Monday, 31 March 2008
AOL Pictures is not playing ball this afternoon. I'll place the pictures in a separate entry, through my Flickr account.
I am sitting here quietly fuming at Internet Explorer and its many security holes. I've used the product for precisely two days and I've already got a virus problem. I already found it slows down the computer, so I just might kick it into the long grass for good. I'm also very pleased that Microsoft are rattled by people like Google who seek to challenge their hegemony. I'll never forget the roasting Bill Gates got from an automobile tycoon who said:
"Would you find it acceptable to be driving a car with the following characteristic (among others)? When you want to make a right turn, the vehicle stalls and you have to reinstall the engine".
The search has resumed this morning for the 5 victims of yesterday's plane crash at Farnborough, Kent. The incident destroyed a house, but did not claim casualties on the ground. Among the victims are two prominent figures from the world of motorsport.
Sunday, 30 March 2008
This is the arterial route through the Scottish Highlands, linking Inverness to Perth over a 110 miles. Perth, at the southern end of the Highlands is 60 miles from both Glasgow and Edinburgh. The A9 is an accident blackspot across its entire length for a variety of reasons. First of all, it is mainly single carriageway, with some stretches of dual carriageway. These occur where the road circles the few towns and villages along its length. Many people overtake all slower vehicles on these stretches, but when they hit the single carriageway sections, still try to overtake. Dangerously so.
The second reason is monotony. North of Pitlochry, there are dozens of miles of empty moorland, with hardly a tree to break the line of sight.
The third is speed. Several people have been clocked doing well in excess of 120 mph.
Every week, accidents happen, and frequently with fatal results. Sometimes the cause is not known, like in the case of a solicitor who collided with a bus last summer, for no apparent reason.
The road should be dual carriageway all the way from Perth to Inverness. It costs quite a bit of money to make this happen. However, it looks very unlikely in the short term.
Just after 2.30pm this afternoon, an executive jet crashed into a housing estate in Orpington, Kent. The plane had just taken off from nearby Biggin Hill airfield, when the pilot experienced severe engine vibration. He declared a mayday and was given clearance to return to the aerodrome. Before he reached there, his plane dropped out of the sky and onto two houses in the district of Farnborough. Please note this is NOT the Farnborough where the airshows are held.
One house was completely destroyed by fire, and another suffered 20% fire damage. The occupants of the destroyed property were away on holiday.
The plane carried 5 people, 2 pilots and 3 passengers, apparently bound for France. They are at present unaccounted for, but most likely did not survive the crash. Two people on the ground were taken to hospital for shock.
In Zimbabwe, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has started to claim victory, although only about a third of votes have been counted across the country. A note of caution is in order at this point, as these victory claims are based on votes counted in cities. Mugabe has a lot of support in the countryside (through whichever means), so it's better not to sell the hide before the bear has been shot.
Earlier this evening, between 8 and 9pm, I observed Earth Hour. Should have mentioned it on here, but if anyone has used Google through Saturday, they will have noticed the black page. So, out went the lights and most electrical appliances, and on came all the candles.
Well, the time being what it is, I'll browse through my alerts, but will not be able to attend to the majority of them until tomorrow, for which my apologies.
Saturday, 29 March 2008
Although the weather doesn't let on, I can notice that spring is here - in at least one way. During the winter time, when I do this update (usually around 11 am), I have to draw the curtain in this room, as the sun shines on the monitor until about midday. The sun has now risen so high in the sky that I no longer need to do that.
Zimbabwe is electing a president today, with the result expected by Monday. If any candidate polls more than 50%, he is the winner. Otherwise, there will be a run-off in 3 weeks' time. I have made my position clear.
Friday, 28 March 2008
Question for George W. Bush. Here is a dictator in flagrant defiance of human rights, democracy and freedom. He has deliberately wrecked his country's economy - Zimbabwe used to be a prosperous place - and has his opponents beaten if not worse. So what's the difference between Iraq, where a huge invasion could be mounted in 2003 to oust a monstrous dictator, and this corner of Africa? Why not send the troops there, Mr Bush?
Although I did not hear it myself, a newsreader on BBC Radio 4 had a fit of the giggles during the Today programme, broadcast between 6 and 9 am. It happened after she had read an item on the oldest recording of the human voice, dating back to 1860, which a studio worker remarked sounded like a bee buzzing in a bottle. Newsreader Charlotte Green had an uncontrollable fit of the giggles while she tried to read the next item.
Yesterday, Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport was opened for business - only to descend into chaos. Planes left without their passengers' baggage on board, check-in was a mess - and all that after £4.3 bn was shelled out for this BA-only edifice. Today is apparently no better.
Thursday, 27 March 2008
Fitna is made by Dutch MP Geert Wilders, who professes to be concerned about the encroaching 'dangers' of Islam. His movie, designed by the look of it to be shocking, is his view on the challenges faced by Dutch society in particular (and Western society in general) as a result of rising numbers of people who are faithful to Islam.
Mr Wilders, who has been warned about his film, has police protection in Holland. Fitna portrays Islam as a hateful and intolerant faith, backed up by a few quotes from the Quran, the Muslim holy book. Atrocities such as 9/11, the bomb attacks on public transport systems in Madrid and London and the beheadings of Western hostages are paraded in gruesome detail.
