Archive | November, 2012

UK: A part of Europe yet apart.

25 Nov

This is the view of Britain that you can see if you look west from the edge of Europe. It has not changed since the birth of religion. This view remains constant. It is the view one gets from any ship or ferry that is heading to the Port of Dover, England.

To the home-coming Brit, first time visitor or the migrant, this view emerges usually from a cloak of  mist and cloud. The grey finger of land looms ever closer until great cliffs reveal the entrance to the small but restless port.

These last few minutes of the journey let you see yourself and your fellow ferry travelers as you really are. On deck or looking through the huge windows from the passenger lounges, we all stare at this view in silence.

There is nothing to point at, no comment worth making, no detail to arrest one’s thoughts until one is almost there.

I watch as a group of young Eastern European men and women put arms around each other’s shoulders as they gaze. One of them turns and hugs his friend and I see his cheeks are streamed wet with tears, his reddened eyes blinking furiously. His friends crowd round and he breaks his embrace and laughs and hugs them. They all laugh and hug.

By contrast, the well-dressed elderly couple turn away from the railing. He fishes a handkerchief from his sharply ironed trousers and blows his nose. She opens her handbag and suddenly rummages inside it as if attempting to kill a particularly defensive small rodent.

‘Have you got the keys…?’

Her shocked voice barks out to him, echoing across the deck above the hum and whine of the ship’s engines.

‘Yes.’ He replies, returning his handkerchief to its appointed pocket and inspecting with great enthusiasm the grey plastic decking beneath his brown and immaculately polished brogues.

A mother and father spill out through the cabin door onto the deck and repeatedly call for Imogen. Imogen leaves her position by the hand rail near me and becomes tried, found guilty, sentenced and punished in the few seconds it needs for her tired parents to dispense rough justice.

I watch as my brother takes a last photograph from the stern of the closely packed long-distance trucks that litter the open hold below. Sailors are cracking undone the chains that bind their dusty trailers to the deck and the ship’s tannoy is welcoming us to the Port of Dover in English, French and finally, Polish.

‘It sounds better in Polish’ says my brother, slipping his camera back into his jacket. ‘The French version somehow lacks a certain enthusiasm.’

Our great ferry is now shuddering violently as if something large and expensive to replace has broken loose in the engine room. The stern foams as black harbour water is angrily hurled elsewhere to let us turn and line up the bow doors with ramp number fourteen. The ferry over at ramp number nine  begins to depart and we all start to file below, down the stairs to the car deck.

As the 40 tonne trucks are let out of the holds beneath us, people go through the complex nesting procedures that are required to drive an unbroken journey from the dock to home, hundreds of miles inland.

The baby’s bottle needs to be got from underneath the suitcase in the back. The raincoats need to be folded away on the left so that father can see out of the right. The lady in the Audi TT needs her driving shoes on and her stilettos off and stored behind her. Imogen needs to be reminded once more of areas in her behaviour where her mother seeks lasting improvement.

I need to peel the black tape from my headlights so that they can once again shine more brightly to the left. I need to check the oil and water. Doing so fills the drivers behind me in the queue with horror. I am lifting the bonnet. I must have broken down. They are now trapped behind me. They will never be able to leave the ferry. I have ruined their entire holiday. I should not be allowed to drive. I drop the bonnet from shoulder height and stare back at them. Suckers. It works every time.

Our passports were checked earlier by the French Customs officer at the port in France. Then again at the next cabin fifty metres further along in the concrete wasteland by the British Customs officer in France. Then, once parked up in lines and waiting for our ferry, our load space was again checked by a British Customs officer in France.

Now, we leave the ship and join the queue that leads to the British Customs in Britain. Their concrete cave nestles at the foot of the towering cliffs of Dover. We are invited in.

The British Customs in Britain dance and swerve between the two slowly moving queues of heavily laden cars. They wave and point and beckon, let three cars straight through then stop the fourth and lean in to ask a quick question of the driver. The driver must not do two things. He must not sound nervous when asked out of the blue if he has visited Holland and his breath must not smell of alcohol.

Four policemen with loaded machine guns and hands on triggers ensure that we all focus on where we all are and why we are all here. You may look the policemen in the eye but you may not out-stare them. Not unless you wish to be beckoned to steer to the left and to a bay marked out on the wet concrete floor for those who may not understand. Look away. Appear bored and impatient.

The Eastern Europeans in their minibus are waved straight through. Customs are already fully aware who they are. The old couple are stopped. Duty Free alcohol. Where is it? How many bottles? Are there more bottles they have bought in France? Where? In the back? Show me. Fine. Thank you. Move on. The old man’s face is flushed. He was not expecting that. The customs officer knows that and that is precisely why he stopped him. You’d be surprised who tries to break the law.

My brother and I are waved straight through. Our car is sunken on its springs with over a hundred wine bottles that fill the cabin and boot under our coats and jackets. The Customs officers already know that. We are on a day trip. We are bound to be maxed out on wine that costs a quarter of the British price and tastes twice as good. We won’t be smuggling. You don’t get rich smuggling wine using a VW Golf. You use a Mercedes estate with self-levelling suspension, like the old couple did.

I am bringing into Britain what I am entitled to by British Customs. EU law says that the British are allowed to bring as much of whatever they want into Britain as members of a free-trade union of countries called the European Union. That is what free trade is all about.

But that cuts no ice with British Customs officials. They say that I am only allowed to bring in 100 litres of wine and a kilo of tobacco. Every now and then. Not too often.

Britain is different. We are an island. See photo at top of page for further clarification.

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Obama Wins Second Term. World Breathes Out.

7 Nov

Good cat wins. Bad cat loses. That’s how we cats like it.

For us British, the US Presidential election results are revealed between midnight and 6am.

Thoroughly frustrating. Traditional as Halloween, yes, but also maddening.

It is like being forced to watch a five hour presentation of your friend’s holiday pictures when all you really want to see is the bit where they lost control of their rental car and drowned it in the drainage lake beside the airport as they were returning it.

I waited up until the first states called their results and then went to bed. I couldn’t stand the mental agony of listening to the BBC anchor man asking “So, what does this really mean…?” another 48 times.

Five hours of sleep put me in a curious position. I didn’t want to get up. If I got up then the Republicans might be in power. If I stayed in bed, Obama was still ruling America.
As I lay and stared at the ceiling, I remembered another chilling thought from the previous night. One of the commentators had expressed the view that for decades, America had been driving relentlessly onward to the extreme right.
This theory would be proved correct if Obama now was kicked out and the journey towards fascism was continued after a four year accidental blip.
I stayed in bed some more.
Then, I remembered the white British anchorman asking his chatty multicultural American table guests if it may be a case of “…Americans being tired of the black man in the White House…”.
His chatty American guests weren’t ready for that one. You don’t mention that in America. The chatty American guests had been set up. They squirmed. Slam dunk. Answer that one. You’re getting paid, aren’t you…?
In the whole reportage of the American elections by American reporters, you never heard a single reference to the seething indignation felt by right wing white Americans that there was a black man in the White House.
You used to.
You heard it in the run-up to the previous election. You heard it on Obama’s winning night. You heard it at his inauguration speech. You heard it fade away, once the white racists realised that a black man really was in the White House and there was nothing that could be done.
The white racists’ only hope was to get Obama out of office four years later and have him suffer the indignation of being a “One Term President”. Forgotten as a freak of historical detail.
I leaped out of bed and rushed to switch the TV on.
Obama was thanking America and telling Americans how great they were as a nation. His voice croaked as he pushed it for one last time after weeks and weeks of speeches. I almost cried.
And it was true, what Obama was saying. They are great as a nation.
As a nation, they had seen through that grotesque caricature of an Uber-right-wing politician, Mitt Romney. They had voted instead for Obama, the guy who was born to engage with people and embrace politics. Romney, on the other hand, was born only to employ people and play politics with them. He never hid it. He couldn’t.
Noble (through gritted teeth) in defeat, he nevertheless chilled the blood of anyone who understands the dreadful damage that George W. Bush caused the reputation of the American people outside America. Rich white kids who have shares in arms companies are very out of fashion, right now.
Mitt Romney could never shake off the suspicion in most people’s minds that he had come out of the cinema after seeing The Matrix and turned to his P.A. and said: “Find out how much it would cost us to build a machine like that and have the report on my desk tomorrow morning.”
Removing Obama and replacing him with Romney would have been a PR catastrophe for America. 
The good guy won today.

Human Rights Industry for sale. Click here to add ‘Human Rights’ to shopping cart.

6 Nov

If you are reading these words, then you are a conscientious citizen who cares about protecting human rights.

Or else,  you are an employee belonging to one of  hundreds of worldwide government organisations who monitor the internet for early signs of organised dissent.

If you fall into both categories then your body may soon be found by a passer-by.

If you are ‘time-poor’ or otherwise have a boss who wears sunglasses inside the office, here are the two links:

This one is to the RFK Training Institute.

This one is to the BBC who have written an online article about them.

Off you go. See you back here later.

Over the last two years, Roadwax has noticed a couple of disturbing trends within the media.

1) The increasing use of the term “Human Rights Activist”.

2) Investigative journalists who mock Twitter for being a fickle gossip shop yet all have Twitter accounts.

Let’s take a closer look:

1) “Human Rights Activist”. Er…someone who actively promotes human rights? Not just a “Human Rights Supporter” – someone who supports basic human rights but…well…someone who goes a little bit further. Maybe, too far.

Even the most right-wing dictator or left-wing Supreme Leader supports human rights. It always looks good on their CV or resume and calms fears that they might actually be a right-wing dictator or a left wing Supreme Leader. But hey, running around and actively supporting Human Rights – now, that is just asking for trouble. Best stay at home and click ‘like’ on a Facebook campaign when asked. Don’t push it. Don’t get active. You need to be a trained pro to do all that stuff. Best leave it to someone else.

On what date in history did we normal humans apparently stop actively supporting our rights? Or, is popular media beginning to use the term ‘active’ as a kind of negative adjective, a nudge in the ribs to their readers and viewers?

“Watch out for Dave. He’s an Education Activist. He openly questions the teachers at parent meetings.”

“Watch out for Ella. She’s an Animal Welfare Activist. She persuaded her local store to stop selling battery-farmed eggs.”

Supporters are supposed to fill seats in the stadium and watch the activists do the work.

Nonsense. Dangerous nonsense.

We should all be Human Rights Activists. We should regain ownership of the term.

Which brings me neatly to point number 2).

Again, in the space of a couple of years, Twitter has gone from lightweight world chat-room to premier source of breaking news.

How do we know? Well, we could conduct a simple scientific experiment:

1) Have a huge storm hit a major city. New York will do fine.

2) Go on to Twitter and watch what ordinary people say and upload as pictures.

3) When someone uploads a picture of a shark swimming in their yard…

4) Watch how long it takes in seconds before major news websites carry the story…

5) …before dumping  it and instead running a “How to Spot a Faked Photo” article.

So, without causing any cruelty or suffering to animals, we can test out how the major news-gathering organisations work these days.

They watch Twitter. They use a mixed bag of paid and unpaid freelance reporters to report from the front line. They use activists.

Staff reporters visiting dangerous places? Not likely. Have you any idea how expensive and embarrassing it gets when a staff reporter gets their head stuck in a toilet in a Kiev brothel or runs down a local warlord’s mother-in-law while driving a Sixt Rental Toyota in Afghanistan? Nope. Staff reporters do the restaurant reviews and click on Twitter.

The RFK Training Institute have spotted this trend. The BBC have spotted the RFK Institute spotting this trend. Roadwax spotted the BBC spotting the RFK…oh – you know how word travels.

The RFK Institute in Florence, Italy are opening their doors today.

They are offering to train Human Rights Activists how not to get caught, killed or disconnected. The big beasts. The ones who report human rights abuses in other people’s countries. Countries where nobody can tell who the guys with the guns and the Toyota pickup truck work for. The guys outside your house.

If you want any more information, email  Valentina Pagliai on:  pagliai@rfkcenter.com but do not waste her time. They are apparently looking to focus efforts on the most high priority cases – the men and women who already have to hide from tyranny to stay alive long enough to report it.

The BBC says that the RFK Institute are going to sell courses to teach human rights activists how to protect themselves online from being tracked, monitored, shut down or effectively marginalised.

The first students will enroll in January 2013.

Strange.

Instead of offering all this information free to everyone via the internet, the RFK Institute is carefully hand-picking a few whose names will be kept secret and who will be trained behind closed doors.

Instead of freely revealing all the tips and tricks that every human ought to be aware of to be kept safe while using the internet in 2012, RFK is teaching maybe fifty or a hundred paying guests.

They will become the elite who can protect themselves from prying agencies. RFK Institute will issue the qualifications, I assume. Control the market, as it were.

The RFK Institute has just created the Human Rights Industry.

It has just put a price on knowledge instead of uploading it for free to everyone.

If I become a donor to this charity, will I get a monthly newsletter that includes a helpful ‘handy tip’ on how to keep my freedom online? I doubt it. I sincerely hope not.

The RFK Institute appears to be ‘professionalising’ human rights activism.

My heart hurts.

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