Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Hardship is relative

Living in a developed economy can blind us to the far more acute and chronic problems faced by our fellow human beings. How many times have I felt an injustice because my internet connection has randomly stopped working, or my PVR has failed to record a TV programme I wanted to watch? Embarrassingly many is the answer.

Even further afield in my own milieu I see suffering that I can't comprehend, and which vastly overshadows ny irritations and setbacks.

Pull back the focus to a world view and we see sights so harrowing that it is a challenge to write about them even in abstraction. The death of innocents from war, disease or starvation; the witnessing of those tragedies by those nearby (physically and emotionally) and impressionable is truly gruelling even for the distant observer.

That people should try to escape from such dreadful circumstances seems commendable and admirable. I like to think that I would have the skill and courage should it come to it. Such people, though, if they cross a line on a map are called immigrants, and some argue that developed countries can't spare the space or access to other resources that they need and/or use. Resourced need to be managed, undoubtedly, but is the resistance to 'immgration' more about cushioning oneself against exposure to the immeasurably more difficult circumstances that our fellow human beings face than about a genuine desire to scientifically and equitably marshal resources?

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Privatisation of information

It's been rather dejecting picking books off my shelves, blowing off the dust, and looking on to see if any of them are likely to fetch a price. In most cases there are umpteen copies of the book for sale for Amazon's minimum price of 1p (plus £2.80 postage and packing).

It's sad thinking of all the costly books sitting there, gathering dust, and taking up space. No-one else can readily look at them, unless I try to sell them or give them away and this makes them even more of a wasted resource.

Yet, if I don't sell or give away the books now, I can only imagine that their inherent value will sink below even the worth of the fibres they are manufactured from, as the printed book becomes increasingly obsolete.

Some people have a romantic attachment to books - shelves of books create a good impression of scholarliness and the right kind of seriousness - and they can look attractive, it's true, but given the high cost of housing, the space they take up is expensive. Their low tech way of working pales against modern information technology and transporting them as part of giving them away or selling them is environmentally unkind.

Not that the books I have look attractive as shelved. There is a trace of order in the way are arranged, but this is based on their subject, not what they look like. To have them ordered aesthetically would require them to be indexed and their shelf location recorded and I'm not prepared to spend time doing that (am I?).

The ease with which texts can be distributed technically with modern communications means that in order to protect the intellectual property of the author, some kind of digital jiggery-pokery needs to be applied to stop the text being freely available. This was easier to limit with physical books owing to their bulk and comparatively poor portability and distributability.

But the only reason to try to prevent texts being widely distributed and available is to create scarcity so that a price can be charged. So far as fulfilling human needs by use of the text goes, there is no direct reason for depriving someone of the text in question. Therefore in an NLRBE all text would be freely available, and as the authors, like anyone else, would have their needs met anyway, they wouldn't need to participate in the scarcity creation.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Reflections on being unemployed

For £72 odd per week Job Seeker's Allowance, I'm supposed to spend 35 hours per week job seeking - not much more than £2 an hour. A fairly clear incentive to not claim JSA, and thus not be counted as seeking work.

My job seeking comprises trawling through e-mails with links to jobs, looking for ones for which I have skills/experience that seems to match the recruiter's requirements and that don't involve absurd amounts of travelling or relocation.

This is a needle in a haystack exercise; although I do find jobs that my skills/experience do somewhat match, the applications in the main fall into a black hole. One or two "unfortunately" e-mails do come back and I suppose it's better to fal at the first hurdle on these things rather than failing to be the best at interview.

"There are jobs out there if people want them; they just have to look" is the mantra, but asserting the first clause does not make it true, however many times or however forcefully it is repeated. As to the second clause, it seems absurd. In what sense are jobs "hidden" and if they are, why?

My experience is that jobs are advertised by more than one agency, and are put in e-mails over and over again, such that I'm always finding jobs I've already applied for or already seen and decided not to apply for.

These jobs are really positions - that is engagements for several hours a week for extended periods of time. And by recruiting people with experience and skills the recruiters are abdicating their responsibility of training the people they employ. Someone else can do that. This makes the situation all the more tricky. I wouldn't object to being trained, but there has to be a position to go with the training. Otherwise, how does one choose what training to receive? Bricklaying? PHP? Sage? Raisers' Edge?

Find what you enjoy and do that is another maxim, bit it is not compatible with paying the bills, nor with spending 35 hours a week job searching (which has to include applying for jobs) nor with matching skills/experience with the posts available.

[touch of writer's block, now. To be continued, perhaps]

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Is equality irreducible?

If a sentient being from a far off world is observing this planet, and specifically the human species, would she assume that each specimen had equal rights? I don't mean empirically, I mean, why would she conclude that some people had acquired the power to control, to a large extent, what others do all day.

If we had equal rights, some argue, there would be no incentive to work. And your rights only derived from your fulfilling of your responsibilities.

But who determines what your responsibilities are, and to who they are and how did they get into that position? Yes you can sit down and from first principles work out what your responsibilities might be, but in practice, who controls what you actually have to do?

Admittedly, many people have some scope to choose what they do with their lives, but they select from a palette of activities that has been prepared by whom? Those who have control of money.

This palette is for most people a selection of ways of selling their labour for income, which is what the majority of us have to do for a large proportion of our lives in order to survive. Yes there are mechanisms to tide you over lean periods, but these are there so that those in control have enough people around to deliver the work that is unavoidable if they are to maintain their position, which work extends to that needed to protect them from raids by people wanting the means to survival.

Thus the system allows government, because government can exercise military power to stop people from abroad taking the assets of the rich, and can operate a police force, which serves to try to prevent people just taking what they need, and a health service to try to keep people sufficiently active to maintain the balance that the controllers of money need to ensure they remain in control.

... to be continued (maybe)

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Two wrongs don't make a right

This maxim was cited by Edwina Currie, a former government minister, on TV (Channel 5) recently, regarding tax evasion as compared to benefit fraud.

The maxim is worth repeating; it illuminates, but it does not take into account the scale of the wrongs. Tax evasion and benefit fraud are both wrong, but the former amounts to far more £ than the latter.

This comment was provoked by a discussion of the current strike by TfL employees. Maybe TfL employees, especially train drivers, are not the most pressing cause in the drive for equality, but if banks are too big to fail and have t be bailed out, why exactly can't TfL (staff) be) bailed out?

Sorry for getting all "political" but the double standards are a bit too much.

Saturday, 7 December 2013


The death of Nelson Mandela on 5 December 2013 has caused many to reflect on racial inequality. Racial inequality is too mild a term to use when discussing apartheid, which was not only separate development, but outright violence both - corporal and structural - against non whites, but in a reflection on inequality I will stay with the generic term.

In current UK law there are 9 protected characteristics:
  • age 
  • disability 
  • gender reassignment 
  • marriage and civil partnership 
  • pregnancy and maternity
  •  race 
  • religion and belief 
  • sex 
  • sexual orientation
When I was looking for a list of these, I happened upon the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service's website, which says the service has extended its commitment to include "reducing the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage. The website also references the "public sector Equality Duty, which states that public bodies must have due regard to the need to:
  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation
  • Advance equality of opportunity
  • Foster good relations between different groups"
This conveniently leads me in to what I was going to say.

The most obvious and readily applied way of discriminating against someone is socio-economically; they don't get a job because of their race, say, or they don't receive as good a service as others because of their age. These are pretty clear cut, but disability is less so. It has a meaning within the act, but our abilities are relative. One might be more intelligent and/or physically stronger than another. Even if I am not considered to have a disability, your greater abilities can enable you to take a more advantaged position than me.

Surely the spirit of the legislation must be that there should be no discrimination against people who are less able (intelligent, physically strong) than others? Not that I am condoning it, but is there any less reason to rise up against socio-economic inequality than racial inequality?

In our current system the advantage of physical strength and/or intellect that someone has over another is expressed mainly in the monetary system, and our monetary system has - built in - the characteristic that money mainly flows from those who have less of it to those who have more. In an RBE, where there is no money, the system would naturally tend towards equality.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Drugs and money - patents or patients

Eric Merola is about to release his sequel to his 2010 Burzynski, the Movie entitled Burzynski: Cancer is Serious Business, Part II. I blogged about the issues raised by the first film longer ago than I care to check.

I sometimes think that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most worrying components of our current economic system. I am not cynical enough to suggest that everyone in the business is simply out to make money and doesn't really care about the public and its diseases, but how does one reconcile the issues?

  • Ideally, drugs / treatments should cure or relieve the symptoms of as many people as possible per unit of physical resources consumed.
  • In our current system, a return on investment (of £/$) is required.
  • In our current system, people need jobs
If a pharma company has spent £/$ millions developing a drug, it has to be bought so that they get their RoI. If not, the £ is wasted, and people will be out of a job. So, if some cheap and cheerful alternative comes along, it would hardly be surprising if those in big pharma who stand to lose their livelihoods went out of their way to undermine, play down, or discredit it. One subtle way they (allegedly) do this is to say that a rival treatment is untested (true at least by the methods they accept) whilst going out if their way to stop it being tested. Commercial rivalry.

I don't claim that Burzynski is excluded from this problem. He wants to (or needs to) benefit from patents on his treatment and with the current system who can blame him?

Only a purely objective, scientific study of the effectiveness of a treatment per unit of physical resource is saisfactory.With £/$ in the equation, even if this is possible, how can we ever be sure that £/$ is not distorting the science?