Feb 2011

A knock on the door

This morning as I sat reading the news and shaking my head in dismay at the dozen examples of human folly it presented, someone came to the front door. There’s nothing unusual about that… the postman often rings the bell so he can tell me a corny joke while delivering the mail. And we get a lot of sales people here… often, inexplicably, trying to sell us services we already use. “Sorry to bother you, sir”, they always begin, “but are you an Eircom customer?” Trying to hide my exasperation from the person in the Eircom jacket, I reply “Yes I am, actually”. They then smile, tell me to have a nice day, and move on to the next door. Airtricity do it every couple of months too.

I guarantee it would be more cost effective, in terms of time spent and numbers of households targeted, to issue their sales teams with a simple print-out of addresses of existing customers. It would also put an end to the slow erosion of my goodwill towards my service providers that makes it more likely I’ll listen to rival sales teams when they arrive.

Anyway, this morning when I opened the door I was greeted not by the avuncular postie, nor by a corporate wind-breaker wrapped around a human hard-sell. Instead there were two women with the kind of broad, earnest smiles that serve as a warning that you’re about to have a conversation in which biblical quotations will feature prominently. “We’re sorry to bother you”, said the younger of the two. It was early enough that my brain hadn’t yet kicked fully into gear and I wondered briefly if they learned their script from the corporate sales folk. It was only later I realised it was obviously the other way round. She continued in that measured, reasonable tone that so often masks deep unreason. “I’m sure you have your own beliefs”, she said.

I nodded. “Yes I do”, I said quite emphatically. She thrust a leaflet into my hand. “Well, we’re Jehovah’s witnesses and we thought you might like to take some time to consider what the bible has to say…”

Head in a cage

It’s at this point in any encounter with a religious fundamentalist that the option to engage or disengage presents itself. On another day I might have spent quite a while trying to patiently explain why I felt so troubled by their presence on my doorstep… always knowing that it was water off a duck’s back. But this morning I just wasn’t in the mood. I shook my head and handed back the leaflet. “I’ve read the bible as it happens. And I just don’t accept that your interpretation is more valid than my own. Thank you and goodbye.” Their smiles didn’t change a single iota. They thanked me for my time and walked away.

A little later I glanced out of my upstairs window and saw eight or ten extremely clean and smartly dressed people standing outside, clearly comparing their experiences of my street. Where once they would have genuinely angered me, now my overwhelming emotion was one of sadness. They were trapped in a cage not of their own making. And so are damn near all of us. Theirs is just easier to see than most.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Feb 2011

The contempt in politics

With 154 of the 166 seats filled and only three constituencies still counting, the results are pretty much in at this stage. Based on the the exclusions that have already happened in those three constituencies it now seems certain that Fine Gael will end up with 75 or 76 seats. This means they’ll be at least 7 seats short of an overall majority. Fianna Fáil will likely finish with 19 seats (though have an outside chance of 20), which represents the most dramatic collapse in their support in Irish history. The party of De Valera — the party of the Irish establishment — has been effectively wiped out in Dublin (retaining a single seat in the commuter belt) and beaten into a very distant third place nationally, with Labour returning perhaps twice as many TDs (they’re neck-and-neck with independent candidates in a couple of counts as I write this, but they’ll end up with between 36 and 38). The Greens have been entirely removed from national politics in Ireland. They failed to secure election for a single candidate and my prediction – soon after they joined the last government – that they’d “end up as little more than Fianna Fáil’s new scapegoat” seems to have been reasonably correct. Certainly, Fianna Fáil didn’t escape damage by using them as a scapegoat, but the Greens have clearly suffered a similar fate to the PDs, who were the last party to get savaged by the electorate as a result of joining FF at the top table.

Enda Kenny Poster - Thanks, Suckers

It’s worth making the point that I’m far from happy at what’s happened to the Green Party. On the one hand, the individuals who helped prop up such a disastrous Fianna Fáil administration certainly did not deserve to be returned to the Dáil. On the other hand, the wider environmental movement in Ireland can’t help but be harmed by what’s happened.

