Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

February 2006


Faith & Religion and PoliticalTuesday, February 7th, 2006, (5:28 pm)

Over the weekend Edith posted about Bono’s speech to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last week. I must confess I hadn’t seen or heard anything about Bono’s address before Edith mentioned it, but then I wasn’t particularly the intended audience.

In his rousing speech Bono said he had spent most of his life avoiding religious people because, as he saw it, “religion often gets in the way of God.” He remarked that regardless of peoples views on God “most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.” And he urged the assembled audience to help address the issue of poverty by, as he put it, getting involved with what God is doing.

“God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.” He said.

For about half an hour Bono had the ear of some of the most important decision makers in America, the world even! In the end he concluded his speech by suggesting that the richest country in the world, whom he congratulated for their generosity, “see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing” and as such increase the amount of foreign aid by one percent which would bring the total of foreign aid given by the United States to just less than two percent of the federal budget, effectively doubling what it is now. He called the increase “enlightened economic self interest, and a better safer world rolled into one.” Saying too that this was justice, not charity.

The speech probably came to late to affect any changes to President Bush’s $2,700,000,000,000 annual budget proposal in which the President proposes yet more money for military activities paid for by cuts in social areas like, for example, justice.

But even though there are cuts-a-plenty Bono and the ONE campaign he represents, must surely be pleased to see significant increases in his two aid programs: the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which was set up to reward “good performers” among poor countries, and the three-year-old PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief ).

Of course the President Budget Proposal is just that, a proposal, it will surely undergo some changes and many involved in education, healthcare and the environment will be watching that carefully.

Forty-two education programs are targeted for elimination as $3,500,000,000 is slashed from the Department of Education budget. Healthcare is going to be hit hit hard too with a variety of changes that have critics up in arms. The Environmental Protection Agency have to tighten their belt too in the budget proposal. $300,000,000 is to be cut from their budget effecting mainly air and water pollution programs.

There is some relief for though for those affected by last years Hurricane Katrina. It comes in the form a proposed ten percent increase in funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which includes a tripling – to $150 million – in grants for pre-disaster mitigation efforts, to reduce potential damage from disasters. Clearly giving aid to those affected by disasters and emergencies on home soil has to be a priority to the government, but some may feel that increase isn’t enough when the current cost of the war in Iraq is already around $177,000,000 a day!

So today, as four US presidents attend the funeral today of Coretta Scott King, I wonder what her and her late husband would make of the Presidents budget. They were both ardent campaigners for civil rights and peace. Certainly more money for missiles might not seem like such a good idea to Martin Luther King Jr. who once said “We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

Bono addresses the National Prayer Breakfast Video – Audio – Verified transcript
Bono Lauds, Prods Prayer Breakfast
Bono’s best sermon yet
The ONE campaign
Bush seeks another defense spend increase

General and SportsMonday, February 6th, 2006, (6:53 pm)

Like 90% of the world, I had no idea that the Superbowl was on last night. I’ve seen a few, though usually only when an excuse for a party was required. Where watching the ‘football’ (surely it’s more handball than football?) isn’t the point, the point is more to do with eating, drinking, and hitting on pretty girls who seem to just appear at parties as if by some strange magic.

As an Englishman ‘American Football’ makes about as much sense to me as Cricket might to an American. As I understand ‘American football’, it’s a bunch of guy running around in body armor throwing a ball over lines and then getting it vaguely over a line to score a point or something. It’s kinda like a softies version of Rugby from what I can see.

I was never really into sports anyway. Football, the version that the rest of the world play – the one that involves actually controlling the ball with your foot – hence the name, never appealed to me. For a start, like Rugby, the season is in our winter, I mean if you’re going to go outside without a coat on for heavens sake do that kind of thing in the months that at least stand a chance of being warm!

Having said that though, I do enjoy the world cup. Thats the tournament where football teams from all different countries of the world come together every four years to see who will be the world champion team. That’s the world as in other countries though, not the world as in one country and maybe Canada.

So the long and the short of it is, I didn’t know it was the SuperBowl until I rang an American friend. Shame really, I could have tuned in at half time in the hope of being shocked at the site of a nipple because I’ve never seen one of those before. Which reminds me, I really must fix the door on my wardrobe as it won’t shut properly. Don’t you just hate those wardrobe malfunctions!

GeneralSunday, February 5th, 2006, (4:06 pm)

The other day I was chatting with a couple of friends about the Space Shuttle program and how I would dearly love to go to watch a launch, when it came up in conversation that the Russians had developed their own Space Shuttles too!

At first I laughed it off thinking this was a joke or another one of those crazy conspiracy theories that you hear people witter on about. But then my friend asserted this was true, and was actually surprised someone “as into space stuff” as me wouldn’t know this. But I had no idea, I have never ever heard of a Russian space shuttle, this was news to me, albeit very old news.

Now I won’t bore you all too much because maybe I am the last person on earth not to know all of this, but the Russians started developing their own space shuttle in 1976, shortly after the Americans. It was developed in secret and primarily as a weapon of the cold war. However the Russians were seriously strapped for cash so their development program was far slower than NASA’s.

The Russian shuttle was, in effect, simply a ‘knock off’ of the NASA one, only the Russian one was able to address a few of the issues NASA had with theirs, and in some respects some might argue that the Russian shuttle had made some significant improvements on the NASA one. For example the Russian space shuttle was 4600kg lighter than the STS and could carry 5000kg more payload, with a slightly bigger payload bay. It also required less fuel to get into orbit.

After building a few test models and making atmospheric test flights, the Russians launched their shuttle, named Buran, at three in the morning on Nov 25th, 1988. The flight was unmanned due to the fact that the life support system aboard the shuttle was untested, and the computer displays in the cockpit had no software because they hadn’t yet finalized that part of the shuttles development. Indeed the shuttle could only make two orbits of the earth, returning at 6:25am that same day, due to the fact the computer system they used didn’t have enough memory to do any more than that!

Despite this the Buran flight was a huge technical success. The autopilot was able to correct for a 34mph cross-wind on landing; high enough for NASA to divert to their alternate landing site in White Sands. Plus Buran lost significantly fewer insulating tiles on re-entry, possibly due to the Russian wing design.

Two other orbiters were planned and construction had begun on them. But neither of them were completed due to the lack of funds and goodwill from the Russian government. By the time Buran had actually made it’s first flight the cold war was almost over, and the the Russian political climate was changing dramatically.

The space shuttle Buran never flew again. Buran and the various other mock-ups and test models were either disassembled or sold off. One found its way to Australia where it was displayed in Sydney. However the company that owned it went into bankruptcy and the Buran was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair and become vandalized. it was eventually moved to Bahrain and purchased by a German consortium.

Oddly enough, another Buran shuttle found its way to America, or at least it might have done. There isn’t much explanation as to what the craft pictured in Kansas city by Google Earth is. But it would appear to be a Buran shuttle sitting alone by a river. Maybe someone there had grand plans for it. Who knows. One thing’s for sure, I never knew the Russians had a space shuttle!

Shuttle Buran
Russian space shuttle
Russian website of the Buran
Buran down under
More pictures of the Buran
Loads of information of the Buran
BBC on the Buran
Russians to revive the Buran
A Buran in Kansas City!?

GeneralThursday, February 2nd, 2006, (9:42 pm)

Well I’ve had it done! Thank you for all your good wishes in comments to my previous post. The implant is in my jaw now, and yes that is that is the actual implant and my x-ray after the op. But I’m not entirely out of the woods just yet. I have to go there again tomorrow to have the temporary bridge put back in, then again on Monday to check everything is okay, then again on Friday to have the crown (fake tooth) screwed into the implant which acts as a fake root.

The whole operation took about two and a half hours, but it was pretty much painless aside the stretching of my upper lip which was more uncomfortable than painful. The most bizarre bit was when the dentist was actually hammering the implant into my jaw with a small hammer! That felt like it should really hurt, but it didn’t. About half way through I requested some more anesthetic because I could feel the roof of my mouth, and from that I figured that it wouldn’t be long until it started wearing off where all the gory stuff was happening.

On the request of a couple of strange people who I think wanted to see me in pain, and for my own curiosity, as well as dental records, one of the dentists photographed the whole thing. Maybe I’ll be able to bargain the $3200 fee down a little if I let them use the pictures on their website.

I would have posted pictures here but some of them are pretty bloody and gruesome. But for those who, for whatever reason, might want to see some pictures from this torrid affair you can see them online right now!

GeneralThursday, February 2nd, 2006, (1:15 pm)

Well today is the big day – It’s dental implant day! After months of preparation the day has finally arrived for the titanium composite root and enamel fake tooth to be bioengineered into my jaw in a process that is simply too gruesome and too close to think about.

My dentist, whose practice is next door, assures me that the procedure will be painless. However he has warned of some post-op “discomfort” and facial swelling that -get this- “may cause your eye to close.” This will last maybe up to 48 hours with some mild bruising that will fade over the course of the next few days.

Now, not that anyone of you will be at all interested, the whole procedure will be photographed each step of the way for dental file and, should I wish it, for me too. That includes the bit where they cut away my upper gum below my nose to take bone for a bone graft! Like I said, the process is utterly gruesome.

I’m already on a course of two antibiotics and from tomorrow I’ll be on the strongest pain killers for a few hours, though the dental surgeon assures me the procedure will be painless and the level of post-op discomfort will not be that bad.

I have a meeting this afternoon at 2pm, then after that I need to rush back here and eat dinner early then go next door to the dentist for 6pm. Lets hope it all goes well.

Gruesome pictures

PoliticalWednesday, February 1st, 2006, (12:02 pm)

British military forces suffered their 100th death yesterday in Iraq, once again igniting angry calls for Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to review the countries position in the conflict and disclose his timetable for a British military withdrawal.

The embattled Prime Minister finds himself in the most unenviable of political positions, the worst of all catch 22’s. The vast majority of country are set against the continuing war in Iraq but a simple withdrawal cannot be considered at this time because it would surely leave Iraq open to similar atrocities to those committed after the hasty withdrawal of allied troops at the end of the first Gulf war.

Indeed use of the term ‘war’ is carefully avoided by all government offices. The military operations in Iraq are officially classified, on both sides of the Atlantic, as a ‘conflict.’ War was never declared on Iraq or the countries now removed dictator, Saddam Hussein. Nonetheless, back in May 2003, in-front of a huge “mission accomplished” banner aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, President Bush proudly announced victory in the ‘conflict’.

“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” Said the President to a rousing applause from the gathered troops who must have thought that this meant they would soon be on their way home. Yet since their Commander-in-Chief declared the victory a further 2105 of their fellow soldiers have died in Iraq.

Soon after the speech the President’s spokesman, Ari Fleischer, warned that despite the declaration of victory this would not mark the end of hostilities “from a legal point of view”. Under the Geneva Convention, to which America is party to, the legal implications of declaring a war officially over is that the victorious army must release prisoners-of-war and halt operations targeting specific leaders.

But of course if the war never was a ‘war’, then declaring a victory in that war doesn’t legally matter anyway, so any prisoners-of-war being held without charge or a release date, don’t have to be released because they’re not prisoners-of-war, they’re ‘prisoners-of-conflict.’

Also in his speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, the President explained that the reasons for going to ‘conflict’ with Iraq would soon be vindicated. “We’ve begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated.” He said, though sadly for the soldiers who died, their families, and of course the innocent Iraqi’s who have also suffered and died since then, no such chemical or biological weaponry were ever found.

More than two and a half years after his victory speech the President was forced to make an uncomfortable admission. “It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong” He said. “My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision. Saddam was a threat and the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power,” announced the President to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

It seems strange that the President would have put so much faith in the so called ‘faulty intelligence’ given that in his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, had already gone on record stating any such intelligence would be questionable.

As far back as January 1998, Rumsfeld, along with fellow members of a conservative think tank based in Washington called ‘The Project for a New American Century,’ wrote an open letter to President Clinton stating “even if full inspections were eventually to resume, which now seems highly unlikely, experience has shown that it is difficult if not impossible to monitor Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons production.”

“The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.”

Of course the body count in Iraq will continue to rise. President Bush, along with Prime Minister Blair, have little choice but to continue justifying it at whatever cost. But as we face the reality that the ‘conflict’ in Iraq is now most certainly the front line in this ‘war on terror,’ we must also remember that the two were never before connected. Saddam Hussain was never an ally of al-qaeda yet the former dictators country would seem to be at the peril of foreign ‘insurgent’ terrorist groups fighting foreign occupation soldiers in a war that seems to have lost its way entirely.

UK forces suffer 100th Iraq death
Bush declares victory in Iraq
President Bush’s victory in Iraq speech [full text]
President declares victory in Iraq in 2003 [Video]
Mission accomplished
Bush: we went to war on faulty intelligence
Bush acknowledges faulty Iraq intelligence
The Project for the New American Century
PNAC Open letter to President Clinton (1998)
The evolution of the Bush Doctrine
Top UK General says Impeach Blair
Iraq body count

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