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

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Nanny-State Netherlands says 'No!'

From a British perspective it sometimes seems that we have the most complete 'nanny-state' in the world (why, there's even a blog dedicated to the premise), but we have a close rival in the Netherlands, whose government apparatus has stepped in to prevent a 13 (going on 14) year old girl from launching her attempt to sail solo around the world. Here are a few excerpts from the BBC report which illustrate perfectly the suffocating effect on a young person's courage, when even the judge admits her sailing-skills are not in question:

Judges at the Utrecht district court said Ms Dekker's sailing skills were not in question.

But they said her safety plan was not fully developed and that she had no experience with sleep management.

- the final sentence really takes the biscuit! Just how much 'experience' do the judges at the Utrecht district court have with this thing called 'sleep management'? And just what does this thing about her safety plan not being fully developed mean? Not all risks can, or necessarily should, be ironed out before anyone steps out of their front doors in the morning. I might be involved in an accident later this morning when I go out in my car to do some shopping; perhaps this (I hope!) non-existent accident will be 'my fault', or perhaps not. Does that mean I should just stay in bed all day, to avoid the risk?

Interestingly just yesterday Prince Edward's off-the-cuff and perfectly reasonable if infelicitously-expressed comments (about the untimely death of a young person walking in the bush in Australia) seem to have sparked off both remarks about 'another Royal gaffe' in the style of his father The Duke of Edinburgh, who started the 'Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme', but also challenging the [obvious to me] fact that some young people do seek out thrills and yes, DANGER, quite deliberately. There are other points of view, however. Poor Price Edward - his youthful folly with the "It's a knock-out" games is never likely to be forgotten, nor his petulance when criticised for the flop it turned out to be. But however clumsily he may have expressed himself recently in Australia, I think youngsters do relish a certain element of 'risk' and being taken out of their usual 'comfort zones'. It's just a pity that 'the State' seems to want populations to be totally-insulated and docile 'consumers' unable to think for themselves or to do (or be allowed to do) anything for themselves. Would we have ever travelled to what is now the United States or Australia, for example, if the explorers who undertook those quite dangerous expeditions (not to say fatal for some of the early pioneers!) had not had the courage to sail off in pretty small and flimsy craft with none of the modern technologies we take for granted such as GPS or satellite-internet? With this attitude is it ever likely we'll make a return visit to the moon, never mind attempt visits to Mars and beyond?! Rant ends ...

Finally, I wish the young Dutch person mentioned at the beginning of this article every success when she finally manages to escape the clutches of the Dutch 'State' next summer.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Blair for EU Council President? Give us a break!

Look, no-one who has read much of my blog-musings can be in any doubt that my views on our former Prime Minister are overwhelmingly negative. So it will come as no surprise that my first reaction, when I first heard that Tony Blair might become the first President of the Council of the EU, was to check my calendar - could it really be the 1st of April already? Or as Victor Meldrew (amusingly, the decidedly 'socialist' Richard Wilson) might have said: "You cannot be serious?!".

So the heavy "State Propaganda" from the Labour government apparatus over the past week that it was almost 'inevitable' that Blair was a shoo-in for this job did make me wonder if I was dreaming (a bad dream, not a good one). Naturally the pretty crude propaganda from David Milliband and from Gordon Brown was supported by various of the leftish-dominated media, from the extensive air-time given this 'spin' by the BBC to various leftie-journalists writing about the idea favourably. They seemed to be nonplussed a couple of days ago when it became clear that neither Angela Merkel (German Chancellor) nor Nicolas Sarkozy (French President) seemed to be similarly in favour - not surprising really when you consider that neither has a 'socialist' bone in their bodies - thanks goodness!

