Tuesday, January 20, 2004


I have decided to move over to Typepad.

You can find the new blog here. I would ask everyone who has been kind enough to link to me to please update your blogrolls with the new url, or you can just use internetcommentator.com which should forward to the new address within the next 24 hours.

Monday, January 19, 2004


What is Andrew Sullivan on about?, discussing Pres. Bush's Gray-Davis-like quasi-amnesty for illegal immigrants:

"The hard right is dismayed that he is showing compassion toward illegal immigrants"

Surely he knows better than that? The "hard right" may well be "dismayed" but I bet you'll find that opposition to this move extends way beyond the "hard right".

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism

A few discussions about nationalism on Slugger got me thinking about a curious fact. In Northern Ireland there is a kind of shorthand for the range of political views in each "community". For catholics, the moderate strand is described as "Nationalist" while "Republican" connotes the more extreme. For protestants, "Loyalist" describes the extreme element and "Unionist", the moderate. The topic under discussion was the relationship between Nationalism in general and multiculturalism or cosmopolitanism. The logic of nationalism is to promote the interest of one collective culture over the interests of other cultures and the interests of individuals. Anyone who claims to be a cosmopolitan nationalist is axiomatically confused. Clarity on this will be provided when the interests of cosmopolitanism and nationalism collide and this person is forced to choose. One of these areas is immigration.

The curious fact is that, at least theoretically, it is the "extreme" political view of the catholic community and the "moderate" political view of the protestant community which is better placed philosophically to deal with issues relating to immigration and other cultures.

The nominally republican party, SF, is, as it happens, also extreme nationalist in practice - its success over the SDLP is surely due to its perception as a more effective advocate for its community - yet in theory the purpose of republicanism is to promote a United Ireland suitable for those of both communities or none. Meanwhile, the "moderate" protestant political view is, in practice, a kind of British nationalism, retention of the union is often promoted as a cultural, as opposed to utilitarian, imperative. However a "purer" Unionism which simply promoted retention of the union in a culturally neutral manner - I think this is what Trimble was (ineptly) trying to get at when he crudely slandered the Republic of Ireland as "monocultural" - is perfectly consistent with cosmopolitanism.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Tepid Terra

Great article by Melanie Phillips on The global warming fraud, (via Alex Singleton)

"Far from being proved, the claim of man-made global warming is a global fraud. Instead of being drawn from observable facts, it is based on computer modelling which churns out wholly artificial — and eminently manipulable — visions of the world.

Computers can only process the information fed into them. This is an inadequate procedure, not least because climate change is affected by billions of variables which are beyond any computer programme. The sea level ‘rise’, for instance, omits the full influence of certain crucial natural meteorological changes. And if the disaster scenarios of global warming are fed into the computer as a premise, it is hardly surprising that it will then ‘predict’ the disappearance of species as a consequence.

In other words, if you feed rubbish into a computer, you get rubbish out."

Unintentional Anarcho-Capitalism Advocacy

I know it's meant as a joke but: What a great idea!


Harsh words from Abiola for Mars dreamers:

"Any so-called advocate of small government who is excited by this Mars nonsense ought to turn in his conservative/libertarian credentials and go find some other political home to call his own. Manned space-flight on the government dime, in any incarnation, is a waste of money, of essentially no lasting scientific value, and a trip to either the moon or Mars would be especially wasteful."

I have to (reluctantly) agree. There's nothing to stop private concerns from getting involved with manned space flight, though I'd say it would take the invention of a new propulsion method to make it profitable.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Music for nothing, Books for free

Natalie Solent has an interesting piece about free downloads of books, author Eric Flint notes that this is no different to friends lending books to one another, both of which can help increase readership. Natalie is concerned that once "bad things" (unauthorised copying or sharing of intellectual property) become convenient, it is a short step to this becoming accepted custom.

Even though I don't generally distinguish between physical property and intellectual property I think it is important to retain the distinction between "theft" of either. If you steal my car, I am down one car. If you "steal" my novel/song by downloading or copying it, I still have it. I am just down one potential sale of an "authorised" copy of it.

How bad the latter "theft" is depends on the level of negative effect on potential sales. It is by no means certain that potential sales are affected negatively in all cases. One shouldn't forget either, that production and sale of intellectual property is no less susceptible to market forces than any other activity. If the "bad thing" does become accepted custom, reducing or reorientating revenue, then a market response is likely from artists.

Natalie also makes the classic error of assuming that because one can't imagine something, it is improbable and that everyone else necessarily shares her own preferred reading method:

"At the moment I'd far rather have a book-sized chunk of words as a book than a download. I don't even know what you do with a download. Read it online? Hurts the eyes, or the neck, and for many people you have to sit at a desk to do it. Print it out? Takes a week and probably costs the price of the book in ink and paper. How much nicer to have a snuggy little book that you can take to bed with you. But come the day of the utterly portable 4" x 6" x ½" hand-held computer with a zero-glare screen, ...- then I dunno, mate, I dunno"

You know: the day of the hand-held computer with a zero glare screen on which you can comfortably read books, snuggled up in bed or not, is already here.

I am a big fan of e-books, my only gripe is that so few books are published this way. I would rather buy a book to download to my Clie UX-50 than the paper version. The big advantage of e-books is that, as with the mp3 player, one's pocket can contain an entire library. This is an especial advantage if you find yourself waiting somewhere with "time to kill". A Sony Clie, Palm Pilot or Pocket PC can contain, not only the book you are currently reading, but the next few and, courtesy of AvantGo, several newspapers and blogs too.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Two and a half horse race?

Looks like I spoke too soon. Manchester United's frustrating home draw with Newcastle United sees their advantage over Arsenal at the top of the table reduced to a solitary point.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Miller's Crossing

Ciaran is really annoyed at Liam Miller for signing a pre-contract agreement this week which will take the 22 yr old Irish midfielder to Old Trafford in the summer. His current club, Celtic, won't receive a penny.

I think Ciaran would do well to direct his ire to the club and not the player. It matters little whether the player was offered £11,000 per week, as the Irish Independent claims (pro-United spinning according to Ciaran) or the exact same terms as his deal with Manchester United, apparently £20,000. The fact is, Celtic's offer was only made with the knowledge of United's interest.

This has nothing to do with the player's "loyalty" (and by the way: Miller's nationality has nothing at all to do with it). A football player's first loyalty has to be to himself, his family and his career. Loyalty to a club is very important, but it is secondary and it must be reciprocated. There is no treachery in Miller agreeing to sign for United. He had been put in that position by Celtic who were quite happy for the, now, first team regular to be paid a mere £1,000 a week and let his contract wind down.

They could have shown him a bit more "loyalty" and at the same time protect one of their "assets" by offering a him longer term contract earlier. Instead they took a gamble and assumed he would just sign a new deal when his contract ran out. This was short-sighted. Maybe they wanted to save themselves a few bob on his wages or maybe they thought he wouldn't make it as a first team player. Either way, they hardly showed him much "loyalty".

Friday, January 09, 2004

Czech Charades

"My Czech phrase book inexplicably did not include 'you have an animal on the loose' in it"

William Sjostrom was too modest earlier.

Sullivan's been HD-winked

Andrew Sullivan is heartened by the following statement by leading Democrat presidential contender, Howard Dean:

"From a religious point of view, if God had thought homosexuality is a sin, he would not have created gay people"

I think Andrew has allowed himself be blinded to the fatuousness of this statement because, on this issue if nothing else, he wants Dean to be "on his side". But really, what kind of argument is it:

"If God thought X is a sin, he would not have created people who do X".

This is the acme of circular arguments. According to this credo, nothing which happens can be a sin, as "If God let it happen, it's ok".

Andrew thinks this is better than "a non-controversial mealy-mouthed defense of civil unions". But I can't see the difference: This is "a defense of civil unions", and check this for "non-controversial, mealymouthed", from the WaPo article linked to:

"Dean said he does not consider homosexuality a sin but nonetheless opposes gay marriage"

It is hardly controversial for an East Coast Liberal to state that he doesn't consider homosexuality to be a sin. This statement of Dean's is just a typical politician's weaselly straddle. With his ersatz "religious justification" Dean gets to look religious, compassionate and "Pro-Gay" - if he's fooled someone as smart as Andrew Sullivan, he can probably fool plenty more - and he still gets to oppose Gay Marriage.

[For what it's worth, I'm a committed, though non proselytising, atheist and have come to the conclusion that there is no justification for the state refusing to recognise Gay Marriages]

Thursday, January 08, 2004

It's all about the rocks

Dublin Gal cheers the Irish army for an intervention in Liberia, freeing 35 Liberian civilians who had been abducted and raped. However, William can see the sinister side of this "Rabid Irish Imperialism", noting astutely the absence of Irish "peace-keeping" troops in other troubled areas which, by a curious coincidence, don't have any diamonds!

Never mind "No Blood for Oil!", what about: "No Liberation of Liberians for Diamonds!"


