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

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Peace and Joy at Christmas

I am signing-off now for a day or so over Christmas, but wish all who pass this way a Joyous Christmas and a Peaceful, Happy and Prosperous New Year. For my music this year I am embedding a short video-clip of images taken from the Hubble Telescope and using the music of Johnann Pachelbel's Canon in D Major, highly appropriate at this time of year. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Breast implants - in most cases, why?

One thing that has puzzled me for years is why some women have felt the need to have breast implants. I can understand why some women who have been unfortunate enough to become afflicted with breast cancer, necessitating partial or total mastectomy, have wanted to replace the removed cancerous tissue to allow them to regain their former physical profile and perhaps boost their own self-esteem. But I have never understood why a perfectly healthy woman would feel the need to 'enhance' her natural breast profile with artificial implants.

Some women naturally have larger breasts than others, but provided a woman is healthy, what is the point? Is it to boost their own self-worth, or to please a husband or boyfriend? Let's face it, men have different sizes of penises - some 'small', some 'average' and some 'large', but if every man who had (or felt he had) a penis which was too small underwent implant surgery to try and make it appear bigger, it would be a sad commentary both on them and whoever may have encouraged them to do so.

I feel exactly the same about botox or lip enhancement procedures. For goodness sakes, if there is no medical requirement for any of these procedures and they are motivated solely by vanity or to 'please' someone else, then my strong view is that people should leave well enough alone.

This little article has obviously been prompted by the news stories today that many thousands of women had breast implants made using what is described as non-medical grade silicon, manufactured by a now-defunct French company and that there have been some cases of the implants splitting and causing toxic effects in the body.

I seem to have heard this same kind of story a number of times over the years - I'm pretty sure I first heard of this kind of problem at least 20 years ago, perhaps involving breast implants manufactured by a different company for all I know, but just as with the potential dangers associated with smoking tobacco, the risks have been known for a long, long time and in the case of breast implants there is no addictive substance involved, simply what are in my view 'skewed' notions of what constitutes 'beauty'.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Obituary - Václav Havel

Václav Havel
5th October 1936 - 18th December 2011

Rest in Peace

Václav Havel died today, aged 75 years. He had fought over many years for an end to Communism in Czechoslovakia and in 1989 led the "Velvet Revolution" which finally toppled the regime. In June 1990 he became President of Czechoslovakia and after Slovakia broke away, the first President of the Czech Republic in February 1993, a position he held until February 2003. You can read his full Obituary in the Telegraph here.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Price differences in Nairn - Sainsbury's & the Co-op

Yesterday I had my first visit to the main Co-operative supermarket in Nairn since Sainsbury's opened here back in August this year. I didn't need to buy much, or anything really, but as I was in town anyway I thought I'd take a glance and see what might have changed in the past few months - not a lot, in summary. I did buy a few things (some cheeses, some liquorice allsorts [which I only have around Christmas, as I gorge on them, however big the box!], and some paté), but only really so I wouldn't walk out of the shop with nothing.

However, I did notice a couple of items which illustrate the price differences, some pretty dramatic, between Sainsbury's and the Co-op. Sainsbury's is not known as a low-cost supermarket (and is generally a little more expensive than Tesco, in my experience), but for many things it seems to be positively cheap when compared with its 'rival' in Nairn! The two items I noticed in particular:

- Brussels Sprouts - bagged - £1.00 in Sainsbury's for 500 grams, but for the same price at the Co-op, the bag contains only 250 grams. In other words the Co-op is charging double what Sainsbury's charges for this basic, if seasonal, vegetable! It so happens I had purchased some loose at Sainsbury's a day earlier, and the charge was £1.90 for a kilo, a little less than the bagged price; I didn't notice that the Co-op had them for sale loose. I tend only to buy brussels sprouts in the run-up to Christmas and in January. I love them, either simply steamed or occasionally I will over-cook them deliberately, then purée them with cream and freshly-ground nutmeg; if I'm feeling in the mood I will pipe the purée into spirals on baking-paper to keep warm in the oven - I love it!

- Sherry - Amontillado - bottle of 1 litre. In Sainsbury's this sells for £6.49, whereas in the Co-op it is on sale for £6.89, a 40p (or a 6.2%) mark-up. I buy sherry of various kinds on a very regular basis and can therefore report that Amontillado at Tesco costs £6.47 for a 1 litre bottle, but the 2p price differential (possibly with similar savings on other items) is perhaps only partially worthwhile for a major shopping-basket, given that one must drive either to Inverness or Forres to shop at Tesco, so the slightly higher costs at Sainsbury's seem relatively unimportant. A further advantage of shopping at Sainsbury's for a regular sherry-drinker such as me is that, unusually for a supermarket, they have two different styles of Amontillado, a 'Pale Dry' and a 'Medium', whereas both the Co-op and Tesco have only one, of the 'medium' variety. Sainsbury's 'Pale Dry' is not quite so dry as a classic 'Fino'.

