Today I feel like Leslie Knope

I have just posted the following letter to my county council because the street lamps near my house are dreadful and always turn off. Plus that alley is super creepy.

 

Dear Sir or Madam,

 

I am writing to inform you that the street lamps in the wooded alley -between Gillibrand Primary School and the nursing home on Gillibrand north- are inadequate. Currently the majority of the lamps are functioning but as the cliche states one bad apple spoils the bunch. There are a few lamps, closest to the nursing home side of the path, with defective sensors. The issue is that the lamps remain at full luminosity until you’re within eight feet of them, then turn themselves off. Perhaps this is a programming error? This lack of light is particularly inconvenient on my way to the train station early in the morning and from evening onward.

 

Last Sunday I walked through the area in question. Ahead of me, approximately ten feet, was a young lady around the age of fifteen. As she walked further down the path the lights went out. Frightened by the sudden darkness she froze, turned around and noticed myself. Then the young lady started screaming as she ran out of the wooded area. Later, after I had exited the path, I heard the girl talking on her mobile. She was exclaiming her belief that I had intended to murder her- a fear brought on by the lack of light. If the alley was properly illuminated the young lady may have felt safer. Furthermore, in correct lighting I would have appeared a less imposing figure because (as my mother has frequently informed me) I am rather handsome.

 

The incident with the young lady was rectified: I explained that on that particular evening I lacked any murderous impulse but was instead (as evidenced by many bags) simply journeying home from the airport. We laughed at our circumstance and continued our merry ways.

 

Whilst this suitable anecdote evidences that the area is largely safe, the citizens of Chorley may feel more secure if their paths were correctly lighted. Now that we are reaching the winter months it is more vital than ever to ensure true illumination in the extended darkness.

 

Yours Faithfully,

 

Average Joe

Success for Isolationist Isles

After the marginal victory of the Breixt campaign the majority of media focus, regarding the United Kingdom’s future economy, has fallen onto the hopeful deals politicians can broker with the European Union. The exit looks inevitable and negotiations are of utmost importance. Politicians are looking to play hardball and the future for a trading system like Switzerland or Norway will be a hard won slog. Our financial ties with the other member states of the EU are manifold and weaving them again under fresh circumstances will be a colossal labour. However, despite the Brexit camp’s claim to regain money poured into the continent and instill sovereignty, few progressive policies are being suggested (or the mainstream media are neglecting their coverage) to ensure the United Kingdom can withhold further austerity if negotiations aren’t favourable. In a sweep of arrogance I have listed some areas of the UK economy which are heavily dependent on either EU members or other international states and how control of these would ensure economic self reliance, potentially safeguarding a stronger financial future.

 

Energy Dependence

 

It’s no surprise that north sea oil and gas supplies are depleting. After all, fossil fuels are a finite resource and cannot last indefinitely. To base the UK’s energy needs upon them as well as to sell fossil fuels can only be a temporary measure. One solution has been to extend our dependency on fossil fuels through “fracking”. Read any article on the subject and it’s an obviously unpopular power source, sparking numerous protests across the country. Thus, we would assume that other means of sourcing energy would be high on the agenda. This isn’t the case. Instead, the United Kingdom has become increasingly reliant upon the import of fossil fuels.

 

The bulk of the UK gas supply derives from Norway. Some is imported from EU members such as Belgium and the Netherlands via the general European network (a series of pipelines running under the sea from Belgium and the Netherlands).[1] Other sources include Russia and in a liquid form from Qatar. This highlights that even though gas isn’t the primary fuel source it is still interconnected with several nations including the EU through Belgium and the Netherlands.

 

UK coal imports on the other hand are a more global affair. With a decline in home coal production, external sources have been the main suppliers. Trade with coal selling countries has escalated due to an increase in gas prices (material not household). In 2013, 93% of UK coal import came from three countries: Russia, the USA and Colombia.[2]

 

When we consider the origins of UK fossil fuel sources, with the exception the Netherlands and Belgium, it becomes clear that energy supply largely is traded outside the EU. When it comes to negotiations it would almost be safe to assume that energy prices are fairly secure. This is an incorrect assumption. Whilst the raw materials are imported from Non EU members, four out of six of the UK’s largest energy companies are EU countries:

 

1- British Gas (British)

2- Npower (German)

3- SSE (British)

4- Scottish Power (Spanish)

5- E.On (German)

6- EDF (French)[3]

 

These six companies, according to the BBC, supply around 95% of all household gas and electricity. This means that despite fossil fuels imports being from Non EU countries, a large percentage of household energy is either produced by EU countries or at least distributed by them. When it comes to Brexit talks, deals must consider how households fuel themselves and how large EU members are a pivotal aspect of that.

