21 September 2011

Worlds apart

This from the London Observer/Guardian newspaper:
World's apart: The neighbourhoods that sum up a divided America.The contrasting fortunes of New York's South Bronx and Upper East Side highlight a growing gap between rich and poor

02 February 2011

Wealth gap widens between super rich and rest

From the BBC:

But even as the global economy has grown overall, within countries, the gap between rich and poor has increased.

This winner-take-all phenomenon has been particularly stark in the US, where, between 2002 and 2007, 65% of all income growth went to the top 1% of the population.

But the divide has also widened in Britain, Canada, Germany and Scandinavia.

It has increased in the booming emerging markets, too - communist China now has a gap between rich and poor as big as that of the laissez-faire US.

02 June 2010

The fallacy of virtuous wealth

I came across this snippet in a South African newspaper's "letters to the editor" section while I was there earlier this year:

On the rich subsidising the poor: Our country is not blessed with many rich people, just a few, and they are so squeezed already. Instead of knocking those who do well, take a student loan and two jobs and study and work hard, just like the rich did. (Kim, Cape Town)
Just like the rich did? Oh dear, Kim, where do we begin?

08 April 2010

Encapsulating class inequality

So, here we have the interior layout of Air France's new A380 aeroplane - the "super-jumbo". What a perfect reflection - encapsulation, even - of class inequality: 449 seats in economy (or "Voyageur") class, 80 seats in business (or "Affaires") class and, wait for it, just 9 seats in first (or "La Première") class.

449 > 80 > 9

Of course, it's not just a numbers game either. Consider the relative distribution of space between the classes. Here too is how the space is configured (working backwards this time from first to business to economy):

Interestingly, the Air France website offers no front-on views of economy seating - all shot from behind the seats - a telling reminder that the best shoulder-to-shoulder passengers are offered is a numbing entertainment system. There's even more insight into the semiotic production of class distinction (words, colours, sounds, textures, tastes, etc.) offered in this little promotional video from the airline Ambiences onboard the A380 (notice how the images of first class predominate, deceptively establishing it as the service norm):

01 April 2010

Liquid modernity

According to a 2008 Forbes Traveler article, these are the most expensive bottles of water on the market. From top to bottom, they range in price from $36.75 to a mere $1.88 (although equa comes in a "special edition bottle" at $17.50).

I'm just a little disappointed that my bete noire du jour (too much French?) VOSS didn't make it. Always on display in my office as the epitome of everything that's wrong with the world, VOSS offers its own online semiotic orgy:

Oh, and all of this is old news. The London Evening Standard reassured readers in 2007 that Claridge's - the high-end London hotel - had launched its "water list" - "a collection of the world's finest bottled mineral water with the most expensive costing the equivalent of £50 a litre":

And just in case the point of all this is not yet clear ...

And then there's 17 year-old Nyibol from Chad who, the Guardian tells us, walks 10 hours a day for water.

It's a story being lived across Africa - a story told in the "Burden of Thirst" article from National Geographic's latest special issue, which also features the work of Water Aid:

And to conclude, here's a statement issued by UN-Water two weeks ago on World Water Day:
Water quality has become a global issue. Every day, millions of tons of inadequately treated sewage and industrial and agricultural wastes are poured into the world’s waters. Every year, lakes, rivers, and deltas take in the equivalent of the weight of the entire human population––nearly 7 billion people––in the form of pollution. Every year, more people die from the consequences of unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war––and the greatest impacts are on children under the age of five. The economic losses due to the lack of water and sanitation in Africa alone is estimated at $US28.4 billion or about 5% of GDP. Water contamination weakens or destroys natural ecosystems that support human health, food production, and biodiversity. Studies have estimated that the value of ecosystem services is double the gross national product of the global economy, and the role of freshwater ecosystems in purifying water and assimilating wastes has been valued at more than $US400 billion. Most polluted freshwater ends up in the oceans, damaging coastal areas and fisheries.
Oh, and before I forget:

