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Friday, 28 June 2013

Homer Simpson the new male image?

I was somewhat surprised to read this article in The Guardian, entitled Men and boys now second class citizens. It touches on a number of issues I have problems with concerning the way in which men (and by default, boys) have been depicted in the last twenty or more years at least. It has become fashionable to always show the males in any advert, TV show or film as being slightly less intelligent than the female leads. Advertisers often show men as being either stupid or one step removed from the stone age. Personally I don't find Homer Simpson funny, he's a stereotype, he's stupid and, frankly, revolting. His son is no more appealing, a smart-ass, crude, ill-mannered and well deserving a good thumping.

Yes, there are men like Homer, and far too many kids like Bart, but they are not as numerous as the TV, films or advertisers would have us believe. These negative images of men extend into a wide range of other fields as well. Men are typically presented as sexual predators and children are taught not to respect or trust just about everyone by the constant stream of advertising to promote child safety. In part this has arisen in order the advance the equality of women in the workplace and public life, but I suspect it has now gone far too far. There is a danger there as well, one the promoters of this image of men as violent, weak, machoistic, mysoginists would do well to remember. It was said to me many years ago during a discussion over a problem with an individual who always tried to detract from anyone else's achievement. What you take from another by slander, you take twice from yourself in respect.

How do we expect boys to grow up with real values if they are taught their father's are basically just better spoken/educated/looking variants of Homer Simpson? How do we expect them to develop real values when they are told they are no better? What do we expect of them when their "heroes" are foul-mouthed footballers, or drug taking Pop stars? No wonder other societies and cultures are beginning to laugh at us.

We are all human, we all have flaws and failings, but not all men are stupid, not all men are sexual predators, not all men are mysoginists. You may argue that men have it coming as the Guardian article suggests (I disagree - but you'd expect that), but that simply expressing a modern prejudice in politically correct language. Why should a boy be made to feel he is inferior? Why should he be made to learn in a system designed entirely to favour the learning style of girls? That is what the comprehensive system of education has become. Yes, some boys do cope with it, but the majority don't. That is a fact shown by scientific studies, but ignored because it doesn't fit with the ideological dictat that says girls and women must be given the advantage.

You cannot take something away from one person to improve the lot of another without damaging both by so doing. The one will resent being impoverished by being disadvantaged, the other will assume it is a right, and cease to appreciate the effort necessary to attain the full benefit. Both, in the end, will be brought into conflict. When a well qualified young man can turn around and tell someone he doesn't expect to get promotion in his career because of his gender, his skin colour and his religious affiliation you know that the situation is becoming serious.

It is time to call a halt to the presentation of males in general as stupid, boorish and incompetent. They don't deserve it, and ultimately everyone will lose by it.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Lobbying; Counter to democracy?

A debate ongoing in Germany (and long-running in the UK) concerns the influence exerted by lobby groups, often representing very small and narrow "special interests", have on government. The big question is, what does their influence really mean for democracy and the much vaunted "will of the people"? It is not a simple question for, as far as I can see from reading history, lobbying seems to have been a major part of the political system since mankind first started to organise their activities. Certainly, in the UK, arguably the oldest modern democracy, the power of various lobby groups and campaigners has always played a major role in government.

If one looks back to the Parliaments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (questionably democratic to be sure), one soon sees that the land-owning gentry and the anti-catholic religious factions had powerful lobbies in Parliament. Beginning in the late 18th Century, the agricultural community lobbied hard for protectionist laws which became known as the Corn Laws. These kept the price of all grain crops high, by the simple expedient of imposing prohibitive import taxes on cheaper wheat, barley and maize anyone attempted to import from elsewhere. Of course, that impacted on the price of the working people's staple food - bread - and that kept industrial wages high. The industrialists and the Middle Classes lobbied strenuously for the repeal of these laws, and the 'beneficiaries' lobbied as hard to keep them. It took a series of poor harvests and finally the tragedy of the Irish potato famine to get these (and one or two other bits of pure 'protectionism') repealed.

The unintended consequence of the repeal, however, was that while the prices fell initially, so did production. Farmers simply could not afford the wages for producing a, then, labour intensive crop. Within ten years Britain was importing over 50% of the 'Corn' (a generic term then used to describe all the grain crops) it consumed. Ironically that put many of the very people the repeal was supposed to help, out of work, house and community ... In fact, it sparked the major movement out of the rural areas and into the cities as unskilled farm hands tried to find alternative employment. It also triggered a major move toward the Trade Union movement.

Today most people don't realise that lobbying is a built-in part of the political system, and always has been. The Labour Party has its origins in the desire of the Trade Union movement to have access to the organs of power in Westminster. Many of its MPs are 'sponsored' by Trade Unions, some by more than one. The exact form of the sponsorship varies, of course, and is subject to the 'Rules of the House', but they are not alone in this. Almost all MPs are 'sponsored' by one group or another. The Chambers of Industries and Commerce, the Trades Unions, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Childline, the Society for the Protection of Children, English Heritage, National Trust, the RSPCA and many others are all involved in various levels of lobbying for whatever 'cause' they promote.

The question really is, just how much influence do they have on the plethora of laws, regulations and other 'policy' decisions made in Whitehall and Westminster? Do they, as some, like Greenpeace, often claim, represent the 'majority opinion' of the public? Or is that simply another claim that is likely to go unchallenged because there is no way to measure it accurately? Even the much vaunted 'ballot box' of an election is now suspect, since in the last quarter century, if not longer, turnout seems to have been shrinking. Blair's much trumpeted 'landslide' was not such a triumph when taken as a percentage of the potential vote. The 'turnout' was low, just clearing 51%, which means his 'share' of the vote was considerably lower than the published figure which ignored the absentees.

There does need to be some element of lobbying in our system. How else can the interests of small groups, or matters of narrow interest be driven through the monolithic egos and the sheer weight of bureaucratic inertia that is any government today? The problem, as I see it today, is the plethora of passionately driven campaigns run as 'single issues' and whose promoters often refuse to see the ramifications and implications of their desired outcome.

Reaching back into history, one can point to the Abolition of Slavery, a laudable intention on every level. The only problem being that the Abolitionists didn't take any account of what the freed slaves were going to do, where they would live, or how they would feed, clothe and keep themselves. That oversight has left a legacy that still bedevils many countries. So too with the Corn Laws, and one could point to many more recent well intentioned, but ultimately very damaging, 'successes' by lobbying groups, such as the 'fuel price escalator' which has driven up fuel prices, but not driven consumption down, and pushed up the prices of almost everything else because of the rising cost of transport.

It is easy to form the impression that our elected representatives in Parliament live in an environment now where they don't appreciate the difference between what 'The Party' and the various lobby groups who brief them say, and the reality of the lives of the people bearing the impact of all these wonderful ideas. I don't think we can change the nature of lobbying a great deal, but I think we can make it much more transparent and compel our MPs to acknowledge the very real problems they cause when they impose something a lobby group want. It will be an interesting debate - and I am not sure the solution will ever be found.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A Real Threat to Society?

Recently there has been a worrying development in the debate over the "science" of the "anthropomorphic climate change" argument. True Believers in the AGW narrative have long labelled those who dare to disagree with their "faith" and the Green agenda to de-industrialise and "de-carbonise" the US, UK and Europe, as "deniers" and trot out all manner of insulting and often completely misleading statements about "Big Oil" or "Big Coal" paying "contrarians" to challenge the "science" they believe is "settled" beyond all reasonable doubt.

The latest tactic is contained in this statement from one of the leading AGW promoters in the US -
"You have to get to... where a major candidate for public office is disqualified when he or she denies climate science.” -- Brian Schatz
I looked up who this man is, and found he is a career politician from Hawai, currently 'appointed' to the US Senate by the Governor of Hawai to fill a vacancy caused by the death of the elected incumbent. He was, until this 'promotion' a Congressman in the State Legislature and Lt. Governor. We should all be extremely concerned by statements like this, made by people like Mr Schatz. It reveals a great deal about how the "Liberal-Left" view freedom of speech and a raft of toher hard-won rights and freedoms our fathers, grandfathers, their spouses and many more of our forefathers fought for. It is only one step away from declaring that any statement the politically correct deem unacceptable is a criminal offence. The first step in rescinding our right to dissent on a raft of things. Oh, wait, we already have that situation already.

