31 March 2011
What motivates you? I ask because I had cause to think about what motivated me recently. When I was younger and still serving in the Army I used to get up at the crack of dawn to run 5 kilometres every day except Saturday and Sunday. Now I am far too lazy and opt to do Tai Chi and Qi Gong in the comfort of my home, rather than pound the pavements in the cold and wet dawn. I have another excuse too, in that I have twice been operated on my damaged right knee and so have been advised against such masochistic activities. Cycling is OK, but I don't fancy it in the rain.
What motivated me in those former times to get up out of a warm bed on a cold and frost morning? In the beginning the motivation was to pass the annual Battle fitness test and not to look a complete fool in front of the men I was required to lead. Later I discovered I was addicted to the adrenaline rush and other endorphins which I released by running strenuously regularly.
Psychologists tell us there are two types of motivation. Intrinsic which comes from within and extrinsic which needless to say is external. My Army running was done for intrinsic reasons, but it also acted as an extrinsic reason for my men, on the basis, "if that old bastard can do it so can I"!
So what motivated me recently to act as a volunteer at an international football match? I found myself giving out flyers and free magazines to some of the 35,000 fans that came to watch Germany lose to Australia in my home town on Tuesday. It was a more or less mindless task and I had to wear an Adidas sports uniform in black and yellow. It made me look more like a Borussia Dortmund fan, which since they are top of the league maybe no bad thing. Additionally of course I was there to help the visiting fans find their way around the stadium, not that many needed such help. However, by being friendly and enthusiastic we "volunteers" were to enhance the atmosphere of the occasion, which I have to say did work, at least I felt it did.
I volunteered last year to be part of the FIFA U20 Women's World Cup because I wanted to help visitors enjoy their visit to Germany and help show them that Germany is a friendly country and a nice place to live. I wouldn't be here were it otherwise. I felt a need to do this as I had been given warm and friendly receptions in all the Third World Countries I had travelled to. But by volunteering I discovered that there was also enjoyment in being part of a large event. The volunteers themselves were great people and came from all walks of life.
This then is why I found myself again standing around a football stadium in clothes I would not normally wish to wear. You get to watch football for free too. I'd like to have said a good international football game, but Germany did not play well. They played much like Borussia Mönchengladbach do at home. Lead 1:0 at half time then lose 1:2 at the close of play. Well the match was held in the Borussia stadium so what else could one expect. But it has not put me off volunteering, for my original motivation was never to see my team win, but to be part of something larger.
23 March 2011
Before I begin I must declare my self interest. I used to smoke! As a student I started smoking a pipe, because I wanted to be different and to stop my peers telling me I was a "party pooper" because I refused to smoke cigarettes. During my time as Editor of the College newspaper I once had to interview the Rector, and when he said to me "Oh! You're the pipe smoker!" I knew my tactic had worked. However, I was always short of money for tobacco, but found it easier to cadge cigarettes off of the girls! So I came to smoking cigarettes as well. I was never truly addicted, for a couple of years later I just stopped, for a few years at least. Then when my mother sent me a pipe smoker's ash tray from New Zealand, I picked up my pipe again. Mainly for the image and not for much else, other than using it as a dummy substitute! I stupidly kept this up for 20 odd years until a girl friend asked me to grow a moustache. I soon discovered I had a certain stink under my nose from the tobacco smoke which I did not like so I stopped for good. I also shaved off the moustache, but that is another story. In 1989, after I had stopped, I had viral pneumonia and was hospitalised. Since then I have found I am allergic to all forms of tobacco smoke and ash. Now I am a rabid anti smoker.
Today as the sun was shining I took a walk through my town. People were out enjoying the sun.
But I was also aware of the rubbish left by the smoker. I could hardly walk three paces without coming across "fag ends," "dog ends" or cigarette butts as my America readers will know this type of litter.
Germany prides itself at being an environmentally concious nation and a leader in environmental planning. Why then is it not possible for them to legislate against the smoker? The Federal Government has left it to the individual Lands to pass laws banning smoking in public places, yet no two Lands have managed to do it satisfactorily yet. These smokers not only pollute our atmosphere but litter the planet as well.
