Archive for August, 2005

Of Spides, Giraffes and Peace

The Newshound posted Suzanne Breen’s gloomy Tribune piece on the sectarianism that continues in Northern Ireland.

Referring to an Institute for Conflict Research report, she notes:

11 years after the ceasefires and seven years after the Belfast Agreement, sectarian violence has substantially increased across the North, with far more attacks on churches, GAA clubs and Orange halls than pre-1994.

More people are being intimidated from their homes.

The report’s author correctly notes that:

“It was assumed all this would stop with the peace process.”

The problem with the very idea of a ‘peace process’ is that for its duration, it requires conflict to continue, in some form or another, among its participants, until the process concludes.
To talk about solving the problems of the North, in terms of a ‘peace process’ is to adopt a crude, but at the same time managerial approach to dealing with people’s fears and hatred. In its functioning, however, the ‘peace process’ has little to do with the type of people who attack GAA clubs or Orange halls. It is a matter for suits, not spides.

This does not mean that the ‘spides’ have no interest in the peace process; far from it. In fact, it is the peace process that allows them to give legitimacy to their sectarian behaviour. The fact that the biggest political party at present in the North is the DUP illustrates that those who can best exploit the dynamic of sectarian antagonism are the ones likely to have the most power.

The ‘peace process’ tells us that it is a splendid thing indeed to be a Nationalist, or a Unionist. In fact, there is no reason, it is agreed, for people to be anything else. Rather than denoting a rather dry constitutional preference between belonging to one English-speaking capitalist democracy or another, the peace process means that being a Nationalist, or a Unionist, becomes an end in itself, in a similar way to being a giraffe.

Any giraffe worthy of the name will take measures to ensure that he remains a giraffe for as long as possible, mainly by eating acacia leaves and drinking plenty of water. In the same way, for many, to be a Nationalist, you must remain oppressed by Unionism and act accordingly. To be a Unionist, the union must remain under threat and you should act accordingly. Anything else would mean a kind of death.

Septic Sevens

Via Gerry.

Seven things I plan to do before I die:

Yeuch how depressing. Not particularly big into making plans, me. However, a man without a plan is not a man (Nietszche?), so here goes:

Leave no debts for anyone else
Do some drawings and paintings and have them framed and hung on the walls of our house
Have a piano in the house and play it reasonably well and often
Try to live virtuously for a bit
Get the time to visit art galleries regularly
Visit the dentist
Eat a hearty breakfast

Seven things I can do:
(a la Big Brother audition)

Run 10 miles without too much trouble
Write with exquisite penmanship
Draw and paint better than the average artist who hawks his wares at suburban shopping centres
Clear out quiz machines and murder most people at Trivial Pursuit (if that can be classed as one thing)
Install shower doors
Coax a tune out of most woodwind instruments
Charm old ladies Daniel O’Donnell style (albeit without the singing voice).

Seven things I can not do:

Be ambitious
Abide pushy people
Avoid listening to the conversations of others
Throw a decent punch
Have only one pint
Shake off a nagging sense of impending doom.

Seven things that I find really attractive about the opposite sex:

Not too sure how to answer this one. Am I supposed to give seven reasons why I like women, or seven things I look for in a woman? The former is obvious, and the latter is almost redundant as I’m a nearly married man….


Seven things I say the most:

Not too bad
Yer ass
(He’s an awful) dickhead
Yes, I’ll do it today

Seven books I love:

Moderato Cantabile (Marguerite Duras)
L’Etranger (Albert Camus)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark)
Reading In The Dark (Seamus Deane)
Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Gabriel García Márquez)
Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
Everything Is Illuminated (Jonathan Safran Foer)

Seven people I would like to see take this quiz:

It seems as though every blogger I know has already been asked.

What’s Green And Smells of Pork?*

I’m back, and I need some sort of de-porkification treatment.

Over the last 8 days, I have overdosed on pork products, including the following:

Platters of jamón serrano (cured ham)
Lomo (both cured type and porkchop-style)
Sobrasada (a type of raw cured sausage mixed with pork fat and paprika)
Salchicha (the closest to your regular bangers you get here)
Longaniza (spicy sausage)
Torta de chicharrones (a kind of pastry dessert, with sugared pork scratchings on top.)

Then last night we got back and had some Carbonara. I have some mortadela sandwiches for my lunch.

*the answer, of course, is me. Nothing whatsoever to do with Kermit the Frog.

Hasta lueguito

I’ll be away for a week, during which time I shall be sorting a few things out under blazing hot Mediterranean sun. A few trips to the beach and some vino tinto and sepia are in order.

Be good.

Selective Memory

Noting Mr Gaskin’s reminiscences about A-Level exam results day, and the reported relative success of the Northern Ireland education system, I recalled another fragment of my ‘student’ days, when I would lie in bed smelling of kebab and listening to Radio Five Live phone-ins until it was time to go and have lunch.

On Radio 5, one of the most common criticisms of the British left, from regular commentators such as Peter Hitchens and Leo McKinstry, was the abolition of selection and grammar schools. Both men, among others, frequently cited the case of the Northern Ireland education system and its superior performance at ‘A’ Level as evidence of the inherent righteousness of the ancien regime.

In Northern Ireland, there are many people, perhaps a majority of Protestant and Roman Catholic alike, who have high regard for grammar schools and would prefer them to be kept.

However, it has been decided that the present system of selection at 11 should be scrapped. Both unionist parties disagree with the proposed actions and point out that this is all Martin McGuinness’s fault. Bad enough that he should have been in the IRA and simultaneously held Minister for Education in the devolved assembly, but, as I have heard cited by people questioning his competence, he also failed the 11+. Such is the nature of the 11+ among its supporters; there is nothing wrong with failing it, but if you actually do, it means there are certain things you should not be allowed to do.

A few weeks ago, a teacher proposed the removal of ‘failure’ from teachers’ vocabulary at the British Professional Association of Teachers’ conference. This was met with torrents of derision from the anti-PC lobby, which really does exist, unlike the PC lobby, which does not.

When I first saw the reports of the proposal, I thought that this was another fatuous piece of ‘anti-PC’ reporting; (I mean, political correctness these days, first thing you can’t call failure failure, and the next thing we’ll all be praying towards Mecca five times a day if we’re not all blown to smithereens beforehand because we’re too handwringingly PC to strip-search everyone wearing puffy jackets.) then I realised she really did think that this was a useful thing to do.

The news was just the sort of thing that would bolster any pro 11+ argument; if a dippy teacher thinks that the word ‘failure’ should be removed from a teacher’s vocabulary, then she’s obviously barking, as is anyone else who is unable to see that failure can actually be good for children. Kids need to know that life is tough as soon as possible, correct? And if it’s ok to fail, then there is surely nothing wrong with failing the 11+. It tightens you for the spuds. Sure fear of failure is bracing for the spirit, like a brisk jog round the school grounds with the House Master followed by a cold shower at 6 in the morning.

Further support for the 11 plus arrived in the form of an apparent recognition from British Education Secretary Ruth Kelly that comprehensive schools had not been as effective as bringing about social mobility as had been originally hoped.

The introduction of comprehensive schools is seen by many conservative commentators as a defining moment in post-war Britain, exemplifying what they consider the rampaging egalitarianism of Labour governments. For many, grammar schools meant true meritocracy: the most academically able got the education required for the higher paid professions, and the rest learned skills more suited to their level of ability, for work in manufacturing or manual labour.

It isn’t surprising that the idea of bringing back grammar schools has made a comeback; because a growing proportion of the population in Britain works in the services industry, it becomes more and more difficult to be socially mobile when nearly everyone goes to work and sits in front of a computer. New ways must be found for the middle-classes to measure their progress and distinguish themselves, and through the education of your children is as good a way as any. If your child goes to a grammar school, that is a measure of your position in a meritocratic society.

In the North, I think that the desire to preserve grammar schools has slightly different origins. Grammar schools have been part and parcel of life in the province for as long as anyone there can remember. Perhaps this explains the division along unionist/nationalist party political lines on the matter: the end of the 11+ may mean for many the removal of an essential component of Northern Ireland society. Post war, grammar schools provided education to both Protestant and Catholic working class children, enabling boys and girls from poorer families to enter professions not previously open to them. The 11+ was seen as a necessary mechanism, and passing it considered a worthy achievement.

