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January 31, 2008

The things one discovers....

Last night I chanced on something about MovableType that I had not realised before. I had just finished clearing out the latest bunch of spam comments (Thankfully I have not had many since I started closing down comments on posts as soon as they were hit by spam) and noticed a tab (to be honest I have seen it many times, but never tried it) labelled "Junk" next to the "Comments" tab.

I clicked it, not expecting to find anything in it. I spent the next half hour clearing out 54,845 spam comments. I will now monitor that tab a little more closely. It seems that MT is diverting things into the "Junk" box, evidently following certain criteria. I like it, but now I know its there, I will have to ensure that it never builds up that kind of pressure again!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 30, 2008


OK, so I still can't resist this sort of geeky test ....

Your Superpower Should Be Mind Reading
You are brilliant, insightful, and intuitive.
You understand people better than they would like to be understood.
Highly sensitive, you are good at putting together seemingly irrelevant details.
You figure out what's going on before anyone knows that anything is going on!

Why you would be a good superhero: You don't care what people think, and you'd do whatever needed to be done

Your biggest problem as a superhero: Feeling even more isolated than you do now
What Should Your Superpower Be?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 29, 2008

Workload ....

Sorry folks, its been one of those days when work has demanded more time than I actually have. At least I have managed to get some of it done and can cross them off the lists. If only they were all paying for the time they consume. This is the problem of working for oneself and doing voluntary stuff - if you aren't careful the voluntary things expand to fill the day - and they don't pay the bills. Its a nice balance I guess, but it should start to ease up soon

Maybe ....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:32 PM | TrackBack

January 28, 2008

Visions of the past ...

Starting in 1996 I made several trips to the Philippines capital, Manila, for business. I had been engaged to advise on fire safety for a major construction project and made several trips a year between 1997 and 2000. The contrats one encounters in this country are enormous, from fabulous wealth (Some apartments sell at $2 to $3 million a unit ) to abject poverty. Armed banditry is rife as is kidnapping, highjacking and some of the most amazing con artists in the business. Needless to say, you are warned of certain 'no-go' rules when you are engaged, but, by and large, I found myself well looked after and the majority of Filippinos are friendly, fun loving and generous to a fault.

A street in China Town, just outside the "Old City" known as "Intramuros". Crowded, busy and the shops sell anything and everything.

The entrance "Gate" to China Town in central Manila. Infrastructures are crumbling, but business is as usual. The horses are apparently descended from those brought by the Spanish in the 1500's ....

The old Spanish fortifications are still very much in evidence in the Old City and the area is known as "Intramuros" or literally "Within the Walls". Periodic earthquakes have left their mark on some buildings and on the streets too. The overhead powerlines are the craziest I have ever seen and in some places it looks like spaghetti overhead. The country suffers greatly from the fact that a small number of "families" seem to own just about everything - land, buildings and businesses. They also control access to key jobs and to elected posts such as Congress, the Senate and even the Presidency. Within that structure there is no "middle class" of Filippinos, it is, instead, provided by the ex-patriot community.

The Cathedral in Intramuros. The seat of the appropriately named Cardinal Sin, Papal Legate and Cardinal Archbishop of the Philippines.

The Pasig River runs through this part of Manila and discharges into Manila Bay. The Pasig rises in Laguna de Baye, a large and rather shallow lake West of Manila and runs through Taguig, Quezon City and Makati before discharging into the bay. Just for the record, Laguna de Baye is actually the caldera of a rather large and still active volcano. It just happens to have blown away its rim some centuries ago. The Pasig is also best described as an open sewer, yet many "squatters" have built houses on stilts over the waterway - a feat which may provide homes, but is also the source of tragedy and disaster when any of the frequent typhoons run through this area. On one of my visits, the Pasig carried away all the houses over it and drowned several hundred people.

The other big problem in Manila is the traffic. With almost no "public" transport of the co-ordinated and organised sort, the people here make their own arrangements. So the roads are clogged with Jeepneys offering the cheapest travel solution, buses if you're desperate, and taxis and private cars the preferred means of transport of the better off. If you are really poor there are motorised Rickshaws (Tuktuks in Thailand and Indonesia) - basically a Vespa Scooter modified to provide a tricycle. Or, even better, a moped (125 cc motorbike) which can carry three or sometimes four (depends if they are prepared to share the footrests) for a moderate fee. I am convinced that if you deprived any Filipino motorist of his car horns he'd be unable to drive ...

More reminiscences and photos of the Philippines soon.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:32 PM | TrackBack

January 27, 2008

Impressions of faith ....

Worshipping in a place like Tewkesbury Abbey provides some interesting insights into faith across the centuries. Several things about the Abbey have put this into perspective for me over the years, but I am sometimes only reminded of them when I show visitors from abroad some of the little hidden treasures or poignant reminders of lives cut off short.

Looking at the structure one realises that, when it was first built, there would have been little in the vicinty on anything like this scale. The houses in the town around it would have been wattle and daub, single storey, or at most double storey with sleeping spaces under the thatch covering the roof. So the towering walls of this great church would have been awe inspiring to say the least. Then there is the length of time it took to build - a relatively short thirty nine years - which means that many of those who started work on it as boys apprenticed to a mason, would have been nearing the end of their working lives by the time the main church was finished. One can argue that they only did this because they needed the pay, and yes, that would be a fair critique, but there is, when you look closely at the stonework and the delicacy with which some pieces are finished, something more than that. The men and boys who built this great church put something of themselves and their hopes for the life to come into it as well. This is their building, every stone a standing testiment to their faith and their beliefs.

Commencing work on a project like the Abbey was, for everyone involved, a major act of faith. Most knew they would never see it completed - but they set to work on it anyway.

Praying in the Abbey one is always reminded of the men, women and children who dedicated their lives to creating it, then to maintaining it and to worshipping in it. It commands the vale in which it stands and can be seen from Cleeve Hill some ten miles away. It can be seen from the M5 from roughly six miles out towards Gloucester and from some three miles away from the north. The tower can be seen from Gloucester and it dominates the landscape, a testament to all who see it that faith built it, faith sustained it and faith keeps it still. Perhaps the greatest testament to that faith is the fact that this massive structure has no foundations ..... Yet it has stood for 904 years and will probably still be here in another 900 years. Yet it is not quite true to say it has no foundations for it was founded on faith and in faith, just as it is sustained in faith - the faith that has led those who built it and who have worshipped and still worship in it, to proclaim the faith of Christ, crucified, dead, buried and risen from the tomb.

Worshipping here, leaves one sometimes lost for words, but seldom lost for faith.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:23 PM | TrackBack

January 26, 2008

You know things are going wrong when ....

As I told you yesterday, my brother and a raft of friends live in South Africa, a country which, until recently, seemed to have everything its people needed (and some things they didn't!). Electricity, water, mineral wealth, crime, corruption good education, work opportunities and farms that could, properly managed, supply enough to feed themselves. Slowly all that is falling apart. Food production has gone up, but not enough since the borders seem to have been thrown open and floods of migrants have arrived. Jobs to have become scarcer - due in part to employment laws that are ridiculously biased and almost a neo-apartheid system - crime has soared, (My brother was recently at home when someone tried to break in through his living room windows with him sat in the room!) - and the mineral wealth seems to be either remaining unexploited or the proceeds are being siphoned off to someone's bank account.

The recent election by the ANC rank and file of Jacob Zuma as "President in Waiting" (Forget democracy here, just as in the bad old days of Apartheid and the National Party, the ANC now has the sort of voter clout that means no serious opposition can ever unseat them) is a serious blow to confidence. It is only his political clout that has prevented him from being convicted as a rapist, as a serial fraudster and on a string of corruption charges. Interestingly all his cronies have been convicted and sit in jail while he remains free and will no doubt pardon them as soon as he is crowned President for life .....

The latest problem to beset the suffering people of SA is "load shedding". Technical term (Like the infamous British Rail "Wrong Kind of Snow") which means "Power Cut". Now I would guess that this doesn't actually lie at the door of the present government, but rather at the door of the last apartheid regime. It was they who, in their infinite arrogance, decided that the network of "local" power generating stations then in existence, should be closed down and all power generated in a few "Mega" Stations located at or near the coalfields. It sounded like a good idea at the time, especially as they "sold" the idea on the back of "mothballing" the smaller stations for re-activation when demand rose .....

