Schizophrenic world

I think I must be schizophrenic.

I seem to live my life in two halves. I behave in distinctly contradictory ways at different times and have problems  harmonising these two parts of my personality. Should I be sectioned?

Split PSplit P

Well perhaps not but perhaps my dilemma is not uncommon and could provide a useful indicator of the health of our civilisation – perhaps not – perhaps I am becoming pompius.

When I rise in the morning I am very similar to a Cadavera. I drag myself around, shave, shower and drink tea. I do not  sleep enough and so am tired.

I then climb into a car and drive a ludicrous speed for about an hour. During this time a sub personality kicks in. I am eager and alert. I do not understand why. Just a few minutes earlier I could have turned over and gone back to sleep.

I enter “the office” feeling like a character from Metropolis, walking awkwardly up a giant idiotic ramp from the car park to the revolving door entrance. I drink coffee. I stare vacantly at my screen.

After a short while my first personality kicks in. I am knowledgeable, interested and persevering. – Always in threes, always threes. By afternoon I am office worker personified. If women adored office workers the way they adored pop stars I would be Robby Fucking Williams.

In the late afternoon I drive home and my sub-personality kicks in again.

Friday night I unwind. I drink a glass of wine. I might work on some photographs. I might write an article. The thought of sitting in an office with a window I am “not allowed” to open just two feet away is so abhorrent I wonder if I am able to face Monday. My weekend is spent feeling as an outsider. Do I really work in an office. Can I ever wear shoes again? Do I believe in anything?

I am serious. I cannot decide. When I am at work I see myself as some decisive, opinionated expert. When at home I see decisive, opinionated experts as wankers. I enjoy the grey areas. The contradictory. The dream of “travelling the world and living more simply” – Yet by 10am on Monday morning I’m back in the rat race.

Can someone please explain.

Photo-realistic paintings by Alyssa Monks

I saw some interesting pictures in today’s Daily Telegraph. Photo-realistic paintings by Alyssa Monks. if someone describes it to you it seems a pointless endeavour but the images look very good. Obviously there is the technical excellence to admire but I think there may be more too it than just that.  

Photo-realistic paintings by Alyssa Monks

Photo-realistic paintings by Alyssa Monks

Why does fraternity stop at Dover?

This morning I listened the Today program on Radio 4 and heard Tony Woodley, the joint secretary of the Unite union, discussing the recent take over of Vauxhall/Opal by a Canadian parts manufacturer named Magna. Obviously Mr. Woodley argued for retaining the jobs at Ellesmere Port and Luton.

Save Vauxhall campaign logo

Save Vauxhall campaign logo

The role of a Union is to represent the worker so it is right that Mr. Woodley argues for protecting the jobs of workers. In a Capitalist system, it is also right that the managers of the company protect the value of the company for shareholders. Ideally the two sides would meet to discuss the issues involved and reach some kind of compromise.

These days, corporations have become global and many are classed as multinationals and have shareholders from multiple nations. The managers of these corporations will naturally look to base their business in a location which provides the maximum Return On Investment (ROI) and in the case of Vauxhall/Opal this might mean that they may decide to close down Ellesmere Port or Luton in favour of continuing or expanding production in Germany.

You may not agree with Capitalism but this is how it works.

The response of trade unions has been pitiful. Mr. Woodley has merely argued that the British government should intervene to protect British jobs. This is an inadequate response.

Politically unions tend to be lean to the left and some are outright socialists emphasising the fraternity of workers world wide. Indeed the very purpose of a union is to unite workers so that they cannot be picked off individually by the employers.

“United we stand, divided we fall” is a common phrase within trade unionism yet when job cuts loom union leaders scurry to save their workers jobs at the cost of foreign jobs.

The corporate managers must love it. Governments of each country are badgered by their unions into supplying incentives to the multinationals. More often than not these incentives boil down to tax payers money and the tax payers are the same workers who’s jobs the government is trying to protect.

Dr. Johnson has been much in the news recently and it was he who said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. I am not suggesting that union leaders are scoundrels but they show a woeful lack of imagination and principle when allowing corporations to play one nation off against another.

We have comparatively free markets within The European Union for goods and services. The unions within Europe should unite to protect the jobs and rights of workers throughout Europe.

Of course the argument is then that the jobs will go outside the European Union but as we do not have a global free trade area yet perhaps global union action can also wait.

Is Microsoft Racist?

A couple of weeks ago the news media carried a story covering a Microsoft advertisement which was used in Poland. The image had originally been used in The United States and showed three office workers, one of them black. The Polish version of the image had a white guy’s face superimposed on the black man. The image editor appeared to have forgotten about his hands which were the original colour giving the game away.

Microsoft Ad

Microsoft Ad

Accusations of racism ensued and Poland was branded a racist nation. However, branding a whole nation racist is itself a racist generalisation so let’s just think this through.

Microsoft ran an advert in a country with a diverse, ethically mixed population and wanted to run the same advert in another country with a predominantly white population.

When faced with these sorts of issues it is useful to alter aspects of the scenario slightly to challenge assumptions and see how this changes our reaction. So let’s say that the company was Chinese and they were selling to Kenya. Let’s say that the original image had three Chinese people. Would it be racist to change the image to one showing predominantly black people?

What if the Chinese company wanted to use the image in The United States but the U.S. marketing guys complained that the people in the image were not sufficiently ethnically diverse. The Chinese might respond that one guy was a Wega, one a Han Chinese and the other a Tibetan. Who’s the racist? The Chinese for not including a black guy or the Americans for thinking that all Orientals look the same?

Could Microsoft have run the same image showing only one black guy in an advert used in Nigeria? If they had, might this not be construed as lazy neo-imperialism?

The real question is this: Is it racist for a company to adjust the ethnic mix of characters in advertising to suit the target country? In my view it is not, it happens all the time. Advertisers design images so that the target audience will empathise with the people in the commercials and for this they try to reflect the ethnic make up of each country.

Other times advertisers might also try to project an image that people aspire to and this can mean that the people portrayed are of a different group than the target audience. An example of this was Australian TV advertising in the 1970s where English accents were used because they were considered more up market.

Nationality, race and ethnicity are all exploited to produce an image that the seller believes is attractive to the target audience. We all have prejudices and advertising executives make conscious attempts to exploit our unconscious prejudices. We believe that German cars are superior so Citroen tell us that the new C5 is “’Unmistakably German”.

We believe that Scots are prudent and so banks use Scottish accent for their commercials and who would dream of selling spaghetti source without an outrageous Italian accent?

There is an enormous block of hypocrisy on all sides of the racism debate and too many people scream

Rivers and Howe

Rivers and Howe

racism as a cover for their own prejudice. This ranges from the supposedly anti-racists liberals treating Africans like children to the automatic condemnation of all things “little England”.
Darcus Howe fell into this trap during a BBC Radio 4 discussion with Joan Rivers in 2005. He casually slandered Ms. Rivers by saying that the word “black” offended her. This absurd insult was vehemently denied by Ms. Rivers but what was interesting about this episode was that she picked up on it at all. Racists insults such as these are often ignored and the accusation of racism sticks by default.

 

Too often accusations of racism against organisations are met by an attempt to distance the organisation from the supposed perpetrators. Presumably this is done because of the fear that the organisation will be branded as racist but this distancing means implicit acceptance of racism and only serves to reinforce the public perception that the incident itself was racist. In the case of Microsoft and the Polish advert this is by no means clear.

Racism has become a taboo in modern society which probably stems from the recognition of the evil of the African slave trade and The Holocaust. The feeble minded have picked up on the necessity to be anti-racists and interpreted this as a prejudice against white people and a knee jerk accusation of racism whenever they hear the word “black”.

I enjoy BBC, Radio 4 comedy but am often surprised at the vitriol of Jeremy Hardy and Markus Brigstock when they attack some poor soul who they have deemed a racist. These two admirable comedians fall into the same trap as the racists: The automatic and prejudice vilification of an individual because of an assumed membership of a hated group. The audience appears to laughs and claps energetically but this is not from mirth but a desperate attempt to distance themselves from the target of the abuse.

I am reminded of a sinister piece of video showing Sadam Hussein when president of Iraq. He sits smoking a cigar while casually ordering individuals to be taken away by security guards. The remaining individuals become frenetic in their efforts to show their allegiance to Sadam.

She’s a witch, he’s a communist, you’re a racists! We invent groups to exclude people more than we do to include them. In the Christian bible Mathew asks: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

The answer, of course, is to distract attention.

Irrespective of whether Poles as a group are racist or not the furore over the Microsoft advert is not evidence either way. It is business as usual in the advertising industry met by prejudiced people deflecting scrutiny of their own views by publicly accusing other.

As if the witch hunt of racism is not enough a new prejudice is evolving along with a new terminology of persecution. We are now called to hate all those who remain sceptical about climate change and so, as we drive our cars, we can assuage our guilt by hurling abuse at the Chelsea Tractors and the Gas Guzzlers.

Humans! – Hypocrites the lot of them.

Why the BBC is worth keeping

A couple of weeks ago James Murdoch made a speech condemning the BBC as a state owned organisation which discourages pluralism in journalism by “dumping” free news on the market.

The argument is appealing as conventional market theory would imply that if you are giving something away free then nobody is going to pay for it.

Bush House

Bush House

Mr. Murdoch’s attack has come in the wake of two factors: The Internet boom and the global recession. Prior to these factors, commercial media organisations were awash with advertising revenues and did not see the BBC as serious competition. But with the rise of The Internet, advertising revenues are now spread more thinly over many more media suppliers. The current recession has put further pressure on commercial organisations.

First seen as a lame duck, the BBC modernised and expanded its services. The modern BBC provides many services online but, as it does not rely on advertising revenue, it is not directly affected by the recession. So it is only now that commercial media companies are struggling that they attack the BBC.

Are they right? Should the BBC be cut back or abolished?

Mr. Murdoch’s argument is predicated on the idea the all things should be left to the market which, through the mechanism of competition, will supply variety. In this case this means a plurality of programming and opinion.

Market theory is real and underpins much of the success of the western world. However, Mr. Murdoch’s claims for market forces are flawed. Market forces can produce a plurality of suppliers but this does not mean a plurality of services or opinion. On the contrary, market forces use competition to evolve a monoculture of services and opinion.

This has happened again and again in history from telephone systems to television. VHS won out over the superior Betamax format and Blue Ray has recently won out over HD DVD for high definition television recording. This is classic free market operation. Multiple ideas emerge and one wins out, sometimes through an innate superiority, but often due to superior management, marketing or any number of other factors. For TV formats this does not matter, but for news, which is essentially the battle of ideas, a monoculture is positively dangerous.

If it were true that a pluralistic news media would emerge from a purely commercial medium then this would have occurred in The United States. It has not. The news media in The United States have many positive qualities but diversity is not their strength. Further, commercial media companies will all have an natural bias in favour of free market capitalism to the detriment of the reporting of other systems.

Mr. Murdoch’s is not attacking the BBC because he favours pluralism. He has no real interest in diversity of opinion and makes the arguments for selfish purposes. News Corporation has always been a rapacious free market company striving to defeat its competition. A monoculture is acceptable for a mature industry that makes widgets but not for an industry that reports events.

BBC TV news reported Mr. Murdoch’s speech and asked the question: If the BBC did not exist, would we consider creating a news service which was owned and run by the state. At first blush this does not sound a good idea and has the resonance of totalitarianism but in the same TV program, Greg Dyke, ex director General of the BBC, made the point that the BBC is not a state run organisation. It is an organisation funded by a license fee and controlled by a trust. This is not the same as state control.

Shareholder capitalism and state ownership are not the only models possible for organisations. The United States savings and loans and the British mutual building societies are other examples of a middle way.

Of course the BBC can be leaned on by the British government and this has happened. But is this very different from the shameful behaviour of the United States media in the wake of 9/11 when they overlooked illegal and ignominious activities of the United States government and armed forces?

The United States is a country with a strong basis in free market capitalism and an understandable mistrust of the state. Great Britain has a long history of laissez-faire capitalism but also a solid foundation in pragmatism. We should use markets when they are useful, not out of an ideological obsession.

The BBC provides a useful counterbalance to commercial organisations and is respected throughout the world. Its lack of reliance on advertising allows greater freedom from lobby groups than its commercial competitors. One only has to watch a few minutes of CNN to realise that commercial organisations rely on BBC reporters throughout the world. Even the leader of the Soviet Union found the BBCs reporting independent enough to rely on during the military coup in 1991.

Mr. Murdoc’s speech has been given great attention because his father, Rupert Murdoch, made a similar speech some years ago but whereas Rupert Murdoh recognised an technological shift that would inevitably force change on a media industry which had stagnated, James Murdoch is appealing for change to protect a vested interest.

Mr. Muroch claims that the BBC is an obstacle to pluralistic media – It isn’t. The BBC has proved itself over the years as a defender of objective journalism and should not be sacrificed to support the profits of the Murdoch empire.

Jumping robots, progress? – Toward what?

All this modern technology is of course fantastic. iPods, The Internet, GPS. All fantastic.

Military robot hops over walls

Military robot 'hops' over walls

However, despite being a great user of all this stuff and despite having been in the computer industry since 1978 I can’t help thinking that it does not make us any happier. To quote Hermann Hess in Steppenwolf when referring to the radio, these things are merely an “ever closer mesh of distractions and useless activities”.
Personally I think that technology probably peaked around 1959. By then we had sufficient technology to ward of the evils of this world and we could have switched our efforts to art and understanding.
But people being people we continue to improve and tweak the physical world only, these days the driver is not curiosity but greater efficiency.

But how much does efficiency contribute to happiness?

The BBC reported today that the American military are beavering away to invent more nutty ideas. This time it’s a little mobile shoe box that can jump over 7 foot high fences. Hooray. Just what we need.
My theory is that they will pack it with explosives and use it for targeted assassinations. Another boom to make the world a better place?

They say that “you can’t stop progress” but “progress” implies a destination. What is the destination that is brought closer by jumping robots?

Government Bailouts – The Worst of All Possible Worlds?

I think the fairest definition of my opinions on economics is liberalism. I see the benefits of Capitalism but I have the gut feeling that it drives us to work too hard and to treat the world as nothing more than raw materials. I can see that Socialism lacks a mechanism for accountability and can lead industry to become so incompetent that it cannot perform it’s function.

I saw part of the documentary on the collapse of Lehman Brothers recently and it seems that all the rich and powerful bankers were hoping for a bailout by the American tax payer. There was a clip of some high falutin banker complaining that Lehmans only needed 30 or so billion to keep it afloat and billions of dollars worth of value was wiped out across the world because the money was not forthcoming.

Government Bailout

Government Bailout

I think the guy misunderstood the nature of capitalism. That value wasn’t wiped out by the collapse of Lehmans. That value didn’t exist in the first place. The list price of various financial instrument was driven up and up by irresponsible lending and the collapse of Lehmans was a market indicator that the value was illusory.

If the U.S. Government had bailed out Lehmans that illusion may have continued for longer but it could not prevail indefinitely.

To paraphrase Withnail and I, the market is like a balloon that you are hanging onto which is going higher and higher and the only question is: how long can you hold on?

The U.S. Government were right to allow Lehmans to go to the wall. Though I do not know which is better Capitalism or Socialism I do know that what is worse than both is to pretend to have capitalism while insisting that the tax payer picks up the bill for failed companies.

Nationalised companies have no dividends to pay and so should be able to operate at a lower cost than private companies but they become inefficient. Private companies, by contrast, have market pressure to drive them to be efficient but they must pay dividends to share holders and that extra cost could wipe out any efficiency gains. You pay your money and you take your pick.

Worse than either are private companies that are bailed out by the government because they have no market pressure to make them efficient and yet they must pay dividends.

The worst of all possible worlds to misquote Doctor Pangloss.

Heavy Metal

Teleworking is a hobby horse of mine which I believe could make a major contribution to reducing CO2 emissions from cars. Every morning thousands of tons of metal leave Brighton and are sent racing up the M23 at over 70 miles per hour. The metal sits in south London and cools throughout the morning and then around 5pm it all hurtles back into Brighton again. Simultaneously a smaller quantity, but still vast weight, of metal makes the opposite journey.

Why? – So that the project manager who lives in Brighton can chat to his friends while he works.

Traffic

Traffic

Trees Are Green

Artificial Trees pft! – More profit for fat cats.

This week there has been much talk suggesting that British scientists support the use of artificial trees to address climate change. The trees would work by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which would then be liquefied and stored underground using technology which is becoming known as carbon sequestration.
Carbon sequestration trials are currently underway to remove CO2 from the emissions from coal power stations, liquefy the CO2 and then pump it into exhausted oil wells. Many industry professionals are bullish about carbon sequestration – They would be, there are huge potential for profits to be made.

Even if carbon sequestration worked it would be a cop out because it would be passing the buck to the next generation and storing up trouble for the future. Before we consider storing vast amounts of CO2 underground we should recall that the British government still have no plans for the long term storage of nuclear waste!

We should also ask: Who would pay for the machines? Who will operate them? Who will be responsible for leaks from old buried CO2? What incentive will countries who do not operate CO2 sequestration system have to limit CO2 production? How much CO2 will be emitted to develop, build, operate and decommission the equipment? And lastly why spend millions recapturing CO2 rather than stopping emitting it in the first place?

The answer to CO2 build up is not bigger and stupider ideas it is to break the current economic model of over consumption conjoined with the acceptance that the world is humanities dustbin.

If we allocate the problem of over emission of CO2 to businessmen they will produce a profit driven solution. If we allocate the problem to engineers then they will provide engineering solutions such as artificial trees. If we allocate the problem to politicians then they will take an interim decision that gets them past the next election. The last time I heard a British government minister discussing nuclear waste he claimed that the New Labour government did have a policy for the long term storage of waste; the policy was to use short term storage until a policy for long term storage had been devised. – Yes, he actually said that! The arrogance and cynicism which leads a government minister to trot out such bollocks is staggering. Sadly I can’t recall who it was that said it.

Rather than relying on “professionals” to sort out climate change we could always do something ourselves.

We British complain that the Brazilians are cutting down huge amounts of forest every day but we don’t mention that England used to be covered in forest. Why not replant that forest? Sadly the space is now taken up with farm land, housing, shopping malls and Heathrow Airport but we could still plant trees on all the free land? The grass verges in the cities, the wasteland, everywhere, even parts of Heathrow Airport.

Trees ar good

Trees are green

The professional statisticians will tell us that this will only absorb a small percentage of the CO2 required but this is a poor argument which we hear every time anyone makes any suggestion about ways to reduce or absorb CO2. It is not enough – of course it is not be enough – There is no one silver bullet.

I was talking to a friend last week and he asked me what I am doing to reduce my CO2 consumption. I lamely mentioned an insulated loft and recycling and he suggested I do more. I dismissed the additional measures as making too small a contribution but he made the point that if we all do everything we can then we will all become far more aware and this awareness will have knock on effects. It will motivate us to take the bigger decisions that are necessary.

When I was at school there was a campaign to save trees: “Plant a Tree in 73” followed by “Plant one more in 74”. A tree absorbs CO2 naturally and turns it into wood. Useful stuff wood, you can make chairs, tables and cricket bats from wood.

Maybe it is worth doing things individually. We may act one at a time but this can have an effect just as the trees in the English forests were cut down one at a time.

………..where’s my spade?

Slaughter Of The Innocents

On Wednesday morning The Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones, spoke on Radio 4’s Thought For The Day. He talked of war and referred to “the inevitable slaughter of innocents”.

The Slaughter of the Innocents by Tintoretto, 1587

The Slaughter of the Innocents by Tintoretto, 1587

It’s true that, these days, we expect that war will involve the slaughter of innocents but I wonder if it’s always been that way.

Certainly armies throughout history have committed massacres after defeating opposing forces but is this the same as today’s collateral damage?

Israel often asserts a distinction between the deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian groups and the targeted attacks on Palestinian individuals which result in civilian casualties. When Great Britain or The United States launch missile attacks against individuals in Afghanistan and kill scores this is generally thought of as unfortunate but inevitable.

Conventional armies can claim to target specific individuals as they have the technology and the ability to assert absolute power over an area even if only temporarily. The forces which we term “terrorists” are usually the weaker side, they are the people who are reacting against a status quo. They have no standing armies and only limited technology and they often resort to isolated surprise attacks on civilians.
We brand these people “terrorists” as they aim to cause terror by but can a random explosion be more terrifying than a F16 fighter bomber screaming overhead firing missiles into the ground? Donald Rumsfeld called it “Shock and Awe” and this sounds like a pretty good definition of terror to me.