In the latter part of the film, its maker continues the alarmist tone by suggesting a tide of Islam is about to wash over Europe and Holland in particular, and using horrendous imagery to paint the future, faced by Holland once the country is under Islamic rule which Mr Wilders appears to see as an almost unavoidable doom.
This is a piece of work we can do without. Everybody is entitled to his opinion, as is Mr Wilders.
In the aftermath of 9/11 and other atrocities, a lot of work has been done from both sides of this argument to ensure mutual respect and understanding. Radical imams (preachers) are being rooted out, and efforts are continuing to ensure that extremists do not gain a major foothold anywhere in Western Europe. The war in Iraq has worked beautifully in favour of Muslim extremists, acting as a rallying point for all sorts of hotheads to come and do their dirty work. The situation in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank is as far from a resolution as ever, and will be a festering sore for decades to come.
However, it is my perception that the situation is very gradually improving.
I hope Muslims the world over will see the movie Fitna for what it is. Not worth the 16 minutes 48 seconds it took me to watch it, after the ages it took to buffer on LiveLeak. Not worth getting all hot and bothered about. From neither side.
I was going to share pictures, but AOL isn't playing ball this evening.
EU and NATO forces have raided homes belonging to former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in the Bosnian town of Pale. Karadzic, with his military commander Radko Mladic, are indicted by the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague on charges of genocide and have been in hiding since the Bosnian war ended. Amongst other events, Mladic organised the massacre of 7,000 men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.
Dr Andrew Wakefield is in front of the General Medical Council, accused of serious professional misconduct. It was his allegedly flawed research that instilled a lack of confidence in the MMR (Measles, Mumps & Rubella) vaccine. He is defending his research methods. The claims against MMR, such as a link with autism, have since been discounted. Dr Wakefield's research led to a fall in the uptake in the vaccine, which in turn increased the prevalence of the three diseases. All of them are relatively mild, but can potentially carry serious complications.
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
When you're on the beach, you're bound to encounter plastic litter. It may seem innocuous, but it is not. A BBC-report from the Central Pacific island of Midway describes the graphic and gruesome consequences on wildlife. Albatrosses for instance feed on squid. Plastic looks like squid, so they gorge themselves on plastic - and starve to death. By the dozen. Think before you throw.
Tuesday, 25 March 2008
I am not able to return to Arnish today to take that picture again. Kildonan Cottage was burned to the ground in the 1970s. The hill from which the photo was taken was razed, to make way for this:
A 2006 view shows the changes in the area
Many thanks for the compliments for my pic of St Moluag's Chapel. It is possible to go inside, although you need to knock on someone's door to get the key. When I was there, I just peered through a window to take a picture like below. If you'd like to read up, please follow this link. The Chapel is still in use, I believe around Christmas Eve.
Reports are coming in of a pile-up on the Austrian A1 motorway, between Salzburg and Vienna. More than 100 vehicles are said to be involved in the smash, which is initially blamed on heavy snowfall. Austrian broadcaster ORF mentions that several ambulances and helicopters are on the scene, and that there is one fatality and several serious injuries.
Monday, 24 March 2008
Western Isles Council last week proposed to build their own windfarm in Lewis, if the current proposal gets rejected by the Scottish Government. A decision is likely in the next few weeks. Rejection looks on the cards, on account of environmental designation. The Council wants to build a windfarm in exactly the same location - with exactly the same designations. Which means, that that proposal too will be turned down.
I have so far gone through nearly 7,000 of the 40,000 questions, and I copy the snippets into this blog precisely to highlight the atrocities that went on in those days. The main problem was lack of security of tenure, summary evictions and wilful non-cooperation. The Napier Commission issued a report early in 1884, having spent 7 months gathering evidence from Tiree to Shetland, from Lewis to Edinburgh. Legislation was introduced in 1886 to safeguard the interests of crofters.
In 1990s, a family of 5 in the Isle of Eigg were told to leave their estate-owned house within weeks - just before Christmas. An uproar ensued against the laird, Keith Schellenberg. Whether the torching of his 1920s Rolls Royce had anything to do with the threatened eviction is unclear. Other people in the island were complaining of lack of security of tenure, the threat of summary eviction and wilful non-cooperation. Ring a bell? The problem was that this was estate land, not crofting land. A legal nicety. Since then, the community in Eigg have acquired their own island and legislation has been introduced allowing communities to buy their land off their landlord - against his wishes if need be.
The hurricane warning I put out last night has been cancelled, because the tropical cyclone concerned has been pulled apart. Winds at different levels in the atmosphere were blowing at different speeds and directions, meaning Lola is no longer there. Its remains may still head south, but pose little threat to Mauritius or La Reunion. Another cyclone is being born east of the Cocos Islands, northwest of Australia. Atmospheric conditions there are perfect, but its future course is not certain. The Australian authorities take it south, the other forecasters push it west - towards the Cocos Islands.
Tension in South America is once again heading towards boiling point. A few weeks ago, Ecuador and Venezuela were eye-balling Colombia over a raid by Colombian troops into Ecuadoran territory whilst raiding a rebel encampment. It has now been confirmed that an Ecuadoran national lost his life in the raid. The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has threatened diplomatic tension if that would occur.
Sunday, 23 March 2008
Lola will be doing the dirty on the Mascaregnes, Mauritius and La Reunion. The storm is currently heading west along the 16th parallel south, which (if unchanged) would take it across northern Madagascar. However, the storm will travel south and gain strength. From 40 knots at the moment to 60 knots on Tuesday - and by that time it won't be over the islands yet.
Meteorology is an inexact science, and even more so when it comes to predicting hurricanes.
Know anyone in Mauritius or La Reunion? Please give them a heads-up.
6343. There is a story about a number of people having been kidnapped, or induced to remove from Soay and other places in Minginish long ago ?—I know it well.
6344. How long ago was it ?—It is seventy years ago since my grandfather went, and it was before that.
6345. There were a lot induced to emigrate to Canada ?—They took them away in spite of themselves.
6346. And they were not taken to Canada ?—No, it was to Charlestown, where they were sold for slaves. He left them poor enough and robbed the clothes off their backs, before they came back to the same farm again.
6347. Who did that ?—Old Kenneth M'Askill.
6348. Of the farm of Rhu Dunan ?—Yes. we heard news from people who went to America. Many of them say they would rather be home in their native place yet, if they were the way they were before.
Friday 18 May 1883, Bracadale.
5878. What was the arrangement you spoke about with regard to the sheep pasturing on your crofts in winter. Was that by a special arrangement and included in the rent you paid for the croft1?—No it was no part of the agreement. But when Dr M'Lean would find our sheep in the fank, the owner of any sheep who was not prepared to pay half a crown on the spot for it would have the ears of his sheep cut close to its skull at once.
5923. You spoke about cutting the ears of sheep. I understood you to say that if the crofters kept the sheep and did not pay 2s. 6d., then the ears of the sheep were cut off. Did you ever see the ears of a sheep cut off ?—Yes, I did see that in Dr M'Lean's fank at Talisker. I never saw it before or since.
5924. Was that a punishment of Dr M'Lean's invention, or is it the custom in this country ?—I never saw it with anybody but himself.
5925. Had you any name for that mode of marking sheep ?—No, we had no particular name.
5926. Did you ever hear it called the thief's mark?—Yes, I heard it called the thief's mark.
Happy Easter to everybody. I'm typing this, looking at a chocolate Easter bunny, with a bell round its neck. Weather here remains cold, with occasional sleet, hail or snow showers. It is nothing compared to the mayhem, currently experienced in northern England, with 4 inches of snow, closed roads and people trapped in drifts on that infamous snow blackspot, the A66. The snow will spread south along the English east coast.
Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain, is being searched this morning for a man, seen acting in a confused manner on the path to the 4,406 feet summit. A rucksack, possibly his, was found. I hope the man is found safe and well - it's no weather for mountaineering unless you're properly prepared.
Saturday, 22 March 2008
Unrelated to the weather, apparently, was an accident just west of Fort William, where a car plunged into the Caledonian Canal at Banavie at 3.30 am this morning. Two people were found dead inside the car, once it was raised from the bottom of the canal.
South Africa is suffering a power crisis, but its neighbour Mozambique is coming to its aid. A hydro-electric scheme, involving a huge dam, is being upgraded, allowing increased exports of electricity to South Africa. Power shortages there are blamed on past lack of investment.
The far west of China was rocked by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake overnight. No reports of casualties of damage YET; the region is remote, wedged between Mongolia and Tadjikistan.
Friday, 21 March 2008
Today being Good Friday is a good occasion to bring up the recording I dug out for last year's Easter. The Matthaeus Passion by Bach is quint-essentially Easter. I recommend the recording of the final two chorals. You can safely switch off after 8 minutes 30 seconds, which is when the applause starts. Officially, you are not supposed to clap after a performance of this piece, which is after all related to the death of Christ.
If you have three hours to spare, here is the whole performance.
Although the sun may be shining, it is most definitely not doing so for a poor man from Barra. He went into hospital in Glasgow for radiotherapy, and was due to be flown home by helicopter. His condition is too poorly for him to travel by ferry and road. This morning, the helicopter landed on the wrong island, offloaded him, and took off again. The patient was taken to the Uist & Barra hospital in Balivanich, a few miles away - but 40 miles from home. He was due to have gone to St Brendan's Hospital in Castlebay, the main town in Barra. Weather conditions are too severe for the helicopter to come back, so he will have to stay in Balivanich for the time being.
A patient in hospital in Glasgow has been diagnosed with multiple-resistent tuberculosis. He arrived in the UK from Somalia, and was found to be suffering from the disease. This form of TB can only be treated with a cocktail of drugs, but the public are not at risk.
Generally, resistance to antibiotics has spiralled since their inception in the 1940s. It is a natural selection process, where bacteria who happen to have a genetic modification that allows them to survive antibiotics will proliferate. They are even capable of passing on the genetic information. Overuse of antibiotics (like for virus infections such as the common cold) has worsened the problem. TB is singularly difficult to treat, because the bug concerned has a chemical barrier around itself. For those versed in chemistry, its fatty acids run a length of 80 carbon atoms.
