Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Against the forces of evil, AKA 'banks'

There are many evil forces out there, I today will write about just one of them. They are called 'banks' and they and I regularly cross swords in my constant battles to save the world. Or something like that.

It is said that the word 'banker' is just one 'w' away from a more accurate term. This is correct. Bankers make their money out of money which is, in my opinion, wrong. Money should be made by at least making something or providing some sort of tangible service. It doesn't have to be something that you can physically hold, just something that adds 'worth' to the world. Making money out of money, does not fit this.

One of the main methods of doing this is 'interest'. 'Interest' is an interesting thing (ha ha ha ha.... no), basically it goes like this:

Normal Person: Hello, I need to borrow some money from you to buy a house. I promise to pay you back since I get paid every month. Thing is, to buy a house straight away would mean that I have to live on the street while I saved up for 10 years. Can you help?

Banker: Why yes foolish drone, of course. We can give you the money becuase we have lots of it that people give to us to look after or something.

Normal Person: That's great! Where do I sign?

Banker: Butttttt there is a condition. If you take this money, you have to pay us more than you too.

Normal Person: Why? That's not fair! It's not even your money to begin with, why should you charge me to borrow it?

Banker: Because we give the money you pay for the money that we give you that is not really ours to the people who had the money to begin with.

Normal Person: Well... that seems fair. I mean, I am after all using a service and so on. How much do you charge.

Banker: 10% of what you borrow...

Normal Person: And may I ask... how much do the people that the money originally belonged to get?

Banker: 5%, minus tax, minus fees, minus...

Normal Person: I'll stop you there, you are saying that, by sitting there, taking money of someone and then giving it to me, you can skim 5% plus some more of the top?

Banker: :-D

Normal Person: :-|

Banker: What? Think this suit and office pays for itself?

Normal Person: :-|
Banker: So, you sign here...

Normal Person: Wait....

Banker: What?

Normal Person: Why don't I just ask the people who gave you the money originally to lend me the money and pay them the 5% directly? You can't stop me can you?

Banker: Errrr..... becuase you'd never find one person with all the money you need?

Normal Person: So I find a few people then and take it.

Banker: I see no problem there...

Normal Person: :-D

Banker: Bollocks...

OK OK OK.... vastly simplified I know, (so sue me) but you get the gist, banks exist by giving money to people who don't have it from people that do have it and skimming a bit lot of the top. Yes, without this 'service' we would never really be able to do anything because, by taking money from people who have it and distributing it to those that need it means that money flows around and doesn't get stagnated (in theory...). But do they really need to charge for this? Or charge so much? No, but they can and do.

This, amongst other things, lead to the financial crisis we are going through. Let me explain... not only do banks make money out of skimming money off the top but they also make money of giving money to people to buy stupid stuff via things like credit cards because many economies are built on the idea that you get people to buy stuff so you can pay other people to make the stuff they buy. Stupid stuff that you don't really need. And the money that is lent to these people so they can buy stuff to keep other people in a job? They can't pay it back which causes the bank to go 'oh crap' and borrow money from another bank to fill the hole left in it's account so it can safely keep giving people credit cards so they can buy more stuff. Which it can't pay back becuase the people with the credit cards don't have the money to pay back still, they just have credit cards. Which leads to the bank that lent it the money to also go 'oh crap' and then borrow money from another bank to, once again, fill the hole.  And thus the cycle goes on and on until everyone is going 'oh crap'. 

Again, vastly simplified and maybe I'll talk about it another time in more depth but it leads to this. Effectively, you have banks borrowing from each other to cover up what they can't pay back from each other so they can keep giving out money that people can't pay back. It doesn't take a genius to think 'erm... so where does this money come from and what happens when it runs out?'. Simple answer? Everything goes boom....

When the money runs out people panic. The world runs on money. Without money, people start not getting paid and fired. If people don't get paid, they can't buy stuff. If they can't buy stuff then the people making the stuff they buy also get fired becuase they aren't buying stuff. Then these people also can't buy stuff so even more people get fired. Meanwhile, the banks are still out of money, and, here is an important thing, they have also spent the money that some people gave them to look after. Which means there is even less money out there. Then, some people who gave their money to the banks realize, 'hey! The banks is giving our money to stupid people, let's take it back and keep it under our mattresses' to which the banks say 'oh crap' and banks as everyone takes their money away. Except lots of people won't get their money becuase the money simply isn't there.

