2005-09-30

Scholars May Have Found Ancient Ithaca

For centuries, scholars have puzzled over the location of Ithaca, the island home of the Greek hero Odysseus described in Homer's epic poems 'The Odyssey' and 'The Iliad'. But now the search may be over... In what is billed as one of the most significant classical discoveries for more than a hundred years, a team of experts led by Mr.Robert Bittlestone, a management consultant and businessman, claimed yesterday that they had found the 'mystery' island. Instrumental in the project was an Edinburgh-based academic, Mr.John Underhill, who specialises in stratigraphy -- the study of geological strata or layers. In London yesterday, Mr.Bittlestone announced that the Ithaca described by Homer was not the present-day Greek island of Ithaca, as had previously been believed. Instead, he and his colleagues have concluded that Odysseus's Ithaca was located on the western peninsula of the neighbouring island of Kefalonia -- an area now known as Paliki. In Homer's time, they argue, this peninsula would have been separated from the rest of Kefalonia by a narrow sea channel, but over the last 3_000 years that channel has gradually been filled in by a combination of rockfalls and tectonic uplift, joining the two land masses together. However, a note of caution was sounded by Mr.Michael Wood, a leading historian and television presenter, who argues that the location of Ithaca is already well-established. According to Mr.Wood, the general description of Ithaca in Book 9 of 'The Odyssey' 'matches today's Ithaca perfectly well'. He also bases his opinion on archaeological evidence.
'It is what has been found on Ithaca by modern archaeologists that really clinches the identification, in my view', he said. 'There have been important Mycenaean finds, especially in the north of the island, which show that the place was indeed a kingdom in the Late Bronze Age, the period on which Homer's narrative ultimately rests. 'No matter how much the new book denies this, the evidence is clear.'
The findings of the Bittlestone study are to be published next week in a book called 'Odysseus Unbound -- The Search for Homer's Ithaca', co-authored by Mr.Bittlestone, Mr.James Diggle, a professor of Greek and Latin at Cambridge University, and Prof Underhill, of Edinburgh University. Mr.Underhill, who has been carrying out research on the Ionian Islands since 1982, was invited to take part in the project in 2003 after Mr.Bittlestone came across his name on the Internet. By studying rocks and sediment in the valley that lies between Paliki and the rest of Kefalonia, he set out to test the hypothesis that the peninsula used to be an island. Mr.Underhill found 'considerable coverage' of so-called drift cover in the area -- material deposited in the last 10_000 years -- which supports the new theory. The big question that still needs to be answered, however, is whether the drift cover extends all the way down to sea level. Mr.Underhill is keen to carry out more tests, including seismic acquisition -- shooting soundwaves into the earth and recording the echoes that bounce back -- and drilling boreholes to find out what kind of rocks are filling in the valley. However, any such work will have to be approved by the Greek government. In an appeal to be allowed to carry out more intensive research, Mr.Bittlestone said:
'The Greek authorities clearly need to evaluate the credibility of these proposals and to orchestrate what follows. 'I hope that what has been achieved so far will represent only a beginning. We shall ultimately learn the truth about Odysseus's homeland only if we have the courage and the confidence to look.'
The initial signs are encouraging. In a statement issued earlier this week, 'The Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration' (IGME) in Athens described the findings published in 'Odysseus Unbound' as 'unexpected and thought provoking'. After graduating in economics from 'Christ's College Cambridge' in 1972, Mr.Bittlestone went on to found the consultancy and software company 'Metapraxis'. He first turned his attention to the Ithaca question in 2003, when he noticed that Homer's description of the island fails to tally with the location of the present-day island of Ithaca. In book nine of 'The Odyssey', Ithaca is described as 'low-lying' and 'furthest towards dusk [i.e. west]' of all the nearby islands. However, the island now known as Ithaca is mountainous, and lies to the east of its neighbours. There have been various attempts to explain this inconsistency over the years, but most scholars simply concluded that Homer was ignorant of the geography of the area. Mr.Bittlestone, however, wondered if this mismatch could have occurred not because of an error on the part of the poet, but due to geological changes in the landscape since the time of 'The Trojan War' in around 1_200 BC. In formulating the theory that Ithaca was located in western Kefalonia, a computer program was used to analyse literary, geological and archaeological data. He also used satellite imagery and 3D global visualisation techniques, developed by NASA, to look for clues in the landscape. He then assembled a team of more than 40 geologists, classicists and archaeologists from all over the world. Their discovery -- arguably the most significant regarding the classical world since the unearthing of Troy in north-western Turkey in the 1870s -- raises the possibility that important Bronze Age artefacts might be found in the area. Archaeological finds disprove theory Over the last few decades archaeologists and textual historians have been able to prove that Homer's detailed descriptions of places are indeed based on autopsy, whether first or second-hand. I believe that it is beyond doubt that the same goes for Ithaca. Though there were big arguments in the 19th century as to whether Homer's Ithaca was today's island (next to Kefalonia) most, if not all, experts now believe Homer is describing today's Ithaca. As Mr.William Gell first noted in his book on the island published in 1807, it is the numerous coincidences between Homer's description and the topography of the island that tend to prove the identification; and it is what has been found on Ithaca by modern archaeologists that really clinches the identification. There have been Mycenaean finds, especially in the north of the island, which show that the place was indeed a kingdom in the Late Bronze Age, the period on which Homer's narrative ultimately rests. No matter how much the new book denies this, the evidence is clear. Furthermore, a whole series of Homeric place names which describe natural features on his Ithaca can be identified with landmarks on the modern island, including torrents, fountains, caves, cliffs, offshore islets, bays and harbours. It is, however, the archaeological find made by a British team in the 1930s that put any doubts to rest. Ms.Sylvia Benton excavated a site by the sea in the north of the island, a cave shrine in which the roof had collapsed in the time of the Roman Empire. In the 1860s and 1870s locals had dug up a bronze tripod for holding a cauldron, and Mycenaean pottery turned up here in 1904. Ms.Benton found the cave had been used as a shrine from prehistory, the Bronze Age, down to the first century AD. She found a terracotta mask -- a votive offering inscribed 'My Prayer to Odysseus', showing that the cave had been centre of a cult to Odysseus at the time of Alexander the Great. Even more fantastic was Ms.Benton's find of the remains of 12 more votive bronze tripods and cauldrons -- magnificent artefacts with each tripod 3ft high (they can still be seen in the little museum nearby at Stavros village). When dated, they are found to be late ninth or early eighth century BC, which shows they are before Homer. In Book 8 of the Odyssey, Homer tells how Odysseus receives gifts from King Alkinoos of Phaeacia before he sails back to Ithaca. The gifts were from '12 noble lords ... and I myself the 13th', says the king. What were the gifts? Later in Book 13 we read: 'Come let each of us man by man give him a large tripod and cauldron...' So 13 men gave Odysseus gifts, and the finds in the 1870s and 1930s add up to 13 cauldrons. When dated, they are proved to be from before Homer. What this proves is that the story was older than Homer; that the cult of Odysseus on today's Ithaca was already in existence in the ninth century BC, and it proves too that Homer had this very cave in Ithaca in mind when he composed 'The Odyssey'. He may even have been there. 'Odyssey over as sleuth 'finds Homer's island' ', Roger Cox, The Scotsman, 2005-09-30

