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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Afghan Military Strategy Doomed Without Big Changes, UN Chief Warns

by Tom Coghlan for the Times Online

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The military strategy in Afghanistan is seriously flawed and is doomed to failure without major adjustments, the outgoing head of the UN there has warned. Kai Eide, who will stand down as UN Special Representative in March, was withering in his assessment of the Afghan surge recently set in motion by President Obama. He warned that the military focus was at the expense of a "meaningful, Afghan-led political strategy" and that Western troops and governments had left Afghans feeling that they faced "cultural invasion". Speaking to The Times before today's conference on Afghanistan, he said that the international community must stop operating according to "strategies and decisions that are taken far away from Afghanistan". "Very unfortunately, the political strategy has become an appendix to the military strategy. The strategy has to be demilitarised - a political strategy with a military component."

Mr Eide added that he supported the arrival of more US and Nato troops but that they had to be used to train Afghan forces. He said that the latter were better than any international forces because Westerners still struggled to understand the sensitivities of the country. He expressed deep concern at the tactical approach of British and other Western troops, which aimed to remove the Taleban from an area, hold it and then develop local infrastructure and security forces. "The so-called clear, hold, build military strategy has serious flaws," he said. "First of all, we are not able to ‘clear' when our opponents are insurgents one day and a normal inhabitant of a village the next day. We are not able to ‘hold' because it takes time to train and put in place police and sub-national governance. And we are not able to ‘build' because we cannot expect civilian development agencies to come into what they feel is a military campaign." Mr Eide's tenure as Special Representative has been controversial. He was accused by his American deputy, Peter Galbraith, of effectively colluding with President Karzai during last year's elections, which were marred by allegations of vote-rigging on a massive scale. Mr Galbraith was dismissed but several senior political advisers to the UN mission in Kabul resigned over the episode. However, his views on the West's tactics in Afghanistan will find support among many civilian agencies and NGOs working there. Eight aid agencies, including Oxfam, Afghanaid and CARE International, issued a warning this week that military-led aid undermined long-term aid work and endangered both aid workers and civilians. Aid agencies have already expressed alarm at a Tory plan to create a stabilisation brigade within the British Army to undertake aid work for the military.

Mr Eide said that his criticism went beyond issues such as civilian casualties and night raids, both of which have sparked angry protests in Afghanistan. "This is part of a much wider problem and that is the need for the international community to show respect for Afghanistan's religion, culture and traditions. On this I think we have failed over the last few years. We have sometimes treated Afghanistan as a no man's land where strategies have been formulated far away, decisions have been made far away, without sufficient consultation." Afghans felt culturally besieged, he said. "Often we operate in a way where Afghans feel there is an invasion going on, in terms of values and cultures that go beyond how our military forces operate. They do not feel we give them the space to govern their own society." Mr Eide expressed scepticism at the significance of a recent BBC poll, seized upon by Western political and military leaders, which suggested that support for Western forces in Afghanistan was growing. "I believe we should be very sober in assessing those polls. The problems that we face with regard to security, delivering services and economic development are enormous and I believe if we allow ourselves to become complacent because of one opinion poll we will be making a serous mistake.

"We must guard against an impression that what we have done up to now is the right recipe," he said. "I think serious adjustments are necessary." Among those adjustments should be an end to focusing aid money on the violent southern provinces, he said. "Why is the insurgency spreading? One of the most prominent reasons is that there has been an inequitable distribution of resources." He added: "If we are to develop the Afghan economy we have to focus resources where the growth centres are. These are not in the south where the conflict is raging. We cannot continue with small, fragmented governance efforts implemented by each donor country separately in the province where they are located. We have to have a comprehensive national plan." As for the controversy surrounding Mr Karzai's re-election, Mr Eide said he had "absolutely no regrets" about the handling of the poll.

