Archive for August, 2007

Still Dead

Thus ends 10 years of Diana being dead. For me, it feels like there are some things that I really should have done before she died that I still haven’t got round to doing yet. Not that I knew she was going to die, but you know what I mean.

Here’s an example. A few weeks before she died I had been reading The Buenos Aires Affair by Manuel Puig. Now that’s not a book I think I started, but never finished: no, I still think of it as a book that I’ve started, but just haven’t finished yet.

Similarly, I’ve been planning on doing proper weight training since before she died. I had been going to the gym regularly up till a few weeks before her death, and I haven’t gone back since, yet I still seem to think that I can still feel those months working in the gym in my biceps.

Then there’s a friend of mine whose hand I shook in June 1997 and whom I told that I’d be in touch over the summer, but I never got round to it, and I haven’t spoken to him since. I like to think that we have an unspoken agreement in which he’s not too bothered about the fact that I haven’t made the effort yet. Friends shouldn’t have ‘use by’ dates anyway.

And then another friend of mine swiped my copy of The Colour and The Shape by the Foo Fighters in August 1997. Every now and again I tell myself that I should get pick up another copy, as though the songs are fresh in my mind, even though I can scarcely recall one song on it, and I don’t even know if it’s any good any more.

Canine Asinine

OK. You can shut up about dogs now. Last night’s Panorama programme is still headline news for BBC Northern Ireland TV. It’s enough to make you want to run out and kneecap someone.

Snoop Dog

I watched that Panorama programme last night about the dog fights and Tyrone player Gerard Cavlan’s role in it. Fierce stuff altogether, though Cavlan was not much of a leading man.

Whilst undoubtedly a very good footballer, is Gerard Cavlan really ‘one of the most talented of his generation’, as the reporter claimed? He’s been around for a while, but hasn’t won an All-Star award, which, while not the definitive indicator of anything, would be a good basis for making sensational claims.

And when the reporter said that he was ‘a role model’, I had to wonder if she had ever watched a GAA match. At such matches, many such ‘role models’ bend the rules to knock as many lumps out of one another as the referee’s wall-eyedness allows. But of course, she isn’t the only one to call GAA players role models. This trend strikes me as something new. When I was learning to kick and catch a ball, I can’t recall anyone referring to the likes of Ciaran Duff or Eoin Liston as role models.

These days, I get the feeling that the idea of the GAA role model comes from the fact that there is something attractive about the extent to which the sport has become professionalized in training methods and approach. Banks and other businesses that sponsor GAA events tend to emphasize the discipline and preparation of the players involved, and the heavy metriculation of all elements of the national sporting match has echoes in the modern national pursuit of profitability. GAA players are an embodiment of an ideal ‘work hard, play hard’ disposition, one which many business leaders want to see replicated in their subordinates.

Anyway, back to the programme. There were echoes of a programme some 12 or so years back, where a cock-fighting ring had been exposed in the east Tyrone area. Dark deeds are uncovered in the rural underworld by the harsh light of urban truth-seeking. That programme sticks in the mind for the uncompromising language of the man under investigation:

Take that fuckin’ looksee (camera) out of here or I’ll stick it up your ass.

Now, I’m very much opposed to dogfights, which I think are cruel and depraved, and I think that anyone who participates in such things has serious issues. The owners’ projective identification with the dogs (a common thing among any set dog owners) was disturbing, with people saying things like “he’s torn far bigger dogs apart, so he has”, or, in the case of Cavlan, “a real hard-mouthed dog”.

But, I also find highly dubious the whole practice of producing documentaries that rely on the use of hidden cameras to expose corrupt individuals or groups.

If, as a hobby, you use a hidden camera, filming your friends and acquaintances in their own home, meeting them for coffee and getting them to reveal their private concerns, and you then post footage of it on the internet, people will think that you have serious issues. However, people are not expected to object when such a thing is done in the service of a good cause, such as saving dogs from violent slaughter, or exposing the dodgy practices of plumbers.

There was one scene last night where the covert film-makers were in the house of the Finnish dog-breeders, and you could see that they were having some sort of pastry for breakfast. It’s this sort of inevitable excess of detail that -to my mind- typifies why this enterprise is disturbing. To know the truth about dog-fighting (which is what the documentary supposedly allows us to do), we don’t need to know what these people had for breakfast, or what their kitchens and living rooms look like, or what the logo on their t-shirt says. But we are generally happy go along with being told about it, even if the information is obtained via a process of snooping.