 

If the UK has dwindling finite fuel resources and must rely upon other countries, then the solution for energy independence is within low carbon and renewable energy such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, tidal and (depending of which side of the debate you fall on) nuclear power. Nuclear power is the only one of the above list that apart from the initial technology relies upon foreign imports- uranium.

 

There has been increasing move towards these low carbon sources, producing a varied mix of the UK’s energy origins. In 2011, renewable energy usage was 9.4% and increased to 11.3% in 2012. This trend continued into 2013 with renewable energy producing 15% of total consumption.[4] If this is considered alongside nuclear power, by the end of 2013, over a third of the island’s energy came from low carbon resources. This is a step both towards a greener and self controlled future. In order to secure this, government and industry must work towards an increasing use of these fuel sources; ween the energy companies away from fossil fuels and develop a solid renewable energy infrastructure in which the profits have the potential of remaining within the UK.

 

Correct taxation of corporations

 

Since the inception of the David Cameron led Conservative government in 2010 it has been hard to ignore the increasing shift towards economic austerity. Public spending cuts and financial tightening have been a central aspect of the Conservative and the once coalition parliament. Benefit fraud was made center stage in the press and pushing people into zero-hour contracts became policy. This focus upon the poorer strata cheating society has lead to an ignorant public opinion. In 2013 a parliamentary report explained that Britons believed 24% of all benefits were claimed fraudulently. This public estimation was 34 times greater than reality, with the government estimation for fraudulently claimed benefits being 0.7%.[5]

 

At the same time as the media attention on benefit fraud there was an increasing illumination on corporate tax avoidance. The attention was less severe possibly because information on large multinational business is harder to obtain or perhaps the press believed it more acceptable (the BBC article I take the following corporation tax examples from questions whether shaming these companies is fair). In either case, the figures do not change: Amazon with 2011 UK sales of £3.35bn only paid a tax expense of £1.8m; Starbucks had UK sales of £400million pounds(2011) but managed to pay no corporation tax; and Google paid £6m the same year after a turnover of £395m.[6] These figures demonstrate that, whilst not yet illegal, tax avoidance is hemorrhaging the UK of money. If the Brexit campaign based a large aspect of their argument on saving money from EU member costs and the government has consistently targeted the poorer sections of society, then surely claiming fair tax from multinational American corporations should also be high on the agenda. After all, should the USA receive preferential treatment from the UK when they are unwilling to pay the country correctly?

 

Lost tax is not only confined to multinational companies. There is a large loss in personal tax from the affluent sections of society as well. The UK government estimated the 2013/2014 tax “gap” to be £34bn. Of this figure £14bn was suggested to be a result of uncollected income tax, national insurance and capital gains tax as well as £13.1bn in uncollected VAT.[7] Naturally, part of this figure can be attributed to bureaucratic and human errors. However, it’s unlikely those mistakes could accumulate into such a ridiculous loses. The recuperation of this money in unlikely but moving forward the UK needs to ensure such high levels of tax aren’t avoided in favour of private or corporate wealth. Doing so will only strengthen the economy and provide social programmes with healthier funding

 

Until recently it appeared that little movement was being made towards curbing tax evasion but evidence is demonstrating this to be changing. Within the UK a new policy that would require Multinationals to publicly declare country by country tax and profits has recently been passed.[8] This forward taxation policy comes in the wake of the landmark European commission order for Apple to pay back £11bn in taxes to Ireland. Given these two policies it seems that both the EU and the UK are making moves towards tightening the minimal tax restraints on international companies. If this direction can be maintained then the loses to the UK economy through unfair tax contributions can be reduced and the people who make the money may see it placed back into their country.

 

Fair Wages within the Food Chain

 

It’s public knowledge that UK farmers and those throughout the EU have been financially supplemented by subsidiaries from the common agricultural policy(CAP). Estimates suggest that UK farmers benefit from £3bn annually.[9] A leave from the EU would probably remove farmer’s access to this directive. If we aren’t an EU member state then why would they buffer UK farmer’s income? The only reason UK farmers may still benefit from CAP is that the policy has large environmental ties such as wildlife protection and preservation of unpolluted waters. Perhaps the EU may wish to continue this to safeguard a greener future for all of Europe. If they chose not to then UK farmers will start to lose a serious aspect of their incomes.

