Archive for March, 2012

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

I won’t tell you exactly how I know about this story, let’s just say it was recounted in great detail by a very good friend of mine who, whilst he wasn’t part of this particular adventure, was also the unwilling recipient of Saddam Hussein’s hospitality for a while back before the first Gulf War in 1990. My thanks to him.

Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 the United States, Britain, and their allies decided they would have to help out the Kuwaitis (it’s like they had oil or something, eh?) and they started to make very public plans to liberate that country. This would obviously involve attacks on Iraqi troops and on Iraq itself.

Saddam Hussein thought a good way to dissuade any bombing campaign against his country was to use American, British and European citizens who had been working in Iraq, as a ‘human shield’ against the bombs. Highly illegal and breaching the Geneva Convention and all that, but it was Saddam Hussein and what did he care about rules.

The workers were duly rounded up by Saddam’s men and either put under house arrest or confined in small compounds. They weren’t mistreated and had a limited amount of freedom, but still in the back of their minds they feared they were about to be used for real as that human shield and they knew that when the war started in earnest the bombing would be a necessary part of it.

Most of the ‘hostages’ sat tight in the hope that diplomatic negotiations would succeed and they would be released, which in fact is what did happen.

But a few intrepid souls, who worked for a construction company, decided that they would mount an escape and head for the border. Maybe they had been watching a DVD of The Great Escape or something the night before, I don’t know.

They gathered up supplies of food and as much water as they could carry and in the dead of night they set off. It was relatively easy for them to get out of the hostage compound because the Iraqis knew that no one in their right mind would try to escape, especially on foot. The only thing outside Bagdad was desert, and lots of it.

In what passed for a plan, the would-be escapees had figured that their best bet would be to head for Jordan. Syria was deemed to be too unfriendly and would probably shoot them or send them back to Iraq. The border to the north was far too far away and the terrain was harsh. And the border between Iraq and Iran they reckoned could well be mined because of the war that had just ended less than two years previously between the two states.

So west it was, a long journey, but they set off in good spirits and their confidence level high.

Because of the heat during the day they had decided they would make the best progress if they walked by night and rested by day. A sensible enough strategy. And so that is what they did. Night after night after night they walked and in the daytime found a place to shelter and rested as best they could. They also made very sure that they rationed their meager supplies of food and especially water.

Although none of them really knew what they were talking about, they figured that it would take a week to ten days to make it to the border. But what they had not figured out was that travelling by night is a very different proposition to the daytime.

Still, on and on they went until almost a week had gone by. Their supplies were dwindling fast, but they were still okay for a few more days at least. Then, on the eighth night, they had a remarkable stroke of luck. They came to a high wire fence. They had made it to the Iraq/Jordan border AND they had done it a couple of days quicker than estimated.

They were jubilant.

After congratulating each other all over the place, slapping backs and so forth, they set about digging their way under the fence. They hadn’t any tools with them, but it wasn’t a hard job and after twenty minutes or so they had cleared enough debris to allow them to slide underneath the wire, one at a time, and cross over into Jordanian territory.

When they had crossed the fence there were more celebrations. Then they rested for a little while, but not long. They were safe now, but the adrenalin boost caused by making it safely into Jordan was pulsing through their veins and they all agreed that they should press on and sooner or later they would encounter Jordanian border guards or make it to a village. Either way they could replenish their supplies and get a much needed clean up.

Sure enough, less than an hour or so later, as it was getting light they spotted an army jeep in the distance. They started waving and shouting and eventually the soldiers in the jeep spotted them and made their way over to where they were. A soldier, who they supposed was the officer in charge got out of the jeep and walked over to them.

The leader of the escape gang, who spoke a little Arabic, welcomed the soldier, and as best he could explained that they were hostages and had just escaped across the border after several hard days and nights travelling through the desert.

The soldier grinned and then started to laugh. He said something to his comrades and they too began to laugh. The intrepid escapees joined in, not at all sure what they were laughing at, but assuming the Jordanian soldiers were happy that someone had pulled a fast one over the Iraqis.

Everyone was so happy.

The Jordanian commander told one of his men to send a radio message and a few moments later another jeep and a small canvas topped lorry arrived. The soldiers indicated that the six escapees should get into the back of the lorry, which they duly did and sat down three on each side on the small bench. Two of the soldiers got in along with them.

And off they went. They drove for about ten minutes and then made it to a hard surfaced road. About another ten or fifteen minutes after that the escapees started to notice buildings. They had never seen a Jordanian village, but they assumed this was what they looked like. Then a short time later the lorry stopped.

The two soldiers jumped out first and indicated that the escapees should follow, which they did. But when they were on the ground and had gathered their wits about them they saw that there were a lot of people around, but they were all in uniform. There didn’t seem to be any civilians around at all.

Maybe they had been evacuated because of the imminent hostilities? They couldn’t really figure it out.

But then the penny slowly started to drop into place.

Our intrepid escapees had not made it across the border.

Nor were they in a Jordanian village.

What they had managed to do was march for days through the desert, probably in all directions but a straight line, and ended up still in Iraq.

Not only that but the fence they had encountered and carefully dug their way under was not the border fence between Iraq and Jordan, it was the fence surrounding an Iraqi army camp. And that’s where they now were! These soldiers were Saddam’s troops, not Jordanians.

I really wish I could have seen the look of disbelief, confusion, disappointment and incredulity on their faces.

The Iraqis could have shot them. But they were so busy laughing they would probably have missed. Instead, after the hilarity had passed, they allowed the escapees to get cleaned up, probably more for soldiers’ benefit rather than the would-be escapees, and then put them on another lorry to be driven back to Baghdad.

The great escape was over.
http://youtu.be/xkwmIDx9RwQ

Have you had similar experiences? Send them along. Let the world know what is happening before it is too late.

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

 

This is a sort of follow on from yesterday’s blog about Mr Nicholas Scotti, the worst tourist in the world.

Today’s is about Mrs Josephine Williams and her family, who in 1975 went to meet a long-lost brother at Heathrow Airport (London).

Eventually the traveller wandered into the airport lounge, greatly relaxed by the in-flight drinking facilities, and was immediately smothered with the kisses of Mrs Williams and her sisters.

“Gee, this is great,” he kept saying, all the while cuddling Mrs Williams in a manner which she later described as “not like a brother.”

His enthusiasm for British hospitality was modified, however, when Mr Williams shook his hand firmly and ushered him to a parked car.

They first suspected that something might be amiss when their long-lost relative tried to jump out of the car while travelling at speed up the motorway.

When told that he was being taken to a family reunion in Coventry, he replied, “Take my money. Here’s my wallet. Take it and let me go.”

Slumped miserably in the front seat, he added, “This is the first time I have been to England and I am being kidnapped.”

“I thought from the beginning he wasn’t my brother,” Mrs Williams said later, “but my sisters wouldn’t listen. They said I was only twelve when he left for America and wouldn’t remember.”

They had taken home a complete stranger!  I don’t know if they ever met up with their brother or not.

 

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

 

I don’t know whether any of you have heard of Mr Nicholas Scotti? I hadn’t until I read about him on the internet. But his story is one that fits well into the ‘stupidity’ category that is one of the underlying themes of this blog.

Mr Scotti holds the title of being ‘The Worst Tourist In The World’, or certainly one of the least successful ones.

Nicholas Scotti is of Italian descent and is from San Francisco, USA. In 1977 he decided he would like to visit his relatives in his native Italy.

An inexperienced traveller, Mr Scotti booked his vacation trip using a travel agent and on the appointed day made his way to the airport for the flight. Getting on a plane was a relatively easy and quick process back in 1977 (oh, those were the days!!), and Mr Scotti made it on to the plane without incident. He settled down for the long flight.

En route the plane made a one-hour fuel stop at Kennedy Airport and the passengers disembarked.

But Nicholas Scotti didn’t know about the re-fuelling stop. He thought that he had arrived in Rome, Italy. He duly left the airport and spent two days in New York believing he was in Rome.

When his nephews were not there to meet him, Mr Scotti just assumed they had been delayed in the heavy Rome traffic they had mentioned often in their letters.

