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