Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Cost of War for Scotland?

It would be good to know exactly what the financial savings would have been to an independent Scotland, supposing we'd had that independence before Westminster took the UK into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, I know that an independent Scotland may have helped out in some sort of way (peaceably, I would hope), but I'm sure Scotland's share of the total cost to the tax-payers of Britain over those years would still run into the hundreds of millions of pounds considering the time and expense of those two conflicts. I'm sure an independent Scotland would have utilised this money for adventures of a more local and socially acceptable means to the population of Scotland; education and health spring to immediate mind. We may never know the exact cost figure, but it would be nice to have a conservative estimate.

The sabers are already rattling in the wind, once again, and the wind, a niggling portent at the moment, but gathering strength, seems to be blowing in the direction of Iran. That country seems to be the only major Middle East state left that is vitriolically anti-western and has plenty of oil. Maybe I'm seeing too much in the way of conspiracies and WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction), I only have the previous experience of ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair and Iraq to guide me. But I'm prevaricating here, I just hope Scotland gains independence for Scotland before the British Government decides on any more expensive military adventures. It is not Britain's job to police the dodgier states of the world, even though it seems the states that need the most 'policing' are the ones with vast reserves of oil. Politicians should remember those pins they move about on a map, represent young soldiers on the ground, with lives, and families, and hopes and ambitions. Yes, those soldiers joined up to serve their country, and do so bravely, and unquestioningly, so it seems to me their welfare in regards to where they're sent and what conflicts they are used for, should be given the highest consideration and reflection before any decisions on deployment are made.

The point is, the Scottish National Party (SNP) should make it clear that a small country like an independent Scotland, does not need, nor would want, I believe, a vast military equipped with the latest fancy killing systems. They should make it clear that Scotland's present share of the British military machine would be put towards more investment in the social fabric and transport and business infrastructure of Scotland, apart from, that is, the cost of a small defence force in fitting with the population of the country. The UK has the fifth biggest military in the world. Yes, that small island group, a mere dot on the globe of the planet has only the USA, Russia, China, and India, ahead of it in the global firepower stakes. Why does a country that size need a military that vast? It seems the Great in Great Britain relates in these modern times, when the empire is a fading memory, only to military might.

The SNP should seek out and publicise widely what Scotland's share of the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts may have been so the people of Scotland can see a ball park figure of what may have been spent more wisely on other projects pertinent to Scotland in the past, and also to gauge what the future cost of sticking with a United Kingdom armed to the teeth may be. Even without a possibility of an imminent conflict with Iran, the cost of keeping such a wealth of global firepower at hand is crippling, when there are so many more fitting and socially beneficial ways to spend such amounts of money. I know the SNP does not want Trident, or any nuclear weapons on Scottish soil, but let's make it clear that we also do not want to keep and sustain a military machine that far exceeds the needs of a small independent country. Leave the policing of the world to others, or the United Nations, it may not be a perfect organisation, but better that than partaking in military adventures with countries ruled by thoughtless politicians, ready at a whim to commit young lives to conflicts across the globe, and who should look at very recent history and learn something.

On the Iraq conflict: "A total of 179 British Armed Forces personnel or MOD civilians have died serving on Operation TELIC since the start of the campaign in March 2003." (source)
On the Afghanistan conflict: "As at 24 January 2012, a total of 396 British forces personnel or MOD civilians have died while serving in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001." (source) There are many many more that were severely injured in both conflicts.

"As of June 2010 UK costs exceeded £20bn for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined." (source)
"Britain spent at least £9.24bn in Iraq and £11.1bn in Afghanistan between April 2001 and March 2010". (source)

"The British Government is spending £4 billion every year on the Trident nuclear missile system and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan... Scotland's share of that money would be £340 million a year." (source)

"The SNP have always opposed the UK Government's decision to invade Iraq in 2003." (source)

Many people of Scotland know the SNP's views on recent past conflicts, but there seems to be much doubt, and scare-mongering, about the future. As the debate for the referendum on independence escalates and intensifies, let's have some serious facts and figures regarding the costs of previous military adventures to Scotland, and the foreseeable costs of either an independent Scotland, or a Scotland still attached to the UK. When people see the bottom line, especially in these present times of austerity, when essential public services are being butchered by a minority coalition of multi-millionaires, and low paid workers are taking pay cuts to save their jobs while the top directors are basking in 49% pay rises, they are more likely to consider the issues wisely rather than listen to some of the hysterical hyperbole from either side of the fence. Despite what some say, the end of world civilisation, as we know it, will not begin if a small country with a population of a little over five million, may decide to run that country for itself and the best interests of it's people.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Every school kid should be handed one (eBook reader, that is!)

Since gaining an eBook reader at Christmas, I have read dozens of books, many more than I would usually over that small period of time till now, four weeks later, and certainly more than the equivalent in paperbacks I would have bought. The books read have also been varied, not only my usual taste, but a mixture of the classics, contemporary crime fiction, and educational. And the fact is, with the rise of eBook stores like Kindle on Amazon, Smashwords, and many others, as well as fantastic online depositories of classics like the Gutenburg Project, where tens of thousands of eBooks are downloadable absolutely free on a variety of formats, I don't ever again foresee the day when I will be stuck for something to read.

I can feel sorry for school kids these days. We're always hearing how kids don't read any more, they spend all their time stuck in front of a computer screen, they don't exercise, they don't blah blah de, gloom, gloom... Well, take computer screens for example, and the internet which invariably is accessible via such computer screens. That is a portal to education that I couldn't have dreamt of when I was a school kid, and a kid even spending a great deal of time gaming, is still picking up and learning when they're not in the pursuit of baddies from planet X or wherever, or landing a 747 in some simulated tricky airport with virtual crosswinds of a disastrous nature. In reality, even kids that 'don't read' are reading and taking in a hell of a lot educationally in the course of a week's computer access.

Some facts. Let's face it, kids embrace technology, and text books are usually pretty heavy, dull, and lacking in technology. Printed books are expensive to buy, and printed books wear out quickly, especially when carried around from home to school, school to park, park to mall, mall to home, usually in a bag not fit for purpose and endlessly thrown around and flipped from shoulder to shoulder throughout the course of a day. A School book won't last long, no matter how studious and conscientiously caring the child bearing it for a time uses it. It will soon become ragged, pages loose, stained by food and drink, and treated to its detriment in a variety of demeaning ways. On the other hand, an eBook reader is light, robust, will fit in a large pocket, or can be carried in a cheap fit for purpose case that will keep it safe and earnestly working for years to come. An eBook reader will hold within its slim dimensions, hundreds of books (my particular model can hold around 1400). EBooks can be bought cheaper, will last longer, will never, as long as the device, and a computer with the backup, is available, be lost, coffee stained, or lose important pages from the end of a chapter!

A kid with an eBook reader isn't a kid with a book, a kid with an eBook reader is a kid with an near unlimited library of knowledge available to them with a few clicks and the seconds it takes to transfer a text book, a classic novel, or a wealth of knowledge of science, engineering, history, art, or whatever interest is stimulating the holder of that simple piece of technology. School kids will begin to read again.

I don't know the in's and out's of a typical school budget, regarding the buying of text books, whether local education authorities pool resources in buying technology for education. I couldn't tell you when economies of scale decide when something or another is now economically viable. What I can tell you is that if you give a kid an eBook reader when starting school, and stock the school library with all the electronic text books that kid will use in the time he spends at that school, then in the long run that school will save not only in the budget previously used for printed books, but will more than save the cost of initially buying the eBook readers for those pupils. The kids at that school will benefit immeasurably, not only because they will be reading again, but because of that almost unlimited library of knowledge available to them through this device that the school has provided; the curriculum books will be accessible, but so will much much more. The younger siblings of those kids, when they enter that school, will read the same books, for these electronic books won't wear out, or lose pages, or become stained with coffee, juice, or ice-cream. They will practically last forever. The school will benefit not only in saving money that can be used elsewhere in the realms of the education system, but will also turn out brighter, more intelligent kids, used to having the wonder of almost unlimited knowledge at their fingertips.

The present day price of most eBook readers, I think, would make it feasible, especially with bulk discounts, to issue every kid one of these devices. Most printed books a school will use will probably already be available in a less expensive eBook version, or I'm sure can easily be adapted to such with a little formatting, and a publisher willing to do the change or lose the sale. I'm sure handing every kid an eBook reader is a win, win, win, situation. The kid wins, the school wins, and society would also be a winner.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

My tentacles reach out farther

As well as through Kindle on Amazon, I am also publishing eBooks with Smashwords. Why? I hear you say, well basically for a wider distribution, Smashwords have deals to distribute eBooks to Sony, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Diesel. A wider distribution field means hopefully more potential readers will come across and perchance make a purchase of my eBooks. Time will tell. Smashwords, like Kindle, charge nothing to publish with them, therefore, apart from a little formatting work, there is not much involved in widening the sphere of availability.

There is also the reason that eBook sales are a fantastically growing market, and who can tell how far sales of electronic books will go in the future. One survey forecasts sales of eBooks to reach $10 Billion by 2016. Having a Kindle reader now myself, I predict personally I will be seeking out eBook versions of interesting authors I come across before going out and buying print editions, though I am no way predicting the disappearance of the paperback, which I think will always be an option, and perhaps the only choice for a large proportion of readers. I do think though that eBook sales will rise, and print sales will decline, until eventually an equilibrium is reached. At the end of the day, people will still read books, and whether by electronic means or by the printed page, books will be bought.

At present my eBooks for sale on Smashwords are:
New Light for the Soul and Fractured in this Killing Scene

My Smashword Author page is here

Smashwords can be found here