Plug Ugly Cars

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A supercar designed by a blindfolded man on LSD

You could argue the vast majority of automobiles choking our roads are ugly, but you might be arguing bland is ugly. There are plenty of blobs, and lookalike junk.

It isn’t easy designing cars, they’re difficult objects to make harmonious at the best of times and budget, what with strict international safety regulations to follow, and all those angles meeting at a single point, (like bathroom tiles in the corner above the bath)  they present designers with blinding headaches. 

But every so often a car is produced designed by somebody with absolutely no aesthetic training at all, and surprisingly, they’re often designed by art school graduates.

Here are a few I’ve chosen. Readers are welcome to nominate theirs.

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Suzuki X90 (1995)

SUZUKI X90: Suzuki created a chic little SUV a bit unsteady on its feet going around corners, and then thought it would be terrific to junk what practicality it offered by slicing off the rear end. The idea behind the stupidity was Malibu surfers could park their surf board on it. Some Malibu surfers bought one but then Malibu surfers are not known for their searing intellect – dude. Chopping off the back reduced it to  a useless two-seat, two-wheel-drive, mini-flatbed. It’s name alone, X90, is ugly. By the way, the building behind is the beautiful all-brick San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, MOMA, but it doesn’t make the car look any better.

G-WizSilver 08 Electric Cars

RIVA G-WIZ (2001)

REVA G-WIZ: As an enthusiastic owner of a Smart car, readers will know my admiration for small city cars is boundless – then there’s the micro G-WIZ. You see lots parked in London’s posh streets because being electric they pay no congestion charge and they park free too. In most countries the vehicle (hard to call it a car) does not qualify as a vehicle. It has nil, zilch, nada crash protection and even less street cred. The second iteration got Lithium-ion batteries which offer 75 miles on a 6 hour charge. Switch on radio, lights, wipers and air conditioning all at once and expect to get out and push. Created from fibreglass, it doesn’t have to look like an infant’s plaything. Celebrities boast about owning one, but then no one said they had good taste.

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Ssangyong Rodius (2005)

Ssangyong Rodius: When asked what car do you drive, how do you answer with any degree of pride or confidence, “I drive a SsangYong Rodius”? It’s big, bland and bulbous, with the rear end of a male hamster. They call it a people carrier, one assumes the people in it are all sight challenged. Those rear side windows will cost a mint to replace if broken. And they do damn all for all-round visibility. Why not drive a small bus instead? Whisper it: it was designed by Ken Greenley, a former head of car design at the Royal College of Art. Ouch! Some gifted teacher.

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Porsche Cayenne (2002)

 

 

PORSCHE CAYENNE: Designing a car proves a major problem when even the company that creates the beautifully distinctive 911 can get its first SUV so terribly wrong. The one in the photograph has been ‘improved’ by an aftermarket redesign company who love American station wagons. Porsche, jettisoning its sportscar-only heritage embraced the fashion for SUVs and made a fortune, so much so the company almost bought over VW. (VW now owns Porsche.) The designer decided it had to look like it’s flagship brand and duly stuck the face of its 911 on an elephant. They have since modified the down-road graphics, (front elevation) three times but it doesn’t look any better. Being a Porsche it sold like hot cakes proving money and status talk, and some drivers have no aesthetic education whatsoever. Then again, who feels they must drive at 150 mph with bags of garden peat in the back, or domestic rubbish to the local council recycle yard?

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Nissan Micra C+C (2005)

NISSAN MICRA C+C: When Mercedes Benz brought out its SLK sports car with its clever folding hard-top, (an American invention) every other manufacturer decided they had to have a similar model. The C+C is Nissan’s version. Mercedes was smart enough to employ an Italian to design their sports car. Nissan chose a Brit who probably never left Sunderland in his life. Pink only makes it look more ludicrous than it is. The interior is seriously cramp, a terrible driving position, a rudimentary rear seat, and the feeling a whole middle section has been cut out and thrown away. To boost appeal they gave it lurid colours. Where do you park a cone of strawberry ice cream on four wheels without being seen behind the wheel?

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Mitsuoka Orochi (2006)

MITSUOKA OROCHI: The characterful puffer fish has a mouth exactly like the grille on this disaster, a supercar called the Orochi. Japanese design works well when handed over to a European to design, such as the early Toyota RAV SUVs, cute and  cuddly. The Japanese aesthetic of restraint and simplicity is here junked for an exercise in making a car seem fluid, like water rolling over a stone. The designer has lifted ideas from the sports cars of other manufacturers and stuck them all together to create this monster.

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Lancia Thesis (2001)

LANCIA THESIS: Proof the race with the most assured aesthetic in the world, the Italians, can get it wrong at least once. Lancia created some of the most memorable designs as well as truly inspired pioneer engineering. In this instance they moulded an old-school upright grille onto a contemporary sloping bonnet (hood) and placed the weird-shaped eyes (headlights) so far apart it left a football field of negative space between them. Ford did something similar with the Scorpio, (1994) but at least Lancia had the good sense not to sell the Thesis in the UK.

Photographer - Stan PapiorLamborghini LM002   Silver

Lamborghini LM002 (1986)

LAMBORGHINI LM002: There’s ugly and there’s downright puke-vulgar. This jeep is jaw dropping preposterous. Just when you thought the Italians might mess up one design along comes another. It issues from the same company that created the Miura, arguably one of the world’s prettiest sports cars. I have seen an LM002 in the metal and I was so severely struck dumb that I had to be lifted away rigid, washboard fashion, and revived. Then I remembered Lamborghini loves the Origami School of Car Design, and this jeep is its extreme consummation.

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Citroen Ami 6 (1961)

CITROEN AMI 6: In the Ugly Stakes the French score high too. Amazingly the Citroen Ami comes from the same designer who created the beautiful DS, Flaminio Bertoni, the DS a car so far ahead of its time you’d be proud to drive one down the High Street today. The Ami could easily be found scribbled in a schoolchild’s jotter. It sits on a 2CV chassis, a car he also designed but with flare and common sense. If you stare long enough at the Ami’s square headlights and melted bonnet you’re liable to feel giddy. The rear is as bad: the window has an extreme rake and a table-top boot lid. Turn your gaze away now!

