Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A Tragic Centenary

Today marks the hundredth anniversary of the bombardment of Belgrade by the Ausrto-Hungarian army. Whether this news finally decided the Tsar to mobilise his army, is debatable, but the fact remains he gave the order, and that triggered the rest. The Kaiser, who had, the the annoyance of his Chancellor and his Chiefs of Staff, had been vacillating, now had, as he saw it, no choice, and the German mobilisation was the final straw.

Interestingly, it has just recently emerged that King George V, in a private meeting with the British Foreign Secretary a week or so before this, told him that 'a war is essential if we are to avoid having the continent under Prussian control'. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty had already cancelled the dispursal of the Reserve Fleet following the annual Fleet exercises - and ordered them to their 'War Stations' instead - pre-empting Parliament. Germany, under the epithet, Prussia, has always been blamed for starting the war, but it appears there were people on all sides simply spoiling for a war in Europe for all manner of nationalistic reasons.

I very much doubt any of those seeking an excuse to 'have a little war' in order to check German expansion on the continent, or to stave off politzical unrest at home, secure trade advantages, or any of the miriad reasons not paraded, had the slightest inkling of what they were about to unleash.  

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Slide to War ...

Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Austrian declaration of War against Serbia, the moment the world began an inexorable slide into the mud, blood and slaughter that engulfed the world. The initial Austrian attack into Serbia went disastrously wrong, in part thanks to the fact the head of their Military Intelligence was actually working for the Russians and passing all the military plans to his Russian paymasters - who forwarded them to the Serbs.

The Austrians had several problems. Their troops were poorly trained and led, the artillery largely antiquated and their troops ran into problems with the weather as well. On the Serbian side there was, initially, a problem of discipline, and they were out numbered. Both sides ran into difficulties, but the Austrians faced the bigger problems and their initial attack soon ran into trouble.

Unfortunately, the dominoes were already starting to tumble, turning what should have been, and remained, a 'local' squabble, into a global conflict. One can only wonder what the world would have looked like had Russia, Germany, Britain and France stayed out of it. One thing is certain - the death toll would not have been numbered in millions.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Islam in Britain - A Voice of Reason ...

Soon after I had settled in Britain, a huge hew and cry broke out in the national daily newspapers around a headmaster of a school in the North East. He'd committed, in the eyes of the politically correct brigade, the unforgiveable sin of saying that unless immigrants were encouraged to integrate, and to speak English, adopt English norms, standards and laws they risked being ghettoised, and becoming an alien society within ours. This drew the ire of the multiculturalists and their allies among the fundamentalists in certain communities who wanted to preserve their own, often very restrictive, culture.

By denying their wives the opportunity to learn and speak English, or to mix with their English neighbours, they created enclaves where their children could be taught to believe that everything English was evil, to be shunned and eventually changed to 'an Islamic state'. Headmaster Honeyford dared to challenge this - and lost his job for it. I have wondered since how those in the Bradford Council feel now, 30 years on, when exactly what he was concerned about has come to pass. An article in The Spectator covers the whole sorry saga - and, for me at least, raises some rather important questions about the morals of those who pursue these politically correct agendas. It seems they have few, if any, qualms about destroying someone who dares question their vision.

More recently I had the pleasure of reading another article, this time written by a leading Muslim academic, who wants the law in Britain changed to ban - that's right, BAN - the wearing of any form of face mask and the Burkha. As he rightly argues, this is NOT a 'requirement' of the faithful from the Quran, but from the far less reliable Hadith. Nor are the Burkha, the Hijab and the full face covers usual anywhere outside of Arabia and some other desert areas, such as the Sahara. In short, there is no such things as an 'Islamic Dress' or uniform for men or women. Dr Taj Hargey, writing in the Daily Mail, states -

Contrary to the claims of its advocates, it has nothing to do with Islam but is a cultural fad imported from Saudi Arabia and primitive parts of the Islamic world.