With regards to the other parties and groupings, there’s part of me that acknowledges that Sinn Féin and the other genuinely left wing candidates have done well relative to their position prior to the election. But there’s also a (probably bigger) part of me that wonders why they didn’t do even better. Given the current situation Ireland finds itself in, the left should arguably have been able to carve out a much bigger place for itself. Sinn Féin will probably end up with 15 seats, a trebling of their current representation. While at the same time, there will probably be at least 8 or 9 other left TDs in the guise of 2 from The Socialist Party, 2 from the People Before Profit Alliance plus a handful of left wing independents. It’s questionable whether they’d be able to work harmoniously enough with Sinn Féin to form a strong alliance, but if they managed it, they could end up as the the official opposition. Which would be a good thing for the country.

Of course, it’s still not absolutely certain that the next government will be a Fine Gael / Labour coalition. There may be enough independents willing to prop up a minority Fine Gael government to save Enda Kenny from having to give away precious cabinet seats to Labour and ensure he doesn’t have to compromise in any policy areas. On the other hand, Fine Gael may well want the security of a large majority (it would be the largest majority in the history of the state were they to form a coalition). Though given the possibility of economic disaster and the internal strains that might create, Kenny could also be concerned about Labour pulling their support when the going got tough, rather than risk the fate of the Greens. I wouldn’t like to predict how that’ll turn out; and neither a minority Fine Gael government nor a FG/Lab coalition would surprise me.

Such contempt

Now that the campaign is over, however, and before we know the final outcome one way or the other, I’d like to make a couple of observations about the last few weeks. About the way the media dealt with the situation, and the way the political parties dealt with the public. While I’ll be making specific reference to Irish politicians and issues, be very clear that these are general and widespread problems that affect modern politics the world over (or at least, in countries that are ostensibly “democracies”).

From my perspective, one of the most frustrating things about the recent election campaign was the ham-fisted media management engaged in by the political parties. This was far and away most prevalent in the Fine Gael camp where their party leader was wrapped in cotton-wool and effectively insulated from potentially antagonistic interviewers.

The most famous example, of course, was his point-blank refusal to take place in the first leaders debate because it was to be chaired by Vincent Browne. In September of last year Browne suggested that the best thing Kenny could do for Ireland would be to “go into a dark room with a revolver and a bottle of whiskey”. A week later, after an outraged reaction from Fine Gael and suicide victim support groups, Browne issued a comprehensive on-air apology. Five months later, in the midst of arguably the most important election campaign in the history of the nation, Enda Kenny seized on that grudge to avoid being questioned before the Irish public.

It was political cowardice. And it demonstrated a contempt for the Irish electorate that he would compound time and again over the next few weeks. It also suggests that Kenny just doesn’t have what it takes to lead a nation in a time of crisis. If he petulantly refuses to talk to someone for a 5-month old slight that’s been apologised for, will he be on speaking terms with anyone outside his party in a couple of years? Because frankly, he’s going to have much worse said about him in the months to come.

Kenny’s strategy appeared to be “say as little as possible and try to look superior”. Bizarrely, when questioned on his policies in the midst of the campaign, he consistently refused to elaborate and instead referred the interviewer (and by extension, the Irish people) to the Fine Gael website. This became so prevalent that it became a point of satire. Opposition politicians (including the Fianna Fáil leader) would often refer to Fine Gael policy by intoning “double-yew double-yew double-yew dot fine gael dot i e”.

The first thing to point out about Enda Kenny’s strategy is that the most recent statistics suggest that 34.2% of Irish people do not use / have access to the internet. That no interviewer challenged him on this fact is a disgrace (you can be bloody sure that Vincent Browne would have!) They were letting Kenny express open contempt for more than a third of the population without drawing any attention to it. The other point to make is that by allowing Kenny to effectively ignore questions about policy detail, the “friendly” media figures he’d allowed to interview him were actively helping Fine Gael be elected. It’s a travesty and RTÉ should be investigated for such craven complicity.

It’s also worth pointing out that Fine Gael’s website doesn’t actually carry the kind of policy detail that Kenny insisted was there. It just doesn’t. The much-vaunted 5-point-plan wasn’t a plan at all. It was five bloody aspirations. Nothing more. “Get Ireland working again” isn’t a plan! Dear God, do they think we’re fools?

Actually yes. They clearly do. And by awarding Fine Gael almost 50% of the seats in the Dáil, the Irish people appear eager to vindicate that opinion.

It should be noted that the majority of people in the media didn’t hold the other parties to much greater account, but the media strategy of the others didn’t involve quite so much overt evasion. Well, not this time. I suspect during the next election, the others will have learnt a lesson or two from Fine Gael and our national broadcaster will have played a large part in ushering in a glorious new era where politicians cherry-pick their media appearances so that they only ever get interviewed by people prepared to lob softballs in their direction and show them in a positive light. Which wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t leave so many people in the dark.

