Saturday, 21 August 2010

America is a warrior nation

None of the following is my work. It is here because it is behind a barricade. I object and have chosen to draw attention to something of merit this way. If this analysis is correct, we should be alarmed.

US troops are out of Iraq but there will be more wars to come. A hyper-resourced military machine depends on it

In all of Britishness there is nothing quite like the electricity that passes between Americans of a certain patriotic stripe as they stand together with their hands over their hearts and their soldiers on parade for the playing of their national anthem. For outsiders it can be an uncomfortable charge, but it surely sharpens the senses.

I felt it on Tuesday evening on a hill in Arlington overlooking the Potomac. Several hundred young Marines stood motionless in three lines between their officers and the Iwo Jima memorial for one of the last Sunset Parades of the summer. The band played. We stood to attention and then we relaxed, but not much, for the main event.

At these parades a hand-picked platoon of 24 Marines performs with great pride and spellbinding precision the "silent drill". The official website says that this consists of "bayoneted rifles flying from Marine to Marine, the line-up of crisp dress blue uniforms, the rhythmic slap of rifles caught by leather-gloved hands". The website does not lie.

Don't take your children to a Sunset Parade if you don't want them to emigrate and enlist. When it was over and a salute to the fallen had been fired, the Marines were allowed to mingle. One strode towards my two oldest sons — not quite fighting age at 8 and 9, but close — with a still-warm bullet casing for each of them. They grinned as if embraced by Professor Dumbledore himself.

Many of those around us had wept quietly as they watched, and buses were on hand to take them to Arlington National Cemetery less than a mile away. As the buses rolled, so did the eight-wheeled armoured leviathans of 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, grinding towards the Iraq-Kuwaiti border seven time zones to the east, and towards the pre-dawn photo op chosen by the Pentagon and most American networks to symbolise the end of US combat operations in Iraq.

It has been seven years since the invasion; nine since 9/11. In that time more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died for a facsimile of democracy that may or may not blossom into the real thing. In the US the effects of a decade of war are more easily measured. The defence budget has doubled. The average earnings of military personnel have more than doubled to $122,263 per person, including benefits and hazardous duty pay. And a funny thing has happened to the map of military America. It is no longer an archipelago of blue-collar strivers in uniform but of relative affluence in an ocean of economic uncertainty.

A study by USA Today this week found that 16 of the 20 fastest-rising metropolitan areas in the country's income rankings have local economies based around military bases. Jacksonville, North Carolina, near the giant Camp Lejeune Marine base, was last year the richest place in the state. In 2000 it was second from bottom. In Texas, the unlovely town of Killeen is more prosperous than achingly hip Austin because it serves the world's largest army base at Fort Hood.

Robert Gates, President Obama's teddy-bearish and widely praised Defence Secretary, has made his name by cutting waste but not spending. The rapier-like but useless F22 fighter has been axed, but the even more expensive F35 is thundering skyward in pursuit of enemies real and imagined, from San Diego to Djibouti. A redundant bureaucracy in suburban Virginia called the Joint Forces Command is to be wound down to save $10 billion a year, but the Army and Marine Corps are being steadily retooled at mind-bending cost for the far-flung, often covert and always asymmetric military contests of the early 21st century.

In the age of suicide bombers and sandal-wearing Taleban, a team of Harvard MBAs could not have come up with a more devastatingly effective rationale for trillion-dollar Pentagon budgets than that one word, asymmetric. It justifies the fleets of drones piloted to their Pakistani targets from air-conditioned bunkers in Nevada, neutralises arguments for soft power over hard and muzzles any serious discussion about the insanity of spending more on "defence" than the rest of the world combined, two decades after the end of the Cold War.

The troops returning from Iraq this week deserve a long rest with their families, but the US military machine, compared with any other in history, is hyper-resourced and raring to go.

For now, its energies will be focused on Afghanistan. But President Obama's July 2011 deadline for starting to pull out is non-negotiable, he says, and although many units will remain behind, the bulk of the US Army and almost all the Navy and Air Force may look in vain for front lines on which to demonstrate their usefulness. The sensible answer to the question of what they will do in the absence of new and urgent threats to US national security is that they will clip the grass on their bases and conduct joint exercises with their allies to help to preserve a glorious new Pax Americana.