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Austin Allegro Vanden Plas

The truly awful Austin Allegro contributed to the British car industry’s collapse. It was the automobilia equivalent of self-harm. Those on the right-wing blamed lazy commie workers for the crap cars they sold. Those on the left-wing blamed callous bosses and penny-pinching budgets for the crap cars they sold. What can’t be denied is, every manufacturer, from BMC to Rolls-Royce, left development of the car to the customer. Brit cars fell apart after two years. Folk with money traded them in just before Armageddon. I must confess to owning an Allegro in my naïve youth – nothing worked, and it leaked like a sieve when in a car wash. Austin decided the model needed a fillip. They turned to their up-market design house, Vanden Plas, for a deluxe refit and this is the result. It’s the same car as the standard model but with ugly posh appurtenances, including chrome hearse grille, picnic tables, a dashboard in walnut veneer, Connolly leather and Wilton carpets. The sods sold it with a 50% hike in price. There exist fans who collect the things as classic cars, just as I did some years back … to my cost.

I could list another ten ugly cars, including most of Jaguar’s current range that has ditched elegance, but I’ll stop here. Readers are free to discuss their own choice, or vomit in the sink.

Posted in Transportation | 15 Comments

Engineering Consent

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Engineering consent

The term ‘engineering consent’ is another way of describing thought control. George Orwell had a lot to say about thought control. He wrote an entire novel around the thesis entitled 1984. He was twenty years out. We in Scotland are subjected to it day in, day out.

Our media relegates truth to obscurity.

Orwell said “War is Peace”. We’ve endured decades of war in the Middle-East to protect our way of life from ‘terrorists’ … people stirred to revenge by endless war carried out by us in the Middle-East.

Orwell said “Freedom is slavery”. If we believe this nation’s enemies, Scotland’s constitutional ambitions, its goal of attaining real civil rights, attempts to keep our oil, all those things enslave us. Wealth in Scotland’s hands is deemed a terrible burden.

Orwell said, “Ignorance is strength. We’re told to forget our history unless it’s shameful, forget we’re Scots and show allegiance to nebulous ‘Britishness’. Look to Westminster, for there lays “strength and stability”.

In 1984 Oceania is governed by an all-seeing, all-knowing, strong and stable leader called ‘Big Brother’. In the tyranny of United Kingdom Theresa May is ‘Big Sister.’

To hell with democracy

As we watch the ugly sight of every British political party blocking Scotland’s right to hold a second plebiscite – their slogan: Bugger-all Power to the People – radical thinker Professor Noam Chomsky suggest the Labour Party is destined to remain rudderless unless it unites with the upsurge of protest in England, the Momentum group.

Momentum is a grass roots campaign group established in 2015 to support left-wing policies. Call it, reinstating people power. Momentum exists to persuade, quite a novelty in this age of nasty right-wing power politics where black propaganda, lies, and fake news keep us all guessing and bemused. You could say, Momentum is Orwell’s ‘Proles’.

Chomsky is the author of a book on USA-centred thought control covering the 50s to the 80s. It was entitled ‘Necessary Illusions,’ (1989). On the UK’s current predicament he dismisses unionist flimflam, on record stating Scotland can prosper staying in the EU, though he, like so many of us, wants the EU to throw off its bureaucracy, and all of its racism. Chomsky believes in being an activist. He knows corrupt, errant administrations invariably offer concessions to mass protest movements, though admittedly it can take time. That Corbyn has the smarts enough to follow Chomsky’s advice is in serious doubt.

Reconstructing the self-destructed

As soon as Corbyn crosses the border into Scotland he’s lost. Like a man showing early signs of dementia, what should be familiar is suddenly unknown and hostile. He’s visibly uncomfortable. For a man of the people, described as ‘gentle and kind’, he’s incapable of applying democratic principles to Scotland’s population. He abuses free speech by repeating propagandist rubbish. “Scotland can’t survive on its own.” You can’t tell him apart from the repellent Theresa May and her Tory Pretorian Guard of carpetbaggers.

A ruminating cow can see Labour needs to reconstruct itself in the interests of working people, to have at its core concerns human and civil rights if it is ever to appeal to the majority of people again in England. Scotland needs a new-thinking, free-thinking left-wing  movement, but one constructed after independence is reinstated. To create a new party now will only divide support for self-governance.

The smearing of Scotland

May told an outright lie. With her MPs accused of electoral fraud, she retorted that all parties were guilty of fraud, adding ‘even the SNP’. This was a blatant lie.

Scotland’s First Minister – how I long for that title to be Prime Minister – Nicola Sturgeon refuted the sly allegation immediately, and so did the Electoral Commission. They confirmed they have never fined the SNP for anything.

May’s intention, and that of her advisers, is to paint a picture in our minds of the SNP as morally vulnerable as any other political party.

Our dishonest press reported the lie as truth. Corbyn said nothing – a sure sign he’s not quick witted enough to gain an advantage over his Tory opponents. The Tory’s rag-bag of carpetbaggers in Scotland’s Parliament stayed silent. This is thought control at work as exercised by disreputable politicians who crave power.

Silence is collusion. Newspaper editors are first to scream loss of press freedom when they see censorship, the last to uphold civil rights for the rest of us.

It takes a high level of courage to get a Tory politician to rebel against Theresa May’s attempts at engineering acquiescence, but MP Peter Reynolds MP wrote as follows:

Her refusal to engage in any proper debate is pathetic and brings shame on the Conservative Party. Her bluster, barking and abusive style at PMQs is nothing to do with debate and not only is she refusing to take part in any TV debates but she’s avoiding any contact at all with real voters. …. It’s not ‘strong’ to evade debate, to silence your opponents and to use government authority, power and facilities to undermine them. In fact, it’s probably unlawful as a misuse of government resources.”

Fifty shades of grey

Engineering consent takes many forms, from repeating empty slogans into which you are expected to drop in your meaning, to faking adoring crowds told not to ask questions while you give a speech called ‘a talk to factory workers’. Food banks in the modern age in a wealthy country are explained away as ‘a caring society providing for the needy’.

Scotland’s outstanding demand for autonomy, the right to exercise free will, is depicted continually as “divisive”, the cause of instability; open debate condemned as estranging.

The most common example of thought control we all encounter is limiting discussion. You are told certain subjects are not on the agenda. Only the range stated, (by the cartel running the institution) can be discussed, but everybody is welcome to express an opinion within those limits. (I can guess at the control wielded by the Board of Directors over Glasgow School of Art’s fire that blames no one. To make it a police matter loses the School its insurance pay out.) Whatever issue you wanted to protest about, you can’t. It isn’t on the agenda. You can always put it in writing to the director or CEO’s office but he’s likely to keep it there. Members of your committee never get to discuss your concerns. The issue is reduced to a minor problem.

