Passport Renewal Saga – 1

Thursday, 12 June 2014

I recently went on to the passport office website to get information about renewing my daughter’s passport. I found out the new ‘beta’ service, and I thought I would give that a go.
After completing the online application, having the photos done, form and photo countersigned, all was sent off to the passport office in Liverpool, and the wait started.
Then the day after the application was sent off, the news headlines started talking about the huge backlog at the passport office, long delays for passport application processing, and government ministers reassurances that all is under control. Apparently the subject featured at PMQ too.
Although fortunately we have no travel plans in the near future, I still thought it might be interesting to document this renewal application. So here we are.
When I completed the online application, the status went to “Awaiting information from the applicant“.
I was expecting this to change, once my application was received, which happened on Tuesday:

Proof of delivery

Delivered on Tuesday

However nothing has changed yet as of writing this post on Thursday:

Application Status

Still unchanged 2 days after the application was delivered.

 

Check back soon for the next post in the Passport Renewal Saga.


Perspective

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The recent days have been a useful reminder that our perception of our situation, depends very much on out point of view, and that sometimes it is a good exercise to get some perspective by looking at other people’s situations, and looking at things from their point of view (or at least trying).

For example, today I am a bit upset because the winds have been blowing all night, and have kept me awake half the night. However, in the morning, when I looked out of the window, I saw that my garden fences had not been blown away, like the ones of our neighbour (ours did get blown away twice in the last couple of years, but not this time).
So, putting things in perspective, I can’t complain too much. Then I was looking at the news, and there was a lot of coverage about all the floods, and that added a bit more perspective to my sleepless night, as my ground floor is not underwater, and my street is not flooded.
Then the article I was reading had a link to a commentary about climate change, and it mentioned that the recent storm in the Philippines killed a few thousand people, which again put all the flood disaster news into perspective.

Now I don’t really want to pontificate to people who have lost their homes, or their livelihoods, and say to them that they shouldn’t complain because there are other people who are worse off. What I want to say is that when I think it’s all going wrong, adding a bit of perspective can actually change my whole outlook.


Coup or not Coup?

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

When is a coup a coup, and when isn’t?

In Egypt the military have recently taken over the government, and arrested the country’s president (not quite the democratic process prescribed by the country’s laws and constitution), however many people claim this is not a coup, but a step to get the country’s democracy back on track (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-23242777).

In Italy, because the judiciary has determined to apply the law, and try and avoid breaching the statute of limitation term for proceedings against a defendant (as the law dictates), they are being accused of effectively staging a coup (http://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2013/07/09/processo-mediaset-pdl-contro-cassazione-brunetta-colpo-di-stato/651026/). The reason for this is that the defendant happens to be a renowned politician (who although found guilty of criminal offences several times in the past, has benefited from statute of limitations terms, thanks to the peculiarities of the Italian justice system, see http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procedimenti_giudiziari_a_carico_di_Silvio_Berlusconi).

Now according to the Oxford Dictionary, a coup (French word for “blow”, used in the French expression “coup d’état”) as a “sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government”.

Let’s see how this applies.
In the Egyptian case, the existing government lost power, as it was seized by the army. It was sudden, as it happened in a matter of a few days. It was illegal, as it did not follow the procedures established by the laws and the constitution in force in the country, and there was violence as there were fatalities (although some argue less that there could have been).
In the Italian case, the government is still in power, so no power seizure happened, that straight away goes against the definition of coup. Furthermore there is no question of illegality, as the fact being condemned as a coup is in effect a consequence of applying the law (by definition applying the law cannot be illegal!).

So again, what is a coup and what isn’t? My opinion is here. What’s yours?


Tax avoidance

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The government these days (and politicians from all sides) are going after businesses and wealthy individuals who arrange their affairs in such a way to reduce their own tax bill. This is decried as immoral (as it is not illegal since the law allows it).
In the past week executives from companies like Google, Amazon, and Starbucks have been summoned by parliament to give account of their tax avoidance schemes, and been given a good thrashing by MPs.
And of course, with most people who are not in a position to do anything to reduce their tax bill, especially in times of austerity, pointing fingers at those who don’t pay their way (like we have to do), allows politicians to score serious points.

