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Of honourable men November 22, 2006

Posted by franklittle in Ireland, Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, The Left, Uncategorized.
5 comments

TAXES ARE DOWN AND WILL STAY DOWN. Forgive the caps, but in fairness, Labour felt it was such an important point to make it the headline on the front page of their free news-sheet, The Rose, launched last September.  

Still not clear? Bit unsure? Let’s see what Pat has to say about it:  “I’ll say it again: taxes are down and will stay down! There will be no increase in tax rates while Labour is at the heart of the new alternative Government with Fine Gael.” 

If only Jim Larkin, James Connolly and William Thompson were alive today to watch with pride and satisfaction at the leader of the Irish left utter such a ringing assurance to the denizens of the IFSC and IBEC Headquarters in the lower regions of Hades.  

And it also doesn’t make any sense. Last week, Labour published A Fair Deal, designed to target poverty and disadvantage. It’s 55 pages long and somewhere around page 44 you get your first definite commitment of funding with a specific figure, one of few. But overall, Labour is proposing that:

at least €3.5bn of the National Development Plan funding (a minimum of 5% of total funds over the lifetime of the plan) for investment in designated Fair Deal communities.” 

Fair Deal communities, for those not aware of the concept, is the not altogether bad idea of identifying areas of extreme marginalisation and disadvantage and investing as much as possible into them. The document doesn’t really explain how or where this €3.5 billion will be allocated, instead contenting itself with pious restatements of existing Labour policy, targets and a deluge of statistics. Actual proposals are thin enough, but maybe they’re holding back for the manifesto. 

But to get back to my point, there will be no increase in taxes, but they will spend €3.5 billion on this one specific policy alone. This doesn’t include the money they intend to spend building the 10,000 social housing units a year they committed to in Gilmore’s housing plan, launched earlier this week. Or to provide the hospital beds and primary care centres Liz McManus has promised. Or the schools, back to education allowances and extra teachers Jan O’Sullivan is committing the party to. Or to build the new roads, bypasses and rail networks Labour candidates are promising around the state.  

Now I make no claims to be an economist, but it seems to me that if one is going to increase spending in enormous and fundamental ways, one must find the money somewhere. But there are to be no new taxes or tax increases. It says so in The Rose. Yet billions of euros have already been committed to extra spending.  

Puzzled? A little doubtful about these spending pledges or solmen oaths on taxation.  But worry not, for it must be so, for Pat Rabbitte is an honourable man; So are they all; honourable men.

Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly on podcast. The death of the political discourse or just another good excuse to switch over to real debate? November 21, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democrats, Republicans, United States, US Media, US Politics.
7 comments

Check it out. Now available for free in the iTunes Store podcasts from a roster of the Fox right-wing. And what a disappointment they are, or at least those I’ve signed up to so far. Now there are those of you who will say, but WBS, surely you realise how poor this discourse is? But I always enjoyed the song ‘Armadillo Man’ by late lamented Microdisney about the anti-Communist who goes to Russia during the height of the Cold War and as the lyrics put it: “Least he went to see the other side”

Also I hate canons. I hate being told that if one is of the left one should only read this that or the other. Nor am I just dipping in and out in order to be vicariously upset. I don’t upset easily – not any more anyhow, and there are few enough opinions on the right that I find I can dismiss out of hand. But I do think it’s vital to understand and engage. Problem being that for understanding and engagement one needs someone of different views to be willing to extend the same courtesy. Which is where these podcasts fall apart on first inspection.

Bill O’Reilly in his Talking Points (you may need iTunes to be running) podcast of 16/11 (drawn from his TV show – if you want the radio broadcasts they’re available too, but ask yourself, having heard the ‘Talking Points’ do you really, really want to listen to an hour of his show?) making a perfectly reasonable statement about the upcoming O.J. Simpson program to be broadcast by the Fox Broadcasting Channel that has an interview with Simpson in which he unburdens himself of the opportunity to demonstrate how he would have murdered his wife, had he done so. O’Reilly, like myself, is non-too-fond of the idea. However, O’Reilly, unlike myself, takes this as an opportunity to berate those with so-called “San Francisco values” who he thinks are ultimately responsible for the program. Er…no, I don’t think so. Anyone with any sensitivity whether left centre or right would consider the idea of such a program well beyond the bounds of taste. Whether I would ban it is a different matter. I feel that Simpson is creating his own particular hell on earth and if this is just another building block in that edifice I’m not going to intervene.

