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

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New year! / Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku !!

My good wishes go to everyone who reads this for a Peaceful, Happy and Prosperous New Year in 2010 and beyond.

- and in case you may be wondering why my 'Happy New Year' message has a Polish flavour this year, it's a tribute to my favourite weather forecaster of the moment, the wearer of colourful and stylish ties, the one and only Tomasz Schafernaker who has, believe it or not, become the object of his own 'tribute blog' by another blogger just as eccentric (and 'infatuated') as my goodself.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Executions of British citizens abroad and the extradition of British citizens

Let's be clear about this, I am strongly oppposed to the use of capital punishment (i.e. state executions) under any circumstances. Such judicial punishments are formally prohibited in the UK and throughout the whole of the European Union and in many other countries, too.

However, the writ of the British government and of the European Union is severely limited. Other countries have quite a different view (and laws to back it up) on the whole topic of capital punishment - notably the US, Iran and China, to name three, albeit three of the better-known (not to say 'notorious') examples.

Today a British citizen has been executed in China, having been convicted of drug smuggling. The fact that he was smuggling drugs seems not to be in doubt. It is contended by those who pleaded for clemency in his case that he was 'tricked' into carrying a suitcase containing 4 kilos of heroin into China. Some trick! It is further contended that the executed man was mentally unstable and that his [undoubted] crime should be judged in the light of this. To put it crudely, we are being asked to accept that being mentally unstable should be a 'free pass' to commit crimes in other countries and not suffer the punishments that those other countries consider appropriate. Try telling that to the US (or Iran) the next time it executes someone on what we consider ill-judged grounds and see how much notice it takes!

Quite frankly the British government has enough trouble on its hands with its [perfectly deplorable] habit of trashing our own legal system and diminishing the rights of UK citizens within our own borders (things over which it actually has some control), without trying to 'lecture' other countries how they should run their own judicial systems.

Whilst I deplore today's judicial exceution of Mr Akmal Shaikh in China, I do wish the British government would use its political capital on things over which it actually can have some influence, rather than making empty gestures in matters where it succeeds only in making itself (and us) look silly and ineffectual. I refer specifically to the case of Gary McKinnon, a British citizen currently under threat of extradition to the USA and which our own Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, says he has no power to halt on medical grounds. Remind me, which British government was it who committed us to a decidely lop-sided Extradition Treaty with the US? Oh yes, our present Labour government!

Both Mr Akmal Shaikh and Mr Gary McKinnon have been said to have been (in the case of the former) and be (in the case of the latter) suffering from schizophrenia (i.e. what is I understand also known as a 'bipolar disorder') - see (*) below. So it is OK to send Mr McKinnon across the Atlantic to the [not always so very] tender mercies of the US judicial system, because the US is supposedly a fellow-democracy, albeit the country that permitted Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib to happen (with its use of 'water torture' and other, to put it brutally frankly, crimes against humanity), but not OK for a sovereign country such as China, which happens not to conform to our 'prissy' notions of democracy, to follow its own judicial path?

Or what about our oh-so-ethical British government that allowed our knee-jerk unequal Extradition Treaty with the US, supposedly designed to help reduce the risk of terrorism, to be subverted by using it to allow US authorities to pursue British citizens whose only 'crime' (if it is ever judged as such) was against a British company in Britain? I refer of course to the 'NatWest three' who were extradited some time ago to the US on frankly spurious charges (so far as the US is concerned) seemingly with the sole aim of using pressure upon them to get them to implicate others.

Basically we have a British government that makes loud noises about protecting British citizens' rights in situations which it cannot alter, but singularly fails to protect the rights of British citizens when it has the power to do so. And we wonder why some Chinese refer to Britain as a 'paper tiger', or why Britain has today been told by Iran's government that it will have its 'cheeks boxed' if it doesn't shut up?

Why does our current British government even bother? It has, quite frankly, not the faintest notion of what conducting an effective dipolmatic policy entails and its notions of an 'ethical foreign policy' make me want to retch! If the actions of our present Labour government did not make us all, in Britain, look so silly and pathetic I could laugh if it concerned some other poorly-governed country, rather than our own - as it is, all I want to do is have a drink to deaden the horror of being led by such donkeys!

Now to calm myself down after my rather too habitual (of late) 'ranting' against our ineffectual shambles of a Government, may I just remind my fellow British citizens that the ability of our government to protect us when we are abroad is very strictly limited; we no longer live in an era when 'gunboat diplomacy' will be used to rescue us when we do, or are accused of doing, something wrong according to another country. I've visited and lived in a number of coutries which have very different notions to us on matters of crime and justice, including both China and (just to take a couple of other random examples) Malaysia and Thailand. I vividly recall the landing form I had to complete the first time I visited Kuala Lumpur and which bore a red-printed warning about the punishment for 'drug-trafficking' being death; I knew about this beforehand, so I wasn't surprised, but it still came as something of a shock to see it in print. The definition of 'trafficking' was for amounts in excess of 50 grams, if I recall correctly, just as in China. Four kilograms is eighty times greater than that!

Put simply, if you can't do the time (or suffer the consequences, however unfair we may consider them to be) don't do the crime! It really is that simple. Otherwise stay at home.

(*) - a commenter has kindly corrected what I wrote about the mental disorder from which the executed man was said to have suffered; the commenter writes "No. Bipolar is what used to be known as manic depression. Schizophrenia is a level of mania well beyond." However, I do not believe this affects the basic premise of my article.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Iran protests grow in intensity - several fatalities reported

It is not clear where the current bout of protests in Iran (in Tehran and other cities) will lead, but already there are reports of several fatalities, including the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi - reports from ABC (Australia) and the BBC.

Some videos of the protests taken in Tehran earlier today (from "Persianwarriors" YouTube account):

"Khamenei murderer"

"Death to entire regime"

- more here.

Other commentary also here and here and other articles at AndrewSullivan.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Greetings at Christmas to all who pass this way ...

I am signing-off for a few days for Christmas. I take this opportunity to wish all who pass this way:

A Joyous Christmas

... and that 'Santa' will bring you all you wish for!

Not forgetting my sincere good wishes
for a Peaceful, Happy and Prosperous New Year.

(The two images above are of a couple of the decorations I put up in my home every Christmas. I've been spending this afternoon putting these and other decorations, including several set of lights and Christmas cards along my picture rails and window lights in the windows in a couple of rooms, so now I'm going to settle down with my feet up on a foot-rest, read a book and watch a DVD until midnight.)

Bill makes his bid for 'popularity' at Co-op/Somerfield Nairn!

I felt rather like the man from the Bateman cartoon whilst up at the Co-op/Somerfield supermarket in Nairn to get a few last-minute items before Christmas tomorrow - a newspaper (the 'Telegraph') and a few things like salads. But what I said at the check-out there today, and what I'm about to say, needed to be said. I think I've actually written here about it a few years back when it was still a Safeway store. What that was didn't, initially at least, garner me too much popularity, but I think a few people in the queue behind me, and possibly the check-out girl too (although she was far too dicreet to voice an opinion), realised what was 'bugging' me and that I wasn't just another madman.

So what is bothering Nairn's old blogger-'curmudgeon' today? Basically it's charity-collectors at the check-outs. I am a charitable soul (no really!) and I almost always put a Pound or two into the collecting 'buckets' they use. However, one thing I cannot abide is these charity-collectors packing my shopping for me, any more than I like check-out assistants doing it for me, as they occasionally offer to do, as it is usually just chucked into bags any old how and fragile goods (salads and the like) can find themselves crushed below much heavier items. Yesterday when I was also up at the Co-op/Somerfield here the charity-collector lady immediately stood back when I indicated I was going to pack my own purchases in the shopping bags I had brought for the purpose - I still left a couple of Pounds in her bucket and all was pleasantness and light. Today was a different story, however! Today there were TWO collectors at my check-out, both teenagers (I should say 16 or 17, by the looks of them). The fact that I was carrying my own shopping bags, however, didn't deter them from grabbing some of my purchases and shoving them any old how into some Somerfield shopping bags! I had to tell them quite forcefully that I wanted to pack my own shopping, using the VERY brightly coloured canvas shopping bags I was carrying, which they could not possibly NOT have seen. The two young ladies, to do them credit, stood back and let me get on with it, but the whole bagging area was completely full of all their stiff - TWO collecting buckets and several plastic bags which they had opened and spread around the whole surface, almost, to make their jobs easier and my job as the actual customer a whole lot more difficult, with all their paraphernalia getting in my way.