[I do find it amazing that after almost a decade in Afghanistan we still aren’t getting things right. From the nightly news it certainly doesn’t look like we’re winning – whatever that means – when all that we see are allied dead coming home and Afghan dead civilians mounting up. I have still yet to hear a reasonable argument of why we’re even in that failure of a country or why we are supporting an obviously corrupt leadership maintain power. I can only hope that we’ll eventually learn our lesson (again) and leave Afghanistan to the Afghans. Personally I’m not holding my breath on that one.]

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Just Finished Reading: Dirty Little Lies by John Macken

Forensic scientist Reuben Maitland is on the verge of a breakthrough in crime detection. He has developed a method, called predictive profiling, whereby DNA samples can be used to produce computer images of anyone present at a crime scene. But, suspicious of his wife, Maitland tests it on a hair sample found in his own bed – a hair sample he suspects is not his own. When his misuse of police time comes to light Maitland is fired from his position in the UK’s elite crime squad but begins to suspect that other forces are at work that used his lapse of judgement as an excuse to remove him. An internal power grab erupts forcing everyone to choose sides and in the midst of everything is a killer determined to undermine the belief in DNA evidence by killing the very scientists that use it.

This is not my usual read – at all. I am not a fan of CSI or NCIS and have only a passing interest in forensics. However, I was gripped by this book and raced through the 500+ pages in a matter of days. Maitland is a great character and I will enjoy reading more of his (mis)adventures in future – as this was the first book in a series of at least 3 to date. I was a bit concerned that the inevitable details of death and mutilation would be excessively detailed in an attempt to ‘out-gross’ the opposition. Happily this was not the case. Macken managed to weave a not too complex plot into a more than acceptable thriller complete with snappy dialogue, seedy locations, personal problems and a fair amount of black humour. Although not exactly intellectually stimulating – except maybe for the brief discussion about the potential misuse of this powerful technology – this was a highly entertaining thriller that certainly delivered everything it promised. The comparative novelty factor probably helped but I think this can stand out even in the crowded forensic thriller genre. Recommended for anyone who likes their thrills dark and bloody.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thinking About: Stuff

Sometimes I feel that I’m drowning in stuff. I have hundreds of CDs and DVDs and, of course, thousands of books. I have computers and a big screen TV and lots of other gadgets picked up along the way but I am at least glad that I don’t feel driven to accumulate more stuff just for the sake of it. I am not the kind of person who needs the latest thing or the best of a particular item. I have never understood the appeal of designer brands or the desire to own an expensive item – like a watch – where a cheaper version will do as well. I have never understood the idea of fashion where perfectly good clothes are replaced for others of a different colour or cut.

Maybe the origin of this lack of consumer angst is the fact that I grew up in relatively poor circumstance where much of the designer lifestyle was simply beyond our reach. Maybe I was simply too lazy to work my butt off getting the money together to buy something that I’d have to discard months later when a different fashion swept through the neighbourhood. Maybe it was simply that mother just didn’t raise no fools. Of course when I got my first job back in the 80’s I found that I had a lot more disposable income than ever before – despite being fairly low paid and working in London. Naturally I disposed of it almost as soon as it hit my bank account. But after buying things I’d always wanted – like a leather jacket I hardly wear and a denim jacket I wore to death – I fairly quickly ran out of things to buy. Strangely though I continued buying, feeling almost compelled to spend money on things I sometimes couldn’t remember buying. It was all rather weird. Pretty soon I got into the habit of asking myself why I wanted the shiny new object in front of me, where was I going to put it, when was I going to wear it. Inevitably my accumulation of useless stuff decreased and the size of my bank balance increased.

Of course I still buy things, some of which I regret later, but on the whole I can walk past the stacks of the latest ‘must-have’ item and find the majority of advertising amusing at best or deeply irritating at worst. Most advertising is designed to make you feel inadequate unless you’re in possession of ‘X’ – only to say in a year or so that ‘X’ is actually inferior to ‘X plus’ and that hanging onto ‘X’ just makes you look a sad failure. Well, I stopped listening to that bullshit years ago! Fashion and me only intersect when something retro happens and I’m still wearing the same footwear or some-such I was wearing ten years ago. For a vanishing brief period I am fashionable – until the next wave sweeps through and I’m just me again.

