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

Monday, 25 August 2014

Salmond stretching the truth

Ahead of this evening's debate between Alex Salmond (for the SNP) and Alistair Darling (for Better Together) here's an amusing video-clip which illustrates pretty clearly the lies and distortions that flow freely from Salmond's lips and his hench-men or hench-women in and out of the Scottish Parliament in their aim to dismember our country, the United Kingdom:

Don't let the SNP succeed with their separatist and insular agenda - vote NO on 18th September, I urge you!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Hateful bigotry from Nairn's SNP Councillor on Highland Council

(Please see UPDATES at end)

Nairn has four Councillors on Highland Council and one of these is Councillor Liz MacDonald, who represents the SNP. The article below appeared in our local [weekly] newspaper yesterday:

Councillor MacDonald (SNP) stands by her "butcher's apron"
remark to Labour man
- article appearing in "Nairnshire Telegraph" 19th August 2014
(Unfortunately our local weekly newspaper in Nairn
does not have an on-line presence.)

- Hateful bigotry from Nairn SNP Councillor Liz MacDonald -

Click here to see an enlargement.

Click here to see an enlargement.

Whilst I find her "chip-on-shoulder" and plain nasty views deplorable, it is at least good that these have been exposed in our local newspaper. I think that all her comments deserve a good 'fisking', but I think this particular extract from the article above of one of her quoted remarks illustrates perfectly the kind of person she is:

"I was surprised that he had gone to the press about it because it was a tweet between us."
How naïve does someone have to be to make such a comment? Presumably if she had wished it to remain private she would not have tweeted publicly about it (but see below), but perhaps sent a 'direct message' instead, nor would she then have spoken about it to a reporter from "The Nairnshire". However, this particular remark says something more about Councillor Liz; this person, an elected Councillor, has a habit of blocking people from viewing her Twitter feed who have criticised anything she has tweeted in support of the SNP. For example, I am myself blocked from viewing her tweets because a couple of months ago I responded to a tweet from her suggesting, in response to one of my tweets, that I should get a copy of "Scotland's Future" to enable me to comment knowledgeably. This is a document put out by the Scottish Government (which currently is SNP led). I responded that I had indeed ordered this document soon after it was published and that I had subsequently read it cover to cover. I also commented that I found it merely a propaganda document (a 'manifesto' if you will) for the SNP and that it is vague on detail and provides no real factual information to allow people to make an educated and considered decision on how to vote in the forthcoming referendum. It is really just a very lengthy list of forecasts and wishful thinking. I realised some time later that Councillor Liz had blocked me as a result and I am aware that others locally have been blocked by her too, for having had the temerity to dissent from SNP 'dogma'. To be clear, I was never rude to her, but it is equally clear that she is unwilling to engage in meaningful debate and frankly doubt she merits holding public office with such a closed-minded attitude toward free debate. Our local newspaper "The Nairnshire" has performed a valuable public service by revealing the attitudes of our SNP Councillor when it comes to open debate.

Finally, it is unsurprising to me that the "The Nairnshire" article has gone unmentioned so far in another well-known Nairn blog; the writer is a supporter of the SNP cause and is usually very quick to comment on important articles appearing in our local 'rag'. Perhaps realising the devastating 'own goal' which the remarks and tweets made by Councillor Liz represent, he has preferred to draw a veil over it? She may regret that someone has decided to publicise her noisome tweets, but Twitter is part of social media and she will have to get used to it - or alternatively she might care to go into a sound-proofed room where she would be able to spew out her hateful rhetoric to her heart's content and not risk others becoming aware of her bigotry.

This article expands upon my tweet on this topic earlier today, here.

UPDATE (Wednesday 20AUG2014 16.45 BST) I have just noticed that our local councillor Liz MacDonald has unblocked me on Twitter; I can't say precisely when or why this has happened, but perhaps it is as a result of this blog article and my tweet earlier today. In any case I wanted to record this fact and that I am pleased about it.

