Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Fracking as a metaphor

HydroFracI was reading in the Guardian newspaper an article by comedy screenwriter Ian Martin (In the Thick of It) about how we are all being fracked as corporations find new ways of extracting more and more from us in pursuit of profit. Fracking, for those unfamiliar with the process, is the extraction of gas from rocks by using high pressure jets underground to break them up to the release the gas. Firms that are seeking licences to do this on a commercial scale are experiencing serious opposition from local people, not least because of the likelihood of toxic chemicals contaminating water courses and hence threatening human health (see graphic above left).

Moreover, the Murdoch newspapers take the position that that fracking is some sort of panacea – cheap, plentiful energy, produced locally and not subject to the whim of international diplomacy. Russia, for example.

I had not really thought of a metaphor of blasting rocks with  high pressure jets. Fracketeering, as Martin calls it. So how are we being fracked? Here are a couple of examples from the article:

  • estate agents’ “client progression fees”, where the buyer has to pay the estate agent to make the offer to the seller, even though the seller has already paid for this “service”;
  • admin fees paid on online transactions – such as concert tickets – where the marginal cost is near to zero and where we, the customer, have already spent 20 minutes of our valuable time getting to the screen that tells us that we will have to pay for the privilege of paying (for our tickets).

Here are some that I am subject to, seemingly.

  • In order to get online with my internet provider, I have to have a phone line that I do not need or want. The phone line costs the same as the broadband. No phone, no Broadband.
  • paying to upload to this blog pictures of an illuminated Eiffel Tower that I took with my own camera;
  • not being able to roll over digital credit from one month to the next on my dongle. Have I bought my 3Gb or not? Why can I not pay again when I have used it?

Graphic: “HydroFrac” by Mikenorton – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HydroFrac.png#/media/File:HydroFrac.png

Journalists reporting on Greece

I was relatively late to the world of Twitter as a source of news. Naturally, one needs to follow a few journalists as well as informed individuals and institutions in order fully to appreciate its special immediacy. When it comes economics, I follow, amongst others, Paul Mason from Channel 4 TV in the UK and Simon Nixon from the Wall Street Journal and the Times of London. What these two journalists have in common is a passion for Greece and for reporting on the nature of the current Greek crisis and potential – though unknowable – solutions.

Paul MasonMason has taken to vlogging on a daily basis, usually from a cafe with an ATM in view of himself and/or the camera (left). He’s reflective and tries desperately to understand and articulate what is going on and what is needed from both sides to, at least temporarily, avert a potential conflagration across the Eurozone and Europe more generally. It seems to me that his tolerance of the Greek government and its leadership is based on its democratic legitimacy, the flawed logic of austerity as a means to economic growth and, perhaps, the sense that this crisis does have the potential to bring about a change in the global system of sovereign debt relief that, largely, benefits rich countries at the expense of the poor. He is not anti-capitalism.

By contrast, Nixon, is a conservative steeped in the belief in the legitimacy of the global system as it is. The crisis in Greece seems to have brought out worst in him. The tweet below, for example, demonstrates his belief in his own ability to diagnose the problem; namely, Syriza, and Yanis Varoufakis particularly.

So, for Nixon, there seems to be little recognition of any culpability for the previous, seemingly corrupt, Greek governments; the Euro project itself; the EU or monetarism. Only Syriza. My Twitter feed was overwhelmed on Tuesday evening with Nixon’s tweets from the “yes” demonstration in Athens. Whilst it was impressive, it is not surprising that there is a polarisation of opinion and that people take to the streets to express it. It does not make it right or viable. Ultimately we do not know. We cannot know.

Twitter, however, remains the most immediate way of following fast-moving stories.

Grexit

Tspiras_28_6_15When I was at university back in the 80s, I took a course entitled Political Sociology. Essentially it was a study of power. The core text was Stewart Clegg’s Frameworks of Power, an extremely difficult text (for an undergraduate), but every week ahead of the seminars, a chapter was consumed and prepared to present.

Clegg introduced me to the concept of Organisational Outflanking. This post is a partial celebration of this concept and a very good example of its employment. Say what we might about Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister (above left), he is a fine exponent of the art. It does not matter how poor is the hand that one is dealt, it is still possible to outflank opponents by doing something unexpected. Tsipras announcing a referendum in the home of democracy was a master stroke. The creditors (the EU, the IMF and the ECB – the so-called Troika) were not expecting that. It took a little while for a response, the best indicator of a successful outflanking, as it were.

In writing this, I risk the wrath of Greek friends and colleagues who are being hurt by this crisis. Let us not forget that the crisis that we continue to try to deal with was caused by the banking sector, not the people of Greece. Moreover, Greece’s continued membership of the Euro was managed – conceivably fraudulently – by the banking sector for its own ends. That wonderful banking institution Goldman Sachs made a lot of money out of helping the then Greek Government to hide the true extent of the deficit in contravention of the Maastricht Treaty.

