Saturday, 17 July 2010
Remember back when it happened that many miners and family members of those miners who died were quoted saying things like Massey Energy, the owner, put profits ahead of everything, even their safety and lives, and the miners weren't surprised in the least that this sort of thing happened, and Massey denied all this and thundered that nothing came before safety?
What is now coming to the surface is a serious breach of safety precautions. Not just being a bit adventurous with procedures but deliberate by-passing of safety devices intended to prevent methane accumulations which can lead to explosions. As was the case in West Virginia. The explosion was not a one-off isolated incident.
According to records from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the mine had about 500 violations issued against it last year (many of which are being contested). Nearly 200 of the violations were deemed “significant and substantial,” and about 50 were tagged as "unwarrantable failure" to comply – among the most serious citations that can be issued.
The Mexican Gulf problems of BP have attracted lots of heat where there are allegations about their allegedly cavalier attitude to safety procedures and working procedures. At one point, the U.S. threatened to block its dividend payments and there was increasing speculation it could be taken over.
Conservative Mayor of London Mr Johnson and former trade and industry secretary Lord Tebbit both openly attacked Mr Obama's anti-BP rhetoric, accusing him of 'petulance' and trying to shift the blame.
Experts have accused him of having his 'boot on the throat' of British pensioners because the company is such a major contributor to UK pension schemes. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has also now told the Senate it will be asked to repay salaries to workers laid off because of the six-month ban on deepwater drilling imposed since the spill. In a further sign of public fury across the Atlantic, the windows of a BP petrol station in Memphis were shot out.
Mr Obama's attacks - in the past week he has said he wants to know whose 'ass to kick' at BP and said its chief executive Tony Hayward should be sacked - have only fuelled concern for the firm. He has also sparked anger in the UK by insisting on using BP's former name - British Petroleum - which was axed back in 1998.
The President and his administration do not seem to be maintaining their crusading attitude towards BP in the case of the matter in their own back yard. Maybe he is irked at knowledge that he cannot win in Afghanistan and is seeking to bolster his credentials by attacking an old ally. The seeming success in blocking off the leak in the Gulf will deprive him of an opportunity to further showboat in his meeting with the Boy Dave in the coming week. This relaxation in tensions should allow proper debate and planning on the real problem - the elephant in the Oval Office must be about doing a Vietnam in Afghanistan.
Friday, 16 July 2010
First field one comes to on leaving the village is about 100 acres. Slopes gently and then quite sharply. The road runs along the profile of the highest point. The scenery there is always wonderful and I take every opportunity to use that route.
This morning as I looked about, I thought we had had a sudden crop of white daisies. The whole field had white dots scattered across like confetti. I stopped and then realised that the dots were sheep - flock of about hundred I reckon.
The last couple of days have seen very heavy falls of rain. Strong enough yesterday afternoon that the crops and vegetation were so flattened I thought we were having a hail storm. This had got right into the lanolin layer of the fleeces and acted like finest Persil (or is Oxy-Vanish the bench mark?).
I've previously noted the shampooing that comes with rain but never before as effective as this. I suppose it is a factor of the clean air here; elsewhere the dirt in the atmosphere gets trapped in the wool during the rinsing process. However, we do not have dirty air. Fine way to spend 20 minutes - watching the clouds move and tracking their shadows as well as seeing the different shapes of the flock as they all did their own thing.
How annoying to think of all those wasted years when I lived elsewhere!
Thursday, 15 July 2010
The historian Michael Howard noted that “the important thing when you are going to do something brave is to have someone on hand to witness it”.
At a recent bullfight, the Mexican matador Christian Hernandez stood before thousands of witnesses but when a half-tonne bull was released into the ring, Hernandez ran away and was eventually arrested for cowardice and “breach of contract”.
In Mexico City, bullfighting - the corrida de toros - makes heavy demands of the bullfighter. In Spain it’s illegal for anyone under 16 to become a bullfighter but in Mexico children as young as ten enter the ring without any worry that a squad of health and safety inspectors will screech up in siren-blaring cars.
Hernandez initially confronted the large bull at the Plaza Mexico but then had second thoughts. The nervous matador dropped his cape, fled to the edge of the ring and dived over the wall.
If he thought the bull was frightening he hadn’t bargained for the reaction of his managers and the bullfight organisers – they were livid and after a short while with them he re-entered the ring.
He fled again, though, just as swiftly. Opting for barbed reviews in preference to impalement on horns he jumped back over the wall into the crowd. Explaining his retreat, the 22-year-old novice bullfighter said: “I did not have the balls.”
Oddly, though, while that is now true for some of his savagely injured matador confreres, the anatomical disclaimer isn’t true for Hernandez as he leaves the corrida in tact.
In most jurisdictions, neither cowardice nor breach of contract is a criminal offence but in Mexico the police, under guidance from the bullfight organisers, gouged Hernandez with both those legal horns. He has since paid a fine and further proceedings have been dropped. This isn’t the first bizarre bovine case to arise in contract law. One case began as fiction but ended up as fact. In 1967, BBC television broadcast a drama about the fictional case Board of Inland Revenue v Haddock – “the case of the negotiable cow”. Angry at the way he’d been treated by the tax authorities, Albert Haddock, a character invented by A. P.Herbert in 1924, tried to settle his tax by writing a £57 cheque on the side of a cow and leading the animal to the office of the Collector of Taxes.
A few weeks after the programme, an American paper, the Memphis Press-Scimitar, published an article headed “A Check Can Be Written on a Cow”. Without reference to the BBC or A. P. Herbert’s story, the article recited the case as a real precedent from “19th century English law”. The case was later referred to in American legal writing.
In court, Albert Haddock argued that cheques written on napkins and wine labels had been successfully drawn on banks. So, he said, his instructions to his bank stencilled in red on the side of a white cow were legal. He won his case having argued there were in his account “sufficient funds to meet the cow” and that if the tax collectors didn’t like it they could “do the other thing”.
The health white paper opens the door to the comprehensive privatisation of healthcare and the end of the NHS as a national service. If the plans are taken to their logical conclusion, by 2015 the NHS will be little more than a brand. From a major public service with a million employees, it will have become a central fund with a minimal workforce, commissioning services from a string of private companies in a fully-fledged healthcare market.
I was involved in outsourcing facilities and services for a couple of the large London Health Trusts. It was a very easy way for my employer to make considerable profit. The specifications of the work and services to be undertaken were extremely loosely drafted; it seemed as if the drafter had no idea of what was being done by the directly employed personnel. Those who tendered were able to meet the demands by doing little more than reducing the levels of service. Just what is this driving seat that doctors will occupy? If what they want to prescribe is not included in the outsource documentation it will be charged as a one-off extra. That is where already juicy profit becomes exorbitant blackmail.
What power will be handed to patients? They cannot know what they actually require and will make choices on recommendations made to them. The best presenter gets the work so all the tricks of salesmanship will come into play. What if the desired treatment or drug is not available in this country? The existing organisation NICE is castigated for some of its decisions but it does ensure that there is some sense in drug procurement and dispensing. Just what will it take to convince the patient with his new found driving opportunities to accept 'Sorry. This bus not in Service' They will soon find out that cheaper equals inferior.
Why should anyone worry who provides healthcare? Because the weight of evidence is that private markets in health bring exorbitant administrative costs, lead to cherry-picking of the more profitable patients, increase inequity and the postcode lottery gap, generate conflicts of interest, are unaccountable, and increase pressure for top-up payments and "care package" limits.
No wonder the government is already ditching patient rights over GP and hospital appointments, and David Cameron was dithering yesterday about whether to maintain the right for cancer patients to see a specialist within a fortnight. The prime minister also struggled to explain why this upheaval in the NHS would avoid the increased costs that has attended every other reform.
He may think that costs will be reduced where NHS staff who end up being employed by the new foundation trusts or private companies have their pay slashed. There used to be protection for such employees who were guaranteed the offer of employment by the contractor at rates no lower than they were paid by NHS. I have seen nothing about this transfer of undertakings legislation being abandoned.
When it comes to spin and honeyed words, the Cameron-Clegg show is already putting Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson in the shade. However extreme or cock-eyed the policy, from savage benefit cuts for the poorest to the chaotic scrapping of school building projects, a gentle gloss or a winning apology from a coalition front-man and critics go weak at the knees.
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
We went into the country looking for one man; some sort of criminal mastermind. No one seems to have foreseen that it was like finding a non-existent needle in a million haystacks. Only the land of the avenging cowboy posse could ever have thought it would succeed. No one gave heed to his associates and how we might deal with them and what the locals might think about what seemed like an invasion from a foreign power. Foreign in every way possible. Religion, life style and values, resources - everything.
When the arch-criminal was not found, the cowboy in the white hat decided that more was necessary and the fiction that we were fighting to save the world was invented. Never again a terrorist attack on American soil. Fight them in Afghanistan and not in London. How short-sighted was that? We have now spread the infection to Pakistan, Somalia and the Yemen for sure and, potentially, any country where religion can be used as a basis for gaining a following.
So, when it proved we could not inflict a military defeat on what was not human but a belief, we decided that we needed to change the country. Show them a better way. Democracy. Mom's apple pie and cream. We ignored the facts of history that so clearly showed that change would be resisted and forestalled.
