Friday, 29 February 2008

Hoax, spam, phishing

If you have account(s) on eBay and/or PayPal, please be VERY wary of emails pretending to come from these sites. When eBay sends you mail, they usually include your full registered name, not just "Customer". I am unfamiliar with PayPal's procedures, but they will have similar safeguards.

Joann asked me to warn of a scam, pretending to be PayPal, designed to fool you into submitting your login information. It says that there have been illegitimate attempts from "an overseas IP-address" at logging in, and you have to resubmit your login-information.

NEVER put your foot into that sort of thing. NEVER click on any links.

If you use eBay, PayPal or other sites with financial implications, the best thing to do (if you don't already) is to generate an email address, dedicated solely to Internet transactions. You can then safely ignore spam on any of your other email addies.

Netscape

One of the first webbrowsers, Netscape, is to be withdrawn as of tomorrow, after its marketshare slumped to 0.6%. In the mid 1990s, it was the most popular browser, but its place has now been taken by Firefox (my usual browser) and Internet Explorer.

Prince Harry

Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. He has served there for 10 weeks, after an agreement with the British and international press not to report his presence there. Apparently, an Australian website decided to ignore this and brought Harry's deployment in the south-Asian dustbowl to public prominence. As a result, being such a high-profile target would put Harry and his comrades in grave danger, prompting his early withdrawal.

This was almost inevitable to happen, and will come as a disappointment to Harry, who was reportedly quite eager to go where his men were going.

Ferry cancellations

Once again, the ferries up and down the west coast of Scotland are subject to numerous cancellations and delays. Our freight ferry left a few hours early last night, to beat the oncoming gales. She docked here at 4 am, as opposed to 8 am normally. The Lochboisdale to Oban ferry left 8 hours early last night, also to avoid being stormbound in the islands.

In spite of the forecast, promising us severe gales, the Western Isles do not merit a severe weather warning from the Met Office. This is a continuing gripe this side of the water - I suppose we're used to it.

Friday 29 February

Good morning all from a very wet and windy Stornoway. Although the wind is not going at more than a force 7, conditions out at sea are so bad that the 7.15 ferry to Ullapool did not get any further than Loch Ouirn, 12 miles south of here. It returned to port a few minutes ago.


The local news is dominated by allegations surrounding former chiefs of NHS Western Isles, which I mentioned in a post yesterday. In their hearing by the Audit Committee of the Scottish Parliament, the former CEO and Chairman of the Health Board denied knowledge of a report, highlighting financial problems. Inside sources have revealed to the BBC that both men were present at a private board meeting, during which the CEO handed out copies of same report.

I'm going to batten down the hatches: the forecast mentions force 10 winds later today.

Close of day


Past midnight, and it's February 29th. This week has not been good in J-land. Irene [alwaysireneann] was remembered in a memorial service earlier in the day, following her passing on Monday. Please read the final entry in her journal, written by her sister Pamela, for acknowledgement of everybody's expressions of condolence and gratitude for support shown. Methinks J-land showed its true face this week.

This evening, another family mourns, as Barbara [mastersblynn] comes to terms with the loss of her father, who had been unwell for a while. She has not written about her dad's passing yet. Her mother is also in hospital at this time.

Please keep those in the community who are frail of body or mind in thoughts at this time, as well as those close to them.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Look back - 2005

Three years ago, I was in the middle of walking in all corners of the island. On this day in 2005, I experienced a sharp change in weather, which we're only too used to up here.

Today dawned nice and bright. At the breakfast table, I look out over the harbour, Goat Island and the derelict yard at Arnish, with the lighthouse to the left. If it’s late in the morning, the freight ferry Muirneag will come sailing past. Had lunch in the town, sitting on a bench under a bare tree. Starlings were chattering in my ears whilst I gobbled up my pizza. I had this notion to go to Ness today, so I jumped on the bus at 1pm with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. Spirits sank as soon as I crossed the Barvas Moor, because the cloud increased rapidly and the rain began. On arrival at Rubha Robhanais, it was chucking it down. Tried to cut across immediately behind the village fencing, but this was too wet. So, I had to walk along the coastline there. This requires caution, because the cliffs are fairly high: up to 100 feet. Crossed a bridge to the small island reserve of Dun Eistean, dire warnings regarding arctic terns, which nest on this islet in the summer. Hobbled down the track to Port of Ness. Went down the village street to the harbour. Children have constructed a wooden lighthouse and there is an art gallery, which, surprisingly, is open today. From the beach, fulmars (a type of gull) can be seen sitting in pairs on the grassy cliffs above, occasionally diving down on me. Rain and wind make it a miserable and cold afternoon, so I jump on the schoolbus at 3.30, rather than wait for 3 hours for the later bus.

2008 notes: The fabrication yard at Arnish is no longer derilict, although since then, new owners have come and gone bust. Rubha Robhanais is the Butt of Lewis, the northern cape of the island. The wooden lighthouse in Port of Ness has since been moved to the Eoropie Dunes playpark, 2½ miles away.

NHS Western Isles

In the latter weeks of 2005 and throughout 2006, I closely followed the problems besetting the Western Isles Health Board. Allegations of bullying and harassment were coupled with serious financial problems, in the shape of a deficit of £3.5m. The NHS here serves 26,000 people in communities, located 40 to 60 miles from the Scottish mainland.

The Board's Chairman and Chief Executive resigned in 2006, leaving for pastures new. A new management team was installed by the Scottish Executive (as was), which managed to sort out a whole host of problems in no time at all. The former Chairman and CEO were quizzed by the Scottish Parliament's Audit Committee yesterday morning. To my mind, reading the minutes (and having heard the recording of proceedings) they were torn to shreds. I appreciate that if you have not followed this saga closely, you may not quite grasp the severity of the problems.

Thursday 28 February

Sunny spells interspersed with some showers. Tomorrow and Saturday will once again be extremely windy. Seems we dodged a silver bullet on Tuesday.

The Channel Islands are the focus of less than desirable attention at the moment. On Jersey, allegations of child abuse at a former children's home, Haut de la Garenne, led to the discovery of a corpse in the building. This was being used as a Youth Hostel. Further investigations by police, using a kadaver dog, found a suspect area, to which the dog reacted strongly. It would appear the lid has been lifted on an unsavoury period in Jersey's history, where children were abused whilst in care. Dozens of phonecalls have been placed with States of Jersey police by victims of alleged abuse.

I should point out that Jersey is part of the United Kingdom, but enjoys a large degree of autonomy. The island is close to the coast of Normandy in France, and shows French influence. Along with the other Channel Islands, Jersey was occupied by Nazi forces during World War II, and one of the last to be vacated by the Germans.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Tag

Connie sent me this tag, which I've placed in my sidebar. Many thanks!

Connection

My internet connection has resumed normal service - presently running twice as fast as before.

It is quite a reasonable afternoon in Stornoway, with sunshine and showers. Went into town a minute ago to get papers and my monthly computer magazine. There are works afoot around the town centre which appear to be related to drainage problems. At times of springtides (last week), the sea will push rubbish up the drains at high tide, causing problems. You don't want to know.

A light aircraft has crashed in the Chilean capital, Santiago. Six passengers and two people on the ground lost their lives. The cause of the accident is unknown.

Lunchtime notes

Otherwise, it's a day of sunshine and showers and feeling cold. More reports on the earthquake can be read here.

