Keep The Profit, Share The Blame

We All PartiedSo the Nyberg report into our banking industry says that borrowers as well as lenders were to blame for the crisis. Fair enough I suppose. After all, it’s not like the banks lent money to people who didn’t ask for it.

Oh wait. They did.

A tramp living in a sherry bottle could borrow money in that market. Hell, they offered a ‘pre-approved’ loan to me. While many borrowed foolishly or even greedily, the greater part of the blame must surely fall on the professionals. Your bank was traditionally expected to advise you on your financial interests. It was not supposed to push debt on you, take your indebtedness and repackage it as an asset, use that to raise money, declare this a profit and pay themselves enormous bonuses. A basic trust was broken there. Not to mention a law of thermodynamics.

A proportion too has to belong to the institutions overseeing the industry – the regulators of course, but ultimately the Department of Finance. They were astonishingly lax while all this was going on, and we still aren’t being told why. (The role of government was beyond Nyberg’s remit, strangely.)

Do we really need to ask though, when politicians party with and parties are funded by people who were making enormous profits  from all this? The nod and the wink is the Morse code of Irish governance, messages flew back and forth across the wealth-to-power hotline. You’ll go a bit easy there on the regulation. Wouldn’t want to kill the golden goose, or look a gift horse in the mouth, or whatever stupid aphorism they used.

When you get a gift horse as mysteriously generous as this you shouldn’t look it in the mouth, no. You should shove a telescope right up its bum. Nobody rocked the boat because the boat was full of money.

God, The Sun!

Toasted Heretic Point Out The Profound Lack of Iberian Influence

At a Spanish café near the Spanish Arch, eating… scrambled eggs. I could have had an omelette but things were already getting out of hand. A tourist had come up to me and asked directions to Galway’s ‘Iberian style’ cathedral. He did mean the modern 60s one, I checked. His guidebook must be Europe On Drugs, I’m not seeing aything remotely Iberian about it. Frankly I don’t think it’s in any consistent taste whatever, except Questionable Irish-American. No seriously, the thing has what to every appearance is a shrine to John F. Kennedy.

Today though is for worshipping that most primal of gods, the sun. The best kept secret about the Irish climate is that it is frequently much better in April than it is in August. At this time of year it either rains or it’s hot. Of course, it can rain a lot… Last Monday we had cloudbursts – of hail, even. Including one right in the middle of my mother’s driving test, which didn’t help.

But this is infinitely preferable in my book to the overcast that can last throughout the ‘summer’ proper. It’s to be expected I suppose in a country that sits in a bowl of Atlantic. The summer sun on that water drives off so much vapour that it blocks the heat and light from us. So infuriating to be cold in mid-July, knowing that just beyond the great grey shell there’s a solar furnace at maximum. Nature can be a curse.

I call it a secret, but someone seems to have been blabbing. It’s thick with tourists around here already. Cúirt is on of course, but you don’t expect literary festivals to bring the horde down on you. Maybe there are more domestic holidaymakers than usual, what with The Economy.

Certainly seemed to be a lot of people out clubbing last night. Even though I picked the quietest route back from Salthill I still had to walk around two broken Bucky bottles. Buckfast tonic wine – the party drink made by monks. Maybe people drink it for the irony. Or possibly the sulphury. Must be something like that anyway; it tastes bloody awful.

Irony, and caffeine. The Bucky in a brown bottle, which for some reason is unique to Ireland, actually contains more caffeine by volume than Red Bull. And remember people dilute Red Bull, by adding vodka to it. So that’s why you see broken bottles everywhere. It’s not the 15% alcohol content that makes people clumsy. It’s the caffeine shakes.

The Computer Whisperer – Part 2

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A Big Red Button Today

Lohan’s bar in the seaside resort of Salthill, where my friend Maja is playing jazz on the piano. I’ve eaten a pretty good seafood chowder, and I’m sitting on a stool studying Linux, occasionally looking out at the full moon over the night sea. Life can be all right sometimes, can’t it?

I say studying, more reading up on the very basics. I’ve long regarded Linux as a step too far into the dark woods of geekhood, but now that my darn phone is running the stuff perhaps it is time to try and understand. Also I installed Ubuntu on my work PC a few months back, as some sort of convoluted and probably unnecessary intermediate stage while I was shuffling Windows licenses around, and I was very impressed. It was a silly thing that really got me – you could apply amusing effects to the whole desktop, stretching it like a rubber sheet, with a degree of responsiveness and realism I’d have thought impossible for my basic graphics hardware. I’ve never seen anything like that on Windows or OS X. Also there was the fact that you could download programs to do what you wanted without even having to consider the possibility of their being evil.

My besmitten-ness faded however as soon as I hit a snag. If I have a problem on Windows I can usually fix it. Hell, I can always fix it, some way or another. I’ve used Windows for work daily these last ten years, I’ve had to. But I come across a problem in Linux, I have simply no idea what to do.