The fact that the murders involved a Gurkha unit showed just how little perception we have. The story-tale writers of PR land told us that there was a special rapport between these two Nations of hillsmen. Well, Private Abdul of the 1st Sangin Irregulars certainly blew that apart with his cowardly actions yesterday. The long history of inter-tribal, even compound vs compound, disputes was not learned. There can be no trusting of the Afghan. Not his fault really any more than one could blame a lion killing you if you climb into it's cage.
We have tried to find a way out that preserves some national dignity. Why? I do not know. Our allies will sympathise with us anyway and our enemies will think what they choose to think. We have done too much harm already to think of reconciliation. The talk is of military solutions. That again is a nonsense. It matters almost nothing at all what General we put in charge. The US President is in charge and the General does as he is told - or 'resigns'.
The delaying tactic advanced is that we will go when we have trained enough locals to defend themselves and control the country. What tosh! The claim is that there are 120,000 military and a significant number of police. Problem is that the vetting is rubbish, the raw product is likely to be corrupt, drug-using and illiterate likely to run away as soon as the sores on his feet from wearing boots have healed. With him will go his rifle and ammunition.
He will inspire others of his ilk to come down out of the hills and cash in as he did. The writers of Alice in Afghanland claim that these new model Army soldiers and Policemen will be very effective but those who actually know the place talk of inter-tribal rivalries and war lord militia. I hesitate to begin to work out how an illiterate policeman operates anyway. Surely we have at least conned a few of the 120,000 to stay - why cannot training of reinforcements be assigned to them? That lets us off the hook of training a constantly shrinking mob of corrupt and illiterate junkies.
It is not as if it is going to work anyway. The same principles were applied in Iraq and the Yanks say they can go. Things are far from right there. We have a long colonial history of waiting for a seeming truce and then dashing off to the docks and home. Those we leave in 'power' are soon overthrown or reach new heights of corruption and oppression. Blair claimed we had peace in Northern Ireland - wonder if he was watching the TV reports last night?
Even if we were to believe the 'fight them there and not here' bull, it would make little change. Our government is stupid when it suits them but even they would see that we cannot risk altering our anti-terrorist stance here in UK. Making weapons of destruction is simple and there are plenty of willing martyrs on the streets of Birminghamstan.
No - it is not just a question of us having a tiger by the tail. We are holding onto this tiger in a cage full of equally dangerous tigers and there are more tails than there are willing hands.
I realise it is easy to criticise without offering an alternative. So - we come out of Afghanistan. Make much of the fact that it is a proud nation and capable of determining its own destiny. Blah Blah Blah. Recognise that we cannot really determine what goes on there and in fellow Nations/co-religionists. Make a proper appreciation of what is needed for internal defence of our own country and set that up.
If someone can really prove that ID cards, 42 day detention, rules that let us determine what sort of ragtail bobtail foreigners we allow in and any other rule - however seemingly undemocratic and human-rights limiting this may all seem - will make this a safe place then put them into force. The message should be that we will leave you alone unless you seek to do us harm but, should you change your attitude, we will come down like a ton of bricks on your bases. Your communities in UK and in your homeland. Little point in being a nuclear power and not using the full weight of what that means.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Some very chilling photographs from a independent reporter.
I am not too sure about this level of disclosure of what goes on. I have seen what high explosive does to human tissue and when I hear that x people were killed by a suicide bomber I have no need to see what it was like. I cannot see what it would add to anyone who has had a more sheltered life; wanting to view photographs as included in this guy's blog strikes me as in some way sick or disturbed. A morbid curiosity.
The other aspect is that these might be seen by someone who has a husband or son in a war zone. They can do nothing but add to the apprehension and concern. Another opinion is that, sadly, the populace, in general, have become desensitised to images of dead and dismembered, thanks in part to gory video games, films and such like. A great many people find it hard to relate the real images to reality, as opposed to the special effects that are so often used in entertainment.
A common criticism or argument used about the violence so prevalent in society is this de-sensitisation, and the fact that young people have difficulty in distinguishing between what is real and what is not. Think of the war in Vietnam which also illustrates a counter argument for showing these images. The intrusion by the nightly news into the comfortable life of Americans and the regular film of body bags, wounded and dying soldiers was credited with eroding the will of the people, and congress over the war. This was, in effect, the first war fought in the full glare of the media spotlight, thanks to the modernisation of broadcasting techniques and technical advancements, and the images in full colour and sound had the effect of destroying the myths that had previously surrounded the forces fighting abilities. No doubt at all, it is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it is to the benefit of the coalition to show their successes, but detrimental to show the dead and wounded from our own side.
