Thursday, 11 August 2011

“What has community ever done for me?”

What has community ever done for me?”

So Im sure (at the time of writing this) we have all been thoroughly aware of the complete anarchy being bred in London; anarchy that has slowly infected the 'imaginations' of other copycat groups in cities across the UK. Even in Reading our nearest town. Little did I know, the first day that I concieved of this article, that the riots would not be a one night only affair. But instead something that has been playing across the pages of our newspapers for the last 5 days. With varying degrees of severity.

Initially I responded by asking the same questions that im sure most people did.

  1. Why are the riots happening in the first place?
  2. Where are the police. Is the government supporting the police forces as much as they should be, and if not then are they in part responsible for the overwhelmed forces in London that first night.

But it soon became clear that these questions where narrow. They barely scrape the surface of what we began to see in subsequent days following the first riots. Pillaging and looting for no apparent reason. Destruction of hard working, honest peoples property and business. Complete wanton attitude towards the consequences. And more importantly for some. A complete disregard as to the reasons why. You can cite tax rises . . . but some of those kids (as young as 11) have probably never paid a tax in their lives. You can cite unemployment, but then if your protesting for more job opportunities why would you destroy the businesses that could potentially be your next paid work. It is a recklessness and complete lack of concience to a degree that humans have long known they are capable of but for a good few hundred years have slowly begun to ignore. It has literally made people feel ashamed to be human. You only had to log onto facebook for 5 minutes to know that. A race capable of understanding ourselves and the world around us to degrees no other species has ever achieved. And yet we still have the capacity to fall back into grooves that we cut into ourselves thousands of years ago as cavemen waring over the waterhole.
The Whole thing was so far fetched it almost began to seem fictional. It was an entirely reasonable belief to think that maybe Batman would come and sort all this out for us.
It was not to be.

On the first day of research for this article I went out into pangbourne and began to ask people questions. Pangbourne is an interesting place to begin in that we are a unique village of people. We have everything. Every age, salary and creed. An almost complete cross section of a modern society contained in a village only a mile or two from side to side. I talked to people about the riots in Tottenham and asked them questions about our village. Are there problems in the village and if so what are (in your opinion) the causes? Are the Police a positive force in Pangbourne? Are they the whimsical police of days gone by that everyone in the village knows. The policeman and the postman that would pop in for a cup of tea and a slice of flapjack.

The results where more or less to be expected. Having lived in Pangbourne for 12 years myself I could have answered all these questions anyway. But as always with these things there is no right or wrong answer. Only opinion.

For example. The general concensus is that we as a village do mnot have problems. Sure maybe a bit of litter by the river from time to time when its sunny. But not problems quite to the extent where your kids can be shot for wandering into the wrong postcode area.
Unfortunately the police where generally considered to be an invisible force. Though that is not through lack of trying. Im sure were all aware of the work they do at the local primary schools. With the girl guide groups and generally, in the local area. Most people seemed to understand that the only reason we dont see them that much is due to the vast area of land they have to patrol compared to the number of police available. A sad but real truth.
Maybe there is a sense in Pangbourne that old and young sometimes come to loggerheads when it comes to undertsanding eachothers needs within the village. But every single person I spoke to said that this is so small as to hardly ever cause a real problem.

The most telling response from the village however was resounding. When asked,
Do you think Pangbourne has a good community spirit?”
The answer was always an assured yes! YES!
We as a village have a great community spirit.
When asked however,
Does community spirit mean much to people anymore? What with the Internet and over 700+ channels on the television.”
The answer was no. Especially as each new generation grows it becomes less and less important. Or so the opinion goes.

All of this left me thinking about my generation and what it is that has dissasociated us with our communities. Not just in Pangbourne but in places like London as well. Am I just another youth, born in a wave of consumer whores. Never to know or even understand and respect my neighbours and local business when I have everything I need on a screen in my bedroom? I could buy all my shopping online, I could conceivably never visit the village of Pangbourne if I so wished. Is all I care about where my next wage packet can be spent.

And so it is that I stumbled upon a key. A way to unlock the potential of a generation and restore normality in a world where your next door neighbour is a legitimate target for arson.

