Shoddy; Decidely Shoddy…….

Have you ever wondered why, wherever you travel in America, it looks like an enormous spider has weaved its way across the landscape before you? Cables, cables, cables. Everywhere you look there are cables. Power cables, TV cables, cables for this, cables for that……..America is a land obsessed with cables. And what happens everytime a decent size storm comes along? They all fall down in a hideous, tangled heap, and society crumples as the power goes out and communications equipment gives up the ghost.

America thinks it is obsessed with terrorists. Forget the terrorists. The weather wreaks more havoc on this continent than a whole army of terrorists. America lurches from one weather crisis to the next, and after each catastrophe spends a fortune patching up the damage until the next time.

And that’s the crux of the problem. America does nothing properly. Almost everything about this nation is shoddy. There’s only one thing America does well; marketing its own image to its citizens. Tell John Doe his country is shoddy and far behind much of the rest of the world, and he’ll probably punch you in the mouth. He certainly won’t believe it. That’s understandable. Eighty percent of Americans don’t hold a passport, which means they’ve never been out of the country. They’ve never seen for themselves how much better other nations are at organizing simple matters like power distribution.

The storm that hit Illinois on November 30th will be remembered around here for a very long time. In fact, it wasn’t a storm at all. It just rained for a day, before the temperature suddenly dropped drastically below freezing. The rain froze as it hit the trees, and with the assistance of a strong breeze, caused branches to break away under the weight of ice, carrying away the web of cables beneath them. The result was chaos.

Had the cables been in the proper place – underground – the impact of this “storm” would have been negligible. So why, then, are America’s cables suspended from poles susceptible to severe atmospheric conditions? The answer is as simple as one word: money.

It’s expensive to dig trenches and sink plastic ducting to carry powerlines. Cabling and poles are cheap. Replacing them, while a lengthy process following major outages, and extremely inconvenient – not to say, deadly – to the customer, is not a particularly expensive process. Hence, profits remain high; investors are kept happy; only the customer is inconvenienced.

There lies the crux of the matter. American utility companies don’t give a toss about their customers because in most areas, certainly Illinois, they hold a monopoly. The cost of maintaining infrastructure can be kept to a minimum, prices inflated to a ridiculous degree, and when major storm damage occurs the only loser is the customer.

Of course, they will still spend money telling you how much they care about you, and how you really matter to them.

Are you stupid enough to believe it?

Filed under:

Our (Likely) New Defense Secretary……

The BBC reported yesterday that US Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates has told a Senate committee that the US is not winning the war in Iraq.

Well, that certainly sounds inspirational. We never knew that before, did we?

Later, he said he believed the US was neither winning nor losing “at this point”.

That’s exactly what America needs at this time – someone decisive in control at the Pentagon. It seems likely Gates will be approved for the job. On the basis that they need someone better than Rumsfeld, Gates is admirably qualified. On the basis that they need someone better than Rumsfeld, Mickey Mouse would be admirably qualified.

This latest potential addition to the administration has one hurdle to overcome, if he is to be a successful Defense Secretary. After having breakfast with George W Bush, the president announced Robert Gates would “do an excellent job”. That phrase issuing from George Bush’s lips has tolled the death knell for many White House nominees. In fact, offhand I can’t think of any still in their jobs – oh, wait, John Bolton is still US Ambassador to the UN……….for now. (Update: No, he isn’t!)

Robert Gates does not inspire confidence. Had George Bush condemned him as the worst possible candidate for the job, I may have given him more of a chance, but he admits to not having a clue how to handle the Iraq situation. Actually, he said he was “open to new ideas” which basically means the same thing. So, Robert, let me give you a word of advice about Iraq. Two words, in fact. “Get” and “out”.

If there is one fact many Americans cannot get a handle on about the Iraq war, it is that the Iraqis hate them. Yes, they also hated Saddam Hussein, but he was one of them. As such, he was infinitely preferable to an army of occupation, particularly an occupying force composed of Yanks and Brits – two colonial powers the Iraqis have very good reason to loathe. After all, it was Winston Churchill in 1920 who was responsible for the Royal Air Force using poison gas on the Kurds to put down a rebellion, a crime similar to that for which Saddam Hussein will probably pay with his life. The British controlled the country, one way or another, until 1958 when a bloody revolution, in which the prime minister and almost all the pro-British royal family were massacred, eventually brought the Ba’ath Party to power and led to the rise of Saddam.

In his book, “Taking the Hard Road to Baghdad – The Wars Against Saddam”, the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Simpson, an authority on the country and its history, writes of the time immediately following the brutal assassination of young King Faisal II and most of his family:

“Iraqis had always known that their country was so disparate and divided that it was in permanent danger of falling apart; and the conclusion they drew from this was that it could be held together only by strong, fierce and at times brutal government. This was the price people were prepared to pay for stability and continuity. The monarchy had been perpetually weak; now that it had been overthrown, there was a demand for strong, effective power which would be exerted in the interests of the country and of Arab unity.”

It would be some years, and a number of further bloody coups before Saddam Hussein finally became Iraq’s president in 1979. The British were no longer a power in the Middle East, but America was gaining ground in the region, and following the collapse of the Soviet Union, formed alliances with many of the previously Russian-controlled satellite nations bordering the area. American bases sprang into being surrounding Iran, Iraq and Syria. At first, Saddam courted the US, but he was used by the Americans just as previous Iraqi governments had been used by the British. The twelve years of vicious sanctions eventually imposed on Iraq by the Americans, with British compliance, devastated the country and was undoubtedly a further catalyst of the hatred so obvious today.

It is unlikely that Robert Gates views the matter of Iraq without American bias. It is unlikely he is even aware of its history. What he may know will be, almost certainly, biased to an American viewpoint. After all, President Bush on a recent visit to Vietnam conveniently chose to rewrite history, virtually naming the US as the savior of that country, and America’s truly shameful intervention as the cause of its prosperity thirty-five years on.

But then, George W Bush is an ignorant, arrogant, egotistical, bullying, ass of a man who simplistically assumed all that was required to turn an Arab into an American was a bottle of Coke and a Big Mac.

Robert Gates was president of a Texas University. Does that make him an academic with a brain? Or, is it simply a bought title for another of Bush’s mates?

Time will tell, but time is not on the side of the Iraqis presently dying by the thousands each month for the pleasure of fulfilling George Bush’s fantasies. Complete withdrawal of American forces won’t stop that killing overnight. It will certainly result in the overthrow of the present puppet government and a continuation of the civil war. It will not mark the beginning of the end of the violence, but as Churchill once eloquently put it, it may mark the end of the beginning.

Iraq is certainly George Bush’s Vietnam. His latest reiteration to Maliki, that he won’t pull out US troops until the job is done, is indicative of his idiocy. Even Tony Blair has now conceded that large-scale British troop withdrawals must begin next year.

Robert Gates is still an unknown regarding Iraq policy, but even if his views concur with common sense, and he stands firm for a pull-out, it is unlikely his master will obligingly succumb, and dance to that tune.

Filed under:

R.I.P. – The Office Christmas Party.

With access to the news paralyzed by lack of internet and TV, my good wife has been using her work’s computer to print out anything she considers might be of interest to me. Yesterday, she brought home one item of note. It was a BBC News report stating that three out of four UK employers have banned Christmas decorations and parties at their offices over the coming festive season. The reason given: political correctness; fear of offending staff from other faiths.

Before commenting further it is necessary to advise American readers that Britain sets much more store by Christmas, as a time for feasting and celebration, than you do over here in the US. First of all, Brits don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in November. While you are all stuffing your faces with turkey and apple pie, they are holding themselves in reserve for the big bash – Christmas. It’s at Christmas they really let their hair down and party through to New Year. Many, though not all, companies close down over this period.

Traditionally, the festivities kick off with the annual work’s party, usually on the last working day before Christmas. The lead up to this shindig consists of hanging decorations around the office, dressing a tree, organizing foodstuffs like mince pies, sausage rolls, trifle, etc and, of course, ensuring a plentiful supply of booze is available. Many firms take the whole thing very seriously, forming a committee way back in the late summer to ensure smooth organization.

Hence, this latest BBC report is something of a bombshell. Whatever is happening to the “old country”? Most farcical is the part about causing offence to staff members of other faiths. Let me assure you, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – religious about the office party. Quite the opposite, in fact. As I recollect, the object is to eat and drink as much as can be crammed down one’s neck in the shortest possible time, while ensuring that the object of one’s desires – she you’ve been eyeing from afar for the last twelve months, but haven’t plucked up the courage to ask for a date – is well supplied with the old traditional “leg-opener”, champagne and Babycham, before choosing just the right moment to move in and whisk the unsuspecting virgin into the nearest empty filing cupboard.

Of course, this is only my own, long-ago, personal experience of office parties, though I doubt they deviate much from that format today. In my case, the best laid plans frequently went astray, and though I was always meticulously organized – the lady primed with alcohol, myself “well-tanked” and ready to go – inevitably I would check out a suitable filing cupboard only to discover some gawky, acne-ridden, office junior from down the corridor, already ensconced within, the object of my affections wrapped around him, one hand clasped to a buttock and his tongue thrust deep beyond her tonsils. It was usually about then I decided to head for home.

Perhaps, after all, the demise of the office party is not such a bad thing, though to place it in a religious context is plain ridiculous. One can’t help thinking many employers have been looking for an excuse to murder the celebration once and for all, and have now finally found one.

Filed under: