Has Democracy had its day?

We all have significant decisions to make in life. Whether it is buying a house, car or a yacht or to have children or not and if so when? These are but a few of the life changing options we have to consider.

Now imagine if we were to apply democracy to such decisions where would we end up?

Take buying a new house as an example. We would have to select a authority to make the decision for us and the people who formed that body would by elected by a cross section of people in the local area. Once in place the authority would undertake exhaustive surveys and discard anything that did not involve personal gain to themselves before taking the decision. The costs involved in this process would include, but not be limited to:

Setting up an office

Travel to and from that office

Secretarial support

Salaries

Pension benefits

Entertainment

Junkets to other house building areas

Campaigning for re-election

And so on!

These costs would be recovered from the people who elected them. The process would then be debated several times when another house buying authority would be allowed to join in on the basis that they automatically disagree with everything that the first authority had decided. Now obviously this is a totally untenable method and we tend to buy the house by ourselves as we do with the other important decisions in our life.

Why then do we allow democratically elected bodies to decide minor things like whether we should invade another country and kill multiple thousands of people?

When I say democracy I’m referring to the process of selecting the representatives who make these decisions for us regardless of public opinion at the time of the decision.

Every four or five years, dependent on where you live, a crumb is thrown in front of the public in the form of an election. This is a placebo or sugar covered pill that makes the general populace think they are controlling their lives.

I, at 64 years old, have never voted in my life.

Pause for effect!

Yes, I can hear the old hackneyed expression ‘If you’ve never voted you have no right to criticise!’ echoing across the ether. Yes, I do have the right and the naysayers are denying me freedom of speech.

I have never thrown myself off a cliff but would I be wrong to advise against it?

Let me quickly recap on what happens in an election. A glib tongued public speaker offers all sorts of incentives, if you vote for him, in a manner that would make a double glazing salesman blush. You think ‘That sounds okay, I’ll vote for him’ then you hear another one, with a different colour of rosette, say something very similar but decries the first candidate and you become torn between the two. Then you hear another one very similar again and he decries both the previous ones. So eventually you make an informed decision maybe based on the party your Father voted for in his day.

Regardless of the outcome one of them gets elected and if you are a discerning person you watch how they behave only to be horrified that he has back pedalled on all his promises. What do you then? You then decide that you won’t vote for him or her again in four or five years and think that will show him.

How much damage can that person do in the period of his time in office?

He/she will take part in debates and votes on whether or not to commit your troops to fight and die in a foreign country. Did he ask you about that?

Is he better qualified than you to make that decision because the majority of people in his or her constituency have voted on his stand against government spending or over-taxation?

If the question about staying or leaving an economic community was put to a referendum would the general public know enough about the consequences of the decision and the effect on the economy? Probably not but a rag tag mixture of elected members voted in on election promises apparently do.

It is oft said that democracy is not perfect but what is a better alternative? The answer to that is a similar system to the Turkish government. There, if it is considered that a government got into power through election promises, and could be proved that they failed to fulfil those promises, the country has the right to take them to court and have them thrown out. This has happened on several occasions.

The elections will happen shortly in the UK, consider what I have discussed here and watch what happens after the final wrangling over power is settled. Then six months after the election think about what you can, given your democratic right, do about the elected member’s behaviour.

Leadership. Are we getting what we need? Trump/Clinton update

How does this bear up with regard to the present presidental election race? Leadership?

 

Presentation1 I’ve recently had a poke at the teaching profession and how it could be affecting world progress and now I would like to have a look at our leadership from world heads of country and downwards. It has been said that leadership cannot be taught. It is perhaps something you are born to but may require some coaching to bring it out. Certain training organisations and management consultants profess to their ability to make leaders out of most people. Is it possible in ancient Macedonia that a Greek management consultant could have said this? ‘Alexander? He wasn’t so great until we got hold of him! His initial idea of leadership was to find out where people were going and then walk in front of them!’ The armed forces, well, certainly the UK ones have a very good handle on leadership qualities. Servicemen will not follow just anyone just because they have a badge of rank.  There must be a common respect upwards and downwards and this respect has to be earned. Staff assessments are carried out every three months and sometimes very scathing remarks are made. i.e. ‘No person would follow this man except out of idle curiosity!’ Okay, let’s start at the top. Persons in elected office are often termed as world leaders.  This is possibly confusing as in themselves they may not be leaders. In the bigger countries an army of advisors, speech writers, dress groomers et al are at hand with prompts waiting to provide the right response to the ‘leader’ in his or her role as a mouthpiece.  To the populace at large this seems as if the leader has all the wisdom, experience and confidence that they require to serve and protect them. Have a look at this sketch from Rowan Atkinson and Griff Rhys Jones to see this in action!