In the comments of the post below, John complains:

"What I want to know is, why do you care about the Premiership? It's so dull. The European Cup is the only trophy that should matter as far as I'm concerned "

I thought I'd post my reply here as it was getting a bit long:

The European trophy is certainly prestigious. I would even go as far as to argue that a Champions League winners medal is a higher honour than a World cup winners medal. It is a lot harder to predict who the winners will be - although you'd hardly go broke betting on Real Madrid each year - so there may be some excitement there. That said, there are a lot of awful, meaningless, poorly attended matches during the group stages. It is still only a cup competition, perhaps if it evolved into a league it might be different, but you can't beat the long slog of a league programme.

I can't agree that the Premiership is "dull". Of course, following it tends to be a lot more satisfying for a Manchester United fan than for those of other clubs. There are undoubtedly too many clubs in the Premiership but it is much more exciting than any other European league bar Spain.

Have you ever managed to sit through a Serie A match, a whole 90 minutes of elegant defending, without falling asleep? Hey: it's Reggina 0, Chievo 0, didn't see that one coming. Then a shock result as Bologna and Siena play out a thrilling goalless draw. Meanwhile, reports are coming in of a goal-fest over at Lecce as the champions, free-scoring Juventus, bang in a whopping one goal to equalise Lecce's first half goal rush of one goal.

There is also, at the moment, a very congested middle, a mere 12 points separate Charlton, in 4th place, which would see them qualify for the champions league, and Portsmouth in the 18th place, which would relegate them. If you think that sounds a lot, you might note that 11 points separate Charlton from the team immediately above them, Chelsea.

12 points is just 4 wins. If it stays as tight as this, every game counts. For all the teams hitherto content to affirm their mid-table-respectability status, contesting matches of no consequence, and a few who might have expected a title tilt there is now the very real prospect of glory and financial reward via European qualification or misery and possible financial ruin via relegation. For all 16 of them it's a veritable Ancient Chinese Curse: Interesting times indeed.

The Brazilian Bob Dylan

Nelson reworks one of the old grouch's tunes for the 21st century.

Still a three horse race?

I wonder.

I had a feeling before Christmas that the Premiership title race was slipping away from Chelsea and wondered whether, despite their continuing unbeaten run, Arsenal were going a bit stale. I didn't dare mention it but, in the light of Manchester United's 2-1 victory at Bolton while the Gunners were held at Everton, Chelsea losing at home to Liverpool, and probably tempting fate, I wonder if United's newly acquired 3 point margin at the top will only increase in the next few weeks.

Words you never thought you'd read...

Dick O'Brien:

"Frank McGahon has more business being on the opinion pages of the Irish Times than Mark Steyn does."

For once, I'm lost for words!

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Sticking up for Steyn

Dick is not at all impressed with Mark Steyn, in fact he's so annoyed with the scribe's latest piece, on why "Events" don't just happen, that he makes the remarkable claim that..

"..Steyn rarely produces work worth publishing"

Now, it will come as no surprise to anyone vaguely familiar with this blog that I'm a huge fan of Steyn. I don't agree with everything he writes - for instance, I think he's wrong on Gay Marriage and I also think he overstates the Islamification of Europe - but his often hilarious, never pompous, Op-Ed pieces put pretty much every other commentator in the shade in style, humour and, as it turns out, accuracy of predictions.

I know better than to think I can persuade Dick of the merits of Steyn's substantive argument. For one, while I share Steyn's opposition to the welfare state from first principles, Dick apparently supports it implicitly supports it explicitly. However, I would like to try and persuade Dick that his annoyance with the Irish Times for hiring Steyn, contrary to his disclaimer, is because he disagrees with Steyn's opinions.

In the course of his post, Dick attacks Steyn's opinions about big government, organised labour and the welfare state and complains when Steyn brackets China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and France as displaying insufficient liberty and self-reliance. Despite the fact that Steyn distinguishes between each country and makes clear that each fails its citizens in a different way, Dick is keen to attribute "clumsy moral equivalence" to Steyn. Yet all of these are opinions, with which Dick disagrees.

So, Dick: by all means "fisk" Mark Steyn. Please don't overreach in claiming he is unsuitable for publication.

What about Vlad?

Jon points to a curious piece by Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds on income inequality. I am very much against equality initiatives and I'm opposed to any kind of concentration on income inequality or relative poverty as I think they are ultimately rhetorical conceits which say little about the underlying problem: If I earn €20,000 a year and you earn €120,000 we have an "income inequality" of €100,000. If I earn €100,000 and you earn €1,000,000, our income inequality has rocketed up to €900,000 but I am patently better off.

I say "curious" because Glenn isn't exactly arguing against income inequality but he has an important caveat: it is wrong for individuals to become so super-rich that, like George Soros, they interfere with the political process. Professor Reynolds is normally astute but this is just plain wrong. To illustrate why, forget about Soros and Bush and look over to Russia. Is not Glenn's argument identical to Putin's?

One Step Away From Common Wisdom

Better late than never: How could I miss The People's Blog's forthright reaction to Saddam's capture which, while graciously conceding that

"President Saddam Hussein was no Mother Theresa",

notes that

"The timing is also suspicious. The third part of the American propaganda flick Lord of the Rings premiers this week. Most likely Saddam's been held for months, (since when did a DNA test take hours?), and intentionally released now to increase the psychological effect. With the "arrest" of Saddam fresh in mind as audiences watch this racist allegory of Middle East affairs, the association between "evil" and Saddam Hussein will be complete and unerasable."

and reminding us

"Some readers claim that I have mixed up east and west here. I won't even honor that accusation with a reply. This is just another example of the pro-American thought police in action. Take one step away from common wisdom and suddenly there are lots of "factual errors" in your piece. It's one of their favourite tactics."

Right on, Comrade Medvedsilnyn!

Nigerian Dilemma

Interesting post by Abiola Lapite on Nigeria's ethnic conflict. Of course, one can't ignore the poisonous legacy of LSE-taught Marxism in Africa's recent history but he makes a persuasive case that the arbitrary delineation of the borders of African countries in general and Nigeria in particular which ignored extant ethnic groups is the significant contributing factor to that continent's woes.

"The real key to Africa's problems.. is ethnicity. Hardly any of Africa's states are drawn along ethnic lines, and the ethnic tensions that have resulted as various groups struggled for power after the Europeans pulled out have led to coups, wars and other manifestations of instability... ..Nigeria, that creation of Frederick Lugard's imagination, arbitrarily divides the Yoruba within its borders from those in Benin and Togo, while the border between Niger and Nigeria splits the Hausa-Fulani along another artificial line...What makes Nigeria's difficulties worse is that there is no one group that clearly outnumbers the rest; instead there are three groups with a rough parity of numbers - the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo - meaning that there is no possibility that a stable equilibrium will be reached, as whenever any two groups gang up to seize power at the expense of the third, eventually one of the two becomes so disaffected by its share of the spoils that it either defects to ally itself with the previously excluded third, or is itself kicked out and replaced by the third party. In such an environment any act of self-aggrandizement by a member of one's own group at the public expense is easily rationalized away as 'scoring one for the team', the (not entirely unreasonable) thinking being 'If one of our guys hadn't done the looting, one of the other group's members surely would have.'"

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

What is IQ good for?

The other day, ennui, combined with curiosity, led me to accept the invitation of a popup window to take an online IQ test. Modesty prevents me from revealing my score but I was sufficiently flattered to attempt two other online tests which subsequently endorsed the first score.

I don't deny that I felt a mild boost, yet on reflection my initial impression, that IQ tests primarily measure the ability to do IQ tests, was hardly negated. I was struck by how the tests appeared to favour a particularly "male", systemising way of thinking: It is understandable how some of those with aspergers syndrome or autism have very high IQ scores. It is hard to see how a facility with spatial awareness or an ability to recognise patterns or sequences really amounts to all that much outside of a narrow range of tasks.

I have been involved in a few debates recently over on Samizdata. I really don't want to rehash it all here (you can read it all over there) but one of the core assumptions of those with whom I disagree is that a high average IQ is a "cause" rather than an "effect" and that a high average IQ society is not only desirable but an imperative. This has always seemed to me to be an extremely tenuous assertion. After all, would you really hire Carol Vordeman to plaster your house? If you want someone to design your house, you could do worse than ask me but it would be a very foolish client who wished to expand my services to include actually building the thing with my own hands (let's just say I'm more of a GOTDIFY than a DIY type of person).

So it was with a, perhaps slightly perverse, sense of national pride that I noted before Christmas that Ireland has one of the lowest average IQ levels in Europe at 93.

Out of 50 countries we came 33rd. Below Romania! Meanwhile, the only superpower, USA, falls outside the top 20 with 98.

Pahk the Kah

Striking suggestion from Colby on a possible "late-arriving saviour" for the Democrats.

Surely not the definitive Boston Brahmin?

Monday, January 05, 2004


It seems that retiring from blogging is all the rage at the moment. Following Emily's announcement of a blogging pause, (promptly recinded) Cinderella Bloggerfeller is on hiatus for 2004. God of the Machine offers a moving Op-bituary

I will miss the inelegantly monikered commentator but it least it gives me an opportunity to invent some even uglier words like Sabbloggatical, Diaretirement and Op-bituary!

