Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking forwards, looking back

It's that time of year again, when the papers and tv are full of round-ups of the best/worst/most noteable happenings of the year.  A review is almost compulsory, and back here in St Albans, looking after my Dad, time hangs heavy, hot and loud.

I feel as though I have had very little time this year.  Reading "The Quest of the Overself" by Paul Brunton, I find that I should be ensuring I have at least half an hour for meditation every day.  I rarely achieve that, and so I am determined that I should try, now that things have become less pressured.

My stepmother died on New Year's Eve a year ago.  Her room is still full of her clothes and toiletries, and the living room is full of a pot of ashes.  My stepsister, her only daughter, hasn't felt able to deal with her mother's things, and my sisters and I have felt reluctant to interfere, or to upset her, by dealing with them ourselves.  She did ring up and insist that my father and sister should collect her mother's ashes during the mother's day weekend, but they have sat here untouched since then.

It's hard to know how to handle this reluctance to deal with things.  She wasn't our mother, and didn't attempt to be.  My father doesn't seem unduly morose in the run up to the anniversary.  His way of dealing with my stepmother's death was to take every picture from the albums they had built up and throw away any which didn't have her in them.  Thus he has an enormous pile of pictures all ripped from their context, of my stepmother smiling at the camera.

During her funeral, the officiant - I have no idea if he was a deacon, vicar or priest - referred to the "happy-go-lucky" personality of my stepmother... which occasioned a few puzzled expressions among the family, wondering who in their right minds might have used that phrase for her. 

The problem is, that there wasn't much to say about her, apart from the fact that she worked for ATV for a while.  She smoked, she talked, she ordered my father around, she complained, and she smoked some more.  By the end of her life she had given up smoking, stayed in bed all the time, and watched soaps on tv.  She seemed annoyed that people were interrupting her soap-watching when they came to see her.

Her daughter and granddaughters were the only people she was ever positive about.  Generally, she seemed content with her life, but not particularly happy or unhappy.  Certainly not happy-go-lucky.

Hopefully my stepsister will feel able to tackle her mother's possessions in due course.  It would certainly make life easier if there were space in the wardrobes and drawers for things to be.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Being there

Welcome to the tropical paradise which is my father's bungalow in St Albans.   He is ill at the moment, and so the family didn't think he should be alone.  My mother (his ex-wife) stayed last week, my sister came over the weekend, and I arrived yesterday.

It's -5 in the shade outside, I awoke to a hoar frost which had edged the leaves with a sparkling white fringe.  So it came as a bit of a shock last night to step across the threshold and be hit by a wall of heat, like Hawaii in summertime.

He started off with a chest infection, moved to a possible bladder infection and then revealed a badly infected toe on Friday night, something he had apparently been nursing for weeks without telling anyone.  My sister operated on him over the weekend and no, Doctor, she doesn't have any medical qualifications.

He seems to be feeling better than he did last week, but is terribly terribly weak... only just about managing to make it to his chair this morning. 

I must admit I was anxious about coming.  I love my father, and he's a kind, generous and loving man, but he is also addicted to the Daily Telegraph (and insists on reading great chunks of it out), plays the tv at 90 decibels (and shouts at it) and is normally quite exercised about various tings in the news.  The Labour government really used to get him going; now he mostly reserves his ire for the EU. 

I haven't done a lot of work today, although I do have a broadband connection.  It is pretty hard to keep my concentration up under the current conditions, not least because I have to go somewhere to try to find some oxygen every so often.  Still, the doctor came, and prescribed stiffer drugs for the infection, which I fetched from the Chemists, taking pictures of the amazing frost along the way.

He's eaten a little dinner, but is mostly not very hungry.  I hope he will feel better tomorrow.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Power and powerlessness in the NHS

The Guardian today reports the tragedy of twins dying because of a mistake over drug administration, at Stafford Hospital, already at the centre of an investigation into poor standards of care.  The investigation into allegedly hundreds of unnecessary deaths at the Staffordshire hospital, is looking into why so many NHS bodies didn't act sooner to halt the "terrible standard of service inflicted on patients...".

Whenever anyone says anything like that, I am transported back ten years, to a time when my husband was admitted to hospital with an abdominal obstruction.  He was seen in the Accident and Emergency department by a junior member of a team of doctors who weren't from the Gastroenterology department, and admitted to one of the wards in Hillingdon Hospital.

There he was literally used as a guinea pig by several junior doctors from that team.  At one point they planned to give him an explosive laxative to try to shift the obstruction, and it was only when I asked them what would happen to my husband if the obstruction was not to be shifted by the use of laxatives that they decided to abort that procedure.

He was put on conservative treatment, which meant nil by mouth and drip only for fluid.  I frequently found that his drip had run out and no one had replaced it... something which gradually increased the pain from his stomach.  I would try to insist on the drip being replaced rapidly because he is a patient who "tissues up" very quickly... if a drip is left unused for more than half an hour, it become unusable.  Thus often the simple job of replacing the fluid turned into a lengthy fight for him to have a new drip inserted and the bag replaced - often there wasn't a doctor available to redo the drip, and he waited hours to have it inserted... and then the fluid wasn't increased to take account of the fact that he had had none at all for several hours.

I complained about his treatment, and had one nurse tell me that she often didn't drink all day and it didn't do her any harm... and another nurse tell me that the nurses were fed up with me complaining because they had some "really sick" patients on the same ward.

I watched my husband deteriorate day by day, and called in all the friends and family with any experience of nursing or medicine to see if anything would make a difference.  By the time he had been in hospital a week, he was vomiting faeces, weak, dehydrated and deteriorating before my eyes.

I wont go into the gory details, but there were many incidents... my husband was screaming in agony one day when all the nurses were in handover meeting and ignoring the bells, and so all the men in the cubicle of the ward, threw things and shouted until someone came.  The man across the ward was constantly complaining about pain, and the nurses laughed at him and told him to use his morphine pump... he complained that it wasn't working and they ignored him... only realising when the hadn't had to change the syringe after three days that it hadn't ever worked at all.

The low point was when I was sent with John in a wheelchair to the X-Ray department and the X-ray staff were so kind that it made me cry... they realised he should never have been made to get into a wheelchair, and his drip should not have been disconnected for the journey.

A doctor came in to see him and when I said I was very concerned about his condition, said:  "Mrs Berry, are YOU a doctor?  I can see him, he doesn't seem that ill to me."  I turned to him and said that I didn't need to be a doctor to see that he was deteriorating day by day... and that looking at him from the end of the bed was not the same as examining him.

He examined him and suddenly, he was an emergency.  It seemed that even though they were seriously concerned about his condition, he wasn't scheduled for surgery until the Friday, and then there seemed to be some sort of hold up relating to the drip kit for theatre... I overheard one of the nurses say that the system was that they had to turn in the old one to get a new one, and no one knew where it was... the anaesthetist was becoming concerned that my husband wasn't in a fit state for surgery and I was becoming concerned about her cancelling the operation, because I knew he would die without it, and so I disclosed to the anaesthetist what was going on and she obtained the necessary theatre kit.

He had his operation and was fortunate enough to go into the high dependency unit as they had a spare bed, instead of back onto the ward.  They removed necrotic tissue that no laxative would have shifted, and he was sewn back up.  Unfortunately I watched him deteriorate over the next 24 hours, and eventually watched as his blood pressure dropped to an impossibly low level.  The nurse was simply recording the numbers, and I asked why nothing was being done about it.  He said that the machinery must be faulty because he would be dead with such low numbers.  As a tactic, I had hysterics to draw attention to my husband...something I have never done before and hope never to have to do again.

It turned out that the machinery was right.  They began to push blood into him to compensate for the low blood pressure, and warned me that things looked bad.  My family gathered in the waiting room alongside the intensive care unit, and I went to see them, just as one of the surgeons happened along.  He met John's brother and made some throwaway comment like... "of course your brother is a much bigger man than you...", at which we both looked a question at him and said..."no, they're about the same stature and build" at which point the surgeon rushed away.  John was bleeding into the stomach and had an emergency operation to fix the nick in his testicular artery.

He had been so dehydrated during the first operation that when the surgeon nicked his artery, he didn't bleed.  Once he had been hydrated again, he began to bleed internally.  I began to wonder if anyone in the hospital ever used logic to solve problems... obviously the blood that was being pumped into him at regular intervals was going somewhere, and there was a reason why his blood pressure remained dangerously low.

Over the next two weeks that my husband was in hospital, I talked to a lot of people.  I talked to surgeons, to nurses, to health care assistants, to porters.  No one in the hospital felt that they had the power to change the things that needed changing.  Nearly all of them recognised the things that were wrong with the hospital, none of them felt that there were ways of feeding that information to the people who took decisions... in fact, my experience since then with hospitals has led me to feel that the whole management system of the NHS is designed to prevent the information that the workers know from getting to the people who matter.  The hierarchy is  there to give people a feeling of prestige and status, but it acts as a wall to information coming from below.  The middle management hear the complaints of both the workers and the management and absorb both instead of conveying information - in fact they more or less see that as their responsibility, to protect the management from the staff, and the staff from the management.

An example of this was when my husband returned to hospital to have his colostomy reversed.  When he came out of surgery, he was put into a private room, and I was told that he ought to have oxygen, but that they were short of the little disposible widgets which are required to be able to fit the oxygen mask to the equipment and so could I please pinch him from time to time to ensure he was breathing enough to keep his oxygen intake up.  When, despite my pinching, the alarm kept sounding for low oxygen, their solution was to turn off the alarm.

I went to the board meeting of the hospital, and reported this event to them.  They expressed shock and horror.  They had invested a huge amount of money to be able to pipe oxygen to each of the rooms and wards in the hospital, what was the point of that investment if patients weren't reaping the benefit, all because of a £3 widget?  I was asked to talk to one of the staff about it.  I duly rang up and talked to someone in the administration... and the first thing they told me was that they also worked as an agency nurse in the hospital and they were fully aware of the problem.  Fully aware, doing nothing about it.

I have come across this time and time again, in hospitals, that people are fully aware of the problems which are putting patients lives at risk, and yet do nothing about it because it isn't their responsibility - they don't feel responsibility, or any power to change what is happening.In that case it was all about budgets:  the wards hd a budget for the widgets, and if they exceeded the budget they ran out of widgets, QED.

After my husband was released from hospital I talked to people in the community, his GP, the local community health council, all sorts of people, to see if any of them felt that they had the power to change things.  None of them did.  Most especially the local GPs who felt that they had to maintain a good relationship with their local hospital in order to best serve the majority of their patients, even when they could see things going wrong.

This is at the heart of the problem... you can't expect other NHS organisations and practices to complain and report problems, because they fear that the good relationship they have with the institution will be destroyed.  That's human nature.

I have since had similarly awful experiences with Great Ormond Street, one of the most famous hospitals in the world, but by that time the Community Health Councils had been disbanded, and there was a Patient advocacy and liaison service in the hospital.  I had the greatest difficulty in getting hold of them, and despite many emails, no satisfaction.  It wasn't that I wanted to be compensated financially in either case.  My aim was that I wanted to prevent another patient from suffering the way we had.  I failed in that aim, on both occasions.

My belief is that the only way to ensure that problem hospitals like the Stafford Hospital come to the attention of the authorities in good time, is to set up a truly independent inspection service made up of both doctors and laypeople.  They should inspect hospitals outside their own area, where there is no possibility of damage to the relationships which doctors rely on, and they should be briefed not to establish a relationship of any sort with the hospital they are inspecting.  One of the problems with the Community Health Councils was that the people inspecting hospitals had a stronger and closer relationship with the people they were inspecting than with the community they were there to represent.

There is no perfect system, but some hospitals do better at this than others, and the ones which do well ought to be teaching the ones who do badly.  Where things go wrong, they should be looked at, and somehow patients, and consultants and nurses and administators and GPs and everyone involved needs to feel that if there is a problem it is everyone's responsibility, not no-one's.

I still have flashbacks to the two incidents which involved my nearest and dearest, and both of them survived.  I can't imagine how awful it must be, how much guilt and grief the surviving family members must have about the people who died needlessly at the Stafford Hospital.  But I do now that it is possible to change this, and that we all have a part to play.  The contact I have had with Americans in the course of my work in virtual worlds has led me to value the NHS and the services it provides.  It is a wonderful thing, even if parts of it need overhauling.  It would be possible, I do believe, to nurture it in such a way that we keep the things which make it such a unique institution, and change the things which let it down.

I have met some wonderful people in the course of my life, working for the NHS.  Dedicated, caring, clever, and committed.  Systems that let those people down and make them feel powerless, need to be changed, and I hope the inquiry at Stafford will help to do that.  It would be good to make those relatives feel that something positive can emerge from their losses.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What's a twitter newspaper?

That would be this.  Looks a whole lot more interesting and less doom and gloom than a traditional newspaper!

Friday, October 22, 2010


Watch this film about a person who made a robotic curtain for his workshop, which moves along with the passers-by and marvel at how humans love to play.  They play and learn things about how the curtain follows and reacts.  I am convinced that humans learn best when they are allowed to play, and that our schools should be more like those children's museums which are full of stuff to play and interact with. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Great article in the Guardian recounts an interview between Jon Ronson and Natascha Kampusch on her new book about her imprisonment, 3096 days.

It seems inexplicable that someone should kidnap and imprison someone and yet appear so normal on the outside, but instead of finding this inexplicable, Natascha explains that it was that gap between the person he was inside and the person he was on the outside that was the cause of his madness.  He couldn't reconcile the two, couldn't be the person he appeared to be, or yet the person he really was, and so she filled the widening gulf in between the two personas.  It is a profound insight which does ring true.  As people often say on forums nowadays *THIS*.

I have tried and tried to work out what happened when one day I suddenly saw the damage that can be caused by ordinary schooling, what it was that spoke to me so profoundly and made me know for sure that it would be wrong to continue to send my children to school.  It's this:  that schooling creates a widening gulf between the inner life and the outer life.  It insists that children learn certain things, behave in a certain way, gain acceptance and praise by conforming, by moulding their outer selves into something the schools can deal with.

The problem is that most of us are not conformist, not interested in the things which school wants us to learn, and not naturally as quiet and compliant as a good record at school demands.  How well we deal with the demands made upon us at an early age, may influence our success or failure for years, decades to come.

Many of us are therefore imprisoned inside a persona which enables us to function well within a school environment, which is entirely different from our natural persona, and which imposes a dual or multiple personality on us in order to succeed.  I don't mean to imply that Priklopil's madness was caused by his schooling, I don't know when or how he became the twisted kidnapper, rather than a fantasist... but I can't believe it can have helped. 

That gap between the person we know ourselves to be and the person the world sees, is responsible for an awful lot of evil in the world.  Whether our self-esteem gap means that we value ourselves much less or much more, it leads to trouble, depression, megalomania.

I feel that we need desperately to understand the difference between schooling, which involves telling children what it is right for them to be interested in, what it is right for them to learn, what it is right for them to do, and education, which tries to recognise each individual child as unique, and to draw out their unique gifts and talents.

The first takes a child, ignores their uniqueness and tries to mould it into the ideal, which appears to be an academic - something a relatively tiny proportion of the population is naturally inclined to be - and the second allows people to find themselves.  The first requires the system to ignore who a person is, inside.  The second allows children to align their exterior with their interior world, and to become the person they are meant to be.

I knew immediately which model I wanted my children to be subject to, once I recognised the difference... and it was literally like scales falling from my eyes.  I realised that a lot of what I had believed about schooling was merely propaganda, not what I had experienced myself.  I'm wondering how long it will take for the education industry itself to recognise the same thing.

I think that our experiences and our view of the world is influenced by the message we receive from other people about who we are, and so it is hardly surprising that Natascha appears to be somewhat introspective and disassociated from herself, observing herself.  She speaks in the interview about her irritation that her empathy for her captor is seen as a possible symptom of Stockholm syndrome, instead of a practical strategy for survival, which is what she thinks it was.  I wonder if she is right that her ability to see her captor as a flawed person first, was responsible for her survival; to have survived so long in a place which was virtually undiscoverable, means she must have been offering her captor something that he needed. Is that wrong or an indication of some sort of mental failure?  Or simply practical?

That she was psychologically capable of escaping her captor, after 3096 days in captivity, speaks of her strength and her will to survive the ordeal.  Many people, with much flimsier cages, never escape.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Does competition raise standards?

I was listening to some government suit on the radio yesterday, talking about the coming changes to the NHS, and he said something that you hear all the time:  competition drives up standards.  Does it?  Does it really?  I have been thinking about the other areas where there is no natural competition and the government has tried to provide some, to see if I think this has caused standards to rise.  I really can't say that they have.  The Post Office, British Telecom, and the National Rail network all seem to me to have lowered their standards since forced to compete. 

The Gas and Electricity companies, who still pipe the same gas and electricity into our homes, don't seem any different for the notional competition which has been introduced, except for the proliferation of scamming salesmen who tour the country trying to persuade elderly people to switch to another supplier without realisng what they are doing.

I've become a bit of a sceptic when it comes to the likelihood of competition driving up standards where there is no real competition... where the contest is simply contrived by administration and bureaucracy.  My feeling is that the main interest of bureaucrats is to create more bureacracy, and the main job of administrators is to justify their posts.  I don't see there being massive changes for the better and standards being driven up.

Even in the free market, I think a lot of the things which we are told about supply and demand are mostly bullshit.  Let me tell you a story.

I have enormous breasts.  I'm not saying that to draw attention to myself, but it is a matter of verifiable fact that the size of my breasts far exceeds the sizes stocked by such high street companies as Messrs Marks and Spencer.  Once upon a time, in 1998, when I was new to the internet and exploring online forums, I stumbled into a forum apparently for big breasted women.  I thought to find fellow sufferers, sharing tips on places to buy our corsetry without breaking the bank, and how to live with big breasts without breaking our backs.

Of course, it wasn't in the nature of a self-help group, but a group for men who like big breasted women and - as far as I could see - a bunch of women pretending to be accessorised with large breasts.  When I gladly disclosed the size of mine one of the people in the chat room offered me two chairs - one for me and one for my breasts, and the banter in the room made it plainly obvious that they did not believe me.  I was a little bit naive then... I am a lot wiser now.

Anyway... there is an international company of bra manufacturers which boasts that their Doreen design is the best selling bra in the world, with so many thousands sold every year.  It is little wonder, as these bras are the only bras commonly available for people of my size.  It isn't possible to obtain other bras unless you pay two, three or four times as much - and even then it may be impossible to get the right size.

This means that although there is a demand - a strong demand - from women of my size for different, prettier, more feminine bras to accommodate women with enormous breasts, the only type of bra available is this one.  Thus it becomes the most successful bra in the world, not because it is the bra demanded by women, but because it is the only choice... a hobson's choice of this bra or no bra drives women to buy it.  Or else small children may die.  I could easily crush half a dozen five years olds if I run without a bra at all.

So supply and demand doesn't necessarily mean having what you want supplied to you... it may mean having whatever is available supplied to you as the best of a bad bunch of options.