I suggested, very gently, to the check-out operator (a young lady) that she tell her manager that I was not happy with feeling intimidated by the presence of two charity collectors hogging all the space and basically making a nuisance of themselves. The the older charity-collector lady at the next counter piped up, saying I should't speak 'like that' to the two youngsters at my counter - I had not once raised my voice, but I had moved the opened plastic bags out of my way and the collecting bucket nearest me I had moved onto a small shelf at the front of the bagging area, also out of my way, so I could get on with packing up my purchases. I replied to the older collector lady at the next counter that I was a customer and she, the infernal impertincence of the woman(!!) then said she was 'a member of the public'. I repeated to her that I would say what I wanted and that she wasn't going to embarrass me into silence. I then asked the check-out operator again very politely and quietly to let her manager know how unhapppy a customer (a paying customer!) had been with feeling crushed and crowded-out by charity collectors in their shop. I then said to the two young collector ladies at my check-out that I was happy to give a odnation, I just did not appreciate beinbg crowded by them - I then put a Pound coin into one of their buckets and left.

To the Co-op/Somerfield managers: I genuinely have no objection to having charity collectors around, they are usually collecting in good causes. However, you must set them ground rules not to make your customers feel intimidated and crowded by their activities. If you will not do this then I will be shopping elswehere - even if it means increasing the number of my shopping trips to Forres, Inverness or Elgin, where there are many alternatives. Once Sainsbury's opens in Nairn (which they now have Scottish Executive/Government approval to do), expect one less customer at your store on a permanent basis if you do not keep control of charity collectors in your shop. Meantime, if some of the charities are not willing to curb their natural enthusiasm when beng permitted by you to 'harrass' your customers for money, then you must keep them outside your premises - or this customer at least will be staying away. I can't force you to do this, but my small spend in your shop I can and will divert elswehere. You decide ...

Finally, absolutely none of this 'rant' is in any way directed at the check-out assitant who was only doing her job and keeping a discreet silence throughout, unlike the impertinent and quite aggressive lady collector at the next counter, who seemed to think she was running the premises, not the Co-op/Somerfield management, it appeared to me. She needs to be rmeinded by Co-op/Somerfield that their presence is granted by invitation, not by right, and that if they abuse the privilege they will be barred in future.

As I mentioned near the beginning of this article this is a problem I have encountered at this store previously, long before it became a Co-op/Somerfield outlet. It may just be a feature of the 'friendliness' for which some Nairnites seem to be renowned (amongst themselves at least, if to no-one else). I do hope that a proper supermarket, Sainsbury's, when it opens faily soon (I hope!) will keep better control of what happens in their store, just as Tesco, Morrisons and Asda, do. Incidentally, of all the supermarkets in this area, I find Asda always to be a very pleasant shopping experience - not particularly because I want to buy things there or that they are any bettter than elsewhere (or even significantly cheaper - but we have Lidl and Aldi now for that anyway, if that's important). No, the check-out people at Asda are invariably pleasant, chatty without being familiar, even when they are very busy. It is either down to the character of the average Elginite or perhaps more likely to the superior way Asda organises and motivates its staff, who from what I know are not better paid than any other supermarket staff, except from what I understand there is a genuine feeling of 'family' in that organisation, a pretty amazing feat in an organisation the size of Asda, never mind its much larger parent WalMart. I hope Sainsbury's will bring its own little piece of magic to the Nairn food retail scene in the not too distant future, to give residents and businesses here some much-needed variety and competition.

Just before writing this 'lovely' but oh-so-necessary article, I have been enjoying a roasted partridge with a glass of Amontillado, preceded by a plate of steamed fresh asparagus with a lovely piquant cream-sauce over it and I'm now listening to 'A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols' from King's College, Cambridge - a delightful way to spend Christmas-eve afternoon, whilst eating a few post-lunch dates and figs. My little shopping trip up to the town was otherwise very pleasant - a call at the health supplement store to order some mineral supplements they get for me, then to the supermarket, going via the front here and back through the park. It is bitterly cold here today, but I was well wrapped-up and it is nice to look out over the calm sea - not forgetting to watch where one is putting one's steps, because the ground is icy and treacherous at present, however well many of the payments and roads are salted and gritted.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

With acknowledgements to L S Lowry

The scene from my apartment a little earlier this afternoon as children and a few adults took the opportunity to have some fun on the small slope close by the Bandstand here in Nairn:

- see some genuine L S Lowry here as well as some children's drawing from his local town after his style.

Happiness is ...

