The public health system of the Australian state of Queensland required a new payroll system. In 2007, a contract was issued to IBM to provide a new system for $6.19 million Australian dollars.
The resulting system did not work, and went over budget by $1.1 billion. Yes, read that again.
In 2013, the Queensland government was “considering” sacking the bureaucrats responsible for mismanaging the contract. Since then, there has been no publicity concerning any actual sackings. Read that how you will.
I hate taxis. Hate them. Hate them. Hate them. Hate them. Loathe them. Detest them.
This is a fairly common feeling amongst frequent travellers. You arrive in a foreign and unfamiliar place on a plane or train. You are tired. You are not familiar with local prices. You are not familiar with local customs. You probably know the name of the hotel or other place that you want to go to, but you possibly don’t know where it is or what is the best route to take you there.
So you get into a taxi. It is just you and the driver. You want him (or her, but it never is) to take you to your destination. You are putting yourself in a sealed and locked car with someone you have never met before and, and who you will never do business with again. He doesn’t know who you are and never will, and you don’t know who he is, and never will. In the event that you have grounds for a complaint, it might be possible to identify him through his medallion number or licence number or something, but you are not going to think to do that (being very tired) and even if you do, complaining later will involve procedures, languages, laws and customs that you are not familiar with. A driver who takes advantage of you is extremely unlikely to suffer any consequences whatsoever.
As a consequence of all this, there are an absolutely endless number of ways in which taxis drivers will take advantage of foreign travellers – particularly ones who have just arrived at airports and railway stations. These vary from mild dishonesty to outright criminality. All of the following have happened to me, at one time or another. Vaguely from least bad to worst bad.
These scams all have to do with one of three things: the choice of the route, the setting of the fare, and the exchange of money. When I use Uber, all three of these issues are solved, utterly. Firstly, Uber’s satnav/GPS system tells the driver what route to take, and I as a passenger am shown the route on a map. If the driver diverts too far from that route without a good reason, I make a simple complaint, my money is refunded to me, the driver suffers reputational damage, and he does not get paid. The fare is decided by a third party (whose terms and conditions the driver has agreed to) and quoted to me in advance, either as a flat amount or a fare per mile. The “meter” is controlled by that third party, and cannot be rigged. And I pay the money to a third party, and the money is essentially held in escrow until I have completed my journey and have said I am happy with it. The driver knows he gets paid if he does his job properly, and I know that there will be no attempt to scam me over money. Because I know he is not going to scam me and he knows I am not going to scam him (and anyway, because there is recourse if one of us does) there is no reason for us to not trust one another, and we are therefore invariably polite and friendly to each other. Which makes my day nicer, and very likely his also.
I am extremely reluctant to get in a taxi in a foreign city, full stop. However, I will use Uber any time.
Last weekend, I landed at Szczecin airport in Poland at around 11am on Saturday. I was on one of my many trips abroad, following my curiosity. I go to places, look at what is normal, look at what is not, and see how the world and the parts of the world I am most interested in are changing and evolving.
I was last in Szczecin in 2007. I even wrote about it briefly on this blog at the time, observing that it was in some ways very weird. As it happens, Poland was much more a post-communist country in 2007 than it is now. At that time a defining feature of the country was that it was an heir of the communist country it had been in 1989. Now, that is not true. Poland feels like a normal developed country. This achievement is magnificent, particularly when one compares it to the countries to its east. I cannot help but think that EU membership has helped Poland in this regard. Most dramatically, it has done this through the free movement of people between Poland and countries further west. People have come to Britain, Ireland, Sweden and elsewhere, have contributed economically to those countries, but also learned languages, skills and attitudes, and have made connections that have been useful at home. The number of people from further west who have developed connections, lives and businesses in Poland and places further west is smaller and probably less significant, but is still large enough to matter.
The journey trip in 2007 was in may ways quite surreal. The final day of it included a brief five minute period of being an illegal immigrant to Germany, and then a dramatic drive in a highly powered car along no speed limit German autobahns (legally in the country this time) later in the afternoon in a desperate and ultimately successful attempt to get to Lübeck airport in time for a flight home. However, that’s a story for another time. This journey was mainly an attempt to recap on what I saw on that surreal trip.
This time, I quickly picked up my rental car, and headed along the motorway towards the city – a port city on the Oder that was Prussian until 1945 and was known as Stettin until then. As is the case with many medium sized cities in Europe, Szczecin’s airport is a former military airfield that was later converted to civil use, and is therefore a little more distant from the city than would be an airport that was built from scratch to be a civilian airport. The drive from the airport to the city is therefore about 50 kilometres.
Leaving the airport and heading down the motorway towards town, I found myself driving past the sorts of things one normally finds oneself driving past on motorways just outside the edges of cities along airport corridors. 25 years after the end of communism, Poland in incredibly normal in respect of what one sees in such places. Warehouses, logistics facilities, light industry, lowish rent office parks, yards full of industrial equipment, rest stops with a McDonald’s a motel, and a petrol station, and…
WHAT THE HELL IS THAT????????????
I saw something strange and weird next to the motorway – so strange and weird that I immediately pulled over to the side of the road and parked illegally on the hard shoulder, put on my hazard lights, and got out of the car to take photographs.
I saw field – a yard – full of new and strange things. Aerodynamic things. Not wings. Twisted things, but twisted far too gently to be any kind of propellors or airscrews. What were they. I have seem many, many industrial things in parks outside cities, but nothing like this before.
Then, however, the full, awful truth dawned upon me. I knew what they were. Possibly this indicates that Poland has gone through being normal, and is now post-normal.
The Poles have of course been encouraged, bullied, and otherwise required by their EU partners to waste resources, skills and time on such crap when there have been much more important things to worry about, both from an economic point of view and a security point of view. From an economic point of view, this should have been obvious since at least 2008, but the crap has somehow continued. From a security point of view, this has at least been obvious since last year. The Polish government does at least have its eyes on the ball at this point. I am less sure about one or two governments of countries a little further west.
Some things take a long time to die, though. Post-normal probably isn’t good.
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”
I spent some time in and around Leicester Square / Covent Garden / Oxford Street in central London this afternoon. The centre of the metropolis on a Saturday afternoon is full of people from other places. These people walk too slowly, don’t know when to stand and when to walk on the escalators (and which side to stand on), sometimes attempt to start conversations with strangers, and lack the proper air of purposefulness that is an integral part of the ancient London culture. At times they speak with absurd accents, totally different and much more jarring than the Slavic, Francophone and Hindustani accents that are so comfortable and reassuring, and that I am so used to hearing.
At times like this afternoon I feel alienated. I am culturally in a foreign place. This is no longer my city. This is not the city I did not grow up in.
When the London Independence Party (LIP) comes to power, something must be done about this. I fear that it is going to be necessary to impose border controls – at least on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. These must be imposed near Watford, Epping, Reading, and a few other places, so that LONDON FOR LONDONERS can be maintained on our weekends.
Simultaneously we must maintain, defend, and keep open at all costs the corridors to Stansted, to Gatwick, and to Luton – to our precious airports. Desirable people must be allowed the freedom to come and go as they please, of course.
For a young man of 18 or 19 years, the loss of his penis can be deeply traumatic.
…As distinct from the relaxed and non-traumatic way in which men of other ages can deal with it, presumably.
Boris Nemtsov was gunned down on the northern end of the Moscvoretsky Bridge, directly in front of the second closest to the camera of the green lamp-posts. In the background: St Basil’s cathedral on the right, the wall of the Kremlin on the left, Red Square in the centre. A more dramatic backdrop for an assassination in Moscow is hard to imagine.
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