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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Hubris?

The spectacle in the last few days of Tony Blair presuming to tell the German government how to run their economy in order to 'save' the €uro, almost had me choking on my coffee. Considering that between Mr Blair, Mr Brown and Labour's eagerness to spend everyone else's money they managed to get Britain into the worst debt crisis in more than 30 years, its either hubris or complete arrogance.

It has caused a few laughs here in Germany - and more than a little anger. Especially as many here feel that the constant barrage of anti-€uro reporting in the UK and US media has, as I pondered a few days ago, a lot of selfserving interest behind it. As one commentator here pointed out after Mr Blair's intervention, Britain has a much larger borrowing debt than France, and Germany's national borrowing is considerably less than the French. Her banks are also much less vulnerable than the UK's, though there are exposures in Greece and now Spain.

No, at the moment, Mr Blair is probably the last person who should attempt to lecture Hr. Schauble or Fr. Merkel on how to run a national economy.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Christianity in England and other historical arguments

The Venerable Bede's  (673 -735 AD) five volume work entitled An Ecclesiastical History of the English Peoples is often quoted as 'proof' that Christianity never gained a foothold in Britain during the period of the Roman occupation (55 BC - 410AD). Two things, in my view, suggest that this may be a false conclusion. The first is that Bede himself was a Benedictine Monk and Priest and a "Roman Catholic"in the sense that he was the child of parents converted to Christianity by disciples of Augustine of Canterbury. If you look closely, almost all his sources are from there. Despite having encountered an Abbot from Iona - who sparked his interest in the so-called Easter controversy - and his Life of St Cuthbert (634 - 687 AD and a 'child of Iona,' not Canterbury), those who 'quote' him as the source of their proof fail to acknowledge that he does not actually say there were no Christians in the land when Augustine arrived.

In fact he says Augustine converted the Anglo-Saxons who then occupied the South East of England and the Eastern seaboard up to Northumbria. Bede covers the debate at the Synod of Whitby very thoroughly, again giving proof that a Christian church was flourishing in Britain which did not owe allegiance, or give subservience, to Rome, but this too is discarded. Usually on the grounds it was "only in Ireland and the Western Isles." That, in itself, ignores other evidence which suggests that the mission of Augustine did no more than bring the ruling families of the Anglo-Saxon clans under the banner of Rome. In a sense, Bede is Augustine's publicist. He is perpetuating what he has been taught and may well be ignoring evidence which supports the claim of the Celtic Church to having a large following all through England. As they say, history is what the victors dictate it to be.

In modern times it seems to suit the intelligentsia of the UK to claim that Bede 'proves' Christiantity had vanished from Britain. They point to the 'lack of archaeological evidence' as in 'there are no early Christian churches prior to Augustine (597 AD Archbishop of Canterbury).' That ignores the fact that there are many very ancient churches built on sites the modernists claim were 'pagan' temples. Since they can't actually excavate them (it would involve a fair bit of demolition which, while Dawkins and his ilk might like that, English Heritage won't allow it), they base all their assumptions on the sketchiest of 'evidence' from the surrounding graveyards and other ruins.

They acknowledge that in Ireland, but dismiss it in England, the fact that for the first few hundred years most Christian worship sites were wattle and daub and many were little more than a group meeting whenever a priest visited in someone's home. No, they apparently expect to find stone structures, decorated presumably with crosses and a sign saying "Parish of St Blah. Service times in the porch." The cross itself was not widely used until 340 AD and even after that it wasn't that widely used to decorate a building until around 800AD. There are a number of other symbols used by Christians in Britain, but these are frequently dismissed as 'ambiguous' or 'probably, by its proximity to XYZ, Mythraic." Anything but Christian, since that wouldn't suit the current political and intellectual anti-faith narrative.

It also ignores surviving records in Europe that speak of communication with bishops in England, of bishops and priests from there visiting communities in France and even attending synods.

One of the things which has emerged in more recent years, though I note there is still an apparent reluctance to discuss it, is a systematic programme of genocide carried out by the Angles and Saxons from 500 AD to around 600 AD. Indigent Britons were first enslaved, and the women forced to 'marry' the invaders. When this failed to clear the land quickly, the British men were slaughtered and the women given no options but to become the bedfellows of the murderers. This extermination of the native British population is the subject of some heated arguments, but the genes don't lie - and nor do the mass graves containing male remains. It would seem to point to Christianity having had to either go underground, certainly in the eastern half of Britain, or having been driven out in a deliberate purge.

We often hear the mantra that "Christianity suppressed and destroyed the writings of antiquity." Bede's own catalogue of over 60 books he wrote gives that the lie. He wrote drawing on Aristotle, Sophocles and Pliny among many others and freely quotes his sources. He not only had access to these works, he copied them. The monastic libraries of England, Ireland and most of Europe were extensive and very broadly based, not at all the narrow and restrictive catalogue we are so often told of.

The real destroyers of these and other libraries were the pagan Vikings. That was the catastrophe that swept in off the sea in the period 850 - 1000 AD, though some survived and even now many books originally in English monastic libraries, turn up in remote places in Northern and Eastern Europe.

Despite the modern anti-faith 'narrative' in academic circles, I believe the evidence does point to Christianity having survived in Britain from its early roots under the Romans. It may not have been the faith everyone followed, but it had somewhat more of a presence than I believe current teaching wants to admit. I suspect that, though the present state of Christian Faith in the UK may be weak, it has the strength to survive even in the face of those who wish to see it expunged from the nation altogether.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Say that again?

I have to thank the Postulant for sending me the link to an article written by a scientist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. As I read "Dude, you are speaking Romulan" I felt an immediate dose of, been there, done and heard that! I suspect that both Josephus and SlimJim will recognise the syndrome instantly as well.

It does seem to be a human failing that we can't communicate our ideas clearly between disciplines or between some technical or scientific profession and the general public. Inevitably we use terms and expressions which, between our colleagues in the same discipline are perfectly understood, but to an 'outsider' becomes an incomprehensible barrier. When you throw in the latest fad among some groups to speak almost exclusively in acronyms they alone understand, it gets even worse. You might as well be speaking Romulan. Communication has just failed completely.

I have long had a hatred of 'jargon' and in particular, of the use of acronyms when speaking to groups. There can be only one reason for doing so, and that is to attempt to make your audience feel inadequate because they don't fully understand your 'tech-speak.' The worst aspect of this is that it also means that a great deal of what you are trying to communicate is going unheard as they mentally try to decipher the last acronym or bit of jargon you used. It got so bad toward the latter end of my career that I once spent an entire meeting just making a note of every acronym the group leader was tossing into his presentation or the discussions. When he finally asked if we had questions I stuck my hand up. My note pad had 73 acronyms (I've still got the note) and around 20 of them had been used multiple times.

I asked if he could provide me with a source where I could find out what these acronyms represented as I knew only five of those on the list. It was interesting to see his reaction, which quickly changed from a supercilious and flippant retort to annoyance and then bluster when several others in the group added their voices to mine. Both Josephus and SlimJim have, I know encountered the same problem and will know the person. But it must be said this was not a unique 'one off.' It is an endemic problem and it crosses every profession and every sector of society. We all have our unique jargon.

How many outside the fire and rescue service understand the average firefighter when he or she starts to speak about working on the HP or the Bronto. Or speaks about CAFS, BA, a BAC or a CU to name but a few. OK, I'll take pity, in case there are any readers who don't speak our brand of Romulan. An HP is a hydraulic platform or "snorkel" unit having artuclated booms allowing it to reach the upper floors of a building or even reach over one. A Bronto is a combined telescoping hydraulic ladder and hydraulic platform having characteristics of both a Turntable Ladder and an HP. CAFS stands for Compressed Air Foam System, BA is an abbreviation of Self Contained Breathing Apparatus, a BAC is a BA Control Officer who monitors the BA wearers time and performance at an incident and a CU is a Control Unit, a sort of mobile control room brought to major incidents so the Incident Commander has all the communications and information support he needs.

