Archive for May, 2007

Vibe On Vibrant

I’m bang out of useful ideas at the minute, so I have decided to fall back on the old faithful of complaining about how certain words get used. There is a tendency to think that people who complain about words are incorrigibly conservative, the sort of people who put ‘Keep Off The Grass’ signs on their back lawns, iron their underpants, and yearn for the days when you could discipline children with the thwap! of a hard leather strap. But this is not quite true.

Everyone remembers the bit in Grease where Danny says to Sandy ‘that’s my name, don’t wear it out.’ Although there is not much to wear out in the name Danny, Mr Zucko does display an understanding that words, perhaps like hoover bags, can be abused to the point where they lose all meaningful content. Such is the case with today’s word: vibrant.

As in:

Assembly Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said the £6m project would create a “distinctive, vibrant and multi-functional city centre“.

(God knows what ‘multi-functional’ means here. A Swiss Army knife springs to mind)

Before you start running to the online dictionary to check up on the meanings registered there, let me say that I do not care what the dictionary says, since this merely registers the meanings that people give to words.

If, in 20 years, people are using the word ‘donkey’ predominantly to mean a particular type of chair, then the dictionary entry will say ‘1. Donkey (n.): Chair, often found in one-bedroom apartments. 2. Patient animal with big ears.’ If I then say that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, no doubt people will rush to their dictionaries with a view to demonstrating that it is also possible that what I really mean here is that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a large fur-lined recliner.

So it is with vibrant. The primary meaning is simply ‘vibrating’. But it has acquired an exclusively positive meaning in common parlance. It is hard to trace this usage to any particular moment. Perhaps the mass production of electrical and combustion-powered tools and other machines is what brought it about. Vibrancy, felt by placing one’s hand on a car or a fridge, was intimation that all was well with the world, the rate of profit was on the way up, the beach was an hour away, and the pork pies were safe. There is also, of course, vibration as a component of music, in particular amplified and reproduced music. I got that vibe.

Yet the fact that something is vibrating need not indicate that all is well. Something could be vibrating because it is about to explode. A person could be vibrating because they’ve just been shot with a tazer. For not shopping hard enough, or for lingering too long in the queue for burgers.

Barriers To Peace

To mark 40 years of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, Trócaire are running a campaign, calling on the Israeli government to fully implement the recommendations of the International Court of Justice regarding the wall Israel has built annexing Palestinian land.

In yesterday’s UK Independent, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev is quoted as saying:

“We do not accept that the West Bank is occupied in the classic sense.”

What makes for a ‘classic’ occupation is far from clear. One wonders if ‘classic’ features can be discerned in the continued confiscation of Palestinian lands, the continued expansion of Israeli settlements and the settler population, the house demolitions, the administrative detentions, the extra-judicial assassinations, and of course, the monstruous separation wall annexing Palestinian land.

Perhaps Israel’s occupation is not a ‘classic’ occupation because the purpose of its occupation is not to exploit the population, but to dispossess it, thus making possible further Jewish settlement.

Today’s Ha’aretz editorial offers a pretty conventional view of matters from the Israeli point of view:

Over the past decade, Israel has elected governments that have expressed the desire of a majority of Israelis for a bilateral solution of two states for two peoples and a withdrawal from most of the settlements. The withdrawal from Gaza was to have been the first stage. The victory of Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, cut off the process.

This is plainly false, since the expression of a ‘desire’ for ‘a withdrawal from most of the settlements’ would not manifest itself in continued settlement expansion. B’Tselem figures show that the West Bank settler population (excluding East Jerusalem) rose by 63% between end 1997 and end 2005.

No reasonable person would deny the right of Israeli citizens to security, nor for that matter the duty of the state to protect its citizens. But if the primary concern of the wall is security, why does it annex Palestinian land? And what security is to be found in illegal settlements on other people’s land?

Trócaire are right to be running this campaign, since the Palestinians continue to suffer terribly because of the occupation. However, I am wary of the use of the word ‘peace’. Everyone says they want peace. War criminals get described as men of peace. During the ‘peace process’, Israel continued to expand its settlements in the West Bank, with the support of the United States, whilst complaining that it had ‘no partner for peace’.