No budding politician would dare to declare themselves "Christian" or that they don't believe in "Global Warming", or perhaps that "Multiculturalism" is a bad idea. Nor would they dare to opine that the "Green" energy policy currently being pursued by western governments is likely to lead to a major power shortage, or that de-industrialising will destroy our economic base. Already we can't criticise the mass immigration policies of the Left-Liberal governments anywhere, or the abusers of social security benefits. We cannot 'profile' anyone who might belong to a minority group known to be disposed toward crime, terrorism or anti-social behaviours. We cannot practice our Christian faith outside of church or home because it is "offensive" to atheists, Muslim extremists and secularists. As for criticising the extremists who want to blow western Christian-based cultures off the face of the earth ...

In my opinion, anyone in any position of authority or influence who makes a statement like that I quote above should be immediately removed from public office and forbidden from ever again holding one. Am I alone at finding it interesting that Left-Liberals like Mr Schatz are so quick to label anyone who disagrees with them as "Fascists"? Funny that, their own tactics, statements and actions are more akin to that brand of ideology than it is to the OED definition of a "liberal" ...

Monday, 24 June 2013

Dangerous Dogs; or Dangerous Mis-use of the Law?

I have been following, with some astonishment, a case in the US concerning a Sheltie. The dog, a seven year old, is condemned to death for biting the 2 year old grand-daughter of his owner. Jack the Sheltie has no previous record of biting anyone, in fact the little girl involved adores him and still, apparently, wants to know when she can see him. But the City of New Hartford, NYC, Prosecutor and the Judge who heard the case declared him to be a "dangerous dog" at a five minute hearing. No "evidence" was led and the Judge, an 84 year old with no legal background as an attorney, has a somewhat chequered history of not following correct procedure.

In an article in the North Country Gazette, titled "Jack the Sheltie fighting kill order by Judge, 84", makes interesting reading, since, if the report is correct in the details, the city Dog Control Officer who first impounded Jack failed to follow correct procedure as laid down in the State Law on Dangerous Dogs. This seems to have been compounded by the Prosecutor and the Judge, neither of whom have followed the procedures. In fact, from this and other reports I have read, I am left with the overriding impression that the Judge couldn't be bothered with hearing the facts and simply endorsed the Prosecutors request for the dog to be killed.

Since Harry vom Goldbachmoor came to live with us seven months ago I have learned a lot about this breed, and one thing they are not, is 'snappy'. As I have written here before this, they are intelligent, very quick to learn and very, very loyal and loving. We had Harry at a party on Friday night, where there were several strange small children present. One infant in particular was clearly unfamiliar with dogs of any sort, screeching every time Harry approached. His response was sensible, he retreated, found a 'safe' place beneath the table, and watched. Another child, about 3 in age, decided to invite him to play with her. At first he was cautious, then interested, but when she became to boisterous, again retreated. My observation of all the other Shelties we've met since Harry joined our household, display exactly the same characteristics.

Like any dog they will, if provoked, defend themselves, but they do not launch unprovoked attacks on people or children. So why is this city official, the City Prosecutor, and this 84 year old judge so determined to declare this Sheltie, "dangerous"? On the one hand I suspect it may be to cover the fact they have failed to follow the legal procedures, on the other, it may be that it is part of a wider pattern of abuse of authority by city officials. At risk of upsetting many of my US friends, it is one reason many of us non-US citizens have little faith in the US Justice system. Our own is not perfect by any manner of means, but many of the things a US Court will accept in procedures are strictly forbidden in the UK and Europe. Following the laid down procedure of advising a person of their rights and options is one. Jack the Sheltie's owners were not advised of theirs. Add to that the fact the Dog Control Officer involved brought the prosecution when no member of the family involved had asked anyone to do so - let alone him. Clearly both he and the Prosecutor have 'exceeded their authority' in this.

Nor does this appear to be an isolated case. In recent months I have seen a number of appeals for help in combating "kill orders" handed down by city officials for "dangerous dogs", and while some may well have been large and uncontrolled, many had committed no "violent" act against anyone. One was even executed while awaiting an appeal hearing. Nor is it confined to the US, similar laws and proceedings have been adopted by municipalities and officials in some Australian States. In almost all cases there is an element of "exceeding authority" or "abuse" of authority.

As a former 'official' working within a legal framework, this is something we always had to be especially careful of not doing. The UK courts, and the South African ones I first worked with, take an extremely dim view of any official "exceeding his/her authority" on anything. Heaven help an officer who found himself admitting under cross-examination that he/she had not followed the strict procedural rules set out in the legislation or any restriction on his/her powers!

Now a new court hearing has been scheduled for the 28th June, 2013. Jack has been in custody, on Death Row, for more than 80 days. During all this time he has not shown any aggressive tendency, and when his 'family' visit is overjoyed, clearly not understanding why he can't go home. However, the Prosecutor involved is adamant he is "dangerous" and declares that the only thing the new hearing may determine is whether or not the 84 year old local "judge" followed the correct procedure. Anywhere else I would lay money on the new judge overturning the earlier verdict and censuring the earlier judge and the prosecutor, not to mention the Dog Control Officer who started the entire farce. But, this being the US, I'm not that confident.

I invite all my readers to visit this page on FaceBook and show your support for Jack the Sheltie before he becomes just another statistic of the well intentioned, but often badly written, ill-applied and abused laws intended to protect us from the really savage and badly controlled dogs that are "out there". No one with any knowledge of Shelties, or indeed, anyone who, as a responsible owner, has had a dog would class them as "dangerous".

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Impact of PR on Debate ...

This morning I picked up a link from Discover Magazine and an article by Christie Wilcox who points to the fact that often people refuse to accept evidence which conflicts with their own agenda, ideology or concept of how things 'should be'. To a very large extent this, she says, is down to NGOs and others going beyond 'raising concerns' and actively promoting 'non-science' or flawed science set out in non-peer reviewed papers, or which is concocted from deeply flawed work which does not meet scientific criteria. Two quotes from her article highlight the problem -
 Kara Moses asked Guardian readers: “Should we wait for conclusive scientific studies before becoming concerned about an issue?” Her personal answer was no; that special interest groups should perform and publicize their own findings. “I believe they should be given a voice,” she concluded, “not dismissed out of hand for lacking the scientific rigour demanded by professional scientists.Quick to support her was Treehugger writer Chris Tackett. “The point here is that scientific proof matters in science, but it shouldn’t necessarily be what determines our actions,” he wrote. “We can intuit that some things are unwise or dangerous or against our values without needing reams of scientific data to back up our concerns.” While Kara’s piece talked only about the use of glyphosate (the pesticide known by its brand name RoundUp), Chris used it to attack both the pesticide’s use and Monsanto GM crops.
I disagree with both. All too often it is these half-baked and often deeply flawed and WRONG so-called 'studies' that the mass media make a huge storm around, scare the gullible into all manner of silly 'health' concerns, and then fail to publish any sort of convincing retraction when properly conducted studies expose the truth. By then, the damage is done. Writers like Chris Tackett refuse to accept scientific evidence which does not fit their 'intuitive' position which is that all pesticides are bad and all GM crops are bad. Any evidence to the contrary is immediately labelled as 'lies paid for by Big Pharma' or by 'Big Oil' if it's anything to do with the environment or the climate.

In my career one of the most important lessons I learned (the hard way sometimes) was NEVER investigate something with an idea of what might have caused it or happened. You will always be blinded by what is known as 'expectation bias' and will see only the answers you wish to see. All too often it is the un-scientific 'public relations' version of facts, more 'intuit' than real, that gets into the public mindset. And once there, it is, for around 50% of the population, almost impossible to correct it. Perfect example, mentioned in Ms Wilcox's article, the link between autism and vaccines. Now proved to be false, there are still a large number of people who swear the scientists are wrong and refuse to allow their children to vaccinated. Even the doctor who started that load of garbage having been struck off the medical register doesn't stoop their campaigning. Now he's a 'martyr' to their 'truth'.

