“Terrain, terrain!” and George assumes control

March 29, 2015

The German Wings 4U9525 tragedy is now leading to a discussion on whether and how depressive and suicidal tendencies of a pilot can be screened for, which in turn is leading to a discussion of what occupations should or could be forbidden to those having such tendencies. And what degree of disability is disabling for an occupation is the question that follows. Many military and  law enforcement bodies do have such bans. In some US states you can’t pass the bar exams if you have been diagnosed as depressive. (But you can continue to practice if you become depressive the day after you pass your bar exams). Should a person with suicidal tendencies be permitted to become a President or a Prime Minister or a Finance Minister? or a surgeon or a hedge fund manager for that matter?

Every human has some bouts of some level of depression. I am sure psychological profiling has become very sophisticated and can be very successful in general screening. I have even used such profiling – albeit very crudely – when screening applicants for a job. If one applied the precautionary principle – which is about the most unscientific mumbo-jumbo as can be found – very few would ever be deemed suitable for any sensitive occupation. I cannot see that psychological testing will ever eliminate all potential cases of determined, suicidal pilots. It will also give many false positives.

I suspect that the solution lies not in expecting psychological profiling to find the “needle in the haystack” but in ensuring that even if he appears he can do no harm. The regulation for always having two people in the cockpit goes down that road. It is said that for commercial flights today the pilots spend only about 5 minutes actually flying the plane themselves. And much of that time is spent in plugging in what George, the autopilot, is supposed to do. Most of their time is spent in monitoring and checking systems rather than actively flying. In theory, apart from taxiing before take-off and after landing, George could fly the entire flight. His side-kick Mary – if she was present – could do all the monitoring that pilots currently do. George would fly and Mary would – independently – provide the checks.

Coming from the power generation world I am familiar with all the “forbidden modes of operation” that are embedded within the control systems of gas and steam turbines to avoid zones of dangerous vibration or even of operating at “uneconomic” conditions. Once open a time – 100 years ago – measurements were physically monitored by operators. A very few mechanical – but automatic – governors were used, for example to restrict turbine overspeed (by restricting flow). Later – but before the electronic age – physical measurements were converted into electrical signals, displayed in control rooms and provided the operator with many, many alarms of potentially dangerous conditions. Some operating modes were automatically avoided by these measurement signals leading to the corrective operation of motorised valves. Now in the electronics age and with the speed of computing that is available, it is software in the control system – which the operator cannot override – which takes care of “enforcing” the avoidance of the most dangerous forbidden zones.

Pilotless drones are booming. Pilotless commercial planes are not yet in use not because of technical barriers but because of lack of acceptance by passengers and by society in general. Cargo planes are not pilotless yet, but only because of the concerns of air traffic control and airports and of those under the flight-path. But pilotless planes will surely come (even if pilots’ unions will not much care for this). No doubt pilotless planes will pose new challenges such as the avoidance of hacking or some unauthorised assumption of control. But these are all technical, technology, system and societal challenges rather than insurmountable barriers. No technology breakthroughs or invention of new materials are required for introducing the use of pilotless commercial aircraft.

But as a first step maybe George could enforce avoidance of some forbidden modes of flying even with a suicidal pilot at the controls. We may well see that the “Terrain, terrain!” warning will become obsolete. George (and Mary) would have taken over control of the aircraft long before the proximity warning alarms go off.



Monarch to monarch: Saudi King accepts Swedish King’s apology

March 28, 2015

The Saudi Arabian Ambassador returned to Sweden yesterday. It must be galling for the Swedish Social Democratic government that a monarch-to-monarch apology and appeal was needed to mollify the Saudis. (No doubt the Swedish monarch’s request to the government for an increase in his budget will soon be approved). The apology was carried in a letter carried personally by the King’s/Swedish government’s envoy (not the Ambassador to Saudi Arabia), Björn von Sydow. He is a former Speaker and has even been Regent when the King and his children have been abroad. He would have been acceptable to the Saudi monarch as a true representative of King Carl XVI Gustaf. The Swedish government may say otherwise, but this was indubitably an appeal from a monarch to a monarch and not from a socialist government to a “dictator” King.

The Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström says she does not back away from any of her support for “human rights or democracy” and that she has the support of the people. Indeed! But it took a King to ride in on his white charger to rescue her. “We had an opportunity to address the misunderstandings that we could have criticized Islam or insulted Saudi Arabia” is what she said.  The Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, while in China said “We have resolved any misunderstandings about our insulting Islam, which we have never done. We apologize if we have acted in such a manner that it has been understood that we  have somehow downgraded Saudi Arabia as a nation. That has never been our intention and we have not done that”. Sounds pretty close to an abject apology to me.

