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

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The public and the private faces of Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown today shot himself and the Labour Party in the foot quite badly - it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I didn't relish seeing the man exposed for the two-faced person he is. On the basis that nothing is more instructive than seeing and hearing what actually happened today, I am embedding the video-clip which Guido has kindly put up for all our 'edification' (and frankly, amusement):

- I watched the full exchange between Mr Brown and Mrs Duffy earlier today and indeed it seemed to be a friendly-enough encounter. She is obviously a long-standing Labour supporter (hardly surprising, I expect, in a town such as Rochdale) and her questions about the 'national debt' were obviously those of someone who has probably 'scrimped and saved' for everything throughout her life and is worried about the futures of her grandchildren. I share her concerns too abouut the profilgate expansion of the national debt that has occurred under Gordon Brown's 'watch'!

On the 'Eastern European immigrants' question, she expressed a pretty conventional view amongst many working-class people, those most affected by the large number of people from new EU member states to came to the UK soon after they joined, because the UK was one of the very few existing member states that did not impose a 'transitional period' of controlled movement for work on citizens of new member states. People like me weren't very much affected by the large numbers that came in, apart from being able to find people to do things like plumbing and carpentry more easily than before. I must also be completely honest here - I supported the decision to allow immediate free movement and deplored the decision of other existing EU member states to inhibit it. It was one of the very few decisions of the Labour government (along with our participation in the 'liberation' of Iraq from Saddam Hussein and his sons) that I thought good. Whilst I haven't fundamentally changed my opinion on either matter, I now accept that both had ramifications that I did not foresee at the time, in the case of the 'Eastern European immigrants' question probably affecting people like Mrs Duffy's family much more than people like me. In other words the much-touted core Labour supporters.

What today's incident laid bare is what Gordon Brown really thinks about the 'little people' who put Labour in Downing Street (nobody put Gordon Brown himself there, except the pusillanimous Parliamentary Labour Party). If the man had kept his mouth shut, or switched his microphone off, his 'sucking-up' to Mrs Duffy on-camera would have shown him in a very favourable light to those likely to vote for Labour next week, but his in-car comments revealed what he really thinks of people like Mrs Duffy. It is not attractive, but it is the truth. Nick Robinson, the BBC political correspondent, implied on-camera today that this side of Mr Brown's character is not a surprise to people who know him - here is his perhaps somewhat more considered assessment.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Pope's UK visit and the Foreign Office 'apology'

This story is undoubtedly an embarrassment for the British 'do no evil'(*) Labour government. The whole point of 'brain-storming' sessions is that ANY and EVERY idea may be aired, however bizarre it might be. But in normal groups (and certainly in most private companies that I am aware of) the ones that are completely off-the-wall are briefly discussed and then dismissed and forgotten about - they certainly don't appear in the minutes of such meetings! Evidently in the public sector, which we all pay for through our taxes, things are different; no-one seems to stop and think what they are doing and what they are trying to achieve. 'Evaluation' did not seem to form any part of this particular Foreign office exercise in 'diplomacy'.

Now that is my assessment of this deplorable lapse from a management point of view. It is yet one more sign of how useless Labour is at managing anything, let alone planning for the visit of what is technically the Head of State of a foreign 'country'.

Having written all this though, I do find it difficult in this particular instance to become too exercised about the Foreign Office lapse. The Catholic Church has become an increasiingly ridiculous organisation in recent years; it preaches certain moral codes to its adherents and to the world generally, then proceeds to cover-up for the criminal behaviour of its 'paid agents' (i.e. priests) in many of the countries of the world where it operates; it is only the vociferous action taken in many countries to expose the 'paedophile' behaviour of priests by victims and the civil authorities that has forced the Church, finally, to begin to address the cancer at its heart. That action, in the case of the US, backed up by justifiedly swingeing financial penalties. The Church is, when it comes to the essentials, as interested as any other party in protecting its 'patrimony' and the financial costs of allowing its miscreant behaviour to continue have had to be made too severe for it to contemplate allowing them to be perpetuated - as it had tried, for decades, to do.

A number of the suggestions in the Foreign Office document, whilst completely unacceptable in the context of a Papal visit, neatly highlight the contraditions and just plain 'wrongness' of a number of the policy stances of the Roman Catholic church:
- celibacy for its 'paid agents' (aka priests), with no outlet for the sexual urges of some of these people. There may well be many priests (and nuns) who are capable of channelling these desires into their lives of devotion to their faith, but it seems than more than a few have failed to live up to the standards expected, over decades and probably centuries, although we will probably never know about cases beyond living memory in the majority of cases;
- suggesting a 'Benedict' brand of condoms is quite funny, but it neatly highlights the monstrous banning by the Church of abortions or birth control methods, including condoms, even in cases of rape or to aid in the prevention of disease transmission. Truly evil policies.

As for suggesting that Pope Benedict should be invited to bless some civil partnerships during his visit, well this is just ridiculous of course, but it does again highlight just how out of touch the policy of the Church is. The suggestion was of course particularly offensive, and presumably designed to be so ('as a joke'), but of course the Church's policies on matters relating to homosexuality are not only outdated, but singularly offensive to millions of British and other gay and lesbian citizems of various countries, including me.

To summarise my whole attitude toward the forthcoming Papal visit, conditions should be arranged such that this visit may occur without undue incident and for those who wish to take part in the various gatherings that will be organised during his visit to do so in safety. So far as I am concerned that is the extent of the government's responsiblity. I certainly do not want our government to acquiesce in deed or word to any of the Catholic Church's teachings which offend against our laws and I do not want it to remain silent should the Pontiff criticise our laws whilst he is actually on British soil; he will be an 'honoured' guest here, but that gives him no special right to intervene in our domestic affairs - we certainly would not tolerate any other foreign Head of State (i.e. American or French, to take two random examples) making negative comments about our laws whilst on a visit here and I don't think an exception should be made for the Pope. The government's first responsibility is to its own citizens (including of course those who adhere to this particular faith, provided such adherence does not offend agasinst the legal rights of other citizens). If the Pope behaves himself whilst here, then he should of course be treated with courtesy, but certainly under no circumstance with 'adulation' at an official level and he should be told firmly that any criticism he makes of our domestic laws whilst he is here will not be tolerated. Any adulation that may be shown should be limited to fellow-adherents of his faith.

There is an excellent French saying which neatly encapsulates my attitude toward this Papal visit: "Faites comme si vous êtes chez vous, mais n'oubliez pas que vous êtes chez moi." ("Treat this country as if if were your own home when here, but don't forget you are [in fact] in my home.")

(*) - irony alert.

Who should you vote for?

Uncertain for whom you should cast your vote in the coming UK general election? A new quiz permits you to find out, depending on whether your vote is being cast in England, Scotland or Wales (it doesn't cater specifically for Northern Ireland, unfortunately). It is one of the first quizzes I've seen that does however cater specifically for a British audience, rather than making one answer questions designed for another country, usually the US.

Although I shall not be voting myself, because I'm at present in Spain and don't have a postal vote (and my vote is irrelevant in my particular constituency), I found it interesting to do the [Scotland] quiz. My results are pretty much as expected, except that I'd definitely have put LibDem above UKIP, but having said that, it doesn't make much difference because the likelihood of me voting for either is negligible.

Take the Who Should You Vote For? Scotland quiz

UK Independence26
Liberal Democrat13
Scottish National Party-23

You expected: CON

Your recommendation: Conservative

Unfortunately, rather too many of my fellow-Scots squabble about whether to vote for Labour or the SNP, rather than make the sensible choice by voting Conservative; it's really 'tribalism' dressed-up as an alternative to an intelligent assessment of the options, based on what would be in the best long-term interests of the country (whether you define that as 'Scotland' or the 'UK') - which would certainly be to vote Conservative. You see, I'm really not partisan - irony alert.

(Somewhat bizarrely, the place where I saw this quiz is almost as far away from the UK as you can get on the planet, a New Zealand-based blog put 'em all on an island)

Can Tho Bridge in southern Vietnam opens at last

It is bizarre how one becomes aware of news now in distant parts of the world. Earlier this morning I was scanning my cable television channels and happened to be watchiing NHK 24 news channel (the English-language 24 hour news service of NHK, a major Japanese televison channel), read about the channel here, when I saw a report of the opening yesterday of the much-delayed Can Tho Bridge in southern Vietnam:

Construction of the bridge started in 2004, but there was a major accident during September 2007 when a 90-metre section of an approach ramp to the bridge collapsed, killing over 50 and injuring around 140 of the construction workers (the exact numbers differ in various reports). Here's a video report from Vietnam television of the rescue efforts following the disaster:

Construction recommenced 11 months after the accident. It opened to traffic yesterday:

The bridge links Vinh Long province with Can Tho, a major city about 170 Km south of Ho Chi Minh City ("Saigon") and is expected to improve traffic flow dramatically to the southern provinces and to boost the economy of the region.

(Having visited and lived in Vietnam for several years I remain interested in what is happening there, even if I have somewhat ambivalent views about the country.)

Saturday, 24 April 2010

LibDems - the clean political party? Yeah, right!

Watch 'saint' Vince Cable wriggle and squirm, unconvincingly, when asked by Jon Sopel why the LibDems won't hand back the donation of GBP 2.4 million to they received from convicted fraudster Michael Brown:

- the true face of the LibDems. Keen to preach to others, but always unwilling to mend their own glaring deficiencies. Don't forget also about the recently-discovered 'anomalies' regarding donations to Nick Clegg - and incompetent with it; it is observed that another 'clean' politician, the Lord Mandelson, rushed to his defence. Is this a case of 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer'?.

(Refresh your memory about the background to this case and the poor moral judgement of the LibDems in accepting, and now insisting they 'have done nothing wrong' by keeping, this money. Are these the kind of politicians we want to have a hand in running the country?)

Friday, 23 April 2010

St George's Day - 23rd April 2010

Today is St George's Day, so I am wishing English readers all the best on this their Patron Saint's Day!

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land

A poem by William Blake
(from the preface to his epic poem "Milton")

An older and somewhat more iconic image of England is portrayed in the play Henry V by William Shakespeare; here is the famous speech in Act III, Scene I, here spoken by the fine actor Laurence Olivier:

"Cry God for Harry, England and Saint George!"

(Please note that this production was staged during the early 1940s under what must have
been very difficult wartime conditions, hence the somewhat amateurish stage props,
but Shakespeare's words remain as powerful as ever.)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

LibDem's Cable 'skewered' - and not before time!

Today's 'Daily Politics Debate' dealt with the three men who might aspire to be Chancellor of the Exchequer after the election (although, as an aside, most seem to accept that Alistair Darling will not remain in that post if by some miracle/disaster Labour win the election).

Darling is not a 'bad man', I think, but he has the misfortune to be saddled with socialist tendencies and, much worse, he has Gordon Brown as his boss. Osborne showed why he will be a good Chancellor - he is normally far too civilised and polite to force his views upon others in debate, but today I'm glad to say he showed some 'teeth' (and his mettle).

Cable - what to say about 'Saint' Vince Cable? I've thought for quite some time (the last few years at least) that Vince Cable is that archetypal LibDeb - duplicitious, lying and generally a pretty deplorable sort. His claims to financial sagacity are pretty laughable, but he is plausible and he has the knack of coming across as a 'serious player', something which he most certainly is not. I'm pleased today that his bumptiouness was exposed rather nicely, brutally even. It was a pleasure to watch! Read an article in today's Spectator 'Coffee House' which encapsulates neatly just how much of a 'blowhard' Cable is, as does this excellent video-clip (courtesy of Guido Fawkes) of Cable floundering and spluttering that anyone should have the lèse majesté to examine LibDem policies forensically:

UK inflation rate shows 'unexpected' rise

Unexpected to whom? Certainly not me! This latest news that UK inflation has risen to 3.4 per cent in March is, I fear, merely the beginning.

The 'wait-and-see' stance of the Bank of England I'm afraid illustrates to me that they are simply 'headless-chickens' peddling their spin furiously (to mix metaphors in quite an awful manner - so sue me!) because they know disaster is looming, but know that the mess the Labour government have got us into is going to get worse and they cannot see a way out. At least the BoE Monetary Policy Committee, whilst holding interest rates at 0.5 per cent, have decided not to pump yet more 'invented' cash into the economy, the so-called 'quantitative easing' mechanism. Thank goodness for small mercies!

I really cannot write any more about this, I am so angry. I've been boring on about it for months and years, much good it has done me, except perhaps to help let me blow off steam and possibly keep my blood pressure under some kind of control. The profligacy of both the Labour government and far too many individuals in taking on far too much credit is finally coming home to roost! One cannot, over the longer term, spend more than one is earning - the markets (not least the foreign exchange market) and inflation are the unavoidable 'corrective mechanisms' that are going to be unleashed on us once the election is over, whichever political party 'wins'; at least with the Conservatives there would be people in power with decent ideas for halting and eventually reversing the rot. But any politician who doesn't talk about the inevitable fiscal pain that most people are going to have to get used to post-election is merely kidding themselves and the electorate; time to 'tell it like it is'! Here are some of my posts on this topic over recent years:

18 June 2005 - We're all doomed ... at least potentially ... no, seriously!
16 August 2007 - Investment markets - to stay in or to sell...
16 July 2008 - The financial 'crisis' - to blog or not to blog
16 September 2008 - Bill's off again ... back to Spain (the title is relevant, trust me!)
30 October 2008 - What's really going on in the economy
10 November 2008 - Interest rates cut. Tax to be cut? Borrowing to go up?
15 December 2008 - Far from alone
28 February 2009 - The inflationary bubble that is being constructed
2 April 2009 - G20 result in summary - 'global quantitative easing'
1 July 2009 - Mr Gordon "0% increase" Brown
8 September 2009 - Labour forced to come clean over budget deficits
20 January 2010 - So inflation is kicking-off is it? Not a surprise given the idiotic policies of our Government!

As I wrote in the final article referenced above, it gives me no pleasure at all, indeed I am filled with considerable apprehension, when I write - I told you so!

I hope the electorate will remember this when they go to cast their votes on 6th May and punish the current Labour government with a crushing defeat! It would be absolutely wonderful if Gordon Brown were to be defeated in his own constituency - that would be some kind of poetic justice! Although I know it is probably unlikely, I can dream, can't I?

Election 2010 - Candidates in Highland Council area constituencies

As a result of my article yesterday about the constitunecy where I live (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey [INB&S]) I have very kindly been sent a copy of Highland Council's 'press release' of all nominations in the three constituencies within Highland Council's area of operations. I don't generally cover constituencies other than my own in any great detail (relying on the generally excellent BBC election website instead), but because the BBC website omits inadvertantly (*) a number of those appearing in my own constiituency (see linked article above where this factor is alluded to), as well as in the other constituencies, I am listing below official candidate nomination details for the other two constituencies as well; obviously the Highland Council website (relevant page here) has full details:

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross Constituency


GRAHAM, Alastair
Scottish Conservative & Unionist

Scottish Labour Party

THURSO, John Archibald
Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish National Party (SNP)

Ross, Skye and Lochaber Constituency

ANDERSON, Philip Andrew
UK Independence Party

CAMERON, Donald Andrew John
Scottish Conservatives


KENNEDY, Charles Peter
Scottish Liberal Democrats

MCKENDRICK, John Dempster
Scottish Labour Party

SCOTT, Eleanor Roberta
Scottish Green Party

STEPHEN, Alasdair MacGregor
Scottish National Party (SNP)

As a reminder I repeat the following BBC website information from my earlier article. The BBC Election 2010 website is here, with details of every constituency available here.

(*) Highland Council advise they have brought the omissions to the attention of the BBC, who in turn have confirmed they will be rectifying matters as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Election 2010 - Candidates in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey

The following are the candidates standing in the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency. The Party websites are all shown in the 'UK Politics - Election 2010' mini-blogroll in the right column, but for simplicity I repeat the relevant links below; some of the political parties have both a national (UK) website and a dedicated Scottish (SC), some have a local Party website (LPW), as are links to candidates' personal websites. All links are shown below, where they exist:

Alexander, Danny (Alexander, Daniel Grian)
Liberal Democrat - UK - SC - LPW - his website

Boyd, Dr Donald MacLeod
Scottish Christian Party "Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship" - UK - SC - his website

Durrance, Ross Scott
UK Independence Party - UK - SC - his UKIP page

Ferguson, Jim (Ferguson-Hannah, James Alasdair Neil)
Conservative - UK - SC - LPW - his website

Finnie, John (Finnie, John Bradford
Scottish National Party - UK/SC - LPW - his SNP page

Fraser, Kit (Fraser, Christopher James)
The Joy of Talk - Article - Amazon

MacDonald, George
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition - UK

Macleod, Donnie
Green - UK - SC - LPW

Robb, Mike (Robb, Michael Gerard)
Labour - UK - SC - his website (his blog)

Highland Council have a page in their website for the UK Parliamentary Election 2010 here. Full nomination details for the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency can be seen here.

The BBC Election 2010 website is here, with details of every constituency available here. Visit the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey constutency page for more detailed information about it.

A couple of the official nominations shown in the Highland Council website are not currently shown in the BBC website. Presumably they were late nominations; the two names involved are:
- Boyd, Dr Donald MacLeod;
- Fraser, Kit (Fraser, Christopher James).

PS/ (added 30APR2010) See my later post dated 21APR2010 for candidate details in the other two Highland Council area constituencies:
- Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross Constituency;
- Ross, Skye and Lochaber Constituency.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Volcanic ash, air traffic disruption and the consequences

We are just getting used to a world (in much of Europe at least) where over the past several days, air travel has become all but impossible. Yesterday some flights were being allowed into Scottish air-space (mainly trans-Atlantic flights and flights to/from Scottish islands), but the ban has been re-instated today.

It may be that in a few days the wind-directions will have changed sufficiently, or that the volcano in Iceland will halt or slow-down the rate at which it is discharging debris into the atmosphere to allow air transportation involving most of Europe to be possible again. So there would have been, say, a week or two weeks of major disruption, no doubt some severe loss of revenue for certain airlines (who still have to pay regular expenses such as salaries or finance costs for loans) and for individuals perhaps some expense they can ill-afford or difficulty getting where they want to be, but ultimately it will have been a mere 'blip' in history. I am not one of nature's pessimists, so this is the kind of scenario I envisage and certainly hope for.

But what if this optimistic outcome doesn't happen? What if the disruption continues for a month? Three months? Six months? A year? What might the social, economic and perhaps political consequences be?

For a start, the days of easy, quick travel would be over for the vast majority of people. The first time I ever flew in an aircraft was in 1967 or thereabouts, so far as I recall, and I must have taken many hundreds of flights since then. For my present stay in Spain it should not affect me much, because I travelled here and am scheduled to travel back by road and ferry. But what about my usual one month visit to Spain in the Autumn, when I would normally have flown? Will I be able to make the trip, or will I bother trying to do so if I cannot fly? I'm not one of those people who pops across to someplace in Europe by aeroplane for a weekend or or a few days, basically because I live in a part of the UK where there are almost no international flights from my nearest airport, so requiring transit via some other UK airport with more flights. But many people do live near big airports and have grown accustomed to travelling all over Europe for a [long]-weekend. Basically, none of these trips would be possible any more, period. Simply because by the time one took a train/ferry to go most places it would already be time to come back. Apart from these leisure trips, business travel would be severely affected and would probably lead to a huge expansion of teleconferencing (something that should probably happen more and more anyway). No more would we get air-shipment of highly-perishable foods such as some fruits and vegetables 'out of season'. The 'green' lobby might be pleased, although I cannot see it as tremendously positive if these changes have come about because the atmoosphere has become clogged-up with volcanic ash. Let's face it, things could become much more serious if the volcanic ash cloud became a semi-permanent feature and affected crop production. Curtailed leisure travel would be the least of our worries!

I don't really think that any of these apocalytpic visions is likely to happen, but the events of the past few days do bring home just how fragile our civilisation is. It could all disappear very easily because of factors we have absolutely no way of stopping or changing. Have a great weekend!

PS/ So far the present events have afftected people I know in the following ways:
-a guest who should have travelled here two days ago for a break of about ten days has had to cancel her trip;
- a friend (and former colleague) who now works in Rome usually travels home to Paris every weekend to see her children and has probably had to cancel her trip;
- guests scheduled to come here in just over two weeks may see their plans affected if the situation does not improve soon.
Minor problems, I suppose, but many hundreds of thousands are probably affected in similar or worse ways.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

UK Election - 'The Politics Show' on BBC shamelessly padding its schedule

The BBC has obviously decided that it has to have minute-by-minute reporting every time some politician or other, or newspaper 'pundit', or as today an American actor, sneezes or has something to say. All padded out, in the case of The Daily Politics to a full hour, rather than its usual 30 minutes most days (other than on Wednesdays when it includes the 30 minutes of PMQs so occupies a worthwhile 90 minute slot, whenever Parliament is sitting).

Call me an old curmudgeon, but whilst The West Wing was one of my favourite American TV shows, the people playing roles in it were/are ACTORS, not politicians. I've now seen Richard Schiff (who played Toby Zielgler in the TV show) on two 'serious' current affairs programmes in the past few days (I cannot remember where I saw him a few days ago) and today Andrew Neil had him on. Why? This really far too much like 'life imitating art' for my tastes; he's only in London to 'publicise' his latest movie, after all - he may or may not have individual views which are interesting to hear, but no more than any other foreign visitor and the fact he had a major acting role in a make-believe foreign show about politics is not a good enough reason to have him on what is supposed to be a serious programme about UK politics; the correct place for him is on the Jonathan Ross or Graham Norton 'entertainment' shows. I may not particularly care for Polly Toynbee and her political views, but having her on as one of the guest 'pundits' at least has some relevance to the UK political scene.

I realise that there is a very important election coming up and that, particularly in the week prior to the election there needs to be extensive coverage, but I really do believe that broadcast media (and the BBC is not alone in this - ITV is almost as bad) have gone a bit overboard. The ITV profiles of the three main Party leaders every evening this week, until the first 'Debate' tonight, were at least a decent attempt to let people know a bit more about what makes the three men 'tick', but the padding in The Daily Politics is blatant; the BBC should either fill the show with punchier segments, or cut it back to 30 minutes

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Election leaflets online - a great idea!

In every election for the past 7 or so years I've posted in this blog all of the leaflets or election communications I have received in my own mail-box, from whichever political party they emanated. Unfortunately (well not really, I'm perfectly happy to be in Spain for a few months) I shall not be in a position to upload any of the leaflets I might be receiving back in Nairn (for the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey constituency) to an article here in this blog until well after the date of the election (6th May 2010), as I shall not return there until early June.

Now there is an excellent website, The Straight Choice, where anyone may upload leaflets or election literature they receive - the database is searchable by political party, by subject, by constituency and by postcode, etc. Unfortunately there are no leaflets online yet from the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey constituency, but hopefully someone there who reads this might think of doing uploads so we can all see what is being said by the various political parties.

I've had a random look at some of the leaflets/letters online already from various parts of the country and it really is marvellous to be able to keep tabs on what is being said. Perhaps it might make certain political parties rather more careful about putting out blatant lies or distortions, or different messages in different parts of the country on the same topic, if they come to realise how easy it is now, in theory, for someone in say Penzance (Cornwall) to see what the same political party is saying in say Lerwick (Shetland), something that would have been impossible before the internet became ubiquitous and websites like The Straight Choice became possible.

We don't yet know officially who all the candidates will be. Nominations close at 4pm on 20th April 2010 (i.e. a week today). Highland Council's website has full election information for that part of the country - no doubt all other council websites around the country have similar information.

(thru Guido Fawkes at Guido Fawkes' blog)

Saturday, 10 April 2010

The death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski

Whlist I am genuinely sorry to hear of the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, along with his wife and a number of very senior Polish officials in an aeroplane accident (just as have numerous other political leaders over the years in other air accidents), I cannot (and sorry to be blunt and perhaps crassly insensitive in the opinion of some) let his untimely death remain solely the occasion of legitimate, genuine grief and sadness. The man was an an unprincipled homophobic bigot - this is just one of many examples of his lack of scruples and real nastiness that could easily be cited.

Quite apart from my personal [low] opinion of the late President Kaczynski, the accident is an immense tragedy for Poland not only because of the loss of its President, but because scores of other senior Polish government officials have been killed a well - I have no doubt their loss will be a very severe blow until the country can recover from its shock and attempt to move on.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Nairn and its public swimming pool and leisure complex

Highland Council is in a big fix - it is running a very significant deficit in relation both to its council tax-payer base and the relatively low-density population of what is the largest local government region by area in western Europe. Apparently it is still looking for GBP36mio of cuts to meet a savings target of GBP59mio over a three-year period. This is a massive amount and it seems that harsh choices will have to me made.

Like most people who have a close connection with Nairn I would regard it as a real tragedy were its swimming pool to be forced to close for financial reasons. A significant part of the local economy depends upon the summer tourist trade and the pool, along with various other leisure installations locally adds a lot to the attractiveness of the town for visitors. Local residents, and particularly local children, benefit too from having such a facility where they can exercise and learn a healthy sport, both as part of their school curriculum and in their leisure-time. So it is good to see that a primary school pupil, Fiona Cameron (no relation), has launched a Facebook campaign to save the pool and the campaign has now grown to the extent that the regional Press & Journal newspaper has a major article on it today.

However, much as I support the campaign (and I have added my support to Fiona's Facebook campaign), I reirerate that harsh choices are going to have to be made. I hope that one of the necessary savings won't be to cut funding for the Nairn swimming pool, but recognise that it may happen. It is inescapable that somewhere throughout the Highland Council area there are going to be a lot of disgruntled people. The vast bulk of council funding does not in fact come from the locally-raised Council Tax, but instead comes from central government 'block grants', which of course are ultimately funded by Income Tax or other kinds of taxes. Councils and governments have only three ways of procuring funds - to levy taxes, to take on borrowing commitments or to run-up completely unfunded debts. Alternatively they can curtail spending. Borrowing and debts can be allowed to accumulate for a few years, provided the providers of the funds 'continue to play ball', but as is usual (and I without apology slip into 'political mode') under a Labour government we have over the past 13 years tested that policy to destruction and landed ourselves with absolutely enormous levels of debt that will remain with us until well into the adulthood and probably middle- and later-years of youngsters such as Fiona.

I hate to be harsh, but people get the governments and local councils they vote for and deserve. All political parties (including the one I might be more inclined to support) promise electorates a lot when they need their votes in the run-up to elections and avoid too much mention of how all the 'largesse' they offer is to be paid for. The Labour Party is always a 'tax and spend' outfit which has ALWAYS (and I repeat, ALWAYS) left the country with more debt on leaving office than existed when it arrived in office and whilst it is perhaps too early to judge, the SNP is probably in the same mould - it is definitely a left-of-centre political party, just as is the Liberal Democrat Party. It is perhaps too early to judge the SNP completely because they operate currently under a very-limited electoral mandate. It is not inevitable that a political party seeking 'separation/independence' (a policy I do not support, of course) should be left-of-centre, but that is what the SNP is in my estimation and in that of most other objective observers. Personally I would be much more open to SNP ideas if it was rather more centrist or centre-right in its political outlook and willing to propose policies based on sound economics, rather than simply going down the typical left-of-centre route of promising the electorate more of everything whilst promising that taxes will not be raised, or that only the mythical 'rich' will be squeezed until the pips squeak.

So perhaps, if I may, I'd like to encourage younsters like Fiona to pursue her laudable aim, but perhaps also to encourage her parents and her school-chums' parents to consider carefully how they cast their votes at the coming election. Even more important, youngsters like Fiona need to realise that it is the votes of adults over the past 20 years that have landed us with the spend-thrift Labour government we have and which has grown national debt hugely and left nothing in reserve to cope with the occasional economic downturn, a major example of which the world is currently expriencing and which, along with the basic level of debt, is necessitating the cuts in spending that might see the Nairn swimming pool have to close. Perhaps, too, when Fiona and her friends reach voting age, presumably in approximately 10 years, I hope they can consider that whichever political party they do decide to vote for, offers policies based on sound economics, not on the never-never mentality offered by Labour and potentially too by the SNP. I doubt if Labour ever could be reformed, because hopelessness at running an economy is in its genetic make-up, but perhaps if it has to be the SNP that youngsters in Scotland end up supporting they can use their influence to steer the Party toward sounder economics. Obviously I'd prefer if they voted Conservative, but I am nothing if not realistic and reasonably pragmatic - an SNP based on sound economics, even with its core policy which I oppose strongly, would be far better than it ending up as a Scottish version of Labour's socialist debt-creating nightmare.

That's the real campaign that Fiona and her chums need to fight.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Conservatives trying to have it both ways on gay rights

One has to wonder whether the Conservative Party has really changed or not. This latest revealing comment by shadow home secretary Chris Grayling seems to me to be trying to having it both ways on gay rights. He tells a sympathetic audience what they want to hear - that he is 'on their side' and supports the right of those who maintain bed&breakfast establishments to refuse accommodation to people based on their sexuality and [that he] wanted to be "sensitive to the genuinely held principles of faith groups". Then he goes on to say he does not want to see a change in the law.

But the law, Mr Grayling, currently says [the relevant law is - the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007]: no one should be refused goods or services on the grounds of their sexuality.

Is this 'dog whistle' campaigning a warning that a future Conservative Government might seek to change the law to water down legislation to weaken the equality afforded by the law to gay people?

What I find particularly alarming is the comment made by a Conservative party spokesman that Mr Grayling had made it : "absolutely clear that in this day and age, a gay couple should not be turned away from a hotel just because they are a gay couple.". What Mr Grayling has done, and the Conservative Party spokesman has not refuted this, is to try and draw a distinction between different kinds of business offering accommodation for payment - between hotels and guest houses and/or bed&breakfast. Many establishments calling themselves hotels fulfil the dual role of being the home (and property of) the hotel-keeper. Where would such establishments fit into the world as envisaged by Mr Grayling?

I really do think the Conservative Party needs to repudiate Mr Grayling's comments clearly and unequivocally, or the suspicion will be left that the Conservative Party has not, in actual fact, changed very much at all and would not hesitate to reverse and/or weaken equality legislation if it thought it could get away with!

PS/ Mr Grayling's subsequent attempts to 'clarify' his statement only serve to 'muddy the waters' further. The current law is quite clear and Mr Grayling says he does not wish to change it. So what exactly does wishing to be 'sensitive to the genuinely held principles of faith groups' mean, Mr Grayling. What practical effect do you seek to see brought about and how can this be achieved within the current legislation, which you say you do not wish to see changed?

Why doesn't he just come out (ho! ho!) and admit that he was caught out by an undercover recording revealing his prejudices and is now trying to row-back furiously from them, whilst passing a message to religious bigots that he really does support them?

I'd be really pleased if someone could point me to any misanalysis in my article.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Celebrating 8 years of blogging - 2,962 posts and counting ...

(see "Misposted Comment" at the end)

Today marks the eighth anniversary of the launching of this blog. With the recent controversy over the hushing-up of paedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland (see also developments in Northern Ireland), I thought I would mark this anniversary by reproducing below an article I published in the 'Comment' area of my personal website just a couple of weeks prior to the launch of this blog, followed by a link to a follow-up article there published just two days prior to the launch of this blog. The first article was published on 20th March 2002 and the original article entitled "The Sickness at the Heart of the Catholic Church" may be found here:

The Sickness at the Heart of the Catholic Church
(20 March 2002)

Over the past year or two there have been regular revelations in the media about misconduct by Roman Catholic personnel, amongst whom priests, bishops and archbishops, involving their sexual misconduct and amounting, in many cases, to straight criminal offences, coupled with administrative neglect on the part of the more senior personnel.

Recently, for example, there has been a furore in Boston concerning a Bishop who failed to act when he became aware of paedophile behaviour amongst his priests.

In the UK, too, at the time of the recent ordination of the current Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, it was revealed that he had on a number of occasions, whilst a Bishop, moved priests around within his diocese who had committed paedophile offences and that they had subsequently committed further similar offences. I recall listening to Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor trying to explain why he had done what he had - this very intelligent gentleman was obviously extremely embarrassed at the revelations and could only give what sounded like a rather weak apology. It makes me very sad when I recall what a good man was his predecessor, Cardinal Archbishop George Basil Hume OSB. Also in the UK, there were persistent stories (difficult for the Church to rebut because there existed too much supporting evidence) relating to the late Cardinal Archbishop of Glasgow, Cardinal Thomas Joseph Winning, who had on a number of occasions moved priests to different parishes in the wake of paedophile offences which they had committed, and allowed them to continue with their ministry.

And now, in a television documentary about the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, it is revealed that over a period of almost TWENTY YEARS a priest by the name of Fr Sean Fortune committed serial paedophile offences against youths and young men, if the 66 indictments against him prior to his death by suicide recently are any guide. Furthermore, and perhaps even more shocking, it is revealed that the Bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey, took no action for six years (until he was forced to do so by persistent complaints from victims and their parents) against Fr Fortune. It appears that Fr Fortune exploited the respect normally granted to priests in Ireland to bully and intimidate many of his victims into silence, and even where this was not effective the Church authorities, in the person of Bishop Comiskey, declined to give any [apparent] credence to what he had been told by some of these victims and their parents; when action was eventually taken, Fr Fortune fled (taking a substantial amount of Church funds with him) to Belgium and when extradited back to Ireland, succeeded in committing suicide while released on bail. [One could not make this up - truth is sometimes even more bizarre than fiction).

One of the victims, now a man in his twenties (I think), explained very cogently what had happened to him and the effect of the assaults he suffered at the hands of Fr Fortune - he also related how he had been threatened by the 'good' Father that he would pay for it if he ever spoke about it; when he assured Fr Fortune that we would remain silent, provided the Father assured HIM that he would not commit similar acts against other people, the father indicated he had no real intention of stopping. So the young man decided to act and the Police were informed. This young man and a number of others are now suing Bishop Comiskey, the Catholic Church in the form of the Papal Nuncio (Ambassador) in Ireland and His Holiness the Pope - and the response of the Vatican is - what do you think? Well, the Catholic Church is claiming 'diplomatic immunity'.

As the young interviewee said, 'it is simply not good enough' and he repeated this phrase three times in a mixture of anger and anguish about the hurt he had been caused.

It appears from these cases, and many more I have heard about over the years, that there exists a sickness at the heart of the Catholic Church, and that this sickness is longstanding and spread through the Church in many countries - and the Church tries to claim 'diplomatic immunity'. It disgusts me. (Click here to read about later developments.)

The 'later developments' referred to immediately above related to an article published in the 'Comment' area of my personal website on 1st April 2002, two days before this blog was launched, under the title Brendan Comiskey, Roman Catholic Bishop of Ferns (Ireland), resigns at last.

Some of the earliest articles in this blog itself continued, as an unfortunate necessity and indeed as one of the topics which spurred me into creating this blog, to document the flagrant abuse of civil authority practised by the Roman Catholic Church in other locations such as the US, although I am aware of cases in the UK and Australia, too:
- Catholic church in US pulls out of agreement on compensation of paedophilia victims (4 May 2002).

Now we have an ill-judged Easter 'fight-back' from a senior Vatican priest comparing worldwide outrage at priestly abuse of children as akin to the persecution of the Jews. The amazement and disgust of the world at this continuing failure to 'own' the crimes committed by Church personnel caused the Vatican to distance itself from the remarks. Nothing must be taken on trust with these people - history shows this, unfortunately. It is clear that whilst the Roman Catholic Church may have gone some way to 'cleaning up its act', it has nonetheless prevaricated in the most disgusting manner and acted only when forced to do so.

Now onto less-contentious matters. Over recent months I have been blogging somewaht less frequently than previously, mainly because I have other areas of interest; it is also true, too, that since I created my Twitter account a while back (one or two years, I think), I tend to content myself often with the brief comments which that medium permits instead of going to the bother of writing a full blog article. I still feel strongly about certain issues, but there are many, many more bloggers around now than there were eight years ago and to some extent my interests have moved on. Nevertheless I plan to continue this blog for a while yet.

Thanks for reading my blog over the years, if you have - it is greatly appreciated. Roll on the next eight years!

PS/ Naturally Andrew Sullivan has a post up about priestly abuse in the Catholic Church, and it's a good one too; in it he provides information directly implicating Pope Benedict (as Cardinal Ratzinger) in the cover-ups.

"Misposted Comment"
This comment was posted by a reular commenter earlier today, but I suspect he added it to the wrong article - which you can see here. I repost it below for clarity:

Congratulations, Bill and may there be many more years.

The Church. For decades now, the Church has been infiltrated for, in terms of their own mindset, there is an opposite and not quite equal force attempting to bring it down.

One of these dualists gets in and because of the hierarchical nature of a religion which should have no hierarchy beyond a pastor, these people get into positions of power - that characterizes them.

They then control the selection process and completely unrealistic scenarios are forced on priests, e.g. celibacy. The aim of the enemies of the religion are to tar by misrepresentation so that people will turn away.

The efficacy of the central message is lost in the politicizing of certain aspects. For example, JC hardly mentioned homosexuality but Paul did, in a big way.

These priests and the American "Christian" Right have done enormous damage.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Article heading list for latest 6-month period (October 2009 to March 2010) now up

The archive of 'Article Headings' for the latest 6-month period is now available - click here for the period October 2009 to March 2010.

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.