When I worked in Africa, I would return for holidays and wander around supermarkets marvelling at the variety. I delighted in curry sauce, Marmite and Birds custard. It felt a bit like that in Waitrose. Like my first time in California; shiny happy people and the shelves fully stacked. Posh clientele crammed inside like an opening of la Boheme.
The car park was worse than a game of Tetris and taxis awaited the immaculate elderly. Even the trolleys glided silently, devoid of rattles and outside they were not chained up like dogs; Waitrose customers wouldn’t be seen dead stealing trolleys. Branded clothing only and away with cheap TVs and washing machines; triple the size of the wine section. Vegetables from all over the planet all in their prime. Slimmer isles but packed with “fifty kinds of toothpaste and forty types of soap”. The massive pressure of the middle class has erupted to claim its birthright. We have disposable income and we shall shop. It’s all we do. The only respite from the relentless press of people was the cleaning products isle. Waitrose customers have staff and they shop at Lidl.
“The system” is now tuned to ensure maximum efficiency and our lives are mere links in the supply chain. We are no longer citizens, we are customers. We are told that we even “consume” music and television. It’s said that no middle class American home is complete without an unused aqualung at the back of the wardrobe and this lunacy has spread to England where thousands of people own their own skis! Skis! In England!
In 1768 British philosopher Jeremy Bentham declared the work of government to be supplying “The greatest good for the greatest number”. Global Capitalism has replaced the word “good” with “goods” and taken up the challenge with a vengeance.
The middle class used to seek exclusivity but, in a world geared toward maximizing sales, what does that even mean anymore? The BMW 3 now outsells the Ford Mondeo. I suggest the current meaning of exclusivity is whatever the advertisers want it to mean. Perhaps this week it is Hendricks Scottish Gin, next week, who knows? And we fall for it. We drink Gin from Scotland and Scotch from England. We wouldn’t drink the water in Mexico yet we import the beer.
Indoctrinated from birth, we stoke the system. Our minds are like vacuum cleaners sucking up advertising wherever it is found. The TV, the radio, magazines, The Internet. Modern man needs stimulation and advertising give it to us. Sit on the London Underground and notice how your attention is drawn to the ads. This is why our leaders consider literacy so important We are readaholics but this junk bypasses the intellect and is dumped unprocessed into our sub-conscious. Snoop Dog is advertising financial services for God’s sake!
A middle class is now forming in the developing world and they too want to shop. They demand meat but the world can’t produce enough so scientists are seeking to farm insects for human consumption. The grave yards are so full that Floridians can now choose between cremation and “liquefaction”. There are now over 7 billion of us on planet Earth and in England we’re crammed in like battery hens. Office buildings get bigger but our houses and workspace gets smaller. The Economist advocates that we “Build on the green belt or introduce space rationing“.
Are we insane? Does it even matter?
Driven by tactical marketing decisions our leaders have no vision. They stand on the bridge bickering over which button to press but they don’t know where we’re going. Meanwhile Western voters are getting restless.
Up to now, humanity have been the glue that holds global capitalism together. While on a tour of his factory, Henry Ford II asked the leader of the automobile workers union: “Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?” to which the union leader replied: “Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?”.
The Industrial Revolution was a wonderful thing of course. It released the resources of the world to be exploited for the good of humanity. Though workers were displaced in manufacturing, jobs were created in the knowledge economy. But the second and the third wave of revolution are not yet fully played out and computers have started displacing even the most knowledgeable workers.
This time, the revolution might be different. In the U.S. real wages have hardly budged over the past four decades and the limp economic recovery is not creating jobs. The single minded pursuit of goods for the greatest number is becoming a problem for the planet just when humanity are becoming less useful to Global Capitalism.
Perhaps, it’s time to scrap Mr. Betham’s vision and develop a new one.
Tuesday was a beautiful spring morning and I got the train up to London. The English countryside looked gorgeous and green in the sun and the haze. A tube strike of course and people thronged the streets waiting for buses. Ah, after decades of Corsets, Cash ISAs, and Caffe Latte, England is finally getting back to normal. About time the dustmen went on strike again isn’t it? Bring back the GLC.
I was heading for Infosec, the Information Security exhibition at Earl’s Court. I’m an old hand at this now: Quick sausage sandwich, a cup of coffee then a walk round the stands to see what’s current. The main point of these trips for me is to attend the education seminars. Not much really new to report but it’s still worth a look.
Advanced Persistent Threats are really just all the other threats put together and undertaken by governments in a relentless manner. The Stuxnet worm which attacked the centrifuges in nuclear processing facilities in Iran is an example.
People Talk a lot of Bollocks in Information Technology these days and part of this comes about because the industry is changing so fast. New themes emerge and people race to name them. The names get taken up by salesman who repeat them before the industry has really figured out what they mean. Cloud used to suffer in this respect though it is generally more understood these days. A seminar entitled “Actionable intelligence: Building a holistic security threat intelligence capability” demonstrated to me that the panel had not really understood the meaning of Actionable or Holistic.
A seminar entitled “‘Applification’ of business and implications for security: Securing software development” was interesting if a little meandering. The panellists discussed very pertinent issues around the security of software development. Security is often seen as a bolt on, developers are seldom given security requirements in the functional specs and, though one guy said that all developers should be security specialists, they all had to admit that finding good developers was difficult enough; finding security aware developers was almost impossible.
One pundit contrasted software development with engineering and this goes to the heart of why we still find IT systems which are not adequately secured. I recall working for an oil company close to where oil was “lifted”. A flare had been set up and, after discussing this with an engineer, I realised that he had not just stuck a pipe in the ground and hoped. He had been trained how to handle flares safely. He’d performed a formal safety assessment. What type of gas? How much gas? What was the location? He had then consulted his training or possibly relevant standards and created a mechanism with strictly defined materials, tolerances and capabilities.
This rarely happen in software development or IT projects in general. There is no recognised standard for software developers. There is no industry wide accepted training path that is comparable to engineering. Yes, standards, training and qualifications exist but they are not prerequisites. They are something to boost a CV. The main problem is that technology and the industry are still changing so quickly that standards and qualifications become redundant before they can get a grip. Further, software developers still regard themselves as creative. They like to invent clever new ways to do something where an engineer, though obviously creative, is more restricted in what he can get away with especially when safety is involved.
Probably the reason that standard are more easily enforced in engineering is that the outcomes are far more visible. If the gas flare mentioned earlier had resulted in a huge flame blowing dangerously close to a building then everyone would have known about it but a software short cut or “innovative” coding could go unnoticed until a vulnerability is finally exploited by an attacker.
The proliferation first of mini-computers and then PCs meant that many organisations chose to run their own IT functions and this led to a lot of inexperienced and unqualified people in the industry. I should know. It’s how I started. The on-going migration of software services to the Cloud may help by concentrating computing at locations where the technology and configurations can be standardised, the staff adequately trained & qualified and the overall organisation audited to ensure compliance with industry best practice.
But change is ubiquitous in IT and many of the most innovative companies are small so we can expect software development to continue in hothouse start-ups rather than mature, standard bound organisations. We should also be careful what we wish for. Many of us got intoIT because of the creative aspects and this was underlined last week by an article in The Guardian in which developers look back at BASIC computer language which is now 50 years old.
Security, reliability and availability vs fun and flying by the seat of your pants. Tough choice.
Property prices are recovering we’re told…….at last ay!?
‘Recovering” is an estate agent term meaning increasing ludicrously and there is concern that we are developing another bubble. The government publish figures showing the average House Price/Earnings ratio for areas of England. Sorting this by the 2013 figure it looks like Kensington and Chelsea is the most expensive with average house price just over 27 times the average salary. But even Hackney is around 10 times. But don’t stop at London. Brighton and Hove is around 10 times average salary, Cambridge just over 8 and if you want to get under 4 times you will have to go and live in Hull!
I had started to come around to the idea that London is becoming like New York. Property there is very expensive, everybody knows that and they’ve just got used to it. Londoners too, will have to accept that living in shoe boxes is the new normal. However, a quick check of some stats by Forbes magazine reveals that the Median Home Price to Median Annual income in 2012 for New York overall is 5.2, about the same as Preston in England! Or about half the price of Hackney and about one sixth the price of Kensington and Chelsea.
But British property pundits regard all this as acceptable. Apparently it’s OK for someone to pay their entire salary for 11 years for somewhere to live. Or half their salary for 22 years. Or a third of their salary for 33 years. And so on. Either this bubble must burst or we are selling our kids into indentured servitude. Nominally our kids will be free citizens (able to pay taxes, die in wars etc) but if they stop working for more than a few days then they’ll be homeless.
The word is that much of the cause of the high prices in London is from Johnny Foreigner who wants somewhere safe to park his money while the global economy is going sideways. Last August This Is Money reported that “foreign investors snap up 70% of all central London new build homes fuelling a surge in prices”. British business’ obsession with London and the mass immigration under New Labour can’t have helped. Luckily our politicians have woken up to the obscene prices of housing and are addressing the problem with imaginative new policies…..oh, no wait….they haven’t have they……..The FT reported today that the instability in Ukraine and the threatened sanctions are causing East European oligarchs to snap up London property. Oh well then. Our kids are screwed.
The full list can be found here. (Table 577)
Margaret Thatcher is said to have been the first UK leader to employ a spin doctor but New Labour put the idea into hyperdrive with the likes of Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson. During the New Labour years I was angered at the flagrant gibberish trotted out by Mr. Mandelson during interviews. He would start a sentence, introduce a clause, introduce a sub-clause and then wander off into nowhere and if the interviewer tried to bring him back to the point he would behave as if this were the height of bad manners. He trained Gordon Brown to attempt this and there is a fantastic bit of footage showing Brown driveling on to BBC political journalist Nick Robinson and then Mandelson looming up to the camera and grinning as if to say: Yes, we’re TALKING BOLLOCKS, you know it, I know it but there is nothing you can do about it.
I even remember Mandelson stating “politics is about spelling out your policies” – No it isn’t, that’s marketing, that’s communications. Politics is primarily about setting policy and that is what Labour in opposition have failed to do.
The utter contempt that Mandelson showed for the public appalled me. While Blair cozied up to the mega-corporations and Brown continued to borrow even during the boom years, New Labour’s arrogance led them to assume that they could do anything they liked and trot out any old bullshit as justification. (45 minutes my arse!).
I applauded when New Labour were toppled and hoped that we had seen the end of this nonsense. Of course the shiny new Tory leader started spinning before getting into power. He changed the Tory logo to a little tree. Remember that? A quick look at the Tory web site reveals it’s been changed again to something a little more traditional.
But then we had the MP expenses scandal and the media phone tapping and the results of the Hillsborough inquiry and the pedophilia in the Catholic Church. It seemed that the whole establishment had been caught with its trousers down and no matter how much they spun the web just tightened around their throats.
So, with faith in politicians at a low and with no clear political winners I thought that we had come off that peak of contempt for the general public and that politicians now understood that talking the talk was not enough, they had to walk the walk.
But, oh dear. The Labour front bench. The Ed and Ed show. The Pinky and Perky of British politics. Both continue to base their opposition to the Tories on presentation over content. Their policies are oh so obviously contrived by the marketing department. Not so much “What do we believe in” but “What can we say that will win us votes”. Remember when Balls and Milliband could not open their mouths without saying the word “failure”? Eds obviously thought that if they said “failure” often enough we’d start associating it with Tories but we just associated it with anyone named Ed. And, oh GOD! Who on Earth thought that Douglas Alexander should be in the shadow cabinet? Nothing to say but wont shut up about it. The Labour leadership are a bunch of salesmen but they have nothing to sell. Just watch this video where Ed Milliband gives identical answers to five different questions.