Interestingly, supporters of the Burkha, often non-religious promoters of "Multiculturalism" refuse to listen to these and other calls. The usual route is to dismiss them as the desire of lecherous non-Muslim men, as in a Huffington Post article on the subject by a self-proclaimed 'religious activist'. He states, inter alia (including the regurgitation of all the usual 'Most Muslim women choose to wear it out of respect) that -

Extremists who call for banning the burqa appear to be largely illiberal, patriotic, and non-Muslim men who use the burqa as a means to persecute Muslims.

He ignores completely the fact that many women are forced to wear it, and that it is not a matter of choice for many. He also states that the French ban on the Burkha is contrary to Art. 8 of the European Treaty on Human Rights - a charge now struck down by the much maligned European Court of Human Rights in a case brought by a British Muslim group and lawyers. I'm not a fan of either the Treaty or the Court concerned, but for once they seem to have been struck by a dose of plain common sense. Of course the Islamists and their supporters are up in arms about it and there are talks of defying it in France and forcing the authorities to act. I suspect they'll find the French authorities a lot less touchy-feely about it than we in the UK would be.

Dr. Hargey knows what he is talking about. He is, after all, an Imam and an associate professor at Oxford. That he is hated by his more fundamentalist fellow believers, reviled in their media and threatened with violence should not surprise anyone. He wants to see an end to the isolationism in the UK Muslim communities. He frequently points out that the Hijab is not worn by most women outside of the Middle East, or was not until fairly recently. Famously, Kemal Attaturk, in secularising and modernising Turkey in the 1920s, 'banned the Burkha' by a clever strategy - he ordered that henceforward all prostitutes MUST wear it in public. Overnight, no one wore it.

What Dr Hargey wants now is to petition Parliament to debate a ban on the Burkha, and unlike others, he has thought about the implications. In his address he states that such a ban would apply to people wearing Balaclavas and ski-masks in public places. I doubt he'll win, our political classes are far too afraid of upsetting the Islamist beast they have welcomed among us, and I have yet to hear any of the politically correct brigade recant or admit that their wonderful vision of a society of multiple cultures sharing the same place is a failure. Or to hear any of them admit that Mr Honeyford was never, as they painted him, a 'bigot and a racist'.

Still, when one Imam has the courage to stand up and say the, to fundamentalists, unsayable, there is hope that the wider society will start to wake up, reject the illiberal idiots who claim to be creatiung a 'free and fair society' and throw out their cockamamy ideologies. Islam is currently going through a massive internal power struggle for its heart and soul. As Dr Hargey says, the Arabisation of Islam is proceeding unchecked. The Hijab is not required by the Quran, nor is the Burkha, nor are the black gloves, facemasks and so on. These are all from the Hadith and the Berber culture of Saudi Arabia. They are not native to Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan and any number of other 'Muslim' countries.

I hope he succeeds in his objective. It will be a first step toward breaking the current trend toward a return to the Dark Ages for us all.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Religion has caused all wars?

Came across an interesting article recently at Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), which prompted me to do some digging of my own and I found that my own research accords with what they have published. One frequently reads that 'religion causes wars' or that 'all wars in human history' were caused by religion. But, is this fact?

Let's start with the wars of early human history. What part did 'religion' play in the Egyptian wars of expansion? Or the Assyrian wars of conquest? Or Babylon's? How about the Persian invasions of Asia Minor and Greece? Or Ghengiz Khan's invasions of Eastern Europe, Persia, India and China?What of the Roman conquests? Motivated by Jupiter worship? Hardly. Religion played no part in these at all, though I have seen a claim that, because the Bible mentions some of them, and that God was involved in defending Israel or Judah, they were 'religious' ... Pretty tenuous, especially as the same person was arguing from the position that the entire Bible is a fabrication, a falsehood and therefore not worth reading. From the same argument comes the claim that the conflict between the invading European settlers of the Wild West and the Native American tribes was a 'religious war'. The reason given for that claim is that the various politicians who sent in the army or sought to drum up support from the settlers labelled the Red Indians as 'unbelievers' and 'savages'. Right.

A recent book, The End of Faith, renews the claim that 'religion is the most prolific source of violence in our history', but, as I've just stated, a very cursory look at about a 1,000 year span of pre-Christian history suggests religion had no part in a millenium of wars of expansion and conquest. Again, a survey of the wars in the next thousand years, one finds a similar pattern, with one exception - the Islamic Wars of conquest into the Christian Kingdoms of Ethiopia, Egypt, Libya and the rest of North Africa, and, of course, the Byzantine Empire and the Zoroastrian, Hindu and Buddhist lands of Persia, Babylon, Afghanistan and India. But even these actually represent only a small proportion of all the wars going on at the same time everywhere else.

Once we hit the Crusade period, those with an axe to grind against religion (usually, specifically, Christianity) really have a field day. Those evil Crusaders who attacked the peaceful, inclusive and tolerant Muslims with no provocation. Quite. In fact the Crusades were a response to Muslim persecution of Christians, not very different in some areas to what is happening everywhere in the Muslim world to Christians, and other non-Muslims, today. Though we are presented, by revisionists today, with an image of a peaceful 'paradise' of flowering art and scientific creativity in Muslim controlled Spain, and of scientific innovation and research elsewhere in Muslim lands, what is forgotten is that most of this was built on trades, skills and studies already in existence when they conquered these lands.

The Viking invasions, the Germanic Celtic invasions of Gaul, Spain and Italy were not 'religious' and even the often quoted war on the Cathars had, as an underlying motive, the suppression of a group who threatened the power and authority of the French nobility and Crown. William the Conqueror's wars, and those of his descendants, were certainly not 'religious' and the same can be said of many more. Yes, the Thirty Years War, had religious roots, and Phillip II of Spain certainly had a religious excuse for his attempted invasions of England, but his real motive was to avenge his sister's being 'sleighted' by Henry VIII. Cromwell's wars in Scotland and Ireland had a large religious element, but the primary objective was the suppression of support for the Crown. Other researchers have analysed the causes and motivations of the wars of our history and concluded that only around 6% in total of over 1,700 recorded wars, had any religious motivation - and a little over two thirds of those were Islamic invasions. The defining characteristic of a 'religious' war is that it is waged for the purpose of forcing a group or population to 'convert' or in order to suppress and destroy a rival faith. Those who wish to destroy all faith ignore that, and argue that any mention of 'faith' in any context in any war - or the use of any terminology associated with any 'faith' - makes it a 'religious conflict'.

Can one argue that the Conquistadores were conducting a 'religious' war on the Aztecs, Incas and others? The answer, if one bothers to check who gained what and why, is a clear 'no'. The much maligned Roman Catholic Church's 'men on the ground', have left a large volume of correspondence to Rome and to the Kings and Queens of Spain and Portugal protesting and objecting to the manner in which populations were being enslaved, impoverished, stripped of wealth and treasures. The anti-religious folk all point to the decoration of churches and claim this 'proves' the church was behind the robbery - but in fact the wealth which went to decorating churches represents about 0.1% of the total that went to secular treasuries and fueled further wars of expansion and conquest in Europe.

Even a cursory look at the causes and motivations for England's external wars of the 16th to 19th Centuries shows no 'religious' motivation, but a strong secular/commercial one. A murderer waving a Bible is no more a Christian than Richard Dawkins - except in the minds of those who wish to see said murderer as 'a Christian'. Hitler, it is often said, was a Roman Catholic and therefore his 'motivation' for the Holocaust and for his war on Russia and everywhere else, was 'religious'. The fact is that he was Roman Catholic by baptism, confirmation and education - it would have been remarkable if he was not in Austria at the time he was born - but he did not practice it post WW1. In fact he was scornful of all religious leaders, mocking them publicly. He never attended Mass, and rejected the suggestion he appoint a 'Chaplain'. Religious motivation? Hardly, but he was influenced by Marx to a degree, and by the ideas of prominent secular and humanist thinkers. It's all in his book if you read it.