The spectacle of Gordon Brown 'prostituting' himself for his old adversary at an EU-summmit yesterday was really weird. Just how out of touch is this man? His transparently political and malign aim is to 'stick it' to a probable future Conservative government in the UK by lumbering them with the second-worst British Prime Minister of recent times (after Gordon Brown himself, who is in my view unchallengeable as the biggest disaster to occupy 10 Downing Street in my adult memory) as the quasi-'President of Europe', a post created by the not-yet-ratified Lisbon Treaty, about which the British people have been denied the referendum they were promised by Labour (and other political parties) at the 2005 General Election by none other than Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

In his usual hard-hitting fashion Guido 'nails' the whole fantastic idea for the nonsense it is, finally scuppered by the 'Jonah effect' of Mr Gordon Brown. Laughable!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Candle-lit Vigil - Trafalgar Square - 30OCT09 - 8 to 10 pm

If you are in Central London tomorrow evening, please consider going along to Trafalgar Square to support a candle-lit vigil against homophobia. The information in the box below is an extract from an email I received earlier this evening which will explain what this event is all about:

Silent Candle-lit Vigil against Hate Crime
in the Heart of London
Friday 30th October 8pm - 10pm
Trafalgar Square
with 2 minutes silence at 9pm
Organised by Facebook group 17-24-30

On Friday 25th September 2009, Ian Baynham, 62, and friend were subjected to homophobic abuse in Trafalgar Square, London. When Ian challenged this unacceptable behaviour he was assaulted by three youths: two women and a man. He later died of his injuries on 13th October.

Ian is not alone. He is just one of thousands of people who have been victims of hate-crime.

We are calling upon people from all backgrounds to join us on Friday 30th October to say that such Hate Crime is unacceptable and that we will no longer tolerate it.

The Silent Candle-lit Vigil will enable us:

To bring us all together

To show our support to all victims of Hate Crime

To stand shoulder to shoulder to stop this happening again The Vigil will include speakers form a wide cross section of the community, and musical contributions.

For those unable to attend, in the UK and throughout the world, we are asking that people will - alone or together with others - light candles of hope, and observe the two minutes silence at some point on Friday 30th. People are invited to post on Facebook a photo of their candle tagged with the names of those who gather with them. We want to make this a worldwide day of remembrance, hope and action.

For more details go to the Facebook group 17-24-30 and check out the event "Silent Candle-lit Vigil".

Read more here. Not the source of my email, by the way. That came as a weekly update from the Kings Cross Steelers Rugby Football Club, of which I have been a supporting member for many years; it was the first gay rugby team in the world and today provides an opportunity for mainly gay or bisexual rugby-players to play the sport competitively.

Thank you for your attention.

PS/ I just came across this very recent case of hate crime in Liverpool, in which a gay off-duty police officer out with friends was beaten-up, it is suspected because of his sexuality. This kind of thing has to be stopped!

PPS/ Other events will be taking place elsewhere in the UK tonight - so far I am aware of two in Liverpool and Manchester - more here (aknowledgements to caspararemi).

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

MOD accused of sacrificing safety to cut costs in Nimrod crash report

The title above summarises briefly the findings of Charles Haddon-Cave QC in his report on the crash in Afghanistan in September 2006 of a Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft, with the loss of 14 lives.

Mr Haddon-Cave, speaking of Air Commodore Baber, who led the MoD integrated project team responsible for a safety review of the RAF's Nimrods, which took place between 2001 and 2005, said:

"He failed to give the NSC (Nimrod safety case) the priority it deserved. In doing so, he failed, in truth, to make safety his first priority."

Speaking of a safety review of the ageing Nimrod MR2 a year before the crash, carried out by the MoD, BAE and QinetiQ, he said it was a "lamentable job" which failed to identify "key dangers" and is quoted further as saying:

"Its production is a story of incompetence, complacency and cynicism. The best opportunity to prevent the accident to XV230 was tragically lost."

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, who has already apologised to victims' families and repeated his apology in the House of Commons today, said:

"On behalf of the MoD and the Royal Air Force, I would like again to say sorry to all the families who lost loved ones.

"I am sorry for the mistakes that have been made and the lives that have been lost as a result of our failure. Nothing I can say or do will bring these men back."

The report is, to put it mildly, a damning inditement both of the Ministry of Defence and civilian contracting companies as well as government policy. It is telling that the Defence Minister does not even try to deny his government's ultimate responsibility. Speaking to the House of Commons today he is further quoted as saying:

"The subtitle of this report, 'A failure of leadership, culture and priorities', is a stark judgement.

