Mar 2007

Standing outdoors. Then: don't see 300

Having spent almost no time online this week, I kind of binged today. There was a moment this evening… I was fetching some juice from the fridge… when instead of reaching out to grasp the fridge door-handle, my hand moved semi-consciously as though to mouse-click a notional ‘open’ button on the fridge. The cognitive dissonance was unsettling to say the least. So I immediately went for a long walk outdoors.

I stood under a tree at the edge of a field and watched a small group of cows. They were, like myself, standing around doing very little. Unlike myself, they were very occasionally taking mouthfuls of vegetation and slowly chewing them. For my part, I ate a portion of heavily-vinegared chips from the village chip-shop. It turned out to be an excellent antidote to information-overload.

Sound of lazy cows
Taste of grass, and vinegar
Broader horizons

Later, myself and a cousin went to see 300. I feel compelled to say the following; please don’t waste your money. It’s an awful film! It has enough redeeming features — just about — to keep you sitting in the cinema once you’ve paid your money. Though having said that, I’d possibly have walked out if I’d been on my own. At the time I wasn’t to know that my cousin was thinking exactly the same thing.

Redeeming features… it is occasionally very pleasing to the eye. But so is MTV, and I don’t want to pay a tenner to watch two solid hours of that. Hmmmm… OK, redeeming feature then.

Because beyond that, it’s a bunch of unlikeable and interchangeable half-naked body-builders shouting “We’re Fucking Hard, We Are!” Occasionally the King of Sparta gives a speech to his men in a style that veers oddly between Genghis Khan and the President of America as played by Harrison Ford.

With some judicious editing, 300 would make a fantastic six minute video for a Rammstein track.

UPDATE: Via Ken MacLeod, check out this review of 300.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Poetry, Reviews » Film reviews

Mar 2007

Photolog: The Dublin Famine Memorial

I’ve not been online very much this week thanks to a combination of being out quite a lot, and my broadband connection acting a bit weird. That was as far as the tech support chappie managed to narrow things down… “you’re right,” he told me, “it does seem to be acting a bit weird”. Several ridiculously over-complicated router reconfigurations later, it seems to have stopped acting weird. Though neither the tech support chappie nor myself have any idea why. Half of me finds that infuriating. The other half finds it reassuringly arbitrary… a gentle reminder of the limits to our control.

The Famine Memorial

I took some photographs of the Famine Memorial (Rowan Gillespie – sculptor) when I was in town earlier in the week. I also tried to get some interesting ones of the Phil Lynott statue, but it was exactly the wrong time of day for that particular street and the light was completely crap. I’ll try again on a brighter day when it’s not all gloomy shades of grey. The photos of the Famine Memorial, though, have finally given me a reason to set up a Flickr account. And hopefully they’ll turn out to be the inaugural set in a continuing project of photographing some of Dublin’s more interesting landmarks.

Suggestions are more than welcome… natural landmarks, historical or cultural sites, whatever really… if there’s a place in Dublin that you’d like to see amateurishly rendered in pixels, then let me know what it is and I’ll do my best. Dublin is a compact city (leastways what has historically been “the city” is pretty compact… the recent suburban sprawl is a rather different story) and it’s a very old city. So you can hardly walk more than a few hundred metres in any direction without stumbling across something historically significant (even if it’s only the memorial to something ripped down in the name of urban regeneration).

Despite being surrounded by the shiny glass boxes of Dublin’s new financial centre, the Famine Memorial succeeds in being genuinely moving and — to a degree — quite haunting. Though the location… certainly during the daytime… makes it difficult for the atmosphere of the place to properly get under your skin. Transporting yourself back in your mind to the 1840s is hampered somewhat by the office blocks, traffic lights and passing cars. Nonetheless, while I was there, a group of about forty over-excited Spanish students came giggling along the quays. As they reached the statues, the sound of forty digital cameras with their exaggerated ‘snapping’ sound-effects could just be heard beneath the shouted conversation and laughter. By the end of two or three minutes photographing the memorial, though, the only sounds that could be heard were the cameras and the passing traffic. It’s a serious place that has a very real impact on the visitor.

I managed to get seven half-decent images from the large number I took… The Famine Memorial set. You can view the location on this map should you wish to visit the memorial yourself.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Media » Photos

Mar 2007

The language of the internet

Forgive this trivial rant, but I really hate the use of the word “forums” as the plural of forum. I mean, come on folks, “fora” is a great word! Yet you get weird looks for using it, as though celebrating the richness, beauty and plain weirdness of language was something to look down upon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not someone who strives to preserve anachronism for its own sake, but replacing something pleasing and a little unusual with something dull and familiar seems to me an entirely legitimate thing to oppose (leastways during the replacement process… afterwards what’s the point? You just get the weird looks). There are those, of course, who defend the word “forums” for those very reasons… it’s familiar, it’s easy, it’s uncomplicated, they say.

Bah! May as well be O’Brien extolling the virtues of Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

And the principles of Newspeak are one hundred percent applicable in the forums / fora case. By stripping ‘fora’ from our language, we have narrowed, very slightly, the paths tread by our consciousness. Whenever I heard or used the word “fora” it sparked several instantaneous thought-images every single time. The only word like it that we hear from time to time is “flora”. Which, to me anyway, calls to mind the phrase ‘flora and fauna’. On top of that, the slight oddness of the word forces my mind to consider it as a word. I’m immediately thinking about language itself and its lovely quirks. I’m also transported momentarily to Christian Brothers Latin classes and then further back to ancient Rome.

This all happens in an instant of course, and passes as I hear or use the next words. But for that instant there’s a myriad possibilities to be explored and considered. That doesn’t happen when I read or use the word “forums”. I don’t think of flowers, or of the magnificence of language, or of ancient Rome. All of which – of course – is explained at the end of Orwell’s novel…

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted for once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words […] Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.

George Orwell – The Principles of Newspeak

All the same, exposure to the internet has dulled my objection to “forums”. Indeed, now I find myself using it. Occasionally with a slight sense of regret… and the regret will itself call to mind an echo of those pleasing thought-images. But usually just as a matter of routine. Those moments of regret will become fewer and eventually disappear altogether. Because once a word like “forums” has become the de facto standard, attempting to resist it by using the now anachronistic “fora” just makes you look a bit of a twit.

So this is not a call for a return of “fora”. Instead it’s a warning, lest this tendency to boil the English language down to some homogeneous convenient mulch continue further. Resist it, dear reader.

10 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Mar 2007

Thogger and Way Back

No, not a new buddy-cop movie starring Jim Belushi and Chevy Chase. Instead it’s two blog memes. Well, not quite. Well, kind of. They both arrive from Justin over at Chicken Yoghurt who — despite his protestations — appears to enjoy blog memes as much as any 14-year-old Livejournalist. The fact that I’m running with these memes does not, of course, make any similar comment about me.

Thogger badge
First up, nice chap that he is, Justin has bestowed a ‘thogger‘ upon me. This means — apparently — that I write a “thought-provoking” blog. Which is about as much as any blogger can ask for. I don’t make any such claims about myself (at least not in public), but Justin’s is a consistently excellent political blog that has certainly got me thinking on plenty of occasions. So, given the source, I shall gracefully accept the award. Apparently it now falls upon me to pass on the award, and nominate five blogs that I consider thought-provoking in some way. Chicken Yoghurt’s already got one, so I’ll omit him from my official list.

If you can’t find something to provoke thought via each of those links, then I humbly suggest that you may well be incapable of it in the first place. Perhaps you’d be better off watching TV.

It was four years ago today…

Justin follows up that list with another (originally kicked off over at Bloggerheads). It is — almost unbelievably — the fourth anniversary of the US/UK invasion of Iraq. Actually it’s the fourth anniversary of the eve of war (Jeff Wayne, where are you now?) and Justin was wondering: “what did you post on 20 March, 2003? (Or on as near to the day as possible)… Doesn’t have to be a blog entry; it could easily be in usenet or in a forum.”

Using the Way Back Machine, I discovered that the first entry on my old blog wasn’t until early May 2003, and I can’t seem to get the site to drag up the blog from norlonto.net, where I posted prior to that. But I did discover — on the U-Know! web foruma post discussing the run up to the Iraq war and why I felt that the Peace Movement in the west was wrong-headed in its approach, though right in its aims.

And I still feel the same. My essential point was that rather than expending time and energy protesting against the war, it would be far more effective to focus that same effort on eliminating the demand for those resources over which wars are fought. I know there are many who believe that the Iraq war was about WMD or humanitarian intervention to bring about regime-change. I believe it was about oil. And it seems clear to me that reducing our demand for oil would consequently reduce the likelihood of us invading oil-rich nations. This would have a greater practical effect than demanding our politicians stop supplying us with the oil we also demand.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s a vivid image and worth repeating… I recall attending the big anti-war demonstration in London during the run up to the invasion. From hundreds of coaches at Hyde Park, I saw many thousands of protesters disembark carrying “No Blood For Oil” banners. As the samba band struggled to be heard over the idling of so many diesel engines I realised that there was a very serious disconnect at work. People clearly believed — as did I — that the war was about oil. Yet they didn’t seem to grasp the fact that Tony Blair and Dubya Bush weren’t going to personally burn all that oil themselves… that our representatives were responding very directly to the demands of their oil-consuming constituents.

Around the same time, myself and Merrick co-wrote an article to express this.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Mar 2007

Food miles. More complicated than you may think.

For me, food miles have become the single biggest factor when I do my weekly shop. They over-ride pretty much all other considerations these days. “Nothing from outside Europe” is the basic rule… broken only very rarely for certain tropical fruit. Usually in a fit of “Goddamn it! Mango is my favourite food! We’re all going to die someday and I’m denying myself my favourite food! It’s right there in front of me, for a price I can afford. I’m surrounded by people buying apples flown in from Chile despite the fact that they’re on a shelf next to some Irish ones and I’m denying myself a single mango. I’m a frakking hair-shirted weirdo! That’s it! I’m buying one!”

And yes, I do use that many exclamation marks when I’m thinking about it.

But by and large I spend time making sure that everything I buy is sourced from as close to me as is possible. I vividly recall standing in the supermarket one afternoon and pointing out to the woman next to me that she was buying Chilean apples rather than Irish ones. I’ll never forget the look of contempt I got… “I’ll buy what I want!” she insisted in brittle tones. There’s a part of me convinced that she now goes out of her way to buy food from the furthest flung corners of the earth just to spite me. She had that kind of look in her eyes and a terrible hiss in her voice.

It’s a little disheartening to say the least; the thought that my watchful attitude towards food miles is now merely balancing out the damage done by saying, “Excuse me, but did you realise that by choosing the Irish apples you’d be doing your part to combat Climate Change?” in as friendly a voice as serious ol’ me is capable.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as “Buy homegrown. Save the planet. Everyone lives happily ever after.” Because nothing’s ever that simple. Well, almost nothing. In fact it’s questionable as to whether it’s even possible any more. Can Europe grow enough food to support its population? According to the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), for example, it most certainly can’t. They claim that Western Europe’s arable land is only capable of carrying approximately a third of our current population at “present lifestyle”. This number increases to two thirds if we reduce our levels of consumption to what OPT describes as a “modest lifestyle”.

You can download the Excel Spreadsheet containing detailed global numbers, but for a brief flavour of OPT’s calculations; with zero food imports, the UK has a ‘present lifestyle’ carrying capacity of less than one third its current population. Belgium and Luxembourg; one tenth. France; a half. Germany; a quarter. Holland; one eighth. And so on.

