Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mother made to breastfeed twins in hospital store cupboard

If you work in a hospital where mothers and babies are treated, you should be aware that the NHS and the Government have loads of initiatives to encourage and support breastfeeding. Therefore, when a mum comes up to you with her hungry twins and asks where she can feed them in privacy, even if you don't know about the dedicated breastfeeding rooms, surely you would have the common sense to find her somewhere bright and clean with a comfortable chair. Surely to goodness you wouldn't punt the trio off into a store cupboard.

It used to be commonplace to suggest to breastfeeding mothers that they feed their baby in the toilets. Well I wouldn't eat in there and I don't see why a baby should have to. This is almost as bad.

At least the local NHS has taken it on the chin and admitted that this shouldn't have happened, although how hard would it have been to actually use the word sorry to the mum in question?

Edit just to say that the eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that I've linked to a BBC story after removing all my news feeds last week after the DEC appeal fiasco. I haven't forgiven them, but I guess the journalists did make sure the story stayed in the headlines. And I simply couldn't live without Brian Taylor and Bill Turnbull:-).

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25 Random Things About Me

I have now been tagged by so many people in the 25 Random Things about me meme that's going round Facebook that I thought I'd better get on with completing it myself. I am not going to tag anyone because I just think that if you want to do it, you'll do it anyway and I don't want to limit myself to 25 people. I want to know more about all of my friends.

Anyway, here goes with my random facts:

1. I got detention during the 1983 election for going canvassing for Bob Maclennan in Caithness and Sutherland when I should have been at school.

2. I met my lovely and long suffering husband Bob when I was working in a youth hostel as a Summer job in 1987.

3. I used to smoke quite heavily - a positive pregnancy test made me give that up immediately and I've never started it up again.

4. Lilies are my favourite flowers.

5. I don't have a degree.

6. I love Brussels Sprouts....

7. ...and hate marmite

8. Back in the day, I used to regularly go to sci-fi conventions. Best ever was Generations at Royal Albert Hall in 1995

9. If you've upset me and want to make amends, a bar of Green and Blacks Maya Gold will go a long way to getting back in my good books.

10. I can't stand anything that slithers along the ground on its belly.

11. I am utterly petrified, to the point of being phobic, of snow and ice.

12. When I was 4, I played a duck in a dancing show and refused to leave the stage at the end of the performance much to the delight of the audience.

13. I was born in Inverness and it's still my favourite place.

14. I love Monet's paintings.

15. I am a trained breastfeeding counsellor

16. When I was a little girl, I threw up on my great Aunt's dog, Cuilin, and have never been allowed to forget it by my second cousin David.

17. My favourite children's programme was the Magic Roundabout and particularly Dougal.

18. My liberal instincts were first awakened when I watched Roots as a child and was so appalled that human beings could enslave other human beings.

19. I went to New York specially to watch Star Trek Generations cos it came out in the US 3 months before it came out here.

20. I couldn't draw to save my life.

21. I don't think you can ever have too much garlic.

22. My favourite meal is the Filet de Boeuf on Croute that I make every New Year.

23. My childhood was very unhappy and I am very aware that I don't want Anna to have the same experiences I did.

24. I have the best friends in the whole world.

25. Absolutely the best thing I have ever done in my whole life is to become a mummy - Anna brightens every single day, just by being her and it's fabulous to watch her grow up to be her own person.

Edit 19:18 because Anna read this and took exception to describing myself as a mum when I am her Mummy.

Edit 02 Feb After lengthy representations from my lovely sister on Facebook, I have decided to add 26 I have a lovely sister who makes my life a delight. Although she was included at 24 too which is high praise for a family member.

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Tom Harris gets all sensitive about Labour mis-spelling

Well, I thought I was freakishly obsessive about spelling and punctuation. To be honest, I am. Most of my colleagues want to kill me on a regular basis because I just can't let a grammatical error or spelling mistake lie. I probably need therapy, but I can't afford it so my nearest and dearest are stuck with this particular foible. It doesn't stop them giving me all of the office proof-reading to do, though.

So, we've established I'm bad. It's good to have found somebody worse - and he's being really censorious about it. I guess we shouldn't really mock - after all, he's having a hard time, what with Labour's poll rating in freefall again. It must be tough for him bo bear criticism of his party on top of that.

Tom Harris has published an addendum to his comments policy in which he says that anyone parodying Labour or Blair by typing Liebour or Bliar for example will "more often than not" be deleted.

It's enough to make you want to go over to his blog and make comments with as many new and original examples of this kind of mis-spelling as you can think up. I don't have time cos I have to go to work now, but maybe you might like to have a go.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Best Complaint Letter Ever

I have had a really miserable day. I feel like hell. If you've been following my Twitter posts, you'll be sick fed up hearing about my ears. My poor long suffering husband got his head in his hands to play with when he came in from work just for asking a simple question. My mood over the last week has ranged from mildly pissed off to tears of self pity to, frankly, homicidal.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel - and proof that laughter really is the best medicine. Well it seems to work better than the vile tasting white goo with the texture of fish eggs that my GP has given me, anyway.

If you need a good laugh, have a look at this letter of complaint written by a passenger on a Virgin Flight who was less than impressed with the in flight food and entertainment.

Get this person a job as a food critic now!

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Military Judge refuses Obama request to halt trial of Guantanamo Detainee

This isn't a very respectful way to treat your Commander-in-Chief.

How on earth can this military judge get away with defying the will of the democratically elected administration?

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Jeremy Purvis explains Lib Dem opposition to Budget and slams SNP Arrogance

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Budget - Where Now?

Well, my earlier confidence may have been misplaced. Alex Salmond's "come and have a go if you think you're hard enough" attitude to the defeat of the SNP's budget is hardly the response of a Statesman.

He could have taken the defeat on the chin and made some conciliatory noises about how his Government would try to build a consensus within the Parliament. But, no, he had to start threatening elections. Well, if he carries on like this, he will have to take the consequences. Lady Bracknell applies - to lose one budget could be considered unfortunate, to lose two would be careless.

Now, I think the Lib Dem tax cut idea is a good and clever and bold move. It would be a superb kickstat for the economy and it would put £300 back in the pocket of the average Scottish earner. There is no way, however, even on a cold day in hell, that we are going to get that out of Swinney so I personally don't think we should die in a ditch over it. We should accept that this Government is too craven to deliver such a radical move.

I think we do, however, need to push for more public investment to stimulate the economy and to support businesses. Every week I see far too many families who are in terrible housing or who are homeless. We also have loads and loads of construction workers who are out of work. Why not embark on a really radical housebuilding and social housing improvement plan for a start? And we could please Patrick Harvie by insulating all the houses too. That would be my number one priority as I consider it disgraceful that we can't provide decent quality social housing for everybody who needs it.

We have a lot to contribute to the budgeting process and should play our part enthusiastically and pragmatically.

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High Drama at Holyrood

So, the Budget has fallen. It was very good of Yousuf to live blog the event for us and capture the tension as it became clear that Patrick Harvie wasn't bluffing.

It was a dramatic end to a deeply uninspiring budget which was not designed to deal with the current economic circumstances.

Let's hope that the next version to come to Parliament will do more to stimulate the Scottish economy and help struggling families.

There is, in Parliamentary terms, still plenty time to pass an amended budget - as long as the vote takes place by Valentine's Day, the Budget can be in place on April 1st.

Now that the drama is over, there needs to be constructive negotiation to ensure that we get the best deal for the Scottish people. It won't be enough for Swinney and Salmond to say "take it or leave it". If they can't provide a plan that can secure the backing of a majority of MSPs, then they will feel the wrath of the Scottish people.

I have a feeling that, give or take a few hissy fits over the next few days, it will all be sorted out in good time.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Edinburgh to do away with librarians?

At first glance of this story, you might be justified in thinking that the world has gone nuts. Isn't it the height of the false political correctness that most people can't stand to rename librarians as Audience Development Officers?

That, it seems, is the least of UNISON's worries. As the City of Edinburgh Council revamps its library service, they are concerned that the introduction of self service scanning stations in libraries will lead to the loss of 40 jobs over 3 years.

These would mean that librarians would take on a more customer focused role of doing things like leading courses and events within the library.

To be honest, it seems like Labour and UNISON are simply scaremongering. It looks to me that the librarians' jobs will become more lively and interesting and that the Council is looking at innovative ways of attracting people back to using its libraries. There's significant investment, too, with £15 million going into revamping the Central Library.