See what I mean? We can actually communicate if we consider our audience and make clear what we are talking about.

To me the use of jargon is akin to speaking a foreign language in the company of folk who don't share that language. It is a deliberate attempt to exclude the audience. Jargon and acro-speak are just this, an attempt to keep the 'arcane knowledge of the order' available only to the 'enlightened' while giving the appearance of 'sharing' the knowledge.

It's probably caused more wars in history than anything else. Maybe we should all stop speaking Romulan and try communicating clearly.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Moody's Threatens Germany?

A report in our local paper caught my eye yesterday. The 'Ratings Agency' Moody's, based in New York, is apparently threatening Germany with a Rating Downgrade. The reason is interesting. Apparently Moody's don't like the amount of Government Treasury Bills the Germans have underwritten for the Spanish.

OK, we all know that Greece is likely to default on its borrowing, Italy is still on the brink and so are Portugal and Ireland. Spain is taking the pain, but is reducing its debts, and the German's are merely underwriting what the European Central Bank and the European Finance Ministers have agreed between them to pick up. The fact is that the German economy is strong, and their borrowing is among the lowest in Europe, so what is Moody's playing at?

You could be excused if you thought it was a deliberate ploy to start a run against the currency the German economy uses - the €uro. Why would they wish to do this? Why make such an announcement? After all, it is well known that the ECB has worked with the various member states Finance ministers to find a way to spread the debt and make sure the currency is stabilised. Who benefits by weakening it or undermining this attempt?

I would suspect that the intent is to further weaken the currency which was showing a small recovery. Again, one needs to ask why? Who benefits from this? One beneficiary would be the US $. Persuade enough investors that the €uro is a high risk investment and they have to shift their money to one of two alternatives, the Dollar or the British Pound. Both currencies have problems in the economies that support them - and both stand to benefit by weakening the €uro.

One of the other tricks which intrigues me with these ratings, is that as a country's rating is lowered, the interest charge against their borrowing increases, and not by small amounts either. Again, who benefits - why the lenders of course. And who controls the Rating Agencies?

Well, for the moment I benefit as well. My pension is paid in GB£, and at present I get more €uros for my £ - but, pretty soon I suspect, that other beneficiary of people playing with currency values will kick in - and we'll find prices being forced up by inflation. That, more than anything else, is what worries the Germans.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Pope's Number 3 Lays Down the Law...

Priests looking for reforms in the Roman Catholic Church have just been told in no uncertain terms that there will be no relaxation of any of the Church's rules regarding divorce, remarriage or woman's roles. Particularly in Germany, where the Roman Church is hemorrhaging members, this has gone down like the proverbial lead balloon. In some areas other churches are gaining from this, but for many Roman Catholics there is little alternative but to walk away from faith altogether.

It seems that Rome has decided to once again retreat into the Medieval period, refuse to acknowledge anything but their own vision and, if you don't like it, well, you can lump it. In part this does reflect the fact that the Vatican has taken a battering in recent years. Unfortunately, instead of responding to the criticisms with open debate, presentation of the positives in their history (and there are many) or even attempting to address some of the things people are asking for - like married priests - they've put up the shutters and refused to speak to anyone. There was huge anger in Germany at the Pope's declaration that the Evangelical Lutheran's weren't a 'church' and therefore could not expect any concessions in Rome's stance on shared communion. Essentially he was simply reiterating Rome's long held position that the Lutheran branch of Christianity is simply a collection of rebel Roman Catholics who must first surrender to his authority before he'll talk to them.

This is apparent in his dealings with the Church of England and every other branch of Christianity. It is a blinkered and very stupid approach - especially for a man who claims that his 'Office' is to be Christ's sole representative here on Earth. I have no doubt whatsoever, that Christ Himself would reject Rome's stance out of hand where He to make His long awaited return now.

I find the current state of affairs with Rome, on the one hand, a little amusing, for, had Martin of Tours not expelled the Arianists from the Bishopric of Rome in 314 AD, Roman Catholicism, and quite possible most of Western Christianity would be far closer to Shia Islam. On the other hand I find myself constantly annoyed by Rome's presumption and dogmatic exclusion of everyone else from their communion. I think we can be very sure that Christ will have a lot to say on that score when we all face our final Judge.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Amoklauf

Is the German word for some act of insanity against others. It's a good description for what has happened in Aurora, Colorado. What on earth can possess someone, apparently an intelligent and otherwise 'normal' individual to act out some insane fantasy in this way? What possessed him to put on a gasmask copy of the mask worn by the character 'Bane' in the Batman film, equip himself with what can only be described as an arsenal of weapons and ammunition - and then open fire on the audience in a packed cinema?

Is there a 'sane' motive? Can there be? Yet, to say this is the act of an insane man is to evade a perhaps more important question. Is this act perhaps one incited by the constant stream of violent video games and even more violent 'action' movies? The Batman movies have moved away from the comic book hero and his sidekick, and descended in to a world populated by mutant psychotics. The stories have become so dark they verge on horror and even the 'star' himself is portrayed as a brooding man whose response to every threat is even more violence,

In a video 'game' the 'body count' doesn't matter, because hitting restart 'reanimates' all the adversaries. But you can't do that in real life. There's no restart. A person shot and killed by a burst of automatic fire isn't going to get up whole and unharmed for the next round.

There will, no doubt, be all the usual handwringing about fire arms control, but, as we have seen in Britain, banning handguns has actually caused an increase in gun crime. The only people now unable to use them legally are those who used to shoot for sport on supervised ranges and in controlled groups. You can't say that of the criminal fraternity.

Sadly I suspect we are never likely to learn exactly what the gunman in Aurora was thinking when he embarked on his murderous rampage, but I suspect it will be interesyting to know how much time he spent watching violent movies and playing violence based video games. I'm pretty sure there is a correlation there ...

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Climate, Weather, Economics and Population ...

Yesterday I came across a rather lengthy article posted in an online magazine which contained a rather hysterical set of 'facts' and assertions about climate change. All the usual dramatic claims were made about 'record' temperatures and 'extreme' weather, plus some truly ludicrous assumptions about the consumption of current 'oil reserves' and the amount of CO2 this would add to the atmosphere. I know the author was trying to say he considers the world is approaching a crisis for human kind, but this isn't the way to do it.

If you cry 'wolf' to often, people stop responding, and I think this is starting to happen. For the last 20 or so years the IPCC supporters have claimed every extreme weather event is caused by climate change or "global warming." This last is always linked to the word "Anthropomorphic" and invariably the major western economies are blamed for it. If there is a drought anywhere, it's "global warming/climate change." Historical records are ignored completely when they don't support the message, but trotted out if there is the slightest possibility they do.

A typical example is the "Little Ice Age" which started to recede around the same time as the Industrial Revolution kicked off. Plenty of reference is made to those cold temperatures which seem to have become a sort of "benchmark" for what the AGW/Climate Change promoters consider the 'norm' for the earth. But almost no reference is made to the Medieval Warm Period or the Roman one. In Roman times grapes were cultivated near Hadrian's Wall, today you can't. In the years 1000 - 1400 cattle grazed in Greenland, today you can't keep cattle there at all. But this is seldom mentioned by the AGW promoters. In fact they almost foam at the mouth if you mention it.