Stalin hated religion, dynamited churches, had priests and bishops sent to the Gulags in Siberia - but again, there are modern revisionists who want to argue that he was motivated by his 'religious beliefs'. He himself declared he had none. In fact, he had priests rounded up and shot, and sent elderly bishops to Siberia and labour camps. If that is an example of his 'religious' belief driving him, it is a strange one.

Then there is the question of the Churches making deals with both Hitler and Stalin. Rome (in)famously signed treaties with both Mussolini and with Hitler. Easy, of course, to criticise, but now consider for a moment, the fact that in order to keep the churches open, and allowed to minister to those who remained faithful to the Christian teaching, rather than the twisted Nazi and Communist ideologies, they had no choice but to do deals with the 'Devil'. Again, it is easy to say they should not have, but that begs the question of how you minister to those who do remain faithful, and keep faith alive in a hostile and aggressively anti-faith environment. The charge Jesus left his followers is to 'minister to the faithful' - not abandon them to the wolf packs. As a part of that ministry, many of the faithful became involved in hiding fugitive Jews and other 'undesirables' and the churches provided comfort and succour to those who did so.

Today we see the active persecution of the church in China, where churches are being bulldozed and congregations penalised by the officially atheist regime. I have actually seen ignorant idiots safely in 'liberal' western societies advocating similar actions to be taken to 'destroy Christianity' on the grounds that it is evil, brainwashing, anti-science and, of course, responsible for all wars, conflicts and - to quote Stephen Fry and Phillip Pullman  - "responsible for the deaths of billions in the Americas and elsewhere." As I am unable to find any support for their assertion that the entire Spanish (and Portugese) conquest of the Americas was actually driven by the Roman Church (or any other) - whose priests and bishops spent an inordinate amount of time trying to stop the rape, murder and plunder of the Conquistadores and their successors - I find their numbers suspiciously dramatic and a little inflated.

That there have been, and are, some rather nasty and bloodthirsty religions in the past is undeniable. Even the Buddhist faith practiced human sacrifice until it was forcibly ended by the British and others. In Burma the British were horrified by the sacrifice of 200 young men to appease the spirits at the site of the 'new' capital being built in the 1860s - and launched a campaign which ended in the country being made a 'Protectorate' to end it. Mr Fry and his ilk, I suspect, simply ignore the fact that Judaism and Christianity did not, and do not, practice the genocidal system of sacrificing their enemies, and proclaim there is no difference. Ethnic cleansing has many faces, few of them 'religious' (though I'm sure someone will point to the passages in the Bible that command racial purity and the expulsion or murder of non-Jewish wives and offspring. What is more there is NO evidence this was ever actually practiced, then or later.). The fact is that Christianity expressly forbids such practices, and, once again, if you look at ALL the evidence, it quickly becomes apparent that while 'religion' is often used as a cloak, the real motivation is often 'commercial' and nothing whatever to do with any 'faith'.

Usually the motivation is 'capital gain' in the form of land seized, slaves obtained, treasure taken, and prime examples are the Muscovite wars of conquest and expansion, China's seizure of Tibet and the removal of ethnic Tibetans and their replacement with ethnic Chinese. Or Stalin's mass removal of Cossacks, Tartars, Ukrainians and Georgians and their replacement with ethnic Russians - the source of much of the problem in the Eastern Ukraine today. As with any ideology, everything can be twisted by those who are clever at manipulating others (and humanity is full of those who never look beyond the exciting message, or the charismatic messenger). When it suited Hitler, he made a point of being photographed with clergy. Stalin ordered some hastily released Bishops and priests to bless banners and the troops heading for the suicidal battles of the 'Patriotic Front'.

