Archive for May, 2009

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Laughter in a war zone – The Irish Times – Thu, May 28, 2009

IN COMEDY , of course, respect only extends so far. A few years ago I asked Irish stand-up Ed Byrne (who has featured in previous Cat Laughs) what sort of audience British squaddies were.

“Rough, it’s gotta be said,” he replied. “I told them they could heckle me all they wanted, because in a week they’d still be there, whereas I’d be back home with my 21-year-old girlfriend! There was a massive cheer and they were great after that.”

Jesus, imagine you’re in a war zone and they lay on Ed Byrne for entertainment! It’s a testament to the civility, tolerance, discipline and endurance of the British Army that Byrne’s appearance did not kick off a massive bout of fragging in the ranks.

Ice Cold In Alex

Alexandra College, Milltown, Dublin, Ireland – History

Alexandra College was founded in 1866 to give a new sense of purpose to the education of young middle-class ladies in Ireland.

Alexandra College defends ejection of Junior Cert student for unpaid fees – The Irish Times – Thu, May 28, 2009

“Alexandra College regrets that the focus of its history, ethos and child-centred approach to education has been overshadowed by some recent media coverage of a fee issue that we held to be confidential.

Alexandra College student ejected from class in fee row – Times Online

Eibhlin Byrne, Dublin’s Lord Mayor and a Fianna Fail MEP candidate, said her daughter attended the school and that she was appalled at the way the student had been treated.

“My daughter came home one day deeply upset,” she said. “From what she told me, it was horrific, and not what I would have thought was the ethos of Alexandra. I’m waiting for an opportunity to speak with the principal about it.”

My knowledge of schools for ‘middle-class Irish ladies’, and their wider significance in Irish culture, is on a par with my knowledge of uranium mining techniques. Nor for that matter do I understand the persistence of so many single-sex schools in the Irish education system in general. To me a prerequisite for a civilised society would be co-education in all schools at all levels, rather than a pathological system that institutionalised gender roles. Indeed, there hasn’t been much reflection on the fact that at the heart of the system that generated the industrial schools was sexual segregation. But don’t listen to me: I’m insane.

Anyway, this matter does appear to be attracting quite a lot of attention in the press, as is often the case when would-be poshos find themselves in a spot of bother, and I feel the urge to spew forth some commentary.

First, it seems to me that the whole point of having these schools in the first instance is the maintenance of class power. So there is something of a contradiction in charging whopping fees in order to keep poorer people out while simultaneously allowing charity cases. By which I mean, if you’re going to have a school for middle-class ladies, then you should make it expressly clear, when push comes to shove, that being middle-class is about wielding power through possession of money and other forms of private property, rather than how genteel your deportment is.

So what’s the big deal about the girl getting the heave-ho? I think it’s this: as Hyacinth Bucket knows, being middle-class should never mean push coming to shove. Therefore for a girl to get treated shabbily by an avowedly middle-class institution is a matter of letting the side down, since it exposes the grubby reality of class relations.

The Alexandra College mission statement enumerates the following commitment:

  • to learn to think independently
  • to tolerate and value diversity
  • to respect ourselves and each other, and
  • to be responsible for ourselves and to society

Which is all lovely stuff, but, as the controversy indicates, it’s entirely dependent on the ability of the parents to cough up the cash. That, and the fact that the toleration and valuing of diversity does not imply tolerating the children of parents on lower incomes about the place. Also, there is nothing intrinsically good about diversity: 200 different types of serial killer is not necessarily cause for celebration.

So what the school ought to have done, to keep up appearances, was set up some sort of low-interest loan for the parent in order to keep her quiet. As a damage limitation exercise now they could establish some nice liberal credentials by putting out a press release about how their inclusive enrolment policies ensure that students with learning problems and disabilities have a fair chance of attending the school, and that they offer more scholarships to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. That’d keep the likes of privately-educated vocal critics like Ruairi Quinn more than happy, while maintaining the fundamental objective of remaining a sturdy branch of middle-class power.

