Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Runaway! It's Jim Corr!

I must admit that up until Sunday I had completely forgotten about the existence of The Corrs. A glorified wedding band from Dundalk, the success of this four piece family outfit in the late nineties and early part of this decade continues to baffle me. It is true that the three sisters in the group were all extremely easy on the eye (if a tad on the boring side when it came to such things as speaking) yet this was hardly the motivating factor behind the decision made by the millions of fools so lacking in musical taste that they actually shelled out their hard earned cash to snap up CDs containing this insipid strand of Celtic pop rock. Still, if that’s what people want then so be it.

The Corrs, as I am sure most people recall, had a lone male member. His name was Jim (pictured above, second in from the right... in case you couldn't tell). He was the eldest and tended to live in the shadow of his three glamorous sisters. Poor Jim. Not that he probably gave a damn. While the rest of us tittered at images of him standing out like a sore thumb on stage while his trio of charming siblings did their thing, Jim could rest assured that he always had the last laugh as he raked in bucket loads of cash and dated Miss Northern Ireland. Obviously not content with a life of luxury and beautiful women, Jim last week decided to make a move towards the world of politics. Oh dear.

In an interview with the Sunday Tribune the elder Corr was asked why so many Irish politicians supported the Lisbon Treaty given the level of opposition to it from the public. With all the knowledge and decorum of the man down at your local pub who maintains Hitler had some good ideas, he replied:
"There are a large number of secret societies in our government, we certainly know that. The push towards global government totally correlates with the Freemasonic agenda. The way it works is that once they see a rising star, let's say a politician, they're approached, as a couple of my friends have been approached, because they would see you as an asset to the brotherhood. Tony Blair is a 33rd degree Freemason. That's fairly common knowledge. Sure the Queen is grand patroness of the World Freemasonry. Silvio Berlusconi is a high level Freemason. President George Bush is a member of the Skull and Bones, the Yale secret society, which is an off-shoot of the Freemasons."
Excuse me? Is this the same Jim Corr? It appears it is. Jim didn't stop with his suggestion of an international Freemason conspiracy. It seems there are conspiracies everywhere:
"Imagine the nightmare of genetically modified foods being pushed onto our farmers. This might sound extreme but there is a component in GM foods called Agro bacterium which has been shown to alter human DNA. You don't want to be eating that."
Indeed. And there's more:
"There's another agenda to microchip the planet. With these chips inside our bodies they have the potential to manipulate us, emotionally, physically and mentally. It might sound like science fiction but that's what I and other people think the ultimate agenda is. It's got to be stopped."
All this loony tune stuff comes hot on the heels of Jim claiming that he leans politically towards Sinn Fein, that he would consider standing for election, that 9/11 was an 'inside job' (yawn...) and that the evidence for the Twin Towers being brought down by controlled explosions has been destroyed by the former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

I actually feel slightly sorry for Jim Corr at the moment. He's been taking quite a bit of stick from all quarters as a result of him being stupid enough to reveal his wacky set of opinions. Not only did he let these views be known but he continues to defiantly stand over them. Let's not be too harsh on him though. In an age where the threat of global terrorism looms large, where rogue states threaten international peace and security and the potential of a nuclear showdown with Iran grows greater by the day, the views of the guitarist and keyboard player from a Dundalk pop band that hasn't had a hit now for several years should really be the least of our worries. Do I think the man adheres to some wicked and depraved anti-American ideology? I very much doubt it. For all his wealth and time spent trotting the globe Jim comes across as being nothing more than a daft, ill-informed clown who has perhaps stayed up a little bit too late at night checking out the latest gossip among the YouTube conspiracy geeks. On reading his comments my main feeling was one of embarrassment for the poor soul.

Before I leave you I thought it would be worth pointing out just one more of the Louth man's ill considered remarks. In his interview with the Sunday Tribune, Jim boasted of his republican leanings and voiced his anger at "six hundred years of tyranny under the British establishment." Fair enough. It's not an outlandish reading of history. I am pretty sure he isn't the first person from his hometown to utter such sentiments and he certainly will not be the last.

However, his broadside would have carried slightly more weight had it not been made by someone going by the name of Jim Corr MBE. Perhaps I am being a bit hypercritical here, but if you are going to condemn the "tyranny of the British establishment" why would you at the same time be so enthusiastic as to accept honorary titles from that same fraudulent institution that oppressed your country for so many centuries? In fact, check out his comments from the interview above once more and you can see that he clearly described Queen Elizabeth II, the woman who presented him with this title, as the "grand patroness of the World Freemasonry." Then again, old Jimbo doesn't appear to be the sharpest tool in the box. I suspect the irony of it all would be lost on him.

Take a holiday, Jim. You deserve it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Please can I leave the new dispensation?

Yesterday I was having a moan about opinion polls and how useless they were to everyone except the people who were making a living out of compiling them. Today I spotted a few words tucked away in the corner of the letters section on page 22 of the Irish News which sums up the general attitude of people in Northern Ireland to the current power sharing administration at Stormont far better and more succinctly than any MRBI survey could hope to achieve. Short and sweet:
Sammy Wilson as environment minister? Please just shoot me instead.
Belfast 15
Of course, it is a little bit unfair to single out poor old Sammy Wilson. After all we do have Gregory Campbell as Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure. On second thoughts, just pass me the gun. I'll shoot myself.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Latest news: Red C poll shows bugger all

"There is only one opinion poll that I am interested in and that is the one that will take place on election day."

Michael Howard
May 2005

Recognise the picture on the left? That’s right. It’s the results of an opinion poll presented in the form of an indecipherable triangular graph.

I’m beginning to think that I’m in the wrong line of work. Compiling polls - that’s where the real money lies. I’m specifically talking about compiling polls on the level of support for political parties south of the border. I don’t mean to insult whoever it was cobbled together the one for today’s Sunday Business Post but I’m beginning to think they’ve got the easiest job in Ireland.

Be honest - when was the last time anything surprising turned up in one of these things? Actually, when was the last time anything different turned up? As far as I can tell the results are almost always identical yet somehow despite this newspaper editors consider the unexceptional findings to be worthy of front page news and in depth scrutiny. Here are the usual features in Irish ones:

*Despite sleaze scandals and endless tribunals Fianna Fail always top the poll.
*Fine Gael support is always “disappointing” (probably because only someone as lifeless and uninspiring as Enda Kenny could convince voters that buffoons like Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen look Prime Ministerial).
*Labour seem to be perpetually on 10%.
*Ratings for Sinn Fein and the Greens bounce around between and 5% and 10%.
*Finally, these polls remind people that there still exists in Ireland a party called the Progressive Democrats.

I recall a journalist for a northern newspaper that shall for now remain unnamed telling me that once when the publication’s horoscope readings failed to arrive he and a couple of pals in the office simply concocted their own analysis of the stars. Needless to say not one reader noticed the difference between the information supplied by the mischievous hacks and that usually provided by the resident astrological loon. Now, I don’t know how Red C and other similar organisations arrive at their conclusions but if for some reason the findings for next month’s poll don’t arrive with the editor then I am willing to email him a set of my own results which I will make up inside sixty seconds. Don’t worry, nobody will notice the difference.

On the other hand, if you do happen to work in the recruitment section of Red C or MORI or any other such similar group and require someone to fill a well paid vacancy collating useless information and then publishing it in a series of impressively incomprehensible charts to give it a facade of being scientific then drop me a line. Until then I’ll continue to take Michael Howard’s advice.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Credo Quia Absurdum: the strange, strange world of the CPGB (M-L)

In his excellent autobiography Interesting Times, Eric Hobsbawm briefly mentions the Anglo-Russian journalist and CPGB member Andrew Rothstein as being an individual whose way of showing his devotion to the Marxist-Leninist cause was to eagerly defend the indefensible. Whether it was the gulags, the Holodomor, the Berlin Wall, the brutal suppression of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 or the crushing of the Prague Spring, Rothstein was one of those comrades that could always be guaranteed to be on hand to fight Moscow’s corner right here in the belly of the beast. His commitment to the struggle appears to have been unbending to a most astonishing extent. Hobsbawm notes that when the CPGB was finally dissolved in 1991 Rothstein at the ripe old age of 93 became one of the founder members of the Morning Star-aligned successor Communist Party of Britain.

Defending the indefensible and believing the absurd is still a common pastime for many battle hardened British Stalinists, albeit these days the struggle continues with aging ranks and greatly depleted numbers (depleting one assumes due to the deaths of members from the aging ranks). The late Andrew Rothstein’s CPB remains the largest grouping of tanky Brits. Don’t let that fact overwhelm you though. Figures from the party’s 2007 congress reported that membership had at the last count fallen to just 941. One can only wonder just how small the smaller factions actually are when this is considered the behemoth of British Stalinism. It does appear to be that the smaller your faction the crazier you tend to be - and the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) is both very small and very crazy.

The CPGB (M-L) was founded four years ago by a small group of people that had either left or been booted out of Arthur Scargill’s failed anti-Blairite Socialist Labour Party project. OK, still with us so far? Now, this is where it gets difficult. The faction that was expelled/resigned from the SLP was organised around a man called Harpal Brar, a lifelong anti-revisionist who had merged his Association of Communist Workers (itself a split from Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League) with Scargill’s party in 1997. The primary reason behind the Brarite-Scargillite schism was due to the fact that Brar had a vision of the SLP as a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist organisation while Scargill had a more modest dream of a return to traditional old Labour left politics. Brar and his colleagues should be congratulated if only for the sole reason that they somehow managed to come up with a new combination of words for the name of their party. The left in the UK is as crowded as it ever has been at the moment and a lot of potential names have surely been taken by this stage. Good luck to the next group of people in Britain who intend to set up a party with the title ‘Communist Party of…’.

But what, I hear you ask, is it that makes the CPGB (M-L) any more eccentric than the RCPB (M-L) or the CPGB (PCC) or the NCPB? We could begin to answer this with simply one word: Zimbabwe. I haven’t met all that many people recently who have described themselves as being sympathetic to Robert Mugabe. In fact I haven’t met anyone who would be so deluded as to dispute the globally held view that Zimbabwe is a madcap state run by a corrupt lunatic dictator who has driven his nation into bankruptcy and starvation. Admittedly, I haven’t stumbled across anyone who is a member of the CPBG (M-L). They love Bobby Mugabe, so much so that members of the party are involved in a thing called the Zimbabwe Solidarity Front. The ZSF is a bizarre group of individuals that use the liberty, security and freedom of speech they enjoy as citizens of the United Kingdom to unconditionally defend the so-called ‘national revolution’ of Mugabe and his band of Zanu-PF thugs. The party’s bi-monthly Proletarian newspaper regularly carries reports praising “comrade Mugabe” and condemning the “pro-imperialist” Morgan Tsvangirai. In the most recent issue the party claims that recent presidential, parliamentary and senate elections in the country were rigged - by the Movement for Democratic Change!

Clearly big fans of insane dictators that run starving poverty-stricken totalitarian states, the CPGB (M-L) also provide their unrestricted backing to the only country on Earth that could reasonably claim to be more fucked up than Zimbabwe. You guessed it, its North Korea (or the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea if you happen to be ‘one of them’). One article from a past issue of the Proletarian tells of a trip a party delegation made to this workers paradise. They commented:
"Free medical care, free housing, full employment, free education and safety for your children. These things are desired by all working people - and they are being achieved for people in north Korea in spite of US aggression and economic sanctions."
Sounds great, doesn’t it? In fact, Kim Jong-il would like his people to enjoy these benefits so much that he won’t even let them leave the country. How terribly kind of the Dear Leader. Most people will I am sure see nothing new in these warped arguments about the wonderful standard of health care and education available in these hellholes. These were the type of points once used by supporters of the Soviet Union to prove just how advanced a system operated in that part of the world. Of course, it was a bullshit argument then and it remains equally so today when applied to the citizens of these horrible little fiefdoms. I should point out that while not everyone will rush to join these loonies in their applause for Kim Jong-il, many other supposedly sane and respectable leftists will unashamedly praise other more trendy communist tyrannies. Take Cuba for example. How many ‘moderate’ leftists are there willing to praise the fantastic literacy standards of the little Caribbean hereditary Leninist monarchy? In fact wasn’t it rumoured that some Labour MPs at Westminster were content to vote for the abolition of centuries old British liberties and back the introduction of 42 day detention on the basis that the government would in turn support an end to EU sanctions on Cuba? What a deal - we give up some of our liberties and in return we take the pressure off the Castro family dictatorship. Plus, didn’t I see that clown Diane Abbott pay tribute to Mao Tse-Tung on BBC’s This Week a few months back praising the Chinese mass murderer for lifting his people “out of feudalism”? So, this is more widespread a disease than you may think. Always happy to point out where political figures from the right have supported unsavoury regimes, this affection for dictatorship is a habit the left has not yet fully kicked. However, if anyone reading this is genuinely quite content to give up their right to travel, freedom of speech and every other liberty under the sun in exchange for a free tooth extraction now and again please drop me a line.

Believe it or not a few weeks ago I had an exchange with a Canadian blogger and anti-war type who used the same fraudulent health-and-education argument to defend - wait for it - Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The stupidity of the lady in question was staggering. Her description of Baathist Iraq was as follows: "There was no poverty, universal health care, running water, utilities 24 hours/day, a cultured society, marvellous art galleries and museums and wealth due to the oil." Marvellous art galleries, eh? The CPGB (M-L) go even further than that the lady in question. Far from being responsible for a few snazzy art galleries, Saddam Hussein was, they claim, a “martyr of the Iraqi resistance”:
"The western press has portrayed Saddam Hussein as a tyrant and a thief – a paranoid dictator with a steady flow from the treasury to his personal bank account. And yet Iraqis will not forget that life under Saddam was incomparably better than life under imperialist occupation. The living standard was among the highest in the Middle East (with especially high standards in education, health care and women’s rights – contrast this with present-day Iraq). Even with crippling sanctions, life was very much better than it is now."
Intriguingly the CPGB (M-L) condemned the execution of Saddam Hussein, yet refused to condemn the al-Qaeda massacre of dozens of innocent civilians on the streets of London as a result of the 7/7 bombings. Odd, though odd is what this party does best.

If unconditional support for Robert Mugabe, North Korea, Islamist insurgents in Iraq, al-Qaeda suicide bombers and Nepalese Maoists hasn’t convinced you over the absurdity of this organisation perhaps the next word will: Stalin. Some Morning Star readers may like to talk about the great progress made during the communist era but in fairness they are probably also quite likely to - at the very least - point out that things did go a wee bit haywire under old whiskers. Very few commies these days take their eulogizing of the former eastern bloc as far the Brarites; fewer still would so openly and publicly lavish praise on the late J.V. Stalin. And, boy, do they lavish him. Uncle Joe is given an almost godlike status among CPGB (M-L) members. He is even given his own church-like organisation so that members can do their worshipping of him separate from more traditional party work like flogging newspapers and leafleting train stations.

