Archive for July 2006
Until recently I was a member of The National Midday Sun, a forum for Rush fans in Europe, but a week ago I cancelled my account there. There’s been a bit of speculation about why I left, so I thought I should say something about it here.
There were a few threads that got me asking questions about why I was on there. With the possible exception of the thread about English grammar, it’s probably not the ones you might expect. So I decided to take some time away from the forum, which mostly coincided with some travelling I was doing, first to France, then to London. After a month, I thought about getting involved again.
The problem I saw was that, while I joined TNMS for discussion about the band Rush, particularly the music, very little of that goes on there these days. It’s partly because the band are quiet, recording a new album. TNMS, however, is more of a social network; one that I was not part of, because it centred around pub gatherings in the UK, while I’m in Ireland and sick of pubs.
I came to the conclusion that TNMS was costing me a lot of time and effort, which wasn’t doing the forum any good, and for which I was getting nothing in return. I’m not such a drama queen that I’d flounce off just because the conversation gets a bit robust – heck knows I did my share of “brute force and ignorance” posting. In the end, though, it just didn’t add up without the other channel of communication – the pub gatherings that I have no interest in.
For me it’s all about the music, and my appreciation of it remains as strong as ever. If I was to play one Rush song today, it would be Grand Designs, from the album Power Windows. The lyrics seem apposite – but that’s not a dig at anyone, honest! 8)
The heatwave of the last week officially broke today, the temperature dropping to around 22°C outside, but the humidity and lack of a breeze makes it just under 29°C indoors tonight, according to my thermometer. I have no idea if I’ll get any sleep tonight, but I’ll sure have a go.
Tuesday night I got back from an excellent long weekend in London, meeting up with old and new friends. The newest were aged five and two, whom I had last seen seen back when the youngest was just two weeks old. I knew he wouldn’t remember me, and I’m not really sure whether his brother did, but it hardly mattered. Within five minutes of meeting up they had me face-down on the floor, gleefully whacking me over the head with the toys I brought them.
I helped take them around Oxford Street, Holland Park, and the Natural History Museum, where they got to see dinosaurs outside of books for the first time – a fairly eye-opening experience. Another first for me: the first time I’d tried to navigate a push-chair around London, through pedestrians and traffic, in and out of the Tube system. A decent workout, part of the job of being a Honourary Uncle, I suppose!
It was the first trip this year where I had nothing to complain about: no queues at for the check-in machines (hand luggage only), no flight delays except a few minutes after landing back in Dublin at a gate the airside staff weren’t expecting. I was concened about I might handle the heat but, as I found in France last month, my worries were unfounded. It was a good thing I carried a spare shirt, though – no deodorant would have kept me smelling good by the time I got the plane home, otherwise.
My friends were staying in the five-star Landmark Hotel in Marylebone, while I was at a much less exotic location just around the corner, but I got to hang out in their well-appointed room, and join them for full English breakfasts in the atrium restaurant.
On the last night, the hotel played a part in one of those strange episodes of good luck that make a nice change from the usual. We were up in the hotel bar until 3AM, solving the world’s problems over drinks. Back at my own hotel, meanwhile, the faulty fire alarm was waking up the guests, and I was spared the indignity of being one of the woozy, half-dressed unfortunates I encountered as I breezed in on a wave of Cognac, just in time for the all-clear to be given!
Just to underline how good things are going at the moment: the new Muse album is the best thing I’ve heard all year, and I’ve just taken advantage of their pre-sales codeword to get very good balcony seats at the Point Theatre this coming November. The tickets go on sale to the rest of the crowd tomorrow, but I got mine, oh yes.
“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. Eh?
A post on the Lone Sysadmin blog today reminded me of this old warhorse of a platitude, and why it bugs me. It took me a while to pinpoint just what it was that annoyed me, but it can be categorised as a false dilemma fallacy.
“Fixed” and “broken are two extremes, but in the real world I rarely encounter anything or anyone that is totally in either state. “Broken” is not an either-or proposition, but a grey scale: something can be fractionally broken, and it takes a judgement call on someone’s part to decide whether it needs fixing or not.
In other words, the statement permits the speaker to oversimplify a situation, and avoid dealing with its real complexity. A perennial gripe of mine!
On Yahoo! Answers this week, we have Bono asking a Question: What can we do to make poverty history? This must be to mark the anniversary of the Live8 concerts a year ago, the origin of the slogan “Make Poverty History”.
I’ve looked at a few of the “answers” to the question so far, and I’ll refrain from comment on the abysmal spelling and grammar, or on the preponderance of USA-centric answers along the lines of “we need to fix poverty in America first”. It’s not as if Bono et al. were denying there is a poverty problem in the USA, or that Americans should neglect their country in favour of others. He’s simply looking at the big picture: how can we end poverty, worldwide?
Gee, where do I start? Many of the answers can be summarised as “Robin Hood” answers: take from the Rich, and give to the Poor. Well, how do they think rich people will respond? They are good at looking after their money, and have different ways of fighting attempts to take their money away from them.
To avoid theft by individuals, rich people have security, of course: secure homes, bodyguards, and so on. These days most of their assets are not in any fungible form (that can be picked up and carried away), so kidnapping has become a problem, when employees of rich companies are working in poor countries.
Hang on a moment, you might ask: I’m talking about theft, while you’re talking about… taking a person’s assets away without their consent!
When a government takes a chunk of your declared income or assets, for any purpose, it is generally called Taxation, and the people generally consent to this. In a “normal” country like the USA, or Sweden: they still have their share of rich people, don’t they? Yes, because the taxes are acceptable to them too, as part of the deal they implicitly strike with the country’s government, as the cost of living and/or doing business in that country. Tax is only one of the many costs associated with being in a country, but it is the most visible one, and the one most subject to direct interference by a government.
What happens if the costs of being in a country are too high? You try to reduce costs, of course, and if that is not enough, you leave. Leaving is also a cost, but one that rich people are able to bear more easily than others. There are enough tax-free countries in the world to accommodate rich people, and if they were to disappear, there is already a “floating tax shelter” callled The World that allows people to live in international waters, avoiding national tax liability.
How does this relate to the original question? Well, if you’re going to get money out of rich people, how are you going to do it? Robin Hood-style attacks by individuals are not going to work. Raising taxes is not going to work in the long term. By making such utopian statements as “make rich people pay”, then, I have to wonder if the people “answering” the question in that way really understand what they are suggesting. The only government that could even hope to succeed in forcibly fleecing the rich would be a totalitarian World Government. Even then, there will still be an option open to the rich: leave this world for another one.
There is little confidence is the ability of any government to tackle poverty directly, and I suspect Bono knows this. The Make Poverty History website lists goals that I tend to interpret as “getting the Western governments out of the way”, such as forgiving poor countries their World Bank debts, and making trade laws more fair and equitable. Admirable goals that are not offensive to rich people: Bono is one of them, and he knows many more whom he needs to have on his side if there is to be any progress. It’s this that makes the Make Poverty History campaign different, in my opinion, and gives it a better chance of actually making a difference.
If the charity displayed so far by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet is any guide, it’s working: rich people can help if they believe it’s the right thing to do, and because they can exert control over how their money is used. To them – the ones with the money – this is a far better option than any government involvement, a point that the Socialist-leaning respondents to the question seem to have missed.
The role of governments in causing and perpetuating poverty has not gone unnoticed by some respondents – a topic too big to go into here today, but one I may return to. The role of overpopulation has also been mentioned – a perennial concern of mine I need not expand on in detail today. It looks simple to me: if the land can not support the people on it, it is overpopulated, and by artificially supporting the people on it you are in a losing battle with Mother Nature.
In short, there is no point in pouring money in to a country if it does not lead to a better life for those who need it – and that is too common a syndrome today, particularly in Africa, where the benefits of aid are sapped by mismanagement and corruption. Not only is the Gates Foundation more likely to have economic experts who know this influencing policy, it is also (in my opinion) more likely to do a better job of acting on the advice it receives, because it is not spending “someone else’s money” in the way a government is.
Schmap have an interesting business model: they take publicly-available material and fashion it in to travel guides, and use this in the marketing process. I only heard of them because they borrowed a photo of mine from Flickr, one that I had marked as available for commercial use under the Creative Commons license, and used it in their Dublin guide. This is something like what I had in mind, so no complaints on that score, as long as they provide proper attribution (which they have). So, grab a copy of the Dublin guide, and see some more of my work.That’s all – enjoy!