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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Migrant Crisis

I note with interest that the media and various government ministers use the term 'migrant' now to cover everyone trying to enter Britain or, for that matter, Europe. Very occasionally the word 'refugees' creeps into a report, but is quickly replaced in all further references by 'migrant'. What's the difference? In my dictionary a 'migrant' is one who leaves one country/town/ or the land and 'migrates' to find work away from his/her roots or origins. Karl Marx argued for the 'right' of workers to do this, saying in effect that it should be the right of a worker to move to where his work will be adequately rewarded.

A 'refugee', by contrast, is one escaping a war, oppression or some other event which may be a 'natural' one such as a volcanic eruption. But herein lies the rub -- if our media and political masters apply the word 'refugee' to the 2 or 3 million people currently in holding camps in various countries in the EU (800,000 in Germany alone), a whole raft of so-called 'International Laws' will kick in and with them the armies of 'Human Rights lawyers' who feed off contesting any and every attempt to remove those who don't qualify for admission anywhere.

Let's also admit that it is also the case that our various bureaucracies are often biased, frequently unfair, and usually so 'rule bound' as to be utterly uncaring, unfeeling and pretty nearly reduce the people they deal with to a point of being no longer 'human', but just cyphers in the system. An article in The Spectator addresses several of these points, but, as ever, attracts comments from those who see only a threat to their own comfort, have never been in a position where they cannot remain in their homes, and who comment from a perspective of ignorance of the realities of the world. Many of those who have commented on the article seem to have missed the author's point completely. Stephano Hatfield makes the telling point that there is a difference between an 'economic migrant' and a 'refugee', yet Theresa May, the current UK Home Secretary, seems to conflate them, linking 'migrants' from other EU States with the refugees pouring in from the failing Islamic States of the Middle and Near East, North Africa and the Civil wars in several West African states with the undoubted groups migrating for economic reasons.

Then there is the hysteria stirred up by the British Press and politicians, about the 'siege' of the Channel Tunnel, and the migrants trying to board trucks, cars and anything else heading for Britain. This is, it must be acknowledged, in part due to the last Labour government's drive to open the immigration doors to all manner of immigrants from cultures which bear no relationship whatever to that of Europe, much less Britain. What gets lost in all this, is that while the UK goes into an almost ludicrous frenzy over fewer than ten thousand 'migrants' trying to enter the UK by these means, Germany is dealing with 800,000, Italy with another 250,000, Greece (remember the ones with the financial problems) over 100,000 and France with numbers approaching those of Germany. Yes, there is unhappiness about it, but they are dealing with it quietly and efficiently. Yes, it is a political football in most countries, but much less so, it seems, than in the UK -- which is dealing with a fraction of the numbers everyone else is coping with.

More worrying is the very point the author of The Spectator article is making with his link to the family of Anne Frank. Vilifying the refugees simply creates an atmosphere in which it becomes easy to isolate them and then turn them into an 'enemy' - which, alarmingly, seems to be happening already if when one reads the UKIP and similar minded parties and their supporters rants and comments. Another Spectator article published today points to the fact that almost 10 million people in Syria are now 'displaced', and trapped because the borders around that benighted land are now closed. The 2 million or so in camps in Jordan are trapped as well. Forbidden to work, families are dependent, children are rebelling and teenagers are defying their parents and sneaking off to join militias 'at home' because that is better than sitting around waiting for the next handout.

To those who argue these folk should have stayed where they were and fought back against the oppression, consider this; if your family home were reduced to a pile of rubble, and the attacker threatens to behead you, your children and rape your wife and daughters - would you 'remain in place'?

We should be concerned at the Home Secretary's deliberate linking of the refugee crisis with the European freedom of movement for workers. The freedom of movement within the EU of workers is NOT the problem, but linking it to the 'migrant/refugee' crisis gives opponents of such movement (and the UK does have a bit of a 'history' there) gives the politicians and the media the chance to whip up antipathy against ALL migrant workers, especially those from EU countries. By calling workers from other EU countries 'migrants' and in the same breath calling those fleeing Africa, the Levant and all the other countries suffering massive conflict or grinding social poverty 'migrants' she is setting them all up to be vilified and hounded out of the UK.

I'm inclined to agree with the latest Spectator article, in that we may have an obligation to 'rescue' people, but we do not have an obligation to house, feed, clothe and employ them here. We do have some responsibility for ensuring they are supported in all efforts to improve the situations which have driven them to flee their homes. In places like parts of Libya and Syria or Iraq, I would suggest there is a need to find ways to make the refugee camps more like functioning societies rather than a 'waiting area'. Why can't the refugees be given employment looking after their own needs in the camps? Why should this be forbidden? Why bring in teachers from the local area, when you have qualified people sitting around idle?

To solve this problem we need to do more to provide something meaningful for those who have escaped, which will encourage them to stay in the camps. We also need to look very carefully at how we can break the cycles of corruption, abuse and conflict which bedevil so many lands and are causing this tide of human misery. Only then can we hope to even begin to deal with it.

Monday, 17 August 2015

War on European Culture

In a recent post I looked at the apparent assault on western civilisation by the forces of fundamentalist Islam. The post, entitled The Assault on Western Civilisation has now received from a reader the following pertinent observations.
While I share all the views you have expressed, an additional matter appears to be the fundamental distinction between Judaism and Christianity on the one hand, and Islam on the other, in respect of the relationship between religion and the secular power. The former explicitly acknowledge a dichotomy ( Caesar and God of the New Testament; the prophets and kings of the Old Testament); while the latter sees only a seamless web. Consequently, the creative tensions of Europe ( Emperor and Pope; Puritans and the Stuarts) do not significantly exist; and politics in the Islamic world is either mimicry ( Nasser Socialism) or the barbaric Gulf states with primitive and confused tangles of religion and secular power. The static ( regressing?) societies in the ME and Pakistan confirm Islam’s stultifying influence, in contrast to the supple societies in India and China, with the capacity to adjust and advance.   
Europe’s fundamental error was to uncouple immigration from culture, because of the lazy reaction on the Continent to Nazism; and in Britain because the country could not break free from the lie of empire (when it was on its last legs) that there was one big rainbow family; and at the end of World War 2 no politician could admit that victory was concurrent with the collapse of the empire, so the rag bag Commonwealth had to be presented as a better, modernised empire. It has to added that the pretence had, of course, the most hideously lethal consequences in Asia and Africa where a premature and botched partition in the subcontinent saw a million die, and in colonies that were not partitioned ( happy families!) the massacres were postponed, as in Sri Lanka. 
As for Africa, colonialism could not have been more destructive than if the powers had set out to re-enact Carthage ( “they make a desert and they call it peace” – from Tacitus’ seems still peerless). Out of the most primitive societies in the world, 19th Century countries were carved which completely ignored organic and fluid tribal perimeters. And out of these, in turn, came independent Bismarkian states, given the apparatus of armies, governments, police and treasuries: for what? As instruments of incompetence, barbaric oppression and confusion on innumerable occasions. In the organic tribal societies the power to create harm was relatively small: the very backwardness of the societies limited damage, and because they operated in a prescriptive framework, the tribesmen were sane, whole ( albeit backward) people with transmitted codes of behaviour.

I find his observation regarding the difference of approach to 'government' and human authority particularly pertinent. Having discussed this very point with several Muslim friends, there is a stark difference in their view of 'democratic' government and that of everyone else. When teaching a Leadership course in the Middle East, I asked the students to think of some remarkable leaders in their own history and culture who provided good examples of inspiring leadership. I expected to get at least something on the likes of Cyrus the Great, Saladin and one or two others. I got one. The Prophet, in their view the ONLY valid example of 'perfect' leadership. That should tell us everything we need to know. It should also scare the living daylights out of those who loudly demand the contradiction of 'no religion in public' and simultaneously welcome any non-Christian religion to indulge in full on displays on the grounds it is a 'minority culture'.

Nor is Europe alone in the error of uncoupling immigration from culture. In their haste to prove their 'inclusive' and non-racial credentials post war, many liberal thinkers preached the mantra that mono-culture was evil, that it promoted racism and many other ills. Now they try to promote the concept of a 'rainbow' culture that is all things to everyone, and yet it is not, and can never be. As my correspondent says, it has its roots in the myth, created at the end of the war, to promote the idea that the Empire had been a 'family' and that it was simply changing shape to be even more inclusive as it became the 'Commonwealth'.

But the Commonwealth is itself a game of smoke and mirrors. Recent exchanges I have had elsewhere with what I shall call 'Little Englanders' who wish to sever all ties to Europe, are loud in claiming that 'we have the Commonwealth; we don't need Europe.' It is interesting to note that, to them, 'The Commonwealth' is Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Bermuda and very little more. Mention that it includes Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Zambia and various other basket cases and you get the response of 'Oh, well, they don't really count, and besides, they buy our goods ...' The truth is, that they don't., but that's alright, because we're still part of that great big 'rainbow family' of the Empire. Aren't we?

