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Libertas to become a ‘European Political Movement’… well, perhaps. December 10, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, Irish Politics, Uncategorized.
2 comments

Two interesting pieces in the Irish Times today about euroscepticism on the right.

First we read that:

Declan Ganley will launch Libertas as a pan-Europe political party to compete in next June’s European Parliament elections tomorrow in Brussels.

At a lunch for European journalists on the same day as a critical EU summit for Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Mr Ganley will outline ambitious plans to campaign against the Lisbon Treaty and build a new political movement.

And excitingly an invitation to the lunch proposes that Libertas will be a:

…new European political movement dedicated to campaigning for greater democracy, accountability and transparency within the EU. Libertas will also develop innovative and enterprising policies to benefit Europe and foster a more positive relationship between the institutions of the European Union and the citizens for whom they legislate.

Great stuff altogether – eh? ‘Innovative and enterprising’… after some thirty odd years of being politically aware I look forward to something ‘innovative’ in politics. I really do.

And to back up this contention the IT suggests that…

Mr Ganley has already signed up elected politicians in at least seven European countries to enable him to apply for EU funding for Libertas.

The Czech Republic, France, Bulgaria, Poland and Ireland are all countries that Libertas may consider running candidates in during next year’s European elections.

There is a fly in the ointment…

…it remains unclear whether Mr Ganley will be able to garner enough support to succeed in transforming the elections into a EU-wide referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Or, actually two flies.

For an accompanying article notes that “Czech Eurosceptics to form new party”.

These are allies of Czech President Vaclav Klaus (a man it is worth noting elected not by universal vote inside Czechoslovakia but by the houses of the Czech parliament…which seems odd for such a strong advocate of European democracy and direct representation) and former members of the ruling Civic Democrats.

Klaus has resigned as honorary chairman of the Civic Democrats citing disenchantment with the Czech prime minister (elected, one might also note, by voters at an election). His ire is raised by the following…

… Topolanek [the prime minister] had abandoned the right-wing course Mr Klaus had envisaged for the party when he founded it in 1991.

Right-wing you say?

Which is interesting too since a close aide of Klaus, Petr Mach who is instrumental in organising the new party argues that the new party will be one that Klaus ‘will like… and vote for’. Although curiously Mach continues that the party will ‘not be a narrow right-wing party’.

Still, that’s far from the only contradiction apparent. Mach has been talking to the ubiquitous Declan Ganley:

“I have talked to Mr Ganley already and I would welcome being part of, or running alongside, Libertas,” Mr Mach said of the European elections.

But… for there is a but…

“I don’t think we’ll be ‘Libertas. cz’, but I am in touch with Mr Ganley and no one else is emerging on the Czech political scene like us.”

So how is this going to work? Surely what we’re seeing is little more than a reboot of the Eurosceptic right, one that already exists at EU level.

And yet there is an iron logic to this process. Libertas wishes to be pan-European and draws upon eurosceptic support. But in doing so it undercuts the very basis of this form of nationalist euroscepticism. How can Mach, or Klaus, or indeed UKIP supporters, or whoever pledge their troth to a European movement when they seek.

That’s not to say that Libertas won’t become something of a brand, but as it stands this would appear most like to be in a subsidiary manner – with all the awe-inspiring glory and power of the logos that we see of European Parliamentary groups on the posters for our own beloved European Parliament candidates. And that means that the expressed ambition of Libertas noted above to get enough…

…support to succeed in transforming the elections into a EU-wide referendum on the Lisbon Treaty

Seems limited. In the extreme. I’m certain that tomorrow’s launch will have all the polish of the later stages of the Irish Libertas campaign (although those with slightly longer memories will recall the grim awfulness of their first wave of billboard posters which looked as if they were assembled on someone’s PC). But that can’t really disguise some Mount Impossibles that have to be climbed.

Mind you, how’s this for unintended consequence with ‘innovative’ and yes, ‘enterprising’ linkages across national borders being made…

Mr Mach also said a similar party might appear in neighbouring Slovakia.

“I have had serious calls from people there, linked to anti-Lisbon groups, who would be able to form such a party,” he said.

Ah, the European dynamic in action. Watch and marvel.

The curious inability of PUMA to recognise irony… December 10, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.
8 comments

I’m still fascinated by the PUMA groups who appear to be flagging just a little. Where once on their sites there were posts which would have comments numbering over a 1,000 or more that figure has downscaled (it must be the times that are in it) to a couple of hundred. Still a respectable figure, but perhaps more of the order of a social networking site than a political movement that will sweep the nation.

And here is the thing. Having looked at them and like-minded groups they seem to be very much an extension of such social networking. This is political activism limited in its real world manifestation (although not entirely lacking such a manifestation) and almost entirely without any ideological element. What binds those remaining together is not a clear programme, the diffuseness of their complaints make that almost impossible – is it about supporting women in politics in society, ‘saving’ the US and its constitution from what is seen as an interloper, ‘reforming’ the Democratic party (good luck with that) or what seems to come across loud and clear, a general detestation of ‘the one’, ‘the empty suit’, ‘the least qualified President in history (and as to that contention I’m very dubious indeed, he seems rather well qualified, and more importantly since he clears the very few barriers to entry to the race complaining that he won seems perverse)? It exists in the main on the internet. And as with all such things (this site included) it grows or contracts there.

Still, the old complaints remain. Where some of us were intrigued by the inclusion of Hillary Clinton in the Obama cabinet, and as Secretary of State no less, there was outrage and a sense of ‘how could she do this?’. That they had already detached themselves from any functional pro-Clinton sentiment – let alone activism – was irrelevant. Her ‘crimes’ in supporting Obama during the Presidential campaign saw to that. But that their icon would actually work with ‘the one’ (there’s a back story to that term… they’re convinced that he is regarded as a messiah by his supporters. Trueish for some no doubt, but hardly true of the majority of those who voted for him. In any case there’s nowt like a recession for shattering illusions, and nascent personality cults… and really, don’t they remember the faff around Bill Clinton, well, no, they don’t. One might also add that to obsesss negatively about someone is essentially the inverse of obsessing positively about someone) was near incomprehensible to them.

That the sites were egged on by Republican activists during the last month or so of the campaign, perhaps wondering whether there was sufficient critical mass to divert a stream of former Democrats to McCain (there wasn’t), and that said Republicans have vanished has been a source of some self-reflection. But not too much.

And although the fact that the election was won, and is regarded as won by the rest of the world – i.e. everyone other than themselves, is a source of constant chagrin and bitterness. Still, they continue to pin their hopes on some gadfly legal challenges to the Obama candidacy, one was knocked back by SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) at the weekend. It charged that Obama, McCain and the SWP candidate were ineligible for standing as candidates due to issues of citizenship. And there are details of more here on Slate.

After Obama locked up the nomination in early June, low-level talk radio and blog chatter peddled rumors that Obama’s real middle name was Muhammad, that his father was not really Barack Obama, and that he was not really born in Hawaii. The campaign released a facsimile of Obama’s certificate of live birth. Requested from the state in 2007, the certificate reported that Obama was, indeed, born in Honolulu at 7:24 p.m. on Aug. 4, 1961.

The certificate was a bullet that didn’t put down the horse. Why, skeptics asked, release a new form from Hawaii instead of the original paper that Obama’s parents got in 1961—the one that Obama found in a box of his dad’s knickknacks in Dreams From My Father? They quickly came up with an explanation: The certificate was forged. Anonymous digital image experts with handles like Techdude and Polarik sprung from the woodwork to prove (shades of Rathergate!) that pixels, spacing, and indentation on the form indicated that the Obama campaign had created the certificate with Adobe Photoshop. The state of Hawaii’s official statement that the certificate was legitimate didn’t make a dent—after all, who is Registrar of Vital Statistics Alvin Onaka to argue with Techdude?

And there you have it. A world where PUMA’s and Techdude can convince themselves of their own authority and correctness to the extent that they will ignore all else that contradicts them.

The Hawaiian documentation, the 1961 newspaper announcement, the phony evidence from Sarah Obama—all of that aside, the idea that Obama wasn’t born in Honolulu goes against everything we know about his rather well-documented life. But the story is good enough for Gary Kreep, the conservative head of the United States Justice Foundation, who filed suit against Obama on behalf of Alan Keyes, the unstoppable fringe candidate who was on the ballot in California on the American Independent Party ticket. “If he’s got nothing to hide,” says Kreep, “why not give us access?”

But why? I’m fairly sure that access to my birth cert would be difficult to come by, or yours too. And it beggars belief that the US security services would not have at least made some enquiries about these matters. But the riposte to that is that everyone is in on this… to what end? Well, that’s left ambiguous. Obama is depicted on these sites as moderate, more often as a socialist or even a communist. His allegiance to the United States is considered suspect and so on and so forth. The issue of his birth continues to exercise people. Most entertainingly was one comment that argued that Obama couldn’t be a ‘natural born American’ citizen even if born in Hawaii (a state of the Union) because his father had joint Kenyan/British citizenship and therefore he had a divided allegiance. Well, no, had the person making this claim dug a bit deeper they’d see that that was entirely irrelevant once one is born in a state.

For those of us who watch such things this concentration on citizenship, indeed this frenzy as it were, seems a mite odd. I can’t really recall other candidates (and in truth almost all of this is concentrated on Obama) in previous elections gettting this sort of treatment – well, okay that’s not entirely true. Post the 2000 election, and that small matter of chad,s there were legal challenges. But in some way they seemed different, in that they didn’t seek to say that there were inherent reasons why, say, GW Bush should not be President. All very curious, isn’t it that this time out we have this worry, this concern, this… anxiety about the citizenship of the next President of the United States. Why, oh why, could that be?

And so as PUMAs subside into a sort of netherworld of gloom and despond their posts make for odd reading. A sort of faux-feminist thinking that is reflected through a prism of continual boosterism and the self-esteem movement mixed with diatribes against Obama that are genuinely disturbing for the bitterness and vehement… well, hatred… that is expressed. Reading it I have the continual urge to write in ‘He’s not worth it’… because he really isn’t, no-one in politics – friend or foe – is. But they censor comments that don’t cleave to the party line, so there’s no point doing that.

There was a brief shining light when Obama’s speechwriter was caught on Facebook in an unflattering clinch with a Clinton card cut-out (an act let it be said of unimaginable stupidity, but how it reflects on Obama directly is open to question), but even that didn’t rouse the troops as it had before. And the Clinton people dismissed it as part of the rough and tumble of election campaigns. Ah, magnanimous in defeat and victory. When the image was photoshopped with the head of Obama’s, Barrack and Michelle, and then with various other figures one knew that this was moving towards a deeply solipsisitic territory.

And here, a small taste of their thinking for your consideration…

Under this image we read in the accompanying comments…

There is a store in Toronto, Ontario that has resurrected the Hillary nutcracker, also available is the Bill Clinton corkscrew. To me, this continued trashing of Hillary is an insult to us. I have contacted the store to let them know how disgusting I find this.

Yes. So different from the continual depiction of Obama in unflattering contexts – as happens on a continual basis on such sites (and as it happens I too find the Clinton nutcracker and corkscrew pretty vile…).

And the provenance of the image above? Well here’s an interesting crossover. For we read that…

Glad you like the pic! Got it from a poster on jerrypournelle.com.

Jerry Pournelle is a very very right-wing US science fiction writer (I’m not saying incidentally he created it, as the comment makes clear a poster did). The sort of discussions on his site are – shall we say – interesting. I guess there has to be some sort of political balance in the universe to Ken MacLeod and Ian Banks, Richard Morgan and Charles Stross… but I really wish it were just the cheerier uber-capitalism of Peter F. Hamilton rather than the gloomy – supposedly hard-headed – ruminations on human nature Jerry Pournelle. But hey, that’s a whole different post…

Curran Aluminium strike by Polish members of SIPTU, in Limerick: Short internet film. December 9, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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A short film by Dublin Community Television, on the current Curran Aluminium strike by Polish members of SIPTU, in Limerick, Ireland, is at the following link: go here.
Thanks to Gregorz Prujszczyk and DCTV

HPV Vaccine Programme. Candlelit Vigil tomorrow outside Dáil Eireann. December 9, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Health, Irish Politics, Social Policy.
1 comment so far

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hat tip to Red Mum…

John Waters considers poverty ‘n’ Christmas ‘n’ stuff. Oh dear. December 9, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Society, The Left.
12 comments

It’s a while since I bothered writing about John Waters, and sadly that’s because it’s a while since I bothered reading John Waters. Still, I can’t say that disrupting that trend this last week has made me any happier. Puzzled. Yes. Puzzled, but not happier.

For in his most recent contribution to our public thought he has decided that: Christian charity is better than hot air – Oh yes – and that Fulminating against poverty only relieves the conscience of wealthy commentators


He starts interestingly, if not well…

ONE OF the most intriguing and unremarked aspects of the Celtic Tiger years was the emergence of the millionaire commentator who, though living in considerable opulence, carved a niche for himself in berating the community at large for its lack of consideration for the “most vulnerable”. This odd phenomenon, though secretly loathed, is very often deemed in public discourse to be self-evidently well-intentioned and morally centred.

And who is it who is the subject of his ire? Disappointingly he does not tell us. Instead he throws us a curve ball.

But what, other than relieving the consciences of the fulminators, does it achieve? Although these commentators are invariably of a secular-socialist disposition, there are interesting parallels to a certain type of cleric of times gone by. Their injunctions are directed outward, away from themselves, making no demands on their own resources or consciences, but displacing their disquiet on to the general psyche.

That’s a clever ploy. Usually one might not expect him to be so critical of clerics, either then or now. It’ll unsettle that nest of secularists down at the Irish Times – eh? But here he lets rip. To a point. For self-control is exercised lest his words seem too critical…

At least the priests who once upon a time berated us for lack of charity were speaking in human terms and demanding something we could actually manage: that we give something, by way of alms, as a gesture of Christian solidarity. But if you listen to the latter-day diatribes in the hope of hearing a coherent annunciation, you will listen in vain for anything other than banal repetitions of ideas that have been fruitlessly tried before.

But since when is socialism about anything other than resource allocation, about making precisely the demands he argues for? So, as ever we return to where we were.

In my lifetime, we have had more than a dozen governments, ranging in socioeconomic outlook from soft right to soft left. In that time, we have, collectively speaking, become exponentially richer. In that time, also, although the poor have not gone away, the hand-wringing about poverty has increased at roughly the same rate as the growth in prosperity.

There are a number of questionable statements contained in that paragraph but none more so than the unpleasantly curt dismissal of concerns as ‘hand-wringing’ and he is aware of this.

If you apply the standards of the present day to the circumstances in which most of us grew up, you might well decide that, in the past, almost everyone was poor. As times changed, poverty came to be defined as a relative condition, characterised not by needs or objective circumstances but by comparison with societal averages and means. I don’t say this way of defining poverty is necessarily wrong, but I do believe it leads to a misleading analysis of both human beings and economies.

So if I read him right it may not be wrong, but it may be misleading. Let’s think about that. Not wrong, but misleading… No, no… doesn’t make any greater sense than it did the first time. If it’s misleading I think we can safely assume it’s of no utility. So… perhaps it’s wrong. Not that I think it is, but y’know, I’m just saying.

Oddly though, despite his belief, he does make a reasonably sensible point that:

In truth there is no such constant entity as the “most vulnerable”. Poverty, as the St Vincent de Paul Society has recently been making clear, is a condition that moves around, affecting the most unlikely people at the most unexpected times.

And perhaps a slightly less sensible one that:

There is no discrete entity that might be called “the poor”, but only the ebb and flow of fortune in complex societies.

Now I can tell him, and I’m sure he knows this anyhow – if not empirically then intuitively – that while there may be no discrete entity called the ‘poor’ there most certainly is an endemic deprivation that persists within certain strata and those of us who walk outside our front doors need not go very far to see it. I could suggest that class structures have a part in this, and I’d tend to believe that they are a – if not actually the – major determining factor, but that doesn’t either add or take away from his contention.

He then takes an unusual diversion.

Although this is probably not the best time to be arguing this, it remains the case that, when it comes to the distribution of resources, capitalism is better than the alternatives, having at its core the unexceptionable idea that poverty is a curable condition.

He might be surprised that many on the left would share some aspect of that view, or at least the first part – that is if he had a bogs notion as to what leftism is above and beyond his near-parodic caricature, of which more later – but most including myself would strongly doubt that ‘capitalism’ has any view whatsoever about poverty (which, remember, Waters already has dismissed as a means of term with any utility for studying the world). And the idea that at its core ‘capitalism’ believes that poverty is a ‘curable condition’ is breathtaking. Where precisely does this spring from? As ever we are not told. And there is a significant logical inconsistency, for if capitalism is so grand at dealing with this problem why then have we seen so little progress on it?

One might suspect he’s making it up as he goes along, but that’s a cruel charge so I’ll not make it. Although reading the following…

Economic ideology in our time has proffered two discrete and equally fundamental ways of seeing the world and its potential to achieve the happiness and comfort of the greatest number.

The first of those two being?

One was the standard pseudo-Christian/leftist analysis: that the world’s resources belong equally to everyone and should be distributed regardless of input.

Erm… is that the standard ‘pseudo-‘ Christian/leftist analysis? I think that issues of equality are a bit more nuanced than he proposes and distribution is a whole different ball-game. And what is with the elision of Christian and leftist in such an undigested fashion? This doesn’t really sit with any logic as regards his earlier comments about ‘secular/socialists’. Moreover there is something utterly glib about discussing what are actually entirely serious issues and juxtapositioning a caricature of leftism, note that he doesn’t actually give us sources or references, with a somewhat different issue as to the means to tackle poverty in this society.

And his second way of seeing the world?

The other is that the world’s resources are not ipso facto the entitlement of anyone because they cannot be marshalled for anyone’s benefit unless a sufficiency of humanity can be persuaded to get off its rear end.

Well, it’s a view. But whether it amounts to anything close to a codification of capitalist ideology is a different matter. And one could argue to the contrary that far too much has depended on the involuntary, or effective involuntary marshalling of large segments of humanity to the benefit of a very small number of people. A process that remains extant to this day, here and in many other places.

Indeed beyond that such a gross simplification, or let’s call a spade a spade – dumbing down – of economic theory to yet another caricature… whither neo-liberalism, New Keynesian and so forth… tells us his familiarity with the area may be limited. Very limited. Very very limited indeed.

But it is as the argument moves forward with an invincible rhetorical force that his true genius is exposed…

It is all too easy to condemn capitalism for everything it has failed to achieve, while ignoring all its triumphs. The market, limitations notwithstanding, is a moral agent, seeking to disperse the creativity and energy of humanity for the maximum good of the greatest number. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worked better than any competing idea.

The market is not a moral agent (and I wonder as to his use of the term, although I note that some of Rothbard’s followers have toyed with similar notions… hmmm… next stop Objectivism for Waters methinks). And the events of the past three months internationally demonstrate that with a clarity and precision that only the most deluded or delusional would disagree with. It is force, a dynamic, a process. But it has no inherent morality other than that which is shaped by those who use and abuse it. As well ascribe moral agency to gravity.

If it works, and it can work, it only does so when constrained by truly moral agency, that deriving from democratic and social legitimations that are genuine expressions of human interest. And that Waters does not see this is dispiriting in the extreme.

But then he continues, almost absurdly:

But we still need safety valves, and these in capitalist societies are provided not by systemic intervention but by charity and philanthropy.

This is nonsense. In capitalist societies the safety valves are not those provided by charity and philanthropy – although they have their part to play. The only broad-based systemic interventions that work as safety valves are those through the state itself, not least because in the hugely complex societies that typify this modern era they are the only ones that have sufficient societal ‘heft’. Don’t believe me? Well consider the minimalist effect of the faith based approaches taken in the US under Bush in the past eight years. The White House even has a page on its website devoted to such matters. Gaze at the splendour of such initiatives, see how they will soon – or actually probably not – supplant the Federal Government. Or read this…

Through the good times and the bad times in Irish society, for longer than any of us can remember, the Society of St Vincent de Paul has remained constant and true to its mission to relieve the distress of the poor and destitute by way of bearing witness to the love of Jesus Christ. This I understand.

But for all the good work the SVP does, and it is good work and this society would be the poorer, and many many who depend on it to assist them would be literally more impoverished, it is an addition to, not a replacement of, the systems put in place as a result of the ideologies that he continues to excoriate in such an unthinking fashion. Flawed and partial as our social welfare state is, the safeguards that exist are a testament to an effort that bears witness to the over-riding necessity to move beyond the sphere of charity to address the sphere of necessity.

And to move to a slightly different conceptual terrain, what sort of response is this which ignores the reality of what is happening on our streets away from his cosy sub-Dickensian screed? I live three minutes or so walk away from the place where a man was murdered on Sunday night. Anyone who has canvassed central Dublin over the past decade of the supposed boom will know that even as recently as last year the pools of genuine deprivation that exist. That is not in any sense to excuse what was an awful – a genuinely shocking crime or to say that it was a direct result of poverty and impoverishment. But it is to say that it will take more than charity to drain those pools, that it will take the power of the state in its social, policing and other arms and this is something that takes years and considerable amounts of human and financial power. Recently I mentioned the finding that child benefit is one of the few clearly proven means of diminishing child poverty. Not “feel good about being hard-headed” pieces at Christmas in the Irish Times, not charity, but the resources of humans acting in concert. Charities will play their part as they always do as an essential element of the mix, but to reify them to an improbable degree is to ignore reality. And while it doesn’t have to be socialism, or even social democracy, the impulses that fuel the welfare state spring in large part from those roots. Which makes his follow on comments all the more irritating.

When I hear one of the usual left-wing suspects banging on about “greed” or the “super rich”, I hear only envy and resentment or Oedipal rage coming out at a distance from its source. I listen hard for the solutions, but hear none that make sense. I look for evidence that these commentators have impoverished themselves in the interests of consistency, but see no such signs. I look to the Society of St Vincent de Paul and see something that transcends all this guff: people putting their time and resources where other people put their mouths.

This is nonsensical. To counterpose one organisation against examples that he will not even bother to fully articulate, perhaps because such a comparison is entirely tendentious, is to make no point at all. To argue that this is Oedipal rage is… well, what is it? What on earth does he mean? What possible relevance does that have in this context? And to add to that the usual charge of the right about ‘envy and greed’ is to reiterate the smug self-satisfaction of the person for whom life is a little bit easier than it is for many others. It is the laziest and most bankrupt of arguments. Does he think that teachers who work on working class estates and see the sort of poverty that three Celtic Tiger booms in rapid succession wouldn’t eradicate are talking guff? Or unions that have members whose lives are ground down by minimum wages and maximum hours? Or social workers who work on any range of areas of social deprivation? Or what of those pseudo-Christians who also point up precisely these issues, such as CORI, and more credit to them. Are they too possessed of an Oedipal rage?

But this is the old debating ploy of suggesting that since one dislikes the source of a pronouncement that thereby in and of itself renders the argument suspect. Not hugely convincing.

Christian charity, we will be told, is not the answer to poverty. Perhaps, but it’s better than hot air. So, when the V de P box is rattled under your nose this Christmas, dig a little deeper than you think you can afford. Next Christmas they might be collecting for you. And this Christmas they will offer you an opportunity to feel good about doing something far better than accusing everyone else.

Or we could argue in addition to the work of the SVP for somewhat higher taxation and a better use of funding. It would certainly do more for those at the cutting edge than salve the consciences of de facto right-wing media commentators.

It’s sad to say this but here is a profoundly reactionary analysis. I’m always saying this, but it remains true despite constant repetition. The old John Waters who enjoyed, indeed promoted a sense of Ireland as a place where conservative and liberal, left and right were often complementary – if competitive and often friction generating – aspects of a multi-faceted pluralistic societal mix appears now but a distant memory. It would be nice if he reappeared.

The Left Archive: Presidential Address by Proinsias De Rossa TD, Workers’ Party Annual Delegate Conference, 1989 December 8, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Workers' Party.
14 comments

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wp891.pdf

So, here is a document that sums up the approach of the Workers’ Party at a pivotal point in its development. The victories of the 1989 General Election were months away, the remarkable changes in the USSR were working their own political magic and the party seemed, almost uniquely amongst parties of the further left during this period, well positioned to grow.

It’s a more discursive piece than I remember from the speech proper. The introductory quotes on the inside front pages give some hint of its scope…

“This year I want to challenge some ‘sacred cows’… raise some questions and offer some answers.”

The De Rossa on the cover visibly younger than the politico we’ve come to know.

But inside the message is one that, even now, is still associated with him, two political parties later…

“We need public debates on modern socialism, on Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution and on who or what is blocking peace in Northern Ireland.”

Still, it’s intriguing to read the section on the European Community and see within it the seeds of later developments by Democratic Left in shifting to a much less euro-sceptic view than much of the Irish further left.

The section on the Economy is oddly shallow, and almost impossibly archaic due to the intervening boom.

A quote from Lenin – ‘What is to be done?”, naturally – and later one from Marx can’t quite disguise the reality that the party was shifting gradually away from sterner lines. But that said the identification with the USSR is strong, and in particular the changes then taking place there.

Perhaps not so strangely the critique of Irish politics and the response of the elites is one that has some resonance today. But the analysis of the North is little better than wishful thinking… ‘The Provisionals are facing the beginning of the end… because an overall majority in the North wants talks. Talks towards a devolved Government in Northern Ireland are not an option to be turned down by the SDLP. They are the democratic right of the people of the whole island.’.

Somehow the present dispensation isn’t one that would fit into that particular schema. And the veiled hints that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was meaningless in retrospect demonstrates their ineffectuality on all-island issues. This too is demonstrated by their call on Protestants (sic) to elect ‘new leaders’.

And what of the following?

We stand for enterprise, energy and experimentation in the South. For devolution and democracy in the North. We want a society that goes out to work and that brings home the bacon.

But we do think that making money is immoral when it damages people. Or when the surplus is not shared.

Socialism as we see it, is not anti-market, anti-enterprise and anti-individual. Socialism will stimulate effort, enthusiasm and enterprise in all levels of our society. Work will be well rewarded and the lazy penalised – and that means dole spongers as well as tax-dodgers, short-day shirkers as well as bosses.

In its own way, very much of its time.

Kilbarrack, 1973 and the World of Tomorrow… December 7, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Science, Science Fiction, The Left.
34 comments

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WorldofTomorrow

Get your ticket to that wheel in space
While there’s time
The fix is in
You’ll be a witness to that game of chance in the sky
You know we’ve got to win
Here at home we’ll play in the city
Powered by the sun
Perfect weather for a streamlined world
There’ll be spandex jackets one for everyone

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

I G Y – Donald Fagan.

When I was seven, or perhaps eight, I found a book in the Library of Scoil Lorcáin National School in Kilbarrack. All told it was a pretty good library with a fairly large selection of books. Even today I can remember many of the volumes that were there – a book about BOAC passenger aircraft which had silver Constellations and Viscounts set against improbably azure skies, another about Russian Fairy Tales with strong expressionistic illustrations that simultaneously were attractive and terrifying, another on Irish history with muddy watercolour paintings of round towers and crannógs. But the book which has stayed with me most was a volume entitled The World of Tomorrow. Written by Kenneth Goldstein in the late 1960s it sought to describe developments in technology, science and society in the future.

I can’t quite work out was it the book which sparked my interest in all things futurological or did the interest come earlier? My Dad had had a small selection of science fiction titles he had picked up in the late 60s or early 1970s. I studied the covers first and then later read them. Jack Vance’s superlative The Dying Earth, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. There were others, an Asimov or two… but I don’t remember all of them. And I can’t work out the chronology accurately. I think the books came after The World of Tomorrow.

The most remarkable aspect of it was that in addition to the usual illustrations it was interspersed with photographs of a remarkable installation at the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair entitled – Futurama II. This installation was a model constructed by General Motors of their predictions for the future. Spectators would be brought through it on a ride train. As it happens, and the numerals area clue, there was a Futurama I which was shown at the 1939-40 Worlds Fair. But I knew nothing of the history of this until much much later.

As Wired Magazine commented in an article on the Futurama…

Futurama II looked even further into the future, presenting predictions of a time that most fair visitors won’t live to see. In this world, mankind had dominion over the entire universe. Six-wheeled moon buggies moved easily over the lunar surface, ritzy hotels had been built deep beneath the ocean, tree-devouring machinery carved highways through jungles. The point of view wasn’t quite as distanced as the original Futurama. The far-fetched vehicles were much larger, and they were piloted by tiny human puppets.

Either way I spent hours poring over the photographs of the Futurama. The rest of the book was good, I remember particularly vivid photographs of amoeba, an artificial heart valve, illustrations of interstellar colonists in suspended animation pods in a vast chamber inside a spaceship, full wall screens that would replace television in a truly immersive environment. And these memories were forensic. But the photographs were the gleaming heart of the book.

They depicted lunar bases, undersea colonies and most interestingly – for me at least – the City of the Future. Capital C, Capital F. This gleaming construct looked, well – it looked real. It was clear that the vehicles, gleaming darts, moved along the roadways. There was a weight to the buildings. The parks. The walkways. The windows. This might only be a model, but it was a model of a realisable future. Now I can’t quite be sure the idea that comes to mind looking at the buildings that sliding down the side of some of the more curvilinear ones would be fun is my seven year old self reaching out across the decades or just retrospective nonsense on my part now.

wot030

And I’ll bet that one Gerry Anderson paid close attention. There’s a certain something about the shape of the machines set in jungle (no worries about deforestation here) building roads that is undeniably reminiscent of the plethora of vehicles he had designed for UFO. Wired notes that:

The overall look was strikingly similar to the campy TV show Thunderbirds, which premiered as the 1964-1965 World’s Fair was closing.

You bet. Moreover I’d be almost certain that a very few years later when Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke were collaborating on 2001: A Space Odyssey they took visual cues from the designs of this exhibit. It’s not quite as antiseptic in tone, there is earth and sand and dirt, but the city doesn’t have any sense of the grime of reality.

Heady stuff, you might guess for someone in the Library of a school in a northside housing estate, and you’d be right. But then Scoil Lorcáin itself was fairly new and the Community School across the road was in its own way modernist, all exposed vents, electrical trunking and piping, like a Pompidou Centre writ small. Very very small indeed. And what of the flats across the train line? They too were examples of modernity as was the churned earth and mud of the field that I’d cross on my way home pretending I was a lunar rover (I was an oddish kid on occasion, that I’ll admit). That field later became a shopping centre. Because in its odd low level way urban Ireland in the early 1970s had a brief flash of expansion, all too rapidly stifled by the Oil Crisis, and the future was what was happening, right there and then. And although economic contraction, and slightly later adolescent cynicism, saw it become decrepit and dull within a short few years (and not just cynicism, the flats eventually saw more than their fair share of heroin users and were eventually demolished some while back) that environment remained a fading testament to a future that had at least some visionary aspects, stranded in a present of dwindling budgets, unemployment and hyper-taxation.

And I’m not unaware of the probability that it was the model aspect of these which gave them a powerful attractiveness – as well as my age. The Wired article references this:

“Detailed miniatures are always compelling,” says Dan Howland, editor of the Journal of Ride Theory. “It doesn’t matter whether they are doll houses or model trains or it’s Legoland, something about them just sucks you in.

Still, I don’t think that’s the whole story. There were other attempts to show the future. Brian Stableford and David Langford wrote The Third Millennium: A History of the World AD 2000-3000 in the early 1980s. It was interesting, but not quite as convincing (although that’s worth a post of its own). The images seemed to be that which they were, small scale models of spacecraft or machines set in diorama’s of varying degrees of credibility. These were the children of 2001, attempting to appropriate some of its often glum yet pristine magic but not quite succeeding. They didn’t have the feel, that sense of a coherent world worked out in detail and precision.

I’m fairly certain no-one would portray the future in such a way any more. Future cities are now restricted to the identikit imagery of science fiction dust-jacket illustration. I still love that. Chris Moore, Chris Foss and others provide a backdrop to my thoughts on occasion, but it’s a different sort of love from that I have for the World of Tomorrow. The vast world cities sit on the spectrum of the fantastical, Trantor or – if you prefer your pleasures on the cheap – Coruscant.

They may well be built, or may well exist elsewhere, but I’ll never know them. They’re not my future. Or yours. The World of Tomorrow, though, was. It was perhaps 2050, an unimaginable date when sitting cross-legged on the tiled floor of the Library in 1973, but one that, if I did the math, was just about feasible as a time that I’d live to see. I didn’t have any conception of what being 85 might be like, anymore than I knew what 12 would be. But that didn’t matter. It was possible. That’s all I needed to know. And, being 8 I guess I thought that the world changed more quickly than it really did. Who could blame me or legions like me, who had actual memories of seeing a man, no – two men, land at Tranquility Base? I read Speed & Power and Look and Learn. I saw the Hardy illustrations of a future that was – so it seemed – just seconds away.

Lest it seem like a vision of the future with no flaws – and in fairness it did deal with pollution and energy conservation – let me quote you the following from a description of home life:

There are smaller screens in the other rooms of the house but this is the one Mother usually uses.

When she wants to shop, she dials the store or market, and as soon as her call is answered, the store or market appears on the wall screen. She can talk to the assitants, who will show her a range of goods from clothing to the fruit bought in that day from the greenhouses in the Antarctic.

To pay the bills, Mother again uses the telephone which identifies the family’s account. All the money Father earns is automatically credited to his account. he never sees it, but only uses it. Mother signals the bank computer to check the amount in the accounte, just to make sure there is enough money in hand to pay the bills.

The newspapers we mentioned are not the kind you know. they come in over the new facsimile communications channel. Printed electrostatically on paper, they roll out of the machine, giving you an almost instant newspaper day or night. You can dial for a regular daily paper if you wish. But Mother may dial for only the women’s page features of a dozen newspapers, while Father may be more interested in the science, cultural and political news.

Of course.

Even to me, with a “Mother” who worked, and a Gran living at home who had done likewise in her time this seemed a bit odd, even old-fashioned, and even the futurist gloss of ‘Father being a spaceship designer’ toiling away in his ‘workroom’ while Mother prepared lunch appeared in its own way as fantastical – but not in a good way – as some of the other aspects of the book.

And as to why no-one would present us with such predictions any more, well I’m not entirely certain. Perhaps there has been a collective and global loss of faith in the idea that the tomorrow can, or even should, be better than today. In a world where the very shape of the continents will be changed by global warming who would casually predict what the future will hold? That’s understandable, yet I think that if true something has been lost for there was an instructive quality to that future vision.

Did the sense of wonder (natch) that came from viewing this transfer in some way from a belief that the future would be better to a belief that the future could be better? In other words did this become in some respect an element of a broader political belief system that I would then develop? The contrast between “The World of Tomorrow” and Kilbarrack, or Dublin in the 1970s was huge, yet all three were expressions of modernity, and re-reading the book (after finding it on Amazon – tellingly it seemed a lot smaller than I remembered it) the thought struck me that maybe the distinctions between the two ultimately pushed me towards some sort of political engagement, something that literally expressed progress, albeit in a somewhat different way.

It’s a bit self-serving, a bit too neat, isn’t it? Yet I’d still like to think it was so.

This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… Denim. December 6, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to..., Uncategorized.
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Ah, Denim. What a band. Or what a joke. Or what a joke played by what a band. It’s one or the other or both. And if we aren’t sure which that’s hardly surprising since Denim was the creation of the formerly fey Lawrence Hayward, mainman in 1980s indie stalwarts Felt. For me Felt were great, at least on their one shining moment on the Cherry Red Pillows and Prayers compilation ‘My Face is On Fire’.

And Felt provided at least some influence on a later wave of indie bands such as the really rather good House of Love amongst others, not least because they indicated that the traditional guitar, bass, drums and vocals approach could still be wrung out to produce remarkable results. And here for you is “Primitive Painters” from early on in their career which indicates the spot they carved out in post-punk… you know listening to it makes me all nostalgic… anyway… ahem…moving on.

So, in a way one might argue that Lawrence was being entirely consistent when he unveiled Denim in 1992 and their “Back in Denim” album. Because this provided an excoriating critique of then contemporary music by adopting some of the glam rock elements of the 1970s allied to profoundly satirical lyrics. And intriguingly the album was released on a subsidiary of Cherry Red. Middle of the Road is a good example of the sound, and the sarcasm.

But I can’t help but feel that there must have been large swathes (or perhaps more accurately, small isolated groups of people, considering their record sales) of Felt fans utterly bemused by his latest project. And not just the music but the coherence of image and lyric.

The logo, based on a patch, the title track – sounding like a rip of Kiss and the Glitter band, the wonderfully mundane song titles allied with disturbingly accurate observations of life in the 1970s for those of us as lived through them… this certainly wasn’t Felt. And the bitterness. Lot’s and lot’s of bitterness.

Middle of the Road includes the following…

I hate Otis and Marvin Gaye, early Dylan, Aretha Hayes,

Spector’s wall, knock it down… Jerry Lee run him out of time… there ain’t a lot I can do about it though…

And concludes…

You will find me, in the middle… in the middle… in the middle of the road…

He doesn’t though, and you won’t.

Somehow either the present or the past was pissing Lawrence off mightily and his chosen method to despatch both was to satirise them unmercifully. Nor was he too enamoured with the 1980s… hence the track “I’m Against the Eighties”. There was some sort of palling around with Pulp, which sort of makes sense – both singers shared a somewhat misanthropic worldview. Nor was it without social – or indeed political – comment… on the string-driven ballad (hey, that’s a phrase I never thought I’d use) “The Osmonds” various 1970s references are made and the chorus goes…”In the 70s there were Osmonds, lots of Osmonds… there were lot’s of little Osmonds everywhere…”

Then the tone darkens.

In the 70s there were lots of bombs…They blew my hometown up…And lots of people were killed on the news…The relatives cried…Everyone knew someone who’d died… they’ll never forget it for their lives…And all around the people say… we hate the IRA…We asked for justice…But it never came in the ‘70s

A partial reading, particularly from this side of the Irish Sea and in the context of the other miscarriages of justice which flowed from the Birmingham bombings, but one clearly located in Birmingham (Lawrence is from there). And then it’s back to…”In the 70s there were Osmonds, lots of Osmonds… there were lot’s of little Osmonds everywhere…”

And it continues, almost

‘In the 70s there was Hughie Green, Lieutenant Pigeon hit the scene… and Paper Lace and Camberwick Green…’

Which sort of pins down what being a kid was like. Darkness and glitz.

I bought this on vinyl in 1992. I’m not entirely sure how or why. Perhaps I heard some of it on the radio, but I have no memory of that. And over the years I dragged it out for a listen. In the last year or so I put my vinyl into storage and so I wasn’t thoroughly upset the other day to discover both it and it’s successor “Denim on Ice” (natch!) have been released as MP3 downloads.

I’ve been listening to them
And needless to say, although I’m saying it, while Denim vanished sometime in the late 1990s, Lawrence returned with another bitter/funny grouping in the shape of Go Kart Mozart around 2005 (I’ve yet to hear them…). One can only applaud his endurance.

Meanwhile I’m a bit worried actually when I note that I like Denim and Half Man Half Biscuit and, yes, Turbonegro too (although the latter’s most recent album Retox wasn’t much cop… but here’s a spooky coincidence, or – okay, not so much spooky as pedestrian. Yeah, that’s it, a pedestrian coincidence. Turbonegro cover “Back in Denim” on that album. Small world). On principle I sort of detest music which attempts to be funny, and yet here I am liking three bands which take just that route. Worrying, yes. That’s the word.

The Irish Times and the ‘subsistence’ state pension… December 5, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, Uncategorized.
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Reading the Business Section of the Irish Times this evening – paper version, no idea why – I come across the following.

A leaked memo to Cabinet from the Department of Social and Family Affairs warns of a hole of between €20 billion and €30 billion in pension funds. It states that some high-profile funds could fail and that more than 90 per cent of private pension funds will this year fail to meet the funding standard required of them by the regulator, the Pensions Board.

It continues…

Within 24 hours, the Minister, Mary Hanafin, came on radio to try to reassure people about their pensions. But, far from putting concerns to rest, her comment that, regardless of what happens to someone’s private pension plan, there will always be the State pension to fall back on, served only to escalate the worry of people who may be approaching retirement.

Why so?

The prospects of living on what is designed to be “subsistence” income of €230.30 a week is little comfort to someone who may have been paying into a pension scheme for up to 40 years in the expectation of a comfortable retirement.

Excuse me? And what of those of us who are fated to live on precisely this ‘subsistence’ income and apparently have no expectation of a comfortable retirement. What comfort is there for us?

And according to the CSO [pdf file]:

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Pension coverage for workers aged between 20 and 69 was 54% in the first quar-
ter of 2008. Coverage has been estimated by the Quarterly National Household
Survey on six occasions between Q1 2002 and Q1 2008. The rate has remained
relatively stable over this period, varying within a range of 52% to 55%.

Let’s not ignore the reality that many of those 52% to 55% will have been paying the bare minimum into PRSAs over the years. Again, not much to assist in raising people above ‘subsistence’. And what of the 45% left on subsistence?

What is astounding is the way in which this is taken as read by the Irish Times. A gross structural problem that leads to impoverishment for hundreds of thousands is simply ignored.

One also has to admire the exhortations from the financial sector to those of us who have worked in the private sector over the years to get pensions ‘early’ in our working lives. The small issue of low wages put paid to that a long time ago.

Which makes the following quote from a pensions specialist in the IT, darkly humorous…

“In trying to make the world safer, post-Enron, we have become victims of the controls we have put in place and have almost inadvertently created a problem for companies,” says Deborah Reidy, a director with pensions consultants Hewitt. “Relaxing the standard is what is important at this time.”

I seem to have heard something of a financial crisis following Enron… perhaps even precipitated by it in part, and that too has been driven by a lack of controls… Still. ‘creating problems for companies’. Of course we’ll help you out…

And so we read…

MINISTER FOR Finance Brian Lenihan has loosened pension rules to help people caught by the downward spiral of world stock markets.

Mr Lenihan said that from yesterday, members of defined contribution occupational pension schemes will be allowed to defer for up to two years the purchase of an annuity.

Members of these schemes are generally required to purchase an annuity – an insurance policy guaranteeing a set income for life – on the date they retire. However, the market turmoil means the pension funds have lost a substantial amount of their value over the past 18 months.

Private pension holders might well have pause for thought considering that it will be necessary for the global markets to rebound within 24 months. And the rest of us? Well we have subsistence.

KCRW Left, Right & Centre… Tony Blankley (one presumes inadvertently) gives us some home-truths about the right-wing perspective. December 5, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in The Left, US Politics.
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An intriguing debate on the last edition of Left, Right & Centre which sought to discuss the future of capitalism. The debate itself was there or thereabouts, but what it tells us of the socio-political terrain makes it worth a listen.

Matt Miller: Are the next couple of years critical for this mode of social organisation [the contemporary version of capitalism]?

Tony Blankley: I feel like we have lived through this before. I think of that wonderful series of books that Mr. Lenin wrote between 1890 something and the start of the Revolution… “the Development of Capitalism in Russia” then “What is to be done?” and then “Materialism and Imperial criticism” and finally his “Imperialism and the highest stages of Capitalism”… something like that…

We’re listening to the critique of freedom and the exercise of private property and we know where it leads it ends up in the Gulag. I’m amazed we have to relive all the horrors.

Right. So let’s get this absolutely straight. Between essentially unfettered (not absolutely, but enough) US-style free market capitalism and Marxist-Leninism there is no gap whatsoever? Whither European social democracy? Democratic socialism? Mild statism?

Got to say that if this is the US conservative analysis it’s utterly threadbare. But it may indicate a lead on how the Republicans will characterise the next four years.

But doesn’t it indicate a terrible paucity on both right and left in a US context that it must continually default to such absurd rhetorical extremes?

A subsequent exchange is even more revealing…

Matt Miller… ‘Tony I don’t think you understand…I’m trying to save capitalism so we can work in a new century…the recession is masking deeper problems such as the global competitiveness, a huge swamp of Americans who aren’t going to earn as much as their parents did… and the increasing ways between the healthcare insecurities and soaring costs…”

Blankely: We have more healthcare than anyone else on the planet…

Miller: Please let me finish… we’re going to end up in a protectionist mode that will destroy the values you say you cherish. It’s going to close down the appetite and consensus for free trade and the open markets unless we redefine the social contract in ways which gives people the security they need with which to deal with the world. So if you don’t realise, if your side of the debate doesn’t realise, that we need to do that, you’re not only never going to get political power again because you’re not going to be answering the problems of average people, but you’re going to be killing the goose that lays the golden egg…

Blankely: How do we need to change the social contract merely because we had a financial panic…there’s no need to change… [gulp – a financial panic – eh?]

Miller: Tony, there are 50 million people without healthcare coverage… there are 25 million people with coverage that is worthless…

Blankley: Well there used to be 250 million people without healthcare coverage, for goodness sake. We didn’t have healthcare coverage until 196…

Miller: But I’m sorry. Most of the advanced world doesn’t allow people to go bankrupt when they get ill. That is wrong Tony.

Blankley: Well, you can say that with elevated tone but it doesn’t make it correct.

Miller: You think it’s right that people should go bankrupt in one of the richest countries in the world Tony? Come on…

Blankley: Well let me, I’ll come on, I’ll come on and I’ll predict that within 30 years we’ll not be able to guarantee health care for everyone because as you know Medicare alone is somewhere around $40 trillion in unfunded liability. We [sic] can’t afford it. We’re going to do what we always used to do when we got old which is get sick and die and I plan to do that.

Okaaaay…

I don’t know if Blankley truly believes this. Perhaps he does, or perhaps it was rhetorical nonsense said in the midst of a somewhat heated contest. But either way it’s a remarkably inept response, since one of the great tricks of the right (or tactics, or policies – you decide) has been the ability to present the idea that they and they alone understand economic competence and only through their approach can an economic structure be fashioned which can incorporate healthcare, etc, etc as against a supposedly sclerotic leftism unable to deliver both.

But if the right is now saying – and we hear these voices in a very sustained way in this polity in Ireland – that we cannot afford such luxuries as healthcare, or cervical vaccines, or special teaching provision or whatever then they cede ground to a left that says that ‘yes, we can do this.’. Granted the Irish variant is astute enough to promise us jam tomorrow unlike Blankley whose prescription is utterly bleak.

Still, it’s educative to be told such things in such an unvarnished way.

I like Miller’s riposte though…

On Medicare, as Herb Stein a great economist said, if a trend is unsustainable it will stop.

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