Thursday, 24 May 2012

Holiday Time

The Monk and Mausi are having a few days by the sea in Denmark. The North Sea is still a tad cold for swimming - at least for the Monk - but they expect a refreshing break walking the beaches and enjoying the salt breeze. They're not sure of the internet availability, so the Blog will be a little sparse for the next week or so.

Hopefully the Monk (or Mausi) will get lots of pictures and they will share these on their return.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Just some sharp remarks ...

Got this from a friend and thought it worth sharing here: -


1. The nicest thing about the future is . . . that it always starts tomorrow.

2. Money will buy a fine dog, but only kindness will make him wag his tail.

3. If you don't have a sense of humor, you probably don't have any sense at all.

4. Seat belts are not as confining as wheelchairs.

5. A good time to keep your mouth shut is when you're in deep water.

6. How come it takes so little time for a child who is afraid of the dark to become a teenager who wants to stay out all night?

7. Business conventions are important . . . because they demonstrate how many people a company can operate without.

8. Why is it that at class reunions you feel younger than everyone else looks?

9. Scratch a cat . . . and you will have a permanent job.

10. No one has more driving ambition than the teenage boy who wants to buy a car.

11. There are no new sins; the old ones just get more publicity.

12. There are worse things than getting a call for a wrong number at 4 a.m. - like, it could be the right number.

13. No one ever says "It's only a game" when their team is winning.

14. I've reached the age where 'happy hour' is a nap.

15. Be careful about reading the fine print. . . . there's no way you're going to like it.

16. The trouble with bucket seats is that not everybody has the same size bucket.

17. Do you realize that, in about 40 years, we'll have thousands of old ladies running around with tattoos? (And rap music will be the Golden Oldies!)

18. Money can't buy happiness -- but somehow it's more comfortable to cry in a Mercedes than in an Austin.

19. After 60, if you don't wake up aching in every joint, you're probably dead.

20. Always be yourself because the people that matter don't mind . . . . and the ones that mind don't matter.

21. Life isn't tied with a bow . . . . . . . . but it's still a gift.

and REMEMBER....


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Give a dog a bad name?

An article in The Spectator the Postulant shared a day or two ago, made the point that the press, politicians, and, of course, Joe Public, are vilifying those receiving "benefits" on the grounds these folk are "milking" the system. The author of the article makes the point that many disabled folk are now "targeted" as being the most visible recipients of the "benefits" the government hands out. The article goes on the argue that, just because about 3.4% of benefit claimants are "milking the system" is no reason to vilify and penalise all recipients.

In that, I would have to agree. The problem is that it is very difficult, now, to sort the wheat from the chafe, and the utter incompetence of the Bureaucrats of Whitehall to actually deal with the abusers, makes it inevitable that ALL those on "benefit" are now regarded with suspicion. That is, in itself, a tragedy, compounded by the complicity ofthe politicians of all flavours who have, over the years, gold plated certain aspects in the name of "redistribution" or the "war on poverty." Thus, those on benefit who have multiple children can do so in the knowledge that each new addition to the "family" will attract further handouts from the state. And, as the "family" grows, the need to be rehoused - at the taxpayer's expense - becomes, in the words of Whitehall, a "statutory duty" for the Social Services, Housing Authority and several other Local Government and Central Government agencies ... It all adds up and the cost of administration is something no one seems to look at or add in when talking about "benefit."

Currently the government is talking, yet again, about cutting back the "benefit" system, and, as ever with Whitehall, they are not targeting the abusers, but the "soft" targets, the geniunely needy. I'm talking of the aged, the genuinely sick, the genuinely disabled and those in real need. As yet I have not seen anything about cutting back on the huge amounts handed out to "asylum seekers" and other "refugees" who, if the Media is correct, receive more than any pensioner or any of those in receipt of disability benefit. I suppose to do so would be seen as "targeting the underprivileged" or "institutional racism." The fact is that the man wanted in Jordan and the US on terrorism charges, and who has just managed to drag out a court case or two to prevent extradition (he lost, thankfully) costing the taxpayers several millions in £s, is receiving benefits totalling £43,000 a year. That's roughly one and a half times the average national wage.

