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Meat-free January 25, 2020

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I don’t know if I agree with the following, from the Guardian about ‘meat-free’ foods.

But it also highlights a strange paradox underpinning the centuries-long pursuit of the perfect meat proxy: by trying to seamlessly remove meat from our diets, we are actually reinforcing its importance. “There’s this kind of association of meat and the good life – a bit of luxury, a nutritious diet – that means people want to replicate it in vegetarian terms,” says Rödl. “Because meat is so entangled with how we understand diets historically, it’s really hard to imagine ways outside of it.”

He points to a vegetarian sausage producer he interviewed for his PhD thesis on meat alternatives. She had no desire to replicate the texture or flavour of meat in her vegetable-only products – but nonetheless spoke with pride of the traditional “springiness” of the casing. In other words, she was congratulating herself on enveloping her meat-free product with something modelled on animal intestine.

When we successfully replace meat with a meat-free substitute, we overlook the possibility of a diet that is free of it altogether. “It just kind of keeps this idea of meat-eating as the centrepiece,” says Rödl – of food culture, if not our diet. Counterintuitively, the strange and storied history of the hunt for the perfect proxy really proves the point: “We don’t have an exit strategy from meat.”

Isn’t that contradictory? If we’ve replaced meat with meat free then we’ve replaced meat. Now, the form of the meat-free is up for discussion, but I’ve no particular gripe with those who either eschew meat-like products or those who embrace them. Surely the key thing is to minimise, or cut out, meat? And I do think that in some ways, and I’ve been exposed to vegetarian diets more than most, that

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… The Moranbong Band January 25, 2020

Posted by irishelectionliterature in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to..., Uncategorized.
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A North Korean All Female band whose members were supposed hand picked by the country’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un. It’s a kind of power pop.

Signs of Hope – A continuing series January 24, 2020

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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”.

Any contributions this week?

That great debate… January 24, 2020

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I watched the ‘great’ debate between Martin and Varadkar today. If you missed it you too can watch it here. I thought it pretty anodyne. This, unfortunately, is the choice for Taoiseach, short of another snap election due to a government not being formed. I didn’t think either of them was much cop. Varadkar is curiously unformed, Martin oddly querulous. These are – obviously, quite separate to their political positions which I imagine few of us feel any great sympathy with.

Both were, however fluent. They’re grand, they’re alright, they’ll do the job, but… so what. At every point it seemed to me they tended to block each other off – in no small part because they’d both been in a political arrangement for the past four years. A good example was when they started dissing each others candidates and Ministers for various transgressions. Neither party was spotless so there was a sense that neither could really use the issue in the way that they so patently wanted to.

The offer a grand coalition, or admission of the need for one in possible circumstances was… well, what could Varadkar say?

Kenny wasn’t wrong on the ‘hypocrisy’ to SF stuff – and nether man seemed on strong ground in relation to just why they were locked out of government in the South when so much effort had been made to bring them into government in the North (and by the way, why is an Ard Comhairle so curious as a decision making body in the context of a party?). As to the ‘imposing a narrative’ on the conflict, difficult to run too far with that one. And Martin was flat out wrong about them ‘collapsing the administration in the North’. Varadkar was notably more emollient. Entertainingly Martin implied FG would engage with SF in government building.

I don’t know if this focus on SF is to the advantage of the two parties in these debates. They seem to me to oddly accentuate their diminished stature. On they go about SF is this, that and so on. And Martin sounds as if he doesn’t actually get what the GFA/BA is – Varadkar had to point out that a ‘border poll’ is actually in the agreement, whereas Martin seemed to see they very idea as outrageous.

Weirdly Varadkar comes across as vastly more open to a united Ireland than the leader of FF. Some turnaround that. And yet again the contradictions are remarkable. SF good enough for the GFA but not good enough for the Republic, even though Martin reifies the GFA to the point of arguing that rather than a UI that’s what he wants.

