OK maybe I should expand on that a little.
All right, let’s break it down: Should Apple and Google pay more tax?
Should they pay that tax in Ireland?
Should they shite.
They ought to be paying the tax in – ooh, I don’t know – the countries where they actually owe the tax? The places where they did the work and made the profit. As opposed to giving it to us for letting them pretend they do their business here. Apple and Google are not the only examples of this of course, and I’m sure that they’re far from the most egregious. They do actually do some stuff here, unlike hundreds of companies that have their brass-effect plaques in the IFSC. But they are immensely profitable and we are helping them keep more of those profits for themselves. For a cut.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with offering a slightly lower rate of corporate tax to attract business, especially if it’s a loss you’re willing to take in order to compensate for another disadvantage – a fairly peripheral location, for example. It could, and I’m sure it once did, attract people to do real business and create real employment here that they would not otherwise have.
But when the rates are so low that they tempt corporations to just start trucking money through the country, and when we provide them with “pro-business regulation” that doesn’t check excessively carefully to make sure all that money is really being made here, then we are stealing. It’s as simple as that. Those companies should be paying taxes to the people of other countries, but we’re taking it.
And ultimately, it does us no good. Just look. This easy-money attitude helped create a soufflé economy that grew and grew and grew until it wasn’t there. Some people made billions out of it of course, but all most of us have to show is debt, negative equity, unemployment.
To this we can add international pariah status. Did you not notice Eurovision?
So now we begin again. What if we try to rebuild the economy on radical principles – like proper regulation, reasonable taxation, and actual value?
- Apple pays tax rate of less than 2pc in Ireland (independent.ie)
- Apple disputes claims of tax avoidance (telegraph.co.uk)
- Apple tax row: Ireland says its tax regime is not to blame (guardian.co.uk)
- Apple’s Tim Cook gives evidence as questions raised over Irish tax rates (independent.ie)
Posted in Politics on May 18th 2013
Captured from Twitter:
Love it. It neatly captures the Catholic Church’s schizophrenic morality. Insinuating itself into public and private life, offering its creeplove salvation.
The “Sindo” by the way is the Sunday Independent newspaper. They like to run polls. I seem to have voted in one just now by clicking on a link in fact. At least it thanked me for voting – I still don’t know what the question was. So I wouldn’t give too much weight to the results, I don’t think 22% of people today would really prefer a woman to die than have an abortion.
I wish I could be sure though.
Posted in Politics on May 15th 2013
Somebody on the radio saying they’re going abroad to declare bankruptcy. A different holiday idea I suppose. Naturally others soon phoned in to object to this “moral hazard“, as the banks would like us to call it. It was wrong they said to walk away from your mortgaged home just because you owed more on it than it was worth.
That got me thinking about what debt actually means. Is there a moral obligation to repay?
Well of course there is. It’s a matter of trust, which is what morality is basically all about. If you’re in a business, you were given materials and help by your workers and suppliers. You are obliged to pay them so they in turn can pay their helpers and suppliers and so on. The wheels of the economy keep turning and everyone gets fed. A financial debt is a promise like any other.
However there is one important qualification. You are only indebted when and if you actually receive something.
The banks will argue of course that they gave you money when you signed that mortgage so you are obviously obliged to repay it, along with the agreed interest. But the thing is, did they actually give you money?
No. They never gave it to you, because they never had it to give to you.
I don’t mean they didn’t have it in their vaults; we all know that’s not how finance works. All loans are borrowed, when it comes down to it, from the future. They’re based on the reasonable prediction that most of the time they will be paid back in full and with interest. But when the banks decided instead to start making ludicrous loans for several times the value of the houses they were raised against, thereby further escalating the price of housing and so allowing them to offer even bigger loans, they knew that ultimately the whole thing had to blow up. The loans were fake. There was no money in the future to borrow from.
When the inevitable crash came the banks of course had a parachute: They were too big to fail – or so at least they managed to convince themselves. And with themselves convinced they had little trouble convincing the political parties they were going out with – who effectively promised that they would make this impossible future money somehow magically become real money.
Or to be precise, they promised that we would.
The money you seemed to get from the bank ultimately came therefore out of your own pocket. You were tricked into lending it to yourself so that they could take a cut. It’s immoral to stop repaying that? It’s probably immoral to keep going.
Besides, you will only be a little ahead of the crowd. It should come as no surprise that even with all of us working together we can’t actually afford to turn the banks’ lies into reality. The State itself is going to default at some point. That is as inevitable now as the property crash was. Our public debt is soon going to be 200% of GDP, and the harder we try to pay it the less we will be able to; we are being crushed in fact by the burden of trying. Actual people being crushed, by imagined money.
The sooner we all default the better.