It is also grand hypocrisy. Because of course it was always Margot Wallström’s intention to denigrate Saudi Arabia, their system of government and their legal system. She singled out Saudi Arabia as a country whose morals were too low for Sweden to cooperate with on Defence matters.

She has been noticeably silent about voicing any criticism of China (where Prime Minister Löfven is on a visit). For Sweden to fall out with China would be economically unsustainable. The EU has been criticising Saudi Arabia for air attacks in Yemen but Margot Wallström has been conspicuously silent on the matter. Hopefully she has learnt the lesson that there is a little more to be considered about consequences when one is a Minister rather than an activist leading a demonstration. (That is a lesson still eluding her Green party partners in government who bear their share of blame for the Saudi Arabia fiasco).


Saudi Arabia decided on Friday to normalize bilateral relations with Sweden after a meeting between the government’s envoy, Björn von Sydow, and Saudi Arabian government leaders and King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

“We had an opportunity to address the misunderstandings that we could have criticized Islam or insulted Saudi Arabia. This allowed the Ambassador to return” said Margot Wallström when asked if Sweden had apologized.

“I’m not backing down from my statements for democracy and human rights. It is well known what we think on these issues and it is something we have strong support in the Swedish population” she said

Margot Wallström thinks she has acted professionally and that the problem was resolved quickly in normalising relations with Saudi Arabia. Bjorn von Sydow had the meeting with government leaders and carried a letter from King Carl XVI Gustaf to King Salman. von Sydow will not go into any more detail.

“We can confirm that the king on the government’s desire sent a letter that the government’s envoy handed over to the Saudi king” wrote the Court Information officer Margaret Thorgren. “Please also refer all questions to the Foreign Ministry”. ………

According to the television channel Al-Arabiyya the Swedish king stressed “the power in the relationship” between their countries to his brother-monarch King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven comment on the re-established diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia during his visit to China. He did not directly answer the question if Sweden apologized.

“We have resolved any misunderstandings about our insulting Islam, which we have never done. We apologize if we have acted in such a manner that it has been understood that we  have somehow downgraded Saudi Arabia as a nation. That has never been our intention and we have not done that”.

A “democracy” provides no immunity from – or an excuse for – incompetence and stupidity.

Death by deportation

March 28, 2015

Asylum seekers who are rejected and are then deported become non-persons. The deporting country does not really care what happens to them and just want them out of the country. The “receiving” country does not really much care about someone who does not want to be in the country and usually either arrest them (if they are wanted) or leave them to their own resources. Often they are killed shortly after being deported.

Many countries use force or drugs or both to ensure that the person can be deported. Recently a case of a deportee killed in Sweden while being deported to Iraq was reported. It was not the first case of a death during deportation. Such cases don’t get much publicity. Deportees are truly non-persons, citizens of nowhere, shunned at one end and unwanted at the other. And after all, “Who cares?”

But it does seem to happen fairly regularly.

Man died during deportation at Arlanda

Police investigate as man dies while being deported from UK

Algerian immigrant killed by French police while being deported

Nigerian, Murdered by Spain, Does Anyone Care?

Deported from Japan: until death do us part

Deported From U.S., Honduran Immigrants Return To Death And Terror


When Deportation Is A Death Sentence

And, I find, I do care. But not enough to do very much about it.

Swedish Green minority in government leads to oppression of the majority and a “bad democracy”

March 28, 2015

The Swedish Green party won 6.9% of the vote (25 seats in a 349 seat parliament) in the last general election. But they are part of the minority government with the Social Democrats (31% of the vote – 113 seats). Inevitably the Social Democrats are forced (or choose to) adopt some of the Green party policies. Most Green party policies are about forbidding things they don’t like on ideological grounds. Or they are about increasing taxes to discourage behaviour they don’t like. Very few of the Swedish Greens’ environmental policies are based on sound science. They are mostly based on alarmism and fear. Even when they propose new taxes they have not even an inkling – apart from how much will be collected – of what they will actually achieve. The goals are never capable of being monitored or – in many cases – even measured.

Whenever the Social Democrats accept Green policies – which they themselves don’t agree with – they put it down to being the “price of having a coalition partner”. They are effectively promoting a minority view and subverting the democratic process. A policy supported by 6.9% of the voters is inflicted upon the entire population.

