Oct 312012
 
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I suggested a few months ago that the knowledge society – you remember that wonderful future of intelligent work and fulfilling leisure they once promised us? – had been soundly hijacked by the social web.  I still think the thesis is relevant and worthy of further investigation.  And it’s relevant to today’s post too.

This article from the Independent lays it out all too clearly:

“On the UK’s current path, come 2020, household incomes across the bottom half of the working age population look likely to be lower than they are today,” it says. “A typical low income household in 2020 is set to have an income 15 per cent lower than an equivalent household in 2008, a return to income levels not seen since 1993.”

It also describes how middle-income jobs in services and manufacturing will vanish as further robotisation and the introduction of new technologies will wipe out such employment over the next decade.

Only last year, Left Foot Forward was informing us thus:

In 1977, workers in the bottom half of the earnings distribution received £16 of every £100 of value generated in the economy; by 2010, their share had fallen to just £12. By contrast, the share of GDP flowing to the top 10% of earners increased from £12 per £100 of GDP to £14.

[...]

If the full extent of bonus payments are included in the calculations the share of GDP going to the top 10% of earners increases from £14 per £100 to £16, while the share of the bottom half reduces from £12 to just £10.

Meanwhile, the Public and Commercial Services Union points out that:

While the value of workers’ wages in the UK has fallen, corporate profits have increased as a share of GDP from 13% in the mid-70s to 21% today. In this same period, government has massively cut corporation tax and income tax for the highest earners, so that now the poorest fifth of people pay more in tax, as a proportion of income, than the richest fifth.

Not to mention wholly legal tax avoidance which means large corporations get to use British infrastructures without paying a fiscal sausage to the state – or, indeed, the rest of us taxpayers.

The truth of the matter, of course, is that whilst innovation drove down prices, our wage-slave jobbery was kind of OK: we could put up with the grind in exchange for the ever cheaper diversion – something we did, in fact, end up doing.

That socioeconomic contract does, however, seem – in the light of the above figures – to be breaking up; and – perhaps – breaking down.  No longer can we rely on corporations to share out their ill-gotten gains.  No one at corporate level seems to care that they may be accused of greed.  No one, anywhere, wants to take ownership for the misery more and more middle-income families are going to suffer from over the next decade.

But hell!  We should be talking about the already poor.

Never was self-interest more self-evident than in latterday politics.

In reality, growth – that Holy Grail of modern political thought – is becoming an economic cancer.  Growth used to involve a society sharing out its benefits and progress for mostly everyone.  Now it’s becoming a helter-skelter dash to destroy an opposition at the expense of almost everyone else.  No one seems to care any more that future consumers are being slaughtered at birth.

All that the big companies and transnationals of this world can now seem to think of is how best to fleece the states that still care to pursue them.

Or, alternatively, re-establish their realities in other, more subservient, places.

A total disconnect from the communities that created them.

A carbuncle on the face of a planet which once loved its inhabitants but now only loves its inhabitants’ tools.

We need a new economics – and we need it fast.

Anyone out there care enough to invent it?

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Oct 302012
 
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This is quite an astonishing story.  I strongly advise you to read it in full.  It introduces itself thus:

The anti-capitalist protesters who occupied St Paul’s Cathedral were both morally and intellectually right, a senior Bank of England official said last night.

The report goes on to describe what was said in the choicest of ways:

“Occupy has been successful in its efforts to popularise the problems of the global financial system for one very simple reason; they are right,” Mr Haldane said last night. Mr Haldane, the Bank’s executive director for financial stability, was speaking to Occupy Economics, an offshoot of the Occupy movement, at an event in central London.

It also describes what was not said:

In the text of his speech distributed by the Bank last night, Mr Haldane made no reference to the techniques employed by the Occupy protesters.

Our response?  Read the whole of the story – and then cry out: “Hallelujah!”

*

You know what this means, don’t you?  The situation is far worse than any of us in the middle-class mainstream of political acquiescence ever imagined.  That the Bank of England should now be siding with people who at the time were treated thus is absolutely gobsmacking.  Keeping in mind its prior responsibility in the whole light-touch regulation era, it’s about as close as any organisation of its magnitude and weight is ever going to get to providing us with an abject apology.

If it weren’t for that awful hurricane affecting sixty million Americans, even the BBC might give this piece of news the prominence it’s clearly due.

Which reminds me.  I received an email from HMV this morning, in all its graphic-laden glory, which encouraged me to click and “see all” of the latest “BBC Kids” offering.

Is it really the moment to be carrying out such campaigns?  Does no one really not see – or, indeed, care about – the terrible sense of irony they might generate in those most intimately affected?

How carefully the establishment wishes to choreograph its decline.

Even as it’s that very real 99 percent which they have encouraged and allowed to suffer the most.

A 99 percent which – with the Bank of England’s most recent declarations – clearly, sincerely and inevitably exists.

The big question now is where that all leaves Cameron & Co.  In a sense, as beached as any political whale has ever shown itself to be.  And by a tsunami of an admission from an institution which stands at the very heart of the establishment the Coalition claims to sustain.

Anyone noticed?  Not yet.  Not really.

But they will …

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Oct 292012
 
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I started working for May Gurney (more here) a few weeks ago now.  My induction pack consisted of a glossy A4-sized all-colour pamphlet.  I was given no face-to-face training and was obliged to coach my team’s colleagues myself.

The experience has not been a happy one.  As my place of work is on the first floor of the building in question, it’s involved leaving several bags of rubbish throughout the week in what is supposed to be the most hygienic area of all: the kitchen.  I’ve had to learn – by myself – to separate out a complex combination of not always intuitively dissimilar waste and work out how to distribute it between five different containers.

There used to be two – tops three – in my previous employment.

So how do my current working conditions really stack up then?

Beforehand, we had essentially two containers – and really no training required.  Afterwards, we had five containers, a 12-page training booklet, an obligation to teach four other team members (ie my family) how to carry out the outsourced tasks in question – and really no training provided.

I remember, about thirty-five years ago, seeing a similar system at work in Austria.  As a kid, I looked on it very positively and optimistically – and asked myself when we would have a similar opportunity here in Britain.  In Austria, it was a community thing, designed to make the local council operate better; the local environment become cleaner; and in general support our hopes for a shared and more sustainable future.

So why do I now resist so strongly working for a corporation such as May Gurney?

Firstly, because I wasn’t consulted – the collaboration and hard work required from myself and my team (ie my family) were hijacked by my local council and imposed upon me and them.

Secondly, because May Gurney is looking primarily to make money for its shareholders: it’s a business, not a charitable or community-focussed institution.

Thirdly, because – at least according to the media reports – May Gurney isn’t able to run this outsourced process as a going concern.  At least, not in Bristol or – in my case – Chester, it would seem.  So as I am, in a kind of a way, now an outsourced employee of the company, how on earth am I going to feel positive about anything they’re doing?

Working-conditions like these all workers can do without.  Especially with respect to unpaid and outsourced drudge-tasks such as these.

Talk about workfare.

What do we call this then?  A job, role and series of procedures you can never get sacked from – however hard you try.

Slavery anyone?

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Oct 292012
 
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This tweet just flitted past me.  I retweeted its profound truth immediately:

@campbellclaret @Ed_Miliband many ppl with mentalhealth probs don’t define self as disabled – so don’t get support to work / benefits

I then replied thus:

@patspetition True! If asked “Do you consider yourself disabled?”, I don’t. Person with support needs, maybe. @campbellclaret @Ed_Miliband

For there’s a massive difference between being a “disabled person” and being a “person with support needs”.  It’s not just down to the semantics of the matter.  It’s down to what we foreground.  It’s down to what we highlight.  It’s down to what we choose to underline.

Do remember that: “disabled people” are “people” before they are “disabled”.

And don’t forget this: how the English language can condemn our humanity to unfortunate invisibility.

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Oct 282012
 
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Three references I’d ask you to read before I proceed with this post.  First, I posted a piece on confusing sex and power earlier today.  It’s led me to further thoughts – none of which are happy ones.

Second, I just tweeted thus:

I honestly do not know why British institutions are turning out so rotten. As a kid, I was led to believe in them. Why? And to what purpose?

Finally, this piece, which Dave Semple just sent my way, on the history behind the BBC‘s culture of child abuse – a culture which formed and perpetuated itself way before Mr Jimmy Savile came on the scene.

It’s a terrifying article, this last one, describing as it does the casual attitude at the time, in that post-war period, of what bordered on a kind of disposable hatred to young persons of both sexes.  It will sadden you greatly, if you manage to find the time to read it.  This is not a case of a raft of a country’s institutions deteriorating suddenly and explosively: this is, rather, a continuity of malignant spirit which burrowed its way – like the jokey letters down a stick of rock – into the very psyche and shared behaviours of a whole nation.

*

Two things that come to mind.  The first is whether what has happened in the post-war period isn’t indicative of a wider sequence of abuse.  Abusers are known to occupy two existences: their all-too-often public and shameful one of criminal and their all-too-private and shameful one of victim.  Yes.  The abusers have been abused.

The English were, after all, famous for saying: “Children should be seen and not heard.”  How easily this describes a voyeur’s controlling perspective: the right to fuck around with someone’s head and not be reported.

Just imagine if we expand the remit of this phrase to a broader series of sexual practices.

So this abuse which the abusers – of which I am sure many more will appear – have so clearly suffered … to what, then, can we attribute its existence?  Well.  I’m beginning to wonder if this isn’t going to be the result of a much greater and national trauma than that silly, giggly and unfathomably traditional English inability to quite know what to do about sex.

I’m beginning to wonder if what is clearly becoming a sick and widespread aggression against defenceless individuals in secretive care homes, public institutions and perhaps even many private households too, hidden for decades from the full view of the public’s shared consciousness, isn’t in part some kind of reaction by that generation which fought in the Second World War and suffered its privations.  If sexual abuse – abuse of power, abuse of position, abuse of reputation, abuse of recognition – is going to be as widespread as it now looks will shortly be the case, can there be any other explanation than this?  A whole nation – abused by violent injustice, random death and cruel loss – fighting, turning in on and finally devouring its own.

A tremendous source of pain which was never fully understood, appreciated, talked about or dealt with by a society with an infinitely stiff upper lip and capacity to drink tea and talk about the weather, even as its deepest fears scythed through its emotional and mental wellbeing.

I don’t know.  I’m no sociologist.  Though the above probably demonstrates I’m quite good at psycho-babble theorising.

All I can say is that the implications for a wider society, for a wider body politic, for our wider institutions … well, they really couldn’t be more profound: if government ministers, political aides and people at the very top of public and private institutions knew about these kinds of things, if they stood by as they happened or even participated, if they sullied the deep realities of institutional probity and if they were capable – at the same time – of sustaining a hollow visage of honesty, frankness and sincerity to the outside world, what else – in all truth – were they capable of hiding from the rest of us?

For that is the biggest question still to be unravelled.  He who possesses a secret of another can demand an absolute loyalty – and he who can demand an absolute loyalty can build a terrifying power.  Just imagine the situation if this was not only unidirectional but bidirectional.  Our society, riddled by guilty makers and shakers – each knowing something the other on an allegedly opposing side would not wish the public to comprehend.

Our two-party system, thus riddled and perverted, effectively becomes a one-party state.

And that, maybe, is what’s really happening here: just as the Berlin Wall and the wider Soviet structures came tumbling down overnight through their own savage incoherences – examples of puff-pastry politics if there ever was such a thing – so now what we are witnessing in British society is a reflection, an absolutely accurate mirror image, of the lies the Communists lived.  The consequences: rapid deterioration and awful collapse as long-empty structures fall irrevocably in on themselves.

We all grew up in the shadow of oppression.  For so many years we fought it.  And as we have already noted tonight, the oppressed may learn all too well how to oppress.

The abusers need to be tracked down.

But we mustn’t forget the abuse that made them so.

It’s time we understood that the secrets which bind the powerful to each other – of which the sexual variety is just one pitiful class – need to be blown apart for the good of our body politic, democracy and social intercourse.

It’s only then that we can even begin to recover a sense that our institutions can be believed in; only then that we can even begin to understand what has actually happened to this corrupting Britain.

It’s not just the poor and utterly bewildered young men, women and children who’ve been totally betrayed by their abusing forefathers.  It’s possibly the whole nation which now needs the truth.

After all, such a bitter pill can be no more difficult to swallow than the indignity of always being seen and never heard.

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Oct 282012
 
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I’ve been working these past couple of days, setting up a language-learning site.  Thus, the moderate radio silence.

Meanwhile, the unhappy news about sex abuse and paedophilia at the heart of our most sacred institutions continues to unspool our perception of our childhoods and their – up until recently – complacently happy memories.

I wonder if history will judge the BBC as an especially bad egg in this matter.  Or, alternatively, as a kind of measure of what the rest of society was doing.

Just one simple question today – and one simple post.  Those political behemoths who have traditionally run our nations and their body politics – were they, indeed are they, any better than the Jimmy Saviles and Gary Glitters of this world?  After all, what does the phrase consensual sex mean – if it involves the whiff of powerful people behind aphrodisiacally closed doors?  Isn’t that just as substantial a distortion of what sexual relationships between, in this case, adults ought to be?

What I’m really asking runs as follows: what is the difference between paedophilia or more general sexual abuse – a question of someone exerting power over a manifestly weaker soul in a relationship – and that force which a powerful politician or business leader exerts over an individual, group of people or nation?

Aren’t all three of the above cases situations where those who have power use it to force others who don’t into doing things the latter otherwise wouldn’t?

That is to say, aren’t we confusing sex and power?

What, exactly, is the difference between a shallow celebrity destroying an individual’s peace of mind through a sexual powerplay and a shallow politician destroying an individual’s peace of mind through a political powerplay?

In fact, in essence, even that which we call consensual sex can take place against the better judgement of one of the parties involved.

To conclude, we don’t need less sexual abuse in society.

We need fewer people to abuse the power we award, delegate in and attribute them.  Whether this be sexual, business or political.

A lesson for all our leaders, whatever their fields of endeavour.

Mr Jimmy Savile’s alleged crimes are a warning shot across your bows too.

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Oct 262012
 
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I have a theory.  But before we proceed, let me lay the facts before you.

First we had Lord Bichard suggesting that pensioners might not get their full pension if they refused to sign up to voluntary work in the community:

Retired people should be encouraged to do community work such as caring for the “very old” or face losing some of their pension, a peer has suggested.

Lord Bichard, a former benefits chief, said “imaginative” ideas were needed to meet the cost of an ageing society.

And although such a move might be controversial, it would stop older people being a “burden on the state”.

Imaginative ideas, eh?  Not imaginative ideas which aim to stigmatise the elderly I hope.

Then we get Iain Duncan Smith arguing that families with more than two children should basically tell the successive ones that society doesn’t care to help them become employable workers and profitable consumers.  Talk about rubbing the runt of the litter’s nose in it:

Iain Duncan Smith told the poorest families to “cut your cloth” according to their “capabilities” and the money available.

The Work and Pensions Secretary suggested limiting benefits to the children of the unemployed as he pledged to end the “madness” of taxpayers housing large families in expensive homes.

Madness, right?  Not the kind of madness which aims to stigmatise the poor I hope.

(Oh, and if you’re interested, here’s a fact check on Duncan Smith’s declarations.  Just if, by any chance, the truth still interests you.)

Finally, tonight, and – sadly, to my mind anyhow – from the pen of Fraser Nelson, we get this absurd piece of tosh on how the charitable opposition to this Coalition’s welfare reforms is completely down to Gordon Brown’s Secret Army of Labour subversives.  Yes!!!  It’s Fifth Column time once again in our country: on this occasion, mind, this Cameron-careering juggernaut of a propaganda-driven excuse for a government aims to blame the failure of its own policies on the Machiavellian powers of a supposedly once-vanquished – as well as impotently ineffective – enemy.

Thus it is that it’s not the government which is failing to convince the country its medicine is the right and only one: instead, it’s (still) all Labour’s fault that sensible people refuse to behave insensibly.  As Nelson awfully sustains:

We saw this yesterday, when Iain Duncan Smith trailed a speech about welfare and poverty. A now familiar welcoming committee rose up early to greet him. The Child Poverty Action Group declared that there are no jobs to be had, so why punish those on welfare? A revered charity, Save the Children, has identified government cuts as a major threat to British children. Even the National Society for the Protection of Children warns that the “most vulnerable” children are “bearing the brunt” of Cameron’s cuts. And hearing them all, who would your average listener believe: a politician, or charity worker?

But these charities are not the kindly tin-rattlers they were. In 2008, Brown changed the rules so charities could join political campaigns. In theory, they could support any party – but as Brown knew, not many would use these powers to demand smaller taxes. It was a masterstroke. The charities sharpened their claws by hiring former Labour apparatchiks. Save the Children is now run by Justin Forsyth, Brown’s ex-strategy chief. The NSPCC has hired Peter Watt, a former Labour general secretary. Damian McBride is working for Cafod. Britain’s charities are nurturing a colourful, talented and efficient anti-Tory alliance.

Look.  You can’t have it both ways.  You can’t argue that Brown is a yesterday-politician one day and a tomorrow-politician the next.

Unless, of course, he wasn’t the yesterday-politician they so cruelly painted him out to be.

Now I hadn’t thought of that.

Had you?

A matter, perhaps, for another post.

But back to this evening’s thesis: Lord Bichard announces there’s no money for pensioners who don’t work; Iain Duncan Smith announces two kids is all you’re going to get; and Fraser Nelson announces any opposition to Cameron’s Tory-led government is an evil throwback of secretive individuals burrowing under the very transparency of parliamentary democracy itself.

And so to our theory.

Does this really not sound what a Fifth Column of insurgents – who’d taken over control of Parliament by barely legal means (say a group of politicos practised in the Goebbel-like arts of advertising) – might say of anyone else who was looking to defend democracy’s integrity?

Well, quite.  It does take a thief to catch a thief, after all.

If truth be told, I really don’t know what Nelson & Co are up to here.  From no benefits for a third child, it’s a small step to legislating against families having more than two children.  Once governments start fiddling around with such numbers and choices, the slippery slope of hubris leads them to all kinds of dreadful things.  And just remember, big families help create future workforces and consumers who consume.  Without biggish families down the line, they’ll be no one to pay the pensions.

Oh, but – bless him! – that’s where old Bichard comes in, isn’t it?  In this brave new web of Coalition policies, pensioners will end up paying for themselves.

We don’t need big families any more.  We don’t even need the poor to have families at all.  All we need is a land army of old people prepared to die on their feet and a pool of little rich kids who, with the right kind of schooling, will acquire exactly the right sort of voting habits.

This is, in fact, the Big Society by force.  People haven’t stepped forward in their droves to volunteer to make the state run for free, so now those in power have decided you will volunteer.

Or you won’t procreate.

Even when the English language and culture always taught us that both were blessed and honourable choices which humanised us.

*

So perhaps Gordon does have his Secret Army.

But in the Second World War, Western democracy couldn’t have beaten back the evil hoards if we hadn’t had our Resistance to hand.

Now could it?

The two big questions, of course, run as follows: does Nelson speak for Cameron tonight?  And does Cameron really want to frame the next three years as a war amongst the people?

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Oct 252012
 
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Not a minute ago I was looking, sadly, at the latest revelations in what would now appear to be this very British scandal: an institutionalised and violently unravelling sequence of sex abuse cases, initially circling around the figure of the DJ Jimmy Savile but which may have also involved other people who are still alive.

At the BBC for sure – and possibly, shortly, much further.

Over the past couple of days on Twitter there have been allegations that important people in government were involved in a paedophile ring.

It does seem to me that, little by little, the last thirty years or so – a monolithic and untouchable mystery for so long and for so many – are beginning to fall apart at what history might end up describing as their filthy seams.

Tonight, in the meantime, as I see politics, its practitioners and its hangers-on in the dark light which the above casts over us, it seems entirely appropriate that alongside the latest news about Savile and his entourage, the world of advertising should serve up the following two images.

That a multinational chemical company should see its name in the same frame as all this scum is mostly unfortunate – even as it must be entirely unintentional.

Unintentional perhaps – but hardly inaccurate.

Never was a chemistry so polluting.

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Oct 252012
 
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Rick takes me indirectly to task as one of those who, tweeting as we do, praise flatter hierarchies to the exclusion of the tried and tested pyramid.

I think Rick is wrong.  He concludes thus:

It is the legions of people in medium to large organisations, monitoring performance, setting up and refining systems, making small but regular improvements, coaching, coaxing and occasionally disciplining their staff, who slowly but surely improve productivity and grow the economy.

Small companies with charismatic leaders and no rules might be very exciting but they only get us so far. It’s the boring companies with boring bureaucracy, boring systems, boring measurements and boring middle managers in suits that make us rich.

Something I can only fulsomely agree with.  But he’s previously criticised us tweeters for the following:

My Twitter timeline is full of links to articles about dynamic startups, cutting-edge businesses, inspirational leadership, visionaries and hierarchy-free organisations with self-managed teams. Oh and change, of course. Lots of change.

Inevitably, this means that a lot of other things are bad. Or worse, BORING!

Bureaucracy, BORING! Big companies, BORING. Systems and processes, BORING. Hierarchy, BORING. Control, BORING. And as for middle-managers, well not only are they BORING, they are stifling everyone’s creativity too.

This is something I’d beg to differ with, at least in part.  He knocks us for knocking the middle-management suits – I don’t knock the middle-management suits; I think they suffer just as much as the rest of us.  What I really knock are the KPIs handed down from up on high by helicopter-viewing executives who care not to get involved in the reality of processes and procedures; who commission entire IT systems on the basis of a salesperson-driven twenty-line summary; who ensure middle-management has to force the lower levels into evermore unnecessarily dumbed-down and mind-numbing tasks; and generally mess up companies in their pursuit of sterile and ultimately soul-destroying turf wars.

Wars which, nevertheless, hardly ever leave them personally out of pocket – whatever the end-of-year financials.

But less pronounced hierarchies could still be achieved, even when taking into account Rick’s beautifully woven and undeniable thesis: we could, after all, remove most of those above middle-managers and most of those below, so that everyone had a more productive and sustainable work experience in those flatter hierarchies he quite understandably chooses to so unfashionably disparage.

That is to say, we could argue for the virtues of a middle way.  Perhaps, even, end up renaming middle-managers: just as teachers have become facilitators and enablers of learning paths, so managers could become facilitators and enablers of productivity.

Not stuck in the middle between the crossfire of frustrated executives and despondent level ones but – rather – an overtly constructive and creative communication and organisational conduit between those who sell (the executives I mention, I mean) and those who know and can only dream (the aforementioned level ones).

What do you think about that?

*

A final thought for your cogitation this evening.  This post, over at 2020UK today, charts what it argues is the 30-year decline of Middlesbrough under, in this case, the control of the Labour Party.  I’m not really looking to agree or disagree here: for the purposes of my post, I’d far prefer to take it as an example of how permanence in power, whatever the party in question, can cause socioeconomic decline – yet would also find myself sustaining that chopping and changing in a swinging pendulum-like manner hardly resolves the latent issues either.

There must be a middle way in politics, just as Rick in business has so convincingly proposed.  Is it time, then, we also rechristened our politicians and party activists as facilitators and enablers of the democratic process?  Not grey-suited middlemen and women who stifle the grassroots but imaginative and creative people – even where rigorous – who could draw the best out of each and every citizen.

The job specifications would have to be tweaked for sure – but the teasing out of productivity and efficiency could remain as a value-adding given just the same.

An interesting change in prism, I think.  An interesting impact it could have as well.

One final final thought.

Would working to promote the virtues of such a middle way – in both politics and business – mean it’d be time we actually got rid of our leaders too?

Any opinions on that one, anyone?

And if so, how would we convince them?

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Oct 242012
 
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First, watch this video of Donald Trump triumphantly offering to donate $5 million to charity, in exchange for some documentation he thinks Barack Obama should provide.

http://youtu.be/MgOq9pBkY0I

Quite a guy, right?  Mr Trump, I mean.  (Obama, meanwhile … well … it goes without saying.)

Now let’s go to Wikipedia, to remind ourselves of that story of the widow’s mite:

In the story, a widow donates two small coins, while wealthy people donate much more.[2] Jesus explains to his disciples that the small sacrifices of the poor mean more to God than the extravagant donations of the rich.[2]

And this:

Witnessing the donations made by the rich men, Jesus highlights how a poor widow donates only two mites, the least valuable coins available at the time. But, Jesus observes, this sum was everything she had to her name, while the other people give only a small portion of their own wealth.

Finally to Wikipedia again, where the site’s page on Mr Trump currently indicates his net worth as being just over $3 billion – that is to say, the number three  followed by nine long and juicy zeros.  But we’re not finished here.  On top of all that, again according to our favourite online encyclopaedia, he gets a salary of around $60 million a year.  Which, if you didn’t know, is the number sixty followed by six zeros.

All of which makes a $5 million donation to charity about 0.16666666666666669 percent of Mr Trump’s current net worth.  If, that is, my calculations are right.  Which they may not be.  Maths was never my best subject.  Sure be happy for someone to correct me, if correction’s due.

Either way, that’s quite a lot of numbers, isn’t it?  Though this time, possibly on the wrong side of the decimal point.

Quite a cheapskate, that Mr Trump.  Quite a cheapskate indeed.

Even when he’s looking to paint a US presidential candidate into the dumbest of corners.

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Oct 232012
 
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I stumbled across 3D printers the other day whilst watching an episode of “QI”.  Stephen Fry demonstrated how an intricate moving object made of plastic had been printed using the technology in question.

At the time of writing this post, home versions of 3D printers may cost around $500 – though they can currently only print plastic objects.  Industrial and professional printers are obviously going to be more expensive, but they can print very many more materials.  And it does make me wonder what the implications are.

After all, anyone who could send a digitalised model of a real-world object from one computer to another, and then from the second connected to a 3D printer engineer it so that it printed out a stash of firearms, would surely be able to wreak havoc with the security of any community or state.

Couldn’t they end up eliminating the profession of smuggling altogether?  Who’d need to smuggle practically anything if metal objects, circuit boards and machine parts various could be whizzed across the world in bits and bytes, only to be reconstituted at the other end using a $500 printing machine?

And what would this mean for the sovereignty and imperviousness of our national borders?  How could the security services control such a technology so that localities weren’t turned upside down from the inside?  Unless, of course, the regimes of Internet oversight were as vigorous and awful as the various snoopers’ charters whizzing round the world’s secret treaty negotiations do seem to be proposing.

Maybe copyright isn’t the technology which is driving government snooping after all.  Maybe copyright is just smoke and mirrors.  Maybe the real threat to our society’s integrity – or, at least, what the security services fear – is this technology that turns virtual images into real and potentially dangerous objects.

You can just imagine the tabloid headlines: “Has your teenage son become a bedroom terrorist?” or “Do you know what he really does after dark?”.  It’s enough to scare anyone, contemplated thus; enough to terrify the least imaginative amongst us.

But if this is the case, what are the implications for our freedoms?  Under the guise of ensuring that musicians, writers and film-makers can continue to earn a gainful living, all kinds of oppressive bills have been proposed and almost imposed.  We need only remember the recent battles over SOPA and PIPA to realise that those in power may take any and every opportunity to restrict our freedoms to communicate and our rights to privacy, especially when such restrictions ensure they may earn a few extra dollars into the bargain.  So just imagine the field day they’ll have when they describe to a wider populace the consequences of technologies that allow terrorist organisations to transmit weapons from one side of the world to the other in a virtual second. Just imagine how they might convince whole societies to give up any right to any kind of privacy whatsoever.

Of course, those very same leaders and security services will also be able to do exactly the same on behalf of the good guys: no further need to physically parachute freedom-fighting arms into a remote valley when all you need is to get such defenders of liberty a satellite connection, a 3D printer and some boxes of innocuous “toner”.

The age-old story of the sword and the shield verily repeats itself, right?

Even so, I do wonder if we’re thinking this properly through.  For what will be the point of sovereign borders when we can smuggle 3D objects across the web?

Anyone got me an answer to that?

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Oct 232012
 
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My feelings on this matter are getting very strong.  I was advised offline, in no uncertain terms, from a quarter I half-expected but only half-, to desist with my attempts to develop an app I’ve most recently christened the BetterBiz.Me app.  If you want to take a look at the dummy and primitive sketch of the idea I’ve developed so far, you can find it here.  You’ll need the password, so do email me on mil@pobox.com in order to be able to take a look.

Comments and feedback would be most welcome.

In the meantime, I’d like to address the issue of desisting in such a matter.  Some of us live our lives in certain ways.  Others, in different ways.  If truth be told, mine has always been a little quixotic.  I’ve always gone for the big issues – partly because I’m blessed, or cursed, with the ability to easily see how they connect up.