It can be seen in all the debates surrounding Climate Change. No reasonable person actually denies that the climate is changing in some ways, what an increasing number do doubt is that Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the WWF, Government or anyone else actually knows the cause. Most of the supposition is founded on computer modelling and most of the data they use has been 'smoothed', 'adjusted' and even 'invented' based on very small samples of tree rings, bark or sediments from lakes. No amount of protest from some of those whose work has been subsumed and sometimes blatantly misused seems to make any difference to the campaigners - who accuse anyone who dares to challenge their 'evidence' of being in the pay of 'Big Oil'. If only! The truth is that much of what these 'intuitive' campaigners want is to turn back the clock to some idyllic past moment with fewer people, 'natural' food, less industry and less commerce. Bad news folks, it never existed. Second bit of bad news, there is no way us switching off all electrical power in Europe and North America, will make one jot of difference to the climate.

Apart from all our cities collapsing in ruins and those of us who have the skills or the means, will be forced to become scavengers and hunter gatherers - probably destroying anything that was left in the process.

There are a lot of scientists who point to these models and show how they ignore a range of past events, because the data has been 'smoothed' out or simply not included. Like the Medieval Warm Period, when Greenland could support cattle. I was reminded of that by the following note in a piece offering a series of lectures on history -

"2. Climatic Changes: The population situation came at a most unfortunate time, since, almost at the same time, the climate of Europe suddenly turned colder and wetter. Indeed, some historians believe that Europe may have entered a "mini Ice Age" in the 14th century, as evidenced by the heavy clothing depicted on portraiture of the time and later. These climatic changes meant crop failures. Crops either froze in the fields or else were subject to rot in the granaries from the dampness of incessant rains."
As Josephus, who sent it to me commented ...
 Obviously, this was anthropomorphically induced by Marco Polo's international travel and the Hordes of Genghis Khan irresponsibly allowing their Yaks to fart in Europe.
As the quote above suggests, Europe suffered badly when the climate swung back to 'colder' because they had no means of adapting rapidly to it. I would suggest that instead of trying to 'control' our climate we need to look at adaptation tactics. Instead of trying to outlaw fuel, heating, transport, industry and commerce, we should be finding ways to make it and all our other activities more adaptable and much more environmentally friendly. I have yet to meet a dedicated 'Green' of any persuasion who was able to make any practical suggestion for providing reliable, stable energy, reliable supplies of food and clean water or anything else. The mindset revolves around a fantasy of cottage industry, self-help and 'communal effort'. None of which is in any way realistic.

No, it is most certainly NOT a good idea for NGOs like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF to launch what amount to publicity campaigns based in their own, frequently biased, and often unscientific 'research'. At best it does nothing but alarm some sections of the populace, and at worst, it leads to campaigns which drive policy into dead-end directions and perverts scientific study. That is what is wrong at present with the entire Climate Change debate as I was reminded again yesterday when reading the latest copy of Scientific American. The piece on the Tar Sands in Canada is a classic of 'intuition' versus science. The writer doesn't like oil, doesn't want oil, hates the industry - so the scientific studies are dismissed.

No, the so-called campaigning NGOs do not have the right to trumpet abroad their 'intuited' fear campaigns. Anything they wish to promote as 'science' should and MUST be subjected to the same rigours as every other scientific study.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Environment, Climate and other confusions ...

I'm currently being bombarded by appeals to join this or that campaign to "protect the environment" or "stop climate change" and several other related matters. It seems to me that there is a lot of conflation of issues in these, between 'saving pandas, polar bears, oranutangs' and 'stopping climate change' there is a lot of pressure to 'do' some world saving thing - with generally pretty dangerous consequences for commerce, industry and humanity. This was certainly the impression I got reading the Hansard for a debate on the Energy Bill in the House of Lords yesterday. Lord Greenway, an Independent Peer who sits on the Cross Benches and takes a strong interest in all matters maritime, made some excellent points on the issues surrounding the debate on 'power generation'. One of his points leapt out at me, concerning the building of 'wind farms' in offshore locations which straddle shipping lanes. As he says, it is only a matter of time really before someone manages to ram a ship or two into one.

Hard on the heels of this I was reading of the debate held by the UK Met Office on the subject of why there has been "no warming/why are we having such strange seasons/weather" which their models didn't predict. There seems to have been - if the Telegraph blog has it right - a lot of opinions about whether it will first get colder, or hotter, or both, and where that leaves the Human Race, but not a lot of 'consensus'. No one seems to have mentioned the oceanic oscillations, or the fact that the North Atlantic Oscillation has 'lingered' (or perhaps malingered) rather further west this year than it has done for at least the last forty. Or that the Pacific Ocean equivalent has done the same thing. Nor does there appear to have been any mention of the fact the La Nina - the opposite of an El Nino - has persisted in the Pacific. In fact, in the last sixteen years there have been more La Ninas than El Ninos, and La Nina always brings more rain to the US West Coast and more snow. As ever, the focus in the Met Office discussion seems, yet again, to have revolved around the 'it's all to do with CO2 and Humans are causing it'.

Their 'models' say so. Or something.

Today I received my latest issue of Scientific American. Sometimes I feel the title has become something of an oxymoron. The main article in this one is all about how the development of the Tar Sands oil extraction in Canada will bring the planet to and beyond the 'carbon' tipping point. Lot's of 'big' numbers are thrown around about how sensitive the climate is to all the 'carbon' released in the recovery, how the environment is being destroyed and how the 'extra' CO2 will push the climate past the 2°C limit the IPCC has decreed will cause the mass extinction of humans, animals, birds and fish.

Which brings me back to the House of Lords and the debate there on the Energy Bill. At last it seems they are acknowledging that the drive to get rid of nuclear and cut out coal and hydro-carbon fuelled generation will result in a massive shortfall in demand. But there seems to be a complete absence of common sense when it comes to addressing it. As Lord Greenway says, we should have invested properly and fully in nuclear, now is probably too little, and far too late. Wind and wave generation isn't going to cut it, nor is solar except in a very localised and limited way. The government's 'big' idea is to encourage people to use less ...

Oh dear, oh dear. So switching a few light bulbs to LEDs, turning off some of our appliances, not using others is going to 'save' enough to compensate for the electric cars, large numbers of electric trains and perhaps 'trackless trams' (old fashioned 'trolley' buses running off overhead wires like a tram) and the 'growth' in industry and commerce every economist is screaming for. Somehow I doubt it. Like Lord Greenway I cannot see anyone actually building and maintaining a viable 'floating wind turbine generator or a wave powered one. Atlantic winter storms will soon wreck those, not to mention having the odd fishing trawler or bulk carrier get tangled up in one.

It is time to recognise two important facts here. First, we cannot 'control' the climate. Nothing we do can halt any natural cycle or change the way the jet streams (major players in weather but which are not included in the infamous 'models' used by the Met Office apparently) decide to go. That is determined by the oceanic oscillations and not by 'carbon', towns, cities, motorways or little green men. While I am all for a cleaner and greener environment (it's much better for my health after all!), I get very annoyed by people who push schemes which do not take in all the implications and impacts of whatever is the flavour of their month.

Second, if we are going to face a warmer planet, and I think that ultimately we might (if it doesn't plunge into an Ice Age first - which is equally possible if one takes account of paleolithic evidence the Global Warming' lobby ignore), it will not be the first time mankind has endured warmer climates. Both the Roman period and the early Medieval (900 - 1200 AD) saw much warmer conditions in Europe and Greenland than we have now. It would therefore seem sensible to adopt those measures which clean up our act, and make our commerce and industry less damaging (remembering, of course, that the 'West' is now only about 12% of the Global population so our actual impact is far smaller than Greenpeace et all like to make out), and adapt our societies, our habitats and our use of resources to better manage.

Finally, I do believe it would be far better all round if the Media, the Public Relations industry, the politicians and - yes - some of the 'scientists' chasing 'research' funding shut up. There is now so much misinformation being bandied about (in the Lords, that prime example of a politician who should never be allowed to open his mouth and utter an opinion, Lord Prescott, trotted out the inevitable and long discredited 97% of scientists agree Global Warming is manmade ...). I suspect the problem is that there are too many people around for whom the old adage "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" is all too true.

We live in an age where there are vast amounts of information bombarding us daily, yet very, very few of us are actually able to assess it, process it it rationally and draw conclusions from it. For most, the headline in a daily paper is as far as they read on any major issue. The same goes with a lot of the scientific information on some very complex issues on a wide range of things. So for most people, their 'source' of information is an attention grabbing headline which 'explains' a complex issue in a way they can grasp, and gut reaction.

None of which is a good way to determine a course of action, or to decide how to meet the nations needs in the future. I suspect that it will not be long before those with any sense invest in a small but efficient portable generator to keep the essential items in their homes going during the coming blackouts. It's that, or find a way to return to living in small hill forts. Our current 'Green' driven crop of policy makers certainly aren't going to get it right.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Is Democracy Broken?

In some parts of the world it certainly looks that way. An article in the Huffington Post entitled "From Istanbul to Rio and Philly; This Democracy Thing is Broken" certainly gives the impression the author thinks so. I suspect he has a point, certainly the idea that a "majority vote" rules seems to have got lost. Now those who disagree with any elected government regard it as a "right" to conduct campaigns of "civil disobedience" as they try to force a change of policy, ideology or even the government to whatever it is they approve of. The current unrest in Turkey is a case in point, the government of Mr Erdogan was elected by a majority vote in a popular election which was even held up as a "model" for the rest of the region, but it appears there is a substantial group who want to throw him out and replace him with someone else.

That has always been one of the problems with "democracy" you are stuck with whoever the majority voted for, and since many vote in what I shall call a "tribal" manner - in other words they simply can't bring themselves to vote for the candidate of any party other than the one they always vote for - it can mean, in a system such as Britain's or the US, that in some constituencies, the 'tribal' Party will always win, even if the candidate is technically a "Dead Parrot". Most other systems share this problem, the candidates are usually part of a "political elite" who have all the levers of control to the media, the money to promote themselves and sometimes even the tacit support of a large and very influential body entrenched and protecting their own interests in the inevitable bureaucracies that are the real governors of any nation. It is said that it actually takes ten years or more for the economic changes initiated today to filter through the bureaucrats and become a reality for everyone else. A similar 'reality lag' affects almost everything else as well.

We have the illusion of being able to change governments, but I no longer believe this is real. All to often only the faces in the front row change, the same faceless puppeteers remain in the background pulling a new set of strings. Recently I reread an item I have now managed to misplace, which postulated that the 'life' of any democracy is about 200 years, then it degenerates rapidly into a form of oligarchy and dictatorship with burgeoning bureaucracy no longer serving "the people' but turning inwards and protecting its own rights and privileges, while the "Political Class" pull up the drawbridge and place barriers to any threat to their own continued hold on power. Another article raised this again, pointing to the current arguments in the US about the power of the Federal Government and the entrenched power of various Federal Departments. There are certainly echoes of what happened in Rome and in various other "democracies" of antiquity.

Vice Admiral, Horatio, Viscount Nelson made an interesting statement regarding "republics" -

"I have seen much of the world, and I have learnt from experience to hate and detest republics...there is nothing but tyranny & oppression, I have never known a good act done by a Republican, it is contrary to his character under the mask of Liberty...He [Napoleon] is a tyrant, a many headed monster that devours your happiness and property...nothing is free from this monster's grasp. A republic has no affection for its subjects...a King may be ill advised and act wrong, a Republic never acts right, for a knot of villains support each other, and together they do what no single person dare attempt"

While I acknowledge that he is speaking from the perspective of his own era, I have to say that my own experience of living in Republics that he has a point. When I look at some of the "Presidents" purporting to "rule" various nations, I see would be "Emperors" and many of them are not subject to the limitations sensibly imposed by the French post Napoleon, or in the US which limits the President to a maximum of two terms. For many, and even for the "best" examples of democratic societies and governments, I suspect it is an illusion. As long as we have a "ruling political class" and an accompanying and permanent "bureaucracy" we cannot have a true democracy, one in which a candidate is personally known and who, when 'sitting' in whatever legislative body, actually votes according to what his or her constituents want and NOT the "Party Line" because that is what the ideology demands.

I'm not sure I would say "Democracy is broken" but it is certainly not very healthy at the present moment wherever I look at it. What I'm not so sure of, is how it can be cured. Revolutions, as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Iraq, Iran, Syria and many others prove, is that the replacement for the overthrown regime is often worse than the one it replaces. Corruption is rampant everywhere, even in the west. There it has a different, quasi-legal face, but it is still present in the manner government contracts are awarded, legislation is 'modified' to suit lobby groups and so on. 

Perhaps the Admiral had it right, perhaps the answer is a return to rule by a "King in Council" - but that also has its problems and history is littered with examples. Plato ha.d it right I think, at least his 'model' of the phases of a 'republic' has been validated by history. It remains only to see where ours goes from here ..


Monday, 17 June 2013

A Day of Infamy

Today marks a day of infamy in Germany, one not much mentioned by socialists, and when it is, it is always with the excuse that it was done to "protect the rights of the workers from fascist exploitation." What am I talking about? No, I'm not talking about the similar event in Hungary three years later, I'm talking about events in the so-called German Democratic Republic on this day in 1953.

First, a little history. When the Nazi gvernment finally surrendered in 1945, Germany was occupied by the Allies in the West and the Russians in the East. The western powers tried to get a democratic process into place, and to hold 'free and fair' election, but Stalin wanted complete control and a "soviet satellite" to include the whole of what remained of Germany. Many of Germany's pre-war eastern provinces, including both East and West Prussia and parts of several other eastern "lands" were summarily transfered to Poland, or, in the case of East Prussia, the Russia herself. Stalin's plan to gain control of the rest of Germany required the imposition of "socialist" government in what remained, including the western occupied sector.

Carefully orchestrated riots, demonstrations and intimidation disrupted elections in a number of western occupied, sectors, including Berlin. In the east, the Soviet army made sure there was no opposition to the German "Socialist Unity Party" in any election, but they failed to gain their objective. Even Stalin's attempt to starve West Berlin failed, thanks to the "air bridge" which kept it supplied.

In 1949, Germany was partitioned, the Western Lands becoming the Federal Republic of Germany, while the remaining six Lands and East Berlin, became the German Democratic Republic, a "one party state" firmly under Soviet control. The Socialist Unity Party set about nationalising all major industries and activities, brought in laws restricting private enterprise and property ownership and the rebuilding of their military and police "to defend socialism." By 1952 they were running out of money, but still pushing ahead with their legalising of confiscation of people's businesses, property and homes. It was this that triggered the events that began on the 17th June, 1953.

It started with the passing of a resolution to intensify "Sovietisation". This was to be achieved by forcing small businessmen, traders, craftsmen and farmers to pay higher 'fees' for 'services' from the State. People owning property were to be forced to "rent" spare rooms, or, if they owned a second property, to accept tenants at a rental determined by the state, but which made no allowance for the land tax, maintenance or service - all of which remained to the charge of the owner.

On the 16th June, 1953 builders in East Berlin went on strike after the 'employer' announced that their pay would be cut if they failed to meet the 'quotas' set for their 'output'. Word spread quickly, and on the morning of the 17th 25,000 workers with homemade placards and banners assembled outside the House of Ministries to protest. As the day went on the crowd grew, despite attempts to disperse them by the Police and State Security. A small number of determined demonstrators actually managed to storm the seat of the government itself and it was clear the unpopular Socialist government was in danger of being overthrown.

The Chairman of the Central People's Committee of the Socialist Unity Party, Walter Ulbricht, called on the Russians for help. Within hours, Soviet troops and tanks were on the streets. Over 20,000 soviet soldiers were turned loose with their tanks under orders to suppress the revolt. Ulbricht's propagandists went on the offensive, branding the strikers and protesters "dupes of the western capitalist imperialists" and so began the reprisals. How dare the "masses" challenge the "leaders"? In the immediate intervention, 513 people were killed, a further 106 were executed for 'crimes against the people' and 1,838 were injured and 5,100 arrested. Of these last 1,200 were sent to prison for five years or more - all in the name of "protecting" the very workers who wished to reject the socialist "Utopia" Ulbricht and his cronies wished to impose.

A fascinating little footnote is the fact that some 16 Soviet soldiers were subsequently executed by firing squad for refusing orders to fire on unarmed civilians. Ulbricht and his cronies were saved, and went on to build a wall and a death zone in their efforts to imprison the people they purportedly 'served' in the name of their socialist paradise. The 17th June, 1953 must stand as a day of infamy, a day when an unrepresentative government, driving an unnatural economic philosophy was saved from its just desserts by an even greater oppressor. It locked the people of Germany's eastern provinces into a further 36 years of hardship.

Unbelievably, the Party that caused this is still in business as "Die Linke" and still refuses to admit that not only is their ideology false, but that their efforts to impose it led to nothing less than the murder, false imprisonment and misery for the millions of people trapped by the Russian occuppation. Only when the Soviet troops were finally withdrawn in 1989 did this evil government fall.

Their example of a socialist paradise is something every socialist today should be compelled to study - including the use of force to impose their twisted, unworkable and worthless ideology.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Judge not ...

Several recent conversations have given me to think - always dangerous - about the way we respond to other people, how we see them and how we 'see' ourselves. Each of us is unique, we may be siblings, we may share cultural, economic and even intellectual experiences, but we remain unique. In part this is probably genetic in that it impacts on the chemistry on which we operate, but to a very much larger extent it is because each us, through childhood, had different interactions with parents, relatives, neighbours and other children. Where one person may find criticism a challenge to improve, another may find the same sort of comment so discouraging they become convinced they can never master something.

The old saying that one should not criticise another unless you can walk a mile in their shoes is very perceptive. The trouble is that we cannot 'walk a mile in another's shoes' since we can never fully experience the world as they have been conditioned to do so. What we can do is take account of someone else's family background, their self-perception and their reactions to the world, and try to be understanding when faced with what we may consider to be a poor response to something. All too often though we find that it is easier to shun someone we label as 'awkward' or even as 'stupid' than to deal with trying to adjust our own prejudices, fears or responses. We tend to shun behaviours that we see as 'negatives' in ourselves.

Part of the 'growing up' experience we all go through teaches us to self-analyse and to be self-critical. Once we develop a certain 'image' of our abilities, we can either excel or, where the 'image' is a negative one, fail to develop at all. Naturally we also develop the 'image' we present to the world, which may be very different to that we have of ourselves. That can lead us to making an effort to 'hide' what we see as our inadequacies by overplaying behaviour that we think shows the opposite. People who suffer from an image of themselves which reinforces their insecurities, often try to present themselves as confident and 'in control' which can make them seem aggressive and over assertive. Of course, the response this gets from many of the people they meet tends to reinforce their 'inadequacy' self-image and it becomes a bit of a vicious circle.

In my own case, I learnt quite early to consider myself as not particularly bright, and that being noticed usually got me into a lot of trouble. The most damaging 'praise' I got constantly was the statement, "Well done, you did OK, but you could have ..." That "but you" always stung and it always meant that whatever I'd done was never going to be good enough. On the other hand, my attempts to please often resulted in attracting the wrong response. So I learnt to be invisible. Fortunately, I still got noticed by people who encouraged me and tried to reverse the negatives. Thankfully, in part, they succeeded, but it was a long and very uphill battle to eventually build up the confidence to tackle taking responsibility for myself, my career, a family and eventually emigration to a new world and a new life and career.

It came as something of a shock, ten years ago, to meet some old school acquaintances who told me they'd 'envied' me at school. There was a double shock here, first in their perception of my home and family life, and secondly that theirs might have been tougher than my own. Even more surprising was the discovery that many of those who'd had far better and more economically stable homes, had not achieved even a third of what I had since leaving school. All the assumptions I'd cherished about their 'advantages' over me were blown out of the window and it made me realise how dangerous it is to allow yourself to think in this way.

We are unique. Each of us has strengths and each of us has weaknesses. We each choose whether to build on the strengths, or reinforce our weaknesses. The latter is self-destructive, the former is much harder work, but infinitely rewarding, but even more so is the realisation that each and every person we meet faces the same choices, though their choice of development may be influenced by experiences we can never share. That is when one realises that it is important to be grateful for the rewards you reap, and, at the same time, to be tolerant of the failures you see in others. None of us is every 'perfect' and we are certainly never 'right' a 100% of the time. We all have our own failures, or 'skeletons in the closet', but equally we have our triumphs. We should celebrate those more, but we should also celebrate others triumphs as well.

Above all else we need to avoid judging others against our own self-criticisms. We need to understand why someone else behaves or responds the way they do. We need to 'walk a mile in their shoes'. Probably we need to make peace with ourselves as well. Often those who throw dirt at others do so out of a sense of their own inadequacy and are attempting to make themselves feel superior in doing it. In fact, as one of my mentors once told me, what you take from another, you take twice from yourself. The saying "Judge not, lest you be judged" reveals an enormous truth, for, when we 'judge' someone else, we are exposing some of our own inadequacies and prejudices. Never a good thing to do.

We are not all the same, though we may be 'equal in the eyes of God' we do not have the same experiences, the same world view, or the same abilities. It behoves us to remember that, and to make allowances. A lot of conflict can be resolved simply by trying to understand someone elses point of view and, in today's 'polarised' world, that may be a good starting point.
 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Another Country Up In Flames?

Turkey is the latest Middle Eastern nation to be in the grip of 'popular' demonstrations and protests, and yet again there is a worrying element of fundamentalism showing. I note no one in the western Media is now talking about an "Arab Spring" in Turkey, perhaps, because they have belatedly realised the only winners in such a conflict are the extremists. Perhaps also, because Turkey is a supposedly, at least in "liberal" thinking, a "European" style democracy. Its government is "officially" secular, they use the "Latin" alphabet and not Arabic script, and they're members of NATO ...

This ignores some very deep divisions within the "nation" which is a post 1919 creation and far from a homogenous in it's peoples. There has been a long running and unacknowledged "civil war" with the Kurds in the East, and the Armenians (mainly Christian) were brutally suppressed in the North East soon after the modern Turkey was founded. Some argue that the Armenians suffered a campaign of genocide. The country is full of contradictions, although there is "officially" tolerance of other religions, Islam is dominant, and there are a number of radical voices now calling for a return to the use of Arab script in all writing, and the imposition of Sharia as the primary law.

In the country which was the home of many of the greatest theologians of Christian history, Christians are allowed to practice their faith under sufferance. All theological colleges were closed in the 1920s, and a law passed in the 1930s insists that the Patriarchate of Istanbul (officially still Constantinople in the Christian title) may only be filled by a Turkish national trained in Turkey. That last part is the tricky one. With no Theological Colleges, where would such a person be able to get the training? The present Patriarch (in his late 90s) is likely to be the last.

It is one of the side issues in the upheavals in many of the Middle Eastern/North African countries involved in the "Arab Spring" that Christians have become the target. Ancient churches have been defaced and sometimes destroyed, clergy seized, tortured and even killed, Christian families have been attacked, turned out of their homes and villages and accusations of "blasphemy" are frequently used to stir up violent mobs. One could be excused for wondering whether the "Arab Spring" is anything more than an opportunity for fundamentalists to seize power, commit genocide and "purge" their countries of everyone they have decided is "unclean" and therefore an "enemy of Islam".

The Syrian civil war is instructive, even Muslim Syrians are now being targeted by "foreign" fighters who declare they have come to "regain the land for Islam", apparently irrespective of the wishes of the Syrian people themselves. I have lost count of the numbers that have died in the fighting, it numbered in the tens of thousands the last time I looked, and recently I read of a 15 year old boy "executed" by foreign fighters for "insulting the Prophet". Apparently they misunderstood a local expression, but this act of barbarity says a great deal about what this war is likely to bring to this benighted land. Again, one wonders whether those who started the demonstrations demanding change in their government ever considered the outcome they seem likely to get.