When competition is added into the mix, it tends to be that prices drop rather than competition raising standards.  If another bra manufacturer muscled in on the business, this would be the most obvious way to beat the others - by dropping the price.

I'd be very interested to know if anyone had any examples of times when competition between companies or suppliers, had actually been proved to raise standards.  Let me know in the comments if you can find any examples.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New thinking

I woke up this morning, turned on my computer, and did all the things I no longer evn think about:  they are second nature to me.  Checked my email, checked the news, looked on Facebook to see what people have posted there.  Followed a couple of links, one of which took me to the RSAnimation of Sir Ken Robinson's talk on the new paradigm for education which is here:

Then, I stumbled a couple of times... a funny about celebrating Columbus day by walking into someone else's houe and declaring that we live here now... and a trailer for a film about a film on David Suzuki which appears to be about population growth (and how it is too late to do anything about it, maybe?)

I realised that I have voluntarily submitted to two talks and that in the course of a week I voluntarily submit to many more - because they are about subjects which interest me, or because they are amusing or well made, or popular.

I do think it is true that people who home educate go through a conversion process, where they have to leave their old paradigm of education behind.  It saddens me that Sir Ken Robinson always talks in terms of public education as though there is no current alternative to the industrial machine of education which is provided by the government.  There is, and it is working, and it is called home education.  He barely ever acknowledges that it exists, when I think it could add weight to the idea that getting rid of ideas about what it is right for children to learn, and trying the education as growth model of education, works far better for individuals than the current model.

In any case, it seems to me that the education industry is struggling to keep u in some areas, particularly IT and computers... they can't print the textbooks fast enough.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Watching with the world

There are some events good or bad, which transcend national barriers.  Walking on the moon, 9/11, the Asian Tsunami, some sporting events.  Yesterday the whole world held its breath as they watched one of those events, as 33 men were delivered back to the world after more than 65 days underground.  They travelled up through an unimaginably small constricted shaft crafted by human ingenuity and love - yes, there seemed to be an outpouring, a no-cost-spared unconditional love extended to the miners and their plight, which we all shared.

This was a thoroughly modern rescue, with Flickr sets of the miners as they emerged.  We'd got to know the stories from a collective mugshot of the sort normally only seen on crimewatch. It was, as someone remarked, big brother, but this time, we care. 

The story of the first isolated 17 days of the drama has yet to be told in detail, but it is clear that they must have had iron wills to eke out the small stores they had down there to keep themselves alive.  The President (a billionaire! the BBC kept reporting, as though they thought he might have better things to do than to wait) was glowing with pride, as the men were brought up to the surface.  Even the liguistically talented Tim of the BBC couldn't dent his joy, which seemed genuine and despite his job, unaffected. 

I watched the rescue for hours at a time, crying and rejoicing with each man that was rescued, vicariously experiencing the rapture of the families whose men were returned from the depths below.

There are questions to be asked in the coming weeks about the dark record of mining around the world, the lack of health and safety protection in Chile, but in China and other countries too, but yesterday was pure celebration, that 33 men trapped underground were rescued because their families, Chile and the world wouldn't let them down and wouldn't leave them to their fate.  I felt proud to be human, and that doesn't happen often.

Perhaps the President is right, and this event has put Chile on the map, so that Americans and Europeans don't vaguely indicate South America when asked where Chile is.  Perhaps it has raised the profile of the country and of his presidency. I don't know, and I don't think that is important.  For today is for celebrating, for hugging and appreciating your nearest and dearest... and seeking out those cool shades which made every one of them look like a film star, and not a trapped miner released to the surface.  It is rumoured that the advertising value to Oakley shades is about 40 million dollars, and I shouldn't be the least surprised.  On each occasion the BBC showed the mugshot of a Chilean miner before the disaster, and then the live footage showed someone -young, old and inbetween - whose appearance was radically improved, whether by loss of weight or the sunglasses, who looked amazing.  If they don't suddenly become popular all over the world, I shall be very surprised.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Goodbye to Berlin Classic Serial

I listened to the Classic serial on Radio 4 over the weekend, which was Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin, which was the book that Caberet was based upon.  It was good, although quite different from Caberet in tone and atmosphere. It was in two parts, and they're both available for a few days more on the iplayer.

I was particuarly taken with the piece of music at the end of the play, and so listened to see if they gave a credit to the composer or musicians.  Although a pianist was mentioned, I realised that this couldn't account for the music at the end.  I searched the web page for the play, which credited the actors, the sound designer and producer... but made no mention of the music.

I haven't been a big a fan of Radio4 facebook, mainly because of the changes to the iplayer, which I hate... but when I posted the question about the music from the play, Steve from Radio4 facebook said he would try to find out what it was, and duly returned with the details.  In the past when I have enquired about music used in BBC productions I have been unable to get the details, so I was very impressed.  Thank you, Steve!

The music is from an album called Menschen am Sonntag by Trio Bravo, and their official website is here.  You can hear the music on Spotify, and buy it in the usual places. I love Vorspann particularly, which is the piece heard right at the end of the play when the credits are read.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Domenic Johansson

I received the sad news this morning that the judge in the case of Domenic Johansson had decided against returning him to his family.

The reasons stated are that he had dental caries (must be a bad parent), failure to vaccinate (must be a careless parent) and homeschooling (sic).  That's it, that's enough in the nightmarish hell that is Sweden, to get your child taken away from you... and placed into foster care.

There was a programme in the UK earlier this week which dealt with the grief and loss of children in the care system in the UK who wanted to be with their mothers but are prevented by social workers.  I can't say I watched it because I am too much of a coward - since I had children myself I find it very hard to deal with cruelty and abuse of children, and the abuse which affects me more than any other is the separation imposed by social workers on families who may be fallible and faulty but are not abusive. 

Obviously any sane person wants a child who is actually being abused and damaged by their parent to be taken to a place of safety, but the hard truth is that our care system is so bad that in some cases children would rather be with abusive parents than in the care system, shuttled around from one place to another, with no security, no love and nobody putting them first.

The system will not love these children, neither the social workers nor the foster parents who may only last a couple of months.  It seems that the system is psychopathic as an institution, and is incapable of responding to the needs of the children within it.  What is more, the social workers seem to assume that tearing children away from families where their care has been deficient in their eyes is a better option than supporting the families to keep the children.

Where a child is actually abused - is being hit, or really psychologically damaged by abusive parents who neglect and don't care for them - it is understandable that the system takes the child into care, however poor the standard of care they can offer.  But where a child is simply not being cared for the way the state prefers - not being vaccinated, not attending the dentist - that's a whole different ball game, and for any loving parent, the idea that some sort of idelogical justification for removal of a child should succeed, where there is no basis for believing that any actual abuse has taken place, is terrible.

Some time ago, a women went on the run with her children because the social services (who were called in by the woman herself) had taken her first child into care on the basis that she had "allowed" her alcoholic husband to shout at her in the presence of the child.  She had eventually got him back, but they were now threatening to take her children into care because they believed that she had re-eastablished contact with her husband. 

This woman is a loving, normal parent, who hasn't been accused of any abuse at all, and yet these social workers believed that they would be acting in the children's interest to take them away from their loving parent and put them into care in the belief that this was a better alternative to potentially having to deal with an alcoholic father.

To me, it seems that the social workers in that case must be emotionally blind, or totally unable to understand the importance of normal human bonding between child and parent.  How could they believe that it was better to tear those children away from a loving parent than to offer them support?  They also pursued the woman around the world, until she settled in Ireland and obtained a judgement from the local court that she was a fit person to care for her children and the UK social workers gave up. 

I have personally supported people on the run from English social workers, whose main problem seems to have been that they home educate.  It is becoming worryingly frequent that social workers appear to believe that home education in itself is an abuse. 

I can't imagine any punishment worse than having your children removed, and being prevented from normal contact with them.  Children grow gradually away from their parents and achieve independence in a natural growth pattern... tearing them away before they are ready to be independent is as bad as uprooting a plant... you may not see the roots with your eyes in the case of a child, but they are there, anyway.

I have written the following letter to to following group of people:
Dear Sir,
I do not speak Swedish, I am sorry.  I wish to write in protest at the continued detention of Domenic Johanssen, for reasons which seem entirely inadequate to me.

I am a home educator from England who does not vaccinate my children because I do not believe that the efficacy and safety of vaccinations is proved.  I did vaccinate my eldest child, but when he had a very bad reaction to a vaccination, I ceased vaccinating.  That eldest child now has Crohn's disease and I entertain the possibility that it was caused by the bad reaction to the vaccination.

Children in loving families can be provided with no substitute by the state.  Even if the state disagrees with the way in which a parent is bringing up their children, if they have the good of the child at heart, they must recognise that they cannot supply to the child the love and the care which those loving parents are providing. 

I thought of Sweden as a liberal and fair country before this case, but the treatment of the Johansson family has changed my opinion.  It is impossible for me to reconcile the view I had of the country with the actions which have been taken in the Johansson case.

I beg you to look within your hearts and to see if you cannot do something to reunite these people with their son?  I know that you must have loving families of your own and be able to imagine how awful it is for the Johanssons to be separated from their child.

Please look into your hearts and see if you think that the reasons given for separating them are good enough to deprive a child of a loving family? 

I have three children, and I have home educated them for ten years.  I have found the experience challenging but amazing, and we have all benefitted enormously from the opportunities which home education gives us.  We used to attend a woodland activities centre one day a week, at which the children were able to learn survival skills, do arts and crafts, drama and group games, and at which I taught art and craft skills to mixed groups of children from 3years old to 18, with and without special needs. We had a wonderful time.

My children have learned to get on with children of all ages, and not just their year group in school, and they have been free to pursue their own interests.  My older son is about to start a degree with the Open University on industrial design.  He is a talented guitar player, and very skilled in making webpages.  My middle son has friends all over the country and travels to see them.  He is a magician and musician and makes his own clothing. My youngest child is 15 and is a daughter.  She has never been to school, and is an accomplished artist, a very knowledgeable football fan who wants to be a sports journalist, and is working towards qualifications to do that.

People worry that parents of home educated children may have a lot of influence over them, and it is true that they may, as children tend to model their behaviour on the people they spend time with.  I dislike all sport and football in particular, however, and yet my daughter felt able to pursue this as her main interest and the basis for her future career, and I have always supported her completely.  I acknowledge her unique identity and her right to be the best person she can become, in whatever field she chooses for herself.

I know that it is difficult when faced with people who do not follow what the mainstream of society follows and to accept that it is possible to do things another way, but I truly and honestly believe that parents who love and care for their children are irreplaceable, and must be allowed to make decisions for their families.  Sometimes the mainstream will be in disagreement with their approaches, but sometimes the mainstream takes time to catch up.  How long ago was it that people thought that beating your children was essential to bringing them up in the right way?  Would anyone sane espouse that approach nowadays?

I believe that schooling will change radically over the next 100 years.  I don't think it will be in the form we know it at the moment.  I think that home education is far closer to the form of future education than the current form of schooling.  That Domenic's parents home educate ought not to be a reason for taking the child into foster care.

Please, please take responsibility for the case of Domenic Johansson and examine your heart closely to see if you have done the right thing.  I don't believe that you have, but I recognise your right to know for yourself if you have.

I believe that there is that of God in everyone and I appeal to the best part of you to re-examine your actions and the possibility that you may have been wrong.  Please help to release Domenic back to his loving family.

with love and light to you
Fee Berry,,,,,,,,,,,,

It's the second email I have sent;  I received no acknowledgement or reply to my previous attempt.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


I've been blogging for 12 years, having started when I got my first internet-enabled computer in 1998.  Then, I was one of only seven bloggers in the UK, and nearly all the blogs which were accessible online were from Americans.

I've blogged in the form of a diary or online journal, I've blogged for money, I've blogged to provide information.  I realise that nowadays most of my blogging is done on Facebook for 50 friends and acquaintances instead of publically, on my blog, and that is the reason that I have not been blogging as much - when I have a link to share or a thought to express I tend to do it in the comfort of my Facebook profile instead of here.

I suppose that has advantages and disadvantages, but I need to get back into the swing of blogging, because I need to blog professionally again, and so I am trying to get into the habit of sharing things here.  So here I am.

I was sent a link to a class project video which is set to Saltwater by Julian Lennon. I'm afraid that as I don't listen to music radio and I hardly watch television nowadays, I haven't really come across his music before, which sounds a lot like a pastiche of Beatles music... but I rather like this video and the music behind it, and so I will embed it here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Time slips by

Time slips by me, wearing a disguise
I don't notice him stuffing my youth into a pocket as he passes.
Time slips by me and covers my eyes with magical glasses
So I don't notice the lines arriving on my face, only on the faces of others.

Time slips by and takes with it my friends' children, suddenly tall
Suddenly adult, suddenly married with children of their own.
Time slips and the hours turn to days turn to weeks turn into months and it is suddenly eight months since I touched you, since I kissed you, since we said goodbye.

Time went past and suddenly I am old,
Peering into misty autumn days, worrying about pensions and arthritis.
Time and tide wait for no one and the truth is that there has only ever been this moment... this now...
That even as I grasp hold of it, time snatched back into the past.
Remember when your grandmother told you time flies...tempus fugit... yesterday?
Time flies, it was forty, no forty-five years ago and seven seemed like an age to aspire to.

Living in the moment as we all have to do has dragged you to this place, and whether all your moments spill out of time's pocket at the moment of your death and parade past you in their toe-curling glory, or whether they simply fade into the winds of eternity at your passing, remember to live before you die, experience the moments that you have to come and breathe in the pleasure of living.

Tomorrow and tomorrow are unravelling from the tapestry of time, all you can do as they pass you by and snatch your moments away is to be alert to their passing and kiss the ones you love.


For the second morning running, I have ended my dreams with a nightmare of children hanging from trees.  It wakes me immediately, although I know that impressions of time are distorted in dreams.  It's unusual for me to have nightmares and doubly unusual for them to be recurring, the same images.  It makes an impression.

Some years ago I had a series of prophetic dreams which seemed to foretell ridiculous things, like the forthcoming television programmes and newspaper articles I would read.  If it was a superpower, it seemed like a pretty useless one.

This has a different atmosphere altogether, but it is equally useless.  I don't know if the children are real, I don't know where they are, or in what time period.  The shock wakes me, and so I don't stay tuned into the image for long enough to find anything useful out.

From time to time I have had lucid dreams... perhaps I can invoke one and find out what's going on....  The images stay with me after I wake up.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The light invisible

For years I stayed up to watch the Perseids, Leonids, Geminids, the meteor showers which regularly fall on the earth, and nearly always we found that the clouds obscured our view.

I was excited when it looked as though the forecast for last night's Perseids favoured the meteor-watcher: clear skies at 1am, perfect.

At around 11pm I went outside to see what I could see.  Unfortunately, my neighbour across the road seems to have installed bright, white lights in both her upstairs landing and her porch.  I didn't know that sort of incandescent light was still legal.  Certainly she seemed to have got hold of some old fashioned strontium searchlights which seared my eyes and blinded me to anything less bright.

By judicious positioning of my garden chair so that our back gate obscured the lights, I was able to see into the sky, but the light pollution from the general glow of the city, along with the bright light from my neighbour, faded the Perseids into the background for all but the brightest of the meteors.

People who live in the countryside have no clue how little can be seen in the night sky over London.  Actually, it makes stargazing considerably easier in one respect: only the main constellations can be seen from my back garden, and so Ursa Major and Minor, Cassiopeia and the Pleiades are easily spotted.  The last time I stood in a darkened back garden in the back of beyond, I not only felt terribly exposed, but I couldn't identify the constellations I know so well because they were cluttered up with stars I have no hope of seeing from Uxbridge.

My sons got cold and bored very quickly, and went back inside.  After another 15 minutes of straining to see something!  Anything!  I went inside, disappointed to learn that over all these years, it wouldn't have been possible to watch the light show even in favourable conditions. I saw about four, in over an hour, and one of those may have been a plane.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Brain dead comedy

Maybe I am missing some essential part of my funny bone, but I watched the first episode of Roger and Val have just got in, and hated it.  I didn't find it funny, or entertaining or enjoyable.  It was like watching two intellectually-challenged children play house...badly.

How is it that people who are paid to watch television and commission programmes, couldn't see that Sherlock was brilliant and this is dross?  How can Life of Riley have been commissioned for a second series when it was so bad that I wouldn't watch it if it was the last thing on television, and I was duct-taped to a wall?

I began to wonder if Roger and Val was maybe brilliant in a Pinter-esque way... but no, it was as bad as it seemed, and that's very very bad indeed. On a scale from one to ten, where Sherlock scores 10 and Life of Riley scores 1, Roger and Val score 1.5.  And that's only because I like Dawn French.

My favourite for a sequel?  Roger and Val have just fallen under a bus, taking the cast of Life of Riley with them.

Deep think

I have been thinking deep thoughts recently, about life and death and the nature of karma and whether I can make sense of the way people say it is. 

I have a dilemma, and it is a dilemma I have faced before, where the collective wisdom of the establishment is pitted against my spiritual beliefs.  Is it ok, and healthier, to demand your rights, do your thing, and ignore the effect upon others, because they are adults too?  Is it ok to care about yourself first and put everything else second, or is it better to care about everyone else first and put yourself last?

I believe in reincarnation as a possibility, and I know that at this point many people would wash their hands of me as being too stupid or ethereally hypnotized to be worth reading (or talking to).  But I have had a spontaneous memory of a past life, and so I believe it may be a possibility.  In any case, if one believes in an eternal soul,it seems to me to be no great step to believe in reincarnation.  If the soul outlives the body it doesn't seem that hard to imagine the soul might find another.

I have always had an interest in the spiritual side of life, have always been aware that there is more to it than the three dimensional world we can observe and touch with our hands and feelings.  I have never restricted myself to conventional religion, having quite an aversion to rules and rituals, which is probably why I found myself a Quaker at 37.

I believe in experiential faith, and it was quite a relief once I found that Quakers do not have a dogma or anything that they expect others to believe, feeling it is right for people to believe what they believe, whatever that is. Strangely a lot of the Quakers I have met have been very similar in belief, very open to new things, open to other people, open to new light, wherever they may find it. 

But over the past ten or twenty years, I have realised that the proportion of people I have known who are involved in non-mainstream beliefs - the wiccans, the pagans, the druids, the people of no particular spiritual home, the new agers, the hippy trailers, the people who follow their hearts to ashrams and eastern practices...the proporion of people I have known has grown and grown, till they are the largest group and far outnumber the Catholics, the Church of England-goers and the Quakers, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs.

And something has been changing over that time, which coincides with the gradual growth of the internet, and the online thing... some conventions and rules have sprung up and been adopted by the community so that people talk about them as though they were somehow written in stone, a constitution for the floopy majority who talk about people having chosen their current lot in life, having incarnated with a soul group, having come into the world at this time, with these parents, in order to learn something significant to their spiritual life, their soul's imprint and future.

It fascinates me because I like to wonder "how would that work, in practice?"  If it is true that we incarnate many times, with the same group of people, working out our differences, how would that work, actually?

The convention that people may have birth marks which relate to the way they died in the past life has become widely known and part of what I think of as reincarnation mythology, for even though I believe in reincarnation, I still don't know that it works this way.  Do we always look like our previous incarnation? For that also has become the norm, to the point where someone will claim that one person is the reincarnation of another, even if one was born before the other died.  There's faith for you. 

The problem I see in looking at things this way, in thinking about reincarnation, is that the person I am now, the person typing this out, thinking these thoughts, this person is me and I can define who I am because I love the people I love, the things I love, have experiences and memories which go with those things and those people, and I care about them in an absolute and non-judgemental way.  If I drift out of this body, and happily leaving them behind, I won't be the same person any more, even if I live on. 

If that's the truth, what can I learn here as a soul, which still makes any sense once you have stripped my identity away from me?  And if my aim is eventually to live as part of God, always happy, loving, helpful with no darkness allowed at all... how is a lesson learned down here among the fallible, grumpy, impatient, dishonest, faulty humans going to help with that?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Plan or party?

The photograph above was taken in 2006 by Flickr user Nick_Russill and I am using that rather than one of the spectacular pictures captured in the last 10 days, because it can be published under a creative commons attribution licence. 

Well the pictures may be pretty, but the news isn't good.  A sheet of ice 100 square metres has broken off the Peterman glacier in Greenland, leading one of the experts giving evidence to the House of Representatives in the US to say that we may reach a tipping point within the next 10 years, in which the loss of the ice sheet in Greenland becomes inevitable and we will be looking at increases of up to 7 m in sea level.  That would put London underwater.

Of course, there's no consensus on what may happen.  Other scientists are saying that the Atlantic Conveyor, which is part of the earth's system of sea currents, and brings the Gulf Stream across the Atlantic to warm our shores, is faltering and may stop.  If that happens, we will be plunged into a mini ice age,with conditions such as those we experienced last winter seeming like the tip of the ice sheet... if you'll forgive the expression.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is under water in a disaster which affects more people than the Haiti earthquake, Asian Tsunami and Katrina combined, while Russia suffocates under a pall of smoke cause by high temperatures and forest fires across the country.

It is hard to know whether to move to higher ground, stock up on logs, face masks, wellingtons, buy a boat or build an ark... or sell up and blow the money on a few months of hedonism before the void.

Life is uncertain.  I spent my teenage years worrying that someone in the US or the USSR was going to push the button and condemn us all to an incandescent future.  My mother spent the 1960s in fear, worrying about the Cuban missile crisis, the death of Kennedy and the death of Winston Churchill, who was synonymous with safety in her mind.

My grandmother worried about the Nazis, and spent many nights tucking her children up to sleep under the stairs at home, worrying that bombs would drop and flatten the house and her family.  She kept chickens and bees and goats, and grew vegetables to supplement the ration, worrying about food shortages and the possibility that the fascists would invade.

My great-grandmother worrried about her menfolk off to die in the first World War trenches, a long way from home, but also about revolution and the overthrow of the government, which seemed like a possibility at the end of the war.

All that worry, turmoil and disaster.  It seems to me that we need to plan what we can plan, as individuals, as countries, and accept what we cannot know.  Is 2012 going to be the end of the world as we know it?  Is it a coincidence that all the planets of the solar system are apparently undergoing changes in weather and seismic activity at the moment?  I don't honestly know.

Should we plan for disaster, and what would the shape of those plans be?  What is the shape of the disaster we may be facing?  Is it flooding or ice age, tsunami or freezing?  Or will life continue to be a mix of pleasure and disaster, plenty and famine, drought and flood?

It seems to me that all we can do is to live well and die well.  Whether that means building an ark now, or just having one big party till the end of the world, I can't say.  Meanwhile, nature is providing some spectacular sideshows to watch.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sherlock Episode 3 review

It seems odd that the only online review I can find for Sherlock episode three is the Guardian review... and that even then Sam Wollaston wasn't paying attention.  I fear that the revered Caitlin Moran may have written a stunning review of the series behind the chargeable wall of the Times this week.  I shan't be seeing that, then.  I loved the series... if a set of three counts as a series. It wasn't perfect, and as Sam and several of his commentees mention, the biggest mistake in the last episode was the inclusion of a scattering of stars in the alleyways of London - I should think the last time that sort of sky was seen over London was during the blackouts of the Blitz.

There were a lot of loose ends left untied, not least, supposedly, the fate of the protagonists, although that was assured after the popularity of the first episode, I should have thought. Maybe the papers exhausted their stock of superlatives after the universal acclaim for the first episode, which was widely reported, and declared a triumph.  There was a little bit of grumbling about the updating to present day, and the messing around with the plots of the stories, but even the Conan Doyle geeks on the Guardian review comments had to admit that the spirit of Sherlock is something recognisable to anyone who is familiar with the stories.

The least convincing part is still the relationship with the police. While the admirable LeStrade must necessarily struggle with his work in order to allow some room for Sherlock to appear and leave him standing, the CSI approach (with Holmes having better equipment, more time,  and newer technology than the police in the UK would be likely to have or be able to afford), especially in the fast moving world of forensic science, might have been a better way in?  Whether he has some sort of humdrum job he only ocasionally does, in the laboratories of Barts, or simply squats in an unused room at his own convenience and waits to be kicked out, was never explained unless I blinked and missed it.  However, these are minor quibbles.  The plots are meant to be tosh of the highest order and rely on a parallel universe where criminal gangs use grafitti instead of texting and send messages via hapless bomb-laden members of the public rather than the traditional letters cut from newspapers.

It was exciting, and though one might have to disable the critical toshometer in one's brain in much the same way that generations of children have done for Dr Who, rather like Dr Who it had me on the edge of my seat half tempted to flee behind the sofa while the hanging on cliffs was afoot.  I enjoyed it.  I liked the length of the episodes, I liked the pace, I liked the actors, I liked the way in which London was, starry skies excepted, mostly a recognisable place which felt like London (even if, as one viewer claimed, it was mostly Cardiff).

I profoundly hope that more episodes will be written and made, and hope that they manage to do this quickly without sacrificing the hunger that was evident in the first three.  I enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch enormously, and thought Martin Freeman was a perfect Watson to Cumberbatch's Holmes... though he isn't the first actor that would have sprung to mind had I been in charge of the casting, I think it was inspired. He manages to be extraordinary in an ordinary way, and to be the public in a way that has turned previous Watsons into shambling old fools, without succumbing to that at all.  Of course, his presence was a device that Conan Doyle wrote in to enable someone to ask the damn fool questions or feed Holmes a bit of commonsense when cleverness failed to make an obvious connection, and of course to give Holmes someone to show off to, when he had solved some part of the puzzle in hand.

I enjoyed the background characters , the chases, the settings and styling.  Well done, BBC.  More please, as soon as possible.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Stumbled over this beautiful recording of a collaborative project. People all over the place recording their voices for a piece of music. It's gorgeous.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Try to work out where to go, what to do. I've reached the end of the road with John, and it's been that way for several years. While Ali was ill and the children were younger felt like the wrong time to try to do something about it, but it has become more and more urgent, as things have deteriorated.

There's still the problem of what will happen: he seems to be drinking more and more, and is less in control of things the more time goes on. I worry about what will hapen if I leave... but things are getting worse even though I am not leaving, as a friend pointed out to me.

I have family around the country, in Devon, Scotland, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire. I really need to go somewhere which is cheap, where I will be close to communication links. I'm at a loss really, I feel I am no good at this. How do people do it? How do they manage to break up families/homes and move on?

I read something which said that if you had put up with a partner's substance abuse for more than two years, it made you a codependent, and possibly enabler. It seems a very black and white, no room for love sort of view of the world. An autistic, no room for caring for anyone who is damaged or in need of help, sort of view of the world.

As a person who believes that we are all the children of God, I wonder at this hard line. Are thy the only options? I have put up with it for 25 years. The trouble is, that I love the person he is sober... hate the one he is drunk.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Sherlock wins

I don't watch much television any more. Who do you think you are? can generally be guaranteed to have me watching, and the odd documentary, but mostly I stick to the radio and the internet.

Thus I didn't watch the first episode of Sherlock on July 25... I left it to cause a furore because it beat Tom Cruise's Top Gear appearance into second place, and then eventually watched it on the BBC iplayer.

I feared the worst really. I am a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, but so much of what makes Holmes, Holmes is stuck in the 19th century - or at least the turn of the century. The familiar "ripper" London of Hansom cabs, dark allies and undeserving poor, the gaslight and of course the poor old plods trailing along behind Holmes, nearly always as much in the dark as the poor reader.

It seemed unlikely that any writers would have been able to translate Conan Doyle's Holmes into a workable 21st-century character, and there are some places where one has to suspend one's disbelief. Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes is an apparent security expert who can't work out how to disguise his identity in text except by borrowing other people's phones, a genius who has subsumed a huge amount of knowledge and yet is someone who takes longer than the viewer to understand the role of the cabbie in the opening episode. That, more than anything, was the flaw in the first episode... Conan Doyle's Sherlock always gets there first.

He has a slightly other-worldly look, which may partly have been the result of pneumonia, where his skin was porcelain white for a proportion of the episode... but then that might have been deliberate, to indicate the hours he spends in laboratories, microwaving eyeballs or flaying dead bodies.

The role of the police, and their relationship with Sherlock Holmes was ambiguous in the books, and is ambiguous here too, although it is a lot less believable nowadays that any policeman worth his salt would allow a member of the public to go tramping over a crime scene, tampering with evidence. Forensic science has come a long way since Holmes's day, and in some cases has replaced the painstaking analysis which was the only option then. It was refreshing to see that the writers met that head on, in the hostility of LeStrade's sidekick.

However, those small quibbles aside, I thought the writers had done a good job in bringing the stories up to date, and directors and actors did a superb one in bringing them to life. Despite his self-diagnosed sociopathy, Holmes was intriguing and clever and it was a pleasure to watch how cleverly the writers had adapted the stories to fit.

I was initially wary about Martin Freeman as Dr Watson...I have always imagined someone much bigger and older in the role, but he won me over almost immediately. I see it now.

I watched the second episode with baited breath, with my daughter, and we were both on the edge of our seats. Of course we know the main protagonists are in no real danger... but you never know when a subsidiary character might be sacrificed to plot, especially in a series which is a paltry three episodes long.

More! More! We enjoyed every minute of it, and long for more of the same. We profoundly hope they manage to make a Christmas special, even if the newspaper reports are right and the next proper series is unlikely to be out before next year.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Corexit warnings

Passionate Sea Turtle action group member talks about the effects of using Corexit in the Gulf.

Time for another email to BP.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Write letters/email about Niger

International Oil companies have devastated regions of Africa in the course of extracting oil from the Niger Delta. Instead of enriching the people, it has impoverished them, with environmental impact of the scale now being seen in the Gulf of Mexico, quietly ravaging the environment for many years.

Two companies stand out. Why not write to them and demand to know what they are doing about it, and how they are helping with famine in the region? More information here.

Royal Dutch Shell plc

Carel van Bylandtlaan 30
The Netherlands

Postbus 162

Tel. +31 70 377 9111

Exxon Mobil
ExxonMobil House
Ermyn Way
Surrey, KT22 8UX

Tel: +44 1372 222000
Email: General Enquiries
Facing Africa

Went in to wish my son goodnight, at a very late hour last night, and found him watching a documentary on Facing Africa, a charity which rebuilds the faces of children afflicted with a variety of diseases that ravage the face. Last nights (this morning's) programme focussed on children who have suffered from Noma.

It seems that a combination of malnutrition and infection, eats away at the structure of the face. Some children die, but others survive with the most horrific injuries to their faces. They are not easy to look at, because it is unexpected and incongruous to see a child with half a face. It is heartbreaking to see a child living under a scarf because people shy away from them.

I didn't think I had heard of Noma, but I had, there was a documentary years about about the boy David, a boy from the jungles of Peru who was adopted by a facial surgeon, who built him a new face and adopted him as his son. I think I assumed it was a jungle disease, and rare... I had no idea that there were hundreds of children in Africa, dealing with the aftereffects of the disease.

The documentary was completely gripping, and difficult to keep watching. I don't do operations really, choosing to look away.

I felt so sorry for the children who didn't get to be assessed and operated on - and the one whose case was so complex she only had the first of a series of operations. Her case was the worst they had seen, and the poor child had the additional problem of an infection after the surgery.

The Facing Africa website says that malnutrition in children is the biggest cause of Noma... and that eradicating hunger is for governments. In a way that's true, but I do believe that we could be doing more individually to help draw attention to areas where people are in crises. It seems that there are any number of children starving in Niger, for example.

How about demanding that the International Oil Companies who have sucked so much out of Niger, should put something back again? Reparation along the lines of that being demanded in the Gulf would go a long way towards helping those people: and writing a couple of emails to demand it costs nothing.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

It's shocking to realise that this technique is being used in the UK. I think we need to know where and why people are using hydraulic fracturing, which seems to be a method which causes environmental destruction and has the potential to cause health problems for people in areas where it is used - particularly in a small, population-rich area like the UK.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Disgruntled of Uxbridge

I complained to the BBC the other day. In the past I have usually sent a comment or suggestion, rather than a formal complaint. But I was so enraged by the lack of coverage of the Gulf Oil Spill, that I decided to write and complain that the online website news team seem to have got their global priorities in a mix, reporting on Glastonbury and the World Cup in such detail, and only posting a few short (less than a minute) films on the Gulf Oil spill, and those just a few of the residents moaning about not being able to swim.

Reading websites from around the world, watching videos posted on youtube, I felt that the picture I was receiving from those things was of a continuing catastrophe, affecting millions of people, and possible destroying irretrievably a unique environment and the associated wildlife. That wasn't the picture I had from the BBC, who appeared to think the story was no longer newsworthy. That little they had was buried in the Americas section of the website.

I was hoping it would prompt them to devote more time and space to the story, what I hadn't expected was that they would come up with this.

Of all the angles in the world they could have chosen, they've set out to find the only people with a good word to say about BP, and to report it. I have now made a second complaint to the BBC, this time about bias. If they had been reporting fully and fairly the situation in the Gulf of Mexico and had then added this report, then fair enough. But to publish this with no balancing information about what the majority of Americans feel... and an update on the actual impact of the oil spill at the moment, and more especially the environmental impact of the widespread use of Corexit in the Gulf... I think that is about the most extreme case of biassed reporting ever. Where is the balance? It's mad... they have rules about putting forward balance view in the most ridiculous cases... and then don't with something as important and potentially world-changing as this.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

BP ignored safety concerns

Shocking article over at ProPublica, about BP's cavalier approach to safety and safety concerns. They should be ashamed of themselves.

For some years I have watched people defend capitalism, on the grounds that it is the "best" system, as though market forces would do whatever was necessary in the way of controlling the companies. I think one only has to look at Dow Chemicals (took over the company responsible for the Bhopal disaster; still hasn't cleaned up or revealed which chemicals caused the illness and deaths) Shell Oil (responsible for terrible destruction in the Niger delta, and now BP, to see that market forces in our capitalistic system are mainly concerned with profit, and not people, environmental responsibility or the future of the planet.

For years people have assumed that the alternative to capitalism is some sort of communism, but I think there is a middle way, which most people would support: a way of being ethical, people and environmentally friendly, and putting the planet first and profit second.

Many of the companies who have grown into successes recently have had good credentials for this... maybe it is time we as consumers demanded that the big old lumbering corporations should catch up.

If we used the free market to influence the companies who have been behaving so badly, we could collectively have a beneficial effect. I only hope that the doomsday scenarios are overstated, and that we still have time to put this into action.
Gulf Emergency Summit speeches

After hearing the speech made by Kindra Arnesen, I was moved to watch the other speeches at the summit. I don't care about governments, I don't care about big businesses, I don't care about the motives or the guilt for the accident. We have to live with what has happened and respond to it.

I DO care, passionately about people - they matter to me, whether in the US or India or Africa... I don't care, people are more important than things, than profit, than politics.

I do care, passionately, about our planet, and how we are looking after it for the future.

For me, it's a very practical thing... we need the people who have the expertise to cope with this problem, to be dealing with it. We need the American government and BP to be opening up their response to allow whoever has the expertise to solve the problem, to solve it... and if they can't solve it, to look practically at what needs to be done to protect the people and the environment to the best of their ability.

In each case, I have only linked the first part - on youtube the second or subsequent parts will be linked from there:

Kindra Arnesen's speech.

Raymond Lotta's speech.

Cindy Sheehan's speech.

John Clark's speech.

If you have other links please send them to me.
Real news from real people

Kindra Arnesen gives a speech about the things she has witnessed during her observation of the clean up in the gulf. It is amazing to me that this information seems not to be of interest to mainstream media.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Understanding gravity

I saw this story on the BBC website, read it and felt like someone had plunged my brain into fog. I can only assume that the journalist either doesn't understand the subject very clearly himself, or was in a hurry. It isn't often I feel that understanding has been sucked out of me and replaced with confusion.

So, I went searching for a better explanation, and found it on the ESA site. There is a PDF to download which was produced in advance of the mission to map the earth's gravity, and which has good and simple explanations within it. Also a great illustration showing the lumpy nature of earth.

It came as a surprise to me to realise that gravity wasn't uniform across the whole world. I remember my geography master at school treating with derision a book which suggested it wasn't, and that high mountains might have less gravitational pull than the plains. However, that's exactly what the article on the ESA site says.

There are a number of things which affect the strength of gravity. Apparently we weigh less at the equator than at the poles, because the shape of the earth is not truly spherical and bulges out in the middle, around the equator. As gravity weakens the further out from the middle of the earth you are, this makes gravitational force weaker where you are further from the centre.

There are other things which influence the gravitational force, including the composition of the earth's crust. Learning about the variations caused by those factors may help with tracking changes due to volcanic and earthquake activity.

Mapping the earth's geodesy, or shape, will allow scientists to calculate relative heights more easily, and to work out what influence the tides and currents are having on the shape of the oceans. It will allow more accurate measurement of relative heights, and provide much more accurate information about mountains and natural features.

It's very clever. As measurement of gravity gets more difficult at a distance, the Goce satellite has been travelling at the low level (for a satellite) of 250 km.
Crops destroyed

A report on US tv of crops in the Mississippi delta area being destroyed by a mystery disease is being propagated around the web.

Various articles are linking this to the use of Corexit in the Gulf, to disperse the oil. Apparently, despite being banned from using Corexit in the North Sea and any of the seas around the UK, BP has seen fit to use it in the Gulf of Mexico.

I am appalled that they think this is appropriate. It seems that it was already known before they used it that use of Corexit may actually cause the water to lose oxygenation and prevent some of the biological solutions from being used.

There is a report which I have not confirmed independently thus far, that Russian scientists are reporting to their government that this is the biggest environmental catastrophe ever to have faced our planet, much worse than is being reported here or in the US, and that fractures in the sea bed are leaking oil more quickly that the blown-out rig.

I can't decide at present whether the naturally doomladen media are under reporting in the UK or over reporting in the US, but in these internet-enabled times, it is hardly likely that reports in Russia, the US or the UK can be kept local.

I feared that war was going to end the world twenty years ago. I fear that greed and stupidity may do it now. Is the sky falling? I do not know whether I am overreacting or underreacting myself, but it is hard to know how I can muster an appropriate response to this... or how I can prepare for the worst if it should happen.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

BBC News priorities

Looking at the BBC news front page this morning, you wouldn't think we had a care in the world. Sport stories dominate the front page, from news about the World Cup and trivial stories about the royals playing baseball.

There are two reports about the hot weather, one about a planned trip of the prime minister, and a few home stories about the unemployed being moved to council houses in areas where there are jobs. Is there anything about the Gulf Oil Spill at all today? Not on the front page... Kylie headlining Glastonbury is there though.

The BBC News page seems to have metamorphosed into a cross between a red-top tabloid and a teen magazine, to me. If you want to know what's happening in the Gulf, you have to drill down through world-Americas-oil spill reaches Florida Beaches. Even then, you wouldn't think that this was an important story... it has a 43 second story about a couple of Florida residents talking about not being able to swim on their oil-covered beach.

All the stories linked to the Gulf are less than a minute in length. It's almost as though they don't want to cover it. Did BP send all the BBC correspondents home?

I have subscribed to the BP briefing on the Gulf... and intend to repost the contents of their briefings here. I can't believe that the general media are letting the story drop down, when it could affect the futures of everyone, not just those unfortunates who have had their livelihoods and wildlife destroyed in the Gulf of Mexico.

This is the most recent press briefing from BP:

WASHINGTON -- Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander for the Deepwater BP Oil Spill response, briefed the media Saturday.

A downloadable audio file of the conference is available here; a written transcript follows:

ADM. THAD ALLEN: Good morning to you all. A couple of updates and I'd like to talk a little about the weather and then we can go to your questions. As of midnight last night we were to recover 24,548 barrels through the top hat recovery system.

That was 16,338 barrels from the Discovery Enterprise and another 8,210 barrels were flared after being recovered on the Q4000. That continues and we are looking to add the third vessel to that organizational structure next week. We are installing the vertical riser pipes. They will do that right now. That will take us to 53,000 barrel capacity sometime next week.

In regards of the relief well, a Development Driller III which is the lead rig on the relief wells is now at 11,141 feet below the sea floor. We are ready to run today the third ranging run. A ranging run is when they withdraw the drill pipe and put flexible wire down the pipe that emits an electrical signal that picks up sea and magnetic resonance from the pipe itself. They'll do this every couple of hundred of feet as they drill down to slowly close in for the final interception of the well. That continues.

Development Driller II is at 6,529 feet below the sea floor and continues to make progress. As I mentioned earlier we are trying to expand our collection capability and we have finished completing the insulation of the free standing riser. That will be connected to the Helix Producer. And in turn will be connected to a shuttle tanker, the Loch Rannoch which is capable of 100,000 barrel capacity

Moving forward to actually set up the second vertical riser pipe we'll expand our capacity as we move to the new containment system that will be available in mid-July. Just as a note, sometime next week we'll reach a decision threshold with the current containment cap. At that point we'll be a capacity of 53,000 barrels to be able to move to 50 to 80,000 barrel capacity requires us to remove the existing containment cap and put one of three options on that will actually seal that wellhead either over the cut off phalange or by either removing the phalange where the riser pipe was cut and actually bolting on a new one.

Those discussions are underway and will culminate with a meeting next Wednesday that will be chaired by Secretary Salazar, Secretary Chu, government agencies and scientists to take a look at the final plans and to look at next steps moving forward.

We are watching the Tropical Storm Alex. As you know, it's moving westerly and slightly to the north. We've been in constant contact with National Hurricane Center. We continue to do that. We understand that it's moving westerly. At this point it does not threaten the site but we know that these tracks can change and we're paying very close attention to it.

As I briefed the last couple of days, our threshold is gale knot – excuse gale force winds that are predicated within a 120 hours accompanying one of these storms to start the process of redeploying our assets in the wellhead area.

A couple of other updates. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson will be traveling to New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf this coming week. And she'll be Thursday, July 1st through July 3rd. I will be traveling to the Gulf on Monday with Secretary Nalpolitano and Carol Browner where we will have meetings and updates with the local commanders and I will hold a press event from New Orleans on Monday.

Tuesday I intend to be with the Vice President and his travel in the Gulf region. With that I'd be glad to take your questions this morning.

Operator: At this time, I'd like to remind everyone in order to poise any question please press star one on your telephone keypad. We'll pause for just a moment. First, you have the line of Molly Fiske with the LA Times.

Molly Fiske: Hello sir. Thank you for taking the question. My question is regards the weather. I am curious about where the vessels – sorry, how many vessels would be brought to safe harbor, where they would be brought specifically the Discover Enterprise and how long it would take to return them after should the storm pass?

Thad Allen: Ma'am, it depends on the type of vessel and how long it takes them to disconnect from the scene. To give you an example, the time to secure and evade the storm for the Discover Enterprise would be about 114 hours. The time to secure and evade the storm for the Q4000 would only be 56 hours. This has to do with the type of vessel they are, the type of moorings that are involved and their speed of advance.

The Discover Enterprise is fixed to the wellhead by a fixed riser pipe. The Q4000 is connected to a much more flexible mooring and can be disconnected much more rapidly. The time back on scene to restart for the Discover Enterprise would be about 38 hours. It's more for the Q4000. Its 90 hours to set up that flaring process that's boom arm or the gas and the oil are actually ignited and flared off.

So it varies with the type of vessel, how they're actually moored out there. It also – where they will go will be entirely dependent on the storm track, how fast the storm is coming in and the direction its coming from.

There are four quadrants in a hurricane that are very – that have varying degrees of danger and the lower left quadrant is the least dangerous. So we would be looking at the track itself. The best place to seek safe shelter and we would move the vessels in that location.

Operator: Next you have the line Lisa Leff with the Associated Press.

Lisa Leff: Thank you Admiral. Based on the 120 hour window that you cited and how fast this storm seems to be moving, when are anticipating (inaudible) as soon as you have to start that process of shutting down the containment?

Thad Allen: Well the threshold to activate our hurricane plans right now is 120 hours out when we expect gale force winds at the wellhead. We know that it takes 114 hours for the Discover Enterprise so we're watching the storm track and when we think the storm has turned in such a matter that we'll approach the wellhead and 120 hours out we can anticipate gale force winds, that will activate the plans.

Operator: Next sir you have the line of Mark Waller with the Times Picayune.

Mark Waller: Thank you for taking our questions. I guess a two part thing. One is it looks right now like Alex is going not towards the site but one question I would have is how do you decide at what point in the so-called cone of uncertainty do you have to be in order to pull out. I mean you have to be on edge of it, in the middle of it or anywhere near it.

And another question is you know it has been known to happen in the past for a storm to flare up all of sudden right in the middle of the Gulf somewhere you wouldn’t have a whole lot of time to deal with it. So do you have any contingencies for that type of scenario?

Thad Allen: Well on the first question, we are engaged constantly with the National Hurricane Center. We're in discussions with NOAA and FEMA. Secretary Nalpolitano is on daily call with all the principles. We're tracking the weather very closely.

You know at some point you know models are just models and we're going to have to look at the real world and at some point there may have to be a decision taken in the best interest of the safety of our personnel and the safety of the well site but those parameters I laid out of 120 hours are the general parameters.

We all know that the weather is unpredictable and we could have a sudden last minute change. At that point it will be the collective best judgement of the federal team working together with the best advice we can get from the Department of Commerce, NOAA, and the National Weather Service.

And sir, could you repeat the second question again?

Mark Waller: Pertaining to Alex but just for future planning has been there cases in the past like I think Cindy a few years ago, or storms that flare up right in the middle of the Gulf without much notice before they get near or you know before – you know you don’t have several days to watch them coming and that kind of thing.

So I was curious to know what you guys are thinking about that. What you would do in that kind of situation?

Thad Allen: Thanks for helping as a follow up there. There are ways we can move off quicker that’s not the most desirable way to do it. As you know we had a, a potential problem with the top half containment cap on the well bore two days ago and the Discovery Enterprise actually released the containment cap and moved away with the riser attached to it.

There are certain ways where they can move quicker. You start risking the damage to equipment and these are emergency procedures that you would not want to do normally. And you always have to react to the situation at hand. Hopefully, we’ll have as much advance notice as possible but I will, I will over the next 24 to 36 hours give you more detailed release on exactly if there were a popup storm what kind of emergency procedures would take place and in what sequence.

Operator: You now have the line of Brian Walsh with Time Magazine.

Brian Walsh: Hi, Admiral there have been complaints from Gulf State Governors about not getting resources fast enough. Are they using all the resources you’re putting in, you’re making available to them? When it comes to National Guard, for instance, you know are they actually – whether it’s Louisiana or other states do you think they’re carrying that out or are they holding up there end of the bargain as well?

Thad Allen: Well, it depends on what resources you’re talking about. I think the three most critical resources right now I would say are probably personnel, various types of boom and skimming equipment, boom and skimming equipment is being procured and deployed as fast as we can get it, whether it’s a source that’s providing it or from a manufacturer.

And the fact of the matter is as the storm widens, we can’t – we used to be able to say we will take it from one area and move it to another but as you know we’ve got oil impacting from the Panhandle of Florida down to West of the Mouth of the Mississippi River. So it’s not a matter anymore of redeploying a resource.