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A tearful Nayirah, but was it tears of shame?

An example of ‘hooking’ mass opinion

One of the best examples I know of engineering consent happened within recent memory.  It took place in October 1990 when George Bush was keen to whip up killing fervour in the west to invade Iraq. The US and particularly the UK resisted intervention, after all, Bush Senior had beaten Hussein’s army into a pulp.

A fifteen year-old Kuwaiti girl, identified as Nayirah, appeared in Washington before the House of Representatives’ Human Rights Caucus. She testified that Iraqi soldiers who invaded Kuwait tore hundreds of babies from hospital incubators and killed them. They stole the incubators, and wrecked hospital wards on their way out.

The testimony was flashed around the world. BBC and UK commercial television all recounted stories of this ‘atrocity’. It gave George Bush the cue to call Saddam Hussein – a one-time close ally of the US – ‘the Butcher of Baghdad’. He was a ‘tyrant worse than Hitler.’ Even today, a former political editor of the Guardian newspaper, Michael White, cutting a debater off, swore blind Hussein had killed thousands of Iraqi children. In fact, our soldiers killed over 500,000 Iraqi children as part of our ‘shock and awe’ bombing and the internal attacks since.

The story of babies taken from incubators was everywhere. It was time to invade Iraq and save the world from Hussein’s cruelty. Bush used Nayirah’s testimony to lambast the Democratic Party for proposing sanctions alone. He wanted outright bombardment.

Nayirah’s tearful story swayed the American public. They backed an invasion of Iraq. The UK’s Prime Minister Tony Blair quoted it in his speech to Westminster to secure British participation in the unlawful bombardment and invasion. Mission accomplished.

A lie to engineer backing for the invasion

Nayirah was not what she seemed. She was the daughter of Saud Nasir Al-Sabah, Kuwait’s ambassador to the United States. Key Congressional senators knew of her real identity as did some of the press, but they remained silent. It was a minor detail.

As readers will guess by now, her story was completely false. No hospital had been raided, no babies thrown to the floor, torn from their incubators. Indeed, nobody, least of all the press, had thought to ask why soldiers would want incubators.

According to Dr Mohammed Matar, director of Kuwait’s primary care system, who ran the obstetrics unit at the hospital named, there existed only a handful of incubators, some not working. Subsequent investigations, including one by Amnesty International, found no evidence for Nayirah’s allegations. But the baby killer fabrication did its job. The West went to war with a small nation that had not attacked it.

As soon as the USA invaded Iraq, Nayirah faded out of the limelight.

The weight of unionist lies

What can we do faced with a daily barrage of lies from unionists? The task is daunting. Politicians hostile to Scotland constitutional rights ‘misspeak’ at every turn.

Currently, the attacks concentrate on convincing a majority of people that a second referendum is unwanted, yet every poll shows a majority in favour, and a population that feels the Scottish Parliament should make the decision. The lies get top billing, the polls left to a few social sites. The onslaught continues unabated, and unashamedly.

Engineering consent is so prevalent these days, so ruthlessly promulgated, that when the SNP increased its vote share and local councillor numbers in local elections, the result was brandished by the other parties, supported by the media, as a magnificent Tory win. You don’t get more confidant than that.

Were he alive, Orwell would throw up.

Second was first, losers were winners, and black was white. The hope behind repeating a phrase at every opportunity, “The SNP’s days are numbered. Fewer are voting for them”, is one day somebody, a social commentator, will say exactly that without offering a shred of evidence for his opinion. And the rest of us will think it without questioning it.

Political rights are not composed by governments and scattered around like rice at a wedding. People secure civil rights, you and me, usually by constant argument and ultimately by struggle. Only when they become common practice can we relax.

The problem we have is, the press and television publish the mischievous, the malignant, and the illegal, none are accountable to the extent they are punishable for their temerity.

Should anybody attempt to remove civil rights they should be met by the strongest force from a democratically stable population – duly empowered.

 And any agency publishing lies knowingly should be sanctioned.

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 13 Comments

Alien: Covenant – a review

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Arachnophobia magnified a thousand times

Ridley Scott has never been a director who inspired great acting, but box office success ensures his projects attract fine actors, especially the brooding kind, such as Russell Crowe, and as here in Alien: Covenant, Michael Fassbinder – more about him later.

Scott is a supreme stylist; sparse dialogue, three second cuts, that’s how his career began, shooting thirty second television commercials for his own company RSA, Ridley Scott Associates. Blade Runner is his masterpiece, the pinnacle of his creative voice. The Duellists, an early project, is also outstanding for the same qualities, though its self-conscious prettiness can become sickly sweet.

You’d never contract Scott to make Casablanca, or Lawrence of Arabia. As soon as he tackles subjects without monsters, androids or alien worlds he’s lost. Biblical epics: Exodus: God and Kings, loyalty and betrayal: American Gangster, set in France romantic pot boilers: A Good Year, and the completely muddled, banal psychosexual thriller, The Councillor, show us his limitations.

His last big success, Gladiator, was pure spectacle, highly entertaining, but I’ve still no idea what the film was saying. Still, actors like working with Scott because he lets them do what they want and films it. He knows how to make them look and sound good. Able to command the highest studio budgets, he favours extensive use of two-cameras shooting simultaneously, allowing actors to play a scene straight through without a break for a new camera set up.

Almost 80 years of age, Scott is still making films, one a year, and now returns to an early winner, alien monsters. (He seems to have lined up a few re-treads for his pension years, a third version of Murder on the Orient Express, for example.)

This latest Alien spin-off is the most ambitious Alien film ever made. The budget is megabucks. He’s playing safe, and all-in-all, it’s a worthy addition to the series, some parts fresh, some parts predicable, all served with lashing of spurting blood. Yes, there’s plenty of screaming and running and gore – much of it effective, some of it very predictable. The question is, is the franchise jaded?

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White suits you, sir! Fassbinder’s android is cool malignance

The Ridley–isms grab the attention, so much so that, as Covenant began, I wondered if somebody had spliced in sections of Blade Runner in error.

The film opens with the birth of Prometheus’ android, David, (Michael Fassbender), clad all in white, in a vast, elegant white room, while his creator, Peter Weyland, (Aussie Guy Pearce), belabours him with unsettling questions. Fassbinder’s android is super-quick to assimilate; asked for his name, he takes it from the Michelangelo statue nearby – “David” he answers. (What the statue is doing there and not in Florence is anybody’s guess.) When the conversation veers toward metaphysics, David seems to relish the unique certitude of his existence. “You seek your creator. I am looking at mine,” he tells Weyland. “You will die. I will not.” This is Ridley territory, philosophising that edges to the pretentious, but never quite falls on its face.

We then jump forward to 10 years after the events of Prometheus, to the colonization vessel Covenant making its way through space, carrying several thousand sleeping colonists and human embryos, headed to a supposedly life-sustaining planet with the name of a whole food store, Origae-6. When we first see the ship, its sole inhabitant is another android, Walter, played again by Fassbinder, sporting an American accent.

The crew, conveniently revived from hibernation by an accident involving a “neutrino burst”, to begin the drama with drama, intercepts a message from a seemingly habitable planet much nearer than the seven-years-of-cryosleep-away planet Origae-6.

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The film belongs to that Irish actor with the German surname, Michael Fassbinder

This time the space travellers are not on a mission, but are settlers, many are couples. They hope to find a habitable planet and colonise it. They’ve just lost their captain, burnt to a crisp, and they’re crippled by mourning, uncertainty and fear. The angst is sky high.

The Covenant heads to the nearby planet against everybody’s better judgement, and they step out into a typical Ridley Scott television commercial, a Garden of Eden with shrub carpeted mountains and fields of wheat. One traveller notices there are no mammals or birds, everything is silent. Most sensible people would be spooked, realise  the place was jinxed, get back on the spaceship and head for the planet of their planned destination. Our intrepid group decide to do the dumb thing and plough on to full jeopardy.

Very soon people are swallowing sentient microbes that chew up your innards. Creepy crawly multi-morphs, (my description) begin bursting out of people’s spines and mouths. Scott orchestrates the mayhem brilliantly. Scattered crew members struggle with panic, disorientation, poor communications, garbled instructions, fear, ion storms, (yes, we get those in Scotland) blood-spewing, and an escalating cascade of plain stupidity and cock-ups. Pandemonium ensues – no surprise there.

Our ten characters in search of a danger-free film script are not stoic or tough soldiers; they’re ordinary folk looking for a room for the night.

Scott has reached the age where he must be feeling truly mortal. From here-on-in the film is a discourse on creation, and asking, is there a god? From Frankenstein to Noah’s Ark, people in novels have wondered. In Covenant leading characters ruminate on life, love and the universe – they’ve very little else to do out in space.

Covenant could have continued as a serviceable action-horror sequel but Scott has metaphysical goals. We are given bon mots on the nature of faith, the mysteries of creation, the limits of humanity, visions of leadership and devotion, and how not to put a sticking plaster over a creature bursting from your stomach. He even takes a pop at powerful capitalism. I suspect most cinemagoers will just take the spectacle and be done with it. Science fiction fans will love the guff.

I saw the first Alien, the very first Alien, in art deco Odeon cinema in Edinburgh. I left my car on disused waste site surrounded by old dark tenements. It had no street lighting. Accompanied by a friend, I was scared to venture onto that rough ground to reach the car. No such thrill this time around. But newcomers to the series might well be scared.

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Master technician and stylist, director Ridley Scott

As well as familiarity, I think the film has a secondary fault. There is an inability to stick to a mood or a theme or even an emotional through-line. The attention revolves around Fassbinder, all other characters get cursory attention. The story indulges each of its ideas for a few minutes and then tosses them over its shoulder for a new idea. That’s the brain at work of a three-second-edit television commercials director. The effect is of a film veering between lofty philosophical ambition and delivering effective spectacle.

Admittedly, the whipsawing between cerebral musings and visceral thrills generates its own wild energy – at least until the disposable and thoroughly uninspiring theatrics of the final act, as Scott desperately tries to wrap up loose ends and set things in motion for yet another sequel. The last twenty minutes is a rehash of the first Alien.

Scott likes to boast that he’s a story teller. All successful directors claim that, few actually remember to acknowledge they did not write the actual story even if they suggested the outline. Scott isn’t a gifted storyteller. He’s a master of mood and evocative imagery, but he falters with straight narrative.

The more Covenant tries to tell a story, the more of a mess it becomes.

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Yeah, back to back for 360 degree protection; that’ll work

The film belongs to Fassbinder. The android he creates is fascinating. David whispers to Walter, “You have symphonies in you, brother,” trying to convince this lowly mirror image of his inherent greatness. The scenes between the two are touching, erotic, troubling. Watch Michael Fassbinder make out with himself and then kick his own ass, it’s a treat, only spoiled by a strange Charlie Chaplin flat-footed walk away from camera.

The film seethes with self-importance yet is never boring or portentous. It can’t come close to matching the fascination and scary moments of the first two films in the series, there’s too many fussy ideas that get discarded. To paraphrase a relative, it’s not all of a piece. And ignore misogynist reviewers raving about Katherine Waterston as the new Sigourney Weaver. She’s nowhere close, and never slips into a space suit wearing only skimpy, sweat soaked bra and panties. Anyhow, the cinematographer is Dariuz Walski, cameraman from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. He doesn’t do erotic.

Scott retains the same creepy music we’ve grown to like. Well, who expects original in a sequel, for heaven’s sake – expect fresh. I just hope Scott doesn’t create a director’s cut. Two hours is long enough. Nevertheless, I left this picture with positive feelings, and my car in a brightly lit car park!

  • Star Rating: Three and a half stars
  • Cast: Michael Fassbinder, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Writer: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
  • Cinematographer: Dariusz Walski
  • Music: Jed Kurzel
  • Duration: 2 hours
Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Elle – a review

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The highly talented by greatly undervalued Isabelle Huppert

I’m in two minds about Dutch director Paul Verhoeven. On the one hand he’s a populist who creates glossy material with a sly political message. He has a way of  giving the finger to various aspects of unsavoury capitalism. On the other hand, he’s a hit and miss formula director with a basic technical skill. Fans might call him a provocateur. To get an idea of his worth I read up on his early career.

He’s a former math and physics student who decided movies make more sense and offered more money if you make ’em good.  Rutger Hauer was one of his earliest actor discoveries when he began his film career in Holland. Verhoeven claims he’s spent most of his time cine-psychoanalyzing the relationship between sex and violence, pulp and profundity, and there’s a lot of truth in that boast. His films are full of warped sexual habits. You could say he’s dedicated his career to sifting through some pretty bad material to extract ugly truths.

