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Friday, 28 February 2014

Israel the 'obstacle' to peace?

I was delighted to see the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Bundespräsident, Joachim Gauck, have roundly dismissed the call for Germany to impose 'sanctions' on Israel and to 'boycott' and 'disinvest' from Israeli businesses and trade. They are right, and the movement that calls for this is hypocritical. They do not acknowledge Istrael's right to exist, or the Jewish people's right to defend themselves. They are so blinded by their own lies and propaganda they refuse to see the realities of life in the socalled 'Palestinian Territories', which were seized by Jordan and Egypt immediately after the UN itself had drawn the boundaries of Israel to include them in Israel. Jordan and Egypt then proceeded against Art. 33 of the Geneva Convention, to relocate their own citizens to these territories and to consolidate them into their own countries. In an even more cynical move post the 1973 Yom Kippur War (which most of the promoters of boycotts, sanctions and so on probably think was a war of 'liberation'), Jordan and Egypt colluded to create the 'Palestinian State' on the West Bank and Gaza.

Why was this cynical? Put simply, the two areas are not viable 'states' and with no connecting corridor, can never be a homogenous territory. It is a fiction that they can even begin to be. Just as it is a total fiction that the 'Palestinian People' are the victims. As a simple bit of research son uncovers, most of those claiming this status are, at best, socnd generation 'Palestinians' since the name itself did not exist before Yasser Arafat created it in the 1970s. The British named the whole area 'Palestine' which was not its name under the Ottoman Turks, and if there is a 'Palestine' today, it is the Kingdom of Jordan according to maps drawn up and agreed by the League of Nations and accepted after the Jewish people rejected the British attempt to subject them to a second holocaust in 1946-7. The British had handed over the keys to the arsenals, the local and regional government and the military to the Hashemite Arabs despite the declared intention of them and every other Arab leader to 'cleanse' the land of Jews. They even deported desperate refugees back to the very concentration camps they'd just been released from. And now, British politicians, to what should be the shame of every Briton, do and say nothing to stop the perpetuation of lies, misinformation and anti-Jewish propaganda.

Synagogues in Britain are regularly defaced, and Jews attacked in our streets and nothing is said. But don't touch a mosque, or threaten a Salafist, or Islamist on a British street with the thrashing they deserve. Anti-semitism is fine, as long as its called 'anti-Zionism' - but 'Islamaphobia' is a heinous crime. So, our politicians hide behind a fiction of being impartial, of seeking 'peace' in the Middle East, but privately promoting the eradication of Israel by covertly supporting and encouraging the anti-Israel movements. Watch our Foreign Secretary duck and weave when any of this is discussed. Watch the BBC always promote the 'suffering' of the 'Palestinians' and justify the descration of Christian and Jewish holy places. Listen as they perpetuate the lies and the deceits. Let's face it, if you establish a bomb factory in a block of flats crowded with women and children, or make children play between you and the missile launchers, are you not expecting to get them killed? Just who is klilling the children in that situation? In my view it is Hamas, Al Fatah, Hezbollah and the rest of these gangsters, not the IDF.

It is often stated in the western media that Israel refuses to 'concede' this or that in the interests of 'peace' in the Middle East, but, when one actually looks at the truth, rather than the Arab propaganda, a very different picture emerges. I found this on the blog "The Elder of Zyon" and the fact is that his information is correct. The Arab League, which 'created' the Palestinian People out of refugees they have deliberately kept in camps and refused to allow to integrate into their host populations since 1948, don't want 'peace' with Israel, they want its complete eradication and have said so.

Monday, February 17, 2014


The Arab definition of "peace," 1948

This comes from a July 8, 1948 memo from the Arab League to UN mediator Count Bernadotte rejecting the extension of the truce during Israel's War of Independence. (I found this in a 1962 book of Arab League documents.)

The Arab States, however, were again disappointed when they received the proposals of the Count which he had based on partition, on the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, and on recognition of what has been called the "accomplished" fact brought about by the Zionist gangs. We do not think that the Mediator is unaware that the present struggle is directed against the idea of partition and against the establishment of a Jewish state. Yet he soon took this as a basis for his proposals, (thus) disregarding the rights of the Arabs.

The Zionists are going ahead with the establishment of their so-called "state". There is nothing in this to encourage the prolongation of the cease-fire and the finding of a peaceful solution. The Mediator himself is fully convinced, as he has said on one occasion, that there is no hope of convincing the Jews to give up their state.

This means that the cease-fire will not enable us to find a peaceful solution.
Even then, the Arabs would use Western concepts of "peace" when talking to the West - but as they made clear, their definition of peace means no Jewish state.


Perhaps it is time the western 'peacemakers' like Blair, Kerry and the various Foreign Affairs departments all with fingers in the pie of appeasing the Arabs, and blaming the Jews, got real. Maybe it's time they admitted there is no hope of 'peace' until the Arabs accept that they do not have a right to destroy a people or a faith that built the city they claim to be the third holiest place in their faith (The Prophet never ever set foot there and until it became a symbol of their 'struggle' the mosques on the Temple Mount (former Christian Churches) were in a pretty run down state!) or provided the foundation of their faith. Perhaps it is time to stop pandering to the hatred of the Arabs and tell them, in no uncertain terms, to grow up.

Israel was created out of the broken promises of the British government in 1947-8, and recognised by the UN. That 'recognition' was immediately undermined by the Arab side in their attempt (using British led Armies) to 'drive the Jews into the sea'. They failed. Jordan imposed a 'province', in clear contravention of International law, on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Egypt grabbed Gaza. Both then carried out a purge of Jewish families in these areas, many of them with roots going back to Biblical times. Both ignored the Geneva Convention, Article 33, which forbids the incorporation of land seized by war into the aggressor state. Neither had a right to repopulate these territories - as they did - with people moved from their own countries, and neither had a right to 'give up the land' to create the farce that is the Palestinian 'State' of today.

Let's get real. Let's recognise that the Arabs are the greatest obstacle to peace. They, not the Istraelis, are the aggressors. They label the Israelis as "Zionist gangs" but refuse to acknowledge the public statements on the eve of the 1947 British withdrawal, in which their leaders declared their intention of 'cleansing Palestine' of Jews, or of 'making the sea red with the blood of the Jews'. It is time to make them confront the evil in their own minds, to make them accept there can be no acceptance of such attitudes in the future. It is time to remind them that, much like today's Jihadis, the Grand Mufti of Istanbul helped raise a Division for the Nazi SS in Turkey, and that the Grand Mufti of Mecca attempted to do the same - both with the express desire to 'purge the Jews' from history.

The only stumbling block I can see is that they are now the owners of so much of London and so much of the world's banking system ... Well, money talks. It always has. Blair, Kerry, et al will continue ton take the thirty pieces of silver, and continue to be seeking peace in the full knowledge there is no intention of finding it.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Paperback Available

The Outer Edge is now avialable as a paperback as well as in the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and Apple iBooks versions, but, at the moment, listed only on the US Amazon site. It is always exciting for an author when his book takes on a physical form, and I'm old fashioned enough to like holding a book even though I do have a number of 'e-books' in my collection.

The publisher, IndieGo Publishing has put a lot of effort into producing both the electronic versions and now the 'hard copy' and have produced a good looking book. Did I say I was pleased? Well, I'll say it again anyway. I'm really pleased with the way this book has been produced and I hope that readers will enjoy the story.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Internet Trolls are Psychopaths?

A few days ago, some interesting research hit the news. Everyone who has used a 'discussion forum' online, or perhaps posts to a blog, even uses FaceBook to post 'updates' abot their activities, or reads the comments beneath articles in online newspapers, will have encountered at least one 'troll'. These people never debate or discuss anything. They resort to offensive smears, name calling and often extremely personal attacks on any and every topic, from religion, through climate change and politics. Even science threads are not completely free of them.

The Canadian research, which is comprehensive in its sample and extensive in the testing, has come up with an interesting conclusion. 'Trolls' are generally people who display Machiavellian manipulative traits; they enjoy causing offence and hurt; they enjoy causing fear (one acquaintance had an exchange with a Troll, who then stalked her across the internet, making personal threats. The Police were called and traced him. He turned out to be a 13 year old with the classic psychopath profile) through stalking and threats, and who have sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies. This should concern us, because it is often these behaviours that make the running on a wide range of subjects and topics in todays world.

Just look at how the political debate between left and right ideologies seems to have become bogged down and dominated by epithets, offensive labels and name-calling. Look at the typical behaviours of those leading it. It seems to be particularly prevalent among many 'atheists' who troll religious debates and sites. The same has happened in the 'climate change' debate - it is the Trolls who make all the running and currently have the attention of policy makers and politicians. Why is 'cyber bullying' such a problem? Once again, it is those inclined to 'trolling' who are the lead offenders, and other studies over the years have suggested a strong link between 'bullying' and psychopathic and sadistic behaviours.

