Who Made This?

At the end of every episode of the X-Files, there was the production card that identified the show as being created by a particular production company, in this case, Chris Carter’s Ten thirteen productions. I bring this up because the tag line of that production card always stayed with me. A simple statement, spoken by a child: “I made this.” It wasn’t just a boast, but a reminder. Someone made the preceding show. It didn’t just appear on your screen, beamed in from outer space. It was consciously made to sell you an idea.

I started thinking about this when the controversy over The Interview erupted last week. What struck me most was how muddled everything became over something as simple as a movie. Though perhaps simple is the wrong word. Movies are complex, deceptively so. We forget how much time and attention goes into editing them into a coherent narrative, that we overlook the gaps in that editing, and pretend that the real people saying fake things up there on the screen are still conveying some sort of truth, even if that truth is that Seth Rogen and James Franco have clearly smoked more weed than is advisable.

Facts are funny things. They’ll serve liars just as well as they will crusaders for truth and justice. Sure, Sony spiking the film is a horrible no good very bad thing to do, as is the DPRK (or whomever) hacking Sony and issuing threats of terrorism over a movie. But you know what else is a bad idea? Making a comedy about assassinating a sitting head of state. Even and especially if he is an egomaniacal troll with delusions of grandeur. This is a man who had his ex girlfriend executed by firing squad. What did you think was going to happen when he saw a simulacrum of his own face, with his own name, melting on screen? He’d laugh?

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But what gets left out of the story is how the moviemakers are trying to pull a fast one. The Interview doesn’t get transmuted into gold because it’s become controversial. But by doubling down on the claim their freedom of speech is being trampled, they elevate the status of their stoner comedy, demanding it be respected as an artful political statement, while still claiming it’s just a movie and the dude whose avatar they immolate on film should just chill out.

The Interview is suddenly Schrodinger’s movie, both political art and crass commercial product, all depending upon which side of the dependent clause you’re reading. And all because James Franco and Seth Rogen deserve… something. Attention? I know we white guys have been feeling the sting of the social justice warrior lash of late, but prolonging an international incident because of misplaced privilege is a new low, even for movie stars.

And let’s not kid ourselves, The Interview is a lead-jacketed stone, designed to sink. How could it be anything else given its stars, subject matter, and the tendencies of Hollywood comedies? The famous duo who brought us Pineapple Express were never going to produce a thoughtful, nuanced rendering of a tragic and strange land run by a third generation ninny raised to believe he is a god-king. That movie would be glorious, probably French, and definitely made thirty years ago, but it was never going to be extruded through the marketing-constricted orifice that is Sony Pictures in 2014.

Sony, for their part, were justified in canceling it. Sony is a Japanese based multinational corporation, concerned not with upholding the dubious free speech claims of two wealthy white actors in another country, but with making a profit. And the potential risk presented with releasing a stoner comedy is not great enough to throw against the unknown variable that is North Korea, who has of late been throwing missiles into the Sea of Japan. Still, they handled the situation like utter tools.

And I’m not even sure why the matter required a response from President Obama. A multinational corporation based in Japan gets a bloody nose and the person who holds a press conference isn’t the VP in charge of InfoSec or even the CEO, but the President of the US? If even Obama can no longer tell where a multinational corporation ends and the United States begins, we’re all screwed.

As for North Korea, there’s debate if the DPRK could even pull off such a sophisticated hack. The FBI claims they did it, NK says they were framed. I’ll leave that one to the InfoSec experts:

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The people of North Korea deserve our sympathy, and some of our pity, in everything, but especially this. Before this is all over, someone is going to loose their life in that country, all because Dear Leader looked like a fool in front of the world. That he could look like nothing else is not this dead soul’s fault, and we will probably never even know their name. But sure, let’s pretend, because we’re Americans and have the privilege afforded by distance and willful ignorance, that the real victims are James Franco and Seth Rogan. They’ll have to suffice with crying themselves to sleep on their giant pillows in their shiny mansions, before someone hands them the equivalent of North Korea’s GDP to make another shitty movie.

We’re left with three simple facts: 1. North Korea is run by a dick. 2. Sony execs have their heads up their asses. 3. The Interview is a terrible movie. But none of these facts add up to a greater sum worth anything this overblown. It’s a just a movie, after all.

The problem is, we’ve let movies dictate our perceptions for so long that we have forgotten that someone else’s vision defines what we see or don’t see. And that makes us responsible, as an audience, to stay informed. It’s long past the hour of when you could simply be a passive consumer of moving pictures. It can be argued that this never was a luxury we had, only another idea sold to us, probably in some movie.

By focusing the lens of the story on the famous people who have been temporarily inconvenienced, we’re ignoring the real story: someone exploited Sony’s laughable IT security and made off with a metric shit ton of sensitive data. The powers that be are blaming North Korea, because it’s the sort of story that flatters us and fits a widely accepted geopolitical narrative: a jilted, image-conscious dictatorship spitting in the eye of the noble empire and bastion of civilization over a petty slight, with a pair of hapless but freedom-loving artists caught in the middle. Just ignore the projectionist in the booth, his curtain or the real reasons this particular story is being told at this particular time.

One theory I’ve seen floated is that this is being blown out of proportion by the US Government specifically to give weight to its claims of dire cyber warfare on the horizon, and thus grab back the relative freedoms created by the Internet. I don’t know about you, but if Seth Rogen becomes a dupe for ending net neutrality, I’m going to be pissed.

For all I know, North Korea did the deed, Sony did the best they could under the circumstances, and The Interview is a lost classic of political satire. But I’ve seen that movie and it feels like it needed another rewrite.

All politics is personal. And it doesn’t get any more personal than the images you let people put in your head. This goes double for viral videos, propaganda, or anything that has controversial buzz. Anything that wants your money as much as it wants your attention should be suspect. Never stop asking, “who made this?” because if the answer isn’t, “I made this,” than someone is selling you something and it may not be something you want to buy.

Update 12/23: In the last 24 hours, North Korea was kicked off the Internet by hackers. They’re back, but the hackers showed what some have suspected all along: the DPRK doesn’t have a robust enough Internet infrastructure to perform the sort of sophisticated hack that Sony experienced. Meanwhile, Sony announced they had decided to release The Interview anyway. Guess they decided there was now enough buzz for it to be profitable.

Still no word yet as to why the US is defending the honor of a  corporation against the sickly kid on the international playground.

Lament For The Iranian Space Monkey

This week, Iran announced that they had successfully launched a monkey into orbit and returned him safely to Earth. And the rest of the world went WTF, Iran? Because really, it’s not 1961. We have a space station, Iran, and I know we don’t let you play on it, but that’s because you do things like launch monkeys into space in 2013.

Only, it turns out that they did no such thing.

It was all a hoax. Which, as baffling as that fact remains, is a second order problem, right behind the assumption that Iran had some legitimate need to launch a monkey into space. They did not, and here’s why: Back in 1961, the US sent Ham the Astrochimp into orbit and safely retrieved him. They did this to see if it was possible to bring a living creature back from orbit safely, because no one had ever done it before. But now that we do it on a regular basis, there’s no need for that data point. This is like North Korea announcing they’ve invented the wheel, only it’s slightly oval and was faked with CG. What do they gain by doing this?

It’s been suggested that they did it (well, not really, but wanted us to think they had done it) in order to test their tech, presumably before they faked a launch with humans. But again, ignoring the hoax, this line of reasoning still doesn’t work. The science for putting a spacecraft into LEO has already been published and made freely available. That’s why Burt Rutan was able to build Spaceship One without having to completely recreate Project Mercury.

Go to your local library (assuming it has access to Eric or Web of Science) and the reference librarian can help you find hundreds of papers detailing the math and specifications for building a spacecraft. you still won’t be able to do it, unless you have a few extra billion dollars laying around, but the hurdle for a manned space mission is no longer a technical concern, it’s one of finances and resources.

In 1999, the Chinese put a taikonaut into orbit. But what they didn’t do was first shoot monkeys at the sky. They looked at where the US and Russians were at, then built their own version. Shenzhou is basically a half step between the Russian Soyuz and SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. Nothing glamorous, but as first steps go, it made sense from a technical standpoint. Also, it was still impressive. The Chinese went from 0 to Yuri Gagarin in seven years.