Whilst not exactly part of the make-do and mean generation (having never darned a sock in my life) I have had countless pairs of shoes re-souled and re-healed in my time and my mother spent countless hours on her sewing machine patching my jeans throughout my teenage years – I actually still can’t bring myself to throw away a pair of jeans just because they’re ripped somewhere (and I’m fashionable yet again!). I use things – be they shoes, kettles or computers – until they become unusable for one reason or another. I’m still wearing T-shirts I bought ten years ago and I used a kettle today that I bought for my new house over fourteen years ago. When I used to wear shirts and ties to work I even, for a short while, wore I shirt I’d worn in school – obviously before the middle-age spread hit.

So maybe I’m not in such bad shape as I thought I was. I have disposable income but little I want to dispose it on. Maybe after almost 50 years of accumulation I have simply run out of stuff that I want or the space to store it all. It explains the difficulty I have in buying myself birthday and Christmas presents (yes, I do that). I do have an extensive Amazon Wish List – just under 300 items – but it’s a list made up of nice-to-haves rather than needs or even wants. I’m just not a very good consumer I guess. Although I can think of much better things to be – like a thinking human being.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Atheism and Nihilism

By Austin Cline for About.Com

Atheism has long been closely associated with nihilism, both for good and for bad reasons, but usually for bad reasons in the writings of critics of both. It is alleged that atheism necessarily leads to nihilism because atheism necessarily results in materialism, scientism, ethical relativism, and a sense of despair that must lead to feelings of suicide. All of these tend to be basic characteristics of nihilistic philosophies.

In some ways the connection between nihilism is valid but in other ways it is not — disentangling the two requires first a better grasp of what atheism is all about and how premises of critics tend to cause them to misrepresent it. Fundamentally, atheism is simply the absence of belief in the existence of any gods — it does not require that one adopt materialism, scientism, ethical relativism, or a sense of despair over the apparent meaninglessness of life. Those who invest much in traditional religious beliefs do not, however, quite see things that way. For them, their religion and theism are what provide them with morality, with meaning in life, and with a sense of connection to eternal, spiritual values. Without their religion and without God, they find it inconceivable that a person could hold on to any of those things. And, in all fairness, some atheists do abandon those positions. Most atheists (in the West, at least) tend to be materialists of one sort or another, not believing in any non-material or supernatural realm. Atheists are also generally ethical relativists, adopting one form or another of ethical nihilism. And, finally, there are plenty of atheistic existentialists who believe that human life is objectively meaningless.

Few, atheists, however, actually go so far as to commit suicide or engage in wanton criminality as the conservative religious critics insist must logically conclude from these positions. This should be a strong signal that what the critics contend are "logical connections" are in fact nothing of the sort. When we look closely we can also find that some of these positions have been adopted by devout religious believers. Existentialism was originally developed by Christian thinkers, for example. So atheism doesn't necessarily lead to nihilism while nihilism isn't necessarily a product of atheism. Is there, then, any connection at all? It is certainly arguable that atheism makes nihilism easier — for example, Nietzsche made the case that widespread atheism overthrew the only interpretation (theistic) of the world that was really popular. As a consequence, people got the impression that there wasn't really any meaning out there at all and so lost hope. At the same time, however, even this connection has in many ways disappeared. Today the negative image of nihilists is associated less with nonconforming atheists and more with overly conforming, robotic workers of the post-industrial age. It is argued that the heavy regimentation of the corporate world robs a person's life of all colour, vitality, freedom, reducing a person's humanity to the point where they feel personally alienated from all that they do. In the end, after everything is packaged and sanitized and processed, there is nothing of real value left for them.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Just Finished Reading: Alibi by Joseph Kanon

Venice. 1946. Ex-Army Intelligence officer Adam Miller is visiting his mother who has announced she’s to re-marry. At one of the first parties of the new season Adam meets Claudia, an Italian Jew who survived the camps by any means necessary. Somewhere during their torrid affair Adam falls in love. When she is presented to Adam’s future step-father she explodes in a violent attack accusing him of being a collaborator. Later in the privacy of her apartment she tells Adam how this man had betrayed her father and herself to the Germans. Deciding to get to the bottom of her accusations Adam begins his own investigation and uncovers disturbing evidence of complicity with the occupying power. It’s not long before accusations turn to threats and threats develop into murderous intent.

I was very impressed by the first third or so of this book. The characters were well drawn and rounded with deep personal histories and even deeper motivations. The rendition of Venice, shaking itself off from years of occupation, was evocative of both the time and the city I briefly visited some years ago. But at about the half way point either I or the author lost the plot and I really struggled to get through the middle of the book which seemed to be scene after scene of the main characters wondering what to do – and failing to agree on a course of action. Only in the last quarter did the plot pick up pace again and move to an interesting – if somewhat unsatisfactory – ending. The failures of the book, or my wandering mind, have not put me off this author completely however. He certainly showed a lot of promise early on but, at least in my opinion, failed to maintain a very high standard throughout. I will certainly be reading more of his works and hope that one of us can keep things together long enough to enjoy a really good read. No doubt I shall let you know if that turns out to be the case.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Thinking About: Modern Warfare 2

This is something I’m doing a lot at the moment. In all honestly I think that I’m, at least temporarily, addicted to this game. Oddly though, First Person Shooters (FPS) aren’t really my thing. I much prefer Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games. However, since playing Modern Warfare 2 everything else seems kind of…. bland. Of course the game is designed to be addictive – giving out rewards on a regular basis along with sounds and visual images to reinforce the buzz of doing well. It’s all very Pavlovian – as the game designers are more than aware.

Starting out on the game is tough, especially as I used to die with monotonous regularity. But gradually I got better and my kill-death ratio (KDR) is creeping up to 1 which is fairly impressive from where I’m sitting considering most of the people I’m fighting against are less than half my age with reaction speeds like lightening and years more experience with this kind of game than me. Where I think I do OK is tactics. Some of the people I play against – and kill – are just not very bright and even I find them very easy to kill. Yup, they’re that stupid. Of course in real life (IRL) I wouldn’t last more than a few minutes in a combat situation so the on-line version is pretty accurate in that sense!

Modern Warfare 2 is unusual (from my perspective) in the sense that I’m more than happy going on-line on my own against real opponents. This is something I hardly ever did with other FPS games. I just didn’t enjoy it. With MW2 I feel different. Although part of a Clan/group I don’t feel the need of that particular security blanket in order to don my virtual body armour, lock and load my M-16 and spawn in harms way. I’m usually confident enough – even when I get a run of bad matches (like most of this weekend just gone) – to go into combat and, hopefully, kick some ass. Of course some of the guys laugh at me for several reasons. One of which is that I’m actually not that good even when I’m doing well. Several of the Clan are 5-10 times better than I am. Another reason they laugh is because of my combat ‘style’ (for want of a better word). I’m not one who runs around either stabbing or shooting people. I’m not up to that sort of thing. I tend to run from cover to cover, pause, and move on (hopefully) killing anyone I come across or who comes across me. Inevitably I’ve been called a ‘camper’ on more than one occasion – though I prefer the term ‘ambusher’ myself. I don’t always use that tactic though it does have a place in my repertoire. One thing that several of us are good at – and have recently been complemented on – is our teams intolerance of enemy call-ins. These are basically kill-streak rewards which often include attack helicopters and Harriers. Often three of the Clan carry stinger missiles which are specially designed to deal with this sort of thing. If all of us are in-game, if it flies – it dies.