The problem is that it takes several weeks at least to restart a RECENTLY mothballed station. One that has been idle for years takes months to bring back to life, possibly even years. And it costs big money to do it as well. Even in an active station, starting a generator set and bringing it online takes a minimum of an hour, which is why most stations have routines for meeting peak load periods by anticipating the demand periods and "running up" the turbines in readiness. Well, ESKOM (An acronym for Electricity Supply Commission - in Afrikaans "Kommissie") has now reached its capacity. This has been coming for some time, but the present government has been giving away the spare capacity to Mozambique and Zimbabwe among others, and has not been prepared to spend money re-activating the old stations. So now the country has run out of power. Those who don't use it are fine, so the rural areas where the open fire, LPG or paraffin stove and lamps are used have no problems. But the towns and cities are subjected to "load shedding" without warning.

Lots of promises are being made - but where's the money coming from?

Madam and Eve have been summing it up extremely well!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:24 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 25, 2008

A near run thing ...

My brother lives in Cape Town. In a very nice part of the city, on the edge of Flamingo Vlei (Flamingo Lagoon for those who don't have Afrikaans or Dutch) with stunning views of the mountain looking across the vlei and the sweep of Table Bay. It has always been a nice, quiet and rather safe area, but, no longer. On my last visit it was noticeable that squatter huts were gradually creeping along the verges of the motorway leading to Milnerton from the airport, and Flamingo Vlei is near Milnerton.

A month ago, my brother was in the house when there was a sound not unlike a gunshot and the front window disintegrated. He rushed out to find an intruder - and chased him off. THe Police, as ever, arrived too late to have any effect and handed out the usual useless advice about "greater security" and "fit burglar bars and improve the fencing". Everyone knows the spate of burglaries, assaults and murders in this area are related to the squatter encroachment - the very few perpetrators who are caught have all been traced to there. Meanwhile the car park at the local shopping centre has become a highjack opportunity for the thieves and it is no longer safe to even take your dog for a walk along the vlei. A neighbour of my brother's was murdered two weeks ago, walking his little dog along a path he has used daily for twelve years.

Last night I got a distressed e-mail from my brother to tell me that he narrowly avoided a similar fate - in his own living room. His young dog began to bark frantically and he went to investigate, just in time to see a large intruder emerge from his hedge and make a run for the open front room doors. My brother slammed them shut and locked them just in time, then dived into a drawer to grab the only weapon in the house, a pepper spray. The intruder must have thought it was a gun for he ran to scramble back over the fence getting momentarily caught on top of it and my brother, with more anger than thought, grabbed his leg and tried to use the spray. The Cape Doctor made sure they both got a dose.

As usual the police arrived to find no trace of the intruder and, as my brother wasn't actually attacked, have logged it, filed it and done little else. The neighbourhood is now in uproar and my brother is having razor wire installed in his hedge and along the top of the fences. He has been warned to get steel gates fitted to all his doors and to the windows. That is the level of threat everyone in SA now faces, yet, the liberal legal fraternity who now control the administration of justice refuse to impose meaningful sentences on those they do catch and regard the high crime rates as "the legacy of apartheid".

I spoke to my brother this morning. He has had a sleepless night - and so have I. One thing is for sure - the intruder will be back, and next time my brother might not be so lucky. Prayer is about all that is left to either of us.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 24, 2008

An unChristian celebration!

If there is one person I would cheerfully not lift a finger to help under any circumstances, it is Peter Hain. His resignation is sufficient excuse for me to open a bottle of good wine and toast his salary cut and his exposure as an - in the words of his own Party Leader - incompetent. I look forward to the day when I will open a paper or see on TV that ther rest of his murky past has finally caught up with him.

The fact that the electoral commission has handed its report to the police is sufficient for me for the moment. Of course the police will decide that there isn't a case for him to answer - what did you expect? A miracle that the political establishment will let one of their own go down? Not likely, but the sight of this evil man squirming is enough for me - at present.

I have a bottle of good champagne which will come out when he is finally ejected from Parliament and vanishes into the obscurity he never deserved to have left.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Hellish question answered ...

OK, so this isn't original, but it is rather funny - and a wonderful demonstration of an understanding of the Laws of Physics .....

Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas cools when it expands and heats when it is compressed) or some variant.

One student, however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in the world today.

Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

This gives two possibilities:

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it?

If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that, 'It will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you,' and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number two must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over. The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct......leaving only Heaven, thereby proving the existence of a divine being which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting 'Oh my God.'


Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:38 AM | TrackBack

January 23, 2008

An anniversary ....

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of my arrival in the UK to start work and settle my family. It is now exactly twenty years since I arrived tired, a little nervous and very uncertain of what the future held for us at Heathrow and walked through the Immigration line unchallenged, my Irish passport seemingly an everyday sight. I would soon learn that it was just that; that my Irish heritage would open more doors than my British one, at least initially.

Looking back, there is a lot to celebrate and some things that have not quite worked out. But then, that is life. Over these years my children have grown up, two into beautiful young women with a wide range of talents, and my son into a big young man with a list of achievements already. I will draw a veil over the debacle that is their education - the British education system is not good at dealing with bright pupils unless you have the money to send them to Public Schools and I didn't. And bored bright pupils are probably more creative in dodging school they find discouraging, boring or simply biased against them than any others. Perhaps I should write a book on that some time.

My mother retired (She was in South Africa) and it became obvious that her pension was not going to sustain her. We were struggling at the time, but the only option was to have her join us so we could both go out to work. The two years that followed were probably the most difficult I have ever experienced, for my mother and I were not the most comfortable pair to have under the same roof - and my wife and she were complete opposites. Conflict guaranteed, but we did find a small flat eventually for her and got Social Services to set up her pension and income support and soon she had her own establishment and a small circle of friends. My divorce followed and I moved from London to the Cotswolds where I could live and work at the establishment I would remain at for the next fifteen years. My greatest sdaness here, is that I missed the growing up of the kids. Yes, I saw them once a month at my home and once a month at theirs when I went down to see my mother, but it was all the bits that make for reality that I missed. It seemed almost overnight that they were all grown and no longer had time in the schedule to visit. That said, I am remarkably lucky in that we do have a very good and trusting relationship and they know they can call or visit anytime - and sometimes do!

My mother died suddenly in 1999, though her health had been deteriorating badly for a couple of years by that stage. It was a terrible moment, primarily because I was in the Philippines when she was rushed to hospital and did not get back until she had died. There are all those things you wish you had said, all those little things you have never really resolved or addressed. Her funeral was quiet, a very small group in a large church, reflecting the fact that she had never really built a circle of friends around her here and many of those with whom she had spent the last years of her life were, like here, so frail that they could not attend. Clearing her little flat was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do and I confess that there are boxes in my loft that have not been opened since they were packed up then. I think that suddenly it was born home to me that I was now the oldest generation of the family .... And one of the strangest observations I can make is that I still, even after this gap of time, see something or hear something and think "I must phone Mum and tell her ..."

My second marriage was on rocky ground as well with my then father in law also in the final stages of a serious cancer. Gil died in the following July, quietly and with the dignity he had displayed throughout. His funeral was a complete contrast to my mother's.

So I now look back at a road that began inauspiciously perhaps in South Africa with my birth and a rather rocky path through the school system, then into work with a few deviations thanks to the then system. I learned of my Irish Citizenship on going through some papers following a major clear out of accumulated stuff and pursued it to get that status for my wife and children. Now I have reclaimed my British citizenship as well and I frequently respond to "Ethnic Monitoring" (Apartheid in disguise!) by ticking "Other" and filling in the box with "African Anglo Saxon Celtic Hybernian Norman". I became a Reader in 1982 in Bloemfontein, South Africa and Bishop Stanage is still my Spiritual Director. We migrated back to Port Elizabeth and then to the UK and I have maintained my Readership (Sort of "Lay" Deacon for non-Anglicans) and am now looking to seek ordination after many years of dodging that call.

Regrets? I have a few, but I think I have many more magnificent memories, friends, and a list of things I have achieved, among them Presiding at a formal Dinner held in the Signet Library in Edinburgh. For those who don't know this magnificent building is the home of the Scottish Legal Library and is used for State Dinners and functions. Most importantly though I have my friends and my kids. I am fortunate, though I have no idea why, to be able to say that I am still in contact with many friends in South Africa and even more scattered across and around the world. I have friends in Poland, Romania, Germany, the US, here in the UK, in Ireland, Canada and Australia. Even in the Middle East and some even more exotic places. My beloved grandfather was right - we ARE citizens of the world. Even more importantly I have my kids. I have to say I'm proud of them, I could wish that some things could have turned out different, but I think they have done very well - and will do even better once they have fully found their stride.

