Get politics

The year 2011 began with the digits 1111. The century is now sufficiently well established that we don’t need to worry about the ’20’ bit. I’ve always (relatively speaking) had an interest in prime numbers, and 1111 is not prime. Eleven goes into it, as does one hundred and one. For a number to attain primacy, it needs to fulfil a simple condition: it can only be divisible by itself and by one.

That rules out all even numbers except ‘2’, and although there seems to be a trend (3, 7, 11, 13, 17, 23…) it quickly disappears. So much so that this mathematical puzzle has remained insoluble. Primes have applications, one of them being in encryption. One of the cool things about these numbers is that if you multiply two of them they give you an answer that can only be divided by itself and by one – and by the numbers that made it.

Math can get tricky, and most people don’t like it because it’s difficult to follow and you can’t see the point of using it, so here’s an example:

5 and 7 are prime, and 5 x 7 = 35. The factors of 35 are 1, 5, 7, and 35. That simple fact is useful for coding messages, because if you use long numbers, it takes forever to break the code. 128 bit encryption (8 bits can write the number 255, because each bit is double the next, so the eight bits are 1+2+4+8+16+32+64+128) will take over a quadrillion millenia to crack. More than I’ve got. When numbers get that big, they’re just called a gazillion. The reason the code takes that long to break is that we can’t know if a number is prime without investigating every number that might go into it. And that takes time.

So these special numbers might be called sub-primes, but they play an important role in keeping information safe. And 2011, which is a prime number, is undoubtedly the year of the sub-prime. Europe and America are still reeling from the events of 2007 and 2008, which truly knocked the world for six (a sub-prime). For some this has been a business opportunity, such as the US company that sells Obama condoms, with the slogan the ultimate stimulus package. With quips such as the “Seal of the President of the United States”, together with other sophomoric humor, it’s a tribute to the first amendment if they remain litigation-free.

In this cauldron of sub-prime mess, made by banks and paid by countries, which is to say paid by common people, there really seem to be no solutions. Poor judgement in key economic sectors such as oil has caused world crises in the past, but it’s the new global communication pipelines that have made this a showstopper. It’s not that surprising that when you break down all barriers to flows the avenues of joy can turn to highways of misery.

And yet we are now hooked into that global pipeline: people are, nations are. And pulling away isn’t an option. I have trouble understanding what the practical consequences will be without looking at history, the great leveller. In the mid-seventeenth century Oliver Cromwell invaded Ireland, in an exercise of singular brutality. Colonization, persecution, hunger, and emigration took their course. The English presence in Ireland lasted until the XXth century, and part of the Emerald Isle is still governed by the UK. The North was ravaged by war, known to the two sides respectively as nationalism and terrorism.

If Ireland, Spain, Portugal, or any other European nation becomes desperate enough, the consequences will be far-reaching. When the Balkans erupted after the iron grip of Marshal Tito vaporized, it led to a number of wars. Human nature very quickly showed its true colors: during the war between Serbs and Croats, corpses were found with their genitals in their stomach. Not 350 years ago, the butt of Puritan fury in the Irish bogs, but a mere 20 years ago, three hours’ flight from London. Take a couple of minutes out from Facebook, and see this. Click on any time period. I guarantee it’s hotter than whatever your latest friend just posted. 

For those who don’t feel that politics is the key, the birthright that every citizen in a free nation is granted by virtue of the struggles of their parents, and the dream of all other nations, I have three words. History. History. History. Europe has a reccurring history of war. Within nations. Between nations. Among nations.

Get politics. Before politics gets you.


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