Still, a time also for more than rueful smiles when O’Reilly castigated Fox for producing the program and recommended that his listeners do as he would ‘boycott’ their products and TV offerings. Quite a good idea many would say…but hold on…wait just a second there mister…for could it be that this is precisely the same Fox that presents one Bill O’Reilly to an all too suspecting world? Why yes, yes it would be or as wiki so helpfully notes:

“O’Reilly’s television show, The O’Reilly Factor, is routinely the highest-rated show of the three major U.S. 24-hour cable news channels (CNN, FOX News and MSNBC). The show is taped late in the afternoon at a studio in New York City and airs daily on the FOX News Channel at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time”.

This provides for an enormously entertaining follow up show 17/11 where he ties himself in knots attempting to deflect all blame from himself when pointed out that Fox Broadcasting and Fox News are – er – arms of the same corporation. His deadly riposte? Quote – well paraphrase actually “no they’re not because they’re not the same company and the interview isn’t produced by Fox News’.

And he castigates secular progressives for their moral relativism?

But interesting to note Mark Furhman who was involved in the original case has somewhat more scruples and is reported as likely to drop HarperCollins (another arm of the Murdoch empire) if the OJ book goes ahead. And so would if I were in that position and had had the temerity to raise it as an issue in the first place. Fine to lambaste Fox Broadcasting. I agree with that. But to pretend that he is in some sense outside the Fox ‘family’ is fatuous. How to have avoided this situation, and to have incidentally lent credibility to himself? Why to come out and say – “despite (or because of) the fact I work for one of the Fox companies I find this reprehensible”. One wonders why he didn’t do that.

Whatever the virtues or vices of San Francisco values, my God, they could hardly be worse than the O’Reilly handle of reality.

Meanwhile the Sean Hannity Show. Well, what to say really? On the 14/11 podcast Sean (a good Irish name too, just like O’Reilly) presents us with an interesting interview with MA Governor Mitt Romney. Good man, Sean. Romney is a real ‘Reagan democrat’, socially conservative with a small c, small government but not going to cut government programmes too much etc, etc. And what is he saying? That Bush got it largely wrong, that the Republicans have lost their way and so on and so forth. A civilised and useful ten or so minutes. Hannity is precise, even pointing up the divergence between Romney and some of the base. Fair enough.

The next day Hannity interviews Representative Charlie Rangel, Democratic nominee to head up the Ways and Means Committee in the House, or ‘this powerful committee’ as Sean keeps reiterating. This is far from a civilised 26 minutes. Bad man, Sean. Hannity persistently interrupts, refuses to allow Rangel to finish sentences, changes the question on the trot, demands answers before Rangel has had a chance to put his case and so forth. And continually he charges Rangel with evading the issue, hedging and so on.

I don’t want to go all MediaMatters.org on this and the transcripts will no doubt be put up on the net before long if you can’t spare the time to listen to it.

But, my point is that Hannity is, to any reasonably non-partisan observer (and I have to say that there were issues with both Romney and Rangel that demanded closer attention whatever side of the political divide you stand on) an appallingly partisan interviewer. Dismally so, considering Romney’s message is not – truth be told – that strikingly different from that of Rangel. But even were it wildly divergent it would be nice if there was at least some meeting of minds, some honesty to the exchange rather than a “beggar my neighbour” approach. And Rangel deserves to be fully questioned, he was evasive on certain issues. But there is a difference between a forensic interview and a self serving exchange.

And curiously what also comes across is not how powerful Hannity was, but instead how weak. This is the best he can do? Rhetorical fillibustering in order to prevent the other guy from speaking? It’s lame and it’s rather pathetic and the political discourse demands better. It also sounds as if Hannity doesn’t quite understand either the scope of Rangels new job or the questions he’s asking. Curious stuff.

Thankfully there is better. Much much better with the sort of conversation which those of us from whatever point on the spectrum can get our teeth into and learn a little – which surely is the object of the enterprise? You want round table discussion between liberals and conservatives – and I know I’m always namechecking them, but really, why not? Just go to KCRWs Left Right and Centre. Strangely I’m not a huge fan of the left representative Bob Scheer (as you’ll have perhaps noted here), and I’m not crazy about Ariana Huffington either, but they do well enough to keep me listening for half an hour each week. As I’ve previously noted KCRW’s To The Point is even better. Warren Olmey hosts a program that allows for the sort of insightful discussion approach from all points on the political compass on any given topic. To have even half an understanding of US politics (and I’m always aware of how difficult it is to truly ‘translate’ or map different systems) this is essential. And why now? Because like it or not, as the Home page on this blog puts it so eloquently (that’s more smiffy’s doing than mine I hasten to add), this is a significant period of change where the US is going to shape the political discourse for decades. We need to know this stuff, to know what’s coming down the line. No better guides are available.

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By the by as you’ll no doubt have noticed we have a new contributor to the CLR, further extending the range of viewpoints here.

Welcome aboard franklittle.

You may remember me from such front groups as… November 20, 2006

Posted by franklittle in Irish Politics, Marxism, The Left.
7 comments

The Tallaght News is not a periodical that is a regular sight in the Little household but flicking through it last week where it had been left by a visitor I came across an article announcing the establishment of People Before Profit (www.people-before-profit.org) in Clondalkin.  

What struck me about the article was the two PBP activists identified with the launch. One was Gino Kenny. Another, Donal MacFhearraigh. Both are long-time activists with the Socialist Workers Party. Kenny was a candidate in the Clondalkin ward in 2004 and polled remarkably well it has to be said. MacFhearraigh  is an SWP full-timer. Of course, there was no reference to their party background in the article.  


People Before Profit was, according to its website, founded in October 2005 ‘by workers from a variety of local campaigns’. It’s aim is to ‘reverse neo-liberal policies which place wealth creation for the few over the welfare of communities in Ireland’. They believe that ‘the time has come in Ireland for the formation of a real alternative to the political establishment and big parties. This is because there is a cosy consensus relating to policy and perspectives amongst the main parties, much of the media and the state establishment’. 
All laudable enough, but the organisation is widely considered in the Irish left to be the latest example in the long-running series of Socialist Workers Party front organisations. As well as the SWP dominated Clondalkin branch, a glance through the organisation’s contacts lists and articles brings up a long list of familiar names.  Two of the three candidates already selected for the next election are long-standing SWP activists. Richard Boyd Barrett, chair of the Irish Anti-War Movement and an experienced activist is to contest Dun Laoghaire, where he ran under an SWP ticket in 2004 and was disappointed not to get elected. Bríd Smith, another veteran of the SWP election campaign of 2004 where she ran in Ballyfermot, is to contest Dublin South-Central.  

The Galway contact is Maggie Heneghan, of Galway Socialist Workers Party and Irish Anti-War Movement. Kevin Wingfield, the SWP’s standard bearer in Ballymun convened the founding meeting of People Before Profit’s branch in that area. The Derry contact is the Socialist Environmental Alliance, under which banner the journalist Eamon McCann, whose SWP membership is rarely mentioned in his political op-ed pieces for O’Reilly newspapers, contested the last Northern elections.  The organisation’s PRO is Rory Hearne, who is also editor of the Socialist Worker, a former USI official and the People Before Profit contact for Dublin South-East. The organisation’s Waterford contact is Dick Roche, involved in the Waterford Council of Trade Unions and, stop me when this starts to get old, an SWP activist.  This weekend, the organisation will hold a public conference in the Central Hotel, entitled ‘People Before Profit and War: Time for a new left Alternative’. Despite the existence of Labour, Sinn Féin, Greens, Socialist Party, Workers’ Party, SWP itself, the Communist Party and, if you want to be very broad, the SDLP, a ‘new’ alternative is needed. 

A development like this was inevitable after the launch and initial success of RESPECT in Britain. Initiatives by the SWP in Britain are followed slavishly by the SWP in Ireland, very much a subordinate unit in the view from SWP HQ in London. The Anti-Nazi League, the short-lived and failed ‘Socialist Alliance’ experiment, Globalise Resistance and so on. RESPECT has delivered for the SWP in Britain, though their control of the organisation is challenged by Galloway’s dominance of the organisation as the sole MP and in whose constituency the bulk of their councillors are based. 

So what’s the problem? If a group of people, mostly SWP activists, want to attract people into politics under another name, what’s the harm? Isn’t it better to have people politically active and taking on the state than sitting on the sidelines? To have people out on the streets and campaigning, even when it’s for an organisation you might not agree with 100%? Is this another example of anti-SWP sectarianism holding back attempts to build the left? 

Sure, some of the opposition to PBP among the Irish left is down to the innate suspicion anyone who has ever worked with the SWP in any capacity retains for that organisation. Some of it is simple political sectarianism. But there are also broader political points. 

Firstly, the project is simply dishonest. The SWP denies that People Before Profit is a front for their party, pointing out that they only have a minority of Steering Committee positions. But a controlled and disciplined minority of experienced political activists, who happen to be the only people who have a network around the country to set up branches, can dominate an organisation. No attempt is made to bring other organised elements of the left on board, as one would imagine was the plan if this was to be the left alternative they are to discuss at the conference next weekend.  

Secondly, the SWP’s fundamental goal is to build the party. From their point of view they are the only revolutionary organisation in Ireland. They are the elite, the vanguard, the ones who see clearly and are destined to lead the apathetic masses to revolution. Engaging in front groups like this is not about achieving political change or carrying out a successful campaign. Though if that happens, it’s to be appreciated. It is about attracting people to the Socialist Workers Party because the only valid long-term goal is to build the party. Once they have got a few extra members out of it, and that’s something the SWP could do with these days by all accounts, they fold up the tent and move on leaving behind a lot of disillusioned people in their wake, turned off from radical politics from contact with the SWP.   

If it looks like a duck … November 19, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Islam, Israel.
24 comments

Here’s an amusing piece from today’s Observer. Apparently Asghar Bukhari, from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (a U.K. lobby group), had built up quite a sweet little relationship with noted Nazi apologist, proven liar and Holocaust denier, David Irving, even going so far as to donate a small sum to Irving’s legal fund.

Now the story is a little sketchy on exact details, but a few points are worth noting. Firstly, Bukhari offered his support wrapped up in a nice little philosophical cliché:

Bukhari contacted the discredited historian, sentenced this year to three years in an Austrian prison for Holocaust denial, after reading his website. He headed his mail to Irving with a quotation attributed to the philosopher John Locke: ‘All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to stand idle.’

Nothing too shocking about that. One could argue that Irving’s imprisonment (or, indeed, the criminalization of Holocaust denial in general) represents a fragrant breach of basic civil liberties, while at the same time finding Irving’s own view repulsive. Except … the paragraph above is rather misleading. One could be mistaken for thinking that Bukhari’s support was linked to Irving’s Austrian trial (although I don’t think this is deliberate – it’s just poor editing). However, later on in the piece we learn that ‘Bukhari confirmed sending the letters in 2000’, presumably around the time of the libel case against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Irving lost in April of that year (a case he himself took, a point often overlooked by those misguided fools he see him as some kind of defender of freedom of speech).

Bukhari’s response to the Observer’s questions seems particularly self-serving and ignorant (at best):

‘I had a lot of sympathy for anyone who opposed Israel,’ Bukhari told The Observer said. ‘I wrote letters to anyone who was tough against the Israelis – David Irving, Paul Findley, the PLO.”I don’t feel I have done anything wrong, to be honest. At the time I was of the belief he [Irving] was anti-Zionist, being smeared for nothing more then being anti-Zionist.

‘The pro-Israeli lobby often accused people of anti-Semitism and smear tactics against groups and individuals is well known. I condemn anti-Semitism as strongly as I condemn Zionism (in my opinion they are both racist ideologies). I also believe that anyone who denies the Holocaust is wrong (I don’t think they should be put behind bars for it though).’

It’s hard to square his apparent belief that Holocaust denial is wrong, with his continued belief in the rightness of his action. He says that he thought Irving was being ‘smeared’ because he was an anti-Zionist, which suggests that he didn’t know the first thing about the libel trial or, indeed, about David Irving. If he now accepts that criticism of Irving was justified, and that Irving is far more than ‘just’ an anti-Zionist then surely he should accept that his earlier support was wrong. If, on the other hand, he believes he did nothing wrong, then does his view of Irving still hold?

His dragging-in of the ‘pro-Israeli’ lobby is a complete red herring, and is a little hard to take. We’re all familiar with the argument that critics of the State of Israel are often unjustly labeled ‘Anti-Semitic’ and it’s a charge that should always be challenged. Part of the reason such a strategy is so objectionable, however, is that it diminishes actual Anti-Semitism. If everyone is an Anti-Semite, then Anti-Semitism means nothing.

One possibility Bukhari has overlooked is that Irving might be labeled an Anti-Semite because he actually is one. His opposition to Israel stems from this, not from any great humanitarian concerns. It’s important to note that, while not all Anti-Zionists are Anti-Semitic, pretty much all Anti-Semites are Anti-Zionists (certainly in Europe). Not a particularly radical idea, but apparently too complicated for Bukhari and his colleagues in MPAC whose claim that the Observer story is ‘just another Islamaphobic attack aimed at undermining and harming the brave individuals who support the Palestinian cause and the cause of Muslims within Britain’ is so hysterical, it’s almost cute.

What Bukhari and MPAC should try and grasp is that sometimes, just sometimes, is someone expresses Anti-Semitic sentiments and is accused of being Anti-Semitic then there might be another explanation besides the sinister Jewish conspiracy to crush all Anti-Zionist resistance.

Just maybe …

Six months to go to the Election, give or take, and I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen… November 19, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
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Just thinking, the General Election will be upon us pretty much within six months or so.

As it stands the polls indicate that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats appear to have picked up steam, but remain lower than their position at the last election.

Fine Gael and Labour have suffered a decline in their overall share of the potential vote.

The Greens have improved by a couple of percentage points and Sinn Féin remains on or around the 10% mark.

So what is going to happen next? I can’t work it out. There doesn’t appear to be sufficient support for Fianna Fáil and the PDs to return in coalition. Fine Gael and Labour, even if one factors in the Greens, appear to fall considerably short of the numbers suitable for a coalition.

There is renewed muttering about the Greens being split between those willing to do a deal with FF, and those who aren’t. The same is no doubt true of SF, although it would be interesting to hear some voices clarify that.

And that leaves us with what? A situation where everyone bar Fine Gael and Labour, are hedging their bets. I’d love to say it’s all to play for, but it doesn’t appear to be. One might propose that Fianna Fáil are probably going to be a component of any future government after the next election. But even that doesn’t seem absolutely assured.

In some respects it is as if the traditional and historical legitimacy of the ‘traditional’ parties of government is slowly ebbing away and being ceded to the non-mainstream parties of left and centre left and to the Independents (a fascinating topic of it’s own which I intend to return to soon). That the alternative put up by these ‘traditional’ parties has been discarded by the electorate as insufficient. But the somewhat nebulous nature of the alternative parties, in the sense that they offer no single coherent opposition that is willing or able to take power, makes me wonder if this ebbing is entirely serious on the part of the public. It’s as if they ‘know’ that at the end of the day the main formation, FF will probably step in and work with whoever it has to to ensure stable rule. And so it doesn’t even follow the old rather naive dream of Labour and other parts of the left about an eventual coalition between FF/FG which would finally result in a ‘true’ left/right split, a split the Irish electorate has never seemingly wanted hitherto, comfortable in it’s midly social democratic, mildly centre right polity. No, this is more like an exaggeration of the latter idea where the electorate talks alternative and left, but really is as comfortable as any electorate can be with the present incumbents, particularly the larger party of government.

A remarkable situation which ever way one looks at it.

Mmmm….Soylent Green…tasty! November 17, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Global Warming.
3 comments

Fascinating watching Soylent Green on TCM digital. And for those who haven’t seen it, and don’t know the central conceit – well click away now folks.

Firstly as the cliche has it, it’s much more of it’s time than of any potential future (and based on Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room!). Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson in his 101st role. A group of elderly Europeans who uncover the awful truth about the oceans and just what that means about the food supplies. A black chief of police. Sexual politics that are one step removed from – well, from Planet of the Apes to be honest, another Heston classic. Breton style hats and cravats predominate, making it look curiously like the mid-1980s on Grafton street.

The score by Fred Myron is interesting combining funky jazz, and weird burbling electronica that sounds a little like Can, a little like Neu and a whole lot like the roster of artists who would later be on WARP such as early Aphex Twin, B12 and Black Dog.

Secondly the depiction of a world in the throes of catastrophic ecological collapse from pollution and overpopulation (no climate change here, but no airconditioning either) varies between good and not so good. The waste reclaimation trucks which bring people from the voluntary euthanasia centres (Your favourite colour sir for the euthanasia room? Orange. Your favourite music? Classical, light classical – cue Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and a collage of grainy film of running streams, sunsets and unspoilt landscapes) are fairly well done. Central Park filled with abandoned cars in which people live, and a pervasive smog somewhat less so.

The general tenor is not dissimilar to Silent Running (even more depressing in it’s own way) where the last plants and forests are tended to on spaceships by Bruce Dern. And each is a crie-de-couer from the early 1970s about the state of the planet. Now of course the idea that by 2022 we’d see total ecological collapse seems unlikely, at least from the standpoint of 2006, but in 1972 that was a good 50 years away so perhaps one can forgive them that. In any event the scale of the problem has changed, we seemingly can do both less and more damage to the planet simultaneously.

When I last saw it, probably around 1975 or so, I have to be honest it made quite an impression. I was surprised to realise that I remembered lines. Not great lines it has to be said, but hey, I was younger then.

And yet when we get to the idea at the heart of it, that the dead are brought to plants which mulch them into the eponymous Soylent Green (and what was Soylent Red made out of if Green is humans?) it’s oddly difficult to get too worked up about it. Sure, as the elderly Europeans mutter about it being ‘expedient’ and necessary to bring the information to the ‘Council of Nations’ – one wonders what period of history they’re echoing – and all who discover it are deeply shocked including a city politician and a priest who pretty much go off the rails at the bad news about what’s on the menu. Yet despite Heston’s impassioned cry about ‘next they’ll be breeding us like cattle’ something about the movie deadens the impact. Probably it’s the production values, but perhaps not. It’s not that one would be sanguine about such a state of affairs, instead that it seems almost like an inevitability, like the logical outcome of such a corrupted world. Although as someone asks, why Soylent Green?

Speaking of dystopian futures I haven’t seen Children of Men, but fully intend to do so when it returns on DVD, but having seen the trailers for C of M I’d like to see Soylent Green reworked in more talented hands. Or perhaps it won’t work, perhaps we’re that bit more cynical. Pollution and overpopulation, it’s been coming a long time. Euthanasia on a mass scale? Logical really. De facto cannibalism? Unpleasant, sure, but them’s the breaks.

“Soylent Green is people!” as Heston shouts at the end of the movie …and the real problem is that some might ask what exactly is the problem?

Magill, the end is near? November 15, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Ireland, Irish Politics, Neo-conservatives.
17 comments

One can only hope!

Opening the Sunday Tribune at the weekend, it was interesting to see a complimentary edition of November’s Magill fall out. Interesting and rather pleasurable, not because I’m any great fan of the magazine (we’ll get to that) but because it suggests to me that it might be in trouble. Why else would something which claims a circulation of 13,500 be reduced to this kind of gimmick to try and drum up a readership? Especially when the edition chosen to give away is so utterly awful.

In its current incarnation, the magazine has never been what you might call ‘good’; some of the pieces that have appeared in it have been absolutely appalling. One needs only to recall the ludicrous ranting about the Greens, which mixed distortion, ignorance and an unhealth fixation with the ‘philosophy’ of Ayn Rand. Similarly, the attack on Finian McGrath for his support of Cuba was so hysterically over-the-top (essentially implying that the country was no less than a Pyonyang on the Caribbean) that it discredited any argument the author might have had. In fact, McGrath’s response to the piece, and his apologetics for the anti-democratic nature of the Castro regime was far more damaging than anything a Mgaill writer could come up with. Jason Walsh had a piece decrying the demise of the ‘Irish left’, in which any resemblance to the Irish left that actually exists was rare and purely coincidental. And the less said about the pseudonymous ‘Sean Sexton’, the better.

These are a small selection, but aren’t isolated cases. One could spend hours pointing to the amateurish attempts at commentary that fill the magazine each month, or so. The real problem is has it that they’re far, far too lazy. There’s no real research or effort at uncovering and presenting fact-based-arguments in the vast majority of what’s churned out. It’s all just assertion, based on received wisdom and a rather desperate desire to appear controversial. It’s little more than a sandpit for a bunch of people you’ve never heard of (unless you’re familiar with the much, and deservedly, maligned ‘Freedom Institute’) playing at being journalist, but resembling a self-consciously conservative chimps’ tea party.

The current issue, the one that fell from the Tribune, is abysmal, even by Magill’s lamentable standards. It appears to be made up almost entirely of filler. Let’s consider exactly what’s in it. It’s 94 pages long, which is made up of

  • 24 pages which are just transcripts of documents released under the 30 year rule (not quite ‘secret documents never before seen in public’), plus two pages of Eamon Delaney telling what’s in the following 24 pages (no insight, comment or analysis of the documents, mind, or consideration of how they might be relevant to the situation in Northern Ireland today).
  • Nine pages recapping the contents of the report of the Barr investigation, with a few asides thrown in disputing the conclusions. Written by ‘Our special correspondent’ (unnamed, of course), it could have have been condensed into three or four pages if the ‘correspondent’ had any journalistic ability or a competent editor (both a rarity in Magill, of course)
  • Two pages of a turgid and rambling piece on China and India entitled (with all the subtly of a bull in a china shop) ‘Sweet and sour’.
  • Two pages of a music column, which is a page and a half two long.
  • Two pages of Questions and Answers with Kathy Sinnott and Daithi Doolan where we’re treated to cutting edge, incisive reporting like what celebrities Sinnott would like supporting her and when Doolan last went to the cinema.
  • Two pages of repetitive editorial comment (including the painful ‘Wigmore’ who shares with us the anecdote about Bono clapping his hands a a concert, which was out-of-date over a year ago).
  • One page of a relatively amusing (albeit pointless) interview with Mena Bean Uí Chribín
  • One page of a surprisingly bad piece by the usually interesting Jim Duffy on why opinion polls are unreliable.

Totting that up, if I’ve calculated correctly, that gives us 45 pages of which maybe 21 could be considered original material (and that’s counting the entire Barr piece as original, which is a rather generous assessment). 21 pages out of 94, none of which could reasonably be described as current or topical. Is this really what someone seeing the phrase ‘Ireland’s political and cultural monthly’ might expect? Is it really what one might look for in ‘one of the leading opinion-forming publications’?

The fact is that, rather than being a serious political and cultural journal, Magill has become a vanity piece for someone who did quite well with a very average memoir, and who’s been searching for a point to his existence ever since. (Note to Eamon Delaney: a few years drinking and photocopying as a minor functionary in the Department of Foreign Affairs does not a foreign policy expert make. And given that it’s been nearly 15 years since you left, don’t you think it’s a little bit sad to still be touting yourself as a ‘former diplomat’?). It reads like a student magazine at best, or maybe an above average blog. It’s not the kind of thing one should expect from a serious periodical, and effectively shits all over the fine pedigree the name Magill once had.

I’m sure I could be accused of ideological bias, and there may be some truth in that. I probably wouldn’t be as critical of Magill if I agreed with a single word in any article. I am, however, trying to be relatively objective. There’s nothing inherent to a conservative position which necessitates poor writing, just as there’s nothing inherent to a socialist or progressive position which implies quality (as anyone familiar with the myriad of Trotskyist papers will attest). A magazine like the Spectator produces some of the finest political commentary in the UK, even if it is all evil and wrong (obviously). While there mightn’t be a sufficient market in Ireland for an Irish equivalent to attract the calibre of writer the Spectator enjoys, it does show that in order to right well about conservatism, you first have to be able to write well.

Maybe I’m wrong, and Magill will go from strength to strength, its circulation increasing every year, and those who receive a subscription as a Christmas gift will even see a December 2007 issue arrive on their doorstep (I’d advise gift vouchers instead, though). But I hope not. There’s certainly a need for a thoughtful Irish political journal, with a broader range than Fortnight and a less news-focussed approach than The Village. There’s a need for the old Magill, not this sick parody of it.

High Court ruling on Embryo’s… they ‘have no right to life’ November 15, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Bioethics, Irish Politics, Medical Issues, Uncategorized.
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That’s a mighty interesting ruling handed down in the High Court today. Don’t really want to say too much about it since I haven’t read the full ruling. Still in a deft kick back to the Oireachtas Mr Justice McGovern notes that

“Having considered the evidence and the submissions that were made and reviewed the law, I have come to the conclusion that the three frozen embryos are not ‘unborn’ … and it is a matter for the Oireachtas to decide what steps should be taken to establish the legal status of embryos.”

I’m sure they’ll be delighted to take him up on that challenge…

Central to Mr Justice McGovern’s judgement was the idea that at the abortion referendum in the 1980s the sense of right to life extended to the foetus and not an embryo. Hmmm… methinks, particularly on reading the Pro-Life Campaigns riposte that it was “confident the Supreme Court will vindicate the rights of the human embryo if the judgement is appealed.” more trouble is brewing on this issue.

Assisted Reproductive Techniques are difficult in some respects with regard to the ethical dilemmas that they pose. And as noted round these part previously Youth Defence , in their embryoresearch incarnation, for one has not been shy when it comes to utilising the public concern – and lack of knowledge regarding these techniques. But it really is the responsibility of the Oireachtas to deal with these in a more comprehensive fashion. A good place to start would be with the currently unimplemented report of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction. This document, more liberal than I could have hoped for and overwhelmingly agreed by those involved, has been ignored for over a year now.

Time to get moving.

Catherine McGuinness leaves the Supreme Court November 14, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Sinn Féin.
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Catherine McGuinness, who I had the good fortune to meet on a number of occasions in the course of students union work in the late 1980s has resigned from the Supreme Court. I’m sure she has no recollection of me, but she made quite an impression. She was nationalist at a time, 1986-1989, when it was not entirely popular nor profitable, and made no bones about it. For the delicate flower I was in those days grown in the soil of the WP this was a bit of a revelation.

She was extremely pleasant on a personal basis, and an intriguing mix of nationalist/republican, socialist, Protestant and liberal. To my mind a sort of more charismatic, vastly more down to earth Mary Robinson… and a sad, but telling, day when the Labour Party lost her in the late 1960s (over the expulsion of Proinsias Mac Aonghusa her husband).

While one could regret that her resignation came at the time of a rather contentious decision on the part of the Supreme Court, it is impossible not to note the mark she has made on Irish public life in her office. Her work as chair of the Forum of Peace and Reconciliation was perhaps more significant than was thought at the time.

Her essentially liberal approach has been both positive and instructive, positive in that she has managed to reclaim certain ground – as regards being a doughty defender of social liberal values but not afraid to reformulate seemingly traditional values in a more modern context as with recognising the role of women working in the home. Instructive in that it has pointed up some of the contradictions implicit in our own Constitution, perhaps most pointedly in her last judgement.

It’s a great pity that she leaves the Supreme Court, but good to note that she remains as President of the Law Reform Commission.

*************

While on the issue of McGuinness’s, it has to be said regarding the validity of reports of threats against the SF leadership, or the credibility of the threats themselves, I don’t know, and I suspect (and fervently hope) neither do most of you…

Commander-in-Chief – Washington politics, gender politics or just not very good politics (or television) at all? November 13, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Film and Television, Television Shows, US Politics.
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Watching Commander-in-Chief on Sunday night was a dispiriting experience.

