Old Bits’n’Bobs

2016 was a bit of a drag year for me. I’m hoping it will be much more fun next year.Last year’s Older Bits’n’Bobs are listed here, but this year’s Old Bits’n’Bobs are listed and linked below for your delight and delectation.

Older Bits’n’Bobs

Looking back at my output for 2015 brings me to the admission that it can all be filed neatly under Older Bits’n’Bobs. I’m sure you will agree that you don’t find stuff like this anywhere else on the tinternets. Enjoy all 54 for the knock-down price of none.

Democracy Solved

What started out as being declared “a good thing” that “people are again engaging in politics”, has turned pretty sour; Trump, Brexit and the Scottish independence referendum have upset a lot of people on social media, and even in real life.  These are just three recent examples, there are far more. Democracy is in crisis, but I think this year might have found a real solution.

There are so many flavours of democracy for it to mean anything, yet people fight and die to give whatever-it-is to foreign countries. It seems that if it is labelled “democracy” then it is better than a dictatorship or anything else. I’m not entirely sure that this is true.

When people argue with me, especially when I say I do not vote, they usually make the mistake of fighting for the grand democratic concept instead of the system that is actually set up and running my country. The one I am against.

Basically, I argue, we are trying to use a 17th century system in the 21st century, but if we could invent such a system in the first place, surely we could come up with a new and better one if we put our minds to it.

The response I get to that simple idea amazes me – people seem so attached to the status quo, to party politics, to labels like “Labour” or “Tory” – even while being upset that Brexit or Trump can happen against their wishes.

While more people may now agree with me that it is a bit of a mess, ideas on solving the problem are thin on the ground, so I have decided to stop pointing out the corruption, the inefficiency, and the undemocraticness (to coin a new word), and instead try to be a bit more positive.

Dr Benjamin Barber has a cool way of getting democracy to work again by thinking in terms of cities instead of countries.

Listen to his TED talk from 2013.

https://embed.ted.com/talks/benjamin_barber_why_mayors_should_rule_the_world
If you don’t have time for the full talk, there is a really good short interview on TED Radio hour from NPR on youtube. Go to 9.06 for the start of his segment.

Alternatively, you can scan the written transcript here.

They have to get things done, they have to put ideology and religion and ethnicity aside and draw their cities together. We saw this a couple of decades ago when Teddy Kollek, the great mayor of Jerusalem in the ’80s and the ’90s, was besieged one day in his office by religious leaders from all of the backgrounds, Christian prelates, rabbis, imams. They were arguing with one another about access to the holy sites. And the squabble went on and on, and Kollek listened and listened, and he finally said, “Gentlemen, spare me your sermons, and I will fix your sewers.”

I like this very much; I do think people belong to cities – even when they live in the suburbs or countryside, they pick the nearest city to say that is where they are from.

Cities have identities and universities. Football teams, festivals, trams or subways, restaurants and parks. They are a manageable size for belonging – far better than a whole country. I feel more Glaswegian than Scottish, and I am sure that this is typical.

We already have Mayors and councils in place. So the future could be built from something we already have – we would only then need to adjust and refine, perhaps using technology, perhaps revising the party system, and also by transfer of powers and by getting local authority finance sorted better.

It seems to be the case that every city everywhere has similar working structures – and they all learn from each other because the problems are the same – sewers, potholes, public transport etc. This is not a weird pipe-dream set up. It’s not too radical for people to get behind. And that’s a plus point I think.

This year, 2016, was the first Global Parliament of Mayors., meaning that change has started already. Mayors and council heads from all around the planet met up in the Netherlands to get this going. This, to me, is a really positive step, and seems to me to be the solution for democracy.

Trusting Forward

Times they are a changin’ – so sang Bob Dylan back in 1964, and he’s just won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year (2016), so he’s still valid, and what he sang is still valid too.

The times are indeed still changing. It’s a big change in itself that Bob can win a literature prize when he’s not working in that field.

I suspect that the biggest change is in regard to trust.

When you think about it, trust underpins the majority of changes we all hear about these days.

Labour Party supporters lost trust in their own party and voted in Corbyn. The public lost trust in the Labour Party and voted for other parties instead. The majority of Brits lost trust in membership of the European Union.

People have lost trust in Big Business, Big Pharma, Big Banks. They have also lost trust in politics, religion, economics, sport, climate change, and the media.

Corruption, Fake News, Drugged athletes, VW’s rigged emissions… it’s difficult to find anything we can still trust in.

This idea intrigues me, so I’m thinking it through here on this blog in front of your very eyes.

I was once told that marriage is a relationship based on trust. That it requires a buy-in from both parties, and is based on continuance-without-question. This is close to the work ethic in that you get up and go to work each morning without thinking – it’s automatic, it’s what you do. You do not have to stop and decide to choose to go to work each day. Same thing with marriage – you decided to marry, and don’t need to make that choice every day. Until that trust is broken.

Can trust in work or marriage, once broken, ever be regained? I have heard it said that once trust in a relationship is broken, then a decision is continually made – that there is a choice every morning. You do not automatically assume subconsciously to continue. Broken trust is when that comes to the fore and is considered however fleetingly. Maybe this fades over time? What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Yes, we all know relationships can continue – but the point is that the trust is not there; something has changed. Perhaps more often than not, continuance is because there is no clear alternative, and the choice is forced rather than freely made.

