June 16, 2008

Don't be afraid…

Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated.
You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.
—David Lloyd George

April 07, 2008

The immortality illusion

The modern world is a safe and secure environment… at least, it is in the advanced civilisation that we enjoy on an ongoing basis in the Western world. Before the 1940s and the discovery of antibiotics, people died in alarming numbers from acquiring infections just in the normal course of living, such as just snagging themselves on a thorn or just getting a bit of dirt in a cut which, of course, is why you’re supposed to wash a wound.

These are infections that today antibiotics have rendered trivial. And have given us a feeling of pseudo-immortality. Got an ear infection, go to the doctors for antibiotcs. Or a chest infection? Get some antibiotics. Last week, I picked up an infection from what seemed pretty unimportant, so much so, that I waited two days before getting treatment. In the end, it was diagnosed as cellulitis and my GP carelessly dropped in to the conversation the comment that it would probably have been fatal before the onset of widespread antibiotic use.

Now I’m not trying to talk it up into something more than it is, my point is that we just get given a magic tablet and the problem goes away (and I’m jolly pleased too, of course!). Yet, look at the historical record and there are any number of instances of people recorded as having what we consider a minor wound who then ‘caught’ a fever before dying a couple of weeks later. And this would have happened all the time. People had big families yet it was generally against the odds that a child would survive much past its fifth birthday. For those people in the world who still suffer with this sort of death rate, we in the West must seem nigh on immortal. At least until old age claims us, of course!

And until old age claims us, we expect to be completely healthy and safe. To the point now, where we cannot conceive of a simple accident, where the world has to be 100% safe, where we seem to be cocooning ourselves because the concept of death is just too scary (we even lock away the aged and infirm to die out of sight). Health and safety regulations protect us from even the threat of injury nowadays despite the fact that the treatment of said injuries is easier now than ever before.

Yet it is less than 100 years since the pre-antibiotic age where people dying following accidents of one form or another would be a usual and accepted part of life. I observe that life has changed a great deal in that time. While it is a change for the better, it is also worth considering where we have come from…

March 17, 2008

They reached out and so nearly touched victory in 2003

It is, more or less, the 90th anniversary of the start of the last big German offensive in what was then known as the Great War. The Imperial German Army struck west against the BEF in an effort to split the Western Alliance and secure some sort of advantageous end to the war. For doctrinal reasons, the Germans felt they needed a victory in order to force peace on the West rather than continuing the war under less and less advantageous conditions. Between the end of 1917, with the defeat of Imperial Russia in hand, and the following March as the offensive was unleashed, the Germans must have felt that victory was within reach.

In 2003, the American forces involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom must have felt the same. After the securing of the capital and the end of major combat operations, the American reached out and more or less had victory there in the palm of their hands. The Iraqi regime had changed, the Iraqi people seemed pretty happy about that and the environment was safe enough in May 2003 that US servicemen could go jogging round the streets of Baghdad by themselves. There was a little civil unrest but that was to be expected and it seemed that the job was done.

It seems to have been for doctrinal reasons that things started to go wrong afterwards. General Tommy Franks, commander of Central Command, had famously declared beforehand that the American Army didn’t do nation building. And the American Administration’s doctrine was that Iraq would simply take care of itself. The message had gone down to street level as television pictures showed Iraqi civilians looting while armed American soldiers stood by and did nothing.

In 1940, after the armistice between France and Germany, the Germans left 300,000 troops as garrison in the country. The relatively non-hostile French population was 41 million then – while not friendly towards the Germans, it was not until near the end of 1942 that the first fatal attack was carried out on a member of the occupying force. In 2003, the Iraqi population was 28 million, which would have mandated an occupying force of approximately 200,000 western troops assuming the population was non-hostile.

The actual invasion force consisted of 165,000 troops. American doctrine dictated that it head straight for the middle of the Iraqi regime and overpower it by use of speed and firepower, while avoiding Iraqi military concentrations and centres of populations in the interest of avoiding military casualties. Desert Storm veterans such as Barry McCaffrey seemed to be giving opinions that were just plain wrong when they said that the invasion force was too light. The offensive, after all, was going well and it finished quickly. Some units initially tagged as follow up reinforcements were actually turned around en route.

