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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

And I think to myself ...

Some news today just seems to jar and shock me into a little perspective, especially when seen side by side.

Firstly, it appears that Irish and Spurs soccer captain Robbie Keane has fulfilled his lifelong dream of playing for Liverpool FC. This dream comes with a four year contract on just over 100,000 euro PER WEEK.

My lifelong dream is to have a job doing anything that pays 100 large ones weekly for ninety minutes work. Seems like Robbie got my lifelong dream as well as his own.

"Feel the size of me walleh, Claudine?'

Meanwhile, back in the reality that is existence for the vast majority of people on the planet, soaring global food prices have now become so high that not only is there another famine in Ethiopia, but in Haiti people have resorted to eating MUD.

Yes, mud. Baked earth. Because they have no food.

Breakfast, Haitian style. Same menu for lunch and dinner.

And finally, the billionaires behind online mong-magnet Bebo have decided to beam some of the social networking inanity into space so that, on the off-chance there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, they too can ROFL @ de kewl LOLs uv da Bebo thang.

OMG!!!! Alienz r kewlllll!!!!111!!!

My jury remains out on who has my pity the most this morning, the poor Haitians, the aliens or the long-suffering fans of Liverpool.

Like I said, perspective is proving elusive.

What a wonderful world.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Change we can believe in

I'm a contrary so-and-so at the best of times. So forgive me for not joining in the Obamania currently sweeping Germany and other parts of the world (like Ireland) that don't have a say in the US Presidential election.

Much has been made of Obama's electric speechifying since his campaign commenced. And certainly, his oratory has proved inspirational enough to get him into pole position in a two horse race for the biggest job on the planet.

In fact, desperate Republicans have been trying to smear Obama for exactly that: they claim that he's all mouth and no trousers, making pretty speeches with little or no experience of governance to back up his change agenda.

So what substance might there be to Obama if it were demonstrated that his inspirational public speaking was in fact as shallow as everything else?

Very little, it seems to me. Which is profoundly depressing, given that we're now in a situation where either he or that old wardog McCain are going to be occupying the Whitehouse.

But thankfully Obama is a great orator, right? Um, wrong. Lookee here and see what happens when his teleprompter fails:

Oh, and he's often just plain wrong even when the prompter is working. Try this doozie for size, from yesterday's Berlin speech:

"The greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another. These now are the walls we must tear down.
Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they've come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic have found a way to live together."

At the last count there were still around 40 such walls in Belfast, including one that bisects a children's park.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Beware the brown acid!

Somebody in London's been taking and dealing some seriously bad drugs.

I don't know about you, but I for one would not be buying illegal intoxicants off anyone who subsequently went about England raping sheep after getting high on their own supply.

Though maybe there's a market in New Zealand.

Judging by what they're calling their kids these days (see below), they're all on bad drugs already.

Kiwis in serial naming atrocity

For some time I've assumed that the world centre of thick-as-pigshit parents was the United States.

Where else would people saddle their unfortunate offspring with such ludicrous names as these?

But no, it appears that the courts in New Zealand of all places have been working overtime trying to persuade or in some cases enforce parents into giving their children proper names instead of ludicrous embarrassing monikers.

They've been forced to intervene to prevent dumb-as-fuck parents from calling their kids Yeah Detroit, Stallion, Twisty Poi, Keenan Got Lucy, Sex Fruit, Fat Boy, Cinderella Beauty Blossom and Fish and Chips (who were twins).

Somewhat surprisingly, they've gone and let some other people who ought not be allowed to breed to name their kids, despite the names being this stupid: Violence, Number 16 Bus Shelter, Midnight Chardonnay, Benson and Hedges (who are very unfortunate twins).

Personally speaking, I don't see how calling a baby 'Number 16 Bus Shelter' is in any way preferable to calling the child 'Cinderella Beauty Blossom.' Both kids ought to be immediately taken into care, in my opinion.