Much is sometimes made of the fact that those on both sides of any conflict invoke the protection of God for their side, but this doesn't 'prove' anything other than our natural desire to hope that we will survive - or at least find a path to a 'better place' than the battlefield if we die there. As my grandfather once remarked, "there are no atheists in a shell hole when death is raining down on you".

Despite the atheist, humanist and secularist propaganda, the vast majority of wars are not 'caused by religion'. They are caused by ideological agendas, by human greed, envy, spite and the hope of gain. This is what motivated Argentina to invade the Falkland Islands, what drove the bush wars in Angola, Mozanbique, Vietnam and Korea. The desire for political advantage and power is what drives the various civil wars in Central Africa, in Syria and in Ukraine. These can only be called 'religious' if we are to declare political ideology to be a 'religion'. I suspect that will really cause a few wars.

Propaganda is a powerful tool, and it has been used against people of faith very effectively for the last hundred years or so. Sadly, even though the evidence against the charge that "religion is the cause of all wars in history" is right in front of the vast majority, they will still swallow the lie and not check the facts. A case, perhaps, of 'don't confuse me with facts; my mind is made up'. And that, my friends, is a very sad commentary on the state of western thinking, freedom and access to information. A very sad commentary indeed.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

A Day to Remember

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the attempt in 1944, by a group of Wehrmacht officers, to kill Hitler and bring an end to his horrific regime. They failed, and suffered horrifically at the hands of the Gestapo psychopaths as a result. Their children were taken into children's homes, their names changed and then brainwashed into denying their own families. Nor were they alone. The Gestapo used the attempt as an excuse to round up and kill hundreds of 'suspects', sympathisers, political opponents and other 'agitators'.

It is fascinating to see that today is marked by memorial services across Germany praising those who made the attempt, and suffered and died for it. As I type the entire Bundestag is gathered at Bendler-Block in Berlin where Colonel Claus Philipp Maria Schenk, Graf von Stauffenberg, and his co-conspirators was killed. They are being remembered for their brave attempt to bring a swift and complete end to the suffering of their nation and people at the hands of the Nazis. Ultimately over 20,000 Germans of all walks of life would die or be condemned to Concentration Camps, among them Erwin Rommel and several other high ranking officers.

The memorial in the Bendler-Block.

One can only speculate on how things would have gone had they succeeded, or if the senior Wehrmacht commanders (who, like Rommel, were implicated and suffered for it) had acted swiftly and decisively instead of hesitating. I suspect that at the very least thousands of lives would have been spared, thousands of women would not have been raped and murdered, and we might even have seen more of Hitler's henchmen and supporters apprehended and punished for their crimes.

I suspect that, like me, most of those from outside Germany know only a tiny fraction of this attempt to depose the monster, and have even less idea how many Germans died as a result of its failure. Stauffenberg himself died by firing squad, but others died suspended from a meat hook, others were shot, gassed or hung. Col. von Stauffenberg's brother, Berthold, was strangled with a garrotte, revived and 'killed' again and again, all of it filmed for Hitler's viewing pleasure.

Perhaps we should all take time out to remember those within Germany who gave their lives and risked everything to work against the Nazis. Their story is all too often ignored.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Tragedy In Ukraine

The shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight 17 must rank as one of the great atrocities of recent times. Who shot bit down will, I'm sure, continue to be argued for some time to come, though the evidence of radio and mobile phone conversations does seem to point to the separatists. The BBC report on it on the Internet was about as bland as you can get. No mention of who might be involved, some images of wreckage and some rather bland words about the 'tragic loss of life'.

As usual the 'comments' on the Internet report were from all points of view, ranging from the serious and informed, to the downright stupid - like one idiot who proclaimed that because he couldn't see any bodies in the pictures, and one showed a man in an ordinary overall among the wreckage, that it was 'staged'. According to him it was 'faked' to whip up support for the Ukrainian government. I'm glad to say that around 50 commenters tore his argument apart - but people like that are a large part of the problem we all face in society today. Ignorant, ill-informed, but convinced of their own genius and infallibility on any and every subject. The perfect fodder for those seeking to create support for any anti-society 'cause'.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of what is happening in Ukraine, once again we have an example of fanatics engaged in a dangerous game designed to seize power from those they refuse to acknowledge as having any rights, and supported by the usual shadowy figures 'managing' the real power from behind the screen.

