The Orange Order is an institution which I have not had much time for in the past. Its ill-advised and dangerous antics over Drumcree; its insistence in marching where it was not wanted, and its attempts to wash its hands of any responsibility when violence ensued lost it members, never mind sympathy from the wider community.
But it is an institution which is changing. It is attempting to redefine its image and to make its main celebration at the Twelfth more of a tourist attraction than a sectarian coat-trailing exercise.
It will take a long time to win over its critics, never mind its opponents, but it deserves credit for its efforts to modernise. And it certainly deserves support against the concerted campaign of arson aimed at Orange halls. Almost 30 have been attacked in the past year, the highest number since 1997.
Three halls have been destroyed and four have suffered severe damage.
That is an intolerable situation. Whatever anyone may think of the Orange Order, it has the right to exist free from attack by extremists. In some rural areas Orange halls are also community facilities where no others exist. An attack on those halls is an attack on the whole local community. Dissident republicans, or even extreme loyalists, are thought to be behind the attacks. It would suit either to stir up sectarian feelings and place a fresh strain on the new political arrangements at Stormont.
There could be no better example of the new political dispensation than the call by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams for an end to the attacks and the urging of SDLP leader Mark Durkan for the Government to pay compensation promptly to the Order for damage caused to its halls.
Neither of these men could be seen as natural allies of the Orange Order - nor, indeed, would the Order seek to be associated with them. Yet they were simply articulating how things have changed in Northern Ireland.
Any unlawful attack on a lawful institution - Orange Hall, churches, GAA facilities - is, by extension, an attack on the whole law-abiding community. We have come too far, at far too great a cost, to be plunged back into turmoil because of the actions of extremists who cannot accept that times have changed utterly.
Anyone with information about attacks on Orange halls or other public facilities should pass it on to the PSNI. At present only about 1% of such cases are solved. That leads to resentment and a siege mentality, with the victims of the attacks feeling that no one cares about their plight or will do anything constructive to prevent further attacks.
Indeed the law adds to the resentment of the Orange Order and other institutions which have been attacked. They have to get a certificate from the Chief Constable saying that any attack was carried out by an organisation or at least three individuals.
This is an unnecessary piece of red tape. Any lawful organisation which has its facilities wilfully damaged should be eligible for compensation and that should be paid out promptly to enable the facilities to be put back into use as quickly as possible. Today Orange Order leaders will meet the Secretary of State on the issue. He should assure them that the police and the Government will do everything possible to address their concerns and to protect their property. Failing that, the police will make every effort to apprehend the arsonists.
It is astonishing that former bitter opponents of the Orange Order can come out in open support of it, but that the Government and police, so far, have been able to do little to help it in the face of sustained attack from extremists.
Sir David's lump of coal to Ulster's businesses
It may be Christmas and Sir David Varney may be bearded, but it was a case of 'Bah humbug' rather than festive cheer this week when he unveiled his review into taxation in Northern Ireland.
The former Treasury mandarin, as widely expected, ruled out cutting corporation tax to 12.5% to bring the rate into line with that in the Republic. It was a decision which met with approval from Mr Prudence himself, the Prime Minister, who didn't want Northern Ireland to get any special treatment lest it would lead to calls from the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales for a similar cut.
Sir David's reasons for ruling out a corporation tax rate cut smack slightly of desperation. He claimed that move would cost almost £300m a year in lost tax receipts with little chance of the money being recouped. That has not been the experience in the Republic where the influx of new businesses attracted by the lower corporation tax rate actually increased the government's take in the longer term.
Another example is Egypt. Two years ago the government there implemented major tax reforms which included reducing the corporate income tax rate by almost half. This has increased the government's tax base and revenues.
Sir David also said there's no evidence a tax rate cut would bring in foreign investment. Yet, paradoxically, he argued introducing the lower rate here would risk displacing existing business from other UK regions. If it would prove attractive to existing British companies, luring them to the province, why would it not prove equally attractive to US or other foreign investors?
It should also be borne in mind that increased investment would lead to further employment in the province, producing more tax receipts for the government and - importantly in a province which has a high benefits uptake - reduce spending on benefits.
Sir David is now to undertake another review on how to create new investment opportunities here. I am agog with apathy.
Salma's so heavenly ...
Faith is a wonderful thing. Witness the experience of actress Salma Hayek. As a young girl she was far from the curvy siren that she is today. In her desire for an hourglass figure she turned to the power of prayer. She says her boobs got bigger after she placed her hands in Holy Water and prayed to God to increase her bust size. It is a far cry from the normal parable but it convinces me of a higher power.
God certainly works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. Makes you wonder if Linford Christie is also a Catholic?
Child's play a winner
What do you think of when you hear the term 'scientist'?
To me it conjures up the image of an intellectual giant, slaving away over a hot test-tube to make the world a better place.
It was an image which received a severe dent this week when the New Scientist magazine unveiled the latest scientific breakthrough - how to win at that old playground game - stone, paper, scissors.
You must remember how it goes - two players make quickfire hand gestures choosing one of stone, paper or scissors.
Scissors cut paper; paper wraps stone and stone blunts scissors.
The New Scientist suggested the best ways of winning the game.
One method is the double bluff - tell your opponent what you are going to do and then do it.
They will never believe you.
Alternatively, you should go for the move that would have beaten your opponent the previous move.
Players, subconsciously, tend to try to beat their own previous move. If, for example, they had played scissors they are likely to go for stone. You can win by going for paper.
But, before you lose the will to live, ponder this. The game was used by a Japanese art collector to pick an auction house to sell his collection. Christie's and Sotherby's were asked to play the game to win the contract. Christie's went straight to an expert - not a scientist, but the 11-year-old daughter of one of its directors - who suggested they opt for scissors.
Their rivals went for paper and Christie's clinched the £10m deal.
Sometimes science is just child's play really.