Just Like Mamma Used To Buy

Two varieties of ginger as sold in Haikou, Hai...
It's not even like there's only one kind of ginger

I had a sudden flash of insight into why some children are such finicky eaters. It’s consistency. Modern food is too consistent.

Kids are dubious about new tastes. For good reason – they are born into a world that consists mostly of things you shouldn’t put in your mouth. The corollary though is that once they’ve tried something a few times and found it to be safe, they become keen on that.

That’s not a problem with home-made food. Even cooked to the same recipe by the same person, even when prepared by an expert chef, flavour varies. Personally I’ve never cooked the same meal twice. Hell, my spaghetti sauce rarely comes out the same colour. Not so with prepared foods. To encourage customer loyalty, the inevitable inconsistencies of the natural flavours are drowned out by simpler artificial ones. The only remarkable change in the taste of branded food for the last few decades was when US bottlers of soft drinks switched from cane to corn syrup, and merely swapping between minor variants on the theme of pure sugar almost caused war.

The upshot is that more and more now kids don’t develop a tolerance for variation, and so a broader flavour palette. Instead they become convinced that only certain tightly-defined tastes are tolerable.

This occurred to me today because I bought a ginger cake. It’s a nice ginger cake. You can really taste ginger, which is good in my book. It’s moist and sweet and very traditional. By most objective criteria, I’d be willing to claim that this was an excellent – even an ideal – ginger cake.

But it ain’t a McVitie’s Jamaica Ginger Cake.

Reader, I was that child.

Take Me To Your Media

Braun HF 1 television receiver, Germany, 1958
This is what my Media Centre PC doesn't resemble most

I’m still hiding in a happy kernel of geekery, away from a cruel and now markedly more expensive world. Much of last night was spent setting up the new old PC as what I expansively call a “Media Centre”. That is of course just fancy talk for a computer attached to a TV, worthwhile though since we got a wide-screen one. (Well, wide-ish.) My mother will appreciate this when she gets the hang of it, but things may be a bit confusing for the transition. I’d barely got her to stop calling the computer monitor “the TV”, now I seem to have arbitrarily reversed my position.

But I’m sitting here writing this on my knees. With a wireless keyboard on my knees, I mean. I’m not on my knees. And to clarify my clarification, I didn’t think that you thought I was writing this column on my knees, with a pen. I have the keyboard on my knees, but the words are appearing on the TV. Which is the sort of thing people liked to do in science fiction films. Cool. And simultaneously – as it is a fairly wide screens – I’m also catching up with episodes of QI on YouTube. (The one with Nina Conti the ventriloquist.)

Ideally the screen would have about four times the area, but this is actually pretty nice. If nothing else, it improves my work posture – from hunched over on the couch to sitting back on the couch. I feel slightly better-off already.

But I Regress

Income Tax rates by Country based on OECD 2005...
It's insane how low our direct taxes are

Incentives for property investment? There are times I want to go into government buildings with some sort of brain detector, see can I find anything. The reason why the property market is moribund is that property is still insanely overvalued. Urging people to invest in something overvalued is not only what got is into trouble in the first place, it’s surely a form of fraud.

Insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing while expecting a different outcome.

This budget is going to make me worse off. This is not what I object too though. What gets me is that it will make people who are better off less well off than it will make me. This is something to do with it being a “jobs budget”. They don’t want to create a disincentive for the poor to work by taxing the rich too much.

I think they do their economics by voodoo and shibboleth. They have raised money today by every means conceivable except raising income taxes, because raising income taxes is a Bad Thing. The result is that we have a highly regressive budget that hurts the poor far more than the well-off. Certainly it could be counterproductive to pile on excessive taxation. But is it not even more mad, in the midst of economic disaster, to have some of the lowest direct taxes in the developed world?

My mother, confused about why she’ll be able to afford less fuel this winter, asked me “So why can’t they tax the rich?”

I thought for a minute, and replied “Mainly, because they’re rich.”

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But I Regress

Income Tax rates by Country based on OECD 2005...
It's insane how low our direct taxes are

Incentives for property investment? There are times I want to go into government buildings with some sort of brain detector, see can I find anything. The reason why the property market is moribund is that property is still insanely overvalued. Urging people to invest in something overvalued is not only what got is into trouble in the first place, it’s surely a form of fraud.

Insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing while expecting a different outcome.

This budget is going to make me worse off. This is not what I object too though. What gets me is that it will make people who are better off less well off than it will make me. This is something to do with it being a “jobs budget”. They don’t want to create a disincentive for the poor to work by taxing the rich too much.

I think they do their economics by voodoo and shibboleth. They have raised money today by every means conceivable except raising income taxes, because raising income taxes is a Bad Thing. The result is that we have a highly regressive budget that hurts the poor far more than the well-off. Certainly it could be counterproductive to pile on excessive taxation. But is it not even more mad, in the midst of economic disaster, to have some of the lowest direct taxes in the developed world?

My mother, confused about why she’ll be able to afford less fuel this winter, asked me “So why can’t they tax the rich?”

I thought for a minute, and replied “Mainly, because they’re rich.”

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Backing Up Against The Wall

The first developers of IBM PC computers negle...
Kind of Soothing

Well I was right, they were just codding about the charge for medical cards, attempting to make today’s frenzied attack seem somehow merciful by comparison with what it might have been. The assault on the poor will be much less obvious, more spread out. Death by a thousand health cuts.

Enough of this, it’s too depressing. All I did today? Sort out my computer backup regime. Someone recently paid me for fixing their computers by giving me a computer and – now I’ve fixed that one – I’ve something I can use to back up my portable PC with relative ease. Hours were spent testing and tuning the system so that it will run easily in the future. It wasn’t work I strictly needed to do today – except insofar as the right time to have your data backed up is always now – but I did it anyway. I think it’s comfort work in a way. Not exactly mindless, but all logic and repetition; a task done in a kind of soothing trance.

There is a useful maxim in back-up: A computer file should not be considered real until it exists in three different places. And now all my important files do – most, in fact, in five. The world may be going to hell, but my tiny little corner of it is prepared for the worst.

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Address To The Nation

Enda Kenny making a speech in the Burlington H...
The Taoiseach, saying things. For some reason

The country stood by today as our leader Enda Kenny addressed the nation – only the sixth time in history that a Taoiseach has done such a thing. His speech left but one question on lips across the country.

What the hell was that for?

The speech contained much that would have been bad news, if it had been news. It was depressing, sure, but confusingly it did not contain the really awful tidings that would have justified its existence. So it’s pretty much as we expected.

No mention of any welfare rates being further cut, but no mention of them not being cut either. So expect that.

Direct taxes will not be raised, but indirect will. In other words, money will be extracted not just from those who have it, but rich and poor alike. Or as Enda put it:

“I wish I could tell you budget won’t impact on citizens in need, but it will.”

It seems the poor and sick aren’t actually going to be rounded up and shot though. Presumably they’re dying off at a rate sufficient to give markets confidence in our government’s international-finance-friendly ruthlessness.

The highlight I think was when he told us that the economic collapse was not our fault, even if we were all going to have to pay for it. Nice of him to mention that I suppose. We did know though.

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Something In The Water

Bertie
Lithium Isn't Going To Fix this

Psychiatrist and – if you recall – former TD Dr Moosajee Bhamjee has been doing some… I’ll call it lateral thinking about Ireland’s worryingly high suicide rate. While others wring their hands, he at least has suggested a solution: Medicating the water. He believes that a small dose of lithium salts would go unnoticed by most of us, while being effective enough as a mood stabiliser to lower the suicide rate.

I was going to go into a long tirade about the problems with this, but in the end I think I can boil it all down to a single question:

Is he mad?

To quote the Oxford Handbook of Psychiatry:

As Lithium is a highly toxic ion, safe and effective therapy requires monitoring of serum levels. Up to 75% of patients treated with lithium will experience some side effects.

And frankly, I would describe that as the least worrying aspect of introducing forced psychoactive medication to an entire population.

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Truth – There’s An App For That

Back in the day – which, to clear this up once and for all, ran from 1997 until 2003 – I was a big fan of The Brunching Shuttlecocks, perhaps the first really successful Web-based comedy team. Sure there were funny sites before, but they tended to be collections of jokes that could have – and often had – been published in other forms. There were Web incarnations of humour that already existed in other media, such as The Onion. There were webcomics, but again they could have appeared anywhere – if anywhere much still published comics. The Brunching Shuttlecocks though did humour that was, to a large extent, native to the Web.

Which didn’t just mean it was geek humour – though yeah, a lot of it was. More importantly though, much of it was among the first comedy that simply could not have appeared in any other medium. Items like The Bjork Song or Tina The Troubled Teen took advantage of technologies like scripting and object embedding to do jokes in new ways.

The Brunching Shuttlecocks are with us no more alas. The website isn’t even available now due to a hosting dispute, (though word is it will return soon). Main contributors Lore Fitzgerald Sjöberg and Dave Neilsen have long moved on to other things. Despite its eight-year lack of existence though, there’s still a surprisingly active fan community.

And now, you can Brunch (as we say) on your favourite portable Apple product. One of the best-loved items on the site was Good Or Bad?, an interactive feature where readers could vote on whether a random range of bizarre things were, well, good or bad. Votes were collated, and their fundamental value discovered. The free app actually expands on the original idea because it allows you to add your own items for the crowd-sourced assessment of other users, though it comes with the original (and hilarious) Good or Bad? content as ‘seed truth’.

Ever wanted to know whether that feeling you get in your stomach when a lift goes down, or the weirdly satisfying sensation of accidentally treading on a snail, or the big button at the pedestrian crossing that doesn’t apparently do anything is a good thing or bad? Now you can, definitively.