“I’m in a bit of turmoil at the moment.”
“Yeah… teetering on the edge of full-blown despair, in fact.”
- Hmmm. Nasty place to be teetering. I’ll bet it’s that bloody peak oil again, isn’t it?
“No. Well, not really. It’s more general than that. I’ve been thinking about some of the challenges we face in order to ensure that the future isn’t an extremely unpleasant place for us and our children to live…”
- Sorry, I’ve got to butt in there.
“Why? What did I say?”
- Just that the future might be an unpleasant place to live. The future isn’t a place; it’s a time. And even if you want to get all metaphorical about it, who was it pointed out that we don’t just ‘arrive’ at the future, we ‘build’ it?
“Tim Leary, I think”.
- Well there you go then. Nobody does metaphor like acid-heads.
“Actually, that’s a big part of the problem.”
- What? The ability of LSD to provide a metaphorical perspective to things?
“No! And stop trying to deliberately derail me. It’s the very fact that the future will indeed be a product of modern man. I’m just not sure I trust us to do a good job. In fact, worse than that, I’m starting to think our hands are tied. That the foundations have already been laid, and the job’s a bad one.”
- Jeez, I’m sorry I brought up the building metaphor now.
“Fair enough. To be honest, I usually use the ‘bus heading over the cliff’ image.”
- Ah, but of course. It’s a classic.
“Indeed. Here’s my thing though… I’m starting to get the feeling that when it comes to those big challenges; resource depletion, climate change, biodiversity collapse; that the bus is already in the air. We haven’t hit the ground yet, but attempting to slam on the brakes has become a singularly pointless exercise. May as well convince all the passengers to flap their arms for all the good it’ll do.”
- So what are you saying? We should keep taking those 99cent flights to Las Palmas while we can? Seriously man, if you tell me I’m in that bus waiting to hit the ground, then I’m going to party hard with the few minutes left to me.
“Well, it’s entirely up to you. I’d be lying if I said I honestly believed it’d have a measurable impact should you decide never to fly again. Peak oil is going to stop all that within fifteen years anyway. All of these airport expansions and all that airline investment; it’s the last gasp of a dying industry. And a shocking waste of time, energy and resources given their limited lifespan.”
- So that’s a yes? Let’s all party? I can hardly believe it.
“That’s not what I said and you know it. If we go back to the bus metaphor: We in the industrialised nations all bought our tickets on that bus. And the tickets came with complementary booze and strippers. But we also rounded up most of Africa and large chunks of Asia and stuck them in a badly-ventilated box and tied it to the back of the bus. I guess I just don’t have the stomach for partying when I think about that. But hey, you should enjoy yourself.”
- Miserable bastid.
“I’m in a bit of turmoil at the moment.”
Remember a couple of years back when right-wing Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, ran some controversial cartoons? There was a big kerfuffle about the whole thing… Imams in Denmark demanded that the government censure (and indeed censor) the newspaper; several groups of young men in Iran and elsewhere were filmed burning a variety of Scandanavian flags; and a popular boycott of Danish goods got organised in a few moslem nations.
Back in Europe this reaction was itself greeted with faux-shock. How dare they threaten our right to a free press! Bloody Islamofascists and their talk of a global caliphate! Soon we won’t be able to get a drink and our women will have to wear burqas! Except, of course, nobody was threatening our right to a free press. The Danish government never once entertained the idea of changing the law and punishing the paper. They made a few conciliatory statements for the benefit of the Danish Moslem minority (as you’d hope they would — given it was their job to ensure the situation didn’t escalate and create social unrest), but were abundantly clear on the point that the national press was free to publish cartoons mocking religion and religious figures if they so wished.
And that’s all as it should be. I fully support the right of Jyllands-Posten to publish those cartoons. It’s really important that I make that very clear. Because at the same time, I despise them for putting me in that position. The cartoons were shit. They were unfunny. Yes, even the “All out of virgins” one. It raised a smile only because of the sheer crapness of the company it found itself in. They had no redeeming artistic worth and none of them made a sharp or insightful point. In fact, the only possible reason that Jyllands-Posten had for publishing them was to offend the Danish moslem minority. I just don’t buy the claim that the merit in the cartoons is the iconoclasm involved. Publishing them in an Islamic country, as some editors later did… now that’s iconoclastic and challenges the established system. That’s a whole other statement. But publishing them in Denmark. That’s just belittling a specific minority.
