Car News: All-electric Fiat 500

A weekly look at all that sucks in the automobile industry and some good bits

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The cute Fiat 500 – you can make it look like a picnic hamper or hell on wheels

Car companies resurrecting past glories because nothing they produce now is as popular leave me in two minds. A case in point is Ford Mustang, propelled to international stardom by Peter Yates film Bullitt. Carnuts drool over the Fastback version of the Mustang driven by sullen Steve McQueen, but once you drive it you discover how old fashioned it is for the demands of modern traffic conditions.

You wish you had little things like better brakes, electric windows, sound proofing, independent suspension, and power steering. To drive a classic car is to make a lot of sacrifices, not least comfort. Recreating cars of yesteryear fit for the modern age means upgrading every part of them, including the quality of the paint, so why not design an all-new car? Fiat decided to give the 500 design cues from the old, but with greater interior space and a bigger engine.

In my view, makers should strive to create the avant-garde, to look ahead. On the other hand, recreations give a new generation an opportunity to experience what I did when young. Fiat, creator of the car for Everyman, the Topolino and then the Fiat 500, has taken that dual policy to the enth degree.

The current 500 is a clever redesign of the original, with lots of character built in. It doesn’t have the innovation of, say, a Smart car, but as a city runabout it does the job. Fiat have radical plans for the next generation. All Fiat 500s will be full-on electric.

Fiat confirms it will launch a next-generation 500 city car in 2020 which will see the brand take its biggest seller all-electric, this time with a luxury focus. The all-electric Fiat 500 will be revealed in production form at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show.

Despite a jiggly ride over cobbles and potholes, the current-generation 500 has been a resounding success for Fiat for well over a decade with over two million produced since introduction in 2005. Being able to boast a million combinations of the extras on offer to individualise your car has to be a huge part of the 500’s success. However, Fiat wants to move with the times and is plotting a bold reinvention of the car.

There will be no internal combustion version of the next 500 – it will be entirely electric, redesigned to appeal to an increasingly wealthy clientele. This decision follows most other manufacturers keen to get more bucks out of our pockets, but an odd decision in that the 500 is predominantly bought by the cash careful client, or as a second car, in a two car family. Perhaps Fiat sees people choosing the tall 500 in comparison to the physically lower MINI, at least for city city driving.

“Premium is the way we will go with the EV 500”, explained head of Fiat and FCA chief marketing officer Olivier Francois.

“A new 500, totally renewed, totally electric, a kind of an urban Tesla, with beautiful style. Italianess, dolce vita in an electric car, the polar opposite of Centoventi. It’s a new platform designed for electrification. It makes the car radically different. It’s still a 500, same size, same proportions, just not the same car. The 500 of the future”.

Fiat’s surprise unveiling at the Geneva Motor Show was the reveal of the boxy-shaped Centoventi concept, previewing a next-generation Panda with affordable, low-range electric powertrain options. Francois could not clarify if the two vehicles would use the same platform, but did confirm that the next-gen all-electric 500 will use a brand new dedicated electric architecture currently under development by FCA.

You can be certain the new 500 EV’s top-end market position is a euphemism for costing a third more than now, which is a great pity. To my mind, government and car maker are removing the greatest form of transportation, a cheap car, from the pockets of the masses. That, and a general clamp-down on immigration, is a worrying trend.

Olivier Francois pointing to the appeal of expensive limited edition versions of the current car, he added “the appeal of the 500 is so strong we may not lose customers” with an expensive all-electric version. He might be correct, but it will mean the rest of us will keep a look out for the pre-owned version.

GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS

Useless Car Locks

I always marvel at the well-heeled able to leave their Ferrari or Porsche parked in the Street. Their insurance premium must be massive. Half of the new cars launched this year have been given a poor security rating after investigators found their keyless entry systems are easily bypassed by thieves who use relay equipment to hijack the car’s entry code from the victim’s home. Thatcham Research, which tests cars on behalf of car insurers, said the 2019 models of Ford Mondeo, Hyundai Nexo, Kia ProCeed, Lexus UX, Porsche Macan and Toyota Corolla had all been rated as poor because they were vulnerable to this type of theft. Thatcham said the Audi e-tron, Jaguar XE, Land Rover Evoque and Mercedes B Class 2019 models were all equipped to resist the relay attack technique, and had been rated as superior. Well, until thieves work out how to get inside those models.

Protecting their ass

One reason I have added the car world to Grouse Beater’s portfolio is they are among the most persistent companies to alter government policy. In addition, the largest five stock market listed oil and gas companies spend nearly $200m (£153m) a year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change. Chevron, BP and Esso (known in the US as ExxonMobil) are the main companies leading the field in direct lobbying to push against a climate policy to tackle global warming. They plan to have us enjoy the end of the world from inside our cars, watching the blast approach from the horizon as if we are sitting in an open-air cinema. I’ll have fries and a Coke with that picture, thanks.

Car Hire Hidden Charges

I don’t know about the experience of readers – but would love to hear of them  – but whenever I’ve book a hire car on arrival in foreign parts I never get the one I ordered. And after a long walk to find their pokey wee office in some vast airport complex, I discover there are a whole load of charges loaded on. This happens a lot when visiting any part of Spain. Now I hear of a modicum of revenge. Two large hire firms operating in Spain, Centauro and Record Go, have been ordered by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to change the way they tell customers about charges. The CMA took action against Centauro and Record Go “following concerns that UK holidaymakers were being misled by their practices”. Time to put all charges on car websites so we know exactly what we’re in for before we arrive, tired, and irritable. That might help a lot before we have yet another long walk in a concrete maze to find the car allocated.