What got me in the article I refered to earlier (Sorry, I didn't bookmark it so now can't track it) was the sort of numbers and the assumptions the author was tossing around. First of all he refered to the current heat wave in the northern and eastern USA. It isn't global, here in northern Europe we've seen precious little of summer, but this author seems to think it is. He goes on to state that 'temperature records are being broken daily' and 'extreme weather events are now to be expected as the norm,' both statements patently disprovable when one takes into account that the measurement of 'mean' daily temperatures has been changed in the last 20 years. In addition, the data is now 'homogenised' and 'standardised' to fit the 'models' various meteorological authorities use. This renders the data more than a little suspect as a number of statisticians and mathematicians have been saying for some time.

The Copenhagen CO2 emmissions targets, all measured in gigatons, are all trotted out. Yes, they make impressively large numbers, but how were they arrived at? Are they in fact the result of real measurements? Again, one finds they are a mishmash of 'estimates' and some political wrangling. He then went on to say that if all of Exxon's current "reserves" were to be burned up this represented 7% of the 500 odd gigatons Copenhagen wanted to cut. Further figures for BP, Mobil and Gazprom were added all with the intention of showing that just on current reserves around 40% of the CO2 emmissions targets would be taken up. My immediate reaction was to laugh, since, frankly, this is hysterical nonsense. There is absolutely no way all consumption of hydrocarbon fuel can siimply be 'cut' - all western economies would collapse and the world economies would suffer as well.

It seems to me that people like this simply have no understanding of the complexity of the world economy or of the climate itself. Theylive in an ideological world of their own in which, if only everyone would give up their cars, grow their own food, live in 'harmony' with nature (and presumably evryone else) we can 'save the planet.' This tells me they have no understanding of what subsistence food production is really like. If they'd simply look at how the majority of people lived in the pre-20th Century world of 'grow your own food, eat what is available and go without when prices rise or there is a shortage' perhaps they'd modify their view.

Ditto when it comes to weather patterns. These are driven by climate, and that is driven by a large number of factors, including changes in oceanic circulation, wind patterns and even, it seems, by solar activity. The claims that there are now more extreme weather events don't stack up when examined closely. There are in fact fewer major hurricanes hitting the US than during the 1940s and 1950s and there was another lull in that pattern during the 1930s when the infamous 'dust bowl' drought engulfed the Midwestern states. We now know that several droughts in that region lasting, some of them, more than 70 years, caused the collapse of at least two Amerindian civilisations. But, you may wish to argue, there are definietly more extreme tornadoes running up 'Tornado Alley.' Are there? There are certainly a lot more people living in the 'Alley' now than there were even 40 years ago, plus, we now have the means to detect tornadoes even when they don't touch towns or cities. The same argument can be advanced against the claim that there are more 'named storms' than ever before. Yes, there are, but then we are naming storms now that would probably not have been noticed by anyone except the seafarers who actually encountered them.

The world's climate is changing, and I believe that the evidence suggests this is as inexorable as the continental drift. We can no more arrest that than we can control a solar flare. We do need to be less wasteful and perhaps a lot less demanding, but, please, can we have some honesty in all of this? Can we stop making extravagant claims, massaging data to make the message what we want it to be, and trying to claim that every extreme weather event is 'unprecedented.' It isn't.

And destroying the western economies won't solve the problems of the world either. It's time to stop trying to claim the hippy approach of 'flower power and free love' mixed with 'redistribution' of wealth will solve anything. It won't, the only way forward now is to make use of our innovations, our technologies and to adapt. The world population stands at around 7 billion at present, the bulk of that in the parts of the world most affected by poverty and drought. That's probably around 4 billion more than the planet can actually support without being very creative with food production and water supplies. Perhaps a little honesty with regard to control of our human propagation might be a good starting point ...

Or we need to find a new planet to infest.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Circumcision Debate

Yesterday the German 'Bundesrat,' the Upper House of the German Parliament, struck down the court decision that circumcision of boys was Grievous Bodily Harm or a form of assault. The mechanism, before all the legalists get themselves worked up, was to pass an amendment to the existing legislation that 'clarifies' the intent of the legislation by the simple expedient of excluding the circumcision of boys for religious or health grounds from the legislation addressing assault in any form.

It must still, as I understand it, pass the Constitutional Court, but there is little doubt, from the storm the original court ruling has sparked, that it will. Of course, various anti-religion, anti-parental choice 'protection' agencies are squealing about it, but they are very much minority voices here. And thankfully, what the majority think and want is still what rules.

The Bundesrat was pretty clear that this in no way condones or approves the mutilation of girls for 'religious' reasons, neither does it permit any other form of 'initiation' rite for children of either sex. It is worth noting that the original complaint was brought by a 'children's protection society' which is opposed to religious teaching for children as well. There seems to be no depth to which some activist groups will not sink in their attempts to impose their 'vision' on the rest of society.

Hope fully others will now take note and back off.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Professional Disrepute

I received the following email from a longstanding friend. As I'm not a subscriber at present to any of the mainstream UK Newspapers I would have missed the letter he has sent me in full and which I reproduce here.


Pat,
This was a letter in the Daily Mail today, from a Mr. Paul Laxton of Huddersfield.  His letter chimes very well with your Dilbert post, so please indulge me whilst I reproduce it in full:
As a working class grammar school boy, my parents and teachers expected me to enter the professional classes.  I’ve been a member of two professions, a teacher in comprehensive schools from 1979 to 1984 and a member of the Prison Service, rising to deputy governor.

Why did my parents aspire for me to enter a profession?  Professionals were respected and respectability was the prime working class virtue.  They had earned the deference they received.  One of the most striking features of my adult life is the way that respect has eroded – and thrown away by the professionals themselves.

After the ordeal of professional photographer Cinnamon Heathcote-Drury – who was accused of pushing a pregnant Muslim woman to the floor – was swiftly concluded by the common sense of a jury, I can’t stay silent.  I was shocked that he arresting officers didn’t conduct even the most rudimentary investigation to establish the facts.  This case is only one of a long line in which police credibility has been eroded by incompetence, partiality and political correctness.  The legal profession, too, now attracts the greatest opprobrium of all, apart from banking.

Meanwhile, judges bring the whole notion of justice into disrepute by elevating the rights of foreign criminals, desperate to stay in this country and enjoy the benefits of our generous welfare state, at the expense of citizens whose children have been mown down by speeding, unlicensed vehicles driven by uninsured drivers.  The ‘no-win-no-fee’ provisions brought in by Jack Straw have encouraged the rapacity of lawyers, the culture of entitlement and the frequently absurd claims of human rights abuse.

The Church of England tears itself apart over gay clergy and female bishops at the expense of the moral and religious messages its declining adherents are straining to hear.  The Catholic Church has also forfeited respect by its ostrich position over paedophile priests.  Teaching was already falling victim to progressive nostrums when I became a student in 1974.  Since then discipline has been banished, achievement cheapened and standards abolished.

I have witnessed the diminution of prison service senior management and was, for a time, ashamed to be associated with the profession of prison governor.  How did we get here?  The educated elite of my generation came to power in 1997.  New Labour abandoned both Methodism, and conventional Marxism, and embraced the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, who taught that revolution came through the infiltration and subversion of the political and civic institutions of the State, and the ideas of Herbert Marcuse, who advocated the control of language and the consequent intolerance of free speech.

Tony Blair was the perfect front man for the revolution that has all but destroyed the reputation of our professions.

I think he has hit the nail fairly and squarely on the head.  The enemy is indeed within.  Feel free to use this on your blog.
Jim


I have several thoughts on what Mr Laxton says. Chief among them is that he is right on almost every level, though I would say that the slide into 'disrepute' of the professions, especially teaching and the law, began even earlier than 1997. Blair simply accelerated it and extended, or perhaps simply made it all obvious.

The judiciary has long been a target of infiltration by Fabianists, so has teaching and the University faculties. The Civil Service was targeted early, since that is the real 'government' of any state and the clergy of almost all churches are largely the product of 'liberationist' and 'liberalist' theological training centres. Those that aren't are, sadly, the product of fundamentalist schools and an even bigger threat to real faith.

Most people don't know that all the Labour ideals are founded in the Methodist teachings of the Welsh and English "Methodist Societies" (Methodism isn't a "Church" in the UK where it is still, constitutionally, a "Society" of the Church of England as founded by the Wesley brothers). The entire ethos of shared wealth, shared effort and support for the aged, infirm and the destitute comes from Methodist Christian teaching and not from Marx. What Labour have done, is remove the Christian principle and replace it with a mishmash of atheist, humanist and secularist ideologies. Even Marx has suffered the rewriting of his ideas to suit a new class of Oligarchs.

A brief study of Plato's analysis of 'government' shows this. An Oligarchy arises when personal wealth becomes more improtant than the well-being of the state or community. The hallmarks are -

  • People break the law for money, virtue is abandoned in pursuit of wealth (and before anyone points at Mrs Thatcher, I would point to the fact this has been evident in British society for a lot longer than her brief period in office),
  • The rich and famous are honoured and cultivates, virtue is neglected or denigrated, and
  • People prefer trade, materialism and money to virtue.
The flaws of such a society include -

  • Rulers are elected because of material successes, but who picks the richest sailor on a ship to command, when he can't navigate?
  • Two classes arise; the rich and the poor, but they are united in being afraid to defend their society against external enemies, developing a symbiotic dependence,
  • The love of money leads to evasion of taxes, giving rise to rising demands on those who do. Infrastructures suffer and fall into disrepair, and
  • Homeless people wander the streets, impoverished, angry, but powerless to change the system, so they resort to crime, that provokes ever more restrictions on freedoms for everyone ...

Anyone recognise the pattern here? Plato postulates that this situation eventually gives rise to democracy, but I'm not sure of that, after all, it is our democracy that has descended into this form of Oligarchy.

Blair completed the process of bringing the "professions" into disrepute, but he went further, he reduced the rising technical professions to "tradesmen" and promoted incompetence. My, and Jim's profession has suffered badly from this promotion of unqualified 'managers' selected on purely politically correct and ideological grounds. Since 1997 every white Briton has been labelled 'Institutionally Racist' and every white British male as 'potential abuser of woman and children, over represented in the workplace and sexist.' That is Blair's real legacy which, taken with the ludicrous approach to policing and justice is a large part of the problem the UK now faces.

Not only have our 'professions' fallen into disrepute, but our entire society has been subsumed into an Oligarchy. The New Oligarchs are the Political Classes and Bureaucrats and their benefactors in Banking, Law, Commerce and the Arts. As Mr Laxton says, the language and the organs of state have all been perverted to this cause - and we let it happen.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Subtle Takeover

I'm a subscriber to a "Daily Dilbert" and have been for a long time. Today's strip (July 17, 2012) is a gem. The pointy haired 'Boss' is addressed by his 'secretary' along the lines of, 'he only does what she tells him to do, and the economic devaluation of property puts her relative earnings on a par with his.' He asks, "And your point is?"

Her response is telling. "It's as if you work for me now."

For some years I watched the slow replacement of technocrats in management positions by people waving "management" diplomas and degrees. None of these former filing clerks and secretaries actually had a clue what the people they "managed" did, or how they did it, but, hey! we were constantly told they didn't need to know, they were there to "make our jobs easier" and "facilitate our being able to 'focus' on our work." The strange thing was that our workloads increased as this happened, and not in our specialist fields. If anything, our 'focus' on our specialisms suffered, because now we were constantly filling in forms, or writing reports or 'business cases' for our "managers" in order to allow them to "measure" what we were achieving. Or not.

I know I am not alone in finding that where, in the past, I'd gone to my technocrat boss, made a case for buying some equipment or doing something in a different manner, now I spent several days writing a request just to discuss it. In the past, if I made my case effectively, the boss looked up the budget and, if we had the necessary funds, agreed an allocation, and approved it. Now, I had to draw up a specification, then a business case and finally a report for consideration by a board. Usually after many 'amendments, clarifications and further explanations, might get approval to do it. Or, as often as not, got told I couldn't have the money this year, and would I take this up again next year.

Several times I discovered that money I could have used from the budget had been 'earmarked' for some more 'clerical' support. That invariably made my blood boil, especially as it was money originally budgeted for more teaching or technical support. Again, I'm not alone in discovering this, and it isn't confined to the UK either, it is right through the Western democracies.

There was another change as the "management" became more "manager" and less "technocrat." This occured at the secretarial level. Suddenly they became "Personal Assistants" and very clearly a barrier to any nasty hands on techy types who might want to approach the "manager." Where, before, the management had always wanted to talk to the techies, in fact found it useful and productive to do so, now management didn't want to talk to us because, in all likelihood, we would tell them things they didn't want to hear, or, worse, talk about things they had no knowledge of or which would expose their ignorance.

I have said this before, and I have never been popular for saying it, even when I taught management and leadership. Management is NOT a profession. It is a function of a profession, any profession.

It is a skill which must be learned, but the "manager" of a cleaning operation cannot transfer to "manage" a chemical factory and vice versa. That is where the sort of 'accident' that was the Chernobyl failure begins and lays. Not everyone who is a "techy" has the skills to be a top manager or even a middle manager, but to place someone who is without any knowledge of the functions and operations to be managed in a position of authority over those who do is not just stupid, it is utterly self-defeating.

Today's comic strip sums up exactly what has happened in commerce and industry across the west in the last 30 - 40 years, managers are now accountants, secretaries and filing clerks attempting to manage and direct professionals in all the technical fields - and they haven't a clue what they are doing. Worse, in order to "manage" they fall back on bureaucratic practices, bullying and barriers. It will destroy far more of our economies than it will save and, in the end, it will require their ejection from the offices they have usurped.

Hopefully that will happen before it has reached the point of collapse.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Shakespeare? I think not.

One often hears the assertion that if you left a million monkeys bashing away at a million typewriters, you would, eventually, get some randomised versions of Shakespeare's plays, sonnets or poems. About ten years ago, someone at a university, obviously with a 'research' grant and a sense of humour, decided to test this hypothesis.

They proved, that a hundred monkeys bashing away on a hundred keyboards for a year does not produce any of Shakespeare's work, or anyone else's for that matter. What it did produce was a lot of frustrated monkeys (Press keys to get reward), a lot of wasted effort and hundreds of broken keyboards.

So next time someone says, "if you put a million monkeys in front of a million keyboards ..." you can now say with absolute confidence - "No, it doesn't. All it produces is a lot of monkey p**h and a million broken keyboards.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Wading into controversy

A judge in a Landes court in Köln has made some big waves recently in religious and national circles here in Germany. The lady judge has handed down a ruling which bans the practice of circumcision, describing it as 'mutilation' under legislation which actually deals with 'causing bodily harm.' This has huge ramifications for the Jewish community, who, by religious laws going back at least 4,000 years, circumcise all male children eight days after birth. It impacts on the Muslim community as well, because they circumcise all boys at the age of 6 years. I have no doubt whatsoever that it impacts a wide range of other people with cultural, religious or health reasons for this practice.

The Judge has made her stand, primarily she sees all forms of circumcision as 'bodily harm,' and I would certainly agree with her when it comes to the African Muslim practice of mutilating girls, which is not at all the same thing as circumcising a boy. She has certainly provoked a religious backlash and I must admit there is a certain irony to seeing the Jewish and Muslim Leaders arguing jointly that this is an unwarranted interference in their religious rights.

As you would expect, the Secularists want it rigidly enforced as a way of imposing restrictions on religious practice in all forms and beliefs, and there is a great deal of noise about the whole thing in the media, and political circles. Even the legal community seems divided on it.

Circumcision is practiced in many societies, not just the Jewish and Muslim ones. Most African tribes have a 'rite of passage' in which circumcision of boys plays a large part. It is no accident that it is so widely practiced in areas where the climate is hot, personal hygiene often difficult and transmission of infection made far more likely by the presence of this small piece of the anatomy. Like the vermiform appendix it is a hang-over from our very early ancestors.

Medical studies have identified in recent years that circumcised males are far less likely to transfer certain infective agents to their partners than uncircumcised males. Woman with a circumcised partner are less likely to suffer from cervical cancer or risk sterility through infection. Men are less likely to suffer from fungal infections, simply because there is no convenient place for an infection to develop. No, circumcision won't prevent AIDS/HIV, but it does reduce the risk of a whole range of other infections.

Many of these 'religious' practices have their origins in perfectly sound medical reasoning. Somewhere down the line someone in the distant past realised that circumcision made hygiene in a hot climate a lot easier. Possibly later it found its way into religious observance as a way of making sure it was done. In other societies it became a cultural thing. Certainly all the Bantu tribes Josephus mentioned yesterday practice it, and that is nothing to do with 'religion.'

No, I do believe the lady Judge has allowed her personal opinion to lead her into an area she should have stayed away from. Now she's created a legal minefield, and the politicians are going to have to walk into it to try and find a solution. It's going to be very interesting and I suspect more than a few political careers could be wrecked on it.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Saving Africa ...

I have to say that I read Uzodinma Iweala's article in The Washington Post with great interest. I agree with everything he says in it as well. Please will Western Politicians, Liberals, Pop Stars and other forms of celebrity stop 'Saving Africa!' Very early in the article he makes this point - 


"It seems that these days, wracked by guilt at the humanitarian crisis it has created in the Middle East, the West has turned to Africa for redemption. Idealistic college students, celebrities such as Bob Geldof and politicians such as Tony Blair have all made bringing light to the dark continent their mission. They fly in for internships and fact-finding missions or to pick out children to adopt in much the same way my friends and I in New York take the subway to the pound to adopt stray dogs."


I can't help feeling he's got this absolutely right. Especially the younger university generation at present seem to think they have to feel guilty about living in a country where they have the privilege of clean water, wealth, comfortable homes and education. This drives them to join any and every "crusade" from "save the planet" through to "stop the genocide in XYZ," zealously embracing the perceived 'cause' of whoever is behind it. Most have no idea what they are supporting except in the vaguest sense, most have no more knowledge than what they've read in posters or articles put out by the publicists who write these things with an eye on getting people to part with loads of money for the latest "aid" project.


Mr. Iweala touches on some of this in his article, but one thing I note he hasn't mentioned. This is that many of these "Aid" organisations are now multinational corporations operating under the banner of 'charities.' They enjoy the status of 'Non-Governmental Organisations' in receipt of large amounts of taxpayer money handed over by Governments to 'trusted' agencies supposedly not dealing with perceived 'corruption' in the target state. He does point to the fact that many Pop Stars and Celebrities derive huge publicity from their fronting campaigns, but he then goes on to say that they cannot and will not 'Save Africa.' In fact they are hindering its own efforts to do so.


As he rightly asks - 


Why do Angelina Jolie and Bono receive overwhelming attention for their work in Africa while Nwankwo Kanu or Dikembe Mutombo, Africans both, are hardly ever mentioned? How is it that a former mid-level U.S. diplomat receives more attention for his cowboy antics in Sudan than do the numerous African Union countries that have sent food and troops and spent countless hours trying to negotiate a settlement among all parties in that crisis? 


He is absolutely right to ask these questions. Africans are grateful for the help they receive, but let's give them some credit as well. Many of the problems they face today are the result of well intentioned efforts to impose governments and systems on Africans that are not native to them and have no roots there. Many of the economic problems arise from a lack of understanding of the way things operate in their cultures (Note the plural!). 


I can only endorse his closing statement - 


Last month the Group of Eight industrialized nations and a host of celebrities met in Germany to discuss, among other things, how to save Africa. Before the next such summit, I hope people will realize Africa doesn't want to be saved. Africa wants the world to acknowledge that through fair partnerships with other members of the global community, we ourselves are capable of unprecedented growth.  


We have to stop trying to 'save' Africa. We need to work with Africans, to provide them with the tools and the expertise - and then let them work out their own solutions. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Particles, Godly or otherwise ...

All the excitement about the CERN Project's having 'discovered' the elusive 'God Particle' - what scientists call the Higgs Boson - certainly got the headline writers and many in the Anti-religion camps going. I discovered that Professor Higgs is not responsible for the name either, in fact it is a news hounds mis-quote of another scientist referring to the Higgs Boson as "the most elusive goddam particle" in the universe. Some smart newshound, probably with only the haziest idea of what the scientist was talking about reported it with the screaming headline "Scientists Seek the God Particle."

As I understand it - and I'm certainly no Particle Physicist - the Higgs Boson is important because it is the fragment of an atom that provides mass to an atom. It is the fragment around which an atom is built. It is smaller than an atom, yet makes up almost all the mass (weight in non-science speak) of the atom. It is the particle that emerged from the "Big Bang" and caused the formation of all other matter. So, the Higgs Boson evidently cannot exist on its own for more than a few nano-seconds, but seems to be the key to almost everything else.

What I find interesting in all the hype, is that many of the scientists involved feel a sense of awe and wonder as they seek to understand how all this works. Some even dare to admit that pure randomised chance doesn't seem a likely solution to the billions of possible combinations necessary to produce even simple life forms, never mind complex ones. And yes, we do have to acknowledge that each and every one of us is a unique set of atoms (and Higgs Bosons) and that we are all made up of atomic dust from exploding stars. Now we really are talking Godly particles.

For myself, I follow these discoveries with a great deal of interest. Each new leap in the dark on this and so much more in science simply tells me that life, in all its forms and shapes, shouldn't exist at all. The fact that it does, suggests to me that there are mysteries we are probably not meant to understand - at least, not yet.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

What is 'Democracy'?

In this day and age a term everyone seems to know and define, the trouble is that nearly every dictatorship also claims to be 'democratic' and almost all 'democracies' at some stage elect an authoritarian government. So what is democracy?

According to Sir Winston Churchill, it is the worst form of government - except for all the others. In every 'western' country you can find a variation on the 'democratic system,' by which most people understand there is a 'one man; one vote' system of electing the government and any other local governing bodies or regional legislatures. But there are almost as many variations within that as there are countries which consider themselves 'democratic.' Some even elect the officers of justice, the heads of Police and Fire Services and other 'public services.' But then one encounters the system for electing the head of state which awards certain numbers of votes to the constutuent member states. Thus, while the overall number of votes caste for one candidate may exceed the number of votes going to the opponent, the opponent may still 'win' the election because he/she has the support of more 'state votes' than the other.

Then there are the 'Democratic' states where the one man; one vote system is in place, but there is a single party and ideology to vote for, or there are other 'Parties' but a Central committee decides who is 'suitable' to stand for election and who may not. Is that also 'democratic?' Those who impose that system certainly claim it is, and also claim that everyone else has it wrong.

In other systems, the 'one man' enjoys a 'transferable' vote, so that if choice number 1 does not garner enough support, the vote is transfered to 2nd choice and even 3rd choice. The much defended UK system works, in my opinion, only in the eyes of the beneficiaries - the three main Parties. For one thing, for a large slice of the electorate who live in the so-called 'safe' seats for one or other of the Parties, it doesn't matter whether I vote or not if I don't support the Party who 'owns' the majority of support in that seat. How can the 'elected' Member then claim to represent me? He or she doesn't. I don't agree with their ideology or their policies, which is why I won't vote for them. They cannot therefore claim to be 'my elected representative.'

Worse, the system of 'Whips' in Westminster means that no matter the desires of his or her constituents, the 'elected' Member will vote as they are told to by the Whip for the Party. Then there is the whole question of voter 'turnout.' In recent years the numbers actually exercising their right to vote in any given election is falling to the point of it being of dubious value. The last several in the UK have had turnouts dangerously close to the 50% mark - which means the 'elected' government often represents the views of 30%or less of the whole electorate. (Tony Blair's 'landslide' victories were actually only 28% of the total electorate.)

How democratic is a state were there is almost not chance of changing the government because of what is best described as 'tribal' voting. This happens in most countries to some extent, when voters cannot bring themselves to vote for anyone not of 'The Party' they or their parents have always supported - even when they know that party has not delivered, and cannot deliver on promises, or will continue in government only to destroy jobs, promote corruption or destroy communities. In part this is because most people live in 'democracies' dominated by some form of 'party' system where the 'representative' has almost no connection with the constituency they purport to represent. Probably the worst example of that is the system where the voting is exclusively for the 'Party' and the 'Party' then decides who will take the seat.

In my travels around the world I have seen many examples of supposedly 'democratic' states where one 'Party' is so entrenched it cannot be removed from power. Often this is because the 'constituencies' are so arranged that there is a built in majority for one particular group or Party. In other places the Party controls the Civil Service Bureaucracy (Indonesia is a good example - only Party Members of the ruling 'nationalist' Party are appointed to position in the civil service). In almost all nations, democratic or otherwise, you find the same thing. An entrenched ruling 'elite' supported by embedded advocacy and lobbying groups and a media geared to feeding the electorate only the ideological line the respective regime wants promoted. Can an electorate make an informed decision when it comes to voting? Or will the natural biases we all have be so strongly reinforced by the 'information media' that we cannot make a rational decision?

Even where there is a clearly defined electoral system, where the electorate do have a greater say in who gets elected and who not, the trend recently has been for minority groups and Parties to challenge every decision made by the elected government. Such groups often seek recourse to a court, dragging the elected government/governor through courts such as the "European Court of Human Rights" or any other court they can use to mount a challenge. I get the feeling this is part of a wider movement to try to drag government back to a village council concept, but all it does is lead to frustration and fragmentation. Worse, it means that minority interests can now trump the whole underpinning concept of 'democracy' which is that it is 'rule by the majority.'

I'm sure I can't be the only person who finds it strange that the very same groups and people who campaigned against all forms of 'minority' rule, now want to impose a different form of minority rule on all democratic majorities ...

What is democracy? Well, the inventors of the system, the Ancient Athenians certainly wouldn't recognise the system we call 'democracy.' Perhaps that is the problem.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Financial Suicide?

I read recently that all the great democratic societies of history (surprisingly including the Ancient Greeks and Rome - though their idea of 'democracy' was rather different from the modern one) eventually commit financial suicide within 200 - 250 years of their establishment. The reason? Someone eventually begins to promise the electorate that voting for them will mean getting something 'free' from the State. There is only one way a 'State' can hand out money or goods, they must first take it from the citizenry.

The electorate may not be stupid, but offer someone a share of someone else's wealth and they'll take it. This is where the suicide comes in, because the handouts, be they cash or goods, eventually exceed the ability of those being taxed, to pay for it ...

Margaret Thatcher is credited with remarking: "The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money." She was absolutely right. While we may not all agree with everything she stood for or did, we have to acknowledge that she had an extremely sharp grasp of where the money was coming from - and why it couldn't continue.

The American Statesman, Thomas Jefferson, is credited with the observation that; "Democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work, and give to those who would not." That, perhaps sums up a large part of the problem. I think everyone will agree that there needs to be a safety net in any civilised society for those who cannot work, the sick, the disabled, the aged and those temporarily out of work. The trouble is that this has, in every society, very quickly become a "right' to be demanded and paid to everyone who doesn't have the slightest intention of ever working.

Allowing that situation to continue for far too long has led us to the brink of the precipice. Interestingly, the UK has really only been a real deomcracy since 1836. What passed for 'democracy' prior to that was a strictly limited system - one 'borough' only had one voter, but returned a Member of Parliament - with only the rich landowning class actually having a vote. By my reckoning that makes it about due for committing financial suicide. The US is now 'democratically' close to the 250 year mark, as is France ...

Interesting times?

Friday, 6 July 2012

Cutting Defences

I'm currently reading an excellent book on the future of the Royal Navy. It is, in places, heavy going, but it poses some interesting questions as well as putting forward some good arguments. Since the end of World War 1 the Royal Navy has been, if not in decline, then certainly shrinking. If the author of the book I'm reading is right, this is a twofold thing. First, the Navy has always enjoyed the position of knowing that 'everybody knows we need a Navy' and secondly, because its ships are such expensive items, it is easy, when making 'savings' on defence, to make a 'big' saving by simply deleting a new build or a planned build or scrapping several ships.

Politicians and civil servants never think further than five years (Capital Budgets) or one year (Operating Budgets). Knock a project costing a couple of billion on the head and - "Gosh! Look at what we've saved, Mr Chancellor, sir." This is why Britain entered the Second World War with a Fleet List of 22 'Capital' Ships, most of them obsolete. There were five in building in 1939, and the most modern were the already out of date HMS Rodney and Nelson. The "Queen Elizabeths" had been upgraded in 1925 - 30 and three had been "rebuilt" and modernised by 1940, the remaining pair, HMS Barham (Sunk off Mersa Mutru by the U331, probably as a result of the torpedoes starting a fire in her 4 inch magazines which had been 'inserted' adjacent to her 15 inch magazines) and HMS Malaya, were, for a time the best the RN had available.

The Naval Estimates were knocked back in 1928 and again in 1932, so building of the KGV Class could not begin before 1936. At the formation of the Royal Air Force, the Navy had been forced to give up the Fleet Air Arm, something they did not regain control over until 1938 and then had to find the money to build the ships they needed for the coming war (Winston Churchill is a bit disingenuous about this - he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who would not allow the Navy the money in the 1928 Estimates) and replace the redundant aircraft they were lumbered with. The KGV Class were started building in 1936/7 and in 1939 the three "Lion" Class were started, alongside the "War Emergency Class" HMS Vanguard. She was not completed until 1945 and she was armed with the guns taken from two battle cruisers converted to aircraft carriers in the 1920s.

The three Lions were cancelled and scrapped on the slipways. The official reason was that they could not be completed in time and the war effort needed the steel for other projects. I am not alone in believing that the real reason was that Whitehall had belatedly discovered that the guns they were designed to carry, 16 inch guns of a more advanced type than those fitted to the Rodney and Nelson, could not be produced in Britain. The reason was simple, Whitehall had cancelled all forward orders (more budget 'savings') for these guns and for 15 inch guns, so the gun foundry that produced them had been closed in 1928 and dismantled. The largest bore gun the UK could produce for itself in 1936 was a 6 inch, which is one reason why this became the standard gun fitted to the very successful classes of 'cruisers' built between 1936 and 1950.

Thus, the Royal Navy, in 1939, found itself equipped with ships that were, for the most part, obsolete and even the new ones being built, The King George V Class, had to be equipped with very large and complex quadruple turrets carrying 14 inch guns salvaged from the ships scrapped in 1922 by the 'Geddes' Axe which reduced the once proud fleet to a shadow of its former self. In truth, they should have focussed on building more aircraft carriers, but Churchill and his fellows still believed that battleships could force an enemy to sue for peace. One of his more ludicrous schemes, thankfully thwarted by Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, then First Sea Lord, was to sacrifice the 'R' Class battleships, Royal Oak, Royal Sovereign, Revenge and Ramillies, in an attack through the Skaggerak, Great Belt and into the Baltic to attack the German base in Kiel.