Lately his career seemed to peter out. Excluding the 53-minute audience-participation stunt Tricked, the septuagenarian director hasn’t made a feature film since Black Book in 2006. Then again, even the most successful directors go out of fashion at least once in their life. Hitchcock is a good example. Psycho revived his career, but it ended with a bad taste squalid film set in cockney London, Peeping Tom. It also showed he was way out of date. It still used old-fashioned painted backcloths.

Verhoeven’s new film, Elle, adapted by David Birke from Philippe Djian’s novel Oh…, is, in a way, Verhoeven’s look back at his career. It stars Isabelle Huppert as a rape survivor named Michèle, a former literary editor who now develops video games about goblins and trolls, (not the Internet kind) concoctions conjured from absorbing the work of Tolkien and the Marquis de Sade.

Just as Verhoeven uses lowbrow genres to create scathing satires of capitalism (RoboCop) and fascism (Starship Troopers), Michèle uses fetid video games to expose nasty truths about the darkest human desires.

Her monsters hate looking into the face of their victims, just a any human rapist will stalk their victim and grab them. Her monsters violate women from behind with writhing tendrils, their faces contorted into drooling snot and saliva. And in that she’s no feminist. She creates stories in which women enjoy being ravished.

She demands that her staff make the attacks fiercer, the women’s faces more contorted with orgasmic pleasure. She calls one assault “the boner moment.” She wants immersion, for the player to feel “hot, sticky blood on their hands.” Her employees are not happy but they do as they’re told.

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Huppert’s steely performance is the whole reason to see this ‘Elle.

Elle premiered last May at Cannes where Huppert was touted as a Best Actress contender. She didn’t get that honour. However, Huppert has taken home the award twice. No actress has matched her 15 César nominations. And Huppert has worked with is a murderers’ row of world-cinema heavies: Otto Preminger, Claude Chabrol, Claire Denis, Jean-Luc Godard, Michael Cimino, Maurice Pialat, Hal Hartley, Olivier Assayas, Raúl Ruiz, Michael Haneke, Hong Sang-soo, Catherine Breillat.

Huppert is an all-too-rare exception to the rule of actresses older than 40 receiving roles worthy of their talent. And unlike so many American and Australian female stars she has that quality of the old school, the ability to move a man to tears, as well as women. When she appears on the screen she brings with her real life.

Elle is concerned with obsession and control. It opens with a closeup of a cat, the symbol of female guile and sensuality, here unperturbed and docile. For once, Verhoeven ditches the tasteless and graphic and offers us  imagination: we hear a violent struggle which the cat watches passively, unperturbed. This is how we meet Michèle – prone, on a floor on her back, her dress slit open. We don’t see the rape, just the end of the incident, from afar, a single static shot that frames the supine bodies in a doorway. (Later on a second rape is recorded but shrouded in darkness.)

The rape is presented to us in flashback. Michèle’s reaction is torpid and nonchalant- did she welcome it? Was it a lover? Is this how she enjoys sex? She orders sushi as if nothing has happened, and her laconic explanation to friends is, simply, “I guess I was raped”.

But the memory and the trauma she’s experience begins to play on her mind. In a daydream she takes revenge on her rapist’s skull until it’s a bloody mass. As she returns to reality, a sly grin or is it grimace, take the place of a frown. Brutal violence usurped by a smile is maybe the defining idea of the film. You beat your enemy by hiding your fear and smiling at the attacker.

If you analyse what you’re seeing you’ll see a film that’s a burlesque of manners and mannerisms, laced with mordant humour.

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Cast and Verhoeven (with silver hair) at Cannes, and a tiny Huppert

The way the film has been marketed is an insult, both to cast and writer. It depicts the story as a “rape revenge thriller.” Elle is not a thriller, not a female slasher movie, nor concerned with petty revenge. Huppert feels Elle is “a human comedy.” For example, Verhoeven juxtaposes scenes of sexual depravity with a farcical Christmas dinner rife with familial bickering, but a ‘comedy’? I’m not so sure.

I’d say the story is a critique on an aspect of hypocritical bourgeois life, the lurid sexual couplings that go one behind closed curtains; the ease with which a man can debauch a women he says he loves and cares about. It amounts to an attack on privileged elite. Verhoeven has called it “very French”. The comedy, for what it is, is ink black. It’s as dark and dense as un gâteau au chocolat.

But the story isn’t one-dimensional. There’s a highly sophisticated backstory for Michèle. And this above all else is the element that gives the film depth, and surely attracted Huppert to it. Verhoeven reveals very slowly, in almost casual asides, the wanton violence that ruined his heroine’s childhood and influenced her adult life. One day her father, a proud and pious Christian, who embellished the foreheads of the local kids with ash crosses, massacred the community he lived among. He embroiled Michèle in the horrendous affair by having her help him burn the evidence. The memory clings to her like the smell of new-gutted fish. Her father remains a dominating presence over her, even as he withers away in jail decades later.

Though successful, we meet Michèle living a life replete with unavailing men, from her oafish son to her clingy loser of an ex-husband, to her best friend’s husband with whom she’s sleeping. The men around her show their weakness in hostility of one sort or another, like the insolent employee who challenges her in front of her staff. Weak men not in full control of their lives who resort to variations of violence has been a theme in all the films I’ve seen of Verhoeven, beginning with Robocop. In Elle, the men, all inept, depend on Michèle. They’re dull, second-raters.

I read that the novel is a “dissection of forgiveness and penance Christian-style”. If so, Verhoeven has captured that quality well. Some men are vile but we accept their nature, willing to absolve them.

Elle is unrepentantly a Paul Verhoeven film, but it owes everything to Huppert whose comic delivery has never gotten as much renown as her more solemn work; simpatico with Verhoeven’s warped sense of humor, she makes the film a serious work of art.

  • Star rating: Three and a half
  • Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny,
  • Director: Paul Verhoeven
  • Writers: David Birke, Philippe Djian
  • Music: Anne Dudley
  • Cinematography: Stéphane Fontaine
  • Duration: 2 hours 10 minutes

 

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Lady Macbeth – a review

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Florence Pugh sits rigid and lady-like … plotting

This is a British version of a Russian novel transposed to Northumberland, the novel a Russian transposition of Shakespeare’s story of Scotland’s well-loved King Macbeth and his over-ambitious wife, the Russian novel written from Lady MacBeth’s point of view, the story set in a rural Russian town. Is that clear?

There’s also a 1962 Polish film by Andrzej Wajda, Sibirska Ledi Magbet – Siberian Lady Macbeth. All in all, Mrs Macbeth hasn’t had a good press, but she makes a fine character study as interesting as her male namesake is a byword for envy and lust for power!

A strong, solid, intelligent period drama about female subordination welcomes two first-time beginners, writer and director, and a break-through role for a powerful, bold young actress called Florence Pugh. Here she’s Katherine, in the novel, Katerina.

Lady Macbeth is Thomas hardy gone wild.

There’s something of Emile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin in the plot, something of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and a whole lot of Alfred Hitchcock. As with so many well-crafted films issuing from British talent and set in England, you’ll need to seek it out in your nearest art house cinema, although one multi-screen chain is smart enough to see the potential to give it a screening, for it has all the elements of a good thriller.

Nicolia Leskov’s short story Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was turned into a four-part opera by Shostakovich, but this film holds pretty well rigidly to the plot of Leskov’s novella.

A woman marries a landowner but is soon bored with rural life, an impotent husband, or so she thinks, and being treated as one step higher than a favourite servant. In the book Leskov explores what the Lady Macbeth of Shakespeare’s tragedy might do if she was left on her own to act out her darkest desires and her fantasies.

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Whether mistress, servant, or husband all are cloistered and repressed

I’d better warn of spoilers from here on in – reviewing this interpretation makes it  impossible to avoid them, but I’ll do my best.

Alice Birch’s minimalist script allows director William Oldroyd to give his ensemble plenty of room to put flesh on bones, which is just as well because there’s plenty of flesh coming off bones as the murders pile up.

Leskov’s story is relocated to a bleak wooded estate in 19th-century Northumberland. (Some reviewers say it’s Somerset. I know a Somerset accent from a Northumberland one.) Instead of a death at  the estate owners water mill some distance away as in the novella, Birch has many deaths happen in a coal mine that takes the husband out of the story, and gives freedom to the dark protagonist to do her worst.

The background is England’s industrial revolution. Any minute you expect someone to burst into a room and shout, ‘There trooble down t’mine”, but dialogue is pared to a minimum and avoids cliché. However, there is  another innovation.

This is a film about sounds. Sound is heightened everywhere: the swish and glide of a woman’s crinoline gown across a floor; the clip clop of horse hooves on cobbles; the wind  through closed shutters; the click-clack of cutlery on china plates, and most of all the heavy breathing of Katherine (Pugh) as she walks long corridors at night to let in her athletic lover.

Oldroyd is devilishly clever using sound to move his drama along and not get lost for ideas on a too modest shooting budget. In fact, there are, I think only a handful of scenes where camera tracks are used to follow people on galloping horses, or driving carts, trees in between, rail tracks being expensive to hire and set up by the day rate. The majority of scenes are shot on a fixed camera position, actor or actors centre stage.

The classic use of cameras, old school, has the desired effect of making the austere interiors seem to close in through cinematographer Ari Wegner’s practised eye. There’s time to smell the dowdiness of brown furniture, over-padded armchairs, hefty table legs covered in drapes and tassels lest the legs shock guests with their feminine nakedness.

Katherine is married to Sebastian, (Paul Hilton) a wimpish chip off the old block, his father, (Christopher Fairbank) a grim, hooked nose, dry old stick, a woman hating  boor, who demands a woman stay in her place, and her place is in the home. When Sebastian’s father loses his temper and attacks Katherine with a blow to her face his fate is sealed.

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Poor stable lad Sebastian. The lady of the house wants him to do more than run the estate

Nobody onscreen pays much attention to Sebastian and Katherine’s increasingly conflicted maid Anna, played almost silently in looks and body behaviour, with little backstory, by Naomi Ackie. There’s a sense of Hegelian Herrschaft und Knechtschaft in Katherine’s treatment of them. Katherine and her errant husband, and then Sebastian treat their slave servants lower than the lowest, lower indeed, than a horse.

And it’s the stable lad played by a bearded Cosmo Jarvis who inhabits the world of muscular beasts who takes the place of Katherine’s husband as soon as he’s out of town on business. To use a colloquial phrase, Katherine likes a bit of rough. He excites her. She uses him for self-gratification. The lowest of the low orders made lower still.

The film belongs to Pugh. She made an unforgettable debut in Carol Morley’s The Falling, and here, with little effort I might add, is remarkable as the variously carnal, ruthless, suffering, pitiable, monstrous anti-heroine. There are lustful couplings everywhere and in every position. I found myself chuckling with delight at some of those moments because they are true to human behaviour. Katherine is going to enjoy life no matter the risks or the consequences.

Naomi Ackie and Cosmo Jarvis are more than able to keep pace, with performances that transition from order to wide-eyed terror. Their characters are as trapped as Pugh’s in a world where not even the clothes you wear allow you to breath.

But the film has an annoying weakness, brought on, I fear, by lack of budget and time. Act Three gallops along at too fast a pace, murder piles upon murder, and the drama loses tension. The greater the body count, the less the grip on the psychological narrative, and the more the story veers to the implausible, though not disastrously so.

There is one scene in which Jarvis’s stable lad has to break down in anguish. He handles that with aplomb. The scene is the crying at the graveside convention,  the ‘look at the depth of my talent’ scene every actor hopes their character is given. But the subsequent scene arrives too quickly. We need a longer emotional arc to fully accept Sebastian’s revelation on the road to Damascus.

A lot of critics and reviewers have gone gaga over the film and given it four or even five stars. I’ve explained my reservations. The film doesn’t have the resonance of British writer Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, another story of repressed individuals living in a class ridden English society.  That film provoked thought. This one does not, but it does send a chill down your spine.

Nevertheless, there is pleasure in losing £15 for a ticket and a tub of Ben & Jerry to see this latter day version of Lady Macbeth set ‘oop north’.

I think we shall be seeing a lot more of Florence Pugh, but I’ll withhold fulsome praise for Oldroyd and Birch for two reasons. The film is not an original work. It’s a new conception of an old work, the kind of re-imagining each generation does to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And because I think we need to see how Oldroyd handles sound and camera on his next film. On this one he shows great promise and intelligence.

  • Star rating: Three and a half
  • Cast: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie
  • Director: William Oldroyd
  • Writer: Alice Birch
  • Cinematographer: Ari Wegner
  • Music: Dan Jones
  • Duration: 1 hour, 29 minutes
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A Stroll Among Pensions

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A pensioner counting coins is desperately trying to make them stretch a month

Those profoundly concerned by right-wing extremist rhetoric are apt to say neo-liberals are trying to take us back to feudal times. They make an ominous point. We feel the lash of neo-liberalism, particularly the vulnerable among us.

