Saturday, December 31, 2005
Perhaps the most important thing to have happened this year is I became a blogger. Looking round Blogland, it is clear that it was waiting for the sort of sophistication, intellect and humour that only someone like myself could possibly offer. (People accuse me of being too modest!). Anyway, it's interesting to look back a re-read some of the posts, and I'm pleased to see that my writing has improved from the early self-conscious ramblings to the more confident (and possibly more long-winded) pieces I do now. When I started, I wondered if I would ever keep it going, but I've surprised myself at how much I've enjoyed doing it. The inspiration can come from anywhere, newspapers, something someone says, something glimpsed from the railway carriage or something I've done. It's all grist to the mill.
Of equal importance have been the visitors to my page. It still amazes me that someone thousands of miles away has visited, read and even left a comment on something I've written and of course, I always find it pleasurable to visit other people's blogs and share in their world.
Other things that have happened; Bethen, my eldest daughter, started Secondary school and seems to have settled down well. She has reached that age when she doesn't want to hold her Daddy's hand while out, - just in case she meets one of her friends! Jayne has survived Primary school without her sister being there; she was rather nervous at first. Christine got a new job and I went for, but failed to get a new job. I'm going to try again in the New Year, but it does have to be the right job. Dave, my best mate, gave us all a real shock by contacting a virus that appeared to put him at death's door. Fortunately, he recovered well, and we had a great night out just before Christmas. On a personal level, it's not been a bad year, and we are looking forward to the New Year and the challenges it is going to offer.
My key resolutions have to start with getting some weight off! I really need to lose about 30 pounds, so a lot less eating, a lot more walking and cycling (and possibly less real ale) . I have given up smoking, and my overall fitness is not too bad. Other than that, I've got no real plans for the year other than to continue to strive to love and care for those around me.
To all who read this, I hope you have a happy and successful New Year, and that, despite the Bushs and Blairs we move towards a more peaceful world.
See you next year.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Mind you, we had a pretty good Christmas. Christine was working the morning shift, so she wasn't there when the kids got up but tradition was maintained. No-one was allowed into the tree until we all had a cup of tea and had woken up a bit. The girls had already opened their stockings which Father Christmas had left them on their beds. One of the presents they had were baseball caps with lights! Lots of fun, which meant I couldn't have a lie-in! Jayne had been incredibly excitied during the last week and it was amazing she survived!
The girls and I, with our cups of tea, went into the tree and opened presents, - and what a lot of presents there were. However, we all saved one present to open when Christine came home. Breakfast, then dressed and ready to cycle up to Church. The weather was great. Blue sky, bright sunshine and cold and frosty air. Really beautiful, and the Church was lovely and warm. Bethen served the wine.
After Church, we cycled up to Haigh (pronounced Hay) Hall and apart from a few dog walkers, we seemed to have the world to ourselves. The girls had the swings to themselves, and when they got fed up with them, we went to the Hall and looked out over a mist-covered Wigan. There seemed to be something magical being there on Christmas Day. From there it is a fairly steep hill down from Haigh Hall to the Leeds - Liverpool canal, which, when you're free wheeling, you can get a really good speed on, - so much so, my eyes started watering. We visited our favourite little bridge on the canal, which has now been re-surfaced making cycling over it so much easier. From the canal, we cycled back towards Wigan to Top Lock and the Kirkless Hall pub which had a warming, strong Christmas Ale on tap. Sitting outside, the canal looked really good in the sunlight with mist rising and gently swirling above the mill-pond like surface of the water. Unfortunately, you will have to imagine what it looked like from my description, because, like a wazzock, I forgot to buy film for my camera!
When we got home, Christine arrived back from work and we opened the rest of our 'prezzies, after which, we started getting the meal ready. No turkey and all the trimmings for us, we had a fusion Chinese/Indian/Thai meal which was really tasty, did not take long to prepare and did not leave us bloated. After that we just chilled in front of the TV for the rest of the day.