Almost all of the current upheaval around the world can be traced to Imperial meddling, carving up of land in order to impose European ideas and nations out of diverse and disparate peoples. This is why Turkey has resorted to force against it's Kurdish population, and why the Kurds dream of a nation state of their own that includes territory currently part of Northern Syria, Northern Iraq and Eastern Turkey. It is why Syria is falling apart, and why Iraq is ungovernable.

Studying the history of major population migrations, one quickly realises that Roman culture fell, and their empire failed, when 'migration' reached a point at which there were more 'alien' cultures in their towns and cities than those who followed the Roman pattern. Those who claim that 'Britain has absorbed migrants throughout its history' fail to recognise that the vast majority, until the 20th Century, were European and held similar cultural values and ideals. That is no longer the case, particularly those migrants that 'follow the Prophet'. To them a separation between the Temple and Caesar is unthinkable, so is any 'democratic' decision which flies in the face of their Faith.

History buffs will also know that Byzantium was not conquered overnight, it died by a million small cuts as the Arabic conquerors first learned to manipulate the populace to their line of thought, and then to accept the imposition of a new culture. So it will be with us - thanks in large part to well meant, but hideously misguided, attempts to find simple and pleasing solutions to very complex human problems.

We can but hope that sense, reason and ultimately democracy will prevail. 

Monday, 10 August 2015

Turkey attacking the ISIS?

In recent days I think one of the worst possible moves the US has made in a long time was to throw the Kurds to the Turks in order to gain support and the use of an airbase against the ISIS. Turkey has immediately seized the opportunity to punish the Kurds, labelling them 'terrorists' and bombing them anywhere and everywhere. Since the Kurdish forces were the only effective force against the ISIS thugs, this is likely to rebound badly - particularly on the US and its plans. The Kurds feel they have been betrayed, and they're probably justified.

Turkey's president has his own agenda. Until very recently he has been covertly supporting the ISIS, mainly by NOT doing anything to stem the flow of recruits, but by also refusing to allow the Kurds to pass through Turkey en route to attack these psychopaths. Now, in a cunning move, he's declared that Turkish forces will attack the 'terrorists' in Syria and Iraq - and promptly attacked the Kurds. The Turkish media is, of course, full of stories of how the Kurds are evil terrorists who want to break up the country and will murder all true Turks in their beds. And Uncle Sam, with Washington's usual crass lack of understanding of any non-American culture or nation, has endorsed Turkey's 'war on terror' so it can use an airbase closer to the front.

As I said, I suspect that the result of this little political misstep will lead to even worse problems in the future. Erdogan (pronounced, so I'm told, as Erdo-wan), expected a landslide in the most recent elections. Instead the 25 million Kurds in Turkey gave him a hung Parliament, and now they reap the reward - a purge of all Kurdish Parties and politicians on the grounds they support terrorism. And Uncle Sam, having got what he wanted looks on while Erdogan's armed forces round up his opposition at home and bomb the Kurds more heavily than they are doing to the ISIS. Turkey has a long and bloody history when it comes to minorities and minority rights. I wonder if anyone in Washington has even heard of the Armenian Genocide. Perhaps they haven't, but I suspect they may now be a party to a new and perhaps more subtle form in Erdogan's war on the Kurds.

I expect it looked good on paper. But the payback may be something Washington may not like in the longer term.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Islamic Dress? What's that?

Am I the only reader of news media who is constantly irritated by the reference, when addressing anything to do with any prominent follower of Islam, to their wearing 'Islamic Dress'? This usually is a reference to someone wearing the 'tribal' outfit of either some Bedouin group, or some group from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. I note it is also abused when referring to women in headscarves, burkhas or the rather strange 'coats' worn by women in Iran and neighbouring states under theocratic rule.

Would someone please tell these so-called 'journalists' that THERE IS NO SUCH THING as Islamic Dress! It is a fiction spread by certain fundamentalist elements of the Islamic faith and widely spread by the terminally ignorant mouthpieces of 'Political Correctness' and other so-called 'liberal' claptrap. Frankly, it is insulting to call those of that persuasion 'liberal' since they are generally everything except 'liberal'. The Quran makes no reference to how its adherents should dress other than to say it should be 'with modesty'. Choosing to wear Bedouin robes in the UK or Europe, or the tribal outfits one associates with the many ethnic groups scattered about the Near and Middle East is NOT a statement of faith, but a matter of personal choice in clothing.

Islam is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-national faith. Not everyone who follows it is an Arab - indeed many of its followers get quite annoyed by the suggestion they might be - just as not every European is French. To say that its adherents must all wear the same thing, or even that there is such a thing as one 'Islamic' outfit is stupid in the extreme. It is the equivalent of saying that all Baptists and Non-Conformist Christians MUST wear black suits with knee breeches, white stockings, buckled shoes and wide starched white collars with an obligatory wide brimmed tall crowned hat with a prominent buckle! With their womenfolk in grey or brown dresses and white bonnets. Or that all members of the Church of England must wear Tudor pantaloons and puffed sleeved coats with Canterbury caps, and their wives in wimples, corsets and floor length dresses. And the Romans? Monks habits and nuns habits for the lot of them. What complete twaddle!

There is no such thing as "Islamic Dress" just as there is no such thing as "Christian Dress" unless you belong to a religious order, or one of the Sects that impose such a thing. If some so-called 'preacher' like Mr Choudray chooses to wear the outfit of his homeland that is a matter of his choose. It does NOT mean that he is any more Islamic than me wandering around in a cassock makes me any more "Christian".

Would some editor, somewhere, please sack the next lazy journalist who uses this inane and frankly inaccurate expression in a report!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Capitalism's Last Gasp?

If the latest plethora of books on the subject is anything to go by - probably not. An article in The Spectator critiques the latest offering by a C4 presenter and Left wing ideologue. Yet again, a left winger is predicting that Capitalism is doomed, and that it will be replaced by 'greater sharing of resources' - which seems to be Left wing speak for 'Sodomy non sapiens'. Essentially, this prediction has been trotted out since Marx and probably before him and they still haven't managed to come up with a workable alternative.

Capitalism is as old as humanity. I would suggest that it began when Ugg first discovered that he could trade a leg of mammoth for a months supply of fish, which could be traded for a wife, new sandals, a years supply of leather loincloths and a bag full of freshly napped arrow heads and axes. That he could trade those for the rest of the year and keep everyone else working to supply him with more trade opportunities and food probably arrived at the same moment. And, I would venture, that ever since some 'thinker' in the group has whinged that Ugg's enterprise approach to trade is 'unfair' and fails to 'distribute the proceeds evenly.

I suspect that Capitalism, love it or hate it, will always be around in some form. The reason is that, unlike the Left's ideal society and system, it is flexible. It responds to change. It adapts, and it rewards effort, enterprise and innovation - all of which are anathema to the sort of 'managed' redistributive economic systems favoured by most people on the Left of the political spectrum. Ironically efforts to 'control' economic activity, or to redistribute the rewards usually result in a widening of the gaps between 'rich' and 'poor' and ultimately in the 'means of production' actually being moved entirely abroad.

Recently I have indulged myself, reading some of Owen Jones' work and making an attempt to read several other tomes on 'non-capitalist' economic systems. I've given up. None of them seems able to see that any system such as they propose doesn't actually 'fix' anything. In fact they simply exchange to entrepreneur with some Party Hack and associated Apparatchiks who reward themselves and patronise everyone else in the name of 'fairness'. Nor do they seem able to recognise that every attempt to create the sort of systems they favour fail for the same reason every time. People do not like being told what they may and may not have. They do not like having some faceless bureaucrat serving a 'leader' enjoying the fruits of everyone else's labours, telling them they aren't entitled to some reward for their efforts because it is 'unfair' to the bone idle twerp they work alongside.

As The Spectator article says -
Oddly enough, the recent batch of left-wing doom and conspiracy books, from those of Russell Brand and Owen Jones to the more serious and informed Mason, point to a unified worldview. This sees human beings in democracies not as people with free will and unimaginable potential, but as inanimate beings to whom things are done. 
I do agree that raw unadulterated Capitalism produces some big inequalities, but teaching me to be envious of the guy who ventures his capital (earned or unearned) in some new business venture and strikes it rich, isn't addressing the problem. Most folk need only three things - a regular income, security and a 'home'. Yes there are those who live in sixty room mansions, own a yacht and four cars, but most of us never could even if we lived in some Left wing Utopia.