So, there we have it - the Co-op in Nairn seems for many of the kinds of products that I might wish to buy, even if they stock them in their much smaller floor-space, to be considerably more expensive than our new Sainsbury's. It is probably true that I am not your typical consumer, at least not in this area, but unless you live close to the Co-op and don't have a car, then I'd say it's a clear no-contest - shop at Sainsbury's!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A video-clip religious bigots should be forced to watch ...

... to try and get it into their thick skulls that hatred and bigotry hurt real people. Yes, this is relevant to the consultation currently going on in Scotland about whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry and if so whether such marriages may take place in a religious setting or officiated over by religious bodies or whether they should be possible only without religious intervention. I'm not 'religious' in any way myself, but some people are and for them it is important. On the other hand I think it reasonable that particular religious bodies should not be obliged to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies if they do not wish to and I cannot imagine why any same-sex couple would wish to be married in circumstances where those conducting it objected to doing so, but that does not mean that religious bodies should have any kind of veto over allowing civil same-sex marriages. Tolerance needs to work both ways - and neither Scotland nor the UK generally are theocratic states, but secular democracies, even if we have the bizarre system of having 'established' churches.

Anyway, I came across this powerful video-clip today which, although obviously put together by a young American boy, is a very powerful testament to the types of consequences which can flow from the hateful beliefs of some religious bodies which they have been spewing forth these past weeks against the possibility of allowing any kind of same-sex marriage here:

(thru Boy Culture - relevant post here.)
- this boy, despite being bullied, taunted and made fun of because of the possibility he is gay and having indulged in 'cutting' and thought about suicide in response to the treatment he has received, has decided he isn't going anywhere. Far too many 'teens (specially male teens and young people) have committed suicide over the years for the same reason - read the statistics about suicide in Scotland.

In Nairn we have a weekly newspaper, published every Tuesday - The Nairnshire Telegraph does not have any online presence, so it is not possible to link to their articles, but one item they carry every week is a sort of 'moral homily' from some religious bloke signing himself 'Sandy Shaw - Nairn Christian Fellowship' and they are usually pretty trite, apart from being poorly written and full of logical non sequiturs. The article this past week was titled 'Marriage' and yes, it was about that old hobby-horse, religious objections to gay marriage. I reproduce the article below so you can read it for yourself, but I will be making a few comments about it further down this article:

The Nairnshire Telepgraph
Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - page 6

Now to the fisking of this piece of tosh:

"For centuries, heterosexual marriage has been recognised across cultures as the most successful building block for sound solid society"
- I don't quarrel with the basic premise of this sentence, but the word "heterosexual" is completely superfluous, because it has been the only kind in recent centuries, but in those few countries where same-sex marriage already exists there is absolutely no evidence that this has led to societal breakdown or to heterosexual marriage being in any way diminished in value, one of the postulations put forward without any evidence by those who object to the concept of same-sex marriage. In any case, the modern concept of marriage does not have the deep roots in history which Sandy Shaw would have us believe; it has evolved over the centuries - and this is as true of same-sex as heterosexual marriage. Read more here.

"Marriage recognises and acknowledges the uniqueness of the complimentary genders of male and female, and their ability to produce children."
- I do not wish to be unnecessarily rude to ignorant fools like Sandy Shaw, but he really does need to learn the difference between "complimentary" and "complementary", the latter being the word he should have used. His statement, with that correction, seems at fist glance to be not completely nonsensical, but then of course we come to the not enormously rare number of cases where marriage partners (a man and a woman, just to be clear) do not have children, either through the incapacity of one or other or both to procreate or because one or the other or both does not desire to have children. It almost seems as if Sandy Shaw is implying that marriages without children are not valid marriages - I expect he would deny this interpretation hotly, but it is certainly a logical interpretation of what he has written.

His next sentence: "Jesus Christ honoured marriage and put his imprimatur upon this holy institution" is a matter of belief without any concrete historical evidence, but in modern cultures (including that of the UK) civil marriage is just as valid and legal as marriage under religious auspices and indeed in many countries (for example France and the Netherlands, of which I have personal knowledge) it is the civil ceremony which is required by law to make a marriage legal, with a religious ceremony following on only for those who wish to have one, but has absolutely no status under civil law.

