Archive for April 17th, 2008

Perfect Equality

Interesting times in Spain, where Zapatero’s new cabinet has a majority of women. Much of the initial media attention was focused on new Defence Minister Carme Chacón, and the significance of a Catalan woman, who is pregnant, being placed in charge of the army. Since the army is a potent symbol of a masculine Spain, many on the right are incensed. Rabid right-wing pundit Federico Jiménez Losantos denounced the fact of a ‘una nacionalista antiespañola al frente de Ejército de España’ (an anti-Spanish nationalist at the head of the Spanish Army).

No less interesting is the appointment of 31 year old Bibiana Aido, who has a blog, to the post of Minister for Equality. Part of the remit of this ministry will be to oversee the implementation of the Equality Law, the provisions of which could only be dreamed about in Ireland at the minute. The text of the law cites John Stuart Mill’s principle of ‘perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other’, and recognises that gender violence, salary discrimination, pension discrimination, and problems in balancing personal, work and family life must all be overcome by legislative means. It seeks to protect motherhood, with special attention to the effects of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.

Among the outcomes of the law will be:

  • Quota of 40% of women in top jobs
  • Quota of 40% of women candidates on party political lists
  • Improved conditions for maternity and paternity leave – women who have premature births get extended leave, men get 13 days paternity leave

There will also be tough punishment for gender violence. Zapatero, in his inaugural debate, promised to make sure that any coward who lifts his hand to a woman will have to face 44 million Spaniards.

It hardly needs saying that this is all excellent stuff, and people in Ireland who have an interest in such matters (which should be everybody) could learn more than just a thing or two from it.

Update: the Guardian has a report on this today.

Wholly Holey

I’ve mentioned a few times about how members of my family read this blog. Sometimes I get feedback from them, usually in the form of a correction to some error of grammar or spelling, which is tantamount to murdering someone as far as they’re concerned. And my mother sometimes gives off about the crude language, though I have to say, the language on this blog would get a PG rating.

One concern expressed today was that I was going through some sort of belated anal phase, that there were too many references to bottoms and poo, though there are children’s programmes with more such references.

My mother didn’t like the fact that I ended one post with ‘the world is a shithouse’, and another with ‘he’s better than a boot up the hole’. I think it’s a fair criticism. Aesthetically speaking, neither is a pretty phrase, and both are somewhat out of tune with the general tenor of the post.

But I asked her why she didn’t like it. She said, I was reading through the post, and I liked what you were saying, but that bit at the end, well that just tore the ass out of it.


There is this thing on the internet known as Godwin’s Law. According to Wikipedia, the law states:

“As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

I have no idea if the law reflects reality or not. But some people seem to think that it means that you may not make a comparison involving Nazis. It is not that sort of law. It is more like the law of diminishing returns, in that it states that x happens as a result of y. And just as it is absurd to say that you may not increase equal quantities of one variable factor while other factor inputs remain constant, it is equally absurd to say that you cannot compare someone to Hitler just because there is a law out there that says that people are likely to make Nazi comparisons under certain circumstances.

The fact is, there are times when Nazi comparisons are appropriate. Such as when someone acts like a Nazi.  Seems obvious, but some people don’t get it.

Not that Nazi comparisons are always appropriate. It would be inappropriate, for instance, to compare a Brian Kennedy concert to a Nuremburg rally, even if both signify absolute evil.

Cynical, Moi

I worry about being cynical, not least because few people like cynics. There is that line from the Damien Dempsey song, it goes ‘You preach nil, you’re so cynical / Jesus, wake up and live’. I like Damien Dempsey, but when I heard that line, I thought, Jesus, what a shit lyric! He has to sing ‘cyni-kill’ in order to make it rhyme!

Cynicism stops me from writing more posts. It feels like bad manners.

At a sherry reception one evening soon after I started college I got talking to a philosopher, sharing a few polite jokes. After a couple of minutes, he remarked, surveying the gathered students engaged in discussions, that he never failed to be impressed at the fresh-faced optimism and openness of undergraduates that each new year brought.

Why’s that then, I asked, do they all turn into narrow-minded and jaded bigots after a few terms?

He frowned for an instant, and I realised I hadn’t been tuned into him at all. I thought he might have laughed in conspiracy. Instead it was as if I’d farted and he was trying hard to show that he hadn’t noticed. No, he said, smiling again, not at all. I just think that there’s something really pleasant about the first moments of student life. There’s so much vitality in these people, you can see they have such an interest in learning.

The words ‘present company excepted’ may have hung in the air unsaid.

That sort of thing used to be a habit. I’d find myself talking to someone who was brightly enthusiastic about something or other, and it didn’t even occur to me that he or she was serious. I just assumed they were having a laugh, and responded accordingly. There were plenty of occasions when the penny didn’t drop until some time later. One time a young man in the pub told me he had only a few months to live and was out enjoying himself, living life to the full. I told him, yeah, there’s nothing like a deadline to get you motivated. I only realised a couple of days later that he really was going to die. Lucky enough he thought it was funny.