Posted in Cosmography on May 13th 2013
There is so much I want to get done over this summer, but for now I’m mostly doing calm, therapeutic tasks. As I put it in a mail to a friend earlier, I’m reassembling myself. Plunging sinks. Designing CD covers. Configuring Linux. Oddly varied, when I think about it. Began summer work on my mother’s house. Planted some flowers – blue pansies. Cut the grass for the first time this year. Felt more like shearing a green sheep. And finally started to varnish the window frames, a job that’s been looking accusingly at me almost since last summer. It’s interesting, I’ve never varnished something before. Except the truth of course.
The Varnished Truth wouldn’t be a bad tag line for this blog, come to think of it.
Another exam this morning. Christ what a paper. Answer three questions out of four; was going to be out of five but they had to cancel a lecture or two so they curtailed our choice to compensate… Which meant that being weak in even one area was a big risk.
And I was weak in one. This paper was Information System Innovation, a strange mix of investment decision-making, Intellectual Property law, and Open Source idealism. At all costs I wanted to avoid a question on business metrics, the tedium of which makes my brain cry.
I got lucky. My favourite area – Open Source Software – came up in two questions. If anyone on the course had been trying to avoid Open Source on the other hand, they were pretty much stuffed and mounted. And this after they told us explicitly that there would be no overlaps.
My only real problem with the paper was that there wasn’t time to say all I wanted to say. So strange to be answering questions about the likes of Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds, people who before this seemed more like figures out of folklore. Weirder still to think that when I graduated with my primary degree, none of the stuff on this course had happened yet.
So despite the stress I actually enjoyed the exam. This may not be a good sign, as it means I managed to go on at some length about things I have opinions on. Apple versus Samsung, Menlo Park versus Xerox PARC, IP in an age of 3D printing. Did they even want opinion? Did I show I was fully engaged with the material, or rave about stuff that was only tangentially related? Essentially, I can only have done either a brilliant or a disastrous paper.
But I have the whole summer to worry about that.
- Linus Torvalds Announces Release of Linux 3.9 (hothardware.com)
- Happy 60th Birthday, Richard Stallman, Free Software God! (readwrite.com)
- Geek Madness: Nikola Tesla named greatest geek ever after trouncing Torvalds (geekwire.com)
Wow. Doing an exam is like shoving fistfuls of drugs into your face.
Well, doing an exam after…
- Studying frantically in a sort of cold panic for over a week
- Waking up at 3am and not getting get back to sleep until an hour before the alarm
- Rushing out of the house only to find that the car won’t start
… feels like messing your head up with all sorts o’ bad stuff. Stress, with the stress on stress.
I still don’t know what was up with the car. Yes I had checked it the night before and no, I didn’t leave the electrics on. It was the good new battery that saved me in fact, because as the last desperate throw of the dice I just turned the engine over and kept turning it over until finally, one cylinder at a time, life returned. Perhaps I’d flooded it on the first try.
So now trying to get to my exam through rush hour traffic on very little sleep but oh so much adrenalin. Made it as far as the campus with minutes to spare, knew it would take too long to find a student parking space so threw handfuls of change at a ticket machine. Ran up three flights, downed three cups of water, made it.
This was Java, at once somehow my most feared and enjoyed subject. The course had been challenging – literally half the class had transferred out – but I felt like I was beginning to grasp its rhythms and its symmetries. Some programmers dislike the language; I have little to compare it to but I see a beauty in it.
Java is perhaps the best known example of an “Object Orientated” . If I dare try to explain that in simple terms, it means that instead of being long impenetrable lists of instructions, OO programs are made up of small units that attempt to model real things. A program with cars in it, say, would contain a subunit (called a “class” in Java) to represent cars. It would have its associated variables – colour perhaps, size, top speed – and “methods”, which represent what a car does: accelerate, brake, etc. They can be as elaborate or as simple as you need, but cars will exist in your program as discrete entities that can interact with other entities like passengers or junctions or other cars.
You can define subclasses that have things in common with some cars but not others, like 4x4s. Or superclasses – for example, one of vehicles – that comprise cars and other objects. In this way you clarify the relationships between things; you also avoid having to write the same code over and over, as subclasses inherit features from their superclasses. “Accelerate” for example need only ever be defined once to be used by every sort of vehicle. All these knit together in careful, logical ways to represent and simulate how things in the real world can interrelate. It’s elegant and subtle.
And elusive at times. So I worried that my understanding of the concepts was still quite tenuous and that an unexpected question might blow a hole right through it. But I think the exam went well. One good thing – I started at full speed, and stayed at full speed for three hours. All right, some of the answers may have been a little “Ooh, here’s another thing I remember!”, but I think I displayed a thorough understanding.
Unless of course I don’t understand, in which case I will have displayed a thorough misapprehension. To find out, we must now wait till autumn.
This is all over by 12:30, but the rest of the day is not without incident. Get some things I needed done done, fetch and carry, all in a strange trance of excess energy. I make it home eventually. The idea is to have an early night but I am as wired as I’m tired. It’s one in the morning before I finally – joyfully – go to my bedroom and reach to turn on the light.
And step in something wet.
That is never good. That is never never never good. It’s not much good in a bathroom or a kitchen. But in a bedroom, stepping in something wet is right out.
There is a puddle forming on the floor. The computer I’m building is sitting there powered up to standby, so it’s just as well I “went to bed” when I did. There is a drip from the ceiling. Deftly turning off all electrics and water with a single move, I fetch a ladder and squirm into the attic.
It’s coming from the complex pipework linking the three tanks of water in the attic space (I do not know why there are three tanks of water in the attic space). It is dropping directly onto a box of my personal memorabilia, and from there through the floor. After cutting away some of the nice new insulation I find a weeping joint. I fetch tools and tighten the fitting, squirm out and turn water back on.
Leak much much worse bugger.
Opening offending joint, I find that yet again a pipe has eroded. Don’t know what’s doing this, but it’s maybe the fourth instance of spontaneous dissolving pipe in the last couple of years. What the hell are we drinking? Spend the next hours crawling around in the dusty, glass-fibery, spidery dark doing work almost utterly unlike the pure cerebration of the morning, so tired now that – mercifully – I can’t even feel how tired I am.
Quite a day.
- 10 Reasons to Learn Java Programming Language and Why Java is Best (javarevisited.blogspot.com)
- Why Encapsulation Matters (java.dzone.com)
Posted in Cosmography on April 15th 2013
In its science section today, the Guardian / Observer ran a story about a mysterious sheen found on the rocks of many deserts:
These layers of manganese, arsenic and silica are known as desert varnish and they are found in the Atacama desert in Chile, the Mojave desert in California, and in many other arid places. They can make the desert glitter with surprising colour and, by scraping off pieces of varnish, native people have created intriguing symbols and images on rock walls and surfaces. [...]
Professor Carol Cleland, of Colorado University, has a very different suggestion. She believes desert varnish could be the manifestation of an alternative, invisible biological world.
The suggestion is that alongside life on Earth as we know it there may be other forms that arose entirely separately and remain virtually invisible to us. It’s a very interesting story and I urge you to read it all. I really only have one problem with it.
It’s not science.
There’s a serious debate going on right now about what is good science journalism, what forwards public understanding. This doesn’t. It’s presented in a science column, it concerns science-oriented things like biology and geology, it even seems to be putting forward a hypothesis. But it isn’t science. Actually it’s philosophy.
And as philosophy, I like it. I don’t mean that as any sort of faint praise. Philosophy is important, and too much these days it seems – bizarrely – to be afraid of the big issues. This is as bravely speculative as good science fiction, which I also mean as a high-order compliment. It’s an interesting idea, and I have no reason to doubt that a wholly alternative form of life could exist on Earth.
The problem is, that is the only argument being offered here – that it could exist. The desert varnish thing is placed in the article as if it were some sort of pointer to, even evidence of, its existence. But it’s not. The process here is actually running in the opposite direction, not from the phenomenon but from a question: “Logically the chemistry of life could work in different ways, so why doesn’t it?”
It’s a good question. “What if it does, and we’ve just missed it?” is an excellent answer to that question.
The problem I have is with the next step. “Maybe the evidence for it is this other thing we can’t explain.”
That is only speculation. If there is no falsifiable hypothesis being made about how shadow bioforms could be causing the desert varnish then it’s really nothing to do with science. A best it’s just a suggested area of enquiry. It sounds more like a guess.
And this question matters – both scientifically and philosophically. It’s challenging in fact to imagine a bigger one we might ever be able to answer by means of science. Just how likely is it that life came into being, that chemicals somehow arranged themselves in a self-replicating way? If we had evidence of a “shadow biosphere” so different from the one we know that it couldn’t possibly be related to us, it would strongly suggest that life arose more than once even on a single planet. And therefore, that we probably live in a crowded and lively universe.
It would also suggest that the tendency to self-organisation is somehow innate to the laws of nature. Perhaps our minds, our culture and civilisations, are manifestations of that tendency too.
When we don’t find evidence for alternative life, that lends weight to the view that its appearance here in Earth was extraordinary, a trillions-to-one chance event. In that case, this planet may hold the only life in the universe. Which is interesting, scary, inspiring – and quite a responsibility.
It is a vast question of almost unimaginable consequence, so it is exasperating to find something held up as the answer when in fact there is no evidence at all. No one could write an article like this who thought it really mattered.
- Life on Earth… but not as we know it (guardian.co.uk)