"When people have asked if marriage will make any difference, where a couple are living together, one response has been, "It will make it right"."
"This move to redefine marriage marriage is far more serious than many realise"."
In his first sentence I wonder of Mr Shaw has thought through the implications of what he has written. It has been held, or I always thought it had been, that for a [heterosexual] couple to 'live together', specially if they procreate and have children, that such a couple is 'living in sin' from a Christian perspective. But as Mr Shaw must know, just as much has me, this has become an increasingly common occurrence in recent decades, whatever he or I may think about this, so to 'correct the matter' by formalising the relationship must surely be a 'good thing' in his terms? Of course one response has been that "It will make it right", but there may be other responses. Then he proceeds with his logical non sequitur in the second sentence, because the earlier sentence could apply equally to hetero-sexual marriage as to same-sex marriage. But why is it "far more serious"? Sandy Shaw makes that statement, but then of course blunders on with his article without providing any information to justify it.

"It has been suggested that Government has no right to redefine marriage. To do so would be acting ultra vires - acting beyond their powers and authority."
Well, many things have "been suggested", but it doesn't necessarily make it so and of course Mr Shaw provides no evidence to back up his statement, because of course there is none. The Government, provided it can get a Bill passed through Parliament (whether at Westminster or at Holyrood in the case of Scotland) and get the resulting Act signed into law by Her Majesty the Queen (which She does automatically, by convention, when Parliament passes Bills), can make whatever laws it chooses, with the only sanction being that a subsequent Government, after an election, might reverse or nullify that law. Those are the facts, Mr Shaw, so to "suggest" the Government "has no right" to redefine marriage or anything else is just idiotic. I could suggest the Earth is flat all I like, or that the Earth was created a mere six thousand years ago, but apart from in my own little fantasy world no-one else would have any obligation to take me seriously. Of course in Sandy Shaw's special 'fantasy world', merely making the suggestion makes it a fact, as he then goes on to talking about it being "ultra vires", as if his cod misuse of Latin makes his contention any more believable, or valid.

"If Government is so rash as to define marriage, then that is what will be taught in schools, and will be upheld by other public bodies, and woe betide anyone daring to be controversial or intolerant, by simply holding to the traditional biblical pattern.
Fair enough, Sandy Shaw may assert that such a change would be "rash", but of course he provides no evidence to back up the assertion. It used to be held that marriage between members of different races was somehow "wrong" - there was even a word for it "miscegenation", just like it used to be believed in some places that children of different races should attend different schools, or that people of different races should use different beaches or sit in different parts of buses. So, Mr Shaw, please provide some evidence to back up your assertion, but please don't peddle your bigotry and petty prejudices as having some kind of objective validity. As for "... holding to the traditional biblical pattern", well I hate to be the one to have to point this out to the delusiuonal Mr Shaw, but neither Scotland nor the rest of the UK are theocracies - people like Mr Shaw are free to believe whatever nonsense they wish, but until a theocracy is established in this country, his view on this matter is no more 'valid' than my 'belief' that green wine gums are somehow 'better' than orange ones, but I expect some others think the opposite, or that yellow ones are the best. It's a matter of opinion, nothing more.

"Take this one stage further. If marriage is legally redefined in this one area, why not polygamy."
Oh, I accept it could happen, but do not think it terribly likely - and indeed polygamy has existed at different times and in different cultures throughout human history. Really, Sandy Shaw is 'clutching at straws', or 'dredging the barrel' with this tired argument (and I apologise for my use of cliches, but I find it difficult to take people like Mr Shaw seriously).

I'm nearly reaching the end of this yawn-fest. His penultimate and before penultimate paragraphs are so logically chaotic that I think I will leave them to stand in their sublime meaninglessness, but his final sentence:

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."
is presumably his basic contention that "the country is going to the dogs" by considering a change to permit same-sex marriage, but as with the rest of his assertions he provides no corroborating evidence. People like Mr Shaw said similar things when buses were desegregated in the US South, or when women were campaigning for voting rights in the early part of the 20th century in the UK. Societies evolve. It is no longer considered 'sinful' to have clothes made of mixed threads or to eat shellfish or to eat milk and meat together, all things which are in his Christian Bible.

I usually glance at Mr Shaw's 'homilies' each week when I am in Nairn; they are all of a type - prejudice masquerading as 'morality'. His subject the week before was "Money", but I shall spare myself the penance of de-constructing that article and any readers the tedium of reading about it.

I hope the Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government') will, after its consultative programme, get with the 21st century and pass the Bill into law to allow same-sex civil marriage and permit those churches that wish to permit adherents to use their premises or personnel for this purpose to do so.