It happened again this week. Green party minority dogma is planned to be inflicted on the entire country and the Social Democrats – who promised not to do this – are now complicit in the subversion of democracy. It is a simple case of a tiny minority oppressing an overwhelming majority. (Not so different from a dictatorship). The Social Democrats are effectively a “poodle” being wagged by their Green tail.

TheLocalSweden’s left-wing government proposed a hike in petrol taxes on Friday, citing the drop in oil prices and pressure put on it by its coalition partner the Greens.

“The oil price has plunged by 50 percent, so it’s become cheaper to fill up at the pump. That’s one thing. The other is that we are in a government with the Green Party,” Social Democratic Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson told reporters at a press conference.

“We need to finance our reforms krona for krona. And that means we need to increase revenues,” she said. The government proposed to increase the tax on petrol by 0.44 kronor ($0.05) per litre and on diesel by 0.48 kronor.

The hike, which would take effect on January 1st, would bring in 4.1 billion kronor ($479 million) to state coffers in 2016.

The Social Democrats no doubt see this as a way of raising revenues while blaming the Greens. But it also demonstrates their incompetence in running a coalition where they ought to be the senior partner. The Green tail is wagging the Social Democratic poodle. Democracies work but they have their share of negatives. And coalition governments where a large party is dependant upon a small party leads to tiny minorities inflicting their views on the majority. There is nothing inherently better in a democracy than in a dictatorship. It all depends on the “goodness” of the democracy or the dictatorship. A “good dictatorship” may well be superior to a “bad democracy”.

In the case of the present coalition government in Sweden, the inescapable conclusion is that the inclusion of the Greens makes it a “bad democracy”.

Germany needs 500,000+ immigrants every year till 2050

March 27, 2015

A new study has just been published by the Bertelsmann Stiftung:

Zuwanderungsbedarf aus Drittstaaten in Deutschland bis 2050

Press Release: Without immigrants, the potential labor force would sink from approximately 45 million today to less than 29 million by 2050 – a decline of 36 percent. This gap cannot be closed without immigration. Even if women were to be employed at the same rate as men, and the retirement age was increased to 70 in 2035, the number of potential workers in the country would rise by only about 4.4 million.

In 2013, a total of 429,000 more people came to Germany than left the country. Last year, the net total was 470,000, the Federal Statistical Office reports. According to the study, net immigration at this level would be sufficient for at least the next 10 years to keep the country’s potential labor force at a constant level. From that time onward, however, the need for immigrants will grow, because the baby-boomer generation will be entering retirement. One out of two of today’s skilled workers with professional training will have left the working world by 2030. …

….. the current high levels of immigration from EU countries (2013: around 300,000) will soon decline significantly, as demographic change is shrinking populations across the European Union, and because incentives to emigrate in crisis-stricken countries will decline with economic recovery. The experts forecast an annual average of just 70,000 immigrants or fewer from EU counties by 2050. For this reason, efforts to attract skilled workers from non-EU countries should be intensified. …

German working population  development

German working population development – Bertelsmann Stiftung

This is not a picture that is unique to Germany in Europe. Moreover just keeping the working population constant does not allow for the additional numbers who are ageing and whose “pensions” whether from the Sate of from private sources must be supported by a corresponding growth in the resource funds.

All politicians are well aware of the demographic inevitabilities in Europe. But they have not yet managed to convince all their constituencies that “old Europe” has to renew and reinvent itself. A “new Europe” cannot hark back to the days of the Crusades. Few, if any, politicians in today’s Europe and on the right of the divide, have had the courage to point out that immigration from outside the EU is necessary and that these immigrants must be speedily integrated. Few of the politicians on the left of the divide have either had the courage to point out that a multiethnic society still requires a single over-riding culture (set of values) which may then have as many subordinate cultures as desired. Few have had the courage to point out that “multiculturalism” does not allow a single society to be sustained. If these politicians truly want to take care of their children’s children they will have to come to terms with the reality of the cold hand of demographics. The only alternative to immigration – but hardly viable – is a Europe-wide “baby production” policy which would have to discourage abortions and maximise incentives for having children. Fertility clinics and multiple births could always be heavily subsidised.

But I can’t help feeling that EU immigration policy cannot be just based on “asylum seekers”. Any such policy must be built on demographic realities and must be based on needed skills (and on the provision of training in the needed skills) and not just on “asylum seekers” and the random set of skills that that represents.

