Business and life - "things are not always as they seem!"

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Saturday, 23 January 2010

Guilty brothers - A Tale of Two Pities

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"

1. Brothers aged 10 and 11
Two small boys from a troubled background were before a British court last week. They cannot be named.

The crime
The world is shocked by the news of the horrific assault started by these brothers, aged just 10 and 11, in which two boys, aged 11 and nine were lured to secluded woodland on a pretext and subjected to an hour and a half of cruelty, which nearly ended in the deaths of their victims and included torture, extreme violence and sexual abuse.

The inquiry
In court, the elder defendant described how he often watched his father’s pornographic DVDs and horror films such as Child’s Play and Saw. By the age of nine he also had a cigarette habit, drank cider and vodka and smoked cannibis.
The younger brother was more sinister. A child psychiatrist described his behaviour as sadistic and said he was showing signs of becoming a psychopathic offender.

Pity number 1
In the entire investigation of this crime and throughout the court proceedings, neither brother showed any remorse whatsoever. Broken Britain?

2. "Brothers" aged 50 and 51
Two grown men from a privileged background were before the Iraq inquiry last week. They can be named as former Defence Minister Geoff Hoon and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

The crime
The world is shocked by the continuing tragedy of the Iraq war started by these "brothers", aged just 50 and 51, in which nations were lured to Iraq on a pretext and subjected to 6 years, and counting, of death and destruction for their soldiers, including death, torture and abuse of countless Iraqis.

The inquiry
In the inquiry, the elder defendant described how he could have prevented Britain taking part. "If I had refused, the UK's participation in the military action would not in practice have been possible"
The younger "brother" was more sinister. While Secretary of Defence, he was condemned by an international delegation of European MPs for blatantly evading questions about Britain's co-operation with the CIA.

Pity number 2
In the entire investigation of this crime and throughout the enquiry proceedings, neither "brother" showed any remorse whatsoever. Broken Britain.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Copenhagen to Port-au-Prince - An inconvenient truth

Copenhagen charade
The December 2009 Copenhagen world summit illustrated the difficulty, if not futility, of trying to reverse the upward trend in carbon emissions contributing to climate change. Futility, in that a city of 750,000 people is added to the world's energy-consuming infrastructure every single week.
Global warming? Yes, we are causing it. No, we can't reverse it. Nothing significant we can do about it. Mankind must plan for the consequences.

Haiti disaster
And then there are horrendous random events like the Haiti earthquake. It happened and couldn't be stopped either. Mankind is now forced to plan for the consequences.
It must seem totally ridiculous and ironic for the hapless survivors of the awful tragedy in Haiti to reflect on that Copenhagen jamboree. How many of the 16,000 international delegates who wined and dined and whined in Copenhagen will turn up to help in Port-au-Prince this week?

Face reality
Maybe the time has come to accept that from the evidence of history, whilst we don't like it, major changes in many aspects of our total environment, random or progressive, have the inevitable certainty of tidal advance. Recycling, emissions control, renewable energy - all very worthy, creditable and desirable - won't stop the inexorable flow.

These green initiatives just give us the warm feeling that we are doing our duty, as we ignore the two elephants in the room. That the only real ways to halt and reverse emissions are; 1. to halt and reverse population growth and 2. to lower general consumer expectations worldwide.
David Attenborough has got it right. The growth junkies have got it wrong. But the two elephants are unlikely to just go away, you know.
Instead of sitting like Canute or posturing like Copenhagen, maybe we should just focus on radically adapting our businesses, politics, lives and aid programmes to cope with the inevitable changes inherent in the new realities of our future.

Contrasts - Third world despair
Those poor people in Haiti were existing in abject poverty before the earthquake and the more fortunate of them are now surviving in smashed and broken abject poverty among the ruins. Tens of thousands are dead and millions badly injured or homeless.
Was there an adequate contingency plan for such a disaster in Haiti? Probably not, if we are to judge by the lack of any earthquake resistant buildings. And in a world of scarce resources it appears clear that more priority is assigned to global expenditure on reducing long-term carbon emissions than creating sustainable economies to alleviate third world hardship.

Contrasts - First world privilege
We in our first world societies have wonderful technology and opportunity for innovative success. Hard-working entrepreneurial companies and ambitious people with positive aggression will flourish in periods of change. We can look forward with hope.
Just reflect on the fact that unlike the poor in Haiti we have the choices and opportunities to adopt positive attitudes in the face of change. We can adapt our already privileged positions in many ways to ensure our future relative comfort and at the same time, assuage our consciences by driving hybrid cars.

