Tuesday, 30 April 2013

An Undeclared War

Actually it is more of an unrecognised 'war' since there is nothing 'undeclared' about it except that it is studiously unacknowledged in the West. In an article in Front Page Magazine, which I found thanks to a link from a friend, an important point is made concerning the recent attack by Islamic Extremists on the ancient cathedral of St Mark in Cairo. The article is entitled An Islamic Declaration of War on Christianity and written by Raymond Ibrahim, a lecturer and expert on the interaction between Islam and Christianity in the Middle East. I would argue that it is not a 'new' declaration, it has been underway for some time, though perhaps it is now a little less easy for the 'Liberal-Left' western politicians and media to ignore.

I would suggest that few people in the UK or in Europe will have known that the Coptic Cathedral of St Mark is the burial place of the gospel writer, Mark the Evangelist. Mark is unique among the apostles. He is the 'youth' who ran away naked from the Garden of Gethsemane. His parents owned the house and provided the Upper Room in which the Last Supper took place and it is likely that, as a young teenager he was present at that meal. He was the companion of St Peter in Rome and wrote the Gospel that bears his name there, undoubtedly from Peter's reminiscences and he was also a friedn or acquaintance of the sons of the man we know as Simon of Cyrene, even mentioning them by name in his Gospel. His is one of the few tombs we can be confident of identifying - and the cathedral that bears his burial place is one of the holiest places outside of the Israel itself for all Christians.

As Raymond Ibrahim says, this attack was an attack on the whole of Christianity, not just on the local congregation or church. It is part of a much wider pattern. It is part of the civil war in Mali, in Nigeria and in a number of other 'Arab' states. I use the parenthesis here because the term 'Arab Spring' is a western one and most of the folk they have labelled thus are offended by it, since they are not 'Arab' nor are they descendents of the Arabs. Indeed, what the west has chosen to ignore, or perhaps refused to acknowledge, is that the revolutions have, without exception, brought the fundamentalists to power, with all the baggage they espouse - and which, as I wrote yesterday, the 'Liberal-Left' refuse to acknowledge that they endorse.

Returning to the subject of my title, during a stay in Libya pre-revolution, I did manage to attend Mass on one occasion. It was celebrated in a school hall, permitted after a lengthy delay while the keys were 'found' by the custodian, by the Bishop of Benghazi. From him I learned that his cathedral (another very historic place to Christians in North Africa) had been burned down a few years before and its reconstruction and repair were being hindered by a combination of intimidation, theft of the materials and official obstruction. I have since learned that it has got far worse. The Bishop's email has been hacked and he now suffers Denial of Service, his post is intercepted and all donations to his community and congregation are confiscated.

I know this is not the way the vast majority of Muslims behave or even think. I have a large number of Muslim friends and I respect their beliefs just as they respect mine. The problem is that the heart and soul of Islam has been highjacked by a small section of extremists who preach 'jihad' against Christianity and the west. They want to recreate the ancient Caliphate and a world in which the Sharia Law is applied to everyone. Theirs is not the ambition or the view of the majority, but they are the ones now in power in Iran, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, so-called Palestine and several other parts of the Middle East. Theirs is not a message of 'peace and love' as the western Liberal-Left tries to proclaim, theirs is a message of oppression and suppression.

The attack on St Mark's Cathedral is only the latest and most high-profile in a long, long list. No one in the west now recalls the occupation and desecration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It was 'only' a Christian shrine and I have even heard some secularists sneer that 'the place should be pulled down' because 'it only marks a Medieval fantasy and reinforces a Christian myth.' Fine, as long as all this 'nonsense' stays in the Middle East. In this line of thinking it only affects Christians living in those lands. Again I have heard the sneer, 'if they wanted to avoid persecution, they could just switch to Islam, it's all fantasy anyway.' Easy to say if the only thing important to you is your comfortable lifestyle.

There is a danger that, unless these fundamentalists are stopped soon and the threat they represent is not recognised we will end up repeating the words of Pastor Martin Niemoeller -

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Catholic.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
Source: Wikipedia.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Humbug or hypocrisy: The Left and Islam (among other small matters ...)

Yesterday I read a very interesting article written by Meredith Tax under the title "An Expedient Alliance? The Muslim Right and the Anglo-American Left." I found it extremely thought provoking, not least because it touches very nearly on something I have long pondered about the so-called "Liberal-Left." They are certainly on the left arc of the political circle, but hardly "liberal" except in name or propaganda. They proclaim 'freedom' for all manner of things, from racism to speech, but closer inspection invariably exposes limits. Others may only exercise these 'freedoms' if the Left approve. And the 'freedoms' are restricted to those things they have declared to be a 'right.'

Mr Tax's article highlights one of the anomalies. On the one hand the Liberal-Left proclaim themselves to be champions of womans', Gays' and minorities 'Rights,' but now they have embraced the extreme Right of the Islamic political spectrum. This is where the fundamentalists who seek to create a theocratic state, ruled under Sharia law, lead. The Liberal-Left have climbed into bed with folk who wish to impose a regime that will reverse the very feminine, gay and minority 'rights' the Left claim to hold as 'inalienable.' Somewhere along the line, someone has their message mixed - or they simply believe their normal following won't notice.

That actually led me to considering something I became aware of a little while back. The Socialist Workers Party has dominated the 'Labour' scene for most of the post-war period in Britain. Their website proclaims that they do not have a 'heirarchy' and that everything they do is decided by a committee on a consensual basis. For some time now though, there have been whispers of sexual impropriety at the top, but there has been a wall of silence about it - even threats to 'discipline' anyone who broke ranks. Notoriously, they also refuse to deal with the police on anything - as the police in their vocabulary are "agents of oppression" and not to be trusted. I'd find that funny, if it wasn't for the fact that there isn't a single "socialist paradise" in history that hasn't immediately set up the most draconian state controlled 'police' operation to ensure everyone stayed in line and on message.

The last dictator of the German "Democratic" Republic - the euphemistically named Communist puppet state in East Germany - bleated that the Stasi were there to "protect" the "peoples rights and freedom" and his widow still repeats this whenever she is asked. The "enemy" is, of course, anyone who doesn't share the same vision.

The problem for the Left is that they are NOT believers in anyone's "freedom" or "rights" but their own. What they are is control freaks, people who believe that they, and they alone, are arbiters of what is fair, reasonable or right. Everyone else must be controlled, directed and micro-managed. They love the "benefit" system precisely because it gives them control of individuals lives. They want control of industry and commerce, of housing, of the labour 'market' precisely because that will mean they, and they alone, control who has access to the best housing (reader's should see the 'reserved' holiday homes, estates and yachts the former East German "Socialists" enjoyed), the best education, the best jobs and the best incomes.

In my recent posts on the late Baroness Thatcher, I was reminded that many of those who purport to 'hate' her today have no actual experience of the events and circumstances that brought her to power. They have forgotten the sinkhole of nepotism, corruption, bullying and outright gerrymandering that pertained under "Deggsy Hatton" in Merseyside. They have forgotten how Ken Livinstone and his cronies staged a 'palace coup' against his own more moderate Party leadership to seize control of the Greater London Council and his attempt to turn the London Region into a Peoples Socialist Republic. The legacy of that is still affecting the lives of people in Lambeth, Lewisham and Brent.

The Left currently loudly proclaim their espousement of the "rights" of Gays, women, Gypsies, immigrant minorities and anyone else that serves their purpose, but look beneath the surface. I have no doubt that the SWP affair will prove to be but the tip of the iceberg. Several of the more militant Unios are not as squeaky clean as they pretend and most sail pretty close to the wind in a number of things - not least the bullying tactics they deploy when they wish to compel reluctant workers.

