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Sunday, 30 September 2012

Church ...

This weekend saw the end of the Old Catholic Church of Germany Synod. In German, "Die Alt-Katholische Kirche," also presented as "Alternative Katholische." In a sense, the German equivalent of the Anglican churches. We have a single Bishop for the whole of Germany, +Matthias Ring, and his 'seat' is in Bonn, in a church recently 'given up' by the Roman Catholic diocese.

The "Old Catholics" do not acknowledge the 'authority' of the Popes, but, like the Anglicans, they acknowledge his seniority as a Bishop. So it is interesting that the Archbishop of Mainz, Cardinal Lehmann, allows them to use the Augustinian Monastic church, now the home of the Mainz Theological College, for their Synod and for the final Eucharist of the Synod. The Cardinal is, it seems, more inclined to ecumenical activity than Rome is. Long may it continue so.



The photos show the interior of the Augustinian Church, a somewhat subdued Baroque style the pictures hardly do credit to. The accoustics here are fabulous, especially for the unaccomapnied voice, so a "Licht Vesper" for evening worship of Friday was stunningly set to music by Rachmaninov and sung by some really good vocalists. Today's Eucharist had a packed congregation with our Bishop presiding and a good organist who put the restored Baroque instrument through its paces with a vengeance.

The final hymn was Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory" in German - which several members of the congregation laughlingly declared one of the best things Britain has produced.  All in all, a wonderful experience.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Israel versus Palestine

Recently there has been a bit of a storm over a CofE 'Evangelical' vicar who posted a link to a blatantly anti-semitic website on his blog. Taken with the General Synods disgraceful decision to endorse a campaign to boycott Israel and 'force the Jewish State to abandon its oppression of the "Palestinians,"' I think the incoming Arcbishop of Canterbury is going to need to be prepared to deal with a rising tide of politcal activism against Israel.

What strikes me most forceably in these discussions is the constantly repeated "Israel has no historic right of existence" and it is usually backed by the further statement that "there were no Jews in Israel before the early 20th Century." Both are patently false, though we have to admit that the Maccabean Kingdom was destroyed by the Romans in 77 AD and it noble families enslaved, exiled or deported. As with the Babylonian exile, however, the peasantry remained in situ and formed the kernal of the revival when once the Ottoman Turkish government was ousted by the British in 1916-17. To simply assume that there was no "jewish presence" at all in the intervening years is patently false. We also misapply the Roman title of "Palestine" to Israel or any parts of it. The Roman "Province" of Palestine included Lebanon, a large chunk of Syria and all of Jordan and part of the Sinai. The modern boundaries are the result of European "Power Politics" at the end of WW1 and do not reflect history either.

For one thing there are Christian records from Byzantium which record efforts to suppress or convert the Jews. They failed. So did the Islamic attempts - and for all the modern propaganda that Islam "tolerated" the presence of Jews and Christians, they were not above enforced conversion and blatant coercion. Non-muslims could practice their faith privately, but could not discuss it publicly and they paid a punitive "tax" for the privilege. The tax was - and still is in many Muslim countries - distributed to mosques. Further restrictions included laws which forbid the holding of any office which places a "k'fir" over a Muslim. This is not the case in Israel, the only state in the Middle East which has Christians, Muslims and Jews sitting in its Parliament. Yes, the Christians and Muslims are minorities, but they are there. I know of no other state in that region where a Christian or a Jew would be allowed to stand for election, much less allowed to take his seat if elected.

Balfour proposed a "Two State" solution for the Jewish question and British ambivalence and "deals" made with various religious and political leaders among the Arab peoples bedevilled its practical application. At various times the Mufti of Istanbul (incidently an ardent Nazi who worked tirelessly to raise an SS Division for Hitler) and the equally rabidly anti-Jewish Mufti of Mecca were promised that "Jerusalem would remain Muslim" - a promise made in direct contradiction of promises made to the Jewish people. We should not be surprised then, that some factions among the Jews in Palestine began to smell a sell out and took action to force a solution. They merely anticipated Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta, Robert Mugabe and others to secure their own independence and the security of a country for their people. I find it ironic that the British now lionise Mandela, Mugabe (or they did initially) and Kenyatta among others - but the Jewish leaders remain "terrorists" and "criminals" to be ousted and overthrown. One could be excused for thinking there is (a) a racial or religious bias here, or (b) that the politics of "big oil" override all considerations of history or truth.

Yes, the modern state of Israel is taking draconian action to protect its borders, but they have ample evidence to support the belief that none of their neighbours can be trusted to restrain the daily attacks on its citizens. History supports them on this - we are fed a daily diet of reports on Israeli "attrocities" against "Palestinians" but there is seldom any mention of the daily rocket and missile attacks on Israeli civilians from Gaza and Southern Lebanon. Nor do we hear the oft declared article of faith among the "Palestinians" that their intent is control of a single state - all of Israel. There is much talk now of the "two state" solution, but what those now talking about it overlook is that there are already two states occupying the territory Balfour originally wrote his proposals for. The Kingdom of Jordan and Israel. There is a "Palestinian" nation, it's called Jordan.

The Jews, in my view rightly, smelled a large rat in 1945 - 47 when the British began their planned withdrawal from Israel. First they handed control of all the local government functions, armouries, police and military to the Hashemite King of Jordan (created 'king' by the British in 1919) and even put senior British military personell under his command. The desperate refugees from the Concentration Camps were rounded up, intercepted and shipped back to Germany (even the military in charge of this pointed out to Attlee that putting the refugees back into "internment camps" that had only a short while before been Death Camps for the final solution was stupid. He ignored them) or to Cyprus and vowed they would not be allowed to settle in "Palestine." Once again, the British had traded the interests of a desperate and homeless people for their own (one or two of my relatives were involved in some of this and resigned in disgust as soon as they were free to do so. One was extremely vociferous about it until his death). Britain's 'solution' was to create a single state in the hope that the Jordanians would honour the "protected status" of the Jewish people of Palestine.

Yeah, history shows just how long that would have lasted. In fact, before the British had even begun to withdraw, the mullahs. Muftis and Arab nationalists were declaring the intention to "drive the Jews into the sea." One statement included the declaration that the land would be "refreshed by the blood of the Jew spilled in righteous cleansing." Funny that all of this is ignored by those who witter on about how the Jews "seized" the property of "Palestinians" who "fled for their lives" from the "Jewish onslaught." Again, the truth gets a bit lost here. The Jordanian Army ordered the withdrawal stating that anyone who remained would be "treated as an enemy and shot." The Jews took the view that if you weren't prepared to stand with them, you weren't to be trusted.

Modern accounts make it sound as if the Jews were supported by a huge army, were well supplied, equipped and organised. In fact they were all volunteers, poorly equipped and armed and had to rely on what they could capture for food, equipment and ammunition. The difference between them and the Arab Armies they faced, was that they were fighting for their lives and the lives of their families. I can think of no other similar situation in which "guerilla" troops have had such an incentive. They drove their enemies out of the whole state of Israel west of the Jordan River and the present situation with the enclave of Gaza and the so-called "West Bank" are the result of a sneak attack by Jordan and Egypt in 1948 - after the UN had recognised these areas as being a part of "Israel."

I'm afraid my sympathies lie firmly with Israel and the Jewish people. This is their ancient homeland and, like it or not, they have as much right to a homeland as anyone else. I deplore the Church of England's vacillation and its support of anti-Israel causes and organisations and I hope the new Archbishop will have the courage to acknowledge the fallacy of many who preach otherwise.

Friday, 28 September 2012

More Education.


I could not agree more, however, my replies are frequently too long to be posted as such.

The problems with the English system in my, reasonable well researched, view, go back to the inter-war period, possibly to the late Victorian period in some cases when the first “Civic” universities were established.   Having studied at two, Manchester and Birmingham, there is a unique and “English” feel to the overall environment and it is based in single-discipline undergraduate courses. There are more chemistry graduates than there are chemists, more economics graduates than bankers, but the solid first class honours from a good civic or red-brick university is highly regarded even though it rarely fits the student for a world of work.


Let us wind the clock back further. The two great English universities, normally termed in academic circles “Oxbridge” were set up in a collegiate form by generous donors in the first instance to produce clerics. This then spread to lawyers, then to medics, teaching came as a side-line and sadly remains so to this day. The common theme here is that all of the above are vocations, the Oxbridge colleges therefore provided vocational education, specifically related to the profession and providing only the academic part of the vocational training, the cleric would move into a pupil role with a senior cleric, the lawyer into a pupilage with a barrister, the medic into a junior doctor or houseman role and so on.


Let us now wind the clock forward; if in 1992, the “new universities” had been granted their degree awarding powers based upon a vocational “fit for employment” basis, then many of the modern degree titles would not exist, some would and catering or media studies might well be amongst them, but I suspect they would be much more integrated with industry and commerce than the current programmes. The problem that I see is that all English universities try to be all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:22) providing similar products differentiated only by institutional reputation.

Let us think how Lady Thatcher thought in 1972 when today was the distant future (BSC, 2nd class honours, Somerville College, Oxford, thesis focusing on X-ray crystallography. As I said, more chemistry graduates than chemists!) The Oxbridge Colleges and those research intensive upper tier universities known collectively as the Russell Group, should be allowed to fund their research largely from industry as the Monk suggested happens in Germany; it does happen here, but to a lesser extent, mostly because the colleges will not do what the sponsor wants, but try to shape the need to their own environment.   This will probably lead to the situation where most of these colleges would have relatively small undergraduate intakes and be largely what the US would call “Graduate School”. So not a lot of change there, just a change of focus and a demonstration of climbing down from dreaming spires and connecting with the modern world of business.