Then the Iraqi army was disbanded and the police force sent home. With an occupying army that didn’t seem to want to get involved in civil control, the country began to spiral out of control. Of course it didn’t happen all at once. There was nowhere that the Western occupying force couldn’t go, if it wanted to.

The problem was it couldn’t be everywhere. American army doctrine was based on fighting an enemy similar to itself. Mechanised and information dependent, high tech, centralised and vulnerable to precise application of firepower. After the occupation began, the enemy changed into one that the US had not practiced fighting: low tech, on foot, dispersed. One that is countered by infantry on the street. It became a struggle characterised by rifles and not by tanks. And the West didn’t have enough in the country and wouldn’t for some years, the number substantially dipping before it rose.

It took a while for this to become clear to both sides. To begin with the lid the west used to contain Iraq wasn’t big enough but it didn’t matter because the country wasn’t that hot. With the recent troop surge and a renewed focus on counter insurgency methods, a heavier lid has been required to contain a greater heat.

It has been said that the way a country’s army fights its battles says a lot about the country itself. The US army has historically been characterised by a fascination with high technology, often in a stand-off mode. The stand off approach continued with the lack of engagement in civil control at the start of the occupation on the ground. At the same time, the lack of engagement was visible in the US executive with the assumption being that it would all work itself out rather than prepare for the aftermath with a carefully put together plan of reconstruction. From trying to execute a conflict that would be cheap and more or less pay for itself, it has spiralled into something extremely expensive in more ways than one. Another logical consequence that proceeded from a false assumption.

In the spring of 2003, the West reached out and touched victory in Iraq. The problem was it simply did not have enough people of all talents in the country ready to hold on to it.

February 08, 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Sharia speech

The Archbishop of Canterbury is coming in for a lot of flak over his Sharia law speech. I think he meant well but in his efforts to reach out to the minorities he may well have gone wide of his target.

I think that his aim was to say that minorities are welcome in this country and that we don’t expect them to abandon their principles the moment they step on Terra Britannica. For example, muslims are conscious of the way that money makes money and that it shouldn’t be done without work and effort being put in, which makes getting a mortgage potentially unethical. And he’s right, why should people from other countries drop everything of their original culture when they arrive here? We certainly don’t do it when we go to other countries.

Unfortunately, the speech has left some people with a bad taste in their mouths. To say that some communities can adopt certain parts of a different statute book runs the risk, to my mind at least, of creating very real ghettoes within the United Kingdom. My brother-in-law jokes about working in the Socialist Republic of Barking but were people to begin talking of an Islamic Walsall, for example, then I think there is a real danger of civil unrest of one sort or another. It might attract the more extreme members of one society, and induce a siege mentality in the other.

We revel in our multi-culturalism in the UK, and we should continue to celebrate our United-ness. Separating different cultures in this way is not really going to assist integration. There are already ways in this country in which cultural differences are being quietly worked on. The Archbishop might have been better advised to have let this happen than to stir up something that should happily settle out over time.

December 17, 2007

Just a couple of flakes away from anarchy

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7146947.stm

It fascinates me how quickly a bit of weather throws the modern society off its stride. If you look at the pictures link to my related web page, you will see that the usual media hyperbole is at work concerning the snow storms in North America. (Cars buried? Yep, all the way nearly up to their bumpers!)

We’ve had the same problem in this country, with half an inch of snow causing complete chaos, but why does it happen? Does no one watch the weather forecasts or, even worse, know that sometimes it actually snows during the winter? Where I live, if there’s a couple of feet of snow overnight, we’ll be cut off but a few hours determined digging should get us out to the point where we can rejoin civilisation. Panic? Hardly!

Anyone would think that a couple of snow flakes is a catastrophe. One of my neighbours was farming in 1963. Now that was a catastrophe. How would we cope nowadays?

December 13, 2007

Teenage pregnancies… why?