"Mr Haddon-Cave has been critical of both the MoD and our industrial partners at both organisation and individual level.

"Mr Haddon-Cave also states that in our pursuit of financial savings the MoD and RAF allowed their focus on safety to suffer.

"As a department we have a duty to continue to seek efficiencies in how we deliver defence. However, I am absolutely clear that this must not be done with any detriment to safety."

He further promised to do "everything in my power" to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

Quite how much it is in his power to prevent a recurrence of this kind of incident is open to question; the person who is currently our Prime Minister was for most of Labour's current period in power our unprecedentedly powerful and influential Chancellor of the Exchequer and it is inconceivable to me that he was not intimately involved with the budgetary constraints within which the Ministry of Defence was obliged to operate. Indeed if I have one [indirect] criticism of Mr Haddon-Cave's report it is that whilst it has undoubtedly and correctly high-lighted major areas of concern with how the Ministry of Defence and its civilian contractors dealt with matters of operational safety it of necessity (probably) leaves out - at least in the reports I have read so far - any criticism of the makers of the policy under which the MoD had to operate, in other words the Government. For it is the Government which controls the purse-strings and if we are being told that the MoD was being encouraged to make stringent financial economies (see Mr Ainsworth's remarks as quoted in the box immediately above) then it seems to me that those who were enforcing such economies upon them cannot escape closer scrutiny. It may be that some relatively lowly, but at least in theory technically-skilled, individuals within the RAF, BAE Systems and QinetiQ will lose their jobs, but will they be mere foils or 'scape-goats' to shield the real culprits within the political decision-makers and budget-setters, the Government? Time will tell, but let's just wait and see whether anyone within Government is thrown overboard in the wake of this devastating report. Call me a cynic if you like ...

My blog article about the accident in September 2006 is here; it is pleasing, but at the same time upsetting, that the shock I felt then has now been answered with this no-holds-barred report from an individual who merits high respect and whose analysis seems not to be in question. A full copy in .PDF format of his report is available from a link on this page.

Mr Haddon-Cave has an uncommon name, but it is funnily enough not one unfamiliar to me. His biography is here and it makes interesting reading. The name I am more familiar with though is that of Sir Charles Philip Haddon-Cave, who was Chief Secretary of Hong Kong when I first lived there in the early 1980s; his Wikipedia entry is here and certain parts of it make for eye-opening reading, although I was already familiar with some of the more startling information it imparts. Although I have not [yet] been able definitively to verify this, it seems to me that the writer of the Nimrod report is Sir Charles's son, given that Mr Haddon-Cave's biography states, inter alia, that he "is one of the only members of the English Bar to be called generally to the Hong Kong Bar" and the dates mentioned in both links. In summary the descriptors which come to my mind for both these individuals include the words 'competence' and 'integrity'.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

"Engrenages" - Spiral (French TV cop series)

Unfortunately I didn't see the first series of "Engrenages" a couple of years ago, but the second series of this gritty French TV cop series is currently showing on BBC4 television. The English title of the show isn't particularly good, although it does try and encompass the different themes of the story, I suppose. In any case, I have to say I have become addicted to the second series - I started to watch it before I went to Spain in mid-September, but made sure I recorded every episode on my DVR, because I knew I proabably wouldn't be able to watch every episode when I was there.

Currently we're on episode 6 of 8 of the second series (with episode 7 being shown tonight and again next Friday, both on BBC4). It's still possible, however, if you're quick, to watch the whole series on the BBC iPlayer here.

I mentioned that the series is "gritty" - well, it's that all rght! "Engrenages" means 'gears' or 'cogs', but a more colloquial translation might be 'convolutions' or 'complications'. I think what the actual English title 'Sprial' is trying to convey is the theme of the hidden complexities of the criminal and semi-criminal characters in the series and their inter-relationships. Apart from the fact that the legal system is different in France from the usual English or American we are more familiar with, it adds the seediness of various of the legal protagonists (from the frankly corrupt Advocate Szabo to the ambitious, unscrupulous and completely out-of-her-depth AdovocateKarlsson), not to mention the ambition and publicity-seeking of a Public Prosceutor and a randy and stressed (female) police inspector and the undercover (and good-looking) Arab police officer Samy with whom she flirts.

