All Posts Filed in ‘Europe

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Sam’s Karaoke Bar, Copenhagen, Denmark

Sitting in a Karaoke bar not singing. Sitting at a table in front of the stage with a notebook and a pen, writing this. I needed a drink and walked into this place. A Norwegian woman is singing a romantic song. A guy with a hat, tatoos and a goatee beard leans against the bar smiling at her. That must be Sam, since this is Sam’s Bar. It was cold outside, I needed somewhere warm and this was the first place I saw.

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Paris, France

I’ve just met Max and Stacy of KarmaBanque. I’m interviewing Max on Wednesday. I’d quite like to interview Stacy as well, but today it was Max doing most of the talking. That’s how it is on the radio as well. He has a lot to say. Here’s a summary, from memory, so all quotes are approximate:

The best thing the world could do to improve the environment would be to increase the price of money. The price of money is artificially low. As a result America can borrow money almost for free to fight its wars, Exxon can borrow money almost for free to prospect for oil, Morgan Sachs can borrow money almost for free to do whatever it is they do. The Bank of Japan has an interest rate of 0.25%. So there’s free money there, if you can afford to pay the interest on the minimum amount they let you borrow, $50 million, Max thought, so that would mean to borrow that for a year you’d have to pay $125,000 (about £63,000) but then you could invest the $50 million you have in something with a guaranteed return of 10% or so, which is not so hard to find, and you’ve made yourself a virtually risk-free $5 million.

It’s alright if you’re rich. If you’ve got money it’s easy to make more, but if you’re living on $1 a day and your water supply is being polluted by the Coca Cola company what can you do about it? Apparently there’s a big campaign in India against Coke. There’s a big campaign against Coke in Nunhead as well, home of the Boycott Coca Cola Experience. And rich investors are also taking an interest. That’s what’s hard to believe. Rich investors becoming activists? And activists becoming investors. This is not politics, Max said. This is economics. Investors have come to realize that boycotts can have an effect of share prices, and share prices are the only things they really look at. If they can see a boycott pushing down the share price of a particular company then they’ll put their money into a hedge find that’s betting on that company’s shares going down.

The thing is, I tried to say but didn’t say it very well, you have to get people not to drink Coke, and for most people the economic argument is not going to be very persuasive. I’m getting confused by it myself and I’m a highly intelligent individual, so what of those Coke drinkers not blessed with my great intellect, perhaps because their brains are too full of sugar and caffeine? Wouldn’t it be better to persuade them via the Coke poisoning Indian children argument?

This doesn’t go down well with Max and Stacy. If you say this company is doing bad things, and some other company is also doing bad things then you get into arguments over which is the worst. The reason for boycotting Coke as far as they’re concerned is not because the things it’s doing are any worse than the things other companies are doing, but it’s because the Coca Cola company is the most vulnerable to a boycott. By not drinking Coke you can really hit them hard. The things Exxon are doing are probably worse, but at the moment they’re not vulnerable to a boycott so it would be a waste of time activists campaigning against them.

The trouble is activists don’t tend to think like that, but they’re starting to come round to our way of thinking.

I got the impression KarmaBanque were aiming their ideas more at activists than ordinary people. They run the hedge fund that can make boycotts effective and which will plough its profits back into the activist organizations, but it’s up to the activists to run run the actual boycotts. That’s not their role.

We’re probably doomed environmentally. The next 10 years are going to be crucial, but global warming now has such a momentum behind it that it doesn’t look like we’re going to turn it around, but we can at least try to make things less bad than they might otherwise be.

Why are these corporations acting suicidally then? Max mentioned that the insurance industry now takes global warming seriously, so why are companies like Exxon paying any climate scientists willing to publicly cast doubt on it? They’re living in a state of denial, Max said. They’re just looking three months ahead, thinking if they can just get through the next three months, and then the next three, then they’ll be okay.

We talked about American politics, particularly Barack Obama’s chances of becoming president. They believe America is a deeply racist country, Stacy said that that’s why Americans don’t want universal health care: the whites can’t abide the idea of paying for black people’s health care. But, she said, the US government spends twice as much per person on health care as the UK. That’s because they have to treat people when they’re seriously ill, such as when a diabetic has an attack the hospital has to treat them and if they don’t have health insurance the government picks up the bill. But many diabetics (and there are many of them in America) have attacks because the government won’t pay for their insulin, since that would be socialism. So not giving free health care is actually more expensive than giving free health care.

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Paris, France

I’m sitting in a hot hot hotspot cafe in Montmartre, Paris. It’s hot because the heaters are on full. The doors are wide open. It’s February, but not that cold outside. They have heaters outside the cafe as well. Many cafes are like that here. People like to sit out on the pavement, and cafes like to use all the space they can. When they ban smoking indoors there will probably be a lot more outdoor heaters because people will want to sit and smoke without getting cold. It was like that in Canada. Many places with outside heaters for the smokers. Perhaps it would be more environmentally friendly to let people smoke indoors, at least in certain places. You can always have non-smoking cafes and bars for those who don’t smoke or who don’t like smoke.

Maybe these cafes would say that the amount of fossil fuel they burn with those outdoor heaters is not that much compared to other things, such as the flights many of the tourists took to get here. Or China. People often mention China. One new coal fired power station being built every day. Okay, but there are 1.4 billion people in China but only six or seven customers in this cafe I’m in at the moment.

