Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Quietly. With friends.

“The only way to spend New Year’s Eve is either quietly with friends or in a brothel. Otherwise when the evening ends and people pair off, someone is bound to be left in tears.”

W.H. Auden

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"You can't love the world - it's too big"

Though its unlikely to get the same coverage as festive greetings delivered by Elizabeth Windsor and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the BNP Führer Nick Griffin’s Christmas message to members and supporters really is worth a look if you want a chuckle.

First of all, in purely aesthetic terms, it is exceptionally awful. Clearly Richard Barnbrook has not brought to the party any of the cinematic talents he developed during his time filming HMS Discovery: A Love Story. Nick sits on his own in front of a fireplace in an empty room with a really bad echo and delivers a short lecture on the true meaning of Christmas, the camera angle switching every now and again between front and side profiles of the great leader.

Secondly, the message is a bit odd too. Watching this one gets the idea that perhaps this speech wasn’t scripted - and I don’t mean that in a good way. While some politicians may be able to deliver an unscripted speech in an extremely competent and eloquent manner, the BNP leader gives a meandering sermon on everything from toys to extended families. Apparently, says Nick, Christmas isn’t about buying plastic junk toys from the Chinese. Oh, no. Kids get far more fun out of simple things (he cites playing outside with sticks as a particularly fond memory of his own). Thank fuck Griffin wasn’t my father. My memory of childhood might be a bit off in places, but I’m still much happier that I got that Optimus Prime figure in 1986 than a bag of logs.

Finally, I really enjoyed his rebuttal of the concept of internationalism. He describes liberal and leftist claims to “love the world” as “nonsense” because “its too big.” Too big, eh? Deep stuff, Mr Griffin. Just how did this bloke get into Cambridge?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

No petty person

“When next you listen to the rhetoric of our latter-day Irish Republicans, just picture for yourself the wreckage of that pub in the Shankill Road and reflect that that was done in the name of the heritage of Wolfe Tone and ‘the common name of Irishman’.”

Conor Cruise O’Brien
New York Review of Books
December 2nd 1971

I don’t know what it is but I seem to have a strange affect on aging intellectuals. A couple of years ago when I bought Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down the poor man tragically passed away within a few days. Last week I picked a copy of Conor Cruise O’Brien’s Ancestral Voices: Religion and Nationalism in Ireland at a second hand bookshop in Belfast. 24 hours later and the Cruiser was gone too. I am kind of pleased now that I decided not to buy Eric Hobsbawm’s Bandits when I saw it for sale in the Queen’s Bookshop on Saturday morning.

That Conor Cruise O’Brien was a fascinating and divisive character is perhaps the only thing about him upon which consensus could be reached. Being the whippersnapper that I am, my first encounter with the Crusier did not come until the 1990s when he was a columnist for the Irish Independent and Sunday Independent and I must admit that my first impressions of the man were not all that great.

During this period CCOB had affiliated himself with Robert McCartney’s short lived United Kingdom Unionist Party and was a representative at the negotiations which eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement (though the UKUP would withdraw at the point Sinn Fein entered the discussions). Conall McDevitt paints a wonderful picture of McCartney and O’Brien at the All Party Talks at Stormont, stating that “most days Bob McCartney and he looked more like Statler and Waldorf, the grumpy old men from the muppets, than serious players.” At the time O’Brien was claiming that, far from being an attempt to take the gun out of Irish politics, the Provisional IRA ceasefire and the republican movement’s peace strategy were in truth a ruse which would be the precursor to civil war in the north. Even at the time it sounded like a ludicrous prediction. In another unsavoury moment during this brief foray into the world of anti-peace process northern unionism he described the people shot dead by the British Army in Derry on Bloody Sunday as “Sinn Fein activists operating for the IRA.” Like Eoghan Harris and the Stickies, the Cruiser had let his pathological hatred of the Provisionals cloud his vision and get in the way of any level-headed political analysis.

Yet there were many other facets to that of the rambling old fool of the late 1990s. There was the politician: TD, Senator, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. There was the diplomat: the special representative to the UN Secretary General in the sixties. There was the journalist: columnist for the Indo and Editor-in-Chief of The Observer. There was the academic: Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Professor at New York University and Pro-Vice Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin. It was his books though which would grab my attention.

