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Breaching the Gaza embargo… what next? January 25, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Israel, Palestine.
7 comments

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You might not think it looking at the chaotic scenes from the Gaza/Egyptian border, but there is an European link to the situation.

On KCRW’s To The Point on Wednesday Senior Middle East Analyst for the International Crisis Group, Mouin Rabbani wasn’t surprised to hear the 17 explosions which brought down a section of the fence attributed to Hamas. He regarded it as ‘a great propaganda victory for Hamas and particularly in the context of inter-Palestinian rivalry since it can be seen as ‘breaking’ the siege of Gaza’. Even better from the point of view of Hamas has been their willingness to demonstrate that they ‘are willing to confront the Egyptian participation in the siege’.

He noted that when Israel withdrew from the border in 2005 there was an agreement between the EU, the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli’s that there would be European monitoring and patrolling of the border. This worked effectively for ‘a number of months… but because the Israel had the right of veto over the Europeans …whenever they prevented the Europeans operating the border was simply closed’. He pointed out that ‘there was evidence there that if this continued for a long time [i.e. no European presence] the Palestinians might well blow a hole in the barrier]’ In other words the Europeans were Israel’s insurance against this sort of event occurring but by preventing their operation the Israeli’s had effectively set up the circumstances in which it could happen.

One has to wonder whether Israeli’s actually recognise just how dismal these images play abroad. The genius of this act was to do something that was essentially non-violent and yet which pointed up the manner in which Palestinians are hemmed in within defined geographic areas as they wait for the parties which continue to protest their adherence to their best interests to actually do something to validate them.

The narrative ‘myths’ of democracy and capitalism demand freedom of movement. The images of the fall of the Berlin Wall are remarkably powerful precisely because they lock into a very deep rooted dynamic that rails against constraint and confinement. These recent images belong within that discourse. And sure, it’s one day, or a ‘hiccup’ as one of the contributors put it, and it’s unlikely to happen again. But… that one day proved the paucity of Israeli policy in what is still, under international law an occupied territory.

[Incidentally, as a complete aside, the idea was raised here recently that post-modernism (and one presumes by extension many other critiques) are fairly useless. Well, yes and no. How do we describe such intangibles as cultural narratives without recourse to them? Sure, we can describe the history, and perhaps drag in something akin to ‘opinion’, but for assessing the deeper dynamics [beyond economics] that shape action and response of historical or contemporary actors it is necessary to fit them within some sort of a framework… it’s something I hope to return to]

Why are people surprised? As the Guardian noted yesterday:

If you bottle up 1.5 million people in a territory 25 miles long and six miles wide, and turn off the lights, as Israel has done in Gaza, the bottle will burst. This is what happened yesterday when tens of thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt to buy food, fuel and supplies after militants destroyed two-thirds of the wall separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt. It was the biggest jail break in history.

It’s quite an image, isn’t it? And how about this?

But it was also a reply to the argument that the only way to stop Qassam rockets falling on the Israeli town of Sderot and the western Negev is to turn the screw still further. One side of the vessel has now shattered.

As the Guardian also noted:

Cutting off electricity to Gaza will not stop the Qassams [rockets], 400 of which have fallen in and around Sderot since the start of the month. Israel claims the number of Qassams has declined, although 20 were fired on Monday alone. Nor will military campaigns work. One waged in 2006 killed 400 Palestinians in Gaza, half of them civilian. Entering into or encouraging some form of political dialogue with Hamas would stop the Qassams, but Israel has set its face against this while Hamas refuses to recognise Israel’s existence.

The idea that one can crush a people, and keep crushing, and in doing so will prevent them from responding is so counterintuitive, so contrary to human experience across centuries and numerous conflicts that I find it bizarre that a significant group within Israel can believe it.

Still, Uri Dromi, Former Senior Aide to Israeli Prime Ministers Rabin and Peres used the ‘they brought it on themselves’ argument that due to their shelling of Israeli towns the inhabitants of Gaza had put themselves beyond the pale. I think that’s a problematic approach, not only because clearly not all the inhabitants are militants but because such responses by Israel have drawn the conclusion as reported in the Irish Times that:

The European Union and international agencies have described the closure as collective punishment – banned by the Geneva Conventions – of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.

Dromi further argued that the problem in Gaza is partially due to the Egyptians not controlling the border and that they had to restore ‘law and order, rebuild the fence, take control over the border more seriously, stop the smuggling of arms in tunnels’. Then in a breathtaking conceptual leap he argued that ‘…in the longer run we see something that allows us to look into the future and if we look at the map and see how big Sinai is with resources and how this could become part of an Egyptian/Palestinian solution’. Well… I think this is yet again reaching on the part of the Israeli’s, a sort of mental export of the actuality of the problems that are faced by them – not the Egyptians. This attitude has been seen in the idea pushed by parts of the Israeli right that Jordan must become the home for the Palestinians..

Mark Perry, former advisor to Yasser Arafat, argued that Fatah and Hamas were being pushed towards more formal talks. Perry believed that ‘…Abu Mazen look’s pretty bad right now having called for an embargo against Gaza last year’ and that the best way forward was a reformed National Unity government in order to ‘reunite the different strands of Palestinian politics’. Interestingly Dromi considered it ‘an internal matter for the Palestinians’ and he felt that ‘Israel should talk to them… if they [Hamas] won’t listen and want to break their heads against the wall, let them’. Dromi was pretty clear that US pressure had led to the vote at which Hamas had won and therefore the US mission to extend democracy to the Middle East was pointless. Whether this analysis of his is essentially self-serving in that it seems to deny that Palestinians can make rational democratic choices is difficult to say. Moreover, it’s worth noting that he is not part of the current Israeli government so perhaps his ability to speak more freely, if no more cheeringly, is a function of that.

Warren Olney asked wouldn’t bringing Hamas back into the process not be seen by people in Israel and the US as a ‘reward for violence’, although tellingly he noted that it might be seen as a ‘….reward for a form of terrorism, although knocking down the fence per se is perceived as a liberating exercise rather than one of violent terrorism’.

Interestingly the overall consensus was that Hamas would, sooner or later, be recognised as an interlocuter on behalf of the Palestinians, most likely in tandem with Fatah. I’m no fan of Hamas, but I am a fan of pragmatism. And really, doesn’t that point to the ruin of the efforts by the US on these issues? Meanwhile, does anyone know where Tony Blair is in all this? Not that I think his intervention would improve things, but… wasn’t part of his latest job – oh no, sorry, it was just announced this month that he’s going to advise JP Morgan in some capacity – I mean of course the job before that one, something about being an envoy…

The trouble with the two thirds majority in Irish politics and elsewhere… usually close but not close enough… January 24, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
29 comments

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I take a slightly more benign view of the weekends proceedings at the Green Party than franklittle – while very much appreciating his critique. 63% in favour is quite a turnaround in a party which has traditionally been antagonistic to the European project. What others may wonder is whether this is a generalised figure applicable to the population as a whole or specific to the hot-house atmosphere of a somewhat love-bombed GP (although let me be the first to say that the discussion document released to members prior to Christmas was – to my mind – the soul of objectivity). And while I’m at it, interesting is it not how Patricia McKenna said that the GP should stay in Coalition despite the vote. Her open reason is that this now gives the GP Ministers a better hand in Cabinet. Well, perhaps.

However, I’d like to discuss a broader aspect of the events than the actual political issue at hand, fascinating as it is. And that is the nature of policy/direction change in political formations in the context of democratic votes of this sort. Or to lapse into the colloquial, what a world of pain in Irish politics we’ve seen with this ‘two-thirds’ majority approach where everyone winds up both winner and loser…

I have personal experience from the Workers’ Party vote in 1992 when the ‘reformation’ of the party was proposed by a group – largely but not exclusively – based around the TDs and opposed by a group – largely but not exclusively – based within the party bureaucracy. The proposition was formulated within the same sort of 66/33% rule that we saw the Greens use. In other words it required a two-thirds majority to pass.

The proposition failed – but not by much with 61% support. Subsequently almost all the TDs departed to establish what was to become Democratic Left while a rump remained with the WP. Here’s the interesting thing. In my estimation not all of those who voted against the measure remained with the WP, otherwise I suspect it would have retained a greater political profile. Nor, I’m certain, did all those who voted for the measure go with the TDs. The outcome of that vote? Two formations that were weaker than the original one.

Should the TDs have stayed on? Well, broader political forces were now at play. This was before the FF/Labour coalition, but I’m sure that more than one person thought given time that the more likely – at that time – coalition of FG/Labour would accept a ‘cleaner’ post-WP grouping as a more attractive partner…

It’s funny, isn’t it, how while in almost all other contexts a straight majority is sufficient to allow a group or organisation, or indeed a society, to proceed this overwhelming majority – or supermajority as it’s sometimes termed – generally is restricted to policy shifts within political parties or constitutional amendments, particularly in polities where there are distinct minorities either ethnic or political whose rights are enshrined. This latter case is most obvious in an example such as Canada where secession remains a clear possibility and therefore the dice are loaded against such an eventuality… in a most democratic way it has to be noted..! Consider that brilliant rhetorical sleight of hand where the actuality of ‘bolshevik’ and ‘menshevik’ was switched in a feat worthy of Baudrillard. The word has power… no doubt at all. Indeed Lenin himself considered that “There can be no mass party, no party of a class, without full clarity of essential shadings, without an open struggle between tendencies”. No Proudhon he and that’s not exactly how it worked in practise, but… it does point to the enduring power of the idea both of the majority and some limited rights for minority viewpoints.

And in a political organisation the reason is self-evident. A political party which faces a major policy or organisational shift doesn’t have the coherence that a society has. If a divide is more evenly balanced, say 54% to 46% that indicates not merely a large pool of dissent, but more troublingly the potential for a split. Given the history of Sinn Féin in 1970s it is hardly surprising that both legacy wings – PSF and the WP – would find that party coherence and integrity was, on balance, more important than a simple majority vote.

After all January 11th 1970 is engraved on many a heart… that was when Sinn Féin split into Official and Provisional wings following a vote on abstention. The vote fell short of two thirds [incidentally does anyone have the actual figures? I flatter myself on a goodish library of books on these matters and I swear it’s as if everyone is simply cutting and pasting that phrase] and therefore wasn’t carried into party policy. As ever there were complaints of the leadership manipulating the vote. It’s an interesting thought as to what would have happened had the vote passed the 2/3rds hurdle. Would the authority of the party superceded the issue of the principle – much as it did in 1986 – or would those who walked away (some third of the delegates – natch) have been able to establish the Provisionals as the dominant voice of Republicanism? My instinct is that something between those two positions would have occurred if only because the dynamic towards a form of ‘defenderism’ appears to have been so deeply embedded. But… it’s interesting to reflect on what a more ‘official’ Official movement might have been able to do to alter the trajectory of the ensuing conflict…

The greater the number involved in majority formation the more that an exemplary effect would operate particularly in open votes (ah yes, the open vote. Never entirely sure about them myself… and not entirely thrilled to see that used at the weekend).

Still I can’t help feeling that – as in 1991/92 with the WP – the very fact a formation drew greater than 60% in favour of a specific course of action indicates that general sentiment runs with the proposition. It’s as one moves closer and closer to the 66% that conversely the tendency to split may be exacerbated by that very closeness. After all, if it’s 64% or 65% what is the point in remaining within a formation and having to argue it again the following year? In a way that was something that puzzled me about the WP vote. Sure, there was inertia in the party and there was a strong case for some sort of ‘reform’, but those proposing the changes were clearly able to call upon a strong majority within the party. I always believed that given twelve months chances were they would prevail, and almost certainly within a couple of years… but then perhaps the rolling dissolution of the USSR was in part a dynamic that assisted the unseemly sprint by the leadership to the exit. And there’s another thing. Whatever point one wishes to set these rules at one can be certain that it will be fought across.

Granted at least we were never treated to a Gerry Collins (of Fianna Fáil) moment with someone on either side coming out and pleading with the other side not to ‘bust up the party!’. Frankly, it wasn’t, as a perusal of this site will indicate, that sort of a party.

PSF experienced much the same in 1986 over abstentionism. There are those who are absolutely certain that the Ard Fhéis was packed with paper members. Perhaps it was. But perhaps – as subsequent history has demonstrated – the tide was always going to run in one direction there too. The vote was a little better managed than others with 161 of 590 delegates voting against the removal of abstentionism. And while dissidents continue to complain about the technicalities of the vote (some suggest that strictly speaking it wasn’t constitutional), they’re largely missing the point. The genius of human institutions is to permit flexibility.

And that’s an interesting aspect to this. Democracy rests upon more rather than less. But how many more? Which question of course links into the functional aspect of political activity. Yes, 50% + whatever is a majority. Yet… it’s hardly the most stable basis for action. But then, in democracy there is no stable basis. It varies, it shifts. And why wouldn’t it? These are people we’re talking about.

To divert slightly, I’m always reminded of a piece by P.J. O’Rourke which I think appears in A Parliament of Whores. The book itself is a dissection from a libertarian right perspective of US democracy – and well worth a read what ever one’s individual political stance. But at the end he considers local democracy and gives the example of a town hall meeting – or somesuch – in his own area where the issue of an industrial/commercial development was put to a vote. It was voted down and O’Rourke, while appreciating the perfect (or imperfect) democratic aspect of the vote actually finds himself repulsed by a process which can lead to this outcome and asks why it is that a businessman (for it is a man) should see a project that had months, if not years, invested in it simply pushed aside by an expression of the public will which may or may not be informed fully and which when set against that investment is often shallow or transitory. O’Rourke is not a simple reactionary, and I understand his qualms, but I’ve always found those qualms telling and … in their own way profoundly reactionary and anti-democratic. And my reasons for that are quite simple, at the very least a public vote of that nature (and wow, could we do with some of that sort of local authority – and I mean that in the many meanings of the term) allows us to take the temperature of those who do have an investment, have a voice and an absolute right to have that voice heard. If I live in an area I expect that my voice will be heard – but I also accept that the input my voice has is contingent on other processes and issues. In a way O’Rourke feeds into the sort of discourse that Leo Strauss was part of… a sort of radically intellectualised ‘don’t tread on me’ approach [btw, worth reading his thoughts on ancients and moderns in regard to political philosophy which have a relevance to our discussions this week on John Waters and Galileo. Strauss was no fool and I suspect his heart was with reason, but his work pulls back to revelation of one form or another continually]. But of course Strauss had a hesitant relationship with democracy at the best of times… which is not to say he was precisely anti-democratic, but perhaps more accurately ademocratic (to coin a term). And it is not difficult, although perhaps churlish, to suggest that a line can be drawn from that agnosticism as regards democracy towards the rule of elites, a tendency which was exacerbated by what I would propose was his distinct fear or aversion to the demos. Still, you don’t have to go looking for that on the left or the right. In the populist ‘progressivist’ centre we see much the same dynamic emerging with the thinking of the rather fascinating but not entirely correct Christopher Lasch, a figure once of some note on the US centre left (and remarkably of the Frankfurt School) who as time progressed shifted to a rather tart centre right view which was provided almost an inverse of the elitism of Strauss through a process of identification with the demos, but a rather narrowly defined and constrained demos at that. Most distressing – to me at least – was the eventual aversion of Lasch to divorce and seeming distrust of feminism. Actually I think he is worth a post of his own so I hope to return to him

That as societies we tend to permit the 50% plus one to allow us to – for example – change divorce laws (rightly in my opinion) demonstrates a certain ambivalence as to these things. Many of those now pleased with the problematic aspect of the Green Party vote would express no such reservation over the outcome of the knife edge divorce referendum which finally permitted divorce in the Republic of Ireland. There the votes was 50.3% in favour, 49.7% against. So close – eh? For either side, and my sympathies were with the former.

It’s entirely understandable, human nature being what it is when ‘our’ side wins we tend to see the victory as all, and ignore or at least underplay the processes which led to that victory. Incidentally I’d be interested to see what the current support/opposition to divorce is in the RoI. My instinct is that there is probably greater support since the most hyperbolic negative implications have tended not to occur – but perhaps I’m wrong and polling data indicates the opposite.

And there perhaps O’Rourke’s point of view has a certain traction. Because democracy is in some ways a pretense, or one might argue a ‘myth’ in the Barthesian sense. It pretends that a democratic will exists above and beyond the issues themselves that permits or legitimates actions to be taken or validated which inevitably lead to the circumscription of the views of others who take a differing viewpoint. A minority is a minority. The 1995 vote was remarkable if only because the vote could – potentially – have gone either way and either side could have been the majority. About 9,000 people to be honest. That’s all it took. Now none of what I say about democracy being ‘mythic’ is novel, both Leninists and libertarians have argued similar points from different starting places – hence the wonderfully odd injunction against ‘initiating force’ amongst the latter.

And I doubt there is anyone who would seriously argue that – for example – in elections a 66%/33% rule would be a better and more ‘democratic’ expression of the electoratal will than the current one. Indeed, almost counterintuitively, such an idea would be closer in practice to the enormous democratic deficits which are thrown up by First Past the Post systems, such as that in the UK. I’m not certain whether that might lead to the embedding of a minority position. Perhaps, but either way it doesn’t seem entirely ‘democratic’.

So the general usage is for constitutional amendments in certain jurisdictions (well, some. For example Lisbon will stand or fail on a referendum of 50% plus one) or again for policy or constitutional amendments within political parties.

That the Green Party nuances this with a sort of half-way house is both very Green, very consensus-like, and to my mind rather honest whatever one thinks of the issue itself (mind you, let’s not get too entranced with consensus – if I recall correctly there was some analysis of US Green consensus structures that seemed a bit tricksy). Since they failed to win the two-thirds majority their members are under the terms of the vote able to campaign as they see fit. As it happens the parliamentary party will campaign with one voice – that of support, but it could have been otherwise.

It’s also fair to say that this is hardly unprecedented in political terms or in relation to Europe. Note how in the UK in the 1970s Labour MPs were permitted to support which ever side they saw fit on EEC accession. I may not like that in political terms, since I can see how it might lead to outcomes I’d be strongly against, but it’s hard to argue that it is dictatorial or whatever (indeed consider, if you will how Sinn Féin would have handled the policing issue had it decided that individual members were able to promote either side of the debate from within or without the party. Recent history might have taken a more unpredictable turn).

And here we must address other issues. Party unity is crucial on the left and the Republican left. The reasons for that are also self-evident, particularly in the latter. The relatively small size of such parties means that any slippage in membership can be disastrous. That some formations from the Republican left had – connections – with other organisations with a somewhat different profile required a near military discipline. And that worked in intriguing ways leading to a politics that could acquire an authoritarian hue despite itself. I’m hardly the first to propose that if one examines either the WP or PSF this discipline manifested, and indeed continues to manifest, itself. That the WP blended both the ethos of the Republican ‘secret army’ heritage and a sort of sub-Leninist party organisation perhaps exacerbated that tendency within it more than PSF. Mind you, consider that from the ceasefires in the early 1970s to the split in 1991/2 it took nigh on two decades for the sort of open debate about strategy and direction which presaged the division to appear. If we are to see a similar dynamic manifest itself in PSF we might expect it to occur – well, any day now…

So, being an oldish cynic, it seems that the 66% rule is effectively a reflection of the structural aspects of political activity, rather than being wedded to any particular conception of democracy. We can expect it to be rolled out as validation, or indeed otherwise, of party positions and policies for quite some time… but my advice? Dump it. Otherwise we’ll continue to see the remarkable sight of 60 per cent plus majorities being considered defeats…

Talking about history – Clinton or Obama? And what happens next? January 23, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.
74 comments

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Is it just me, and my political wonkishness, or is the US election really interesting? Okay, I’ve almost never encountered an election I didn’t like, but there is something about this one which is fascinating. Perhaps it’s because it comes at the end of the Bush era and therefore represents at least some opportunity for a substantial change for the US. With that there is a certain sense of relief. Perhaps it is because while none of the main contenders on the Democratic side are recognisably leftist in my own sense of the word they do at least use progressive rhetoric and some of the policies are on the progressive side of the fence.

Perhaps too because it’s been seven or eight months since the Irish election and it’s great to be able to watch from afar with neither the necessity for input on the ground nor the sense that the outcome is (short of some terrifying paleo-Republican candidate emerging as a likely winner) existentially threatening in the way 2000 and 2004 were. And so excuse me one and all if I take some vicarious pleasure in what is going on.