A pupil has died in a bus crash in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. When the bus turned into the school, a lorry ran into it. The bus ended up in an adjacent field. The road is a notorious accident blackspot in the area.

I am sorry to have to report that a body was found in Loch na Creige Fraoich, where a fishfarm boat overturned yesterday. The search was suspended during the hours of darkness, but resumed early this morning. Three crewmembers managed to gain the shore after their boat capsized, but the fourth man perished.

Wednesday 27 February

Well, here we are, connection speed 100 kbps (normally 1200 kbps), but I am getting through. What a nuisance, indeed.

A relatively large earthquake, measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale, shook the town of Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, eastern England, at around 1 am. The quake was felt as far afield as Dumfriesshire in southwestern Scotland. Although I was awake at 1 am, I did not feel anything, but then Stornoway is nearly 600 miles from the epicentre. The only damage reported to date is a chimney, which crashed through a roof in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

The UK experiences 200 earthquakes a year, but only a handful will be felt by the general public. On average, a magnitude 5 quake will occur every 30 years.

In the very distant past, an earthquake in the Norwegian Sea unleashed a tsunami, which engulfed the Shetland Islands with 20 metres / 70 feet of water. This is thought to have happened 7,000 years ago.

Connection Problems

[System Message] User is not available.
Morning all. I am having big problems with my Internet connection, so won't be able to do much posting for the time being. You may have seen me in your buddylist, because I've had to come onto AOL to post this message through my buddylist. I am able to check email, but that too is an arduous process.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Fishfarm worker missing

A man has gone missing after the boat he was working on capsized. Three other crewmembers managed to gain the shore of Loch na Creige Fraoich, about 3 miles south of the village of Leurbost, 10 miles south of Stornoway. The loch is inland, but the area was battered by severe gales, with gusts of up to 60 mph. The man was working on a salmon hatchery on the freshwater loch, which stretches from the A859 Stornoway to Tarbert road half a mile into the moor.
A search with a helicopter was called off when darkness fell, but is due to be resumed at daybreak.

Forgery by Facebook

The British Coastguard (MCGA) reports that a woman chartered a yacht on the south coast of England last summer. One of the conditions of charter was that she produce a valid MCA/RYA Yachtmaster certificate. She went to a page on Facebook where such a certificate was on display. The person then altered it, printed it off and presented it as a "photocopy" of the original. She told the charter company she did not carry the original as it could get lost.

The charterers were suspicious and contacted police. Having checked out the story, the police cautioned the woman under the Fraud Act and released without further action. The yacht had been returned undamaged and all fees due were paid in full. Any repeat of such an offence will put her in court.

The MCGA advise all mariners not to put their certificates on the Internet, and all charterers to insist on seeing the original documentation, where required.

Hands joined

I can't remember who made the tags "Hands Joined in Prayer" for those in J-land who are suffering from a long-term illness or cancer. Five are on display in my sidebar. I would like to ask if anyone could please make one for Jane [spriteverdixx], who is combating renal cell carcinoma.

I am wondering if anyone has heard anything from Barb [evanmyangel88], who at last posting was undergoing chemotherapy. Her journal has been deleted, so I'm a bit concerned.

Antidepressants

This morning, a report was publicised, claiming that anti-depressants like Seroxat and Prozac (amongst others) are little use in the treatment of depression. Apparently, only severe cases of depression benefit from the use of these medications.

If you are on antidepressants, do NOT, under any circumstance, stop taking the medicines without consulting your treating doctor. Sudden withdrawal of anti-depressants can bring on a severe relapse.

It should be born in mind that there has been a huge increase in prescriptions of anti-depressants, and whether they were really necessary in many cases is subject to discussion.

No ferry

You could be fooled looking outside this morning, but all ferry sailings to and from Stornoway have been cancelled for today, due to bad weather.

Tuesday 26 February

The day started nice enough, but the first shower is just moving across. We are promised a force 9 gale (again), so am in the process of battening down the hatches. The Norwegian trawlers that were in port over the weekend have just left.

The J-land Group appears to be taking off slowly, except for the gremlins which keep a few people out. Please drop me a line if you are experiencing difficulties - this is apparently still a beta product, and lots of crinkles need ironing out. Again, this is an additional means of reaching across the community, without the need of a barrelload of email addresses which run the risk of falling into the hands of spammers.

Locally, two figures central to the row surrounding the Western Isles Health Board in 2006 will be heard by the Audit Committee in the Scottish Parliament tomorrow morning. I'll be watching proceedings on the Internet, as the session will be relayed live on the web
(committee room 2) from 10 am onwards. Wonder how they are going to explain away all the things that went wrong. Such as: a £3.5m shortfall (for a health authority serving 26,000).

Monday, 25 February 2008

INR 7.4

I have been cogitating for a few hours over this, but I thought I'd put people in the picture. Irene died of a bleed on the brain. The code above, INR 7.4, indicates that her blood took 7.4 times the normal length of time to clot. She indicated several times in the last week of her life that her INR, a measure of clotting time of the blood, was out of range.

People are giving drugs like coumadin and warfarin to delay clotting of the blood. This is called for if you have a thrombosis or in certain heart conditions (to name but a few). The normal INR in those cases lies between 2 and 4.

Last Wednesday, Irene's measurements went up at 7.4, which is close to being an emergency. The doctors apparently were unable to do anything about it, with the tragic consequences of this morning.

I cannot comment on the specifics of Irene's medical problems, as I could only go on what she told us in the journal. I know that it is extremely difficult to stabilise INR in cancer patients, and this entry should NOT be construed as criticism of the medical team in charge.

For Irene

Irene, who passed away this morning, named her journal after the lyrics of this song by Chris Rice. I'm posting it in her memory.



Breakfast Table

Is it a million miles to heaven
too far to hear my lonely song?
Or is it just my imagination I hear you humming along?
I only hold you in my dreams now.
I wake up with cold and empty arms.
Lord help me get through this long night without you ,
And soon as the morning comes,
Soon as the morning comes.

Save me a seat at the breakfast table.
Save me a dance around the Milky Way.
And save me a thousand years to whisper in your ears.
All I've wanted to say.
Save me a smile and an angel's feather.
Save me a walk down the streets of gold.
And baby,we'll change our minds just like old times...
And maybe we'll just fly away.
Or maybe we'll stay.

My lucky doll, you're in heaven before me.
You were my taste of heaven here.
Remember we loved to talk about it, we couldn't wait to get there.
So you go on and find your way around now.
But remember I'm here missing you.
Do me a favor and say hey to Jesus!
And tell him I'm missing him too.
Tell him I'm missing him too.

Then save me a seat at the breakfast table.
Save me a dance around the Milky Way.
And save me a thousand years to whisper in your ears.
All I've wanted to say.
Save me a smile and an angel's feather.
Save me a walk down the streets of gold.
And baby, we'll change our mindsjust like old times.
And maybe we'll just fly away.
Or maybe we'll stay.

Exploding windturbine

Last Friday, a windturbine blew up in Denmark, after its breaking systems failed. It was a very windy day, and the turbine was spinning out of control. Denmark's TV2 carries a short clip of the actual disintegration.

And we're supposed to get 300 of those things in Lewis? Oh help.

