Thursday, July 31, 2008

It’s called a uniform, Sarika

Well done, Shuggy. At least one person out there gets this case:

"Norm argues that secularism does not proscribe wearing religious symbols in public spaces. I agree - but this isn’t - to my mind, anyway - about secularism but whether schools can set their own uniform policies or not… There is, as far as I understand, no specific requirement in Sikhism to wear this particular bangle so the young lady’s ‘identity’ is intact… I’m a pagan and as such I insist it is integral to my identity to teach my classes wearing nothing but my birthday suit. Would any court in the land vindicate my beliefs? I sincerely hope not. And neither should they have done so in this case. Let’s not be silly about this. Teenagers like to insist that it is their ‘right’ to do whatever the fuck they want. It’s entirely understandable - it’s a stage of development driven by hormones, acne, shit like that. But a mature society tells them they can’t and gets them to do more press-ups instead. It’s the present lack of commonsense to recognise this, still less to impose this, that goes some way towards explaining why we’re in the state we’re in."
So there.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is anyone not at this blogging malarkey?

I hear from this morning’s Today programme on Radio 4 that George Orwell's diaries will next month be going online in blog form. From August 9th you'll be able to read the latest entries via the Orwell Prize website.

While it is an interesting approach to making these important documents accessible to the public, it is by no means unique. Mr Blair is far from being the first dead person to take up blogging. Click here and you'll see what I mean.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why Bosnia Matters

A lecture on humanitarian intervention (or the lack of it) delivered by Comrade C. Hitchens in Ottawa way back during the dark days of the Bosnian war in March 1994. As chance would have it, this was uploaded onto YouTube just days before Radovan Karadžić was nicked. Still well worth a listen:

Monday, July 28, 2008

Stayin' alive Qantas style

There are a number of ways you can view the mysterious appearance of a large hole in the side of Qantas flight QF30 while it was cruising at 29,000 feet en route to Melbourne. One is to soil your pants and vow never to leave the country again. Unfortunately for me this is not a viable option as I live in Ireland and therefore running the risk of plummeting to my death is a much more attractive choice than condemning myself to a life of misery trapped on a tiny island.

The other way to view this incident is as a sign of just how safe air travel has become in the 21st century. If large holes the size of cars randomly appearing in the side of Boeing 747's can't bring a plane down these days then what are worried about?

In saying that, I'm due to make four journeys by plane in August and I doubt any of those flights will be boarded without me having to take a tipple beforehand. Now, that raises a completely different issue - why are all airport bars shit?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hate the Christian, not the sinner

The latest dose of anti-gay comments made by Iris Robinson earlier this week have probably not escaped your notice. Just in case they did happen to pass you by I will let you have a peek at them before we go any further. The wife of Peter the Great declared in all her wisdom: "I cannot think of anything more sickening than a child being abused. It is comparable to the act of homosexuality. I think they are all comparable." How eloquent.

Nauseating as her remarks are, I have decided not to use this piece to attack Iris. Let's face it, there will be many more of you baying for blood who will be much better than little old me at driving the sword into the Strangford MP. As far as I am concerned an all out assault on the lady seems a bit too easy at this stage. Criticising her these days takes about as much effort as attacking George W. Bush (i.e. none).

Don't get me wrong, I have not suddenly developed some profound sense of sympathy for the woman. Far from it. I still utterly loathe her. However, are we not going a tad overboard with our condemnation? Should we have been surprised that she holds homophobic views? Could someone be so naïve that they could possibly be shocked to discover that she was a narrow-minded idiot? Surely you knew that this woman comes from one of the most terrifying strands of fundamentalist Christianity, namely the Free Presbyterian Church. You must have been aware that she is married to one of Northern Ireland's most right wing politicians, the First Minister Peter Robinson. And you must also surely have been conscious of the fact that both Mr and Mrs Robinson are members of Ian Paisley's not very tolerant Democratic Unionist Party. So, what is all the fuss about?

Perhaps cuddly liberals would prefer it if Iris Robinson lied to us all, told us how much she liked homosexuals and appeared on a float at the next Gay Pride parade in Belfast alongside a policeman, a cowboy, a builder and an American Indian. As far as I can tell she is merely being honest and remaining true to basic Christian teaching. Rather than waste my time dealing with a card carrying homophobic bigot who is acting precisely in the manner that a card carrying homophobic bigot should be expected to act, I would prefer to focus on the 'moderates' whose outrage about the DUP member's words on this matter appears to conflict seriously with their own faith.

For all of the obscure and ridiculous theological differences that divides Free Presbyterianism from Catholicism, Anglicanism and the rest of Christianity, all of the churches do at least have one very important thing in common: the Holy Bible. It is from this book that the Christian teaching on homosexuality is taken and its stance is unambiguous. Leviticus 18:22 clearly states: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." You see, whereas Iris's views are at least consistent with her beliefs it appears that the same cannot be said for her political opponents that have been criticising her in recent weeks.

Most of the howls of disapproval in the political arena have come primarily from Sinn Fein and the SDLP. I will at this point be honest and admit that I haven't bothered to check the religious affiliations of every single nationalist MP and MLA in Northern Ireland, but would anyone seriously accuse me of going out on a limb if I were to say that they are almost certainly overwhelmingly Catholic, if not exclusively Catholic? Assuming that this is so, isn't it the case that the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on homosexuality is more or less indistinguishable from the statements made by Iris Robinson over the past month?

Like Iris, the Catholic Church accepts that gay and lesbian people must be respected. However, just like Iris, the Vatican instructs its flock that homosexual practice is a sin, that gay marriage and same sex relationship must be resisted and that the general social and cultural acceptance of homosexuality should be opposed. In fact, something which shocked even my good self came while reading the wording of a 2003 statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that openly refers to homosexuality as being "objectively disordered."

A disorder? Hang on a minute, wasn't it Iris's offer to put gay people in touch with a Christian psychiatrist the thing that triggered the whole lets-burn-the-witch show? Indeed it was, though nobody seems to have picked up on the blatantly obvious fact that both the Bishop of Rome and the Right Honourable Member for Strangford believe that the whole gay malarkey is just a phase that can be cured by a quick visit to your local quack.

The Catholic Church even has a very comprehensive Pythonesque policy on this subject. In recent years it has identified a new brand of gayness - being a little bit gay. I kid you not. Apparently the Church does not want to hear from aspiring Priests that possess "deep-seated homosexual tendencies", but applicants who are suffering from a "transitory problem" will be considered. Emily Wilson of the Guardian amusingly sums this up when she claims that Catholic teaching on homosexuality is "very much like smoking - a few years off the fags and you're all nice and pure again."

Do Martina Anderson and Martin McGuinness shriek in horror at the suggestion of a 'cure' for homosexuality when Joseph Ratzinger utters such drivel or is such revulsion reserved exclusively for unionist politicians? Is it not a tad hypocritical for these people to choose to spend their Sunday mornings in temples where similar bile is preached, even if it is done a little more discreetly than that which takes place in the more modest shacks of their Paisleyite counterparts? Surely if the 'equality agenda' is all it is cracked up to be then they must be more than a little concerned for their children and the impact that bringing them up as members of such a reactionary and homophobic organisation will have on them? Of course they don't.

Deep down everyone knows that the vast bulk of condemnations directed towards Iris Robinson over the past few weeks have come from people who in truth couldn't give a damn about gay rights. Like everything else in Northern Ireland, gay issues are viewed through a sectarian lens. To put it crudely, if the Prods say they hate the queers then the Taigs inevitably have to take the opposing view. It is unwise to think that nationalists are in some way more conditioned to adopting a more liberal position on this topic. The very idea that a Roman Catholic can in some way hold the moral high ground over a Protestant on the subject of homosexuality is absolutely preposterous. Such a quarrel is as absurd as a row between the British National Party and the National Front over which one is less racist.

Let us bring this phoney war between eccentric evangelical Protestants and a la carte Catholics to a swift conclusion. An age old debate is about to rear its head once again here in the next few days. It is one that I am fond of highlighting because it reveals the true nature of the social conservative consensus that exists among the establishment parties at Stormont. The debate I am speaking of is that concerning the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. When this matter crops up, finding a liberal in our wee province suddenly becomes a much more difficult task than launching facile broadsides on Iris Robinson. All four party leaders, all eighteen MPs and all but an admirable few of the 108 MLAs at the Assembly are fervently opposed to giving Northern Irish women the same abortion rights at their sisters in the rest of the UK.

A free vote will soon take place at Westminster on this very issue. How ironic it would be if in this tenth anniversary year of devolution in Northern Ireland that the most progressive piece of legislation made for the province in the course of that decade would come by way of an Act passed by GB-based parliamentarians sitting in London? That, comrades, would say much more about the hopeless state of politics here than the endless stream of cynical, opportunistic anti-Iris sound bites and press releases put out by the soft liberals and the pseudo leftists that insultingly attempt to pass themselves off as progressives in this part of the world.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Le vent d'est

If you were asked to find a picture which summed up the general feeling amongst members of the Labour Party at the present time I would hazard a guess that this image of Margaret Curran from last night's by-election count in Glasgow East could be about as close as you could get to capturing the mood. Life for Labour MPs at the moment must be something akin to waiting on death row. After the Scottish National Party's impressive victory in one of Labour's safest seats the question is now being asked if any member of the party as Westminster can truly claim to have a 'safe' seat for the next General Election.

A shiver must have went up the spine of every Labour supporter when Michael Crick pointed out on the BBC in the early hours of this morning that if the 22.5% swing was to be replicated across Scotland the party would be left with only one Scottish MP. Of course, that is extremely unlikely to happen yet at a time when Labour is losing seats in northern England to the Tories and in working class Glasgow to the nationalists there really is no room for complacency. Twelve months ago nobody could have foreseen the current mess. Douglas Alexander and his pals can shrug this loss off and say that it's only a by-election but the truth is that the government is now in the general vicinity of shit creek.

Can you imagine a scenario in which the Conservatives were losing places like Kensington and Chelsea or Henley? If only they were. Glasgow East was Labour's sixth safest seat in the whole of the United Kingdom. I don't care if it was a by-election. Something is seriously wrong with the Labour Party. As I have said before, the Tory lead in the opinion polls is hard to take because they have done nothing to deserve it.

Though I am not particularly fond of the SNP, I can at least understand their current success. I know what the nationalists stand for, I know what their programme is and they do at least seem to have put a lot of effort into building a formidable grassroots organisation. Contrast that with the feeling in many working class Scottish constituencies that Labour has simply been taking them for granted for generations now. In one report on Radio 4 I heard a voter in Glasgow East claim that they hadn't seen or been canvassed by a Labour person for years. But the surge in Tory support south of the border remains inexplicable. Over the course of the past year this lame opposition has pulled out a considerable lead in the opinion polls simply by existing. It certainly isn't anything to do with the charisma of David Cameron or George Osborne.

Following the meltdown at the Crewe and Nantwich by-election back in May I highlighted a statement made in the Daily Mirror by Jon Cruddas just prior to that debacle. His words are worth repeating once more:
"Let's not mess about - our people are abandoning us, we're sinking fast and no amount of hand-wringing and promises of 'listening and learning' from election night will change that... The New Labour attitude that you can kick the workers from pillar to post because 'they've got nowhere else to go' has reached its ludicrous conclusion with the election - with working-class votes - of the SNP in Scotland, independent radicals in Wales and the BNP in industrial English towns like Stoke-on-Trent... We don't need to play one half of Britain off against another. It's not too late to change - but choose change we must."
Change is clearly now essential. What Labour must not do is assume that the results of Crewe and Nantwich and Glasgow East are merely protest votes by the grumpy workers who, once they recall what eighteen years of Tory rule was like, will suddenly return to the fold and re-elect Brown in a couple of years time.

In the long term it will be necessary to begin rebuilding the Labour Party from the bottom up. Membership is currently at an all-time low and falling. In the short term though the party has to think about what it can do to 'do a Major' and win the next election in the same style that the Tories did in 1992. Whether such a thing is even possible at this relatively late stage is another matter. I have so far held back from jumping on the bandwagon and calling for the ultimate short term fix, Gordon Brown's resignation. I have always found such calls shallow and knee jerk. The sad thing is at the moment I can see no possibility of a Labour victory at the next General Election if he is there. Even more depressing is the fact that I cannot see him leaving. Prime Minister Cameron? It's beginning to look that way.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nationalism and intolerance - 1 Football - 0

I came across this old BBC documentary earlier today when I was trawling the web for bits and pieces on the ongoing Karadžić affair. It actually has nothing at all to do with Karadžić or Mladić (or for that matter alternative medicine). This is part of a series called Frontline Football which was broadcast a few years back about the beautiful game and how it functions in areas battered by years of conflict. The match featured here is a qualifying game for the 2006 World Cup between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. The hatred between the fans at the stadium in Sarajevo is, predictably enough, frighteningly intense. Remember Northern Ireland and the Republic at Windsor Park in 1993? Well, its worse than that. Far worse. On the bright side there isn’t any actual violence at the match which, when one takes into account the recent history of Sarajevo, can only be a good thing:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

People just like you, blowing 200 quid on rubbish paintings

The tendency for totalitarian organisations to have a cult of personality surrounding their leader is not exactly a new development. Hitler had it. Kim Il-sung dabbled in it. Ceauşescu tried it out too. However, despite what low opinions you may hold of this trio of tyrants, all three men did at least manage to gain power in their respective countries. Nick Griffin of the British National Party does not seem to have taken this minor detail on board before he set about building up his reputation amongst his tiny band of supporters. Could it be that the small number of local council seats won by the BNP under his leadership over the past couple of years have made his followers giddy with ‘success’?

Despite his party’s modest electoral performance, Nick Griffin’s standing within the organisation is something approaching that of a demigod. The simple mention of his name is enough to get the juices flowing. On the party website you can see how members refer glowingly to ‘the leader’ or ‘the chairman’. If you are one of the devoted you can see Griffin in all his glory on BNP TV. You can, if you wish, buy Griffin books. You can also get Griffin speeches on DVD through the party’s online shop. And, if you really need a quick fix of Nick, you can check out his own personal blog - The Chairman’s Column - to see what he has been up to recently.

The picture at the beginning of this piece must rank as the most outlandish and absurd thing yet that the BNP have tried to flog to the faithful. It is a portrait of Nick Griffin, hand painted on box canvass using acrylics (height 35’’, width 24’’). The painting is being sold in an online auction and the current bid sits at £182.00. Now, let me ask you this: who exactly would buy this? I suppose the immediate answer would be “a fascist”, but why would even the most far right of people invest in this sort of thing when they can go the whole hog and have Mussolini? It would be a bit like someone on the far left ripping up their Che Guevara poster and replacing it with John Rees.

If you are the person who eventually purchases this piece of artwork please, please, please leave a comment here explaining what you intend to do with the painting. Are you going to put it up in your hallway for visitors to see? Are you going to stick it in the bathroom so you can observe Chairman Griffin while simultaneously brushing your teeth? Or is it going to go in the kitchen so Nick can keep an eye on you to make sure you are rustling up a good British roast every evening and not one of those effnick curries?

Incidentally, there is also a similar painting of Enoch Powell which is currently going for £472.00 at the same auction. It surely can’t be good news for Nick that another failed racist politician from yesteryear is valued far more by party members than he is, can it?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The face of genocide revealed

In a not uncommon moment of frivolity I was wondering yesterday evening as to whether or not Radovan Karadžić still had the same preposterous quiff that he had back at the height of his ethnic cleansing and mass extermination heyday of the mid 1990s. We now have the answer and it appears that eastern Europe’s most wanted decided to discard his tribute to Morrissey in favour of something less conspicuous and more in keeping with an on-the-run international war criminal.

A grainy photograph today released to the assembled media of the individual responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians in the Balkans shows a grey old man devoid of the trademark quiff. Posing as a Belgrade doctor named Dragan Dabic, the authorities stated that Karadžić was so well disguised that he was practically unrecognisable to investigators. The picture also seems to have kick-started a new online game of finding Radovan Karadžić/Dragan Dabic look-alikes. Here are a few I’ve come across so far:

*Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter films
*Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury
*Santa Claus (aka, Father Christmas)

Please feel free to suggest your own. My personal choice would be Des O’Hagan, the long time ideologue of The Workers Party here in Ireland, though one may need to be aux fait with the left in this part of the world to fully appreciate whatever likeness I see between the two. Anyhow, that is enough giddiness. On a more serious point, click here to read Finding Karadžić, the website of a Karadžić hunter. The blog has been operating for four years now and the archives contain a lot of interesting material.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Gotcha!

Ever since he went into hiding back in the mid-nineties I’ve always wondered if Radovan Karadžić still possesses that infamous quiff. Thankfully it shouldn’t be too long now until we find out. The elusive one has tonight been arrested by Serbian police (yes, I know, I thought he would turn up with all the other war criminals in Argentina as well). Unfortunately Karadžić’s psychopathic sidekick Ratko Mladić is still at large, but after this evening who would really want to be in his shoes? With the Belgrade administration now doing its best to prove its credentials as a respectable member of the European family of nations how convenient it may become for some of the Serbian goons of the 1990s to suddenly start turning up and being swiftly shipped off to the ICTY for a dose of good old fashioned justice.

Just in case you have forgotten what Karadžić and co were connected to here is a Reuters news report from last week about the war crimes trial of two Bosnian Serb cousins currently taking place in The Hague:
“Milan and Sredoje Lukic were accused on Wednesday of imprisoning and burning alive some 140 Muslims and summarily shooting others in some of the cruellest ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian war. Both men face charges of murder, extermination and cruel treatment. According to prosecutors Milan Lukic led a Serb paramilitary group known as the ‘Avengers’ or ‘White Eagles’, joined by his cousin Sredoje, which terrorised the local Muslim population in an attempt to drive them out. Prosecutor Dermot Groome told the court how in June 1992 the Lukic cousins barricaded around 70 Muslim women, children and elderly into a house, poured flammable liquid on the floor and set it alight, shooting at those who tried to escape through windows. The oldest victim of the blaze was 71 while the youngest was a 2-day-old baby. Among the dead were 51 members of the same family… Groome added that in a final act of cruelty the room where the Muslims died was turned into a pig-sty. Just one and a half weeks later the Lukic cousins again barricaded around 70 Muslims in a house and set it alight with explosives, Groome said. The indictment also alleges the Lukic cousins selected and marched Muslim men to the banks of the river Drina and shot them in the back, and beat and raped Muslims they detained.”
Expect more similarly gruesome evidence to crop up in the coming trial of Karadžić. If I were Radovan my thoughts would be turning to whereabouts I can get a good lawyer. Either that or a few cyanide pills.

For Karadžić's indictment from the United Nations click here. Death to fascism!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

We are all neocons now

"I don't care about Zimbabwe and nor do you."

Peter Hitchens
June 28th 2008

Apologies to Harvey Bicker and his fellow Fianna Fail colleagues in Northern Ireland for the statement which I made a few days ago where I claimed that their party membership cards were the most useless things on Earth. While being a member of a political party that does not organise or contest elections in the jurisdiction in which you reside undoubtedly still ranks highly in the list of the most pointless things in the universe, I feel that there is in fact something even more worthless than those activities members of the William Drennan Cumann of Fianna Fail choose to get up to in their spare time. How I ever overlooked it I'll never know because it is none other than the infamously ineffective and unloved United Nations Security Council.

On Friday the Security Council vetoed a draft resolution to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe. Who was it that stopped this fairly mild attempt to punish Robert Mugabe and his vile regime? It was the usual suspects of China and Russia. China: the largest dictatorship in the world, the butchers of Tiananmen Sqaure, the occupiers of Tibet and the country with the highest execution rate on the planet. Russia: a place which can at best be termed 'semi-democratic', they that so callously slaughtered the citizens of Chechnya, the state whose secret service is employed to assassinate opposition elements on foreign soil and a nation that only last week threatened to once again direct its nuclear arsenal at the democratic world. Just in case you haven't been made ill by these two superthugs deciding when and whereabouts international law should be applied in order to insure peace and protect human rights, the fact that two of the current non-permanent members of the UNSC are Stalinist Vietnam and Muammar al-Gaddafi's Libya probably should be enough to make you regurgitate the breakfast you had this morning.

There are always reasons to be cheerful though. Robert Mugabe will eventually be removed from power. Of that you can be sure but it is precisely how it will happen that remains unclear. It could (I hope) be a Ceausescu moment; a storming of his residence in Harare followed by the kind of execution every tyrant of his type deserves. On the other hand it could (I hope not) be by way of a Franco-style scenario; one where the wicked bastard somehow manages to live a happy life, die peacefully in his sleep and then a democratic system is slowly but surely introduced by his successors.

What I am willing to bet my life on is that when the Zanu-PF regime does finally come crashing to the ground it will have had nothing whatsoever to do with help from the international community or the utterly hopeless United Nations. It will be by one of the two scenarios above - revolution or transition. Intervention? Forget about it. There is as much chance of intervention in Zimbabwe as there was of intervention in Darfur. In Darfur we faffed around with various ideas and strategies just long enough for one of the first genocides of the 21st century to take place. In Zimbabwe we run the risk of doing the same.

There is an alternative. You saw it in Kosova in 1999. You saw it in Sierra Leone in 2000. You saw it in Afghanistan 2001. You saw it in Iraq in 2003. Although we do not like to admit it, fascism cannot be peacefully negotiated - or sanctioned for that matter - out of existence. Nor can we appease totalitarianism or peacefully coexist with it any more than we could allow ourselves to coexist with it in the past. I am happy that Serbia was not allowed to carry out its campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosova just as I am happy that the citizens of Sierra Leone no longer have to worry about their limbs being amputated by the thugs of the Revolutionary United Front. I am happy that the theocratic mullahs of the Taleban were removed by force from Kabul just as I am happy that the Baathist regime was blown out of existence in Iraq. Do I care that these operations did not receive the nod from Communist Party apparatchiks in Beijing, former KGB ruffians or North African dictators? I'll let you figure out the answer to that one.

For those of you that disingenuously say you are in favour of overthrowing dictatorships but only if it is by way of some ultra left fantasy workers uprising and not by the intervention of 'imperialism' then forget it. If we had waited around a la Darfur in the 1940s for fascism to be toppled on your utopian terms then these islands would today most likely be little more than a subject province of the Third Reich. Neither is the foreign policy approach from anti-war paleocon right wingers as advocated in the quote from Peter Hitchens at the opening of this piece a desirable path to follow.

It is true that Robert Mugabe is not Adolf Hitler. It is also true that there are no tyrants out there at the moment who currently pose the same danger that Nazism posed when war was declared back in September 1939. However, when the slogan 'never again' popped up in the wake of the Second World War it was taken to mean that the democratic world would 'never again' be so complacent as to wait until totalitarianism had developed to the point that it could threaten the existence of the free world. If the United Nations Security Council is anything to go by we have failed abysmally.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Coming north or going nowhere?

A few months back I saw a subject that someone had raised on the staggeringly useless Yahoo! Answers website. The question posed to readers was what they considered to be the most useless thing in the world. Replies were varied. Some suggested with stomach-churning sincerity that it was war; others offered the clichéd response of George W. Bush while someone else attempted to be amusing and put forward the Kingdom of Belgium as their nomination for the most pointless thing on Earth. None of these, however, could come even close to the sheer worthlessness of holding a Fianna Fail membership card if you happen to live in Northern Ireland.

You may remember that in the autumn of 2007 the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced that after more than eighty years of existing as a peculiar 26 county republican party Fianna Fail would open up its doors to their fellow Irishmen and women living in the fourth green field. It was quite a story at the time. Ahern used the party's annual Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown in Kildare as the venue for his announcement. Around the same time student branches of FF were set up at Queens University and the University of Ulster. Things were moving quickly. Dermot Ahern was named head of a committee that would oversee an intensive consultation process involving all cumainn and a report would be issued at that most significant of dates in the republican calendar, Easter. In December Bertie triumphantly declared that Fianna Fail had been officially registered as a northern political party while 2008 began with a mini propaganda coup - the defection of businessman, former county Down councillor and Ulster Unionist Party member Harvey Bicker to the Soldiers of Destiny.

And then everything went quiet. If a report by BBC Northern Ireland's Dublin Correspondent Shane Harrison is anything to go by, the long march may have been halted.

While the rest of you were no doubt doing something much more worthwhile, I was keeping an eye out over the Easter period for a major announcement from Fianna Fail. Nothing happened. March was quiet. April came and went and we heard zilch. May passed without as much as a murmur. June finished with no mention of the north. Just what exactly was going on? The answer it appears was, well, nothing. Last year when Bertie Ahern made the supposedly landmark statement on FF becoming a 32 county party there were many cynics who claimed that the whole thing was a ruse to distract public attention away from his financial misdemeanours. I wasn't convinced of this for numerous reasons, one of which was that if he really had wanted to provide a smokescreen for the Mahon Tribunal Bertie would have had to do infinitely better than this.

However, now I'm not so sure. As façades go this would have been a fairly useful one. At what was a difficult time for the leadership this grand talk of moving north would have pleased the nationalistic grassroots elements of FF while outside the party it would have projected a dynamic image of an organisation with its mind on bigger things. All the grandeur would have been fairly cost effective as well. Almost a year on from Ahern's speech at Bodenstown and very little of substance has actually taken place. Fianna Fail has registered with the Electoral Office here, set up a snazzy website, recruited a fairly low key UUP figure, issued a few press releases and let some students form a couple of relatively worthless branches. Let's just say that not a lot of Euro has been parted with on this project so far.

Looking back at news reports relating to this story over the past twelve months and it also becomes apparent that not a lot of discussion had taken place even in the upper echelons of Fianna Fail about organising in Northern Ireland. Take for instance the party position on Westminster elections. According to some in the party the electoral plans for the six counties would involve contesting Northern Ireland Assembly and local council elections, however they would not fight for Westminster seats. This position made no sense whatsoever. Does FF plan to give Sinn Fein a free run in the nationalist camp for Westminster seats? And what would someone like Alasdair McDonnell have to say about this policy? McDonnell was rumoured to be on the pro-merger wing of the SDLP yet if he was to become an FF member he would not be able to run in UK General Elections, or if he did he would not be allowed to take his seat. Many people in Irish history have moved from abstentionism to participating in various assemblies they previously found distasteful. Could Alasdair McDonnell possibly be one of the few figures to move in the other direction?

All of this chit chat could of course turn out to be a complete waste of our time as Brian Cowen has now signalled that no move by Fianna Fail into the arena of northern politics is imminent. The new Taoiseach does not appear to be showing the same level of interest as his predecessor in getting his hands dirty up north. Perhaps it really is down to the threat of a recession, the no vote in the Lisbon Treaty and the transitional period that the government in Dublin has been going through since Bertie Ahern left after eleven years at the helm. Perhaps things just have been put on the backburner for a while. Or perhaps it was just a trick. Only time will tell.

When Fianna Fail declared that they were planning to begin contesting elections here in Northern Ireland I was happy to welcome the move. I still hope that they do. Politics here needs a shake up and, as I've said many times, toothless provincial entities like the SDLP and the unionist parties cannot hope to have any long term major impact outside the province as long as they remain in their current form. For now though, ten years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, it appears that even the beginning of the 'realignment' of politics here will have to wait a bit longer. In the meantime, just what use does Harvey Bicker get out of that Fianna Fail membership card?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lily Allen, pay attention!

After yesterday's dreadful example of what happens when the wrong sort of people try to make some form of anti-racist statement, how fitting that I can now give you an example of how it really should be done. OK, so I'm about a week late with it as hundreds of other blogs have already posted this magnificent retort to a vulgar expression of antipodean intolerance. But, just in case you haven't seen it and just so I don't feel left out, here it is again in glorious Technicolor:



Hap Tip: Hak Mao (well, that's where I saw it first)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

"You're just some racist who can't tie my laces" - When mixing pop and politics goes horribly wrong

"I feel like I got away with something. I left school at 15. I'm not a genius songwriter. I don't think I'm really good at anything."

Lily Allen
Rolling Stone
July 2008

I have always maintained that there is a strong case for legislation to be passed prohibiting the writing of 'political songs' by persons whom I shall broadly describe as pop stars. Anyone who happens to remember Sting's 1985 tune Russians will know exactly what I'm on about. For younger readers possibly a tad confused as to why Sting once wrote a song about a country famous for stag parties and fake DVDs, perhaps you should look to the ongoing Iraq war and how it has been the unfortunate inspiration for a string of tracks released by previously apolitical artists whose musical commentaries on the Mesopotamian conflict only serve to highlight the fact that they clearly don't know their executive from their legislature.

I sense that when the post-9/11 generation come to look back on their years of protesting against war they'll be hard pushed to find a decent protest song. Surely they won't attempt to tell their kids that Ian Brown's Illegal Attacks was the work of a latter day Dylan, will they? Or will they attempt to wow their youngsters with tales of how they marched through the streets holding 'we are all Hezbollah now' placards and singing Travis's Beautiful Occupation? Perhaps they will, though I'm guessing no mention will be made about that copy of Sheryl Crow's God Bless This Mess they bought down at HMV. As if to emphasise just how unkind the noughties have been to self-styled radical songwriters, not even normally dependable left wing artists like Billy Bragg and the Manic Street Preachers produced the goods in recent years. The blandness of the Manic's Rendition and the instantly forgettable nature of the Braggster's The Price of Oil suggest that the War on Terror has simply not been enough to make these lifelong ranters sufficiently angry.

So, if seven years of war hasn't produced a decent protest tune what will? The subprime mortgage crisis? Possibly, but you would never have caught the Sex Pistols venting their spleen about a downturn in the US housing market. What other possibilities are there? Could the Klaxons put out a single to support the haulage firms currently protesting at the rate of fuel tax under Labour? Perhaps Goldfrapp will give the government a piece of their mind on the issue of foundation hospitals. Or maybe Lily Allen will write a song attacking the British National Party… oh, sorry. Lily Allen has actually written a song attacking the BNP. What does it sound like? Well, let's just say the basis for outlawing pop stars writing songs with a political slant has been strengthened.

Allen's song about Nick Griffin's rabble is titled Guess Who Batman? and, to put it as kindly as possible, is absolutely appalling. I have to admit that musically it isn't all that bad. While it's not exactly likely ever to rank up there with the Brandenburg Concertos it is at least a jaunty little number (though I can't believe I just used the term "jaunty little number"). However, nothing can excuse the abysmal lyrics. Here's the first chunk for your perusal:
Look inside
Look inside
Your tiny mind
Then look a bit harder
Cos we're so uninspired
So sick and tired
Of all
The hatred you harbour
Already you can see taking shape something that reads like a piece written by a ten year old child as part of a multicultural poetry competition run by their primary school. Unfortunately there's more:
So you say
It's not okay to be gay
Well I think
You're just evil
You're just some racist
Who can't tie my laces
You're point of view
Is medieval
"You're just some racist" - yeah, you tell them Lil. Now, I may just be out of touch with the yoof these days but since when has the inability to tie someone else's laces been connected in any manner whatsoever with racism or homophobia? I've been on Earth for almost 28 years have never made an attempt to tie anyone's laces. If there is a grain of truth to these lyrics then should I be concerned that I'm filled with a level of hatred even I'm not aware of? Oh dear. Lily, however, has a very clear message to the bigots:
Fuck you, fuck you
Very, very much
Cos we hate
What you do
And we hate
Your whole crew
So please
Don't stay in touch
Fuck you, fuck you
Very, very much
Cos your words
Don't translate
And it's getting
Quite late
So please
Don't stay in touch
An eloquent rebuttal of fascism if there ever was one. Orwell? The man was an amateur:
Do you get
Do you get
A little kick out
Of being small minded
You want to be
Like your father
His approval your after
Well that's not how
You'll find it
Hmmmm. Like the laces line earlier, I'm having a bit of trouble figuring out this bit about BNP people supposedly seeking the approval of their fathers through their bigotry. Maybe there's a whole psychoanalytical kinda thang going on that Mr-I'm-near-thirty here can't quite tap:
Do you
Do you really enjoy
Living a life
That's so hateful
Cos there's a hole
Where your soul
Should be
You're losing
Control of it
And it's really
Distasteful
Ah, so that's it - British National Party members just need to regain their souls. How silly of us all to think that the struggle against fascism was political in nature. Once Griffin sorts his spiritual side out we can all expect to see him leading Gay Pride 2009 through the centre of London, accompanied as you might expect by his trusty sidekick Mark Collett who by that stage will be kitted out in a tight white vest top and a pair of cycling shorts.

I was never quite taken in by the Lily Allen hysteria and I doubt Guess Who Batman? is going to do anything to change that. Making minimal talent stretch to remarkable lengths has been one of Allen's few visible qualities (and as the quote at the start of this post shows even she is willing to admit this). You would be right if you think there is a hint if jealousy in my moaning. I think most of us would love to be able to gain praise as easily as this woman does.

Take, as an example, her well publicised sense of fashion. As a result of the 'revolutionary' concept of wearing Nike trainers with dresses Lily has been endlessly praised by everyone from Cosmopolitan to the uber annoying Trinny and Susannah and also has her own line of clothing sold by the New Look high street chain. Even more bewildering was the decision by the BBC to hand to Allen her very own TV series. In an era when the Beeb is making cutbacks in the areas of news and current affairs, Lily Allen and Friends was a heavily promoted six part chat show about nothing which was supposedly aimed at the idiots of generation Bebo. You really had to see it to appreciate just how embarrassingly awful it was. Sadly, a second series could be on the way. Also baffling is the amount of tabloid attention devoted to this useless specimen's private life. Nothing remotely interesting ever seems to happen to her, unless you count dying your hair pink and getting drunk as being somehow rebellious (at least Amy Winehouse emerges covered in blood from violent brawls and has a heroin addiction). And then there's the music. Over the past couple of years I have met more than a few serious musos who, apparently without a hint of any E4-style trendy irony, seem quite content to name Allen among their favourite acts. I can't explain it but, like my mid-nineties flirtation with Sleeper, it'll be something they'll be eager to deny ten years from now.

I don't mean to single out Lily Allen for harsh treatment or anything but when a spoilt, shallow, public school educated, Groucho Club fuckwit attempts make some form of social commentary on a subject she clearly knows nothing about I reserve the right to be a tad irritated. My advice to Keith's daughter? Stay within your comfort zone of slagging off Girls Aloud and dying your hair wacky colours. As you said yourself, you aren't a genius and you aren't really good at anything.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Remembering Helms

"To die on the Fourth of July, one can perhaps be forgiven for feeling, is or ought to be a privilege reserved for men of the stamp of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom expired on that day in 1826, 50 years after the promulgation of the declaration. One doesn't want the occasion sullied by the obsequies for a senile racist buffoon."

Christopher Hitchens
Slate
July 7th 2008

Here is yet more evidence that Christopher Hitchens is fast becoming one of the best obituary writers in the world of journalism. Last year it was the recently deceased Jerry Falwell that was on the receiving end of a much deserved barrage of abuse. Last month it was the significance of the late Tim Russert that was called into question. Yesterday it was Jesse Helms and his still warm corpse that Hitchens has decided to disrespect in the most articulate of ways. What did I think of his Helms? I thought he was a cunt.

Note: Yes, that is Bono in the picture standing alongside a man who supported racial segregation and opposed financing for AIDS research and treatment. Cool.

Friday, July 04, 2008

04/07/08

I don’t usually 'do' happiness but I make exceptions on rare occasions.

On the way home from work this morning (yes, I do a graveyard shift) I stopped to grab a sandwich and a coffee from a nice little place on the Dublin Road when I heard the song below playing on the radio in the background. I was planning to come home and write something about where the European Union stands several weeks on after the no vote south of the border to the Lisbon Treaty. But, with the summer sun beaming down on Belfast and the mountains wrapped around the city looking magnificent, I decided that the morning was far too nice for wasting time on something so banal. The plan now? Ditch the EU theme, turn the laptop off, shun my usual choice of stout for a 4th of July themed Yankee beer and relax. I’m off to the pub to raise a glass to George Washington and friends. In the meantime, here’s that tune I heard the coffee shop. Sumptuous:

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A frightfully charming defence of the Beeb

“Even the most immoderately free market media analyst or commentator I have heard or read would concede that there is a need for good impartial news coverage; that a nation deserves access to programmes that reveal truths about themselves and the world. But mostly they would argue too that if that is what the BBC is to provide, it can be slimmed down… allow Channel 4 access to money that would spare us more The Boy Whose Testicles Play The Harpsichord.”
In an era when defending the BBC has become about as popular as those individuals who used to call for the release of Myra Hindley, it was heartening to hear Stephen Fry provide an extremely eloquent defence of the Corporation via the medium of a podcast on his website. Have a listen to it. Even if you don’t agree with everything Fry says you will I hope treat his reflections as a refreshing alternative to the constant predictable attacks from reactionary elements in the press and the ill considered ramblings of your local taxi driving fascist who claims his son didn’t get on Raven because Mark Thompson is filling it full of ‘effnick kids’.

Hat tip: Harry’s Place

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Viva España and all that, but...

... does this mean that reporters at World Cups and European Championships will finally cease accompanying the word 'Spain' with the words 'perennial underachievers'? Perhaps they can find a suitable replacement for this now dated cliché. I suggest 'perennial underachievers England'. It certainly has a nice ring to it.

And congratulations must also go to the Guardian for their total failure to join in the fun. Despite the fact that almost everyone I met over the past couple of days appeared genuinely chuffed for the Spanish, the Grauniad greeted their victory over the Germans in Vienna with the headline "Spain Euro 2008 win boosts shirt sales, but not economy." That's it lads, get into the party spirit.