The first publication of his that I ever read was a tatty old edition of the Concise History of Ireland which I happened to come across while doing my A-Levels. It was a fine piece of work but did not leave any long lasting impression, unlike the copy of States of Ireland which I would discover a couple of years later as a first year student in my university library. It was O’Brien’s most memorable text on Ireland. States of Ireland was a rejection of nationalism and futile armed campaigns, while also recognising the existence of the one million unionists living in the north - itself something of a revolutionary act in the Republic during that period (if my memory also serves me correct I believe that there was a transcript at the back of the book of a superb debate between CCOB and Tomas MacGiolla, then President of Official Sinn Fein). Other works of his which you really must read before you kick the bucket include his account of his UN experiences in To Katanga and Back, his memoirs and his biographies of Burke and Jefferson. I probably should include Ancestral Voices as well but as I am still only about three quarters of the way through it I shall for now hold back. There remain a few Cruiser titles which are still on my must-read list, not least The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism (which I permit anyone reading this to buy for me as a Christmas present if they so wish).

While there is much that I admired about Conor Cruise O’Brien there was also much about him that repelled me. However, whether you agreed with him or not was not really all that important. Like Fukuyama or Zizek or Dawkins, the point is that he provoked you to think and got you talking, maybe even questioning your own position. Whereabouts in our current political class, north or south, are his equivalents? Gerry Kelly? Mary Coughlan? Gregory Campbell? There are few, if any. In an Ireland where opportunism is valued more than intellectualism he will be sadly missed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bum note

“If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death.”

Leviticus 20:13

After our difference of opinion over the issue of pacifism and killing Robert Mugabe, Peter Tatchell and I are once more in agreement. Why?

Joseph Ratzinger, the former Hitler Youth member and so-called 'Pope' of the Roman Catholic Church, has in a Christmas message to Vatican staff likened saving the rainforests to - wait for it - 'saving' mankind from homosexuality. According to the Austrian godbotherer, humanity must recognise the intended roles of men and women, listen to the “language of creation” and prevent the “destruction of God’s work.” It truly is nice to see how widespread the spirit of goodwill to all men is in Rome this season.

There isn’t really much more one can say about this as Mr Ratzinger does do a good enough job of condemning himself by simply expressing his vile opinions, though I am left pondering this: if the Catholic Church want to turn gays straight and get them breeding like the rest of us 'normal' people why exactly do they get an unmarried octogenarian virgin to deliver the message?

Be afraid

According to the results of an Ipsos Mori study reported on the ITN website this morning:
“Three in ten science teachers believe creationism should be taught in science lessons, according to a new survey. And more than a third of primary and secondary teachers in general believe that the subject should be taught alongside evolution and the Big Bang theory.”
So, what do you make of it all? To be honest, I cannot say that I am all that surprised by the findings. Like obesity and poor quality TV, we Europeans like to think that religious wingnuttery is a Stateside phenomenon that we can safely observe from our sofas while watching the latest exploits of Michael Moore or Louis Theroux. It isn’t that simple though. Our own secular values are enduring just as thorough an onslaught as they are anywhere else. Indeed, here in Northern Ireland we presently have some people in our government who consider the Earth to be approximately 5,000 years old (you know who I am speaking of). But then should we be shocked by any of this? After all, in a couple of days time the vast majority of you will be settling down to celebrate a child born two millennia ago at a barn in Palestine who you consider to be the saviour of humanity. If you believe that should you really have any gripes about your kids being taught gobbledygook about the Book of Genesis in science class?

The worse of two evils

Max Dunbar of Shiraz Socialist fame has written an excellent piece on Jonathan Neale’s article about Afghanistan which features in the current edition of International Socialism. Click here to have a read of it. The main thrust of Neale’s article can be summarised as follows: the Taleban might be bad but they really only exist because of the Americans funding the Mujahideen during the war against the Russians in the 1980s so the next time you hear about women being shot for learning to spell or homosexuals being hanged for having the nerve to exist don’t worry because it’s all ultimately the fault of Yankee imperialism - victory to the Taleban!

