Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Back to earth and a short story about a heavenly corporation

by Salman Hameed

Posts are back. I was away on a break and then it took me a bit to catch-up on things. And yes, I was away to a warmer place (Hawai'i - the Big Island) to escape from the awful winter that that we have been having here in Massachusetts (though today was  finally a bit nice) and I did not want to come back.

Now that I'm back, check out this picture from the trip below. I took it in early afternoon when it was uncharacteristically cloudy but it was just starting to clear-up. Then there was this interesting rainbow pattern that appeared at the edge of the clouds way out on the horizon (this is not a traditional rainbow). A portal to another dimension? :)

Also, the temperature of the water was just perfect on the beaches. So to compensate for this and perhaps to keep visitors from becoming too complacent, there is this sign as you enter Hapuna Beach State Park:

Unfortunately, the picture didn't come out cleanly. But it says:

Former Military Training Area. 
Unexploded Ordinance (UKO) May be Present.

[a scary grenade sign]


So much for a relaxing day at the beach.

So to get back into things, check out this witty and creative short story from Nature titled Market Forces by Ian Stewart. Here is the beginning of the story:
When Andrew Gordon was crossing the railway lines and failed to notice the approaching InterCity express, he didn't have time to think about death. But if there had been time, he would, as an atheist, have thought: “This is the end.” 
Clearly it wasn't. 
He found himself standing in an eerie, luminous landscape. A narrow path wound its way through banked clouds to an elaborate gateway, where a figure in gleaming white robes waited. He wore a halo. Short stubby wings sprouted from his shoulders. 
This may require a rethink. “Saint Peter?” 
“Security pass, please, sir.” 
Andrew managed a shaky “Sorry, I don't have a pass.” 
“Ah. New soul in the Cloud.” The man cocked his head, as if listening. “Gordon, Andrew Donald? 15 Wysteria Way, Dorridge?” Andrew nodded. “We don't always get notified, you see. Omniscience is all very well, but ... too much information. Accident, was it?” 
“No idea. Never saw it.” 
Another cock of the head. “Train. 10:43 from Wolverhampton. Running late. Hard luck.” 
Something here wasn't right. “You are Saint Peter? These are the pearly gates?” 
The man shook his head. “You're thinking of the previous administration, son. We don't do sainthood any more.” 
“But — your halo. Wings.” 
“Retro look. This month's promotional initiative from Marketing. This is the Security Entrance, and I'm Pete the Security Guard. We don't let any old riff-raff in.” 
“Only true believers? I have a horrible feeling —” 
“Belief? No, that's obsolete. What matters now is added value on your soul.” 
“I always thought souls were a mistaken reification of patterns of brain activity. You mean I really do have a soul?” 
“It's more a case of your soul has got you.” Seeing Andrew's baffled stare the guard added, “You're a Christian atheist, that's your problem.” 
“I'm not a Christian!” 
“No, but the God you don't believe in is the Christian God.” 
Andrew bristled. “I don't believe in any gods.” He looked sheepish. “Well, I didn't.” 
“Sure. But the main one you disbelieved in was the one your culture tried to get you to believe in. That coloured your expectations for the afterlife that you also don't believe in. Not total nonsense, but ... anyway, omnipotent or not, the Old Man adopted a new business model. He's now CEO, Chairman and CFO of Paradise Group. Holy Trinity, right? The afterlife is now a business, not a public service. The archangels have become the board of directors; archbishops and the Pope are relationship managers down in the Mundane. We had to let the cherubim and seraphim go, of course.” 
“What about Hell?” 
“Hades Inc.? Our main competitor before Belle's new strategic vision.” Seeing Andrew's puzzlement, he added: “Belle Z. Bubb, Hades' former Director of Human Resources, now CEO, Chair, CFO and Director of Inferno Technology as well.” 
“The Devil is female?” 
“Belle's not exactly — look, there's no glass floor any more.” 
“You mean glass ceiling,” Andrew said in reflex. 
“No, I don't,” said Pete, looking down through the clouds. “Where were we? Oh, yeah, souls. A soul isn't a thing, Andy. It's a spiritual instrument. An option on you, realized at death. Could be a call option, could be a put option.” 
“Sorry, I don't understand the jargon.” 
“Call option gives the right to buy at a set price; put option gives the right to insist that the other party buys.” 
“What caused the changes?” 
“Lack of regulatory oversight, lavish bonuses, loss of stakeholder power, loss of employee power, third deadly sin ...” He leaned closer to whisper in Andrew's ear. “Actually, mate, I reckon the new corporate structure's worse than the old ways. Dodgy accounting, perverse incentives. Most trade now is in derivatives. Conduct Default Swaps, Innocence Rate Caps ... not enough actual souls to justify the bonuses, you see. So the whole enterprise is built on sand, to quote the Chairman. A few years ago both companies nearly went belly-up because they'd accumulated a speculative bubble in CDOs.”
Ah - read the rest of the story here


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