Friday, 21 May 2010

Fighting not fleeing

I had a query the other day where someone asked me whence came my self-description of being an adrenaline junkie. Did I truly love adrenaline or just the statement?

I think I enjoy the results of the increased level of adrenaline. These may be stated as "Helping the fight and flight stimulus by boosting the heart rate, increasing the breathing rate which allows more oxygen uptake for more respiration so that a lot of energy is available when needed. The pupils are dilated so as to improve vision. It also directs most of the blood supply to the skeletal muscles that help us run or fight and restricts blood flow to the gut and skin by constricting blood vessels to these areas (after all, digestion can wait). It also speeds up the conversion of glycogen to glucose in the liver because glucose is the substrate for respiration (producing energy)."

I was at Ashridge Management College and we were being taken through basic psychology and it seems that I tested at a really high level as a Type A personality. Type A individuals can be described as impatient, time-conscious, controlling, concerned about their status, highly competitive, ambitious, business-like, aggressive, having difficulty relaxing; and are sometimes disliked by individuals with Type B personalities for the way that they're always rushing. They are often high-achieving workaholics who multi-task, drive themselves with deadlines, and are unhappy about delays. Limited research sows a high association between Type As and recognised adrenaline or stress junkies. I have no shame in admitting to much of that but it must be said that the validity of Type A or B testing is not fully accepted by the experts.

I have wide fluctuations in blood pressure as well as hypertension. I have been tested at well above the rate when hospital treatment has to be given as a matter of urgency. I enjoy the sensations attributed to raised levels of adrenaline. I know that I sometimes act in a manner which will spark confrontation or put me under stress. It does not bother me but addiction is possibly an overstatement - my life does not revolve around self-imposed stress.

The image at the top of this blog is a re-creation by me of a document that was shown to me back in 72'ish when I was serving in Belfast. A senior officer from the RUC SB brought it to me under conditions of considerable security and secrecy. He explained it had been found in a search following the detention of a well-known IRA gunman. The central number was the officially registered index of a Morris 1800 car used exclusively by me. I worked in plain clothes and the plate was frequently changed for others not registered anywhere, The other numbers on the pad had been used by me in the couple of months before I saw the document. The description (6'3" etc) fitted me. The writing was not that of the gunman; he refused to divulge where he got it or why but the SB guy and I were in little doubt as to what he might have been going do with the information.

From that contact I worked for over 150 hours with no real break other than a daily shower. Hardly any food intake. I wore out four guys assigned to ride shotgun. Working out where the combination of car numbers might have been seen and setting these alongside known contacts of the gunman identified someone. The handwriting of one of them matched that on the note and he was off to Long Kesh.

I attribute my ability to concentrate on a single issue and put in the level of work that I did that week purely to whatever it is in my genes that floods the system with that hormone. I cannot really answer my questioner better than that.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

When two tribes go to war

"Chinese might be willing to handle the Iran issue at the U.N., if the U.S. is willing to handle the sinking of the South Korean ship, the Cheonan, at the regional level without elevating it to the U.N.

South Korea will formally blame North Korea for launching a torpedo that sank the naval ship in March, killing 46 South Korean sailors, The Washington Post reported Tuesday."

This could all get very nasty and intense. Neither Korea is known for their forbearance in blaming the other for just about everything that happens. To then link that situation with the very tetchy matter of Iranian links with countries keen to assist in the matter of uranium could raise the temperature on two fronts.

I've been looking at the published reports and the background to the North torpedo 'conclusion'. Not a lot seems to have surfaced but it might not be so conclusive as we read. Finding a portion of a torpedo with Korean markings would not be difficult. To associate this with the attack is again not conclusive; the South claims they found a match with some explosive on - guess what - a N Korean missile recovered earlier. Seems there was no direct contact of warhead and sunken ship - merely a proximity explosion. This leaves it up to the North explaining that an errant mine was to blame. The South has seeded the waters with mines in the past.

In a contest that will doubtless be won by the most verbose and loudest, the North will win. They have such a firm grip on the hearts and minds of its people and very full censorship that raising the passions in the North would be very easy, Where both sides will have access to nuclear assets, that could be a very dangerous outcome. Another string to my No To Trident bow.

Closing the curtains

I had a response to my thing about my fading memory - some symptoms of dementia in seniors that make an appearance when the disease first starts:
1 Finding it difficult to remember words to express themselves
2 Getting uncomfortable and disoriented in unfamiliar surroundings
3 Having problems when performing daily tasks like driving, cooking, cleaning or managing money
4 Forgetting the names of friends and family
5 Becoming paranoid and suspicious
6 Placing things and not remember where they kept them
7 Forgetting to keep appointments
8 Unable to learn new information
9 Losing interest in the outside world
10 Change in behaviour -- a withdrawn person can get silly and social while a social person can get withdrawn
Bit like those memes that were all the rage a short while back. Seems that my ability to do well in tests has not deserted my - 7 out of 10 isn't bad is it?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Mad mad mad world My Masters

On the average day, I read about 250 blogs, forum entries and extracts from magazines and papers. Thank the Lord (or curse the Devil if you wish) for RSS and Bloglines for making this possible. Of all that I generally find some 10-12 items really interesting and a further 30 that have something about them as to merit a fuller IT search or hard-copy checking. The remainder consist of what I classify as totally unworthy waste of my electricity and fleeting attention. Difficulty is there is no way of determining in advance just which is guaranteed good stuff and what is unworthy of even being torn into small rectangles and hung on a nail in the servant's quarters lavatory.

Of recent times there has been little difficulty in knowing what to avoid. Almost anything that contains 'Cameron, Nick or Labour is just a waste of time. We have suggestions that we all spend our time volunteering to do good works we find pleasing and someone proclaiming that the ideas and standards developed since the 1832 Reform Act. Why do we need such a massive revision? In round terms we were doing nicely thank you until the madmen took over the asylum some 13 years back. Even there, some of their ideas were well founded; it was the manner of their introduction and implementation that was so wrong.

We had an example of the wide spread of opinions as recently as yesterday when we learned that we have to give sanctuary to foreigners planning terrorism in this country. Why - it was feared they might be harmed if they were returned to their country of origin. In our Newspaper Of Record were two articles - one from a proponent of the attitude that the rights and liberty of the individual are paramount regardless of their personal conduct and a former police officer who points out that we are our own worst enemies.

Former PM Brown tried to justify our continued presence in Afghanistan that this was necessary to deny AQ terrorists a base from which they could again bring death and destruction onto the streets of the UK. The events of 7/7 and the latest terror plotting showed how wrong an idea that was. Sadly, the same excuse is being trotted out by the Tory group of our new Parliament. If one can rise beyond the weird theories that 9/11 was an inside job, that again is an example that terrorists can reside inside their target area. The bomb-making manuals are readily available to anyone with a pc and Internet connection. Our gallant service personnel are held in a latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah in pursuance of this flawed argument.

The Com Res poll found that 77 per cent wanted troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, while more than half thought that the presence of troops there put British streets at greater risk from terrorism.

But the three main parties fought the general election on programmes which include backing for the NATO mission against the Taliban. Between them, the parties’ general election manifestos run to around 80,000 words – but Afghanistan is mentioned only 19 times between them. Labour’s manifesto included the most mentions, 11, followed by the Conservatives' on five and three for the Liberal Democrats'.

The Don't Deport decision attracted very much less media panic than one might expect of a population engaged in the opposition. They just do not care if they have no relatives or loved ones actually involved. Yet, it is this same population that is expected to surge forward as volunteers for some as yet inchoate initiatives. To set Government aside and set up swathes of New Ideas. If the nation has not risen in rebellion at the sort of things we have sustained, what makes anyone really thing there is any interest in getting involved. For every citizen who wants to organise Grow Your Own on Allotments, there will be one who complains of the smell of the fertiliser. And they will not be able to blame The Government. No one has been able to tell me what the members we elected will be doing whilst we have this National DIY mania.

And wanting something does not mean one gets it. Every time there is a gruesome murder we get calls to bring back hanging. But Government does not have free voting and it will never be brought back, The last public hanging at Tyburn took place in 1783; not so far away from that Reform Act of 1832 that Nick wishes to revisit. I am quite convinced that not so far back, public opinion would have been that hanging was too good for the Cannot Be Deported terrorists. Not so far back, Mussolini's body was quartered and exhibited. Just why should we care what happens to those who had a wish to dish out death and maiming in our country?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Bloody indeed

I have been asked to spread the word about the next in a series of books about The Troubled Years in Northern Ireland.

Ken Wharton, author of a 'Long Long War; Voices from the British Army in Northern Ireland, 1969-98' and 'Bullets Bombs and Cups of Tea; Further Voices of the British Army in Northern Ireland' and 'Bloody Belfast; An Oral History of the British Army's War Against the IRA' is now writing his 4th book.

Entitled '1972' it deals with the worst year of the troubles and is again - as an ex-squaddie it could only be so - an oral account of the troubles from the perspective of the British soldier. It will be pro-squaddie and will again seek to bring awareness of our role in NI to the public view. If you have any accounts of 1972 or know of anyone who toured in that year, please contact Ken at ken _wharton

Anonymity is offered if you prefer not to have your name published.

Civvie mates share a few experiences; Squaddie mates share a lifetime of experiences no civvie could ever dream of.

There are bits of me in the latest book and I can confirm that Ken is meticulous in checking his sources. His books are a realistic mix of reference and history written in an easy to assimilate manner. As one reviewer says
"Ken's books have ensured that the near 40 years of sacrifice,duty and humour that supported generations of British Soldiers will never be forgotten. This was our lives - and for many, still is, every day. Ken has allowed our voices to be heard;and our Fallen friends to be remembered as they should be. Thanks, mate"

Memory freshers

I wrote a few days about my sometimes on sometimes off memory. I was browsing today with my Spotify playlist in the
background w
when this song came on. This was definitely a memory that had stuck.

Just before Christmas 1979 the Libyans set fire to the US Embassy in Tripoli, I was working for Occidental, a US oil company and based in London as the Office Services manager. About 2 am I received a call from my VP who was in America on a Conference. I was told that we were evacuating all the women and children from our Libyan operation and I had the the job of getting them from Tripoli to London ad then dispersing them to their chosen location anywhere but Libya. We had to cater for about 100 souls. The wonderful phrase "Throw money at it John" was uttered.

I hit the phone for the night staff at our travel contractor and told them what was wanted. By the time I had driven to the London office I had a aircraft chartered for the next three days and a block booking at a Gatwick airport hotel for a week. I decamped there with my head travel girl, a large bag of cash - pounds and dollars and no real idea of what was ahead. Our contractor met me there with a couple of his girls and the ticket blanks and endorsing machine.

Initially, the Libyans refused to accept the incoming flight but I was able to suggest what might change their minds. More throwing of money! We had a few spare seats and offered these to people at a US school and a church that did not have our resources. I arranged for a detective officer from the local force to hang about the room where the cashier would be paying out allowances to the incomers. Then off to meet the flight. I had arranged a full hospitality package and nurses on the flight. This, combined with the nearness of Christmas, had engendered a party spirit amongst the 'good ole girls' on the aircraft. More money throwing got us the services of every porter. They whisked us straight past Immigration and we never even saw the Customs Hall as luggage went straight from plane to coach.

We set up next morning to start fixing onward travel but the visitors had the wind under their tails and a majority wanted to hit London after the limited shopping experience of SPLAJ. No problem - we laid on a small fleet of cars and off they went clutching their envelopes with what was meant to be a month's subsistence allowances. Night-time was party time. One of the songs played again and again was the Okie song. It's country so didn't bother me. My crew worked like heroes. I drifted about 'managing' and sustained them with fresh squeezed orange - livened up with prime vodka.

We got down to just a couple of families - some wanted India and other exotic onward journeys. I went to the ticket office so see the end of things. The absolute last woman in was a very tall woman of about 27. I had noticed her much earlier as being very very attractive (I noted such things back then!) The booking girl asked her where she wanted to go? "Muskogee" Knock me down etc.. I insisted on doing that one my very own self. Flight, hotel, car and meeter and greeter telexes.

All that - and more - about the Tripoli Evacuation has passed through my mind as clear and as fresh as if it were just yesterday and not over 30 years back. All from something that lasted less than three minutes. Just as an experiment, I have thought back to the last 'big shop' of 12 days back. Yes - I remember we did it and had lunch out. More? Hardly anything. It is just so damned annoying but - overall - I am glad that I could do a Sam Tyler. There are a lot of things in my past life I would wish to forget or otherwise evade but it seems this is denied me. I still cannot talk to black Labrador dogs.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Ash every Wednesday

Why is so much ash being produced?