While tracking down their address, the great traveler could not help noticing that modernization and new construction had brushed aside most, if not all, of the ancient city’s famous landmarks, but that didn’t deter him.

He also noticed that many people spoke English with a distinct American accent. However, he just assumed that Americans got everywhere. Furthermore, he assumed it was for their benefit that so many of the street signs were written in English.

Mr Scotti spoke very little English himself and next asked a policeman (in Italian) the way to the bus depot. As chance would have it, the policeman came from Naples and replied fluently in Italian, which only helped to reinforce his belief that he was in Rome, not New York.

After twelve hours travelling round on a bus, the driver got fed up with him and handed him over to a second policeman. This one was not Italian and a brief argument ensued during which Mr Scotti expressed amazement at the Rome police force employing someone who did not speak their own language.

Scotti’s brilliance is seen in the fact that even when told he was in New York, he refused to believe it. The man was a veritable genius!

To get Mr Scotti on a plane back to San Francisco, he was raced to the airport in a police car with sirens screaming. Even then he remained unconvinced. “See,” he said to his interpreter, “I know I’m in Italy. That’s how they drive.”

 

 

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

“Three groups spend other people’s money: children, thieves and politicians.

All three need supervision.”

Dick Armey

One of the things that stupid bureaucrats do is make stupid laws. Increasingly they are making it harder to catch and punish criminals. It’s starting to happen more and more in the United States, it started happening a long time ago in Britain. When you take away punishment, or you make doing jail time ‘easy’, or you make it possible for criminals to sue the people they have perpetrated the crimes against, then all you end up doing is encouraging crime. It is as simple as that.

But let’s make one thing very clear before I go on with this blog.

The vastly overwhelming majority of people are decent and law abiding. That is true of almost every country and city you could mention, even those with unsavory reputations.

But unfortunately it is also true that every country and city does have its criminal elements, whether it be serial killers, one-off murderers, fraudsters, drug dealers, arsonists, or whatever.

I don’t like any of these groups. But there is one group in particular that I detest above all.

I HATE thieves!

It isn’t because their crimes are any worse than the others, in fact they aren’t. But your odds of running into a serial killer or even a murderer are thankfully very rare. Similarly, if you don’t deal in financial matters your chances of being defrauded are slim (banks excepted of course because along with the politicians they are currently committing the greatest fraud of all time and we are all the victims). If you aren’t into the drug scene then you are unlikely to mix with drug dealers, etc etc.

But unfortunately your chances of becoming the victim of a thief is not so rare. As a matter of fact sometime in the average person’s life they will experience some kind of theft, from the petty kind such as someone taking a cel phone or purse or wallet to the more serious thieves who feel they can invade your home and steal and destroy your property.

What is the mentality of these people that makes them think that they can take other people’s property or invade their space? It’s a bit like the mentality of an annoying fly that thinks it has the right to crawl all over your face or a mosquito that decides to feast on your blood.

Sadly when you report these crimes to the police they have reached the stage where they tell you the chances of catching the perpetrators are extremely slim. You’ve lost your stuff, if you can make a claim on your insurance, do it, otherwise tough luck! You are never compensated for the invasion of your privacy, however, nor the psychological damage some people experience as they ‘live in fear’ of another theft.

The problem is large, and getting larger, and it has spawned a multi $billion industry worldwide to try to prevent such acts. Many homes are now equipped with alarms and serious locks and bolts. A growing number now also have cameras and so forth.

That we should now all have to live inside our own small fortresses is testimony to the damage the bureaucrats have done to our countries. I fear if the economic situation deteriorates things will get increasingly worse on this front.

What can be done about it?

Well, for a start everyone has to realize that it does not have to be this way.

I have been in countries where there were hardly any thieves at all. It just wasn’t in the mindset of people to take other people’s personal belongings. I remember a friend of mine on holiday there a few years ago making a phone call from a public payphone on the street and using his Amex credit card to pay for it. A couple of days later he noticed that credit card was missing. Retracing his travels in his mind he remembered that the last time he had used it was at the public payphone. He was going to report the loss of the card to the credit card company, but before he did so he thought he’d better check for himself. He went back to the payphone and there was his credit card, untouched, just where he had left it two days ago!

Now I live in a country where thieves are everywhere. You could hardly get your credit card and wallet back into your pocket without someone’s hand in there first waiting to steal it!

The difference is down to two things, instilling a good moral attitude within the population and combining that with a zero-tolerance approach to anyone who steps out of line.

On a personal level you can take all the precautions you feel are necessary. But you also need get involved too. Complain to the bureaucrats and the politicians and do it regularly. Make their lives a misery for a while, they’ve been trying to do it to us for a long time, and get together with similar minded people and groups in your area and even on the social web. Whatever else you do, don’t sit back and accept it!

Okay, rant over. I don’t want people who read this to run and hide under the bed. That is both unnecessary and would be an admission that the bad people have won – and we can’t allow that. And anyway console yourselves in the knowledge that the thieves aren’t always that smart.

For example, this…..

Would-be burglars Matthew McNelly and Joey Miller hatched a flawless plan to break into an apartment in Caroll, Iowa. They also came up with the idea of drawing masks on their faces instead of buying masks. Money must have been tight!

However, the masterplan had one tiny flaw. These master criminals decided to draw on their ‘disguises’ using a permanent marker pen.

Police stopped their car after a witness reported two men ‘with painted faces’ were trying to break into the apartment. The caller added that the pair were wearing dark, hooded tops and had driven off in a big white car.

Police soon spotted a 1994 Buick Roadmaster matching the description and stopped it at gunpoint.

Inside they found the two men, both of whom had what appeared to be masks, beards or moustaches scrawled on to their faces.

McNelly, 23, and Miller, 20, were both charged with attempted second-degree burglary and released on bail. McNelly was also charged with drunk driving.

And this…..

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy.”

 

“Success is simply a matter of luck.

Ask any failure.” 

Earl Wilson

 

There has always been a fine line between bad luck and stupidity.

I’m not even sure that there is such a thing as luck. Some people say you make your own luck and to a great extent I think I would go along with that.

There are the people who seem to have “good luck” but who are in fact people who have just had the courage and the confidence to take advantage of an opportunity when they saw one. Even lottery winners wouldn’t have won anything if they hadn’t taken the chance and bought a ticket in the first place, despite knowing that the odds were firmly against them.

Then there are the people who complain about having “bad luck” but who are in fact people who just do stupid things and when they inevitably go wrong blame bad luck instead of their own stupidity.

I had an uncle like that. All his life he kept using that saying, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all”, but the truth he was just dumb and did dumb things. I have a feeling he’ll feature in future blogs.

For now, however, we’ll use another much more famous example. If ever there was a good illustration of both good luck and bad luck wrapped up in the same person it was in a man called Roy Cleveland Sullivan.

Roy was born in Greene County, Virginia on February 7, 1912. He was described as a brawny man with a broad, rugged face, who resembled the actor Gene Hackman.

In 1936 he started working as a ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginina in 1936. Nothing very unusual in that, in fact a nice job if you like the outdoors and nature and all that good stuff. You could say in that regard Roy was a lucky man.

But Roy’s nickname was the “Human Lightning Conductor” or “Human Lightning Rod” because, between 1942 and 1977, he was hit by lightning on seven different occasions (unlucky) and survived all of them (lucky). For this reason he was a proud entrant in the Guinness Book of World Records as the person struck by lightning more recorded times than any other human being. Two of his ranger hats are on display at two Guinness World Exhibit Halls in New York City and in South Carolina.

 

"The Human Lightning Rod"

 

The first documented lightning strike on Mr Sullivan occurred in April 1942. He was hiding from a thunderstorm in a newly built lookout tower that hadn’t yet been fitted with a lightning rod. The tower was hit seven or eight times and set on fire. Roy ran out of the tower, but just a few feet away received what he considered to be his worst lightning strike. It burned a half-inch strip all along his right leg, hit his toe, and left a hole in his shoe.

The second bolt of lightning to hit him happened in July 1969. This one was extremely unusual because he was hit while in his truck, driving on a mountain road. Normally in a lightning storm one of the safest places to be is in a vehicle, the body of a car or truck normally protects people as long as they are not touching any metal parts. In this case, however, the lightning first hit nearby trees and was deflected into the open window of the truck. The strike knocked Roy Sullivan unconscious, burned off his eyebrows, eyelashes, and most of his hair. The uncontrolled truck kept moving until it stopped near a cliff edge.

The following year, in 1970, Roy was again struck by lightning, this time while in his front yard. The lightning hit a nearby power transformer and from there jumped to his left shoulder, searing it.

The fourth strike occurred in 1972, while Roy was working inside a ranger station in Shenandoah National Park. It set his hair on fire; he tried to smother the flames with his jacket. Then he rushed to the rest room, but couldn’t fit under the water tap and so used a wet towel instead.

Not unnaturally, after the fourth strike Roy began to experience a degree of paranoia and believed that some “force” was trying to destroy him and, although he had never been a timid man, he acquired a fear of death. For months, whenever he was caught in a storm while driving his truck, he would pull over and lie down on the front seat until the storm passed. He also began to carry a can of water with him and believed that he would somehow attract lightning even if he stood in a crowd of people.

On August 7, 1973, while he was out on patrol in the park, Sullivan saw a storm cloud forming and drove away quickly. But the cloud, he said later, seemed to be following him. When he finally thought he had outrun it, he decided it was safe to leave his truck. But soon after he did so – you guessed it –  he was struck by a lightning bolt. He said that on this occasion that he actually saw the bolt that hit him. The lightning set his hair on fire, moved down his left arm and left leg and knocked off his shoe, although he said “it did not untie the lace”. It then crossed over to his right leg just below the knee. Still conscious, Sullivan crawled to his truck and poured the can of water, which he always kept there, over his head.

On June 5, 1976, lightning bolt number six hit him, this time injuring his ankle. It was reported that he saw a cloud, thought that it was following him, tried to run away, but was struck anyway.

On Saturday morning, June 25, 1977, Sullivan was fishing in a freshwater pool when he was struck for the seventh time. The lightning hit the top of his head, singeing his hair, and traveled down burning his chest and stomach. Sullivan turned to his car and then another unexpected thing happened — a bear appeared and tried to steal trout from his fishing line. Sullivan had the strength and courage to strike the bear with a tree branch. He claimed that this was the twenty-second time he hit a bear with a stick in his lifetime.

All seven strikes were documented by the superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, R. Taylor Hoskins, and were verified by doctors. Sullivan himself recalled that the first time he was struck by lightning was not in 1942 but much earlier. When he was a child, he was helping his father to cut wheat in a field, when a thunderbolt struck the blade of his scythe without injuring him, but because he could not prove the fact later, he never claimed it in his total.

Roy Sullivan’s wife was also struck once, when a storm suddenly arrived as she was out hanging clothes in their back yard. Yes, her husband Roy was helping her at the time, but this time he escaped unharmed.

Understandably in later in life Roy was avoided by people because of their fear of being hit by lightning, a fact that he said saddened him. He once recalled “For instance, I was walking with the chief ranger one day when lightning struck way off. The chief said, ‘I’ll see you later.'”

So, ‘bad luck’ to have been hit so many times by lightning or ‘good luck’ to have survived them all, take you pick.

 

Unfortunately the story doesn’t have a happy ending. On September 28, 1983, Roy Sullivan died at the age of 71 from self-inflicted gunshot wound over an unrequited love. It is not know whether the love was unrequited because the other party did not have the same feelings for Roy or whether they just feared getting hit by lightning!

 – – – – – – -

There is a similar tale about a British cavalry officer, a Major Summerford, who was fighting in the fields of Flanders during the last year of WW1, when a flash of lightning knocked him off his horse and paralysed him from his waist down.

Summerford moved to Vancouver, Canada, and six years later, whilst out fishing, he was again struck by lightning, this time paralysing the right side of his body.

After two years of recovery, one summer day he was out in a local park, when a storm suddenly blew up and Major Summerfield was again struck by lightning. This time he was permanently paralysed.

He died two years after this incident.

Four years after his death, his stone tomb was destroyed.

Yes, it was struck by lightning!

- – – – – – -

 

All a bit too morbid? Maybe we need to end on something a bit more light hearted. As “luck” would have it I remember a suitable (and clean) story. It’s a little bit funny, I hope.

 

Anthony S. Clancy of Dublin, was born on the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of the century, which also happened to be the seventh day of the week.

He was the seventh child of a seventh child, and he had seven brothers

That makes seven sevens.

On his twenty-seventh birthday he went to the race track.

The seventh numbered horse in the seventh race was named Seventh Heaven, and was handicapped seven stone.

The odds against Seventh Heaven were seven-to-one.

Clancy bet seven shillings anyway.

You guessed it, Seventh Heaven finished seventh!

 

 

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

 

Yesterday’s blog was about focus and stress. As a bit of a light start to the week here is a compilation of incidents about stress in the office that I thought were amusing.

Hope you enjoy them too.

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

Today’s blog is about focus and stress. Because focus, and the lack thereof, along with the lack of a little common sense, is the cause of many problems in today’s world, including a great deal of needless stress.

I’ll start off with a short conversation that helps to illustrate my point regarding focus in, I hope, an amusing way. And of course this blog being what it is, this conversation is one between two idiots. I actually overheard this one myself and I walked away from it feeling – I’m not sure how to describe it really – not quite stunned, but amazed? Yes, that’s it, amazed by what I’d heard.

Here it is,

Idiot 1: “Did you see the bit in the local paper where they found a 34 year old man dead in an alleyway near the football ground?”

Idiot 2:  “No, I don’t get the paper. Will he be all right?”

Idiot 1:  “They took him away in an ambulance, but he was dead.”

Idiot 2:  “Oh, sounds bad. Where did it happen?”

Idiot 1:  “In an alleyway.”

Idiot 2:  “What age was he?”

Idiot 1:  “I dunno.”

Now this went on for a while, longer than I could stick around and listen to it. And sadly it’s fairly typical of the level of conversation a lot of the time.

What exactly is the reason for things like this?

Is it because it is now beyond the ability of these people to process the information they hear? (Even, as in this example, the information that they themselves say!)

I used to think so, but now I put it down to the fact that they just don’t listen (even to themselves) and that their attention span can be measured in nano-seconds.

The ability to focus, particularly in the task at hand is a great gift. It is most definitely not the same thing as being smart or stupid. Everyone is not born with the ability to focus, it can be learned.

But it is the corner stone of everyone who is successful in their careers, whether that is as an entrepreneur, or in showbusiness, or medicine, or carpentry, or having a decent family life with lots of quality time. Without focus you’re all over the place, and find you haven’t time to enjoy anything.

I like to watch the auditions part of American Idol and The X-Factor and shows like that. Sometimes you want to hide behind the sofa it’s so bad, but most of the time it is both amusing and amazing. Amusing because of the utter and complete lack of natural talent that some of these hopefuls have, and amazing because they have no clue as to just how unsuited they are for a career in showbusiness.

As I said in the list above, showbusiness is just one of a multitude of careers in which focus is essential. Absolutely not one of the top artists in showbusiness has got there, and more importantly stayed there (I’m not talking about one-hit-wonders), on the strength of their talent alone. Their sustained success has included good management and natural talent, of course. But without that added factor of being focused on their job they would soon disappear into oblivion. For example, remember..er…you know the guy who… me neither!

It takes focus to be successful in the big things in life. And it takes focus to do the simple things too, like write a blog, or read one (thanks, by the way, much appreciated), or even as in the example above, to hold a sensible conversation.

A guy called David Allen (I don’t know which one) said that “Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they started.” And not finishing what they started is the result of not being able to focus on the job at hand.

Hmmm, I’ve gone off on a bit of rant again. Sorry, but that’s how I see it.

Have you had similar experiences? Send them along. Let the world know what is happening before it is too late.

20 of American Idol’s worst auditions

 

Probably the two most obnoxious people ever to appear on Britain’s X-Factor

And if you do audition, take your best friend with you