The answer is of course COMMUNITY SPIRIT.

I have rcecently been lucky enough to spend a few months in China. In Nanjing. A place that stands as a great example of how community spirit not only commands respect between individuals but actually measurably reduces crime. Of course you can always say the Chinese government are a lot less tolerant of criminals. But then so is America. And they have one of the highest crime rates in the world.

In China you could go to the park in the evening and see old and young together. Listening to music of myriad genres. Flying kites. Playing Mahjong. Basketball. Bearing in mind as well that nanjing is a very very modern city.
One of my colluegues once said that crime in China is less of a problem because if you commit a crime, your not only bringing direspect upon yourself. But you are also bringing disrespect upon your whole family. Of course this is born of a way of life where up to 4 generations will commonly share flooorspace.
When asked where a friend who lived in Nanjing had got so good at drawing. She pointed strait to an old man who has sat and drawn with her, and about 3 other young teens, almost every evening. They respect him for sharing his time with them. And he respects them for their enthusiasm to learn.
It is a commendable place and I believe we in Pangbourne are just as lucky to live in such an environement. You can walk through the village or sit by the river and within 5 minutes your bound to bump into someone you know if not by name then in passing. Someone in Collins DIY mentioned that the village support for the local trade is phenomenal. Greens, Garlands, Collins, etc. etc. Are all supported literally and metaphorically by the families and friends in the village.
You can meet like minded people wherever you go in Pangbourne. Whether in the cafes. Parents at the school gates. Even clubs in the evenings that range from Tennis, Badminton, Cricket, Football, Canoing, Scrabble, Book reading. The list is endless. And every year there is a multitude of events that bring the village together in support of a common focus. The Pangbourne and Sulham Village fetes. The November memorials. The 10k fun run. The pangbourne primary school bonfire night.
I strongly believe that this is a way of life that should never be allowed to die out.

Sadly though in some places I believe it has. Places like Tottenham. A divided community of religion and race and football team. The riots are a by product of this. Its a whole lot easier to burn your neighbours house or ransack your local corner shop when you have never met the people of whoms lives you are destroying. Of course there are reasons that stack on top of this. No one is pretending that the government are doing a good job in bringing out the best in the younger generations. But a good community spirit is core. A good community has something for everyone. Young and old, rich and poor. It will include the disenchanted youth and the out of touch older generations. And respect and work towards the local area and the people who live in it. Building a better place to live and building a degree of trust that ties people together even in the most horrendous of circumstances.

So, residents of Pangbourne. Remember to never lose this way of life. Sure community spirit involves effort. But the rewards im sure youll agree are more than worth it. New friends and an extended family that at points could stretch to everyone in your village if the need is great. (Take the floods for example).
Disregard the nanny state that we live in and throw a street party. Build a bonfire so big this year at the Pangbourne Primary school fireworks night that when it is alight. Its flames will be seen all the way in London where rioters sat in cells will see us and know that they are missing out. Encourage this way of life everywhere you go. In your work place, in your home and in your neighbourhoods. And most importantly especially us students who branch out all over the coutnry every September. Take this way of life with you. Be the person that brings people together.

Ill leave you with one last example.

I was in London last week with my sister waiting on a train in hammersmith station. A german lad comes down the steps with his mates and has obviously had a couple of drinks as he is singing at the top of his voice. Seeing me he decides to get right in my face and sing. I didnt know who he was, or understand what on earth he was doing or even saying. Its at points like this that it is easy to let fear of the unknown dictate your choices. What if hes dangerous?
I said to him instead. “Im sorry . . . mein deutsche ist nicht so gut.”
Instantly the mood changed. He explained to me that he is from switzerland and they speak a slighty different dialect there. And then went on to ask me where is good in London for rock music. (I told him Camden) hope I was right.

My point is that the most basic of human connection is all that is needed. Human connection is what makes the world go round. Human connection is what brings people from all over together. And right about now, I think that is something we could all see the value in believing.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Do we really need an army?

President Eisenhower warned against the perils of ".. the Military Industrial Complex" and its assorted evils. Armies are for invading and occupying enemy states, or for fighting against invaders... 

