Friday, 24 March 2017

Assumed Guilt, Assumed Blame and Assumed Persecution.

This is a subject I have been meaning to write about for some time. In fact it concerns a revelation I had several decades ago. It concerns a fallacy that most of the world’s population holds to be true. One that is responsible for much of the misery and strife in the world.

Let me begin with a silly illustration. Suppose an Italian flies into London from Rome. Once in the city he announces:

“You see those straight roads? It’s me you should thank for those. Like the alphabet? Yup, me again”.

Or perhaps an Englishman flies to India.

“You like those clocktowers in the town squares? Us to thank for those. Enjoying the cricket? You are welcome!”

This is obviously stupid. Someone taking credit for something that was done generations ago. Something that would have been done long before they were born. There is a good chance that no one directly related to him was involved whatever.

This is evidently preposterous. Why then, does most of humanity hold a view that the opposite is true. Why do we maintain that someone shares the guilt for acts done generations before? Acts that may not even have been made by their ancestors. Acts that are simply accredited to the national, ethnic or religious group they are identified with.

Talk to most young Germans and they have an admirable abhorrence of the crimes of Nazism. But they have also assumed responsibility, which is a quite different thing. You are not responsible for something that happened before you were born. You are not responsible for something that if you had been around you would have had no control over anyway. This does not mean that we ignore that such things might have been wrong or even downright evil. If the human race is ever to progress it must stop blaming innocent people for the crimes of others.

For all I know my great-grandfather may have spent his Sundays running through orphanages with an axe and a flamethrower. I never met the man. If I had I would have probably had no influence over him. His guilt is not mine. Nor is that of my grandfather nor father. Nor is that of the millions of people who just happen to be of the same nationality as me. I have very little influence over the actions of my nation's politicians. Many of the choices they have made I am against. You might just like to ask what I thought before you automatically tar me with the same brush.

Many decades back an intelligent but often confused friend told me that I should feel guilty because I am white. I was in Tennessee at the time, but this still baffled me. “Being white gives you privileges and you should feel guilty about that.”

No, that is bollocks! Firstly I dispute that being white does give you privileges anymore. Tell that to my girlfriend who cannot get the money she is legitimately entitled to from the DSS because the staff at the local branch are only helping their friends and families. Secondly, I’ve never owned slaves nor dealt in them. If any of my ancestors ever were involved in the slave trade they were probably the poor sod with the mop and bucket who had the worst job on the ship! Thirdly, I have never, to my knowledge, ever met a slave. Yes, I have met people whose ancestors may have been slaves. Or whose ancestors may have been slavers, for that matter. Often glossed over is that many African tribes happily sold their enemies and prisoners into slavery. But no one I have met actually had this happen to them. That such a thing did happen to an ancestor is terrible. But it did not happen to them. Here we have the third corner of a toxic triangle. With “Assumed Guilt” and “Assumed Blame” we have “Assumed Persecution”.

Terrible things have been done in the past and we should not forget these, lest we fail to learn from them. Your ancestors may have been subject to persecution, genocide, slavery or eviction from their lands. But these things did not happen to you. This does not entitle you to do similar things to someone else. And the people you are blaming and victimizing probably are not personally responsible.
The whole world works on “I hate you because your grandfather might have done something to my grandfather”.
Currently in the world millions of people are blaming millions of other people who were not responsible for wrongs that they did not experience. And we use these crimes of previous generations to justify new crimes against the innocent.
 There is a school of thought that the only real right is to be responsible for your actions and choices. If that is the case then perhaps we also have the right not to be held responsible for the actions and choices of others.
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Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Soldier's Mantle.

In previous blogs we have seen how useful items such as scarves, keffiyeh and bandanas can be. North Vietnamese soldiers often favoured a neckerchief cut from camouflaged cargo parachute material. This was generally worn inside the jacket but could be spread over the shoulders for additional camouflage. A similar idea is seen below using capes of more conventional camouflage material. Capes and cloaks have often been a topic of these blogs but so far I have not made much discussion of their merits for concealment.

Recent posts should have made it clear that there is a lot more to camouflage than simply colours and pattern. Shape and silhouette are also very important. There is very little point in camouflaging your face and headgear if a distinctive head and neck shape is visible.

Some camouflage systems recognise this. The Soviet system shown below is obviously designed to conceal the distinctive head and shoulders shape. Modern sniper ghillie suits often address this too. There is, however, in some quarters, a silly attitude that such levels of shape disruption are “just for snipers or special forces”. While it is not practical for all infantrymen to operate in ghillie suits improvements can be made over current levels of camouflage. There is more involved in camouflage than simply wearing a patterned jacket and helmet cover!

Possibly the most practical approach is to create a sort of “soldier’s mantle”. In effect a short cloak or shawl. Shown below is a small net-like item that might be a good starting point. Ideally it would be a light sand colour to be suitable in the widest range of environments. A few blobs of a darker, contrasting brown colour would not hurt. Like the helmet camouflage that was described in a previous blog the camouflage effect is greatly improved if three-dimensional materials such as hessian, scrim and raffia are added. One of the reasons for selecting a net-like material is so that natural materials can be added too.

To correctly position the mantle drape it over the head as was described in this post. The material can be then folded back to gather around the neck when on the move, draped over the head for better concealment when more static. The best way to keep the mantle in place is to sew laces or toggles where you jacket collar meets the shoulder. This leaves most of the mantle free to be draped over your webbing or rucksack straps. The material hanging down in front may help conceal your weapon and chest equipment. Material at the rear will help conceal the top of your pack. The mantle should be of a size that it just covers the upper arms. The folds of the cloth help break up the shape of the shoulders, even when not worn over the head.

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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Non-Slip Knot

Yesterday I learnt a new knot! I came across a rather informative article on the Kryston website which includes the “non-slip knot”.

The non-slip knot resembles some of the honda knots in that it is made from an overhand knot in the standing part. If you tie the overhand by passing a bight through a loop the knot will be half-tied already. Wrap the running end around the main part and feed the end back through the overhand knot.  This knot forms a very strong fixed size loop.

The article was about fishing line but the knot also seems to be suitable for larger cordage. It is easy to learn, easy to tie, easy to adjust and relatively easy to untie. The knot itself looks compact and neat. This is a knot that is worth adding to your repertoire.

The non-slip knot has been added to the new version of “Scrapboard Knots”.

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Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Isotonic Trap

 Osmosis “is a process by which molecules of a solvent tend to pass through a semi-permeable membrane from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one”. It is distinct from diffusion, which is movement from a region of a high concentration to regions with a lower concentration.
What has this got to do with survival, self-defence or any of the other topics this blog has been known to cover? Keep reading and all will become clear.
Suppose you have an orange. You peel the orange and drop it into a vase of water. What happens? After a while the orange begins to swell up as it absorbs water. This is osmosis. The interior of the orange is relatively concentrated with lots of sugars and other molecules. Proportionally its interior is rather low in water compared to the liquid it is floating in. The orange skin is a semi-permeable membrane in that it will let water across but not the larger molecules.
Suppose we take a big bag of salt or sugar and empty it into the water in the vase. If we add enough we may see the orange begin to shrivel. The solutes in the solution surrounding the orange are more concentrated than the orange’s interior so water is being drawn out.
This is a very important mechanism in nature and biology. To give you another example. A freshwater fish is more concentrated than the water it swims in. Its body is therefore constantly absorbing water and the freshwater fish must constantly pee to maintain an equilibrium. The sea fish, however, is surrounded by fluid that is saltier than its body fluids. Water is constantly being drawn from the sea fish and it must constantly drink to avoid “dehydration”.

Some of you may have realized that the concentration of the fluids in the glass could be adjusted so that it matched that inside the orange. There would be no net water gain or loss. Such a condition is called “isotonic”. If an environment is more concentrated than another it is termed “hypertonic” and its less concentrated compliment “hypotonic”.
Isotonic is a word you will have encountered. Many sports drinks are described as isotonic. Very often the marketing of these involves misrepresented facts and sometimes outright “snake oil”.
Sports drinks fall into two categories. The first are “power drinks”, which are effectively liquid food. They are intended to replace energy and salts (aka electrolytes) consumed during heavy exercise. They contain lots of carbohydrate, usually in the form of sugars. There will also be a smidgen of salts and other stuff. Because they contain so many solutes power drinks tend to be hypertonic.
The second category of sports drink are designed to rehydrate the body and replace salts lost from sweating. Some of these drinks are hypotonic. Many promote the fact that they are isotonic. The blurb often says something like “by being in balance with your bodily fluids drink XXX rehydrates you better than plain old water”.
Sound logical? Think back to our orange in a glass. Imagine the orange is the lumen of your gut and the liquid it is floating in is the rest of your body. When the two were isotonic there was no net movement of water! If we wanted water to leave the orange the interior of the orange needed to be hypotonic.
So, are these drinks more efficient than water? There is a grain of truth here but it is often misrepresented. I will need to sketch a crude picture of how the body moves water out of the gut. In essence what the body does is create a very high, localized concentration gradient across the gut wall. It “pumps” sodium ions across the gut wall. This is an active process that requires energy. The energy comes from ATP, which is generally generated from sugars in the gut.. This osmotic gradient created pulls water across the gut wall. Moving small quantities of sodium allows the movement of large quantities of water. It’s a bit like moving a herd of donkeys with a single carrot.
So yes, a little bit of sugar and salt will aid water uptake. But that sugar and salt don’t need to be ingested with the water. Except under extreme circumstances the body generally has sufficient reserves and humanity has managed to rehydrate drinking just pure water for millennia. Carry some raisins or boiled sweets. The replenishment of water and supply of sugars can help offset fatigue.
Taste is another factor. Because they are sweet and/or acidic it is easier for some people to drink larger volumes of sports drink than they would of water, so actual intake of water is higher. There is an interesting experiment that you can try. Take two glasses of water and add just a dash of lemon juice to one. Try each.
It should be obvious that for rehydration you need to drink something that is hypotonic, although a pinch of salt and a little sugar won’t hurt. Drinks with high carbohydrate concentrations will be poor for rehydration, despite some manufacturer’s claims.
Many sports drinks may be isotonic when they are in the can, but is this still true when they reach the gut? Isotonic saline is 0.9%. Incidentally it is useful for soaking bloodstains out of laundry. You can make some isotonic saline by dissolving 4.5 gms of salt in half a litre of water. Taste it. You will find it is way too salty to make a pleasant sports drink. Whilst sports drinks do contain some salt they mainly use sugars to make them isotonic. A body that has been exercising wants sugars and sugars are needed for water uptake, so this seems logical. An isotonic glucose solution is 5% and isotonic sucrose solution is about 9.75%. 47.25 gms per half litre! Yes, that is a lot.
Another factor to consider is that sugars and other complex carbohydrates are mainly digested in the small intestine. They are broken down into monosaccharides such as glucose and fructose and most of them will be absorbed in the small intestine. The majority of water absorption does not take place until later in the large intestine. By the time your sports drink reaches here it will have lost most of its sugars and no longer be isotonic.
Let me return to the topic of power drinks. Most people do not need to ingest calories in this manner. That includes most athletes. You are being subjected to marketing to make you think you are not really trying, not a true athlete, unless you use drink XXX. Taking in lots of calories in liquid from is a bad idea. The lack of solids means that you never feel sated. This is why we have an obesity crisis. People are drinking vast quantities of sugar as soda or fruit juice and never feeling full. It seems likely that even isotonic drinks have way more sugar than they need. You may be drinking more calories than you exercise off!

If you do need a sports drink dilute some cordial and add just a pinch of salt. A friend of mine and myself discovered that “fruit squash” is much more refreshing if you make it very dilute.
I am a qualified biologist who used to try to teach medical students science and physiology. But as always, don’t take my word for it. Do some research of your own, but be wary of advice that is actually just a rehash of marketing. Start by reading the links below.

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