The Left are past masters at getting a lie accepted as 'truth' by a significant portion of any given community. Meredith Tax has exposed just one of many such duplicitous positions. I have no doubt at all that he will soon be on the receiving end of rent-a-mob demos attempting to silence him. I also suspect the police and the political establishment will do nothing whatever to defend him.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Feeling the Squeeze?

An interesting report in the last week identifies the fact that British homes - especially new ones - are smaller than anywhere else. It appears that a single bedroom flat is at least 5 square metres smaller than anywhere else in Europe, and many two and three bed 'houses' are up to 10 square metres smaller than anywhere in Europe. I can say that I have now seen new houses being built in Germany that are at least 50% larger than similar structures in the UK, more substantial in construction and the rooms are much less cramped. What is more, they are eco-friendly, using heat exchange systems for central heating, substantially insulated and still generally more 'open' than most houses and flats I have seen in the UK.

The report states baldly that the new buildings are less substantial and, room for room, smaller than the houses built in the 1930s and 40s. Even the 1950s building stock is more generous. So what is the problem? Partly it is the cost of the land on which the houses are built. Building land is at a premium in the UK, so it is usually sold in 'parcels' to a developer flush enough to outbid everyone else. In Germany very little land is sold that way, and there is an emphasis on allowing individuals to buy a 'plot' on which to build their own home to their own choice of design. As the report says, the UK now has massive new estates of tiny and almost identical hutches, while in Europe one sees much more individualism. Ironically, Denmark, which could claim to have even less 'landmass' than the UK, is the most generous in terms of house/room size, with Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany all pretty close.

I suspect that one reason for the UK's problem with the size of homes and the pricing is the profit motive. UK developers seem to cram more houses onto any given plot size than anyone else in Europe. Obviously this is tied to the price paid for the land itself, which can be spread over three houses instead of the two anyone else would site on the same size piece of land. It is aided and abetted by the Department of Environment and the Department of Housing refusing to set minimum criteria for rooms and houses. This is probably politically driven, since the developers have a nice niche here and can maximise profit by building smaller and smaller homes at maximum price.

As the report identifies, rooms classed as 'double bed' sized in new homes are just that. You can get a double bed in, but nothing else. The same goes for a 'single' bedroom. Don't even think of putting in wardrobes. A few years ago, when I was looking for a new home for myself and cat, I explored the possibility of buying a small two bed terrace on a new estate, and rejected the idea as soon as I realised the living room was large enough for two small armchairs and a small coffee table if I shoved the TV into the (false) fireplace. It was advertised in the brochure as a "living/dining room.' How they thought anyone would get a dining room table and chairs into it with the livingroom furniture I'd love to know. Upstairs, one bedroom, supposedly the 'double,' had a closet. There was no room in either for a wardrobe and the 'closet' was better described as a small broom cupboard. It is well known that the developers actually fit out their 'show homes' with non-standard furniture so that the impression is given of much more generous space. I've often wondered whether this could be considered fraudulent.

As for the price - it was more than I had paid for the three bedroom house I was selling. There was no way I could afford it anyway, so I settled for a 1960s built flat in the not so nice part of town that needed some work - but was much more genrously proportioned!

Sooner, rather than later, the Mandarins and Political denizens of Whitehall and Westminster are going to have to address this. I expect their chums in the building industry will be unhappy, but they've ripped the off the buyers for years. There does come a point where they have to change their ways, and I suspect we've almost arrived there.

Friday, 26 April 2013

A Generation Gap Looming for 'Associations' ...

I have recently read an interesting article written for those who manage and develop 'professional' and other associations and societies in Queensland, Australia. The main thrust of the article is that, unless an association or society adapts, makes its activities and its aims attractive and accessible through all the modern media, electronic and otherwise, it will slowly wither as it faces increasing competition from others and perhaps even new rival organisations. The author points out that the majority of current 'associations, societies and institutes/institutions' are run and directed by Baby Boomers and now face the challenge of trying to attract and engage new members from Generation Y.

Generation Y is, according to the author, savvy, critical and demand open access to information. They are the 'connected' generation and expect organisations to engage them through the new media.

Reading it made me realise just how far apart my generation is from Generation X, never mind Generation Y! As my eldest daughter, the Postulant, pointed out to me, I fall on the borderline between the 'Silent Generation' made up of the pre-war and wartime kids with the immediate post-war children, and the Baby Boomers. Mine is the generation that was always too young to be experienced, and then to old to be allowed to take the senior positions and leadership of anything. We watched as the War Leaders were displaced by the Sixties Hippy revolution, and found ourselves sidelined by the new group. The Baby Boomers knew exactly what they wanted, or appeared to, so while the likes of myself struggled to make our way into careers and to raise ourselves and our families to meet the challenges of the societies we found ourselves in, the Baby Boomers grabbed the reins and set out to change the world.

While they were at it, the technological revolution took off and changed the game rules for everyone, but, if you are already in the driving seat, it is easy to remain there. As long as you don't wreck the ship, of course. The Baby Boomer generation were 'joiners.' They joined societies, associations, movements and worked furiously to get control and then change them. Where my generation accepted the world as it was, found a niche and then worked hard to climb the often slippery slopes of careers, to counter political interference and sometimes outright nepotism and the odd 'glass ceiling' it often seemed the Baby Boomers were taking a sledgehammer to everything. An example I have often had to confront is a simple one. Ask any church committee (usually dominated by Baby Boomers) how we could best engage with young people. You are immediately swamped with proposals for doing away with formal liturgy, scrapping organs and choirs and bringing in sing-a-long choruses round a guitar.

The tragedy is that the proposers can never see that, while this may have appealed to them as teenagers, today's teenagers may (and often do) have completely different tastes and desires. This difference is now coming home to bite - and with a vengeance. As the Baby Boomers reach retirement, the organisations they have dominated for so long are struggling to attract and engage new members from Generation Y. According to the article I read, it is because the current 'leaders' of our associations, societies, etc., simply aren't technically 'savvy' enough, but I'd suggest it is also because they have successfully alienated Generation X. I suspect, the new kids on the block have spotted the control freak approach of many Baby Boomers and want no part of it.

It does seem a shame that many Generation X folk find themselves caught in the same situation as my generation. On the one hand being told by Baby Boomers that they are not yet experienced enough, and on the other by their own offspring of Generation Y, that they are too old or not savvy enough with technology. There has always been, it seems to me, a 'generation gap' but the speed of technological development, especially in communications media, has turned it into a chasm for many. Generation Y has never known an age without mobile telephones and the internet. Generation X may have vague memories of telephones being tied to landlines and all mail being delivered through the letter box at the door, the Baby Boomers may recall the 'telex' machines that gradually replaced telegrams, but none of them are likely to have lived in a house without television, radio, or at least one telephone.

There is one more trick to all of this as well, and that is that the 'boundaries' between the Generations may be different in different countries and may be much wider in some than in others. One thing this member of the 'Silent Generation' is sure of is this - the struggle for control of all manner of things and for the hearts and minds of the next generation is going to be fascinating, probably unpleasant at times and very, very hard on the losers ...

Thursday, 25 April 2013

World Views ...

I've just finished reading the latest of the Terry Pratchett collaborations with the scientists, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. The Science of the Discworld IV: Judgement Day is, as ever, interesting reading, the science accessible and the Pratchett characters carry it along nicely. My only criticism is that it expends rather a lot of time in not so veiled attacks on religious belief which does rather detract from the overall enjoyment of the book.

It does flag up the fact that there are probably four main 'world views' among us humans. To a mathematician, it is all centred on numbers. The whole universe is reduced to numbers, formulae and theories, many of which have to be constantly revised, revisited or scrapped altogether. Then there are the physicists, for whom it is all about particles, or the biologists for whom it is all about genetic data transfer, the difference being that the physicist is wants to tear the genes apart to find out what makes up the sub-atomic components of it, while the biologist gets into the chemistry of life. The fourth 'world view' is the religio-philosophical one.

The main criticism leveled at 'religion' by the scientists in this book is that it has a 'human-centric' world view, while science, they assert, has a 'universe-centric' view. In one sense this is true enough, the problem being that the vast majority of humans do not share the scientific understanding or vision of the scientists. The universe is simply way to vast, to distant and too big, so they focus on the smaller, more parochial view around them. They understand things that are human shaped and sized, this is relevant to their lives, things like the Higgs Boson though it might be interesting, is of no importance to the daily lives of billions, but the price of food, the rain not coming or the snow persisting, is.

Admittedly this pair of scientists have the grace to acknowledge that scientists aren't always right, and that quite often some significant theory worked up by one branch of science is ignored by another, or has to be completely revised or scrapped when someone else comes up with some bigger, better or more elegant theorem. In the last century we have had a "Stasis Theory" which relies on matter continuously popping into being to maintain a 'Static' State, the "Big Bang" which is now questioned by String Theory and variations on that, multiple universes which expand and collapse and even Einstein changed his famous formula a couple of times. The truth is that there are more questions than answers to each new 'discovery.' I did enjoy the explanation given of the search for the Higgs Boson with the Large Hadron Collider. In a piece of pure Pratchettism, the search is likened to a group of "pianologists" who are unable to see or play a piano, but their experiments lead them to conclude that, when certain parts are struck, it let out 'twangons'. High energy impacts might produce a 'slamon' and as they progress they get more and more 'effects' they name pianicles, pianinos, muanos ans so on. Eventually their efforts lead to the creation of a forty storey Large Hotel Collapser and it is discovered that pushing pianos out of the fortieth storey produces a meddly of sounds they name the "Bigg Bashon" ...

But they still have no idea what a piano looks like, or what it actually does.

The thing I found annoying, and which, to me, undermines their argument here, is the dismissal of the entire contents of the Bible as "fantasy" when, in fact, they've done no more than attempt to discredit the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis. That ignores the considerable body of arcaeological and historical evidence which supports quite a number of the other books and certainly the New Testament books. To do so, is hardly 'science' in fact it calls into question their claim to impartiality as scientists.

Where I do agree with them is that there are those in all religious communities who insist on clinging to a literal interpretation of a much translated story. They simply cannot accept that the opening of Genesis is a story. A pretty damned good one if you ignore the obviously 'humanised' time scales and listen to what science says now. Clinging to 'literality' like this is to reduce God to human constraints and proportions. He is simply not like that. Sorry folks, but no big human shaped father figure drifting about the clouds benevolently. As a Rabbi once told me, you have to understand God as being everywhere, everyhow and everywhen - all at the same time. Sadly, it takes a lot of effort to get to grips with that, and it is simply too big for most. But you do have to grasp the nettle sometime.

I do not have a problem with phycisists, mathematicians, biologists or any other discipline reducing the universe to the components that fascinate them, I would, however, point out to them that the Stephen Hawkings who will leave a vast legacy when his disabling illness finally claims him, are rare. The majority of disabled folk live ordinary lives, many in hardship and without the support Stephen Hawking enjoys, and their "universe centric" view offers little by way of hope or comfort to most. There is also a danger that shifting the focus away from the religious 'human-centric' to a 'universe-centric' position, does tend to encourage the line of thinking that individuals don't matter. That is a dangerous line to take. Down that road lie exploitation, slavery, genocide and every other abuse.

I do not suggest that the majority of scientists think that way, and I do acknowledge that there have been, and still are, followers of various religions who do. They are, however, restrained for the most part, by the majority who do adhere to the tenets of their faiths, most of which, being human centric, insist that each individual is important and should not be killed, should be free and should be given the respect of others.

My own 'world view' probably straddles both. I recognise that I am made of the particles (Higgs Bosons among them) created in the heart of the stars that populate the universe. I do not believe that humanity in its present shape and form is the ultimate product of God, we are still evolving and I cannot say what we will eventually become in another thousand, two thousand or a million years. A biological genetisist probably could have a stab at predicting it, probably using a very fancy mathematical model on a super computer. I do not have a problem with correlating the story of Genesis with the science of cosmological development and creation, or with evolution, I believe in a God who works slowly and suing the tools and laws of physics. I also believe that many of the stories, such as Noah's flood, are probably 'folk versions' of real events, probably related to the refilling of the Mediterranean basin and the Black Sea and other areas as the last great Glaciation came to an end.

The God I believe in is big enough and dynamic enough to be present here as I write, and yet be present at the heart of the Galaxy should he wish to be at one and the same time. He is big enough to be at the moment of Creation and at the end of it, also at the same time, yet I can believe that he is interested in and concerned for his creatures. All of them.

The genetic biologists tell us that 'life' can and does arise by accidental means as various ribonucleic acids mix, react and change - yet at the same time they tell us that the supposedly simplest form of living creature, the Amoeba, is incredibly complex. As is even a bacterium or a virus.

I would suggest that we all need to have two 'world-views.' One should be 'universe-centric' and allow us to see the wonder of the whole of creation, a seething mass of energy, dusts, particles with exotic names, massive stars and burned out shells, tiny blue planets like our own and vast gas giants with raging storms at their hearts, and, in order to keep us human, we need a 'human-centric' view as well. We are what we are, a branch of the mammalian 'family' of life on this planet, but, as biologists will tell you, with DNA and older RNA that we share with bacteria and even viruses.

I don't subscribe to "Intelligent Design" but I do subscribe to the belief that God does oversee the whole. That at times He may take a direct interest, though not on an obvious and "mass" level, but quietly, individually and very, very subtly. I have been present at far too many deaths to have not noticed that something a little more subtle than simply chemical action has ceased.  I live, therefore, in hope, that one day we will leave behind this mudslinging absolutist position on both sides of the debate between science and religion and recognise that both have their place and their merit.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

St George for England

Was the signal flown to launch the attack on Zeebrugge on this day in 1916 and it resulted in the single largest number of awards of the Victoria Cross in history. Today is St George's Day, the English 'National Day' and sadly, probably not being marked by that many in England. The Monk's flagstaff, to the amusement of his German neighbours, is currently proudly flying the St George's Cross.

But, as a friend asked him yesterday, how did the English end up with a Turkish patron saint?

For starters he wasn't Turkish. George, also known as 'The Great Martyr' was from Lydda, now called Lod, and was a soldier in the Roman Army of occupation, though he may well have been a native of Roman 'Palestina,' an area that included part of Southern Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, part of the Sinai and part of the land East of the Gulf of Aqaba. Some sources say he was born in Cappadocia of a Greek father, and his mother was from Lydda in present day Israel. He was martyred in Lydda in about 304 AD and was one of the first martyrs in the anti-Christian purge of Diocletian. There were a number of churches dedicated to his memory and martyrdom in England from a quite early date, certainly long before the Norman Conquest and the oldest Coptic cathedral in Alexandria is also dedicated to him. In fact, there are many churches in the Eastern Orthodox tradition with this dedication and even a country - Georgia - which takes his name.

