Archive for September, 2007


I noticed that the subheadline of the main story of today’s print edition of the Irish Independent -the conclusion of the coroner’s inquest into the death of Brian Murphy- refers to the event as a ‘tragedy’. (‘Family can no longer sue over Anabel tragedy as time runs out’)

Although the word gets used a lot to denote something very sad, almost everyone knows that ‘tragedy’ doesn’t, or shouldn’t, simply mean ‘very sad’, even though many people might not be aware of its classic meaning.

Most of the time, the word preserves a certain sense of the inevitable. So you might hear talk of a ‘plane crash tragedy’, which appears to imply that there was nothing much that the victims could do about it.

But I suspect that most people, if they thought about it, could detect something not quite right about a subheadline that read ‘Fred West murders 12 in Cromwell Street tragedy’. It would be hard to shake of a nagging sensation that -even though the victims’ deaths were certainly very sad- what was being implied was that the event had to some extent been a tragedy for Cromwell Street, or even Fred West.

So, there was something about the use of ‘tragedy’ in this subheadline which bothered me. The coroner detailed that Brian Murphy was the victim of ‘a vicious assault’. The word ‘tragedy’, with its connotations of inevitability, imbues the event with an ambiguity that the coroner’s verdict is intended to remove. If it was a tragedy, why the verdict of unlawful killing? Was it also a tragedy for the perpetrators, even if their families could reasonably be described as ‘very sad’? What does ‘Anabel tragedy’ mean? Was it a tragedy for Club Anabel? For the people who frequented it?

I feel like I’m pinning a lot on one word in a solitary subheadline here. Maybe the intention was just to portray the family’s predicament as ‘very sad’. Looking back through its archives, the paper describes all sorts of things as ‘tragic’: a fire that killed Irish students, the death of Princess Diana and many other car crashes, Anna Nicole Smith. But I can’t help but think that had a similar event taken place in a different environment, with different protagonists, the category of tragedy would not have applied.

Would the word ‘tragedy’ have made it to the subheadline if, instead of former Blackrock College students, those involved had been ‘skanks‘, as they might get called by the Independent, or recent arrivals from Eastern Europe or Africa? And what if, instead of outside the Burlington, this had occurred in one of those areas that one sometimes hears referred to as ‘knackeragua’? Would it be a tragedy then?


On Not Speaking To Evil

As the war drums get battered ever louder, here’s an interesting take on Iran and the US from Shlomo Ben-Ami. He is pointing towards a solution to the current tension by way of a grand bargain between Iran and the US.


In the American-Iranian equation it was the United States, not Iran, that conducted rigid ideological diplomacy. Iran backed the US during the first Gulf war, but was left out of the Madrid peace conference. Iran also supported America in its war to depose the Taliban in Afghanistan. And, when American forces overran Saddam Hussein’s army in the spring of 2003, the encircled Iranians proposed a grand bargain that would put all contentious issues on the table, from the nuclear issue to Israel, from Hizbullah to Hamas. The Iranians also pledged to stop obstructing the Israeli-Arab peace process.

But American neoconservative haughtiness – “We don’t speak to evil” – ruled out a pragmatic response to Iran’s demarche.

Iran’s mood changed by the time America’s entire Middle East strategy had gone adrift, but the grand bargain remains the only viable way out of the impasse.

Rest of article here. It could all be pie-in-the-sky, though, since it appears based on the assumption that the current US administration would in fact be interested in pragmatism. Is there evidence to suggest that it would?

Oil Me Up, I’m Goin’ In

You might have thought that failed jazz musician Alan Greenspan’s words about oil and Iraq:

“I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

implied some sort of criticism of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Not so, as he helpfully clarifies in this Wall Street Journal interview:

Tell me about your views on the importance of deposing Saddam.

My view of the second Gulf War was that getting Saddam out of there was very important, but had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, it had to do with oil. My view of Saddam over the 20 years … was that he was very critically moving towards control of the Strait of Hormuz and as a consequence of that, control of the oil market. His purpose would be very much similar to [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez’s actions and I think it would be very dangerous for us. So getting him out to me seemed a very important priority.

