Archive for February, 2010

Cudgel thy brains no more about it, for your dull ass will not mend this place with bleating

I asked myself what I could do for my country, so I posted my idea on Your Country Your Call. Unfortunately it had a typo, which will probably mean it will be disqualified by mean-spirited reviewers.

Here I reproduce it in full, with the typo corrected, so as not to let this idea go gently into the night.

Mandatory Clown Suits For Social Welfare Recipients

A brief scan of the ideas submitted hitherto reveals, somewhat regrettably, downright hostility to social welfare recipients. Yet many people receive social welfare because they need it, and not because they are sloth-riddled ne’er-do-wells.

If we want to get people back to work in this country and create a caring society, we need to remove the stigma attached to social welfare recipients.

At the same time we need to ensure that the burden of looking for a job is as light as possible, so that people do not spend one moment longer on the dole than they need to.

These challenges would be best addressed by supplying each recipient of unemployment benefit with a brightly-coloured clown suit, curly wig and face paint. They would wear this for the entire duration of their time on the dole, and the cost of producing the uniform would be borne by their first dole payment.

The key benefits of this proposal would be as follows:

– Resentment toward welfare recipients would diminish, since everyone loves looking at clowns. This would create a more harmonious society in which true creativity and collaboration can flourish, laying the basis for a lasting prosperity, rather than the stagnant, imagination-free atmosphere from which we are now emerging;

-Benefit recipients would feel positive about themselves, knowing that even as they walk the streets looking for work, they are providing a service to society by cheering up others.

-Local textile enterprises, long dwindling, could receive a lifeline from the extra demand for their products. They would benefit from the additional expertise brought to bear from people who have deep experience of wearing clown suits. Ireland could become a world leader in the design of clown suits. We could get the likes of John Rocha and Louise Kennedy to put their expertise to work in the national interest.

-The process of delivering clown suits, and ensuring that benefit recipients wear them while they are receiving benefits, could be industrialised for export beyond these shores to governments faced with similar unemployment crises, to the benefit of all humanity. This fits in with the government’s ‘Smart Economy’ strategy.

-Tourism would receive a massive boost from people around the world who long to visit such a happy, vibrant place.

In sum, this is a quick-win solution to alleviating the general gloom benighting the country. We could call upon our captains of industry like Michael O’Leary and Bill Cullen and the fellow from the Frontline a couple of weeks back who was offering sales jobs in his call centre to lend their support, taking clowns on placement to work alongside normal people. Worker productivity would be raised through the general happiness radiated by the man or woman, whether in the cabin crew or the car showroom, who greets colleagues with a big smile and the odd squirt of water from a plastic flower.

I expect lots of sniping from cynics, but I shall not be moved in my quest to make this country a better place.

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Penny Apple Airlifts

I watched part of The Frontline last night but turned it off in disgust. Pat Kilroy Kenny was at his best, deftly defending his fellow millionaires from any talk of wealth redistribution. Oleaginous dirtbird Bill Cullen was on, an Irish Norman Tebbit’s father with a mullet, demanding that unemployed young people assume slave labour conditions, and telling those swamped with debt to get out of the country.

A dominant theme of the first part of programme was that all you needed to do in order to resolve your unemployment worries was to pimp yourself for free and lose the attitude. One Smurfit Business school graduate proudly declared that she and her course colleagues had found employment, in a marketing position, and suggested that the recovery might be on the way because marketing is one of the first areas where firms start to increase spending in a recovery. She did not see any contradiction in this observation and the fact that she was working for nothing. The things they teach at Business School.

I didn’t watch the second part of the programme because Cullen makes me physically sick. I was rather hard on the assembled yoof on Twitter last night, but that was mostly from the privileged voices who seemed to think that their rightful place among the ruling elite had been denied them.

Anyway, here is an excellent story on unemployment in the United States from the New York Times. Maybe Bill Cullen can organise a Penny Apple Airlift, showering the unemployed of the US with a copy of his book so that they buck up their ideas.

The New Poor – Despite Signs of Recovery, Long-Term Unemployment Rises – Series – NYTimes.com

Here in Southern California, Jean Eisen has been without work since she lost her job selling beauty salon equipment more than two years ago. In the several months she has endured with neither a paycheck nor an unemployment check, she has relied on local food banks for her groceries.