What of the “New Universities”? Not so new now, rather like the British “New Penny”, perhaps then to focus, as originally intended, on vocational, work-related programmes in tandem with industry to produce employable graduates. I can see the catering degree in that mix, but not “David Beckham Studies” I can see “Leisure Management” but not equating to a green-keeper's apprenticeship, although it could be a route for a former apprentice to upgrade and up-skill. It does not take much imagination to see that these universities would also have a range of below degree programmes, the HNC / HND, originally designed for apprentices, Foundation Degrees, which have a great deal to offer if designed correctly, ( see “Foundation Degree Forwards” Issue 8, pp22ff http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/fdf/journal-issue-8.pdf Sadly, like a lot of things, it was disbanded last year.) and similar bridges from work to education for adult student as well as the keen but less academic school-leaver.


This leaves us with the middle ground, those civic and red-brick universities and their single discipline honours degree programmes. Are they not the very institutions under threat if tertiary education is closely related to the world of work? Perhaps food for though before the next set of government decisions to change education for their political purposes.

Education again

Josephus yesterday made a couple of interesting points, the first being that the universities are today close to what was proposed in 1972 and the second being that while 'teaching' is a group activity, 'learning' is highly individual. In a sense, yes, I have to agree with that last point, we each learn at different rates and by different means. There is no 'one size fits all' when it comes to the way individuals learn. The best teachers know this and encourage the individuals in their classes to discover how they can best learn.

One thing which has struck me recently - it takes a while sometimes for this old dog to decipher the more heavy German articles he attempts to read - is that commerce and industry in Germany use the universities in what appears, to me, a very different way to their counterparts in the UK. If a German manufacturer wants something tested, explored or even designed, he (or she) approaches a university with an exact set of proposals for a research project and a budget. If the university accepts the project, they agree a support system and the research goes ahead. In this way many PhD students, some Post Doctoral and lots of undergraduates get to work on real world projects as they study. Industry benefits because they get the things they want, the university benefits because it gets to give its students a meaningful experience in research and development - which they then carry on into the workplace.

This may be why Germany currently occupies the Number 2 spot in the world when it comes to new patent registration. They rarely fund a 'Chair' in some esoteric subject, they go for projects and the projects are clearly specified. Interestingly, if the research does result in a viable product, the university benefits from that as well. Coupled with this there are 'Institutes' set up to do research on behalf of the government, commerce and industry. Institutes like the Max Planck and the Frauenhofer receive some funding from the Federal government and some from commerce and industry seeking specific research from projects.

This 'investment' in research obviously pays off well. Most of the current Mars 'rover' is systems and electronics designed, tested and made in Germany. Nor is this the only example. Current research being funded by Germany's motor industry (but probably not GM Opel) is going into more efficient and longer duration batteries. BMW will launch an all electric luxury car next year - its been designed, built, tried and tested exhaustively as a part of their ongoing search for 'clean' energy transport. Other manufacturers here are not far behind either.

So what has all this to do with 'education?'

Simply put, German universities are diverse, but they do seem to have a clear focus on turning out students who, even at them more esoteric and academic end of the scale, have at least some grounding in how what they are learning fits into the workplace environment. I'd need to do a lot of research to find out exactly what makes them so different in their teaching/learning environment, but perhaps someone in the UK really should take a closer look - after all they'd be better placed to spot the differences.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Learning Styles

Reading an article in the latest American Scientist recently I came across an article that sparked a whole new thought train. Written by a specialist in learning psychology, it hits some points which I have long felt need to be addressed. The article is based in a number of extensive studies at schools and universities, and it identifies a number of key issues. The one which leapt out at me as I read this was the statement that scholars are being taught to 'think critically' and 'problem solve' without being given the foundations on which to build a sufficient knowledge base from which to work.

In part this is the 'high lighter' learning system at work. One study found that students who use extensive 'high lighting' in their text books and then read and reread these high lighted texts as a part of their exam preparation recall 50% or less of what they have read. In fact, several other studies have now shown this is the least effective way to study - yet it persists and is encouraged in classrooms and universities ...

As the article states, it is a common misconception that content is less important than critical skills and problem solving, but scientific studies suggest otherwise. Scientists have long known that to teach reading there has to be a connection between the letters and the sounds and this applies in other fields as well - but it isn't always practiced in classrooms. One advantage of 'learning by rote' meant that all the basic underpinning information for things like spelling, addition, multiplication and so on became embedded in the student's mind. Once there it surfaces almost 'on demand' whenever someone is faced with anything like simple arithmetic or the spelling of a tricky word. Reliance on these things being 'absorbed' as the child learns more complex skills without this 'memory databank' has led in some instances to people who cannot tell the difference between words like 'their,' 'they're' and 'there.' Or who cannot perform simple multiplication without using a calculator.

Throw in the currently held belief among teachers that all boys have one learning style and all girls another and you begin to get the sort of results we currently see in schools in the US and the UK. All to often it seems that 'the latest idea' (Anyone remember the 'real books' experiment of the 1990s? Some 'educationist' came up with the idea that simply putting children and books in the same space would lead to the kids learning to read) is an untried, untested 'pet theory' from someone who is not a teacher, but a persuasive 'salesman' for some gimmick. The idea, for instance, that boys are 'hardwired' to be better at 'spatial tasking' than girls has been thoroughly disproved by scientific studies - but it persists in the minds of teachers everywhere. In fact there are ample studies which would help teachers immensely - if they were more widely read and applied.

So the question arises; why aren't they? Part of the problem is access to them. Teaching is time intensive, so teachers don't have a lot of time to undertake 'research' of journals often really only widely available at a university. A 'digest' of the best of these would help, but no one has the inclination or perhaps the funding to undertake it and distribute it. Even if there were one, how many teachers would have the time to wade through some of the more detailed studies in between lesson preparation, marking and classroom management?

As the author of the article says, it is not an easy problem to address, but it is not insuperable either. One starting point he identifies is the universities themselves. After all, this is where most teachers get their training - so why are the various faculties not feeding the 'science' one department has researched, to another where it could be put to proper use? Perhaps this is something which should be looked at more closely, and perhaps then, we could see a 'trickle through' of better 'scientific' teaching skills to the schools - the foundation of an educated society ...

On the other hand, perhaps the 'educators' in places like the Department of Education don't want that. It might produce scholars who know too much!

 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Airships

Last week I joined my son and his partner on a little jaunt to Friedrichshafen on the Bodensee. Apart from the stunning setting, the big attraction was the Zeppelin Museum on the harbourside. The first of the photos below shows part of the full size recreation of the passenger saloon of the Hindenburg, which forms a part of the reconstruction of several other sections. One can see the sleeping cabins, dining room and even a part of the kitchen. The crew accommodation, by contrast, was extremely basic. The big attraction of these ships in the 1930s was their speed - two days from Hamburg to New York when the fastest ocean liner took five. 


On display are a couple of the hefty Maybach diesel engines which drove this huge 'lighter than air' superliner through the air. They didn't fly at a great altitude, usually under 5,000 feet, and flew round storms and other disturbances in the atmosphere. What is striking is the vast size of the ship, probably 90% of it occupied by the gas bags that kept it aloft. The re-creation of the accommodation includes sections of the framing which gives the visitor some idea of the construction. The animated displays, models and other information in the museum makes for a fascinating visit.


If one plans ahead, you can book a flight in a modern Zeppelin, the Zeppelin NT. It operates from the local airport and carries 15 passengers on a flight round the Bodensee. There are, we were told, three of these ships flying in Germany at present, and the company is planning expansion and perhaps some larger vessels. The new ships use helium in the gas cells, not hydrogen which used in the earlier ships and the direct cause of the Hindenburg's loss in New York in 1938.

I was interested to read recently that the concept of airships is far from dead. A company in California and even NASA are interested in developing large airships for cargo carrying. The latest design, I was surprised to learn, makes use of a principle I had pondered while watching the 'new' Zeppelin NT pass overhead.

It is now proposed to make an airship which has 'neutral' bouyancy or marginally 'negative' bouyancy when loaded. She would be lifted by jets or propellers which can be angled downward to lift her clear of the landing area and then gradually redirected to provide both lift and forward motion as it gathers speed. Stubby wings or 'lifting surfaces' would keep it stable and aloft as it travelled, once again at low altitude. The expectation is that these ships would be more economical than current cargo carrying aircraft and, because they are not subjected to the stresses of depressurising and repressurising within very short time frames, would be less costly to maintain.

I have to confess that there is something very appealling about travelling in one of these - as long as it isn't filled with hydrogen!


Monday, 24 September 2012

Bounty Hunters?

I think the offer of a 'bounty' for the killing of the maker of the video said to slander Islams founder is a step too far for anyone. In short, the Pakistani Minister for Railways is now stepping into the realms of 'incitement to murder.' Frankly, no matter what the supposed provocation, that is unacceptable behaviour from anyone i any society which wishes to be consider civilised. It may have been acceptable in the Middle Ages - though even then in Western societies it tended to be regarded as a crime - but it is certainly not acceptable in the 21st Century. Especially not from a Minister of State.

What is stunning is the absolute silence from the lobby that usually deafens us the moment anyone from our society suggests, even mildly, that some form of retribution may be in order for some criminal act. I have not yet seen anyone from one of the many usually vociferous 'human rights' groups utter even a small objection to the 'bounty.' One does wonder why they are so silent. Perhaps because the maker of this video comes from a group that they do not consider to have any 'rights' or perhaps because the video he has made breaches their 'politically correct' vision of the world?

The US President and his Secretary of State are bending over backwards to apologise for the 'offence' this video has caused, and while I can understand the diplomatic need, I find the language they are using interesting. As far as we know, not a murmur of protest was uttered over the treatment of Christians in Iran, in particular the Pastor ony recently released after three years on Death Row after being falsely accused of 'converting to Christianity' or at the treatment of the teenage girl suffering a mental disability, accused of burning the Quran.

There is never a word of protest from the White House or Westminster for that matter at the regular accusations of 'dishonouring the prophet' or heresy or some other 'offence against Islam' levelled at native Christians in these lands.

I wonder if placing prices on the heads of those who level these accusations at their neighbours in these lands would change a few minds? It wouldn't be what I consider civilised behaviour, but it might give some of these fanatics pause for thought.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Celebration

Last Saturday the Monk and Mausi celebrated their marriage in the Friedenskirch in Wiesbaden. It was a fun service, conducted by our local priest in the Old Catholic way and attended by a large number of our friends and the Monk's son and eldest daughter and their partners. A glass of 'Sekt' (can't call it 'champagne' even if that is what it is - the French and the EU don't like it) in the church afterward with everyone was followed by a superb dinner at the Eden Parc Hotel in Bad Schwalbach.

The Eden Parc is a fantastic hotel in a great setting. It was built in 1930 to the "Bauhaus" pattern, and includes large rooms with en suite facilities and an indoor swimming pool and gymnasium. Our guests were booked into rooms here so we could all enjoy the meal, some wine (German drink/driving enforcement tends to be very strict - one glass of anything is too much) and the company. We had guests from Poland, the UK and different parts of Germany so it was an 'international' gathering to say the least.

The dinner was superb. We chose dishes that were Rheingau specialities and a wine list to match. The Chef produced nothing less than a masterpiece, just the right quantity of each course and timing the courses to perfection. He and the rest of the staff were, however, amused and quite taken with the quaint 'English' tradition we insisted on to end the meal - a glass of Port wine accompanied by cheese and English water biscuits. Our guests thoroughly enjoyed the little ritual of 'passing the Port' and we finally retired to bed very late and very, very happy and well fed.

Eventually we will post some pictures - our photographer took plenty, but I haven't received them yet.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Intolerance

It never fails to amaze me that those who loudly trumpet their 'right' to do something, never consider the responsibility that having a 'right' imposes. The latest outburst of fundamentalist rioting, burning and killing in Libya, Yemen and several other Muslim states is a response to the rather crude video created and released by a US based film maker of Middle Eastern origin. OK, he has the right to do this in the US. He probably also has the motivation as he is, by the accounts I've read, a Christian driven out of his homeland by Islamic legalistic restrictions and persecution.

All well and good, he wants to bring this to world attention in a political world that, at present, doesn't want to raise these issues and would rather ignore them. So he makes a film which is, frankly, offensive. But this isn't, apparently, enough for some. Now we have a French magazine publishing deliberately provocative cartoons. All this does, despite their claims to be exercising their 'right' to publish what they choose, is to inflame extremists on both sides. It plays directly into the hands of those who wish to inflame things and bring about conflict.

Is it responsible behaviour? After all, we claim we have the right to 'freedom' of speech, religion and political affiliation, but all of these require the exercise of at least some responsibility. No one, it is true, has an absolute 'right' to not be offended by something, but that does not infer a 'right' to deliberately offend or provoke. In the case of the film maker in the US, he has exercised his 'right' to make his film, but he did so in the fullest knowledge that it would provoke a violent response. This is not responsible behaviour.

The French magazine editor has now published his offensive cartoons - again with the deliberate intent of causing maximum offence and in the full awareness of the fact he is endangering every westerner currently in any Muslim governed country. It has, no doubt, increased his circulation temporarily, but the cost is likely to be very high in terms of destroyed property, lives placed in jeopardy and damage to relations between peoples.

We are, at present in the western 'democracies,' very privileged. Our forefathers fought long and hard for the privileges we now take as 'rights,' but the abuse of these same privileges is likely to lead us back into a dark age of conflict and possibly a loss of all we currently enjoy. It is worth thinking carefully before we embark on any action which is deliberately provocative. Perhaps someone should make those who deliberately seek to provoke pay the piper ...

Friday, 14 September 2012

Final hurdles ...

The Monk and Mausi are in the final stages of preparing for the Church service to celebrate their marriage tomorrow. German law requires a 'civil' ceremony and a 'church' one may follow. As we wanted to celebrate this with a church ceremony, it meant having two goes at the whole. The little wrifggle in the middle was trying to find dates that suited friends and family - and keeping the legal 'permissions to marry' current.

These legal approvals lapse after six months if the wedding doesn't take place within that timeframe. So we opted to do the civil ceremony and legal bits in May, and wait for the church service until our friends and family could be here.

So, tomorrow, we do the church service. Our organist is furiously practicing the recessional voluntary we've chosen. It's fun, it's 'off the wall' and we hope our friends enjoy it. Try it if you can find it - 'Festmusikk' from Vag a Leve (Dare to Live) by Mons Leidvin Takle. He's Norwegian, and his music is fiery, lively and fun.

Our priest thinks its hilarious and loves it.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

An insidious law ...

The 'Law of Unintended Consequences' is just such an insidious law, one might almost say it is an immutable law, one which will always create the opposite effect of what was intended. A copy of an article forwarded to me recently suggests that the effects of this 'law' are beginning to make themselves apparent as 'Green' policies for energy begin to bite. To quote the article -

"Around the world dysfunctional energy policies are forcing large electricity consumers to fend for themselves to keep the lights on."

The author goes on to state that -

"Germany, with its extreme 'Green' credentials, is the canary in the coal mine."

The main problem is that the drive to make countries reliant on "renewable" energy sources, such as solar or wind generators, has eroded the capacity to produce energy by other means. Massive subsidies for wind and solar farms has also hidden the true cost of these alternatives, and opened up a new opportunity for fraud. One Spanish solar park was found to be producing a massive amount of electricity even at night. Investigators found the operators were running diesel generators as their operation was paid according to the Mega Watts delivered and the diesels boosted generation ...

There are two problems with the 'renewable' energy schemes. The first is that the windmills are not close to the user. This means a fairly sophisticated network of powerlines, booster stations and distributions stations is needed to get the energy to the user. Current networks can't do it, so there has to be a massive change in the infrastructure to make it even marginally efficient. The second problem is that the wind is not constant, so the supply can be erratic. That is not good news for those who need a constant and reliable supply. Anyone running computer systems for example, or any operation that requires steady voltage. Current surges in a domestic supply can be costly, take them into industries where sensitive electronic equipment is used and suddenly you have the potential for ruin.

The article mentions the fact that the organisers of the London Olympics were so concerned that there might be supply problems from the electricity grid, they have installed massive emergency generating capacity at all the venues. There were even measures in place to blackout parts of London so power could be diverted to the Games. Many businesses are now finding it expedient to install their own power supplies for coping with outages and suppliers of emergency generators are reporting skyrocketing sales.

In Germany the over hasty closure of the nuclear plants has had to be reassessed. It is too late to reverse the closures, but now the government has had to approve the rather hasty construction of a new generation of coal burning power plants. These will be fitted with all sorts of new technology to ensure 'carbon capture' - more correctly, the filtering out of CO2, SO2 and a several other 'greenhouse' gases - and their storage deep underground. According to the author of the article, this will still result in an overall increase in CO2 emissions of 4% and it probably doesn't end there, even if the writer of this piece hasn't taken the new technologies into account. Germany already has the highest electricity prices in Europe thanks to all this 'greening' of energy, but it isn't reducing demand and it certainly isn't reducing emissions.

One reason is the introduction of "Electric Autos." These need their batteries charged up, which they do by plugging in to national grid outlets. So we simply transfer the exhaust gas from the car to the power station.

So it would seem that the drive to reduce energy consumption is in fact driving it up, while at the same time, reducing the supply. I think the next few winters here could be very interesting especially if, as all the old timers are predicting, it looks like being colder. Last winter Germany's electric grid came rather too close to blackout a couple of times for the government's comfort. This year they seem to be praying they can keep it going until the new power stations come on line.

Perhaps time for the Monk and Mausi to go out and buy our own little stand-by generator ...

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The end of summer?

On Saturday the Monk and Mausi witnessed an annual event in our little village. For some reason the roof of our home (we are the last house in our street and on the uppermost edge of the village) is the chosen assembly point for the swallows. At one point the roof was covered in these beautiful birds, hunkered down and their wings slightly spread as they soaked up the sun. Those not on the tiles were wheeling overhead in a swarming cloud and others perched on our satellite dish and TV aerial. It was an amazing sight.

Then, as if someone had fired a starting gun, the whole flock took to the air, wheeled a few times and then departed in a south westerly direction. Since then we have not seen a single swallow anywhere. Our neighbours tell me this is early for the migration, and I'll confess I have the impression they were much later leaving last year.

I wonder if they know something we don't?

Monday, 10 September 2012

Great News

The Monk is delighted at the news his youngest daughter, Alli to family and friends, is engaged to her longterm partner. Jim did the romantic thing, proposing to her on a bridge in the South of France. The Monk is doubly pleased as Jim is a great guy, one the Monk thinks very highly of and knows will take good care of a very special lady.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Burglary ...

As ever, Josephus is able to provide a wealth of information on the way in which "justice" has come to the low pass it has. Part of the problem, as I see it is the fact that successive "liberal" attempts to soften the law on crimes against property have resulted in a situation where a crime in which no one is physically threatened or injured - is not regarded as "serious." It therefore does not attract much attention from either the police or the Crown Prosecution Service, and it attracts even less attention, in terms of punitive response, from the courts.

While I acknowledge the point Josephus makes concerning the fact that prisons tend to be sinkholes of drug dealing, bullying, abuse and a training ground for further criminal activity, I do not think that not sending someone to jail solves either problem. Surely, if the jails are in this state, it is time to overhaul them? If some reports are to be believed (and I hasten to add that I take a lot of the sensational press reporting with a shovelfull of salt) prison inmates now enjoy a range of 'rights' that many on the outside would envy. I also fail to see a 'suspended' sentence as a punishment. It is all too easy to play the system to the point the sentence lapses and then simply revert to type. I would have more faith in this system if the condition included a daily attendance at a detox clinic designated by the court and proof that the addict has been 'clean' and gainfully employed for a much longer period before being released from the threat of a suspended sentence.

Statistics published by Crime Watch a couple of years ago suggested that most people awarded suspended sentences broke the conditions with impunity and were never subjected to the sentence imposed simply because there was noone monitoring it. Several studies recently report that drug addicts rarely succeed in staying clean unless they can be removed entirely from their former circle of friends, the environment they were in and placed in one where they can be kept away from contact with the addictive substance. As that is almost impossible to achieve, it suggests that those driven to crime by their addiction are unlikely to be 'saveable.'

I do not advocate a return to Old Testament 'justice.' As Josephus says, it is not appropriate in the 21st Century, though the Sharia system (first codified according to my sources in the 17th Century) demands the full 'life for a life' treatment for crime and I don't think that is a good direction either. That said, we have a situation where the criminal seldom is seen to 'pay' for his or her crime and the victim doesn't get considered at all. As someone whose home was burgled (many years ago) I can say that it is the most devastating experience to have one's home violated by some scumbag ransacking it for valuables. I think the excuse that "he/she was 'driven' to it by their addiction" should be given far less weight than it is. At least one magistrate I know says he hears this offered far to often and wishes he could impose a really harsh regime - but can't.

It seems to me that if the prisons are awash with drugs, then it is high time the system was overhauled and tightened. How about the imposition of an automatic extension of sentence if found in possession of drugs? Better, how about an automatic doubling of sentence for supplying them inside one of HMs Prisons? How about an automatic five years inside for anyone caught actually smuggling them in in the first place? If the prison authorities are 'content' to allow heroin to be available inside because, as Josephus says, this keeps the inmates 'chilled' and amenable, perhaps it is time to take a long hard look at the management of the prison system.

The Howard League and other "prisoners friends" argue that prison is not about "punishment" but about "reforming" the prisoner. From all the evidence, I would say this concept has failed spectacularly. Prison neither "punishes" nor "reforms" at present. Again the statistics published by various bodies monitoring this suggest that 80% of inmates reoffend within months of release. Does this suggest we should refrain from locking up those who commit crimes? According to some, (and the judge at the centre of this storm seems to be one) the answer is 'yes,' but this is a 'soft' option. It doesn't guarantee reform and it certainly doesn't punish. It seems that the reform of the obviously failed prison and judicial punishment system is 'too hard' and therefore not to be considered.

Perhaps, however, if this latest display of judicial idiocy does nothing else, it will compel someone to consider what is going on in the prisons and who actually runs them. The drug dealing, manipulative offenders and their supporters in the Howard League and Human Rights groups - or the Prison Service and the Judiciary? If, as Josephus suggests, you could fill stadia to witness public hangings or corporal punishment, it would apear that the public at large is sick and tired of criminals not being punished for the misery they inflict on the rest of us.

It may well be time for the Whitehall and Westminster denizens to stop uttering platitudes and tinkering around the edges of the problem and take note of the victims of people like this "brave" burglar.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Burglars are brave?

The remarks recently by a senior judge, that "burglary requires considerable bravery" as he let a burglar off in his court, shows just how out of touch the judiciary has become in the UK. Calling a common thief "brave" is an insult to the armed services, fire fighters, police and people like the volunteers who man the RNLI's lifeboats. A burglar is a self-serving thief. They are not motivated by feelings of self-sacrifice, service or duty. Their motivation is purely their own profit. Bravery doesn't enter into it.

Since this is now before the Judicial Complaints commissioners, one can hope that they will remove this idiot from office. Sadly, I rather think they will do their usual back-flips, headstands and contortions to keep him in office and present his statement as having been "misrepresented" or "taken out of context."

The truth is that as long as this sort of mindset is allowed to preside over our courts "justice" will not be served. It will not be seen to be done, nor will the punishment fit the crimes. To those who say "justice" must be about "reforming" or "helping" the criminal I say this. You have never had your hard earned property stolen by some lazy scumbag. You have never had your home violated and your hardearned possessions stolen. You have never been threatened and beaten in your home when you disturbed some common thief helping himself to your possessions.

No, you live in high value homes, in well protected properties remote from the realities of the criminals you support and defend.

This judge and any others like him should be removed immediately from his post and the "guidelines" issued by the Department of Justice should be torn up. Burglars should be jailed. Thieves should be jailed. The defence that someone was "desperate" for his next drug fix and this drove him to commit the crime should be rammed down the lawyers throat - and the lawyer arguing it put in jail alongside his junkie client.

Justice is not served by these morons. Justice is NOT being done by such men and women. It is time it was changed.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Managers versus Workers ...

Our recent trip to the UK was a bit challenging thanks to a strike by the Flight Attendants on our chosen airline. The strike began at 05.00 in the morning and ended at 13.00, but the impact across the entire operation of the Frankfurt Airport was massive. We'd checked in online, so could go straight to the Baggage Drop and 'do-it-ourselves' at the electronic baggage check - except that the queue to do so was a little over 50 metres in length. And that wasn't the longest queue by any manner of means. Our return flight, by comparison, was a dream. No waiting, no strike and we arrived on schedule to a normally functioning airport.

So why the strike? It comes down to the fact that Lufthansa's management is looking to cut costs. Their proposal is to use 'agency' staff as Flight Attendants as this means they save on the 'employer's costs' by not hiring directly. In effect, the Agency carries the cost of things like Health Insurance contributions, pensions, annual and sick leave and so on. Understandably, the current employees are not keen on this idea at all, and I have to say I'm in full agreement with them on it. The Union has fought tooth and nail against it, and now the management have come up with a lulu of a solution.

The offer on the table can be summarised as; 'We won't use the Agency Staffing idea if your members agree to work longer hours at the same pay.' It sounds reasonable, except that it is, in effect, saying the staff can have their current terms and conditions - but take a 20 - 30% cut in pay.

Lufthansa has, until recently, been managed by a CEO who came up through the ranks and understood the airline business. The current CEO, has an engineering degree and has worked on the original team that turned Lufthansa into the success it is today. He then moved to Deutsche Bahn (the German National Rail company) before returning briefly to Lufthansa and then to Swiss Air as CEO. His articles suggest he is driven by the maxim that profits must be maximised by cutting costs - in this case, wages. But, as is usual with senior managers proclaiming staff must 'work harder for the same pay' he is not proposing a similar cut in 'costs' at Board level.

As a friend who works for Lufthansa remarked recently, 'The CEO and Board, unlike the Cabin Attendants, can work anywhere. We wish they would.'

Having worked until very recently under this kind of management, I have to say I agree. In recent years I have not met a single 'senior manager' of this 'school' who fully understood what the 'coal face' staff actually did, or how demanding it was. Nor have I ever encountered one who was prepared to make the sacrifices they routinely demand of their 'staff.'

Perhaps it is time to demand that they work the same hours they demand of their staff, take the same pain in the pocket and face the same working conditions. Oh, I forgot, they're 'strategists' its down to 'Middle Management' to work out the 'tactical' and 'task' issues ...

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A Double Anniversary ...

The Monk today celebrates his son's birthday. Once again he is shocked at how the time has flown by since the morning he first saw him in the Universitas Hospital in Bloemfontein shortly after his arrival. The intervening years have been a roller coaster ride in many ways, but full of fun and laughter along the way. The Monk and Mausi wish him a great day, and a fabulous year to come.

The Monk was also somewhat shocked to realise that today also marks the date, fifty years ago, that he was confirmed in the Church of England by the Bishop of Grahamstown. A double celebration then.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Anniversaries ...

Today is the Monk's youngest daughters birthday, tomorrow is his son's and suddenly he's reminded of the passage of the years. All three of his children are now adults and doing very well for themselves. He and Mausi spent the weekend in London visiting his family and attending youngest daughters something-th birthday. It was great to meet so many of her friends and to meet her partner's family as well.

The Monk and Mausi would like to wish Allison a great year, ahead, hoping that there are many more to come and that each simply gets better and better for her.