Monday, 31 March 2008

Introspection

The opening, well, the absolute disastrous opening, of Heathrow Terminal 5 prompted some odd mental associations.

I recall, whilst living in Romania, the total disconnect between the self-perception of that nation and the reality it lived in. Apart from the communist propaganda, people (the vast majority) have believed, based on invented and utterly fake history and other self-image-building propaganda, that they are an amazing people with not just illustrious history, but also a grand present and future. Then came the change, then the vast and lengthy, very difficult and painful, soul searching and introspection as to their real collective identity - and how the world really sees them. Side-effects of these introspective years can be found described in earlier auto-biographical blog entries about on and around the revolution.

Now, many miles and years away, another country, another people and an unlikely parallel.

In the home of the Industrial Revolution, people still believe, after decades of decline of the manufacturing and mining industry, that they are still the pinnacle of industrial endeavours and accomplishments. The contrast between the misguided, collective arrogance and the reality can not be harsher.

In just the most recent 13 years I've been seeing, hearing and experiencing directly the self-generating quasi-propaganda-sounding tirades, there has not been one single loudly heralded, much publicised, proudly advertised large or medium-scale infrastructure (or plain building) project that has not ended in disaster.

Let's only look at most recent 8-9 years for some vivid imagery.

The Millennium Wheel (or London Eye): first could not be lifted on the day of its... lifting. Then one cabin was said to have a clutch mechanism design fault. Surely, then all cabins must have it. Yes, they did - as they admitted few days later, so the Wheel could not be put into use on the New Year's Eve... spent months being repaired and re-done.

The Millennium Bridge... months of tirades on how unique the design is. Indeed, just that the one thing they forgot to simulate and design for was the effect of pedestrians randomly walking on a ... pedestrian bridge. The effect, apart from almost shaking the Queen off itself, was many months of design and then mechanical alteration work, costing extra tens of millions of pounds.

The Wembley Stadium ran several times over budget and went years beyond original schedule.

The Millennium Dome wasn't an engineering disaster, only an economic one, with a totally erroneous business vision attached to it.

The Royal Festival Hall, when finally opened after years of renovation work, had still for several months cardboard and sticky tape 'augmentations' in parts of its structure where doors were left unfinished, signs were not put up, toilets were half equipped, some walls had only raw plastering done.

Extensive engineering works on railways have gone on for years and years, at a pace averaging at a few inches per week, while the brand new rails and signaling equipment failed spectacularly after opening them for normal use. Rails around St. Austell physically broke, after years of temporary timetables meant to hide diabolically over-running engineering works...

Then the much heralded Terminal 5. It is needless to describe what happened, it is beyond words and... they were considered 'teething problems'. 15 000 bags piled up, thousands stranded, total chaos, computer systems grinding to a halt, many flights cancelled, chaos even after 4 days and... no willingness to admit how bad it was, furthermore, BBC was kept outside terminal 2 days after opening because of 'bad press received'. Can it be more moronic? To top it all off, BA has pulled a few PR stunts that are completely idiotic, going against international regulations in some press releases about accommodation and compensation amounts. Brilliant.

The only thing that surpasses stupidity in these cases is arrogance. Continued, brilliant arrogance still claiming just how amazing things and the people organising, designing, producing, labouring on those things are.

Isn't it time to reflect why it is impossible to deliver on any significant infrastructure project in this country? Yes, we have good designers and visionaries, but execution is the shame of Europe, even compared (yes!) to Eastern European countries nowadays.

The only solution one hears about is pouring more money into everything. My dear fellows, there is a much deeper problem and it is related to attitude, arrogance combined with ignorance, developing a tunnel vision and drowning in self-reinforcing false propaganda while the real quality of our work is declining exponentially.

Instead of owning up to this and trying to find real solutions, one just gets euphemisms and magnificent overblown statements pushing the boundaries of English language. The net result is predictable and the predictions so far came true with great accuracy on every large project this industrious nations has embarked on recently.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Earth Hour

371 cities, towns or local governments will join the 'lights out' even scheduled for 09:00 GMT on Saturday. It is to raise awareness of global warming and energy efficiency...

From a standpoint of pure objectivity (but even that gets labelled anti-environmental by zealots who really have not had one single individual thought in their lives and just repeat slogans like eco-warrior parrots), a few questions then:

- rhetoric question: how come there is not one city or town from China that will join this world-wide event? Surprise surprise. Nor is there from India, but then again, they are not the ones putting into use, on average, one coal-burning power plant every week...

- will this increase awareness further, when every piece of media, silly product advert is filled with eco-warrior slogans? Even the humble washing up liquid, sold in non-bio-degradable bottles, mixing N lethal chemicals together to "protect the family" (not just wash the damn dishes...) is claiming to help the Earth because it is more concentrated and hence takes less lorries to transport the shipments to shops...

- shouldn't we actually DO something at low and local level, rather than bathe in sequences of empty, futile, and blatantly impotent symbolic (but loudly trumpeted) gestures like this?

- why don't we ask whether Governments and companies actually want to DO something about the matter? As it is obvious they are resorting to similar empty gestures without truly taking simple measures.

- has anybody looked at what is the proportion of industrial vs. total individual CO2 footprint? Where should we really change and save? As some UK adverts try to convince us, should we put on a jumper in the winter and turn heating down by 2 degrees? Is that the solution or even any help that is in any way noticeable compared to what China pumps into the air right now (never mind what they will be pumping out in exponentially increasing manner).

As small examples, certain (huge) company discourages working from home (which would, apart from other advantages, save a lot of fuel and CO2 emissions), joins the Earth Hour initiative but at the same time, for almost 2 years, fails to replace a much cursed corporate propaganda screen saver that overrides its tens of thousands of computer's power save settings, so all monitors stay turned on, unless one manually remembers to turn them off.

Government introduces small tax relief on low-emission diesel cars but at the same time, their fuel tax goes up more on every liter of diesel.

OK, so these are two small examples. But both show the difference between talking, acting, masquerading etc. and DOING.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Suspicions

There is a new UK hotline you can call. The advert really, truly says: if you can't decide whether a person is just hanging around or is up to no good, whether a person is just an idle presence looking suspicious or a terrorist planning something, no worries - you don't have to decide. If you phone this number, an expert will decide for you, based on information you provide, whether there is reason for alarm or not.

You can phone in with your suspicions. I remember hearing this before, but it wasn't the anti-corruption helpline I saw in my 'other' home land... It was the culture of suspicion and suspicious reporting of innocent people in the Orwellian reality of the Ceausescu regime. Experts did all the work for you- you just had to report suspicious behaviour or... any suspicions, made up or otherwise, you may have had regarding somebody you knew or never met in your life.

There is something so eerily similar. The details are different, the culture of paranoia is the same.

The so-called War On Terror is perhaps THE holy grail of manipulative politicians. Apart from the genuine dangers, its overblown and now absolutely openly paranoia-inducing and -generating sidelines, this so-called war is even more perfect mind-altering tool than what was happening during the Cold War.

That war had an enemy somewhat localised geographically and somewhat possible to be labelled. For McCarthy, it was a faceless enemy, lurking among us and anybody could be a subversive element. For Ceausescu, enemies were lurking everywhere, enemies of him, his society, or enemies of the system.

But now... while we have contradicting and/or wildly different security rules at different airports within same city and/or across the EU, downright laughable or absolutely scarily paranoid and manipulative 'measures' and 'helplines', this new War is the ideal tool for any Philip K. Dickian manipulation of the collective psyche.

The enemy is not localised geographically, not localised to a particular ethnic group or whatever... It is faceless, ubiquitous, it lurks everywhere and anywhere... and its presence is not localised in time either, its actions not being linked to a certain political system or regime. It, and hence the war against it, can go on forever.

Now we have Orwellian mass-paranoia helplines. Great. For all those, that see this as a genuine HELPline, please, may I ask to get in touch with any member of any society that can fill them in on what such helplines represent really? As many of those people have seen them or the thought processes leading to them...

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Transparency

After the presentation of the budget, it strikes me that British politicians are getting closer to the transparency that characterises their Eastern European 'colleagues'.

Still, they have a long way to go until they can reach the heights of Romanian politicians who can show unequivocally that they don't actually give a damn about facts nor the analysis of impact vs. benefits of what they unleash on people.

Alastair Darling took some steps into that direction... without resorting any more to very convoluted ways of hiding his real reasons - on two key points of his first budget.

He will slap about 2000 pounds on the price of 4x4 and other very polluting vehicles, this in an attempt of being 'green'. Now this is a good, open and obvious statement on: I shall generate more money for the Treasury without actual benefits. It is a clear statement, slightly veiled though in some feeble attempt of showing this as an environmental measure - clear, because if someone explains how people buying 4x4s will be deterred or the number of 4x4s on our streets reduced due to a relatively very tiny increase in their price, deserves a prize of some sort. Especially considering that even if there were a marginal CO2 emission difference, how will that relate to one coal-powered powerplant per week being taken into use in China?

The other fantastic measure is to reduce binge drinking by, for example, adding 4 pence to the price of beer. Right... so the binge drinkers consuming about 10 pints on average will really mind an extra 40 pence being lost on this initiative? therefore will reduce their characteristic British alcohol consumption dramatically? All rhetorical questions.

So could say, at least good old Alastair is close to the openly devious communications his more Eastern counterparts dish out on a daily basis. But, there is still room for improvement until him and his front & back bench colleagues will be able to say things to our faces so ignorantly and openly as virtually everybody in the Romanian Parliament for instance.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

National pride

"Schoolchildren should take part in a coming of age ceremony at the end of their studies to mark the transition to adult citizenship", according to former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith.

This could involve an oath of allegiance to the Queen. There should also be a new public holiday to celebrate "Britishness" along the lines of Australia Day.

I come from a society where (not just before the changes but especially after) flag waving and mechanical, thoughtless, shallow and often utterly idiotic (and/or downright extreme) manifestations of national identity & pride were common (re)occurrences in daily life.

I'm sorry, but with the radical increase in UK media and chit-chat about Britishness, national identity and pride, shouldn't we do the following rather:

- teach children about British and world history - this is in a terrible state in the entire education system and exactly for a country like Britain, it is absolutely scandalous in its virtual absence

- teach properly some English and world literature. Again, get kids to see the differences, unique and/or characteristically British traits and angles in how we and others saw and see the world

- teach something about our and other societies

- overall, get kids to read - about all these things.

Without a deeper approach to the question of national identity, it just remains an empty, mechanical flag waving, preparing the ground for extremism, aiding a polarised, ignorant, un- and mis-informed view of our and other societies and cultures.

Children will not be more British by saying some empty words of an oath (those words will be empty unless supported by all the cognitive processes helped by the list above) or by waving some flags.

They will become, in the best case, some jaded confused or persistently ignorant but proud citizens. In worst case, they will happily join the elite ranks of the British National Party where they can find very fertile soil for overblown and unsubstantiated national pride- and much worse, all the way to the characteristic BNP fascism.

This is yet again, such an empty, pointless initiative, again taking some seemingly easy (but totally condemned to failure) route, simply because the Government can not grasp, does not want to grasp, the real issues.

National identity and pride are very complex matters... and so far on the vast canvases of time and space, history and geography, any society that attempted to artificially, simplistically, ignorantly boost these emotions ended up in the very same situation.

Why then are we heading the same way? And this remains a very rhetorical question, except for those who don't see the pattern.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Mortal sins

The Vatican has extended the list of mortal sins such that it reflects better the era and the world in which we live in. That would be the 21st century...

Among the new mortal sins one finds pollution, drug taking and so on. One of the mortal sins causing eternal damnation unless confessed and absolved by a priest is somewhat predictably on the list.

It concerns genetic experiments. It is a bit vague as to what this means. Of course, everybody immediately thinks of Dr. Moreau but... Vatican considers the experiments with genetic mutation 'fundamental violation of nature'.

Now this depends, in any 21st century mind, on what exactly is the genetic experiment. Will the people, who find the genetic cause to sclerosis multiplex or motor neuron degenerative illnesses, Heaven, no, Vatican forbid, even find treatment for them, rot in Hell for all eternity?

Will stem cell researchers boil in giant test tubes for all eternity?

What is fundamental violation of nature? Is penicillin or modern synthetic antiobiotics such violations? After all, how many people (and animals) should have just died from bacterial infections? From such 'natural' causes?

The real question is who and how draws the delimitation lines between natural and unnatural. Yes, there is morality - and then there is moral relativism destroying our societies. The Church wishes to provide the 'absolute' point of reference.

Isn't it ironic how that Church, yet again, after many centuries of total failure in defining such absolutes (hence hardly any moral ground to do so now... even if and when they happen to be right...), provides again an 'absolute' guideline full of so many vaguenesses and possibilities for interpretation? ... putting their updated list of mortal sins in the hands of people who can re- and mis-interpret it perfectly well.

Planets have not stopped orbiting the Sun just because the Church said so. Our understanding of the macro and the micro universe can only be delayed by such utter bigots.

I find it particularly mortal sin to write a list which manages to create a camouflage of oh-so-life and Earth-conscious thinking, while slips in one of the key issues of our time - a key issue of such vastness that going about it in such an absolute and unequivocal way has proven once again: this is not about 21st century.

This list has not been written by anybody thinking about, in and with the 21st century.

Who really is messing with nature here? Because humanist and humane thinking is something more in harmony with Nature, in capitals, than these lists straight out of a corner of Dark Middle Ages revamped into something contemporary sounding.

How come... greed is not kept high and emphasised on this new list??

After all, greed in its 21st century variant has taken over everything in quite unprecedented ways... Ah, yes, but greed as a mortal sin would resonate and reverberate too uncomfortably on the modest corridors of the Vatican...

Friday, 7 March 2008

Vox populi

Referendum - a word that abounds in the British press at the moment, and all its occurrences are related to the Lisbon Treaty.

The latter is 96% (some say 98%) identical to the EU Constitution that was so spectacularly killed off not so long ago. The problem is now with the 'some say'...

Not for a moment I am saying the over-blown EU machinery is good in all respects or that the many hundreds of self-centred, often utterly corrupt bureacrats and politicians are a blessing in any way.

But I find it hilarious that referendum is so important in this case. It is seen as a democratic tool- but come off it. The mechanics of this is simple and let's see what happens in case a referendum on the treaty is announced in the UK.

1. people who can barely read The Daily Mail and The Sun will be manipulated by the likes of Mr. Murdoch and other such luminaries who manipulate based on their political interests and affiliations

2. media will be overloading the vast majority with emotional and extremist takes on the subject, exploiting to the max the characteristically British anti-EU feelings, and I do mean feelings here and not thought processes.

3. vox populi will be exercised by that majority who are pissed off enough on EU or anti-EU propaganda to go to vote, while others stay away - turnouts are very poor anyway

4. and tada, thou shalt have a democratic process concluding with some (predictable) outcome

I'm not defending the truly dishonest way in which the Constitution came back in disguised ways, at least that's what I'm told. Which then brings in the question: how many people have actually read the Constitution and how many have read the new treaty based on it? or virtually identical to it?

So what is the point of a referendum when the issue is so complex that even in summary, maybe 1% of the country can understand it? or wants to understand it, after not having been wound up by idiotic tabloid papers?

Do we delegate that responsibility to elected MPs? can we even trust them to read it fully and make an informed decision? Don't think so - currently at least quite a few admitted they never read it and/or don't get it.

So... vox populi is again a very nice utopia in an illusion of democracy straight out of Philip K. Dick's Mold Of Yancy.

In this case, as in many similar situations, vox populi is certainly vox dei - but the deities are the media moguls who end up manifesting their particular political interests via the votes of the manipulated brainless masses.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Drinking law review

Not long ago, UK had alcohol licensing laws changed and pubs could remain open round the clock... The thinking was that this will reduce binge drinking and will, simply put, turn Britain into an imitation of some civilised European country with all the posh cafe culture one finds on the continent, where people are not turning every night every town centre into a re-enactment of (or simulation of the aftermath of) the battle of Waterloo.

Of course, it backfired. Violent crime committed late at night, especially between 3AM and 6AM has risen dramatically. Now we are having yet another governmental overhaul of drinking laws, in order to reduce again the binge drinking.

Well, it really is again equivalent to building the house roof down. By pissed workers.

Opening hours, tightened regulations on selling alcohol to under-age customers etc. will not change what is fundamentally the issue: the drinking culture (if one can call it like that) in this country.

No such legislation will turn youth, who have nothing in their lives apart from drinking, hanging around idle all day and night in town centres, drug taking and general antisocial (proud!) behaviour into sherry sipping gentlemen sitting on civilised cafe terraces reading poetry. Yes, exaggerating, but... the entire approach is ludicrous.

One has to look at the statistics that show what differentiates in truly abysmal ways the British youth in all respects compared to other EU countries and we can find again many things in which they excel in comparison to other countries.

All those things will not change from a tweak to drinking laws. The attitudes to life, the attitudes full stop that make these youth (and not just them) turn town centres into scenes from The Planet Of The Apes every single night, are a deep-rooted cultural issue.

There was cheap, absolutely cheap and bad, alcohol available in the society I grew up and there was plenty of things to drown in alcohol... but nothing, absolutely nothing remotely similar to British alcoholism could be seen or experienced there.

It has ties with education, with overall aggressive dumbing down of last few generations, it has to do with ignorance and arrogance mixed together in a unique British amalgam that can not be seen anywhere in Europe (oh, please see what British youth in their masses do to any holiday resort anywhere in Europe... it is only believable when one watches them and compares to other nations' behaviour in the same places), it has to do with the lad and yob culture that will not go away this generation or the next.

But we have yet another tweak to the drinking laws. We still have the same fantasy of becoming a country with 'cafe culture'. Sweet dreams. If you can catch sleep in and around any town centre or pub in this country.