The ‘No Plan B’ issue

There’s another thing I really want to get off my chest, because it’s frustrated me ever since I started taking notice of politicians. It happens in every election campaign I’ve watched, whether in Ireland, the UK or elsewhere. It’s the point-blank refusal of political candidates to respond to “hypothetical questions”. Sometimes it reaches surreal proportions. A question is asked… “Candidate Joe Bloggs, if your party gets into power will you implement Policy A?” To which the response is… “Well, the election is still some weeks away and it’s up to the people to decide who is in power or not. I’m certainly not going to presume anything at this stage. In fact, I think it would be dreadfully wrong for anyone to be so presumptuous as to assume to know which way the people will vote!” A tenacious interviewer will object… “but Candidate Joe, I asked if you get into power” only to be interrupted… “I can’t answer hypothetical questions”.

Now, obviously that’s an exaggeration, but I suspect everyone reading this recognises the pattern.

In this recent campaign, it was used time and again (by all parties except those on the left, who were very up front indeed on the issue) regarding the IMF/EU “bail out” and the obscenity of the debt transfer. It was a very simple question, and probably the single most important one during this entire campaign. That anyone cast a vote in favour of a party that refused to answer it is utterly scandalous. Yet most of us did. The question goes something like this…

Right now, pretty much everyone accepts that, when combined, the bank debt and sovereign debt will simply bankrupt this country. Nobody sane believes we are capable of bearing such a massive burden. It will crush Ireland. Every party is determined to renegotiate the terms of the deal that saddled us with the bank debt, as well as the levels of interest we must pay on the funds made available to us in the “bail out”. However, if the negotiations do not reduce the burden to a sustainable level, what then? What is Plan B?

The left has a simple response… we default on the bank debt while honouring our sovereign debt and restructuring the economy in such a way as to repay it. At that point, you can argue back and forth about the merits of default, or the details of restructuring. You agree or disagree with the proposal.

But Fianna Fáil, Labour, Fine Gael and even the Greens all refused to answer the question. “The negotiations have not happened yet”, they tell us. “The stress tests on the banking system won’t be complete until the end of March”, they tell us. “it would be wrong to presume the outcome of the negotiations / stress tests”, they insist.

I wanted an interviewer — just one of them! — to bellow into their complacent faces “No it damn well wouldn’t be wrong! In fact, it’s your job to presume! We want a government that already has answers to the obvious hypothetical situations, not one just making it up as they go along. Any fricking idiot can do that! Is that what you are? A fricking idiot!!?”

In fact, I’d want the interviewer to use even more exclamation points and italics than that.

How are these fools and charlatans allowed to get away with either not having plans for critical potential situations, or else not telling the electorate what those plans are, so that we can vote in an informed manner? It’s not democracy if the agenda is hidden.

UPDATE: The Jim Bliss 5-Point Plan for Recovery

  1. Free jet-packs for everyone
  2. Top grades for every child in school
  3. A cure for cancer
  4. The winning lottery numbers mailed to every home the day before the draw
  5. Get Ireland Working!

Vote Jim Bliss in 2014. I guarantee nobody has a better 5-point plan.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Feb 2011

On This Deity: 26th February 1994

Head on over to On This Deity for my latest piece.

26th February 1994: The Death of Bill Hicks.

To those of us who got him, Hicks was far more than just a stand-up comedian. He was an inspirational figure; a voice of truth and sanity in an increasingly false and insane world. He spoke truth to power like almost nobody else of our generation. Militant yet deeply compassionate, when Bill Hicks took to the stage he transcended the safe and empty art form that comedy had descended to by the late 80s and early 90s.

read the rest…

1 comment  |  Posted in: Announcements, Media » Video

Feb 2011

Something for the (election) weekend

In honour of the most important election in recent Irish history…

… stealing all our dreams…

Found out this morning
There’s a circus coming to town
They drive in Cadillacs
Using walkie-talkies, and the Secret Service

Their big top: Imitation of life
And all the flags and microphones
They have to cover our eyes

We play the sideshows
And we like the tunnel of love
And when we ride the ferris wheel
We’re little children again

And when they’re asking for volunteers
We’ll be the first ones aboard
And when the ringmaster calls our names
We’ll be the first ones to go… to sleep

Stealing all our dreams
Dreams for sale
They sell ’em back to you

On with the show
Start the parade
We sang along
Sweep us away

It’s political party time
Going down, going down
And the celebrities all come out
Coming down, coming down, coming…

The sun is going down
And the dogs are starting to howl
We stay out after dark
Eating cotton candy
And the music’s playing…

How we all laughed!
We split our sides
The cameras flashed
We almost died!