Among the classic indicators found by the researchers was 'desire to hurt' among many Trolls. These people actively take 'roles' in online games which give them the best opportunity to 'cause hurt' to other game characters, or 'kill' opponents. Another tendency is to regard animals and people as 'things', objects to be used, manipulated and abused. Again, classic psychopath behaviour. Once someone becomes an 'object' he or she is no longer considered to have any more value than would be given to, say, a stone or a window to be broken with it.

The online Independent carries a good report on the research here.  The full report is available (behind a paywall) at Science Central entitled "Trolls just want to have fun". Unfortunately, it does seem that their idea of fun is to cause as much distress and pain as possible to anyone who happens to come into contact through the internet or any other medium.

We should be worried by this, since it does tell us something important about the society we have blundered into creating. Perhaps it is also a call to run a few checks on the trolls - none of the traits they display can be termed 'healthy' for anyone, least of all themselves. The research raises some very interesting questions across a very wide spectrum of behaviours closely related to 'trolling', with big implications for a number of organisations who encourage it as a part of 'civil action' for their causes.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

When Politicians start to be 'certain' it's time to check which planet they're on ...

The US Secretary of State, Mr Kerry, seems to never read a briefing paper, or to have much contact with reality. Dr Judith Curry, a climate scientist of considerable note, though NOT one of the 'team', says it far better than I can. She is, after all, a scientist.

She has a long article on Mr Kerry's pronouncements on climate change on her blog.  I am more and more convinced that all of this hysteria on the subject of climate change is a cover for an agenda which wishes to de-industrialise and de-commercialise the western nations and economies, turning them into someone's ideal of a pre-industrial cottage industry style aggrarian world. I note that it is always the 'west' that must cut consumption, cut fuel use, cut emissions and cut its economic throat to 'save the planet' or 'give developing nations a fair deal' with the same never being asked of any of the real polluters and over populators.

The truth is that our leaders are apparently hell bent on destroying our economies in pursuit of the policies set out in the UN's Agenda 21. The question I ask is this; who, precisely, will benefit from it? Certainly not our societies, or our children.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Climate and Weather

Once again I see the terrible weather the UK and Europe have been enduring - the UK in particular taking the brunt of it - is fuelling the 'Global Warming/Climate Change' hysteria. Yet another 'paper' has been rushed into print claiming that 93% of the 'missing heat' (the gap between reality and climate model predictions) is lurking in the oceans. The Polar Vortex responsible for this battering we are currently enduring is, apparently, caused by the ice loss and warming of the Arctic Ocean. The paper also claims that Antarctica is losing its ice shelves, and the reason for the current increase in ice there is - you got it - global warming 'trapping' a vortex over the continent.

I get fed up with selective quotes, buzz phrases (the users of which seldom actually know what they mean) and headlines like "unprecedented" or "worst XXX in history". I get fed up with being told that something has never happened before, when right in front of us is ample evidence that it has, and may even have been worse. Why did the Victorians build the Embankments along the Thames in London? Why did the coastal authorities in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries spend enormous amounts of money (often the landowner's own) and effort building land drains, dykes and sea defences? Because none of these events or storms is "unprecedented" except in the minds of idle ignoramuses who never check their facts and are totally ignorant of any history. In medieval times an entire town vanished overnight in a storm that hit the Frisian coast of Germany. Archaeologists now know that wasn't 'unprecedented' then either. Holland has suffered massive flooding throughout its history, and the Thames suffered 'catastrophic' floods at regular intervals until quite recently. In fact, in February 1928 there was massive flooding in much the same areas now affected, people drowned in the western suburbs of London in the floods. So how is the current flood 'unprecedented'?

There can be no doubt that the climate is changing, but to ascribe it, as so many reports do, purely to the Carbon Dioxide emissions of mankind is pure garbage. "Carbon" has become a 'catch-all' word for everything Greenpeace and its devotees cal a 'greenhouse gas' - in which group they now include water vapour. But how many of the idiots who earnestly repeat this trash actually understand anything at all about the 'gases' they deem to be so harmful? Not many if any of the conversations and news reports I am constantly bombarded with are anything to go by. Once again we see the likes of the Labour Leader, and the Minister for the Environment trotting out the buzz phrase that 'we must de-carbonise society' in order to 'prevent catastrophic climate change'. As I have repeatedly said, the day I see proof they can control the rise and fall of the tides, is the day I will subscribe to this trash. Until then, stop running around like Chicken-licken screaming the sky is falling, and let's get real. The answer to climate change - a natural phenomenon that has been happening since the planet first formed - is to adapt.

Stop building in flood plains would be a good start. The Somerset Levels were a sea marsh until they were drained in the 18th and 19th Centuries, so were the Fens. The other little wriggle is that we now have probably 30 times the number of people living in Britain than at the beginning of the Industrial Age. Urban sprawl has increased run-off, created 'heat islands' and 'micro-climates' which all mess up the weather patterns - so let's take a look at the effect those have as well.

Let's do something positive about finding a reliable and efficient source of electrical energy. I'd love to see the figures for the output of all those damned useless windmills during the storms. I'm prepared to take a bet with the High Street Bookmakers that it was not the vaunted 17% capacity they supposedly give. I'd be surprised if it was as much as 1 or 2% because with the wind speeds reported, most of them will have had to be shut down to prevent damage. So the alternative supplies will have been brought online - massive diesel generating plants quietly installed by the wind generating companies to keep the current flowing when the wind turbines aren't producing. And Drax, the massive coal burning plant currently being converted to burn wood chips imported from Western Canada by rail and ship loads. Yes, I expect that does a huge amount to "de-carbonise" our energy use, Mr Milliband.

Yes, let's replace hydrocarbon fuelled vehicles with electric ones - but let's find a more efficient way of using those than with massive and extremely toxic batteries. Let's find better ways to build and insulate our homes. Let's make those less vulnerable and more efficient even if that means replacing and redesigning all the building stock we currently hang onto as if it were the epitome of architectural and construction achievement. Frankly, most of it was substandard when built, and it hasn't improved with age. I'm not talking about real heritage buildings, but, seriously, what is the attraction of a Victorian Terrace built for "t' workers up t' mill"? The rooms are often damp, cramped and even if the house has been renovated, built right onto the street, has no garden and the street outside is choked with the cars not invented when the houses were built.

Climate Change, like the tides, is unstoppable. Like the tides, or continental drift, we can't stop it. So let's, for pities sake, stop wasting time and money trying to 'stop' it. It's time to get seriously real. The 'Climate Scientists' can't actually say which way it's going anyway, since nature has, so far, refused to conform to their fantasy models, and while Britain is bombarded by rain and storms, the North American continent is being buried in snow and ice. All down to 'Global Warming' you see. Most of these models are using data that has been 'smoothed' or 'averaged' and 'adjusted' to fit the model, which means the data fed into them is pretty close to being worthless - except in terms of how much money can be extracted from the tax payer to keep funding the circus.

So here's a radical idea. Stop funding the research into this. Let the UN pay for it if they can find the money and divert it from the wastage and corruption of that fraudulent organisation. Stop funding the multi-million dollar operations of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, etc., all of which are now become purely political (socialist/communist) organisations. Stop subsidising the inefficient wind farms (a wind turbine is, at best, only 27% efficient, whereas a coal fire power station is at least 43% efficient and most likely more). The money saved could be invested in rebuilding our building stock, and in new generating plants with the latest and most efficient technology. Wind and solar won't do it, and neither are as 'clean and green' as their proponents like to argue.

I think I really must stop being practical. I wonder of the Church of Climate Change dances and uses tambourines in their worship? Might be good for a laugh ...

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Outer Edge is on sale ...

My new Harry Heron adventure is now on sale through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and your local bookstore if you prefer to order through them. It is published as both an e-book and as a paperback for those like me who prefer to hold a physical book in their hands. The publisher, Janet Angelo of Indiego Publishing has done a superb job of the production.

Click on the links below to find the book on Amazon, Nook or KOBO. I will supply links to other vendors as soon as I can.


Kindle:           Nook:            Kobo:

Apple and Google Play are still processing the files. I will keep checking on them.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Gone, but not forgotten ...

Today would have been my mother's 89th birthday. She died in 1999. Our relationship was never an easy one, she'd had a rough life and endured a bad marriage 'for the sake of the children' - a decision which has certainly left its scars on my brother and I. She believed that 'family' should stick together, no matter what, and she was a fierce defender of us, of my children and of her own father and mother - though more than five minutes in her father's company would produce an argument ...



Rest in Peace, Grace Eleanor Frances Cox, nee´Heron. 11 Feb 1925 - 21 Oct 1999.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Jewish Presence in Israel

Every so often one stumbles across something unexpected and interesting on the blogosphere. One such is a blog I found yesterday which had a fascinating article about a necropolis in the Jezreel valley which was the burial place of the wealthy and famous families of Jews following the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Bet She'arim was developed as a burial place following the Roman ban on the continuance of Jewish worship and burial in Jerusalem. It continued in use under the Byzantine regime which continued the ban on Jews in Jerusalem and only gradually fell into disuse after the Muslim conquest of the area.

In the last couple of centuries, the site was seriously damaged by grave robbers, but the Israeli government has placed it under strict control. Today archaeologists are able to examine each of the several huge man-made caves and their associated tunnels and burial chambers properly. One does have to wonder why it is not listed under the UNs Heritage protection programmes - but then none of the important Jewish shrines, tombs and archaeological sites are. There is a great fuss over Jews attempting to visit those still under Muslim control. There is also rampant vandalism of those and some major Christian sites by Muslim vandals, but not a word of criticism from the UN about that. There is considerable evidence to suggest that there has been a very concerted effort in East Jerusalem, during the time it was under Muslim control, to erase all trace of Jewish history, and that is ongoing as the Waqf that controls (by international and Israeli agreement) the Al Aqsa Mosque and the platform surmounting the Temple Mount has 'enlarged' a number of underground structures and, contrary to the same international agreements, carried out a systematic programme of destroying anything and everything that might be Jewish or Christian in origin in the areas they control.

Bet Sha'arim is important, since it demonstrates the continuous presence of Jewish leaders, thinkers and merchants - plus, of course, the ordinary folk who worked for and supported them - in Israel from at least the time of the Roman occupation. Bet Sha'arim, the town, was the seat of the 'exiled' Sanhedrin, and the seat of the School of scholars that shaped and formed the post Temple form of Judaism. Why, therefore, do we hear nothing whatsoever about it in our media? Or, for that matter, in our histories of the area?

Probably because it would show that the arguments that Israel is an 'illegitimate' Nation are false. That would, presumably, not suit the narrative of the history of the region our current crop of so-called leaders wish to present.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Capitalism or Communism?

The polarisation of this question generally provides only the answer the particular protagonist wants and that is an absolute. Sadly this always masks several important points, one being that neither is actually 'perfect' for everyone or for every economy. Both have serious flaws in practice. So I was recently very pleased to see the following answer to an online debate.
118
 
Eivind Kjørstad, 
Communism and Capitalism are abstract ideas. None of them can function in a hypothethical "pure" form, because both of them carry in them the seed to their own destruction: "pure" capitalism unhampered by restrictions or government oversight would lead to crises and excesses that makes the current financial crisis seem like peanuts; you'd have people starving on the streets, and a handful of people owning everything. We already live in a world where the wealthiest 85 people on the planet own more than the poorest 3.5 billion. A world where it instead was the wealithest 10 people on the planet owning 99% of everything would not be desirable. 
But pure communism is also unworkable: attempting to remove the profit-motive never works, and if it did, the result would be a catastrophic fall in productivity and a world of poverty as a result.
Real economies are a mixture of ideas from many different inspirations, including communism and capitalism. Good governance is not about finding the ONE TRUE ANSWER and then implement it in it's purest form. Good governance is about finding a reasonably good balance between the many competing priorities.
Enough capitalism to make people productive. Enough communism to avoid having people starve on the streets. Enough capitalism to make it worthwhile to start businesses, yet also enough of a social security-net that even if the business fails, you'll still not need fear for your basic nessecities.  
It's not always a conflict, sometimes there's synergies: A good social security-net makes it easier to start a business, because that's always going to be a risky thing to do (most businesses fail in their first 5 years), and knowing that you'll still be fed even if you fail, makes it easier to accept that risk. 
So the question should not be: What is better, capitalism or communism ? 
The question should be: What is the right balance of ideas ? What are the good parts of communism, and how can we incorporate them, while minimizing the downsides ? What are the good parts of capitalism, and how can we benefit from them while reducing the downsides as much as possible?
I find this writer has summed up my own feelings on this question perfectly, the only problem is that, at present, both the 'capitalist' and 'socialist' political party types are too close to, if not in thrall too, the absolutist proponents of both philosophies.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Resurgence of killer bugs ...

Congratulations are, I think, in order to the mass media and to the anti-vaccination hysterics. Diseases that should be a thing of the past are making a lethal comeback in Europe, the UK and the North American areas - not to mention everywhere else. The reason? Those hysterics who still maintain that vaccination against measles, mumps, chicken pox, rubella, polio and so on are the cause of autism, allergies and bad behaviour in their offspring.

In the last five years according to these maps, all of the above diseases have seen a massive surge in the numbers being reported. Having been almost killed myself by a bout of chicken pox - a reportable and quarantine requiring disease - one of my children brought home after being infected by a child sent to school with it, I feel very strongly about this. Measles is a killer, many people in Africa do not have any resistance to it and cannot develop it thanks to their genetic make-up. Even where it doesn't kill, it can lead to deafness, blindness and a number of other 'congenital' problems. Passed to a pregnant woman it can result in miscarriage and where that is avoided, to birth defects. Rubella can cause blindness and deafness in the unborn child, and I hope we don't have to spell out how much of a killer poliomyelitis is.

So to all those 'caring' mothers who refuse to have their children vaccinated - GET A LIFE! GROW UP AND GET SOME DAMNED COMMON SENSE! Your stupidity is allowing preventable and very dangerous diseases to make a serious comeback. YOU are killing people, harming babies and endangering your own children.

This anti-vaccination campaign started because a doctor, totally without medical or scientific proof, talked up a link between MMR vaccines and autism. It turns out HE had a pecuniary interest in killing the triple vaccine, because HE held the patent for a single Measles vaccine which was losing sales to the triple vaccine.

Do we really want to see a return of small pox? Do we want to see a resurgence of TB? Or Polio? We will if this anti-vaccine stupidity is allowed to continue. I suppose we can but hope that the first victims of such an outbreak are the morons who refuse to vaccinate.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Fatherhood

I recently read an article by David Lammy, a Labour MP, entitled "We all need more help to become a better man". I may not agree with his political ideology, but I can and do agree with what he says in this very thoughful article. It is very true that men in general are reluctant to discuss issues of masculinity. It is also true that today there are any number of female role models - but very few worthwhile male ones in the public eye. Yes, I know there are the footballers and rock-stars - but are they really the best role models we can find for young boys and men?

Many men of my generation grew up with father's who had been through the war, just as they grew up with father's traumatised by the 'Great' War and I suspect that affected their ideas of masculinity and parenting to a very large extent. It certainly did in my case. My father suffered endless nightmares and drank heavily to drown them out. He'd served in the RN, seen men die in battles, seen men drown trapped below decks, burned in cordite fires - and finally fought in the Cheong War in the Burmese Arakan peninsula campaign. He had good reason for his nightmares - but he was hardly equipped to raise my brother and I - or to provide us with a good role model of fatherhood.

My 'father substitute' was my maternal grandfather, but like my father, he'd seen the slaughter, the lunacy and the inhumanity of war at first hand. He'd served in the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers and went over the top on the first day of the Somme. After six months of recuperation from his wounds, and now deemed unfit to continue as an infantryman, he was reposted to the Royal Garrison Artillery and spent the rest of the war delivering 7.2 inch howitzer shells onto the German trenches while they returned the favour. He too had his demons that sometimes disturbed our sleep, and he too had problems with being a 'father' model.

So when it came to my turn to be a husband and father - what did I know about it? Well, I certainly didn't want to emulate either the 'don't argue with me - do as you're told' approach of my grandfather, or my father's way of always managing to detract from any achievement. He had a special line in always managing to make anything I did sound like failure, and I certainly didn't want to go down that route with my own children. So I tried to be the perfect father/husband a la romantic novels. Fail. Big time.

My eldest was 14 when my marriage finally broke down, my son just 11 and my youngest just turning 8. It was, without any doubt at all, the hardest moment in my life. In fact, in the months leading up to it I had found myself considering stepping onto the track as the Canterbury East to Victoria train approached my station. I've never been quite sure whether I simply lacked the courage, or whether, having as a fire fighter, dealt with the aftermath and seen the trauma such actions cause, I couldn't bring myself to inflict it on my family, the train driver or the other folk on the platform. Either way, at 43 years of age, I had to find my own feet again, find a new home, and build a new life - one I was determined would include as much time with my children I could manage.

