Archive for January, 2007

Stick A Pitchfork In Me, I’m Done

For the head-scratching hordes who seek it, a splendid glimpse of true ‘Britishness’ is to be found in the tale of the man who entered Prince Charles’s Highgrove estate bearing a pitchfork.

Perhaps the prince himself, given his love of nature and stuff, was moved to tears at the disarmingly bucolic image of a commoner still wed to the soil by his manual labours, using the pre-industrial tool of his trade to make a point to his gardener prince. Not only that but the choice of tool -the humble pitchfork- points to key moments in Britain’s rich Christian past, when foreigners were few, cultures were not multi- and the only thing you had to worry about was whether or not the King was a Protestant.

This sort of image is all too rare in modern Britain, with its surveillance systems and airports spreading like Japanese knotweed across its green hills.

If Gordon Brown knew the meaning of Britishness, he should award this man an OBE for choosing not to crash the gates of Highgrove with a satnav-guided combine harvester.

Beefed Up

One of the things I’ve been listening to quite a lot of late is Hard Workin’ Man – The Jack Nitzsche Story Vol. 2. There’s some great stuff on it, including a slow burning version of Buffalo Springfield’s Mr Soul by the Everly Brothers, and the title track, sung by Captain Beefheart.

I bought a Captain Beefheart compilation when I was 15, thinking I was cool. I listened to it once, in the dead of night, and it scared the shit out of me. I never put it on again, and lost it somewhere along the line.

Anyway, the track renewed my interest somewhat, and I came across this Captain Beefheart ad on Lick My Decals Off, Baby on YouTube, which, for some reason, got banned on its release.

String ‘Em Up

I don’t like national flags. Given the existence of nation states and the consequent anxieties they create, I think I can understand why people would want to hoist their own flag, but that doesn’t mean I approve. Displaying allegiance to a flag is a form of idolatry, or fetishism, if you want to get kinky about it. As with any sort of fetishism, it’s best conducted in the privacy of your own home in the company of other consenting adults.

Well, at Trinity College, they want to fly the flag all the time (subs required).

The student union president says:

This is Ireland’s leading university and it is funded by the State, and we’re limiting the amount of time you can fly the national flag.

It is hard for a person from outside the madcap world of flag-fetishists to understand why Trinity College needs the national flag flying from it every day. The last time I looked, Trinity College was right in the centre of Dublin, which is in the Republic of Ireland. This means that it is safe to assume that it is Irish. As far as I am aware, there is no danger of it drifting out the Liffey and off to sea towards the waters of continental Europe, where it might become necessary to fly the Irish flag lest it get torpedoed by the French.

Just because something is funded by the state does not mean it needs to carry the national flag either. It is pretty safe to assume that a tricolour atop one of this state’s fine hospital buildings, or even atop of one of its not-so-fine hospital buildings, will have negligible effect on the medical attention provided inside. Medical evidence indicates that flags have zero use in appendectomies or delivering babies.

Is there a special case to be made when it comes to universities? Maybe university students need to be reminded, by the flag hoisted in their midst, that when they are writing that paper on string theory or the gold standard, they are doing so as part of some national endeavour. For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Ireland, perhaps.

Ironing of Ironings

I may have asked this before, but what is the point of ironing? It seems to me to arise from a fixation on straight lines, or on the shortest distance between two points.

It is hard to see how straight lines in clothing serve any practical purpose, and any aesthetic value they might have is derived from the aforementioned fixation.

I imagine this all started around the time of the industrial revolution. Perhaps people thought it would be a good idea to resemble a machine. As industry developed, straight lines started appearing everywhere – on roads and railways, in factories and offices – so it was only a matter of time before a piece of equipment was developed to create and preserve analogous straight lines in clothing.

Whatever the history, I hate it.