So, I look back on twenty years in the UK with a little pride and a lot of thankfulness. The UK has, by and large, been good for us. I don't like the direction our present government is taking the country and I am not sure it is even sustainable. I rather think the pendulum has swung too far and will swing back eventually, probably with a vengeance. But, as a voter, I have to accept some of the responsibility for it anyway. Do I regret coming to the UK twenty years ago?

Not on your life!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:18 AM | TrackBack

January 22, 2008

High tide again

The tides are rising again around us in Tewkesbury, but, despite all the media panic this is our normal winter flooding. Nothing special, nothing like as high as it got in July and unlikely to get anywhere near that level. Yes, we are taking precautions, and yes, we are watching the rising water, but it is very different to what happened in July. Then the waters rose in the space of a few hours across the back of the town, filling the flood plains and covering the Vineyards park behind the Abbey - and that was the run off from the Cotswolds through the two small streams that bracket the town, the Swilgate and the Carrant Brook.

That initial flood from our two streams in July could not dissipate because the Avon came down in flood after the cloud burst dumped out over Warwickshire - and that was followed three days later by the Severn joining the party. That is what gave us the spectacular water levels.

This flooding is the normal run-off coming down the Severn from the Welsh Hills and North Wales. Yes, it is high and it is, obviously affected by the fact that the ground is still saturated from the July inundations. But for most of us it is no more than the inconvenience of having to take a longer than normal route when we want to walk to town. Mind you, I suppose I could get my high waders out and take the short route through Gander Lane, unlike the situation in July there is no more than four feet there now. In July it was more like eight feet. Such is the difference in the levels and the events.

For most of us its "business as usual" unlike the East Coast which does have a problem.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:08 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 21, 2008

Safety unsafe ...

I was recently listening to a news programme and almost choked on my tea. Now the "Raod Safety" nutters want to make it a custodial offence to use a mobile phone while driving. It seems that the fines aren't detering people. Doesn't this tell these morons something? Doesn't it tell them that people are being forced to break the law because the law is out of proportion already?

Yes, there is a safety problem with using a mobile phone while driving, but what the Whitehall Wankers and their chaffeur driven pals in Westminster, or their cycling "safety" advisers in the National Road Safety Association haven't asked is why are people obliged to. The bigger question is - how can it be made safer since it seems inevitable that people will be forced to at some stage. OK, so the argument is that you are distracted (Theior research says so anyway), and I would certainly agree that there are people who use a phone while driving in the most stupid conditions. Surely the sensible thing is to make it compulsory for every car to be fitted with a phone dock which is completely hands free and barrs outgoing calls? Yet, if it is a distraction to have a phone, why is it considered perfectly OK for some idiot to drive around in a car fitted with a stereo system that can be heard four blocks away? Or to have any passengers and to hold conversations with them? In fact, the last close call I had was not caused by someone using a phone or their stereo, but a woman with a car load of kids, who was so busy arguing with the backseat passengers that she wandered across two lanes and only my horns alerted her to the fact that she was heading for the armco barrier in the central reservation as she cut across the front of my car.

And if you are reading this madam, the V sign you flashed was the wrong way round.

The latest target of these so-called "safety experts" is the GPS now fitted or used by many of us. "Distraction" they scream, "Ban it", or, "Make it a criminal offence to use on!" Well, as long as they stick to riding the old fashioned sit up[ and beg bicycles or their broomsticks, they probably don't need them. But, as someone who has had to navigate around this country solo (and remember I have only been living here for the last twenty years) I have found the GPS an absolute godsend. I can concentrate on the traffic around me and rely on the GPS to find the turns, the addresses and so on. What would the "safety" twits prefer? That I drive at 5 mph while looking for the street names and sign posts they have had so cunningly concealed so that they are visible only from one approach and not the other? Far from making motoring safer, banning the use of GPS will make a return of the moron driving with a map book on his or her steering wheel far more likely - and believe me, I have seen quite a number of those.

Frankly, it should be made a criminal offence to lead a "safety" campaign from now on. It is time to restore the application of Common Sense. It beats the hell out of all this stupid legislation and nannying idiocy any day!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:04 PM | TrackBack

January 20, 2008

Darwin Awards

The Gorse Fox has beaten me to it. He has posted the Darwin Awards for the year just past - and the winner is an American man who had a passion for alcoholic enemas. Surprisingly the tissues in the rectal area are extremely absorbant - so if you have to apply medication and can't take it orally or intravenously, the back passage is the best alternative. Administering an enema of neat sherry - 3 litres of it - almost guarantees instant oblivion.

Unsurprisingly he passed out fairly quickly, then, as the alcohol content continued to be absorbed, essentially pickled himself completely. I should think he is now a fairly well preserved corpse. His blood alcohol was, according to the coroner, of an order that was not only lethal, but quite possibly flammable. The Gorse Fox puts it all rather well.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:09 PM | TrackBack

January 19, 2008

The end of the road ...

The Monk's trusty steed of the last few years, a rather comfortable Rover 400, has a problem. It's rear brake calipers have to be replaced. The bill will be of the order of £650, a figure rather too close to the resale value of the car as it stands. So it is decision time. Does he repair this trusty ten year old and keep it going until it, or he, is no longer capable of driving - or does he buy a smaller, spiffier and more modern set of wheels.

After weighing up all the pros and cons, the Monk has decided that, sadly, he and the Rover must part company. Even though it is a diesel powered vehicle it has now clocked up 103,645 miles, only 37,000 of which was done by its previous owner, it still performs very welll and economically. And, once the brake calipers are done it will soon be time to replace the cam belts again, have the CV joints checked and a raft of other "little" things which probaly will add up to large amounts of cash. So now he is looking about for a "new" chariot which will serve him as faithfully and as well as said Rover has. Not an easy choice since most of the cars he likes are way beyond his present pocket, and, in addition, he needs something that will serve for at least five and hopefully more years before needing replacement.

The Monk is very taken with the Renault Megane, several of his acquaintances drive them and have nothing but praise for them. It will mean changing back to driving a petrol engine, though with the way this government has surtaxed diesel that will actually represent a saving, it will mean getting used to having to do a bit more in slow traffic with the accelerator. One advantage of a diesel in those situations is that it will do around 15 to 20 mph idling in second gear without having to use the accelerator. No petrol engine the Monk has encountered has that kind of torque when idling.

Having looked at several options including Ford, Nissan, Honda and even Seat (Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar are way beyond his price range). He has even considered Vauxhall, not a car he would have given much thought to a few years ago. "What Car?", "Auto Trader" and several other websites have been explored, a number of dealers and other car sales people have been visited and masses of information collected. Now its time to sift and decide. Tricky considering that in the last twenty years the Monk has had four Rovers - all of them comfortable and all of them good cars. It wasn't going to be an easy choice .....

But, the choice is now made. The Monk is now the owner of a Renault Megane 1.6 petrol and will have to get used to driving a higher reving engine again. The Rover has been sold privately - to the Monk's son, who plans to use it for at least the forseeable future.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:48 AM | TrackBack

January 18, 2008

Guardian angels on overtime!

Yesterdays crash at Heathrow is nothing short of miraculous. No doubt the manufacturer's design will have played it's part, it is rare for these aircraft to remain as intact as this when they hit the ground at a hundred and sixty miles an hour. Given that their glide angle once the power is lost is only marginally better than your average housebrick (It's all about wing shape and load distribution) the pilots pulled off an amazing landing and walked away from it. A landing you can walk away from is a good landing as I have said before on this blog.

A hundred and fifty two people walking out of that aircraft has to be one of the most amazing escapes anyone could possibly witness, let alone be a part of. I have only one question at present for the passengers, did they actrually have time to adopt the recommended "crash position" with head down over their laps? If so, the aircrew deserve even more praise for having the forethought to tell them to do so. But, I wonder how those as tall as I am managed. BA notoriously has a short space between seats and when I have attempted to adopt that position I invariably end up with my head rammed against the seat back ahead - perfect to sustain a broken neck.

Once the aircraft was on the ground the response was exactly as it should be - the emergency teams were there almost as soon as it stopped. The BAA Fire Fighters deserve every penny they get and the praise of the rest of us - their response was impecable. To all those bean counters who constantly want to "save" money by cutting back fire service provisions I have this to say - "Do you pay your insurance premiums?" If you do, then this is exactly what the fire services are - insurance. You put the money in and they make sure they are trained, ready and available when you need them. And they don't quibble about your need either.

The investigation is now underway, and the immediate piece of news is that both engines failed during the approach. The big question must be - why? During the approach they are throttled back, then gradually given more power as it lands, before the braking systems are applied (essentially shields that redirect part of the jetstream as a "reverse" thrust until the normal braking system can cope. From the sound of it, this aircraft's engines "flamed out" as the pilots attempted to "throttle up" in the final approach. From there on, this was essentially a glider, without the best glide characteristics needed to stay airborne very long at that altitude.

