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Divergent tone… January 26, 2021

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Anyone catch Colum Eastwood’s piece in the IT yesterday? In it he discussed the legacy of Seamus Mallon and asked rhetorically what Mallon would have made of the events of the last twelve months – particularly ‘diverging strategies’ in the face of the pandemic. Reading that it seems to me he is talking about the North, but of course he could equally be talking about the island as a whole. In any case Eastwood pivots from that to…

Seamus’s lasting legacy is, as he so aptly expressed in the final lines of his book, that we rest in the shade of trees planted by his generation. It is beyond time that we began sowing the seeds of a new Ireland for future generations.

And he writes:

Over the course of the last number of months we have been conducting hours of quiet conversations with people across this island from a range of backgrounds. In the months ahead we will hold hundreds more conversations with every community, sector and generation We are listening to their concerns, working to address their fears, but most of all seeking to build a consensus about how we can shape a new society and a new country that meets the aspirations of all our people.

And then he writes the following which is quite fascinating really given all else that has been said in recent days (not least Arlene Foster’s argument against a border poll).

I sincerely believe that the UK is coming to an end. And I don’t say that to be triumphalist, it is simply the conclusion of the last decade of British government policy that has stripped away public services, removed opportunity and aspiration from the vocabulary of too many communities and left us on the edge of Europe.I believe that a new future is not only possible but that it is increasingly viewed as the best possible outcome for more and more of the people we’re speaking to.

I don’t disagree at all. But has anyone told M. Martin and the Shared Island Unit for surely this is a radical departure from the ROI government’s newly minted line of living together and see what happens as expressed by the IT last October:

But the Taoiseach’s speech yesterday in tandem with an interview he gave to The Irish Times last month signal that, for him, increasing synergies and co-operation – while learning to share the island of Ireland with a separate sovereign entity in the Northis the end game rather than a means to an end. In his view, a united Ireland is still in there, but it’s a component rather than a priority.

That, is surely quite some way off what Eastwood is saying?

Vaccine sentiment January 25, 2021

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This is somewhat heartening. From The Irish Times late last week comes the news:

Dr Henry warned that the vaccine will not have “any significant impact” on the current surge. He revealed that acceptance of the vaccine is the second highest in the European Union after Malta, with 37 per cent of Irish adults declaring they would wish to get the vaccine as soon as possible against the EU average of 23 per cent. Only 8 per cent of respondents were opposed to ever receiving the vaccine, which is less than half of the EU average of 17 per cent.

Those figures on antagonism to taking the vaccine are important. Too large a cohort could cause real problems in ensuring that there’s sufficient coverage to provide a degree of immunity. But 8 per cent is remarkably small. That said there’s a certain irritation in knowing some will be in essence freeloading, though another way of looking at it is that they are taking quite a chance themselves in not getting vaccinated. And who knows, perhaps by the time the mid-Summer rolls around most of that crew will have seen some sense.

The Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes January 25, 2021

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A guest post from Catherine Kelly

How can the Irish Government justify ignoring the lived experience of survivors? 

The story of mother and baby homes in Ireland is replete with Church and State collusion. The Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, appears to be carrying forth and sustaining this legacy. Legally, financially, and socially, both women and children existed to be seen, but not heard. A harsh and oppressive female code of conduct was determined by a patriarchal system. This system was developed and overseen by men in power who supported institutions to reform woman they considered to no longer be virtuous. Virtue in Ireland was a broad and sexist concept defined by clergymen and state moralists as an instrument for oppressing young women and children born out of wedlock.

The silenced voices of innocent women and children who repeatedly tried to share their lived histories of life within institutions and how they felt about the cards a harsh and unyielding society had dealt them, has gone unheeded for far too long. Heart breaking re-traumatising statements that exist within the Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes such as ‘it must be acknowledged that the institutions under investigation provided a refuge, when the families provided no refuge at all’ support evidence that those in power are the only resounding voices informing this report. This is not surprising since oppression often involves ignoring the perspectives of the marginalized, while continuing to sustain a patriarchal society conveying women as either the failure or satisfaction of another’s defined ideals of female morals and ethics. If patriarchy continues either consciously or subconsciously to be deeply woven into our institutional policies, advocacy, treatment, research and reform, then how can we expect reports to be non-biased? 