The upshot is lots of people running around panicking trying to work out where to get more money from so they can fill up the hole. But the thing is, the hole can never be filled. Give the banks more money and they just give it to people to spend on stupid stuff or people take it away to put under the mattress at home. Also, to get more money means you need to make more of the damn stuff and to do that, you can either print it or try and get people back in work so they can get paid and start buying stuff again. Printing is easy but means the value of the money goes down and that not good (you now have more money out there, but nothing else has changed, it's just more bits of paper). Getting people jobs just puts off the problem for later, once they are back buying stuff then sooner or later, someone will be giving out credit cards and we start the merry circus again...

The solution is simple. I'll do my little bit on 'Islamic' banking to make me feel better. It's not really 'Islamic', it's just common sense and I don't like the term 'Islamic' being added to it but that's life. Anyway in a nutshell, with 'Islamic' banking does not have the whole 'interest' thing (in theory...). Instead, you take the money that you need and at the end you can, with no obligation, give a lump sum back to the persons you borrowed it from, which pretty much everyone does if they can afford it. Also, (in theory...) an 'Islamic' bank wouldn't let you take money for stupid stuff. And no credit cards (in theory...) Unfortunately, 'Islamic' banking these days has taken on the face of what I wrote about above and, as a result, is a bit crap. Still, this has lead to lots of Muslims making their own groups of people to lend and look after money which works pretty well since they are built on trust and community and not credit cards. We can live in hope that this grows but I won't hold my breath. 

It's quite simple, stop giving money to people who can't pay it back, stop giving it for stupid stuff and stop charging people so much to borrow it when they need it. But to do that would mean changing the economy completely. First of all, we'd have to stop have economies based on buying loads of stuff we don't need with money we don't have. That will mean changing people's mindset as well, we live in a world where buying 'stuff' is what keeps so many going. It's stupid but so is life. Again, you can hold your breath but I'm not holding mine.

Oh, also, banks and bankers also refuse to acnowlage my paypal account, bounce my cheques, take forever to process my payslips, charge me for a debit card, have long queues, open at bizarre times then close for 'lunch' that lasts for hours, use forms that seem to have been printed on postage stamps, lose all your papers anyway when you've filled them and refuse to let me have an account without some obscure unobtainable document (the latest being 'proof of address from the UK even though you don't live there anymore and haven't for nearly three years, good luck finding one sucker'). But that is for another day.



Monday, February 7, 2011

On losing a country

I was contemplating something recently, something I think of from time to time. A few weeks ago, I participated in a discussion on the Daily Telegraph's website. The article was on comments made by Muslim Conservative party chairperson Baroness Warsi about how bigotry against Muslims has become 'normal' in the UK. She made some fair points, among them how doing things like labeling Muslims as either 'moderate' or 'extremist' just made the situation worse and so on. It's worth a read and can be found here.

However, that's not what I want to talk about today. As I said, I participated in the discussion in the comments section of the article and guess what I found? Ms Warsi was, unfortunately, correct. In the hour I spent 'discussing' during which I made it clear that I was a) a Muslim and b) happy to talk to people about whatever their problems were with my choice of faith, I was shouted down, insulted, called a terrorist, received threats against my wellbeing, called a liar and above all, accused of not wanting to 'assimilate' or take part in 'British' life, said that I was the problem. Well excuse me, but I don't think some people get the idea of irony...

After over an hour of having everything I said either ignored or shouted down, I left, downhearted and a little upset. My thoughts returned to something I have been thinking about a lot, namely, if I were to return to the UK tomorrow, would I be welcome any more? Would I even recognize the place? The UK I grew up in was a nice place, it doesn't seem it now.

About three years ago I left the UK. I was on a high. The past month had be spent with and enjoyable week or two in some God forsaken military base near the coast, where the nights shook to the sounds of artillery and gunfire as the army carried out maneuvers nearby, on an exercise and then spent an even more enjoyable week receiving my glider training at an airbase near London. And above all, I'd just been awarded my gliding wings from my beloved Air Training Corps, the culmination of over 5 years hard work and service. One of the officers from the airbase dropped me at Heathrow airport and I went for lunch at the brand new Terminal 5, which still is the worlds most advanced airport terminal, cost £4 billion and took 19 years from conception to completion, including the longest public inquiry in British history.