So the army. A fighting force. But what are we fighting for? There are so many opinions on this it is hard to know where to begin. Just take a look at this thread and you will see what I mean. 

Most will say that without an army, what do we have to defend our culture and our way of life. Our families and our land.

Others will say, what from? Were all human right? 

Imagine this. A world without borders. The concept of a country is a thing of the past. We are all from planet Earth. Its a stretch for the imagination, but the possibilities are endless. 

The real question then is why do we need to fight?
and again the list becomes endless
- Oppressors. (leaders that take human rights into their own hands and oppress the people they rule.)
- Culture (or to preserve culture)
- Economics 
- A safe place to live
etc. etc. 

But the overriding reason, I personally believe is FEAR! 
Fear of the unknown. A lack of understanding between people. Different opinions. An army makes its people feel secure. Makes people feel as though they are safe from the 'terrorists' or the 'religious extremists' that are lingering on the edges of our borders. 

Have you ever found however, that once you confront the fear and begin to understand it. All of a sudden the need for defence ceases to exist. Even in the most basic of situations. A drunk German man came up to me in the station the other day and as a joke with his mates got right in my face and started singing some random song. Now obviously, I do not understand him, why he is doing it, or even what he's saying. Naturally a small amount of fear creeps in. You begin to wonder, is he dangerous. What if he gets obnoxious and tries something. 

I said to him "Mein deutche ist nict so gut . . ." Smiling sheepishly. And immediately he responded nicely. He may have been drunk, he may have thought it was funny with his mates to get into my face and sing. But even more rewarding I'm sure is to meet a human being that creates a small link into which a measure of understanding can happen. He began to tell me that he speaks Swiss German which is slightly different. He asked me where's good in London for Rock music. (I told him Camden) I hope I was right. 

My point is. The world is a different place now. Via the internet and the jet engine. We have the means and the power in our hands to realise that no matter where were from or what we believe. Were not all that different. 
I'm not going to pretend that all people are lovely. Of course there is evil in the world. Take the recent Norwegian disaster. There are evil people in our own countries as well as everyone elses. But the fact is that they are the minority. 

We do need a protection force then to help keep the evil at bay. But not necessarily an army. As president Eisenhower said. 

 ".. the Military Industrial Complex" and its assorted evils. Armies are for invading and occupying enemy states, or for fighting against invaders... 

We do not need to invade any more. The world is already accessible to every Tom, Dick and Harry. The internet and the jet engine have made that possible. What we need instead is an international objective to make the most of our potential as a human race of varying culture, experience and belief, and see the beauty in our differences. Not the fear.

There have been steps in the right direction. Through the internet some of north Africa's people have risen up against oppresion and been successful. The NATO organisation (A collection of military powers) Is not an invasive organisation. It is a humanitarian one. It protects people all over the world. Both from dictation and from things such as poverty, starvation and natural disaster.

I can only hope that this positivity continues. Maybe one day the need for Borders will once and for all cease to exist. It might take centuries, even millennia. But like the oil industry. We all know deep down that it is not the future of our people. 

Would love to hear peoples opinions on this.


Friday, 22 July 2011

Europe, what does it mean?

Europe. A grand idea but is it working? Originally europe was a coalition of a few countries. To begin with, France, Germany, England, Spain and Italy. In the beginning (of Europe, not of creation) none of these countries could really agree on that much at all, including at points who wanted to be in the EU. However as the disagreements settled down things began to improve. The idea was that Europe would become, almost, a superstate. A collection of countries that all work together towards a common cause of self improvement and global standing. Similar in some respects to the American system. Lots of states that govern themselves separately, but also operate under the american Government as a whole. Of course no country was quite willing to hand over complete power to the EU. England for example where particularly stubborn. Often ignoring laws passed in Brussels. (The EU headquarters) and refusing to join the Euro currency. 

However in hindsight was this perhaps wise after all?

We have all heard about the financial crisis affecting Europe of late. Countries such as Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and even Italy are all facing mounting debts which they are struggling to pay off. The problem was that as the European Union became less and less financially stable, countries such as Greece could not borrow money any more against their debts. The banks where running in fear as they saw inevitable collapse. Luckily for Greece the central European bank is not driven by personal welfare. But rather the welfare of Europe and as of today has bailed Greece out with a Total of £192,000,000. That's an awful lot of money but there is hope that not only will it rescue Greece. But also Europe as well. 

So how can bailing out Greece help? 

Firstly it means that investors and Private banks are now less inclined to run in fear. And instead can begin putting money back into the country and aid economic growth. This also applies also to the other countries mentioned. It is the strength of the universal currency that matters rather than the economic strength of an individual nation. If the Euro is still strong. So is the potential for investment.

So does this even affect the UK? 
Of course we stayed rather stubbornly with the Pound. And you could easily be mislead into thinking that this is our safety cushion. 'We don't need to worry about the strength of the Euro because we don't use it'. 

Unfortunately you would be gravely mistaken. The vast majority of the UK's outgoing trade is with Europe. If Europe then fell into recession, the vast majority of the UK's trade would be cut off. Losing us thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of jobs. And of course, we could always find other countries to buy our goods. Sure. But the profit margin would slim dramatically in doing so. After all no one else is going to offer as good a deal as we had with Europe. Again eventually jobs would be lost as the companies would not be able to afford to maintain their output. 

Secondly, a lot of banks that operate in England have their businesses tied up in Europe as well. We could see another Banking crisis again like we had three years ago. Banks falling off the precipice. Businesses and the public in General literally losing their money to the failings of the bank in question. 

The banks in Europe and the UK include. 

(By Keelan Balderson)
Too name but a few. As you can see the devastation would be widespread. Every country in Europe would be affected. The recession would be unprecedented. And for the first time ever. Europe and its respective countries would not be classed amongst the worlds superpowers. 

So the question remains.
What we can we do to stop this from happening?

Well now this is the hardest part of all. There are a vast array of ways in which we (The UK) can begin to grow again economically. And the changes have already started in some respects. The cuts being made in England are starting to reduce the UK's Debt. (And yes, the UK is also in Debt). 
Lots of people do not agree with many of the cuts being made. And I would count myself among them. I feel as though they are focussing entirely on the wrong things. Raising student fees for example was an absolute shot in the foot. (I mean come on, here's a good idea 'Lets reduce the amount of potential talent in the up coming generations by making it harder for them to get the education they need to achieve great things'.) Taking money away from schools and the police. Its ridiculous. 

The problem is the way of thinking. The perspective in which we are currently looking through.
We do need to reduce our debt. But we can do this not by changing how much we spend on services, but by changing how we work within our services. 

Take for example the Police force. They spend more hours per day doing paperwork than actually policing. If we was to take away some of the obstructive health and safety 'Nanny state' measures that are in place. What would be the consequence. There would be more police on the streets. Less crime, which would equal less public expenditure on maintenance. Compensation and the like. Not to mention a saving on the amount of paper being used. With more police on the street less people are likely to resort to crime and therefore will find other ways to stay alive. For example getting a job. 
Straight away we see a direct increase in productivity. 

Energy is another example that really could do with a complete rethink. At the moment apart from north sea gas (which is swiftly running out), all of our energy is imported. Can you imagine how much that costs. Obviously again things are beginning to change. I will be doing an article soon about some of the measures the Scottish government has taken towards a more sustainable approach to producing energy. 

So the answer then is simple. We need to stop living in the past and embrace the future. I'm sure its clear to anyone and everyone that every day is a new day and with that it brings its own problems to solve. We cannot believe that things will always stay the same. However we can, by thinking ahead of ourselves. By using our imagination, maintain our standard of life whilst pushing the UK and consequently Europe back into the enviable position of being a place that the world looks up to. 

A friend of mine when asked the other day what he hopes to go on and do with his physics degree. Replied what do you think people care about more. An I pad or artificial photosynthesis. Of course the answer is somewhat obvious. I'm sure the I pad would win every time. But you also have to ask yourself. For how much longer will the I pad be a valid option for most people if we fall into recession? 