We witnessed something close to a miracle yesterday - a lot of Guardian Angels worked overtime on this one. Let's be thankful.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:56 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Another Short Story on the Amazon Stories e-store

A story I wrote some time ago in an effort to fill in a "history" for Harry and Ferghal has now been bought in on Amazon.com and can be accessed under the title "Almighty Father ...", taken from the Seafarer's hymn

"Almighty father strong to save, whose arm doth bind the restless wave, O hear us when we cry to thee, For those in peril on the sea."

That should give a small clue as to what the thrust of the story is. Amazon have a great programme called "Amazon Shorts" and if you have a book listed on their store, you are eligible to sell them a short story which may, or may not, be related to the book or books. I now have five shorts up - all providing a "back history" to the main characters of "Out of Time" and the sequel - still being revised and taking shape slowly - "The enemy is within!" Unfortunately, Amazon still have barriers between the various divisions, so if you do not have a US address - these "Shorts" cannot be bought. That said, I hope that my US based readers will do me the honour of at least having a look and perhaps, if they do buy it, passing it on to their friends outside the US who might like to, but cannot.

The publication of two Harry and Ferghal stories by Residential Aliens E-zine in their paperback anthology (Out as Residential Aliens Anthology: Volume 1) has kept me sufficiently encouraged to keep plugging away. It can be frustrating at times, because it does take a lot of effort and time, and the constant barrage of rejections does get to you. But, as I am constantly reminded, a certain billionaire author spent eight years trying to get her first book published.

Encouraging too is the news from the Agency who have taken on The enemy is within! is that there are several people interested and things may move sooner rather than later. Another UK based publisher, an independent, has also accepted the MS to evaluate it, so, who knows, it may find more than one interested party rather suddenly.

As they say, watch this space!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:11 AM | TrackBack

January 17, 2008

Jewish wisdom ...

My brother received this from a friend in Israel. He passed it on and now I'd like to share it with everyone else.

Found these best wishes for 2008 and wanted to share it with you:

May your health be obvious (and need no discussion)
May your family relations be warm
May your friends be loyal
May your enemies become your friends (and those who don't, get lost)
May your spam be filtered
May your e-mails be answered
May your wisdom deserve the approval of Confucius,
and your folly the praise of Erasmus
May your power get shared,
your wealth be free from greed
and your poverty from envy
May we communicate fruitfully across cultures
so that our horizons widen
and reason replaces violence.

Worth considering - especially the last three lines ...

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:49 PM | TrackBack

January 16, 2008

Glaciation in the super greenhouse?

An interesting item in the online Journal "Science" caught Mausi's eye recently. It seems that a team of scientists have recently discovered that the Antarctic Ice Sheet may well have formed, at least in part, during one of the warmest phases of the earth's history.

It has been commonly held until now that during these super warm phases the poles were ice free. That seems to have been blown literally out of the water by this study which shows that at least the Southern Pole was covered by ice during the Turonian period - the warmest inter glaciation period we have ben able to identify. As Mausi hjas pointed out, it just provces that a lot of these effects are very localised and that it is extremely difficult to draw a single "overall picture" in isolation. As those who have followed my link will see - surface temperatures were , at this period, an average of 35 degrees. And the oceans were nice and warm too.

No doubt we will soon hear from the "Global Warming" lobby that this research is irrelevant. Just as they dismiss the evidence of core samples from the Pacific. I guess an article of faith takes some changing ....

Isotopic Evidence for Glaciation During the Cretaceous Supergreenhouse
André Bornemann,1,2* Richard D. Norris,1 Oliver Friedrich,1,3 Britta Beckmann,4 Stefan Schouten,5 Jaap S. Sinninghe Damsté,5 Jennifer Vogel,1 Peter Hofmann,4 Thomas Wagner6
The Turonian (93.5 to 89.3 million years ago) was one of the warmest periods of the Phanerozoic eon, with tropical sea surface temperatures over 35°C. High-amplitude sea-level changes and positive 18O excursions in marine limestones suggest that glaciation events may have punctuated this episode of extreme warmth. New 18O data from the tropical Atlantic show synchronous shifts 91.2 million years ago for both the surface and deep ocean that are consistent with an approximately 200,000-year period of glaciation, with ice sheets of about half the size of the modern Antarctic ice cap. Even the prevailing supergreenhouse climate was not a barrier to the formation of large ice sheets, calling into question the common assumption that the poles were always ice-free during past periods of intense global warming.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 15, 2008

Analysis of a disaster ...

With yet another loss at sea, this time thankfully without loss of life thanks to the RNLI, the publication of an item in Der Spiegel looking at the loss of the ferry Estonia seems timely.

Some clever fellows in Hamburg have managed to run a computer simulation which recreates the last moments of the ferry Estonia which went down in the Baltic in 1994 after her bow visor failed in a storm. Their findings are reported in Der Spiegel online. They conclude that the loss was due to a manoeuvre designed to save the ship and exacerbated by the inadequacy of the life saving provisions on such ships.

That last point is interesting to me in particular since it is very near to my heart, being related, of course, to escape from fire. Few of those travelling on the huge luxury cruise ships will appreciate that their "life boat" provision is still, after the Titanic disaster, only 100% of the passenger and crew capacity. Fine - if you can use the boats on both sides of the ship. It does not take account of a ship doing what the Estonia did, capsizing. Ever tried walking up a vertical surface intended to be smooth and easily cleaned? You probably had more chance on the Titanic - at least she stayed upright for a lot longer! In fact it is well known that once the gradient for escape goes beyond about ten degrees the majority of people will have difficulty. Add to that the storm and the movement in the deck as the ship slows and starts to capsize and you find that a whole range of assumptions about escape to lifeboats disappear out of the proverbial scuttle! Stabilisers are used to keep these ships level and reduce the effect of wind and sea on the hull for the comfort of the passengers. They work only as long as the ship is moving. Stop the ship and they're useless.

Did you really want to know that some of the bigger liners depend on them in extreme weather to maintain stability? Probably not.

One thing is for sure. This report, when it finally hits the politicians and the money managers in the shipping companies, is likely to cause a major rethink in the way these ships are designed, managed and used. Small comfort to the 832 people who died on the Estonia.

Scientists Unveil Cause of Estonia Ferry Disaster
By Ulrich Jaeger

Scientists in Hamburg recently simulated the sinking of the Estonia, the 1994 Baltic Sea ferry disaster that killed 852 people. They discovered that the vessel was traveling much too fast in stormy seas and that the crew's attempts to save the ship by turning it actually caused it to capsize.

The Estonia in the docks in Tallinn. The ship sank on the night of Sept. 28 1994, killing 852 people.
It was 1:02 a.m. when his alarm clock slipped off the night table. A survivor of the Estonia disaster remembers the exact time because he had to replace the batteries, which fell out of the alarm clock when it hit the floor.

1:00 a.m. ship time -- shortly before the ferry suddenly heaved to one side -- is the time that a computer simulation of the disaster begins. A group of Hamburg researchers are hoping to unravel the last secrets of the terrible night of Sept. 28, 1994. It was the night when the Estonia capsized in rough seas while en route from the Estonian capital of Tallinn to Stockholm. Only 137 of the 989 passengers and crew on board survived the disaster.

To this day, some suspect that criminal activity was behind one of the worst disasters in European seafaring history. Theories that the ferry was in fact the target of an attack have also been fueled by questions about the credibility of the official investigation report, which Estonian, Finnish and Swedish authorities published in 1997.

With these misgivings in mind, Swedish authorities hired experts at Hamburg Ship Model Basin (HSVA), a hydrodynamics research facility, and at the Hamburg University of Technology (TU) to conduct a study on the sinking of the Estonia. The group, headed by university researcher Stefan Krüger and Petri Valanto of HSVA, plans to submit its report in late March. The information they have uncovered so far suggests that their results will not only shed light on the causes of the disaster, but will also have consequences for passenger shipping. One certain conclusion is that evacuation procedures for combined car and passenger ferries like the Estonia are inadequate.

The research team's calculations, which it obtained using ROLLS, the world's foremost simulation program for shipping disasters, already contradict speculation that the Baltic Sea disaster may have been caused by explosives. Instead, they suggest that speed, wave conditions and a turning maneuver sealed the fate of the Estonia.

The researchers are also rewriting the timeline of the disaster. According to the 1997 official investigation report, the drama began at 1:14 a.m. and the ferry capsized in heavy seas about 25 minutes later. According to the computer simulation, however, the ferry's death throes lasted a full 14 minutes longer, because the final hour of the Estonia began at precisely 1:00 a.m., not 1:14.