It’s a matter of amassing everything we’ve got all along the coast because oil is really in determinant where it’s coming ashore. So what I’ve told my folks for the foreseeable future, even past the (inaudible) we’ve had for boom and skimmers we just keep ordering them and the more we get the more we’ll keep deploying with the highest need area because they’re – they are the rarest resource we have right now and the most critical.

Regarding personnel, the Governors have the authority right now to (inaudible) call 17,500 National Guard across all the state. The states have done that to varying degrees. If there is a request by a Governor to call up the National Guard, the federal officing coordinator takes a look at that and acts on it.

And I don’t believe there are any deployments to National Guards we have not approved at this point. There’s a total of about 1,358 National Guardsmen deployed out of the 17,000 and 500 that have been authorized for recall.

Operator: You now have the line of Kerrie Sanders with the CNBC nightly news.

Kerrie Sanders: Thank you very much. I’m curious if you can, sir, can you provide some sort of hard numbers. How many vessels would have to be secure and evade a tropical storm or a weather event currently in the operation, how many personnel and if you don’t have a hard number of personnel just give us a rough estimate. And the final part of that is would any single person be left behind or would every person be physically removed?

Thad Allen: Those are all good questions. Since I can’t – I probably won’t give you the answers to the accuracy, you’ve got to let me tell you the numbers that I do have. As of today, including Coast Guard, National Guard, Contractors, BP and volunteers, we have a total of 38,634 involved in this response.

Regarding vessels, including vessels of opportunity, which we have nearly 3,000 barges which are used to, to, to – for skimming operations and to block passages and entrances to bays, skimmers which are about 430, other vessels that are out there in support including Coast Guard Command and Control vessels are about 2,700.

The answer to all of those is that the safety of life is number one priority, we would move well in advance of the storm to evacuate personnel, that would require us at some point to move our vessels of opportunity off the water and as we get instead the 120 hour time frame start redeploying our personnel to safe shelter.

We would keep certain personnel later into the evacuation but all non-essential personnel will be moved to alternate locations were they could do things like data entry and some of the logistics support that could, could be done from an alternate site, they would do that.

The last thing that would happen is our incident commanders and the folks that are forward deployed would, would move to the state emergency operation centers where we would be co-located with our partners, either the commanders or their representatives in some cases and we would stay there until we saw the results of the storm but in any case, the safety of our personnel is, is really, really important and number one.

The other thing we need to be mindful of – that we need to be able to move our personnel where it doesn't conflict with the general public evacuation that would be worked in association with the states and with FEMA as well.

Operator: Next you have the line of Mark Seibel with McClatchy.

Mark Seibel: Yes, this is Mark Seibel with McClatchy, Admiral, I have two questions really, the first is you, you talk about how many hours you need for the Discover Enterprise an Q4,000 but what about for the Development Driller II and III? How many hours do you need storm warning before you evacuate those or they cease operations, suspend operations?

And the other question I have really is about the ranging runs, I think you said they are doing their third ranging run and I'm trying to figure out how often they're, they're doing them or I'm interested in that? Do you know what depth they were at when they did the first ranging run and then the third ranging run?

Thad Allen: I've been following this for a couple days so I've got a lot of numbers in my head, I'll get back to you with the exact point on the, on the first ranging run, I believe it was a little over 10,000 feet below the sea floor but again, let me explain how this works.

When they get to a certain point and they think they're near enough to the well where they can detect it, they withdraw the drill pipe back up to the nearest casing and then they extend a wire down into the well bore that they have just drilled, that wire – and that's an electrical, electrical signal that can pick up the magnetic field that's durated by the metal pipe and the other well bore.

They then get a approximate distance and a bearing if you will to the, to the well bore, they withdraw the line and then they drill about 200 more feet at an angle getting in closer and then they stop, they put the wire back down and they do that again, and they do it very, very gently in couple a hundred feet bites if you will, and then take another range so they don't inadvertently run into it, and when they think they're close enough down to about five feet, then they would turn the drill bit directionally and go in and attempt to intercept the well at that point.

For that reason, about the last 1,000 feet become much slower in terms of progress than the drilling to date and they are continuing to do that. One other thing they have done is there's a vessel moored very close by up at the top that is full of mud, on the chance that they nick the well bore and they think there might be a problem, they can immediately put mud into the well bore to prevent any oil from coming up, but this is a very slow, very precise process moving forward. Was that responsive?

Operator: Next you have a follow-up from Molly Fiske with the LA Times.

Molly Fiske: Yes sir, I, I don't know if you're the right one to ask but I – it's a general question about the storm plans. The personnel who would be recalled, would they still be paid for their standby time and I'm specifically interested in the, the (stop) on the – pardon me, vessels of opportunity or the beach crews.

Thad Allen: I do not know the details on that but we will get that and we will, we will, will issue a statement later on today on it. I just don’t know off the top of my head. I’m not sure that I’ve been advised of that but we’ll get you the answer.

Operator: And you have a follow up from the Associated Press by Lisa Leff.

Lisa Leff: Sir, based on all the scenarios and time estimates that you have right now can you give me a range for how long the containment efforts would be offline?

Thad Allen: We believe that if we had to disconnect it would take us between disconnecting and the transit to safe harbor back out and reconnecting would be about 14 days.

Operator: And you have another follow up from Mark Waller with the Times Picayune.

Mark Waller: Yeah, another potential evacuation related question. Do we know where personnel, some of the company personnel, BP people and so on, might, might be evacuated to and what I’m imagining is you know are, are citizens going to be aware that you know hotel rooms in Baton Rouge or Jackson or places like that might be, might be even more full that usual because of the evacuation of people from this effort? Or do we, do we know where they are going?

Thad Allen: Well, first of all it will depend on where the storm comes ashore and how we might have to alter our operations. Again, the 35, over 35,000 people that I talked about are across four different states. It’s highly unlikely they all would be impacted in the same level and I think the 35,000 people as a percentage of the general population is not a very large number and it depends on the type of functions.

There are certain functions that are being done around the coast that might be able to be operated out of BP’s Headquarters in Houston. But the real important connection for us is that our people that are actually managing the response on scene are hooked up and are working with the local Governors and local leaders in emergency operation centers.

So it’s, it’s kind of a situation specific. But my, my own personal opinion is the entire personnel that we have down there is a percentage of the entire population, would not make it very consequential in terms of the impact of an evacuation.

Operator: Your next question is from (Vivian Quo) with CNN.

(Vivian Quo): Yes, sir, could you tell me a little bit about the chain of command here, so would it be NOAA who first identifies the, the, the danger and then alerts BP and then alerts you? How does that work?

Thad Allen: We’re all pretty much co-located. Let me – we have two incident command posts, one in Houma, Louisiana, the other ones in Mobile, Alabama; between those two command posts they cover Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Above them is what we call an area of unified command that is in New Orleans. And it co-located at all those command posts are folks from NOAA, Commerce, BP, the state and in some cases parish and other representatives.

They meet everyday, get an operations brief, and we would all be watching – this would be a jointly agreed upon decision when the thresholds were met, all of the stakeholders would be included that are all right here, included now in the response operations. The larger issue though would be that, that chain for the response actually comes up to me as a National Incident Commander and at the same time we could be activating Stafford Act Response headed by FEMA, both of us under Secretary Nalpolitano at Department of Homeland Security.

So it’s going to be critical that FEMA, the Coast Guard and the National Incident Command are integrating everything they do and that’s been the subject of an intense discussions planning and coordination for a number of weeks now and the goal would be to integrate the response operations with hurricane response, keeping in tact the chain of command for the oil response but being integrated and understanding what FEMA was trying to do on the Stafford Act aside. Was that responsive?

Operator: We now have a follow up from Mark Seibel with McClatchy.

Mark Seibel: I’m sorry, Admiral, to have to ask this again, either you didn’t answer it or I forgot to write down the answer. How many hours do the Development Driller rigs need to – in a storm warning.

Thad Allen: I think right now – let me repeat all. Discover Enterprise we indicate would be 114 hours, Development Driller 3 which is the lead driller for the relief well would be 104 hours, the Q4000 would be 56 hours, and right now I have Development Driller 2 and the sheet I have in front of me at 143 hours which exceeds the 120 hour time limit.

So we'll get a check on that and get to back to you. And would you like to the restart times?

Male: Great.

Thad Allen: Once they're back on sea to restart it would be 38 hours for Discover Enterprise, 72 hours for the Development Driller 2, 72 hours for Development Driller 3, and 90 hours for the Q4000.

That has to do with the fact that they have the Grandry arm that does the flaring. My guess is the difference between the Development Driller III and II time is dependent on where they're at and the types of drill equipment. They're not quite same configuration. They're very close but they're two different designs in their vessel.

Male: OK.

Joe Klinker: Operator this will be the last question.

Operator: OK, our last question comes from the CNBC Nightly News by Kerrie Sanders.

Kerrie Sanders: With the 120 hour sort of window that you're working in and with the information that the folks at the National Hurricane Center are providing can you currently say that that 120 hours will begin sometime on Sunday between noon and four or when is it with the data you currently have, when would that 120 hours kick in with the movement of the storm with the current of uncertainty.

Thad Allen: Well where it's at right now we don’t have any indication that we would reach gale force winds at the well bore as the storm passes. If we get an indication that we have a chance for gale force winds at the wellhead, a 120 hours out in advance that’s when we'll make the decision.

Of right now we have not meet that threshold. Is that responsive?

Operator: Your line is closed. Sir you may continue.

Thad Allen: The next question?

Operator: There are not further questions.

For information about the response effort, visit