Sunday, April 29, 2018

Another Royal Commission

The public bank bollocking known as the Royal Commission into What A Pack of Thieving Dishonest Bastards the Financial Industry Are rolls on with representative after representative of our most hallowed financial institutions taking the stand to essentially agree that yes, they were dishonest at worst and gob smackingly incompetent at best and that yes, they had essentially prioritised their own profits over their customer's interests because, well duh!

Along the way all the usual people are making all of the usual noises.  The Labor party is crowing delightedly while secretly being glad that all this didn't come to light when they were in office.  The Coalition is stuck between jumping enthusiastically on the bandwagon to cover their initial objection to the Commission and a mulish refusal to acknowledge that they'd opposed the thing at all while all of the media commentators are tut tutting while watching the revenue from their royal commission articles skyrocket.  People are shocked, shocked I tell you.

Why?  I'm not shocked.  I'm not even particularly surprised.  I can't say that I knew specifics of any of the dubious, immoral, dishonest and possibly downright criminal activity the finance industry was getting up to but the fact that they were doing it doesn't surprise me at all.  It isn't (I think) that I have a low opinion of humanity generally or the denizens of the financial services industry in particular.  I just asked myself two simple questions.  Will actions of this sort generate more income for their employer (and ultimately themselves)? and Is the likelihood of getting caught, or being punished in any appreciable way if they are caught, low?  If the answer to both those questions is "yes" then you can be pretty sure they're doing it.  As a general rule human beings do whatever they think they can get away with.

So what punishments will be levied upon the guilty wretches who have so thoroughly abused the public trust?  You're watching it really.  This public shaming is essentially their punishment.  Oh, a few people have had to resign, no doubt some fines will be levied and probably there will be some more regulations for our overstretched and underfunded regulators to pretend to enforce.  The resignees will get other jobs in the industry, the fines will be paid, the regulations will be ignored or circumvented and everybody will get on with business as usual until the next royal commission.

A question which has been raised a number of times in various media outlets has been "how can so many people of high personal integrity have turned out to be so dodgy in their professional lives"?  Leaving aside the fact that if they're dodgy in their professional lives then they don't have high personal integrity the answer is twofold.  Firstly where there is money there will be thieves.  A cliché but like most clichés grounded in truth.  Secondly and more importantly, the people running these major financial institutions have only the vaguest idea of what they're doing.  This isn't terribly surprising, our captains of industry aren't necessarily any brighter than the average man on the street.  They're better educated and they should have some experience but a vast sprawling financial services company (or any large enterprise) has so much going on that it would take a workaholic genius to be on top of all of it.

Basically the job of the board is to tell those under them to make money.  If those under them do that then the board is considered successful.  It probably also helps if the board doesn't ask too many questions about how that money is made.  Questions like that, if answered, might reduce the amount of money being made and suddenly the board would appear less successful.  Nobody wants to appear unsuccessful, particularly when that might impact your ability to get more board positions.

So what can be done?  Here's a bright idea that will go nowhere.  When I was studying money laundering (trying to combat it, not undertake it) I learnt that the thing drug dealers disliked most was not going to gaol.  Of course they didn't like that but what they hated most was having their assets confiscated.  They had worked hard and taken serious risks to amass that wealth and losing it (particularly when they went to gaol as well) really bit them.  In the financial industry making money is what people do.  Take away their money and they'll just make more.

So my suggestion; scrap prison sentences for drug dealers in favour of asset confiscation and I don't mean "proceeds of crime" I mean file the gold fillings out of their grandparents mouths and leave the entire family naked in the streets.  Lets see how many drug dealers can put up with their trophy wives bitching about having to live in a cardboard box.  For financial criminals, I wouldn't even yank their licences, just send them to prison.  They can pick up their careers when they get out.  In times to come perhaps a stint or two in Lithgow or Goulburn correctional centres will be a must have on a financial advisors CV.  At the very least it might help an over stretched and not over bright board decide who to hire.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Silly After Action Report

In 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia.  Why?  Largely pique.  Italy had had a go at conquering Ethiopia the previous century and got their arse handed to them in a sack.  Since every other European nation was tearing themselves off chunks of the African continent without a military disaster the whole thing was rather humiliating.  For a while it looked like history might repeat itself but fortunately for the Italians poison gas had been invented in the meantime.  Even more fortunately the word hadn't filtered through to the Ethiopians.