Like they did with poor 'Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii'. Yup, her bastard parents really did call the child that. Fair play for the judge for making the poor darling a ward of court so that the child could get her name changed.

If ever there was an argument for forced sterilisation in a first world country, this is it. New Zealand, hang your strangely named heads in collective shame, for truly your country has the worst-named babies on Earth.

Unless someone knows better?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lesbians versus Lesbians

Well, it looks like the Lesbians have lost the right to exclusively use the term Lesbian.

Lesbians from Lesbos took a case to court in Athens demanding that a Greek gay representative organisation stop referring to the female homosexuals they represent as Lesbian.

Apparently, the inhabitants of the island of Lesbos are in general a bit miffed at how the name of their island, which is as stolidly hetero as the rest of the Greek isles, has been nicked by gay women.

This led to the immortal line uttered by one (male) witness during the case:

"My daughter is a Lesbian, my wife is a Lesbian and I'm a Lesbian too."

It's a little difficult to overturn the common usage of a century, and I'm inclined to look at this court case as a Canute-type attempt to hold back a tide.

At the same time, I do have sympathy for the inhabitants of the isle of Lesbos. The only reason that their name has been co-opted by gay women is because 2,500 years ago, one bisexual lassie who lived there once wrote some smutty verses about lady-loving.

And her name, rather than the name of the entire island, could perhaps more appropriately be used as a descriptor for gay women. And anyway, isn't the term 'Sapphic' so much more, um, poetic than 'Lesbian'?

Of course, 'Sapphic' has been around a long time, and never really caught on. So perhaps a whole new term could be introduced to replace Lesbian and give the poor people of Lesbos their name back.

It would also be a very magnanimous gesture from the Sisterhood to offer to give back the word. Not to mention a rare opportunity to redefine themselves.

A few options come to mind:

Galwegians might work. After all, Ireland's notoriously bohemian West Coast town is so laid back they certainly wouldn't mind sharing their name with the lady-lovers.

Or perhaps Irises. In honour of that gay friendly pillar of tolerance up in Belfast, Mrs Robinson.

Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thanks for the Emo, Chum

A little light relief from the ongoing abortion compromise debate.

Fianna Fail's token West Brit Martin Mansergh issued a press release a few days ago on the death of some old lad who had once upon a time handed over his stately home to the Irish nation.

Fair play to him. It's the rare person would give their home to the state. You'd always be fearful that Bertie Ahern might set Celia up in it or Brian Cowen would move into it, or the Greens would turn it into affordable housing for asylum seekers or something..

I'm showing my immaturity here but I'm not the only one to find the concept of a gaff called Emo Court amusing, I reckon.

But the best bit is the name of the former owner. You couldn't make it up:
It is with deep regret that Dr Martin Mansergh, T.D. Minster of State at the Department of Finance with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works and the Arts, heard of the death of Mr Cholmeley* D. Cholmeley-Harrison of Emo Court, Emo, Co Laois. In an act of great generosity, he donated Emo Court and Park to the people of Ireland in 1994.
Imagine Mr Cholmeley meets Ms Harrison. They fall in love, and have a son together, born of their love.

"What shall we call our darling boy?" asks Mrs Cholmeley-Harrrison.

"Why, Cholmeley, of course!" replies Mr Cholmeley-Harrison.

Major Cholmeley Dering Cholmeley-Harrison.

Is there a crazier name in Ireland, I want to know? Of course, it's still nowhere near as mental as these loopers.

*Cholmeley is of course pronounced 'Chumly'.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Abortion - the compromise

Like race in the United States, abortion is the continuing radioactive issue in Irish politics.

It's been the subject of umpteen front pages, repeated referenda. It divides opinion in a visceral way in Ireland.

The other week it emerged that the numbers of Irish women travelling to Britain to obtain abortions annually is down slightly on its 6,000+ high. But that shortfall was made up by more travelling to other places, like Holland.