2nd UPDATE (Tuesday 30DEC2014 21.18 GMT) As a result of visits to this article over the past couple of days and the last few weeks from some major media organisations (e.g. BBC and BSkyB amongst others), I decided to [try and] visit Ms MacDonald's twitter feed (@Liz_Nairn) this evening and discovered that I have once more been blocked from viewing it or following it; I have no idea how soon after I mentioned above that I had been 'unblocked' I was 'reblocked' as I don't follow her tweets and have not attempted to visit her Twitter feed since I last wrote here about it. Undoubtedly my article, entirely accurate and factual as it is of course, is acutely embarrassing to this person, but quite frankly it was/is no more than she deserved/deserves. I read a few days ago that it is now SNP policy to block 'dissenters' from their 'dogma' systematically and although I have no idea of the accuracy of the comment I read about this (in Facebook, as it so happens, in one of the pages I follow there) it does seem to have the ring of truth, for the SNP does seem to be a deeply 'paranoid' and closed-minded organisation.

Monday, 18 August 2014

One month today, Scotland will vote to remain in the UK!

I remain convinced, but not complacent, that the vast majority of Scots voters will choose to vote on 18th September in the referendum for Scotland to remain a part of the UK. This is obviously my preferred outcome, but I think my cautious optimism is solidly-based, both on almost every opinion poll and of course on the performance of First Minister Alex Salmond's (SNP) rather lacklustre performance in the debate with Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign on 5th August - I wrote about that here.

The "Yes" campaign regularly accuses the "No" side for being "negative" (whatever that means!), but it is really up to those who favour separation/independence to provide convincing arguments for how and why they think it a good idea, it is not enough simply to provide us with pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking and expect a majority of voters to follow them blindly. Why are the "Yes" campaigners, including Mr Salmond, so "negative" about Scotland remaining part of the UK? Scotland's partnership with England and Wales and later with Ireland (now Northern Ireland only, regrettably) for over 300 years has been one of the most successful amalgamations of nations into a country in history and, in my opinion, remains very successful to this day.

Democracy means having to accept what is the majority wish - I have accepted that a Scottish Parliament now exists, because that is what was voted for in the referendum held in 1998, just as I had to live with a Labour government from 1997 to 2010, although I certainly voted for neither. Equally obviously I did not vote for our current SNP Scottish Government in 2007 or 2011 and indeed nor did the majority of voters vote for the SNP either (the 2011 Scottish Parliament election results are here), but the vagaries of our electoral system gave the SNP a comfortable working majority. However uncomfortable I am with this, it is democracy and I therefore accept it. But of course, the real reason the SNP, with its 'beggar-thy-neighbour', 'chip-on-shoulder' attitudes (and I make absolutely no apology for slipping into cliché) does not really accept democracy at all, which is why it seeks to sow division between Scots and our fellow British citizens - I really do not believe your average Highlander in Scotland (me, in other words) is so very different from people in the lowlands of Scotland, the north-east of England or Devon or Cornwall, just to take some random examples - we all have to accept democratic outcomes which means that sometimes we get governments we don't wish for personally. The SNP only want a democratic arrangement which will favour them - hence their wish for Scotland to swim in its own little political pond, rather than to be part of (remain part of) one of the foremost economies of the world.

And speaking of 'economies', SNP plans give no certainty of what currency we might use should they prevail on 18th September, nor what entity will be responsible for acting as 'lender of last resort' or for setting interest rates. It is not "negative" to ask hard questions of these fantasists, indeed it would be negligent not to.

I shall be voting "No" on 18th September and I urge you to do so too. However, beyond that, I would like as many people to exercise their right to vote as possible, however you vote - this is a really important decision for all of us. Please don't miss your chance to participate in deciding our future. Finally, I hope the result is decisive one way or the other and both winners and losers will accept the result gracefully, as I intend to. Hopefully the SNP and its supporters will similarly accept the result if (as I hope happens) they lose their bid to split our country asunder. We will all have to live together once this is all over, so triumphalism by the winners is certainly to be avoided.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Why I will never give up completely on traditional SW/LW/MW radios

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking increasingly about this arcane subject, having first begun to think about it seriously a few years ago. Like many people I have at least one ordinary radio in every room in my home (including bathrooms), with all of them capable of receiving long wave (LW), medium wave (MW) and frequency modulation (FM) transmissions; I also have several radios capable of receiving short wave (SW) transmissions - one of these is a pretty sophisticated multi-band short wave radio although it is very large and heavy, so I rarely use it nowadays and indeed it generally lurks on a bookcase shelf in my garage. Obviously I also have a radio in my car, able to receive LW/MW/FM transmissions.

About 4 or so years ago I got my first digital radio, also capable of receiving FM analogue broadcasts and a couple of years ago a second digital radio, also with FM analogue capability.

A year or so ago I got my first internet radio and it can be plugged into a broadband router or connected to it wirelessly; this allows easy radio reception from more or less every country on the planet with a huge range of stations available from most countries with very high quality audio; obviously a broadband internet connection is required to make this work. I now have two of these radios.

Long wave transmissions have been broadcast for many decades, although are much less used nowadays, but they have a quite big reception radius (for example I used to listen to BBC Radio 4 LW when I lived in Paris and know that signals can be picked up as far away as northern Spain with adequate clarity under most weather conditions; the number of separate stations that can be fitted into this broadcast spectrum is quite limited though so there is great risk of interference if too many stations try to broadcast on similar frequencies because of the long reception range. Medium wave has a smaller, but still quite large, reception radius, whereas FM has a smaller reception range still, but provided a decent quality signal is available and the aerial is angled correctly, can provide much better quality reception that is hiss- and crackle-free. Short wave broadcasts can be picked up world-wide, but are very dependent on atmospheric conditions and time of day, with different short wave bands being used at different times of day when signals are being beamed to particular parts of the world.

Digital radio is a definite 'advance' (in some respects) on MW/FM broadcasts in particular; the reception is generally crystal-clear, but only domestic broadcasts can be listened to and only those which are carried on the digital platform and this is by no means all of them. I did take one of my digital radios to Spain a few years ago, but the digital receiver did not work there (I understand the technical specifications for digital broadcasts for different countries are different), although I was able to use it for FM broadcast reception, but because of the lack of digital reception capability there I brought it back to the UK to use it to its fullest extent.

Internet radio is mostly a marvellous advance - a huge range of domestic and worldwide broadcasts can be picked up easily - and the sound is of [equally] high quality whether one is listening to voice radio from the UK (such as BBC Radio 4) or similar kinds of domestic and international broadcasts from places such as New Zealand, Australia or Canada; the same is true of other kinds of broadcast such as classical music for example. Without an internet broadband connection however it will not work.

So why am I writing this article, specially with the title I have chosen? I certainly recognise the advantages of both digital and internet radio broadcasts - high quality audio with both and with the latter the capability of easy reception of broadcasts from all over the world. However, digital radio does require a decent signal and I have occasionally experienced signal break-up under certain atmospheric conditions, specially during the summer (I did query this a few years ago with the BBC technical people and was told that atmospheric conditions should not affect reception quality, but in my experience this is simply not true; to digress for a moment this signal fall-off also occurs in summer on Freeview TV reception). I live within line of sight of the broadcast transmitters for both radio and TV and it is not very many miles away, across water, so the signal strength is generally excellent. As for internet radio, it is excellent most of the time, but occasionally reception will break-up, even though there is a broadband signal and occasionally too a broadcast will not be available for "legal reasons" - this happens from time to time on BBC Radio 4 'Today' and whether I happen to be listening on my internet radio here in the UK or the similar radio I have at my home in Spain.

This last point brings me to the crux of my whole article:
- Digital radio is suitable only for listening to domestic broadcasts and not all domestic broadcasts are carried on this platform. We live in the UK in a pretty liberal democracy; the same is true of [most of] Europe and a number of other countries and regions (which I generally classify as North America, Australasia [Australia and New Zealand] and Japan/South Korea/Taiwan/India, plus perhaps a few others, for example parts of South America), but there is no getting away from the fact that one is with digital radio only able to listen to what the licensing authority in one's country chooses to allow one to listen to. The increase in reception quality that digital radio undoubtedly makes possible is at the price of being limited to only domestic broadcasts and only some of those;
- Internet radio is generally wonderful, except when one's internet connection is interrupted, which also of course means when the electricity supply is interrupted (which doesn't happen often either here in the UK or Spain, but it does occasionally), because although the radio itself can work for many hours on its rechargeable lithium battery, the broadband router cannot. Internet radio is also dependent on the proper functioning of the internet, which occasionally suffers technical problems resulting in a temporary interruption of connectivity, but is [more than] theoretically subject to political or perhaps commercial interference here or elsewhere.

Of course conventional radio broadcasts (SW/LW/MW) are also subject to some of these same problems as signals can be "jammed" more or less effectively by governments who do not wish their citizens to listen to certain (usually foreign) broadcasts, often in time of war, but also during peacetime or periods of "cold war". But generally speaking these methods of broadcasting are less-dependent on the full functioning of an advanced technological society and less subject to efforts to stop one listening to them for whatever reason, benign or not. So whilst I make full use of digital and internet radio, I never want to lose my ability to make use of less advanced technology - one never knows when this might become crucial, as people in some countries where governments block some of the internet already know all too well. Whenever there are breaks in my internet radio reception of BBC Radio 4 'Today' (referred to above) for 'legal reasons', I can easily switch to my digital or FM radios, but that may not always be possible under all circumstances. I prefer to retain my freedom to circumvent whatever controls may sometimes be placed on these more advanced broadcasting technologies. My motto is always to be as prepared as possible and not to become complacent - recent events around the world have only hardened this determination on my part.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

My verdict on "Salmond and Darling - the Debate"

A Scottish friend, who lives outside Scotland and therefore cannot vote in the upcoming referendum on separation/independence of Scotland from the UK, emailed me this morning about other matters, but wanted to hear a report on last night's "debate". A number of my Twitter friends had remarked that the STV on-line feed of the event seemed to crash or buffer almost continuously, perhaps because there was nowhere near enough bandwidth to cope with the demand (apparently from around the world) to watch it.

Luckily, though, it is going to be re-broadcast tonight on the BBC Parliament channel so at least most viewers throughout the rest of the UK should be able to watch it if they wish to.

As for the debate last night, well I both watched it and and recorded it. My overall impressions:
- was that there was nothing much new. Salmond certainly had no killer punch and Darling was only marginally less dull than usual, although I think he had the better evening;
- I doubt if anyone will have been persuaded against their previously held views or that many if any 'undecideds' will be any nearer to reaching a decision on how to vote;
- having said that, my view is that most 'undecideds' know perfectly well how they are going to vote, but they simply don't want to reveal it, possibly to avoid complications in their personal and professional lives if their real views don't 'fit' (they may also think it makes them interesting, perhaps, when instead it simply reveals how boring they are; not cynical at all, eh?).

Now onto some comments about what I saw and heard. Both participants mostly regurgitated their well-known positions and although it was mostly 'civilised' on both sides, it did descend into a Yah-boo shout-match on a couple of occasions.

One of the major topics of the evening was what currency Scotland would use post-separation/independence, should that eventuate. Salmond was asked what his back-up plan is should a 'currency union' with rUK not be agreed, as the UK government has repeatedly said this would not happen. Basically he said it would happen, because it would be in the interests both of Scotland and rUK; no evidence was offered, although eventually after much to and fro he did slip in that the UK Treasury "gained £40 billion from being able to include oil revenues, which it would not be able to do without a currency union" and that the current refusal to contemplate currency union by the UK government (and the Labour opposition, too) was mere bluff and bluster that would change quickly in the event of a 'yes' vote. My remarks - either you believe this or you don't as little real substance was offered to support his contention. This was really what both Darling and sceptics/opponents in the audience quizzed Salmond about most exhaustively. Salmond and his advisers really do need to develop a more credible position on this important topic.

As for Darling, his major stumbling block was when he was asked repeatedly by Salmond whether "you agree with David Cameron that an independent Scotland could flourish" to which he refused to give any clear response. The basic difficulty for Darling is that as a staunch Labour supporter he seemed incapable of putting aside his dislike of all things Conservative in a seeming determination not be be heard saying anything that might be taken to be support for a view expressed by the Prime Minister and leader of a political party he opposes viscerally, even at the expense of not achieving his aim of keeping Scotland part of the UK. In other words, the 'Better Together' campaign's main flaw is that its principal components (Labour, Conservative, LibDems) basically loathe each other and seem unable to put this loathing to one side in order to advance their joint desire to maintain Scotland within the UK. Darling and his Labour advisers and 'Better Together' partners really do need to develop a more credible position to enable them to answer Salmond's jibe (for that's all it was) with conviction - that of course Scotland could flourish as a separate country, but that they simply want to remain British. In other words, that the separation/independence debate should not solely be about economic and fiscal matters, but about emotion, too.

Apart from these two topics, which showed up glaringly the defects of both sides of this debate, there was nothing much more said that was not trivial or petty. Some of the audience participation on both sides was reasonably sensible, without in any way being anything other than naked propaganda for their chosen standpoints. The stand-out silly, unpleasant comment/question came from an independence supporter though. There is a thread (actually a dirty-great ship's traditional jute rope!) running through much separatist/independence rhetoric and that is that anyone who is not a supporter of their position is not a true Scot and is somehow a traitor. The stand-out comment which illustrated this attitude perfectly was from a lady who asked Darling in an aggressive and argumentative manner if he had an address in Scotland, seemingly expecting him to say no. Now, anyone who knows anything about me knows that I have absolutely no love for Labour, but have always thought that Darling is, for a Labour person, a reasonably decent and honest man and that he is so self-evidently Scottish that I don't think any rational person could seriously have posed the question that lady did, unless blinded by nationalist rhetoric; it is perfectly easy to establish that he has a home in Edinburgh and is of course the MP for a constituency in that city.

That's really all that needs to be said about last night's programme I think; I don't care for Bernard Ponsonby's presenting style, but he did a competent enough job in all fairness.

The general verdict of most commentators is I think that Darling won 'on points':
- Herald;
- Scottish Daily Record;
- Daily Telegraph;
- Guardian.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Obama: "We tortured some folks"

A pretty remarkable statement for any US President to make, even if it is long overdue and hedged about with many qualifications and "justifications":

A fuller version of his statement is on C-Span:

Although President Obama cautioned against being "too sanctimonious" he also stated that the US had "crossed a line" in some of the techniques - for example in 2009 soon after he took office he referred to some of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" favoured by the CIA (amongst them "waterboarding") by commenting "whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake". His latest comments on these techniques included the statement that "any fair-minded person would believe were torture".

Basically, in advance of the publication of a US Sentate report which is expected to criticise the CIA for its use of brutal abuse of terrorist suspects in its custody and moreover that such methods did not result in any life-saving intelligence. It seems also that CIA personnel have also been involved in spying on Congressional staff preparing the Senate report, something which CIA Director Brennan has already apologised for

Basically, the current US administration is now accepting that its predecessor used torture, something it has studiously avoided doing until now, for fear of the legal ramifications. Although I do not wish to criticise President Obama too heavily, for it is after all his administration that has (at long last!) acknowledged publicly what every objective observer around the world, including some in the US itself, has known or very strongly suspected for years. Nevertheless, President Obama's attempt to jutify or 'place in context' US actions do not really wash with me. The President has stated, for example:
- "It is important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job those folks had. A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.";
- "It is important, when we look back, to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent.";
- "We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened.".

My reaction to these comments and statements is, to put it brutally frankly: STUFF AND NONSENSE! Torture is wrong. Period. No ifs or buts. No attempts at 'placing in context' are acceptable or justifiable!

Nevertheless, his remarks on Friday are very welcome, as they seem to indicate that the US as a nation is at last finding its way back to reality, rather than trying to rely on making up rules which flouted its international legal obligations:
- "When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques – techniques that I believe, and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture – we crossed a line.";
- "That needs to be understood and accepted. We have to as a country take responsibility for that so hopefully we don’t do it again in the future.".

One suspects though that whilst the US no longer uses torture, at least since the current administration came to office, it is not part of President Obama's thinking for the US to atone for its earlier crimes under the Bush 43 administration. Will we see those responsible for authorising the use of torture by the US arraigned before the International Criminal Court in the Hague? I doubt it very much, unfortunately, but in an ideal world I would expect the criminals responsible to be held to account (principally President George W Bush, Vice-President Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Henry Rumsfeld plus no doubt some others slightly lower on the totem pole of power in the US at the time - the then current Director of Central Intelligence or later National Intelligence, for example, for running the agency which carried out or procured the carrying out of the torture); the verdict of history on this criminal period in US governance is I strongly suspect not in much doubt, whether the criminals responsible are made to pay for their crimes during their lifetimes or not.

To summarise my views about this whole lamentable affair, there is no justification whatsoever, under any circumstances, for torture under the relevant UN Convention on the matter (CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment - you can read it here), although the US when signing the convention inserted a large number of qualifications - see here.

I have written about torture a number of times in the past, so won't repeat all I wrote here, but links to some of the articles most relevant to the latest US developments are linked below:
- Cheney tries to bury Vice-Presidential records (21 September 2008)
- "The Moral Maze" and "Torture" (23 July 2008);
- The truth about 'waterboarding' - it is torture (2 July 2008);
- The US under G W Bush and 'torture' (24 July 2007);
- Torture - is it ever justified? (20 March 2005).
(There are many later and earlier posts - simply put "Torture" into the search box at the top.)