Emissions of hope?
I'm certainly not with the flat-earth climate change deniers; nor am I with the naive anti-fossil fuel, anti-nuclear greens. Actually, a strong middle of the road case can be made for the good that is done in this world as a result of emitting carbon! It has delivered immense improvements in western living standards over the past 100 years and allows great comfort to us, together with aspirational hope to people in less developed regions.

A burning question
Now the emerging nations are burning coal to get their share of the goodlife - and burning it at a rate that negates any western efforts to reduce overall emissions.
Can we not see past all this idealistic cant, get real, burn a bit more cheap coal, build fewer windmills, stop trying to fix the climate of 2050? And use the savings to alleviate today's poverty and suffering wherever it exists.
The really tragic inconvenient truth is that renewable energy appears to have a higher western-world profile and priority than safe renewed Haitians.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Endangered species - Polar bears and civil servants

Nota Bene
The following is not an attack on all the hard-working public servants who provide essential services and provide them well. It is however, an undisguised assault on the lazy political mindset that has allowed the proliferation of unnecessary activity and the creation of thousands of 'jobs' in our bloated public sector.
'Jobs' that will have to be culled over the next few years, causing medium term disappointment and hardship for many individuals.
Ultimately, the reduction in public sector expenditure will increase the relative strength of the private sector and the overall economy.

Prospect of doom - £400 million cuts
First, the serious bit from Grumpy Old Will. There are major financially-driven curtailments of lifestyle coming down the track for everybody in Western society - and Northern Ireland may well be hit harder than most. The first signs of potential hardship are here already in the form of Minister Sammy Wilson's £400 million cuts - with more to follow!
Per capita, we have the largest, most expensive public sector in Europe. Systemically unsustainable.
Those in power must act quickly and radically to curtail the devastating effects of the NI economic meltdown.

Reality and the Arctic analogy
Now, the tongue in cheek bit from Grumpy Old Will. The 1.7 million of us in NI are like threatened species on the massive, but shrinking, icecap of Westminster subvention, with no solid ground of our own on which to stand.
But every one of us should play our part in saving the most exotic inhabitant of our Northern habitat; the Polar Bear Civil Servant. (PBCS). Here are a few ideas.

Public sector action
First, these not-so-rare creatures should try to save themselves. I would strongly encourage PBCSs to jump for it and swim to join a private sector zoo as soon as they can before the icecap collapses.

(it's getting really hard to extend this analogy - but here's another go)

The Grumpy Old Will adopt a Polar Bear Civil Servant fund
All we private sector taxpayers should contribute to a fund for the adoption of our own PBCSs.
Polar bears depend on the arctic icecap. PBCSs depend on the Westminster icecap. This is where they hunt, mate and raise their young. But the ice is shrinking and we need to protect them and their subvention habitat.

Make a real difference
You can easily adopt these PBCSs - a group of male and female Polar Bear Civil Servants aged between 20 and 60 years old. They all live in the northern archipelago in the Irish Arctic. And you can keep track of their movements with our special online tracker!

Polar Bear CS adoption pack
When you adopt we'll send you a PBCS adoption pack. This includes:
1. A cuddly toy PBCS for you to snuggle
2. A fact booklet on PBCSs with details of their pensions for you to envy
3. A beautiful PBCS print. See this noble animal in full colour
4. Three issues of our support magazine throughout the year with updates about the mating habits of PBCSs, including MPs and MLAs (now resigned/retired) (Enough bare cheek! Ed.)
5. A "Build a Bear" kit. Stuff your own civil servant!

How you can
make a real
Climate change is the biggest threat facing the PBCS. A reduction in sea ice subvention makes access to prey more difficult and means many cannot put on enough weight to survive. Your money can help us work towards:
Conserving the Northern Irish Arctic region's rich biodiversity and pensions
Maintaining a healthy Northern Irish Arctic environment with undisturbed ecosystems and healthy populations of PBCS residents.

Now, sponsor a Polar Bear Civil Servant
Think of the joy you can derive from preserving this endangered species in its natural habitat for the delight and admiration of future generations.
It is surely a small price to pay, with the prospect of sustaining these magnificent creatures for many years to come, so that they can spend all summer fishing and gambolling in happy contemplative contentment followed by their long, slumbering, winter hibernation.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Eric's story - Child abuse in rural Ireland; 1955

Crime, cruelty and concealment
This is a story of cruel abuse. A day in the life of Eric, a neglected 10 year-old child from a large poverty-stricken family, living in a two room cottage. His father was dead and his poor mother worked long hours for a pittance in a wet, cold, apple-peeling plant.

The Murphy report of 2009 lifted the cover on sexual abuse of children within the Catholic church in Ireland and exposed those who colluded with its concealment. In separate investigations, the church's education system has also been rightly condemned for turning a blind eye to the physical brutality suffered by children at the hands of many Christian Brothers in earlier times.
But it wasn't only a Catholic problem and it wasn't only the bishops who turned a blind eye to such criminal excess. Eric knows. I know.

A silent schoolmate
Over 50 years ago I was a pupil at a small village school in Tyrone where I saw, from time to time, cruelty inflicted on the weakest who had no one to speak up for them. There were many abuses, but one in particular, perpetrated on my friend Eric, has troubled me all my life and always will; because I sat mute when I should have spoken out.

I share the rising tide of disgust for churchmen who concealed or ignored the evil within their ranks towards children. I hear and support the calls for resignation and other punishments. These colluders with evil were mature adults.
Not fearful children like me and Eric's classmates who, if we overcame our cowardice and spoke out, were subject to the same brutality as the victim we tried to protect. But nonetheless, the effect of our neglectful collusion was as telling as that of the bishops and allowed the same evil consequences for Eric.

Eric goes to school
Early on a chill winter's morning, it was raining heavily when Eric left home to cycle the 4 miles to school. He had no waterproof clothing. Just a thick wool hand-me-down pullover, short flannel trousers and wee lace-up black boots that I saw him in every day. Eric always had holes in his battered boots and he never looked well washed, clean or cared for. But he was tough and cheerful and one of my pals.

Eric's teachers
For some reason the teachers regularly picked on little scruffy vulnerable Eric, but no matter what happened to him - and he was often beaten at school - he never whimpered or cried. I thought he was so strong.

I was a year ahead of Eric, in the Headmaster's class. The class below that was taught by a severe elderly lady who gave great attention to her favourites from better-off families, left the bulk of us alone, and mercilessly picked on the poorer children.

Eric's 'crime'
As Eric pedalled through the rain on his old heavy bicycle, she overtook him in her car and, according to her, he wobbled because he looked backward at her, causing her to swerve.
The Headmaster's class was just about to start when this teacher brought the shivering soaked boy into the room, the water still running out of his leaking boots. She told her story, following which the Headmaster, a pillar of the local community and leading figure in the Church of Ireland, took a cane to poor wee trembling Eric.

Eric's beating
I knew what was coming and I was sick to my stomach - and silent. With the first 6 on the left hand Eric flinched but was quiet. The next 6 on the right hand brought tears but no cries.
This was worse than I had expected and my own eyes filled with tears. My heart pounded and I almost shouted aloud in protest, but conformance and cowardice choked me and stopped my mouth.
Then he was put out alone to the outside toilets across the yard with two final sadistic cane-slashes at the back of his cold wet bare legs.

'Will, don't tell anybody I cried'
The school carried on.
Ten minutes later I was sent out to bring Eric back to his class. He was shaking with deep racking sobs. He couldn't speak. Swollen hands and seared red weals on his legs. When he could, all he said was, "Will, don't tell anybody I cried".

I washed his face, cleaned him up and he walked pathetically and cowed back to the classroom, showing no signs of crying as a result of his trauma. But he carried the physical marks. Everyone had seen the brutal physical abuse. I alone had seen the beaten, crying, broken, shattered spirit.
That wee boy had no love, no respect, no standing, no protection, no hope. The only thing he had to cling onto for survival was a pathetic inner desperate defiance and determination that nobody should see him cry.
I never told that Eric cried sore. I never told. I never told anything.

Sin of silence
My sin was that I told nobody. My puerile weak defence is that I was only ten years old and anyway, this sort of thing happened all the time. God forgive me. I should have told my parents or somebody in authority.

Like most people, I have had my share of ups and downs in life, but the number of regrets I have are few; very few. Today, neglect in failing to intervene for Eric is my only regret that still has the power to reduce me to tears of shame.
That unhappiest day of my childhood materially influenced the way I have interacted with people ever since.

Who casts the first stone?
When the inflamed mob lifts its missiles of righteous anger to target all abusers and their protectors - with shame I remember my own silent sin. I may not be entitled to cast the first stone.
But when I think of Eric's long-dead tormentors I'll lift and let fly anyway.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Michael O'Leary and Ryanvest NI

(This story is a fantasy, a dream; and perhaps for some, a nightmare)

Early in 2009 when Invest NI, Northern Ireland's economic development agency, was searching for a new Chief Executive, there was a rumour that one of the applicants was Michael O'Leary of Ryanair.
I'm sure this is not true, but there might be something in it, as the informant, formerly close to the great man, has emigrated to Argentina posing as a Nazi war criminal in case O'Leary finds out who he is. He said he would take his chances with the Israeli Mossad.

Before he left he circulated a transcript of Micko's final interview for the job. Apparently, before going into the interview, Michael - with typical arrogance - informed my mole that he intended to use his actual on-the-record media soundbite quotes when he was building the Ryanair empire to answer all questions; changing the context, from the airline industry, to that of economic development but otherwise using the exact words of the original quote.

This is a family blog so I have toned down some of the language. Apart from this, the following is a precise record of the discussion between the distinguished public sector interview panel of Members Undertaking Personnel Profiling for Executive Technical Suitability (MUPPETS) and the applicant (MOL)

MUPPETS Mr O'Leary, with your tremendous success in the private sector with Ryanair, we are delighted at your aspiration to be part of the Invest NI team.
We expect you to work cooperatively through diversity policies, equal opportunity and respect for the rights of individual public sector employees to significant gratuitous sick leave, towards the betterment of Northern Ireland's economic future.
How will you attract loyalty from and positively influence, your partner colleagues - both those inside the organisation and the important external minority stakeholder groups, towards this harmonious end?

MOL I will murder for Ryanvest NI. Geddit? I will go through concrete walls to grow private sector industry in Northern Ireland. I bow down to nobody. I'll stuff every one of them in Europe; we won't be second or third and saying: "didn't we do well?"

I don't give a (very rude word starting with s) if nobody likes me, I am a businessman through and through. I am not a civil servant, I am not an organisationsexual. I don't like state economic support. I never wanted to be a manager like those other platoons of goons who populate the public sector enterprise development industry.
Also, I have no time for that bunch of bearded, sandal-wearing union bosses, not to mention the utterly useless politicians in Stormont and Westminster.

MUPPETS Um..... One of the CEO's responsibilities is to ensure Invest NI's conformance within Europe on regulation and wider issues like climate change. How would you propose to build consensus on these issues?

MOL I fight constantly with governments and idiot Brussels bureaucrats who want to increase regulation, or half-witted environmentalists who can't add two and two.
The sustainable energy group, God help us, is another bunch of lemmings shuffling towards a cliff edge. We also have a Government of lemmings, led by the biggest lemmings of all, who are incapable of making a long-term decision.

We want to annoy the (this is the naughtiest word you can think of and starts with f and ends with ers!) whenever we can. The best thing we can do with environmentalists is shoot them. These headbangers are Luddites marching us back to the 18th century.
The problem with Government and the public sector is it is mostly run by a bunch of spineless nincompoops who acually don't want to stand up to the environmentalists and call them the lying (the script is blurred here. It looks like "bankers", but I'm not sure) that they are.

MUPPETS Er..... OK, and how would you cope with this dreadful economic downturn currently causing all of us such difficulty? We are looking for a CEO who has high concerns on this issue.

MOL Well it doesn't concern me! We need this recession. We have had 10 years of growth. This recession gets rid of crappy high-cost public services and it means we can then grow the private companies.
I would also welcome a good, deep, bloody recession for 12 to 18 months. We need one if we are going to see off some of this environmental nonsense that has become so popular among the chattering classes.

MUPPETS (visibly wilting) How would you describe your personal attributes of diplomacy that prepare you for dealing with important Stormont Ministers and those in high places?

MOL I'm probably just an obnoxious little (starts with b and ends with cks!). Who cares?
I'm disrespectful towards authority. Like I think the prime minister of Ireland is a gobshi...(I'm afraid I have to stop this statement here, as two MUPPETS fainted and a recess was called)

(Interlude for smelling salts and to allow the Members Undertaking Personnel Profiling for Executive Technical Suitability to fill out their expenses claims)

Interview resumes -----

MUPPETS Really, Mr O'Leary. We do not want to appear prudish, but we must ask you to moderate your language.
Now, in Northern Ireland there has in the past been what is described as a "grant culture". How would you deal with undeserving demands for grants?