However, anser me this honestly: if you could cut in half your tax bill, in a legal way, without making it ineffective (i.e. without having to pay an accountant more than he could save you in taxes), and in a fairly simple and immediate way, wouldn’t you do it? Really?

Well, I would as well. And the reasons might be different for different people. I might just be selfish (while I might not be ready to admit it so bluntly), and want more of my hard earned money to spend for myself and my family. More importantly for me, I hate to see how lots of my tax money is spent by the government.

For example, the UK have spent billions in the past decades on a war in Iraq, and a war in Afghanistan (neither of which the electorate wanted, but the government didn’t listen!). Where did the money for that come from? Taxes (and borrowing, that needs to be repaid with tax money).

I have lost count in recent years of how many failed IT projects the government has paid for, and allowed to flounder through sheer incompetence. And how was all that paid for? Tax money.

And have we forgotten the MPs’ expenses scandal? Only in the last few days another former MP has been found guilty in the courts for fraudulent claiming money she wasn’t entitled to. And right now they are debating increasing MPs salaries again (why shouldn’t they be paid the average national salary, so they wouldn’t loose touch with most of their constituents?). How is that to be funded? You have guessed right: tax money.

This week we are going to vote for people to fill the newly created posts of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), which will cost an arm and a leg. Who asked for these positions to be created? I didn’t, and before these were announced, I never heard anybody asking for them.

One could come up with lots more examples of public money being squandered. Now the people who are responsible for spending our tax money so unwisely, are the same people who are complaining that they aren’t getting more from individuals and businesses who use legal loopholes to avoid giving it to them. What I would say is that if you don’t want people to engage in tax avoidance schemes, you should first be responsible with the money you are already getting, and not treat it as if if was yours to waste, because it isn’t. It is our money that you are so often flushing down the toilet.

So if tomorrow I were to win the lottery (in case I remembered to play it), I will go and talk to an accountant, and see how to set my affairs up to manage (legally of course), to have the least of it wasted through government negligence, incompetence, and bad choices I disagree with. And if the only way to do that is to reduce my tax bill, so be it. And I will probably find a different way to contribute to my the community where I live, there are lots of organisations (charities and businesses) who do amazing work, and don’t squander money (because they will go out of business if they do, unlike the government). And I won’t feel in the least guilty about it, with good peace of the Public Affairs Committee, and Margaret Hodge.


Missing logic

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Interview on the radio about families in ethnic minorities in Britain, refusing to allow organs from dead relatives to be used for transplant, even when the dead person is on the donor register (i.e. gave at some point the consent for his or her organs to be used).

Interviewer: would you allow the organs from a relative to be used for a transplant to save someone else’s life?

Interviewee: No, a person should be buried whole.

Interviewer: Why?

Interviewee: To protect the sanctity of life.

Now I do not want to question somebody’s feelings when a loved one dies, nor religious beliefs they might hold (not here at least).

What I would question though is the logic of protecting the sanctity of life by not allowing somebody’s (a dead person, i.e. no life involved there) organs to be used for transplant potentially saving or much improving somebody else’s life. Maybe I do not understand the concept of “sanctity of life”, but I struggle to imagine how that applies to dead people.


Safety is our primary concern

Monday, 17 May 2010

I have heard this assertion a lot in recent years, and especially in recent weeks, regarding the problem of the airspace closure over Europe, because of the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland.
This seems to be stressed even more, when Airlines claim that the restrictions are too tight. But you could argue that you shouldn’t believe airlines, as they are biased, and therefore not objective, while airspace agencies only worry about people’s safety.
However, probing at the details, I have become sceptical of the affirmation that safety is the primary concern here, and in many other cases where this is given as the reason for not providing a service.
I have become more and more convinced that the primary concern is not safety, but avoiding blame in case things go wrong.
Aviation authorities cite the “experts” as the source for their decisions. These experts seem to be a mix of scientists, aircraft engine engineers, etc. none of whom seems to have enough data or knowledge to determine what the risk actually is, and a response of the type “we don’t know” or “we do not have the data”, becomes “it is not safe”, going through the some sort of “we cannot take liability if something happens”.
So because nobody is taking the bother (i.e. spending the money) to get some proper assessment in place, everybody else has to live with the consequences of the drastic “safety” measure, which seems less concerned with actual safety, and more with covering somebody’s back.

