Search This Blog

Friday, February 29, 2008

Poles apart

I've been in Warsaw. I took this photo as I arrived at my hotel on the outskirts of Warsaw. It's an interesting place: one of the guys I was with said that it was built in the 1950s as some kind of holiday camp for communist party officials, a sort of Hi-De-Hierarchy. It was quite odd inside, in an ornate but worn way. There was wireless Internet everywhere, but the radio in the room looked like a 1960s East German copy, a special version that could report back to the central committee to tell them what you were listening to.


I have to say that I enjoyed my trip -- traveling on new EU-funded roads across EU-funded bridges -- and next time I go I'm going to take a day or two off to look around more. I was very sad to hear, though, that the well-presented, courteous and hard-working Poles that we find throughout our green and pleasant land are now moving on. The pound has fallen from over 8 zlotys down to less than 5, our inflation is high and I imagine the crime and poverty they find in the U.K. is quite distressing to them. Now their jobs will be filled -- insofar as any of them will be filled -- by the surly and ignorant indigenous population. It's not progess.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's a sign of the times

My younger son (11) was playing a game on the computer today. It was a detective game where you have to hunt around and find clues, solve puzzles, that kind of thing. But he was stuck, because he didn't know what a "cassette player" was. Even when I described a cassette to him, he still had no idea what I was talking about. So I went out in the garage and found a box of old tapes to show him.
I can remember getting my first cassette player -- I think for my birthday, but I'm not sure -- when I was 13, in 1972. The big, big song in the charts at that time was All the young dudes by Mott the Hoople. I absolutely loved that song, and I still do. It's had an odd effect on me actually, because when my eldest son turned 13, the song happened to come on the radio in the car and it made me cry! The opening chords evoke (in me) that feeling of being 13, of walking down the street (where my parents still live) on a Swindon council estate, listening to the best music I had ever heard in my life, not having a care in the world, looking forward to meeting my friends. It's a feeling that's never going to come back, so there's no point in wishing for it, yet the knowledge that my son feels that way is, in a way that I could never have imagined when I was 13, even better.
Mott's lead singer, Ian Hunter, was a favourite of mine for many years. I remember buying his first eponymous solo album when I was in the sixth form after hearing the fabulous "Once bitten, twice shy". I recorded the album on to a cassette tape some time later, and played it endlessly. Much later in life, the Ian Hunter Band's live double, Welcome to the Club, was (if I remember correctly) the first album that I put on my first iPod. It hate to say it, but they don't make them like that anymore.
In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Provisional plan

The government's basic manifesto commitment to turn Britain into a lunatic asylum, with the patients in charge, came a little closer to realisation recently when Harriet Harman, the Minister of State in the Government Equalities Office, suggested that the universal franchise be extended to 16-year olds.

Miss Harman, who is one of the Cabinet ministers responsible for constitutional reform, gives the clearest sign yet that the Government is seriously considering allowing 16-year-olds to vote.

[From Children of 16 may be given the vote - Telegraph]

I cannot fathom the reasoning behind this transparently insane suggestion: I don't doubt that the next suggestion will be to extend the vote to household pets (they are stakeholders too). I can only assume that the government think (possibly correctly) that 16-year olds are so stupid that they might be persuaded to vote in the correct way come an election. For all I know, that may well be an integral element of the policy.

"What is needed is a population educated just enough to be able to read simple propaganda, but not educated enough to challenge it". Lenin.

[From An Experiment : January 2008 : Slightly Grumpy : My Telegraph]

If anything, we should be going in the other direction, putting the voting age back up to 21 or perhaps even 31. Who cares what 16-year olds think? About anything, I mean, not only politics. This really will mean compulsory asparagus for breakfast...

A fifth of British teenagers believe Sir Winston Churchill was a fictional character, while many think Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur and Eleanor Rigby were real, a survey shows.

[From Winston Churchill didn't really exist, say teens - Telegraph]

In a spirit of open-minded public service, however, I would like to put forward a compromise that I think neatly addresses all of the real requirements of the current situation. In the same way that young drivers are allowed a provisional driving licence before they can drive by themselves, why not allow people to have a provisional vote when they are 16? Just like the provisional licence they would not be allowed to vote by themselves but only if accompanied by someone who had paid income tax in six of the preceding twelve months. Alternatively, let them vote and have the provisional votes tallied and displayed, but don't let the provisional votes count toward the result. That way, politicians and journalists and anyone else mad enough to care could see which way "the provisionals" are voting but no-one would actually be elected by a vote from someone who thinks that Hannah Montana is on a par with Kenneth Clark.

My plan is considerably less idiotic that the government's. It meets Ms. Harman's goal of drawing "the kids" into the democratic process (just when everyone else is leaving) but doesn't let them have any actual control. Perfect.

The more I mull it over, the better it sounds. And in thinking about it, I've come up with a few refinements. First of all, just as you have to keep your provisional licence until you've passed your driving test, I think that people should have to keep their provisional vote until they leave full-time education with some minimum qualification, such as GCSE passes in English and Maths, or something like that. Secondly, we you get above a certain age, then you should have to have periodic refresher tests otherwise your licence will be taken away.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

You can't hold a candle to them

This really is beyond parody. We are getting desperately close to the point where even the most dedicated and vicious satirist is going to have to abandon their profession in the face of European Commission pronouncements. This morning, I hear...

European candle makers, from Germany, the Netherlands and other countries, complained to the European Commission in January that they were being damaged by illegal pricing by Chinese rivals, accusing them of getting unfair export aid.

[From EU starts dumping probe of Chinese candles and steel | Business | Reuters]

I assumed that I was hallucinating under the influence of Lemsip, and that my brain was feverishly conflating snapshots from economics text books with the memory of my dreary trip to Brussels last week. But I looked it up at Reuters, and it appears to be true. The candlemakers are complaining about foreign competition. Far be it from me to sneer as the European economy is about to be devasted, but who didn't hear or see the report and immediately think of Bastiat's famous "Candlemakers' petition"...

The Candlemakers' petition is a well known satire of protectionism written and published in 1845 by the French economist Frédéric Bastiat as part of his Economic Sophisms. In the Candlemakers' petition, the candlemakers and industrialists from other parts of the lighting industry petition the Chamber of Deputies of the French July Monarchy (1830–1848) to protect their trade from the unfair competition of a foreign power: the Sun.

[From Candlemakers' petition - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

And for those of you unfamiliar with this landmark in economic history, the petition claims that

We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him, and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival, which is none other than the sun, is waging war on us so mercilessly we suspect he is being stirred up against us by perfidious Albion

[From Bastiat's famous Candlestick makers' Petition]

Today, as is the spirit of the times, the inscrutable Chinese have replaced perfidious Albion as the crucial "other", but other than that, what has changed?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

[posted with ecto]

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mannekin pis-sed off

I've been in Brussels for a couple of days. As you can tell from this picture, it was very dull.

Morning in Brussels

It was foggy, very cold and damp. But worse than that, it was unpleasant.

I rather used to like coming to Brussels. There are times when I've had to come over weekly, and it never bothered me. It's not that big, it's easy to get around on the metro, there are pleasant restaurants to go to in the evening, and various things going on (eg, going to the opening of the Tintin museum, as I did a couple of years ago). I haven't been there for a few months, and I was surprised by how much I didn't like it this time. When I arrived, there were groups of (mainly) young men hanging around at the train station and in the subway. At Gare Midi there was quite a violent argument going on between some gangs of girls -- I couldn't understand what was being said, but it felt quite threatening, so I gave them a wide berth.

In the morning I went down to the subway at about nine o'clock and there were already drunks down there and I'm sure I saw lots more bums sleeping and begging in the subway that I do in London. What is going on? Belgium went without a government for a while last year and yet seemed to get along quite nicely, but obviously in the capital, something has gone wrong. Brussels apparently has twice the violent crime rate of London!

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My 4Gb precious

There are two things that I really dislike about public transport: these are the transport, which is generally hopeless, and the public, who are annoying at the best of times and unbearable at the worst. My dislike of both was considerably amplified yesterday because I made the catastrophic mistake of leaving home without my iPod. I made a mistake because I had to be in London early for a couple of meetings before heading over to Heathrow to fly out for a client. The early start meant that I was still medically asleep when I left the house and therefore fail to pick up my precious as I walked out the door.

Despite arriving at the train station before half past seven, I found myself jammed into a South West Trains hommage to the Tokyo subway and had to stand all the way to Waterloo. This meant I couldn't get any work done. Now only did I have to stand, I couldn't even enjoy the book I was reading in lieu of doing any work ("The Vikings" by Magnus Magnusson) because the two guys next to me were wittering on about planning permission for some office they are building. It's very rare you get to overhear an interesting conversation which is why my precious is so important, and was choc-a-bloc with goodies that I'd been looking forward to: the new Led Zep "Mothership - Very Best Of (2CD/DVD)" album, the official Manchester City podcast and last week's In Our Time for a start. But instead I fumed all the way into Central London and learn nothing and was not entertained.

The airport was equally disastrous. I had some really bad luck. The British Airways plane that I was on developed some kind of fault before takeoff and so we had to sit on the plane for a couple hours while a replacement plane was flown in from somewhere or other. Then we had to wait to while they transferred the luggage and the catering and everything else to the new plane, and then finally we had to be bussed back across the airport to get onto the new plane. I did manage to get some work done but my laptop battery gave up after a couple of hours and are no power sockets in Club Europe, so I read for a while, and fumed some more that my precious was so far away. When I eventually arrived at my destination hotel several hours late, all I wanted to do was put my feet up and listen to some music for a while. Once again, thwarted.

At least I did hear something interesting on the bus between planes though. I was standing next to a couple of guys who worked for some kind of media organisation (I couldn't be sure if it was some kind of magazine publisher or something) and they obviously had a large well-known international organisation providing management consultancy to them. One guy was asking the other guy what he thought about the consultants that he had working for him. The other guy said the consultant in charge was "a talentless thief" and that his team were "pointless muppets".

Anyway, back to my precious. So when I go to conferences and people say, as they often do, that people often leave home without their wallet but they never leave home without their mobile phone because it's more important, I always think that is not true anymore. If I forget my mobile phone it is certainly annopying and inconvenient, but it would never leave me fuming for hours on end as I was when I couldn't feel the comforting presence of my precious in my shirt pocket.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, February 08, 2008

Evening in Madrid

Our for a pleasant evening stroll around Madrid, we came upon the Playa del Mayor, which looked very nice indeed in the lights. As you probably know, people go out to eat much later here than they do in Woking, so at ten at night, it was only just warming up.

Madrid Town Hall

You could have knocked me down with a feather. As we came out of the tapas bar, a guy came past on a Segway!

El Segway

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Now this is a traveller

I went to the launch of the book "A Brief History of Disability" by Bryan Breed. It's been published, posthumously, by John Coleman of New European Publications. I've known John for many years, so kindly invited me along. The launch was at a travel show, and John brought along his 1925 Austin -- he drove it up to London, it's still running -- that features in the book "Coleman's Drive". He drove it from Buenos Aires to New York -- solo up mountains, through jungles, across rivers -- in 1962. And there's me complaining because they didn't have my first choice left for dinner on my last flight back to London. Here's John with the car...

Now this is a traveller

Anyway, it was a pleasure to be at the launch. Baron Morris of Manchester (better known as Alf Morris) gave a talk on the introduction of the 1970 Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act that was behind. He then went on, 1974, to become Britain's first Minister for the Disabled.

John and Alf

It's a privilege to spend a little time with men like these.
In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]