Archive for January, 2006

BBC Drama Casts Past Off Quite Discourteously

I had a bout of precognition almost worthy of Minority Report last night, when I was watching that BBC drama about Queen Elizabeth. Watching the scene which began with her tinkling away at her harpsichord (if that is what it was) awaiting the arrival of the representative of Mary Queen of Scots (I think), I thought, she’s going to knock out a few bars of Greensleeves now and say her dad wrote it. And lo! She did!

According to the official Royal site, however, it seems that this particular version of Queen Bess may have been a bit too hasty to believe the hype at court about her father’s composing skills. It says:

Greensleeves, the popular melody frequently attributed to him is, however,
almost certainly not one of his compositions.

Now, if only I had been able to use said powers when watching the lead-in to Saturday night’s Irish Lightweight Championship bout between Peter McDonagh and Michael Gomez.

Blogging Horror Displayed In Graphic Detail

My blogging technique is not up to much. Whatever promises I may have made to plan posts, or at least think them through before clicking on the ‘Publish Post’ button, the banal truth is that my blojo deserts me all too frequently.

I feel a constant need to post something, but any time I sit down to type something, I start off with a sentence, and then delete it. Not selecting the sentence with the mouse and hitting delete, but pressing backspace and watching the words progressively disappear from the screen. This happens a few times, and then I give up.

The result of this is that I spend a lot more time ‘blogging’ than actually writing things which will end up in posts. I started thinking about the type of thing I write as part of my first sentence but then delete, and performed an, er, in-depth analysis of the themes they addressed, which I have represented, for your edification, in graphical format below:

Sectarian Muppets?

Of all the children’s TV programmes I watched, Sesame Street is the one I remember most vividly. I am surprised at how many of its characters, its jingles and sketches I remember. Whereas in hindsight Playschool seems prim and condescending, Bosco grim and almost Soviet, Sesame Street remains bright and breezy.

Even if I left aside such considerations as giant talking birds and dustbin-dwelling grouches, it was still pretty obvious that the world on Sesame Street was a lot different to the one I inhabited. For a start, the theme song told me that the air was ‘sweet’. I remember wondering how air could possibly be ‘sweet’. The theme song also left me wondering where the hell it was. The child’s voice singing it faded out on the tantalising ‘can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?’ No directions were ever given, but it was pretty clear that Sesame Street was in America. The buildings were taller, there were fire hydrants, and the programme was brought to you by the letter ‘zee’ instead of the letter ‘zed’.

Anyway, in the 25 or so years that have passed since, I have scarcely given it any thought. (Apart from the odd time when I found myself in the company of a group of people my age with whom I had absolutely nothing in common. The fallback for a conversation topic on those occasions is always children’s TV programmes.) But it now seems that there will be a Sesame Street project to promote tolerance in the North.

According to this report here, there will be a ‘specially designed show’ for this ‘troubled country’.
It appears there was a study which found that many children, as young as three years old, have sectarian beliefs.

To gauge the potential effectiveness of such an initiative, I recommend another study to investigate the effects of Sesame Street on grown-up sectarian thugs between the age of 20-35. (For comparison, I recommend a similar survey on British soldiers of the same age) I’m willing to bet twenty quid that upwards of 85% of said individuals will have watched Sesame Street as children, and many will be able to perform a rendition of ‘1-2-3-4-5/6-7-8-9-10/11-12.’ Many more will be able to tell you that the Spanish for water is ‘agua’. I’m pretty sure that Sesame Street is an effective vehicle for getting certain types of message across. But what kind of messages? And could they help to promote tolerance in the North?