That doesn’t mean that there can be no peace. But real peace will not arrive unless there is justice, and that means, for starters, ending the occupation, disbanding the settlements, and bringing down the wall.

You can sign Trócaire’s petition here.

Ignorance dispelled

I just discovered that the book by George Eliot is not titled Silas Mariner, but Silas Marner. I had hitherto been inclined to consider that Silas was a forebear of former Ipswich and England star Paul, or perhaps a distant relative of the albatross-shooting ancient.

Fair Comment

Sometimes it seems as though there is no point to the comments facility on articles and opinion pieces on news websites. At least half of the people posting tend to be crackpots, trolls and other assorted attention seekers. The Guardian’s Comment is Free site is a case in point. You read some half-interesting comment piece, and as you glance down to below the end of the piece you are confronted with the mental defecation of the quickest half-wit on the draw. This has the effect of effacing whatever ideas you were reading about in the original piece, and is analogous to someone puking in a restaurant in the table beside you just as you are about to ask the waiter for the bill.

Sometimes there are decent comments, but they can take hours to find. I came across a decent one in yesterday’s El País.

It is attached to a report on former Spanish PM José María Aznar’s sending of a letter to the newspaper, in which he claims not to have been referring to the Spanish Civil War when speaking about the upcoming regional elections, contrary to what the same paper had reported, when he said that current PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was “going back to something as dangerous and as simple as the following: one half of Spain does not accept the other half, and that, which led us to the worst of our history seventy years ago, is the political landscape that is being recreated now.” (translation mine)

Which sounds pretty much to me like he was saying that Zapatero was bringing Spain towards a civil war. Anyway, the comment says the following:

La derecha ha dado 3 golpes de estado PRIMO DE RIVERA, FRANCO Y EL 23 F. Esta gente son cuidadanos a la fuerza, siempre han querido ser aristocratas, como nuestra querida ESPE AGUIRRE. La guerra civil fue una republica débil que podia renovarse en las urnas destruida por un grupo de militares y latifundistas apoyados por el nazismo y el fascismo. Y estos señores como Aznar querrian hacer de nuevo lo mismo. No me gusta lo que veo pues bombardeo. No me gusta tu opinion pues al paredon. Ya se ve como funciona la democracia para esta gente: Si gano yo bien. Si no gano yo agresion ruptura crispacion y si no fuera por la UE golpe de estado.

which I would translate thus:

The right has brought about three coups d’etat, Primo de Rivera, Franco, and 23-F. These people are citizens by force, they have always wanted to be aristocrats, like our dear Espe Aguirre*. In the civil war you had a weak republic supported by votes, destroyed by a group of soldiers and big estate owners supported by fascism and nazism. And gentlemen like Aznar want to do the same thing again. I don’t like what I see, so I bomb it. I don’t like your opinion, then the firing squad it is. We can now see how democracy works for these people: fine if I win. If I don’t, aggression, fracture and uproar, and if it wasn’t for the EU a coup d’etat.

Some elections are more interesting than others.

(Esperanza Aguirre. Big noise in Partido Popular, current candidate in regional elections for Madrid. El País has an article about her today, which they have sardonically titled an ‘interview‘, since she, like others in the PP, is boycotting the PRISA group which owns El País and has therefore declined. To accompany the article they’ve published a photo of her fanning herself.)

Blessed are the Proselytisers

I must have looked particularly hopeless and lost today in town, because I got approached by a Hare Krishna person.

“Excuse me, my man.”

I saw him and his glossy books.

“No, no thanks, no”

“No, sorry, I just wanted to ask you a question. Can I ask you a question?”

“Oh, ok.”

“Are you from Dublin?”


“Where are you from?”

If I was out proselytising for my own sect amid the bustling hordes of the city, this is exactly the pitch that I would use. Ask the person where she is from. Hardened city dwellers will ignore you, but small town blow-ins and wandering loners will be thrown off guard by someone taking an interest.

“I’m from the North.”

“Really? That’s cool.” (He would have said the same if I said that I’d been raised in the sewers of St Petersburg) A heartbeat later, with formalities out of the way, he flashes one of his glossy books. “So can I…”

“No thanks, no, no, eh, no.”

Time to go.

“No problem, my man. That’s cool.”


I read one of their books once, when I was 13 or 14. It was this one. Same edition, with a foreword from George Harrison and everything. Load of shite. But I do like My Sweet Lord.

I find it quite hard to be rude to people who are out proselytising for their cult or religion or whatever it is Hare Krishna is. There was one time I decided to go to a Christian Union breakfast at college, for no other reason than to get a free feed. I figured I could spoof the Jesus side of things enough to make them feel that I wasn’t really exploiting their generosity. I discovered, though, that the spoofers and freeloaders are precisely the type of people they are on the lookout for. Non-believers are the big fish.

One chap, as I was taking a bite of my bacon sandwich (made with tesco value bacon and stale tesco value bread: these people do not like to make a show of their generosity), asked me what I believed in. I told him I believed in everything and nothing (which I thought was rather clever, as it happens, and I was rather disappointed he didn’t get the scriptural allusion). He said that my statement sounded more like that of an unbeliever. So I thought I would try and redeem myself (in his eyes, anyway), and said, well, I was raised a Catholic. Or maybe -thinking back now about the way he looked at me- I accidentally said that I was raised a leper. This didn’t deter him too long, and he was soon launching into a tale about how he woke up -after a science fair he’d been attending, representing from his school- face down in his own vomit one morning with his trousers round his ankles, and at that very moment he swore that he would give his life to Jesus. And now here he was! Putting me off my sandwich even more!

Where am I going with this? Oh yes. Back to Dublin this afternoon. A few minutes after my encounter with the Hare Krishna person, I was in Hodges Figgis. Somehow the book getting flashed in front of me and the feeling of having being picked out for looking a bit lost made me contemplate the book titles on display. A lot of them appear specifically designed to appeal to people who are in some state of doubt about some phenomenon or other, and may be secretly harbouring a desire to be shown the way to something.

There is a formula, which goes something like this:


How the Fnarr Fnarr is Fnarr Fnarring the Fnarr Fnarr



How to Fnarr Fnarr your Fnarr Fnarr and Fnarr Fnarr



Why Fnarr Fnarr Will Fnarr Fnarr The Way We Fnarr Fnarr

And so on. Hare Krishnas, born again Christians, Book publishers. Why can’t these people simply leave me alone?

Kid Oneself

Over the last 20 years, I’ve developed a mechanism for coping with the fact that I am hurtling towards decrepitude and incontinence. Lots of other people probably do the same thing, but sometimes I think that my own thing veers into obsessive behaviour.

Simply put, I think about how old I am, and where I am at, and compare my own situation with that of other people. Not in the career-oriented sense of ‘at 35 Mozart was dead, and now I’m 30 and I’ve nearly forgotten how to play Rondo alla Turca on the piano, so it looks like I can kiss goodbye to playing the Albert Hall’, but more in the sense of where I sit at my age in relation to certain broader historical developments.

To illustrate, I think of a song from the 1980s – let’s say I’m Your Man by Wham. Then I think, that was 21 years ago. So if I was a nine year old now, listening to I’m Your Man for me would be the same as a nine year old in 1986 listening to a song from 1965, like California Girls by the Beach Boys.

There is nothing particularly consoling about this, since for me 60s music doesn’t seem any more distant now than it did 21 years previous. Then I think about something like the assassination of JFK, and think that when I first found out the facts about JFK’s assassination (by that I mean the basic facts, like the fact that he was shot in Dallas in 1963, and not that it was a conspiracy involving the FBI, anti-Castristas and martians), I must have been 8, so it too happened 21 years previous. This is roughly the same as an 8 year old these days finding out about Live Aid. And whilst I can remember the clothes I was wearing when Live Aid was on (a cub scout uniform,  as it happens), JFK got shot in black and white. It happened donkeys ago. So then I conclude that an 8 year old nowadays must think that Live Aid happened donkeys ago.

Then I think, what if the 8 year old listens to California Girls, and likes it? Why, that’d be roughly the same thing as me as an 8 year old listening to Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree by Glenn Miller, and liking it.

