Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Under Pressure?

By Rachel Surtees (@RVSurtees)

I think the pressure might be starting to get to us. Us all that is.

The moment that it hit me was on route to work a couple of weeks ago. Running late, I opted for the tube rather than my usual calming walk in. On the first tube two men had a fight – or at least it would have been a fight if either had had enough room to move their arms. On the second tube an old woman started shouting at a four year stranger… that’s right, a four year old. I know he was four because his shocked father screamed it back in the old lady’s face.

In itself it was essentially just a bad journey. It probably wasn’t even that bad, just a shock to the system – I’ve noticed that you start to lose your London edge quite quickly when you stop travelling by tube every day.

Then again, I wonder if it was perhaps symptomatic of something more significant. Symptomatic of the pressures of modern day living starting to show?

Last week the latest crime statistics showed an overall drop in crime. And as happens every year, the majority of the country reading the glowing report on improved policing measures and effective crime prevention, raised a baffled eyebrow, had another swig of coffee and turned the page to read about a grandfather being “happy-slapped” to death.

Within this seemingly never-ending catalogue of bad news and violent outbursts, there were two particularly horrendous stories in quite close succession, linked only by their unusualness and muted public reaction.

In June of this year, taxi driver Derrick Bird shot dead 12 people and injured 7 others, before turning his gun on himself. What characterised this event was not only how reportedly out of character the attack was, but also the notable lack of public recrimination – except against the police that is. There is no dancing around the fact that what Bird did was to go on a killing spree. And yet the day’s events were largely met with shock and sadness, not anger. A surprising number of people came out in Bird’s defence, and those who didn’t, could at least understand where the others were coming from.

Then in July of this year, the now notorious Raoul Moat went on a similar rampage. Similar in that he picked up a gun, sought out individuals who he felt had wronged him and shot them, killing his ex-partner' new boyfriend. Then he became relatively indiscriminate in his mania, injuring an unarmed police officer*. Similar in that the early public reaction was many things, but rarely disgusted. Most were fascinated, many concluded that he must have been provoked, whilst others were convinced of an elaborate police cover up of some sort. The whole story had, dare I say it, an air of macabre humour about it; enter Gazza. Again, the unfolding events were drenched in tragedy and sorrow, not anger. That is until resident idiot Siobhan O’Dowd took “empathy” a step too far and jolted us back to our senses.

There are a million and one reasons why public response might have been what it was to both gunmen. One is that we’ve just become so used to violence that it’s no longer as shocking as it should be. The other is that we have become a more compassionate and understanding nation.

But I wonder. I wonder if deep down we have comprehended these murders, so unusual and dramatic in nature, to be the breaking point of modern day living. I wonder if our characterisation of both Bird and Moat as victims in their own right, is because we’re all starting to feel the pressure. That we know that we wouldn’t pick up a gun and randomly start shooting, but we wouldn’t be entirely surprised if our neighbour, or colleague, or postman did.

Are we reaching the breaking point of modern day living?
Yesterday a man killed his wife and two young children – his neighbours say they don’t understand what could have happened, that it is entirely out of character.

*Ed. Original article mistakenly stated that Raoul Moat killed an unarmed police officer. The officer in question actually survived the attack and the post was amended accordingly. Hat tip to ‘Anonymous Coward’

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Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Will The Coalition Survive A Full Term?

The case against by Rachel Surtees (@RVSurtees)

No. I give it two years, and here are 5 reasons why:

1. Within about 6 months both parties will realise that neither is of any use to the other anymore. The disillusioned public who voted Lib Dem in good faith will have defected back to Labour, and those who have had a pleasant surprise will wake up one day in the near future and realise that they are in fact Tories. Either way, there won’t be any need for a coalition anymore.

2. Somewhere along the line, probably around Christmas, we will have plunged back into deep recession and even the Mail will be calling out for Gordon.

3. Next year will be the test. We’ll be given a referendum on electoral reform. Cameron will vote against it (because what possible reason would there be for him voting for it). The Lib Dem MPs who have been coerced into toeing the coalition line will realise there’s nothing left for them and will either jump ship altogether or defect to Labour thereby opening the door to a successful vote of no confidence.

4. Our very short memories will have been jogged and two years is well enough time to remember what life
under a Tory led government is like. To be honest, with the speed at which they have threatened to balls up state education and effectively privatise the NHS it might not take 2 months, let alone 2 years.


The case for by Euclides Montes (@gatulino)

The question in my eyes is really beyond any question. And as a Communist, it pains me to say it is undoubtedly yes.

This government is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. It came to be after a rather difficult amalgamation of people holding different political outlooks who either gave up on their long held beliefs or acknowledged they’ll have to play the long game to get what they really want as a compromise to get into power. Of course along the way we’ll have endless exposure to a large number of people who will either embarrass, or even worse, compromise the coalition parties’ position. And we in the opposition will no doubt gleefully use these opportunities to attack what is, in my opinion, a dangerous group of socially inept rich boys who are busy running our country into a very dark place.

However, they will also get a lot of things right. What can I say? The law of averages is a bitch! And the previous administration gave them a ‘get out of jail free’ card to play that will be still playable for quite a while. And beyond that, make no mistake, this government has a lot of friends in high places who will not want to see this coalition fail because too much time and effort has been invested into getting market-friendly faces into government. Money never talks as clearly as when it is in power.

I hope I’m wrong and this ‘experiment’ fails in a couple of years. However, my feeling is that the ConDems will be around for a while. We better get prepared for that battle because if left unchecked, this government will set us back a couple of decades. As a nation, we cannot afford to let that happen.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Need Not Apply

By Euclides Montes (@Gatulino)

We regret to inform you that your application for the position of XXX has been unsuccessful this time… More empty and generic pleasantries to follow.

‘Ah, and I had such a good feeling about this one’ he thinks. Just like he felt with each one of the 20 rejections that had come before. He moves to the kitchen where the cafetiere betrays the fact that he’s already overdone it with the coffee today.

He thinks about the pile of unopened envelopes on his dining table, the various requests for money going ignored for one day longer.

Time for a break, he thinks. Another cup of coffee and the newspaper online! The newspaper doesn’t help. “70 other people going for the same job”, “The toughest time to be a 20-something”, “Millions of jobs to disappear”. Voluntarily leaving his job to chase the ‘dream career’ suddenly doesn’t look too clever anymore.

He sighs.

‘No need to worry’ he reasons with himself. ‘Surely every generation has one of these moments. Although this really feels different. Who would’ve thought that after spending 3 years and thousands of pounds at university to gain a good degree, I was going to end being at the front line of a social struggle… a struggle to get a job!’ He smiles.

He trawls through the job sites again. Finds another position he likes. Another 8 page application. Another ‘equal opportunities monitoring form’. Another certain wait. Another certain negative email.

He ponders again on whether this should really be so. After all, creating news jobs instead of curtailing existing ones is surely a failsafe strategy to drive the economy out of recession? Surely pulling funds out of the job market is merely a cynical political move and it doesn’t take into account the people who are struggling to make ends meet?

He wishes he could get organised and write a few pamphlets and get people talking about this but he knows he can’t. He might be certain he won’t hear back from this other job application but he can’t afford not to apply.

He sticks his favourite artist of the moment on the CD player. He gets the coffee on the go again. Puts on his lucky hat on. Looks down on the page.

“NAME: ______________”

He sighs.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Cheap and Convenient

By Candice Carboo-Ofulue

It’s amazing how cheap and convenient tourism is these days. In the not-so-old days, to get a cheap getaway, you'd have to scroll through reams of teletext for hours. Sometimes days. Before you knew it, you'd built a trench around the TV. Now, it’s painfully easily to book a bargain-bucket holiday. The internet is like an electronic monopoly board of airlines, hotels and tour operators. Land on Ryanair: go directly to Germany, do not pass Go, do not collect £200.

This makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I say uncomfortable, because I'm in no position to delve into my normal self-righteous rant, and start preaching about sustainable tourism or carbon offsetting. I believe in these concepts. But I'm not perfect. If I was: rather than flying three times over the past year, I would have sailed on an elbow-powered raft made from sustainable wood. But the thought of sailing across the Atlantic sickens me with fear, which is not how I prefer to start my vacation. It's just more convenient to fly.

What we fail to see beyond the seductive deals, are the costs. Take Mexico's tropical peninsula in the Caribbean Sea, for example. Home to the sprawling, tourist-metropolis of Cancun; its coastline dominated by all-inclusive hotels. That's pretty convenient. Now tourists can enjoy some of Mexico's most beautiful beaches, courtesy of a foreign-owned hotel without all that third world baggage.

Mexico, however, is anything but a convenient country. It's riddled with corruption, drug warfare, police brutality, discrimination and poverty, to mention a few ailments. Admittedly, I don't have children or only two weeks of vacation a year, but what gives us the right to experience a safe Burma, an equal Kenya, or an efficient Mexico? Because we paid for it?

Instead of countries bending and cultures changing to accommodate the demands of tourists. Instead of deforestation caused by our insatiable thirst for traditional wood carvings, to put on top of the bookcase in the corner of our Ikea living rooms. Instead of the Masai performing hunting dances in front of tour groups, for hunts they have never seen and almost certainly will never do. We should be embracing the people of the countries we visit, in the context of their existing culture. Our holidays to distant lands are not just about us......

Apologies. I've just re-read this and it sounds rather like a rant. I'll spare you the bit about money enslaving us and everything stinking of colonialism......

So what do you think of cheap and convenient tourism?