Any way you slice it, lobbing monkeys into space is amateur hour. Its usefulness was dubious 60 years ago and today it’d be laughable, if it weren’t so fucking cruel.

Recreating that particular step in the process doesn’t get the Iranians anywhere. It’s not science, it’s sympathetic magic, imitating the steps in the hope that you’ll get the same results.

But of course they didn’t even do that. The Iranian government faked the result, which drives right by sympathetic magic and drops us off in cargo cult territory. They’re building fake monkey rockets in order to impress upon the world that they are making progress in a space program they don’t even have.

I almost feel sorry for the Iranians. Wait, scratch that. I feel sorry for the Iranian Space Monkey, even though she doesn’t exist.

Great Disturbances, Etc.

Via Xeni at BoingBoing comes the news that Disney has just baught Lucusfilm with the intent, “to release a new Star Wars feature film every two to three years.”

Alright nerds, before you start catterwalling about a million voices screaming out, etc., take a deep pull on your inhalers.

Everyone despaired when Disney bought the Muppets, but the new Muppet movie was great, revitalizing the entire franchise. Clearly Lucus doesn’t care about Star Wars, but Disney does (at least enough to recognize that there’s an audience willing to fork over a gigaton of cash for a new movie or 12).

Lately Disney has recognized that what they need to do is find someone passionate about their new toy and hand creative control over, like they did to Lasseter at Pixar, and Whedon at Marvel. It’s the perfect time for Disney to find some untapped talent who grew up with Star Wars, wants to make awesome Star Wars movies, and let them at it with the sort of talent and bottomless pockets Disney can provide.

And since these new movies will need to satisfy the Mouse Kingdom and the fans rather then the whims of some old fart more concerned about fancy cameras and loud sound systems, this could very well be a Good Thing (Other than the fact that a single corporation now owns 90% of mine and everyone else’s childhood, but it was either going to be them or Time Warner, so pick your devils, children).

Tip of the Triangle

I can’t believe I never saw how Glenn Beck fits into the Illumniti Conspiracy* before. It seems obvious, once you think about it.  but I must admit, I’m baffled about the whole “Rappers are part of the Illuminatti” thing. How did I miss this?

[Glenn] Beck and Jones have thousands of followers who believe as they do. They include Tea Party types, the right-of-center Rand Pauls of the world, militiamen who feel this nation’s sovereignty is under attack from some very serious and credible forces. They’re primarily Republican (though more conservative), white, male, married and over 45, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

Unearthed in that same poll: Tea partiers are better educated and wealthier than the average American. More than half say the policies of the Obama administration favor the poor, and 25 percent think that the administration favors blacks over whites—compared with 11 percent of the general public. They are more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people.

And then there’s Nikki, a 20-something woman drinking with friends at El Toro, a bar on Belmont Avenue, just off Lancaster Avenue in West Philly. She also believes that shadowy forces—the real power behind the power—are at play to overthrow the American government. The Illuminati: a conspiratorial organization of cultural elites with unspeakable wealth who control world affairs through governments and corporations.

Nikki says that President Obama was “selected, not elected” president by the Illuminati, and that he’s now carrying out its homosexual agenda by “appointing more gays to his Cabinet than all the other presidents combined.”

But unlike Beck, Jones and their followers, Nikki happens to be young, black and a huge fan of hip-hop. Oh, and she believes rapper Jay-Z is a part of the Illuminati too.

Apparently goat heads/skulls, pyramids, and coded references to other illuminati symbolism have been popping up in Jay Z’s videos and other pop/rap artist’s work for years. And I say bully for them. White people may have invented conspiracy mongering, but they don’t own it. And as we all know, multi-culturalism is one of the hallmarks of the Illuminati so it was only a matter of time before the likes of Obama, Beyonce and Jay Z took their rightful place in the longest running and most popular conspiracy of all time.

Sure, it may be just a way to sneak coded racism into the debate over who caused the Second Great Depression, but that’s just what they want you think. Clearly, it’s time for me to get back in the game as I have missed out on a lot of conspiracy related material in the last few years. The Birthers, Truthers and the Tea Party didn’t just pop up from nowhere. They have an intellectual lineage going back decades, if not centuries. And clearly, I have been remiss in my studies of these phenomenon.

