Complete This Sentence

Ooh! Ooh! We got our report card! The IMF has checked out what we’re doing with all the money they lent us. Let’s start with a choice quote:

At around 40 percent of GDP, the cumulative cost of supporting the financial sector accounts for half of the sharp increase in net public debt in recent years.

That’s probably as close to saying “Basically they’d be OK if they weren’t a pit prop for Europe’s collapsing banking industry” as the IMF can allow itself to get.

On the bright side, people have finally been jailed over the billions that were ripped off the nation. Some of the bankers, right? Well no, some of the borrowers in fact. But it’s a start.

(Actually when I saw the headline “Sean Quinn’s son and nephew jailed for three months“, I assumed it was one person. Ours is not to question what goes on within a family.)

Sadly though the jail term is not for social larceny, but merely contempt of court. Which reminds me… Now cases are ongoing I probably need to scatter the word “allegedly” liberally through the following. But it seems that the Quinn family, having invested well but not wisely in the failed Anglo-Irish Bank, attempted to hide their assets from their creditors. Which, since the state has taken ownership of this mess, is us the taxpayers.

Allegedly.

There was a stupid debate on the radio today, where a loyal follower of the Quinn camp came on to argue that the family was being persecuted. It’s too late to act like innocent dupes of the big bad bank though, when you’ve been caught trying to hide your money down the back of Russia.

It was a big bad bank however (allegedly, allegedly…), and the other recent good news from the fiduciary front is that Anglo’s erstwhile financial director has been charged with sixteen fraud offences. Sixteen. Imagine, a banker could actually go to jail.

But for how long? A friend of mine did an interesting calculation. A few months ago, someone received a six-year sentence for not paying VAT on the garlic he imported. Don’t say that’s harsh until you see some of the garlic we get in the shops; you’ll agree that hanging is too good for them. The penalty was so severe because the tax he evaded came to €1.6 million. Which establishes that sentences are proportional to how much you rip off the State. Interesting…

Six years for 1.6 million – that’s 3.75 years for each million off-ripped. Anglo’s greedy machinations cost the exchequer €47 billion (€30.6 billion + interest). So if his punishment is to be kept in line, he’ll have to go away for… 175,250 years.

Not to despair though. What with prison overcrowding he’ll probably be out in just a few thousand.

New Flavours Of Spam

Spam 2
"Spam Classic"?

We all get email spam, but if you run a blog or administer a message board – I do both now – you have the pleasure of discovering whole new and different spam varieties. Generally it doesn’t shout at you like junk mail does. It’s altogether more refined, attempting to slip in its advertising payload – usually just a link – under the guise of a relevant contribution. Naturally though the writer (if the spam is actually written by a human) can’t possibly have the time to understand and contribute meaningfully to the discussion going on. If they did they wouldn’t be spammers. They’d be… welcome. Their posts therefore are purposefully bland – which, paradoxically, makes them easy to spot. We got the perfect example the other day:

You are not right. I can prove it.

Science has shown that this is the most likely statement to be found on any message board forum.

On blogs however the spam is more agreeable – agreeing, in fact, with about anything. Usually it’s along the lines of “I couldn’t have put it better myself. Here are some links to other articles that might interest you”. Which turn out of course to be adverts for crap like electronic cigarettes from Russia, or wood carving tools. I kid you not, I got one advertising wood carving tools today. Ostensibly at least; the site it linked to talked about such tools, but offered no way to actually buy them. Something else is going on here, more subtle than just advertising.

There is a belief that the more links there are to your site, the higher it will be ranked by search engines. This is an oversimplification, but people still pay Search Engine Optimization services to improve their page ranking. Some of these “experts” then pay spammers to clog up and overwhelm boards and blogs. Real humans then have to clean up the mess.

Stop doing this.

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.