EU 2009 Ageing Report:

…. low birth rates, rising life expectancy and continuing inflow of migrants can be expected to result in an almost unchanged, but much older, total EU population by 2060, meaning that the EU would move from having four working-age people (aged 15-64) for every person aged over 65 to a ratio of only two to one. The largest decrease is expected to occur during the period 2015-35 when the baby-boom cohorts will be entering retirement. …….

The fiscal impact of ageing is therefore projected to be substantial in almost all Member States, becoming apparent already over the course of the next decade. Overall, on the basis of current policies, age-related public expenditure is projected to increase on average by about 4¾ percentage points of GDP by 2060 in the EU and by more than 5 percentage points in the euro area – especially through pension, healthcare and long-term care spending.

German Wings 4U9525: Why this rush to judgement?

March 26, 2015

Ever since the French prosecutor’s press conference this morning, there has been a rush to judgement and the guilt of Andreas Lubitz is taken as being proved beyond any doubt. It may well be so but the rush leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable. There has even been a competition in the media to use ever more sensational adjectives. “Mass murderer” and “killer” are common. But what the French prosecutor actually said is:

According to Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, Lubitz acted “for a reason we cannot fathom right now but which looks like intent to destroy this aircraft. He voluntarily … allowed the loss of altitude of the plane, which he had no reason to do. He had … no reason to stop the pilot-in-command from coming back into the cockpit. He had no reason to refuse to answer to the air controller who was alerting him on the loss of altitude,” 

Maybe there are no other alternatives and all the conclusions being reached are perfectly justified. Maybe the sounds of his breathing which are being used to state that he was fully conscious and breathing normally are absolutely conclusive. Maybe there was no possibility that he could have been incapacitated and still have that breathing pattern. Maybe his 5 month break from his training for what a friend has called “depression and burn-out” is conclusive proof – as the media seem to assume – that he was mentally disturbed.


Now the assumption of his guilt itself will colour the consideration of any mechanical fault or any other possibility.

I would have preferred to have seen a more considered elimination of all other alternatives before this unseemly rush to judgement. Rushing to name him the killer and the mass-murderer will not help any of the victims. But it could lead to incomplete investigations of other relevant areas.

UK Election 2015: Cameron as a duck to Miliband’s poodle but who is the jackal and who the hyena?

March 26, 2015

Yesterday was the last Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQ) in the UK House of Commons before the general election and it lived up to my entertainment expectations. Miliband called Cameron a “lame duck” for his off-hand comment that he would not want a third term as PM. Since Cameron hasn’t even won a second term, the duck comparison is a little early. (I suppose if he wins he will be as much of a lame duck as Obama was when he won his second term).

In any event Cameron replied spiritedly. He first also called Miliband a duck hanging on to Salmond’s coattails but then called him Salmond’s “poodle”. This went down much better with his supporter’s. Everybody remembers Tony Blair being George Bush’s poodle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Considering the UK general election as a menagerie is quite interesting. In addition to Cameron the duck and Miliband the poodle, we would get Nigel Farage as the jackal hunting for scraps and Alex Salmond as the ultimate scavenger in the shape of a hyena ready to eat anything. Nick Clegg would then be a chameleon changing colour as and when necessary and Natalie Bennett would be the Green slug, slip-streaming behind the chameleon.

UK2015 menagerie

UK 2015 menagerie


German Wings 4U9525: Was cockpit security just too secure?

March 26, 2015


A French prosecutor has now said that the pilot in the cockpit disabled the code (usually 7 digits) which would have allowed the pilot outside to override the door lock and come in, and that the plane was crashed deliberately!

The New York Times and AFP are reporting that the cockpit recordings show:

  • Normal conversation between the pilots initially
  • sound of a chair being pushed back and one pilot leaving the cockpit (toilet visit perhaps?)
  • knocking and then pounding on the door as he tried to get back in
  • no response from the pilot left inside

And that suggests that maybe, and as a very unhappy coincidence, the pilot left inside fell ill or was otherwise incapacitated while his colleague was outside.

Which would suggest that security arrangements where the cockpit door can only be opened from the inside have not been entirely thought through. The security prevents anyone rescuing or taking over from a lone incapacitated pilot locked inside the cockpit.


A senior military official involved in the investigation described “very smooth, very cool” conversation between the pilots during the early part of the flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany. Then the audio indicated that one of the pilots left the cockpit and could not re-enter.

“The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer,” the investigator said. “And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer.”

He said, “You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.” ……..