16 March 2010

From wealth to illth

Been reading lots recently - hence the three month hiatus. Here's a source of my inspiration:
Wealth, therefore, is "The possession of the valuable by the valiant"; and in considering it as a power existing in a nation, the two elements, the value of the thing, and the valour of its possessor, must be estimated together. Whence it appears that many of the persons commonly considered wealthy, are in reality no more wealthy than the locks of their own strong boxes are, they being inherently and eternally incapable of wealth; and operating for the nation, in an economical point of view, either as pools of dead water, and eddies in a stream (which, so long as the stream flows, are useless, or serve only to drown people, but may become of importance in a state of stagnation should the stream dry); or else, as dams in a river, of which the ultimate service depends not on the dam, but the miller; or else, as mere accidental stays and impediments, acting not as wealth, but (for we ought to have a correspondent term) as "illth",causing various devastation and trouble around them in all directions; or lastly, act not at all, but are merely animated conditions of delay, (no use being possible of anything they have until they are dead,) in which last condition they are nevertheless often useful as delays, and "impedimenta". (John Ruskin, Unto this Last, 1860)

26 October 2009


I can't even find the words to unravel/lambast this latest bit of luxury fatuity. The people at Montblanc - the Swiss luxury goods manufacturer - recently released a limited (thank god) edition pen that sells for something like $23,000. (FYI: India's per capita GNI is $950; 27% of the Indian population currently lives below the World Bank's poverty line).

As part of their sales pitch, Montblanc informs us:

"The design pays tribute to his life and achievements. The top of the cap and cone are inspired by the spindle which Gandhi used to spin cotton – one of the symbols of Indian independence. The colour white is a reference to truth and peace, while the Mandarin garnet represents the orange colour that is part of the Indian flag. The nib shows an image of Mahatma Gandhi, walking with a stick. In addition, the limitation of the Mahatma Gandhi Limited Edition 3000 is symbolic for the masses of people who followed him during his fight for independence."
Here's the detail from the pen which depicts Mahatma "walking with a stick" - apparently, him setting off on the Salt Satyagraha in July 1930 as a silent protest against unjust taxation policies of the British colonial rulers.

According to a Washington Post article, after receiving a fair amount of completely warranted criticism for this half-witted insult to the life and message of Gandhi, Montblanc are donating $145,000 to the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation. They'll move back into profit, I guess, after selling the sixth pen.

02 October 2009

Rich baby, dead baby

Born in the USA? All this could be yours, baby:

Cameleon Special Collection Stroller by Bugaboo
Metallic silver tailored fabric set: sun canopy, seat inlay, and bassinet apron. Dark gray base seat fabric and bassinet fabric. Aluminum frame chassis with wheels, seat/bassinet frame, and carry handle. Infant-to-toddler travel system with adjustable/reversible/removable seat/bassinet; can face parent or face world. Bassinet and seat can be used independently. Special edition black microfleece blanket. Special edition cup holder. Mosquito net. Raincover. Underseat bag. All foam-filled tires. Two all-terrain wheels for city, beach, and woods.
Available from Nieman Markus for only for $1,200.

Born in Africa? This could be you: dead by five. According to UNICEF 75% of the world’s under-5 deaths in 2008 occurred in only 18 countries. Africa and Asia combined represent 93% of all under-5 deaths (51% and 42%, respectively).

Perhaps if little Bugaboo babies are allowed to "face the world" often enough (rather than their unthinking parents), they might come to see how warped it is. And do something about it when they grow up.

11 September 2009

The nonsense of luxury

There've been lots of snippets sitting on my desk(top) waiting to be posted through the summer - now's the moment.

Back in 2001, in a Guardian newspaper article reported Rem Koolhaas' collaboration with Prada to design a "flagship" store in the Guggenheim museum in New York. Koolhaas apparently offered this seemingly deep definition of luxury:

Luxury is stability.
Luxury is "waste".
Luxury is generous.
Luxury is intelligent.
Luxury is rough.
Luxury is attention.
Luxury is not "shopping".
I really don't think I know what this all means. I'm certainly unclear why "waste" and "shopping" are scare-quoted. Any thoughts? Is the House of Prada (and the likes) merely a House of Medici for the 21st century? Are there to be no spaces - physical or metaphysical - to be left non-commercial, non-capitalized, unsold? In this regard, I rather liked the journalist's comment
You can see both art and fashion as a form of alchemy. Fashion turns shirts sewn together for pennies in Indonesia into high-ticket, high fashion. Art makes the base metal of canvas, fibre- glass or dead shark meat into the raw material of the auction-room.
Now that I get. That, I, er ... buy.