Continuing to expose and challenge the findings of reports where patriarchal influence is being perpetuated will enable us to more effectively contest and dismantle them. 

As a society we must commit to better understand the experiences of persons oppressed in gendered or discriminatory ways. The general public must become fully aware that the harrowing stories and consequences of life in institutions have not ceased. Mother and baby homes in many situations were not closed down but transformed into another cash cow for religious orders, that of institutions which continue to house people with intellectual disabilities. As a society we would be remiss if we did not question what crime have these individuals ever committed to remain incarcerated behind the grey and bleak walls of Irish institutions and who if anybody is advocating for and protecting their rights? 

Mother and Baby Homes are a clear example of how female bodies became a target of disciplinary power and punishment. These institutions facilitated a systemic culture of dehumanisation, torture and abuse. The disturbing truth is that similar to concentration camps these institutions were used to intern innocent civilians that our Irish state considered hostile. And, while interned were forced into a life of unpaid labour. Institutions allowed the state and church to segregate these women by placing them in a closed or isolated building that operated rules that were distinct from Irelands main system of rights and punishments.

The result was the stripping of people’s rights, the indiscriminate use of power and the systematic removal of liberty.Mother and Baby Homes are a symbol of everything that a modern democratic society are supposed to stand against. 

 Therefore, it is imperative that the Irish Government recognise that reports and discussions involving survivors can be emotionally traumatic and that they have a moral obligation to employ protections to avoid any re-traumatisation. A humane approach must be adopted to ensure the protection of a survivors’ emotional and physical well-being in all aspects of the process, from the planning stage right through to the sharing of the results. All reports and the processes should be underpinned by the core principles of trauma-informed care, such as safety, trustworthiness and transparency, peer support and mutual self-help, collaboration and mutuality, empowerment, voice, and choice. 

Unfortunately, consultation and authentic engagement seem to be concepts completely overlooked by the government in relation to the Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. The opportunity to use a participatory approach to facilitate survivors to engage in a process of co-evaluation of policies and action which could influence positive societal change and social policy development was either overlooked or completely ignored.  

Apologies with inaction are meaningless. The government need to listen to the voice of the survivors and to meaningfully engage with them in developing a process where the outcomes they require can be negotiated and co-constructed. 

Thankfully Ireland have strong advocates who have risked their reputations and lives to challenge the status quo and demand justice for those that were wronged. The people of Ireland deserve far better that a government that is paternalistically authoritarian and prescriptive.

Catherine Kelly is a freelance journalist who has published work through RTE Brainstorm.

She is an associate lecturer within the Humanities Department of TU Dublin. She has lectured on the social care degree course for the last eight years and her history of work within the social care sector supports her to provide students with both an academic and practical insight into this area of study.

She has over 25 years’ experience working within the community and voluntary sector. She was appointed to the position of Director of Services with WALK in 2005. She has been at the forefront of designing, developing and delivering programmes for people with intellectual disabilities that provide pathways to access employment in the open labour market and third level education.  She has a particular interest in the development of person-centred, socially inclusive supports and in the provision of supports that are driven by an equality and human rights agenda. She is a regular speaker at national conferences where she covers topics such as equality and diversity and innovation.

Workplace safety… January 25, 2021

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Unions in one high-profile workplace are a troubled… 

In addition, staff in the Oireachtas are concerned at a lack of compliance with mask wearing in the Oireachtas workplace. We would ask that the wearing of masks within the workplace be made mandatory.

