Will horse meat lift the poor and impoverished of Europe out of poverty and find them a job?

The famous quip Let them eat cake by some oblique French aristocrat and once wrongly attributed to Marie Antoinette has taken on new meaning in the Federal Republic of Germany in 2013. Hartwig Fischer, a prominent member of the Christian Democratic Union has suggested that horsemeat, fraudulently labelled as beef should be fed to the poor.  Fischer, seemingly oblivious to the plight of the poor and the unemployed thinks that the horsemeat scandal currently engulfing the European Union could be the sin qua non to finding a solution to Europe’s endless recession, massive unemployment and the growing disaffection and fragmentation from within its member states.  Fischer’s ally in this radical, unworkable and stupid solution is Dirk Niebel; Germany’s development minister. He is quoted as saying “we cannot just throw away good food”.  Yet, his country is among the top ten nations in the world who waste food on a daily basis-and don’t give any of it away free to the poor and needy.

It’s difficult to comprehend the stupidity in such a throwaway line as Let them eat horse coming from a supposedly educated man (although German Ministers have had a few problems of their own in this regard recently-with at least two having had to resign for plagiarising their Doctoral theses) who is charged with developing his country.

It is evident that Herr Niebel hasn’t read Tristram Stuart’s book Waste, which describes the staggering, and shocking wastage of food which occurs daily in the developed world, especially in Germany, the Unites States and United Kingdom. For example, Stuarts writes that:   There are nearly one billion malnourished people in the world, but the approximately 40 million tonnes of food wasted by US households, retailers and food services each year would be enough to satisfy the hunger of every one of them…

The UK, US and Europe have nearly twice as much food as is required by the nutritional needs of their populations. Up to half the entire food supply is wasted between the farm and the fork. If crops wastefully fed to livestock are included, European countries have more than three times more food than they need, while the US has around four times more food than is needed, and up to three-quarters of the nutritional value is lost before it reaches people’s mouths. (Stuart, 2009)

Clearly Herr Niebel and Fischer,  it just isn’t a matter of feeding horsemeat to the hungry. Notwithstanding the dignity of the poor and impoverished, who for all we know may count among their many millions in Germany and globally, vegetarians, vegans and just ordinary folk who would find it repugnant to eat  a horse; it is simply an unworkable solution to Germany’s and the EU’s recession woes. It is also a suggestion which in its most base form is ignorant and shows a callous disregard for humanity and those who find themselves dispossessed of the right to a meaningful life and dignified employment.

But the naivety of the pronouncement from both Niebel and Fischer reveals a darker insidious message from within the crisis racked European Union. It suggests just how much the political power elite are out of touch with the suffering and plight of the poor and dispossessed who for the most part are still paying for the duplicitous actions and scams of the banking and financial sectors in Europe and the United States of America.

We live in a broken world. People are hungry and there’s plenty of food to feed them. People are homeless and there are plenty of empty buildings to house them. People are lonely and there are plenty of lonely people looking for companionship. People are poor and live in abject poverty and the wealth and riches of the world are held by a mere 1% of the total global population. “All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe” (Stuart, 2009), and my least favourite double standard, is China, one of the last remaining vestiges of an outdated and unworkable Marxist dialectic ranks second in the world for billionaires and is only outranked by the United States of America which has an equally, unworkable outdated democratic dialectic as well as the highest poverty rates in the developed world.

Stuart, T. (2009). Waste. London: Penguin.

Twitter & Ted on the road to know-where?

In the opening chapter of his insightful and well researched book The Net Delusion: The Dark side of internet freedom, Evgeny Morozov recalls the hype and misinformation surrounding the role of Twitter following the Iranian presidential elections and the subsequent June 2009 political protests on the streets of Tehran.  Many writers and bloggers hailed Twitter as the future of political revolution and change throughout the world. He cites how some went so far as to proclaim Twitter was achieving what the United Nations and the European Union have been unable to do-bring about regime change in Iran. The obsession and infatuation with the social media platform led a former deputy national security advisor who worked during the difficult and painful years of the G.W.Bush administration, to launch a public campaign to nominate Twitter for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Morozov, 2011)

Four years on and there’s been no Twitter led or inspired regime change in Iran. In fact throughout the Middle East and North Africa, any claims that Twitter has been at the forefront of revolutions, public protests and political change are by and large inaccurate, misleading and mis-represent the capacity of any social media to bring about political and social reform in any part of the world.  Current events in Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and Iran suggest that the violence, suffering and misery brought about through modern warfare weaponry plays a much for decisive and destructive role in bringing about or ushering in political change.  Furthermore, it’s naive to think and argue that the citizenry of any country will be sufficiently empowered through any kind of internet, social media platform or Google inspired creed to bring about social reform and political change anywhere.

The recent visit by Google CEO Eric Schmidt to North Korea gained little for its people who for the most part starve and have no access to any kind of social media let alone internet freedoms, apart from allowing the West some limited voyeuristic views of the North Korea via Google maps. Moreover the constant vilification of the Chinese for their lack of internet and social media freedoms belies a much darker secret in the West- we are all monitored too -there’s no freedoms when it comes to electronic media.  Every website, tweet, chat, email, or online search for whatever reason leaves a footprint for any keen amateur or professional electronic tracker. All social media claim the right to whatever you say, upload or publish via their platforms.  Yet those who sign up for social media access would never allow anyone to walk into their homes, apartments or dwellings and help themselves to information and memorabilia about  their personal and private lives. When the internet was first conceived and social media began to emerge as derigure for 21st century communications we knew we were creating the future, but we didn’t realize what kind of future we were creating.

Twitter allows users to communicate with one another using 140 characters or less on virtually any topic anyone chooses and deemed appropriate by the service operators.  The social media claims up to 500 million users, but there’s no way to verify they are all genuine account holders, and similar to Facebook, up to 30% could be fake or non-user accounts.  Nonetheless, it’s popular and aside from the social buzz and instant celebrity status which may be derived from its use, it has been taken up by corporations and educational institutions as a way to communicate and share ideas. For example, a report in the Australian news spreadsheet-The Age-suggests that Australian teachers use Twitter to engage in education related topics, like reforms, focus and leadership.  (MacGibbon & Tarica, 2012). And in the January, 2013 issue of IB World, the official magazine of the International Baccalaureate Organization, a teacher from the New International School of Thailand claimed that Twitter is a great resource “for real time news in a time of crisis”, while another group of educators engaged with the IBO’s Primary Years Programme claimed that Twitter helped them to get “their ideas together” (IB World, 2013). Leaving aside the obvious question over whether or not any communication platform would be available in a time of crisis these are unsubstantiated claims and pertain more to personal opinion. But, it’s worthwhile to consider the type and quality of information which may be shared in 140 characters or less in any situation especially when educators claim its usefulness as a cutting edge communicative platform. According to Twitter in 2012 its three most famous tweets came from President Barrack Obama, the pop singer, Justin Beiber and an NFL football player. Not a mention of a tweet from the Arab world, North Africa or Iran. Furthermore the tweets of the famous three consisted of only a few words. For president Obama it was simply four more years, Justin Beiber told the world he was sick, and an NFL player complained about the NFL lockout.  Yet did anyone think they were important messages? About 1.2 million twitter users did.

There’s no doubt that Twitter is beguiling, but its usefulness as an agent of social change and transformation and its ability to convey and spread ideas of any substance is highly questionable. While it may well be advantageous to educators to tweet to one another “learning by doing is fabulous” it’s quite another to read the works of John Dewey, the early 19th century American Philosopher, Psychologist and educational reformer, to really understand what he meant when he developed the concept, and how such a notion would work in the 21st century when educational technology is engaged in so much of the doing. Social media is dumbing us down. It plays into a social and political worldview which prefers passive acceptance over critical analysis of the status quo. It doesn’t allow one to question, analyse and respond rationally and critically.

TED talks, like Twitter is another media platform which engages in the spreading of information via an electronic medium-the internet. Under the slogan of ideas worth spreading, a TED talk lasts around 18 minutes. Audience members must pay a significant amount of money to participate as passive recipients of whatever is being said, and they clap and nod approvingly at various points throughout the presentations. An invitation to present via TED talk is exclusive, somewhat elitist and not open to the public. Are their ideas worth spreading? Not really, because the speakers are unable to deliver a well prepared and thoughtful argument within 18 minutes. Moreover if Bill Gates and Charles Leadbeater are any example, then they are simply spreading ignorance. They are for the most part opinionated thoughts expressed without recourse to any kind of evidence or clear reasoning. It’s difficult to conceive of Heidegger, Kant, Freud, Greer, Butler, Spinoza, Midgley and Sartre to name a few, expressing their arguments and ideas in under 18 minutes. TED talks are the multi-media equivalent of a bar room chat after a two hour professional development session.

We live in an age where we are flooded with information.  Myth and fact, knowledge and understanding, reason and belief are merging into one another, and becoming unrecognizable. Meanwhile the skills to wade through it all with good sense and purpose are languishing and becoming inaccessible in an educational sector under siege through the corporatization of teaching and learning, and subordinated to a distorted, chaotic and often irrational technological utopian vision of the future.


IB World. (2013). Ways Social Media Work For You. IB World , 18-19.

MacGibbon, A., & Tarica, E. (2012, November 12). The Age: Teachers unlock tweet smell of success. Retrieved February 7, 2013, from The Age.com.au: http://www.theage.com.au

Morozov, E. (2011). The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. New York: Public Affairs PBS.

Is Ted a Twit or Tweet?

In a taxi hurtling down a highway in Thailand to Suvarnabhumi airport, I had to ask the driver to refrain from texting and talking on his new iPhone 5, which he had proudly shown me earlier. He had misunderstood my approving nod and words “nice nice” to mean he could use it at will. Each time he did either, we found ourselves heaving between other road users –some who were also chatting away casually on their phones seemingly oblivious to the highway, and flying across lanes like  drunken drivers.  But he’s not alone in his compulsive, obsessive behaviour with mobile gadgets and the fear of not being connected or missing out on whatever – if anything- is worthwhile to miss out on. More recently, I attended a meeting and was taken aback by the number of people who were texting continually throughout the 30 minutes, without paying attention to the person chairing the  event.  As I left the room and passed the men’s WC, another colleague exited at the same time, texting on his phone, with his zipper clearly undone. I tried a little ed.tech. talk “Hey Ted, I see you’ve got windows on your laptop”. “Huh” he said, not registering at all. So, I tried a little travel talk “Ted, you need to bring your tray table to the upright and locked position mate, sailor Ned’s trying to take a little shore leave”. Much to his relief and mine, he caught on and did the needful.   But Ted isn’t alone in his obsessive use of gadgetry to stay connected in a disconnected world.

The BBC recently reported on a woman who fell into a canal while texting and as she recalled the horror with delight, reveling in her new found celebrity status, it has been reported by some media (mainly social media) that it was the canal at fault-it was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The BBC, being at the forefront of investigative journalism went on a hunt for other mobile phone users who had been victims, and had suffered a similar fate. Terrible stories emerged of their abuse at the hands of their mobile phones. One traumatized young man, fighting back tears told how he had been abused by a well-built brick wall while quite young, as he was walking home from school and texting on his mobile phone. Another young women, recalled how at a young age, while walking along the street and texting, an old battered garbage bin had thrown itself in her path-she felt as though it had been stalking her prior to the attack. She doesn’t recall exactly what type of bin it was but was able to describe in chilling detail the sound it made as it rolled along the pavement.  Similar stories of obstacle abuse by mobile phones have emerged since these initial reports, and authorities are considering an official enquiry to establish the extent of the abuse and how far back it may go. Mobile phone giants Nokia, Samsung and Apple Inc, have so far made no public comment on the allegations. However, A California psychologist Dr. Larry D. Rosen has spoken out, interestingly in defense of the mobile phone. Clearly his position goes against rising tide of public anger on the issue. He argues that the responsibility for these instances of so called obstacle abuse must lie squarely on the shoulders of the human being, not the device itself.  He claims that using  social media (texting, twitter, Facebook etc.) through mobile devices can spawn narcissism, and the constant checking of one’s mobile device can lead to a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Perhaps he offers a glimmer of hope in a world lost to twits and tweets. For example, he suggests to go against the ever popular speed, efficiency and addictive quality of fast food and reconvene the lost ritual of the family dinner. No technology permitted. The second one is to talk to our children, and reintroduce them to the normal interaction of human conversation after hours spent in cyberconversation.  If this doesn’t work, Dr. Rosen suggests stepping away from the computer, or leaving the phone, iPad or other mobile device on its own (yes, this may be difficult as they are such needy gadgets) and connecting with nature. He recommends staring at a bush outside your home, work, classroom or office for a short time as this may help rewire your brain and make you more human again (Burrough, 2012). The only downside with this remedy is that the neighbors or colleagues-or in the case of children and students, their teachers-may think you’re in a psychotic-catatonic state and call the authorities and have you carted off to a place where they really will rewire your brain!


Burrough, B. (2012). When You Text Till You Drop. New York: New York Times.