Of course with any game there are problems and frustrations. The call-ins mentioned above are excessive and can easily ruin a match. The method of finding and joining a game is flaky at best. Because there are no dedicated servers (on the PC version at least) there is no way to detect and prevent cheats from prospering and the game seems sometimes oblivious to game destroying lag. But, when it does work as advertised, it’s very, very good. The graphics are superb, the game play heart-racing and the buzz from a good game is intoxicating. So far I’ve invested about 60 hours game time and have just reached level 54. I’m going for level 70 (the last level) by Easter which will be quite a challenge as the gaps between levels keeps increasing. After I get there I’m hoping that my addiction will start to fade and I can move onto other things. I certainly hope so. Anyway, I have some more XP to get so I need to get on-line and start killing people. Oh, and if anyone is wondering about the picture – it’s from my game profile. Scary aren’t I?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sarah Palin crib notes mocked by White House aide

From the BBC

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A White House aide has appeared at a briefing with the words "hope" and "change" written on his hand in a jibe at Republican Sarah Palin. Mrs Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate, had been shown reading crib notes from her hand at a question and answers session on Saturday. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also appeared to have his shopping list written on his palm.

Mr Gibbs was speaking at the White House shortly after the president had been stressing the need for a bipartisan approach to politics. Showing his left palm, Mr Gibbs said: "I wrote a few things down." The list read in vertical order - eggs, milk, bread [which had been crossed out]. "And then I wrote down 'hope and change', just in case I forgot," he said. The jibe reportedly drew groans from reporters present.

At the weekend, Mrs Palin was delivering a speech and taking part in a question and answer session for the Tea Party movement, which draws together opponents of Mr Obama's healthcare reform, his economic stimulus package and other aspects of his agenda. A photo taken during the event showed her left hand with the words "energy", "budget cuts", "tax" and "lift Americans' spirits". The word "budget" had been crossed out. Video footage showed her seemingly reading from her hand when asked what top three things a conservative-led Congress should do. In her speech, Mrs Palin received a standing ovation as she called for a "return to conservative principles". She also spoke of a "charismatic guy with a teleprompter" - an apparent reference to President Obama.

[The world so dodged a bullet when she failed to get elected as VP. Let’s just hope she doesn’t make the ticket next time!]

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Just Finished Reading: Russell – A Very Short Introduction by A C Grayling

Yes, yet another slim volume in the excellent Very Short Introduction series! This concerns the life and works of the great British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Graying makes a good case for Russell being treated like philosophical wallpaper – being so ubiquitous as to be hard to avoid but at the same time in the background of just about everything philosophical in the Anglo-American tradition. I read a bit of Russell in my late teens/early 20’s and was rather impressed by his down to earth style and well grounded common sense. Not the sort of thing you’d expect from a philosopher! I knew Russell for his left-wing leanings (he was a founder of CND) and his basic anti-war stance (put to one side during WW2). What I didn’t realise was his foundational work in logic and the philosophy of mathematics – not that reading any of his work on those subjects would have penetrated very far into my brain. That kind of stuff just shuts down my cerebral cortex in seconds!

Consequently as the first half of this book concentrated on Russell’s work in logic, mathematics and the nature of the mind and its relation to reality (which is actually quite interesting) this proved to be a bit of a slog – despite Graylings excellent prose and obvious love of the subject. I was on much firmer ground when Russell’s work in social philosophy was discussed. His ideas on morality, education and war largely gelled with my own and I found myself taking notes of a number of his books to read at a later date. Despite being born into an Edwardian class ridden society Russell was surprisingly classless and forward thinking. I’m glad I read this little volume as it has re-engaged me with a philosopher I dabbled with so many years ago. Watch out for books by this eclectic thinker in the future. Recommended.

Monday, February 08, 2010

My Favourite Movies: District 13

We tried to see District 13 – not to be confused with the recent superb movie District 9 – at the cinema when it came out in 2004. It was not to be. Only on screen for a single week we failed to get our collective acts together to organise the trip. Some months later, however, I managed to pick it up cheaply on DVD so made the impulsive purchase.