As I sit in a car, I am simultaneously aware of all its moving parts, its spinning wheels, the texture of its headlamps, the scratches on its bodywork.  All this information is simultaneously to hand and I have learnt not exactly how to avoid it – for that would be impossible – but, rather, how to live with it.

Information overload is the meme of our times.

So it is with the world and how its different parts interlock.  Whilst those of you who live happily in your sitting-rooms – with the tele switched on, the crossword waiting patiently on the coffee-table and the kettle burbling in the kitchen as it looks for a convenient teabag and cup – are content to let the bad in this world wash over you completely, on the weary assumption that you are just another smallness on the planet unable to put up a fight, I am utterly unable to take that way forward.

Perhaps it is a sign of my Catholic upbringing.  Even as I am utterly lapsed, there may be more of that Catholic tradition in me which says “thus far and no further”.  Perhaps my obstinacy is genetic.  Perhaps my stubbornness is born of my previous mental health issues.  Perhaps my previous mental health issues were born of being brought up believing in the truth and seeing lies all around me.

But if you do need one very good reason why we should continue to fight tax avoidance with every sinew of our being, then it is this: whilst the organisations and institutions which ran this world since World War II left the ordinary person in relative peace, we didn’t really care what they did in the privacy of their private-sector boardrooms.  Perhaps this was right; perhaps this was wrong.  But whatever the situation, we – and they – did it consistently.

Now it’s all changed.  Now they want us to pay in our old age, at point of use, for everything from healthcare to social care; for everything from private pensions to overpriced and monopolistic energy supplies.  They are, it has to be said, we must all agree, ripping us off.  Ripping us off completely to the point that old age will become a misery for the vast majority of people who inhabit our so-called civilisations.

So if you need a simple reason to explain why I’m choosing to contribute to the fightback against tax avoidance so fiercely at the moment – and remember tax avoidance is a perfectly legal procedure – it’s simply because I know that in twenty years if we don’t do something now, the Welfare State simply won’t exist.  Essentially because we are choosing to allow large companies to operate on the back of state infrastructures, without paying their fair whack or contributing in the least.

And this means I’ll have to live off my children.

And they won’t want this.

And I won’t want them to want it.

I’ve believed in independent behaviours all my life.  But I’ve also believed in society and that post-war social contract.  We worked and paid our social security contributions on the understanding that when it was our turn, our turn would exist.

Now it would appear it won’t.

Not because the resources don’t exist but, rather, because our societies are allowing them to concentrate unreasonably.  Representative democracy is failing us, I’m clear.  It’s time to shift our thirst for democracy into other technology-driven realms we can fashion to our own ends.

If they want us to be little more than consumers hankering after the latest gadget, at the very least let that hankering and that purchase serve a long-term social purpose.

This is why I need to fight back against tax avoidance.  Not because I’m obsessed or unhappy or sad or stupid: instead, because I can see very clearly the real reason for all these cuts.

As I know you can, just as clearly.

For, as someone pointed out to me on Twitter last night, battles are only ever won by tired soldiers.

And just because you’re tired doesn’t mean it’s time to give up.

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Oct 222012
 
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At the risk of being accused of jousting at windmills, here’s a development of my possibly foolhardy app proposal, the last three posts on which can be found here, here and here.

I’ve been fiddling around with some ideas on a Squarespace 14-day trial, so the link at the bottom of this post may not be active in fourteen days’ time.  But for the moment you can get a feel, if you are so inclined, of how I’m trying to appeal not only to end-users and consumers unhappy with how big business currently operates but also to big business itself.

Yes.

I’m still naive enough to believe that most people – as people – are actually well-mannered and kindly.  Even bankers; even people who work for the Starbucks of this world; even those who work for the IKEAs, eBays and Amazons.

The 21st century is complex enough without us giving up on wanting to work together to common goals.

So whilst the link is live, please do take a gander and provide me with some feedback here as to the utility of the whole proposal.  It may be apparent to you that I don’t have the skills to carry this project forwards – all I am able to do is imagine worlds others don’t care to imagine – but if not me, I do sincerely believe someone needs to put it in place.

The link itself is as follows:

https://miljenko-williams.squarespace.com/index/

If you do want to take a quick look, email me on mil@pobox.com – and I’ll let you into the site so you can get a better feel for what I’m currently proposing.

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Oct 202012
 
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Over the past couple of days, I’ve already posted twice on this subject.  The multitude of tax-avoiding companies which currently populate the planet is becoming manifest even for people as trusting as my parents: a generation, that is, which took its lead and ways of thinking from traditionally unquestioning sources such as the BBC and our newspapers.

This tax avoidance, whilst legal, leads to situations:

  • whereby wages of a minimum nature are paid to staff who then depend on state-funded working-tax credits to reach the end of the month, even as their employers contribute nothing to the state for the top-up payments in question;
  • whereby transport infrastructures are used to move products from one end of the country to the other, even as the beneficiaries of such infrastructures manage to avoid any corporation tax which would otherwise help in their upkeep;
  • whereby generations of young people are brought up through public education systems to provide a pool of ready-made consumers and employable workforces, even as those companies which take full advantage of such human resources to the benefit of their own shareholders refuse to add value or pay their fair whack to society;

The issue, however, is complex.  Do we propose an all-out war on these often psychopathic organisations?  Given that most people who work in these institutions are like you and me – they may even be you and me! – it’s surely hardly productive to paint everyone with the same damning brush.  Do we engage with them then?  Well.  Engagement to date – through traditional representative democracy – hasn’t done much more than bring us to a dark place of economic and social dislocation on a massively global scale.

It’s my assertion, therefore, that we need to express our ways of thinking differently.  It’s time to use technology to shift our democratic instincts in favour of a continuous participation into a completely different realm.  Businesspeople have always argued that they need to be as lightly regulated as possible – mainly because they work under the rule of “voting” consumers every working day of their lives.  To be honest, in an age of virtual monopolies, this is all rather disingenuous: the power of advertising and the control large companies share out between themselves mean that consumers rarely take too many decisions on the basis of anything that goes beyond mere product information.

How revolutionary would it be, then, if we could create a mobile-phone application which would allow consumers to take decisions based not only on what corporations sold – the traditional preserve of consumer magazines such as Which?, for example – but also on how they did what they did: their tax behaviours, working conditions, salary ratios, community engagement histories … that is to say, an ultimately unending series of criteria which each consumer, voter and citizen could choose to prioritise in any moment.

Yes.  I’m suggesting quite the opposite to what many who marched today in London against Tory-inspired austerity would be looking for.

I’m suggesting we look way beyond the trench-warfare politics of this early 21st century.

I’m suggesting we choose to use technology to take not only the moral but also the political and socioeconomic high ground.

I’m suggesting we engage not from a position of weakness – perhaps in the belief that these corporations are so strong we have no real alternative to capitulating to their wishes – but, rather, from a position of strength: organised through a massively distributed and accurate communication device such as a mobile-phone app, we should believe that we have every right and chance to fight back constructively, productively and in as engaged – as well as engaging – manner as possible.

For it must be true that most people who work in corporations don’t like hurting others.  Most people who work in corporations don’t look to destroy.  Most people who work in corporations aim to pursue a better life for both their colleagues and customers.

It’s the system that doesn’t allow it.

It’s the fear that economies operate under which drives people to do things they would otherwise never contemplate.  The fear of getting left behind.  The fear that another company will be underhandedly competitive in some new and as yet uncontemplated way.

That is why this app I propose we create and develop would not only help ordinary people recover a sense of balance and integrity in their lives: it would help corporate managers, workforces and even executives refocus on what really needs to be done.

Create a sustainable planet for our offspring.

Together.

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Oct 202012
 
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My Twitter moniker is “eiohel”.  It underlies everything I believe in.  Lower case corporate behemoths?  Are there such things?  Well.  If there aren’t, there damn well should be.

And I’m here to prove it.

My question tonight is whether anyone is really happy with how this world is turning out.  I intend to evidence that – in general – most people and organisations can’t be; that – even as we lob missiles at each other – we are more on the same side than on the opposing; and that there are plenty of solutions out there which could turn this world constructively upside down.

First, however, some history.

*

I first used the name “eiohel” on the website OpenOffice.org, back in 2002.  I chose one of the biggest online corporations of its time and made it little – and used that to explain what I was about.  At the time, OpenOffice.org was riven by battles between open-source developers and Sun, the American computer corporation.  I was yet to work in a large corporation but could appreciate both what Sun were trying to achieve – massify the open source experience and undermine Microsoft’s own unhealthy grip on the desktop market – as well as what the developers felt to be of prime importance: the creation of a self-sustaining community where in exchange for the prize of creating a software utility everyone could use, collaboration would be freely and generously provided.

I only stayed as a volunteer on OpenOffice.org for about six months – and whilst it wasn’t altogether a happy experience, it was certainly formative; certainly something I would not have missed for anything.

So it was that “eiohel” reappeared on the Internet a couple of years ago when I decided to make it my Twitter name.  That constant thread in my life of simultaneously admiring the ambition of grand corporations to organise people towards common goals and yet finding most resistible their general corruption of such goals has pursued me to this very day.  I’ve written about it quite often, as those of you who read these pages will know.  I’ve even compared some structures employed by the various Occupy movements, especially Los Indignados in Spain, to such corporate edifices – as I contemplate the dangers of becoming like your competition.

My ambivalence to corporate behaviours manifested itself most recently in this post from a couple of days ago.  In it, I suggest that HMRC might want to participate in and promote the distribution of a Corporate Boycott app.  It would work along the following lines:

  1. The objective of the app would be to allow consumers to compare and contrast the percentage of corporation tax paid annually in relation to turnover by a shop or company or other institution before a decision to purchase was made.
  2. The app would piggyback off public domain data already in the possession of HMRC which would allow such a comparison to be made.  A website could be set up which would allow web users to access the same data.
  3. Instead of consumers having to manually keep track of every company the media continues to reveal as the latest tax-avoider we knew nothing about, the app would do this automatically on our behalf according to criteria which could be set.
  4. Options could include sorting via sector; nationality of head office; philanthropic activities; community engagement; ratio between highest-paid and lowest-paid workers; salaries of executives; bonus arrangements; environmental awareness; and the percentage of internationally outsourced jobs.

In the truest spirit of the “eiohel” concept, however, and as per the title of this post, I’m inclined to recast somewhat the original proposal.  For it’s my strong belief that most people who work in large corporations – perhaps 99 percent of them – do try and do the best they can, whatever their level of responsibility.  We could, equally, say the same of political players and voters; of writers and artists; of singers and songwriters; of professionals and artisans; and of mothers, fathers, siblings and children in all strata of society.  No one is ever – generally – looking to mess the world up and make stuff in it more dysfunctional.

Human beings are really not that stupid.

So there must be another reason.

And I think that reason is this: we are all – generally – at the mercy of systems.  We don’t deliberately forget the customer and focus on the targets.  The system, badly constructed, makes us do so.  Most of those bankers didn’t deliberately decide to fuck up all those economies either.  The system, badly constructed, made them do so.  Nor are most of our current crop of political leaders deliberately choosing to shift our civilisations into reverse gear.  The system, badly constructed, makes them do so.

If our complex societies are such interdependent mechanisms of clockwork-like intricacy, any attempt to change absolutely anything which looks to use a full-frontal assault is bound to create a disastrous dislocation.  Here in Britain, our own Coalition government is evidencing this.  In other parts of the world, I am sure you can say the same.

In modern and inevitably complex civilisations like our own, change of any kind should not revert to the utter stupidity of trench warfare.  This will simply repeat, on the political killing-grounds of the 21st century, the foolishness of the early 20th.

We need to learn from history.

We need to understand that no one – but no one – can really be happy with how this world is turning out.

And we need to change the world by engaging as many people as possible.

This is why I suggest, in the spirit of the “eiohel” concept, that my Corporate Boycott app be rechristened the Freedom app.  As described above, it would provide corporations the world over with a transparent, consumer- and market-driven framework to fashion behaviours everywhere.  Instead of an eternal driving-down of costs at the expense of worker dignity, it would give those who run and operate large companies the security and certainty that the playing fields and paradigms would be common to every player in the market – as well as truly customer-controlled for the benefit of everyone.  Instead of an eternal searching-for-the-lowest-common-denominator, we could program the app to optimise humanity.  Instead of monetary profit being the one and only aim of all business, we could introduce a whole host of other factors clients would be able to vote on.

Instead of a terrible drive to compete out of fear, the Freedom app would give us all the liberty to fearlessly cooperate.

How would we collect the data?  Open data initiatives are already flourishing across the world.  Tax offices and departments already collate publicly available information on corporations.  Agreement that this is really what we want – a level playing-field to save us all from the misery of this current dysfunctionality – is surely all we would need.

How would we fund the app?  Maybe advertising from the corporations themselves.  They could show how they had improved their ratings from month-to-month; from quarter-to-quarter; from year-to-year. In the meantime, millions of consumer decisions would help the already-more-ethical organisations to steam ahead, confident in the certainty that the others would have no option but to follow.

In the end, using such methods, we could prove that it was possible to use technology, corporate skills at mass organisation and human-made systems of all kinds in order to improve society and the environment – as well as protect, defend and expand our loved ones’ futures.

Is that really too much ask?  Is that really too much to expect?  Is that really too much to hope for?

So what am I looking for from all of you then?

People prepared to invest time, energy and money in such a set of objectives, tools and technologies. Maybe we can #opensource it; maybe we can #opengov and #opendata it; maybe we can – even – #HMRC it!

Yes.  The goal I set is huge, I know.  But human beings, when they choose to work together, can achieve magnificent things.

On the eve of the #Oct20 march in London, organised by the British Trades Union Congress against the foolish austerity policies of our present trench-warfare politicians, isn’t it time that those of us who would prefer to imagine other worlds to the one we seem to be entering choose, instead, to stand up for what we believe in?

Isn’t it time to demonstrate human beings are far more when they work together?

Isn’t it time to evidence the fact that we are all on the same side?

*

Three final questions then, before I finish this impassioned – and perhaps foolish – appeal for sense and sensibility.

The first, to reiterate the title of this post.  The second, essentially asking for some feedback to try and understand whether I am entirely alone.  The third, looking to progress the matter beyond the immobility of our current political and business classes:

  1. Can anyone point to anyone out there who’s honestly happy with how this world is currently turning out?
  2. Does anything of what I’ve said above resonate with anyone at all?
  3. And if the answer to the latter is a “yes” of any sorts, what can reasonably be done next to improve matters?

One final thought.  If you think the ideas contained in this post, written late on a Friday night when I should’ve been working in an otherwise gainfully employed manner, are worth spreading, sharing and generally drawing to the attention of others … well, please do so.  We can’t do anything as individuals, that is true.  But individuals who respect other individuals, and learn to share common and dignified objectives whilst they do so, can move those metaphorical mountains that – right now – impede a proper and civilised progress.

A Freedom app to liberate us from the trench warfare of early 21st century business and politics?  Why not?

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Oct 192012
 
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I finally tracked it down.  That Denis Healey quote on social democracy.  Only it wasn’t quite Denis Healey’s – rather, it was a favourite one he borrowed from Leszek Kolakowski:

“An obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering, oppression, hunger, wars, racial and national hatred, insatiable greed and vindictive envy”.

The link above is dated 2009, and marks Kolakowski’s death.  Not long after the consequences of the financial-services sector’s stupidities began to hit home.  And not long before New Labour finally found its half-hearted match in this dreadful Coalition government.

I used to be a fan of that quote too.  Not any more.  In the light of the last four years, it would seem far more likely that social democracy had an important veneer of the social but very little of the democracy.  Its top-down elitist approach to the use of number-crunched stats, of nudging voters’ behaviours, of saying one thing but doing another, of being comfortable with extreme wealth and ameliorating with extreme poverty, only suggests to me that if anything we need yet another rebrand: not Old Labour, not New Labour, not Black Labour, not Purple Labour – but, instead, so we understand exactly what’s been going wrong, a social undemocracy.

“How so?” you may well ask.

Watch and listen to Sean Taylor’s song.

http://youtu.be/jLgBMusgD1U

Now tell me that – under a supposed social democracy, under that “obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering, oppression, hunger, wars, racial and national hatred, insatiable greed and vindictive envy” – we don’t have perfectly exemplified as a result of thirteen years of its practice a government which is promoting all of the above.

And as a result of the aforementioned thirteen years of squeamish compromise and devil-supping politics, it would seem clear that the voters couldn’t make up their minds whether – one way or another – anything had been properly achieved.

The reason for the existence of this awful government which tomorrow’s march in London hopes to combat isn’t principally an evil neoliberalism from the other side of the Atlantic.  Rather, it’s a social democracy which was anything but sensibly democratic.

They didn’t win it.  It was we who lost it.

Before we can move on, before we can repair sadly breaking structures, we have to accept that what we prized as an honourable way forward was precisely what allowed the greed and injustice to flourish on our watch.

Sort that out – and we’ll be far better placed to fight the injustices of latterday society.

Make democracy social and democratic.

Those should be our twin objectives.

The instinct to demonstrate publicly one’s position on such important matters being just the first step along that journey.

Good luck to everyone involved in tomorrow’s march.  I wish you well.

Democracy requires us all to bear witness to our ways of seeing.  And that, in essence, is all you are doing.  Democracy.

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