America’s Praying Politicians

American cultural icons, apple pie, baseball, ...
No One Gets A Slice

Disturbing to watch Tea Party representatives talking about how they’re praying for guidance as the economy teeters on the edge. This is the American Taliban. They have their own fundamentalism, ostensibly Christian rather than Islamic perhaps, but like the original Taliban they hate the American government. Unlike them, they have a real chance of harming, possibly destroying it. And they don’t even need weapons, because they attack from within.

On whose behalf are they fighting? That of America’s greatest enemy: Its own wealthy.

Many of America’s rich want to divest themselves of any responsibility towards their fellow Americans. It’s not as if they were ever under a lot of pressure to help out anyway, but in recent history at least it has worked better that way. You would employ Americans to make things to sell to other Americans, who could afford to buy things because they were employed to make things… Not everyone was included within this benign circle of course, but the general upshot was an optimistic land where it was at least believed that everyone’s lot could be improved.

But now that circle has been broken. The simple fact of the matter is America’s rich don’t need other Americans anymore. They buy, make and sell globally. America is just one market, and they don’t need to invest in it. Americans do get cheaper goods that way, but less and less are they buying them off each other. So though the super-rich are making more money than ever before, a large part comes from effectively taking a cut out of the export of America’s jobs and wealth. We can only watch in horror as what was once a country of opportunity for the poor grows an ever-widening gulf between a tiny minority that becomes more fantastically rich all the time and the vast majority whose position is deteriorating.

How can that ever happen in a democracy, when it is up to the people how the country is run? It’s simple really. The super-rich sponsor all the parties. But the Tea Party is taking it to new extremes, preaching a blatantly wealth-favouring agenda while using prejudice, fear and religion to manipulate others into voting against their own interests.

The irony is that it’s named after the Boston Tea Party, an incident leading up to the American War of Independence, yet the people its policies favour want to run America exactly like an exploited colony –  milking it for what can be got, giving as little as possible back. The US has a new aristocracy, and they will be a lot harder to dethrone than one based far overseas.


Reindeer Sandwich

Sami woman reindeer milking in Kvenland, Weste...
Two people about to make a "Reindeer Sandwich"

I’m having a reindeer sandwich. This is not some bizarre sexual practice. It’s a sandwich with reindeer in it. Makes a change. It was all I could do not to hum Christmas songs as I buttered the bread.

I’ve wanted to try reindeer since I was in Finland over a year ago, but didn’t know enough Finnish to chance it. Their supermarkets are great, but they stock such a vast range of meat products that you feel they can’t all be the parts of animals we think of as edible. Yesterday though I was in Ikea, where reindeer is helpfully sold in English.

Ikea is weird, isn’t it? A vast warehouse full of what comedian John-Luke Roberts might describe as perfectly adequate furniture. Absolutely nothing was actually ugly, but I hardly saw a single thing I positively liked either. Some of the ceramic sinks were satisfactorily solid. The mattresses seemed excellent value. But I was expecting more somehow. And the Swedish names were nothing like as amusing as people make out.

OK… Except for a set of storage containers labelled Slubb. I enjoyed saying Slubb.


The deli section was rather a letdown too. There just wasn’t that much variety, and I was expecting, well, a smorgasbord. I did get some pickled herring of course, and some fish roe paste in a tube which I dubbed ‘The Antitoothpaste’. And then the reindeer. Smoked reindeer slices, which look rather like brown ham and, disappointingly, taste rather like brown ham.

So much for reindeer then – or ‘pigs with antlers’, as they may or may not be called in Finnish.


It’s Not About Seals

Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies ...
"Godwin'd!" "Dummarsch" Meeting Of Ireland's Taoiseach and Papal Nuncio

For his criticism of the Pope, one priest has likened Ireland’s prime minister to Adolf Hitler. Another called Justice Minister Alan Shatter a “Jewish non-practising atheist

When your opponents call you Hitler and a Jew, you must be doing something right.

In the wake of the Catholic hierarchy treating child protection rules as something that happens to other people, government has little option but to put them on a statutory basis, complete with the sanction of jail terms for those who “withhold information relating to sexual abuse or other serious offences against a child or vulnerable adult”. There seems no other way – indeed one wonders how that isn’t the law already.

Those who would defend the indefensible however want to characterise this as requiring priests to break the ‘seal of confession’, the vow to treat anything revealed in the confessional in absolute confidence. This is mendacious. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating – no one is going to get a conviction based on a private conversation between two people. Even in the unlikely scenario of a convicted child abuser accusing his confessor of failing to report him, his testimony would still be uncorroborated.

What about a scenario where a priest hears a child “confess” that someone has been interfering with them? Even if the priests still considers that information privileged, surely he would take whatever action he could to ascertain for himself, outside the confessional, whether the child really was in any danger, would report any reasonable suspicions to the relevant agencies, and would encourage the child to do so too.

And surely he would consider himself morally compelled to do that whether this law was in force or not.

Wouldn’t he?

But the law is not aimed at confessors. It is aimed at stopping the Catholic hierarchy concealing information they have about abusing priests, information that they are acting on themselves. Which – unless they themselves are breaking the seal – does not come from confessions, but usually from the complaints of victims or their parents. People who protest that the law will threaten the sacrament of confession are merely out to defend the autocracy of that hierarchy.


Education – It Keeps Them Off The Streets

Woodcut from Cesare Ripa's Iconologia depictin...
An Image Representing Dignity, Somehow

With the launch of SOLAS, a new state agency combining job-finding, skills, and further education, I’m growing more and more suspicious that Ireland’s government is planning compulsory training for those on welfare. I have little objection to such schemes if they’re about equipping people with useful knowledge, preparing them for real jobs, making workers up-to-date and competitive.

However, I remember the 80s.

I remember Fás – like it was yesterday – and its predecessor agencies. I remember their much-ridiculed schemes. Training people to use telephones with the help of bananas. I get a horrible sense of déjà vu.

Useless education is counter-productive in so many ways. Being forced to attend tedious lessons when you would much sooner be doing something interesting is bad enough when you’re a child. To have it done to you as an adult is doubly as depressing, because it’s compounded with infantalisation. Any gain in dignity such schemes are supposed to convey needs to be weighed against that.

Another downside is that it takes people out of the black economy. Yes, I meant downside. To be blunt, the black economy is necessary. If everything was done by the book, very little would get done at all. People need services at a lower price than the legal economy can provide, particularly in times of recession. And, particularly in times of recession, those on unemployment assistance are often in a position to provide those services. This frees up what would otherwise be complete economic gridlock, where hardly anyone could afford to pay anyone to do anything.

But also in times of recession, the black economy can grow so much that it begins to compete noticeably with the legit one. I submit that that is no bad thing in the short term. But governments don’t like it of course, for the natural reason that the black economy is, by definition, ungoverned, and they are more susceptible to the protests of legitimate business than they perhaps should be if economic recovery were the only priority. So enforced education, and other timewasting exercises like makework schemes, function at least in part to tie people up and prevent them competing.

Back in the 80s, one solution mooted for this and other related problems such as the ‘poverty trap‘ was a national basic income, so that people on welfare would not be competing with those outside the system. Perhaps it’s time to look at such ideas again.

Cosmography Politics

Fantasy Roleplaying Murder

Templar Cross
Templar Cross - The Internationally Recognised Symbol Of Creepy Fantasy

He signed his murder manifesto ‘Andrew Berwick’. Why an English name?

Perhaps because England has a ready audience of hate groups and neo-nazis. He denies he’s any sort of nazi, but the manifesto is an appeal to the same old foreigner-hating urges. Though if anything, he’s too conservative even for the British far right. The rant really is a form of Christian conservatism, but taken well past the point of parody. He’s against sex outside marriage – and marriage for love. It sounds like he’d be happier under a traditional Islamic regime than most Europeans.¹

When it comes down to it though, I believe he took this English name for no deeper reason than that it was his fantasy. To be a mediaeval English Knight Templar. A bizarre image of himself as semi-mythical hero that he took far too far. I have to be clear here; I’m not casting aspersions on genuine fantasy roleplayers. Those people dress up and act out fantasies for fun, they know they’re doing that. Berwick dressed up and acted out his fantasy for hate and evil. He was willing to commit murder based on stuff that he had basically just made up.

This is tragic. Innocent people died over stuff that Dan Brown wouldn’t use in a novel. Stuff that is, to be blunt, just silly. A Marxist plot to make Europe Islamic.

Has there never been a Muslim plan to take over Europe? Of course there has. Loads of them probably. Muslims have their fantasists too. There are no doubt counterparts to Sir Andrew composing their unhinged manifestos about how they will reconquer Spain or personally lay siege to Vienna right now. And though his claim to be a member of a covert organisation is in all probability self-delusion, there will be other Berwicks too. Hopefully none of these assholes is quite deranged enough to launch another act of pointless barbarism, but it’s not something we can bet on.

What I am willing to bet on is that Europe right now faces more danger from its racist, far-right murderers than it does from their pro-Islamic equivalent.



  1. In passing, his manifesto also contains a surprising amount about the the cultivation of sugar beet. It’s in the context of course of using it as a cover to obtain nitrates for explosives, but the level of detail seems excessive. I think he kind of got into it.
Humour Technology

Jam Don’t Shake Like That

A gelatin capsule for medicine
It's People!

A couple of days ago, I shared with you some fun gelatin facts. None of them however even begins to compare with the one I stumbled across today.

How would you like to eat…

No I can’t even say it. This is ridiculous. Insane.

But I have to tell you. How would you like to eat… No. Yes, dammit. I must. How would you like to eat…

Human-flavoured Jell-O?

Or OK, human gelatin. Which is the animal-derived protein that Jell-O and other such desserts are based on. Just add boiling water. But human gelatin is of course human-flavoured, by definition.

But why – Why the f*&@!? – would you want to make gelatine from people?

Because it’s vegetarian, for one.

Well kinda. It’s actually made by yeast, which is vegetarian. But the yeast has been genetically engineered with human DNA to manufacture collagen, the gelatin protein. I cannot however see a lot of vegetarians accepting that this is anything but anathema.

All right, the idea behind making human collagen may really be that it has medical applications; it’s likely to be more compatible with the human body. Interesting though how I have really split feelings about that. If, say, you wanted collagen to inject into people, using human instead of animal seems more natural. Kinda.

But making that collagen into gelatin and using it for medical applications, such as soluble drug capsules, that you actually eat?

Cannibalism, plain and simple. Fetch torches and pitchforks, stet.


Google Reacts To Pseudonym Anger

Google's homepage in 1998
Simpler Times

Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior VP of social stuff, described closing the Google+ accounts of pseudonym users as: “like when a restaurant doesn’t allow people who aren’t wearing shirts to enter.”

I respectfully suggest that it’s a little more like throwing them out of your restaurant, and then burning their houses down. Google deny that they will close down your Google Profile solely for infringement of the no-pseudonyms rule, calling it a “myth”, but it does seem they single out obvious pseudonyms for closer examination and can shut them down for other, unspecified reasons. GrrlScientist, whom I quoted yesterday, only regained access to Docs, Gmail etc. at Google’s pleasure and upon giving them her personal phone number. And no, they still won’t let her use Google+, and they still haven’t told her why.

However they have listened to the outrage, reacted quickly, and promised some improvements (same source):

– Giving these users a warning and a chance to correct their name in advance of any suspension. (Of course whenever we review a profile, if we determine that the account is violating other policies like spam or abuse we’ll suspend the account immediately.)

– At time of this notice, a clear indication of how the user can edit their name to conform to our community standards

– Better expectation setting as to next steps and timeframes for users that are engaged in this process.

Maybe they know what they mean by the last one, I have no idea. However, the others are at least an improvement. If it’s not churlish of me though, I do think that not confiscating what you might rightfully consider your private property without prior notice is the very least they can do.

This is something Google really need to get straight, fast. How can their Docs be considered a rival to Microsoft’s Office if they have some ownership rights over anything you create with them? Imagine how quickly Microsoft’s business would cease to exist if they zapped documents made with pirated copies of Office. It’s unthinkable. Just as what Google did was unthinkable – until they did it. If documents aren’t sacrosanct, the whole Docs-Chrome-Cloud business model evaporates.

Maybe this is the time to consider Diaspora again?