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Whaddya Know?

I made Samizdata's slogan of the day!

Thanks Perry!

Friday, January 02, 2004


Seems to be some problems with Blogger???

UPDATE: Fixed now.

Thursday, January 01, 2004


Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Fool's Errand III

Mark relates his adventures in the "leftwing skinhead" swamp of Indymedia.

Our Little Christmas Pudding...

I'd like to introduce everyone to my daughter, Zoe. She was born at 11.02PM on Monday night, timing it perfectly so that she could be here for Christmas! Mother and baby are doing great and back home already.

I imagine blogging will be pretty light over the Christmas holiday period. One irony is that I often have better opportunities to blog when I'm at work, when I'm supposed to be doing something a bit more productive instead like, well, work.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 20, 2003


John wonders what I think about the proposed redevelopment of the World Trade Centre site:

Let's just say I'm underwhelmed by the scheme. I'm not a huge fan of Libeskind's work generally and this scheme is kind of a Libeskind work filtered through several more "commercially-orientated" practices each of which would have been perfectly capable of doing the main job anyway.

In architecture there is a general presumption against reconstructing anything "exactly as it was" as it's a kind of deception but there are exceptions to this rule.

1) The Catalan reconstruction of Mies Van der Rohe's seminal Barcelona Pavilion ("Pabellon Mies") in the 1980s which has allowed us to appreciate what this building really was like. I've been there several times and it is probably my favourite building. This exception would be for a building, preferably small, which was a very influential piece of architectural history.

2) The reconstruction of the historic centre of Warsaw after the war, as an exact facsmile of its pre-war state. This was an important and defiant political act which made the point that however much Germany physically destroyed they couldn't destroy the Polish spirit.

I think it's fair to say that the WTC was certainly not an important building in architectural history so exception 1) doesn't apply. But I think exception 2) does. What better "two fingers" to display to those who would attack America thus than the reconstruction of the Twin Towers exactly as they were. This would not be to pretend that it never happened but to make a statement that America goes on, and the terrorists can't leave a permanent mark of their crime.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Tell us something we don't know

The Economist this week has an article about a study claiming to prove that men lose their fiscal responsibility in the presence of attrative women. In econospeak, the slope of men's discount curve steepens after seeing pictures of beautiful women - they place more value on an immediate monetary amount (less on deferred money). Is this not what a large segment of the advertising industry (not to mention the female population) have known for a long time?

Perhaps Take Thy Lovli Henrietta to a Beheading?

Sound advice from Medieval Jai, Excellent stuff: Qveere Eye for thye Medieval Man

{via Emily}

"Let there be no mistake..

..We are at the edge of the abyss. It is time to move forward."

More from the bould Jimmy Sands, also here.

"Your Mommy Kills Animals"

Not an Onion headline but, as The Daily Ablution notes, PETA's latest campaign: Terrifying moppets so that their pester power can bolster a flagging cause. That scratching sound you hear is the earth beneath the bottom of the barrel.

Caribbean Sinn Fein

I only came across this today. Emily pointed me to Jimmy Sands' invaluable (semi-defunct?) resource for Republicans in the West Indies which includes this very useful Irish acronyms and abbreviations guide for the newbie. Definitions, such as below, are succint, to the point and, of course, scrupulously neutral:

"* Unionism: Political philosophy supporting maintainence of
British rule of the 6 Counties. And eating babies."

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Fool's Errand II

I tried to get out....but they dragged me back in:

A Slugger post on a review by the extremist nationalist fantasist Paul Dunne (from before) has seen me engage Mr Dunne in something resembling a debate in the comments. "Debate" might be a bit of a loose description, Dunne mostly hurls insults in my direction, but it is telling to see Dunne's ersatz urbanity - displayed in reaction to endorsement - evaporate in response to any criticism.

Fly me to the Moon(bat)

Emily gives George Monbiot a bit of a pasting after Moronbiot's characteristically sour (not to mention perverse) reaction to the anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight, an event marked more memorably by Google yesterday.

"We Got Him" II

I find it hard to disagree with Hitch:

"He had all his visitors body-searched and all his food tasted in advance. He was obsessed with hygiene and stray infections. He wore a different uniform every day and built himself a vulgar palace in every city of his miserable country. Nice, then, to see him found like a rat in a hole, covered with grime, sprouting a dirty grey mane, and being shaven and combed for lice"

{via The Broom of Anger}

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Fool's Errand

Mark Humprys notes how his attempt to post to IndyMedia Orthodoxymedia was scuppered. Those Saddam-enthusiasts couldn't bear to expose their readers, delicate flowers that they are, to Mark rubbing their noses in it. Freedom of Speech my b*ckside!

UPDATE:, Aaargh! Mark goofed. They did post it! 18/12/03 12:36 PM

Playing The Man

I had mentioned in a previous post that there was a tendency by some of the comment-posters at Slugger O'Toole to ignore the substantive point of an argument and instead state that the author of the argument shouldn't be taken seriously. The analogy often used is "to play the man, not the ball". It is important to remember what is wrong about this.

There is obviously the principle of common courtesy. The problem is: I'd guess most people think this is the only reason why it is wrong and a lot of the time, particularly in the cauldron of NI politics, they are disinclined to be courteous to someone they believe is the enemy, or worse a traitor. The format for these comments goes as follows:

Mick Fealty: Pundit A writing in the Newspaper B makes the case that X is Y

Comment-poster C: "There's no reason to listen to anything Pundit A says, she/he's just a Z.

Frequently followed by

Comment-poster D: "Yes she/he's a real Z, remember when he/she said..."


Comment-poster E: "Never mind what comment-poster C or D says, they're both Zs , remember what C said about...."

Now, it should go without saying that not much courtesy is displayed in this exchange. But more importantly, A's assertion that "X is Y" hasn't been addressed. Pundit A might be right or wrong but no case has been made to refute A's position or support it. You may be putting yourself at a disadvantage in convincing people normally inclined to disagree with you of your argument if you are discourteous, but you surely have no chance of convincing your opponent, or more importantly an outsider or someone sitting on the fence, if you fail to make the case for your argument. Anyone who is inclined to agree with Pundit A will be more likely to accept their assertion if the only reaction is the standard blanket denunciation. Thus two phenomena persist: 1) the echo chamber, where received views and prejudices are simply reinforced and 2) "both sides" simply talking past each other.

A related phenomena is to ascribe the views of your traditional opponent to anyone critical of your position.To use a recent example, Michael McDowell's recent comments linking the provisional republican movement with organised crime were referred to as "Taking the DUP stance". It is demonstrably true that McDowell is a voracious political opponent of Sinn Fein but it is stretching credulity to describe him as "unionist". McDowell is actually a pretty strong constitutional nationalist.

In fact, a McDowell type position: "Tough on SF, Tough on the causes of SF" might have given a shot of viagra to the SDLP in the recent assembly elections. That is: taking a strong pro-nationalist community position on all areas of concern without endorsing or glorifying violence and fighting with SF for votes by all means necessary including reminding voters of their unsavoury aspects. McDowell's strong anti-FF position in the election here combined with his ease of working with them in government should have instructed the SDLP how it is possible to scrap for votes while campaigning and still work constructively together afterwards. The SDLP were afraid to hurt SF and it ultimately hurt them. They fell into the trap of assuming that criticism of nationalists was the sole reserve of unionists. SF to their ultimate benefit, didn't follow this prescription and were quite happy to criticise the SDLP.

But I digress, the problem with assuming anyone critical of unionism is necessarily a nationalist -and this is the serious flaw in the unionist's view of mainstream "mainland" opinion - or vice versa is that it impoverishes your argument. The best way to refine an argument is to defend it against criticism. This helps you to see the flaws in your argument and correct them, or if they are uncorrectable discover sooner that your argument is unsound. Assuming your opponent conforms to a narrow description is the easy way out, and assists only in avoiding uncomfortable truths.

In war as in argument, knowing your opponent is crucial. Lee Harris begins his seminal essay Al-Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology with the example of Spain's conquest of Mexico. Spain triumphed primarily because Montezuma didn't understand who the conquistadors were. His worldview didn't have a place for them. Likewise those republicans who, say, dismiss all Irish criticism of republicanism as "pro-British" are making a serious error of judgement, from their own point of view. They misunderstand their opponent.

Monday, December 15, 2003

"We Got Him"

Great Mark Steyn piece in today's Irish Times which explains why, although Saddam was not co-ordinating the Ba'athists still fighting, his capture will surely lead to their campaign petering out:

"In the months since, he's been all but irrelevant to any active co-ordination of the so-called "resistance". But the fact that he was still on the run, somewhere out there, meant that, in theory, he could be behind it and that made it easier for the Baathist dead-enders and the imported terrorists to lean on communities in the Sunni Triangle for support and cover.

The sight of Saddam looking like a department-store Santa who's been sleeping off a bender in a sewer for a week will deal a fatal blow to the ability of Baathist thugs to intimidate local populations.