These enquiries don’t actually lead anywhere, and they are probably founded upon some sort of basic error (that history develops at a uniform speed or something). To an 8 year old these days, California Girls may not seem as distant as Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree did to me, since music hasn’t evolved that much. But then I think, but what if music has evolved in objective terms, but I’m just too old to realise it? Or, worse still, what if my concept of musical evolution is founded upon specific ideas formed at a particular moment of cultural history?

And! What if an 8 year old in 2007 has no resemblance –beyond the basically physiological- to an 8 year old in 1985? And even at that, if apples and bananas taste differently these days, why shouldn’t 8 year olds? I am not advocating eating 8 year olds here, but raising the possibility that the historical forces that led to the existence of 1980s-era 8 year olds may no longer operate.


And just while I’m talking about 8, why is it that non-native English speakers have trouble understanding me say the word ‘eight’? I often end up having to repeat myself, using an English accent. And on the subject of non-native English speakers: do you realise how many couples there are out there who communicate via English even though it is the first language of neither partner? I am guessing millions worldwide.

Party like it’s 1938

Via Arts and Letters Daily, I read this article by Norman Podhoretz in Commentary from beginning to end, lord help me.

It calls for the vigorous bombing of Iran, with a side order of reductio ad hitlerum. As I read it, I thought, Jesus Christ, not another 1938-all-over-again piece, you would think these war-hungry lunatics would come up with a novel variation for once, if only to stretch the imagination of their readership, whom they assume to know nothing about history beyond the facts that the Nazis were bad, appeasement is bad, and most important, we are the good guys. But perhaps repitition is part of the exercise. Then, I get to the end, and I see that

The present essay, in somewhat different form, was delivered as an address at a conference, “Is It 1938 Again?”

Somewhat different my hole.

Now I want those 15 months back.

I like stories about how the little things in history made a big difference. Like how the plucky little bicycle was a huge engine of women’s emancipation. Well, I discovered today that in Excel, if you hit Ctrl+Page Up/Down, it allows you to alternate quickly between tabs. If I had known that a few years back, I would be a captain of industry by now, the toast of all Monte Carlo. Sadly I didn’t, so I’m not. Looking forward to seeing what happens to Peter in Eastenders tonight, though.

Sick Joke

Was up in the North yesterday, talking about the elections. Not that the purpose of my visit was to talk about the elections or anything: it just came up in the conversation.

I mentioned one part of the debate between Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny to a couple of people: the bit where Enda Kenny talked about how he was going to bring in free GP visits for every child under 5, and where Bertie Ahern sort of nailed him on this, insisting that ‘no child born today will receive that service’.

Naturally enough, the people I spoke with thought that the situation was absurd, since there is no charge for basic GP treatment for NHS patients who live in the UK.

They were unaware of how things work here in the republic, where you pay around €50 for a visit to a GP, and where, in my own experience, the level of service you receive is very inconsistent, staffed by many doctors who have no decent communication skills and a patronising attitude towards their patients.

To give an example: a few weeks back I had to write a letter of complaint on behalf of a non-Irish national who had taken her baby to the GP’s surgery about a skin ailment. The mother had brought along the different creams and soaps she had been using, and placed these on the table for the GP to see. The GP took a quick look at the child’s leg (the rash was all over the child’s body), then wrote out a prescription without checking the creams on the table. She lifted the mother’s handbag, and placed the creams and the soaps inside, then ushered her and the baby out the door, handing over the prescription but giving no indication of how often to use the prescribed medicine, how long the rash was likely to last and so on. The woman was made to feel pressured to leave.

It then turned out that the prescription the GP had given was for one of the creams that the mother had placed in front of her. The whole appointment lasted 4-5 minutes maximum, for which she received an invoice for €45.

I’ll have more to say on the subject in a few days, since I’ve had a bit of an eye-opener of late.

A Football Match, Made In Hell

The Polish mass lasts 90 minutes

Bloomin’ immigrants, ruining our traditional ways of life. Enda Kenny ought to step in.

Incidentally, I felt a surge of nostalgia yesterday afternoon, thanks to a group of immigrant workmen. I got stuck behind a former Northern Ireland DOE van on the N1, It was doing about 30 mph. Some things never change.

I on Twitter

May 2007