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7141031.stm

Why is Britain so far up the league table for teenage pregnancies?

Okay, it might be that everything in life from peas to cars is sold using sex and so children are exposed to sexual objects early on in life and feel they have to live up to it. Or is it that teenage girls see pregnancy as a means of escape from sink estates to their own benefits funded council house? Or are they just too lazy to get the morning after pill… or just in denial that it could ever happen to them?

At school, we were terrified of our parents’ response if we did get someone pregnant… so we took precautions (and, anyway, it was hard enough to have sex in my parents’ home without getting constantly interrupted to make sure we weren’t!).

December 11, 2007

A new round of fuel protests this weekend?

Writing about web page http://www.transaction-2007.com/

According to this website, an organisation calling itself Transaction 2007 is planning some sort of action this Saturday. They say:

“A date of Saturday 15th December 2007 at 10:00am has been decided for protest action. This date was decided by members as the best possible to enable those who would normally be working during the week to attend. This action will be initiated at a refinery or storage depot somewhere near you.”

Another website http://www.petrolprices.com/blog/petrol-price-protests-planned-for-this-wednesday-86.html says

“You might remember the fuel protest of 2000 which initially gathered strong support from motorists. However, that support quickly turned when many motorists were prevented from filling up because of lorry blockades.”

Strange really to support disruption until it disrupts people… I thought that was the point.

Even so, whatever the reason for the price of crude oil, or the tax climate, petrol prices at the pump are rising every week and recent crude price decreases are not being passed through to the forecourt. On the other hand, the increasing price affects everything else in the economy leading to less and less disposable income for those of us who need our cars.

I’ve not seen any other report of this anywhere else so I have no idea whether this is genuine or not.

December 10, 2007

Whatever happened to the tri–centenniel celebrations of this great country of ours?

In 1707 the United Kingdom was set up via the Acts of Union that joined the Kingdom of Scotland to the Kingdom of England. Although the two countries had shared a Monarch for the previous 100 years or so, it was the first time that the Parliaments had been joined together and it created modern Britain.

Imagine if the Americans had decided not to celebrate their bi-centenary in 1976… imagine the outburst! The Americans are a hugely patriotic country and they put us to shame.

Why on earth are we not celebrating the formation of this great country of ours?


November 29, 2007

Cheaper petrol in and around Coventry

Where can I find petrol that is not really, really expensive around Coventry?

In a never ending search for petrol stations that are not charging ridiculous prices for petrol I am presently only aware of one petrol station in Coventry that is selling petrol for less than £1 a litre, well 99.9p to be precise. Everywhere else is well over that level. Even the local Tescos in Cannon Park is well over that: whatever happened to supermarkets being the cheapest place in town? The Cannon Park site is actually charging the same as a local village filling station in my village!

It might not save me much but if anyone would like to highlight any filling stations not charging ridiculous prices I would be very grateful. I reckon anywhere within about a 20 mile radius is fair game.

November 21, 2007

Barstool Economics

Found this on another website… an amusing allegory….

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to £100. They paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it was like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay £1.
The sixth would pay £3.
The seventh would pay £7.
The eighth would pay £12.
The ninth would pay £18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay £59.

So, that’s what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner siad to them, ‘Since you are all such good customers,’ he said, ‘I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by £20.’ Drinks for the ten now cost just £80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men – the paying customers? How could they divide
the £20 windfall so that everyone would get his ‘fair share?’
They realized that £20 divided by six is £3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so:
The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid £2 instead of £3 (33%savings).
The seventh now pay £5 instead of £7 (28%savings).
The eighth now paid £9 instead of £12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid £14 instead of £18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid £49 instead of £59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

‘I only got a pound out of the £20,’declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man,’ but he got £10!’

‘Yeah, that’s right,’ exclaimed the fifth man. ‘I only saved a pound, too. It’s unfair that he got ten times more than I!’

‘That’s true!!’ shouted the seventh man. ‘Why should he get £10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!’

‘Wait a minute,’ yelled the first four men in unison. ‘We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!’

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

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