Old Soldiers Never Die

Peter de Noronha wrote ‘Old Soldiers never die, they only fade away, which has now been commuted to, they never die but only get slightly out of focus’. Can as much be said of Michael Schumacher’s return to F1?

At 41 (as of January 3, 2010) he is not the youthful figure he once was in the world of professional sport. But in a game that requires a high level of mental acumen, unparalleled technology and a professional team he is also not past his expiry date. Experience is all that matters in F1 now’ wrote Michael’s long time team mate Rubens Barrichello on Twitter and no one alive has more experience in F1 than Schumi. Paired with Ross Brawn (mastermind of all 7 of Schumacher’s championships) it is a world beating combination.

But that is all just technicals. What is more ‘on paper’ technicals. How many teams have been the best on paper, only to fall short of the prize come match day. Such a reality is all the more prevalent among old warriors trying to relive their glory battle days. Once the greats of their sport, they cling onto the spot light until the light fades. Would it not be better to end on top as a world-beater rather than as world beaten, with every hack scoring victories over a once great champion?

The answer to this fundamental thought has to be no. It is not better to retire for the sake of retirement. If tired of the game, the lifestyle or wishing to pursue other ventures, then retirement is the logical and best choice. But if the hunger, the fitness and talent are there, they should be on show so that the entire world may marvel. It serves as a constant reminder that past brilliance can never be tarnished by any one defeat. It is wrong to say that we can only fail to try, but it is right to acknowledge that once great the act or person or team remains great for eternity. Every breath genius takes and every step it makes is a marvel. Schumacher may not capture the world title in 2010, but it will be awe inspiring to watch all the same.

De Noronha recognized this and continued the line of thought with which I began this article; ‘however, the focus must be pretty sharp, for we find our retired Soldiers are in great demand and they secure ready employment in large organizations in the public and private sectors.’ That money and fame continues to chase talent after its retirement is the most tangible mark of its quality. The past has a limited capacity to attract attention, but hope for the future is unlimited in its ability to pull people to events. It is not only because of whom Michael was, that people will turn on and tune in during the 2010 season, it is because of who he was that people will know who he will be; committed and ultimately victorious.

Cicero wrote that people who have no knowledge of history are like children, trapped in the most transitory tense possible, the present. Not knowing from whence they came or wither they go. But those who remember the achievements of the past will be able to plot the future. As such they know where the greats are going and be in a position to watch when they perform their next breath taking feats of skill, ingenuity and wondrous creativity.

Climate Change, Political Stagnation

The satirical ‘Yes Prime Minister’ quipped about international organizations:

Hacker: But surely we’re all committed to the European ideal?
Sir Humphrey: [chuckles] Really, Minister.
Hacker: If not, why are we pushing for an increase in the membership?
Sir Humphrey: Well, for the same reason. It’s just like the United Nations, in fact; the more members it has, the more arguments it can stir up, the more futile and impotent it becomes.
Hacker: What appalling cynicism.
Sir Humphrey: Yes… We call it diplomacy, Minister.

This scene would be funny if it were not for its present day manifestation in the Copenhagen Summit 2009. Or as the pundits dubbed it: Hopenhagen. Sadly it was long on diplomacy and very short on hope. Though the last minute decision to extend the conference added some melodrama and prolonged hopes that meaningful decisions would be made.

Robert Bailey, of Oxfam International, said: ‘It is too late to save the summit, but it’s not too late to save the planet and its people.’

In a sop to public concerns an accord was signed which pledges ‘to limit temperature rises to less than 2C and promises to deliver $30bn (USD) of aid for developing nations over the next three years.’ Stirring rhetoric, but how will the temperature commitments be met if the accord is not binding? What will be the incentive for developing nations to change their growth plans and for developed nations to re-gear their industries? The answer may be in the promises of aid. Cynical and unpopular it may be to admit, but the world does revolve around money and Matthew was profound in his assertion ‘ye cannot serve God and mammon’. Or in this case commitments to reduce human impact on climate change and the need for industry to constantly move forward at ever increasing profits and reduced costs.

Part of the problem stems from an unwillingness to accept the facts of global warming. Unpreparedness to believe in a new truth is nothing new. Galileo struggled to convince contemporaries that the planetary system was heliocentric. Climate change science has undergone a similarly rough ride. While it would be premature to say the science is out of the woods, in that climate change deniers still represent a large proportion of the world and some even run their countries, it is true that the battle now revolves less around ‘is climate change happening’ and more around ‘what steps could and should be taken to peg the earth’s overall temperature rise to 2°C’. Such an increase will see water shortages, malnutrition and a rise in infectious diseases, but it will not see the cataclysmic consequences of the 3°C and above danger zones.

It is however not all doom and gloom. We have dealt with major planetary problems before. Ozone depletion began in the 1930s with the invention of Freon (poor Thomas Midgley, the inventor of Freon, he was also the scientist to discover that putting lead in petrol would cut engine knocking in cars and enhance performance). When the link between CFCs and ozone depletion was first proposed in the 1970s Du Pont and other chemical manufacturers tried to discredit the claims. Eventually the skepticism was overcome and governments began to take steps to reverse the situation. Take heart in the knowledge that studies of the ozone layer are showing that the hole over the Antarctic is closing. The point of this digression is that the problem started with denial and ended with acceptance and change.

Copenhagen was an important step forward in that the world is showing an increasingly united front in accepting that changes need to be made, but it also demonstrated that it is still a long road to a meaningful settlement. The hearts and minds of an increasing majority of the public have been won. Governments are now talking, but the third cog in the wheel is yet to turn, market instruments. This is in part due to quasi-Orwellian solutions that have been proposed to solve the climate change problem. Many market ideologues feel that having fought socialism we should not allow more central controls and regulation of our lives to be allowed in through the green door. Yet market regulation has always proved a vital and strong motivator for market change. The use of lead in petrol was stopped; emission standards were tightened; smoking was banned in pubs and clubs; health inspectors employed to ensure that the food we eat does not poison us. International accord will not be achieved unless tighter caps are not only set but impose.

In his closing address President Obama said: ‘energy holds out not just the perils of a warming climate, but also the promise of a more peaceful and prosperous tomorrow. If America leads in developing clean energy, we will lead in growing our economy, in putting our people back to work, and in leaving a stronger and more secure country to our children’.

If leaders, both political and industrial, can step forward and make the running we will be able to change our future. If not the future looks bleak. Some issues can be selfishly pushed aside in the knowledge that it is not in our backyard that the problem resides. But the climate is the property of all and to all must fall the responsibility of its safekeeping.