Fly By Night Merchants

I was in Heathrow again yesterday. That place is a waking nightmare of the urban.

If weblog posts are messages no-one forces you to read, and to which you are generally free to reply if you wish, in the way that you choose, the experience of the airport is a series of messages (commands from security staff, security notices, advertisements) you are forced to endure, with no way of replying.

If the act of replying is to mean anything, you must have the prior expectation of some form of dialogue, that your views will be taken into account. But what you have in an airport is a sort of dictatorship. You must comply with the commands, or be removed, by armed guards if necessary.

When I was talking about my trip the other day -about the absurdity of the security checks in particular- with a colleague, she said, “I know it’s all in a good cause, but it’s bloody ridiculous”

Of course, everything that takes place in a dictatorship is in the service of a good cause, but we can leave that aside. It seemed odd to me that she should describe security as ‘a good cause’, since there’s nothing especially good about not wanting to get blown up, and it struck me that she was talking about it -the whole ass-sickening rigmarole of taking off your belt and shoes, smearing yourself with the remainder of whatever unguents you have stored on your person, and so on- as though it were some sort of common project, as though we were all in this one together.

Well, it is a common project insofar as no-one wants to be blown up, but people differ quite a lot in the extent to which they don’t want to be blown up.

I, for example, would be perfectly happy to take my chances boarding an aeroplane upon which people were allowed to carry umbrellas. As most know, it rains in Dublin, but the security staff were telling one man that he would have to leave his umbrella behind, or check it in.

What with the monstrous queues and the additional charges, and the fact that he’d come all the way from Hong Kong with aforesaid umbrella, he wasn’t happy. So, after initially leaving the umbrella at the gate, he snuck behind the security staff’s tables and lifted the umbrella, heading in the direction of the queue for the scanners. He apparently had a gammy leg, and was using the umbrella as a sort of crutch. When stopped at the scanner by an operator, he was told to wait. The operator went to talk to his supervisor.

A minute later, the man came back and said, my supervisor says that we can ask your airline for a wheelchair on your behalf, but you cannot bring the umbrella with you. At the airport, my supervisor says is a stock phrase of the established dictatorship. It is another way of saying that there is no need for reason or consideration of your personal circumstances here: the higher power says that it this is just the way it is, and I am merely a vessel for conveying its messages.

In Hollywood films, when an evil hostage taker puts a gun to the head of the hero’s family member, you are used to hear something like ‘oh for god’s sake just do whatever he says’. That’s precisely the reaction that airport security is designed to solicit from you; in fact it is what the rest of us expect, and it was the reaction that eventually came from the limping umbrella man’s wife, whose limp -like the one in the final scene of the Usual Suspects- loosened up and disappeared upon turning the corner in the direction of the shops. Airports: they make liars and criminals of us all.

Terrorism dial turned all the way up to 11

In a characteristic piece of modesty, George Bush has called Iran the ‘the world’s leading supporter of terrorism‘.

This is a worrying development. Relations between the US and Iran have not been as tense since the Iranian occupation of Mexico, when Iran accused the US of supplying arms to Mexican insurgents. This was thirty years or so after the overthrow of the brutal Iranian-backed dictatorship in the US.

If Iran decides to bomb the US this time, with the intention of overthrowing the Bush regime, insiders say that the Iranian leadership can count on the support of the majority of the population, said to be the most pro-Iranian in the region.

One senior Iranian official said that the decision to bomb the US is based on the calculation that “We will fight them over there so we do not have to face them in Iran”.

You’ll Be Worryin’ My Bentley

According to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, City buyers were behind a 20% surge in farmland prices last year as the high-rollers moved to buy up a chunk of the countryside, often surrounding a weekend retreat.

Christ, that’s all the countryside needs: a shower of filthy rich ponces trying to grow turnips while reading Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Not that the countryside is all it’s cracked up to be: these days it’s full of hikers from urban areas out to savour the fresh air and get shot of the sound of burglar alarms for a bit. And they’re armed to the gills with hiking equipment, flasks, telescopic staffs and compasses, even though they’re only walking across a few fields with cows. Sure I crossed worse in me first communion suit.