So we are consistently exporting just less than 7,000 Irish women each year to obtain an abortion in another state. That is not the sign of a mature society to export its problems to other jurisdictions.

I have a proposal that I believe steers between the polarised opinions of the pro-choice and pro-life campaigns. This is more than an Irish solution to an Irish problem. I believe it could be a useful template for other countries to emulate.

The pro-lifers, who often are informed by religious beliefs, hold the position that every unborn child has a right to life because they are all wanted, both by God and by society and by some would-be adoptive parents out there.

And sure enough, they are right about the would-be adoptive parents. There's nearly a three-year waiting list just to be vetted to adopt a child in some parts of Ireland. Clearly there are a lot of people who want to adopt children in this country, and not sufficient children for them to adopt.

The pro-choicers, on the other hand, hold the position that a woman should have the final say over her own fertility, and should not be forced through a pregnancy against their will to become a mother when they don't want to do that.

That's a position with a lot of credibility too. People shouldn't be forced to do things, especially things with health ramifications, that they don't want to.

Those positions are utterly irreconcilable, however. So let me try to reconcile them. Here's my proposal:

1. It is not acceptable to export this problem to other countries. So let's introduce abortion on demand in Ireland, limited to 16 weeks or less, and conducted to best medical practice standards worldwide.

2. But let the pregnant woman identify, where possible, the man who got her pregnant, so that the authorities can contact him to inform him, if he does not already know, that she is pregnant.

3. Then, if that man chooses that he is prepared to single-handedly raise the prospective child, is able to demonstrate to a court that he is of sound mind, good health, and solvent, and if he signs a court order assuming sole responsibility for raising the child without any claim upon the mother, under pain of imprisonment if he reneges at any time before the child's 16th birthday, he should be given the chance to raise the child.

4. This will obviously affect only one or two in every thousand unwanted pregnancies. Most men will not be prepared to fulfil the sort of legal criteria I have presented above. But the odd one will, and in those circumstances, the mother will have to carry the child to term against her will.

5. Obviously, pregnancies would not proceed in the case of a medical risk to the mother's life. And any mother who did bring a child into the world in such circumstances would be entitled to receive information about the child every six months if she so wishes and would be able to apply to the family law courts at any time for access, guardianship and involvement in her child's life, at which point any such order granted would dissolve and supercede the order granted to the father prior to the birth.

The logic behind this is as follows: Women should not be forced to carry children against their will for strangers. But there is a strong argument that if at least one of a child's two parents are prepared to raise a child, then that child should be allowed into the world. And that one parent NEED NOT be female.

Currently we have a situation wherein all power over pregnancy and children lies with the woman. If a man gets a woman pregnant in Ireland, then it is up to her whether that pregnancy proceeds or not. He may never even be informed of the pregnancy, if she chooses to obtain an abortion.

If she chooses to have the child, he has no say in the matter. He will become a father against his will. He will automatically become responsible for maintenance payments, but will have to apply (assuming the couple aren't married to each other) for any and every involvement in the child's life.

I believe the answer to Ireland's abortion problem lies in resolving this inequality between parents. People are having plenty of irresponsible sex in this country, as recent revelations that one in five women at one Dublin clinic were suffering from Chlamydia indicates.

So there are going to continue to be unwanted pregnancies in this country. It's time we grew up as a nation and took steps to address that problem.

It takes two to tango so let's make two people responsible for the pregnancies that ensue. If women realised that a pregnancy could be forced to term by the man they'd slept with, then they might be more inclined to use contraception.

And if men realised that they were being held responsible in the whole area of pregnancy and parenting, then they would be forced to give a lot more consideration to their own actions too.

And any children born would have at least one parent who actively wants them, which is the most important thing of all.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Words that English is missing

Did you ever invent your own word?

I did.

English is a very adaptable language. It has in previous times incorporated large chunks of classical Greek, Latin, French, Germanic Saxon, Celtic and other languages into its lexicon.