The insurgency will continue for a few weeks yet, but it will peter out, like the dictator, not with a bang but a whimper.

In the honour/shame culture of the Arab world, it will be much harder now to pass him off as the mighty warrior. He had a pistol, but chose not to use it on himself."

Friday, December 12, 2003

In defence of Cannibalism and Female Genital Mutilation..

..well, not quite "defence", more accurately: perspective on appropriate objections.

The Mark Steyn piece I mentioned below makes a great crack about how the defeatism and self-abasement of many in the west, in the face of Islamic terrorism, emulates the unfortunate Bernd Brande, so eager to be Armin Meiwes' meal. This "German Cannibal" case, I have to admit, disturbed me and I realise that the most disturbing aspect of it was not so much the killing and cannibalism but the fact of Herr Brande's apparent consent. Yet this aspect, if true, is surely what differentiates this from an "ordinary" murder . It also seemed to me that there was an important fudge in most of the reaction to these "wicked acts" and the same fudge is present in the campaign, so favoured by America's "Soccer Moms", against the practice known as "Female Genital Mutilation". This fudge is to ignore the crucial importance of consent.

I think that what Herr Meiwes did was despicable, just as I find goat-sodomy repulsive, but I must differentiate between him and, say, Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer's victims were unwilling, not so Brande. There are important utilitarian arguments against widespread euthanasia and they could also apply here. Allowing widespread euthanasia, or indeed widespread "consensual killing", could make it difficult to prosecute murder: cases could get bogged down in defining consent. There isn't, however, a good philosphical argument against either. Surely the most irreducible personal freedom is self-ownership. If you own yourself, you surely have the right to destroy that "property".

Likewise: the practice of female "circumcision", which can range from amputation of the clitoris and labia minora, to suturing the vagina shut (infibulation), is abhorrent and more analogous to male castration than male circumcision. Yet the most convincing arguments against this practice are exactly the same as levied against the widespread practice of male circumcision. That is, no proper consent is given.

Much of the campaign against FGM gets bogged down in whether it is a form of "colonialism" to impose western values (i.e. "FGM is barbaric") on other cultures. Yet this is a red herring. What is most objectionable about the practice is that is carried out on girls who are too young to give proper consent. Let us imagine that countries such as Egypt, Sudan and Somalia initiate a ban on circumcising girls. It is likely that in some of those countries - 97-98% of Somali women are infibulated - many, pehaps most, adult women would voluntarily choose the procedure. What is the appropriate response? However horrific you might consider FGM to be, there could be no justification to use force to prevent such women from exercising their free choice. Thus in seeking to eradicate FGM, the first step should be to seek a ban on performing it on children and then the second step might be to persuade women of the benefits of remaining uncircumcised but not seek a ban.

N.G.O. G.O.N.E.

Another cracking Mark Steyn piece which includes this priceless observation about the many Non-Governmental Organisations who predicted "humanitarian disasters" in Iraq:

"And so it seems to be. After some particularly vicious bombings of the UN and others, the NGOs mostly fled Iraq in late summer. ‘It would be rather sobering,’ I wrote in August, ‘were Iraq to demonstrate it can get along without them.’ And what do you know? It’s remarkable how quickly a problem goes away once the people with a vested interest in there being a problem go away."

Champions League

So: Manchester United are to meet UEFA cup winners Porto in the Champions' League knockout stages, first leg to be played February 25th. Arsenal meet Celta Vigo and Chelsea meet Stuttgart, leaving it probable the Premiership will have three contenders in the last 8. The pick of the draw however is the meeting between Los Galacticos of Real Madrid, 2002 winners, and FC Hollywood aka Bayern Munich, 2001 winners.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003


According to the CIA, Ireland is in "international dispute" with Iceland, Denmark and the UK over the Faroe Islands continental shelf boundary.

I knew Rockall was an issue between Ireland and the UK some time back, but didn't realise it also involved our Scandinavian friends (or should that be sworn enemies!)

Thanks to Paul for the link.

Decentralisation and the Flat Tax

I had mentioned before that one possibility for a forward-thinking devolved region might be the introduction of a flat tax rate to encourage investment and in-migration. In the comments of the post below John makes the point about how US states are divided into counties and raise local taxes. I thought I'd repost my subsequent comment up here:

I was thinking about this the other day and I think the ideal way would be for states/counties to have the power to cut as well as raise taxes. I couldn't figure out how to square this with federal spending. It would be nice to think that some states/counties could impose a flat tax. I am a big fan of flat taxes (insofar as I'm a fan of taxes at all). Flat taxes need not necessarily mean a reduction in overall tax revenue (even though that would be desirable anyway) because you should see a tendency towards full compliance and, by eliminating loopholes and complicated ways of calculating taxes, you should see a more efficient form of tax collection. But if there are progressive federal taxes you would lose all the advantages of flat taxes.

So, the solution: No federal taxes at all. Let the states/counties collect the tax whichever way they like and make agreed contributions to the federal exchequer. That way some states could have progressive taxes, some flat and they could slug it out and see which system worked best.

"Replacing U.S. workers with Foreign Labor"

Speaking of "Outsourcing"...

At the risk of..

..turning this into the decentralisation blog, I just wanted to comment on Dick's latest thoughts on this.

"On the issue of wider decentralisation or devolution of government, Frank seems to be under the impression that people outside of Dublin would be content to roll back public services in order to lower the tax burden. While we often hear of the urban rural divide, I'm not sure how popular this may be. Irish voters seem to be fairly consistent across the State in expressing what they want from in terms of state services. Given their track record I can't see any region, no matter how small, adopting the kind of policies Frank advocates."

That may well be the case. What I was trying to show was that competition between regions within a country can be beneficial overall and that sometimes what is in the country's interest as a whole may not be in the interest of a particular region. It may well be the case that a western seaboard region would plump for a tax and spend approach. The problem is that they don't have too many people to tax. My thinking is based on the notion that there are local needs which differ from a centrally imposed conception of "need". Let us imagine several regions:

1) Dublin
2) Within Dublin's commuter zone
3) Outside Dublin's commuter zone

For the purposes of argument (and with apologies to touchy Corconians!) I am ignoring Ireland's other urban centres but similar arguments apply. Now if you were to characterise the needs of each of these regions you might find they are different in many areas. Let us take the conflict between building land and "green belt". In the case of 1) the need for accomodating an expanding population and the effects on affordability of housing means that, while "green belt" is desirable it is better in smaller doses, i.e. parkland, than in swathes of agricultural land. High Density housing is the appropriate solution. In the case of 2) There is pressure to provide housing but the need is not so great that it requires elimination of all agricultural land. Most houses would require access to piped services, the expense of connecting to those services would suggest medium density housing. In the case of 3) there is nothing but green belt and plenty of it, the scattered nature of existing development would suggest that private services are more appropriate than piped services, wells, group water schemes, septic tanks/treatment systems rather than mains water and main sewers. Low density scattered rural development may have downsides and the most significant of these is aesthetic. The point is that those in some rural areas may cherish their unspoilt countryside while those in other rural areas might feel it could do with a bit more "spoiling". In a devolved system they would get to choose. It is the case that, at the moment, local authorities' development plans are prepared locally but they are prepared by technical staff according to central Department of Environment guidelines rather than local demands and simply, often grudgingly, rubberstamped by local councillors.

Another area where needs are different is population. 1) and 2) have no need to attract people to come and live in either region. They are coming anyway. In the case of 3) there is a need to attract people to counter "rural depopulation". More people means more business, means more money, more people means more justification to keep open the local school, local pub, local post office, local church. It may be the case that the need for increasing the local population in region 3) runs counter to the need to tax the increasing population in 1) and 2) to pay for such public services as they consume.

Another example is Co. Kerry's proposal to flout the government's smoking ban. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the ban (Dick, smoker, is for it and I, non-smoker, am against it) it is surely preferable that, if the people of Kerry don't want it, it shouldn't be imposed on them from Dublin.

Dick also comments on John's suggestion (in a parallel universe!) that the civil service could emulate the private sector.

"However, moving public jobs to India would certainly go down a treat with the electorate. People get exercised enough when private firms do it"

Now even I would recoil from this proposal but it is telling to note how most people think of public service jobs, i.e. not that their raison d'etre is to provide the public with a service but that they are a benefit to the public service worker. People are quite happy to buy cars, clothes, food, wine, financial services from abroad. Plenty of things are "outsourced", are public services really so different?

Monday, December 08, 2003

Decentralisation and Dispersed centralisation

More from Dick on this. First on public sector pay:

Criticising public sector pay is one of those lazy op-ed standbys. It usually goes along the lines of "public sector pay is now x million euros, up y percent from five years ago. This is outrageous. Did you know that some prison officers are earning z thousand euros in overtime every year…"

Ok, maybe it is a cliche. There are two aspects to public sector pay levels. 1) The overall burden on the exchequer and 2) Individual salaries. It is clear that, regardless of the precise truth about the latter we have a major problem with the former and this has been exacerbated by the benchmarking fiasco. Dick may feel that public sector salaries are low - and rigid pay grades and promotion structures have a lot to do with this - but the real test of this is recruitment problems. Despite Dick's suggestion that the civil service find it difficult to recruit and retain staff, these jobs are still sought-after, principally for the job security and benefits. Otherwise, we are not too far apart on the unique civil service culture. I find it hard to disagree with this:

As I said before, the problem is often leadership. It's often the people who stick around and fail to find something better in the private sector who rise to the top. In management, there's no culture of initiative and too many routine things are passed up and down the chain of command.

Dick refers to the "old standby, that the public sector should absorb the values and practices of the private sector". I wouldn't put it exactly like that. My view would be that when something can be done by the private sector, Hotels, Airports, Peat Factories, Health, Education, Transport (even roads, toll-roads can be profitable) it should be and the government shouldn't get involved. This is infinitely preferable to a massive, and redundant, public sector play-acting like the private sector. In such a slimmed down public sector one aspect of the private sector should apply: private, confidential employment contracts.

As for Decentralisation or (Federalisation as Dick would have it):

Frank seems to be assuming that Dublin would keep its existing tax rates, whereas in effect the opposite may be true once it ceases needing to contribute towards the rest of the country. Once again, I'd have to ask how local authorities would compete. First of all they'd have to have taxes lower than the new Dublin. Secondly, they're going to have to come up with some sort of revenue to build the infrastructure and services to attract new businesses.

I imagine that Dublin, with its massive government involvement in housing, transport, refuse disposal and various public services, along with the current regulatory burden would retain taxes at current levels. I would hope that other regions might look to attract investment by cutting taxes and regulations. Such tax and regulation competition would be beneficial to all. It is easy to overstate the costs of "infrastructure". Services can be provided and paid for as needed.

What Frank seems to be proposing is a US style federal system for Ireland. The problem is that while it may work just fine in the States, Ireland is smaller than many US states. Breaking the country down into twenty six statelets, each with its own local government and bureaucracy seems rather excessive for a country small enough to be managed as one entity.

Ireland may be smaller than many US states but those same states will still have yet smaller, more devolved forms of local governance. That said, decentralisation need not take the form of 26 statelets, you might have a few regions based on population size. Maybe Dublin, North Leinster (plus Cavan and Monaghan), South Leinster, Munster and Connaught (plus Donegal). Or you could have the South, West, Midlands, East coast (north), East coast (south) and Dublin.

As for the notion of "Dublin's diktat", it ignores that fact that we live in a representative democracy where those outside Dublin do have an input into the way the country is run. Surely the sight of rural politicians crowing about the decentralisation goodies they got for their constituencies is proof enough of this?

Sure, those parish pumps just want government pork. What I had in mind was that for certain problems a locally derived solution is the fairest, such as my example of a liberalised planning system in the West. This goes both ways, Dublin can govern itself without having to cater to the whims and prejudices of those idiosyncratic rural TDs.

Friday, December 05, 2003


More on dispersed centralisation from Dick who makes some excellent points about the practicality, or rather lack thereof, of relocating government departments around the country. He is also quite correct to note that those civil servants who would desire a move out of Dublin usually have a specific place in mind. A Corkonian is unlikely to relish a reassignment to Letterkenny!

I think, however, Dick must have his tongue planted in his cheek when he says, of the "things wrong with the civil service":

"Lousy pay means that younger and brighter people are often lost to the private sector or not even hired in the first place. "

Pay in the public sector generally and the civil service in particular is certainly not "lousy" especially when you take into account the job security involved, guaranteed pension and other benefits. It is only correct that pay be higher in the private sector - the "risk premium" - considering the uncertainty involved. I would turn Dick's "problem" around. The reason it is difficult to attract and retain "brighter" staff and possibly pay them more is that it is so difficult to get rid of entrenched jobsworths. Cutting back the numbers to achieve a leaner, fitter, less expensive civil service and abolishing linked "pay grades" in favour of individual (confidential) contracts, would have the additional benefit of attracting those bright, ambitious prospects otherwise repelled by the existing stale civil service culture which rewards inertia at the expense of initiative.

As for real decentralisation, devolved local government, Dick is unconvinced, holding that, as Dublin "generates the most tax revenue", decentralisation is more likely to see the beggaring of the regions compared to Dublin. I'm not inclined to agree. This would only be the case if you held that redistributionism is a) desirable and b) efficient and that high tax/high spend beats low tax/low spend every time (in fact, the reverse is true).

It may be the case that a lot of tax revenue is generated in Dublin but it is also the case that a lot of tax revenue is consumed in Dublin. The vision John and I have is of local government weaned off subsidies from Dublin and competing with over-taxed, over-regulated Dublin for investment and people by offering more dynamic economic conditions. Maybe a lean, efficient flat tax rate (see Slovakia) or perhaps (and I know that this would be popular in the west), abolishing the requirement to obtain Planning permission, particularly for houses. Such initiatives may or may not be wise. The point with decentralisation is that a locally derived, locally appropriate solution would apply instead of Dublin's diktat. If you look at the issue of one-off rural houses in the west: whatever you think about the desirability of this - I'm not exactly crazy about the prospect of the countryside peppered with bungalows but I live on the east coast, not the west - it is clear that current restrictions on this type of development originate in Dublin and not from local priorities.

Left, Right

Interesting post by Back Seat Driver Jon following up on Irish Eagle John's post on whether Saddam was, as Marian Finucane apparently believes, "right wing".

For what it's worth and in so far as it's useful, I would hold that Saddam was "left wing". This is based on the character of his regime and his foreign policy. Iraq was a Soviet client during the cold war. Ba'athism is a form of Stalinism with added clan-based nationalism and was, as we are constantly reminded, "secular".

I agree with Jon that "sorting your left from your right can be rather tricky", but that is because they are rather crude labels which imply that political orientation is a line, or at the very least a "circle" instead of a multidimensional space. Jon cannot avoid repeating the canard about the extreme where "right meets left". I don't subscribe to this view because I don't think the reason for the similarity between, say, Mao and Pinochet (Jon uses Hitler and Stalin but I would like to return to that) is that they were both "extreme".

As it happens there's nothing wrong with extremism (in moderation!). You can be "extremely" in love with someone, or "extremely" good-looking. Someone might have an extremely good political idea, this shouldn't be dismissed because it is "extreme". There are similarities between "right" and "left" dictators but it is not exactly to do with how "extreme" they are. They are to do with the extent to which they believe their aim (the good of the country or the good of the workers) justifies coercion of their subjects/citizens and how such absolute power facilitates personal enrichment and aggrandisement. This, I would submit to Jon, is an even more important question than the distinction between "Radical" and "Conservative": How much coercion is justified?

An Anarchist - and I mean a proper anarcho-capitalist, not the anti-globo pseudo-anarchists who wish to retain a massive redistributive state - would hold that no coercion at all is justified.

A Libertarian would recognise that a minimum amount of coercion is, regrettably, necessary simply in order to maintain a legal framework to enforce contracts (freely entered into, of course), protect property rights and national defence.

A Socialist requires quite a significant level of coercion. This ranges from property confiscation to fund a redistributive state to regulating and rationing provision of all sorts of services, health, education, transport, industry. Coercion would also have to apply to prevent adults fulfilling voluntary agreements for a range of activities the socialist state considers wrong, from offering your labour at a rate below state-sanctioned minimum to offering a premises where smoking is permitted.

A "Social Conservative" who wished to impose his vew on the rest of us would also require a significant level of coercion to ensure adults conformed to societal norms of behaviour. They would also hold that society's interests should always prevail over an individual's interest. Again, coercion is required to prevent adults fulfilling voluntary agreements such as paying for sex.

Many people probably think that they don't support coercion of others but if they examine their political views they will see that a significant level of coercion is necessary, even to sustain a so-called "centrist" political regime.

As for Hitler and Stalin: Their similarities, outside of simple "extremism", significantly outweigh their supposed differences. Both were extreme Nationalists, both very vain, paranoid egotists. Both were "socialists". Hitler was unashamed of his socialism. He may have opposed "Bolshevism" and today's "Neo-Nazis" may style themselves as "right wing" but there was no dissembling in naming his movement "National Socialism". Hitler's economic policies were hardly those of a "right wing capitalist". Even though it is the default designation, "right wing" is a rather casual, lazy label for Nazism.

Thursday, December 04, 2003


I find it hard to muster up any enthusiasm for the latest decentralisation push. There seems to be a consensus in Ireland that "decentralisation" is A Good Thing yet I cannot share the assumptions behind this. For starters: "decentralisation" as we mean it in Ireland is a bit of a misnomer. "dispersed centralisation" might be a more accurate description. What is proposed is that our burgeoning army of civil "servants" be distributed around the country to a number of provincial towns. It is intended that the taxpayers in these towns who fund the lavish salaries and the generous relocation allowances be grateful for the spending power of the mandarins from the Department of Equality or the Ministry of Compassion, the crumbs from their table. Who is "serving" whom?

I may be able to agree with the first assumption behind the decentralisation proposal: the notion that there are too many civil servants in Dublin. My solution to this problem is to cut back our huge public sector and not pay these bureaucrats to move. The second assumption is that a government department's principal purpose is to distribute government pork. If the department's primary purpose is as stated there is no reason for it not to remain in Dublin. That is, after all, where the government sits. It is only if you see public sector jobs as a method of redistributing income that you would prefer to disperse these government departments around the country. Paradoxically "decentralisation" increases centralisation. Location is the least relevant aspect of central control and scattering government departments around the country may assist in the exponential growth of the public sector . There is little local government or devolution of powers, little real decentralisation in Ireland. Central control administered by dispersed bureacrats is no different to the status quo.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

In Praise of Borders

Typically great article by Mark Steyn. It's nominally about Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's remarkable suggestion that US courts ought to be influenced by foreign courts, but contains this ode to borders:

"Let me come at it this way. I love borders, the more the merrier – town lines, county, state, and, of course, national. Borders symbolize one of the few remaining constraints on government: You don’t like the grade school here in town? Move ten miles up the road. You don’t want to pay Vermont sales tax? Drive over the river and shop in New Hampshire. Arianna Huffington huffs against “tax loopholes for fat cats”, but I’d say the ability to rent a post office box in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands is a “loophole” in one of the original 16th century senses – an aperture to let in light and fresh air. The fact that there’s somewhere else to go to is the ultimate limitation on government. Borders give people choices – and, to put it in a bumper sticker, “I’m Pro-Choice And I Vote With My Feet”. When starry-eyed utopians speak of a “world without borders”, you can pretty much guess what kind of a place the one-world one-party state would be, with tax rates starting at 60%, about where they are in Sweden right now."

It's worth considering in the context of Ireland. It's taken as a given across the political spectrum that, whatever the rights and wrongs of partition, it is to Ireland's disadvantage to be partitioned. Even those who are indifferent to a United Ireland or opposed to it rarely consider that there may be prosaic non-sovereignty-related benefits to partition.

This is something which I see every day where I live. Because of the UK's punitive fuel tax regime, Dundalk's filling stations are, er, filled every day with drivers from Newry and South Armagh stocking up. Conversely Newry's UK chain stores are booming every weekend as Dundalk shoppers take advantage of the UK's lower VAT rate and better value. Many Louth builders have become uncompetitive as proximity to Dublin's boom has raised profit expectations. "Keener" builders from Armagh and Newry are winning plenty of tenders here. Cross border choice is also available in education, healthcare and nightlife.

It might well be the case that Ireland could do with more and not less partition. Let us imagine power was devolved to individual counties or provinces. It is entirely possible that a far-seeing local government of the underpopulated west might compete with the east coast for jobs, business and people by offering a less regulated, lower tax regime. This competition might force the east coast to cut back its ballooning public sector and creeping tax and regulatory burden. Win-Win?

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Got Your Back (Seat)

Commentary from my old sparring partner Dick who knows the difference between debate and mud-slinging. I think he's right that further debate with Dunne is futile.

Why didn't I think of that?

I have been accused of seeking extra readers by emulating Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan (which by the way suggests that their views are popular). Maybe I would have been better to follow Peter's surefire method to increase traffic!


I have been thinking a bit more about the Paul Dunne piece yesterday and I will admit to feeling, still, a little needled. It probably serves little purpose to "fisk" the entire piece. I don't mean to "cop out" but such a fisking would be a mammoth task given, not only the many specious assertions made, but the assumptions behind those assertions. Further it occurs to me that it anyone who is convinced by Dunne's rather hysterical screed is unlikely to prove amenable to reason.

I cannot, however, let certain things pass. I would like to apologise to any ex-pats if I gave the impression that Dunne's argument was necessarily weakened by virtue of the fact that he resides in Germany. This wasn't the precise point I wished to make.

Before I explain what I mean I need to explain a bit about how careful an extreme nationalist like Dunne is with his words. Those who are unfamiliar with the particulars of republican theology might easily miss certain weasel terms and evasions. Dunne's piece, along with his blog in general, is riddled with them. I am very conscious of them and react accordingly. Here are a couple not readily detectable:

1. "The six counties": Ok, this is a bit of an obvious one. The idea is that "Ireland" is the full 32 counties and any lesser is not a legitimate state. This does not only refer to the "six counties" of Northern Ireland but also the "twenty six counties" of the Republic. It is taboo in extremist nationalism to recognise the fact that partition has already taken place (going on about three quarters of a century now). A related term is "the North of Ireland" as opposed to "Northern Ireland". That one is quite easy to miss. It is important to recognise this evasion because when some extreme nationalists say "Ireland", they are not talking about a real place at all but a fantasy. In this fantasy, there is a "legitimate government" which is the 1919 Dail (which devolved its power to the IRA). This is the last time that an all-Ireland election was held. This, according to the theology, was the last democratic government of Ireland. Thus, since 1919, Ireland, as the fantasy has it, is "ruled" by the "provisional government" of the IRA Army council. The fantasy also states that "Ireland" remains at war with Britain.

2. "Green, White and Gold": This is a very easy one to miss. Dunne specifically claims that I'm not "loyal to the Green, White and Gold flag of Ireland" and for once, emulating the proverbial crocked clock, he is exactly right. That's because there is no such thing as the "Green, White and Gold". The tricolour, our national flag, has three easily identifiable colours: Green, White and Orange. It was specifically designed to represent not just the "Green" Catholic tradition, but the "Orange" Protestant tradition also. It may seem abtruse of me to draw attention to this but the use of the word "Gold" is quite deliberate. The idea is that nothing should take away from the perception that the "settlers" of Ulster are an "alien" imposition on "Green" Ireland.

My intention here is to set the context for Dunne's remarks, particularly on what constitutes a "true Irishman" rather than to specifically criticise those who use these evasions. (As it turns out, plenty of people I respect use these terms)

Now, to explain my annoyance at being lectured in Irishness by the expatriate Dunne: It is quite easy to sustain this fantasy image of Ireland when you live abroad. That is not the same as saying that all expats have unrealistic fantasy images of their homeland. Rather that those who already wish to conjure up this "Ireland of the mind" - in which all "true" Irish people share this perception that we are at war with "our enemy" the British, who still "occupy" a corner of our land - will find it easy to avoid evidence which contradicts this view.

I was born, grew up, live and work here in real-world, prosperous, increasingly multicultural, 26 counties, Republic of Ireland, very near real-world, relatively thriving, 6 counties, Northern Ireland. There are plenty of things I could complain about but I am happy to live here. I put my money (including my coerced taxes!) where my mouth is. Thus, in no way is it accurate to say that I'm "anti-Irish". I have no interest in a whose-more-Irish-than-whom pissing contest but Dunne's claim of authentic Irishness is, in his own way, no less ersatz than that of the average lachrymose Boston drunk who has never crossed the Atlantic.

Oh, and by the way: I didn't argue that the famine was all the fault of the Irish, just that I have no patience for the self-pitying line that this was a tragedy inflicted on us by the British in the same way as the Holocaust or slavery. This was a tragic event but not the simple story Dunne would have us believe, (and I don't care how much indoctrination Historical knowledge he claims to possess!). By definition the ancestors of today's Irish people did not die or emigrate. That much is beyond refutation. Thus neither Dunne or I can plausibly claim that tragedy as our own. Whatever claim Irish-Americans might have to victimhood under the famine, it is not one rightfully available to contemporary Irish people.

Suggestions to individual English people that they examine their conscience in this respect, apart from being pompous, are way off the mark. The fact is: take an English person at random, such as the author of the blog who aroused Dunne's righteous scorn. The chances of an individual ancestor of hers having anything to do with the famine are non-existently slim, given the size of the English population and the level of immigration into the country. The chances of an ancestor of Dunnes (or even mine) thriving while others starved, are a lot higher. This is what I intend when I put it back to Dunne and it is not quite the same as relieving the British of responsibility, it is certainly the case that absentee governance exacerbated the problem. If anyone is going to bear responsibility for the actions of their ancestors, and unlike him I don't believe they should, then any random Irish person is more likely to have had a "culpable" ancestor than any random English person.

Beatniksalad has picked up on this discussion and rather misleadingly titles the post "Famine Denial". This is not the case.

UPDATE: One last thing, anyone tempted to dismiss this as a mildly diverting inter-blog dispute, similar to the regular banter I have with Dick, might re-read these sinister words of this deluded fantasist (and indeed Nazi apologist):

"A Jewish version of McGahon would be rehashing "Did Six Million Really Die?" on his little website -- or rather, he would be for a very short while, until he was taken care of. We have in our midst detritus no other nation would tolerate...Why do we have so many of these wretches in Ireland? ... It's pointless simply bemoaning this situation. These cancerous cells within the body politic are a danger to the life and health of the nation, and, just as a man riddled with cancer must destroy the alien cells or be destroyed himself, so we must rid ourselves of the enemy within if we wish to restore our national well-being. In that sense, the West British are unwittingly right in their belittling of the struggle against England: the enemy is also at home, and dealing with them may well now be the more important fight. "

[emphasis added] I think I can say that this is the first time I have received death threats. 1:01PM 2/12/03

Monday, December 01, 2003


Looks like I hit a nerve: Paul Dunne has composed a rather sour, flatulent and long-winded "response" to my post below. He rather makes my point for me about the curious mindset of some extreme nationalism. There is this regrettable tendency in Northern Irish politics, frequently evidenced in the comments section of Slugger, to refuse to engage an argument on its merits and instead attack the person making the argument. To use the popular Gaelic footballing analogy: Playing the man, not the ball. Dunne's rambling incoherent screed conforms perfectly to type.

It's rather curious that he upbraids me for putting words in his mouth:

"Nowhere do I say or imply this. McGahon just made it up"

This is what I "made up": "If you are to follow his prescription then you shouldn't learn anything about any historical event unless it is connected to your own "blood"

What Dunne actually wrote: "We can I think safely leave the remembrance of the Shoah to those who suffered in it and to those who perpetrated it; our settler would do well to examine outrages nearer to their self and to their blood"

OK, I don't think my paraphrasing was so far off, but then Dunne commits the precise offense I'm supposedly guilty of in presuming to know my mind:

"Ironically, if Frank McGahon had been alive in the 1930s he would, if we can judge by his general political line today, very likely have been fulminating against the evils of "Judeo-Bolshevism""


Curious that the test of ethnic purity is never too far from the mind of this plastic Paddy who loves his country so much he lives elsewhere:

"To what flag is McGahon loyal? Certainly not the green white and gold. So in what sense is he an Irishman? By having an Irish name? What of it? Constance, Countess Markiewicz had a Polish name. What of it? And her maiden name was Gore-Booth, a fine double-barrelled English name. Again, what of it? The list of naturalised Irish men and Irish women is headed by Dean Swift, and it is a long and glorious list. Similarly, the list of what might be called the half-Irish, but who proved themselves 100% Irish by their words and deeds, is long and glorious, and Patrick Pearse is at the head of it. Conversely, many possessors of fine old Gaelic names have so degenerated as to be Irish only nominally, in essence thoroughly Anglicized. So it is with this McGahon. Irish by birth -- like Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington; Irish by name -- like Lenny Murphy, the Shankill Butcher"

"Shankill Butcher"? I find myself bemused, rather than wounded, by such hysterical hyperbole.

I suppose it must be difficult to attain perfection in Irishness, so much so that Dunne is bound to be disappointed by ordinary Irish people who don't live up to his lofty ideals. Better to live abroad and conjure up an "Ireland of the mind" than live and work in real-world Ireland and risk contamination by those who are insufficiently pure.

Dunne counsels any of his readers who might be tempted to read Internet Commentator: "feel free to inflict the whole thing on yourself if you've the patience and the stomach for it ". I might offer a similar caveat to you but it's worth reading to disabuse you of any notion that extreme nationalist fantasists such as Dunne are amenable to reasonable argument.


Carrie/Stella Marie links to a piece by Vincent Browne in the Sunday Business Post on why the DUP will do a deal with Sinn Fein. Browne's conjecture is fantastical:

"Ian Paisley said a few weeks ago that Sinn Féin, as well as the IRA, would have to disband before he would enter government with Sinn Féin. Even he cannot sustain that tautology.The party's net position is likely to be that cooperation with Sinn Féin is conditional on the disbandment of the IRA and the complete decommmissioning of weapons. Both these preconditions can be met. In time. "

In keeping with the Dublin media's preoccupation with SF he only offers, as proof for this assertion, reasons why SF will go along with this. It is true that policing and decommissioning have hitherto been seen as virtually unsurmountable obstacles and it is understandable that Browne might wish to examine scenarios where it would prove advantageous for SF to "move" on these. Further, he is correct to postulate that should a deal be done between these "extremes" it is more likely to "stick". The problem is, there is no reason for the DUP to do a deal with SF. There's nothing in it for them. Browne takes for granted that they will do what is necessary to make the Good Friday Agreement work but it doesn't apparently occur to him to wonder why a party which opposed the GFA and continues to oppose it would want to do this.

Meanwhile, as Newton Emerson pointed out yesterday, SF rather relishes its image of Unionism "..not wanting a fenian about the place". Why should it do anything to help alter that perception? As Eilis O'Hanlon notes: SF "would rather argue against bigots than [deal with] democrats".

I was in favour of the GFA at the time, reasoning that any kind of cross-community devolved government would be preferable to the status quo and it might offer NI politics the opportunity to "grow up" and move from sectarian one-up-manship to more prosaic quotidian issues. It is somewhat of an irony, and testament to the uselessness of NI politicians of all stripes, that during the assembly's suspension and for the forseeable future Northern Ireland is more competently governed by, as Tony comments, just two junior British ministers: Ian Pearson and Angela Smith. Unfortunately the effect of the agreement has been to render in stark detail the true extent of sectarian division in this small place. A divide which has, if anything, deepened. In practical terms the GFA is dead: its flaws and internal contradictions have been shown up.

It is often said that the "fudge" over decommissioning was the GFA's biggest flaw. It is true that this issue has poisoned the atmosphere and it has been a substantial obstacle. However the biggest flaw in the GFA's execution was the assumption of static levels of support for the main political parties and the related idea that one could safely disregard the DUP. It is probably true that a deal involving SF, SDLP, UUP and DUP was simply unobtainable, but it was a serious mistake to assume that the DUP would simply disappear as the "benefits" of local government made themselves apparent.

Likewise it seemed to be assumed that SF would remain, and would be content to remain, the junior nationalist party. A thought occurred to me over the weekend: what if there was never a "mainstream, constitutional" nationalism? What if NI Nationalists were always as "green" as they are now. Perhaps SF has always been the "truer" voice of NI nationalism. It might well have been the case that, while the IRA was actively going around killing lots of people and blowing things up, NI Nationalists couldn't condone this level of violence and thus voted for the SDLP instead. Perhaps all they wanted was for the IRA to stop, maybe they don't really care about punishment attacks, expulsions, arms stockpiling. Maybe an "armed peace" is just fine by NI's Nationalists. If this is true, then the reason for the SDLP's demise is a massive miscalculation of their electoral mandate.

Carrie is right to note that the GFA shouldn't have been "just for" the UUP and the SDLP, but in a way it was. The assumption was that Nationalists wouldn't mind sharing power with the UUP and Unionists wouldn't mind sharing power with the SDLP. Nobody thought that Nationalists would have to swallow Ian Paisley as First Minister or Unionists, Martin McGuinness as Second Minister.

Friday, November 28, 2003


Courtesy of Google, Here's the paper Conor links to below converted to HTML


This paper by Edmund Shanahan analyses the history of what's now Northern Ireland in terms of libertarian principles (property rights, freedom of thought and expression etc.) He also contextualises the 1998 Belfast Agreement from a similar perspective. He draws an interesting parallel in terms of the old libertarian traditions common to both Ulster Presbyterianiam and to Irish Brehon law (predating the twelfth century occupation).

Whither the GFA?

Carrie/Stella Marie is optimistic about the future for democracy in Northern Ireland in the light of the predictable success of the "purists" of SF and DUP over the "compromisers" of the SDLP and the UUP. She is quite correct to note:

"Perhaps I am naive but shouldn't the GFA be able to work no matter who is elected? Was it really written for the UUP and SDLP alone?"

..and I think both those parties suffered because they complacently took that for granted. However I wouldn't share her optimism and that's because of the agendas of SF and the DUP. It is in the DUP's interest to show that the GFA cannot work. Indeed it could be argued that they have a mandate not to work the agreement. It is also in SF's interest, if not for the agreement to fail, to show that "Unionists aren't really serious about sharing power with nationalists". This is a line peddled consistently by SF over the last few years, particularly by Martin McGuinness. It may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The aim of the SDLP and the UUP was to work the agreement and have some semblance of devolved local government. Neither SF or the DUP have this aim. The DUP are explicit in opposing the agreement and by definition the Local Assembly government. Direct rule by London would suit them fine.

SF are pro-agreement and are prepared to work the assembly but it is simply a means to an end for them. If their "end" of progress towards a United Ireland is served better by illustrating the intransigence they assert is endemic to Unionism well let that be so.

In a strange way, though their goals are diamettrically opposed, both SF and the DUP serve each other's interests. These interests do not coincide with the working of the agreement or the assembly.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Most Oppressed People Ever

Checking by the Shamrockshire Eagle today, I came across a particularly acute example of MOPE syndrome. Anyone who doubted the myopic and parochial insularity endemic to extreme Irish Nationalism would be well advised to read Paul Dunne's piece about English Settlers and the Holocaust:

"I have noticed that some English settlers in Ireland seem to have a regular bee in their bonnet about the Germans and the Jews, in particular the treatment of the Jews by the Germans in the Second World War; that is to say, the Holocaust.

Yes, that "treatment" was awful wasn't it?

Is it not odd, that? Wouldn't you think the English in Ireland would have just the teeniest bit of guilt on their own behalf, perhaps even be too embarrassed to start ranting about the mote in their neighbour's eye, and they strutting about with a beam in their own?

I wonder where this is heading?

"Mass graves for Jews? What about mass graves for Irish? Victims of hunger or disease, bellies bloated from starvation, mouths stained green from trying to live on grass, they were heaped by the hundreds into unmarked common graves and covered over with soil, those graves to be trampled by the herds of cattle their clearance made way for; to be explained away as the result of a "natural disaster"; before long, simply to be forgotten. Certainly, there's nary a thought for them from our "guests".

Yes, the Famine was exactly the same as the Holocaust. The Brits cleverly lured Ireland into potato-dependency and then secretly introduced the potato blight so that the Irish would starve to death. You'd have to admit, this genocide plan was a rather cumbersome, why not just line everybody up against a wall and shoot them? What was especially sinister about the plan was the way the Brits, across the sea, forced the Irish on the ground, who could see the starvation all around, not to help their brethren. Well, coercion must have been used? Otherwise it is hard to see how all of our ancestors would just stand around and do nothing while whole families, whole villages just starved to death. That would be unthinkable, after all: we Irish are victims, dammit, not perpetrators. If it was true that the Irish stood idly by while their compatriots starved to death or emigrated, never to return, you'd think they'd feel very guilty about it afterwards. Maybe guilty enough to want to find someone else to blame for it? Naah, surely not?

"And the Great Famine was merely the worst of many, and of other many outrages committed in Ireland by the stranger. The English were looting and burning and pillaging and murdering in this land long before Adolf Hitler was a glint in his father's eye. And they haven't gone yet: still they strut about in their fancy uniforms in a part of the country, as though they had every right to be there. And that's never minding the "Kapos" down South."

So the Republic of Ireland is just like a concentration camp and the authorities here are nothing but concentration camp guards? It is certainly an unorthodox comparison. If it is a concentration camp, it is a most unusual one in that its occupants are voluntary.

"But opposition to that is, we are told, no more than a type of Nazism itself, hateful, outmoded."

What could possibly be "hateful, outmoded" about blowing up a town centre full of shoppers?

"Here we see the real function of the Holocaust for our settlers. This harping on another attempted genocide -- one so conveniently far away -- is an excellent example of that ancient human vice, hypocrisy. It cannot but remind one of the Pharisee in the temple, praying to God in thanks that he has been made better than others; so full of pride and self-satisfaction, and he nothing but a whited sepulcure, fine without, full of corruption and rottenness within. One must indeed deplore the excesses of the Germans during the Second World War; but, to paraphrase Muhammed Ali, "no German ever called me nigger" (that might be because you're not black --Ed.)."

Ah: those "excesses", surely to be "deplored". If only the Nazis had been more "moderate". 6 million is so "excessive". Why couldn't they have been happy with, Oh I don't know, 2 or 3 million? In Dunne's "Volk" outlook, nothing is more important than ethnic identity. Because the Nazis never had the opportunity to demonstrate their feelings about the Irish, then the Irish need have no opinion about them one way or another.

"We can I think safely leave the remembrance of the Shoah to those who suffered in it and to those who perpetrated it; our settler would do well to examine outrages nearer to their self and to their blood."

Dunne conflates remembrance of the Shoah with learning from it. The rise of Nazism contains lessons not restricted to the innate personality of the Germans. If you are to follow his prescription then you shouldn't learn anything about any historical event unless it is connected to your own "blood". I find it hard to imagine anything more antithetical to everything I hold dear than this regressive, anti-cosmopolitan, grievance-peddling ethnic-determinism.

Here's a little thought for you Paul: I have no idea what wrongs all of my ancestors did and I have no intention of taking responsibility for their deeds or deeds of their contemporaries. Yet you seem to feel that today's English people bear responsibilty for the actions not only of their ancestors but all other English people throughout history. You would have an English person feel "guilty" about the possibility that someone from their country might have done something bad to someone of our country hundreds of years ago. Yet you would applaud someone from our country today who tried to blow up that same English person without a trace of guilt. Here's another thought: how can you be sure that you are personally "ethnically pure"? Should you discover a rogue English ancestor in your family tree will you affect the appropriate humility?

Right back atcha

Happy Thanksgiving to John and everybody else!

Dick still doesn't get it

I think I'm banging my head against the wall. Reading Dick's latest post on Eoghan Harris/Anti-Bush protesters, he claims my summary endorses his own idiosyncratic interpretation of Harris' argument:

"Somewhat bizarrely, it's actually pretty much what I was saying, i.e. that Harris is alleging that anti-war protestors are leftist 'luvvies' taking their cues from 'Islington Trots'. It's an indefensible argument. 68 per cent of Irish people opposed intervention without a UN resolution. 100,000 people marched against it in Dublin. I think this represents a little more than the voices of Islington Trots!"

No, No, No. This is not the point and the numbers don't matter. 99.99 % of Irish (or British) people deciding that the moon is made of green cheese doesn't make it so.

The point is not whether the anti-Bush protesters consciously take their cues from the "Islington Trots" (more accurately "Hampstead lefties") but that they share the same flawed analysis. Remember also that there is a huge difference between opposing the war before it started (argument summary: "This would be unwise") and opposing it afterwards (argument summary: "Saddamite forces should prevail"). Dick conflates both positions to make his point. There is a huge difference between saying that 1) UN approval should have been obtained prior to the war and saying that 2) US troops should immediately withdraw.

Ultimately he dodges Harris' main argument: the moral delinquency of the protesters. Questions about left-right political affiliation or level of support are side issues. Even if you were to suspend disbelief and join Dick in his apparent view that the protesters included rural Fianna Fail cumann members, midlands auctioneers and little old ladies in equal numbers to the typical anti-globo/anti-zionist/student/marxist rentamob: the protesters' argument is still wrong.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Schadenfreude a bit previous?

Looks like I was a little premature in celebrating Arsenal's "demise" in the Champions' League competition. A lazarus-like resurgence has seen them acquire the fluency which had deserted them in Europe, winning their next two games on the trot. Their nervy win over Dynamo Kiev was followed last night by a superb 5-1 away win over Inter Milan. A home win against Locomotiv Moscow in their last group stage game will see them progress to the knockout stage. Incredibly, a drawn game would still see them qualify with a paltry 8 points should Dynamo Kiev hold a jittery Inter Milan in the other game.

Trots or not

More from Dick on the Eoghan Harris piece:

"Frank at Internet Commentator seems to be misreading my post from yesterday. The point was not that 'left wing' (or right wing for that matter) is a slur or an insult, but that left and right has little to do with protesting against the war...Harris's tactic has been to use faulty logic in concluding that if some of the protestors hold a certain set of opinions, then they all do and thus every critic of the war is tainted by the dubious politics of others. Frank's right in saying that Castro boosters were no doubt in the crowd, but it doesn't mean everybody was because of their presence, or indeed that they can be right about one thing and wrong about another."

I think, perhaps, Dick is guilty of "misreading" Eoghan. The thrust of the piece was not to present the anti-Bush protests as a left wing phenomenon (even though that is an accurate characterisation), rather to point up the moral delinquency of those who would either refuse to take sides between Bush and Saddam or worse, support the Saddamite forces. Dick seems to be characterising Eoghan Harris' argument as follows

1. Left wing "trots" are wrong

2. Left wing "trots" are opposed to the war

3. Therefore those who oppose the war are left wing "trots" and are wrong

It hardly needs pointing out that this isn't much of an argument as it says nothing about the merits of the present protest, the problem is: this isn't the argument Harris was making. To summarise the actual argument for Dick's benefit:

1. Upper class British leftists, who are influenced by Trotsky, such as Vanessa Redgrave or Tony Benn, have a particular analysis of the "conflict" between "the West" and Al-Qaeda.

2. This analysis states that all the blame for this "conflict" lies with "arrogant", "imperialist" Bush and specific "root causes" are Iraq and the US policy towards Israel. According to this view, Al-Qaeda is an understandable, predictable reaction from the "third" World to the policies of the "first" world. This "analysis" is expressed most consistently by Robert Fisk.

3. Fisk's "analysis" is unquestioningly accepted by the Irish Media, especially in RTE and the Irish Times and has become received wisdom. The protesters share this "analysis". (this analysis, by the way, is consistent with party lines on Cuba and Mugabe)

4. This "analysis" is wrong. Al-Qaeda opposes not just Bush and the US, but as can be seen from Istanbul, moderate Islamic democracies. Indeed Turkey poses a greater threat to Al-Qaeda's declared aim of a worldwide Islamic caliphate than the US. Furthermore it is likely the 9/11 attacks were planned during "conciliatory" Clinton's reign.

5. The price for accepting this incorrect analysis is that it would appease Al-Qaeda and those who are still fighting in Iraq.

6. As can be seen from 1939, appeasement doesn't work. Yielding to an enemy in the hope that they will moderate their aims is a seductive but ultimately dangerous fantasy.

There is obviously a lot more in Harris' piece but I think this more accurately summarises the point Dick refers to.