Tag Archives: Anger

The Madness of Investors

This post about photo start-up Color on the NY Times website makes me utterly despair for the nature of modern capitalism.

Before the company had launched even a single product, Color raised $41 million from investors. That seems, to me, an absolutely stupefying amount of money. Given that Color’s first product (a perplexing and unfathomable iPhone app) flopped horribly, it seems now like an incredibly grave error.

It all stems (the NY Times speculates) from a desire not to miss out on the next Facebook, or Twitter, or Google. That’s all well and good, but in some ways this amounts to a get rich scheme; if it was that easy to pick out the next winners from the next losers, then everyone would be doing it, and we’d all get rich.

In pursuit of easy money, they’re taking unconscionable risks. It feels like many of the bubbles of old; presumably what they’re hoping for is to fund a lot of companies, and then hope that the return on the investment is of such Facebookian proportions that it drowns the losses. It’s madness, because if that scale of success doesn’t materialise, you lose the money.

Finance is, essentially, a utility. The function of it is move money from places where it is in surplus to where it is needed. As always, I grasp towards a physics analogy: it’s supposed to move the market from a higher energy state, to a lower energy state through a path that would otherwise be low probability. In doing so, it allows work in the system; jobs created, products made. The finance industry, for its part, takes a small amount of the energy it releases for itself. Overall, the system, the market, the economy, is better off for the action.

The trouble is that the financial sector has given itself airs. They see themselves now as creators, and players in the system in their own right, rather than the facilitators and plumbers that they should be. So they take risks, play the system, create complicated schemes of financial instruments to manipulate the market to accrue money into their own hands.

The trouble with all of this is that banks can then create situations where they actually help to destroy value. We saw this sort of reckless stupidity in the credit crunch, and we see it here, too.

What we should be doing is encouraging companies to start small, and bootstrap themselves. Make a product, sell a product, make money. Use the money to grow. Take finance where you need it, but only when you need it to make more money, where a return is unlikely. Controlled, steady, sensible growth.

What banks seem to want is growth like an algal bloom, or an infection of smallpox. Big bang growth, get-rich-or-die-trying growth. Short-termist, irresponsible, madness.

I’m honestly a little surprised that the financial industry has survived the last recession relatively unscathed, and apparently with their ways throughly unmended. These people ought to be legally responsible for the harm they do, in the same way a plumber would be responsible for an explosion caused by a botched gas installation. Instead we let them get away with wreaking the most awful harm on our economies, and ruining lives.

In other news, I’m going to try and make a commitment to updating on a more regular schedule, and hopefully being a little more personal with it. Had a bit of a trend to the essayist in recent(ish) posts, so I’m going to steer away from it.

Basically, the problem is that I’m either working or I should be working on my PhD most of the time, so blogging has taken it in the neck. Haven’t even finished my new blog design yet…

For Once, Not Politics or Philosophical Essayism

Whenever I’m not feeling OK, I have a tendency to hit the philosophy. There’s something about contemplating the essential questions of existence that makes your everyday shit seem to be much less of a concern, and more like weird background noise. I’ve finished reading Nausea, my copy of Catcher in the Rye is back on the shelf, and hopefully things will go back to something approximating normal.

I hope I’ve learned something. It was probably something I’d hoped I’d learned before, and no doubt through my own infinite stupidity will need to learn again at some point in the future, but I hope that I’ve learned it for real this time.

Sometimes things end. It’s sad, and sometimes you just can’t understand why, or make sense of what happened, but you can’t howl into the wind and try to change the past with the power of your fury; you’ll just consume yourself in hatred and bitterness and nihilism. Some things just aren’t worth the time, effort or pain trying to fight.

Time to learn to let things end.

In other news, there’s a Fairtrade Cheese & Wine party on Friday night, which I will certainly be going to, and there two events on Thursday I would like to attend but they’re mutually exclusive and I may not have time anyway: Fairtrade tea party, and ICU Election Hustings.

Act accordingly.

Andy out.

An Outlet for Possibly Misplaced Rage

The door in the library cafe this post is about.
See that little sign? MOST PEOPLE CAN'T.

Today, somebody nearly opened a door into me.

This was immensely irritating for two reasons:

  1. This door is made of glass. Not frosted glass, either, but honest to goodness clear window glass. You have to be a really extreme species of troglodyte to not see somebody on the other side of a goddamn glass door.
  2. This door has a sign next to it saying it’s not an exit. Furthermore, it has a sign on it saying that it shouldn’t be used as an exit. People go ahead and use it as an egress anyway. To express my rage at this I’m sadly going to have to break out of the confines of this numbered list.

Ah, that’s better. Anyway, if there’s something I absolutely fucking hate it’s when people decide that instructions like that are not for them;  people who commit such hubris, who believe that such instructions are for somebody else, not somebody wonderful and important like themselves.

Get the fuck over yourselves and spend the damned thirty seconds walking the long way around.

Oh, and what’s worse is when bottom-feeding scumbags use that door and then not close it after themselves, letting in a continual draft of glacial air. Pack of absolute selfish twats.

To  the transgressors I say this:

You are not special. You are not important. Your time is not more important or more special than mine. You do not have the right to decide that rules do not apply to you in order to satiate your own laziness.

Oh, and look where you’re fucking going! There’s a fucking pavement on the other side of that door!

Concerning Drugs

I realise I’m now a little behind the curve on this story, this has been sitting in my drafts for a while.

The government recently sacked Professor David Nutt, the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) after he spoke out on the scientific evidence on the relative harm of illegal drugs like cannabis and ecstasy compared with legal ones such as alcohol and tobacco.

He’s previously been criticised in the press for an examination of the public view of risk of two activities, taking ecstasy and horse-riding (which he calls, for hilarious effect, “equasy”). The public reaction made him sound like he was making an insane comparison, but his argument is well backed up by the evidence. Don’t take my word for it though, you can read his actual paper (don’t worry, it’s not very long!) here.

This time round, Nutt made the not-unreasonable point that looking at the actual harm done, alcohol and tobacco are worse than ectasy, LSD and cannabis, so our current policy at looks at best somewhat hypocritical.

This view, like his view on equasy, is based upon a synthesis of the available scientific evidence, not opinion or political whim. However according though to the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, this isn’t a dry statement of the facts, but instead consitutues an attack on the Government’s policy on drugs, an act incompatible with his position as a Government advisor; this seems to me to be a statement of an implicit definition: a Government advisor is only someone who adds an air of authority to whatever it is the Government wants them to say.

This is a ridiculous attack on intellectual and academic freedom, evidence-based policy, and indeed upon science itself. The Government has decided that objective evidence has no place in public policy; they are concerned only with receiving a “scientific” rubber-stamp on what they think will play the best with voters and the tabloid press.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that a hypocritcal notion of moral certainty has long dominated public drug policy; we are lead to believe that it is somehow intrinsically morally wrong to consume illegal drugs. I would say that it is more plainly obvious that the social harm we are told is caused by drugs is in fact caused more by the prohibition of drugs than it is by the effects of the drugs themselves.

Prohibition forces supply and manufacture into the hands of organised criminals who make vast profits delivering sub-standard goods. Look at the example of American prohibition of alchohol, which did nothing but embolden and enrich the gangsters and the Mafia, not to mention compounding the problem of alcoholism by resistricting the availability of weaker drinks like beer and wine in favour of the more easily transportable and strong spirits.

Likewise the prohibition of drugs encourages more powerful drug variants like skunk cannabis and crack cocaine and encourages dealers to cut their products with additives to make the same product go further. The vastly inflated prices encourage crime and enrich criminals, and the underground nature of the whole business discourages addicts from seeking help.

Legalised drugs could be taxed and regulated, like we do with cigarettes and alcohol today, which would bring in a revenue stream that could be reinvested in tackling addiction and the health consequences of drugs. It would ensure that drugs are clean and free of dangerous impurities. It would prevent people being tempted to try stronger drugs like crack or heroin by corrupt dealers offering a free hit to get people hooked.

It would certainly be an infinitely saner and more evidence-based policy than the one dominated by hypocritical moralising we have today. Alas, no politician can ever been seen to be “soft on drugs” so our current failing policy will remain.

Housing

Sometimes you just have to vent, and it really feels like that time is now.

A few weeks ago, we generally thought we were sorted. We had a 7-bedroom house in Parson’s Green all lined up, deposit down, move-in date arranged, just had to sort out what rooms are for who, how much everyone is going to pay in rent, etc.

Then our leasing agent gets in touch to say that landlord is pulling the house off the rental market, and they’re refunding our deposit and fees.

This means we now have to find a new place to live. In a month. Which means ringing round agents trying to find if there are any suitable places.

One of my housemates has helped by deciding he’s going to live at home meaning we only have to find a 6-bedroom place, but even that is close to impossible now, so we might well have to settle for two 3-bedroom places, which means figuring out how we’re going to split our little group into two.

It’s a horribly emotionally draining experience. I was so looking forward to moving in to our new house, and now I just feel downcast as I think about how we’re going to sort this all out. No doubt too I’m going to have to make trips down to London to see places, and the whole thing just completely sucks.

Especially because people went and left the country on holiday and work because they thought that everything was fine and we were all ready.

I’m so angry at the landlord it’s just beyond belief. I’m angry that nobody thought it might be wise to give us more warning that the place might be being sold and not rented so we could have kept our options open. I’m angry that this kind of shitty behaviour is apparently legal.

Now, I have to go to bed so I can be up early to ring round landlords and estate agents to see if any of them have anything left.

Authoritarian Culture

This is something I have to blog about just because I find it so utterly outrageous that I can’t quite contain it.

My old school (King Edward VI Five Ways, for those playing at home) has recently announced plans to introduce a “biometric cashless catering system”. They plan to scan the fingerprints of pupils, produce a hash of the data, and use that for access to the pupil’s account on the catering system.

I actually wish I was making this up. There are plans to convert the library over to this system, and to use it for sixth form registration, as well as plans further out to control access to school buildings.

This is so far beyond objectionable that it’s not even funny. The headmaster was always a bit of a ridiculously pompous bastard, but even he’s outdone himself this time. There is nothing in any of these proposals that couldn’t have been done equally as well with a card-with-RFID-chip system, no doubt for a much smaller price tag, which would save the need for a biometric database.

The inherent privacy issues of the school keeping such a database of fingerprint data are extremely troubling; sure, it’s a one-way hash, the original fingerprint can’t be recovered from what they store, but any given fingerprint can still be run against that database to find matches; the system wouldn’t work at all otherwise. I have a terrible feeling the school wouldn’t be too bothered by police requests to hand over any such information.

It deeply disturbs me that our culture as a whole seems to be bowing to the notion that organisations should have ever more information about us. I would say expecting children to hand over their fingerprints is crossing a really rather serious line.

Now, to calm down, a picture of a sleeping cat:

cat

The Tragedy of Ian Tomlinson

I’ve posted before about the death of Ian Tomlinson, the man who died during the G20 protests in London.

The doctor who performed a second post-mortem on Mr Tomlinson believes that the cause of death was not, as initially reported, a heart attack; he believes it was an abdominal haemorrhage, the cause of which is presently unknown.

We are now faced with the very real possibility that an officer of the Met has killed an innocent man. Not just contributed to Tomlinson’s death through stress on a weak heart, but that the officer’s violent assault caused this haemorrhage.

I’m sickened, I’m appalled, I’m angry. I’ve asked this before and I’m sure I’ll ask it again: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? The IPCC is proving to be totally incompetent in these matters, apparently taking the police forces in question at their word! Are we really to believe that there is no CCTV footage? I’m very, very disturbed by how easily all of this could have lain unnoticed had it not been for the amateur video of the event; an act that may well now be illegal, or at least subject to a severe chilling effect, making it very difficult for us, the citizenry, to keep an eye on the police.

It’s too early to say if this is a deliberate cover-up or just incompetence – they do say never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity – but this is raising some pretty ugly questions.

There is something deeply rotten in the Met.