 

Given the consistent pressures for cheaper dairy and other food products, the loss of CAP funding could push UK food providers into an even lower wage bracket. This may result in a disregard of environmental concern if produce can be made cheaper by encroaching on once protected wildlife or using agricultural substances that are damaging to the ecosystem . In order to prevent this there are two obvious options. Firstly, pay UK farmers properly for their produce. This seems highly unlikely seeing as supermarkets and other food providers are consistently pushing for cheaper products, in order to bolster profits, regardless of the effects on producer. But without a supplemented income from the EU this cannot continue.

 

The second option for safeguarding UK agriculture is on a governmental level. Aspects of CAP can be introduced to UK policy, providing farmers with the subsidiaries they currently receive as well as preserving the environmental aspects that EU directives have worked towards. Furthermore, new policy can be tailored for specific UK needs either enhancing eco protection or fairer wages for farmers.

 

In either situation the protection of UK agriculture is imperative. It is a large proportion of the UK food chain as well as providing products that can be sold both at home and abroad. Ensuring the farmer’s future is pivotal to the UK future economy and it must be imperative within governmental discussion. Preparation for agriculture without CAP subsidies will stand the UK in good footing when they almost inevitably no longer available.

[1]https://www.carbonbrief.org/gas-from-norway-coal-from-russia-eight-graphs-on-the-uk-energy-system

[2]http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/newsdesk/energy/data/decc-data-five-charts-how-uks-renewable-power-rising-whilst-fossil-fuel-output-falls

[3]http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24670741

[4]https://www.carbonbrief.org/gas-from-norway-coal-from-russia-eight-graphs-on-the-uk-energy-system

[5]http://www.theweek.co.uk/62461/benefit-fraud-v-tax-evasion-which-costs-more

[6]http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20560359

[7]http://www.theweek.co.uk/62461/benefit-fraud-v-tax-evasion-which-costs-more

[8]https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/sep/06/multinationals-to-publicly-declare-country-by-country-profits-and-tax-caroline-flint

[9]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/05/tory-mps-call-for-shift-in-farming-subsidies-to-green-protections

Show and Tell: Harry Potter edit

In my final year of university  I shared a house with three other guys. Every week we used to have “show and tell” involving a scoreboard, point system and no prizes. For one particular “show and tell” I contributed the video bellow. It’s not funny. At the time I thought I was editing comedy gold. After two years it has drawn in three hundred viewers and only two likes- a testament to the serious lack of humour. In its time on YouTube drawn  I’ve drawn people on the harry potter hook only to disappoint them, and now dear reader I shall disappoint you.

Joanne

When I heard the first single off Lady Gaga’s new album (Joanne) I anticipated the record to be a flop. Initially I wasn’t keen on Perfect Illusion. I set it as my alarm, using the almost screamed vocals to scare me into the shower every morning. I’m not proclaiming Perfect Illusion is bad but a generic pop tune that most recording artists churn out. It certainly lacks the catchy nature of her other major songs but unlike her other work seems to come from a more emotional place. This is true of the whole album. Gaga has ditched excessive electronic sound and penis metaphors for a country, rock and roll vibe and lyrics fueled on feeling. The new employment of a classically American sound has taken the artist in a new audio direction and along with the more personal rhymes has possibly help create her best collaborative work.

Mark Ronson has heavily been involved in the making of the record. His renowned affinity for sampling becomes obvious in songs like Come to Mama which reminds me of the Beatles. A lot of the album carries this feeling with Dancin in Circles being a re-imagining of Madonna’s La Isla Bonita with Gwen Stefani style vocals. Similarly, Diamond Heart and Grigio Girls feel like heavily stolen melodies and a result of this is that parts of the song structure, when transitioning from verse to chorus, tend to sound clunky and oddly rushed. However, the record is overall much more enjoyable and less aggressively synth than previous sounds resulting in an album that is a lot easier to listen to even if the vocals are a lot louder, harsher and emotionally unrestrained.