Downloading For DonQuis

If, like me and millions of others, you have begun Don Quixote several times but never finished it, you could try downloading each of its 126 chapters in mp3 format from this site here. However, it looks like the site has been saturated with requests since its publication in El Pais, so you may have to sorrowfully countenance appallingly slow download speeds of 0.2KB/s, which means that each chapter could take you 18 hours to download. It might be easier to read the damn thing.

Flocking Hell

In a controversial new study, it has been revealed that the bird population of Iraq is on the rise.

In all good conscience, can we take the conclusions of this survey at face value? What was the methodology used? The sample size? Did they use cluster samples?

However, the researchers can make some broad statements about the health of bird populations in Iraq.

What does Iraqi Bird Count say about this? In the absence of more reliable data, we should only rely on newspaper reports about bird populations.

Maybe the birds are exaggerating. You know what birds are like.

It takes a nation of 14 million etc etc

Few adults in the United States express reservations with the possibility of a black person becoming their head of state, according to a poll by Rasmussen Reports. 79 per cent of respondents would be willing to vote for an African American president.

Given that 12% in the same poll said that they would not be willing to vote for an African American president, that means there are, by my estimation, about 14 million openly racist voters in the United States.

C&C Bullshit Factory

As a Celtic and Christian people, we understand better than most the special challenges of immigration and integrating new communities.

So says Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael.

Historically, Christian peoples haven’t done all that well on either immigration or integrating new communities. Not unless the ‘special challenge’ to which Kenny refers involves colonialism, imperialism, massacres, slavery, expropriation, genocide and things like that. But a touch of Celtic stuff can help cover up a really awful idea, much in the same way that a tin whistle can temporarily alleviate the awfulness of My Heart Will Go On.

Blame The Terrorists

On collusion, Beatrix Campbell with a great piece on the Guardian website:

Flanagan wasn’t alone. He was part of an entire system. Who were the civil servants who staffed that security system in Northern Ireland during the Mount Vernon terror? Where are they now? What else were they doing to thwart justice while the state was investing in the Mount Vernon boys? What did these civil servants think they were doing? What did they tell the politicians sequestered in Hillsborough Castle? And the biggest question: what was the overarching agenda?

I think the overarching agenda was to terrorise Catholics and force the IRA to abandon their armed campaign. Or maybe -as some would invite us to believe- it was a case of unaccountable power-drunk rotten apples in a barrel meeting down at the graveyard at midnight.

The more dead Catholics there were, the less the IRA could shore up support for continuing their campaign, particularly as the paradigm in which many people understood the conflict at the time was one of a general ‘cycle of violence’ and ‘tit-for-tat’ killings, wrought by tribal tensions and ancient hatreds etc etc.

Regardless of what the IRA actually thought, whenever they killed an RUC officer it was perceived by many Catholics -whether they supported it or not- as contributing to the ‘cycle of violence’, with the attendant repercussions for Catholics in terms of loyalist paramiltary reprisal. Support for the IRA under such circumstances was bound to diminish, and it is difficult in retrospect to see how the IRA could have continued indefinitely when faced with such a vicious loyalist response. Was such a scenario really all that unpalatable to those responsible for ensuring state security?

In ‘Going to the Edge‘, Brian Rowan wrote about former RUC Chief Constable Hugh Annesley’s explanation for the IRA ceasefire decision.

Sir Hugh said there were other contributing factors such as ‘declining funds’ and a concern about condemning another generation to violence. He also believes that those escalating loyalist attacks throughout the 1990s, when the UVF and the UFF first matched and then exceeded the IRA’s killing rate, also had a bearing on the IRA coming to its decision. He said within some nationalist areas of Belfast people were ‘progressively growing concerned’ that they were at risk, that they had had enough and that there had to be a better way.

It seems pretty clear, to me at least, that the ‘escalating loyalist attacks’ were in fact facilitated by the British state as part of a dirty war.

It is convenient to blame the institution of the RUC, now disbanded, for such obvious instances of state terrorism, since the RUC can be used as a counterpoint to the gleaming new police force to be supported by Sinn Fein.