David Lammy makes the point that his father 'walked out' of his life at the age of 12, and that struck a cord with me, because I'd more or less done the same to my kids. OK, I didn't really have much choice. Remaining in London on the salary I was then earning wasn't an option. I simply could not afford to pay the maintenance necessary to keep my family afloat and housed (the house we owned was in very negative equity to put it mildly) pay my bank loans (taken out to bridge the equity gap) and rent a room. A cardboard box beneath Waterloo Bridge was hardly an option my employers would be happy about, so I accepted that I would have to change career and location. That took me to Gloucestershire. Now reality really bit. I could afford a drive to London (ironic - going by car was cheaper than the train fare!) once a month, and spend around six hours with my children. Yes, that was the reality, and that is the reality for many 'absent' fathers who make the effort to stay in touch.

It isn't funny, and it isn't nice - but who, besides you and your children, gives a damn?

To my mind, many 'modern' fathers face this problem. We are completely unprepared for the responsibilities and we often have no real role model around which to shape our ideas of what a father does or how one behaves. Some, obviously, are lucky and do have great fathers, others, like me, have had to look beyond our own families to find a role model, with varying degrees of success. Now add in the complication of the demands of modern employment.

As I said earlier, my career was with the fire service. When I joined in South Africa, the job was a 'live in' situation with us being 'on call' 24/5 and having two days off in seven. With your family (if you were married) living at the fire station you had plenty of time with them, but the downside was also that they saw and heard plenty of things you might have wished they didn't. When we moved to a shorter working week, my wife and I were the first to take advantage of being able to 'live off' the station. But, with a shift based on an 84 hour week, I didn't see nearly as much of the children as I had. When we moved to London that was compounded by the commuting conditions one encounters in London - while my employment was 9 to 5, there was a one hour (if I was lucky) journey at each end of that, plus to time to get to the stations and wait for the train. So I was leaving home at the time the children were just getting up and getting home again about an hour before they went to bed.

We had the weekends, of course, but it's funny how those fill up with grocery shopping, DIY around the house, the garden, sorting out things for your own parents ...

Yes, Mr Lammy, I could certainly have used some good role models, and some decent guidance as I grew up in how a real man responds to things. Yes, I have also seen all the 'New Man', the 'Metrosexual', the New Age Man and all the rest. I don't think that making 'Paternity Leave' payments larger, or the arrangements for parental shared leave easier will cure this, primarily because the root of the problem lies in how our own fathers behaved and how they taught us to respond. Faced with a problem, my father dived into a bottle, I didn't, but I certainly found my own ways to try to skate around it, or to not deal with something. Neither approach was a good one.

What we really need is a new approach to raising boys in our society - not a 'social engineering' one, but a common sense approach. One that provides boys with good role models, not damaged and broken ones, not ones that are self glorifying and self absorbed. At present I suspect that the majority of boys in our society find their role models among their peers, which is why we are seeing gang cultures and 'laddish' behaviours. We need to educate parents - and perhaps politicians and social engineers - in the fact that boys do need as much nurture, guidance and care as the girls. But I rather suspect I'm not going to see it change in my lifetime or even in the next generations.

We have to start somewhere though, and at least it is now being talked about.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Pensions Debacle ...

I used to have a quote on my office 'action board'. I can't recall who said it originally, but it summed up the constant state of financial difficulties over a wide range of issues. It said simply: Don't expect me to drop everything to deal with some crisis caused by your lack of planning.

As I follow the dispute between the serving fire fighters, the government, and the employers over their current pension age and pension provisions, I am constantly struck by how the pensions crisis is now the fault of the fire fighters, pensioners and everyone else. It is a crisis created by the abysmal planning and practices of the politicians and civil servants (who have looked after themselves very nicely - thank you), and it could have been foreseen - in fact some did - more than sixty years ago. The Fire Fighters Pension Fund should have been revised in 1974 when the service underwent a massive re-organisation and expansion, but then, as now, all the politicians and civil servants involved saw, was a nice source of 'revenue' from all those extra contributions.

