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

Friday, 24 December 2010

A Joyous Christmas and a Peaceful, Happy and Prosperous New Year

My favourite composer is, by a long way, Johann Sebastian Bach so for my pre-Christmas message this year I'm going to feature two of my favourite pieces of music by Bach, one of which (the second) is rarely performed so there are not many recordings of it. The first is slightly better known, I think. Although I have little religious belief and much of Bach's compositions were written with religion in mind, I have no difficulty in reconciling this contradiction at all; Bach's works are sublime, whatever the motivation for them having been written.

Happy Christmas!

Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, BWV 112
(The Lord is my faithful shepherd)

(Unfortunately I have no information about the record label from which this video-clip is taken. My own recording is on the Joker label, reference SM1047 - see below for more information.)

Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe, BWV 185
(Merciful heart of eternal love)

(A 1951 recording of a performance by the Swabian Choral Society and the Bach Orchestra of Stuttgart - under the direction of Hans Grischkat - Renaissance label, serial number X36. My own recording is of the same performance, but on the Joker label reference SM1047, purchased in Casablanca in 1973. The record pressing from which the recording in this YouTube video-clip is taken also contains a recording of BWV 112, the first video-clip above, as does my own record, although they are on different labels.)

I hope you enjoy these pieces of music as much as I do.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Vince Cable is a very silly man - even if I share his views on Murdoch

Vince Cable MP, Business Secretary in the current Coalition government, has got himself into a 'spot of bother' as a result, fundamentally, of his own vanity and by revealing that he is, despite impressing the gullible as some kind of economic and business 'sage' [when he is neither of those things - a polite way of putting it], really rather a foolish man, rather too obsessed by his decidedly left-wing views as well as being too easily flattered, it would seem from the embedded recording below, by what sounds to be a young female, perhaps pretty (I have no way of knowing, not having seen a photograph of the lady in question as yet), but certainly giggling and probably putting herself across as a simpering admirer of the 'great man', casting his pearls of wisdom in her eager direction:

- that would have been embarrassing enough even if the lady was what she was purporting to be, a LibDem member and supporter, although one whom Cable had apparently not met before, and to whom he nevertheless felt free to unburden himself of indiscrete comments (given his specific role in government). It turns out that she is a Telegraph reporter, who very probably is not a LibDem supporter and/or member, playing a part to flatter an elderly gentleman. One can just imagine the fluttering eyelashes which accompanied that simpering giggling we hear in the recording, with her pretending to be only vaguely aware of moves by Murdoch's interests to increase their BSkyB shareholding. It is cringe-worthy and one is tempted to feel sympathy for the predicament Cable got himself into. He was well and truly had! But he has only himself to blame.

I share what seem to be Cable's views of Rupert Murdoch and News International, the media conglomerate which he dominates and which various of his children now help to run on his behalf. Some people feel, and I am amongst them, that Murdoch and his commercial interests dominate too much of the UK media already, although it has to be said that the immediate subject exercising Cable (the precise shareholdings in BSkyB) is not really, in my view, terribly critical. I understand Murdoch's interests already control something like 61 per cent of the shares, which already gives him effective control, so increasing that is not likely to change massively his ability to influence how the satellite broadcaster operates, even if full control will presumably mean that the views of [the current] minority shareholders would no longer have to be taken into account. However, whatever I or Cable (more relevantly) may think of Murdoch and his organisation, it is imperative that the matter be dealt with by the regulatory authorities and government in an impartial, objective way. Vince Cable has plainly fallen very far short of what his job as Business Secretary requires - so it was inevitable that responsibility for this decision, at least, be removed from him.

Now we come onto some of the issues flowing from this:
- should Cable [have been allowed by Prime Minister Cameron to] remain in the Government and the Cabinet;
- the difference in 'punishment' meted out to Cable (from the LibDem wing of the coalition) and that meted out to Lord Young (a Conservative Peer and adviser to the Government) for his indiscrete [but true] comments a few weeks ago;
- the motives of the Telegraph for mounting this kind of 'sting' operation.

It seems clear that the only reason Cable has been allowed to 'survive' in Government, albeit with curtailed responsibilities, is because to eject him would badly destabilise the Coalition (perhaps even cause it to collapse) and risk making a martyr of him on the Coalition back-benches, with less constraint upon his ability to express his own [pretty well-known and strongly-held] views from outside the Cabinet. I can't say I'm exactly in favour of the Coalition, but have accepted it was a necessary and desirable alternative to the risk of the LibDems forming a similar arrangement with the Labour party; however, if strategically the collapse of the Coalition led to another election sooner than might otherwise be the case and it was thought the Conservatives might increase their representation as a result, then it would be worth it to get rid of Cable. It would be a risky option, though, and it is not even certain that this would be desired by David Cameron, although I have no real way of knowing what his views on this [or any other] matter might be. No such risk to the Coalition was posed by jettisoning Lord Young in a humiliatingly-public way. Raw politics is a ruthless business and whatever else one may think of David Cameron it is clear he possesses the ability to be ruthless when required (there have been earlier examples and there will probably be more).