 

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How to Train Your Dragon – a review

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Yup – wide screen epic it is, as is its duration

Normally I don’t go to cinemas to see children’s movies, though I once did when a practising teacher. I will make an effort to see the latest Pixar animation for its adult content worrying as one does, the story-lines might be going soft now that Disney has its politically correct mits all over that once adventurous company.

How to Train Your Dragon is exactly the sort of children’s film I am happy to miss, scripted to a formula, the fag end (sorry children, smoking is bad for your health) of a franchise, a ton of spin-off toy products lying in warehouses unsold. In quality it runs okay to reasonable, hence this review might be briefer than normal. I review it as a token gesture to readers with young kids looking for two hours sitting in a seat.

I shall have to tread carefully here because, having only seen sequences of previous Dragon ‘epics’ shown on television, I am not familiar with the characters’ backstories or the saga’s history. This version is well articulated as animations go. It rests for its entertainment entirely on that old producer instruction – make  it a roller coaster.

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It’s all about dragons … and flying, that Peter Pan fantasy

To begin with I couldn’t make head nor tail of the various stories; they don’t seem to join up. The main story-line runs as follows: “Chief and ruler of Berk alongside Astrid, Hiccup (our hero) has created a gloriously chaotic dragon utopia. When the sudden appearance of female Light Fury coincides with the darkest threat their village has ever faced, Hiccup and Toothless must leave the only home they’ve known and journey to a hidden world thought only to exist in myth. As their destinies are revealed, dragon and rider fight to the very ends of the Earth-to protect everything they’ve grown to treasure.” There’s that Yanks against the Reds thing again.

From that outline and  following the film I got the impression I was watching JK Rowling-lite which is not a good place to be because, believe me, JK Rowling is ultra-lite. Like Rowling’s children’s books, the story is full of idiotic, malevolent adults, and dramas solved by violent deeds made in the name of personal security. Winnie the Pooh it ain’t.

In installments seen there’s usually a larger-than-life standard enemy to serve us a ginormously fierce, complicated final battle wherein the titular dragons get to do their dragon stuff. Past tales sold a simple tale of cross-cultural relations: breaking down the Us and Them divide between folk and species through understanding, communication, and cooperation, the kind of thing we are not very good at these days.

I bought my children books that taught them about relationships, how they can so easily sour over the smallest dispute, and how problems that can be solved in a cooperative manner. Some books were written from the point of view of struggling working class family, some were fixated on plain fantasy monsters.

Training Your Dragon takes the myth of the dragon as terrorist and put its killer instincts in the hands of our side as a weapon of mass destruction. That, and telling us Vikings are a sweet smelling bunch of thicko vegetarians.

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How did so many overweight Vikings manage to rape and pillage?

Is there anything I like? Goofy antics of lovelorn wide-eyed people and dragons aside –  writer-director Dean DeBlois manages to conjure his childhood fans a really compelling villain, Grimmel the Dragon Hunter. In go-to actor for villain roles, F. Murray Abraham, (Amadeus 1984) DeBois has found a thoroughly riveting voice for Grimmel.

Grimmel is an old-fashioned monster, happy to use the power of enslaved dragons in his efforts to track and kill the freedom-loving variety. I enjoyed his monologues when he’s doing it for the sheer thrill of the hunt; I got bored when he’s nattering on about how human-dragon equality is dangerous to civilization as we know it.

DeBlois struggles to connect the resolution of one story-line to the resolution of the other, and it proves to be an overwhelming task. Mind you, it’s relatively painless watch, with plenty of visual excitement to stop children getting bored and running up and down the aisles. The film is packing them in at the cinemas, securing this final event in Dreamworks trilogy an 86% satisfaction rating.

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I see no dragons, only a journeyman actor Jay Baruchel doing a voice-over

How to Train Your Dragon is a confident, extravagant, tonally engrossing animation combining playground muscularity with a lot of whimsicality. Brave set in a mythical Scotland had the same unfortunate characteristics. We get a tableaux of roaring seas, Northern lights, mists, and mystical green-specked lands.

Video game animation aside, Scotland used to have its own very successful cinema animation company. Among other original work, Sylvain Chomet’s company made the wonderful L’illusionniste (2010) set in Edinburgh, but soon got tired of Creative Scotland’s deathly bureaucracy – fine at commissioning reports, less good at sustaining mass employment industries. So Chomet packed his bags and returned home to France. Perhaps we will see the rise of another animation talent and can keep busy in Scotland.

I am sure Training Your Dragon’s legions of lollipop licking fans will love it. In fact they do already if box office receipts is anything to judge by.

A cynical sour-faced adult probably would rather see the story wrapped up in a science fiction genre. Therefore, under twelve year-olds need take no notice of this crotchety, biased review.

  • STAR RATING: Three stars
  • Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, F. Murray Abraham
  • Director: Dean DeBlois
  • Writer: William Davies Dean DeBlois
  • Composer: John Powell
  • Duration: 1 hours 38 minutes
  • RATING CRITERIA
  • 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: Excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: Crap; why did they bother?

 

 

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Twilight of the Emperium

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A small country

How entertaining to watch England make its self smaller and weaker while attempting to recreate patriotic feelings of grandeur and conquest. At the rate its leaders are throwing off international friends as if old socks, it will atrophy to amoeba size before too long still crying God for Harry, England and Saint George!

The empire strikes

Empires expand voraciously in a never ending search for sustenance, the greater the  number of nations they control, the greater the need for food and provisions to keep the natives happy with their invaders, and the invading soldiers left there to keep control. The flaw in pursuing universal domination is the one emperium overlook – in time, the centre of the empire implodes. Just ask the Romans.

There comes a time in history when empires cease to exist and become symbolic. It begins with a disintegration of social systems, the poor getting poorer, the rich richer, food shortages, spiralling costs of everything, the circulation of money becomes scarce while ever increasing taxes are spent on acquiring more and more armaments, the wealthy protecting their privileges by pulling back to safe ground. Corruption is endemic. People of ability and conscience withdraw from the fray. With the strain of conducting wars around the empire’s borders and putting down internal skirmishes in the territories, the best talent is sent to quell the uprisings leaving the mediocre to take over positions of power at the empire’s centre.

When dire warnings of the coming of Goths or Reds stop frightening the populace you invent internal demons out to destroy our harmonious lifestyle and steal our pensions. Muslims we brought to Britain are our current evil. It used to be the Irish. Battered by so many existential spectres, governed by people of high ambition and low ability, who’d never be employed anywhere in positions of authority, respect for leadership collapses, and in turn leaders turn against the people.

Reds, why do those pesky critters get elected to parliament? Some politicians cannot tell the difference between communism and socialism but it doesn’t matter, as far as they are concerned they are one and the same, ready to create a minimum living wage, protect the national health service and labour unions, all calculated to derange the capitalist system.

Laying a wreath

We are witnessing the demise of England’s empire, the last derelict sunset, with only Scotland yet to be set free. I can’t see Wales wanting free of England, they are too English in spirit and reliant on tourism. The Irish will be plain daft to subsume Northern Ireland in the Republic taking on its poverty and religious bigotry and screwing their recovery from the 2008 bank crash. A United Ireland is a fine ideal, but drive across the border south to north and to my eyes even the quality of light degrades. The European Union will need to fork out a lot of cash to assist north unite with south without too much pain. People will accept the inevitable if they see their streets improve, education lift their spirits, and the council plant trees and create parks where once was derelict ground.

Almost every civilisation except the Chinese, more concerned with keeping ‘big nose’ Europeans out,  ‘you all look the same to us’ –  has tried to build and retain an empire and lost it, but not before impoverishing the lands it left behind, scorched and burned, removed of its treasures. The treasures of Venice’s Doges Palace is a prime example of how imperialists steal everything. Scotland stands in jeopardy of the same fate if it is not clever and swift enough to block England’s power grab.

The Spanish in South America is a case in point. Spanish conquistadors all but wiped out one civilisation after another, by sword and syphilis. The French, pretty well linked to the emperium, was once the dominant power in Europe under the gifted general of generals, Napoleon, and then a second empire overseas, the eastern seaboard of Canada, and easy pickings states of north and east Africa. Chased out of Mozambique by the forces of independence derided by the British ever-scathing of basic justice, the Portuguese wasted everything they left behind them. Hell, everybody’s had a go at colonialism one time or another.

The only reason Britain got to own a few thousands scattered Aborigine tribes and a lot of kangaroos, collectively called Australia, was because Captain Cook notified the Admiralty of French ships sniffing around the Great Australian Bight. That was warning enough for the English government to send thousands of cheap and not so cheerful convicts from England’s over-crowded prisons to colonise that great continent, laying claim to it for the British Crown, two aims achieved in one simple colonial move.

The French kiss

To have an empire you first must convince the populace they are under attack from outside sources; their taxes best spent in making weapons and sending legions of soldiers and sailors to faraway lands.

Here we are with England rekindling it hatred of the French, and anything remotely European it cannot patronise. This is a massive contradiction in the English political psyche. The scouting wing of western expansionism, NATO, warns of Russian evil while it itself expands as far as its useless aircraft carriers can take it. England withdraws from Europe while paying for NATO to protect Europe of which the French are a large part.

NATO was created so that the United States could dominate western Europe militarily, politically, and economically. When the Soviet Union’s economy collapsed, NATO had no role, so it found another while continuing to do the same job. At its July 11, 2018, meeting, NATO approved new steps to contain Russia. Those include two new military commands and expanded efforts against cyber warfare and counter-terrorism. No wonder Russia under Putin is reactive.

We help pay NATO’s annual budget. NATO tells us the Russians are coming again and again so we pay up without demur. The more European nations pay NATO’s costs, the more they come under American control. As I said, the centre collapses into itself while the edges of the once impenetrable empire stretch and stretch and get thinner and thinner. Paying for NATO’s upkeep is ruinous but it helps deluded politicians feel they still have an empire, and the coffers of America’s expensive weapon makers like Lockheed Martin filled to the brim.

Battle of the Dullards

Observing England’s petty politicians battling among themselves for absolute power and control, and lying to secure it, is an ignominious sight to behold, carrion crows squabbling over the carcass of a rotting sheep.

People who spent all their adult life believing in contradictions usually find it impossible to deal with reality when it befalls them. And that, as disc jockeys are apt to say, is a neat segue to the Tory and Labour parties who show equally they are incapable of governing and yet proclaim themselves the best qualified to do so.

They talk of liberty while eliminating freedoms. They extol equality while sowing the seeds of poverty. They talk of transparency while closing doors as fast as they can bolt them. They sell us open democracy while supporting tyrants, despots and dictators. They offer the poor and the vulnerable security while acting like cuckoos in the nest.