Google+ Is A Trap

Google Docs – You create them, but they don’t belong to you

Not two months ago, I wrote:

…Google’s answer to this is a fully authenticated Web with no room for anonymity. A friendlier place for commerce and policing for sure, but obviously an unsafe one for the sort of political organisation we’ve seen in the Middle East recently. You may have noticed how it gets harder all the time to open a Google account. Last time I created one, I had to give them a mobile phone number. How long before it’s an iris scan?

With Google+, the straitjacket of authentication has perceptibly tightened. As Guardian blogger GrrlScientist discovered to her cost, it’s a little-known term of service that a Google Profile (which you need for any personalised Google service, not just Google+) must be in your own, real, everyday name. She has just found that all her Google services – Gmail, Reader, Blogger, Google Documents, YouTube, Google Plus – have been taken away, with apparently no recourse to appeal.

Have you created a Google Profile? (I know I have, but I don’t remember doing it. I just thought I was signing up to use Gmail.) If it isn’t in your real name, if it’s in a nickname, a pen name, the name of an alter ego or game character or a name you had to make up because your real one was gone already, then Google can take it away too.

How much could you lose, if Google suddenly decided to throw you into the outer darkness? More than you might easily imagine, as this similar case makes clear:

Now he had pretty much converted everything to Google services. He used its storage (and paid for extra capacity), used its social network, used its email and used its applications. He is a grad student and had more than 500 articles cached for research in his Google reader (gone); he had migrated all of his bookmarks to Google bookmarks (gone); he had consolidated on Google his 200 contacts (gone), his backup files (gone) and his docs (gone).

The guy even put all of his calendar items (doctors’ appointments, meetings, dates) onto Google, and they are now gone. He had used Google Maps extensively, and all of those records are gone. Oh — and it isn’t just access to new items either. His entire mail account and documented history have been deleted.

[Read the victim’s own testimony here]

Your documents, your emails, your pictures, your contacts – you life, dammit. If you have an Android Phone as well, I imagine you’re pretty much screwed. And let’s be perfectly clear, these people didn’t do anything wrong using their Google Profiles. Merely breaking an obscure term of an agreement they were in all probability barely aware of making has allowed Google to trash their online lives – and shatter their trust in one of the world’s most powerful companies.

Why would Google be so draconian, withdrawing their useful – for many now, almost essential – services for what seem arbitrary reasons? It is because they don’t want just to be service providers. Google see how they can be gatekeepers of an authenticated, business-friendly, government-friendly Web, one where your every move is – quite legally – observed and documented, where your online persona is precisely riveted to your real-world identity. An Internet, in other words, where everybody knows you’re a dog.

Now combine that with the same ubiquity and penetration into your personal life as Facebook or Twitter, combine it with the fact that you are happily providing Google with information about the people you know, by dividing them into different categories of trust, genetic kinship, etc., and you begin to wonder what you’re getting into.

But it’s clear what Google are. They’re getting into the business of delivering authenticated identities. You could call it policing.


And Now For Some Random Facts

Huge ocean sunfish (mola mola) at Outer Bay ex...
In German, the sunfish is sometimes known as Schwimmender Kopf, or "swimming head"

Jell-O is the official state snack of Utah. This is the sort of thing you could make up and people would believe it, but in this case it happens to be true.

Vegetables and fruit served in savoury jelly is sometimes called “congealed salad“, possibly the worst name ever given to something you expect another human being to eat.

Jell-O and other brands of jelly are made of collagen extracted from the boiled bones, connective tissues, organs and some intestines of animals such as cattle and horses. Though contrary to popular belief, there are no hooves in it.

So that’s a relief then.

Cosmography Politics

A Few Inadequate Words

John Stuart Mill
"I don't think you fully grasp the concept of Liberty"

The extremists of all flags, whether they laughably describe themselves as Christians, Muslims, nationalists, or what they will, have far more in common with each other than with those they claim to represent. They can hate and kill who they choose because they cannot or will not identify with them as people. This is not fighting for a cause, this is failure of humanity; self-involvement on a horrific scale.

You have to wonder about their mental processes. What does a man think he will achieve by murdering cold-bloodedly? Did he seriously believe that Norway could be terrorised out of allowing immigration? Maybe he thought he could spark a nationalistic uprising by the heroic shooting dead of teenagers.

It seems he wrote a 1,500 page document to explain his actions, but I doubt it will tell us anything – except the incredible lengths an insecure man will go to, to justify himself.