Month: April 2013

The Press little law

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No matter which side of the fence you lie the UK Government proposals for legal under-pinning of a Royal Charter for the press is a little bit flawed.  Its not that I don’t think the press needs to be regulated, I do! and a law is just the thing to keep them on a leash.  Its that the it only applies to the print media, web-based blogs, Twitter, Facebook…. well they get off the hook, no questions asked.  

The reality is that the print media has had its day, its a dinosaur and the Government wants to regulate an industry on the verge of collapse.  Tell me, when did you last see someone reading the published news in public if its not one the freebies?  Not so often I guess.

The major concern from the press has got to be putting their content on the websites.  But how do they get paid for it?  In 2010 The Times decided to go for pay-to-view and hasn’t been heard of since.  Only the FT survives but they get on by selling data in conjunction with the news.

Now my favorite nation, the French!  They had the same problem but one man has found the solution, M Edwy Plenel who used to run Le Monde founded the website Mediapart staffed by lots of ex-jurno’s from Le Monde.  From day 1 they charged subscriptions.

M Plenel began his career on the LCR – Ligue communiste révolutionnaire back in 1976,  From 1985/86 while working for Le Monde, he was one of the targets of a wiretapping scandal perpetrated by a secret presidential anti-terrorism cell, which he had implicated in the “Irish of Vincennes” affair for framing three Irish nationals on terrorism charges.  In 2001, he was awarded the Prix Medicis essai for his essay Secrets de jeunesse (Secrets of Youth). He resigned from Le Monde in November 2004, and is currently the editor-in-chief of Mediapart, an Internet-based subscription journal which he founded in 2008.

Its now believed that Mediapart is profitable and just right now is flying high.  Mediapart broke the Cahuzac scandal, which is now a real threat to the Hollande Government less than 12 months since his Presidential election win.

Jerome Cahuzac Budget Minister (UK equivalent Secretary of State to the Treasury) got himself caught with a €600k Swiss bank account of untaxed French income.  A tricky one for any Government but for Hollande, especially so.  He stood on a platform of getting the banks and financial sector to toe the line.

Naturally enough Cahzac denied he had the money to the media and parliament.  Holland in full support!  2 months later and he resigned to prove his innocence, 2 weeks later and he comes clean, he had the money after all and was trying to avoid paying tax, genius.  Never mind that though, what baffles me is that he’s a cosmetic surgeon specializing in male hair transplants.  What on earth was Holland thinking putting a cosmetic surgeon in charge of the nations finances?

Holland to his credit now describes Cahuzac’s actions as “unpardonable”.  The questions are floating however, what was the President doing trusting a cosmetic surgeon with the nations finances, one who in his early political career was linked with the far right?

And to put the (jack)boot in; the agent who opened the Swiss account on his behalf is now an adviser to the odious Marine Le Pen.

Question:  could the government have found out the real truth any quicker than Mediapart?

The real shocker however is that this is a French scandal with NO SEX!  Well not a shock actually, his wife was divorcing him and had a PI look into his financial affairs to find the money.  A woman scorned….

Could the Brits have a Mediapart I wonder?  Well there is plainly a gap to fill.  But who to fill it?  The Bureau of Investigative Journalism cant be a contender after the debacle over the McAlpine affair.  No a private individual is what’s needed I think.

Is this where Branson steps into the breach?

Pablo Picasso

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Pablo Picasso born 25 Oct. 1881, died 08 Apr. 1973; its been 40 years almost to the day since PB passed over.  Pablo Picasso was probably, well for a time at least the most famous painter the world has known.  Perhaps even more famous that Michelangelo or Da Vinci some might offer, I’m not sure but he certainly is up there with the greats so far as I’m concerned.

His full name to be accurate is Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Clito Ruiz y Picasso and honors a number of Catholic Saints.

He was a relatively poor student to start, but never-the-less Picasso demonstrated a fantastic talent for drawing from a very early age unhampered by his humble beginnings. According to myth (probably started by Picasso himself) , his first words were “piz, piz,” a childish attempt at lápiz, the Spanish word for pencil.  By the time he had turned 13 years old Picasso was a more accomplished drafts person than his father.

Picasso’s family moved around during his formative years but by the time he was 16 years old he was in Madrid, enrolled at the Royal Academy of St Fernando.  He was not a good student, often skipping class, wandering into the City and drawing whatever he saw and took his fancy, mostly gypsies, beggars and prostitutes.

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At the turn of the 20th Century Picasso was in Paris, the centre of the Art world at the time. At this time he was in his “Blue Period” which lasted till about 1904.  The blue period reflected a time of depression for Picasso but by 1905 he had met and fallen in love with a model;  Fernande Olivier, he was also newly prosperous thanks to the generous patronage of the art dealer Ambroise Vollard  He had every reason to be happy and this was reflected in his artistic output now known as the “Rose Period”.

In 1907, he made a painting unlike anything he or any other artist had ever painted before, a piece that would change for ever the direction of art in the 20th century: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, an awkward depiction of five beige figures, prostitutes, distorted with sharp geometric features and stark blotches of blues, greens and grays. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was the precursor and inspiration for Cubism.

Cubism shocked, appalled and fascinated in equal measure.  The French writer and critic Max Jacob reflected, “It was really the harbinger comet of the new century.”  but this was not to last, the outbreak of war saw Picasso return for a short period of sombre realism.  But by 1927 Picasso had moved on to Surrealism and this brought the world Guernica.  Perhaps the greatest painting the world has ever seen.

Completed in 1937, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. The picture deals with the destruction of war; on April 26, 1937, German bombers supporting Franco’s Nationalist forces, carried out a devastating aerial attack on the Basque town of Guernica.  Picasso was outraged and horrified painting the picture in mono-tones of black and grey.

Following the war Picasso became politically motivated and joined the communist party and was even twice honored by being awarded the Lenin Peace Prize; firstly in 1950 then again in 1961.  By contrast to his communist sympathies, Picasso was now also an international celebrity, the worlds most famous living artist ever.  His painting took a further turn in his later years becoming simpler, crude almost.  Upon passing a group of school children in his later years Picasso remarked, “when I was as old as these children, I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to learn to draw like them.”

The epitome of his later work is his Self Portrait “Facing Death“, drawn in pencil and wax crayon just a year before he passed away. Its an autobiographical subject, who appears as something between a human and an ape, with a green face and pink hair, its drawn with the crude technique of a child. Yet the expression in the eyes, captures a lifetime of wisdom, fear and uncertainty, it is the unmistakable work of a master at the height of his powers.

Picasso had two wives during his lifetime but he was an incorrigible womanizer who had countless relationships with girlfriends, mistresses, muses and prostitutes over the course of his long life.

His technical mastery, visionary creativity and profound empathy marked Picasso out as a revolutionary artist. Picasso endlessly reinvented himself, switching between styles so radically different that his life’s work seems the product of five or six great artists rather than just one.  The diversity of his work, the result of freshly evaluating for each piece the form and technique best suited to achieve the desired effects. “Whenever I wanted to say something, I said it the way I believed I should,” Picasso said. “Different themes inevitably require different methods of expression. This does not imply either evolution or progress; it is a matter of following the idea one wants to express and the way in which one wants to express it.”

40 years after Pablo Picasso passed and we still celebrate his life, his contribution.  I grew up longing to be an artist inspired by Pablo Picasso.  One day I may (un)learn to draw as a child.

voMMit

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One of America’s, if not the worlds best known, most iconic brands is McDonald’s but the shine is coming off those golden arches.

After years of endless criticism for its record on the nutritional value of its food, sustainability of its offerings, low paid jobs and the litter that inevitably comes with a McDonald’s branch the business is now under pressure.   2011 and Subway overtook McDonald’s with the most number of outlets worldwide. And in 2012 for the first time in a decade sales volumes slumped and have yet to show any sign of recovery.

McDonald’s have promised to improve things for their customers and staff alike.  A US spokesperson said,  “we now offer more choices and variety on our menu, as well as nutrition information so customers can make the choices that are right for them,” the spokesperson added that they “most recently reinforced our commitments to sustainability in the areas of fish and coffee and we continue to offer a variety of training and professional development opportunities for employees who want to move from crew to management”.

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But…

  1. The pay gap between CEO and a crew member has doubled in the last year!
  2. The company gives away over 1.5 bn toys each year so encouraging the view that they target children with high fat low nutrition “Happy Meals”
  3. McDonald’s over-reliance on soya beans is contributing to deforestation of vital rain forests
  4. One of its franchisees has been accused of paying below minimum wage and providing sub-standard housing to student guest crew members
  5. The company had to pay out $500k to a 79 year old Stella Liebeck when she suffered 3rd degree burns from spilt coffee
  6. Reported in the Times of India, the company has been accused of using out of date Chinese chicken
  7. McDonald’s out-right refuses to assess its impact on childhood obesity
  8. During recent years McDonald’s has encouraged staff to work on public holidays; including Christmas day!
  9. McDonald’s oatmeal breakfast option, according to the New York Times is just as (un)healthy for you as the option its supposed to replace
  10. The McLobster and other such products more than regularly crash as an offering

So will the company recover?  Er, probably, but I hope not.

McDonald’s is an example of a globalized business that aims to squeeze out the local alternatives.  With a McDonald’s comes planetary destruction (okay they contribute, but you know what I mean), low paid jobs; the now famous McJob and litter, in fact loads of litter.  Add to this the obvious contempt for their Clients health and you have a company peddling disaster on a world-wide scale.

Hash (Paris)Brown(ies)

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Right before we start I suggest you go ahead and give yourself a pinch or two, no really, pinch yourself.  Awake and alert? Yes, well here we go.

The new Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent, Ann Barnes, has appointed a ‘youth commissioner‘ for the area, a Ms Paris Brown. Ms Brown has just turned that pivotal age of 17 yrs. Yes, that’s correct she’s not even old enough to vote!  But she is a youth, of that there is no doubt.

And her pay for this job; £15,000.00 year for a 37 hour week, (£7.80 per hour).  But I’m going to be fair here, Ann Barnes has agreed to a salary reduction herself to cover 33% of Ms. Barnes salary. She will also get a desk, a telephone, and an official car with her own emblem. Will she be given an emblem-ed hoodie as well I ask?  Perhaps if she asked nicely I think.

Well is Ms. Brown an exceptional example, mature beyond her years able to contribute to society as a whole?  Well not exactly.  ‘The only reason young people hang around on the street,’ she has offered, ‘is because there’s nothing else for them to do.’  Genius, I’d never have thought to think that the youth might just need something to do.  She’s already worth every penny she’s paid!  I think not!

She plans to ask the youth what they think would help them to get off the streets.  She thinks jobs are the answer and would like to remove the “stigma of being young”, as if this is a stigma.

So her ideas are just about as original and insightful as the average school leaver, does this mean the £15k is value for money? or could Ms. Barnes have worked this out for herself?  whats really needed I suggest is adequate education, parents that actually care where their offspring are and what they are up-to at night, plenty of activities to do in the evenings (hopefully run by those caring parents who want themselves to contribute to society) coupled with pretty robust sanctions for the children and parents alike when they are found to be vandalizing property or hooliganising the neighborhood. 

Worse still at the weekend, some of Ms Brown’s views were reported: to be precise, foul-mouthed, idiotic rantings on Twitter, (these were subsequently deleted once the balloon went up over them).  These revealed she has a fondness for drugs and alcohol, as well as a number of potentially violent, racist and anti-gay comments. Other messages referred to her cravings for sex and cakes laced with marijuana.  She’s 17 years old!

Never-the-less Ms. Barnes believes her to be exceptional.  I beg to differ.

I think a much more suitable description would be ‘deeply, totally, hopelessly immature’. It’s hard to think of a more inappropriate choice for a post in law enforcement. 

Although I don’t totally blame Ms. Brown for her appointment, Ms. Brown is at an age when teenagers are still full of hormones and trying to make the transition from childhood to adulthood.  Her effort to minimize the fall-out from her remarks; she claimed she had been showing off, she said that she had never actually taken drugs and did not condone people who did. Nor was she an alcoholic, merely drinking a small glass of wine from time to time ‘when I sit indoors with my mum’.

In other words she still needs her mum just like most typical teenagers do at this awkward and troublesome stage in their lives.

So we are left with the question of what on earth did Ms. Barnes think she was doing when she appointed Paris Brown?  The answer of course is she was trying to bridge the generation gap.  That mythical missing bridge between teenage and adulthood where teenagers fall into a hormone induced state of feral frenzy.  However, to suggest that this particular 17 year old is the bridge is folly indeed.  

Mrs Barnes is herself being paid £85,000 per year to bridge the worlds of the police and the community they serve. If she felt she lacked the ability to represent the police to the young of that community, and vice versa, she perhaps shouldn’t have put herself up for candidacy for the job.

It is actually astonishing to think that, in this time of austerity, yet another bureaucratic government ill-thought through scheme should now be spawning yet more jobs that have everything to do with power and status and nothing to do what so ever with public safety and well being.  Virtually every organisation the government comes into contact with (whatever shade of government is in power that is makes no difference just a different emphasis) will falter with the required weight of extra pointless, needless jobs for pen-pushing desk-jockies whose role is fill out the forms ensuring political correctness is embedded by their mini-tyrannies throughout the whole organisation; The Police, The NHS, heck even the Military is going this way.

So Ms. Barnes has thrown an extra £15k down a bottomless black-hole, she isn’t the first and wont be the last I’m willing to bet.  In response to her star youth recruit’s rantings about drugs, violence and sex, Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner merely dismissed them. She was sure Ms Brown would be ashamed of these comments, and said — that even though any parent encountering such sentiments on Twitter or Facebook would be shocked, ‘that’s what kids do’.  £15k of public money well spent then?

To put this into perspective, nationally we now have 41 police and crime commissioners earning anything up to £100,000 per year. Quite a number of them have appointed deputies and assistants, sparking allegations of cronyism and money-wasting.

I do have some sympathies for Paris Brown having entered the public eye for a £15k salary + benefits but ill-equipped to deal with the (much) wider fall-out for her appointment.  But she wont be on her own.

Are we just creating more PC-jobs for the sake of them or are we actually adding to the national bank of intelligent thought?

Per Capita Priniciple

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The universal one standard for all; the “per capita principle” is being proposed as the standard for greenhouse gas emissions.  Its being touted as the only fair way of reducing global CO2 emissions, avoiding a future irreversible environmental climate catastrophe.  

The principle if applied would allow each person on the planet an annual emissions allowance of around 2800 kg (2.8 tonne) of CO2.  If the principle were applied the Yanks and Australians are in deep, deep, deep hot water, they pump out about 20 tonnes each at the moment.  Those living in the UK, Japan and Spain wont be much better off either; they use 9 tonnes each per year.  So if you live in the westernized developed world the news is harsh to say the very least.

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On the other hand however, all of Central America, South America, India and Africa are in the clear.  They are easily below the 2.8 tonnes per year each.

So the news is that we in the west are the guilty parties, we’re the ones culpable for any future ecological crisis because of our disproportionate emissions that appear to driving climate change.

Do you think that there’s the self-discipline and fortitude to accept responsibility and actually do anything?  No, I didn’t think so.  Could you live differently so that your CO2 footprint is a fraction of what it is today?  No, I didn’t think so.

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Do you think that we will continue to consume at an alarming rate?  Assume that we have the freedom to consume to the apocalyptic conclusion that our children and grand-children will have to bear the brunt of? Yes, of course we will.

Or…..

Do you think that technology will catch-up and reduce CO2 impact by the west? Maybe, its possible I suppose.

Do you think that the developing nations will develop polluting technologies and make matters worse over time? Yes, almost certain this.

Do you think that westernized populations will reduce in numbers (have less babies) therefore reducing the individual impact? Yes, again almost certainly.

And, do you think that developing nations will see massive population growth adding to their total emissions count?  Yes, a certainty.

What is the most effective way of reducing CO2 emissions that would give a globally felt benefit? Stop WAR!  Conflict adds massively to CO2 emissions, more than all of the commercial aircraft that fly each year.  People will live less in fear and much more in hope, plans for the future will have a much longer tail.  Healthier, longer living people will have less need for the social imperative of many babies, again reducing global environmental impact.  I could go on but I’m sure by now you can get my drift.

I put it to you that peace is the way to save the planet.

Think about it just for a moment and see if you can get it.  All we have to do is start allowing people to live their lives and stop interfering unnecessarily.   But to do this we have to change fundamentally the human condition.  We’re pre-programmed for conflict, to be territorial; Can we do it?  We are capable, but we probably wont!

56,065; 19 April 1943

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September 1939 and the German invaders of Poland confine almost 400,000 Polish Jews to a 5.5 km sqr area which would normally house 250,000 people.  The “ghetto” was sealed off with a 10-foot-high wall and anyone caught leaving was shot on sight. Worse still, the Nazis strictly controlled the amount of food that was allowed into the ghetto, forcing the captured Jews to live on a bowl of soup a day. By July 1942, about 80,000 Jews had starved to death.

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July 22, 1942 and Heinrich Himmler ordered that Jews be “resettled” to work (extermination) camps, such as Treblinka. Just two months later, more than 300,000 Jews had been sent to the gas chambers. Less than two years after internment in the ghetto, only 60,000 Jews remained.  1942 was a severe winter and a shortage of trains prevented the SS from deporting more Jews to death camps but if it hadn’t been quite so severe more would have surly died.

From those who were left a Jewish Fighting Organization; ZOB emerged who managed to smuggle in weapons from anti-Nazi Poles from outside the ghetto. So armed, they were able to resist further deportations for a time by attacking the occupying German troops from rooftops, cellars, and attics.

Spring 1943 brought the Nazi response.

On April 19, 1943, Himmler sent more than 2,000 Waffen SS soldiers to crush the Heroic Jewish resistance. The German tanks, howitzers, machine guns, and flamethrowers were combated with Jewish pistols, rifles, homemade grenades, and Molotov cocktails. Astonishingly the Jews, who by now had no food were able to fend off the German assault for 28 days.

Eventually in a final attempt to deal with the resistance, SS General Jurgen Stroop set the entire ghetto block, now reduced to an area 1,000 meters by 300 meters, on fire and blew up the synagogue. By May, 56,065 Jews were dead. It is estimated that the Germans lost 300, with 1,000 wounded.

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The Nazis chose their date carefully indeed; Passover.  Jewish history is littered with accounts of Pogroms and Jewish Martyrs who would not convert from Judaism to another religion.  Jewish people had gained a reputation for non-resistance of martyrdom, certainly not for fighting back like the ZOB did.  But these earlier deaths were concerned with outsiders forcing Jews to become something other than Jews.  If the Jew converted they could live in essence or the Jew would be moved-on and live.

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The Holocaust was rightly recognized at the time as being different.  This was an extermination, nothing less.  Jews were not offered an alternative to death.  So they fought,  they resisted, they resisted for over a month. The Rabbis in the ghetto encouraged the resistance as important, as a way of saving Jewish life, of somehow trying to prolong it, a precious thing.

The Germans often chose Jewish festival days for their actions, they not only wanted to kill the people, they wanted to kill Jewry altogether. Passover, a time of peace should be remembered by Jews and non-Jews alike for these reasons.

Jewish Orthodoxy can be a difficult thing to understand.  Observant Orthodox Jews can be very unwelcoming to the Goyim who may be interested in Judaism (I know this from personal experience).  Never-the-less I have a moment of personal remembrance for the events in Poland and feel the pain, nothing like the pain felt by those affected and their families thereafter.  I will never feel the pain of being Jewish but we should recall non-the-less and learn from the experiences and collective knowledge that to try to wipe-out a whole people will and should be met with resistance.  The resistance should and must be supported, even if we don’t or cant understand the notion of what is being exterminated.

I make no apologies for supporting the actions of ZOB and hope that they are fondly remembered for a long time to come.

Il n’ya pas d’argent

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France’s economy, the second largest in the EuroZone, has been getting deeper into trouble in recent months. Unemployment is almost equal to the record level of 3.195 million people out of work and able to work last reached in 1997 and worse still the spending power of typical French households fell in late 2012 for the first time since 1984.

Little wonder then that the small greetings card company Edit66 based in the southern French city of Cabestany is facing mounting financial difficulties.  Dutch owner Mercurius decided that staff cuts were necessary and prepared the workforce for the inevitable redundancies. The company employed upwards of 60 people in the 1990’s which steadily declined to 37 more recently of which 19 were to be dismissed for lack of enough work to do.

However, trouble began Friday (29 Apr. 2013) when the management told those to be laid off that they would not be given their severance payments agreed earlier “as there is no money”.  So in typical Gallic fashion the workers took matters into their own hands and promptly protested by taking the company bosses Paul Denis and Merthus Bezemer hostage.

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Danielle Casanovas, from the company’s works council said the two men were being allowed to freely move within the company premises.  The town’s socialist mayor Jean Vila said he also backed the action taken by the sacked workers (how very French and civilized all at the same time).

“I find it immoral,” he told journalists. “There are laws in France and they have to be respected.”

Protest in France is a feature of life, but is much more prevalent where the local politicians hold several elected offices and are at risk of losing everything.  The French public know this to be the case and will when pushed use the system against itself to get a “fair” outcome as they see it.  Its not a bad way of going about things, its just different (and can be extremely frustrating if caught-up in a protest and you don’t know whats actually going on).  The way the French protest is symptomatic of a populace at ease with itself, sure of what it deserves and expects from life in general but never-the-less accepting of the hierarchical, elitist government system in place.

I wish the protesters well, but my instincts are that they will lose their jobs and not be paid what was agreed initially, perhaps a bit less but I still wouldn’t bet against them.