It’s tax, you dummy

Our current greatest fear is income tax. It is not the Russians or the Chinese coming to get us, they are here already, investing in our infrastructure. No, it’s the tax man. Capitalists everywhere tell us to pay fewer taxes so we do not need so much government, a clever way of having us make redundant our only democratic protection. Ah, what brilliance! What simplicity. By appealing to out worst instinct, greed and envy, we participate voluntarily in out own downfall.

By 1956 almost 80% of British citizens paid tax. Then some smart ass contrived ways of  avoiding tax, and we all caught on to its legal illegality. Now Britain has the greatest expansion of tax haven colonies in the world. None of the unionist parties have suggested closing them down, merely ‘disciplining’ them. A coincidence the right-wing of a sodden England is taking us out of Europe just as the European Union renders off-shore tax havens illegal. The powerful and the privileged protecting their ass and assets.

Very difficult to see how a footloose British political party will rescue us, now so many corporate entities have such a tight grip on the economy. The British state leaches trillions of our cash out the country that could keep Scotland and all its institutions in clover and every pot hole filled for eternity.

On the disintegration of empires you are sure to have wars. England is having one with Europe. Our warlords are always ready to squander what little savings we have on killing people to keep our nation great. Scotland attaining its independence for the umpteenth time in its ancient existence accelerates the death of England’s empire, puts it out of its misery sooner than later. That can only be a good thing for Scotland and for the rest of the world, good to see happiness overtake English xenophobia.

The emperium is everywhere and nowhere. Scotland’s hopes for self-governance ought to have arrived in 2014 had we been courageous enough to avoid getting sucked into the black hole that is England’s failure to join the league of nations.

Scotland can take England’s place in international affairs. We need only worry about the USA’s renewed day dream of world domination, but as its current leader, given a chunk of Scotland to do with as he pleases, thinks territorial acquisition is accomplished by an accumulation of golf courses, we can give a sigh of relief in our quest for civilised self-reliance, which is the best wisdom I can muster to avoid finishing on a sententious note.

 

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Posted in Scottish Politics | 10 Comments

Car News: Venal VW

A look at all that’s rotten in the automobile industry plus some good bits

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Welcome to Volkswagen – but not if you want your gas spewing car exchanged for a new one

United States regulators have charged Volkswagen and its former chief executive Martin Winterkorn with defrauding investors during its massive diesel emissions scandal. Ouch!

Car News has written about the UK’s weakness getting justice for diesel car owners, their compensation claims old a vehicle not fit for purpose batted out of the field, unlike North America where sanctions on car companies can be draconian. The UK has a different attitude on consumer rights. As Donny Barker, a reader in Edinburgh, puts it:

“The emissions fixes ruined our well liked Seat Exeo 2.0 diesel. The fixes did not work and we had to get rid of it as it was totally unreliable and becoming worthless. No compensation at all. US customers get cash or new cars. VW – never again!”

There can’t be many people not aware of VW’s transgressions but if so, here’s the skinny: In September 2015 VW installed software on more than 475,000 cars that enabled them to cheat on emissions tests. The software reduced nitrogen oxide emissions when the cars were placed on a test machine but allowed higher emissions and improved engine performance during normal driving.

Once the cat was out of the bag, or more accurately, noxious gases were out of the cat, VW’s US boss, Winterkorn resigned, and the dominoes began to fall in the USA and Germany, but not until VW executives took responsibility while insisting they personally did nothing wrong.

Naming who instructed and approved methods to cheat emissions tests is yet to be determined, but it get a lot harder to claim innocence when the news of the cheating is in the public domain and you continue selling bonds and security investments at inflated prices. That’s asking for the hangman’s noose. The company has paid 20 billion dollars (£15 billion) in fines and civil settlements to date. It has also pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the US and several managers, including Winterkorn, were charged there.

American government legal eagles have it in for VW a second time. The charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) come two years after the German motor giant settled with the US over criminal and civil charges, as the company tried to distance itself from past illegal activity while, it appears, indulging in a second round. (Monkeys forced to breath toxic fumes in VW safety experiments has slipped silently out of public view.)

The SEC accuses Volkswagen of issuing more than 13 billion dollars (£10 billion) in bonds and asset-backed securities in US markets between April 2014 and May 2015, when senior VW executives allegedly knew that more than 500,000 vehicles in the country grossly exceeded legal vehicle emissions limits.

“Volkswagen made false and misleading statements to investors and underwriters about vehicle quality, environmental compliance and the company’s financial standing, which gave VW a financial benefit when it issued securities at more attractive rates for the company. Volkswagen hid its decade-long emissions scheme while it was selling billions of dollars of its bonds to investors at inflated prices,” Stephanie Avakian, co-director, enforcement division, SEC.

VW, ever quick to back a loyal employee until he’s proven guilty, say Winterkorn was not involved in any sales of bonds. “Regrettably, more than two years after Volkswagen entered into landmark, multi-billion-dollar settlements in the United States with the Department of Justice, almost every state and nearly 600,000 consumers, the SEC is now trying to extract more from the company”, announced a VW spokesperson, ignoring the billions robbed off loyal VW car buyers now owning vehicles few want to buy.

VW has been doing its damnest to divert attention from its cheating and fines and resignations by manufacturing a lot of interest in its new-found philosophy in electric cars. The company is legally and morally compelled to reduce its carbon footprint over vehicle life cycles by a minimum of 30%. Pushing that limit hard is China, where VW sell thousands of vehicles. In the end, it’s profits and sales that scare a renegade corporation not public outcry.

The SEC are out for blood. They seeks permanent injunctions, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with prejudgment interest and civil penalties. It also wants to bar Winterkorn from holding any corporate officer or director positions.

You’ll never see that happening in the UK, not in a Tory Britain.

GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS

Deterring thieves

Japanese vehicle maker Toyota has come up with an ingenious plan to deal with the rise in thieves stealing cars. The firm, which produces the new Corolla at the Burnaston plant in Derbyshire, has patented the design for a fragrance dispenser that – when the vehicle is broken into – can turn into an anti-theft device. It can detect when the vehicle has been accessed by a criminal, and when it does, release a toxic spray of tear gas into the cabin to immobilise the thief. Thieves able to survive their own body gases in a closed car might be impervious to the spray.

Night glasses

I’m beginning to dislike driving at night, glare from oncoming vehicles with modern lighting is the worst offender. Then there’s the car with one headlight point down and the other point up, followed by the selfish sod who veers across your path to park on your side of the street, lights blazing in your face. Eyeglass technology – specs, to you and me – has made it safe to drive at night again, a bit like having “X-ray” vision. The spectacles called ‘ClearVew’, (not prescription) look like Aviator sunspecs but have an orange tinge to them. The specialized lenses tint provide 100% UV protection and blocks glare, blocks blue light, enhances contrast and clarity. Worth checking out with your local optician who might have alternatives, and prescription versions.

Cycle wars

I’ve seen many a car driver bollocking a cyclist, and vice versa, and I’ve seen many a driver block a cyclist and vice versa, but I’ve never seen a cyclist battle with a fellow cyclist. In Hackney, London, the other day, and caught on security camera, a passing cyclist kicked another off his bike, who then crashed into a stationary car. The 30-year-old male casualty remains in a critical condition in hospital. Police are still looking for the attacker. Crazy times. Crazy cyclists.

 

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Posted in Transportation | 1 Comment

In the Mold of Sturgeon

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Lawyer Joênia de Carvalho, elected indigenous federal MP. (Photo: Nicoló Lanfranchi)

Regular readers will know I rarely lose an opportunity to compare Scotland with existing states if there are obvious comparisons or parallels. Studying how other nations govern themselves, or are governed by those they wish gone, is good practice. You learn the techniques they use to win their battles

Where the nuts come from

Today, I look at a small area in Brazil, the world’s fourth largest democracy, about to turn decidedly sour. Rather far away from Scotland, I concede, but then we did try to set up a trading post in the Panama Isthmus some years back. (The backers of that adventure went from rich, to struggling, to rich again, compensated for backing England by selling it Scotland. “Buy it while it’s a bargain, ladies!”)

Brazil is in the grip of a neo-fascist, Jair Bolsonaro, friend to the powerful, a thug elected to protect their privileges. The rich never give up without a viscous, dirty fight. They can even turn off the lights in entire cities if they think they are losing. They did it in Venezuela last week, and did it in Britain when Heath was prime minister.

What does 63 year-old Bolsonaro stand for? In a word, severe authority. He is staffing his cabinet with military men. He was a former army captain, first elected to Congress in 1991. During most of his legislative career he was a marginal figure known for speaking nostalgically about the 1964-1985 military dictatorship and for making incendiary comments about women and minorities.

England also enjoys talking nostalgically of its war years, the camaradery, the patriotism, the air raid shelters where everybody played cards, chatted and laughed, and producing lot of war dramas to revel in, followed by food shortages to make it all seem real again. England looks to a strong man to lead it, preferably wealthy, entitled, bigotted and dim.

Beware the bringer of false promises

This will sound familiar: the last decade saw Brazil’s governments mired in corruption, a recession, unemployment increasing, no great changes for the better in society’s ills, an auspicious time for the neo-fascist to take his chances.

Bolsonaro pitched himself to voters as an anti-establishment maverick who will fight graft. And in a country traumatized by violent crime, his iron-fisted approach to law and order appeals to disillusioned voters in traditionally left-wing strongholds where the Worker’s Party once presided.

He wants to roll back the progressive clock: make gun ownership as easy as carrying an iPhone, ban abortion, open up protected areas to big business especially the powerful agri-industry, and generally piss on his country as much as he can. He supports apartheid Israel – a macho-man, larger than life.

Now presidente, Bolsonaro’s meteoric rise is all the more remarkable because he campaigned on a shoestring budget, relying largely on social media and lots of television interviews and appearances as the underdog candidate, just like Nigel Farage.

And like Farage he has no accomplishments to show for his time loud mouthing. He waved a clean record and an absolutist attitude peppered with profanities. That’s it.

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Presidente Jair Bolsonaro and his trophy wife

An uneducated people

Okay, that sets the scene, time to switch to Brazil’s ‘Little Scotland’, an area rich in mineral wealth and bolshie natives. Bolsonaro wants to throw it and them to the wolves.

A united people will never be defeated!” shouts Maria Betânia Mota, at an indigenous assembly in a partially burned-out agricultural college torched by an unknown gang.

Hundreds of voices roar back in approval. Betânia Mota is the women’s secretary of its organisers, the Indigenous Council of Roraima, which represents the majority of those living in the savannah and scrub that make up the Raposa Serra do Sol reserve in Brazil’s northernmost state. It is home to 25,000 indigenous people who raise tens of thousands of cattle and crops on smallholdings and communal farms, just like the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands but with searing heat and palm trees.

Nearly half of Roraima is protected indigenous land. So, not like Scotland at all, but a lot like Scotland in the past, and its wealth under attack now, its democracy threatened.

The Constitution forbids it

Brazil’s 1988 constitution prohibits commercial farming and mining on indigenous reserves without specific congressional approval, (for Scotland, see Fracking) but Bolsonaro – who describes indigenous people as “like animals in zoos” – (bare arsed savages?) wants to change that. He has singled out Raposa for its reserves of gold, copper, molybdenum, bauxite and diamonds. Scotland has oil and gas and electricity.

“It’s the richest area in the world. You can explore it rationally beside the indigenous, giving royalties and integrating the indigenous to society,” to quote Bolsonaro doing his best to imply they are savages but a string of beads will win them over. He also claims the area has reserves of niobium, a versatile metal used to strengthen steel he believes could transform the Brazilian economy. The government’s geological service said it had no record of niobium in Raposa.

Like Scotland confronted by the tyranny of Westminster, and moves to introduce fracking, the indigenous people feel threatened by Bolsonaro. Gold prospecting caused devastation years earlier, the land only now healing. An ill-explained visit by Bolsonaro allies raised suspicions plans are afoot to move in the pile drivers, drills, and bulldozers.

Raposa’s history is riddled with strife, mobs have torched buildings, shot at people and rice farmers done all they can to steal land. The rice farmers were finally expelled from Raposa by the supreme court in 2009. They want back again.

Bolsonaro has problems of his own. He cannot simply walk in and take control. He lost to the left-wing contender Fernando Haddad inside the reserve, where indigenous people are proud of running their own affairs.

A land not fit for invaders

So there you have it, the people who have lived off the land for generations are up against the might of the state. They are led by a woman, a former lawyer, in the mold of Nicola Sturgeon. Joênia de Carvalho, from the Wapishana tribe, has become the first indigenous woman voted into the Brazilian congress. After addressing the assembly, she said Bolsonaro’s threats, while legally difficult to impose, create “juridical insecurity”.

“People who covet indigenous lands and have a certain dispute with indigenous lands start to believe this and start to initiate conflicts,” she said. People flock to hear her speak. They chat, and discuss and debate, joining in the democratic process.

I presume a visiting British unionist would say their political debate is very divisive.

“The land is our mother. You plant, you take from her, you use her but you respect her, taking care of her. The white people don’t respect our nature. We won’t let this land be destroyed.” Mariana Tobias, 71, Macuxi shaman.

For Scotland, it should be a doddle

Sturgeon does her best to demand the House of Gothic Horrors respect the fundamental rights of the people of Scotland. Joênia de Carvalho has a similar battle on her hands. To be frank, I would not bet a dollar either will win soon, though I admire both.

They have the mass of the people behind them but which of us will lay down in front of a bulldozer or an army tank when they roll in? The people of Roraima will do that. They are in no mood to have their land and their rights stolen from them.

Are we?

POST SCRIPT:

Read about the powers for removal from Scotland under Brexit: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-ngL

 

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Posted in General, Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 1 Comment

Fighting With My Family – a review

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The story leans too heavily on a brother-sister tussle

Fighting for My family is what’s categorised in the business as ‘feel good’ film, but as this one aims for comedy, at least, that’s how it is promoted, you could describe it as a ‘Feel Goofy Movie’. In that ambition, it succeeds. In a number of other places it falls down.

The story is based on the real-life Jade-Bevis family of Norwich, ‘England’, as Americans have to add, who turned their world around from mentally scarred survivors to hard working winners by joining their local wrestling club, eventually touring the circuit and scraping a decent living out of it.

The father had been in prison, the mother a junkie, the son in trouble with the law, only the two daughters were well-adjusted enough to seek a career on leaving school. One daughter became a dentist, she not depicted in the film. The other, Saraya-Jade Bevis, Paige in the story, heroine of the tale, stayed clean, making it as a top class winner – in wrestling. The story is in the film’s title, Fighting With My Family.

Dwayne Johnson, aka ‘The Rock’ – one of Hollywood’s highest paid action stars and known as Mr Nice Guy in the industry, is the film’s main producer. He has two pivotal scenes, one at the start, one near the end, book-ending the tale. Johnson was filming the latest Fast & Furious carnut tyre screamer in the UK when he saw the Channel 4 documentary “The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family” on his hotel room television, and was duly impressed by the crazy life of an English family of wrestlers.

Interviewed about his generosity in getting the project financed, he said the ‘underdog’ aspect of it appealed to him. He contact British writer Stephen Merchant about developing the story into a feature-length biopic.

Merchant was the co-author with Ricky Gervais of the wildly successful The Office, and then Extras where he played Gervais’s befuddled agent. He also plays Hugh in the film, the prim and proper father to the girlfriend of Paige’s brother, Zak, he betrothed mainly because she’s many months pregnant.

Incidentally, as readers can see from the photograph below, Merchant is two inches taller than ‘The Rock’ making Johnson six feet three. Johnson knew Merchant from their time together in Tooth Fairy (2010). As the saying goes, it’s who you know.

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Merchant and The Rock – as odd a couple as the family itself

Stephen Merchant as writer-director is smart enough to entice one fine actress to take part, one on her way up, probably while she was in a ‘why not?’ mood between bigger projects. He made a good choice. Florence Pugh is far more interesting to watch than the wrestling matches, or the Bevis family shenanigans, genuinely funny as they are in a knockabout way.

She came to prominence with a stunning portrayal of a tricky character in the macabre period drama Lady Macbeth (2016). What no one could predict was her jump to Hollywood  would  come by appearing in a wrestling film that happened to have much of its action set in Florida. I expected her next role to be in crinoline.

Her rise is well timed – the times right for films starring and driven by women. I applaud this trend so long as the men are not depicted as losers and idiots, rather like they are in television commercials, a reversal of misogyny.

The story is conventional on many levels despite its wrestling theme, or perhaps because of it. Saraya (Paige – her wrestling name) is much like her down-to-earth parents, Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey), who collect the flotsam and jetsam of humanity from around town in their white van, picking up local talent to teach tag tussling in the ring. As a youth, Saraya shows great promise fighting boys. Her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) is an even bigger wrestling fan than she is, bouncing off the ropes in spandex and adopting the moniker “Zodiac.”

Frost and Headey make a good double act if not always given enough good lines to crack. They are equally profane, tempted to fall into childish pranks whenever the mood takes them. Like the real family, Saraya and Zak’s father served time in prison for what he describes as “violence, mostly,” now using wrestling as if a religion, keen to teach kids all the moves. Zak folows suit, a semi-professional teaching amateurs. In time he has to make a choice between his wife and new baby and a career in wrestling.

When the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) holds tryouts in London, Saraya joins Zak in competing, assuming that her more passionate sibling will land a gig. But as it turns out, only Saraya gets to progress to the next stage: a WWE developmental league in Orlando, Florida. There, she adopts the stage name Paige, and comes under the guidance of a sterner father figure, a coach named Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn), who plays the tough army sergeant role.

From then on, Paige’s life is full of ups and downs and some loneliness, (sequences I recognised from my full-time stay in Hollywood), any idea of a fantasy life of a star soon knocked out of her literally and figuratively.

In the end, she perseveres and reaches the big night, the televised championship final. By this point she has ditched her faux blond hairstyle and adopted the Goth look that made the real Paige different and famous.

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Lena Heady and Nick frost make a good double act, but it’s Florence Pugh you watch

Fighting With My Family is a standard sports biopic, following the real-life WWE Paige from her humble beginnings in Norwich to international fame. There are no surprises. Merchant’s dialogue entrenched in domesticity is bouncy and nonjudgmental but his screenplay has a soggy centre.

The problem is, the film is really a television drama. For all its large cast, the scale is modest. Merchant does a very good job of pairing scenes down to the bone, a skill gleaned from his television comedies, but allows sentimentality to get in the way of tension. He is as much concerned with Zak’s dilemma as Paige’s, but Zak isn’t half as interesting as Paige as a character study. Just as we get caught up in a sequence involving Paige in Florida we cut back to Zak in Norwich. This happens a lot and drags the drama.

Nubile young girls, ‘models and actresses’ proliferate the plot. They switch from admiration of Paige’s limey accent and confidence, to resenting her presence, and then back again to cheering her on in her hour of need. The obvious rehearsed theatrics of WWE bouts is touched upon in one sentence and then laid to rest, but despite broken bones and bruises, the emphasis is on ‘entertainment’ rather than serious wrestling in the Greek tradition. Moreover, there’s just a feeling we are watching one long brand advert on behalf of the sport and its governing body. As a result, the film struggles to dramatize Paige’s triumph as anything but preordained.

We get a lot of Page’s insecurities, her brother’s disappointments, and stock characters in a sub-Dickensian short story. I wanted to know more about the politics of the game, how a young girl could get so far and not ever be propositioned or treated with disdain.

The film’s biggest asset is Pugh, an extraordinarily compelling talent, quite beatific one minute, podgy adolescent the next. Sheer athletic grace is the main ingredient of any sports movie, and by the halfway mark Pugh manages to have us believe she has it in bucket loads. For such a fine actress her role is no challenge. The script never quite gives her the meaty moments she deserves. 

  • Star Rating: Three stars
  • Cast: Florence Pugh, Dwayne Johnson, Lena Headey, Vince Vaughn
  • Director: Stephen Merchant
  • Writer: Stephen Merchant
  • Cinematographer: Remi Adefarasin
  • Composer: Vik Sharma
  • Duration: 1 hour 56 minutes
  • RATING CRITERIA
  • 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: Excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: Crap; why did they bother?
Posted in Film review | Leave a comment

Car News: Dominant Company

A weekly look at all that sucks in the car industry and some good bits

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In the white corner, Renault. In the black corner, Nissan

Asked why I include articles on the automobile industry on a political website, I usually reply that the car lobby is one of the biggest in the world, able to alter government policy at a whim. And they do, regularly. Together with the petrochemical lobby, mere citizens are specks of sand in a desert, of no significance.

We can add to that unelected power cars as mainstay of television advertising revenue, a huge creator of jobs for entire cities and destroyer of communities when they pick up stakes and move out. Simply put, a bellwether for a nation’s economy.

Over the last one hundred years, the west, and now China, designed entire cities and lifestyles around the automobile. Cars have given the ordinary Joe and Joanna freedom of movement those in past generations would have marvelled. They have also maimed and killed thousands of people and animals, blighted our cities, gobbled up massive natural resources, and paved the world in concrete. We have given car makers trillions of our savings and taxes, skimped and saved and got into debt to own one, and got obsessed by them. The benefits of car ownership is offset by the disadvantages.

We drive them, not make them

Outside a few coach builders and trimmers, Scotland has no car maker of any size. We have plenty of engineers and designers working in the industry worldwide, and, of course, selling cars. What Scotland has in abundance is magnificent roads keen drivers seek out, hence my advice we keep shtum about out beautiful topography.

We know how impossible it is to avoid cars. If leading a rural life you’ll need a 4xwheel drive vehicle, and then there’s the tractors. And yet it’s not hard to see similarities with Scotland’s ambitions in how car companies operate. 

Like England with Scotland, two great car international companies are in a tussle for power, the Japanese giant Nissan and the French Renault. Nissan wants to sell as many vehicles as it can in Europe, Renault wants a cap on sale numbers. Until recently one was partner to the other, an outcome of spiralling production costs in the Nineties, a wish to share manufacturing costs while not losing brand identity.

Renault has 43% stake in Nissan. To get that deal Nissan somehow allowed Renault’s boss to become overlord to both companies. Behind the scenes Nissan staff resented it. Call it patriotic pride in their company.

A one-side partnership

The animus came to a head when Nissan accused the head chef, Carlos Ghosn, of secreting away a large chunk of his salary to avoid tax deductions, and buying too many houses with Nissan’s pocket money. The accusation: Nissan said Ghosn wielded too much power, creating a lack of oversight and corporate governance. The backlash from the west’s side is Nissan wanted him ousted from his post because he curtailed the company’s development and sales. Let’s see now, English rule, and Fluffy Mundell. Hmm.

Ghosn got arrested last year and only this month released on bail of almost £7 million – ouch! – having spent an ignominious hundred days in a Tokyo detention centre. The arrest and removal of Ghosn, credited for rescuing Nissan from near-bankruptcy in 1999, leaves the future of the alliance uncertain with speculation rife that the partnership is about to unravel. The parallels between Scotland’s relationship with England are not too trite to mull over.

In reality, the partnership between the two companies has one company dominating the other to such an extent the other feels suffocated, unable to make its own decisions as to what vehicles it wishes to create, and how and where it can sell them. Nissan feels the loser in the relationship, always told by Renault not to compete with similar models. Executives talk of taken over by a Renault culture, a Renault ethos, Nissan’s corporate characteristics all but wiped out. The fear was Ghosn sought a full merger, a new giant company called ‘Nissault’, or perhaps ‘Renaissance’.

Colonialism in the car trade

Nissan holds the attitude Ghosn, Renault’s man, has populated Nissan’s departments with Renault staff – call them placemen. Though Renault owns nigh on half of Nissan (aka Scotland), Nissan owns only 15% of Renault (aka England), and can never outvote Renault if they dislike Renault’s decisions that affect Nissan’s very existence. Consider Nissan’s dilemma, the other shareholder in Renault is the French Government (UK Treasury). That sounds like Westminster every inch of the way.

Nissan’s once much admired SUV, the Qashqai, gift to all mothers on school runs, began life as a well built if not handsome people carrier that once swept the board for motoring awards and sales, but as each new ‘improved’ model appeared build quality was less and less impressive. Was Renault’s boss was demanding they cut corners to increase profits?

By breaking up the partnership, Nissan feels it can place both companies on an equal footing. (Independence for Scotland brings a new accord with its trading partner.) Ghosn’s attempt to crown himself emperor is finished. Both companies know a fight to the death leaves no winner. So, unlike Westminster, company bosses are pragmatic, wise guys. Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi (part of Nissan) pledge a “new start” for the world’s top car making alliance.

“We are fostering a new alliance,” Renault’s boss Jean-Dominique Senard said at a Yokohama press conference. That’s pretty similar to Scotland situation, we want to create a new alliance with our old partner, one fully equal in most things.an

Businesses are often smarter than politicians. Companies know a hand shake on Friday must mean the same deal on Monday. Better together under one boss doesn’t work. The bigger guy takes all. Better separate but sharing mutual respect works better.

GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS

Heavy rain

Nice of the weather men to name a storm after me but it doesn’t half leave roads awash with standing water. Badly cambered roads with nothing but a soak-away drain cause wide puddles to form that can catch a car’s tracking, and flooding to douse the engine. An unwary driver can aquaplane, and yet there’s always the other guy who passes you well over the speed limit, oblivious of the spray he’s causing, or that his wipers can barely cope with the rain on his windscreen. Lesson: Keep wiper blades in good condition.

Money for roads – not you, Scotland

A £30 billion roads plan to improve transport links in northern England over the next 30 years has been rubber-stamped by the UK government, a traditional way of not giving an area money. I’ll explain. A fully dual-carriageway A66 from Scotch Corner to Penrith is a priority. The 50-mile road is an infamous bottleneck and top of the list of road projects being pushed by Transport for the North (TfN). Read the announcement quickly and you’ll miss the ‘over the next 30 years‘ small print. That’s a mere £1 billion a year. Most folk will be dead or have emigrated, and even if they all survive and stay at home enough changes in government will kill the policy. The announcement of bribes for north England’s drivers presupposes a general election in the offing. Meanwhile, after over fifty years, the main east coast road to Scotland is still a two-lane carriageway.

Rich is right

“Conspiracy theorists say: ‘Everything is rigged for the wealthy and powerful?” Well writing as a stinking rich and internationally powerful blogger, they are right. While car makers announce with enthusiasm new electric cars, on the quiet they are lobbying governments to slow down the process of installing charging stations, and back-up technology. That might account for all the electric concepts we see but few put into production. In the late Eighties, in California, Toyota created 50 electric 3-door RAV4s, an experiment to test consumer reaction. The big car manufacturers lobbied senators like mad to block the innovation. Toyota decided the political climate was too risky to mass market electric cars. They gathered them back and crushed the lot – except a few some drivers hid. Experts from the UK’s National Grid to committees of MPs aver electric vehicle are the medium-term answer to environmental issues. Deliberate delays mean car and service industry workers pay the price. Ask Honda and people in Swindon.

 

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Posted in Scottish Politics, Transportation | Leave a comment