War is usually defined as one army in combat with another but in Afghanistan, this definition of war is obsolete to say the least. suicide attacks at weddings and outside mosques tell you that the frames offered by the media are less than accurate.
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Friday, October 26, 2012
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
I'm not sure that I really wrote a first book in fact. It was more a collection of thoughts, poems and essays that I'd been scribbling into a series of spiral bound notebooks for many years. There were songs as well, and melodies, handwritten on pencil drawn staves. Probably due to the fact that I didn't doodle or draw pictures, I had the brilliant idea one day to turn my notebooks into a book. As I was involved in the printing industry back then, it wasn't difficult to run off a hundred copies, but after I did that and had my first book in my hand, I had no idea what to do next, so I gave most of the copies to my mum. She quite liked them. It was a collection of poetry titled 'Loss, Limbo, Life and Love'.
With the poems out of the way, but much later, I then went about doing the same with the essays and short stories I had written over the years. I published the book by Print On Demand and was quite pleased with myself at having a book that this time had an official ISBN. I can't recall exactly when I published 'An Uneducated View of Sex, Food And Politics', but it was well before e-books hit the market.
2. Your large body of work has touched a number of genres; do you think you mastered any?
In no way whatsoever because I write for the love of writing and while I suppose it would be more logical to stick to one genre and make my book marketing much easier, once a story gets into my head, that's the end of the matter. Except for the trilogy of The Glothic Tales, which kept me going on science fiction farce for quite some time, I haven't stayed in one genre long enough to get close to knowing what I'm doing. I warped off from the last Glothic Tale to a romance. I've got no idea why, other that an idea popped into my head.
3. Have any writers influenced you work?
I hated reading as a child and teenager. Perhaps it was my schooling or the teachers, but I always seemed to have something better to do than read The Grapes Of Wrath. Luckily though, I stumbled across 'Chariot Of The Gods' by Erich von Daniken and was absorbed by his theories of ancient alien visits to Earth. From then on, I was hooked on reading anything science fiction. Just as an aside, I bumped into Erich von Daniken just a few years ago when I was holidaying in a little Swiss village called Beatenberg. He lives there and was buying his Sunday morning newspaper. Funnily enough, he seemed remarkably ordinary for a childhood hero.
4. Maybe it was just the genre of Milo Moon, but there seemed to be a clear influence of Phillip K. Dick throughout the book, was there?
No. The writers who have most influenced me, and I keep reminding myself not to imitate, are Douglas Adams, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, who write as Grant Naylor, and Jasper Fforde. After I'd finished writing 'Milo Moon', an editor read the manuscript, as I was considering whether to publish with a small press at the time. He made a clear point that my use of 'I don't like Wednesdays' in the book was a 'lift' from Douglas Adams. But I'd forgotten all about Arthur Dent's dislike for Thursdays and had used the line because I had lost a few family and friends on a Wednesday in the few years before I wrote the story. Well, in the end the editor wanted to remove it, and I said, 'Over my dead body.' So I self- published.
5. What’s your have writing process, if you have one?
It usually starts with one character. I like losers, anti-heroes, marginals or a character with flaws or a childlike innocence, and then develop the character in my head for a while. The story comes after I get to know my character well. From there I play around with plots, but then I'm usually guided by what the character would do given certain situations. I tend to write way too fast though, so I usually get ahead of myself and have to backtrack a lot to fix the craters in the plot that writing too fast creates. I don't know how many times I've given a character a brother or sister and then made them an only child later in my rush. However, I'm quite happy to do the repair work later if the story is coming out easily.
6. In my book review of Milo Moon, I identified you as one of the best writers around. Are there any fellow writers you would recommend?
With the way publishing and social media has become almost completely entwined now, I have so many writers who are friends or I know through the Internet. That makes it hard, as I would be completely biased in my recommendations by my friendships. I think the best recommendation I could make would be Geoffrey Chaucer, as by reading his works, he really proves that nothing has changed all that much in society, or writing, since the fourteenth century.
7. You only have to visit Milo Moon’s twitter account to find out the books reach. Why do you think Milo Moon has gained such a large following?
