Archive for March, 2010


A journalist turns her attention from defending her favourite billionaire:

Public service reform needed now as we’ve paid for it – The Irish Times – Wed, Mar 31, 2010

Still, whether their motives are base or not, the end of the campaign is good news for those depending on public services and for public sector workers who need saving from themselves. They were starting to compete with bankers in the unpopularity stakes.

The unions insist this is because their members are victims of “an orchestrated campaign” against them. It grates every time I hear the accusation.

Campaigns are by their nature organised, so the tautology is annoying. Worse, if there is a campaign, no one’s invited me to any of the meetings. Conspiring over a power lunch would be great fun, but not a smidgeon of orchestration comes my way. Either they’re taking me for granted, or there is no campaign. I can’t imagine they’d be silly enough to risk the former, so it must be the latter. There is no campaign.

If there is no “orchestrated campaign”, it is for this simple reason: there is no need for one.

The government and the plundering plutocracy it serves are well aware that it can rely on media organs such as the Irish Times to do what is required to ensure that their will be done without need for overt direction. They know that for the most part, the project of destroying organised labour and collective solidarity -with the aid of a burgeoning reserve army of the unemployed- is fervently supported by a critical mass of lackeys in prominent media positions. If there is one positive thing that can be observed about Ireland’s media lapdogs, it is the fact that they that well trained. Why hold power lunches when a Bonio every now and again will do?

Each of them look at public sector workers in possession of that priceless commodity – certainty – and wonder how they have the nerve to complain. No one needs to organise the communal sense of disbelief that rather than protesting, someone with a permanent job doesn’t get down on their knees at night and give thanks for their good fortune and that gold standard pension which will be determined on their pre-cut salary.

So: we shall mobilise the reserve army of the unemployed and bring you to your knees. Did I mention Denis O’Brien is a lovely chap: very much maligned and misunderstood?


The Society of The Spectacle:

55. STRUGGLES BETWEEN FORCES, all of which have been established for the purpose of running the same socioeconomic system, are thus officially passed off as real antagonisms. In actuality these struggles partake of a real unity, and this on the world stage as well as within each nation.

Rescue plan a decisive move to solve crisis, says Lenihan – The Irish Times – Wed, Mar 31, 2010

Mr Lenihan and Mr Cowen both defended the decision in September 2008 to extend the guarantee to all Irish financial institutions, including Anglo Irish Bank. Mr Lenihan also rejected Fine Gael’s argument that Anglo should be wound down, asserting that such a move could expose the exchequer to up to €70 billion in commitments.

And while saying that recapitalisation issues were for the Financial Regulator, he indicated that his view was that the State would not have to take a majority stake in Bank of Ireland.

In response to questions about the bank guarantee, Mr Lenihan said that a guarantee had been the first response of the Swedish authorities when confronted with a similar crisis a decade ago.

He also said that calls to nationalise all the banks were not realistic. “If we were nationalise the system en bloc, we would not have been able to differentiate between the institutions. We would have said that all the banks have the same level of reckless lending when that is clearly not the case. Nama has allowed us to go in and see the exposure.”

Responding to criticism by Fine Gael deputy leader Richard Bruton that Anglo’s burden on the State had surpassed €40 billion, Mr Lenihan said that winding the bank down would cost more. “We heard in the [Dáil] that there are other options for Anglo. I am afraid to say, there are not,” he said.

The Society of The Spectacle:

THIS IS NOT TO SAY that the spectacle’s sham battles between competing versions of alienated power are not also real; they do express the system’s uneven and conflict-ridden development, as well as the relatively contradictory interests of those classes or fractions of classes that recognize the system and strive in this way to carve out a role for themselves in it. Just as the development of the most advanced economies involves clashes between different agendas, so totalitarian economic management by a state bureaucracy and the condition of those countries living under colonialism or semi-colonialism are likewise highly differentiated with respect to modes of production and power. By pointing up these great differences, while appealing to criteria of quite a different order, the spectacle is able to portray them as markers of radically distinct social systems. But from the standpoint of their actual reality as mere sectors, it is clear that the specificity of each is subsumed under a universal system as functions of a single tendency that has taken the planet for its field of operations. That tendency is capitalism.

