The value of application

I’m middle-aged, and sensible, and a bit dull, so of course I have a monthly contract for my cellphone, with unlimited minutes and texts (not that I ever use many of either, since I don’t have much of a social life to speak of). Anyway, I guess that means that I’m well outside the target demographic for WhatsApp, and not really in a position to even begin to understand why it might be popular among the youth, or what its revenue model might be.

Even if I did comprehend how money can be made by facilitating gossip among teenagers, I’m still not sure that I would be able to get my head around the fact that Facebook just paid $19 billion for the app. How did they come up with that valuation? Why not $12 billion, or $25 billion, or some other random figure? For $19 billion they could have got a proper, profit-generating, corporation like ConEdison, and still had some change left. I know that the deal was mainly financed with Facebook stock, which may or may not hold its value, but reportedly there was about $4 billion in actual real cash involved too. The guy who sold them Instagram must be feeling he left some money on the table.

I probably shouldn’t care what Silicon Valley venture capitalists choose to waste their money on, but it’s impossible to read about these astronomical sums being thrown around and not wonder if some more productive use might have been found for the cash, like, you know, fighting world hunger or something.

No doubt such naive sentiment would earn me a stern lecture from today’s tech entrepreneurs, about how enriching the wealth-creators is the true road to global prosperity, just like Ayn Rand said, but even if I was a hard-headed capitalist rather than a soft-hearted communist the WhatsApp deal might raise a few concerns. If the rate of profit in traditional industries has declined to the point where capital is forced to find a home at the risky edge of new technology, then it doesn’t auger well for the economy as a whole. Of course tech enthusiasts will argue that we’re talking about a new, disruptive paradigm, and that the old rules don’t apply, and that the sky-high valuations of internet stocks are completely justified and not at all based on any sort of irrational exuberance, but that’s what they’ve said about every bubble since the days of tulip mania.

At least us poor folks can look forward to the whole edifice collapsing at some point in the future, though the Googles and Facebooks are probably already preparing plans to lobby the Government for a bailout when the crash comes, because these arch-objectivists do tend to embrace corporate socialism when times turn hard (for them). In the meantime I guess we just have to keep organising, and resisting where we can.

Hooray for Hugo

After giving last year’s award to worthy women’s rights activists, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee seem to have rediscovered their sense of ironic black humour. They haven’t quite managed to top their 2009 masterstroke, when Barack Obama got the nod for his work in spreading goodwill and understanding by escalating wars and terrorising whole populations with killer drones, but giving the medal to the European Union, at a time when EU macroeconomic policy is spreading fear and despair through much of the continent, does come a close second.

It’s been rather a depressing week all round, from a left point of view, what with Romney making up ground in the US and our own Tory government promising all-out class warfare. There was a bright spot though; Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution marches on in Venezuela. Chavez has his critics on the left round here – proletarian bonapartism is a phrase one sometimes hears – but his record of improving the lot of the poor beats anything we’ve managed in the last half century, so more power to his elbow I say.

Can you Digg it?

Interesting news from the world of social media this week, where the sale of plucky internet start-up Digg raked in a cool $500K for investors, a sum they might have been excited about had their stock not cost $45 million just a couple of years previously.

Add in the doubts about Facebook’s revenue model, and one might fear that the social media bubble is about to burst. I guess I’ll have to postpone the SLS IPO…

(Here’s the music link which partly inspired this post, but which I can’t work out how to shoehorn into the main text.)

Grey Skies

I’ve been pretty lax on the blog front of late, which I had been ascribing to simple idleness, but my new theory is that I’m just being slowed down by having to wade through that damn Higgs Field every day.

Anyway, what’s been happening? Spanish flair did win Euro 2012, as I (almost) predicted, though it triumphed over Italian artistry rather than Teutonic efficiency, the Germans having lost their way in the semi-final. For a while after that game it seemed like they might cave in on the Eurobond question too, but no such luck.

In other news, the reading public have twisted a dagger into the heart of aspiring authors everywhere by enthusiastically embracing a volume of reworked Twilight fan-fic, making it the fastest selling paperback ever in the UK, despite it being, by all accounts, very poorly written, not particularly transgressive, and certainly not psychologically sophisticated.

Discouraged by this turn of events I have abandoned my plans to spend the next few months working on my own literary masterpiece, in favour of my usual summer routine of getting stoned in the park (assuming the rain ever stops), with a suitable soundtrack. There may not be many more posts this month…

Life imitates sport

I’ve not had much time for blogging recently, because, among other distractions, I’ve been spending my evenings drinking beer and watching the football on TV.

I had been hoping that last night’s match between Greece and Germany would provide me with a handy metaphor for a post on how the downtrodden masses can, through organisation and unity, overcome seemingly impossible odds, but sadly the cold efficiency of the Germans saw them run out comfortable winners.

Things are looking a little more hopeful on the political field though. The left may not have won in last week’s rerun election in Greece, but it appears they have done well enough to force Angela Merkel to accept some softening of the austerity programme imposed on the country.

On current form it looks like the Germans might end up facing Spain in the final; perhaps Iberian flair will make that match a better symbol for the future course of European protest.

Euro predictions

Since my last attempt at predicting the outcome of a major football tournament turned out rather poorly, I decided to wait until the first round of matches in Euro 2012 was complete before hazarding any forecast. I’m sure that Spain will pick up after their slow start, the Ukrainians and the Russians are looking useful, and even England seem to be less woeful than we had been led to believe, but I’m going to play it safe and tip Germany for the title.

In other European news, the Spanish banks have been bailed out, which may or may not be enough to stabilize the Eurozone, at least temporarily. All eyes are on Greece though, which returns to the polls this weekend after the last election failed to produce a clear winner. If the electorate hold their nerve, and vote for the anti-austerity left, then the whole future of European economic policy will be up in the air. What will happen next is a lot harder to predict than a game of football, but again it’s safe to say that the Germans will have a major influence on the outcome.

We got five years, my brain hurts a lot

Today is the fifth anniversary of the very first post on this blog. To mark this auspicious occasion I had been thinking of collecting our best 100 pieces into an ebook, but then I realised that that might be just a little narcissistic, even for me, so I’ve settled for compiling a (slightly) shorter list of the posts I’ve been most pleased with over the years. They’re in chronological order, to show the development of our style, such as it is. Most are from 2009-2010, which was really our golden age, but every year has had some highlights.

Actually, what’s been my favourite part of writing this blog has been working in all the references to music I like; here’s another one.

2007

Virtual intimacy
This ain’t the Mudd Club
Attack of the Mutant Space Zombies
On the Game Grid
Working for the Linden Dollar
The thousand natural shocks
Elf actualisation

2008

Conduit (not) for sale
Diane …
Reptilia
A foreign country
Bunny worship
Uncertain principles

2009

Modern Romance
The best laid schemes
Nietzsche work if you can get it
Cargo cult consciousness
Greenies may have invaded some time ago, we hear
Et in Arcadia ego
Less than zero
Plunging Necklines
Live from East 3rd Street
Twilight of the Replicants
Ferrisburg, Vermont
Do boys make passes at avatars with glasses?
No man is an island
Flogging a dead zombie
Twixt and between
The killer awoke before dawn
Scenes from the Class Struggle in Second Life
Why we hate and fear the BBC
On being kind not cruel
Liberté, Egalité, Virtualité
Virtual Bakumatsu

2010

You say you want a revolution
Two Galleries
O Superman
The Kid With The Replaceable Head
The Linden Principle
Прощай Woodbury
Digital Death Day
That gum you like is going to come back in style
From Off the Streets of Cleveland
Bastille Day 1989
On the unreliability of memory
Virtual alchemy
Upon the dismal shore of Acheron
Anatomy of a scandal
The rest is silence
The Revolution Will Not Be Twitterised
Cut Away
Red Ties
Reoccurring Dreams
That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

2011

The Social Network
The wrong move at the right time
The Great Gonzo
The Leopard
The Solution
Spaced Out
Do You Believe in Rapture?
The Physical Impossibility of Running an Art Gallery in Second Life
Subdivisions

2012

Planned obsolescence
I’d work very hard, but I’m lazy

Austerity check

This could turn out to be an interesting week in European politics, with local elections today here in the UK, and Presidential and Parliamentary polls in France and Greece respectively on Sunday.

In all three cases it’s looking likely that candidates opposing (to a greater or lesser degree) the programmes of austerity imposed by the incumbents will do well.

This probably won’t have much effect in the UK, since the Conservatives will still be in power on a national level, though a heavy defeat might add to the general air of crisis surrounding the Government, and prompt them to at least partially reverse some of their more unpopular cuts.

The result in France could be much more significant; a victory for Francois Hollande will not only lead to a change in domestic economic policy, but will also deprive Angela Merkel of her principal conservative ally in the EU, making it much harder for the Germans to wave the big stick of fiscal discipline at the struggling governments of Southern Europe.

Which brings us to Greece. Theoretically the incoming government, of whatever political persuasion, is already committed to honouring the terms of the EU bailout, but it’s hard to see how that will be democratically sustainable if the popular vote favours parties opposed to that deal.

In the short term I think we’ll have another period of crisis in the Eurozone, the long term impact of which is difficult to predict. There are signs that popular discontent with austerity is fuelling a resurgence on the left, but the far right is on the rise too. Interesting times indeed.

Livin’ on a Prayer

While I’ve been patronising our American readers by loftily disparaging the US Presidential candidates, over here in Europe our vastly superior political elite have been making a fine job of solving the Eurozone debt crisis.

So far the plan has involved imposing austerity so harsh that large swathes of the Greek population have been reduced to a state of severe poverty, thus undermining the very fabric of civilised society, with more of the same to come for Italy, Portugal, Spain, and who knows where else. This might suggest that our leaders have no idea what they are doing, but perhaps there is some underlying strategy whose wisdom will only become clear with time. Right now though it all makes Rick Perry’s Texas drought-relief scheme look positively rational.

To the right, ever to the right?

Some sort of (relative) sanity has returned to the Republican nomination race, with Mitt Romney finally managing to achieve convincing victories in Florida and Nevada, as party members recoil from the prospect of the humiliating defeat that would undoubtedly result if they were unwise enough to put Next Gingrich up against the incumbent President.

Can Romney beat Obama? From my European perspective the answer seems very clear; no, of course he can’t. Even though Romney appears moderate compared with the far right of the GOP, his conservatism, both social and fiscal, is so extreme that it is impossible to imagine him getting elected to high office on this side of the Atlantic; thus I can only assume that he has no chance in the US either.

There is a flaw in that reasoning of course, one that stems from an underestimation of the difference between the cultural underpinnings of politics in Europe and America.

In the Broadway musical and film 1776, the following line is uttered by Founding Father John Dickinson:

“Most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor.”

The collective wisdom of the internets suggests that this aphorism was actually coined by the scriptwriters, but nevertheless I think it does encapsulate a key difference between the outlook of US citizens compared with that of their European counterparts; a willingness to run the risk of poverty so long as there is some opportunity for prosperity.

Over here we prefer the safety net of healthcare and welfare even if it means we get hit by high taxes if we do crack the secret of wealth; clearly a rational choice, since all the evidence shows that the chances of making it big are very small indeed, and that the unrestrained free market can be brutal when times turn bad.

I’m sure that voters in the US will eventually come to this conclusion too, but until they do the possibility of a President Romney is unfortunately all too real.

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