Typically British then... a wonderful idea ahead of it's time, built over cost, late, broke frequently when it opened by the Queen and was badly received by the public but was still the best. That's Britain for you, or at least how it used to be, not afraid to throw a load of money at a dream, something that people say is impossible and manage do it anyway. Even if it costs an extraordinary amount, is a bit useless and Britain could probably have done fine with a 'normal' version of whatever it was trying to make. As they say, you don't make an omelet without breaking eggs and you don't become a leading nation without taking risks, spending money, doing things outside the box and just going for it (pay attention Malaysia!). So that was that, I flew out like millions before me. I adjusted reasonably well to 'the sandpit' and life as an expatriate in the Middle East. This isn't the place to talk about that really, but let's just say it went well and could have been worse. Certainly, it insulated me from what was happening in my homeland. Things were changing.

It all really started when some bonehead 'Muslim' called Anjem Choudary decided to take it upon himself to make a fuss. Mr Choudary is an out of work lawyer who used to be a partyboy but then 'reformed' himself and became an ultra strict 'wahhibi' type 'Muslim'. In other words, just the sort of person I really hate. As you know, the UK was involved, and is, two costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I won't discuss in detail my views about these little 'adventures' (in a nutshell, it was wrong to do them, but now we are there we have to sort them out) but it irked Choudary who set up a little street gang called Islam4UK, comprising of about 40 people. As a true attention seeker, Choudary decided to hit the British public where it hurt to get some attention, after all he was not worth paying much notice too, he had a handful of followers and was widely denounced by Muslims. So he announced he would lead a protest in Wootton Basset.

Wootton Basset is a small market town in the south of the UK with a population of around 11,000. It is in every way, ordinary. Except for one thing. The town is near RAF Lyneham, the transport hub of the RAF, where equipment going off to Afghanistan passes through. When I was there, they were loading everything from bullets and bandages into the backs of giant USAF and RAF transport aircraft ready for the frontline, I recall that some lucky officer had been allowed to take his car with him, so that was there too, strapped down onto a pallet next to an assortment of motorbikes for some pathfinder regiment, awaiting the attention of the RAF loadmasters. It is also where the bodies of any servicemen or women that are killed are 'repatriated'. They arrive two times a week, on Monday and Friday, in simple coffins draped with the flag and are carried in a simple ceremony to waiting hearses. These hearses then drive in convoy to John Radcliff Hospital where they are inspected by the coroner before being released to families. They pass through Wootton Bassett on the way where the whole town holds a silent memorial to the fallen. 

So, the number one way to piss off British people? For an extremist 'Islamist' group to hold a 'protest' there. Choudary made a lot of noise about how he was going to get 500 supporters and hold his own 'parade' of empty coffins to represent all the Afghans that have died. Let me get this straight here. Whatever your views about the Afghan war may be, such disrespect to the men and women who fight in it, especially the ones that died, is not on. Disrespect of *anyone*, the dead especially, is wrong. It's un-Islamic as well, might I add. If you have problems with the war, take it to the government, the ones who ordered it, they are to blame.

So, Choudary and his merry gang made all this noise to provoke people. And man, did some people respond. The long of the short of it is this, British people were not happy, they were angry. And who did they vent their anger on? Muslims of course. Despite the fact that Coudary's little gang are only about 50 people strong (if that) and that the actions they were talking about were widely condemned, years of simmering hatred came to a head. The upshot of this? Groups like the English Defense League (EDL), a conglomeration of football hooligans, ex-National Front supporters and other right wingers were formed to 'defend' the UK against 'Muslim extremists'. To begin with I had no problem with this, in fact I was invited to go and speak at an EDL rally as a 'representative' from the Muslim community (unfortunately I couldn't) but over the years, groups like this have stopped being against 'Muslim extreimsts' and are now just against 'Islam' and 'Muslims' in general. They have in effect become the replacement for the old fascist street gangs that we used to have in the UK. I'll say right now that I think it is a great shame and that I wish the EDL hadn't been taken down that path, but that's life. We must move on. 

The reasons behind this are vast and complex, but what it all boils down to is lack of communication between Muslims on the one side, and non-Muslims on the other and vast amounts of propaganda, for instance the belief that Muslims are trying to take over the world, fed to non-Muslims. This of course is not helped by the handful of fanatics on the Muslim side who no doubt do want to take over the world and it is this handful that is held up as 'proof' by some on the non-Muslim side of what Muslims really think (one of the other pieces of propaganda is the lie about 'taquiya', the false belief that Muslims are allowed to lie to non-Muslims, this is wrong).