For me one of the attractions of this second series is the argot, a mixture of slang Parisian French and slang Moroccan Arabic - I can follow most of the dialogue in both languages without using the sub-titles (which are pretty good, I'd say), but it does add an atmosphere of authenticity. Just as in modern 'popular' English, which is peppered with words orginating in India/Pakistan, Africa or the Middle East (which many people don't realise, so ubiquitous have they become), French is similarly admixed with a lot of north-African words and slang, even amongst native French, but of course in this cop show many of the ne-er do wells are of Moroccan or Algerian origin anyway, mainly Moslem but from what I can observe a few of them are probably north-African Jews too (when I lived in Casablanca in the early 1970s, for part of my time there I lived in an apartment in a smartish part of the city adjacent to the Jewish quarter or 'mellah', although many of the original inhabitants had left in the wake of the '67 war). The seediness, corruption and general back-biting, ambition and spite seems to involve all the communities portrayed in the programme, whether French, north-African or Jewish and whether they are the professionals (judges, advocates, police) or the low-life criminals who they are trying to catch or in some cases colluding with. Much grittier than most of the CSI offerings from the US - in fact I'd say the closest to it I've seen is the Glasgow-based Taggart, specially some of its earlier episodes.

Catch it on BBC4 (Sundays at 10pm, Fridays at 11.35pm or on the BBC iPlayer) if you can.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Spring forward, Fall back

As I pop off to bed tonight I leave you with this delightful message:

Meteorite over south-Sulawesi early-October causes 50 kiloton blast

I've just come across this report on the NEO website, indicating that a small meteorite (estimated at about 10 metres diameter) exploded in the atmosphere over south-Sulawesi in Indonesia a couple of weeks ago, equivalent to about 50 kilotons of TNT. Local news reports from Indonesia in English are here and here. A local televised news report is here:

- although this happened in the early hours of 8th October it was reported on the NEO website only on Friday 23rd October - I suppose we must be grateful that on this occasion the object which collided with our atmosphere was relatively small. It is salutary to realise that still relatively-small objects only ten or so times larger than this recent object could cause at the very least regional devastation on Earth. Over the coming weekend I may well write about the recent appearance of Mr Nick Griffin, leader of the 'British National Party' (BNP) on BBC1 'Question Time' on Thursday evening, a topic which has hogged the limelight on the news (broadcast and print media) and the 'blogosphere' in the UK over the past several days, but I think it is useful to remember that there are other relevant news stories from other parts of the world which if they were only a little more serious would push the tawdry doings of a minority racist organisation in the UK into a well-deserved obscurity.

Article heading list for latest 6-month period (April 2009 to September 2009) now up

The archive of 'Article Headings' for the latest 6-month period is now available - click here for the period April 2009 to September 2009.

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

PS/ I must apologise for the tardiness of this aticle - I normally get it online within one day of the end of the 6-monthly period in question, but on this occasion I'm afraid that 'real life' intervened - that's a euphemism for the fact that for the first half of October I was more pre-occupied with sunning myself on the terrace of my Spanish holiday home than in keeping my online presence updated, quite apart from having other personal matters vying for my attention.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Austria and Belgium not completely irrelevant ... ?

Of course none of the 27 members of the European Union is 'irrelevant', just as all 370 million or so of we citizens of these EU countries has, or should have, some significance, even Austria and Belgium. However, the political reality is that there are at most six countries within the EU which have real importance because of the size of their populations and their economic importance; amongst those I'd nominate Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Poland and the Netherlands - the fifth because of its relatively large population and the sixth because of its relative economic importance; the first four because of a combination of both their economic importance and their significant populations.