District 13 is an odd film for several reasons, firstly it’s supposed to be (at least on speaking terms with) Sci-Fi without a single SF element. In many ways it’s broadly similar to Escape from New York in that a district – you guessed it, Number 13 – is walled off from the rest of the city (Paris in this case) and left to its own devices. The plot, such as it is, is paper thin. Leito (played by David Belle – pictured above on the left) is the good guy living in bad circumstances. He’s annoyed the local drug lord by flushing or ruining a million Euro’s worth of heroine. When Leito’s sister is captured as a bargaining chip he rescues her and for good measure takes the drug lord to the local police station. Unfortunately they’re just packing up to go – echoes of Assault on Precinct 13 here – so let the drug lord go and give him Leito’s sister into the bargain. Understandably annoyed by this Leito kills the police officer in charge and ends up serving a life sentence. Enter Captain Damien Tamaso (played by Cyril Raffaelli) from the elite Paris anti-drug squad. After breaking up an inner city drug den single handed he is given a mission to enter District 13 and recover a stolen Neutron type bomb. Needing inside information he teams up with Leito to infiltrate the criminal gang and return the weapon before it detonate in less that 24 hours.

What makes this film one of my favourites – joined now by its sharper sequel District 13 Ultimatum (which is basically the same film with a bigger budget) – are three things. Firstly I do enjoy the quirky Gallic sense of humour: D-13 is actually quite a funny film. Second the fight scenes are outstanding if heavily choreographed and obviously staged to show off the characters very athletic abilities. But what sells the whole thing to me are the chase sequences where Free Running gets, well, free reign. Some of the stunts are literally jaw droppingly good – and there are people out there who do that sort of thing for fun! It’s truly amazing how they run, jump and literally bounce off walls. Oh, I almost forgot another thing I loved about this film (and even more about the sequel) – the soundtrack! It’s an amazing mix of urban gangster rap – in French of course – with an Arabic riff that’s something else again. Hopefully at some point I’ll pick both of them up (neither is available on Amazon). So if you want to see something off the mainstream which is pretty much non-stop action this is definitely the movie for you – but, as with all such things – it must be watching in its original language and definitely not dubbed.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Pope Benedict attacks government over Equality Bill

From the BBC

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Pope has urged Catholic bishops in England and Wales to fight the UK's Equality Bill with "missionary zeal". Pope Benedict XVI said the legislation "violates natural law" and could end the right of the Catholic Church to ban gay people from senior positions. The Pope has confirmed he will visit the UK this year, the first since Pope John Paul II in 1982. The government said the bill, which is currently going through Parliament, would make the UK a fairer place. And gay rights campaigners have condemned the Pope's comments.

The Pope told the Catholic bishops of England and Wales gathered in Rome: "Your country is well-known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet, as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed." Religious leaders have voiced concern that the Equality Bill may force churches to employ sexually active gay people and transsexuals when hiring staff other than priests or ministers. No official itinerary has yet been drawn up for the Pope's visit but officials at the Vatican and in the UK told the BBC it was likely to take place in September. A spokesman for the Catholic Communications Network said further details were expected in early March. The Pontiff is expected to visit Birmingham - as part of the planned beatification of Cardinal John Newman - and Scotland.

The National Secular Society said it would mount a protest campaign made up of gay groups, victims of clerical abuse, feminists, family planning organisations and pro-abortion groups among others. President Terry Sanderson said: "The taxpayer in this country is going to be faced with a bill of some £20m for the visit of the Pope. A visit in which he has already indicated, he will attack equal rights and promote discrimination." Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the Pope's comments were a "coded attack on the legal rights granted to women and gay people. His ill-informed claim that our equality laws undermine religious freedom suggests that he supports the right of churches to discriminate in accordance with their religious ethos," he said. "He seems to be defending discrimination by religious institutions and demanding that they should be above the law." But Robert Mickens, Rome correspondent at the Catholic newspaper The Tablet, said the Pope's position was "nothing really new - this is part of the classic Catholic teaching on human sexuality. What the Pope is doing is trying to encourage the bishops to keep their resolve in very fluctuating morals in cultures and societies today." He added: "It's not that the Pope is wading so much into the particulars of British society or British law - I think this is very much a piece of his longstanding teaching." A spokesman for the Government Equalities Office said: "The Pope acknowledges our country's firm commitment to equality for all members of society. We believe everyone should have a fair chance in life and not be discriminated against. The Equality Bill will make Britain a fairer and more equal place."