His popularity increased among the English with the soldiers who went from there to the Crusades, bringing back exotic tales of miracles and attributions of their safe return to his patronage. Many adopted his red cross on a field of white as their 'uniform' on surcoats and shields, and those who returned home brought it with them. The story of his dragon slaying has two sources, the first is an allegorical use of the 'great serpent' to describe his fight for his faith against the Emperor, a fight he 'lost' in physical terms, but won, in spiritual terms' in the view of Christians of his time. The second is a confusion in iconography between images of George and images of the Archangel Michael who is almost invariably depicted with the slain 'dragon/serpent/beast' of Revelations at his feet. Often St Michael is shown holding a lance with a pennant adorned with a red cross on a white field and this may have given rise to the story as it was brought to the west.

The patron saint of England, until the reign of Edward III was the last Saxon King, Edward the Confessor, whose 'banner' or flag is shown below.

Sometime around Edward III's reinstatement of John Balliol as 'King' of the Scots, he also adopted St George as Patron of the Kingdom of England - and since then the English Flag has been the St George's Cross. So that is how we got a Byzantine-Roman Greek as our patron saint ...

Saturday, 20 April 2013

What drives this lunacy?

Reading the reports on the hunt for the Boston Bombers, one has to wonder what drove the suspects to this dastardly act? Assuming that the police have identified the bombers - and events would seem to confirm they have - why would these two young men, one almost qualified as an engineer, the other as a medic, turn on the society that has welcomed them, provided them with opportunities for education and possible careers it is unlikely they would have otherwise received?

It hasn't taken the conspiracy theorists long to get going either. Already I am seeing comments suggesting that the "government," the "Feds" (FBI), the CIA and even the Republican Party are behind this. Others are making the connection with Islam and asserting that "Islam = Terrorism" while still others are attempting to refute that, and assert instead that "Religion = Extremist" and that all people of any "faith" are more likely to engage in acts like this. Frankly that is ridiculous, and the vast majority of decent Muslims loathe the way their faith has been perverted by the lunatic fringe that is the extremism afflicting it at present.

What we do need to discover is what it is that makes young men adopt these extreme views and engage in violently anti-societal activities. No doubt, in due course we will learn when one or both of these young men - apparently converts to Islam - were radicalised, but that may not answer the question of why they then embarked on this path to self destruction. We hear much about how great Islamic society was under the Caliphates, and that it is the ambition of many of these young men to bring about the restoration of it - but they should take a look at their own history. In the latter days of the Caliphate, it was sinking into self-indulgence and corruption. Its fall, at the hands of the Mongol hordes, was the moment many of the 'scholars' had waited and prayed for as it gave them the opportunity to reject all 'liberal' ideas and the sciences - and take their society back to 'basics' where the faith, and the societies it is dominant in, has remained ever since.

It strikes me that the Boston Bombing is a double tragedy. The bombers inflicted the first on the society and their victims, but their radicalisation, their being 'turned' if you like the the path of violence, murder and ultimately their own 'martyrdom' in the name of their faith is a tragedy in and of itself. The answer is not a removal of religion from society, but a need to address the radical elements of it effectively. We need to find out why young people go down this road, and find counter arguments which makes them see the pointlessness of such directions.

My prayers go out for the families of the victims and the victims, but I pray too for the families of the bombers, for the investigators and for the young men themselves. One has already paid with his life for this act of stupidity, the other will, no doubt pay the same price in due course. Before he does though, we should attempt at least to discover why he felt he must do this, and then to show him the compassion he denied his victims.

It isn't easy to do that - but it is required of those who claim to follow Christ.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Growing Up Fast ...

Harry, now six months and growing up fast.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A Nation Bent on Self-destruction?

Yesterday we, as a nation,  buried the late Margaret, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. Thankfully we were not treated to the behaviour of the Left and those loathsome idiots who threatened to do their best to turn the funeral into yet another opportunity for Rent-A-Mob protests. As usual, the British put together a stunning event bringing out all the very best in ceremonial for the occasion. The timing was impeccable, right to the last second and the spontaneous applause as Her Majesty arrived shows how far adrift the Left and their republican ambitions are.

The passing of Lady Thatcher, and the responses to it, open some difficult questions. Since I cannot adequately say any of this as well as Mark Steyn, the author of the article I reproduce in its entirety below, I leave it to him to set out the picture. The article appeared in Jewish World Review, a link to which is included at the head of the article.

A magnificent but temporary interlude in a great nation’s bizarre, remorseless self-dissolution
By Mark Steyn

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | A few hours after Margaret Thatcher’s death on Monday, the snarling deadbeats of the British underclass were gleefully rampaging through the streets of Brixton in South London, scaling the marquee of the local fleapit and hanging a banner announcing, “THE BITCH IS DEAD.” Amazingly, they managed to spell all four words correctly. By Friday, “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” from The Wizard of Oz, was the No. 1 download at Amazon U.K.

Mrs. Thatcher would have enjoyed all this. Her former speechwriter John O’Sullivan recalls how, some years after leaving office, she arrived to address a small group at an English seaside resort to be greeted by enraged lefties chanting “Thatcher Thatcher Thatcher! Fascist fascist fascist!” She turned to her aide and cooed, “Oh, doesn’t it make you feel nostalgic?” She was said to be delighted to hear that a concession stand at last year’s Trades Union Congress was doing a brisk business in “Thatcher Death Party Packs,” almost a quarter-century after her departure from office.

Of course, it would have been asking too much of Britain’s torpid Left to rouse themselves to do anything more than sing a few songs and smash a few windows. In The Wizard of Oz, the witch is struck down at the height of her powers by Dorothy’s shack descending from Kansas to relieve the Munchkins of their torments. By comparison, Britain’s Moochkins were unable to bring the house down: Mrs. Thatcher died in her bed at the Ritz at a grand old age. Useless as they are, British socialists were at one point capable of writing their own anti-Thatcher singalongs rather than lazily appropriating Judy Garland blockbusters from MGM’s back catalogue. I recall in the late Eighties being at the National Theatre in London and watching the crowd go wild over Adrian Mitchell’s showstopper, “F**k-Off Friday,” a song about union workers getting their redundancy notices at the end of the week, culminating with the lines:

“I can’t wait for
That great day when
F**k-Off Friday
Comes to Number Ten.”
You should have heard the cheers.

Alas, when F**k-Off Friday did come to 10 Downing Street, it was not the Labour party’s tribunes of the masses who evicted her but the duplicitous scheming twerps of her own cabinet, who rose up against her in an act of matricide from which the Tory party has yet to recover. In the preferred euphemism of the American press, Mrs. Thatcher was a “divisive” figure, but that hardly does her justice. She was “divided” not only from the opposition party but from most of her own, and from almost the entire British establishment, including the publicly funded arts panjandrums who ran the likes of the National Theatre and cheerfully commissioned one anti-Thatcher diatribe after another at taxpayer expense. And she was profoundly “divided” from millions and millions of the British people, perhaps a majority.

Nevertheless, she won. In Britain in the Seventies, everything that could be nationalized had been nationalized, into a phalanx of lumpen government monopolies all flying the moth-eaten flag: British Steel, British Coal, British Airways, British Rail . . . The government owned every industry — or, if you prefer, “the British people” owned every industry. And, as a consequence, the unions owned the British people. The top income-tax rate was 83 percent, and on investment income 98 percent. No electorally viable politician now thinks the government should run airlines and car plants and that workers should live their entire lives in government housing. But what seems obvious to all in 2013 was the bipartisan consensus four decades ago, and it required an extraordinary political will for one woman to drag her own party, then the nation, and subsequently much of the rest of the world back from the cliff edge.