Maybe it's worth a try to see how the new systems work? And as for the job losses, which seem to be simple scaremongering to me, I have a hunch that library usage will increase as the economic downturn bites harder and people have to ditch that all too convenient Amazon habit.

To be honest, I would forget the name change. People who work in libraries are librarians. Full stop. They already provide a range of service and advice way beyond their titles.

The UNISON ballot figures do suggest, however, that the Council has some way to go to convince its staff that they have nothing to fear from these changes. Let's hope that the Union does not get in the way of constructive dialogue as they so often do.

Bear in mind that this posting has been written by someone who is obsessed with books and reading and is a huge fan of her local library.

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The DEC Gaza Appeal

Like many others including Stephen I'm posting the DEC Gaza appeal in the hope that you will get onto their website and make a donation to help the people who are so obviously suffering. How much do we spend on food every week - well, they say that £50 will feed an entire family for a month. Makes you think, doesn't it?

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Monday, January 26, 2009

X Factor's Louis Walsh helps Children's Charity

Credit where it's due, it's good to see that much and often unfairly maligned X Factor Judge Louis Walsh has a heart. It's amazing what random stuff you find on the internet when you're looking for something completely different. Anyway, I came across this article which tells how he has agreed to become patron of Amy and Friends. This charity aims to provide help and support to children suffering from a condition called Cockayne Syndrome which causes premature aging.

I found another interview with Amy in which she talks at length about the effects of her condition.

It's good that a high profile figure like Louis has taken the time to support this deserving cause.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sign the No 10 Petition against Heathrow Runway 3

I've just taken two minutes to sign the petition on the No 10 website against the proposed 3rd runway at Heathrow.

You might also want to take note of the e-mail I got the other day asking you to write to your MP, an particularly the 57 Labour MPs who have already expressed opposition to get them to vote against the planned, completely unnecesssary, expansion in a Commons Vote on Wednesday.

"My fellow plot owners,

On Wednesday there will be a vote in parliament on a third runway at Heathrow. Ahead of this vote we urgently need your help to put pressure on Labour MPs to vote with their conscience and say NO to a third runway. We already have the support of the LibDems and Tory MPs.

Send a letter to the 57 Labour MPs who have opposed Heathrow expansion.

The government is treating us as if we're stupid. They're asking all of us to reduce our energy consumption while they build another runway at Heathrow. I think it's the most egregious piece of hypocrisy I've seen in a long time.

But 57 Labour MPs signed an Early Day Motion against airport expansion last autumn and now we need those same MPs to vote against a third runway in parliament on Wednesday.

This won't be a binding vote, but cross party opposition to the runway will put enormous pressure on the government. It will certainly be a big blow to the government's insane plans to expand Heathrow.

Please take a couple of minutes today to send a letter that will go to all 57 MPs who have opposed Heathrow expansion and ask them to stick to their principles at the vote next Wednesday.

I joined the campaign because I want to stand in the way of airport expansion. There are now more than 30,000 of us and more are joining everyday. This is the first opportunity to show the government we’re not going to let this runway go ahead. But we also need to get a lot more people involved. Once you have emailed the MPs, please pass this email to your friends, family and colleagues and ask them to do the same.

Thank you for joining with me to stop airport expansion, together we will make sure this runway doesn’t go ahead.

Emma Thompson
Friday 23rd January 2009"

Morality and the Bible - a Silly Sunday Quiz

Challenged by The Yorksher Gob, I took a quiz on Biblical morals and found that
Your morality is 0% in line with that of the bible.

Damn you heathen! Your book learnin' has done warped your mind. You shall not be invited next time I sacrifice a goat.

Do You Have Biblical Morals?
Take More Quizzes

Now, to be fair, it was one of these quizzes based on obscure religious laws from the Old Testament, and if you keep away from smiting and execution in your answers, you are probably going to get the same outcome as I did.

This doesn't mean that everything in the Bible is a complete load of rubbish, any more than it means that if you smite and execute everything in sight that you are a perfect human being. It's all a bit of fun.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tony Benn takes on BBC for refusing to screen DEC Gaza Appeal

Those lily livered craven Daily Mail obsessed thick heads at the BBC have refused to show the Disaster Emergency Committee's Gaza appeal for some very bizarre reasons. They say the aid might not get through - whose fault is that, Israel?

They infer that the money we give might end up gong to Hamas. What? Don't they trust the DEC? These aren't a bunch of leftie students, you know, they are credible charities, ranging from TEARFund to Save the Children, to Help the Aged to Oxfam and the British Red Cross.

BBC Director General Mark Thomson came up with the unbelievable "Inevitably an appeal would use pictures which are the same or similar to those we would be using in our news programmes but would do so with the objective of encouraging public donations. The danger for the BBC is that this could be interpreted as taking a political stance on an ongoing story."

I don't think it's ever stopped them from doubting either the credibility or the efficacy of DEC before.

Here's hoping that the BBC's disgraceful stance does for this necessary humanitarian effort what Mike Read's equally bizarre decision to ban did for Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Relax - makes it one of the biggest successes.

Good for Tony Benn, too, for taking the BBC News Channel interviewer to task:

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Vote for Vince

I have just cast my vote for Vince Cable in the Channel 4 News Political Impact Awards

Here are my reasons:

He's a petrolhead who wanted to take an Aston Martin to his desert island

He loves bees

He was one of the few non-Scottish Lib Dem MPs (Simon Hughes, Paul Holmes and Greg Mulholland among them) who came up to help in the Livingston by-election, stayed for two days and worked so hard. He was polite and friendly to everybody and behaved like a normal person and not an important shadow cabinet member.

He's a massive Strictly Come Dancing fan - and when he was acting leader ditched going to the Federal Executive in favour of going to the recording of the Strictly Christmas Special.

The Stalin to Mr Bean comment - worth seeing again

And, of course, he's the only person who has actually been talking sense about the economy for quite a long time.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Tom has a slick new website

Congratulations to Tom Harris who has taken his blog away from Wordpress and given it a slick new makeover.

There's lots of red, to take him back to his tribal roots - which is in contrast to the British Gas ad at the top of the page. Ironically, I first saw it just as someone was on GMTV talking about how British Gas's 10% gas price cut wouldn't be felt by the most vulnerable as prepayment meters and people on the social tariff wouldn't get it.

I think the site looks more professional than it did before and is clearly becoming more of a Labour Party campaigning vehicle. Is there an election in the offing?

I hope that his blog keeps up its mix of wry observation, Doctor Who stuff and real life. I wouldn't like to think it was going to be all Labour Party bollocks from now on.

And, while I think about it, I'm sorry to see that Carolyn's "will you turn that computer off" comment has gone. She is the real heroine of the blog - I remember her, when he was lamenting that he didn't look as good as Daniel Craig in a tux, posting a comment to the effect that there was nobody more disappointed than her that he didn't look like Daniel Craig. Wish I could find it just now.

Edit 24/01 to put in the link provided by Tom to that posting.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bishop Gene Robinson's Inaugural Prayer

Hat tip to my good friend Kelvin for his posting of Bishop Gene Robinson's prayer at the kick off of the inaugural events in Washington on Sunday. I would have preferred to see Bishop Gene than Rick Warren at the main event not just for obvious reasons but also because the prayer he delivered was so beautiful. I'm no fan of organised religion as you know, but if you take the God bit out, these are things we can all hope for.

Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009

Delivered by the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson:

“Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


He also posts Bishop Gene's interview on the Daily Show - I also loved the Chess joke and wish I could be so quick witted.

While I'm not a fan of religion, I am a fan of Kelvin and his brave and wise endeavours to encourage the Anglican Communion to become more tolerant and inclusive. If anyone could ever turn me back to religion, it would be people like him and Bishop Gene.

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Leave our Forests Alone, Salmond

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Tavish Scott has been leading a campaign to save Scotland's forests from the SNP's plans to sell a quarter of our forests to private concerns.

I have to say that I was absolutely horrified at this idea. Why turn over your precious natural heritage to people motivated entirely by profit? Have the Nationalists learned nothing about the need for conservation and sustainability? Are foreign investors going to care about the rural economy and will they preserve our tourist attractions? I think not.

Tavish has launched a petition against these proposals. Please sign it here preferably before the consultation closes on 26th January. His latest Tavish TV slot is below.

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Preparation for Parenthood

I was sent this in an e-mail by my friend Louise. I don't often pass on these viral things but occasionally there's one that totally hits the spot and this is it. I have no idea where it originally came from, but if the writer wants to be credited, just get in touch:-). I will happily buy you a very large drink of your choice.

