peterbirks: (Default)
 So May has clearly gone way beyond Miliband-lite in terms of economics and fiscal policy, way left of Blair and Miliband.
Have Corbyn and Ronald McDonnell succeeded in shifting the economic agenda towards interventionism in the same way that UKIP and the right of the Conservative Party have succeeded in shifting the social agenda towards protectionism?
Not really. I think that interventionism and protectionism (of which nationalism is merely an extreme example at the individual level) go hand in hand. The world is shifting away from the orthodox economic line of Reagan and Thatcher that "the markets know best" because, quite clearly, the markets have been shown to be wanting.
Since labour is a form of capital, free markets love free movement of labour. It reduces one capital expense. They hate interventionism because it stops the inevitable upward flow of wealth in an uncontrolled economy (as evidenced by the change in relative incomes between "ordinary" employees and the top 5% of earners since 1975).
The "let the markets do their job" advocates are really a busted flush because they assumed that making "ordinary" people better off in absolute terms (because of advances in technology) would make them happier. If they had looked at their own lives they would have realized that it wasn't the money that mattered so much as having more money than your rival.
We are entering an interventionist age (in Britain, marked by May's namecheck of Clement Attlee, support for workers on boards) and with interventionism will come protectionism. With protectionism will come nationalism and with nationalism will come restrictions on movement of labour.
That is how the apparent paradox of May appearing to shift to the left and to the right simultaneously resolves itself. They are both part of the same shift; we just choose to give them different labels.
peterbirks: (Default)
 Chronic pain is a strange thing. If I ever wondered why people went quiet during periods of sustained illness, well, I don't now. It's not a matter of wanting to be alone; it's just a matter of pain being so much to the forefront of your mind that you can't really be bothered with much else. 

As many of you know, because I have no compunction sharing stuff like this (bugger this stiff upper lip, crap), I've been suffering shoulder pain for just over three months now. So I reckon that qualifies as "chronic". It's nothing compared with the pain that many people suffer. Some (such as Prince) effectively die as a result of chronic pain. However, it's irritating because diagnosis is proving elusive, and that means prognosis is difficult. Also the pain is of varying types (skeletal, muscular; throbbing, dull ache) and is occasionally acute, because my shoulder also suffers restricted movement, and if I make the mistake of going beyond that range, I'm in agony for a few minutes.

But that's by the by. I'm not dead and I don't think I am dying.  What I have changed is my prorities. Basically I just pray for a reasonable night's sleep. Sometimes I wake up once (about 3am), and I need to roll around on the foam roller for about 15 minutes. For the rest of the time the sleeps is reasonable. That qualifies as a great night. The bad nights are disturbed sleep for about 90 minutes, have to get up, an hour of foam rollers etc etc, back to bed, awake again 90 minutes later. Eventually I get up in the morning feeling worse than when I went to bed the night before.

It doesn't make the nights much to look forward to. But (and I guess this is the point) it all goes to prove what we all secretly know anyway -- that happiness is relative. Those decent night's sleep when I wake up feeling refreshed and (for a while) almost pain-free, leave me almost ecstatic with joy. I'm the happiest man alive, I feel. And the bad times? Well, occasional feelings of despair, but they are only brief. I just tell myself that tomorrow might be better and that I am strong enough to get through this. It's a battle I am playing with pain, with "playing" being the operative word. I see no reason to let the bloody thing defeat me, even if it might make me less than 100%.

I've been referred to the muscular-skeletal department at Lewisham Hospital, and am awaiting an appointment. All the treatment that I have had thus far seems to have had random effects -- sometimes temporary relief (a few hours). I suspect any of the other changes have been independent of the osteopath and physiotherapist.

My hunch is that it's a combination of things in the GH and the AC shoulder joints -- arthritis, capsulitis, a torn rotator-cuff, whatever -- which is serving to make a diagnosis difficult because it isn't a single problem. Arthritis in the AC makes sense because of the weight training. Capsulitis in the GH is not that uncommon for people my age. This leads to inflammation, grinding, all the different kinds of pain, all of which can "come and go". I'm kind of hoping that an x-ray and a scan will at least help them define what the problem is. It's not so much a paucity of possible treatments as a plethora of them, with somethings working for some people and some things making it worse. Without an accurate diagnosis it really is punting in the dark.

Oh well, tonight is another night and tomorrow is another day.

peterbirks: (Default)
 The Food Programme on R4 at lunchtime was an interesting "single issue" take on the referendum with, I thought, a balanced look at the pros and cons.
One thing that struck me was that English farmers clearly depend on cheap east European labour. While the "establishment" warned that prices would rise, the Brexiteer made (I thought) the valid point that it was only economic to grow stuff like turnips and wheat because of cheap labour. It would be better for us to import it (he said) and focus on "added value" or "high margin" products.
The irony of this of course (this referendum is full of ironies) is that the guy on the Remain side was effectively arguing the importance of self-sufficiency in food (the "little Englander" approach) while the Brexiteer was arguing the benefits of global trade, and that "self-sufficiency" in food was an attitude that belonged to the second World War.
Although most farmers (understandably) were keen to remain, the programme fairly interviewed minority groups such as Scottish fishermen, who were elated at the prospect of departing. It also looked at the case of New Zealand, where subsidies disappeared overnight a few decades ago, causing dislocation and a refocusing away from sheep towards beef. But the net result was (eventually) positive.
That is the second obvious irony of the referendum is that those most likely to gain from Brexit are the British young (but they can't see it) while those most likely to lose are the old (and they certainly can't see it).
Already we've seen Carney say that the BoE will likely pump money into the economy (more QE), and cut interest rates. Osborne has effectively scrapped austerity economics. And now Ros Altman (pensions minister) has said that companies will not be pressured too hard to plug pensions gaps in the near future.
These statements, relatively unsurprising (I'd predicted three of them, and the fourth hadn't occurred to me) were what made many of the predictions of independent experts -- much cited by Remainers -- ludicrous; the scenarios made no allowance for government or BoE intervention.
peterbirks: (Default)
 I have found this referendum vote the hardest electoral decision in my life. My route to my eventual decision will not be so much an issue-related discussion as a philosophical one.

 

My feelings:

I love Europe

I am a free-trader

I am an economic liberal in the Gladstonian sense

I am a social liberal

I consider small companies to be the dynamic lifeblood of an economy

I consider large companies, in the main, to be position defenders that have nothing to do with free enterprise.

Regulation, as a default, is a bad idea. It is not always bad, but a strong case needs to be made for it.

Decisions made by committees are usually slow and more often than not wrong. If half the committee want to go in one direction and the other half want to go in another, "staying where you are" is not a compromise – it is a worse decision than the other two. Fudges eventually lead to a bigger disaster down the road.

 

Who I am

I am old

I am in London

I am probably a net beneficiary of being in the EU

 

The difficulties

1) This is a vote where the reason why you vote the way you vote can differ from the ostensible reason on the ballot box

2) This is a vote where people disagree on (a) what the vote is about (b) the permanence of any such decision and (c) the significance of such a decision.

 

What this means is that, even if I laid out my complete political, social, economic and personal positions, people on both sides would claim that the reasons I give are reasons why I should vote on "their" side. Now, you don't tend to get this in ordinary politics. If I said that I thought the economy was constructed to exploit the working class, that would hardly be pounced on by the conservatives as a reason to vote for them. Alternatively, if I said that the NHS was an inefficient bureaufuck that is only liked by people because it did a lot of good for their gran or prematurely born kid, or because it pays their wages, that would hardly be seized upon by Labour as a good reason to vote for them.

 

I began this campaign with the statement that I would probably end up voting "Remain", but with a heavy heart. Over the following 10 weeks the arrogance of the Remain side and their choice of campaign ground led me to shift my ground dramatically. A week or so ago I would perhaps have put the likelihood of me voting Leave at around 80%.

What put me off?

Smugness;

Mutual back-slapping humour that Remainers thought was an attempt to persuade the undecided but which was in fact just a way to make them feel even cleverer and more superior than they felt before, which led to ….

More smugness

A refusal to engage on genuine issues, resorting instead to "independent" analyses from interest groups that all benefit from EU membership.

Assertions that all Leavers were racists, Little Englanders, xenophobes, or, well, let's face it, not as intelligent as we Remainers are"

A refusal or inability to understand genuine concerns among people who liked Europe, liked immigrants, but disliked Brussels.

 

 

Perhaps shrewdly, the Remain camp seem in most cases to have realized that their mockery, smugness and sense of moral superiority was perhaps not the best way to persuade people on the fence such as myself. I seemed to see arguments which consisted mainly of two lines:

(a) the EU benefits the writer

(b) Everyone who is on the Leave side is a racist, a Little Englander and/or looking to return to a mythical 1950s.

 

Contrariwise, I began to read a significant number of rational, well-thought, arguments on the Leave side which reflected how I felt – that the EU was an out-of-date, impractical, over-large, over-bureaucratic, protectionist club that worked in favour of

a) employees of large organizations

b) senior executives in large organizations

c) politicians

d) research fellows

e) anyone who lives in Brussels

 

It worked to the detriment of

(a) small businesses, with insanities such as the working hours directive meaning that, if work had to get done, the net result was that people worked the extra hours anyway, but could not officially be paid for it.

(b) farmers in emerging markets outside of the EU

(c ) companies that could have developed trade with countries outside of the EU, but were never able to because the EU system of trade discouraged such development

(d) the young in Spain, the young in France, employees of small companies, the unemployed young.

 

As Mervyn King observed, it's possible that this vote is not as significant as we like to think. After all, come 2025, even if Leave wins:

But, let's look at what will not change:

We will still be in the European Economic Area or WTO

We will still be in NATO (and France won't).

We will still be in the UN, G8 and G20

We will still be in Europe.

We will still deal with Interpol and Europol

Travel to Europe will be as easy as it was before.

Human rights legislation will not vanish. The EU Convention and European Court of Human Rights are not part of the EU. Until parliament passes a new bill of rights for the UK, these will still apply, as will precedents already passed down to UK courts from Brussels.

We will not eject people from the UK. Under the Luxembourg compromise all those already in the UK are legally entitled to remain.

The NHS will not collapse. Indeed it could become easier to find qualified staff from non-EU countries.

 

So, as you say, with so much NOT changing, why are both sides making such a fuss?

For some, the belief is that the EU took seriously wrong turns when

(a) it renamed itself the EU, thus setting down a "mission statement" for what it thought the former EEC was really about

(b) it tried a back-to-front economically insane system of "single currency, separate treasuries", with results that we can now see (and which, by the way, many of the current Remainers singularly failed to predict).

(c) it decided to expand from a relatively homogeneous western European system to one that welcomed the ex-members of the Soviet bloc -- more for political reasons than economic common sense.

 

One thing that is beginning to seem plain to me is that Europeans living in Britain (and those born in Britain who now live in Europe)  are far more vehement Remainers than most others. In a way that is unsurprising; their pro-Europe instincts would lead them to be so. But their view must also be considered tainted for just this reason. Disinterested, they are not.

 

However, in Europe as a whole the enthusiasm for the project is falling. Only a small majority of voters in the EU look on it favourably (Pew Research Centre).

It is not a fanciful concept to say that, because the solidity of the EU as a concept (with or without Britain) is weakening, the EU at the moment needs Britain rather more than Britain needs the EU. Should Brexit win, it is not fanciful to see the Schengen agreement fall apart, the euro gradually disintegrate into first two currencies (hard euro and soft euro), then three, and then into a situation where it's like the Norwegian, Danish and Swedish kroners – a currency that shares a name but which is effectively a different currency. Either new notes will be printed or a grey market will develop with different currency ratios from the centrally dictated 1:1

Little wonder therefore that the concern on the matter is so great on the European mainland.

 

I see the EU as a sclerotic crony-capitalist system which favours big companies and big government -- discouraging small entrepreneurs by creating high barriers to entry. That has led to an economic bloc with a growth rate abysmally below most of the rest of the world, and an unemployment rate amongst those aged 18-25 that it should be ashamed of. It protects jobs that exists (but which gradually disappear anyway) and discourages capital providers from creating new ones.

 

This lack of dynamism is endemic to the EU. A new Europe of entrepreneurship could give young people the futures they deserve. This EU can only give the gerontocracy and employees of large/public corporations the wealth that they don't deserve.

 

So, I found myself leaning more and more to support the Leave. Every post I saw on Facebook or Twitter urging Remain was pushing me further towards voting Leave.

 

Now, although there is an irrational side to this response – I was reacting to the smug middle-class liberal certainty of, quite often, youth – there was also a rational side. What I desperately wanted was rational discourse that would persuade me of the benefit of voting "Remain", not single-line bollocks about how anyone who voted Leave was an idiot and, probably, a racist.

 

The philosophical dilemma

I knew that most of those who would be voting for "Leave" would be doing so for reasons which I did not like. My dislike of the EU is that it is not internationalist enough, that it is protectionist and corrupt at its heart, that it is "crony capitalism".  Well, that's all very well, but if most of the people voting to leave are doing so because they want fewer Johnny Foreigners on their streets, my own vote for Leave would be unlikely to achieve the objectives I desire.

In other words, I had to ask myself whether the best way for me to achieve what I wanted might be, paradoxically, to support temporarily the system that I thought would eventually fail.

So, the philosophical question of "can I vote for a side where I disagree profoundly with the views of most of those voting the same way" leads to the practical question "can I vote in a way which might be less likely to lead to the outcome I desire than voting the other way?"

 

Let me be clear – I consider the current EU to be rotten to the core – its claims of democracy to be a sham, and its real rulers to be behind-the-scenes businessmen and politicians working along the lines of the Democratic and Republican parties in the US between the world wars. Many Remainers will disagree with my conclusion here, but that is by the by. I think the people really running Europe are corrupt. Just look at the pension arrangements of the Kinnocks (final salary schemes into six figures, paid for by the taxpayer) and the quality of the hotels that EU insiders stay in when they visit other cities. Say what you like about my mate Simon Billenness and his focus on international problems rather than ones nearer to home – at least he stays with local people and works on a restricted budget. You won't see many MEPs doing that.

 

Without heading into detailed practicalities on the case of issues, my eventual conclusion was that, for me, voting to Leave was the "right" thing to do, while voting to Remain was the "sensible" thing to do.  Simultaneously, I felt that voting Leave was the "brave" thing to do, while voting Remain was "cowardly".

 

As I said at the beginning. I would benefit from the stability likely to emerge in the short term from a Remain vote. I don't have 60 years of life ahead of me. For once I agree with Jeremy Hardy – a vote that is for "forever" rather than for five years, should mean that a young person's vote should counts for more than an old person's.

 

Large companies, financial services, passporting (it's a technical financial services thing) would all get blasted to the skies if we left (well, perhaps not, but the extra work over the next few years would make a big dent in the profits of many large companies). My equities holdings would take a bashing. Probably 95% of my wealth is in sterling, which would weaken. Property prices in London would fall.  All of these would work to my disfavour.

But that doesn't make voting Remain "right". For the good of the country, property prices SHOULD fall. Equites ARE overvalued relative to gilts, precisely because the sclerotic nature of the EU is condemning us to a decade or more of Japanese-style semi-deflation. But that's the side my bread is buttered.

 

An argument for Leave that I have seen put forward is that if we had never taken risks, well we would still be living in caves. And this is true.

However, it misses the point that in all likelihood 95% of the initial explorers who tried to not live in caves died from starvation, or animal attack, or whatever. The 5% that survived did much better than those who stayed in the caves, but the majority of the adventurers died. For the individual, the marginal gain from taking the risk might not be worthwhile, even though it would be for the overall good of the species.

 

In the past week it appears that Cameron and some others have realized that I am not alone in my demographc, that there are a number of rational people who love Europe, but hate the EU and those who work within it.

If one person "changed my mind" I would say it was Tristan McDonald – he made (for me) the key point that voting leave now is a bit like immediately leading out the ace of trumps in a bridge contract. It will win the trick, but it might not be the best strategy. And, although this is the last "referendum" (at least, I hope it is) it is not the last chance for leaving. That option will not go away. Since I oppose referendums, I could say to myself that a "Remain" vote (being for the status quo) also includes the opinion "I don't think the people should have the right to decide".

 

Also, Moneyweek makes the valid point, with which I think I agree. This is that the "Leave" vote in this situation really should require more than a simple majority of voters. It is, effectively, a constitutional change, so perhaps either a 60% majority or a simple majority of the total electorate should be required (or voting should be mandatory). Since I know that there is no hope of this larger majority being achieved, I can vote "tactically" to help the Remain side over 50% of those who vote.

 

 

And, thus, with a heavy heart, I was back where I started, voting Remain. I disagree with nearly all of the campaign stances on the Remain side, and with most of those on the Leave side (although at the top end, the Leave side has put forward a far more rational and sustainable argument)

 

So, there I stand, a person who is a "sensible coward", intending to vote for a muddied compromise. I wish I were a brave idealist prepared to vote for something which I believe in, but which I don't think my vote would achieve. Over the past three months I have come to dislike most of the campaigners on both sides, with the appeals to me from the "sensible arm" Brexit side having more emotional resonance than those from the "sensible side" of Remain.

 

This has been helped, partly, by the fact that the sensible side of Brexit has already won. The change in tone from the Remain camp; the admission that work needed to be done. Sure, Remainers might say "but that was always the case", but they weren't shouting about it until there seemed to be a very real threat that they would lose. The EU, and the British governments that follow Thursday's vote, have been put on notice that membership of the EU is not the "given" that they thought. Eurosceptics in other parts of Europe have been encouraged; even the most dogmatic and narrow-minder of the Germans have started to realize that they cannot create reality by changing an EU regulation. I am not an evangelist over this vote and I have come to like less those who are (on either side). It's a complex nuanced question forced unnecessarily on the British public,  demanding a blunt yes or no simple answer that both sides will misinterpret.

Not only that, we cannot know the full implications of either yes or no. Anyone who thinks that, in the face of these difficulties, that the answer is simple, has a different take on the EU from mine.

 

peterbirks: (Default)

 I have long been fascinated by opinion polls -- indeed, by statistics in general. That I am hopeless at the mathematical side of statistics just adds to my fascination.
Opinion polls seek to guess how people in their millions will act on the basis of relatively small samples. It was immediately obvious that just asking 1,000 people at random in the street would be at risk of generating an erroneous response (although the degree of that likely erroneousness is possibly less than many would think).
Pollsters realized that a good way to increase the accuracy would be to ensure that the sample of 1,000 people reflected as much as possible the population as a whole - age distribution, sex distribution, and so on.
This, however, leads to another problem. Over the years it was discovered that, shock, horror, what people said was not always the same as what they did. Even more concerning, what people really believed was often different from what they did (the famous female claimed belief in what attracts them to a sexual partner/life partner differs drastically from empirical evidence of whom women actually choose). The ways in which questions were phrased also had a significant impact on the response.
Clearly, opinion polling was something of a nightmare. And, given the misperformance of the pollsters leading up to the last general election in the UK, the pollsters still haven't got it right.
So, what is it that they are getting wrong?
The two major problems are the aforementioned "tendency to deceive" (people respond with what they think they ought to say, rather than what they really feel) -- a factor that has been a curse for the intellectual left-wing for decades. These days they flood Twitter and Facebook, demonstrate to their own satisfaction that the argument has been won, and wake up the day after voting to have been told "fuck off". The secret ballot allows visceral emotions to come into play. A person might not vote for a candidate because he or she doesn't like the fact that the candidate is fat. But no respondent to an opinion poll is likely to say that, and no online social media campaign is going to mention "the elephant in the room" if a candidate is 25 stone-plus and female.
The second problem is more complex -- one that is only just coming to be fully appreciated. That is, how do you decide what is a "representative" sample?
In the early days of polling, the techniques were primitive - mainly age and sex. This came most unstuck in 1948 in the US, when a telephone poll predicted that Harry Truman would lose. As seems obvious now, the key was in the phrase "telephone poll". With a market penetration still under 50%, people with a telephone were markedly more likely to be better off, and, therefore, Republican voters.
So, clearly we have to add "income" to our representative mix. In fact, what pollsters need to do is to add any variation in the make-up of the general population that is positively correlated with the way that people are likely to vote.
You can see the problem here. This in itself is something of a judgment call. As it is a sample, the pollsters must by definition filter out "irrelevancies". The problem appears to be that in a dynamic society, some things that used to be relevant have ceased to be so, while other things which did not use to be important, now are.
With the referendum, where "all bets are off" when it comes to traditional party politics, the problem is multiplied. What on earth is "relevant" when it comes to picking a true representative sample, when the split is not along traditional party lines? Also, there appear to be significantly more "elephants in the room" -- things which neither side are prepared to mention, but which could be significant factors when it comes to voting. That in turn feeds back to a higher likelihood of a "propensity to deceive" and a greater danger that the phrasing of the poll question will distort the result from reality.
I'd quite like to see some sample results from randomly asking 200 people each in, say, five streets in England. I suspect that the numbers obtained would not be a long way different from the carefully calculated "representative samples".
In poker I have long argued that you can learn more from small samples than you think. The conventional wisdom in poker is that you can't learn anything from, say, a player's actions over five hands. I argued, way back in the early 2000s, that if this was all that you had to work with, ignoring it was stupid, just because there was a higher probability that the answer you obtained would be wrong. Sure, with five hands the standard deviation is many times higher than it would be on a sample of 50, 500 and 5,000. But it is not TEN times higher than the sample of 50 - it's closer to three. It is not a thousand times higher than a sample of 5,000 -- it's closer to 80.
Sure, the conclusion you reach if the player raises four times and folds once in his or her first five hands might be erroneous. But the probability that this player is loose-aggressive is still significantly higher than it was when you had a sample size of zero.
In other words, completely random samples (and I mean virtually completely -- no self-selection on the basis of sex and age and only a minor one on grounds of geography) might have their place. And they have one plus -- they are much easier, quicker and cheaper to compile.