The rain’s gonna pour on down, falling out of the sky
Coming down, coming down
And the celebrities all run out, and the rain’s
Coming down, coming down

Gonna rain,
Gonna rain, gonna rain
Gonna rain, gonna rain,
Rain, rain
Rain, rain

And now I wonder who’s boss
And who he’s leavin’ behind?

Talking Heads: The Democratic Circus

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Feb 2011

Election 2011: Because real change is too much to expect

Tomorrow, the country goes to the polls. Finally! The election campaign feels like it’s been going on for about a year, which would have been draining even if the candidates had anything interesting or illuminating to say. But of course, they didn’t. They spent their time filling the airwaves with words aimed at obscuring their policies and the issues facing the country. The three main party leaders argued with apparent passion about policy differences so slight as to be essentially insignificant. And they joined forces to pour scorn on any alternative to their crony-capitalism whenever it raised its head. It speaks volumes that given a straight choice between the current government (who facilitated the capitalist smash-and-grab that has been perpetrated upon Ireland) and their likely successor, led by Enda Kenny — a man who whenever he’s questioned on policy in public tells the people to log onto their website (you can almost see the contempt dripping from his lips) — I’d probably leave the old lot in power.

Seriously. That’s how bad the situation is.

But of course, that’s not the choice facing the country. If opinion polls are to be believed (and they’ve all been remarkably consistent), Fianna Fáil will experience complete electoral meltdown. Remarkably, they are not running enough candidates to gain an overall majority even if every single one of them were elected. That’s pretty mind-boggling. Imagine a UK general election where the Labour party only fielded 290 candidates. Or a US congressional election where the Democrats fielded 194. It’s less an admission of defeat as it is an active refusal to be in power. De Valera must be turning in his grave. Though of course, Fianna Fáil exorcised the spirit of De Valera from their party the moment they placed the interests of private financial institutions above the interests of Irish citizens. Whatever his faults (and he had many) Dev would never have done that. In fact, he’d probably have had any finance minister who proposed such a move tried for treason.

In fairness to Fine Gael, they’ve always had more of a pro-capitalist outlook than Fianna Fáil, even before the Celtic Tiger got its claws into Bertie. Which makes it all the more remarkable that the Irish people seem to be turning to them to get us out of a crisis caused by the failure of international capitalism. Ultimately the story of this election will be the astonishing failure of the left wing parties to take advantage of this failure. A member of the United Left Alliance interviewed on Vincent Browne’s show last night appeared proud to predict his alliance would gain between 4 and 8 seats. Browne was incredulous. As, quite frankly, am I. When the vice-like grip of international capital begins choking the life out of a country, why aren’t the socialist left confidently predicting 40 to 80 seats!? How have they failed to capitalise (pun intended) on this situation? Even Sinn Féin, a left wing party hampered by the fact that half the country will never vote for them for historical reasons, appear likely to do better than the ULA.

The argument is that the Irish population is inherently conservative. That despite claiming they want change, they’re actually too scared of it to do anything other than prop up the existing establishment. It’s depressing, and frankly, if they elect a Fine Gael majority government, they are essentially stating — unambiguously — that they are happy with the way the country was governed during the past few years. It’s just bizarre. I have heard people say that they wouldn’t want to take a risk with the left… that the left might bankrupt the country. As though a nation of less than 5 million people can take on a hundred billion euro of private gambling debt and not already be bankrupt. It’s an insane perspective, but one that seems prevalent.

We can only hope that the opinion polls are wrong. That Fine Gael get nowhere near an overall majority and are consequently forced to water down their savage policies to appease a coalition partner. That the left parties gain far more seats than they expect. That whoever is in government realises that forcing the Irish people to pay off debts they didn’t run up is both morally wrong and logistically impossible. That come Saturday night, we have a government that will place the interests of the Irish people above the interests of financial institutions… a government for whom the phrase “we must all share the burden” doesn’t automatically have an unspoken “except the very wealthy” tagged on the end.

