Thursday, 30 January 2014

Entropy, entropy, they've all got it entropy

You want to complain? I want to complain!
Oh no, you might think, Semmens is off again. So what’s new?
Well, there’s a lot in this world to complain about. Just keeping up with the misdeeds of Her Majesty’s Government would take more than one page a week to register due protest.
But I’m taking on a bigger opponent this week. Entropy.
Pedantic scientists (my brother, for instance) may wish to complain that I’m using the word loosely. There are very specific definitions of entropy that relate to cosmology, information theory and the second law of thermodynamics. But my dictionary also allows: “Entropy is often used loosely to refer to the breakdown or disorganization of any system.”
Or, to put it another way: Things fall apart.
It could be argued that without entropy there would be nothing as complex – or disorganised – as human beings on earth. Or life of any kind. Or, come to that, an earth.
But it can also feel as if life – my life, anyway, and no doubt yours – is a constant battle against entropy.
Fortunately, though, the breakdowns in order don’t always follow quite so hard on each other’s heels as they have just lately.
Individually, the various misfortunes might seem trivial. Collectively, they could irk a person less even-tempered than me.
First our apple tree blew down. Then the garden fence went the same way. Then a shelf started coming off the wall.
It was less than five minutes after the garage door collapsed that my mobile phone started flashing meaningless patterns, emitted an anguished squeak and closed itself down. Apparently permanently.
I’m not one of those folk whose mobiles seem to have become surgically embedded, necessary to their functioning. I use mine for text messages and very occasional phone calls.
But I have also been relying on it as a timepiece since my watch gave up the ghost. So if I have to do without a phone for long I may end up missing a few trains.
And also – who knows? – the long-awaited call from the plumber to say he’s ready to come over and fix the central heating.
As for the garage door, I probably won’t get it fixed until the leaking roof has been mended. (Leak? It’s more like Niagara).
But it’s OK – who needs a garage when they’ve just sold the car for slightly less than it would have cost to have it repaired?


There’s a theory, much favoured by a certain brand of economist, known as the “trickle down” effect. It says we should be glad when people make a lot of money, because some of it will trickle down to the rest of us.
So what are we to make of the revelation that the world’s 85 richest people have as much wealth between them as the poorest 3.5 billion people?
That is, a group who would fill just one railway carriage (if they could somehow be persuaded to travel second – sorry, “standard” – class) are as rich as half the world’s population put together.
Or that the richest one per cent own 65 times as much as the poorest 50pc?
Some trickle-down, eh?
Truth is that with just a few honourable exceptions, the term “economist” is shorthand for propagandist for capitalism.
And that the trickle down effect is a fantasy, a thinly veiled excuse for greed.

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