The Irish Times article also happens to mention the matter of a new documentary called The World According to Sesame Street. The blurb on Rotten Tomatoes says:

‘These three producers from New York’s Sesame Street workshop take Sesame Street as we know it and localize it with indigenous songs, puppets, and curricula. However, this is far from the straightforward, benevolent task it may seem to be. The cultural and production challenges of formulating each region’s program are a complex of the political and the personal and make The World According to Sesame Street dramatic and edifying viewing.’
(Emphasis mine)

So from what I can gather, the intention would be to develop songs, characters and lessons specific to the North. I must confess that I find this rather worrying. From what I remember, I knew a lot more at the age of 5 about Sesame Street than I did about what Protestants and Catholics were (in fact, aged 3 and 4, at the height of ‘the Troubles’, I attended a mixed nursery school, and had no idea whatsoever who was Protestant and who was Catholic) Watching the characters interact on screen, would I have been able to identify with a Celtic-supporting Bert as opposed to a Rangers-supporting Ernie? How would I have reacted to a sash-wearing Big Bird sitting down to discuss his need to march up and down the street with grouchy Oscar who stores petrol bombs at the bottom of his trashcan?

There is a serious side to this. How do you develop Protestant and Catholic puppets? In order to develop meaningful lessons, wouldn’t the difference between Catholic and Protestant have to get accentuated, instead of removed? And why would anyone bother with this sort of thing, unless they were awash with piles of cash from well-meaning American aunties and uncles?

Sometimes the best of intentions lead to the worst of outcomes. This is the latest in a long line of education-for-mutual-understanding wheezes that bring zero results. Despite the millions poured into this sort of thing over the last 25 years, low-level sectarian attitudes are probably worse than ever; and this sort of thing serves to perpetuate the idea that having an industry devoted to bringing about ‘reconciliation’ is actually a good thing.

(One, two, three million English pounds HAHAHA!)

Evo Morales – Imperialist Lapdog

My next pay review:

“We think 3% is very generous, given the circumstances, I mean, it’s a global market these days, and I think we’re being competitive. Some places they pay you a little less for a lot more. Look at Bolivia – the guy charged with running a country with vast natural gas resources gets $1,800 a month. And he probably doesn’t have a subsidised canteen either.”

You Are What You Watch

TV these days is shit. This is literally true in the case of Gillian McKeith’s You Are What You Eat. A few minutes ago I was on the phone, chatting away, when I looked up and saw a glistening brown 21-inch stool on my TV screen.

The Way I Chews

Chewing gum, if it is any good, should lose all flavour and then harden, until it seems pointless to continue chewing.

This morning I bought a packet of Wrigleys Extra, and chewed on a piece for a couple of hours in work and then as I made my way home.

On the way, I masticated without a care in the world, but there was a sudden change in the consistency of the gum, and within a couple of minutes, the gum had turned to a gooey, watery mush. This vile mixture was sloshed around in my mouth until I could contain it no longer, and I spat it out (down a drain, as it happens, ‘cos I’m environmentally conscious that way). It came out fluorescent white, with the consistency of slightly diluted Tipp-Ex.

It’s certainly a novel form of avoiding pavements blighted with chewing gum, but Lonnie Donegan would be appalled. Fergie would be enraged.

Caving In To Popular Opinion

A rather strongly-worded editorial in today’s New York Times on the role of the Partido Popular in the current difficulties surrounding declarations made by members of the armed forces in Spain.

Entitled Army Troglodytes (that’ll go down well at Libertad Digital), it invites the PP to STFU:

It is a basic principle of democracy that army officers do not publicly
challenge the legitimacy of elected governments or talk about marching their
troops into the capital to overturn decisions of Parliament. Yet that is just
what has happened twice this month in Spain, a country whose 20th-century
history compels it to take such threats seriously, even when the chances of
insubordinate words’ leading to insubordinate actions seems quite unlikely.

The response of the center-left government of Prime Minister José Luis
Rodríguez Zapatero has been appropriately firm, including the dismissal and
arrest of one of the culprits, a senior army general. Regrettably, the
center-right Popular Party, the main opposition group, seems more interested in
making excuses for the officers than in defending the democratic order in which
it has a vital stake.

We, The People

One of the collective admonishments regularly delivered to Irish people about their attitude towards immigrants is the fact that Irish people have a long history of emigration, and ought to show more empathy with those who come here from other countries.

This is true, but it is also true that most Irish people living here have never lived nor worked abroad. Of those who have, the most common destinations are the UK (which is hardly ‘abroad’ anyway), the US and Australia: all Anglophone countries where assimilation is relatively easy.