And now similar "protests" are starting in Turkey. Given the nature of the man at the helm, and the mindset of the peoples and the politicians in general, I am hard pressed to anticipate a happy resolution. Revolutions seldom produce lasting change or a better state, government or organisation than the one overthrown. I expect to see Turkey in flames before there is any solution.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Piper Alpha Remembered ...

It is now twenty-five years since the Piper Alpha Offshore Oil and Gas Platform was destroyed in one of the largest such disasters on record. A combination of poor hand-over procedures between shift l, the maintenance crew that started it, put a blanking plate in place, but had oers, bad planning and a combination of engineering features turned this into an event that shook the entire inductry and resulted in major changes to the way such platforms were constructed, managed and operated. Lord Cullen's report makes horrendous reading, the ctalogue of errors is almost unbelievable. Could it happen again? Possibly. As long as there is a human element to any operation involving explosive, combustible or flammable materials on platforms such as this, there will be a risk.

The Piper Alpha disaster killed 167 men. It happened because procedures for a routine maintenance task were not followed. A valve had to be removed from a high pressure gas line for repair, and a blanking plate was supposed to be put in place to allow gas to be pumped while the valve was misng. The crew doing the maintenance didn't secure the plate, and when the new crew came on, they failed to complete the task. An Operations Manager, saw the indicator showed the valves closed, assumed the work was complete and opened the valves from the Control Room.

The rest, as they say, is history. Procedures were rewritten after this, and Health and Safety tightened up considerably. There have been other incidents since Piper Alpha, but, to date, at least in UK waters, none have gone as badly wrong as Piper Alpha.

Hopefully the operators, regulators, owners and accountants will never forget the lessons learned here at such a heavy cost.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

An Admirable Prince

Yesterday was the 92nd birthday of HRH Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich, the Consort of HM Queen Elizabeth. He spent it in hospital recovering from what is described as 'abdominal surgery' and one of the most touching images I have recently seen, was of our gracious Sovereign walking into the hospital carrying a birthday card for the man she fell in love with when she was a 13 year old Princess and he an 18 year old Cadet at Dartmouth.

The Press love to mock him, making a huge fuss over his supposed public 'gaffes', accussing him of 'racism' or of being 'out of touch' with 'the people'. I would suggest that the people who write these attacks do so largely out of a desire to drag down someone so much more able, and with so much more to his credit than they will ever achieve. I have had the pleasure of meeting him on three separate occassions, none of them official, and none of them 'formal', yet, on the second and third encounters he immediately recognised me and said, "We've met before. Remind me of the last occassion."

He has a formidable memory for names and faces, a razor sharp sense of humour and a powerful intellect. His sense of duty is legendary, and his relationship with the Queen, his wife, is as solid as the Rock of Gibralter - despite numerous attempts by the Press to find 'dirt' to cast aspertions. The devotees of Diana accused him of all manner of things he was supposed to have said or done to 'destroy' her, all of them false. He doesn't mince his words, and calls a spade a spade. Anyone who earns a rebuke from him is going to get exactly what he thinks and not something that can be misunderstood.

Until his latest illness, Prince Phillip has followed a punishing schedule of official duties and appearances. He is Patron of, and takes an active interest in, over 800 charities. He served in some of the most active theatres of WW2, earning several 'mentions in despatches' and decorations. Since then he has served the nation and its people with humour, loyalty and dignity, often in very difficult circumstances. At 92 I would suggest that the vast majority of his detractors would be making excuses to retire, it is a mark of Prince Phillip's sense of duty that on the eve of his operation he accompanied the Queen to Westminster Abbey to mark the 60th Anniversary of her coronation, despite being noticeably unwell and having to cancel two other engagements later.

I have nothing but admiration for this man, and I hope he recovers quickly to look forward to many more years of health.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Sheltie Walking

Sheltie walking is the Monk's latest 'hobby', though it helps keep him in shape as well. Harry is an active little fellow and enjoys his garden and the toys he has to play with. He loves company as well, so we regularly meet with other Sheltie owners and take walks in scenic areas. It allows all the Shelties to socialise and to play as well. So, last Saturday, we took a walk in Woerrstadt-Neuborn with ten other people and seventeen Shelties.
Harry, Artus, Finja and Larry, waiting patiently for their humans to get going.

Two blue merles waiting in the shade.

Plenty of interesting things to be investigated while we wait ...

Herding their people and exploring the fields.

Refreshment stop. Portable water dishes and water dispensing at the half-way. They're all terribly polite and wait a turn at the water.

Human refreshment break. Oh well, wait in the 'fall-out' zone in case anything snackable drops.

Harry, Artus and friend taking a break from more entertaining games.

They had fun, we had an enjoyable walk in the warm shunshine, and a little amusement when the Shelties found the stream, some lovely pools, some lovely cool water to splash in, share with each other and their owners. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of them in that game. If you have never seen Shelties racing each other and the sheer exuberance they show for enjoying themselves, you've missed something.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Economic Crisis

A friend posted this on FaceBook.

"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome will become bankrupt. People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance."

Cicero, 55 BC. 

So, evidently we've learnt bugger all over the past 2,068 years!

I think he has that absolutely right.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Apocalypse now ...

Apocalypse seems to hold a permanent fascination for a large section of the western population as I've commented before this. Some folk seem to thrive on being afraid of everything from the earth being hit by a stray asteroid, an 'invisible' planet, or an alien plague. Then there are the conspiracy theorists who can't accept anything from an official and usually pretty well documented source, and must invent a whole range of extreme scenarios around it, often turning the whole thing around. The Twin Towers is a case in point, some folk are absolutely convinced that the buildings were blown up by President Bush - or at least on his orders.

The strange thing is, that no matter how often these folk are proved wrong on any of the popular doomsday scenarios, they keep coming back with a "yes, but ..." and carry right on believing their pet theory. Often it boils down to 'presentation' rather than 'fact' and sometimes this is exploited by those with an agenda aimed at getting money for some pet theory, or to maintain a 'power base' they've benefited from. A case in point is the discredited "97% of scientists agree Global Warming is man made." A new paper purports to "prove" that 97% of CLIMATE scientists agree on this. Their methodology appears to be a little on the loose side, and it probably would not stand up if it were examined in a criminal court, since it involved a simple trawl of one website that collects and lists scientific papers published everywhere.

Their search parameters included "Global Warming" and "Climate Change" and, not surprisingly, they got a few over 12,000 hits. Some they then discarded, a small number of around 200, and the rest were assessed as being supportive or 'denialist' - but here's the bit it goes a bit wobbly. They didn't read each paper in its entirety. They only scanned the Abstracts and used a "Key Word" search to do that and "categorise" each one. Bingo, the result desired! The problem is that many of their "key words" appear in papers which do NOT support the AGW/Human Caused Climate Change theories. In fact there are a very large number of scientists now demanding their papers be reclassified or removed from the study. Oops.

But not to worry! The authors have already found a solution. Play down the controversy and the content, play up the "consensus" and go for it in a "marketing campaign". The sheer arrogance of this approach is breathtaking - especially as they have published in full their plan of campaign on a supportive website which sets out, step by step, how they plan to push this "proof of consensus" onto a gullible media and the public. Cynical exploitation? Probably, but then, in a war of ideology, anything is permissible - even blatant deceit.

In the meantime, unfortunately for the "Global Catastrophe is happening now!" fans of the various "green" organisations, the temperatures being recorded now are not conforming to the "models" and are certainly not consistent with the favoured theory. The Northern Hemisphere is slightly warmer, but the Southern Hemisphere is cooler. The Arctic ice is shrinking, but Antarctic ice is spreading, weather patterns are changing, but observational records show that this may be cyclic, and so do the ice cores taken from many different places around the world. Yet the clamour for governments to "ban" hydrocarbons, coal, nuclear and almost everything to do with our current industrial and economic activity to "save the planet" continues to grow.

The only plausible explanation for this is that the supporters of the "Green" agenda are absolutely in love with the "End of the World Is Nigh!" message, presumably it gives them some frisson of an adrenalin rush thinking about it, and don't want to look at the wider picture and the consequences of their favoured alternative society.

Personally I plan to continue as I am, doing a little bit to be "greener" as I was before it became a fetish, because I like a clean and unspoiled world. But I'm also a pragmatist. I can't control the climate, I can't turn the clock back, and I rely on electricity, clean water and food, clothing, and so on from the local shop. I don't plan to return to growing flax, weaving my own linen shirts and making my own shoes or slaughtering my own livestock.

The sky isn't falling, the oceans aren't rising dramatically, the continents will continue to drift, floods happen and droughts arise. I can't change any of it, any more than I can create the elixir of eternal youth. So, today, I shall take Harry, my fabulous little Sheltie, for a meeting with other Shelties and enjoy watching a pack of some twenty or so Shelties of all ages and colours have a ball playing together while their owners chat, swap stories and sup the odd beer.

Life is for living and enjoying, not worrying about how to spin out some new dire doomsday scenario.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

I wonder what happens if ...

Sometimes the old joke of the guy who pushes a button, pulls a thread or opens a door/cupboard/trapdoor with the words "I wonder what will happen ..." and releases something completely unstoppable and unintended, has a counterpart in real life. I can think of plenty of occasions where I have touched something, pulled something, or opened something only to find myself waist deep in trouble, and it seems that as a species we simply can't resist this particular urge to "try something". The good ol' law of unintended consequences can really bite sometimes. Often leaving you in a far worse situation than you started with.

When you start to mess around with a very complex natural system you really don't fully understand, then the potential for the law of unintended consequences to kick in really takes off. I was reminded of this yesterday when I came across a new "paper" on increased rainfall in industrialised areas. The researchers have found a link to the reduction of pollutants in the atmosphere. Yup, cleaner air means more rain falling over cities and towns. But another paper, published a year or so ago, identified that places where the roofs of buildings had been painted white - to reflect the sunlight back and increase 'reflectance of Infrared radiation' had also caused rainfalls in this cities to decrease.

When you think back to the 1970s, the problem then being attacked vigorously by the same group of activists and scientists was 'acid rain'. Now that was a very real problem, although, in reality, the changes of the "ph" values involved were small, it affected tree growth, aquatic life in streams and lakes and eroded buildings. So various "Clean Air" laws were rushed into place to reduce the Sulphur Dioxide emissions from industry commerce and transport. Great, acid rain was brought under control, but it changed the clouds being formed in the atmosphere ever so slightly as well. Instead of the shiny 'white' and highly reflective clouds the SO2 created, we got slightly less reflective and more heat absorbent cloud formations. Oops. I've often wondered whether that is really what triggered the "Global Warming" we've seen (according to some) since 1979.

As some of my readers know, I'm a lover of science fiction, and particularly enjoyed reading Robert Heinlein, Arthur C Clark and Isaac Asimov. One story that recently came to mind as I listened to yet another debate about "Klimawandel" on the television between earnest Greens and supporters and a group of scientists who were trying to explain the extent of mankind's ignorance of the complexities of the global ecosystem (without actually admitting they don't know ...) concerned interstellar travel. I think it was by Clark, and it concerned a lone spaceman coping with a voyage on an old freighter spaceship. His problems with the ship's systems were magnified by the fact that the "environmental system" was an old one that relied on carrying around a small "greensward" with plants supposed to purify the atmosphere.

At various times it had been found necessary to introduce various insects to pollinate the plants or control their proliferation and spread, then it had become necessary to introduce birds to control the insects, then animals to control the birds and ... Finally one is reading of the intrepid spaceman dealing with animals swanning about in zero-gravity in pursuit of birds now with the ability to make sudden and violent changes of direction in flight, insects that sting, bite and can get into places they shouldn't - and of course things dying in unlikely places, chewing equipment and so on. And, in spite of all this, the ecosystem still goes a little crazy from time to time and does its own thing.

I think of this story every time I hear, or read, of some new "initiative" to "reduce carbon" or "stop glaciers melting" or some other - to the utterer - vitally important "thing" we absolutely have to do to "stop catastrophic climate change". My problem with that is that we don't know what the ramifications of any of these schemes really are. The one thing we can definitely identify is that cutting out all hydrocarbon fuels will mean some severe restrictions on private transport, which will return us to restricted travel and limitations on opportunity in terms of career choices, living conditions and much more. It will also impact on the production of all the synthetic materials currently so much a part of our lives. Wind energy will never produce the sort of electricity levels we currently need and probably never meet the growth in demand, and nor will solar energy.

More recently I have seen articles saying that we need to adapt what we have, improve it certainly, but adapt, rather than change. It makes sense, because at least we know what the impact of most of that will be, whereas we haven't a clue about some of the things being demanded by the "Green" lobbies. There is always a danger, thanks to that law of unintended consequences, that if we mess with "this little bit here" we will destabilise something much more dangerous "over there" which will, in its turn, drop on our heads like a proverbial ton of bricks.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Inclusive salvation ...

Recently Pope Francis made a statement on 'salvation' which included the idea that even an atheist is 'saved' by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Probably predictably, this made headlines in a lot of newspapers, though some managed to do it in a rather sneering fashion. Equally predicatbly, the Vatican was quick to "qualify" the Pontiff's remark, part of a midweek Mass Homily.

The fact is that this concept of the sacrifice Christ made on the Cross is not something stunningly new. It is stated in the Gospels themselves, and repeated in the "Letters" in various forms. It even forms a part of the Creeds we recite from time to time. The idea that 'salvation' is restricted only to those who attend church, adhere to a particular set of theological doctrines or dogmas or to a particular 'Brand' of Christianity is false. It stems from the statement that we must 'accept' Christ's gift of the hope of eternal life in order to be saved. Many interpret that as meaning the 'acceptance' means belonging to this or that church, and adhering to its teachings. I suspect this is why the Vatican was so quick to issue its 'qualification'.

Reading the Gospels and the other scriptures carefully and in context with their time, the culture and the understanding that many things the writers considered the reader "would know" and were not therefore necessary to spell out (papyrus was expnsive so you didn't waste it on unnecessary details) you quickly discover that the message is very "inclusive" - at times the disciples found that hard to accept. The clearest message of that 'inclusion' is in the fact that Jesus often went out of his way to find and associate with people shunned by the religious and very self-righteous members of the communities He worked in. Hence his sitting down to eat with tax gatherers, prostitutes, Samaritans and other 'unclean' members of society. Even with Gentiles - at that time pagan, and definitely not welcome in most Jewish homes.

We do not know who God includes or who He excludes. We cannot know this, nor should we attempt to make that call. To do so puts us in the same league as the Pharisees who thought they could earn God's approval by their strict adherence to the "Law of Moses" - in fact a massively complex set of "laws" evolved over several centuries from the Ten Commandments. Under their idea of faith and salvation, very few would make it to heaven. The key words on "salvation" come from Christ Himself at the Last Supper -

"... take and eat; for this is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me." Followed by "... He gave it (the cup) to them saying: drink this all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many (some translations make that the more accurate "everyone") for the forgiveness of sins."

None of the gospels add a qualification of exclusion of anyone not a follower of the disciples or not present at this meal. In fact there is a very strong theme of inclusion in the Gospels which suggests that even those guilty of the most heinous crimes against their fellows could be 'included' in salvation if - and here there is a 'qualifier' - they 'turn to Christ' and 'repent' of their crimes. In most cases only God the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit can know who has and has not 'repented'. It simply is not for us to know.

So Pope Francis I is stating nothing radical in saying that Christ included even those who do not 'believe' in God in salvation. Only He can know what passes between Him and the person in those final hours of this life, and it is for us to accept - whether we like it or not. As Jonah discovered when having his monumental sulk because God chose not to destroy Nineveh when the people repented. It is not for us to question our Creator and Saviour - He is who He is, what He is, and where He is and we are His creation ...

Monday, 3 June 2013

A wet start ...

The heavy rains of the last few weeks are now causing floods across Southern and Eastern Germany. The water will eventually - and by all accounts quite quickly - reach everywhere else, since the geographic features of the country means most of the flood water will run north and west. The Rhine, Weser, Elbe, Main and Donau are already rising in their lower reaches, while the upper reaches are flooding towns and cities in Bavaria, Thuringen, Sachsen and Baden-Wurtemburg. The ancient city of Passau is badly hit, Dresden has its flood barriers up and even the lower lying areas of Mainz, Biebrich and Schierstein (the latter pair now suburbs of Weisbaden) have spent the weekend preparing for the 'Hochwasser'.