When I was at school, most children knew what the function of the 11+ was: the smart boys went to the grammar, and the stupid boys went to the secondary school. Parties were thrown for children who passed, including those who passed with the aid of private tutors; those who didn’t pass, well, they failed, unless their parents were willing to pay up for their entry to grammar school, thus effacing the memory of their failure.

Onlookers may be surprised to see that a majority of people in the province are in favour of keeping the existing system of selection at 11, despite the fact a the majority of people have not passed the 11+. This isn’t really surprising: where you have the possibility, however remote, that your rather dull child has a can become a Lord Chief Justice by passing an exam at age 11, you are unlikely to want this possibility to be removed. No-one would say that they did not want their child to pass it. After all, there is always the chance that your child could turn out to be brighter than you are, or not make same mistakes that you did. Like failing the 11+.

UPDATE: The bould Chris Gaskin has told me that surveys say a majority of people are actually against it, which I was rather pleased to hear, although not for the purposes of this post.

UPDATE #2: The bould Pete Baker has told me that surveys say a majority of people are actually for it, which I was rather dismayed to hear, especially for the purposes of this post.

Facts are indeed the enemy of truth.

Runaway Post

If I could disentangle myself for long enough from the headphone wires, mouse cables, telephone headsets and MSN Messenger, I might be more detached about how my extra half hour in bed this morning and not having coffee for breakfast seems to have left me with an unusually heightened sense of interconnectedness of things.

As an indolent student, I would leave Radio 5 live on all night. A side effect of this would be that during my waking hours, half-heard news would give me strange ideas. One day watching Neighbours I became convinced that darts player Jocky Wilson had died. Later I found out via the evening news that jockey Willie Carson had been seriously injured.

A similar thing affected me this morning when I pursued the internet trail of a thought I had yesterday afternoon, when I was prompted by a thread on United Irelander to think about the intentional fallacy. Was it this that led me to click on the link last night on the rather hard-right Spanish site Libertad Digital’s report of remarks made in the Wall Street Journal on Oriana Fallaci?

(If you must know, she doesn’t feel so alone when she reads the works of Joseph Ratzinger. Oh and Europe isn’t Europe anymore, but Eurabia, a colony of Islam where the Islamic invasion doesn’t just arrive in a physical sense, but in a mental, cultural one too. Well that’s my translation anyway. I can’t be bothered looking for the English original)

Perhaps not. Anyway, I moseyed downstairs and plonked myself in front of Runaway Bride on RTE1, featuring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, just long enough to digest the bit where Gere’s raffish columnist (not exactly a rich playboy) pens a hasty and inaccurate column about Roberts’s down-at-home handywoman (not exactly a tomboy prostitute) being a man-eater. Roberts pens a riposte worthy of Samuel Richardson to USA Today, Gere’s paper, in which she makes it clear that she is most certainly not a man-eater, and that the film no mere rehash of Pretty Woman. Her response gets Gere the sack, partly because USA Today is a paper of integrity and will not tolerate fabrication from its columnists. I went upstairs to bed after Gere and Roberts meet for the first time.

On my bedside table is a copy of From Oslo To Iraq and The Roadmap, by Edward Said, which I got through last weekend, and before turning out the light I briefly scanned through his account of events surrounding the photo taken of him throwing stones. Although the book itself contains no pictures, I had seen the photo before, and I drifted off to sleep and dreamt of Edward Said in a wedding dress throwing stones from a horse, in a splicing of my mental image of the photo (although returning to the photo today it bears no resemblance to my mental image) and the opening scene from Runaway Bride.

Nothing strange yet, you may think. This morning, however, I decided to satisfy my curiosity regarding Oriana Fallaci, by locating the original article in the Wall Street Journal. So I stuck “Oriana Fallaci” into Google’s news search, and found this piece on the first search page returned.

It begins:

A few years ago and mere months before he died, the world-renowned, Lebanese-born Columbia linguistics professor Edward Said was photographed throwing a symbolic rock at an equally empty and symbolic structure in Israel.

