Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Beauty Of Scotland

Happy Hour In The Highlands

A Time Remembered

Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland, named after Irish Saint, Bishop Donan, is recognised as one of the most famous castles around the world and is one of the most visited castles in the Scottish Highlands.

Strategically located on an island at the point where three great sea lochs meet it was first inhabited around the 6th century by the Picts.  Since then, at least four different versions of the castle have been built and re-built as the feudal history of Scotland unfolded through the centuries. 

The first fortified castle was built in the mid 13th century and stood guard over the lands of Kintail.  At this time, the area was at the boundary of the Norse-Celtic Lordship of the Isles and the Earldom of Ross.  

In 1539 Iain Dubh Matheson, chief of the Clan Matheson, died whilst defending the castle against the Clan Macdonald of Sleat on behalf of Clan Macrae and Clan Mackenzie.

Supporters of the exiled James Stewart, the "Old Pretender", sought new support from Spain and led to the Jacobite uprising of 1715. An advance party of 300 Spanish soldiers arrived in Loch Duich in April 1719, and occupied Eilean Donan Castle. The expected uprising of Highlanders did not occur, and the main Spanish invasion force never arrived.

At the beginning of May, the Royal Navy sent ships to the area. Early in the morning on Sunday 10 May, HMS Worcester, HMS Flamborough, and HMS Enterprise anchored off Eilean Donan and sent a boat ashore under a flag of truce to negotiate. When the Spanish soldiers in the castle fired at the boat, it was recalled and all three ships opened fire on the castle for an hour or more. The next day the bombardment continued while a landing party was prepared.

In the evening under the cover of an intense cannonade, the ships' boats went ashore and captured the castle against little resistance. According to Worcester's log, in the castle they found "an Irishman, a captain, a Spanish lieutenant, a sergeant, one Scots rebel and 39 Spanish soldiers, 343 barrels of powder and 52 barrels of musquet shot".

The naval force spent the next two days demolishing the castle, which took 27 barrels of gunpowder. The Spanish prisoners were put on board Flamborough and taken to Edinburgh.  The remaining Spanish troops were defeated on 10 June at the Battle of Glen Shiel. 

Eilean Donan lay in ruins for the best part of 200 years until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and proceeded to restore the castle to its former glory. After 20 years of toil and labour the castle was re-opened in 1932.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Path To Scottish Independence

The debate on Scottish independence will begin this week as Holyrood and Westminster prepare to sign an agreement on the holding of a 2014 referendum.  The Prime Minister is expected to sign a deal with Scotland's First Minister tomorrow granting the Scottish Parliament the power to stage the historic vote.

David Cameron will meet Alex Salmond in Edinburgh following months of negotiations about the ballot, expected to be held in autumn 2014.  Salmond's deputy Nicola Sturgeon said the agreement would allow opposing campaigners to focus on the issues at the heart of the debate.

Sturgeon told Sky News: "The good thing about getting the process issues out of the way, which we'll do tomorrow, is that we can get on to that substantive debate about why Scotland would be better as an independent country."

The ballot is likely to be limited to a single Yes-No option.  Suggestions of a second question on further devolution, short of independence, were firmly opposed by the UK Government.

The referendum is expected to be open to 16 and 17-year-olds as supported by the Nationalists.
"If you consider issues over the timing, the question, the franchise, all issues which at the start of the year David Cameron was making noises about...all of these things will now be determined by the Scottish Parliament. I think that is a very good outcome," Sturgeon told the Murnaghan show.  "Over the next couple of years we will set out all of the answers to the questions people rightly are asking about independence.  We will make it abundantly clear what people will be voting for if they vote 'yes'.  But of course the responsibility also lies with those advocating a 'no' vote to say what voting no would mean.  As far as I can see it would mean the continued dismantling of our welfare state and the continued squandering of Scotland's resources."
Moore said the agreement would produce a referendum that would be "legal, fair and decisive".

The Liberal Democrat told BBC One's Sunday Politics show: "I think it's a good agreement. I believe it will now allow us to put up in lights the big issues about the big debate...on what is best for Scotland.
"I believe that when we look at the economy, at defence, at our place in the world, on all these big issues people across Scotland will continue to support Scotland being in the United Kingdom.  Independence is about Scotland leaving the UK, becoming a separate state, taking on all the burdens and risks that go with that and losing the benefits and opportunities that we have as part of the UK.  Any detail about who is voting and who isn't has to be in the referendum bill that the Scottish Government will put to the parliament in due course.  As a Liberal Democrat I don't have a problem with 16 and 17-year-olds being involved in elections or referenda.  I accept that at a Westminster level there's no consensus and you'd need that to be able to move on."

Scotland Rugby Shirtless

Do You Have The Balls

Sean Maher Shirtless

Out and Proud Gay Actor Sean Maher

Kilt Up

Calm Before The Storm

Monday, October 8, 2012

Men Of Rugby - Male Sexuality

By Martien Weber 

What do images of hard-bodied muscle hunks have to do with the disappearance of homophobia? No, I have not gone bonkers. I have just spent a weekend talking to six adorable straight athletes about homophobia, homo-erotica, homosexuality, and rugby, which is enough to drive any self-disrespecting queer mad. 

It was wonderful and insightful, and there was nothing going on at all in the showers (that I know of). So what did we conclude after 48 hours of male bonding and philosophizing about the state of the world?

We found that being a bloke in a 21st-century Western society is rather like being at Oxford in pre-war England. Traditional "male" pursuits happen in video games, Africa, and Afghanistan, while at college everyone's speaking in funny voices and wants to sleep with Sebastian. Too many literary allusions? Well, here it is in plain English: The male cults of fascism that dominated the early 20th century have given way to a "feminization." "Feminine" values such as showing emotions, caring about others, and peaceful conflict resolution have become dominant traits of the West, whereas the traditionally "male" values of self-sufficiency, a stiff upper lip, and war mongering are now playing the role of the enemy; they exist primarily in societies that the West is actually or potentially at war with (the Arab world, Iran, etc., take your pick). Members of societies espousing these values are termed "traditionalist," "retrograde," "old-fashioned," or "zealous"; men who talk, touch, and tickle are termed "modern," "intelligent," and "progressive."

We now have the first generation of men who do not learn later in life that their male traits are undesirable in a modern "dialog society" but know that from the very beginning. We have male sex symbols and male beauty pageants, and everyone with abs and a full set of teeth has done porn. Heteros embrace and kiss, half the guys I meet are bisexual anyway, and admitting to a bit of male fondling on the side seems to be de rigueur in trendy pubs. The straight members of the English rugby team who were filmed kissing each other intimately shrugged it off with a cool "so wha'?" They are an entirely new generation of men, "feminized" from the womb on and thus making a wonderful mockery of the distinction between "male" and "female" traits in the first place. 

At the same time, the "feminization" process has allowed the male body to be fetishized in a way that was formerly limited to clandestine gay words. Images of muscle hunks are now ubiquitous, we concluded, not because gays are more accepted but because a more "feminine" world can cope with the stylized fetish of the hard male body. In other words, whereas at the beginning of the last century, we lived in "male" worlds, suffered "male" wars, and idolized soft-singing women, we now live in a "feminine" world, in which dialog, joint dish washing, and equality are the norm. So the muscled firefighter or the French rugby hunks from the Dieux du Stade calendar become the fetish that our soft and flabby but essentially peaceful world lacks. 

I have always wanted to know what straight dudes think about the Dieux du Stade calendar. I know what I am thinking when I look at them, and I know what my Swiss friend Sylvia thinks: "I'd do him... and him... oh, yes, him, definitely. And him. Oh, wait, I've done him!" But what effect does erotic (homoerotic? ) imagery have on the straight male? The answers will surprise you. 

All my test rabbits agreed that there were certain images of male bodies that were erotic. They agreed that some men are attractive, that it would be acceptable and even desirable to touch such a man, feel his muscles, delight in the beauty of the human body. Frank admitted that he had a fetish for powerful partners; he enjoys the fact that his girlfriend is taller and heavier than he is, and he loves to actually feel the powerful body of a rugby player come down on him. I did not try to get any of them to commit to a particular sex act, but we did rate body parts according to homoerotic desirability by the straight male: facial features, chins, necks, strong arms, and ripped abs. All six would like to touch (caress) another guy's abs or biceps, four of them his legs, two of them his buttocks. None was after his dick, understandably. All six agreed to kiss a hot rugby player. (Note to self: Learn to play rugby.)

Curiously, all six were a little annoyed by the way gay men objectify male athletes. We stand accused of only seeing the body and not the achievement of the man. Other than that, it's quite all right for gay men to watch rugby from a slightly different angle, and all six agreed that more athletes should come out of the closet; it would not reduce the attractiveness of the sport at all, or of any sport. Agreement there. 

As for the reasons that straight males of today can admit to erotic fascination with the male body, whereas any such talk 100 years ago would have been almost certainly ridiculed? These days, you don't have to be the tough guy anymore. It's much more liberating to be just a human being first and a man second. There are certain expectations of a "male" role (toughness, resilience, etc.) that ruled male behavior for centuries and are now gone. Men who are able to adore or appreciate another male body without hangups, and, more importantly, who are able to talk about it openly, are less likely to start wars. It is "male" societies that create the problems of this world. False pride, priggishness, the focus on power relationships -- these are all "male" traits that are rightfully left behind.

The final frontier, then: gay sex, gay partners, gay stuff. Why did David buy Benedetto Casanova and bring it to the seminar? Mostly because he was interested in the time -- the 18th century, and Italy. He decided to ignore the gay bits in the book and focus on the historical aspect. "Ultimately, I found that I can enjoy the descriptions of gay sex, too," he said. "It may not be my cup of tea, but you know, it's just sex, and it kind of works the same way, minus the breasts. It wasn't too bad."

What did the others think of queerness? Not much, really. Flippancy or outrageous dress did not bother them, nor did two men kissing on the bus. They only thing they agreed on hating was gays who shove it in your face all the time, who have no other subjects to talk about than gay stuff. 

I understand, guys, so let's talk rugby instead. Enough queer stuff. England-Wales weren't half bad, ay? Smashing game. Ooh, and ah do fancy that Owen bloke. Inne looking brave in them tights?! Pwoah!

Dolphins At Play

Ben Cohen - It Gets Better

It Gets Better From Danny Boy Ireland

Stop The Hate - Remembering Matthew Shepard

Fourteen years ago, in a field in Wyoming, the discovery of a beaten, almost dead Matthew Shepard would change many lives.  Aaron Kriefels was out for a bike ride that sunny morning when he thought he saw a scarecrow against a fence post.  What Aaron had discovered was the 21 year-old Matthew Shepard, clinging to life.

Matthew held on for five more days and as his parents held his hand and prayed, Matthew slipped away quietly on October 12, 1998.  Matthew was dead, but a movement, a cause, a cry for justice and equality was born. 

Matthews story has been told in the Laramie Project play, three films and a documentary and his mother Judy, God bless her, continues to work endlessly to protect gay and lesbian children.  She has created the Matthew Shepard Foundation, authored a book The Meaning of Matthew and on October 22, 2009, the US Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr hate crimes Prevention Act. 

Homophobia and hate still exist, there is still a need for It Gets Better videos and gay rights are still an election year issue.  Times are changing, but the struggle continues.


Love standing on deck in the mornings watching the first rays of light returning to my part of the world.  The cold air, the smell of the sea, and all around quiet except for the soft sound of the waves.  Peaceful.