Monday, 30 December 2013

Just Wondering About The Re-Evolution....

Re-Evolution 13 : Makeshift 2013

Just Wondering About The Re-Evolution

Thinking about the idea of 'capitalism', it is difficult to imagine that it won't always be around? It is like the telephone, how many would have predicted, other than the most visionary sci-fi writer, that one day we would walk around making calls on cordless cell phones from absolutely anywhere in the world?

I don't know why, but it came as a surprise to me that capitalism has been around for a really long time. The label 'capitalism' emerges around the 1860's, though the word, apparently, was used around 1848 - 1849 but only became currency in the 1860's.

Some believe capitalism per se, as a system, emerged as long as 500 years ago.

Of course, as a system of market exchange and profit making it has evolved, so when we speak about 'capitalism' we are actually referring to a group of 'capitalisms' as it has changed over time.

But that is the important point, it is only a people manufactured system so it can be sculpted, changed and altered as it unravels - yes we are a long way from the stream engine and, interestingly, within touching distance of the cashless society. Mobile phones, for example, are already taking trade from games consoles ( a relatively new technology). Amazing to think, that in some locations, and with technology adjusted mobile phones, you can even buy a cup of coffee without cash or credit card.

This had me thinking that what we are experiencing in the USA and the UK and, in fact, across the globe, is the beginnings of a readjustment and not, the much trumpeted, recovery smug politicians are always telling us about.

Two things immediately strike me.

One : Huge companies once employed giant workforces, now gigantuan businesses by market capitalisation don't always employ giant workforces. Google, for example, is worth $373.64 billion but only employs some 46,000 souls while General Motors (market capitalisation $56.8 billion) who have had such a traumatic times since the recession of 2008, still employs over 170,000 people. Apple, another example, with a market capitalisation $503.93b only employs 80,000, while the Ford motor company still employs some 213,000 but only has a market capitalisation of $60.38 billion. Blackberry had a market capitalisation of around $80 billion back in 2008, as of September 2013 it is now worth $4.3 billion. In September 2013 they laid off 4,500 from 12,700 and once employed 20,000.

Two : The configuration of the labour market in advanced western economies is also changing (re-adjusting). More and more people are working on temporary, freelance, sub-contract, part-time or zero hours agreements and less are now plugged into traditional contracts which covered holidays, sickness and pensions. There is an increasing mantra in these developed societies that continually explain that welfare, healthcare and pensions are no longer affordable. Cutting across this, the traditional job is disappearing and with it the former certainties of millions of middle class workers. New technological advances ( as always), demographics and leverage are all regurgitated by lacklustre governments as the reason for these automatic and very necessary re-alignments.

Both the above, need, of course, to be examined closer to discover if we are really entering a re-evolution, which I think we are. But time is against me as I sit with a primo Americano in Costa Coffee at Central 12, Southport.

The young girl who served me earlier approaches.
"Excuse me sir" she says in a high pitched voice. "Just to let you know because of re-adjustment, from next week a Primo Americano will now cost two hubcaps, but if you paint the front of my house you can have two Lattes and one Ristretto."

"I need me bedroom wallpapered," an old lady to my rights states. "It's worth an Americano Grande and a raspberry and almond slice for you to do it."
"I can fix your car for a couple of Expressos!" A middle-aged man shouts his offer as he jumps to his feet.
"I have three Batman comics from the 1970's, for anyone who will buy me a Cortado!" a young lady with a child in her arms calls out as she clmabers to her feet.
The room falls momentarily silent before people are leaping to their feet and shouting at each other across the room.
"Two Cortados!"

Later the Financial Times made interesting reading. Batman comics of the 1970's had moved up to two Cortados and a Cappuccino, while wallpapering a front room was now worth two Grande Americanos and a raspberry and almond slice...mmmmmm.  Hub caps, unfortunately, had passed their peak and fell by two Lattes....

(Written in Costa Coffee, Central 12 ,Southport, December 30, 2013.  Wishing you all the very best for 2014)

Thursday, 26 December 2013

And So This Is Christmas...

Return Of The Ice Hare : Makeshift 2013

And, so this is Christmas/2014 And All That.....

And, so this is Christmas and what?...war is over? ...People are joining hands and what?...Dancing around a circle as one?... Are united in liberty, fraternity, equality?

John Lennon's words may be visionary but as we move toward 2014 Syria, South Sudan and, of course, Ukraine are all showing unrest. We always hope for these things, war being over and people having resolved their differences but we know even Father Christmas can't bring us that.
Image of a rather large man in white trimmed red suit sitting looking despondent shrugging 'Well I tried, believe me folks I tried'.

Unfortunately, we know in the year to come, people will still go hungry despite there being plenty of food in the world, the homeless will not be provided with shelter despite there being plenty of empty homes and the impoverished will still have to carry the burden of austerity despite the fact that there is plenty of cash sloshing around ( and not only in David Cameron's pockets) bankers will still pick up 30 per cent bonuses and politicians will take their 10 per cent plus cut.

Of course, neither can we blame starvation, homelessness and poverty on people who don't work hard or are, somehow, less intelligent than others.

Last week I reminded you all that huge armies of people in work in the USA have to depend on public assistance. A similar situation also exists in the UK where many people who have jobs still have to depend on welfare to get by.

Next year I plan to do more work on my thesis that the UK, in particular, but the USA as well are both on the road to 'readjustment' and not 'recovery' and in 2014 I want to tell you why.

And, before we mention it people are not hungry, impoverished or
homeless because they are no - smart, unemployment among graduates has never been so high, but really there are number of luck factors involved. Right place, right time sort of thing.

The people who live by Jakarta's grabage dump at Bantar Gebang work on and around the fly-infested rubbish tip from morning to night, seven days a week. They build their homes from materials scavenged from the dump, before the bulldozers arrive, and feed their families and themselves from the meagre daily pickings they get from working out there.

They are not lazy, they can't afford to be, and they will never, ever, have access to proper education so we can't tell if they are smart or no - smart.

Their situation is not something they happily volunteered for pre-birth.

"I want to be born into a family who lives by the rubbish mountain at Bantar Gebang...please!"

From all the possible families they could have been born into - and the possibilities are almost infinite pre-conception - they become the sons and daughters of the people of Bantar Gebang and their infinite possibilities pre-conception become finite post-birth.

So, from any possible combination of parents taken from the billions of people on the planet, at any time, in any period anywhere, they become : 'An Individual Born At A Particular Time In A Particular Period Of History In A Particular Geographical Location' - and probably within a particular religious grouping.

What do you say to that Santa?

"Ughhh? Well, let me think" shrugs shoulders. "Erm...."

Thought so.
 (Written on a train travelling south to Liverpool Boxing Day 2013)

Sunday, 22 December 2013

What If...

Look What Santa Brought : Makeshift 2013


In a funny way, I kind of feel the world can be such an absurd place. Sometimes, I am convinced the way the socio-politico-economic universe glides on and evolves is somewhat surreal. I have never been convinced of the argument that economics is a science but rather, like our global financial system, it is, in fact, an art.

Master that my friends and you - master the universe - thank you Tom Wolfe ( author of Bonfire of the Vanities, fantastic read and recommended if you haven't already worked your way through it.)

I like thinking about these kind of complex features, these really intricate nuances of existence and I like to think sometimes way out beyond the universe to other places, social, political and economic....

So, you sometimes have to think, what if?

What if the world suddenly lost all of its power sources?

Outages are nothing new, of course, but can you imagine if suddenly, in the middle of a blizzard ( let's crank up the tension here) everything failed, but not only failed, but never ever actually return. No more power of any description at all?
The lights on the Christmas tree blink off, the family gathered around the modern shrine of the television utters a collective 'awwww'. 'It is not Christmas without the Christmas lights' you might mumble to yourself. This all happens as we are gathered around that magic box, and then just at our favourite part of our favourite sit-com, when the star prepares to deliver his most famous, belly-laugh catchphrase...'Well bless old'...everything is reduced to absolute blackness.

In that instant, we might have been typing a rather long and rambling email to a distant friend we have not heard from for years...'damn' we'd probably hiss having just lost all that effort.

Pubs everywhere would fall momentarily silent as everyone thought at the same time what's happened? Football (soccer) games would have to be abandoned as floodlights failed.

The whole world goes into meltdown, including the cell and land phone apparatus. Text fingers working at the speed of light to no avail as every battery in every mobile phone is rendered useless. Neither will there be anymore deliveries of petrol...

Cars would become rusting sculptures to what was. Their streamlined features pointing, in muted fashion, to a new, unknown tomorrow.

Without power there will be no more email, text, television. No more brand advertisements, no more sickly sentimental and multi-million pound John Lewis ads at Christmas with bears and hares and sweet little, innocent, tearjerking, children who plead to get what they want with a really schmaltzy twist and it all works, it really does. In fact it is quite brilliant.

The adverts start a stampede. People in their droves rush off to John Lewis as if their frontal lobotomies depend on it and willingly part with their hard earned wonga.

"No, please John Lewis Saleperson, take my cash - I simply love that little animated cartoon of the bear and the hare - I'll have that coffee maker please, just think John that will do Auntie Bessie."

"Look at the price of it woman, £864!" John the husband replies in alarm.
"Oh John! Don't be a grouch, she'll love it! It has come from John Lewis, and you know you can't get better than that, it is written all over their ads. I think the bear and the hare one is my favourite." and then she sings a few bars of Somewhere Only We Know , "Isn't that just wonderful?"

Without power we would be reduced to depend on fire for light and warmth. We would have none of our modern technologies which make our lives so much easier, no white goods like microwaves, washing machines, fridges, or entertainment and communications equipment, music would stop playing unless, of course, it was live.

The coloured lights that flicker across computer screens would black out...the market capitalisation of Google would go from $367.70 billion (£224.97 billion, €268.84) to zero in a split micro-second. Stocks and shares would no longer exist, they would be gone in a flash.

"What was the latest price on Starbucks? Hey buddy, latest price on Starbucks, say what ? You are saying $77.66 (£47.51,€56,78) are you sure... I mean how are we going to check that out?"

Would there be violence? Looters raiding retail outlets for what? Stealing the latest gaming consoles, the Xbox One? Plasma televisions? Don't you think that's just a bit shortsighted, if not weird, even for thieves?

Without power there would be no more leverage, all computerised records would be gone. At last the damn house belongs to us and there is no bank breathing down our necks, there is no longer any record of a mortgage... Who would bother flicking through paper to find out?

Would we need money? If...

In the darkness of your home, you shiver in the cold, pull an extra coat around you, stare out your front room window at the snow falling. In your sleeping bag you fall asleep to wake on Christmas morning and open your presents.

"This one's from Aunt Gillian," You tell your partner.
"What have you got?"
"An? Electric toothbrush..." You groan in the realisation you won't be able to use it....
"Oh that's nice..."
"And you?"
"A DVD..." Your partner frowns, you look at each other.

And say in unison - "Useless"- and throw your presents down and sigh...

Outside, in the snow, two mice shelter from the biting wind near to an empty plant pot.

"What's the drama?" One says to the other. "What are all these humans whinging about?"
"I don't know, all they ever do is moan, so the lights went out so what? You haven't got an Xbox have you Roberto?"
"No senor, never had one..."
"Well then...Merry Christmas Roberto"
"Feliz Navidad, Miguel."

(Can't promise that our philosophical mice will re-appear. Written at home 21/22 December between Christmas shopping.
"Excuse me" I call over the sales assistant, frustrated because I can't find what I am looking for. "Have you got that really expensive perfume with the price pumped up eight-fold because a z-list celebrity puts their name to it?"
The sales assistant thinks for a moment. "Ah, you mean ; 'You Can Fool The Public All The Time'?"
"That's the one!" I clap my hands in delight. "Yes, that's it, my wife loves it." ")


Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmas Apple, Nike and Starbucks Are Alright Tonight

Sovereighn Entities

What are corporate entities?

Empires, artificial, evolving, organic, creatures, a hybrid of the two? probably, but, in essence, huge monlothic centres of the global economy. Gargantuan, predatory, mammoth-sized beasts that roam the dark, capitalist forest in search of consumers to gobble up - how very Roald Dahl.

They are banks, retailers, manufacturing plants, financial services companies, multi-disciplined units, anything that makes money for its shareholders. In fact the root of the word comes from the Latin corporatus, to form into a body.

We recognise them as logos, slogans, expensive mind-catching ads that drill deep into our psyche and force, often involuntary, movements from wallet to them.

Brands like Apple Inc - with the original sin logo of the bite out of the apple - Nike with the iconic throwaway Swoosh and 'Just Do it' ; Starbucks and their sexy, secutive mermaid and backward linkage to Herman Mellville's Moby Dick classic and their 'Share the warmth' 2013 Christmas campaign - homelessness ends here! Nice thought Mr Schultz.

These are all representative symbols of the corporation's identity that circumscribe corporate personality, character and qualities. They identify with us, rather than the other way around and lock us in to a world which we 'imagine' is the way we would want things to be, the way, indeed, things, accoding to our brand of the moment, should be. It is illusory but extremely potent, hitting us in our memory banks and our vision of what might be or could have been or what should be.

The corporations live with us in our micro-universe, touching our hearts with £7 million ( $11.4, € 8.3 million) persuasive, animated, sentimental bear and hare advertisements. Mini movies that resonate and represent, somehow, a perfect, sickly reality that we (somehow) feel we should all strive for. They always have that Hollywood happy ending!

I must say I have never, ever, experienced a happy Disneyesque Christmas as portrayed on TV, but like everyone, everywhere would love to enjoy one! A Christmas where my working life and the financial realities of just breathing are a million miles from my thoughts ( as if!). Who doesn't count the cost in the New Year?

Happy New Year, hey wait a second, wait a second, just got my Sickly Sweet Happy Bank statement - the bank that always says YES and does all these wonderful things for people, nothing is ever any problems to us Sir, it says on the ads - Anyway I have just received my bank statement, this can't be right...what's this extra charge for? And this one?

Sickly Sweet Bank of Neverland : we will always be there for you

Nevertheless, we are locked into happy fast food, family orientated vignettes that tell us 'We're loving it', where the family drool over exciting foodstuffs and grandpa falls asleep ( which is cute). Smiling-faced kids and their open toothy mouths prepare to bite into large, juicy-looking burgers ( we never actually see them eat the food, or if they do it seems as if they are chewing cotton wool they are enjoying the food so much, mmmm!).

Yet, while we are being fed all this honey-sweet hedonism, large numbers of the 700,000 fast food workers who operate at over 14,000 McDonald's restaurant in America are signing up for the new Service Employees International Union.

In the USA alone the industry employs something like 4 million people so the union has a huge potential catchment, and already claims 2.1 million members.

But before Americans can say 'what's that got to do with me or the price of my burger, man?' - it is worth reminding ourselves that around $7 billion to $8 billion ( £4.3/4.9 billion, €5.1/5.8 billion) of their money was paid into public assistance for fast food worker's and their families between 2007 and 2011. So, the average American citizen is basically, subsidising huge companies like McDonald's who pulled in $1.5 billion (£1 billion, €1.1 billion) in profits in the third quarter of this year and realised overall revenues of $27.5 billion (£16.8 billion, €20 billion) in 2012 ( thank you for your support people of America).

Part of the reason the mad admen of gargantuan corporate entities can pull off such wonderful campaigns - cue music, something to bring a tear Bright Eyes? Walking In The Air? with appropriate animated movie about little furry animals and big soppy bearesque creatures tugging at the wallet...sorry..heart strings...

Did I say wallet? Can't believe I said that!

(Written in Kimbles, St Enoch Centre Glasgow and Starbucks, West Nile Street, Friday 13, 2013. My next act is to contact Howard Schultz and ask him about his Share the Warmth Starbucks campaign.)

Sunday, 8 December 2013

In George Square

People of the Christmas Time : Makeshift Studios

Dateline : December 7, 1.00pm, Glasgow.

While walking across Glasgow's George Square, I came to thinking about how people's lives cut across the global financial system, or - more correctly - the how the global financial system cuts across all our lives.

As I walked toward Queen Street train station, people around me, all of them with their own purpose in mind, seemed to be focused on their own personal microworlds.

"What shall I give Auntie Cora for Chrstmas. I know, hoiw about fingerless mittens. But didn't I get her fingerless mittens last year?"

I wondered what was driving them. Could it be work, travel, Christmas shopping, lunch, drugs? All of which, had one thing in common, money or 'a cost'.

They will have worked out in their own minds how much cash they will need for what they intended to do.

If they were working they might be headed for a meeting somewhere in the city and be heading there on foot, which means their cost will be nil. They might, of course, pick up a newspaper and, perhaps, a snack or coffee on the way over so they might, indeed invest a couple of pounds in the local economy as they shift ground. The guy observed was also linked by discrete earphones to music so, technically, there had been some previous costs related to his existence - perhaps a Christmas present from last year.

Of course, they might have been heading to the rail station to catch a train so they will have either previously purchased a ticket, or intend to pick one up at the station. Depending on where they were headed there might be a significant cost involved, especially if they are travelling some distance, to Aberdeen, Inverness or even beyond.

Christmas shopping, I think we can all agree, is a financailly pressurised period, that has us all cash paranoid and on the point of breakdown. It is a period of the year that turns normally sensible people into jibbering wrecks, normally sedate individuals into rudely, gesturing, eyeball-straining psychos - you get the picture?

Lunch is not free and neither are drugs to purchase on the street.

My point is that all this is happening all around us as we move through the crowds of people walking the streets of our cities.

Here, in George Square, were people from all walks of life going about their everyday business and I wondered what was on their minds.

I could have, as photographer Gillian Wearing once did in a famous series of images, whipped out my camera, stopped people in the street, handed out large placards and asked them to write on the board what was on their minds at that precise point in time.

In this 'confessional' series (Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say ) Wearing's subjects duly obliged. A police officer wrote one word 'Help' on his placard, while a homeless man scribbled 'I signed on and they would not give me nothing'. A middle -class man wrote 'I'm desperate', while a shabbily dressed young man wrote 'Everything is connected in life'.

Which brings me neatly back to our entanglement in this far expanding global financial universe which is all inter-connected to us, individually and collectively.

It fascinates me that a company called Alladin, for example, tends to a Milky Way of 6000 hot computers which, in turn and together, holds the assets for nearly 200 pension funds, banks,insurance companies, asset - management companies and so on. Trillions of dollars of capital.

"Hey what's this plug for...?"
"Aaaaah, Moorcroft don't touch that...!"
"Sorry Angelo, Looks like it's came loose and...fell out of the wall socket... and what's happened to that lovely humming sound of those 6000 computers."

Late into the night Moorcroft and Angelo are sat at a desk with piles of scraps of paper littered around them.

"The United Farmers and Allied Trades of America pension fund" Angelo muses, lifting a scrap of paper and taking a note. "Mmmm let's say that's their five dollars. I'll write that down...five dollars..."
"Okay, but that means the Ancient French and Neopolitan Insurance Company, otherwise known as AFNIC, are down by seven bucks?"
"Let me think here..."

Every possibility that my insurance company or pension fund is being looked after by this internet platform... and every possibility that every one of those people milling around me in George Square will in some way to be connected to that giant cyberspace hive up in Washington State.

Now let me tell you about the Acxiom corporation....
(Written in Glasgow, and Edinburgh. December 7 to December 8)

Thursday, 5 December 2013

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out : Makeshift Studios 2013

In Edinburgh as night falls, and in the soft glow of red, blue and yellow Christmas lights, a man with the aura of Jesus approaches. Tall, bearded, with long flowing hair, his clothes grubby and ragged around the edges, he leads a little dark dog with a maroon coat.

Around us, the capital is alive with the sounds, smells and noise of the festive season. Fairground rides are busy with eager thrillseekers, the big wheel is packed and a queue is already forming for the next spin, the German market is enjoying a trading bonanza and everywhere people seem to be having fun.

'Daddy can I have train set for Christmas?' a youngster pleads with his father.
'You'll have to write to Santa little Johnny,' the man explains to the child.
'But I don't believe in Father Christmas!' The boy says petulantly.
'Then you won't get any toys at all then will you?'

Little Johnny looks horrified and bemused, simultaneously wide-eyed then frowning, as his father leads him by the hand through the crowds.

As he arrives, the man, with deep, dark, dead, pleading eyes offers me the obligatory Starbucks cup. He shakes the few coins and watches me closley.

'Can ye spare any change buddy?' He says quietly.

He is the outsider, the one our financial system was not designed to help, the needs of capitalism are not the same as the needs of people. You can only eat and/or have a roof over your head if you have the cash flow to allow you to do that.

Capitalismo does not fret if you sit at home wondering where you are going to find the money for the rent, your next meal, Christmas. The Royal Bank of Scotland does not lie awake at night if you are hungry and on the street without shelter in the storm. Whatever you may think, It just doesn't work like that.

The people who work for the above organisation (RBS), on the other hand, are obliged by law to increase the profits of the company to benefit their shareholders. That's how it, quite simply, operates, not to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless but to fatten up the wallets of the wealthy.
Think about this.

We know, for example, that the USA alone produces enough food to feed the world seven times over, nevertheless children and adults still starve and wander the streets without a home. Photographer Adrian Markis has taken a poignant series of images of homeless women and their children on the Streets of Buenas Aires, but that is part of the fall out of the global financial system.

Multi-roomed homes often go empty for weeks, months, even years and still the homeless on the streets of the UK and the USA are increasing. Men and women exposed to winter's harshest weather when homes devoid of people lie water and wind tight with nobody home.

It would be foolish to consider capitalismo as everyone's friend, it was not designed and developed to meet the needs of people but simply to continually increase margins at an ever accelerating rate by any means.

In this capitalismo universe the stretch between the fabulously wealthy and the precariat, the marginalised and the dispossessed is measured in light years and it is gravity (debt) that it is built on.

Despite the fact that the world's largest banks are being forced to pay fines for various misdemeanours - the last 12 months has cost the biggest financial brands billions - the average UK banker has enjoyed a 30 per cent raise in salary, while RBS have announced a £500 million pot for its executives bonuses.

I place the coin in the man's cup just as it starts to snow. A cold wind whips across St Andrew's Square, a drunk man singing a Christmas Carol, 'Good King Wenceslas' in a slurred voice staggers toward the St James Centre.

The Jesus figure thanks me and begins to melt into the night, his large shadow moving slowly toward Princes Street, the dog tottering behind his master.

'The energy companies, ye have to admit,' he stops, turns and calls back to me with the afterthought. 'Are not in business to heat hooses or light them up.'

He paused, his dark eyes piercing into mine.

'They're in business to make cash. The fact that they heat hooses and provide light, is really neither here or there. Think about it, there is a subtle difference.'

'Right,' I said absently and watched as he walked off, trying desperately to get my head around what he'd just said.

(Written in Starbucks, West Nile Street, Glasgow and Starbucks, High Street, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, between December 1 and 5, 2013. I wanted to thank Starbucks for providing so many polystyrene collecting cups to homeless people everywhere.)

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Comfort and Joy

Oh Little Star Of Capitalismo : Makeshift Studios 2013

We travel from Glasgow to Edinburgh, safe in the knowledge that executive bankers earning over £1 million ( $1.6 million, €1.2 million ) have increased their salary by 30 per cent in the last 12 months.

As we arrive, we also notice that the Scottish capital is preparing for Christmas. Crowds of Christmas shoppers on the streets seem determined to hit me with their bags as we push our way through toward Leith Walk, the coffee shops are packed and a big red Santa Claus - complete with beard, red 'Coca-Cola' coloured suit and black boots - rings a big clanging bell to attract consumers to a department store.

We also notice the street lights in the shape of snowflakes and stars that dangle above our heads, a German market with carnival big wheel and fairground rides, a woman with a pop-up kiosk by the steps of Waverley rail station hands out Watchtower leaflets and other Christian literature ( I don't think Jehovah's Witnesses celebrate Christmas, do they?)

Somewhere in the distance we hear the gentle sounds of Christmas carols to brass, as we pass churches complete with nativity scenes in holy green, saintly blue and angelic gold.

We happen to be in Edinburgh for the hit show The Lion King, the tickets cost £63 ($103.7, €75.8) each, we queue, buy the souvineers, buy small tubs of ice cream at a jaw dropping £4 ($6.5, €4.8) a throw, the same price as the obligatory programme. The Playhouse theatre is filled with the echo of children calling to their parents for expensive merchandise and the tills, like tills alll over the Scottish capital are tinkling the festive season - Ker - ching.

By the time we leave the Playhouse theatre, it is dark and Edinburgh has a new look.

We walk back toward the city centre bathed in the beauty of the magnificent architecture around St James Centre, the wonderful pedestrian bridge across Leith Street (some might disagree) and all the beauty and colours of sparking Christmas lights and the winter city at night.

People, of course, are still shopping, maxing out credit cards and spending cash if that will hold back the demons who live in the shadows of all this glitter, consumer ritual and Christianity. The ATM's are in meltdown and have turned their back on the world as they teeter on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Mine comes ( my nervous breakdown) when I can't find my way back to the St James Centre mall from the huge John Lewis store.

Back on Princes Street I notice the silhouettes in the doorways. As I walk I count four spectres huddled against the creeping cold, blankets around them and of the four, three have dogs with them.

They all hold ironic, little, polystyrene Starbucks cups in their frozen hands. I hunker beside the first shadow, a 29 year-old man in a grey hoodie, and gently ask him about his plight. He looks at me with empty eyes and laughs ironically. He had, he told me, been living with his girlfriend in Dalkeith. He was made redundant from his job and try as he might could not face a replacement, though, he did say, he managed to find a temporary post at one point for a few weeks. Unable to find a regular income, the relationship became strained and because he had given up his flat to go and live in his new girlfriend's accommodation, he was forced to leave.

With hindsight, he agrees, it might have been foolish to give up his own flat, but he did add that for a year or so and certainly while he was working, things were going okay. Once they had split up, he had no family and no one to help him, so found himself on the street.

The second homeless man I spoke with, a few years younger than the first, told me a different, though similar story. He admitted to being a habitual heavy drinker and his relationship fell apart around his problems with alcohol. His wife left him and he was so devastated he gave up his work and then found himself unable to pay for his flat and was thrown onto the street.

'You know the ironic thing is' he started as I made to move off ' I don't even drink anymore, I can't afford it.'

As I walked back up Princes Street amid the colour and crowds of impending Christmas I could hear people singing ' Oh tidings of comfort and joy' carried from a department store to the right of me.

Edinburgh, beautiful and pregnant with Christmas which, in these modern times, is more about capital than Christianity. A commercial bonanza that increasingly dances around cash and an illusory and short-lived hedonism.

Later speaking with friends about the meaning of Christmas one remarked that if Jesus were alive today he would be too poor to take part in his own festival.

'Remember', he added 'He was born homeless, no room at the Inn.'

It struck a chord... 

Friday, 29 November 2013


Fakebook Seven : Makeshift Studios 2013

Travelling north into Glasgow on a City-Link
 Travelling north into Glasgow on a City-Link Express bus from Manchester, I discovered we were gridlocked in early Christmas traffic. To banish the eternal boredom, as we crawled along the M77, I wondered how many brands of car I could name simply by their logo.

Soon I have spotted BMW, Mercedes, Fiat, Renault, Citreon's chevrons, Hyundai, Mazda, Peugeot's lion, Ford, Vauxhall, Honda, Toyota, Daewoo, Chrysler, Ssangyong, Nissan, Land Rover, Volkswagon, Audi.

I decide to extend the game to brands carried on trucks as they trundled sluggishly along. Several supermarkets, Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda and Morrisons and Eddie Stobart, Lamberts and W.H. Malcolm passed on either side of the motorway.

In 20 minutes I counted around 60 brands and that had me thinking that in one hour I would be exposed to 180 logos and coporate symbols. In a day that could add up to something like 3000 ish, if we take off eight hours for sleeping, which means we will could be exposed to some 21,000 brands a week, and around an amazing 1 million brand symbols, logos and slogans in a year.

Of course, not all of these brand insignia will be different and many brands will repeat. How many times in a day will we walk past a Starbucks in a city?

But, it had me thinking about the immense power of the brand graffiti that surrounds us as we move around the metropolis, watch television, drive, work, read our newspapers and magazines.

My calculations, of course, come with a government health warning, they are by no means scientific. I have simply extrapolated numbers from 20 minutes observation on a bus, nevertheless the sheer possibility of the numbers is mind-grabbing.

Having eventually arrived in the city I travelled on foot to West Nile Street, past
Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Caffe Nero all in close proximity to each other - you could see I had something on my mind - and manage to count an amazing one hundred brands belonging to city businesses in a ten minute walk....what am I doing with my life?

I bought a magazine full of ads and brands at W.H. Smith and then walked past a vendor selling The Sun ( the newspaper not that huge ball of light in the dull, gunmetal sky overhead) by the corner of Gordon and Union Street.

'Never mind the newspaper mate' he said winking and pointing skyward. 'I'll sell you that great yellowish-orange ball of light above the clouds for ten quid (£10)!
'What? Jees that's a bargain, done mate' I agree pulling out my wallet. 'Have you got a rope or something connected to it so I can take it home? I could imagine that in the corner of my bedroom, sit nice beside the wardrobe.'

A little further on a guy in front of me, carrying a Karriemor rucksack, called to a friend, who turned to see who had shouted after him and I immediately noticed his North Face jacket. I looked to cross the street and a bus trundled off down Union Street. Staring out at me from the rear of the coach was 1970's punk star Iggy Pop now using his celebrity to push unsurance for Swiftcover.

Later, in Starbucks, my cold hands wrapped around an Americano and the famous mermaid logo - now with the 'Starbucks' name removed (the symbol is now enoiugh for this iconic brand to be recognised) I watched as a young man punched the keys of his Apple laptop keyboard. I knew it was an Apple laptop by the 'quasi-religious apple with the bite taken out of it' insignia, reminding us all, especially at Christmas, that we are all...what...sinners? Think Adam and Eve and that fated set of teeth biting into the soft, juicy, apple...oh dear, 'A', what have you done?

The girl to my right in the coffee shop speaking with her friend wore a brightly coloured, almost garish, Addidas top and I overheard her mention that she hoped her boyfriend had bought her Opium ( Yves Saint Laurent's perfume not the drug) for Christmas.

I realised, as I sat there, that Glasgow - like every other city on the planet - was no more than the centre of a great universe of brands. No matter where you went or what you did you just couldn't escape from corporate insignia, images, slogans - The Power of Dreams, Just Do It, Saving The World From Mediocre Coffee.

There seemed to be an imperative for businesses and enterprises to hot wire their images, slogans and symbols deep into the brains of consumers. A subtle sleight-of-hand that penetrated way beyond the conscious to the very soul of our existential beings.

Maybe we are now no more than brand zombies defined by the designer label attached to our clothes and belongings.

He's an Apple guy, she's a Radley bag girl really, though her friend is more of a rainbow Adidas top, Nike bottomed, Puma trainers sports junkie.

Human? God no, forget that, we're an evolving species bombarded to a brandified stupor in a great corporate game of natural selection. Get over it...

Sunday, 24 November 2013


Fakebook Nation : Makeshift Studios

Someday, we will all live in the virtual world (we are half ways there already). When that day arrives there will be little reason for us to rise from our chairs and venture out into the external world. We will spend our days following virtual footprints on our laptops, palm-tops, tablets, smartphones, glass, transparent surface receivers (TSR's)....

But then...

It was a random thought. One of those 'what if' moments.... So, 'what if' I made up a few names and then checked them out to see if they appeared on Facebook? Yeah, I thought, it's plausible, but why would I do that? To prove the amazing interconnectivity of modern life and see where such an adventure in cyberspace took me? Maybe.

Random names actually came quite easily.

I was lying awake in the early morning in a little village called Great Broughton in the English Lakes. Randomly I thought of the name T.H. I had made a name up out of nothing, it was the first thing that leapt into my mind and several others followed. I wrote them all down on a notepad I keep by my bedside. This was my starting point now I had to find out if I could find them on the internet, if they did exist, and especially Facebook.

Downstairs with a cup of coffee by my side and the dog at my feet I started to check out my first random creation - T.H. - to discover if he had a cyberspace existence.

The whole enterprise had the feel of a Mary Shelley novel. I was Victor Frankenstein bringing by own subconscious monster to life (hopefully) but without the violence or torchbearing villagers showing up at the door.

I had worked out that there may, indeed, be more than one T.H. and decided that if that were the case I would take the first one I came to and disregard the rest. In the event there were 24 Facebook entries bearing the name T.H. It was not that common but neither was it totally obscure. John Smith, I had already realised, would have been a bad idea.

I wanted to find out what I could discover about random people, and, in this case, people I had created myself. I do have experience of tracking down sources, researching and finding things out so, naturally, I wanted to find out as much information as I could about the random T.H..

To be honest the first T.H. I came to turned out to be a cartoonist and writer from Blackpool, Lancashire, now living in Hyde, Tameside. I soon had this gentleman's details, postal and email address and I had a rough idea of his age and also knew there was a fairly good chance I could nail this too If I had wanted to.

It is worth reminding people that I have about as much knowledge of the internet and cyberspace as the average person, but there are search techniques that can be used to find people from the information they leave lying around on the internet. Sometimes it is as simple as picking up a few clues and following them.

Of course, now that I had tracked my random creation down, the logical step, I thought, was to make contact.

I wrote an email explaining, or, at least, trying to explain what I was doing and how I had chosen his name at random and invited him to provide us with a quote for the blog. The email was written late on Friday evening, and I realise that it might be, or is, a business email and he might not even pick up until Monday morning - but I wll keep you informed.

At the same time, I couldn't help but wonder what he would make of my intrusion into his life, this random creation of mine who, as it turns out, actually exists ( in fact there are 24 of them on Fakebook - sorry, typo, Facebook). I was curious and wondered how he would read this slightly madcap email I had written him.

Hi! ...I randomly selected your name from my head and decided...

Maybe he thinks I am a little unhinged....or one of those Nigerian 419 scammers...

As I sat in the kitchen with my laptop open and T.H.'s details before me, I decided to think of an even more random name, a more difficult name, a more obscure random friend.

I thought, J.C. and chuckled to myself, it was a name probably lifted subconsciously from a Robert Louis Stevenson tale, a mad pirate who hunts treasure across the oceans of the world. It was, I have to admit, fiendishly outlandish and an unlikely title for anyone to have. I would be surprised if I even came close to finding anyone by that name. I googled, still chuckling to myself, it is a great name but no one...

My mouth dropped open, there was one entry, that's all. I followed the trail, J.C., I soon discover, is a poet from White Plains, New York.

I pinch myself to make sure I am awake, the dog whimpers...looks up at me his eyes pleading...yes, I agree with him, this is getting scary...

By now, however, November has spawned a monster. The big tree outside sways in the breeze and casts a huge shadow on the kitchen wall of the cottage. What if I wrote down christian names, Jane, Mary, Faith, Andy, Philip, Alan, Hayleigh, Marion, John... and then some surnames, McKenzie, Bloomberg, Carson, Ramires, Bostock, Collins, Fisher, Gill... mix them up, close my eyes and select them blindly...  Now, that really would be random...

Buster, the dog, covered his eyes, whimpered and slid under the kitchen table. 'Don't involve me' he was obviously thinking.

(No response yet from T.H. but let's see what happens)

Sunday, 17 November 2013


An Unimaginable Dip In The Curvature Of The Hare Universe : Makeshift 2013
You have it, at last, in your hand. The latest Apple iPhone 5 S. Holding it aloft, to let everyone one around have a good look at your latest status symbol. You wave to your friend and call out 'I'll give you a call!' They give you the thumbs up but you pretend she hasn't heard you and you wave your phone again - yes folks it's an Apple iPhone 5 S : 'A call! I'll give you a call!'

You notice the reaction of the people on a passing bus, their eyes widen, they are all mouthing WOW! Even the bus driver, mesmerised by the new phone, almost runs into the rear of a car that has stopped at traffic lights, only managing to brake in time before causing a collision.

Apple Of Your Eye

But, then, how exactly did that phone get into your hand? What journey did it take, who was involved in putting it together, how does that interconnectiviity take place?
The iconic iPhone is produced by US company Apple. In September 2013, Apple was named the most valuable brand on the planet, taking the crown from Coca Cola.

But, the first thing to get our head around, of course, is that Apple - based in Cupertino, California and with a global workforce of some 80,000 - are only the designers in the chain that results in the production of the iPhone, iPad, iPod and so on. Selling around 4 million iPhones at £550 a throw, they are not responsible for the manufacture of the product.

The Universal Contractor

One of the best known of Apple's contractors is a company called Foxconn. Headquartered in the Tungchen District of New Tapei, Taiwan the company are responsible for the manufacture of high-end electronics products including iPad, iPhone, Amazon's Kindle and Sony Playstation.

Foxconn has a global workforce estimated at around 1.25 million and its largest factory complex is to be found at Longhuen, Shenzhen, China, often known as iPod City with a workforce purported to be in the region of 350,000.

Longhuen is a huge complex of 15 factories complete with worker's dormitories, a swimming pool, grocers and even its own Foxconn TV channel. As well as owning 13 plants in 9 Chinese cities, Foxconn also have factories in Brazil, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, India, Japan, Malaysia and Mexico.

One of the other major contractors in the production of Apple products is Flextronics International with its base in Singapore and operations spread across no fewer than 30 countries.

The Universal Recruiter

When new products come to the market, contractors like Foxconn and Flextronics need people to populate their factories and sub-contract recruitment to their identified and trusted agents. These recruiters, in turn, enlist the help of sub-recruiters a bit closer to the ground in countries including Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia, where workers are desperate for employment and, therefore, migrant labour potentially plentiful.

However, there are still deeper layers in this process. Often the sub-recruiters ( the national recruiters of the original global recruiters) need to reach to the urban poor or farm labourers in the cities and rural landscapes of the countries mentioned above. They have to seek out local hiring agents and hence can become entangled with an informal, unregulated, army of street level 'recruiters' stretching across many global borders.

At this level unscrupulous hiring agents will charge migrant labour for the privilege finding them work in alien nations thousands of miles from home, taking up to $400 per individual for 'administration' costs? Unable to afford these 'fees' the poor will often borrow from, yes, you guessed, informal, unregulated lenders to ensure passage.

In effect, the urban impoverished and rural peasants, through necessity, are made even poorer in the process, while being ripped from families, children and loved ones and sent thousands of miles to sub-contracted factories in places like Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - where, for example, there are 24 companies associated with 28 factories which help major contractors put together Apple products or parts of the Apple products.

No denying, it is a truly globalised migrant workforce who are destined to live in hostels, at least three to a room, work long hours for something like $140 a month and, with their passports confiscated on arrival at the host nation's airport, they have little scope for making any independent decisions once they are there.

Curvature of the Universe

While we are witness to the final result, that iPhone 5 S, the means by which Apple Inc get it into your hand can involve many layers of sub-contracted companies, recruitment methods as well as a culturally diverse workforce migrating across several borders.

But now, alone in the street, you allow your arm to drop. Your friend has moved off, the bus has driven on to its next stop. You notice the street lamps are just beginning to sparkle into life to fight the growing darkness of encroaching night. The world shrinks back to the zombiefied shadows of human existence and aren't you just a little curious about the souls who helped put that phone in your hand?

(For the record : Written in Costa Coffee, Castle Street, Edinburgh, November 16, 2013 ) 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Is It Really So Hard To Be A Saint In The City...Or Wall Street...


Saint E Of Wall Street And The City : Makeshift Studios 2013

In the hazy, dark, rapidly evolving, end days of 2013, do we really find it surprising that almost six years from global financial catastrophe no high ranking Wall Street or City executive has faced criminal prosecution?

Well, no, I don't think so.

This thought came to me when reading about a man jailed for stealing a bottle of wine from a Glasgow retailer. Now, I would never condone theft, of course, but it certainly makes you think...

That, quite simply, is the situation our world lends itself to.
However, as much as no legal proceedings have been taken against individuals, the same cannot be said for the banking institutions themselves.
It feels like everytime you check the financial section of a newspaper or magazine at the moment, there is a high-end bank in the dock for some misdemeanour or other, facing gigantic financial penalties for serious industry indiscretions.

In the three years since the start of 2010 America's finest, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have, between them, agreed to fork out $70 billion (£43.6 billion, €52.3 billion) in penalties tied to various misdemeanours related to the financial crisis.

To put this into perspective for the ordinary working person, $70 billion (£43.6 bn, €52.3 billion ) would keep 1000 retired workers in a pension of $20,000 (£12,500, €15,000 ) for 35 years, or feed the population of Mozambique ( 19.5 million) for a year. This kind of money would employ 280 Chief Executives with Bob Diamondesque IQ's of 99,600 for ten years.

But the US banking situation is not unique, across the pond a whole string of top European banks are also in the dock.

Red-faced Dutch lender Rabobank has agreed to pay more than $1.6 billion (£1bn, €1.2bn) for its squalid part in the Libor scandal, while Swiss giant UBS has set $652 million (£406.8m, €487.4m) aside - it could easily become more - to pay for 'regulatory' issues having already shelled out $1.5 billion (£900m, €1.1 bn) in December for another misdemeanour. Meanwhile, Deutsche Bank has found itself with a litigation bill of $1.2 billion(£750m, €900m). In total, legal proceedings thus far have cost the German Bank a massive $4.1 billion (£2.6bn,€3bn).

In the UK, Barclays Bank has been ordered to pay a US hedge fund $700 million (£436m, €523m) after losing in court over issues once again linked into the 2008 financial crisis, while the cost to Lloyds Banking Group for mis-selling loan insurance has climbed to $12.8billion (£8 bn, €9.6bn).

Recently some banks have been suspending forex ( foreign exchange) traders. Six traders at Barclays and two at RBS have already been suspended under suspicion of manipulating the $5.3 trillion ( £3.3tr, €4tr) per day market.

There is, I imagine, some wonderful intergalactic comic line or tantalising cyberpunk plot for a novel in all of the above, and I have to pinch myself that this is the real world.

As you will have recognised, the sums of money involved in the banking industry, for most of us, is hardly imaginable, especially with regard to forex. As reported, trillions of dollars, euros or pounds sterling slushes around in this market every day - we would all be impressed if it were thousands of dollars, euros, pounds sterling - such is the light year of distance between the street and the financial universe.

What was it Oscar Wilde once said : We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

It is so difficult for us to imagine what $5.3 trillion would actually represent in real terms? I am not going to even attempt to work it out.

But, no doubt this would be enough to feed the world several times over on McDonald's happy meals with extra fries and a bottle of Coke thrown in! It would probably be enough to house the world's homeless at a Marriot for the next 100 years ( that's assuming the hotel was big enough to take ALL the world's homeless).

But November didn't spawn the monster of banking indiscretions, capitalism has been evolving for a long time and with it the global banking structures. 

The misdemeanours listed above are serious and will, at some point, impact on all our lives. However, it wasn't the global financial system that created the world we live in, but the other way around.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Space For Living (Part Two)

Stars Around Earth : Grafik Farm 2013
The workforce who build and maintain our cities often have to live away from home. The normal for these workers is to reside in local bed and breakfasts, caravans, or purposely built little shack accommodation like dormitories. Some will even adapt their cars to provide temporary homes to hold down the job. Anything they can do to be close to the building site for weeks, maybe months and even years as the construction project takes shape.

These people will have wives, partners, families and some will travel home at weekends or every other week, driving miles on a friday evening only to return on the sunday to that hastily built wooden house or cramped caravan.

But, great metropolitan areas need them to construct the infrastructure which will ensure the smooth operation and organisation of the urban. Without this sacrifice and dedication of these 'rush hours' many of the facilities and amenities we take for granted would not exist.

The subway train system that allows us to cross the city in 12 minutes, the flyover highways that scythe their way through our cities and allow us to drive to work in the centre of the metropolis would not be available without these men and women.

They are the very necessary, transport arteries that facilitate the operation and organisation of the urban so vital for business, leisure and quality of individual existence.  Essential services which operate on the very edge of possible given the number of people living in cities, and who have to be catered for and looked after can be staggering.

Greater Tokyo, Japan, for example, has around 36 million people ( six times the population of Scotland) encamped in and around it. Jakarta, Indonesia has 27 million souls all struggling for space within its perimeters, Seoul, South Korea, and Delhi, India, 22 million, Manila, Philippines, Karachi, Pakistan, New York, USA and Sao Paulo, all offer home to 20 million human beings. London, UK, seems, in comparison, like a small town with 8.5 million residents.

With such huge populations, pressure on living space, roads, underground transport systems, communications, sanitary works, streets and buildings is enormous. People in cities live in homes which are, on average, closer to each other and have less living space per unit than people who live outside these massive urban areas. And, today, more people than ever are pouring into our cities to try and earn a living. To try and survive within capitalism's borders on the basis of their individual qualities and skill sets.

In 2011, for the first time in history more people on Earth lived in cities than in the countryside.

Edward Glaeser, in his book 'Triumph of the City' reported that five million people migrate to cities in the developed world every month. Glaeser also noted that : "Two hundred and forty three million Americans crowd together in the 3 per cent of the country that is urban." (Edward Glaeser : The Triumph of the City, p 1, Penguin Press 2011)

It is one of the most fascinating images I have ever held in my mind, in a country as massive as the United States of America the urbanised population crowd together on a tiny sliver of land surrounded, presumably, by 97% of, more or less, open space.

Furthermore by 2050 it is estimated that around 70% of the world's population of, approaching, 10 billion will be urbanised.

Once built, cities, of course, create work for people. To start with they have to be built and maintained but around metropolitan areas a giant array of products and services are required to make these great organic formations comfortable and bearable for the masses.

Cities offer opportunities to workers, entrepreneurs and people who stand on street corners selling matches or flowers or fake wine, all desperate to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families.

Cafes, burger joints and restaurants exist to feed workers during work or leisure time, bed and breakfasts and hotels to provide somewhere for workers from out of town to rest while working in the city over a prolonged period of time. Tourists, who visit cities are also catered for by an army hospitality and entertainment workers.

Work in all its exotic variations of labour and entrepreneurship is central to the operation of the city. Layered on this are the families who work and live in the city and need to be housed and catered for in terms of food, shelter, education and health, all of which then plugs into a whole host of other jobs - each career feeding off all the others and the needs and wants of individuals.

The city is interconnectivity in a very tight, small space and it often spills over into crime and punishment, law and order, heroes and villains. This in turn produces a need for police officers and a whole array of other services built around those who keep us safe.
Forensics, scene of crime, solicitors, attorneys, advocates, barristers...

What? You mean those people who serve coffee in Starbucks or Costa?
Eh no...( nervous smile at audience) That's barista , let's just shuffle off stage while we can....keep smiling

Friday, 25 October 2013

A Space For Living (Part One)

 I wanted to return to thinking about work this week, and the habitats we live in :

A Space For Living : Grafik Farm 2013
  This, of course, could be the view from my window high above the street. 'But', I find myself thinking, 'how did they get the 'A Space For Living' to hang in the air like that? Wow!

So who made this? This...out there? No, not the lettering - it is not actually hanging around down there...I mean the city.

Architects, architects! The world will shout at you...architects, design structures and the infrastructure that facilitiate our lives. The spaces where we work, factories, offices, shops, schools, or live, detached, semi-detached, flats, town houses, hospitals ( which is a cross-over, of course, with work and live), and play, cinemas, bowling alleys, soccer stadiums ( again a cross-over with work and play), museums.

Men and women like Frank Lloyd Wright ( immortalised in the Simon and Garfunkel song So Long Frank Lloyd Wright ), Le Corbusier (Paris, whose real name was Charles-Eduoard Jeanneret Gris - hasn't got quite the same ring to it), Charles Rennie McIntosh, the contemporary and very fashionable Zaha Hadid, the futuristic Frank Gehry (a Canadian-American architect who built Bilbao's Guggenheim museum) and Peter De Maria of Southern California.

In 2006, New Jersey-born De Maria designed a two storey home from shipping containers. Describing his materials as the 'messengers of consumerism', De Maria worked in recycling mode to deliver an ecologically sound and economical alternative to modern housing. Famed for his 2007 'masterpiece', the two storey Redondo Beach House, De Maria told Dwell magazine in February 2009 :
"Some people assume that yet-to-be-invented high-tech materials and systems will be the saviors of our construction industry. New technology can be great, but some of the answers to our building challenges are right in front of us. We need to look more closely at existing materials and systems from commercial construction and other industries and ask how they might be adapted, adjusted, or recycled to meet our domestic architecture needs. It’s less glamorous than creating renderings of new home designs, but we need to look at how to design efficient processes that leverage the economies of scale inherent in existing industrial components and systems." (Dwell magazine February 2009)

I must admit to being fascinated by the mere concept of living in a box, albeit an oblong shipping container (s).

I would think, however, it might also be scary! Imagine sitting watching Eastenders or Housewives of New York, mug of coffee on the arm of the armchair while your home is being lifted onto a cargo ship bound for Panama?!

'Must be windy out there tonight Mildred'. You might call out, the coffee spilling over the side of your mug as you and your home swing between harbourside and cargohold, then, and unbeknown to you, the swaying movement is toppling your wife out of the bedroom window...'Mildred? Mildred?'



But, of course, it is not only architects who build houses, bridges, roads and bring large metropolitan connurbations to life. Not only architects who build cities and bring designs for living to life.

A whole army of different workpeople are involved in the assembly and maintenance of cities. So, as well as architects, cities are put together by town planners, civil engineers, construction workers, crane operators, road workers laying down the blacktop, sewage engineers and a whole band of specialist employees often working as part of huge teams on large ongoing projects, bricklayers, joiners, plasterers, plant machinery operatives and maintenance crews.

Huge metropolitan areas need and employ people who design, re-design, engineer and re-engineer buildings and infrastructure. People who can design and build houses, offices, factories, transport systems, roads, bridges and tunnels, and maintain them as well when they experience wear and tear problems or begin to crumble or fall apart with age.

So, cities need people who design, build and maintain structures, residential homes, office blocks, schools, hospitals, shops, shopping malls, train stations, bus stations, airports. In addition urban areas need people who build, engineer and maintain telecommunications networks so that we can use our landline telephones, cell phones, laptops, desktops, tablets, fax machines and people who build, engineer and maintain our sanitary and sewerage systems, pumping stations and waste management systems. Not to forget the guys and girls who identify materials and supplies and those who operate transport to deliver.

Together, this workforce, generate and maintain the infrastructure that allows us to live and work and play within the borders of huge metropolitan areas.

I have written this in two parts and released early - because I am now about to go travelling for the next week or so and plan to release part two next Sunday - This is a mash up of a section I have prepared for Rush Hour.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Well What Are We All Worth? Or, Show Me The Money.

Show Me The Bonus Money : Grafik Farm 2013
    Picking up the end of the month paycheck, we groan. We compute complicated and convoluted calculations of necessary expenditure, impossible savings, rocketing energy bills, definite debt increase and zero credit, likely loss and unlikely profit.

We are, apparently, 'the precariat'. Those crazy sods forced to walk that slender, economic tightrope month on month praying we are not made redundant meantime, have our homes repossessed, lose our relationships. Increasingly, in the new labour market of temporary contracts, part-time work and zero contract hours, we find it impossible to pay off household debts, student loans and/or car loans, or pay for a mortgage, and don't talk about putting extra aside for our pensions.

In an era when a wreckless mania for financial gain and a knee jerk resort to an ideological 'austerity' has thrown millions into unemployment, slashed the public sector and wages, attacked the welfare system and pensions, some have continued to pick-up gigantic salaries.

A select few, from the sector blamed for the financial meltdown of 2008 and our current economic difficulties, have hardly suffered a dollar difference in their astronomical salaries.

While some have been forced onto the dole queue after 40 years in some of the world's toughest industries and have to make do with a moderate pension and what little savings they might have (and will still have to look for work), Stephen Hestor, for example, will walk away from the Royal Bank of Scotland with £6 million ($9.7 million, €7 million) compensation for five years work? Nice handshake. But, then, maybe I am missing something?

What might explain the enormous compensation of people like Stephen Hestor, Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, Bob Diamond and others when the vast majority of people are having such a hard time? Why in March 2009, after the American taxpayer had bailed the ailing company out to the tune of $85 billion (£52.5 million, €62 million) did AIG, gleefully offer $165 million (£102 million, €120.5 million) bonuses to its executives? AIG, let's remember, would have collapsed without the intervention of the state and taxpayers money.

Maybe there is something God-like and special about these Masters of the Cosmos?

In March 2012 it was announced that Barclays Bank then CEO Bob Diamond's compensation package for 2011 topped a staggering £25 million ($40.4 million, €29.5 million) an increase from the £20.7 million ($33.4 million, €24,4 million) he received in 2010.

So what, I wondered, did Mr Diamond do for a financial renumeration package 830 times the average worker's salary? Did he work 830 times harder than the rest of us, or, perhaps, he is 830 times smarter with an IQ of around 99,600?

Is his pay packet tied to the market for the labour he offers ( as some suggest, we have to pay these people intergalactic sums to get the right calibre of person for the job - stop laughing it's not funny it is what some will tell you). Is his performance 830 times better than the rest of us? Is it external forces such as demand and supply that is the magic 'kerching' to Bob D's bank account?

But here is where it gets tricky.

At the end of April 2012, and in the midst of aggressive protests from shareholders about the size of the bank's executive's salaries, Barclays Bank renumeration committee pressed ahead with plans to give hugely increased compensation packages to senior executives despite a 30 per cent drop in the share price and declining profits.

Jay Brookman of the Washington Post, October 4, 2011, offered the example of Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer. Having watched its margins drop by 3 per cent in 2010 and 7 per cent over the previous five years, Sharer presided over Amgen's loss or shrinkage of some the company's plants and 2,700 redundancies. Sharer's compensation package, however, moved from a massive $15 million (£9.3 million, €11 million) to a neat $21 million (£12.9 million, €15.4 million). Representing a raise of 37 per cent despite a drop in profits and the loss of workers.

But the one I like is where Dick Fuld had his salary and bonuses questioned by Henry Waxman, Republican, 30th District of California, at a House of Representatives' Committee On Oversight and Government Reform, October 6, 2008.

"Your company is now bankrupt, our economy is in crisis, but you get to keep $480 million(£297 million, €350.6 million)," Waxman said with more than a little incredulity in his voice.

Meantime, it hasn't stopped. As recently as September 2013, UK Chancellor George Osborne hired the 'cream' of British lawmen at £700 an hour ($1,131, €826.4), paid for by the British taxpayer to, wait for it, STOP the EU introducing banking regulation that would cap bankers' bonuses.

Are we all on drugs? Are they putting something into our water, coffee, tea?

'Yeah' the average British/American/European/Global citizen is heard to say in a Zombiefied voice, 'I am more than happy to pay good hard earned money to ensure the bankers' don't lose their bonuses.'

Sunday, 13 October 2013

White Album

White Rabbit In The Snow Filed At Midnight : Grafik Farm 2013
Staring at the future is a bit like looking for a white rabbit in a blizzard. Staring into the future is somewhere we all stand in a blizzard, usually at the bottom of a mountain beneath a burgeoning avalanche and no one can really see a thing above or below!

But our world is changing fast and I find it fascinating to take the figures, stats or data and try to second guess where we are headed. No, I don't like to use the word 'futurologist', that, to me, sounds a bit too much like clairvoyant, I would prefer to call myself a second guesser or researcher/writer - rewriter or, perhaps, a re-evolutionary - I quite like that actually - yes, re-evolutionary.

I also believe that it would be useful for us all to realise that we, as human beings, play some small part in our political, social and economic arenas, how they are structured and operated.

I had a chat with a few people this week about pensions and how and why they felt they were being ripped off. Three of these guys told me they had been made redundant, one of them after 37 years. These three would receive no unemployment benefit of any kind, despite paying into the pot for a combined 82 years!

Because they had a small pension all three had to make do with that. I asked if any of them had gone along to any of the marches against austerity, listened to any of the speakers, contacted their elected representatives, tried to change the system in any way.

They all shook their head.

Those marches were well attended, maybe in the thousands, five, six and in London it may have moved into double figures. But I can't help but thinking they all paled into insignificance when compared to the millions who took to the streets all over Brazil and actually joined together to force their elected leadership's hand.

Personally, I often write to my MP or member of the government, if I am lucky, once in while a nice Editor will have me write something that will be really meaningful and will resonate with the wider society, as for example, the Twitter article I wrote for the Mail On Sunday ( retold in the blog Zero History of the World).

When I speak to people, it seems as if the political arena and, especially capitalism, is, somehow, a great MACHINE that is operated by some kind of 'God-like' supernatural and untouchable being, who flies the contraption way above their heads. In short they feel totally powerless in the face of it all, and of those people I spoke with this week - all of them to a person - told me that 'it doesn't matter who you vote for'.

Hardly scientific I know but it makes you think when maybe eight or nine people tell you this.

I don't quite agree with that, of course, there are differences, even within parties (witness the run-of-the-mill Republican and their Tea Party counterparts) but often these structures seem so distant and removed for the ordinary day to day of most of us it can appear that way.

In an era when the UK political parties ( save UKIP - United Kingdom Independence Party) are experiencing plummeting membership, UK trade union membership is less than half what it was in 1979 and UK church attendance is declining, people are feeling increasingly isolated and impotent.

There are reasons, of course, why we are not joing political parties anymore, or going to church in such great numbers and deserting trade unions. There are reasons why people have become, atomised, and do feel increasingly powerless, and yet we all have it in our hands, in a small way, to try and make that difference.

One of the experiences from Brazil is illuminating. Many Brazillians, especially among their middle-class, considered protestors were often 'fanatical reds', 'violent individuals' and 'trouble-makers'. Inspired by social media,Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, however, where many could see that the protestors were people like themselves they took to the streets in their millions and changed their country.

I am not saying for a moment that we should all get out on the streets at every opportunity, but simply suggesting that people might actually be more powerful than they actually think, especially when they come together! Worth thinking about?
Question of the week : Andrew Marr (BBC Television Ocotober 12, 2013) 'Are the energy companies ripping us off?' - What do you think?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Darkness At The Edge of America/ excerpt from 'Pop History of the Sixties'

Liberty : Grafik Farm 2013
Darkness At The Edge of America 

Is it me, or has the world just become a bit more absurd? An absurd world where well-nourished, elitist, egotistical, squabbling, overpaid US career politicians have debated the nation to a halt and thrown nearly 1 million Americans - temporarily at least - out of work.

In the magic realm of elite politics a disagreement over the present administration's healthcare legislation has triggered a sequence of events leading to closedown.

At the heart of this impasse is the Republican-led refusal to agree into law President Obama's healthcare reform as it presently stands - they want changes or its total repeal. The Democrats, for their part, have refused to alter or jettison a key piece of Barak Obama's presidency. It is a stalemate which has led to the Republican party's refusal to agree a budget.

It is the first time in 17 years that the US government has been unable to push through spending plans. The costs, financially and socially, have proved seismic.

Almost immediately, October 1, the dollar fell against other currencies, and Goldman Sachs, smoke billowing from their calculators, estimated that this very public meltdown could cost the American economy a near 1 per cent (0.9 per cent) of GDP in the present quarter.

Despite these painful consequences neither side could come to a sensible handshake, and the spat rolled on with public workers finding themselves out of work, out of pay and sent home on unpaid leave.*

Friday, October 4, more talks only resulted in one side name calling the other, and no resolution to the ongoing argument could be found.

John Boehner ( the Republican House Speaker) bitterly claimed that the Democrats 'won't negotiate', while President Obama pointedly remarked that the 'extremist wing' of a party was holding the nation to ransom.

Boehner, himself, is well aware of the damage the closedown is doing to the Republican party but, as commentators point out, he has been painted into a corner by the Tea Party wing of his party.

At the heart of the debate is Obama's Healthcare Reform Law - sometimes called 'Obamacare' - passed by the Democrats in 2010. The Republicans want the new legislation delayed or repealed and have shown themselves determined to block its passsage.

The present crisis has all the hallmarks of a runaway train heading for the edge of the cliff. In less than two weeks, October 17, the US government will find its pockets empty of cash and unable to pay its bills unless, of course the present situation can be resolved and agreement reached on legally raising the debt ceiling. While we have been here before with budget spats that have brought the governmental wing of the nation to a halt, an inability to nod the debt ceiling into a higher existence would set a very scary, global precedent.

Is America less than two weeks away from a derailment or worse, a full-on train crash?
One might imagine that the Republicans have to blink first to avoid such catastrophe but, as I write - October 5 - neither side seems willing to concede any ground.

Meanwhile, the US administration has been forced to close national parks, tourist sites, office buildings and government websites, and laid 800,000 employees off.

While elected leaders squabble like tantrum-driven children, ordinary American workers and their families ( which will take the total beyond one million American citizens) are losing sleep over where they are going to find enough money to pay impending bills. Men, women and children penalised because their elected government can't agree or compromise and protect them from hardship.

I find it hard to imagine that in the 21st century, workers are still being treated with such disdain. A highly-paid politician's bunfight has thrown them - temporarily - onto the street with no (legitimate) means to pay their bills. It is an extraordinary situation. I also find it hard to get my head around that there is no emergency provision in place for such an eventuality. So that, if highly paid, often, millionaire, politicians take umbrage and beat the living daylights out of each other with their designer handbags, ordinary government workers will nevertheless be properly looked after, their salaries and working terms and conditions protected?

Does nobody care about ordinary staff members?

Well apparently some people do, in cafe and restaurants across the US, discounts and sometimes free food is being offered to government staff no longer at work or being paid.

One restaurant owner in St Louis showed real humanity and the good sense lacking in both houses by telling reporters that his business had a good year and that he didn't mind if he lost money giving away food to government workers.

'I'm upset they're out of work just because these guys can't get along' the man told journalists.

I can't help thinking that if this had been Brazil, the Facebook generation would have been on the street by now...

*A subsequent vote agreed that those sent home on unpaid leave will receive back pay, and since the meltdown, 400,000 defence staff have been told to report for work tomorrow. All eyes now on October 17 debt ceiling...

(excerpt from) Pop History Of The Sixties

Street Fighting Man (detail) : Makeshift 2013
 I'll Take You On A Re-evolution.
But, if America's moral Mafioso thought the fifties were a time of burgeoning sexual perversion and communist infiltration, then they were not anticipating the sixties, swinging London (with all the connotations that conjures up), Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, flower power, free-love, the summer of love, The Beatles and the British invasion.
The 1960's (especially from the mid-sixties onward) would feel, for many, as if someone suddenly flicked a switch and a new, alternative, psychedelic world of cultural and sexual experimentation had appeared. 
A world of great, potential and Itchycoo Park flower-power rhyming beauty edged with sinister imaginary monsters and mind-bending experiences.
It was a time when new ways of thinking, feeling and perceiving manifested themselves in the esoteric and often hedonistic behaviour of the young. Yes, there was, as always, moral panic, but rather than the 'revolution' many thought had arrived, it was more like shifting gears, changing speed and trying to turn the steering wheel of life and head in a different direction.
A re-evolution, if you like, because rather than the total overthrow of traditional institutions or what Marx called 'superstructures', this was a damp squibb as far as revolutions, velvet or otherwise, go. The sixties would soon be incorporated into capitalism's big handbag and guided tamely toward the seventies.
There were signs, however, that, as Bob Dylan later coined in his own sweet, quaint and jaggedy way, the times they 'were' a changing.
Many young people began to dress differently. They began to wear, sometimes outrageously, flamboyant and brightly coloured clothes, sporting strange, intricate, psychedelic patterns and designs. They became human rainbows with fur collars and youthful spontaneous flags marching up and down the High Street of towns across the UK and USA wearing wide-bottomed jeans. 
Did we really confuse genders as boys began to dress in colourful, outlandish garb, much to the chagrin of their parents, the 'morally good' - whoever they were -, the righteous ( whoever they were) and the establishment.
In an age when homosexuality was still illegal, men started to wear their hair long in, what many considered a 'feminine style', while girl's locked into new fashion statements as the hemline on their skirts rose above the knee. In truth, it was a frivolous stab at being different, at distancing themselves from austere greyness of their parents, to being, or trying to be not like their parents. It was a time when fashion rode the wave of a new and 'happening' scene on both sides of the pond. 
But the 'revolution', like most revolutions, was being quickly incorporated into the commercial ways of the world, capitalism, as it would later do with punk, was eating into the new ocean of pop music and the fashions which were grown.
"Mary Quant" Yvonne Connickie wrote in her book Fashions Of A Decade, "Was also closely involved with the sixties revolution in shopping habits. From the mid-decade on, Europe and North America began to fill up with boutiques - small clothing shops aimed at the teenage customer and depending on a rapid turnover of stock. Shopping for clothes became fun."
According to Connickie, Mary Quant herself said running her business (Quant's Bazaar chain of clothes shops) was like continually organising a cocktail party. Rampant consumerism lining Mary's pockets rather than revolution, while she partied.
"It is given to a fortunate few" Connickie concludes, "To be born at the right time, in the right place, with the right talents. In recent fashion there are three : Chanel, Dior and Mary Quant."
In the sixties, the young also smoked pot, and dabbled in drugs, held love-ins, spoke uninhibitedly about free love, protested and generally rabbited on about peace and love and experience as well as the universe and other places. Pop music, arguably, reach a kind of drug-induced zenith from which it has never really recovered. It ate itself?
That's not to say that a great deal of pop music, even in this - arguably - the most innovative and experimental era of its rampant existence, was not manufactured and hooked onto coining money out of the disciples of new sound and beats. But that is the capitalist way, subsume, incorporate and entangle in money making enterprises and always outrun the vanguard of change.
Unsuspecting moral traditionalists, who had baulked at the new wave of music taking young people by storm in the 1950's, and who had warned about the dangers of Presley and Haley and the light touch rock and rollers of the time, were about to be subjected to the music of, what they considered to be, Beelzebub.
At Her 'Satanic' Majesty's Request there was The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Kinks, Janis Joplin, The Animals, Jimi Hendrix and Gerry and the Pacemakers. Gerry Marsden's backing group sounding more like a band with heart ailments than a dangerous, out of control group of anarchists, anti-Christs or revolutionaries.
The fifties had pushed open the door to a new sunrise, a post-war freedom that was encapsulated in music, fashion and all the cultural memes of the time which accidently or otherwise seemed to come together in the sixties.
Here was a whole movement of people, albeit and apparently, quite randomly organised and at times chaotic, who were, like naughty children, pushing at the boundaries of what some considered to be 'good taste' and 'morality' in society.
America's hippies and students were questioning what their nation was doing in Vietnam, but there was also a deeper philosophy that questioned the whole political and economic apparatus. Who says this is the way things should be is a pretty standard slogan of youth - soon beaten out of them by the education system and what are considered to be the established political, social and economic 'norms' of the time.
But, as we know, and as Pierre Bourdieu has explored in his idea of habitus, given a family and a mortgage and a football (soccer) team to follow every week most people soon acquiesce, and as long as they can manage to afford the odd holiday and the kids are doing okay at school they tend to accept their lot. As the real time minutia of life, of homes, family, television, rock concerts and favourite football (soccer) teams kick in, people tend to move from the macro to the micro. The how to feed the kids, how do we keep a roof over our heads, how can we afford to book a holiday, what's on television tonight reality that most people are or become preoccupied with.
Politics are for someone else and economics, well that's just double boring, lets crash some brain cells and watch Big Brother!