Search This Blog

Friday, 29 January 2010

Modern War

It is a commonplace that in modern wars - and that means virtually all wars since 1918 - the ratio of civilian to military deaths and injuries is not only greater than 1:1 but often many times greater. I know of only one exception, the Falklands War.

This commonplace ought to make any decent government wary of deploying its military in large-scale offensive operations. It is the young and the old, mothers and children who will die or be maimed for life. And because of the global hegemony of the United States, such tragedies will nearly all occur on one side only: in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan it will be poor people who die. So dirt poor that they won't even have been able to blog that they see death coming.

Modern military technology is more powerful than the intelligence of those who wield it. That is why soldiers die in "friendly fire" incidents. It is also why it is hazardous to attend a wedding in Afghanistan. Intelligence may say it is a terrorist get-together and only when the body count is done can it be seen that it wasn't. And despite the relatively low risks they face, modern soldiers - conscript or volunteer - get jumpy and get high. They release tension with their guns or their missiles and then there are many dead.

A war may not in a particular case constitute what international law defines as a "crime of aggression", but even in that case it cannot escape the force of such truths.

Any politician who presses the case for war should be reminded that, with no ifs or buts, he or she is signing the death certificate of people - perhaps or probably many thousands of people - who have done no harm and intend no harm and including, most likely, many who are not old enough to have even heard the name "Tony Blair".


Added 24 July 2018: This Blog piece is developed into a longer argument in the chapter "War and Terror" included in my paperback The Best I Can Do (degree zero 2016) freely available from Amazon, Waterstones and other booksellers

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Rich and Poor are Always with Us

This is autobiography.

Today the Government has announced that in Britain there are rich people and poor people. This is the conclusion of an academic study, commissioned by Harriet Harman, the Equalities Minister. The rich have lots more money than poor people, and the situation isn't changing.

My mother's ambition was to bequeath £1000 to her only son. When she died in 1978, aged 71, her Post Office Savings Bank account wasn't quite in four figures. So I tried hard to get as much as I could for the bits of furniture and knick-knacks and eventually persuaded myself that she had achieved her ambition. I needed to feel that she had achieved something. After leaving my father in 1961 ("Mental Cruelty and Neglect to Maintain" in those days) she spent most of the rest of her life on benefits because he failed to pay maintenance (nothing new there) and because she was not well enough to work. When she did work, it was as a shop assistant.

When my father died in 1997, aged 85, he left tens of thousands - some of it kept in cash because he was afraid he might be charged for help received from social services. But he didn't leave as much as you might have expected for a small businessman and very mean man. Though he had worked from lock-up shops (in Dartford, Kent) for over thirty years, he had never got himself onto the property ladder. For twenty years after retiring he lived in a caravan until infirmity (and the state of the caravan) got him into sheltered accommodation. He put his money into Tesco shares. Tesco started out from a lock-up shop in Dartford, Kent, offering tins of pineapple straight from the cardboard boxes stacked outside the shop.

My father's money helped me expand the small business I run, and have run since taking early retirement from university teaching. I am on the property ladder, which is what makes all the difference, and so if I die tomorrow my children will inherit a couple of hundred thousand plus the assets of my business. But I can see from Harriet Harman's survey that I am nowhere near entering the top ten per cent of households which, at my age, are able to pass on around a million. There' still time.

Monday, 25 January 2010

How the Government Makes People Old Before Their Time

The UK's Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has come out in favour of scrapping the so-called "default" retirement age of 65: the age at which employers can require a worker to retire and against which the worker has no legal recourse. The EHRC points to the economic benefits of retaining older employees in the workforce.
Employers's organisations don't like the EHRC proposal because they don't want the problem of trying to dislodge workers who are, frankly, past their use by date.

The bigger problem is that government can't make up it's mind what to do about older people. It knows that they are going to cost increasing amounts of money for pensions and health care, as they live longer, and it is committed, in the long run, to raising the pensionable age and with it the default age of retirement. In the mean time, it sends out continuous messages to older people to take it easy and the sooner the better.

Women are encouraged to leave the workforce at 60, since they are eligible for state old age pension at that age. They do have the option of continuing to work till 65, but at the same time they can collect their pension and are exempt from further National Insurance contributions. Men can't achieve such bliss until 65. This extraordinary unequal treatment does not trouble the EHRC - or women. It is unadulterated sexism on a grand scale.

At 60, both sexes are offered Free Bus Passes, Free Prescriptions, Free Swimming Passes, and an annual cash handout allegedly for the purchase of "Winter Fuel". None of these benefits are means-tested and all of them are simple electoral bribes.

At least one - Free Prescriptions - is actively pernicious. All the evidence is that the over 60s massively misuse prescription drugs, because they are free and because GPs add one drug after another to the patient's free portfolio, until the combinations are often toxic.

Free Bus Passes are a disincentive to walking or cycling, neither of which are subsidised, and thereby more than undo whatever good work the Free Swimming Pass does in improving the fitness of older people.

The big objection to all these hand outs, however, is that they encourage the onset of a dependency culture among older people many years before they need to become dependent and, in many cases, at a time of life when they are at their most affluent: mortage paid off, children grown up, salaries at a maximum.

Next time you get sentimental about the Winter Fuel Payment, remember that it is paid, tax free, into the accounts of silver-haired bankers

Saturday, 23 January 2010

A to Z explained

A to Z is my back list of Thoughts for the Day. I have posted it in a clumsy fashion - I am new to this - but you will easily see what the idea was. Originally, a Thought could only be included if expressed in thirty words or less, and most of the entries satisfy this constraint. A to Z was compiled over a long period, added to as and when. Now that I have started this Blog, I suppose I should set myself a new constraint, most obviously to write one and not more than one Post each day.

Friday, 22 January 2010

A to Z (continued)

School Holidays

All rain and no sun is no fun for Jack and Jill. That's why in England we have school holidays in August when we know it's going to be wet and dull.


I never heard anyone regret that they had too much sex when they were young.


Smokers are like those old lags for whom prison is a comfort zone.


If you look at how badly people get on with each other, it's surprising more people don't choose solitude.


Ther should be a Society for Unsponsoring Things. Just imagine, no "Sponsored by ..." signs waving at you from municipal flower beds.


When I see a "personalised" car number plate that does not actually spell the owner's name, I read it as ST2PID C1NT.

Taxation without Pain

How to fund care of the elderly frail? Ninety-five percent tax on legacies to cats' and dogs' homes.

Voting Intentions

I shan't vote again. Whichever party wins, it will still be God, The Queen and School Uniform. They demand so much deference from us.

A to Z ( continued)


An obsessive is someone who believes that a novel must have a beginning, a middle and an end. In that order.

The Old

Could do better. That is how the young judge the old. Forgetful, slow and deaf. They just don't try hard enough.

Parents and Children

Parents usually want their children to be happy. Children want their parents to behave.


Except in Italy, a successful politician is a crook who hasn't yet been caught.

Public Holidays

A camel is a horse designed by a committee, and a Public Holiday is a Parliament's idea of fun for the masses.


Just Q wait; I'll think of something.

A Rainy Day

Unfortunately, people who save for a rainy day don't notice when it starts to rain.

A to Z (continued)


Loyal people rely on your knowledge that you are in debt to them and must repay them in guilt


A relationship is worth having when I delight in your very company and you in mine. That's why there has to be government suppport for marriage.


Mean people feel that life is a waste of money.


There must be less to life.


Separate but Equal does not exist. Segregation is always about the exercise of power and always to the disadvantage of at least one group.

Naff 1

Restaurants which sell you chilled bottled water and serve it with tap-water ice cubes.

Naff 2

Restaurants which cannot serve a dessert without spraying it with goo. You would think they were owned by aerosol can manufacturers.

National Anthems

A national anthem should reflect a people's better self and aspirations. The words and music should be well-known and well-loved. For England, John Lennon's Imagine.


Neurosis is an inability to change. Sometimes it affects whole populations. I have been visiting Paris for forty years. To no purpose, drivers are still honking their car horns.

A to Z (continued)


There is a one word answer to anyone who says we learn from experience. Hangovers.


It's not something you should promise. Fidelity is something into which you may be fortunate enough to drift.


It's easier to let go of the past when your memory ain't so good.


This is how the prudish have got rid of "Sex". But though I can name my Sex in one word, I want a chapter - not a tick box - to explain my Gender.


If a good god did exist, he would no longer wish us to believe in him. He would think, too many crimes have been committed in my name.


People observe their habits as if they were the Ten Commandments.


One should not speak ill of the dead.


Indignation is an art. Politicians do it extremely well.

A to Z (continued)

"Care in the Community"

Failed policy, now just shorthand for "Take Care in the Community - there are lunatics about!"


Quite often, I want to kill my neighbour. Unfortunately, I lack the necessary religious conviction.

Dependency Culture

Supposed to affect the residents of council estates. But it's spread. All the middle classes now think that at sixty they deserve a Free Bus Pass.

Dogs 1

Dogs express the secret desires of their owners. That's why they shit on the pavements.

Dogs 2

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks". Then they are bad role models. Millions of old humans have learnt the tricks of mobile phones and the Internet.


They are implicated in many unnecessary deaths - as when American pilots bomb the wrong Afghan targets.

A to Z


Some are immersed in a complex but wide-eyed and open-mouthed pursuit of truth. Others prove their theoretical understanding in swivel-eyed, purse-lipped Inquisitions.


Worn-out literary device, now found only in uptight Impersonals ("Seriously sexy Simon seeks slender Siren...").


Anarchists believe that there is such a thing as a free lunch. Yours.


In anxiety dreams, people miss their trains. In anxious lives, they miss life itself.


It does not have a football team. Therefore it does not exist.

British Politicians

The basic job requirement is ability to say "hardworkingbritishfamilies" with the right combination of sincerity and menace.