This adaptibility may well be why, alongside British and American imperialism, that English is well on its way to becoming the first genuinely global language.

But there are still concepts in existence that English is lacking words for.

One great example is the joy of witnessing someone else's pain. Only the Germans could have identified the need for such a word, and they did. They call it 'schadenfreude'. And English has gleefully borrowed it.

But there are still many concepts missing a word to define them. So when we were young, we used to create our own.

These weren't dialect terms, or even, God forbid, Ulster-Scots. These were words that me and my mates made up when we were young to explain concepts that just don't have an official word in English.

One was SKRINGELY. Anything that makes you feel so uncomfortable that you have to move around slightly is skringely. Like when your parents sit you down to tell you the facts of life, or when a really ugly chick asks you out. Looking at gross pictures of stuff in science class could be skringely for the more squeamish. Listening to the blow-by-blow account of your gay mate's love life is also generally pretty skringely too.

A cognate term to skringely is SCRINKLE. You scrinkle about in bed on hot, sweaty, muggy nights. You scrinkle when an insect lands on your back and you jerk about trying to get rid of it. Scrinkling is any jerky movement aimed at providing comfort.

One great word we used that I reckon the English language needs to adopt is the verb TO BABOON. This describes an action regularly seen among the knackers, chavs, spides and scumbags of the world.

If you've ever seen baboons in the wild or in zoos, having a drink or some food, they're constantly spinning their heads back and forth over their shoulders suspiciously, for fear that they might get attacked from behind by another baboon.

It's exactly the same with scumbags. If you ever watch a bunch of street corner kids, hanging around of an evening, they constantly baboon. Heads jerk back and forth, scanning the territory for anyone they don't want to encounter, like parents, police or parole officers.

But possibly the best word we ever coined was actually a resurrection of an older English hunting term. Our modern word 'scum' comes directly from an antiquated word for fox excrement, which was called scomb.

From this came the hunting term scomber or scumber, which mean to NOT step in fox excrement. The reason you don't want to do this when hunting is because the dogs follow the smell of the fox poo, and they start thinking that you're the fox.

But it dawned on us that a word for narrowly avoiding ending up in the shit is something with many more uses outside of the narrow world of fox hunting. So we adopted the verb TO SCUMBER as having that wider meaning.

You could be shagging some young one in her parents' house when the front door goes. If you quickly manage to get your kit on and get out the window before angry daddy storms the bedroom, then you've successfully scumbered out of a potentially dangerous situation.

You've scumbered again when you screw up at work but someone else cops the blame, or you manage to get things sorted before the boss finds out. There are a myriad of potential uses of the verb to scumber, limited only by the amount of shit that human beings nearly find themselves in, but end up avoiding by a hair's breadth.

Those were some of our words, and I still find myself using them, much to the bemusement of those who listen to me.

And I haven't stopped making up words for things that lack their own terms in English. Most recently, I coined Asbopop.

Did any of you interweb people ever invent some words of your own which fill a hole in the English language?

Let's hear them!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blogs V Jobs

What happens when the irresistable blog meets the immovable earner?

The thought crossed my mind recently as I noted the passing of two of Ireland's more popular blogs - Sigla and Present Tense.

Both are now firmly in the past tense, as their authors move on to pastures new and, crucially, paying.

I can appreciate the difficulties for a journalist who has a blog. You write for a living, which is hard enough. Getting paid for writing is even harder. So where's the motivation in doing it for free? A blog is in a way only encouragement for people to expect your work for nothing - including that nefarious species, editors.

I don't think it's a coincidence that both Sinead and Shane were functioning hacks before they blogged. I get the sense that blogging was something they tried and found ultimately incompatible with the day job.

Other hacks, like Richard Delevan and Sarah Carey, seem able to keep both plates spinning in the air. But then again, Sarah came to journalism via her blog being noticed by the Sunday Times, while Richard has long mastered the high wire act of keeping both in balance.