The politicians and the left wing media are right to be concerned about the public anger over people like Abu Qatada and others. They are very right to be alarmed and condemnatory of the sort of action which sees families on benefit targeted by arsonists and chidlren killed, but they must look at the system they have created to see the source of that anger. In times when pensioners are struggling to make ends meet (and still paying tax!), when those in work are struggling to pay the bills and all they see is rising taxes, vanishing pension funds, non-existent services from government agencies and rising costs - to expect them to sit back and be happy about having to make sacrifices while the 3.4% live the life of Reilly without lifting a finger, is folly.

It is time to consider carefully what and how the taxpayers money is spent on and handed out for. My personal targets would be to cap certain benefits, freeze the upper civil service pay and Parliament's, provide the most basic support for the likes of Qatada and no more and to withdraw the lucrative "legal aid" being exploited by some in the legal profession and the abusers of "Human Rights" legislation, the benefit system and our societal norms.

The "benefit" system was set up to provide a safety net, not to provide a permanent and lucrative alternative to working for the 3.4% The Spectator says is the figure abusing it. Frankly, I'm not convinced by their numbers, since I think it excludes those with comparatively minor disabilities (the list of "disabilities" is extremely large and actually does belittle the truly disabled by including things that inconvenience a person, but don't prevent them living an otherwise full life) and therefore suggests that only those who are "work shy" are included.

In the meantime, the dishonesty in Whitehall and Westminster, compounded by the Media, is giving ALL those who receive benefit a bad name. The consequences are predictable - and likely to be tragic.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

One thousand posts ...

I started blogging in 2003, and the blog has migrated twice. At first it was hosted at "" and then at "" as "The Gray Monk." So, while this is the 1,000th post on this site, it is just a milestone for the Blog's presence on

In the time I've been blogging there have been a lot of changes and not a few major events to mark or comment upon. To be honest, I'm surprised, as I was quite hesitant about even starting a blog, doubting I could find very much to say or even to comment on. I was wrong on that second one, and as for the first, I have to say it does become addictive.

I've made some good friends through the blog as well, again not what I would have expected to do while blogging, initially about things at work, about faith and about family. I've posted things here about my hobbies, my writing and it's been a vehicle for sharing some small triumphs and even tragedies. All in all, its quite therapeutic and more than a little cathartic on occasion.

Saturday, 19 May 2012


The Monk and Mausi today celebrated and cemented their relationship in German Law at the Wehener Schloss. It has been a two year battle to get the paperwork required by German Marriage laws sorted out - the Monk having been previously married in South Africa, then divorced in the UK complicated things, not least because it proved impossible to get the South African authorities to supply the required documents - but, having finally succeeded, they've now done the deed.

Posting here will be a lttle light for the next week or so as they are taking a short break in Denmark to celebrate. Plenty of sea and sand on the North Sea coast - and hopefully a little sun as well.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Preparations ...

This morning the Monk fetched his youngest daughter and her partner from the airport, and now they're preparing for a large party for friends and family this evening.

The reason will become apparent tomorrow ...

Thursday, 17 May 2012

A little art ...

The Monk's mother was a very skilled artist, but, sadly, never had the opportunity to really make use of it. That said, she has left a number of drawings, sketches and paintings for the family. The picture below is one she did in pastels of an unusual bird, native to the Tsitsikama Forest. The Knysna Loerie is pretty close to its prehistoric ancestors and is a particularly beautiful bird. They make short gliding flights from tree to tree and are fruit and berry eaters.

The picture hangs in our stairwell, and the colours are very close to the live birds. They are green, with iridescent blue/green tails and trailing edges of their wings. The underside of the wing is a brilliant red.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Blockupation ...

The last few days have seen a tough battle through the German courts over plans by a Left-wing Group of protesters calling themselves "Blockupy" to occupy and blockade the European Central Bank and the financial centre of Frankfurt-am-Main. The city government brought the case against the protest movement on behalf of the citizens and small businesses of the city, and the court has, generally, accepted the arguments presented to them.

Among other things it has raised the issue of the protests against the "banks" being used to mask criminal activity. It has been arged that in these protests the organisers are unable to gurantee that there will not be an element of anarchists bent only on causing injury and damage. This was, in fact, supported this morning when the police moved in to clear an "occupy" camp - and the protesters had filled inflatable swimming pools with paint which they then used to splash all over the occupied space and the police. Under the law, throwing it at anyone or the police constitutes "common assault" so there should be some interesting charges brought there. Then there is the damage they've done to the property they occupied - criminal damage charges anyone?