We were out for a spin in the countryside around Collegelands in Armagh the other day. It looks as though the taste for middle-of-the-road chicken that has been in vogue in the Republic for a while now is starting to become quite the rage north of the border too. By middle-of-the-road chicken I don’t mean a bird in chasseur sauce: I mean where one driver refuses to lie over on his side of the road, and the other must either hold his nerve and keep his line, or swerve in the direction of the sheugh.

There is a variation of this played with runners too: the driver will try and force the runner off the road into the ditch by holding his line until the very last minute. I am getting very good at this game: if you stare the other driver in the eye, they usually pull away. And if they don’t, and force me to step into the ditch, well, I carry a trusty stone in my pocket. I fancy my chances against any car in a dash across hedge-lined fields. It hasn’t happened yet, though.

Marching Season Ends

Phil Ochs. There’s a beautiful comment on the youtube page where this came from. It says:

If it wasn’t for those people who did do the marching this piece of shit wouldn’t be able to sing the shit he sings…….You Liberal bastards make me sick wanting your freedoms and right but loving to hate the men and women that make those freedoms and rights possible

Amen to that.

The Wheels Come Off

It’s a familiar scenario in downtown Dublin. The menu sounds delicious, the food looks delicious, smells delicious, and no doubt it all is delicious, but trying to tell the waitress taking your order or the man behind the counter what you want is like trying to play badminton underwater. Pointing only gets you so far when their grasp of English is sketchy at best and your facility with their native tongue, whatever it happens to be, is non-existent.

Maybe it’s because I’m simply fabulous, or do not dine out often enough, or do not drink heavily enough, but I can’t recall having had any problems making my order known to the staff at my many haunts in downtown Dublin. Perhaps it is my fiendish habit of speaking clearly, and looking at the person while I’m speaking that does the trick. But this is of course a foreign practice, and we should really expect our immigrants (by which I mean our servant folk) to catch every word that falls from our mouths pursued by half a bread roll. And they should do so in the name of equality, no less, just as we should expect pensioners to sprint for the bus in the same way as the rest of us, and so on. No double standards here.

I’m wary of the pitfalls that come with taking an anecdote and then holding this up as TYPICAL OF THE BENIGHTED SOCIETY WE ARE LIVING IN TODAY. Not least because such anecdotes are almost always about some sort of negative event, and as such tend to be placed in the service of such myths as SOCIETY HAS GONE TO THE DOGS, and THE WORLD’S COUPED. This is not to say that such anecdotes can have no wider meaning: the likes of badger baiting and debs balls do not occur in a vacuum, so if a debs ball ends in a spot of badger baiting, or vice-versa, perhaps it does say something interesting about where society is headed (especially for badgers), but it would not be sufficient to allow you to say that such an occurrence is yet one more symptom of the INEXORABLE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION.

With that in mind, I have an anecdote from what happened this weekend. The neighbour who lives behind us has always been a bit of a knob. He is a person who needs to let everyone know that he and his family are having a good time, to the extent that everyone (if they are like me) must end up wondering if he really is enjoying himself, or if his ostentatious celebrations are -perhaps unbeknownst to himself- a means of distracting from a deeper malaise.

To give an example: last year, for his child’s birthday party he hired a bouncing castle for the back garden, as is quite common these days, and he invited round a few friends for a barbecue. Nothing wrong with that. However, he insisted on playing his music very loud, to the extent that no-one else in the area could hear themselves speak. The music was regularly punctuated by loud ‘Yearghh!s’ from the man himself.

After a couple of hours waiting hopefully for him to cop on and turn it down, I could take no more, and I headed round. His partner answered the door, and I asked nicely if they minded turning it down a bit. Oo-kay, she said, in a way that seemed as though I were asking for the cancellation of all fun forever.

An hour and a half later, and the music was still blasting at the same volume. My wife went round this time, and the man came to the door, and said that no, he wasn’t going to turn it down, and that the reason the music was loud was because of the extra noise created by the bouncy castle air pump, and if he turned it down, the children wouldn’t be able to hear it.

So she threatened to call the guards, and he said do what you like, and once she left (she didn’t call them) the music was turned down (but only after a momentary protest blast of even louder music). The curious thing was that the children did not start crying now that they were no longer able to hear The Division Bell by Pink Floyd in all its glory above the noise of the bouncy castle air pump.

So, as I was saying, he is a bit of a tube. But that didn’t prepare me for yesterday afternoon. Once again, they were all having a good time, as his ‘yearghh!s’ were suggesting, but with the music not that loud. And his partner was teaching the child to sing ‘The Wheels on The Bus’.