Presidential Advice, click here.

Most of these ‘leaders’ are the product of democracy where all the little people, every few years, dependent on their constitution, swallow the placebo of voting them in then have no further influence on what decisions they make until re-election time. The question of ‘Why George W Bush? And why twice?’ rests uneasy on the US electorate to this day.  But what is the alternative to democracy? Dictatorship is one alternative and generally the dictator has obtained power through force, military coup or insidious coercion and gradual change of laws to make it impossible to remove them from office.  Sometimes dictatorship works but rarely for long.  A benign dictatorship is good as in the case of the early Margaret Thatcher but power corrupts and total power corrupts totally. The one thing about dictatorship is that a period of relative stability is created.  People know routinely what to expect on a day to day basis.  It is a strange fact that some Russians would prefer Stalin to return regardless of the atrocities he carried out, some of the Iraqis feel the same about Saddam Hussein and the Chinese about Mao Tse Tung. The problem is we all need leadership and good or bad it does give us direction. That follows all the way down to the individual.  A lot of people will agree that a lack of leadership in the workplace leads to upset, confusion and serious effects on productivity.  It is something that companies should seriously look at in their staffing needs.  Unfortunately some firms promote people based on technical ability and expect leadership to follow.  Some of them cannot even recognise leaders in their midst annd suffer accordingly. We should all look at the syndrome known as lifeboat mentality.  This has been observed on numerous occasions following a shipwreck for whatever reason. The threat to life in that situation sometimes brings the most unlikely characters to the fore regardless of their position before getting into the lifeboat.  A long term veteran Ship’s Captain may follow the instructions of a pastry chef if it can be established that he would be better in providing their salvation. One of the main characteristics of a leader is confidence, in themselves and the ability to inspire confidence in others. It a fact that you cannot successfully lead a cavalry charge, if you feel uncomfortable on a horse! The main consideration of a good leader is not to create followers but to create more leaders and sit back confident in the belief that they are working towards a better future for all.  Great leaders see this as the only reward they need.

Are Teachers Stifling World Progress?

ADunce In general teachers, the world over, instruct children in the same way and that is by repetition.  The ability to remember verbatim a string of dates (or data) is rewarded and praised. Those that do not conform to this application of teaching are, however, chastised and marginalised.

The end result is that the conformists get pushed up the system into university and into the plum jobs in society and those that ‘don’t fit’ the system fall by the wayside.  They are left to make they own way in the world through living off their wits and hard endeavour.

Consider this – was it more important to know that the Battle of Hastings was 1066 (would it matter now if had been 64, 65, 67 or 68?) or is it more important to know the socio-political impact of the battle?  The crux of my concern is that those four numbers would be marked as irrevocably wrong in exam answers and could constitute failure.  A grasp of the Norman impact on England does not enter the equation.

Those of us old enough to remember pre-electronic calculator days had to learn the times tables by rote.  No bad thing in reality.  But four times six pops into our head immediately as 24, four times six PLUS five requires a little thought but not if you think laterally as five times six (table pops into the head as 30) minus one equals 29.

It is only by the time young people arrive at university are they encouraged to question everything.  It is sometimes a struggle for students to do this given the conditioning in their early years.

The sad thing is that at that point a lot of the free-thinkers are out of the educational system because they did not conform.  I’m not saying that some of them may not have the ability to progress further.  There are potentially quite a few that could.  Of those the lateral thinkers could benefit from further education and afterwards apply that lateral ability to advancing the world’s future.

The brave and the bold people prepared to take risks and think ‘outside the box’ could achieve something that the mass produced mind may not.

I could list a whole pile of self made men and women who were failed by the education system but went on to become very influential in pushing the boundaries of the world forward but I won’t.  I will leave you with the figure of Sir Richard Branson, who is dyslexic.  This condition was not considered by his schools and his academic ability was considered poor.  The man is now pioneering space tourism amongst numerous other things.

How many other worthy people has the education system cast aside because they did not fit that mould?  And only because they could or would not spend wasted hours drumming facts into their heads and regurgitating them in class the next day.

Our teachers, who in the majority, go to school, go to university and then back to school really need to get some life experience.  It would be better for all concerned if they found out what the world is like, what it really needs and formulated ways to educate for the future before they perpetuate the erroneous cycle of stifling our progress.

Is Flying Still Safe? Update with Germanwings report

h2

The report released today on the Germanwings incident recommends that the confidentiality of doctors reports  on pilots be relaxed and information should be made available to airlines.

 

Statistically it has been proven many times that you are more likely to come to harm travelling to or from an airport than in the air, but is flying still safe?  Many years ago I flew as a private pilot and in one particular year in the early ‘90s there were 19 fatalities in the UK involving private flights.  To put this into perspective more people died falling out of train doors and almost 6000 died in road accidents.  It is a tribute to the safety efforts in the UK and that of car manufacturers that road deaths has steadily decreased to around 2000 in 2013 despite there being more vehicles on the road than ever before.

Recent events, like the missing Malaysian airliner, MH370, bring the focus of the public’s mind to airline safety.  Now, I’m not going to get embroiled in conspiracy theories here.

Refer to my earlier post on conspiracy (Click here).

No one knows what happened to that plane but I feel sure that the answer will be found and the cause of the loss identified.  As in the case of the Air France flight it took years to find the plane in the depths of the Atlantic but find it they did and the reasons for the crash exposed.

Given the staggering amounts of flights every day flying safety is unquestionably good.  But are we doing all we can to increase that safety?

It is now perfectly possible for an airliner to taxi on to the runway in Heathrow, London and with the electronics engaged it can fly to and land in Sydney, Australia without the pilots ever touching the controls.  In a lot of cases the trouble only starts when a human intervenes and takes over control.

So if a human takes over, what procedures are in place to prove his or hers fitness to fly? A recent enquiry into airlines showed that only some airlines carried out mental stability checks when taking on new pilots. Regular health checks are rigorously carried out on all pilots, private or commercial.  Whether mental health continued during their career, checks were very rarely carried by a few airlines and not ever by the majority of airlines.

Why should we worry about pilot mental health?

There have been cases where pilot suicides have been proved to be the cause of an airliner crash.  Safety methods introduced to protect the cockpit from terrorist invasion means that one pilot can take the opportunity of shutting the other pilot out and plunging the plane to its doom.

The life of an airline pilot cannot be as glamorous as the general populace imagines. There are long haul flights where boredom must be a big factor particularly if the aircraft is flying itself. Add to that all the other stresses that life can throw in, marital problems, depression and death in the family or whatever that we can all be subjected to and the problems can be increased.

Very recently the passengers on a flight over Pakistan were startled by a fist fight, between a pilot and a flight attendant, which started in the cockpit and spilled over into the galley.

Airline safety is taken very seriously with practically all accidents and near misses being thoroughly investigated but corrective measures are slow to be implemented.  The reason for this is that any proposed change must be rigorously tested to ensure that it does not introduce another unforeseen unsafe condition.  Then it has to be transmitted to all the airlines in the world before implementation.

The question of aircrew mental stability, however, can be dealt with fairly easily.  Most modern companies employ psychological profiling during recruitment and there is a wealth of procedures and tests readily available.  These could be introduced into recruitment procedures combined with normal health checks.  The same procedures could be used during regular health checks.

During my career I trained oil and gas installation crews to deal with major emergencies and their ability to cope with stressful situations.  There is no reason why this cannot be carried out in the aviation industry.

Will Ye Go, Oh Lassie, Go? Independent Scots?

Scotland 2

It has been three hundred and seven years since Scotland joined England to form the embryo Great Britain through the Acts of Union 1707.  This was a protection measure for England so that Scotland would share that nation’s debt and stop any potential alliance between Scotland and France.  Unfair allocation of members of the ruling houses, Parliament and the Lords, followed, sound familiar?

Now I’m not going to cover all the various disputes, rebellions and battles that have ensued in that time between the Scots and the English nor get involved in the rights or wrongs of the period.  I would like to consider the prospects of the Scottish referendum in September this year, to decide whether they leave the union or not.

The politicians in both countries have been arguing the case from their respective ‘yes’ or ‘no’ points of view.  The famous Scottish comedian, Billy Connolly, has been quoted as saying, ‘Anyone who puts themselves up for public office should be immediately barred from doing so because they are crooks!’  A sentiment fuelled by stories of corruption in governmental bodies the world over.

Scotland has been told by England that they will not be allowed to keep the pound as their currency and the European Union has expressed doubts that Scotland could ever become part of the union. There are those who argue that a small independent country cannot survive in the decentralised global community.  All sorts of dire consequences are been fired over the border towards Scotland with counter arguments being fired back.

But can they make a go of it?  Scotland has a wealth of talent in their business world, filled with people with acumen in spades and the experience built up over many decades in the oil and gas industry.  The whisky industry is one of the biggest jewels in the UK’s export crown.  The tourism industry, with the largely unspoilt countryside and its rich, romantic and tragic history, brings people pouring in from all four corners of the earth.

Should the vote go the ‘yes’ way the move to independence will start immediately.  Now every new child in the process of growing up will stumble occasionally and there will be some setbacks and some successes.  Hopefully England will help support the new independent country as Scotland has done for them and the commonwealth through numerous wars over many centuries.  If they are not willing to help certainly they should not provide any hindrance.

I believe Scotland, given the chance, will make a success of independence.

Should the vote go the ‘no’ way, I think there will be a sigh of relief from south of the border. The issue will fade quickly but the possibility is that Scotland will be treated like a petulant child who has succumbed to failure in demanding their own way.

We shall have to wait and see!

Smoking – the universal language

Courtesy of Stockvault
Courtesy of Stockvault

Before I get into this post I am not proud of being a smoker nor would I encourage anyone to start. This is just an observation of those unfortunately afflicted smokers of the world.

Standing outside Rome’s Fiumicino airport braving bitter February wind and rain a few weeks ago, gratefully drawing in a nicotine hit between an international flight and a domestic flight, I was approached by a short middle aged lady holding out a cigarette and tapping the end with her finger. ‘Si, senora’ I said and obliged her with a light for her cigarette.  Immediately the bond peculiar to smokers was struck up although she spoke no English and I very little Italian.  We persevered to swap family information, our respective travel arrangements and other details before we eventually went our separate ways.  I considered this exchange and realised how often this had happened before.  In Malaysia, Greece, Turkey and many other countries with the same language difficulties in broken English or the smattering of the native language I made it a habit of picking up.  I’m quite pleased with the fact I can say ‘thank you’ in some eighteen different languages but ‘no’ in only three or four.

More often than not the common ground was smoking.  Then another factor came to mind which was that of the smoking rooms and areas in offices and companies.  the exchange of information there almost invariably spread communications quicker than email and formal meetings.  There was also a better quality of exchange and trust that could only be down to the universal bond of our common malaise.  Normal procedures within the companies often failed to come to successful conclusions.  Whereas successful dealing with problems could be achieved in between hacking and coughing and braving foul weather conditions in the ‘fresh’ air.

One of the interesting benefits is that smoking is not generally specific to one department therefore inter-departmental liaison is fostered in a way that could not be achieved in the parochial environs of an insular department. Maybe companies should look into this phenomenon and the potential benefits that could possibly be replicated in some other way that did not involve the downside of the health issues.  Every cloud (even a smoke one!) has a silver lining.

Time of Christmas Cheer?

The festive season is approaching fast

Perhaps it will be better than the last

With drunken uncles their cheeks all aglow

Lurching round, behind their backs, a sprig of mistletoe

Ancient aunties breaking wind while still fast asleep

And raucous children with toys that flash and bleep

The simmering arguments coming to the boil

Among the women in the kitchen at their toil

‘We would baste the potatoes with oil in my day’

‘Well, I don’t care.  This year I’m doing it my way’

Betty Windsor on the box talking to the world

With the noise coming from the kitchen of something being hurled

The cat noisily throwing up beneath the Christmas tree

 The boy’s latest girlfriend announcing loudly ‘My food must be gluten free!’

The smokers in the garden braving the cold

Back in the kitchen the melee reaching fever pitch ‘You just will not be told!’

Eventually, without UN intervention, the meal was laid out and the feasting did begin

Apart from Scottish Auntie Mabel who had overdone the gin

Although it wouldn’t have been much use

‘I hav’nae got my teeth. I left them in the hoose’

Two people wanted the Parson’s nose and four a leg apiece

The resultant scramble covering the tablecloth with grease

Slowly the overloaded table was cleared of its stress

The stomachs now feeling the unaccustomed press

The dishwasher on its fourth load, working overtime

Auntie Mabel on her second wind and tenth gin and lime

More drink consumed, arguments began before it finally diminished

Until everyone agreed that the day was finished

Soon enough it was over and all had gone to bed

Everyone totally sated and very over fed

Yes, let’s hope it will be better than last years

But just at this minute nothing will allay my fears!

Location as inspiration (2) Sicilia

etna

Mount Etna is erupting in the distance and wild seas are pounding the breakwater of the marina but with my sailing yacht snugly moored in a calm spot – where better to start writing the sequel to my first novel? Sicily as a whole has a fascinating history where almost all of the important nations in the world have trodden across its soil. Greeks, Romans, Moors, Vikings, Germans and the British to name but a few. All have left some legacy on this rugged landscape forged by consistent volcanic action over millennia.
The modern Sicilians will point to a map of the world and the fact the their island sits practically in the middle and refer to their home as the navel of all the lands.
The air is thick with influences that remain and the effect on the consciousness required to write has to be better than any drug.
Now with a Word document open and a virgin page filling my laptop screen I only have to begin typing to find the inspiration to take advantage of the riches surrounding me.

Are the conspiracy theorists part of an overall conspiracy?

As Henry Louis “H. L.” Mencken, the renowned American journalist, essayist and satirist(September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956) was quoted as saying – 

‘The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true deserts.  He ascribes all his failure to get on in the world, all of his congenital incapacity and damfoolishness, to the machinations of werewolves assembled in Wall Street, or some other such den of infamy’ 

A veritable blogger of his day, or at least he would have been if he had lived to see the advent of the Internet, he was accused of hating everything.  In his defence he said, 

‘It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency.  This makes me forever ineligible for public office’ 

I think most of us, well those of a certain age, are familiar with the silent movie theme of the frail damsel in distress tied to the railway line in the path of a thundering express train as the wicked landowner, dressed in black, twiddled his moustache looked on from afar.  In the nick of time a brave stalwart and hero of the piece leaps forth and rescues her. (Perils of Pauline, film serial, 1914) 

I think this is why the conspiracy theorists catch the public eye in ever increasing numbers. 

For the damsel in distress, read the hoodwinked public standing in harm’s way.  For the wicked landowner, read secret departments of the government and ruthless corporations.  The conspiracy theorists are, of course, the stalwart brave souls standing up against City Hall or Wall Street on our behalf. 

All very public spirited you might think but in their eagerness to enlighten us mere mortals, disinformation creeps in to make stories more sensational, thereby driving their point home.  Sometimes the disinformation reaches total fabrication. 

Conspiracy theories abound and I’m sure we all know at least two or three.  The most prevalent are that Fracking, to release lots of cheap and badly needed energy, causes earthquakes and contaminates water supplies and that chemicals are being sprayed by untrackable aircraft into our skies in an attempt to mind control and subjugate the masses by corporations or governments. 

Now, other than saying I don’t believe the conspiracies above, I do not intend to waste my time and blog space in discussing these stupidities.

I will, however, quote Mark Twain who said, 

‘A lie will travel half way round the world before the truth has put its shoes on’ 

These theories can be positively harmful, particularly in the case of Fracking’, where some states in the US have banned the practice and this has spread to other countries, denying the people readily available and cheap energy to help the world’s beleaguered economy. 

The concern I have is the speed at which the theory arrives and the rate at which it spreads.  My own conspiracy theory is that there a central intelligence base, run by the Illuminati (Google it! There no room in this post to explain!), where there are teams of people scouring the news on a daily basis and then triggering the seeds of the next conspiracy.  Their end is to destabilise the world to ensure they maintain their control.  

That is something of which the KGB in the old Soviet Union would have been very proud. 

Picture the scene: 

‘There has been no real news today, the government must be suppressing the story that lizard aliens morphed into the shape of Elvis Presley are secretly building flying saucers disguised as Loch Ness monsters in a hidden base at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.  A previous accident in the manufacturing process at this secret base blew off the wellhead that caused the big oil leak…..’. 

The most disgraceful of these appeared on my Face Book page the day after the Boston Marathon bombing which claimed that the attack had been carried out by the FBI to mask the fact that George W Bush and Barack Obama were to be indicted for war crimes!  This was the one that initiated my present rant.  Low life imbeciles! (The conspiracy theorists, I mean!). 

However, remember this, even if you’re paranoid there could still be people out to get you – but if they are don’t tell me about it!