Once Ethiopia was (more or less) conquered the Italians set up one of the "heroes" of the invasion, Rodolfo Graziani, as viceroy.  His policies were, shall we say, vigorous towards those Ethiopians who might still prefer their country to be run by an Ethiopian.  Graziani had to step down after somebody protested about his policies by tossing a grenade at him.  With the top job in Ethiopia suddenly open Mussolini made one of his better decisions by appointing Prince Amadeo, Duke of Aosta as viceroy in his place.  A cousin of the Italian king Aosta was tall, charming, cultured and handsome.  The king who was none of those things showed a disturbing eagerness to see his far too popular cousin packed off to darkest Africa.

When Mussolini joined the Second World War (in retrospect not one of his best decisions) the Duke of Aosta suddenly found himself commanding Italian forces in Ethiopia which were pretty much surrounded by British colonies.  The danger was far more apparent than real as the British barely had any troops in the area and were deeply concerned that Aosta's 150 000 soldiers might launch an invasion of the Sudan and Egypt in conjunction with the quarter million troops that the Italians had in Libya.

Aosta did think about it but there were a few problems.  Firstly the army in Libya was commanded by Rodolfo Graziani who was never keen on attacking someone who might fight back.  Secondly while the army in Ethiopia was sitting on top of a vast stockpile of supplies and ammunition they were cut off from Italy and they wouldn't be getting any more.  If he launched an invasion and bungled it every resource used would be that much less to defend Ethiopia from the inevitable counterattack.  Finally a good deal of the army was still engaged in persuading the supposedly conquered Ethiopians not to kill every Italian they came across.

So Aosta stood on the strategic defensive.  But he decided not to be totally inert (and straight away you can tell that he wasn't a full time Italian general) and launched a couple of attackettes to capture valuable positions on the Sudanese and Kenyan borders.  With those under his belt he decided to conquer British Somalia.  The question as to why leads to broader questions such as what were the British doing there in the first place.  Somalia was as desirable as real estate then as it is now.  Even the locals only live there because they don't have a choice.

Still the Italians gathered together about thirty thousand troops plus some tanks and artillery and invaded a place most people are quite desperate to leave.  Included in that number were the British who didn't have the resources to defend the place and if they did would have used them somewhere more valuable (anywhere really).  The only real battle took place in a group of hills outside the capital where the British garrison made a stand so that the Italians couldn't claim a walk over.

This is the very venerable ASL scenario A39, Showdown at Tug Argan Pass.  Here I shall command the conquering Italian legions (mostly Eritrean actually) attempting to push Ivan Kent's British (mostly Indian actually) off a particular hill.  To defend this particular hill Ivan has the equivalent of thirteen second line squads, three light machine guns, a single heavy machine gun, a 51mm mortar a pair of antitank rifles and a radio that connects him to an 80mm artillery battery with scarce ammunition.  To seize possible the most valueless real estate on the planet I have nineteen and a half first line squad equivalents, four elite squads (assault engineers) carrying a selection of lmgs, demo charges, a medium and a heavy machine gun and a dinky little 45mm mortar.  The real Italian punch is in their artillery and armour.  100mm offboard artillery with plentiful ammunition firing smoke and HE and six tanks.  Two of the wretched little L3s that turned up everywhere the Italians did battle, a single lancia fiamme flamethrower variant of the L3 and three M11/39 tanks crappy but unopposed.

The entire Italian force has to enter on the first turn which left me wondering exactly how to deploy my mass of infantry.  Eventually I decided on two thrusts.  To win I had to capture a specific hill location in the north (right hand side) and also a majority of the level four hill hexes.  My right hand force contained a little more than half my infantry (including all of my assault engineers) and my best officers.  Also there was a tank platoon consisting of the two L3s and the flamethrower.  These would target the northern objective.  Further south was the remainder of my infantry with the three M11s.  They would head towards the other hill hexes.