Although I think these schools are an abomination, I do not think the girl ought to be removed from the school, even if it does enable me and others like me to point out how revolting they are, and how for every girl getting kicked out with disrespect there are tens of thousands who would not be accorded the privilege of getting kicked out in the first place. On the contrary, even though these institutions are all about the maintenance and consolidation of class power, and that each child is valued primarily in terms of their parents’ income and wealth, that does not mean that friendships and sense of community formed in the student body and among teachers are inauthentic and worthless: it just means they’re founded on a series of whopping lies that neither newspapers nor establishment politicians have any interest in disputing.

Alive And Well

Hugh Green

to editor

show details 14:04 (0 minutes ago)
Follow up message
from Hugh Green
to editor [at ]alive [ dot] ie
date 27 May 2009 14:04
subject Classified Ad in this month’s paper

Dear Editor,

Thank you very much for the latest free copy of Alive!, which I always get a kick out of reading.

I had a question about the Classified Ads section.

One ad reads:

Most beautiful flower of Mt.Carmel, fruitful vine, splendour of heaven, BI, Immaculate Virgin, assist me in my necessity. O star of the sea, help me and show me herein you are my mother. O Holy Mary, mother of God, queen of heaven and earth, I humbly beseech you from the bottom of my heart, to succour me in this necessity (make request). There are none that can withstand your power. O show me herein you are my mother. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us, who have recourse to thee (say 3 times). Sweet Mother I place this cause in your hands (3 times). Say this prayer for 3 consecutive days. Publish it and your request will be granted. MG.

A quick check in Microsoft Word tells me there are 121 words in that ad. The cost per word for submitting an ad is €1, so that means posting that ad would have cost €121. I can only assume, therefore, that the prayer must work, since no-one would be desperate enough to invest €121 in nothing.

My question, therefore, is procedural. I need a Land Rover, and I was thinking of asking Mary for one. However, I am also short on cash, and spending €121 on an ad that doesn’t work would leave me without any food in the cupboard for the rest of the month. So I was thinking that I could ask Mary for both a Land Rover and €121 to cover my initial expenditure. My question is whether I can submit a request for a Land Rover and €121, or if I need to submit two separate requests for this. If I need to submit two separate requests, do you think I should make an initial request of €242, thereby covering the cost of the first and second request, and then submit the second request for the Land Rover on receipt of the €242? Or should I just go ahead and make the first request for the Land Rover?

Any light you could shed would be most appreciated.

Hugh Green

Update: The Editor replied:

Re your question, I think the best approach would be a brief request for some good sense. That would not cost too much, and if granted it could transform your life, though the Land Rover might not be included.
God bless,

Touché, M. L’éditeur.

On Raging Giants

Yesterday I found myself mentally trying to compartmentalise the violence chronicled in the Ryan report, by figuring that my own treatment at primary school, which was punctuated with punishment with rulers and leather straps by lay teachers, usually in my case for not doing set homework, bore no comparison to the extreme violence perpetrated on the child prisoners of the industrial schools, who were raped and used as slave labour.

But then I realised that reacting that way is perverse: even though you think you are coming to terms of the full weight of what was visited on those children, you are in actual fact denying it. Which is to say, when I imply that the violence I experienced was nothing serious, and that a blow administered every now and again did not leave much of a mark, I am also implying that the sum total of the violence catalogued in the Ryan report was not as bad as they say it was, because I am denying the potentially devastating effects of any single act of violence on the part of an adult against a child.

It was not until I read some books by Alice Miller that I started to think with any depth about the gravity of corporal punishment on children. Here is an extract from one of her books:

Like many other people I thought: “Me? I was never beaten. The few slaps I got were nothing special. And my mother took so much trouble with me.”

But we must not forget that the consequences of early, invisible injuries are so severe precisely because they derive from the trivialization of childhood suffering and the denial of its importance. Adults can easily imagine that they would be horrified and humiliated if they were suddenly attacked by a raging giant many times bigger than themselves. Yet we assume that small children will not react in the same way, although we have all kinds of evidence to indicate how sensitively and competently children respond to their environment. Parents believe that slaps and spanking do not hurt. Such treatment is designed to impress certain values on their children. And the children end up believing that themselves. Some even learn to laugh the whole thing off and to deride the pain they felt at the humiliations inflicted on them. As adults they adhere to this derision, they are proud of their own cynicism, sometimes even making literature out of it, as in the case of James Joyce, Frank McCourt, and many others.