Boxing Day and the 2 subsequent Bank Holidays were very similar. While the east of the country was getting a belated white Christmas, we were bathed in blue skys, bright sun and freezing temperatures which gave the world its own special type of beauty.
Three days to go before New Year's Eve; - can't wait!
Friday, December 23, 2005
I have no idea how you intend to celebrate the approaching season, but for many it will be a time of family (and all the stress that that can bring) with the giving and receiving of presents. Please ensure that you include the gift of your love as that is the best gift of all. It is the only gift I can give you, but, my friends, when I raise my glass on Sunday, you will be in my thoughts
Have a really good, peaceful, happy and loving Christmas holiday.
The early Europeans believed in the battle between good and evil spirits and the dark days of winter demonstrated that the powers of evil were winning. In support of the good spirits, special rituals and celebrations were held to drive out evil and welcome back the sun. During winter above the Arctic circle in Scandinavia, the sun would disappear for many days. When it returned a Yuletide celebration was held and a special feast served around a burning Yule log fire.
The Roman's celebrated their god Saturn with a festival called Saturnalia which ran from 17 to 24 December. Celebrations included masquerades in the streets, festive meals, visits to friends and the exchange of good-luck gifts. The Romans used decorations of garlands of laurel and green trees lit with candles.
The fun and festivities in honour of a pagan god were frowned on by the early Christians who wanted to keep the birth of Christ a solemn, religious festival. Some theories claim that the Christmas celebration was invented by the Christians to compete against the pagan December celebrations. Eventually, the church brought in some of the merriment, lights and gifts from the Saturnalia festival into Christmas celebrations.
Celtic culture reveres all green plants, particularly mistletoe and holly. These were important symbols of fertility and used for decorating homes and altars.
The exact day of Christ's birth is not known. Traditions say that it was celebrated as early 98 AD. In 137 AD, the Bishop of Rome ordered Christ's birthday to be celebrated as a solemn feast. In 350 AD, the then Bishop of Rome, Julius I, choose December 25th for the observance of Christmas.
The earliest English reference to 25 December as Christmas Day dates from 1043. Christmas celebrations have always been controversial as many of the festive traditions have their roots in paganism. Frivolity and feasting, the giving of gifts and frequent excesses have always been in complete contrast to the simplicity of the Nativity and are often condemned as contrary to the true spirit of Christmas. Although not the original purpose of the day, Christmas remains a traditional time for families to meet, enjoy a meal, and make merry.
A brief history of Father Christmas
The origin of Santa Claus begins in the 4th century with Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors purportedly stole his remains and removed them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas' popularity throughout Europe. His kindness and reputation for generosity gave rise to claims he that he could perform miracles and devotion to him increased. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia, where he was known by his red cape, flowing white beard, and bishop's mitre. In Greece, he is the patron saint of sailors, in France he was the patron of lawyers, and in Belgium the patron of children and travellers. Thousands of churches across Europe were dedicated to him and some time around the 12th century an official church holiday was created in his honor. The Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated December 6 and the day was marked by gift-giving and charity.
After the Reformation, European followers of St. Nicholas dwindled, but the legend was kept alive in Holland where the Dutch spelling of his name Sint Nikolaas was eventually transformed to Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace, and Sinterklaas would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes. Dutch colonists brought brought this tradition with them to America in the 17th century and here the Anglican name of Santa Claus emerged.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
The evidence on atmospheric concentrations comes from an Antarctic region called Dome Concordia.
Over a five year period commencing in 1999, scientists working with the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (Epica) have drilled 3,270m into the Dome C ice, which equates to drilling nearly 900,000 years back in time. Gas bubbles trapped as the ice formed yield important evidence of the mixture of gases present in the atmosphere at that time, and of temperature. "One of the most important things is we can put current levels of carbon dioxide and methane into a long-term context," said project leader Thomas Stocker from the University of Bern, Switzerland. "We find that CO2 is about 30% higher than at any time, and methane 130% higher than at any time; and the rates of increase are absolutely exceptional: for CO2, 200 times faster than at any time in the last 650,000 years. We found a very tight relationship between CO2 and temperature even before 420,000 years," said Professor Stocker. "The fact that the relationship holds across the transition between climatic regimes is a very strong indication of the important role of CO2 in climate regulation."
Another study reported in the same journal claims that for the last 150 years, sea levels have been rising twice as fast as in previous centuries. Using data from tidal gauges and reviewing findings from many previous studies, US researchers have constructed a new sea level record covering the last 100 million years. They calculate the present rate of rise at 2mm per year.
"The main thing that's changed since the 19th Century and the beginning of modern observation has been the widespread increase in fossil fuel use and more greenhouse gases," said Kenneth Miller from Rutgers University.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body which collates scientific evidence for policymakers, concludes that sea level rose by 1-2mm per year over the last century, and will rise by a total of anything up to 88cm during the course of this century.
The US Government, - which still refuses to sign up to the Kyoto treaty on climate change, - expects carbon dioxide emissions to rise by 47% between 2000 and 2025. Clearly they take this seriously having tacked on the funding for more oil exploration in the Alaskan widerness to the Defense Bill! For me, there is far, far more evidence of man's detrimental influence on the environment, than there ever was for weapons of mass destruction, - faulty or otherwise, - in Iraq. That being the case, there should be a similar resolve in tackling this danger to the freedom of all, - clean air!
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Was this a brewery having a not-so-subtle pop at our elected representatives? Well, no, it was an error in translation. The splendid ale was actually the Scottish "Deuchars" brew and had been mis-labelled by a member of staff who had taken down the name over the phone.
Well, just try saying Deuchars in a Scottish accent and you will understand.
Click here for the brewery web-site
Friday, December 16, 2005
Yesterday, Wigan held the first ever world pie-eating championships (we take culture very seriously here), - but ended up having to eat humble pie. When it came to the selection of competition standard pies, the judges (what do they know), following a blind tasting, went for meat and potato pies made in the nearby town, - and arch rival, - of Bolton! What a crushing insult! Too humiliating for words.
Anyway, this highly skilful complicated contest requires contestants to eat as many pies as they can in three minutes, and fortunately, Wigan was able to restore some pride when local man, Anthony 'The Anaconda' Danson was able to down seven pies in three minutes. After the competition, Wigan's latest World Champion said that he was feeling fine and looking fine (even if the pies did come from Bolton).
'Pie-eater' is a traditional nickname for people from Wigan, perhaps owing to the large number of pie shops found in the town. Helena Martin from Yesteryear Pub Company who sponsored the event said, "Choosing a non-Wigan pie caused some trouble, but in a blind tasting, the Bolton ones just tasted better." It won't happen next year!
There were strict rules for the tornament pies; they were not allowed to be too dry, soggy or crumbly; they each had to be 12cm across and 3.5cm deep with a pie wall angle of no more than 15 degrees. We take our pies seriously in this part of the world! Next year, both the winner and the pies will come from Wigan.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Maybe we need to re-think our feelings towards Dubya! If he needs so much rest, maybe someone should gently tell him that there is no shame in resigning. That it is OK to fall back to his ranch and continue his dream of being John Wayne. One interesting Bushism: "We need to counter the shockwave of the evildoer by having individual rate cuts accelerated and by thinking about tax rebates". Please! This man needs a rest!
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
"Many intelligence agencies judged that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and it's true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong," said Mr Bush in the speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. But he added that Saddam Hussein was nonetheless a threat, and had been looking for the opportunity to restart his weapons programmes. Does this mean that he is willing to attack anybody even if they are just only thinking about weapons? "As President, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that," Mr Bush said.
Whose intelligence needs fixing? If his intelligence was wrong, how could he possibly be able to assess that Saddam Hussein was a threat? What about the "intelligence" that allows America to kidnap people and hand them over to other countries to be tortured? Also, should we entrust the "fixing" of this calamity to the bozo that caused it?
Here's a thought, did any of this "wrong" intelligence come from such sources? If so, does not this prove, - even from a pragmatic view point, that "rendition" does not work?
The president insisted that US troops would stay in Iraq until the country's forces were sufficiently well trained to fully take over security duties. A stable Iraq was in the interests of both the Iraqi and American people, he said, and he accused critics in Washington, many of whom had originally supported the decision to invade, of playing "pure politics". He said: "Victory will be achieved by meeting certain objectives: when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can protect their own people, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot attacks against our country". Does he not realise that terrorists were not using Iraq to plot attacks until his ill-judged and reckless invasion.
I'm sorry, America. I love your country, and most Americans I meet are pretty good human beings, but I've got two questions? What the hell happened, - how could you vote in such a wazzock as Bush? and secondly, What are you going to do about it?
P.S. We Brits have similar questions to ask of ourselves about Blair, - thanks Jay.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Beechwood fires burn bright and clear,
If the logs are kept a year.
Chestnut, only good they say,
If for years it's stored away.
But Ashwood green and Ashwood brown,
Are fit for a Queen with a golden crown.
Oaken logs, dry and old,
Keep away the winter cold.
Poplar gives bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke.
Elmwood burns like a churchyard mould,
Even the very flames are cold.
Applewood will scent the room,
Pearwood smells like flowers in bloom.
But Ashwood wet and Ashwood dry,
A king may warm his slippers by.
Choose your Yule Log carefully.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Has it been worth it? You bet. It was difficult at first. I decided the best way for me was to go 'cold turkey', so I made sure there were no cigs in the house, and smoked what I had left (which meant I was up until about 1:00am). The following day Christine was at work with the car, - the shops are about a mile away, - and I got involved in a project my eldest daughter was doing. Although I was aware of not having a cigarette, I was to busy to want one (if that makes any sense). Eventually, I asked my daughter if she had noticed I hadn't gone outside all day, and the look on her face gave me the resolve to carry on, and it stays with me today. The look contained pride, relief, happiness, - real happiness and tears. Now, when I go to work, I choose routes that don't go near shops, and when I do go to the shops, I'm generally with people who would probably chop my legs off if I attempted to buy cigarettes.
It's been an OK year. The first couple of months I was thinking about cigs more often than sex (men are supposed to think about sex every 7 seconds!), but that has generally lessened. What I have to remember is that I am a smoker. Just like a recovering alcoholic, I have to have the same sort of resolve. The cravings have gone, and generally it is very easy, but there are occasions when a cigarette would be perfect such as sitting at the top of Winter Hill looking out over Horwich, or in the pub at the end of a really good bike ride or walk. So as they say, one day at a time until this time next year.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Home Secretary Charles Clarke accepted the ruling but said it would have "no bearing" on efforts to combat terror. He said the government did not use evidence it knew or suspected had been obtained by torture but the ruling had clarified the appropriate legal test of what was admissible. Sounds like the Government has decided to swallow the sour grapes!
The ruling centres on how far the Government must go to show that no improper methods of obtaining information from suspects have been used. In other words, they have to show that the information they present came through legitimate, civilised and legal means.
The Court of Appeal ruled last year that such evidence could be used if UK authorities had no involvement. But eight of the 10 foreign terror suspects who were being held in detention at Belmarsh Prison without charge, backed by human rights groups, challenged that ruling.
They argued evidence obtained in US detention camps should be excluded from court hearings. Hopefully this will mean one less customer for America's terrorism.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) must now investigate whether evidence against the suspects facing deportation was obtained by torture. The Home Secretary said the Government had not been planning to rely on evidence it knew or suspected had been obtained under torture, - so at least that is an admission that they are in possession of information gathered through 'dubious' means. Nor did he expect the ruling to affect the outcome of the men's appeals.
Mr Clarke said: "We have always made clear that we do not intend to rely on or present evidence in SIAC, which we know or believe to have been obtained by torture. So this issue is hypothetical." What is hypothetical is whether that evidence would have been presented if this ruling had not happened.
Lord Bingham, the former Lord Chief Justice, who headed the panel of seven law lords, said English law had abhorred "torture and its fruits" for more than 500 years. "I am startled, even a little dismayed, at the suggestion (and the acceptance by the Court of Appeal majority) that this deeply-rooted tradition and an international obligation solemnly and explicitly undertaken can be overridden by a statute and a procedural rule which make no mention of torture at all," he said.
Another member of the panel, Lord Carswell, said allowing evidence from torture to be used would "involve the state in moral defilement".
Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell said the "landmark judgement" showed judges had "once again been more effective in defending individual rights than this government".
Amnesty International said the "momentous" ruling overturned the "tacit belief that torture can be condoned under certain circumstances".
The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, said it was untrue the UK Government did not use information from torture. He had been told the UK did not use torture itself or ask that any specific person be tortured. "As long as we kept within that guideline, then if the Uzbeks or the Syrians, or the Egyptians or anyone else tortured someone and gave us the information that was OK".
Over to you America, and the Supreme Court. It's time for you to put your foot down and tell the Administration their moral duty.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Condoleezza Rice said her government did not condone torture and pledged to make good any mistakes the administration had made. Speaking in Germany with the new German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, she added: 'Policy will sometimes result in errors and, when it happens, we will do everything we can to rectify it'. This isn't someone from the administration actually stating that they may have, just possibly, purely by accident have made an error. I thought they never made mistakes.
This is a hideous policy, and America should not be given any support in their practice of it. The door of co-operation needs to be firmly shut in their lying hypocritical faces.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Some questions seem to be raised by this:
- These are suspects! Innocent people. People who have not been charged with anything. Why is America so keen to get these people out of US legal duristriction?
- If what America is doing is legal under international law, why can't they extract information in the US where it can all be overseen by a legally accountable committee?
- Rice claims that the US seeks assurances that transferred people will not be tortured. What value are assurances from countries such as Egypt, Syria and Libya?
- As I said in the last post, how does this make America different to the kidnapping, torture and execution of people by terrorist groups in Iraq, - I thought Bush and co were supposed to be setting an example.
- What happens to those people who turn out not to be terrorists?
- How credible is the information extracted from these people?
I know many people have said it before, but for me, this activity destroys any moral credibility the present US administration had left. In the 21st Century, this is not a civilised way to behave. It is now time that Europe pulled together on this issue and tell America that they have grossly overstepped the mark in civilised behaviour.
Monday, December 05, 2005
It is Condoleezza Rice's intention, this week, to warn European countries to 'back off' their concerns in this area and this is guaranteed to inflame the issue further, smacking as it does of bullying and blackmail. What it does tell us, is how far the administration of President George W Bush has gone beyond international norms and conventions, as it deliberately constructs legal loopholes to circumvent anti-torture legislation on US soil.
This does not mean that every CIA flight identified flying through Europe is involved in this 'out-sourcing' of torture, but the fact that this repugnant practice exists shames an administration that sets so much stock on words such as democracy and freedom. Moreover, what value is the information gained from duress.
The consequence of this cavalier approach to human rights, as witnessed from Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib and beyond, is to undermine the very values that the "War On Terror" was supposed to encourage. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Iraq, where torture and death squads have become common currency.
How can the administration remonstrate against kidnap, torture and murder, when they themselves are doing exactly that. That is why Condoleezza Rice must be disabused of the notion that reassurances and bluster are sufficient response when she visits Europe this week.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Of course, the reason is deterrence, - clearly that must be working well in Texas, as they indulge in the killing more of their population than any other state. Mind you, the 1000th executee, Kenneth Lee Boyd, of North Carolina, doesn't seem to see it this way. His comment about the death penalty was that it doesn't deter, and that it is 'nothing but revenge'. What a shame he couldn't see that his death would progress civilisation. What a selfish wazzock. At least he gets out of a lifetime of penance for his crimes!
State Executions (since 1976)
N. Carolina 38
S. Carolina 34
New Mexico 1
Federal Govt. 3