The upshot of all this is what Ms Warsi was speaking of, bigotry towards Muslims is no longer a fringe thing, lies and mistrusts about Muslims are abound in the public sphere. It is now quite acceptable, sometimes expected, to call a Muslim a liar, terrorist, traitor, accuse them of wanting to take over the world, that they have sex with goats, live in a cave, are responsible for all crime and suchlike. It is acceptable and sometimes normal to institute discriminatory practices against them. And a political party can win votes on bashing Muslims.

This is why I lost my country. It used to be a place where everyone was pretty much accepted. After the bombings in London and the 9/11 attacks, it was quite readily accepted that this was nothing to do with Muslims and Islam. I'm sure in many places it still like this but I don't get that impression reading the news and hearing the views of people still in the UK. As someone who messaged me following the Daily Telegraph fiasco, 'the UK I left 15 years ago is not the UK I see today'. I feel the same.



PS: Choudary never carried out his 'protest'. After being interviewed a number of times on TV, getting loads of coverage for his little gang and becoming one of the most hated men in Britain, Islam4UK 'called off' their march with no reason given, though the Police revealed that they had never even applied for permission to do so. Subsequently Islam4UK was banned in the UK but the damage had been done and he got what he wanted, attention. His little stunt also lead to the Mosque in his hometown being firebombed in anger by non-Muslims while Choudary himself was attacked on the street and apparently chased out of town by the Muslim community. He hangs around though and keeps popping up from time to time whenever 'proof' that Muslims are 'evil' is needed. What a silly little man...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

For want of writing something...

Well, it's not working. I said I'd post regularly and haven't. This is, largely due to the fact that the internet connection where I live is still AWOL but still, no excuse.

So, I've had the week off due to Chinese New year. Many of my favorite shops have been closed so not a huge amount to do. It's been an interesting time, I spent most of it with Nabila. I only see her once every blue moon, about 4 times a year it works out as, so I miss her greatly especially since she doesn't have a good internet connection at her university and her phone keeps getting bared. We are perhaps one of the last few people in the world who still communicate with each other by letter on a regular basis :-P And, because so many people ask for photos, here is one for you:


I've also had a message from an old internet freind. We got talking about a year ago due to a mutual interest in the military, with him being a USAF veteran. The last I heard of him he was fighting the Veteran Association (VA) to try and claim his 'benefits' from them. Benefits is the wrong word, it is what he, as a Veteran, and one who was wounded in Afghanistan at that, should be entitled to in return for putting his life on the line to 'defend' his country, getting wounded and thus unable to get a job. Apparently the US government doesn't agree to this, cue years of fighting to try and get what he is entitled to. Then they announced that the small level of benefits that he does receive is going to be cut in half. So now he has to talk them to court and, as he says "progressing to the next level of game playing". So cue even more years of fighting. And of course, he is not alone and in fact, I think he is one of the 'lucky' ones. At least he isn't on the street, hasn't lost his mind and hasn't gone, taken his old service rifle, and shot up a load of people like many in the same position have.

This sort of behavior sickens me, a nation that has the worlds largest economy and wastes so much money on two pointless 'wars' can also afford to look after those who put their lives on the line to defend it. Whether they be soldiers, airmen, sailors, even the civil defense forces such as firefighters, police officers, doctors and nurses, (all of whom deal with low pay, lack of benefits, crap funding and facilities) as Calvin Coolidge said "The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten." The US needs to pay attention to people like my freind, shape up, and look after those that looked after it. Because, right now as it stands, they are forgotten, wasted, and dumped in the street to fend for themselves. I get very angry hearing stories like his, and even more angry when I know that he is far from the only one. Another story that really got to me was the fact that, nearly 10 years after the event, those firemen, police officers, medics, city workers and so fourth who rushed to the scene of the tragedy that was 9/11 and were subsequently exposed to lethal amounts of carcinogenic dust (amongst other injuries, mental as well as physical), are still fighting to get *their* 'benefits'. Many of them haven't seen a single cent, are up to their necks in healthcare bills (the US being one of the few 'developed' countries that refuses to pay for it's citizens healthcare) and out of work. Again, sickening. Shape up America and listen to Mr Coolidge!