random thoughts to oil the mind

Category: Criticism Page 2 of 3

[:en]Pointless ranting with no place to go.[:de]Sonstige Schimpfkanonaden

At least, so you could be forgiven for believing. Taking photos of buses can get you in some trouble these days. Perhaps now the British government would think twice about stepping in to prevent their own tourists from suffering judicial heavy-handedness. Even snapping a bobby in London could land you up to 10 years, under Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. You can see how important that “Counter” part in the title was felt to be; if they’d left it out you’d never be quite sure which way to interpret the act. Fortunately there are still some people willing to stand up for common sense. Nevertheless, the UK government policy seems clear. Whilst UK citizens have to accept being the people most spied upon by their government, the latter is taking every advantage to make sure the cameras only point one way. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Finding Space for the Public in Transport

This is one of those posts which makes it to the draught stage and never any further, but as I was tidying up my WordPress install, I decided with a bit of reworking it’s something I still feel strongly about. The original title had referred to British public transport in particular, but in truth there is very little specific to the British experience.

Virgin Trains

Before I start my rant, let me plainly state that I am great supporter of the principles of public transport. That is not to say that I don’t see the use or take advantage of private transport, merely that I feel the balance in society is generally wrong, particularly in the first world, or whatever the preferred term is these days. These societies should be perfectly capable of providing for the vast majority of man’s annual miles, with our regular combinations of buses, trams, trains etc. and private transport being available to fill in the gaps where required. Being able to pack your bags, grab the kids and hit the road for a weekend away seems like a reasonable thing to do, but where is the logic of moving a ton of metal to work and back five days a week?

BT and the Cost of Money

Cash - An Expensive Commodity

Cash – An Expensive Commodity

How much does it cost to pay? That might appear to be an odd question, but it is a seldom acknowledged hidden attribute of the market economy. Paying costs. If one only imagines the contingencies required to handle the coin money which filters through any system of minor payments, such as a road toll booth, a system of parking meters or a public transport system, it becomes clear that dealing in such currency requires some not inconsiderable expenditure on the part of the service provider.

The key here of course is cash, that anonymous key to the monetary house. Some have pointed out that the age of using cash as a medium is gradually drawing to a close, and the establishment is beginning to see the benefits of expediting its demise. This includes the government, banks, financial markets and big corporations. For an example, we need only consider the recent charges introduced by BT.

According to the government watchdog Ofcom, in recent years BT have had a residential market presence of 70-80%, with the latter figure roughly representing the number of residential lines. This totals roughly 20 million landlines, which using the traditional quarterly bill paying system makes 80 million payments a year. So how much does it cost BT to collect these charges? Well, consider the options.

  • An old-fashioned method such as paying your bills at the Post Office should involve little detriment, the money being transferred electronically into BT’s bank accounts, with presumably some small handling fee for the Post Office.
  • A cheque made payable to the company, which given the scale of their operation should also be a simple matter for the giant to deal with.
  • Online credit card transaction, which would incur charges from the credit card companies, though I’ll admit I don’t know if BT passes these on to its customers.
  • Electronic Direct Debit payments direct from customers’ bank accounts.

BT’s preferred method is clear, and as their website points out:

Many of our customers now pay by Direct Debit which is an ideal option if you find it difficult to get out or worry that you will forget to pay your bill on time.

The arguments are dressed up and sugar coated to make the idea of giving BT direct access to your bank account seem to be a rather agreeable proposition. The icing on the cake is that it costs customers less to pay via this method. BT have introduced a scandalous ‘payment processing fee’ amounting to £4.50 (plus VAT) per transaction, paying via cheque or cash.

Now one can understand the complexities of dealing with payment methods such as the cheque. Assuming BT have no automated procedures for dealing with cheques, manually inputting the figures, such as dates, sums, account numbers etc., requiring an hour’s labour for 100 payments, one can see how a wage of £500 per hour is justifiable. But to charge such extraordinary fees for cash payments that are dealt with by another body, where is the justice in that? The levy represents around a 10% increase on the average customer’s quarterly bill. Add to that the fines for late payment (which are avoided with Direct Debit by having your bank balance overdrawn instead), and it becomes clear how BT are dictating the payment methods of their victims customers.

This isn’t the first example of prejudice against traditional payment methods, nor is it a precedent for cash payments being made financially unsound. But it is surely an example of the way in which the demise of anonymous paper money is slowly being exacerbated by that interlinked establishment of government and big business.

Will Anyone say ‘No’ to the ‘No Smoking’ Ban?

No smoking sign

No smoking

They all roll over. What else can they do in the dictatocracy? Smoking is bad for you. It kills! And according to recent adverts on British television, passive smoking is even worse, since the smoke comes from the ‘bad’ end of the cigarette. Is it any wonder the state becomes nanny when society acts so wimpish?

But society’s seemingly burgeoning fear of death isn’t the issue here, at least not to me. That issue is freedom of choice. The ban on smoking in public places perhaps has a right to be enforced; there is no choice about which train or bus station you use, after all. But when it comes down to banning smoking in all bars, pubs and restaurants, one has to ask why we are no longer allowed to choose. Are we so incapable of rational thought? For a long time now, many restaurants have had exclusive smoking sections, and many bars too have proven capable of sectioning off areas for different clientele. One might question therefore, the need for a blanket ban.

Telescreens Hit the Streets



As if holding the title for most spied upon nation weren’t enough, CCTV cameras in England are to be updated to add something of a bark, according to the BBC. Arguing the new cameras remonstrating with petty offenders will help to prevent problems before they really start and reduce bureaucracy (by magic presumably), Home Secretary John Reid also mentioned that competitions would be run in schools in local areas to provide a voice for the cameras, which if it is true would presumably mean that the ‘talking’ ability would be limited to a choice of pre-set phrases. We can only hope that whilst these competitions are being carried out, it will be noticed how effectively such vocal coercion works in the classroom, without even a whiff of potential punishment to follow it up. After all, is that not where the problems of anti-social behaviour which these measures are designed to counteract originate?

Of course the opposition, whose main argument against such measures at the moment is that it avoids the principle totem of getting ‘more bobbies on the beat’, should well bear in mind that the ‘Peelers’ were no more popularly received on their inception either. Now they want more of them.

But wait—can anyone else hear something?

Smith! 6079 Smith W.! Yes, you! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that. You’re not trying. Lower, please! That’s better, comrade.

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