However, whilst I as a loyal citizen of the United Kingdom can see the importance to us of having one of 'our own' as President of the European Union, I'd be less than honest if I didn't ackmowledge that having [Saint] Tony Blair amongst those considered as potential occupants of that role fills me with something akin to horror, bordering on revulsion, not to mention incredulity. Possibly Mr Blair is an absolutely wonderful human being, but I have to say that I saw little evidence of that during his time as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom or in the time since he stepped down from this position, when he took up the role of something called 'Middle East Envoy', a sort of non-job seemingly created specially to keep him occupied - I hesitate to say 'gainfully employed', except that I have no doubt he may personally have gained from that role, although I doubt that anyone else on the planet, other than his immediate family, has profited from his more recent, or earlier, efforts.

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I am not one of Tony Blair's fervent fans, but I would like to hear from anyone who can explain to me just what he has been doing, or has achieved, in the 2+ years since he ceased to be our Prime Minister. Indeed I'd like to have someone explain to me what he achieved during his time as Prime Minister of the UK, other than to delay the accession to that role of its current [unillustrious] occupant, Mr Gordon Brown. I mean it. Really (TM - Margaret and Helen).

For those interested in learning Scottish Gaelic ...

... (and I have to confess I have no interest in doing so myself) you may find this BBC write-up about Dingwall resident Fiona J Mackenzie of utility - the link to her Twitter page, as referred to in the BBC article is here and from there you will find a link to her website and its podcast page, from where her online Gaelic lessons may be downloaded.

PS/ For those in the Inverness/Nairn/Forres/Elgin area this coming weekend, she will be performing a concert of Gaelic songs at Brodie Castle on Sunday 25th October 2009 - more details here.

Friday, 16 October 2009

A homophobic and corrupt little man (and an MP to boot) gets his comeuppence!!

Through Jae I learn that David Wilshire MP, the parliamentarian who demonstrated innovation in the methodology he used to fleece the public by passing parliamentary expenses through an entity of which he and his 'girl-friend' ('partner'/'fancy-woman'/'bidey-in'???) are the sole partners, is actually the homophobic bigot (and just look at his voting record on gay issues in the House of Commons if you feel like arguing the point!) who piloted the infamous 'Clause 28' through the House of Commons in the 1980s
Quite apart from the fact that this odious little thief is now being forced out of Parliament (who would vote for him any more?) it is pleasing that his past 'crimes' against the LGBT community are now receiving some sort of punishment, if only indirectly.

Good riddance, Wilshire!

(PS/ As one of the commenters to the last linked article has asked, I too wonder how many others of the MPs behind 'Clause 28' and other attempts to marginalise and discriminate against the LGBT community in the last 20 or so years remain in parliament? It would be interesting to have all their names listed.)

My time in Mazarrón is almost over as I return to Scotland tomorrow.

(Mi tiempo en Mazarrón está a punto de terminar como regrese a Escocia mañana.) I shall very likely be back in Mazarrón, however, near the beginning of March next year and will probably be here unti the end of May.

Meantime I've altered the sub-header message at the top of the page to mark my imminent departure from Spain.

As you were ...

Monday, 12 October 2009

... For the land of the free and the home of the brave

Noble words sadly debauched by the 43rd President of the United States and even more tragically continued or at the very least covered up/'buried under the carpet' by the current President, the 44th.

See also here, here and here.

The current US Administration has some more work to do before the words of "The Star Spangled Banner" cease to evoke a hollow laugh from this writer.

(thru Andrew Sullivan here)

Thursday, 8 October 2009

A belated "Happy Second Birthday" to my [Spanish] blog ...

Last Thursday was the second birthday of casabill - the blog. However, I haven't been blogging much of late, largely because I had a guest staying with me here at MCC for a week until Tuesday last and a preoccupation with recent events here at the 'Country Club'. As with the first year of blogging here, it's been another eventful (turbulent?) year for people in Spain and around the world and not least at 'Mazarron Country Club'.

The continuing drought in the south-eastern part of Spain is likely to see further 'adjustments' having to be made in the lives of people in the area and the spheres of economic activity which are practicable here... (For those interested in reading the rest of this article, which covers in some detail the current water situation and the 'politics' of water resources in Spain, please click here.)