Peter Finnegan, clerk of the Dáil, wrote back to both unions 

On the issue of masks, he said: “The service respond to issues or queries raised by members in relation to compliance or other safety measures that could be considered. One such measure is the reinforcement of the wearing of face coverings in the Oireachtas complex.  “There are currently no regulatory provisions for the mandatory wearing of face coverings that would apply to the Houses of the Oireachtas. “The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform guidance and FAQs do not make wearing a face covering a mandatory requirement. “The Houses of the Oireachtas has introduced a Covid 19 Code of Conduct with an accompanying updated face covering policy to remind everyone of the behavioural standards required to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the Houses of the Oireachtas.”

Hmmmm…

Left Archive: Northern Ireland Report, No. 15, November 1993 January 25, 2021

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To download the above please click on the following link.

Please click here to go the Left Archive.

Many thanks to the person who forwarded this to the Archive.

This edition of Northern Ireland Report, numbered 15 and published in November 1993 joins others in the Archive. Under the headline ‘British and Irish Cowardice’ it argues that:

In Northern Ireland, this fall was nothing less than extraodinary with both the possibilities of peace and the horrors of war being clearly evident. As such, the North was rediscovered by the world’s media, who emphasize the most recent acts of ”savagery” and ”carnage” over the development of a serious peace initiative. Lost in these reports was the fact that peace and justice in Northern lreland can be considered only within a context the acknowledges and reinforces Britain’s border.

It suggests that the Hume/Adam initiative ‘remains a mystery as they refuse to divulge any details’. It notes the increase in loyalist attacks against nationalists and ‘a stupid and irresponsible action’ by the IRA which resulted in the Shankill Road bombing ‘killing 9 innocent people and wounding many more in premature explosion’.

And:

Finally, and most important, as people were still being buried in the North, John Major announced that the Tory government supported a six point peace plan offered by Irish Republic Prime Minister Albert Reynolds and Foreign Affairs Minister Dick Spring. This peace plan, which hints at the possibility of unity, stresses majority consent, offers to a111end the South’s constitutional claim on the North and demands the cessation of all violence before negotiation tion. In short, after rejecting Hun1e/ Adams, the British and Irish goverriments offered nothing new to the tired and embittered people of the North.

It concludes:

This flat out rejection of Hume/Adams (whatever its merits, and it had to have some given the political risks involved for both Hume and Adams) by the London and Dublin governments sent Northern nationalists a clear message: peace and justice in the North is only possible within British framework. Who are the extremists in the Irish war? History will no a doubt show that they wear business suits as often as they wear masks.

Other pieces examine ‘The Siege at Tigers Bay’, The Constitutional Debate and the Opsahl Commission as well as an interview with political prisoner Pol Brennan.

Please note: If files have been posted for or to other online archives previously we would appreciate if we could be informed of that. We always wish to credit same where applicable or simply provide links.

Speaking of the LOTR… January 24, 2021

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…as was mentioned yesterday. This, this is… so telling:

Donald Trump’s diehard supporters are often accused of living in fantasyland, but one court case recently launched to try to reinstall him as president has surprised even the most hardened observers of Trumpian strangeness by citing as evidence a mythological realm from The Lord of the Rings.

The case was launched in Texas, in the name of small conservative groups including Latinos for Trump and Blacks for Trump, and was filed by Paul Davis, an attorney who lost his job after posting Instagram videos of himself at the attack on the Capitol.

Along with the usual idiotic allegations of voter fraud there’s….this:

But – unusually for a legal strategy – the case cites as evidence to back up its pro-Trump claims the tragic fate of the kingdom of Gondor, one of the central realms of JRR Tolkien’s fantasy classic, whose exiled ruler, Aragorn, was played onscreen by Viggo Mortensen.

“Gondor has no king,” the lawsuit states, a footnote providing an explanation of the woeful fate of Tolkien’s entirely imaginary land populated by dragons, wizards, hobbits and elves, all threatened by a baleful Dark Lord backed up by an army of orcs and with famously little time for due democratic process.

The suit explains how Gondor’s throne was empty and its rightful kings in exile, presumably positing the idea that Trump is the true king of America – a land happily monarch-free since 1776.

And;

“This analogy is applicable since there is now in Washington DC a group of individuals calling themselves the president, vice-president and Congress who have no rightful claim to govern the American people,” the case states.

It adds: “Since only the rightful king could sit on the throne of Gondor, a steward was appointed to manage Gondor until the return of the King, known as ‘Aragorn’, occurred at the end of the story.”

The lawsuit then suggests that America’s version of the stewards of Gondor should be selected from among – surprise, surprise – Trump’s cabinet members, who should run the country.

No disrespect to Tolkien, who deserves better than this, but these guys are idiots.

Sunday and other Media Stupid Statements from this week… January 24, 2021

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In a weirdly soft denialist piece this morning, this particular couple of lines stands out:

 For most of this pandemic, the individual risk to any one of us has been low, but the risk to society from uncontrolled transmission is great. Frontline workers who have remained at work throughout the pandemic have long internalised this reality. But those of us who haven’t been out in the workplace have not adjusted to it. Instead of being told to keep calm and carry on, we have been told, essentially, to be afraid. It turns out that if you spend a year trying to scare the bejaysus out of people, a lot of them end up scared.

Thanks to banjoagbeanjoe for this… from The Irish Times a bizarre effort to frame a supposed ‘left’ response to Covid…

“Only if the left accepts that the present is the terrifying future in which pandemic restrictions function as part of capitalist exploitation will it be able to seize the moment to point out that our current predicament is only one contingent reality.”

What is it about the fact that transmission of the virus is not a single factor but multiple factors in a society combining – so that arguments about ‘hospitality’ opening up are irrelevant to the fact that only restrictions curb the spread?

One of our team called me between Christmas and the New Year to tell me he or she was a close contact of a positive case. We pre-emptively removed close contacts from the rota. None of them became sick. If we waited for the contact tracers to call we’d still be waiting; when the numbers of cases and their contacts surged the system couldn’t cope. Our little piece of paradise is a very small open economy and it cannot do economies of scale. Similarly, the extent to which the R number was affected by hospitality opening up can’t be determined because our data isn’t good enough. And that is just another term and condition of living in Ireland.

Stephen Collins argues that on foot of the Biden win:

The lesson for centre parties here is that they need to get back to basics with good organisation at constituency level and an active role in the community at all levels. They cannot afford to remain aloof from the fray and give credence to the taunts that they are elitists who have lost contact with the public.

But if they’re not actually organising at constituency level or taking an active role in the community at all levels, surely those aren’t ‘taunts’ but genuine and well-founded criticism?


No greater joy in heaven than for a sinner who repents, but what of a Covid-19 sceptic who even now despite having undergone a slight Damascene conversion manages to argue that the perfectly predictable was somehow entirely unexpected? And even more strange is someone who when arguing against a full Zero Covid-19 strategy seems to pit perfection against significantly better as in the following:

[a Zero Covid strategy] glosses somewhat over the harrowing cost of eliminating transmission. Melbourne endured a hellish lockdown for almost four months, which should ensure a steady stream of business for its mental health professionals for years to come. Life may also be semi-normal for many people in New Zealand, just as long as they are not among the tens of thousands who work in tourism or aviation or companies that are suppliers to either; have loved ones abroad or, if they are emigrants, at home; the need to travel to maintain their livelihoods, or for any typical human reason at all, actually; or run an SME that may not have the resources for a prolonged shutdown.

Which is why we have something called… what is it, starts with an S, has the letters ‘tate’ also in it, there to step in to support those in tourism, aviation, suppliers, etc through the pandemic.

Meanwhile there’s this genuinely bizarre analysis about what happens as (if) restrictions lift with vaccinations:

If life is relaxed for the vaccinated but not others it could be seen as very unfair – planes filling up with over-70s holiday-makers while young people cannot meet each other in or out of school. Over-70s are being prioritised for vaccination to protect their health, not so that they can party.

And then the following where the author appears oblivious to the idea that despite being vaccinated it may well be that people will still carry the virus (for more here’s the NYT on that).