... a light but delicious lunch of a plate of Black Forest Ham and Cornichons accompanied by a glass of Amontillado:

- followed up with some blueberries and cream with a couple of squares of 85 per cent Ecuadorian chocolate to add savour.

Ain't 'science' wonderful? And Season's Greetings to you, too!

To continue the seasonal theme of my last post (and the kiddies have demolished an earlier snowman which they had built on the cricket pitch in front of me earlier and are currently in the process of rolling more 'components' presumably to make another), this is how some scientists at the National Physical Laboratory (romatntically located in, of all places, Teddington, for devotees of the BBC Radio 4 I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue programme) are choosing both to celebrate Christmas and to demonstrate their technical prowess:

- here is a short video-clip of how the above very small (microscopic in fact- 10 µm across - think "1/5th the width of a human hair") image was created:

(thru the US-based, but in many way still emotionally attached to the UK, blogger Andrew Sullivan)

Near 'white-out' in Nairn for a while

- and the kids get their snow to toboggan on!

Nairn - Sunday, 20th December 2009
- Click on any image to see an enlargement -

- Click on any image to see an enlargement -

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The SNP's "Blogger-gate" rumbles on

(Please see UPDATE at end)

In classic scandal-fashion it's perhaps not always the original deed that causes a person or group the greatest difficulty, but the attempted 'cover-up', the lies and spin that 'does' for them. I doubt very much that Alex Salmond (not my favourite person of course, either as a person or for his politics) had any personal prior knowledge of what various people within the SNP, at various levels, or those outwith it but in general suporters of what it stands for, have been up to to further the SNP cause in the wilder reaches of the blogging fraternity (I expect he is far too busy to bother with surfing the net very much). However, watching Mr Salmond talking about a certain kind of blogger in the most scathing terms at FMQs on Thursday and having the camera take in a very embarrassed-looking Mr Mike Russell from time to time, one could not but wonder whether the tongue-lashing Mr Salmond was giving that certain type of blogger had other targets in mind as well - I know some will disagree with me, but I thought it reminiscent of my school Rector on one occasion giving a public rebuke at school assembly to a senior, and brilliant, fellow-pupil who had been caught out doing something hhe should not have done - in this case that 'pupil' was Mr Mike Russell, whose denials of prior knowledge of the blog run by his former aide now look increasingly threadbare. I 'Twittered' about this a couple of days ago, although I haven't blogged about it.

Now, through another of my 'favourite people' (who despite everything I may otherwise think about him is generally I accept a faithful purveyor of fact or at the very least educated deduction, without fear or too much favour and with a sizeable degree of self-awareness of his own, ahem, limitations) I learn that the 'MacLachlan affair' is ensnaring other SNP-people in its fall-out - the 'Dumfries & Galloway Standard' is definitely not on my regular reading-list. Jeff tried to 'close down' this debate in his blog a few days ago, pooh-poohing it as of little importance and even in his latest post tries to downplay its importance - on the contrary I think it is very damaging and a gift to the mutually-hated Labour Party.

Of course some SNP-supporters who read this may think that, as a Unionist(*), my views can be discounted, but of course I am not a Labour supporter so am completely disinterested in the petty, but vicious, squabbling between Scotland's two major political groupings, the SNP and Labour, even if I freely admit to some wry amusement at what they are doing to each other. I have myself had a falling-out (written about ad nauseam in this blog and in my personal website over the past nearly 8 and in excess of 9 years respectively) with the Conservative Party, of which I was formerly a member, so I can I think claim fairly that I am pretty objective in my assessments of the various political parties, including the one with which (even today) I have the greatest instinctive affinity.

My considered opinion is that not only must Rob Davidson, leader of the SNP council group in a part of the Scottish Borders, step down, but so must Mr Mike Russell. I have to say that, whilst I don't like SNP politics one little bit, I had always until now considered Mr Russell one of the more affable and intelligent senior SNP people; now I believe him to be just another soiled political operator. I hesitate to offer Mr Salmond pointers to actions which might favour his cause, but he really does need to rid himself of this kind of Cabinet member - unless of course there are more revelations to come implicating Mr Salmond himself.

(*) Using the word 'union', or any derivation of it, in any faovurable context is not something that comes easily to me, but I do believe in the continuation of the United Kingdom, just as I believe strongly that Britain needs to stay within and be a full part of the European Union. Of course I have never been a member of any 'union' in my life, nor would I have ever consented to join one; the very idea makes my conservative libertarian soul retch. The latest nonsense from the BA union is just the latest example of what I consider so awful about this kind of body

UPDATE: (Sunday 20DEC09 11.55 GMT) I think this is developing into something of a "Liar, liar, pants on fire!" duel. Someone is certainly 'lying', it seems clear, although perhaps we haven't yet got to the root of precisely who that is if this latest 'epistle' from Mark MacLachlan is a guide; the linked Sunday Times article make for interesting reading, too. Round three?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The lovely and elegant new 787 jetliner from Boeing takes to the air

I saw the report of the new Boeing 787 'Dreamliner' taking its maiden-flight a few days ago, but thanks to a typically-brief mention in InstaPundit I came across this video-clip of the event:

through the NYCAviation and PopularMechanics blogs. You can see some of the interior layouts and enhancements that Boeing offers clients here.

As with the recently-launched and much larger Airbus A380, the 'Dreamliner' made its maiden-flight considerably later than its original target-date, but its revolutionary composite material composition and light-weight promises fuel savings of roughly 20 per cent over comparable existing aircraft apparently. It'll no doubt be a few years before significant numbers of this aircraft start rolling off the production line, but with a record 600 pre-launch orders this is likely to be a commercially-successful venture for Boeing, provided there are no further 'glitches' in its -roll-out schedule.

I for one look forward one day to flying in this elegant new aircraft!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Meaningless jargon alert (item 123,456 and counting)

Do you understand what this new post (at "Scotland's national parks" - geddit?) is going to achieve? Do even those behind this 'make work' scheme (using money we don't have at present) have any idea what they are going to achieve when someone involved can say, as David Green of the Cairngorms National Park Authority is reported to have said, that the post was about "bringing to life" outdoor learning?

And is this one post, or one at each of the three national parks mentioned?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

What we're not supposed to mention in the UK ...

Injunction, smimjunction - visit here if you care to.

Or indeed:
- here (Telegraph); or
- here (Daily/Sunday Mail); or
- here (Times); or
- here (Financial Times);
- and many hundreds of other articles all around the planet.

The best a man can get?

- The AP news agency reports on what a major sponsor is doing to distance itself from this ongoing disaster. Like many millions of men around the world I use Gillette products on a daily basis; none of this 'brouhaha' is likely to affect my habits in any way, of course. And why should it?

British (English) law is, once again, made to look like a complete ass in a matter that really has little or nothing to do with the UK, with our complaisant legal system being used by a foreigner who doesn't reside here to pursue ends in a foreign country which few in that foreign country or anywhere else are likely to pay much attention to.

But I'm apparently not supposed to talk about it. As Manuel from Fawlty Towers might have said "I know nothing"!

Truly, truly bizarre ...

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Daniel Boys sings 'Ave Maria' at House of Fraser in London

My first post alluding to Christmas 2009; Daniel Boys sings 'Ave Maria' in the window display at House of Fraser, London last week, to promote the 'Christmas in New York' concert:

- at least Daniel is nice to look at [ ;) ] even if the singing is a bit 'bar-room karaoke'. Yes, I've just been to wash my mouth out with soap! Read more about Daniel here.
(thru Made in Scotland)

Why shining a light can be dangerous - as well as criminal

I don't normally have much positive to say about legislation designed to restrict freedom, but I make an exception in this case. Apparently the shining of laser pen beams at aircraft (aeroplanes and helicopters) has become a real problem and danger for pilots trying to navigate safely. Incidents have been increasing rapidly over the UK in the past few years, it seems, with 'hotspots' around Heathrow, Luton, Newcastle, Glasgow and Cardiff. The problem first started to occur in the 1990s in the US, but has since spread to other parts of the world including Canada, Europe and the Middle East.

If you have one of these devices and have ever been tempted to shine it up in the sky at a passing aircraft:

Please note that -



Very many of us fly at least a few times a year, if only to go for a fortnight's holiday of summer sun. Disaster could strike any of us if this idiocy is not curbed, including I expect some of the perpetrators.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Highland Councillors 'feed their faces' at council-tax payers expense

The Inverness Courier writes again about the long-standing practice of Highland Councillors of feeding themselves at our expense, seemingly considering that their festive meals on us are theirs by right. Possibly it wouldn't matter so much if Highland Council wasn't so heavily-indebted and planning for service-cuts in certain much less essential areas (sic) of expenditure such as old people's day centres, schools, sports centres and libraries. It's not only at Westminster and at Holyrood that our elected officials need to remember who their masters are, the Councillors at Glenurquhart Road in Inverness need to be reminded of this, too!