The problem in all 'Defence Reviews' is that they are entered into and conducted with the same goals in mind. "Where can we cut the costs and how much can we cut" rather than any real appraisal of what the Armed Forces may be called upon to deal with. This has been exposed again and again, but still Whitehall and Westminster are attempting to pull the wool over everyone's eyes. The Defence Chiefs find themselves caught in the same trap over and over - how do they defend the expenditure on ships, aircraft, tanks, personnel and training, when all the Treasury wants is cuts, all the politicians want is to be able to look good afterward and the civil service just keeps expanding.

Sir John Nott's slashing of the Royal Navy's resources and the withdrawal of the Falklands Patrol exposed just how little Whitehall and Westminster actually understand about Defence of the Realm. Blair's excursions into Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed massive gaps in materiel and equipment for the Army and the RN and now we face a drum beating Iran and an upsurge in piracy, not just off the Horn of Africa, but increasingly elsewhere as well. Blair and then Cameron's interventions in Libya, Sierra Leone and elsewhere continues to expose the fact that the RN is stretched to the limit, the Army is as well, and now the RAF is to be crunched again, with the ludicrous suggestion, once again, that 'piloted aircraft can be replaced by remote vehicles and missiles. They tried that stupid argument in 1964 - but, of course, hope everybody has forgotten how that worked out.

The Naval Staff have a very difficult role. Their efforts to maintain a 'balanced' fleet, one capable of meeting the demands most likely to be placed on it, are increasingly difficult. In Nott's review, the aircraft carriers were scrapped on the grounds that the RAF would provide all air cover from land bases or the US Navy would from their carriers. Falklands proved how good an assessment that was! Now we have the expensive "air defence" Type 45 Destroyers being deployed to roles they are not designed for in the Middle East, and the carriers have, again, been scrapped. Mind you, that was inevitable as soon as the Whitehall Wonders scrapped the only aircraft that could be operated from them!

The real problem is this. Whitehall cannot look at the big picture, their focus is on 'this budget' and 'this government.' Westminster lacks the competence and the expertise to see anything outside of their ideological goals and, as a result, believe what any civil servant tells them. If the Treasury says something is too expensive, it must be cut. There is no understanding of what is being destroyed and lost, or of the consequences of not having something - until it affects them directly. Tragically, the biggest problem all three armed services face at present is that Whitehall and Westminster see them as a necessary evil, something one has to have, but really doesn't like to think about too much.

They have no vision of what the Royal Navy, the Army or the Royal Air Force should look like, should have or may have to deal with in future. Sadly, like Churchill and his generation, they still think that 'British Industry' and 'the British People' can rise to the challenge, build the ships and aircraft, man them and fill the gaps in the Army and go marching off to deal with any threat at the drop of a hat. They seem to think they can use the nations former glory as a negotiating tool, as a 'trading card' in diplomacy, forgetting that the diplomacy of the 19th and early 20th Century was backed by those 'Grey Diplomats' on the horizon in every ocean.

If the current trend continues, Britain may no longer have a navy in the not too distant future. Perhaps some future historian will ponder over why such an obvious essential for an island nation, dependent on the sea for some 60 - 80% of its food, raw materials and trade, allowed its leaders to scrap its most important military asset.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The danger of cutting defence too deeply ...

It seems the New Zealand government has a major problem on its hands. In order to 'save money' they took the axe to that favourite target of western socialists, Defence. They slashed away happily and triggered a flood of resignations from their armed forces personell, particularly the navy. Now they have a problem, they need patrol ships (they've just bought a squadron of new ocean going ones) to enforce their maritime borders and stop the flood of illegal immigrants ...

Only they haven't got enough sailors to man them. Even if they 'lay-up' some of their other ships, they still face the problem of trying to find enough replacement crews in the longer term.

This is a major problem faced by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force in the UK. Successive governments have slashed Defence Budgets, and the last one actually imposed vast numbers of expensive Civil Servants on the Ministry of Defence, while cutting the numbers of fighting service personnel. This was supposed to be a 'cost saving' exercise. The idea Whitehall has of 'cutting' cost is to sack the service men and women who are generally earning below the national average, and replace them with pen pushers who are generally earning well over the national average wages (with other benefits such as expensive pensions and so on as well). So, on the one hand the Whitehall W*nk*rs are able to claim they have 'focussed on the core delivery' by relieving uniformed personnel from clerical duties, but they fail to notice that the wage bill actually increases because they've replaced those 'uniformed chappies' with higher paid paper shufflers.

You can't send a paper shuffler out to man a Type 45 Destroyer, or let them drive a tank, nor refuel, service or perhaps rearm a strike fighter. But you could do that if the 'jobs' now occupied by civil servants were still filled by uniformed staff.

The real problem which our political classes don't seem to be able to get their heads round is this. Defence now requires a great deal more than being able to march and fire a rifle or throw a hand grenade. At sea the ships have become so sophisticated it needs several years of training just to get a man or woman competent to fill the role they are assigned to. The WW2 days of being able to take a draft off the streets, give them six months at a Training 'Ship' and send them off to fight are long gone. That is as true for the Army as it is for the Navy and the Air Force. And the Training issue is actually the shortest and least problematic part of it.

Where a destroyer or escort frigate could be built, launched and commissioned in a year or less, the modern ships take at least that long to build, fit out and get all the bugs out of the systems before you can start training a crew for it. OK, in an emergency, you could probably have a crew 'in training' on simulators and so on while the ship is built, but even then you would need a minimum of three to six months before it was fully operational.

I read somewhere that in WW2 a fighter pilot would come into the service, do around two months flying on trainers, then move up to a more sophisticated bit of solo flying and training and, after about three months and a brief "type rating" run in a Spitfire, Hurricane or similar, be turned loose to a squadron. Even then many didn't survive their first real combat. To do a similar system now, with the complex and sophisticated aircraft now in use would be to guarantee failure.

Alongside this is the fact that Spitfires were being churned out in weeks, the main holdup being the supply of engines for them, whereas today's new Typhoon requires several months to assemble just one. Even the Army has a replacement material pronlem. Yes, they have some very good tanks and armoured vehicles, but they are very few in number in real terms and we simply don't have the manufacturing capacity any longer to produce masses of them on demand. Nor can you simply 'shop around' and buy in what you need.

I suspect the New Zealand government is only the first of many western governments to discover, embarrassingly, that they have finally managed to cut their National Defences below the point of recovery. It will be interesting to see what they do now.


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Independence Day

I wish all my American readers a happy and safe celebration of their independence. Wikipedia informs me that the Continental Congress of the thirteen colonies actually voted to declare their independence from the British Crown on the 2nd July, 1776, the date John Adams wrote to his wife "should be commemorated with parades, fayres and feasts."

Congress adopted and signed the actual "Declaration of Independence" on the 4th July 1776 and that is the date that has come down in history as the 'birthday' of the United States.

I am sure I am not alone in wishing the US and all its citizens all the best for the future.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Tories were right? Is this Ms P Toynbee writing?

An article in The Independent caught my eye, or rather was sent to me by someone so it would catch my eye. The headline is "The Tories were right: workfare really works" and I had to read it twice to make sure I had understood what Ms Polly Toynbee, yes, she of the Gruaniad, the ultimate champagne socialist, had written. The Tories were right.

She goes on to say though, that the Tories are right and will take the necessary action, but that Labour will reap the benefits of the Tories actions. Sadly, she's probably right on that one as well. The medicine the Tories will apply to the welfare system will, ultimately, benefit everyone who truly deserves to be on the benefit system as originally envisaged by Beveridge. The problem is that old and rather immutable law - the Law of Unintended Consequences. If you offer someone money for not working, they soon find a way to stay not working and take the money. As Ms Toynbee says (and I never imagined I would one day find myself agreeing with something she says) that outspoken (Labour) MP, Frank Field, has claimed for years that the present system is designed to be milked by drones and frauds.

Certainly a recent experiment in Hull and the Medway has seen 'unemployment benefit' claimants fall by 50% since it was introduced. Officials and experts are astonished, not because of the fall, but because of what it tells them the figures have been hiding. Only 920 of the 3,100 who have 'signed off' the benefits have declared they had found work. So, either the remainder had work to begin with or were double claiming, or have decided to starve without benefit rather than find work. I find that last extremely unlikely. There are probably a large number who have decided to do their own thing, perhaps were already 'working for themselves' and now will make it official (hopefully also paying tax and National Insurance) or will seek employment themselves.

The two she interviewed for the article were interesting. One is a 'plasterer' who refuses to consider working for less than GBP300 per week, but was apparently happy to live on GBP95 per week benefit. He would, of course, have also qualified for Housing Benefit and probably Income Support Benefit which would add up to around GBP200 per week, so perhaps he has a point in setting his sights so high. The second man apparently owned a substantial house, refused to be "retrained" alongside "illiterate halfwits" and so has let his house out for rent and is using the proceeds to rent a flat in London while he looks for work there.

The rent on his house must be fairly generous if he can afford to rent a flat in London, buy Travel Cards and food on it! One does wonder how many more 'Barry's' are living quite nicely in their paid up houses and drawing benefits?

What the Workfare "Project Work" is throwing up seems to have surprised the Treasury as well as politicians. It seems that the impact from just these two 'pilots' has made everyone sit up and take notice. Hopefully it will result in a complete and long lasting overhaul of a system that was intended to help those who really needed help, but which political cowardice and bureaucratic incompetence has allowed to grow to become an "entitlement" to many who are, as Mr Field says, drones and fraudsters milking the taxpayer.

What a shame though that the remedial action will benefit the very party that allowed it to get out of hand - Labour.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Evolution, Technology and Intelligence ...

An interesting article came my way today, courtesy the Postulant. Published in the Atlantic, it is by Professor Dennett of Tufts University. Under the title A Perfect and Beautiful Machine: What Darwin's Theory of Evolution Reveals About Artificial Intelligence, it explores some interesting aspects of what has become a much used and sometimes abused term in modern 'training' circles. He points out that both Darwin's theory of evolution and Turing' creation of the 'computational engine' are underpinned by the idea that competence does not require intelligence.

Yes, you did read that correctly. You see, as Turing proved, it isn't necessary for a computer to understand mathematics for it to carry out extremely complex calculations. Darwin also pointed out that the evolution or adaptation of any given species did not require a complex understanding within the species to make the necessary adaptations to become 'competent' for the new environment it faced. But therein lies a small problem. As everyone who has ever used a 'computational engine' to perform a complex calculation can tell you, when it goes wrong, it requires someone who understands how it does what it does and why it does it to repair it. That is one reason species sometimes become extinct - they can't fix themselves when something changes too rapidly, and adaptation takes far too long. Example, the various species of flightless birds which have vanished from habitats because they could no longer outrun, hide or eat the new species that hunted them.

The reality is, that without intelligence, it is difficult to pass on knowledge or understanding of complex matters. Computers are actually extremely stupid. They don't think, they can only regurgitate what is in their memory bank or what is fed into it to allow the processing of whatever formula it has been told to use. I can recall being incredibly frustrated when using an early sprinkler design and assessment program, that it would never tell me where something was wrong, only that the outcome was not correct. Something a bit more like Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld "Hex" with its neatly written message of ***Out of Cheese Error***Reboot From Start*** would have at least told me it needed feeding!

Turing's great breakthrough in computing was to see that the machine didn't need to understand the process. Essentially the computing part is a mindless process. So is evolution. It happens, thinking about it doesn't speed it up, nor does it alter what is already in process. This is where modern computers and the whole concept of creating "Artificial Intelligence" part company. An AI 'computer' needs to think, not to compute. That is the nub of the problem.

For a computer to compute at present it doesn't need to 'think' in fact it can't, but that doesn't make it 'incompetent.' That is where, I believe, much of the modern 'thinking' on training has gone spectacularly off the rails. If I want a human to 'compute' things they must understand the mathematics. To be 'competent' they must think. Some of my readers will recall being told when a new 'training' scheme was forced onto the UK Fire and Rescue Service, that 'competence' didn't require thinking, you only had to be able to 'do' whatever it was. I'm happy to say that we, the dinosaurs of training, have been proved right, competence does require thinking, it does require knowledge and above all else it does require being able to learn from mistakes and correct them.

Darwin postulated, according to some (though I can find nothing of the sort in his words reading his book and his correspondence), that in order for us to have evolved, all that was necessary was a series of accidental changes in our genes over several billion years. No, I'm NOT a subscriber to 'intelligent design,' but I do believe that the whole evolution of all the diverse species and forms of living creatures that make up the biosphere and are all interdependent, cannot have been entirely accidental. Who knows, perhaps some ancestor of Darwin's finches did decide a different shaped beak would be advantageous and set about stropping his on a convenient rock. Then, perhaps having proved his point, convinced others to do the same... Sort of puts a different spin on evolution and intelligence, doesn't it.

As Professor Dennett says, Darwin and Turing both had to 'invert reason' to arrive at their conclusions. There is still a lot we don't understand about either computers or evolution, but we're getting there. I rather think the ultimate answers may hold a few surprises for everyone.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Offensive to God ...

I read that centuries old monuments and structures in Timbuktu, now a World Heritage Site, are being destroyed by Islamic Fundamentalists. Apparently these monuments, many of them the Mausolea of early Islamic converts and rulers, are, according to the fundamentalists, "offensive to God."

The report reminded me of the wave of destruction unleashed across Europe by the fundamentalist Protestants. In England the "Iconoclasts" destroyed statues, defaced paintings and even tore down a few ancient churches - all in the belief that the statue, image, painting or the building "offended God." The trail of damage they did is visible to this day, many cathedrals fell to their demolition teams, the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Indivisible Trinity in Downpatrick being one. Carlisle's cathedral lost its Nave and Transepts to Cromwell's rampage and we are lucky the "Quire" survived at all. Elsewhere pricless windows were smashed, tombs torn open and the remains ejected and scattered and ancient churches turned into prisons, stables (Cromwell again) or partially demolished and "reordered" to prevent the re-institution of the saying of the Eucharist in them.

The Timbuktu vandalsim reminded me of the destruction in Afghanistan of centuries old Buddhist images around 20 years ago and reports of similar destruction in India, Pakistan and elsewhere. Could Islam be going through a phase of "reform" in which the extreme elements are surfacing and running with a new and, as with the Iconoclastic end of the Reformation, dangerous and destructive interpretation of their faith? I think this is very likely the case. The parallels between the determination these folk show to an agenda of forcibly converting others to their belief or eradicating them has some rather disturbing parallels with the manner in which Protestant and Roman Catholic elements approached each other (and, in some places, still do - at least verbally!).

The world is currently a very dangerous place, in terms of political and national instabilities. Again, there is a parallel with the situation in the 1500s in Europe, old Orders were collapsing, new ones springing up. In Africa, many of the current boundaries are very artificial and tribal tensions are being exacerbated by religious ones.

In the meantime we can only hope the local people can act to protect their heritage and repel the misguided fervour behind it.