Archive for January, 2008

Dr Strangelove or demented pensioner?

January 22, 2008

Here’s a joke, there are five retired Generals, an American, a British, a French, a Dutch and a German and one of them asks “how do we halt the spread of nuclear weapons?” they all pause to think for a moment and then all together they say “we nuke them!”

But this is no joke.

The first use of nuclear weapons must remain in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction. (link)

This is the central point of a proposal for the review of Nato policy to be discussed this April at a summit in Bucharest and setting apart the evident nonsensical nature of stating that you would start a nuclear war to avoid starting a nuclear war, wouldn’t this be the trigger for a prospective enemy to adopt the same policy and for the current escalation of tension and armament to increase further?

The article on the Guardian newspaper ends with this paragraph:

Naumann (one of the proponents, Ed.) suggested the threat of nuclear attack was a counsel of desperation. “Proliferation is spreading and we have not too many options to stop it. We don’t know how to deal with this.”

Well, at least they’re honest, the proponents of this policy, a group of retired generals, are aware that don’t know how to deal with the issues they have set themselves to solve and they admit it.

But if this wasn’t enough:

The manifesto has been written following discussions with active commanders and policymakers, many of whom are unable or unwilling to publicly air their views.

Excellent, some clueless retired generals representing the views of policy-makers too coward to speak their minds openly. The other advisers were ‘active commanders’.

These active commanders are surely very good people, only that they have this problem that they spend all their lives in military environments and after a while they develop bunker mentality.

I have met my fair share of them, my daddy spent many years in the navy and most of his friends were officers. I remember it as if it was today when once at dinner one of them (that retired as an Admiral) turned towards me and speaking in a hush-hush tone whispered “the Russians say that they have disarmed but you know what they have done, they transformed their tanks into tractors but have kept the bodyworks in storage, ready to be refitted!”. He then explained to me that they would have soon invaded Hungary all over again.

This is why military men should not be in charge of defense policies.

Want somebody tell them please?

Some consider war an extension of politics, some a sign of failure of politics, I tend to agree with the latter and consider the first a delusional belief.

But to state that you would be the first one to pull the trigger is not politics and it’s not even war, it’s just wargames of retired generals that give the only answer they know to a question that doesn’t belong to them.

This is altogether damaging of international relationships, it only raises the temperature, there’s little difference in value between this and some crazy proclaim of Ahmedinejad.

It is also the replacing of what should be done, that is a focus on disarmament and how to achieve it, with the perfect recipe for nuclear war.

To understand what it has damaged look no further than today’s Guardian Cif where former American ambassador Bob Barry says:

UK readers may be surprised to hear that the call in the US for abolition involves 17 of the surviving 24 former secretaries of state, defence and national security advisors from both parties – people devoted to and personally involved in the deployment of nuclear weapons when in office. In the US presidential primaries, all of the Democratic candidates have supported the goal of zero nuclear weapons to one degree or another.

The challenge “abolitionists” face in the US and the UK is in convincing sceptics that a world without nuclear weapons is not simply a pacifist pie-in-the-sky wish, and convincing others that outlining the vision is essential. True, abolition will not come any time soon, but without embracing the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, nuclear arms control will remain in the dustbin of history where it now languishes, and our world will descend into a nuclear nightmare of horrendous and unacceptable risk. We do also need a credible path to the goal, otherwise cynics will have every reason to deride the concept as nothing but a “nice” idea.

This is what we need to speak of, it’s high time for a debate of how to get out of the bunker mentality that the last few years have thrown us into.

To start I suggest that retired generals would consider relaxing on some Saga cruise to try to heal the psychosis that they have developed during the cold war rather than trying to bring everlasting peace on earth.

How many PFI consultants to change a lightbulb?

January 15, 2008

I haven’t posted anything on this blog for a while for the simple reason that I’ve been very busy with real life but I have just read this little news on the local newspaper and as I realized that it’s a unique opportunity to write this title I decided to break the silence.

Bright future for streets thanks to cash boost is about the privatisation (pfisation?) of the street lighting maintenance services for Lewisham and Croydon through a joint contract with some company still to be appointed (but that we can imagine is already in negotiation).

The figure that the newspaper gives is for a £ 79.5 m contract to change 44,000 lights over 25 years and if my calculator works correctly this means that the changing of each streetlight comes at a cost of £ 1,806 and that on average each one of the two Boroughs will have 2.4 lights upgraded (changed) every day. You can also read it as a £ 1.59 m yearly budget to change the lights in one borough, not little money I dare say, I checked on the Council’s budget and this year there’s £ 410 k for the job.

The article ends with a positive message from the government:

Government transport minister Rosie Winterton said: “Experience shows better street lighting helps improve road safety and reduce crime and the fear of crime.

“It also helps create happier and healthier communities by promoting social inclusion and more sustainable patterns of transport by encouraging people to cycle and walk.”

I just wonder if transport minister Rosie Winterton has any idea whether these fundings for street lighting coming from her department are well spent by employing a private company to change lightbulbs for 25 years and if they will they do a much better job than the Council would do with the same sum? I suppose that this press release was a good opportunity to tell us, and now a missed one.

What’s quite ridiculous about this pfisation of everything is that it is an implicit admission of being unable to do all the jobs that they were supposed to be doing and I am the first to agree with it, the street lamp outside my house is a vision to behold, until a few weeks ago, apart from the characteristic peeling and rust, it used to be a nice Victorian-style post, then one day a man from the Council came round here and sawed off the top of it to replaced it with a plastic football-field-like light transforming it into a two-style monster. I challenged him and told him that it was ugly, “it’s an upgrade” he replied*.

Will the private-men upgrade lights better than the Council would do with those money? Well, not necessarily, first consideration that I would make is that a 25 years contract shelters you from any competitive pressure, and that’s one reason for private sector instead of public that goes out of the window, another consideration is that the contractors will still be accountable to the same people that are now sending us these current upgrades so maybe it’s them that need an upgrade first.

Anyway, since it’s a unique opportunity I want to repeat the original question, how many pfi consultants do you need to change a light bulb? This is not a silly question, every time that there’s a pfi contract millions are spent on negotiations, with a £ 79.5 m contract at stake you can imagine that negotiations will be serious and quite a lot of tax money will go to solicitors and accountants (tax money heaven).

* it’s dark now, tomorrow I take a picture of the awful lamp post and post it here for you.