Functioning democracy has declined.

If you can stand back for  a minute you will see the UK’s growth has slowed, productivity growth has deteriorated, real wage growth has declined, even that middle-class marker of wealth, house values, has slowed or reversed in some cases, inequality has risen markedly, and except in Scotland, average unemployment has risen. Civil rights, such as the right to organise plebiscites, are challenged daily. It amounts to a disturbing pattern.

Baron bad

In England’s dark ages your local tax demand came from a baron. The baron was generally an unfriendly sort, a man with allegiance to a king and not to commoners. He took taxes and large amounts of your harvested grain stored from your toil for winter food, took livestock too. As a commoner you had no status.

In Scotland the demand for a share of your output came from your clan chief, but he distributed the money among the people of the clan, and you had status and dignity as an individual member of that same clan.

Today’s robber barons are businessmen. They still don’t pay taxes. “I should be allowed to keep what I earn,” they wail. This principle is not applied to Scotland. Democracy is sacrificed on the alter of neo-liberal progress. Scotland isn’t allowed to borrow money, nor amass debts. But we do have safety nets called pensions and welfare.

Pensions and welfare are not devolved matters.

Pensions are supposed to be protected. Criminally, funds are raided on a regular basis – to prop up ailing banks, lost on the stock market, stolen by corporate bosses for personal gain, or shifted to another company to give the impression of profitability.

Changing society by tyranny

We’re in the midst of probably the biggest if not the last neo-liberal push to reconstruct society in their image. Labour and Tory tell us there are few working class left to support, we are mostly comfortable middle-class. They aver we don’t need pensions these days, social security, or a free national health service. The threat of low pension funds is being used to destroy the welfare state which is basically sound.

We’re told the pension system will crash by 2050. Projections that far ahead are meaningless. There is so much that can alter the economy between then and now, including wars.

The new orthodoxy

Tories, privileged people who stop work at around 45 and coast the rest of their days, talk of pensions delivered at 70 not 65. Seventy is a stepping stone to 75. Everywhere is talk of reform. They mean ‘dismantle’.

A recent UK government Green Paper from a Tory committee recommends allowing small or struggling businesses to ‘cut or renegotiate’ staff pensions. A GMB (Union) spokesperson said, “Allowing schemes to break promises on pensions and raid workers’ retirement savings to cover for mistakes in the boardroom will not be music to the ears of employees. However, it will no doubt go down very well with the big business bosses who bankroll the Conservatives.”

Neo-liberals want pensions withdrawn from certain individuals, and after dumping Europe, can’t guarantee British patriots living there will receive their pensions at all.

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A good upright male citizen collecting his pension from the Post Office 1909

When did pensions begin?

Back in the day old age for the masses meant the shame of the workhouse. You were taken off to the knackers yard. Someone realised, if you donated a few pence of your monthly wages to a fund that gained interest, you could get it back on a monthly basis to assist with your old age, non-working days.

A stroll through the development of state pensions is an eye opener, with or without the aid of a Zimmer. For perspective, it should be noted the UK and USA’s Social Security systems – two lands that boast of their wealth – is one of the least generous public pension systems among advanced countries, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The first “old age” pension was introduced by a Liberal Government in 1908 not all that different from the Tory-leaning liberals with which you and I are familiar today.

Scot Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was a radical: pensions, a united Ireland, free school meals, and free trade were a few of his beliefs. He served three years and then – terminally ill – handed the baton to H.H. Asquith as Prime Minister, (Lloyd George came later) all leading a government in reform mood, but cautious about implementing anything in a universal way. The administration did abolish the Lord’s veto over Commons business, and reduced parliaments from 7 to 5 years. (Theresa May has reduced them to as short or as long as you want.) Reforms were selective.

How much were pensions?

The pension paid five shillings a week, (worth around £14 today) and 7 shillings and 6 pence to married couples. A pension at 70 sounds humane, but the gallows humour at the time of the introduction had the average life expectancy at 47.

Strings attached

The pension was only only available to men aged over 70. (Sound familiar?) You didn’t get one if you were homeless, a drunkard, had been in prison within the previous ten years, had too much furniture,  (IKEA would be shocked!) and earning more than £31. 10s a year, the 10 shillings an arbitrary sum worked up by some faceless bureaucrat.

In other words, you had to pass a character test. To pass the test of  ‘Good Character’ you generally needed to dress well, be clean and tidy, pay attention to bourgeois good manners, and know your place in society. Pretty well, how we judge a man of good character today!

Finally, you got no pension if you were in a lunatic asylum, mentally ill or not, or in receipt of “poor relief”.

From those conditions you begin to perceive where the British right-wing are aiming to take us in the 21st century.

Who dispensed the pension?

A pension application form came from the Post Office, and you also collected your pension from a local post office to avoid you being seen in lowly company, such as community poor house associations. The government cared about personal dignity.

The claims were assessed by the Pension Officers and then sent to the Local Pension Committee for approval.

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Police officers were among the first to be given a pension, women the last

Was the state pension the first pension?

Pensions specific to  categories of trades already existed. Schemes covering civil servants, teachers and police were set up in the 1890s. Railway companies were the first industrialists to offer pensions, followed by Reuters in 1882, WH Smith in 1894 and Colmans in 1899.

For the public in general coverage remained thin, until the 1921 Finance Act introduced tax relief on pension contributions. This was followed, in 1925, by a skeleton contributory state pension scheme for male manual workers who were earning less than £250 a year. It paid a total of 10 shillings weekly (around £15 today) from the age of 65.

The modern compulsory state pension didn’t arrive until 1948. The 1942 Beveridge Report envisaged a social insurance scheme – never implemented – designed not to provide a comfortable income in retirement, but a safety net against destitution. Indeed, that’s been the official attitude ever since: give people just enough to keep them from sleeping on the streets, but not enough they’re rewarded for a lifetime’s service to society. And don’t allow them to think a pension is theirs by right.

In 1993 it emerged that some unscrupulous financial advisers had been mis-selling personal pensions, (a Thatcher reform) to earn fat commissions. This triggered payments of more than £11bn to six million people caught up in a mis-selling scandal.

How were women classed?

It was not until 1940, after the outbreak of the Second World War, that women got a pension with the need of a husband.  The Old Age and Widows’ Pension Act introduced a pensionable age of 60 for unmarried women who paid in, and widows of insured men.

Where are we now with pensions?

