Monday, January 21, 2008

Ken Livingstone

I've just watched Dispatches on Channel 4 about Ken Livingstone - the Mayor of London. I've never seen such a bunch of bitter, small-minded, under-achieving and jealous interviewees as they managed to dredge up. They were either political opponents or disillusioned ex-employees so they're hardly likely to be impartial.

Ken's not popular with a lot of people, and I can see why. He winds me up at times but some of the criticism levelled at him was just piss poor. They accused him of employing advisers with whom he had worked with in the past. So? He is perfectly within his right to do that. They do appear to be of a pretty extreme political stripe but Ken didn't write his job description, and it is his right to employ whomever he chooses (within reason).

They had a bleat about congestion charging. The only mistake Ken made with the Congestion Charge was that he didn't make it enough - it should be £50 per day, every day, including weekends. I drive a car, live 4 miles from Central London and have never paid the charge because apart from a couple of weekends I've never had the need to drive through the Congestion Charge zone.

They moaned about buses. Apparently there are too many. For fuck's sake, what sort of a complaint is that? More people apparently are using the buses so they go slower. Well just think what things would be like without the extra buses and the congestion charge is the only reasonable response to those fatuous arguments. I remember the day the Congestion Charge was introduced. The media had reporters posted all over London, braced to report on the inevitable turmoil they had predicted would unfold. What happened? Nothing. All they noticed was, surprisingly, rather fewer cars on the road.

The role of Mayor of London was invented, specified and budgeted by New Labour who were confident they'd just shove Frank Dobson (remember him?) into the job and they'd have the whole thing stitched up nicely whilst proudly announcing how democratic the process was. They didn't anticipate Ken winning and New Labour have been smarting ever since. New Labour would love to see the back of Ken but the reality is, despite all New Labour's quiet skulduggery in the background, he's still popular. I think with Boris Johnson, there's a reasonably strong candidate up against him, even though I actually don't think Boris' heart is really into this. He's far more politically ambitious.

Ken provokes strong feelings with lots of people. He's a little too keen to grandstand with controversial political figures than I'd like, and I don't really see what he's trying to achieve, within the definition of his job, with that sort of activity.

Channel 4 - if you're in the business of doing hatchet jobs, you should be able to do a better job than this. You should be able to find plenty of people who have genuine reasons for wanting Ken out other than simple jealousy but that was the only reason I could detect from the bunch that was paraded on this show.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Happy Birthday, War has Begun

There was a TV programme on Channel 4 tonight - 1983: The Brink of Apocalypse (sorry, no link) - it was all about the most critical point of The Cold War between the USSR and the USA. A combination of activities by various western powers contrived to make the USSR believe that a nuclear attack was imminent. There was a major NATO exercise going on - called Able Archer - which simulated nuclear armageddon, there was a lot of electronic traffic between the US and the UK and Reagan was making some very provocative speeches about the "evil empire" in the USSR.

It seems, the only thing that kept the USA and USSR from launching every goddamn missile they had at each other was the Soviet spies, despite enormous pressure from their bosses in The Kremlin, could find no compelling evidence that the West had actually launched anything, there was only the indication that a lot of things appeared to be in place and that Able Archer might be a smokescreen for the real thing.

This all came to a head on November 8th 1983. By an interesting quirk of fate (I've always wanted to use that phrase) I know exactly where I was on November 8th 1983. I was in a bar/pub called The Old Rangoon on Castelnau, Barnes where everybody bought me drinks for the whole evening. It was a hoot. These are the photos. The rather luscious frizzie blonde sitting next to me was called Ginny. She was a lovely, deliciously curvy gal, great fun, and to a young rather naive chap like me was just a whole mess of excitement. She was working as a nanny next door to the large houseshare I was living in at the time in Roehampton in south west London. This is still the shared accomodation of which I have the fondest memories. A great bunch of people, we had a ball, Andy, Rosie, Tony, Chris, Phil, Karen, Murray, Jeannine, Terry, Yvonne and many others - what a crowd, I love you all and think of you often.

And only now, have I found, thanks to this C4 documentary, that the closest we ever came to a full on, flat out, kill us all, nuclear armageddon, was on my 21st birthday.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Take the Next Left

My mum, who was 70 last year, got a TomTom SatNav for Christmas. She spent a good few hours chuntering, as is her nature, about how little she needed a device like this. Several of us tried to explain the benefits and I think we finally at least convinced her that she should at least try it out. She has repeatedly complained over the last six months that since my brother moved recently, she always get lost in the mish-mash of urban motorways, ring roads and confusing dual carriageways that surround Manchester so there was a good reason for giving it to her.

It did however, in my usual lightweight way, get me thinking. This is technology that has I think, finally come of age. Apart from a few stories in the press about giant trucks being led up farm tracks, sat. nav. devices do now appear to work. They may not take you the route you know, or intuitively feel is the right way, but they will get you there. When you suddenly decide you want to go somewhere unexpectedly or just feel the urge to speculatively follow an interesting looking signpost, it'll get you home from there afterwards. Maybe not by the most direct route but you probably wouldn't know anyway.

I used one on a holiday last year. I was in an unfamiliar part of Scotland and I had to find a new golf course every day. It navigated me perfectly through some substantially sized towns, on to the correct road on the other side of the town, and then on to the golf course.

I'm pretty sure they will be a standard fitting in all cars within the next decade. Shortly after that, I'm pretty sure they will be, de facto, essential. Governments will no longer consider good signage on roads is required and it therefore will become increasingly poor. When the older generation - who still navigate on paper and love to argue about the merits of the B449 over the new bypass - complain, the government will have formulated some patronising answer about embracing new technology. The compulsory SatNav in your car is going to be monitoring where yoou're going in oder to calculate your road charges (another inevitability) anyway so you're going to have to have one.

The next generation will be one that does not spend their geography lessons learning how to read a map and another useful skill that was once considered essential, will fall by the wayside.

This might prompt another post regard skills we used to need but are no longer required.....