The tragic loss of 295 lives embarking on a holiday, business or returning from either, is a stain on all of humanity. Now it is up to Mr Putin and the Western Leaders to pull the rug from under those responsible - and I think we can be very sure they already know - and put a stop to the lunatic activities of a small group of disaffected Russian migrants who will bring down the whole Ukrainian population if they are allowed to continue. This is yet another running sore in human history, yet another lesson for those who welcome 'popular revolts' to change 'regimes'. Those who welcomed the 'Arab Spring' should look carefully at what it has brought, and consider even more carefully the consequences of a division of Ukraine.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

An Historic Date for a Proud Ensign

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Act of Parliament that made the White Ensign the official and only ensign to be worn by 'His/Her Majesty's Ships of War'. Prior to this date a ship wore either the White, Blue or Red flag of the squadron in which she served, and that was determined by whether the Admiral in command, was an Admiral of the White, Red or Blue. Originally the 'Blue' was the advanced vanguard squadron, the White, the main body of the fleet and the Red the rearguard squadron. But, in the reign of Charles II, the Red Ensign became the colours worn by merchantmen as well as by ships 'of the Red', and in the 18th Century it became the practice for 'private ships' that is ships temporarily detached from their squadron or the fleet, to use the Red Ensign.

Since this date in 1864, the White Ensign has been for the exclusive use of Royal Naval ships and shore establishments, the Royal Yacht Squadron, Trinity House vessels escorting the Sovereign and certain other ships in preservation or in special service. HMS Belfast and HMS Cavalier are two such 'preserved' ships, and the ensign is kept 'flying' on the wrecks of HMS Royal Oak, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, all three officially 'war graves'. 

The Blue Ensign is now reserved for ships commanded by Royal Naval Reserve officers and certain Government Officers when it is 'defaced' by the addition of a badge showing the office. It was often worn by ships bearing the letters "RMS" (Royal Mail Steamer/Ship - denoting that ship was contracted to carry mails for the Royal Mail) in front of their names, though not because they carried the mails, but because their officers were members of the RN Reserve. Thus such famous ships as the old Cunard liners, RMS Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth, and many of the Union Castle ships on the South African run wore the Blue ensign and carried the "RMS" designation. 

The Red Ensign is reserved for merchant vessels, 'private' ships, and yachts registered in British ports. As with the Blue Ensign, it is sometimes seen being flown by government establishments or officers, and is then 'defaced' with a badge or crest denoting the agency or office.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Economics and Ecology - Differing points of view ...

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The World’s Resources aren’t Running Out” made very interesting reading. The author, Matt Ridley, is a journalist with a background in economics, and takes a look at a number of statements made by ecologists and scientists on the “Global Warming/Human is using up the planet’s resources” side of the argument. As he points out, most people would agree that humans are having an impact, particularly where there is overpopulation, but the impact is not quite what so many claim.

Where advocacy groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth promote to the idea that we will shortly run out of coal, oil, iron ore, etc., etc., an economist will point to the fact that using something does not mean it is ‘gone’ for good. Much of what is supposedly being ‘used up’ is simply taking a new form and can be recovered, reused, and reworked again and again. Many advocacy groups fail to grasp the difference between ‘estimated reserves’ of something and the likelihood that new ‘reserves’ are being mapped out almost daily. They also fail to take into account the recycling of these resources. Plastics are a good example, most are best described as ‘solidified hydrocarbon’ and that can be recycled to recover at least some of it. Nor is this the only area where simple economics takes a more optimistic view.

Since the rise of the ‘Green’ movements began we have been bombarded by dire predictions of agricultural collapse, warnings of ‘Peak Oil’, vanishing fresh water supplies and many more ‘tipping’ points that will wipe out our populations, our technology or our societies. Economists find this extremely frustrating, since again and a again such ‘tipping points’ have come and gone with no check at all on progress - largely because of innovations such as fertilisers, improved seeds for crops, insecticides, new technology for finding oil, gas and simultaneously reducing individual consumption through more efficient engines. Ironically, the very people who campaign so vigorously to ‘save the ecology/climate/planet’ also vigorously resist these advances. 

Mr Ridley acknowledges that he once (like most of us I suspect) carried the ‘ecology’ torch, believing in the ‘finite’ model and that growth must be restricted and limited. Since then, again like most of us, he has come to recognise that with growth comes innovation. Of necessity, we learn to do more with less. Efficiency is achieved through improved technology. Using the example of coal power stations - anathema to most ‘Greens’ - if we accept that new technology means that the waste gas in the chimney can be ‘scrubbed’ to extract that evil carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide (actually the process is quite simple and clever and is in use at most such plants now) which can then be recycled and either ‘stored’ or turned into something else, the plant is, according to Greenpeace, still only 47% efficient. They arrive at that number by measuring the heat ‘lost’ up the smoke stack and through the condensing process which returns the steam to water for the boilers, but it is far from an accurate number in reality. 

In many dry countries that ‘waste heat’ is used to distill water from sea water. This is how many of the cities in the Persian Gulf provide drinking water for their citizenry. It is how water can be, and is, provided for agriculture in some drought prone countries as well - but is never taken account of by the ‘ecologist’ camp. There are other innovations for producing fresh clean drinking water as well, one such coming from the maritime industry. Called a ‘Hydropore’ system, it uses micro filters to remove the salts and other particles from sea water to produce vast amounts of fresh drinking water - most of it cleaner and purer than what we drink in most European towns and cities. Such plants can operate on land as well, producing fresh water for towns or agriculture. As an example of the output, one of the USN’s Nuclear aircraft carriers can produce enough electricity for a medium sized city, and enough fresh water through their hydropower systems to water it as well.

While on the subject of ships, another recent Greenpeace campaign charged that these were the ‘biggest polluters’ of the oceans and the atmosphere and demanded a surcharge on fuel for them. This on the grounds that a single ship pumps out ‘tons’ of CO2 and other pollutants on its travels. It ignores, of course, the fact that such ships enable us to feed the world’s population by moving food from a producer with a surplus, to a consumer with a deficit, but there, that is part of the problem here. It also ignores the fact that the ‘waste gases’ from the engine pass through an ‘exhaust gas economiser’ which transfers heat to the ship’s hot water systems and preheats water for any boilers. Yes, such ships also consumes fuel at a rate of ‘Tons per Hour’ but we must also recognise that an average container ship shifts thousands of tons of produce very efficiently, far more efficiently than could be done by camels, trains or trucks. And the fuel consumption when under way is around one third of what used to be consumed by a transatlantic liner such as the France or the old Queen Elizabeth which burned around 40 tons of oil per hour at cruising speeds. Once again, more efficient machinery, means greater economy of operation, less consumption to achieve more.

Aircraft engines are going through a similar revolution/evolution. Not only are they now much more efficient, they are becoming quieter and less fuel hungry. 

Then there is the question of ‘resources’ such as iron ore, copper, manganese, chromite and many more. Extracting these from the ground is very ecologically damaging, and as the mines get deeper, more difficult, it is obvious that more efficient and less damaging means of recovering it need to be examined. And they have been. Open cast mines in operation are pretty ugly, but it is now common practice to ‘landscape’ such sites, often using them to store landfill - the rubbish generated in cities - and even restoring them to nature. Recycling is becoming much more efficient as well. Metals thrown into to rubbish are being recycled at a far greater rate than ever before. Electronic components are recovered, and reprocessed to extract the metals they contain in order to make new components. I read recently that ‘new’ appliances contain around 40% of metals recovered from old appliances thrown away, so you new iPhone/Android/Samsung probably has metal in it that cam from a reel to reel tape recorder!

Economists tell us that innovation is driven by growth and demand. If something is in short supply, two things happen, the price rises and new sources are found, and people find ways to use less more efficiently or reuse what is already available. This is the key thing most ‘Green’ advocates seem to miss. I still have reservations about the potential for unlimited growth (unless we can find ways to start to colonise planets in outer space), but I don’t think we are yet in danger of ‘running out’ of anything vital - as long as the legions of ‘Green’ campaigners can be persuaded to stop obstructing innovation and development of technologies that can and do meet the rising demand. 

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Those Neanderthal Genes

Recently genetic material was recovered from some Neanderthal remains recovered at an archaeological site in Spain. It appears to have caused some excitement among geneticists since it raises some questions and, perhaps, answers others. Increasingly scientists are having to reassess their theories on this branch of humanity. It now begins to look as if they may have been a distinct, and now extinct branch of humanity. Just as there is greater ‘ethnic’ variety between distinct populations in Africa than outside it, there may have been a similar diversity elsewhere with different ‘species’ of humanity developing side by side. 

The common mythology about the Neanderthals is that they were one step in the evolutionary chain that eventually produced modern Homo Sapiens Sapiens. It also says that they were brutish, lacking in any creative skills and barely sapient. Now we know, since the DNA shows it, that they were a completely separate genus of the human family. The archaeologists have also found that Homo Neanderthalis used tools, created some wonderful ‘jewellery’ out of shells and stone beads, had clothing made of hide and even shoes. Hardly total thickos incapable of civilised behaviour.

There is considerable evidence that they indulged in some elaborate ritual behaviour. Their burials show evidence of some form of religious system. That they could organise quite complex activities is evidenced by the fact they hunted some large animals by driving them toward and over cliff faces or into gorges. One of their preferred targets being the Woolly Mammoth. What we do know about them is that there brains were larger than ours, and though this does not necessarily mean they were more intelligent, it does indicate the ability for ‘higher thought’. There ‘range’ of occupation is equally interesting, with them leaving signs of their presence across Europe, the Russian steppes and Asia. There is no trace of them in Africa and they vanished from the world around 40,000 years ago. The general hypothesis concerning their extinction is that they simply ‘lost out’ to the ‘new, improved’ humans - but we may now have to rethink that as well.

They thrived in Europe and Asia for close on 60,000 years, most of it at a time when Northern Europe was buried beneath an ice sheet. There is evidence to suggest they may even have helped our early ancestors adapt, perhaps teaching them how to make clothes, or survival skills in the cold. So, what really happened to them?

The latest thinking is that they may have simply been unable to adapt as the ice retreated and the first hunter gatherers of Homo Sapiens were followed by increasing numbers of newcomers competing for food. Now comes the interesting bit about their DNA. Modern humans carry around 3% of Neanderthal genes in our X Chromosome, but no trace of it in the Y. Even more interesting, these genetic markers are completely absent from almost all African populations. These genes are also absent in the Australian Aboriginal gene pool, suggesting that they had no contact in their migration, with the Neanderthal peoples. It seems that our distant ancestors interbred with Neanderthal women, again suggesting that Neanderthal and Homo Sapien tribal groups were in contact long enough for the genes to become part of our genome. Equally interesting is the fact it is these genes which give European and Asian peoples the lighter skin tones, hair types and colouring and the variety of eye colours we have. 

Blue, green, grey and other eye colours are not found among African populations which have not interbred with non-African populations, and neither is the fine straight hair found elsewhere. It seems the Neanderthals have left us an interesting genetic legacy. The debate seems set to become more and more interesting as our understanding of the genetics involved in the development of humans as we know them today increases. 

I foresee some lively debates and some very interesting discoveries in this field for the future. I suppose one can but speculate what the world would look like if Homo Neanderthal had survived to become the dominant species ...