The Null Device
A new quality-of-life survey has named the UK and Ireland the worst places to live in Europe, due to long working hours and high costs.
The UK has the 4th highest age – 63.1 – at which people choose or can afford to take retirement, and one of the lowest holiday entitlements. Net household income in the UK is just £2,314 above the European average, compared with £10,000 above average last year, falling behind Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark.
UK workers enjoy a week less holiday than the European average and three weeks less than the Spanish, while the UK's spend (as a percentage of GDP) on health and education is below the European average and UK food and diesel prices are the highest in Europe. Unleaded petrol, electricity, alcohol and cigarettes all cost more than the average across the continent.("Europe" presumably means the EU; I imagine that, for example, the people of Transnistria would have somewhat more to complain about than a miserly four weeks of leave a year and high prices at the supermarket.)
The best place to live in Europe is right across the Channel, in France.
Charlie Stross posted to his blog the synopsis of an alternate history novel he almost started writing in 2002, set in an interesting timeline:
The year is 1950 -- but it's not our 1950. Things began to go off the rails, history-wise, in 1917-1918. Lawrence of Arabia was shot dead at the gates of Damascus, for example: the whole face of the middle east is utterly different. Trotsky had flu in October 1917 — the Bolshevik revolution happened in early 1918, and Stalin got himself killed in the process. Because of the late Russian collapse, World War One ended differently in this universe: the Kaisershlacht started in June (not April), the German high command collapsed in January 1919, and Germany was actually occupied by Allied forces (including the first large-scale deployment of what would later be called Blitzkrieg warfare — this was actually planned, but never used because of the German capitulation in November 1918). Germany was invaded, subjugated — no support for the "stab in the back" theory that Hitler used so effectively.In this world, Hitler never becomes dictator, and nor does Mussolini; fascism, however, is invented in Britain (with an Eric Blair becoming dictator of the Empire), and a standoff in Europe between the fascist republic of Britain and the Soviet Communists, with an isolationist America gradually taking an interest in the state of affairs, sending over two agents to investigate a curious trade of computers for heroin, and various real-world historical figures' alternate selves making appearances:
(This is all rooted in a vision I had, of William S. Burroughs as a CIA agent, and Philip K. Dick as his young henchman, going head-to-head with notorious gangster and pervert Adolf Hitler somewhere in Hamburg to find out where Hitler is shipping all the computers he can get his hands on.)It's a pity that this book will never get written. But one can console oneself with the outline posted in Charlie's blog:
And linked from the comments (on a tangent from Charlie's dislike of traditional high fantasy and its somewhat reactionary politics): Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky's (unused) audio commentary for Peter Jackson's Return of the King film, which exposes the colonialist-imperialist nature of the Elves and their lackeys:
ZINN: Self-hating, Elf-emulating Men invest so much in symbolic one-upmanship characteristic of capitalistic societies: Who has the nicer tunic? Whose dagger has more shiny gems on it? Who has the strongest pipe-weed? But the Orcish alliance seems to be a truly mutual, multicultural cooperative enterprise.
ZINN: You see the walls of Minas Tirith up close here. Albert Speer would have been proud. Notice the grand scale, the "great works" emphasis of Gondorian architecture. The fascist uniformity of their battle dress. Compare it to the folk artwork of Orcish armor—their improvisatory use of shrunken heads and Mannish skulls, for instance. There's something very beautiful about it to me.
CHOMSKY: A perfect example of what Ruskin valorizes as the Gothic aesthetic.
ZINN: It's nonstandardized, individual, homespun, bespoke. It's also imbued with a kind of nature worship that Elves merely play at.
The problems of maintaining infrastructure in a country where carrying guns is considered a fundamental, God-given right: Google have had to invest in building expensive cable tunnels to an Oregon data centre after their fibre links kept getting shot down by idiots exercising their rights, by means of shooting at the white ceramic targets that have been conveniently placed for their benefit on overhead lines:
"Every November when hunting season starts invariably we know that the fibre will be shot down, so much so that we are now building an underground path [for it]."Google aren't by any means the only target of this kind of destructive stupidity: every New Year's Day and Fourth of July, US utility companies find themselves having to replace transformers which had been shot by idiots wanting to see cool sparks, and owners of roof-mounted antennas in rural parts of the US have a choice between to providing and maintaining alternative targets for trigger-happy passers-by, or having their (expensive) antennas get it. Still, that's the price one pays for liberty.
Of course, it may well be that the vast majority of hunters are responsible and law-abiding and never vandalise private property in this way, but that's irrelevant. As long as there's a minority, even a tiny one, of belligerent assholes who just like fucking shit up, and another minority of mostly responsible people who do dumb things from time to time after sinking a few Buds, and there's no way of taking these individuals' guns away if they misbehave because firearm ownership is an inalienable human right, the onus is going to be on data centres to bury their cables, property owners to provide targets for these assholes to shoot at, and electricity companies to keep replacing prematurely perforated transformers (and passing the cost on to the consumer).