Back in 1991, when most people on their wing of the left were doing a runner following the collapse of the USSR and its east European satellite states, Harpal Brar and his comrades were in the process of founding the Stalin Society. The SS (as I am sure it is never referred to by its members) was organised in order to “defend Stalin and his work on the basis of fact and to refute capitalist, revisionist, opportunist and Trotskyist propaganda directed against him.” Just from visiting the organisation’s website one gets the impression that it would extremely difficult to tell when you were at a meeting of the Stalin Society and when you were at a CPGB (M-L) get-together. Let's just say that there appears to be a bit of overlap.

A glance at the list of literature on sale shows once again just how off-the-wall this crowd really is. Some of the catchy titles include A Personal Account of Experiences in the German Panzers at the Battle of Stalingrad, Lies Concerning the History of the Soviet Union and, my own personal favourite, George Orwell: Anti-Communist Propagandist, Champion of Trotskyism and State Informer. Slightly less amusing though is a pamphlet entitled The Ukrainian Famine-Genocide Myth. Strangely this booklet has been one of the ones selected to be made available online, so eager are they to inform of us of how these three to five million people did not actually die. I read it and can only say that it is fifteen minutes of my life I would like to have returned to me. It is a disturbing piece of Holodomor denial that puts the CPGB (M-L) and the Stalin Society beyond being mere figures of ridicule and into the domain of being the left wing equivalent of the ‘historian’ David Irving. Of course, Unite Against Fascism have never bothered their backsides protesting at a meeting featuring Harpal Brar or Carlos Rule, have they?

I know what you’re thinking - so what? In a way you would be right. The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) is a totally insignificant group. Only the most devoted or deluded of party members would genuinely believe that they could seize control of the British state. However, we can see in this party the signs of the ugliness that permeates the broad left and anti-war movement in the UK at the moment.

The one thing that struck me about the causes which the CPGB (M-L) and so many others on the left nowadays support is just how un-socialist most of them are. In Iraq they extol the virtues of Saddam Hussein, an Arab nationalist who spent a great deal of his early years securing power by slaughtering members of the Iraqi Communist Party. In Zimbabwe they worship Robert Mugabe, a man whose 28 years in control of his country do not in any manner appear to be part of a journey towards a communist utopia. Support for Islamist butchery from al-Qaeda to Hamas is now common on the left although I still have yet to get an answer to my question of how this support (‘conditional’ or otherwise) is somehow progressive. As for North Korea, not even they pretend to be Marxist any longer. Pyongyang now officially views the military rather than the proletariat as the primary agent of change in society - “army-based socialism” as they themselves refer to it.

When one looks at the Bin Ladens, the Saddams, the Mugabes and the Kims one notices that they all have virtually nothing in common with one other. Nothing that is beyond a common loathing of the United States, Britain and the whole of the democratic world. Unfortunately, for many on the left nowadays that just happens to be enough common ground to warrant these perverted displays of solidarity.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lisbon: the fallout continues

If offered a straight choice between spending my day observing events in Dail Eireann or else studying the drying process of a layer of paint I would be extremely tempted to plump for the latter. As those of you unfortunate enough to have ever stumbled upon live televised proceedings from Leinster House will be able to testify, the going can be tough for even the most battle hardened of political junkies. Taoiseach's Questions possess none of the theatre or intensity that we get during PMQs on the other side of the Irish Sea. The Dail has always lacked the adversarial characteristic that Westminster does so well. Perhaps it's just me, but when I think of the Dublin parliament I think of a thinly attended chamber with a handful of men being polite and courteous to each other. Give me the yah-boo infantile behaviour of the House of Commons any day.

However, today could be one of the few instances where events in Leinster House may actually be worth a peek. According to the RTE website the Dail will spend around five hours (or roughly half a day's work to you and I) debating where we all go now following the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in last Thursday's referendum.

The gathering should be interesting for a number of reasons. None of the TDs, with the exception of the four Sinn Fein members and a handful of the independents, will be looking forward to this morning's gathering. A considerable amount of egg currently adorns the faces of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and Progressive Democrat parliamentarians (the poor Greens couldn't make their minds up). After last year's disastrous General Election the Shinners will want to milk this one for all its worth. Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore have been doing their best in recent days to make the best of a bad situation and try to make the defeat of Lisbon impact as hard as possible on Brian Cowen's fledgling administration. It's all a bit devious of them, don't you reckon? The leader of the opposition has accused the Taoiseach of not treating the current crisis over the Reform Treaty with the urgency it deserves while the Labour leader has claimed that Mr Cowen has been in "denial" in the days following the result. Maybe so, lads, but then both of you called for a yes vote - at least have the decency to go down with your ship.

An intriguing day in the Dail it may be, however don't be expecting any major developments. The government will be playing their cards close to their chest both later today as well as in the coming months. A quick fix similar to that which sorted out the Nice Treaty six years ago will not do this time around. The past half decade has seen the trust of many Irish people in EU institutions eroded. It is entirely possible - perhaps even likely - that a second referendum on Lisbon or something similar to it could be met with yet another defeat for the yes men.

Whether you like it or not, Euroscepticism has finally arrived in Ireland. And, if you ask me, I think we should welcome it.

Update: Actually, I was wrong. It wasn’t worth watching. It was as tedious as ever.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Another demonstration passes on to history

Eamonn McCann? Check. Students? Check. 60-something men and women wearing Che Guevara t-shirts? Check. Unimaginative placards lampooning President Bush’s intelligence? Check. Some local Muslim bloke to make everyone feel all diverse and right on? Check. Yup, all the ingredients were there for yet another thinly attended anti-war demo in Belfast featuring all of the usual suspects from our city’s lunatic fringe. Not even nice weather and the US President himself coming to town could bring out the crowds. Things must be bad in no-blood-for-oil land.

While I have known for quite some time that the anti-war movement are little more than a hotchpotch coalition of dictatorship groupies and anti-American halfwits, I was still surprised to see the choice of flag a couple of the demonstrators took it upon themselves to use for one of their stunts. All of the reports on local TV and radio referred to the Union Flag on Belfast City Hall being torn down by two protestors and replaced with the “Iraqi flag”, though it would have been more accurate to say that the banner they raised aloft was that of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist dictatorship (that’s the one with ‘Allaahu Akbar’ inscribed on it). Apologies if I sound like a little bit of a nitpicker about this but if I were a member of the anti-war movement I would feel a tad uncomfortable by in any way associating myself with such a vile totalitarian regime, the remnants of which are fighting tooth-and-nail on a daily basis for the restoration of their old genocidal system.

The thing is these people do not in any way whatsoever feel uncomfortable. Anti-war fraternity opinion on the Baathists, the Taliban, Hamas, al-Qaeda and any other reactionary band of fascists that possess a shared love of murdering Americans and Jews tend to veer from indifference to outright endorsement. All of which is a shame. The left, particularly the Irish left, used to have good slogans. ‘We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland’ was one they which they employed during a conflict in the early 20th century. Less than a hundred years on and the political descendants of Connolly and his comrades are more willing to take sides - they just happen to be on the wrong side.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Republic says “Níl” (for now)

“The aim of the Constitutional Treaty was to be more readable; the aim of this treaty is to be unreadable... The Constitution aimed to be clear, whereas this treaty had to be unclear. It is a success.”

Karel de Gucht
Belgian Foreign Minister
23rd June 2007

It had to happen eventually. Down through the seventies, eighties and nineties the Republic of Ireland was generally viewed as being one of the most pro-integration states in the whole of the European Union. Having gone into the then EEC in 1973 as an economic mess still suffering from post-partition attempts to construct a bizarre de Valeran Catholic paradise in the 26 counties, the southern state entered the 21st century as a vibrant European democracy going through an unparalleled economic boom. Then, on a sunny summer's day seven years ago, 529,478 Irish citizens voted in a referendum to reject the Nice Treaty. Europe's political class recoiled in horror. Something had gone horribly wrong.

The no vote to Nice came as a huge surprise both to people in Ireland and to others across the continent. It was one of those rare occasions were the men and women tasked with assessing public opinion had got it completely arse about face. I noticed in last Saturday’s Irish Times that the final poll published a few days prior to the 2001 referendum had suggested that, while opposition was unusually high, there would still be a yes vote. Oh dear. Either a lot of Irish people changed their minds in the polling booth or (as I tend to believe) a substantial amount of people were simply lying to the pollsters. Were people embarrassed to offer their real opinions on the EU? Up until the Nice referendum, criticism of the European Union in the Republic was looked upon as being something akin to treason and confined to the political fringes. Europe had been good - end of story. It was arrogantly decided to rerun the referendum the following year. 'Nice 2' would give the Dublin government the 'correct' result. The rest, as they say, is history.

Seven years on and much has changed. After thirty years of consensus, Euroscepticism appears to finally have a foothold on the emerald isle. This time few people appeared to be misleading the pollsters in the run up to Thursday’s referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. For the past couple of months all the signs seemed to be pointing towards a no vote and that is exactly what we got: a total of 862,415 (53.4%) voted against the Treaty.

I have always considered myself to be a reasonably pro-European individual, however in recent years I have begun to question just what level of input we citizens really have into the future direction of the Union. The rerun of the Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty was the first cause of uneasiness on my part. After all, what was the point in bothering to ask people for their opinion in the first place if your plan was to keep asking them the same question until they provided you with the answer you wanted? The muddled handling of Nice painted the picture of a one-way street Union. Daniel Cohn-Bendit didn’t do much to change my view when he stated a couple of years later that any country which 'did an Ireland' and rejected the European Constitution should be asked if they wanted it a second time - and if they rejected it twice then they should be expelled from the EU. Not much room for debate then with old Danny.

The Reform Treaty and the Irish referendum campaign on it has done little to improve my trust in the Union. If anything I am even more cynical of the EU now than I was just a few months ago.

Once again all of the main parties in Dail Eireann (with the exception of Sinn Fein) attempted to sell a European treaty to the people on the basis that it was ‘good for Ireland’. Yes, the Republic has indeed benefited from EU membership but people cannot be asked to dwell in the past, feel permanently indebted to Brussels and simply act as a rubber stamp for everything that is thrown in front of them. This treaty was about the future and there were few parties or individuals on the yes side willing to engage with people and explain to them what this document really meant. At times I even got the impression certain politicians on the yes side did not fully understand what they were in favour of. Take the two Aherns for example. Back in May, Bertie Ahern described any potential rejection of Lisbon as being a “disaster” for Ireland and the EU. A few days later his colleague Dermot Ahern stated that a rejection of the Reform Treaty would not be a disaster. Well, one of them had to be wrong.

The extent to which people fully appreciated the terms of the treaty tended to crop up quite a bit. Many supporters of Lisbon have criticised people on the no side for rejecting the treaty on the basis that they could not understand it, which when you think about it are not entirely illogical grounds on which to refuse the treaty. After all, if proposals are being put forward to make changes to your national constitution and you do not fully understand them it would be infinitely more reckless to simply accept it than it would be to remain suspicious and choose to reject it.

I was amused by Mary Hanafin’s reaction yesterday on RTE when it was abundantly clear that we were heading for a no vote. Hanafin stated that she felt many people had been confused by the dour legalistic language included in the Reform Treaty and said that perhaps the next time something like this comes up for negotiation they should make sure that there is something pleasant in it that they can sell easily to the general public. Clearly Ms Hanafin did not realise that it was this dour legalistic language that formed the whole basis of the treaty. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of a former Taoiseach. Last year in the Irish Times, Garret Fitzgerald provided his analysis of what the Lisbon Treaty represented. He said:
“The most striking change (between the EU Constitution in its older and newer version ) is perhaps that in order to enable some governments to reassure their electorates that the changes will have no constitutional implications, the idea of a new and simpler treaty containing all the provisions governing the Union has now been dropped in favour of a huge series of individual amendments to two existing treaties. Virtual incomprehensibility has thus replaced simplicity as the key approach to EU reform. As for the changes now proposed to be made to the constitutional treaty, most are presentational changes that have no practical effect. They have simply been designed to enable certain heads of government to sell to their people the idea of ratification by parliamentary action rather than by referendum.”
Virtual incomprehensibility has thus replaced simplicity as the key approach to EU reform? Attempting to baffle people into acquiescence is hardly a noble way to proceed with the process of ever closer union. With the Irish and European political elite arrogant enough to utter these kind of things out loud you cannot help but feel that they got exactly what they deserved with yesterday’s result.

Whereabouts we go from here is anyone’s guess. However, what should be made absolutely clear is that the wishes of the citizens of the Irish Republic have to be respected. For some reason I am not entirely confident that they will. EU leaders will now meet in the coming days to discuss how they can work their way around this free expression of the will of the Irish people. Back in 1992 the Danes voted no to Maastricht, only to finally endorse that same treaty in a repeat referendum the following year. As has already been mentioned, it also took the south of Ireland two goes in a little over twelve months to say yes to Nice. It may not be a huge surprise if at some point in 2009 the people of the Irish Republic are being forced to reconsider whether or not they really did mean to say no. For the sake of the great European tradition of liberty, equality and fraternity let us hope that it does not happen this time around.

Friday, June 13, 2008


The prize for ‘most pointless press release of the day’ without doubt goes to Stephen Moutray, a Democratic Unionist Party MLA for Upper Bann. His party’s website is today carrying a statement from him entitled “SF United Ireland dream has died.” The piece contains some blatantly Googled quotes from Sinn Fein MLAs which allegedly prove that the party is looking towards helping to strengthen Northern Ireland rather than destroy it, however nothing uttered by any of the Shinners cited here could be considered revelatory stuff and to describe any of this as even mildly interesting would be to indulge in a wild exaggeration. Mr Moutray thinks otherwise though. He states:
It is very clear that at all levels of the SF Assembly team there is an open acceptance that the United Ireland dream has died. They are now accepting the reality of British rule in Ulster. For face-saving reasons they continue to keep the SF rank and file in the dark. The political reality is that not only will there be no United Ireland, but that the SF leadership know this and are boxed into working within the parameters of the British state. Devolution has strengthened the Union and…
No, I didn’t actually leave anything out there. The DUP just appear to have neglected finishing their inane little press release.

Maybe I’m missing something really obvious here, but just what is this twaddle about? This isn’t an attempt on my part to defend Sinn Fein. I just happen to be a tad puzzled as I try to work out where exactly Moutray’s statement fits into today’s news or what event it has been issued in response to. Or is it even a response to anything? I think its probably fair to say that some people in the DUP continue to have sleepless nights about sharing power with former (and indeed current) leaders of the Provisional IRA. Statements like these are, if you ask me, merely attempts to convince DUP people like Mr Moutray and his chums that they are really still doing the right thing.

