Tag Archives: current affairs

That Greenpeace / VW campaign (con’t)

Green Peace The Dark Side Volkswagen - Buzzmania

I continue to be a bit perplexed when it comes to the anti-VW campaign Greenpeace is mounting (latest here), for a number of reasons.

Greenpeace is upset because…

  1. VW advertises its eco-line, Bluemotion, heavily but…
  2. Only sells about 6% of their cars under this badge…
  3. And charges an ‘unfair’ premium for them
  4. VW is lobbying against EU regulation to enforce CO2 emissions caps

Now… my view is this this is poorly thought through on counts 1-3. Here’s why.

  1. Most people think of eco-cars as under performing, slow, unexciting, and generally less fun than their full-powered alternatives. If you don’t think this is true, have a read of some of the comments on Greenpeace’s own blog! People believe them to be "unsafe" because they believe them to be underpowered. This is not true, I can say with the voice of experience, as our 107g/km Bluemotion Golf is zippy in the extreme despite its 1.6l TDI engine, but it’s not VW’s fault that people don’t know / believe that. That’s now how they advertise their cars, oddly enough.
  2. Because people believe them to be slow and underpowered, they don’t want to buy them. If you’re spending £20kish on a new car, are you going to pick the fun one or the not-so-fun-one, even if it is marginally cheaper to run? I know which one I’d pick, but I would never buy a new car as I have a good understanding of the economics of depreciation. So the heavy advertising of Bluemotion must be helping change people’s minds, or at a least addressing the fundamental issue that people don’t think they want this sort of car, on the whole. Good on them for investing in a market only 6% of their customers currently want.
  3. When I looked into it (when buying our second hand Golf) to get a sense of prices, the premium on a new Bluemotion car that was otherwise pretty much like-for-like identical to the standard car was about £800. On a £22,000 car. Which amounts to about 4%. When I did the maths, for any decent mileage you drove, that premium was paid for within three years (between road tax discounts and improved mileage), and sooner if you live in an area where you get parking or congestion charge discount for driving a low-emissions vehicle, or drove more. So I’d hardly call that an ‘unfair’ premium. It’s true, second hand they command a much heftier premium, but again, that’s a supply/demand issue; most people aren’t buying the car new so there’s lower stock of them second hand. And therefore trying to buy one second hand is more expensive (for those of us that recognise the value of the low-emissions cars). Again, not VW’s fault.
  4. I’m in two minds about the lobbying issue. Whilst I do think that heavier regulation can shift consumer demand, it has implications for the free market model and consumer choice. I tend to think prohibitive National taxation is a more effective tool than EU legislation in this sort of context. After all, in the current economic environment, it would be very, very hard indeed for the automotive lobby to successfully push back a policy which upped tax disc costs by 30% for (new) cars with emissions over 200g/km or 20% for cars over 150g/km (or something like that). Or even more dramatic charges; it reminds me of the episode of Yes Prime Minister where the tobacco and anti-tobacco lobby were both trying to get Jim Hacker to support their cause; the anti-tobacco lobby were suggesting raising taxes on cigarettes to the point where a pack of 20 cost as much as a bottle of whiskey… could be an effective policy for deterring all but the most hardcore of smokers, and the same holds true for people’s choice in a new car!

Finally, for an organisation that’s campaigned against cloud computing, advocating the use of social media for protest as they are here basically adds to the burden of the data centres hosting their George-Lucas-ripping-off content, so they’re actually hurting the environment by their own logic (that’s another poor argument, but I’ll leave it for now)…

Rail price rises have me steaming

LNER on SouthernPrior to becoming an out-of-London-commuter, rail ticket rises never bothered me. An "8%" rise amounted to 10p or so on a tube ticket and whilst the incremental creep on that has made it feel more expensive over the years, in practical terms it never seemed material.

An 8% rise on my current railcard costs, however, needs to be budgeted for next year and affects my family finances. The 8% on my ticket cost works out to over £250 a year (or, in layman’s terms, half the price of a new iPhone).

Now, if this was a fine, upstanding service I might sympathize a little with the rise. After all, the rail companies are complaining that privatization has ‘bled’ money out of the national railway infrastructure, and trains are generally thought of as better for the planet than cars and planes and the like. But – isn’t privatization meant to increase profitability and customer service? Clearly not for poorly managed companies. And I think you all know what I feel about Southwest Trains and Southern’s overall record; friendly on-board staff do not make up for general incompetence and mediocrity elsewhere in the organization.

But – <sigh> – there are few alternatives. If only commuters could afford to strike against the railways, that way would justice lie.

Now is the summer of our discontent…

Croydon Reeves Corner, London RiotsMy family around the world are looking on the riots in London with concern for us and disbelief that this could be happening. Riots are not something you associate with one of the most developed nations of the world. But times are tough, and the few catalysts have been sufficient to create an atmosphere of volatility and fear. And in this atmosphere, all it takes is a few opportunists to ‘justify’ the behaviour we’ve seen.