The crazy, conspiratorial answer is that new and urgent threats will have to be found because America as at present constructed cannot endure a long peace. It has too many soldiers, too many foreign policy fantasies that depend on them, too many interests that exist by serving them and altogether too much kit. The film-maker Michael Moore is crazy like this. So was the wisest president of the postwar era, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Since Ike warned Americans in a farewell speech 50 years ago of the reality-distorting power of the US military-industrial complex, that complex has thrived beyond its wildest dreams. Yet if Mr Obama so much as used the phrase now, it would sink him. Instead he will continue to pay extravagant tribute to the courage and sacrifice of the soldiers he commands, and to aver, as to the optimistic Norwegians who awarded him the Nobel Prize for Peace last year, that "war is sometimes necessary" because "evil does exist in the world".

America's next war is being fought in Yemen, albeit undeclared and by "advisers" in shades. After that it could be Somalia, or Georgia or almost any of the former Soviet "stans", and when it comes, a surprisingly bipartisan array of think-tank jockeys will explain it as a muscular defence of freedoms the price and value of which Europeans simply don't understand.

Another thing Europeans may not understand if their experience of America extends only to Orlando and Manhattan is that this is, deep in its bones, a warrior nation. Fighting to the death is one of its default modes.

As Major General Smedley Butler of the US Marines wrote six years before Pearl Harbor: "Our exploits against the American Indian, the Filipinos, the Mexicans and against Spain are on a par with the campaigns of Genghis Khan." Seventy-five years on, the Army's mission statement — "to fight and win the nation's wars" — presupposes their existence while saying nothing at all about defence. Those wars are listed in gold round the giant base of the Iwo Jima Memorial, which stands in the shadow of a cluster of arms manufacturers' office towers.

Clutching his bullet casing, my middle son took me round the memorial. "Hey dad," said this thoughtful soul, filled until then with dreams of being an inventor. "I want to be a soldier when I grow up."

Giles Whittell is Washington correspondent

Some soldiers' culture

When the Black Dog has me by the throat and I think of unwise things, I turn to Mr Kipling. No - not he who makes wonderful cakes but he who writes wonderful verse. I've been running through his works and the thought came that I might have a little Poetry Corner. Bring some culture to this page. Not a lot to start with but if I like doing it, then I'll expand it and make an irregular offering. Not just Kipling of course - there are others to suit my mood. Donne wrote some fine elegies after all. Just a few Rudyards for the present - some in the context of where we are now and a few that touch on a dog's love of mankind.

"Above the portico a flag-staff, bearing the Union Jack,
remained fluttering in the flames for some time, but ultimately
when it fell the crowds rent the air with shouts,
and seemed to see significance in the incident.--DAILY PAPERS.

Winds of the World, give answer! They are whimpering to and fro--
And what should they know of England who only England know?--
The poor little street-bred people that vapour and fume and brag,
They are lifting their heads in the stillness to yelp at the English Flag!"

The man that is open of heart to his neighbour,
And stops to consider his likes and dislikes,
His blood shall be wholesome whatever his labour,
His luck shall be with him whatever he strikes.
The Splendour of Morning shall duly possess him,
That he may not be sad at the falling of eve.
And, when he has done with mere living--God bless him!--
A many shall sigh, and one Woman shall grieve!

But he that is costive of soul toward his fellow,
Through the ways, and the works, and the woes of this life,
Him food shall not fatten, him drink shall not mellow;
And his innards shall brew him perpetual strife.
His eye shall be blind to God's Glory above him;
His ear shall be deaf to Earth's Laughter around;
His Friends and his Club and his Dog shall not love him;
And his Widow shall skip when he goes underground!"

East is East
"They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault,
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt:
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,
On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber knife, and the Wondrous Names of God.
The Colonel's son he rides the mare and Kamal's boy the dun,
And two have come back to Fort Bukloh where there went forth but one.
And when they drew to the Quarter-Guard, full twenty swords flew clear --
There was not a man but carried his feud with the blood of the mountaineer."

Copybook headings
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Heading said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Heading said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not God that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four-
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man-
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began:-
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,

And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins

When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!" This one surely foretold our recent history eh?

This one hurts me but I am like that dog to it's vomit. "When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!);
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone--wherever it goes--for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart for the dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long--
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?"

On that note, I'm off to see what Mr Jim Beam can offer as solace. Here is something not connected with culture.

Just how few were The Few

Almost unnoticed, an important anniversary has slipped past. Lost in reports of tarts receiving diamonds she did not even recognise, human rights of transvestite coal-miners and in the uselessness of a cobbled together coalition. OK - I invented the bit about the transvestites; we no longer have coal miners do we?

Had the Battle of Britain been lost and were UK overcome in the follow-up invasion, Europe would not have been liberated from Nazism. The camps designed and operated to annihilate those deemed lesser beings or Untermensch would have multiplied such that Oxford or Windermere would have taken on the significance of Dachau or Belsen. Russia would have been defeated and Japan would have risen triumphant in Asia and India. Commonwealth and Empire would have been melted down like scrap. As Churchill said, "A new Dark Age would have fallen on the Earth"

So, just what were our material resources? If you wish a highly detailed account, there is a very good resource available. I think I have abstracted and added up properly. There were 2,340 Brits, 32 Australians, 112 Canadians, 1 Jamaican, 132 Kiwis, 3 Rhodesians and 23 South Africans. Ranged alongside those were 9 Americans, 28 Belgians, 89 Czechoslovakians, 13 French, 145 Polish and even 10 from the Republic of Ireland. Their resolve and gallantry would be tested from when Herr Schickelgruber signed War Directive 17 for the destruction of RAF Fighter Command that was an essential in disrupting the Royal Navy from action against a German Armada.

At the start of the war, Germany had 4,000 aircraft compared to Britain's front-line strength of 1,660. By the time of the fall of France, the Luftwaffe had 3,000 planes based in north-west Europe alone including 1,400 bombers, 300 dive bombers, 800 single engine fighter planes and 240 twin engine fighter bombers. At the start of the battle, the Luftwaffe had 2,500 planes that were serviceable and in any normal day, they could put up over 1,600 planes. The RAF had 1,200 planes on the eve of the battle which included 800 Spitfires and Hurricanes - but only 660 of these were serviceable.

We did have a very limited radar detection system but this was a double edged sword in many respects. RAF crews spent more time in the air; something like seven sorties or more each day. The enemy knew when they would be operational but RAF had to be held on stand-by between dawn around 3:30 am until dusk at 8:30pm. The German Air Force had real live experience dating from the Spanish Civil War and the Blitzkrieg in Europe. Some of our pilots were committed to action after just five weeks training to fly.

By mid-August the enemy had lost 360 aircraft and most of the crews were dead or prisoners of war. We sustained loses of 181 fighters in combat and a further 30 destroyed on the ground. These 211 losses had cost us 154 pilots; newbies added 63 replacements.Significantly, our casualties included 80% of squadron commanders lost to death, injury or battle exhaustion. This meant that inexperienced officers were in charge of even less experienced aircrew.

My birthday falls on 15th August and I have enjoyed many fine celebrations over some 77 years. However, the most impressive and memorable was 15th August 1940. We had started out in the car to visit my grandmother who lived at the edge of the London docklands. A important fighter base was at Hornchurch close to where we lived. During that day, more than 1,800 aircraft assaulted Britain in five massive attacks. The sky was quite literately darkened with bombers, fighters and the explosions of anti-aircraft artillery shells. There were planes - of both sides - crashing in flames. I particularly recall the sight of parachutes seen so very clearly, The whole thing was like a child's drawing.

What happened was very impressive at the time. In retrospect, it was greater than that. We are making such a hash of a tin pot war/security operation that one wonders just what has happened to us in the years between. We need those men today.

Sauce for the goose - look out gander

In my railings against what seems to be a US crusade against BP, I had reserved one event. To be used like that last round of ammunition when one was surrounded by Native Americans or when wounded on the plains of Afghanistan. Instead of my name on this bullet, was the word Bhopal. A major industrial incident that killed over 2,000 immediately and a considerable many more when the deaths of those consequent on the accident are considered. The tragedy occurred within a plant operated by a subsidiary of Union Carbide - a American company. There were allegations that the escape of gas was inevitable due to the negligent way the plant was operated. In June 2010, seven ex-employees, including the former UCIL chairman, were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment allowed by law.

