that my video efforts are 'professional' or of high technical or any other quality. I don't tolerate such kinds of comments in my blog and I am not about to start tolerating them in my YouTube videos. For the avoidance of doubt, neither this blog nor my YouTube account is a 'democracy' as I make the rules and if people don't like them, well .... work it out for yourself MegaPeteB; start your own blog or YouTube account with your own material if you feel the need to vent your spleen! Candidly.

NB/ Comments have been disabled for this article.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Nairn Highland Games - 15 August 2009 (part 1)

The weather here in Nairn yesterday was 'lousy', to put it briefly, and the forecast for today wasn't much better. However, although it was grey and generally 'dreich' in the early morning, by late morning it had begun to brighten up quite a lot and by early afternoon it was becoming sunny. Indeed it remained sunny (with very brief cloudy intervals) for the whole afternoon. So it was an excellent afternoon indeed - a little windy, but pleasantly warm nonetheless. Bizarrely, just after the Games finished, it became quite overcast for a brief period and there was even a little drizzle - so the Games were charmed.

During the afternoon I took quite a lot of photographs and videos, and in this first part I'm including four video-clips of the marvellous Massed Pipe Bands doing their stuff throughout the afternoon. The next part will come either tomorrow evening or on Monday (as I am out for most of tomorrow) when I shall include a couple of additional, much briefer, video-clips (of a piper competing in the pipe competition and three stages of the 'tug of war' competition), plus a number of photographs of the day's events.

I hope you enjoy these video-clips; the clarity isn't that great, I'm afraid, because I don't have a very sophisticated camera - on the other hand I do happen to benefit from a prime vantage point for viewing the Games so I hope that is some compensation. Enjoy!

The arrival of the Massed Pipe Bands

Massed Pipe Bands - First march around the field

Massed Pipe Bands - "Scotland the Brave"

Massed Pipe Bands - The Green Hills of Tyrol ("A Scottish Soldier")

NB/ (Added Tuesday 18AUG09 23.10 BST) You can see the second part of my 2009 Games' report here.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Unemployment in Scotland increases, but Bill is confused

It so happens that I had my browser open on this BBC report about the latest jobless figures in Scotland earlier in the afternoon and had 'bookmarked' it to study it more closely later (even though I had already absorbed some of the key numbers and percentages it mentioned), when the same story was covered in the BBC Scotland 1.30pm news bulletin on BBC1 and I was surprised to hear the correspondent brought on to talk to the newscaster about it respond to the question of how Scotland was faring when compared to England in unemployment to hear her respond: "Well, Scotland is doing a little worse than England, but it's not much worse" or words to that effect. I was preparing lunch at the time so did a 'double take' because my recollection of the percentages quoted in the article showed the opposite, a slightly better position in Scotland than in England - unemployment now said to be 7 per cent in Scotland as against 7.8 per cent in England.

Am I missing something, or is there a mistake in the article on the internet, or indeed in what the correspondent said on the news bulletin? Both she and the article quoted the same figure for total unemployment of 188,000 in Scotland, up 75,000 since last year - a pretty dramatic increase.

Can anyone throw any light on the minor confusion? A simple mistake, or something else?

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Saudi princess robbed of her 'pocket money'

A wave of crime in luxury hotels in Sardinia's Costa Smeralda has been taking place over recent days, in hotels of one particular hotel chain - insider skullduggery is suspected of having provided a professional gang with information to enable them to perpetrate their heists; a significant raid has also taken place in Portofino on Italy's north-west coast.

What drew my attention to this story was the headline about a Saudi princess having 11mio Euros stolen from her roomsafe; one presumes what we are actually describing here is a suite of rooms - I cannot imagine someone so wealthy having a mere room. What was she thinking? Holding such a large sum in her roomsafe seems to me to be most 'unwise', not to say completely mad. Possibly she was planning to buy a property, or more likely it was simply a reflection of habits in Saudi Arabia which favour holding cash rather than relying on banks - and in these parlous financial times such reticence is perhaps understandable, always provided that one ensures that the cash is securely held and a hotel roomsafe cannot by any stretch of the imagination be expected to foil a determined thief. The hotel's own main safe might be a better bet, I suppose, but even there I think you are taking a major risk. Ultimately one really needs to have one's own personal guard to guard the roomsafe or hotel safe when such sums are involved and the costs of doing so are likely to be trifling in comparison.

Early on in my banking career, whilst I was still in London as a management trainee, I often used to accompany a senior arab personal banking officer from our office, usually on Thursday or Friday afternoons, around various of the 'swankier' hotels in London to deliver to various clients of the bank their 'pocket money' for the weekend - this was in the 1970s and the sums were usually of the order of GBP10-30k (depending on which methods you use to evaluate current values, that might be equivalent to GBP40-120k to GBP100-300k in today's money) and usually we did two or three such deliveries during the afternoon, more during the summer when there were more visitors from the middle east in town. Normally we had to provide them with unused banknotes, not for any 'nefarious' purpose, but simply because of their desire not to have other people's fingerprints on their notes and in those days we had to get these notes specially from the Bank of England, with whom we had standing arrangements. Of course, those were still quite large sums of money, but most of it would have been 'blown' by their normal spending habits by the time the end of the following week came and they needed further injections of cash to keep the party going, but at least they didn't hoard massive amounts of cash in an unsecure roomsafe. Doh!

The 'Ten Commandments' of public service employees

The origin of this droll list is the civil service ('fonctionne publique') in France, notorious for its deliberate, pig-headed, slow and obdurate way of going about its business, Personally I had relatively few difficulties with these lovely people when I lived there, except on one occasion when I followed the 'duff' advice, against my better instincts, of the lady in charge of our own 'human resouces' department who, lovely lady though she was, adopted the traditional French 'peasant' approach of trying to tell the authorities nothing until forced to do so. Whilst this is a philosophy that I sympathise with strongly, it has in practice to be tempered with accommodating oneself to a[n imperfectly] computerised bureaucracy, which tends to operate like a steam-roller - very slow, but certain; the little 'spat' I had involved a television licence for a television imported from abroad which was incapable of receiving television broadcasts in France. Anyway, on.

So for a laugh, or to console for the struggle of dealing with these people, the '10 Commandments of public service' in France are: (see original version in French here - I have substituted 'jobsworth' and 'work' for 'functionary' and 'function' because these sound a little more natural in English)
1. The jobsworth works, he does not think.
2. The jobsworth who thinks does not work.
3. When he works, which is rare, it is at a slow and regular rhythm.
4. One must never disturb a jobsworth who is reading his newspaper, for he is already incapable of absorbing what he is reading!
5. The jobsworth sleeps during daylight hours and one must not waken him brusquely;
6. One must never contradict a jobsworth, because this affects his gastric juices and renders him, if such is possible, twice as awkward.
7. One must not forget that the jobsworth is a man, not an animal. However, if he were an animal, he would already have been eaten by members of his species.
8. Do not think that the jobsworth who looks at you with a moronic expression does so to put you out (discountenance you), it is his normal expression.
9. The 'break' is sacred for the jobsworth. It is the period when he solves the most urgent matters in a minimum of time:
- he goes for a toilet (rest-room) break;
- he may (perhaps) wash his hands;
- he drinks his coffee and eats a snack;
- he flirts unsuccessfully with female jobsworths or others;
- he returns to his place of 'work', dragging his feet.
10. The jobsworth does not calculate his productivity in monetary terms, but in quantity of paperwork generated.

And there's more than a grain of truth in that, wherever civil servants (public service employees) are involved, I think we can all agree!?

There's lots of other interesting information about French civil service levels and salary structures in Thierry's article, which you can read yourself if you want to; obviously it is in French.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Perhaps he's also not a 'homophobe'?

It was salutary a couple of day ago to read this article by Stephen Pollard in the Telegraph that charges of anti-semitism against Michal Kaminski, an MP in Poland's Law and Justice Party, cannot be justified after careful study of his background and history. Mr Kaminski is Chairman of the recently-formed European Conservatives and Reformist Group, set up in advance of Britain's Conservative Party leaving the European People's Party grouping within the European Parliament. Mr Pollard is editor of the Jewish Chronicle and although I have found his views over the years somewhat 'reactionary' and needlessly confrontational, on this kind of subject I am happy to take his verdict at face value, as is Guido.

Perhaps a substantial revision is warranted in charges that he is homophobic? I genuinely do not know, but would certainly appreciate clarification. Obviously this factor has never much concerned either Stephen Pollard or Guido Fawkes, if their writings are a guide, although if I have missed something there, too, I will be glad to be corrected. Whilst charges of 'racism' are rightly taken very seriously and that aspect of a person's views rightly condemned when shown to be valid, by most 'right thinking' people, the same is certainly not true when 'homophobia' rears its ugly head, because a lot of people simply don't care or share, secretly or not so secretly, similar views.

Is this in reality simply a mud-slinging exercise by a discredited Labour Party directed against their currently much more popular Conservative Party rivals? It is certainly, to try and retain some semblance of objectivity, a very strong possibility, given the Labour Party's documented history of using smear-tactics against rivals both internal and external.

I will be interested to read of Mr Edward McMillan-Scott's reaction to the latest development vis-a-vis his charges of anti-semitism in particular, but any further remarks he may have about his remark regarding Mr Kaminski's alleged homophobia will be of interest, too.

My attitude to 'blogging about blogging' graphically illustrated

- and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I take no part in the juvenile voting in blog 'beauty contests' that far too many bloggers seem obsessed by, nor any interest in those who organise said activity. Its sole purpose is to drive more traffic to their blogs so they can improve their positions in the lists. Pure and simple onanism for the ego; as the Coca-Cola ad. had it, nothing beats the real thing.

Have a great day, folks ...

All-round good guy Roger Federer shares his family delight

Roger Federer and his lovely wife Mirka share their joy in their new twin babies with their many fans around the world:

Roger Federer has shared this photograph with his many admirers around the world via his Facebook page, rather than agreeing to accept media sponsorship, to let them share his family's good news, just as he does with many other aspects of his life and tennis career.

I have always been struck by how refreshingly open and honest Federer is in interviews, of which there were numerous around the time of Wimbledon this year in particular. It was tempting to categorise some of his interviews this year as betraying 'arrogance', but in similar interviews last year, when he lost to Rafael Nadal, he accepted his defeat by the better man on that occasion with considerable grace. I believe it is a reflection of the practicality of his Swiss-German origins and no doubt the family environment in which he was brought up. He seems basically to be an all-round nice person who has been and remains a beacon of civilised behaviour on and off the tennis court. Nor does he suffer from false-modesty syndrome, which is refreshing - his simple acceptance of his status as a highly-gifted tennis player without seeming artifice is not something one observes too often, although Rafael Nadal seems to be pretty similar in character, too. It is true that Federer has earned a great deal of money over the years, and no doubt will continue to earn handsome amounts in years to come from his sporting activities and advertsing sponsorship, but he appears to have retained a strong sense of reality.

Hearty congratulations to the happy couple and their new babies!

(thru kenneth in the (212) and thru him Mashable)

Friday, 7 August 2009

Mark and Tilda on 'a pilgrimage' to Nairn

Yesterday evening the Screen Machine arrived in Nairn after having wended its way through the Highlands on an odyssey/pilgrimage which began on 1st August at Bridge of Orchy, led by Mark Cousins and Oscar-winner and Nairn resident Tlda Swinton.

After a stroll up to town before lunch to pick up a newspaper, as it was such a lovely sunny and warm morning (it has clouded over and become a little cooler since then), I took a walk down the High Street and the first part of Harbour Street before cutting down onto the river and across the Merryton Bridge (for those who know Nairn well, I was obviously coming from the other side in the photograph) so I could walk down the east side of the river to The Maggot area, where the Screen Machine had been set-up in the car-parking area. Then back across the Bailey Bridge and along the shore (I walked, as I often do, in the path down amongst the dunes because few ever go there so it is peaceful and it is sheltered from any sea-breezes that may be wafting in from the beach - not that there were then as it was lovely and warm) toward the beach café and home.

Below are a few photographs I took of the Screen Machine and the Red Bus. I am sure the cinema is wonderful and the programme looks interesting. Candidly, though, I think the multi-coloured ribbons with which the Screen Machine is decorated look really weird and quite tacky, although I imagine the aim is to make what is effectively a modified truck look colourful and 'funky'. However it reminded me, I'm afraid to say, of the Clootie Well near Munlochy in the Black Isle, an area I have known since childhood, as it's where my father came from and where I have spent many holidays, and although it is considered by some to have beneficial properties I have always considered it an eyesore.

Anyway, here are the photos:

Ramshackle Rolls -
The 'Screen Machine' comes to Nairn
6 - 9 August 2009

Click here to see enlargements of all these photographs, where you will also find detailed descriptions of each photograph.

Click here to see enlargements of all these photographs, where you will also find detailed descriptions of each photograph.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Are we now to release all near-death prisoners?

On 'compassionate grounds'. This would seem to be the logical extension of this piece of nonsense from our so-called Justice Secretary Jack Straw. Not to mention this other piece of nonsense, involving the convicted Libyan Pan-Am bomber, currently serving his prison sentence in Scotland.

So far as I am concerned both should continue to serve their sentences in prison or in a hospital prison ward (and in the case of al-Megrahi that should continue to be in Scotland) and their apparent imminent deaths should not be of any special interest or consideration. The answer to the question I pose in the title to this piece should of course be 'No'.

Shepherding on steroids ...

Just amazing!

(thru Barcepundit)

The party's over for coffee-shop laptop-users during the downturn ...

... at least it is in New York in some independent coffee-shops who provide free wi-fi access, not to mention power-points for customers to recharge their laptop batteries; some locations in San Fransisco are beginning to do likewise. The problem is customers who nurse one coffee sometimes for several hours whilst surfing the net, taking up seats that more profitable customers could occupy.

(thru Barcepundit)

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Not a word here about the budgetary implications!

This kind of propaganda piece on behalf of public subsidies for ferries to remote areas around Scotland seems to me to be laughably lacking in even the merest hint of basic economic analysis. The 'Road Equivalent Tariff' for certain western isles routes will obviously have increased traffic - most people like to feel they are 'getting something for less', but ultimately someone is paying for all this largesse. And that someone is you and me, Joe-taxpaying-public!

A little bit of factual reporting wouldn't go amiss so this policy can be judged dispassionately on its merits. At present some areas, such as Orkney and Shetland feel 'miffed' at being left out of this particular gravy-train, and who can blame them? Take a look at the political complexions of the different areas benefitting and not benefitting and the genesis of this policy perhaps becomes somewhat clearer.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Dodgy expenses claims infect academia, too

We've been hearing a lot in recent months about the, ahem, 'padding' of expenses by certain MPs, now I come across what seems to be questionnable claims by an academic.

Professor Peter Gregson is vice-chancellor at Queen's University. For anyone who doesn't, by chance, know it this is located in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It seems the university is funding his membership of the Athenaeum, an exclusive private member club in London; it has bedroom accommodation bookable by members, just like an hotel, when rooms are not already booked.

Anyway, accepting for a moment that Professor Gregson requires to visit London on a reasonably frequent basis in connection with his university employment, perhaps the membership is justified, given that room costs in a private club tend to be more reasonable in cost, particularly when compared with hotels in similar parts of London's clubland. Some clubs [traditionally] have mediocre dining arrangements, but others maintain fine tables and from all that I have ever heard, the Athenaeum is certainly amongst the latter. Passing on, though.

This matter has come to light as a result of a 'freedom of information' inquiry by the Irish News newspaper. Professor Gregson has, according to the information revealed about his expenses, however, also made claims for 'at least two out of five recent visits to the capital city when he stayed in a[n] hotel'. And not just any old hotel either. No sirree! Professor Gregson likes to do things in style. For example on 23rd October last he claimed for a night at the 5-star Mayfair Hotel (part of the Radisson Hotels group). I certainly don't begrudge the man his 'perks' within reason, but it does look a little as if he is going slightly over the top - I think there are perfectly comfortable, but somewhat less epxensive, hotels in that part of London where he could stay should the Athenaeum not have a room available when he needs to be there for professional purposes - but on that point his expenses claim seem to be silent, making one wonder just what is the necessity for these regular visits; do they not have telephones or video-conference facilities at Queen's? Or are these visits, in reality, purely 'social' in that they permit him and other academics to swan around the swankier parts of the capital city at public expense, whilst enjoying fine dinners together? Just asking ...

Sunday, 2 August 2009

V for Vendetta - future documentary or fiction?

I had not seen (or indeed heard of) the wonderful film V for Vendetta until yesterday evening when it was shown on BBC3 - I have recorded it and am watching it now whilst recording it onto DVD for my film library. Here's a video-clip of the speech made by 'V' over the hijacked 'British Television Network' near the beginning of the film, where he reveals to the whole nation, and its infuriated dictatorial rulers, what his plans are to bring to an end the dictatorship the country labours (*) under:

It is scarily like what Britain, after 12 years of an increasingly authoritarian Labour government, is in process of becoming. Of course the old canard (i.e. nakedly propagandistic lie) runs through the movie that the authoritarian regime portrayed in it is somehow extreme 'right-wing' (even going so far as to portray the instigator of it as a former member of the Conservative Party), when in fact it has much more in common with real-life extreme 'left-wing' authoritarian regimes of the past - notably the former Soviet Union and even more the National Socialist regime that seventy years years ago ruled Germany. I do not say, or believe, that we in Britain are currently anywhere near reaching the level of authoritarianism portrayed in this film, but the building-blocks to take us there are indeed being put into place by our current Labour government - to mention just a few these include a number of 'enhancements' such as an ever-growing DNA database, a national population database register, ID Cards and massive use of CCTV surveillance (the most extensive of any country in the world). Getting rid of Labour at the next general election is only the first step necessary to put the country back onto a better path - a lot of legislation put in place since 1997 needs to be repealed and we must ensure than whoever forms the incoming government (most likely, on current trends, to be from the Conservative Party) does this and we must use any opportunity between now and the election to cajole and badger them into committing themselves to do so and to fulfill commitments already made in this regard.

(*) - and I use that particular verb quite deliberately.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

A dilettante society completely loses the plot

I like James May, I really do, he's both amusing and quite subtle I think, and of the three presenters on Top Gear I think he's probably the most 'grounded' in some kind of reality (or he's a good actor) and I like his motoring column in the Saturday Telegraph, but I think his latest idea, apparently dreamed up over a beer with friends, takes media frivolity way beyond even some of the more grotesque reality shows of the past few years. His idea is to build a full-size house out of Lego bricks, complete with working shower and toilet, and to live in it for 'a few days' as part of his new BBC series James May's Toy Stories. No doubt it will become a 'visitor attraction' in the winery in Dorking (Surrey) where it's being built once he has finished filming it for his programme.

I'm sure it will be fun and whimsical and I'll probably find myself idly watching it when it airs. I know I probably sound like some awful old curmudgeon for writing this, although I really don't think I am, but I do admit to feeling that our quest for 'amusement' and 'diversion' in our pampered, bored lives (and most of our lives are pretty pampered, even in a recession/depression, in the wealthy countries of the world) is going beyond what is decent and proper when one reads about how people must live in many poorer countries. Now, passing on to much more serious matters, should I have pink champagne with my mixed berries and cream, or some rather lovely Sauternes, as a follow-on to the rib-eye steak and salad I've just enjoyed with a very nice Sicilian Cabernet Sauvignon? You see how bad it's got?