Anyway, it’ll all be over soon. The election’s tomorrow. The count’s on Saturday. If Fine Gael get an overall majority, we’ll know the outcome by Saturday night. If they need a coalition partner, it’ll be the middle of next week. After that, I’ll ease off on the rants about Irish politics and return to rants about sustainability and the occasional music review. I suspect my regular readers will be happy about that.

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Feb 2011

Dear internet, who should I vote for?

In these digital days, no election would be complete without an online application advising us how to vote. Just such an application has been launched over at Votomatic.ie. By posing a relatively small number of policy questions, the application compares your responses to the policies of the main parties and tells you which party comes closest to your views.


To be honest, it’s got a couple of serious flaws which mean voters should beware of taking the final answer too seriously. For a start, the Socialist Party / United Left Alliance is not represented in the outcome. Sinn Féin occupies the position furthest to the left, and because there are large numbers of people who will never vote Sinn Féin for non-policy reasons, the failure to include the socialist left in the outcome will result in those people getting Labour in second-place, despite them having very little socialism left in their veins.

The other major flaw — and it’s one shared by all of these “who should I vote for?” applications — is the limited number of questions asked. And this is further compounded (albeit unsurprisingly) by the high proportion of those few questions that deal with the debt crisis. Yes, it’s by far the biggest issue facing the country today, but given that four of the five parties listed in this survey have damn-near identical policies on the issue, it’s difficult to see why such a high number of questions should be devoted to it. The survey seems intent upon finding that tiny sliver of difference between the main party policies and trying to locate the respondent on one side or the other. Which is a total waste of time… if you think Ireland should renegotiate the disastrous IMF/EU deal with the “default option” firmly on the table… indeed with that as our starting position, then congratulations on your sanity… vote Sinn Féin / Socialist. On the other hand, if you think Ireland should enter those negotiations with the view that the stability of the European financial system is more important than the morality of this obscene debt transfer… then it makes sod all difference which of the other parties you vote for.

None of the mainstream parties (and sadly I include the Greens in this) seem willing to make it clear that the transfer of private gambling losses incurred by large financial institutions, both Irish and non-Irish (for that is what the bank debts are) is wrong. Therefore, we simply won’t be doing it. What we will do, is work with our European partners to ensure that the systemic instability produced by this crisis is minimised. We’ll do everything in our power to achieve this, but we draw a line at lumbering future generations with a massive debt generated by the reckless speculation of private capitalists.

Anyway, having taken the survey and bearing in mind the exclusion of the socialists, my outcome was unsurprising… You are a hardcore Sinn Féin supporter.

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Feb 2011

Two economics degrees?

Tonight with Vincent Browne has produced some great moments over the past few weeks. One of which came a couple of nights ago when Vincent had a group of non-aligned candidates on the show to discuss the potential role that Independent TDs might play in the next Dáil. One of these candidates was Nick Crawford, standing in the Dun Laoghaire constituency.

When Browne asked Crawford what he’d bring to parliament, he responded by claiming to have “buckets of business experience, buckets of common sense, I’ve two economics degrees…” At which point Browne interjected with a hint of incredulity, “two economics degrees?” Crawford nodded, “two economics degrees”, he confirmed, “one from UCD, one from DIT”… The camera cut to Vincent Browne who muttered, “my God… that’s quite a disability for starters, isn’t it?”

Yes, this election will see the people place their faith in a party with no ideas led by a man with no vision. But at least we have Vincent Browne to help keep us sane. In such cloudy weather, we must seek silver linings wherever they can be found.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Feb 2011

Israel, Iran and what’s not reported

The first thing to point out is that I’m no fan of either Israeli or Iranian government policy. Both nations appear (to me at least) to be suffering their own collective psychoses. Israel’s is a type of post-traumatic stress exacerbated by decades surrounded by hostile neighbours, so that it’s developed into a paranoid psychosis. Iran, on the other hand, spent decades trapped within a classic double-bind and has now found itself in the grip of religious fundamentalism. I have a great deal of sympathy for the ordinary people of both nations, terrorised as they are by enemies internal and external; real and imagined.

That said, I have very little sympathy for the actions of either government, who appear hell-bent on bringing the region as close to the brink of war as possible. The current civil uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, while to be lauded for ending tyrannical regimes, are likely to make Israel (in particular) more jittery than usual and serve, in that sense, to ratchet tensions up even further.

