Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, has resigned

A day I never thought I’d see has come: Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, has resigned.

https://www.crossfit.com/greg-glassman-retires

greg glassman and colin mcnulty crossfit

CrossFit changed my life, no question. I fondly remember meeting Greg Glassman and Nicole Carroll when they attended and taught the first ever CrossFit certification outside of North America, CrossFit Manchester in Stockport, England, the UK’s first CrossFit box*. And afterwards having a pint and a chat with Greg in The Midway pub, where I got to thank him personally.

[* If memory serves, there were 2 other affiliates before CrossFit Manchester: CrossFit Dental in Scotland, and Andrew Stemler’s CrossFit London, but I believe at the time, neither had a dedicated box to train in. CrossFit Central Scotland also had an affiliate around then, but I forget their exact timings.]

I still have the original CrossFit journals, issue 1 dated “September 1, 2003” with the headline feature: “The Garage Gym”. Issue 2’s “What is Fitness?” is still something that influences my training today. I loved what CrossFit taught me and did for me physically and health wise. It was amazing!

But over the years, CrossFit lost it’s way. The telling issue being so many of the inner circle that having been ousted and discarded over the years. Remember Mark Rippetoe, Robb Wolf, the Martins of CrossFit Kids fame, etc etc? When you keep falling out with those that are closest to you, one day you must surely look in the mirror and think: “Shit, I’m the common denominator, it must be me!”

Add to that the dangerous practices I saw being taught over and over without regard for safety (e.g. plyometric box jumps without warning of their tendency to snap Achilles tendons), the multiple injuries I and many others suffered (e.g. ripped up shoulder due to butterfly pull-ups, again taught without warning), the inexorable decline in coaching quality (e.g. refusal to allow scaling and threats to out as “cheats” anyone caught self-scaling), the lack of the much vaunted “community” which is only there if you drink the kool-aid and attend the competitions. Hence you’ll understand why, with a heavy heart, I quit CrossFit years ago.

Greg built something amazing, changed the lives of many, and changed the face of exercise & fitness for a generation. For that he can be proud and I am personally grateful. However he is also a liability to the CrossFit brand. CrossFit could have been twice as big had it had a more inclusive culture with a core focus on health and well-being, rather than the razz of athletic competition no matter the cost.

Think that’s harsh? Remember Julie Foucher in the 2015 CrossFit Games? She tore her achillies live on TV doing, guess what… plyometric box jumps! Then came back out after the break wearing a support boot and tried to continue to compete, eventually being given the “Spirit of the Games” award!! This sent the clear message from Glassman’s CrossFit that performance is more important than safety or health. 🙁

If you want to check how un-inclusive CrossFit is, search google images for “CrossFit Games 2019” and count how many screens you have to scroll down through before you see your first black face. You’ll be shocked. Now compare that to just searching Google images for “Athletics”, the difference is stark.

That’s why there was the very legitimate call for CrossFit HQ to make a positive statement on the #blackLivesMatter movement, and Greg blew it in way that only he could. “It’s Floyd-19” may go down as one of the most costly tweets of all time. Even Elon Musk’s spectacularly stupid tweet: “Tesla stock price is too high imo” had zero effect after the initial shock wore off, as Tesla’s stock rebounded and continued to hit record highs.

So despite my thanks to Greg for starting CrossFit, I’m not sad to see him go. Having said that, I am appalled that smarmy twat-in-chief Dave Castro has taken over from him! I’m very rarely rude about people, but I’ve detested Castro from the first moment I saw him speak. Though I reserved judgement as actions speak louder than words, I blame him in no small part for the poor path that CrossFit has trodden in the last decade, including many of the ridiculous decisions over the CrossFit Games programming.

I just wish that Nicole Carroll had held on for a few more days before deciding to resign. She would have made an awesome CrossFit CEO, someone who really could have taken CrossFit to the next level in terms of health, safety and inclusivity.

I truly hope that CrossFit learns and grows from this low, as it has so much potential and will hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my days.

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Ok time to stick my neck out and do some more Coronavirus predictions, because you know, why not and these are the things that I think about at 5am!

Previously, when we’d had only 100 deaths in this country, I predicted we’d have at least 30,000 deaths and sadly we past the 30k mark at the beginning of May. I also predicted worldwide deaths would be 1-3 million if we do well, 25M if we do badly. We won’t know until 2022 I reckon what the final count is.

In recent weeks the global news has been awash with stories of clusters of new CoViD case in countries that are releasing their lockdown, and some countries are already reapplying lockdown measures that they released in April.

https://healthpolicy-watch.org/countries-that-reopen-early-may-have-waves-of-lockdowns/

This is completely expected. See this graph from the infamous March Imperial College report.

https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/medicine/sph/ide/gida-fellowships/Imperial-College-COVID19-NPI-modelling-16-03-2020.pdf

Note the dates, it extends to the end of 2021! This is backed up by what happened in the 1918 Spanish flu, where assessment of the US cities’ response showed that some of them had to put lockdown measures in place multiple times before herd immunity stopped it.

There are 4 possible ways we get out of this current crisis:

1) The virus magically disappears.
2) A vaccine.
3) Herd immunity.
4) Test, track, and trace eradicates it.

Lets look at those possibilities in turn:

=== The Virus Magically Disappears ===

This has never happened before with a highly infectious virus like SARS-CoV-2. This virus isn’t going away on its own. 50 years on and HIV is still circulating. This is not a possibility and certainly no foundation for a strategy.

=== A Vaccine ===

Everyone is pretty much pinning their hopes on this. The good news is: it’s got the complete and undivided attention of the world’s scientists, there are many vaccine candidates with multiple human trials already underway.

Now for the bad news: most optimistically, the earliest an effective vaccine can get through the barest minimum of safety trials, get a license in all 195 countries on the planet, agree prices with gov’ts (no doubt the maker will charge a fortune for it!), have at least 5 billion doses manufactured, and then get jabbed into the arm of every person on the planet… well that’s not happening this year is it? At best it’ll be mid 2021 before vaccines are available in any sizeable numbers and every country will be clamouring for stock.

That’s assuming you only need 1 shot, what if you need a booster 3 months later, that would double the workload. But it’s worse than that, a few vaccine facts:

  • The world record for a vaccine to go through trials and get a license is currently… 4 YEARS! Measles vaccine work started in 1959 and the first measles vaccine was licensed in 1963.
  • There are currently no approved and licensed vaccines for ANY of the family of coronaviruses. There are current trials for SARS (17 years ago) and MERS (8 years ago) but they are not yet field ready.
  • There are many diseases we still don’t have a vaccine for, the 2 biggies being Malaria and of course HIV, but many others like: Nipah, Lassa, Lyme, West Nile, Zika, Hepatitis C, Syncytial, even flu jabs only last a year, and none for the “common cold” which is caused by… 4 different coronavirus!

Why does it take so long to get a vaccine going, and why should it for CoViD-19? If you’re going to inject every human on earth (or try to), you’ve got to be damned sure about any side effects. What if it turns out to be another Thalidomide, or worse, that it makes people sterile for example? Get it wrong and you could virtually kill off the human race. That means to be sure, you need to give it to healthy couples, who then go on to get pregnant, and then see how the that baby does. There’s a year of testing right there.

Plus there’s the issue of virus mutation. As mentioned, flu vaccine shots only last a year, because every year the flu out evolves last year’s vaccine and you get several new strains every year. Every year we could see a new CoViD: CoViD-20, CoViD-21 etc. If a vaccine only lasts a year, that’s a big problem.

Oh and don’t forget the anti-vaxxors (indeed how could you!) who believe this is all a plot by the great Satan, Bill Gates, as if somehow his $100Bn fortune wasn’t quite enough for him to buy anything in the world he could ever want, 100 times over. You can already imagine the clamour they’re going to cause if a vaccine is eventually rolled out.

In summary, a vaccine may come but it’s not even close to being guaranteed, and if it does it’s still at least a year away. More likely it’ll be 2022+ before you and I get offered a vaccine jab.

=== Herd Immunity ===

In order for a population to get herd immunity, it needs between 60-90% of the population to be immune. C19 is very infectious, so we’re possibly looking toward the 90% end of the scale.

First the good news: the vast majority of people who get C19 suffer mild (or even no) symptoms. What we don’t know is exactly what % of people who get it require hospitalisation, because we haven’t been doing 100% random testing, but I’ve seen figures around 15% (though I suspect that’s too high and the real figure will turn out to be less than 5%, it’s also very dependent on age and health).

Of those 15% who get to hospital, about 15% again will die. This gives a compound death rate of about 2%, or look at it the other way, 98% of people live. In a population of 65M people in the UK, 2% means we’re talking roughly a million people may die then! This is likely right at the upper bounds of the range, I suspect the real rate will turn out to be 0.5 – 1.0%, so 250,000+. Again we won’t know probably till 2022.

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that each death is a life of hopes and dreams lost, and a family devastated. I have 2 high risk members of my family, and I have close friends who have lost parents, it’s awful. Please don’t think for a second that a thought experiment into our future in any way means that I’m dispassionate about the impact and suffering this horrible disease is causing.

The facts are that if you’re young and healthy, the chances of you dying from CoViD-19 are very slim, not none, but very small. This gives us an in. 82% of the UK’s population is under 65, and the death rate won’t be anywhere near 2% in the under 65’s. It could be a tenth of that, and diminishing the younger you get.

The best profile for herd immunity is to shield the old, whilst the young develop a herd immunity. If we can get to 3/4 of the under 65 population developing a natural immunity, that would give us 60% nationally, which would mean we’re very nearly there in terms of an effective herd immunity percentage. The disease won’t be gone, but it should be manageable and should not spread easily.

E.g. say there’s an outbreak in a care home. The only way it spreads is if someone catches it, takes it out of the care home, and walks into another one. If all the workers of and visitors to the care home have already had it and are immune, they’re unlikely to carry it out (PPE should keep it off their clothes and hands etc). This also means that healthcare for those residents of the home can be better targeted at treating them, where there are isolated outbreaks.

Now the bad news: we don’t know how long natural immunity lasts. It might be for life, it could be a few years… could it be as bad a few months? If it is short, that’s a big problem for the herd immunity model. We’re also definitely going to see at least 100,000 deaths whilst we build up national herd immunity, and hope that it’s not as high as 250,000+. When we don’t know for sure that natural immunity will last, that’s a tough pill to swallow and will likely impact every extended family in the country.

(Those numbers are based on our current treatment of the disease, which is currently poor as the world scrabbles to understand its effects. If we can figure out a decent way to treat people who get very sick with it, then thankfully fewer people will die and those numbers will decrease. Remember that HIV was once a death sentence, but now it’s quite survivable.)

=== Test, Track, and Trace ===

Many people promote this approach and look at other countries like South Korea and China (outside of Wuhan) as examples of how it can work. The hope is that if we can identify and test people with it early, they and their family can self isolate and stop the spread. Coupled with social distancing and general measures, it can be manageable. Great in theory, not so easy in practice.

For the UK however, it’s already failed. We tried this when C19 was first an issue and there were only a few dozen known cases. It didn’t turn out too well. Let’s look at South Korea who did do it well.

They were well prepared, in schools for example they have infrared temperature monitors and their own stock of full PPE, with training in both. Every kid is temperature checked on entry to school, any with a high temperature are turned away, and the child and family have to self isolate. Kids are rechecked multiple times a day. Any that develop a temperature are isolated by the school nurse, who dons full PPE, the parents are called and the kid and family have to self isolate. They also quickly mobilised 15,000 gov’t workers to manage the whole process of tracing people connected to those infected.

South Korea also had a mandatory advanced tracking app that prioritised safety over privacy. For example there are cases where it gave out so much personal information about identified C19 cases that marital affairs were uncovered! In theory these kind of tracking apps are a good thing, but in the west we have somewhat of an aversion to being tracked by the gov’t. Already there are voices of dismay at the centralised tracking technology behind the UK’s tracking app that’s being trialled currently on the Isle of White.