Intolerance: Church/State problems in Norway

Norway's Constitution requires that over half of the government cabinet are members of the state church... -- the 'Norwegian Helsinki Committee' ('NHC') says this provision is a violation of human rights.
'It cannot be so that one has to join a certain religious community in order to be a cabinet minister. 'Not if there is to be true religious freedom,' NHC assistant secretary general Mr.Gunnar M. Karlsen told newspaper 'Dagsavisen'.
Mr.Karlsen believes it is time to revise Norway's Constitution. Lawyer Mr. Njål Høstmælingen at 'The Centre for Human Rights' at 'The University of Oslo' agrees with this interpretation.
'The Constitution's paragraph 12 is in conflict with both "The United Nations" convention on civil and political rights and "The European Council's" human rights convention,' Mr.Høstmælingen said.
The new 'red-green' coalition government of the Labour, Socialist Left and Centre parties is currently hammering out their common policy platform, but are likely to favour such a change. Incoming prime minister Mr.Jens Stoltenberg (Labour) told 'Dagsavisen' that he would await the conclusion of the state-church committee before making a final stance. Mr.Stoltenberg is not a member of the state church, but 'Socialist Left Party' leader Ms.Kristin Halvorsen and 'Centre Party' leader Ms.Åslaug Haga both are. 'Norway criticized for Christian quota', Aftenposten, 2005-09-30

2005-09-29

Leaving Land Lines

Twenty years ago telecommunications in Britain were governed by a state-owned monopoly and the main choice for homeowners was whether to have the standard-issue phones in red, blue or beige. Line charges were 'take it or leave it' and long-distance calls to relatives abroad were a once-a-month luxury. Now, though, the home phone bill faces extinction, as Internet technology sends the cost of calls plummeting... Devices which convert phone conversations into packets of data and transmit them over the Internet mean traditional bills -- which charge according to distance, length of call and location -- are completely irrelevant. Over the Internet, the cost of transmitting and receiving data is the same whether the customer is in Hamilton, Lanarkshire or Hamilton, New Zealand. So far, Voice over Internet Protocol ('VoIP') has been limited to technology whizzkids because it requires a computer, a broadband connection, headphones and a microphone to work. Now it has made the leap towards becoming an essential household device, possibly leading to the abandonment of domestic landlines altogether. High-street giant 'Dixons' is now selling an adaptor that, unlike 'VoIP' services offered by 'Google' or 'Skype', allows you to make phone calls through a broadband connection using a normal handset without having to switch on a computer. Buying the 80_GBP adaptor, customers get unlimited free calls to all UK landlines for a year. After this, the same service will cost 7_GBP/month. Users get a new phone number -- in an area code of their choice. The adaptor is aligned to that number even if it is plugged in at another property -- in the UK or abroad. This means users can take their home phone number with them without incurring a roaming charge. But the bright new dawn isn't yet dazzling traditional consumers. Anyone wishing to use 'Dixons's' service must have a computer to set up the facility and receive and pay bills -- and for a new generation of young professionals who use their mobile phone for virtually all communications, the savings over the basic cost of landline rental are negligible. A growing number of young homeowners don't even have a landline. It will be at least three years before 'VoIP' is likely to be the most common form of call. But, as with the growth of modems and mobile phones in the 1990s, the change-over means big bucks for some companies. 'Evalueserve', a business and technology consultancy, believes half of all broadband users in Europe will have given up their ordinary landline by 2008, while revenue from long-distance calls by traditional phone companies will have plunged by 40 per cent over the next three years. Big players are already getting in on the act. On-line auction site 'eBay' has agreed to buy 'VoIP' pioneer 'Skype' in a 1_400_million_GBP deal to create 'an unparalleled e-commerce and communications engine'. 'Skype' already boats 54 million users worldwide. 'Communications is at the heart of e-commerce and community,' says 'eBay' Chief Executive Ms.Meg Whitman. 'Skype's' software lets PC users talk to each other for free and make cut-price calls to mobiles and landlines. Other big players in the 'VoIP' market include 'Vonage' and computer giants such as 'Google' (which recently launched its 'Talk' service), 'Microsoft' (which bought leading player 'Teleo' for an undisclosed sum), 'Yahoo!' and 'AOL'. 'Google' has moved to take advantage of the move towards one-stop domestic communications by pledging to broadcast TV programmes over the Internet. The company has already signed up an American channel to provide programmes for 'Google TV' and is in talks with 'The BBC' to broadcast its shows as well. It hopes to build a massive on-line database of programmes that can be searched and watched from any computer, with users able to search for episodes of any show from broadcasters who sign up to the service. It will also let British viewers legally watch hit television shows from America months before they are broadcast in this country. 'Dixons's' parent firm, 'DSG International', which also owns 'Currys', 'The Link' and 'PC World', claims the new adaptor marks the beginning of the end for traditional landline phones. Mr.Simon Turner, divisional managing director of DSG International, thinks it is a 'wake-up call' for traditional phone companies.
'This is the most significant development in the telephone market since the launch of the mobile phone and will transform the way we use phones. 'The days of old-style fixed-line phone calls are numbered,' he says.
'BT' has responded to the threat from these new firms by slashing costs of calls using its Internet service. It claims to see 'VoIP' as an opportunity rather than a threat, and is investing 10_000_million_GBP building new networks. Mr.Gavin Patterson, 'BT' group managing director, says:
'We were the first telecoms company to offer voice over Internet two years ago and we intend to keep ahead of the game. 'There's been a lot of hype about "Skype", but these international calls are half their price.'
The biggest challenge is likely to be felt by mobile phone firms such as 'Vodafone'. Voice calls account for the bulk of their business, whereas the new hybrid of domestic computer and telephone technology allows the likes of 'Google' to offer massive discounts on call costs while making a profit by selling the new premium services such as Internet television. Voice calls will become increasingly cheap -- eventually free -- as firms use free 'VoIP' to keep them loyal while charging for extra elements such as downloadable films or on-line games. 'Vodafone' says it is moving towards Internet-based networks in order to reduce costs for its customers. It will have to act fast. After a slow start, broadband is now available in most parts of Scotland. In 2003, only 57 per cent of people had access to the service, far behind England. 'The Scottish Executive' and 'Scottish Enterprise' set up a campaign -- 'Broadband for Scotland' -- to ensure Scotland wasn't left behind in the tech race. 'BT' says broadband is now available to almost 99 per cent of Scotland, while 'The Scottish Executive' says broadband take-up in Scotland now stands at 48 per cent of businesses and 25 per cent of households. A 'Scottish Executive' spokesman said:
'"The Executive" is committed to providing every community access to affordable broadband services by the end of 2005. 'Broadband is one of the most important technological developments of our time. 'While 95 per cent of households and businesses already have access to it, we need to ensure that homes and businesses in rural areas benefit as well.'
Internet calling costs Consumers who want to take advantage of cheaper phone calls over the Internet must already have a broadband-enabled landline. Here is a sample from consumer website www.uswitch.com of some of the main deals offered by telecom firms giving the sign-up cost, the monthly cost and the typical cost per minute of a peak-time call. • 'BT Communicator', 5_GBP, free, 3p • 'Freetalk', 80_GBP, 7_GBP after first year, free • 'Skype', free, free, 1.2p • 'GossipTel', free, free, 2.5p • 'Vonage', 10_GBP, £16.99, free • 'Wazatel', free, free, 2.2p • 'The Internet Phone Company', 6, free, 1.69p • 'Telappliant', 3_GBP, free, 1p How to make Internet calls Broadband users can make an Internet phone call by downloading the relevant software from 'Google', 'BT' or 'Skype', plugging a headset into the computer and clicking on the name of a contact who has similar software. The calls are made as normal, but they are routed more efficiently to save money. The technology routes the calls over the Internet, instead of using the traditional public telephone network. Calls can be made anywhere in the world and for any length of time for free. 'The Freetalk' 'VoIP' phone service offered by 'Dixons' takes a stage further by allowing phone users to make unlimited calls to anyone, regardless of whether they have the software. The adaptor converts voice calls into the same 'VoIP' data system. Incoming calls ring as normal, and users hear a dial tone and dial as normal. But 'VoIP' technology is still in its infancy, and not all consumers will find their phone bills lowered. In particular, it still requires users to have a fixed broadband landline -- which means homeowners who don't have phone services through a cable provider such as 'Telewest' will still have to pay the likes of 'BT' more than 100_GBP/ year plus broadband fees of up to 20_GBP/month for the privilege of being able to even consider 'VoIP'.
'Until recently only computer nerds have used it because it has only been possible to use it while the computer is switched on,' said Mr.Jon Miller at uswitch.com . 'That's changing, although even with the new adaptor from "Dixons" the system is still quite cumbersome and many consumers might be better to wait until the hardware becomes simpler and more reliable.'
The 'Dixons' 'Freetalk' starter pack is priced at 80_GBP and gives users a new home phone number. The adaptor is plugged into the existing landline socket and connected to the existing phone handset. The adaptor can be taken anywhere in the world and the calls remain free for a year, regardless of duration and distance. 'Could this signal the end of telephone bills?', Alastair Jamieson, The Scotsman, 2005-09-29, Th