On the night of the disaster the ship's Estonian crew had whipped the ferry at full speed through four-meter (13-foot) waves to make up for delays. The resulting stress caused the bow visor to break off from the hull, and the vehicle ramp, which formed a second barrier against the waves when tilted up behind the bow visor, to open. The vehicle deck, normally about three meters (10 feet) above the water line, was suddenly flooded with water.

Explosives Theory Refuted

Both the media and experts alike long viewed the loss of the bow visor as a sign of foul play. According to their theories, only an explosive device could have severed the visor from the hull, because the visor's massive locking mechanism could not have been broken off by other means.

Some attributed the supposed explosion to rumors that a truck carrying nuclear material was on board, or that the vessel had been carrying secret weapons shipments for Swedish intelligence. According to these theories, the Estonia was deliberately sunk to avoid detection of the illicit cargo by Swedish customs officials.

A private company even recovered metal samples from the bottom of the Baltic Sea in August 2000 in an effort to prove this theory. Three institutions analyzed the samples for evidence of a possible explosion. But in the end, an analysis commissioned by SPIEGEL in 2001 refuted the explosives theory.

Simulation of a Terrifying Night
Any other result would have surprised TU researcher Krüger. According to his analysis, the forces acting on the Estonia as it traveled at top speed through heavy seas were "verifiably greater" than the forces the bow visor had in fact been designed to withstand.

The authorities used the testimony of surviving crew members, radar data, pieces of wreckage and the location of the wreck to determine the course the Estonia traveled during its final nautical miles. According to their data, the Estonia was traveling westward toward Stockholm at 281 degrees, with the wind and waves whipping against the ship from portside at about 45 degrees.

The Hamburg group simulated three possible scenarios for what happened next. According to model "0a" of the disaster, the visor was still attached to the hull, but both it and the vehicle ramp opened by a gap of 1 meter (3 feet). In version "0b" the visor was torn from the hull but the ramp, opened by a gap of 1 meter, still offered some protection against the waves. Finally, in scenario "1" the bow visor and the ramp both failed to act as a barrier against the sea.

According to the researchers, version "0a" could only have applied to the "very initial phase of the disaster." In their estimation, the volume of water flooding the ferry, according to this scenario, would not have been sufficient to cause it to capsize.

But even if, as in scenario "0b," the bow visor was torn off, the volume of water entering the vehicle deck through the slightly opened ramp would still have been too small to explain the dynamics of the disaster. In this case, the ship would have listed by 14 or 15 degrees after 10 minutes, and the crew would have "had sufficient time to take action against the water ingress."

Physics Stronger than Crew's Efforts

For these reasons, scenario 1 seems the most plausible, at least according to the simulations performed so far. When the bow visor broke off, the crew under the Estonia's captain, Arvo Andresson, could only have surmised the true extent of damage to the ferry. They would have been unable to see that the visor was missing, because it was not visible from the bridge, which was set back from the bow and towered five decks above it. Nevertheless, both the investigators of the accident and the Hamburg researchers are fairly certain that the nautical officers, none of whom survived, must have known what had happened.

The Estonia's last course shows that it turned to portside. The ferry also slowed down within the space of a few minutes, from 14 knots (17 mph) at the time the visor broke to 9 knots (10 mph).

Valanto believes that the turn to portside was an attempt to use wind and wave action to stabilize the ship, a maneuver that makes sense from a seaman's perspective. On the one hand, the natural forces would be expected to press against the right side of the ship, helping to bring it upright again. Besides, the open bow, facing the sea like an open wound, would be turned to face away from incoming waves.

But the maneuver did not save the ship as expected. The computer simulation reveals why physics prevailed over the crew's efforts, ultimately leading to such a devastating outcome.

In the first phase of the accident, after the bow visor had broken off and, as the Hamburg researchers assume, the ramp had also lost its protective function, the Estonia took on a lot of water. According to Valanto, the ship's "dynamic behavior" only reinforced this effect. The ferry's high speed caused the bow to sink deeper into the water, while at the same time allowing a higher bow wave to develop.

When the Estonia turned to portside, the centrifugal force produced by the ship's curving motion pushed the water in the opposite direction. As a result, the ship's list, instead of being reduced by the emergency maneuver, was in fact increased by the force that now pushed all the seawater on the deck against the right side of the vessel.

At this point, as the behavior of the simulation's virtual Estonia shows, water rushed into the passenger deck below the vehicle deck. According to the simulation, the Estonia was listing at 50 degrees at 1:20 a.m. and tilted onto its side at 1:32 a.m. Meanwhile, the sea was already tearing new holes into the hull.

Large panes of glass lined the decks along the rear half of the ferry, while the windows in the outer cabins toward the bow were smaller. According to the simulation, the safety glass in the large windows was the first to fail.

In the simulation, the Estonia's kiss of death came when water flooded into the openings formed by the roughly 90 large windows, upending the keel and sinking the ship.

The simulation also helped the researchers understand why only 137 people survived the disaster.

If the standards of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) had been observed on the night that shocked Europe, most of the Estonia's passengers and crew members would still be alive. According to the IMO's evacuation standards for the construction of passenger ships, hallways, doors and stairways should be designed so that, in an emergency, all passengers and crew members can reach the open decks from the ship's interior and escape in lifeboats and rafts.

In the case of the Estonia, the roughly 40 minutes between the breaking of the bow visor and the capsizing of the ship should have been enough time to enable everyone on board to escape from the ship. But the reality belies the IMO standard. Only 250 to 300 passengers and crew members managed to escape from the ferry.

The simulation illustrates why hundreds of desperate people never made it. For the first time, the Hamburg team, aided by the developers of Advanced evacuation simulation software, was able to take into account the effects of an increasing list on the ability of passengers and crew members to get out of the ship.

According to the researchers, the data they obtained diverged "substantially" from the IMO standards. The calculations for the virtual Estonia show that when a ship lists, its evacuation routes become almost impassable. In the simulation, only 278 of the 989 people on board the ship managed to reach the open decks. The ferry became a coffin for the rest.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:22 AM | TrackBack

January 14, 2008

Honourable Member?

The current debacle in that house of liars and cheats called the Palace of Westminster revolves around a man who should never have been elected to it in the first place. Peter Hain is, as defined in our current legislation a terrorist or, at the very least someone who gives succour to terrorists. The irony of that is that he and the Party he represents have put that legislation in place. That he is now on the carpet for failing to declare "Members Interests" in the shape of a large donation to his campaign (failed) for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party comes as no surprise to any except this man's sycophants and apologisers.

This, after all, is the man who led the campaign against this country having any links with South Africa in the 1960's and 70's. I doubt he has ever done a days real work in his life. Put simply he was a student activist who became a Union organiser and bully boy. His road to the top of this particular political dungheap is typical of the denizens of Westminster and a major reason why the voting public have lost all confidence and faith in the present political system. This is the man who dug up cricket pitches, caused thousands upon thousands of pounds of damage to public property, threatened peoples lives and livelihoods and backed, and still backs, murder in pursuit of political gain. He is famous in South Africa for the fact that his family aided and abetted the first urban bomber in that country, a man - ironically a white man - who planted a bomb in a suitcase on the Johannesburg station. His victims were an old lady and her grandchildren. The grandson and the grandmother died, the young girl was scarred for life and now lives in the UK permanently in a wheelchair.

When confronted with her some fifteen years ago this piece of human filth refused to admit that her injuries served no purpose in the "struggle" he championed. Worse, he refused to even apologise or sympathise with her position, instead seeking to justify his position and the use of violence in pursuit of political "freedom".

Well, it may interest any reader to know that he shares something with another Labour Cabinet member. Like Mr Straw, he idolised Che Guevarra, admiring his "struggle" for justice. Justice dispensed from the barrel of a gun which they now deny to any law abiding Briton, but have singularly failed to stop their criminal gangster supporters from owning. He also, at one time, sang the praises of a certain Robert Mugabe at every opportunity.

If this man's career has finally been derailed, I will celebrate. Sadly, like so many of those who disgrace our Parliament, I suspect he will survive, or simply find an even better paid job in Brussels - just as a certain Mr Mandelson did when his failures became public.

Honourable Members? Not in THAT House.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:46 AM | TrackBack

January 13, 2008

Baptism of Christ ...

