OK it’s way past my bedtime but I couldn’t resist showing you this. I was researching something when I was struck by the similarity between these two diagrams. On the left we have income inequality – roughly speaking, the difference between the richest and the poorest fifth of each society. On the right we have the amount of debt that countries across the EU have gotten into in the last few years.
Broadly speaking, it’s the most unequal countries that are also the most indebted. How does that happen? The ‘liberalisation’ of many economies in the past decades was ostensibly meant to make them richer. The effect though has been very different. Low-tax countries are having to borrow in order to meet expenditure, particularly when times get tough. Meanwhile their lack of redistribution means that citizens are encouraged to borrow in order to compete socially – sometimes even to meet basic expenses. This private indebtedness tends quickly to become public when lenders collapse.
In short, trickle-down economics is really trickle-away. Though a minority of individuals within them are of course better off, countries that cut back on tax and expenditure end up impoverished over all. People seem to vote for such policies in the optimistic hope that they will somehow get into that ever smaller, ever richer minority. The odds suggest that they should buy lottery tickets instead.
So what was the Vatican’s response to Ireland’s historic vote for marriage equality?
Slightly muted, somewhat bitter, and more than a little enlightening.
The Pope himself said nothing publically, presumably not to appear fallible. It was left to close deputy Cardinal Pietro Parolin to make this odd but revealing pronouncement:
The Irish vote, he declared, was a “defeat for humanity”.
The decision of a majority to accept and cherish a minority? To me, that is the triumph of all that is best about people, humanity at its absolute finest. It seems that when the Catholic Church uses the word “humanity” it means something quite different.
Itself, I suspect.
A 2,000 year old all-male global institution. For sure that’s an organism of a sort, able to preserve and replicate itself successfully. But its goals and its needs, its triumphs and defeats, are not humanity’s. Life, but not as we know it.
Can you really prevent the country from knowing what was said in the Dáil? Of course you can’t. The idea is plainly ridiculous. If you’re rich enough though, you can send out a flotilla of lawyers to try.
I can’t say whether that’s the action of a balanced mind, but it does seem clearly to be oppressive and anti-democratic. The whole notion of an interlocutory injunction is problematic at the best of times, allowing you to censor media without having to first prove that the information in question is either harmful or untrue. We only accept it because we’re used to speech being insanely curtailed in this country. But attempting to impose one on the national law-making assembly seems just downright hubristic.
And I think I’m beginning to detect another sickening aspect to this story: An attempt by Fianna Fáil to spin Denis O’Brien as Fine Gael’s creation because of his dealings with Michael Lowry, in the hope of making themselves seem the clean party by comparison. This is specious of course. The fortune of Denis O’Brien and of others like him grew under both governments, as each pursued virtually indistinguishable policies of making the rich richer.
And with that greater wealth came greater power, until the super-rich think nothing of biting the states that fattened them. The democratic form of government has never been in greater danger than it is now; not from revolutionaries or evil foreign dictators, but from the elites it itself created, beginning to believe that they can do just fine without it.
A Yes vote won’t change so much. Not all Gay people will be rushing out to get married just because they can. It won’t, contrary to the fantasies of the overly religious, give them a strange new right to get babies tailor-made. And nor will it stop them being bullied in school or beaten on the streets. Life will go on about the same. So why is it so important?
Imagine you’re an ugly person. I know, it’s hard. But just picture yourself as unappealing. Possibly some sort of mutant. Even so, you might still fall in love. With someone equally hideous, presumably, but that’s life. So you’re about to get married, but suddenly your society turns around to you and says “Sorry, no. You’re… You’re just too damn ugly. We can’t be doing with that.”
Or say the objections of the religious were actually honest, and they made it the law that all infertile couples couldn’t get married. Or we had a more coldly logical regime where you can’t legally marry if you’re too poor to raise children in safety and health. Or too stupid. Or you and/or your prospective life partner are habitual drunks with a history of rage and violence. Consider a more pure and idealistic world where rich old ugly people aren’t allowed to marry poor young pretty people, where celebrities didn’t marry each other as a career move, one where you actually have to be in love before you can commit your life to someone else.
Thankfully – I think – we don’t live in any of those worlds. Destitute, ugly, drunk, diseased, violent, angry people have every right to get married – and sometimes do. In fact as long as they’re over the age of consent and aren’t siblings, it’s perfectly legal for any two people whatsoever to marry each other, however tragically unsuited.
Unless they are the same sex. It doesn’t matter how much in love you are, how long you’ve been a couple or how good you are together, you can’t marry your partner if you’re both girls or both boys. Society at large thinks you getting married is worse than drug-trafficking arms-dealing sadistic escaped war criminals settling down to raise a brood.
But you can have a sort of cut-back version called Civil Union, what’s wrong with that? Well there are some legal niceties, but the main difference is straightforward: It’s not marriage. It’s marriage-except-you’re-not-allowed-to-call-it-that.
And that’s the nub of the whole thing. When it comes down to it, Gay people aren’t allowed to marry… because they’re Gay. It’s not the marriage part that so many disapprove of. It’s the Gayness bit. This is why most of the arguments of the No side are so illogical. Marriage won’t create a right to have children by surrogacy, any more than it does for straight couples. Nor will it change the criteria that adoption services use. Yet these fervid scenarios are dragged in anyway, because they are about the only quasi-acceptable opposing arguments they can make. Their purpose is to disguise the real motivation: A refusal to accept that homosexual is just a thing that some people are, and not a terrific sin that bad people are getting up to because it’s secretly enormous crack. It’s not about the children. It’s about the religion.
We’re being asked today to stop blatantly discriminating against Gay people. It won’t, as I say, change the world. But it will send a message. It will tell people that we oppose the oppression and mistreatment of people who happen to be Gay. That we no longer demand, as we have for so long, that they hide the truth about themselves in fear and shame. That we oppose the mistreatment and discrimination, the bullying and the beatings. That we consider Gay people to be… just people, with the same possibilities and rights to respect and responsibility as anyone else. This is the message we can send by voting Yes.
And if we let the No side win, we will send precisely the opposite message.
First they unplugged your phone from the wall, rolled it up and stuffed it in your pocket. Then they took your camera off the shelf, shaved it down to the thickness of a playing card and slid that inside the phone. They crammed in your Walkman too. Your address book and appointments diary. Pager, torch, pedometer, radio, dictaphone, bookshelf, TV, PC, satnav, even your wallet now. In short, just about any piece of equipment you might want to carry around in your pocket finds itself inexorably sucked into the single über-device we still, for want of decision, call a phone.
There is a good one-word explanation for this: Synergy. All these functions share at least some and often many requirements – a visual interface perhaps, network connectivity, speakers, data storage, computational power of course. The user benefits greatly by not having to carry multiple versions of essentially the same hardware. Imagine how we’d rattle if we did. It wouldn’t be worth the effort or expense to make most of these things pocket-sized. Make them a function of a universal gadget however, and the synergies flow.
The one that really clinches it though is power. At first it may seem counter-intuitive to put all our electric eggs in one battery basket. When one goes flat, they all go. But consider the alternative: If all these things needed charging separately there would be one or more plugged in pretty much all the time, completely undermining mobility. The greatest synergy of all is that you can charge everything at once. In many respects what we’re really carrying around is a fantastic little power source with some peripherals attached to it.
With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why smart watches have never really taken off. They cannot as yet replace the smartphone, and carrying both means you duplicate many functions while adding few. Yet they have to be charged as often as phones or more, doubling your inconvenience for very little palpable benefit. While you might embrace one enthusiastically as the badge of an early adopter, it won’t be so long before you find you forgot to charge it. The simple fact is, you don’t need a smartwatch.
I’m sure the Apple Watch will be more successful than any that has gone before, but that isn’t saying much. It may serve as a status symbol – at those prices, it is hard to imagine what else it could serve as – but in its current form it’s another niche product like Apple TV, not the next Apple game-changer. Here’s why:
To ever be more than an expensive optional accessory to the smartphone, the smartwatch has to turn the smartphone into its optional accessory.
Note the word optional. The market-redefining smartwatch will have to do all the indispensable communication things – texts, emails, social media updates and, last but still not least, voice calls. But unlike the current Apple offering, it needs to do it without an attached smartphone. Otherwise it’s really more of a burden than a blessing. The smartwatch will be successful when it’s the one device you always want to bring with you. Your wrist is the natural place for that.
This will not mean the end for the unit we still call the phone. We’re unlikely to abandon such a convenient, multifunctional device while it still has irreducible advantages: A far larger screen interface, room for more and better sensors, more data, and of course much more energy. But we can reimagine the phone now. Specifically we can imagine it… without the phone.
If your watch can receive your calls and data, then the “phone” no longer has to be an always-on device. It can be more like a small tablet, used for apps, browsing, media and other roles that benefit hugely by the larger screen and greater processing power. But like a tablet it only needs to be powered up when you actually want to do those things, putting it in the class of devices with battery life measured not in hours but in days. And this introduces a very interesting possibility: it could act as a power bank to the watch. You’d worry a lot less about running out of juice on the road if your communication device could be topped up from its energy-rich companion. That’s not just a synergy, it’s symbiosis.
And this is not the only opportunity offered by taking the phone out of the phone. The limitations on the dimensions of your pocket device have always been dictated by its phone functions. Giants like the Galaxy Note 4 or iPhone 6 Plus push at the limits of what most people can comfortably use one-handed. Go much larger, and you cross the boundary of what fits into pockets. Shifting the communication function to the watch though means you no longer really need its companion to a be go-everywhere compromise. It can, literally and figuratively, be whatever your pocket allows. You could even have more than one of them – a slim one for tight pants and a big one for a bag, anything from a born-again flip phone to a workhorse device with a pen or keyboard. What the phone will evolve into is a set of optional extensions for your wristwatch. These may reproduce some of its functions and add others, but their essential purpose is to allow you to choose the best interface for the way you want to interact with it.
All this awaits the creation of a smartwatch that really is usable for voice calls and data, yet has battery life to last comfortably through the day. It’s a tall technological order, and the (first) Apple Watch certainly doesn’t achieve it. What it may achieve though – indeed, perhaps what only Apple can achieve – is an end to our culture’s resistance against talking into your wrist like a cartoon character. That alone would be a great stride toward the next mobile revolution.
I finally went to a doctor, something I hadn’t done in years. Why not? In case I was ill of course. This is what stops people (OK, men) seeking help – the fear that we might need it. If you went there to get health booster shots or something we’d turn up every week. But to discover that you might really have a flaw, a weakness… Well, many men would sooner die. Many do.
I had a strange little spot on my leg. Every time it seemed to grow bigger – which was about every time I looked at it – I thought Oh no, should have seen a doctor before now. I’ve probably left it too late. I’m gonna die.
And then I’d ignore it again, for I am a manly man.
And thanks to getting myself a fantastic new phone for Christmas, I’d discovered another way I might be going. This is not a spin they put on it when they promote these health and fitness apps, is it? Get the new BitFit, find out you’re gonna die! My one has a doobry that can measure heartbeat. It tells you what is “normal”, and what is not. Mine was not.
But by using my kneecap for leverage I finally got myself through a surgery door. And I’m so glad I did. The doc was nice and soon put my mind at rest. Yes that heart rate is quite elevated, she explained. But this means you’re badly unfit, not that It’s About To Blow. The thing on your leg you thought might be a death sentence for the last few years? That’s an old insect bite.
Well, she used words like “tumour”, “cyst” and “fibroid”, but thankfully it had nothing to do with cancer or cystic fibrosis. It was just a scary name for a weird kind of scar which, despite being in Latin, is perfectly harmless.
And she gave me anti-inflammatories to deflate the knee. As I suspected it was just a wrenching of the cruciate ligament, which in layman’s terms is the thing that keeps the lower end of your leg attached to the top end. I was very relieved to hear that surgery is not usually needed for this. Seriously, there are countless parts of my anatomy I would sooner have cut with sharp knives than my knees. But just in case, I’m on a waiting list to see a specialist too. And with the state of our medical service, there’s every chance that I’ll be completely healed before my appointment! Excellent.
Speaking of healing… It’s a week since the Charlie Hebdo massacre now. I wonder when the healing will begin there, or what form it will take. Nothing that’s happened since inspires much optimism, does it? We’re still going through the inflammatory reaction. A display of formation hypocrisy by the world’s leaders, evil and brainless “revenge” attacks on mosques, and of course promises of tough new laws right across Europe.
What, because the murderers took advantage of a loophole in the current anti-murder legislation? Do they think if a law is broken that means it wasn’t strong enough? It’s a kind of superstition, a fetishisation.
“Terrorism happened, we must make laws!”
“But terrorism is already illegal.”
“Well then we’ll make some other things illegal!”
And so there will be new powers of surveillance, new crimes of saying things that might lead to terrorism – the attack on public speech balanced by an attack on private speech. Perhaps it’s like the man with the hammer; for legislators, a problem is a thing that isn’t illegal yet.
The best response to terrorism is to do what you were going to do anyway.
And in particular, atrocity that touches you personally in some way. Carried out against other cartoonists, other satirists. Of course I am going to feel that more closely than the murder of say doctors or teachers or soldiers. It is only human.
But it would not be right to come to a different conclusion or demand a different response just because I feel it more personally. Maybe I shouldn’t even be writing this, considering that I haven’t stopped to lament any other atrocities recently. However there are more reasons to speak out here than the merely personal.
So what sane and just responses are available to us? Not many. In an understandable show of emotion, mourners are protesting the right to freedom of speech. But while a violent attack on any form of media is censorship, the right to free speech was never really the issue. When Charlie Hebdo decided to republish the “Danish cartoons”, there was no serious question of it being illegal. The question was whether it was justified or wise.
Nor do I think did the killers believe that they were going to defeat free speech. They must be as aware as anyone that their attack is likely to provoke more insults against Muhammad than ever before. The sort of person who wants to blame everything on Islam is going to do so twice as loudly now – to show how acts of terror cannot influence them in any way…
I’d say “And that’s exactly what the killers wanted”, except – I wonder if the real motivation here was even that sophisticated. To be honest, this feels more like an act of crude vengeance. They took offence on behalf of an idea and attempted to murder a magazine. Uncontrolled, almost infantile rage, without objective beyond the emotional release of smashing the face that laughed at you.
How do you react rationally to the irrational? You can’t. The only right response is to not react. Neither bend nor strike back. You cannot appease blind rage. You cannot avenge it either.
As any decision taken right now will be a bad one, we should take this time to contemplate. The West’s relationship with the Middle East is going seriously down the crapper. Recent history – decades now – seems like a litany of horrific acts from both directions, with absolutely no indication of it de-escalating. Does it have to be this way, or can we change our hearts and minds – on both sides?
Some creativity is badly needed here.
Well Happy New Year all you walking people, with your legs. I’m sorry, perhaps my frustration shows. I did my knee on New Year’s, thanks to wild and frenzied dancing at Roisin Dubh. Someone’s frenzied dancing knocked a drink over, I ambled past and slipped on that.
It’s funny how you know, even before you hit the ground, that it’s injury time. “This,” you say to yourself as you start to descend, “will not end well.” Something to do with the angle. And the wrenching. And the popping.
It was painful for a while, but now it only looks painful. And oddly, something like Van Goch’s Irises. I’ve made good progress, though it did mean being confined to bed for a couple of days. OK, there are worse places to be confined. All other places. And I was very fortunate to have a friend staying, who could mop my brow and bring soup and generally indulge me. But then spoiling someone is actually very nurturing. If your GP gave you a medically unnecessary backrub now and again, maybe a scatter of gentle kisses, far fewer people would need alternative therapies.
Healing is not something a doctor does to your passive body like a kind of mechanic, but it’s not a thing the body can entirely do for itself either. Medicine is a social interaction, between your body and the community it belongs to. Those around you influence your health in countless ways, from pooling their resources to care for you, to simply making you feel cared about.
Few things are more conducive to health and happiness than the assurance that you matter to other people. Why does fake medicine work so often? Because it makes you feel like someone actually wants you to get better. That’s why it’s called the placebo effect, meaning “I’ll please”, not the “take this pill and go away now you walking talking irritation” effect.
The final result of the Scottish Independence Referendum is still some hours off, so I will avail of this last chance to speculate. What will happen to Great Britain if Scotland really does leave?
Well nothing. Great Britain is the name of an island, not a country. Not even the proper name for it in fact – the more historical one is simply Britain.
So where did the “Great” come out of? I get the impression that a lot of British people vaguely think of it as a title their country was awarded somehow. At a country show, presumably. I have even heard people who should know better espouse the folk etymology that Britain refers to the combination of England and Wales, which became Great Britain with the addition of Scotland. That is of course completely made up.
Great Britain is simply the English for the French name for Britain – Grande Bretagne – and might be more accurately if prosaically rendered “Big Britain”.
Little Britain in this instance being Bretagne – or as we call it, Brittany – a province of France that was settled by people from Britain and where a language closely related to Welsh is still spoken today, now and again. Somewhat ironically perhaps, these British colonists were actually refugees, fleeing from the foreign invader we now know as the English.
Well partly, them – to be honest they were being invaded from Ireland too. After the Romans withdrew from Britain it was basically a warrior’s free-for-all.
So Britain was called Great Britain merely to avoid confusion with the French name for a Welsh colony. It’s like an irony layer cake. But French was the dominant language of much of Europe – and indeed, of Britain – for many centuries, so the “Great” stuck.
And still sticks today, and becomes ever more sticky. It is now kind of embarrassing, used when they can’t think of an idea for a cooking programme, or for politicians to clutch when they have reached the absolute nadir of rhetorical inspiration. It is high time a way was found to retire the term. And if Scotland does ever leave, that would be the moment. To refer to what remained as Great Britain after that would sound like sarcasm.
But what else could the remaining country be called? Well the answer is obvious, and I’m surprised it didn’t come up more in the debate. It would of course be the United Kingdom of Southern Britain and Northern Ireland.
I think it has a ring to it, no?