Archive for February, 2007

Golf Sale!

Monday, February 19th, 2007

It's quite a challenge to walk down Oxford Street and not be impeded by someone carrying above their head a large sign announcing "Golf Sale!", with a fluorescent arrow instructing you where you must go. Most UK high streets suffer from this. To me, it reads "Cheap Social Mobility This Way!!", an opinion, tainted by my loathing of exclusive golfing communities, encapsulating our social ills.

Richmond Park.
2500 acre oasis of nature inside a mechanical city
the sky weighed down with a thick rug of grey, shrouding the calm sharp air
Kites swell and soar with each gasp of wind,
joggers trudge the grass,
lovers holding hands, oblivious to the world, interlocked hands breach the paths
Huge tree stumps look despondent as they litter the ground,
like a war zone, muttering tales of tragedy from a violent history
The ones that remain, of which there are many, are vibrant and proud, the base of the leaves all start at the same height,
precisely the reach of the tallest deer, plus a hair's breadth
I cycled around the park, twice, maybe, I somehow lost count
Puddles of mud fling to my face
Gradients conspiring against my wheels, always up, then always down, too fast
And as I marvel in the beauty
The purity of the park
A place of space, a city's holy grail
I speed past an old wooden shack
Proudly declaring
A goddam Golf Sale.

Crule Britannia!

Friday, February 16th, 2007

Yesterday's UNICEF report makes a "comprehensive assessment of the lives and well-being of children and adolescents in the economically advanced nations". It makes interesting reading. Unless you happen to live in the UK, in which case you'd shrivel up into a tiny ball of embarrassment and reel in jaw-dropping incredulity.

The report attempts to quantify "well-being" into six categories. Out of 21 countries studied, here's how us plucky Brits faired:

materialism: 18th
family and peer relationships: last
health and safety: 12th
education: 17th
behaviour and risks: last
subjective well-being: last

Overall we came, unsurprisingly, last, just below USA. Hardly a glowing endorsement of capitalism. If there was a league for capitalism, we'd both be at the top.

We've become a nation of "haves" and "have lots", which appears to have taught kids that success can be measured by the quantity of 'stuff' one can amass in a lifetime. It starts with a pair of trainers, then to mobile phones, iPods, holidays, cars and eventually houses (London in particular where it's not so much live-to-work but live-to-pay-the-bloody-mortgage). Capital subjugation that's hard to escape when your environment blasts you from every angle to expose your material inadequacies. The consequence infects family structure, culls aspirations and blunts social mobility.

From a kid's perspective, it's all quite clear: issues of morality can be replaced with concern of individual wealth. So for some green-eyed kid with phone envy, theft is, on balance, justified. The more wealth to taunt your peers, the higher your standing. I doubt this will have been missed by the Marxists.

And I wonder how much well-beingness will be apparent as consumerist kids grow into capitalist adults. What was started by Thatcher has been perfected by Blair, and between them they have made this country a pretty sorry place in which to live.

Canadian Cuties

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

According to the Observer today, "Canada" has attacked Britain's 'moral' decision to support a boycott of all seal products, made from the imminent culling of 300,000 baby seals. The Canadian High Commissioner in London, James Wright, is apparently speaking for every Canadian by objecting to this "unfounded and unhelpful" decision to boycott an industry that annually clubs in £22m worth of seal skins. (Ok, they've maintained the ban on 'whitecoats' – seals under 12 days old – but everything else they consider fair game). Well Mr Wright, if you can speak for your country, I can speak for mine, so listen up buddy: we are all totally shocked by the fact that this government appears to have made a decision based on morality. We are flobbergasted, overwhelmed and reeling in gushing waves of penitent gratitude. So please allow us to indulge and savour this wondrous moment, and for once be proud of this government. Just when we thought that they were morally bankrupt and ethically exhausted, it appears someone somewhere in the depths of Whitehall has actually made a decision not based on price, taxation or revenue but on good old fashioned ethics, morality and common sense. Please allow us to wallow in this collective righteousness.

So, it would take a cynic to suggest that it was a deliberate PR ploy that has calculated that £22m is not going to do too much damage to the economy of the world's 2nd largest country, not to mention that Brits tend to baulk at the idea of killing of anything cute. I bet they don't take a similar stance towards Japan.

The greatest gamble

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

Congratulations to the city of Manchester, who this week won the first license to build a Vegas-style super-casino in the UK. The Gambling Act 2005 at first proposed the creation of up to 40 of these super-casinos. This number was cut to eight and then to one – after heavy opposition from pretty much everyone except fellow treasury ministers and, naturally, the businesses wanting (and lobbying) to build them. This kind of begs the question: who really wants them? I must have been out of the country when people were marching on Downing Street enraged at the current gambling restrictions. Not that public opinion has ever troubled government policy in the past, so I guess it won't start now.

The fact that they are building one at all is troubling as the door will now be prised (ahem) open for future exploitation. They have signalled their intentions with the remaining 39 steps to ruin waiting in the wings.

This is the government, incidentally, who has plundered the coffers of the National Lottery to fund the Olympic games (£1.5b) and the National Health Service. I must have also been out of the country when the NHS was reclassified from "public service" to a "good cause".

Now I'm not an economist and admittedly the only gambling I experience is the Boxing Day ritual at Wetherby Races, where I usually spend the afternoon throwing £1 bets on all horses with daft names. As I fully intend to loose all £7 in the afternoon I'm not contacting Gamblers Anonymous just yet. But I do know one thing: people who take your bets are doing so to make themselves lots of money. It's kind of fundamental part of business, you have to take more than you spend, or you're out of the game. Who will they be taking from? The people who need the money most – the bewitched working classes goaded into winning their way out of poverty.

The politicians claim that the casinos will "regenerate the region" with jobs and prospects. Huh? Call me old fashioned, but I always thought that regeneration meant providing a stable micro-economy using things like factories that actually make something, not some top down imposition that siphons off the honey-pot to fund the boardroom bonuses or plug the black tax holes. It just doesn't make sense to me.

Mark Oaten on last week's Question Time was the only panel member who attempted to defend these super-casinos by claiming that the state shouldn't interfere with people lives, which is tactical fence-sitting of insidious proportions. It's also a load of crap. This is precisely why we have a state – to protect the vulnerable from financial exploitation. I'd usually be the first to cry nanny-state, but with some things the state has a clear mandate to intervene. For the same reason that we legislate against hand guns, discrimination, violence and smoking (finally!), the state needs to recognise that its society must sometimes be persuaded to make the right choice. Do Labour have any moral values anymore or does everything now have a price tag?