Archive for June 26th, 2005

On Intervention

God I hate the Guardian. Nearly half of the links on this damned page bring you to some Guardian article or other. I should rename this site Bored Wage Slave Meta-Guardian Review. But I’d rather stab my own eyes out with a fork than have to sift through the Irish Independent or The Daily Telegraph regularly for something worth commenting on.

Anyway, here’s another.

Starting with the tale of a stolen iPod (has anyone else noticed how many stories of stolen iPods there are circulating nowadays? It has to be an Apple ad man’s dream. Untold amounts of free plugs with the message that people are prepared to resort to violence to get their hands on one) Jenni Russell wonders why so few people in public spaces are able to intervene on behalf of others:

’..people appear increasingly reluctant to intervene in public places. They are scared, or indifferent, or embarrassed, or afraid of being accused of assault themselves. Nor does anyone have any confidence that, if they do intervene, they will be backed up by others.

It’s not just London either. Happens in Dublin regularly too.

She continues:

In all the discussion of antisocial behaviour, we seem to be missing an essential element. The police cannot prevent crime, intimidation or harassment. All they can hope to do is occasionally catch a perpetrator. They are meant to be the enforcers of the rules that we as a society have decided to live by – not the only upholders. If we see people being mistreated, then surely we cannot just turn away and thank God that we are not the targets. If that is what we are doing, then we are starting, literally, to become less civilised.

Too right.

I think that one of the reasons for this failure to intervene may be down to the fact that most labour in urban areas these days is done in front of a computer screen. The most physically strenuous part of most people’s days is to carry home the laptop or the shopping. This leaves many of us alienated from our own bodily strength and robustness. What we need to do is send off for a Charles Atlas magazine, and perhaps lose the fear of taking a punch in the face.

There is another side to this, which is the fading of eccentricity in modern life. Not ‘eccentricity’ in the conventional sense, e.g. sporting a handlebar moustache and carrying around one’s own sachets of Earl Grey, but in the refusal to conform. In an article a few weeks ago in El Pais, Javier Marias wrote about how stifling conformity in contemporary schools had led to a far greater degree of bullying. His argument was that in times past one could always rely on an ‘eccentric’, a child from within the circles of popular, physically strong and athletic children, who would have enough confidence in himself to defend the weaker and more vulnerable class members from predatory bullies, but that the overwhelming need to conform had put an end to that.

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On U2

God I hate U2. If you’re like me, you might like this.

On Flags

People who talk openly about their love for their national flag make me feel uncomfortable. Some people get a lump in the throat when they imagine their national flag flapping majestically at some exhibition of military might or other. Some people I know used to have tricolours tacked to their bedroom walls. Other people I know drew tricolours on their exercise books at school. Some of these drawings weren’t even coloured in, but you could tell it was the Irish tricolour because it had IRA written on it.

Flags are boring. They might symbolise laudable ideals – liberty, equality, fraternity, peace between green people and orange people – yet there is something a bit fusty about the idea that by looking at a piece of coloured cloth, one can be inspired to do great things for one’s country, or perhaps simply to be great for one’s country. We entered the age of mechanical reproduction a few years back now – there are far more arresting things to look at these days, and many of them can inspire you to do great things. You may not even have to die in the process.

I got turned off flags around the time Status Quo released ‘In The Army Now’. The album cover imitated the old Iwo Jima photograph, but instead of a US flag, the flag the Quo were raising was the Union Jack. For some reason, I had not hitherto associated the Union Jack with the British Army, who often crouched in our front garden. As a 9 year old anti-colonial, it put me off the Quo’s music for almost twenty years.

Flags are very important in the North. If there was a prize for ‘national flags flown per square mile’, Northern Ireland would win it, with the USA coming a close second. Here, the act of flying a flag atop a lamppost is often compared to the act of pissing at the bottom of a lamppost, in that both are a means of marking out territory.

Some people think that an attachment to flying the national flag matters less to nationalists than unionists. I cannot say if this is true, but the loyalist areas I know do seem to have more flags flying in them than what would be considered their nationalist counterpart areas. However, this may be because Protestants take a more active interest in maintaining their houses and estates. Northern Catholics have an old saying: ‘that’s a bit more Protestant looking’. What they mean here is not ‘the house is decorated with Union Jacks’ but ‘the house is looking a bit tidier now after its bi-monthly clean out’. That keeping the place looking nice involves putting up a load of red white and blue flags may simply illustrate that there is no accounting for taste. (Perhaps this is fanciful.)

Some people object to the use of flags in this manner. They think that flags should be used with respect for the ideals that they symbolise, and in accordance with established protocol. This is what Robin Livingstone’s article was about, and probably why former MP for Strangford, John Taylor used to ask parliamentary questions from time to time about why the Union flag was not being flown properly on public buildings in Armagh (here and here).

Yet if deeply important people like John Taylor, whose knowledge of such important matters may be rivalled only by someone like Lord St. John of Fawsley, considers it of national importance that the the Union flag be flown in the North, you can hardly blame loyalist tidy town representatives from Lisburn for deciding that the best approach in dealing with the problem is to put up as many flags as possible. (Note: this may be a benign interpretation.)

Desecration of one’s national flag is seen by some to be a deep insult. The fact that tricolours are burned at bonfires during the summer in the North is the source of much disgruntlement among tricolour lovers of the Republic. This is certainly not the preserve of Irish people; a Puerto Rican acquaintance of mine arrived in Europe just around the time Bill Clinton had ordered the military strike against the Sudanese aspirin factory (was that what it turned out to be in the end? I can’t remember) in order to deal a blow to Osama Bin Laden and certainly not to distract from the fact that an intern had been fellating him. When she saw the random images of enraged hordes in various places around the globe responding by burning the US flag in anger, or maybe just for the sheer hell of it, she began to cry. She could not believe that anyone would do that to what she considered her flag.

I cannot understand such responses. For me, a flag is first and foremost a piece of coloured cloth. If it gets burnt or torn, you can always go out and get another one. The ideals the flag represents are not tarnished simply because someone chooses to use it as an impromptu arsewipe.

Of course, a flag is more than just a piece of coloured cloth. It is all well and good to play the detached cosmopolitan, and ponder why so may people are fixated by them, yet if my neighbour across the road started flying a swastika from his chimney, I might well have to have a word. Indeed, when a burger van I frequented while living in England began flying a UVF flag, I started to develop a taste for kebabs.


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