If not sure you want to explore the post, try yourself on the image at the start of this post. If it offends or disturbs, don't hit the link.
“In a report on the health of Berwickshire, Mr. McCrae, sanitary inspector, forwarded his observations on the change in dietary which has in recent years been largely adopted by the working classes, wherein tea and white bread form so large a portion of the daily ration, to the exclusion of other articles of diet so much more nourishing and better suited to build up the muscle and sinew of the physically healthy race we ought to have in a country such as this. At our annual hiring fairs it is only in reduced numbers that we see the type of man for which the Merse was so famous. Bad teeth, nervous eyes, pale faces are everywhere in evidence. We have given up beer and taken to whisky; we have given up milk and taken to tea.”
So, ladies, if you want your S/O to be hunky and chunky – take note of the perils of white bread and tea. Also interesting that even so far back as 100 years ago people were lecturing others regarding their diet. Mind you, Nigella does it so much better!
I have been testing the provisions of the Data Protection act where one is able to ask an organisation for copies of your records that they may have on file. It is free. I asked the Army for my history files. They turned up this morning and it is amazing what detail they contain. The Army had a bad habit of circulating little billet-douz and did not always reveal these to the subject. I find that people I didn’t trust were not so bad after all. I had quite forgotten glandular fever in 1954. Sadly, there seems to be nothing there on which to base some compensation claim. It will add to the files I keep here and maybe one day some yet to be born great-great-grandson will write a book about me. Most of it is done actually as I wrote my own and it is there in the archives.
Great consternation on the local beach this morning. The air ambulance helicopter lands on a small hill just amongst the dunes. It is also right alongside the Nth hole of a golf club. Two ladies of a certain age were doing whatever one does at a hole as the chopper approached. The rotor downdraught blew woolly bonnet off head of one aged dame. Whether they were scared about proximity of this large and noisy item or were trying to garner up the hat I don’t know but they started dashing about in circles with kilts blowing and arms waving. The chopper had to withdraw and let them settle down. I suppose they may have thought it was a bird and were trying to throw bread to it?
Feeling a bit bullish today. I think I might try a small joke.
Young girl gets job in factory where they make children's toys and dolls. Main product is a doll called Tommy Tickle. Tommy is his name and Tickle is because when tickled he laughs and waves his arms. She starts in the area where they check the Tommy Tickle dolls before packing them in boxes for despatch. After a few hours, the foreman goes to the Personnel officer and asks for his help. The new employee is delaying the whole production line.
They go to the test area. The girl has a needle and thread and some material. She makes a small bag from the cloth and inserts two rice seeds before sewing the material to the doll. "What are you doing?" says the HR guy. "What you told me" she says
The manager thinks for a moment and then, laughing, says, "I told you to give Tommy two test tickles!"
Virginia Woolf 1919
Well that seems to sum it up quite well for me. I was reading VW but aware that I should start to get on with my bit of ‘something loose knit’ when I came across the writing above. Ah! Inspiration, or, as we say today, A Mission Statement. Nothing can be said to have been properly undertaken unless the MS has been defined, refined, tuned, parsed and then stated in letters of fire in the work cells of all involved. What rubbish – but the funny thing is I can still write about MS even after all these years of retirement. Perhaps we could all work until we are 70 after all.
The ‘what happens next’ theme of the past couple of days has been replaced by the ‘what happened then’ of the day when the 1939-1945 war in Europe ended. I have very clear and copious recollection of then that I doubt would be with me in 2065 about the last Election should I live until then. I don’t like that last sentence – something grammatically wrong somewhere. Still, in furtherance of the MS, I fling it in without looking it through. In May 1945, I was at the thick end of eleven years old; my twelfth birthday not coming until August. The actual day of the German surrender was sketched in with the radio reports; there were no TV transmissions. We had quite a few military camps around us and apparently Romford was quite hectic.
My first bit of ‘post-war’ was the VE Day street party when all the kids had a slap up meal in a big marquee at the top of Tudor Drive. I have a photo taken then. I’m at the forefront of the long table. Much Brylcreem in evidence, a smart jacket – Dunns maybe? And collar and tie – properly buttoned up. My father had long had a 56 pound tin of corned beef as a reserve in the event of invasion by Germans. This was donated to the party. We had large quantities of chocolate and fizzy drinks. A piano had been manoeuvred into the street and games and dancing ensued.
Another thing that is in my mind concerned the black-out. It had long been mandatory, punished by fine and often imprisonment, to have any exterior lighting or interior lights shining through thick curtains or board screens. On the night of the party this was all ignored. Every house had every light on, no drawn curtains, front and back doors open. After all the years of total darkness, this was something that has proved very memorable.
That is enough of 60 years ago. Not my recollection – that is very full but enough for this time and place.
Driving back today we passed a field where they were sowing potatoes. Well, no, not actually past. I was so amazed at all the machinery in the field that I parked up and had a quick peep over the hedge. When I was a farm worker – part time only thank goodness – back in the late 40s and early 50s, potato sowing was a simple thing. Two horses, a cart and a seed box really. What I saw today was machinery that dug the trench, dropped the spuds and banked up the furrow afterwards. There were low loaders with more seed ‘taters and some specialised machinery that was not in use whilst I watched. All this of course is basically down to the introduction of very large fields – almost prairie – which allows efficient mechanisation. My days of doing it we had five or ten acre fields and it took a while to deal with them. Losing the horses was a blow. They could be controlled by word of mouth almost as much as through the tack. I never did any tractor driving on the farm but I could handle horses well. Some of the old horse men did not bother with the change to tractors but went into other work on the land. The work I saw in progress today was obviously carried out by contractors as only a massive farm could afford the specialised equipment that would only be lightly used. That again must cause scheduling problems as no farmer likes putting heavy machinery on really wet land.
I cannot believe that a lingering death such as this fox experienced is better than a quick chomp across the rib cage from a well motivated hound. Those who can attribute human senses and feelings to a wild animal and say that a hound kill inflicts terror and pain might care to explain why this vermin had to suffer from the shock of a bullet and the lingering pain whilst life ebbed slowly away.
The Four Noble Truths.
During today, I had cause to reflect on the 4 Noble Truths which lie at the heart of Buddhist belief. Never mind why I went back to them. However, they gave me some benefit. I reproduce them below - with some explnation - on the off-chance that they strike a chord or response in anyone who reads this. You may need to go through the explanations more than once. Parrot fashion understanding is not required. The ideal would to remember the 4 Noble Truths themselves and then reflect on what they say to you.
The Four Noble Truths
To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.
The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardor, pursue of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a "self" which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call "self" is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.
The cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it.
There is a path to the end of suffering - a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely "wandering on the wheel of becoming", because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.
Sunday, 11 July 2010
This line of thought took me to comparing things in the way London was ruled with processes on the wider stage. Our National government gets distracted by things - like some sort of Magpie confronted by shiny gewgaw. Short term advantage - go! Score points over opposition - we're off. A lack of anything that seemed planning. In this, they are supported by the fact that the document we had to rely upon was a Manifesto that was imprecise in the
extreme and only touched on matters that they were comfortable to debate and where the Party Line for answers was firmly in place.
No private company would or could function in this manner. The policies and ethos would be enshrined in manuals and Lord help anyone who failed to take them into consideration. The CEO and his cohorts would have a list of aims and things to be accomplished. Maybe something as simple as 'produce 1 million widgets and make a profit of 7% from selling those' As complex as 'establish a presence in China'. They are supervised internally in respect of costs and marketing and manufacture and externally by the regulating authorities and shareholders. Do the job or 'consider your future' memoranda arrive.
I arrived in commerce quite aged at 42 and was appointed to a fairly senior post within the premises and services administration area. This was luck really, my c.v. arrived in HR at the same time as a report from an external management advisory group recommended the post be filled by a senior Army retiree. I made the point at interview that my lack of private industry was not significant. In those days, the general would say 'I want to be at the top of that hill by tonight' and stroll away. Those below him would decide who and how many would be needed. The colonels of the battalions would depute companies A,B and Support to undertake the task and the company commanders delegated responsibilities such that the prime mover - the poor bloody infantryman - was told to get out of bed at 0'dark hours and line up ready to go. From general downwards, all knew that what had to be done was feasible and, short of a disaster of Somme proportions, would be done in the spirit of can do/do or die. I ran my department on military lines (less a bit of the f'ing and barring) and my annual assessments were fine so it must have worked - for the bosses and my staff.
So, why cannot we have a government set up the same way? They may say that quangos fill some positions but they are politically composed. All actions are subservient to political imperatives and the best solution is not always the one adopted. The public is excluded from any decision once they have passed through the sheepublic process of the election. We in positions closely akin to shareholders have no real recourse when we see things going astray. Just think, when were you personally ever asked - for example - how much financial aid we should give to a country that seems to have great resources already?When was anyone you know asked the same question? Have you ever been asked for an opinion on overseas aid of any form?
So, it seems that our present style of running a country is far from ideal? How likely is it that we would ever be asked for an opinion on this? Surely, the extremely unlikely supposition of either is it's own answer.