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

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A9 dualling upgrade brought forward

It seems that plans to dual the main link between the north of Scotland and the rest of the UK (as well as the southern part of Scotland), the A9, are to be brought forward with the announcement of a GBP3bn programme of improvements. Read more here from The Press Association.

Quite apart from improving the speed of travel up and down this major Scottish road artery, it should improve safety, too, by obviating the need for many motorists to make dangerous overtaking manoeuvres.

Monday, 25 June 2012

"Hypocrisy" from Danny Alexander, who just happens to be my MP

I've previously given our local MP, Danny Alexander, now a member of the Coalition government (from the LibDem wing of course), a fairly easy ride when commenting on his expenses at the time of the Telegraph revelations two and a half years ago, but rank hypocrisy and 'jumping on bandwagons' makes me heave! Here we have our Danny jumping on yet another bandwagon criticising those who make perfectly legal arrangements to minimise their tax liabilities:

- when, as Guido Fawkes has helpfully reminded us, he 'flipped' his properties, using what what can only be described as quite imaginative arguments, prior to the eruption of the expenses scandal in order to save himself rather a lot of tax.

As I wrote in 2009 (first link above) I expect he is no worse than very many other MPs, of all politcal parties, not to mention other well-known figures or obscure citizens for that matter, but it sticks in my throat to see him (and indeed David Cameron, the Prime Minister, last week) taking to the airwaves to lambast people like Jimmie Carr (horrible left-wing hyposite that he is, too) exploiting perfectly legal - for the moment at least - loopholes in the law to minimise his tax liability.

It is NOT moral, or in any way sensible, to maximise voluntarily one's tax liability to the State, merely so that it can squander it - this is NOT (surprisingly enough from me - Ed) a political rant against any particular political party. What it is, though, is a very clear statement of my view that one is obliged to pay only what the law prescribes as being due in tax, not a penny more nor a penny less. There is no question of 'morality' being involved - we are a country governed by the rule of law, not the moral prejudices of partisan individuals or newspapers.

So, Mr Alexander (and Mr Cameron or any Labour [or SNP] politician for that matter), I think you should think more carefully before taking yourself to television studios to try and profit from the 'tabloid-style' prejudices being whipped up just now. Your own tax affairs and those of quite a few other politicians are by no means clear-cut, depending upon who is doing the interpreting of what is 'moral' or 'immoral'.

For myself, I prefer to look at what the law says. Period.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Test post from my Android phone

I've just downloaded the Blogger app and this is my first attempt at using it. Laborious but OK for brief articles.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

I'm Out4Marriage - are you?

As part of the Government's consultation process on the advisability of changing the law to allow same-sex civil marriages, campaigns have been started by people who hold opposing viewpoints on the matter. This article is about those who support a change in the law (you can find out about the other side - those who oppose permitting same-sex marriage - for yourself, if you are interested).

I support the concept of same-sex marriage. Period. My only 'disagreement' with what the Government is proposing is that same-sex religious marriage should also be permitted, for those religious bodies which wish to carry out such ceremonies (and there are many) and I fully accept, without any quibble whatsoever, that those religious organisations that oppose such unions should not be obliged to carry them out.

In any case, many individuals have been happy to add their support for same-sex marriage and have recorded video-clips in the support of the Out4Marriage campaign and you can see the play-list of those who have done so, so far, here in the YouTube website. I high-light two of those who have so far added their support:

Theresa May, MP - Home Secretary

Desmond Swayne, MP - Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, David Cameron

So far there are 103 video-clip recorded in this series, many from quite well-known people in politics (of many political view-points), or business, etc.

Equality is for everyone and those who oppose equal marriage rights for same-sex people are on the wrong side of history - I am pretty certain that in fifty years time it will seem just as bizarre to most people that same-sex marriage was once not permitted, just as most today find it difficult to comprehend why equal votes for women were once not permitted, why inter-racial marriage was once not permitted in some places, why equal rights irrespective of race, creed or colour were once not recognised in many countries. It really is that simple.

If you support the idea that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry if they wish, please sign the petition to support this by visiting the website of the Coalition for Equal Marriage here. Finally, to those who say that Civil Partnerships already give the same rights as marriage, the sad truth is that this is not entirely so and that there are important differences between the two which generally disfavour Civil Partnerships; the following video-clip explains clearly some of the disadvantages of a Civil Partnership when compared with a marriage:

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

On the importance of not over-filling a washing machine

(Please see UPDATE at end)

I suspect that, like most people, I have a tendency to over-fill my washing machines with laundry, this applies whether I'm in Spain (as I am at present) or at my home in Scotland. I think this is partly an attempt at frugality in use of resources, from a 'green' point of view, also simple parsimoniousness. I have wondered occasionally whether my laundry was really being cleaned properly because although of course I use the recommended amount of detergent (in recent times I have been using a gel rather than powder tablets) there often seems not to be much tumbling going on within the drum.

So where is all this going, you may be wondering. Well, I bleed from time to time - occasionally from my nose and occasionally from other parts of the body - my skin scratches and gets damaged pretty easily and this has perhaps grown a little worse over the years, possibly as a result of the general weakening of this 'organ' (because that's what the skin is, the largest organ in the body) since I began to suffer from eczema 15-20 years ago, against which I make occasional use of a topical [corticosteroid] cream, which I get on prescription from my doctor, to bring outbreaks under control. In any case, I recently had quite a bad nose-bleed during the night and of course the pillow-case got blood on it, as did the pillow-protector below it and indeed the pillow itself - I noticed all of this only in the morning when I awakened.

I laundered the pillow-case and the pillow-protector the next day, as part of a[n over-]full load of laundry and the stains were not completely removed - I was planning to buy some more of both to replace them in due course, but have plenty spares so it was not an urgent matter. However, yesterday I was changing all my bed-linen and when putting on fresh linen a cut on my finger which had happened earlier in the day (*) began to bleed again quite badly and I got several spots of blood on the new top-sheet. This morning I decided to launder that sheet right away, perhaps before the blood would have a chance to 'set' and I also included an offending pillow-case and the pillow-protector from a previous unsuccessful wash, and very few other items. As the drum of the machine was much less congested than it usually is I think the washing-action must have performed a lot better than usual, because ALL the blood-stains are now gone, including what I thought were most probably 'set' stains on the pillow-protector and pillow-case.

Currently I've got the blood-spotted pillow itself in the machine - I've never washed a pillow before, I usually just replace them every few years - and will report later on what the result is. The pillow is polyester (I stopped using goose-down pillows some years ago as although they are comfortable, they can be messy and I think I was sometimes subject to an allergic reaction when using them) and assuming the filler is not distorted too much should be able to dry it naturally over a couple of days, but if I do have to buy another one, then so be it.

(*) That particular finger-bleed was on a knuckle, the result of carelessness when washing my stove-top espresso machine, which has a stainless steel and quite sharp-edged lid.

UPDATE (Wednesday 13JUN2012 13.55 CET+1) As mentioned earlier, I decided to put the blood-stained pillow into the washing-machine on its own to see if the stains would wash away. Well, I took the pillow out of the machine about 1 1/2 hours ago and am very pleased to say it is now pristine clean and the blood-spot is completely gone. Even better, the filler is not distorted in any way, so I have had it out hanging in my back patio since I took it from the machine and it is already almost dry and will certainly be ready to go back on the bed by this evening - of course the temperature here is around 30 degC today and there is a bit of a breeze with bright sunshine, so it is ideal drying conditions.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Eurozone agrees lend Spain upto 100 billion Euros

As a result of a lengthy (2 1/2 hour) 'conference call' yesterday afternoon between the finance ministers of the 17 Eurozone countries, it was agreed that Spain could borrow upto 100 billion Euros (about GBP 80.7 bn, or USD 125 bn) to shore up its shaky banking sector, specifically its 'savings bank' sector, hit particularly badly by the property crash.

Spain will be deciding over the next week, once an 'audit' has been carried out, precisely how much funding to ask for.

Assuming this plan goes ahead, it will undoubtedly put off the 'day of reckoning' for some time, but whether it will provide any long-term solution is less clear (to me at least), unless the productivity of the Spanish economy (just like the much smaller Greek) can be 'pole-vaulted' up much closer to German levels. It remains also to be seen how the German electorate will react in their elections next year. I fear all this latest scheme is doing is to 'kick the can down the road' a little farther. I think the Euro has fundamental flaws in its design which only stand a fair chance of being resolved either by:
- some of the weaker economies in the Eurozone leaving it and starting to use other currencies (presumably their former currencies or near relatives) and allowing them to find their own value against other currencies, including the Euro; or
- by the Eurozone countries agreeing, sooner rather than later, to pool their fiscal (and in reality their political) sovereignties into what would effectively be one unified political unit. Mrs Merkel broached this subject a few days ago, qualifying the process as 'gradual' - whether that would be good enough, even if the other countries (*) agree to go along with this idea, is anyone's guess, but their resolve would certainly be tested ferociously by the money markets along the way.

(*) - for example, both the French and the Dutch electorates already rejected the EU Constitutional Treaty in referenda, which effectively invalidated that idea then, although it was later resurrected under another name, the Lisbon Treaty.

Well it is warm and sunny here and the food and wine are good, so I suppose like most people who can I will simply carry on at least for the present enjoying myself. What will happen, though, should the music stop on the 'musical chairs' game being played trying to reconcile the irreconcilable?

Sources (just a few from amongst the hundreds, because this is a very major issue):
- El Mundo
- BBC Mundo (in Spanish)

- Wall Street Journal
- Reuters

(This article is cross-posted from my Spanish blog, because of the importance of this issue)