Friday, May 20, 2022

What is Teesside?

Middlesbrough has once again failed in its efforts to acquire "city" status. As a city-zen of Middlesbrough I'm actually quite pleased about this. To me Middlesbrough just doesn't feel like a city, it feels like a town. I can see why people want city status, it brings an element of prestige, but it's little use if it isn't a genuine reflection of reality in my opinion.

Teesside as a whole could be considered something akin to a city. It's certainly big enough. However, even here the label wouldn't be quite right. Teesside is kinda weird. It's its own thing.

(Teesside, courtesy of Google Maps)

All the places that make up Teesside - Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar, Billingham and so forth - all pretty much just blend into each other. There are no real dividing lines in actuality. It's one huge urban (and industrial) sprawl. Still though, each is a unique place in its own right, with its own centre of gravity.

I guess you could describe Teesside as a multi-polar cityscape in a sense.

The difficulty in packaging all these separate but conjoined places under one label is reflected in the amount of different names that have been used over the years.

Teesside, Tees Valley, Cleveland, North Yorkshire - these are all things I could put between Middlesbrough and my postcode when writing my address. (I generally go with North Yorkshire, but only because I feel it conveys a bit more beauty.)

The fact that Teesside is on the boundary between Yorkshire and Durham only adds to the difficultly in pinning things down. Historically the River Tees was the boundary between these two places. Now Teesside lies sprawled across this boundary. A blob in its own right.

We have some of the most beautiful countryside in all of England right on our doorstep, it's a huge blessing, yet by focusing on Teesside alone we don't advertise this. When people think "Teesside", or "Tees Valley" even, they think of an industrialised landscape. They don't think of the green fields and forests out on the horizon. So we lose something by calving ourselves off from these two historic counties. Still though, these settlements that have blossomed along the river are too big to not have their own label; and it's only natural that the label would refer to the river.

It's not a city, or a town, or a county. It's Teesside.

It's the corridor of concrete, chemical works and artificial lighting that follows the river out to Redcar. The grim, but futuristic landscape that helped give Ridley Scott the inspiration for the movie Blade Runner.

(click to enlarge)

But even this is changing somewhat as we move into the 21st century. So who knows what the final imprint will be.

The difficultly in finding a vision that fits is compounded by the fact that Middlesbrough, at the centre of it all, is a young town by English standards. Only really coming into being during the 19th century - when industrialisation kicked into gear and the "iron rush" began in the very same hills and valleys.

In some ways Middlesbrough has more in common with the towns that sprung up in America during this period than it does with English ones. Its motto - Erimus - meaning "We Shall Be" reflecting this.

In fact, this is partly why I've come to view it as counterproductive to try to force labels upon the area. It's still a work in progress. It'll be what it'll be ..and when the time comes the language to describe things will naturally come too.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Are Our Inalienable Rights Innate ?

I saw a little discussion today on Twitter about "inalienable" rights and natural law. Where one side was stating that these rights are rooted in nature, and the other side was saying something along the lines of:

"Well no, surely they're just invented by man like all laws."


My view is somewhere in between. My thinking goes like this.

All humans have an innate sense of 'good' and 'bad', and this stems from our sensory experience of the world - i.e. pain = bad/wrong, and pleasure = good/right.

So notions of good and bad are hardwired into our worldview.

However, sometimes our own pleasure comes at the expense of someone else's pain. If I take someone's food I'll get the pleasure of eating whilst they will get the pain of hunger. As our own pleasure/pain is more immediate than another person's it often takes precedent. Still, given our own experience of these things we can at least empathise with the other person. This doesn't necessarily mean we won't take the food though.

So, we have this innate appreciation of good and bad, and understand that others experience good and bad too. We then calculate the balance of our good/bad versus the other person's in a very vague way. Naturally weighing our own interests more heavily in the balance.

If I have a lot of food and see someone who's hungry I'll alleviate that 'badness' in the world by giving that person some of mine, but if I'm starving I'll prioritise my own hunger and not care so much about the other person.

This all sounds incredibly selfish and uninspiring, and reduces us to Darwinist animal/machines somewhat, but it's important to look at things in this crude calculated way to get to the root of natural law.

People often debate if there is a true right and wrong - some fundamental rightness and wrongness that we can all universally recognise.

I would argue that there is, and that it simply lies in this intuitive understanding, based in sensory experience, that pain is 'bad' and pleasure is 'good'.

The universal baseline..

So, for example, if we take something truly heinous like torture.