Even taking this into account, the results of the recent Irish Times poll are still quite shocking. It appears that three-quarters of Irish people favour work permits for EU citizens from the newest 10 member states. 70% think that there are enough or too many here already.

In the absence of more detailed data, I can only speculate about the thought processes that lead so many people to hold this opinion. To this end, I tried listing what I imagine to be the most common complaints, most of which I have heard at some point or another:

Ireland is getting overcrowded;
They are forcing wages down;
They are threatening property prices;
They are here to leech off our welfare, and not interested in working;
They are taking Irish jobs;
We don’t like to hear people saying things we don’t understand. They could be plotting anything: you just can’t tell;
This is an Irish pub/estate/town for Irish people: we don’t want their type around here;
The more immigrants, the more burglaries;
They want to impose their culture on us;
We like our barmen to talk like the voice-overs for Johnston Mooney and O’Brien.

and so on and so forth.

I see no point in addressing any of the above points, other than to say that most are founded on parochial ignorance of social and economic realities. But they may be inevitable, given the extent of immigration to Ireland over the last decade.

One problem I have noticed is that to address the type of thing outlined above, the potential benefits (or perhaps, in the case of Labour and SIPTU, threats) of immigrants and further immigration seem to be expressed within a framework of ‘what immigrants can do for/to us’. That is, there is one group – the immigrants – and there is another – ‘us’.

The ‘us’ involved here in this discussion is familiar. It’s the same ‘us’ that Eddie Hobbs addressed to great effect in Rip-Off Ireland. The irony here is that while this programme aroused collective indignation about the extent of uncompetitive practices and high prices, the majority of people in the country still believe that restricting access to the labour market is a good idea.

People like talking about we Irish here: it appears all the time in print, on the radio and TV. It can be in a positive or negative context, but it’s always there. Now maybe it’s because I’m a N*****, but I have always felt excluded from this stuff (but am I bovvered? Am I? Am I bovvered??).

It feels like the ‘we’ includes those who have been collectively described as The Pope’s Children, the mammy, the daddy and maybe the granny. So you get well-meaning articles such as those the Irish Times talking about ‘Our New Neighbours’, which seem to exclude the possibility that ‘we’ who read it could be anyone other than people born and raised in the Republic of Ireland.

It’s hard to know at what point the barrier between ‘us’ and ‘them’ will begin to fall.
The Republic has a long tradition of identity politics. Its national flag – the green, white and orange – is supposed to symbolise peace between people of different identities, but the problem for immigrants is that it means peace between two specific identities, neither of which applies to them. That only applies to ‘us’.

Dodgy Sums and the 11 plus

Working-class hero and QC Bob McCartney is spearheading the rearguard action to save academic selection in Northern Ireland and save the province from falling into the abyss that it managed to stay out of all during the 35-odd years of conflict.

He says:

Northern Ireland sends 42.5% of its students to university from disadvantaged homes. The comprehensive system sends 28.2%

Last February, Barry Gardiner said:

only 7 per cent. of children from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds go to grammar schools, unlike the rest of the post-primary sector where 29 per cent. of children from disadvantaged backgrounds attend the secondary school sector, so to say that that is the way through for bright children from poor backgrounds really is a myth.

Saturday Night Skid Marks

I had a bit of a brown trouser moment last night when, coming off a roundabout on a busy stretch of road, I lost control of the car I was driving, which began to skid, and as I struggled to regain control, it careened into a traffic island, narrowly missing a lampost. To give a non-technical explanation, it turned out that the thing that controls the steering of the left wheel had snapped.

There seem to be two very common ways of rationalising accidents. The first one is to claim that you knew something was going to happen, and the second is to say that it could have been a lot worse. Neither is particularly meaningful, but the second one seems particularly absurd, given that any such accident could also have been a lot better. But I found myself practising the second one, especially in light of the fact that the pick-up man kept saying ‘you were extremely lucky, so you were.’

So, it could have been a lot worse. In fact, it was the best possible place for it to happen, because I was doing about 20 mile an hour. 5 minutes earlier or 5 minutes later and I’d have been doing upwards of 60. 12 hours later I’d have been making my debut on teletext.

I on Twitter

January 2006