At start
I had intended to shroud my advance in the north with smoke from my artillery but I started moving before the artillery was ready.  In retrospect I should have been more patient.  With nine turns I had plenty of time.  Still my tanks clanked forward throwing up vehicular dust will the infantry plodded along in their wake.  It all seemed to go reasonably well.  I lost a half squad or two to Ivan's fire but that's why they were running around the desert shouting "look at me!".  Then things went horribly wrong.  Ivan had his hmg up on the target hill location (of course) and he also got his artillery into action before I did.  The result was a hideous massacre.

End of my first turn, not looking too bad
Ivan dropped his artillery right down on top of my northern group of troops and over the course of the next couple of turns systematically exterminated them.  His hmg added to the carnage all while my own troops were still too far away to return fire.  The only result I got was when a sniper shot dead his 9-1 who was directing the hmg.  This is even more significant than it sounds as Ivan only had three leaders for his entire force.  

The second turn proceeded in much the same fashion with rivers of Italian (ok mainly Eritrean) blood soaking into the sand as Ivan punished me brutally for my foolishness in not being more spread out.  I had joked to Ivan before the game that with twenty three squads that all had to enter on turn one I should really just line them up the length of the board.  Possibly that would have been a better idea.  I honestly thought I had lost the game in the first couple of turns.  At the end of turn two eleven Italian squads were out, either dead or broken beyond likely redemption.  Ivan's sole casualty was still his 9-1.

It looked so bad that Ivan offered to restart the game but I decided I had made my bed and should lie in it.  There were a couple of faint gleams of light.  Firstly Ivan had concentrated on the northern force.  My southern group were still advancing largely unmolested with the M11s in the van.  Secondly Ivan had concentrated on killing infantry so my little L3 wedge was also advancing with impunity.  It just didn't have any infantry to back it up.  Finally I got my artillery into gear and while 100mm Italian artillery didn't seem to be as good as 80mm British I did start to break the occasional squad on the hill mass.

The sole survivors of the northern massacre were a pair of elite squads toting support weapons and guided by my best leaders.  They didn't so much advance as flee forward until they found a gully to hide in.  There wasn't really any plan to that advance, they were just trying to get out of the way of the artillery. In the south I managed much better tank/infantry coordination and rolled up to his forward defences largely unscathed.  Ivan was defending this hill mass lightly with a pair of squads in sangars forward and a couple of concealed units in foxholes on the summit.  I suspected (accurately) that one of them was an officer with his radio.

Things continued to go well in the south where an M11 wiped out a defending squad with a critical hit and a second broke his other squad while my infantry lurked in the vehicle dust and waited for the shooting to be over.  With his forward defence broken my southern forces swept onward.

Things don't seem to be going too badly in the south.  Famous last words

In the north the L3 platoon, proudly alone, pushed into Ivan's defences and started burning him out of them.  My lancia fiamme was leading the assault and ignoring increasingly desperate anti tank rifle shots managed to fry and otherwise deal with Ivan's forward positions.  I had finally managed to get my artillery going and was dropping not particularly accurate shellfire onto Ivan's position.  Thanks to his foxholes and sangars I wasn't achieving the hideous slaughter that Ivan had gained with his artillery but nevertheless I was breaking or pinning some units and moving about started to become somewhat problematic for the defenders.

Taking advantage of the fact that Ivan's attention was focussed on the L3s I managed to race a squad with an lmg across to provide at least token infantry support.  So far his achievements to date have been to keep one British squad under DM and to break his own lmg.  It has to be said that Ivan's anti tank rifles were something of a disappointment to him.  Neither of them scored a hit (L3s are very small and you'd better believe I kept them in motion) and the flamethrower broke the squad manning one while the other broke the atr itself.  With his hmg as his only anti tank weapon I started to feel a little confident.  That was stupid as Ivan promptly stunned my flamethrower with his hmg and a stun is a recall on these little things.  My flamethrower was gone but worse was to come.  The surviving L3s had started climbing the hill and had done good service keeping broken squads DM'ed but then Ivan tossed aside his useless anti tank rifles and attacked them with tooth and claw.  A squad charged into CC and ripped an inoffensive little L3 to pieces with its bare hands.

In the south a squad and 8-0 have captured my first victory location.  Artillery would slaughter them immediately afterwards

To the south my advance was painfully slow as gullies, crags and cliff hexsides made getting up the hill a wincingly painful affair.  My little mortar had unshipped and started pounding his radio operator but its only achievement was a critical hit which resulted in the officer becoming heroic.  Not quite the result I was looking for.  In return Ivan switched his artillery to the southern hill mass and the slaughter of the Italian infantry began all over again.  I simply had no answer to this.  Ivan's troops can lurk in foxholes and sangars but mine are in the open and they are dying in droves.  To add insult to injury a snake eyes also burnt an M11 leaving me with a grand total of three tanks from six starters.  Again all the handful of survivors can do is struggle forward and pray.  Far to the rear a 6+1 officer (he started the game as a 7-0) has managed to self rally and celebrated the fact by killing a broken halfsquad he was stacked with.  In the centre an elite squad with a demo charge has actually managed to rally himself as well.

Again things looked ghastly but again they weren't quite as bad as they seemed.  My advance towards the northern hill had pretty much stopped but I had an lmg squad and an elite squad with a DC coming to help.  In the south the dreadful carnage had concealed the fact that Ivan hadn't managed to kill quite every one.  While the centre of my push was an unrelieved bloodbath other squads were struggling up the hill on the flanks and Ivan's sole defenders were an officer (with radio) and a half squad with what turned out to be an inconveniently placed mortar.  My two elite squads were crawling and scrambling up a gully heading towards the hilltop.

Regrouping mentally I finally struggled up to the top of the southern hill mass and started claiming victory locations.  Ivan's radio operator finally decided it was time to leave and scurried out of his foxhole towards what he fondly imagined was safety.  My 9-2 (remember him, it seems such a long time since he did anything) led his hmg squad out of the gully towards a pair of hill hexes in the centre which had a couple of attractions.  They were victory locations in their own right and perched up in the crags my hmg team would be able to sweep the northern hill with fire.  This was good because over on the northern hill things had got, if anything worse.  I dropped artillery fire down on the hills forward slopes to break the units there and dissuade Ivan from reinforcing them.  The sole result of this 100mm artillery barrage was that a broken, green halfsquad went berserk.  Worse was to come.  Ivan still had a squad forward in a foxhole but my remaining L3 was sitting next to him.  8+2 isn't a bad shot.  It is when you roll an eleven and break the MA on your remaining L3.  Then Ivan contrived to break my lmg squad which was currently the only Italian within a dozen hexes capable of producing any firepower.  I may have wept at this.  Re the previous sentence, delete the phrase "may have".

Well the southern hill is mine.  The north is a little iffy
To add insult to injury Ivan's berserk halfsquad charged into close combat with my remaining (and now unarmed) tank.  Fortunately these tankers were made of sterner stuff than their compatriots and all Ivan's guys could do was claw feebly at the paintwork.  The southern hill mass was mine, Ivan did try calling artillery down on his own position but then decided to run away instead.  When he reached "safety" and called up his artillery again he drew his second red chit much to my relief.

Despite the casualties I have an almost embarrassingly large force on the southern hill mass

I was slowly coming to the realisation that I just didn't have the troops in the north to achieve a result.  My force there consisted of one lmg squad (broken) one elite squad and an L3 with a busted machine gun and a bunch of green troops jumping up and down on it shouting "Kill!"  Then things managed to get better and worse pretty much simultaneously.  Believe it or not the lmg squad self rallied.  Far to the rear the 6+1 officer rallied an lmg toting halfsquad which was good for morale but was too far away to have an effect on the game.  Then a sniper broke the elite squad with the DC.  Apparently one squad was all I was permitted to have on the northern hill.  Ivan had rallied a decent amount of his force on the reverse slope of the hill and settled in for a comfortable defence.  Then my recently placed hmg opened up and literally swept the front of the hill clear of living defenders.  Even the berserkers died under the withering fire.