She’d sung a couple of verses, the driver on the bus, the people on the bus, the horn on the bus. Then, he butts in and says, here, I’ll teach you a verse:

‘The spas on the bus go ngggh nghh bwhhuuh…’

And so on. I’m not sure what to make of it yet.

Show Him Your Cross

Martina Devlin explains why Sikhs should not be allowed to be guards:

It hinges on separation of Church and State. An Garda Siochana is an arm of the State and when its members are on duty it is inappropriate for them to display any memberships or predilections. The State is secular and its servants must be secular too — at least during those times when they button on their uniforms and represent the State.

The Garda website gives some info on the medals it hands out for bravery:

The medal is in the form of a Celtic cross, 44mm in diameter. There are five panels on the face. The inscription on the top panel are the words “The Scott Medal” and on the lower panel “For Valor” (note the American influence on the spelling). On the right and left are the eagle and shield of the U.S.A. and the harp and sunburst of Ireland, respectively. The centerpiece is from the Garda Crest with the intertwined letters G.S. – the initials of the words, Garda Síochána.

Thank God the state is secular.

Decision to invade Poland arouses controversy

Interesting report in the Guardian today about a new history of the Indian Mutiny.

The first thing that’s interesting about it (to me, anyway) is that it is described by the reporter as ‘controversial’ in the first sentence. Yet practically everything that comes under a degree of public scrutiny is controversial.

However, there is a subjective decision involved in choosing those things that need to be described as controversial. Also, the subsequent description of something as ‘controversial’ has a particular effect in the mind of the reader, in form similar to a health warning. (A Guardian report is never going to start with the words ‘Controversial US President George Bush’, even if the description is factually accurate.)

Also, all histories are in nature ‘controversial’, at least in democratic societies, in that there will always be differing interpretations of historical evidence, and of the relative importance of established facts.

However, it’s also true that claims arising from historical analysis acquire a different sort of controversy if they move beyond the immediate context of specialised discussion and appear in general public discussion.

One might then be inclined to ask whether what is being claimed remains in fact the same, in its perilous journey from the historian’s pages to the sites of large news outlets and beyond to the infinite discussion threads of d’Internet, given the obvious and competing interests involved (what some people tend to call, rather bluntly, ‘agendas’). You might then go further and suppose that the original historical question only came into existence through a process of prioritising certain interests above others anyhow.

Where a claim or set of claims has the potential to alter, dramatically, the way we understand a certain historical question, it is more likely that they get classified as ‘controversial’ by ruling interests. Unless, that is, the claim in question is useful to ruling interests. In this case, it seems more likely that it will be reported as ‘shedding new light on the topic’, ‘monumental’, and so on.

None of the above has much to do with the specific use of ‘controversial’ in this particular article; I just felt I should get it off my chest. Here is the part of the article on the source of the controversy:

“It was a holocaust, one where millions disappeared. It was a necessary holocaust in the British view because they thought the only way to win was to destroy entire populations in towns and villages. It was simple and brutal. Indians who stood in their way were killed. But its scale has been kept a secret,” Misra told the Guardian.

His calculations rest on three principal sources. Two are records pertaining to the number of religious resistance fighters killed – either Islamic mujahideen or Hindu warrior ascetics committed to driving out the British.

The third source involves British labour force records, which show a drop in manpower of between a fifth and a third across vast swaths of India, which as one British official records was “on account of the undisputed display of British power, necessary during those terrible and wretched days – millions of wretches seemed to have died.”

There is a macabre undercurrent in much of the correspondence. In one incident Misra recounts how 2m letters lay unopened in government warehouses, which, according to civil servants, showed “the kind of vengeance our boys must have wreaked on the abject Hindoos and Mohammadens, who killed our women and children.”

Further down, the attitudes of Charles Dickens and Karl Marx are recorded:

Charles Dickens: “I wish I were commander-in-chief in India … I should proclaim to them that I considered my holding that appointment by the leave of God, to mean that I should do my utmost to exterminate the race.”

Karl Marx: “The question is not whether the English had a right to conquer India, but whether we are to prefer India conquered by the Turk, by the Persian, by the Russian, to India conquered by the Briton.”

Holy crap. From the standpoint of the early 21st century, Dickens sounds like Hitler, and Marx sounds like…well, plenty of modern day Western liberal commentators.

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August 2007