"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
“I don’t like Mondays”, and most people don’t like hypocrites. Last week, the raggedy Irish man affirmed his place on the podium of sanctimonious champions. In a fit of pique, Sir Bob Geldof returned his Dublin Freedom medal. This announcement was another remarkable performance of virtue signalling.
Geldof asserts he no longer wants to be a recipient of the award, as it was an honour he shared with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace Laureate has come under criticism after a brutal military crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim's resulted in over 600,000 refugees. Suu Kyi has held her silence on this matter. By doing so, she has earned her a reputation as "one of the great ethnic cleansers", according to Geldof. He even went so far as to call her “a handmaiden to genocide.”
Now, granted, Suu Kyi hasn’t covered herself with glory nor has she moved with any urgency to address the terrible Rohingya crisis. But gestures by Sir Bob are nothing more than demands for attention. The world was already well-aware of the unfolding events in Myanmar, through international news coverage. It’s evident that Sir Bob saw an opportunity to get some exposure, so in he jumps in … “look at me, I’m angry and giving back a petty trophy.”
The same Sir Bob who pops up on TV and radio telling us how we should give money to that and this cause. Since his Live-Aid event in the 1980s, Sir Bob has spent his time polishing a reputation as the patron saint of the hungry and starving. And yet, he’s not so keen to discuss his financial affairs. He gets especially touchy about his dodgy tax arrangements and does not take kindly to questioning. In 2014, a Sky TV reporter suggested that charity wouldn’t be necessary if folks like Sir Bob paid their taxes. With his usual eloquence, Sir Bob responded “Bollocks.”
Sir Bob needs reminding that his celebrity world and charities, depend on a workforce trained by a state education system, and kept healthy by state healthcare. They depend on state-funded infrastructure such as roads and transport, a bailed-out financial community and the apparatus of law and order that protects him and his property. By not paying his fair share of taxes, the workforce is required to pay more for Sir Bob’s charmed existence. No matter how you cut it, tax avoidance is theft, regardless of what any self-appointed social warrior has to say.
A 2006 report suggested that Geldof could avoid as much a £1.4 million in taxes on his properties because of his non-Dom status. There is nothing illegal in this. However, it sits somewhat incongruous against his public platform of encouraging aid.
It’s doubly ironic that Geldof makes this move while proudly retaining his Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. If Suu Kyi’s actions or lack of them are a concern, then what about the shameful record of British imperialism across the globe. Geldof delighted in receiving an honorific from the Brits with the words ‘British Empire’ prominent. Setting aside the farce of a medal named after an empire that ceased to exist decades ago, Sir Bob has conveniently sidestepped a lot of the history.
That includes the industrial-scale exploitation of natural resources, the slave trade, the massacres, the concentration camps, the destruction of nations and national treasures. Sir Bob is apparently comfortable to be associated with that stuff.
After his Dublin stunt, people can legitimately ask why he cherry picks these positions. Some hint that his prime concern is publicity; both for the events in Myanmar and himself. Although, that doesn’t hold up given the press coverage already on the issue. Geldof can rightly claim that he brought the famine in Ethiopia to our attention. Myanmar needed no such initiative.
And while we are on the subject of Ethiopia, Sir Bob has never given a full explanation regarding the money collected during Live-Aid. There are many experts familiar with the events of 1984 in Ethiopia, who assert the money was diverted to purchase weapons. Either Geldof was naive or negligent in his dealings with the Ethiopian government.
Well recognised international groups such a Medicins Sans Frontieres pleaded with Geldof to hold off handing over any money until the proper infrastructure was in place. This approach would ensure the money reached the people who needed aid. This advice and the pleading got ignored. The cash flowed into the country, and then some went out again to buy weapons. Unpalatable as it is, Live Aid in its initial rush to help, probably made things worse.
Some commentators note that in 1984 Geldof was penniless. By the early 1990s, he appeared on the Times rich list. Idle speculation that Geldof profited personally from Live-Aid seems untrue. He did, however, have some successful commercial ventures including developing a successful TV show. I don’t subscribe to the idea that Geldof skimmed cash off Live-Aid for his pocket. That doesn’t change the fact that the money raised caused adverse consequences. Aid expert David Rieff argued that guilt-stricken donations helped fund a brutal resettlement programme that may have killed up to 100,000.
In his first iteration, its evident that Geldof was motivated by a genuine desire to help. He stepped forward, got things moving, although he didn’t understand the quagmire of Ethiopia would derail his laudable intentions. Fact: getting a nation out of starvation and functioning is no simple task. Indeed, one single concert isn't going to help especially when the money disappears in the wrong direction.
Sir Bob hit on a winning formula, that he’s since milked with relentless zeal. He created a new prototype for celebrities to gain attention through charitable activities as a whole industry of sub-Aids flourished under Sir Bob’s supervision.
A word of guidance. Geldof would be more credible if he dropped his ‘non-domicile for tax purposes’ and started chipping in to keep the country running. Then the UK might have more cash to hand out to properly targeted aid efforts. After all, Sir Bob’s ventures have had questionable benefits at best, and negative outcomes at worst. It’s enough to make that silicon chip inside your head overload.
Ok, so let's be honest, the dog is not mine. It belongs to my daughter, although I get visitation rights and walk him at least once a week. I’ve noticed that these walks produce odd behaviours in my fellow humans. They stop and talk to me.
Walking alone, without Buddy, I’ll get the occasional ‘Good morning’, but that’s it. The majority of folks pass on, going about their exercise, listening to music or chatting. With Buddy skipping along besides me, I get automatic status as a nice guy, and people tell you stuff. It usually starts with the questions … “What his name?” and “Is he a rescue?”.
A reply of “Yes” always gets a reaction. Thus, it unfolds. This week, an old chap gave me the history of his cancer, details of family health, then a discourse on fitness. I’ve had ladies tell of marriage problems, including one who left her husband because “the bastard didn’t like the dog.”
Now, Buddy is a handsome specimen for a rescue dog. A poodle mix with a waddling gait, he’s a floppy eared crowd pleaser. Size is a factor. He’s not too small, and not too big to intimidate. His manner is ‘give me a tummy rub and now’. An animal demanding attention and affection, brings out the best in people. There is a message of hope for humankind in that.
Buddy’s powers extend to business meetings. My daughter takes him to work a couple of days a month. He’s adapted well to the environment, opening the day moving around the office. His winning ways pay off with prospective clients, as he flops in their lap during negotiations. The atmosphere usually flips as he arrives, tensions lift, and deals get done. Not everyone reacts well. One client proved uncomfortable. Anyway, it was decided not to do business with her. Buddy had sniffed out a tricky prospect.
I shouldn't have a surprise at these occurrences. The power of dogs to impact human emotions, affect health and trigger other effects is well-documented. The value of dogs for physical and psychological human health has interested academics for decades. Much of the recent focus is on the role of dogs as early warning systems for human disease.
The notion that dogs help keep us well is not new. For instance, a 1992, study of 5,741 people attending screening for heart disease, discovered that the risk factors were lower for dog owners. Particularly for males. Then, research in 1996 established that dog owners have lower levels of serum triglycerides. High levels are associated with increased risk for heart attack. Across a wide range of factors, dog ownership is beneficial to health.
Then you have the finding that dogs help people recover quicker from ill-health. Dog owners were 8.6 times more likely to still be alive one year after a heart attack than those who did not own a dog. Sorry to say that the cat owners are more likely to have died in that one year.
The question is how does Buddy protect me from a heart attack? It’s believed many mechanisms are at play. Dogs may, for example, promote their owners’ psychological health. Dogs also shield their owners from stress, one of the risk factors associated with ill-health. In studies, the act of stroking a dog causes a decrease in human blood pressure and heart rate. That’s a good thing.
Increased physical activity accompanies ownership of a dog. The relationship between physical fitness and physiological well-being is well established. Thus, by getting you out on walks, the dog improves your fitness, which in turn enhances your mood. Double bonus there. Then, with Buddy generating people interactions, I get the benefit of social contact. That’s something we all seek.
Things get interesting when you consider the role of dogs in detecting human diseases. That some dogs can detect cancer is not surprising given their acute sense of smell. Tumors produce odorous toxins, which emerge through sweat glands and urine.
Individual dogs may be able to sense oncoming epileptic seizures in humans. Until recently, that idea seemed daft. Recent work has shown that some dogs can indeed detect the seizures. Moreover, trained dogs track their human owners for signs of an imminent attack. When they discover something, barking or pawing prompts medical help. Although, we don’t know how the dog knows an attack is coming.
Dog-based therapy schemes are well-established in prisons, medical facilities and old folks homes. Again, the dogs enhance psychological welfare with remarkable results attained in rehabilitating offenders.
And yes, dogs do make you more attractive. Academics surveyed 1,000 Americans to see how men and women perceived the opposite sex according to the type of pet that they owned.
Across the board, people found members of the opposite sex more attractive if they owned any pet. The only exception was cats. These made women less attractive to men. On the flip side, men who had a puppy were found to be a staggering 23.8% more sexy by women. Pet ownership appeared to show trustworthiness and compassion. Both genders’ perception of scariness, was increased by cat ownership. Bad news for the cat ladies.
Dogs do so much for us. They hunt, fight, guard, and find us when we go missing. They detect crime, spot diseases while allowing blind people to lead a fuller life. Amongst their many talents, the ability of dogs to socialise with us and ease our interaction with others is remarkable. In a stressful world, with constant pressures, that is their most significant skill.
With Donald Trump at the pinnacle of the nuclear decision tree, serious questions arise. He is quick to decisions, with gut instincts overriding rational debate or thought. Moreover, his mental make-up dwells on image and hubris - with a bit of riling could he take action.
We know that snap-decisions are far from optimal, especially when the unforeseen combines with long-term consequences. The use of nuclear weapons tops that list. Rushing a decision to incinerate millions of men, women and children is the most immoral of acts. Add to that environmental impact, with repercussions that would linger for centuries.
Some would argue that Trump is a rational player - that may be. Nonetheless, his behaviour is quirky, with child-like qualities coupled with blissful ignorance. That’s a cause for concern.
The good news is this; Trump alone could not start a nuclear holocaust. Moreover, there is no 'button' for him to press in a fit of pique. This week reassuring words came from the former head of the US Strategic Command. General Robert Kehler, (USAF Ret) gave evidence to the US Senate on November 14th. Keller is the guy who could execute the President's order to fire the nukes. What he had to say is profound. He affirmed that nuclear weapons are under political control, while the military executes the task. And yet, there are checks and balances in the process that limit the president.
It's important to understand that the US command and control system envisaged a worst-case scenario. In essence, this meant inbound nuclear warheads with only minutes to respond. A failure to act could destroy US missiles blunting a riposte. Thus, the hair-trigger alert evolved. For that system to work, one person has the formidable task of deciding to launch. That is the president.
In whole, the aptly named concept of MAD, mutually assured destruction, underpinned a threatening stalemate. You attack me, and I’ll get an attack underway to you before its too late. Alas, the reality of any system is that something could fail. In this instance, the competence of the president is the overriding concern.
Trump's statements over North Korea suggest he’s considering to use nuclear weapons. These comments unsettled many, both in the US and abroad. Stoking the tension with such rhetoric can be counter-productive. We know that bluster, harsh words and threats are all part of Trump’s repertoire. Then throw nuclear weapons into the equation, plus a North Korea that feels threatened. A volatile mix.
Since its creation, the nuclear bomb had a special status amongst weapons. Unlike other systems, the civilian authorities have insisted on absolute control.
President Truman made it clear "This is not a military weapon. It is used to wipe out women and children. Thus we have to treat this thing differently from rifles, and cannons.”
Over the years things have changed. With the finish of the Cold War, the US moved into a less aggressive nuclear posture. Nuclear bombers are no longer on alert, armed with weapons and ready to go. These systems would take days to activate in anticipation of an escalating situation. An immediate response now rests on submarines skulking around the oceans.
Kehler asserted that officers follow the ‘uniform code of military justice’. This code means acting on orders, provided these are legal and from the appropriate authority. Besides, officers are duty bound to verify authenticity and ignore illegal instructions. As the directive to use nuclear weapons proceeds through the chain of command, checks are in place at each stage.
The movies have a lot to answer for. The impression that the president can call forward the guy with the 'football' - actually a satchel - to start a nuclear launch is mistaken.
What happens is this; the President authenticates himself over a secure line. Then the military aide keys in the codes and target choices. Next, a second person, either the Vice-President or Secretary of Defense must authenticate. Then, and only then, does the 'emergency action message' flash out to the nuclear forces telling them to go.
Hence, Trump needs either the Vice-President or Secretary of Defence to agree. Besides, the president's cabinet can take away his authority to launch if 51% vote against him.
The evidence to the Senate, while not specific, indicated that the use of nuclear weapons involved consultation. Then a process of assessment and review between civilian and military leaders. Moreover, and most reassuring, the military does not blindly follow orders. The legal consideration of 'proportionality', means the military can opt to ignore the president's instructions. All the discussion that Trump alone could push through a nuclear strike is redundant.
This is history repeating itself. Similar concerns arose with President Nixon. In 1969, a US spy plane was shot down by North Korea over the Sea of Japan. As a result, 31 Americans died. Nixon became incensed, ordering a nuclear attack. The alerted Joint Chiefs of Staff delayed by asking for a specific targeting list from Nixon. Then Kissinger intervened. He directed no action until the morning "when Nixon sobers up."
That's not to say there aren't risks. Accidents, faulty intelligence and reduced maintenance, are the real threat with nuclear weapons. Close calls are well documented in the West, although not so much in Russia and China. For a full list of known incidents check here.
Hindsight is always 20/20. From each incident lessons are learnt, procedures changed. That's all well and good, except with nuclear weapons one slip is one too many. Further, the most mundane of situations can yield destruction.
Even pure clumsiness during a repair has far-reaching impact. That’s what happened on September 18, 1980, at Little Rock Air Force Base complex 374-7. A dropped socket wrench pierced a Titan II missile skin causing a fuel leak. An explosion then catapulted the 740-ton silo door skyward, in the process ejecting the warhead. This landed near the compound gate. It's fortunate that the warheads safety systems worked.
On January 24, 1961, the US bombed itself. A B-52 midair explosion highlighted the risks of flying nuclear weapons around on planes in peacetime. As the B-52 broke up, five crewmen parachuted out, while the rest of the crew perished. Two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs fell from the wreckage. One went into free-fall, burying itself 55 feet below a farmers field. It remains there to this day.
The second bomb started its arming procedures. It charged capacitors and then deployed a parachute to slow the descent. Only a single $5- switch prevented the final stage of arming. Had the bomb landed with force, it’s speculated the switch could actuate the firing.
Then you’ve got the challenge of technology producing false or confusing signals. On 26th September 1983, the computers at a Soviet command centre began reporting a missile attack by the US on Russia. Protocols demanded that Soviet missiles be launched immediately in response. This was three weeks after the Soviets had shot down a Korean airliner. Tensions were high.
Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, the duty officer, broke with procedures and waited. The system indicated five missiles inbound, which struck Petrov as odd. He'd expect a massive attack; thus five rockets didn’t make sense. He waited. After some 20 minutes, the signals disappeared. Later the cause was identified. High attitude sunlight reflection off clouds created false signals in the Russian detection satellites. The Soviets reprimanded Petrov, although he prevented a disaster of epic proportions.
Much mythology surrounds the use of nuclear weapons. Also a lot of free and ill-informed comment. Hillary Clinton made a great play on Trump's unsuitability for access to the nuclear button. She, of all people, should have known the button does not exist.
It’s an accident, error or misunderstanding that will trigger a nuclear attack. Not the mad president scenario.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.