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Papal power in the 21st century

Everyone recognises that the pope had a great amount of power in the past.  It is relatively recently that Italy became a whole nation state without direct influence from the Vatican in the way it was run.  Looking even further back the Pope was the head of a network of influence spanning the whole of Europe that wielded the power of excommunication.  Go back to the crusades and the Pope was the guiding force that led Europe into a series of crusades to try and defeat the Middle East.

Those were the days of the warrior church.  In the modern era the ghost of the Holy Roman Empire is seen as an anachronism, a state without an army, and a largely harmless ideology.  While heads of other religions may launch Jihads, fatwas and the like, it seems as though the Pope is little more than an old man in strange robes who simply tries to encourage folk to live life according to the gospels.

Currently the Pope is one of the more innocuous popes.  Speaking out against capitalism and poverty it seems that this is a Pope who can recognise some of our most immediate problems and knows what has to be done with the greatest immediacy to effect positive change in the world.  He has given up the tradition of living in the papal palace and prefers to live in a simple apartment.  It is rumoured that he leaves the Vatican at night to hand out charity to the destitute whilst disguised in every day garb.

Despite all this positivity in the image of our current Pope he still wields an immense amount of hidden power.  In a world where even One Direction have the power to make hundreds of shops sell seemingly endless lines of One Direction merchandise, so that thousands, or millions of One Direction fans can buy money boxes, posters, cushions, mints, etc, it is clear that the leader of a global religion can create huge change with the utterance of a few words.

Thank goodness that we do currently have a Pope who seems to have his heart in the right place.  Unfortunately this is not necessarily enough.  One of the points on which most of the Pope’s critics agree is that the banning of contraception is not a good idea in a world where there are so many sexually transmitted diseases.  Obviously it is not good that people should pick up disease, or even die from disease, and a simple barrier contraceptive would help prevent this in the majority of cases, but I can see the Pope’s point of view.  It has been a long standing rule of the Catholic church that life should be encouraged and procreation is good.  It has also been a long standing view that sex without procreation is purely a pleasure seeking act.  When the greatest pleasure in life is supposed to be God it is natural that competition should be discouraged.  Beyond the usually considered dangers of unprotected sex there is also a further danger far beyond most people’s realisation, a danger that is very far from the kind of outcome one would expect to be encouraged by a church of any religion.

We are all agreed that STDs are not good but the less obvious danger is one that is caused by successful gestations.  At present most first world countries are experiencing a gradual growth in population due to the advantages of the modern world.  In poorer areas of the world there will soon be a much greater amount of growth that could become an issue.  China has for a long time had its rule against more than one child per family; India has one of the most incredibly packed populations in the world.  In Africa great numbers of children are common for the same reason as they were in Victorian England, they offer the best chance of having children survive to adulthood.  Currently population is kept small by diseases but we are rapidly finding ways to cure and prevent these diseases.  We are also finding ways in which to increase food yields.  These are all good things that we should be doing but as more and more of the world’s Catholics are lifted out of a state of nature there are more and more people who do not have the option of prophylactics to prevent large families.

Every life is a blessing and as any parent knows, their children are wonderful, but it is plain to see that some, due to circumstance, do not end up leading lives as positive as others.   This is largely due to attempts to escape poverty or achieve better than that which fate has offered.  A lot of us know what poverty feels like and a lot of us know there are better things out there than we have in our lives.  Some people end up living like emperors.  It is hardly surprising there should be a little jealousy.  Recent years have seen the occupy movement and the recognition of the 1%.  If this is the reaction of the citizens in the first world to the wealthy few who take the majority of the wealth then just imagine what the swelling populations of the poorer nations will feel like when they discover the riches claimed by those few, or even the comfort that many of our poorer people live in by comparison to so many others in the world.

Those folk who have to walk five miles per day to fetch clean water, and who spend most of their income on just enough food to stay alive already know that there are other folk in other nations who are far better off.  It is largely accepted that this is simply the way things are.  Soon, however, with greater leaps in agriculture and better understanding of medicine there will be far larger populations within these areas.  We know from observation of the behaviour in overpopulated areas of our own countries that people become hardened to humanity when there is just so damn much of humanity around.  The appearance of a disgruntled class of people who will begin to feel as though perhaps they have the numbers to take some of that wealth from the greedier nations is almost inevitable.

By insisting on the papal ban of contraception the Pope is likely to be able to add huge numbers to the armies of the future.  By ensuring that there are huge families growing in nations where religion is taken more seriously the Pope is ensuring that there will be hungry and disgruntled young people looking for a way out of poverty at just about the same time that the population growth in the west will most likely be slowing or even reversing.  There may be vast power shifts in our future and they may be vastly exacerbated by this one small proclamation.

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Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

I have been forced to comment on a great hooha spreading across the internet at present that seems to be getting a lot of people unnecessarily upset.  Anyone who has read my blogs in the past will know that I do not approve of corporations and they might therefore be surprised to hear I am not against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  I have always been a bit paranoid about the powers over my head ever since the days they were all poised to destroy us with nuclear missiles at any second so I am slightly surprised at my acceptance of the TTIP myself.  There are a number of commentators who are riling up the internet as though they were poking a wasps nest with a stick.  Of course the internet is quick to anger and there are millions of people who now oppose the TTIP.

