26 Feb 2010

Design your own London skyline.

A great tool has been launched by  Hayes Davidson one of the leading visualisation firms in the UK, it lets you design your own London skyline. It does have some limitations because you can only use existing designs, but still great fun. So what did I decide to do with it? Of course, put the Burj Dubai in London. That immediately shows you how modest the buidlings that are considered tall in London are by comparison. I tried lpacing it within the City of London (above) and Canary Wharf (Below) and I think it looks great in both cases. I guess we need about 3 in London. What don't you try doing your own?

23 Feb 2010

iEmbassy: The new American Embassy in London looks like it's designed by Apple

My first reaction was that the building looks more like a dumpling than a beacon of democracy, but on further reflection, it looks like it's been designed by Apple. Welcome to the new iEmbassy!

The proposals for the new American Embassy building in London were unveiled yesterday. The new building intended for a site close to the River Thames in Wandsworth will replace the Eero Saarinen embassy in Grosvenor Square which has been bought by the Qatari government. The scheme was designed by the Philadelphia-based practice Kieran Timberlak, with security being one of the main drivers of the design. The building, a 12-storey glass cube sits within a 30m blast zones and is enclosed by a moat on one side. I hope they have provided some sheltered space outside for those long hours I will spend in the rain waiting to be interviewed for a visa...
The first Obambassy to be commissioned, apparently it is intended to project a different image of America. As far as I can tell, it is an apt monument to the age of risk assessments. Although I hear that Richard Rogers didn't like it, so I might reconsider. More to follow..

Mumbai Shopping Malls: Evil Capitalism or Social Good?

WORLDwrite are doing an excellent job as usual, their latest WORLDbytes endeavour takes them to India, the first installment is available to watch online entitled Man-made Mumbai. The brilliant Sadhvi Sharma takes the crew around introducing them to the wonderful developments taking place in Mumbai. The sheer ingenuity and energy of Mumbai is astounding, this is where the future is.

In the first episode, Sadhvi goes to a shopping mall and interviews people who all seem to be in favour of shopping malls. This, unsurprisingly, goes against the prevailing western prejudices against shopping malls and 'consumerism', the catch-all phrase used to demonise material affluence. The programme got negative comments making precisely this moralistic critique without attempting to understand the importance of a modern retail network for India and the aspiration of its people. Some people are happy to see Indians living as poor peasants and maintain a romantic view of poverty.

But things are not that simple. Take food supply for instance, which is one of India's biggest problems. The Indian ministry of food estimates that about £12 billion worth of food is wasted annually in India. This wastage happens primarily because of a poor supply chain due to inadequate warehouse facilities and food spoilage due to lack of refrigeration.The fact that the Indian retail market consists predominantly (95%) of small retail outlets exacerbates this problem, meaning that efficiencies through economies of scale cannot be achieved.

Enter the large shopping malls and supermarkets that have grown rapidly in India over the past few years. Through proper investment in the supply chain and refrigeration, those stores have reduced the food wastage through their operations significantly, as well as lowering the price of food because of their efficient operations. Their percentage of the total market is still very small however, and they can only contribute to solving the problems of food shortage by expanding rapidly. What western misanthropes see as the expansion of consumerism is actually very vital for Indian society.

The same goes for all types of commodities, let's not make this a matter of subsistence. I for one don't feel at all like telling Indians that they shouldn't use shopping malls or buy cars, clothes and flat screen TVs. I loved India when I visited it, not because of the picturesque poverty as most westerners do but because of the amazing energy and the effort being made to transform Indian society and improve its material conditions. Shopping malls and large supermarkets have a big role to play in this transformation, and insisting on opposing them means insisting on maintaining the problems that India suffers from. Small traders may fit within a romantic ideal but ultimately they will not be able to overcome the problems of food wastage that India suffers from.

Visit the WORLDbytes website and watch the programmes that do a much better job of understanding such dynamics, and donate some money for the great work they are doing entirely on a voluntary basis.

18 Feb 2010

The Poverty of Environmentalism

I listened to Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, announce this morning on the Today programme her party's expectation of a breakthrough in the next general elections. In response to John Humphrys suggestion that her party might lose out as a result of the public's scepticism about climate change because of Climategate and recent revelations, Lucas claimed that the Green Party "has always been about both social and environmental justice" and is not a single-issue party. What? I thought the clue was in the name. Going for a bit of Red to spice up the Green brand, are we Caroline?

17 Feb 2010

الرعب غير المتوازن --كارل شرو

لاقى خطاب السيد حسن نصر الله مساء أمس تجاوبا كبيرا من مندوبي حزب الله لدى ما يسمى بالكثير من التفاؤل باليسار اللبناني فسارعوا إلى مدوناتهم و مقالاتهم ليستنهضوا الهمم و يعلنوا عن ولادة توازن رعب جديد بين الحزب و إسرائيل. من كبيرهم العربي الغاضب و الساخط و المحتقن اسعد أبو خليل إلى الصديق الساخر و المتهكم، عادة، خالد صاغية، رددوا كلاما متشابها عن معادلة جديدة في الصراع العربي ـ الإسرائيلي أخرجها هذا الخطاب إلى العلن. الخطاب نفسه حكيم و واعي اثبت من خلاله السيد حسن عن فهمه و تحليله الدقيق للمرحلة الراهنة، ليس فقط لطبيعة الصراع مع إسرائيل بل أيضا للنفسية السائدة لدى حكام إسرائيل و الوضع الداخلي في لبنان. لكن الخطاب لم يٌفهم جيدا من قبل جوقة اليسار الإعلامي للأناشيد الوطنية و الثورية الذي يبدوا إن نشوة النصر الذي اعترتهم بعد 7 أيار قد أثرت على قدراتهم التحليلية فظنوا إن احتلال شارع الحمراء شكل بداية مسيرة تحرير القدس

11 Feb 2010

The real lesson of climate change: we can control the weather!

It has been staring us in the face all along, but nobody seems to have noticed. What is the real lesson of the climate change saga? Humanity is going to wipe itself out because of its greed? We're in for a long century of disasters, scarcities and upheaval? We have to reverse all the progress we've made since the industrial revolution and develop a non-growth based approach to economic and social organisation? None of the above actually, the real lesson is much more positive and encouraging.

9 Feb 2010

India's retreat on GM crops is a step backwards

India has announced deferring the commercial cultivation of what would have been its first genetically modified crop due to 'safety concerns.' The BBC reported that 'Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said more studies were needed to ensure genetically modified aubergines were safe for consumers and the environment.' Far from being a sound decision based on scientific evidence, this is another significant capitulation to the precautionary principle that will hinder India's ability to maximise food production to meet the demands of its fast-growing population.

7 Feb 2010

The Crackdown on Student Visas: Knee-Jerk Illiberalism

The home secretary Alan Johnson announced a crackdown on student visas aiming to cut the number of people coming to study in the UK by tens of thousands. It's quite hard to know what the intended aim of the policy is as the justification ranges from that student visas are being exploited by people coming to the UK to work to the truly surreal accusation that student visas are allowing terrorist suspects to come to the UK. The real aim, I think, is to project a sense of being in control of immigration and acting tough on border control. But like any of the hundreds of half-baked schemes that New Labour has come up with since it came to power, the result of this move will reinforce the illiberal attitude towards the free movement of people and is likely to damage the economy.