J-land loss

I am very upset, having just found out that Irene passed away some 6 hours ago, following a sudden worsening of her condition over the weekend. She has been battling cancer for some time, but always called for prayers for fellow sufferers at the end of each entry.

Indigo made us aware through the Call for Support journal. I've made an entry in the J-land Angels journal, and have requested that Irene's badge be placed in the sidebar.

Irene, rest in peace. The suffering is over.
Keep the coffee warm, we'll join you at the breakfast table in time.

J-land Group Invites

I am sending out invites, but find myself restricted to a maximum of 50 per day. At that rate, I'll be here until Easter, sending out all the invites.

Please spread the word about the group - here is its full URL

http://www.aimgroups.com/jland

J-land Group

I have created an AIM-group called J-land. This is a further means of communicating within J-land, allows the sending of group emails etcetera. The beauty of it is that we could coordinate chats in our dedicated Journals Chat, send quick messages across the community etcetera.

This afternoon, I shall add all those I know to the group - if you have more names, please email me, and I'll add them as well. I have made the group CLOSED, meaning I'm vetting who will get in. This is to prevent all sorts of folk getting in who don't and won't have a journal. I shall also work on the lay-out of the page.


Tags:

Monday 25 February

Dreadful weather this morning, with lashing rains and strong winds. Tomorrow will be even worse, with a severe gale from the northwest. Today's temperatures are mediocre, at a paltry 5C. Wednesday and Thursday will give us a reprieve, until another gale hammers us on Friday. Another bindance in the offing on Friday morning. I thought March was due in on Saturday - sounds like it'll come in like a lion.

On the subject of health care in the US, I am probably biased on account of several adverse experiences noted in AOL journals. I have taken note of comments, and apologise for any offence caused.
Within Europe, the NHS is unique, in that it is mostly free, except for things like dental care, medicines, spectacles and the like. It is much more common in other European countries for the state to fund a basic package out of national insurance contributions (to use the UK phrase), and for people to top it up out of private insurance. The level of basic healthcare is dependent on income; people on a low income will get more for free than those on higher salaries.
Having worked within the healthcare sector for a number of years, I am fully aware of the commitment of staff to their work, even to the extent that they are prepared to work for a wage that does not adequately reflect the responsibility they carry. I am referring to nursing staff in particular. Here in the Western Isles of Scotland, there are long-standing grievances between staff and management at the local healthboard. Two years ago, a vote of no confidence was passed by staff in their managers. In spite of all that, staff have pulled out all the stops to ensure that patient care does not suffer. I am confident that the same applies in the US as much as in the UK.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Close of day

I should explain that I have this sarcastic streak, and I'm afraid I let it loose on two items of US news. I have previously made clear that I have no great regard for any of the candidates running for the US presidency this year. And a few weeks ago, I felt my jaw dropping to floorlevel when I learned that the Golden Globes ceremony was cancelled because the scriptwriters were on strike. By implication, actors and actresses have to have every word scripted for them - which I find an appalling reflection on their mental faculties. A few days ago, I let fly against the US health service, which I gather people over there have differing opinions on.

OK, it's all US things, I don't live in the country - however, I will have an opinion. A lot of things that happen in America impact the UK and many countries around the world. Particularly who is the next resident at the White House as of January 20th, 2009. Very important.

On matters UK, I can be just as nasty. Northern Rock showed up the current administration in its full glory as Ditherers United. NR was taken into public ownership last week to protect the £55bn ($110bn) of taxpayers' money, put into the bank by the Government to prevent it from going under. If the Financial Services Authority (the regulators) had sat on the practice of sub-prime mortgages and mortgages of up to 125% a bit earlier - if subsequently, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (at the time, a certain Gordon Brown, MP) had intervened a bit earlier - if, if, if, not a lot of use. All I'm saying is that important decisions are not taken in good time.

Another good example was the call for a general election following Gordon Brown's elevation to the office of Prime Minister. Rather than saying an immediate yea or nay, he dithered for weeks, waiting for the polls to go green or red or something.

On matters regional, there will be a new fare structure for the ferries. It is Road-Equivalent Tarriff, which means that ferries will charge 60p per seamile plus £5. The result is a reduction in fares of 30 to 50%. There is one fly in the ointment. Calmac, the ferry operator, has operating losses of £30m per annum, losses covered by government subsidies. If you reduce revenues from fares - well, the subsidy will have to increase. Subsidies are paid for by the taxpayer, so it'll come back to haunt us yet.

Excuse me?

Tried to sign into Journals Chat. Am greeted with this very professional message:

Dude!
You totally need to Sign In and join the conversation.

For crying out loud.
Is that the reason why nobody comes there anymore?
Erm, if we don't use it, we'll lose it.

Book

Anyone interested in Titanic's Predecessor can purchase it from Amazon UK. It is not listed on Amazon US.

Evening notes

What a pity, the script writers have ceased their strikes. Wouldn't it have been fantastic if the stars had actually been forced to engage their brains for a change to find something to say for themselves? Oscars, who cares. I don't.

Castro is still in charge of Cuba, but his first name is Raul. Fidel is too ill, so little brother is taking over the baton. Wonder if he smokes the big Havanas as well, and if he is also going to talk for 5 hours at a stretch, like Fidel used to do. Cripes, that man could talk the hind legs off a donkey.

Another nitwit is joining the race for the White House, with not a hope in hell of getting there, just for a bit of electoral ploy. Nader, I think his name is. Quite appropriate, because it is very close to "nadir", which means the opposite to zenith. The pits, in other words. And Hillary is beginning to whine that the other boy is not nice to her, awww.

We're up for another gale on Tuesday, which will be preceded by more wet stuff tomorrow afternoon.

Titanic's Predecessor


I bought this book on Amazon (last copy in stock in the UK), as it has some bearing on local history here. It is about the sinking of SS Norge in 1904, in which 635 passengers and crew drowned. This Scandinavian liner was crossing from Copenhagen, Christiania (now Oslo) and Christiansand to New York in late June 1904 when she hit rocks at Rockall. This is a tiny islet, rising 70 feet out of the Atlantic some 250 miles west of Scotland.


The Norge had insufficient spaces on board lifeboats for all the about 780 on board (in fact only 250), meaning a certain death for most. One lifeboat was wrecked as it was launched, others could only carry a few dozen. The ship, which carried emigrants from Russia and Scandinavia, went down 20 minutes after it struck rocks. Five lifeboats managed to get away. Survivors from four were picked up by other ships within about a week. A fifth boat was never recovered, and may have drifted into the Arctic - we shall never know. Survivors were landed at Grimsby (northern England), Aberdeen, Stornoway and Torshavn (Faeroes), in a pitiful state. Some died shortly after arriving on dry land; 11 of them lie buried in a communal grave at Sandwick, just down the road from me.

The book gives a good impression of life in the early 1900s, the huge wave of emigration to America that was taking place, as well as the appalling circumstances in which Jewish people were made to live in the Russian Empire of the Czars. It is heartwarming to read the welcome that survivors were awarded in all places they came ashore - it is heartrending to read the hardships they had to endure on the way there.

This entry is dedicated to the memory of those lost in the sinking of SS Norge.
.

Sunday 24 February

The day started bright and sunny, but we are now getting the short, sharp shock treatment with heavy, wintery showers. These include rain, hail, sleet, snow as well as the kitchen sink. I won't be surprised if I hear a rumble of thunder as well. Thunder is rare here, and most often occurs in winter.