In addition, there could be serious enforcement issues. Many people are rightly upset if they see someone in a supermarket not wearing a mask. For that reason it seems appropriate to continue to require vaccinated people to wear masks in such settings for the foreseeable future, demonstrating solidarity with those not yet vaccinated. 

So what happened to the lunar module January 23, 2021

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I was wondering the other day, as one does, about what happened to the Lunar Module after it docked with Apollo 11 for the last time. It’s one of those things where a perfectly obvious question comes to mind years after it should. After all this isn’t a small thing. The Lunar Module brought Armstrong and Aldrin to the lunar surface, and then the ascent stage took off again and rendezvoused with the Command Module, where Michael Collins had spent a presumably quite lonely 21 hours or so, in lunar orbit (and been the furthest single human alone from Earth in all of human history to that point). The two astronauts transferred to the Command Module and then the Lunar Module was… well… what?

After docking with the CSM, piloted by astronaut Michael Collins, at 21:34:00 UT, the Lunar Module was ejected into lunar orbit at 00:01:01 UT July 22. The fate of the Lunar Module is still unknown. But it is believed that it crashed into the Moon’s surface sometime within the following 1 to 4 months.

And;

For the record, almost all of the other LM’s ascent stages’ locations are known. Only the ascent stages’ of both Apollo 11 and 16 are yet unknown. The main part of the lander is still there, on Mare Tranquillitatis (the Sea of Tranquility), as a monument to humankind’s first boots on the lunar surface.

So presumably at some point these will be found again, or what is left of them. And then there’s Apollo 11’s ‘Snoopy.

When its test flight was over, Snoopy was divided into its two sections. The descent stage, which on later landing missions would remain on the lunar surface, was allowed to crash into the moon. The ascent stage, which included the crew cockpit, was jettisoned such that it entered orbit around the sun. All of the other Apollo lunar modules’ ascent stages were purposely destroyed, either by burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere or crashing back onto the moon. That makes Snoopy the only once-manned U.S. spacecraft still in outer space without a crew. Forty-two years later, it is still out there — somewhere — waiting to be found.

This from wiki is intriguing:

Snoopy’s descent stage was jettisoned in lunar orbit; its current location is unknown. Further, it is unclear whether the descent stage impacted the lunar surface, or if it remains in lunar orbit. Phil Stooke, a planetary scientist who studied the lunar crash sites of the LM’s ascent stages, wrote that the descent stage “crashed at an unknown location”,[31] and another source stated that the descent stage “eventually impact(ed) within a few degrees of the equator on the near side”.[32] However, Richard Orloff and an official NASA mission summary stated simply that the descent stage entered lunar orbit, remaining silent on the question of whether the stage later impacted the Moon.[33][34] An amateur astronomy blog begun in early 2020 explored the possibility that the descent stage may still be in lunar orbit, using computer simulation.[35]

Another take on a classic… January 23, 2021

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I enjoyed the LOTR films – wasn’t so keen on The Hobbit trilogy which seemed to stretch the very solid original to breaking point, so the news that the new Amazon Lord of the Rings series isn’t a new version of the three LOTR films is welcome. Indeed apparently it will be set in the Second Age of Middle Earth – thousands of years before the various films. The Second Age (all very Babylon 5, which borrowed liberally from the LOTR) was four thousand years long or so. Intriguing. Even more so is the information that the design of the television series is to be set within the same ‘continuity’ as the films. However, how much will follow Tolkien remains open to question. This seems hazy:

At the start of March 2019, Amazon revealed that the series would be set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before the story of The Lord of the Rings.[36] Shippey explained that the series was not allowed to contradict anything that Tolkien had written about the Second Age and would have to follow the broad strokes of his narrative, with the Tolkien Estate prepared to veto any such changes, but Amazon was free to add characters or details to fill in the gaps between Tolkien’s works. The series is also only allowed to adapt and reference content from the Lord of the Rings books and their extensive appendices rather than any of Tolkien’s other books that explore the Second Age such as The Silmarillion. The Tolkien Estate retained the rights to the events of the First Age while Middle-earth Enterprises held the rights to the events of the Third Age (as seen in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films), so the series was also not allowed to explore those. Shippey felt this left the series with “a lot of scope for interpretation and free invention”.[33] A synopsis for the series revealed in January 2021 that locations for the series included the Misty Mountains, the elf-capital Lindon, and the island kingdom of Númenor.[2]

No Gandalf who arrived later in the timeline (and speaking of LOTR related things I’m interested in ASF’s take on this).