Twitter is the strange beast of social networking. I have no idea why the old Milo Moon account was so popular. But alas his account is no longer, as I changed it recently to focus more on publishing and in particular self-publishing. As the main topics of the messages haven't changed that much, the account has remained quite popular and is still growing. But there is a lot of follow for the sake of following on Twitter, simply to build up numbers, so I am always cautious about the real number of people who actually read Twittter feeds.
8. What do you think of the state of the book market today?
I don't think anyone knows the answer. It's certainly in a state of flux and where it's heading is anyone's guess. E-books have certainly changed the game, but the current boom in e-book reading must be viewed in perspective, as most of the change has been in the US market. When I read new articles and blogs that relate to e-publishing, very little information regarding the advance of the e-book outside of the US is mentioned. I was in the UK recently and the bookstores there are still doing 'business as usual' with traditional books. Where I live in Switzerland, and in adjoining France, the ebook is almost non-existent. Therefore I think it's a two-part question. What is the state in the US market? That would have to be described as volatile. What's the state of the book market outside the US. Business as usual.
9. Do you see the growth of self-published books and authors as good thing?
Of course. Not just from the income perspective for authors, but because it expands freedom of expression. I read a lot about the quality aspect of self published books, but I think this is just literary knit picking. What I love about self-publishing is that there is no lock keeper on what you want to write about anymore. While there needs to be a certain degree of control over a small number of very sensitive social and perhaps security topics, I think the opportunity for people to express themselves is of social value. Whether they sell a book is another issue though.
The only downside I see is the control electronic publishing gives to corporations. It's not fully understood that when you buy an e-book on a Kindle for example, that Amazon can remotely remove your purchased book from your device. So do you really own the e-books you buy?
10 . Last question, do you have any new book projects in the works or anything not too far from release?
I have started on a new story but it's still a long way from completion. Enough to say though, that I have been predictable and have not only chosen a new genre to play with but have also decided to change from my habit of writing in the third person. It should be fun.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Friday, October 19, 2012
There is much that can be said about the United States and its allies 2014 exit plan, but what can be said for sure is that an awful lot is riding on one year. In that year, Afghanistan must hold free and fair elections despite little progress in democratic practice to the point that NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, two years early, stressed the importance of fair elections intimating that they weren't before. part of the occupying forces plan to leave Afghanistan with a competent army and national police force despite the fact most army and police officers are poorly paid, leaving them open to turning sides or spying for the Taliban.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012
While TV pundits and football critics alike are predicting that republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni will get his marching orders sooner rather than later and Irish bookmaker Paddy Power have suspend bets wagering an end to his tenure, it is highly likely Trapattoni will see out the rest of his contract due to the cost of getting rid him. While results have been poor from euro 2012 onward, the 6-1 butchering at the hands of a talented and ruthless Germany (Its biggest home defeat to date) seems to reveal all the problems that have plagued Trapattoni’s reign.
Every time Germany found themselves in the final third of Ireland’s half of the pitch, they look dangerous, popping the ball about and making Ireland’s packed midfield chase shadows all game to no avail. In sharp contrast, every time the Trapattoni side received the ball, they were rushed off the ball or forced to pass backwards all the way to the goalkeeper who predictably play it long up field to the hardworking but limited Stoke City striker Jonathan Walters.
The match followed the same pattern of all their matches in the Republic of Ireland’s disastrous Euro 2012 campaign where they were consummately outclassed by all their opponents. It has recently been quite apparent that republic of Ireland players have lost faith in Trapattoni and his staff as there has been public rifts between players and management most notably Fulham’s Stephen Kelly reported clash with Marco Tardelli, Trapattoni’s right hand man.
However, despite all the speculation over Trapattoni’s future, the Republic of Ireland still have good chance of qualify for the 2014 World Cup as they face opposition where results are possible. Trapattoni, in full knowledge of Ireland’s still decent chances of qualification has been as unflappable as ever stating his satisfaction of his achievements in running the Republic of Ireland national team and his job being about ‘pride’ despite his high salary.
In sum, while media pundits and football critics have sharpened their knives for Trapattoni in the face of a crushing defeat, Trapattoni will remain head coach of Republic of Ireland due the exorbitant cost associated with getting of rid of him and the fact that Ireland still have a good chance of qualifying for the 2014 world cup. However while it is almost certain Trapattoni will be shown the door if the Republic of Ireland do not qualify, it is quite clear the next man tasked with bringing success to the national team will have tough job in his hands as Ireland suffer from a quality and quantity problem among their current crop of players.
 Reuters, 2012, Irish Bookmaker suspends betting on Trapattoni exit, http://football.uk.reuters.com/leagues/premiership/news/2012/10/15/43926ABC-16E0-11E2-A1EA-8C2E8033923B.php
 Daily Mail, 2012, Trapattoni to remain as Ireland boss… only because FAI afford to give him the boot, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2217552/Republic-Ireland-afford-sack-Giovanni-Trapattoni.html
 Irish Examiner, 2012, Three changes for Ireland as Trapattoni denies Kelly row rumours, http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/sport/three-changes-for-ireland-as-trapattoni-denies-kelly-row-rumours-570656.html
There are many things you can say about Nobel peace prize and its awarding committee, among them would be that they sure know how to pick their winners. From awarding the peace prize to Henry Kissinger despite his well-documented involvement at the tail end of the Vietnam War to Barack Obama winning the award in the midst of two protracted wars, the noble peace prize has a history of awarding public figures with a lot of blood on their hands.
However one of its strangest awards to date was giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. While it’s not unusual for political organisations to win the prize such as Amnesty International and the UN, it is quite strange that a political project has won in what is probably its most trying period.
Recent years may have tested the EU as political and economic project, but what is not up for debate is the EU is the most successful political project in the history of international politics. For centuries Europe had been rife with “divisions, tensions and conflicts” borne out of competition and imperial ambition.
These two factors made sure Europe would remain a Hobbesian nightmare halfway through the 20th century as the continent experienced two world wars and several failed attempts at diplomacy in-between, notably with the League of Nations. However, Influenced by the brutality and death that characterised the Second World War, leaders across Europe realised the need for a united Europe ensuring that war will never break out in Europe ever again.
The fact that the peace has held in Europe for so long after centuries of conflict and competition owes much to the process of integration between the economies of EU member states and laws strengthening human rights legislation. The success of the EU has been that it has meant greater cooperation between nations in Europe, particularly the big three, Britain, France and Germany, key players in both world wars. In recent years the EU has expanded eastward with the accession of former soviet states to full membership.
However, the process of integration and cooperation mediated by the EU has led to developments that have been met with less than other endeavours. The establishment of the single currency was seen by some as the most ambitious development in uniting Europe even further and seen as a major threat to national sovereignty by others.
The Euro was seen by supporters as the most audacious statement of intent by EU member states to unify Europe by tying their fates together by establishing the European Monetary Union (EMU). While the language of the EMU was economic, it was motivated purely by politics as the EMU remarkably took many of the controls traditionally handled by member states and put them in the hands of technocrats in Brussels. This was accomplished through the rather strict monetary requirements aspiring EMU members had to meet to join the single currency.
While the idea of uniting Europe in the interest of peace and prosperity has been a success, the undemocratic nature of the political project has been the source of bickering among member states and the economic stagnation of many members of the EMU, Greece being the most prominent example
The EU’s response to the Eurozone crisis has been poor to say the least as the troika of the EU, IMF and ECB has forced upon Greece’s strict austerity measures and heavily conditioned bailouts in an attempt to keep Greece in the EMU despite default being a painful but viable option. The fact that the EU has partnered with the IMF leads to questions of it lack of accountability due to the IMF’s use of notorious structural adjustment programs recommended to countries of the global south.
These polices that have caused instability in many nations in the global south have now been imposed on Greece and has led to frequent, often violent protest by ordinary Greek citizens against strict austerity measures used by its government and the EU itself.
The search for consensus by EU leaders from EU member states has led to creation of the fiscal pact, which will impose tough fiscal measures to make sure its members keep financially sound budgets, mostly through measures that have failed miserably in Greece.On this evidence it is quite strange that the Nobel peace prize has been awarded to the EU this year as its polices have caused instability in Greece and it ideological preference for an united Europe has weakened significantly it member states ability to react to economic and political crisis
In conclusion, the EU is the most successful political project in the history of international politics and should be recognised for playing a large role in why there has been no war in Europe from Second World War onwards. However, to award the EU the Nobel Peace Prize when its policies have caused instability in Greece and threatened the future of the Eurozone is bizarre to say the least
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
It's a well established fact the United States has been run more by the lucky than the smart, this great infographic gives you the skinny in words and pictures.
|The best and brightest? not likely|
Friday, October 5, 2012
You would have thought the events of the last five years would have taught banks (Ok, not so much) rating agencies and insurance companies that dabbling in subprime loan debt is an unwise decision to say the least, but with the news of the boom in sub-prime auto loans, not much has been heeded.
Auto loan lenders, apparently not privy to the cause of the crisis five years ago are dropping barriers in the way of borrowers with bad credit reports taking on debt to buy cars to the chagrin of analysts and the joy of car dealers. This may be a key factor in the current recovery and growth of the auto industry as there is, thanks to subprime auto loans, “more demand for new cars and more money available to finance them” .
However these loans are toxic as dealers who sell them have an almost non-existent moral incentive to tell the truth about what they’re selling with lenders predicting that “auto loan delinquencies will go up” . The current Boom in Subprime auto loans and the auto industry is largely down to the fundamental problems at the crux of why the crisis happened in the first have not really been addressed. This is because these problems are more historic than they are financial or even economic.
Wages for ordinary people have been on the decline for the last 30 years which saw an explosion in credit as a response to their wages failing to cover expenses (rent, food, holiday etc). the bottom fell out of this process in 2007 when deals made by American banks went bad leaving the global economy has been reeling ever since as politicians have spent more time trying to shore up the financial system than solve the main problem, the lack of well-paying jobs and the less than honest business ethics of credit card and loan providers.
The effects of defaulting on Auto loans are damaging as it can seriously affect credit history of borrowers, their ability to get loans in the future, and the car bought with the loan can be repossessed as the car is usually considered ‘collateral’. Most people who have taken out auto loans are likely to be subject to the consequences of default as “more than half of… (Auto loans) default” due to astronomical interest rates
However there appear to be some good news as Marketwatch reported a drop in May this year was the “lowest in its (the Auto loan default rate) 8+ year history” with another decrease a month later.
In sum, while the subprime auto loan market may be booming and the rate of default declining slightly, the systemic problems that underlined the 2007-2008 crisis still exists and can send the auto loan default into record figures of debt at any time as families still find it hard to cover expenses without credit and the job market offering jobs that are weak in wage and benefits. Lenders have not learned from the mistakes of 2007-2008 but , hopefully, for their sakes, they do not get a second lesson.
 M C. White, 2012, Is Subprime Lending Fueling the Auto Surge?,
 Carsdirect.com, 2009 Defaulting on a car loan: the effects of Car Loan Default, http://www.carsdirect.com/auto-loans/what-happens-if-you-default-on-a-car-loan
 Marketwatch, 2012, ConsumerCredit Default Rates Decreased for the Sixth Consecutive Month According to the S&P/Experian Credit Default Indices,
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
It only received very brief headlines, but the recent controversy over the living allowance disparity between male and female cricketers at the twenty20 world cup highlights some continuing worrying trends in the world of sport as a whole.
England captain Charlotte Edwards started the ‘controversy’ when she suggested that World Twenty20 chiefs would need to review the pay divide in the daily living allowance offered to women and men. Female cricketers at the 2012 Twenty20 world cup in Sri Lanka receive a daily allowance of £37 per day. Male cricketers at the 2012 Twenty20 world cup in the same country playing in an event organised by the same governing body have been receiving a daily living allowance of £61 per day. It was also noted that female cricketers were flown out to the subcontinent in economy class, while male cricketers travelled business class.
The first striking thing about these numbers might actually be the sheer quantity of money that cricketers receive for a living allowance. £259 per week isn’t a small amount when all of your basic expenses are handled for you. Male cricketers at the Twenty20 world cup have over £400 per week to spend on food and for entertainment purposes. That isn’t a bad perk for an already very good job.
It should also be mentioned that female cricketers are probably not overly concerned about having to survive off of ‘only’ £37 per day. Edwards was quick to state that ‘Our focus is on the cricket at the moment and not on how much money we get’. Of course there is more to playing cricket for your country then how much money you make.
However, there are also some pretty clear principles that it would be pretty sensible to follow. There is absolutely no reason that men would need a living allowance worth £24 more per day than women. It can be argued that the discrepancy in the prize money is a result of their simply being a lot more money in the men’s game in general (the winning men’s team takes home £616,000, while the women’s winner collect £40,000). That is still a questionable issue, but a more complex one at least. The difference in daily living allowances at the Twenty20 world cup can only be put down to sexual discrimination. Logistically speaking it might actually have been a lot easier to split the money up more evenly.
So, what’s the point? A difference in living allowances doesn’t seem to be a major issue compared to some of the other problems of sexism in sport, which are present at both a professional and recreational level, and start at a very young age.
Neither will simply evening up the living allowances fix these bigger problems. The point is rather that this difference is symptomatic and representative of the wider problems. It really shows a complete disregard for the equality that the sport should be striving for. If the game’s own governing bodies have sat down and produced a difference in budgeting that is a complete insult to the idea of equality, then what hope is there for improved gender equality in cricket in general?
Cricket isn’t the only sport that has this problem. Women’s football is the third largest team sport in the UK, but this is not at all represented in terms of sponsorship deals or in terms of television rights. Surveys including both genders suggest that the publicising of women’s sport via television is something that the majority of people would welcome.
The evidence from the few sports that have offered stronger support to the women’s game is that this is correct. At Wimbledon, the prize money for women and men is the same. Women’s tennis draws in comparable sized audiences both in the stands and on television to the men’s game. Does this mean that sexism is absent from tennis? Of course not, there are still problems with the perception of female tennis stars and with the general culture surrounding the sport. But the sport’s governing bodies do at least seem to be taking the issue of improving gender equality seriously.
Another example is women’s basketball in the United States. The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) runs its league throughout the summer and receives prime television time on ESPN. While there are still some serious issues with the size of contracts, especially compared with the staggering figures made by NBA players, the WNBA has forged itself as an independent and effective sports league. It is widely recognised as such and generally popular. This is mirrored in college basketball, where the women’s tournament takes place alongside the men’s tournament and is a key component in helping the period maintain its name ‘March Madness’.
The daily living allowance handed out at the Twenty20 world cup may seem like a minor micro issue that just needs to be fixed behind closed doors, but the reality is that it is a part of some far larger institutional problems. The claim here is not that the problems with gender equality in sports can be magically fixed, or that there are models of gender equality that need to be followed.
There is a huge amount of work that needs to be done to improve this situation, and a lot of it will need to be ‘bottom up’. However, it is also incredibly important that the top governing bodies take the issue of gender equality seriously, and engage with it. It’s very hard to find the evidence to suggest that they have done that so far and the difference in the daily living allowance at the Twenty20 world cup, and in fact the complete lack of real scandal surrounding it, are just further proof that serious engagement is just not happening at this time.
The truth is out about medically prescribed drugs. If you were hoping that the drugs prescribed to help cure your illnesses by your doctors were thoroughly and transparently tested by responsible and unbiased professionals, then I am afraid you will be disappointed. The good news is that you can still trust your local doctor as much as you did before. Your physicians are not acting maliciously towards you at all. The bad news is that the legal framework of the pharmaceutical industry appears to be specifically constructed to allow the pharmaceutical industry to put drugs into the marketplace regardless of their effectiveness and regardless of their potential negative side effects.
Okay, so let’s talk this through. Medical professionals will tell you that very few if any medical drugs are perfect and that drugs have varying degrees of success with different people and even drugs that are extremely helpful can have negative side effects. However, there is a very basic expectation that when you are prescribed medicine, it will be have been proven that that medicine can have some sort of positive effect on your health, and that the doctor prescribing you that medicine will have enough information to decide whether the benefits outweigh the side effects of the drug they are prescribing.
This article will contest that the recent controversies surrounding the pharmaceutical industry show that not only is this basic expectation not being met, but that legal and systematic processes are insuring that it isn’t. Recent findings paint a picture of an industry that prioritises its own financial gain over any concern for health or even a basic sense of morality.
Ben Goldacre recently published some absolutely incredible data in his recent book that demonstrates the pharmaceutical industry actively deceiving physicians and the general population. Reboxetine is marketed as an antidepressant used to treat clinical depression, panic disorder and ADHD. If you read up on the drug it will show you a convincing list of seemingly well-designed tests with positive results. The drug is reported as performing better in trials both against a placebo and other antidepressants.
However, in October 2010 the full picture of Reboxetine was finally revealed by a group of researchers. Seven trials had been conducted with only one showing positive results, but the company elected to publish the only positive results. It should be made clear at this point that there is no legal requirement for all trial results to be revealed. However, once the other six trials were brought to light, they showed a shocking tale of deceit. In all six trials it was shown that Reboxetine was no better than a dummy sugar pill.
The trials showed 507 patients benefitted more from Reboxetine over other drugs with all of those results being published. A further 1,657 patients worth of data clearly demonstrated without question that Reboxetine was no better than other drugs. It seems that the current structures allow the pharmaceutical industry to actively discount three quarters of the data from their trials.Even more worrying is that Reboxetine actually displayed several negative side effects on certain trial subjects. This was not reported because the trials were simply discounted. Officially, they were never conducted.
An even more horrific example is the case of paroxetine in children. Paroxetine is another anti-depressant drug. GlaxoSmithKline conducted trials of the drug on children with no benefits shown. The company decided not to reveal this information and internal documents actually revealed a deliberate cover up of the trial results to protect the company’s interests. During that time 32,000 prescriptions were given to children by doctors believing the pharmaceutical industry’s claim that the drug worked.
Not only did GSK withhold the fact that the drugs were ineffective, but they also withheld much more serious information about its side effects. A legal loophole meant that GSK did not have to inform the regulator of the side effects on children from Parexotine. Parexotine’s safety data was not revealed to the regulator because the drug doesn’t have specific market authorisation for use on children. The side effect that wasn’t reported was that Parexotine increased the risk of suicide in children.
GSK were not legally obligated to report the findings of their safety tests. The pharmaceutical industry, an industry responsible for producing medicine, prioritised their reputation and financial gain over the health and safety of children; children whose doctors had judged needed to be treated with anti-depressants. It might be worth dwelling on that point. Children who needed treatment for issues like depression and panic disorder were prescribed a drug that not only wouldn’t help them, but could increase the risk of their committing suicide, and there were people who knew this, people who could have prevented it.
There are no mysteries surrounding the people who are perpetrating these travesties. In 2010, academics in Toronto and Harvard researched a huge range of drug trials and found that 85% of industry funded drug trials turned up positive results, while government funded trials produced a success rate of just 50%. This is far too large of a gulf to be anything besides manipulation. Besides the fact that researchers are free to bury any negative results and at times academics and researchers are even contractually obliged to maintain secrecy, there are also other ways in which these trials can be manipulated. Researchers can watch results as they come in, intervene at any point and even test their drug against other drugs that they know do not work. This isn’t the way in which science or medicine production is supposed to work.
The pharmaceutical industry can only be trusted to act in its own financial interest. This is a fact about businesses that is generally accepted in society, but there has always been an implicit assumption that the production of medical drugs was regulated and designed to ensure the health and safety of the patients that will eventually be prescribed them. Private industry cannot even be trusted to inform doctors of an extremely harmful side effect for a drug being prescribed to children. The case of the pharmaceutical industry would seem to be yet another argument against the privatisation of NHS services. The consequences for allowing market and capital to take priority over social responsibility can be truly catastrophic.