I can’t help thinking that such an opposition is a sign of what I shall call farageing.  It seems strange to me that people who consider UKIP to be a group of morons have no problem with applying UKIP logic to the idea of an agreement with the States.  I can see where they are coming from to an extent.  I have no uncertainty that there will be a lot of negative effects from such a partnership.  However I am also sure there will be a great many positive effects from the partnership.  Such is the nature of change and if we were not able to put up with it then we would all be living in small villages of mud huts eking out a poor existence from what we could forage and farm in the small patches of land around us, with any excess being taken by marauders.  Whilst I might like to try such a way of life for a holiday I don’t think I would like to live there.  Change will always bring bad things but at the same time it tends to bring more good, that is why the majority of us would not trade our current homes for one a thousand years ago.

When England joined Europe in the early 1970s we felt a great deal of change.  Within a few short years there were an overwhelming number of new goods in the shops at ever reducing prices.  Admittedly if you want to buy a decent bit of Deutsch Wurst then you still have to pay a massive amount more than you would in Berlin but at least you have the option.  To compare what we can now buy in the stores compared to the early 70s you would be forgiven for thinking that the wartime rationing was still in operation at that time.  The breaking down of the barriers in Europe and the loss of customs tariffs on European goods allows us to live the colourful lives we have now rather than the grey lives we had then.  It also allows the producers of this country to sell with greater ease in Europe and when the pound becomes weak it means that there are far more customers helping to boost it up again.  Back then it was the way in which food improved that I was most impressed by.  Nowadays the thing that most people are having trouble buying and the thing that most people are coveting is electronics.  Our free trade agreement with Europe does not help too much there because in Europe it is England where the prices of Electronics seem to be most affordable on average.  If we had a trade agreement with America then we would suddenly gain the benefit of the fact that America has very low prices on Electronics compared to most other places in the world.

Aside from all the other benefits that might come from a trade agreement we would quickly find our capability to push our country technologically would become far more affordable.  Computers, tablets and phones would be cheaper and all the benefits of them would become more attainable.  Education would become cheaper for those who use such technologies to push themselves harder.  That education would be more useful with an extra market that wishes to trade with us without barriers.  This is only one aspect that would be helped by the agreement.  Those in favour would touch upon others.  Throughout the whole of Europe it is probably England that is positioned most favourably to benefit from this agreement.  We share a very similar language to the Americans.  They even name it English as it is so similar.  For us the agreement will be far easier to slip into than for the Germans or Greeks.

The one failing of the agreement that is being pointed out by the naysayers and is drawing all the negativity is the rights it gives to corporations to use arbitration to challenge governments that adversely affect their business interests.  Ironically the people who seem most alarmed by this are the same people who usually wish they could challenge the same governments themselves for all manner of idiocy.  They seek to challenge the governments for the idiocy of allowing corporations to challenge the governments.  It is true that we consider ourselves to be living in a democracy and we wish our desires to be adhered to.  With this in mind we vote for politicians to represent our wishes.  Once politicians are in power they can pretty much do what they want for the next 4 – 5 years.  What they do is usually appeal to the readers of the most popular newspapers because whatever rubbish is published in them will determine whether they get to keep their job at the end of the period.  Corporations are not one of my favourite forms of institution but at least they do listen to the actual democratic majority.  There are so many twists in the way that politics works that almost everyone must now be familiar with Winston Churchill having said democracy is the worst form of government.  The fact that he then said, ‘except for all those other forms’ meant that he still favoured democracy but simply felt its execution needed work.  The beauty of a corporation is that it will listen to the will of the customer.  One thing that many corporations have in common is that when they were not attentive enough and flexible enough to do what the customer wanted they went bust.  The thing that all the other corporations have in common is that they were attentive enough to do what the customer wanted and they thrived.

In general the TTIP is unlikely to cause a great deal of arbitration to be focussed against our governments.  It is a measure that is put in place in such agreements to protect companies in the worst possible circumstances where governments are using unethical levels of protectionism for their own industries.  This does not mean arbitration will be absent.  There will undoubtedly be some egregious use of the measures and no doubt we will all tut and blame the TTIP.  This will not change the fact that we will gain massive benefits from the TTIP.  It will also not change the fact that we are entering a new era of democracy.  We are being given a far more direct form of democracy than we had before because if we disagree with the way the corporations abuse such measures we have the ability to stop shopping with those corporations.  We have the ability to tell our friends to stop shopping with them.  With the internet what it is we have the ability to tell the world to stop shopping with them.  If the TTIP affects the web to such a degree that we cannot, and if this is something we dislike then we have the ability to set up meshnets, we have the ability to use usenet.  We still have a right to free speech, we have the right to say something about these corporations and they will quickly learn that the TTIP does not give them carte blanche to abuse their positions.

There will be change.  I have already said this.  But we live in a changing world.  Think of it not as change but as adaptation.  This will be a time of great empowerment for average people, if we want it to be.  Moving the emphasis of control away from government towards corporation really moves the emphasis of control into the hands of the people, and that is where it should be.

Further information can be found at the following URLs and at any to which they link.

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/osbornes-bid-to-end-democracy-by-the-back-door/

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/11/eu-us-trade-deal-transatlantic-trade-and-investment-partnership-democracy

You will also find amongst them links to petitions of opposition if you so choose but you will need to find them yourselves.

The Future of Podcasting

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century setting in motion the process of releasing the typewritten word to the general population that eventually developed into webpages such as the one on which you are probably reading this.

 

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 setting in motion the process of recording sound that eventually developed into the podcast.

 

The internet grew from the written word on bulletin boards and in an echo of technological development through the centuries gradually incorporated pictures, sound and video.  The podcast was named for the ipod and was one of the best reasons to have an ipod.  Podcasts took off.  As is so often the way on the internet everyone was talking about podcasts and everywhere you looked there were companies setting up podcasts.  The podcast was the future; a way of delivering content to a different audience, the people who listened rather than reading or viewing.

 

The problem was that everyone read on the internet, especially once the internet became filled with the communications of their friends on social networks.  Those who didn’t read wanted something like the television that they were accustomed to watching through the evenings in the pre-internet world.  The people who liked to listen to podcasts wasn’t such an attractive audience for whom to produce content, the profit wasn’t there.  Gradually the podcasts have begun to disappear.  A lot of people who spend time on the web are fans of technology; for these people the disappearance of Stuff magazine’s podcast, followed by Cnet’s main podcast, and most recently by T3 magazine’s podcast has been notable.

 

These 3 big companies of technology have decided that podcasting is not worth the effort involved.  In times of austerity the natural way to save money is to cut back on those expenses that are not profitable enough.  Is this the best plan.

 

Companies are ruled by their shareholders and at regular points they must release details of their profits.  The problem with this is that if they do not continually try to save money and build up good dividends then they will lose value in the shareholder’s eyes with the result that funding will become harder, expansion will become harder, even staying afloat will be harder.  Lose too much value and you risk being bought out and liquidated.

 

However the internet has been with us for a while and there are many people who are beginning to feel swamped by the intensity of information that is delivered.  A short while ago Facebook was developing into something massive.  It was so massive that when it made its initial public offering on the stock market its value ballooned to ridiculous levels that were totally disproportionate to its ability to earn money.  Even though this has now died back Facebook is still left with having to sell a lot of advertising to create the necessary profit to maintain its value.  The result for Facebook users is that newsfeeds are filled with sponsored posts.  Chosen pages are having their posts suppressed if they don’t pay to promote them.  Facebook has become chaotic and time consuming to read.  Those who love facebook are finding that it is eating up too much time to justify its place in their life.

 

Facebook is only one example but in general the web demands too much of those who live there.  200 years ago the average reader would own a few books in their lifetime which they would read and reread, eventually memorising them.  There is now more information uploaded to the internet everyday than any one individual could hope to read in a lifetime.  A lot of it is tripe but a lot of it is stuff that we want to read, in fact most of it is designed specifically to pull all the strings that make us want to read it.

 

A lot of us spend our working lives sitting at desks interacting with computers; we carry phones which have the same functions; it is possible to spend hours conducting a social life under exactly the same conditions.  For the first few years of the internet it was an intriguing mystery.  When the world wide web was created it started to become something that ordinary people would use.  As more people have begun to use it the web has become a potential target for corporate profit.  The result has been the explosion of exciting and enticing content crying out to be seen.  If television was ever the drug of the nation then the web is the crack cocaine that was even more addictive.

 

I am not saying we should all become Amish and reject modern technology but when we find it stealing our lives we have to take something back for the sake of our health.  However we can learn from the internet and besides, we enjoy the information.  The beauty of a podcast is that we can run in the woods while we listen to them; we can go shopping; we can travel to work or to visit friends; we can sew and paint.  All those things that we have lost to the internet can be given back to us by the podcast.  As people start to become disillusioned with the theft of their time they can take it back but still enjoy the benefits of news, reviews and opinion.

 

It seems to me that we are just reaching the point at which the podcast is going to be the solution many of us are looking for.  The demand for profit of corporations is going to drive us away from the internet that we have been enjoying for the last few years, but ironically the demand for profit is what is taking away the refuge that the podcast offers.  There is a future for the podcast but the companies are throwing it away ahead of time.  Like so many things that have come before it, the podcast was invented a little bit ahead of time.  With the right approach the podcast could make a comeback with a vengeance.

 

Having lost three of my favourite podcasts, Stuff, Cnet and T3, I am glad to say that when the Times newspaper decided to shut down its hilarious Bugle podcast the presenters thankfully took matters into their own hands to seek sponsorship and create merchandise to keep it running.  The people who will profit when podcasting again attains a height of popularity will be those people like this who do it because they enjoy it and because it is who they are.  The companies that were only doing it because they smelled a profit may all have ducked out by that point.  There is still a future of great content to be developed and it will be developed by the real enthusiasts, and perhaps that is the best way it should be.