A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial and approximately 3900 severely and permanently disabling injuries. An event of this scale will have considerable debate and I suggest it has now been encapsulated by governmental action. The official UC line is a masterpiece of 'say nothing until you get a good lawyer' The law in India grind slower than the mills of God and UC negotiated a deal that got them out of the frame before things got around to minor details such as responsibility and who got what in the way of compensation.

However, it seems that some people just cannot let things rest. POTUS is scheduled to visit India and one of our more responsible papers got quite chippy about UC in Bhopal in relation to BP in the Mexican Gulf.
While Barack Obama is lambasting BP for spreading muck in the Gulf of Mexico, he should perhaps pencil in a date with the people of Bhopal when he visits India later this year. While 11 men lost their lives on BP's watch and the shrimps got coated with black stuff, the chemicals that killed thousands of people in Bhopal in 1984 are still leaching into the ground water a quarter of a century after a poisonous, milky-white cloud settled over the city.

The compensation – some $470m – paid out by Union Carbide, the US owner of the plant and now part of Dow Chemical, was just the cash it received from its insurers to compensate the victims, a process that took 17 years. But it's one rule for them and another for anybody else. (My emphasis here just to initiate thought of how much we might pay for 11 lives and a few molluscs)

Obama wants "British Petroleum" to pay back every nickel and dime the Deepwater Horizon disaster costs. To make sure BP gets the message, the president says he back Congress plans to retrospectively raise the liability limit for claims from $75m to $10bn. That's real money.

While foreign companies in the US are shown the big stick, Washington offers a big shield for its multinationals abroad. In the case of Bhopal, it was the US that blocked India's requests to extradite Warren Anderson, the former chairman of Union Carbide who accepted "moral responsibility" for the accident until a short spell in an Indian jail changed his mind.
Now, it seems that that article has got to the desk of the American Deputy National Security Adviser Michael Froman and he has caused an e-mail to be dispatched. "In his e-mail in July to Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Indian Planning Commission, Mr. Froman wrote: "We are hearing a lot of noise about the Dow Chemical issue. I am not familiar with all the details, but I think we want to avoid developments which put a chilling effect on our investment relationship." Just in case Singh failed to get his drift, the correspondence came at a time when Mr. Ahluwalia was enlisting U.S. support for India to borrow funds from the World Bank. A U.S. official said the Obama administration is not trying to pressure India and is not linking future investment in Asia's third-largest economy to the nation's claim for damages for the Bhopal accident.

"The assertion that there was linkage between two separate and distinct issues is wrong, is incorrect," said Benjamin Chang, a spokesman for the National Security Council, as reported by the Press Trust of India news agency from Washington. Nice try Ben but, to me, you have re-opened a can of worms that UC's long and wide-ranging case tried to close. They write it up as Game Over whereas the position at NSC suggests it is still an issue. Separate and distinct maybe but still an issue.

We have Senators who have transmogrified the Gulf incident where they may well have status into the matter of the release of a sick Libyan where they have no better position other than public interest. We are not in the position where we can have even the most inconsequential effect upon what Obama does but our Prime Minister might well take on the attitude of Froman. Instead of cravenly denouncing BP and selling the pass in advance of any single legal consideration together with his saying that the release was wrong, he could get up off his knees and send an e-mail. In days of yore, we would have sent a gun boat to the party givers in Boston. Now we do things electronically - maybe Twitter could give added impact?

Friday, 20 August 2010

DIY - Part Two

The question of opportunities for university grade education was brewing as I did the main DIY blog but the full horrors facing the wishful graduates were not known.

Around 150,000 students have made the grade but will be denied a university place. What does the government expect them to do?

We were warned last week that youth unemployment was on the increase, and would soon pass the one million mark. Things look bleak indeed for a generation that is at a real risk of being lost.

In light of this, this year's A-Levels result day takes on a particular, gloomy, significance. It is already clear that at least 150,000 students with both the grades and the desire to study at university this coming year will be left without a place. Given that there were this year approximately 600,000 university applicants in total this year, this means that at least a quarter of applicants will be shut out. The government's response to the present crisis has thus far been fit only for the birds, with disappointed and frustrated applicants being left to peck at crumbs.