Well! I am sure if Edward Said were still alive, and was anything at all like Julia Roberts’ character in the Runaway Bride, he’d be throwing down his monkey wrench and penning a rather peeved response to the assertion that he was (a) born in Lebanon (he was born in Jerusalem) and (b) a professor of linguistics.

Perhaps the guest columnist for the Fort Wayne News Sentinel is confusing his Saids with his Chomksys, or he sees comparative literature as a branch of linguistics. But this is a minor quibble, as such things can happen to the best of us. In my youth, I once erroneously referred to the aforementioned Noam Chomsky as Normski, and I once witnessed a rather impassioned Zionist weblog commentator refer to Bat Ye’Or (who may provide Ms Fallaci with the whole ‘Eurabia’ schtick) as Bat D’Or (as in ‘The French adore…’)

The rest of the article is about how terrorism subverts cool, or maybe how cool subverts terrorism, and the columnist (who, somewhat unfortunately for the purposes of this post, bears no resemblance to Richard Gere.) goes on to redeem in our eyes his ability to identify public figures by pointing out to us that ‘Bruce Springsteen is not George Kennan.’

If only all matters of identity were so clear cut.

Los enredos de los enredos

Are we getting stupider?

It’s exam results time in these parts, and that means the annual ‘debate’ about educational standards will rage momentarily, only to be extinguished by reports of unconfirmed sightings of ‘puma-like large cats’ stalking the moors and sheughs of these isles.

Lavish profiles of diligent and precocious students – aspirant astronomers, nuclear physicists and even theologians- and their proud parents adorn the newspapers.

Son: “No, not much really, just six hours every night, and I found the subjects all really interesting, but my only problem was that I found Quadruple Advanced Further Maths classes really dull, because my parents taught it to me in Japanese at home, and it was a bit of a comedown having to listen to it in English in class. Also the fact that there was no George Steiner on the curriculum was a source of lingering disappointment. But I’m really normal, really. I like all the normal things, like texting my mates and drinking Sunny D. But I’m really looking forward to studying at MIT. I’m sure I’ll be able to assimilate well, and my mummy’s concern about having her 13 year old son so far away from home will prove utterly unfounded.”

Meanwhile ‘dumbing down’ will keep coming up. The fact that the phrase itself is too much of a cliché to enlighten anyone seems curiously lost on those who use it.

Symbology And Codology

A few days ago I attacked ironing as a tyrannical waste of time. Yet even the hours spent ironing may have been of some use: I cannot ignore the possibility that my crisply pressed shirts may have been decisive at some pivotal moment in my life.

I can find no such rationalisation for the hours spent reading the Da Vinci Code. It was easily the worst book I have ever read, by a country mile.

The ‘controversies’ (you know the ones – the Catholic church wanted it banned; Opus Dei were planning to have the author assassinated; it almost a mass suicide among the Knights Of Columbanus) generated by the book, or perhaps more accurately, by its promoters, have continued with the filming, with the obligatory nun turning up to object to its filming at Lincoln Cathedral.

Please Give Generously

Perhaps timed deliberately so as to coincide with the ‘Ian Beale reverses his vasectomy’ storyline in Eastenders, BBC News presenter Michael Buerk has claimed that men these days are ‘unemployable sperm donors’.

He said:

“Men gauge themselves in terms of their career, but many of those have disappeared. All they are is sperm donors, and most women aren’t going to want an unemployable sperm donor loafing around and making the house look untidy. They are choosing not to have a male in the household.”

Still, there’s always the weblog to keep ’em busy, what?

Pelvis Pensées

Such are the depths of my present slump that I’ve had to resort to On This Day.. style commentary. On this day in 1977, Elvis Presley died, in a manner fit for a king: on the throne. Or didn’t die, depending on your religious beliefs.

Elvis was one of those famous people – others included John Wayne and Alfred Hitchcock – who I learned was dead some time after I learned who he was.

Almost completely unrelated, is it normal to only be able to curl your lip on one side of your face?

And what is Frank Chisum doing these days?

I on Twitter

August 2005