There are currently three Norwegian trawlers in port; two alongside pier no 3 (opposite the ferry) and one anchored in Glumag Harbour, a mile away across the water from my position. The weather has relented a little, but things could still be rough in the Atlantic. Couldn't get a decent picture of the one in Glumag yesterday (poor light), but managed to snap one earlier this morning.

Venezuela is mourning the deaths of 46 airline passengers, who perished in a crash about 10 miles outside the southwestern city of Merida. The plane, carrying 42 Venezuelan nationals, 3 Colombians and 1 American, crashed into mountains at an altitude of 12,000 feet. Merida is a difficult airport to approach, due to its close proximity to high mountain peaks. The aircraft data recorder has been recovered from the site; the plane was completely destroyed on impact.

Close of day

The weather has improved, in that both wind and rain have relented. It was quite gloomy in fact. Three large trawlers in port today, which is unusual, and one ship sheltering in Broad Bay. We'll get a break from the bad weather for a day or so, until Tuesday, when the gales return. Yippee.

Have received some feedback from the journalseditors regarding the fonts problem. It appears fontsize 12 (or lack of it) is a quirk in Internet Explorer 6.0. I can engage it in Firefox without problem. If anyone is using IE 7.0, can they please leave a comment as to whether fontsize 12 does work there. I cannot use IE 7.0, as it basically b*****rs up the PC my end.

Journalseditor is also requesting more specific feedback on blogplugs, which not everybody appears to like or be aware of. Again, comments welcome.

I'm off to bed, having watched too much telly tonight.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Hurricane Ivan


Saturday 23 February

Quite an unpleasant day, with strong winds and occasional rain. The wind could pick up to force 8 or 9 at times. Stormforce or hurricane force winds are forecast for the area between mainland Scotland and Iceland. I was not surprised to see Norwegian trawlers sheltering in Glumag Harbour and alongside the piers in the town centre this morning. A third boat is in Broad Bay, north of Stornoway.

A senior pupil at the local secondary school, the Nicolson Institute, was diagnosed with tuberculosis recently. All 5th and 6th year pupils plus other contacts of the young person concerned will be screened for TB. A persistent cough and feeling run-down turned out to be TB. The disease is rare in this part of the world, but has mounted a come-back elsewhere, resulting from increased migration and the advent of HIV/AIDS.


Tags: , ,

Friday, 22 February 2008

The aftermath of hurricane Ivan

Some sort of relief operation is starting to jolt into life in Madagascar, although I cannot be impressed by a paltry 12 tons of goods. It's a start, I suppose. The floods, which show little sign of abating, bring several dangers. The first is of disease, the second to the rice crop. If rice plants remain submerged for more than 7 days, they will die. This could also affect the 2009 harvest. More details in the dedicated Hurricane Ivan at Madagascar journal.

Fonts & sizes

I gather there is a lot of problems with fonts & sizes on AOL Journals. If you have an issue, leave a comment. Spread the word!

Madagascar

For reference, a detailed map of the country can be accessed from this page. Select the link "Detailed country map" from there.

Its position, relative to the African continent, can be viewed from this map.

Ipswich - sentence

Steve Wright, the murderer of 5 prostitutes in Ipswich, has been sentenced to life in prison, with the recommendation he serve a full life term.

Friday 22 February

Fairly breezy morning, in between the showers. The showers are quite severe, with a heavy hailshower with strong squalls clattering through half an hour ago. The weather conditions are playing havoc with the ferry timetables. The disruptions page on the Calmac website is awash with colours other than green this morning.

This is fairly average weather for the winter time. Each winter, there will be a spell of continual gales, rains and hail. It can last for weeks on end. The recent quiet spell, which ended a couple of days ago, was actually unusual for this time of year. Things should start to calm down a little after March.

The aftermath of Hurricane Ivan is now moving to a political level, with the country's president and his political party coming under fire for inactivity. I have not copied that article into the special blog.

Kosovo's declaration of independence last Sunday has sparked violence in Serbia's capital, Belgrade. After a rally with inflammatory language from the country's prime minister, a mob went on the rampage in the US embassy. The building was set on fire. Riot police intervened to quell the unrest, but a body was found inside the embassy compound. It should be noted that Serbians regard Kosovo as the birthplace of their nation. Serbians are a minority in that territory. The events in Belgrade were roundly condemned by the US and EU authorities. I wonder when they are going to come to their senses in the Balkans.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Local notes

This afternoon, a house in the village of Laxay, 12 miles south of Stornoway, was destroyed by fire. The blaze was spotted by one of its occupants, as she visited a neighbour. Although the fire brigade was called immediately, the fire had by that time already taken a strong hold. By the time the fire appliance arrived, the property had been destroyed. Its residents are now staying with relatives in Laxay.

Only a few weeks ago, a similar house (a so-called kit house) burned down in the next village, Balallan, 3 miles down the road. In that incident, nobody was hurt, except the family dog, which perished in the flames. Kit houses are delivered in readily assembled components, and can be built in a relatively short period of time.

Ferry travel to the Western Isles should get a lot cheaper by next October, when Road-Equivalent Tarriff is introduced on all ferry routes to the islands. Under RET, passengers and vehicles are to be charged a fare of 60p per mile plus a £5 surcharge. Its economic benefits have been quoted as good for tourism and a fairer deal for the islanders.

In my opinion, RET is a hot-air balloon. The ferry operations by Calmac run at an annual loss of £32 million ($64m), which is wholly covered by Government subsidies. As fare revenues decrease, these operating losses will increase, leading to an increase in subsidies. Those subsidies are of course ultimately funded by the taxpayers and, you guessed it, that includes island dwellers.

New journal

Gina [motoxmom72] has opened a new journal called Day by Day. Why not call round?

Hurricane update - 21 February

It is looking as if Mauritius and La Reunion are going to get an unpleasant surprise tonight and tomorrow. I was surprised to read that a tropical cyclone, Hondo, which had supposedly dissipated 8 days ago, had suddenly reinvigorated northeast of Mauritius - 20 degrees longitude west of its last known position. By the time it reaches there, overnight or tomorrow, it will be a minor tropical storm. Hondo will be a stronger system when it passes La Reunion, some 12 hours later.

My tropical cyclones blog is suspiciously unfrequented, with only 70-odd visits today. Normally, when a cyclone approaches Mauritius, half the island is on to it, with visitors numbering up to 3,000 a day.

Know anybody in Mauritius, even if only on holiday? Drop them a line, please.

Afternoon wind

We're having a very wild afternoon here, with galeforce winds, gusting to more than 60 mph. The squalls, associated with brief showers, are quite severe, whipping up spindrift in the bay across the road. The ferry came in very late this afternoon, after taking a 20 mile detour via the Shiant Isles. The sun does come out every now and again, but the winds are quite strong.

The weatherstation at Eoropie is having a technical problem. It reports live on the weather, but they claim to have had 6,000 mm of rain today (that would be 250 inches). Now, it is wet out here, but not THAT wet.

Ipswich

Steve Wright, a man of 49 from Ipswich, Suffolk, England, has been found guilty of the murders of 5 prostitutes in his hometown between October and December 2006. He will be sentenced tomorrow.