Thursday, 20 March 2008
4191. How many altogether were removed by Mr Gibbons?—Seventeen. He placed these families as close together as the sea would allow him; and we have but very little land, and it will not support us ; and some of those he took from Minginish were placed upon peat soil, which had never previously been cultivated. When he packed the people in that way Ebost tack was then free, and he thought that was a better bargain, and gave up Feorlick. Then Major M'Kinnon succeeded him. He was not very severe on the people. They were paying rent in work, but he removed some of the people,—Malcolm Stewart and Murdo Macdonald ; these had not a place on earth on which they could put a foot. I myself saw them living under a sail spread on three poles under high-water mark. He warned off Donald Campbell for giving shelter to a poor man who had not a place to live in. I saw the officer coming to his house and breaking into it; and he went in with a pad of water and extinguished the fire, and a great steam arose in the house; and what with the noise of the fire extinguishing and the denseness of the steam, his wife went out of her senses. We were then advised that if we would tow her after a boat in the sea, she would get better; and we took her out, and she would not sink deeper than up to her breast. I myself was two years in an asylum in Glasgow. I was a keeper there, and I never saw one that was so mad as her. Now Major M'Kinnon went to Edinburgh, and it was said he was brained there. He was succeeded by Mr John Scobie, who came to Harlosh, where I live. He told us freely that M'Leod of Dunvegan had overgiven to him, that he might do what he liked with us, and he said it was God who sent him there. He came and took a view of Harlosh, as the spies did who went to spy out the land of Canaan. There is a place there called Ardmore Point—a peninsula in Harlosh He thought that would make a splendid park for tups, and he thought that whatever became of the people, he would have such a park there, and he removed four of them, and said he would make them as comfortable up at Balmore as they were before. He said that he had told M'Leod about it, and that he had promised M'Leod he would make them as comfortable as they were before. The four people went up to see where they were to be located. There was a piece of mossy ground there, which had never been cultivated, and was in its primeval state, and when the people saw the place they would not go into it. John Campbell was one of them, John Macdonald was another, and they said they would trust to the providence of God; and if God should support them, they would go to Australia.
Queen Elizabeth is in Northern Ireland for a three-day visit, and is attending Maundy Thursday service in St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh. Read more here.
A worker with toothache brought the Portree lifeboat in action overnight. He had been working on the island of Rona, just north of Raasay, when he developed severe toothache. The normal ferry could not manage in the bad weather, but the Portree lifeboat were happy to oblige, and took the man to the dentist.
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
The parents of Madeleine McCann were awarded £550,000 in a libel case against two tabloid newspapers. These had alleged that they were responsible for Madeleine's death. The money was deposited in the Find Madeleine fund, and a front page apology printed. Since Madeleine went missing, nearly 11 months ago, her parents and a man named Robert Murat have been declared formal suspects by the Portuguese judiciary. Those are the only substantive developments. No trace of the 4-year old has been found since. I am sick of the tabloid press making up stories, and I restrict myself to skimming their headlines as pass by the newspaper stand in the shop.
Would you have confidence in a paper talking about "Macca" when referring to Sir Paul McCartney? His divorce settlement is another total non-story, except it showed his wife off in her true colours, by pouring a jug of water over her ex-husband's lawyer's head.
A sure sign that the winter is drawing to a close is the change in the public transport timetables. Local buses and the regional ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne all switch over on Friday 21 March, to a schedule with more services. In July and August, we even get three ferry sailings a day, as opposed to the two a day at other times. The first sailing is at 6.15 am, with others at 12.40 and 7pm; the ferry returns at 12.45 am (yep, after midnight).
Another sign is the arrival of the first set of tourists this season - after all, it is the Easter weekend coming up, which is normally when the season starts. In my first year, I remember travelling down the Harris road on a service bus at 10.30 am, when a perspired-looking cyclist came pedalling in the opposite direction, still some 22 miles short of Stornoway.
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
15 May 1883
Statements prepared by the Tenants of Edinbane. Our lots are from 6 to 8 acres of arable land. There are about 20 half lots from subdivision. A large piece of the hill has been taken from us called Ben Dhu, and no compensation, given. Several of our lots have been taken down by 1 acre, and no reduction of rents. The proprietor has never done anything for the land. The houses are built and maintained by ourselves. On removal we get compensation for the roof only. We think our rents too high, when so much land has been taken from us, and the rent in many cases raised. They were last raised to give the factor Mr Robertson votes. We are not in arrears. Seven days' work is claimed by Mr Robertson from each lot, and 2s. is taken from us for every day we miss. He likes us to give him the first offer of stock, but he does not fix the prices. A lot is allowed four cows and twenty-four sheep. Four cows are too many for the pasture. The profits from sheep go direct to Mr Robertson for rent. We never touch a penny of the money. The money from our sheep for the rent, instead of being put in the bank for us until Martinmas -when it is due, is kept by Mr Robertson for his own use, and we get no interest from him for it. We cannot utilise fishing for the want of proper boats, &c. Fishing should be distinct from crofting. There were plenty of evictions in Grishornish and Coshletter before the time of the late Mr M'Leod. Many of us have seen the law officers come and strip the roofs in Edinbane, and pour water down on the fires. The people evicted mostly emigrated. They got no compensation. The land is now largely in the hands of Mr Robertson, the factor. We would migrate, not emigrate. No Gaelic is taught at our schooL We would like our children taught to read the Gaelic Bible. The school rates are a shilling. Fees for standard IILIs. 6d. There are eight paupers on the estate; most of these on Ben-Dhu have come from other places. Several cottars have been removed by the late Mr M'Leod and by Mr Robertson from Grishornish and Coshletter and put upon us. The poor-rates are 8d. Mr Robertson, the factor, has the lands once belonging to us of Kerrol and Ben-Dhu in his own hands. We received no reduction when these lands were taken from us. Mr Robertson keeps a meal-store, and we nearly all deal with him. We are this year already very deep in his books for meal. When Mr Robertson put the money on to our rents, for votes for himself as he said, he promised to make it good to us, but he has never done so, although we protest every year. We can give many other instances of oppression. One man took in a lodger against Mr Robertson's wish. He was fined a £1, and had to pay the £1 for five or six years, and was only pardoned last Martinmas. Another man for selling a stack of corn off the farm, although he had offered it to Mr Robertson several times, and was in sore need of ready money, was punished by having his rent raised from £3, 8s. 5d. to £4, which he still pays. The year before last two men quarreled about the march of their crofts. Mr Robertson ended the quarrel by fining the man with the largest croft 10s. a year on to his rent, and no corresponding reduction to the man with the small croft. In November last the factor put 7s. on to a half lot, with the reason stated, " I want to make a gentleman of you, and give you a vote." Mr Robertson has two shares of sheep in the hill, and although we complained, he will not pay for the grazing, and he refuses to let our sheep go over the lands of Kerrol, which is our right in winter, and makes us twice a year build up the dyke that keeps our own sheep out of our own grazings. We have to submit to such things as these, for fear of being evicted. Reforms wanted. More land and fixity of tenure. We cannot improve our lands at present as they will not support our families while we are improving them; but if we had enough of land to keep us on it the whole year round, and if we were made secure against fines and evictions from petty spite of the factor or other causes, we would improve it, and there would be no more heard of destitution in hard years like this. When the credit which this bad year drove us into is settled for, there will not be much of our stock left to us we think.
Yesterday, an Energy Conference was held in Stornoway, and the Energy Minister for Scotland said the Western Isles had excellent potential for renewable energy. Wind, tides, waves, solar, you name it. Sources which should be harnessed to the benefit of the community.
Our council is so determined to build a windfarm, come hell or high water, that they have already proposed an alternative, should the current proposal be turned down. More of the same, but now in the part-ownership of the community. One quote sent my head reeling: Generation on this scale will provide the additional benefit of being able to fund environmental management work that will enhance the sustainability of a wide range of habitats and support jobs for their interpretation.
The Energy minister announced at the end of January that he was "minded to reject" the current proposal, as it flies in the face of several European Union Habitat directives, related to protected species and habitats. If the current proposal is finally rejected, then so will the revamped proposal.
On August 3rd, 2007, the weather was very poor, with an unseasonable force 7 wind lashing the Western Isles. The sea was whipped up by the strong winds, and local seamen stayed ashore that day. Nonetheless, three rigid-inflatable boats set out from South Uist into Loch Carnan, a sealoch on the island's east coast. One boat overturned.
A head-count was held, but a mistake was made, meaning it took about 45 minutes for someone to realise that Kaylee was missing. The emergency services searched for her, to find her underneath the upturned boat. Kaylee was flown to hospital in Stornoway, 60 miles away, but declared dead on arrival.
Today, the Marine Accidents Investigation Branch published a detailed report, (PDF file) which lists a catalogue of errors. The girl's parents may seek a prosecution, but that decision lies with the Procurator Fiscal in Stornoway. Mr and Mrs Macintosh feel that the Army has failed in its duty of care towards their daughter.
Belgium has finally got itself a government, 9 months after general elections. It is a coalition of both Flemish- and French-speaking parties, from across the political spectrum. The language issue is not straddled by any political party, and the issue threatened to split the country in two. An intervention by King Albert II forestalled that. Thirty years ago, pitched battles were fought on the streets of the disputed district of Fourons-le-Comte / 's Gravenvoeren, south of the Dutch city of Maastricht, which threatened to spill across the Dutch border.
As the two names indicate, both language groups lay claim to it. Asking directions in Wallonia whilst speaking Flemish (note) will earn you a terse "comment?" (what?). People from the Netherlands, whose accent is different from the Flemish may get a response in their own language.
A man has appeared in court, charged with the abduction and illegal imprisonment of 9-year old Shannon Matthews. He was remanded in custody for another appearance at a later date. Shannon herself remains in the care of social services pending the conclusion of police inquiries.
Monday, 17 March 2008
Saddam Hussein was America's own son of a b****. Following the Islamic revolution in Iraq's eastern neighbour Persia / Iran in 1979, the USA wanted an ally to prevent the spread of radical Islam across the Middle East. So they pumped Iraq's small-town dictator Saddam Hussein full of arms, and he fought a bloody war against Iran, which neither side won. In 1988, the war drew to a close, and Saddam Hussein decided to wage war on his own people, using nerve gas against the village of Halabja in the north of his country. During the 1980s, Mr Hussein had nuclear ambitions, but that was knocked out in an audicious airstrike by the Israeli airforce in 1981.
In August 1990, Saddam Hussein became a naughty boy by invading Kuweit, which Iraq regards as its 19th province. His troops overran the province in days, but after US forces amassed in Saudi Arabia and surrounding areas, the Iraqis were routed in short order some 7 months later. The road to Baghdad lay open, and American forces were 100 miles from the capital. They were ordered to halt their progress, at the behest of other Arab leaders. A decision which I personally reckon to have been a severe mistake.
In the following 12 years, Saddam Hussein continued to be a pain in the backside, but he was in a military stranglehold, and not an immediate threat to anybody's interests. Although he had used surface-to-surface Scud missiles during the 1990/1 war, the threat of chemical or biological weapons was never carried through. In fact, it is thought that in a flash of realism, Saddam has probably destroyed what stockpiles of nasties he held as his position became ever more restricted.
However, George W. Bush was now on the throne in the White House, and he got it in his head that he wanted to finish the jobthat his daddy had failed to complete in 1991. Furthermore, he blamed Saddam Hussein for complicity in 9/11, even though there was no evidence to support that accusation.
In 2003, the decision was taken to effect a regime change in Iraq, oust Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people would warmly embrace their liberators, the American and British armies. The reason given was that Saddam held chemical, biological or nuclear weapons - without a shred of credible evidence. Afraid that UN inspection teams would back that up, troops were amassed and sent into Iraq on 19 March 2003.
Saddam Hussein was deposed within a month, and he hid in a hole in the ground, from which he was extracted in December 2003. Having stood trial, he was convicted of genocide and sentenced to death. His hanging, though deserved, was bereft of any dignity as the condemned man was taunted to his dying moment, and nearly decapitated in the process. Some would say he didn't deserve any dignity. It shows, in my book, greatness of character to grant dignity - if only to show the guilty party off as the real villain.
Having kicked Saddam out on April 9th, 2003, president Bush didn't have a proper plan beyond that. He showed a complete lack of insight into Middle Eastern politics of recent and more distant years, being totally unaware that many in the Middle East regard America as their arch enemy for their support for Israel, which (through its foundation in 1948) has usurped Arab lands and suppressed the Palestinians. If Mr Bush had shown insight - well, that's an empty line of reasoning. He rarely has in international politics.
So, the presence of American troops in an Arab state was a convenient rallying call for Al-Qa'eda, which sought to fill a power vacuum through an insurgency. Meanwhile, an Iraqi government was installed which was, if anything, weak. Fortunately, the Iraqis are getting fed up with all the Islamic hot-heads coming into their country, stirring up trouble that they don't want. Things are slowly, very slowly, improving. Suicide bombers still do their deadly work, and battles are still being fought in Iraq.
British and American forces will be in Iraq for years to come, to sort out the mess that their governments created. Mr Blair has left office in the UK, and Mr Brown will not be taking any really major foreign policy decisions before the next General Election in 2009. Mr Bush will be leaving the White House in January of that year. Their legacy will be slightly different from the one they may have had in mind upon ascending to office in 1997 and 2000 respectively.
The War in Iraq.
The mystery of famous French author Antoine de St Exupery, who disappeared whilst flying a mission during World War II, has apparently been solved. A former German fighter ace has come forward, admitting that he shot down St Exupery. He is famous for the story of The Little Prince, who lives on an asteroid.
The Princess Diana inquest has heard one more rumour that I don't care to hear about. Paul Burrell, former butler to the Princess, says he removed a blood-stained ring from Diana's finger after her death. Burrell himself has refused to give further evidence to the inquest. Want to know more? Read here.
The US has now got its own Northern Rock - it's called Bear Stearns. This bank was taken over for a fraction of its recent value by competitor JP Morgan on the back of the mortgage crisis. I specifically omit the word "sub-prime", because in a recent commentary, I heard that the problems with defaults on payments were spreading into the normal mortgage market.
Plugging one hole with another does not work in the long run. When you run out of holes, you're in one hell of a hole. And if you keep digging, it just gets worse. I'm not being even half funny saying this. It is what lies at the bottom of this debacle.
Sunday, 16 March 2008
Later in 1938, on September 30th, Neville Chamberlain went to a summit meeting with Adolf Hitler at Munich, (in)famously returning to Great Britain "peace for our time".
Six weeks later, on November 9th, the infamous Kristallnacht saw Jewish property across Germany being vandalised and destroyed, and Jews molested and killed in an orchestrated campaign of terror.
The Sudetenland area of Czecho-Slovakia was invaded early in 1939 by Nazi forces, to continue Hitler's campaign to join all German speaking territories to the Fatherland. The British government stood by, swallowing the German excuse that it was defending a German minority.
The Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939 finally did evoke a response from the British Government, in the shape of a declaration of war. World War II had begun.
I occasionally highlight key dates from World War II and preceding years, lest we forget the atrocities that occurred between 1933 and 1945.
But when you were in [the army]?—Well, for one time I had two years and four months without ever stripping or going to bed. From the time I left Portsmouth till I returned, I never stripped. I was in clothes all the time, and it was hard enough work for all I got.
In recent days, reception on Sky TV (satellite) has deteriorated somewhat (the dish is rusting), and it's affecting BBC News 24 :-(. As a result, I've reverted to watching Sky News, which is not half as cautious as the BBC in its reporting.
Organise a party and get your house trashed. Particularly when BBC Radio 1 (the popular music channel) gives it a "shout". A girl had organised a fancy-dress party at Bovey Tracey, Devon, for 100 invited guests, to celebrate her 18th. Someone had passed on the information to the BBC, which broadcast the event - resulting in a throng of 400 uninvited guests, who proceeded to rampage through the property. The girl's parents blame the BBC and have declared they are considering their options. Methinks the BBC should stop advertising private parties, or at least check them out before broadcasting. It is well known that "home alone" parties by teenagers tend to get out of hand, and it doesn't need the tender ministrations of the country's public service broadcaster to add to that.
A crane has collapsed in New York, crushing an apartment block in its path. Four have died, dozens are injured, and the emergency services are still scouring the wreckage for survivors.
Saturday, 15 March 2008
I copy the first 21 paragraphs, which gives a flavour of society in those days.
For reference: the man interviewed, Angus Stewart, lives in an area called the Braes, 8 miles southeast of Skye's main town, Portree. When the landowner found that the local cottars were not paying the rent, he sent in the constabulary. The police were met with a fully fledged riot, and retreated bloodied to Portree. A Royal Navy ship was sent to the area, by which time the uprising had come to the attention of the authorities in London.
1. -The Chairman.—Would you have the goodness to state what is your occupation ?—A crofter.
2. Have you also been engaged in fishing ?—Yes.
3. Were you born here, at the Braes?—Born at the Braes.
4. Have you lived here all your life?—Not all my life. I have been away, but not very far off.
5. From time to time?—From time to time.
6. But you are thoroughly acquainted with the feelings and interests of the people here?—Yes.
7. Have you been freely elected by the people to be their delegate!— Yes.
8. Now, will you have the goodness to state to me what are the hardships or grievances of which the people complain who have elected you ?— Yes; but it is in Gaelic that I prefer to speak.
9. You desire to be examined in Gaelic?—Yes. [From this point the examination of the witness and of subsequent witnesses in Skye was conducted through Mr Dugald McLachlan, sheriff-clerk depute, as interpreter.]
10. Then you wit! have the goodness to state what are the hardships and grievances, if any, of which the people whom you represent at this place complain?—I would wish that I should have an opportunity of saying a few words before I tell that, and that is that I should have the assurance that I will not be evicted from my holding by the landlord or factor, as I have seen done already. I would not have a fire in my house at Whitsunday I want the assurance that I will not be evicted, for I cannot bear evidence to the distress of my people without bearing evidence to the oppression and high-handedness of the landlord and his factor.
11. Have you anything more to add to your preparatory statement?— No.
12. It is impossible for the Commission to give you any absolute security of the kind which you desire. The Commission cannot interfere between you and your landlord, or between you and the law, but we trust that no act of oppression or severity would ever be exercised towards you or any one else by the landlord in consequence of your courage and goodness in telling the absolute truth.Mr ALEXANDER MACDONALD, Factor for Lord Macdonald—examined.
13. The Chairman.—You are at liberty to speak if you desire to make Macdonald, any observations?—In the first place, I may say that I am surprised at this man's statement, because he is not one of our crofters at all. He is a crofter's son; he is not a crofter. That is the first thing. In the next place, I do not think that he has any reason whatever, or that any person has any reason whatever, if he tells the truth, and nothing but the truth, to fear anything. In fact, we consider it rather insulting to us to insinuate anything of the sort. We despise to do anything of the sort. We expect and trust that the men will tell the truth and nothing but the truth, and the whole truth.
14. There is something rather ambiguous in the statement which you have made. Am I to understand that you publicly state that no proceeding will be taken against any tenant or inhabitant of this place in consequence of what they state before the Commission on this occasion?—I believe not.
15. You say you believe not, but do you engage that no proceedings will be taken?—That is all I can state: on my own property certainly there will not be, and, I believe, on no property. In fact, such an idea never entered our heads; but we expect the people will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
16. Mr Cameron.—Would you engage on behalf of the proprietors for whom you act; for all properties with which you are connected?—Most certainly; but this I would say, if we hear any man making a grossly false statement against us, which we can prove to be false, I do not think that in human nature it would be found we should like to continue that man as our tenant. If there is any statement which is made by a man thinking and believing it to be true, even though we ourselves differ from it, we would never dream of using any power that we have, but if the man tells a parcel of unfounded lies—which I do not believe any man here or elsewhere in Skye will do until I hear it—that is a different matter altogether. So far as we are concerned the people have full liberty to tell everything they have to say, without any fear.
17. The Chairman.—If
you are able to do so I would rather that you availed yourself of this occasion
to make a distinct declaration that whatever the people say no proceeding will
ever be taken against them on that account,—that on this particular occasion
whatever they may say, however mistaken you may think them, however erroneous
or false, no proceeding will be attempted?—These are my own personal feelings,
and certainly so far as the properties for which I am factor are concerned they
will never know or hear
anything about it—so far as I, as factor, am concerned.
18. Then I am authorised by you to assure this gentleman before me that nothing will ever be done to his prejudice on this occasion?—I expect that he will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and so far as I am concerned as factor, I will visit in no way anything upon him, and I believe Lord Macdonald will do nothing.
19. Mr Cameron.—You have heard what this witness has said, that except under certain conditions he refuses to give us evidence. We have been appointed by the Queen to investigate this subject thoroughly, and it is impossible that we can do so unless we get proper evidence from witnesses such as Mr Angus Stewart. Now, I am sure you would not Macdonald, wish that the evidence should fail to be recorded from any disinclination on your part to give the assurance which has been asked by the chairman — I give him the fullest assurance.
20. And I think all we wish was contained in the observation which I formerly made, namely, that so far as concerns the estates under your management nothing shall happen to any witness in consequence of any statement which he may make, whether you consider it truthful or not, before this Commission. If you give that assurance we may at once proceed ?—Certainly we expect the man to tell the truth.
21. The Chairman.—But let us come to a point on this matter. Will you state yes or no in reply to my question,—will you authorise me to state absolutely to this man that nothing will ever be done prejudicial to his interest or that of his family in consequence of anything he may say on this occasion ?—I believe I am quite at liberty to say so. I believe I am perfectly at liberty to say so, and from the first I could have said so.
In Albania, an armaments depot has exploded, leaving widespread devastation, death and injury behind. The Albanian army was disposing of old ammunitions, some dating back to the 1940s, when the blast occurred. This report on the BBC website has actual footage of the detonations as they happened.
I have spent the afternoon uploading images of ships, which have visited Stornoway over the past 6 months, to the shipspotting website. So far, I have put 85 pictures up. In comparison with other ports on the Scottish west coast, Stornoway cannot be described as bustling, making the appearance of strange boats quite an occasion. There is a meeting of shipspotters in Rotterdam next month, with an inevitable session of 4 hours on the water's edge, spotting ships.
I hope any J-landers in Atlanta, GA, were not affected by the storm last night which has left the city centre severely damaged. It appears to have been tornado-like in nature.
Talking of storms, I have no tropical cyclones whatsoever to report upon. The season in the southern oceans is moving towards its closure - which means the Northern Hemisphere hurricane season is nigh. Two months from now, in fact. Be prepared.
Did you know toasters are banned in Cuba? Quite a few electronic items will be un-banned in the near future. The problem lies in limited power supplies.
Young Shannon Matthews is safe in police care, but both she and her abductor will be questioned extensively over events of the past 24 days. Neighbours in her area of Dewsbury celebrated her freedom with fireworks last night.
Friday, 14 March 2008
If you keep checking this link, it will carry further updates as they appear.
On 12 March 1941, the SS Politician was making her way from the United Kingdom to America, but was hopelessly lost in fog around the Hebrides. Although the captain thought he was near Skerryvore, he was in fact a good few miles further west, and heading into the narrow channel between the isles of South Uist and Eriskay. With a grinding crunch, the boat ran aground on a reef, just off Eriskay.
The Politician's crew decided she was not going to come off in a hurry, either refloated or sinking, so they rowed ashore at Eriskay and alerted the authorities. The islanders were alerted in the process and they went over to have a look around the wreck. Its cargo consisted of cases of Jamaican banknotes, several grand pianos, bathroom suites and... many thousands of cases of all kinds of whisky.
The story has become legendary, with the islanders helping themselves to unimaginable quantities of uisge bheatha [water of life] and having a high old time. Compton Mackenzie immortalised the story in his book Whisky Galore, changing a few names along the way. Apart from the whisky, the bathroom suites also found a good home. One set is reportedly still sitting outside a house in Eriskay, in daily use.
After a couple of days, the authorities intervened and retrieved part of the cargo. Several islanders were prosecuted for illegally retrieving goods off a wrecked ship. Bottles of 'polly' still turn up every now and again, If they have been in the sea, the spirits will have become undrinkable. But it's a nice story.
A nice sunny morning - with pretty beefy showers, some with hail. After they fade away later today, a cold night will precede the same conditions on Saturday.
Thirteen months ago, a man of 18 was picking up his friends to go to Inverness one morning, when he approached a level crossing near Invergordon, north of the Highland capital. A train was approaching, but rather than slow down to a stop, he sped up, in an apparent attempt to beat the train to the level crossing. The train won, by 13 metres. He smashed into the undercarriage at speed, killing two of his friends in the process and sustaining serious injury himself. At trial in Edinburgh yesterday, it appeared the man in the dock had been clocked at 108 mph on the nearby A9 road, just two days after he passed his test in December 2006.
Drivers aged between 18 and 24 are most likely to suffer an accident behind the wheel. Nobody is invincible, and in the car vs train stakes, the train always wins.
Thursday, 13 March 2008
As you know, I'm strongly interested in the weather, and I've discovered a very useful website for learning about the weather. It is part of the American National Weather Service, called Jetstream. Have a browse, if you'd like to learn more. At the end of each topic, there is the option of taking a short test, which will give you a certificate.
The lifeboat crew at Barra, 120 miles south of Stornoway, have been honoured with the issue of a series of stamps. The crew, consisting of 26 volunteers and 2 full-time staff, were joined for the occasion by the Stornoway-based Coastguard helicopter. Barra Lifeboat station opened in 1931 and has saved more than 400 lives since.
I have viewed the evidence given yesterday at an inquiry into financial and managerial failure at the Western Isles Health Board between 2003 and 2006. It appears that the Board has one Chief Executive out on secondment, never to return; another suspended on full pay (and has been for more than 6 months) and a third, acting CEO. Although the Board only pays the salary of one (the other two are funded by NHS Scotland) it beggars the belief that a cash-strapped health authority is costing the taxpayer the wages of three CEOs.
AOL Time Warner is reported to have acquired the social networking site Bebo, at a time when Time Warner is contemplating splitting off its AOL arm. It does send me wondering whether all this uncertainty contributes to the deterioration in service that many people have been complaining about.
Oh, I still haven't got my greyed-out buttons back to normal.