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Posts Tagged: Basically We’re All Fucked

The Eurozone

Wednesday 2nd November 2011

It’s a bit like a bad joke at the moment.

Last week, the Eurozone leaders announced their latest agreement to save the Euro. Essentially, what they announced was what it is that they’d like to do, but they haven’t really worked out the details of how they’ll do it. It’s only small details that are left to sort out, for example where exactly the money is going to come from…

So they haven’t really agreed much at all. And the stuff they did agree, doesn’t even solve the underlying problem. So for the umpteenth time, the EU leaders have just kicked the can down the road.

Straight after it was announced, some people were sort of facetiously wondering how long it’d take before the plan would fall apart. As it turns out, less than a week! Because the Greek leaders have decided to have a referendum about whether to sign up to the plans. EU leaders aren’t used to the concept of people having a say on Europe, so this has perplexed them. And everyone is worried that when the referendum takes place next year, the Greek voters will give the wrong answer.

Meanwhile, Greece is on track to have a primary surplus by 2012. Which will mean they can safely default, and the EU can go screw themselves…

What’s amazing is just how dysfunctional it is. The Eurozone leaders get to ponce around, looking self-important whilst managing to completely dodge the issue, making it all the more likely that the whole thing goes tits up. It would be quite hilarious to watch, if it weren’t all quite so serious.

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Ranting about occupations

Tuesday 25th October 2011

If you’ve seen the news recently, no doubt you’ve heard about the various “occupations” which are occurring in various places. It’s all spread from “Occupy Wall Street” in the States, and in the UK we have our own version in “Occupy LSX”, who are currently occupying that well-known fortress of capitalism, er, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Hmm, oh well.

As far as I’m aware, one of the main messages that they’re trying to get across is the idea of the “99 percent”; or the idea that 99% of people are struggling in the current economic climate whilst 1% are prospering, and that the 99% are angry. It’s a simple idea. Okay, for all sorts of reasons it’s also a little bit inaccurate, but the general thrust is good enough. Because fundamentally, the protesters are probably right to say that most people should be pretty pissed off at the state of our economy. But the protesters are angry at banks and stock markets (wtf?) and capitalism in general. This seems to me to be a little bit confused. Do they really want to dismantle capitalism?


A protest, last week.

Capitalism is generally taken to mean things like the right to private property and to free trade. And are the Occupiers honestly against those things? Well, if I went down to the  occupation camp and tried to pinch their big anti-capitalism sign, one of their tents, or the iPhones they use to post updates to Twitter (yes, the poor 99% who can afford some of the most expensive consumer electronics in the world), I think they’d be rather keen to uphold their right to private property. And are they against free trade? Well, by choosing how to use their labour, arguably they are exercising precisely that right. Because a part of free trade is the right to freely trade your own labour; and in this case, the occupiers have exercised that right by choosing to use their labour to protest the state of the economy (and so one can argue that implicit in their protest is the idea that they’re protesting against their right to hold that protest. Consistency FTW!). If the government (or anyone else) tried to remove that right – by arresting the occupiers, for instance – then I’m confident that they’d be pretty upset.

So to be angry at capitalism is, I think, a mistake. At least, it’s a mistake to be angry at properly-implemented capitalism. OccupyLSX shouldn’t necessarily direct their anger at the banks or stockbrokers (unless they own shares in a bank which has lost value, in which case, feel free). They should be angry at governments, for oh so many things. For allowing themselves to be open to lobbying, and bowing to the influence of vested interests. For meddling too much in the economy, trying to maintain the housing bubble which lead to this crisis. For the arrogance of the Euro project and repeating the mistakes of the past. For spending too much in the boom years, ramping up debts which we now need to repay. For breaking one of the golden rules of capitalism – that bad businesses must fail – by bailing out the banks which behaved so irresponsibly prior to the downturn.

The problem isn’t capitalism; at least, not capitalism in it’s proper form. The crisis is not the failure of economic liberalism, and the answer is not something like a laughably-impractical “Resource-Based Economy“. Actually, we want our government to be more liberal; to spend less, to leave more money in the pockets of the populace, and to not interfere in matters best left to the market. Because when you trace it back, a good chunk of our problems stem from bad government interventions, or the “crony capitalism” we see at present.

Of course, this would involve politicians deciding to make themselves less powerful. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the type of person most likely to want to be a politician, is not the type who is likely to take power away from themselves once they’ve gained it. So we’re probably screwed.

Photo by flickr user wheelzwheeler, licensed under Creative Commons.

