Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Superior ethics or littering the countryside?

A very geeky climbers' post. All non-climbers can safely ignore unless they are doing anthropological studies into self-regulation and conflict within non-organised sporting sub-cultures. All pictures are clickable to get higher resolution version.

The Castell Helen abseil station showing the tat

The Castell Helen abseil station showing all the pitons

Is this a tidier answer or the downfall of Western (or anglo-saxon at least) civilization?

The Norwegians at least seem to think the the former - here is some fat punter on a route Brensholmen, Kvaløya. Note the bolted belay/ab station bottom right.

Ironically that sector of the cliff is called "Little Gogarth".

Monday, July 30, 2007

When two sides go to war...

...arm them both then sit back and watch?

One of the few "good news stories" coming out Iraq over the last few months has been the re-orientation of some of the Sunni tribes in al-Anbar province and other areas around Baghdad who are now fighting with American forces against al-Qaeda when they had previously been part of the insurgency. The way that the White House presented interim report on the surge/escalation (take your pick of terms) two weeks ago, was to talk up the eight out 18 categories where progress has been made, and to focus on success in the fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq. The theme of reminding us all of the al-Qaeda part of “al-Qaeda in Iraq” has been a tactic the administration has been sticking to, with Bush mentioning the name of the group 95 times (just in case you didn't quite grasp the point I guess!) in his major policy speech on Iraq last week. With the White House trying to get Americans to see their perspective: that terrorism will be the result of a pullout from Iraq; you can see why they would be wanting to spread the news that some in the Sunni community who were against the US occupation are now cooperating against al-Qaeda. Additionally, there aren't many who wouldn't argue that stopping a bunch of murderous thugs who terrorise local Iraqis more than they actually attack the US military isn't a good thing in itself, regardless of US politics. But pulling sections of the more nationalist Sunni insurgency into the Iraqi forces has its own dangers.

I heard Thomas Ricks interviewed a few weeks ago analysing this issue after his most recent trip to Iraq and discussions with US commanders in the region. He was informed by his military sources that whilst the Sunni tribes are quite happy to fight and kill the often-foreign al-Qaeda fighters, that isn’t the primary reason why they have allied with the US and Iraqi government. Rather, his sources believe that, they are primarily interested in the training and weapons that the US can provide them and are quite willing to kill a few Jihadi nutters as quid pro quo in order to get them. This is because they see the US pulling out sooner or later and then the Shia-dominated Iraqi government becoming, in effect, the other party in an expanded civil war between the two communities. As the police and large sections of the military are now de-facto Shi’a organisations, the Shi’as of Iraq have an ‘army’ of their own and the Sunnis are now worried that they need to be able to balance against that with trained soldiers and plentiful weapons of their own. It seems that the Iraqi government sees exactly the same dangers as Rick's sources.

Sunni groups are not alone in preparing for a US pullout and a consequent increase in the civil war. The US is accusing its –ahem- “ally”, Saudi Arabia, of backing Sunni insurgent groups (or at least turning a blind eye to private sources from with Saudi to do this) because the Saudis fear the current Iraqi government under Maliki is too pro-Iranian. It’s all a bit bizarre and ironic really, considering the state of US-Iranian relations currently and that the US is just about to flog the Saudis 20 billion dollars’ worth of weapons to – wait for it! – balance Iranian military expansion! The US is left supporting Sunni-Shi’a cohabitation within Iraq, whilst basically promoting division between the two sides of Islam elsewhere in the region as a tool of isolating Iran. Ho hum.

It leads one to a position where you can only support General Petraeus’ surge/escalation strategy because if the US now fails in giving the Iraqi government enough space to resolve the tensions between the Sunni and Shi’a communities, the US will be pulling out to watch a civil war that not only have they caused, but where they have even managed to train and arm both sides. And there we were thinking that the implications of the invasion couldn’t get any worse…

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fex's mystery crag

This is for the UKCers who are following Fex's thread on how to equip (or not) his new crag. Some more pics below. Click on them for bigger versions.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Promoting underage drinking

Today my three year old son won a litre bottle of Gordon's Gin at a village summer fête on the tombola. Whilst excellent news for his parents who swapped it with him for one biscuit and an extra story before bedtime (the kids will only learn about capitalism by being exploited!), surely this has got to be illegal?

And a big 'Big Up' to all the fire crews, police, ambulance, RAF crews, lifeboat men and assorted others who are getting my home county and neighbouring counties through their "worst ever peacetime disaster" with so far no loss of life. By tomorrow afternoon I should be on a ferry heading for the continent and ultimately home, but there are a lot of people locally who can't pack up and

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Floods updates

Rescue at a caravan park at Bromyard, Herefordshire (via the BBC H&W website)

West Mercia Police and West Midland's Fire Service are saying they have been dealing with there worst peacetime disaster through the night in Worcestershire and Herefordshire. The RAF and Coastguard have been rescuing people from rooftops by helicopters and RNLI even have brought a lifeboat from Poole (on the coast) to Worcester (about as far from the coast as you can get in the UK)! A collection of pictures showing the extent of the problems have been emailed into to BBC Hereford and Worcester and can be seen here. BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester have been doing sterling work with one presenter on air for 18 hours due to staff not be able to get to the studios, just an hour or so ago he suddenly said "oh look! I've still got my wellies on!"

Friday, July 20, 2007


This house should not be in a lake. Photo taken by my dad and submitted to the BBC Hereford and Worcester website.

Much of England, where I currently am, is suffering from torrential rain that is leading to serious flooding. My family home is on the top of a hill and therefore probably about the least likely place to get flooded in the county, and it wasn't until we left the house to drive to the nearest town to do some shopping that we realised just how bad it was getting. We gave up on going shopping after seeing some neighbours out in front of their houses digging ditches trying to divert water flowing towards their property off the flooded roads and fields. I took my family back to my parents' house and then dressed in full waterproofs and wellies, grabbed a spade and headed down the hill to see if I could help out. We lugged sandbags and built small walls to divert the water, tried to keep the drains cleared, and dug ditches trying to get the water around the houses and down a track into the fields behind. It seemed to be working and as long as the drains don't block with silt off the fields it is probably only going to ruin peoples gardens, rather than actually getting into their houses. One couple hadn't even moved back in, and were living with relatives, since their ground floor was flooded out a month or so ago in the last round of flash flooding.

I lived here for about 15 years of my life until I went to University, but have continued to regularly visit as my parents still live in in the same house, and I don't think in just under 30 years I have ever seen these particular houses just down the hill from us threatened by flooding. And in the summer as well?! Of course it is impossible to say "this is climate change then!", as all sensible climate scientists say all they can really talk about is trends. But the climate models suggest that the UK is going to get stormier and have more extreme weather events - like the short period of intense rain (on already soaked ground) - like we've seen today. If I move back to the UK I will buy a house on a hill!

The film clips below are of a nearby mill, down the other side of the hill. This absolutely beautiful house has been empty since a man house-sitting for the owners had to be rescued by the Fire Service in last month's floods. It got so serious a helicopter was called in although fortunately local fire fighters got to him first. The first film I took around 3 pm; my dad took the second a couple of hours later and the water has clearly risen around a meter.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Reason to like the EU...

(photo: glow-in-the-dark-dodgy-Russian-geezer no.1: Andrei Lugovoi)
...the Russians are a bit nervous of it. Gordon Corera, the BBC security correspondent, noted today on Radio 4 that one of the reasons that the Russian government is only taking a "symmetrical" response to the British expulsion of four Russian diplomats, rather than trying to escalate the crisis, is because the EU has backed up the British position. Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, has strongly supported the UK and the current EU chair, Portugal, have likewise released a statement giving official EU support for London's actions.

This isn't really suprising, going back as far as the Falkland's War, the UK has gained important support from its, then, EEC partners; and Finnish relations with Russia were revolutionised by becoming a member in 1995. If you need to pick a fight with a big boy it's always nice to know that your gang is behind you!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Don't even think about it...

A slug eyeing-up my lunch. Gogarth, Anglesey, North Wales.

Friday, July 13, 2007


We are meant to be in the era of Web 2.0, and generally web 2.0 is free. I blog on Blogger for free. I post pictures on Flickr for free. Yahoo mail gives me as much email storage as I want for free. I keep word documents on Google docs for free. I even have a MySpace page which I don't use - for free. Friends reunited isn't free. An old friend sent me an email through the site and I want to reply but I refuse to give the chancers seven quid fifty for the pleasure of doing so! In the case of about 90% of people from the school I went to, I have absolutely no desire to be reunited with them. Plus I don't know how good the internet connection is in prison for some of them. So £7.50 is way to much to email the few people I would like to be in contact with!

So Al, if you read this, either leave a comment here or email me on the address that I left on my Friends-expensively-reunited profile. :-) I spent about half an hour googling your name last night trying to find an email address, but - I'm afraid to say - you have an annoyingly common name so no success!

Friday, July 06, 2007

"You're not hitting the polis mate, no chance"

I got sent an email from a Weegie mate early on monday morning directing to me to the wonderful JohnSmeaton.com. At the time the buy-John-a-pint pledge-a-metre stood at about five and it looked like Glasgow airport's top luggage handler and one-man-counter-terrorism-strike-force was going to have a quick night out to celebrate his new found fame. But it's been great fun watching word spread over the last four days, Smeato-mania truely kicking in (kung-fu stylee of course) and now the big man has well over a thousand pints lined up for him by fans.

Smeato-mania has gone mainstream with the the Smeatonator gracing the pages of the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph and turning up on news websites all around the world. Now, in the best traditions of have-a-go-heros, ours has gone shy, said not much beyond "I just did what anyone would have done" and gone to hide at his mum's house. Ahhhh... bless.

John and all the others who bravely stepped up on saturday are a credit to themselves, Glasgow, Scotland and the UK. I did a phone interview for the Finnish TV news yesterday about the terrorist attacks, and they called whilst I happened to be visiting the RAF musuem at Cosford. Talking about terrorism with Spitfires and Hurricanes in the background reminded me that London and Glasgow (and most other UK cities) have been through a lot worse and this. Smeato and the great public response to his actions shows that spirit hasn't totally vanished in modern Britain.

Glasgow: taking the "terror" out of Terrorism since 2007!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Viva Glasvegas!

I arrived in the UK this morning from France, to the news of the bombs found in London yesterday and then to hear the breaking news of the Glasgow attack this afternoon whilst driving north. Glasgow is the finest city in the UK and my former hometown. Glasgow is beautiful but also hard. You've got love a town where pathetic, muderous, wannabe-terrorists get floored by passer-bys before they can hurt anyone besides themselves. We'll see what details come out over the next few days, but immediate reactions are emotional not intellectual - Viva Glasvegas.