Friday, October 31, 2008

"Salary envy and shadenfreude"

I am fairly sure that I am not the only one who is wondering what the hell is going on in relation to the huge media circus surrounding Russell Brand, Jonathan Ross and some comments they made about the granddaughter of that guy that used to play Manuel the waiter in Fawlty Towers. You could call it a storm in a teacup. You could say that it is an example of a mountain being made out of a molehill. In fact, there are various clichés and phrases you could use to describe this whole episode but there are none that would accurately convey my absolute bewilderment at just how intense the public outrage about this has been.

You probably know the facts by now. On his Saturday night Radio 2 show with guest Jonathan Ross, Brand left a message on Andrew Sachs's answer phone boasting that he had sex with Georgina Baillie (pictured left), his 23 year old granddaughter and star of a - wait for it - vampire-themed burlesque outfit called the Satanic Sluts. To be honest it wasn't really all that funny, though that isn't the question that needs answered. The thing that has been puzzling me all week is why exactly is it this incident in particular that has provoked such a furore? Why out of all the risqué material on television and radio these days did this particular incident prompt over 30,000 complaints and an OFCOM investigation?

Maybe I shouldn't be so baffled. The show in question was broadcast on October 18th. At the time the Beeb received two complaints. Just over a week later the programme was the subject of an article in the Mail on Sunday. It was enough to make Middle England choke on their Yorkshire Puddings. While attacking the Mail is usually something I leave to shit liberal comedians like Marcus Brigstocke who like to spend their time scoring brownie points with right-on students, the bastards really deserve all the blame for whipping up this controversy. It was their piece opened the floodgates as thousands of people began contacting the BBC to express their outrage at a programme they never actually heard (in a manner not dissimilar to those Muslims who contacted the same organisation to protest against cartoons they never actually set eyes on).

For most of this week I had been fairly apathetic about the whole episode, but things have changed. This is not a case of supporting Brand and Ross but opposing the values of those that oppose them. What we are witnessing here is a witch hunt being carried out by an easily offended and very vocal minority of people who would prefer that Britain reverted back to an era when golliwogs adorned jam jars and TV schedules were filled with naff variety shows. Now they smell blood. Clearly these people have picked up on the chance to kill two birds with one stone and have pulled out all the stops in order to remove a couple of their most prominent hate figures.

The sad thing is that they may actually succeed. Russell Brand has already resigned. Jonathan Ross has been suspended for three months. My revulsion over this is not down to feeling any degree of sorrow for the two men concerned. A whip round for them is certainly unnecessary. Brand will continue with his career elsewhere while Ross will be back on our screens in a few weeks. My hatred is directed at the BBC and the speed by which they capitulated to the demands of a hysterical fringe. They didn't do it when Christians complained en masse about the broadcast of Jerry Springer - The Opera. They didn't do it when Muslims flooded their complaints line objecting to the Newsnight programme showing images of the infamous Mohammed cartoons. But when Middle England got upset by a couple of nasty boys leaving rude messages on a man's answer phone they caved in.

On the bright side now that the forces of good manners and clean wholesome fun have spoken they can sit down on Friday night and, now liberated from the presence of Mr Ross on their schedule, enjoy the replacement programme: the 1994 action movie starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, Speed. I hope they're pleased with themselves.

Now, just where did I put my Satanic Sluts DVDs?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Oh dear

Just when I thought I’d had enough of Sarah Palin, I stumbled upon Red, Hot and MILF:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Back to the future

Just what are Sinn Fein thinking? Maybe they've just got a bit nostalgic. Contentious parades used to be big news in Northern Ireland so the Royal Irish Regiment homecoming parade in Belfast city centre next weekend will provide them with something of a trip down memory lane.

It is, however, a trip with a lot of problems attached to it. Sinn Fein will not be the only republicans mounting a counter protest next Sunday. Eirigi, a minuscule and meaningless nationalist sect that has little in the way of politics and even less in the form of support, will also be there. In a sign of just how greener they are than the Provos, Eirigi have decided not to ask the Parades Commission for permission to march and thereby have already stirred things up quite considerably by declaring their intention to hold an illegal parade in the northern capital on the Sabbath day. Why the Provisionals are bothering their backsides to protest beats me. With themselves and the Democratic Unionists currently at loggerheads over the devolution of policing and justice powers I would have thought that Gerry and the boys would have been savvy enough to realise that the last thing needed now was an ill-advised political stunt. Clearly I overestimated their intelligence.

Someone whose intelligence would never be overestimated by anyone is the West Belfast MLA Paul Maskey. He attempted to shed light on the rationale for the protest when he stated that his party want to draw attention to the legacy of RIR "murder and oppression" and also express their disapproval of the two current "illegal wars" (because as we all know the Provisional IRA campaign had the support of the UN Security Council). I have nothing against people wanting to protest against the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. And yes, there are numerous questions still lingering over the RIR's predecessor, the old Ulster Defence Regiment, and its links with fascist terror gangs. However, this is one time where the Shinners would have been better advised to waive their right to protest.

As I have said, the potential for violence next Sunday is very real. Just this week dissident republicans have been behind rioting in the north Armagh area. Two years ago disturbances broke out in Dublin following an attempt by loyalists to hold a parade in the city. In the days leading up to that parade Sinn Fein advised its members to ignore both the idiotic Protestant marchers and the equally idiotic counter demonstrators. It proved to be a wise move as opponents of the Provos, both north and south, had no mud to sling at them. If violence breaks out at next Sunday's event it will not matter whether the Shinners have been involved in it or not, the fact is they will be there. Just think about it: Belfast, British Army parade, riots, Sinn Feiners present - the Jim Allisters of this world and some of the naysayers in the DUP would think that Christmas had come early.

Sinn Fein's presence also raises the question of just why do they think it so necessary to protest. After all, the 2006 Love Ulster in Dublin was infinitely more provocative yet even then the party had the good sense to tell its men and women to stay away. Perhaps it is an attempt to restore a bit of an edge to the party following a year of kanoodling with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson. If it is it still does not change the fact that Adams and friends remain part and parcel of the Northern Irish establishment. They accept the local police service, so how are we supposed to take them seriously when they oppose the local army regiment? We don't. Constitutional nationalists do't. Unionists don't. Dissident republicans don't.

There is still time for Sinn Fein to knock this silly idea on the head. Few in their own community will criticise them for it. Even the Andersonstown News recognise stupidity of the demo. The Shinners should take the moral high ground and leave the ridiculous protesting next Sunday to Eirigi or the 32 County Sovereignty Movement or Republican Sinn Fein. SF can gain nothing from this. They can, however, stand to lose a considerable amount if things turn nasty. On the other hand if they want to ditch the idea of protesting at Royal Irish homecomings and jettison the even more preposterous proposal to paint Northern Ireland's letterboxes green then perhaps the party could begin to devote time to more pressing issues in these tough economic times, for instance the spiralling price of electricity and gas bills in the province. Then again, that would be acting a bit too much like a socialist or republican party. For now, annoying 'the huns' continues to be the name of their petty little game.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Drill comrade, drill!

An old Tankie chum of mine got quite excited earlier this week as he informed me about the Cuban government's recent boast that it may have an estimated twenty million barrels of oil lying just off its shores. Intriguing stuff indeed. The past fifteen years or so haven't been the best for you if you happen to be a communist so the prospect of a little Stalinist Saudi Arabia rearing its head in the same month as the global capitalist system has went into meltdown is no doubt more than enough to give you that arousal you've been waiting for since the Berlin Wall came down.

However, the Guardian has taken a much more careful approach in reporting this story. The paper's Latin America correspondent Rory Carroll points out that while Cuba may potentially have as much oil as its next door neighbour in the United States, its reserves lie over a mile beneath the ocean floor which means that they will be difficult to extract. Their predicament is made worse by the fact that the ongoing US blockade means that the Cubans are unable to lay their hands on the most modern equipment needed to access the billions of dollars lying so tantalisingly close to them.

So, Havana may not be a fully paid up member of the 'Axis of Diesel' just yet but who knows what the next few years (or, more importantly, an Obama Presidency) might bring.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Exclusive: life inside RESPECT

Women, Know Your Place!

A public meeting on Pakistan organised by RESPECT at Birmingham's Central Mosque (where else?) has been receiving a bit of attention due to it's odd policy on seating arrangement. Check out the photographs below to see what I mean:

Yes, that's correct. Lads at the front, weemin at the back. And all this from an organisation that claims to be socialist. Even more amusing were the attempts made by some RESPECT members to explain why the girls sat at the back of the room. Andy Newman stated that fewer women would have turned up if organisers had heeded the advice of those guided by "sectarian secularism" and allowed the lassies to sit beside the menfolk. Ger Francis claimed that the women were sitting where they were because that is where they wanted to sit, while Jim Monaghan suggested that perhaps it wouldn't have been as bad if the females had sat parallel with the males instead of at the rear of the room. What a bloody shambles. I wonder if segregation in Alabama would have been more palatable for RESPECT if Rosa Parks and her friends had been allowed to sit parallel to their white neighbours rather than behind them.

An alternative to Labour, Mr Galloway? You must be joking.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Slowly moving forward

I was encouraged to read on the Belfast Telegraph website this morning about a poll carried out by Millward Brown Ulster which has found that almost two-thirds of people in Northern Ireland believe women should be allowed to have an abortion under certain circumstances. Although the statistic that 62% of people in the province think a woman should have the right to choose in cases of rape and incest may not sound earth shatteringly progressive it does at least show that the reactionary four party administration currently in charge at Stormont may be a bit out of touch with folk here.

That probably won’t come as a surprise to you. Just as Iris Robinson’s archaic remarks about homosexuality earlier this year represented nothing more than the individual opinion of someone on the lunatic Christian fringe, it isn’t always accurate to use our political representatives as a way to gauge the views of people here on certain subjects. The truth is that abortion is not a major election issue in this part of the world so party policies are not a useful indicator. The poor turnout at the rally in Belfast organised by anti-abortion group Precious Life on Saturday afternoon proved that pro-life bluster does not strike a chord with the masses. Despite the sickeningly sanctimonious display of anti-choice unity by the four main party leaders back in May, I know of very few people who feel that the current law on abortion in Northern Ireland is adequate.

Regardless of whether today’s poll is a good indication of public feeling towards abortion, change to the law is needed. Self-righteous fundamentalist posturing and hysterical screams of ‘murder’ by Bernadette Smyth and her cronies are of no help to women in a time of crisis. On Wednesday the House of Commons will debate proposals to extend abortion legislation to Northern Ireland. Let’s hope that they ignore the protestations of our local tribal chieftains and bring us into line with the rest of the United Kingdom - and indeed the rest of the developed world.

Monday morning gadgetry

Some people have far too much time on their hands.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bart Simpson laments the end of the Provisional IRA campaign (no, really)

You may or may not be aware that the latest series of The Simpsons is currently being broadcast over in the States.  The clip below has caused something of a minor controversy, concerning as it does the rowdy Irish community of Springfield.  The quality of this show has been dipping in recent times and this hasn't done anything to change my mind that the writers have managed to turn things around.  It isn't that its offensive or anything.  Its just shit:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Political football

I see the Daily Mirror has assembled a list of the top ten politically motivated footie players of all time. There aren't many surprises contained on it, unless of course you weren't aware that Frank Lampard is a Tory or that Italian footballers tend to make remarkably good apologists for the crimes of Benito Mussolini. Surely more deserving though of a place on the list than fascist fuckwit Paolo Di Canio was Robbie Fowler, if only for his on-pitch display of solidarity in 1997 with the Merseyside dockers who were in the middle of lengthy strike at the time. Or perhaps they could have given Lampard the boot and included the name of Johann Cruyff. The Dutchman famously refused to sign for Real Madrid because of its ties to General Franco's regime and instead opted for a move to their Catalan rivals Barcelona. I'm sure there are loads of others I've completely forgotten about. If anyone out there has any ideas to better those put forward by the Mirror and my good self then drop your suggestion into the comment box below.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Traditional unionist vote

How quickly things change, eh?  Or should I say how quickly we go backwards in Northern Ireland?  A couple of weeks ago Sir Reg Empey was at the Conservative Party conference in Brighton having a right old chinwag with David Cameron about a potential Tory-UUP merger, telling the DUP and the Provos to stop fucking about (or words to that effect) and generally playing the role of the far sighted political visionary who would help lead Ulster to a new era of non-sectarian bread-and-butter politics. 

Yesterday though Sir Reg issued a joint statement with the anti-agreement MEP Jim Allister of the Traditional Unionist Voice party/organisation/thing.  The statement announced that both the Ulster Unionists and the TUV “agreed on the priority of retaining two unionist representatives in Europe” and called for the “full utilisation of transfers between the unionist candidates.”  An electoral pact you might think?  Well, not according to Reg.  He states that this is a “voting strategy” which is, ahem, an altogether different thing.  In order to show that this isn’t some sinister plot being hatched to stop the DUP from winning back their European Parliament seat, Empey has also promised to hold talks with Peter Robinson’s party in order to explore ways of “maximising” the unionist vote.

Which Reg should I believe - the Brighton visionary or the man who fires out joint press releases with Jim Allister?  Big tests lie ahead in the near future.  Through these tests we will finally discover whether Empey and his party are genuinely committed to a new style of politics here in the province or if the prospect of good old fashioned Protestant unity is just too tempting to turn down.  We will know the answer come the next general election when there will undoubtedly be pressure from some elements in the unionist camp to find an agreed candidate in nationalist held constituencies like Belfast South and Fermanagh and South Tyrone.  If Sir Reg resists this temptation then we will have taken a small but important step away from the stale politics of the past.  If he capitulates and tries instead to help maximise the orange vote at Westminster then Northern Irish elections will continue to be what they have always been about: mini referenda in which we scrutinise just how well the other side have been breeding.  For our sake Reg, stop arsing about.

Bad times ahead for the Hackballscross mafia?

It appears that Slab and co may not be as adept at playing the markets as they liked to think they were.  According to Jim Cusack’s article in the Sunday Independent at the weekend, Provisional IRA funds worth up to $200 million dollars have been put at risk after some poor business practices across the pond.  At the moment, if the comments section on Slugger O’Toole are anything to go by, republicans appear to be in a state of denial that their cute hoor heroes may have taken a hit as a result of the credit crunch.  However, seeing as it is widely accepted that paramilitary funds on the republican side have been shifted into legitimate business ventures in recent years it is highly unlikely that they could have escaped the recent global downturn completely unscathed.

Regardless of whether or not they sustained the sort of “substantial” losses cited by Cusack in the Sindo, what I would like to know though is just what the Provos are doing with all this cash nowadays.  In the past activities such as bank robberies, fuel smuggling and money laundering were said to be done in order to raise funds for an armed struggle against British imperialism.  Now that all that has been knocked on the head just why does the movement require such obscene amounts of dodgy dosh?  I don’t know about you but if there is no war and there are no plans on the horizon to launch any new military campaign in the north I would think it would be safe to say that the Provisional IRA is now solely a criminal organisation with no political aims or objectives.  Or perhaps I simply haven’t read James Connolly’s work on the revolutionary potential of smuggling cattle.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Don't mention Korea

I’ve written before on this blog about the disappointing lack of material that exists on the history of The Workers Party and the Official republican movement.  There have been books galore over the past ten years on all sides involved in the northern conflict yet academics appear to be of the opinion that this particular faction doesn’t warrant much study.  You also don’t hear a lot from the Stickies these days on mainstream TV, radio or newspapers though they are still alive - just about though.  I was delighted then to yesterday come across an interview between Downtown Radio’s Bobby Hanvey and former Workers Party President Sean Garland.  It was recorded last year for the station’s series The Ramblin Man and is now available on the history section of the WP website.

Whatever your thoughts on Garland, and mine are mixed to say the least, his story is nevertheless an interesting one.  After joining the IRA in his late teens, the Dubliner was subsequently ordered to join the British Army in order to collect intelligence.  He went on to become involved in two of the most legendary events in history of 20th century Irish republicanism: the raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh in 1954 and the attack on an RUC station in county Fermanagh which led to the deaths of Sean Sabhat and Fergal O’Hanlon (an attack in which Garland was shot and wounded).  Hanvey is no Paxman though.  There are other areas of Garland’s life which are not as ‘glorious’, for example his arrest in 2005 over his and the Party’s alleged links with North Korea and  a joint plot between the WP and Pyongyang to damage the US economy by flooding it with counterfeit $100 dollar bills.  Garland doesn’t come in for any rigorous questioning in the course of the programme on this or any other issue which is a tad disappointing.  Even so, there are worse ways to spend your time.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dictatorship chic

Philosophy Football is an online clothing website that flogs left-wing t-shirts and hoodies to the sort of irritating people who like to (literally) wear their politics on their sleeve. I couldn’t ever imagine purchasing any of this organisation’s products, though that isn’t to say that many of the causes some of the garments support aren’t worthy. Raising funds for the anti-fascists at Searchlight or supporting a campaign against sweatshop labour in the third world is fine by me, but I’d rather pass on the offer of having a part of my wardrobe devoted to proving my love for these causes.

Other struggles being waged on the fashion front are not so laudable as the two just named. Take for instance the t-shirt pictured here. This bright red top is one of the newest additions to the Philosophy Football range. Sporting an image of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, it has been produced to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his Stalinist regime in the Caribbean. Sales of this product will raise money for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign’s material aid projects. Am I the only to find this a bit odd? How can Philosophy Football supposedly show concern for sweatshop labour in the third world while at the same time raising cash for the supporters of a communist prison camp island? Then there is that other recent addition to the range - the Prague 1968 commemorative t-shirt. Forty years ago many of the radical soixante-huitarders were out on the streets protesting against the Soviet troops that were cutting down young Czechs and Slovaks. Meanwhile back in Havana, El Presidente Fidel described the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia as a necessary step in order to prevent the country sliding “toward capitalism and into the arms of imperialism.” So, exactly which side is Philosophy Football on?

Contradictions are nothing new on the left but this cynical ploy of backing both horses should be repulsive to anyone with even a shred of principle. I would have a smidgen more respect for Philosophy Football if they were selling t-shirts of Kim Jong-il in order to fund Korean Friendship Association trips to Pyongyang. That would at least ensure a bit of ideological consistency. Unsurprisingly, they are rather more selective about which Stalinist hell holes they support so don’t hold your breath for any DPRK tees popping up in the near future. You see, North Korea just ain’t hip to the kids. Neither is China for that matter. Or Vietnam. Or Laos. Cuba is though. In reality Castro’s state isn’t any different than those other three totalitarian dens in Asia. I don’t know if the preference some leftists have for Castro has anything to do with the fact that Cuba is a sunny Caribbean Island with lots of beaches, a popular holiday destination and a place that gave the world those other fancy t-shirts of Che Guevara. I suspect it might be.

Whatever it is that drives people as diverse as Ralph Nader, the Manic Street Preachers and Naomi Campbell to support a regime they would never want to live under is baffling. After half a century languishing in a repressive, racist, homophobic, one-party dictatorship which they are not permitted to leave, the people of Cuba must be equally mystified. Not that that’s going to put Philosophy Football off.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bally this and Bally that

Had it not been for Conall McDevitt’s post over on his website this morning I would have probably forgotten all about National Poetry Day. Don’t worry, I’m not going to inflict any of my own work on you. I would not be so cruel to you. Anyhow, I realised many, many years ago that I much preferred reading poetry to writing it. So, on this typically miserable, bleak, wet northern autumn day I will let John Hewitt brighten things up with his tribute to local place names. And as the picture here shows, one thing that we can all agree on in this part of the world is that we love our place names:

Ulster Names

I take my stand by the Ulster names,
each clean hard name like a weathered stone;
Tyrella, Rostrevor, are flickering flames:
the names I mean are the Moy, Malone,
Strabane, Slieve Gullion and Portglenone.

Even suppose that each name were freed
from legend's ivy and history's moss,
there'd be music still in, say, Carrick-a-rede,
though men forget it's the rock across
the track of the salmon from Islay and Ross.

The names of a land show the heart of the race;
they move on the tongue like the lilt of a song.
You say the name and I see the place
Drumbo, Dungannon, or Annalong.
Barony, townland, we cannot go wrong.

You say Armagh, and I see the hill
with the two tall spires or the square low tower;
the faith of Patrick is with us still;
his blessing falls in a moonlight hour,
when the apple orchards are all in flower.

You whisper Derry. Beyond the walls
and the crashing boom and the coiling smoke.
I follow that freedom which beckons and calls
to Colmcille, tall in his grove of oak,
raising his voice for the rhyming folk.

County by county you number them over;
Tyrone, Fermanagh... I stand by a lake,
and the bubbling curlew, the whistling plover
call over the whips in the chill daybreak
as the hills and the waters the first light take.

Let Down be famous for care-tilled earth,
for the little green hills and the harsh grey peaks,
the rocky bed of the Lagan's birth,
the white farm fat in the August weeks.
There's one more county my pride still seeks.

You give it the name and my quick thoughts run
through the narrow towns with their wheels of trade,
to Glenballyemon, Glenaan, Glendun,
from Trostan down to the braes of Layde,
for there is the place where the pact was made.

But you have as good a right as I
to praise the place where your face is known,
for over us all is the selfsame sky;
the limestone's locked in the strength of the bone,
and who shall mock at the steadfast stone?

So it's Ballinamallard, it's Crossmaglen,
it's Aughnacloy, it's Donaghadee,
it's Magherafelt breeds the best of men,
I'll not deny it. But look for me
on the moss between Orra and Slievenanee.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The world in nine minutes

Christopher Hitchens, Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough discuss Sarah Palin, Afghanistan, drugs and the possibility of an American version of PMQs - and all in the space of nine minutes. Good TV while it lasts. Blink and you’ll miss it:

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Blasts from the past

I don't get dissident republicans. Actually, let me rephrase that. I don't get dissident republicans that are still committed to the path of armed struggle as the means by which to end British rule in Northern Ireland. Those free spirits that supported the termination of the Provisional IRA campaign only to subsequently part company with the Adams-McGuinness leadership because they were either not radical enough (as in the case of Tommy McKearney) or not reactionary enough (a la Gerry McGeough) may not exactly be my ideological bedfellows but they at least provided some tiny semblance of democratic debate in the republican community during a period when the entire movement was disturbingly united behind Sinn Fein's peace strategy.

Indeed, many of the contributions from these dissenters over the past decade seemed to display greater signs of reflection about the past and considerations on the future than what was taking place within the ranks of their more prominent erstwhile comrades in the Provisionals. The most notable contribution was that of Anthony McIntyre's sadly now defunct online journal The Blanket. Writers for it included leftists, rejectionist republicans, unionists, loyalists, bloggers and various other shades of opinion. Undoubtedly the greatest moment for The Blanket came when, to the horror of Belfast's SWP-led Anti-Racism Network, McIntyre published the cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammed that had been carried in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper triggering a hysterical global wave of protests by Muslims.

The men that planted the roadside bomb near Newtownbutler in county Fermanagh probably don't have an opinion on the Jyllands-Posten affair. Very little other than the issue of the partition of Ireland would probably be of concern to them. Sources are pointing the finger of blame at the Continuity IRA, an organisation that has never had - nor will they ever be interested in - an alternative strategy to the armed struggle. They are unquestionably the most extreme and illogical of the republican groups. In the wake of the 1998 Omagh bombing, at a time when the whole of Ireland was baying for blood, the INLA and Real IRA declared speedy cessations of hostilities (the latter of the two more tactical than anything). CIRA refused, leaving them for a time the only paramilitary organisation on the island not to be on ceasefire.

Even today with 99.9% of the population accepting that 'the war is over' the Continuity IRA continue on with their feeble and futile campaign. Their hopeless crusade has always reminded me of that famous tale of Hiroo Onoda, the poor old Japanese soldier who, believing news of his country's surrender in 1945 to be an Allied propaganda ruse, continued launching sporadic guerrilla attacks on an island in the Phillipines for another 29 years until he was finally convinced to lay down his arms by his old commanding officer. Perhaps its time we thought about dispatching Martin McGuinness off to the Fermanagh-Monaghan border to have a word with some of these people.

The truth is though not even the most persuasive of advances by the Provo Chief Negotiator could cut it with a band of goons as irrational as CIRA. Not only do they reject British rule in Northern Ireland, they also consider Dail Eireann's authority over the Republic to be equally illegitimate. Aligned to Ruairi O'Bradaigh's Republican Sinn Fein party, their fanatical beliefs are simply off the political radar of all right thinking people. Although formed in the wake of the 1986 Sinn Fein split, CIRA did not start carrying out attacks until the mid-nineties. When they did kick off their campaign it seemed to be bizarrely confined to bombing hotels based in Fermanagh (the border tourist trade as we all know is an integral component of British imperialism). In the incident previous to the Newtownbutler roadside bomb, the group carried out a rocket attack on a police patrol in Lisnaskea.

To date their incompetence has thankfully meant that they have not yet claimed any security force lives, yet anyone with knowledge of republicanism would probably appreciate that given the ideological obsession with death a fatality on their side would be viewed as being just as beneficial (you aren't really considered a serious republican organisation in this country until you've earned yourself some martyrs).

A few days back I mentioned about how ridiculous Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith's comments on negotiating with the Taleban were as the organisation is clearly not reasonable enough to have any kind of talks. While the Continuity IRA may not be seeking to execute women for wearing lipstick it is still similarly beyond the pale. Anyone that believes in such a sacred manner that Britain should leave Ireland on basis of an election that took place ninety years ago clearly isn't in the business of seeking to common ground. It is on this - and very little else - that myself and Arlene Foster of the DUP would find agreement.

It has been quite interesting to observe the differing responses from the two main unionist parties to the most recent attack. Arlene Foster stated that the dissidents must be "utterly defeated" and pointed out that the Provisionals began their life as a splinter group that slowly gathered support. While I agree that the threat from CIRA has to be stamped out I don't think Arlene need worry about them ever gaining the same level of support as their old pals. Times have changed. What I did find interesting was the fact that her short press release made reference to "dissident" republicans no less than five times. Many of you may recall in the not too distant past that the Democratic Unionists refused to believe there was any such thing as dissidents. For them there was one IRA. That was that. Whether they deep down actually believed it I can't say but it did at least fit neatly into their view of the province then. Back in the period when the UUP were the leading party of unionism, the DUP would regularly make David Trimble's life hell if the Continuity IRA or Real IRA as much as coughed. I remember one particular incident when, following two car bomb attacks in David Trimble's Upper Bann constituency during the peace talks in 1998, Sammy Wilson lambasted the Unionist leader for talking with what he said were "the same people" that had been destroying his constituency. When pressed by Peter Taylor, a respected BBC journalist and expert on all things Northern Irish, Wilson asserted his belief that the attacks had been the work of mainstreamers but that even if they had been carried out by some troublesome malcontents they would have most likely received "a nod and a wink" from the Provos.

How things change. Yesterday, while the DUP were calling for the police to clamp down on dissidents, the Ulster Unionist's man in Fermanagh, Tom Elliott, was calling for the reintroduction of "limited" British Army personnel to combat the renewed terrorist threat and even went as far to say that there may have been involvement from elements of the Provisional IRA. "You just don't carry these attacks out with a small group," he said. Tom Elliottt a hardliner? Now, that's a turn up for the books.

I don't think I'll ever really figure out dissident republicans and I don't think anyone else truly gets them either, hence the confused responses you tend to get from unionists who don't seem to know whether they are really breakaway elements or just the Provisionals in disguise. Sinn Fein would rather ignore them. When they do bother to offer some recognition they scornfully dub them "microgroups." In truth, these "microgroups" probably have the same affect on Sinn Fein that the sight of a drunken person has on a reformed alcoholic. Each dissident shooting and bombing must trigger a flashback in the mind of every sharp suited Shinner and remind them of what life was like in their pre-1994 guise as political pariahs. But at least Adams and co learned something that the dissidents do not appreciate and that is that armed struggle is never a viable option for any movement looking to bring around radical change in a democratic society that permits legal opposition (although Che Guevara realised this almost half a century before them). Yet for all the oddities and eccentricities of the world of dissident republicanism, Ruairi O'Bradiagh - that elder statesman of the 'no' brigade - is sadly right about one thing at least: there will almost certainly always be some form of organisation that will violently oppose British rule in Ireland. The goal for the rest of us is to make sure they remain on that odd, eccentric fringe.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Bear-faced cheek

For some reason this picture cheered me up on this hideous Monday morning.

F.A.O. Brigadier Carleton-Smith

The documentary below is called Beneath the Veil and is part of Channel 4's Dispatches series. It was first broadcast back in the summer of 2001 only a few weeks prior to the 9/11 attacks and subsequently went on to receive numerous awards. It should be of use to anyone foolish enough to think that Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith might somehow be onto something following his comments yesterday in the Sunday Times concerning the possibility of talking with the Taleban. Saira Shah's documentary is a reminder of the vicious nature of Islamofascism and should highlight just how absurd any notion of negotiating with such a movement is:

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Surrender monkey

Remarks like those made by Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith must be precisely the sort of thing that the Taleban love about fighting an enemy whose society permits free speech. It is unlikely that we will be hearing Mullah Mohammed Omar or any of his generals come out with anything so preposterous in the near future. In the event that you haven't yet come across this story then let me enlighten you. Carleton-Smith, somehow Britain's most senior commander in Afghanistan, told the Sunday Times that he felt a "decisive military victory" was not possible and that the option of talks with the insurgents should be considered. The mullahs will no doubt be pleased to hear such drivel.

I would be intrigued to know just what the Brigadier feels could possibly be negotiated with the Taleban. Has the man completely lost it? This is an illogical, irrational and fanatical movement that is totally beyond the pale. I can only assume that Carleton-Smith has forgotten about the sort of regime which they were in charge of before they were run out of Kabul in late 2001. Can he not remember the extreme anti-modern ideology which they operated that passed death sentences on people for crimes ranging from watching television to playing chess? Has he forgotten how women under their rule were reduced to the position of slaves in society? The ethnic cleansing of people from the Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek communities cannot have been so easily forgotten, can it? Surely their sadistic methods for the execution of homosexuals haven't slipped his memory? Perhaps their campaign to obliterate all traces of Afghanistan's culture - most infamously the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan - will help him recall something about their wicked administration?

What is even more disturbing than Brigadier Carleton-Smith's remarks was the response from the Ministry of Defence. A spokesperson for the MoD stated: "We have always said there is no military solution in Afghanistan. Insurgencies are ultimately solved at the political level, not by military means alone. We are not looking for a total military victory…" So, far from this Brigadier accidentally putting his foot in it, he was in truth just stating what the establishment currently believe in - appeasement.

I cannot comprehend this level of defeatism. During the Second World War, after France had fallen and before America entered it, Churchill was given the option of talks with Hitler. Some, such as Lord Halifax, argued that an accord with the Nazis was desirable so long as it secured "the liberty and independence" of the British Empire. Yet even at this difficult time in the history of the United Kingdom, Churchill refused to contemplate going down such a path. The principle upon which that decision was based was the belief that there could be no accommodation with totalitarianism. We can only hope that Mark Carleton-Smith and others like him come to appreciate that principle.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Fionnuala O’Connor and an odd desire for more of the same

The weather in Belfast was horrendous yesterday morning. Nothing new there. Sadly, there was also little in the way of new thought in Fionnuala O’Connor’s article in the Irish Times. Her piece concerned the ongoing discussions between the Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionists regarding the establishment of a new centre right formation in Northern Irish politics. Fionnuala is not impressed with the prospect of Tory canvassers knocking on her door anytime soon. Scrutinising some of David Cameron’s recent comments, O’Connor notes that the Conservative leader suggests the eventual result of the joint talks will be the chance to make politics in Northern Ireland “less sectarian” by providing citizens here with the opportunity to vote for “national parties.” So, what’s her beef?

Firstly, O’Connor absurdly asks what sectarianism has do with it all. At first I thought this was a slightly tongue-in-cheek remark. She is from Derry after all and we all know what scamps those Derry one’s can be. But no, she was deadly serious. She claims that Cameron’s comments (i.e. pointing out that the fairly obvious fact that our current system is deeply sectarian) prove that the leader of the opposition at Westminster “has no feel for the agreement underpinning the new Stormont.” I don’t know about you, but I abandoned any such feelings quite a while back. The euphoria of those early post referendum days has long since evaporated. I would go as far as to say that is largely because of the current pact sustaining the “new Stormont” that we are in the mess we’re in at the moment.

Fionnuala also goes on to suggest that DC does not “accept that Sinn Fein and the SDLP are in a Belfast administration on the basis that Irish nationalism has equal status with British unionism.” This is simply nonsense. How does an administration not including Sinn Fein and/or the SDLP somehow undermine the position of Catholics and nationalists as equal citizens? From 1998 until 2007 the SNP was not in government at Holyrood yet not even someone as melodramatic as Alex Salmond would have made the ludicrous claim that this somehow meant that Scottish nationalists did not enjoy the same liberties as those Scots of the unionist persuasion. Why do nationalists have to be in government? Indeed, why must unionists be in every administration as well? In fact, let's think outside the box - why should it be that unionism and nationalism permanently determine the shape of our party system?

I understand the argument that d’Hondt and the designation system were necessary elements in the Good Friday Agreement in order to help manage the differences that exist in Ulster society, but that was the theory behind it. In reality the past ten years have been a bloody mess at Stormont characterised by long periods of deadlock punctuated by short phases of uneasy government. First there was the decommissioning fiasco which seemed to go on forever. Remember no ‘guns no, government’? Or perhaps you were on the side that remember it as ‘no government, no guns’. Then there was Stormontgate. Now the folks on the hill are at each others throats over policing and justice and the executive isn’t even bothering to meet. I am not for one moment saying that all things will be fine and dandy once the system of mandatory coalition is removed, but the problems that have bogged down politics here for the past decade may not have ever occurred had we persisted with the ridiculous policy of forcing parties who do not want to be in power together to form an administration.

Fionnuala O’Connor’s next gripe with David Cameron is his insistence that “national parties” may be part of the cure to our sectarian disease. “Why,” she asks, “would Irish nationalists in this new North want to vote for the British Conservative Party - or indeed for the British Labour party?” This appears to be a reasonable question at first but take another look. What O’Connor is basically saying is that nationalists, regardless of whether they happen to consider themselves socialist or liberal or conservative, will always prefer to raise the goal of a united Ireland before all other social and economic issues and only when the national aspirations of the Catholic community are realised will the era of real politics be allowed to begin for them. It is, with some slight differences, an echo of de Valera’s infamous “Labour must wait” statement. She could be right. Perhaps nationalists will never allow themselves to be contaminated by the whiff of ‘foreign parties’. Maybe the overriding concern for them at every northern election is to see which party is best positioned to recover the fourth green field. I don’t agree.

Everyone, unionist and nationalist, now accepts the principle of consent and that Northern Ireland’s constitutional position will only change when a majority want it to do so. With that being the case we should now allow our system here to become more like that which operates in Scotland and Wales. Our Celtic neighbours can pursue their own national interests while still retaining the power to have a direct influence over events at Westminster by being able to vote for the big three UK parties. Fionnuala O’Connor does not desire the emergence such a scenario. What she wants is more of the same.

According to Fionnuala’s view, Northern Ireland is a place that requires its own array of small provincial tribal outfits that are locked together in a state of perpetual squabbling, leaving the citizens of here unable to have any major influence on UK political life. In short, our toothless little parties must be content to fight it out in their toy parliament on the outskirts of Belfast. As a result of this line of thought, the three main parties in the United Kingdom - and indeed the main parties in the Republic - must remain outside of our arena. Their only role should be as mediators. As she states in her piece, they must remain aloof from the province in order for them to “claim neutrality as referee” whenever they are called upon to intervene in one of our pitiful disputes and treat us to some enlightened London advice.

Fionnuala O’Connor referred to the “new Stormont” and the “new North” in yesterday’s Irish Times article. I’m not entirely sure of what that is but it appears to worryingly resemble what people here have been used to for over a century. Her Irish Times article was not a call for anything “new”. On the contrary, it was a defence the status quo and displayed a fear of any change to our current setup. If peacetime politics in the province is merely the continuation of The Troubles sans bombes then we face an extremely depressing future in Northern Ireland: not fully Irish, not really British, just a wee bit odd.

And round two goes to... Biden

Last week’s Presidential debate in the United States turned out to be such an anti-climax that I decided not to bother my arse writing about it, though I am still slightly worried by the fact that both candidates failed to refer to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard by their correct title. The winner? I would have scored that tetchy opening round a draw.

Now to round two. Many people were looking forward to this morning’s Vice Presidential debate in a way that that a VP debate had never been savoured before. Would it be a glut of gaffes given the track record of the two debaters? Would Palin produce the performance of her life and obliterate an aging, stuttering Biden? Or would Biden’s superior intellect blow apart the inexperienced hockey mom from Wasilla? Actually, none of these scenarios occurred. Palin didn’t look as stupid as she did in recent days during her now infamous CBS interviews with Katie Couric. If anything she remained disturbingly pleasant throughout, continuously smiling and using bizarre phrases like ‘darn’ in an attempt to prove to the nation that she really was just one of them. Biden ditched the yokel speak to deliver straight talking policy.

These were two very different approaches by two very different candidates. Everybody will have their own winner in this contest. If you support Palin you’ll no doubt think your girl was the victor. If you’re a Democrat you’ll probably see this as a triumph for Senator Joe. As a neutral living outside the States I think that Biden just about sneaked it. In relation to policy both at home and (especially) abroad he looked more slick and appeared to have more of a grasp about the issues being discussed. The one thing you can say about Sarah Palin is that she didn’t crash and burn. For someone campaigning to be America’s second in command that really isn’t good enough in my book.

So two big debates down, two to go. Lets hope the next couple between McCain and Obama are a bit feistier than they have been so far. For me they’ve been far too polite and well mannered. Maybe that’s where Yanks and people on this side of water differ. I like my politics to be adversarial and partisan. On the other hand, in the US it seems that partisan is a dirty word. Come on guys. Give us a bit of confrontation next time. If not I may switch off the TV and go to bed before round four even begins.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Its grim up north

Sarah Palin thinks being gay is a choice. J. David Popescu isn’t really interested in such trivial details. An independent candidate for Sudbury in the forthcoming Canadian federal election, Popescu is in a spot of bother with the authorities after he said that homosexuals should be executed. He isn’t taking it back either. Far from claiming that he was misinterpreted, he stated that during a visit to Sudbury Secondary School he was asked “what I think of homosexual marriages and I said I think homosexuals should be executed… My whole reason for running is the Bible and the Bible couldn't be more clear on that point.” This doesn’t appear to be the first time Popescu has taken a swipe at gay people. According to the fountain of all knowledge that is Wikipedia, in 2003 he stated that: “God burnt five homosexual cities alive, including women and children, as an example of what we are supposed to do to them. Instead, our evil government gives them rights.” Nice.

There was a time when I would have been of the opinion that someone like J. David Popescu should be locked up for their utterances. However, as is the case with Iris Robinson, the best propaganda against racist and homophobic idiots is simply to allow them to speak. Thankfully for Sudbury, this particular fool does not stand a realistic chance of being elected. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the people of Strangford.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Decisions, decisions

"Palin is smart enough about what she knows, but she knows very little, and when she tries to conceal her ignorance, the results have been teeth-grindingly awful."

Alex Spillius
Daily Telegraph

Is it just or me or is it really the case that every day I check out the YouTube website there seems to be yet another video in the most viewed section showing Sarah Palin making an absolute tit of herself? In this clip from CBS the VP candidate gets off to something resembling a good start. Palin stated that she would not judge Americans on the “decisions that they make in their adult personal relationships.” Credit where credit is due I suppose, but as someone on the more libertarian wing of the Republican Party you would think that letting individual citizens arrive at their own conclusions about who they sleep with would be fairly basic stuff. But hold on a moment, did she say the “decisions” that gay people made? Indeed she did.

She then went on to talk about a gay friend of hers who she claims “happens to have made a choice that isn’t a choice that I have made.” Choices? Decisions? OK, its nice to know that if herself and McCain are elected next month that they won’t be interfering in the lives of gay people but it is slightly worrying that the potential next Vice President of the world’s greatest nation is under misconception that people ‘choose’ to be gay. I don’t really get this. Does she genuinely think that people can opt into whichever sexual category they like? Hmm. Interesting. If this really is the case I think I might be gay this weekend, bisexual on Monday and then fully heterosuxal again by Wednesday evening so I can go and watch the football.

The one saving grace for Sarah P is that Senator Biden, the guy who she’ll be debating with in a couple of nights time, is probably just as dim. God bless help America. I really don’t have a clue who I would vote for at the moment:

Exclusive: Northern Irish politician says something sensible

Coming soon: Mark Durkan tells Sinn Fein leader to “kiss my ass, motherfucker”