The DUP have been in power with the Provos for over a year now. Its time they grew up, treated us like adults, stopped insulting our intelligence and ceased trying to prove to everyone how much they still loathe Sinn Fein despite the fact that they have been sitting in coalition with them at Stormont for the past twelve months. To put it simply: stop wasting our time.

John O’Dowd. Gregory Campbell. Peter Robinson. Gerry Kelly. Is it just me or does direct rule suddenly not seem like such a bad idea any longer?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

“Hey, isn’t Bush so, like, dumb and stuff?!”

I see the Belfast Anti-War Movement has been getting down to business in recent days and preparing for next week’s visit of George Walker Bush to Northern Ireland. Posters, emails and leaflets are currently flying around all over the place in the hope that as many people as possible will come to the city on Monday to register their protest at this drop in from the President of the United States. I hope their expectations aren’t too high.

The enthusiasm for the anti-war movement died very quickly in this part of the world. To be precise, it died on February 16th 2003. The global day of action five years ago was fun for ten or fifteen thousand Belfast citizens but they certainly didn’t plan to make a habit out of it - well, not once Junction One and Victoria Square had opened. These days a protest against the war in Belfast will attract a couple of hundred people at most. Perhaps the arrival of Dubya might drag out a few more souls, but by and large Monday’s protest will be more about which Trotskyite sect can recruit the most My Chemical Romance fans than anything else. Not even the most optimistic ultra would predict that this demonstration will strike a blow against US imperialism.

A few months back I commented on this site that I found the anti-war movement to be an intellectually bankrupt grouping. It has slogans, not critiques. It provides opposition, not solutions. It is against the war but at the same time has no real alternatives. It stands for nothing. It never mentions how it would have dealt with the Taliban or the Baathists. In fairness it did give us a worrying glimpse of its views on Stalinist China. A few months back the Stop the War Coalition in Britain appeared to condemn Chinese atrocities in Tibet, yet within hours spectacularly withdrew that statement after protests from members of the Communist Party of Britain who were upset at their comrades criticising the favourite dictatorship of the Morning Star club. Oh, sorry, did I say the anti-war movement hadn’t given us their opinion on the Taliban or the Baathists? How silly of me. Actually, the Socialist Workers Party - the main grouping in the British and Irish anti-war movements - are quite openly giving their support to the Taliban and the Iraqi insurgency.

The one thing that clearly unites the anti-war movement is their shared love of shit jokes, specifically ones concerning President Bush’s IQ. It’s almost ten years now since someone emailed me my first list of silly quotes from Dubya. I can remember laughing at the time at the list of one-liner blunders attributed to the then US Presidential candidate (“more and more of our imports come from overseas” being my particular favourite). Nevertheless, they weren’t that funny. I can’t remember when exactly I grew tired of them but I am pretty sure it was well before the end of his first term in office (maybe even before 9/11). These days it is political satire for the brainless. Staggeringly though, this stuff is still tickling the Trots.

Take Thursday’s special Bush-themed film night at a café in King Street. The film on offer this week? It’s none other than George W. Bush-ism, a movie described on the poster for King Street Arts as an “hour long documentary on George W. Bush’s spectacular verbal cock ups.” An hour? How the hell do you get enough mileage out of this subject to turn it into 60 minutes of entertainment? I suppose you’re life is made easier if you happen to be catering for an audience of idiots. You see, there was a time when the left could rely on the masterful work of directors like Godard and Pasolini for their cinematic dosage. Now they are reduced to tacky Michael Moore-style ‘documentaries’. When I was at university I noticed this scholarly decline in lefty standards. Marx and Lenin no longer adorned the bookshelves of part-time revolutionaries. Why would they when you could buy Bushism books for £1 in HMV or ‘anti-capitalist handbooks’ (whatever they are) at the equally anti-establishment Virgin Megastore? Poor Karl and Vladimir. This all seems to be a left wing version of what the Daily Express would call ‘dumbing down’.

If you are going to the protest on Monday I hope you have a fine time. Please say hi to the people that want to see the Taliban back in Kabul. Say hello for me too to the supporters of the Islamist and Baathist ‘resistance’ in Iraq. And give a special greeting to the supporters of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, the gulags and the occupation of Tibet. While you’re there hollering your slogans please also keep in mind what you are protesting against. You are protesting against the removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan, one of the vilest theocratic regimes ever witnessed in human history. You are protesting against the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, one of the most brutal and genocidal dictators in living memory. And what else are you against? The imperfect and as yet incomplete democracies that have replaced these tyrannies? Good for you. In the meantime I’ll throw my support in with the vast majority of Afghan and Iraqi citizens who are working on strengthening their young democratic republics.

Opposition to theocracy, dictatorship and fascism. Support for toleration, freedom and democracy. The more you look at it the more it looks like a no-brainer. The thing is, the left no longer really has any brains to speak of.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The wicked witch of the east speaks!

There really is not any point in trying to be pleasant over the next few paragraphs. So, lets get down to business.

What a horrible, vile, repugnant, pathetic, twisted piece of shit Iris Robinson is. Showing the sort of level of toleration one would expect from a member of a party that believes dinosaurs never existed, this is what Mrs Robinson had to say about Northern Ireland’s gay community on Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan Show yesterday morning:
“I have a very lovely psychiatrist who works with me in my offices and his Christian background is that he tries to help homosexuals - trying to turn away from what they are engaged in. I’m happy to put any homosexual in touch with this gentleman and I have met people who have turned around and become heterosexuals.”

Now, I am not surprised by these comments and I expect nothing better from a member of the Democratic Unionist Party. However, even by the lowly standards of the vermin that infests that particular organisation I would have thought that Iris would have had the good sense to show a little more tact on this occasion taking into account that she was speaking only hours after Stephen Scott, a 27 year old gay man, was seriously beaten by a gang at Ballyduff Brae on the outskirts of north Belfast. The PSNI have described the assault as a homophobic attack.

If any member of any party in England, Scotland, Wales, the Republic of Ireland or most likely any other part of Europe were to make such outrageously idiotic, brainlessly unscientific and highly offensive comments like this woman has they would be expelled from their party and their career would be finished. However, this being Europe’s equivalent of Texas (apologies Texas), things tend to function slightly different in these parts. Rather than condemnation, Mrs Robinson will no doubt receive a pat on the back from her fellow DUP rednecks for her display of Christian love and charity.

However, while we may not be able to get rid of Iris we should be trying to get rid of someone else who clearly is not fit to perform their job. Who am I talking about? Well, its none other than Iris Robinson’s “lovely psychiatrist” pal. Taking into account that the Royal College of Psychiatrists has condemned her remarks and stated unequivocally that being gay is not a disease surely then does Iris not have a moral obligation to reveal the identity of this highly dangerous individual who is clearly not fit to work in this profession? I would certainly think so.

In the meantime I think we should now be looking out for a cure for DUP members. Euthanasia anyone? Or perhaps we should throw Iris into the Lagan and see if she floats. Now, that would be insightful.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Doing earthquakes unto others: Sharon Stone, karma and the darker side of Buddhism

"I'm not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don't think anyone should be unkind to anyone else… And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you're not nice bad things happen to you."

Sharon Stone
May 22nd 2008

I, no doubt like your good self, was unaware until last week that god had adopted a specific position on the political status of Tibet. Thankfully, the supreme creator was sympathetic enough to give to us insignificant worldly creatures the gift of Sharon Stone to shed light on such affairs. Ms Stone, a former Scientologist, claims that bad karma was the reason why the Chinese province of Sichuan suffered a devastating earthquake earlier this month which has killed an estimated 70,000 people. According to the star of Basic Instinct and Basic Instinct 2 (the latter I assume the result of an extremely large dose of negative karma), this punishment was meted out by the almighty as a result of the continuing Chinese occupation of Tibet. Given this odd interpretation it is not really surprising to learn that Stone departed from the bizarre world of the Church of Scientology and ended up in the equally wacky world of Buddhism. Apparently her conversion came following a meeting between - wait for it - herself, Richard Gere and the Dalai Lama. But hang on a second. Isn't Buddhism a harmless religion? Would a Buddhist really wish ill on anyone, never mind wishing an earthquake on an entire country?

There are liberals out there foolishly tolerant enough to believe that, while some 'fundamentalist' religions are indeed wicked, it is unfair to criticise all creeds as there are various people of faith out there who do good in the world. This is an analysis that I would have feebly concurred with until fairly recently. However, if you have happened to have read anything written by Christopher Hitchens over the course of the past eighteen months or managed to see one of his numerous television appearances you will probably have stumbled across a simple but extremely valuable challenge that he poses to his critics. It goes a little like this: name a good act or deed carried out by a person of faith which cannot be carried out by an atheist (he may phrase it slightly differently but you get the jist).

To prove his point Hitchens often looks to the Middle East and specifically Hamas. This Sunni Islamist organisation is well known for doing a substantial amount of social work in the Palestinian territories. Each year they are believed to spend millions of pounds on providing medical care and education for people living in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as funding other projects ranging from soup kitchens to orphanages. Hamas cite their faith as the motivation for their good works, yet the secular humanitarian NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (an organisation founded by a former member of the French Communist Party) has no such higher spirits to provide explanation for their good works - and you certainly aren't required to read a Bible or a Koran in exchange for their penicillin. What you also won't find MSF members doing is strapping several kilos of explosives to their bodies, walking into a nightclub filled with Israeli teenagers and blowing themselves and all around them into pieces. These are the two sides of faith coin; the uglier side is the one we choose to ignore for fear of offending someone.

Of course, it would be wrong to use only an Islamic group for an example of faith going a tad haywire. The Jewish settlers living in the West Bank also have quite a few charges to answer taking into account that the bitterness generated by them building their houses on land stolen from Palestinians is being done on the basis of little other than a centuries old religious claim on this fiercely contested, blood-soaked soil.

Moving away from the examples given by Hitchens and one is not stuck for local examples of the moral contradictions which lie at the heart of faith. Yes, Catholic Priests may well claim to have been stirred by Christ when they were helping to get my alcoholic uncle off the demon drink back in the 1970s but was Christ also the motivation for those same Priests in that same parish at the same time (as we discovered some years later) when they were abusing young children and then, with the cooperation of their hierarchy, conspiring to have such crimes covered up? Equally, good old Ulster evangelicalism may indeed be the said explanation for many acts of unquestionable charity but isn't it also true to say that people from that same flock found that their faith sat easily with machine gunning bars filled with their Catholic neighbours? Wasn't the slogan of the Ulster Volunteer Force chillingly 'For God and Ulster', words that formed part of an oath which members took with one hand placed on the Bible? Indeed, wasn't one of this organisation's most notorious members, Billy Wright, a born again Christian and preacher in his native county Armagh?

You get the point. If you're going to use your faith as the justification for the acts of kindness carried out by your fellow brethren, please be on standby for an extremely harsh examination by we of the secular, rationalist community. So, how does Buddhism fit into all of this? Is it just a masturbatory gimmick for some snotty nosed kid from Foxrock to dabble in on his gap year travels or is there something more sinister to it?

Buddhism is living proof that there is no such thing as a benign religion. It only requires the slightest of glances to soon realise that it is no better than the world’s larger faiths. Like so many religions, Buddhists put the concept of suffering at the heart of their belief system. There are, according to their teachings, four noble truths in life. These are that all is to do with suffering, that suffering is caused by desire, that one must eliminate desire to expel suffering and that hedonism should be avoided at all times. Now, perhaps I’m shallow but what is the obsession that the religious have with having a shitty time? Hasn't anyone ever considered inventing a religion that might actually be good fun?

Anyhow, we've established that Buddhism subjects its followers to the same despondent lives endured by people of every other faith on Earth. Where though, I hear you ask, are its Nazis and its Taliban? Well, one of the reasons that Buddhism has received a fairly easy ride down through the years is probably because - unlike Christianity and Islam- it hasn't wielded state power in enough places to prove to us all just how tyrannical it actually can be. There are, however, some examples of how this seemingly innocuous little faith is no different than its monotheistic cousins when it gets its hands on the levers of power.

Until last year the Kingdom of Bhutan was one of the world's few remaining absolute monarchies. All power was firmly vested in the King, the delightfully named Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck. Far from being peace loving ‘dudes’, this wicked little dictatorship tucked away on the eastern fringes of the Himalayas outlawed all opposition political parties and jailed anyone who dared to dissent. As is the norm with societies run on the basis of teachings handed down from the gods rather than a secular constitution, the history of Bhutan has been a history of economic backwardness. A belief in eliminating desire is a good point to start from if you want to condemn your people to a life of feudalism. With Buddhist attitudes to technological progress having a tendency to make Ned Ludd look like Bill Gates, Bhutan is one of the most underdeveloped countries on the planet.

While the nation is currently undergoing a belated transition to democracy many bad habits continue. Buddhism remains the official state religion and according to the US State Department the government persists in "barring non-Buddhist missionaries from entering the country, limiting construction of non-Buddhist religious buildings, and restricting the celebration of some non-Buddhist religious festivals." Over the past twenty years many of the mainly Hindu ethnic Nepalese citizens have been either been forcibly expelled from the country or have simply fled to escape the discrimination. Religious persecution? No opposition parties? Ethnic groups forcibly expelled? Haven’t we seen all this somewhere before?

So, now that we know Buddhists can a) run an oppressive theocratic dictatorship and b) possess a faith that can rival any other in the misery stakes, what of this karma thing. In this area Buddhism once again bears a remarkable similarity to dozens of other religions as its teaching on this subject is, as they say, open to interpretation. Try as I might I couldn’t get an explanation which really answered my question, which when you think of it is actually not all that surprising taking into account the nonsense we’re dealing with here. In a way it all reminds me of the answer you get from Christians when you grill them on free will. Pass your driving test and a Christian will tell you Jesus did it; get knocked down by a car on your way to your driving test and it had nothing to do with Him (unless of course you ask a Calvinist this question in which case they’ll inform you that you were hit by a car because you’re a right bastard).

An interview on the BBC website with a teacher called Dhammadassin from the London Buddhist Centre only muddies the karma waters. He claims that "an intentionally ethical action - for example to promote kindness, generosity, contentment - is more likely to have positive, beneficial consequences." However, an "intentionally unethical one - to promote self-aggrandisement or greed - will be more likely to have unhelpful, even harmful consequences. Unhelpful, that is, for the positive well-being of either the doer or the recipient or both." Sorry? Did anyone else find this explanation a bit fuzzy or is it just me? Dhammadassin certainly seems to be sticking the old adage that if you can't blind us with brilliance then baffle us with bullshit.

I must admit to feeling a little bit sorry for Ms Stone. Faith-hopping is not healthy for anyone and the lady concerned here has gone through Christianity, Scientology and Buddhism all in the space of a decade or so. It’s amusing to see how some have criticised her for not understanding karma. Am I the only one that finds this a little bit strange? Surely the point that we really should be focussing on here is the one that emphasises to us that karma is an imaginary, superstitious and completely unscientific. Accusing someone of misunderstanding karma makes about as much sense as getting drawn into a dispute about whether you sustain six or seven years bad luck when you break a mirror.

I imagine that Sharon Stone will not be in any hurry to pass comment on anything of any kind following this debacle. In the past week she has been dropped by the French fashion house Dior as the face of their advertisements. The fashionistas have even issued an apology to the people of China for the remarks made about the earthquake. Having your public face insult a marketplace - sorry, nation - in which roughly one in every six people on Earth reside is clearly not a good move from a commercial perspective. Though while Dior may be able to salvage some of their reputation it is unlikely that Ms Stone will enjoy any such luck. The Xinhua news agency, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, has declared her the “public enemy of all mankind.” The enemy of all mankind? Good grief. That is bad. Not even Glenn Hoddle had to endure this.

However, the truth is that the problem here is not Sharon Stone but the particular cult which she sadly chose to follow. Just like with suicide bombing, honour killing, circumcision, sectarian slaughter and arranged marriage, faith here has been used as the justification or explanation for the ‘punishment’ of thousands in an earthquake. Perhaps the response to her remarks will give Sharon the time to think and reconsider her whole system of beliefs. Maybe she’ll hop faith one last time - away from Buddhism and towards… well, towards the realisation that she doesn’t actually need any of this. And then maybe the rest of the world will follow her towards a life of logic and reason. I doubt it though.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

"This room is surrounded by film"

Seeing as there’s been a lot of talk about reality TV on this website recently, here’s a little insight from Charlie Brooker into the devious world of editing:

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Which side are you on?

I have refrained for a couple of days now from writing anything about the car bomb attack which slaughtered eight innocent civilians and wounded dozens more at the Danish embassy in Islamabad on Monday. When it comes to incidents like this one is often likely to say something in the heat of the moment that they will most likely later regret. Much better to let time pass, check out the facts and then make a clear headed assessment. With an atrocity like this one does not have all that much musing to do. So, 48 hours on, what are we to make of this latest assault on democracy?

This particular attack was fairly primitive. No sophisticated plans involving the hijacking of commercial planes. No surface-to-air missiles. No ambushes. Just a bomb in a car detonated in a civilian area without warning. The various paramilitary death squads in the city I am writing this had this level of crudeness perfected many decades ago. The death toll will probably have disappointed the perpetrators as well. Single figure body counts are something of a letdown for these organisations in this new age of super terrorism where dozens, scores, hundreds or (in the case of September 11th 2001) thousands of dead corpses are now viewed as a realistic return for your efforts.

It was the symbolism of the target selected this time round that will have struck most people. If one had told the people of Denmark at the start of this decade that their little inoffensive liberal European democracy would within a few years become the target both at home and abroad of an international terrorist campaign it is highly unlikely you would have treated all that seriously. That is, however, exactly what has happened. The Danes know what fascism is. They were after all on the receiving end of it during the Second World War. In recent years Denmark has supported both the operation to remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and the intervention to overthrow the Baathist dictatorship in Iraq. This alone would have been enough to place them in the firing line yet something else was also about to put them - literally - in the sights of the Islamists.

Back in 2005 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten printed a series of satirical cartoons which depicted the Muslim prophet Mohammed. From the point of view of their quality, I didn’t particularly find the cartoons all that humorous. The British press do this sort of thing a lot better. Sadly, many Muslims were not all that concerned about the comedic standard of the work. They were opposed to their very existence and the response was brutal. It is estimated that more than 100 people died as a result of the protests and riots which broke out in the wake of the cartoons republication. The Danish embassies in Beiruit, Damascus and Tehran were burned while - simply for happening to share the same continent - the citizens and property of other European countries were also targeted. Half a century on from their liberation from one form of fascism, the people of this tiny Scandinavian archipelago were now facing another variation.

No doubt there are a lot of people out there that had forgotten about this dark period of recent history. Evidently al-Qaeda’s memory is longer than the memories of most rational thinkers. Only a few weeks ago it was reported that Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the leading figures in the Islamist network headed by Bin Laden, had issued threats against Denmark. Once again al-Zawahiri brought up the issue of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons and the dishonour that they had shown towards his prophet. The response to this ‘dishonour’ has now been made.

Of course, you may disagree with everything which has been said above. You may not consider this car bomb attack an assault on democratic values. Perhaps you think it a ‘reaction’ which needs to be ‘understood’. You may be from that section of society which greets each act of Islamist mass murder with the caveat “yes that’s bad, but…” or, if your delusions are slightly more sophisticated, point to the writings of Lenin on the Easter Rising, thereby shamefully attempting to draw some form of bizarre parallel between the men that seized the GPO in 1916 and the reactionary murder gangs of al-Qaeda. You may be from the camp that spoke out so loudly in 2005 against free speech and in defence of the sensitivities of an intolerant faith-based grouping which viewed itself as being above and beyond criticism.

It was the response of many erstwhile comrades to the now infamous cartoons controversy that finally accelerated my departure from that element of the left that sympathised with fundamentalist Islam. Being a member of the anti-war movement had become hard enough in the years between 2001 and 2005. I had been an opponent of something which I hadn’t got an answer to. I was against totalitarianism, dictatorship and fascism, yet I was against their removal. If I was against their removal what was my alternative? Once again, I didn’t have one. While most of my colleagues didn’t appreciate them, the contradictions in our movement were striking. Increasingly it looked as if - even if in an indirect manner - we were condoning peaceful coexistence with fascism. If that didn’t do it for me, my comrade’s response to the Jyllands-Posten affair would be the last straw.

I recall going to a packed ‘debate’ at Queen’s University on the subject of the cartoons and being thoroughly depressed afterwards. I say ‘debate’ because, as is typical of so many public meetings organised by front groups for ultra-left sects, all of the speakers miraculously agreed with one another. Most speakers were local Socialist Workers Party non-entities, with the exception of veteran protestor Eamonn McCann. McCann, a wonderful orator and great writer when he puts his mind to it, was having a bad night on this occasion. He stood up, trotted out the Central Committee line on the cartoons being “war propaganda” and fobbed off anyone who dared disagree. Anthony McIntyre, the left leaning former Provisional IRA member who now runs The Blanket website and is these days critical of the Sinn Fein leadership, had caused something of a split in Belfast’s radical community by publishing the cartoons. SWP activists were appalled and requested that anything which they had previously written for his online journal be removed. While I don’t agree with McIntyre all that much he had hit the nail on the head with this one. This was a free speech issue and free speech is not there to be negotiated, and especially not with a blackmailing, theocratic mob.

The attitude of Denmark over the past ten years has been admirable. Despite being a small country roughly the size of Ireland, it has placed itself at the heart of internationalism and humanitarian intervention. As well as being involved in the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Danes have also sent their armed forces into Kosova and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Despite the protests, the riots, the targeting of their citizens and the burning of their embassies they have not allowed themselves to be bullied by a violent but vocal minority.

The Canadian writer Terry Glavin has described the current struggle in Afghanistan as the Spanish Civil War for our generation of leftists. In his view it is, just like that horrific conflict on the Iberian peninsula in the 1930s, a clear cut battle between right and wrong. The bomb which exploded in the Pakistani capital on Monday is another factor in the much wider global struggle between freedom and totalitarianism. The slaughter in Islamabad provides us with two choices. On the one hand we can take the side of a modern, vibrant, secular, multicultural European democracy. On the other hand we can choose to lend a hand to the opponents of free speech, the opponents of democracy - fascism with an Islamic face.

Which side are you on boys?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Understatement of the day

“I think if Senator Obama gets the number, I think Hillary Clinton will congratulate him and call him the nominee.”

Terry McAuliffe
Chairman of Hillary Clinton for President
Speaking on Today on NBC
June 3rd 2008

She may well do so, Terry. But then the word “bastard” will also feature in the whisper under her breath as she walks away. To be honest, I think the Downfall spoof video I posted here on Saturday is probably a more accurate insight into Hillary’s mind at the moment. I’m still looking forward to her Portillo moment when she finally loses. Imagine what she could have done with all that cash had she not blown it on a giant ego trip?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Lucindagate or: How Johann Hari Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Ledgerwood

A few days ago I wrote a piece here concerning the BBC's reality TV series The Apprentice. You may have come across it. If so you probably recall how I made clear that I don't like the programme, don't like the contestants, don't like Alan Sugar and maintain a particular detestation for the foolish, useless, dim-witted section of the middle class that this series appeals to. Nothing, I am pleased to say, has changed.

Back on Sunday though I, Johnny Guitar (not my real name), received some comments from a slightly infuriated ctothee (not her real name) concerning remarks made in my post regarding her friend and Apprentice contestant Lucinda Ledgerwood (possibly not her real name). According to this ctothee, the fake name story - Lucindagate - is totally fictitious. She could be right of course. Then again she may not. In this blogosphere world of gossip and pseudonyms one never really knows who to believe. However, I see now that its not just little known internet bloggers writing about her either. The News of the World have been peddling stories about her alleged sexual exploits, the Sunday Mail has as I have said been scrutinising her name, everyone seems obsessed with what’s in her wardrobe and Johann Hari has been writing in The Independent about how he is backing her to win. Johann Hari? Left of centre endorsement for an Apprentice candidate? Tell me more.

This from JH in last Thursday’s Indie:
“I’m backing Lucinda, because… she is the only contestant on this year’s Apprentice who appears capable of showing any empathy or self-knowledge… Amidst these velocoraptors, Lucinda is a little beret-wearing bear. She tries to succeed by articulating her own feelings, and understanding the feelings of everyone around her. It’s this quality that has made her the only good manager in the entire series: she figured out how to get the others to perform by – a shocking concept! – listening to them carefully, and at every stage talking it through.”
Suddenly this girl seems like the saviour of humanity. There’s more too:
“In the early episodes, Lucinda was dismissed by the other contestants as ‘lazy’ because they simply couldn’t understand her approach. Whereas everybody else rushes to be The One With Glory, Lucinda quietly tries to get it right.”
I wonder does he still believe that after watching last week’s show where she did, well, bugger all.
“Of course she can get too emotional, and sometimes she overdoses on honesty – like when she told Sir Alan Sugar that ‘closing a deal isn’t my greatest strength’.”
Ah, yes. Closing the deal. I’m not very business savvy (I chose to work for a large media organisation where I can hide easily, be lazy and nobody will notice) but I’d think the old closing the deal thing would be fairly important.

Hari even leaves us with a warning:
“… Do you want The Apprentice to be a celebration of autistic ambition and self-promotion, or of the quieter office operator who hangs back, figures out how everyone else feels, and tries to make sure everyone does their best?”
What I really want, Johann, is for the BBC to scrap this utterly worthless show but with seven million viewers supposedly tuning in each week I very much doubt that will be happening anytime soon. I think it unlikely that the Beeb will take scheduling or commissioning advice off someone who spent last Friday watching BBC Parliament’s full-length repeat coverage of the 1983 British general election (an experience which, for a socialist, was the political equivalent of extreme self-harm).

However, if the Beeb are interested in an alternative to The Apprentice I’m putting forward a suggestion called The Immigrants. Series one would see a group of Polish workers dropped off at Dover with only their suitcases and a pocket full of Zloty. Over the course of twelve weeks the Poles would have to find housing, endure the insults on their first trip down to the local for a pint, quickly get their English up to scratch, get a job, come to terms with The Jeremy Kyle Show and Hollyoaks before finally facing down their greedy boss and forming a recognised union in their new workplace. The winner? Well, there wouldn’t be one. Entertaining? Well, the language barrier might be a factor. Still, the Beeb would have performed their duty as a public service broadcaster by helping to make the UK a more diverse, fairer and welcoming society. Now, how does that shape up against a show which has as its goal making someone rich who was already rich to begin with? OK, I admit, my idea needs a bit more work.

I do though hope that people soon recognise The Apprentice for what it is - reality TV. Nothing more, nothing less. These contestants don’t represent the cutting edge of British entrepreneurialism. If they were the chances are they wouldn’t need to be putting themselves through this ritual humiliation (and perhaps they shouldn’t act so surprised after the whole horrible experience is over when they find out that they’ve been made to look even more ridiculous thanks to the sinister editing of the production team). We need to be consistent. If we are going to recognise Jady Goody as an arsehole then at least lets employ some uniformity and give Katy Hopkins and co similar treatment. Incidentally what happened Ms Hopkins, a woman lauded by many as some kind of ruthless business genius, after The Apprentice? Ah, yes. She went on to appear on the exceedingly sophisticated ITV reality show I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!.

For all my grousing I probably will keep an eye on these last few remaining episodes of The Apprentice, though I shan’t be taking sides. Neutrality, or even disinterest, is probably the best position for left of centre people to take on issues of trash telly. As for Lucinda, she may be the least dislikeable of the programme’s candidates yet that’s hardly a compliment and it certainly isn’t a reason to start cheering for her. I shall forgo comrade Hari's offer to join him in donning a beret of solidarity with Lucinda and I’ll also forgive him for this one momentary lapse. He did after all piss off Richard Littlejohn live on his own TV programme so he’ll always have a special place on this website.

By the way, if any other friends of Lucinda or mates of the other four one-dimensional halfwits still whoring themselves in a bid to be Surallan’s £100,000 a year slave have been reading this please don’t take umbrage at any of this. Its nothing personal.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A case of mistaken identity

The words 'arsehole' and 'David Vance' have been used in close proximity to each other on quite a few occasions, not least by the authors and readers of the nationalist weblog Balrog. Imagine my surprise though when I Googled old Vancy's name - I was looking for reviews of his new book - and was greeted by the sight of, well, a big arsehole. The site I had arrived at was none other than David Vance Nudes, a slick photographic portfolio of the male form in all its glory. What had brought around this terribly ‘liberal’ behaviour by county Down's answer to Bill O'Reilly?

Well, nothing really. David Vance Nudes it turns out is a Miami-based website by the photographer of the same name. This Mr Vance has in the past carried out work for trendy stateside magazine Cosmopolitan and has even shot Ricky Martin (unfortunately with nothing more lethal than a camera). So, it had nothing to do with the former UK Unionist from Donaghcloney after all. Well, damn that anyway.

Incidentally, anyone heard anything about Unionism Decayed? Or are you still looking at the bum?