Big Ink

I believe that conspiracy theories are popular, or certainly have a cult following rather greater (if possibly stranger) than GofaDM, and so I thought I’d try and launch one.

As we all know, printer ink (as opposed to printer’s ink) is, gram-for-gram, one of the most valuable (or, at least, expensive) items on Earth.  Woe betide any developing country which discovers massive deposits of printer ink beneath its soil as it will find an American-led coalition delivering democracy through their bomb bay doors before it can say the local equivalent of ‘Jack Robinson’.  I do find myself wondering whether intense aerial bombardment has ever delivered a fully-functioning, representative democracy to its beneficiary?  I believe the military will talk about bombing a country ‘back to the stone-age’ but have never heard any equivalent about it bringing the fruits of the Enlightenment.  Perhaps democracy isn’t a human invention at all, could it have arrived on a comet during the Late Heavy Bombardment of Earth some 4 billion years back?  Did the Attic Greeks merely stumble across some which had been exposed by coastal erosion?  Still, this is not the conspiracy theory I’m trying to start: though it could make for an interesting addition to the whole panspermia idea.

In my daily life, I often find myself booking tickets on-line: either ‘to ride’ or to enjoy some sort of cultural event.  Often these can be collected from the venue (or station), but sometimes one is required to ‘print at home’ – and so use up precious milligrams of ink.  In theory, a ticket could be pretty basic: a few details and a bar code, or similar, should be enough.  However, many issuers attempt to fill an entire A4 sheet (or several) with ink and use as many colours as possible: usually printing out adverts for miscellaneous tat and unwanted services.  The worst offenders used to be the soi-disant budget airlines, but they have recently had their crown usurped by another.

Last week brought the first occasion I’ve ever had to use an organisation called Ticketmaster.  Using their website, one is immediately transported back to the 1990s: such is its retro feel in terms of slow response times, busy screens of small print and critical navigation hidden from view.  Given that supply of tickets would seem to be their primary (perhaps only business) and there are a number of potential competitors, their internet ineptness seems oddly shocking with more than a seventh of the 21st century behind us.  Their survival might be partially explained by the rather high booking fees they charge and the fact that they even charge for the option to print your tickets yourself (a first, in my reasonably wide experience).  Not only do they make you pay up-front to print your own tickets, but they then place an extraordinary quantity of useless ink on the printed ticket.  I am forced to assume that they (along with the budget airlines) are receiving kickbacks from Big Ink.  In return for wasting so much of our valuable ink, these companies are paid a fee by an evil consortium of ink cartridge suppliers and so bolster their business models.  It is time that we, the public, start the fight back!  I feel that with a little image-editing software I should be able to blank out all the spurious printing, while retaining those elements which are key to the ticket’s functioning – or will I then find myself falling into the commercial clutches of Adobe?

Notes on (many) a scandal

Scandals do seem terribly important in the world – without them the media would have to fall back on celebrity trivia, the voluminous output of the world’s PR machine and speculation for even more of their “news” content than is already the case

The media have themselves been rather mired in scandal of late which has allowed politicians, an unsavoury group that the fourth estate is supposed to keep in check, to gain the upper hand.  I’m not sure this is terribly healthy in a democracy – I was under the impression that a free press was quite an important element of maintaining a nominally free society. I’m not at all clear what this new Royal Charter is supposed to achieve – other than as a piece of political mis-direction – as all the recent press naughtiness it is supposed to prevent already seems to be covered by existing (if unenforced) laws.  Perhaps the money and time might have been better invested in improving enforcement of existing statutes rather than creating new ones not to enforce.

The press and politicos regularly come very low in measures of public trust – probably somewhere around the estate agent and second-hand car salesman of popular stereotype.  Rather than doing anything which might improve their standing, their main response seems to be to try and degrade public faith in much more popular and better trusted organisations (I’m sure attacks on Judi Dench and Stephen Fry can’t be far off).  I guess this is on the same principle that if you want to appear thinner, rather than losing weight you could save yourself effort by just hanging around with much fatter people.

Frequent targets for such attempts at public degradation would seem to be the Police, the BBC, the NHS and schools.  All have the major disadvantage that they are large, highly visible organisations heavily beholden to government (so are limited in how much they can fight back) and which have been used as political footballs for a very long time.  Being large organisations they make mistakes, sometimes terrible mistakes, as all large organisations do – but rarely receive huge bailouts using public funds in response as, to take but one example, the banks did in the not so distant past.  In common with most large organisations, they are all pretty dreadful at dealing with mistakes after they have been discovered – we don’t have to look far to see large private corporations with very well-funded PR departments making similar or worse messes.  I will, however, admit to frank amazement at how few corporate sex scandals dating back to the 1970s or 80s have yet surfaced which would suggest that some damage limitation is working very effectively (or is it just the lack of a celebrity angle preventing traction in the media?).

Many of the errors made by the public entities I have mentioned relate to, or are exacerbated by, the organisation tending to close ranks to protect apparent (or, indeed, actual) wrong doers.  Given the record of almost continuous attacks by both government and the press on these organisations for at least the 30 years when I have been (in age terms at least) an adult, this tendency to defensiveness is not so very surprising.  I have lost count of the number of major revolutions our schools and hospitals have been subjected to over the last couple of decades – any country or company treated this way would have been utterly destroyed by such treatment, but somehow education and the NHS struggle on surprisingly well.

Clearly, large publicly funded organisation require oversight – and this is, I believe, a role our elected representatives are supposed to fulfil.  However, this role seems rather incompatible with a number of other interactions between the overseers and the overseen:

  • the tendency of our representatives to use them as guinea pigs for any pet theory being hatched in the fevered mind of a cabinet minister (or his – or very rarely her – inconceivably highly-paid and unelected “advisers”);
  • their convenient status as a diversion from inconvenient political realities when the “bread-and-circuses” of celebrity tittle-tattle seems in danger of failing to placate the plebeian hordes; and
  • their role as a convenient source of savings or spending (delete as appropriate) to attract the floating voter in a very small number of marginal constituencies to allow our representatives to return to the Westminster gravy train.

Perhaps we need an apolitical elected body for such oversight, which might also be able to train its gimlet stare on the politically elected and the press?  The omens are not good, recent(ish) elections for the rather nebulous role of police commissioner were fully hijacked by the existing political lobbies and largely ignored by a disenchanted electorate.  How does one make electing an auditor seem worthwhile whilst keeping those already in power (or with hopes of quickly returning thereto) well away from it?  (Audit is always a tough sell, the role being likened to those that go around after a battle to stab the wounded).  Clearly we do not want to end up with the US system which, on recent showing, seems even worse than our own.  I’m open to ideas – or failing that, does anyone have Mary Warnock’s contact details?  She has a good track record in tackling very thorny issues as I was recently reminded by Lisa Jardine on A Point of View (discussing, as it transpires, an important issue unable to gain any attention from a scandal and celebrity-obsessed press).

The Art of Recovery

My weekend was something of a cultural binge: taking in two (and a bit) art exhibitions and some 12 hours of theatrical extravaganza (though, so far as I know, there are no suggested government limits on the maximum safe volume of culture to be consumed in 24 hours).  You might ask why I chose to subject myself to quite so much culture over one weekend: go on, you know you want to!

Well, as you asked so nicely, I can tell you in a single word (or perhaps a single word with a definite article): the Olympics.  Shortly, travelling into, and to an even greater extent around, London is going to become a significantly more challenging and unpleasant experience as it will be full of folk hoping to take part in an orgy of corporate branding with the odd sporting event thrown-in.  Since I suffer from claustrophobia in crowds (and even more so in small spaces filled with a crowd: yes London Underground, I’m talking to you), I am trying to squeeze in as much London-based culture before the hordes descend.  There is also the need to catch plays and exhibitions that will be over by the time it is safe to return.  So, I had my own little cultural Olympiad over the weekend.

Talking of the Olympics, I wonder if the current flourishing of Shakespeare on the television and in theatres across the land is relying on a probable misunderstanding: that the Stratford of the games and of the Bard are the same place?  I do wonder how many disappointed visitors will be unable to find Anne Hathaway’s cottage in E15?

Art-wise, on Saturday I took in the Master Drawings at the Courtauld and on Sunday “A taste of Impressionism” from Paris via the US to the Royal Academy.  I would thoroughly recommend both – some truly beautiful works.  The tragedy, as always, is that they are already fading from my useless visual memory – I shall have to return.  Luckily, I will be able to go back to both for nowt – thanks to my (paid) friendships with the National Art Fund and Royal Academy (so not entirely free, but sunk cost at least).  While at the RA, I was also able to see the contents of the John Madejski Fine Rooms.  I’ve known of the existence of these rooms for some time, but they had never been open on all my many previous visits – and I assumed they were like Brigadoon and only accessible once a century (so elusive are they, that I couldn’t even access the relevant part of the RA website when researching this post to check the spelling).  The rooms contained works by Academicians – and all held at least some interest, and a couple were real stunners (for me at least).

Theatrically, I saw Last of the Hausmanns at the National and Diplomacy at the Old Vic on Saturday – both plays well worth two-and-a-half hours of anyone’s time (I even managed to learn some relatively recent European history).  But, on Sunday I went to see Gatz which starts at 14:30 and doesn’t finish until 22:45.  They do offer you three intervals – two of 15 minutes and one of over an hour to have dinner – but it’s still a very long time to be folded up in a theatre seat.  The “play” is quite extraordinary and well-worth seeing:  The concept is an amazing idea for anyone to have come up with, and perhaps even more incredible that they managed to convince enough others to enable it to actually happen.  However, by the end I did wonder if my lower body would ever work again and most of my upper body was none too pleased with me either.  It also seemed that all that concentrated culture had turned my brain to mush: perhaps HMG should have a suggested limit for culture after all.  Miraculously, given my age, I do seem to have recovered pretty rapidly – or so I thought until I went to the cinema this afternoon.  After a couple of hours in the usually comfortable embrace of the Arts Cinema’s seating, I was having flashbacks to Sunday night.  I think I will have to start rationing my culture in future: perhaps limit myself to no more than 6 hours per weekend.  Either that or find a personal trainer who can prepare my body for the ordeal of sustaining the arts in this country: oddly, most seem more obsessed with helping me lose weight (and here’s me struggling to retain what little weight I have) than preparing me for the theatre or gallery.  This seems to be a rather serious gap in the market, if you ask me…

Democracy Inaction

The southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean are aflame as the peoples of a whole series of countries demand democracy or democratic reform.  Next week, we in the (usually) more sedate UK get to play with our long standing democracy-style system of government and to vote on reform of our very own.

The AV referendum has been the only topic of conversation in the workplace, at dinner parties or down the pub for weeks now.  The tabloids and broadsheets have been covering the great AV referendum to the exclusion of almost anything else.  I think I may have caught an occasional story about two people getting married somewhere in London tomorrow – but this has been confined to the occasional short paragraph buried in the middle of the more high-brow papers.  AV memorabilia is in sale in every shop and, apparently, many have applied to hold street parties to celebrate the event – I have already seen some bunting out!

Regular readers will know of my deep theological learning – I have RS O Level, you know (and didn’t merely scrape through, either) – and so will no doubt want to know which way I am leaning.  GofaDM can exclusively reveal that the Fish will be voting Yes to AV: you really can’t beat the King James version.  I was at school in the 1970s and was exposed to the modernising horrors of the Good News Bible, a text utterly lacking in majesty or soul – who in their right mind would ever mine that 70s monstrosity for a telling quotation? (It is very much the flared trousers and terylene tank-top of biblical fashion for my money.)   While I’m sure the Vulgate is very good, I’m afraid my Latin really isn’t able to do it justice (you’re disappointed in me I know, all I can say is that it’s on my “to do”list). So, it is the Authorised Version for me every time.

Sadly, I shall be on my way to Finland on polling day – so I will miss out on the party atmosphere that will engulf this sceptred isle, but don’t worry I will be putting in my vote for the good old King James version before I leave.