Hurricane Ivan

I have set up the journal about the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan at Madagascar.

Tags:

Thursday 21 February

Rain and wind this morning, with angry white riders on the waters of the bay outside. The near-gale force westerly winds are playing havoc with the ferry sailings. Our freight ferry did not sail overnight, and the scheduled passenger service is subject to disruption. Heavy rain is shown on the weather radar over mainland Scotland, with only light patches here.

Hurricane Ivan is now known to have claimed 22 lives across Madagascar. The latest edition of L'Express de Madagascar makes for pitiful reading, and the toll of this devastating cyclone is likely to rise over days to come. I think I'll put the articles in a special journal, will give the link later, once I've set it up.

The US Navy have successfully struck a faulty satellite with a missile, but are not yet sure whether the primary aim, destruction of the fueltank of toxic hydrazine, has been achieved. The satellite went out of control shortly after its launch 14 months ago. It is falling back to earth, and the fueltank was expected to survive re-entry into the earth's atmosphere., exposing people on the ground to its lethal fumes.

The international repercussions are already rolling in, with China and Russia accusing the US of mounting this operation as a covert attempt at trying out a missile defence system. I thought we'd left the Cold War behind 20 years ago. Nope.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Evening notes

I can't say I'm listening to music, it's a near gale that's blowing outside. Yep, we're back to wind and rain.

I've still got 35 alerts outstanding, which I shall attend to in the morning. Thanks to all 29 (at last count) who bothered to comment on my entry headed "Attitude".

Tonight, at 3 am UK time, a full lunar eclipse will occur. I can safely sleep through it, because of the weather conditions. In the USA, it will start around 10pm EST or 7pm PST. More details here.

Finally, if Senator Obama fancies his chances at becoming president, can he please have his wife trained up as a matter of urgency? Poor Mrs Obama slouches in front of the cameras, and gaffes her way through her soundbites. Can't say I fancy Barack Obama as a president, neither do I fancy Hillary Clinton, nor have I got any faith in John McCain on the Republican side. Roll on November.

Pianoman

I've had several questions about the mysterious pianoman, who was found on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent "on April 7 / 8". If you get this story, please stop relaying it. Although it is factually correct, it dates back to 2005. The pianoman was returned to Germany in August of that year.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/kent/4172662.stm

Hurricane Ivan

As nobody else appears to take an interest, I'll continue to relay articles from L'Express de Madagascar on the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan. It appears that the final death toll could be much higher than the 10 quoted below, when communications are re-established with areas currently cut off by floods.

Ten deaths and thousands of disaster victims
The legacy left by Hurricane Ivan continues to escalate. Until yesterday, two deaths are reported to Fénérive East and eight in the district of Amparafaravola.
 
Ivan began moving away from the Big Island, but the balance weighs heavily. Until yesterday, ten dead were identified including two at Fénérive East and eight in Amparafaravola according to the report of the national office of risk management and disaster (BNGRC).
David Alexander Robinson, chief Mangoro Alaotra region for its part confirmed that eight people died in the district of Amparafaravola. Three of them have been washed away.
"The people buried beneath the rubble of the hotel Antsara in Sainte-Marie ensued, however, exits safe and sound," says the father of one of the victims.

Enormous damage
The advance BNGRC thousands of disaster victims throughout the island, hundreds of people homeless and enormous material damage. The cyclone damage spread to the south-east of the island. The municipality's urban Farafangana is under water since Monday, following the overflowing of the river Manampatrana.

The region has suffered from the passage of cyclone. Until yesterday, seven districts in the region were unreachable and isolated following the cutoff of sideroads on RN6. In the district of Fandriana, the situation is tragic for children 7 surrounded by the waters ahead of secours. This number could mount in the next few days when the communication in several affected districts will be reinstated. A delegation led by President Ravalomanana visited yesterday in Toamasina, providing help

Prime Minister Charles Rabemananjara accompanied by a few ministers went join Sainte-Marie to assess damage and provide assistance with a value of 100 million ariary

The dikes yield
Antananarivo under water
The dikes broke, causing floods in the capital. Hurricane Ivan has left more than a thousand people affected.
 
The panic was total in the capital yesterday. Around one o'clock in the morning, neighbourhoods along the river from the Ikopa were flooded. This situation has been observed between both Ankadimbahoaka and Anosizato that Andohatapenaka. The same was true in a few towns on the outskirts of fokontany as Fiadanana to Ambohidratrimo and Ampahimanga to Alasora where dikes broke.

At Anosimahavelona, located between Ankadimbahoaka and Anosizato, it took the intervention of firefighters to evacuate Tsaralalàna of the thousand people occupying the buildings erected near the dam of the Ikopa and those on both sides.
"When night fell, the level of water in our house was about 1m. I rushed into the boat with only my clothes and a blanket, "says Isabelle Razafindravao. It was recovered by rescuers around 4 am. Recounting the ordeal she had, endured while waiting for relief, she claims to have seen its poultry, cooking utensils and furniture taken away by the waters.
The statement of the mother was also confirmed by a father. "My concern is how I can continue to live after the catastrophe," he asks. All material on this artisan work tanner was swept away by the river.
The majority of disaster victims claim to have been forced to abandon their belongings in their homes. "Fortunately, the police assured us that law enforcement officials will ensure the safety of our properties," says father.

Yesterday around 15 hours, soldiers fire supported by soldiers from the body of civil protection, equipped with two patrol boats and a metal boat, were able to save about 1200 affected two of whom were injured in a house collapse. "They have been installed temporarily in the parking lot of the gallery at Smart Tanjombato pending the establishment of shelters," says the director of the General Administration and Territorial with the Region Analamanga, Vincent Ravomanana.
Yesterday up to 11 hours, most of the affected landed at the scene had not yet homeless. "Those responsible are slow to provide tents to serve as shelters," complains Rasoarimanana. Arriving at the gallery Smart at 4 am, the mother said to be short of food.
This tragedy would not have, according to the regional leader, have happened if locals had followed the recommendation given by the relevant authorities. "Having been warned by the weather service on the possibility of rising water levels of rivers in the capital within 72 hours from Monday, we have already ordered the immediate evacuation of low-lying areas," he says.
In this sense, a father says he resisted the order out of concern for their property. "Breeder pork and poultry, I did not want to leave my animals," he said. He added that the same thing had happened to him during the hurricane Geralda, there are a dozen years.
Worse, the DAGT raises another problem. "The floods prevailing at the present time were caused by the rupture of the dikes," says he. A Anosimahavelona particular, a breach of about 35m was formed. "The presence of construction on this portion was originally," he says.
In this regard, Vincent Ravomanana projects a consultation with the municipality to settle once and for all this problem. "What surprises me is to see that these buildings, supposed to be illegal, have been recognized and registered," he heard.

A newborn named Ivan Ikopa
Proceeding to the evacuation of sinitrés of Anosimahavelona, firefighters had to be present at the birth of a woman early twenties. "The mother was about to give birth when we arrived in his home," said a soldier from heat. "Fortunately, the birth happened properly," he says. Embedded in the limelight, the woman was transferred in an ambulance fire for Atlantis to the nearest maternity.
On a proposal by the head of the fire brigade of Tsaralalàna, Colonel Jaona Andrianaivo, her parents gave the newborn's name Ivan Ikopa.