Every part of the Welfare State is under attack. We are told over and over again our wealthy nation is, in fact, very poor. We can’t assume there is a counter orthodoxy.

Neo-liberals with wealth and power are inured to the vagaries of a fluctuating economy. They assume the rest of are too. Retired senior citizens are described as unproductive, contribute nothing to the state, a drain on its health service funds. In short, they should be left to crawl under the nearest bush to await death, stoically like an animal.

If you vote Conservative, Labour or Ukip you are asking for your pension to be reduced, and you to keep working until unable to walk. That is to suppose you live that long. Thousands never receive a pension because they die early. Some commit suicide because of the loss of state aid and never reach pensionable age. Some have company related pensions that carry severe penalties if you leave the company.

The Right sees pensions and social security as extremely dangerous to society’s well-being. Caring for the old and the infirm is subversive.

KEY DATES

  • 1880-90s Beginning of occupational pensions
  • 1908 First “old age” pension paid by the Government
  • 1921 Finance Act introduces tax relief for pension contributions
  • 1924 Voluntary contributory pension for those who could afford to save
  • 1948 Modern state pension is introduced under the Beveridge Report
  • 1978 State earnings-linked top-up (Serps) provided
  • 1985 Pension funds made to increase payments to company leavers
  • 1988 Thatcher pension reforms
  • 1989 Barber judgment ruled pension ages must be equal between men and women
  • 1991 Robert Maxwell rips off £400 million pension fund
  • 1993/4 Pensions mis-selling scandal
  • 2004 Pension commission under Lord Turner set up to investigate private pensions
  • 2010 State pension age for women starts to rise from 60 to 65
  • 2012 Auto-enrolment begins for big employers
  • 2012 New universal flat-level pension is announced for all
  • 2014 Budget announces new freedoms to cash in your pension
  • 2015 Freedom and choice regime begins
  • 2016 Sir Philip Green rips off £480 million pension fund
  • 2017 New flat-rate state pension to be launched…..

 

Posted in Scottish Politics | 2 Comments

Smoking Mirrors

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Good old diesel, still choking us to death

For my occasional essays on the car industry I freely admit I veer from excessive adoration of good design – cars are not art though there’s art in their design – to outright condemnation of  what cars and their makers have done to society, now and then.

It’s an unhealthy state of affairs, a bit like being very friendly with a Tory MP whilst detesting everything he stands for.

The relationship is one of love and hate. I dare not think of the money I’ve poured into car ownership over the years because it will remind me of how wealthy I might have been if I’d any sense at all and stuck to bus and rail travel. What can I say? We all have expensive pastimes.

So, what’s been happening while we’ve been obsessed with elections and referenda?

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Luckily, no one was in the car when it burst into flames

Flaming hell

What’s the point of banning smoking in cars when so many models suffer from spontaneous combustion?

This week saw Vauxhall getting into a spot of bother when one of their models attracted a lot of publicity by catching fire, a Zafira, a kind of people carrier. You see them around town a lot, up to seven seats, and only the driver’s occupied. (Why not go the whole hog and drive a small bus?)

The car maker is sending letters to 220,000 drivers who could be at risk.

Owners of Zafira B models built between 2005 and 2014 are to be told to get in touch with local dealers where they will be offered free inspections and repairs. It comes after shocking reports of more than 130 cars “erupting into terrifying fireballs.” That’s how the press put it. Unless after the insurance, your car in flames isn’t exactly a warming sight.

The most significant aspect of this incident is the fact that Vauxhall has known about the possible faulty heater problem but kept quiet. This is classic manufacturing behaviour: don’t publicise the problem to save lives, call in the vehicles for a ‘manufacturer’s check’, and hope most drivers will hear of the recall. The car maker’s doctrine is, cheaper to pay out on individual cases, than redesign a car while it’s in production.

The additional problem for Vauxhall is it isn’t only Zafiras that are prone to instant destruction. The popular Corsa is another victim to self immolation, as is the Vivaro van.

We probably would never hear a thing about these conflagrations were it not for internet social sites. It’s in those chat places that the instances are accumulated. You’ll hardly see a mention in the plethora of British right-wing car magazines, mostly owned by Michael Heseltine’s Haymarket Publications. It’s all “look at this stunning new supercar” free commercials in those rags.

But hey, no problem. General Motors has sold off Vauxhall to Johnny Foreigner. Do you think Vauxhall knew something our European friends didn’t? Just asking.

Choking fumes

News managed to give a mention to diesel fumes addling the brains of children. It makes a change from sugar-laden breakfast cereals, and Internet porn.

The fumes can cause inflammation of the airways – yer nose and throat – and worsen breathing for anyone. NOx emissions can also react with other compounds to cause more serious respiratory conditions and aggravate heart problems. Long-term exposure to the pollution hastens death: research this year linked high levels of NOx to 9,500 premature deaths “annually in London alone“.

I put those last four words in inverted commas because that’s always how the press and car magazines report car problems. The comparison is always with London. The media remains metro-centric.

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Volkswagon’s Wolfsburg  factory protest – inside VW executives shredding documents

VW makes its employees pay

Volkswagen recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges in a brazen scheme to get around US pollution rules on nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles by using software to suppress emissions of nitrogen oxide during tests. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The German automaker has already agreed to pay $4.3bn in civil and criminal penalties – the largest ever levied by the US government against an automaker –although VW’s total cost of the scandal is estimated at about $21bn, including a pledge to repair or buy back vehicles – but not those affected in the UK. We don’t have such a powerful anti-corporate lobby.

As recently as February, the company’s executives insisted they had “misled nobody” in testimony before the British House of Commons’ transport select committee. Well, that’s how a global company sums up a calculated offense. It’s a “momentary lapse of judgement.”

Taken to its logical conclusion, you could describe most disasters as momentary lapses of judgement: the invasion of Iraq, the elevation of Paul Hollywood as an actual chef, and Theresa May as Prime Minister.

Although the cost is staggering and would bankrupt many companies, VW has the money, with $33bn in cash on hand. Volkswagen previously reached a $15bn civil settlement with US environmental authorities and car owners.

But guess what?

In order to balance the books VW is laying off workers. Employees are the Chosen Ones, made redundant to pay for fines. And the conglomerates that own magazines? They’ve already begun to blame our emission tests, and wheel out apologists to tell us crooked car makers are really not to blame for what they sell us.

Global corporations, don’tcha just love ’em.

 

 

Posted in Transportation | 4 Comments