A Turkish Coup

As if the Middle East was not complicated enough as it was. While a lot of things have happened there recently, probably the biggest one was the coup attempt in Turkey, and interestingly enough, it was probably starting at the same time I was watching an interview with the Turkish Prime Minister on TV. The interview was almost certainly recorded, but nevertheless it was somewhat ironic that he was talking about the stability of democracy in Turkey, amongst other things.

There is one thing about this coup attempt that interested me, and that was the way it happened. In my ebook novel, “Miranda’s Demons”, I had a prescription for what should be in a coup. I am not saying that this prescription is sufficient, but I thought at the time it was at least necessary, and it appears that the Turkish generals who organized the coup broke all the items in this prescription. They should have bought my book J. Cheap at the price, the alternative being either the death penalty or a very long time in a Turkish jail.

In any coup attempt, the incumbents have many advantages, including being there, and having a significant machinery to enforce the law. Recall, coups are generally considered illegal, at least until they are successful. So, how to succeed? Obviously, the first requirement is to prevent the incumbents from organizing a response. The one big advantage to the plotter is, as long as they can maintain secrecy, surprise. They have to achieve as much as they can before a response can be started. That means taking and controlling the centres from which a response might be organized, and in particular, controlling communications. As far as we can make out, these plotters failed to appreciate the importance of communications, and so Erdogan was able to call out the population onto the streets and organize other responses.

Erdogan happened to be out of the country at the time. Accordingly, a prime requirement was to keep him there. That meant an important first strike had to be on airports, and if possible, keep the fact that you now controlled them secret. If Erdogan wanted to return, have a welcoming party awaiting him. But the plotters seemingly had overlooked this as well.

Suppose they had achieved that, there was a very important next step that was overlooked: why should people accept the coup? Just saying they don’t like the government is not good enough; at times I don’t like my government, but a coup is hardly an answer. What they need is a cause, and as soon as they control the communications, it is important that that cause is announced, and it is most desirable that the cause is one the population will appreciate. We don’t know why they tried to carry out this coup, but it is unlikely that they would have had a strong following because the coup collapsed through people power. Not good for the plotters.

The next thing they needed was enough men to do this quickly and discreetly, and oddly enough, they failed here too. Driving tanks through a city merely irritates the population, and begs the question, what are the tanks going to do about opposition? Unless the tankers are prepared to machine gun down opposition, a tank is counterproductive, and these soldiers were not prepared to do that. If you want to do it by sheer power, you actually have to demonstrate the willingness to use it. Either you have to get the population behind you, or you have to make them too afraid to oppose you. Since the two are mutually exclusive, you have to choose early, and follow through with vigour.

So, democracy is restored? I am not so sure. What I think this may have done is to cement in the authoritarian rule of Erdogan. I gather that over 2,000 judges have been arrested or dismissed. Why? Presumably because they might give judgments that Erdogan does not like. It is most unlikely that many judges could be part of a military plot. This will be giving Erdogan a chance to clean out those who oppose him personally, and the last I heard was that over 50,000 government employees, including teachers, have been fired and are under investigation. They could not be part of the coup, otherwise the secrecy would have been lost. Fifty thousand people can’t keep a secret, or if they can, there were easily enough people available to take all the key positions. Interestingly, in Turkey the power is supposed to reside with parliament, not the President, but in the interview I saw the Prime Minister effectively stated he was going to hand over power to Erdogan because Turkey needed a strong leader who could get things done, and this was before the coup attempt. For me, that is not very encouraging.

We need fact-based decisions – or do we?

Do you often wish that politicians would base their actions on facts? I know I have from time to time, but facts are slippery little things, and in the hands of politicians, they take on a whole new degree of slipperiness. You may recall back in 2003, the “facts” as presented to the world included that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and he could launch on Europe or the UK in a matter of hours. In fact there were no such weapons. Further, at the time there was no evidence at all that anyone who could be described as reliable had seen any such weapons, and further, the UN weapons inspectors at the time kept asserting that they had not seen them, and they were convinced there were no such weapons. At the time even I was convinced there would be no such operable weapons. The reason for that is that something like anthrax needs a dispersing agent, and there was no such fresh agent entering Iraq since the Iraqis were ejected from Kuwait. Had there been weapons from that time secreted away somewhere, with no special preservation conditions, the dispersing agent would have clogged up. Similarly, any of the phosphorylating nerve “gases” would have condensed, and border controls should have been able to stop the importation of a chemical such as methylphosphonyl difluoride. Iraq could not make such a chemical without giving evidence that it was doing so. So we could safely assume there were no chemical weapons, or if you did not believe that, the onus was on you to provide evidence. There was no evidence, nor weapons of mass destruction; merely politicians with an urge to go to war.

It appears that in the recent Brexit campaigning, there were many “facts” floating around that simply were not true, or at best they were misleading in the extreme. Apparently there were also facts that were concealed. I saw a TV interview with Major General Julian Thompson, and he asserted that the EU was floating the idea of an EU army, in other words the EU was taking a further step towards becoming a federation of states as opposed to a collection of countries. The General was in a position to know, so it is reasonable to assume this has some basis. We shall have to wait and see.

A classic example of politicians behaving loosely with facts was recently exemplified here. There was a program proposed in parliament that involved the creation of new social benefits. The Minister of Finance jumped to his feet and vetoed it, on the basis that the cost he quoted would exceed the budgetary limitations. Some time later he was forced to admit the number he came up with was the estimate for a period of four years, not the one year implied by the veto.

One that annoys me is the irrelevant fact. As an example, I recently saw a statement that “enough sunlight strikes the earth in an hour to supply our energy requirements for a year”. The first problem is the undefined “our”, but let that pass. What is proposed? There are 8766 hours in a year, more or less, so for continual supply, we need an area of solar panels normal to the solar radiation equal to the cross-sectional area of the earth divided by 8766, which comes out as about 14579 square km. A square solar panel of 121 km along its side would do nicely, provided it was always at right angles to the solar radiation, and provided it was 100% efficient. Now, I am fairly sure he was not proposing that, so why put up this proposal anyway? It is a startling figure that promises unlimited energy, until you actually put some figures on what has to be done to get it. Politicians let loose with facts are quite a menace unless there are independent agencies with the ability to check them.

Why do we have this type of economy?

There is little doubt that Adam Smith did as much for economic theory as anyone, but that does not mean that he and David Ricardo had found the best way to run an economy. For the Smith doctrine, markets are free and competitive, therefore what you get is proportional to your value, or at least your social contribution. It assumes that entry to the market place is effectively free and unconstrained, as is exiting, and further no single entry or exit will significantly perturb the market. The problem with this point of view is that it just does not apply in many areas. Smith based his analysis on an agricultural society, and in this the farmers have to sell whatever they grow, and his assumptions are valid. An additional farmer, or one who does not produce, makes little difference to the market. There are ups and downs. I can recall when I was young there was a potato glut, and farmers were taking potatoes and throwing them over a cliff. My father was at the bottom and picked up what he needed and set off to grow them for next season, his reason being if everyone else was getting out of potatoes, next season there would be a shortage. That happened, and prices went up by a factor of ten. Smith’s theory was working well, including the fact that some could see what would happen and make money from their foresight.

However, there is another side to the market: some find the best way to make money is not to be efficient, but to exercise power. With sufficient power, you can close out competitors, and with a monopoly, or failing that, a limited oligopoly, you can price how you like. The problem with Smith’s analysis is that the players respond differently to their rewards. Some spend and others save. The concept of saving, in the Smith analysis, is that the saver simply delays reward, while investment is made with the goal of forgoing present rewards with the view to get bigger rewards in the future. But suppose the purpose of saving is not to get rewards, but rather to gain economic power? With power, you also get inequality, because the purpose of power is to get your rewards by tithing those without sufficient power.

In a previous post (http://wp.me/p2IwTC-5n ) I constructed a simple game where 128 people started equally, and they could either spend or save. After as few as five rounds, where in each round there was a fifty-fifty choice of whether to spend or invest, one was clearly ahead of all the rest. Now, you might say, if someone is prepared to forego current pleasure, is it not fair that he ends up with more wealth in the end? That depends, in my opinion, on how he uses it. If the saving is merely spent on getting a bigger brighter object, then that is of no concern, but if he uses wealth to close down others’ opportunities, then that is not helpful.

The problem with the wealth is that when opportunities are rare, whoever gets in first and succeeds has a great start. There is no doubt that in the very early stages of a new technology, there are a number of failures as a very few become ascendant. The question then is, why do they become ascendant? In some cases it is because others fall by the wayside, in part because they were one-hit wonders, and as time passes, the hit that was is no longer a hit. But in other cases, it was because they were lucky, or had a slight edge at the right time and place. How much is due to power and influence? It may very well be that it has nothing to do with the best product. Thus I recall when desktop computers came into being, businesses all went with Microsoft. Why was that? First, Microsoft somehow came to a deal with IBM, which in principle had been leading in the handling of mainframe computers for some time. Why IBM gave Microsoft that position is one of the mysteries of life; presumably they did not foresee what would happen, because the opportunity was theirs for the taking. IBM gave businesses a feeling of “security”. Second, these businesses often had in-house computer “experts”, and these would recommend Microsoft, even if it were not the best. Why? Well, if they recommended Apple, say, the bosses could work out how to use it themselves, and the jobs of the “IT experts” were not necessary. Better to go with IBM, and keep their jobs because the procedures then were too opaque for the bosses, and the workers were not going to show them how to do what would make them unnecessary. There are a number of other businesses, such as telecoms, insurance, pharmaceuticals, banks, etc, that are essentially oligopolistic.

Pharmaceuticals are an interesting example, in that the relevant companies have supported extremely expensive testing regimes that ensure the barriers to anyone else entering are so high. With little competition, they price their drugs extremely highly, thus ensuring many ordinary people cannot afford them, and also, they tend to focus their research on chronic problems, or problems such as cancer, where any treatment has to be on-going for a long time. There is also the question of personal rewards. The large payments to the banksters who effectively brought the economy to its knees, and their firms to near collapse is hardly a sign of reward for value and efficiency.

So, the question is, are our economies run by means that are fundamentally efficient and fair, or are they based on exploitation? If the former, governments cannot do anything but mess them up; if the latter, then defeating entrenched power is necessary for fairness and shared prosperity. Assuming we want to be fair. Do we, or do we prefer to let greed win out, and ignore the [plight of those who did not win?

Martian Fluvial Flows, Placid and Catastrophic

Despite the fact that, apart from greenhouse effects, Mars has had temperatures that never exceeded about minus 50 degrees C over its lifetime, it also has had some quite unexpected fluid systems. One of the longest river systems starts in several places at approximately 60 degrees south in the highlands and drains into Argyre, thence to the Holden and Ladon Valles, then stops and apparently dropped massive amounts of ice in the Margaritifer Valles, which are at considerably lower altidude and just north of the equator. Why does a river start at one of the coldest places on Mars, and freeze out at one of the warmest? There is evidence of ice having been in the fluid, which means the fluid must have been water. (Water is extremely unusual in that the solid, ice, floats in the liquid.) These fluid systems flowed, although not necessarily continuously, for a period of about 300 million years, then stopped entirely, although there are other regions where fluid flows probably occurred later. To the northeast of Hellas (the deepest impact crater on Mars) the Dao and Harmakhis Valles change from prominent and sharp channels to diminished and muted flows at –5.8 k altitude that resemble terrestrial marine channels beyond river mouths.

So, how did the water melt? For the Dao and Harmakhis, the Hadriaca Patera (volcano) was active at the time, so some volcanic heat was probably available, but that would not apply to the systems starting in the southern highlands.

After a prolonged period in which nothing much happened, there were catastrophic flows that continued for up to 2000 km forming channels up to 200 km wide, which would require flows of approximately 100,000,000 cubic meters/sec. For most of those flows, there is no obvious source of heat. Only ice could provide the volume, but how could so much ice melt with no significant heat source, be held without re-freezing, then be released suddenly and explosively? There is no sign of significant volcanic activity, although minor activity would not be seen. Where would the water come from? Many of the catastrophic flows start from the Margaritifer Chaos, so the source of the water could reasonably be the earlier river flows, but why did it ice?

If we start with the source of the water, that would presumably be volcanism, and the evidence is there was plenty of volcanic activity about four billion years ago. Water and gases would be thrown into the atmosphere, and the water would ice/snow out predominantly in the coldest regions. That gets water to the southern highlands, and to the highlands east of Hellas. There may also be geologic deposits of water. From the previous posts, the gases would contain methane and ammonia. The methane would provide some sort of greenhouse effect, but ammonia on contact with ice at minus 80 degrees C or above, dissolves in the ice and makes an ammonia/water solution. This, I propose, was the fluid. As the fluid goes north, winds and warmer temperatures would drive off some of the ammonia so oddly enough, as the fluid gets warmer, ice starts to come out. Ammonia in the air will go and melt more snow. (This is not all that happens, but it should happen.) Eventually, the ammonia has gone, and the water sinks into the ground and freezes out into a massive buried ice sheet.

If so, we can now see where the catastrophic flows come from. We have the ice deposit where required. We now require at least fumaroles to be generated underneath the ice. The Margaritifer Chaos is within plausible distance of major volcanism, and of tectonic activity (near the mouth of the Valles Marineris system). Now, let us suppose the gases emerge. Methane immediately clathrates with the ice (enters the ice structure and sits there), because of the pressure. The ammonia dissolves ice and forms a small puddle below. This keeps going over time, but as it does, the amount of water increases and the amount of ice decreases. Eventually, there comes a point where there is insufficient ice to hold the methane, and pressure builds up until the whole system ruptures and the mass of fluid pours out. With the pressure gone, the remaining ice clathrates start breaking up explosively. Erosion is caused not only by the fluid, but by exploding ice. The temperature never gets near the freezing point of water.

The point then is, is there any evidence for this? The answer is, so far, no. However, if this mechanism is correct, there is more to the story. The methane will be oxidised in the atmosphere to carbon dioxide by solar radiation and water. Ammonia and carbon dioxide will combine and form ammonium carbonate, then urea. So if this is true, we expect to find buried where there had been water, deposits of urea, or whatever it converted to over three billion years. (Very slow chemical reactions are essentially unknown – chemists do not have the patience to do experiments over millions of years, let alone billions!) There is one further possibility. Certain metal ions complex with ammonia to form ammines, which dissolve in water or ammonia fluid. These would sink underground, and if the metal ions were there, so might be the remains of the ammines now. So we have to go to Mars and dig.

I am hoping to attach two images taken by the NASA satellites. One shows the Dao and Harmakhis Valles. The other shows a small section of one. As you can see, the greatest erosion happens near the sources, or in isolated sections, and these can have extremely steep sides. In the second, the flow is from top right to bottom left, and you an see it has to link through a very narrow channel. Additionally, you should be able to see what looks like signs of slight run-off erosion similar to that you might expect from snow melting on the close-up. My view is that these great cavities were simply huge ice masses that eventually melted and flowed away.

Where now, Britain?

I suppose many will be sick of Brexit now, nevertheless I feel like adding my tuppence worth. My futuristic novels generally have some aspect of alternative governments in the background, or as settings for the stories, and in some ways the Federal form in one of the trilogies, and in one other story, has similarities with the EU. The reason I raise this is because I do not feel that Brexit was just a wildly irrational thing to do (and that does not mean I think it was a good thing to do) but rather I think it was a failure of governance on the part of the EU, and a failure of leadership by Cameron.

Take as an example, one Brit I saw interviewed stated his wages were reduced by three quid an hour recently, and his employer did that simply because said employer could get cheaper labour from Eastern Europe. With free movement of labour, wages fall to the lowest available, but the cost of living does not fall correspondingly. The benefits of said lower wages fall into the laps of the employing class. Accordingly, we might suspect the EU bureaucrats are more interested in assisting the welfare of the rich than considering that of the masses. Now, if that happened to you, would you vote to retain such competition for your job? More than one who voted to leave, when interviewed, said something like, “I’m broke, so I vote to break the system that broke me.”

There were two interesting concentrations of votes to remain. The first was in London, where many are professionals, and many are cheap labour from the East, both of whom benefited greatly from remaining. The second was from Scotland, and my guess is some of that was insurance: if exit won, the Scots would wish to exit from the UK and hope their voting for the EU would let them remain in the EU. In short, it was partly a vote to exit from the UK.

The votes to leave apparently mainly came from the unemployed or the wages class, and those with lower levels of education. They also came from the places that used to be part of the UK industrial zones (except for Glasgow, and it was interesting that although Glasgow voted to remain, the turnout was seriously down there, in accord with the theory that they wanted Scotland out of the UK).

There have been threats of dire economic consequences. I do not believe that trade will suffer significantly. Germany sells a lot of manufactured things to the UK, and it is hardly likely to want to lose those sales, and if it wants to keep its sales, it has to permit the UK to sell into the EU. An important point is that neither the manufacturing base nor the demand from people will change dramatically. The main danger is spiteful “punishment”. Undoubtedly there will be adverse economic consequences, and probably the one the EU fears the most is further exits. Greece must be seriously considering it.

The fact that the stock markets went crazy intially is irrelevant. As one of our Prime Ministers once noted, stock traders tend to behave like reef fish: as soon as one heads off in a new direction, all the rest follow. There was another interesting aspect of these markets, and that is a lot of smart traders took short positions. This tends to stop total collapse because the shorts have to be covered, and a sensible trader takes a good profit when on offer. Further, it did not last. At the time of writing this, the FTSE 100 was up on pre-referendum prices.

Another major concern with the EU is the influence of the bureaucrats and technocrats, and it is designed to protect entrenched interests. Thus given the bad choices by BOTH participants, it is the Greeks that must suffer rather than the owners of the German banks. The British, at least, see the EU run to maintain the traditional class system, and if you happen to be nearer the bottom, why maintain it? Over the last decade, the system has run in a way in which the establishment has caused considerable financial chaos through a mix of greed and ineptitude. So who pays? Not those who caused it. Sure, they will have taken hits, but the wealth continues to trickle up in their direction. A week later and some reality is setting in. Some of the countries like Poland and the Czech Republic have expressed concern that Germany, Italy and France are starting to take too much control; they saw the UK as an important counterbalance.

Meanwhile, the overall level of common sense seems to be diving. I have seen some commentators claim the exit is not necessarily going to happen. One way out is for the government to call an election, and if Labour won, they could take that as an endorsement not to leave. The problem with that reasoning is that it is the people who would normally vote Labour who voted to leave. Meanwhile, there was a massive vote of no-confidence in Corbyn, the Labour leader, by his party politicians because he did not campaign strongly to remain. Corbyn refuses to step down, showing a strong commitment to democracy and convention, but perhaps he is right because it is the people who he represents that voted to leave. Meanwhile Cameron has lashed out, saying he should do the decent thing and go for his failure. Failure for what? Rescuing Cameron from his ineptitude?

So, what now? I recently saw a speech from a “leaver” to the EU parliament (at least I think it was) and it was a dreadful example of diplomacy. If ever someone tried to maximise the irritation of his audience, this would have been an example, and the sad thing is, I don’t think it was intended that way. Instead it was simple uncaring stupidity. This makes no sense at all. As to what will happen next, I don’t think anyone knows, which shows the ineptness of Prime Minister Cameron. You should never call a binding referendum unless you have a reasonably clear idea of what you will do if either side wins. Cameron seems to have decided he knew what he would do if remain won: nothing. Unfortunately, that seems to have been his option if exit won, and it is simply not adequate.

Where did Earth’s water and air come from?

If you accept my picture of how rocky planets form, we are now able to look at the volatiles. As before, this is my interpretation of what happened, and is not standard. Water is obvious, and was discussed in the previous post: water was what cemented the rocky fragments together, and the amount of water present in the rocks was proportional to the amount of cement present, and dependent on which type. Earth has the most water because it was in the optimal distance from the star; Venus had less because it was hotter, and because more of it came from basaltic rocks; Mars had less because it did not have many free aluminosilicates. The current geologies are consistent with this interpretation, although of course the evidence from Venus is a little on the thin side.

The accretion of carbon is more difficult to describe. At Earth’s distance from the star, essentially all carbon was in the form of carbon monoxide. However, there is another possible source, through what the chemist calls the reactive intermediate. The concept is that on dust there would be very low levels of methanol formed by reacting carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and that would immediately decay to form what is called “coke” when this process is carried out in a methanol-making plant. Such coke is a solid, and solids on the dust can be accreted. There should also be more chemistry, to make carbides, which are important for the origin of life, but not for the present discussion.

Similarly, at temperatures over 1000 degrees centigrade, nitrogen can react with a number of materials to form nitrides, which in turn are solids. Such solids will be accreted into the planet with the dust.

As the planet accretes, the interior heats up, simply through gravitational energy. I do not believe the standard theory is correct as far as major collisions are concerned, but irrespective the centre will heat, and together with radioactive decay, the centre and some way out becomes molten. At this point three things happen. Molten iron sinks to the core (thus generating more gravitational energy, and at the same time, the separated aluminosilicates can rise, forming the continents. The water becomes vapour, some of which dissolves in the hot silicate, and the rest either rises to form the oceans, or reacts chemically with something.

There are two important options regarding reaction, and it is important to note that these consume the number of moles of water that are reacted. The first is to oxidise something, like iron. That makes iron oxide, such as magnetite, which may also react with silica to make olivines and pyroxenes, together with some additional special minerals. Reaction of water with hot carbon makes carbon monoxide and hydrogen, the so-called synthesis gas. The second is to react with carbides and nitrides to make materials like methane, acetylene, hydrogen cyanide and ammonia, and at the same time, make oxides. Synthesis gas is in an equilibrium, and under pressure tends to end up as methane. Ammonia is in equilibrium with hydrogen, with pressure favouring ammonia. Geological pressures are far higher than anything we can achieve in a laboratory. So this theory predicts that the initial atmosphere will contain significant amounts of methane and ammonia, which will be degraded by UV radiation from the star to form, with water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and hydrogen, the latter being lost to space. So, is there any evidence for this, besides the prevalence of continents?

The first example comes from some rocks from Isua, Greenland, that are 3.8 billion years old. They contain primitive atmosphere in inclusions, as foamy magma congealed. The major gas inside is methane. The second comes from similar rock inclusions from 3.2 billion years ago from Barberton, in South Africa. This too involves magma that appears to have trapped seawater in pores. The salt levels are somewhat higher than modern seawater, presumably because the magma tended to boil off some of the water before it was trapped. What remains are ammonia levels approximately the same level as potassium ions. To me, that means the sea must have had high levels of ammonia in it, and assuming the ratio of nitrogen atoms to water was roughly the same as now, this would indicate that about ten per cent of the planet’s nitrogen was still in the form of ammonia then.

I also believe this mechanism better accounts for planetary deuterium/hydrogen ratios, which are always higher than the star’s. The standard explanation for that is that UV radiation from the star breaks down water, but water with deuterium in it is slightly heavier than ordinary water, so on density grounds it tends to rise less and a little hydrogen is preferentially lost to space. This enhancement is somewhat slight, but if it goes on for long enough, it will increase deuterium levels. From memory, the D/H ratio on Mars is about five times that of Earth, and we know that there are other isotope enhancements, due to the weaker Martian gravity, hence lighter molecules can be physically swept off to space. However, we now come to a problem with Venus, that has at least 100 times the enhancement. If this arose from such photolysis, what happened to the oxygen? This issue is serious because we then have to ask why does Earth not lose water the same way? The answer is that photolysis of water that would enhance deuterium also makes oxygen, and the oxygen makes ozone, and he ozone protects the water. It is also not a very rapid process, and if there was sufficient water on Venus, why did it not fix the carbon dioxide and make lime, like on Earth? The argument that it was hotter, and under pressure, is irrelevant: the hotter the water, the faster it reacts with rock.

My answer is simple. When the water reacts with solids as described above, there is something called the chemical isotope effect that is relevant. That means an O – H bond in water will react somewhere between 4 – 20 times preferentially than an O – D bond. Further, the water will not contain D2O, but rather H – O –D, which in turn will preferentially react the hydrogen atom. Unlike density differences, which is the cause of the vaporization and reaction in the upper atmosphere, this preference depends on the zero point vibrational energy of the bonds, and that makes very significant differences to the activation energy for the reactions. Thus for me, Venus never had significant water on its surface; the lesser amount of water it accreted was largely used up making the huge atmosphere, and whatever remains dissolved in the silicates of the lower mantle.

Next Monday post I should be able to explain the Martian fluvial systems.

Justice, or Authorities being Self-important

This week, there were two news items that I found to be somewhat disquieting for the reason that they do not reflect justice. The first was the banning of Russian athletes from the Olympics, and as far as I can make out, from other sporting events. The reason was that there was a lot of doping amongst Russian athletes. Now, to ban those who were found to have taken drugs is fine by me. They were guilty of breaking the rules so they should pay. However, a blanket ban seems to go against natural justice: guilt by association. Notice that during the time of Lance Armstrong, it turned out all his cycling associates were also doing that, but did anyone suggest banning all American cyclists? Of course not. Banning the guilty is fine, but blanket banning as a punishment for the nation was never considered. So why the Russians? Has it got anything to do with a general anti-Russian sentiment? We shall never know, but punishment by association is, in my view, wrong. More to the point, if it were that prevalent, why weren’t the authorities doing something about it when it was more important to do it, even though the publicity value would be much less? Why don’t they simply test all athletes at the Olympics?

Seemingly, the powers that be decided that, yes, this procedure was either bad, or, more importantly to them, it could be seen to be bad. So something had to be done to give the impression of fairness. So, what did they come up with? Why, each athlete would be given the opportunity to prove they had not doped. How? Hmmmm! That is yet to be decided, but the athletes should start proceedings. Yeah, right! With two months to go to the biggest sporting event, instead of training, they should engage in some undefined bureaucratic procedure. Sorry, but in my opinion, the role of these authorities is to be fair and enforce the rules. It is not to make themselves feel good, and thwart criticism by mounting publicity charades.

The next item involved the trial of the 94 year-old Reinhold Hanning. Again, Hanning was guilty by association, although in this case he was associated with mass genocide. Hanning joined the Hitler youth in 1935, and that was not considered a criminal organization at the time. In 1940 he joined the Waffen SS, and fought on the eastern Front until he was severely wounded by grenade splinters. He was deemed unfit for further combat duties, and ordered to go to Auschwitz, where he was first assigned to register work details, and later for duty in a guard tower. No evidence was provided that Hanning had any part personally in killing, or in selection for killing.

My first problem with this is, suppose you were in Hanning’s shoes, and ordered to Auschwitz, what would you do? Disobey any order, or start protesting, and you would be on the other side of the fence. How many of you would take that stance? Is it even a sensible stance? You get killed and you achieve nothing. Think about this, and if you are so confident you would throw away your life, please add a comment and explain why.

My next problem with this procedure is that following the war, it was estimated that about 10% of the German population had been members of the Nazi party. After all, that was the way to get ahead. In 1963 – 1965, trials of second and third tier personnel at Auschwitz led to convictions of only the worst sadists being convicted for murder, and defendants argued successfully that they had only been following orders. If the justice system could not be bothered prosecuting someone like Hanning then, then why now? Basically, about 50 people have been convicted of crimes at Auschwitz, and up to 7000 people worked there.

In 2011, there was an alleged “breakthrough”. Legally, they decided that if you worked at a factory of death, that made you an accessory to murder because without the likes of you, the place could not have run. That is true, but the question then is, were you a voluntary participant? I am not so sure that the desire to stay alive yourself makes you an accessory.

A related problem with the trial is the argument is made that seventy years ago the German courts “made a mistake” and now is the time to correct it. As one legal scholar put it, this trial is symbolically important for the German legal system, and it helps the survivors. I am afraid I do not agree, and the issue is the same as for the Russian athletes. Justice should reflect guilt. The desire by authorities to feel good, or to wipe out traces of their own useless performance, has no place.

And just to clarify my position, I have walked through Auschwitz before there were many tourists. It was an awful place. I remember the fertile mounds that were the remains of the crematoria. I also remember the chalk drawings where the victims tried to record the horrors in a way that the SS would not erase. I also had an uncle in Dachau so I have no sympathy at all for those guilty of creating those places. But I would never put a 94 year-old on trial for “guilt by association” merely to make myself look as if I were doing something.