She has learned to live without the prescription medications she is supposed to take for high blood pressure and cholesterol. She has become effusively religious — an unexpected turn for this onetime standup comic with X-rated material — finding in Christianity her only form of health insurance.

“I pray for healing,” says Ms. Eisen, 57. “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got to go with what you know.”

A New Scarcity of Jobs

Some labor experts say the basic functioning of the American economy has changed in ways that make jobs scarce — particularly for older, less-educated people like Ms. Eisen, who has only a high school diploma.

Large companies are increasingly owned by institutional investors who crave swift profits, a feat often achieved by cutting payroll. The declining influence of unions has made it easier for employers to shift work to part-time and temporary employees. Factory work and even white-collar jobs have moved in recent years to low-cost countries in Asia and Latin America. Automation has helped manufacturing cut 5.6 million jobs since 2000 — the sort of jobs that once provided lower-skilled workers with middle-class paychecks.

“American business is about maximizing shareholder value,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at the research firm Decision Economics. “You basically don’t want workers. You hire less, and you try to find capital equipment to replace them.”

Too Many Terrorists

It seems to me, though I could be reading it wrong, that this liberal Huffington Post writer is as much of a bloodthirsty sack of shit as the people he criticises, only more glib.

Bush Official Criticizes Obama For Killing Too Many Terrorists

Just how unpopular are President Barack Obama’s anti-terrorism policies with his Republican critics? Even when he’s killing terrorists they find flaws.

At a panel on national security policy at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, a prominent lawyer from the Bush administration’s Department of Justice said he was concerned that the higher number of terrorist executions taking place under Obama was compromising U.S. intelligence operations.

“Why have executions increased?” asked Viet Dinh, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and one of the authors of the USA Patriot Act. Citing a recent Washington Post article on the increased targeted killing of terrorists, Dinh complained that “the president and vice president expound this fact as a fact that they are actually successful in war.”

“That doesn’t mean I think they are not illegitimate,” he added. “No, we have every right to kill the other side’s warriors. But at what cost? When we do not have an effective detention policy the only option we have is to kill them before we can detain them. And if we don’t detain them, we don’t know what they know and what they are up to.”

Those crazy Republicans! The glorious hero Obama’s out there generously liquidating Afghans, and they start sniping about whether it’s the right thing for America?

Read this for an insight into all those ‘terrorists’ they’re killing:

Adam Holloway: An end to steely-eyed killing machines – Commentators, Opinion – The Independent

It is almost as if the international community has come to resemble a sort of self-licking lollipop – a multi-trillion-dollar machine that feeds only on itself; an alien confection that works against, not with, the grain of Afghan society. The old Bush-era mantras remain, and steely-eyed killing machines obscure steely realism.

What we call the Taliban are, in fact, hundreds of groups, most of whom are no more than traditional Afghan Muslims, the sons of local farmers. The same was true when I spent time in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but then I travelled with what we called “the resistance”. Now, as then, they are united not by Islam but by the presence of foreign troops on their soil, and a hatred of external governments. Deadly ideological extremists are the smaller but growing part. Approximately 80 per cent of those we call the enemy die within 20 miles of where they live: does that tell you something about who we are really fighting?

Sloth Brings Its Own Rewards

My thanks to each of my six readers, those gluttons for Punishment who nominated this blog for the Irish Blog Awards: in the categories of Best News/Current Affairs Blog, Best Political Blog, Best Personal Blog, Best Humour Blog, and for two posts in Best Blog Post. You guys are nuts, but nice nuts. If last year I had zero chance of winning an award, this year my chances have been multiplied by six.

On blogs, and writing on the internet in general, and the intertwining of the personal and the political, I was thinking the other day about the man who crashed his plane into the IRS building in Texas last week. He referred to his ‘manifesto‘ as a ‘rant’. His writing was then characterised by news media as a rambling screed. It’s certainly unlikely to appear in an Anthology of Great Political Writing edited by someone like Andrew Marr, but it did have a certain cogency and force to it, more than a John Waters opinion piece at least, even if he was a crazy (and murderous) fool for getting on that plane.

I’m pointing this out as a way of highlighting the fact that there are dominant standards applied to (non-fiction) prose, especially prose that relates to politics, which elevate certain forms and styles of writing above others. 

At the top, according to these standards, you might have ‘analysis’ and ‘articles’, further down you might have ‘polemic’, and toward the bottom you have ‘rants’, ‘screeds’, ‘ramblings’, ‘jeremiads’ and so on. Hovering between ‘analysis’ and ‘polemic’ is ‘essay’. This rough structure reflects how power is concentrated: people who have access to institutional power and have been conditioned to produce writing for an institution will produce analysis and essays, established radicals will write polemics, and people with no such access or conditioning will resort to ‘rants’ on the internet.

None of which is to say that analysis and essays should be ignored, all institutions should be razed to the ground and we should all be taking the man writing about the Bilderberg lizard shadow government more seriously than we have been doing hitherto; rather, I am claiming that what gets written, and how it gets written, and how we read it, is largely a matter of power.

Much of what appears as eminently reasonable in books, journals and newspapers may be nothing of the sort, but we acquire a habit of lending it a weight of authority a priori simply because it comes out of an established source, and this shapes our responses to it, even when we try to write in opposition to it.

So let’s say you’ve spent a long time learning to read and write in a certain way: if you ever realise that you have learned it that way not because you wanted to but because that was simply the way you had to do it, a lot of your responses, if you try writing about it, will imitate the style and the attitudes you have learned, even when you’re trying to put yourself at a distance from it. One way would be that you write as if you’re writing a newspaper article or a college essay, but more commonly, as is the case with many blogs, you adopt a sort of self-conscious distancing from conventionally valued forms of writing, openly referring to your ‘rants’ and ‘ramblings’ and so on and so forth, as though you don’t really have anything of interest to say in the shadow of such august opinion.

If I can use an example that doesn’t have much to do with writing per se: consider the story of child abuse in the Catholic Church and what the bishops are doing or not doing. It seems to me that much of the concern for apologies, the resignation of bishops, what the Pope might put in his pastoral letter and so on is about retrieving the image of the ‘good’ Catholic Church from the ‘bad’ one that emerged in recent years. Consider this piece by propagandist Terry Prone about how the images of the bishops kissing the Pope’s ring was bad public relations strategy. Or this Irish Times article about how the event was a textbook study of how not to manage news.

In both cases you can see a clear concern with rehabilitating the ‘good’ Church, even as it continues to do and say outrageous and disgusting things. It is hard to imagine someone writing a piece talking about how the media appearances of one paedophile in particular was a textbook study of how not to manage news, but for an institution in which child abuse is endemic (not forgetting its appalling, neanderthal treatment of women), there are still lots of people concerned with its welfare even as they affect a neutral, objective standpoint. I doubt that this is purely a media phenomenon: I suggest that it is the way in which many people up and down the country see it, through force of habit, even if the media serves to reinforce it.

There’s no quick antidote to these habits, and people who write blogs have them as much as anyone else. I’m thinking here for instance about a concern with rehabilitating the ‘good’ media, a lost golden age in which newspapers and TV news programmes seemed to speak to people’s real interests, as opposed to the wall-to-wall rubbish and propaganda to the fore these days. Out of this comes the idea that existing media institutions can be suitably reformed, with a mogul given the chop here and a headline change there, and that this is more interesting than alternative news media models that serve and address the interests of the people who own and run them, e.g. local communities.

A lot of the time when I write, about media or politics, I find myself taking on the standpoint of the established authority before I set about developing a response. And what comes out in the end is often a sort of deformed tribute, in style and content, to the very thing I’m writing to oppose. Bloggers who write especially about politics tend to do so in their spare time, and are often subject to all manner of practical burdens and constraints that prevents them from developing their responses as resoundingly as they might like. But on top of that you have the force of habit to overcome.

I doubt these habits, which I would describe in general as the veneration of illegitimate authority, are to be overcome by personal will-power of individual bloggers, but by a more collaborative, dialogical writing culture in which people learn from the example of others trying out different things and writing in diverse ways. A writing activity not concerned with developing your own rhetorical righteousness or expert prowess, or with self-conscious ‘rants’ that exalt individual (un)importance, but with inviting and leaving the path open for others to take part in a collective effort, whether by writing things themselves (good) or going out and doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do (much better, especially if the culture frowns upon crashing planes into buildings).

Rat Gnaws Mast Of Sinking Ship

A member of the Green Party (not me, never was and never will be) writes:

Lowest standard once again wins the day – The Irish Times – Thu, Feb 18, 2010

O’Dea has damaged our democratic process in three distinct ways: he has falsely maligned a candidate in an election; he has given false evidence to the High Court upon which it relied; and thirdly, and perhaps most damning of all, he has declared from the Dáil, the very centre of our democracy, that his conduct is perfectly acceptable and that those who would take him to task are hypocrites.

I am saddened both as a lawyer and member of the Green Party, but perhaps mostly as a citizen, that last night the Dáil supported a motion of confidence in Willie O’Dea. There was something pathetic about it all, a mean-spirited loyalty to colleague over country, a reinforcement of the sense of them and us, an overarching and deep feeling that once again the lowest standard wins the day.

Watching O’Dea in the Dáil yesterday was almost surreal, like watching an imperturbable giant rat gnaw its way through the mast of a leaking ship on troubled seas, with most of the crew lighting their own farts, calling for to let the rat get on with it as though it were their only hope.

Why does Fianna Fáil persist in such scandalous conduct, at the height of a massive economic crisis, as public trust in political institutions sinks to new lows? For the same reason that a dog licks its own bollocks: because it can. The only thing Fianna Fáil exists for is the consolidation of power in the hands of a gombeen bourgeoisie, to use Perry Anderson’s attractive term once more. It has no truck with truth, or justice, or democracy, whenever the application of such concepts conflicts with its own ends.

I used to think Fianna Fáil corruption was of secondary importance to the broader matters of class domination and corporate power in Irish society. But it is becoming fairly clear to me, somewhat belatedly, that its bare-faced corruption, with the corrosive disenchantment and apathy that it creates among vast swathes of the population, is in itself a devastatingly effective instrument for maintaining the rule of the gombeen bourgeoisie. It reduces the idea of politics to junk, to a series of farcical set-pieces in which private morality is the order of the day, electoral politics is a sham and democratic participation is kept to an absolute minimum. The role of the Green Party in this is to lend the whole corrupt exercise a patina of moral high-mindedness and disinterestedness: saying, “yes we know they’re corrupt, but we are still working with them for the good of the country”, as though by sheer force of their glowing moral character they could become the agents of Fianna Fáil’s redemption. They are Fianna Fáil’s useful idiots.

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Baulk To Joe

I’ve lost count of the times my neighbours have recommended that I call Joe Duffy to resolve a whole range of problems, ranging from telephone bills to potholes to hospital conditions. One neighbour of mine says, proudly, that every time he calls the council about something, he threatens that if they fail to address the matter he will be straight on to Joe Duffy. It as though Joe Duffy were a public instrument of terror to be brought to bear on the evil forces of state and big business. But he -it- is nothing of the sort. Duffy’s programme perpetuates a sense of the little man or woman getting ground down by these forces, but unable to do anything about it apart from call Joe Duffy, as though it were a matter of petitioning a benevolent prince. Its function is to induce despair, not alleviate it, by presenting the existing state of affairs as a fait accompli, with only Jooooe Duffaaigghhh to turn to.

The Books of Evidence

The Irish Times – Letters

Madam, – There is a solution to the recycling of schoolbooks issue which was raised by Trevor Matthews (February 13th).

I am a parent of three school children and I have set up a free web site called schoolbookexchange.ie. This service allows families to buy, sell, or exchange used college and school books from each other. Thousands of families already use it.

In addition, the “Freeze School Book List” campaign is under way. If we can persuade teachers to freeze last year’s school book lists and re-use them again this year, it will assist considerably towards helping families all over Ireland re-use their school books and thus save money in every community throughout the country. – Yours, etc,

TIM HURLEY,

Rathmiles Avenue,

Killenard,

Co Laois.

All very laudable, but I came through an education system in which parents did not pay directly for school books: the cost was borne through general taxation. This has left me at a disadvantage in understanding why schools cannot procure these books directly, retain them and pass them down from year to year. Do citizens here object to contributing to the education of other people’s children or something?


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