Today in the Christian Calendar, we commemorate the beginning of Christ's ministry in his baptism in the Jordan at the hands of John the Baptiser. Ritual washing is a feature of the Jewish faith at that time - and still forms an important part today. What was unusual at this point is that baptism was normally reserved for Non-Jews entering Judaism. John the Baptiser changed that and in Baptising Christ signalled the start of the Messiah's ministry.

Epiphany is about the revealing of Christ to a world beyond the Jewish faith and homeland. It is about the inclusiveness of the ministry. We should consider carefully how we, as gentiles, receive and have received our Saviour. We celebrate his birth and we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men, we celebrate too the miracles and the ministry, but at the end of the day, have we learned to put His teaching into practice? Have we learned that our Faith has to be lived.

What we sing, say and read we have to show in our lives - or it is all just meaningless and all of God's careful plan is brought to nothing ....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:35 PM | TrackBack

January 12, 2008

The great journey ....

Yesterday was a busy day. I had no time to blog before I started out to do a small (As I thought!) job. In the event, it took a lot longer, but at least it was done and done properly. Wet, cold and now a bit pushed, I jumped back into the trusty means of mobiliation over long and sometimes unusual routes - and set off for Swindon.

An hour driving in appalling rain and wind conditions and I arrived at the door of my next appointment. Thankfully they provided soup and bread for sustenance and a mug of tea! Little did I realise it would be the last food to pass my lips until this morning! Our meeting went well, and we even managed to tie up some loose ends, find some missing information and settle a strategy. Not bad as meetings go.

Then came the drive home. Now Swindon is an easy run to and from the Monk's Domus. Forty five minutes without breaking any speed limits. Straight up the A419, join the A417 at Cirnecester, down Crickley Hill, onto the M5 and home. Easy. No. Not last night! The A419 wasn't busy and progress was good as far as Cirencester, but aboiut five miles before that important junction (Important because if you are going to try an alternative route - that is the last chance saloon!) it began to snow. Not the light fluffy stuff skiers love, but the heavy wet stuff we normally get. The stuff that clogs everything and turns rapidly to slush - and then ice! My GPS said I was exactly five point six miles from Nettleton Roundabout when I hit a tailback of traffic. At four point eight miles it came to a standstill.

Now I have to say that the local radio station did its best. Regular traffic bulletins, regular updates on which roads to avoid - but if you were one of those stuck on one of the troubled roads it would have been more useful to be told how to get off it and onto an alternate route that was reasonably passable. Not helpful was the police telling us at ten minute intervals to "stay at home and don't venture out"! Not an option if you are already out!

I will draw a veil over the next few hours except to say that, with no way to turn back, no way to leave the dual carriageway and no information on what lay ahead, we inched forward. Progress measured not in Miles per Hour, but in Yards. At a place called Duntisborne Abbots an elderly lady suddenly appeared at my window, clearly distressed, her battery had gone flat and she was now blocking one carriageway. I managed to swing my car round hers and used my jumper leads with the help of a passing fire fighter - also stranded - to restart her, and we commenced the inching forward again. At intervals the progress was delayed, or made more hazardous by the abandoned cars of others who had obviously flattened their batteries doing as the old lady had done - switching off and then on again every few minutes to conserve fuel. Good plan, except that it takes a twenty minute run to put back each start into the battery. That four point eight miles took from roughly 18.45 to 01.00. Nor was the agony over yet. Nettleton is an infamous dip in the road and it is single carriageway. It was also a sheet of ice and slush. It took another hour and a half to inch our way down it and then up the otherside. It was at the top of that hill that we again came to a standstill, and the water in my tyre treds froze. When I tried to move again, the wheels just spun idly on the ice and the rear tyres stayed exactly where they were. A bit of violent movement of the steering broke the grip and I was inching forward again.

I arrived at the top of Crickley Hill at 02.40 and then inched down it again to the wet, but ice free surface of the valley below. From there on it was plain sailing - except for the flooding along parts of the A38 - so I took the Motorway and was home by 03.05. I was hungry and tired, but exhaustion won. Bed!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:50 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 10, 2008

Experiences of an English soldier

This is a fascinating blog based on a real Battalion War Diary ....


Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 09, 2008

Politics ......

I find politics interesting, in much the same way that I find venomous spiders "interesting" - preferably dead. But just at the moment you can't seem to escape it. The Pollsters have been busy little bees, and yesterday, while waiting for my flights, I had to listen repeatedly to predictions that Hilary Clinton was heading for an embarrassing defeat in the US Presidential Primary being held, I think, in Maine. Likewise there was a great trumpetting that Labour had gained a few percentage points in the Polls against the Conservatives and even the LibDems had managed to lift their share. Only our Illustrious Leader remains low in the public esteem it appears. But just how reliable are these Polls?

THis morning the BIG news is that Hilary Clinton won the Primary. Yesterday she was lsated to lose - today she emerges a clear winner. Either the statisticians are getting their sums wrong, or the voters are telling "porkies" when answering the questions ... Or it could be "hanging chards" again ....

As I see it there are several things that beset all political systems of the democratic, multi-party sort. First it is the fickleness of uncommitted voters, I have known people vote for a candidate "because he has such a nice smile" - not because he is any good or offering anything new, different or beneficial. Likewise any politician who dares to tell the truth about their intentions might as well take a jump off the verandah of that Palace of Follies into the Thames wearing a weight belt and without a lifebelt.

The second thing is the Party platforms themselves. Party affiliations are all very well, but the problem comes in when the Party Ideology dictates the voting of the members. No matter whether a policy or a law is going to be good or bad - the party hacks must and do vote according to their Party position and not according to the ebenfit or otherwise the item will bring. In other words they represent not their electorate, but their Party. That is now an outdated and outmoded concept and it is time it was changed. Voting should not be a matter of "Whips" choice, but of how their electors see things.

Then there is the process of election itself. Personally I will never reveal how I intend to vote or have voted to anyone. That is the object of a "secret" ballot. Some people I know will deliberately tell a pollster the opposite of what they voted and some voters will vote on party lines simply because they always have, or worse, because that is how grandfather voted and I always ..... I call this the tribal vote. Again, it is in serious need of reform, for at the moment there are too many "Rotten Boroughs" where no matter who or what the candidate is if they have the right badge they will be elected.

Then there is the problem of answerability. Far too many decisions these days are in the hands of the incompetents who make up the civil service. They write the "rules", draft the legislation, draw up the questions for a referndum and always couch these in terms that require a legal expert to decipher. And always in a manner that ensures that there will be another thousand/ten thousand bureaucrats required to administer them. Once elected we hear nothing more about "consulting the electorate" and suddenly Parliament is free to do as it pleases for five years "because it is in our manifesto and the voters approved it."

The other big issue in our news was Gordon Brown's meddling in the NHS - again. I think I have now heard his "new money" and "new intiatives" around eight or nine times. Does he really think he can fool us by re-arranging the deckchairs again and again. There is no "new" money going into the NHS for medical care. All the "new" money goes to more and more "managers" on "performance related pay" and not into health care! Again and again twisted and selective use of numbers "prove" that "targets" are being achieved for this that and the next thing. All the while the things they are measuring are carefully selected to show only the "best" part of the picture. Selective vision is always a stock in trade for politicians. It is all about bribery to get votes. If they can convince enough voters that they really will get something for nothing if they will only vote for "X" then they will promise anything and "prove" they have done it. And sadly, there are voters out there who are easily swayed to vote for "X" because to vote for "Y" will cost you ....

I have commented before that our democracy here is weakening, the last General Election demonstrated that very clearly, only just over 50% of the electorate bothered to vote - so Blair's "Ringing Endorsement" of Labour was a sham - it amounted to 28% of the voters endorsing his policies .....

Politics and statistics of course share one thing in common. They are both about creative use of numbers or language to convince the populace at large that one group or another is "good for the country" and everyone else isn't. As they say, "There are lies, damned lies - and statistics" which could be renedered, "There are lies, damned lies - and politics."

Not much to choose from really, as I said at the start, as fascinating as watching a Sydney Funnel Web approach to attack you. Not much you can do to stop it either once it bites.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:29 AM | TrackBack

January 08, 2008

Late night - long day

Just back from Edinburgh. An interesting flight - supposed to leave at 0830, but finally airborne at 0945 ....

Edinburgh surrounded by snow and rather wet. At least the meeting went well, once it got started - and the client is super happy because my report of my investigation of the fire which destroyed a rather expensive vehicle has resulted in the recovery of his loss ...

No admission of liability says the manufacturers rep ....

The flight home again was a rough ride - one disadvantage of travelling in the smaller form of commercial aircraft - this one Dash 8-400 with 42 of us crammed inside. The approach and landing at Birmingham was exciting to say the least. No wonder pilots say "any landing you can walk away from is a good landing." I think some of my fellow passengers will take the train next time.