David McWilliams: Like war in the trenches, NAMA plan is pure folly – Analysis, Opinion –

The alternative is the old fashioned rules of capitalism, which reward success and punish failure.

Blessed Be The Fruit Flies

The other day I was thinking about altar boys and priests. I was one of the former for a while, and it shaped the way I view the latter.

After a month’s holidays, I spent a long August getting up every morning at half six to get on my BMX and go in to serve mass in the local chapel. August is high point in the fruit fly season. On my first day back, when it came to the point in the mass when I’d have to get up and walk six yards to carry the cruets three yards to the priest, I discovered a pair of fruit flies had drunk themselves to death overnight in the wine. It was not the done thing for altar boys to speak to the priest unless they had been spoken to, and for a moment I considered bringing this to the priest’s attention, but then figured I might bring an undignified interruption to the sanctity of the mass, and I was conscious of taking too long, so I brought him the cruets untouched. He didn’t notice the flies, poured the wine into the chalice, and I made my way down to the foot of the altar to get ready to ring the bell for consecration.

My second ring of the bell announced the fact of two drunken fruit flies transubstantiated into the blood of Jesus Christ. I looked up in horror as I saw the priest gulp them down in one.

That night my dream was a scene from a David Cronenburg-Ken Russell collaboration, with Jesus speaking to me from within the body of a fly.

The following morning I raised the matter with the sacristan. I asked him what to do if the wine had flies in it: “Take them out, for God’s sake”. In the following days and weeks, there would be a white gauze placed over the cruets, but this was not always enough to deter the fruit flies, and I found myself regularly lifting these fatally inebriated specimens out between finger and thumb, and then bringing the priest his raw materials.

If I think about it purely in terms of my own experience, all these stories about priests abusing children seem impossible on the surface. Rather than the inappropriate closeness one might be inclined to imagine, it was very rare for the priests to acknowledge the presence of the altar boys at all. We’d be standing in formation, wearing the tunic and surplice on, for a good five minutes before the priests would even arrive in the sacristy, and when they did, changing to their gear in a thrice, we’d be out onto the altar doing the bowing routine after no more than a curt ‘good morning’ at best. For the most part, the attitude of the priests to the altar boys was one of sublime oblivion. When you were out on the altar doing your thing, it was a remarkable event for the priest to whisper a word of thanks.

As far as I can see, the function of altar boys -only boys were allowed, of course- was to lend priests symbolic power for their appearances in front of the congregation. Ten year old boys are a good foot shorter than your average priest, the spectacle served to reinforce the standing of the priest as an imposing, senior pastoral figure. The tasks altar boys had to carry out were perfunctory. Apart from the aforementioned cruet-carrying, the other thing was carrying a paten, holding it under the mouth or hands of people receiving communion, depending on whether they were old school communicants or not. The objective was to prevent the host falling to the floor, in order to spare the tortured and crucified Christ from further indignity. I was 100% successful in meeting this objective, not least because I never saw a single host in freefall, due no doubt to the effective stewardship of the priests.

After the mass was finished, there were no high fives or pep-talks from the priest on how to serve better mass. The altar boys had to go straight through the sacristy to their own changing room, which doubled up as a broom cupboard. There was to be no hanging around outside the sacristy looking for autographs, and no hanging around the broom cupboard either, since the Legion of Mary would be arriving in a matter of minutes for their poker night or whatever.

The dominant attitude of priests and their acolytes in the church toward altar boys was that they were little better than chattels. Their function was little more than the glorification of the church’s socio-symbolic order, with the priests enjoying the beatifying gaze of the congregation as they towered above their little helpers.

So while I might have kept my distance from priests, and they kept their distance from me, I can see how a child who had been approached by a priest for special attention would have been easy prey: priests were powerful public figures, and children were deemed to be their obedient servants. It’s hard to imagine, under those circumstances, any child abused by a priest thinking that their story would be believed over that of a priest. It’s equally hard to imagine that a child’s story would be taken seriously by church authorities. So whether we’re talking about why paedophiles become priests, or why priests become paedophiles, we need to refer to the prevailing authoritarian culture of the church, and the broader treatment of children by the church: not simply the libidinous excesses of particular individuals and how these might be policed.

Which leads me to the matter of Sean Brady and his role in the Brendan Smyth affair. His first declaration on having failed to report Smyth to state authorities was described accurately as the Nuremburg defence: only obeying orders. The subsequent homily on St. Patrick’s Day, full of apologies, was greeted by a round of applause from the assembled congregation. I found it hard to stomach the accounts I read of the latter. With their applause, the congregation was exonerating someone who maintained a role in the perpetuation of child abuse. People do not generally deserve a round of applause for examining their conscience, not least in grievous matters such as these, and it is testimony to the moral perversity of the typical Catholic Church congregation that these people saw fit to clap Brady. It demonstrated how much children really matter in their scheme of things. For these people, the child abuse cases are like troublesome fruit flies in the communion wine: just get rid of them, so we can all get things back to the way they ought to be, with our holy men in charge and our first communion dresses and our confirmations for children at 12 and our gender-segregated schools and our elite schools and then some day someone will strike a gong and it will all be over. But it won’t.

Ye Olde Hip Hop

There are lots of references in hip-hop I don’t get. For instance, when I first heard the line ‘You’re the type of guy that likes to drink Olde English’ I thought he was saying his adversary was fond of cheap cider, which struck me as incongruous: I had no idea that people in America drank the stuff. Turns out that Olde English is a sort of malt liquour.

Anyway, I love this song.

Who’s Been Blacklisting MY Book?

Thomas Frank: Don’t Mess With the Texas Board of Ed –

The state’s board of education, by contrast, feels entitled to enforce its homemade party line with a rigidity that no comp-lit pinko would dare to dream of. Back in January, for instance, it struck the author of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” from a list of people for third-graders to study because it got him confused with the similarly named author of “Ethical Marxism,” a book that, according to board member Pat Hardy, makes “very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system.” And, as we all know, those who criticize capitalism deserve to have no place in public life, especially in this age of affluence and financial probity. (The board later discovered its error and reinstated the “Brown Bear” author.)

I love Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

As did my one-and-a-half year old. But unfortunately he’s nearly two and a half now, and demanding that I sing him songs about Ethical Marxism. I try to point out that this stands in striking contrast to his demands for Goldilocks and The Three Bears (with its private property fetish) and The Little Red Hen (exaltation of the division of labour and the fruits of rugged individualism). Via ladypoverty.

Goin’ Down In A Slab of Glory

Most will be familiar by now with the story of the rich Irish donors who contributed to keeping the Vatican spick and span for the day when Jesus comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. But there is a weird detail in the background to this story. I came across the following, from the Vatican Museums Report Winter 2009.

Now I have no idea whether this is a computer-generated image intended to look like an engraved slab, or whether it’s a photographic image of a real engraved slab. One notes that jetsetter Johnny Ronan is just plain John to the man upstairs.

Halfway round the world before the clowns have got their shoes on

Although it was rejected by the Your Country Your Call mandarins, my proposal for Mandatory Clown Suits for Social Welfare Recipients was picked up down under.

Clown suits for dole bludgers – could it work here? | Article | The Punch

But could it work in Australia?

Trade minister Simon Crean has challenged marketers to come up with a way to capture Australia’s strengths as a place to invest. “The lucky country” doesn’t quite translate across cultures. The country is basically a huge desert with some quarries in it on the end of the Earth, full of things that can kill you. So you can see why people ask precisely what it is Australians consider themselves lucky about.

But “the happy country” would surely translate seamlessly across cultures. It’s so happy, people would say, there are clowns everywhere.

It’s easy to remember, travels well, rings true, is portable and lends itself to great imagery so has the elements of a great marketing slogan. The first day it went into effect it would make television headlines around the world as CNN and others flocked to our cities to film the clowns getting their suits.

Centrelink offices could be decked out with circus regalia, making them much cheerier places to visit.

Hugh Green, the blogger who first proposed the idea on the Your Country, Your Call website set up by the Irish President’s husband, suggested it could be sponsored by captains of industry.

So business leaders like Gerry Harvey could pick up some clowns each morning and have them working on the front line, keeping them trained and connected to the workforce and also entertaining children while the parents go spending money and further stimulating the economy.

That blog post elicited the following response:

What’s all that about? – Pure Poison

Was there a point to the article? Again, the original post seemed a pretty clear dig at the idea of government soliciting policy ideas from the public. In a comment on his post, the author even noted that “I’ve been reading the proposals in more detail this morning and I have to say that it renders my stab at something satirical entirely redundant.” Colgan seems to kick off with a little stab at Tony Abbott’s “thought bubbles”, but after his “clown suits for dole bludgers” proposal he just seems to throw it open to other zany ideas rather than driving home a solid point.

It seems like maybe this was an attempt at end-of-week satire that fell a bit flat, but I do wonder about the undertone of meanness that crept into it. The comments on Colgan’s piece seem to have gone in a lot of different directions – some treating it seriously, whether approving or disapproving of the idea, and others running with new satirical policy ideas. I’d be interested in what others thought of it – was there a point I was missing? Was it satire that missed the mark? Did you find it funnier than I did? And was the digging at those on social welfare a bit much?

I’ve received a few comments and a couple of e-mails none too happy with the proposal, including this one:

I genuinely cannot wait until you lose YOUR job. Seriously, delicious anticipation of your utter humiliation and degradation as you languish pointlessly on the dole, unable to find any meaningful work whatsoever – it’s clear from this article you are ill suited to any form of living within society and once we’ve got your policies in place, you’ll be throw to the dogs. Have fun!

And there seems to be genuine confusion about what the original intention was. So I’d like to clear this up. I posted a response on the Crikey blog, which I reproduce here, with the usual corrections for typos and that.

Thanks for pointing out that the intent of the original post was satirical, a consideration lost on some of those who have contacted me about it. I’d like to emphasise that I originally wrote it in response to the outrageous suggestions that were getting made by some of the contributors to the Your Country Your Call website, which, as is the tendency in recession-era Ireland, had demonised people in receipt of social welfare payments. In so far as I had a point, it was to oppose the idea that individuals can blithely cook up happy-clappy solutions to devastating social problems, which seemed to me the basic principle of the YCYC initiative.

Reading the ‘dole bludgers’ headline to Mr Colgan’s piece, I find it hard to work out whose side he is on in this, but I think it highlights a deeper problem: what originally appears as an attempt as social critique can be taken up and transformed into something a bit more insidious. For instance, I’m sure most people are familiar with the film The Full Monty from the late 1990s, in which you have a group of unemployed Sheffield steelworkers who are forced to perform a striptease in order to regain a sense of self-worth after the humiliation of unemployment. Not a great film, but the message of that film was marketed and reproduced, stripped of any irony, as ‘being on the dole is fun! All you have to do is humiliate yourself!’ So I regret very much if my original proposal might have sparked something along these lines.

I didn’t know anything about The Punch website when I started getting hundreds of hits from it the other day, but having checked this morning after posting on the Crikey site, it looks like it’s owned by News Corporation. And so is Fox Searchlight pictures, which was the distributor of The Full Monty. That figures.

I on Twitter

March 2010