I leave you with one last example.
We with the French built the Concorde. Nasa has admitted many a time that it was the single greatest achievement of the last century. The engineering behind it was more advanced and more innovative than anything used for space travel. We are a country of talent. Lets use it to the advantage of all.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Rain, and plenty of it

Iceland. A country that sits on one of the thinnest areas of the earth's crust. Just below the surface the heat from the Mantle causes water that has fallen beneath the cracks of the earth to rise back up again as steam. This forms so many of natures phenomenon we see there. Geysers. Hot pools, to name but a few. 

This, you could argue is one of the defining features of Iceland. Apart from the wildlife and rugged landscape. However to the residents of Iceland it isn't just a novelty feature; Used to bring in the tourists. They use the geothermal energy every day in interesting, diverse and above all Innovative ways. The whole of the country is powered by geothermal power or Hydro power. 26.2% and 74.4% respectively. 89% of the homes in Iceland are heated at no cost at all, and almost indefinitely by the power of the earth. That means there are no gas bills for heating. Can you imagine how good that would be?

But it doesn't just extend to energy use. They have developed strange but beautiful ways of harnessing the warmth of the earth. By channelling it under the roads they remain ice free all year round. By channelling the heat into a contraption similar to a BBQ they have a steam cooker. 

This, I'm sure you'll agree is an astounding amount of imagination and innovation. Iceland truly is well on its way to becoming one of the first ever countries to become completely fossil fuel free. 

This lead me to start wondering. What do we have in the UK? We certainly don't have anything like the capacity Iceland has to produce energy from geothermal sources in such abundance. There is a small geothermal plant in Southampton  But this would cater for such a small percentage of the UK's overall energy consumption as to be almost negligible.

We do however have lots of rain. Lots of coast and lots and lots of flowing water. Rain is almost a stereotypical feature of the UK. The French always comment on how much we complain of it. So what can we do with that??

Back in the past mills where used to grind flour. However that is a practice that has stopped almost completely. (Save for the odd living museum here and there.)

So lets open this out. How could we use the abundance of water in and around and above England to 
1) Improve our lives?
2) To make us a more self sufficient country. 

If anyone has any ideas. Please leave a comment and I will post them up. 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Japan PM Calls for nuclear-free future

The Unpopular PM Naoto Kan has put forward the idea recently that Japan should move towards a Nuclear free future. There is still some debate as to what this means. But potentially could be a step in the right direction towards a cleaner future for one of the worlds most developed countries. 

The question is. Can the UK, currently locked into a Carbon dependent energy system make similar changes?
What would these changes mean for the UK?
Are they logistically possible?

The problem faced by the UK government at the moment is how to convince the major energy companies to invest almost £110 billion pounds into reforming our energy plans over the next decade. No small task I'm sure you'll agree. The reasons are twofold. Not only will it dramatically help to reduce the UK's carbon footprint. But it could also help keep energy prices at a reasonable enough level so as not to start a customer revolt. The privatisation dream of the 80's set up by Margaret Thatchers government worked for a while. The concept being that strong competition between companies would keep the prices down. However these companies have fallen to the slave driver that is un-sustainable resource. 

For the future of the UK's energy to be secure. Investment is needed in a myriad of energy solutions. The stereotypical ones include Wind, Solar, Tidal etc. And these solutions are quite easily implemented both inland and offshore for relatively little cost with maximum gain. However advanced the technology is though, it would not be enough to supply power to a present version of the UK as it stands now. Innovation and imagination is required in all sectors to not only create renewable cheap clean energy. But also to conserve and make the most of the energy available to us when it arrives. A 'Smart Grid' 

(More about smart grid thinking and technology can be found here.)

At the end of the day however. No matter what the government does. It is up to us to make this happen. Every single person is responsible for the energy they use. And we all know of moments when we could have been more careful. But in a more positive light. It is up to us now to make the UK a leader in the technologies, services, designs and plans that will make the future a safe and rewarding place to be. Lets challenge ourselves to lead the way. Britain was once a cultural hub of innovation in science, art, music, and technology. We have all heard of the industrial revolution. Well we can be that again. Welcome one and all to the green revolution.