Smokers seem to have a perfect right to do as they please and throw their dog ends where they like.
Singapore is the only city I know in the world that has clean streets. You will not find chewing gum or fag ends littering their streets. So why can't we do it on ours. A shopping arcade is for me a public place, yet here in my town they seem to be allowed to smoke in them. This ash tray is situated in the middle of one for example.
Outside virtually every shop in the main shopping street, the Hindenburg Strasse you will find fag ends as customers are not allowed to smoke inside. The boundaries of Sinn Leffers are particularly bad.
Of course one can say that the wind plays its part in distributing this litter, which it does, but that is not an excuse I can accept for allowing smokers to drop their litter where they may. I found this quote on the web :
20 March 2011
2011 would appear to be the year in which the world turned and changed. Well that is what I hoped, but now I am not so sure. It started with the Arab revolution in Tunisia. The thought that a peaceful revolution in Tunisia would lead to a domino effect throughout the Middle East was a heady thought indeed. We should remember that there is no Middle East Islamic country that has ever been a democracy at any time since history began. To be a democracy takes time. We took well over 400 years in Europe and had numerous wars as well as two World Wars in our process of evolution to a peaceful democracy. In the USA they had a very bloody civil war. The birth pangs of such evolution in Arabia is clearly evident now in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. Egypt has gone to the polls to decide on changes to the constitution. I fear this may be too soon. I would prefer it for Egypt to wait before having full democratic party elections. They need time to establish proper political parties with full political programmes, or else there is no choice between the Muslim Brotherhood and yet another despot. In Libya it seems to me they are spiralling into a civil war the outcome of which is uncertain, despite the UN's rather late intervention and establishment of a no fly zone. Libya is different from Tunisia and Egypt in that their society is not a Facebook and Twitter society. Few in the country have access to the Internet so they have no real means of getting unbiased news. They are subject to Gaddafi, propaganda, hence the pictures of pro Gaddafi demonstrations. I watch what now develops with baited breath.
The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan was the other occasion when I thought the world would now change. Changes may come about, but as I listen to the various debates on the BBC I am not encouraged by it. If you have been following my rambling thoughts over these last few days you will be aware that I am becoming an anti nuclear energy supporter. However, I note with horror that Germany is building a nuclear reactor in an earthquake zone in Brazil and is heavily involved in a controversial huge nuclear reactor, in Finland.
The arguments used by the pro lobby is that Europe does not lie on a tectonic plate and the last tsunami to hit Britain was in the 17th century. Nuclear power is a safe and cheap way of producing large amounts of electricty. They need now only say, "it couldn't happen here!"
For me these arguments are not the point any more. It is the human element in the nuclear reactor I fear most. Chernobyl was caused by human error. In Fukushima, I raise my hat to the men doing what they can and sacrificing there own health to stop a melt down, but I worry about whether or not human error has not caused much of what we are now witnessing. These errors will occur again and then as we have seen they cannot be erased, or plastered over, they have repercussions. These repercussion last for thousands of years and reach well beyond the pale.
I pray that in Europe at least we have a new peaceful anti nuclear revolution and that the common man is heard above the wealthy nuclear power lobby.
16 March 2011
In the light of the tragedy in the Fukushima nuclear power plant the European nations at least, are reconsidering the safety of their own nuclear reactors. I don't just think it is a "shutting the stable door" reaction, but rather they have all woken up to the fact that "Sod's Law" does exist, as I mentioned earlier and is relevant to safety planning. This can only be a good thing for all of us.
Germany was going to be the first nation to get out of nuclear power production, then they extended the life of their plants and now in the light of the catastrophe in Japan are shutting down 7 plants immediately and considering the position of all their other plants. It will be interesting to see at the end of the four months moratorium what the German government decides to do. Last night in my English conversation class I used Japan and nuclear power production as a main topic of conversation, but was surprised at how little they knew about the subject. Few could list the pro and cons of nuclear power yet generally they were against it all. I am gradually becoming an anti nuclear energy person myself, but I have at least some knowledge of the subject.
In the 60's when I was secretary of a student's union I took part in "Ban the Bomb" marches and still have my pin. Later I joined the army and was trained as a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare Officer! Now I knew more than most and learnt that NATO had a MAD strategy. MAD being Mutually Assured Destruction! What ever your views on the Bomb, and as crazy as it sounded, the strategy worked. Recently I read a novel by Nelson Demille, called "Wild Fire", which was about a similar MAD strategy, but this time directed at Islamic terrorists. The book said that the USA would set off nuclear bombs in many Muslim nations if any Islamic terrorist exploded a nuclear devise in the USA! A horrendous thought and thankfully it was a novel which ended happily. And yet...... it makes one think, just maybe that is why they have not done so yet, despite the fact that a number of nuclear devises have gone missing from the former Soviet Union.
Back to nuclear energy. What ever your own thoughts on the subject, I believe nations decide what level of risk they are prepared to take. We do this with the motor car for example. Last year in Germany 3,657 people died in traffic accidents. In the USA it was 33,808. We accept that deaths will occur on the roads. Just as we accept, or rather our governments do, that accidents and deaths may occur in nuclear reactors. Statisticians work out the risk factors and if they are low enough we accept them since the advantages can be greater.
Japan has shown us all that my Sod's Law is at work and destroys all concept of statistically low risk factors. Nothing in life is safe, but a nuclear accident is not like a traffic accident which can get cleared up in a day. A nuclear accident pollutes our planet for thousands of years to come. The time has come, "the walrus said" to stop this nuclear madness.
|Spring is coming|
14 March 2011
Never say never! For most of my life in the army and later at sea sailing around around the world I lived by Sod's Law which says, "what can go wrong, will go wrong!" and planned accordingly. Why is it then that other planners around the world do not follow this rule. The Fukushima power station as far as I have found out was built to withstand an earthquake of 7 on the Richter scale. Actually they use a different scale called the PGA or Peak Ground Acceleration, but let's not get too technical. They did this on the basis that no earthquake of greater magnitude had yet occurred in the area. My Sod's Law says just wait it will. The actual earthquake measured almost 9 on the Richter scale. I believe that the reactor has not itself been damaged by the quake, but rather that the earthquake brought about failures in other parts of the system. How come that there are not duplicate and triplicate redundant systems in power stations as in aircraft. If one system fails there is a back up. Someone will tell me I am sure, "but there are". So how come the backups failed too? We are back to Sod's Law for it also takes into consideration human error in planning and in operation.
If you have read my "About Me" you will know I live in Germany. Here the Germans decided to give up their nuclear power stations by 2020. The first country to do so. Recently they discovered that their building of renewable resource power stations was not keeping up with the aim and that consequently they would need to prolong the use of the current atomic stations until 2032. This was not a popular move and now the problems in Japan have led the government to rethink the whole thing. Today Chancellor Merkel announced a moratorium of 3-4 months on the decision to prolong the use of nuclear power and that all nuclear power stations were to undergo a security review where there are to be no "taboos".
To help them with this review they might like to consider that Fukushima nuclear power station, which is one of the worlds 25 largest, was built in 1967, came into service in 1971 and was due to be taken out of service in early 2011. However, the Japanese authorities granted an extension of 10 years to this old power station. Now they are having problems! Is this because the systems are old? We can keep old cars running, but only as long as we still have original parts for it. When they run out the problems start to occur. Nuclear reactors cannot be very different. As the years go by old systems wear out and the new technology is not always compatible with the old. Yes it can be fudged and got round, but should we allow fudging with nuclear reactors?
The Germans have 17 nuclear reactors two of which were originally due to be taken out of service this year, notably Biblis A and Biblis B! I wonder if after this latest investigation they will not be taken out of service. I believe now they should be. The lessons of Japan teach us that if nothing else.
|Open cast mining to feed the hungry power stations|
13 March 2011
The earthquake and tsunami that occurred in the Indian Ocean in 2004 was so powerful it shifted our spaceship earth on its axis so that our days have become shorter. Admittedly nano seconds shorter, but my point is the earth moved. The earthquake that has hit Japan was even more powerful and shifted the island of Japan 2 meters from where it was before. So what has been the effect on our axis? New Zealand recently suffered an earthquake and is on the Pacific tectonic plate line which also runs through Japan. A couple of years ago Chile suffered an earthquake on the other side of the Pacific. It seems to me that the earthquakes here are going round the Pacific in a clockwise direction. So who is next? Let's hope no one. We have enough to do now to help Japan get over its catastrophe before the next problem.