Maybe he manages it because his articles tend to be lengthy, considered pieces of work, whereas his blog is often home to much shorter items that have come to his notice.

There are other blogs by Irish journos. But by and large they're either by youngsters starting out on their career or they're done under pseudonyms.

Perhaps the former are just looking for an outlet, somewhere to practice their chosen trade, maybe even get noticed. Perhaps the latter are looking to put things into the public domain which their paymaster won't publish. I'm speculating here, of course.

The clash of cultures between 'old' media and 'citizen journalism' has become a somewhat hackneyed topic for debate, and to me it seems defunct as we're still in some sort of transitional arrangement wherein both forms are seeking to find a way to marry into each other, like a messy corporate merger.

But the intersection between blogging and the media does seem to produce regular casualties, and those casualties are nearly always the blog, which doesn't pay, as opposed to the media work which does.

It would be great to see more established journalists commence blogging in Ireland. But sadly the trend seems to be going in the opposite direction. Anyone remember this from one particular Irish media titan?

And he got paid for it. Just not enough, presumably, for it to continue into the present.

When the need and opportunity to progress a career in the media clashes with blogging, it's the blog which is the first casualty. Because they take time and consideration and thought, and they don't pay.

This isn't restricted solely to hacks, of course. Other good blogs have fallen by the wayside as their authors lacked time to blog because they were busy earning elsewhere.

And even though blogs are free to read, we're all a little poorer for that loss.

It strikes me that the payment available to bloggers (other than a pittance of adsense revenue or similar) is in the interaction from reader comments. You don't get that in the mainstream media (letters pages and radio phone-ins just don't carry the same capacity for initiating a considered debate instantly.)

It doesn't compare to getting a cheque in the mail, but it is a small reward when someone notes something you've blogged about and takes issue with it, or agrees fervently, or says you've opened their mind, or merely links to it from a blog of their own.

So if we're not going to pay bloggers cash, then it might be nice if more people left more comments as they bounce around the blogosphere. It won't pay the rent, but it will add further relevance and vitality to the medium, while also giving the authors some form of payback.

You know it's time for bed

When the neighbours are banging on the walls because you're playing Ethiopian jazz too loud.

It fucking rawks, though.

(Or else the whiskey does. Or probably both do. Together.)

You should get yourself some of each and annoy your neighbours too.

Must go. The cops are at the door again...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Vision for Africa

This is Robert Mugabe's new house:

It cost around $26 million dollars and took five years to build, five years during which Zimbabwe's economy completely fell apart, inflation spiralled up to hundreds of thousands of per cent per year, and thousands of the poorest lost their shanty shack homes in slum clearances ordered by Mugabe.

But Robert sleeps well at night:

He dines well too. Even though 80% of the population are without work in Zimbabwe, Mugabe's kitchen and chefs ensure that he and his Zanu cronies are well fed:

And they can always relax later for cocktails by the pool, and discuss perhaps the pressing matters of the day.

Like the election they lost then stole back. Like the tens of thousands of citizens who've fled the country. Like the fact that they'll get away with it because the only people able to enforce change in Zimbabwe are other African leaders who are as corrupt as Mugabe and who in general owe him one.

Like Thabo Mbeki, for example.

Despots like Mugabe continue to pose as post-colonial heroes throughout the continent, even as their policies following independence from European Imperialism have caused unending poverty, disease and corruption:

But I have a vision for Africa. A way out for the billion or more who are denied a chance at life due to the horrific and disgusting corruption of pondlife like Mugabe.

It's time to redraw all the borders.

The colonial borders slice through tribes and lands willy-nilly, creating many of the internecine problems in Africa. End the conflicts, the fears, the mistrust, and you create the conditions to deal with all the other problems afflicting the continent.

Time to recolonise too.

It is self-evident from a quick read of any decent African political history such as 'The State of Africa', that corruption has been endemic in every single African state following independence and up to the present day in preposterous amounts.

Instead of aid, we need to send governmental ability. Yes, I am talking recolonisation. Temporary recolonisation, with African interests rather than European ones at the centre of the project.

I reckon that the UN needs to found an African border commission to ascertain what lands should go with what, according to the desires of those living there.

Then the current post-colonial states can be dissolved and reconstituted into forms which will not be so prone to the sort of tribal outrage we've seen recently in Kenya and in pretty much every sub-Saharan state at some point.

The UN could provide security during an interim period and initial elections. It might also be beneficial, while these new national entities are still bedding in, to beef up the African Union to the level of an EU, with oversight abilities, democratic representation and the ability to institute relevant continent-wide legislation and negotiate as a trade bloc.

Then a 'Peace Corps' type intervention would be necessary to assist the foundation of governments and state agencies, as well as ensuring the operation of critical services like hospitals during the transitional period.

A single currency would be strongly advisable, as well as an African central bank. Logic dictates that the Rand function as one or as the basis of one, and Joburg as the location of the other.

And all of this would be needed just to turn things around.

After that, the problems of HIV, malaria, education, life expectancy, development and famine would still remain to be addressed.

But in the sort of context that I envisage, at least the inter-tribal strife would be largely circumvented, which itself impacts on all the other problems.

And the foundation, in terms of a stronger African union, and smaller nation states, for consensus action, mutual dependency, group negotiation and single currency, would be in place for real development potential.

Aid doesn't work, trading with despots like Mugabe only funds elites like Zanu, and the level of military intervention the West has involved itself in thus far often only delays further conflict.

It's time to address the mistakes of the colonial and the post-colonial era. It will require a global effort, not just from former imperial powers but from other powers, such as the EU, US, Russia, China and Japan.

The alternative, of course, is to remain in our bubble of affluence in Europe, watching them starve and kill each other, while they try to gain illegal access to our affluence, for another sixty years.

Where the cuts should fall (and what we need to spend more on, even in a recession)

1997 - 7,000 Administrators employed in Irish health service across ten health boards.
2008 - 18,000 Administrators employed in the Irish health service across a single Health Service Executive.

Conclusion: Sack no less than 12,000 of those Administrators.

1980 - Number of acute hospital beds in Ireland for a population of 3 million - 18,000
2008 - Number of acute hospital beds in Ireland for a population of 4 million - 12,000

Conclusion: We need at least 3,000 more beds in our acute hospitals, no matter what state the economy is in.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

On Icarus' wings

Ever get the feeling that air travel is becoming impossible?

I don't mean that the physics underpinning flight has been found false. To my knowledge, planes do still take off.

But in recent years, air travel has come a long way from the luxurious pampering and glamour which it was known for in the Sixties and Seventies.

These days, Ryanair flights resemble cattle trucks, with the lame and the disabled abandoned on the tarmac as the other passengers scramble into the world's least comfortable space for a seat.

Other airlines are little different, and totally indifferent to the cares of customers as a recent run-in I had with allegedly decent airline Qantas revealed. (The allegation about Qantas being decent is one I can happily refute, incidentally.)

But now I get the impression that politicians are joining the airlines in making air travel almost impossible.

First the European Parliament decides to levy Green, 'Save the Planet', 'combat carbon emissions' charges upon air travel. In other words, their solution to climate change is that they're going to tax us.

That warped gnome Michael O'Leary warns that this could cost at least 50 euro on every ticket. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as he'll hike tickets at least that much and blame the Eurocrats, no matter what slice they carve off for themselves.

Then that bastion of democracy, the United States Department of Homeland Security, reveals that they want to replace air tickets and boarding passes with electric-shock bracelets, designed to torture any traveller at the press of a button.

For a lot of reasons, it looks like we're entering the endgame of the air travel era for the normal person.

Lack of fuel isn't one of those reasons (an excuse, but not a causal reason). The combination of shit service, prices hiked by state, superstate and providers, and finally conditions which now approach actual torture are the real reasons why we're going to start turning our backs on flight.