The root of the problem actually goes back, in the UK, to 1908, when a Parliament dominated by middle class and aristocrats with a paternalistic mindset, voted to create a State Pension to be paid to all working class men reaching the age of 70. It seemed safe enough at the time perhaps, as the average age at death of 'working men' then was a mere 45 years of age. Note the pension was only for men at the time, but post WW1, it was expanded to include women and the retirement age was lowered - but what everyone failed to notice was that the introduction of the first generation antibiotics, better working conditions, healthier food and access to better medical care also increased the life expectancy of the people it covered. Suddenly many more people were qualifying for a pension - and drawing it for longer. Did Parliament, the civil service or anyone else make any change to the way they were funding it? No. They continued to collect the small contribution each worker paid into it, and treated it as 'revenue' to be spent on any and every pet project and expansion of the State.

This is a particularly sore point for the fire and rescue service personnel. There were, and still are, very good reasons why they retired at 50 or 55. Only officers above the rank of Senior Divisional Officer could continue to 60, and it all has to do with your reflexes, your bodies ability to recover from heat and cold stress, injury and general health and fitness. The vast majority of people cannot achieve the levels of fitness now being demanded of fire fighters at age 50, let alone 55 and as for at age 59 - forget it. Worse is that the Minister concerned and his civil servants are being decidedly 'economical with the truth' when they say that only a small number of fire fighters will be affected. Their own report states that as many as 90% of fire fighters could fail to maintain the fitness level at age 55. They are also failing to be honest about how much the fire fighters are contributing to their pensions. Where the majority of Pension Funds have taken between 4 and 9% of salary from their members, the Fire Fighters are contributing 14 -17% of income.

It doesn't take a genius to realise that our local and national politicians have squandered the money (we won't mention Gordon Brown's raid of 8 billion on private pensions that destroyed the majority), treating the contributions as a nice way to subsidise the local and national tax pot. Of course, it would all have been fine and dandy as long as the workforce continued to grow. As long as more people were 'in work' and paying into the pot, everything is hunky-dory and we can get away with this sort of economic sleight of hand. Unfortunately, the 1930-40s dream of 'full employment' and state run industrial and commercial activity fell apart - and the politicians and civil servants can't bring themselves to admit that it was not only never achievable, but is a direct cause of their present crisis.

Not one penny of the money they have collected for the last 106 years was ever invested to cover the promises they made year after year, election after election. As for the Treasury's 'economists' - I wouldn't trust them to invest the small amount of money I once had in an ISA! Frankly, if anyone ran a business the way they run the national economy, the Serious Fraud Squad would be considering a major prosecution. The fire fighters have a right to be up in arms, and their current Chief Fire Officers are as much to blame as the politicians they serve. The various Local Authorities have taken the contributions from the men and women in their service for years and used it to subsidise the Rates and now the Community Charge.

Now that the revenue is shrinking as they cut down the service side (while expanding the paper shufflers and 'non-operational' side), they want to cut their losses by blaming the fire fighters. There are claims that a fire fighter that is fired at 51 because he can't maintain the fitness level or has been injured, can be 'redeployed', but this is false. Until ten years ago, he or she could have been, but since Labour' modernised the service, all the posts they could have been redeployed to have been stuffed with 'non-operational' and non-fire fighting staff. It was claimed then that this was 'cheaper' - so the fact that these folk are now, on average, earning the same as or more than the fire fighters they replaced is possibly another small problem the politicians are being 'economical with the truth' about. The truth is - and the reality - is that someone being 'let go' for health or fitness reasons at 51 is highly unlikely to find employment at anything like the income he or she enjoyed at that point. Nor will they be able to claim their full pension, or any pension until they reach 60 and then the new threshold of 67 for the State Pension.

Tough one, and I'm sure all the lovely and caring politicians and civil servants will pat him or her kindly on the back, and tell them the usual platitude that it's a tough deal, but you could have made provision for this contingency yourself ... Then they'll take their gold plated tax payer funded pensions and their knighthoods and laugh all the way to the bank and the bistro.

I have used the fire fighters as an example here, but the truth is that all pension funds are in the same state, and all pensioners and contributors to pension funds are being put under similar pressure. Suddenly it is their fault that the Treasury, the politicians and the civil servants have, down the years, squandered the money they have taken from us. If an insurance company did the same with its policy holders premiums the courts would deal with it very quickly indeed. Perhaps that is what we should now be doing, bringing prosecutions for fraud against the various public bodies that have taken our money on false pretences and now want to change the rules to shift the blame.

Now there's a thought for those of a legal mind and ability ...