Wednesday 20 February

After a night with wind and rain, the morning turned out fairly bright, although I distrust the sky. Showers may occur, although the next lot of rain is moving in from the west. In other words, the weather has changed.

My sidebar contains information about my present location, which is the town of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in Western Scotland. And the mound of rock, earth and grass was an islet, across the bay from me, seen at low tide. I call it Green Island, although it is an outlier of Goat Island. This was a proper island until 1946, when a causeway was built to it.

An earthquake has shaken the Indonesian province of Aceh this morning, at 8.08am GMT (3.08 pm local time). It measured 7.5 on the Richter scale, and was felt in the province's capital Banda Aceh, 185 miles to the east. The quake appears to have killed 3 people. Warnings for a possible tsunami were issued, but later cancelled. The tremor occurred near the epicentre of the massive 9.1 quake which triggered a tsunami on Boxing Day 2004, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Indonesia is located in an area very prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.
Back in 1883, Mt Krakatoa exploded in a cataclysmic eruption, triggering a huge tsunami, reckoned to be 30 metres high. Krakatoa is located near the southern end of Sumatra; Aceh is in the north of that island.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Pictorial Diary


Pictorial diary with pictures taken from January 16th to 31st. Hope you enjoy.

Hurricane Ivan

More reports are coming out in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, which struck Madagascar on Sunday. Again, report courtesy L'Expresse de Madagascar, translation Google, edits yours truly.

HURRICANE IVAN
HUNDREDS OF CASUALTIES
Hurricane Ivan claims more and more casualties. The official report mentions two deaths in Fénérive East. Other sources point to the death of nine people at Sainte-Marie.
 
The Hurricane Ivan has caused a lot of damage. The official assessment is still awaited.

19h Until yesterday, only two are known dead in the district of Fénérive East. More than 700 people are registered homeless in Toamasina I, I Andilamena and Mahajanga according to information from the national office of risk management and disaster (BNGRC).

More than 500 were identified at Andasibe and I Mandritsara. No official report has been received on Sainte-Marie. Information from unofficial sources have confirmed yesterday that nine people had died under the rubble of the hotel Antsara.

Short of food
An experienced operator of the island tells us: "I was able to reach Santa Maria by the BLU available on our boat. Employees of the boat added that two other people had died in Santa Maria. The population is short of food and had no water or electricity for 24 hours. The port has disappeared with all the boats docked there and the city is overwhelmed by the rising waters. The hotels along the beach were destroyed."

Two dikes broke. The roads are cut off because of trees littering the streets. Yesterday, the crew of BNGRC failed to confirm these data, even if a team was dispatched to an assessment by helicopter.

An emergency meeting yesterday invited government ministers, meeting led by Prime Minister Charles Rabemananjara to the Interior Ministry to Anosy. It has been said that the rescue organization is difficult in districts that remain unreachable.

"Everybody in every district should join hands to accelerate relief now," said the prime minister. The executive secretary of BNGRC present at the meeting also recalled that the prepositioned stocks are still available in these localities affected.

Out at sea
The weather forecast for Ampandrianomby announced eighteen hours ago that Ivan could move from Morombe to Betioky Atsimo. The strong tropical storm has weakened to a remnant low. The cloud mass generated by its passage leads to intermittent rains in most parts of the island. Ivan is moving toward the south-southwest with a wind speed of about 65 km per hour.

All warnings on the Menabe regions, and Melaky Atsimo-Andrefana are still valid. The popupaltions likely to be in the path of this depression are expected to remain on their guard and stock up on food and drinking water. Fishermen are still formally discouraged and even prohibited from going out to sea.

The figures
District of Sainte-Marie: 9 people under the rubble
District Fénérive East: 2 dead, 271 affected
District Soanierana Ivongo: Administrative buildings and damaged school
District Foulpointe: the pontoon bridge submerged by water
District of Toamasina: 155 people homeless
District Nosy Varika houses downs and rivers flooded neighborhoods
District Andilamena: 30 homeless people, destroyed 19 cases, 9 dead horse
Mahajanga District I: 542 people homeless
Moramanga District: 4863 affected in the town Andasibe
District Brickaville road 20 km from Toamasina Brickaville to cut as a result of the rising waters
District Mandritsara: the city flooded with 60%, 90 affected
District south Midongy: rising waters
District Befotaka: rising waters and blocked roads to rural villages

Scotland, England, UK

Was asked to clarify the situation with the three above mentioned entities, so will oblige.

Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. Formally speaking, the name runs "the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". Other constituent parts of Great Britain are Wales and England. For now, I'll focus on Scotland.

For several hundred years, Scotland was an independent nation, with its own monarchy and government. In 1707, after a particularly disastrous effort by Scotland at establishing a colony in the Americas, a move was initiated to merge England and Scotland into one nation. This was rubber stamped by the establishment, but not everybody agreed.

The Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745 tried to reestablish the Scottish monarchy, but as we all know, they were an unmitigated disaster. The Old Pretender didn't make it in 1715, and Bonny Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender - well, don't start me off on him. He got trounced in 1746 at the Battle of Culloden, and only escaped by the skin of his teeth.

Following the 1745, the English set about pacifying the Highlands. Mind you, in spite of all the romanticised stories, the 1745 uprising was far from universally supported. Many clan chiefs saw the trouble it could and (eventually) would cause. Pacifying the Highlands was basically an exercise in ethnic cleansing avant-la-lettre. It would carry on for nearly 150 years.

Ethnic cleansing in the 18th and 19th century meant burning people's roofs over their heads and telling them to get on that ship in the bay which would take them to a new life in Australia or the Americas. More often than not, the ships would founder on the way there. After civil unrest in Great Bernera (Lewis) in 1874 and the Braes area of Skye in the 1880, the Napier commission came to northern Scotland to hear of conditions on the ground for itself. It amassed 13,000 pages of evidence and introduced legislation, which gave cottars and crofters security of tenure, making it much more difficult to evict them. Bearing in mind that many landlords were lowland Scots or English, there was a fair degree of bitterness.

In the 20th century, the Scottish National Party was established, which has as its declared aim to regain independence for Scotland. By 1997, the Labour administration in London agreed to devolve certain powers to a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh and a Scottish Executive [government] was set up. It could deal with matters of law and order, health, transport etc. So far, it does not have powers to raise taxes. Defense is also not devolved. The first two sessions of the Scottish Parliament, 1999 to 2003 and 2003 to 2007, gave the Labour Party a majority. Elections in May 2007 turned the tables.

The Scottish National Party became the largest party in the Scottish Parliament by 1 seat. Its leader, Alex Salmond, is now First Minister, and in the slightly awkward position of being MP and MSP [Member of Scottish Parliament] at the same time. The SNP came to power due to dissatisfaction with Labour over the war in Iraq and as a result of a botched election. Poorly designed ballot papers and a poorly executed election process left 100,000 people disenfranchised; on average, 10% of ballot papers were deemed spoiled, although more often than not, this was judged only on the say so of a machine.

The SNP has set the wheels in motion towards an increased degree of devolution. It still aims for independence for Scotland, but being in a minority administration, a ballot on full independence will be blocked by other parties.

