Archive for August, 2009

Eloquence

Via Who Is IOZ?, a candidate of extreme eloquence.

This, from the same person, is even better.

Playas get plaid

I read this exchange the other day between Pat Cox and Joe Higgins. Wetting itself with excitement, the Irish Times describes it as a ‘duel’ in which the antagonists ‘cross swords’ on the question of the EU. Via e-mail. Well, this digital bout of wigs on the green indeed is mostly unreadable, since there is zero convergence on anything. It is like watching a pig arguing with a rooster. I am naturally more sympathetic to Higgins’s viewpoint, and judge him to be broadly correct in his criticisms, but when he says that a No vote could be ‘a rallying cry that a very different society could be built on a very different basis where their welfare would take precedence over corporate profit’, I think he’s engaging in the sort of wishful thinking I mentioned a while back. I’m guessing that the vast majority of European workers don’t really care what happens in Ireland. It isn’t all that important. People I have spoken to in that place we call ‘on the continent’ tell me that the Irish No vote is seen as a bout of idiosyncratic truculence, a consequence of living on an island, whenever it actually impinges on people’s consciousness, which is nowhere near as often as many seem to think. However, Cox is just, ach..

Most of all such casual indifference misses a key point that Ireland has been not merely a member but also a respected player in the EU.

Team play counts. Reputation, standing and team spirit matter to all relations – personal, national and international. Reputation and the influence it carries for a small state is hard earned but can be easily squandered. The result of our vote will speak volumes about how we, the Irish, see ourselves early in the 21st century and about where we feel we belong.

Now I have multiple stab-wound sized problems with this, not least the reference to the early 21st century. Superfluous reminders about what time it is never go down well with me. But here is my main problem. Cox says Ireland is a ‘respected player’ in the European Union, but does not mention what the game is. The failure to specify the game leads me to think that the only game is the game defined by the player, and that therefore he really means playa.

The Urban Dictionary helpfully defines playa:

A person who is competitive and gregarious by nature.

The skill of a playa is measured by the extent of his or her “game.” The more “game” a playa has, the more respect they command in their community.

A person who has enough game (and hence, enough respect) can do whatever they want, dress however awful (or tacky) they want, say whatever crazy things they want to say, and still win the adoration of others. Often these skills are used to earn sexual or material favors, although not by necessity.

….

Game recognizes game, and a true playa will always give respect to a fellow playa when it is due. People who ignore (read: fail to notice), criticize, or alienate themselves from a playa without just cause is referred to as a “playa hater.”

Cox, then, is neither so intellectually impoverished that he thinks of European politics as the parish GAA team writ large, nor so condescending that he thinks he is making a cunning appeal to the more parochially minded among his potential audience. No: he is astutely laying the ground for Higgins to appear as a playa hater: the worst of slurs in the corridors of EU power.

Rights, Said Fred

Some time back I made the joke that David Quinn was the Irish Independent’s John Waters, and John Waters was the Irish Times’s David Quinn. That joke isn’t funny any more, if it was ever funny in the first place. The reason it is not funny is that it is not true, because it depends on an analogy, and the analogy no longer holds water, because whilst the newspapers differ substantially in terms of tone, presentation and vantage point, the content produced by the writers is identical save for a few cosmetic differences. And both happen to write for the Irish Catholic. So to tell the joke now is like observing that the closest thing a rabbit gets to a carrot is a carrot.

Anyway, whilst I used to focus on them with some degree of regularity for the more arcane purposes of this blog, I stopped, since if I ever want to know what the right-wing propaganda unit (lay division) of the Catholic church is thinking, all I need to do, like De Valera, is look into the dark recesses of my own heart.

That said, the matter of cross-subsidised media commentary entered my mind this morning. Last night on Prime Time there was someone called Rory Gillen, a let’s-be-reasonable spokesman for the don’t-lets-be-beastly-to-the-bond-traders constituency, who spoke on the question of NAMA. Said individual, of whom I had never heard previous to yesterday, had an article published in the Irish Times on precisely the same topic. And then David Quinn was on, talking about gay marriage. Today he has an article in the Irish Independent that repeats the same points he was making last night. Now I don’t think there is anything worth saying with regard to cross-subsidised media commentary that can’t be subsumed under the more general topic of how news media is awful. So I wanted to make a point about Quinn’s references to the ‘gay lobby’ and the ‘gay agenda’.

‘Gay lobby’ and ‘gay agenda’ to my mind suggest phenomena whose basis for existence is essence de teh ghey.

In common parlance there is lots of talk of lobbies in relation to government, for special interests related to oil, tobacco, cars, healthcare, construction, banking, and so on.

Generally, these lobbies are perceived as exercising a malign influence on democratic government, since their accumulated financial power translates into the power to directly influence political decisions made by legislators, thereby diminishing the power of citizens to do the same.

So many people might instinctively understand lobbies as antithetical to the needs and concerns of citizens. This is important when reading about a ‘gay lobby’: it sets up the idea of associations militating against the needs and concerns of citizens with regard to how the state should function, when in reality the people who might be said to comprise such associations are simply demanding a form of equal treatment for all citizens: that there should be no discrimination.

‘Agenda’ is one of these words that cannot help but sound sinister when used with regard to politics. It is as though there were something wrong with having a list of items you want to see addressed, as if politics should ideally happen without having to do anything unseemly like make a demand. So not only is ‘the gay agenda’ infused with essence de teh ghey: it is just downright rude, to say nothing about subversive.

But not only that: essence de teh ghey even has a corrupting influence on the meaning of the word agenda. Hitherto understood as a list of specific points or to be addressed, the gay predicate supplies agenda with subversive agentic power:

Therefore, marriage between a man and a woman deserves special treatment.
The gay agenda completely turns this view on its head. [what, special treatment deserves marriage between a man and a woman? – HG]
It says there is nothing special about heterosexual marriage and there is nothing advantageous in having a loving, married mother and father.
It insists that two men or two women will do just as well.
This is what the gay agenda does.
It persuades us that children have no need of a mother and father and no right to a mother and father, even in theory.

Whatever ‘the gay agenda’ is, I must admit that the essence de the ghey has been effective in persuading me. There is nothing special about heterosexual marriage. Indeed, many people in what Quinn terms ‘heterosexual marriages’ will gladly attest that there is nothing particularly heterosexual about marriage for the most part, which is to say, in terms of how people live their lives, heterosexuality is hardly the defining characteristic of the marriage.

Also, I am fully persuaded that children have no need of a mother and father and no right to a mother and father, since one cannot have a generic mother or father: one can only have one’s own parents, whom one may need or not, depending on the nature of the parents. Unfortunately that does not always work out for the best: there are no guarantees in this regard. Furthermore, it make doesn’t sense even to talk about rights ‘even in theory’. Either you have the right or you don’t: it’s a bit like being pregnant. Take the right to life. What’s the point of me recognising you have the right to life ‘in theory’ if in practice I am going to drop a piano on your head from a great height? But let’s say you had the right to a mother and father. What would that mean? It could only ever mean that you’d have the right to your own parents. It wouldn’t mean you’d have the right to parents conforming to certain characteristics, like a heartbeat, a healthy bank account and a heterosexually monogamous, religiously observant persuasion. Well, at least not in reality, but maybe in the eyes of the Catholic Church you would.

On Corruption

Focus on the ‘cute hoors’, their cabals and cliques appears to be largely part of an attempt by the relatively educated bourgeoisie to throw off what they see as the more embarrassing vestiges of peasant society. The primary preoccupation with corruption and bribery reveals their desire for a pristinely transparent capitalism. They denounce what such and such a person did in violation of the law of the land, turning a blind eye to legal robbery, bribery and exploitation, since they know the law is on their side in these matters. Their main subject of concern is ‘the taxpayer’, a consumer who demands value in public services for his hard-earned cash. This individual wants to see the reputation of Ireland Inc restored to its former glory, when the corporations seemed to hold the country in high esteem as they shifted labour from higher cost locations in this direction. From this point of view, it is not that there is anything essentially wrong about giving money for hospital treatments and primary schools to rich private investors to do as they please: it is the fact that it is an outrage against the principle of value for money.

‘A bunch of fucking bond traders’

What ho chaps. My copy of Manufacturing Discontent – The Trap of Individualism in Corporate Society just arrived. On the basis of browsing the first chapter alone, I heartily recommend it.

To illustrate the reach of corporate power Perelman cites first from The Twilight of Sovereignty by Walter Wriston, former Chief Executive Officer of Citibank.

The entire globe is now tied together in a single electronic market moving at the speed of light. There is no place to hide.

This enormous flow of data has created a new world monetary standard, an Information Standard, which has replaced the gold standard and the Bretton Woods agreements. The electronic global market has produced what amounts to a giant vote-counting machine that conducts a running tally on what the world thinks of a government’s diplomatic, fiscal and monetary policies. That opinion is immediately reflected in the value the market places on a country’s currency. [Wriston 1992: 8-9]

In this new world order:

capital will go where it is wanted and stay where it is well treated…It will flee from manipulation or onerous regulation of its value or use, and no government can restrain it for long. [Wriston 1992:61-2]

Perelman then goes on to cite an example of how this reality can dawn on people, from Bob Woodward’s book on the Clinton administration.

At the president-elect’s end of the table, Clinton’s face turned red with anger and disbelief. “You mean to tell me that the success of the program and my reelection hinges on the Federal Reserve and a bunch of fucking bond traders?” he responded in a half-whisper.

Nods from his end of the table. Not a dissent.

Clearly, all this has immediate local relevance to the recent and continuing crisis. Any Irish government in the foreseeable future will be forced to operate in such a way that appeases the interests of bond traders, provided that it wishes to obtain credit in order to pay for the health, education and welfare of its citizens. Needless to say, and I say it needlessly, these bond traders and those on whose behalf they act have no particular interest in the health, education and welfare of Irish citizens. But this predicament has been only indirectly apparent in media coverage. When it does appear, it is represented as either a natural fact or a glorious mystery, rather than a question of power structures in human relations.

However much one might talk of bailing out bankers and builders at the expense of ordinary workers, and however true that talk might be in fact, the basic problem -that under current circumstances the direction of capital flight is the primary determinant of government policy, regardless of who is in charge, and that this is antithetical to the thing called democracy which so many people get so enthusiastic about- is obscured and left unaddressed. No doubt that if it were ever broached in a detailed fashion, it would be to the polyphonic voices of lots of people of influence telling the Irish people that they have to take their medicine, that this is the path we have all chosen, that we are all responsible and all have a part to play, that we have to come to terms with the basic realities and so on. But they might wholeheartedly agree to some cosmetic reforms to the parliamentary system, accountability, oversight. This is called knowing what side your bread is buttered.

The People’s Outrage

Sometimes stupid matters just clutter up your thought, preventing you from turning your mind to saner stuff. In my case it’s this Al-Megrahi release. So I am going to write about it for purely therapeutic reasons, or in colloquial language, to get it off my chest.

First, Al-Megrahi probably didn’t do it, so he should probably be released anyway. Second, even if he did do it, whatever that ‘it’ was, he would not have been acting in a personal capacity but on instructions of the state of Libya. Therefore the people who bear most responsibility for blowing up the plane are those people who told him to do it. In this case, that would be the blood-stained terrorist criminal below. On the right.

BlairGadaffi_450x358

At the time of the Muhammad cartoons debacle, As’ad Abukhalil observed that many of the demonstrations in the Arab and Muslim world had been instigated by Arab and Muslim governments for their own interests, among which I would imagine the project of conjuring the image of a set of destructive Western bogeymen out to destroy the people’s way of life, while simultaneously consolidating their own power and distracting from their own failings. Nothing like that could ever happen in the enlightened advanced democratic West, of course.

People in the west are encouraged to think of their own inflamed passions as an autonomous production, but a significant number of people, egged on by self-serving politicians, are easily led into cheap moralising and chest-puffing nationalism, sufficient enough to lend the impression on airwaves and in print that this truly is The People’s Outrage.

At the same time, there’s never a shortage of opportunists who make themselves available to speak on behalf of victims and to accord them a special authority and role in deciding how justice should be done. In this case, the apparent concern for the suffering of others is sustained by an equal concern that the punishment inflicted on dying men should contain some degree of excess. But these and more profound considerations are happily dispelled by the arrival of a steady supply of half-wits who only want to talk about boycotting whiskey, twitter hashtags and other sacrifices.

It barely needs to be said that official declarations of the US on this matter are to be treated with the utmost contempt. Even if hypocrisy is a fact of life in the functioning of states, the idea that the US, having blown up a passenger plane resulting in the deaths of 290 and subsequently refused to either accept responsibility or apologise, and having allowed a man convicted of blowing up an airliner killing 73 to ‘swan from table to table in the candlelit banquet hall, bestowing kisses and collecting accolades‘, is in a position to talk down to Scotland on the morality of its legal process, is so darkly risible that one can barely come to terms with it.

But there it is.

Excitement

I like Todd Snider’s The Excitement Plan very much.

Standout lyric:

You know the number one symptom of heart disease?
The number one symptom of heart disease is sudden death.
It’s like time stands still forever until it starts shaking around on ya
Shaking around like some crazy old hooker on meth

The rest of the album is just as good.

Little Towns

This is probably my favourite Paul Simon song. It was recorded with Art Garfunkel for the latter’s Breakaway album, and was apparently intended as an antidote to Garfunkel’s gentle whimsy. It jars with the rest of the tracks on that album, which is mostly cheaply potent sentimentality, exemplified by Garfunkel’s gloopy cover of Bruce Johnston’s Beach Boys song Disney Girls, which itself is a sort of depoliticising riposte to the music produced by the social unrest of the late 1960s. It originally appeared on the over-rated Beach Boys Surf’s Up.

I’m guessing Johnston’s song more or less consciously borrows the idea of returning to more innocent times from Carole King’s Goin’ Back, which I think was first covered by Dusty Springfield back in 1966, where the singer professes a preference for seeing the world ‘the way it used to be’. But whereas King’s lyrics are primarily concerned with a way of seeing the world through the eyes of a child so as to confront a world full of lies, Johnston constructs a realm of fantasy and escape in a a ‘turned back world/with a local girl/in a smaller town’, through a litany of homely turns of phrase.

By contrast, Simon’s lyrics are caustic and mordant, rejecting the romantic but fundamentally reactionary image of the little town as a source of innocence and goodness in implicit contradistinction to the nightmare of the metropolis. On the contrary, the town is a stupid, dull place in which God is a watchful figure of authority, leaning on the singer as he pledges ‘allegiance to the wall’. The basis for the little town’s existence, the factories, seem to produce the ‘dirty breeze’ in which his mother hangs out her family’s shirts, which is the only detail about his mother the singer feels it relevant to mention. Such is the monochrome existence that all the colours of the rainbow are black, but, in flight from reality and in resort to cheap positivity we imagine pervades the place, that’s because they lack imagination.

If the last verse

In my little town
I never meant nothin
I was just my fathers son
Saving my money
Dreaming of glory
Twitching like a finger
On the trigger of a gun
Leaving nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town

had been written recently by a nobody on youtube, it would have a SWAT team sent round to the author’s house.

‘Intellectual Cowardice’

Some decent comments by Michael D Higgins in his piece in today’s Irish Times.

Economic debate has not included idea of citizenship – The Irish Times – Sat, Aug 22, 2009

The word “crisis” and the pronoun “we” are thrown around as pieces of language in the manner of snuff at a 19th-century wake. One article after another, whether one begins with the shortfall in the Government’s estimates of receipts necessary to meet current expenditure, the non-availability of liquidity to keep firms in the real economy in business, the excessive rate being paid by the Irish Government for international borrowings as a result of the immense damage of a reputational kind visited in Ireland as a result of a small clique of speculative gamblers who called themselves bankers, the assumption is the same – we have moved into a crisis and we, the Irish public, must regard ourselves as some form of collective “we”, one that is responsible for what has come to pass.

and

Evasive terms like “the politicians” or “the political class” are as evasive as they are safe for those who use them, but in reality constitute a form of intellectual cowardice.

Do The Hustle, Irish Times Style

It hardly takes a Nostradamus, but my prediction yesterday that

the run-up to the vote will be used as an opportunity for the right wing media in this country, otherwise known as ‘the media’, to demonise and denigrate those left wing parties and individuals who will campaign for a No vote. It will be a marvellous opportunity, in the midst of a full-blown economic crisis, now that the far-right opportunists of Libertas have vanished, to place leftists in the same bracket as the aborted baby-fetish fascists in Coir, denounce them as unreasonable antediluvian freaks

got some fairly rapid confirmation today, in the form of Patsy McGarry’s piece in the Irish Times.

Strange bedfellows of the anti-Lisbon campaign – The Irish Times – Fri, Aug 21, 2009

Ah yes, Cóir and Éirígí. Isn’t it a sad day for the Irish language that whenever we now see any new political organisation with an Irish name those same two words, “isolationist and backward”, spontaneously come to mind? Cóir, for instance, give the impression that neither the pope, the Vatican nor the Irish (Roman) bishops are Catholic at all when it comes to the EU. Éirígí, for its part, when not hijacking protests by the Shell to Sea campaign or by Thomas Cook workers, would be identified by many as among supporters of “traitors to the island of Ireland”. That was how Martin McGuinness described the murderers of soldiers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar and PSNI constable Stephen Carroll in Northern Ireland earlier this year.

My bad, I missed the ‘murderers’ bit. In flagrant ignorance of my advisory tweet last week:

Twitter / Hugh Green:

My rules for efficient newspaper column reading. No 1: stop reading as soon as you encounter ‘but hey’.

I persisted, for shame.

Well, well. Of course, it is a little embarrassing that Sinn Féin should find itself sharing this consistently anti-EU stance with members of Éirígí and those other great lovers of Ireland and all things Irish, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and hard-line UK Tories. But hey, politics makes for strange bedfellows.

To appear on the same side of the argument as someone else on something ain’t all that. As Patsy McGarry no doubt would agree, if he were to read this piece by porn magnate Larry Flynt, whose denunciation of the ‘ruling class‘ in America, observing that

So arrogant, so smug were they that, without a moment’s hesitation, they took our money — yours and mine — to pay their executives multimillion-dollar bonuses, something they continue doing to this very day. They have no shame.

bore strange echoes of a similar piece written recently on this side of the Atlantic.

Ruling class average in all but vanity – The Irish Times – Fri, Aug 07, 2009

Their extraordinary vanity would be hilarious were it not so ludicrous, as illustrated through the inflated salaries and outrageous expenses they believe are their due, making us poor suckers the laughing stock of the developed world.

written by Patsy McGarry.

Now I’m not implying that Patsy McGarry spends his spare time reading Barely Legal and Asian Beaver. But hey, journalism makes for strange bedfellows.


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