Martin seemed a bit older than I’d expected – he is after all 59. Varadkar seemed a fraction younger than I’d expected (I’ve met him just once IRL a good decade and more ago). These are parties that between them can’t get 50 per cent of the electorates support in the latest poll. Perhaps that will change. That said I don’t think that many voters, mainstream voters that is, will be terribly concerned about either individual.

Even Varadkar’s admission about drugs didn’t seem to me to have much weight behind it. He answered it about as well as one could and for all the exaggerated talk amongst the media about a cringe inducing silence it seemed to me that he was about as fast off the mark as one could expect.

They’re fine, they’re grand, they’re alright, they’ll do the job.

But an ideological vision? You’ll have to go quite some way to find much of that there. No great social democratic vision from Martin. Even Varadkar seemed oddly disengaged from any particular line – bar the implicit right of centre approach both men functionally espouse. They’re not even technocrats. They’re just politicians. And perhaps that too explains why both hover around the mid to high 20s in the polls and have done so for so long.

In that sense they’re terrible, abysmal, woeful and you can bet they’ll do the job.

Infantile politics… January 24, 2020

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Have to agree with Newton Emerson for once. He writes that:

https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/newton-emerson-ruling-sinn-féin-out-of-power-in-dublin-infantilises-stormont-1.4148118

Ruling Sinn Féin out of coalition in the Republic contributes to political infantilisation at Stormont. That might be a price worth paying but it is a cost that is never discussed.

And for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from some quarters over the RIC/DMP ‘commemoration’ and how this would negatively impact on unionist opinion, he points to something else that might have a somewhat greater impact on that quarter:

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour are campaigning on the insistence they will not share power with a party that takes orders from the IRA. The usual question this raises in Northern Ireland is why Sinn Féin is good enough on one side of the Border but beyond the Pale on the other. Even some unionists find the double-standard offensive, although not through any love of republicans in government.

I don’t find other aspects of his thesis very convincing. For example, he suggests that SF is unable to make unpopular decisions in the North over ‘bread and butter issues’, for which read not acquiesce fully to the centre right nostrums of the day. Well, more power to them. But he answers his own question as follows:

From accepting the consent principle on Northern Ireland’s existence to telling Irish language activists last month to settle for less than they wanted, the party is capable of far harder acts of leadership than rebalancing Stormont’s budget. However, it can portray these as steps towards unification. Compromises on left-wing economic and social policies are just steps towards the crowded centre ground of Irish politics.

So it is far from inconsistent, even if nowhere near as left wing as he would like to present it.

Some Sad News …. January 24, 2020

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Top table! January 24, 2020

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Interesting to see the PBP general election manifesto launch. Who was that figure on the left hand side of the table as seen by viewers? Why none other than Paul Murphy of RISE. I have wondered if RISE might have been better to lash up directly with PBP – as an element of same, albeit with their own identity or some such or with some loose alliance.

That list of election priorities January 23, 2020

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Perhaps not enough consideration of a very curious finding in the IT polls this week.

Asked which issues would have the most influence on their vote, 40 per cent of voters said health was their most important issue, while 32 per cent said housing.
These two issues vastly exceed the importance voters attach to the economy, climate change and Brexit as issues which they say will influence their vote.
Just 8 per cent mention the economy as the most important issue, while a further 7 per cent opt for “value for money in public spending”.
A further 7 per cent say that climate change is the issue which will decide their vote – a level very similar to Green Party support as measured in the current poll, which was at 8 per cent.

Add in that ‘management of Brexit’ was only at 3 per cent and that paints quite the picture. Prior to the election I would have thought that housing and health and climate change would be up there at the very top with Brexit close enough behind. To see climate change so low is remarkable – this after all was trailed as an election where there might be a Green tsunami. Well, of course, there still might, albeit presumably a slightly lower one than anticipated. Eight or nine per cent on the day could see fifteen GP TDs elected (SF in 2011 had 14 elected on foot of 9 per cent). Yet for all that Extinction Rebellion and others have brought the issue to the fore perhaps this is another case where what is high profile on social media (and in fairness off it too) doesn’t necessarily have as deeply embedded roots as was thought.