Dispiriting for a number of reasons. Firstly the knowledge that it was already cancelled, although there is some talk of TV movies based around it. Secondly because it despite having a strong lead in Geena Davis (and a strong counterfoil in Donald Sutherland) there is something threadbare about the enterprise – we’ve seen much of it before and we’ve seen it better (the actual production values look oddly slipshod compared to the West Wing). But finally because it’s comes across as untrue and it reduces everything down to sexual politics in a way which is entirely unconvincing.

Let’s take the last point first. Here we have a television series ostensibly based on the first female President of the United States. So far so good. However, in every show Davis is met by a thinly disguised sexism from many (not all) of those who nominally serve her. This is played out to a ludicrous degree in an episode where her Press Secretary is drunkenly harangued by her (male) deputy simply because she is a woman. The deputy asserts that she is a nobody who only got her job due to her connection to the Presidents campaign – to which the riposte is ‘actually I went to Princeton… etc… etc…’. Somehow rather than empowering this comes away as trite. Another example. The President has a young(ish) family, with a daughter of eight or nine, another in her mid teens and a son of about 16. Not an episode is allowed to pass without this motley crew stomping across the White House in their own inimitable (for which read irritating) way. Youngest daughter interrupts President in the Oval Office while the latter is on a call regarding national security. Like they don’t have security details at the doors? Somewhat older daughter is a closet conservative Republican who disapproves of her mothers more liberal outlook and appears to be entirely unaware of the exigencies of living a life in the public eye. Son appears in one episode as a level-headed conciliator – in another as an absurd clown who is unable to deal with his father being First Husband because he’s a ‘national joke’.

The husband is depicted as being ‘conflicted’ as to his role particularly since policy has been taken away from him. But none of this is remotely credible. It’s as if they’ve all suffered from a sort of collective amnesia about who or what they are – despite the fact the President was the Vice President for the previous two or three years, a life not entirely dissimilar to that they’re meant to be leading.

And the biggest untruth is the one at the heart of the plot. The script has deliberately contrived a situation that in reality would be most implausible, simply to put Davis on the back foot in relation to those who she has worked with for the previous years. Davis is meant to be an Independent brought in by the President in order to shore up his ticket. He wants her to resign when he falls ill so that the White House remains true to his policies – and implicitly because she’s a woman. Hence all his aides run around at the beginning of the series attempting to get her to withdraw. Sure, this sets up the tension with the Speaker of the House who sees his Presidential ambitions go south as she remains. But it also seems incredible. Surely this whole process would have been considered in detail prior to this point. Surely any President would be cognisant of the possibility that s/he might die in situ, in perhaps the most prominent job in the world. And consequently the selection of a running mate would not be something that would be taken lightly and would be done in such a way as to ensure philosophical and political continuity. The President could die at any moment, not just in the process of a rapidly developing illness as occurs here. Either it’s accounted for or not. Worse again, under the US Constitution his aides simply should not be doing what they do i.e. pressurising Davis. And although I’m well aware of the bias against women within many social structures there is something a little exaggerated about how this plays out in Commander-in-Chief. Yes, undoubtedly there would be many who would find a female President difficult to accept, but after two or three years of a female VP, and again presumably having seen all these issues thrashed out in the media, it’s hard to believe she would have quite such a rough time of it – particularly considering the respect that is afforded the office, if not always the person. But because this is implausible it renders everything else implausible.

West Wing had it’s faults. Appallingly saccharine speeches and a tendency toward the twee more often than was good for it to name but two. But it also had one great strength in that it was rooted firmly in the politics, sometimes to an almost baffling degree. It somehow made that sort of discourse look exciting, certainly more exciting than the tedious and predictable familial woes of C-in-C that far from normalising the First Family simply make them seem shallow and glib.

Yes, there is a series to be made about a woman as President, but in some ways this one by attempting to place her gender at the centre of the drama seems to me to produce an artefact that is more rather than less grounded in sexism and exacerbates and exaggerates the very real problems that the first woman President will face in the US. The result is a show which can please no one, not liberals who want a positive role model but are presented with an individual who appears almost shackled by her gender, not social conservatives who seeing exactly the same projection of identity will see their worst fears confirmed but are smart enough no doubt to see through the glum pacing.

So I’m doubtful I’ll keep watching it much longer… and clearly I’m not the only one to come to that conclusion. That’s a pity. Davis is a good actor, to my mind. The idea was intriguing. In the post-WW world there is still a niche for a smart show about US politic, perhaps one rooted in another branch of government. Perhaps the Congress…perhaps…

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