Demanding Venus

I had doubts. When I heard the directors make promises to bait clients, promises which I knew couldn’t be kept, I had doubts. They’d worry about that further down the road. I’d worry about that, further down the road, because it was my job to deliver the promises. When they changed their intended location, it ceased to be consensual, and I had my doubts.

So, I held back.

Continue reading “Demanding Venus”

How Much Longer?

I’m sorry, I do not have the words. Especially after the news coming out of Wisconsin the last few days.

Today is the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream speech.

57 years.

Iowa Democrat Caucus

Just wondered if anybody following the US election might be interested in what’s being said on this side of the Atlantic.

I was particularly interested in what people were saying about Trump, about 2 minutes in.

For my money, Channel 4 News is about the best (i.e. serious) that the UK has to offer.

Attitude of Gratitude

The Christmas festival is the biggest we have here. Just two days, eight if you happen to have time off work between then and New Year. A lot of the people I meet nowadays don’t look forward to it – they don’t particularly feel lonely, but it represents disruption from the norm, there is not much to do except for staying home, and not much to do when they do stay home. It represents unnecessary cost. Our supermarkets have had Christmas goods on sale since October, so they can tell you all about how much they try to part people from their cash!

Christmas here is our biggest festival, just like Thanksgiving is in the US. I can only assume that some people will feel the same way about it.

If you’re one of these people, you can at least give thanks that next week there will be some respite, although I’m sure things go every bit as crazy once we reach Christmas.

If you’re somebody who will be celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope you have a good time of it. Eat as much turkey as you see fit – there are plenty things worse for you, although I know a couple of bloggers will be licking her lips at my image – at all those sprouts!

Across the Broad Atlantic

I’m having an interesting disagreement with a chap at the moment. I say “disagreement” but I actually mean a semi-disagreement, because I think we’re both on the same side.

The debate was about Donald Trump. He doesn’t like him, I don’t like him.

The debate went along the lines:

– [Me] Trump wants America to prosper [referring to “Make America Great Again” nonsense]. If I were an American, that at least would be good [even if he’s going about that in a dumb way]
– Trump’s only interested in him and his cronies, not average Americans
= [Me] He got 60M votes. They can’t all be his cronies.
– Mostly a certain type of person

My point is simply that it doesn’t matter who these people were who voted for Trump. What matters is that their votes counted in 2016 and will count again in 2020. If they don’t change their mind and vote the other way, then Trump will be re-elected.

Maybe some of them will change their mind? Trump is staring recession in the face, after all, and that won’t please his heartlands.

Or maybe apathy will come into it? I looked up some numbers, and found that turnout in the presidential poll was only around 60%. To a Brit, that’s low, we’re generally up around 70%-ish. here. My own constituency was 75% last time. Certainly from here, both candidates looked awful, so I can totally understand somebody not voting at all. But the turnout in 2016 was not particularly lower than 2012.

At this point, US Politics gets beyond me. I don’t know how many more turnout you’d need to give a Democrat win, even if you could assume every single fresh voter voted Democrat. As my friend pointed out, they already won the popular vote last time out, quite comfortably, but the US system is every bit as convoluted as our’s, and just getting more votes than your opponent doesn’t guarantee anything. I haven’t heard anyone in the US ask “why?” yet, in the context of electoral reform, but I’m sure that must be happening. I hope so, at any rate. In this day and age, we can just tot up the numbers as they roll in, and simply let the president be the person with the most votes. Somebody in Las Vegas carries just as much weight as someone in Boston. That seems exactly as it should be.

Again, possibly my lack of American knowledge lets me down – I know that the public decides how their Electoral College votes (mostly!), but I don’t really understand the purpose of the Electoral College. Why, these days, is it even inserted into the process at all? What did surprise me was to learn that several members of the Electoral Colleges defected, and voted against the wishes of their electorate. It was small and worked out roughly even, so didn’t have a decisive effect, else I’m sure I would have known. But it does surprise me that it is felt appropriate for somebody to feel that their own opinion is worth more than thousands of electors, and still feel they are suitable to take part in the democratic process.

More Mass Shootings

In the past 24 hours, we’ve learned of two mass shotings over in the USA. I’ve written about gun control before, here. That was a year ago, but my views haven’t changed.

It’s tempting for us to pass comment on how bad that is. We can use all the fancy language we like, but that won’t stop it happening again next time.

I really think it is time we moved on from “what a shame” to “what do we do about it”. Rather than lamenting what happened, and crossing our fingers until the next time, we need to change the debate.

 I follow a couple of blogs these days. One of them is a guy, he seems quite switched-on. He also happens to be American. He’s written something about the shootings and it has been informative to read both his post and some of the comments. I assume that most of the people who follow this chap are also American, so certainly they will see the problem from far more closely than I do.