Thatcherite denationalization was the first thing Eastern Europe did after throwing off its Communist shackles — although the fact that recovering Soviet client states found such a natural twelve-step program at Westminster testifies to how far gone Britain was. She was the most consequential woman on the world stage since Catherine the Great, and Britain’s most important peacetime prime minister. In 1979, Britain was not at war, but as much as in 1940 faced an existential threat.

Mrs. Thatcher saved her country — and then went on to save a shriveling “free world,” and what was left of its credibility. The Falklands were an itsy bitsy colonial afterthought on the fringe of the map, costly to win and hold, easy to shrug off — as so much had already been shrugged off. After Vietnam, the Shah, Cuban troops in Africa, Communist annexation of real estate from Cambodia to Afghanistan to Grenada, nobody in Moscow or anywhere else expected a Western nation to go to war and wage it to win. Jimmy Carter, a ditherer who belatedly dispatched the helicopters to Iran only to have them crash in the desert and sit by as cocky mullahs poked the corpses of U.S. servicemen on TV, embodied the “leader of the free world” as a smiling eunuch. Why in 1983 should the toothless arthritic British lion prove any more formidable?

And, even when Mrs. Thatcher won her victory, the civilizational cringe of the West was so strong that all the experts immediately urged her to throw it away and reward the Argentine junta for its aggression. “We were prepared to negotiate before” she responded, “but not now. We have lost a lot of blood, and it’s the best blood.” Or as a British sergeant said of the Falklands: “If they’re worth fighting for, then they must be worth keeping.”

Mrs. Thatcher thought Britain was worth fighting for, at a time when everyone else assumed decline was inevitable. Some years ago, I found myself standing next to her at dusk in the window of a country house in the English East Midlands, not far from where she grew up. We stared through the lead diamond mullions at a perfect scene of ancient rural tranquility — lawns, the “ha-ha” (an English horticultural innovation), and the fields and hedgerows beyond, looking much as it would have done half a millennium earlier. Mrs. T asked me about my corner of New Hampshire (90 percent wooded and semi-wilderness) and then said that what she loved about the English countryside was that man had improved on nature: “England’s green and pleasant land” looked better because the English had been there. For anyone with a sense of history’s sweep, the strike-ridden socialist basket case of the British Seventies was not an economic downturn but a stain on national honor.

A generation on, the Thatcher era seems more and more like a magnificent but temporary interlude in a great nation’s bizarre, remorseless self-dissolution. She was right and they were wrong, and because of that they will never forgive her. “I have been waiting for that witch to die for 30 years,” said Julian Styles, 58, who was laid off from his factory job in 1984, when he was 29. “Tonight is party time. I am drinking one drink for every year I’ve been out of work.” And when they call last orders and the final chorus of “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” dies away, who then will he blame?

During the Falklands War, the prime minister quoted Shakespeare, from the closing words of King John:

“And we shall shock them: naught shall make us rue,
If England to itself do rest but true.”

For eleven tumultuous years, Margaret Thatcher did shock them. But the deep corrosion of a nation is hard to reverse: England to itself rests anything but true. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A lady of compassion ...

The Left's well established 'Spitting Image' caricature of the late Margaret, Baroness Thatcher, is of a heartless, strident, bullying woman, always sneering, always snatching money from the poor to give to the rich. It is just that, a caricature, nothing like the real person at all, and the creation of those who saw her as a threat to their idyllic vision of Britain as a socialist Utopia. When she took office in 1979, the UK was broke. Industry was struggling to manage on a three day week, power cuts were endemic, the Miners under Scargill had brought down the Callaghan government (they were demanding a 42% wage increase at the time) and promptly declared war on the new Conservative government.

In the selling off of council housing, often used by some to keep their voters in line, she gave everyone with the ability to escape the strait jacket of council housing the chance to do so. It is said she should have seen to it that the money was spent on new housing. The truth is that the law actually said this was what the money should be spent on, but the largely Labour run councils who benefited from the sale of their run down housing, didn't. Yes, she benefitted from the North Sea gas and oil field revenues, but let us not forget that she first had to beat the Unions that tried their luck to wreck that bonanza as well. But now we have young morons raging about how she 'destroyed the UK's industries, destroyed the education' and 'sold off their future.' No mention in their mantras of the role of the Unions and certainly no mention of the Left's utter incompetence in managing any economy.

There are many stories of simple acts of kindness, of care taken of junior members of her staff and even letters written in reply to children while she was in office that give the lie to these slurs. Some very good examples are given on the blog Archbishop Cranmer, under the title, Margaret Thatcher - cold blooded, heartless and cantankerous? Perhaps the most telling from none other than Anthony Wedgewood-Benn (the multi-millionaire former peer and diehard Marxist who prefered to be known as 'Tony Benn').

He wrote (and told several others) -

"I remember her at the funeral of MP Eric Heffer ... someone behind me (was) coughing. It was Mrs Thatcher, and at the end I thanked her for coming and she burst into tears. She had come out of respect for someone whose opinions she disagreed with."

Now, I wonder of we will see any of her detractors showing similar respect and compassion? Probably not. They don't do compassion. Patronising, vilification, bullying, lying, spin and propaganda - these are the stock-in-trade of the left, not compassion and as for showing respect for an opponent or their views ...

Forget it. Today the Union Flag is flying at 'the dip' - the width of the flag below the full hoist - in memory of a Prime Minister who got a lot wrong, but pulled the UK out of the mire of socialist 'public ownership/union management.'

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Boston Bombs

I have been trying to think of something I could write concerning the bombings yesterday which is neither a simple regurgitation of the news, nor a leap into the dark in second guessing. It is really quite hard to keep a 'Christian' attitude to any comment as well.

The tactic of placing two devices, with the second detonated to coincide with the arrival of the emergency services, helpers and police, is one well used by terrorist organisations. The Provisional IRA  were very good at it. Usually the second device is larger than the first, the aim being to draw as many people as possible into the target zone. It is a sickening, cowardly and utterly despicable action - no matter how 'just' the perpetrator thinks the cause might be.

Only those who have had to deal with the aftermath of something like this can possibly know what it is like. When you respond, it is a result of your human instinct to go to the aid of another person in distress. There is nothing specially heroic about it, it is what compassion demands. Sadly, the men and women of evil also know this, and exploit it to maximise the damage they can do. This, sadly, is where my attempts at Christian charity fail. I would not hesitate to remove from this life any such person who fell into my hands. They have placed themselves outside of society, and outside of humanity.

As yet, apparently, no one has claimed responsibility for the Boston bombs. That is, to say the least, unusual. It does rather suggest that the perpetrator may be among the casualties. That is something, however, that the investigating agency will have to deal with.

For now, my prayers are for those injured and killed in this, for those who had to respond to it and those who witnessed it.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Keeping up with Harry ...

Harry has now reached his almost adult size, certainly his coat is now getting a more adult appearance, and his interest in everything we encounter on our walks can be tricky. Like this morning's meeting a just out of hibernation snake. Not being an expert on European snakes I gave it a wide berth - then had to get a lead on Harry and keep him clear as well. It was a small snake, copper in colour, very lethargic, with a small head and eyes. I suspect not poisonous, but I wasn't going to push my luck. Coming from Africa, I tend to think of all snakes as poisonous until proved otherwise ...

We've now got a temporary fence rigged and Harry is enjoying the garden, the flowers, the brds, the sunshine ...