Which of course is going to make life interesting for anyone living on an unconnected island in the Atlantic.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

KKK MP3 player

The perfect mp3 player for howling boot boy racists:

This lovely little piece of kit, comprising a 4 gb harddrive, 1.3 inch screen and internal radio, retails for way less than the equivalent Ipod (which are shit anyway) or Creative (which are great, but pricey.)

And it's made by German firm Trekstor, so it's going to be reliable.

Such a pity then that it's called the 'I.Beat Blaxx.'

Or it was until the PC brigade mugged the firm last year. Now it is the only item in Trekstor's 'I.Beat' range of MP3 players that's not actually called 'I.Beat.'

But you can still pick up an old stock model in Eastern Europe for your favourite racist friend, as they don't get their knickers in a twist about accidental perceived racism in places like Hungary, or there's still one or two left in stock with an English online retailer.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Let them eat their Greens

Okay, so first the global warming advocates tell us we need to cut down fossil fuels because of carbon emissions.

Then Green politicians start demanding more biofuel use to replace the oil and petrol that's running out.

Then, because foodstuffs are being diverted to biofuel production, grain prices soar, other food prices follow, and 100 million people end up starving, according to a top secret World Bank report that got leaked to the Guardian newspaper.

I have a potential solution to the problem. Reverse the production of biofuels immediately. And in the interim, while the world's starving await the next harvest, let them eat their Greens.

When will these back-to-the-middle-ages, yoghurt-knitting hobbits stop concocting junk science to justify their Luddism?

And when will the rest of us stop listening to them? When one billion are starving due to greenwash? Two billion?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ronaldo's Downfall

Following on from the evilly funny viral hit 'Cowen's Downfall' on Youtube (hat-tip to Richard), here comes the inevitable Cristiano Ronaldo version.


Freedom of the Press

Next time you open up the Indo and see a vomit-inducing hagiographic puff-piece about His Royal Highness 'Sir' Tony O'Reilly, remember this.

Or when you wince as the Irish Times lectures you like a prissy maiden aunt about how you should vote in a referendum, remember this.

Or when you peruse the rows of red top tabloids and sneer at the garish pictures of scantily clad starlets and schlock headlines in a superior manner, remember this.

Freedom of the press is a privilege we enjoy. With it comes things we are interested in hearing and happy to be informed about. With it also comes lectures, preposterous opinions, spin, fluff, puff and outright nonsense on all too many occasions.

But that's the point of diversity of opinion and press freedom. It permits all sorts of truths to be told, in a free and open manner.

So please remember that, and remember Mohammed Omer, the young and talented award-winning journalist from Gaza who was this week tortured by the Israelis for having the audacity to speak the truth about his homeland to the world and be acknowledged for doing so in an exemplary manner.

And remember him the next time you hear the Israeli propaganda machine kicking into gear with another well-rehearsed bout of lies about how peace-hungry, reasonable, beleaguered and free Israel is.

Because Mohammed Omer's neck bears the mark of the jackboot that says otherwise. Literally bears the mark.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The capital of East Ireland

This BBC radio 3 debate was only recently drawn to my attention. It dates from December 2006, prior to Liverpool's assumption of the European City of Culture title. But it has possibly more relevance now.

The question posed is fiendishly simple: Is Liverpool really an English city?

Or is it actually the primary outpost of Irish cultures (Gaelic and Dissenter) in Britain, some sort of proto-capital of a notional East Ireland?

Or is it better seen as a city state, a one-time global port now irreparably independent in spirit with a greater regional than national sense of identity?

Or perhaps like Hong Kong or Cape Town, Liverpool is really just the nearest of the many obscure outposts of the Empire to London, a post-colonial entity struggling to shrug off the post-imperial hangover?

There's no doubt that the city suffers disproportionately from negative stereotyping and slurs from the rest of the nation it purports to be part of. And there's no doubt that the denizens of Scouseland love to assert their separateness in a wide range of ways.

