CNN did an interesting thing the other day. They asked two technology lawyers to do something that millions of us have claimed to do but very few actually have. They asked them to read the iTunes Terms and Conditions -- an electronic scroll of small print which pops up every time there's an update on Apple's software. The lawyers, incidentally, didn't discover any real monsters in their hunt through the forest of fine print – unless, that is, you were planning to update a weapon of mass destruction with a selectable playlist of MOR rock classics. If so, I'm sorry to have to tell you that the End User License Agreement specifically bars the use of iTunes software in "the production of nuclear, missile, or chemical or biological weapons".
It's hardly surprising that so few of us bother to read these contracts before digitally signing our names to them. They're densely legalistic and preposterously inclusive. But there is something intriguing about the blitheness with which we click on the "I Agree" button – not knowing precisely what it is that we're agreeing to. The more paranoid consumer would, I assume, take this as an instance of contemporary folly – and they would be able to bolster their case by citing the unwitting concessions on privacy and data collection that we make. But most of us, I think, would regard this as a moment when trust comes into play. We understand that Apple wants our money. But our working assumption is that they aren't actively seeking to cheat us.
Contemporary life would be exhausting if we thought anything else – not to mention a great deal bleaker. Every transaction would be conducted in an atmosphere of suspicion, every commercial exchange hedged by caution and mistrust. And though our confidence rests partly on legislation – on the knowledge that protections exist which inhabit the rapacity of entrepreneurs – it's also connected to the way in which we expect to deal with each other as human beings. Which is why the banks' knowing mis-selling of Payment Protection Insurance – an activity which they now seem to have decided is literally indefensible – is so shabby. It's not just that they gave their customers a bad deal (they do that quite often). They cynically exploited the trust that often exists between non-specialist consumers and specialist suppliers, and in doing so corroded it.
One imagines that a vanishingly small number of those who took out PPI deals read all the paperwork that came with them. And even if they had they probably wouldn't have understood every detail. So they relied instead on the human assumption that the person you're dealing with will be essentially decent. In this case, sadly, it turned out that they weren't. The banks weren't interested in fairness, or good service, or customer satisfaction. They just wanted the profit. What they did presumably wasn't legally dishonest, or else someone (surely) would be going to jail. But it was morally dishonest – and yet another contribution to a world in which every motive is suspect. I imagine they'll probably find a way to give themselves a bonus for it.
Independence – some like it Scots
The Silver Linings Department in our house has been thinking about the upsides of Scottish independence, should a referendum on the issue deliver that (highly unlikely) event. Number One would be the opportunity to send our children for the excellent free education available at Scottish universities, since it seems very unlikely that the brand new nation would simultaneously withdraw from the European Union (weaning itself off two teats simultaneously might be too much). As a separate state – rather than a region within a member state – the discrimination which allows universities to charge English students but not Scottish ones would no longer be permissible – and since Alex Salmond recently declared that "the rocks will melt with the sun" before he allowed tuition fees to be imposed, one assumes the money would have to be found somewhere. And, since the subject of the sun has come up, we could also move to align English with European time – so that we could get a bit more of every day. This eminently sensible reform has been stalled before – in part by the objections of Scottish citizens – but if they went their own way, presumably we'd be able to do what we wanted. And perhaps we needn't wait on this one. If Samoa can move its calendar by a full day – to better align with its trading partners – surely we can shift one measly hour. If Scottish MPs don't like it, I'm sure we can do some kind of trade on the admission fees disparity.
Sex and the invisible women
There seems to be some debate about why the Brooklyn Hasidic newspaper Der Zeitung photoshopped Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason out of that photograph of the White House Situation Room. Some have suggested that it was standard practice at the newspaper – to avoid inflaming its readers with images of women (presumably they assume they don't have any female readers). Others that it reflects a disdain for the very idea that women might hold high office. It did us a service anyway by reminding everyone just how deranged some extremes of religious belief can be – rendering invisible half of the human race. And can you imagine how hair-trigger the sexual responses of Hasidic men must be if Hillary in a twin-set is deemed dangerously provocative? One's almost envious.