There possibly is no dirtier word in Britain at the moment than 'banker'. They have become villains of almost pantomime proportions, with people practically hissing whenever anyone mentions 'the bankers' on the BBC's Question Time. People get so very angry, 'The bankers caused this crisis,' they say, 'so they should pay for it – why should my taxes pay for their incompetence / greed / etc?'
The BBC recently published this article in their online magazine, explaining the maths behind the Black-Scholes equation which calculates the prices of futures and derivatives, and lies at the heart of many if not all investment computer systems. One of the mathematicians who invented and developed it was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1997, two years after the other died.
The question is: whose fault is the crisis? Is it the 'greedy bankers' who cheated and lied in their accounts, inventing clever ways of moving money around to make it look as though they were making a profit, selling debt as an asset, lining their pockets with wads of cash and driveways with sports cars? Or is it the mathematicians who inadvertently derived a formula which now pretty much runs the world of investment banking (apparently)?
Or, is it the society which created them, the society which decided that greed is the primary and best motivating force for generating money (which it is), and that generating money is the primary function of an economy (which it shouldn't be)? Is it the society which wants ever improving healthcare and free education, the society which wants a constantly-improving standard of living (which is mathematically impossible to sustain)?
Is it, in fact, greed – not just the greed of the bankers, but the greed of all of us, wanting what we haven't got and can't afford? In the U2 song Gone Bono sings a line: 'What you thought was freedom just was greed.' To me that line perfectly summarises the problem: unchecked capitalism does not create more and more freedom for society, but more and more greed. And for that, we are all complicit, and therefore all deserve to pay the price.
Thankfully God's economy of grace is a bit more forgiving than that..
This was in our church notice sheet last week..
The Pope was cruising along the beach in the Pope-mobile when there was a frantic commotion just off-shore. A helpless man, wearing an England rugby shirt, was struggling frantically to free himself from the jaws of a 25-foot long shark.
As the Pope watched in horror, a speedboat pulled up with three men wearing Australian rugby jerseys. One quickly fired a harpoon into the shark's side while the other two reached out and pulled the hapless English fan from the water. Then, using long clubs, the three beat the shark to death and hauled it into the boat.
Immediately the Pope shouted out and summoned them to him, "I give you my blessing for your brave actions. I heard that there was bitter hatred between Australian and English rugby fans, but now I have seen with my own eyes that this is not true."
As the Pope drove off, the harpooner asked his buddies: "Who was that?"
"It was the Pope," one replied. "He is in direct contact with God and has access to all of God's wisdom."
"Well," the harpooner said, "he may have access to God and his wisdom, but he doesn't know anything about shark fishing. Is the bait holding up ok, or do we need to get another one?"
I use a couple of movie review sites to get a flavour for a particular film, and I'm starting to think they are actually quite pointless.
Most of them allow you to rate a film out of 5 or 10 stars – or even using a percentage. Very useful you might think, until you realise that the sheer volume of people using them (1000s) mean that they are pretty much useless.
For example, I just looked through 100 film recommendations on Love Film.com, and almost every single one of them had three stars. On other sites, I've noticed that movies tend towards exactly that – around 60%. Why? You can't give no stars in a rating, so the median rating will always be 3 – and over such a huge number of people, the mean will tend towards that number too.
The best site I've found is Rotten Tomatoes, which collates critics, who are usually a bit more discerning. The scores there do differ much more. But even there, you still get wildly different reviews.
All of which tells me, you can't tell how good a film is going to be unless you've seen it. How profound.
Since I upgraded to Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) I have been unable to download programmes using the BBC iPlayer Desktop. It worked fine before, but the upgrade killed it.
I tried uninstalling it, removing it using AppCleaner, uninstalling Adobe AIR, restarting etc etc, and eventually just gave up.
Today however I solved the problem!
I uninstalled iPlayer Desktop using AppCleaner, and then deleted the directory:
Where ~/ is your home directory.
I then went back to the iPlayer website, reinstalled iPlayer Desktop, and now all works fine!
I hope this helps someone else.
Now often I find art stupid, rubbish, pretentious, etc etc – I'm sure it's because I don't understand it.
This this is stupendously good – I genuinely couldn't believe my eyes the first time I saw it..
I nearly fell off my chair when I read this article by Matthew Parris. This is how he ends his article:
To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation – that nobody else had climbed it – would stand as a second reason for passivity.
Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.
Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.
And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.
So according to this report two weeks ago, all the people who live in the North should move to the South, because regeneration efforts are failing. To avoid become 'trapped' in poverty, people should move to Oxford, or Cambridge, say.
Of course, all the major parties rubbished it, and the councils of various Northern cities did as well. David Cameron said it was 'insane'.
Imagine my delight when I read another story today, this time about 'mapping' Britain's 'happiest places'. It seems Edinburgh comes out bottom – but, in a delicious irony given the story a couple of weeks ago – EIGHT of the top TEN happiest places in Britain are in the North of England or Scotland.
Now, what does that tell you? It tells me that stupid middle-class think-tanks assume that all that matters is financial well-being.
So, my call to the South is: come up here, it's a much happier place to live!