Anyone who has ever had any long term interaction with young children will recognise how spookily accurate this is. I particularly liked the sections on dressing and supermarket shopping. I was lucky enough to have one that slept - or at least if she did wake in the night she would just cuddle up to me and go back to sleep again, so there was no "wet bag" experience.

And to anyone who is thinking of having children, don't be put off - there are many, many rewards.


Test 1 - Preparation

Women: To prepare for pregnancy:-
1. Put on a drressing gown and stick a beanbag down the front.
2. Leave it there.
3. After 9 months remove 5% of the beans.

Men: To prepare for children:-

1. Go to a local chemist, tip the contents of your wallet onto the counter and tell the pharmacist to help himself
2. Go to the supermarket. Arrange to have your salary paid directly to their head office.
3. Go home. Pick up the newspaper and read it for the last time.

Test 2 - Knowledge

Find a couple who are already parents and berate them about their methods of discipline, lack of patience, appallingly low tolerance levels and how they have allowed their children to run wild. Suggest ways in which
they might improve their child's sleeping habits, toilet training, table manners and overall behavior.

Enjoy it. It will be the last time in your life that you will have all the answers.

Test 3 - Nights

To discover how the nights will feel:

1. Walk around the living room from 5pm to 10pm carrying a wet bag weighing approximately 4 - 6kg, with a radio turned to static (or some other obnoxious sound) playing loudly.
2. At 10pm, put the bag down, set the alarm for midnight and go to sleep.
3. Get up at 11pm and walk the bag around the living room until 1am.
4. Set the alarm for 3am.
5. As you can't get back to sleep, get up at 2am and make a cup of tea.
6. Go to bed at 2.45am.
7. Get up again at 3am when the alarm goes off.
8. Sing songs in the dark until 4am.
9. Put the alarm on for 5am. Get up when it goes off.
10. Make breakfast.

Keep this up for 5 years. LOOK CHEERFUL.

Test 4 - Dressing Small Children

1. Buy a live octopus and a string bag.
2. Attempt to put the octopus into the string bag so that no arms hang out.

Time Allowed: 5 minutes.

Test 5 - Cars

1. Forget the BMW. Buy a practical 5-door wagon.
2. Buy a chocolate ice cream cone and put it in the glove compartment. Leave it there.
3. Get a coin. Insert it into the CD player.
4. Take a box of chocolate biscuits; mash them into the back seat.
5. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car.

Test 6 - Going For a Walk

Go out the front door
Come back in again
Go out
Come back in again
Go out again
Walk down the front path
Walk back up it
Walk down it again
Walk very slowly down the road for five minutes.
Stop, inspect minutely and ask at least 6 questions about every piece of used chewing gum, dirty tissue and dead insect along the way.
Retrace your steps
Scream that you have had as much as you can stand until the neighbours come out and stare at you.
Give up and go back into the house.

You are now just about ready to try taking a small child for a walk.

Test 7

Repeat everything you say at least 5 times.

Test 8 - Grocery Shopping

1. Go to the local supermarket. Take with you the nearest thing you can find to a pre-school child - a fully grown goat is excellent. If you intend to have more than one child, take more than one goat.
2. Buy your weekly groceries without letting the goat(s) out of your sight.
3. Pay for everything the goat eats or destroys.

Until you can easily accomplish this, do not even contemplate having children..

Test 9 - Feeding a 1 year-old

1. Hollow out a melon
2. Make a small hole in the side
3. Suspend the melon from the ceiling and swing it side to side
4. Now get a bowl of soggy cornflakes and attempt to spoon them into the swaying melon while pretending to be an aeroplane.
5. Continue until half the cornflakes are gone.
6. Tip the rest into your lap, making sure that a lot of it falls on the floor.

Test 10 - TV

1. Learn the names of every character from the Wiggles, Barney, Teletubbies and Disney.
2. Watch nothing else on television for at least 5 years.

Test 11 - Mess

Can you stand the mess children make? To find out:

1. Smear peanut butter onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains
2. Hide a fish behind the stereo and leave it there all summer.
3. Stick your fingers in the flowerbeds and then rub them on clean walls. Cover the stains with crayon. How does that look?
4. Empty every drawer/cupboard/storage box in your house onto the floor & leave it there.

Test 12 - Long Trips with Toddlers

1. Make a recording of someone shouting 'Mummy' repeatedly. Important Notes: No more than a 4 second delay between each Mummy. Include occasional crescendo to the level of a supersonic jet.
2. Play this tape in your car, everywhere you go for the next 4 years.

You are now ready to take a long trip with a toddler.

Test 13 - Conversations

1. Start talking to an adult of your choice.
2. Have someone else continually tug on your shirt hem or shirt sleeve while playing the Mummy tape listed above.

You are now ready to have a conversation with an adult while there is a child in the room.

Test 14 - Getting ready for work

1. Pick a day on which you have an important meeting.
2. Put on your finest work attire.
3. Take a cup of cream and put 1 cup of lemon juice in it
4. Stir
5. Dump half of it on your nice silk shirt
6. Saturate a towel with the other half of the mixture
7. Attempt to clean your shirt with the same saturated towel
8. Do not change (you have no time).
9. Go directly to work

You are now ready to have children. ENJOY

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

David Mundell's Banknotes Bill - couldn't he think of anything better?

It seems to be Davids who have done best out of the Private Members Bill ballot this year. Last week I wrote about how Lib Dem David Heath is introducing a Bill to reduce fuel poverty .

Today, Scottish Tory MP for Dumfries, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, David Mundell, announced that he was going to use this magnificent opportunity to improve the quality of people's lives to introduce a bill to compel English retailers to accept Scottish banknotes.

We've all been there, in some florist, or at a newspaper stand south of the border and we hand over a fiver to pay for our purchases and the proprietor screws his nose up and delights in telling us that he (and, let's face it, it usually is a he)can't accept our beautiful Scottish banknotes as only Bank of England notes cut it with him.

When we lived in England, and I know this is nearly a decade ago now, we usually had no problem spending our Scottish notes. We did start to have a problem with £1 notes after they were phased out in England, but most of the time it was fine.

I have no problems with the aims of David Mundell's bill, although I can't really see why the Government can't tag a wee clause onto the bottom of some finance bill if it's really necessary. It's just that it depresses me that this is the height of his ambition.

We are facing the worst economic crisis probably of my lifetime and he's come up with an uncontroversial but basically irrelevant piece of legislation. What about measures to help business, or farmers, or people on fixed incomes who are struggling at the moment as interest rates fall? Were none of the current Tory policies worthy of putting in a Private Members' Bill? Well, obviously I think that, but I didn't expect him to.

This measure is almost like the sort of thing I get annoyed with my husband for. He will think he's been very helpful by cleaning out a drawer that we only ever go into occasionally, but hasn't touched the living room which is looking like a pig sty.

Here's hoping that in the Battle of the Davids, it's the fuel poverty measure, which will make so much difference to people who are struggling at the moment, that prevails.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Dawning of the Age of Obama

He campaigned as the idealist promising change we can believe in and now Barack Obama is officially able to deliver that change.

The Inauguration Ceremony was lovely, although somebody had better check that he actually is legal given that neither he nor the Chief Justice seemed to manage to get the words of the oath out in the correct order - it should have been faithfully execute, not execute the office of President of the United States faithfully.

The Obama girls looked gorgeous - Malia (10) in royal blue, Sasha (7) in poppy red. Well done to whoever decided not to dress them the same.

I'm not sure about the colour of Michelle Obama's gold creation, but the design of the dress and coat was lovely and she is so serenely beautiful that it wouldn't really matter what she wore.

Hillary Clinton looked relaxed and smiling behind Michelle Obama. I did feel for her and could only imagine what was going through her mind. She seems to have accepted her fate and embraced her new mission with good grace, though. Bill looked healthier than he has for a while, which is a good sign.

Everything ran late, but nobody really seemed bothered. The million people who lined the streets of Washington didn't seem to care.

There was the somewhat sad sight of Dick Cheney being wheeled to the event in a wheelchair after pulling a muscle in his back carrying boxes.

I know that today was all in the spirit of tolerance and divesity and all that but I did have to have one act of rebellion. I did make a point of ignoring the Conservative Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren as he gave the invocation prayer. He holds views on same sex marriage and abortion that I am very uncomfortable with and I wouldn't have chosen him for such a big occasion, but that's water under the bridge.