Like the rum cove whose craven deeds have been exposed in an Agatha Christie novel, the RUC is now supposed to represent an aberration in a system that would have otherwise functioned quite spiffingly, and we can be thankful to the Ombudsman for her Poirot-like endeavours. That, it seems, is the perspective of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Chief Constable of the PSNI, among others. Yet, perhaps unlike an Agatha Christie novel, there will be no prosecutions (Brian Rowan again):

Criminal trials could have seen former Secretaries of State subpoenaed as witnesses and quizzed over Mark Haddock’s activities. One former senior Special Branch officer told Sunday Life: “Don’t forget: ultimately, we implemented security policy in Northern Ireland that was determined by (the Government).

“Senior Special Branch officers attended weekly meetings of the joint policy group at Stormont that were chaired by the Secretary of State – not by us.

“Ultimately, security policy was decided in London and it was the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to ensure that the policy was correctly and effectively carried out and there are minutes of those meetings.”

Blaming the RUC also serves to distract from the possibility that there may be government ministers and civil servants, who, in properly functioning democracies, would be eating prison food for their role in a sordid episode of this magnitude.

Will Tighten You For The Spuds

Terrible weather, what?

On a global scale, the effect of the wind, rain, hail and snow now assailing this island is not all that bad, but there are still countless millions, if not billions of people who would not like to live here because of the cold and wet.

The bad weather has been hobbling my efforts to prepare for a marathon this year, although I have not yet decided which marathon. Contrary to what my ill-fated attempt at keeping a log on the subject might suggest, I have been running fairly regularly for the last six months or so, and I was able to get out quite a lot during the holidays in Spain, but since my return I had only managed to get out once until this weekend, principally due to my reluctance to brave the wind and showers.

It is only of late that I am starting to notice the effects of a life watching sports on my own sporting life. For instance, during the 80s and 90s, any professional footballer in the English leagues who dared to wear gloves or -even worse- tights was the subject of plenty of derision from commentators and fans.

There is a macho premise in British football (and, to a certain extent, in Gaelic football as well, but that has been less of an influence) of no pain, no gain. That is, unless you are suffering horribly, your efforts are suspect. This affected my own attitude to running, in that I only ever went out in shorts, whatever the weather, and would never consider wearing anything so luxurious as a pair of gloves. Wearing running tights (I don’t even know if tights is the right word) would be an act of unconscionable effeminacy. Shorts were for running, whilst tights were for….prancing. When I went out running in Spain recently, I was the only person doing so in shorts and t-shirt, whilst everyone else was happily -and, in my twisted world-view, immorally- insulated from head to toe.

Such a cavalier attitude to weather -and purple legs- is all very well if you are actually going out running every day, but when you are not going out at all, it starts to seem like an excuse. So, on Saturday morning, depressed at both my inactivity and the vileness of the weather, I went to the sports shop and picked myself out a pair of tight black running bottoms with a pocket in the back especially for an iPod nano, or -since I don’t have an iPod nano- ten cigarettes. Looking at my lower half in the changing-room mirror after trying them on, it felt as though I were about to audition for Cats. But I went ahead and bought them anyway, as I needed to get out.

The roads on Saturday afternoon were the scene for the world premiere of my new tights -and gloves!. The weather had broken, and I strode manfully out into the crisp air, heading for the country roads where there was no-one else around. Twenty minutes in, I was running into a vicious gale and accompanying shower, face stinging and clothes clinging, as though I had just emerged from the Irish sea fully clothed.

Maybe the worst thing about running in a sopping wet top blasted against your skin by the cold wind is the damage it does to your nipples. When I arrived back at the house after an hour or so, I felt like I’d been breastfeeding a pair of wolverines for a week. It hardly needs saying that I blame the tights for this – the gods meted out an appropriate punishment for my transgression.

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January 2007