The motives of the Telegraph are not entirely clear to me, however. The newspaper was behind the earlier 'scoop' involving MPs' expenses and this was much more clear-cut; they were correctly exposing MPs who had abused their position to take public money to which they were not entitled in whole or in part so they performed a genuine public service. In this case, however, little in what Cable was revealed to have said could come as any surprise - his views are pretty well-known on a variety of topics. Moreover the Telegraph in this instance did not simply report on a story, it created it by conducting a 'sting' operation. Admittedly it did expose the potential for partiality in the way business decisions might be made by Cable, but I think the possibility that Murdoch might be thwarted in his desire to increase his shareholding in BSkyB has been lessened, not increased, as a result of this incident. One is forced to consider the possiblity that the whole driver of the Telegraph's actions is designed to desatbilise either Mr Cable's position within the Coalition, or the Coalition itself. It is no secret that many Conservatives (some of whom are MPs, plus a significant proportion of grass-roots Conservatives) remain deeply-opposed to the Coalition with the LibDems and believe too much was given away, in terms of policy direction, to achieve it.

As I've already written above, I'm not particularly happy with having a Coalition either, but I do recognise that it was a [and perhaps the only realistic] response to the election results in May 2010. We have only just managed to get rid of a hated (and that is not too strong a word) Labour government and I would be horrified if anything were done which might increase the possibility of an early return of these incompetents to power. Surely this cannot be what the Telegraph is aiming for? Or is it really just a cynical journalistic ploy to get a story, at any cost, and perhaps increase circulation a little?

I doubt if we've seen the last of this story or further 'sting' operations of this kind. I hope the Telegraph has not contributed to the weakening of the free exchange of views in this country, which depends on mutual trust between individuals, whether they are politicians, or journalists or just ordinary people, all of whom must have a right to be able to express their private feelings, however explosive, free of the fear that they will be plastered across the media the next day.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

US Senate votes to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"!

I break my blog hiatus briefly to report on the historic votes today in the US Senate, earlier to defeat a fillibuster motion sponsored by Republicans (63/33) and later to vote for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (65/31); the US House of Representatives had already voted for repeal. Now the bill will have to be signed into law by President Obama, but he has already indicated he will do so if presented with the bill.

Here is the full text of the statement by President Obama issued to coincide with the Senate vote for repeal:

Today, President Obama released a statement on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 -

Today, the Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend. By ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.

As Commander-in-Chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known. And I join the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the overwhelming majority of service members asked by the Pentagon, in knowing that we can responsibly transition to a new policy while ensuring our military strength and readiness.

I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Senators Lieberman and Collins and the countless others who have worked so hard to get this done. It is time to close this chapter in our history. It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly. I urge the Senate to send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law.

At long last the US joins most other liberal democracies (such as the UK, Holland, Spain and many others) in allowing all its citizens to serve openly and proudly in the military. We in the UK got rid of the ban on gays serving in the military some years ago, with absolutely no adverse-effects on military effectiveness whatsoever, despite the earlier whining of those opposed to the change. I suspect strongly that in a few years time the US experience will be precisely the same and that they will be asking themselves why they delayed so long and what all the fuss was about.

A good day!

UPDATE: (Sunday 19DEC10 09.10 GMT) Here's a BBC report with embedded video-clip of campaigners celebrating the decision.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

I have lost the urge to write my blog ...

J'ai perdu l'envie d'écrire mon blog ...
He perdido las ganas de escribir mi blog ...
لقد فقدت الرغبة في كتابة بلوق بلدي
Tôi đã mất đi các yêu cầu để viết blog của tôi ...

If this situation changes I will resuscitate this blog ...
Si cette situation change je vais ressusciter ce blog ...
Si esta situación cambia voy a resucitar este blog ...
وسوف يبعث هذا بلوق اذا تغير الوضع
Nếu tình hình này thay đổi tôi sẽ làm hồi sinh blog này ...

Meantime I wish you a Joyous Christmas and a Happy New Year ...
En attendant, je vous souhaite un joyeux Noël et une Bonne Année ...
Mientras tanto les deseo una Navidad alegre y un Feliz Año Nuevo ...
حتى ذلك الحين آمل أن تكونوا قد رأس السنة الميلادية
Trong lúc này tôi muốn cho bạn một Giáng sinh vui vẻ và một năm mới hạnh phúc ...