OK. I know what you’re thinking – that relationships have different areas of trust, and my description is too narrow.  You’re right but only to a certain extent; some people don’t trust their partners to drive their car, others don’t trust their significant other with handling the money or children.So we can have working relationships containing distrust, but it seems to me that it works only when the distrust is known to both, and actively managed (not ignored or avoided). That’s the important difference I think.

What can be done when trust is broken?

Well we can vote for change. We can vote against the establishment. We can revolt. We can fight back.

I know that Air B’n’B is all about trust; people are in your home – your private and personal space.  Uber is another new business that is very trusting too.

This is the new trust way.

We always had a social contract, a trust that the taxi driver would take us to our destination. We maybe didn’t have a great level of trust that the fare would be correct or that the taxi would not break the speed limit. But with Uber and Air B’n’B it’s a two-way street in that you can review your experience, and they can review you as a customer.

The result is that service provider and customer behave better, and trust is currency.

Reputation becomes the biggest and most important commodity.

Councils provide housing for people who do not take care of the property. Perhaps if there was a system like the Uber/ Air B’n’B model, reputation would make councils repair and maintain properties better, and tenants would keep their homes better?

Banking and investing have always been about customer reputation – credit scores and ratings – but that is one-sided. We need the banks and financial institutions to care about their own reputations, we need this to be a two-way street to rebuilt trust.

Politics is too far gone. The old party politics system is no longer fit for purpose. Council members, MPs, MEPs and MSPs have never been rated and reviewed on their performance, their delivery of manifesto promises nor even on their attendance/ involvement. There have never been Key Performance Indicators nor targets against which they may be measured. It’s deliberately complicated and opaque.

I can’t think of anything that can’t be improved by changing to a reputation model – including work. I hope this is the future.

 

Petty Crime for the 21st Century

The way we shop has changed – along with the way we steal.

My mother shopped every day, sometimes more than once. She would take her shopping bag and buy just what she needed for the meal or recipe – a couple of slices of this, a few scoops of that. This type of shopping made it difficult to steal because you were served by a counter assistant on a one-to-one basis.

Stealing relied on sleight of hand skills and misdirection. You could ask for something on a high shelf, for example, and while the assistant wasn’t looking, items could be pocketed. You could use an accomplice too – this helps with misdirection, and while there were no CCTV cameras or smart tags, the risk was direct and personal.

I know of people who are nostalgic for such days; they miss the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the risk of shame and humiliation. Even when there was no criminal intent, this was present; the shop assistant knew exactly what you were buying – pornographic material, condoms or ointments for thrush.

Perhaps because of the personal interaction element, the embarrassment factor or the need for privacy, shopping changed, and along with it, the crime.

Supermarkets introduced baskets, trolleys and check-outs. The thief only had to put items in a pocket or otherwise avoid the check-out till. Shopping was much faster and less embarrassing, but so was shop-lifting.

It is possible that the losses, at least to some extent, would be offset by the savings in reduced staffing levels and relying on technology like CCTV.

But people are inventive, and with each new innovation in shopping comes an innovation in crime.

Today, we have the Self-Service-Checkout.

Thieves must be delighted with this – it makes everything so much easier and less risky. If caught, one can simply say it was an innocent error.

George Charles of VoucherCodesPro.co.uk carried out a survey of 2,634 people aged 18 and over about their shopping habits and use of self service checkouts.

About 19 per cent said they stole from Self -Service-Checkouts – and the majority said they stole regularly.

Helen Dickinson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “Theft from stores pushed the direct cost of retail crime up to £511m last year, 166 per cent higher than five years ago.”

Of course, this generates more vigilance – usually in CCTV at this area, but what if there was a way to go undetected by CCTV?

Well, it seems that there is a way. I was recently told of a popular method to rob a store blind while appearing to do everything properly and honestly.

Here’s how it works:

You do not scan your expensive steak, instead you turn the barcode from the scanner, and weigh it on the scales instead. You select a cheaper item – so instead of paying for steak, you pay for apples or a potato or something about the right weight. This allows you to put the item into the scaled bagging area, where it will be expected.

Nothing looks amiss; on the CCTV, you have scanned everything, and no alarms have been sounded. You pass through the door scanners too – you have a receipt, so you can even return items later. Everything appears above board.

So what can the shops do?

The answer to that might just be from Amazon – the new Amazon Go shops.

This idea seems a way to stop stealing – but on the other hand, it removes ALL the people – these stores do not need the same numbers of CCTV and store security personnel – and no till operators. Even if they are not foolproof (remember with each innovation comes innovation in crime), the saving in not paying staff might make it worth it.

I saw this with Uber recently too – they are having problems with trades unions and worker rights to the extent that they are heading down the driver-less car route.

The summary upshot and bottom line is that – as a result of petty crime over the years, the drive has been away from employees toward technology. The removal of people is what is going on. Less jobs, less face-to-face interaction, less embarrassment, less risk, and fewer thrills. Online shopping, cashless, credit cards and mobile smartphones, have heralded a new future where people are diminished in favour of technology.

I’m not sure I can make sense of this future – fewer jobs for people usually means fewer employed earners that are shoppers. We are being sold a future where we can shop without a queue and get a driver-less taxi, but can that be true? Will this only be for those few with jobs?

And what of those people with no jobs? Will they create an alt-society? Or will they innovate new criminal ways as before?

Only time will tell.