It’s not really surprising that without exception, the blogger and his commenters are all appalled, but even from the USA there are lots of “what a pity” comments. One of the things that raised my eyebrows though was this guy’s distinction between these automatic “assault rifle”-type weapons, and, say, a handgun. He feels that assault rifles are unacceptable (no argument here) but that handguns are. I’d just go the whole hog and say that none of them are. Perhaps a reflection of living in a society without guns? Certainly, in the circles in which I move…

But there was a definite feeling that carrying a gun for personal protection was okay. I shall not judge.

One of the commenters also said something memorable, despondent, really, saying that nothing would change because Washington, D.C. was controlled by money. I very much agree with that, and would broadly echo his sentiment that the whole system needs to change. But again, though, I think we should not only be thinking that, but thinking how it needs to change.

It is a very sad situation. I’m prepared to think that many Americans would want to see gun control in some way or other, but probably not so far as I would go. But I think we also need to be constructive here rather than cynical, and be prepared to think about what we need to change, how we bring change about.

American Memories

I had a job in the UK between September 1995 and February 1997. I was a programmer with probably 7 years’ experience, and a novice project manager. The company was looking for a technical specialist cum project manager, so I suppose I was a decent fit.

The company was a start up and everyone was working on just the one project – a web-based business-to-business purchasing solution. Think Amazon, but without the frills. The idea was that somebody could buy someting as quickly as possible for their business, and to speed past all the frills. The web was, in those days, sufficiently immature (and the company’s idea sufficiently visionary) that this company could quite happily get into meetings with the High-Street banks.

The product required quite advanced (for the time) encryption, and we ended up building on a commercial US library. The library itself couldn’t be exported, but it was perfectly OK for our product to use the library (as long as we sat physically in the USA while we built it into our product), and for our product to be exported. It indicates that the lawyers didn’t understand the technology, because physical borders are no defence against cyber attack, but I suppose nothing much has changed in that respect. I didn’t have any hand in selecting this product in the first place, which probably also says how inexperienced I was.

So, the solution was for me to fly out to the USA to do the work. It was only for about a month, and my first taste of the USA. The company’s backers were venture capitalists based near Washington, DC, so that was the natural place to work.

In the end, it was a small town right by Dulles (Washington’s main) Airport. Aspects of the USA were brilliant but it was very “suburbs” – every journey had to be made by car, the highway was dotted with clumps of either houses or shops, and in between there was a whole lot of nothing. I didn’t like the suburb aspect but I did like things like the shops in the larger malls (I bought a new wardrobe!), Mexican food, say. Some things. I have a vague memory that this was around Easter 1996, and because I thought it was a one-off trip, I tried to squeeze in all the Washington touristy bits – the White House, Smithsonian, Arlington Cemetery etc. I remember watching the Oscars live from a bar – it was Braveheart’s year and probably to this day that’s the only Oscar winner I can name.

But because of the suburbs aspect, when I got back home I didn’t take it any further, and the project trundled on. The company signed a deal with Barclaycard in the UK, but Chase Manhattan were also interested, and the US is a far bigger market than the UK. Meantime I had started managing the entire project, although, because it was a one-project company, there was a lot of involvement from directors. I knew early on that management was not really for me – one of my employees came to me one day with a personal problem, and I remember thinking, “stuff your problem, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my deadline”. Not a brilliant attitude on my part and, in all jobs since, I’ve concentrated on the technical side rather than on people.

In order to help close the deal with Chase, I was sent out to their campus in Tampa, Florida. for a few weeks to hold a series of technical meetings about how the solution worked. I liked Tampa, it was mostly very new but had areas with a decent history and vibrant atmosphere thanks to its Spanish background. Plus, of course, the weather was a big improvement on the UK. This was early summer 1996, and the trip culminated in a meeting at Chase’s head office in New York City.

The series of meetings obviously helped, and we duly signed a deal with Chase. Instead of Washington, DC, we’d be located in Tampa, Fl. to be close to them. The company clearly had designs on moving to the US, so I let it be known that I’d quite like to go over there permanently, and they set the wheels in motion to obtain a visa. I liked Tampa much more than DC, somewhere I’d happily have lived.

Chase must have been having their own meetings about the project, and the next thing I knew, Chase dictated that the project now had a sufficiently strategic importance, that they wanted us close by, in New York City. Personally, this was fine by me, since I’d liked New York City even more than Tampa. My first impressions of Manhattan had been very positive. The only thing was that the cost of living was that much higher than in Florida, but that was the company’s problem, not mine, right? At the time, everything for me was on expenses anyway.

From midsummer 1996 onwards, therefore, I was over in New York City quite a bit, helping to set up a US operation. Funnily enough, I didn’t do many “tourist” things, mostly because there was no hurry. I did go up to the top of the World Trade Center, and remember going to Staten Island on the ferry, to see Liberty, but there was lots more I eventually wanted to do. I loved New York – it was very different to most of the US, just in terms of its compactness. And there was so much going on – if I had to identify the capital of the world, this was it.

By the end of the year, my visa had come through so it was time to make things permanent. I said most of my goodbyes in the UK and gave up my rent. Then, the snag!

Basically, the company offered me a deal to work in Florida, which I accepted. They offered me the same deal, but in New York City. I researched, and that the cost of living in New York was 3x that of Florida. Additionally, I’d been in New York for some months now, I’d made a few friends and, more importantly, had been involved in hiring future co-workers. So, I’d had some knowledge of the market – I’d be managing people earning $1000/day, while I’d be earning a quarter of that! Presumably the company gambled that just the opportunity to work in the USA would be irresistable, but that was never really the case. I also had my doubts about the company itself – was it really something I wanted to be involved with? I felt that the atmosphere could be quite toxic at times, even between the directors (which they should never have let me see). The company was very marketing-driven, often making promises that were impossible to deliver given the technology of the time. I remember once working a 26-hour stint the day before a meeting, for exactly this reason – and I was expected back in the office after a half day’s rest!

Also the support we had from Chase was equivocal. I’ve seen it many times since, but at the time it was a new experience. Weren’t we all on the same side? The middle-managers we dealt with harboured ambitions to become senior managers – they had to maintain a certain distance from us because if not, and the project went sour, then it might reflect badly on them. Middle managers in large corporates think very much like that the world over – make sure you don’t go out on a limb for anything, and you’ll get promoted just for not screwing up! Actually, the senior managers I know got there precisely by going out on a limb and succeeding against the odds, but that’s a different story, and I have the benefit of experience.

Anyway, the to-ing and fro-ing went on over Christmas 1996, but in the end I decided not to take the offer – it was a step backward rather than forward for me. I was still minded to get to New York somehow – the visa (which wasn’t transferable, but it did at least show that the US Immigration people thought that my skills were sufficiently desirable), whilst at the same time set up my own company in the UK, in case things didn’t work out. I was really at the point in my career where I felt able to strike out on my own.

As it happened, I severed my ties formally with this company in February 1997, fortunately there was a spell where I was on gardening leave but on full pay, which I used to develop my own business. I got the first work through my company in early March, down near Winchester (which brought me to this area), and over time lost the urge to work in the USA. I loved New York City but looking at how things turned out both personally and professionally, I can’t really complain.

I got a letter from an official receiver, some months later, telling me that the UK arm of this company had gone to the wall – I suspect they put all their eggs into the Chase basket and Barclaycard weren’t too thrilled – but by then I was nicely into the rest of my life.

The road to gun control

Like many of my fellow Europeans, I look on in disbelief at the USA, where a guy who has a beef with society can wreak such havoc.

Such people are universal, we have them in the UK and other countries have also had gun massacrese, yet the USA stands alone in that it will not take hard action to limit the amount of damage aq disgruntled individual can do.

Having said that, I have no time for people who’ll lament about how bad this is, without also offering some solution. The real question is what we do about it.

I think this question splits into two parts:

  1. what do you do about sales of new guns?
  2. what do you do about the guns that are already at large?

For the first of these questions, I don’t even think that the issue has anything to do with guns. If you talk about guns, it is never too long before the NRA gets mentioned, as if its view presides on the issue, that it doesn’t matter what individual people think. But no matter how powerful the NRA might be, it doesn’t have a vote at elections. Sure, it can fund (every) politicians’ campaign, but it doesn’t have a direct say.

So I think to push the legislators into taking action, then the first step is to limit the amount of pressure that a group like the NRA can exert. All pressure groups. So we get to a point where politicians can take a view on a particular view on something, and their that their re-election pot won’t just evaporate.

Even when you get to that point, it’s not even clear that America wants gun control. It certainly sounds like that, but untril there is a free vote, who knows?

But for that reason, I think we’re looking at the bigger issue of political funding. I haven’t really thought about this, I don’t much have a preference, but the aim would be to have politicians unable to be bribed by pressure groups.

To the second question, I’m afraid I see no real solution. There is a need to take guns away from people, and certainly not everybody who owns a gun will be willing. I’d predict an amount of bloodshed if anyone tried.

I could maybe see a partial solution here, though, in banning the sale of bullets, say, but this isn’t foolproof. But some kind of consumable without which, the gun cannot be fired. But even that isn’t foolproof. For example, people can make their own bullets, at a push. But maybe you’re just narrowing that field of potential kilers?

I don’t know. Maybe because the lawmakers also see no workable answer, that’s why they don’t even try? I think that, on that point, the genie is out of the bottle and there’s no going back – the rest of the world just looks at the USA and thinks “thank goodness it’s not us”. I despair.

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