... and now, for something completely different

I often listen to BBC Radio3 for part of the morning and one of the first pieces of music being played there when I switched the radio on was this splendid music which I haven't heard for a while, so I thought I'd share it here. Enjoy!

"Rhapsody in Blue" - George Gershwin

- in keeping, perhaps, with this music the outside temperature here (in Nairn) at the moment is around -3 degrees C and the area is blanketed in a very heavy ground fog. The mood here right now, as I type this, is somewhat lighter as I'm now listening to J S Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 (BWV 1047); J S Bach is far and away my favourite composer and has been really since I got a huge collection of old '78' records (largely pre-WWII recordings), mainly of his music, when I was 10 or 11 years old - what a wonderful gift to receive!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

De-linking all Nairn blogs

I've just de-linked from all the local blogs in Nairn to which I still linked (and a few were never linked to anyway); this is probably unfair on one or two of them, but to be quite honest I'm just a little cheesed-off with the petty and nasty nature of a few of the better-known ones (in this very small blogging pond, at least) in recent days. I've had enough!

They're still in my RSS feed-readers, so I won't be totally unaware of what some of these 'bottom-feeders' are focussing on, but I won't be paying much if any attention to their witterings for some considerable time. That's it. I'm done with this topic.

MP's expenses - Danny Alexander

Through the Guido Fawkes blog (here) I was alerted to the fact that anyone can download details (heavily 'redacted' unfortunately) of their own MP's expenses, or indeed any other MP that you may be interested in. The link to search for your MP's expenses is here.

I've downloaded all the available .PDF files for my MP (Danny Alexander [LD] - Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey). The files go back to 2005/06 and the latest file relates to 2008/09 and to 2009/10 (the last relating to additioal accommodation claims).

As mentioned earlier the files are heavily "redacted" (it reminds me of reading British newspapers in Saudi Arabia when I lived there - even the FT was often heavily-censored if they were carrying ads for photocopiers or high-powered cars, etc and a bikini-clad girl was a part of the ad), but I have perused a few. Nothing really jumps out as being specially extravagant although why we should be paying for his Sainsbury's (Balham) grocery bill escapes me. The bill dated 26th April 2008 is not very large (it's for GBP41.33) and contains many of the items that anyone might want to buy for general home food consumption - except that we seem on the face of it to be paying in this instance for two bottles of rosé wine (perfectly ordinary bottles, to be sure, costing a mere GBP3.99 and £4.99 respectively). We also seem to be paying for 'Rachels organic kids yoghurts' at GBP1.58 - hardly a fortune of course and this may seem very petty. But why should I be paying for his kid's food?

I understand this is the last time that expenses from before the time when MPs knew they would be published are involved. It will be very instructive to compare and contrast future years' expenses, when MPs know that people with too much time on their hands can pore over their every penny of expenditure and high-light anything that seems 'unusual'.

Finally, I hasten to add that I am not intending to be specially critical of Mr Alexander as an individual; his expenses seem largely unexceptional to me in terms of the levels of his claims and I expect that someone like him has higher legitimate expenses than many urban MPs, specially those whose constituencies are in or close to London. I certainly don't begrudge him his Cox's apples on a regular basis or his satsumas in the House of Commons canteen or other eating-places in the parliamentary estate and his claims are probably no different than those of many other MPs.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Light blogging for at least the next week

No surprise there then! In fact my blogging has been VERY sporadic for several weeks now, as a few visitors may have noticed. I'm sorry about this, but 'real life' has a way of butting in so rudely, don't ya know? So, this light blogging will be a feature here for at least the next week or ten days. On the one hand I am somewhat 'stressed' as a result of a rather tricky family matter - my mother moved to live in a care home earlier this year and whilst it is, I think, a pretty decent place both in terms of the care offered and the physical environment of the home (it is warm and comfortable and, according to my mother, the food is of high quality - and my observations bear this out), she has unfortunately taken against it. Some of the reasons which lie behind her attitude I am party to, but I feel we (the family and her social worker) have still to get to the root of some aspects of the problem. Unfortunately the home she wishes to go to does not have vacancies at present and quite apart from that it is a 'residential' rather than a 'care' home according to the arcane definitions that the governing authorities set so is very probably no longer suitable to cater for my mother's much deteriorated physical condition; she is very much 'on the ball' mentally, if a little forgetful. So I've been losing some sleep in recent weeks as a result. Why else would I be on the internet at 1 a.m,? This has been a pretty frequent occurrence of late, I'm afraid - my internal clock is way out of kilter, because of the worry.

The other factor that is contributing to my light blogging of late is a new website I am designing for the 'urbanisation' where I have my Spanish holiday home, to take over from the former website. Whilst it worked, it had a fairly basic, if cumbersome, design. All of the basic design criteria have been ironed out and I have got the username/password script working as it should (for the private part of the site); there are between 500 and 1,000 users so it is not too large a user-base, but it's not tiny either. However, there is still a lot of work to do if I am to meet the 'launch date' I have set for the middle of next week. There are three major strands to what remains to be done:

- loading and linking to a lot of the data (in the form of .PDF documents in the main, with a few other file-types as well) carried over from the former website; the file structure I am designing will I hope make it easier to maintain the site in the future to cater for additional data;

- putting in place an effective FAQ section, with the ability to handle new queries 'as and when' so that the database becomes more useful over time and keeps pace with changing requirements;

- taking care that all the major language requirements are catered for, principally English, Spanish, German and Dutch with some requirement for documents to be in French and Norwegian as well. Fortunately I am not responsible for preparing translations into most of those other languages (except for French, which I can do pretty competently I think), but certain parts of the site require to have separate sections for each of the languages and other pages require to be multi-lingual. This introduces all sorts of design constraints that take a bit of 'lateral thinking' to implement satisfactorily, quite apart from having to rely on a variety of others to supply the necessary translations in a reasonably timely manner so that all parts of the site say the same thing in the different language areas.

So whilst typing this I've been watching a movie recorded a few days ago on my DVR, but now I must really take myself off to bed, although I'll probably end up reading for a while before putting my bedside light off.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

A quasi-meltdown of SNP-leaning blogs is in progress

Over the past few weeks a couple of SNP-leaning blogs have 'ceased transmissions' ("Wardog" and "The Universality of Cheese") and now I learn that a third, "Subrosa", has gone off-air, too. I had started to write a blog article a few days ago which would have been entitled "SNP-leaning bloggers on the psychiatrist's couch" and the first couple of paragraphs would have read:

Reading quite a few of the SNP-leaning blogs over the past week or so has been like being an observer at a global mind-dump; the snide remark might be (and slap me hard for typing this lol) that there's been a lot of trash accumulating in them there minds to dump. But that would be cruel.

The current cycle of introspection amongst this cohort of bloggers seemed to kick off a couple of weeks back with the sudden disappearance of the 'Wardog' blog, which I wrote about to high-light the dangers to wider freedom of speech which his 'silencing' seemed to represent.

- that post had been 'inspired', if that's quite the right word(!), by some blog entries in the SNP Tactical Voting and J Arthur MacNumpty blogs, probably if I recall correctly in Subrosa's blog, too (no longer possible to check there, however) which all seemed to be indulging in what one might politely describe, at least in the case of the first two (the third being, we are led to believe, a lady) as keyboard onanism, as if SNP-blogging is co-equal with all Scottish blogging. There are other bloggers in Scotland than the fantasist SNP-leaning bloggers (and of course one of these two is I understand not actually based in Scotland at all, but is presumably someone with a Scottish heritage). Admittedly the SNP-bloggers have in recent months been generally more 'vocal' than other bloggers here. In all recent SNP-leaning blogging there has been a pretty clear whiff of 'victimhood', that somehow they, and by extension all Scottish/British bloggers are somehow being 'got at', possibly by agents of what is known as the MSM or 'main stream media', who are all castigated as being 'Unionist supporting' or sometimes 'Labour supporting'. Now I haven't ever made a practice of reading the Scotsman newspaper online (or in print) as I find it a pretty mediocre rag, but I have occasionally seen articles in both media - a feature of many of the few articles I have read online was the 'over the top', some might say 'obsessive' nature of many of the comments there, mainly emanating from what seemed to be SNP-supporters. I recall, before 'she' started blogging having occasionally seen the name 'Subrosa' given as the author of some of the comments, a few of which were frankly racist in tone. Nevertheless I found her as a blogger generally interesting, although hardly objective. On a couple of the occasions when she left a comment in my own little blog I had occasion to comment on the unpleasantly quasi-homophobic nature of these comments, but her comments were left in place by me (she may have deleted them subsequently, for all I know or care, as I now realise 'Wardog' has done too over the past couple of weeks, although in his case our debates never touched on homophobia as I never detected any whiff of that in him whatsoever) because the way she expressed her comments was always civil and I put her views down to being those of someone of advanced years. I knew no details of who she was, but she represented herself in her blog as being someone of advanced years.

