Sunday, January 27, 2008

Doh! Independence Imprudens

Crazy - or what?

I like to keep in touch with what's happening in the old home town, Independence, Missouri. It makes me feel closer to home and to that end the internet is a god-send. No better way to keep in touch has yet been invented!

I read the local paper, The Independence Examiner, which, in my boyhood I threw on folks' porches, on-line. And, all from the comfort of my chair.

One of the best bits is the weekly poll of on-line readers. You have to choose answers to questions of topical interest and vote for your favourite answer. I always vote and always check to see what the result of last week's poll was.

I love it when I'm in-step with my “homies”!

Unfortunately, it doesn't happen often.

A bit like my old mate and neighbour Bill Bryson I find that reports from my countrymen that I am really dead are greatly exaggerated. I just don't got home enough to know what the good folks of independence are thinking.

So, the straw poll of readers of the Examiner should enable us to get a handle on Middle America.

A recent Examiner poll asked readers to rank the causes of a weakening economy in America. 14% of respondents told the rest of us to chill out – there is nothing to worry about! Only 1% were seriously concerned by the recent stock market woes and the prospect of a Wall Street melt down. 19% were appalled by the lack of “good jobs” - whatever that means? A truly staggering 19% were apoplectic about the national debt.

The killer? 28% were pretty much ready to start a war to remove the American dependence on foreign oil – citing its consequential effect on “high” gas prices.

If women are from Venus and men from Mars, the good residents of Independence are from Planet Dumbo.

Where did they get this idea from?

These are the same folks who are convinced that JFK wasn't killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. They instinctively know that Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were probably victims of some great, unknown and un-knowable conspiracy. They firmly believe that Genesis is 100% word-perfect. A large proportion of them voted for Ol' Dubbya. They are disciples of anyone who will assuage their righteous indignation by shifting the reality of dwindling oil supplies and over-consumption onto some conspiracy by the rest of the world to rob them of what they see as their God-given right to drive monster trucks and live in a house the size of a cathedral.

They are and have been poorly served by their politicians.

Disregarding the Global Warming debate, it is still a fundamental truth that America is not so much addicted to oil and they are addicted to cheap gas.

In Independence, the price of gas has taken on a significance far beyond its true level of importance. Politicians can just as well be in favour of Islamist fundamentalism as they can be of high gas prices.

The result is a nonsense of misinformation and illogical thinking.

It's time the Examiner readers, and the rest of America, were dragged (screaming if need be) into the real world. Oil is a finite resource. It's running out. Therefore, you can't buck the market. In the home of free enterprise capitalism this lesson should not be too hard to learn. But, in Missouri we have saying: before you can teach a Missouri mule anything you have to get his attention by hitting him over the head with a two-by-four.

If'n I was you folks, I'd start learning to duck large bits of wood!

Blogged with Flock

Friday, January 25, 2008

Least Favourite Meals

Schools make a dog's dinner.

Some philosophers are born, some are made and some just happen. I may have just made that up – though it is, of course, a paraphrase of a famous diktat.

My old mate and part-time philosopher, The Chef, had his Unified Theory of the Least Favourite Meal to fall back on when either the time or the meat was ripe. It goes something like this.

If you ask any group of school children what is their least favourite school dinner and remove that meal from the menu, all that happens is the next least favourite meal simply “moves up” to take its place. Eventually you'd be having fish fingers and chips every day until the kids were thoroughly sick of them!

Simple. Logical. Works. But, not from the Jamie Oliver School of Nutritious School Dinners.

It occurs to me that this insightful dictum can be applied to all sorts of things – things far more important than little Johnnie's lunch-time nosh. How about Johnnie's school for instance?

This is what was happening on BBC Question Time last evening. The Unified Theory of the Least Favourite Meal had morphed into the General Theory of the Least Favourite School.

The debate focused on the advantages, real or perceived, of faith schools and the dastardly tricks some parents will go to in order to obtain places for their children at these”good” schools.

Parents take the view that faith schools are better than non-faith. In individual cases, this may be correct. As a generalisation: it's a generalisation.

What was most interesting was the methods some parents use in order to place their children in a faith school – even though they are, strictly speaking, not of that faith. I suppose this does do some good in swelling the pews on a Sunday morning, but I'd be surprised if these phoney attempts to convince the local vicar you are a devout Christian really work.

An example. I started school as a bright-eyed five year old at a Catholic School on the south-side of Chicago. In those days, all white children went to the Catholic school because there were black children in the local maintained school. Therefore, about 25% of my school was Catholic and at least the same number were Jewish. This made for interesting education!

Even as a five year old I can distinctly remember the nuns being very angry on Jewish holidays! Al the Jewish kids stayed home!

While this anecdote may say more about race relations in Chicago in the 50's than it does about faith schools, it does resonate with the parents of today who think that their children should get an advantage (more perceived than real I would argue) simply by pretending to qualify for state-aided religious education.

The summing up was from the Labour Party spokesman who blithely informed the audience that, in any event, it would be impossible to do anything about faith schools – or independent schools for that matter – because the European Court would surely strike down any attempt to limit their existence as impinging on the parents rights to choose education for their children.

What we need are smarter parents

Until that happens, we're stuck with the least favourite meal. Bon apetit!

Blogged with Flock

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Super Bowl Forty-Two

Giants Win?

Well, it's official. Super Bowl 42 will be between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. The Pats will be big favourites.

They will also be going for an unprecedented undefeated season.

I'm picking the Giants.

Am I crazy? Or, just stupid?

Maybe both, but I'm still counting on the Giants to upset the apple cart and ruin what should be a historic victory by the New Englanders. I was very sceptical until I saw the Conference Championship game at Green Bay. The Pack had lost only twice in the post-season at Lambeau Field and were consensus favourites to send New York packing. The game was going according to plan, though still tight, when I got too tired and went to bed.

I was surprised in the morning to find that the Packers had lost. Watching the highlights was surreal. Even though I knew the score, I still expected Favre to engineer a last quarter comeback. It never happened. Even with a banged-up secondary the Giant's defence was beyond excellent.

If they can replicate this defensive performance in the Super Bowl, they will have a chance.

What's happening on the other side of the ball is also swinging my vote towards The Big Apple. Eli Manning is doing what needs to be done to win. He has excellent protection in the pocket. He has been making good decisions. He has been making excellent throws, putting the ball where only his guy can catch it. The Giants can test the Patriots' defence.

Not surprisingly, I'm in the minority. Watching and reading the American pundits you might think the Pats have only to turn up to win. American football is not that kind of a game. It is, literally, ANY GIVEN SUNDAY. If New England don't bring their “A Game” they will lose.

There were signs of this in their game against San Diego. Tom Brady threw three interceptions. San Diego moved the ball easily down the field, just did not manage to convert field goals into touchdowns. New England weren't lucky - just fortunate. On another day they could have easily lost. If they approach the Super Bowl in an over-confident mood, they will be ripe for an upset.

This is going one of two ways.

One – it's a Patriots' blow-out. Giants get stuffed on offence and can't stop Brady's short passing game. Pat's win by 20+.

Two – it's a close football game and the Giants just get the win by (say) a field goal.

I'm choosing two.

Blogged with Flock

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Aussies Rule - Ok?


Aussie is at it again. Not content with smashing all the test playing nations on the pitch – he is intent on sinking to new levels in the sledging stakes.

It wouldn't be so bad if it were not so indicative of both the Australian attitude towards cricket and (more importantly) the inability of the cricket authorities to do anything to obviate their more unacceptable practices.

Although most international teams seem to engage in sledging now-a-days, it is beyond contention that the Australians are the most abusive. When I first read about this one - I just couldn't believe it!

If that seems over the top, it was child's play compared to comments allegedly directed at New Zealand's Chris Cairns by two Australian players. It was claimed the players had made "choo choo" noises at Cairns, whose sister had been killed in a recent train accident. The story was denied by all parties.”

This clearly isn't sledging. What it is is just plain unacceptable. Say something like this in a public bar and you might get a mouthful of teeth!

This is just about as bad!

During a WSC final at the SCG where the game had been shortened due to rain and the atmosphere was running at about 95% humidity a very exhausted Arjuna Ranatunga appealed that he had "sprained" something. He duly asked the umpire for a runner. As clear as a bell through the effects mic you heard Healey's legendary reply, "You don't get a runner for being an overweight, unfit, fat c#$%"

This is unacceptable because of the abusive language. For heaven's sake, footballers get booked for this kind of language! It should not be allowed on a cricket pitch.

Another example along the same lines

Sledging can be plain amusing. It's unlikely Merv Hughes was thinking tactically when he told a struggling English batsmen: "I'll bowl you a f***ing piano, ya Pommie pooftah. Let's see if you can play that."

This one might just be on the borderline, but only because it is a man's game and it is amusing, so the unacceptable language might be almost Ok.

Of course, sledging is not confined to cricket.

The right words can intimidate and demoralise. In 1989, a young Phil Kearns packed down opposite the All Black rough nut Sean Fitzpatrick. Amid the grinding of shoulders, Kearns became aware he was being spoken to: "What are you doing here, Kearns? You don't belong here. You're just a little boy. Why don't you go home to mummy?"

Sometimes sledging can get a reaction the perpetrator wasn't expecting!

In 1994, Allan Border told South African all-rounder Brian McMillan: "For a big bloke, you don't bowl very fast." He got no reaction - until lunch, when McMillan burst into the Australian dressing room and told Border to repeat the slur while the South African pointed a pistol at Border's head.

Last word goes to Warne, who is, by all accounts, very quick to dish it out – but can't take it?

Sledging is often personal. One reason Warne is quick to taunt Cullinan is that the South African is fond of making remarks about Warne's girth - "Leave us some lunch, fat boy" being one of his favourites. Similarly, Ian Healy once became frustrated with an overweight batsman from a South African provincial side who seemed not the least interested in scoring runs. Eventually Healy called to the bowler: "Why don't we put a Mars bar on a good length to see if we can lure him out of his crease?"

Unfortunately, the latest Aussie escapades are clearly just not on. Leaving any joking aside, the charge that they have overstepped the mark in defence of their Aboriginal player, Andrew Symonds, is a bit rich. After dishing it out on a racial basis (see the above examples) are they now saying that calling Symonds a monkey is going too far?

Actually he does look like a monkey. But, is this a racial remark? Probably not. Boxers are often tagged with the epithet of “a big gorilla”. Is this racist? If an Indian spinner is described as whirling his arms “like a dervish” - is this grounds for an inquiry?

Methinks the Aussies doth protest too much.

The real question, in my eyes, is where are the umpires in all this?

Replaced. At least Steve Bucknor was.

It's long past time that the authorities supported the umpires and put a stop to all but the obviously imaginative or humorous sledging.

It really is getting to be a joke!

Blogged with Flock

Friday, January 11, 2008

Walcheren Malaria

Things aren't always as they seem!

I like reading. I will read almost anything, but history is a particular leisure read. In the Wroxham library I found a book called, Redcoat by Richard Holmes. Richard is a well-know and well-respected writer of military history. He has made television programmes about battle and campaigns. He should know what he is talking about.

In truth it is not a very good book. In attempting to discuss the British Army from about 1750 to 1890 he jumps around, repeats himself and is trying to be too clever in the organisation. He attempts to bring the material together thematically but is not averse to dispensing with this scheme when the mood strikes him.

In any event, when discussing some minor military engagement against the French (our natural enemies) he informs the reader that during the invasion of Belgium in 1809 – the purpose of which was to remove Bonaparte from a position where he could seriously affect British naval interests and remove the French from the Belgian coast, particularly the island of Walcheren in the Scheldt estuary (the approach to the port of Antwerp); Richard writes about the disaster which ensued. Apparently the troops, after initially meeting with success, succumbed to malaria and many died, whilst the rest took ship for dear old Blighty. Not the greatest military engagement of the 19th century. That would have to wait for 1815 and the field of Waterloo.

What struck me was the matter-of-fact way Holmes described malaria in what is, after all a Northern European country.

I didn't know that.

I think I vaguely knew that malaria was sometimes found in Southern Europe and North Africa. Sicily has had malaria. So, occasionally does Greece. So did the poor old Romans, though it didn't stop them from conquering the world.

I'm just not sure what the travel advice is: do you need to take anti-malarial precautions if you go to Greece or Sicily?

This bears investigation.

Using the internet, I found some interesting stuff!

Did you know that people in Finland suffered from malaria? Bet you didn't. Don't believe me? Check this out!

“Endemic northern malaria reached 68°N latitude (just a bit south of Murmansk in Russia or Tromso in Norway and about the latitude of the Great Bear Lake in Northern Canada) in Europe during the 19th century, where the summer mean temperature only irregularly exceeded 16°C, the lower limit needed for sporogony of Plasmodium vivax. Because of the available historical material and little use of quinine, Finland was suitable for an analysis of endemic malaria and temperature.”

And, malaria was found in Sweden and Russia too. This is interesting, because when I first read this I thought, “Hang on a minute! Malaria is a tropical disease! If there was malaria in Northern Europe in the recent historical past, it must mean that the temperature was higher! Makes sense!”

Apparently not. For, in answering the question, “Where do mosquitoes go in the winter?”, the answer is: indoors to rest and wait for spring or summer. Makes sense when you think about it. If all the mosquitoes in Britain, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and Finland died every year, we wouldn't be plagued by the little stinkers every summer!

They don't. 99.99999% of them do, but a few survive by finding a warm, or warm-ish spot to hide in and re-emerge in the spring, reproduce like crazy and provide the next generation of blood-suckers.

Ain't Mother Nature wonderful!

Despite the fact that my investigation has not shed any real light on the global warming debate, as I had hoped, I intend to keep looking. I just have a feeling that malaria in Europe and North America must somehow be related to temperature. Although we know that mossies have no problem surviving in Northern Europe in the summer and breeding, what is less clear is why we no longer have outbreaks of malaria (even the much less virulent P. vivax) in Europe now.

If the planet is warming for whatever reason, it makes sense for malaria to become established again in Europe.

p.s. from our correspondent Willi in Finland:


From: "Wili"
Vora-Oravais-Maxmo Hogstadieskola, Finland
Subject: Low temp.record of the century in Finland!
Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 15:41:33 +0200

Hi all once again. I HAVE TO send you a mail to let you know that the lowest temperature of the century in Finland has been registered in a Village in northern Finland called Kittila; -51deg C.

I just spoke to the deliverer of my Davis weather station. He had reports that due to the low temperature and the low air pressure the car tyres have "frozen" in a square form, so the cars which still run behave like rabbits or kangaroos. The temperautre here in Vora is falling all the time.

With interest we look forward to next morning!

Have a warm night!! Best Regards...........Wili, Finland

Don't look much like warming to me!!

Monday, January 07, 2008

It's a Wrap - Chiefs Hit the Wall

Looking forward to draft day!!

It's all over for the Chiefs. Whist the play-off teams ready themselves for the coming battle, the Chiefs enjoy some time off and a chance to reflect on the 4-12 season. It's not happy reading.

In a long interview, Coach Herm Edwards and GM Carl Peterson had to stand up and receive the flak from the press. Quite right. No-one likes losing and mistakes were made. Some big ones!

First, the Chiefs have cleared out some of the coaching staff. This may or may not be a good thing but it does, at least, show that they are taking the blame and doing something about it. How long before Herm and Carl are asked to fall on their swords remains to be seen. For now, the clear out has begun with coaches. Some players won't be far behind.

Second, Edwards rightly pointed out that the offence was just not good enough. They scored about 14 pts a game. They contributed greatly to a negative 11 in the turnover count. They persevered with some linemen who clearly were over the hill and they paid the price.

The defence was better.

But, it's a two-part game. If the offence can't score the defence is always under pressure. That just about sums up the Chiefs this season. Always under pressure.

So, what's to be done?

According to Herm and Carl, the draft is the key. Chiefs are picking high and have (though trade acquisitions) ten picks. Herm thinks we did well last year in getting Dwayne Bowe and there is no reason we can't significantly improve the team in key areas.

Number one is the O-line. Their analysis is probably correct in that O-linemen come in from college with not too much to learn. So, drafting high for two quality guards or tackles should really help the offence. The line-backing corps is looking a bit thin and a bit old – hopefully this will be addressed as well.

Strangely, when asked about QB's Peterson was adamant that the quality is just not coming out of college this season. He believes we should stick with Brodie Croyle. I remember Elvis Grbac!

Summing up the plan: draft long and wisely; clear out some of the old guys and dead wood; stick with Brodie Croyle; use free-agency to bolster key areas.

Well, it is, at least a feasible plan.

Trouble is: this is just about every team's plan. What counts is identifying the talent and grabbing it.

The Chief's hierarchy is correct when they point out that six of the teams that made the play-offs last year aren't there this year. It is swings and roundabouts in the NFL. Just look at the GB Packers. Could beat no-one last year. Getting set to retire Favre. Instead, there are number two seed in the NFC.

The Chiefs could do the same next year.

Hope springs eternal.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

What's Great in '08?

Time to make some resolutions to improve things in 2008.

I have some good ideas.


Lose weight. Always a popular choice, but, hang on, is it really necessary? Does anyone ever ask if losing weight is really necessary or has it simply become an all-encompassing mantra? Why does everyone want to lose weight?

There is no doubt that as I have gotten older I have added a few pounds. How many? I've been checking. I've been tracking my weight religiously for about nine months now. In that time my weight has fluctuated by about 8 pounds. It started out going down and then just after Christmas it has peaked about 2 pounds more than it was in April.

Why is this? It was lowest in the summer when I was eating BBQ and drinking beer. That makes no sense! Unless you factor in the increased physical activity provided by outdoor activities that are possible in the summer and not in the winter, things like sport, gardening, long walks with the dog.

Conclusion: Weight is cyclical according to the season and needs to be tracked for at least a year before any real conclusions can be drawn. Also, your weight in Jan is bound to be large, remember all that Christmas dinner!

Shakespeare usually got it right. What did he say about weight? Sir John Falstaff: “a good, portly man was he”. And we all know what a great guy Sir John was.

Let's not forget Julius!

Caesar: Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o' nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.

Nuff said?


Give up smoking. No, sorry, I already did that one. Was it hard? Yes. Can anyone do it? Yes. I wish I had given up 30 years ago! Am I sounding sanctimonious? You bet.


Sneak out of Iraq. This sounds flippant, but it is not. It is not necessary to declare the withdrawal from Iraq. It would be better to just do it. Unfortunately, military operations have become almost impossible since the end of WWII. Now the generals have to announce their plans and allow them to be scrutinised by the politicians before they are attempted. This is just nutty.

Better idea – make your plan to get out, get out and then tell everyone about it later.

Works for me.


Stop looking of Who's – a – ma – bin – liner. The man is irrelevant and if the military establishment couldn't find him after all these years it's not likely to happen now. Better plan. Announce that he is dead and when the inevitable video tape turns up purporting to be from him – declare that it is a fake and ignore it.

Also works for me.


Throw money at Afghanistan. I actually emailed Ol Dubbya to just such affect when this mess started. Needless to say, he ignored me. It would be better for everyone if we just game the Afghans lots of money. People sitting around watching re-runs of Little Britain do not suddenly break off and plant an IUD. If you can't win the hearts and minds – buy them. That's what capitalism is all about anyway.

Last real revolution we had in the U.S. was the Whiskey rebellion of 1794 - after that we just got in the gas-guzzler and went to the store. Great for democracy.

Should work for the Afghans as well. Let's try it!


Forget Global Warming and go the beach. I was astounded the other day when on TV a commentator let slip that the climate data they use to “prove” climate change is only 100 years old. Yep, that's one hundred years. It's like basing your calculations for the coming wheat harvest on the growth rate of a wheat plant in the corner of a small field in Nebraska in the last 14 seconds. It is all nonsense.

Trouble is if you question the orthodoxy of that globe-trotting, very rich eco-warrior Al Gore, people call you nutty.

Bottom line. Climate varies naturally. Right now, it's getting a bit warmer. End of analysis.

All the other nonsense is just conjecture. We have no accurate, historical climate data to base any conclusions on. There is good circumstantial evidence that the climate has changed fairly dramatically in the last 1000 years.

Witness the Vikings. Pretty tough dudes by all accounts. But, about a thousand years ago they up and sailed away to Iceland, where their descendants are still, grabbed a quick holiday to Greenland (anybody notice the name, Greenland) and mooched over to Canada - probably Labrador, not noted as a holiday destination today!!

Had they lost their marbles? Probably not. It was just a bit warmer then. And, this was nine hundred years before much fossil fuel had been burnt.

Explanation? Climate is subject to natural variations.

Learn to live with it!

Don't forget the “Mini-Ice Age” in the 18th Century!!

Of course, we all need to be responsible for husbanding the resources of the planet as well as we can. But, and this is a big but, you don't have to subscribe to the Global Warming Quasi-Religious Dogma to be a good citizen.

Stop feeling guilty and enjoy the warmer weather.

That's enough resolution for anyone!