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* I have no idea if this sight, FML, is legitimately connected to the American Freemasons or if it’s a fan site or what. Poe’s Law is in full force here.

Bang, Zoom, To the Moon!

While flouncing around Florida, lying his ass off to elderly people trying to scam their votes, Newt Gingrich announced that he’d like to build a moon base by 2020. This naturally got some attention. A lot of people — especially liberal-minded folk — felt conflicted. Here’s Newt, king of of the GOP slime balls, promoting a good idea, one that Obama wouldn’t touch with a ten foot cattle prod. WTF?

Relax, my fellow week kneed liberals. This is Newt we’re talking about here. He’s either disingenuous or not showing all his cards. As a general rule, if a Republican has a good idea, it’s almost always for the wrong reason (see: tax cuts, but only for the rich).
If a Republican promotes what sounds like a good idea, just ask yourself, “What is the worst possible way this good idea could be implemented, twisting it into a hellish nightmare of bureaucratic entitlement and possibly used as a weapon against foreign brown people with oil reserves unde their asses?”

Newt’s moon base would be an American-only military complex for the purpose of weaponizing space, intimidating the world and leveraging our already overextended military power to coerce other nations into doing our bidding. He doesn’t want to build an international research station, he wants his own personal Death Star.

And as Neil Degrasse-Tyson pointed out, it ain’t gonna happen, not by 2020 or any other time in the near future.

A moon base would be great. Think of the scientific discoveries and problems we culd solve, working together as a united humanity? hat’s what a Moon base would be great at. Just not right now. Let’s sort out this whole Global Economic melt down thing before we start colonizing space. Maybe by then, our leaders won’t be egomaniacs looking for an excuse to nuke Middle Eastern countries from orbit.

Thoughts on the Royal Wedding

The wedding of Prince Humperdink and Princess Buttercup this weekend got overshadowed by our collective blood lust on Sunday but I wanted to try and at least sort out a little of what was going on, at least in my head. Coming at it from the perspective of a dedicated little d democrat, it’s a silly farce fit for medievals and monarchists, the closeted fascists of Europe who every few decades get to drag out their Empire swords and shine them up good and proper. That so many Americans got swept away in this old timey display of ostentatious wealth of the excessively inbred makes one wonder if we Americans don’t have a secret cabal of Monarchists lurking in our closets. And in a way we do.

The Monarchy as a sort of archetype is embedded in our collective unconscious. It’s the rough edges of fairy tales and history peeking through the modern world. We spent so many thousands of years with kings and queens and the traditions that go with them that at least on some level we have a hard wired Monarchist neurocircuit in our brains. Some of us learn how to defuse it and others just embrace the occasional activation of fealty to tradition and the pageantry of culture. It’s weird, but a benign sort of weirdness, like going to Ren fairs or dressing up like psychopaths on Halloween. A sort of cathartic mocking of the old-fangled with just a touch of reverence for a way of life that we no longer live.

Or maybe we just like watching rich people get gussied up and fantasizing it’s us in those fancy clothes (which we can never, ever afford) and prance around in ancient hallowed ground (that we’re forbidden from looking at except from the far side of a velvet rope).

They Don’t Hate Us For Our Freedoms after All

Over at the Awl, we find this enlightening piece on Egypt and Egyptians attitudes towards the US. Far from being the fever dream of our own would-be theocrats on the right, the situation is a lot more complicated and positive. Turns out the majority of the Muslim world doesn’t actually hate us for our freedoms, they’re just suspicious of the bullshit we peddle:

The other argument for popular sovereignty in the Muslim world is far more straightforward: It’s what the vast majority of Muslims actually want. The 2005-2007 Gallup World Survey of more than 30 Muslim majority countries found that, far from hating Western freedoms, most respondents coveted them—especially the freedom of speech and worship. It’s true that they also overwhelmingly endorsed the idea of Sharia law—but that is not a prescription for jihadist theocracy, as witless American commentators and state legislatures are prone to conclude. Sharia, rather, is a cultural tradition seeking to imbue broad ideals of personal conduct under the rule of law—and far from a monolithic regime of hand-amputating, honor-killing and adulterer-stoning one encounters in dispatches from the American right. Here, yet again, the Iranian theocracy has been made the poster regime for a wide panoply of Muslim believers it does not, in fact, actually represent. You’d think a conservative movement so besotted with lip service to the idea of democracy in the Islamic world would pay closer attention to such pesky details.