Terrorism is a tactic, it is not an enemy. You can no more declare war on terrorism than you can declare war on a siegewarefare or attrition warfare.

I wonder if this acceptance of civilian casualties might have developed during the second world war with the use of mass aerial bombing. Even though it was known that dropping bombs from thousands of feet in the air must mean a high degree of inaccuracy and consequent civilian casualties the bombing was accepted. Perhaps it was accepted because of the enormity of the struggle and the sense that this was a life or death struggle for each nation.

The military have developed more accurate missiles since then and we have been shown videos of “smart bombs” being guided directly to their target yet still we hear of attacks on wedding parties in Afghanistan.

We have become so inured to civilian casualties during conflict that now a Christian Bishop tells us that the slaughter of innocents is inevitable. Perhaps it is not? Perhaps we should be a little more careful in our choice of targets and our choice of weapons?

The fact that our opponents kill innocents is no reason for us to do so. The mass slaughter of civilians in New York nearly eight years ago can be seen as the reason for much of the current military activity by The West but surely the fact that civilians were targeted should emphasise that the reason our troops are fighting is to prevent attacks on civilians be they Americans or Afghans.

It is easier to just get angry. It is easier to fight anyone or anything. It’s easier to lob missiles and hope you get the right guy.

Inevitable?

Inevitable?

I met an American soon after 9/11 and we discussed the attack on the twin towers and the war in Iraq and I said that the Iraqis were not involved in the 9/11 attacks and I recall his response. He said “I don’t care”.

He didn’t care who the U.S. military attacked. He thought that the 9/11 attacks were so atrocious that the U.S. was justified in hitting out at anyone.

But killing random strangers only serves to enflame hatred.

The United States are reported to have mounted a large laser weapon inside a Boeing aircraft.

I have read speculation regarding effectiveness of this laser when destroying tanks but we already have very effective anti-tank weapons which can be mounted on smaller aircraft so what is the point of the laser?

I wonder of the United States hasn’t realised that it needs a weapon which can target individuals from a great distance.

Sadam Hussein goes for a walk in the garden of his palace, a telephone call is made by someone inside the palace, a military jet stops circling and moves into position. Pfzzzzzzz!! Sadam boils away into thin air and a large sum of money is deposited in the Swiss bank account of an Iraqi official.

———————————————————————————————————————-

Yet another British soldier was killed in Afghanistan on Thursday and in Britain there is a sense that this conflict is going nowhere. Of course it is possible for NATO to maintain control of Afghanistan and to tolerate the trickle of military casualties but are we achieving anything?

In the wake of 9/11 The United States may have two immediate goals: To bring to justice those behind the attacks on New York and, arguably, to avenge the deaths of thousands of innocents. Two overlapping and some might say contradictory goals.

In the days of the British Empire this may have resulted in punitive attacks but since the Second World War, followed by The Cold War, The United States sees itself as a moral power bringing liberty to the world and punitive strikes are not now considered an acceptable response.

The United States is trying to replay the experience of the Second World War. It’s game plan is the total occupation of it’s opponents country followed by the rebuilding of that country as a industrialised capitalist democracy.

This worked very well with Germany and Japan but this is not an appropriate response for a tribal, mostly illiterate people with a weak sense of nationhood.

More importantly America has no responsibility to bring democracy to Afghanistan. This is not to say that liberty and democracy are not excellent in themselves but only that, in defending itself, The United States need not take on the burden of nation building or democratisation.

Liberal democracy in The United States and Western Europe did not come about through outside intervention. It came about through a long struggle by the people themselves. The people struggled for liberty and they now value liberty.

It was reported in the British press recently that in one area of Helmand province as few as 150 Afghans may have voted while 10 British soldiers died to allow that election. One has to ask the question:

If the Afghans are not prepared to put their lives on the line for democracy then why should foreign soldiers?

The United States has suffered a tragic attack on it’s civilians and in response has taken on the probably impossible task of converting Afghanistan to a Western style democracy. It need not do so.

The United States was attacked and it required justice. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan must have cost numerous lives and billions of dollars. If all that blood and gold had been spent on relentless tracking down the individuals implicated in the attacks on the United States then America could have justice and in addition take pride that it had resisted the impetus to simply lash out.

To Whom It May Concern by Adrian Mitchel