So, there you have it. Raving lunatic and eternal outsider Alan Greenspan says Iraqi civilians needed bombing because the US needed to exercise control of the oil market.  Crazy bastard.  What next? The US needs to bomb Iran to exercise control of the oil market? He should keep his flights of fancy to his sax playing.

On a side note, the idea that it was ‘largely about oil’ tends to obscure the fact that oil is largely about other things.

Famous Exports include James Galway, Gloria Hunniford, Prison Warders and Mercenaries

More from that Amnesty International report on Northern Ireland.

Recent media reports have detailed how former RUC/PSNI/RIR personnel have been employed in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other countries by companies such as Aegis, Armour Security Services and Control Risks.

It has also been reported that ex-prison warders from the Maze and Maghaberry prisons have used their expertise to become jailers in Israel, Iraq and Somalia.

Amnesty International has documented cases of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment at prisons in all these countries.

Well, I mean, it’s all part of the knowledge-based economy, isn’t it?

Repression Service of Northern Ireland

The Amnesty International report on the Northern Ireland arms trade deserves more time than I can give it right now.

However, a brief extract on a topic close to the hearts of many: on how lessons learned in the Northern Ireland conflict can be exported abroad:

Between January and March 2000 the Head of Public Order Training for PSNI trained 30 officers of the Ethiopian Police Service in Ethiopia in public order as part of a Department for International Development (DfID) programme. The training
included ‘human rights, managing conflict, crowd dynamics, management of people in public places, peaceful crowd management and public order’.


And in 2002 ‘Police shot dead over 230 people and detained several hundred more in Oromia and the southern region in connection with demonstrations, mostly peaceful’.

Nice to see that the PSNI is out there training the good guys.

Follow The Leader

I have abandoned my habitual namby-pamby reading habits dealing with limp-wristed stuff, and have embarked upon a quest to transform myself into the greatest leader the universe has ever known, but not without first humbly taking the time to study the greats.

First stop: Team Bush : Leadership Lessons from the Bush White House

An extract:

Some analysts have argued that Bush, like the nation, was fundamentally changed by September 11. The reality is that Bush, in the aftermath of September 11, was essentially the same as the president sworn in on January 20, 2001—and the man who served as Texas governor. New problems created a far more complex political chessboard on the geopolitical front. But the man and his style remained fundamentally the same, deeply grounded in an MBA approach to decision-making and leadership.

Thrilling stuff. Now, I’m offa to git me one of them MBAs. Because…..

By any standard, George W. Bush has been a remarkably effective executive. Not only is he the nation’s first MBA president, he is also, to borrow from Gilbert and Sullivan, the very model of a modern MBA executive. For Bush, the decision is the central presidential act.

A light opera about business administration? Only serves to demonstrate that Team Gilbert and Sullivan were -like the President who made up his mind to bomb Iraq after listening to Three Little Maids– groundbreakingly effective forward thinkers.

Your Call Is Important to Us

Peter the Punt recently wrote:

The Sinn Fein notion of a united Ireland by 2016 is rightly now regarded as a pipe-dream. Republicans when gathered together may still hanker after and indulge in the make-believe of achieving a united Ireland but few in private could believe it likely in their lifetimes.

And, you would have to say, he’s probably right on that score, unless something cataclysmic were to happen in Ireland in the next few years. Via Slugger O’Toole, I see that MI5 are advertising for the following skills in their new Belfast offices:

Arabic (all dialects, particularly North African), Sorani, Bengali, Urdu with or without Gujarati, Punjabi, Chinese (Mandarin), Somali, Pushto, Persian and Russian.

I don’t see that particular call centre getting outsourced to North Africa, India, China, or Eastern Europe anytime soon. But Northern Ireland -with its well-developed security infrastructure- is an ideal ‘nearshore’ operation for such a sensitive operation.

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September 2007
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