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

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The economic and political shambles that is the Euro

My basic view about the currency called the Euro has not changed much over the past 10 or 12 years - as someone who is basically in favour of the EEC (now the EU), I was emotionally attached to the idea of having a common currency. However, whatever my emotional attachment to the concept of a single currency, I was always aware that that it could probably never work without the full fiscal (and effectively political) integration of all the countries participating. Trying to tie countries with low productivity and 'inefficient' tax collection regimes, into the same interest rate regime as countries with high productivity and a much more effective tax-collection history was bound to lead to major problems - and it has.

As such it was clear to me, however much I might personally have regretted this, that it would have been folly for the UK to have adopted the Euro as a replacement currency for the Pound Sterling. The political will simply did not (and does not) exist in the UK to adopt common fiscal and economic policies across the EU (or the more limited Eurozone). The price of keeping France and Germany 'sweet' with each other has always been for France to be allowed to dictate to the 'club' politically, with Germany picking up the 'tab'. Now the German population is at last waking up to the awful implications - the likelihood that Germany will have to subsidise the less-productive and more profligate countries on a semi-permanent basis. Germany may be a prosperous and successful economic 'powerhouse', but it is certainly not a bottomless pit - and Angela Merkel's efforts to carry a vote for continued German financial support for the troubled Eurozone economies may cost her dear politically in due course with her own electorate. On the other hand, one cannot ignore the fact that the low interest-rate regime and the downward effect on the value of the Euro because of the less-performing economies has certainly not been bad for the efficient German export-led economy; now the costs of that success are becoming clear to the German people.

Of course, now it is fashionable to blame the 'soft underbelly' of the EU (i.e. the profligate Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain - plus of course the 'celtic tiger' Ireland) for the 'pickle' that the Euro and the Eurozone countries have got themselves into, but it was two of the theoretically strongest economies in the EU that first broke the rules by allowing their budget deficits to exceed the 3% laid down - when a little later Portugal also broke that particular rule it was of course this last country that suffered the ignominy of being called on it, whereas the first two miscreants escaped unscathed, simply because they were too big and powerful for the EU Commission criticisms at the time to have any effect at all - they were simply ignored. So the country that had always, since the 1950s, exercised prudence with both its currency and budget planning (West Germany, later the re-unified Germany, using the Deutsche Mark) broke with its own recent history, whilst France of course didn't need much excuse to follow.

Tax may be difficult to collect in most countries, but generally-speaking most countries in Europe have reasonably-sound systems for ensuring compliance (not perfect of course), even France, which has a reputation for 'creativity' in this area historically. But no-one could possibly have imagined that Greece fell into the same category - I don't think even the most fervent Greek patriot would ever have claimed this.

Of course, it's not only within the Eurozone that fiscal common sense went out the window! Our own beloved and much-unlamented Labour government, under Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer and latterly as Prime Minister, thought that transforming as high a proportion as possible of the population into clients of the State, as recipients of so-called benefits, was a good thing to do, if only to try and tighten their own grip on political power forever - fortunately that particular myth, and horrific prospect, was dispelled with the election result of May 2010, even if somewhat inconclusively.

It so happens I was watching Newsnight last night and watched the bunfight develop in which Peter Oborne, a right-of-centre journalist for the Telegraph, became rather rude about an EU official speaking by video-link from Brussels:

- it is a pity that Oborne flung the 'idiot' label at the European Commission spokesman, Adameu Altafraj-Tardio, who is undoubtedly not an 'idiot' in the literal sense, although his attempted robust defence of the policies being carried out both by the European Commission under Barroso and various of the European political leaders, notably Merkel of Germany and Sarkozy of France, in their attempts to defend the [very continuance of] the Euro, might cast doubt on their total grip on reality. The unfortunate Adameu Altafraj-Tardio responded by walking out of the studio in Brussels.It is doubly-unfortunate that Oborne's verbal aggression took the direction it did, because his basic arguments were sound.

How long can the Euro survive in its present form and with its current constituent members? Whether it does survive or not, it is unfortunately likely that the political and economic costs will be huge and far-reaching. It is hard not to be melodramatic about what could happen, given the kinds of things that have happened in European history in the not so very far distant past.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

"Engrenages" - Spiral (French TV cop series) - Series 1

I wrote a couple of years ago about the 2nd series of this 'gritty' French television 'cop' drama.

Since then I've seen the 3rd series, equally-astonishing in its 'grittiness', but just recently I've at last seen the 1st series, which I missed the first time around. This evening, in fact, I've just watched the final two of the eight episodes of this marvellous drama, like all the three series it was shown on BBC4 television. The adjective 'gritty' doesn't quite do it justice though - perhaps 'stomach-churning', 'hurl-worthy' or plain 'gruesome' would sum it up better!

It would be wrong and insensitive to say I have grown to 'know' and/or 'love' any of the characters in this bleak drama, but I suspect it is, whilst no doubt over-dramatised for the purposes of producing a television series, unfortunately not too far removed from the harsh daily reality of many involved in some of the nastier real-life crimes I've heard about in recent years.

I do hope a 4th series is in prospect? - and from this website of French producing company Canal+ it seems that filming of the 4th series began in August this year and will be completed by next April, with the series being expanded from the usual 8 episodes to 12 for this 4th series. What new horrors they will have in store for us can only be imagined! You can find a rough translation into English of the synopsis of the 4th series, linked to above, here.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ten years on - 11th September 2001

It is hard to believe it is ten years already since the horrific events of 11th September 2001 (otherwise known as "9/11"), but it remains vividly etched in the memory.

There have many television programmes in recent days covering different aspects of this terrorist outrage and tragedy. However, I prefer simply to mark the tenth anniversary with this brief message and pictorial story-board.

This and other recent terrorist acts are commemorated permanently in my personal website here.

PS/ I wrote an article entitled "Terrorism and Civil Liberties" shortly after '9/11' in the comment area of my personal website (as I only began this blog 6 months later), as a reminder, still just as necessary today, that the fight against terrorism should not be used as a justification by governments in democratic countries to curtail civil liberties; fortunately we have now got rid of the Blair/Brown/Blunkett/Straw Labour Party 'cabal' of quasi-authoritarians who cynically used fear of terrorism to set about turning the UK into the most watched nation in the world, with the possible exception of North Korea, and whilst many of the worst aspects of their collective mania have since been rescinded (e.g. ID Cards) we are still living with many of their follies. A couple of wise sayings need to be borne in mind here:
"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." (Wendell Philipps);
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." (Benjamin Franklin).

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Nairn murder - potential new lead?

(Please see UPDATE at end)

The Inverness Courier (picked up by the Press Association and the BBC) is reporting that it has received a telephone call from a man who "claimed he was a Dutch charity worker who met a Highland man who knew the killer of 30-year-old Mr Wilson. During the conversation, lasting almost 20 minutes, the contact first enquired if the case had been solved and went on to name the man he met abroad and give details of where and when.". The caller is reported by the Inverness Courier to have said: "He said he knew all about it. He knew this Mr Wilson and knows the man who killed him".

Very circuitous information - what we can gather is that a caller, apparently a Dutch charity worker, says he spoke with a 'Highland man' who says he knew Mr Alistair Wilson (who was murdered on his doorstep in Nairn in November 2004) and the man who killed him (who according to what he is alleged to have said is a person other than himself). The Inverness Courier reports also that the caller named the 'Highland man' he had met abroad and made mention of it being a crime with an 'international link' and that the clue may lie in China.

Presumably the Inverness Courier has passed on the name of the person named by the caller to the Police (Northern Constabulary) and that assuming this 'Highland Man' is in the Highlands efforts will be made to trace him and to ask him what he knows. All very intriguing.

As I usually mention when writing about this case, if you have information about this crime, visit the Northern Constabulary dedicated page or telephone Nairn Police now on 01667 452222, the Inquiry Team in Inverness on 01463 715555, or you may make an anonymous call to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. (NB/ Since the amalgamation of all Scottish police forces into one unified body, the website link has changed and can now be found here.)

My most recent previous article on the murder is here. There are links to all my posts on this murder, so close to where I live, in the right-hand column under the heading 'Murder in Nairn' articles.

UPDATE (Tuesday 29NOV2011 08.40 GMT) The Inverness Courier is reporting that the potential new lead, referring to a connection in China, has now been ruled out. This 7 year old murder remains unsolved.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Blanket ban on blood donations by homosexual men to be lifted

The blanket ban on blood donations by homosexual and bisexual men is to be lifted from 7th November 2011 in England, Wales and Scotland; not [yet] in Northern Ireland, though.

Whilst this is a definite move in the right direction, there is a big caveat attached to the relaxation of the ban which makes me wonder if it is being made merely to comply with the strict letter of EU anti-discrimination regulations rather than to effect any practical change. The change applies only to gay men who [say they] have not had anal or oral sex with another man in the twelve months prior to the donation. Even those in long-term committed monogamous relationships are not exempt from this 12-month rule. What is really being said is that a man (whether homosexual or bisexual) must abstain from having sex with another male for 12 months, but of course the bisexual man is in no way banned from donating if he has had sex with a woman during those 12 months.

Is this in any way realistic, quite apart from whether it is discriminatory or not?

Nor of course are sexually promiscuous supposedly heterosexual men or women in any way banned from donating blood, however unsafe their sexual practices may be.

Another factor that is crucial, whoever is donating blood, is honesty and truthfulness. How is any verification to be carried out, in a practical sense, of whether a man's declaration (whether homosexual, bisexual or indeed heterosexual) that they have not had sex with another man during the preceding 12 months is factually correct? How has it been possible, until now, to verify a delcaration from any man that they have never had sex with another man, to comply with the current blanket ban.

What really needs to happen is that ALL potential donors should be quizzed about their sexual history, whilst accepting that some people (whether homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, male or female) will not be completely open and honest. Who is to know whether a purportedly heterosexual man (or woman) has not had unsafe sex of one kind or another whilst away from home on a business-trip or a vacation? And how likely is it that a purportedly happily-married person will admit willingly to such unsafe behaviour unless there is compelling evidence which makes it impossible to cover up?

Forgive me, but I think this change is cosmetic and with little real substance in any practical sense.