What similar situations have you found where the same process “we don’t know” -> “we can’t take liability” -> “it’s not safe”, applies?


Snow in Britain

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

First of all, I have to admit I love the snow. No  matter in what country I find myself, and no matter I am not a child any more (even though maybe I still am at heart), I love the falling snow, and I love to see everything covered in white.

However I find that in Britain lots of people (adults) deeply hate it. The reason they give is that it causes chaos on the roads, and on transports in general (trains, flights, etc.). And from a certain point of view they are right, because it does. Or does it?

I would rather say that it is not the snow that causes chaos, but rather the un-preparedness of people and organizations for it. Over the last few days I have repeatedly heard on the news that we have had heavy snow falls across Britain, in particularly in the South-East (where I live). However, I have not seen around me any more than 10-15 cm of snow. Now when I was little, and I used to live in Northern Italy, I remember we used to have winters with 50cm of snow, or more. In places like Switzerland, Southern Germany, Nordic countries etc., what we have just had in Britain probably counts as a small amount of snow, and in those countries things carry on as usual with similar amounts of snow.

So why does everything in Britain grinds to a halt instead? Well I think the answer is that most people and organization do not prepare for it. For organizations it is a matter of costs versus return: it is not worth investing money for an occurrence that happens only a few days a year (imagine an airport buying and maintaining equipment to de-ice plane wings, adapt runways, train staff, etc.): the business lost, and the compensation paid (if at all), costs a lot less. I do not have figures at hand to prove this, but I believe the facts are proof enough. And I believe that the cost of compensation and lost business might well be on the rise. Whether it will be enough to spur them into action, that remains to be seen, but maybe it is the general attitude that has to change, because when individuals don’t prepare themselves, business (who are made of individuals) won’t do it either.

For the normal person getting out on the road in his or her car, the reasoning is pretty much the same: why would I buy snow chains, and keep them in the boot, or put winter tyres on, when we hardly get snow at all? It would be an extra cost to add to the car bill (on top of MOT, servicing, insurance, road tax, repairs, etc.).

So when things do go wrong, and people find themselves stuck, they complain. I would really like to know what they are complaining about. Is it that the roads weren’t cleared? But even with all the goodwill and effort and staff and equipment in the world, roads can only be cleared so fast, and it doesn’t help if the gritters and snow ploughs can’t get there because the roads are already clogged with traffic. How many of these complaining people were prepared for it? How many had chains on their tyres? How many had winter tyres fitted?

Last night on my way home (it took me about three times longer than usual thanks to queues caused by unprepared people, but the snow was beautiful when travelling on the back roads), I was happily going down quite a steep hill, when a lady driving up the opposite direction got stuck. Seeing me approach she lowered her window, so I stopped to listen to her. She told me “I am stuck”. Now I don’t quite know what she expected me to do about it. I wasn’t going to be able to tow her up the hill (I did not have the equipment, and even winter tyres don’t do miracles), and I wasn’t going to be able to push her up (it was a good couple of hundred meters at least). The only thing I was really able to do was to try and avoid getting more cars stuck behind her by warning other drivers on the way up, so that she could turn around, go back and reach her destination a different way.

But to all the motorists who found themselves in the same situations, I would like to say that if you are not prepared for it (when the warnings have been widely publicized on tv, radio, newspaper and the internet), don’t go and complain when you get stuck. You are the ones the rest of us who do put the extra effort in to prepare for the snow, should complain to.


NIMBY vs YIMBY

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Almost every other day we hear about some manifestation of NIMBY, where somebody (usually a group of people) don’t want something to be near where they live. And in recent times, I seem to hear quite often about people not wanting wind turbines for electricity generation anywhere near them, because they are noisy, or they spoil the landscape, or whatever.

I don’t want to argue whether the reasons put forward for not wanting electricity generating wind turbines nearby, are valid or not. For all I know they might well be. However the reasons for having wind turbines somewhere seem pretty good (renewable and clean energy, good availability of wind, etc.).

Personally I think wind turbines can be quite beautiful, and whenever I pass by a wind farm, I am always fascinated. However if somebody said that a wind turbine was coming right where I live, I might feel a bit uncomfortable, after all.

What I think is needed, is to make the reasons for having a wind farm near you, more pressing than for not having it. Now the greater good and the environment might be a very good reason, but might not be all that pressing to the average person. However, if people living within a certain distance from it were to get, say for example, free electricity (or substantial discounts on their electricity bill), I think the trend might change, and people might actually bit to have a wind farm near them. Or, even better, if communities were to offer to have a wind farm near them, electricity companies might bid for the site, by offering the most advantageous conditions in terms of subsidized energy. Similar schemes might apply for other forms of renewable energy production, where new sites have to be found.

Wouldn’t something like this give a boost to the adoptions of renewable energies?


Schiavitù

Monday, 16 November 2009

Nel 1777 Vittorio Alfieri scriveva:
Tirannide indistintamente appellare si debbe ogni qualunque governo, in cui chi è preposto alla esecuzione delle leggi, può farle, distruggerle, infrangerle, interpretarle, impedirle, sospenderle; od anche soltanto deluderle, con sicurezza d’impunità. E quindi, o questo infrangi-legge sia ereditario, o sia elettivo; usurpatore, o legittimo; buono, o tristo; uno, o molti; a ogni modo, chiunque ha una forza effettiva, che basti a ciò fare, è tiranno; ogni società, che lo ammette, è tirannide; ogni popolo, che lo sopporta, è schiavo.” (Della Tirannide, libro 1, capitolo 2).

Mi sembra che rispecchi la situazione dell’Italia di oggi. Nel qual caso, gli italiano, secondo Alfieri, sono in una situazione di schiavitù.


Poteri

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Mi ricordo che quando andavo alle elementari, mi insegnavano che nella democrazia italiana c’era la suddivisione dei poteri: il potere esecutivo, esercitato dal governo, il potere legislativo, esercitato dal parlamento, e il potere giudiziario, esercitato dalla magistratura, e come, if fatto che nessuno avesse in mano più di uno di questi poteri, garantiva uno stato libero ed egalitario. Alle elementari, concetti che un bambino poteva capire.

Quando sono passato alle medie poi, mi insegnavano l’educazione civica. Mi ricordo che durante un anno di scuola, il libro di testo era la Costituzione della Repubblica Italiana. Le lezioni consistevano nel leggere un articolo per volta, e imparare cosa significava. Un’articolo alla volta, si faceva tutta la costituzione, incluse le disposizioni transitorie e finali, per capire il contesto in cui era stata scritta.

C’erano cose come la libertà di pensiero, la libertà di stampa, e la libertà di parola (art. 21), a garanzia della libertà di espressione.
C’erano cose come l’obbligatorietà dell’azione penale da parte del pubblico ministero, espresso in una semplice frase, a cui è dedicata un’articolo tutto suo (art. 112), a garanzia che tutti i reati vengano perseguiti, non solo quelli che fanno più comodo.
C’erano cose come l’uguaglianza dei cittadini (art. 3), a garanzia che nessuno la possa fare in barba alla legge.

Guardando a quello che succede in Italia di questi tempi, mi sembra di non poter che concludere che gli insegnanti che ho avuto io a scuola, siano stati l’eccezione piuttosto che la regola. Mi sembra che la maggior parte degli italiani, non abbia mai sentito parlare di cose come queste, e che quando ne sente parlare, non le capisca, e accetti passivamente le spiegazioni (o meglio i ritornelli) forniti da chi comanda. Mi sembra che chi comanda, la costituzione non l’abbia mai letta né capita, e che la consideri una rottura di scatole, che prima si riesce a far fuori, meglio è.

Quanto ci vorrà perché noi italiani ci svegliamo, e ci rimbocchiamo le maniche per riaffermare queste cose che erano considerate importanti da chi ha scritto quella costituzione, dopo aver subito anni di fascismo e di guerra? Dovremo forse ripetere gli errori del passato, per ritrovarne i rimedi?

Mia figlia ha la doppia cittadinanza, perché viviamo all’estero. Vorrei poterle insegnare l’orgoglio e non la vergogna di essere italiana. Vorrei che crescendo, non debba sentire le istituzioni italiane fatte oggetto di barzellette, come succede a me coi miei colleghi e amici.

Svegliamoci, non facciamoci rubare quel che ci resta del nostro paese!