Locking poorer members of the European Union into a currency regime managed from the heart of Europe’s strongest economy, Germany, is a nonsense. When the going gets tough, countries devalue their currencies to render products and services cheaper. Without that lever, what other options are available to Governments? Erm…asking the Troika for money to pay back the Troika and the transfer of state assets, healthcare provision, etc.? 50 per cent unemployment of young people is but one unacceptable consequence of this.

I’m glad to see that Nobel Prizewinning economist, Paul Krugman, reported in Business Insider seems to have come out in support of Tsipras. Summed up in a nutshell:

“Over the past seven years, Krugman argues, the financial noose Europe has placed around Greece’s neck has strangled the Greek economy. Each time Europe has loaned Greece money, it has demanded spending cuts in return. And these spending cuts — austerity — have further damaged the Greek economy.

In the past, every time the situation has come to a head, Greece has caved. And, in the process, it has transformed itself into little more than a financial slave state mired in an economic depression.

There is no way Greece will ever be able to cut its way to prosperity, Krugman argues. And history suggests that any argument to the contrary is crazy.

Given that Europe refuses to restructure Greece’s debt in a sustainable way and allow the country to try to grow its way out of its misery, Greece has no choice but to default and withdraw.”

It is going to be tough with the banks closed. It is not just the people at the ATMs, but the economy more generally.2015-06-29 10.12.07 The whole point about banks is they deal the means of exchange of value; i.e. money. And when they are shut, this becomes very difficult. In response, we either find other stores of value such as gold (or as happened in Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, the leaf) or we merely exchange things on the basis of a perceived equivalence.

The outcome – either the Troika gets real and accepts that we are dealing with real people and not inanimate institutions, or Greece goes it alone. It has been done before. But if that happens, Europe has to take a close look at itself.

By contrast:

The Confederate flag

Confederate_Rebel_FlagBen Hallman in the Huffington Post notes that “[t]he Confederacy was the most vile and harmful political invention in United States history. It was founded on the explicit principle that slavery is the “natural and normal condition” of black people, and that they should be ruthlessly exploited to the benefit of their white masters. More Americans died in the bloodletting that followed than in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.”

I was bemused to learn that the flag still flies legally on State Government land in Columbia, South Carolina. Even more that the president of the USA cannot intervene and get it down (and outlawed). It like the Berlin Government flying the Swastika over its government buildings.

Ben Hallman’s article can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/pr6yxjg

Flag: William Porcher Miles (1822-1899) – Wikipedia

University of Brighton degree show 2015 pt 1

Here is my annual review of the best (in my humble opinion) of the degree show. In light of the recent election result and my passion for students and young people more generally to engage with the political process, I highlight in the first instance the work that prompts thought about change and the environment.

First, let us start with the graphic designers whose task is surely to help us navigate the complex environment in whichDSCF1127 we live and to alert us to dangers both real and imaginable. There were seven exceptional examples in this year’s show starting with Hannah Jeffery (right). It never ceases to shock to learn just how few examples of these extraordinary animals there are left; largely because of poaching and game hunting.

DSCF1120Next, Amy Fullalove who asks, how do we alert future generations to the dangers associated with a huge nuclear waste repository in Finland (Onkalo)? I think these symbols (left) will do the trick!

Sasha George (below right) has another approach. Now this is my interpretation, and hence it might be entirely wrong. The artist seems to have presented a series of six extraordinary pictures depicting DSCF1129nature reclaiming human despoliation. There is a toppled Statue of Liberty (somehow on land); trees growing through houses and abandoned vehicles. The array of animals – tigers, bears, birds and fauna is fantastic. And to me at least, it shocks.

DSCF1125Next Lossie Ng Lei (left) takes on global warming with a challenge to feel the difference that 2 degrees makes with a set of oceanic images and a push towards veganism (as a solution).

Next, Beth Ducket (below right) who is in fact a print maker rather than graphic design. It is not clear exactly how explicit the artist is about the impact on the environment of consumption, but even by accident the reproduction of so many receipts makes a clear point. Her accompanying script could even be MarxistDSCF1117 with references to alienation (meaninglessness) and mass production/consumption. Perversely the artist has reproduced by hand the receipts on the one hand claiming artisanal value but also this wonderful ability to see art in the mundane and a deep commitment to classification.

My penultimate choice goes to an artist whose work seems not to have been labelled. I do not know DSCF1123whether this work is a critique of modern communication technology or a celebration of it (left). Every individual in the series of six pictures is completely consumed by a mobile phone. If it is a critique, well done. If it is a celebration, we really are doomed.

Finally in this section (fine art and sculpture to follow), Holly MacDonald is going to go far withDSCF1131 her caricatures of British politicians. There are two in this example (right). And they are brilliant and correct.

Das Gewitter

2015-06-06 21.55.2735 degrees heat has been imposing itself on central Europeans over the past few days. It is not to my liking as a English bloke from the north used to fog in the middle of summer. I do, however, love a good electrical storm. From a safe distance.

The weatherman on the TV on Friday night promised some activity on this front. First the clouds came over, then a breeze got up. Finally the flashes and thunder. Not a classic, but I did manage to capture a lit-up sky2015-06-07 22.47.10 on my phone. It required a little patience.