And I hate the idea that I have to defend that in the name of free speech. Give me The Satanic Verses any day. I never finished it by the way — I don’t really get on with Baron Rushdie’s writing, but I accept that there may be merit in it.
As for the Danish boycott and token flag-burning? Let’s face it; it was all a bit half-hearted and clearly destined to fade fast. Despite the behaviour of their gutter press, Denmark just doesn’t have what it takes to inspire the kind of passion and hatred that, say, a Great Satan like the USA does.
Nothing surprising about the story so far… nasty newspaper prints desperately unfunny cartoons clearly aimed at offending and provoking a particular immigrant community (one that’s notoriously touchy and easy to provoke given the current global tension). The minority duly obliges; gets all offended, holds a few meetings, organises some protests and calls for a change in the law. The authorities (as usual) basically ignore the protesters, and except for the occasional scuffle between the police and those they deem to be “the extreme fringe”, it’s all a bunch of people shouting stuff. Nothing surprising, and roughly as far away from a genuine threat to Denmark’s free press as it’s possible to get.
Then however, something weird did happen. With no actual basis in fact, all across Europe columnists began claiming that freedom of the press was under threat. “Them beardy Imams!” they said, “They won’t stop until you can’t get a bacon sandwich east of Reykjavik.” And no matter how patiently you repeated the words; “Get a hold of yourself you twit. That’s not actually going to happen”; supposedly sentient beings were nonetheless using the words “Londonistan” and “Eurabia” without irony.
And then something very very weird happened. All over Europe — hell, all over the world — newspapers and magazines started to reprint the unfunny cartoons. 143 newspapers in 56 countries (according to this article here). The vast majority of whom were apparently making a statement about free speech. Vigorously defending the right of Jyllands-Posten to publish these cartoons. A right, let me reiterate, that was not under any actual threat.
I trust therefore, that some or all of those 143 newspapers in 56 countries will be reprinting the recently banned Spanish royal sex cartoon with all due haste? Here we have a cartoon that actually has been censored. A judge has ruled that it “insulted the royal family” which is against the law in Spain ( “Slandering or defaming the Spanish royal family carries a two-year prison sentence”)… a country, it should be pointed out, that was happy to allow the “Mohammed” cartoons published (they appeared in El Mundo, which has the second largest daily circulation).
Of course, the Spanish royal sex cartoon doesn’t have footage of youths burning flags to raise its profile, so I guess it would be unfair to expect all 143 aforementioned newspapers to pick up on this story. Nonetheless, given that this really is an assault on free speech (the authorities have ordered the seizure of the entire print-run!), whereas previously it was a powerless minority waving some placards, I’d expect quite a few of them to reprint the cartoon in solidarity with El Jueves magazine. Right?
Otherwise it would make their previous action look suspiciously like they were themselves more interested in sticking up two fingers at moslems than in some high-minded ‘freedom of the press’ schtick.
The Progressive Democrats look like a bit of a spent force in Irish politics. As mentioned previously though, the fall of this ultra-capitalist right-wing Party of Business is not a result of people turning their backs on the short-termist unsustainable philosophy they espouse. Rather it’s a result of a shift in the mainstream centre-ground. Fianna FÃ¡il and Fine Gael have both been willing to put short-term economic growth before the long-term good of the country. “Wealth Before Wisdom” would have been a far more accurate slogan than anything either party came up with during the recent election.
And because of this shift to the right, the PDs are simply no longer required. There’s no act of capitalist extremism, no policy that places profit before people, no position of meek subjugation to market forces, that Bertie Ahern isn’t already willing to adopt. Irish politics no longer needs a small ultra-right party when it’s got two large ultra-right parties to choose from.
This is why it doesn’t surprise me to see the PDs fragment and dissolve. When party leader Michael McDowell lost his seat and threw his toys out of his pram (walking away from politics on the very day his party most needed leadership), the writing was on the wall for the Progressive Democrats. Today the writing was no longer just on the wall, it appeared in 20-foot-high neon letters above the few remaining party members. Because today Tom Parlon, party president and favourite to take over the leadership, quit the party and followed McDowell out of public life. Up until a few weeks ago, Parlon had been TD for the Laois-Offaly constituency. More than that, he’d been Minister in charge of the Office of Public Works.
This last fact is of particular interest, as Parlon is quitting politics to take up a very high-paying position as director general of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF). It should be pointed out that there’s absolutely no hard evidence that Parlon is a vile, corrupt scumbag who treated public service as nothing more than a step in his career… a rung on his own ladder towards personal riches. Nor that his close relationship with the CIF might have extended back before the job offer; when he was in charge of a publicly-funded multi-billion euro building programme. So anyone who suggests that rather than acting in the interest of the Irish public while a government minister, Parlon instead took his lead from a particular business organisation which was later to offer him a salary of a quarter-million euro per year, should be aware that — given the lack of hard evidence — such suggestions may well be libellous.
Interestingly, Parlon’s appointment to the CIF demonstrates once again the ridiculously compromised nature of the Irish Green Party. I would bet everything I own that — had the Greens not been members of the same government as the PDs — they would have been the first to publicly condemn this doubtlessly-perfectly-above-board-despite-appearing-corrupt-as-hell move. Instead that’s left to the Labour Party who describe Parlon’s decision as representing a “serious potential conflict of interest”. The Greens merely issued a rather tame statement calling for a Code of Conduct in political life. The Green statement is careful not to mention their political ally specifically of course and suggests “a buffer period of twelve months, during which time politicians could not take up private sector employment relating to their previous area of responsibility”.
Such a code would be a great idea and I’m only surprised it doesn’t already exist. However, while the Greens are getting that together (it’ll be very interesting to see how much influence they actually have in government… will this “call” for a Code of Conduct get acted upon by Fianna FÃ¡il or will it be ignored like every other Green policy?) could I suggest that they also start work on another — perhaps far more important — code of conduct. It could be called “The Contract With The Electorate” or something similar, and it would prevent parties deceptively campaigning on a manifesto which they later abandon wholesale in favour of a ministerial salary and a little bit of power.
Just an idea.
Update (12-07-07): The Labour Party have described Parlon’s move as positively “unethical” (not merely as being “potentially” a conflict of interest). More than that (via The Dossing Times), the Irish branch of Transparency International — the global anti-corruption group — have questioned the decision by the ex-president of the PDs. Although they make it clear that the group does not comment on individual cases, they nonetheless point out that it’s hardly a good idea for ministers to “make decisions with one eye on future employment prospects”.
Crappity crap crap fuckity fuck!
Well, I’m back from my interview at Trinity. Many thanks for the good luck wishes (in the comments to the last post) Zoe and Lucas… plus the others who emailed or texted. In the end, however, I fear I may have squandered all those positive vibes. Of course, it’s very easy to exaggerate one’s screw-ups in retrospect. And just because things didn’t go 100% perfectly doesn’t mean they were a disaster. All the same…
Q. So which philosophers are you currently interested in?
A. Er… [jim draws a complete blank... can't even think of a single philosopher's name, let alone one he's currently interested in]… er… [the seconds tick by. For feck's sake, there's a copy of Paul Feyerabend's Against Method in my bag not three feet from where I'm sitting! Yet can I think of a single name? No, I can't.]… er… Nietzsche?
Or how about…
Q. So describe the basics of Freud’s theory of dreams…
A. Wellll… [once again jim draws a total blank. The words "symbolism" and "displacement" refuse to come to mind, as does the phrase "wish-fulfillment". So instead there's two minutes of incoherent nonsense as I try to describe Freud's theories without recourse to those three terms].
Of course, the moment I stepped out of the interview, my brain kicked in… and as I walked down the flights of stairs and out of the building, I was muttering… Freud saw dreams as being of central importance to psychoanalysis. Initially he viewed dreams as a process of wish-fulfillment undertaken by the unconscious mind. However, because dreams often don’t appear that way, he hypothesized that dreams had both a manifest and a latent content. The manifest content — how the dream is recalled by the dreamer — is often a heavily-disguised or censored version of what the dream is really about. And what the dream is really about is the fulfillment of unsatisfied childhood desires. These desires — often shocking to the conscious mind — are rendered safe by two separate but connected processes; displacement (the association of disturbing emotions with apparently innocuous images) and symbolisation (almost always sexual in nature). Later in his life, however, after working with World War One veterans who had suffered from shellshock (what we’d now term Post-Traumatic Stress), Freud was forced to modify his theory of dreams. His ideas that dreams — almost invariably — referred back to childhood was incompatible with the clinical data he was gathering from the war veterans (whose recurrent nightmares of the trenches were clearly neither wish-fulfillment nor related to childhood events). This eventually led Freud to hypothesize the existence of ‘The Death Instinct’ or Thanatos.
Now, why the hell couldn’t I have said that in the interview? Why did I end up muttering it to startled passers-by instead? Goddamn it!
And what makes it all worse is the fact that the interview wasn’t exactly intimidating in any sense. The professor (Dr. RS) is very amiable, easy company. Formality was kept to a minimum and the whole experience was more like a chat than a classic interview. Albeit, a chat where one of the participants has inexplicably forgotten half his vocabularly and about 90% of what he’s read in the past 6 months.
Still, all I can do now is wait and hope that I’m recalling things as worse than they were. I’ll find out “within a month”. Fingers crossed and all.
Apparently what the internet really needs is “eight random facts about me”. Eight facts to clog up google and slow down everyone’s search for nude pictures. Yes, it’s another one of those memes. And this time I’ve been tagged from two separate directions. Larry “nice arse” Teabag and Justin “light my fire” Yoghurt, employing a classic pincer manoeuvre, have inflicted this upon you dear reader. Please remember this fact should you want to vent your spleen at anyone. As is traditional on these occasions, one of the eight is made up…
- I was arrested and interrogated by the KGB while in Leningrad during the 1980s.
- I have seen 357 of The Guardian’s One Thousand Essential Films. This means that despite being — statistically speaking — roughly halfway through my life, I’ve only seen a little over a third of “essential films”. That said, I’m not entirely impressed by the thousand chosen. Takeshi Kitano has three films in the thousand which is more than I expected to be honest, but still less than he deserves. And the fact that Violent Cop and Zatoichi, excellent though they are, are on the list instead of Dolls and Hana-bi makes no sense at all. Also, where’s Manhattan and Stardust Memories? Why do Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain and El Topo make the list, but not Santa Sangre? And how the hell can the list find room for a ‘Carry On…’ film but not include Stalker, 2046, Dances With Wolves or Yojimbo?
- I have an interview at Trinity College tomorrow afternoon for a place on an M.Phil course. Eeek!
- I once had to “take the controls” of a helicopter in flight because the pilot wanted to do a line of speed.
- When I was in highschool in Athens, myself and my friends used to play a drinking game called “Zoom, Schwartz, Figliano”. I remain undisputed champion.
- I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
- When I was 17, a friend of mine sent me a bag containing a number of very powerful mexican psychedelic mushrooms. He included a note which read “2 of these should sort you out”. Unfortunately, thanks to his illegible handwriting, it looked very much like “20 of these should sort you out”. Having only had experience with psilocybe semilanceata up until then, the number “20″ didn’t seem all that unrealistic. That’s almost two decades ago now. I’m still hoping to come down some day.
- The first record I bought was the 7” of Ray Parker Junior’s Ghostbusters. The first album I bought was Remain In Light by Talking Heads. The first compact disc was Scoundrel Days by a-ha.
And now apparently I’m supposed to tag a bunch of other bloggers and invite them to join the memery. But that seems willfully cruel. Instead just let me say; if you’re on my blogroll and you want to continue this thing, then consider yourself tagged and have at it.
So we’ve got a new government. Kind of. In truth it looks suspiciously like the old one. Like someone you know who suddenly looks different, and it takes you a few moments to realise they’ve got a new pair of glasses.
Bertie’s still in charge. Fianna Fáil are still the party of power. And the Progressive Democrats are still ruining the health service. Did I say “ruining”? I’m sorry; I meant “running” of course.
So no change there then.
But that’s not the whole story. There’s the new pair of glasses… Bertie invited The Greens to the cabinet table and after a week of negotiations (which seems like a long time to insert the words “and Green Party” into the Fianna Fáil manifesto) they accepted. However, despite having voted Green myself (at the very least implying I wanted them to be part of a governing coalition), I’m fairly worried about this development. My own analysis of the election result is that the electorate essentially voted with its wallet. It voted for the continuation of the economic boom of the past decade (I know, I know, don’t get me started). Fianna Fáil were returned to power because people didn’t want to upset the economic applecart. And what frustrations they did have with the government; they took out on the coalition partners — the PDs — who were given a serious kicking.
If the Greens aren’t careful, they’ll end up as little more than Fianna Fáil’s new scapegoat. And that has the potential not only to discredit them as a political party, but to do serious damage to the wider environmental movement in Ireland. Careful now.
The first word that sprung to mind when the counts started to come in was “unimaginative”. Fianna Fáil’s share of the vote remained almost steady, losing only 4 seats; remarkable for a party that’s held power for the past ten years. Meanwhile the other large centre-right party — Fine Gael — recovered from its disastrous showing last time and gained 20 seats. A significant comeback that not only secures Enda Kenny as party leader for the foreseeable future, but also demolished the smaller parties. Labour, meanwhile, were down one seat against all media predictions which had suggested they’d pick up seats as part of Fine Gael’s Alliance For Change. In the event, their static performance probably means it will be Pat Rabbitte’s last election as party leader. Look for them to change leadership within a year.
In the run up to the election it had been the smaller parties who had been predicted to do well. I believe that this expectation ended up driving support away from them. The people got freaked out by the possibility that they might actually change something… challenge the established system… and they voted safe instead. So the genuinely popular leader of the Irish Socialist Party lost his seat in one of the shocks of the election, leaving the Dáil without any traditional hammer’n'anvil old-style Socialist TDs. This will be to the detriment of Irish political life in my view.
Sinn Féin had been predicted to make serious inroads, to become a real force in Irish politics. Instead they lost one of their five seats. People have been asking whether it was their politics or their history that put the voters off. I don’t think it was either. I just think they suffered, along with every other alternative to the Big Two, in the headlong rush to the centre-right.
The PDs though. That was an odd one. From 8 seats down to 2, and party leader and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell losing his. That was the closest we came this election to a “Portillo moment”… McDowell resigning from public life and buggering off home leaving the PDs leaderless on what was already a dire night for them. Oh how I grinned. Though I suspect my grin wasn’t half as wide as the one on the face of Gerry Adams. His party may not have been doing so well, but he could at least console himself with the knowledge that his bitterest political rival south of the border was doing so much worse.
The trouble is, of course, that just like the original Portillo moment, the demise of the PDs isn’t about The Fall of The Right. Sadly it’s merely the result of someone else successfully occupying that territory. Back in the 80s when the PDs emerged, they were all about pushing Ireland away from thoughts of socialism and towards the beckoning Celtic Tiger. They like to take credit for that, but that’s because they misunderstand the complexities of social and cultural evolution. The PDs were merely a symptom of a global change. Teenage spots, or menopausal hot-flushes. And now that the change has occurred, they’re pretty much cleared up. Sorry, irrelevant.
But, as Mary Harney reminds us, even adults get the occasional pimple once in a while.
Despite the resurgence of Fine Gael, the decimation of the PDs and the loss of four Fianna Fáil seats wasn’t enough to push Bertie’s Team out (thanks in no small part to the underwhelming performance by Labour). He was only six short of an overall majority. The two PDs could be counted on, which left him only needing four. Of the five remaining independents (down from 13), four of them were either ex-Fianna Fáil or known to be broadly in support of the party. So he had his government, and he let everyone know it. He didn’t need another coalition partner, but because it was such a slender majority, he acknowledged that another partner would certainly make the government more stable.
Enter: The Greens
The Green Party had — like Sinn Féin — been expected to gain a bunch of seats. They had 6 seats and conservative predictions saw them picking up at least four more. Some even suggested they could end up with as many as 14 or 15 TDs in the new Dáil. In the end they stayed steady; lost a couple of seats, but picked up a couple elsewhere (it was a Green who pushed McDowell out in Dublin South-East). All the same, despite the (against predictions) poor showing, they had enough seats to turn Bertie’s slender majority into a workable one.
For Fianna Fáil it meant they didn’t have to contemplate getting into bed with Sinn Féin — for Bertie to invite Sinn Féin to form part of the Irish government would be an incredibly controversial, and very risky, move. He’s happy to leave that particular nettle to be grasped by some future leader of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. And talking to The Greens also meant that Fianna Fáil didn’t need to engage with Labour. Pat Rabbitte’s 20 TDs would have demanded far more influence at the cabinet table than the 6 Greens could realistically expect.
And so the negotiations began. A friend of mine insisted that “Shannon will be the sticking point”. By this she meant that the Greens couldn’t possibly be part of a government that allowed the US military to use Shannon airport. Then the newspapers revealed that they’d caved on Shannon. They were prepared to be part of a government that actively supported the US military. My friend was disgusted. “That’s the last time they get my vote. What was the fucking point of their manifesto anyway?” Elsewhere… “Tara will be the sticking point”. In other words, the Greens couldn’t possibly be part of a government that drove a motorway through the Tara Valley. That would be just silly, right?
Well… it turns out the final act of the outgoing Fianna Fáil Environment and Heritage Minister, Dick Roche, was to sign the go-ahead for the M3. I guess at least it lifts the burden of responsibility from the incoming Green Environment and Heritage Minister, John Gormley. He’ll merely have to oversee this “act of cultural and historic vandalism” (Green Party Environment spokesperson, Ciarán Cuffe TD, 31st March 2005) rather than approve it. Just imagine if the Greens are not part of the next government. Just imagine if this turns out to be their one shot at power for a generation. What a legacy, eh?
TV Quiz Show Host, 2019: When The Green Party enjoyed their one period in office during the troubled government of 2007-10, what is acknowledged to have been their primary achievement?
Contestant: Was it supervising the destruction of Ireland’s most important Heritage Site, the Tara Valley, Alan?
TV Quiz Show Host (Alan): Yes it was Joan! And that brings your total up to… a staggering… 14.75 litres of fuel oil!!!
Contestant (Joan): Thankyou.
Also, when the Green Party asked the question (as they did), with respect to the M3, “How much of Ireland’s history is this Government prepared to sacrifice on the altar of economic growth?” I wonder did they imagine they’d be in a position to answer it too?
The party I voted for has been given two seats at the new cabinet table. John Gormley (expected to be the new party leader after Trevor Sargent stepped down post-election in order to keep his promise of not leading them into government with Fianna Fáil) gets Environment and Heritage, while Eamon Ryan was given the Ministry of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. These are clearly key departments from the perspective of implementing more sustainable national policies. So why am I so unhappy?
Well, because I didn’t actually vote for the people. I voted for their damn policies. I voted for a party that pledged to end US military flights in and out of Shannon. I voted for a party that called the routing of the M3 an “act of cultural and historic vandalism”. I voted for a manifesto that pledged to stop that vandalism. Instead we have Greens in government and US military aircraft still fly in and out. And I can’t even say “Well, at least I wouldn’t vote for a party that would allow such a thing.” Wrong! Turns out the people I voted for are happy to allow it — in my name, no less — in return for the chance to influence policy at some unspecified point in the future. And who knows when that point will be? After all, those two ministers are going to have their hands full implementing Bertie’s vision for the next while.
I don’t know… I do hear the arguments… yes Bertie would still have been Taoiseach if the Greens hadn’t jumped on board. Maybe he’d have done a deal with Labour. Maybe he’d have tried to go it alone with the PDs and independents. But by staying out of government, The Greens would not have been preventing Bush refuelling his planes here or stopping the M3 from being built. And that’s a fact. These things would happen with or without Green involvement, and maybe — just maybe — they’ll have a chance to influence things for the better from the inside.
The trouble is, I just don’t believe it. I’d have preferred they stuck to the policies they campaigned on, even if that meant opposing from without rather than influencing from within. Because when all’s said and done, you have to take responsibility for what you do and not what you promised to do. Right now the Greens are helping to govern this country, so every time a CIA plane lands in Shannon it is doing so with Green Party approval… and thanks to representative democracy… with my approval. There’s a line in the TV show Angel… Fred insists “we’re not evil, we’re changing the system from within”. Gunn replies wearily, “y’know, it sounds really naive when you actually say it out loud”.