Narconomics by Tom Wainwright. An economist looks at the drug cartels from a business perspective. Despite coming at the tail end of the "Freakonomics" bandwagon, there's some interesting stuff here.
In one section, he looks at the attempt to damage the drug trade by destroying coca crops, which should in theory push up the prices and reduce the supply. On the surface, it looks like this is somewhat successful, in that enormous parts of the crop have been destroyed in some countries. He then points out that the drug cartels act like supermarkets, responding by squeezing the small farmers who supply. By improving the efficiency of their processes, they've been able to extract the same amount of product from smaller areas: the wholesale price hasn't changed at all. He then considers what would have happened if the crop destruction had been effective enough to triple the price of raw product: that would affect the street price by only a fraction of a percent.
Wainwright also makes a good point that as businesses, one weak point of the drug cartels is HR. They can't easily find trustworthy employees or make connections with other gangs. Fortunately for them, the prison system comes to the rescue, providing them with a vast supply of new recruits and allowing them to make vital contacts. Another factor that helps is "tough" prison systems where abuse is rife: that forces the inmates to form and join gangs for self-protection. Some of the drug gangs started out as protection gangs in prison and only got into the drugs trade later. A more humane prison system would actually hurt the cartels.
A final point is that in spite of their reputation, drug lords can be quite forgiving of dimwitted employees, because it's difficult to replace them. Disputes over quality are more likely to be settled with negotiation than gun battles.
Overall, pretty interesting.
What I'm Reading 2
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Cult favourite that's probably the nerdiest novel ever written. In an economically depressed future, most of the population spend much of their time in a virtual reality game called the OASIS. This was created by a Generation X programmer, who in his will left his immense fortune to anyone who can uncover the clues in the game, which rely on an intimate knowledge of geek culture of the Eighties. A future subculture, the "gunters", is thus obsessed with it.
I imagine anyone who's not in this generation would find this book immensely irritating for its depiction of a future obsessed only with nostalgia, with apparently nothing new ever being created. Fortunately I am in this generation, so the book is both pleasantly flattering and warmly nostalgic. This must be how Baby Boomers feel all the time.
The book is well crafted, with enough plot and action to keep it interesting. Worth a read if you're in the right generation.
What I'm Reading 3
Finally got around to reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Not what I was expecting at all of the classic of African-American literature. Assumed it would be a worthy tale of someone suffering nobly at the hands of prejudice, but it's actually a savage satire. The Candide-like protagonist wanders through various environments and finds hypocrisy and scheming self-interest in all of them. Near the start the protagonist is attending a black college, but while driving a wealthy white donor around the area, he allows him to see first a self-pitying abusive farmer, then the inside of a brothel. Expelled for breaking the carefully-constructed image of black progress, he encounters self-interested union workers; glib communists always willing to sell out the Harlem branch; black nationalists happy to destroy their own community; businessmen who pretend to care about the quality of the products.
Overall a good book, much more entertaining than I was expecting.
What I'm Reading 4
Islam Beyond the Violent Jihadis by Ziauddin Sardar. Short book about the history of Islamic philosophy and its misinterpretation by Islamic State and other fundamentalists. Some interesting bits, like the discussion of the various beard styles and what they mean. Unlike some histories which regard Salafism and Wahhabism as basically modern movements, Sardar ties them more closely to classical movements like the Ash'ari school and the philosopher al-Ghazali. Sardar argues that the best ways to defeating Islamic fundamentalism are to strengthen peoples skills of rational inquiry, encourage critical thought about what Islam means rather than blindly following authorities, and revive the spirit of another classical school the Mutazila.
Especially in such a short book it's hard for an layman to judge who's right on the relationships between classical schools. I get the impression from other sources that the "violent jihadis" of the title are making breaks with even the other classical schools.
I'm also not entirely persuaded that more independence of thought will hamper recruitment to Islamic State. Most of the European recruits don't seem to have much contact with established Islam (most famously the British jihadis going off to Syria with "Islam for Dummies" in their bags). It might actually make things worse: groups like the Red Brigade and the Red Army Faction were fairly independent too.
Overall I thought the book The Muslim Revolt was a clearer guide to the subject.
What I'm Watching
Saw Captain America: Civil War. Enjoyed it a lot. Normally I struggle with very long action movies but this one had enough plot and certainly enough different characters that I didn't feel the length. It avoided some of the common mishaps, like having battles between main goodies and baddies that you know are going to be indecisive 'cos there's an hour to go. Also by having a conflict between two factions in the Avengers, it avoided the problem these movies have were a villain seems underpowered compared to the collective.
Did seem to be trying a bit hard to shoehorn in characters: could have done without the simpering Spider-Man though it was nice to see Ant-Man. I've seen enough Marvelverse movies to know who most people are, though I don't think it would have been a problem not to know. It's amusing to see how the more snobbish mainstream critics have turned on a dime to go from complaining that action movies are too simple to whining that they're incomprehensibly complicated.
Overall, good fun, worth seeing.
Toddler is now a bit better at going to bed generally, though it was a struggle last night. He was fairly sick last week with a high temperature what might have been an ear infection: were in A&E from 9:30PM to 2AM on Tuesday night waiting to be seen. Thankfully wife looked after him at home for the rest of the week. He bounced back pretty quick once on the painkillers and antibiotics.
Really slammed at work. Thought we'd done OK to do the dev freeze and handover to testing right on time for once. Unfortunately it's come back, and back, and back, and back, and back with "bugs" from testing. Most of the bugs are problems that have been there for multiple releases. Most of this is because testing has massively improved: there was a long period with no QA manager but they've got someone very good in now, and the tester on our team is excellent with massive domain knowledge. Which basically means we're fixing massive amounts of shit that's been there for years, in the time we're supposed to be using for just bugs we've introduced this cycle. Which also means we're really delayed on the work we're supposed to be doing. Looks pretty bad, not sure I'll survive as Scrum Master after this.
I still haven't got around to replacing the lost phone. Not missing it as much as I expecting, partly because I haven't been travelling. It's amazing how much more reading I get done now. Do miss chatting on Twitter a bit.
Socioeconomics. Globalisation means middle classes have additional tax burden. Black lawyers get harsher scrutiny.
Articles. Wrestling Taught Me How (Not) To Be A Man. "By conjuring mythic landscapes, the novelist and children's fantasy writer Alan Garner unleashed his fury at the injustices of postwar Britain". Literature and fanfic: "In fandom, I enjoyed a guilty pleasure unknown to the guys in my writing seminars: audience demand". Medieval short flail weapon never existed, via.
Video. James Bond-style Empire Strikes Back title sequence. Drone dodges fencer, not so good with spear. Magnets and marbles.
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