Let me be clear; this is not an attempted justification or a call for the continuation of these regimes. Tyrants need to be overthrown, and while we all hope this happens with a minimal increase in regional instability, we do not expect a people to remain in oppressive conditions merely to ensure that their twitchy neighbours don’t get spooked. At the same time, we should collectively face up to the likelihood of an increase in regional instability and explore ways to mitigate it.

Because it seems we can’t expect nations in the region to do so. While dictators topple and political vacuums beckon — or else “the army” takes over, which is rarely a good sign no matter what assurances of a future transition to civilian rule are offered — Israel and Iran appear intent on sabre-rattling at what must surely be the least appropriate time to do so.

Warships through The Suez Canal

Middle East map

Today the BBC carries a news story about two Iranian warships passing through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea. As someone who objects to the routine projection of military power beyond national borders (I’m even dubious about the projection of military power within national borders, but that’s an issue of national sovereignty and, within reason, should be left to each nation to decide), I unconditionally condemn this action by Iran. Just as I condemn the US, British (and any other) fleets patrolling the oceans of the world as though someone appointed them custodians of us all. I understand the current need to keep warships in certain areas to help deal with piracy (though this itself is part of a wider issue, and those ships should be flying a UN flag). But I don’t believe the world should accept national navies adopting threatening positions just outside the territorial waters of nations they don’t like.

And Iran’s claim to be conducting exercises with the Syrian navy is farcical. Despite not being a physical threat to Israel, a fact that’s acknowledged in the BBC article, these ships are clearly entering the Mediterranean to piss off the Israelis. No other reason. And a nation like Israel, in the grip of paranoid psychosis, rarely deals with provocation in a rational or proportional manner. Look at their response to the Gaza aid flotilla. Witness their policy of collective punishment whenever Palestinian militants attack — or just threaten to attack — Israel. Provoking Israel is a dumb thing to do, because it can quickly create a situation that spirals out of control.

This is hinted at by the Israeli Foreign Minister himself in that BBC story, when he says:

To my regret, the international community is not showing readiness to deal with the recurring Iranian provocations. The international community must understand that Israel cannot forever ignore these provocations.

Avigdor Lieberman (Israeli Foreign Minister)

It’s familiar rhetoric all right, but no less ominous because of that. And it neglects a crucial element in this “Iranian warships in the Mediterranean” narrative that is currently ongoing. An element that is simply ignored in the four different news stories I’ve read about this issue today. Despite describing this act by Iran as “unprecedented”, why has much of the western media chosen to gloss over the fact that it’s nothing of the kind? Isn’t the fact that Iran’s action is clearly and unambiguously a response to Israel’s 2009 decision to send two warships the other direction through The Suez Canal worthy of reporting?

I’m not saying that “they did it first” is an adequate response to criticism of Iran’s action. It’s certainly a pathetic justification for something that clearly increases the likelihood of a military engagement between two heavily-armed nations. But without that crucial piece of information, Iran’s naval manoeuvre looks like a unilateral act of provocation, when in fact it’s actually another chapter in an ongoing tit-for-tat escalation between two psychotic nations. It must be viewed in that context, and whatever the western response to Iran may be, it must be made in that context.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Feb 2011

New look, same great taste

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that The Quiet Road has undergone a bit of an overhaul. Whaddyathink? Quite aside from the visual redesign, I’ve completely redone the back-end of the site. It’s still in WordPress but is no longer held together with bits of string, a twisted wire coat-hanger, some double-sided sticky tape and the infinte number of ugly code hacks that characterised my first attempts at using WordPress all those years ago. Now it’s all shiny and widget-compatible, the categories have been radically stream-lined (with tags taking over the bulk of the heavy-lifting), there’s proper social-media integration and even a mailing-list you can subscribe to (though I’d recommend RSS subscription… it’s the 21st century after all).

Anyways, during the upgrade there were a couple of minor hitches (some links and some quotes disappeared, but I should be able to salvage them from an old backup, but that can wait ’til tomorrow).

I’ve only done a very cursory cross-browser check, so I’d be grateful, dear reader, if you could report any issues / broken bits / obvious screw ups that you notice. Any and all feedback is welcome.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Announcements

Feb 2011

Vincent Browne for Taoiseach

No. Not really. Though he’d certainly do a better job than any of the main party leaders. Plus it’d almost certainly force Enda Kenny to flee the country, so it’d be worth it on that basis alone.

It’s less than week now until Ireland goes to the polls and elects a Fine Gael government to dig the nation further into the hole left to us by Fianna Fáil. It’s a mess of a situation and the only question left to be answered is whether or not Enda Kenny’s visionless crew will secure enough seats to win an absolute majority (heaven help us!) or will need to form a coalition. For most of the election campaign a Fine Gael Labour coalition looked certain, with Labour’s gains being significant enough to give them plenty of influence over policy. As February 25th approaches though, they’ve lost a lot of ground and — if current opinion polls are to be believed — Fine Gael could win a big enough share of the vote to form a majority government with the backing of a handful of independents.

The reason for Fine Gael’s meteoric rise in the polls is difficult to fathom. Or rather, it’s difficult to fathom if you assume an even vaguely sensible electorate. The consensus seems to be that a) Ireland has adopted a two-party mindset… because Fianna Fáil got us into this mess, Fine Gael will get us out, and b) the electorate wants a stable government… the compromise of coalition is undesirable at a time of national crisis such as this.

Of course, even a cursory examination of these two conclusions reveals them to be nonsense of the highest order.

a) Yes, Fianna Fáil got us into this mess. But they did so during a period when there were no significant policy differences between themselves and Fine Gael. In fact, while in opposition, Enda Kenny’s party were complaining that Fianna Fáil’s tax cuts and regulatory light-touch didn’t go far enough. Both parties are essentially centre-right adherents to free-market capitalism. If anything, Fine Gael are slightly further to the right than Fianna Fáil ever were and the criticism they have been levelling at Fianna Fáil during this election campaign should leave any sensible person with a taste of bile in their mouth. Certainly the disastrous government of the last decade and a half merits criticism, but when that criticism comes from a party that would have done exactly the same thing it’s just embarrassing.

b) If people think that what the country needs is a single-party stable majority government, they appear to be forgetting that it was a single-party stable majority government that created this mess in the first place. Well, in all but name. Yes, Fianna Fáil had the Progressive Democrats as junior partners for much of their recent rule. And they had the Greens for the past three years. But the PDs were mostly ex-Fianna Fáil who left the party due to a clash of personalities with a long gone leader. They were Fianna Fáil through-and-through, as demonstrated by Mary Harney’s return to the fold after the death of the PDs. As for the Greens? Well, in the three years they’ve spent at the top table, they failed to influence government policy in any significant way and — in fact — enthusiastically supported Fianna Fáil at pretty much every turn. Even refusing to rock the boat on issues like the Corrib gas field, or the motorway cutting a swathe through the Tara Valley (a project they described as “a monstrous act of cultural vandalism” just a few short months before taking office and supporting the government carrying out that monstrous act).

See, this is the problem. The people voting for Enda Kenny and his empty suits claim to be voting for change. When in fact they are voting for a clear continuation of the dreadful policies of the past 15 years.

The significant problems we have cannot be solved using the same kinds of thinking with which we created them – Albert Einstein (attrib)

Vincent Browne

Give them the eye Vincent!

My overseas readers may be a little confused by the title of this post. “Who the hell is Vincent Browne?” they wonder. “Is he some far-left politician, perhaps?” No, he’s not. Vincent Browne is the presenter of a nightly political discussion on TV3. I’ve heard him described as “the Irish Jeremy Paxman”, but while I understand the reasons some might say that (his tenacious insistence on getting people to answer the damn question draws the comparison), it’s a rather lazy comparison. I see him as being closer to Peter Falk’s Columbo. The way he paces his questions and the disarming self-deprecation he uses to confound the more combative panel members is straight out of Columbo.

Over the past few weeks, Tonight with Vincent Browne has become essential viewing in the Bliss household. The panel of four or five members is usually made up of a mix of politicians, academics, artists and journalists. The discussion is usually entertaining, occasionally informative but always worth watching. Whether it’s Fianna Fáil junior minister Conor Lenihan completely losing the plot and shouting at Browne to “back off Vincent, or I’ll come at you!” Or the eminently likeable independent candidate, Paul Sommerville, visibly seething while discussing the economic policies of the Fianna Fáil government. Or just the eclectic mix of opinions that he assembles, Browne’s programme is one of the few edifying things about this current election campaign… indeed about Irish politics in general right now.

Would I genuinely want him as Taoiseach? Of course not. Do I agree with everything he says? Not at all. But at a time when Ireland is sinking beneath the weight of bland corporate apologists dressed as representatives of the people, Vincent Browne — for all his faults, and all the controversies — is a beacon of light.

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