Aretha Franklin's performance gave me goosebumps. She's done inaugurations before, but this was special. And already it's on You Tube:

Obama's speech still had the idealism and the confidence that we have come to expect from him, but this was tempered with sobering realism and a call to all Americans to give of their best to deal with the unprecedented challenges ahead.

You could actually see George W Bush squirming as his legacy was laid bare in a few well chosen, but very frank words. "Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet"

There were two phrases that I thought were the signs of the new age. "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." So it's goodbye Guantanamo. The poisonous vernacular of the war on terror is replaced with "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Well, I loved it.

And if this is true, then bring it on: "To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect." I hope Israel was listening and will be made to think about the way it consumes the resources of the middle east. It would be good if clean waters flowed in Gaza.

Another theme of the speech was personal responsibility, and embracing your duties as a citizen to help the nation succeed. "For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate."

The two things I really loved most of all about the speech was the inclusion of non-believers in the list of value systems at one point and the addition of curiosity as one of the "values on which our success depends." I like the willingness to abandon conventions as novel solutions are sought for challenges.

The language was so different from the defiant, destructive stuff we've heard from Bush and Cheney over the years.

It's only day 1, but he's made a good start.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

What I'll Miss about George W Bush

I've spent a fair bit of time trying to work out what I'll miss about George W Bush when he leaves the White House tomorrow.

And, do you know what? I can't think of one single thing. I'm just grateful that we've survived the eight years without him going nuclear. I remember watching the awfulness of the 9/11 attacks with shock and horror mixed with fear at what Bush might do in return.

This is a man who allowed torture, rendition flights, waterboarding, detention without trial at Guantanamo Bay, who fiddled while New Orleans was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, who acted in the interests of big business and not the future of the planet, who set the cause of finding cures for awful diseases back years. He has catastrophically damaged the standing of the US in the world and his actions have made us significantly less safe for years to come.

Loads of people, including Stephen, are combining lists of the stupid things he said during his presidency (and what a joy it will be to have a US President who can string an articulate sentence together). It's a bit of an indictment that his gaffes seem to be the only things worth repeating after 8 years in the most powerful job in the planet.

I can usually find something good to say about most people - but not him. Can anyone help me out here?

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Aladdin, King's Theatre, Penultimate Performance

I kind of guessed that if we bought tickets for the last but one performance of the pantomime, that there would be some demob happy fun. I somehow don't think that in all performances since the end of November, the music of death has been Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday. Nor did I think that one cast member would sing that they had completely made up the lyrics as they had forgotten them. Nor that the obligatory cute child on the stage would throw up some answers that were completely unexpected to the actors.

My friend had told me that this pantomime was funnier than usual. I didn't think so, and I really felt the loss of Andy Gray, whose performance of the Scissor Sisters "I don't Feel Like Dancing" brought the house down 2 years ago.

The 3D effects throughout the show were good, though.

It was a reasonably traditional telling of the Aladdin story, except for Abanazar, played by Forth One's Grant Stott, getting his instructions from some weird sort of Doctor Who/Blake's Seven Type space command.

I was quite surprised that there was an Abi Titmuss joke. Abi, some may remember, but you are not a bad person if you don't, is the waste of space who once went out with Grant's brother, John Leslie, and the joke was directed at Grant.

It was well worth going and I will be booking tickets for better seats for the same performance next year.

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Vince Cable, Petrolhead, on Desert Island Discs

I heard part of Vince Cable's Desert Island Discs programme and, being a big soft lump, was quite tearful by the end of it. This is a man who appreciates the important things in life - love and family - and who is quite happy to wear his heart on his sleeve. His pride in his family, his children in their musical performances, the happiness of his first marriage, and the joy when he met his second wife shone through. He also spoke movingly of his first wife's battle with Cancer and the effect it had on the family.

I would recommend catching up on this programme on iPlayer. Not only is Vince the undisputed economic sage of our times, but he's also a fully paid up member of the human race.

I was also thrilled, as a bit of a tentative petrolhead, to see that his luxury item would be an Aston Martin which he could race at great speed around the island.

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Farewell, Tony Hart

I was so sad to turn on the pc to discover that Tony Hart had passed away. What with Oliver Postgate a few weeks ago, it seems like my entire childhood is disappearing.

I have always been utterly terrible at art - straight E's in school, all the way through. That doesn't mean to say that I don't appreciate other people's efforts to teach me how to draw. Or other people's artistic efforts.

Tony Hart was always so lovely and grandfatherly and he made it look so easy. I watched him on Vision On, Take Hart and Hartbeat through the years. He conbined gentleness and creativity - and who can forget the Amazing Adventures of Morph? The painstaking effort it must have taken to put these episodes together never ceased to amaze me.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Christian Bus Driver refuses to drive Atheist bus - and gets away with it

Well, I suppose the headline isn't really accurate, as the bus itself probably isn't atheist - it's just the advert it's carrying.

I was amused by the tale of Ron Heather who, as a Christian, felt that he could not drive a bus which had the Atheist Bus Campaign's advert on it. His employer has agreed to accommodate his request.

I can understand Ron Heather's strong feelings. If there were Nestle ads on Liberal Democrat literature, you can bet your life that there's no way I would deliver them. On the other hand, I opposed the idea that a registrar should be able to refuse to perform civil partnerships on the grounds that discrimination against people in same sex relationships has no place in a civilised society.

I have to say that I have never in my life looked at the adverts on the side of a bus and thought that the driver must use or endorse the products. However, I think the bus company have probably taken the sensible line in this case. The irony, is, of course, that the whole reason that the Atheist Bus Campaign started was, ironically, because of religious ads on buses posted by Christians.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Land Before Breakfast - the Plot against Heathrow's Third Runway

This morning I signed up to become the beneficial owner of that piece of land near Heathrow which some clever people bought to try to scupper the third runway.

To my husband, in case he stumbles upon this, it didn't cost anything, don't panic.

If you feel as strongly as I do that this is an expansion way too far and flies in the face of everything we're supposed to be doing about climate change, do join up too.

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Tavish speaks out on Salmond "misleading Parliament" row

We have a new and, I hope, regular feature on You Tube - Tavish.TV.

Here, Tavish talks about exactly why it's important for the whole credibility of the Parliament for Alex Salmond to get his facts right before he opens his gob.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pink Dog finds Fame

The most adorable Pink Dog in the history of the world ever has been recognised by a wider audience - a mention in the BBC Internet blog, no less.

This comes just a day after Lionel de Livi 's stat meter went almost radioactive after a link from the Guardian.

Rumours hit my ears, though, that all is not well between the fluffy bloggers, with Lionel throwing a huge diva strop at Pink Dog stealing his headlines.

"I'd be happy to give Pink dog the number of my plastic surgeon," said an angry Lionel after 17 glasses of red wine and a gin fizz, "his work has been very badly done and is in desperate need of repair."

Scottish Liberal Democrat conference organisers were thrown into despair tonight when they saw Lionel's list of demands for appearing at a fringe meeting - a dressing room with only purple crocuses, nothing pink to cross his line of sight the whole time he was there, 28 bottles of newcastle brown ale and DVDs of Livingston FC's league performances for the last 10 years to be broadcast on continuous loop in the exhibition area throughout the entire conference. A special meeting of the conference committee is to be convened to discuss the way ahead.

Pink Dog was not available for comment last night.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A chance for Alex Salmond to learn.....

I've been to First Minister's Questions a few times now and, to be honest, I'm not thrilled by the panto-esque bollocks that the half hour usually consists of. Alex Salmond to me has never really taken it seriously as a chance to bring his Government to account to Parliament. He rather impatiently and imperiously swats aside questions rather like you or I would swat away a wasp. He's the showman, putting on a performance, rather than a dignified leader of a government.

Well, Tavish Scott isn't prepared to put up with that any more and has laid down a marker that he is not to be messed with.

He asked recently about the redundancy notices issued to staff at the Scottish Faith Council after a threatened withdrawal of Scottish Government funding. Eck blithely responded that it had been resolved. Swat.

Except that the details hadn't quite been ironed out at that point.

What Eck should have said that the Government was actively pursuing a solution and would come back to Parliament with the details at a later point.

This is in the end of the day a storm in a teacup - but it's an important storm to have.

It's not fair to give what is essentially inaccurate information not just to Parliament but to those poor people in fear of their jobs at SIFC.

I would like to see the First Minister learn from this and be a bit less cavalier about what he tells Parliament. If he says something is resolved, put a bit of flesh on the bones - say how and what exactly his Government has done to resolve it.