Peter Kellner, in his blog, referred to an interesting statistc -- that being the percentage of people who see Brexit as a "risk" compared with Remain as "safe". The rough percentage appears to be that 10pp more people see Brexit as the "risk option".
This offers an interesting left-field take on the referendum. It means that 10pp of the "Remain is safer" believers, or 5% of voters, would need to think that Brexit was "a risk worth taking", to make Brexit the likely winner. The remaining voters would be committed to Brexit or Remain either way. That 1-in-20 number strikes me as uncomfortable reading for Brexiters. Look at the general population's attitude to risk-taking on a major level. Nearly all of it is about risk-avoidance. Indeed, the huge risks that they do take are usually ones that they take unwillingly and, not infrequently, without the knowledge that they are taking the risk (see 40-year mortgages, Equitable Life, negative equity in the early 1990s). When a risk is known and perceived, and conceived to be significant, people usually plump for safety.
From that point of view, the Remainers' best argument could well be the one that they are uncomfortable to make -- that, even if being in the EU is shit, the equivalent of an abusive relationship -- even if this is the case -- we are now so inextricably tied into the EU that the risk of leaving is too great. That, no matter how bad it is, leaving would be too big a risk.
This is what I mean by "the elephant in the room". It's probably Remainers' strongest argument, but it is one that no Remainer is willing to accept exists (or, if they are, willing to campaign on it).

peterbirks: (Default)
I see from a BBC article today that there has been a "dramatic" fall in the prescription of antibiotics by general practitioners (GPs). I make it about 8%, which I guess could be described as "dramatic". One can only be certain when one knows the circumstances of each doctor's decision.
However, it did get me wondering.

As the article states: 

"The government has offered a financial incentive to get GPs to cut down on their prescribing.
Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) get a Quality Premium payment if family doctors hit the target.Reducing unnecessary prescribing saves the NHS money in drug costs.
The figures show GPs have overshot the targets."

Now, it seems plain to me that doctors would not, if functioning as proper doctors, prescribe antibiotics if they knew that they would do no good (let's ignore the placebo potential here).
But if there is a 50:50 chance that the antibiotics will do some good, I presume that a doctor would feel obliged by a duty of care to prescribe the antibiotics. So, where, roughly, do we have to get to in the probability arena for the doctor to decline to prescribe antibiotics -- to put the general good above the individual good?

And this is the paradox. Theoretically (I would have thought) the doctor always has to put the individual good first, but clearly in practice this is not the case.
The Department of Health's Standing Medical Advisory Committee rather ducked the issue in the early 2000s, recommending that doctors not prescribe antibiotics over the phone, for sore throats ("most" of which were viral) and for "simple" colds and 'flu (nearly all of which were viral). Effectively they were saying "don't prescribe antibiotics as a first resort".

The Nursing Times observed in January 2004 that

 "There will always be a dilemma for prescribers in deciding whether promoting the interests of individual patients outweighs the legitimate public health concerns regarding resistance. "

but failed to address how the dilemma could be resolved.

Ars Technica in December 2015 seemed to me to completely miss what the dilemma was. It wrote

"Yet doctors face a daily dilemma: to be good doctors, they must only prescribe antibiotics when the drugs are needed. But to make patients think they’re good doctors, they must hand out antibiotics freely—at least according to a new nationwide healthcare survey in England."

I don't think that this is the dilemma at all.
Geoffrey Scott May, in "Handbook Essentials Antibiotics", addresses the paradox (p2) when he writes.

"Rarely, an experienced doctor will withhold antibiotics because he thinks a patient has a virus infection, but the patient later dies from meningitis. This is an unanswerable paradox."

The paradox is only unanswerable because organizations such as the SMAC refuse to assign numbers to the problem. Because of this their advice has to be vague. But it's interesting that financial incentives are having an effect.

That leads me to think that there is a possible way to defeat the "overshoot" in NHS budgets (they will ALWAYS overshoot, because individual departments will always ensure that they spend 100% of their budget as a minimum, to avoid certain cuts the following year. Meanwhile, some departments will be unable to keep to 100% of their budget -- thus leading to an overall overshoot).

Put simply, offer either individuals or groups a personal financial incentive to come in 10% under budget. For year one it could be 50% of the undershoot, with a promise that they overall budget for that department will not be reduced by more than 10% of the undershoot.
 

peterbirks: (Default)
 With "Hail Caesar" about to be released, Mark Kermode has come up with his top five Coen Brothers films. They were:
5: Miller's Crossing
4: No Country For Old Men
3: Blood Simple
2: Barton Fink
1: Fargo

Films that missed out (in order of predicted disagreement)
The Big Lebowski
A Serious Man
Inside Llewyn Davis
Raising Arizona
The Hudsucker Proxy
O Brother Where Art Thou

I think I would agree with three of Kermode's top five (but not in the same order. NCFOM and Blood Simple I would leave out simply because I think that A Serious Man is horribly underrated, and that Inside Llewyn Davis has Carey Mulligan.
NCFOM has magnificent cinematography and a superb performance from Javer Bardem, but I think it's narrative is a bit weak.
So my top five is:
5: Inside Llewyn Davis
4: A Serious Man
3: Barton Fink
2: Fargo
1: Miller's Crossing

Spotlight

Mar. 2nd, 2016 11:59 pm
peterbirks: (Default)

 It was something of a delight to see that Spotlight had won the Oscar for best picture. This was because I have for quite a while been singing the praises of director Tom McCarthy based on the two of his films (after tonight, three) that I have seen.

Those were Win Win, starring Paul Giamatti, and McCarthy's debut, the absolutely magnificent The Station Agent.

Tonight I watched The Visitor, starring Richard Jenkins, and once again I was struck that McCarthy has a rare director's talent - as with Wes Anderson, no matter what the topic of the movie, there is something indefinably Tom McCarthy about it. Perhaps it's the degree of understatement; or his refusal to pander to stereotypes. 

The Visitor is about a late middle-aged academic suffering from ennui; he hasn't written anything original or taught anything original, indeed, thought anything original, for years. He is forced to head back to New York from Connecticut when the co-author (for which, read, real author - the Jenkins character merely put his name to it to give it gravitas) of a paper goes sick, so Jenkins has to go to a conference to present it.
Turning up at his apartment in New York (academics in the US are clearly better paid than they are in the UK) he finds a couple living there. They have been scammed by a fake landlord.
Jenkins lets the couple stay, and gradually comes alive again. 
But then the husband is picked up by police for jumping a ticket barrier (he didn't) and is discovered to be an "illegal". Jenkins is thrust into an underworld of New York that he has never before seen.
As the critics observed, it would be easy for a director to fall into sentimentality and stereotypical liberal masochism. But somehow he avoids it. In a way, a sad film is uplifting, perhaps because Jenkins is, in a very small way, redeemed. One man, at least, was saved.

Win Win, starring Giamatti, covers somewhat similar psychological ground, but the subject matter is completely different. But the key to the success is that McCarthy somehow gives the viewer hope. Even in a shit world, with imperfect people who sometimes do dishonest things, there is an undercurrent of decency. Through it all, keep the faith, and make the best of the small pluses.
 
Oh, and small minor factoid. McCarthy has also been an actor, and he played the ambitious journalist Scott Templeton in the final series of The Wire - the guy who ends up winning a Pulitzer for a story that was, at base, a fake.

peterbirks: (Default)
     Pew Research reports that in the US it's become a land of alien tribes.
The downside of the splinterization of information provision is that:

"They can't stand the other side's viewpoint - and because hyper-partisan news and social media enables them to live in ideological isolation - they don't even have to try to understand it."

It's going to go the same way in the UK. Most partisan people I know gravitate towards social media friends who think the same way and media outlets that reinforce their own point of view. There will be no dialogue and no compromise, because it will be easy to find posts which make you think that your own view is the "norm". Everyone you work with will be within your political spectrum; you will never meet those on the other side and they will become cartoon characters with cartoon names.
It's a grim prospect for a country that was once a home of dialogue but that has now become, on both sides, one of caricature.
You think that the "other side" is more different than it was, say, 60 years or 100 years ago, but nothing could be further from the truth. Neither Corbyn nor Cameron is the devil incarnate; neither is going to bring about the end of civilization as we know it, and the suffering of either the taxed or the underprivileged is as nothing to how it was in the decades gone by. Our period isn't "special" and your opponents aren't unique. Everyone is just trying to achieve their own vision of "fair and just", and if you refuse to see that, it's because you only mix with people on your own side.
peterbirks: (Default)
On Bundling:

A sure-fire way to lose friends is to point out the basic assumptions underlying what they think they are arguing about. As I have often claimed in the past, people tend to have an underlying belief in something, after which they find the arguments that support that underlying belief, after which the disagreements with other people about these surface matters, rather than the underlying concept.

So What Are People Really Disagreeing About?
A simple example of this is gun control in the USA. The two sides of this will never be reconciled because they never touch upon their underlying beliefs. Instead the arguments are on surface matters (number of deaths through use of guns in the US, the fact that penalizing the vast majority of law-abiding gun owners is not the best way to reduce this, and so on). At heart, people who oppose gun control tend to be people whose family owned guns, who are responsible with guns themselves, and who think that teaching their own children respect for guns is the way to go. Supporters of gun control tend to come from families where guns were not part of the underlying culture. Therefore to propose gun control is to attack some people's sense of family, their upbringing, their way of life. It is an attack on a person's sense of being, an assertion that their way of life is "wrong". Meanwhile, proponents of gun control will claim that this is not the case – they are "only" talking about laws controlling gun ownership. That disconnect, with the one side not realizing why they are so emotionally attached to gun ownership and the other side not realizing the extent to which the freedom to own guns links to many Americans' sense of family, dooms any debate to irrelevance, because the argument is not about that which matters.

When We Buy Something, What Do We Buy?
But this is not going to be an essay on the rights and wrongs of gun ownership. What I want to write about is what we buy when we buy something and what we sell when we sell something. And I want to link this into the problem that media producers have today in monetizing content production.
My thesis here is that most marketers and sellers do not really know what they are selling, and that nearly all buyers do not realize what they are buying.
How can this be, you might ask? "If I buy a newspaper, I buy a newspaper. If I buy a gym membership, I buy a gym membership." Or, if you are a marketer or seller, you might say "Nonsense! I know exactly what I am selling. I know all about upselling, brand extension, and the like. You don't need to lecture me about my job, Mr Birks!". But, think about it. A theory of the free market is an exchange of goods and services so that both sides "make a profit". Both, as it were, are better off as a result of the deal. Many of those who sell services sincerely believe that this is the key to success. Identify a person's needs (or a company's needs)" and provide a "solution". There is also (I would argue) a wholly artificial division between the concept of a "good" and the concept of a "service". The difference is one relating to the terms of the contract (and the time for which it is valid), rather than the item being bought and sold. When, for example, does a short-term lease on a property stop being a lease and start being a rent?

Profit Depends On Buyer Inefficiency
However, my argument here is that nearly all profit in the past has been a result of inefficiencies in what is being sold. If those inefficiencies are eliminated, an awful lot of providers, of sellers, of marketers, will not have a job.
And what is the greatest of inefficiencies? It is something which marketers and salespeople focus on most. Bundling. Every time you buy a package, you are part of an entire business model that is focused not on efficiently matching buyers and sellers, but one which depends on inefficiently matching buyers and sellers.
This is not a product of the Internet age, although the Internet age is highlighting it because, for the first time, we can see simpler ways around it. In many cases the Internet has also served to divorce two things – content and form – a point to which I shall return.

Three Examples:
Now, we can see three obvious examples of where bundling is required to make a business model work – gym membership, mobile phone contracts and media packages.
(a) Gym Membership
If I buy a gym membership I buy the right to use that gym either all the time, or at off-peak times. Whichever I buy, it is impossible for me to use all of that which I have been sold. I can't use the gym 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I can't even use it all of the weekend. It's impossible to buy an "efficient" gym membership. Indeed, if people who bought gym memberships all used their gyms as much as they possibly could, the business model would collapse; there wouldn't be enough gym space, or machines, or showers, to cope.
(b) Mobile Phone Contracts
Mobile phone packages, you might think, are designed to match needs and demands. There's no end of "what package is right for you?" comparison sites. But, nevertheless, packages are dependent on inefficiencies. No-one uses precisely 1,000 texts a month or the exact amount of hours aloud. Indeed, when such a package exists (I have a PAYG package with O2 that enables me to "carry over" credit) the companies stop selling it. These days you pay your tenner for an amount of data and a number of free calls, but the credit is not carried over. Smart arses like me were efficient in our use of the offering, and that efficiency made the offering insufficiently profitable. The mobile phone companies MUST sell "waste".

(c) Media bundling
Now, media packages are interesting, because (i) they link us with the past and (ii) the unsustainability of the model is becoming plain.
In the business-to-consumer world, the old model is, effectively, dead. But it's interesting to examine the inefficiencies inherent in the old model. When you buy a physical newspaper, you will not ready every word of that paper; you will not take in every advertisement. But the person placing the advertisement pays "per reader" and the buyer of the newspaper has to buy the whole caboodle.
When you subscribe to Netflix, or Sky, or anything, I would guess that you rarely use more than 1% (in terms of product) or 10% (in terms of your available time) of that which you are entitled to use.
The inefficiency is plain to see there, but what we fail to realize is that this inefficiency spreads to nearly everything that we buy.


It's Not Just Digital
Take a saucepan. When you buy a saucepan you buy the "right" to use that when you like, how you like, as often as you like, "in perpetuity" (i.e., until you wear it out or you die). But how often do you use it? If it's more than 1% of your waking time, then it's probably your favourite pan.
The same applies to nearly every physical thing in the house. Not for nothing do bed salespeople emphasize that you spend a third of your life using their product. Strangely, you don't hear vacuum cleaner sales people saying "of course, you'll only use it for an hour a week".
How much more efficient it would be if we could "timeshare" saucepans, somehow magicking one up when we needed it from a nationwide pool of shared saucepans, returning it to that pool when we had finished using it.
The concept of "timesharing" certain products is, indeed, offensive to many in the developed world. "Bed sharing" (as immigrants were said to do in the 1960s) was something of a slur. But no-one murmurs about "bathroom sharing", as long as it's sequential rather than contemporaneous.
Why should this be? As with my earlier point, this is a matter of form and content. When we buy a newspaper we don't really buy "form"; as the saying goes, yesterday's newspaper is only good for fish and chips. But when we buy books, we buy form and content. We keep a book. There are and have been more than one method of "timesharing" books – the Popular Book Centre on Clapham Road was an established part of my life when I was young; libraries are a system that enables the sequential sharing of books. But a book has "form". And the point here is that, when we buy anything, we buy two things – the utility that comes from using it, and the right to use it as and when we please. Both of these have value (think of the relative value of getting mini-cabs everywhere and having a 24-hour chauffeur on call), and the proportions in which that value is distributed amongst owners can now be measured to a far greater degree than was possible when, with most products, you had to buy the two together.

The Developing Conflict
The problem here is that which we experience when a system appears that maximizes the efficiency of product distribution. If most business models depend for sustainability on inefficiencies (packages), the creation of more efficient packages by other companies leads to a shift in the economic model of either a business sector or – possibly, society as a whole.
And here we come to news media.
Despite no end of board meetings, strategy meetings, analyses and the like, I found little evidence that anyone in either business to business (b2b) or business to consumer (b2c) publishing really had a clue what to do. This is not to say that they did not know what needed to be done. They knew precisely what needed to be done. Create value so that people will want to pay for the content they get. Even better, create value so that people will NEED to pay for the content they get.

(What was not stated was "also, try to bundle up packages so that, even though they only need a small part of it, they have to pay for a lot more". This was in fact a fundamental Insurance Day strategy about four years ago, when the insurance newsletters were merged into Insurance Day and the price was doubled on the grounds that "much more is being offered". It was in fact the opposite of "meeting customers' needs". It was the archetype of "bundling", a shift towards rather than away from inefficiencies.
That's not necessarily a bad thing in terms of profit-generation. If someone desperately needs something and you are the only supplier, then in the short term you make more money by making them buy other stuff as well. In the long term, particularly in the world of information and analysis, what happens is that someone else comes along to offer better value.)

So, the messages came from on high that, in the land of b2b, "news" was becoming commoditized, and we had to provide analysis, because that had value. What was missed was that (a) analysis is what people like McKinsey provided, and they paid their staff a lot more than publishers paid. And (b) if everybody in b2b moved over to analysis, you would be back where you started.
How so? Well, one of the things that marketers and salespeople missed was that it was not just a question of money that companies were spending. It was also time. It was "attention". In a world where the purchaser was cash rich and time poor, it was the attention that had value. Even if you added tons of value through top-notch analysis, if everybody else was doing it, you were competing for a fixed amount of attention that was available in your market. The one thing that you cannot create more of is time.

(This is not quite true. My own product at Informa, IIN 24, was one of the first to spot the value of time. Although it LOOKED like it only produced a commoditized news service, what I offered was a filter. No analysis, but I have acted as a filter for the reader. While newspapers were getting bigger and fatter, IIN24 stayed small, thin, and easily read. Its selling point was not what was in it, so much as what the editor had discarded as not worthy of the reader's attention. IIN24 was not selling content, it was really selling information time management. This was quite a radical concept in the early 2000s, before it was widely recognized that there was "too much" information out there. This was another example of people often not realizing what they were buying or what they were selling.)

If Everything Is Free, Why Pay?
For my generation, the sheer availability of free content is mind-boggling. I still remember being bored when young because there was "nothing to do". There were only three TV channels, four radio channels (none 'dedicated' to news), books were unavailable, the newspaper had been read. Obtaining information was difficult and pricy.
Today, it's all about time allocation. To get me to spend money on information requires marketing tricks along the lines of "I don't want to be left out" (this works well in the USA, less well in the UK) or "I really want it NOW" (a trick that works well with those who have problems with delayed gratification).
But, note, in both cases, what is being sold goes beyond the content. And, in a time-poor world, what is being sold is, distinctively, time sensitive.

The argument is in many places that there is "too much" content – be that too many films, too much news, too much analysis. I don't buy this argument. I don't think that the amount of content will magically shrink back to what traditional business publishers call a "sustainable level" just because there is more out there than people can consume. The current level is sustainable – it just isn't sustainable in a way that will keep marketers, journalists, salespeople and board executives in the lifestyle to which they would like to become accustomed.

Tom Mullaly made this comment on a The Media Briefing essay by Kevin Anderson. I don't think I can improve on what he wrote:

"‘News’ is from a time when barriers to content creation existed. W/those barriers gone news orgs are marginalized water dealers in a never-ending rainstorm. In 100 yrs the time of ‘News ‘ will be seen as the anomaly, not the current period. I say that to point out the futility of mourning the death of the old model.

"The market does not 'abhor super-abundance'. Businesses trading in a super-abundant commodity abhor its abundance, and that's an entirely different thing. Consumers of it revel in it, and that means you can monetize it, even if it's not quite the news you knew.

"I have endless respect for good journalism and I know how valuable it is in a free society. So do many people watching cat videos and reading 'You won't believe how one weird trick etc.' articles. But we are collectively voting with our attention. Mourn it if you insist, but don't deny what's happening.

"Monetization. The trick is not to monetize the 'news'. It's to monetize attention. Look at the business models that are working. No, they won't support news organizations as we knew them, though high quality journalism will still exist. There is a desire for it, and people will still pay. But they will pay with attention. And that will be enough. Outdated thinking doesn't see it yet.

"You do not sell someone what you want to make. You sell them what they want."

A frequent homily heard by the grunts in the b2b business is the need to "evolve". This is a misnomer. First, species do not consciously evolve. Random things happen to DNA, most of which are irrelevant, a small proportion of which are fatal, and a much smaller proportion of which improve the survivability of the species. In other words, conscious evolution in the corporate sense is most likely to generate a lot of aggravation without making any difference, is less likely to cause the company to collapse and die, and MUCH less likely to generate an improvement.
When the question is therefore asked (rhetorically) in a strategy meeting – "are you saying that we should do nothing and slowly die? " to be followed by the consensus of "we have to do something, so let's pretend to the board that this strategy is going to work, even though we have no idea whether it will or not", what you really have a mutually agreed pretence and self-delusion, rather than a sound strategy.
peterbirks: (Default)
I just heard on Radio Four a wonderful tribute to Peter Donaldson -- perfectly timed to lead up to the Six o'clock News. It was a tribute, but it was also a Masterclass in newsreading, diction, pacing, rhythm, tone, pronunciation, and scriptwriting.
Donaldson, after his retirement, went for a voiceover job, but failed to get it because he was "too BBC". At his retirement drink in the Yorkshire Grey, he raised his glass of wine to being "too BBC".
His talent was such that you didn't notice it. He spoke quickly, but his pronunciation was so clear that it didn't seem as if he did. He knew the art of the pause. He emphasized precisely the right words with exactly the right sense of pace. It was an unparalleled talent. He spoke, indeed, as most of us wish we could write, with that fantastic ability to vary the pace and tone and yet not to appear artificial.
It's a cliché, but one could quite easily have listened to him read from the telephone directory and feel that what was being said was incredibly interesting. As one of the commentators in the tribute said (the newsreaders were queueing up to say nice things about him) he had a voice that, even if the Apocalypse was being announced, if Donaldson was reading the news you would feel that it would all be okay really.

Donaldson's death was announced on the same day as that of Colin Welland and Tom Graveney, although Donaldson had the good sense to die at an hour that meant he made the Today programme on his own.

Graveney was a great cricketer to watch; I saw him play Test cricket a few times, including one game when he hit a century against the West Indies )when that collection of countries bred cricketers rather than wannabe basketball players) at which point, like many other 10-year olds, we ran onto the pitch to try to congratulate him. Like Donaldson. Graveney was a stylist in a way that made it all seem rather easy. Languid with a talent that was later echoed in the stroke play of David Gower. And, like Donaldson, he had his run-ins with the powers-that-be, which resulted in him having far fewer England caps than he deserved.

And finally we say goodbye to Colin Welland, a great screenwriter and a competent actor, while also being a bit of a "professional northerner".

With three Englishmen of note dying on the same day, I was reminded of Robin Day's reference to what it was like to grow old. Both Donaldson and Day loved their work, and for people like this, retirement is difficult. Sir Robin, as he later became, described his post-retirement life as like being in the Departure Lounge of a special airport, where the only destination is Death. You aren't quite sure when your plane is going to be called or what particular gate you will be departing from. So you kill time, a bit of reading, some eating, a bit of shopping. You can't leave the airport, and, anyway, you don't really have time to get anything serious done.

That "Departure Lounge For Death" is a tempting metaphor. In a sense we are all in it from the moment we are born. The difference is that the younger you are, the more planes there are going to other places in the meantime. As you get older, there are still planes to other places, but they tend to be short-haul. For me, there's not much point in training to be a watchmaker or a cabinet-maker, or anything that requires 20 years work before you become any good at it. But I am still "young" enough to take some short-haul flights - learning more history, possibly more languages, research, and doodling around in music without trying to be too serious. As the years go on, the number of short-haul flights gets smaller and smaller. And, in any case, catching any of them seems like too much of an effort. Eventually, the departures screen shows several planes, but just a single destination, and you sit quietly in Starbucks, sipping a latté, waiting for the tannoy to announce that your flight has been called.

I saw a couple of clips on You Tube yesterday of Fred Rogers, host of a US public network children's programme called Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Rogers appears not to have had a bad bone in his body. When he received his Lifetime Achievement Award Emmy in 1997, you got the feeling that the entire audience had grown up watching him on TV. But Fred Rogers would have no hope of getting such a magnificent educational programme (each edition's budget in the 1960s, $6,000) on the air today. Rogers would be too white, too middle class America, too male, and too insufficiently diverse.

Donaldson too had become a newsreader who would not be employed by the BBC today. Times have changed. But his influence remains. I confess that when Kathy Clugston began reading the news on Radio Four I was in despair, not least because there were instances when I wasn't sure what word she had just said. Thankfully she has tamed her Northern Irish accent (not completely, but sufficiently) for the more extreme NI varations in vowel usage to be brought back to (for me) comprehensibility.
It was this that Donaldson always emphasized. If someone who understands English can't understand what you are saying, it is your fault, not theirs. Asserting the benefits of diversity just won't cut it if the listener hasn't the faintest fucking idea what you are talking about. You can't put subtitles on the radio. Communication is about communicating, and knowing the right word is only about 10% of the battle. You need to understand phonetics, have some actor training (or, ath the very least, some voice coaching), and you need to speak to people other than those who grew up in the same street and went to the same school as you did.
peterbirks: (Default)
David Young posted a link to this article on Spiked:
http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/after-oregon-we-need-to-talk-about-narcissism/17515#.VhQIPPlVhHx
which asserts that narcissism, rather than guns, is the main cause of mass murders (I deliberately use the word "murders" rather than "shootings", because, obviously, with greater gun control, you would reduce the number of mass shootings, but this does not prove that you would reduce the number of mass murders. As they say on the BBC, "other weapons of mass destruction are available").

The binary nature of US politics cannot but help become part of the gun control debate.

While I agree that gun control will not "solve" the problem (which runs far more deeply through American society) that does not necessitate me opposing a greater degree of gun control.
I don't think that it's even "just" narcissism. Indeed, this implies that narcissism is a "disease", which I would dispute. Narcissism that goes out of control is the problem, just as with guns, it's an out-of-control use of guns that is the problem.
In other words, I would posit that distorted narcissism and distorted gun use are both symptoms, not underlying problems. But I would still support greater controls of gun sales and greater awareness of the problems created by distorted narcissism.
That narcissism isn't the sole problem is not completely addressed in the Spike article.
The author notes that
narcissistic, affirmation-hungry character, the same infantile determination to place oneself at the centre of the world (indeed, the very act of leaving a ‘message to the world’ speak to an urge for self-glorification)
but fails to address the point that often such characters do not indulge in mass slaughter. Indeed, among females, suicide attempts seem to be a much more common to try to be the centre of the universe. Then there is the (much rarer) Munchausen-by-proxy (also a mainly female manifestation). With young males in the UK, suicide itself looks to be the main ultimate narcissistic act. (Clearly the lines blur; some cries for help are also genuine suicide attempts. Some non-narcissists become mass murderers, but not in a single act).
So, what is the underlying problem? There is clearly something rotten in the heart of US society that is leading some young males down this route. Is it a sense of entitlement? Is it the ease with they can externalise the anger that they feel because that sense of entitlement is not being fulfilled? Is it, indeed, a system that is distorting the impact of testosteronal flow?
In part, it's possibly an inevitable by-product of things getting "bigger and better". In a hermetically sealed small-town world, where everyone knows everyone else, this kind of anger would have resulted in fights in a bar on Saturday night. In a far wider more sophisticated world, that isn't enough. The modern equivalent is a mass murder.
Would making the US smaller and quieter solve the problem? No, because you can't make it "smaller and quieter". It's a genie that can't go back in the bottle.
In other words, searching for "an answer" is futile, because in anthropological terms, America is a society that will produce these responses from a limited number of young males. The males haven't changed -- what has changed is their sense of entitlement and their imagination as to the possible response.
The best that the US can hope for, I think, is to undertake bit-by-bit changes in a large number of areas, not least the early identification of the so-called loner/narcissist, and pro-actively making sure that they feel included in society rather than excluded. The problem is, these characters are often "difficult". They seem to invite exclusion even though that is not what they really want.
In the meantime, you can try to make gun-ownership look "girlie" ("a real man can use his fists") and try to divert young males' hormonal drives into other areas of -- less fatal -- violence. Instead of condemning these things with middle class superiority, they should be encouraged.
peterbirks: (Default)
I spent my 30th birthday in a Chinese restaurant in Hastings, or somewhere on the coast. I spent my 40th in a two-rosette restaurant in France, and my 50th where I am now, in front of a computer in Lewisham. The computer has changed, but (at least for me) technology has changed less from 2005 to 2015 than it did from 1995 to 2005.
That's partly because many of the more recent advances have been for "computing on the go", so I notice the changes in modern computing more when I am at a poker table in Las Vegas, or perhaps when I am using my Smart TV, than I do when I am at my office desk.
When I reached 50, 40 seemed a long time ago, not least because my life changed a lot in those 10 years.
Writing today at the age of 60, 50 seems like only yesterday. Far less has changed. Except, of course, I have now retired. But that's a recent event -- its impact will be felt far more in the decade to come (should I live all of it -- for the first time I am entering a period where a sudden death sentence is far from an academic theory) than in the decade passed, and past.
Indeed, most of my 50s was spent simply preparing for the (I hope) two decades and a bit to come. All that I really did was all that I really aimed to do - accumulate enough money to retire. In fact I made more money (certainly in percentage terms) in the decade 1995 to 2005. The past decade has been building on the previous decade. In 1995 I was effectively penniless, and by 2005 I owned my own home without a mortgage.
Now I one home without a mortgage and another with a (relatively small, but in absolute terms rather large) mortgage. That's been less of a percentage gain because I've lowered my gearing significantly.
So, I think that time passes faster when fewer things happen, when there are fewer events of note, be they good or bad. I deliberatly entered a period of emotional flatness. I did not have an alcoholic drink in my 50s. I eliminated as many emotional highs and lows as I could. It's not a recipe for Facebook posts of overwhelming joy, but it also isn't a recipe for posts of unalterable despair. Mainly, I've managed it. These are penalties that you have to pay for past foolishness, but they are also the consequence of being emotionally risk-averse. A very wise poker player once observed to me that the area of emotion is the one area where men in particular are not risk-averse. They take extreme gambles because the failure to take those gambles has a consequence that their subconscious mind cannot tolerate. Sometimes those gambles pay off (those are the ones we hear about and see photos of on Facebook) while in other cases they do not -- and those are usually the cases we do not hear about, because those males end up in solitary lives with no-one to record the failure. And most of them are not willing to boast about it.
And in some cases you get exceptions, such as me, who reach a balance of solitude; a balance that irritates a few (because I am not playing the game that males are meant to play) and baffles others (because I enjoy my own company quite enough not to have to go out to meet people at weekends). I'm a paradox of gregariousness and a dislike of the social scene.
I can't say that it's great to reach 60; although, as the saying goes, it's better than the alternative. There are consequences of growing old that you can only let the young eventually find out for themselves. The consequences are physical, mental, and external.
This might seem a strange thing to say when the Labour Party has just elected a 66-year old to lead it, but those in their 60s and 70s who carry on working generally do so for one of two reasons; (a) they can't afford not to, or (b) they have no other life.
I can afford not to, and there are many many things that I want to do outside of my old work. There are so many books to read, films to see, musical pieces to learn. There's so much knowledge out there and, thanks to the Internet, much of that knowledge is now free.
The downside is that being one of the voluntarily idle poor "kicks you out" of your old places in society. One of the things which I didn't think would hit me, but which did, was that I no longer had a business card to give to people. To your friends, your position in the working world is irrelevant. But most people you know are not your friends -- they are acquaintances whom you know because of who you are. And when you met most new people (people who might perhaps become your friends one day) you were meeting them because of what position you held rather than who you were as a person.
Not hearing anymore from people who never stopped phoning you when you were an editor is, of course, no loss, and I don't miss it in the slightest. But it does require an adjustment. You have to find something new about yourself that goes beyond "I used to be....". I'm still getting the hang of that.
I'm still somewhat in the honeymoon period of loving my time being my own, not having to take any shit from anyone. I remain strongly committed to free enterprise, but what 20 years of working for larger companies revealed to me was that employees of large companies are nothing to do with free enterprise. Most of capitalism is nothing to do with profit-maximisation; it's about covering your arse and climbing the greasy pole of corporatism. That, obviously, didn't fit in with my personality at all, and I disliked most people who subscribed to it. The miracle therefore is the large number of people whom I met within "the system" of private enterprise with whom I am still friends, rather than the large number of corporatism devotees whom I will, with luck, never cross paths with again as long as I live (most CEOs of large companies fall firmly within the latter category, BTW).
For the next decade, paradoxes remain. I have long suffered a lack of imagination and ambition. "Getting out there" requires a phenomenal act of will on my part. It's for this reason that I tend to return to the same places again and again on holiday. I like the familiar; I dislike the unknown. But the risks of the unknown, the "what's the worst that can happen" need to be faced. OK, Rome might be a nice place full of shits, and Paphos might remind me a little bit too much of Manchester in exile, but I only found Nice by accident; I only discovered San Francisco because I was willing to fly 5000 miles to see a movie, and I only saw Arizona because my job took me there.
Other places like this exist, and I need to find them before my health gives out. As, inevitably, one day it will. I need to balance that with not going broke. And, indeed, I've played with the idea of just trying to make a bit more money over the next few years. That would certainly not be through writing and/or freelancing. I've had quite enough of dealing with companies -- going cap in hand with the "have you got any work, please?" is so far out of the window that it might actually be in the house over the road.
But, as I have told people many times, making money is quite easy if all that you want to do is make money. Part of the trick is to enjoy making money, rather than (which is how most people see it) enjoy getting the money so that you can spend it. The making of money has to be the game in itself, rather than just a means to an end.
Where else in 2015 to 2025? Who knows? My only takeaways from the first 60 years of my life (there won't be a second 60 years of my life) are that (a) nearly everything that people tell you is wrong and (b) you don't need to get it right first time. If you don't repeat your mistakes, you are ahead of 99% of the population.
peterbirks: (Default)
A major weakness amongst politicos is the inability to see the opposition as a coalition. While they can see the infighting and demands for compromise in their own faction, they tend to see opposing factions as homogenous masses of like-thinking (where "like-thinking" equals "wrong-thinking") fools.
This has been repeated with Corbynism; both the left- and right-wing press see Corbyn's victory as one of a small faction of the Labour Party, but they therefore (and incorrectly) assume that it's a united faction.
This is even weirder because, when you think about it, fans of Burnham, Kendall and Cooper have much more in common with each other than they do with Corbyn, but that does not stop three factions appearing in a (rather narrow) part of the political spectrum.
With Corbyn's fans, the potential cracks are even larger. Four groups appear to me to make up this "coalition". And Corbyn will find it very hard to please some groups without displeasing others.

(1) The unions, particularly Unite, Unison, and the RMT. The "traditional conservative left".
It's not hard to see what the leadership of this group will fight for: (a) legislation making life easier for the unions and (b) actions that will not threaten the jobs of existing employees.
Potential source of conflict: Trident, other "politically incorrect" industries that provide jobs in certain narrow geographical areas. Second potential source of conflict: immigration and refugees/migrants.

(2) What we might loosely call the "hard" left, both inside and outside the Labour Party. Those who perhaps left the Labour Party but re-affiliated to vote. People with a sympathy for Respect, Socialist Worker, Morning Star, or elsewhere on what was once the Bennite wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Potential source of conflict: Backtracking on Trident, NATO, Hezbollah, anti-Israeli sentiment, any alignment/discussions with the USA or indeed any government not politically approved.

(3) The New Puritans. Into which I would place hard-line feminism, people who think that LGBT issues are more important than anything else rather than just a single factor in social change. Also hard-line environmentalism, hard-line animal rights.
Potential source of conflict. Quotas. Representation.

(4) The New Enthusiasts. Let's not deny that Corbyn has galvanized a previously jaded and cynical non-electorate aged 18 to 25. What is worrying is that much of this has been based on two dangerous themes - anti-politics and populism.
Anti-politics is always a short-term honeymoon -- look at Syriza, or the comic in Italy. It's a short-term honeymoon because to get anywhere in the real world of politics you have to act like a politician. If you don't (hello Yannis Varoufakis) even your friends will drop you.
Populism is more dangerous because it is the devil on the shoulder of democracy. As many countries have found out, populist decisions such as subsidies for the price of rice or wheat or other food staples, are very easy to introduce and very difficult to get rid of. On the plus side, you can maintain populist stances in opposition without upsetting anyone except people who can add up the cost.
We have seen New Enthusiasts many times before in other countries -- think Obama volunteers or, in my youth, the great Eugene McCarthy (perhaps the closest parallel in recent history to the Corbyn movement). McCarthy got shafted by the Democratic Party establishment, so the New Enthusiasts were able to maintain their faith. How well Corbyn can keep these New Enthusiasts onside in the face of the special interest groups in the unions and New Puritanism will be the first real test of his leadership (the second, of course, will be how he copes with the significant opposition within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP)).
Other potential sources of conflict with the New Enthusiasts: Europe, Scotland, Economic Strategy, Union-supported job laws that will benefit those in jobs at the expense of those coming onto the labour market.

Which brings us to Corbyn's other major problem. While he has to manage one kind of coalition amongst his supporters, he has to manage another, entirely different set of factions, within the PLP. His dealings with the first group will impact on his relationship with the second, and vice-versa.
All of this will demand a great talent for compromise, pacification and, I fear to say, fudging. Although this is a good short-term tactic for keeping a coalition together, it is a bad long-term strategy because it turns you into "just another politician", using words that don't mean very much because these are the only words that won't upset anyone apart from those people who would like meaningful statements.
But, hang on, meaningful statements are precisely what the New Enthusiasts want.

IN all of this, the Conservative Government, Conservative policies, do not figure, except that Corbyn will try to rally a unity around opposition to the Conservative policies. But the things on which all of Labour agree will pale into insignificance compared with

As you can see, that makes for a difficult time ahead. Thatcher would have solved this by ruthlessly ditching former allies so as to maintain a single force. Lenin did the same. Hitler, on the other hand, played the "let them plot against each other" hand, on the sound grounds that if they were plotting against each other, they would be plotting against him.

What path will Corbyn take? My fear is that he will not be a strong enough personality (or ruthless enough) to impose his will the way Thatcher did. The analysis this morning that Tom Watson will be a crucial character in the drama that will unfold, is undoubtedly true. Watson is the most important Deputy Leader that the Labour Party has ever had.
He's the LBJ to JFK.
And we all know how that one panned out.

Corbynomia

Sep. 12th, 2015 03:19 pm
peterbirks: (Default)
So, this is what I want from Corbyn.
(1) Plans to renationalize/nationalize without compensation (a) railways (obvs) (b) steel (Indian) (c) motor manufacturing (Japanese) (d) water (all cunts) (e) banks (f) Post Office
(2) A plan to introduce complete open borders. That is not to say no processing. A system similar to that which existed when the Flemish weavers and French protestants came over. Registration, record-keeping, no welfare or right to free medical treatment until taxes have been paid for five years.
(3) Abolition of the monarchy and total reform of the Upper House to a system similar to that in operation in India and/or Germany. Labour Party to boycott parliament as "sham democracy" until it wins a majority.

But none of that will happen. Why? Because Corbyn has already started focusing on "hooray" words like "fair", "justice", "security", "confidence" etc -- words that people bandy about with no intention of defining what they mean. Anything as controversial as the ideas above will be ditched (if the ever existed) on grounds of "practicality".
And if Corbyn WAS to propose some of the above, I could see many of those claiming to be left wing, who voted for Corbyn, suddenly talking about incomers undercutting the wages of people already here. I can see those claiming to be left wing starting to talk about "steady as she goes". What many of the Corbyn supporters really want is a crony conservatism (and puritanism) that benefits them rather than someone else; this is cloaked in a veneer of radicalism of which I have seen little evidence apart from some rabble-rousing speeches that say very little.
Make no mistake, this is a very British leader working within a very British tradition, and the "radicalism" of those who supported him would quickly disappear if it stopped being a vague "let's be nice to everybody apart from the bankers" and became "oh, sorry, you'll have to pay some extra tax for all of this, didn't we say?"
peterbirks: (Default)
Or, Why Grexit is a misnomer, why it will end with a whiumper rather than a bang, and why Greece's international trade will probably still be denominated in euros by the end of 2015, no matter what happens this Sunday.

I have a lot of time for Poland's PM Donald Tusk; he has proved himself to be an efficient, albeit somewhat technocratic, Polish leader, and has brought a similar no-nonsense but low-profile approach to the EU presidency.
However, Tusk and other European leaders seem to be making a fundamental economic error when they talk about Greece "exiting the euro" if a deal is not reached by next Sunday.
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission (the European bureaucracy requires lots of leaders) was somewhat blunter when he referred not just to the fact that a detailed plan was in place for Grexit, but that these plans included "humanitarian aid". It was, as it were, the first admission that the incompetence of political leaders could lead to a country in Europe suffering a humanitarian crisis because of economic incompetence on all sides.
But what puzzled me is that the politicians and the journalists have once again failed to read the history books. There will be no Grexit on Monday, whatever way things go. And the euro will not suddenly cease to be the currency of Greece. It is not up to the eurozone to say that Greece can no longer use the euro. Indeed, given the restrictions on individual central banks, any actual statement that Greece is no longer a part of the eurozone will have relatively little impact on day-to-day processes. The euro will still circulate. Goods will still be priced in euros. For international trade (which is going to be the real sticking point) export and import deals are still going to be signed in euros. The major impact of a so-called Grexit on Monday will mainly be the reaction of the markets and the manifestation of what we have known for more than two years – that the Greek banks are bust.
If Greece is "chucked out" of the euro, there's nothing to stop the Greek Central bank creating their own euros (on paper), although this will of course have the confusing effect of creating the Greek euro and the rest of Europe euro. I have discussed this matter before and I will not cover the same ground. It will be a mess, but it will not be the end of days. Indeed, Greece's membership of the euro will end with a whimper rather than a bang.
There is of course the minor matter of the €70bn owed to Germany alone – meaning that every German taxpayer is on the hook for about €2,000. A neat bit of sidestepping by the German banks there, since initially the Greek debt was theirs. But this is not a terminal debt. It is, so to speak, a whole new can that will be kicked down a whole new road.
No, the interesting thing in economic terms is at the micro level. At the moment Greece's economy is paralyzed. It is paralyzed because traders want to operate on a so-called "bullion" basis (where euros represent bullion) and there isn't enough bullion to go round for an economy to function. Since the velocity of bullion has probably slowed to virtually zero (if you get a euro in Greece you hang on to it for as long as possible) we are in a situation where for the economy to function you need to return to a credit economy, but no-one trusts anyone else to function on a credit basis.
How does one square this circle? What eventually happens is that the economy sputters into action by something (it could be stamps, it could be cigarettes) working as small change (but still with a euro as a measuring stick) and someone (it could be the Greek central bank, but it could equally be a respectable local merchant or landowner) doing the accounting. That accounting eventually sees the issue of IOUs, and those IOUs, if they are trusted, becoming de facto paper money. This emergence of paper money (frequently called fiat money, but this is a mistaken misinterpretation of the false dichotomy between paper money and, say, gold or silver – another article there one day) of its own accord has been recorded time and again in history. It follows the wish to anonymize transactions. Initially the debts of account, the IOUs, are transparent. You know who got what and who owes what. But once those IOUs start being passed around, transactions become anonymized and, indeed, the extent of economic activity becomes harder to measure.

So, from next Monday, we could see ourselves in the unique situation of a developed economy that has been paralyzed because of a lack of a fungible currency with any volatility (the euro has become a kind of ersatz gold) entering currency ground zero, because we are months away from an official new paper currency being printed and introduced officially. Economics abhors a vacuum almost as much as nature. Just because the current lack of cash has frozen the economy does not mean a continued lack of cash will mean a perpetually frozen economy. Cash will emerge to facilitate economic activity. It will emerge in different forms for different types of economic activity – perhaps stamps as ersatz euros, with accounting-based euro-denominated credit for internal transactions. For the few real euros still in play, they will be reserved for international transactions.
And, also, international players, facilitators, will also appear, because there will be a profit to be made here. That is why the euro itself will not vanish from the Greek economy, even if Greece has been kicked out of the euro. A facilitator will be starting with a clean slate. Unlike the ECB, he will not have the burden of the money already thrown at Greece.
And in a sense this is one of the keys and the basis of Tsipras's delusion. If Greece is "thrown out" of the euro, the biggest short-term headline impact will be that the ECB and the EFSB will have to write off what they are owed. It's Europe that is biting the bullet, not Greece.
peterbirks: (Default)
And so the trip is coming to an end. I packed all of my stuff, checkedd out, drove into town and played three sessions for a net gain of $103.
Most of the exciting stuff occurred in the first 10 minutes, when in a six-handed game I hit some pearlers.
Ace Queen of diamonds on the button first hand was the beginning.
I raised a limper to $7 an got a rather pleasant flop of QQT. Limper checks and I bet $13. He calls.
Turn is an eight, QQT8 two hearts. Limper now bets out $20. Now, that's odd. 88 or TT don't make much sense, but J9 definitely does make sense. Then again, so do QK and QJ. I decide to flat-call.
River brings a blank, a black four or something. Opponent now leads out for $30. This really is a bit of a tingler to get first hand out of the traps. I think for about 20 seconds and decide that QK and QJ are a fraction more likely than 9J (partly because he limped before the flop, which only really makes sense with J9 suited, while QJ off and KQ off might merit a limp).
I call and he shows QJ. A show AQ and take the pot, at which point he says "No raise with AQ?" in that tone of "clearly you are a moron". I should have shrugged, but instead I bit and explained to him why a call was right, given the number hands he could feasibly have that beat me and the number that he could have that I beat. Young player on my left says "exactly", just to rub it in, and middle-aged American guy shuts up for the next 45 minutes, duly told who precisely was the moron in that hand.

Shortly after (like, two hands later) I got 66 under the gun and raised to $7. The young European kid on my left called, heads up on the flop.
That came down 963 two diamonds. I bet out for $12 and he calls. Turn is a slightly worrying 7, but I can't really see this guy cold-calling a raise with T8, even if it was suited. There are many more hands that he could have which I can beat. So I bet out $20. He calls.
River is an apparently worrying 8, making a board of 36789. I check and he fires out $30. The thing is, a 10 here is much more worrying than a 9, because for the nine to help it needs to be a gutshot. Sure, the gutshot might be back-up for, say a diamond draw. But I still think I am beating more than I am losing to. I call and he says "good call", showing Ace-Jack of diamonds.

I then lost $50 back on a very difficult hand. I get KK on the button and raise to $7. Small blind pushes it to $17 and Big blind calls. I push it again to $47, called in two spots. I have $160 behind, about the same as the small blind. Big Blind has $55.

Flop comes a horrible T98 two hearts. Small blind checks and Big blind shoves his $55 and I tank. The whole sequence of calculations here is horrible, but it basically comes down to, if I am ahead, I am probably no better than 70:30 (possibly 65:35), whereas if I am behind, I am likely to be 9:91, with only two kings to help me.
And, of course, small blind is still to act..
Reluctantly and with a heavy heart I fold. Small blind calls and show AJ with one heart. Big blind shows AK with no hearts. Shit.

I get a reasonable amount back with KK again. This time the board runs out 7644J and I call a $30 bet on the river into a $60 pot. He shows 76 for a flopped t, which is no good against my two pair Kings and Fours.

The subsequent session at Bally's was far more mundane, with the only hand of note being one I misplayed on the river with AK. To be honest I was so pleased to see an Ace on the river that it didn't occur to me that my opponent had anything other than Queens or Jacks (I had three-bet out of position pre-flop and she had cold called. I continued with $25 on a 953 rainbow flop and she called promptly. I checked the turn of a 7 and so did she. I'd just given up on the hand. The Ace stunned me and I checked again. After all, how can she bet or call with QQ or JJ now? As it happens she had AJ suited. Sleepy play from me with my eye not on the ball. I won $50 on the hand, but should have won $75.

The rest of this session and an hour at the Flamingo was a drift down, missing flops.

I now had $37 on my card that I needed to spend. I chose a Pad Chow at the Food Hall in Harrah's – a rather excellent noodle bar that I had not used before.
Still with $23 on the card and a relatively full suitcase, I picked up a pair of cheapish headphones ($27).
Dropped car off at airport without any problem, although I confess that I never have the faintest idea whether I have been charged the right amount.
The apartment charged me $5 a night more than I had been quoted, but the amount initially quoted was so ridiculously cheap that I didn't have the heart to make a scene.

Final thoughts? Not sure how badly I ran, but my hunch would be that it was to the tune of about $600 in cash and $300 in tournaments. I finished $130 up, with $150 or so in Total Rewards.
I could have played better in at least a couple of spots (both failing to extract maximum value on the river) and that one night in the Flamingo I probably lost $200 because I was tired.
I could also perhaps have won more (although I might also have lost more) by staying in games with double my initial buy-in, but a good prospect of either doubling up again or losing the lot. If I lived in Vegas I would take these high-volatility plays. But if I lived in Vegaqs I would be sitting down with $300 rather than $120 anyway.

The apartment did the job, but I wasn't sorry to leave it. Apartments are good, but the 6.5 miles in either direction gets a bit tedious after three weeks. I would like a nicer apartment in a different location. The weather gets you down and discourages activity. I didn't spend much time in the open, but after a few weeks that leaves you living a rather restricted life with a small horizon. I didn't even cross the strip to Caesar's or the Belaggio. I didn't go to the Fashion Mall or the Wynn, let alone the Rio.

So, happy to be heading home. Vaguely hoping that the plane won't be too full.
peterbirks: (Default)
There was an interesting post on Facebook a few days ago "liked" by Nicholas Whyte, in which the poster followed the general German/Europhile line on Greece. What was interesting about it was that it repeated the dire warnings of apocalypse if the Greeks voted no. It also seemed to believe that the Greeks would not do this, because the imagined consequences of them so doing were so horrific.
But, they did.
In fact, if Greece had voted "yes", the offer which they were voting yes to wwasn't even on the table. It had expired. I suspect that if someone in Germany had banged some heads and said "look, if you vote yes, that offer is back in play, we guarantee it", then the vote would have been a lot closer. It's an example of the headless chicken bureacracy-bound nature of Brussels, Berlin, Paris and New York (can't we set up a working party sub-cmmittee on it? Er, no, there isn't time, you fuckheads.) that they couldn't even manage that.

The difficult situation that the troika of the ECB, the eurozone financial ministers and the IMF now finds itself in is that, in any negotiations with Greece, the Greek leadership can say that they have a mandate from the Greek people which they have to follow. The Eurozone leadership cannot say that they have a mandate from the European people that they in turn have to follow.

That doesn't mean that Tsipras has "won". Indeed, the short-term prognosis for Greece is fairly horrific. Tsipras in the past few days has been as deluded as Merkel was when she said "where there's a will, there's a way". Well, there isn't a way, even if there is a will. Just because teh Greeks backed Tsipras does not mean the troika will say "oh, ok, we need you so much we will lend you more euros". They won't.

The situation now exposes the fundamental hole in the theory of the euro. Unlike the currency union of the USA (a parallel that has been used in the past), there is no printer of money of last resort when it comes to the euro. The ECB is prevented by one set of rules from doing what another set of rules asks it to do.

Greece's leadership (backed by a popular plebiscite) will say that the ECB, or the EFSB under the leadership of the eurozone finance ministers, should give Greece more euros to keep the economy functioning. Because, make no mistake, Greece is now in a position where the economy has effectively halted due to lack of currency. The European leadership are looking at a set of rules which, when put together by economic illiterates, fails to tell people what to do when a country within the eurozone runs out of euros. It can't print its own. So, what happens? This isn't a kickable can of accountancy. This is literally a case of banks having no cash. Not just insolvent, but cashless.

The Greek banks have been insolvent for years. Remember, Greece has already defaulted (in 2012). They just pretended at the time that it wasn't a default. But try telling that to the Cypriot banks that went broke as a result, nearly bringing down the Cypriot economic system with them.

More recently, the ECB just pretended that the Greek banks were not insolvent because it was the line of least resistance. Indeed, the entire Greek crisis has been one of politicians taking the line of least resistance in the vague hope that the problem will go away.

Now, I have to emphasize once again (because so many people think I am saying one thing when I am not), this is nothing to do with the rights and wrongs of the debt. I am fully aware that the Greeks lied through their teeth to get into the euro, and that public sector workers and pensions have been far too high for a decade. Any Greek public sector employee or pensioner who says that they didn't get any of this money they are said to have got need only look at the standard of living in Bulgaria, a neighbouring country with a similar level of absolute GDP per person, to see that everyone in Greece has for the past 10 years been living at a level commensurate with western European production, but without the production to match.

When I say that this is "besides the point", these "debt moralists" say that, au contraire, it is the entire point, that there is no other point, that any "forgiveness" of this debt will have practical knock-on effects. But, what they are really saying is, borrowing what you know you can't pay back is wrong, morally wrong, and you must be made to pay it back.

Sadly, as is evidenced throughout history, money borrowed at interest quite often is not paid back and cannot be paid back. The moral niceties have to be set aside; the rights and wrongs of the case on either side have to be ignored, and you have to work out how to solve this in a civilised manner, rather than in the manner used in India more than 1,00 years ago, when debt was passed from generation to generation and a class of what were effectively serf land-farmers came into being. In Greece today there is no hope of this money being paid back. Do the debt moralists think it "right" to create a modern version of this generation-to-generation indebtedness? Why not bonded servitude? Why not slavery? For, if a person has not the cash to repay, should they not be forced instead to give up their freedom? Slavery as a result of indebtedness does, after all, have a noble (Greek) history.

It is this which I have tried to argue most forcefully. I think that the Greeks were mendacious in getting into the euro; I think that they were avaricious and stupid to borrow the money without any real idea of how that money was going to be paid back. I think that the commercial banks in Germany and elsewhere were almost criminally stupid to lend the money (which they lent because their other commercial clients needed customers for their washing machines and cars) and, most of all, I think that the federalists in Brussels who foresaw the impossibility of a monetary union without a fiscal union, but deliberately went ahead because they thought the result of the inevitable crisis would be a fiscal union, should be brought to trial for crimes against humanity.

But, in the grand scheme of things, none of that really matters at the moment. The "blame game" is both pointless and fruitless. What now faces Europe's leaders, and what Merkel and Hollande will have to discuss today, is what you can do about a country that is running out of the currency it needs for the economy to function on any level at all. We are, to be blunt, weeks if not days away from a humanitarian crisis.
This is in its own way a fascinating test of modern monetary theory. Will Greece try to create an ersatz euro? That would appear to be the logical step in this world of denying reality. The Greek Central Bank prints its own fake euros to lend to its own insolvent banks. That has a certain symetry to it. The banks are bust so lend them currency that you aren't allowed to print, which you pretend has a value that it doesn't have.
Reality will quickly get in the way and the ersatz euro will probably fall to an exchange rate of 1:4 against the real euro. The ersatz euro might have "euro" printed on it, but if it walks like a drachma and talks like a drachma, that is what it really is – no matter how much the Greek Central Bank will deny it.
I am afraid to admit that I am watching this from an economic viewpoint with grim fascination. It's hard to take a detached academic viewpoint when the actions of a few could lead to the complete collapse of a wannabe western economy. But my suspicion is that, because the short-term problem is going to be "just" a lack of fungible currency, within a few weeks we will see an alternative fungible currency emerge. This is because fungibility of fiat currency is a necessity in a developed economy. We aren't going to return to a bullion economy and we aren't going to return to barter. Someone, somewhere, is going to create paper that someone else will trust. The Greek central bank is the obvious favourite candidate.
That would throw the ball back into the troika's court, so to speak, in that they would then have to take the decision to eject Greece from the eurozone. That, clearly, is something Merkel, Lagarde, Draghi, Djisselbloem and Schauble do not want to do. They might move the goalposts again (how, we do not as yet know).
peterbirks: (Default)
A day of three sessions, at Flamingo, Bally's and Flamingo again, for a net gain of $0. Yes, $0.
As I was heading to the car for the stressful drive to Downtown for what turned out to be an excellent and entertaining meal with Kevin O'Leary at Le Thai (he really is a charmer – no wonder staff remember him) I pondered the three-week cost of coffee and dealer tipping.
Neil Channing didn't tip at the Vic and explained to the dealers why this was the case, but said that he would try to make up for it by encouraging others to tip.
I can't follow that route. I just don't have the heart, the courage or the charm to get away with it.
However, let's hypothesise that I win a couple of hands an our and tip a dollar for each on average. That's $2 an hour. I probably also tip an average of $5 a day for coffees. That would mean I have tipped dealers about $150 since I got here, and cocktail waitresses about $110.
My net profit for the three weeks is $27. So, if (and this is hypothetical, because it isn't going to happen) I did not order drinks from the cocktail waitresses (I know poker players who do not) and I didn't tip dealers (not a good EV move, by the way), I would have been $287 up.
When you are about $1,500 up the $260 seems less important than when you are scrambling around breaking even.
Now, let's suppose I played for a year. That would translate into roughly $3,900 a year in tips. That isn't small change. But it is a necessary part of the equation. And, t of course, you do get 1,250 coffees out of it.
Today's play was staggeringly uneventful. I tried a bit of aggressive play early on with Ad 7d, raising in late and betting into an opponent for $11 and then $37 on a flop of Qxx two diamonds and a turn of Kc. I put him on a weakish Queen (in fact it was Q6 of clubs) and hoped that the turn would force a fold. I only had another $45 behind, so I couldn't see myself pushing him off the river. No diamond or ace came to save me.
I then lost the rest with AQ vs QJ all in pre-flop.
I doubled back with AQ, which I three-bet to $24 and got the original raiser (tired, drunk, on my right) to call. Board came A Q x rainbow, which made my decision to call opponent's all-in rather easy.
Finished $34 down.

At Bally's I just built up my stack relatively slowly. It included an aggressive couple of raises on the button and, in one case, an aggressive shove on the flop. But I think the most profitable hand was the ever-exciting Ace-six suited on the button, with which I limped and called a small raise from the small blind. Board of Axx elicited a $15 bet from small blind and a raise from me. He called and we checked down turn and river. He showed pocket queens.
Finished $115 up.
SB in question was the father of Flip Schultz, who had been headlining the comedy set at Harrah's. Nice guy who had flown in from Florida to see his son.

The third session at Flamingo was jst one of card-dead, missing any sets or improvements with suited connectors. Played for two hours and lost $81.

After some mix-ups I found Kevin, and we got to the restaurant on time. You can choose heat ranked 1 to 5 and Kevin said that three was bloody hot. So I erred on the side of caution and chose a '1'. This was quite tasty, but appears to equal "no chili at all". So perhaps level 2 next time round.
But the various chicken and beef dishes were yummy, especially the sticky rice.

Finished about 8.30pm and drove back to apartment. Checked in online.
Tomorrow I'll check out of the apartment and drive to the strip to play for five or six hours. I'll also try to spend my Total Rewards points (I've got more than $35 to get rid of somehow). Then it's return car to rental depot, get shuttle to check in, read book for a while and attempt to get some sleep on the plane.
peterbirks: (Default)
Friday night was a "meh" couple of hours. I won $13 with no hands of interest.

Saturday morning and I'm seeking to win $133 so that I can go home with more than $3k. I get to Flamingo at about 11.45am and there's a table with three people who have been there all night.
There's a view that getting to these tables first thing in the morning is a good move because you are fresh and they are rather drunk. I do not really follow this line. The ones who survive that long tend to be rather good. The weak players have gone bust overnight.
1) In this particular case the strength or weakness of the opposition played no part. I trundled along and within half an hour saw KK under the gun. I played my normal limp-reraise. Two more limpers. Button raises to $12 Big blind calls, and I reraise to $37. Button calls and Big Blind folds. I have $77 behind. Flop is KJT two clubs and I bet $40. Opponent goes all in. I call. He shows AQ. No improvement for me and I am a stack down having done nothing wrong at any point.
I reloaded but did not hang around for long. I think that it's a good idea to move to another casino when something like this happens. It's a "fresh start" for you and it gets you away from a table where you are pegged by the others as "unlucky", thus tempting them to take a shot at you.
2) Over to Bally's and I win a short-stacked all-in (opponent only had $47) with QQ vs T9 suited. Amazingly, he didn't even have an out on the river.
I slowly built up to $190 from my $120 start.
3) Then came the oddest hand of the week, which opponent misplayed to a quite staggering degree.
I had QQ in the Big Blind and I reraised a late raise of $11 to $32. He flat called. I have about $85 behind, a fraction less than he has.
Flop is A T 5 two clubs. I ponder a continuation, but in my experience this tends to end in tears in this scenario. So I check.
He checks.
Turn is a King and, well, that's about it. I am ready to check-fold. I check, and once again, he checks. What does he have? 88? 99? JJ?
River is a very nice Jack, giving me the nut straight. I bet a derisory $25 and he calls. Now I am even more mystified. QK? QJ? Nope, he had KK.
Always nice to win a pot that you had no right to at all, particularly from an opponent's misplay.

4) I returned to the Flamingo the grand sum of $1 up for the day. A short session with Sean on my left was brought to a close when the table was broken so that a tournament could start. An odd decision by the floor manager, but one that was to work to my advantage.
The table I moved to had one guy with a very large stack, but I just had a feeling about him. After about three hands I picked. up AK off under the gun. This is a different dynamic from the normal limp-reraise. I put in a small raise to $7 One caller and my large-stacked friend duly raised it to $35. I shove without hesititation and he looks at me and says "Don't be mad at me when I suck out on you". I assured him that I wouldn't be mad.
Board came 8d 7h Ts and he said "Gutshot!" To be honest I am not optimistic. I'm less optimistic when Turn comes a 2 and River comes a 3. However, he turns over 54 off (!!) and my AK high is good for a double through to $230.
He stacked off most of his $1000 fairly quickly after that, and was down to $200 before he decided that it might be an idea to play sensibly. At that point I took my leave, at about $85 up.

It's July 4th and the fireworks have started. I didn't want to stay on the strip because I was frightened of New Year's Eve style traffic jams if I stayed until late in the evening. And I had been playing for seven or so hours.

About $58 up for trip, plus about $140 in Total rewards benefits. Still less than $3k in cash, though. :-(

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