And part of me says, maybe it should stay that way… My phone has a nice user-friendly system for installing and uninstalling apps, if something goes wrong I can simply remove the offending article or, if the worst comes to the worst, restore the phone to its factory conditions. And really, that is all I need to know.

But it’s no good. I can hear the siren’s song, with its refrain of “What does this do?” Before my eyes, suspended, is nature’s Big Red Button.

What Phone Is Right For You? 5 – Apple Changes Everything

iPhone, Apple Inc.
Image by Cloud. via Flickr

Let’s get now to the ones people actually care about: The fun, fashionable phones – and the rivalry between Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android.

When Apple first launched the iPhone, nobody guessed just how big apps were going to become. Smartphones had applications before this of course. It was possible to download software both for Windows Mobile and for Symbian. But these hadn’t exactly set the world on fire. In part, this was because the phones came with all the software necessary for normal use, and more beside. Most additional programs tended to be either created by businesses for their own use, or were ephemera like games. The bigger reason though was that these OSes ran on a wide range of phones, all with different hardware. Not just different processors, but different control button layouts, different keyboards, different abilities. Some phones might have cameras, 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, others none of those. Anything but the most basic software was only really going to work on one specific phone, making the market unattractively fragmented for developers.

A big part of Apple’s success therefore was simply that there was only one iPhone, with a good set of hardware features for programmers to work with. Even more important though was the innovative touch interface. This seemed almost a gimmick at first glance. At second, it seemed brilliant – now all the area taken up on an ordinary phone for buttons and controls could be given over to a screen big enough for comfortable video or Web viewing. But even that was overlooking the real genius of the idea. One whole side of the iPhone was completely configurable – as display, as controls, or as any combination thereof. The whole user interface could be adapted to the intended task. This was what made the iPhone not just a clever phone, but a whole new order of device. A shape-changer. And this meant that as well as being a potentially profitable thing to develop software for, it was also – crucially – an interesting one.

So it’s a great phone for software developers. Is it the phone for you?

Good Pope Bad Pope

It’s shaping up to be a bad week all round for major religions, with the US letting its diplomatic mission be used to serve court papers on the Pope. These allege that he was involved in a conspiracy of silence over child abuse, which I think we might fairly say is about as self-evident as his Catholicism. He’ll never stand trial for it of course, but as empty gestures go it’s an impressive one.

It’s been better I suppose for the world’s second most famous head of a religion, the Dalai Lama. (Some describe Buddhism as a philosophy rather than a religion, but anything that claims you can survive death fits my definition.) Then again, is the Dalai Lama really a Buddhist leader? During his visit to Ireland we’ve had everyone from nuns to people who describe themselves as non-religious out to greet him. He is perhaps the figurehead of that fastest-growing denomination in modern society, the Not Into Organised Religion But A Spiritual Sort Of Person; people who want to believe that there is meaning to life, but are reluctant to speculate about what exactly it might be.

Of course, there is nothing vague about Buddhism. Like any religion it presents a blueprint for what it considers to be a well-ordered society. It is a set of rules, and indeed one with great emphasis on discipline. But the 14th DL is himself a likeable, diplomatic type with a reluctance to give offence, so he comes across as preaching little more than niceness. He’s become the Pope of Vague.

He does seem to be a nice person, it is true. And as nice people go, probably the one most likely to spark war between India and China.

France Unveils A Darker Side

Anti-Muslim and anti-women, or pro-freedom and pro-women? Or indeed, anti-Muslim and pro-women, or (here’s a combo) pro-freedom and anti-women?

It’s hard to take sides on this unusually crucial issue of French couture. I am against people hiding their faces in public, whether they choose to or are forced. I’m against Islam – and indeed religion in general.

But I am in favour of the freedom to practise whatever religion you choose, no matter how strongly I disagree with that choice, as long as you do no harm to anyone else. And I can’t really accept that hiding your face in public is harmful to others. Rude certainly, but France isn’t introducing any law against rudeness.

I will have no truck with When-in-Rome arguments. In this Rome, they do religious freedom. Or did. And it is a matter of religious freedom. There is no point claiming that the veil is not a genuinely Muslim practice. Are you really going to say to someone “Your religion is not what you think it is”? Your beliefs are what you believe they are, I think.

Does the veil oppress women? Certainly if someone is forcing a woman to veil herself that is oppression, but there is no need for a law against forcing people to do one specific thing. Indeed, it’s a very poor precedent – do we need separate laws for everything you can’t force people to do? And if she chooses it herself, then this law is oppressing her. In practice there will be winners and losers. While some may seize on this as an opportunity to unveil, it will make others prisoners in their homes. No one can say that the net effect will be liberating.

When it comes down to it, the real motivation for this law is discomfort. France is uneasy with the number of Muslims who live there, but is willing to tolerate them – as long as they aren’t too blatant about it. So they ban the practice of a small minority, basically because it’s highly visible. A country has a right to outlaw things it considers foreign to its way of life I suppose. But rather than protecting France’s revolutionary ideals, this betrays them.