Even the low enough rating for the economy is explicable – albeit problematic from a left position, in that employment is holding up. What sort of employment that might be, who benefits, who doesn’t, is another matter again. Notable is how public expenditure is at the same level as climate change.

Pensions redux… January 23, 2020

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Here’s something I wasn’t fully aware of, having read about it a while back but not really delved into. A letter in the IT notes:

With all the electioneering attention around the changes to the age of retirement, nothing is being said about the proposed changes to the calculation of the pension payments to the total contribution approach (TCA) system. This was introduced in March 2018 as an alternative to the yearly average model which, with the inclusion of the 20-year home caring credit, benefits many who have taken time out to care for children, etc. At present people retiring are paid at the best rate achieved on either of the systems.
However, according to the Citizens Information service, the TCA system is to replace the yearly average system from “around 2020 onwards”. This no doubt will impact heavily on anyone who has lived and worked abroad for part of their life and now, nearing retirement, will find themselves with far less pension than expected based on the system that is currently in place.A person who lived abroad outside the EU or countries that are not part of the bilateral social security agreement for 20 years and then moved back to Ireland and worked 20 years here can currently, on the yearly average system, expect a pension of €211 per week. However, on the new TCA system they will only receive €124 per week.
Although the new TCA system is fairer in many respects, it needs to be implemented over a much longer period, with far more publicity, in order to allow people to plan for their retirement under the new TCA calculation method.

And:

Under the TCA, the total amount of social insurance contributions paid by, or credited to, you – rather than the timing of them – will determine the rate of State pension you’re entitled to.

Whereas:

Under the current State pension system, known as the ‘averaging’ system, you can qualify for the full State pension if you have 10 years of social insurance contributions.

And:

An interim TCA system kicked in earlier this year and will apply until the TCA system is implemented in full from 2020.
Under that interim system, 40 years of social insurance contributions are required to qualify for the full State pension.

And a note to strike unease:

…from around 2020 – when the TCA system is implemented in full for those applying for the State pension for the first time – it will no longer be possible for people to choose between the two.
“Most people are assuming that because 40 years’ social insurance contributions are required under the interim TCA, that the same will apply for the TCA system introduced from 2020,” said Tim Duggan, who is the assistant secretary with responsibility for pensions at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
“That’s not a valid assumption because no decisions have been made around the parameters for the TCA system in 2020. We’re looking at whether or not 30, 32 or 35 years’ social insurance contributions should be the requirement – we’re looking at everything.”
Duggan confirmed that the Government is also examining whether or not 40 years’ social insurance contributions should be required. However, he stressed that the Government has not decided that 40 years should be the requirement.
“We have an open mind on everything,” said Duggan.

Yeah. Well.

But realistically how does one ‘plan’ for what for many may mean significant cuts in their final state pension?

As others see us… a continuing series January 23, 2020

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This from the Atlantic is fascinating. A piece that suggests that the UK post-Brexit (or in the throes of Brexit, choose as applicable), might do worse than follow the Canadian model in terms of its geopolitical orientation. That is that…

…a medium-size economy flourishing next to a trading superpower; an open, multicultural democracy bound by trade agreements but not supranational institutions and law; and a country that has navigated the position in which it finds itself in the world—geographically in the New World but with ties to the old, spread out and linguistically divided, multicultural and multiethnic.

But some Canadians interviewed make the point, albeit rather more tactfully, that unlike the UK they are not burdened with over-exaggerated senses of their place in the world, or their historic importance.

And that matters. Because as the piece notes, coming much closer to home:

Britain will have to lean on its diplomatic skill to maintain its relations once it leaves the EU. But this may require it to think and act like a smaller power—like Canada—which might prove challenging. In Britain’s negotiations with Ireland over Brexit, some senior politicians in London were dismissive of the effectiveness of Irish diplomacy. One cabinet minister, who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, told me that Ireland was a small country, which meant that the quality of its ministers could not match that of those in the U.K.. And yet this attitude proved part of London’s undoing in the negotiations, which saw Ireland win more of its objectives than Britain did.

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