In any case, one feature is common to the three SNP-leaning blogs which have been taken down recently - they were all anonymous. Shortly before the first two ceased blogging their identities were revealed, in the case of 'Wardog' by himself in his later blog entries and in the case of 'The Universality of Cheese' as a result of investigative journalism. From what I have gleaned from a couple of bloggers who have written about Subrosa's blogging demise, her identity was to be revealed this coming Sunday.

I can understand, at a pinch, why some bloggers wish to blog anonymously, but for the first 33 months my blog was in existence (until January 2005) I simply did not link to 'anonymous' blogs, period. From January 2005 I have relaxed this policy, and plan to continue with that more relaxed policy now, but I have never been entirely happy with the whole concept of anonymous blogging. It is significant, I think, that whilst both the SNP Tactical Voting and J Arthur MacNumpty blogs are written under the mask of pseudonyms, neither is anonymous. I have in the past written highly-critical articles about the author of the SNP Tactical Voting, from none of which criticism do I resile in any way, even if I accept that his writing is often of a high standard and displays a sound analysis on occasion, but of course I agree with neither on the merits of what the SNP desires to achieve in/'for' Scotland. But that is healthy debate with which I have no quarrel and both of these bloggers do write generally very coherent articles (even if they are interminably long sometimes).

In my own case I have never blogged anonymously. I have lost a few friends as a result (not everyone seems to have been willing to accept the 'revelation' that I am gay, but I can do without their acquaintance, quite frankly) and some of my views on other matters have irritated a few people beyond reason to the extent that I did have a stalker at one stage who purported to post scurrilous comments in other blogs under my name, presumably as a means of discrediting me. Luckily I was alerted to this by a couple of other bloggers so was able to overcome the problem. However, even in the recent past (following my recent article about 'Wardog' - linked to above) I was obliged to delete a comment from an SNP-supporting 'nutter' claiming 'victimhood' and various other 'excuses' for why [s]he had contravened my comments policy by writing offensive homophobic comments and alleging that I was somehow a Labour supporter (just as offensive!), which no rational person who has read much of what I have ever written here could reasonably assume to be an accurate interpretation, just because I don't happen to fall at the feet of wee-Eck's phantasmorgical nonsense!

So what does all this boil down to? Firstly, I am sorry to see these three bloggers (so far) disappear, because I do believe in free speech, however objectionable I may find some of the views expressed. On the other hand all three of these bloggers did pretty regularly post scurrilous obsessive nonsense either in their own blogs or in the comments pages of newspapers - and some people take exception to this. My view generally is that if I have something to say, I say it. Of course I do often self-censor so that what I think does not pass my lips or appear in print in my blog or in comments I occasionally make elsewhere, because I am not a complete idiot. Some idiots (i.e. these three bloggers), however, seem to think that they can say whatever they choose under the cloak of their supposed anonymity, then claim some kind of victim status when someone 'calls' them on it. My attitude is that I must accept responsibility for whatever I write here - sometimes I have written some pretty pointed things about various individuals but so far, luckily, this has not brought me more than minor 'grief'. Fundamentally I do think anonymous blogs are cowardly - it's rather like some of my closeted gay acquaintances over the years who have made all sorts of excuses for why they remain closeted, pretty pathetic in most cases, with a few exceptions admittedly (if I were gay and living in Iran or Nigeria, for example, I'd keep quiet about it too, very probably). Just what was it that people like Subrosa, Wardog and The Universality of Cheese were trying to achieve by their anonymous blogging and why is it considered such a disaster for them to have their identities revealed? I may be a 'libertarian', but I am not an 'anarchist' so I do accept there are certain limits to what one may say or write even in a democracy, without potentially being subject to legal sanction; anonymous bloggers seem to hope to skirt around this basic rule of living in a society governed by law. The attempts to portray them as 'victims' does not, in the final analysis, wash with me, however much I may regret their cessation of blogging. Live by the sword...

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

World AIDS Day 2009

Today, 1st December, is World AIDS Day.

In remembrance of those lost to AIDS.

With hope for those living with HIV and AIDS today.