And so to bed!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 07, 2008

I wonder who will "glorify" our surrender?

The report out today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation sum up, for me, the cancer which will destroy our society and our civilisation. It is so obviously compiled by those of the "the military is evil" faction that I am surprised that it is even being given serious media attention. Sadly though, these same "Peaceniks" are in charge of the media as well - so naturally they will promote their own exclusive view and try to make out that anyone who thinks anythinbg different is a rampant blood thirsty, murdering, enemy of the people.

The report states that the Army is deliberately misleading recruits and "glorifying war" in its recruiting and promotional material. Perhaps the authors of this complete load of ordure should be reminded that it was the Army, the Royal Navy and RAF that ensured they are now free to publish such cr*p. How do they conclude that the Army telling recruits that they will have to fight in defence of liberty, may be called upon to shoot at an enemy or be constantly vigilant "glorify" war? They are stating simple facts.

The second thing these idiots are whinging about is that once a recruit has signed on "it is very difficult to leave". Well, yes, it is, but then, if I sign a contract with anyone for a predetermined period there are penalties for breaking it! A recruit who signs up for a twelve year period of service should be very well aware of the fact that he or she now has three ways to leave - Dishonourable discharge, discharge wounded or dead and serving out the time! It is possible, in todays armed forces, to leave before the full contract is served, but it has a process and that process is fully explained to every recruit before they sign - and, in contrast to any previous system - the recruit is told to take the papers home and think on it for twenty four hours and discuss it with someone they know and trust.

The Rowntree Foundation is a well known left wing anti-war foundation, after all, the Rowntree family are Quakers and pacifists. But, sadly, they represent today, the rotten core of the anti-military, unilateral disarmament, better Red than Dead cowards that currently run the country. This anti-military attitude pervades every town hall, every publishing house and every part of our media. Even Whitehall would rather spend money buying furniture and paintings for the MoD office block than on proper ammunition or equipment for the troops. It is a parallell with the fall of Rome - and we will soon have no means with which to defend ourselves when the next Alaric arrives at the gates ...

A sad day for Britain, and probably a foretaste of our ultimate surrender to the very next aggressor to threaten our nation. Who will then "glorify" our surrender?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:36 AM | TrackBack

January 06, 2008

Blogging against Islam can now get you arrested ....

A blogger by the name of Lionheart is under threat of arrest and charged with "Incitement to Racial or Religious hatred" for blogging against the ongoing threat posed by Islam in all its guises in this country. The law being used to do this is one Mister Blair and his Labour Politburo imposed upon us to promote the spread of Islam and other "minority" religions and protect its Imam's from prosecution for their constant lies and attacks on Christianity. In effect they have handed Muslim fundamentalists the right to prosecute anyone for telling the truth about the means of spreading their religion and their plan to Islamise Britain.

Even posting this piece could get me into the same mess. But I appear to be in good company. The Bishop of Rochester could well be next to have his collar felt by the Thought Police under the Act....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Three Kings ....

Today is Epiphany Sunday, the day on which the Christian world celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings in Bethlehem. Looked at simplistically and out of context the wise men or Magi arrived while shepherds and angels were still gathered at the manger. In fact if you look at it more carefully, the Christ child they came to meet would already have been walking, the shepherds long gone and Mary and Joseph comfortably ensconced in a house. Why else would Herod have ordered the killing of ALL boys below the age of four?

That aside, the arrival of the Magi and their gifts is significant for the world as this was the first revealing of the Christ to the Gentile world, a signal if you like that this "King of the Jews" had a wider Kingdom than just the Israelites. As ever in the world of politics, Herod and his court were in fear of a rival to their power and the earthly throne he occupied courtesy of Ceasar, so he reacted to remove the threat. And, as ever with a politician, got it totally wrong. Not only did he not kill the Christ, but he had committed an act of mass murder to remove a threat that was not against his earthly kingdom at all - at least not in the sense he understood. The "King" he sought to kill had indeed come, but to claim a crown far above all crowns, even Ceasar's.

The Magi's gifts are significant, Incense procalims the God made Man, Gold proclaims the Kingship and the Kingdom and myrh fortells the tomb. Strange gifts to bring to a small Jewish household in a town, even then, overshadowed by Jerusalem and the events taking place there.

We celebrate the Magi today, yet a week ago we were celebrating the first martyrs for Christ, the Holy Innocents murdered by Herod. Why do we remember them before the celebration of the Magi? Precisely to remind us that, far from bringing instant peace, the forces and powers that drive men away from God still had to be overcome. The tomb had to be occupied and then emptied.

The Messiah came to the Jews first as was foretold, then, once in the World, he was revealed to the Gentiles. We are all a part of God's salvation and of God's creation. The Magi stood in His presence in Bethlehem as our Ambassadors. It is no mystery then that the Orthodox Church celebrates this feast as the superior to Chrsitmas itself. God's gift to the world was unwrapped and revealed by the Magi.

"And being warned in a dream, they returned home by another way."

I suspect that in modern Britain, such visitors and such an event as the Coming of the Christ would be greeted in much the same manner as Herod received them - and with much the same attempt to prevent it going any further!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:41 PM | TrackBack

January 05, 2008

Getting back to normal .....

Returning from a holiday with good friends and companions is a bit of a downer really. First, there always seems to be about twice the amount of laundry to be done, then there's all the mail to get through. And the fridge needs restocking and so do the vegetable racks ....

There is also the work related stuff, like several calls on the answer phone, a few more e-mails and everyone seems to need whatever they want on Monday. And the barber shop had closed by the time I got there. So Monday it is for a haircut!

At least the sun is shining and the breeze is gentle. It may be only 5*C, but its a sunny five degrees.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 04, 2008

A walk in the Wald ...

I have just returned from a stimulating walk in the forest above the Hahns. The sun was bright, the snow lying between the trees crisp and covered by a film of ice - as was the path in many places. And guess who didn't have a camera with him as we followed the forest paths through the trees. This part of the Taunus is a patchwork of forest and fields, crisscrossed by bridle paths and footpaths and of course the access roads for the forestry vehicles.

Footprints, hoof prints and paw prints in the snow crust speak of a wide range of visitors, both human and animal, one set of enormous paw prints standing out as we walked. Closer inspection showed them to be dog and we identified them as a neighbours Pyrenean mountain dog. Sadly there are no bears or wolves in the wild in this part of Germany so we are fairly sure of our ground here. Anyone who has met a Pyrenean Mountain Dog will know that these amiable walking fur carpets are working dogs in their origins, but are now house pets for those who have a large enough home and the budget to feed one! If you haven't seen one, imagine a dog the size of a small Shetland pony ......

The walk took just over an hour and a half, now it is time to pack the suitcase, have some lunch and find my way back to Frankfurt for the flight back to the UK. All good things come to an end as they say, and no doubt Madam Paddy Cat will be waiting to scold me when I get in later tonight.

It has been a lovely break, with good friends and good food - and I've gained another kilogram in weight ....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:15 PM | TrackBack

January 03, 2008

More thoughts on civilisations collapsing ...

The chaos in Kenya over the last few days makes one despair of our civilisation's future. Since 1945 the western concept of democracy has been imposed upon a wide variety of nations and cultures, with, it has to be said, some varying degrees of success, but with some really spectacular failures as well. Africa is but one example of the failures. The Far East has several more examples and the debacle that is the Middle East provides some really educational views on the manner in which the concept of one man, one vote can go badly wrong.

So why is this the case? Surely anyone of sense can see the benefit of living in a state where the government is of the people and by the people? That after all, is the stated intention of democracy.

The truth is that it has never actually worked as advertised. Not even in the "Mother of Parliaments", Westminster. At its best there is a balance struck between the interests of the tax payer (Who, after all is said and done, pays for it all!), the interests of the commercial giants who buy and sell even our supposedly "honest" politicians, the financial investors who are increasingly loyal to no known state, the "collective" of Trades Unions and of course, the "special" interest groups like Greenpeace and Amnesty who highjack debates and the media attention to promote their often unbalanced views. Parliament broadly represents a wide range of interests, which just occasionally used to actually benefit the tax paying voter by and large. I am not sure that state exists any longer. Increasingly the only beneficiaries of much of what flows from that house of cards is of benefit only to limited groups such as lawyers, civil servants and other narrow interest groups. In other words it no longer represents government of the people for the people, but for the limited interests of the entrenched political and bureaucratic classes and their bankers.

In Africa the levels of corruption are the major problem, not the collective national debts, in keeping the people down. No wonder then, that the Kenyan President is reluctant to bow to the will of the voters - he and his henchmen are reluctant to relinquish their open cheque book which is the country's Treasury. Equally, their opposition want a share of the loot and are not prepared to wait. So, an election leads to a civil war and genocide. Where are the Amnesty International activists? Why, comfortably ensconced in the London studios of the BBC demanding that the British people put right a problem of their making.

How can I say that? Quite easily. Consider this question. How many European States have a record of successful democracy stretching back more than 100 years? The answer is not many. Even those who, like FRance and Britain, had elected governments before 1900, also had restricted franchises. Added to that you must consider the influence of the political classes even then - a class which has simply adapted and changed to suit the age it finds itself in, but which excludes any rivals by the simple mechanism of exercising control of money supply, access to education and selection to posts in both the representation of the people and in the Bureaucracies which "carry out the administration on behalf of the elected body". And again, that latter part, are the real rulers because they draft the legislation and control how it is interpreted and implemented - despite what our courts think. So, if our "Western" democracy is as young and shaky as that, what price imposing such a system on people and nations who have no history of democratic ideal; who, in fact, do not even share our cultural development which gave rise to this ideal?

Most of Sub Saharan Africa was, until the coming of the Colonial Powers, still developing from hunter gatherer societies and small scale agriculture into a settled community. Inter tribal rivalries were suppressed only by the imposition of White Mans Law, not by any shared way of life or even a desire to settle and become agriculturalists and industrialists. That too was imposed by minority interests, hardly chosen by the majority. And that pattern continues today, though now driven by those in Africa who see a benefit to themselves of adopting the greed and commercial rapaciousness of the worst of the Western culture while the rest of their population can be treated as ballot fodder when necessary.

The simple truth is that, for the bulk of Africa's people, democracy is little more than a chimera of freedom. It matters not who is in power as long as they have access to water, land and the means to support themselves, for that is the tribal way. The problem comes in when one tribe has all of that and another is denied full access. That is what is happening in Zimbabwe between Mugabe's Shoma people and the Matabele, and in Kenya between the Kikuyu tribe and the rest. Once Jacob Zuma becomes President of South Africa I expect that this will develop in the same way there, since Zuma is another in the dXhosa dynasty imposed by the ANC who will ensure that only his Xhosa cronies has access to the wealth and power of that nation.

Increasingly I find myself concerned that our democracy is going the same way as that in Africa. Our political class has become entrenched and no longer fears the electorate. In Britain we have been disarmed, deprived our freedom of expression, our right of self defence has been eroded and now we no longer control our own destiny. More than 80% of our legislation (And there is an absolute flood of it!) is determined by an unelected and unanswerable "Commission" in Brussels. Our existence as a nation is under threat because our political class have signed away our sovereignty and refuse to acknowledge that the tax paying voter has any right to any say in this process. The "United Kingdom" has, under Labour, become a set of rival principalities, the political pawns of the coterie of Scottish and Welsh nationalists who have taken full advantage of the democratic system to rape the English and remove them from any position of power. The entire farce that is our "democracy" is as much a chimera as that of any African State. Selection for any position is now made on the basis of gender, colour and sexual orientation, despite its being illegal to do so. This applies especially to any position within any of the current Political Parties in selecting candidates for election.

What is remarkable is that it has taken even less time to do this to our fledgling democracies than it took in Ancient Greece, a process described very well by Plato in "De Republica". It took the Greeks a lot longer to get round to entrenching a political class and creating the sort of bureaucracy that eventually strangled their freedom. Rome managed better as well - so why have we done so badly?

Partly I suspect, because we have failed to grasp the most important principle of all in democracy. For government to be "of the people and for the people" the people have to be involved. Ever major decision, such as the EU Constitution MUST be approved by the electorate. Secondly, those who fail to exercise their vote should have to show their reason for not doing so. Those in prison for serious criminal offences (and I don't consider tax evasion serious!) should lose the right to vote and one qualification at least should be that the would be voter is a tax payer and not a nett benefit taker.

The signs are there that our so-called democracy is about to go belly up. If you want to see them of course. The massive immigration that has taken place under Labour and since 1945 has changed the face of Britain for ever. As the second and third generation of those immigrants now insinuate themselves into the political class they are changing the cultural pattern of our nation and our civic foundations inexorably. If this continues the Britain of fifty years hence will be unrecognizable. It may be for the better, but, given the origins of those driving it, I doubt it very much indeed.

I suspect that our fathers and their fathers will be appalled by it. What we currently see in Pakistan, in Burma and the Philippines and now in Kenya and Zimbabwe should sound serious warning bells for us all - but our political classes don't want us to wake up, they, after all, will emerge with new names, new religions and new political ideologies to suit their ends. They have only one agenda - to survive in power at any cost. At least the African dictators are open about it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 02, 2008

Rhine Ramblings

High above the town of Rüdesheim stands the enormous statue of Germania, guardian of the Rhine. The view across, up and down the river from her vantage point is stunning and I hope I will be able to download and share with you some of the pictures I have from there soon. The statue was erected in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon and the ejection of the French from the Rhinelands and the Palatinate states between the Rhine and the French borders. It has to be said that we did not linger here today as the wind is from Siberia and the temperature, though a balmy -5 degrees Celsius, is made much sharper by the wind!

We next moved to the adjoining hillside and the Abbey of St Hildegard. Hildegard of Bingen, the town opposite Rüdesheim on the South bank of the Rhine, was a tenth century Christian noble woman who founded a monastic community on the North Bank of the Rhine in Eibingen. Her monastery, a community of nuns under the Rule of Benedict, did well and survived until the Republican French invasions of the late 18th Century. It was dissolved and destroyed in 1803 under the "secularisation" of church property. Refounded in 1904 it now has a community of eighty nuns who still live according to the rule set by Benedict over fourteen hundred years ago. The ethic of "work and prayer" is very much in evidence with the services of the hours still said daily.

Moving a little further up the valley and back up onto a hilltop, we came to Schloss Johannisberg, until recently the home of the last Prince von Metternich. He and his wife are buried just outside the attached Basilica of St John the Baptist. The estate was originally built as a summer residence by the Prince Bishop (Fürstbischof) of Fulda and is famous for its wines. It was here, by accident that the now famous and popular "Spätlese" wines were first created. According to the story a rider was sent with a bunch of grapes to the Bishop each year and, if he felt the vines were ready he ordered the harvesting of the grapes to begin. One year the rider was delayed returning with the order and when he arrived, the grapes had become slightly over ripe and a yeast had attacked them. The harvest went ahead and the wine turned into Spätlese!

The restaurant adjoining the Schloss provided a welcome bowl of soup - essential fare in this weather - and a rather fruity white wine to accompany it. Both delicious and worth a second visit at some time, though preferably on a warmer day when the spectacular views can be enjoyed without getting frost bitten. The Basilica is also well worth the visit, though it had to be restored after being raised in 1942 when bombs intended for Mainz fell on this side of the river instead. It has been lovingly restored and gives a really good example of what a Romanesque church of the tenth century would have been like. A nice touch is the statue of the monk holding open the gospel book for the day.

A quick walk around the outside was rewarding, again the views are stunning, but by now severe frost bite was beginning to penetrate even the multiple layers we had on - so it was back to the car and home!

Pictures to follow in due season!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 01, 2008

Looking forward to 2008 ...

Well, the New Year is here. What will it bring us?

A cynic on the political scene will undoubtedly say "more of the same" - particularly from this government. But I suspect that even a change of government now will not change anything - socialism is now deeply entrenched in our society and the senior Civil Servants are all, without exception, socialist aparatchiks. Ergo, they will allow nothing to diminish their power to interfere in every aspect of our lives. And it serves the political classes well to keep it that way too. We no longer live in a democracy, that is a sham and illusion maintained for forms sake. Our society is now a Socialist Oligarchy verging on a Dictatorship. So, no, I don't expect any improvement on that.

Personally I am hoping to have good news on my latest book early in the next few weeks. All the indications I have so far are positive. I also plan to start work on a major project which is very close to my heart - details of which I will reveal as the year goes on. Business wise too, I expect to see a steady trickle of work, again, the indications I have so far are very positive and things are looking up. I doubt I'll ever be able to buy that luxury cruise or the holiday house in San Marino, but hey, as long as I can do the odd little trip to see friends, and pay the bills on time, I'm a happy bunny.

For family I am hoping that this will be the year they really get themselves established and careers start to gel for them.

And for my friends. Well, what can one wish for one's friends, other than everything they wish for themselves, good health, good company and continuing health.

May the year ahead bring all everyone reading this hopes for.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack