Thursday, November 10, 2005

Birmingham and Paris - Day 4/5

Later, a work trip to Birmingham: nice quick trip out of Euston on a fast train. Birmingham is a deeply unlovely city with a pronounced oik culture, but has a central canal system and some canalside restaurants which possess that old water-view magic. I have a mussels dish, they turn out to be the smallest shellfish imaginable: obviously no minimum size limit here. Or perhaps they just dredge them straight out of the canal....

A day at a user conference, and a return trip to London the next day. Which is very slow, because of 'extensive vandalism to West Midland rail signalling systems' as announced on the Virgin train itself. Funny, no mention of that in the papers the next day. At around the same time, the Mad side is on a day trip to Paris, where there is 'extensive rioting in the north-eastern suburbs'. Funny, played-down in the papers. Seems to be a pattern here - Don't Scare the Horses....or Sheep.

We have detected a funny tipping-point this trip: the welfare/nanny state, both in France and England, seems to be running out of gas. Expectations of entitlement amongst parts of the population are widespread and high. Tax revenues to support these are static or declining. Part of the population thus affected consists of 15-30 year old males, with no jobs, no prospects and no status. That's always a recipe for unrest, and frankly it seems to have started. The State in each country is vacillating between soothing noises and fierce actions to restore control, both of which simply act to increase the alienation quotient. Intellectually, neither State has any answers beyond more of the same, appeasements of various sorts, and public hand-wringing. In both countries, we feel a darker, bleaker future blowing in.

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