Wars between various factions of the crew of spaceship earth are a distraction from our main mission which must be to save our planet from harm and keep it sailing on through space. We are all in the same boat, though I sometimes wonder if some people fully appreciate this.
We must do all we can to repair and keep our spaceship on its course, for we do not have enough lifeboats for all of us, should the captain call to abandon ship!
The news coming out of Japan is not good and my heart goes out to the Japanese. I admire the Japanese for their discipline, their industriousness and their intelligence, but I am concerned about the reports now coming out of Japan. As I watched the reported hydrogen gas explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant, I thought I was seeing a controlled HE explosion. I know the Japanese build their structures to be earthquake proof and that the steel girders they use are all bolted together and not welded. This may explain why the steel structure of the nuclear reactor building stayed intact, but how come the walls that remained looked as if they had been cleanly sawn off and not exploded? Why was the steel skeleton of the building not deformed if the explosion was from the inside out? Why were there no black burn marks on the structure? Hydrogen burns and will ignite all flammable material, as well as melt steel. Hydrogen flames can hardly be seen with the naked eye, but they would ascend rapidly as hydrogen is lighter than air. Why then did the ash cloud not also rise rapidly into the air in the wake of the flames, assuming there were some? The cloud spread out and remained close to the ground rather than rising into the air. Compare the view of the building after the explosion with that of Chernobyl. I know that involved a melt down explosion which we have not had here (yet)! But that building was destroyed by an uncontrolled explosion from inside out. The Fukushima plant looks too clean and bears no resemblance to an exploded building I have ever seen. Why? These are all questions that I would like answers to.
I rather think that there was a build up of pressure in the building, that the core was heating up and that they deliberately blew away the walls and roof to release the pressure and help to cool the core. But then, what do I know about such things!
12 March 2011
|Bad weather in the Pacific|
As we watch the compelling and fascinating videos and pictures of the horrendous disaster striking Japan from the comfort of our armchairs, we can consider ourselves lucky that we are not involved. Yet again I witness how people who have no concept of this power place themselves in danger. The last time such an event happened in 2004, many sightseers in India were swept into the ocean. Even the TV videos have an awesome fascination and one can hardly understand why one cannot out run the apparent slow moving mass of water.
It is different in a storm. The wind noise alone is frightening and that is just the problem here, there is no howling wind. When a tsunami strikes there need not be high winds and rain. It was a bright sunny day when it struck the Indian Ocean in 2004 and now again in Japan.
I have been alone in a small boat in a storm at sea, the one that broke the Prestige oil tanker in November 2002 in the bay of Biscay. The noise alone is frightening. There is a build up to a storm, but a tsunami can strike miles away from the epicentre of the earthquake and so can arrive without warning on a bright sunny day. I am sure that when it arrives there is noise aplenty from the rushing water and the breaking up of houses and structures it just sweeps away. And when it has gone, in the wake of the devastation it leaves behind, there must be an awful silence.
8 March 2011
If you do not live in an area that celebrates carnival the whole idea can be a bit daunting to go out dressed in some costume or other which makes one look like an absolute idiot, but then that is the whole idea. My partner Hanna comes from a carnival town and for the 22 years I have known her I have been infected with the carnival virus. The main event is always the procession which in the majority of German towns is on the Monday before Ash Wednesday. In my town, Mönchengladbach, the procession takes place on Shrove Tuesday. Today the sun shone and it encouraged everyone out on the streets. Some 350,000 were expected and since we only have a population of approx 250,000 a lot of visitors were expected. The theme of this years carnival was "Carnival keeps you fit". I don't think it explains the costumes at all, but then the object is to have fun before the serious business of fasting for Lent, something we Christians have given up on. Here then are a few photos of the idiots to be found on the streets of my town today.
4 March 2011
To shave or not to shave that is the question that millions of us men ask ourselves each morning. I have no statistics to prove what I now say, but from my own observation the majority of us decide to shave. Some do grow beards and some have what they think looks like designer (film star) stubble, but in my view makes you look like a down and out, or wino! Call me old fashioned if you like. Take Kurt Beck for example. Were it not for the fact that most of the time he wears a suit and tie and is a leading German politician, you could imagine him as fitting the image of a wino. I certainly would not want to be represented abroad by the image this man creates of himself. But I digress.
So having made the decision to shave how are we to go about it. When I first started some 48 years ago I used what my father used and can imagine that most of us did. My mother, however, had other ideas, she did not want me to shave at all and insisted I use some cream which she gave me, to remove what at first can best be described as "bum fluff", once a week. Needless to say she never managed to keep me using it.
My first razor was the well know "safety razor" made by Gillette and patented by him in 1904. One could and I often did change blades and use Wilkinson Sword blades. As time went on, I used more Wilkinson Sword blades than Gillette until Gillette brought out a new razor with two blades. Now one could not use another manufacturer's blade as they did not fit. One was sucked into using their system and they charged us royally for the privilege.
Over the years I have drifted back and forth between the Gillette and Wilkinson Sword systems. I understand that Gillette use New Zealand as their testing ground for new products, before conning the rest of the world that their new system is the best. My choices have been decided purely on the basis of cost. I object to paying their horrendous prices for the blades.
The latest campaign by Gillette is another attempt to con us as they have only changed the colour of the razor and blades and not much else. How many more blades on a shaving head do we need really? Surely the first blade cuts the hair, so what do the rest do? Do they take it in turns? As the first blade gets blunt does the second take over and so on till they are all blunt and we are forced to change it?
Part of me sometimes gets so angry about this scam that I swear I'll grow a beard again. But Hanna, thinks I look like a Hamster with one; it certainly makes me look older, so I don't.
The use of an electric shaver seems to be the cheapest method of staying clean shaven over the long term, but I don't like them. I do enjoy the ritual of wet shaving each morning. It makes me feel clean and wakes me up. Perhaps the best idea is to try and use the old fashioned cut throat razor, for this in the long term would also be more cost effective.
2 March 2011
I think it right that Guttenberg bit the bullet and resigned. I did not mention it when I voiced my opinions on the scandal of his plagiarism earlier, but should have done.
The majority of politicians fall because of the poor manner in which they deal with a crisis. Guttenberg is no exception here and should really have fallen on his sword the first time the story broke. I cannot believe he did not know what his thesis contained, unless of course he paid someone else to write it. There are any number of such offers to be found on the Internet. What we do not know is whether or not he (cut and pasted) stole other peoples work intentionally and with "malice aforethought" as they say. Or whether attributing all these "quotes" was just too much work for him. Either way he was a foolish young man.
How many of us have tried to cheat in an exam? Most of us will know of a class mate who has done so successfully. As a boy I watched many of my classmates do so, but I never had the courage to try, I rather quaked at the idea of being found out if I did, which is why I left it to others. That some manage to get away with it, does not make it right. At the back of any thesis submitted to a German university is a sworn statement to the effect that you testify that it is all your own work. On your own head be it if it is not.
What still annoys me is in this whole affair is the role the university and his tutor (Doctor-Vater) played. Surely a doctorate thesis is examined by a panel of experts, before being passed. How come they did not notice the blatant plagiarism? Had they done their job back in 2006 this whole affair need not have happened. Yet now the university and his tutor are accusing him of being a liar and a cheat. He may well be all these things, but for them now to wash their hands like Pilate and claim innocence is absurd. At the very least, since they awarded him "summa cum laude" for this work they must shoulder some blame for the fiasco?
|The Lion exits stage right!|
zu Guttenberg has now retired to the political wilderness to rethink his future. I predict that in a couple of years he will return to prominence having washed his image until it is squeaky clean.