All this emphasis on the “message” over policy comes about because our politicians are professionals. They have studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at University, they have worked for older politicians and they now understand the mechanisms of power without ever having done anything in their lives which would give them any understanding of the real world. When Ed Milliband talks about “families who work all the hours that God sends” he is talking in the abstract. He has no experience of these people any more than the rest of our political elite. Cameron and Osborne have not worked in mines or in factories. Clegg has never worked in a call centre. None of the current lot have worked as union representatives, charity workers, doctors, programmers, supermarket workers or taxi drivers. Just as bad, none have ever been captains of industry or entrepreneurs or bankers in The City. Their experience of life is gained through reviewing reports and statistical analyses. They study us like we are bacteria in a petri dish and no more empathise with our lives than a scientist empathises with a lab rat.
This week even The Economist ran an article which finished: “The risks of promoting awkward talent and sacking the spin doctor are obvious……..but the alternative….is worse. It is to become ever more ingenious, hated and irrelevant”. Labour seem oblivious. They think that hiring a bigger better media wonk from across the pond will hand them power on a plate. They’ll figure out what to do with power once they’ve got it.
This is why Nigel Farage is like a breath of fresh air. People like him even if they don’t agree with him. They like him because his arguments are reasoned and sincere. They like him because his reactions are human and appear in stark contrast to the rows of pre-programed pillocks who front the other parties.
In the recent debates between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg it was interesting to note that the question of how much legislation the UK receives from the EU came up twice. In the first debate Farage quoted 75% and Clegg 7%. The topic arose again in the second debate only this time Farage had had the sense to research Clegg’s figure of 7% and had discovered this was for primary legislation and the very same document quoted an overall amount of about 50%. When confronted with this Clegg could only lamely restate his figure of 7%.
Clegg had come on telly to use his PPE erudition to dismiss a jumped up oik but was not on top of his brief. A researcher had obviously given him the 7% figure and he didn’t care where it had come from. He believed in the EU as an article of faith and used statistics as weapons of rhetoric not constituents of rational argument.
So, given New Labour’s appalling record on spin. Given the abject failure of the Ed & Ed show. Given Cameron’s ludicrous efforts to emulate Blair’s spin by dog sledding around Lapland. Given that Clegg’s professionalism was demolished by Farage’s charisma and homework. Given the massive discrediting of the whole British establishment. Given the fact that the UK is amongst the top 7 most unequal society in the world, with the rich hoarding power and the rest of us herded around by “nudge theory” embedded in a massive and ubiquitous marketing machine. On TV, on the radio, on billboards, on football pitches, on smart phones (on this blog site!) Everywhere we look the political/industrial complex is exhorting us that the only way out of our economic problems is more of the same. Work more, consume more and to hell with the planet.
Given the disillusionment of the British public with professional politics, what do Labour do? Do they have a policy rethink? Do they take a step backward toward socialism? Do they take a step forward with radical new policies?
No. They outsource marketing to America. You couldn’t make it up.
Why not just hand the Palace of Westminster over to Price Waterhouse Coopers and be done with it?
I saw this shop in Church Road today. Pre-cooked meals for your freezer. Seems like a good idea. Why should ready meals be limited to Indians and Chinese? Open ’till 7pm weekdays. Prices seem OK. Four quid for a Lasagne. Haven’t tried it yet. They deliver too. Excellent. Phone the shop, then bung it in the microwave when it arrives. Basil Fawlty would have loved it!
The other day I told a friend that I am against further mass immigration to the UK and she gasped. This was tantamount to racism! Well, it gets worse. I’m thinking of voting UKIP!
For decades I have voted either Liberal (now Liberal Democrat) or Green. The Tories are the party for the elite and old Labor were too engrossed in a failing ideology. New Labor betrayed the working class and put Thatcherism on steroids. Further, I have always respected what I perceived as the calm rationalism of many Liberals with their emphasis on liberty and pragmatism.
To quote Sir William Harcourt, former 19th century Liberal Home Secretary and Chancellor:
“Liberty does not consist in making others do what you think right. The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this—that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes, a Liberal Government tries, so far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do what he wishes. It has been the function of the Liberal Party consistently to maintain the doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so that England is the country where people can do more what they please than in any country in the world”
Even when Labour accused the Liberal Democrats of betrayal by raising tuition fees I did not flinch. The Liberals didn’t win the election but were a junior partner in a coalition and so could not dictate the agenda and most of the people screaming betrayal did not vote Liberal. If they had prized low tuition fees so much they should have put their vote where there mouth is.
I don’t say that I love the Liberals, just that they seem the best of a bad lot. The fact that they are pro-Europe did not bother me as, very broadly, so was I.
But for some time now I have believed that England, and London in particular, are ludicrously over-crowded. There are too many of us. The roads and trains are horrendously congested, house prices are obscene and gradually, what was once spare communal space is being converted into private concrete structures.
Here’s the point: Though mass immigration may drive up national GDP it does not necessarily drive up GDP per capita and even GDP per capita does not place value on shared communal “goods” such as open space, personal space and time not spent standing on railway platforms freezing your fucking nuts off. In 2014 I may be richer in material goods than my grandparents but I am much poorer in space and in time.
However. I value free movement in Europe and can see that commons rules, a cosmopolitan society and various other Euro-paraphilia are advantages so I had thought that congestion is just a price I have to pay. Up until now I have accepted the pro-Europe stance. The world is coalescing into large power blocks. In a world of super powers Europe needs to stick together. We are economically and politically better off as we can get better deals if we negotiate as a united block. Sounds reasonable.
So what’s changed?
What’s changed is the abject failure of the leader of the main pro-EU party to mount any reasoned defense of the UK’s membership of the EU. What’s changed is that rather than Nick Clegg seeking to convince me with rational debate, he sought to bamboozle me with deceitful statistics, absurd slurs and patronizing rhetoric. (Try saying “wind the clock back” one more time Nick). Far from being a reasoned pragmatist I can see he is another arrogant establishment know-it-all who thinks the public are too stupid to understand the truth. He was TALKING BOLLOCKS and could quite easily have fitted in New Labour along with so many current MPs of all parties.
Of course there are right wing racist in Britain that we should be wary of and since parties like the BNP are going nowhere it’s probably true that some of these people will switch the UKIP.
But I am becoming increasingly aware of a different and equally distasteful form of bigotry that goes un-criticised, overlooked and is now so prevalent that it is acceptable even for national politicians. It is the bigotry of the Left. One only has to read the comments to articles in The Guardian or The Independent to recognise the hysterical and hate filled lunatics which slaver over each article attempting to connect Farage with Putin or brand the Tories as racists for daring to even consider an immigration policy. Many of the articles in these papers are not much better and some Labour MPs treat the allegation of racism like a dog smelling the blood of an injured animal. They throw the term racist about without thought and now even insist that merely wanting Britain to be out of the EU is racist. This is deeply stupid and deeply insulting to a nation that has accepted millions of people from all over the world.
Of course we should be wary of populist parties given what happened in Europe in the ’30s but populism is not a definite indicator of fascism. For years British politics was dominated by the Tories and the Liberals until the newly populist Labour party were propelled into power in the 1920s. Also, the main goal of Nigel Farage is merely a referendum on EU membership which, incidentally, should have been conducted before the Maastricht Treaty was signed. If a referendum were now held then, one way or another, UKIP’s raison d’être should evaporate.
I had heard much of the argument between Farage and Clegg before but Farage made one new statement that made me think. When the European Economic Community (EEC) was formed the world was comprised of separate countries with industries protected by trade tariff barriers. The creation of the EEC was a way to create a large free trade zone which encouraged trade and promoted prosperity. Partly because of the example of the EEC the whole world is tearing down trade barriers and entering free trade agreements. Given this, how did political union get onto the agenda?
Farage made some excellent arguments against EU membership but there are reasons in favour that Clegg (and mindless left-wing bigots) seem too stupid to discuss. However, I no longer believe that British membership of the EU is good by default. I need to be convinced and am having a rethink. Prior to the upcoming election for the European Parliament in May I intend to do some research and perhaps the pro-European lobby will find someone who knows what the fuck they’re talking about.
It’s said that the main reason for “ever closer union” was to put an end to the devastating conflicts between Germany and France. Very good. That’s their reason for remaining in the EU.