…….. The data from the voice recorder seems only to deepen the mystery surrounding the crash and provides no indication of the condition or activity of the pilot who remained in the cockpit. The descent from 38,000 feet over about 10 minutes was alarming but still gradual enough to indicate that the twin-engine Airbus A320 had not been damaged catastrophically. At no point during the descent was there any communication from the cockpit to air traffic controllers or any other signal of an emergency.

Colour police crack down on “unswedish” colours

March 24, 2015

You don’t have to be a politician to be an idiot, but it helps.

Local politicians in Mjölby don’t like the colour an artist has painted his house and have ordered him to repaint it because the colour is unswedish!!

The Colour Police

Anders Steen Chairman of Mjölby’s colour police

TheLocal: Bernth Uhno, an artist who has frequently exhibited his own paintings and etchings across Sweden, recently bought and repainted a house that had been empty since 1981. …. However his taste proved too radical for local councillors who argued his colour scheme was too outlandish and ordered him to repaint it in a more suitable shade. “The colour scheme is not Swedish,” Anders Steen, a Centre Party politician who is chair of the town’s building committee told local television news network, ……

The House

Wrong Colour. This house is to be “inspected” by the local Building Committee in Skänninge. Photo karl-johan norén (via Corren)

The cat likes it.


Scots lost the referendum but may soon be ruling England

March 24, 2015

The 2015 UK General Election is only about 6 weeks away and is turning out to be much more interesting – and entertaining – than I had anticipated. It was in September last year that independence for Scotland from the United Kingdom was rejected – in the event much more decisively than was generally expected – but not the overwhelming rejection that was first anticipated when the referendum was agreed to by the UK Parliament. (55.3% No against 44.7% Yes). The Scottish National Party (SNP) was the main driver for the referendum and for independence and their leader Alex Salmond had to step down as party leader with a bloody nose.

But now with the elections just weeks away, the Labour party has collapsed in Scotland (where the Conservatives are already almost extinct), UKIP has risen in England and the Liberal Democrats have become schizophrenic and irrelevant. The natural party for the Liberal Democrats to cooperate with in 2010 would have been Labour. But since that would not have given an overall majority, they went to bed instead with their natural and historic enemy  – the Conservatives. Which of course lies at the root of their current schizophrenia and the defection of their left wing to the Greens.

The most likely scenario now is that the Scots (via SNP) will effectively be ruling England after the election. Of course the SNP will not be the governing party but they may well be the determining voice in a minority Labour government. And since the SNP is generally further to the left of mainstream Labour, it will help to empower Labour’s more extreme members and may even help to bring in the support of some of the old communists. We could have an ironic – and highly entertaining – situation in the next Parliament. UKIP and the Conservatives could be desperately fighting for the devolution of England and a separate English parliament. Of course they would be no chance of any referendum on EU membership. The English (UKIP, Conservatives, Lib Dems) may have to plead (with SNP and Labour) for a referendum by 2020 for English devolution.

Of course there are many possible outcomes and 6 weeks is an eternity in an election campaign but the numbers provide the entertainment.

  1. Current Parliament (650 seats, 326 needed for majority)
  2. Conservatives 307, Liberal Democrats 57 (coalition 364)
  3. Labour 258, Irish DUP 8, SNP 6, others 14.

But a “very possible” result now is that the next parliament will be totally hung. The only working majority even remotely possible will be with the SNP and Labour together – though it may not be an absolute majority. Paradoxically, this could be a stronger mandate for the SNP both in Scotland and in the UK than any independence could have brought. For the Conservatives there is no redemption with the Lib Dems or with UKIP. They would have to gain seats in England compared to 2010 to prevent this or some similar scenario. And that does not look likely. Based on one forecast model, it could look like this:

UK 2015 possible

UK 2015 possible

So Alex Salmond leading a “Red” Ed Miliband even further left – and surely by the nose – is entirely possible. Scotland could effectively become a “one party democracy”. Perhaps Alex Salmond could emulate Lee Kwan Yew (though he does not quite have the same vision or intellectual stature)! Unlike Lee Kwan Yew, who never had a direct say in the Malaysian parliament, Salmond could extract his full pound (kilogram) of flesh in the UK Parliament. Labour would not be able to achieve any legislation, even if it was just for England, without the Scots.

Maybe the Scots will – of their goodness – eventually allow the English a devolution referendum.

(The hung parliament may well be “democracy in action” but it will also be a manifestation of “levelling down” to the lowest common level. And the lowest common level excludes any possibility of excellence).

Some interesting times ahead!



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 652 other followers