Having said that, is it also just me, or am I hearing a glum chorus rising about this election. I’d propose that It is the result of entirely understandable and sincere but perhaps overly optimistic expectations.
Overly optimistic if only because any feasible US President emerging from the contemporary US polity is unlikely to be leftist in a recognisable sense. Few of us have no dreams left to be shattered on that score and therefore the essentially centrist candidates we see are par for the course.
To me this is an occasion when politically, in the aftermath of almost a decade of sheer bloody stupidity, a boring liberal centrist will be an improvement. To see the dial in US political life pushed leftwards again… as it will be by candidates who actually understand what Kyoto was about, don’t see the United Nations as something to be a perpetual whipping boy, universal or near universal healthcare and so forth is a good thing and why bother fretting that somehow somewhere the space between right social democracy (if that is even the best that is on offer) and democratic socialism can be bridged in US political culture at this time when it can’t?

I wonder is part of this that, as in Ireland before the election, people began to believe a left discourse about another more left wing world being possible and large gains being possible, and genuinely and sincerely expected that in the aftermath of the Iraq War there would be some sort of significant shift to the left? If there is one message I’ve tried to put across here over the past year on that score it is that the Iraq War was never the pivot around which a left project could be built or sustained, anymore than the anti-globalisation campaigns were previously or indeed as some think climate change will be.

If the war eventually sees a pacified Iraq [and what a quotient of misery that term ‘pacified’ conceals], human nature being what it is will most likely forget the enormous expenditure of human capital involved in the process. Bar people like us who broadly cares about the toll that was exacted upon Vietnam, or indeed Afghanistan by the Soviet invasion? And while certain things must never be forgotten it’s important to recognise the limits of human memory and the propensity to forget. And that means that neither Labour in the UK or the Republicans in the US will be vanquished as historical forces and replaced by a purer left. It’s not going to happen, or at least not over the war.
Is it also possible that the worst, most hyperbolic fears expressed over the past decade haven’t come to pass? The US, despite the most fearful prognostications, has not descended into fascism. Cheney and Bush are diminished. The Republicans are in retreat. US civil society has survived, is even perhaps more resilient than was given credit. The War has generated an unease and anger about what has happened both within and beyond US borders and this has translated into a wish to move on. That this is inchoate and that it is often rhetorical is not to say it is entirely without virtue. Which means that to some degree we are left with the statue quo ante. This could be 1994 or 2000, a proposition that is arguably more depressing than the lack of a serious leftist presence during this election because the journey to go is still so substantial and the progress made since 1994 or 2000 so minimal if at all.

I’m not in any sense criticising those who held such hopes. There were moments when it appeared that something close to structural change was possible. But… since I imagine almost all who read this blog have already lived through one genuinely revolutionary stage in European history – in a political sense – (1989, as it happens – FWIW I’d consider 68 to have been proto-revolutionary… at best – then again who am I to judge?) I’m fairly dubious about suggestions that liberal democracies are facades that only need to be pushed over. But hope is what keeps people going, isn’t it? And rightly so.

I’m not a huge fan of Hilary Clinton, but oddly there was something in her point about not wanting to see America go backward. The problem is that it has – quite a way. And away from dreams of revolution (or even the sort of strong social democracy/democratic socialism I would like to see but which is utterly implausible in the short to medium term) even a woman or a black man contesting the White House – epochal though such contests might be in historical terms – after eight years of war and frustration may well and understandably seem so much less significant than it otherwise would be.

Which leads to an important question. Away from the politics just what is the historical resonance of 2008 and the candidates?

Let me direct you all to a recent and interesting piece on KCRW’s To the Point

Host Warren Olney posed the question to Robert Dallek, Professor of History at Boston University (and author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963) “Is history being made and if so what kind of history in the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses…?’

Dallek responded:

What I find most interesting in these developments is first of all the extent to which the country has moved so dramatically from where it was as recently as 40 years ago. It was unimaginable in 1968 to have an African American and a woman seen as the prime contenders for the Presidential nomination in the Dem party and could you have imagined a Southerner as the leading candidate for the Republican nomination… this is revolutionary so to speak. Huckabee represents the return of the South to national politics…over the past forty years.

[It’s] a dramatic departure. I trace it back to John Kennedy in 1960 as the first Catholic to win the White House and breaks down the tradition of only having white Protestant males and it is you know going on fifty years of course, things move slowly but they are moving.

If they win the White House it will be seen as a dramatic event in American history.’

Olney noted that Obama wasn’t precisely African American and that he came out of a complex family background and asked how significant was that?

I think Dallek’s response provides an interesting and important insight into the nature of US self-identity. He said:

‘It’s very significant, you see, he’s not the slave narrative. If he did come from that background it would be more difficult for him. He comes from the immigrant narrative which is much easier for millions of Americans to identify with than slave history.’

Olney asked about oratory and was told:

Obama was by himself on the podium and the focus was entirely on him. Very emotional speech, high toned than you might see first time out in a Presidential process.

What they wanted to do was put the spotlight exclusively on him. This is a man who has forged ahead and made his way to the top of the Iowa primary and he doesn’t need his wife, family and supporters in the background. You saw it with other candidates, it’s a sense that they’re propping them up. His talk was more in the Adlai Stevenson tradition… perhaps too cerebral and might kill him off. But you know this is not settled yet. All these other states. I think Huckabee is more vulnerable than Obama. It’s still a horse race.

Obama looks in pretty good shape… particularly as the field is being winnowed down.

Asked if Romney lost in New Hampshire was he out of the race and also about Huckabee trouncing a traditional Republican businessman [Romney] Dallek suggested that:

Well, if he can’t do well in the state next door to his own he’s running out of time…
Huckabee represents a change in the Republicans… a powerful Southern base once Democrat now Republican, a lot of that South is populist and evangelical. The biggest loser in this whole thing is GW Bush, he’s the one who is being repudiated.

Mind you, talking about race, and the aftermath of New Hampshire, State Senator Robert Ford of South Carolina, a former civil rights activist who had been jailed numerous times was on a subsequent To The Point. As an African American he had some intriguing points to make. His thesis is that whites in the South generally won’t vote for black candidates. He noted that of 8,000 black elected officials… 99% of the officials represent districts where there was 51% black populations… in other words they simply couldn’t get elected – due to residual racism – otherwise. And his choice for candidate – not Obama, but Hilary Clinton, or as he put it the relationship of the Clintons with the black community stretched back 35 years and simply because a candidate emerged like Obama didn’t mean they would abandon their ‘friends’. One wonders how he feels about the way in which the legacies of Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson have become a bone of contention between the Clinton and Obama camps in the past fortnight.

On the same programme Tony Fabrizio a Republican pollster from Fabrizio, McLaughlin, & Associates considered that McCain might be better positioned than Huckabee, but noted that the enthusiasm on the Democratic side and the turnout boded ill for the November election. The disfavour of Bush and the War was driving the vote…

And in contrast Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist, thought that Dems were broadly happy with any of the top three candidates.

People are disenchanted with the President, as indeed are the Republicans. Barely half of the Republicans polled at the exit polls said they were happy with Bush.

Larry Sabato, Professor of Government at the University of Virginia, thought it hard to see how Edwards could emerge with the nomination, but he was determined to go on. He wondered what would happen if Edwards dropped out and endorsed Obama.. could he move 15 – 18% to Obama? He thought it unlikely that he’d support Clinton.

Meanwhile a comfortable win for Hilary Clinton in Michigan, in the absence of her rivals. Whether they will rue not keeping their names on the ballot is an interesting point if only because this essentially empty win solidifies her campaigns sense of inevitability as it reaches towards the nomination (still, she is already retreating from the race row with Obama – both of them were particularly generous to each other during a debate the night before last – and no wonder when polling data indicates that she won just 26% of black votes in the Michigan). And what of Mitt Romney, a man who makes Pinocchio look overly expressive, who finally wins something. But, wow, his victory speech was leaden. This is the best the Republican party can put up? And note how he has begun to drape himself in the mantle of an insurgent… he actually said: “Guess what they’re doing in Washington?” Mr Romney told supporters at his victory rally in Michigan. “They’re worrying, because they realise – the lobbyists and the politicians realise – that America now understands that Washington is broken, and we’re going to do something about it.”

Well, call me a cynic… but…

Meanwhile McCain is becoming a somewhat unreliable front-runner, which is a fair turn around since the Autumn. Bill Clinton is falling asleep on the job, and everyone is talking about race by…er…not talking about it directly.

What’s so remarkable is that it is all happening so relatively swiftly. Will we know for sure on February 5th? Probably not the way this one is running. But… at least we’ll have a better idea of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the candidates – on both sides. Sure, as someone on Socialist Unity noted they have no ‘programmes’ (in the Marxist sense)… but who really expected them to…and for the moment looking at the Democrat front-runners in the photograph at the top of the page, a woman and a black man, I’m not complaining. There’ll be plenty of time for that if either (or indeed both on a ticket) are elected.

My God! It’s full of stars… or journey to the true centre of the universe with John Waters (and Galileo) in the Irish Times… January 22, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, media, Media and Journalism, Pseudo-Science, Religion, Science, Skepticism, Society.
38 comments

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Okay, this Monday we’re treated by John Waters to a remarkable overview of then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, and his intriguing relationship with Galileo (incidentally, credit where credit is due, Waters had a rather good piece on Wayne O’Donoghue a week or so back which was both sympathetic and rational albeit that his suggestion that O’Donoghue should just assume a ‘normal’ life was probably unfeasible). But talking about the rational… how’s this?

It was widely reported last week that Pope Benedict cancelled a visit to Rome’s oldest university, La Sapienza, after a number of academics and students accused him of despising science and defending the Inquisition’s condemnation of Galileo.

The Vatican said it was considered opportune to postpone the visit due to a lack of the “prerequisites for a dignified and tranquil welcome” following a sit-in by 50 students and a letter signed by 67 professors, including several allegedly eminent scientists.

The signatories said Benedict’s presence would be “incongruous” because of a speech he made at La Sapienza in 1990, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in which he quoted the judgment of an Austrian philosopher, Paul Feyerabend, that the church’s trial of Galileo was “reasonable and fair”. The letter declared: “These words offend and humiliate us.” This episode is emblematic of our latter-day blogosphere culture in embracing both ideological spite and indifference to truth, manifesting the classic symptoms of a whirlwind created on the internet by neurotics exchanging bites of information by way of stoking each other’s narcissistic obsession with expressing their democratic right to make fools of themselves.

Truth, as I’ve taken some time to demonstrate on these pages, is very much what our correspondent defines it.
As to the rest? Oh sugar, he’s talking about many of us! Well, that’s a tad rude John, play the ball, not the women and men. And, so what? . Such a profoundly mean-spirited statement as regards perhaps the broadest number of people (yet still pitifully small) in human history to engage is telling. Sure, some of it is frivolous, shallow, tedious and self-regarding. But much of it is fascinating, informative and generous.

Anyhow, ever onwards…

His title was The Crisis of Faith in Science, referring not to declining belief among scientists but a wider loss of confidence in the capacity of science to address the core questions of existence.

Far from attacking science, he was highlighting instances in which scientists have questioned the basis of secularism in the modern world. Among his points was that there are implications, other than cosmological ones, arising from Galileo’s discoveries.

Never! Implications other than cosmological? Well, I never. But, then again, that’s not entirely surprising. For example, one might point to how Galileo’s discoveries undercut a considerable portion of the authority of the Church to speak on such matters with any degree of credibility. But… that’s not necessarily what our correspondent means…

[Marxist philosopher Ernst ] Bloch held that Einstein’s revolution meant it was possible to perceive the Earth as fixed and the Sun as mobile. Ratzinger quoted Bloch’s surprising conclusion: “Once the relativity of movement is taken for granted, an ancient human and Christian system of reference has no right to interference in astronomic calculations and their heliocentric simplification; however, it has the right to remain faithful to its method of preserving the Earth in relation to human dignity, and to order the world with regard to what will happen and what has happened in the world.” In other words, once you accept Einstein’s theory, you could reasonably conclude that the Christian worldview should be kept out of astronomy, but Christianity is right to continue seeing the Earth as the moral centre of the cosmos, and placing human dignity at the centre of the creation equation.

Okay… now, I’m a tedious old rationalist and materialist. But what on earth is Bloch saying, and why on earth should Ratzinger quote it as if it actually means something? Or rather, sure it’s saying something, but it’s confusing two very different approaches.

“Once the relativity of movement is taken for granted, an ancient human and Christian system of reference has no right to interference in astronomic calculations and their heliocentric simplification; however, it has the right to remain faithful to its method of preserving the Earth in relation to human dignity, and to order the world with regard to what will happen and what has happened in the world.”

An interesting quote, but one which is entirely problematic. The linkage between relativity and a ‘right to remain faithful to its method of preserving the Earth in relation to human dignity’ is – on a rational level – meaningless. These are category errors, and no less so simply because one might put the prefix ‘Marxist’ in front of Bloch’s name. Bloch is making a broad rather diffuse point that is not uninteresting, but it’s not convincing. Yet again there is a blurring, deliberate perhaps, between cosmology in the scientific sense and a worldview generated from a religious perspective. Indeed whether Bloch’s words are as advertised is a different matter, but why does Waters see fit to take his view as of any significance on this matter one way or another? Well, the answer is that he does so because the then Cardinal Ratzinger quoted him.

It was here, somewhat agape, that Ratzinger cited Feyerabend, an agnostic and sceptical Austrian/American philosopher (1924-94).

Ratzinger said: “If both the spheres of conscience are once again clearly distinguished among themselves under their respective methodological profiles, recognising both their limits and their respective rights, then the synthetic judgment of the agnostic-skeptic philosopher P Feyerabend appears much more drastic. He writes: ‘The church at the time of Galileo was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Galileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimised solely for motives of political opportunism.'”

But again, why should we accept Feyerabend (agnostic and all) as being in any particular position to argue the faithfulness to ‘reason’ of the Church as against Galileo (indeed it’s interesting is it not how Waters reifies one sort of expertise or enquiry – that being the useful, but nebulous area of certain aspects of philosophy, over dull old scientific research or expertise as we’ve seen in his railing against those who use tedious statistics which undermine his argument)? Why not actually ask someone who understand the methodologies of reason – and in particular the scientific method, such as it was that Galileo was attempting to work within – such as.. such as… well, y’know, a scientist. Perhaps one who has attempted to deal directly with these issues. But to do that would be to move away from the rather fluffy terrain that the argument is constructed upon, one which tangentially engages with ‘reason’ but only in the limited terms that the argument is formulated and move on to dealing with it in the context of people who know precisely what they are trying to do.

Indeed if we examine what Waters writes we will see that at no point is there an engagement with ‘truth’ or ‘reason’ in any sense that allows us a clear definitions of these terms. Does he mean a process of deduction, the application of logic, empiricism? Any or all? We are left none the wiser. Or rather, we can be fairly clear that this is not at all what he means. Consider the following passage.

From here, Ratzinger moved to the failure of the church to deal correctly with the ethical implications of the Galilean perspective, which, in its wider interpretation, he noted, CF Von Weizsacker had identified as creating a “very direct path” to the atomic bomb. Ratzinger concluded: “It would be absurd, on the basis of these affirmations, to construct a hurried apologetics. The faith does not grow from resentment and the rejection of rationality, but from its fundamental affirmation and from being inscribed in a still greater form of reason.”

I love the idea that the atomic bomb is the logical outcome of Galileo moreso say than being the logical outcome of the first sea dwelling ancestor of ours to flop a flipper onto the sand of some ancient shore and start the long slow crawl that took us to the Moon. It’s so brilliantly absolutist as if all modernity is summed up in that single device (and yes, Des Fennell, has argued something not disconnected from that idea, and no, I don’t buy it either). Why not penicillin? Gameboys? Cinema? The mapping of Mercury which is happening as we speak by a US probe? Could it be that these are insufficiently existential (although for my money the last is pretty existential if one wishes to see a useful purpose for humanity as the – so far – only fully self-aware and reflective aspect of the universe… a notion which as it happens fits right into a rational discourse and perhaps a religious one also). One too might raise an eyebrow at the idea of ‘hurried apologetics’. Just how long would it take? A millennium? Two, perhaps?

But how does that expression of the ‘absurdity’ of an hurried apology (367 years and counting as it was for poor old Galileo when Ratzinger made his speech in 1990) sit with those reprobates who ‘accused him of despising science and defending the Inquisition’s condemnation of Galileo’. Perhaps I’m being foolishly rational here. But at the very least he’s sailing close to the wind in terms of defending that condemnation. No, one could plausibly posit that he’s implicitly defending it.

One wonders though what Waters thinks about the actual Gallileo controversy? Does he know that this wasn’t some arcana with different cosmological (and the beauty of that term in the context of this article is that it diffuses meaning rather than pinpoints it) hypotheses in some sort of genteel dispute but that Galileo was able to prove empirically by observation that the Earth moved around the Sun. That he could point a telescope into the night sky and make these observations, and then make them again, and again, and again. And these observations were replicated by Jesuit astronomers. The Church – beyond the astronomers – was unable to dismiss or demonstrate that they were fundamentally incorrect. This wasn’t theory unsupported by evidence, but this was, in the context of the scientific method of the time, fact. Not belief, but ‘truth’. And that truth (or rather the potential truth based on observation) was directly in contravention of an entirely different sort of ‘truth’ based on a literal reading of the Bible. There’s no ifs and buts in this discussion. That’s it. It’s irrelevant if Galileo’s work did lead to the bomb. It’s entirely irrelevant what is said 367 years later in a lecture. Galileo, using a methodology based in science, imperfect and contradictory as science was at the time, produced evidence based theories which were proven correct and the other sort of ‘truth’ which isn’t truth at all, but simply assertion, wasn’t.

And all the handwaving that Ratzinger does by recourse to Weizsacker and Feyerabend doesn’t alter that one iota.

And here we have it, yet again. Shadow boxing as a substitute for argument. Consider again part of his opening piece…

His title was The Crisis of Faith in Science, referring not to declining belief among scientists but a wider loss of confidence in the capacity of science to address the core questions of existence.

Far from attacking science, he was highlighting instances in which scientists have questioned the basis of secularism in the modern world. Among his points was that there are implications, other than cosmological ones, arising from Galileo’s discoveries.

The problem with these arguments is that who is to say what the ‘core questions of existence’ are? I don’t know? Does anyone? Which means that we get a smorgasbord of complaints and worries and agonised fretting about some sort of ‘meaning’ which seems almost profound until it is examined at close range at which point it merely seems to be a sort of discontent that a religious interpretation of existence has been superseded by something arguably more honest if not approaching the rarified heights of ‘truth’ that our correspondent thinks we should all be herded (and I use that term deliberately) towards.

The universe is fascinating. Cosmology – the real stuff – is an area that any thinking human should consider deeply. There are implications that are profound, issues that are unresolvable, developments that some hardened materialist scientists suggest may point to interesting questions… even if they are unable to provide evidence of answers. It is an area that those of faith can find some comfort in as much as those without find intellectual satisfaction.

But… wouldn’t it be nice to hear something positive, something that doesn’t take the form of yet another attack on people both specific in terms of the scientists and students who quite reasonably find little in Ratzingers words but a sort of apologia for events that were profoundly anti-rational (and let’s not even begin to get into the socio-political reasons why the Inquisition acted the way it did which was for reasons rather more mundane than differing views of cosmology and considerably more rooted in preserving power elites) and general in terms of societies which find that religious interpretations are less and less useful as a means of judging and assessing the world and universe about us. One might find that depressing, or one might find it – as I do – an opportunity for religious thinking to move towards a more fully rigorous relationship with empiricism… as indeed those who have toiled long and hard for the Vatican in the area of astronomy have managed to do which brings me to the last line…

The theme of the pope’s planned address at La Sapienza, incidentally, was: “There is a danger in modern times that man may stop seeking the truth”.

Except let’s not look too closely at the Vatican Observatory, because, surprise, surprise a report in the Independent under the heading “Science bows to theology as the Pope dismantles the Vatican observatory” suggests that:

Science is to make way for diplomacy at the Pope’s summer residence, with the dismantling of the astronomical observatory that has been part of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, for more than 75 years. The Pope needs more room to receive diplomats so the telescopes have to go.

The whole observatory is being moved some 10 miles to a nearby disused convent. While: Father Jose G Funes, the present director of the observatory, known as the Specola Vaticana, insisted that there was no sinister significance in the move. “It is not a downgrading of science in the Vatican,” he said. “To remain within the palace would have had only a symbolic significance, whereas where we are going we will be even more comfortable… The Independent notes that… But symbolism is exactly what close watchers of Pope Benedict XVI see in the move: confirmation of the view that he is far less receptive to what scientists – including scientists in dog collars – want to tell him than his recent predecessors. He has, for example, spoken in favour of intelligent design, in flat contradiction of the views of the observatory’s former director.

Whereas: The theological conservatism of the Polish pope (John Paul II) cohabited oddly with an enthusiastic acceptance of the findings of science. In a speech in 1996, for instance, he came close to accepting the theory of evolution.

Father Coyne’s (the previous director) tenure did not long outlast the reign of John Paul. When Coyne retired in August 2006, it was rumoured that hostility to intelligent design had been his undoing. Benedict’s rejection of the Enlightenment, and the reign of scientific truth which it ushered in, is well established.

Symbols are powerful. There I would agree with John Waters. But to talk of truth and to act in this way, even for the best of intentions, suggests that there is a fundamental problem.

The continuing efforts, and they’re not restricted to our correspondent, to elide issues of emotion, belief and a sort of starry eyed transcendence with the power of the empirical, rational and scientific and ascribe the authority that those latter methodologies contain in order to support contentions that seem some distance from ‘truth’ are depressing. There is a word for that sort of construct. It’s called a ‘belief’. But while beliefs are not necessarily of any particular harm it really is long past time that this strange effort to gift them that authority was discontinued. Isn’t it?

Meanwhile Pete Baker on Slugger takes a more benign view of this in an interesting piece

The Left Archive: “Armed Struggle: An Open Letter to PIRA”, the Communist Party of Ireland, 1988 January 20, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Communist Party of Ireland, Irish Left Online Document Archive.
63 comments

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cpi-88-2.pdf

A self-explanatory but very interesting document that runs to some 30 odd pages (the file size is 8mb – if this poses problems please comment and I’ll try to reduce it yet further). This black and white A4 pamphlet contains an open letter to PIRA and responses to that letter from various individuals and parties, finishing with a further response from the CPI. It is much as one might expect, and yet, I can’t help but admire the fact that such a discussion was taking place during a very dark period of the Troubles. I might – retrospectively – wish that the WP had been so wedded to persuasion as the CPI, but I guess that such a dialogue was close to impossible given the animosity and shared roots of the various organisations.

One point. When scanning this I neglected to include the front page. This was a donation, so I sent it back before realising the error. If anyone has a scan of the front page I’d be very grateful if you could forward it to the cedarlounge at cedarlounge@yahoo.ie so I can add it to the PDF. It doesn’t lose much without it, but to maintain the integrity of the document it’s better with it!

Odd that… a secret Irish history? January 20, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History.
20 comments

Interesting obit in the Irish Times on Saturday for former senior civil servant John Irvine who passed away at 82. He had a varied if not entirely unusual life and career as a civil servant, working in the P&T initially. He was deputy director general of RTE and was later involved in the radio sector. Still, I’m indebted to Fergus for pointing me to the following sentence…

Born (in 1925) the eldest son of nine children in Moneyglass, Co. Antrim, the family moved in 1925 to a Belfast home, the upper storey of which overlooked Crumlin Road jail. As a teenager there, John recalled Eamon de Valera being pointed out to him while exercising in the prison yard…

So Eamon de Valera was in Crumlin Road in the late 1930s or early 1940s? Now that doesn’t sound right…

Party rejection of treaty ‘a mandate to support it’, says Gormley as EU Treaty divide firms up. January 20, 2008

Posted by franklittle in European Politics, European Union, Green Party, Greens, Irish Politics, Media and Journalism, Minor Left Parties, Sinn Féin, Socialist Workers' Party, The Left.
26 comments

It’s a great headline to the story that yesterday’s Green Party conference failed to agree a position of either opposing or supporting the forthcoming Lisbon Treaty. It is pretty clear that the majority of Green Party delegates decided to back the party leadership’s call for a Yes vote. Whether it was because they felt that as a party in government they had to do so, or because they had a road to Damascus conversion on the issue like the previously vehemently EU-critical Deirdre de Burca (She wasn’t a Senator then of course), or simply because that always substantial section of the party that supported both Nice referendums and was generally more in line with the European Green movement, now commands a majority.

The Greens are calling for plaudits for the fact that they had an open debate and reached a decision democratically. Leaving aside Gormley’s imaginative interpretation of that vote I suppose, grudgingly, one must acknowledge as much though frankly attempting to lecture other political parties for not doing the same kind of misses the point. No left-wing party would need to debate opposition to Lisbon any more than it would need to debate support for public services or opposition to privatisation. Basic left principles such as support for democracy, opposition to neo-liberalism, opposition to centralisation of unaccountable power and so on make opposing the Treaty a bit of a no-brainer.

It will be interesting to see the practical implications of this for the party though. Since the Green Party does not have a position, can Green Party staff issue press releases in support of the Treaty when they’re supposed to be working for a party that has no position on it? Can the Green Party TDs and Senators use Green Party premises to conduct their Yes campaigning? And as for the No campaign, what organisation or vehicle will they use to advance their arguments? A number are involved already on a personal level in the Campaign Against the EU Constitution, which I am told will be changing its name because the EU has decided to change the name of the document, does this mean they will now move into that structure or will they established a Greens Against Lisbon grouping of some sort?

There might be some suggestion that the Yes side has been undermined by the failure of the Green leadership to get two-third on Saturday, but I’m not so sure. It’s pretty clear that the Green leadership, for whatever reason, carried the bulk of their membership with them and are likely to carry the bulk of Green voters come the referendum. The loss of the Green Party’s organisational muscle is a negligible one. The Greens don’t have the money at the minute to run a major campaign and in both Nice referendums their work on the ground was pretty weak. Where they were key in previous referendums was that in Gormley especially, but also De Burca and McKenna, they had articulate, experienced and educated debaters to be rolled out on the media who could argue for a No vote without being republicans, socialists or working class and scaring middle Ireland too much.

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Meanwhile, among the anti-Treaty campaigns, there has been some frustration that the SWP has established another front entity to campaign against the Lisbon Treaty while aleady being affiliated to the Campaign Against the EU Constitution, established a couple of years ago when the EU Constitution was first being put forward. Happily, in a remarkable display of honesty for one of the most duplicitous political entities in Ireland, the SWP has altered the site since it was first put up to acknowledge that the people identified behind it, Kieran Allen and Sinead Kennedy, are both members of the Socialist Workers Party. Still, there is some ill-feeling that they went ahead off their own bat without consulting other people in the CAEUC.

Also of interest is that it is the SWP that has both established the website and it affiliated to the CAEUC. Firstly, the SWP’s affiliation to the CAEUC is quite a recent one, and as late as early last year a prominent member of the SWP told me they honestly didn’t see the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty issue as a priority. Certainly SWP activists were noticeable by their absence from early CAEUC meetings. Yet here we have them setting up a website, publishing a pamphlet outlining he reasons for a No vote, describing it as a key priority in their New Year’s message and affiliating to the CAEUC. Curiously, there is no reference to People Before Profit, their previous electoral front group. The PBP website has not been updated for several months and seems to have no position, good, bad or indifferent, on the Lisbon Treaty. Considering the use that could be made by the SWP out of Lisbon for attracting people to the organisation, it’s a slight surprise to me they’re being upfront about who they are in the campaign and not using the PBP brand.

But more frustrating than the SWP playing ‘silly buggers’ has been the annoyance felt by many, and ably pointed out by Daily Mail columnist Joe Higgins in last Thursday’s Irish Times, about the media’s appointment of Dermot Ganley as head of the anti-Treaty movement in Ireland. Ganley, and his Libertas movement, with no track record on Europe at all, has come from almost nowhere at the start of December to being seen as a key played in the Lisbon Treaty debate. Libertas certainly has money, but no actual organisation as such, though it’s clearly got some smart people doing the media. But Higgins rightly points out that the media, and the Irish Times in particular, has been doing what it can to portray the anti-Treaty campaigns and groups, predominantly left-wing or progressive in Ireland, as right-wing or even fascist. It’s what the media tried to do in both Nice referendums, successfully in the latter case.

But the reason for the Dermot Ganley love-fest has two other aspects. Firstly, if Ganley is the leader of the No campaign, then no other organisation or individual can be leader. With Sinn Féin the only substantial political party to be opposing the Treaty and, at this point in time, the only serious political organisation to be opposing it, the media would find it difficult to avoid handing the mantle of leadership of the No side to Sinn Féin if Ganley wasn’t there. Considering that party’s weakened position, the last thing the Irish media establishment wants to do is give it the shot in the arm of portraying it as leading anything. With Ganley on the chessboard, he can be appointed figurehead, sparing the need to pay attention to what the Shinners are doing.

Secondly, Ganley is a businessman, and a successful one. Most other opponents of the Treaty in Ireland are left-wing, they wear beards, many of them are in trade unions and some have stood on the side of the road holding placards. The Irish media worships business and successful businessmen. A successful businessperson can have his or her opinion taken seriously on any topic in Irish society, whether he or she knows anything about it or not and it’s clear Ganley has some understanding of the Treaty, simply by virtue of the fact that he or she has made a success at business. Ganley is credible in a way that people like Patricia McKenna or Mick O’Reilly, people with far vaster experience of anti-EU Treaty campaigns and a much better understanding of the Treaty than Ganley, can never be.

Deja Vu: Fox News and the invasion of Iraq…..or is that Iran? January 19, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Iran, media, Media and Journalism, US Media, US Politics.
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Punchy little video from MoveOn.org showing the staggering similarity in languages and message on Fox News ahead of the invasion of Iraq and current coverage of Iran.

Might be of interest to those of you commenting on the Iranian situation.

Jon Stewart, the Daily Show, the Writers Strike and while we’re at it… some interesting Election graphics… January 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Media and Journalism, Television Shows, US Politics.
11 comments

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It’s sort of fascinating what is happening in Comedy Central. Some of you will have noticed that A Daily Show has returned with Jon Stewart. And the Colbert Report has returned with Steven Colbert. Now, strictly speaking they’re not breaking the Writers Guild of America strike… and it is telling that the WGA has not taken them to task over it.
In part that may be an historical issue. As wiki notes:

Stewart was an important factor in the unionization of the writers for Comedy Central. The Daily Show writers were the first of the Comedy Central’s writers to be able to join the guild, after which other shows followed.[39][40]

Moreover, he has:

…supported the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, commenting on The Daily Show episode just before the strike in a sarcastic manner about how Comedy Central had made available all of the episodes for free on their website, but with advertising, and said ‘go support our advertisers’. The writers are currently striking over receiving additional money for DVD and iTunes sales as well as future revenue made by streaming shows and movies over the Internet. Upon Stewart’s return to the show on January 7, 2008, he refused to use the title The Daily Show, stating that “The Daily Show” was the show made with all of the people responsible for the broadcast, including his writers. He currently refers to his show as A Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

And anyone who has watched A Daily Show will note the continual jibes he makes about being ‘alone’. It’s certainly a very different programme from The Daily Show with pared back production values, fewer contributions from other comedians and seemingly longer interviews.

It’s a complex issue, just who is and who isn’t strike breaking. Again from wiki on the WGA strike we learn that…

The guild stated it had no plans to target Leno and O’Brien with protests[88] such as were aimed at non-WGA member Carson Daly, who was accused of setting up a joke hotline as a strike-breaking effort[89] when he returned to air.[90] After being back on air, however, Leno was charged by WGA of strike violation after he penned and delivered monologues, but it is unclear as to what action the guild will take.[91][92][93] Later, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced that their shows, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, would also return without writers on January 7, 2008.[94] The WGA accused Comedy Central and NBC of forcing hosts back on air by threatening the jobs of the staff and crew of their shows, and said it would picket them.[86][90][95][96] To show respect to the writers, The Daily Show has been renamed, for the duration of the strike, A Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In support of the strike, Screen Actors Guild urged its members to appear on programs that have independent agreements with the WGA, such as The Late Show with David Letterman and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.[97]

Which reiterates some of the information from the first excerpt. Certainly there was a strong sense of duress when Colbert and Stewart noted in a joint statement that:

“We would like to return to work with our writers. If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence.”

The cover is provided by other talk show hosts who have said:

…they respect the striking Writers Guild of America members, but want to return to work so their non-writing staffs will not be laid off.

The WGA supports this when it says (as reported by CBS):

“Comedy Central forcing Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert back on the air will not give the viewers the quality shows they’ve come to expect,” the WGA said in a statement. “The only way to get the writing staffs back on the job is for the AMPTP to come back to the table prepared to negotiate a fair deal with the Writers Guild.”

In truth this is a very real problem that those who support the strike and do not wish to undermine it face. The workers beyond the WGA are particularly exposed. And yet, it’s hardly contentious to suggest the idea that if programmes return to air that that will have its own dynamic by isolating the writers. This may very well be a square that cannot be circled.

And yet, I also can’t help feeling that having shows broadcasting that actually support the strike is no bad thing. They serve to undercut at least some of the messages that the media companies are attempting to establish about the recalcitrance and obstructiveness of the WGA.

The essential role of the writers is proven by the paucity of A Daily Show. It is, to paraphrase Obama, likable enough. But it’s not that likable. And while the WGA is supportive of its presence I’ll continue to watch it particularly for the skew-ways take it has on US political life. But it does set off a degree of cognitive dissonance for me. It’s not quite like passing a picket line (something I’ve never done)… but… it’s close enough.

Meanwhile… seeing as I’m still watching it can I direct your attention to here. Two examples, were examples needed, of the triumph of form over function. Do US voters really need the first board where ‘voters’ are pulled upwards along a screen to different candidates to indicate that they’re ‘voting’. And as for the three dimensional pie chart… It may be me, but doesn’t this represent to some degree something close to contempt for the basic intelligence of the voting public?

Pay attention Liam Clarke January 18, 2008

Posted by franklittle in media, Media and Journalism, Republicanism, Republicans, The North.
39 comments

Liam Clarke of the Sunday Times has an interesting piece here on the dynamic between the DUP and Sinn Féin but a bit of a howler at the end. He puts a great deal of weight on the fact that the IRA didn’t issue a New Year’s Message this year, suggesting his security sources think it is a signal the Army Council is thining of disbanding.

Yet the IRA did issue a statement, carried in An Phoblacht, several days before Clarke’s piece appeared.

I suspect the Sunday Times needs to renew his subscription.

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