22 May, 2009

Good on ya Joanna

I was born just ten years after World War 2 ended. I was raised in Hull in Yorkshire, a major fishing and cargo port and one of the worst-bombed cities in England. When I was a kid, my friends and I played 'Jerrys and English' in the bombed out ruins of buildings still not yet rebuilt. Every adult male I knew back then had been in the army or the navy. All my friends' fathers, and all their grandfathers too. My own paternal grandfather was bed-ridden all the time I knew him because of injuries sustained in the war.

I don't know how kids view war these days. I imagine they don't see it in the way we did. Since World War 2, wars have become shabbier and less honourable. The disgraceful invasion of Iraq makes even Vietnam seem marginally reasonable. Yet everyone I knew as a child was proud of what we did in World War 2. We had stood firm against oppression. We had saved the world from tyranny. We had been brave and strong.

And among all the many stories I heard in those days, of bravery and courage and skill, the stalwart loyalty and fierce bravery of the Gurkhas was often mentioned.

I think, like many other Brits, I was astonished to discover that Gurkhas who had served in the British Army Brigade of Gurkhas had no automatic right to settle in Britain on leaving the army. I was also shocked to discover that a sly deal at the time of Partition had left the Gurkhas with a reduced pension compared to other British Army servicemen.

For some years now, there has been a campaign to achieve better rights for Gurkha ex-servicemen. Small wins have happened from time to time but the big battle - for their right to settle in Britain - has only just been won. After a surprise 'first day motion' defeat for the Government (the first since 1978) the British Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, announced that "All Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years service will be allowed to settle in the UK". As Nick Clegg, a UK politician quite rightly said, it was "a victory for decency" and "the kind of thing people want this country to do."

Certainly it is what people of my generation would want, people who heard the admiration and respect in the voices of our forebears when they spoke of the brave and loyal Gurkhas.

But there is still work to be done on the Gurkha's behalf. We still need to ensure that Gurkha Brigade veterans receive full pensions in the UK. But, as 'Gurkha Justice Campaign' lawyer David Enright says, "that is for tomorrow". Today, he and other campaign leaders - including figurehead and active campaigner Joanna Lumley, whose father was an officer in a Gurkha regiment - are celebrating yesterday's tremendous victory.

07 May, 2009

Not A Twit After All

I'm not saying I'll never twitter again, but I have noticed that I havent tweeted for several weeks now. So the grand experiment is over. It seems I'm not the twittering type...

...unlike millions of others. According to research by A C Nielson from March this year, unique visitors to the Twitter site grew by 1,382 percent year-on-year, from 475,000 in February 2008 to 7 million in February 2009. Plus, there were another three-quarters of a million people accessing Twitter via their mobile phones and about a million sending and receiving Twitter SMS messages. I guess you could say it has become popular. It all adds up to about 240 tweets per user for the quarter to Feb '09. That's more than 2 per user per day. (No variances were given but I suspect there is a broad spread of usage patterns.)

I averaged just over half a tweet per day i the four months since I started.

Mind you, I picked up some interesting followers, including one young lady whose picture shows her posing in a latex catsuit.

I won't be closing my account or anything but I think I should acknowledge that this is not for me. Honestly, I don't care what someone I barely know in Indiana is having for breakfast, or that their dog just threw up on the carpet. And that @reply feature, where you get to see half the conversation someone you follow is having with someone you don't (about poetry markets in Belgium, or their holiday plans) is about the most useless load of nonsense I've ever seen. You'd think it would be intriguing, wouldn't you? Well, it's not.

Maybe when I've got something to sell, I will start stalking following hundreds of people the way everyone else does. Until then, I just don't see the point.

01 May, 2009

Thinking It Through Fail

Last Wednesday, the World Health Organisation pushed its pandemic alert status for the recent swine flue outbreak up to 'five' (out of six). As far as the WHO is concerned, then, a pandemic is imminent.

The Australian government (and many others around the world) has its own pandemic plan which is keyed to the WHO alert levels. At 'five' various announcements should be made and actions taken under this plan. One of these is for Australians to stock up on food, water, household supplies, and basic medicines so that each household could last a fortnight without them.

Now this is obviously a recipe for triggering panic buying on a national scale, probably accompanied by punch-ups at checkouts and little old ladies being trampled to death in the rush to buy bags of sugar and other essentials. So the government has said that it won't be instigating this part of its (clearly stupid) plan. Presumably they will wait until the alert level hits 'six' and a pandemic is actually underway before they mention that people should have been stockpiling food so as to avoid the food riots that will then be starting up in all the major cities.

In fact, I suppose, like all governments everywhere, they are quietly hoping it won't come to that, that the pandemic won't happen, and that this is all a storm in a petri dish. Maybe they think that having your head in the sand is the best protection against viruses.

The fact remains, however, that the plan they have is rubbish. If a pandemic hits (and WHO thinks it is imminent) there will be food shortages, there will be shortages of all kinds of commodities. The government's plan for everybody to stock up against such an event is probably quite a good idea. Trouble is, they didn't think it through, did they? With typical stupidity, their thought processes only got so far and then petered out.

If you're going to announce, at alert level five, that every Australian should stock up for a fortnight, then at, oh level two or three, say, you should probably compel all the supermarkets to stock up for the big rush that's coming. That would be reasonable, wouldn't it? After all, in these days of just-in-time buying, the supermarkets and their suppliers are only keeping about three days of supplies. That's why everyone buying a fortnight's worth is such a problem. The supermarkets and even the wholesalers, would be cleaned out instantly with no chance of re-stocking.

Not only would it be impossible for people to buy a fortnight's worth of food, after the first lot had tried, there would be nothing at all for everybody else. It would be a catastrophe.

But how could the government compel the supermarkets to stock up for the level five announcement when the wholesalers don't have that much stock? How could the wholesalers stock up when many of the producers couldn't provide their produce fast enough? (They too are working on a just-in-time basis don't forget.) And then there's the question of compensation. If the government forces the suppliers to over-supply and the retailers to over-stock, what happens if the level five alert never happens?

In fact, whatever dimwit wrote that requirement into the government's pandemic plan (probably an extremely expensive consultant from one of the big consultancies) ought to be sacked. He or she is clearly an idiot.

Must stop now, I've got to get off to the shops before the breakfast cereal is all gone.

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