Working for a corporation has tempered my social difficulties a bit, but only because I started to abandon the idea that anyone could be properly earnest about anything. Here, you learn to assume that if someone is being enthusiastic about something, anything (the notional objects, not the Todd Rundgren album, though the same would be true for that too) it is to meet the demands of their role, drawing on ‘interpersonal skills’, a ‘can-do attitude’, and ‘making a positive impact’. This means you don’t go further than a series of polite oh-really how-wonderfuls. That way you don’t even have to worry about if someone is really enthusiastic or not, since you end up not giving a damn about what they’re saying anyway. Of course it means turning into a robot, but there are wolves to be kept away from the door.

Some CEO was on the TV the other night, the head of Coca-Cola I think, and, in the context of ‘The Importance of Being Irish’ he started talking about the value of ’emotional intelligence’. This stuff is only really important within a corporate structure, and only in so far as it leads to the accumulation of profit. Hardly anyone, save top executives and the heavily institutionalised, actually believes in it, but things like ’emotional intelligence’ start to seem like virtues. They just happen to let people like the Coke man convince themselves that their multi-million dollar salaries are on account of the fact that they are virtuous. How ’emotional intelligence’ is important for the people who work in bottling factories is far from clear. Maybe you need it to pick a union rep who won’t get murdered.

But, in getting people to knuckle down and shut their worthless mouths, it isn’t all down to terms from syncretistic forms of management theory. A lot of the heavy lifting is done by the more traditional, plainly familiar stuff: grit, determination, focus and so on. These things appear like universal virtues, until you start to think about how much the Nazis valued them. And when you see state-funded TV programmes that exalt tenacity, hard work, and creativity as virtues in themselves, and as fundamental elements of the national character, you can’t help feel you’re in some sort of trouble.

I am cynical because the world is a shithouse.

Cynical, Moi?

I gave up on Eastenders a few weeks back, and, although I swore to myself that I wouldn’t, I’ve been following the race for the US Democratic Presidential candidacy with no small amount of interest. This is totally at odds with my deepening conviction that there shouldn’t be a President of the United States at all, but since you get drummed into you from an early age, via deferential news reports and movies and such, that having one is absolutely necessary because either the world would destroy itself or aliens would destroy it otherwise (I recall one particularly vivid Captain America comic of the 1980s where the President turns into a lizard, and being very worried at the prospect), it’s very difficult to stop getting sucked back into the spectacle.

And I do have a preferred candidate. Mindful of the sheer potential for destruction that the office holds, and of how much it is dominated by the demands of corporate interest, I think Americans and the world in general would be better off if Barack Obama were President, for quite a few reasons, none of which I shall go into here, because what I’m concerned with is the spectacle, not the politics.

So, the last few days Obama has been taking a hammering from the Clinton camp, and the mainstream media, on account of some remarks he made about people in Western Pennsylvania towns being bitter and clinging to guns, religion and fear of immigrants, things like that. Clinton is showing barnacle-like tenacity in refusing to give in, even though she has lost by fair means, which leaves foul. She has cast herself as the doughty champion of the underdog or something. Some are saying she knows he is going to win, but is out to destroy his presidential campaign so that she can get elected in 2012 after McCain. I don’t actually care if this is true or not, but I am assuming it is, because it makes things more exciting.

Obama is getting tagged as an ‘elitist’, which, from what I can make out from my reading of American political discourse, is only marginally preferable to getting tagged as a paedophile, or someone who has sex with animals, whatever the agent noun for that is. And then there’s the fact of all the media-borne suspicions about his supposed ‘Muslim’ background, his dalliances with radical clerics, his willingness to sleep with the President of Iran, and heaven knows what else. What is impressive, I think, is how he takes all this shit in his stride. In doing so, he even manages to give speeches where he makes sense and says stuff I agree with, which is impressive.

The latest development, which is like the coolest thing since the last cool thing happened, is that Bruce Springsteen has endorsed him. Now I don’t fully understand the significance of this endorsement business, but it does seem to have some discernible effect in developing the image of a person people might like to vote for. Personally, I would probably go out and vote for a purple unicorn if Bruce Springsteen told me to, so I’m hoping Obama wins even more now. He is better than a boot up the hole.

Give Talking

In 2000, when the Clintons last made their returns public, they reported an adjusted gross income of $416,039. Since then, Bill Clinton alone has made $82 million from just his speech income ($51.85 million) and payments (totaling $29.6 million) from his two books — “My Life ” and “Giving.”

Jesus, I wouldn’t go to the back door to see Bill Clinton. But I suppose it’s the sort of thing that CEOs go in for, so that they can have something to write about to the people they earn 300 times more than in their monthly update. ‘On Friday I attended a really interesting speech by President Bill Clinton….’ And whilst I presume that the bulk of this income from his books comes from the mammoth My Life, I’d say he received a few million for his book about giving.

An Amazon reviewer quotes:

“Who’s happier?” he writes. “The uniters or the dividers? The builders or the breakers? The givers or the takers? I think you know the answer.”

Indeed. But there is a triangulated third way. His own experience demonstrates that the more you talk about giving, the more you can get to take.

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April 2008