He needs to show us that he take Parliament seriously and give it the respect it deserves.

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Lib Dem to introduce bill to end Fuel Poverty

Hat tip to Lib Dem Voice for the news that David Heath, Lib Dem Brian Blessed look alike and Somerton and Frome MP is to introduce a bill aimed at ending fuel poverty.

This measure, if it becomes law, would introduce two measures which would make a huge difference to those struggling to pay their fuel bills: an energy efficiency programme and statutory social tariffs to reduce the impact of high energy costs for the most vulnerable.

A worthy measure, worthy of parliamentary support. Let's hope the Government backs it so it has a chance of becoming law.

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Tavish Scott leads Scottish Lib Dem vote against SNP "business as usual" budget

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Tavish Scott sent out an e-mail to members and supporters today outlining his reasons for the party's refusal to support the SNP's budget in Holyrood.

Slamming it as "weakest response of any Western European Government, national or devolved, to the economic difficulties we face in 2009", Tavish outlines Lib Dem proposals for permanent tax cuts, pointing out that the Nationalists have the option of varying the rate of income tax north of the border and could, if they choose, give us all a 2p in the pound tax cut. This would put around £330 back in the pockets of the average Scottish family.

Now, I've not always been the biggest fan of the tax cutting culture that seems to have gripped our party, but I'm prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt at the moment as we are dealing with the recession. The SNP's ultra safe budget does nothing to give the Scottish economy the stimulus it needs. They have already made cuts to bodies like Scottish Enterprise when we actually need them more than ever now.

I think our MSPs are right to vote against what is effectively an unambitious and lacklustre budget.

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More Tabloid Hypocrisy.....

So, not surprisingly, the Sun adopted a censorious and outraged tone over the Prince Harry incident.

That's right, the Sun was going all politically correct on us. This is, of course, the same paper that publishes semi naked pictures of women every day, but we'll let that disrespect of half the world's population pass just for a minute.

It amazes me that the editors either don't notice or don't care about the blatant hypocrisy of, on one page printing all this finger wagging stuff at Prince Harry and a few pages further on making a great song and dance about David Walliams' holiday activities..

The paper seems to feel that because David had a night out with Dale Winton and Louis Walsh in Miami, it can make whatever innuendo it likes about his private life.

I'm reminded that they also took a swipe at our own Simon Hughes with an article riddled with misconceptions and innuendo simply because he'd opened a public toilet in his constituency. The joke of this was that this story was published in 2006 just around the time of the leadership election, yet the toilet in question was actually opened 12 years earlier.

The paper has not been above a bit of racist scaremongering itself in the past - warning us all about "migrant crooks" - their words, not mine.

Which group of people will our friendly tabloid be bashing next week?

And, as for David Walliams, I just hope he's having a lovely and relaxing holiday so he can come back and write us some more Little Britain USA.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

If only it were this easy.......

I've just found this which suggests that laughter can help to control weight loss. If only it were that simple, that reading George Osborne's speeches, or the SNP Guide to Budgeting would have me in a size 12 before the year was out.

But what if it were true? What would be the laughter equivalent of superfoods to boost weight loss? Clearly, humour is very much in the eye of the beholder. Believe it or not, there are some people who find Roy Chubby Brown funny. I haven't yet forgiven my sister for giving me one of his videos one Christmas, many years ago. She watched him one day and now completely takes my point.

The things which never fail to make me laugh are:

Working with Andrew Reeves because he's one of these people who instinctively knows how to inspire and motivate a team by making them laugh.

Any television appearance by Claudia Winkelman. The woman is just adorably bonkers.

The episode of Friends where everybody finds out about Monica and Chandler "but they don't know that we know that they know that we know.........."

Four Weddings and a Funeral

Any Ben Elton rant about Thatch from the 80s - Saturday Night Live with his ill-fitting glittery suit was wonderful

The episode of Blackadder 2 with the Puritan relations in one room and the drunken party in the other

Virtually any Billy Connolly stand-up.

Unfortunately, any weight loss programme requires self discipline, deprivation, portion control, and if anyone tells you they can do it without being hungry some of the time then they are lying. It doesn't put you in the best mood for laughter.

There was an article on BBC Breakfast this morning where they were saying that half an hour's laughing can be as good for you as half an hour's weightlifting. I will probably just stick to the laughing. Now, where's that Bridget Jones DVD.......

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Tories get it wrong again

The Tories have put out a new campaign video featuring a very cute baby with the comments that the baby has "his dad's nose, mum's eyes and Gordon Brown's debt."

The shot then moves to the baby being given what is clearly a bottle of formula.

Are we not supposed to be challenging the idea that bottlefeeding is the norm and encouraging and supporting breastfeeding?

All the evidence points to human milk being far superior than anything you could ever manufacture.

I'm not suggesting that the Tories should necessarily have shown the baby breastfeeding, although it would be good to have a society where even Daily Mail readers felt comfortable with that image - just that they send the wrong message by being seen to promote formula feeding.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Spellbinding Fun

When I was in Primary 5, I hated my spelling homework. Every week we were given a list of uninspiring words which we had to learn and write a sentence using each one. It was excruciating to have to find interesting sentences with dull words like inflate or distribute. Ok, I might have learned to spell the words, but I hated the falseness of the sentences I had to create. Looking back, it would have been easier to write a piece of prose with all those words in it but hindsight is a fabulous thing.

Anna too hated the spellings and sentences style homework. Then, midway through primary 4, everything changed. Instead of the tortuous sentences, we now have a range of activities which is meant to appeal to every learning style. In the last few weeks we have had buzzing bees - where she has to draw an outdoor picture with 8 bees along which she writes her words, fancy writing, where she writes the words out in all sorts of creative self made fonts, writing the words every which way, backwards, vertically, horizontally, circling all the vowels or consonants within the word, writing each word in the petals of a flower and so on. It's all very creative.

My absolute favourite is back writing, where we have to write the words on each other's back and guess what they are. It didn't take Anna long to twig that if she took a long time to guess, she would effectively just get her back rubbed for longer. I'm actually thinking of making it the standard form of communication in our house.

Fun though this undoubtedly is, I have some reservations. Something within my childhood and its traditional teaching methods turned me into a freakishly anally retentive pedantic bore when it comes to spelling and punctuation. I would argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing. While my literature producing colleagues may burn effigies of me, stick pins in dolls of me and hate me with a passion unrivalled in its intensity for my take no prisoners style of proof-reading, they still keep giving me stuff to check.

I was worried that these new methods did not teach how to use words in context. What use is it to learn the notes if nobody introduces you to making melodies? I probably shouldn't interfere with the perceived wisdom of education professionals but I've added a few games of my own - acting out the words, or just having a talk about what they mean and how you can use them.

Before anybody trawls through this blog looking for spelling mistakes to show me up, I would remind you that I am also human and that some posts may have been written after application of grape to brain. I may have an unforgiving proof-reading eye, and never fail to point out mistakes, but I really am a big softie and have never been horrible to anyone for making a spelling or grammatical error.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Prince Harry Fuss

One thing above all else depresses me about the furore over Prince Harry's racist remarks.

I don't think that he deliberately went out of his way to be gratuitously unpleasant. I have actually watched the video and he seems very comfortable and relaxed and didn't seem to be trying to upset anybody.

In the 21st century, it is clearly seen as acceptable to use racist and offensive language in the Army on a daily basis.

Isn't it time to do something about that?

In some ways, Prince Harry didn't ask for the role he was given, and I can almost understand him saying stuff it in public life, but as a member of the Armed Forces he should face disciplinary action for saying what he did.

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So what exactly is the point in protesting?

Both Malc and Jeff have questioned the point of going on protests like yesterday's Gaza march. They argue that it's futile cos it's not going to change anybody's mind and it just leaves the authorities a whole load of stuff to clean up.

While I am not naive enough to think that George, or Gordon, or Tony, or David, or Barack or Hillary are going to say "Wow, look at all those people in the streets. Maybe we should get tough with Israel, I haven't quite lost so much of my idealism that I've turned into Victor Meldrew before my time:-).

These are the reasons why I think standing up for what you believe in and making your voice heard is important:

The Martin Neimoller thing - you know:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

On a similar vein, there's the old one about All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’

To raise awareness of an issue. There's nothing like 8000 or whatever people with banners walking past you while you do your shopping to make you aware of something. Maybe yesterday's protest caused people to look into the issue, contact their MPs, donate medicine or money to the humanitarian effort for Gaza. I'm hoping that the medicines I gave in will benefit someone in Gaza at some point.

To show solidarity I mentioned yesterday about the Palestinian family who thanked my 9 year old for caring about their country. If that march has given them some comfort, then surely that's a good thing. Also, now that the world is a much smaller place, people in Gaza may get to here that there are thousands across the world who want their situation to change. It can only help community relations in this country. There was a broad band of organisations supporting this demo and improving links between people like the Scottish Islamic Federation and Jews for a Just Peace must be a good thing, surely.

Also in terms of passing things on to the next generation, my daughter has been full of questions about the Palestinians and the history of it all. Thank goodness for people like John Pilger and Robert Fisk, that's all I can say.

Because we can We are lucky to have the rights of freedom of association and to protest against our Government. I just think that when you feel really strongly about something, then you should use this right. It's part of your responsibilities as a citizen to engage in the political process in a way that suits you.

Ok, so somebody might have had to pick up some paint and some shoes as a result of this demo. I think the Police didn't need to be there in as huge numbers as they were. It was all very peaceful and that's not because the crowd was cowed and deterrred by the Police, but because they genuinely wanted to make their point peacefully.

How much vomit and other bodily fluids and violence and general unpleasantness must the Police encounter over the course of a normal weekend? I guess the paint and the shoes were nothing in comparison.

Can anyone think of any other reasons?

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chat with John Barrett MP

That nice John Barrett, MP for Edinburgh West bought Stephen and I coffee and a mincemeat tart as reward for getting cold and wet waiting till the end of the Gaza rally to hear him speak.

It was great to catch up because I haven't seen him for ages, but I thought this observation he made was worth sharing with you all:

"I was in London at the time of the July 7 bombings. These bombers came from Leeds. We haven't built a wall round Leeds and then started bombing Leeds."

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Gaza Protest in Edinburgh - an emotional afternoon

I'm just back in and am thawing and drying out after the Gaza march and rally in Edinburgh. Due to a meeting over-running this morning, I didn't catch up with the march until it came back on to Princes Street after the trip to the US Consulate.

I was really pleased to see so many people had turned out. The Police estimate was around 5000 but it looked and felt like more. Bob reckoned that there would have been at least 6000 when the march formed on East Market Street.

I found Bob, Anna (who had been very good for the almost two hours she was out in the cold) and Stephen pretty quickly. Bob and Anna soon went off to get something to eat but Stephen and I continued on to the rally at the Ross Bandstand. Bob and Anna actually met a Palestinian family in Pizza Hut who, when they saw the Palestinian flag Anna was carrying, thanked her for caring about their country. She now feels that she did something worthwhile today.

Bob and Stephen both commented on the excessive number of police taking photographs of participants. The march was very well behaved and peaceful so I'm not quite sure why this was so necessary, particularly in an area of town that already has huge coverage with CCTV cameras.

There was only one MP there at the rally - John Barrett, Liberal Democrat member for Edinburgh West. He was the last to speak and we stuck it out to the end, despite the cool, dry Winter's afternoon turning nasty. By the time we left, it was pouring with rain and there was a really driving wind. Stephen had to get out the strawberry lip balm at one point for himself.

The rally started though with a child of around 7 or 8 going up on stage and starting a chant "George Bush where are you? We want to throw a shoe at you" which apparently they had made up on the way round. She made the whole crowd laugh.

We heard from a huge variety of speakers from trade unions, Jews for a Just Peace, the Scottish Islamic Federation, a doctor talking on the phone direct from Gaza describing the humanitarian crisis, MSPs Sandra White and Pauline MacNeill and John Barrett.

One telling point made by the Scottish Islamic Federation speaker is that they would unequivocally condemn any bombings by terrorists in any western country as they don't advocate violence by anybody - yet the US fails to condemn these appalling raids on Gaza.

Pauline MacNeill spoke about how she had gone to observe the elections which saw Hamas come to power in 2006. She said that Hamas wouldn't have been her choice, nor many other people's, but they were the legitimate choice of the Palestinian people and the influential countries in the world needed to engage with them. Pauline was the first person to really help me to understand the plight of the Palestinian people over 20 years ago when she was President of NUS Scotland and I was just a naive and innocent first year student.

John spoke about how he had asked Gordon Brown about the number of civiians who had been killed in Iraq since the war there had begun and how he had been given the chilling answer "it's not for us to count these things." He reiterated how Nick Clegg had been the only UK leader to speak out against the Israeli action and called for a million people to take to the streets when Barack Obama visits here in February to show our opposition to these awful attacks by Israel in the same way as we did for the Iraq war. He said that everybody who felt strongly about this should go and visit their MP and reminded us that Gordon Brown's constituency was only a little bit to the north and Alistair Darling's was 5 minutes away from where we were.

The more I have looked into this the more passionately I feel for the plight of the Palestinian people. The Israelis have spent a fortune raining down bombs on these poor people. They force them to live in appalling conditions, often without electricity or running water. What if they spent the same amount of money giving them schools, hospitals, clean, safe water and reliable electricity? That humanitarian gesture would do so much for the cause of peace.

Let's hope that once Obama takes office he uses his authority to take action to end this, so that we never again have the disgraceful display we saw the other night when the US abstained on a relatively tame resolution calling for a ceasefire.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Israel accused of War Crime in Gaza

So, just imagine it. You're a Palestinian family, in your home, such as it is, probably without electricity and running water. You're absolutely terrified of it being destroyed by the Israelis in one of their vicious air assaults.

Then an Israeli soldier comes to call - tells you to get out for your own safety and leads you to another building.

With a sinking feeling you know that you'll lose everything that you own as your house will be destroyed, but at least you'll all be safe.

Then, within a day, Israeli shells start pummelling the so called place of safety.

Maybe your family isn't going to survive this after all.

Scaremongering? Exaggeration?

Not according to the Guardian.

Whoever is responsible for this heinous act, which killed 30 including 9 members of one family, needs a one way ticket to the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague. Immediately.

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Who needs a geek?

The sole purpose of this post is to see if I've been successful in creating a Twitter feed for this blog so that all posts appear on Twitter.

It took me ages to figure out, but I think I've done it. Had to kiss a lot of frogs along the way - what a palaver!

We shall soon know if it works if this post updates.

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Justice Done for Trump Councillor

I am not surprised, but am delighted nonetheless, that my friend and Aberdeenshire Councillor Paul Johnston has been cleared by the Standards Commission of any breach of the Councillor's Code of Conduct in connection with remarks he made in opposition to Donald Trump's controversial planning application.

Paul took the very brave step of reporting himself to the Commission rather than wait for Aberdeenshire Council to do it.

I don't know all the ins and outs of the dynamics of the Aberdeenshire Council Lib Dem administration, but I have known Paul, Debra Storr and Martin Ford for a very long time and all 3 of them are dedicated, honest and thoroughly decent public servants.

All 3 now languish either on the fringes or outside the Aberdeenshire Council Group. Until I heard Martin Ford speak at the Scottish Liberal Democrats conference in February last year, I hadn't really understood why he had used his casting vote to refuse the application when he could have saved himself a lot of personal grief by voting to defer the decision, which was the only other option available at the time. He explained so well that it was the proper procedure that he should do that and that any other applicant would simply have lodged an amended application.

Martin was stripped of his key planning chairmanship. A few months later, Paul was threatened with the Standards Board by the Chief Executive of Aberdeenshire Council so he took the matter there himself. In a breathtakingly unjust act of pre-judgement, his fellow councillors decided he was guilty before the investigation was complete. Debra's actions at that meeting, supporting Paul, led to her eventual resignation before she was expelled from the Group. Aren't her actions, defending him from what was essentially a kangaroo court, in the DNA of anyone calling themselves a Liberal?

Now, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since the rejection of Trump's application. A lot of arguments have been had, toys have been expelled from prams at a huge rate of knots.

However, it is time to draw a line under all of this and move on. I believe that it's vital that Paul, Martin and Debra play a full role in the Lib Dem Group again. We can't afford to lose good people like them.

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Scottish Parliament backs Gaza ceasefire call

The Scottish Parliament yesterday backed calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and recognised the work of charities and NGOs trying to help improve the plight of the Palestinians.

The text of the motion was

S3M-3179 Nicola Sturgeon: The Humanitarian Disaster in Gaza—That the Parliament expresses its concern over the loss of all lives in the conflict in Gaza; joins the international community in calling for a ceasefire; acknowledges the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Gaza; recognises and welcomes the role being played by those in Scotland involved in the humanitarian response, and supports the work of all charities and NGOs in Scotland that are responding to this situation.

and it was supported by everybody except the Tories. How you could actually fail to support something calling for a ceasefire is beyond me, but they managed it.

Jim Tolson, MSP for Dunfermline West, and Hugh O'Donnell, who went to Gaza in November on a Parliamentary visit were the Liberal Democrat contributors and I thought that their contributions were worthy of reproducing here.

Jim Tolson (Dunfermline West) (LD): Like millions of other people, I am absolutely shocked by the huge scale of the Israeli attacks that have been taking place since 27 December and which we have seen on the worldwide television news. With 1.5 million people crammed into the Gaza strip, high levels of civilian casualties were inevitable. There is no credibility in the Israeli statement that the Palestinians have used people as human shields, because it is impossible to have human shields when so many people are crammed into such a small space anyway.
In December, I attended the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on Palestine. The feedback from Hugh O'Donnell, Sandra White and Pauline McNeill on their audacious boat trip to Gaza was absolutely heartbreaking. There was also feedback from Palestinian people, many of whom had suffered for years in their homeland at the hands of the Israelis. There was feedback, too, from aid workers who had been attacked and harangued out of Gaza, and from Scots who had lived in Gaza and had felt that in many ways they were living under occupation. We heard heartbreaking points from all. We heard that no spare parts are allowed for sewage systems and how Israeli gunboats force fishermen to remain close to the shore and to fish in waters that are contaminated with sewage, which inevitably contaminates the food chain.
I decided to be no armchair supporter. I was sufficiently moved to join 2,000 demonstrators in Glasgow last Saturday. A cross-party group of MSPs was there in support of the demonstration, although there were no Tories. The demonstration, which was on behalf of and in support of the people of Gaza and Palestinians worldwide, was peaceful but vociferous. The heartbreaking news about what has been going on in Gaza, particularly since 27 December, was well elocuted by many. I cannot condone the rocket attacks on Israel, but the Israeli response is utterly disproportionate. All violence must stop now and not just for three hours per day. Violence breeds violence and only a democratic settlement will bring lasting peace.
Nicola Sturgeon was absolutely right that almost all Scots are concerned about the situation. As she said, the violence is shattering and hopes for a long-term peace are the way ahead. I back those sentiments fully. The motion's focus on charities and NGOs pulling together is the right approach. The one point on which I agree with Ted Brocklebank is that that is one response that Scotland can make, whereas we cannot act on many other matters. Nicola Sturgeon also referred to the MSPs' trip to Gaza in November. That was a brave and audacious attempt by our colleagues to provide aid. They definitely managed to do that and I am glad that they did. At the end of the day, as Nicola Sturgeon said, we hope that the Parliament will speak with one voice on the issue. It is crucial that we do so.
Pauline McNeill was one of the members who went on the trip to Gaza. She talked about how Scotland can respond to the crisis in humanitarian ways. We heard much about that at the demonstration last Saturday. People can comment here and elsewhere on what is happening to try to ensure that the Palestinians' story gets out to a worldwide audience. We can also comment on the scale of the suffering, which has been going on for many years and not just since 27 December. Pauline McNeill rightly suggested that the public expect us to add our voice to that of others. The world focus must be on an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. Some Israelis, and even George Bush, have denied that there is a humanitarian crisis. There is no credibility whatever in that statement. I am glad that Mr Bush is going, but I wish that I could believe that the Israeli Government will be more reasonable in the future. I do not hold out too much hope of that.
Ted Brocklebank's speech was sad indeed. Although he deplored the tragic deaths of civilians in Gaza, including those of 200 children, he soured the debate somewhat, which was rather sad to witness. Hamas is not just a militant organisation—no more than the Tories are in the Parliament. It is unfortunate that Ted Brocklebank took that line. My colleague Hugh O'Donnell, who took part in the trip to Gaza, made a good speech. I am glad that he congratulated the organisations that are taking practical steps to help people in Gaza. The Liberal Democrats' UK leader, Nick Clegg, has called on the UK Government to stop arming the Israelis. I certainly back that call.

Hugh O'Donnell (Central Scotland) (LD): The Palestinian people are paying a dear price for Europe's guilt about what happened to European Jews. I find Mr Brocklebank's comments completely inappropriate but unsurprising, given the fact that the Conservatives did everything that they could to prevent the debate from taking place, notwithstanding what the cabinet secretary said.
I congratulate all the organisations in Scotland that are taking practical steps to help the people in Gaza. Even those of us who were there recently can have only a limited understanding of what has gone on in the past two weeks. We have watched in horror as the conflict in Gaza has claimed innocent victim after innocent victim. We have watched the UN schools, for which the Israelis have the co-ordinates, being completely destroyed. The past two weeks have been a telling indictment of the international community. We have an outgoing United States President who is giving Israel carte blanche to do what is being done to the people of Gaza and, regrettably, an aching silence from the President-elect. We also have a European Union that is encumbered by clumsy decision making and confused messages.
Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope, which has been referred to by other members. It is the short respite in the bombing that has been promised by Israel, along with the talk of a cease-fire. The three hours to which Nicola Sturgeon referred is barely enough time to do anything—let alone to feed a population of 1.5 million—but it is a start, even if it is intended only to deflect growing international criticism of what Israel is doing.
As other members have said, Israel has every right to defend itself, but its current approach is self-defeating and conveniently ignores the roots of its existence in the Stern gang and Irgun. There is no more a military solution to this situation than there was to the situation in Northern Ireland. We must get the sides to talk to each other. We were brave enough to talk to the Irish Republican Army, so why can we not make the Israelis brave enough to talk to Hamas and Hamas brave enough to talk to the Israelis?
The overwhelming use of force by Israel and the unacceptable loss of civilian lives are radicalising moderate Palestinians. We are now seeing Hezbollah launching attacks from Lebanon.
Britain must condemn unambiguously Israel's tactics, just as it has rightly condemned the Hamas rocket attacks. We must lead the European Union towards using its economic and diplomatic influence in the region to broker peace. That includes, if necessary, cancelling the preferable trade agreement that it is currently negotiating with the Israelis.
Finally, the world's leaders must accept that the response to the election of Hamas has been a strategic failure. Attempts to divide and rule the Palestinians by isolating them and collectively punishing an innocent civilian population in Gaza will not succeed. No terrorist organisation has ever been bombed into submission. To secure peace in the middle east, Hamas must turn its back on its terrorist activities to help to create Palestinian unity and Israel must recognise that the people of Palestine have as much right to exist on that land as the Israelis do. In Scotland, we must do all that we can to support the humanitarian efforts for the civilians in Gaza.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Clegg hones Lib Dem Election Team

Nick Clegg reshuffled his front bench team today in what will probably be the last change of roles before the General Election.

I personally was delighted to see Steve Webb go back to Work and Pensions. He's done well at Environment and Climate Change, but he is Mr Pensions and knows everything there is to know in that complex minefield. I actually don't understand why he was ever moved in the first place and I am sure we will benefit from his expertise in this important area.

Top Lib Dem MP Blogger Lynne Featherstone is to head up the as yet unformed New Technology Board to make sure the Party is maximising its use of available technology. Lynne's personability combined with Innovation Director Mark Pack's technological brilliance is probably a partnership made in heaven. Richmond MP and transport specialist Susan Kramer leaves the shadow cabinet to head up the campaign against the Heathrow expansion. Jenny Willott gets what can hardly be called a promotion from Work and Pensions, where she has been effective, to Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, whatever that does. I hope it's a mechanism to allow her more influence in the General Election campaign. I have had a lot of time for Ms Willott since she stood against Paul Holmes for the Chesterfield selection 10 years ago. I was obviously on Paul's team, but we were so impressed with Jenny that we did phone canvassing for her when she first stood for selection in Cardiff Central.

My major observation about all of this is that key and able women seem to have been given jobs outside the key Shadow Cabinet positions while, on the other hand, we have Simon Hughes, (who it's impossible not to love, so I'm not slagging him) brought back into the Shadow Cabinet after 4 years as President. I'm wondering what exactly Nick is saying here. It could be that Lynne's Jenny's and Susan's roles do become high profile, but generally being a spokesperson for a Parliamentary brief is the way to get the media to notice you. Time will tell.

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Scotland Wide Gaza Demo this Saturday

Hopefully we will have more luck at attending this demo on Saturday. It's Scotland-wide and being supported by everyone from the Stop the War coalition to Scottish Jews for a Just Peace to the Muslim Council of Scotland.

The Meeting Point is East Market Street at 12.30 pm and march to the US consulate, then back to Princes Street for a rally with speakers.

Don't forget to take in date medicines, sealed in their original containers, to send to Gaza.

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What sort of pathetic apology for a human being am I?

I mean, I haven't bought a guitar

Nor have I cleaned the house,

or bought milk, though I was in Morrisons an hour ago and forgot.

Although I don't have the technology to join in with this meme, I am surprised that nobody has added the verse "I'm sorry I haven't delivered the leaflets."

Is this because although we are all sad enough to waste tonnes of time on the internet, we always make sure our leaflets are out there first?

If you have no idea what I'm talking about and are intrigued, have a look here.

Pink Dog's response is my favourite, but nothing new there:-)

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Nick Clegg calls for end to arms exports to Israel

I am very heartened to see Nick Clegg being very firm in today's Guardian, saying unequivocally that we must stop arming Israel.

In this European election year, it was also good to see him show the important role the EU could have in helping to resolve the crisis, and in fact stating that the removal of the EU presence in Egypt in response to Hamas' election was counter productive in that it has made it easier for those who are firing rockets at Israel to obtain them.

Oh, and Happy Birthday to both Nick and my cousin David, who is celebrating his first birthday in his new home in Canada.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Two New Millennium Bloggers

No, this isn't a reference to our favourite elephant but congratulations to two stalwarts of the Scottish blogging scene, Jeff and Fraser who today have made their thousandth posts on their blogs.

I like reading both of them and hope that they're good for at least another thousand posts.

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Israeli Bombs kill 40 at UN School in Refugee Camp

I'm saddened to see that there has been no let up in the Israeli assaults on Gaza. Then again, why should there be when they are getting away with such indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks?

They need an incentive to re-think what they are doing, otherwise more innocent lives will be needlessly lost.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

A thoughtful persepctive on the Gaza situation

An old friend of mine, Adrian Cruden, posted the article below on Facebook last night. I thought it was brilliant and deserved circulating to a wider audience. I first knew Adrian through Scottish Young Social Democrats back in the day. He's now with the Greens and stood in a Council by-election for them a couple of months ago in Dewsbury.

"they will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah (holocaust)", by Adrian Cruden

A tiny area, packed with tens of thousands of people in cramped, inadequate, decaying buildings; with no one allowed in or out; water supplies cut and barely enough food allowed in; with one of the highest rates of infant mortality and deaths in childbirth…packed in together, with a mighty army surrounding this place to keep its inhabitants incarcerated, the head of the army proclaiming that soon he will unleash a holocaust on that place.

Where is this? The Jewish ghetto in Warsaw in 1941? Or Vilnius in 1942?

It could have been – but it is neither. It is Gaza, squeezed between Israel and Egypt. And the time is…now.

Gaza is a strip of land 25 miles long and 4 miles wide, with 1,600,000 people squashed into its confines. They are nearly all refugees or the children and grandchildren of refugees – the Palestinians thrown out of their lands in what is now Israel in 1948.

After the peace accords signed in 1993, the territory fell under the administration of the Palestinian National Authority, which also has jurisdiction over various enclaves in the West Bank. In both areas, however, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), retained military control and withdrew from Gaza only in 2005.

Elections to the Palestinian Parliament in 2006 brought Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamic religious party, to power, its electoral triumph defeating the previous regime of the PLO-Fatah party of the late Yassir Arafat. Although if I was a Palestinian I think I'd not want much to do with Hamas, it was nevertheless the clear choice of the Palestinian electorate (under the title "Change & Reform" ). Yet the EU and USA joined Israel in refusing to recognise or deal with them – democracy it seemed mattered to the West only as long as it produced the right result. After clashes between supporters of Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian lands fractured, with Hamas in control of Gaza and Fatah in control of the West Bank territories.

Israel began a blockade of Gaza, restricting food and water and medicine. The densely populated territory suffered greatly as a result, and a UN report just a few weeks ago found massive addiction to painkillers and antidepressants among all age groups as the only things which helped the inhabitants cope with day to day life. Gaza is a ghetto just as much as the ones the Jews of Poland were crushed into ahead of their deportation to the gas chambers.

Under the circumstances, it seems of little surprise that some Gazans resorted to firing homemade rockets with fertiliser incendiaries into Israel. Over the last six years, this led to 19 Israeli deaths. Hamas encouraged this, and Israel responded – with massive raids by its airforce and its army, the fourth largest in the world. Several thousand Palestinians have been killed over the same period (around 2,300 in Gaza alone, including nearly 400 children). Past Israeli tactics have included bulldozing rows of houses in the close quarters of Gaza, often with little or even no notice to the residents. Now, tonight, their army has launched a land assault.

Earlier today, like thousands in cities around Britain, I joined about 350 others to march and protest in Leeds City Centre to call for peace in Gaza. Under a steel grey sky, in the bitter chill of an early January afternoon, we walked along the Headrow as shoppers watched, most of them seeming mildly bemused by this interruption to their post-Christmas Sales shopping, a few more hostile, shouting abuse, especially at the Muslim women in their headscarves. The police filmed us carefully every step of the way.

Why should it matter? Why does it matter, what happens hundreds of miles away?

Aside from the moral and ethical case, if these are not enough, there is the self-interest of stopping violence between humans: what happens there could happen anywhere, given the right (or wrong) conditions. And with its arms supplies to Israel, the UK is more involved than probably any of these shoppers might imagine.

The USA bankrolls both the Israeli army and pumps a huge economic subsidy into Israel - some estimates as high as $5.5 billion pa. ( ) In addition, the UK is one of the IDF’s arms suppliers ( ). Both could exert a huge influence on what is happening if they chose. But both Bush and Brown (and of course the Middle East Peace Envoy, Tony Blair) have at best equivocated, somehow putting the puny rocket attacks on a par with the assault launched by the fourth most powerful army in the world; more than that, they have effectively backed Israel to the hilt, leaving little room for hope they might broker true and just peace.

US President, George Bush, has claimed this latest bloodshed is the inevitable and justified Israeli response to Hamas terrorism: Barak Obama, by his craven silence at this critical time, has in effect endorsed this view, even although the first shots were fired several weeks ago by Israeli forces and although as far back as 29 February, the Israeli Defence Minister was promising to unleash a “shoah”, a holocaust, on Gaza.

That the Israeli elections are only a few weeks ago and the poll ratings of the two Government parties – Kadima and (shame on them) Labour – have soared since the offensive began is clearly more than coincidence. Likewise, this can be seen as Bush’s last anti-Muslim hurrah, a proxy assault by his allies rather than the no longer possible assault on Iran he dreamt off, just as his dad, Bush senior, invaded Somalia at the equivalent point in the dying days of his Presidency in 1991/92. Just as Clinton was incapable of sorting out the mess in Mogadishu, it seems hard to see how Obama will ever draw peace out of the Palestinian pyre.

But then perhaps that would suit some of these scheming politicians – for Hamas is very much the creation of the Israelis. Back in the 1980s, PLO-Fatah, a vaguely socialist, wholly secular party led by Yassir Arafat, was in the ascendancy among Palestinians and recognised around the world as their legitimate voice. Israel decided on an approach of divide and conquer and so began to sponsor, fund and train Hamas as a religious alternative for Palestinians in order to undermine Fatah and Arafat. That Hamas went on to win the elections and subsequently for the Palestinian Authority to be effectively divided in two is something that will suit those who wish no peace that involves Israel surrendering an inch of land. It may bring no peace or security, but the low grade incursions Hamas makes into Israel may well be seen as a price worth paying by those who seek endless confrontation.

(US article - "Hamas: Son of Israel" - )

Today, one speaker hit the nail on the head for me: when he saw children weeping amid the ruins of their homes, he thought of his children; when he saw an old woman bleeding in a hospital, he thought of his own mother; when he saw houses turned to rubble, with people trying to dig their neighbours out, he thought of his own neighbours. I think it is this, the commonality of suffering, that should bind us together in campaigning for peace - by marching, by writing to MPs, emailing newspapers, by talking to any who will listen.

Only by accident are we born where we are born; but we are all part of humanity, and there is only one earth. What happens anywhere should concern us all – enough at least to stop shopping and start shouting.

The land attack has begun – there will be more demonstrations in the UK and around the world in the days to come. These will all be chances for us to make our voices heard to save Gaza, and all of us.

When the Nazis came for the communists
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

- Pastor Martin Niemoller

Shout loud - peace and justice almost happened before; we can make it happen again...

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