So, is Liverpool really an English city? Best listen and find out what the locals think.

Did the BBC invent a famine for ratings?

Everyone over a certain age (let's say 30) can recall the harrowing impact of Michael Buerk's first reports of a famine in Ethiopia in 1984.

The sheer biblical images of starving black children - their hollow eyes pleading for food to placate their empty, distended bellies, their ribs stretching their thin skins, their limbs shrivelled to mere bones and skin - shocked the West in our relative affluence.

What followed was Band Aid, Live Aid, and the growth of global consciousness in relation to the appalling poverty suffered on the African continent.

Since then, charities have reported 'donation fatigue' and the diminishing returns of shock footage of African carnage or disaster. Mass rape and child slavery in Darfur barely stirs us now. Burma is flooded, and we can barely bother to put a hand in our pockets.

But surely it is a new low in the quest for ratings to actually invent a famine where none exists?

This is the allegation a Norwegian TV documentary team have levelled at the BBC.

After the documentary aired in Norway, it won awards and raised serious questions about the BBC's role in reporting a famine in Niger in 2005. It accused the BBC and the United Nations of acting in tandem to create a climate of intervention where none was required.

That suited the UN, who apparently wanted into Niger, and suited the BBC who wanted a good exclusive story, as journalists are wont to do.

Niger is a desert land in the Southern Sahara. But it is rich with uranium and other resources, and its population are predominantly nomadic, like the Touaregs (see above). They are used to moving around to obtain food. It's not like the pasture lands of Ethiopia failing at all.

But after the documentary aired in Norway, the BBC pulled the rights to their own footage, meaning that the documentary had to air in Sweden in a shorter, much less impactful form. It hasn't been seen elsewhere yet.

Auntie Beeb pleads innocence, and claims all the Norwegians need to do is ask politely for the rights to the footage and they can have it.

So perhaps we might yet get to see this interesting Norwegian film, controversially titled 'The Famine Scam.'

I fervently hope that the buyers in RTE will make a point of picking up this documentary and showing it during prime time viewing.

Then we will be able to decide for ourselves if the BBC and UN were right and there was a famine in Niger.

Or we might find that 'Niger's prime minister, local residents, doctors working in the region, a US aid organisation spokesman and other journalists' are more plausible when they say that no famine ever occurred.

Blarney O'Leprechaun bites de Big Apple

Acccording to the ever-gorgeous Government Press Office, our glorious leader is off to Noo Yawk later this month:
The Taoiseach, Mr. Brian Cowen TD, will undertake his first official trip to the United States next month [sic].

He will visit New York for a series of engagements with key political and business leaders, as well as representatives of the Irish community.

The highlights of the visit are expected to be a visit to the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday July 16th and a keynote address at the Wall Street 50 Dinner on Thursday 17th July.

In his meetings, the Taoiseach is expected to discuss the global economic situation, how to further develop the relationship between Ireland and America and the issue of immigration reform and the undocumented Irish in the US.
So Cowen will continue the ignominious whining and begging of the Irish government to make our illegals in the US legal. So far, so Bertie.

But the man who claims the Celtic Tiger credit is also set to share his wisdom with the gloom-mongers of the NYSE. It will of course not be fascinating to hear what turgid twaddle and covert FDI pleading that Cowen intends to serve up as his main course at the Wall Street dinner.

I just wonder how all of this will go down among the stockbrokers. They're already feeling the pain of the credit crunch. The Chinese are at the gates, their economy is bleeding money on at least two wars, and their reliance on cheap fossil fuel is utterly unsustainable.

Then Blarney O'Leprechaun, who's been boasting about what an economic genius he is based upon the long-gone Celtic Tiger phenomenon, comes along pleading the poor mouth, begging for investment, and asking that America doesn't ship the tens of thousands of Irish hiding out there back to our shores?

I bet it's just what they need to hear right now. It should give them a right good giggle.