I came in here to use the internet, but you only get half an hour free before it times out. So now I’m offline. I’ll have to upload this later. I’ve just managed to get MP3 uploads to work on Turnpiece Gallery sites, so people will be able to put up their music, which a number of people have saying they want to do, as well as images and flash movies. I still need to test it a bit more before making it live though, but did a succesful upload of a Boycott Coca Cola Experience song just now.

I’m in Paris at the moment hoping to meet the KarmaBanque people, originators of the Boycott Coca Cola campaign. Fairtradetrousers suggested I call in on themI’ve been listing to their podcasts recently, from their Resonance FM radio show. I think I now understand why it makes sense to boycott Coca Colam but it’s not something that can be summed up in an easy soundbite, which is a bit of a problem. Telling someone not to drink Coke because the Coca Cola company’s share price is vulnerable sounds a bit like telling your children to pick on the puny weak kid at school. But the Coca Cola isn’t a puny weak kid and there are plenty of good reasons for not drinking it, not just for your own health but I think also the health of people in India who are having their water supply polluted – I’ll need to get back online and find some links.

There’s a mermaid on the ceiling.

A woman came over to me with her mobile phone and address book and asked me someething, pointing to one of the numbers, something about it being blocqué. I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to do. Tu n’as pas un portable? I think she was using the familiar tu form rather than the formal vous, though not sure. I got my mobile out, telling her it was an English mobile so it would be expensive to call a French number. For me it would be like making an international call. Very expensiive. It’ll just be for two seconds, she said. So I dialled the number, putting 33 in front of it for France, and leaving off the leading 0. I got an unobtainable tone, I think. Their phone sounds are different here. I told her there’s something up with the number, not her phone. She asked me some more things, of which I only picked up a few words: England, after, foreigner. Then she asked for a cigarette, which I understood.

A few minutes later she was asking another foreigner for her phone. This time she got through and spoke for a while – more than two seconds.

A guy turns the heaters off. Temperature returns to normal.

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Quimper, Brittany, France

I got the train from St. Malo yesterday, and almost got off at the wrong stop since there’s a place called Quimperle just up the line from here. I heard the announcement: Nous arrivons a Quimper … so I got my rucksack down and got off (waiting until the train had stopped). But something wasn’t right. Other people were still on the train, not getting off. Quimper is supposed to be the end of the line.

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London to Paris

On board the 7:09 Eurostar to Paris. Sitting in Waterloo Station. My laptop bag was searched thoroughly on the way in. I have a USB hard-drive in there that looked a bit suspicious. It has orange padding around its edges. The laptop battery also looked suspicious. And my flask of whisky.

I could do with some food and a coffee but only have £1.25 in English money. I have more in Euros. Should be able to get something on the journey.

I slept for about 5 hours, dreaming about terrorist attacks in the tunnel. Trying not to think about those sorts of things. There’s a passenger blockage in the aisle. A dispute over seat numbers. Someone is in the window seat when she shouldn’t be. The other woman really wants to sit by the window. There’s a bit of tension. Nothing much. Not really worth writing about.

People on the other side of the aisle eating sandwiches and reading the TimeOut guide to Paris. Someone else reading the FT. A child speaks in French. All things not really worth writing about, but I have to write something, otherwise I’d just be sitting here doing nothing except thinking whaatever thoughts come into my head, and that’s dangerous. When you write things down you can decide what thoughts to allow and which ones to censor.

I was trying not to think about my headache last night as I lay awake. I was supposed to be in Paris last night. I wanted to get on the 15:11 but they wouldn’t let me. There was space on the train, but only for people paying full price. I only pay £50 because I have an InterRail pass. I could have got on the train if I’d been willing to pay £155. So I lost the £26 for the hotel room I’d reserved, plus whatever it cost me to phone France on my mobile.

We’re moving. It’s still dark. I’m sitting on the East side off the train. The seat next to me is empty. Announcement: I’m Moncour, your train monitor on this… There are passengers joining the train at Ashford International. Please ensure you only occupy the seat allocated to you. Please ensure you use your mobile phone with consideration to others.

There’s a dull hazy light outside. Just a few street lights around warehouses. Trees. A crescent shaped town in the distance. A chimney. Some suburban houses. Pylons crossing fields.

I bought an orange juice, a coffee and a chocolate croissant.

We’ve slowed down and are running parallel to a road. Roadworks. Flashing lights. Looks like they’re widening the road. Must be the M20.

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Coffee Republic, Soho Square, London, UK

Back in London after a couple of weeks in Eastbourne, now staying in Peckham Rye, but probably only for a few more days. I’ve been looking into getting a boat to Cuba, which seems to be possible but not so easy. There was a freighter going there from Lisbon, which took passengers and charged 90 Euros a day, but that’s fallen through, so now I’m looking into cruise ships, which aren’t as expensive as I’d thought they might be, about £500 to £700 for trans-Atlantic.

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Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK

Standing outside Eastbourne station. It’s about half past eight. People get into taxis, the taxis drive away, new taxis pull in to take their places. A guy in a white shirt, late teens or early twenties with gel in his hair, walks up to the leading taxi. He looks at me as he opens the door. Are you a tramp? I don’t say anything. I just look at him. He says it again. My rucksack is standing next to me and I haven’t had a shave for a few days. Are you a tramp? Another guy, same age, also in a white shirt and also with gelled hair, joins him. The new one glares at me then they both get into the taxi and it drives off.