Full independence for Scotland will not work, in my opinion. The economy here is not sufficiently strong or diverse to cope with that. At present, the North Sea and East Atlantic oil industry is a central pillar of the economy, but whether the central UK government is prepared to relinquish this vast source of income is at best doubtful. I also feel that an all out campaign for independence would stir up a lot of mutual resentment and antagonism. Rather than doing a Kosovo, Scotland could and should be given greater devolved power, and develop a mature relationship with its southern brother.

Tuesday 19 February

Nice, sunny morning with only a few wisps of high cloud about. Not warm though, it's only just above 4C / 39F at the moment.

Tropical cyclone Ivan is no more, but could reemerge over the open waters of the Gulf of Mozambique, east of Madagascar, and regenerate. It looks every which way that will actually happen.

Tropical cyclone Nicholas is grazing the coast of Western Australia with winds in excess of 70 mph. At 9 am, it was due west of Exmouth, and its stormforce windfield was crossing the coast of the Northwestern Cape. Will keep an eye on developments through Radio Australia WA Northwest.

Was not entirely surprised to learn that Fidel Castro will not seek reelection as Cuba's president. The 81-year old leader has not been well of late. He came to power in a Communist revolution in 1959, and has been a pain in the backside of the US for those 49 years.

"Order, order", Mr Speaker is in the limelight for using his accrued airmiles to give relatives a reduced fare on planes. And that's not allowed. The Commissioner for Standards in the House of Commons is investigating.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Attitude

In the last 24 hours, I have come across three instances in J-land where people had a problem with the content of journals. One person couldn't take the doom and gloom anymore, two writers had negative feedback on the content of their entries.

I'm not talking X-rated (AC-rated), the issue was one person writing the memoirs of her life, which are pretty tough reading admittedly. She now feels she has to hold back. Another writer gets nasty comments from people who cannot take the fact that her life is ruled by a multitude of medical conditions.

I take the line that if you don't like what you read, you close the window. Yanno, wee red X in the top right corner? Many people feel that by writing down their experiences, it helps them to cope with them. Never mind whether it happened today or many years ago. If it isn't nice, well, tough. Those folk had to live through that.

Rant over.

Diana Inquest

Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car crash in the Alma Underpass in Paris in the early hours of 31 August 1997. It is one of those days where everyone remembers what they did when they heard the news. Fast forward 10 years and nearly 6 months.

An inquest has been on-going into Diana's death, and today it was the turn of Mohammed Al-Fayed. Mr Al-Fayed is the father of Dodi, Diana's gentleman-friend, who was killed outright in the crash. He was called to give evidence to the inquest today, and I can only describe it as lurid and bordering on the permissible. I don't know if you can get away with calling the Duke of Edinburgh, husband to the Queen, a Nazi.
I think I'll link to the BBC report and let you make up your own mind.

Mr Al-Fayed is on record as stating there was a conspiracy to get rid of Diana before today's hearing. I think it was a grieving and embittered man speaking today, who has never got over the death of his son, and by the sound of it, never will. I could feel sorry for him for that reason.

Tropical Cyclone Ivan

Article courtesy L'Express de Madagascar
Translation Google


The passage of hurricane Ivan leaves a bitter taste in Sainte-Marie. Nine people were yesterday buried beneath the rubble of a hotel. The town is completely destroyed. Strong winds of 135km / h were recorded.
 
Ivan has disrupted air traffic and airport tarmacs were almost deserted.

YESTERDAY
Hurricane Ivan leaves bad memories in the town of Santa Maria. He began at 6 am in the city with gusts of wind of 137km / h destroying several buildings. The hotel Antsara in the district of Ankirihiry in the Bay of Antsarahaka collapsed. Nine people were there buried beneath the rubble. A distress call from one of the victims to his father living in Antananarivo alerted the man in question.
"Around 8:30, my daughter called me to tell me she was with nine people in the rubble of the hotel, without further details," said the father, contacted by telephone.
According to him, he tried to call his daughter back and contacting all his acquaintances in Sainte-Marie to no avail. Yesterday, the telephone networks of Orange and Celtel were down. Residents of Sainte-Marie were suddenly cut off from any communication with the outside world. The team from the National Bureau of risk management and disaster (BNGRC) also had trouble to get in touch with the local authorities.
Yesterday evening, the victim's father knew nothing of the fate of her daughter. He did not know if relief had reached her or not. The damage does not stop there because the official report received from the advance BNGRC indicates a heavy toll.

Several houses were affected and many trees were felled across the city. With all the roads, people and the equipment are struggling to move because the sea is beginning to reach the tarred roads. According to the BNGRC, it was difficult to receive further information from Sainte-Marie because SSB radio was also broken.

Heavy toll in the East
Hurricane Ivan has made other victims throughout the island. As in the Ambatoroka district in the capital, a couple, whose wife is pregnant, was injured and was transferred to an emergency hospital Ampefiloha. He was buried under the rubble of a wall which collapsed following the torrential rains. The couple has fortunately survived despite some injuries.

After Sainte-Marie, Hurricane Ivan passed through the town of Ampasimbe district, Fénérive East at 9 am, then in the District of Vavantenina at noon with winds of 137km / h. It was at 15h in the district of Andilamena where he also caused enormous damage. As the destruction of the office of the chief medical officer, a public primary school and from the stands of the football stadium without talking about the deterioration of the masts. The regions of Alaotra Mangoro, Atsinana and Analanjirofo are most affected.

The city of Toamasina I also was not spared by the passage of Ivan. In addition to the cutting of some streets, the population is isolated due to lack of telephone communication. Also, water and electricity were cut during the storm. At the same time, no earthly connection was possible on the RN2 because movement of taxis

The official report of BNGRC advance 60 people homeless in the District of Toamasina I. They were able to be housed in the building Soavita. At the same time, the team from UNICEF and BNGRC spoke on emergency relief. Eleven soldiers of the body of the
Civil Protection were dispatched yesterday to unblock the road crossings of the East.

Ivan weakens
The hurricane Ivan crossed many districts. Yesterday around 19h, it was located in the district of Tsaratanàna with a speed of 15km per hour and gusts of wind of 150 km / h. Although its strength weakens, the weather service to Ampasampito provides that the hurricane could move in the district of Anjozorobe, north of the capital. The toll could worsen in the affected districts over the next few days.

Monday 18 February

Fairly bright day this morning as the sun tries to break through the clouds.
Down in Madagascar, Tropical Cyclone Ivan has had a devastating impact. I'll post an article from one of the country's newspapers in the next entry. Western Australia is currently being buffeted by Nicholas, which is a category 1 hurricane, off Exmouth.

Up here in the north of Scotland, a woman had to be airlifted off the mountains of Glencoe after she fell 50 metres down Coire Odhar in Glen Etive, round the corner from Glencoe. She was taken to the Belford Hospital in Fort William for treatment. The lady was with a party of 14 climbers when the accident occurred.

The Northern Rock bank is to be taken over by the government. As a result, shareholders are likely to be left with precious little of the original £12 a piece shareprice. Such is the lot of the shareholder, you win some, you lose some. It is actually the bank's own fault, apparently, having adopted a business model unsuited to current market conditions. Aided and abetted by a dithering government, the UK taxpayer can now shell out several thousand pounds a head to keep this bank afloat.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Call for readers

Lori [bowyerlori]  has started a new journal, called Broken. You may remember she deleted the previous one. Please call round.