That’s because the Egyptians and most everyone else, rightly suspects that our leaders are feeding them a line when we start nattering on about democracy and liberty and all that happy Tom Paine bullshit. The US sells 1.2 Billion dollars worth of military hardware to Egypt. They’re our biggest client in the Middle East, (after Israel, naturally) and those Abrams tanks and RPGs aren’t exactly in the hands of the nicest guys in the government. So when our leaders stand up and say, “Fuck yeah, Egyptian democracy! We’re with you!” and then hand Mubarak another boatload of anti-demonstration hardware, people tend to notice. Especially the people who are getting the boot to head. They can look up and see “Made in America” stamped on the heal on their throat. You may be able to sell that as promoting Liberty to the FoxNews mouth breathers but the rest of the world knows a turd sandwhich when they see one. And they ain’t buying what we’re selling.

I am far from an expert on Egypt and have no idea how this whole thing will play out. But if there’s a chance that the Egyptian People can take their country back form a dictator, I’m all for it. Even if it means a strongly Islamic-identified government that isn’t necessarily pro-US rises to take it’s place. Sometimes the price of freedom means loosing a client for our big shiny weapons.But I think the Military Industrial complex will get over it, somehow.

The Millennial Myth

You may have heard of the Millennials (and count yourself lucky if you haven’t). They’re the tech savvy kids born since the late 1980s, who grew up with the Internet and mobile phones and are plugged in, turned on and engaged in the use of web-based technology in ways that are both dazzling and frightening. Or so we’re told. Because the Millennials, like Gen X and the baby Boomers before them, are a demographic construct, a social fiction made up to sell a narrative and more importantly, to sell product.

These kids aren’t engaging in a digital environment that speaks to a spectacular, intuitive grasp of technology. They’re thumbing cell phone keyboards because it’s easier than actually using a phone. And that’s the problem with ubiquitous technology: it becomes easy to use on the surface for the most shallow of purposes. We can bounce packets of data off satellites in geosynchronous orbit but mostly, that data we’re sending is teenage gossip and cute cat pictures. The kids these days, they aren’t engaged in the savvy use of technology. They’re banging digital rocks together because they don’t know how to do anything else. Jaded grownups just assume they already know everything and so don’t bother to teach them anything.

Other than a very small minority of plugged in super nerds, none of the kids in the Millennial generation knows anything about computers. I’ve been around them now, in an academic environment, for 8 years. I’ve met 20 year-olds who’ve never opened a word document. Every Fall semester, I encounter a new crop of recent high school grads whose only experience with the Internet is posting updates on their friends MySpace pages. If you’re lucky, they have a Yahoo account and may have sent an e-mail or two, but usually just to their parents.

But the Millennial Myth is a popular delusion that persists and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why. Until today. While listening to a candidate for a new Instructional technologist position at the University, I heard yet another Boomer tell a room full of Gen Xers and other Boomers that these Millennials needed to be handled differently because the were savvy customers. In what other area do we assume teenagers know more than parents and teachers? And who benefits from this assumption? Cut out the bullshit lingo and what you have left is the truth: they’re customers.

The Millennial Myth is a consumer model. “We don’t need to teach kids how to properly use technology,” the Micky Marketeers tell us, “Because that way, we can sell them products they don’t know they don’t need.” The handful of young (and old) savvy tech users will search out their own technology needs and find their way to the Open Source fringe sector or other specialty areas. They’re not the Millennial demographic. They’re the 1 in a million inoculated against these slogans. Marketeers don’t give a shit about them and so neither do educators who have adopted the MBA approach to education, where students are just a special class of customers. What the Marketeers and Business Model Academics are after are the non-savvy tech users. Because they’ll buy whatever shiny thing the Marketeers and BMAs want to sell them this fiscal semester. Maybe it’s a new style of mobile phone, or maybe it’s a useless degree in business management, physical therapy or library science. Whatever keeps the profit margins in the black.

Business Opportunities Involving the London Bridge

Of all the novels we could be living in, this is not the one I would have suspected:

Hansard is the official printed transcript of the proceedings of the houses of parliament — in other words, the working log of the British government.

It is an authoritative primary source, and records every speech made in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Interestingly, it also records words spoken under parliamentary privilege.

So when an eminent member of the House of Lords stands up six hours into a debate and blows the gaff on a shadowy foreign Foundation making a bid to buy the British state, and this is recorded in Hansard, one tends to sit up and take notice. And one takes even more notice when His Lordship tip-toes around actually naming the Foundation in question, especially after the throw-away about money-laundering for the IRA on behalf of the Bank of England. Parliamentary privilege only stretches so far, it seems, and Foundation X is beyond its reach. I’m going to quote at length below the cut — if you want to read the original, search for “1 Nov 2010 : Column 1538” which is where things begin to tip-toe into Robert Ludlum territory.

This is Charlie Stross, shining light on the story that Lord James of Blackheath stood up in the House of Lords and explained how a shadowy organization had come to him with an offer of 6 Billion pounds, gratis, to help fix the British economy and that maybe someone should look into this because it sounds too good to be true and further, all the research he’s done suggests it’s genuine.

Due to having his server flash-mobbed by the entire Internet, Charlie had to take down the comments. However, yesterday afternoon when I read this story, there was much discussion as to the nature and identity of Foundation X.[1] Firstly, there can’t be many organizations with the sort of profile capable of making a credible offer of this size, especially since, according to Lord Blackheath, they explained how their organization was essentially still on the Gold Standard and that their multi-billion pound grant was backed by bullion.[2] One candidate floated was that Foundation X is a front for the Vatican bank, which is notoriously secretive as to the size and nature of its accounts and also atatched to an organization large enough and ancient enough to have that kind of hard currency sitting around. still, 6 Billion Pounds in gold bullion is a staggering amount of metal. Most countries don’t have that much gold just laying around, for various reasons but if anyone would, I’d suspect the Vatican. But where did the Vatican get all of it?

It’s long been suspected that the Vatican was the recipient of a large amount of purloined Nazi gold after World War II. This is significant because it’s not like you can just walk into a bank with a few metric tons of Nazi gold and exchange it for Pounds or Euros.This gold is hot and to say that it has some dubious legal and moral baggage attached is an understatement. It’s Nazi Gold, man. So for half a century, the Vatican may or may not have been sitting on a giant cache of evil currency that they have no practical way to launder. Until now.

As Charlie Stross pointed out in the comments (vanished temporarily) back in 2008 the IRA was in the process of becoming a legit political party in ireland but still had in their possession a large amount of tainted money, previously used for arms dealing during the Troubles. When the financial crisis hit and British banks were looking for some liquid capitol to keep civilization rolling, the IRA stepped in and said, hey guys launder our dirty money and we’ll call it even.

So this is like that, only with a shadowy cartel of Vatican bankers instead of the IRA and a butload of Nazi gold instead of dirty money.[3]

Of course one wanders just where the Vatican got all this Nazi gold. Then of course one remembers who the current Pope is. Which suggests the third act revelation for this tawdry story of corruption and international finance:

Berlin, 1945. A cabal of Nazi bankers come to the Vatican during the waning days of WWII and explain that they have all this gold and the Vatican can have it, for a price. In exchange for moving the Reich’s assets into safe keeping, these secret Nazi bankers are to be absorbed into the Vatican Bank’s hierarchy. Over the years, the key tot he vault full fo Nazi gold is passed aorund from bishop to cardinal of a secret group. Maybe the previous Popes don’t even know about the secret crypt full of Nazi gold,[4] at least until the current Pope, a former Hitler Youth member, took the throne of Peter. The ring of guardians to the gold crypt growing aged and scarce, reach out to a trustworthy member of the inner circle. after all, if things turn bad, who better to have on your side than the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who is now Pope? During his initiation, he was handed the old ring of iron keys, one to the secret crypt where the mummified corpse of Jesus rests and another to the crypt full of gold.

Of course, this would explain the pope’s recent visit to England. He was checking out the place, seeing where he’d like to have his statue built. Because once it’s made public that the Vatican solved Britain’s financial problem with a helpful donation of money (let’s not dwell on where it came form) this will reconcile 400 years of bad blood between the Anglican church and the Vatican. Soon, converts tot he Old Faith will be swelling the pews (and coffers) and the Church will be back on top, having reclaimed a long lost kingdom.[5]

It wouldn’t seem any less likely.

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1. Assuming of course that it isn’t a giant hoax on His Honor. There was speculation that Foundation X could be
The Office of International Treasury Control (OITC), which I had honestly never heard of until this came up. Their Wikipedia entry is fascinating to say the least. That there exists int he real world a shadowy cabal claiming to manage the world’s finances is honestly not that surprising. Though they really need a more colorful name than OITC. Something like The Skeleton Key or Brotherhood of Midas would be appropriate.

2.This is where things start to sound like a cross between a Nigerian 419 scam and Glen Beck pilfering your grandma’s wedding ring on FoxNews. And if it turned out that Lord Blackheath was contacted by an organization headed by a deposed Nigerian Prince, would this story seem more or less likely?

3. Lord Blackheath casually mentioned in this speech, recorded in the Hansard, that he had helped launder IRA money through legitimate banks, which not only adds a bit of credibility to this scenerio, but also is probably why Foundation X contacted him in the first place. I’m sure there are worse ways to earn one’s pearage than being known as the Lord of Money Laundering, but not many. But Black markets are still markets and the line between legitimate and illegitimate business is blurring all the time (See: Cheney, Dick; Blackwater).

4. I’m guessing JP II, that wily Pole, would not take to kindly to the knowledge that he was sitting on several metric tons of Nazi gold and probably would have spileld th ebeans. Though, he apparently knew about the Vatican’s international pedophile ring as well, so maybe he was not quite the stand up guy popular opinion would have us believe. Either way, a stash of nazi gold is one opf those need to know secrets that could easily be kept from particularly liberalism Popes, especially in an institution of that size. So for th epurpose of our story, we’ll pretend JPII was ignorant of this little skeleton in St. Peter’s closet.

5. Ignoring of course that Britain is the second most secular nation in the world and the Brits in no real hurry to get religion any time soon. But all stories are allowed one implausible fact. OK, maybe in this case, two.

Yours is an Unoriginal Sin

The iPad came out this weekend and the backlash is in full form. “Why would I want a big iPod?” says the computer geek, pushing his glasses up his nose. “I already have a netbook running Red Hat Linux.”

Saying that you wouldn’t want an iPad because you already have a laptop is missing the point.The iPad isn’t designed for or marketed to the tech savvy or computer literate. It’s not for geeks who want to build websites in their spare time (and neither is it for tinkerers, hackers or makers). It’s for people who don’t see a use for a laptop, because they only use desktop computers at work, to write reports or run spreadsheets, and can’t imagine why anyone would want to spend their spare time doing something that looks like work. It’s for people curious about this whole Youtube/twitter/facebook/ebook thing they keep hearing about. The iPad is cheaper than a laptop, and  marketed as a thing that does simple stuff for people who don’t normally play on computers. It’s for consuming media as fast or as slow as you want it, not for playing Net Cowboy in the digital wilderness. It’s a spork, not a Swiss Army knife.

Tech savvy tinkerers can use it too, as a way to separate their social media playtime form their working on a laptop time, so it does have that geeky, gadget fetish factor. But that’s a secondary market. The iPad is the machine that will introduce your grandma to facebook or let your macho buddy who doesn’t do all that nerdy computer stuff read an ebook or play a game. Neither will be frightened by having to sit down at a computer. Because it isn’t a computer. it’s an iPad. It isn’t for the faithful, it’s a missionary machine.

Being of the geek faithful, you may have a hard time wrapping your head aorund the idea that Uncle Steve made a new toy for the dumb kids to play with. That’s OK. Your only sin is being too imaginative. You wanted something that would change the world and what you got was just another cool gadget. I’m sure once you get one of your own though, you’ll get over it.