[Is anyone in the least bit surprised that the Catholic Church, in particular, is so set against the idea of sexual equality? What I did find rather amusing is the idea of an Equality Law being against ‘natural’ law which is based on the idea of the equality of all human beings – apparently just as long as they’re not practicing homosexuals or women. With such an attitude it seems that we hardly need any Equality legislation at all, do we!]

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Just Finished Reading: The Invisible Hand by Adam Smith

This is my latest foray into the Penguin Great Ideas series. Yet again it’s an extract from a larger work – in this case the classic The Wealth of Nations written in 1776. Smith is, of course, the father of modern free market Capitalism and the first half of this short book outlines his ideas against any kind of protectionism or tariffs. So far so good – indeed his arguments seemed so obvious to me that I found the whole thing a bit boring.

The second part was, at least to my non-economic trained mind, completely inexplicable. What Smith appeared to be saying – and I never could quite decide if I’d picked up the wrong end of the stick – was that the only true industry that adds value to any product was agriculture and that manufacturing cannot, because of its very nature, add any value. Now I know this book was written at the very beginnings of the Industrial Revolution but that idea is truly bizarre. You can see why I thought I had simply misunderstood the author! Anyway, general speaking this short extract of a volume either seemed to be stating what we now consider to be obvious or was either dead, but understandably, wrong. Not exactly the best book in this series but at least I managed to finish it.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Thinking About: Approaching 50

Some of my readers will be aware that I’m approaching 50 and will reach that particular milestone in around 9 weeks time. The thing is I don’t feel 50 – whatever 50 actually feels like. I mean, this is the first time I’ve been here so it’s difficult to know how I’m supposed to feel. I certainly don’t feel old. OK, sometimes I feel old like when I’m ill and my bones ache or I hear some noise that passes for music these days but I don’t feel as I imagined being 50 would feel like.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never really grown up to any great extent. Funnily though, the two contradictory comments that have followed me throughout my life are those telling me to ‘grow up’ and those saying that I’m ‘old before my time’. Maybe it’s because I’ve never really had any responsibility – at least not to or for other people. I’ve never been married, never produced any children, never been anyone’s boss. I’ve never made a life or death decision, never seen anyone born or anyone die. I’ve never saved a life nor taken one. Maybe I’m just part of that baby boomer generation (or at least on the tail end of it) that never really had to grow up. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel old.

I don’t think being ‘over 50’ will make me any more mature. I’m still going to wear T-shirts to work. I’m still going to read SF and play computer games (Lever 41 on Modern Warfare 2 presently). But what I think I’ll do is be a bit more idiosyncratic, a bit more eccentric, a bit more me…. I’m getting to the stage where I’m beginning not to give a fuck any more what people think of me. I’m getting to that stage where I’m going to say what the hell I think rather than censor myself. I’m going to let a bit more of my personality out to ‘play’ in the world. I think that’ll be fun – at least for me! I’m aware that people, even those who like me, already think that I’m more that a little odd. It’s because I try, as much as I can, to be my own person – to be true to myself. What they don’t realise is that for many years I’ve been holding back. Maybe my 50’s is that time when I’ll ‘come out’ a bit more – a time to reveal a bit more of my true self. It’s an interesting thought and one I think I’ll play with. After all I don’t want to scare people too much. I’ll think I’ll ease into it over the next few years so that people can have time to adjust. I think my 50’s are going to be a decade full of interesting times [grin].