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!  

Friday, 4 October 2013


'A' Street 1969 : Makeshift Studios 2011
 A few close friends asked me about this and after some thought, I thought I might run this week with an excerpt from my 'Pop History of the Sixties'.  Admittedly, it is several steps removed from my usual blogs but, nevertheless - I hope - every bit as interesting.  I have always thought of the blog as being somewhat experimental and a chance to connect with people.  In the next few weeks I also want to cover the informal economy, Robert Brooks photography and a review of the art used with the blogs - so coming soon

An Excerpt from a 'Pop History Of The Sixties'...