The only Western European nations that come even close to being able to support their own populations at current levels of consumption are Finland, Ireland and Sweden. If you reduce consumption to modest levels, you can add Norway and Denmark to that list. The implications are clear… unless Europe reduces its population significantly, it will need to continue to import large amounts of food from Africa and elsewhere just to prevent starvation (note: this is even if we restrict our consumption to sensible / modest levels).

And that’s not the end of the story either. Hypothetically, what if Western Europe was suddenly capable of supporting the current population? Would we find ourselves in the “Buy homegrown. Save the planet. Everyone lives happily ever after.” situation? Sadly not. As this post over at worldchanging (via Gyrus) makes clear, Western Europe’s voracious appetite has led to a large number of poorer nations retooling their entire economy to function as an extension of European arable land. Huge areas of Kenya, for instance, are devoted to growing salad vegetables for European tables. If that market disappears, it will result in significant problems for Kenyan farmers.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that’s a good enough reason for us to be flying mange-tout and sugar-snap peas up from the equator. Frankly when you realise that amongst the nations bordering Kenya are three (Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia) which suffer regular devastating famines, the fact that Kenya is growing baby corn for our salads instead of regular corn to prevent local starvation becomes rather sinister. We all know the old cliché that famine is not a result of food shortages, but is instead a consequence of inequitable distribution and political corruption. Nonetheless, how many of us are aware of our own culpability in this inequity when we buy Kenyan vegetables?

God bless the market, eh? We in Europe can currently pay more to a Kenyan farmer to airlift fresh salad on to our table than an Ethiopian can pay the same farmer — his or her neighbour — to put staple food items on to theirs. As Tim Worstall (blogging economist) so eloquently put it, “Making money from customers is what businesses do, it is the very reason for their existence.” Market capitalism ensures that agriculture is a business like any other. It does not exist to feed the hungry, it exists to generate profit. Market economists see this as a good thing.

I don’t, needless to say. But as I’ve already illustrated, there is no easy solution here. Europe simply cannot grow enough food to feed itself. We could reduce our consumption significantly and still not have enough land. That said, I would nonetheless urge Kenyan farmers to restructure their economy, accept the pay cut, and start to feed their neighbours. Our inability to feed ourselves is our problem, and leaving hundreds of thousands of nameless black people to starve half a world away is not an ethical solution to that problem*.

For now, I shall continue to support Irish farmers 100% (OK, 99.9%… I’ll still buy the occasional mango). And as transportation fuel becomes less abundant, driving the price of imported food ever upwards, it will become easier to do so. But Europe will soon need to face up to this problem of how we feed our massive population. And between peak oil and climate change, it seems unlikely that using Africa and South America as our personal gardens will be an option for very much longer.

* A first, small, step towards an ethical solution, of course, might be to stop dumping so much food into landfills.

11 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Mar 2007

A visit from the dead

Did I say a head-cold? I’ve had nothing of the sort, dear reader. I didn’t have the physical strength to make it to the doctor, so never managed to get diagnosed. Nonetheless, I’m pretty certain I had an as-yet undiscovered variant of Ebola that lasts about a week. Either that or a temporary case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or Double-Malaria. Something really nasty anyways.

Well, perhaps not Ebola. All the same, it was no ordinary cold. In all honesty, the last time I can recall being so physically debilitated was when I was struck down with a fever in Brazil and was unable to make the short crawl to the bathroom without passing out at least twice (and that’s not an exaggeration). At least this week I’ve been able to make that journey without losing consciousness. Though it was a close-run thing on a couple of occasions. The weird thing is that it only lasted a few days… on Thursday I figured “well, this is obviously the difference between a cold and a flu”. But influenza lasts a good deal longer than four days. And a head-cold doesn’t send your temperature into the low hundreds, leaving you with full-on delerium and a tendency to pass out without warning. Also, at the risk of grossing you out, dear sensitive reader, I somehow managed to expel my entire body weight in snot and sweat. Which calls a couple of fundamental laws of physics into question.