It seems to me there is no way of coming to terms with what was visited on the children in industrial schools without tackling the broader use of corporal punishment in society. A society that prohibited corporal punishment is highly unlikely to produce the horror of industrial schools. But if you look at how the relation between corporal punishment at large and the sadistic brutality in industrial schools is getting covered, the former is cited as a mitigating factor when bringing judgement to bear on the latter.

Kevin Myers provides a good example:

Yet my over-riding emotion was not one of injustice at what was happening to me, but a determination that I should not cry out. At the conclusion of each beating, my assailant shook my hand and congratulated me on my stoicism.

I later examined myself in the mirror. Across my buttocks were four livid, black, red and purple welts. These were swollen and oozed blood. My underpants and pyjamas looked like used-bandages.

I could not sit comfortably for a week, and for that time, my underwear and sheets were regularly bloodied. By today’s standards, this was a criminal assault. By the standards of the time, it was perfectly normal and the ability to take one’s punishment without complaint was a test of manhood.

I don’t compare what happened to me with what happened to so many children in so many schools, especially those who were sexually abused. I am merely saying that virtually everyone believed in the use of violence against children. Had not my parents — kind, loving people — sent me to that school, knowing that corporal punishment was part of the regimen?

And then:

The past is another country.

The greater truth of that mysterious land perishes soon after the train leaves the station, and thenceforth, it is largely a question of travellers’ tales — of griffons, dragons, mermaids and unicorns. Not just about child abuse, but about everything.

Leaving aside the appalling implied parallel between the stories of a victim of abuse in an industrial school and figures of fantasy, there is a weird historicism at play here: an implication that it is fruitless to focus too much on the extreme violence of the industrial schools because they were merely an instance of the culture of the time, snatches of which we can only glimpse through its mystical otherness. (Curiously, there are echoes here of the ‘moral relativist’ caricature, often developed by advocates of high-altitude bombing and military occupation, of the scatterbrained Western liberal-left feminist who says we should leave Afghanistan alone because ‘their culture’ should be respected.)

However, Myers is right to note that virtually everyone believed in the use of violence against children. What he does not say is that this belief in the use of violence is instilled by the use of violence. There is nothing mysterious about this. A child beaten by parents or by people acting in loco parentis will come to see the violence visited on them as justified, precisely because of the fact that as children they trust and depend on their parents or their teachers. Even in the event that the child does not see a particular act of violence as justified, they are likely to see it as something they themselves have produced through their own behaviour, and therefore deserved in some way. A longer term effect of this can be enthusiastic, unquestioning approval of extreme violence when carried out by an entity -say, a religious order, a police force or an army- with which the former child identifies. Or, respect for those in higher authority and contempt for those below.

The first time I was hit by a teacher was when I was 8, because I hadn’t done a piece of maths homework, which, if I recall correctly, involved writing out times tables which I already knew by heart anyway. Most of the time I didn’t bother with homework. I was aware I was going to get hit for not doing it, but since I usually got it done surreptitiously in class before the teacher got round to checking books, it was a risk I was willing to bear in exchange for another ten minutes of playing football, watching TV, whatever. On this day in particular, the routine was changed, and I was caught.

The implement was two wooden rulers, which made a loud crack when brought down across the fingers of the child. Only (only!) children above age of 7 were hit, but rumours of the properties of the rulers, and the leather strap, had circulated among younger children: it was rumoured that some teachers used rulers cracked up the middle so your skin would get sliced open, others used a leather strap with 50p coins sewn into them.