66,212%

Another sordid recordbreaking statistic from Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. The country's percentage of inflation stands at 66,212% according to its central bank. Unofficially, it is estimated to be running at 150,000%. President Mugabe is standing for re-election next month.

US President George W. Bush has called for a fair poll in March, which is actually quite unlikely. Zimbabwe's opposition has long been subjected to a sustained campaign of violence and harassment by Mr Mugabe's authorities and followers. It is more than probable that we'll see our octogenarian dictator returned to power, to continuing his campaign of misrule and destruction of the country he was so proud to have liberated from the clutches of colonial Britain.

Ian Smith's Rhodesia was a disgrace on the face of Africa, with its apartheid system. We're better off without it, and Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo did well in ousting Mr Smith. It is a bitter disappointment to see that Mr Mugabe is not one bit better than the man he removed.

AOL Community Photo Challenge - Winter Blues

How wintry can you get, and how gloomy. In the middle of the last snow shower of our day-of-snow, February 2nd, 2008. Stornoway, as seen from Cuddy Point.


Debate on Islam

I think I should make it clear that there are rules for adherents to the Islamic faith, which only apply to the faithful. It is written quite specifically in the Koran that the Christian and Judaic faiths are acknowledged and held in deep respect. Islamic rules are also quoted as not applicable to the faithful of different faiths.

Alongside with that, I would hold it to be common courtesy not to cause offense, if it is well known that (e.g.) the portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed would do so.

The groundrule is that when you're in Rome you do as the Romans do. However, if people are coming in from a different background, you give some consideration to that. I would never serve pork to a Jewish or Muslim person. Conversely, when visiting East Asia, I would expect my hosts to refrain from serving me cat or dog.

Finally, the amount of leeway given to people of a different ethnic or cultural background has decreased in recent years. I can understand that the word Islam or Muslim is tantamount to a curse in some quarters following 9/11. It may be worth bearing in mind that the perpetrators of atrocities such as that abuse religion as a pretext for their crimes, and there is no justification in any religious texts for terrorism.

Sunday 17 February

Reasonably bright day, with some chinks in amongst the clouds. It looks as if Australia could just about dodge a silver bullet, in the shape of tropical cyclone Nicholas. That storm is moving further west than anticipated, and could stay off Cape Cuvier, near Exmouth.

Madagascar has taken the full impact of category 3 cyclone Ivan this morning. The storm will continue across the island and will weaken substantially. It could reemerge into the Mozambique Channel and resume its career of tropical cyclone. A nightmare scenario for the people in the Zambezi valley, who are already coping with the ravages of flooding, partially man-made.

The fire at the Grand Hotel in Brighton was put out with no casualties and only water damage, as far as I can gauge. Hundreds of guests and staff were quickly evacuated after the fire broke out on the 6th floor. Its cause is being investigated.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

The rope

This was sent to me by an Internet contact in Europe. It somehow appealed to me.

The Rope.

Fire at the Grand Hotel

A major fire has broken out at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, with smoke reported to come out of the roof. All guests and staff have been evacuated to safety, whilst firecrews deal with the blaze. The fire started on the first or in the basement of the hotel.

The Grand Hotel was seriously damaged in 1984, when the IRA bombed it during the Conservative Party conference there. Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher, was not injured, but several people died.

Freedom of expression

Once again, the Netherlands are sharply in the focus of a debate about freedom of expression on Islam. Four years ago, filmmaker Theo van Gogh was shot and killed on the streets of Amsterdam by a Muslim extremist. He had just made a film called Submission, about abused women in Muslim society.

Now, Dutch MP Geert Wilders has made a movie which claims the Koran, the Muslim holy book, is an incitement to murder. The Iranian minister for Justice has called on his Dutch counterpart to ban the film, but the government in The Hague has refused to intervene, saying the issue is freedom of expression. Mr Wilders has been advised to leave the country for his own safety.

A few years ago, a row blew up in Denmark over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. It is not permissible to portray the Prophet, as that is held to be blasphemy. Twenty years ago, Salman Rushdie got an Islamic death warrant tagged onto him for publishing that most unreadable of books, Satanic Verses. I doubt whether any of the people who were screaming loudest in protest had actually read a letter of it.

It is important to strike a correct balance between freedom of expression and respect for different beliefs. Mr Van Gogh got mowed down for portraying an ugly side of Islamic society, that of abused women. Nowhere in the Koran is there mention of women being subjugate to men, I have been reliably informed. He had a justifiable cause. If it is important in a religion not to portray the Prophet Mohammed, Islam's counterpoint to Jesus Christ (who is held to be but a minor prophet in Islam), then you don't portray him.

I am under the impression that Mr Wilders' film is about misinterpreting texts in the Koran, perpetrated by extremists within Islam. Or terrorists, using the religion as a pretext for their atrocities. He will have to tread a very, very fine line indeed how he goes about this. Because, would anyone of a Christian persuasion appreciate having the Bible call an incitement to murder? Given the past 500 years in history, I'd be tempted not to disagree with that.

Call for support

Please call round at Chip and Karen's blog as they suffered a miscarriage on February 8th. They had been expecting their first child.

copied from Call for Support

Hurricane update - 16 February

Tropical cyclone Ivan is heading for Madagascar. It is a category 3 hurricane, which will slam into northeastern Madagascar on Sunday. Its effects will be devastating, particularly as cyclone Indlala made landfall in the same area a year ago. That one was also a category 3 system.

Tropical cyclone Nicholas will be making landfall in Western Australia, near the town of Exmouth tomorrow evening local time. It will be a category 3 hurricane as well, with winds up to 115 mph near the centre. Its effects will be of similar magnitude as Ivan's, and I hope that residents in the Pilbara are prepared.

Saturday 16 February

Overcast and misty here this morning. A naval vessel, HMS Bulwark, briefly appeared on the horizon. She is too large to dock at Stornoway. The harbour can accommodate vessels with a draft of up to 7 metres (24 feet). Bulwark draws 10 metres (33 feet). The naval ship now heading southeast down the Minch.

Steve Fossett has been declared dead by a court in Chicago. He took off from an airfield in Nevada last September and has not been seen since. Aerial searches, nor searches by thousands of Internet users (including myself) on Google Earth have yielded any trace of the record breaking adventurer. He leaves an 8-figure sum of money, and several records of landspeed and ballooning ventures.

Do I care that Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills are having a problem sorting out their divorce? No I don't. Celebrity news just does not register with me.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Kosovo

The Serbian province of Kosovo is set to declare independence on Sunday. Kosovo was the scene of a bloody civil conflict in 1999, when Serbian forces suppressed moves towards independence. Their campaign was called off following a bombardment of Serbia itself by NATO forces.

Kosovo's population is predominantly of Albanian origin, although areas in the north of the province are mainly Serbian. The atrocities of the 1999 war have left deep divisions between the two communities. Serbia is strongly opposed, as is its sponsor Russia. Nonetheless, the Belgrade administration has ruled out the use of force if Kosovo does break away. Diplomatic and economic measures will be used instead.

Although the situation has calmed down in the Balkans since the end of armed conflict, Kosovo remains a dangerous powderkeg. The province is claimed by Serbs as the cradle of their nation, the site of the Battle of the Thrush of 1389, where the Turks were fought.

I think it says enough that more than 600 years have passed and they're still hearkening back to a piece of antediluvian history. And that applies to both sides.