Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Shots that Triggered Catastrophe

Say Sarajevo today and most first think of the famous concert there or the Bosnian and Serbian conflict as the former Yugoslavia broke up. Many would not associate it immediately with the start of the First World War. Today marks one hundred years since an assassins bullets on the streets of Sarajevo started the tumbling of the dominoes as the world slid toward what would become the slaughter of Europe’s young men in France, Belgium, Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Prussia, Lithuania, Latvia, Gallipoli, East and West Africa and the Far East.

When the nationalist fanatic Gavrilo Princip pulled the trigger, killing the Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia in Sarajevo, he started the process that brought down the Hapsburg, Hohenzollern and Romanov dynasties, redrew the borders of Europe and sentenced millions to death, starvation and hardship. He set the scene for the fall of fragile democracies that followed the 1919 peace, and led to the disappearance of both several more Royal Houses and of democracy itself in many more lands. News papers whipped up patriotic sentiment to a frenzy in almost every country as the tensions grew and spread, and one has to wonder what drove some to want to bring about a war.

Once the dominoes began to fall, the rush toward a global conflict gathered momentum. At play were issues of nationalism, national pride, revenge, territorial ambitions and in at least one case, a desire to prevent Germany becoming the dominant European power. Some countries involved really had no direct interest in the confrontation between Serbia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire other than the chance to gain territory. Italy had it’s eyes on the Tirol and the territory around Trieste and the Dalmatian coast. Serbia cherished ambitions for Bosnia, Croatia and Albania, Romania had it’s eyes on Transylvania, France on Alsace and the Russians on East Prussia.

Great Britain had several reasons for wanting a war, none of them ‘territorial’ but driven by the fear that a powerful Germany dominating Europe would threaten British manufacturing (already in trouble and already losing its edge to the more innovative Germans) and its High Seas Fleet could eventually threaten British superiority at sea. The British cabinet was split, between those who did not want to get involved in a ‘European squabble’, and those like Winston Churchill and the Earl of Salisbury who demanded it. Their reasoning was that it would check German expansionism (part of the long running anti-German propaganda campaign in the British Press) and, privately, that it would resolve and divert growing problems of unemployment and labour unrest in the declining industrial heartlands.

France, still smarting from her defeat in 1870, wanted revenge and the opportunity to seize territory ‘lost’ to Germany (some argue they had their eyes on pushing all the way back to the Napoleonic borders along the Rhine) and the Russians wanted to secure the ice free harbour at Königsberg (now Kalinnengrad). It must be said here that the Kaiser, perhaps realising at the last moment, that Germany had everything to lose and almost nothing to gain, made strenuous attempts to call a halt - frustrated in the end by Tsar Nicholas II's casual order to 'mobilise' his army against Austria. The rest, as they say, is history.

So Princip’s bullets launched a domino tumble that would sweep away millions of lives in a war which, in reality, had no ‘winners’ unless one considers the late entering United States as a ‘winner’. It would launch the eventual Bolshevik Revolution in Russia which swept aside, not the Tsar, but the fledgling democracy the Tsar had finally been forced to allow, and condemn millions to the horrors of the Russian civil war and the Leninist and Stalinist terrors that followed. Those gunshots at Sarajevo also set history on the course that would lead to the rise of National Socialism and the horrors of the holocaust and the Second World War and ultimately the Cold War and the world we see crumbling around us at present.

It has been a remarkable century, one shaped by war, by failed ideologies, by fanatics of every description. Let us hope that the future can be secured against such horrors and against such lunatics.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Conflicts of Message

I cannot help wondering why there is so much “surprise” among liberals, the media, and the families of those who have gone off to indulge in a little ‘Holy War’ in Syria/Iraq. I am sure those who have been on TV and in the Press discussing the issues of how the children of immigrants, or the grandchildren in some cases, have turned their backs on Britain, or have become ‘disaffected’ by our society, are intelligent people. Unfortunately they seem to be totally blind to several, to my mind, very important points. 

First, let me be clear, I am an immigrant. I arrived in the UK at the age of 40 with a wife and three very young children. My wife and I were of British and European descent, but even so we were aware from the first of some very large cultural differences between what we had left and what we had now joined. We made a very definite decision to put aside everything we had known and embrace fully the ‘British’ way of doing things. It certainly wasn’t easy, and we had no safety net, no back-up of friends and relatives to lean on as we stumbled from one trip hazard to the next. But we survived. And our children are now adults, UK educated, UK integrated, and know no other ‘culture’. It hasn’t been easy for them either, but they have adapted and adjusted and that makes me very proud of them. 

This was why, when the cult of “Multi-Culty” first took off in the 1990s I wanted nothing to do with it. I predicted then, and I am now convinced I was right, that it would lead to division, conflict and tears. Consider this scenario; A family migrates from a non-European culture seeking better opportunities, better living standards, better education. They arrive, they find a home, employment and settle the children into schools - but they keep their own ‘culture’ at home. Immediately the children are isolated because they never have the chance to see how others live. Their parents continue to dress in the clothes they wore in the ‘old’ country, continue to speak the ‘old’ language (in some instances the mother is actively discouraged from learning English) and when they come home from school or work they eat the food of the ‘old’ country, speak the language and dress as they did there. Yet, as one young woman in this position candidly told the BBC, when she went ‘home’ on a visit to her parent’s family, she was treated as a stranger, a non-member of that community and told she was not of that ‘people’ any longer. 

But, back in the UK, she is told she is, or that though she lives in Britain, is British, has been educated and raised in Britain, she must keep her ‘cultural roots’ and practice her own culture, not the British one. As she remarked, she has a sense of no longer belonging anywhere, so why are we surprised when the children of immigrants feel they have no identity with the country that has educated, housed, fed and employed them? I assume the well intentioned injunction to ‘keep your own ethnicity, culture, etc.’, mantra was supposed to make them feel at home, but it has had the opposite effect in fact. How can I be British if I wear clothes more suited to the deserts of Arabia or the Indian sub-continent? How can I be British when I go home and have to speak a language from the Middle East or somewhere else because my parents haven’t learned to speak English?

Several commentators have in recent days held forth at some length on the subject of why these young men might have become ‘disillusioned’ with Western society. Some blame ‘British Culture’ for the alienation, one gave the excuse that ‘Britons have failed to understand the other cultures in our midst’. It seems the promoters of ‘Multi-culturalism’ simply cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that many of these recent immigrant cultures are at complete odds with our own, and the stress created by trying to maintain one which clashes on almost everything ‘British’ is bound to cause a problem. It is interesting that some of the parents involved appeared on television in the clothing of their homelands, not in what might be considered ‘Western’ dress. If, at home, the children have been encouraged to think of themselves as belonging to a different society to the one they are living in, why are their parents surprised that the children don’t respect the culture they live in?

Changing countries is not easy, and there is always a danger of handing down to the next generation an idyllic picture of ‘the Old Country’. The danger is that the next generation then develop that mythology - an example would be the idea that in a society ruled by Sharia Law would be a better regulated society, women would be in the home, behaving modestly, family honour would be protected, girls would do as they were told, and so on. Then they are faced with the reality of modern Britain. Morals are not those taught in the Quran, Sharia Law is not recognised, the majority of people either have no faith, or are Dhimmi’, women are allowed to do as they please and religion does not govern peoples’ lives. It certainly doesn’t take much persuasion to convince gullible young men to campaign for a ‘Religious State’ and the imposition of the idyllic society their parents have projected.

Add to this the officially promoted kowtow to every demand for these minority immigrant groups at ‘official’ level, which is resented and resisted at street level, and you have a youth which feels it does not belong. Their roots are not British, at home they do not experience ‘British’ home life, and they don’t fully experience what might be called ‘British life’ at all. Nor do they want to. They don’t go to Pubs with their ‘mates’, they don’t go ‘Clubbing’ with their girlfriends (officially at least), and tend to form friendships only with those from their own background and culture. So why do they stay?

A cynic might say that it is because they would find it difficult to survive if they went back to the ‘Old Country’. They might not get the Income Support, Housing Benefit or whatever, and they would certainly not enjoy the freedom they currently have, or the access to health care, education and leisure. Plus, they would find themselves to be strangers in a land not quite what they had been led to expect.

The lady commentator from a Pakistani background touched on a part of it when she said that when she visits Pakistan, she is definitely not regarded as anything other than someone from Britain, and not a Pakistani. If you were born in Britain, you are, at least in legal terms, British, and not whatever your parents ethnic background might be. But that also creates a conflict. 

The cultural conflict is not one we have had to face before this. I am frequently told that Britain is the ‘great melting pot’. That previous waves of immigrants have settled, retained their unique cultures and integrated. Oops, there’s the problem. Integrated. Those earlier waves of immigrants came from European cultures. The early Brythic peoples were followed by the Celts, the Gaels, the Romans, the Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Danes, Normans - and later the ‘quiet’ invasions, the Flemish, the French Huguenots, European Jews, Dutch, Polish, and others - all from Europe. They settled, they integrated, spoke English, dressed as we do, accepted British law, the authority of our courts, Parliament and so on. 

With Multi-culturalism, that is not happening. In fact it is being promoted as a bad thing to happen. So why are we surprised that we now have the children of immigrants who have a golden mythological vision of the society their parents left; a disaffection for the British culture and heritage (which they are constantly told isn’t theirs), and a burning desire to make it change to their vision of Utopia?

We reap what we sow. Unfortunately, those who sowed the seeds of “Multi-Culti” refuse to accept responsibility for the harvest we must all now reap. 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Human Resources or Human Beings: The difference between 'things' and 'people'

Among my reading lately was an article on LinkedIn (which is why I cannot post a working link here) on the subject of getting “your” Human Resources Department to work properly. Obviously the article is aimed at managers and possibly at Human Resources staff, but it made interesting reading. The main thrust of the article was that many HR Departments are not functioning well or efficiently. The author flagged up several areas of concern, among them a ‘disconnect’ between the people they are supposed to be sourcing, developing or disciplining. In part this is because there are differences between what ‘Corporate Management’ think the department does, and what the HR Manager thinks it does, but there may also be a lack of certain skills within HR, or even a lack of communication between ‘cells’ within it. 

Many years ago now, I held the “HR” management function for my then employer, a Fire and Emergency Service. It was a very interesting task, and something of a major challenge, but I enjoyed it in the main. The foregoing will tell readers that I'm old enough to remember when "HR" was called "Personnel" and frankly, the change of title is part of the problem. Suddenly 'people' became a 'resource' and thus 'objects' or 'goods'. The very word ‘resource’ suggests some sort of warehouse from which ‘workers’ can be drawn at will, and which, when worn out or no longer required, can be discarded. Treat people as objects and soon their motivation to do anything more than the absolute minimum goes straight out the window. They also become very reluctant to discuss anything at all with anyone from ‘HR’ lest it be used against them, or used to impose new responsibilities or workloads on them. 

One of the points the article raised is that a properly functioning HR Department is also about ‘developing’ skills for an employer. For many corporate employers this is an ideal situation, but all too many don’t make proper use of the possibilities it offers. Coming from a uniformed service background, it is a function that is often separated from HR under the label of “Training and Development”. For a service such as mine it was and is a key function, and it can quite easily fit within a HR remit. However, I would also caution that it must be managed by someone who understands the difference between managing the kitchens of a hotel and being able to manage a fire station with multiple functions. While some skills of management are common and therefore transferable, some of the technical skills and knowledge required to make a good Station Manager/Commander/Officer in a fire service are unique and cannot be gained through an generalised management course. Once again, my experience of trying to explain some of this to HR managers leads me to think there may be a reluctance to accept that a NVQ for managing a shop or office is not a suitable qualification for managing a crew or station in an emergency service.

As I said earlier, I am a retired senior fire officer, and one of the things one learns in 'command' is to know your people, know them, trust them, and know what makes them tick. Far to many of the HR 'professionals' I have encountered in my latter years of employment didn't understand this and could frequently undo years of trust and respect by imposing some new system or policy without consultation. This is often compounded by a refusal to discuss anything of concern to individuals with the person. Many HR Managers I have encountered in recent years insist the person must take their concerns to “their Union” so it can be aired at a “Union Consultation”. In my view, this is not the right way to handle something, the “Union” often has a wider agenda, and the individual’s ‘issue’ may not fit it. As someone who was, at best, a reluctant member of a Trade Union (I disagree strongly with their direct involvement in political ideology and links to specific political Parties), I resented being made to join one (and continuously have to explain why I refused to make a ‘donation’ to an affiliated political party) just so I could get certain concerns about the manner in which contracts were being ‘adjusted’ without consultation or appeal.

I lost count of the number of times I have been told by HR managers that the department was there to 'provide support and services to 'the management' and not to 'staff'. An employee encountering that is likely to immediately clam up and avoid disclosing anything beyond what is demanded of them. I have also found that many of those I encountered didn't know the Employment Laws as well as they should. They often made something worse when they did take a wrong turn, by trying to blame the employee, or by creating a situation which brought about a conflict with the Unions. For me the worst moment came when I was told by an HR 'Director' (who had replaced a uniformed senior officer with many years experience and success at keeping the staff happy and onside) that “no one in the fire service should expect to have a career in it” and that the “average length of ‘career’ should not exceed 12 years”. The individual concerned did not understand the fact that the fire service relies heavily on experience as well as qualification. In fact, quite clearly, there was absolutely no interest at all in even being informed of it. Remove the experience element and you have a recipe for disaster, which, unfortunately, has been borne out in reality since that discussion.

In fairness, senior management can often put the HR personnel into an unenviable position of having to implement policies which they may know will cause hardship. The management is abusing their HR Department in this case, and using them as a buffer between themselves and the difficulties their policy may cause. A typical example is the ‘policy’ that imposes some operational requirement which those who will be affected by it know is going to cause them to come into conflict with the public. Having been there, I can tell you it is useless trying to raise those concerns, so you are faced with either disobeying the policy and hoping to get away with it - or letting the proverbial wheels fall off. Either way you know you, and you alone, as the “resource” involved will be blamed, and will be punished for it having gone wrong. No wonder “HR” are frequently seen as the enemy.

It is my experience that all to often, HR managers adopt an 'adverserial' approach to legitimate staff concerns and generally ramp up the conflict. Sometimes this is down to 'management' decisions requiring the shedding of staff, but more often than not it is down to sheer bad  communications skills and sometimes to clumsy efforts to change employment contracts by stealth. For many the concept of 'consultation' is to send round a letter stating something is to be ‘changed', and when the staff object, tell them to 'like it or leave it'. As you may gather, my experience of modern 'HR' is not a happy one. There is, I feel, too much emphasis on the ‘resource’ and not enough on the people. Too much generalisation instead of addressing some of the real problems and difficulties - like bullying, or constant playing of the ‘minority’ card to cover poor skills or knowledge gaps, and not enough attention to addressing identified problems rather than, as was common in my last employer, blaming everyone for the problems created by one or two individuals instead of dealing with the individuals concerned. I still remember with enormous anger having notices plastered everywhere setting out “our core values” (the same one’s I, and every other uniformed employee had worked to our entire careers) and threatening disciplinary action if we failed to adhere to them. I should mention that the very same people who put these up everywhere, were the worst offenders in breaking them …  

The author of the article that set me off on this listed ten suggestions for improving Human Resources functions. Four of the listed items would, in my view help. They included breaking down the tendency toward isolating skills within the department, adopting a more consultative approach, getting to know peoples’ needs and development ambitions and being less remote. I think that the first step is to have an HR manager who actually understands the 'operations' the 'Human Resources' he manages are engaged in, what stresses and strains those impose on individuals and then to find ways not to compound them. All too frequently, the HR Manager is someone from outside the organisation who has little, if any, knowledge of what the resources they are managing actually do. While it would be impossible to know in detail what each and every post does and how it does it, it would help to actually talk to the individual before attempting to change it. Consulting the Union doesn’t cut it, since the Union representative probably doesn’t know either. 

How do we fix the disconnect between what management think HR does, what HR think they do, and what the staff think HR is there for? It will certainly go a very long way if "HR" stops treating people as 'assets' in the manner of 'goods' to be pigeon-holed, costed and measured all the time.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Ne'er a truer word spoken in jest?

The Monk and his fellow scribes have been a bit busy on a number of matters lately, so the Blog has suffered. Just to reassure readers there is still 'life' among the scribes, here are some witty sayings from a range of 'great' thinkers ...
In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a government. 
  John Adams

If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.  
   Mark Twain

Suppose you were an idiot.  And suppose you were a member of government.  But then I repeat myself. 
   Mark Twain

I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
    Winston Churchill

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
   George Bernard Shaw

Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.
   Douglas Casey, Classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University

Giving money & power to government is like giving whiskey & car keys to teenage boys.
     P.J. O'Rourke, Civil Libertarian

Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
      Frederic Bastiat, French economist (1801-1850)

I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts. 
    Will Rogers

If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free!
      P.J. O'Rourke

In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one  part of the citizens to give to the other.  
      Voltaire   (1764)

Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an  interest in you!
       Pericles (430  B.C.)

No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.
      Mark Twain   (1866)

Talk is cheap...except when government does it.

The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and  no responsibility at the other.
      Ronald Reagan

The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves  the skin.
      Mark Twain

There is no distinctly Native American criminal government. 
      Mark Twain

What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.
      Edward Langley,  Artist (1928-1995)

A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have. 
      Thomas Jefferson

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Remembering D-Day

It is difficult to believe that it is 70 years since the troops went ashore on the Normandy beaches and the liberation of Europe from the National Socialist horror began. Like most of my generation, I grew up being taught by, or knowing men who fought in the second World War, and even one or two who actually took part in D-Day itself. The photo below shows HM the Queen, laying a wreath at the Memorial in Normandy. My thanks to Defence Images for posting it on Facebook.

We will remember them.