If there is one thing I have learned reading history and travelling in my work capacity, it is that there is a distinction between ideological theory and reality. I would love to see a more equal society in which no one goes hungry, no one is homeless or without medical care, but I also recognise that, no matter how attractive the ideological theory, it is unlikely to be achieved in any human society. Simply because humans are not all the same. We come with all manner of personal abilities, skills and ambitions. Ideology seldom takes account of that. In addition every Left wing regime I have ever encountered ran on the same principle - the belief that the 'State' owned the money in everyone's pockets and could spend it. So they floated loans, printed more money, raised taxes until it hurt, spent the money and then wondered why their economies flatlined. As Mr Micawber famously said; "Income Twenty Pounds per annum, Expenditure Nineteen Pounds, nineteen shillings and sixpence - happiness. Expenditure Twenty Pounds and sixpence - disaster." A lesson there the Left simply refuse to learn. Their solution to everything - raise taxes! Tax the rich until the pips squeak as one Left wing Chancellor of the Exchequer put it. The result of his idiocy was a massive departure of 'capital' and a fall in revenue income.

Recently I was surprised to learn that in present day Russia income tax is a flat rate irrespective of income. Health care, social welfare and so on are all set at 'basic' levels. If you want better, you are free to buy it, but the 'State' doesn't provide it. That applies across a range of former communist countries, and, contrary to what writers like Owen Jones believe was the case, often this replaces a system where everyone paid for the best for the ruling elites, and got just the basic care themselves. Many other nations have similar systems. Hong Kong was one and still is, and China, Taiwan, India and several other major growing economies have the same idea - one rate of tax for everyone. In Hong Kong the super rich were encouraged to be 'philanthropic' - and they were often very generous.

I have to agree with the writer of The Spectator article. There is clearly something in the left wing mindset that refuses to acknowledge that no system is entirely 'fair'. Or that there will always be inequalities. That, after all, is the human condition.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Hunting for 'Sport' ...

I think there is something seriously wrong with someone who chooses to spend a large amount of money to go to some distant country (and sometimes stay within his own) just so he (or she) can kill some large animal as a 'trophy'. It is one thing entirely to kill an animal for food, it is another to kill something just to show how 'powerful/rich/manly' you are. What I find utterly despicable about the case of the dentist who shot Cecil the iconic lion, is that he didn't need to kill the beautiful beast, and then he made a mess of it. His accomplices lured the animal out of a Game Reserve, and given that Cecil was so well known, and used to people, he was a sitting target, and they knew it. Then, just to add insult, this would be 'hunter' uses a bow and arrow - and wounds him.

Then the buffoons lose track of the injured animal and it suffered for forty hours before they finally killed it with a rifle. Some hunters, some 'big' man this dentist. Now it emerges he makes a bit of a habit of killing big animals for 'sport'. Not because they are a pest, or threatening anyone - just because he gets a thrill out of it.

I am very aware of the arguments that revolve around the ecology/conservation issue, specifically that 'culling/killing' older animals 'improves' the 'bloodline' and the money pays for more 'conservation'. Further arguments make the point that it is not the hunting that is the problem, but the 'loss of habitat'. Both arguments advanced by owners of parks or companies that organise hunting. There is no doubt that there is a problem with habitat, and there is equally no doubt that there is some very big money to be made from killing animals under all manner of guises. This is, perhaps, where the biggest problems lie, particularly in Africa. The money goes largely to the personal bank accounts of the arrangers, and the 'license fees' usually vanish in backhanders to various officials to 'look the other way'. How many more Cecils must we lose before someone calls time on this slaughter of our vanishing wildlife? Particularly on the dwindling 'trophy' animals?

Poaching is a major problem and some 'target' animals are being pushed to the edges of extinction. How, therefore, can a wealthy 'tourist' obtain a permit to shoot and kill a Northern Black Rhinoceros when there are, according official sources only FOUR left in the wild! The lion population in Africa is crashing, down now to 25,000 according to conservation groups from 150,000 thirty years ago. Tanzania's President has just sold 1.8 million km2 of the Masai Mara to the Emir of Dubai as 'private hunting park'. Not unnaturally the Masai are not happy about being cleared from their traditional land, and conservation groups are not happy about having a chunk of one of the most diverse habitats for Africa's dwindling animal population turned over to 'hunting' -- private or otherwise.

Of course the usual argument that the hunting will be 'good for the diversity' is being trotted out. Frankly, it just doesn't hold water! Not in the Masai Mara!

The argument that 'loss of habitat' makes it necessary to 'cull' these beautiful animals is as much a commentary on the human race as it is on the hunters who advance it in defence of their 'sport'. The human animal is the only one that does not regulate its birthrates and population. All the African wildlife, and I should think everywhere else's, expands or contracts its numbers in a sort of harmony with food supply. That is, as long as 'humankind' don't interfere. It is well known that the 'big cats' restrict their breeding when food is in short supply, and so do most of the herd animals - humans don't. So our populations keep expanding, and restricting the space for the animal population.

Add in big money being offered by human population groups who have already decimated their own natural fauna in search of 'ingredients' for their 'traditional medicine' and then add in the inadequates with vast fortunes and the urge to prove how big they are by shooting everything that has horns or fangs and claws, and we are headed for the extinction of all the 'trophy' animals they want to kill. What then? Perhaps we should start issuing hunting permist to bag a 'Big Game Hunter'. That might address more than one problem.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Just who is Turkey fighting?

I suspect the belated entry of Turkey into the conflict against the ISIS has guaranteed its failure. Washington, displaying its usual complete ignorance (or perhaps wilful blindness) of the many factions and tensions, has welcomed the attacks on the Kurdish PKK positions, labelling them 'terrorists' and, conveniently, overlooking the fact these were the only fighters on the ground having any success against the ISIS thugs. So, we let our 'ally' bomb them - as long as they also put a few bombs on the ISIS. I begin to think the US is incapable of learning from past mistakes and incapable of recognising that the 'enemy of our enemy is NOT our friend.'

It has been pretty obvious to everyone - except Washington apparently - that Turkey has been quietly supporting the ISIS against Syria's Assad. The Kurds defeating the ISIS attempt to seize Kobane, and their success at driving them out of the surrounding countryside there, plus successes against them on other fronts have obviously worried the Turkish government. The fear of a successful Kurdish military in Syria and Iraq is, in my view, the most obvious reason the Turks have finally decided to strike at the ISIS. It provides the perfect cover for their attacking the Kurds, and for attempting to weaken and destroy the Kurdish forces at the same time.

Were I a betting man I would put money on the next move being military strikes and occupation of the Turkish Kurdish provinces and an attempt to occupy the Kurdistan region of Iraq. In the interests of 'suppressing terrorist bases' of course. And Washington is going to go along with this, tacitly allowing the Turks to pull off a suppression of Kurdish nationalism. Just so we can maintain the status quo of the Kurds being split up between three or four 'states' created at the end of WW1 with no regard whatever to the original populations.

Turkey has called an emergency meeting of NATO for tomorrow, the reason is, I think, obvious. They want to declare a state of emergency in the Kurdish provinces and extract a promise from the NATO nations of 'non-intervention' in their 'internal affairs'. And the NATO powers will, proverbially, throw the only effective resistance to the ISIS on the ground, to the lions.

Expedience and politics is the major cause of much of the terror problem we face. It is not new, we've been doing it for centuries, and it has never brought 'stability', only laid the ground for the next conflict and the next 'enemy' to grow and develop. Already the Turkish action against the Kurds is producing a backlash. It will get worse, and the Turks know it, and perhaps are even deliberately provoking it. Their 'fear' of the PKK strengthening its position may well have led them into a dead end which may well now produce the very thing they are afraid of - an internal conflict that can escalate into a civil war while they try to contain the external threat of the ISIS. In fact, Turkey's action in attacking a group that should be an ally, is very likely now going to drive the PKK into joining forces with the ISIS.

THAT is something I think nobody will enjoy.


Friday, 24 July 2015

Turkey and the ISIS

In what could be a case of 'biting the hand that fed them', ISIS sent in a suicide bomber to blow up a lot of Turlish citizens. That may have been a serious miscalculation on their part. Turkey, obsessed with keeping the Kurdish population firmly under their rule and the Kurdish province in Turkey, has been tacitly letting the ISIS thugs do as they please along their border with Syria and Iraq. As long as it was 'only Kurds' in the firing line, no intervention, no restriction on the 'recruit road' across the border.

Now it seems to have come back to bite.

Politics makes strange bedfellows out of temporary expediency. West governments have fallen into the same trap, arming and supporting 'opposition to Assad', only to find we have armed and supported a monster as more and more of the 'anti-Assad' groups joined the ISIS. Turkey has made the same blunder, tacitly aiding and abetting the ISIS in its early stages presumably in the hope that this would force their restless Kurdish population into toeing the line. The reverse has happened, and this blunder may now cost Turkey dearly - and not just in further ISIS incursions and bombings. Turkey has a very chequered history when it comes to its 'minority' populations. Possibly the only thing that has prevented the Kurds suffering the same fate as the Armenians is that there are more of them, they occupy a large chunk of Eastern Turkey, and there are even more resident across the borders inIraq and Syria. Plus, of course, genocide is now a definite no-no in the eyes of the international community.

So Erdogan's refusal to allow Kurdish Peshmerger fighters passage to the relief of Kobani now seems like it will rebound. Perhaps is already rebounding. Western politicians would do well to remember this as well. Our recent history is littered with failures to grasp the concept that the 'enemy of my enemy is NOT necessarily my friend' and may well turn and bite when it suits them. Again and again, we have armed groups of 'freedom fighters' only to find their ultimate aim is as far from our 'vision' as it could be. Dare one mention the Russian inspired overthrow of the Afghan Kingdom by 'Marxists' which ruined a country and destroyed a complete society when the tribesmen rebelled? What did we do? Oh, we gave the Mujaheddin weapons, and they, in turn, morphed into the Taliban.

Similar situations have and still do, tear African populations apart. Where do the weapons in Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, and so on come from? Where did they come from originally? Ah, now that is the question ...

I learned recently from a police friend, that it is now generally agreed among security services that it has never been easier for dissidents to get hold of weapons, and it seems there are always people willing to bankroll them - once again falling for the 'the enemy of my enemy is ..." line. Well, I suspect Turkey is about to learn the hard way, that when it comes to 'terror' groups - they can never be regarded as 'friends.'

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

My latest book will be out in days ...

My latest book, Limehouse Boys, set in the East End of London in the 1830s, will be available from Amazon and other book sellers very shortly. Limehouse Boys is set against the background of hardship, abuse, criminal activity and the comradeship forged between friends and family in hardship.


When Ned Farrier is orphaned and committed to the orphanage attached to the Workhouse, he meets and befriends several other boys in the same position. The corrupt Beadle however, has plans for their future. Their escape links them up with watermen working out of Limehouse and brings into focus the abuses and corruption in the running of the Workhouse for the Reverend Short, Rector of St Anne's, Limehouse.

One Beta Reader wrote - 

I really felt part of the book and ran with those boys. You have many characters here, but managed to give each one his own personality and these traits came through. While reading I didn't just see a clump of boys or seamen. Each one was different in a lovable way.

I hope that other readers will feel the same way. Watch this space, the book will be available in Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBook formats as well as print version. Published by IndieGo Publishing LLC and edited by Janet Angelo of IndieGo.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Some Interesting Reading

My reading list lately has included a hefty tome by Prof Jane Humphries of Oxford University entitled Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution, and another book entitled The Establishment - And how they get away with it by Owen Jones. Both are not easy reading, but they are certainly eye opening. The first exposes how Britain's wealthy and Middle Classes benefited from the mass exploitation of children in the 18th and 19th Centuries. It describes how children from the age of six or less were employed in mines and mills at absolute minimum wages, often putting in 16 hour shifts in the mines where they hauled the waggons, or gathered the coal from spaces too small for an adult. In the cotton mills, children were used to gather waste beneath the machines while they were operating. Deaths and injuries were too numerous to count, and the resistance in Parliament to any restrictions, or the imposition of any safety measures was unbelievable.

Which leads me to the second book. Written by an angry young man I found I have observed many of the things he speaks of at first hand. "The Establishment" is a very well organised 'clique' of the wealthy and the powerful, and, if this book is to be believed, they exercise some very far reaching control over the civil service, the political landscape and the access to wealth. As I said, I can attest to having witnessed certain aspects he mentions, but not being a part of the "Establishment" myself, cannot say whether everything he mentions is as he says. I have long suspected much of this, and I would agree the circumstantial evidence points to it, but I cannot see anyone actually provided proof 'beyond reasonable doubt'.

The first book I found difficult because of the emotions it stirred. After all, the vast majority of us, born two hundred to a hundred years ago, would have followed at least some of the 'career path' described in it. As Prof Humphries points out, in many of the 'trades' a boy would be lucky to reach 25, and as for reaching a 'retirment age' - well very few did. For the girls it was as bad if not worse in some aspects. I felt a deep sense of thankfulness for the efforts of my great grandparents, grandparents and their antecedents for their efforts to break out of that mould and give my brother and I a chance of something better. Her book prompted me to look into the whole 'Workhouse' and Poor Law administration and the manner in which orphans were handled. Some of it made so angry I had to stop, and to me the worst aspect is that the modern 'Benefits' system is administered by the same mindset and the same 'social class' that set up the Workhouses. Worse, they seem to have the same motivation as their forebears - don't 'improve' anything, as the recipients might then break the cycle of patronage ...

What is fascinating about the revelations in both books is just how far those who do hold the keys to wealth and power will go to defend their control, and the lengths they will employ to ensure that they and their families, friends and close associates remain in control. Students of history will know how the Roman aristocracy used Circuses, 'free bread' and other populist handouts and entertainments to keep the populace 'happy' and unwilling to challenge the status quo. We can see a similar pattern in our own society, with 'football' extravaganzas and other 'sporting' entertainments. The 'arts' are funded to the hilt because they keep a population from asking awkward questions, and there is also that wonderful stand-by, fear of the 'enemy'. Here we can take our pick of a wide range, from 'being overwhelmed by immigrants', through 'runaway climate change' and 'loss of sovereignty' right down to all the 'something'-phobias we are constantly told we engage in.

Anything and everything to make sure we don't ask questions like, 'how does a man enter the political 'career' as a penniless graduate struggling to pay his loans become, in a few years, a millionaire property owner?' Or how a company with no expertise in some technical area get awarded huge contracts to perform work in that field? Or, Why does the Treasury have a list of 'preferred bidders' who can bypass the tendering process, but who all seem to be major companies with links to MPs, senior civil servants or other 'power' figures?

It is said that history is written by the victors, but I suspect this is not always true. What is true is that those in power have always been very good at manipulating our thinking, and in redirecting our attention away from their activities. Hence "Climate Change" (take a look at who the main promoters really are), or the Anti-Eu or any other convenient 'enemy'. As Owen Jones points out "Sovereignty" is, today a total illusion. The agenda is set by unelected officials in the UN, the EU and numerous other 'international' bodies. Once signed up to, parliaments have little scope for adjustment.

In the UK much is made of the 'unelected' nature of the Commission and the Council of Ministers, yet the politicians will argue that both are 'indirectly' elected bodies - the Council by National electors voting for the Party or Minister on the Council and the Commission by virtue of the fact its appointees are 'elected' by the Council and approved by the European Parliament.Mr Jones argues, and I believe he has a point, that this is a sham, since the Ministers are representatives of the political elites of the various member countries, the Commissioners are drawn from their ranks and the Parliament is also stuffed with members of the same political class.

The problem is, of course, that they can and do argue that we, the gullible voters, voted for them.

What is very clear is that in any age, and in every age, the wealthy and powerful will look after each other first and last. If there is any benefit lower down it is usually because some have managed to break out of the mould and claw their way upward by their own efforts, not because anyone in power made it easier or even helped them. This is where the Trades Unions have, in my view, gone badly wrong. The leaders of the Unions have joined the Establishment and become a part of the problem. No, I am not calling for a more radical Union movement, I am calling for a better understanding of what the working people - everyone who has to earn a salary or a wage to pay the bills - really want and need. Stuff the ideology where the sun doesn't shine. Let's recognise that for our society to prosper as a whole we need less division, less isolation and a damned sight more recognition of the partnership between 'worker' and 'manager/investor/owner'.

Yes, reading this made me angry at the abuse and the duplicity, but it also made me very proud of the boys, girls, men and women who managed to claw their way out of the pits of the slums, the poverty, the exploitation - and give their children a better chance. For the record, my paternal grandfather - the youngest of four children and the only surviving male - was apprenticed as a coffin-maker at 13. His future wife, the daughter of a small holder, apprenticed as a seamstress at 12. My maternal great grandfathers were respectively Colour Sergeant in the Royal Irish Rifles and a farmer. Great grandmother Heron's father was a Gardener on the Mount Stewart Estate. Their children managed to rise to become a Postmistress and to run his own business. My paternal grandfather finished his schooling on his own, taught himself accountancy and worked as a bookkeeper well past retirement age. I salute them all.

I commend both these books to my readers here, some of this is what inspired my latest book, due out soon. Limehouse Boys follows the paths of a trio of orphans in the 1830s East End of London. Watch this space for more details of its release.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Captains and Kings

The Greek drama continues. Mr Tsipras may have hoped he'd get an easy ride when he came back to Brussels and presented the original proposals as 'his'. He hasn't had it. The Belgian PM went for him in no uncertain terms, and several of the other national leaders have made it clear he's really going to have to deliver this time round. It would be funny if it wasn't so serious and hurting so many people. As the Belgian PM pointed out, Greece has had a better deal than many others, in fact it has enjoyed benefits and bailouts no one else has got and it has failed to deliver anything so far.

He isn't getting an easy ride at home either. His own Party is split between those who want to bite the bullet, and the hardliners who still think they can get away with robbing the bank and not paying the penalty. And the populace are angry, with most demanding he find a solution that lets them stay in the EU and the €uro - there seems to be little liking now for the concept of returning to the Drachma and the freefalling economy not reforming anything promises. I think Mr Tsipras is learning at first hand Abraham Lincoln's dictum - you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

I suspect that a deal will be struck, but Mr Tsipras is going to have to accept some things he won't like, and Brussels/the ECB will make some small concessions to sweeten the pill, but there will be some big penalties if the reforms aren't delivered. And in the meantime the 'little people' - the voters - continue to suffer the consequences of successive regimes that thought they could give handouts endlessly in pursuit of popularity in the polls. For a government to balance its books, it needs to have a realistic income, and that can come only from tax. If you don't collect them, you can't expect to get everyone else to fund you.

As the Belgian PM pointed out rather forcefully, the Greek populace enjoy a generous set of benefits the Belgians and everyone else is paying for. Their 'Minimum Wage' is almost twice that of five other EU states, and they enjoy a pension age at least 17 years younger than anyone else. Time to reform, and more important, time to actually do what they have talked about for the last five years,

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Tragedy? Comedy? or Farce?

I can't quite make up my mind on the latest move by the Greek government. It seems they have said 'NO' to the Troika's proposals on the grounds that they were 'bad' for Greece and 'democracy' and have now come back to the negotiating table with a set of proposals for the reform of their economy, benefits, pensions and so on that look amazingly like those they said 'no' to just a week ago. How anyone is able to keep a straight face on it is beyond me.

So it looks as if the Greeks will be staying in the €uro. I suspect there will be no end of disappointment in the UK Media and certain US based news media, all of whom have spent the last week telling us how 'evil' the proposals were, and how a 'Grexit' was the only way forward. I imagine they weren't too impressed by the tens of thousands that besieged the Greek Parliament on Wednesday and Thursday demanding that Greece STAY in the €uro and secondly, that their government sort things out. I suspect that may have given Mr Tsipras a bit of a message.

Reading the Telegraph, the FT, The Spectator and the Washington Post articles on the crisis, one could be excused for thinking they were actually trying to orchestrate an exit and would like to see the €uro swept away. That made me wonder why? What is it about the EU and the €uro these commentators are so afraid of? Or is there some other agenda?

Reading Christopher Clark's monumental works Iron Kingdom and The Sleepwalkers, I begin to suspect there is a deep seated fear in sections of the British populace and perhaps mindset, that cannot accept the thought of a powerful and successful European unit, whether we call it a 'Union' or a 'Federation'. It is interesting that Prussia was one of our principle allies until 1871 and the unification of the German States. From the moment of unification onward, the British Press briefed against Germany, and slowly incited a mindset that equated the German people with enmity. It led to an arms race, diplomatic attempts to isolate Germany and finally war. It is amusing to note that one aspect of this misfired spectacularly. Parliament demanded that all German goods had to be labelled 'Made in Germany' and got it. The idea being that this would encourage people to boycott such goods. The opposite happened. The Label Made in Germany immediately became the stamp of quality.

What has this to do with the current Greek farce? Simply this - reading the UK and US Media reports on it, the EU has become synonymous with 'Germany' - and of course, that means it must be bad. The fact the EU was the brainchild of the French, Dutch, Belgians and one or two others seems to have escaped them. They have forgotten that it began with the 'Benelux' countries forming a Customs Union, which then expanded. The German were then divided between West and East Germany, and only the West German Federation was initially a part of the enlarged EU. Funny then, that so many today in the UK media seem to be convinced that the entire EU project is the brainchild of an expansionist Germany trying to take over the world by stealth.

It would be funny, if it wasn't so small minded and frankly stupid.

For the moment, however, it looks as if the Greeks will now accept the proposals they originally rejected, but are now proposing as their own. They'll sort out their economy (they say) and behave from now on. So, to the disappointment of many anti-EU commentators we will not see the €uro 'unravelling' or the EU tearing apart.

Never mind, there's bound to be some new thing they can whip up a storm about in a week or so ...

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Left? Right? Centre?

In the interests of clarity, I'd just like to check. The 'Troika' is under fire from both the 'left' and the 'right' and both claim to be doing it in defence of Greek democracy. The Left claiming that the demands to reform the Greek economy before any 'relief' package can be handed over, is 'damaging the economy and denying vital services', while the right claim it is undemocratic to demand any controls at all. Both, presumably, would like the Greeks to be allowed to continue on their merry way, funding their corruption with everyone else's money.

Once you add in the UK Media which seems to simply put a negative spin on anything to do with the €uro or the EU and one rapidly comes to the conclusion that the 'Troika' (which I understand to be the German Federal government, the European Central Bank and the EU Commission) may actually be right. That they aren't popular with the Left or the Right is a given. The Right love to hate them as being about 'stealing sovereignty' and trying to create a 'Fourth Reich' to use the populist UKIP label, and the Left love to hate them because they won't allow freewheeling spending. The Greeks currently hate them because they want to keep on with their freewheeling spending - using the rest of Europe's money as the former Latvian PM said on our television recently. Funny how the media love to show us all the hard Right and hard Left banging on about the 'evil' EU restricting Democracy on the one hand, and the 'evil' Troika on the other for imposing controls on free spending handouts.

The irony is that both sides earnestly believe they are defending the 'democratic' rights of everyone to determine their own affairs. Both seem to forget that the currency is currently the world's second largest 'Reserve' currency and has actually proved reasonably stable in the sixteen years since it was created. The Greek government actually cooked their books to get in in 2000, joining at a Rate of 340.75 Drachma to the €uro. What we now know is that they did so because the Drachma was on the point of collapse, and perhaps Brussels and the Commission should have looked at the glossy figures a little more thoroughly when they were presented by a rather large UK based international accountancy firm that handles major corporate tax affairs for several companies who pay little or no tax to the countries they operate in.

The argument advanced by Mr Farage in an interview aired last night is that the Greeks have 'lost their sovereignty' because they are unable to 'adjust their economy' be devaluing their currency. I got the impression he felt that, to help Greece, everyone else in the Eurozone should allow the Greek government to run the printing presses, flood the market with devalued €uros and allow runaway inflation everywhere else. Ironically, this is what Die Linke and their fellow 'socialist' supporters in the Greens and other 'left' parties want.

Just so the Greeks can carry on doing the spending they are doing. Not unnaturally that suggestion has the more prudent Finance Ministers - and Hr Schauble is just one (though he happens to control the largest €uro based economy, and does it rather well) - rather cross. Especially the Baltic States, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden.

Having lived in a country where printing money was used to address economic downturns, and devaluation employed to improve export trade, my own feeling is that those who feel this is the right way are either mad, or they are deliberately and dangerously trying to ruin the whole European economy. I'm starting to believe the latter in fact. Which makes me think that none of them have any concept of the misery it will inflict. As I said, I have lived through it. I have lived with an 'official' inflation rate of 12.5% year on year and the consequences were that though my salary was automatically 'adjusted for inflation' and I usually got at least 5% annual increments - my actual spending power decreased annually by a minimum of 7 - 10%.

Why? Because the 'official' inflation rate was roughly half the actual. That is what allowing Greece to 'devalue' the €uro would produce in the longer term. Thank you all the Left wing commentators in the UK and US media trying to talk the €uro out of existence, or talk it into devaluation. I can't use the expression here that I would say to their faces, but I will use the Shakespearean curse - A pox on all your houses.

Perhaps it is time for a reality check for the ideologues of the 'left' and the 'right' - and maybe the 'centre' as well. Economies are built on trade, productivity, goods, services, savings and prudent management of the resources of any nation or group. The EU isn't perfect, but it is doing a remarkable job of holding together a very disparate group of people and cultures. As Josephus has reminded me from time to time, one of the biggest problems is the divide between the frugal and industrious 'northern' nations and the more laid back and less industrialised southern ones. That is perhaps most evident when one looks at the divide between Southern Italy and Northern Italy, or those South Eastern States once part of the Austrian Empire and those that were run by the Ottomans.  A similar divide almost tore the US apart in the 1860s, less than a hundred years after its Founding.

The Germans are very, very touchy about inflation and falling productivity. They remember all to clearly how runaway inflation in the 1920s and early 30s brought a certain Party to power that plunged them into almost total destruction, and they won't allow anyone to take them there again. In the last weeks the Greek government has repeatedly come to the table with the same proposal - no cuts, no immediate reform, just give us the money and we'll see what we can do. Understandably, Hr Schauble is angry, after all Germans are going without some of the benefits they are paying for the Greeks to enjoy. It might pay the UK Media to be a little less 'anti-German' and get their heads out of the 1940s mindset. The German economy is remarkably stable, partly because they don't have the same lurching from 'socialist' to 'neo-socialist' and 'capitalist' economic dispensations and flights of fancy as we do. They aren't the threat, and neither is Brussels - the real threat is the idiocy that says fragmenting Europe into a myriad small states with parochial politics is the right way to go in the world as it is developing today.

As for the current crisis, Mr Tsipras is going to have to come up with a bit more than rhetoric and lots of glad-handing people like Mr Farage to get any change from the Troika and no amount of Farage Fulmination and Leftist whinging is going to change it.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Who really owns the money?

From many comments on the current financial crisis in Greece - and from the utterances of the Greek PM and his so-called Finance Minister - I get the impression that a majority of people have no idea of how Banks operate, and even less idea of where they get the money. It doesn't seem to register that the 'money in the bank' is actually 'owned' by the people who deposit it there, not the Bank. Nor do they seem to appreciate that the friendly 'High Street' banker is in a totally different league to the so-called 'Merchant Banking' operations in the City. For one thing your High Street manager doesn't get to play with Fund Investment - probably the worst he can do is lend a client a bit too much or allow to big an overdraft.

The guys in the city are another world. These are the guys who can move billions at the touch of a button, the men who lend huge sums to companies and to governments. But there are also limits to how much and whose money - and again, it isn't theirs or the banks. Once again, it is money entrusted to them by investors and depositors. The trick is that the Banks work for their investors and their shareholders - famously a court in the US decreed in the 1930s that the sole function of a corporation is to make a profit for its shareholders. That is what banks do when they lend anyone money, which is also why most of us don't borrow any more than we need to. After all, why pay more than you absolutely have to for the privilege.

There is much fulminating about the Banks having lent too much, or the Banks making profits at the expense of the people - but who forced anyone to borrow the money in the first place? Until the 1990s, Bank Regulation meant they had to 'hold' in their vaulty a considerable portion of the money deposited with them. Then, presumably in the belief this would bring 'growth', governments decided to allow a bank to lend almost everything it held on deposit. Thus, if a depositor put in §100, the bank could lend a borrower §90, and when he paid that into his bank account, they could lend up to §81 of that, and so on ... That fueled the 'credit boom'.

The next problem is that of governments themselves. They have, in reality, only the money they can gather in taxes to spend. If you push tax to high, the big money leaves and tax revenue falls, so goivernments are forced to balance spending and income by taking loans usually organised by the IMF. The alternative is to simply 'print more' a trick that saw the value of the British Pound collapse under the free spending Labour governments of the 1970s. Those who scream about how the €uro has 'denied nations their democratic right' to resort to the printing presses forget that the value of the money is only as good as the gold, trade or whatever that underwrites it. Bank of England notes still contain the legend 'I promise to pay the bearer on demand ...' and technically you could take your Bank Notes to the Bank that issued them and demand the hard cash in coin, preferably gold.

For years now the Greek crisis has been brewing and all the other countries caught up in it have managed to find solutions. Some, like Ireland, took the pain, fixed their overspending problem, and are now recovering, others lag, but are dealing with it. Greece alone has refused any reform. Their PM and Finance Minister have caused enormous frustration by repeatedly coming to the table with the same empty hands. As one Minister put it, they smile, they shrug, and say, you make a proposal, we'll consider it. Now they claim they want the debt written down - in other words, they want to stick their hands into the pockets of every taxpayer, depositor and investor yet again, and take even more out of everyone else's pockets while still refusing to reform their freespending.

More worrying is the fact that many of those asked, on leaving the Polling Stations, say they voted No to 'punish the banks' or to 'punish Brussels'. Fine, but tomorrow, when the banks have nothing to offer, or when Tsipras and his henchmen print Drachmas and try to pass them off on a 1 for 1 basis, it will probably take less than 24 hours for the value to crash.

Well, the people have spoken. Whether they stay in the €uro or not is a moot point. Some believe Europe will bend over backwards to keep them in. I'm not so sure they will, Mr Tsipras and his Finance Minister have annoyed everyone. So they refuse to pay their debts? Greece will find it incredibly hard to get fuel, medical supplies and a whole range of other things they can't make themselves. Countries having to work on 'cash up front' generally run into massive problems very quickly.

Will it 'kill the €uro' as so many British commentators and media 'experts' seem to hope? I doubt it. That would cause a much, much bigger problem economically for the International community than many realise and it will hurt everyone. It might be a good idea for all those journalists, campaigners and the rest, calling for Europe to 'write off the debt' or 'give emergency aid' to back off a little and consider. The Greek Referendum has been used to 'send a message' and to cover up the fact the Greek government refuses to carry out meaningful reform of an economy based on other people's money.

The Greeks have been living on and spending everyone else's money since they cheated their way into the €uro. They were eager enough in the early days to get into the €uro for the very simple reason the Drachma was shot to ribbons and only just still viable. They wanted the €uro then, because it gave them, they thought, a limitless source of funds to cover their profilgacy. They've made no effort to collect their own taxes, they allowed capital to vanish, and even the EU subsidies to disappear into projects that were just to boost the wealth of a few. They've been refusing to reform for the last five years, and now its caught up with them. Mr Tsipras wants 30% of government debt written off - which means the rest of the EU, the depositors and taxpayers must pick up his bill, presumably so he can carry on spending.

I know what my answer would be if I were a bank manager and a debtor approached me with that sort of demand. This argument is not about 'democracy' or even control of their own economy, it is about paying your own way, and paying your debts. They don't 'own' the money supply, neither does Brussels or anyone else - it belongs to us, the taxpayers, depositors, and investors.





Wednesday, 1 July 2015

An Interesting Question

I read that Mr Putin is to 'review' the legality of the independence of the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. One can only wonder at what the NATO/US/EU response will be. Another Munich Accord a´la Chamberlain's 1938 agreement with a certain gentleman with similar ambitions for his country and people? Perhaps everyone should demand a 'review' of Russia's occupation of East Prussia, the so-called Kaliningrad enclave.

Mr Putin plans, apparently, to review the legality of his county's recognition of the three small states who, as historians will know, have been overrun and occupied by just about everyone in  the neighbourhood in the past. Their brief breath of freedom between 1919 and 1939 saw them first occupied by Nazi forces, then by the Soviets. Neither occupying power earned much love or respect. Stalin's deportation of 'natives' was followed by the implanation of native Russians, so now all three countries have fairly large ethnically 'Russian' populations - just as was the case in East Ukraine, parts of Georgia and several other parts of the former Soviet empire Mr Putin has 'reclaimed' in the interests of 'protecting the ethnic Russian population' ...

In 1939 Britain, France and the Empire went to war with Germany over the invasion of Poland. Now the question hangs in the air over whether or not we will stand up for the three small Baltic States. Is their membership of NATO and the EU worth the paper it is presumably written on? Maybe, maybe not.

One problem that I can see is that Russia is far better armed now than NATO, and far less restrained by concerns of 'sovereignty', morality or international sentiment. Should Mr Putin decide the 'recognition' is illegal, what then? Another Ukraine? Very likely, although, with his army already massed on the doorstep, I suspect it will all be over in a matter of hours -- long before any of our western leaders can even get their heads round the question of a response.

Which leaves them with the same option Chamberlain faced in 1938. Oooh, we'll impose 'sanctions' and then more 'sanctions' as we watch Mr Putin roll over Finland, Poland and perhaps even the Eastern States of Germany. Do anything to stop him? Oooh, can't do that, it would be unpopular in the ballot box, and we no longer have the means anyway.

So much for 'Peace' and the 'Peace Dividend'. So much for 'Peace in our time' at any price and at all costs. We seem to have forgotten the important mxim - Si vis pacem; para bellum.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Assault on Western Civilisation