Health: Turned Away From Maternity Error

A young woman gave birth in her bathroom -- half an hour after medical staff sent her home from hospital, saying her baby's arrival was not imminent. Ms.Jenna Bailey, 21, was told to go back home, take some painkillers and relax. But she was no sooner in the door than her baby daughter started to arrive... Alicia Jane was then delivered with the help of a paramedic and a neighbour who is a nurse. The story did have a happy ending, as both mother and daughter are fine. But Ms.Bailey was critical of 'Aberdeen Royal Infirmary' staff for sending her home.
'I'm a bit annoyed at the hospital -- after all, I was just in the door and it started,' she said. 'They shouldn't have sent me home. 'But it was nice to have Alicia at home, instead of in hospital with all those people prodding and poking me. 'It was so good to have the family around me, and it all turned out OK in the end.'
The drama started on Monday morning, as Ms.Bailey approached the date she was due to give birth. She started feeling the twinges of labour when she woke up at her home in Newburgh Circle, Bridge of Don, Aberdeenshire. She called her mother, Sandra, at work, and a neighbour gave them a lift to the hospital, where she spent the next six hours. At 18:00, midwives told her she was not ready to give birth and sent her home with advice to take painkillers and relax. However, shortly after Ms.Bailey arrived back at the house, her contractions started to get much worse. The whole family went into action, with her mother getting the hot towels, her father, David, calling an ambulance and her brother Craig, 19, timing the contractions. A paramedic named Gary, and a neighbour who is a nurse were soon on the scene to help. Ms.Bailey, a restaurant supervisor, said:
'It all happened so quickly, it was just unbelievable. All my emotions were going -- I was crying. 'I was mortified that Alicia was born on the bathroom floor, but my legs just went to jelly and I couldn't even get to my bedroom. 'I was fully expecting the labour to be ages, because mum was hours with me, but it seemed like almost the minute the waters broke, Alicia's head appeared. 'Gary was brilliant and talked me through it, telling me what was happening all the time as he was delivering Alicia. 'I'd like to say a "big thank you" to him for everything.'
After the birth, Ms.Bailey's mother cut the cord and her grandfather was on the phone from France to hear his new granddaughter's first cries. A tired but healthy mother and baby were then taken back to hospital to be checked over by maternity staff -- and this time they were able to stay. Ms.Bailey's mother said:
'It was just such a nice family event, and it's great that we were all involved. 'We'd had takeaway pizza earlier that night -- but there was another delivery in the house.'
Asked why Ms.Bailey had been sent home from hospital when she was so close to giving birth, a spokesman for NHS Grampian said:
'Unplanned births are rare. We wouldn't discharge a mum home if we thought the birth was imminent. 'However, some deliveries do happen very quickly.'
'Go home -- your baby's not due yet', Sarah Bruce, The Scotsman, 2005-09-29, Th

Glasgow Students best Social Life in Scotland, 5th in UK

Students at 'The University of Glasgow' enjoy a better social life than undergraduates in the rest of Scotland, according to a survey published yesterday. A poll by the Internet search engine Yell.com found that the city offered the most 'student lifestyle facilities' such as pubs, clubs and takeaway shops per head of population. 'The University of Glasgow' was ranked fifth overall in the United Kingdom. President of Glasgow University's student representative council, Mr.Dan Guy, said it was in the ideal location to offer superb extra-curricular as well as academic facilities. He said:
'The West End of Glasgow is a very vibrant community with a lot of resources for students, which is why it's such a brilliant place to study. 'There's no point in choosing a university that doesn't have any amenities and places such as pubs and clubs for you to enjoy yourself. 'The local community has a great deal to offer and everyone, both students and non-students, contribute to a great atmosphere.'
A spokesman for 'The University of Glasgow' also welcomed the findings. She said:
'A large part of the student experience of university life now happens outside of academia. 'We recognise that employers look for outgoing individuals with life experience outside of lectures and tutorials. 'Students are encouraged to extend their achievements and widen their experience by participating in the full range of societies and activities that Glasgow has to offer. 'A choice of two lively student unions, a student-run newspaper, radio station and TV channel form a central part of the student social scene here. 'Glasgow is clearly thriving, socially and academically.'
Organisers of the survey took a list of Britain's top 20 universities and searched the postcodes of the areas where more students socialised to find the number of pubs, nightclubs, off-licences, pizza delivery outlets, takeaway shops and fancy dress hire stores before working out the students-per-business ratio. The university with the lowest number of students to each business came out on top. 'The London School of Economics' was named as the best in the UK, followed by 'King's College London' and the universities of Bath, Newcastle and Durham. 'The University of Glasgow' was found to have one student lifestyle facility for every 145 students, 'The University of St.Andrews' -- which came out ninth overall -- had one for every 214 students. 'Glasgow best for students', Kevin Schofield, The Scotsman, 2005-09-30, Fr

Glasgow Tower Closed Indefinitely (again)

The troubled Glasgow science centre tower has been closed for the sixth time this year, it was announced 2005-09-28... Staff at the 10_million_GBP attraction said they did not know when the 125_m high tower will be open again. As Scotland's tallest free-standing structure it was hoped that the rotating tower would be a major tourist draw -- but since opening in 2001-07 it has been plagued by problems. A spokesman from the attraction said the tower would remain closed indefinitely.
'Regular use of 'Glasgow Tower' has shown there to be a few technical issues whose cumulative effect is disrupting its smooth operation and reliability,' she said.
'In order to resolve these, 'Glasgow Tower' will remain closed until we have reassurances that these issues have been addressed effectively.'
The tower was paid for by a public partnership of European and Millennium funds, 'Scottish Enterprise' and 'Glasgow City' Council, and was hailed as the only tower in the world that can rotate from its base. In 2005-01 ten people were trapped in the tower lift for five hours after a cable snapped. 'Sixth closure for science centre', ANDREW TOLMIE, The Scotsman, 2005-09-29, Th

Intolerance: Internet VideoClips are Breach of The Peace

An hotel guest who showed an 'abhorrent and shocking' video of an Iraqi hostage being beheaded to an appalled worker was yesterday jailed for 60 days... Mr.Subhaan Younis, 23, showed Ms.Charlotte Mcclay the footage on his mobile phone while chatting to her in the shop where she worked at 'The Moat House' Hotel in Glasgow. A concierge assistant reported the matter to the police after spotting Ms.Mcclay looking pale and shaking minutes after she saw the clip. Lawyers last night said the case highlighted the danger of forwarding graphic material by e-mail or mobile phone -- and warned that even 'joke' e-mails sent to work colleagues could be viewed as a criminal act. Mr.Younis, of Baliol St in the city, who downloaded the clip from the Internet, had been staying in the hotel at the time of the offence on 2004-09-27. Defence solicitor Mr.Dominic Sellar told 'Glasgow District Court' his client, who was found guilty of breach of the peace 2005-08, accepted the images were 'abhorrent and shocking in the extreme'. Mr.Younis had shown Ms.Mcclay the footage during a conversation about 'The Attack on Iraq' after offering to let her see something that would 'cause her a sleepless night', said Mr.Younis's Defence Solicitor. The shop worker replied:
'Aye, right,' the court heard.
The solicitor said his client thought Ms.Mcclay realised she was about to see a video of a hostage beheading. Stipendiary magistrate Mr.Euan Edment said the complainer had been left 'shocked, upset and frightened' by the horrific clip and could be affected 'perhaps for the rest of her life'. Passing sentence, the magistrate told Mr.Younis:
'You chose to let her view the images on your telephone and told her that she might have nightmares. 'In my view, the woman had no idea about what she was about to view. No reasonable person might have anticipated viewing such dreadful and distressing images in such circumstances. 'I struggle to understand why any decent individual would have images showing the degradation and death of another human being, regardless of their race, political or religious persuasion.'
Mr.Younis's Defence Solicitor told the court that his client, who has previous convictions, mainly for road traffic offences, realised he had made a 'colossal mistake' and had behaved 'naïvely, foolishly and stupidly'. Mr.Paul Jackson, 19, who was a concierge assistant at 'The Moat House', said he had seen Ms.Mcclay walk out of the shop. He said:
'Charlotte just kept saying she couldn't believe what she had just seen.
'She was upset and water was welling up in her eyes.'
Mr.Donald Findlay, QC, one of Scotland's top lawyers, said the case served as a warning to people who send work colleagues and friends graphic material by e-mail or mobile phone. He said:
'What this case shows is that sending a video clip that contains something that is either offensive, distressing or alarming can be considered a "breach of the peace".'
Mr.Findlay said it was almost impossible to be sure that people would not be offended by many e-mails circulated around offices.
'The days of the office joke e-mail are probably numbered,' he said.
Media lawyer Mr.Campbell Deane, a partner at 'Bannatyne Kirkwood France' in Glasgow, said as far as he was aware the case was the first time that disseminating offensive material has been prosecuted as a 'breach of the peace' under Scots law. He said:
'The test for "breach of the peace" is putting somebody in a state of fear and alarm -- and that depends on the sensitivities of the person concerned. 'There was an e-mail doing the rounds a while ago where a guy is walking his Yorkshire terrier and gives it a really hard kick. It is very well edited so it looks real, though on closer inspection it is clearly a stunt. But if it was sent to a dog lover they could take it the wrong way and be deeply upset. 'You probably shouldn't go to jail for that, because it was a joke. But if today's decision is right, in the eyes of the law that wouldn't make much difference, as you are still placing that person in a state of alarm. 'This case should serve as a warning that courts can take a very serious attitude towards this sort of thing.'
'Ruling on beheading video could stop joke emails', MICHAEL HOWIE AND JUDE SHEERIN, The Scotsman, 2005-09-29, Th Links: Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Faculty of Advocates Scottish Courts Scottish Law Commission Scottish Law On-line The Law Society of Scotland The Lawyer

2005-09-28

Intolerance: Seal From First Temple Found

Archaeologists have revealed they have found a Jewish seal from the period of 'The First Temple', according to Professor Gabi Barkay. The seal was discovered in debris which was taken from 'The Temple Mount' six years ago and is the first time a Jewish artifact from 'The First Temple' has been found, he added. The seal, less than ten millimetres long and made from burnt mud, bears ancient Hebrew writing and probably was used for official documents and letters, Prof. Barkay said. It is more than 2500 years old and provides a direct link with the era of King David. Arab Moslems have authority over 'The Temple Mount' site and have been systematically removing debris from 'The Temple Mount' site for years despite protests from archaeologists who fear they will lose any opportunity to find remnants of 'The First Temple'. Arabs also have waged a publicity campaign claiming that the Jewish Temples never existed on the mount. 'First Temple Seal Discovered in Arab Debris', Isreal National News, 2005-09-28/ 24 Elul5765

Intolerance: Darwin's Theory in USA Court Case

The 'opening shots' were 'fired' on 2005-09-26, Monday, in the first court trial to scrutinise the 'Intelligent Design movement' ('ID') . 'ID' proposes that life is so complex it cannot have emerged without the guidance of an intelligent designer -- it is seen as a religion-friendly alternative to Mr.Darwin's 'Theory of Evolution'...
'It is going to be the role of the plaintiffs to argue that "ID" is a form of religious advocacy,' says Eugenie Scott of 'The US American National Center for Science Education' in Oakland, California, which is advising the plaintiffs. 'The defence will argue that "ID" is actually science and is valid. 'We will argue the opposite.'
Backed by 'The American Civil Liberties Union', the plaintiffs in the civil case are 11 parents who believe their high school's board is encouraging children to consider 'ID' as an alternative to evolution because of the board's evangelical Christian motivations. It is unconstitutional to teach anything in US American schools that does not primarily have a secular motive and effect on pupils. The plaintiffs' advocates are deploying a double-barrelled strategy, aiming to show that 'ID' is not science -- and highlighting its similarities to 'creationism' (following an 'US American Supreme Court' ruling in 1987, it is now illegal to teach 'creationism' in schools). In his opening statement, Mr.Eric Rothschild, advocate for the plaintiff, said:
'"ID" is not new science, it's old theology. 'There is no controversy in the scientific community.'
The plaintiffs then called their first expert witness to the stand -- biologist Mr.Kenneth Miller of 'Brown University', Rhode Island. He criticised the content of a book 'Of Pandas and People' , which promotes 'ID' and was recommended by 'The Dover School Board' for students. Mr.Miller used several examples to argue that it inaccurately interprets Mr.Darwin's theories, e.g. that apes and humans share a common ancestry, and omits scientific research in order to denigrate the theory of evolution. He also said that 'ID' could not be considered as science because it is incapable of providing testable hypotheses. He explained the process of 'peer review' -- through which scientists critique each other's work -- and the process by which hypotheses are generated and then tested by experiment. These approaches have been employed for evolution, elevating it from hypothesis to theory, but not for 'ID', he said. A defence attorney cross-examined Mr.Miller, asking him to admit that evolution is 'just a theory' -- and that there are 'gaps' in Mr.Darwin's theory. Mr.Miller only partially agreed to modified versions of these statements, but defence lawyer Mr.Richard Thompson claimed at the end of the day that Mr.Miller had agreed to these statements. The case continues.
  • 2005-09-26, Mo: opening statements
  • First week: testimony from plaintiffs' expert witnesses, including scientists Mr.Kenneth Miller of 'Brown University', Mr.Robert Pennock of 'Michigan State University' and Ms.Barbara Forrest of 'Southeastern Louisiana University', followed by Mr.John Haught a theologian at 'Georgetown University'
  • Next two to three weeks: continuation of plaintiffs' case -- more expert witnesses including Mr.Brian Alters at 'Harvard University' and Mr.Kevin Padian at 'The University of California, Berkeley'.
  • Last two to three weeks: defence's case, including expert witnesses such as scientists Mr.Michael Behe, Mr.Scott Minnich of 'The University of Idaho' and Mr.Warren Nord of 'The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill'. Also, Mr.Dick Carpenter of the US American Evangelical Christian group 'Focus on the Family' and sociologist Mr.Steve Fuller of 'The University of Warwick', UK.
  • Early 2005-11: closing arguments
  • Early 2005-12: Judge's verdict
'Lawyers fire opening shots in Intelligent Design case', Celeste Biever, Yahoo! News, 2005-09-27,Tu

Health: Paisley Maternity MRSA

Five babies in 'The Royal Alexandra Hospital' in Paisley have been affected by the MRSA superbug, it has emerged. The superbug is said to have 'colonised' the babies, meaning it is on their skin but is not harming them... Mr.Graham Stewart, consultant paediatrician at the hospital, said one baby had been discharged and four others were in a stable condition. The hospital has launched an investigation and tightened its infection control procedures. Mr.Stewart said:
'The condition of the five babies is not adversely affected by the fact that they have been colonised with MRSA. 'One baby has been discharged and the remaining four babies are in a stable condition and are being cared for in our special care baby unit for other reasons.' 'The parents of the children identified with MRSA have been kept fully informed and we will continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis.'
Two babies were found to be colonised by the bug on their arrival into the unit in August. A third was found to have been affected by 2005-09-09 and hospital bosses decided to screen all the babies in the unit. Another two were identified by the tests. The hospital has launched an investigation into the source of the bug. Ms.Elizabeth Biggs, infection control doctor, said:
'The infection control team has been checking the ward environment for MRSA and the screening of staff has been undertaken. 'Results of environmental and staff screening have proved negative and further screening is currently in progress.'
BBC Scotland's Mr.Alan Mackay said the incident was a huge concern for the parents of the babies and for the hospital. He added:
'Let's remember, every hospital in the country takes special measures to try to beat MRSA. 'These newborns were in the special care unit at Paisley for other reasons and the MRSA hadn't reached the stage of infection.
'It had colonised on their skin - in other words, the babies weren't any weaker than they would otherwise have been.'
MRSA stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, but is shorthand for any strain of Staphylococcus bacteria which is resistant to one or more conventional antibiotics. Many people naturally carry it in their throats, and it can cause a mild infection in a healthy patient. 'MRSA scare in hospital baby unit', BBCNews, 2005/09/27 20:21:18 GMT

2005-09-27

Money: New & Fast Property Buying On-Line

Homebuyers will be able to conclude the purchase of property within as little as 15 minutes of an offer being accepted, using a revolutionary system that also substantially reduces costs. The new scheme allows for an entirely electronic on-line transaction that could bypass the frustrating, and costly, period of up to eight weeks waiting for solicitors to finalise missives. 'E-conveyancing' has been piloted in the past five months by four legal firms and one estate agent, who have formed 'The Conveyancing Hub', with more than 150 deals already concluded. It attempts to tackle the long-held recognition that missives (contracts) have become over-complicated and excessively expensive, by introducing a standard missive which dramatically speeds up the procedure of buying a property. Mr.Kyle Peddie, the chief executive of 'The PSM Law Group', which has been at the forefront of the development, predicts that more than 1_000 property transactions will take place electronically in Scotland every month by next spring. He said:
'This is a total revolution in the way conveyancing is done in Scotland, in terms of the co-operation between firms and their use of technology. 'The consumer stands to make considerable savings in both the amount of time it takes and the costs involved.
'The firms who use this system stand to make significant savings of up to 40 per cent, and most will look to pass on as much of the savings as they can to consumers.'
Mr.Peddie believes solicitors have been slow to embrace modern methods of communication, with the conveyancing market involving a 'confrontational legal joust, based on lengthy, complex missives and a slow legal process'.
'This is the first time lawyers have embraced technology, and that can only be of benefit to the consumer.
'The consumer is used to a range of services being available on-line.
'They can do their shopping on-line, or take out insurance.
'Why shouldn't lawyers offer services on-line, too?'
Mr.Jamie Macnab, of the estate agent 'FPD Savills', said:
'I would welcome any initiative to speed up and simplify the procedure.
'What amazes us is that sometimes the solicitors exchange missives in 24 hours, whereas in other jobs it goes on for weeks.'
Mr.Simon Fairclough, of 'Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre', said e-conveyancing was not for everyone:
'Speed is one quality some firms would put ahead of others.
'Cheapness is another.
'But speed and cheapness do not necessarily mark out what is good for all firms. 'As a non-solicitor who has bought and sold houses, I want to be able to look someone in the eye, discuss with them what concerns me about buying or selling my home and the effects on me.
'Technology does have a great deal to offer; it can assist communication, but cannot replace it.'
'How the click of a mouse could buy and sell houses in just 15 minutes', Michael Blackley, The Scotsman, 2005-09-27

Money: If Winter is Harsh UK Has Only 11 Days of Energy Stored

Businesses could be forced to close down and lay off workers this winter because the country's energy reserves are so low... Sir Digby Jones, The Director-General of The CBI, warned yesterday 2005-09-26.
'If we have a cold winter, we are going to throw the switch, businesses will shut down, people will lose their jobs,' The Director-General of The CBI said. 'If we don't sort out our decrepit supply system, we are, this winter, going to run out of fuel.'
According to 'The CBI', Britain has only 11 days' gas held in reserve to power industrial users during a hard winter. In comparison, other European countries keep an average of 55 days in reserve. His warning came as 'The Met Office' 2005-09-26 issued an 'amber alert' to contingency planners in the government -- including 'The NHS' and 'The Highways Agency' -- and in the energy industry to prepare for a 'colder than average winter'. The UK Energy Minister Mr.Malcolm Wickes admitted the truth in The Director-General of The CBI's words at a fringe meeting of 'The New Labour Party's' conference in Brighton attended by both men. The UK Energy Minister conceded that industry could be badly hit by an unusually cold winter. The Director-General of The CBI said 2005-09-26 that Britain's historical position as a net exporter of energy, coupled with government red tape, had left the country poorly prepared for a cold season.
Until recently, Britain was a net exporter of gas from the North Sea, and because that gas was nearby and on tap, less effort went into constructing gas reserve stations, experts say. Now, Britain is becoming a net importer of natural gas, much of it from Russia, yet, as ministers admitted yesterday, the UK still lacks proper reserve capacity.
Many of the UK's current generation of electricity generators are gas-fired, and their output would be curtailed by any shortfall in gas supplies. Because domestic electricity users are always given priority over commercial customers, there is no realistic chance of even the worst winter affecting households. But, as The UK Energy Minister admitted, most businesses have 'interruptible' contracts with their energy suppliers, meaning that they would be the first to be hit by any energy shortage.
'We could have a tight winter,' said The UK Energy Minister. 'This is not about shutting off domestic customers, but there could be problems for industry.'
The UK Energy Minister said that responsibility for any energy reserve problems lay with industry. Companies, he said, had been 'a little slow' in investing in reserve capacity. But The Director-General of The CBI insisted that government planning officials were ultimately to blame for obstructing companies' attempts to prepare for the long-anticipated decline in North Sea reserves.
'Since 2003, many Local Authorities have denied planning permission to build new storage capacity, and when industry has appealed those decisions and taken them to central government in Whitehall, [Deputy Prime Minister] John Prescott's office has refused as well,' The Director-General of The CBI said.
Warnings of potential power interruptions are not confined to industry. Earlier this month, 'Prospect', a trade union whose members include engineers, scientists and other energy specialists, warned that predicted low temperatures mean
'there is a very real threat this could be the winter our luck runs out'.
The Industry Secretary Mr.Alan Johnson (The UK Energy Minister's boss), tried to downplay the warnings last night, insisting there was only a one-in-50 chance of a winter cold enough to exhaust reserves.
'And even if it happens, there is no risk to domestic supplies,' he said.
But even The Industry Secretary admitted that there was a 'problem' with reserve capacity, though he promised:
'That is going to change.'
The Director-General of The CBI also called on the government urgently to launch a debate about nuclear power.
'The government never seems to take the energy debate to the consumer -- they take it to business all the time. 'We have to have a proper debate about whether we need nuclear power.'
  • 'Clean' carbon technologies provide better value for money than new nuclear power stations, The Environment Minister Mr.Eliot Morely has said.
  • Ministers must decide during this parliament whether to replace Britain's nuclear plants, which supply about 20 per cent of UK electricity.
  • Government statistics on oil and gas reserves
'Nuclear plants are expensive and if you're looking at the energy mix, then at the moment I think you'll probably get more value from investment in clean coal,' The Environment Minister said.
'Britain set to run out of fuel warns CBI boss', James Kirkup, The Scotsman, 2005-09-27

Intolerance: Channel Four: "Monarchy" Review

TV REVIEW by ROBERT McNEIL 'Monarchy' by David Starkey, Channel 4 'EastEnders', BBC1 DAVID Starkey - no relation to Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr), we presume - paradiddled some drivel about Henry VIII 'striding Inglind like an ageing Colossus'. Oh, boy. All that money from Channel 4 and all he can come up with are clichés. Apart from which, would an ageing anything stride aboot the place? 'Monarchy' continued to bore the pantaloons off the lieges last night. Starkey appears to have spent most of his fat fee on over-expensive clothes, though in his old-fashioned frumpy outfits he comes across like Samgrass from 'Bridesead Revisited'. His exegesis this week concerned not so much the pie-faced cove with the big fat arse - by which I mean, of course, Henry VIII - but the controversial monarch's issue. Edward, aged 12, succeeded to the throne, and started writing considered epistles to the Inglish nation about the Pope being 'the true son of the Devil'. Fortunately he died, as people did in those days, a few years later. He was succeeded, or possibly not, by Lady Jane Grey, aged 16. I say 'possibly not' for, at this point, I'd lost the plot, probably due to sleep. Anyway, next thing, Mary was on the throne, in a succession that succeeded in leaving me numb. This was like watching the old 'Open University', only more wasteful of cash, and presented by a frumpy suit instead of a long-haired professor. But - to continue chronologically - in 1555, Mary started burning people alive, for reasons that need not detain us, and then there were rumours that she was pregnant with a monkey. She shuffled off, which was good news for Elizabeth, who declared on hearing the news: 'This is the Lord's doing. It is marvellous in our eyes.' Charming. After one loony Protestant and one murderous Catholic, Elizabeth sought a middle way for this nation of extremes, and so ended up with a church that was Protestant in doctrine but Catholic in appearance (folk wearing goonies and so on). In a surprising development, somebody Scottish turned up: Mary, Queen of that ilk. She wanted to stir up the whole Catholic thing again and so Elizabeth, quite rightly, bunged her in chokey for 20 years, then chopped off her heid. And that was the end of that. Oh Gawd, if only 'Monarchy' would end, too, preferably with several beheadings at Channel 4. It's lucky this tripe isn't on the BBC, otherwise we'd all be up in arms. Channel 4 may not waste our taxes but it's still supposed to have an obligation to the whole United Kingdom. Mind you, it's the Beeb that inficts 'EastEnders' upon an unwilling group of nations. Last night's wasn't in the usual format - that of cutting from character to character and crisis to crisis, with much greetin' and gnashin' of teeth. Instead, we followed several proletarian louts on a trip to France in a people carrier with bull-bars. They'd mastered their French: 'Fermie yer bush, mon sewer.' Sadly, however, English remained beyond them: 'This is going to be the longest short break I ever took.' The point was to look up Mickey's sister, Dawn, whom the chaps hoped might be attractive and not 'a bit of a minger'. She turned out to be the typical uppity burd 'de nos jours', flaunting her fuselage then scowling at the guys for gawping. 'Have you lot just got out of prison or sumfing?' she asked, as they sat quaffing 'Chateau de wotsit'. The humour centred on the lads being bleedin' fick but, being 'EastEnders', the show had to end on a note of misery about somebody's father not knowing his son: another succession doon the Swanee. 'Heir of misery blows from Hampton Court', Robert Mcneil, The Scotsman, 2005-09-27, Tu

2005-09-19

Intolerance: The Clinton-Hunter Development Initiative

Scottish businessman Sir Tom Hunter has teamed up with Mr.Bill Clinton, the former US American president, to spend 55_million_GBP of his fortune on alleviating poverty in some of the poorest countries on the planet. 'The Clinton-Hunter Development Initiative' (CHDI), which is to be announced today, 2005-09-15, aims to create a new model for 'ridding the world of the silent, malevolent horror that is poverty' by giving local people the power to make decisions on how aid money is spent. The initiative will concentrate on two countries which are still to be chosen. Candidates include Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho and Kenya. Mr.Hunter made an estimated 260_million_GBP when he sold the 'Sports Division' shop chain in 1998 and now runs a venture capital firm that has been involved in deals worth 4_000_million_GBP since it began in 2001. Mr.Hunter, who donated 1_million_GBP to the 'Make Poverty History' campaign and has spent more than 35_million_GBP through his and his wife's charity, 'The Hunter Foundation', appealed to others to join him and Mr.Clinton in 'a new model of poverty intervention in the world's poorest countries'. It will put the emphasis on allowing local people to decide the right approach for their circumstances while moving towards self-sustainability. Mr.Hunter said he had decided to take action after becoming involved in the 'Make Poverty History' campaign, but added:
'The fundamental motivation is the way I was brought up in a small mining village in Ayrshire. You got taught values and to do the right thing. 'I'm on record as saying once my family has been taken care of the rest of the wealth is going into the foundation. Making the money is only half the equation; what you do with the money is what marks you out.'
Mr.Hunter said the initiative would help communities gain a 'foothold on the first rung of the development ladder' and added that he hoped 'many others will join us in playing a part in ridding the world of the silent, malevolent horror that is poverty'. Earlier this year, Mr.Hunterand his family visited slum-dwellers in Kenya and Mozambique and travelled with Mr.Clinton in South Africa and Lesotho. The 'CHDI' deal was signed by the two men when Mr.Clinton stopped in Scotland while flying from the USA to Asia last week. Mr.Clinton said:
'I commend Sir Tom Hunter and his foundation for this generous commitment toward the alleviation of poverty. This is precisely the kind of concrete commitment I hoped would arise from "The Clinton Global Initiative" and Tom has shown remarkable leadership.'
The 'CHDI' plans to carry out a regional pilot programme in the two chosen countries, funding improvements to education, health, infrastructure, agriculture and 'entrepreneurial support' where necessary. As part of the private sector-style approach, a business plan will be drawn up and 'key performance indicators' will be set from the start. Schemes which achieve those targets will then draw in further funds. 'Clinton joins tycoon's £55m battle against 'horror of poverty'', Ian Johnston, The Scotsman, 2005-09-15, Th Links: Network of Int. Development Orgs in Scotland Cross Party Group for International Development Department for International Development UN Millennium Development Goals World Bank International Development Association

2005-09-16

Intolerance & Money: Scottish Culture Management?

'The Scottish Executive' is likely to turn its back on 'Culture Scotland', the arts super-quango proposed in its 600_000_GBP policy review, according to those who recommended its creation. The singer Ms.Sheena Wellington, a leading member of 'The Cultural Commission', believes there is little appetite for the sweeping changes it recommended earlier this year. It proposed abolishing 'The Scottish Arts Council' and 'Scottish Screen' in favour of two new agencies -- 'Culture Scotland' to handle policy and 'The Culture Fund' to manage the cash. But Ms.Wellington said that 'The Scottish Executive' appeared focused on the commission's 'option three' -- a 'federation' of existing bodies.
'I suspect it means a rearranging of the status quo,' she said.
A parliamentary debate on the commission's findings is set for 2005-09-22. A Scottish Executive spokesman said it would be 'unfair and discourteous' to MSPs to comment ahead of the debate. The year-long commission won the backing of the arts world by calling for 100_million_GBP in extra spending, while embracing a hands-off approach to policy. But critics called its report muddled and far too long, with 100 overlapping recommendations and hundreds of pages. Ms.Wellington said that with more time it could have been better edited.
'It's less complicated than it looks,'
--she said. She added she had not talked to ministers about the proposals.
'You get the impression nobody is speaking to you.'
The case for extra cash was also looking more difficult, however. Finance chiefs have warned that 'The Scottish Executive' is facing the first substantial spending cuts since devolution. Last month, 'The Scottish Arts Council' warned theatre and arts groups of hard choices as it conducts its own 'strategic review' of spending aimed at finding an 'optimum' level of support for arts organisations. Ms.Ruth Ogston, the general manager of 'The 7:84 Theatre Company', said:
'The arts council warned if they get the same budget from "The Executive", they will cull a number of their existing clients. They cannot sustain their status quo on existing funding. We fear we would be in that danger category.'
Mr.Jack Mcconnell, the First Minister, paved the way for 'The Cultural Commission' two years ago in his St.Andrew's Day speech, pledging to put culture at the heart of Scottish life and government. The commission was set up by the former culture minister Mr.Frank McAveety, but poses a policy headache for his successor, Ms.Patricia Ferguson. A veteran observer of the arts in Scotland said:
'"The Executive" is in quite a spot of difficulty, or at least the culture minister is. The problem is that they set out a very ambitious agenda. 'It's one thing to say they don't like the structures proposed, but what are they going to do? Is the ambition going to be dropped? And if it's not, how is it going to be delivered?'
Cultural proposals 'The Cultural Commission', with eight board members and a 600_000_GBP budget, met for a year. Its recommendations will be debated in 'The Scottish Parliament' on 2005-09-22. It made a total of 124 recommendations, including: cultural rights for Scottish citizens; a deputy minister for culture; and an extra 100_million_GBP in funding for the arts, with a target of 1 per cent of 'The Scottish Executive's' budget; and a new infrastructure centred on a policy agency, 'Culture Scotland' and a funding body, 'The Culture Fund'. 'Executive set to reject arts super-quango ', Tim Cornwell, The Scotsman, 2005-09-15, Th

Money & Intolerance: Store cards are a Rip Off!

Store card companies are overcharging customers by up to 100_million_GBP/year by hitting them with unacceptably high interest rates, according to the competition watchdog. 'The Competition Commission' ('The CC') says interest rates are 10 per cent to 20 per cent higher than they would be if they reflected the providers' costs. Eleven major store cards, including 'MK One' and 'USC', had an annual percentage rate (APR) of 30.9 per cent, while another 26 stores, including 'BHS', 'Debenhams' and 'Top Shop' charge 29.9 per cent. 'The CC' found that many consumers were unaware of exactly what they were signing up for. It called on the companies to put warning notices on card statements to draw attention to the high interest rates they are charging, as well as information on the cost of any related insurance they have sold. 'The CC's' deputy Chairman, Mr.Christopher Clarke, said there is little competitive pressure between retailers, resulting in rates clustering at a high level.
'Retailers' primary concern is to avoid having an APR on their store card which is above those of other store cards,' he said. 'At the same time, consumers' sensitivity to APR levels and other charges is low. 'Taken together, this results in store card holders who take up credit, and associated insurance, paying more than they would in a fully competitive market.'
Among the other main remedies suggested by 'The CC' are ensuring that full information is always available on statements, that potential savings which could be made through paying by direct debit are well promoted, and that insurance elements are offered separately. Mr.Nick White, the head of personal finance at the price comparison service Uswitch.com, welcomed the findings of the inquiry and added that an official body like 'The CC' might be able to make improvements. A major part of the problem, he said, was that 58 of the 70 store cards on offer to consumers are provided by only four major store card issuers.
'It is hardly surprising, given that they have got used to such big revenue streams, that there is no downward pressure on the level of interest on store cards,' he said.
'In effect, they would be competing with themselves if they did compete on APRs.'
While paying off the bill at the end of the month is a means of enjoying the benefits of the store card without any interest being applied, 'The CC' found more than half of all store cardholders (57 per cent) took on interest-bearing credit. But Mr.Stuart Glendinning, managing director of the personal finance advice website Moneysupermarket.com, said that a protectionist stance should not be adopted towards personal finance by government.
'There has never been as much competition in personal finance,' he said.
'It has never been easier to shop around and there has never been so much information about personal finance in newspapers and on the internet.'
Mr.Ashley Holmes, head of legal affairs at 'The Finance and Leasing Association', whose members include all the major store card providers, said APRs are reducing, and added:
'Store cards are still an attractive credit option to many consumers, since they enjoy the extra services and personalised discounts that come with the cards.'
THE WORST OFFENDERS The 11 stores offer store cards with an APR of 30.9 per cent are:
  • Baronjon
  • Brantano
  • Designer Room
  • Faith Card
  • Icon
  • JJB Sports
  • MK One
  • Pilot
  • Quiz
  • TJ Hughes
  • USC
'Store card holders overcharged by £100m ', MICHAEL BLACKLEY, The Scotsman, 2005-09-15, Th

2005-09-12

Intolerance: Drink or Café Culture for Scotland?

Once Presbyterian, Glasgow is rapidly becoming the UK's 24-hour party city as liberal licensing chiefs 'wave through' dozens of applications for late-night drinking. The city has relaxed its rules on bar opening times, allowing dozens of new 'hybrid bars' -- which provide dance floors and DJs -- to stay open alongside night clubs until 03:00. The move is aimed at creating a café society in the city for people who do not want to queue to get into a club. Police say there has been no increase in violence. But some licensees now warn that increased 'binge drinking' will be the inevitable result. They say the increased number of bars competing with clubs for late night custom has led to a price war in which premises are forced to offer ever cheaper alcohol in order to compete. Whatever the outcome, Glasgow's reforms are a sign of 'things to come' once new licensing laws are introduced across Scotland in three years' time. The new moves will do away with the distinction between pubs and clubs, and give local licensing boards complete freedom to set closing times for both. Glasgow has anticipated the reforms by adopting a fresh approach to 'entertainment licences' which allow premises to stay open after midnight. Previously, all pubs closed at 01:00 at the very latest, with night clubs remaining open until 03:00. The city is now allowing more bars to stay open longer by granting them entertainment licences on the basis that they meet conditions, such as supplying a dance floor or providing music. The bars include venues such as 'Corinthian', 'Tiger Tiger' and 'Campus'. There were 162 entertainment licences in Glasgow at the end of 2004, a 12 per cent increase from two years previously. By contrast, in other Scottish cities, the figure has either stayed the same or fallen. Councillor Mr.Gordon Macdiarmid, convener of Glasgow City's licensing board, said:
'We have done surveys of tourists who said that one of the problems was that late at night, there were only discos to go to. 'That's fine if you are 18 to 30, but what happens if you don't want to go to a club or just sit in your hotel room? 'What we would all like to see is a move to a more continental style,' he added.
Police support the moves and say they have not led to any increase in drink-fuelled violence on the streets. While alcohol-related admissions to A&E departments at the weekend remain extremely high, physicians say they have not increased as a result of the new liberal laws.
'The proportion of people coming into A&E at weekends due to drunkenness is already so high that it would be hard to notice any difference,' said one consultant.
But local MSPs oppose the moves and are now urging ministers to study the situation in Glasgow, fearing that far from reducing 'binge drinking', as planned, the laws will create the conditions for even heavier excesses. Scotland's alcohol problem is believed to cost the economy the equivalent of 1_100_million_GBP/year in lost productivity, and in the cost to hospitals and the justice system. One recent survey found that 59 per cent of 15-year-olds drink 'alcopops'. Young people aged between 16 and 24 drink more than in any other age group. Critics are now warning that the new liberal regime in Glasgow has already led to a 'free-for-all', with far too may bars and clubs competing for late-night business, by dropping their prices. Mr.Donald Macleod, the owner of the city's 'Garage', 'Cube' and 'Tunnel' nightclubs, said:
'Take a walk down Sauchiehall Street; you see drink offer after drink offer with people begging to get people in the doors. Do you think they would be doing that if the bars were full?'
'I don't think Scotland is near a café society; we have a huge drinking culture and if we keep opening bars all we are doing is making the problem worse.
'We should be operating far stricter conditions for bars opening after the hours of midnight.'
Licensees also warn that, forced to compete with 'hybrid' bars, fewer will invest in both their premises and their security measures. Thus, they warn, the standards of clubs will decline. Mr.Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, which represents licensees across the country, said:
'Quality will suffer. There will be fewer CCTV cameras around venues. People who have invested 2_million_GBP or 3_million_GBP in a nightclub are not going to bother after this.'
Mr.Waterson added that Glasgow's policy was the sign of things to come once the new licensing laws were introduced. He said:
'What worries us is that the massive over-provision will get worse. It will make the problems we are having with binge drinking even more of an issue.'
Glasgow Labour MSP Ms.Pauline Mcneill has now taken Glasgow's case to ministers, demanding that the proposed new licensing laws can be changed.
'This has the potential to undermine the basic principles of the new Act, which has a stated purpose to reduce binge drinking.
'The nub of my concern is that if you go to this new licensing system, then there are more pubs that will apply for the same licences as clubs.' 'The clubs who are trying to protect their businesses in order to compete will start either a price war on drinks or they will open at all times of the day.
'I can see the potential for there to be competition which will undermine the whole Act,' she added.
However, Mr.Macdiarmid insisted that the entertainment licences were given responsibly. He pointed to one bar -- 'Lloyd's' -- which had had its application for an entertainment licence turned down as proof that the city was not running a free-for-all. Mr.Macdiarmid added that, in a city centre, the concerns of local residents did not figure so highly because few people lived nearby.
'These bars go through the normal process and if there isn't an objection or a reason why they should not be granted it then they get it granted.'
He also insisted that there was no evidence of over-provision:
'I have asked people how many come in and I have been given numbers from 30-90_000 people.
'If we had said that there was over-provision, then there would have been no bars like 'Blue' or 'Frankenstein' which have come in and spent large sums of money and brought jobs into the city.' 'The trade wants a protectionist scheme similar to what happens in Ireland. But we have to act in the public interest. I don't think there is any evidence to change our view that there is no over-provision.'
Glasgow's liberal stance is in contrast to Edinburgh, where the licensing board has concluded that the city has already reached saturation point. A spokesman for Edinburgh said:
'The policy recommends that in certain areas identified as having over provision, such as the Grassmarket and Cowgate, that no further licences are granted unless they replace an existing licence or there are special circumstances. While the Board considers every application on its merits, any application in these areas will be considered against the background of recognised over-provision.'
In Aberdeen, Councillor Mr.Ron Clark, convener of the city's licensing board, said he was currently rejecting two applications a week from pubs seeking to extend their licences. The city only has a few nightclubs open until 3am and pubs cannot open beyond 01:00 at the weekend without obtaining an extension to their licence for special functions. He said:
'We don't have an issue with over-provision of late-night licences. We will not grant an extension if there is no proper justification or if police raise any concerns,' said Mr.Clark.
The issue will now be handed over to ministers as they prepare 'The Licensing Bill', which is likely to be enacted in 2008-09. As well as scrapping different forms of licences, it will also ban 'happy-hour' promotions. Bars will have to hold prices for at least 48 hours to discourage them from irresponsible offers.
24-hour party people drink to 'hybrid' bars It is shortly after 22:00 and Gillian's 'leaving party' is in full swing. The 27-year-old's colleagues are determined to give her a stylish farewell from an accountancy firm in Scotland's largest city. Despite the proliferation of pubs, clubs and bars across Glasgow, the group have settled in 'Tiger Tiger', a popular hybrid bar, club and restaurant which opened three years ago. It is the first visit by the small group of office workers to the three-floor complex in Glassford Street. But they are clearly impressed with the laughter-filled Friday night atmosphere and, more importantly, its 03:00 licence. 'Tiger Tiger' is carefully targeted and seems to have hit its mark as a stylish late-night venue where people can enjoy drinks, dinner and a dance all in one location. The glass-panelled front provides a window on to a buzzing bar, thronging with revellers. Gillian, from Paisley, Renfrewshire, said she and her friends had remained in town after finishing her last day of work. She said:
'It is not often that I make a night of it in Glasgow but this is a special occasion. When we do come through we tend to hop from one place to another. 'However, we've only been to another couple of places before this and staying on for a bit of dancing. It used to be the case that staying in one place was boring but we are having a great time just where we are.'
Elsewhere in the eight-bar venue, Mr.Jack Tolland, 30, said he visited 'Tiger Tiger' about twice a month:
'Trends come and go but I think this type of place is here too stay. The last thing you want to be doing on a night out is keep wandering about deciding on where to go next.'
Towards the historic heart of George Square, business was brisk at another pioneer of hybrid venues. 'Corinthian's' clientele is a mixture of office suits and well-dressed party-goers. Those gathering there said the concept of the late night, one-venue weekend had helped secure the city's reputation for partying, particularly among visitors and tourists. One 33-year-old office worker said:
'Glasgow is well known for liking to party, and places like this keep us at the front of the pack. It is good for those living here and of course those visiting. I had some friends over from Canada a few months ago and they were really impressed by what was on offer.'
As midnight passed, revellers in other bars and pubs across the city began spilling out on the street in search of a nightclub to continue their weekend. Large crowds formed at 'Campus', a relatively new arrival on the hybrid scene. Sitting toward the Charing Cross end of the city's famous Sauchiehall Street, the large glass-fronted complex appeared to appeal to a younger set of revellers and could perhaps attract student customers away from other nearby bars. One reveller, James, 25, said:
'It is good to have somewhere else to go. Bars are cropping up all the time but it is better to know there is a place handy where you can just stay on if you feel like it.'
'Birth of cafe society or late night booze bonanza?', Eddie Barnes & Tom Martin, The Scotsman, 2005-09-11, Su Links: Alcohol Focus Scotland Health Education Board for Scotland Alcohol Concern Alcohol Information Scotland