Sleep Paralysis

And let’s not forget the sleep paralysis. When I was living in Brazil I took an anti-malaria drug called Lariam (for a giggle, check out the ‘side-effects’ section on its Wikipedia entry). I didn’t contract malaria I’m happy to say. Of course, nor did any of my companions, and they weren’t taking the stuff (presumably because they’d read the side-effects). So I can’t really credit the Lariam for protecting me from illness, though I can credit it for several months of seriously messed up nightmares. The most powerful of which was a terrifying instance of sleep paralysis.

I awoke in the middle of the night because — I felt — someone was shaking me… urging me to wake up. I was lying on my back, eyes open, staring into the darkness. But except for my eyes I couldn’t move any part of my body. It was difficult to breathe, and I became more and more terrified as I struggled vainly to move or to cry out. This was no ordinary fear… it came from a place dark and oceanic… a place of madness… and it was utterly overwhelming. Then, as my eyes slowly adjusted to the near pitch black, I became aware of another presence in the room. A small child — a girl of about seven or eight years old — was standing at the foot of my bed. She radiated an indescribable malevolence.

Time seemed to pass very slowly. And I wasn’t quite ‘right’ for several days.

I’d had a similar experience a couple of years earlier in Mexico. But I’d been consuming a lot of visionary plants during the preceeding few days and had — I believe — shifted my consciousness enough to allow me to better take it in my stride. When I explained it to my guide the following morning, he informed me that I’d had subida del muerto… a visit from the dead… an experience not uncommon to those who’d taken a lot of mescaline in a short period of time.

And then a couple of nights ago, it happened again.

This time I can point the finger of blame at neither mescaline nor lariam. This time it was fever-induced, but was no more pleasant for it. I awoke in the early hours of Saturday morning, again with the feeling that someone had shaken me awake. A faint grey twilight filtered through the curtains, indicating it was sometime around dawn. I was staring straight up at the ceiling, still in the grip of delerium, and that dark ocean of terror began to rise up within me just as it had in Brazil. It felt as though someone was pressing down on my chest but thanks to my position and the way the duvet had bunched up around my neck, my field of vision was restricted to a narrow strip of the ceiling. I was convinced that someone (or something) was there, standing next to my bed, leaning on my chest with their full weight. I urged my body to struggle against this pressure, to convulse in some way, but to no avail. A scene from the film The Serpent And The Rainbow, where a character has been ‘zombified’ and is unable to move during his “post-mortem” examination, leapt to my mind and I tried to scream… now overwhelmed with terror. But still I lay there completely immobile.

Once again, time seemed to pass slowly. Though in truth it may have been only a minute or two before I started to cough (thank heavens I’d been too ill to make it to the pharmacy for some cough medicine) which seemed to confer life to my body. I leapt from the bed, forgetting just how feverish and debilitated I was and promptly passed out. I regained consciousness a split second later as I crashed onto my bedside locker knocking over the almost full, but open, two litre bottle of water.

After a few moments of lying on the floor, I managed to pull myself back onto the bed and open the curtains. And there I sat, soaked and freaked out, staring at the gradually brightening sky while my terror subsided.

I hope, dear gentle reader, that you had a more pleasant St. Patrick’s Day.

I received a few emails regarding my last post, wishing me a happy birthday and responding to my ‘cheeky request’. Although my fever has broken, I’m still far from fully recovered. So while right now I’m off to lie on my bed and moan weakly about how I’m dying of ebola; let me first thankyou for your emails, apologise for the delay in getting back to you, and assure you that I shall reply tomorrow once I’ve regained a little more energy. I’m very grateful.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Mar 2007

A cheeky request

I’m feeling a wee bit crappy. I’ve got a bastid head-cold (how many colds am I going to get this winter? Eh? Usually I get one a year, if that, around October time. I’ve already had two since Christmas. And I’m eating tons of fruit and drinking pure fruit smoothies like they’re going out of fashion. I’ve got vitamins coming out of my ears people! Not literally of course. That would be odd. And probably require medical treatment. But you get the picture). And the cold has arrived just in time for my birthday tomorrow (cash and high quality sensimilia to the usual address). Not that I had anything planned, but it’s still crappy timing.