The rest of the class had to see, so I was brought to the blackboard. In a minor miracle, the other 33 boys in the class had done their homework that day. There were no prefacing or concluding remarks to the administering of the punishment, just a few moments’ wait in the expectant gaze of the other boys as the teacher rummaged for his two rulers. When the blow came, it was as a relief, since the crack of the ruler marked the end of the ritual. I remember thinking that the pain was no big deal and that I’d sustained far worse from falling in the playground. Also, since I’d been reading Boy by Roald Dahl, I figured I knew what real punishment -of the type meted out in English boarding schools- was like. And, curiously, the fact of being hit made me feel I had established a bond with the boys in the class who were regularly hit for their disruptiveness.

Looking back I can see the contours of the event more clearly. First, the punishment is not just a matter of disciplining the individual child, but of disciplining the whole class: this is what happens to you if you do not do what you are told. Second, the violence is not confined to the act of striking the child. In fact, the act of striking the child is sustained by the implicit threat of greater violence. That is, if I had the capacity to resist in some active form, by, say, running away, or refusing to get up from my desk, my resistance would be met with even greater violence. Third -and of course, this never occurred to me at the time- the violent act is a means of maintaining authority at the precise moment that the legitimacy of that authority is effectively undermined. I had not done my homework, but I didn’t need to, at least for the stated purpose of learning how to multiply. I already knew my times tables, and the teacher knew it too: my homework was a mind-numbing, pointless exercise. The act of violence in this context, then, effaces the fact that there is no legitimacy in making people carry out pointless tasks.

How did this and other similar events affect me? First, I think it fostered a passive-aggressive attitude to authority. Rather than disciplining me in the sense of learning to follow commands blindly, the threat of physical punishment taught me to sharpen my skills of finding ways of not doing what I’m told without actually saying No through direct confrontation (since direct confrontation connotes the threat of violence). Such skills are not especially marketable, and there is a glut of supply in these parts. Second, and more curiously, even though I probably knew deep down that he ought not to have hit me, it didn’t diminish my conscious respect for him. It didn’t mean I thought the teacher could not be trusted: on the contrary, the fact that he had hit me only when I expected him to meant I saw him as entirely trustworthy. So when he wrote on my report at the end of that year that I ‘could be lazy at times’, I trusted he was correct. In short, I trusted him because he hit me.

Writing this, I feel an impulse to relativise my own experience, to say that it was not much by comparison with what other boys in my class got, that it was even less by comparison with what my parents’ generation got, and that it pales into near total insignificance when considered in terms of what the children in the industrial schools got. But then I think about what I would do if I got a call telling me that a teacher was about to hit my own son in front of the class for not doing as he was told. I would do anything in my power to stop it from happening, because I would consider it an outrage.

Corporal punishment in schools was abolished in the Republic of Ireland in 1982, and in Northern Ireland in 1987. Its abolition has had an undeniable civilising effect, though some neanderthals call for its reintroduction. But the effects of its use linger, and too many ‘raging giants’ are still at large, still permitted to act under the guise of ‘reasonable chastisement’:

3.2 Corporal punishment

45. While corporal punishment in Ireland is prohibited for children in detention and schools as well as all places where a child is in public care, and violence against children is prohibited under the Children Act 2001, parents can still use chastisement under common law. Following a collective complaint brought by the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), the European Committee on Social Rights ruled in 2005 that Ireland’s common law “reasonable chastisement” defence is in violation of Article 17 of the Revised European Social Charter. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2006 reiterated its previous recommendation to ban all forms of corporal punishment, including within the family. NGOs representing children have expressed their disappointment that although the Irish Government has made a commitment to introduce legislation in line with “developing social standards”, no draft legislation, nor any timeline for its introduction, has been proposed.

46. The Commissioner has called on all States party to the European Convention on Human Rights to explicitly prohibit corporal punishment, including in the family. The issue is currently under review in Ireland. In late 2007, the specially appointed Child Rapporteur delivered his expert opinion to the Oireachtas. He warned that Ireland might be liable to a legal action under Article 3 of the European Convention banning torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and recommended legislative change invoking the principle of proportionality.

47. The Commissioner wishes to refer to the ongoing Council of Europe information activities in this field. He recalls that although legal reform is needed, sustained public education and awareness-raising, including the promotion of positive parenting, is also necessary to end legal and social acceptance of violence against children. He welcomes the ongoing review in Ireland and urges the Irish authorities to bring Irish law in line with international standards.

There is no point in reeling in horror at the monstrosities of the industrial schools unless it is matched with a willingness to confront those ‘raging giants’.

Also Sprach Barrackbuster

Nor was the flock without sin – Analysis, Opinion –

Now, as if Nietzsche was right about history repeating itself first as tragedy and then as farce, the clock is resetting itself.

18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Karl Marx 1852

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

It appears Nietzsche was influencing Marx at the age of 6.

Power, Authority, Obedience

I’m guessing that I’m not alone in struggling to find some way of comprehending the enormity of the satanic brutality catalogued in the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. Though I am no longer a child, I have a child of my own, and I am so terrified by the manifold implications of the report in its detail that I find myself struggling for some sort of silver bullet explanation that would put matters to rest. Over the next while I would like to explore some of the issues highlighted in the report, as an aid to my own learning as much as anything else.

This morning I was thinking about one of the report’s conclusions:

The deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education towards the Congregations compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection and monitoring of the schools.

A good starting point for understanding why the Department of Education displayed a ‘deferential and submissive attitude’ toward the religious congregations is Obedience To Authority, Stanley Milgram‘s account of the experiments he conducted at Yale University in which he demonstrated that ordinary people could be induced to administer massive electrical shocks to victims protesting in agony, simply because they were required to by an authority figure.

The behaviour revealed in the experiments reported here is normal human behaviour but revealed under conditions that show with particular clarity the danger to human survival inherent in our make-up. And what is it we have seen? Not aggression, for there is no anger, vindictiveness, or hatred in those who shocked the victim. Men do become angry; they do act hatefully and explode in rage against others. But not here. Something far more dangerous is revealed: the capacity for man to abandon his humanity, indeed, the inevitability that he does so, as he merges his unique personality into larger institutional structures.


Each individual possesses a conscience which to a greater or lesser degree serves to restrain the unimpeded flow of impulses destructive to others. But when he merges his person into an organisational structure, a new creature replaces autonomous man, unhindered by the limitations of individual morality, freed of humane inhibition, mindful only of the sanctions of authority.

Writing about American democratic society – a far freer society than that of Ireland in the years of the industrial schools- he said:

The results, as seen and felt in the laboratory, are to this author disturbing. They raise the possibility that human nature, or -more specifically – the kind of character produced in American democratic society, cannot be counted on to insulate its citizens from brutality and inhumane treatment at the direction of malevolent authority. A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act and without limitations of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority.

He concluded:

Our business, if we desire to live a life not utterly devoid of meaning and significance, is to accept nothing which contradicts our basic experience merely because it comes to us from tradition or convention or authority. It may well be that we shall be wrong; but our self-expression is thwarted at the root unless the certainties we are asked to accept coincide with the certainties we experience. That is why the condition of freedom in any state is always a widespread and consistent scepticism of the canons upon which powers exist.

Thinking about the ‘larger institutional structures’ prevalent in Ireland when the worst of the abuse was being perpetrated, it seems a mistake, ex post facto, to draw a conceptual distinction between Church and State, even if a weak formal distinction did exist, and then idealise the function of either entity, and look back in horror in the conviction (say) that the Church ought to have followed its own teachings, or that the State ought to have existed in the service of all its citizens.

No: what we ought to see is either a Church-State complex, or equally a set of institutions, whether nominally religious or secular, all operating as The State (I think ‘The State’ is more correct, but given the frequent capitalisation of ‘the state’ in Ireland and its various meanings, I will stick with Church-State complex here for the purposes of clarity). Seen in this light, the actions of the Department of Education workers take on a different significance: they are not acting in the interests of children as such, but, as lay members of the Catholic Church (I expect this was the case for many if not the vast majority), educated and formed within institutions of that Church, they are acting in subservience to the interests of the Church-State complex.

As Catholics, they would have been raised to accept the absolute authority of the Church. They may well also have shared the Church’s view that the industrial school was an appropriate place for the needs of these children, and that the system of locking children up for stealing chocolate bars served the common good.

The culture of obedience within the Church, instilled in its schools, would have been replicated in the institutions of the State. Whether this culture was tempered or re-inforced within the institutions of the State is a question I am not capable of asking at the moment, but any official would have been well aware of the potential sanctions from authority -that is, from Catholics in higher echelons of State bodies, who would have been in close contact with Church hierarchy- were he to highlight any form of abuse on the part of a religious congregation.

Let’s imagine a situation in which a Department of Education official encountered some detail about a member of a religious order sexually abusing a child. How might he raise the matter with a brother or nun? Milgram proposes an experiment to consider the potential confrontation with authority:

First, identify a person for whom you have genuine respect, preferably someone older than yourself by at least a generation, and who represents an authority in an important life domain. He could be a respected professor, a beloved priest, or under certain circumstances a parent. It must also be a person whom you refer to with some title such as Professor Parsons, Father Paul, or Dr Charles Brown. He must be a person who represents to you the distance and solemnity of a genuine authority. To understand what it means to breach the etiquette of relations with authority. You need merely present yourself to the person and, in place of using his title, whether it be Dr, Professor, or Father, address him using his first name, or perhaps even an appropriate nickname. You may state to Dr Brown, for example, ‘Good morning, Charlie!’.

As you approach him you will experience anxiety and a powerful inhibition that may well prevent successful completion of the experiment. You may say to yourself: ‘Why should I carry out this foolish experiment? I have always had a fine relationship with Dr Brown, which may now be jeopardised. Why should I appear arrogant to him?’

Now, in the case of the official considering confrontation with the member of the religious congregation perpetrating the abuse, not only would the ‘distance and solemnity of a genuine authority’ have been more vivid than for you or me, but it is not simply a case of breaching etiquette, but of levelling the accusation of child abuse against the congregation, and this would have seemed tantamount to blasphemy, to say nothing of the sanction that might have gone along with it.

None of this is to make apologies for the actions of inspectors, who are as guilty as sin, but to point out that the effects and demands of authority are likely greater than we might be inclined to credit at first glance. Which is to say: if we simply say that these people betrayed those in their care by not speaking out, and leave it at that, we are ignoring the full extent of the pervasive effects of authoritarian rule on society during the years of the industrial schools. More to the point, we are ignoring the pervasive effects of such rule to this day.

To give one example from another Church-State complex institution:

As the hospital was owned and managed by a religious order, continuity at management level was assured. The sisters belonged to an era when nurses were efficient, ordered and respectful. They carried out orders and did not question consultants. Matron maintained a formal, distant authority over nurses. The nuns who had set the practices and protocols for training nurses and midwives in the hospital in the 50s thus produced suitable nurses who fitted their mould – hardworking, respectful, Catholic nurses who were well trained, knew their place, trusted the consultants and suspended their critical or questioning faculties. They were trained to certain tasks – and to those tasks only.


The ethos of the hospital was that consultants were respected. Respect was number one on the agenda and that came before anything else. You could question as to facts – surgical or medical facts or knowledge – but you certainly wouldn’t be able to question the handling and the management of a patient. The nuns had created an aura of unquestioning respect around the foundation consultants who were revered. This attitude to consultants made its way in a watered down version to later consultants but the attitude of not
questioning was established.

From The Lourdes Hospital Inquiry.

If people think they can simply shuck off the shameful effects of authoritarian rule that pervade Irish life by getting the church to pony up more money for the victims, they are mistaken. There needs to be a realisation that the structure of today’s society is largely the product of the severe religious authoritarianism of yesterday, and that that authoritarianism served the interest of a particular class, and that the institutional dyarchy of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is its chief political beneficiary. And the authoritarianism was not merely religious (though Dermot Ahern’s blasphemy law was a reprise), nor is it gone: witness the recent RTE apology to the ‘Office of the Taoiseach’ for showing a story about the Brian Cowen paintings.

In Man For Himself, Erich Fromm wrote of man’s attitude toward force and power:

The paralyzing effect of power does not rest only upon the fear it arouses, but equally on an implicit promise-the promise that those in possession of power can protect and take care of the “weak” who submit to it, that they can free man from the burden of uncertainty and of responsibility for himself by guaranteeing order and by assigning the individual a place in this order which makes him feel secure.

If, in Ireland today, the fear appears to have subsided, might it not simply be because people have taken on board the implicit promise: that those who hold power -and their assorted ne0-liberal consiglieri in government- know what’s best for them?

On Stabilizers

CIA chief: ‘Big trouble’ if Israel attacks Iran alone – Haaretz – Israel News

“The threat posed by Iran has our full attention,” Panetta said. “Iran is a destabilizing force in the Middle East. Even though the administration is moving toward diplomatic engagement with that country, no one is naive about the challenges.”

In another meeting, the head of the Iranian intelligence agency, whose government has vast numbers of troops deployed in Canada and Mexico, spoke of the United States as a destabilizing force in North America.

Three Bags Full

I am seriously considering voting Yes at the next Lisbon treaty referendum.

Politics » Lisbon

In my humble opinion, many people who voted No last year will vote YES before a ball is kicked in the campaign.Some of the issues are of substantial importance – military neutrality, sovereignty, and the democratic deficit – but they will be outflanked (and I’m not saying this is right; not at all) by the economic imperative.

People will view a No vote with the same eyes that they now view holiday homes in Bulgaria, expensive spa centres and stretch Hummer limousines – as a luxury we can no longer afford.

The word ‘vote’ comes from the Latin votum, meaning “a vow, wish, promise, dedication”. The best definition I can come up with for its proper meaning in the context of democratic politics is the formal expression of a wish.

‘The economic imperative’ referred to here can be described thus: do whatever it takes in order to save the country, and by extension ourselves, from catastrophe.

Yet although I might feel this imperative as a brute objective fact, I should try and realise how much this imperative is the product of threat and coercion on the part of ruling elites. I could go further and say that there is no general imperative, merely a vast range of particular imperatives: in order to save our asses, I -through my government- must cut the budget of children’s hospitals; I must cut minimum wage and unemployment benefit; I must privatise public services; I must all rally around the flag and have a bit of pride in the shirt. I might, however, discern a common thread in each of these particular imperatives: I must act in strict accordance with neo-liberal best practices, further subordinating labour to capital under the guise of acting in the national interest and maintaining competitiveness.

At a personal level, there are other imperatives: I must do whatever it takes to make myself competitive as an individual, which is to say, I must work longer hours in exchange for less money, and I must strive to be more productive than my nearest available substitute, whether man, woman or machine. I must also pro-actively develop my own substitute as I become less productive. I must become a key stakeholder in my own obsolescence as a factor of production. I must contribute more of my wages to subsidise the speculation activities of individuals whose salary is many multiples my own. And I must supress any deviant urge to raise any form of complaint about any of these things, since to do so would be to give the outward impression of a bad business climate, which would only serve to render all the other imperatives even more urgent.

Most important, I must also accept that if I do all this, things will get better.

Another imperative is that my vote in the upcoming re-run of the Lisbon Treaty must take into account all these imperatives. My vote will therefore not be so much the formal expression of a wish for anything in particular as a matter of saying the right thing so as to inflict as little punishment on myself as possible. There is the same degree of choice here as might arise from an encounter with a thug who asks you if you want a knee to the groin or a dig in the head. Or, to use a slightly more benign example: I can marry the husband chosen for me by my parents in an arranged marriage or become an outcast.

But what to do about it? Should I vote based on the polite fiction that I am presented with a real choice, and vote as though all these considerations were of no import at all and that this is just one more installation in the grand pageant of enlightened liberal democracy? Or should I vote based on the knowledge that this is a forced choice?

I see no point in the first option. To vote on the pretence that this is an instance of democracy is to suck the idea of democracy dry of any useful meaning. At a European level, the Irish episode will be represented as just one more hiccup in the grand project of nice European neo-liberalism, and at a local level, it will be portrayed a vindication of the local neo-liberal managers who, it will follow, were claim to have been right all along.

At this stage, not only will a conventional No campaign, based on the premise that there is some sort of real choice to be made, be defeated, but it will also legitimise the forced choice. The best way of registering the falsity of the choice would be for everyone who previously voted No to now go out and vote Yes, with the target of a 95% Yes vote. The ‘No’ campaign should be conducted along the following lines: we have no choice but to vote Yes, because if we do not, we shall be thrown to the wolves, as our fellow Yes campaigners and their backers have eloquently attested. Some good might come of that, if done right.

Qualia of Quality

Buckfast Tonic Wine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“Brown bottle” Buckfast variant, typically from the Republic of Ireland

This variant is produced by Grant’s distillers in Clonmel, presumably from concentrate. The taste is similar to, but not the same as, “green bottle” tonic wine[citation needed].

All sorts of bores go on about Wikipedia and how unreliable it is, but any tool that demands a citation for the claim that brown bottle Buckfast tastes different from green bottle Buckfast gets the thumbs up from me. For what it’s worth, I happen to believe that the claim is true, and that green bottle Buckfast tastes superior.

Religious Extremism On The Rise

Pricewatch » Shocking holy costs

Over the last four weeks, more than 60,000 children will have made their way up the aisle at a cost which is truly staggering. When the clothes, the cash gifts, the bouncy castles and the food and drink for their nearest and dearest are all totted up the nation, collectively, will have little change out of €80m.

That is mind-blowing.

It is, say people involved in the Communion industry, money well spent. Marion Gale’s Donnybrook boutique has been kitting out many of south Dublin’s little girls for their big day for 20 years, and she says business this year has been “excellent”.

She says that girls’ clothes in particular have proved to be recession-proof, with parents willing to go without to ensure their children get what they want. “People want the best for their children and why should they apologise for that?” she asks.

This is mind-blowinger: the idea that blowing upwards of €200 on a dress for a kid is a matter of giving the child what she wants, or worse -wanting the best for the child. The dress is for adults -a way of conveying a message to other adults, through the child, that they are financially solvent, that they care about their child, and so on. If a child is anxious about looking good in a communion dress, it is down to a desire instilled and nurtured by adults.

I liked the Republic of Ireland a lot more back in the early 1980s when I didn’t live there and on Fridays I’d come home from school, nostrils aflare with the smell of oily fish and copy of Our Boys (the Christian Brothers’ in-house mag) in hand, to watch a dramatised version of The Bible (God usually put in an appearance, in the form of a few rays of sunlight bursting forth from behind a load of clouds). One of the things that attracted me to the Republic was its religiousness. Back then I used to knock about with a fella whose uncle was a priest (and, as it turned out, quite the ladies’ man), and priests for us were like heroes. By which I mean superheroes. We’d act out adventures involving ghosts and priests performing exorcisms. I also recall acting out scenes in which we the priests would crucify the evildoers, even shouting Crucify Him! This was in the weeks leading up to First Communion. Anyway, the fact that they showed the Bible and the solemn dongs of the Angelus on RTE lent the place more than a whiff of incenseful mystery, by comparison with Northern Ireland, which, while not particularly wanting for priests, just seemed to have a lot more stuff that had nothing to do with priests.

One of our primary school teachers, despairing of the Religious Education curriculum for confirmation, would read extracts from the story of Fatima instead. I remember being terrified by one of the children’s visions of hell, which I envisioned as a big durty rhino in flames. Hell seemed a lot closer then, maybe partly because another teacher, a couple of years previous, had asked us to bring in a candle for a special prayer. We 8 year olds all lit the candles, and the teacher told us that before our prayer we were going to learn something really important. We were told to place our fingers in the flame of the candle for just an instant, until we could feel the first tinge of a burning sensation. Everyone did, and as we laughed and sucked our fingers, the teacher, who was probably about 25 at the time, said, ‘Now boys, just imagine. If that’s what only a tenth of a second feels like in one tiny part of your body, imagine what it’ll be like in hell, if your entire body is engulfed in flames hotter than you can possibly imagine for the rest of eternity.’ This was 1985.

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May 2009