These tracking apps and other non-pharmaceutical interventions can work to a degree, and have done, mostly in cultures that are more authoritarian. Like China, where facial recognition cameras scan your face every time you enter or leave a building (seriously, in some cases locked gates to/from buildings won’t open unless you scan your face), and there are “social rankings” where “bad behaviour” is punished in ways like preventing you from buying train tickets to limit your travel! Can you imagine that happening here? I can’t.

We in the west value our freedom to a degree that may make such measures inapplicable or ineffective. Just look at the anti-lockdown rallies in the USA for example.

Either way, track and trace won’t eradicate the disease. What’s particularly pernicious about SARS-CoV-2 is that it’s highly infectious, symptoms don’t occur for the first 5-7 days, during which we believe people may be infectious, and some people appear to not show any symptoms at all but are still infectious. This means track and trace will always be playing catch up.

Track and Trace is a mitigation strategy at best, not an eradication strategy. It’s what you use to flatten the curve. At the moment, as we’re in the tail of the first peak, the curve doesn’t need flattening any more. It will reduce the infection rate, but slow down the herd immunity processes.

=== The Human Cost of Lockdown ===

One thing that’s not been mentioned is the cost of lockdown, I’m not talking the economic cost (which is huge!) but the cost in extra deaths, not attributable to CoViD-19. If you look at the weekly Office of National Statistics figures released every Tuesday, at the time of writing they show over 12,000 extra deaths over the lockdown period which are NOT attributable to CoViD-19!

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsregisteredweeklyinenglandandwalesprovisional/weekending8may2020

I’ve seen 2 cancer stats (there are normally approx 1,000 new cancer cases every day) one saying cancer diagnoses are down 72%, the other said that over a month where they’d expect to see 30,000 new cancer cases, there were only 5,000! That’s 25,000 undiagnosed cancers in a month. We’ve been in lockdown for 2 months… does that meant there are 50,000 more people out there with cancer but don’t know it? I also know people that do know they have cancer and were in treatment, only to have their normal cancer treatment postponed. If you had cancer, how would you feel about having your potentially lifesaving chemo course postponed?

I’ve seen people say “Safety first, lives are more important than jobs” and I can see the argument for that. However anyone who buys into Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs will tell you that safety isn’t first in people’s needs. They need food, shelter and warmth first. Safety is second. And for those things, people need money, which means jobs, which for most means not self isolating.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

I know self-employed people who at the start of lockdown publicly announced they were quitting work and staying home, as that was the right thing to do… 2 weeks of £zero income later, they were back working! Safety is not people’s first consideration, sorry, don’t shoot the messenger. This is going to be most prevalent in the counties of the world that don’t have the safety net of a welfare state that can keep people fed.

=== Sooooo, where does this leave us? ===

C19 is not going to magically disappear (unless someone’s god makes that happen, having changed his mind from sending it in the first place, forgive me if I don’t hold my breath). A vaccine is a year or more away, if it comes at all, and if it’s effective for more than a year. But how long do we wait in lockdown, a year? 2? 3? 4 years?!? Track and trace can help, if we’re prepared to give in to unprecedented levels of gov’t monitoring and control, but will only mitigate and slow down the spread, not eradicate the disease.

That leaves us with herd immunity as the only semi-viable option, no matter how unpalatable it is. But it must be done in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the NHS. This means a rolling schedule of on-again / off-again lockdowns. Currently deaths are going down, so we’re relaxing the lockdown, but I reckon that in 2-4 weeks, cases and deaths will start to rise.

Then lockdown will have to be reapplied until the deaths and cases are falling again, probably another 4-8 weeks. What the threshold for that will be is an educated guess at the moment, and depends on NHS capacity. It was great to build the 3 extra Nightingale hospitals, but last time I looked, they were basically empty with only 17 patients in the one in London, and zero in the other 2, so we have capacity. Perhaps they become dedicated C19 hospitals and the rest of the NHS gets back to normal duties, sending any positive C19 patient off to the Nightingales?

Once deaths fall again, lockdown can once again be eased, focusing on allowing the young to mix first, i.e. schools, which are also necessary for parents to get back to work. We rinse and repeat until either: herd immunity starts to kick in and the periods of relaxation get longer and longer; or a vaccine comes riding over the hill like a knight in shining armour, making the company that found it very rich indeed.

I’d like to see the gov’t take a stance and be honest about it. e.g.:

“Right you ‘orrible lot, you’ve got 2 weeks of freedom, then we’re having another lockdown for a month or 2. If you’re under 40, do what you want, but stay away from old people. If you’re over 65, or you have a chronic health condition, you’d better lock that door and keep it locked, and get used to this because this is you for the next year at least. If you’re 40-65 and in good health, you’re likely to be ok, but it’s on you if you catch it and you turn out to be one of the unlucky ones.”

Either way, I reckon we’ll be in a rolling period of lockdowns / relaxation for another 18 months, till the end of 2021. I’ll set a calendar reminder for Xmas 2021 to revisit this and see how things panned out.

I’ve suggest a couple of ideas here, and I expect to have them critiqued. They are not fully fledged strategies, they are ideas / options / possibilities to think about. What do you think? Have I nailed it, or am I way off the mark? Is there something I missed?

Let me know, I’m interested to hear your thoughts, but here’s the deal: you’re free to criticise but how about suggesting what you’d do if you were King/Queen for a day too? Catch me either here, or on the corresponding post on Facebook.

Stay safe.

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Should Humans Have the Right to Control Nature?

Like many people I watched Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans film, but I was also sent it by a friend along with the question:

“As the self proclaimed kings of the planet , do / should , humans have the right to create the tools to override nature?”

First off, that video is a con, I watched the whole thing and Michael Moore definitely did NOT present it! 🙂  

I completely agree that we don’t have an energy problem, we don’t have a food problem, we don’t have a resources problem… we have a population problem.

Fortunately population is going to sort itself out. I used to be worried about “infinite growth on a finite planet” but the population won’t grow infinitely, so there won’t be infinite growth. We are pretty certain that the 12 billionth living human will never be born, and we’ll peak at 11.x billion around the year 2100, after which the population will decline. (Check out the many YouTube videos by the late great Hans Rosling from Gap Minder if you don’t believe that.)

In fact, I’d say it’s very likely that in 200 years the predominant worry will be global population collapse. It’s already happening in Japan who’s population was 127 million in 2014, but is expected to be only 97 million by 2040! That’s a quarter of their population gone in just 35 years!! Incidentally, nearly 40% of that 97 million is expected to be over 65.

That’s not because of consumption of resources, but because a well-educated population who have security of housing, food, power and healthcare, have fewer kids. That’s been shown in country after country.  Bangladesh went from families having 7 kids on average, to 3 kids, in just 30 years and is now down to 2 kids per family.

Getting back to this film, the solution is obvious but people don’t like it: nuclear energy. Nuclear is sustainable, doesn’t pollute the atmosphere (other than the mining required for construction and at the moment for digging up nuclear fuel), and can sustain us for 100-200 years with mined uranium.

Nuclear is getting better all the time. Current reactors are 10x as efficient as those 50 years ago, and will be a completely renewable form of energy when we inevitably stop mining uranium and start extracting it from sea water instead.

People worry about nuclear for 2 reasons: safety, and waste. First safety, even with the couple of well publicised accidents, nuclear power has directly killed only a few hundred people in its entire history. Early cancer deaths is likely to be thousands, maybe 10’s of thousands, though such reports are often disputed. Compare that to just coal power deaths which is about 100,000 EVERY YEAR! There’s no question that nuclear is far safer.

Secondly waste, in the UK we’ve been running nuclear power for around two thirds of a century, and so far the amount of nuclear waste we have to store is only as much as 4 football stadiums. Further only 0.1% of that nuclear waste is considered high level. Or put that the other way round: 99.9% of all nuclear waste is not high level. The vast majority (94%) of it is things like lab coats and gloves that people were quite happily wearing before being put in the “nuclear waste bin”!

And if nuclear fusion ever comes along (it’s been 20-30 years away since the 60’s!) that will be the abundant “energy too cheap to meter” that was the original promise of nuclear fission. It will be effectively an inexhaustible supply of completely clean and utterly safe energy, because there’s no chance of a runaway reaction.

Here’s my 100 year prediction.  In 2120 we will:

– Have no coal or natural gas power plants, all will be nuclear. Wind and solar will continue to be fringe technologies, mostly for remote communities. 

– Nuclear power stations will ring Africa, powering desalination plants that will provide an abundance of clean water, turning Africa into the world’s garden, providing the jobs to raise Africa out of its current poverty trap. 

– Population will be 11.x billion, having passed peak human, and be on the decline.

– Old world nations will be desperate for immigration to shore up their shrinking and ageing populations.* 

Battery powered vehicles will no longer exist, all will be hydrogen fuel cells, with the hydrogen being generated on site at the garages from just electrolysis of water.

In summary of the film, I’m not worried. It’ll all work out fine. We live in an amazing time of discovery and advancement. I can’t imagine wanting to be alive at any other time. History will record the 21st century as the greatest leap forward in human development. 😀

*On the subject of immigration, I believe it will dominate world politics for the next 200 years: firstly “western” countries will be afraid of it, and then they will be desperate for it. The challenge is how a country maintains its cultural identity when faced with the need for large scale immigration, because it’s indigenous population aren’t having enough kids to replace itself.

Coming back to the question of our right to override nature. If you look in nature many animals change their environment to suit their needs, whether that be birds collecting twigs to make nests or ants digging up the soil to make huge colonies, and often nature has evolved to adapt and coexist with living things in a symbiotic way, e.g. bees and pollen.

We will override nature, it’s in our nature! We have to in order to survive and flourish, which is nature’s way. It doesn’t matter what we do, the planet will survive just fine with or without us, or whether we live in mud huts or skyscrapers.

Nature is in a constant state of change, and life has radically changed this planet many times. Without life, we wouldn’t have oxygen in the atmosphere to breath. The planet’s atmosphere used to be mostly CO2, and life evolved to harness that and then change it over the last billion years to extract the CO2 and convert it to O2 through photosynthesis. But even that’s not been constant, checkout this graph:

Oxygen levels are all over the place, increasing initially up to 10x their previous levels. This is why fossils show massive insects that we don’t have now, they were around at a time when oxygen levels were much higher, which supported their large size. Note we’ve been around for roughly only the last red dash!

The original question implies nature is something static, that should be left alone, as we’re changing it. But by definition our impact IS nature, we are part of that nature and nature has never been static. It’s just a matter of timescales; we’re doing things faster than ever, because that’s our nature too.

Besides a “right” is a human construct.  There are no rights in nature.  If we collapse the human race down to a single individual, “human rights” becomes a meaningless concept.

In summary, “Do / should , humans have the right to create the tools to override nature? ” is a non-question. We will, it’s in our nature, which is part of nature. The question of our “right” to do so is as fallacious as it is irrelevant.

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Should We Pay Reparations for Slavery?

Should We Pay Reparations for Slavery? post image

We live in a rich western democracy; we know that slavery is abhorrent and a crime against humanity; we also know that we as a country profited from the slave trade. Shouldn’t we pay compensation / reparations then? As decent, honest people, isn’t that the right thing to do?

This post is intended to provoke thought and discussion, nothing more. If you disagree, feel free to say so, and why.

There are at least 6 good reasons not to pay reparations for slavery:

1) We, the currently living Britains, didn’t invade or enslave anyone, why should we (through our taxes) be made to pay for someone else’s wrong doing? If your dad was a murderer, are you responsible and should you be made to pay for his crimes? If your grandfather was a rapist and one of his victims had a child, are you financially responsible for that child and their family?

2) If we’re in the business of making people pay for historical aggressions, how far back do you go?

  • The Normans invaded and enslaved Britains, can I have reparations from the French?
  • The Vikings invaded and enslaved Britains, can I have reparations from the Scandinavians?
  • The Saxons invaded and enslaved Britains, can I have reparations from the Germans?
  • The Romans invaded and enslaved Britains, can I have reparations from the Italians?
  • My family are Irish originally, can I have reparations from the English… hold on, that’s me!?!

3) When arguments are fought and won in court, a general legal principle is to put people back into the position they would have been in before they were harmed. Should we then send all people of Jamaican decent back “home” to live the life they would have lived had the British never arrived in Jamaica? I doubt many African-American descendants of the slave trade would want to be shipped back to the Congo!

Also bear in mind that slavery was prevalent in Africa before the Europeans arrived. Most African slaves transported to the New World for example, were enslaved by other Africans, then transported to the ports by Africans and sold by Africans to the Europeans. Check out the history of the Kingdom of Kongo for example:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Kongo#Slavery_and_royal_rivalries

4) We should focus on solving current slavery issues first, before we worry about slavery from hundreds of years ago. Slavery has never been more prevalent than it is right now, with an estimated 20-40 million slaves currently alive in the world, up to 3x more than all the historic slaves trafficked during the 400 years of the 15th to 19th centuries.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/feb/25/modern-slavery-trafficking-persons-one-in-200

If you’ve been to a hand car wash or had your nails done in a shopping centre, the chances are YOU have directly paid cash for work from a modern day slave! Just because they weren’t in chains picking cotton, doesn’t make them any less a slave.

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/oct/18/nail-bars-car-washes-uk-slavery-problem-anti-slavery-day

5) Who would you pay reparations to? How would you calculate it? You couldn’t just pay reparations to 1 country, you’d be setting a precedent and every affected country would want it too. Would you pay it to the govt’s of the countries involved? But many of those countries, particularly in Africa, don’t exist any more. Would you pay it to the descendants of those trafficked by slavery? Do you deduct a proportion if their slave ancestor married a western native, so they are only half descended from a slave, as opposed to a “pure-blood” slave descendant if their ancestors only married other slave descendants?

But doesn’t that mean you’d be paying potentially wealthy western citizens who don’t need the money and are hardly disadvantaged as a result of the slave trade? Don’t the people in the countries they came from need it more? What about the slaves that died, they have no descendants to pay? How do you even prove that a currently living person is descended from a particular slave from 400 years ago?

Because huge sums of money are involved, the whole process would inevitably be tied up in court for decades, as different interested parties sought to increase their slice of the pie by challenging the calculations. Which would no doubt make the lawyers happy if no one else!

6) As a country, we’re broke. Yes we have a lot of money sloshing round the system, but the country is massively in debt and still spending more than we earn each year; isn’t that the definition of insolvency? Our national debt is currently £1.78 trillion, but that doesn’t include the unfunded public sector pension liability of £1.85 trillion, or the PFI debt of £267Bn, making a total of £3,897 Billion, or £3,897,000,000,000 if you like. That’s a colossal £124,000 for every one of the 31.4M tax payers in the country.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/17/every-briton-faces-53k-debt-for-public-secret-pensions-and-other/

There’s absolutely zero hope of us paying off that debt; it took us 100 years to pay the £1.9Bn debt we incurred to pay for World War 1, having paid 3x more in interest (£5.5bn) than we borrowed. By that measure, we’ll have to find not only the £4Tn national debt, but another £12Tn for the interest payments on top! Note that £1.9Bn in 1914 is approx £2Tn in today’s money. So it took 100 years to pay off a debt that was half the size of UK’s current one! And of course it’s going up each year, not down.

If you are a UK taxpayer, YOU PAY approx £1,600 every year towards the £48bn interest the gov’t pays on the UK’s current debt. The current UK gov’t deficit (how much we spend more than we earn) is £32Bn, which means if we had no national debt interest payments, we would be £16Bn in surplus. That’s £16Bn that could be spent each year on social care, hospitals, teachers etc.

THIS is the real source of austerity. We are suffering now for the debt our parents and grandparents ran up! We simply can’t afford to pay £Bn’s in reparations, we would literally need to borrow that money knowing that we will not pay that back in our lifetime. Ethically and morally we can’t saddle our children and grandchildren with having to pay for yet more of our spending, or for a debt neither they nor we incurred.

We are (not so) slowly but inexorably heading the way of Greece. If you’re in your 20’s or 30’s and think you’re going to get a state pension when you retire… think again. Why do you think the gov’t is pushing the pension age up? It knows the current system is just unaffordable.

Anyway, I digress. Solve those 6 problems, then we’ll talk about paying reparations.

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Yet Another “Cholesterol Not Bad” Study

If you lift your head up from the simple “gov’t guidelines” trotted out everywhere, often by well meaning GP wellness nurses, and take the time to do some of your own research, you will come to the same conclusion: dietary cholesterol does not cause heart disease. That’s the conclusion of a new study I recently became aware of:

A few quotes from that article and the studies it links to:

“There’s a growing consensus among nutrition scientists that cholesterol in food has little effect on the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream,”

Harvard Medical School
https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/panel-suggests-stop-warning-about-cholesterol-in-food-201502127713

“Dairy consumption was associated with lower risk of mortality and major cardiovascular disease events in a diverse multinational cohort.” – a study reported in The Lancet that followed the eating habits of more than 130,000 people for more than 9 years. It found that folks who consume higher levels of whole fat dairy products actually lowered their overall mortality and cardiovascular disease risks compared to those who consumed lower amounts or none.

The Lancet

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2818%2931812-9/fulltext

“For half a century, a high level of total cholesterol (TC) or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) has been considered to be the major cause of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease (CVD), and statin treatment has been widely promoted for cardiovascular prevention. However, there is an increasing understanding that the mechanisms are more complicated and that statin treatment, in particular when used as primary prevention, is of doubtful benefit.”

That last quote is from the source research for the linked article: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17512433.2018.1519391

I’ve known this for some time from my own research over the last 10 years, and evidence of my own health, e.g. see here for the results of my own sample of 1 eating a high cholesterol diet for a decade now:

If you want to read 1 very accessible book on this subject, I recommend this excellent book by a British Doctor: The Great Cholesterol Con – Dr Malcolm Kendrick

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Should You Feed Bread To Ducks and Swans?

Feeding Bread to Ducks

The country seems to have lost it’s shit over this photo of a poster that appeared on social media this week. Let’s look at the facts:

1) The “Ban the Bread” campaign was originally launched by WildThings, a company that, guess what, sells bird food.

2) Before the Ban the Bread campaign, I don’t recall ever hearing about an overweight duck or swan that had died of malnutrition after eating an excess of bread.

3) Bread of any kind is not a natural diet for ducks or swans.

4) Swans in particular (don’t know about ducks) are now dying of starvation, and some swans today are underweight.

5) The Queen’s own Swan Marker David Barker has weighed in, supporting the occasional feeding of bread to swans.

We have a culture of taking the kids to feed bread to the ducks and swans in this country, and that has likely created a situation where their population is greater than the natural food found in the waterways will support.

Ban the Bread Campaign by WildThings

Now that people are reticent, it seems clear to me that the Ban the Bread campaign, whilst very well intentioned (and I’m sure not at all motivated by a hope for increased sales!) has caused real harm to the swans, and likely ducks too.

Yes in an ideal world, everyone would switch to more appropriate bird food, but realistically that’s not going to happen, and clearly isn’t happening. I myself had an unwanted 1/2 loaf of bread this very week… it went in the bin rather than go to the local swans. I think on only 3 occasions in my daughter’s 18 year upbringing did we ever go to “feed the ducks” with some left over bread, it was hardly a regular thing.

Swan that starved to death

So either we continue to not feed bread, and suffer a population readjustment (read: mass deaths from starvation) until the population of ducks and swans reduces to a level nature can support, or we ditch the Ban the Bread idea, and go back to occasional bread feeding (proper feed preferred of course) and the joy that brings.

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Which is better nuclear or solar power

There have been gazillions of column inches written on this debate.  It’s heavily political and very emotive.

So why not listen to a self confessed hippy, christian, pacifist, anti-nuclear activist as he details what he now thinks about nuclear power, in a typically excellent Ted Talk.

Unless you’ve had a particular interest in the data before, his conclusions will surprise you and may just change the way you think:

 

So what do you reckon? What about that video surprised you? I bet like most you thought loads of people died from the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents?

To discover there were zero radiation deaths, but 1,500 from the evacuation… that beggars belief!  In fact, do you know which energy source is the most deadly?  Go on, have a guess.  Is it: coal, gas, hydro, nuclear, solar or wind (we know by now it’s not nuclear).
Which one has killed more people than any other?

It’s hydro!  Surprised? Here’s why: dams have this nasty habit of occasionally breaking and sending a massive flood downstream that wipes out villages.

To date there have been 193,566 know fatalities due to dam accidents.  But where’s the public outcry?  Where’s the hydro-activist movement demanding dams are decommissioned and and end to hydro-electric power? There isn’t one.

Compare that to the number of verified number of nuclear deaths worldwide, which is just 204, this means hydro is approximately 1,000x more deadly than nuclear!

When you put away your preconceptions and scratch the surface to actually look at the data, the case for nuclear power is overwhelming. What’s more, despite it being the clear winner, I’ve been saying for years that nuclear power is being held back from it’s real, and promised, potential. When nuclear power was first introduced into the UK, the marketing strapline was:

Power too cheap to meter.

Well that clearly never happened, and here’s why: All nuclear waste is very carefully controlled, managed, processed, stored, monitored etc etc.  That sounds like a good idea through right?  Here’s the rub:

Low Level Waste (LLW) comprises some 90% of the volume but only 1% of the radioactivity of all radioactive waste.” (source: the World Nuclear Association).

And the management of that waste costs a LOT of money. Now when we’re talking about low level nuclear waste we’re talking about:

  • protective shoe covers and clothing,
  • wiping rags,
  • mops,
  • filters,
  • equipments and tools,
  • luminous dials,
  • medical tubes,
  • swabs,
  • injection needles,
  • syringes etc

As you can see, nothing that anyone would reasonable consider radioactive.  In fact, it’s been said to me (I know several nuclear engineers) that if you took an old fashioned dial watch with luminous paint on the numbers and tossed it into a cubic meter of dirt, that would be classified as low level nuclear waster to be controlled, managed, processed, stored, monitored= £££££.

What if we allowed nuclear power to be as safe as coal power for example? I’ve never heard anyone object to how safe coal power is. Would you be ok if nuclear was as safe as coal?

Did you know that coal power kills about 12,000 people per year?  How do you feel knowing that the electricity that boiled your kettle, that is lighting your room, or that is powering your device right now, came (probably) from coal power that someone died to bring you?  I’m sure you’d feel bad for a moment… then move on, because you don’t know anyone who died from coal power. But then, you probably don’t know anyone that died from nuclear either, right?

So what if we allowed nuclear to be as safe as coal, which most people seem to be pretty happy with? What if we slashed the safety cost of nuclear by 90%? It’s really hard to put a figure on this, as health and safety is baked into every step of the nuclear process. But speak to those who work in the industry and they’ll tell you a vast proportion of everything they do is around safety.

I think it’s very reasonable to assume we could probably cut the cost of nuclear power by at least two thirds, probably more. It’s very likely nuclear power would be cheap enough that we could afford to build a ring of nuclear power plants around Africa, each next to its own desalination plant (for making fresh water from sea water).

Not only could we end water shortages in Africa within a generation, but we could irrigate Africa and turn Africa into the garden of the world. What benefits would this bring us:

  • Improved child survival rates
    • Which leads to reduced birth rates
  • Smaller families reduces population growth to sustainable levels
  • Jobs for Africans, lifting millions more out of poverty
  • No more droughts killing thousands
  • Plentiful local African food
  • Food exports improves the balance of payments (money flowing into) for African countries, improving their economies
  • Natural carbon capture as more plants suck CO2 out of the air, like the rain forests do, reduces global warming

I could go on, but you get the gist. The fact is, nuclear power health and safety policy in the west is responsible for keeping Africa on its knees.

We could end the suffering of a billion people at the stroke of a pen, if only we can get over our completely irrational fear of nuclear accidents, which have been shown over and over again, to hardly kill anyone. But it won’t happen as long as there’s a vocal ideological anti-nuclear lobby (greenpeace eta), and political parties are afraid of losing votes in the next election if they’re too bold.

In summary, African poverty and suffering is a political policy decision that could be halted with today’s technology through the sensible use of nuclear power.

How many African children are going to die, today, because of our collective fear that a nuclear meltdown might… well, might what?  Chernobyl was the worst possible disaster a nuclear accident could possibly be, and it killed a couple of hundred people, the same number as die on our roads in a month!

Vastly more people died in the stampede to get away from Fukushima, than in the accident itself.  The fact is, nuclear is incredibly safe, even when it’s a disaster!  But children are dying today, right now, in the time it’s taken you to read this post.

Think about it, we can save them, if we have the political will to do so.

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Is There Mercury in Vaccines?

Mercury in Vaccines

I decided to post this here so I don’t have to repeat the research I’ve spent the last 2 hours doing, after talking to a vaccine worried friend about mercury in vaccines.

There are several points related to the questions of vaccines and mercury and whether you should be worried or not about whether vaccines contain mercury:

1) The mercury used in vaccines (ethylmercury) and the mercury you’re probably thinking of (methylmercury) are very different. Ethylmercury can be easily removed by the body, and is. Methylmercury is much harder and hangs around in the body for much longer.

https://www.cdc.gov/…/vacsafe-thimerosal-color-office.pdf

2) Ethylmercury isn’t actual in the vaccines, it’s thimerosal that’s used in vaccines and your body breaks that down into ethylmercury.

3) Ethylmercury is found in a wide variety of products you’ve probably used and stuck in/on your body on a regular basis, including (this is a small example list):

  • makeup removers
  • mascara
  • eye moisturizers
  • desensitizing solutions
  • ear, eye, and nose drops
  • eye ointments
  • topical antiseptics
  • soap-free cleaners
  • some contact lens solutions etc.

4) I haven’t been able to find the data to support this, but I was told by a career chemist friend of mine that there’s more “mercury” in a wild ocean caught salmon, than there is in a vaccination injection.

5) From that linked pdf: “Today, no childhood vaccine used in the U.S.—except some formulations of flu vaccine in multi-dose vials—use thimerosal [the source of ethylmercury] as a preservative.” So actually you’re worrying about nothing anyway.

In summary, I’d pay no attention to “Oh noes, there’s a drop of mercury metal in every vaccine don’t you know?  Why won’t they think of the ‘ickle children!” scaremongering, spread by people who have no idea what they’re talking about, and can’t be bothered to educate themselves.

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I’ve Bought an Industrial Estate (kind of)!

Ascroft Court

In this now roughly quarterly property update I’ll cover:

  • Commercial to Residential – Ascroft Court
  • The Bristol flat flip that didn’t
  • The Telford flip that brings balance to the Force
  • Universal Credit nightmares increasing prisoners
  • I’ve been told to stop these updates

Commercial to Residential – Ascroft Court

We completed, finally! If you’ve not seen the 1 min video on facebook of me and my JV partner Clive in front of the buildings, do go and take a quick look (you may need to be my facebook friend to see this, so ping me a friend’s request if that link doesn’t work).

Whilst the sign says it’s an industrial estate, as you can see it’s really a small business park of 10 office units across 4 discrete buildings. The address is Ascroft Court, Peter St, Oldham, OL1 1HP and comprises all the 2 storey buildings you can see on this Google Streetview link.

It’s been a roller coaster of a purchase. The final offer was accepted in July 2016, and we’ve just completed some 7 months later in Feb 2017. Several times the vendors were threatening to withdraw due to delays and issues like: restrictive covenants; asbestos reports; mains drains issues; funding delays; building control certification problems; builder issues; squatters; etc etc.

If it could go wrong, it did go wrong. It seemed that every week for months on end there was a new problem to resolve. The clichéd phrase: “If property was easy, everyone would be doing it.” was never far from my lips for months. But that’s when you just have to dig in and just keep swimming: 🙂

Here’s the breakdown of the units:

  • Unit 1 & 2: leased to Oldham Citizens’ Advice Bureau
  • Unit 3: leased to a dentist and private medical practice
  • Unit 4 – 8: currently vacant, to be converted to residential
  • Unit 9 & 10: previously sold on 999 year leases, so effectively ignored.

The basic plan is to retain the current commercial tenants, and convert the empty units to residential, for which we already have the necessary planning permission.

Here are the figures:

  • Last sold in 2004 for: £1,100,000 (£1.55M in today’s money)
  • Purchase price: £390,000 – yes you read that right
  • Current rent: £34,400
  • Refurb inc all finance fees: approx £322,000
  • Expected new rent total: £160,000
  • Expected post works valuation: £1,300,000
  • Expected equity created: approx £600,000
  • Expected monthly net profit: approx £4,500

The Gross Yield, including refurb and all other costs etc will be £160,000 / (£390,000 + £322,000) = 22.5% yield, which is a very healthy figure I think you’ll agree. And whilst it looks good on paper I’ll never see any of the equity of course as it will be locked away in the property, and it’s cash flow that is all important.

The monthly profit is after interest, but before capital repayment, i.e. it assumes an Interest Only remortgage. In reality it’s unlikely we’d get an interest only commercial mortgage, but I used the IO figure to show the profitability compared to a typical Buy To Let property, so the real net income will probably be around £3,000 pcm after capital repayments are factored in. Additionally I’m sharing that income with others, so my own slice will be rather less.

However you can see why this deal has been a main focus of mine over the last 6 months. More details next time as the refurb progresses.

Bristol Title Split

Previously I reported that the last of 4 flats was left to complete. After a protracted and frustrating conveyancing process lasting several months, we finally dealt with every one of the very pedantic issues raised (none of which had been an issue for the previous 3 flats that sold smoothly), and agreed to exchange on the Monday.

Note when I say we agreed to exchange, we were in direct email and phone contact with the purchaser (something I’d recommend anyone buying or selling does, most of the time it ensures a smooth and swift transaction) and were managing the conveyancing issues with her directly. She agreed she had no more issues and was happy to exchange on the Monday.

Monday came and went with no exchange. Chasing, Tuesday came and went. Chasing again and Wednesday went. Then on Thursday we get a 1 line email from the buyer’s solicitor, completely out of the blue:

“I have been advised by our client they are no longer proceeding with the purchase.”

And that was that; 4 months of conveyancing wasted.  The upside is that since the price was set, Bristol has been going up in price, so we’ve put the flat back on for more than before… and we’ve sold it in just 7 days. 🙂

Telford Flip

Back in August I agreed to sell the Telford flip to my JV partner. Unfortunately this sale has also dragged on with various ups and downs, and having thought it was finally sorted a few weeks ago, it has fallen through too. Why will have to be a story for another day. Both this one and the Bristol flat sale fell through within a week of completing on Ascroft Court… That I believe is the universe’s sense of balance being restored!

You know some people talk about balance as if it’s a good thing. Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars) said of Anakin Skywalker that he would “bring balance to the Force”. But it’s always occured to me that given at the time the Jedi were dominant, that balance could only mean the rise of the Dark Side to balance the Good. So basically, in that case, balance was a very bad thing! 😀

Which is why I can only laugh at the irony of having 2 sales fall through, within a week of a great deal completing.

My First Court Eviction

Venmore’s and I have finally had enough of our errant tenant in Liverpool who has now given up all pretence of paying any rent and refuses all attempts to communicate. Lawyers have been appointed and court papers submitted, we’re just awaiting a court date now, but we’ve been waiting an awfully long time already.

I personally see this a failure to manage the tenant, both on Venmore’s part and my own. It should never have got this far, but the tenant has done a sublime job of manipulating the situation. It’s a tricky one as the tenant has been in the property for 11 years, and I really wanted to save the tenancy as I believed she could continue to be a good tenant for many years to come. Obviously I was wrong. Sometimes you get a bad egg, and sometimes good eggs turn bad.

I think it’s important to point out here that I’ve been a landlord for coming up on 4 years with each year increasing the number of tenants I manage, and this is the first time I’ve had to actually go to court to evict a tenant. It’s annoying, it’s a waste of money, it’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of effort, but it is inevitable. This was going to happen eventually, and I’m actually pretty happy with my record on that front.

This is where small landlords can come unstuck.  The law of averages says eventually you’re going to get a bad tenant who doesn’t pay. Whilst always awful, if you have many properties, it’s not a disaster. But if you only have a couple, it has much more of an impact.

Universal Credit

UC has become a dirty word for me. I can’t begin to explain how badly it’s been implemented. I can only assume that it’s been deliberately designed to be hard to use, difficult to engage with, and punishing in its application. You know I had a tenant who’s served 15 of the last 20 years in jail say to me:

“I might as well go back to prison, it would be easier than dealing with Universal Credit!”

Let’s take direct payment to landlords for example: I filled the correct form for 1 tenant back in November. I sent off the correct corroboratory evidence immediately after. 2 weeks later I’d heard nothing so chased. I got a “We haven’t got your information yet” stock email reply.

Every 2 weeks since I’ve chased again, and all 5 subsequent emails have been simply ignored and not responded to. Only this last week have I finally got a real person dealing with my case to sort it out, who is actually capable of having an email conversation, hurrah, though some 3 months later! Yet despite even her involvement, I still haven’t had a single direct payment. We’ll see if it actually works out in the end.

I’ve been told to stop these updates

Well that’s it for another update. You know I’ve been told by several people that I shouldn’t publish updates like this. I’ve been told that when asked how things are going, the answer should always be: “Fantastic! Couldn’t be better!” Maybe from a marketing / salesy perspective that’s good advice. There’s just one problem: I’m an Engineer by trade; I deal in facts, not fluff. 

When it comes to property, it’s not a matter of “if” something’s gone wrong, but “when”. Things go wrong all the time, it’s inevitable; what matters is how you deal with the problems, your attitude, and your problem solving skills. If property’s problems keep you awake at night, you need to have a think about whether what you’re doing is right for you.

The truth is that if someone says the sun always shines on their property portfolio, the grass is always green, and everything always goes smoothly, they’re lying to you. I believe in making relationships and really talking to people, and every single property investor I’ve had an open and honest conversation with, eventually owns up to the property nightmares they’ve had or are continuing to have, but 90% of the time they don’t advertise it openly.

So I tell it how it is, warts and all, because that’s the reality. I believe I can best serve you by telling it like it is. If you want to invest in someone, and you fall for the shiny sales patter, and get taken in by the glossy presentations and allow the smoke & mirrors to hide the reality that property is not a smooth ride, then you need to have a long hard look in the mirror and have a think about your judgement about who you trust.

Having said that, what probably does not make good reading is what’s going well.  I could mention the family I’ve been renting to for 4 years, who’ve never missed a rent payment, who never complain, who I never hear from until it’s time for an inspection or rent rise, and who’s property has gone up in value about 15% over that time. And there’s not just 1, I have several properties like that, that just tick over quietly making me both monthly cashflow, and (mostly) quietly growing in value.

But who wants to read about that! So what’s the lesson of all this: Just keep swimming! 🙂

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It is Impossible to Live Without Failing

This is an awesome speech by J K Rowling on Failure in which she says:

> “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously, that you might as well have not lived at all, in which case you fail by default.”

It’s a myth that the road to success is a smooth straight line. Almost every successful person you know, will also be the biggest failures you know and have in reality failed over and over again. As the saying goes, it takes some people 10 years to become an over-night success! 😉

I publish a bit of property diary on this very blog (scroll down!), in which I not only detail my successes, but unusually in these days of the internet, also my failures and cock ups.

I have been told that I shouldn’t do that; that I shouldn’t come across as negative, as it will put some people off. I appreciate that advice and respectfully will decline to follow it. I think that we shouldn’t shy away from admitting our failures and do as most do, which is to pretend we’re perfect and fart rainbows.

I believe we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes, and I don’t think we should shun those who make mistakes. E.g. I’ve just engaged an architect to do a HMO, despite the fact that he failed to get planning permission for his last HMO project! Do you think he knows more or less about where the limit of acceptable planning is than another architect who was successful at his first attempt say?

Formula 1 drivers are some of the best drivers in the world, driving some of the best cars in the world, yet every Grand Prix some of them crash. Why? Because they are testing the limit of their car’s ability until traction fails. Only when they hit the point of failure (and in most cases instantly recover) do they know how hard and how fast they can go.

If you’d like to get my property updates by email, comment here (no one else will see your email address) it, I send it out about once a quarter now.

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