MOL When I am running Ryanvest NI I won't fall all over myself if they say my granny fell ill and my business is struggling. What part of no grants don't you understand? You are not getting a grant so (the very very very bad word) off!

Also as far as the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Scottish Enterprise are concerned there is too much: "we really admire our competitors". All (roughly rhymes with rowlocks again). Everyone wants to kick the (excrement?) out of everyone else. We want to beat the (more excrement!) out of them. They mean to kick the (ditto) out of us.

MUPPETS (anxiously trying to mollify MOL or end interview) Now, for a family-friendly work/life balance, we would like to assure you that in accordance of the mood of the times, Invest NI wants parents, fathers and mothers alike to have time to jointly share the pleasures and duties of caring for their families.

MOL Look; when my kids arrived I changed the first nappy in the hospital and, called upon in emergency, I will do another. I'm not one of these people who will be there doing the full-time father lark. I go to the Algarve with the family for two weeks because I have to. I only go to films when I'm dragged there by my wife, just for marriage maintenance reasons.

MUPPETS (now visibly struggling and perspiring) You said you go to the gym for relaxation. What do you like to do there?

MOL Look up and down a slim girl's rear. Sadly there's not that many of them. They're a bunch of old sweaty farts!

MUPPETS Um.....Er...... Finally, without any swearing please, how do you see the future for yourself and your ultimate successor in Invest NI?

MOL OK. I think you need me for the rapid growth and the internal cost reduction initiatives, but once they're all done you then need to hand over to somebody who's a bit more respectful of politicians and bureaucrats, talks about caring about the environment and old people and (worst word again, ends ing!) jungles and fish in the sea and all that (excrement again, I'm afraid. The man is incorrigible!).

At this point the transcript records a mass walkout by the MUPPETS.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Spring Madness in January

In "The Spring Madness of Mr Sermon", R F Delderfield observes that most of us drift through life, never really becoming aware of the chilling fact - that should shock us out of our satisficing dreaming lethargy into new beginnings - we only get one go!

"It is not given to many of us to pinpoint the actual moment of our entry into a world of new beginnings. In any case, most of us don't have new beginnings but spend half our days and nights dreaming of them, of a fresh start, a setting out on a beckoning high-road to adventure and romance, a spiritual and physical rebirth"

Recently I talked with a high-flying international business consultant. A brilliant individual with a blue-chip track record of assignments, working for multinational corporations all over the world.
But despite this stellar success, his fervently stated ambition, his dream, was to start his own business. First, he told me, he would work for a few more years in a major consulting business to make a nestegg of money and then, with that security behind him, he would get the new venture under way.
I wish him well, though I suspect his new beginning will remain a dream, as he drifts on in risk-free disappointed comfort. He needs some Spring Madness decision-making to make his dream a reality.

Not everyone wants to start their own business, but most of us do want to make a difference in our work and life. Maybe your dream is related to your profession or family or leisure time.
Whilst it is likely that this dream represents your chance, maybe your only chance, to do something of significance, you prevaricate until the time is right.
Take careful note of this penetrating statement by Martin Luther King. "There is no wrong time to do the right thing".

Most of us have had setbacks one way or another with the downturn and many advisors are counselling caution. At the start of a New Year in these ongoing difficult circumstances we are faced with a clear choice - drift or decide. Most people will be cautious, do nothing and drift.

I'm not going to advise anybody to drift. I'm an advocate for the world of adventure and romance for 2010.
Here are a couple of thoughts on new beginnings - for you.

1. Decide to articulate your dream and tell somebody about it.
2. Make a forecast - written - of what you need to achieve in 2010 to initiate your new beginning.
3. Create a supporting action plan and make these actions your 2010 New Year resolutions.
4. Share the detail and the excitement with somebody. Record it.
5. Apply MichelAngelo's statement to yourself, "The tragedy for most of us, is not that we aim too high and miss it - but that we aim too low and hit it"
6. Do it. Initiate your new beginnings in a real and tangible way.

If you pinpoint the actual moment and set out on the high-road, like Mr Sermon, some day you too will remember.

"He remembers this and will never forget it, not even when he is an old, old man, dying in some impersonal nursing home, watched by impersonal mutes. And he remembers so well because it was the most stupendous thing that ever happened to him or ever would happen to him, come earthquakes, global convulsions, nuclear wars and landings on the moon"

Stupendous Spring Madness of Mr/Ms ..................???
By the way, it's a great book. Happy New Beginnings!

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