Your taxpayer rupees paid for this

I’m still in India, Calcutta to be precise, one of the best cities in the country for many varied reasons.

Newspaper subscribers in the city were greeted by this paid front page on one of their main broadsheets (if you’re not familiar with Indian numerical terms, 1 lakh = 100,000, 1 crore = 10,000,000);

I’m not going to poke fun at the Indian version of English deployed within the infomercial, there’s more speakers of the language here than in any other country so it’s as much their language as ours after all.

I will, however, examine the insidious way the reader is encouraged towards gratitude for the efforts of a certain publicity-shy state minister over the last couple of years in his job of spending their money.

Picking out a few example statements;

Free Power to Agriculture“; someone is paying for it, just not the farmers.

Telangana exceeds national per capita consumption“; is that a good thing? Interesting difference between India and a western country where the former might see increased usage as a key metric of modernisation. In the west, we’d just feel bad about it.

This is the most instructive part though;

One assumes reliable and cheap electricity supply is the requirement most rate/taxpayers would express, not employment, promotions, changes to employment status, etc.?

This is how India differs from most other Anglosphere countries however.

India is an amazing country. Firstly, it never should have been a country in the first place; the British conquered, bribed or annexed a lot of disparate kingdoms (none of which were anything close to a democracy) into what then became lumped together and known as “India”. The mutiny in 1857 is now referred to in India as the First War of Independence, but in reality, it was no such thing, if the British had lost there would have been an inter-regnum which would have seen various Maharajas competing for top dog status, the population wouldn’t have been consulted or considered. The Partition of 1947 was a disaster that was perhaps waiting to happen as a consequence of this unnatural joining of many different kingdoms.

India is amazing also because it is simultaneously the epitome of a capitalist economy and also a centrally-planned state. You’re probably wondering why and how this can be.

The vast majority of transactions,  95% in fact, in India are cash. As a consequence it’s hard to get a breakdown of the values but one could reasonably assume most of the volume is below US $10 in value. The important point is that the Government doesn’t have much opportunity to be involved in these transactions. This is why a paper cup of masala chai still costs roughly what it did 20 years ago (10 rupees), a shave at a barbers’ still costs about 60 rupees and an autorickshaw journey of a few kilometres is still less than 100 rupees. The input costs are the major factor in the price, not the government overheads, and these have remained flat or reduced over time.

On the macro level, however, the taxes paid in a country of a billion or more people still total a very large number. As with politicians the world over, this money is then diverted to pork-barrel projects that buy short term votes; dams, electricity distribution projects, highways, border skirmishes with Pakistan, etc.. However, because of the 95% cash transaction issue, the politicians usually steer well-clear of the full Communist central planning drive for utopia as it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain that the oppressive infrastructure just isn’t in place to enforce it. It’s a nice halfway house really; the politicians can get comfortably wealthy through the usual methods but are happy enough to let most people simply get on with commerce. And commerce works; the middle class here has grown 20 fold in 25 years.

Bill’s Opinion

One of the main brakes slowing India from becoming a centrally-planned disaster is the inability of a government to intervene in the minutia of the population’s lives. Unmonitored transactions is a key foundation to this freedom.

As the American Founding Fathers and Hayek’s Road to Serfdom warned us, concentrations of power and information in the hands of government officials always leads to abuse. Just because  your guy got voted in and used the additional power in a relatively useful way, there’s no guarantee the next guy will be benign with the increased reach.

It’s for this reason, I hope cash, gold and cryptocurrencies have a long life ahead of them. Imagine a world were every single transaction is tracked electronically and then consider what that information would be worth to a malicious leader.

Oh, and irony of the day; Calcutta isn’t even in the state of Telangana.

You have a faith in something? What if you’re wrong?

Today’s investigation is on location from Varanasi, Benares, or at least three other names the place has been called over the centuries. This is the 2nd last stop during a pleasant holiday visit to India.

The city is built at the point the holy river Ganges pauses its south easterly direction to take a diversion north, making it the most auspicious part of the most auspicious river in India. Bathing here absolves one of sin. Dying here guarantees instant Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth).

In the words of the Daily Express tagline, all human life is here. The tiny backstreets behind the Ghats (steps) down to the river are the Indian equivalent of a Victorian circus freak show with lepers, cripples, the accidentally-maimed (and some deliberate, either self-inflicted or by relatives looking for an income), Hirjas (transsexuals), more wandering cows than one can possibly imagine and all of their subsequent manure, piles of rubbish, human waste and pretty much anything else you can think of.

Most of the Ghats are used for bathing and offerings but several are “burning Ghats” where a constant activity continues to cremate those lucky enough to have died here. Everything is on show, nothing is left to the imagination.

Around 18km north of Benares is the smaller city of Sarnath, location of the Deer Park, where Gautam Buddha first preached to his followers after reaching enlightenment two and a half thousand years ago.

The location is also significant to Jainism, a religion with much in common with Buddhism and of a similar age, as one of their main prophets spent significant time here.

Buddhists from all over the world congregate here in temples built by Nepalese, Tibetan, Thai, Chinese and many other nationalities.

This is a holy place. In addition to to the Indians making their way to the Ghats, many westerners can be seen seeking enlightenment from the gurus. One can tell those seeking spiritual guidance from the tourists by their lack of hygiene and the fact that they dress even more embarrassingly than the overweight Americans in supermarket denim with elasticated waists.

In the main, the hippies are are just playing at this exotic religion thing though; beyond a silly haircut, mildly regrettable tattoo and several months of their life wasted on bhang (marijuana), they can still have a shave and a shower and go home to a corporate job and the comforts of modern life.

There are many more in the world and in history who make much greater commitments to their faith though, from the ascetics who perform bizarre physical feats such as keeping one arm aloft for decades or Simon Stylites sitting on top of a pillar for 37 years, acts of abstinence like vegetarians, celibate priests, teetotal muslims, acts of violence such as the Crusaders or Jihadists or simply routine drudgery like attending an Anglican Communion service every Sunday.

The question in the title stands; what if they are wrong? In addition to the three religions listed in Varanasi above, there are Christian and Muslim populations. Logically, at least four out of these five religions must be completely wrong about most of their dogma.

Back to the question; Seriously? All that effort, all those hours of contemplation and prayer, the money spent on donations for buildings, pilgrimages, tatty plastic icons (manufactured in poor conditions in Chinese factories), votive offerings, the offspring you indoctrinated?

Where’s the tangible evidence that any of it, not even the majority of it, but ANY of it was for a correct and truthful concept? Where’s the evidence that it made even the slightest positive difference (even as a placebo) to the human condition, even if it wasn’t yours?

If you’re reading this and feeling warmly smug and self-righteous about your atheism, let’s ask the question a different way; do you hold any beliefs to be true for which you cannot demonstrate incontrovertible supporting evidence?

Look deep, is there perhaps an underlying belief that, if only we’d implement the correct version of Socialism, abject poverty, corruption and tyranny wouldn’t eventually follow like it has all those countless times before?

Maybe you have no relevant qualifications or domain experience but you firmly believe that the world will warm to catastrophic levels and by simply pulling a lever and halting the economy, humans can prevent it?

Or perhaps somewhere inside your heart there’s a suspicion that the world can’t support any more people, despite the evidence to the contrary that millions upon millions of people are living healthier, longer lives than ever before and we are producing exponentially more food?

Bill’s Opinion

A few years after The Buddha died, Aristotle possibly said, “the life unexamined is not worth living“.

He also was one of the first philosophers to examine what is now known as empiricism, a search for truth by putting great reliance on that which can be observed.

Don’t waste your life, resources or emotion on that which cannot be proven to be correct. A working hypothesis is fine as long as we drop the idea once it has been proved incorrect or unlikely. Kill bad ideas quickly, it’s better to have a question mark than the wrong answer.

Namaste!

Finally; a pop star who’s actually read the job description

Following on from our boredom at Pink and Lorde’s kak-handed attempt at geo-political and social commentary, we have a belated Christmas present;

Taylor Swift refuses to be drawn into commenting on Trump, Charlottesville, climate change, gender choices of bathrooms, the quinoa vs kale debate, copper bracelets for rheumatism, the correct end to open soft boiled eggs, which wine matches duck a l’orange, or Russian hacking and simply concentrated on being a pop star.

Or, an alternate headline in this crazy contemporary version of reality; Taylor Swift faces criticism for saying she enjoyed 2017.

Yep, that sums up 2017 neatly.

Bill’s Opinion

She’s young, blonde, pretty, can presumably hold a tune (let’s give her the benefit of the doubt even though autotune is ubiquitous these days) and is making good coin singing bubblegum songs about shaking something off. Why on earth would anyone look to her for commentary on anything deeper than clothes, lipstick, the actor from the BBC John Le Carré series or songs in the key of G, as if she was this generation’s Gore Vidal or Norman Mailer?

At least she’s smart enough to work out that she will alienate fewer potential customers by keeping her personal opinions to herself rather than taking a position on any of this rubbish.

Very best wishes to her for that.

Doing the Lorde’s work

Whenever we are unsure of the correct stance to take on a complex geopolitical issue, what better oracle of wisdom to consult than a 21 year old pop singer from the civilised world’s most in-bred isolated country?

The New Zealand singer, Lorde (no, I’ve never heard any of her work either) has just cancelled (or “canceleld” in New Zealand Herald Kiwinese) her Tel Aviv concert after a fan tweeted her.

Apparently, Lorde is “learning all the time too”. Hopefully un-abbreviated English will be next on the curriculum;

The Wiki page for her tour was quickly updated, presumably by someone who is against the BDSM movement but not one who can actually spell either, unless the protests really were over lexicology and syntax;

Bill’s Opinion

Israel is the only functioning democracy in the entire Middle East. Every opportunity for the Palestinians to sign an agreement which would have guaranteed a sovereign Palestinian state has been rejected and has then preceded unprovoked terrorist first strikes. For a handy timeline, Ben Shapiro’s recent podcast has a summary here (just after the intro).

The Palestinian authorities prefer to bury their children in the hope that Israel will be destroyed in the future.

Lorde is just the latest weak-willed and weak-minded vacuous pop star to fall victim to the BDSM bullies. Australian Nick Cave (the Poor Man’s Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits) being a notable exception.

She’s in fine company though; only last week the UK government signed a Yemenese motion to criticise Trump’s decision to relocate the USA embassy to Jerusalem, the country’s capital.

Ponder that for a second;

The UK government just decided to sign a pointless UN motion tabled by that country with an exemplary human rights’ record, Yemen and criticise two of its most important allies over a decision that is entirely their business to make.

Wow, Prime Minister Theresa May must be sitting on a huge majority and groundswell of popular support. Oh, hang on.

And lastly, can people please learn how to fucking use English correctly?

How interesting, but what’s the “right” answer?

Article here.

New Gallup research has found that 55% of Americans now say that if they had a new position, and it was up to them to pick a manager, they would have “no preference” in terms of their boss’s gender.

This is a far cry from the first time Gallup posed this question to respondents in 1953. Back then, 66% of Americans wanted to report to a male boss, a tiny 5% favored a female boss, and 25% didn’t mind, either way.

We are not our grandparents and therefore do not have the same socially-nurtured attitudes of our grandparents.

Perhaps this is neither good nor bad, perhaps it just “is”?

The more intriguing question is what do we think the answer will be when we’ve reached the perfect society?

That’s a leading question, of course, it infers that we have all agreed that a perfect society is a possibility and we are moving towards one.

Some might suggest theoretical perfection will have been achieved when 100% of potential employees express no preference as to the gender of their next manager.

But is that desirable or even possible? If not, why not?

Bill’s Opinion

The theoretical point of perfection in this survey is not possible while the human species is dimorphic. The physical differences between men and women are partially-responsible for personality differences.

Males and female differ both physically and psychologically. Sure, there will be outliers, an exceedingly muscular woman or a highly-empathetic man, but on a statistical basis the differences are self-evident. If this statement is incorrect and there is no difference between the sexes, why did we need a woman President of the USA and why do so many corporates operate public 50:50 Women in Leadership policies?

The survey seems pointless. Why not check to see how many people would want a Scottish boss or an alcoholic boss (but I repeat myself) as well?

What if the results never get above, say, 65% of people being happy with female bosses? Would that suggest a fault with “people” or female bosses? Would we be able to have an objective discussion around that, if so?

Pink “speaks” out

It is possible that Pink is simultaneously the least articulate and least self-aware mother alive today.

She also commended a school she had seen for having gender-neutral toilets.

“The bathroom outside the kindergarten said, ‘Gender Neutral – anybody’, and it was a drawing of many different shapes,” she said. “I took a picture of it and wrote, ‘Progress’. I thought that was awesome. I love that kids are having this conversation.”

“And I said to her, ‘Do you see me growing my hair?’ She said, ‘No, Mama.’ I said, ‘Do you see me changing my body?’ ‘No, Mama.’ ‘Do you see me changing the way I present myself to the world?’ ‘No, Mama.’ ‘Do you see me selling out arenas all over the world?’ ‘Yes, Mama.’ ‘Okay! So, baby girl. We don’t change. We take the gravel and the shell and we make a pearl. And we help other people to change so they can see more kinds of beauty.'”

Bill’s Opinion

Kids of five years old aren’t having this conversation, Cultural Marxist adults are and are projecting on to kids.

Why does Pink’s daughter get to be gender neutral while Pink is still “Mama” rather than a gender neutral noun?

Speaking of gender neutral nouns for parents, perhaps we could combine the two traditional names? Here’s some options;

Dummy – “Dad” added to “Mummy”

Mad – “Mum” combined with “Dad”

What if the Bitcoin boom was a conspiracy?

Conspiracy theories are for the birds, never ascribe to mendacity that which can be explained by incompetence, but they can be fun nonetheless.

Bitcoin is currently going through the mania phase of the classic chart of the bubble.

Articles about the cryptocurrency are everywhere on social media and, regardless of whichever Legacy Media ™ newspaper website you view, there will be a daily quotient of about three articles posted.

It’s the new big thing. If you bought some 5 years ago you’re minted, if you didn’t, there’s a thousand opinions on whether there’s still time.

This one, for example, written by the suspiciously 1930’s Film Noir named Spencer Bogart, in which he gives 3 reasons why the Bitcoin valuation is about right.

Strangely, none of his three reasons are “because people are hoping to sell it later for more than they bought it”.

As Warren Buffet may or may not have said, there are only two types of assets, those with an income stream and those that you hope like hell someone will buy off you later for more money.

Of course Bitcoin is a bubble.

The interesting question is not whether it’s a bubble but whether there was any intent or design behind the instigation of the bubble?

Is there a puppeteer pulling the strings or did this come about by the magic of human interaction at a speed never seen before.

Please note, the use of the word “magic” is not meant sarcastically there; humans trading in markets are responsible for wonderful things (you and I being alive and with a better chance of living longer than any of our ancestors, for example). This is a kind of magic.

But is Bitcoin multiplying by 25 times (or whatever it is currently) its value in a year a result of some effort to by an unknown party? If so, who, why, how?

In our investigation of this possible global conspiracy, let’s examine motive; who would most benefit from a bubble in the cryptocurrency?

Anyone holding it, obviously, but also anyone who wished to see it discredited. There are are only two things we know about bubbles; they crash and you can’t predict when. If you wished to discredit Bitcoin, instigating a bubble and the subsequent wringing of hands after the crash might work.

So who doesn’t want this cryptocurrency to work? Well, people invested in other cryptocurrencies and traditional currencies.

Ah, you’ve worked out where this conspiracy theory is going….

What if Central Banks such as the Federal Reserve instigated this bubble to prevent an alternate currency from destroying its stakeholders’ grip on the world’s economy? Would anyone doubt that they would if they could?

How then might this be achieved? Simply by buying the damn thing and watching the price increase!

Bill’s Opinion

The concept and the underpinning technology of Bitcoin seem sound, it’s just that there’s a wave of very basic human emotion riding it currently.

Whether or not there’s a Central Banker’s hand giving the surfboard a helpful shove or not we may never know. It’s not completely beyond the realms of possibility though.

In 2014 the World Bank produces a report with the conclusion that Bitcoin was not a deliberate Ponzi scheme. To misquote the words of the recently deceased Christine Keeler, “well they would say that, wouldn’t they?“.

Mining the deep seams of offence

Being offended is the new sport for all to play so our outrage du jour involves a group of rugby players at university throwing a themed party.

What was the theme of said party?

The Holocaust, with attendees dressing up as camp guards and victims?

Nope.

A slavery party, with some plantation owners and the rest dressed as chained slaves?

Nada.

Perhaps the theme was Hollywood sex scandals with the fat front row forwards dressing up as Harvey Weinstein and the thin backs as nubile actresses about to be violated for the sake of their career?

Try again.

The theme of the massively offensive party was going to be (it was cancelled, obviously) the Miners’ Strike of 1984.

Outrageous, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

Bill’s Opinion

Offence is something we choose to take. Similarly, if the theme of a party you aren’t even invited to upsets you, why not simply ignore it and certainly don’t bother gatecrashing it.

Of course, if you really must find offence in things that are none of your business, perhaps a party to celebrate the death of Lady Thatcher thrown by a mining community might be of interest to you.

Is there a flaw in our hopes for Artificial Intelligence?

We’re only scratching the surface of discovering what the art of the possible is with automation and robotics but the hype bandwagon is already far ahead of us and is making huge promises about the capability of “machine learning” and artificial intelligence.

As exciting as this might be, I wonder if we’re missing an important flaw in our thinking?

To explain why artificial intelligence might not be quite the panacea that technology commentators would have us believe, perhaps it’s useful to look at the development of human intelligence?

Humans demonstrate behaviour which suggests that we have the largest quotient of intelligence of any other species. Pinning down exactly what constitutes “intelligence” is not easy but, for the sake of this argument, let’s use the IQ tests which have been in the public domain for about a century, based on pattern recognition and prediction.

The average scores for IQ have been steadily increasing across most populations with few exceptions (hello North Korea!) for years. How much more intelligent is the 2017 AD model human compared with the 2017 BCE version and how much of the difference can be explained by nutrition and environment? Impossible to say but, based on our modern measurements of IQ, there would be difference.

Why did humans develop and are continuing to increase intelligence, what’s the evolutionary advantage? Put simply, the ability to observe and problem solve quite often trumps brute strength, speed, agility or other physical attributes. The knowledge of how to craft and throw a spear beats the deer’s ability to run faster than the spear-chucker.

Intelligence has increased in increments under the critical eye of evolution. Where an improvement in cognitive ability has resulted in an advantage to the genes of the owner, the improvement has been passed on to the next generation.

What does the development of human intelligence tell us about the prospects for artificial intelligence?

Intelligence has increased as a result of rewarding success and punishing failure across billions of individuals and millions of generations. How is that model recreated and fast-tracked for computer-based intelligence?

Sure, we can code certain obvious “guide rails” within which the programme can operate and learn, but how and where to define those parameters is still a human decision. There will be limits to how the artificial intelligence can develop and grow.

Natural intelligence, on the other hand, has developed within a massive laboratory over millions of generations. Unless we can set off similar numbers of individual software programmes over an equivalent number of procreating generations, the outcome will be severely limited by human imagination.

It is plausible that we might initiate a vast number of self-learning programmes in a vast array of computers but the guiding principles will still be set, and therefore limited, by humans. Meanwhile, human intelligence had only one guiding principle; to give the host organism enough of an advantage to reproduce.

Bill’s Opinion

Artificial intelligence is, by design, is never going to be equivalent to human intelligence unless it is given the same goal and operating parameters and there seems to be no real point to doing that other than intellectual curiosity.

The pleasure, the privilege is mine

A video appeared on my Creepbook for Business feed today.

The first few seconds should be a good predictor of what’s to come, if your time is precious and you don’t want to completely ruin your blood pressure;

Put simply, if you had a sub-optimal start in life, you’re going to find yourself further away from the finish line and the lesson we should take from this is that this situation is unfair. The inference being that those of us who didn’t have such a sub-optimal start to life should accept that we have “privilege” and, presumably, hamstring ourselves to give others a fairer chance at the race of life.

Yes folks, this is what the CEO of BNP Paribas Sercurity Services India truly thinks. Now might be a good moment to check your pension funds to ensure no exposure to BNP’s stock.

As a very simple analogy, this video seems to illustrate a point we can all resonate with, as long as we don’t think too deeply about the subject. A little further contemplation brings up some uncomfortable questions though, such as;

  • Given we all have a different stating point, what would be the fairest mechanism to compensate for the differences and using what scientific or mathematical method?
  • Does this method factor in local differences? For example, the child of a displaced white farmer in Zimbabwe will presumably have to have some compensating actions to equalise their outcomes in relation to a relative of Robert Mugabe.
  • What’s the hierarchy of privilege, which restrictive component of our past and present trumps all others? Is one ethnicity more restrictive than another, if someone had diabetes plus an under-privileged ethnic background are they more or less privileged than a transgender person? Is there a handy matrix of relative victimhood we can refer to?
  • What role do genes play in the statistical probability of our relative success in life and, as a consequence, how do our informed choices affect us when we know the importance of certain genes? For example, if I know I have a family history of diabetes, how much can I mitigate the potential impact of the disease by making sensible dietary choices?

Bill’s Opinion

If there isn’t an objective mechanism for calculating the relevant impact of victimhood, we’ve just replaced one set of bias with another.

Depending on which twins study you reference, genetic differences can account for at least 50% of the differences in success across individuals.

Even if we could calculate the relative impacts of nurture, ethnicity, genes or a thousand other factors involved in our lives, it is surely counter-productive to society and humankind as a whole to use this knowledge to hamstring those not similarly impacted.

The modern game of trying to compete for “biggest victim” status (sometimes referred to as “intersectionality”) is massively-damaging to those in its targets.

Rather than encouraging a sense of victimhood, we should be showing examples of how people overcame disadvantage to thrive. It is highly unlikely that any of those examples will involve constant resentment of those better off.