What I find interesting is that the Fire Brigades, the Police and other voluntary organisations have swung into high gear and, with the Bundeswehr troops are engaging in erecting barriers, pumping operations and sandbagging dykes. People are being evacuated and their possessions salvaged and stored, and the press is full of accounts of how people are affected and what wonderful efforts are being made to defend them. It struck me that I haven't yet heard anyone complaining about it or demanding to know "who is the blame." The Greens have, as you would expect, muttered about "Klimawandel", but were quickly silenced when it was pointed out that these extreme weather events have been known to occur at regular intervals for centuries.

One of the fascinating aspects of living in Germany is discovering just how much I either didn't know, or had never really considered about the history of these nations. Modern Germany is only about two thirds of the nation 'unified' by Bismarck in the 19th Century. It lost about a fifth of its territory in 1919 and a further bigger chunk in 1945. Since the fall of the Kaiser, it has developed into a much more egalitarian society, perhaps the most notable feature of life here is the absence of 'class barriers' such as one still sees in the UK. That is not to say there are no barriers, just that they are not quite as clearly defined or 'enforced' as in the UK. The other aspect is the richness of the history.

The 'German Prinicipalities' have a very long, and perhaps most importantly, settled, history. There have been wars, squabbles and invasions - most notably the Mongol Hordes and the Turkish incursions - but they have all been repelled, eventually, and the wealth of the people restored through their trade and their willingness to adapt. In World War 1, someone came up with the term "Huns" as an insulting name for the Germans, and it has stuck in the public mind in the English speaking world. It is a misnomer, since the "Huns" are actually the Hungarian people to the east and they are Slavic, not Germanic. Most of the cities now affected by the floods have a history stretching back to at least the Roman conquest of the Southern German provinces and many have their origins even earlier than that.

I live just within the 'Limes' a Roman 'Wall' that started at Koblenz and stretches to Regensburg, then continues to the Danube (Donau in German). For most of its length it was a simple ditch and pallisade affair, but at intervals there are guard towers, several of which have been reconstructed and can be visited. One of the major fortresses has been rebuilt at Saarberg and makes a fascinating visit in itself. When visiting any of the historical towns and sites one quickly learns that these are a people and lands that have been forged by history. They know who they are, they know what nature produces by way of bounties and tribulations and they have the records to prove it.

Living in a 'Naturschutzgebiet' we are surrounded by forests, and the road to Wiesbaden takes us over a mountain and through the forests. Yesterday we found ourselves dodging the fire brigade at work clearing a fallen tree, and then being diverted by a police block because other trees lower down were threatening to topple as well. Everyone is good natured about these 'inconveniences' and the services involved are greeted with smiles, waves and relief. Still, the road gets cleared, the trees removed and the traffic is able to flow. Yes, there are breakdowns and sometimes failures, but the majority here just shrug and get on with it. There is a 'find a solution' approach by most that is refreshing, since it means things get done fairly quickly and life can get back to something like normal.

Perhaps this is why when someone from a flooded town or city is interviewed they tend to be philosophical about it. Some even point to markers for worse floods, or recall worse. Perhaps it is also why their emergency organisations are so ready to invoke emergency assistance from the public and from voluntary groups. They know their history and they know what is needed in certain events - and they get on with it.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Congratulations

Sixty years ago today, Her Majesty was crowned as our Sovereign in Westminster Abbey. As a seven year old half way through my second year of primary school, I have vivid memories of the local fire station decorated with garlands and a replica of the St Edward's Crown on its Drill Tower. There were flags in the main street, bunting everywhere and at school we got a half day and a commeorative medal. A few weeks later we were even able to see snatches of the actual event on the Movietone News in the local cinemas.

As you may have guessed, I'm a Royalist. Even though the scenes and memories I have described are from South Africa, and the small coastal city of East London, we were then a part of the great family of dominions and colonies that made up "the Empire" and she was "our" Sovereign as well as Queen of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Her Governor-General represented her in the official opening of Parliament and signed all the legislation passed by it in her name. I am still a Royalist. It has been my privilege to meet and speak too several of her family members over the years, and each time I have been impressed by their ability to treat everyone presented to them as important. Nor do they forget you. I have met the same members of the Royal Family a second time in a different place and a different context - and been remembered. I cannot say the same of the many politicians I have had to deal with.

Today Her Majesty celebrates her 60th anniversary of her coronation, though she has, in fact, been the Queen since the moment of her father's death. Only Queen Victoria, her great-great-grandmother, reigned for longer in the entire history of British Monarchs. The first Elizabeth to rule as Queen of England, Wales and Ireland, reigned for a total of 44 years 127 days and ushered in the age of British expansion. Long may Her Majesty, Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, continue to reign over us.

God save the Queen.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Cause and Effect ...

There is, in medicine, a well known problem where a prescribed 'treatment' is focused on the symptoms the patient suffers, and does nothing at all for the actual condition. So it is in politics, when a Minister chooses to address the symptom and not the cause. "Islamaphobia" is a symptom of perceived threat to our lifestyle, our heritage and culture and - as graphically illustrated last week by the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby - to our lives as well. So announcing that 'measures are being put in place to deal with the problem of Islamaphobia' is a case of treating the symptom and not the cause. This article in The Commentator came to my attention yesterday, and sums up the problem very well.

Why are people concerned about the Islamification of our cities and the increasing sense of being under seige to surrender our culture and our legal system to "Islamists"? In part it is the manner in which the media presents certain events and discussions - or doesn't. There was wide coverage of the two murderers and their (garbled) rationale for their actions. Clearly they believe that their actions were an appropriate response to what they see as 'war on Islam'. The rest of us don't share that view, and nor do most Muslims, but there has been a blatant attempt by the media to downplay the religious aspect - in some instances a deathly silence about their faith - and yet it is well known that had this involved a "Christian on Muslim" or a "Jew on Muslim" attack, the "religious" aspect would have been headlines. That makes people wonder who is covering something up.

The problem is not people's "fear" of Islam, but their dislike and, yes, fear of the ever increasing number of angry bearded young Muslims brandishing placards proclaiming their intent to overthrow English law and culture and replace it with Sharia Law and "Islamic Culture". The fear is promoted by the sight of entire streets in the Capital that are now the almost exclusive preserve of people in Arab dress, of whole sections that resemble a Far Eastern city rather than the familiar English pattern. Parts of our cities where English is hardly heard, and where young English girls and boys fear to tread unless in groups - and even then they don't always feel safe. The fear is further heightened when they see councils increasingly promoting "Islamic values" and "Islamic dress", or sending out notices to school children, parents, householders and tenants in every language except English.

People are not, I would suggest, "phobic" about the religion, or their colour, or even their desire to preserve aspects of their culture or heritage. What makes people afraid is the threat of extremist behaviour, the demonstrations at the funerals of soldiers, the burning of poppies at Remembrance Sunday parades - or, as recently, the suspension of employees by a supermarket chain for daring to wear a poppy in memory of Lee Rigby. The root cause of this fear is in the perception that our nation is slowly being taken from us by those with a "politically correct" agenda, who seem to admire anyone else's culture, and value the rights of minorities far more highly than those of the native English. "Integration" is now regarded by the political classes as a dirty word, to be equated with National Socialism or "Apartheid" so they address the incorrectly named symptom of their own failure to address the real issue, the rampant spread of the influence of extremists in the name of Islam in our cities and towns.

"Islamaphobia" is a buzzword, and like most buzzwords, it is a false premise. A "phobia" is an irrational fear, a groundless one with no foundation in reality. The fear people are afraid to express, least they be accused of racism or hatred of a religion, is not irrational, nor is it groundless, it is based in the actions and attitudes of a few Islamists who are a very real threat to our society and our peace - but who, for reasons only they can know, our political classes refuse to deal with.

It is far easier to accuse the rest of us of being "Islamaphobic".