Paris without the Price

In June this year I wandered for several days around Paris. Between the hotel, flights and sparkling drinks my card whimpered in my wallet all the way home. My bank balance shall forever wear the scars from the champagne deficit of 2016 and the month sized chunks it devoured. More money was poured into crystal flutes than the gross domestic product of Malta. However despite the drinks being slightly pricey, excursions around the city were fairly inexpensive but the visit could have been considerably cheaper if I’d been more thrifty in my bubbly haze.

The first thing to have been avoided was climbing things. For some reason there’s always a charge for a decent view of Paris. Photos end up costing nearly £5 a snap because of the excessive entrance fee and by the time you’ve scaled your way back down a monument you feel deserving of another drink. Next time I’ll avoid the Eiffel Tower. Yes, it’s beautiful to survey the city from phallic scaffolding and an effective way of burning off the morning’s croissant but it’s also pricey, even if you don’t take the lifts. Perhaps my experience felt underwhelming because only three stories were accessible to the public that day. If all the floors were open there would have been less unfit American’s blocking the stairways further up. I’m certain that the view from the utmost platform would be breath taking. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, it would have been better to save the entrance charge and picnic nearby; devouring cheese and wine, pitying those willing to take excessive exercise.

Cathedrals like Notre Dame and Sacre-Coeur are normally free to explore but come with seemingly inexpensive extras that quickly accumulate into a price larger than the Eiffel Tower. I’d like to be able to wander around these places without the guilt to pay but the glares from the stained glass apostles and the brass depictions of crucified Jesus can break even Ebeneezer Scrooge. By the time I’d finished ambling through Notre Dame and Sacre-Coeur I’d prayed for the first time in my life, lit four candles for the Virgin Mary, deposited in several donation boxes and bought tickets to every exclusive staircase. Visits that were originally intended to be a free option to while away an hour in between Kir Royals somehow turned into a fund-raising spree for the Catholic Church. That being said, both buildings are absolutely worth the visit, especially the staircase of Sacre-Coeur. The view from atop the Cathedral is superior to that from the third platform of the Eiffel Tower and several euros cheaper.

Another expensive mistake I made in Paris was dining. Every restaurant was fantastic and I never chose a course I later regretted. Waiters were always accommodating and through their practiced charming natures led me to excess. On the first evening meal I asked for a wine list and was instead offered the waiter’s recommendation. Maybe sitting on a Paris street, somehow toasty beneath the restaurant canopy despite the rain, infected me with the romance the city perfumes. I accepted his suggestion only to later realise that the bottle was costing a euro per drop. Despite the price, I will never regret that wine or the whole cheese boards I thought acceptable as a main course. There’s something in the atmosphere (perhaps the extreme air pollution) that fogs the everyday senses. Thus transforming everyday caution into a craving for opulence. Even when waiter’s explain a meal is too large for one and reminded me that the cheese board’s traditional function is as a savoury sharing dessert.

My favourite aspect of the trip was the Pantheon which was free because I’m under 25 years old. It’s best described as an ‘atheist temple’. It has huge paintings of French history, photography exhibits and a marble laden crypt of prominent French figures such as Marie Curie, Voltaire and Alexander Dumas. I can’t sell this place well but it’s the highlight of my trip, along with the adult grape juice. For only a few days I’d recommend squeezing it in for a few hours.

It seems that I’ve grumbled over the price of my visit and now sit, scanning over bank statements, in miserly regret. In truth, I cherish my visit to Paris and even though I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the Eiffel Tower, I’m glad to have walked part way. One day, when it’s fully accessible, I’ll climb the structure again. Hopefully it will force me to regret what I have just written and readdress my opinion. Even if it doesn’t, I’d encourage everyone to visit the city regardless and any money you spend there is well spent. I shall return if only to make my way around the Louvre, but until my return I’ll always have my hazy memories of Paris.

Selina Meyers for Seven Seasons

The USA has a minor history of stealing things: expanses of land from indigenous people and TV shows from the UK. These are arguably the nation’s most savage crimes. Focusing on the latter, entertainment theft has generally been unsuccessful. British people don’t watch Steve Carrell and co’s attempt at The Office and even though neither side of the Atlantic has much in the way of talent The UK wins with the gentle art of spoon playing. However, as with all rules there is an exception: Veep. Stolen primarily from the BBC political comedy The Thick of It there are almost no fingerprints of another clumsy theft. Veep reduces the level of blue language and Capaldi rage whilst maintaining the same narcissistic and corrupt political party play.

Veep follows the egotistical Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) from her position of excluded Vice President, into her tenuous ascension to the Oval Office and her grasping to maintain presidency. Supported by a staff of neurotics such as Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) her incompetent bag man and her own eventual “veep”, the charming but devious Tom James (Hugh Laurie) , the role of President is rarely ethical, never P.C.  but always hilarious. Whilst I miss Capaldi’s originally worded insults, Meyer has corkers of her own and the large process of American politics provides grander story lines for the cast to blunder through. It is the only show that I will sit through the credits as the screen is cut in half and more comedy is delivered. I weekly risk square eyes by up screen for the endings. That is not to say that the show is without a fault. If I could change one thing about the show (and it would only be this) the opening titles display newspaper headlines relating to content of the season. Including previous episode specific headlines in the opening titles would make them as engaging as the end credits.

Currently, Veep is part way through season five and has been given a sixth season by HBO in 2017. I can only hope they vote Selina Meyer again for President and give us the gift of a season seven as well.

Three free things to do in Stockholm

Last month I had nine hours on my own in the center of Stockholm whilst all my friends were working. Yes, I had to wander a new city alone. Some people thrive on this sort of thing adventure but I’m more of Shire hobbit than a Bilbo Baggins. There was the temptation to sit in a 7/11 and embark on an all day ficka binge. It was very much a possibility if I was willing to pay for nine hours worth of coffee and cake. However, I intended to do my visit on a budget and set out to find moderately interesting things to do for free. Here’s what I got up to:

National Library

This was the first place I headed on my exploration day. Largely it was a massive disappointment. I expected an ornate building crammed with books; I’d wander through the stacks and shelves for hours, absorbing smells. A mysterious cover would draw me in, settle me into a quiet corner and by some mystery, only known to the universe, I would be able to read Swedish with ease. This didn’t happen. Mostly because the National Library is a research library as opposed to a fantasy realm. I walked in, felt embarrassed about my confusion and read for forty minuets to save-face before leaving. However, whilst I wouldn’t recommend the National Library’s interior the exterior is worth a look. The building is the size of a stately home and beautiful to look at. It’s also located in a park that’s equally picturesque on a pleasant day. Judge this place by its cover and don’t delve into the contents of the building then it’s a lovely place to spend a few hours.

Kulturhuset

I’m still not 100% certain on the purpose of this building. From the outside its five floors and name in giant letters, tempts or intimidates passers by. Kultur seemed close to the English word culture and people interested in that tend to be occasionally pretentious and have hot drinks. It sounded like my kind of crowd, so I headed in. Downstairs is a cinema (I wasn’t willing to pay for a film that may not have subtitles), there’s also two cafes, a book shop and three galleries. I went to the galleries because they were free if you are under 25. At the time one of the exhibits was shut but the National Design presentation and a fashion gallery were open. Normally, I’m not drawn to these kinds of displays but I headed in anyway. The clothing exhibit was clothing and as always it will remain a mystery to me. A few pieces stuck out but for the most part I struggled to reconcile how designers match what they want to create with profitable clothes. However, one display stuck in my head that I’d like to mention, Human by Linea Matei. The exhibit focused on cartoon depictions of humans which were used as prints onto pajamas. I’m not sure why I liked Human the most but I’m glad I saw it.

The National Design Exhibit was a much more grotesque affair. It was more memorable because of the visceral motif: the body. With interactive machines that measure your pulse, glass cases with breathing faux lungs and cubes of what looked human meat, the exhibit left me slightly nauseous but impressed with the numerous ways human matter can be interpreted.

Old Town

This was actually the first place I went to in the day. Unfortunately, most exhibits don’t open until 11am, so I left for the national library and returned later. There are many many things to do here: The Royal Palace and armory; the Nobel laureate museum and several other museums; or just wandering around the buildings and admire how it’s like walking through Balmory. Looking for free things I went to the Royal Armory, the parts of the palace that don’t charge and the economy museum. All three are brilliant. The armory was my favorite with basement carriages and royal sledges. The main exhibit displays Swedish military weapons and armor alongside the history of the royal family and the wars the now neutral nation engaged in. The free palace sections are filled with stunning carvings and paintings. Walking through inspires wonder at the fading masonry skills in stone the world is slowly losing. Finally, the economy museum is filled with old coins throughout the world and serves as a reminder that trade has unified the planet longer than any other cohesive method. I didn’t get to view all the economy museum because it was time to return for supper but I shall wander it more completely next time.