Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The Oil Spoil  


The truckers have revolted and London's ring roads are even more congested than usual!

I am the last person to defend driver's rights. I live in London, do not drive and, for my sins, I am an avid user of public transport. However, in this instance I feel the need to come down on the side of the gas guzzling, polluting petrol-heads. Yes, the government needs to reduce petrol duty.

There is no doubt that there is too much congestion on our roads and that London has made the right and essential choice by implementing the congestion charge. It is also true that the pollution caused by drivers, particularly those who drive larger engined, so-called 'Chelsea Tractors' is, frankly, selfish and immoral.

However, the fact is that, however idiotic the reasons, we are stuck with the combustion engine. We have taken away the trains and the canals and we have created a situation where the vast majority of our heavy goods are transported via lorries.

It is vital to the British economy to be able to transport goods and for HGV companies to be able to make a profit. Without an alternative such as canals and trains, it is essential that the HGV transport companies can work and make a profit.

Ultimately the government needs to provide alternatives to the oil dependent, polluting and expensive HGV system. However, it has made little move to do so and so it should support this vital industry. Whether a weakened Prime Minister, desperate to show leadership, will make the correct decision and support the HGV industry is another thing.

Equally, the petrol duty taken is not accounted for. Where does it go? If it was put into the public transport system (ignoring the private industries who are charging such hideous prices) then it would be possible to improve the trains, increase the number of services and provide cheaper transport. At the present time many either have no choice but to travel by car, or it is still more cost effective to do so.

The government can take a lead and have failed to do so. It is now more essential than ever that it now does so.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

The Fear of Fritzl  


So we have another amazing, shocking and terrifying story! Lock up your kids, demand new laws, slap a GPS transmitter on your child - the paedophiles are here! Okay, so we all share a rather guilty fascination in the story and there are so many more elements to it than the usual paedophile shock stories.

The stories about Fritzl being a Neo-Nnazi, that his victim was his own daughter and that he had created an elaborate underground home to enjoy his 'other life' in are all well documented and reported. Fritzl managed to break every taboo known to man and did so in such an unfeeling, unemotional way that he must be a psychopath as well as, and I have to use the word, pervert. His actions in imprisoning his daughter and raping her over a period of 24 years, not to mention the abuse the children endured (including, in all likelihood, the rape of one of the children he had conceived with his own daughter) marks him out as a true monster. However, it also marks him out as a celebrity as infamous as other monsters like Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy, Harold Shipman and oh so many others.

These are the real boogie men we hope our children will not encounter and yet it is the adults, the parents who are the ones who are hiding under the bedsheets, too scared to look.

Paedophiles are the big thing right now. It's hardly news to say that the media use fear in order to sell stories. However, in the UK in particular, there is a political dimension to the newspapers' use of paedophile stories. With Fritzl the right wing newspapers are happy to tell you how much this kind of thing could only happen in a country as Germanic as Austria and yet with our home-grown paedophiles they bellow out vitriolic rhetoric, demanding stronger laws, more police and better family values. There are many problems with families in the UK but one of them is certainly not allowing their kids to roam the streets unprotected. The fact is we are keeping our children in the house on a diet of video games and no exercise making them mal-adjusted and fearful of the outside world.

It was only in 1875 that the age of consent was raised to 13. Up until then it had been 12 for sometime and brothels specialised in providing young girls to their 'customers'. Right through to the 20th century the authorities turned a blind eye to flagrant paedophilia and other abysmal crimes committed against children. And yet we are told that society is becoming worse, that paedophiles are everywhere and the right wing newspapers cry for a return to 'Victorian values'. Well I'm sorry, but those same values meant that children were regularly treated as sex slaves by sexually depraved, but otherwise 'respectable' men. We should never go back to such a dark time, however much the Daily Mail would love to.

It is understandable that parents fear for their children. However, it is a disgrace that newspapers like The News of the World should manipulate this fear and that those same parents should turn into mindless thugs. Fear is something politicians use, parents and couples use and the media was born to use, but we should all be more aware of it and its influence upon us.

There is not a Josef Fritzl living around every corner; another Ian Huntley is not likely to attack your child; the number of paedophiles is no higher than before, they are just publicised more. Do not make celebrities out of them and do not teach your children to be frightened of boogie men.

Lastly, I advise all readers to view the excellent Brass Eye mockumentary on paedophilia and try to laugh, if not at your own fears then at the fears of society as a whole.

Tags: , ,

Monday, 5 May 2008

The Intangible Men  


Barack Hussein Obama Jr. and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson may seem worlds apart and, certainly in their backgrounds, they are. However, there are two things they share in common:

1. They spent part of their respective childhoods abroad (Obama lived in Indonesia from the age of 6 until 10 and Johnson, born in New York, was educated at the European School in Brussels before becoming an Etonian

2. They are each extremely popular politicians, one of whom has won an election to become London Mayor and one of them (providing he manages to prevent his minister from preaching any further hatred) is a serious contender for US President, and they have managed to achieve their success without having any serious policies whatsoever.

Okay, so they both have some policies. I agree with Boris (when did we all start calling him by his first name?) that bendy buses are rubbish. As a keen cyclist myself I certainly agree that they can be extremely dangerous. However, what else does Boris promise us? It seems that he swept to victory on a wave of anti-Gordon Brown, Anti-Labour feeling and the fury of the Middle England. Middle England are sure that they have got the right man to allow them to trundle their SUVs around London without the threat of paying for the pollution they have caused; they are certain that they have got the right man to sort out the delinquent, feral youths swarming the streets and threatening their very existence; they are adamant that they have got the right man to ensure that, during the credit crunch, they can still hammer away at their credit cards. He hasn't, beyond vague murmurings (the kind Boris does so well), got any polices to deal with these 'problems'. Equally, the other threat to the Middle England - people who are different - are, it appears, leaving the UK of their own accord (or possibly due to the fact that we have made them feel a little too welcome). The illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and economic migrants are leaving in their droves and, even if Boris does finally think of a policy to deal with them, it is likely that he will not need to. The fact that immigrants to the UK, including illegal immigrants, are essential to its economic prosperity (particularly the capital's) is a rather moot point.

Equally, Obama has policies beyond 'Change' (why does he keep harping on about this - one expects there to be change or else what's the point in electing someone new). Between promising to change everything he talks about, presumably for the better, he has made it clear that he has a policy on ending the war in Iraq, he has promised universal healthcare and energy independence (from Gulf states, presumably). However, like Johnson, he rarely gives any real substance to his policies.

I can't help liking these two men, however. I did not vote for Boris and, cannot imagine a parallel universe where this would be possible. I also felt a little queasy when I saw him blunder up the steps to make his victory speech, mumbling and spluttering out the words and looking thoroughly embarrassed to even be there. Even the Tories have said that his best strength will be his ability to delegate responsibility as he himself is not the sort of person to take it all upon himself. But he does seem to be a very pleasant, amusing and warm-hearted man. Sure he has insulted entire cities, but haven't we all at some point? He is gaffe-prone, but that is no reason for him not being the Mayor of London. I just hope he doesn't become Prime Minister.

Obama is a different case altogether. I'd probably vote for him in a second. If Europeans were allowed to vote in the US election the turnout would be amazing - far higher than when we elect our own leaders - and Obama would be a clear winner. We love Obama because, however irritating his constant message of change and hope is, we believe him. How can we not when his is such a beautiful orator?

The problem is, then, that we can't help loving these men without substance, these intangible men - the problem is what happens when we really need them to show substance and it fails to show.