BTW, an interesting political note, ‘Amazon’s decision to film in New Zealand was reportedly influenced by the New Zealand government’s reassurances that the country was safe to film in following the Christchurch mosque shootings in March 2020, as well as the potential effects of Brexit in Scotland.’

Going for the Moon… or… January 23, 2021

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Interesting, some of the chatter about the priorities of the Biden administration on space exploration. This from MSN late last year suggested that the new administration might be a fair bit more sceptical of a 2024 Moon return than the previous administration. There are some fairly solid technological and process issues…

The space agency has already paid Lockheed Martin nearly $3 billion to build three Orion capsules. Ideally, one of them would be ready to fly atop SLS late next year. But in ground testing back in November, engineers found a flaw in one of the capsule’s back-up power and data systems. To avoid further delays, NASA plans to conduct the first unmanned test-launch of Orion with the broken component still aboard. “NASA has confidence in the health of the overall power and data system,” the agency stated. Fixing the flaw could ultimately delay and add cost to the overall Artemis program, further incentivizing the Biden administration to simply bump the moon deadline to the right by a few years.

And last weekend there was the hardly stellar performance of the SLS rocket at the weekend.

Nasa’s Boeing-built deep space exploration rocket has cut short a crucial test, after briefly igniting all four engines of its core stage for the first time. Mounted in a test facility at Nasa’s Stennis space centre in Mississippi, the Space Launch System’s (SLS) 64-metre core stage roared to life for just over a minute on Saturday, well short of the roughly four minutes engineers needed to stay on track for the rocket’s first launch in November.

The engine test, originally scheduled to last eight minutes, was the last leg of Nasa’s nearly year-long “Green Run” test campaign. It was a vital step for the space agency and its top contractor before a debut unmanned launch later in 2021 under Nasa’s Artemis programme, the Trump administration’s push to return US astronauts to the moon by 2024. It was unclear whether Boeing and Nasa would have to repeat the test, a prospect that could push the debut launch into 2022

But there are other reasons why Biden might be sanguine about soft-pedalling this.  Naomi Oreskes in Scientific American in their January edition noted that:

A 2018 Pew Research poll found that 80 percent think the space station has been a good investment, 72 percent think it is essential for the U.S. to remain a global leader in space, and 65 percent say that should happen through NASA, not primarily through private companies. But only 18 percent think it should be a top priority to send humans to Mars, and only 13 percent support sending humans to the moon.

And:

So what do Americans want NASA to do? The answer may come as a surprise: 63 percent say NASA should make monitoring global climate a top priority. If we include those who think it should be an important (but not top) priority, the percentage increases to a whopping 88 percent. The second-highest priority is looking for asteroids or other objects that might hit our planet. Many of us have been loath even to talk about climate change because it is seen as divisive—but one thing that seems to unify us is the belief that the most important thing we can do in space is to collect information to protect ourselves and our one and only Earth.

There’s nothing I’d like better than a human led space presence. Particularly beyond low Earth orbit – and the idea of a Lunar spacelab is particularly appealing. But those other priorities mentioned in the Pew Survey do need to take precedence. They point to a seam of sensible pragmatism about spaceflight and indeed point to the centrality of same in ensuring the wellbeing of this planet. Which is not to say that a Moon landing is a bad idea, anything but, but four years of the Trump administration have seen a gratuitous tilt away from NASA and other agencies efforts to engage with the global climate crisis. Time to rebalance that first.

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