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Cowardice

Saturday 23rd January 2010

This Christmas, I asked my parents for quite a few books. One of the ones that I asked for – and received – is The Grand Prix Saboteurs. This is a book about a few pre-WW2 Grand Prix drivers who served during the war as British secret agents. Despite the name and the fact that some of the main characters are people who were involved with Grand Prix racing, this book is absolutely not about racing. It’s mostly about the lives of the secret agents who worked in France during WW2, and it is an absolutely fascinating book. I urge everyone to find a copy and read it as soon as possible (and I’ll gladly lend it to anyone who knows me in real life). In fact I’d go so far as to say that it should be required reading for every school pupil, because it’s absolutely amazing. Some of the stories included in it read like something from a particularly clichéd spy novel, so to read them and realise that the people involved were real people – normal people who had volunteered for that work – is something that I found particularly amazing.

I’m not what you’d call a sentimental person. It’s very hard to move me emotionally – in fact my own Mother has described me as “heartless”(!). But certain things in that book really moved me. I found myself getting angry and appalled at the way the Nazis treated the spies upon capture. I was disgusted with the way certain people collaborated with the Nazis and “sold out” people who trusted them. But most of all I was amazed, astounded and inspired by the fact that these people were even there in the first place. They volunteered for an insanely dangerous task, and then worked in France under the constant threat of discovery, capture and torture. This wasn’t a good job. The Nazis had a special disdain for spies and a lot were killed in incredibly horrible ways. If they were captured, towards the end of the war they were selected for “special treatment”, a particularly sinister innuendo.

As I was reading the book I had conflicting emotions. I was amazed at the story, inspired by the things people did for their ideals. But it’s also slightly depressing. There’s a quote towards the end of the book from one of the surviving spies which perfectly mirrors the thoughts I was having. Talking about his colleagues (men and women, by the way) who were killed by the Nazis, he said the following:

“They gave their lives willingly, gladly, and they died happy, for they died with an ideal, with the feeling that they had sacrificed everything for something good, something enduring. They did not live to see the sham that it all was, to see the wasting of their efforts, the shameless scramble for personal satisfaction”

How sad is that? Doesn’t it make you angry? We really don’t know we’re born.

Anyway, read the book because it’s brilliant.

Posted In: Politics Tagged: | 3 Comments

Climate Control

Monday 21st December 2009

I’ve said before here that I don’t know much about climate change. In fact what I said was “I don’t know whether it’s happening and really I don’t care, because it’s irrelevant”, which taken out of context says something which I didn’t intend to say, but ho hum.

Anyhow, I was reading up on the science behind climate change the other day. I was reading up on how human activity causes it, and it’s fairly interesting. It also gave me a fairly large headache, because I don’t really understand it. I understand the argument thats being made, but I don’t see how the evidence which is being presented supports that argument.

Before I continue, I’m not writing from a “boo climate change isnt happening” standpoint, because thats stupid. I just don’t understand the science. That could be (probably is) because I’m missing something, and that’s ok because I’m not a climatologist. I’m kinda hoping that by writing this, someone will write a comment which says “ah, but you’re forgetting this…” and it’ll suddenly make sense.

Ok. So looking at the data from ice cores or wherever for CO2 in the atmosphere and comparing it with the temperature of the Earth, does show a clear correlation. Historically, when there’s been an increase in the Earth’s temperature, the increase in CO2 levels comes after the temperature increase. Now this makes sense, because theres lots of CO2 stored in ice and water, so when the temperature goes up (due to, say, fluctuations in the Earth’s orbit), obviously CO2 is going to be released. And CO2 is a greenhouse gas, so clearly increased levels of CO2 help to warm the Earth’s surface, amplifying the temperature increase which has caused the extra CO2 to be released. Eventually the thing which caused the Earth to warm up in the first place stops having such an effect, so eventually the temperature of the Earth goes down again. As the temperature goes down more CO2 is dissolved in water and ice, so there’s less in the atmosphere. As I understand it, that’s the science which explains the relationship between CO2 and temperature, right upto mankind having any appreciable effect on either.

Ok, some facts which I think everyone will agree on.In the last 150-200 years, humans have put a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere. More CO2 in the atmosphere will help warm the Earth up. The Earth has warmed up – more than it has in the “recent” past – in the last  few hundred years.

However. We’re told that the current increase in the Earth’s temperature is entirely due to the increase in CO2 emissions. I don’t see where the evidence is which suggests that CO2 is such a large driver of the temperature of the Earth. If CO2 in the atmosphere plays as important a part in this as people claim it does, how come the Earth’s temperature has dropped in the past when CO2 levels were high? If a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere was that catastrophic, surely in the past when there were high levels of CO2, the temperature would have remained high once the original warming action was removed?

Why are we so sure that the current increase in temperature is purely down to CO2? Why have we ruled out the possibility that other – perhaps natural – phenomena are taking place, as they have done for thousands of years?

(Ego, perhaps?)

This isn’t to say that CO2 doesn’t play a role or that we should ignore what we’re putting into the air. If natural processes are responsible for some of the increase in temperature, then clearly we’re responsible for the rest of it. I just think that perhaps simply focussing on CO2 as the silver bullet is a really silly – maybe even dangerous – thing to do. As I’ve written before, the thing which really scares me is the fact that we’re running out of energy. Distracting ourselves with jollies to Copenhagen may make us feel like we’re doing something, but does it really solve the problem? Irrespective of whether the science is right, it annoys me that so many people have simplified the issue so much, to the point that they’re not even trying to solve the right problem. Stop CO2 emissions with sustainable fuels. Problems solved. As I said in the last post, that should be our Apollo…

In a comment on Callan’s blog, I likened Copenhagen to rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. That’s not true – it’s more trying to pump the water out to keep the ship from sinking. I mean it’ll work, albeit at great expense and inconvenience. But it doesn’t really solve the problem of the holes beneath the water, does it?

Posted In: EngineeringPoliticsRant Tagged: | 8 Comments

The Second Best Thing About Christmas…

Friday 4th December 2009

…is that it’s the only time of the year where I feel it appropriate to listen to this. It seems wrong to listen to it during the summer, so it feels like a treat to listen to it in December (even though it’s not christmas yet and I don’t feel particularly christmassy)

I love winter songs. There are a few things that when I listen to them, it just feels like winter. That song is one example, and another would be Echoes by Pink Floyd (also an absolutely stunning song). When I hear Echoes it just reminds me for some reason of winter. Perhaps it’s just a really good song to listen to on another cold wet dreary day; very good distraction. Another really good example is the whole of “In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson.

On the other hand, “Wincing the Night Away” by the Shins and “The Long Goodbye” by The Essex Green are both summer albums, best enjoyed on a bright warm afternoon. Preferably whilst driving with all the windows open and singing along maniacally…

And no-one picked up on the Shins lyric in the last title btw? It’s because I wrote it in August and it was sat in my drafts since then (where it possibly should have remained…). I’d only just heard of them so I was mostly listening to them at the time.

I can’t wait to get to summer. Get rid of the crappy weather and the boredom of uni. I’m really bored at the moment. I feel stuck in a rut and it’s really, really frustrating. Ho hum.

And no-one showed us to the land
And no-one knows the wheres or why
But something stirs and something tries
And starts to climb towards the light

Theres a suggestion that Echoes was written to go along with the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I don’t know how true it is but I’ve watched them together and even if it’s accidental, it fits the film really well. The film/book is really good too and if you haven’t seen/read it, you should.

Science fiction doesn’t seem to be as popular as I think it should be. Or rather, the term is horrendously misused. Science fiction isn’t a catch-all term for “set in space”; it’s way more imaginitive than that. Sci-fi isn’t mere fantasy, it’s fiction that dares to say “what if?”. Stories that may seem fantastic or far-fetched but which at some level have a grounding in science. They’re way more imaginitive than fiction that just makes everything up because, at the edge of the reader’s mind is the idea of “someday, maybe not in my lifetime but someday, this could happen”. The idea of sending manned spacecraft to Jupiter or establising a permanent colony on the Moon is far-fetched, but why not aim for that?

The science fiction of men like Asimov and Clarke inspired a generation of scientists to go and aim for the impossible, and some of them did it. We landed on the moon in 1969, and then we went back a few times, and now we don’t do that any more. Why is that? Doesn’t it make you mad? (yeah, I’ve been watching Cosmos lately, so this rang very true. I’ve mostly been watching because of this, which is very good)

I wrote a post in September about crossroads (oh and there’s another absolutely awesome song, whichever version you take) and this is what I was kinda getting at. In the 60s, Mankind (well, America, but lets not split hairs) set a challenge to go to the Moon. British and French engineers were tacking an even bigger challenge in making the first supersonic passenger jet. The network that became the Internet was just starting to be created. Massive projects which, at first glance, were nigh on impossible. A generation of kids grew up being inspired by science, partly from science fiction, and went on to do amazing things. Why does this not happen today? Fewer and fewer people are choosing to study science, maths or engineering, and don’t you think that is maddeningly weird? Whatever the reason, I find it staggering that so few people are interested in those fields because, well, what on earth is more interesting than finding out how and why the universe works, or shaping it for the future?

The point I wanted to make in that post in September was that we’ve showed in that past that when a bunch of smart people try to solve a problem, they can do amazing things. The human race is facing possibly the biggest problem we’ve ever faced, and what are we doing? As far as I can see, very little. What we are doing makes rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic look like a brave and noble effort.

So anyway, I actually only meant to write about a sentence before going to bed to carry on reading a book. And I really didn’t intend to write about most of what I’ve written about, I just forgot to stop writing and let thoughts splurge into the text box. If only writing dissertations and project reports was so easy!

Oh, by the way, the best thing about christmas is christmas lunch. Best meal of the year. The third best thing (to finish off the podium) is probably Scrooge. I think it’s widely recognised as fact that it’s the only good musical ever written. Marley still scares me a little bit, even if he is Obi-Wan Kenobi. It’s that little wave as he closes the door; I don’t care what you say it’s just spooky.

Posted In: EngineeringGeekMusicPoliticsRantSleepStuff Tagged: | 12 Comments

Crossroads

Monday 28th September 2009

I think this is an important time for mankind. We face a variety of really massive problems and the way we deal with these is, I think, going to shape the rest of human history in a way that very little has in the past.

Our lifestyles are a result of hundreds – no, thousands of years of development and progress. We constantly strive to go one better; to do the impossible thing, solve the unanswerable question. In my opinion it’s one of the fundamental characteristics of the human race and probably the most admirable one too. Especially in the last 100-odd years, we’ve developed ourselves and our environments at a dizzying rate, and things that we take for granted today would baffle our ancestors from the early 20th century, let alone anyone older than that.

The problem is that it’s not sustainable. We’re heavily reliant on various depletable resources, and we’re using them pretty damn quickly. What’s more, those energy sources are tremendously flawed and by using them we’re damaging not only the environment but also ourselves. We only get one shot at this; we have one life to live and (currently…) one planet on which to live. One planet for us and – with any luck – millennia of our descendants. To be so accepting of both of them being damaged in such a way just seems so insane.

I have to say that I don’t know much about climate change. We’re told that the evidence really does point towards man-made climate change being a fact, but when I’ve looked at it on my own (admittedly not in massive detail) it all seems so… inconclusive. So I don’t know whether it’s happening and really I don’t care, because it’s irrelevant (and not the point of this post so please don’t try to comment about it). As I see it, burning these things is really harmful even before we take into account any possible effect on climate change. And besides, we really need to find an alternative because the stuff is running out. While we’re at it, that replacement may as well be non-damaging because it makes sense and it’s possible.

We’re being told that the way we live our life is wrong. Our cars are too big, we fly around the world too much, we don’t recycle enough. But really, it isn’t. It’s imperfect, but I don’t subscribe to the view that we should effectively regress in order to reduce emissions by a tiny amount. Our parents got to fly around the world, experience being on the cutting edge of mankind. Who the hell are they to deny us the same priviledge? Yes we should change our lifestyles (for instance more people should use public transport – but first the public transport system should be less horrendously terrible), but there’s a balance to be struck. The big problems arent individuals, it’s big businesses. But I guess it’s bad politics to attack them…

My point is that the issue we’re facing is not climate change. Of course it’s something to be aware of and try to counter, but it’s not the really scary problem. That problem is that we’re going to run out of energy soon and as far as I can tell we’re doing very little about it. We need answers pretty soon, but we’re stuck asking the wrong questions.

Posted In: EngineeringRantSleepTechnology Tagged: | 7 Comments

Eh?

Thursday 20th August 2009

I’m not one who usually says things like this, but bear with me. The following seems to me to be almost close to being a horribly “Daily Mail” sort of thing. I dunno why but it just seems to me to be that sort of thing. I think it’s the tone of righteous indignation that sits with publications like that, but in this case (and I dunno if the Mail is actually saying what I’m about to), I really can’t understand why this has been allowed to happen.

I wasn’t old enough when the original event happened for it to be a big part of my awareness, and I’ve not really read much about it since. I don’t know enough to profess a proper opinion, but from what little I’ve read, I think it’s madness. Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber. Being freed from prison on compassionate grounds.

This is where it gets all Daily Mail, and for that I apologise.

Compassionate grounds? This is a guy who has been found guilty of killing 270 people. Surely that action means that he is completely undeserving of compassion? To really go tabloid, where was his compassion when he killed those people? This just seems wrong.

It’s a crazy world.

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1983

Monday 27th April 2009

“Recently there have been quite a few things that I’ve wanted blog about… A few times I’ve actually started to write something down, but every time I’ve started to do that I’ve struggled to actually articulate what I was trying to say.”

It’s things like this. Words simply fail me, because I don’t understand how any right-thinking individual can think this is a good thing. It’s hard to vocalise quite how dismayed, frustrated, annoyed I am by the current state of the British Government. It’s basically all screwed.

I think we fundamentally have the right system of government, with the two houses, the Monarchy, etc. It’s just that for the most part, the wrong people are running that system at the moment. And it’s not gonna get much better any time soon…

Posted In: RantTechnology Tagged: | 3 Comments