Ivan abruptly decided not to push his recently rallied troops forward to occupy the abandoned sangars.  The hill location I needed was empty if I could get to it.  But could I?  I miraculously repaired the L3's armament but apparently on the grounds that one miracle was enough per turn I failed the independent movement die roll.  This meant it was all up to the single lmg squad.  With the forward hill rendered harmless he moved forward and advanced into a sanger next to my target.  This was Ivan's final turn and this single squad would have to survive everything that Ivan could throw at it.  I suppose, technically, it did.
I'm occupying the sangar marked by the red circle.  The atr squad nearby is broken
Ivan realised, more swiftly than I did, that he didn't actually have to kill my guys.  He just had to stop them moving.  They were the only unit I had that could reach the victory hill.  Prep fire having proved unsuccessful he assault moved a squad and a leader next to my boys.  I held off firing (in retrospect a mistake), he already had a squad in the hex and I wanted to hit the lot in defensive fire.  Hit them I did, I broke one squad but the other with an 8-1 leader survived.  They then advanced into CC with my guys.  To their credit the Italians didn't die but neither could they kill Ivan's troops.  With my only squad locked up in melee as we entered the last turn I had one tiny chance.  I fired on the melee with my hmg team.  If I broke his guys and not my own I would be able to advance out.  It was a tiny chance and perhaps deservedly it didn't come off.  At the end Ivan squeaked a win by the skin of his teeth.

In retrospect I lost the game in the first couple of turns when I offered groups of infantry as fodder for Ivan's artillery and didn't wait until I'd brought down my own.  Subsequent to that committing the M11s to the southern hill mass was a mistake.  They broke his front line but then should have been sent to support their L3 comrades in the north.  It is almost impossible for tanks to climb that southern hill, the survivors had only just reached the top when the game ended.  Nevertheless it was a great game with swings of fortune on both sides and I very nearly pulled off an undeserved win.  Thanks to Ivan for the game.  I'm not sure what we're playing next.  Having pandered to a long held desire of mine to play this scenario I've invited him to dig out his own guilty pleasure for our next encounter.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Tuna and Light Rail

From time to time I wander from my desk to a nearby food court and my favourite purveyor of semi healthy foodish things.  Here I frequently order a tuna roll.  I started doing this largely because it turns out that tuna is the only sea dwelling creature (apart from otters) that I can actually eat.  Now, however, I have an entirely new reason for ordering it.  The order is quite a simple one; tuna roll with salt, pepper and vinegar.  What could be simpler?  I watch them as they go through it.  Roll procured, sliced open and spread with butter? Check.  Mashed lump of something putatively tuna scraped out of bowl and plastered over aforementioned roll? Check.  Salt and pepper waved sparingly in the air mere inches away from my roll?  Check.  Vinegar?  At this point the entire process comes to a screeching halt.

The server blinks, holds the docket closer, frowns, turns to a colleague who looks at the docket and repeats the process.  The person who took my order is urgently consulted.  Said person nods in confirmation.  The first server stares at the docket as though she just can't believe it and then looks around somewhat helplessly as if she's expecting vinegar to leap out from behind a bench and beat her to death.  After a couple of minutes, with obvious trepidation, she walks into the back of the shop and returns gingerly carrying a huge flask of vinegar.  With wincing care she squeezes precisely three drops of vinegar onto the tuna, wraps up my roll and presents it to me with the same sense of triumph and accomplishment that the ancient Egyptians must have felt on completing a pyramid.

The time afforded me while the serving staff plumb the Mysteries of the Vinegar lets me contemplate our latest public transport disaster.  Everybody has heard of light rail right?  It seems to be the go to thing at the moment.  Every city from Cairo to Kuala Lumpur has got itself light rail.  Surely Sydney must have it too.  Our state and city leaders certainly thought so.  Tenders were announced, contracts were issued and the main street of Sydney's CBD has been a construction zone for yea these many months now.  It was supposed to be completed around March 2019.  The contractor has just announced that 2020 is a more plausible finishing date and by the way, can they have another billion dollars?

The state transport minister has responded with shock and astonishment thus raising the number of people in NSW who were shocked and astonished by this to a grand total of one.  I don't know how it goes elsewhere in the world but I cannot remember the last time a major infrastructure project in NSW was delivered on time, to budget and actually did what it was intended to do.  Part of the problem is that to get the contract the builder has to more or less agree to the government's timeframe and budget.  If these are unrealistic (spoiler alert, they always are) then disappointment is building up for someone further down the line.  Another part of the problem is that nobody can predict all of the problems that are going to come up and when we get to the government that phrase can be amended to "any of the problems that are going to come up".

A major cause of the delays is that the contractor keeps digging up various cables, pipes and other pieces of extraneous infrastructure.  The government doesn't appear to have plans for any of this and nobody is entirely sure what they're for but they don't dare just rip them up in case the intensive care ward at St Vincents Hospital is suddenly deprived of power.  So there has to be a wincingly careful voyage of discovery to figure out what all of this stuff does and whether its still important.  Some of it has been there for decades.  At least at the end of it someone might have a slightly better idea of how the city actually keeps going.

The government is adamant that it will not accept any delays and it won't pay any more money.  The contractor is adamant that it can't finish any quicker and without the money it can't finish at all.  Ultimately the contractor will win if only because they don't have to stand for reelection with half the city gridlocked by a paralysed construction site.  I suppose we'll get the light rail eventually, it probably won't go as far as the government originally wanted, it will cost a great deal more than intended and take longer to complete than anyone expected.  What I do know is that when the ribbon is finally cut on our three hundred metres of light rail running once or twice a day the length of a city block all of the relevant politicians will be out their crowing about its magnificence.

Meanwhile the sandwich server has finished the vinegar ritual and has presented me my roll with a face that beams with pride but also manages to be a little apprehensive.  I smile to reassure her and idly wonder if there is a way I can persuade her to let me see more of her chest tattoo than is visible through her work clothes.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Camping Amongst the Tentacles

I stared in horror at the scarred body of my Tasmanian correspondent.  Huge circular welts appeared on every exposed surface.

"You look like you've been beaten up by a dalek," I told her.

"How the hell do you know?" she responded.

I reminded her that my Belarusian tech support had installed video conferencing facilities in every room of her house and hadn't told either of us how to turn them off.  She nodded understanding and reached for some clothes while kicking something a little incriminating under the bed.

In actual fact she hadn't been beaten up by a dalek.  She had had a rather bruising encounter with a somewhat curious cephalopod.  This isn't the first time that news has come of unexpected octopus attacks in Tasmania.  Almost nobody lives on the coast anymore for fear of tentacles sweeping in from the sea to snatch unwary citizens to a watery doom.  My correspondent is possibly the first person to encounter one while camping however.

I had to admit to being a little confused.  Did she pitch her tent on it?  Did she open a water bottle and there it was?  Did she go camping at Sea World?  No, she went camping by the seaside.  I know that sounds like the plotline for an Enid Blyton story but I'm pretty sure dear Enid didn't have any stories that involved plucky young British kids being swept to a watery grave by monsters from the deep.  Although I would read such a story in a heartbeat if it existed.

The octopus, it transpires, probably wasn't trying to kill her.  It was just a little curious about the presence of a land based mammal so close to a vast expanse of salty wet stuff and had sent a tentacle or two on a fact finding mission.  My correspondent was so close to the water in a desperate attempt to evade the marauding possums that had laid waste to her campsite.  Does she know how to show her children a good time or what?  Apparently all three of them wound up cringing in a single tent while the possums trashed everything else and let forth victory bellows that startled every octopus for miles around.

She wasn't the only one either.  Apparently this location wedged between feral possums and terminally curious octopi is considered a prime camping spot, another reason why the Tasmanian population is low.  Others also reported tentacular encounters over the course of the weekend.  One man in particular was felt up by an octopus as he sat on an ocean convenient rock.

I suddenly got suspicious.

"He's the one who had the octopus encounter isn't he?"  I demanded.

"Yes," muttered my correspondent shamefaced.

"You weren't attacked by an octopus at all were you?"

"No.  But the possum story is entirely true."

"Well, that's all right.  It's still a good story and its not as if either of us is in line for a Pullitzer."

She heaved a sigh of relief and was about to sign off when something else struck me.

"Wait a minute, what were all those markings about then?"

