Amazon, buying books, tolerance, political hypocrisy, Scotland, property developers and gun control

28 March 2021

Amazon has a problem which discourages potential buyers.  It isn’t a huge problem for me because I only use Amazon when there’s no alternative but I want a book published online by Amazon which I can’t get anywhere else and it’s written by a friend so I really do want to read it.

The reason I avoid Amazon is not because I dislike the company – their service is actually very good and they handle complaints well – but because I’m unhappy about commercial monopolies and the power it gives them to abuse their staff:  their delivery drivers often have to pee in bottles because they get fired if they leave too many packages undelivered at the end of the day.  (When I heard a former Amazon driver had said this, my first thought was what on earth their women drivers do.)

If I’m logging in to Amazon, they send a code to my phone.  I’m used to this elsewhere, but instead of a number Amazon sends a 274-digit (no I didn’t actually count them) http address to my phone and says ‘tap here’.  It may work on a Smartphone but there’s nothing to tap on Thickphones.

They can then send you a number by email but guess what happens – there’s nowhere on the login screen to enter a number so you end up circling back to blah-di-blah tap here.  After half an hour of teeth-grinding, I phoned them and spoke to someone who didn’t know how it worked and sent me an email saying I can email them so they can ring me back but, in order to do this, you have to log in …  At this point, I lost the will to live and went to bed.

Incidentally, about a year ago, I mentioned the Big Green Bookshop which ran a ‘Buy a Stranger a Book’ scheme.  I sent the money for a signed copy of a book I wanted and topped it up with enough to buy books for two strangers.  The book duly arrived but it was unsigned so I queried this and got an offhand reply saying they’d run out and would a signed bookplate do?  Yes, I said, and never heard from them again, despite two subsequent reminders.  Avoid!

Instead, for books, try, “an online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops” where you can buy books and choose the local bookshop you want to have the profit on your order.

Elsewhere, a school in Batley, West Yorkshire is in trouble because one of its teachers used a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad while talking about the Charlie Hebdo massacre carried out by Muslims who were offended because some believe their faith forbids depictions of their Prophet.

I find myself conflicted by this.  I have no problems with the principle of gods and prophets being lampooned or pictured in any way but I’m unreligious and I’m not in a position to judge the validity of other people’s beliefs.  However, I do believe that displaying something which is known to offend some people is tactless and insulting;  we should be able to accept that others have different beliefs which we should respect.  We should also try to learn about their beliefs and understand them even if ours are different. 

Boris Johnson has at last admitted he wished he’d done some things differently and regrets not having locked down earlier but he didn’t say ‘sorry’ and he went on to say there would be a “a fitting and a permanent memorial to the loved ones we have lost and to commemorate this whole period”.  He apparently thinks it’ll comfort people who have lost friends and relations to know that their names will appear somewhere on a memorial.  Sod the memorial, I’d rather have the people back. 

Still, I’m sure he won’t let his ‘regret’ prevent future dithering and delays.  Indeed, while Professor Chris Whitty is warning of another increase in infections and there’s a full-page NHS advertisement on the back of today’s paper saying “Every online meeting is making a difference … Stay Home”, Johnson’s urging people to get back to work.

We’re also seeing Rishi Sunak reverting to type.  A year ago, he took a firm hold of the money and said there’d be “whatever it takes” to support people through the pandemic but he just blew it when he insulted NHS staff who are working their backsides off, risking their lives and dying, with an increase of 1%; his boss confirmed “it’s all we can afford” while simultaneously announcing £1.5bn of support for companies struggling to pay business rates and a huge increase in our stock of nuclear weapons.

Johnson even admitted that “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed” which is true but even he realised this should never be admitted in public and, immediately afterwards, he tried to withdraw what he’d said.

Further north, after falling out with his former sidekick, Alex Salmond is forming a new party, Alva, which sounds like a Caledonian washing powder.  His only reason to do this seems to be to divide Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP supporters.  I wish someone would do the same with the Conservative Party.

Some of their protégés are currently are trying to convince Horsham district council it would be really great to build lots of houses on a world-famous 3,500-acre rewilding project on the Knepp estate, endangering the rare white storks that have raised chicks there alongside peregrines, turtle doves, nightingales and purple emperor butterflies.  The estate is also believed to house the densest population of breeding songbirds in Britain and provides a vital, protected wildlife corridor linking the estate with the St Leonard’s and Ashdown forests.

But there is good news.  As we all know, developers will happily fell protected trees that have been growing for centuries and infringe any planning restriction they don’t like, pay the fines (which can theoretically be very large but usually aren’t) and carry on with the building work. 

In early 2015, the foreign-owned developer CLTX Ltd was refused planning permission to demolish the 94-year old pub Carlton Tavern in Kilburn, London so they popped in when it was closed over the Easter weekend and knocked most of it down, expecting to pay a fine and get on with the work.  They were then amazed when, immediately following its destruction, Westminster council wrote to CLTX demanding that the Carlton Tavern be rebuilt exactly “as it stood immediately prior to its demolition”, brick by brick.  CLTX’s standard reply to such demands was that this would be impossible because the details had been lost.

Unfortunately for them, a canny bunch of locals didn’t trust property developers (I wonder why) and had anticipated this so they’d asked English Heritage to list it and a plaster cast had been made of every tile, bundles of pictures were taken and everything was fully documented.  So CLTX had to rebuild it and now, six years later, the Carlton Tavern will (lockdown permitting) reopen next month.

Is it wicked to enjoy a feeling of schadenfreude?

Joe Biden seems to have started well in an understated, unshouty way and is even starting on gun control and calling for a ban on assault weapons.

The NRA believes that most murders are committed using handguns and knives rather than assault rifles, and that focusing on gun ownership neglects the killers’ motives for killing someone.  There are also very few ‘mass shootings’ and they account for less than 3% of all the people who are shot to death.  They see this as an argument for not banning assault rifles.

Their opponents see it as an argument for controlling all guns.

From over here, it seems that right-wing Americans fail to recognise the significance of the second Amendment the NRA uses to justify the right to have guns.  It’s clear that most of them have never read the opening words which say “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State …” and nowhere does it even hint that individuals have the right just to shoot people they don’t like.

What people also seem to forget is that, when it was written, the “Arms” mentioned in the amendment were muskets, cumbersome things that fired one shot then took several minutes to reload.  Revolvers, which could only hold up to eight bullets before needing to be reloaded, and self-contained cartridges weren’t invented till some 30 years later, while the latest weapons can now shoot at the rate of 6,000 rounds per minute and can empty a magazine holding 30 rounds in half a second.

Isn’t it sad that so much thought and engineering goes into producing something so unnecessary.

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