Though most of us deem torture beyond the pale, some people will argue that in certain circumstances it's permissible - because the good outweighs the bad.

e.g. If torturing one person stops one thousand people dying in a terrorist attack.

It's a similar equation or calculation as before. It's good because the bad stopped outweighs the bad caused. (And again, what's good in this instance is no doubt somewhat biased by the position of the person making the decision - their own pleasure/pain/danger being more immediate to themselves).

However, even though someone could make this argument they still wouldn't argue that torture was good full stop.

Everyone - even the person arguing that torture is good to stop a terrorist attack - wouldn't argue that it was good to torture someone for no reason. As this would be a net addition of suffering in the world with no beneficial gain.

So the infliction of needless or pointless suffering is something that all humans would agree is bad. No one would argue in favour of it.

We all agree that bad is bad and that good is good. The problems only arise when we try to balance the good against the bad from our own particular viewpoint.

I would say natural law, in its true organic sense, is simply this vague common acknowledgement that good should be aimed for and bad should be avoided. Anything more than that is subjective.

Natural Law/Common Law

The notions of natural or common law rights do naturally follow on from this however. It's sensible for humans to agree upon basic principles - the most simple being "I'll leave you alone if you leave me alone." What we call "live and let live".

Most people at least try to follow this concept because it's reasonable and they intuitively understand it's not good to cause harm to another person for no reason. People naturally understand this.

This is why basic common law rights simply protect us from direct infringements by others. They don't state what we can or can't do ourselves, just what we can't do to others. We can't punch someone or murder someone, etc.

Again though, life isn't always this simple, and sometimes people may feel they have good reason to punch someone.

So specific written laws enshrining these notions of right and wrong aren't the same as our intuitive appreciation of the concepts. They're not inalienable or "God-given" in quite the same way, though they arise from this same basic understanding.

When we codify and express such laws we're choosing to try to articulate these concepts; and when we do we partly do it for selfish reasons, and we always risk introducing our own particular bias because of this.

Animals

If we take animals for instance. We don't extend these rights to animals in the same way. People who espouse that human rights are "inalienable" will still often kill an animal for food. The reality is people are simply valuing their own health and happiness over that of the animal's when they do this. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this - in fact, it's part of nature - but people rarely recognise it for what it is: an act of self-interest. People much prefer to create a narrative that paints over this self-interest.

Animals were put on Earth by God to be eaten; Or, animals are less sentient than humans; Or, if it wasn't for me eating these animals they wouldn't get to have a great life being looked after in a nice green field; and so on..

All these things could be true of course, but they don't nullify the underlying self-interest.

It's in our self-interest to have human rights - we're human, but animal rights less so. As we, being humans not animals, don't need them. We need to be honest about this self-interest. It's perfectly natural and it doesn't mean we're fundamentally bad. We can't help but want to live and thrive and survive. We should acknowledge our impulses and biases though.

[I explain this conflict much more lucidly here: please read.


Personally I don't eat animals. However, I do eat dairy. I don't want to cause suffering to animals - I have empathy for them. Still, at the same time I continue to eat dairy for selfish reasons. I felt unhealthy and unhappy not eating dairy, so I started eating it again. It's hard to admit to myself that I'm being selfish by doing this, it would be much nicer to create some feel good justification for it, but this is the truth. I'm trying to balance my own self-interest with the interest of the poor farm animals.

We all balance the interests of ourselves (and our loved ones) with the interests of other people and creatures. Hopefully we try to do this in a fair and reasonable way, but none of us are perfect, and life isn't always simple.

[Incidentally, and mirroring the above point about torture, all humans also believe that animal cruelty is wrong. Even the most ardent meat eater. Again, because we recognise that pointless suffering - i.e. suffering with no positive benefit to someone - is fundamentally wrong. Once more illustrating that there is a baseline moral starting point of agreement for all people.]

Conclusion

So in conclusion it's important for us to recognise that we have concepts like 'inalienable rights' partly because we have an innate sense of right and wrong - but also because we have an innate self-interest. We shouldn't hide behind wishful thinking or ideological belief. It's only by honestly understanding these things and where they come from that we can explain these notions to other people. It's no use just screaming the word 'inalienable' at someone who doesn't share your worldview. They equally have the same sense that good is good and bad is bad - but they believe what they're doing is in the greater good. You have to explain to them that it's not in the greater good to have basic rights abused, and that it's beneficial for them too to have legal sovereignty over their own body.

The honest acknowledgement of your own self-interest also makes you realise that you do need to stand up for yourself. You don't need to apologise for defending the rights of yourself, your friends and your family. Likewise if you recognise your own failings and acts of self-interest you'll be more forgiving and understanding of the failings and self-interest of others.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Note to Self: Buy Shares in Stonehenge

About a month ago I was watching a Caspian Report video and it contained an advert for a company called Masterworks. Masterworks is basically an investment platform that allows people to buy shares in works of art. I saw the promo and thought "Hmm, that's an interesting idea.." then continued on watching the video.

Then about a week ago I saw another advert pop up online, this time one for Sotheby's. I was on a message board that was discussing Russian shares, so I'm guessing some of the people frequenting those boards, unlike me, actually have the money to buy fine art. Though the advert algorithm got my tastes correct, if not my income bracket, as it was an auction for this painting that grabbed my attention:

(The Madonna of the Cherries
- workshop of Joos van Cleve)

I really love this painting, so I was curious to see how much it was selling for. The estimate was £60,000 - £80,000. In the end it sold for £100,800.

When I initially saw £60,000 I thought "Wow, I'd definitely buy that if I was a multi-millionaire." I expected it to be a lot more. It's a beautiful painting.

Anyway, that in turn reminded me of the Masterworks advert I'd seen earlier. My thinking being that perhaps I could buy shares in one of these Northern Renaissance type artworks that I like so much. Having looked I think it's a little early for me to be attempting to invest in art - I'm still barely getting to grips with the world of regular shares. However, it did send me down a big rabbit hole.

I spent some time reading about Masterworks, and watching videos about it, and I've came to the conclusion that this is going to become HUGE. I really think this will be the next big thing in investing over the next decade or so. It's such an enormous untapped market. If they can succeed in making shares in artwork as accessible to regular investors as general stock market shares are - and as liquid - then it'll be really exciting. It will also potentially change how we fund and invest in culture.

It's not hard to imagine a world where galleries sell shares in artworks they own to raise capital. Just as companies sell a percentage of their company publicly on stock markets to raise capital.

I'll never be able to own the Mona Lisa, but if I'm offered the chance to own $50 worth of shares in it that would be cool - and probably quite a sound investment. Especially if I knew I could sell those shares just as easily on the same stock market I bought them on.


I don't think the French would be too keen on an Englishman owning the Mona Lisa, even if it was just $50 worth, but still, I'm sure they'd be tempted to use such a method to raise money for the national coffers. Particularly if it meant they could sell just 10% publicly and keep the controlling 90%.

And it wouldn't just stop at paintings too. This can all potentially apply to statues, sculptures, books, manuscripts. Basically any cultural or historic artefact. Even perhaps buildings and landmarks. Maybe one day you'll be able to buy shares in Stonehenge.

Obviously creating systems that would allow this to happen is easier said than done, the potential is there though, and it seems Masterworks is already heading in that direction. I watched a few interviews with their CEO and he seems to very much appreciate the vista-like potential, so I'll be very interested to watch this over the next few years and see what happens.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

I'm stocked up on Russian stocks..

Remember this..


This was back last September when I'd recently opened an eToro account and had tentatively started investing. More innocent days. Since then I've stepped things up a bit, so it's probably a good time to do a little update.

I now have over £5000 invested ..and I'm currently about £400 down :|

This is mainly because I'm now quite heavily invested in, er, Russian stocks. In fact, they account for about 30% of my portfolio -- eep.

(don't look, it's bad)

Some of which I bought before Christmas, when I had no idea war was on the horizon. Others more recently, in the heat of the drama - I couldn't resist the opportunity to go against the herd.

It might be a hard lesson to learn, but at the same time I'm enjoying it all a little too much. True to form my interest in politics immediately trumped my focus on cash the minute things started getting dicey. In fact, I bought $10 more of Sberbank after the sanctions were announced and it dropped 75%, mainly because I want to see what'll happen. I got more shares for my $10 than I got for the other $50 that I'd bought just a few weeks earlier. It's either more good money after bad, or it'll bounce back up in some sort of glorious resurrection.

No doubt given the current situation it'll more likely be the former. Still though, again, I just couldn't resist the opportunity to get in for the ride.

I think I'll probably refrain from buying more stocks for the time being. This is probably a good point to let my bank account recover. I won't be selling anything though. So I'll just watch what happens.

To be fair the rest of my stocks are doing quite nicely. All the (non-Russian) miners I bought are doing fairly well. Plus I have a lot of safer stocks in the mix. So I'm happy with it overall.



I actually really like owning Evraz and Polymetal too. Obviously I have no idea what happens now. The politics are looking grim, plus I'm a total novice when it comes to investing. However, these seem like solid companies, politics aside. Meaning I'm quite happy to gamble on the hope that they won't be completely excommunicated from the western world.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

A message to those that want to mandate vaccines..

The unvaxx'd repeatedly get accused of being selfish, so let's get selfish for a moment. When it comes to me and my health this vaccine simply doesn't meet my personal standards. It's simply not good enough for me, and I don't deem the balance of risk/benefit to be in my favour.

More to the point though, accepting this vaccine means accepting the premise that I can be forced or coerced into having any medical treatment the state deems 'satisfactory'; and I most certainly don't accept that. Again, it's not good enough for me. Perhaps it's good enough for you, perhaps you're happy with that, but not me.

Of course, people will state that government rules always set the bar for what's a safe standard, and that we all live by these rules already. However, those rules only set a lowest standard - they make sure the food sold in shops doesn't literally poison us, that there's no fraud, misrepresentation or malpractice. They stop medicines and foods from being sold and administered, but they don't force us to consume those things.

We are still free to say: "No, this isn't good enough for me. I'll choose something else; and if there's nothing else I deem good enough I'll choose nothing at all."

Again, the state sets a lowest standard, and it can only ever set a lowest standard. As if it attempted to set the highest it would have to ban literally everything, because everything comes with risk. Fast food restaurants would have to be closed. Every donut or cup of coffee banned. Every medication banned. Every human activity, sport, fairground ride, all stopped. As they all come with risk.

Either that or the state would have to micromanage all these things to perfection. Literally telling us how many donuts we're allowed to eat. Or how much exercise we're required to do or not to do. Likewise it would have to set the acceptable level of risk for any medication administered, as it does now - only in this scenario you'd no longer be able to say "No". It would decide.

So accepting the state can mandate what we do with our bodies means either believing the state knows best, and can manage these things to perfection - or it means simply accepting that it can impose the lowest standard upon you - i.e. whatever it deems satisfactory.

'Satisfactory' may be good enough for you, but it isn't good enough for me, and I don't accept it being forced upon me. So I'll decide what is good enough for me.

(click to enlarge)

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Metals, Markets, and Digital Jewellery

Wow, it's December, over two months since my last post - that's flew by. So definitely time for a little update.

Firstly my stocks. I've bought more since my last post, and in that time they've shot up then shot back down again. At one point I'd shot up to about $230 profit, but I'm back down to just $3.86 now 😄 Though that's significantly better than my lowest point which was about -$60.

As I noted in my last post you can follow my goings-on here;

I think I'll leave it until the new year now however, I think I've invested enough. So I'll just watch it do its thing for the time being.

Gold and Bitcoin

Since my last post I've had a little revelation too, and it came in regard gold and Bitcoin. Watching analysts speak on YouTube for hours on end has given me a decent overview.


My main takeaway is that both gold and Bitcoin are competing for the same space in the human psyche. I've been quite scathing of Bitcoin in the past, stating that it isn't backed by anything. However, gold isn't really backed by anything either. Sure, it's more real-world and physical, but its value largely stems from its cultural status and how much people want it, rather than from how useful and needed it is. Shiny shiny, wanty wanty.

Its rarity adds to this of course, but ultimately it's the status, which in part stems from this rarity - gold is the king of metals. In fact, if we sidestep into the esoteric for a moment it's decidedly odd that the most sought after metal just so happens to be the colour of the Sun (with silver, its second-placed sister, the colour of the Moon). It's almost like it has to be this way in some alchemical fashion. This is just how the world works.

As humans we've been living the last six or seven thousand years or so in the age of metals. From bronze to iron to rail and skyscrapers. Metals like copper, tin, etc, have real practical value and usefulness. They've been needed. Whereas gold (and to a lesser extent silver) have been much more ornamental. No one needs gold jewellery, but it's nice to have, and it's perfectly natural that in the age of metals the most beautiful, rare, unreactive and Sun-like would be the most valued. The standard against which every other metal is measured.

It's superficial, but human consciousness demands that something fill this position.

Acknowledging this has made me reconsider Bitcoin (and potentially other crypto assets) in a similar light. If humans are moving into a digital age it stands to reason that this void will need to be filled in the digital world too. We spend so much time online, and the online world has so much practical value, that perhaps we'll likewise end up with a Sun-like digital gold standard - along with other forms of digital jewellery. Things which in practical terms are valueless, but that derive their value from the collective cultural reservoir, and from the human need for bling.

In the real world you flex with a gold watch or necklace, online it may be with some NFT artwork or avatar. It's maybe telling that the symbol for Bitcoin is orangey-gold, and Ethereum is silver. Mirroring the Sun and Moon dichotomy of gold and silver. In this regard you could view all the other coins and tokens as akin to other real world jewellery - the precious and not-so-precious gemstones, crystals, metals and other trinkets. The array of shiny, shiny. Only this time digital and online.

I still remain sceptical of Bitcoin, and unlike gold it isn't rooted in reality in the same way, so some other crypto asset could potentially fill this 'digital gold' role - assuming modern human culture does indeed have a demand for this. However, my attitude has softened a bit. Largely because I'm aware that I would've had a similar attitude to gold had I lived in the distant past.

I imagine myself as a fisherman living a few thousand years ago.

I have my wooden boat, my fishing net and my iron sword. Someone comes up to me and offers some gold in exchange for some fish. Me, being a stoic and non-superficial type of person replies:

"No thanks, gold has no practical use to me, and what value it has in wider society is dependent solely upon the confidence people place in it - which could dissipate at any moment, meaning I'd just be left with some shiny, but useless rocks. That won't feed my family."

Now, of course, all that would be somewhat true. You can't eat gold, and in a crisis a starving man will happily trade his ounce of gold for a single fish, but real crises like that are exceptionally rare, and in hindsight it would've have been smart for the ancient version of me to accept gold as a barter. History has shown it's retained its value.

So I now wonder if I'm making the same mistake with cryptos - "No thanks, Bitcoin isn't backed by anything, so its value is based solely on confidence - which could dissipate at any moment."

Perhaps like gold it's backed by the human need for a Sun-like gold standard - which will always be there to some degree; and which in the digital world will take a digital form.

I've also now recognised that whatever my views are on cryptos their operation and function overlaps with the operation of more practical things online. Such as social media, etc.

So, for example, in the age of metal, having mining technology was (and remains) practically useful for getting copper, tin, etc, but that usefulness also helps to get the gold too. As it's all mining. It's all the same industry. So the people with the knowhow to get the practical stuff also have the knowhow to get the luxury stuff - so why not exploit both. They're both aspects of the same industry. Likewise online it's only natural that the people that are creating useful online products are the same people that will also have the expertise and knowledge to develop crypto currencies. Again, it's all the same industry.

So the superficial and practical heavily overlap.

Even if, like me, you feel no love for crypto (or gold for that matter) it's still smart to have access to and expertise in that arena. As that expertise will also help to develop the online infrastructure that is essential in modern society. If you ignore the online market for 'digital jewellery' those that don't will have a huge edge.

Obviously I'm thinking more on a societal level here than a personal one with all this. For instance, a country or large business for security reasons might want a secure social media platform that they control, that can't be shut off by Silicon Valley. Just as a country might want to maintain its own steel industry to have a degree of self sufficiency in that arena. So if I was a government or a billionaire I'd invest in the crypto or 'digital jewellery' world primarily to develop the expertise and leverage to be strong in the more practical realms. As you can't just do one and ignore the other.

Controlling a social media platform is like controlling a copper mine, or a paper mill. It's a practical asset. Whereas developing a crypto is like controlling a bank or a mint. It's a little more abstract. These are loose analogies, but the point I'm essentially getting at is that you can't be a purist - like the fisherman above - you can't just focus on the practical - as the less tangible markets will be there influencing your world whether you like it or not.

I'm wandering off on a tangent here, so I'll wrap it up :)

I still don't plan on buying any cryptos or NFTs anytime soon, but I'll definitely start paying more attention to these things. Also I'll be interested to see if an inverse relationship develops between Bitcoin and gold as the two wrestle for that same niche in our psyche. I also wonder if the battle between the off-line real world and the online Meta-Matrix world will be reflected in this. Though I would guess the two are both too heavily intertwined for this to be the case.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Stock Market Crash

A little update on my investment portfolio ..it's now down $34.59 😭


My beginner's luck has quickly ran out.

In the time since my last post I've reassessed my plans a little though. I've realised that six months is really nothing -- or at least not enough to make a judgement. So I'm holding on to my stocks, effectively indefinitely. Unless there's something really dire that makes me want to sell some of them. I may even buy more (I've actually bought a little more since that last post).

So I'm looking more long term. I've also been learning about dividends, so that is now much more a part of my thinking.

Ironically, in spite of my downturn I think I'm now more invested than I was before. I'll keep updating periodically. I'm learning piecemeal, little by little.

My page can be found here for anyone that wants to know how not to invest: