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Tricolour at half mast for McGuinness March 24, 2017

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How could this be a matter of any controversy at all? God forbid anything happened to Arlene Foster but it would be entirely appropriate as a mark of respect for a political leader of Irish unionism for a similar respect to be extended to her as it was, absolutely correctly, to Ian Paisley.
Though I notice that in the IT report:

The flag was not lowered when the former Northern Ireland first minister Ian Paisley died in 2014. Such a gesture was not considered appropriate at the time, given that Dr Paisley had a minimal relationship with the State.

Minimal. Perhaps, but not non-existent. And his efforts to work with McGuinness and Republicans and Nationalists and all citizens of Northern Ireland in a manner that puts at least one of his successors to shame were exemplary. And he too was someone who had, shall we say, a rather conflicted history – indeed compare and contrast with McGuinness and one could even argue that his position changed significantly later in his life than his Republican counterpart.

Resources and links of use to the left Thread – Week 12, 2017 March 24, 2017

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We’re looking for links/resources useful to the Left at Starkadders suggestion. This can be archives, support groups, study groups, whatever people think can assist in building up a stack of easily accessible tools necessary to the tasks ahead. Perhaps keep articles – unless they’re longform, to the What You Want to Say thread.

A depressingly persuasive analysis… March 24, 2017

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…from Eddie Ford and the Weekly Worker on foot of the recent UK by elections. Three quotes in particular stand out.

Firstly in relation to the recent by-elections in the UK:

Essentially, in Copeland a big slice of the Ukip vote simply marched into the Tory camp. There is every reason to think that that this pattern will be replicated, to one degree or another, in the general election, as May ploughs ahead with her Brexit plans – EU deal or not, World Trade Organisation rules or not. If Brexit actually happens, which is a possibility in the new world of Trump, that would further place a question mark over Ukip’s future – with job done, surely time to close shop. Then again, if Marine Le Pen does defy the polls and becomes president of France – not something you can completely dismiss – then the EU will be finished anyway, almost making Brexit redundant. There would be nothing to exit.

Then in relation to the potential for a ‘centrist third party’ he writes:

But the situation today is totally different. British politics is increasingly polarised, albeit in contradictory ways, between left and right – and now is being repolarised along Brexit lines, with even more contradictory outcomes. The centre ground is not undergoing a significant revival. In Stoke and Copeland the Lib Dems merely showed that they still exist. Nor does anyone in the Labour Party seriously think that there is going to be another SDP that is going to provide them with an alternative career plan – or dislodge Jeremy Corbyn.

And finally:

When you look at opinion polls, what is immediately noticeable is not the growth of the centre – forget it – but the strength of the Tory Party, increasing its electoral position over this period to almost 1950s levels of support. Hence a YouGov poll, published on February 17, has the Conservatives on 40% and Labour on 24% – with the Lib Dems on 11% and Ukip on 15% (support for other parties totals 11%).6 Theresa May continues to be the favoured choice for prime minister, with 49% of people preferring her to Corbyn. The Labour leader is backed by only 15% of voters, whilst 36% don’t know.

And Ford argues that the current line of the BLP which appears to almost set itself at odds with a good two thirds or more of its voters and the majority of its activists, that is to seem to be de facto supporting a hard Brexit rather than pushing for the softest Brexit possible, is a significant error. As he writes ‘Consolidate your base’.

Éire Nua ………….. March 24, 2017

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From This Months Wicklow Times ….

This Week At Irish Election Literature March 24, 2017

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The message to voters from Martin McGuinness for this months Assembly Elections.

Probably apt too … Material from The Good Friday Agreement Referendum

Material from Martin McGuinness

A 1999 issue of “Green Voice” The Green Party newsletter

“Where We Stand” a leaflet from the Vanguard Unionist Party (Ulster Vanguard)

Scotland and Brexit… yet more! March 23, 2017

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Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer at the weekend made some useful points in relation to Brexiteers and Scotland, but I think he’s far too harsh on Scottish Nationalists throughout. For example.

Above all else, the Brexit vote has furnished the Scottish nationalists with the ideal grounds for a further push for secession. They made a manifesto commitment to stage a second referendum in the event of a “material” change in Scotland’s circumstances. There can’t be any serious argument that the UK’s departure from the European Union is a material change. If they were candid, the nationalists might acknowledge that they would have been working towards another attempt at separation whichever form of Brexit was chosen by Mrs May.

But that reifies the second part of the process – a process initiated by Brexit itself over the first part. No Brexit vote and the SNP would be much much less likely to push for a referendum given they themselves ruled out one short of a ‘material’ change in the circumstances, as Ranwsley accepts.

And in fairness he does note that:

But it is no less true that additional and incendiary ammunition has been handed to the nationalists by Mrs May’s decision to pursue a rock-hard version of Brexit that privileges the desires of the Brextremists over everything and everyone else. The prime minister has fuelled the constitutional inferno with her inflexible failure to make any accommodation at all with the large number of voters – a substantial majority of them in the case of Scotland – who didn’t want to leave the EU. The SNP can now contend that it is not they who are the reckless parochialists; they can pitch themselves as the sane internationalists trying to save their country from a rampant English Tory nationalism.

And I’m entirely sure I disagree with the following:

On the issue of timing, the Scots appear to be in contradictory minds. Pollsters report that a majority don’t want another referendum soon, but they also object to a plebiscite being blocked by Westminster. I don’t want to eat that – unless you tell me I can’t.

If the voters are being contradictory, they are at least matched in their illogicality by the protagonists on both sides. Pro-Brexit unionists are in the hideously contorted position of arguing that Scots should not “take back control”, precisely the opposite of what they have told Britain in relation to the EU. The SNP is telling Scots that being deprived of access to the single market will be so bad for them that they should compound the damage by quitting the single market with England, the destination for the bulk of Scottish exports.

But… and this is well worth keeping in mind, Scotland is arguing not against any markets with the UK. How could it be otherwise, they as noted last week point to the situation on this island as an example where there’s at least rhetorical adherence to the idea that ‘something must be done’ to maintain the basic integrity of economic links (whatever the reality will prove to be). they’re arguing against breaking links with the EU. Though Rawnsley is correct that:

…the people least qualified to scare Scotland with the economic perils of going it alone are the Brexiters who plan to wrench Britain out of the world’s largest trading bloc. The SNP has a changing and confused line on the EU, with some of its people now saying that they would not necessarily seek membership for an independent Scotland. The fact that a third of Scottish voters chose both independence and Brexit might have something to do with the shaping of that position. Both sides are hurtling through the looking glass.

But not quite. The SNP is making sensible noises about the EEA and EFTA. But this flux, this chaos is all a result of Brexit. Break up of the union, impacts on this island. Where does it end?

Signs of Hope – A continuing series – Week 12, 2017 March 23, 2017

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Gewerkschaftler suggested this recently:

I suggest this blog should have a regular (weekly) slot where people can post happenings at the personal or political level that gives them hope that we’re perhaps not going to hell in a handbasket as quickly as we thought. Or as the phlegmatic Germans put it “hope dies last”.

Not worth discussing March 23, 2017

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This struck me as particularly clear headed – an explanation for the protests against Charles Murray in the US in Slate.com and the attempts by some on the right to paint these as intolerable political correctness. I’ve a fairly strong adherence to free speech, one can say what they like but don’t expect to be given the license to say it everywhere and at all times, particularly outside the privacy of one’s home, but what is genuinely intolerable is the reality of what Murray supports. As Osita Nwanevu says:

The fact that the research Murray has endorsed is regularly deployed by racists to argue that the education of black students is futile went unacknowledged. And in the New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote that the incident reflected the “dangerous safety” of higher education and endorsed the view that Murray’s critics can only learn he is wrong via engagement with his ideas. The millions who’ve found good reason to reject the notion of black inferiority without even an awareness of Charles Murray’s existence evidently have yet to be truly educated on the subject.

One doesn’t even have to go to those who have deployed Murray’s work. His own words paint him as believing in concepts that imply racial distinction in relation to intelligence that are profoundly negative. And he likewise speaks in terms of gender in a similar fashion.

What is striking to me is that this isn’t regarded as not politically incorrect but simply incorrect. Take his four precepts of education.

1. Ability varies.
2. Half of all children are below average.
3. Too many people are going to college.
4. America’s future depends on how we educate the academically gifted.[32]

It takes but a second to poke holes in all of that. For a start who would disagree with 1? But the evidence for 2 appears shaky at best. And the policy implications that he then sees as flowing from that (3 and 4) are absurd. Nothing there about the genuinely transformational changes taking place in terms of automation, the nature of work and so forth. Indeed if, as seems likely, so much of human endeavour is about fighting the last war or the one before that it’s not difficult to see Murray’s contributions as utterly beside the point.

This is the level of thought that meant to be taken so seriously that freedom of speech is only upheld by engaging with it? Hard to believe that is the case.

There’s a further thought which Nwanevu notes in the piece on political correctness more broadly.

When you pare away the sensationalism that characterizes much of the reporting on the campus scene, political correctness doesn’t seem to be as powerful a force as its critics want us to believe. Take the panic over trigger warnings. In 2015, the National Coalition Against Censorship released the results of a survey of more than 800 professors in the Modern Language Association and the College Art Association—professors who, as teachers of literature and art, would be among the most likely to use warnings. More than 92 percent said they were unaware of any student efforts on their campus to require trigger warnings, 85 percent reported their own students had never asked for them, and 88 percent of those who did not offer trigger warnings said their students hadn’t complained about their absence. The report concluded that reports of a trigger warning epidemic were “difficult to substantiate.”

That strikes me as likely – having some experience myself teaching in third level. There’s always a froth of high profile incidents but usually matters proceed much as they have away from the headlines.

And Nwanevu makes a further point well worth considering. The idea of unlimited freedom of speech is a crock.

Naturally, these findings were mostly ignored—the anti-PC narrative admits precious little change or nuance. Its central argument, after all, amounts to little more than a knuckle-dragging grunt: More speech good. Those who disagree—those who dare suggest that the utility of speech may in fact be dependent on content, context, speaker, and audience—have unfailingly been deemed oversensitive and closed-minded. They are beholden to, in Jonathan Chait’s words, “philosophical premises that happen to be incompatible with liberalism.”
Incompatible? Really? As of 2014, laws criminalizing offensive hate speech were on the books in 89 countries, including 84 percent of European nations. Is Spain, which bans racist speech, not a liberal state? Should we consider the state of Israel, where one can face criminal penalties for denying the Holocaust, intellectually stunted and fragile?

It has been said before – it is difficult in a world of social media to believe freedom of speech is under any great assault. But it is entirely reasonable to curtail it in certain contexts (as has been evident on this site). And there’s little point in nailing oneself to the cross of freedom of speech as if that is the only absolute in human affairs. Moreover some speech should be curtailed in serious academic areas. The idea of racial superiority or inferiority, the idea that women as less intelligent, the idea that class distinctions are genetically pre-programmed. Check out this from the Souther Poverty Law Centre to see how anti-working class his ideas are – “In Murray’s world, wealth and social power naturally accrue towards a “cognitive elite” made up of high-IQ individuals (who are overwhelmingly white, male, and from well-to-do families), while those on the lower end of the eponymous bell curve form an “underclass” whose misfortunes stem from their low intelligence.”


But these aren’t dangerous ideas. Frankly, they’re stupid ideas (for example what on earth would gift ‘white’ people superior intelligence over ‘black’ people? Why would intelligence pool in actually rather ephemeral groups of the ‘well to do’ across – in terms of historical time – stark political/social/economic ruptures including mass democratisation, expansion of the middle and upper working class, etc etc) and the notion they have to be taken seriously to the extent that those making them should be given equal time and combatted in the way that some who adhere to ‘freedom of speech’ argue is absurd. And that view is shared wider afield:

Middlebury alumni had expressed disappointment and alarm that the conservative academic had been invited to the campus. Though they expressed their support for free speech in a letter to college authorities, they stated that they believed the principle did not apply to Murray because of what they described as the “questionable” quality of his research.
“The Bell Curve … has been roundly refuted and criticised by sociologists, psychologists and political scientists alike,” more than 450 alumni wrote. “Yet Dr Murray does not seem to be the kind of scholar who responds thoughtfully to criticism of his findings, biases or methodology. He has only continued to produce more work distinguished by the same disregard for basic standards of research and peer review.”
They added: “Since Dr Murray’s views are not worth engaging on these grounds, this can hardly be called an occasion for open, rigorous academic debate.”


Dáil dress code March 23, 2017

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What do people think of this, a parliamentary dress code due – apparently due to ‘complaints’ about the garb of various Deputies. Curious the Seanad doesn’t seem to get the same opprobrium – or at least it is not mentioned. It’s also worth keeping in mind that this is broadly about male TDs dress – interesting the gendered aspects of that and the expectations of same. And even now the majority of TDs who turn up turn up in shirt and tie and jacket.

Part of the problem is what is ‘formal’ or ‘neat’ for that is part of what is advocated. I’m always minded in these discussions to think of Tony Gregory who eschewed the tie, but kept a jacket on. It was certainly neat, and in a way formal enough. But it wasn’t conventional, as the conventions at the time had it.

Anyhow, David Norris in the Seanad made a reasonably good point…

[he] began by booting out the proposal to introduce a new Oireachtas dress code. He feels this is an example of the “increasing bureaucracy” around Leinster House. (He’s right there.)
“People are not going to come in wearing a bikini. If they did, they’d be censured by the House and they would be expelled. I remember Cicciolina in the Italian parliament.”

Framing the narrative… March 23, 2017

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Some of the responses to the death of Martin McGuinness are particularly intriguing. Take the IT for example. They’ve a long article by Kathryn Johnston (co-author with Liam Clarke of a biography of McGuinness) where, and the headline is indicative – “The republican’s facade occasionally slipped, revealing a callous disregard for human life” – she writes amongst other incidents about the murder of Mountbatten:

In his journal that night, Prince Charles, colonel in chief of the Parachute Regiment and Mountbatten’s nephew, wrote “Life will never be the same now that he is gone. I fear it will take me a very long time to forgive these people . . .”
Yet by 2015, Prince Charles and Lady Camilla Parker-Bowles had visited. In the interest of our peace, Prince Charles said, we must no longer be prisoners of our history.

And then with context whatsoever is straight onto:

His words were generous, and symbolised growing reconciliation. Less than a year ago, McGuinness met Queen Elizabeth at Hillsborough.
McGuinness is seen walking smiling, towards her, hand outstretched. As they shake hands, McGuinness asks her how she is. She replied, drily, “I’m still alive, anyway.”

Now what is odd about that is that McGuinness, famously, met the Queen in 2012, four years before the meeting Johnston references. That’s not a small detail, it was a fairly significant one in the context of the overall process, and not least for Unionists and Republicans. But Johnston frames the Queen’s comments as being related to the Mountbatten murder etc.

Moreover the Queen’s comments in no less an authority than the Telegraph were contextualised in that paper, hardly one pro-Republican as a joke shared between the two of them.

One doesn’t have to hold a candle for McGuinness to feel that there’s significant problematic aspects with the IT article. It’s not that one aspect of his legacy should not be addressed, but to only present that and to ignore all else is to offer only a part of a more complex, and yes, ambiguous and difficult story.

And for those of us, however semi-detached from Marxism there’s a further problem. The focus on McGuinness in terms of a supposed ‘callous disregard for life that characterised the IRA’s campaign’ is to personalise broader processes. It is indeed true that the campaign at many times exhibited precisely that – but it is short-sighted in the extreme to see it as simply that, or to ignore the processes, which like them or not (and I’d be like I suspect many of us are here deeply critical of armed struggle as a tactic), allowed it to persist across decades and later to see SF gain the political prominence that it has. Or indeed to ignore the factors that led to what was in a way a number of armed campaigns during that period as long extant and suppressed or ignored societal and communal pressures came to the fore.

Gerry Moriarty in the same paper is a fair bit more nuanced and generous.

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