Saturday, 30 October 2010

Tories losing their marbles.....

In 1948, the Genocide Convention was signed in Paris, committing signatories to preventing acts of genocide. During the 1990s, eager to avoid the commitment of preventing acts of genocide in Yugoslavia and then Rwanda, the traditional do-gooders of the international community began using the non-legally-binding expression 'ethnic cleansing', in order to describe thousands of people being murdered on the basis of their racial background.

Despite 'cleansing' being a process performed ordinarily on colons rather than ethnic groups, the term somehow seemed to stick, and Boris Johnson, the charismatic London mayor easily-confused with a pillock, this week suggested that Tory plans to reduce housing benefits would prompt a "Kosovo-style social-cleansing" of central London, leaving poor people unable to afford their rent. The fact that rents might be so high in the first instance is of lesser concern to Johnson, as is the morality of taxpayer's money paying the mortgages of private landlords. Be that as it may, the somewhat extreme Kosovo analogy has drawn stark reproach from Prime Minister, David Cameron, whilst Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, announced that the comparison was "deeply insensitive to those who have witnessed ethnic cleansing." Clegg is thought to have been so outspoken about ethnic cleansing having been assured that the coalition government has no existing plans to undertake any acts of ethnic cleansing. Clegg now begins an anxious wait, hoping not to be called-upon to explain why ethnic-cleansing always seemed like a horrendous prospect, but is in fact the only means with which to deal with the realities of being in government.

Given this appetite for the drawing of brusque comparisons, Johnson might perhaps wish to reconsider the appointment of his long-standing friend, Veronica Wadley, as chair of the London Arts Council. With her artistic credentials no more than working as editor to Vogue magazine and the Evening Standard, Wadley's qualification for the job was questioned by members of the selection panel, who also raised the point that Johnson's interventions on Wadley's behalf were in breach of rules on political interference in appointments. All to no avail, Wadley was appointed in June to the £6500/30-day a year position, and Boris Johnson, evidently brushing-up on his history at present, might want to reflect on Hitler's appointment of his friend, Joseph Goebbels, to oversee artwork in Nazi Germany.

In other news... with the Tory party so riled by Johnson's Kosovo hyperbole, it went entirely unnoticed that former Tory MP, Norman Tebitt, this week suggested that an increase in British contributions to the European Union budget would constitute a "Vichy-style" capitulation. In 1940, after the German defeat of the French army, the Vichy regime of Philippe Petain entered into collaboration with the German Nazi party. The relationship saw the opening of internment camps in which Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other undesirables were kept for transit to concentration camps in Germany, the relationship saw French soldiers and gendarmerie round-up such undesirables for despatch to Auschwitz, the relationship saw foreigners forced to work on Nazi labour projects. The proposed increase to the EU budget is 0000000002.9%.

Enough of all these Nazis and doom-harbinging however, in lighter news, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Ian Duncan Smith, this week advised that unemployed people ought "get on a bus" and go looking for work. The suggestion marks a turnaround from Duncan Smith's position in May, when he stated, on joining the cabinet, that: "I am here because I want this to be the most reforming government on benefits for a generation. I think we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity". His rediscovered conservatism is particularly quaint for its similarity to Tory advice from 1981, when Norman Tebitt famously suggested that the unemployed should "get on their bike and look for work". In a prediction of things to come, I foresee the 2038 secretary for work and pensions, also an Oxford graduate, urging the unemployed to "get on their spaceships and look for work".

Human history is nothing but the invention of new technology.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Deportations and Bicycles

Having remarked in July 2008 that absent fathers are key to explaining the failings of the black community, Prime Minister David Cameron will be disappointed to hear that the five children of Jimmy Mubenga now have an absent father all of their very own. Mubenga, of Ilford in east London, was in the process of being forcibly removed back to Angola on Thursday September 14th, when it transpired that he had been inadvertently killed by the security guards responsible for his deportation.

Witnesses aboard the British Airways flight describe a fifteen minute skirmish in which the handcuffed Mubenga was restrained by three employees from private security firm, G4S. The captive is said to have consistently called-out such puzzling statements as "help me" and, "I can't breathe", before eventually dropping dead in the aisle of the plane. The episode raises questions about a Home Office policy in which individuals are deported by hired goons, employees whose only qualification for serving as representatives of UK immigration is that they applied for a job with G4S, and who are then free to manhandle deportees in front of tourists, businessmen, and other paying customers aboard commercial flights.

Rest assured that a political clamour is well underway, with Liberal Democrat, Julian Huppert, calling for a "wide-ranging independent inquiry" into the event. Onlookers wait patiently for the mandatory week to elapse before it can be ascertained whether the Liberal Democrat in question actually meant what he said, or whether the case of Mubenga is one more misfortune that must be tolerated as part of the "growing-up" process of being in government.

G4S are not the only firm in the private sector making a fist of things of late, as Serco continue to demonstrate that they are less adept at running London's cycle hire scheme than locking-up asylum seekers at their £900,000 a month, money-spinning detention centre, Yarl's Wood. The £140million cycle scheme began on 30th July with a one-month delay before casual, non-registered individuals could make use of the facilities. With two and a half months now passed, Londoners are being told to wait for 2011 before the scheme is up-and-running in its promised fashion. The result of this has been an excess of bicycles in some areas, and absences in others, a logistical problem blamed upon the fact that casual users, including tourists, are unable to use the scheme and thereby redistribute the bicycles naturally between twice-daily peaks in registered users commuting to and from offices.

The delay is at the heart of questions about whether or not Transport for London (TfL) and the taxpayer have received value for money from the contract. Since winning the £140million deal (£23,000 for each of the 6,000 bikes put into circulation) to undertake the cycle hire scheme, Serco have subcontracted Canada's Bixi to provide the bicycles and docking stations, subcontracted FM Conway to dig-up the roads and pavements where the docking stations are installed, and subcontracted Logica to provide the technology for the scheme's payment system, all of which begs the question of why it was that TfL, with an annual budget of £9.2billion, were unable simply to give one of their near 20,000 employees a copy of the Yellow Pages and instruct them to call Bixi, Logica and FM Conway directly.

Naysaying aside, the scheme's sponsors and instigators continue to brand it a riproaring success that is revolutionising travel in London. Less has been said about when the scheme's boundary will be extended beyond the areas of those hard-up folk in central London, where residents of Mayfair and Belgravia (etc.) need not walk more than five minutes to reach a docking station. Outside of central London, in Hackney, Holloway, Camberwell, Brixton and other areas of densely-populated rabble, residents will still have to catch a bus in order to reach their nearest revolutionary cycle hire opportunity.

Aside from the practical failings of the scheme, it remains a moot point that TfL were unable to badge their project as anything more inspiring than 'Barclays Cycle Hire'. The name is a homage to the £25million paid by Barclays bank to have their name appear six times on each one of 6,000 bicycles, have the scheme livery altered to represent their own corporate colours, have every street in central London flooded with mobile advertising, and have the name of the bank as one-third of the scheme's title in return for less than one-fifth of the scheme's funding. The triumph of this as a piece of cheap advertising is compounded by every tourist in London now having their photo taken alongside a dock of Barclay's Cycle Hire bicycles, those venturing into central London being condemned to seeing the name 783 times a day, and television coverage from the capital frequently capturing one of the bicycles ride by. All of which is a far-cry from the much-praised Parisian counterpart of Barclay's Cycle Hire, Velib, a title formed from contracting the words 'velo' (bicycle) and 'liberte' (liberty). Elsewhere in France, Aix En Provence named their cycle scheme V'hello! as a contraction of 'velo' and 'hello', Lyon's was named Velo'v ('velo' and 'love') and Dijon's VeloDI as a melodic contraction of 'velo' and the city name.

None of which seems to concern the insipid, fluorescent mouthpiece of the cycling community, too enthral with anything on two wheels to even consider suggesting that maybe, just maybe, it might have been something so much better.

Anyway... enough of all that grumbling... welcome to the new world of 'more for less'... where we all pay that much more and get that much less in return.

Hurrah!



Sunday, 3 October 2010

Graduate Tax and Guinness records.


With the finances of universities nationwide becoming ever-gloomier, UK business secretary, Vince Cable, is continuing to attract heavy fire for his proposed 'graduate-tax'. The scheme outlines a model in which financially successful graduates would pay higher rates of tax on their salaries, rather than students across the board facing the possibility of tuition fees doubling to an annual £7000.

Business group, The Institute of Directors (IOD), are the latest opponents to the tax, arguing that it will see the most successful students financially penalised for their endeavours, whilst also driving a 'brain drain' scenario in which Britain's brightest minds will graduate, only to seek employment overseas. The assertion is the latest in a long line from free-market, centre-right thinkers convinced that Britain is such an overwhelmingly diabolical place in which to live and do business that unless corporations, bankers, and graduates are given generous compensation for choosing to locate themselves on our island, they will all leave instantly and start more prosperous lives elsewhere.

Be that as it may... the IOD, right-wing media, Confederation of British Industry and a bunch of other doom harbingers will be pleased to read "Gifted Children are Failures", a Sunday Times article from September 26th. The article (which none of you can now read without paying Rupert Murdoch a subscription fee) posits that gifted children are likely to become misfits rather than Mozarts, and cites research showing that of children who demonstrate considerable ability and intelligence throughout their schooling, only a very small number go on to amount to anything conventionally 'successful'. All of which is good news for those in fear of Cable's graduate tax, suggesting as it does that society actually has a large and unused surplus of highly talented individuals who go-on to perform jobs that could be perceived as falling-short of their actual capabilities.

This consideration, alongside the notion of a graduate tax, raises questions about the philosophy of tax as a whole. Contrary to traditional thinking, we are here presented with the idea that the most financially successful in society do not attain their positions by virtue of merit and the necessity of their employment, but rather as part and parcel of a social model that requires and permits a certain number of better-remunerated individuals, if only to preserve nominal notions of success and merit. In a pure meritocracy the graduate tax might be seen as wrong-headed and downright abysmal, but in our quasi-fictitious social roleplay, corresponding as it does to all-but nothing rational and mutually-benefitial... then indeed why not tax those who have merely inherited the lucrative role of what a 'successful' person ought resemble?

Anyway... enough of that bullshit... I also write to inform you all happily that Guinness recently acknowledged and ratified my record for a circumnavigation by bicycle. Sincere and deepest thanks to all those who believed in me and supported me regardless... and sincere and deepest apologies to all those who would have rather seen Guinness throw me out as the mean-spirited cheat and grumbling fuckwit that I am. Of course I knew all along that I had done nothing outside the spirit of the record, and that therefore it was a moral and personal achievement regardless of a piece of paper from Guinness... however, I'm not a big enough person to have actually felt that way, even if I knew it to be true... and so I have to say that I do actually quite like my piece of paper from Guinness, which will be invaluable to the CV once I draw a line under this life as a socially-conscientious pauper and start scouting around for jobs in private-equity.






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