Wednesday, October 19

Help. Let's have more HI. Less AI.

Help. A little assistance with a query about a service or product. It doesn't seem much to ask but try getting someone to respond in any meaningful way to a problem these days. In recent weeks I have tried to get help from several banks, a hospital, an insurance company an on-line sales organisation and Google and in every single case I have got nowhere. I have not even got nowhere fast - it's been a slow, tedious and very annoying process every time.

On the occasion when I have finally found a human to speak to I have suggested that they try their own system and relate at their next management or training session to the boss their own experience, if not mine. Many people do seem to be sympathetic and yet nothing ever changes. I can only guess that the middle managers who have put these systems in place have no desire to admit that they may have made a mistake and so their bosses don't get any direct evidence of the failure and any statistics which might reveal some dissatisfaction are either hidden or, if shown, regarded as something now which applies across the board and so there becomes a sort of feeling that if everyone in the same industry is suffering the same way there is not a great deal they need to do about it.

It all starts with the telephone system or an on-line page which asks you to select the area for your query. Often you may not actually know which of the many choices offered are the most appropriate. On the phone, you select one and hope for the best, only to be told, usually several steps down the line, that there is a 63½ minute waiting time or, horrors, there is no-one available to take your call and please try again later. Brrrrrrr. All this is, of course, interrupted every minute or so by a voice claiming that their website has all the answers you need and just go there and you'll not need to phone anyway.

On the web page you might have a list of possible questions that they think you were going to ask. None match what you had in mind. Others, a little more advanced they believe, try to second guess your query from the freestyle text you can enter. This works even less well for me. You search all over an organisation's page for a phone number, email address or some other way to get help. Cleverly, all help and contact links seem to bring you back to the same place. Very occasionally you might reach a page where there are some more options. One might be to have an online chat. You type in your question and hope. No, it's not a person but the same search engine as you encountered before which tries to second guess your query based on what you type and gets it quite wrong.

Once or twice I did find a human at the other end of the chat line. But all the human was able to do was the same as the telephone choice system elsewhere - refer to some sort of flowchart. She asks the questions and, depending on my answers, is guided through the chart until she reaches a conclusion - I need to speak to a representative. Yes, I knew that. Thanks. Just tell me how.

My questions are not Masters degree level challenges. I might need to make a transfer of funds which cannot be done by one of my banks online for some reason I don't understand. I have a problem to resolve with a customer of the online trading company. I want to change an appointment. I have a website built with Google tools and want to get Google to promote it so that people using Google can find it more easily. You'd think that would be the sort of thing Google would love to help me with. They even have AI systems now for lots of their services. Their telephone staff seem to lack even human intelligence, though, as the first encounter I had was almost robotic as the girl struggled to work through her flowchart of responses and actions to be recommended to the caller.

The nice chap in the States that I did finally get to speak to was human and did have a little more intelligence but all he could do was sell me some advertising. He did understand my query and that I would not buy any advertising until I had made some charges to the website to make it work better with Google but was still unable either to tell me who I should talk to or to head me in the direction of someone who could actually help. He finished up emailing me a link which I had hoped would be to an individual who might be in a senior enough position to straddle both Google's technical and advertising departments and advise me accordingly. The link just went to a page where I had started several days ago. The 'type a word and we'll try and find out where you need to be directed' sort of page. AI that is more artificial than intelligent regrettably.

One thing that seems evident to me is the standard of competence of the individuals that we interact with in these conversations. It is very poor. We are often dealing with one of the lowest levels of staff in the organisation who follow a sort of script or the flowchart type thing I've referred to before. They're not doing anything more than a computer program would do. They seldom have much of a clue as to the problem you have or your own situation or any experience of your business or activity. I might not expect that from the first person I deal with but I do think we should get to speak to some more senior people at a much earlier stage. 

There is a lot to be said for putting smart, knowledgeable people on the enquiry lines for part of their day. They would minimise the time that it takes to deal with queries and also be better placed to make changes in an organisation where the level of customer enquiries merited this. 

The stupid phone choice systems and on-line help flowcharts need to go as I doubt they help anyone very much at all. Give everyone a phone number and an email address. Employ extra staff - there are plenty of people available - to answer those calls and make more senior staff time available to take calls referred to them. Get teams to check emails and pass them to the right people and make sure they're actually dealt with in a reasonable time. If things go crazy and there really are times when the phones go mad then have a system where people call you back. This is so much better than making us wait. And the music . . . what is that! No-one I have ever heard from has any desire whatsoever to listen to that 'holding music' which is nearly always of terrible quality and at an uncomfortable volume to boot. Mad. Don't tell us to consult a website. We're calling because we want to talk to someone. Let us talk to someone. And let that someone be human and intelligent, please.

It this really too much to ask? The whole nation seems to have been totally conned and taken for a ride by idiot middle managers who think a program some organisation has flogged them to 'manage' calls will answer all their queries and ours too. I know of none, anywhere, that has been in any way a success.

Some organisations which have got it right are First Direct Bank, PayPal (once you find their number!) and UK2.Net domain management. The customer service from these three has been remarkably good in my experience. In every case I have had access to a comparatively senior, intelligent member of staff who gets what I need, understands what I say and knows what to do to respond and retain my business.

Saturday, October 15

Green And Pleasant Land Matters

A few years ago this was a happy place with amusing articles and pictures of life in the village. I am so sorry that it has turned into my series of log-winded moans about what is happening in the world but, to be honest, there really isn't much happening in the village. In 2020 COVID-19 sent the vast majority of its residents scampering for the safety of their homes, bolting the doors, refusing to see visitors and getting food delivered from Tesco or Ocado vans. They're an obedient lot. The Government said they had to be locked down and so they did. A few of us needed to keep a business going and I made one or two trips each week to the Post Office in a nearby village where I could also buy an 'essential item' or two in case my trip was queried by some officials. I genuinely did expect to be stopped by Police from time to time. We had seen reports of people walking in Derbyshire in a way that was apparently illegal and so this seemed just as ridiculously feasible at the time.

To be quite honest, my life and activity didn't change a great deal throughout the COVID period now that I can look back and see what happened. I was able to make many trips to Ukraine which must have relieved the boredom and, by good fortune, this area escaped the high level lockdown too for almost all the time. I do believe that we should all have been left to make our own decisions about our activities and health and that the mass of Government regulation and expenses was largely wasted. Having said that, it is easy to write in hindsight but I really have never supported the way the State was able to rule our lives or restrict our activities. Obviously, the remarkably successful development of a vaccine was marvellous and many people did many good things but I was very glad to be able to burn sacrificially those horrid masks we were forced to wear a little while ago. Some people are still wearing them - looking like Chinese tourists in London. The Chinese always seemed to have them, presumably believing that our cities are as bad as theirs for pollution, although why they didn't just visit some more pleasant, beautiful and definitely pollution-free places in this country and discard the masks I do not know.

All this regulation stuff was what did for Boris. I rather think that his views on lockdown were similar to mine but he seemed to forget that, whereas no-one was too bothered about what I was doing from day to day, the eyes of many disgruntled people or downright enemies of the chap and his Party were very much focussed on the parties, cake and whatever may have been in the glasses at various occasions. He was totally screwed and probably could not believe how it became not just headline news but stayed on the front pages of newspapers for weeks on end. A very, very effective campaign by people who disliked Boris and the Conservatives generally was able to gather support not just from obvious sources like the baying Labour voices and almost everyone in the North who hate 'Tories' anyway, especially posh-speaking ones, but also from much of his hitherto solid Conservative rank and file membership who had been so keen to follow the rules and do as they were told who were quite upset that they were effectively being told to do as the boss says not as the boss does. That didn't sit well with that section of society either.

I really had no objection to the parties, cake or whatever but I did feel that Boris handled things poorly. He may well still be Prime Minister had he opened up the nation at the very start and said "Sorry, chaps." 

I really do wish he were still Prime Minister as Liz Truss is frankly a huge embarrassment. I can imagine how many Americans must have felt when Donald Trump was holding forth on this and that and generally making a fool of himself. We pitied the States then, and yet we recognised something in the Trump style which did work. He did seem to know what he was doing ninety-nine percent of the time and he did have balls, personality and was the guy that you'd want on your side in a fight. Mrs Truss has so far shown no personality, no determination or cohesion of policy and has also made seemingly illogical decisions and made no attempt to explain herself in words of one syllable. She strikes me as a little dim and way, way out of her depth. I voted for her, believing that she was the most likely to continue to support, and, indeed, beef up, support for Ukraine and reckoned that she might eventually become more of a leader in time.

Now, I would like the Conservative Party to arrange a replacement as soon as possible so that we can, hopefully, all get behind one individual who has some talent and can engender respect across the world as well as appeal to voters in Britain. I do not believe there is any great likelihood of a massive Labour victory in 2024. Voters have seen nothing much of interest in anything that Labour is proposing and are unlikely to trust them any more, especially if things have started to get better by then. What could be more concerning would be the rise of the Liberals as the natural go-to party for disillusioned Conservatives. No-one has any idea of what they stand for nowadays and any coalition with Labour could be scary with Stonewall, Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil type of organisations' supporters taking charge.

As it is we are seeing the country run in many places by Stonewall, Pride and people who believe everything pushed out by Black Lives Matter, and a whole raft of organisations that have sprung up to bring sex and gender into mainstream debate and communications. We have a situation now whereby some universities and colleges, many government-funded bodies too, are obliging their staff to do crazy things like add their preferred pronouns to signatures, include the Black Lives Matter logo, and the Pride one and others to communications. Although one particular organisation has since said that its 'instruction' to do so was intended as a 'please think about doing' so the damage is done. Many people will have felt they had to do so to avoid being sacked or accused of not supporting the trans community. How many people are there in this community? Are they all supporters of BLM and Stonewall, and Pride? Do they all agree that everyone should now be calling themselves Alice, He, His or whatever now? I doubt it. There are a million minorities in this country and each deserves respect but we can do that by being human, kind and polite. We do not need regulations and we most certainly do not need Black Lives Matter or Stonewall, each awful organisations that have erupted in our HR departments midst since some bloke died resisting arrest in America. 

I do not want any institution or firm or body or organisation that is in receipt of taxes I pay to be in any way associated with BLM or Stonewall. Or a whole raft of others who will no doubt be getting massive funding from Councils across the country anxious to show that they are doing the right thing in this wacky woke world in which we now exist.

I am trying to recall when I first heard or read the word woke. It is an odd word and would have stood out like a sore thumb but I can't tell. It just seems to have grown and become more common over the years. I am thinking that I had not heard the word before 2018. It was after BLM too, so that dates it to May 2020 at the earliest. I dislike the word a lot but I am not sure why. I think it is because it is the past participle of wake and so a part of a verb in my usage. I woke up at 8am. It seems to be similar to the woke in 'I woke up to what was happening". But "to be woke" makes no sense to me. I can be awoken, maybe even, at a pinch woken but I cannot be woke. At least that's what I thought. It seems that I can and the dictionary does define woke as an adjective, first appearing in 2017 and meaning awake to sensitive social issues. So I could be woke after all if that means aware of. I feel that awake to implies some essence of agreement that something has to change so the jury's out on that.

So far, I have disliked and genuinely oppose just about all that I read and see being done in the name of woke. How has this come to pass? It appears that organisations like Stonewall and Pride really have managed to get a shoe-in to so many of our institutions and so persuaded umpteen thousand of those counties' middle managers and executives in HR posts that we desperately must use their services, running courses and something akin to re-education camps for some, to show us white people how terrible we all are. In 2020 the Government said that they would be cancelling all Race Bias Training in the Civil Service and, I understood, all Ministries including the NHS, arguing that it was effectively useless. However I see many training websites still offering Race Bias Training, including some that are run by the Government themselves as quangos!

I remember something called Black History Month back in the late 1990s at college. Lecturers were obliged to include material relating to this history of black people or their countries, as I recall. More often than not this involved some nice curry in the canteen and posters in classrooms where cut out shapes of Jamaica or Fiji were stuck on sugar paper. They stayed up a long time and often were brought back for Inspection when the glue had dried out on some of the fallen cut-outs leaving the original bright colour of the sugar paper standing vibrant in the otherwise very faded purple, blue or magenta colours that sugar paper always was. I didn't do much by way of posters or celebration of Black History myself. It seemed a bit odd. Why did we never have a Yellow History Month, Brown History month or even a more polite Asian History Month perhaps? My college in Dunstable, Bedfordshire had a massive number of Pakistani students, mostly doing IT or Business Studies as a way to maintain income benefits for their families for a few years more rather than their attendance, such as it was, being, for all but one or two, any real attempt to complete sufficient BTEC assignments to have a chance at university entrance. I can remember maybe four students that I would call black. But they came from countries as different as Uganda and somewhere in America. They didn't see the point of Black History Month either as they and their parents had been here for a long time and, whilst they might have some interest in their parents' or grandparents' roots, the posters and menu were not of much significance to them. And the Asians, as a whole, were pretty much ignored completely until Ramadan or maybe some Festival of Lights came along for a day or two. Then we'd have a few posters again but nothing like Black History Month. Month, for heaven's sake!

At about the same time I remember the Academic Board being presented with a draft document which was proposed by some very serious woman as our Equal Opportunities Policy. At least I think that it was Equal Opportunities that came first. Equality and Diversity came later. Probably some variations in between. Let's say it was Equal Opportunities. I have regaled readers of another blog on education matters about this particular event in the past and how my suggestion that we merely say we will treat everyone the same fell on deaf, if not somewhat stunned and, one set of amused ears. I mean, why say more? Where does that take us? By attempting to specify who might be needed to be treated equally one is almost implying that they're not in the first place. By attempting to list all the minority groups you're almost bound to miss out one and they'll have something to complain about. Then you have to think about what activities are to be dealt with in this policy - from how we handle admission enquiries at the outset to telling people they've failed their exams at the other end? And all that comes between.

We finished up with a 96-page document which no-one ever read and I was branded something close to but not quite, obviously, racist. All I had wanted to do was to put respect for all people, including majorities as well as minorities, as a fundamental duty which we should all not even have to sign up to but was simply the right thing to do. If there were instances where our paperwork or a procedure might offend someone from some minority or another then we should fix them. The time wasted drafting those 96 pages, and probably another 96 for each of the subsequent new policies required, could have been considerably better spent. If we'd been asked to dig into our pockets and pay for that time then the whole thing might have been different - but time paid for by our taxes doesn't feel as if it is a cost coming directly out of our earnings.

I am probably very fortunate not to be involved directly in such matters now. Because I would have refused to add any BLM or Stonewall or Pride logos to my correspondence and not wished to have Hill, He His on my name badge, suggested that instead of Black History Month we have White History Week for a change; because I would have slapped some students on the back either to congratulate them or wake them up from time to time, refused to attend training sessions designed to correct my attitude to white supremacy or whatever similar bollocks was on the menu or, more likely, did attend and tried to argue a few points with the tutor doing the PowerPoint show; because of all this I would have been in trouble most, if not all, days and, at best, encouraged to retire gracefully. At worst, I would be visited by the Police investigating a 'hate crime incident' as no doubt one or more the things I had done could have triggered someone to say how upset they were that I'd said they were only there because their parents told them to be there.

There was just one trans person in the classes I taught that I was aware of. I did get a shock when someone who had worn a suit and looked definitely masculine one week walked in in a bright blue dress and wig the next. I couldn't help but stutter in whatever Level 3 Business Studies lecture I was giving that day but I regained my composure and made no big thing of it at all. This was at Vauxhall Motors' premises in Luton where we ran an outreach course for employees to gain more qualifications and the students were all in their 20s or 30s. At Dunstable there were none. A few professed to be gay but no-one disputed whether they were male or female. Every single one was, in 2010, happy to be one or the other. No-one wanted or needed a Don't Know or Unspecified box to tick. Even the chap, er, sorry, student, at Vauxhall signed on as a bloke. I do accept that I was temporarily troubled by what to call him, er, them, no, that's rotten grammar, I give up, the person. I managed to avoid needing any hes or shes, though, throughout the 30-week course and we got on fine.

So I can accept that we need some help in how we address trans people but they are so few and far between that I do feel we can take care of that without special training and expensive organisations instructing us for fear of a visit from Mr Plod. I would simple chat to them and agree what to do. End of story. I also refuse to accept that there has been a sudden massive splurge of people who have become trans or declaring some other variant between or outside the confines of male and female. Nor has there been any requirement for me or any of my colleagues or students to know anything at all about our colleagues' or students' sexual preferences. Indeed I would be surprised if many of the staff I knew would admit to any! "Sex, old boy? No idea. Can't remember!" So I couldn't give a toss about anything to do with the LBGTQOO+ community or whatever it is called these days. And why don't they call it the NLBGTQOO+ community and let us Normals in. By Normal I mean men or women who don't give much of a toss about all this and get on with their lives as men or women, probably having relationships with the opposite sex if they're lucky or just remembering old times. Now by calling myself Normal I could be implying that everyone else in the group is abnormal. Insofar as 94% of the population in 2020 defined themselves as heterosexual or what I've loosely called normal then that seems fairly clear. The others are all minorities, some minute minorities and certainly not what one might encounter normally. As individuals they're not abnormal but their preferences are. It is not meant as an insult, it's just a way to emphasise the point. We're spending an awful lot of time pulling our hair out and defending dismissals or statements, re-educating grandad and making sure that we don't upset university students by allowing someone to speak their mind about something or we try to warn them that the content of an old film might have a reference to Tranny or Poofter. A horror film might even have a shock at some point. Oh dear.

The National Education Union, Britain’s largest teaching union have a resolution to develop a definition of transphobia, passed at the last annual NEU conference in the spring, and now looks likely to be adopted.

The proposal suggests that anyone who expects trans people “to participate in discussion or debate about their rights and/or identities” is transphobic, and cites “propagating ideas, concepts and misinformation harmful to trans people and which erase and ignore trans history” as examples of transphobic behaviour (while neither outlining what is meant by “trans history” nor what “ideas, concepts and misinformation” would be considered harmful). It further defines transphobia as a “rejection of trans identity and a refusal to acknowledge that those identities are real or valid” or the “incorrect use of pronouns”.

While protecting trans pupils, trans teachers and trans support staff from harassment is a worthy aim, it’s clear that this proposal goes way beyond legal compliance and would have the effect of rendering any challenge to gender critical ideology or the agenda of transrights activists as a form of extrajudicial hate crime.

That’s problematic because, statistically, it’s inevitable that in a mass membership organisation like the NEU many members will reject the central tenet of gender identity ideology, namely, that sex is a social construct, and instead believe that sex is binary and immutable. Is the NEU effectively saying to all its fee-paying members that don’t want to go along with gender identity ideology that it regards them as ‘transphobic’ and no longer wants to represent them or defend their rights? As member relations campaigns go, it’s certainly daring.

And what about the policy’s effect on staffrooms up and down the country – will it have a chilling effect on free speech? If this definition is accepted, anyone who says: "You can’t logically self-identify as the opposite sex", will be a transphobe. How many teachers will be too scared to speak up in schools and they will just go along with the NEU policy? It becomes something you can be dismissed for. Just like that.

All this is happening in Great Britain today. I look around and these topics of racism and diversity, Pride and BLM feature increasingly in news reports and those delivered by the BBC, as well as many new series produced by them, seem to feel that we all need to be educated, with a dreadful Dr Who series from 2019 or thereabouts and even the presenters or teams of people sat on chairs to debate matters seem to have to obey some rule of one from each minority wherever possible. I can almost hear the Programme Manager at a W1A-type meeting shouting " . . . OK, if there's only one make it a black woman first choice. Asian woman second, then black bloke. Gay white next. But no old white bloke on his own . . ." You may grin or grimace but I have no doubt whatsoever that they is a list of preferred minorities! Nothing to do with knowledge or ability.

Basically the Conservative government has been well and truly set-up and I suspect there is not a great deal anyone can do now. These things all happened under the radar. It was so difficult to refuse to take the knee at the time. Rather than risk offence many of our leaders and stars of field and screen did so. The police did and the BLM movement must have thought it was Christmas with all the money that poured in. Never to be seen again, but that's another story.

I have been reading the Spectator recently and have been particularly taken by Rod Liddle's articles and occasional ramblings in the magazine or on-line. So far, I have not disagreed with a single word that he's said. That's unusual for me but we seem to be of a like mind. He is a member of the SDP. I presume that is the Social Democratic Party which I really had thought had died out some years ago. I recall the two Davids, a bustling woman and a few others launching it but had no idea it still existed. I have just read some of their aims and policies and there's nothing in there I would disagree with. Might I suggest that Rod and I see what we can do to persuade a few of the more intelligent Conservative and Labour MPs to switch allegiance? Something has to change. 

I expect to see the Online Safety Bill redrafted to refer purely to the safety of children and a campaign to prove just how preposterous much of this woke training is, together with effectively removing any publicly funded associations by organisations with Pride, Stonewall and BLM and others. No-one denies their right to exist but I believe many would prefer they raise funds directly without taxpayers' support. The same applies to a vast array of organisations set up to garner charity, lottery or similar funding but which have objectives which need rather closer examination. 

This is a green and pleasant land, in places. It certainly remains so here in Astcote but I do fear for some other parts. The Conservative Government need to start running this country again. At the moment it seems effectively to be in the hands of assorted Socialist HR and local government personnel who, with their cronies in much of the media now, are having by far the greatest impact on this pleasant land. We need a Green And Pleasant Land History Year.

Saturday, October 8

Keep taking those iodine tablets . . .


There was something very satisfying about the news of a bridge being blown up today. It was also quite surprising and I am pretty sure it has taken many people by surprise, even those who claim to know what is going on in Ukraine rather better than I do.

The bridge is the Kerch Bridge which was built by Russia following their annexation of the Crimea region in 2014. The Russians need that bridge to enable support to reach their front quickly. Now they'll need to take a longer route and it does seem to be a most significant gain by Ukraine. Ukraine has, since I last wrote, made remarkable advances and retaken a large amount of land and some key towns in the North East, with Russian troops pushed back, in some cases we're told they're scampering back, to the 2014 line. Even in the South, Ukraine troops are making advances around Kherson and there has been a lot of positive news about the places returning to Ukraine control.

At the same time Putin has enforced residents of the areas that Russia have been controlling to vote for their towns and villages to become part of 'Russia'. People really have had no choice - anyone seen to vote (and it seems that their voting intentions are seen) against becoming part of Russia is regarded as some sort of Ukrainian agent or generally undesirable and likely to end up in prison or carried away on some excuse or another. There may be one or two people who genuinely do prefer the apparent peace that they believe might stabilise in their town, and the money and employment offered by new town governors, but I doubt they number more than 5% at most. The other 95% will have voted the way they did merely to stay alive and well and living in what they hope will become 'Ukraine' again. 

I am actually surprised that the votes we have been told about were not 99% in favour in every place. The same tactic was adopted in 2014 to justify the takeover in Crimea and some less definitive Russian control of towns in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. We didn't believe it then and we don't believe it now. No way have Ukrainians voted to be Russian after all that they have seen happening in their streets and fields.

So I have been fully expecting great efforts to be made to pull those areas back and it is encouraging that, even as Russia attempts to set up some administrative systems in some places, they are being driven out by Ukraine's advance. What I had not expected was any effort to retake Crimea. I had tended to think that there might have been some historical anomalies in how the borders were drawn whenever the whole area was divided up by whoever did the negotiations back in the 1950s. My knowledge is poor on this but I have heard quite strong arguments asserting that the Crimea region might not have been so obviously a part of Ukraine. That doesn't mean that it was necessarily a part of Russia either and certainly these doubts were no justification for the 2014 invasion. It does mean that, at that time, I felt there might be a good reason for both sides, and international advisers, to look again at the map and thrash out something and, of course, consult properly the population there. Forcibly taking it and conducting a dodgy poll in 2015, however, did more to damage Russia's interests in the Crimea than help them in my view. 

I had rather thought that suggestions that Ukraine might want Russia to withdraw not only to their 2014 positions but also from Crimea were extremely optimistic, whilst laudable aims. Now I am beginning to believe that they could actually do it and that would most definitely not go down well in Russia. I can imagine the population at large in Russia not paying a great deal of attention to the 'special military operation' ending more or less with the Russian troops where they started and no great change to any borders - and neither the extraordinary amount of damage to Ukraine's cities and towns nor the great loss of Russian lives and equipment would be broadcast to them and they'll look the other way to a large degree if they do happen across any real data that shows Russia in a bad light anyway. To lose Crimea would be another story. And that's why there is going to be some massive escalation in due course.

Putin simply cannot let the Ukraine advance continue and, whilst the bridge being damaged doesn't exactly make it much easier for Ukraine to retake Crimea, and there is still a huge amount of work to do in the South, it has become something that more and more people now see as feasible. Before it was a sort of dream and no-one I knew considered it part of the current plan.

My guess is that there has been a significant amount of support from other countries under no national flag, maybe UK, maybe Lithuania, pretty definitely Poland and Estonia and there are people there on the ground making a difference. Ukrainian troops are getting some better weapons and lots of training too and they seem to be applying all this new-found knowledge and ability to most impressive use. If this is, indeed, to be a tipping point in this war then now is the time that whatever we can do needs to be done as it will have the best chance of success while Russia is clearly on the back foot. Before they can regroup, rearm and generally figure out the next move we should make ours. Throw whatever we can in to help Ukraine and get every European country to join in. USA too, and Canada and Australia and whoever else we can get on board. Leaders like to be on the winning side and they can be now.

The one question remains, of course: will Putin hit the nuclear button? I think it is likely that he will, with a small but nasty missile hitting some infrastructure or town in Ukraine as a threat to show what he can do if we don't cease the assistance. That will alienate a lot of support within his own country, though, and start a major divide between the Russian population who will be unable to avoid the publicity of such action. No 'special military operation' now. This will not be what they thought they could ignore and look the other way about. They managed to ignore Bucha, children being hit, massive civilian causalities and other ghastly crimes committed in their name but nuclear war they'll not be able to let pass as if it hadn't happened.

If they're lucky the wind will not blow any radioactive dust their way. But there will be a response from the West and several weapons bases will be hit almost straightaway and no military commander will risk going along with Putin's next steps, whatever they may be. The writing will be clearly on the wall for Russia as a whole at that point. However mad or bad his colleagues may be, they'll not risk escalation in full knowledge that more will come their way, however many missiles they may have. No-one except Putin signed up for that sort of conflict. We need to call their bluff and soon we will have a great opportunity to do so.

There's a long way yet to go but I am finally feeling positive about Ukraine's chances of not just regaining control of its territory but settling this on Ukraine's terms, not those of some committee.
But my friends may need to keep taking those iodine tablets.