I mention my birthday only because I just realised that this blog turned one-year-old last week (well, that and wanting the cash and high quality sensimilia). I’ve noticed most bloggers seem to mark the birthday of their blog in some way.

OK, now that’s done, onto that cheeky request…

… as some of you may know, I’m applying for a Masters commencing this autumn. An M.Phil to be exact… it may lead on to a Phd in Psychoanalysis in the future. Aaaaanyways… what with trying my hand in industry for a while, it’s almost a decade and a half since I was last in academia (and that university — UNL — has only gone and got amalgamated into London Metropolitan). I need an academic reference for my M.Phil application, and I suspect the best I’ll get from UNL / LMU is a rather impersonal letter from a lecturer who only half remembers me. Not that I’m unmemorable. Far from it, I hope. But it has been a long time and while I imagine I’ll get a recommendation that says good things about me, I want one that says remarkable things. So while I’ll get hold of the UNL one, I’m hoping to go one better.

And with that in mind, if any of my regular readers is an established academic who — having got a sense of who I am through my blog — is willing to say nice things about me in a letter, then I would be eternally grateful and will say very nice things about you at every opportunity. Even at the most inappropriate times. Also, I’ll buy the drinks if you decide you need to meet me prior to recommending me. My email address is jim ‘at’ numero57 ‘dot’ net.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements

Mar 2007

Looking for a book

Not just any book. A specific one.

See, about fifteen years ago I read a novel. I can’t remember the title or the author and I haven’t got an entirely clear memory of the plot. But I do recall thinking it was very good, and I’d like to track it down again. Any chance, dear reader, that you know which book I’m talking about? Here’s what I do remember.

It is set, partly, in North London (in and around Finsbury Park) where the protagonist spends some of the novel living in one of those hotels that face onto the park. The main character is a man who is the victim of an (apparently) random assault in a supermarket carpark. He is shot in the head by his assailant but miraculously survives only to discover that he has been blinded by the attack. For much of the novel he is troubled by an image he cannot resolve, that of something shiny and red rolling through darkness. It is only later that he realises it was just a tomato, tumbling out of the grocery bag he dropped when shot… the last image he saw, burnt into his memory, before he is blinded. The cover of the edition I read was a blurred image of this.

The plot becomes strange, however, as the protagonist becomes convinced that he is seeing things, despite his blindness and this is further complicated by the fact that he may not actually be completely blind at all.

Any ideas anyone?

2 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements

Mar 2007

A World Without America

I was over at Chicken Yoghurt just now (reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated I’m happy to say) and discovered, via this post, one of the strangest videos ever to grace YouTube… A World Without America. I had to watch it a second time to confirm that the first hadn’t been an acid flashback. It’s so absurd in fact, that I’m at something of a loss as to how to interpret it. As a pro-American statement it fails so miserably as to come across as a badly-executed self-parody. But as a satirical look at political propaganda in general, it commits the cardinal error of being literally unbelievable. We already live in a world where energy companies talk about tackling climate change by increasing fossil fuel use (honestly!). So it takes an especially bad writer to produce satire so over-the-top as to seem silly rather than scathing.

Employing the device of short fictional news reports, the video presents a quick glimpse at an alternative recent history of… wait for it… a world without America. Literally. The world map has an extra ocean where the USA should be. It’s clearly aimed at two audiences. Firstly (though perhaps incidentally) it’s aimed that those of us who would describe ourselves politically as anti-American, and who — by virtue of our opposition to what we see as an aggressive foreign policy carried out by an extremist administration with only tenuous legitimacy — clearly want nothing more than to wipe an entire nation completely off the map, and live in a world where all the little children have polio (seriously… watch the video). Secondly and most importantly, it’s aimed at those who support America’s self-selected role in the modern world but who maybe get a little concerned that all this talk of A Perpetual State of War sounds a wee bit dodgy. It does this by assuring them that if it wasn’t for America (and by implication, America as it presently exists) then we’d all be commies, either living in perpetual fear of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons, or dying of polio.

After the news reports, the video continues by flashing up a list of — what I can only suppose are — America’s greatest achievements. I was bemused to see “The liberation of the Falklands” listed along with “the bra”, “Elvis Presley”, “the motor-car”, “a democratic Nicaragua” (no, really) and “31% of global wealth”.

That last one is perhaps the most revealing of all. It tells you a lot about a person or organistion if they actively celebrate the expropriation of almost a third of global resources by less than 5% of the global population. A World Without America is a video celebrating, amongst other things, greed.

This should surprise nobody however, as A World Without America is produced by 18 Doughty Street… the online propaganda unit of the British Conservative Party. That’s not how they pitch themselves it goes without saying. Indeed, if it wasn’t for some recent intra-blog warfare, the fact that 18 Doughty Street is edited and financed by people with close ties to the Tory Party (including a prospective London mayoral candidate) wouldn’t be common knowledge.

Basically… and at the risk of blogging about blogging, 18 Doughty Street did an exposé on a NuLabor think tank which was using a legal loophole to register itself as a charity and get all manner of interesting tax benefits. Legal, but pretty damn unethical I think you’ll agree. Chalk one up to 18 Doughty Street, right? Well, no. It turns out that the person responsible for the video — a Mr. Iain Dale — was himself involved with a tory think tank. Guess what? Uh-huh… they use the same legal loophole. If all of that seems a bit vague, it’s because this all happened during my recent 2-month break from blogging and I can’t be arsed to go back and read every single post on the issue (there are many).

Anyways, the details are irrelevant. The relevant point here is that 18 Doughty Street is Tory public relations. Luckily for the rest of us, it’s run by a bunch of not-very bright people who seem to know even less about P.R. (no budding Edward Bernays is didactic doughty Dale) than they do about politics. And that’s not (just) me being insulting, it’s by their own admission. Well, the bit about not knowing much about politics. In a recent email, Iain Dale claimed not to know what the word “nihilism” meant. This is despite using the word himself in a prior broadcast. Now, I don’t know about you dear reader, but if you run a serious website under the tagline “Politics For Adults”, I’d like to think you have a rudimentary grasp of political theory. Perhaps I expect too much.

But back to A World Without America. It’s shoddy and it’s insulting and it’s as far from “Politics for Adults” as it is possible to get. I have no doubt that you could find a handful of people who describe themselves as anti-American and who genuinely seek a world without America. The trouble is; those people are lunatics. Serious people who consider themselves anti-American have a view that’s a little more nuanced than that. And if 18 Doughty Street wants to engage in politics for adults, then I suggest they put their money where their mouth is and address the anti-Americanism of rational adults, and not that of the lunatics.

I love America. I adore New York and wish I could visit my American cousins more often. And that’s literal cousins by the way. Like many Irish families, we spread a bit further west than Galway. I lived for a year in Chicago. And as for listing the praiseworthy achievements of Americans… believe me, I could go on for a lot longer than 18 Doughty Street’s strange little list. Though admittedly Elvis would be on mine too.

But in political terms, I describe myself as anti-American. I oppose the self-selected role America plays in the world. If it wants to play global policeman, then I have news for it… everyone in the world has to vote in US elections. Otherwise it’s a global tyrant. You can’t have it both ways. The people of Iraq did not elect George Bush. They had no representation in the political forces that decided to reshape their nation four years ago. That’s textbook totalitarianism.

And I oppose totalitarianism. I’m not claiming that the actions of despots can never have positive consequences (though in the case of Iraq, I would suggest that they have not). But I am suggesting that — excepting in clear cases of self-defence (anyone who tries to claim that the invasion of Iraq was self-defence should not expect a polite response from this writer) — the use of military force should be illegal, and should be considered a crime against humanity. I believe that militarism inevitably leads to despotism. And that to celebrate the role played by America in the modern world is to celebrate despotism and greed. Philosophically speaking, that’s halfway down the road to geniune nihilism, Iain.

It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
– Albert Einstein

Mine too Albert.

Questions to 18 Doughty Street (re: A World Without America)

  1. Why is Stalin still alive six years after his death by natural causes? Do you know something about America’s role in his death that the rest of us don’t? Or are you just really bad at history (and googling)?
  2. You suggest that the world would never have developed a polio vaccine outside America. But you also suggest that the world would be held to ransom by foreign dictators with nuclear weapons. Who developed the nukes if not America? And might they not also have been capable of developing a polio vaccine?
  3. Why would Thatcher be meeting with the Austrian president if Austria was merely a Soviet republic?
  4. Why would Saddam Hussein be in power in 1999 when it’s well-established that his regime was propped up by… wait for it… America, throughout the 1980s? Wouldn’t a world without America be — by default — a world without Saddam Hussein? Do I need to dig out that photo of Rumsfeld getting all chummy with Hussein to illustrate the point?
  5. Finally; wouldn’t a world without America be a world without the world’s largest arms manufacturer and dealer? Wouldn’t that be a safer world? Or does 18 Doughty Street see no connection between guns and people being shot by guns?

23 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Mar 2007


Have you ever been on a five hour coach journey that became a twelve hour perdition due to bad weather? It’s pretty damn ugly let me tell you. Just arriving at a coach station is enough to shake a person’s confidence. The deep alien throb of two dozen large bus engines idling. It’s not the scream of jets, but you can still hear the planet burn. And while I’m far from being a religious man, and I don’t know about heaven or hell, I know for damn certain there’s a purgatory. The Catholics are right on the money about that one. It turns out you see, that the corporeal manifestation of the realm of lost souls forever denied grace… is the Irish public transport system.

And in one fell swoop, the Catholicism thing is explained. How else could that weird little gentleman’s club have held sway over a country for so long? For the answer; just show up at an Irish bus-stop and wait. I’m not saying it’s definitely enough to drive an entire nation to its knees, but it’s worth thinking about.

In truth though, torrential rains and galeforce winds making roads temporarily impassable is hardly a peculiarly Irish phenomenon. And half a day cooped up in a narrow coach seat isn’t noticeably improved by the nationality of the tarmac being slowly traversed. On that, sadly, I speak from bitter experience. A deep grimness cuts right to the soul. There’s a moment… about seven and a half hours into your five hour journey… as you pass what looks suspiciously like the halfway point, when you gradually become aware that you’ve exhausted every one of the limited number of possible positions your body can occupy in the restrictive confines of your seat. You enter a permanent stage of significant discomfort, and god help you if there’s a child within three seats. One with a toothache.

But as I say, coaches get delayed by bad weather all over the world. So it’s not really fair for me to lay this one squarely on the Irish public transport system. Unlike, say, when I want to catch the 75 bus to Stillorgan and find myself — an hour and a half into my wait — seething under my breath about how “I’ve been in third world countries with better public transport”. Which of course then gets me even more pissed off, because I don’t like the unconsciously patronising undertones of the phrase “third world” and I wonder whether my frustration at the bus is actually revealing cultural prejudice on some level. And nothing’s guaranteed to mess up your day more than a brutal dose of “dear god! maybe I’m even more riddled with unconscious prejudices than I thought”. Seriously, by the time I eventually get to Stillorgan I’m ready to emigrate again.

Please. Just take me to a place where the buses work… Is that really so much to ask?

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion