Meanwhile, Back On The Farm…

Man in this country-town pub has the worst laugh. Every time, it sounds like he’s sneering at someone he’s just kicked bloody. Please stop telling that guy jokes.

Oh God. Radio reminds me that Tony Blair is the EU’s most important diplomat to Egypt. We choose the single former leader who invaded a Middle East country as ‘peace envoy’. Was that supposed to be ironic? A large proportion of the population doubtless sees him as some sort of latter-day Crusader. He mentioned his fears of the Muslim Brotherhood exploiting the situation two or three times. He mentioned democracy, freedom from oppression, and self-determination… about not at all.

Something else I note from the news – Though Ireland is technically not in recession because our GDP is going up, our Gross National Product is  ‘growing’ at a rate of -0.3%. GNP is similar to GDP but represents Irish owned business only, leaving out foreign investment. How can foreign business here be profitable but local ruined? I would suggest it’s because while almost all foreign invest here is in export industries, too much Irish-owned business is about servicing other parts of the Irish-owned economy (in which I include the state sector), making it a house of cards. We need more indigenous export industry.

But you know, that was kind of obvious.

Money CartoonMeanwhile back on the political pitch, Micheál Martin is naming his front bench. Wait, what? Yes – the leader of Fianna Fáil has his own shadow cabinet, even though Fianna Fáil under Brian Cowen is still in government until tomorrow… The party is its own opposition. I mean, officially now. That’s not the way Micheál Martin sees it himself of course. A few days ago he came out with an extraordinary offer: To support a Fine Gael government. He thinks he can actually refuse to go into opposition. Clearly the party is just too used to being in power.

Oh, and stop press: Senator Ivor Callelly has been awarded €17,000 for loss of earnings while suspended from his Senate seat. Reason for suspension? Because the bastard was corrupt. He should be on all the opposition parties’ election posters. This is Fianna Fáil. This is the face of a party that is farming the people of this country like cattle.

Dammit Fianna Fáil, you are going to go into opposition, and you are going to stay there.

Sketch From The Journey Homeward

The MidlandsTravelling through the darkness of the midlands. There could be anything outside those windows. Anything but people. Might as well be in a submarine.

It’s a bus though. I am in favour of trains but you don’t get the low fares at weekends, and since they built motorway all the way to Galway it’s as fast as the train and almost as comfortable. Certainly quieter – this Volvo purrs like a contented fridge. Aside from legroom, the main reason to prefer the train is that it has power outlets. I am actually fine for power – two spare batteries after this one – but in this portable age charging equals comfort, discharging discomfort. Courtesy power outlets should really be everywhere. First pub I went to in Dublin had locks on their sockets. And they charged €4.50 for a coffee, which begins to border on crime. Opposite that National Leprechaun Museum, they were clearly tourist trappers.

What the bus does supply for free on the other hand is Wi-Fi, so I might as well use that instead of my own 3G. Good opportunity to download the new OpenOffice suite… And yet, I still resent the log-in procedure. They want to know my name, my e-mail address, and my impressions of the the service – before I can use it! I was bluntly honest about the last there, but apparently my address is now whynot@lsoaskmydicksi.ze.

Seems to work as well as any other.

It’s a shame because it makes what is a genuinely useful service suddenly feel like a trap. Will they give my details to marketeers? Perhaps it’s all in the terms and conditions, but dammit I’m on a bus, I don’t want to have to read a long document and consult a lawyer. Couldn’t the free Wi-Fi just be, you know, free? It’s not like non-customers are going to be stealing it after all. Not unless they run alongside.

More Art, More Science, More Egypt

The Science Gallery
It's This Shape On The Inside Too

I worried I was unfair to Dublin’s Science Gallery so I went back. I’m glad I did, because I was. There is actually a second floor to the place, it was closed because the exhibition was not completely mounted when I wandered in.

I do have my questions about the art on display in the ‘Visceral‘ exhibition, but that’s no bad thing by any means. I urge you to see it for yourself, there’s thought-provoking stuff there. Thought-provoking as in machines guided by rat neurons and bacterial colonies growing into pictures, so it’s well worth arguing over whether it is art, science, or a load of toss. But I’m glad it exists.

But Back To Egypt

Just a couple of hours ago, Egypt swore in the head of the intelligence services as Vice-President. That hardly seems like a move towards a more democratic government, but it may be a way to transition from Mubarak’s rule with the minimum possible fuss.

It could also be seen as the introduction of military dictatorship in all but appearance, with the army’s man rather than a general in uniform taking the helm. It’s inevitable that the military will be power brokers here; just about everything depends on whether they accept the legitimacy of Mubarak’s orders. The next question is whether the military will then support a transition to democracy. There is the possibility that they would simply create a new dictatorship, and tell the people and the rest of the world that we have to support it or the Islamists will take over.

If we accepted that, we’d be betraying the people of Egypt. This is not an uprising in favour of Islamic rule – and certainly, not of military rule. It’s a rejection of oppression, and it’s up to us in democratic countries to demonstrate to the Egyptians that we too are against oppression.

We are, aren’t we?

Egypt Needs You

Sphinx CartoonIn 2003, the USA, UK and sundry allies invaded Iraq on the pretext of bringing democracy, while simultaneously supporting regimes throughout the Near and Middle East that wouldn’t know democracy if they buggered it with an electric cattle prod. And they did. Egypt was one such of course.

The West had been happy to turn a blind eye to this during the Cold War because previously Egypt had been getting awful close to Russia. Better it be one of our oppressive failed states, right? That stopped making sense after the fall of Communism, but Egypt was somehow converted into a bulwark against revolutionary Islam. Hell, dictatorship is pretty much a bulwark against any sort of change, right? And change is scary. Scary is bad, so therefore dictatorship is good. The logic is watertight. Mad, but watertight.

What we are seeing today in Egypt and across the region is a movement comparable, in both scale and moral significance, to the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe. Social media told the people what the conventional media was forbidden to tell: That they were many, and the government’s minions were few. If we ever needed an argument against allowing censorship of the Internet, there it is.

These people who are angry in Egypt are people like us. They have Twitter accounts. They’re on Facebook. Our governments may have colluded with their government in the past, but we must tell our governments to stop being stupid. You can’t bomb people into freedom. Freedom rises upwards.

We are either on the side of freedom or we’re on the side of oppression. In Egypt right now, Christians are standing guard to protect Muslim protesters at Friday prayer from the police. Check out #Egypt on Twitter. Express your solidarity.

Science In A Gallery Or Art In A Lab?

Exhibit
Science + Art = Weird Stuff in Jars

So I’m in Dublin’s Science Gallery, a worthy but slightly disappointing project. Passing by, you see it has a cool looking café section jammed into a wedge-shaped window on Pearse Street. That must be part of an interesting place, you think. On going in though, you find that the part is the whole¹.

It has exhibitions, yes. I didn’t warm to the one that’s on right now though. Called Visceral, it uses things out of labs for artistic purposes. Tissue cultures, tubes. It seemed to me less science than cyberpunk. According to blurb, this was “challenging work at the frontier between fine art and biotechnology and forms a series of provocations and puzzles around the nature of the living and non-living”. It sounds like exactly the sort of thing I would find fascinating, but I didn’t even feel particularly intrigued. Possibly I just didn’t find my way into it. I haven’t been in much of a mood to explore the interface between art and biotechnology since I quit drinking.

Maybe the disappointment of the place itself put me into a negative mood. I feel like I should be in favour of the thing, it’s just… The title ‘Science Gallery’ had me expecting more. A science museum of sorts, I suppose. Wonders.

Transparent Horse
Horse Inside

What must be said for it though is that it has probably the best gift shop in Ireland. The perfect place to find an unusual present. What do you give to the person who has everything? A transparent horse, of course. Other lovely things included magnetic tape that actually is tape that’s magnetic, Rubik’s cube salt and pepper mills, and great books including a healthy pile of Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science.

Also it’s one of the rare stockists of Sugru, the multi-purpose polymer beloved of “makers” and other hardware-hacking types. It’s a silicon-based substance that can be moulded to any shape, will adhere to many smooth surfaces, and sets with the texture of tough but yielding rubber. That makes it particularly suitable for human interface things. The name comes from an Irish word for “play”, and I can’t wait to start playing with it myself. My portable hard drive is about to become rugged. And weird-lookin’.

  1. I was quite wrong about this – see here.

All Off To Dublin In The Suit

Ceannt Station GalwayHmm. Iarnród Eireann (Irish Rail) are sneaky. Offer a low fare if you book online, then add an administration fee – for booking online. IarnRyanaireann?

Railway improvement was one thing I’m glad we spent money on while we had it, though we started too late to get enough done and cut corners on the way. I was never really convinced by this Spanish-made rolling stock. Too cheap to buy French. But they’re comfortable, and a hell of an improvement on the old.

So I’m off to Dublin to sort out this lot in Leinster House. Oh OK, to see a girl. The upside of getting up for a train at seven in the morning is seeing the sunrise framed by a beautiful… railway shed. The downside of getting up for a train at seven in the morning is of course that it’s seven in the morning. To me that may as well be a visit to another country where I don’t speak the language. What, shops aren’t open? How does that work – where do morning people buy things?

And I made the foolish decision to travel in my suit. The things you do to impress ladies. Well that’s partly why. I must confess this is the first one I’ve ever owned and it feels like I’m playing dress-up. Plus, it cost a bit and I want to get some wear out of it before suits go out of fashion.

What I should have done is worn the usual combats and hoodie, and carried the suit. Voluminous pockets are a thousand times more practical for travel than tailoring. I could have nipped into the toilets and changed just before the train arrived. Superblogger! But I was worried it would get creased in a backpack.

Wrong idea. When you’re wearing a suit underneath a greatcoat, a portable computer slung over one shoulder, and a backpack that contains your ‘casual’ pair of German army boots, you are a crumpling machine. It couldn’t get more creased if you stuffed it in a horse.

And I feel wildly overdressed for a train in the middle of a bog. On the bright side though – if I turn up in Dublin looking crumpled and overburdened and like I haven’t had enough sleep, I may get interviewed by foreign TV.