The courts accept that there is a right to protest and to hold demonstrations. So do the city and the blockaded bankers, what no one except the protesters accepts, is that this confers upon protesters the right to damage property, intimidate workers, or prevenet access to premises on lawful business. Sensibly, the courts have ruled the protesters may hold demonstrations, but they may not engage in blockades, occupations or any form of intimidation or denial of lawful rights of those who are not in agreement with their ideology.

I suspect this may show a start of a change of attitude to the belief among the demonstrating mobs that "anything goes" in making their point. I, for one, will not hesitate to bring charges of assault against any twerp who blows a whistle loudly close to my ears. That is "common assault" - and there is case law to support me!

Demonstrators do have the right to make a protest. They do NOT have a right to deny me or anyone else the lawful access to my employment, any shop or premises I may have occasion to access in the exercise of my rights and privileges as a member of society. And they most definitely do not have a right to smash, deface, remove or destroy any property belonging to anyone else in the course of their protest.

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Toughmudder completed ...

The Monk is very proud of his youngest daughter and her team (Thanks Alli for the picture - obviously taken after hot showers and clean up!). They took on the Toughmudder challenge and completed it. If you're on FaceBook, take a look at the pictures the Toughmudder Organisers have uploaded and you'll have an inkling of what it entails. Twelve miles of tough obstacles over which the participants must run, climb, swing, crawl, swim and whatever else they need to do to complete the challenge.

You can get some idea from the picture below which comes from the Facebook page.

Definitely not one for the faint-hearted, the occasional jogger or anyone not prepared to put everything they have into getting to the end with their team.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Toughmudder ...

No, that isn't a bad attempt at dialectically spelling the word 'mother,' even though it is Mother's Day in the USA. The "Toughmudder" is probably a peculiarly British fund raising event for the charirty, Help for Heroes. It is a "team event" and the teams face the challenge of getting through a 12 mile long assault course, designed and built by the Royal Marines. They face getting through water, mud, obstacles and even barbed wire to complete the challenge - and bear in mind most of those doing it are NOT in the Armed Forces.

It is not for the faint hearted or the unfit. It is a tough challenge and it isn't one individuals should try, it does require a team to get through it. This is something the Royal Marines are very good at, they build teams, they work in teams and they train in teams. So when they design an assault course, it takes a team to beat it.

The Monk is extremely proud of the fact that his youngest daughter is a member of a team that has taken up this challenge. She and her team will be tackling this course today, Sunday, and hopefully will raise lots of money for the wounded and disabled soldiers, sailors and airmen the charity supports. Anyone wishing to add their support can use this link! Yes, there is still time!

Go Alli!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Two Minds ...

I've been reading the article in the New Scientist concerning the advantages of speaking a second language. Research now being done suggests that speaking more than one language changes the way we think, the way we tackle problems and face life in general. There are health benefits as well - being bilingual makes one less likely to suffer from some forms of Alzheimer's, for example. According to the research, speaking two languages enhances a persons cognitive ability, but this is really only the beginning. It also affects memory, with certain memories changing according to the language being spoken. Certain 'values and even a person's personality may change according to the language as well.

Educationists have argued about some aspects for years, with the "settled science" of the early 1900s "consensus" being that teaching a child a second language "confused the child a diminished the ability to learn properly." It was further argued that the child would have a lower IQ, not learn to speak either language properly and be an under achiever. It is this mindset which has probably entrenched some of the thinking about teaching other languages in schools even now, the children in the UK not starting a second language in state schools until they are 12. (Other research - not done in the UK - suggests the best age is at least 6 years earlier.)

I suspect the arguments over this research are just about to be launched. Personally, as I speak (and have done for most of my life) two and now three languages, I am convinced it has helped my development, both mentally and intellectually. Convincing the "educationists" in Whitehall, however, may be another matter ...

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Olympic Religion?

Watching the start of the Olympic run-up to the Games themselves, one could be forgiven for wondering at the ritualistic and religious overtones of the whole ceremony of lighting the "Olympic Torch" to be carried round the world until it eventually reaches London in July (or whenever!) and the Games commence. I suppose someone, somewhere, spent a lot of time researching costumes for the "Priestesses" assembled at the site of the Temple of Zeus on Mt Olympus. Possibly even spent a lot of time choreographing the whole thing, to recreate something we have only the sketchiest of ideas of - and most of that the invention of those ever creative gentlemen of the late 1800s.

Yes, I know, the "Games" are supposed to bring the worlds peoples together in "peace and harmony" or something. We're all supposed to sit glued to out television sets and oh and ah as our "champions" strive to run faster, jump higher or swim further, faster or whatever than anyone before them. But does that merit all this "mystical ritual?"

Am I really the only person who wonders about a society that rejects "religion" and wants to erase all mention of God from every public office and every public activity - but then spends vast amounts of money setting up ritualised events such as the lighting of the Olympic torch? It does rather seem to give the lie to the loudly asserted modern view that "religion" is unnecessary.

And before anyone accuses me of not being proud of the achievements of those who take part, let me be plain. I think the athletes deserve the praise and accolades they get, especially those who refrain from taking performance enhancing drugs. With the vast amounts of money being pumped into the Games, and the extremely lucrative offers the Gold Medalists will earn, the temptations must be enormous. All the more reason then, to praise those who don't fall for temptation.

Well, the 'torch' has left Mt Olympus and is now on its way. Let the ritualised worship of the Olympic Games begin. Yes, I shall watch, some events anyway, and yes, I will be proud of the athletes who do well - and those who don't. I will admire the rowers, sailers, runners and all the rest for their prowess, but I will also be hoping that everyone comes out of the end of this with their sense of proportion intact. The Olympic ideals were established in an age of amateur excellence, but since the introduction of vast amounts of money in sponsorships, corporate promotion and national pride, I fear the ideal of "It matters not whether we win or lose, what matters is to have taken part" has long since been shoved out of sight.

And that is a great pity.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Cut the Budget?

I read an article yesterday which suggests that our approach to many things is determined by which half of our brain we use to assess something and decide our response. They used people who have brain damage to one side or the other to make the assessments and found that people with a Left Brain tendency are more likely to respond to anything according to a laid down procedure or rules and are extremely resistant to change. Those with a Right Brain tendency are more likely to be risk takers, innovators and adventurers. So what does this tell us about the current state of the economy and the response to the deep and painful budget cuts every government in the west, if not the world, is having to make?

From the response of the Unions, particularly those representing the Civil Service, I'd say they must fall into the "Left Brain" syndrome category. Their constant cry is, "No change; no cuts; no rationalisation." Mind you, if the study is an accurate one, and I have no reason to suspect that it isn't, then the ideal civil servant is someone with a complete disconnect from their "Right Brain" so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by their response.

What does strike me as disturbing in the wave of demonstrations and strikes against any reductions in any government budget is the apparent complete disconnect from the reality of economics. Surely most of those waving placards, marching on various parliaments or "block-u-ppying" bank premises, must be able to do a bit of figuring for themselves? They can't all be complete idiots unable to see that no government is able to simply "manufacture more money" at will? Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his successor, James Callaghan, tried it in the UK, and so have various other governments of similar socialistic persuasion. The result is always the same - a devalued and debased currency, massive business failure and an economic mess it takes years to repair.

The politicians, of course, point the finger of blame at the "bankers" for the present crisis, but I don't believe they are looking at the right scapegoat. Mind you, a politician accepting the blame for their own actions and decisions is even less likely than them accepting a pay cut or a re-jigging of their very generous salaries and pensions. The mess in the UK economy lies squarely with Gordon Brown, Labour ideology and the Treasury. The UK is heavily overtaxed, and Brown knew it, so he borrowed to cover the gap between his tax revenue (and 'National Insurance' is just another 'personal' tax levied on individuals and businesses) and the Treasury obligingly churned out "growth" figures that were as fictitious as the stories of Baron Munchausen's exploits. The worst part is that they knew it, but talked it up anyway.