It’s happened to all of us, although generally in less dramatic contexts. The line at the airport that forms around a person who’s standing at the new passport control desk – that is unmanned and will continue to be. The perfectly nice boys who end up inexplicably picking on the kid who’s a little bit different at school. Group permission is granted by one or two triumphant acts of wanton illegality, in this case, and suddenly its ‘socially acceptable’. Of course it’s not, but groups sometimes behave in ways that individual people do not.

They should get Derren Brown on the case. His experience of manipulating large groups with psychological trickery is probably what’s needed to diffuse this (as well as the police, and maybe the army if things keep escalating).

In the meantime, I’ll duck and cover when I change trains at Clapham Junction…

Bersih 2011–fighting for electoral reform in Malaysia

bersihMalaysia has been a bit late to the anti-government protests shaking the Islamic world. Understandably so; protests in Malaysia are always clamped down on hard (technically it is illegal to form any kind of public meeting without a permit, which is never granted for political gatherings, so protesting is tricky), Malaysians are by nature conservative when it comes to public statements that in any way resemble opposition to the government (the incessant and pervasive fear of IRS investigations or planted ammunition hangs over everyone’s heads, especially following what happened to Anwar Ibrahim) but things are finally coming to a bit of a head.

Electoral reform in Malaysia is an urgent issue. Over the decades that the the ruling party, UMNO, has been in power it has introduced any number of ludicrous amendments to the constitution that, in essence, make it impossible to vote it out of office. Disproportionate shares of the vote are required to pass any kind of reform, and there are persistent and likely rumours of electoral fraud with each and every election that takes place.

Reform is needed. A Euronews clipping notes that the Prime Minister’s opinion polls are showing a stronger approval rating now than when he came to power; it doesn’t note that when he came to power it was under a cloud of rumour and speculation about a murder he had allegedly had a hand in. If you can’t improve on that, especially in an environment where corruption (to an extent) is endemic, well then…

So the rallies for electoral reform, opposing corruption and encouraging transparency, are flying high now under the banner of ‘Bersih‘ (Clean) and 50,000 Malaysians went out in protest this weekend. It was a non-violent protest for the most part, but the Malaysian police cracked down with disproportional force in an effort to “make an example” and discourage further action. Tear gas was fired into the crowds, from the footage it looks like riot police got a bit carried away, and dozens over a thousand arrests were made. The government reaction to the protest compounds its guilt and demonstrates its immaturity on the world stage.

My extended family supported the protests ideologically and in practice. I was proud to read updates of relatives that attended the protests and that were active in supporting those arrested – essentially – illegally. I was worried that they would take this risk but it appears that the relatively high pain threshold of the Malaysian public has been reached. Enough is enough, a fair say is needed.

Democracy will hopefully arrive and perhaps I’ll once again be proud to call Malaysia my home country. I’m certainly proud of my family and the Malaysians that took a stand. It seems to be having some immediate effect; the international press are calling attention and drawing criticism of the Malaysian gov’t and UMNO Youth is planning talks with Bersih. Here’s to the power of the democratic process….!


Is Malaysia becoming a laughing stock in the eyes of the global press? Or a bad joke?

Two news stories that made the International press this week highlight the shifting role of Malaysia – my birth-country – on the global scene. Only a few years ago, it was held up as an example of a reasonably progressive, fast-growing, fast developing Asian economy. Today? It’s increasingly a laughing stock.

First – the ‘obedient wife’ club’, founded by 800 married women in Malaysia in a bid to address the problems of domestic violence and divorce “at their cause”. The foundation of a social group – even one with 800 women in – wouldn’t ordinarily make the headlines in the International media. But the ludicrousness of this particular story must have tickled a few editors’ funny bones, or made some misogynists smile. I find it absurd that Malaysian society could have evoked the creation of such a club, or brainwashed women into thinking that their husband’s infidelity, violence et al, was their own fault. I may have missed something in reading this story – if anyone can explain a positive spin on this to me in terms other than this that would be appreciated.

Second – another leak – this time of a diplomatic cable to Washington:

A former senior government official has said that the country’s bloated and overwhelmingly Malay civil service was “completely loyal to Umno” and was the main stumbling block towards economic reforms according to a leaked United States diplomatic cable The confidential report sent to Washington from the US embassy here was leaked by whistleblower website WikiLeaks and published in the Malaysia Today news portal

This one hasn’t yet been picked up internationally, so perhaps the country is still on the laughing stock side of things…

If I felt any affiliation with the country beyond my family being there, I’d be ashamed. Instead, I just feel moderately contemptuous of the rulers and pessimistic about any positive outcome. After all, it may be droll and amusing today – but its a short leap from droll to impinging freedoms (both in practice in Malaysia and in terms of its international reputation).

Don’t get me wrong, the country’s not at tangibly uncomfortable levels of government corruption, control or oppression… but if it was sliding in a direction, that would be it… Remember the Sarawak story…?