Plus, of course, we live in the Taunus Nature Park - natural and 'managed' forest. So walks tend to be sorties into a world of other smells, animals, birds, the occasional dog and walker, cyclists and even horses, not to mention deer, the odd fox and a host of other denizens ...

What more could we want?

Friday, 12 April 2013

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

The picture below I reproduce from The Spectator's blog, it says everything one needs to know about how Blair, Brown and Labour got the British economy into the current mess. It stopped just short of doing what the previous Labour Government, under Callaghan, had done - roll the printing presses and print more and more funny money. Labour is incompetent when it comes to economics. This graph proves it. They fuelled the so-called 'boom' during their time in office by spending like there was no tomorrow - and now the blame the Tories for cutting back.

When Blair took office in 1997, the country was solvent - a legacy of the Tories - it only took him five years to reverse that and the commitments they'd made before being expelled from office are what is still hurting like hell. Worse, these incompetents are still claiming they can 'fix' the economy - only now they want to turn on the printing presses again. Just as in the 1970s, Labour have proved themselves incapable of recognising the difference between the money in their wallets, and the money in everyone else's pocket. The real irony here is that a very large part of the borrowing since 2008 is being made to pay the debts piled up before 2007.

Blair/Brown's legacy is a pretty shoddy one in my view. Ruined economy, rising dependency on benefits, pension funds robbed out and destroyed and every service and industry crippled by politically correct claptrap and vast mountains of bureaucratic 'assessment' of everything to keep from getting sued out of existence.

I commend the Spectator's article.

Thursday, 11 April 2013


Much has been written recently about 'communities,' but very few seem to have a clear idea of what it really means. I had to give it some thought when someone wrote to me that their 'community' seemed to be 'reduced' to the small congregation they belong to at their local church. That is the thing about 'communities' - they are actually quite small and they take a number of forms. 

We 'live' in a community of family, close friends and even colleagues. They're the people we know at least by sight and see on a regular basis, the one's who, if you fall in the street will hurry over to help you up and check you're OK. Church congregations are 'communities' in that they share something in their faith and they know one another. We lost the 'community' sense when things started to get too big. My favourite example is the Fire Brigade. I served in two 'Brigades' and then, later, in a uniformed role at a major training establishment. In the smaller of the two 'brigades,' everyone knew everyone. The Chief Fire Officer would sometimes appear at Roll Call and knew each and every fireman and ambulanceman personally. We all knew each others strengths and weaknesses and there was a strong sense of belonging.

In the larger 'brigade', we had more people, but we still knew everyone by sight and there was still that sense of all being a part of the team. Once again, the Senior Staff regularly met or spoke to just about everyone in the service. As a Divisional Officer, I made a point of visiting every station when I was on weekend stand-by and meeting as many of the staff as possible. I certainly wasn't unique, all the DOs did it, and so did the ACFOs and the Deputy. We were all simply following the example of our Chief who'd set the standard. We knew our people and they knew us, and what is more, knew they could talk to us. 

The other good example is in the Church congregations. I found this in all the church 'communities' I belonged to, and it wasn't just that I was a part of the 'ministry team' as a server or Reader. It was the sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself, yet still being an important part of it. No, I never had a 'one on one' with the Archbishop of Canterbury (I did, but he was then the Archbishop of Wales and I was his 'chaplain' for an occasion), but I regularly met my Diocesan Bishop or the Suffragan and both would have been quick to tell you that the real 'authority' in the Church is God - and anyone can talk to Him at any time. 

That is where it all breaks down once organisations, towns or cities get too big. The Port Elizabeth Fire and Emergency Service employed just over 300 people. We certainly didn't know each other by name, but we knew each other by sight, and everyone knew the CFO and his Senior Staff. By contrast, the London Fire Brigade employs 6,000 and it is almost impossible even the Divisional Commander to know all the people working under his command. What the 'Chief' says is so filtered by the time it reaches the troops it bears no relationship to what he meant. You even find men employed in it who have never, in 30 years, seen the Chief, much less talked to him. 

So they don't feel part of the larger organisation, they boil it down to 'The Watch' or 'The Station' or 'The Division.' The Chief and his Staff are remote, isolated by more than just distance, and the Union is very quick to exploit that and foster a 'them and us' approach which is seriously damaging to the sense of 'community' or 'team.' In this instance, 'Big' is very far from 'Beautiful' and equally distant from efficient. 

This is what the politicians don't understand about a 'community.' They think everyone sees them as 'part of the community' when most of us wouldn't consider them even as a 'visitor' unless we had to. They've become too remote and thus, disassociated from our lives in a positive way. This is why the LFB and other mega organisations have enormous problems among their personnel - they are simply too big to be able to identify the components as being 'in the same community.'

For me the 'community' is the people I work with, play with, pray with and live with. It is close family and my very close friends. I have very few close friends, and none of them are anywhere near me, most are a long way away, but they are still part of my 'community.' It is the same with 'close family.' My brother lives in Cape Town, my offspring in the UK, and I live in Germany. So it boils down to my wife when I need a hug or to talk. Communities are, in a way, flexible and constantly changing. Nor is it always bounded by physical boundaries. Any attempt to define it as a particular unit is likely to run into problems. What the miners in the North East meant by 'community' was the guys they went to school with, worked with down the pit, drank and play darts with in the pub, and their families living in the same street. It wasn't flexible and it even went on to include supporting a particular football team, taking part in particular activities and drinking only in a certain pub. 

The likes of me would never be considered a part of that 'community' even if I supported the same team and drank in the same pub. 

That is, I think, the problem. When some speak of a 'community' they associate it only with a particular set of criteria and don't see anything else as 'community.' When a politician speaks of a 'community' they often have a rather fluffy idea of people holding street parties, carnivals and living together in a street, suburb or village, they fail utterly to see that it has much wider and more complex format. How many think of the people they work with as a 'community'? It is, perhaps, the most enduring 'community' of all, something you quickly appreciate when you leave it for any reason.

Being part of a 'community' does not require agreeing with everything and everyone. It doesn't mean living in each other's pockets or homes and it doesn't mean we all have the same, do the same things or have the same tastes. What it does mean is being able to support one another in difficulty at a personal and local level, because we know each other and understand each other. Government can't 'make' a community, and neither can they 'break' one, though they may, by some action change it or give it a new direction.

When you look at it carefully, a 'community' is a group of individuals who share interests, faith or employment. Perhaps they live in a particular area or see each other regularly in a social setting. The individuals may change from time to time, and an individual may move and join a new 'community' somewhere else, but may also still retain links to the old one. In that sense they are still a part of the first community as well until such time as those links are, for whatever reason, severed.

Some communities may change so completely that they can no longer be said to be the same, yet a new community will have superceded it, so it is different, not gone. None of us likes change, and we like radical change least of all, yet the one thing that is constant in life is change. We can accept and embrace it, or isolate ourselves and be left behind as everyone else moves on. The choice is always a delicate one, and sometimes it is one made by a 'community' which leaves the individual behind.

As I said at the outset, the concept of a 'community' is a very complex one.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Ugly Face of Left-wing Prejudice ...

The death, yesterday, of Baroness Thatcher, has exposed the ugly face of left wing prejudice and hatred. The scenes of pimply youth clambering onto cinema facades to change to signs to proclaim her death, adding the 'txt.spk' LOL and then showing off to the cheering, dancing, mob of ignoramuses in the street filled me with disgust. The vast majority of these morons were not even born when she left office. All they know of her or her policies is the twisted biased and bile filled twaddle regurgitated ad nauseum by the left-wing press, the BBC Polit Buro, their teachers and lecturers and their parents.

Personally, I'm sick of hearing how 'she destroyed' the Unions, the Miners, Communities, Gays, the NHS and the Railways. I would say the Unions destroyed themselves when they set out to impose the government of their choice - Marxist - on the nation. Scargill, the miner's 'leader' openly declared the whole purpose of the strike by the coal miners was to bring down the government. No elected government is going to tolerate the dictat of a small section of the population in that manner. Down that road lies the failed Soviet Union, North Korea and so many other failed 'Socialist/Leninist/Marxist/Stalinist experiments. Did Thatcher send troops to crush the miners? That is what Scargill's hero Stalin, or Castro, Guevarra, Mao or Kim would have done. No, she simply refused to back down. Yes, it caused enormous hardship for those who persisted in believing Scargill would lead them anywhere but to disaster, but it was their choice, their belief that they could dictate to an elected government, that they could demand massive wage increases, higher government spending and even more 'public ownership' in the face of the massive failures of every 'nationaised' industry.

Yes, she certainly did face down the likes of Red Ken Livingstone and the Union shop stewards that had brought British Leyland to a £6 billion a year loss with the taxpayer subsidising this to the tune of millions per week. Yes, she put in hardmen to 'sort it out' and again, it was without the use of secret police, troops or force. They played it straight down the line. No work, no productivity; no pay, no bonuses, no increases, no subsidies and no bailouts. She privatised Telecoms, Railways, Coal mining, Power generation and a number of other massively inefficient industries and 'services' until then costing the taxpayer a huge amount to carry vast numbers of frequently unproductive staff, and run by the Union Shop Stewards for the benefit of the Labour Party and the Unions, noone else.

In some instances I think she went too far. I'm not sure water supply is best provided by private suppliers, and Blair was probably right to renationalise the management of the railway track maintenance network. She was certainly wrong on the Poll Tax, though I do believe that the idea is the right direction, individuals should make a contribution to the cost of the services they use, the size of the house I own or the plot of ground I occupy is not related to how much rubbish, sewage or anything else I require from the council. Nor does it relate to how much I use the roads they are responsible for or anything else. Why, therefore, should I pay sometimes three times as much as a house of the same size in the same area where six persons share and who rent their property at a subsidised rate from a Housing Association with all of them on 'Benefit.' The fact I own my property and have to pay for everything to do with its maintenance while subsidising the larger household through my taxes and my higher Council Tax payments is, to me, ample reason to say this system is wrong. The State is not and should not attempt to be, some sort of latter day Robin Hood.

I frankly find myself ashamed of the behaviour of these louts who take pleasure in the death of someone who, even in death, is twice the man any of them will every be, and four times the woman. She was giant on the world stage and a true giant when seen against the pygmies now infesting Parliament. No, she wasn't always right, but she wasn't wrong in what she achieved either. She took this socialist basket case of a country and dragged it by the scruff of its neck into a world of success. It is a tragedy that those who followed her squandered everything and have brought us to this point where the streets are the property of scum who know nothing of decency, who think everyone else owes them respect, a living, a house and anything else 'on demand' and that they have no need to earn any of it.

If nothing else does it, this should expose the hideous face of the envy that lies at the heart of socialism and left-wing thinking. It is the resort of those too idle and too incompetent to think or make an effort on their own behalf. Their envy of anyone more successful or harder working is now exposed. They won't make any effort to improve their own situation, yet they crave the rewards they see those who are prepared to work hard getting.

History will, I think, vindicate Baroness Margaret Thatcher, but sadly, her detractors and those now dancing in the streets and 'celebrating' her death, will have destroyed our society before that can emerge fully into the light. May she rest in peace.

To those celebrating her death, I use the words of Shakespeare - "A pox on all your houses."


For another view on Mrs Thatcher vist Autonomous Mind. He explains his conversion to her views very well.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Pondering the 'Green' philosophy ...

Most readers will know that I do not support the 'Green' movement in almost all of the aims and ambitions as they are currently stated. With that said, let me also make clear that I do support the search for alternative sources of electrical power generation, I do wish to see the planet kept clean and tidy and I don't like pollution in any form. So, perhaps to the surprise of many earnest 'Greens,' I actually do give a considerable amount of thought to my impact on the planet. What I do not believe in is the screaming headlines about total meltdown of Ice Caps, sea level rises of several metres or global temperatures that will fry us all.

Once again we are seeing scientific papers being produced claiming that observed data must be wrong, since their 'estimates' and 'probabilistic models' give a different outcome. Somewhere, someone must be having a laugh. In particular those who oppose our society must be revelling in the way in which the ill-informed, earnest followers of anything 'Green' rush to take up placards and blockade sites where they believe 'evil Capitalists' or equally evil 'government' is about to 'destroy the environment.' I do wish these folk would actually take a step back and consider carefully the alternatives.

I do firmly believe that we need to find alternatives to oil, gas, coal and our consumption of them. The trouble is, as soon as you start a debate on any of this, some earnest 'Green' hijacks the discussion and wants to drag it into a debate which usually includes us all returning to some sort of 'self supporting' Utopia. Civilisation doesn't work that way, and technology certainly doesn't run on cow-pats. Except, if one part of the 'Green' movement gets its way, we won't have any cows either. No, what we need is affordable energy, which is, if not renewable, at least minimal impact, and it does need to be reasonably 'locally' sourced. At present most of the western nations are heavily dependent on supplies of oil and gas from countries which can, at the drop of a hat, decide they aren't going to supply them, or will only continue to do so at vastly inflated prices.

At present there are a lot of companies turning to electric cars as a solution to oil consumption and exhaust pollution in cities. This is probably, in the long term, a good move, but it does create two very large problems. First, it switches the fuel consumption from the user to a producer. To sustain more electric cars, we need more electricity produced. Wind isn't going to cut it. Not with the current technology which is, despite protestations to the contrary, at least as old as using wind power to grind grain. Nor will solar panels do much more than contribute a small trickle of current, and both of these technologies have a massive environmental impact.The manufacture of solar panels in particular is environmentally extremely damaging, and now we come to the other bit. Efficiency. Put simply, they aren't that efficient.

Secondly the batteries are massively damaging environmentally to produce, don't have a long 'life' and can't be recycled. The metals used in them are hugely toxic, and stored in quantity, at least as potentially harmful as any potential nuclear leak could be. You really do NOT want to be anywhere downwind of a fire involving them.

A coal fired power station generates a large amount of electricity quite cheaply, but its efficiency - according to Greenpeace - is seldom more than 47% because of the 'waste' heat lost in the condensing process for the steam lines. (Some 'Green' campaigners actually believe that the 'steam' from these towers is a pollutant and is 'waste' venting from the steam lines). The best estimates put windfarms at about 25 - 30% efficient in producing power, while solar panels loiter around 16%. It simply does not make economic or environment sense to replace something with a higher efficiency ratio (and I don't agree with the Greenpeace method of calculating the 'efficiency' of conventional power stations) with less efficient and much more expensive ones.

The trouble is that the technology to generate electricity with more efficient systems has been hamstrung by the focus on 'renewable' sources; that is, wind and solar. One should not mention nuclear in the presence of a 'Green,' it tends to produce foaming at the mouth, rabid placard generation and hysterical ranting about the 'dangers' of radiation leaks, vast piles of 'waste' being stored where it can pollute water courses and the dreaded word 'cancer.' Yet the same person will happily place a generator of ionising radiation to their ear to plan the next 'demo' to blockade some facility they disapprove of with their fellow cohorts. It seems to have passed them by, that modern reactors are smaller, more efficient and contain less fissile material - with a longer active life - than the old one's first introduced over 40 years ago.

Those who for years during the Cold War tried to kill off the western ideal of freedom probably can't believe how efficiently our 'Greens' are preventing growth and the development of the technologies we need to remain competitive in the economic arena. It must be the supreme irony to have a society like ours, that prides itself on its technological abilities and has given the world so much in terms of health, scientific advances and the whole concept of freedom, is allowing a small group of ill-informed 'campaigners' to destroy it.

As I said at the beginning, I want to live in a free and fair society. One that is not dependent on some despots good will for my energy and power needs, one that is free of bigotry of all sorts and especially free of the sort of misanthropic misogyny that seems to motivate so many in the 'Green' movements. Hopefully, someone, somewhere, will find a way to turn the tide before we all go under. Recently political correctness was described as the New Stalinism. I think that is apt, but it leaves out the damage being done by media promotion of half truth, fantasy and propaganda to a populace perhaps too idle to check facts for themselves. They call this the 'connected' generation, yet they, to a man, seem to be less well informed on anything than their predecessors.

To me that is a mystery.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Remembering my Father

Today my father would have been 90. He served in the RN in a number of 'theatres' and ended the war serving on a Fairmile B Gun boat in the 36th Coastal Forces Flotilla in the Burma Campaign. It left him with deep mental scars and more than a few physical ones as well. At some point he contracted malaria which stayed with him well into the 1950s and probably contributed to his eventually developing tuberculosis. He was successfully cured of that, but no one was ever able, until the very last, to cure his addiction to alcohol.

Neville Gray Cox
6 April 1923 - 20 July 1982

He earned the 1939-45 Star, the Africa Star, the Burma Star, 1939-45 Medal and the Defence Medal. He died in 1982 of a combination of lung cancer, heart trouble and a failing liver, alone in a home run by the Salvation Army. At best my relationship with him was strained and a little remote, but he also succeeded in teaching me a great deal.

May he rest in peace.

Friday, 5 April 2013

My Minder ...

Almost six months old and getting his adult coat, Harry has become my shadow. If I'm at my desk, he's perched where he can see what I'm doing.

This is the "what're you doing, Boss?" check. Approach, examine and take position ...

OK, you're going to work on that thing. 

Right, I'll just watch from here then ...

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Nuclear Anyone?

I'm sure this will get the Greens into something of a tizzy. I confess I did a double take when I first read it, but I wasn't mistaken. It seems that Dr "CO2 is causing runaway warming" James Hansen, has collaborated with other scientists and now thinks that nuclear power is not as dangerous as the Greens think, and may just save us from a total power blackout when all the oil and coal power stations are shut down. I'm sure it won't be long before we start to see the raving placard waving Hippy Greens handing out stickers and chaining themselves to gates, fences and railway lines to 'prevent' the creation of new nuclear power stations and save their beloved windmills. The paper is entitled -

Nuclear Power Prevents More Deaths Than It Causes
Climate Change: Study estimates that nuclear energy leads to substantially fewer pollution-related deaths and greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil-fuel sources
It makes very interesting reading, but I am sure Greenpeace will be quick to send out its "Nuclear Experts" to make sure we all hear that nuclear reactors are just bombs waiting to detonate, sources of "masses" of radioactive waste and likely to result in "billions" of deaths. After all, most of their "experts" seem to be the children or the product of CND supporters and teachers. I confess I am getting very tired of seeing the same pictures of poorly stored low level waste - mainly tools and overalls contaminated with Alpha and Beta radiation - from a former Eastern Bloc storage site. The breathless commentator invariably tries to create the impression that this is the 'normal' method of storage for 'High Level' waste everywhere.

There certainly is High Level waste from these reactors, but not as much as some would have you believe. Yes, there are risks associated with poorly designed and built reactors such as those at Fukushima, but the truth is that there have, as yet been NO deaths from that catastrophe, and there may never be. Those who dealt with it did suffer short term illness and are being monitored for any signs of anything else, but none died. Other reactors and waste storage sites are not situated on the seashore where they can get hit by a tsunami or a massive earthquake. In fact the biggest problem is a possible 9/11 style attack on one.

Strange as it may seem, Hansen is right. Nuclear power doesn't generate a major pollution risk. Almost 95% of the fuel rods can be recovered and reprocessed to create new ones. The old Magnox type reactors are now almost all phased out, so the Plutonium 'breeding' is minimal. Only Russia, China and North Korea are still operating this type. Newer reactors also have greater efficiency and use less 'fuel' - some of the reactors now fitted to ships, for example, have a fuel life of 25 years.

It will be interesting to see how this is received among the politicians, but I suspect the Green foot soldiery will, as soon as they recover from the shock, begin howling for the paper to be withdrawn, and for its authors to be crucified as 'traitors' to the cause.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Health and Safety - An Excuse for Bad Service?

Surely not. But that seems to be the main thrust of a recent report on the many complaints about 'Health and Safety' decisions, or perhaps excuses, offered as reasons for not providing something or refusing to allow something. I must say that some of the things mentioned I have heard or encountered along the way myself, so it is refreshing to have the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission condemn it. Some of the things cited are just plain nonsense whichever way you look at them. Like the restaurant that removed toothpicks from their tables because they were a 'safety' risk according to whoever did the assessment.

As the report identifies, some of the decisions have been driven by a fear of being sued, others have arisen as a cover for not providing a decent service and even as a means of avoiding doing something 'extra.' Into that category falls the hotel that told guests they could have a baby crib in the room, but that the Chamber Maid was not allowed to 'make it up' for them as it was a 'Health and Safety' hazard for her. I confess I did a double take when I read that. What exactly was the risk supposed to be? Health? Baby's are notoriously toxic according to the movie Monsters Inc., but I shouldn't have thought they were THAT toxic. Or perhaps it was the fact she might get a finger caught in the drop side locks? If so, was it safe to supply it to the guests for use by their baby? Frankly, as the report identified, it had nothing to do with either, it was all about covering the provision of poor and substandard services.

In my own experience, health and safety 'concerns' have been used to stop training, to stop certain activities and to cover a failure to take action in some instances. I would not dispute the fact that there were many activities in my chosen profession which were not safe, and certainly fall into a high risk category, but I would also argue that I was trained to deal with that, and I had taken on the career knowing I might be required to deal with them. Those who now look at certain fire service activities and wave the Health and Safety flags proclaiming whatever to be 'too dangerous' and demanding it be stopped do themselves and the service no credit at all. There certainly are 'safer' ways to achieve many outcomes, but standing back and saying 'too dangerous; too difficult; too risky" isn't an option. As they say; if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen and stay out.

One of the biggest problems now is the insistence on "written" risk assessments. Once something is written down, it has a tendency top become a stone tablet, never to be revised or revisited. What many forget is that even small changes to the daily routine, or an operation, even a change of equipment can completely change the risk or the hazard that gives rise to it. Rearranging the furniture in a room can reduce the risk, but I have come across situations where the focus has been on things that were completely inconsequential and major hazards have gone unnoticed. The reason for this is that many people simply do not have the knowledge to correctly identify the real problems they should address, so to look as if they are doing 'something' they focus on small things they think will show their dedication. Like the teachers banning games of 'conkers' and insisting on children wearing goggles or helmets when they do allow it.

The second, and possibly largest part of the problem is the lawyers now actively chasing business. "Have you had an accident? Let us sue the ..." ads are all to common. Thankfully my spam filter catches most of them. Sadly, until someone addresses that, all appeals to reason are likely to fail, and 'elf an' saf'ey will continue to get the blame.