Watching and reading of the activities of the ISIS in Syria, Iraq, Libya and now Tunisia, one can only wonder at the motivation of the fanatics who flock to support this vile and psychopathic movement. It is obvious that the appeal, for young Muslims living in western countries where they have not integrated, do not wish to integrate, and are fed the ‘dream’ of a perfect Islamic ‘paradise’ founded on the Quran and the forced conversion to Islam of everyone in it, is a very complex problem. What is less obvious, to those who do not understand the roots and origins of this ideology — and one does get the impression that includes all of our political leaders, all the ‘multi-culty’ promoters and our ‘foreign policy wonks — is why it is so well supported, and why it is so violent, so barbaric in its conquests.
If they perhaps knew the real history of the Arab conquest of the Middle East in the 8th to 13th Centuries a bit better instead of the romanticised version cobbled up by the Victorian adventurers, it might be a little more understandable to them. Those who hailed the ‘Arab Spring’ and who still see ‘anyone who isn’t Assad’ as a preferable ruler in Syria, must accept a large part of responsibility for what has happened there. Their failure to understand the complex ideological, tribal, religious and internecine ‘politics’ of the region and these countries, the arming of ‘resistance’ and ‘populist’ groups — and the failure to grasp the reason local rulers are very reluctant to commit any of their armies to a fight against these psychopathic thugs makes us every bit as culpable for this mess as the ISIS itself. I sometimes wonder if it is genuine ignorance of other cultures, or arrogance that makes our western liberal thinkers assume that everyone, regardless of race, religion, culture or heritage shares the same desire of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’. 
This assumption simply ignores several facts, such as that ‘democracy’ as we know is barely 200 years old in most of Europe, and only slightly older in the US. It has long roots in the UK, but didn’t take its present form until the 1830s even there. It has no long standing cultural roots outside of Europe, and most countries outside of the spheres of control of the British Empire or the US didn’t get democratic government until after 1945. In the Arab controlled world it has no cultural base at all, and is an imposition totally foreign to their heritage and religion. 
So why are we surprised when it is rejected by the majority in those countries? Why are we surprised that the artificial boundaries civil servants in Whitehall and Paris drew on maps without considering ethnicities, religious affiliations, cultures, tribal boundaries and even languages are now being torn asunder? Why, when we invite people from these countries to come and live in ours, are we then told we must accept their desire to ‘preserve’ their cultural heritage, their desire to still dress as if they were living in a desert, or in the ‘tribal’ attire of their homelands, and refuse to integrate with our own society? Why, when the children of the first wave of families from those countries are brought up to consider themselves anything BUT British or European, are we surprised when they, or their children, reject our society and effectively declare war on it?
Travelling around the world I have perhaps been fortunate to see both the ‘official’ face presented by many of these places and the unofficial and more realistic face. The ‘official’ face would have you believe any place is next best thing to paradise. The trains (if they have any) run on time, the government looks after your best interests and everyone lives in peace and harmony. The unofficial face lets you see the hardship, the excluded members of society, the people working two, three or four jobs to try and get something better for themselves, and it lets you hear the dissenting voices. It makes you realise that while another culture may look idyllic, it may also have some nasty aspects lurking in the long grass you’d rather not have to face.
This is one of the problems when confronting Islam. The Quran is, for a large part, about ‘peace and love’. It is, like some versions of the Bible, wonderfully poetic in its language, but it also contains some commandments that are decidedly NOT about peace and love. The same can be said of parts of the Bible, certainly parts of the Old Testament, but where, in the Bible, there is a ‘New’ Testament and a ‘New Commandment’ which transcends the Old (if only some of the more fundamental among us would recognise it), there is no such ‘modifier’ in Islam. Nor is there a central hierarchy of teaching and control. Rome has its Curia, Anglicanism their Synods, Orthodoxy its Councils and even the Protestant churches have synods, councils and conferences which thrash out (sometimes with verbal if not physical blows) agreement on the meaning of texts, passages, injunctions. Islam has its ‘scholars’ and its Muftis, but everyone is able to place his own interpretation on the Quran. Anyone able to memorise large chunks of it can call himself a ‘scholar’ and anyone can set up a Madrassa or ‘school’.
That leaves the door wide open for the growth and development of the sort of fundamentalist theology that feeds organisations such as ISIS and their ideology.
I suspect that, to a very large extent, we will never see the Saudi Arabian Army, the Kuwaiti Defence Force, or the Royal Jordanian Army confront the ISIS directly. In part because the ISIS is a Sunni sect, and to a larger extent because the men who make up those armies might all to easily change sides. That, I think, is the greatest fear among the current ruling classes of the Middle East, and this is why, in the greater scheme of things I do not think the ISIS will be defeated any time soon. Nor do I think it would be a good idea for any western forces to be committed to engage them. Yes, we could probably win (assuming we didn’t have to fight with all the touchy-feely ‘rules of engagement’ tying our troops and commanders hands behind their backs), but the ISIS is more than just the barbaric scum it deploys in the field — it is also a very alluring and pernicious ideology. 
Even if we sent in the military and killed every single ISIS fighter in a wat of total annihilation, the idea would persist. And sometime in ten, twenty or thirty years time, a new ‘Caliphate’ group would emerge to start all over again. The sad thing is that western civilisation has to face up to the fact we have a choice. Accept the current ISIS as a fact and let them continue unchecked, which also means allowing young Muslims from our own countries to travel back and forth freely to join them and come home full of ideas to bring the war to us — or we can man up, stop pussyfooting, come down hard on their supporters on the internet, at home and abroad. Cut off the support, attack the ideology with fact and undermine its appeal, and then deal effectively and permanently with those who have joined their forces, fought for the ISIS and committed the atrocities. 
All very well crying about their ‘rights’ and wringing our hands over the brutality of our troops shooting someone shooting at them, we have a stark choice. Let the ISIS continue bombing, shooting and murdering its way into power — or annihilate it by whatever means it takes. That will also mean making every man or woman who has supported it, fought for it or tried to do so, pay for their criminal activity on its behalf.

Failure to do so will ensure, that like the Roman civilisation in the sixth and seventh centuries, ours is swept aside and replaced by an alien and frankly barbaric one in the not too distant future.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

A Long Break ...

This Blog has been suffering from some serious neglect for a while now. This is due, in large part, to my being heavily involved in writing a new historical novel which is now in the final stages of pre-publication editing, and partly due to a few changes of publishers for some of my other titles. Both Out of Time and The Enemy is Within are now out of print. The first is demanding a lot of time at the moment as it needed a massive overhaul to meet my new publisher's expectations, the second will need some work as well.

The good news is that Harry Heron; Midshipman's Journey and The Outer Edge are both selling well and A Baltic Affair is maintaining a steady trickle of sales as well.

From my perspective, the exciting news is that my latest book, Limehouse Boys, will be appearing in the latter half of July. The story is set in the early 1830s and revolves around the 'adventures' of a trio of orphans. It was inspired by some research into life for those in London's teeming East End at that period. Healthcare was almost non-existent, poverty was rife, corruption governed access to just about everything and crime gangs held sway. Exploitation of those desperate enough to seek a place in the Workhouses, or unfortunate enough to be orphaned and committed to one, faced a very harsh future.

The research left me shocked in some instances, angry in others, and it turned up tragedies, miscarriages and abuses in Justice, and some remarkable heroes whose efforts seem to have gone largely unrewarded. It is fascinating to read that Parliament fought tooth and nail to protect certain 'privileges' and even to perpetuate, in the interests of profits and commercial competitiveness, the abuses of child labour. Speeches were even made defending the abuses, and in some cases denying them, or claiming that the complainants were idle or lazy and exaggerating matters.

I hope readers will enjoy it, I have dedicated it to all those who have risen above bad beginnings and made their own way in the world.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Human Migrations

Humans have been migrating, I suspect, since the dawn of time. There have been many reasons for it I suspect, starting with the need to move when a familiar area can no longer support the tribe, clan, family and going all the way up to conflict and the need to escape. Individually the reasons can range from the desire to find a sexual/breeding partner to the desire for wealth and power. Then there are those who can see no hope of leading a life of hope or fulfilment in the place of their birth, and need to move to find employment even of the most basic once they reach adulthood. And when even that is denied them through war, discrimination, crime and corruption or lack of any viable opportunity, they are forced to take desperate measures.

This is where we see the sort of tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean at present. As the latest death toll rises, we hear all the usual politicians wringing their hands and saying all the usual things about ‘addressing the problem at its roots’ but doing nothing.

Reading all the usual twaddle from politicians, ‘aid agencies’, UN officials (many from the countries that ARE the problem) and commentators on various news shows, one is struck, very forcibly, by the lack of any workable solution being proposed by any of them. The UN and various ‘humanitarian’ groups all want Europe to throw open its borders and let the hordes in. No checks, no restrictions - just take them in and presumably house, feed and clothe them. Our political leaders want to give more ‘aid’ or send ‘advisers’ and, of course, the Aid Agencies and NGOs all want more money so they can do more to ‘lift people out of poverty’. All very laudable, but none of it actually addresses the root of the problem - incompetent and utterly corrupt governments.

In our haste to ‘de-colonise’ Africa in particular, we overlooked something rather important. Very few of the new ‘nations’ we left south of the Sahara had any ‘tradition’ of settled civilisation prior to colonisation, and even fewer were actually homogenous peoples. Most included more than one tribal group, and most of those tribes were traditional enemies who preyed on each other until forced to stop by the colonial power. The Mashona were happily enslaving all their neighbours and selling them to Arab slave traders at Mombasa and Dar Es Salaam right up until the British - at the behest of none other than Cecil John Rhodes (whose statue has just been attacked and now removed from the campus at University of Cape Town) sent in the Army to put a stop to it in 1898. That’s right, 1898! Robert Mugabe, take note.

Southern Africa is the classic example of historic migrations, since ALL the current ‘Bantu’ tribes now claiming it as their ‘homeland’ actually only arrived there after 1700 - around 40 years after the Dutch established their trading post at the Cape. They displaced the indigenous peoples, the Khoi folk, who formed three groups, a coastal people known to the Dutch as Strandlopers, the ‘Bushmen’ who inhabited the drier inland regions, and the Hottentot peoples of the western Cape. Another group who inhabited the central plateau - now the Free State and Northern Cape - have vanished entirely, their only traces being dry stone constructions of cattle pens and strange ‘beehive’ houses entered on hands and knees through an angled tunnel entrance. Like the Khoi peoples, they were driven out, driven into the deserts, and eventually killed on sight by the invading Bantu. Though to hear it now, it was the Europeans ‘wot done it’. Sadly, for the builders of the stone huts, the White explorers that found their remains were about fifty years too late.

So what is driving today’s mass migrations? 

To a very large extent it appears to be the failure of the post-colonial governments of almost all the African states to provide any sort of stable government. Plus the total lack of any prospects for employment, education, or to house, feed, and clothe oneself decently. Almost certainly one of the most powerful drivers is overpopulation. There simply aren’t the natural resources to support the populations now trying to subsist on them. Water is an obvious one, but so is arable land. I suspect that one reason sub-saharan Africa has not produced any settled cities or permanent agriculture is that the soil and the water available cannot sustain them. 

Thus, until fairly recent ‘colonial’ history, the agriculture tended to be slash and burn, farm it until the soil and the water was exhausted - then move on. Most of Africa is not covered by dense jungle or forest - by far the largest portion of it is desert or semi-desert, and most tribal systems prior to the colonial rush, were hunter gatherer and nomadic. Neither of these systems is suited to the massive expansion of the populations all over Africa, and the lack of industries, and lack of commercial traditions (in the western sense) means that most now have to find ways to make a living independently of the sort of system the developed countries enjoy. Nor is it likely that these will develop in the short term, given that corruption is rampant, nepotism, tribalism and sometimes xenophobia reach into every aspect of daily life.

Only those folk who have seen the shanty towns, the lack of infrastructures, the sewerage running in the streets and the lack of even the most basic services in these countries can begin to understand the desperation many feel. Only when our political classes, who burble on about ‘poverty’ and ‘economic development’ as if throwing money at it will change it, even begin to understand how their approach is simply enriching the most corrupt, and grinding the poorest even further into the mire will we begin to find a solution. Tanzania’s President has recently sold almost the entire Masai Mara off to the Sultan of one of the Gulf States. One point 6 MILLION square kilometres of land, as a ‘private’ safari park. Pity about the Masai who are now being driven from the land their forefathers first settled around the time the ‘Prophet’ the Sultan follows was hiding out in the mountains. 

Mozambique is selling huge tracts of land to the Chinese and to Western entrepreneurs for ‘development’ - and turning to small subsistence farmers off, forcing them into squatter camps, or into the hands of people traffickers so they end up on overloaded boats drowning in the Med or elsewhere in their efforts to find a decent life somewhere. The same thing is happening all over Africa, and while the IMF, the UN and other applaud these deals and approve the funding on the grounds it will help ‘develop’ the country, the reality is that most of it finds its way straight back into Swiss and other bank accounts held by - you guessed it - the ‘governing’ families and Parties who sold land they don’t ‘own’ in the first place.

Is it any wonder then that everywhere you look in Africa there are conflicts, armed and otherwise? Everywhere you look there is grinding poverty that can never be addressed? Is it any wonder the people resort to such desperate measures as to board unsuitable vessels and take the risk of catastrophe to reach what our prosperity projects as the land in which the streets are paved with gold, and everyone is a millionaire?

Easy for idle protesters, many on State handouts, to ‘demand’ we simply open the borders and take them in. Easy to scream, rant and shout that ‘more must be done’ to save the boat people, but what do we do with them once they are here? We have unemployment, we have people in poverty, we have people in need of assistance, and much as we’d like to, we simply can’t take in all those we’d like to. The solution lays in Africa itself, and though it may be painful, that is where it has to be addressed. Not on the open sea between Europe and North Africa, and not in Italy, Southern France, Britain, Greece or anywhere else in Europe.


I would suggest it has to start with stripping the ill-gotten gains from those in power there, and, perhaps under international supervision, the construction of proper infrastructures, proper services and the founding of proper industries, commerce, and, of course, education. That would be the sensible way to go — but since we’re dealing with politicians (with their own peccadilloes to protect) I will not be holding my breath to see it happen.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Interview

I was recently interviewed by Kura Carpenter, a cover designer based in New Zealand. Some readers will know that she has designed other covers for my books, so it was a pleasure to discuss my latest book with her. The interview can be read on her blog Kura Carpenter Design.


Discussions are underway on the design of the cover for my next book, set around 1836 and life in and around London and the Tahmes estuary. 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Newly Released

Some time ago I set out to republish one of my early titles. It has been a long and sometimes challenging exercise, but the 'new' book required around fifty percent new material, a lot of rewriting of the remainder and the complete excision of around forty percent of the original. I wish I'd had the professional editing and advice when I first published it ...

The result is a 'new' title and a largely 'new' story published by IndieGo Publishing as an eBook available through Kindle, Nook, iBooks and Google. Retitled Harry Heron; Midshipman's Journey, it remains within the 'canon' of my Harry Heron adventure series, and the reorganised, rewritten and reformatted book is, in my humble opinion, one hundred percent what I wanted it to be. Working with and through a professional editor has been more than an education, and it has seen my work transformed. That has, in itself, flowed through into everything else.

So, here it is, Harry Heron; Midshipman's Journey.


Cover design and art is by Kura Carpenter of Kura Carpenter Design, and the text is edited by Janet Angelo of IndieGo Publishing LLC whoc also did the internal design and formatting.



Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Just for fun - something inspired by the late Sir Terry Pratchett

Schloss Überwaldburg
Überwaldburg
Bad Grabstein

Dr Frankenfeller
Director-General
Equal Rights Division
Nomercy Hospital
Bad Schmel
Multicultiland


Sehr geehrte Herr Direktor,

I write to protest concerning the treatment of my young servant laboratory assistant, Igor Igor. I think it is disgraceful that your hospital, which advertises an ‘equal opportunities’ policy, has refused to consider his application for a position. As for the contention that he is ‘not young enough’ to take on the work; nonsense! Why, at least two thirds of him is less than one hundred and fifty years old and he is skilled at renewing those parts of himself that wear out.

The fact that he resembles a cross between the hunchback of Notre Dame and someone called ‘Freddy Krueger’ is no grounds whatever to have him escorted from the premises and barred from approaching. To have taken out a court order to restrict him is, sir, beyond reasonable. Like all his relatives, he is an extremely skilled surgeon and practices self-improvement in a practical manner. They do not believe in wasting organs, limbs or other pieces of any fresh corpse body - indeed they make excellent use of the ice caves beneath my Schloss in storing their spare donor parts.

His simple desire to make his skills available to your hospital is, in my view, a laudable humanitarian ambition. One which could only benefit your species. All the Igors are, after all, constructed of entirely human parts. Their skills in reconstruction, reassembly and revivification have been developed and honed over centuries. The behaviour of your ‘Human Resources’ manager is nothing less than despicable. Her screams when he showed her the example of his reconstructed and repaired heart were not just ear shattering. They penetrated my sarcophagus and disturbed my day’s rest! Indeed, the shrill pitch has left three of the older members of the family with difficulties in utilising their extremely sensitive hearing for locating meals living creatures. Really, what could possibly be so frightening about a heart in a jar beating normally? Anyone would think such things are unknown in your hospital.

As if this were not enough, to have the senior medical officer tell the court that he should be excluded and barred from approaching the hospital because he might remind patients of a character from some moving picture, is insulting. I have researched this and find that Igor does not resemble a burned serial killer! I can assure you none of the Igors would kill anything, and as for the popular belief they steal bodies - well, really! They believe that when someone has no further use of a body part of themselves it should be recycled. A thoroughly laudable intention if you ask me. After all, why waste perfectly good hearts, livers, lungs etc., simply because the rest of the body is worn out?

As to the demand he produce a qualification, surely the fact he was able to produce a living functioning heart for inspection should amply demonstrate his knowledge and capability. Qualification indeed! I am given to understand that the interviewing ‘doctor’ had never seen a beating heart detached from a body before. Of what worth are his qualifications then? Is he capable of reassembling a man who has fallen into the saw bed of a timber mill? Igor Igor has done so - and successfully restarted the man. Admittedly the man does still have a tendency to walk sideways and to blow the circuits of any electrical appliance he touches - but he is otherwise fully functional.

Indeed, there are several citizens who have good reason to be grateful for the ministrations of one of the Igors. Several carpenters would be out of work but for their skill at reattaching fingers, and at least one hunter would now be in a disassembled state in the ice store had there not been an Igor with a spare heart at hand to replace the one some careless individual had destroyed through a badly aimed long bow on a hunt. Can your ‘qualified’ doctor-surgeon do this? 

Igor Igor would have been an asset to your surgical team but since your staff choose to exercise their prejudice on the one hand, and the medical director chooses to insist on some ‘qualification’ obtained from a university on the other, you will now be hearing from my solicitor! This is a clear case of discrimination and prejudice.

I look forward to your apology to Igor Igor, and your speedy response to my demands request that you reconsider the decision of the interviewers and the withdrawal of the court order.

Pleasant screams dreams  

Wolfgang von Überwaldburg

Count von Überwaldburg, Vicomte Grabstein, Graf von Wolfwald.


PS: My lovely daughter, Letitia, asks that you inform the young surgeon in the Orthopaedic Ward, that his garland of garlic is now stale, and quite appealing to her. She is also curious to know why he, a self-declared atheist, keeps so many religious symbols and a large container of Holy Water to hand.