Having chosen to swallow the red pill...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Stand your ground

I was just talking to my Mum today, who is currently over visiting us and she told me about an elderly lady in UK who has just been given a 3 month prison sentence for refusing to pay her council tax. The reason she has refused to pay it is that the street that she lives in has basically been turned into crack ally and not even the police dare to enter it. Because of the conditions in the street, they basically get none of the amenieties which are the right of tax payers. If the council is not willing to provide the same level of services to that street that it does to others, or indeed any services at all, then what benefit is the tax payer deriving from her contribution towards council costs? If she is deriving zero benefit because the council is not willing to provide basic services to her run-down street, then it follows logically that she shouldn't have to pay taxes. However this logical step seems to be an impossible leap for the local council to make, who seem to reason thus: If we give-up and provide no services to the people in this street, we can still collect tax of them with a good conscience. hmmmm. Obviously it is not quite as black and white as I have portrayed it and of course council taxc covers other areas than just her street services, but the principle is what is important here. Government, local and national just can't turn a blind eye to problems and expect their citizens to live with it and to pick-up the bill. Stiff upper lip may be useful for a hooker, but today civil protest is emerging as a sign that the average citizen has lost their faith in the government's ability to listen to them and to deal with matters of the people and they are taking matters into their own hands and taking a stand.

Well, this lady has made a stand and is engaging in age-old civil protest and as a result has received and is currently serving a three month prison service. The interesting flip side to this story is that the same local council has just given her a 1000 pound reward for her tireless service to the homeless. Go figure ?!?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Notes from a Dad at home

Note to self: Apple doesn't go well in a fruit purée as once it has been blended, it quickly goes brown.

Yesterday I took my premiere swim in the ocean. I had hoped that the sun we have had over the past few weeks had warmed it, but it had not. It was 12 degrees and for a few seconds I forgot how to breathe! I swam around until I was suitably numb and then climbed out feeling exhilarated. I don't know if it was because of the effect of the cold water on my body and brain, or the fact that now the first ocean swim of the season is over, the water can, hopefully, only get warmer from here.

I have finally got round to re-writing the profile for this blog and you can now read the new version in the 'About Me' section in the right hand column of this page.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Can a high petrol price be a good thing?

There is much speculation at the moment that the recent 'hot dialogue' with Iran and the Bush administrations refusal to rule out the possibility of military action can be linked to, dare I say it, an artificially high oil price. Whatever the reason, oil prices have been gradually increasing over the past year or two, much to the chagrin of every motorist and a great many owners of oil-heated homes. Whether or not you drive a petrol or a diesel car, heat your home from oil or via a wind turbine, the rising oil prices hits everyone's wallets as many of the bi-products of oil that we use every day, such as plastics have also gone up in price.

Whether you are convinced that the rise in oil prices is a result of global geo-political power play or whether it serves as further proof of globalisation and the multinationals ability to steer politics, I would like to look instead at the positive side of the price rise.

For the first time in a long time, American consumers are feeling the pinch and sales of SUV's has taken a negative plunge. Just last week, Hummer announced that they were ceasing production of the civilian version of the Hummer H1 due to a weak demand, and in the worst example of cross branding I have seen in a while, I noticed an advert in a magazine for Hummer after-shave, which might be an indication of where the company feels it future lies.

Every other car brought in Europe today is a diesel. Gone are the dirty exhaust spitting diesels of the past, the latest development is leading to cleaner and more efficient engines. In response to the change in consumer attitudes brought on by the rising oil prices, car manufacturers are suddenly able to produce smaller engines that produce more power. Volkswagen, for instance, recently launched the Golf GT, which develops 150hp from a 1,4l engine, where previously they had a 1,8l engine. Take Toyota's PRIUS and other hybrid cars that run on electricity and petrol and which leave a very small environmental footprint. Take the new range of cars from a variety of manufacturers including Ford, Volvo, BMW that are so-called bi-fuel cars that can run on either petrol or ethanol. Match that to the recent announcement from the Norwegian oil retailer, Statoil that it will be investing in ethanol pumps across Scandinavia. What you have got is a trend lead by consumers that is leading to a development and a direction that consumes less petrol and leaves a smaller environmental footprint.

This trend has maybe been jump-started by the high oil prices, but it is definitely there and it is definitely growing. People are starting to think strategically, or should I say, environmentally. Do I really need to make this trip? Can I cycle or take public transport instead? There has been a marked increase in car sharing and considerable interest in schemes such as Zipcars (see www.zipcar.com) in major cities where instead of owning a vehicle, people can pay to 'borrow' a vehicle as and when they need it, resulting in better planned vehicle use, less traffic congestion, less pollution, less vehicles to be scrapped...

The trend has also moved beyond the realms of transport and into the home, where the cost of oil-fired burners is causing home owners to re-think and, such as here in Sweden, the government is responding by giving tax breaks to those who purchase environmentally-friendly heating systems such as the one we have installed in our house that takes the temperature differential from the air and uses it to heat a liquid with a very low boiling point. The energy released as this liquid turns to vapour is then converted and used to heat the water that heats our house and hot water.

Each time I fill up the car and the guy or lady next to me calls over to complain about the pump price, I have started inwardly smiling to myself as that little extra cost may just have started a ball rolling that will prevent us from having far larger and more serious costs in the future.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Naked at the airport

I nearly committed a civil protest the other day when I was coming back through the airport. There were armed police throughout the airport and they have increased exponentially in number the last few years. This time there were also armed police monitoring the passport queues. As you moved through from the passport desk to the customs team, there was a policeman sitting behind a laptop, monitoring the passengers as they moved on through. I don't know for certain, but I believe that he was sitting behind the scanner device that enables security teams to see through clothing. As I walked through, I thought to myself, 'well, there goes another civil liberty.'

Clearly it feels wrong for me to ask someone to remove all of their clothing in the middle of the street. It also feels wrong for me to throw my clothing aside and walk down the high-street... but now, in the name of homeland security or whatever they have dubbed it this time, it is suddenly, without even having the courtesy of informing the public, it is suddenly ok to look through our clothes. I am sure that the public weren't informed because there would have been an outcry. It seems true to form that it is best to follow a policy of least resistance. It is best to keep people in the dark and slowly erode their civil liberties than it is to shine a light on it and risk public protest and possibly having to both explain and justify your actions.

How much more are we prepared to sacrifice in the name of terrorism? Do we even know what we have given up already in the Glorious Fight Against Terrorism? Are we going to wake-up one day and find that is it too late, that we are monitored in everything we do and it is all written in the law books and there is nothing to do about it? It is a funny paradox that the price of 'freedom' is that the government can use the 'fight against terrorism' to monitor us more closely than ever before.

I am not stupid enough to write a criticism without considering the 'what if's'. What if there is another terrorist attack on English soil? What if the plane that I am flying on is hijacked and forced to fly into some strategically and nationally important building? Are we willing to take that risk? Or should we not maybe take the steps necessary to minimise the risk of such a tragedy occurring? All very valid points, but the thing that bothers me most, in a democratic country is 'do I as an individual, have a choice?'

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A leave of absence

I owe you all some kind of explanation. I glanced at the date I last published and noticed that there has been a three month gap! Three months of blog blackout. The reason was law. Singularly the hardest course that I have taken at university level to date. It scared me, it challenged me, it occupied my days and in a sick way I actually enjoyed it. It blew away the cobwebs and got my brain working to a level of activity where I am actually disappointed that I don't have a paper to write over summer so that I have something to chew on and an excuse to read some more books! The exam result is due out in just over 2 weeks time, so I'll let you know how I did.

During the law course, life for me changed. There are only so many hours in the day and in order to be able to spend some of them sleeping, I had to take a hard look at my life and take some tough choices. I stopped my work as a swimming instructor as I couldn't sacrifice two afternoons a week and wanted to spend my evenings with Ben. I took a break from training ju-jutsu. I was getting stressed that I couldn't keep up with my colleagues, who were able to just about live in the dojo daily, and so I just took a break. When I go back, and I am hoping to go back, I will be so far behind them that it won't matter anymore, I won't feel the pressure like I did before.

Ben changed too, he got bigger. Looking back through the photos of when he was first born, especially the first picture I have when I am holding him in my arms just after he was born, it is amazing how he has changed. Yesterday he was 8 months old to the day and now he will be crawling shortly, the house is always full of him chatting, laughing and singing, he claps and waves you good-bye when you go. He sits up straight and concentrates on little games that he is playing with his wooden blocks and rings. Even though he is still a baby, he seems very much a little boy.

It feels kind of boring really, that I can sum-up three months of absence in a few paragraphs. The astute readers amongst you will see that I have in fact just been filling white space as my time away can be summed-up in a haiku:

A three month absence
Study, snow, boy, wife, study,
White blog matches white skin.

Monday, June 05, 2006

If not me, then whom?

Today, according to my diary, is World Environmental Day. That I found it there by chance and otherwise on the 'outside' have heard nothing about it, seems to me to be symptomatic of how in many spheres the environment has become a back issue and for many people, a second thought.

But today's writing is not about addressing the environment as a global debate, not about even about EU environmental policy or Swedish environmental awareness. Today is about the micro side of the environment, it is about you and me and about the choices that we make, each and every day.

When you are walking downtown and come across a discarded paper in the street, what do you do? Do you even notice it? Do you just ignore it and not give it a thought? Do you give it enough time to think that it is maybe someone else's job to pick it up, but not yours? Do you stop to pick it up and place it in the nearest dustbin?

In each of these thoughts and actions, we are making an active choice about the type of world that we want to live in and we are actively creating it. When I stop to pick-up the discarded paper and place it in a bin, I am making a choice about the type of world that I want to live in and that I want my children to live in. I ask myself the honest question, 'If not me, then whom?' If I don't pick it up, can I expect you to pick it up? If I am out with Benjamin and I walk on past it, can I expect him to pick it up? If not me, then whom?

The same is true of household recycling. Do you recycle all of the envelopes, papers and junk mail you get, all of the cans and bottles that you eat and drink out of daily, or do you just throw them away? Sure, it takes a little bit more time but what examples are we setting for the children and what kind of a world are we leaving them? What kind of world are we creating for ourselves?

The power of a grassroots movement is that the small, daily efforts of a large number of people on a mission cause a big effect. It is those little choices, the picking up of that paper, the one extra minute it takes during a day to recycle a bottle or a can. That small action, if you do it and if I do it, can really change the world. Decide what kind of world you want to live in and then go out and make it happen.

As Noreena Hertz said at a recent interview, 'Nobody can do everything but everybody can do something and together we can change the world.'