We live in a world where our youth seem permanently disaffected and many have poor self-images. All their scholastic life so far has been focussed on the final hurdle - to get to university, heads down for three years and then leave with a qualification that has value. The last year of studies has been mired in accusations that standards have been dumbed down. Critics have said that this was a Blair initiative to reduce the number of unemployed youth; whatever, it has been destroyed by the coalition's drive to cut back on education as part of the draconian cost reviews. Of course, applying to university is a competitive process. What we have here, however, are applicants who have worked hard in order to achieve grades that would in other circumstances get them a university place now finding out that the goalposts have been drastically moved, and for reasons entirely out of their control.

This limit on places, crucially, is not one of necessity; the restrictions on university places are being achieved through an entirely arbitrary cap on student numbers, which is itself being enforced through the government's threat to fine any university which ends up oversubscribed.

Many universities have complained that they may even be left with spare capacity once term starts, with the government fines preventing them from over-recruiting slightly at this stage in order to account for the inevitable drop-outs that occur between now and the start of term.

"I would not dare predict what will happen if my generation finds itself to have been lied to, betrayed and abandoned to sink or swim. But the experience of the 1980s makes it starkly clear what happens when governments fail to invest in its future. As youth unemployment hit 1 million during the recession of the early 1980s, it provoked a national crisis and riots, creating permanent scars on the fabric of our economy and society."

The latest communique from the State Home for the Mentally Confused at Westminster typifies exactly how out of touch the Ministers really are. "Willetts told the MPs that disappointed teenagers should do work experience or an apprenticeship and apply to university at a later stage. You don't have just one opportunity at the age of 18 to go to university, people can carry on applying," he said. "We don't want to get into a situation where the entire focus is on the academic route. People can do work experience and take up apprenticeships and maybe apply to university in the future." Just what is the point of playing about in a makee-learnee semi-job when all of one's efforts have been to leap that last hurdle.

And just where does the two-brain senior idiot think all these work opportunity schemes (for limited periods only) and apprenticeships will come from? Apprenticeships are primarily craft based - where would one find an apprenticeship on PPE for example. And just what sort of employer would offer an apprenticeship to someone who wants to cut and run half way through? For every prospective uni graduate that gets one of these alternative, fill time, employment activities a lesser qualified youngster is denied their placement and opportunities. Sadly, given the state of the economy, together with the government's actions - in cutting the future jobs fund, breaking up of the Connexions service, and savagely cutting further education, for example - many young people will start their working lives by signing on. The suggestion of volunteer work is a farce - what money will they bring in?

Willetts and Cable said they had provided 10,000 more university places than last year, 150,000 extra apprenticeships and they were working on providing financial incentives for employers to take on young staff.

"I fully recognise that these are tough times for younger people going into education, training, or the jobs market," Willetts said. "But, given the state of the public finances that we have inherited, providing more apprenticeship places and university places and incentives for employers to take on more staff means opportunities are continuing to increase." Statements that are only just short of outright lies. The government has not created a single apprenticeship - with a fair wind they may have encouraged an employer to take on an apprenticeship. I was an apprentice myself and know that it can be two or three years before an apprentice can be expected to produce the sort of work a 'man' does in the time that 'man' takes. The current economics do not encourage the recruitment of dead weight. The claim regarding extra university places is shown to be hot air in real results. We are forecasting widescale shedding of labour so the claim "incentives for employers to take on more staff means opportunities are continuing to increase" is total testicles.

Clegg would do well to use his time at the helm to turn the sinking ship of youth opportunity around before it's too late for us. If he fails to do so and bails out on youth, it would only be natural for them to do it themselves before they are sold down the river.

Thursday, 19 August 2010


Panem et circenses

Cameron and his Brokeback deputy are heading for a Big Society Nation with the least state interference. Revising the balance of power between government and governed together with empowering volunteers. They claim that this will put decision making back in the hands of the populace. However, given the parlous state of the Nation's finances this fine aim may have to be foregone or much held in abeyance.

Having bright ideas is easy - I come up with twenty every morning whilst isolated in a small room. Every single issue I bring forth requires financing. Either direct grants or just seed corn money. If there is to be any real devolution of how this country is run, it will have to come from us - the proles. Government will be largely reduced to thumb up or thumb down gestures in the latter day equivalent of bread and circuses. The sensation of being a valid facilitator of change will wear off if there is too much Westminster display of thumb infra.

The solution of relying on philanthropy seems unlikely. Sure, we can flatter the Philip Green's of this world by inviting them to comment but they will feel that they already contribute enough as indicated by the measures they take to avoid the really heavy taxes their enterprises sustain. There are quite serious redundancies forthcoming in the public sector and payroll costs are the quick route to reducing costs in the private industries. Like it or lump it, costs associated with just everyday basic living are set to rise; the disposable income will rise for almost all. There will be less 'spare' for practical philanthropy. Less love for mankind all around I see. Our erstwhile Socialist masters with the realities of opposition facing them, describe Cameron's Big Society as nothing but a cover for draconian budget cuts.

They claim that his government's push to enlist more volunteer firefighters and policemen comes as the cuts could slash the ranks of paid officers and first responders. At the same time as calling for more citizen volunteers, the new government is also slashing grants to the charities that organize and provide them. Even such a seemingly simple step as abolishing the free milk in junior schools generated sufficient adverse reaction as to supply big black headlines for a number of days. Other proposals will generate far more reaction - schools where Latin is on the curriculum and to omit the cultural sensitivity classes common in British schools is but one issue that will lead to dissent amongst the coalition. Too far, too soon. The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, and that is a risk I see. The coalition does not sit well with all latter-day followers of Jeremy Thorpe and they might well swallow affiliation with a nouveau-Labour as the price for getting their own way. Better get that nasty decision as to voting reform out of the way first though eh?

Just where we, the poor public, would figure in all this is uncertain. If we look at the end result of the last time we were allowed to express an opinion that mattered, the thumb verdict hardly mattered in the wheeling and dealing that followed. If 'the others' were again put into a position of power, the mere processes of rescinding what Cameron and his deputy have let loose would be horrific. Getting the genie back into the bottle would be very painful.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


I can understand what seems to be a large body of opinion that is perturbed at the idea of a mosque being built in close proximity to Ground Zero - the space where the World Trade Centres stood until 9/11.

What I cannot understand is just why did the Muslim community select that very spot? They cannot be unaware of the place that the ground holds in the fibre of all Americans. We have seen confrontation on our streets but that is clearly identifiable as the work of lunatics and passes in a few hours. The mosque will be an eternal thorn in the side to many and the developers and their clients cannot be unaware of this. In addition to those whose lives were lost or ruined on that day, there are the service personnel killed or maimed in the Iraq campaign.

The issue has been clouded by those who see it as yet another opportunity to castigate the President. Others assert that the display of good will generated by allowing the mosque will pay off throughout the Arab world. It is intemperate of me to ask what would happen if Israel sought to build a temple just around the corner from the kaaba in Mecca.

There is just the one thought in my mind when I have sifted through the pro and con of the proposed building. I can have no respect for those who lack the sensitivity to see that they are offending so many. No - there are no laws against it. Not US law that is. We are told that Islam respects all religions: "the attitude of Islam towards other religions is that it preaches equal love for all, equal respect for all, and equal faith in all." I spent many years in Muslim countries and do not recognise the attitude of the mosque-wanters as having any connection with the Arabs I knew and respected.

Government rejects DIY

I am a bit ambivalent about the appointment of a retail tycoon to get involved in a review of government spending. "Topshop billionaire Sir Philip Green has agreed to advise the Government on how to make efficiency savings." Obviously, his attitude to maximising any money he spends will be of use but could go the way the super-markets have screwed the milk producers and other suppliers.

Green reckons that "one of the things he intends to suggest is a centralised buying system for Whitehall in order to improve the way the biggest purchases are carried out." That is a tall order - from recent internal reports the MOD alone has only chaotic methods of buying. The Defence Fox has been let loose in the chicken run and promises to wield big pruning shears. Difficult to see how Green might make proposals when the structure of the organisation is up in the air. We abandoned 'buying enough to have stock on the shelves' methods to 'Just in Time' procurement and look where that got us with the helicopters and I am sure that Topshop has never had an Urgent Operational Requirement to source Kate Moss' knickers or her medications.

Green is not the only consultant that has been invited into telling us how to run things. "Now comes the Marks & Spencer ministry. The high-street giant, along with Tesco, B&Q owners Kingfisher and HSBC, has been asked to advise national government on saving money" There is another ominous commonality - Green is known for his asset-stripping and forcing down payroll costs and the major super-markets keep a tight watch on their headcount.

And where will it all end? If our MPs and associated civil servants have no DIY ability where will they get the brain-power to run the Government through the massive changes they are being forced to consider? Paul McKenna is a illusionist who seems able to have us all clamouring that black is white after our looking into his eyes.

Just imagine him on prime time TV telling us it would be good for us to give up our pensions, switch to wind-up cars and slaughter our first born. Apparently his method on appetite reduction is to tell fatties to believe that the chocolate cup-cake in front of them is really a turd coated in maggots. Just think what he could achieve as a government consultant telling us that the maggoty turd was in fact a cup cake!

Supposedly coming home soon is one Asil Nadir who has been skulking in Turkish Cyprus on the run from the UK police. "Nadir came to prominence in the 1980s as a tycoon and the CEO of British conglomerate Polly Peck. An organisation with over 24,000 shareholders and interests ranging from produce to electronics, his alleged criminal mismanagement led to its collapse in 1990. Nadir secretly transferred nearly £200m from Polly Peck to companies in northern Cyprus in the two years before the group went out of business in 1990. The transfers were so large that the cumulative cash outflow became so great that the group was unable to meet its obligations and thus collapsed. The receivers paid out 2.9P in the £ when the rubble was sifted.

Nadir also emerged as the owner of £25m-worth of properties in northern Cyprus purchased by Polly Peck. The ownership of another £22m of properties was unclear because no owner was recorded."

Surely, we can find him a nice consultancy somewhere. Revising the MPs allowances system anyone?

There is a whole world of talent out there just aching to come and do what our elected representatives can neither understand, plan or implement. Remember the way in which they seek to evade problems. Duff non-forensic pathologists in Kelly, The poorly qualified pathologist who did the initial PM on the G20 murder. Put the blame on someone else - certainly do not involve those who are supposed to supervise who does what. So, when any of these advisers put their reputation to their recommendations, they will be easy meat to take the blame.

By the way - anyone come up with anything good from that serial expert adviser Richard Branson? What did we get from the Apprentice selector?

Were I asked to give advice, I know what it would be. Everyone make sure they have a good strong paddle. You will need it because we are all going up that creek where so many find themselves without such an implement.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Wanted - dead or alive

For me, the best headline for a long time is one that appears in today's Observer.
"Al-Megrahi's doctor: 'I just provided an opinion. Someone else let him go free'
Specialist Karol Sikora says he would have been 'more vague' over the Libyan's health if he had known his opinion would have been treated as fact"
Sikora was one of two of physicians paid by the Libyans. He, together with Professor Ibrahim Sharif, a Libyan oncologist – agreed al-Megrahi's death was "likely" within three months. The third expert Professor Jonathan Waxman, conceded that al-Megrahi did not have long to live. The sheer mendacity of the man of the man needs that I quite in full his claims made to the Observer. "Talking ahead of (last) Friday's first anniversary of the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, Professor Karol Sikora strongly attacked the way his prognosis was portrayed. The (claimed) leading cancer specialist said he would have made his evidence "more vague" if he could have foreseen that it was going to be interpreted as a fact that the convicted terrorist was going to die within three months of being released from Scotland's Greenock prison"

He was paid by the Libyan government - what did he think would happen to even the slightest crumb he could offer to get their man home? What does he think is the purpose of examination by two experts other than to eliminate all 'vagueness' as to the state of the disease? It seems his amour propre was further offended:
"What I find difficult is the idea I took the key and let him out. I provided an opinion, others provided an opinion, and someone else let him out. That decision of compassionate release is nothing to do with me. No one asked me, 'Should we let him out?' All they said was when do you think he will die?"
He was bought and paid for for his medical opinion - what right has he assumed to go wandering off into the desert of jurisdictional medicine surrounding release - compassionate or otherwise. Of course, it would be libellous of me to comment that if one has a big enough bag of gold and looks hard enough then there will always be an 'expert' who will 'conclude' anything one wants. The opinions of QC etc are just that - opinions - and they will hedge their correspondence around that word. For those who delight in seeing worms wriggle on hooks, the further words of the Good Professor and Dean of Buckingham University Business School (strange resting ground for an oncology specialist one might think) will become a classic.

This whole topic of Megrahi has taken on a life of it's own. How can the Scottish Justice Minister have known that his deliberations would be so questioned just because a big bubble went up a tin pipe as far away as the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I doubt we would have heard much more of the poor old Arab gentleman had it not been for claims by US senators that the release was orchestrated by BP, who wanted to win drilling concessions in Libya, which have provoked a bitter international row.

This in itself has resulted in whole swathes of rain forest being clear felled to provide wood pulp for a voracious Press. And that is just in the civilised world - I hesitate to think how high the piles of papers are at the sides of every Walmart check-out. The emollient Cameron gave much attention to the problem; everything short of a puppy-like laying on his back and emitting a small stream of urine as a submission signal.

He demonstrated that innate English sense of fairness with his declaration that the man should have died in jail. No confusion there then at the concept of compassionate release. Seems a shame that no one was able at the meeting to reveal that even such a non-redneck state as the New York State legislature had, in 1992, introduced the Medical Parole Law. Big Arnie was thunking about it as had other parts of the world. "In 2009, Corrections systems with compassionate release procedures include the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons (often known as the BOP),Scotland, England and Wales, China, France, New Zealand and 36 of the 50 U.S. state prison systems." I will wait a while whilst the idea of medical parole in the '.38 in the back of the head' Chinese legal system is savoured. All that Dave's learned legal opinion does for me is add to the conviction (no pun intended) that we made a sad choice a few months back.(I blame the Queen - she took notice of that twerp Brown as to whom she should invite.) Not only did Cameron throw aside a lawful due process but equated himself with that other Judge who washed his hands of a serious matter when he enthused "I will say to them (the senators) that I agree that the decision to release al-Megrahi was wrong. I said it was wrong at the time," he told National Public Radio in Washington.

"It was the Scottish Government that took that decision. They took it after proper process and what they saw as the right, compassionate reasons. I just happen to think it was profoundly misguided. He was convicted of the biggest mass murder and in my view he should have died in jail. I said that very, very clearly at the time; that is my view today" Perhaps he was hoping for a return invitation on a free trip as lead prosecution witness should the Senators get their eagle-clawed hands on their sacrificial lamb. Not for him any thought of the appeal that was abandoned when it so clearly became a complication. An appeal that seems set to gather unto itself a whole horde of dissenting opinion and conspiracies.

My personal consolation is that none of this is really serious in the everyday battle for our life on earth. We hear mention as to how this will impinge of something called 'the special relationship' between us and America. Surely, that has long gone the way of all undying relationships just as if it had been carried out in a little white wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Today's Telegraph has a fascinating account of the ebb and flow of the claimed relationship. I cannot know who wrote the Wiki article but whoever it was, needs to revise it. POTUS himself seems to have had problems with the concept when emoting to the Gulf harvesters.

There is nothing especial in my concept of the idea. We each pursue our own interests; how cannot it be otherwise when the disparity between our current world status is recognised? On a personal level, my 'US special' status was much damaged when Car Crash Kennedy waved the tricolour as he routed the donations from America into the most efficient of the murderous society's in Ireland. Thankfully, my subsequent sojourns in the States showed me that there were very many fine people out there although I was not able to see just could be described as 'special'.

More stormy waters may lie ahead "David Cameron's pledge to reform a controversial extradition treaty with America is set to be blocked by Barack Obama's administration" There will be further grounds for animosity when the question of compensation and punitive damages from BP hits the fast revolving fan. Dave has already sold out in the court of public opinion and chose not to wait to establish in a proper court of justice just exactly what defences and evasions have been factored into their contracts vis a vis sub-contractors and suppliers.

Birthday emblems

Meet the sloths from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.

I am told that today is National Sloth Day. I'm a sucker for small furry animals. Enjoy!


2010/08/15 take away 1933/08/15
Equals 77.