by John Ward
C’est la vie, c’est la guerre / des journées d’enfer (Rough translation: it is in the nature of life that we will all have Days from Hell)
I had an appointment at the Tax Office this morning. I’m not sure why: some time ago, I filled in a form when asked to about the size of my property here, its grounds, the number of bedrooms, whether I was using it for immoral purposes and my exact inside leg measurement in centimetres. And then I got a phone call.
Like most phone calls from tax offices, it was opaque in the manner of tertiary cataracts. The man from the Robber Barons, Monsieur Paresseux (not his real name) said there were “certain irregularities” in my form. Like what, I asked, and he replied best if I went there, on account of he couldn’t be arsed to come and see the property himself.
I didn’t mind having to go to them, because at the end of Sunday evening the weather forecast was showing cloud and rain. I mean, you can’t really do gardening when it’s pissing down, and thus spending the morning in the car didn’t seem that bad.
When I woke up, this was the official meteo forecast:
This was the situation in Real Time on looking out of the car window at the Lot:
But undeterred, I went there this morning to fulfil an appointment at 10.00 am. The town wherein it resides is close by. When I tried to print out the Google map of the route, Computer Said No, but I asked myself, “How difficult can this be? I’ll leave an hour to get there. Bags of time”.
Famous last words.
It says a lot about the French and paying tax that nobody I asked knew where the tax office was. It had an address and it was on Google maps – and I knew the bridge over the River Lot that led to it; but when I got to the other side of the bridge, it emerged that Google maps was somewhat behind the music. Where it advertised a turning into the Rue de Penne, there’s was now a 21st century low-rise housing estate.
I asked at the bakers, I asked at the newsagent. I tried to ask at the Post office, but it looked like the turnstiles trying to get into an Everton v Liverpool Cup Final at 2.45 pm. I enquired at the local car rental place, I asked six passers-by. Out of nine people, six looked blank, and three said things like, “Ah yes – I went there once….it’s close by but I do remember taking ages to find it.”
All three sets of directions were triametrically contradictory and completely wrong.
There were no signs saying ‘Tax Office’. I rang M. Paresseux’s number four times. On each occasion, the computer tried to find him, but eventually it gave up. In fact, it didn’t just give up, it hung up.
So I gave up to, and returned home.
I arrived back just in time to see the postman, who gave me a wave and two letters from England.
One was from the HMRC, announcing with great pride that they now had my new Tax Code for the year 2018-19. I cannot tell you how many times since 2013 I have told the HMRC that I now pay tax in France. I cannot tell you how many times I have told the French authorities the same thing. What I can tell say with absolute certainty is that neither of them have, as yet, grasped this simple fact.
The second envelope contained a new Savings Card from my UK bank. I should now tear up the old card, it suggested, and use only the new one. And there was no need to worry, because I could use the existing Pin number. The one (clearly unforeseen) snag in this arrangement is that I don’t have an existing Pin number, because I don’t have a savings card. I have never had a savings card.
Here is the common strain in this petite histoire: all of these organisations are using computer software. With one exception (the Meteo) they all employ monkeys. With one exception (my British bank) they all work in the eurozone. But these latter considerations seem to be as nought, because all of them – Hewlett Packard, the Centre D’Impots, Google, the HMRC and my Bank – are irredeemably crap at what they do; and all of their models and the software constructs that inform them ensure that what they do is pointless, because they are almost always wrong.
This is what happens when overpopulated States and overly bureaucratic Superstates allow dull functionaries to buy “expertise” from the hitech sector and ever afterwards assume that the towers they build are ones of strength, as opposed to Babel. This is what happens when accountants tell Boards of Directors that Artificial Intelligence is better and cheaper than employing humans.
There are far too many of us on this Planet. I don’t define “for too many” as only meaning a present danger in terms of air and water consumption: what I mean is, there are far too many of us for any version of AI ever too get beyond bonkers One Size Fits All assumptions.
We don’t need mega-bloc billions serviced by AI minions. We need human solutions delivered by wise humans in manageable communities.
If you wonder why I am so adamant about this, take a look at this official photo:
This is Baroness Ashton, a Labour Peer and EU SuperCrat who ran its foreign relations from 2010 to 2014. She was at the time the highest-paid pen-pusher on Earth. You can see from her expression just how inspiring and effective she must have been – and why even Federica “Tears” Mogherini must have seemed like something of an improvement. During her British political career, she specialised in the improvement of training and educational skills.
In the context of our Millennial friends, I just leave those last six words above out there for you to ponder.