British glaciologist Dr Matthew Roberts, who is working at the Icelandic Met Office, says a great deal of ash is being produced because the eruption is taking place beneath the Eyjafjallajoekull icecap. He says: "It's the interaction of the molten rock, the magma, and the glacial ice which is causing the magma to cool very quickly and to be pulverised into tiny fragments of rock.

"And these updrafts of fine volcanic ash are being lifted into the sky by the enormous steam plumes that have been created by the vast quantities of ice that's been melted."

Why is the eruption so explosive?

Dr Rothery says various factors may have contributed to the explosive nature of the eruption. The amount of gas - made up of water, vapour, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide - in the magma now arriving in the volcano may have become greater than it was in the original batch of magma when it first started erupting in March, and the ice/water from the glacier is being turned into steam when it meets the magma.

The expansion of gas, which is mainly water vapour if it is from magma/ice interaction, drives the ash skywards, and then convection takes over. The plume is warmer than the surrounding air, and so is less dense despite the ash it contains. How high it rises depends on the initial impetus from the expanding gas, plus its heat content. When it reaches neutral buoyancy, it ceases to rise and is then at the mercy of the wind. The newer magma has proved to be higher in silica than that from the earlier stages of the eruption, which means it is more viscous and is more liable to fracture, forming ash. Coarse ash (more than 1mm) falls out, but fine ash (less than 0.1mm) stays airborne for a long time.

Why is the ash plume still rising?

The ash has been moving at a height of about 30,000ft due to water going into the vent.

According to Dr Rothery, as Thursday's eruption progressed, the best hope was that the interaction between melt water and the continually arriving magma would lessen. Ideally, solidified magma would isolate the vent from the ice and/or water, so that the eruption would become less explosive, and the plume height would decrease until it was no longer a threat.

However, currently the ash column is higher than it was on Friday. A possible explanation is that fractures caused by magma movement and small earthquakes keep allowing water into the vent, at a sufficient depth that steam expansion has no option but to drive the ash fragments skywards.

When will it stop?

Volcanologists say it is impossible to predict when the eruptions might cease, pointing out that eruptions in Iceland can continue for months.

So, not a lot of good news there then. The disruption could continue for a long time yet. We are already hearing much dissent at the pronouncements of the "experts" who place fly/no ply rules. Oh, and can anyone tell me why the bans run from such precise times? If the ban starts at 1pm and ends at 7pm, would you be happy to be on a 12.55am flight or 7.55pm arrival? The flights continue but it is only Sod's Law that sooner or later one of those jugs will go to the well just one time too many. If there were such a disaster, the no fly periods would have to be extended. Apart from the losses allegedly sustained by the airline companies there is the commercial problem of air transport being shut down.

What to do? I have floated this idea once before but here we go again. The foregoing extracts mention the aerosol effect arising from the pressure underground forcing the ash to a height where it drifts at heights determined to be hazardous for air traffic. Solution to me is to reduce the pressure. The first thought is a massive enlargement of the hole in the Earth's surface that the lava and particles are coming from. I note that America has dispatched a team of nuclear scientists to their major oil leak. I don't really think this is a preface to using some massive device; more ensuring that all possible lines of (innovative) thinking are applied. Well, I may be the equivalent of the Little Dutch Boy (careful with the link - do not go here) but who knows? We do have some incredible powerful explosives outside the nuclear armoury. We have laser-guided aiming and can launch missiles with a very long reach. Maybe we can do little with the actual blow hole - what about breaking up or diverting the flow of the ice and water that is part of the ash-production process? The Icelandic people are well used to living in a country of fire and ice and may well have a fairly relaxed attitude to what is happening over large areas of the world. I have run a moderate-intensity Google over what Iceland might be doing. Sight-seeing trips seems to be the answer. There was some TV coverage that suggested they blame a Goddess deep in the bowels of the Earth who turns over in bed every so often. If I not know already the absolute futility of debating an individual's religious beliefs with them I might have words to say about the restless female theory. Sure as hell, something needs to be done. We are in the 21st Century for God's sake. Even if the counter to the admonition to lie back and enjoy rape were not already out there, it is not a sentiment I would ever support. Come on someone - Have A Go. Please.