"Mind your own business," she suggested.

I decided that was probably the safest course to follow.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Disaster's the Same. The Causes Are Different

A week or two ago (I'm right up with current affairs) the Guardian had an article where Paul Ehrlich claimed that a shattering collapse of civilisation was a near certainty in the next few decades.  I must admit I was surprised.  Firstly because I thought Paul Ehrlich had starved to death in the global famine of the late seventies that wiped out 80% of the world's population.  I personally only survived by cannibalising the neighbour's children.  Then I remembered that Ehrlich was white and lived in America so it isn't so surprising that he survived.  Then I remembered that the entire famine thing didn't happen either, I wonder if its too late to send an apology card to the neighbours.

Paul Ehrlich garnered massive fame from a book he wrote in the late sixties called "The Population Bomb" which basically predicted a "shattering collapse of civilisation" within the next decade.  Unfortunately for those hungering for genocide by proxy the entire event failed to materialise on schedule and Ehrlich had to put up with being mocked by less intelligent, less well educated people (like me) for years afterwards. 

Still he hasn't let it slow him down.  The good thing about a failed prediction is that you can use it again next time.  There are also signs Ehrlich has learnt from his failure to be last man standing in a world of corpses.  Firstly in a belated blame spreading exercise he has acknowledged that his wife assisted in writing the book.  How she (a noted biologist in her own right) feels about being saddled with joint responsibility for this is unmentioned.  Secondly while his new predictions are as appropriately apocalyptic as ever note the language that has been used.  The shattering collapse is a "near certainty" in "the next few decades".  Unlike The Population Bomb which said (I'm paraphrasing) "Everybody is going to die on such and such a date" Ehrlich now merely says it will probably happen soonish.  There's enough wriggle room there for him to claim to be a successful prophet if the Earth gets wiped out by a meteorite hit in seventy years time and also to give himself an out when it fails to happen at all.

I'm not saying Ehrlich is wrong in his reasoning.  Frankly I doubt if he was wrong in his reasoning for The Population Bomb either.  His problem, and the reason why he wound up looking foolish, is the same one encountered by Malthus.  Essentially very intelligent people often have difficulty realising that the rest of the population aren't necessarily inert jellyfish to which events in the world merely happen.  Humanity failed to starve to death in the seventies because we decided not to.

Ehrlich's solution to our not quite inevitable doom is to make modern contraception and back up abortion available to all (although presumably targeted mainly at women) and give women full equal rights, pay and opportunities with men.  This he feels would lead to a natural drop in population over time.  It would also require a ruthless world government capable of overriding thousands of years of culture and accepted practice across most of the world and forcing obedience on all.  Such a government could only be trusted to a person like (to take an example completely at random) Paul Ehrlich.  I'm not saying he's a megalomaniacal psychopath, I'm just suggesting that he can't think of anybody else better qualified to run the planet.

It's unfair of me to single out Paul Ehrlich because he's certainly not alone.  Virtually every world saving plan seems predicated on those coming up with it having absolute dominion over the human race.  It would take a nastier and more suspicious mind than I possess to suspect that such people would actually be disappointed if we somehow manage to solve the problems without their help.  Oh wait a minute, no it wouldn't.

Here is my prediction based on nothing more than a (very) vague knowledge of history and a somewhat less vague understanding of humanity.  The problems facing us will be solved.  They won't be solved in the way that Ehrlich and other environmentalists want but solved they will be.  They will not be a final or ultimate solution, rather they are likely to cause more problems for the future that we will need to solve in their turn.  I'm also prepared to bet that Ehrlich and others like him will not be happy with the solution and will carry on predicting disaster because ultimately we won't be coming to them for the answer. 

I don't mean to diminish the contribution that Ehrlich and others have made.  If we don't realise there's a problem we're hardly likely to fix it.  The environmental movement has made a great contribution to society in the time its been around and if that contribution has been largely incidental to what they were attempting to achieve then I merely point out that this is how we deal with most of our problems.  What we shouldn't do is actually hand over the levers of power to people who seem to want them so eagerly.

I have to go now, I've just heard that my Tasmanian correspondent has spent the weekend fighting off an octopus.