Actually tonight, I got some real lightening!

Small things to do as a means of resistance to regressive Conservative policies

I write this while “Stand down Margaret” by the Beat, plays on my turntable. Contemporaries will understand the significance.

ICW_shopt is time to be a shade more discerning with whom I transact. First on my list, Carphone Warehouse. I’ve been customer of CW for 15 years or so. The customer service was always good. The largely male sales assistants were always knowledgeable and had solutions. Sorry, the boss, Charles Dunstone is a signatory to one of those deceitful letters in support of the Conservatives in the election campaign. End of business. That goes for Dixons as well.

Second, Charles Tyrwhitt, great shirts. I’ve written about this company before because of its use of Hermes couriers. Now itTyrwhitt turns out that its boss, Nick Wheeler is also a Conservative signatory. Never again will they get my business.

Anyone interested in a comprehensive list, please follow this link: http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/telegraph-bosses-list-of-shame

Those pesky railway workers

Network_railThe strike by UK rail infrastructure workers scheduled for next week has been called off, but the train operators (private companies using the rail infrastructure) had their plans for dealing with the lack of infrastructure. Obviously, not run trains. But it was worse than that. This was going to be a 24 hour strike straddling two days. Never helpful, but this is industrial action, it is supposed to be disruptive. Starting at 1700 on Monday and finishing 1700 Tuesday. Presumably then, trains will run on or near to 1700 on Tuesday? Er…no. Not worth it, it seems. Trains would have restarted the next full day.

PrintMaybe someone can correct me on this, but it seems on the face of it that the costs associated with restarting train services at 1700 are too high and the key passengers – season ticket holders – were unlikely to have travelled in to London or other principal cities in the UK earlier in the day and would, therefore, be unlikely to need the train home. So the rest of us who might want to use a train for non-work travel can go stuff ourselves.

It is easy to say that pre-privatisation (1994) it would have been inconceivable that the trains would not recommence after the ending of strike action. This really does seem to be a case of profit coming first.

Incidentally, I will arrive at Gatwick Airport at 1800 on Tuesday with a view to getting back home on the South Coast. I checked nearby hotels and airport parking. Extortionate. £140 pounds to park at Gatwick. These organisations seem to have had a service bypass!

The one unexpected good business was National Express which planned to put on extra coaches to cater for the stranded passengers at not-inflated prices from what I could see. Top marks. I’ll remember that.

When comedy comes into its own

Still reeling from the election result, I turned again to comedy to try to manage the situation. I have not been a great fan of Frankie Boyle (below left) in the past. I have found his comedy a bit close to the bone and unnecessarily Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights - C4 promo imageoffensive. Until last night.

His latest show, Election Autopsy, helped me understand why offence is necessary. It was not a belly laugh, but it was funny. And there is one scene where a Conservative voter, in the audience, shows herself to be crass and is only mildly embarrassed. If at all. Rather like the Tory leadership, I thought.

However, this was not just about the Conservatives. Boyle’s position is one of non-voter advocacy because, ultimately, the system is broken. To vote would be to endorse, or at the very least, patronise the system. His audience and guests did not wholly agree with him, but it was as informative as any of the leaders’ debates I witnessed in the campaign.

The best ‘joke’. “Some of my best friends are racist. First of all they are black…and they have got a point.”

For readers in the UK, the show is for a short while available to stream on the BBC website. I recommend it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p02qs82x/frankie-boyles-election-autopsy

The exceptional contribution of Akala on structural racism in the UK is embedded in the Guardian newspaper’s review of this show: http://tinyurl.com/off94bx

By contrast, I started watching Rory Bremner’s equivalent, Election Report. Everyone loves an impersonator. He’s not bad.Bremner Some of his observations were also cutting. And in the spirit of BBC balance, aimed at all parties. However, unlike Boyle, Bremner accepts the system and makes fun of it on its own terms. So, whilst one may chuckle along with it, one is left feeling underwhelmed. With Boyle, I felt emboldened.

Bremner’s programme is also available on the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05vjft9/rory-bremners-election-report

Pics: Channel 4 through Wikipedia

BBC screen grab

Charles Windsor’s letters

prince-of-wales-correspondence-with-secretary-of-p2-normalThe ‘black spider memos’ were finally released yesterday. Successive governments have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to stop their release over ten years. Mr Windsor seemingly makes a habit of writing to ministers – including the Prime Minister – giving advice on anything from architecture, quack medicine to the mass slaughter of badgers. The ministers write back in fawning deference, ‘your most humble servant’ etc.

Well, it will not happen again. Seemingly. The Government has already changed the law to guarantee the secrecy surrounding Mr Windsor’s (and no doubt his family’s) communication with what he probably thinks are his mother’s ministers. His communications are now, therefore, exempt from Freedom of Information requests, however banal they may be. On the other hand, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is going to prioritise the return of the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ – legislation to enable the security services to monitor all of our electronic communication. Nice.

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