Nonstarters: this week's worst kickstarter video

The Ostrich Pillow.

This week’s Nonstarter betrays the name of the column: it’s a clever idea executed well, and has already smashed its funding target like Geoff Capes bursting through a fake brick wall. It is, however, a damning indictment of the world that made it necessary.

And I say necessary because people have grasped for it with desperate, shaking hands - this is not a flourish of technological frippery like the Notice, but the promise of refuge from the information hurricane of modern work.

The Ostrich Pillow is a soft bag you pull over your head and jam your hands into when things get weird and you need a hole to cry in. You slip it on during brief moments of workplace respite and lie face-down, looking like some sort of crap alien that is eating its own hands.

Yet despite how defeated and weird you look from the seat next to you, you drift off to sleep with a happy smile on your face and a fading image of a rotating cake demonstrating how your power nap will make you 34 per cent more productive.* 

At least, according to the adorably soporific pitch video. The reality is more likely to involve 10 minutes of anxiety with your lower face pressed against breath-moistened desktop, breathing your own stale coffee reek and enduring sleepless visions of spreadsheets like a depressive’s reworking of Tron.

Then there is a tap on your shoulder. You flop up helplessly with your hands pressed to your bulbous grey head like Munch’s Scream, flailing to pull the damn thing off as your MD asks you when you’ll be able to send feedback on his last email. 

With this product, it matters little whether the end result actually gives people their promised shelter. More impressive is the fact the makers have, quite literally, sold a dream.

* since I am not Ben Goldacre, I will simply leave this without comment and turn to the reader with raised eyebrows and mouth set in a cynical line.

Fred Crawley is group editor for asset finance & accounting at VRL Financial News.

Some sort of crap alien that is eating its own hands. Photograph: youtube.com

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.