Amidst this bullshit we get a fascinating glimpse into the history of Neale’s facial hair and the significance of beards in Afghan society:
“When I lived in rural Afghanistan in the 1970s I had a short, trimmed beard. Every other man with a beard was either a white haired elder or a mullah, and all of them trimmed their beards neat and short. I was regularly ridiculed in public for my beard, which was immodest and un-Islamic, and it would have been quite unacceptable to grow it long.”
How informative. One wonders if this surreal little nugget of information has aroused any thorough discussion during recent SWP branch meetings.

Beards aside, there is a serious point here. Read both articles for yourself and draw your own conclusions. I personally found Neale’s depiction of feminists, secular liberals, former communists and returning Afghan-Americans as collaborators utterly chilling, though not really all that surprising. As Denham observes, it is the preference of these groups for “a fledgling democracy over fascist theocracy” that has led to them being categorised as the enemy in the eyes of the (National) Socialist Workers Party. But how can they get it so wrong? Just how does a Marxist organisation become a cheerleader for a band of theocratic thugs?

Christopher Hitchens once said that there were those on the left who felt uncomfortable about ever being on the same side as the United States, that they would rather be in the wrong camp than be in the one that had the Pentagon and the CIA. Sometimes though you find yourself in with the most unlikely bedfellows and Afghanistan is one of those cases where you must opt for the lesser of two evils, a moment where you have to choose between Churchill and Hitler. Jonathan Neale and his comrades have plumped for Hitler. Well done lads.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The immorality of pacifism, the necessity of intervention

Yesterday I came across an interesting little piece penned by Peter Tatchell for the Comment is Free section of the Guardian website (an article which I had arrived at via the ever reliable normblog). Tatchell had a very simple question to ask his readers: would it be morally acceptable to, in the words of 50 Cent, pop a cap in Bobby Mugabe’s ass? Is this really the question that we should be asking at the present time?

While Tatchell rambles a bit, the article does get off to a decent enough start. It would be difficult to disagree with the assertion that the vast majority of Zimbabweans feel totally demoralised by a combination of various factors, ranging from the failure of South Africa and the African Union in the current crisis to the collapse of the power sharing deal between Mugabe’s people and the MDC. It is also good to see PT highlight a fact that tends to be overlooked nowadays, namely that the Zanu-PF regime is pursuing a brutal Stalinesque policy of genocide-by-starvation. However, when it comes to the question of assassinating Robert Mugabe he leaves us asking more questions than providing us with actual answers.

Tatchell claims that he is a pacifist, that his political heritage is that of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. He states that he is an advocate of non-violent direct action, civil disobedience and finds it hard to justify violence. This is all very well and good if you are protesting against GM crops in Shropshire or the closure of your local library in Birmingham, however it does not tend to be so useful when you are a pro-democracy activist living in a state run by an authoritarian despot who will have you arrested, tortured and killed if you get on the wrong side of him. Just try chucking your shoes at the President the next time you are in Harare. Even so, Tatchell appears to suggest that it would be better if the anti-government protesters treated Zimbabwe as though it were a standard western democracy.

I have always found pacifism a repulsive philosophy. No one should ever expect to receive any kudos whatsoever for displaying a willingness to reject on principle the right to resist tyranny by force of arms. When the subject of non-violence is brought up it is virtually inevitable that the question of World War Two will raise its head. The war against fascism is a conflict that is close enough in years for all we Europeans fortunate to be born in peacetime to be able to appreciate the sheer horror of it all. It was also literally a war for civilisation, a life and death struggle against forces determined to obliterate the basic concepts of human freedom and liberty. Yet staggeringly even faced with this scenario Tatchell is still not willing to compromise his principles of non-violence:
“Assassinating Adolf Hitler in 1933 probably would have been morally justified to prevent a greater evil – the Holocaust and second world war. But even then, I would see the act of killing Hitler as wrong – albeit the lesser of two evils.”
I wonder does he truly believe this drivel about it being “wrong” to kill Hitler? Maybe he’s simply trying to curry favour with the hippy wing of his new Green Party chums. As Norman Geras has highlighted, he does not always seem to have been a vigorous opponent of the use of force to oust dictators. Even though the would-you-shoot-Adolf debate is a totally pointless question to ponder over (his assassination would not have prevented the terrors of the inevitable cataclysmic military clash with fascism in the 1939-1945 period), Tatchell’s position on it nonetheless should serve to illustrate just how completely absurd and immoral the pacifist argument actually is.

How to deal with dictators after they have been dethroned has always been a source of dispute so it was appropriate that Tatchell rounded off his piece by stating his desire to see Robert Mugabe eventually put on trial. On this I would agree, although such trials rarely go to plan. While last week’s news about the conviction in a United Nations court of Theoneste Bagosora for his involvement in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 is to be welcomed, the track record in these sort of things is not all that good. Slobodan Milosevic infamously used his trial as a platform to give meandering denunciations of the West. One of the worst examples of victors justice is probably the most recent - the trial and hanging of Saddam Hussein. It spoke volumes for the nature of his shambolic execution that many people I knew could express a bizarre form of sympathy for a man that had slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent people. One wonders if Winston Churchill’s wartime proposal about how to deal with a captured Adolf Hitler had some merit to it. The Ceaucesceau/Mussolini approach isn’t one I am opposed to and I would be fairly certain that if Mugabe is ever captured trying to flee his homeland on the day he is finally toppled there will be more than a few budding Walter Audisios waiting to empty a few rounds into him.

However, the whole question of assassinating Mugabe is a distraction from the real issue. Rather than abstract philosophical debates about the morality of killing dictators, we should be looking at how both Mugabe and his wicked regime can be removed from power. It is obvious that he cannot be overthrown from within. Intervention from Zimbabwe’s African neighbours could be catastrophic and result in a protracted war in the region. It would be far better for the West, in alliance with African democracies, to grasp the nettle now and remove Mugabe. Unfortunately so far the only clear cut vocal support in the UK for intervention has come from fairly irrelevant individuals, namely Nick Clegg and the Archbishop of York.

The belief in humanitarian intervention has taken a beating over the course of the past decade, though the arguments against it remain weak when faced with the other choices available. In one of the oddest moments in the few years I have been blogging I was once labelled a “democracy evangelist” by a contributor in the comments section of this site. If the alternative to democracy evangelism is to fake a concern for international law and respect for ‘national sovereignty’ in order to justify peaceful coexistence with totalitarianism then I am only to happy to wear such labels as badges of honour. Should we not be content that the intervention in the Balkans in 1999 averted yet another genocide in that region and that less than a decade on we have Milosevic gone, an independent Kosova, Radovan Karadžić behind bars and a democratic Serbia which is now a potential candidate for membership of the European Union? Does any rational individual now believe that it would have been moral to stay out of Sierra Leone in 2000 and let that country’s democratic government fall to the child abusing thugs of the Revolutionary United Front? Is there any alternative to the ongoing struggle against theocratic fascism in Afghanistan? And with foreign troops due to leave in Iraq in two years would anyone dispute the fact that Iraq in 2013 will be a better place to live than the Iraq of 2003?

Already the signs are visible of opposition to intervention from the usual suspects. With no oil to scream ‘no blood for oil’ to, I assume the removal of Zanu-PF would be portrayed as an act of old fashioned colonialism by the not-in-my-namers. So be it. Far better for we in the West to endure the harmless vitriol of the Chomskyite-SWP-Morning Star-Peter Hitchens alliance than for Zimbabweans to endure the continuation of their misery. Intervention is the correct path to follow to finally bring an end to the Mugabe era. Sadly, I doubt that the West has the stomach at present for any such intervention.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The struggle goes on

It probably won’t be enough to knock tonight’s final of Strictly Come Dancing off its unwarranted perch on the main news, but I thought it worthy of a brief mention on this humble little blog that in the past 24 hours three Danish troops have been killed by a roadside bomb in the town of Gereshk in Afghanistan while in another incident a soldier from the Netherlands died when he stood on a landmine during an engagement with the Taleban in the province of Uruzgan. While the numbers of Danish and Dutch troops remains relatively small when compared to the casualties sustained by the Afghan, American, British and Canadian forces, their contribution to “our generation’s Spanish Civil War” deserves greater recognition in our part of the world than it currently receives. Indeed, there is a slightly racist element present within some parts of the UK press when it comes to reporting the role played by other members of International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (see here for cheap frivolous dig at the old enemy). Anyhow, I’ve said my piece.

Death to fascism.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Agitate! Educate! Organise!

The riots that recently swept Greece in the wake of the police murder of fifteen year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos triggered a fairly predictable reaction amongst certain left groups at this end of the continent. SWP branches have been holding enthusiastic meetings sporting confident titles like ‘Greek students and workers in revolt - can it happen here?’. A large part of the Workers Solidarity Movement website over the past week or so has been devoted to the latest updates on the story. Anarchists in Dublin also organised a picket of the Greek Embassy in solidarity with their Hellenic comrades. Away from the optimistic chatter of daydreaming revolutionaries most of what I have read about the situation has been the standard run-of-the-mill mainstream expressions of shock and revulsion at the violence.

Earlier this week Garibaldy contributed a good post on the recent events in Greece. In it he draws on the position adopted by the Communist Party of Greece to provide the correct response to the affair. The Communists have openly condemned the rioters and declared that the “reply to state autocracy is struggle within a mass movement in order to ensure the true causes were not covered up.” While I have my disagreements with the KKE I find their position difficult to disagree with. I would concur to with Aleka Papariga’s remarks that the rioters are “free to defame the organised struggle and movement and appear as a painless substitute for class struggle.” However, the part of the post which most grabbed my attention was Garibaldy’s reference to events four decades previous to these:
“Some people have learnt nothing from the empty experience that was 1968. Rioting students with under-developed politics and a fetish for bricks and bottles will not - and cannot - effect political, and certainly not social, revolution. However, they can strengthen reaction, as happened in France in 1968, and cost real progressive politics many of the potential best activists of a generation.”
Precisely. Only a few days before I stumbled upon this I was reading an article by Eric Hobsbawm which had been written in the aftermath of the events which took place in Paris in May 1968. He emphasised then that the protests in France failed largely because of the “character of the mass movement” and recognised that while the movement may have used “political phraseology” it had “no political aims itself.” In other words, it was doomed from the beginning.

It is not hard to see where the similarities lie between France 1968 and Greece 2008. Just as the people throwing stones on the streets of Paris were a hotchpotch of students, Maoists and various sects, the people smashing up the shops and bars of Athens are a similarly motley crew of anarchists and apolitical youngsters. The one common term that has popped up in interviews with rioters and student protestors has been the word anger. Anger is an emotion which is understandable and indeed justified, however it needs to manifest itself in something slightly more effective than nihilistic violence. Hopefully this will soon sink into the heads of those Greek youths that over the past fortnight have flirted with masturbatory anarchist fantasies or simply got their kicks from lobbing rocks at the police. As Garibaldy puts it, “the anger of people is justified, but if not properly directed, it will achieve little.” If the anger passes and it eventually transpires that nothing positive has arisen from the death of young Alexandros Grigoropoulos then Greece - and the Greek left - will have yet another tragedy to deal with.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Move along, there's nothing to see here

As rubbish as the BBC News channel is (and it is extremely rubbish) I have always found it a bit more restrained when it comes to reporting breaking news stories. Whereas their rivals over at Sky News appear to take any old mundane developments and then recycle them as ‘breaking news’ on what seems like a 24 hour basis, BBC News - for all its dreariness and never ending list of nonentity presenters - tends to stick to what it actually knows about a developing news story rather than speculate wildly. Well, that’s what they normally do.

A couple of Thursdays ago I was at home browsing through the news part of the BBC website and just before I was about to pack up my laptop for the evening I noticed a story about a shooting at an airport in India. When I checked out the story it stated that shots had been fired at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. The next reports stated that six people had been killed in the gunfire. Unless I am mistaken, I also believe David Dimbleby made mention of this ‘shooting’ on Question Time which was taking place in Newry. Then the story mysteriously disappeared. Not a trace. Nothing. I had actually forgotten all about the story until a couple of days back, assuming as I did that I had either a) gone mad and imagined it all or that b) six people being gunned down at an airport in India wasn’t big news in these days of superterrorism.

I now see that the story was indeed reported, so mad I am not. What happened was that the Beeb had got it all arse about face. Let me rephrase that. They didn’t get it arse about face; the whole thing never actually happened. At all. Not a shot. Not a round of ammo. Not even a dodgy Tata backfiring outside the arrivals area. A fairly obscure blog entry by Peter Horrocks from The Editors section of the BBC site on December 5th explains exactly what happened. Here’s a snippet:
“Around 1915 GMT yesterday there was a security alert at Delhi airport sparked by reports of gunshots, which the BBC News channel in the UK reported at 2010 GMT. A BBC News correspondent who was travelling through the airport was involved in the security alert and reported on air that airport staff had told him that six gunmen had been killed. Versions of this initial report were subsequently carried by the BBC World News TV channel and by BBC News online. Following urgent checks by BBC News teams and denials by the Indian authorities we subsequently and rapidly reported that six gunmen had not been killed. The security alert had apparently been sparked by a false alarm.”
And these real journos have the nerve to call bloggers amateurs? You may also want to click here to see what a report on a non-story looks like after the non-event has finally finished. All in all, a bit sloppy. It is, to borrow an old Points of View cliché, not what I would expect from the BBC. I’m sure the unnamed correspondent has subsequently received a fair bit of stick for his display of over exuberance about the terrorist attack that never was. It should serve as a warning to the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky News and anyone else who tries to beat their rivals to a story without first checking the facts.

I suppose the one saving grace in all of this for Auntie is that nobody really seems to have given a damn about their little gaffe out in India. A few Google searches suggest that the incident either went unnoticed or else people simply didn’t care. In a way I am glad. Good old BBC loyalists like myself are sick to death of the right wing tabloids and resentful I-pay-my-Licence-Fee types jumping on any cock up made by the folks at Wood Lane as a method by which to hammer the very concept of public service broadcasting. Perhaps in this festive season viewers were simply willing to give the Beeb the benefit of the doubt after a rough couple of months with the Brand-Ross prank calls fiasco and the Strictly Come Dancing vote line controversy (yes, the Great British public really do worry about the big things in life).

Even so, check your facts next time Mr Horrocks.

This is me. Apparently.

I don’t normally take part in those games/polls/thingamajigs sent to you in an email by a bored friend from their desk at work. My last experience wasn’t a good one. Back during the general election in the south of Ireland in 2002 I received one such piece of mail in my inbox from a Free Stater pal which contained a list of questions. Apparently all I had to do was answer the dozen or so questions and the magical programme would tell me which party I would vote for (if I was a southerner of course). I wasted what must have been a whole sixty seconds of my life going through those bloody questions only to be told that I was a supporter of the Green Party. “Bollocks,” said I. Then yesterday I succumbed to another such email providing a link to a pointless website. This time the trick was that if I answered the questions provided the site would tell me whereabouts on the political spectrum I lie. So, this is me:

Load of toss. Give me a subservient chicken any day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A week is a long time

The past seven days haven't been fantastic, have they? Cholera in Zimbabwe. Fifty civilians murdered by a suicide bomber in Kirkuk. Woolworths closed down. Damn it, on Monday I had to even chuck out my pork medallions. At least there was one bit of good news: Blur are back.

I'm not usually a fan of bands making comebacks but I'll make an exception for these lads. Unlike their old rivals Oasis (who have degenerated to the point where Oasis tribute acts have probably eclipsed them in quality terms) Blur have matured with age. As the Mancunian band crumbled in the late nineties and early part of this decade the Cockneys got on with making three excellent albums in Blur, 13 and Think Tank. In the five years since their last studio album they've also followed some extraordinarily diverse paths: Damon Albarn with his Gorillaz project, Graham Coxon with his solo stuff, Alex James with his cheese and obsession with outer space and Dave Rowntree with his venture into Labour Party politics. As I said, diverse. A new album hasn't been confirmed yet but I imagine Blur are far too savvy just to be getting together for a tacky greatest hits tour and a few big pay days. It would certainly be intriguing to see what sort of record would be produced after five years of space, stilton, social democracy and animation.

I couldn't possibly name a favourite Blur album or track, however below I've decided to include what is unquestionably their best video - the 1994 tribute to L'année dernière à Marienbad, To the End. Let's hope the coming week is better:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fecking bastarts

It appears that a mischievous Dub armed with a spray can has decided to give his/her new east European neighbours a great big céad mile fáilte, although it may have been wise for the cretin concerned to have consulted a dictionary before embarking on their dismal attempt at intimidation. I suppose if you read the xenophobic graffiti pictured below in a coarse northside accent then the peculiar spelling of the profanity in question kind of works. We can only hope that the lovely Lana from Fair City was not the target of this ghastly abuse.
Hat Tip: Back Seat Drivers

Friday, December 12, 2008

Me, me, me

I am honoured to announce that I have today officially become the 273rd blogger to undertake the normblog profile over on Norman Geras's website. Click here and have a browse.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fianna Fail still playing hard to get with northern fan club

First it's on. Then it's off. Now it's back on again. Maybe. Just what are the Soldiers of Destiny up to?

On Monday night Fianna Fail announced the formation of a new south Armagh 'forum' at the Cross Square Hotel in Crossmaglen. I must admit that the announcement took me a bit by surprise. After all the hubbub last year when the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced that his party would be organising in Northern Ireland for the first time, talk of some great crusade to finish off de Valera's incomplete revolution was promptly put on hold when Brian Cowen (pictured above with lovely girl) succeeded the Teflon one at the same time as the economy began to go tits up. The party's Northern Strategy Committee, the body set up by Ahern to oversee organisation in the new charted territory, disappeared. Party leaders began making all sorts of peculiar statements about patriotism and people spending cash south of the border. Suddenly, things were all very 26 counties once again. To find out that FF is once again showing an interest in participating in northern affairs is a curious development.

I remain sceptical of this get together in Crossmaglen. While Slugger O'Toole's Andrew Charles has described the body set up in county Armagh as a "branch" it appears that such a description is not entirely accurate. Deaglán de Bréadún's article in yesterday's Irish Times states that it as a 'forum' and while its members will be able to send delegates to party Ard Fheisanna the matter of contesting elections is not yet on the horizon. I do hope the FF's new recruits in the orchard county maintain a healthy degree of scepticism about this. The word 'forum' would give me cause for concern if I were in their position.

I recall a speech made by Pat Rabbitte at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast back in 2004 during the launch of the Northern Ireland Labour Forum. He made clear that this was a forum to "create the space" for debate and that elections were not on the agenda. Elections certainly weren't on the agenda, though he may have been more honest if had described the NILF as a place to create the space to stick ex members of Democratic Left living in Northern Ireland. Now, four years on and the Irish Labour Party have decided that the north isn't worth the effort. Could similar FF forums up in these parts be convenient distractions to silence the more traditionally nationalist-minded members (such as Rory O'Hanlon who was present at Monday's meeting) until an acceptable form of words can be found by which the troublesome nordies can be jettisoned? It is the impression I am getting at the moment.

I may yet be proved wrong. In fact, I would be happy to be proved wrong. The present four party sectarian power bloc does not meet the needs of Northern Ireland's citizens in the 21st century. As Mick Fealty has pointed out, "neither Unionism or Nationalism is inherently sectarian. But the way they have conducted their politics has been." The establishment of competing UK-wide and all-island parties in our province would give local politics the shake up it is so badly in need of, move beyond conducting politics on a sectarian basis and offer people here a choice of a better quality than that currently being provided by our hopeless provincial groupings.

David Cameron's high profile speech here in Belfast last Saturday is, I hope, a sign of things to come. The link up between the Tories and the Ulster Unionists has the potential to cause an earthquake within unionism and right of centre politics in Northern Ireland. Fianna Fail's entry into the fray would cause similar tremors within nationalism. Whether Brian Cowen and co have the stomach for such a fight remains to be seen. I certainly won't be holding my breath.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Dimbumblum goes to Newry

Sacrebleu! Do my eyes decieve me? Are the TV listings in my newspaper a tad wonky? BBC One. 10.35pm. Question Time... from Newry. Our very own Newry, not some other obscure Newry tucked away somewhere in Kent. Yes, Newry. Iúr Cinn Trá. That pretend city sandwiched between Banbridge and Dundalk. Home of Pat Jennings, Susan McCann, the Buttercrane Shopping Centre, the impossibly dreadful Five FM and around 30,000 Newry nyucks. Odd.

There isn't much about the panel for tonight's show that'll set the pulses racing. Conor Murphy and Mark Durkan will be representing the Taigs. Arlene Foster and Ken Maginnis (is he still alive?) are representing the Prods. Two other guests - Alan Johnson and Andrew Lansley - will be representing the BBC's desire to stop tens of thousands of viewers in GB from lifting their remote controls and turning over to that new randy version of Hollyoaks on Channel 4. I'm probably a bit too old for Hollyoaks so my telly will remain securely tuned to BBC One regardless of the bland panel.

I suppose it could have been a whole lot worse. They could have got Mark Carruthers to present it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

William Bloke comes to town

Tonight, finally, I get the chance to see Billy Bragg live when he drops in with us Belfast folk to play the Empire Music Hall on Botanic Avenue. The Empire is an atmospheric old venue that was once a church before it was turned into something useful. Sadly, these days the acts featuring on stage do not usually match the majesty of their surroundings. For some reason there seems to be an unhealthy amount of tribute bands appearing regularly. Anyway, here’s Billy back in the 1980s playing in what looks like my girlfriend’s sister’s back garden. Note appearance of nipple through tight white t-shirt:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ex-Provo turns Tory

What a truly odd time we live in. A Conservative Party councillor in Croydon has been forced to stand down from her post as a representative for children and young people in her area after it emerged she had past links with the Provisional IRA.

You may have heard of her. Back in the days when she wore hot pants and was still known as Maria McGuire, Gatland achieved minor fame as something of a Provo groupie. Like many romantic youths of the sixties and seventies Maria quickly grew bored with the struggle and by 1973 had ditched the revolution completely for the more safe option of writing a book about her little adventure, entitled To Take Arms: My Year with the Provisional IRA (and remarkably still available). According to the BBC website Mrs Gatland has been active in local politics since 2002, a fact that makes you wonder just how it took six whole years for this story to emerge. If I were in MI5's recruitment department I wouldn't be looking to Croydon as a place to find hot new talent.

First, Georgie Osborne. Then Damian Green. Now this. I think it is crucial that Conservative Central Office immediately make clear that the party has now severed all links with the IRA. We can't be having these ex-terrorist types in government, can we?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Give over

Sometimes I just don’t get England. Fine, mark 1966 by all means. And mark that 5-1 hammering you gave the Germans during the World Cup qualifiers at Munich in 2001. Remember too the exceptional 4-1 triumph over Croatia in Zagreb earlier this year. But a special t-shirt to celebrate a dreary win in a bland friendly match in November? Pointless if you ask me (though admittedly I am not English and in truth shouldn’t really be moaning here at all after our own over-the-top protracted celebrations following a rare victory over the old enemy). According to the sales spiel on the Philosophy Football website this curious little garment is “just the thing to keep any England fan happy over Christmas.” Well, if it keeps them happy then so be it but I still think Mark Perryman and chums would have been better spending their time coming up with some fancy threads to mark Theo Walcott’s hat-trick against the Croats.

Speaking of Engerlund fans - and just to prove that I’m not some bitter Irishman jealous of a country that tends to qualify for most major tournaments - I thought the visit of a group from the official supporters club to the Holocaust Memorial was a nice touch during their visit to Berlin last month. Predictably, it received little attention in the media.