What did Brown spend the money on? He claims "growth" but I don't think any real economist would agree that expanding the Civil and other "Public" Services by some 20% is really "growth" in economic terms. For one thing none of these "jobs" is actually "productive" in that they produce any "good" that can be sold to someone else in return for hard cash. All a civil service "job" does is recycle tax money. My economics lecturers taught us that supply rises to meet demand, not demand to meet supply, yet we live in a situation where there is a clear oversupply in some sectors - but any attempt to reduce it is met with resistance. After all, quite a few of the proposals will save money won't actually have a huge impact on individuals and will very likely help in the longer term. Like the proposed changes to the civil service pensions scheme.

The piece I read this morning of Civil Service Unions objecting to changes to their pensions, one spokesman claiming that if taxes have to rise to pay for it ... THAT is a part of the problem, the Unions see everyone else's income as being theirs to share. It was Gordon Brown's tax changes that destroyed just about every "private" pension in the UK and is still bleeding them dry, why should the Civil Servants be immune? A major part of that problem is that Whitehall is riddled with Departments duplicating the work and remits of others - but again, that is not something anyone seems to be addressing. Certainly, what would defuse the arguments over changes to the pensions, would be if the MPs addressed some amendments to their extremely generous benefits - where else can 10 years work get you a full pension? - others might be willing to accept their lead. But then, turkeys are hardly likely to volunteer for slaughter.

Where it does get more difficult is when it comes to tackling the real "elephant in the room" - the whole "benefit" culture. This now seems to embrace almost everything, from Student Loans through to Housing and Incomes. What is, I have often asked, "fair" about someone drawing "benefit" and being housed at the taxpayers expense, being able to demand an ever increasing amount of "support" by breeding additional children and being rehoused to accommodate an ever larger family - while those ultimately paying for it are forced to go "private" and pay massive rents, or buy at inflated prices, because the demand for housing far exceeds the supply of it?

I have often commented that it is always remarkable to me, that Whitehall can claim they have made "cuts" of XX% to their budgets, yet the actual expenditure goes UP by that or a greater amount year on year. It often sounds like a remarkably creative accounting system in use in Whitehall.

What is really needed is a real overhaul of Whitehall. A clearing out of all duplication, a stripping down of bloated Departments and a cleaning out of the deadwood. That, in itself, would save Billions.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Anti-European? Or is this a resurfacing of anti-German propaganda?

In recent months the tone of some blogs and commentators on them has risen to almost the same levels of anti-German hysteria seen in 1914 - 19 and again in 1939 - 45. There are constant references to "The Fourth Reich," to "German Domination and Suppression of Liberty in Europe" and "German Conquest by Stealth." Anyone would think the Germans were about to launch a new Blitzkrieg the way some of these writers are carrying on. According to them the entire EU "experiment" is some left-over plan from the defeat of the Nazis in 1945 to take economic control of Europe through a "back door" and impose a new "Fourth Reich" on the model of Karl der Grosser (Charlemagne to the French or Charles the Great in English) which fell apart after his death in 814 AD.

I can't escape the feeling that much of this is driven by envy. Germany and her neighbours have, through fiscal probity, managed to avoid the worst effects of the financial collapse in 2008. The German, Dutch, Swedish, Austrian, Danish and Finnish economies are stable, their borrowing against GDP is lower than anywhere else, and considerably lower than that of the UK and the US. France stands out as having a problem among the "big" players of the €uro, and the election of a socialist President may complicate those. But I very much doubt it will see the demise of the €uro as a currency, shared or not. Likewise in the UK, the borrowing legacy left by Gordon Brown and Labour will continue to cripple the British economy well past the next election, a factor most seem to want to ignore.

Much is made of the fact that Greece has rejected the two major parties that took them into the €urozone, but again, what is ignored, is that the 'new' government hasn't yet been formed, and in fact can't find anyone willing to form a coalition with a party that has stated publicly it intends to spend money it hasn't got and can't get, ignoring the ECB and IMF requirements to reduce the State spending and exercise fiscal restraint. President Hollande, for all his pre-election promises, will find he has the same problem, and Chancellor Frau Merkel (I note portrayed by many English blogs as being humourless - which means none of them understand German humour and perhaps have no understanding of German language or culture) will certainly not allow the German economy, built on hard work, innovation and productivity, to be squandered by free-spending socialists. Even the German Socialist Party won't promise any extra spending.

Germany experienced hyper-inflation under the Weimar Republic, and no German Chancellor will ever allow it to happen again. It was that hyper-inflation that swept Hitler to power, yet I note with a mix of interest and sadness that a number of UK commentators seem to want this to happen again. I am happy to say I think they will be deeply disappointed. Greece may be ejected from the €uro, Spain and France and possibly Italy may have to accept a separate form of the €uro before too long, but you may be very certain that Germans will not pay the piper for anyone else's free-spending folly and neither will the Dutch, the Swedes, Austrians or Finns. They have had to take the medicine everyone else is squealing about and have faced the problem. Others should have done so before now, but didn't. The Financial Treaty may need to be renegotiated, but don't expect many concessions - and there will certainly be none which might allow Hollande or the Greeks to go on another spending spree.

Mr Hollande knows, as does the entire political class in France, that the French economy needs major reforms, whether he knows it yet or not, he is going to have to accept the task of implementing them. Anyone planning a holiday in France should be prepared for barricades and blockades when the French discover they have to take the medicine and like it.

And what of Britain, or perhaps the rump of the UK once Scotland goes independent? Sooner, rather than later, the realisation will dawn that so much has been sold off that almost nothing in the UK is now owned by Britons. Much of its manufacturing is not sold to anyone outside of the EU. Perhaps the antiEuropeans will win, but I rather think that in the end, the UK (or what remains of it) will remain tied to at least the European Free Trade Area.

My major concern is that if, as I suspect another dose of Labour will produce, the Pound collapses in value, my pensions will be in serious trouble ... Now how's that for a bit of self-interest!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

An Interesting Thought ...

A friend posted an item on FaceBook which made me sit back and think. It is a prayer written by a famous surgeon in 1953 and published in the British Medical Journal at the time. It struck me that the good surgeon would probably, today, be ridiculed for his faith, and the BMJ would almost certainly NOT publish a prayer of any sort in this day and age. Yest, the points he makes in it apply equally to a wide range of matters. Here it is as written - 

From inability to leave well alone;
From too much zeal for what is new and contempt for what is old;
From putting knowledge before wisdom, science before art,
cleverness before common sense;
From treating patients as cases; and
From making the cure of a disease more grievous than its endurance,
Good Lord, deliver us.

The thing that stands out in this most clearly is the fact that each of the supplications is a common sense approach. It was written at a time when antibiotics were "new" and "exciting," offering the prospect of a cure for every ailment, yet overuse, and inappropriate us, has brought us to a point of resistant bacteria and a need to develop ever more powerful (and toxic) varieties of antibiotic to deal with them. As ever, Pandora's Box having been opened, what has come out, will not go back in. 

The cures have, in many cases, become as grievous as the disease.

But reading this again, it can be said to apply to a very wide range of matters, some well out of the medical sphere. Certainly in the last fifteen or so years we have seen a "zeal for the new and a contempt for the old" in far too many circles, particularly politics and business. The dragons teeth having been sown, the dragons are starting to emerge - and the result of the reformers "zeal for the new" is starting to bite. Societies are funny things, to a large extent they are built around common values and traditions, destroy one aspect and the rest collapses like the proverbial house of cards. You take a card out of the structure at your peril.

Since the late 1990s we seem to have suffered a great dea from the actions of those who suffer from the inability to leave well alone. The result is the massive national debts we currently see, the bankrupted economies of several states who chased the Utopian dreams promised by certain ideologies and now we face the consequences - and not just in the €urozone, but in the UK and the US.

I suspect that the cure of the disease is as grievous as the disease itself, but, as the "disease" is terminal if untreated, we seem to have little or no choice in the matter. Perhaps the resurfacing of this prayer is a timely reminder, perhaps it should be the compulsory opening statement of every council and every parliament!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Interesting Times? Or a Storm of Speculation?

Listening to the news and reading the papers one could be led to believe that the election of a "conservative" government (who must still form a coalition) and a socialist President in France is about to cause the collapse of the €uro and the EU itself. Certainly that is the impression one gets from some US papers and media and from certain sections of the UK media. It put me strongly in mind of some information the Postulant gave me last week, following her attendance at a conference in Berlin.

There are certainly problems in the EU, but the economies of the bulk of the €uro States - there are 17 of them - are a lot stronger and sounder than those of the loudest voices from outside the €urozone. The weakest of the major €uro players - leaving aside Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal for the moment, is France. The 'hope' expressed in some UK newspapers and economic circles is that President Hollande will refuse to adopt the strict  fiscal reforms President Sarkozy thrashed out with Chancellor Merkel. Frankly, I'm appalled at the rabidly anti-German tone of much of it. The way it is presented, Mrs Merkel is painted as anti-democracy, anti-freedom and determined to force everyone into an economic strait jacket. The fact is that Germany is not prepared to let irresponsible politicians destroy its economy. They are still paying for the rebuilding of the former East German zone and are having to do it step by careful step.

Germany has bitter experience of hyper-inflation and those who think they can spend every taxpayers income as they please need to think again. Nor is Germany alone, the Dutch, the Swedes and almost all the other €uro countries agree. There will be no excess borrowing, and those who have exceeded the limits, must fall in line. The fact is that across the €urozone, borrowing as a percentage of GDP is lower than that of the UK and considerably lower than that of the US.

Will the election of a socialist President of France, or the change of government in Athens reverse the fiscal savings packages these countries must face? No, simply because they cannot borrow beyond their means. Greece is bankrupt, kept afloat only by the €urozone bailout funds. Those will dry up the moment any government there tries to exceed the imposed spending limits. France needs some major reforms, Sarkozy knew this, so does Hollande. They won't be popular, but the French political classes know they can't postpone them any longer.

I don't believe either of these elections will change a great deal, and I don't believe they spell the end of the €uro. There may be storms ahead, but I suspect the €uro is likely to emerge in the next few years as a stronger and sounder currency than either the British £ or the US $ - whether those trying to talk it to destruction like it or not.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A Day to Remember?

On this day in 1937, the "dreamliner" of the air, the LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and crashed in flames as it approached the mooring mast in New York. The argument over what caused the fire rages still - probably not helped by various accusations of sabotage and even a movie in which the main plot revolves around her having been deliberately destroyed on orders from Hitler.

The Hindenburg, like the Titanic, caught the popular imagination, and her demise brought to an end the dream of luxury air travel on huge airships criss-crossing the oceans. For all her size, she carried only 72 passengers and just over 50 crew. Almost as long as the then largest ocean liner, the French Normandie, she had a fully loaded weight of just 220 tons and a top cruising speed of 144 km/h. She travelled at a service height of 500 metres (1,600 feet), but could operate at up to 1,500 metres (roughly 4,000 feet). It took her 63 hours to cross the Atlantic from Frankfurt am Main to New York and 51 to return and she was powered by eight diesel engines driving her propellers.

The passengers enjoyed a luxurious lounge, veiwing galleries, a restuarant and even a 'smoking room' on the lower of the two passenger decks which also provided small sleeping cabins. The falw in all of this was the use of hydrogen to lift the huge airship - plus the use of a coating on her fabric covered hull that was essentially a "thermite" mixture turned into a paint.

I suspect that in the not too distant future, if we wish to sustain our current desire for air travel, the concept of large airships will have to be resurrected, though perhaps using something less flammable than hydrogen!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

A question of perspective

Today is VE Day in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Perhaps understandably it isn't marked in any special manner in Germany, but that may be changing. Today the German President, Joachim Gauck, took part in ceremonies in the Netherlands and made what is probably a ground breaking speech. He acknowledged the suffering Germany had inflicted on Europe and, in particular, it's Jewish populations and then went on to say something I noted on this blog some years ago - that D-Day had marked the start of a liberation of Europe and the German people themselves from the scourge of National Socialism.

Today Hr. Gauck declared that VE Day marked the final liberation of the German people from that terrible abberation called Nazi-ism, a declaration I don't think any previous post war German head of state could have made. But Hr. Gauck knows what it is like to live under an oppresive dictatorship - he lived in the former GDR and is still the man the successors of the former ruling Party love to hate. "Die Linke" as they now call themselves, they love to portray the GDR as a "workers paradise" but Hr. Gauck never fails to remind them of its restrictions and oppression.

It is all a question of perspective, Germany has moved on. Europe has moved on, Hr. Gauck's declaration and his attendance at the Dutch celebration is timeous and an acknowledgement of the oppression the Nazis imposed on everyone.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Polarisation ...

Sometimes I think this is a feature of our society, that two completely opposing views can take root so firmly in some folk's minds. Sadly, I think it is something that has always been a feature of human society, though one would think, with all the 'information technology' available to us that it would be less of a problem now than say, a hundred years ago. Evidently not if one studies the polarisation of politics, of issues such as climate change, economics, 'green' technology and so many more 'issues' that affect us. Recently I read an item in the Guardian online, in which scientists were appealing to activists not to destroy a trial field of wheat that has been modified to release the scent aphids give off when attacked. The idea being to produce a wheat strain that is edible and not subject to attack by aphids. One would think this is innocuous enough, but apparently not.

The "Frankenstein Food" mob have roused their rabble (Guess I'm showing my polarity here!) and declared that on a certain day they intend to "destroy this evil crop" before it can "contaminate other plants." The scientists have offered to talk to the anti-modification people, but the response is interesting. The spokesperson for the Anti-GM Food group says, they'll talk, but, I quote, "It's pretty pointless they won't listen to us, because they've already planted the crop and endangered the environment." She went on to say that even if they talk, and the scientists make their case, the group will destroy the crop anyway.

This seems to be a major problem in just about everything. Everywhere there appear to be groups springing into the limelight with a "message" formed around some "issue" and they will not listen to any other point of view or any argument that counters their "orthodoxy." Sadly it is everywhere, I've identified the "Frankenstein Food" people here, but a glance at the US Presidential campaign suggests that the US is in serious danger of a major split, and not just politically. The Anglican Church is tearing itself to pieces over the issues of "Gay and Women Clergy" and, in the face of all the evidence, there are those within who refuse to listen to any evidence contrary to their view. Even the Roman Church, despite its autocratic structure has its polarised positions and its cracks, despite the Vatican's attempts to plaster over them. Green issues is another area were the name calling has hardened attitudes on both sides, the "activists" want outright bans on cars, fossil fuels, nuclear and a whole range of things our modern world depends on, the counter arguments are edited out of news media, banned from public debate and anyone who dares challenge the orthodoxy of anything "green" is hounded by activists whose real knowledge of any given aspect of the matters they claim to be defending or demanding is actually pretty basic and far from fully informed.

The saying, "Don't confuse me with facts; my mind is made up" applies to both sides in these arguments, particularly at the extremes. Nowhere is this more evident than in political circles. Never mind the facts or the evidence, our policy is ... has become the norm. Someone once called this "megaphone" politics, and its an apt description.

All of this makes me ask the simple question; do any of us listen to anyone else properly? Do we actually weigh up real evidence and real facts, or are we so lazy and so idle we swallow any urban legend or rumour that happens to reinforce what we want to believe. Is this the "tl;dr"* culture of the Tweet biting down? If so, I think we might as well resign ourselves to a major collapse of our society.

We really do need to stop shouting and arguing and start listening and making informed and educated decisions. With all the information available about just about everything there really is no excuse for anything else.

*tl;dr = Too long; didn't read. (Txt spk ...)

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Soaring Kites and other activities ...

Today being International Labour Day and "May Day" in Germany, it is a Public Holiday. No shops, no post, just a quiet holiday for everyone. The horsey crowd are busy at the stables behind us, their horse grooming a "hobby," not 'labour,' so plenty of happy horses being petted, ridden and generally spoiled.

One of the joys of living surrounded by farm fileds and forest is the amount of wildlife we get to see every day. As I type, we have a trio of Red Kites soaring on the air currents overhead, obviously hunting, but evidently enjoying it as well. Then there are the Merlins, Shakespeare's "Windhover" doing their thing over the fields and hopefully reducing the mouse population. We've had an explosion in the field mouse population, the little devils are tunnelling everywhere. Probably means we'll see more predators this year as well.

Spring has definietly sprung round here. The breeze is warm, the trees and the rest of the plants are growing furiously. But, our weather forecasts suggest we might see some thunder and lightning through the week. Probably not on the scale currently deluging our friends back in the UK though.

Ah well, it's a lovely day, the sun is shining and all is quiet here. Time to relax with a nice cup of coffee I think ...

All my covers to date ...

Arranged in strict chronological order, the covers for the first four Harry Heron Adventures ...