Brits to shut Army bases in Germany – bring their troops home

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond: “The return of the troops from Germany marks the end of an era”

Four Army bases are to close as part of a shake-up to accommodate thousands of troops returning from Germany…Claro Barracks in North Yorkshire, Howe in Kent, Craigiehall in Edinburgh and Cawdor in Pembrokeshire will be shut…Parts of Edinburgh’s Redford barracks, Forthside in Stirling and Copthorne in Shropshire will also close.

Returning forces will be stationed around seven sites, including Salisbury Plain, Edinburgh and Leuchars, Catterick and Colchester…The other sites are Aldershot, Stafford and the East Midlands.

There has been a British army presence in Germany for nearly 70 years.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the return of troops from Germany marked the end of an era, and thanked the German government and people for their “material and moral” support…

He said the changes overall would save £240m a year in running costs as soldiers are moved into “clusters” in key locations, and the re-organisation bill would be £1.8bn. A one time charge.

Around £1bn of the funding will go towards 1,900 new houses for service families and accommodation for 7,800 single soldiers. Another £800m will be spent on infrastructure and refurbishment of bases…

Under the 2010 strategic defence review, the government announced it wanted to withdraw all 20,000 troops in Germany, plus their families, by 2020.

Since then, about 4,000 troops have already moved back to the UK…

The pull-out has been accelerated because there were bigger cuts to the Army than originally planned, saving money which then could be used for relocation.

The government says the changes will provide savings and efficiencies for the Army, and certainty for personnel and their families.

The savings for the United States to do something similar would be greater. Our troops are scattered around the whole planet – requiring not only greater annual transport costs but similarly greater costs to supply them with essentials.

Given that we have more than 700 bases in over 170 countries, the savings realized from bringing those troops home – put them to work doing something constructive like rebuilding infrastructure – would be even more dramatic than the British program. Of course, they’re actually going ahead and doing it – while the White House and Congress manage to avoid even discussion of the idea.

French coppers realize after 8 hours – there is a little girl alive who was hidden under the bodies of her murdered family

French police believe a deeply traumatised four-year-old girl who hid for eight hours under the bodies of her slain relatives, and her critically injured sister may hold the key to the gruesome murder of four people in an Alpine beauty spot.

The two girls were under extremely high protection as police hunted for the gunman who shot dead her parents and grandmother as well as a passing cyclist on Wednesday afternoon in what officials described as an “act of gross savagery”.

Three of the four victims were shot in the middle of the head with a semi-automatic pistol meaning the killer pulled the trigger for each shot, leading to fears the professional nature of the attack may indicate a contract killing. Police said they were not sure how the fourth person, believed to be the children’s mother, died.

The four-year-old, named in Britain as Zeena al-Hilli, asked for her family after she was finally pulled from the scene of carnage, “terrorised, motionless, in the midst of the bodies”, said a French official. British consular officials, despatched from Paris, were trying to comfort her and her older sister Zainab.

The dead man, who was found slumped over the steering wheel, has been named as Iraqi-born engineer Saad al-Hilli, 50, from Claygate in Surrey, but there was no official confirmation of his identity or those of the two women shot while sitting in the back of the car. One of them was reported to be carrying an Iraqi passport and the other a Swedish passport.

Their bodies were found in a British-registered BMW estate car near the picturesque village of Chevaline in the French Alps near where they had been camping…

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Maybe the best way to forget a war – is to bring part of it back home?

Playing with dogs at Nowzad

Spot made the clandestine journey from the Afghan Taliban stronghold of Helmand to the capital Kabul, where he is undergoing medical treatment before moving to the United States to live with the family of the Marine who rescued him.

His ears clipped and tail severed from his days as a fighting dog, the surprisingly docile ginger and white mutt is one of hundreds being adopted in increasing numbers by foreign soldiers, who pay vast sums to take their new pets home.

“Dogs have been proven to help post-traumatic stress and the soldiers who adopt them are addressing this,” said Pen Farthing, founder of British charity Nowzad, an animal shelter on the outskirts of Kabul.

A former Royal Marine, Farthing adopted his dog Nowzad, named after a Helmand district, during his tour there in 2006. He then set up the charity, where dogs and some cats are neutered and vaccinated against rabies before their journeys abroad…

We’re seeing more soldier rescues than ever before. When you’re being shot at by the Taliban every day, dogs give you that little bit of normality,” Farthing said by a row of outdoor pens holding black and yellow puppies.

Nearby stood Dshka, an affectionate grey hound rescued by a U.S. Marine sergeant in Kajaki in Helmand, where British forces handed security to the U.S. in 2010 as part of the American troop surge. His neighbor, Poppy, a small black dog from Kandahar, will soon go to a British soldier’s home…

Workers at Nowzad are now hoping that Afghans will begin to adopt dogs, banking on a changing attitude to owning pets. Poverty prevents many Afghans from having dogs and cats at home, and some Muslims believe dogs are unclean and therefore unfit for keeping. Kabul is home to thousands of stray dogs, and many are shot and killed…

Afghan families are beginning to adopt dogs from Nowzad, they said, giving promise to the charity’s goal to become Afghan-led in the future.

One can only hope. And help when you can afford it.

In many ways this is a global battle worth fighting for. And it doesn’t require billions of dollars for bombs and bullets, rockets and rifles.

Brits become the first to row to the North Pole

The final 2 miles held their only encounter with ice

An explorer on Friday said he was “exhilarated” after he and his crew became the first people to row to the magnetic north pole.

Jock Wishart and his five-man team took just under four weeks to complete the 450-mile route. They encountered polar bears and collided with icebergs as they travelled through the Arctic waters in their specially designed vessel.

The trip has only recently become possible because of an increase in seasonal ice melt in the Arctic, which has opened up the waters.

Wishart, who was born in Dumfries, organised the Old Pulteney Row to the pole to highlight the effects of climate change on the ice in the region.

He said: “I think this is one of my greatest achievements. It was a dream four years ago but now it’s reality. Up until last night we still could not say with certainty that we would reach our destination, so we are all exhilarated and relieved that weather conditions were in our favour and we have completed our row to the magnetic north pole while it was still possible.

It is an enormous achievement, and a privilege for our team to have been part of what is one of the world’s last great firsts…”

Throughout the journey, the rowing crew worked with scientific research partners to provide environmental data on the impact of arctic deterioration on the polar landscape.

RTFA for more of the details. One of the explorers is a cinematographer – so, sooner or later, we’ll get to see a documentary about the expedition.

Endurance challenges send a spark to unique human beings. Perhaps these require skills and talents leftover from earlier days in our evolution. Combined with modern training and nutrition knowledge, human beings are capable of amazing efforts.

During the record attempt, the crew consumed 7,000 calories a day. Each.

Kids in UK growing weaker as computers replace outdoor activity

Kids video games

Children are becoming weaker, less muscular and unable to do physical tasks that previous generations found simple, research has revealed. As a generation dedicated to online pursuits grows up, 10-year-olds can do fewer sit-ups and are less able to hang from wall bars in a gym. Arm strength has declined in that age group, as has their ability to grip an object firmly.

The findings, published in the child health journal Acta Paediatrica, have led to fresh concern about the impact on children’s health caused by the shift away from outdoor activities.

Academics led by Dr Gavin Sandercock, a children’s fitness expert at Essex University, studied how strong a group of 315 Essex 10-year-olds in 2008 were compared with 309 children the same age in 1998. They found that:

■ The number of sit-ups 10-year-olds can do declined by 27.1% between 1998 and 2008

■ Arm strength fell by 26% and grip strength by 7%

■ While one in 20 children in 1998 could not hold their own weight when hanging from wall bars, one in 10 could not do so in 2008…

Previous research has already shown that children are becoming more unfit, less active and more sedentary and, in many cases, heavier than before.

But the new study also found that children in 2008 had the same body mass index (BMI) as those a decade earlier. Lead author Daniel Cohen, of London Metropolitan University, said this meant that, given their declining strength, the bodies of the recent test group are likely to contain more fat and less muscle then their predecessors. “That’s really worrying from a health point of view. It’s good news that their BMI hasn’t risen, but worrying that pound for pound they’re weaker and probably carrying more fat,” said Sandercock…

“Climbing trees and ropes used to be standard practice for children, but school authorities and ‘health and safety’ have contrived to knock the sap out of our children,” said Tam Fry of the Child Growth Foundation.

Falling off a branch used to be a good lesson in picking yourself up and learning to climb better. Now fear of litigation stops the child climbing in the first place.”

I doubt if the situation among some working class kids in the US is much different. I do feel that folks a bit further up the income scale – and/or those with the perception and education associated with that lifestyle – are less likely to be failing this way. And that understanding often is acquired outside the education factories grounded in the fear of litigation that Tam Fry notes.

Active lifestyles have sufficient advocates over recent decades to have motivated plenty of American families to bring their children into active exercising patterns. Running, hiking, cycling, skating, soccer, lifetime sports have become a movement that touches many families in the United States – even if it isn’t considered acceptable by either end of our economic extremes, e.g., layabout trust funders or redneck fans of watching almost any sport rather than participating in one.

Carry On – under the Sea!

HMS Astute aground off Skye for several days

The Royal Navy’s latest £1.2 billion nuclear submarine, HMS Astute, has been towed back to base after a malfunction which could have killed the entire crew, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

The hi-tech stealth vessel was taken to the Faslane Naval Base on the Clyde late on Friday when it suffered “a technical issue with hydraulics”, according to a Ministry of Defence (MoD) source…

Experts say that the boat’s hydroplanes, which enable it to dive or surface, are hydraulically controlled. If they fail, the boat could be lost, along with its entire crew of 98.

The ill-fated HMS Astute is infamous for being the scene of a fatal shooting a month ago when it was docked in Southampton, and for accidentally running aground off the Isle of Skye last October. The boat has been plagued by a series of other mishaps, including a fire, being hit by a falling ramp and problems with its toilets.

HMS Astute left Faslane on Wednesday for sea trials, but returned soon after just two days. One insider told the Sunday Herald that the captain, Commander Iain Breckenridge, had “no confidence in the performance of the vessel”.

The nuclear consultant, John Large, who has advised governments on submarine safety, pointed out that the hydraulics that controlled the hydroplanes were “a fundamental safety system that can’t be ignored”.

He said: “If you don’t have the hydraulics, the boat could sink with all hands on board. It’s a serious problem.”

The danger that submarines like HMS Astute could have difficulties surfacing was highlighted in a secret report…that warned that there was a “risk of multiple fatalities resulting from loss of depth control”.

The report was released under freedom of information law with large sections blacked out. But researchers discovered that the censored text could be read simply by cutting and pasting it into a new document.

This revealed that British submariners were more likely to drown than their American counterparts if the reactor that powered their boat failed while they are under water. British submarines “accept a much lower reliability from the main propulsion system” and the back-up system “will not provide sufficient dynamic lift”, McFarlane said.

Back in the day I was US sales manager for a British firm. For eight months.

I resigned when it became clear that particular industry as a whole – in the UK – had never learned any lessons from improved quality control and manufacturing standards folks mostly learned from Japan.

No, it wasn’t the submarine building industry; but, it sounds as if the same culture of “sorting out” incompetent design standards hasn’t gone away.

Tories know it’s ‘crystal clear’ that creationism is not science

If he was entering a Republican Party conference he’d be carrying bible action figures
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

The Department of Education responded to a letter of concern from the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE), which is worried by applications from Christian groups to run free schools. It fears that schools might be exploited by groups seeking to promote a literal interpretation of the Bible at the expense of science classes.

However, the Department of Education confirmed that Mr Gove is “crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact”…

The BCSE expressed in writing its “extreme concern” about groups such as Christian School Trust who have made up to five applications to run free schools…

The Everyday Champions Church, in Newark, Nottinghamshire, submitted its proposal for a 652-place school in January. It claims that the parents of more than 660 children have signed up to attend the school.

The Church’s leader Gareth Morgan told the BBC: “Creationism will be embodied as a belief at Everyday Champions Academy, but will not be taught in the sciences. Similarly, evolution will be taught as a theory. We believe children should have a broad knowledge of all theories in order that they can make informed choice.”

In July last year Mr Gove acknowledged there were concerns about “inappropriate faith groups using this legislation to push their own agenda.” He told MPs on the cross-party Commons education committee that his department was working to ensure there were no “extremist groups taking over schools”.

A clear distinction between conservative politicians in the UK and US. The former resemble what traditional American conservatism used to embody – including disdain for populist pandering to religious nutters. That used to be left up to the Democrats in the United States.

Apparently when Nixon instituted the Southern Strategy to acquire the racist and bigot vote in America, they inherted the nutballs along with the whole package.

Dumb GPS tale of the day

Two British pensioners landed in hospital in southern Germany after their car’s global positioning system directed them to drive into a church.

While driving their Renault in the evening on a back road near the Austrian border, the navigation system instructed the couple to turn right where there was no road.

“They were confused and didn’t notice that the navigation system was faulty,” a police spokeswoman said.

The 76-year-old driver then plowed into the side of the village church, writing off the car, knocking a picture off the wall and damaging the building’s foundations. Total damages were some 25,000 euros, police in the nearby town of Immenstadt said.

The couple, who were traveling to France, spent the evening in hospital recuperating from minor injuries.

That’s got to leave a mark.

Agriculturists welcome news that wheat’s genetic code cracked

U.S. and international wheat breeders said Friday publication of the gene map of wheat could eventually help in developing beneficial new varieties, but cautioned that cracking wheat’s complicated genetic code is far from completed.

British researchers working with the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium on Friday released the first version of the wheat genome, a step toward a fully analyzed map that should help wheat breeders develop varieties that can yield more despite drought or disease.

“This is significant progress,” said Kellye Eversole, executive director of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC). “It is a very useful contribution towards the final goal of a genome sequence-based platform for wheat breeding. While we are nowhere near cracking the genetic code and far from having all of the information needed to understand the wheat genome, we are moving forward…”

The IWGSC was established by a group of plant scientists, breeders, and growers to sequence the highly complex wheat genome. Wheat has been viewed as all but impossible to sequence because of its sheer size.

Like all plants, wheat has far more complex DNA than animals. It is made up of 17 billion base pairs of the chemicals that make up DNA — five times more than the human genome.

The public release of the wheat genome data should provide a foundation to identify genetic differences between wheat varieties, wheat breeding experts said. Much more work remains to be done to discover what the genetic data means.

Lots of hard work ahead. Needless to say, climate change only adds to the questions needing to be asked and answered.

Assuring that artificial limitations are not imposed by profiteers or Luddites will probably consume a certain amount of time.

Brits to let the United States be the Cops of the World

Becks provides target ranging advice
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The defence secretary, Liam Fox, wants to speed up the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, saying that Britain is not a “global policeman”…

While Hague indicated that the new coalition government was not planning a strategic break with existing UK policy on Afghanistan, Fox said expectations of Britain’s role in the country needed to change. He also risked angering the president, Hamid Karzai, by describing Afghanistan as a “broken 13th-century country”.

In an interview with the Times, published ahead of their arrival today, Fox said the goals of the mission in Afghanistan were primarily military rather than humanitarian.

“We have to reset expectations and timelines,” he told the paper. “National security is the focus now. We are not a global policeman.

“We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened.”

Fox said he would like the forces to return to the UK as soon as possible, and ruled out any transfer of British troops from Helmand province to neighbouring Kandahar…

The visit was the first to Afghanistan by members of the new government and is intended to reflect the high priority being given to the conflict…

Britain has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan – part of a US-dominated force that is expected to grow to around 140,000 at its height in a few weeks. Washington is sending more troops in a bid to seize insurgent-held areas before a planned withdrawal starting in July 2011.

Americans are always dumb enough to volunteer as cops of the world. It keeps corporate donations rolling – and politicians get to wallow in patriotism.