Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Tale of Two Petes

Pete Bellamy was a year behind Malcolm at Fakenham Grammar School. Aged 15 or 16, Pete and Malcolm became acquainted on an archaeological dig at Walsingham Priory. When it rained (which was frequently) they retreated to the coal hole of the Shirehall (then the local Magistrates' Court), which was being used as the nerve-centre for the dig. With a battery-operated record-player in the coal-hole, Pete and Malcolm ran through their severely-restricted collection of discs.

Thus was started two life-long interests (for Pete a sadly abbreviated life).

Malcolm got Louis Armstong's Hot Five from Pete, and Pete got folk music from Malcolm. It was a fair exchange. In those days, Pete Bellamy was not so purist about his folk-music as they sang along with Seeger and the Weavers in the coal-hole.

Malcolm had already latched on to the Weavers (which he had bought second-hand in St Andrews Street, Norwich, and still has -- though in an unplayable condition). That means one of the tracks with which they harmonised in that coal-hole was Banks of Marble.

Les Rice was a farmer from Newburgh, New York State, near to Pete Seeger's home. Seeger took the song from him, as a sleeve note says:
Like most small farmers, he was getting intolerably squeezed by the big companies which sold him all his fertilizer, insecticide and equipment, and the big companies that dictated to him the prices he would get for his produce. Out of that squeeze came this song.

By 1949 the song was in the Weavers' repertoire, and from there into various union song-books:
I saw the weary farmer,
Plowing sod and loam;
I heard the auction hammer
A knocking down his home.

But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the farmer sweated for.

The song lives on: two more recent versions are by Leo Kottke and Iris DeMent.

Now (Hosannas!) the Labour Government has nationalised a bank: it didn't want to, and sees it as an embuggerance. However, it has done the deed, albeit reluctantly and shamed of face. Malcolm sees it as a small but significant moment of socialism. Inevitably, the Euro-capitalists are poking fingers at the whole deal, and snorting down patrician noses.

Yesterday, the first question to the Prime Minister was from Kelvin Hopkins, the MP for Luton North. Hopkins saw off John Carlisle at the 1997 Election. Since Carlisle was a notorious right-winger, and cheer-leader for white supremacists in southern Africa, that was a double-victory for socialism. Hopkins's question had as many barbs as a porcupine:
Last week the parliamentary Labour party was united in voting enthusiastically to nationalise a bank. On Friday two thirds of the parliamentary Labour party stayed in Westminster to vote for the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, so ably promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston [Andrew Miller]. After that vote we gathered in New Palace Yard for a team photograph and sang "The Red Flag". Does my right hon. Friend accept that with more of the same, he will lead us to a famous victory at the next election?

Hopkins thereby ensured his disqualification for any job in any Brown Government (not that he would want or take one).

Back in 1912, Malcolm's Yorkshire miner Grandfather was on strike to keep a 12/6d (that's 62½p to the younger element) minimum wage per week. Out of that came a home-made stool (which Malcolm has and treasures), made to occupy the time, and the naming of his late Aunt Minima.

So Malcolm cheers on Kelvin Hopkins, and those few real socialist MPs left. They won't change much, but it does no harm to remind the rest from whence we came. So, two Petes and a twelve-string accompaniment in his memory, Malcolm sings a further verse:
I saw the weary miner,
Scrubbing coal dust from his back,
I heard his children cryin',
Got no coal to heat the shack.

But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the miner sweated for.
The punch-line, though, should belong to Pete Bellamy. He produced a fair number of original songs; and his edits of received traditional ones are quite inspired. His Farewell to the Land (which borrows a melody from the Copper Family) is, probably, his best. It harkens back to growing up in the farm-bailiff's cottage in Warham, and addresses the inequalities which Seeger, Lee Rice and the likes of Kelvin Hopkins, in their different ways, deplore and contest:
Now I raise my sons in an old caravan,
For the cottage where my roots were put down
Has been sold by the farmer to a rich city man,
Where he spends a few weekends from town.
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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Belling the marmalade cat

Malcolm was sorting old files, when he came across this copy of The Bell, from December 1953.

Seán O'Faoláin and Peadar O'Donnell founded the The Bell in 1940. O'Faoláin was the editor until until 1946, and O'Donnell continued it until 1954. Anyone with the complete series has a compendium of Irish writing by authors of stature (and some neophytes): Paddy Kavanagh, Mary Lavin, Flann O'Brien, Frank O'Connor, Brendan Behan, Denis Johnson, and many more.

The magazine achieved an importance that was crucial. Imagine an early Granta transported to the Liffey's quays, struggling with ferocious censorship, championing social and ideological change against clerical and institutional conservatism, perpetually underfinanced, and with paper rationing.

The moment of its foundation was itself significant, following de Valera's new Constitution and contemporary with the intellectual and political "know-nothing" isolation that went the Neutrality policy. O'Faoláin was born in 1900, the son of an RIC man in Cork. He was seized by the enthusiasm of the Irish League, and became an IRA man in the War of Independence. He achieved a world view through study at Harvard and a time in London. When he returned to Ireland it was with the conscious intent to wake:
... this sleeping country, these sleeping fields, those sleeping villages.
His hopes for the accession to power of de Valera in 1932 were soon disillusioned. In 1938 O'Faoláin published King of the Beggars, and with it challenged the romantic nationalist dream of the rustic nation of Gaels and Catholics. O'Faoláin's most immediate target was his former teacher, Daniel Corkery, the Professor of English at UCC, who sought to channel Irish education and writing into a sterile and conservative nationalism:
In a country that for long has been afflicted with an ascendancy, an alien ascendancy at that, national movements are a necessity: they are an effort to attain the normal.
For Corkery the "normal" was not the world of Yeats, Synge and O'Casey, but a narrow and inbred culture:
If one approaches 'Celtic Revival' poetry as an exotic, then one is in a mood to appreciate its subtle rhythms and its quiet tones; but if one continues to live within the Irish seas, travelling the roads of land, then the white-walled houses, the farming life, the hill-top chapel, the memorial cross above some peasant's grave -- memorable only because he died for his country -- impressing themselves as th living pieties of life must impress themselves, upon the imagination, growing into it, dominating it, all this poetry becomes after a time little else than an impertinence.
That from 1931 and still in print.

O'Faoláin (left, in 1968) saw Gaelic Ireland dead at Vinegar Hill, and irrelevant to the emancipation achieved over the century since Daniel O'Connell:
... the Irish fisherman and the Irish farmer and the Irish townsman is the result of about one hundred and fifty years of struggle. And that, for history, is long enough for us. To us, Ireland is beginning, where to Corkery it is continuing. We have a sense of time, of background: we know the value of the Gaelic tongue to extend our vision of Irish life, to deepen and enrich it: we know that an old cromlech in a field can dilate our imaginations with a sense of what was, what might have been, and what is not; but we cannot see the man ploughing against the sky in an aura of antiquity.
O'Faoláin was far ahead of his time. He had a happy prescience (as in this extract from October 1936) which is only being now achieved:
English-speaking, in European dress, affected by European thought, part of the European economy, of the rags and tatters who rose with O'Connell to win under Mick Collins -- in a word this modern Anglo-Ireland.
Malcolm met Peadar O'Donnell (right) during 1960s Dublin, including a more conversation in New Books, in Pearse Street. He was from Donegal, and much easier to grasp. By 1924, in his early thirties, he was a member of the IRA Executive Council, arguing for socialist policies. That led him to be a founder of the Workers' Revolutionary Party and of the Republican Congress. He went to Spain with the Connolly Column. Malcolm will return to O'Donnell in future posts: for the moment, it is sufficient that he from whom the following arises.

The December 1953 issue of the Bell was a short-lived attempt to take the magazine back to monthly publication. O'Donnell's editorial preface quoted O'Faoláin from October 1941:
We consider abstract terms (as for example, Nationalism) unhelpful since they only come to life when they take concrete forms in things like dress, language, manners, sport, literature ... What we really want THE BELL to do is to record the emergence of those actual modes which any man can speak of with satisfaction as characteristic examples of our natural genius for living.
In that light, O'Donnell includes an essay of his own, derived from his attempt to cross narrow barriers, by considering the Orangeman. Malcolm appends it, as a small service to the world of literature, and in admiration of a great man whose human sympathy and social conscience show through here:



I HAVE been reading the minutes of the monthly meetings of an Orange Lodge over a period of fifty years. I have often asked writers who are easily in touch with this hidden Ireland to report on it, not to make little or much of it but to let us in on what goes on at lodge meetings. It never crossed my mind that lodge minutes might come my way, but I learn now that it is no rare thing to find such a document as this in private hands. Once a book is used up there seems to be no ritual regarding its custody ; it is only unusual that an outsider is let read it and make any extracts he desires.

The first minute in the story of this lodge is dated over fifty years ago. On that evening eleven brethren of the Order foregathered to lift the warrant issued to them by the Grand Lodge and thereby constitute themselves a Loyal Orange Lodge. They subscribed a shilling a piece towards the guinea. for the warrant, and borrowed ten shillings. I was able to have a word with one of the eleven men and on reading over the names to him he gave details that helped build up the picture. They were all wage-earners.

The worshipful master of a neighbouring lodge took the chair at their first meeting which opened with "a prayer and a reading from Scripture." The new club elected its officers. The minute records that the ten shillings borrowed to lift the warrant was refunded. Contributions that evening added up to sixteen shillings and sixpence, expenditure fifteen shillings, so that the new lodge made its start with one shilling and sixpence in hand. The meeting was held in a member's home.

The second meeting faced the lodge with some questions of regalia. The ritual lays down that collarettes shall be worn when the lodge is in session but collarettes cost two shillings each. It was left to members to pay as they could while in the meantime an effort would be made to get the collarettes on trust. A gift of seven shillings and sixpence was paid to a brother to replace the heads of a drum that had suffered somewhat at an outing. By the next meeting the lodge found itself with a fixed address, the Mission Hall in its district. Collarettes were worn. The main business of the meeting was the ways and means to equip the lodge with its own banner. A committee was appointed to go more fully into the matter. Income two pounds four shillings and sixpence, outgoings one pound sixteen shillings and fourpence. The pound was a payment on the collarettes. There was a slight ripple in the lodge that evening. Something seems to have taken a brother's toes for he sent word he was not coming to lodge meetings any more. A deputation was appointed to go and see him. A member brought up the plight of a brother who had some family trouble, made still more of a burden by unemployment, and proposed a gift of ten shillings. After a discussion and a vote it was agreed that ten shillings be given him, on the understanding that those who favoured the idea undertake to refund the ten shillings.

The committee on materials for a banner and orange sashes reported back.. They laid out the samples of cloths on offer and the meeting made a decision that the silk for a banner and material for the sashes be ordered from Arnott & Company. The committee on the banner also submitted suggestions for the design-pictures, colours and inscription-and the lodge gave a ruling. A further recommendation by the banner committee to hold a ballot to raise funds was turned down notwithstanding that the committee had gone so far as to get quotations for tickets and had cadged gifts for the drawing; the gifts noted on the minutes are a bicycle, a hand-painted draughtboard and a pair of trousers.

In the statement of accounts on the following month the balance sheet of the banner is set out in full detail: Members' subscriptions, five pounds ten shillings; collection, eight pounds twelve shillings; profit on a lecture, three guineas. A social proved disappointing for the profit was only three shillings and sixpence half-penny. But it all added up to seventeen pounds nine shillings and threepence half-penny. The expenditure is listed : centre of the banner, four pounds thirteen shillings and four pence; the border, two pounds one shilling and three halfpence ; cord and tassels, one pound five shillings; fringe, eighteen shillings and ninepence; wool cord, eight shillings; braid, one shilling and eiqhtpence; poles, one pound ten; rosettes, two shillings; painting nine pounds; making in all nineteen pounds seventeen shillings and ten pence halfpenny.

With all this burden of expense on its shoulders the lodge did not take kindly to the action of the Hall Committee in raising the cost of the monthly hire to two shillings. A deputation was appointed to call on the Hall Committee. They seem to have run into it for they reported back that the hall management considered their meetings lasted far too long, involving a great waste of light. It was proposed and seconded and formally decided that the new rent be paid. A member submitted a letter of resignation. It was ordered that he be advised that as his dues were not fully paid his resignation could not be discussed. The balance in the box rose to two pounds eight shillings and eightpence halfpenny.

A day was appointed for unfurling the banner. Arrangements were made to make it something of an affair. A band was secured, and there was to be a social, but the whole thing had to be called off. The paint was still wet on the eve of the great day. It was ordered that be banner be placed in the worshipful master's house forthwith; there is a hint of anger in the records. The balance in the box was three pounds, one shilling and twopence. A gift of thirty shillings was made to a brother, those voting for it undertaking to make the sum good; members who disagreed merely raised no hand for or against.

And so the tale goes on. The story over all the years is taken up in large part with the lodge budget. The Twelfth of July is an expensive day — in 1911 a big drum was hired for three pounds, a fifer for a guinea, a drummer for ten shillings — but there is a revenue to off-set the expenses, for every man who marches behind a banner pays a fee to the lodge fund. This cess is known as “walking fee" and it varies from a shilling to half-a-crown, a man, in the accounts for the period these minutes cover.

The minutes give no idea of the practice followed in the admission of new members. It only records the name of the man proposed for membership and the names of the proposer and seconder and adds that the name was forwarded for examination. One has to go outside the minutes for an outline of the procedure governing first entry into a lodge. Enquiries are made by the local lodge, and also by the district lodge, and grand lodge. A man is not admitted if he is a Catholic, nor if one of his parents is a Catholic. It is held against him if his social life takes him among Catholics. Before Mr. J. M. Andrews became a force in Six-County politics Unitarians were banned, but that ban was removed when he was admitted. Earlier still Presbyterians were denied membership. Now nothing bars a man except membership of “the Church of Rome." Indeed, the lodge wears the airs of a religious sodality. Every meeting opens with a prayer and a reading from Scripture; every meeting ends with " God Save the King" or " Queen" as the period requires. In quiet days the meetings record the worries and joys of domestic happenings as members bring them in from their homes. But all the time the lodge is alert for whatever concerns Protestantism and its struggle with the Vatican. Indeed, the minutes of an Orange Lodge suggest that the Protestant community in the North-East of Ireland sees itself as a beleaguered city, frightened of Roman Catholics sneaking in on them to undermine their security and uneasy that British politicians might betray them to the besiegers. They live in the shelter of the royal favour rather than under the protection of the British government, but when the British King himself takes a step that does not correspond with their views on relations with Catholics they speak out against the king too; as in 1906 when Princess Ena married the King of Spain. The minute of a lodge meeting at that period gives a resolution of protest dealing sharply with the matter:
"That this lodge in meeting duly assembled protests against the action of the King in countenancing the joining of the said British Royal Family by the marriage of the Princess Ena with the King of Spain on account of the said King of Spain's membership of the Church of Rome, thereby causing the submission of the said Princess Ena to that church. The King of England thereby violates his declaration oath."
The battle of the evening ranged around this last sentence. There were those who wished to blame the government, making out that the King was in the hands of his ministers, but the Balfours of Burley among the members would not admit such an excuse on a matter of conscience, and so the charge that the King of England thereby broke his declaration oath was sustained.

But while the lodge minutes make it appear that its members look on North-East Ulster as a Protestant bastion which has to be for ever on guard against Catholic wiles, which form a threat that makes it necessary to be linked politically with Britain, there is no doubt about their Irishry. They are above all else, Irishmen. Many of them have been members of the Gaelic League; at least one worshipful grandmaster signed his name in Gaelic in all official lodge documents. What set up the differentiation within the Orange Lodges which led to the great Orange schism known as the Independent Orange Movement? The story is likely best told in the minute books of the Independent Orange Lodges and it will be a great pity if they are not collected into some library where they may be studied; it would be well worth while to acquire them for the National Library. It is not easy to realise to-day that the officers of The Grand Lodge of the Independent Orange Order could address themselves to "all Irishmen whose country stands first in their affections" and publish at a mass meeting of orangemen a manifesto which declares:
“Unionism in Ireland is a discredited creed . .. National issues are to be once more sacrificed on the altar of sectarianism ... We do not trust either of the English parties on questions that divide Ireland ... The man who cannot rise above the trammels of party and sect on a national issue is a foe to nationality and human freedom ... Not in acts of parliament and their repeal lies the hope of salvation for our country, so much as in the mutual inclination of Irish hearts and minds on the common ground of nationality."
There are peeps at things one does not like in these minutes. It is a shock to come on a record of a member of the lodge being summoned to the district lodge to explain how it came about that his name got into the papers as participating in a social in a hall attached to a Catholic Church. But this leads to a much more complicated question, the interplay between Orange formations on various levels. The lodge is the direct doorway into the work-a-day world, but there are other units of Orange organisation that beat down on the lodges and bustle them to conform to a pattern; to make the beleagured community into a city state. (Have they even got so far as to have a policy for organising an intelligentsia to go with it?) Be the policy which works downwards on the Orange Lodges what it may, the men who enter them are pretty normal Irishmen. Their fears make them easily roused out to take the streets behind the banners and slogans of other days. Their fears dwarf both themselves and their neighbours. The real test of their vitality and resilience and power of survival is whether they can take their place in the hurly-burly of Irish life to find in the free exercise of their citizenship the full freedom they seek as Protestants. The test of the republicanism of Ireland as a whole is the steps that are taken to encourage them to trust their future to the cultural atmosphere of the nation. Republicanism is a much livelier force in Ireland, North and South, than the Catholic-fearing Protestants or Protestant-fearing Catholics realise.

I am very much in debt to the kindly, worshipful grandmaster who gave me the minutes of this long series of meetings to read. He did so to let me see how irreconcilable are the Fenian and Orange creeds. But I know of no better way of making clear how unreal are the fears that divide us than thumbing thro' these pages of heavy-fisted writing where each chapter opens with “a prayer and a reading from Scripture." Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Malcolm's most recent posting
is on
Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service
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Thursday, February 21, 2008

The coming Matt Santos landslide

Surely one of today's more inventive uses of newsprint was the Guardian's extended comparison (by Jonathan Freedland, no less) between Senator Barack Obama and the (entirely fictional, but more admirable) Matt Santos. Pity it was a straight lift from Jamal Simmons on

Malcolm is coming round to the notion of Obama being "his" candidate in November, and President from the 20th January 2009. He also notices that Obama is risking moving fractionally to the left on some issues (but Malcolm awaits a more positive, more Clintonesque, plank on health insurance).

There are, however and as they say, "issues".

Malcolm would wish to start with the idea that Obama is cleaning up, sweeping all before him. Not quite true. Paul Lukasiak at Taylor Marsh ("the antidote to Right-wing Talk") has done the numbers, and they are surprising to anyone who took the newsprint and tv-punditry on trust:
... on Super Tuesday, 295,952 more primary voters cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton than for Obama, [...] If we include all the states that held primaries before Super Tuesday (NH, SC, MI, FL) Clinton was up by 468,024 votes—that was 2.51% of the total votes cast. ...

Only now that Obama has a miniscule lead of 128,736 in the number of votes cast (and that includes assigning all the “uncommitted” votes in Michigan to Obama) has the media focused on total votes cast. This lead represents less than 1% (0.62%) of votes cast in the primary elections held so far, yet it is trumpeted by the media endlessly.

But, since this is actually the Democratic primary, perhaps we should look at how Democrats have actually voted. Based on the available exit polling data, we find that Hillary Clinton has a commanding lead over Barack Obama in the number of votes – As of February 16, 2008, 391,992 more Democrats voted for Clinton than Obama.

In other words, it's déjà vu all over again: as in Florida in 2000, the winner is the winner because Fox News says so.

Then there is the small matter of policy. There was an important account of Obama's stated aims by Clive Crook , originally in The Atlantic, and reprinted (surprise, surprise) in the Financial Times:
Last week, in a speech at a General Motors plant in Wisconsin, he unveiled an economic plan. It mainly gathered previously announced ideas, spun to appeal to the “working Americans” in Mrs Clinton’s base. Indeed, the Clinton campaign accused him of plagiarism. Costed (conservatively) at more than $140bn a year, it includes comprehensive reform of healthcare, subsidies for alternative energy, investment in infrastructure and tax cuts aimed at the low paid. Unwinding some of the Bush tax cuts, together with unspecified increases in other taxes on companies and the higher-paid, would pay for it all, he said.

The goals are worthy. The US healthcare system is long overdue for reform. The country’s infrastructure has suffered years of increasingly apparent neglect. The Bush administration’s tax cuts worsened inequality at a time when economic forces were already pushing strongly in that direction.

But American corporate taxes are already high. Post-Bush, top marginal rates of tax on personal income are not low, when you take state and local taxes into account. Mr Obama’s proposal to restore top rates to the levels of the 1990s, and then lift the cap on social security taxes as well, constitutes a swingeing rise in the highest rates. Very high rates applied to a narrow base is bad tax policy. A more broadly based and (above all) far simpler tax system with a moderately progressive structure of rates is the way to combine increased revenues, a more equal distribution of post-tax incomes, and tolerably efficient incentives. No sign of this in Mr Obama’s proposals. It is also a great shame that Mr Obama, like Mrs Clinton, has adopted a populist stance on trade. He attacks her for having once supported the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he blames for “exporting jobs”.

Well, yes and no. What else would one expect from a Democrat, and at "a General Motors plant in Wisconsin"?

Two thoughts on that:

  • It isn't just the poor exploited capitalist who is being scalped by those pesky taxes. Property taxes at $10-15,000 (part of those "state and local taxes") a year on your nice suburban Cape? Makes the Community Charge seem cheap at the price. Then there's health insurance, which is going up at 7.7% a year, twice the rate of inflation, another $11,500 a year on the family budget.
  • Meanwhile, real wages are going south. Even when the US economy was growing, real incomes declined:
Since 2000, the median household income of non-elderly households is down $2,572 (or 4.8%) compared to $1,669 (or 3.6%) for all households.

The real income of the typical household has fallen five years in a row, despite the fact that the last three of those years—2002, 2003, and 2004—have been years of economic expansion. Over these years, our workforce has become a great deal more productive, as output per hour is up 15% from 2000 to 2004.
Heaven help them in the coming recession.

And now for the good news. Dubya's "popularity" continues to grate along the bottom of any credible range. The latest CBS Poll had him at 27% (versus 65% "disapproval"). Even his tame Fox boosters can only get him up to 32% (and even that's down on their previous findings).

The last thing that John McCain needs now is White House endorsement -- which, of course, he promptly received.

Nor should we ignore McCain's present embroilment with the media, over his alleged "affair". This can be "spun" in so many ways: McCain is already attempting to "go to war" with the New York Times, which may be a good move with the anti-liberals. His Conservative opponents will see it as manna from heaven, for this is a story which could hurt.

In 1973 McCain came back from five horrific years as a prisoner of the Viet Cong. His wife, Carol, mother of his three children, had been involved in a motor accident, thrown through the windscreen and seriously injured, on crutches and no longer the svelte item he remembered. In 1979 he met Cindy Hensley, just 25 years old (and 17 years his junior): they became "involved". He married her in May, 1980, just a month after divorcing Carol. From the tone of some sites, McCain may be in for some swift-boating.
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Essential reading for Young Earthers

Intelligent designs on God fail the test of evolution

Under the Microscope

Prof William Reville

[transcribed, with admiration but not with permission from the Irish Times, Thursday, 21st February, 2008]

Natural theology studies what can be known rationally about God and develops rational arguments for the existence of God. Probably the best argument for the existence of God was the argument from design, most ably enunciated by the 18th-century clergyman William Paley (1743-1805). That argument was fatally wounded in 1858 by the theory of evolution through natural selection. The argument from design was recently resurrected and is now called Intelligent Design (ID). ID is championed by fundamentalist Christians and proposes that evolution cannot account for the development of “irreducibly complex” molecular systems in the cell. However, biochemistry has clearly demonstrated that evolution through natural selection can account for “irreducible complexity”.

William Paley argued as follows:
Suppose you are out walking and pick up a stone. You can explain its features by the natural processes of weathering etc and, for all you know, the stone might have lain there forever. Now you pick up a pocket watch. You see the complicated interlocking wheels and the coiled spring powering their movement. You see the whole mechanism connected to the hands that move across the face of the watch to tell the time. You are clearly looking at a designed product and you logically conclude that it was produced by an intelligent designer.
Paley then looked at the living world which abounds with exquisite design. Consider, for example, the eye, a complex apparatus clearly designed to form images. Paley concluded that such biological devices are obviously designed by a supreme intelligence – God.

Paley’s argument was very good, given the level of biological understanding at the time. The young Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was impressed, but the same Darwin, together with Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), later destroyed Paley’s argument with the theory of evolution through natural selection. This showed how design in the biological world is unconsciously and naturally produced.

Darwin and Wallace pointed to the variety that naturally exists within a species. Some variants have traits that allow them to procreate better than their fellows. These characteristics will be naturally selected and will appear in increased proportions in the next generation. And this proportion will increase generation after generation so that, over many generations, it transforms into a new species well fitted to its environment. The biological world is designed, but the designer is blind, unconscious and natural. Darwin and Wallace didn’t understand the mechanism of heredity and knew nothing of the structures within the biological cell. ID claims that many of these “irreducibly complex” structures could not have arisen through evolution.
ID’s main example of irreducible complexity is the bacterial flagellum. Bacteria whip these long appendages about to propel themselves through their watery environment. The long flagellum is connected through a universal joint to a complex motor structure in the membrane of the bacterial cell. The motor assembly is made from dozens of different proteins and it is an intricate jig-saw of interlocking and interacting parts. It can only work when all the parts are in place simultaneously. Remove one part and the mechanism fails.

A core principle of evolution is that change occurs gradually, by minor modifications of pre-existing structures, driven by natural selection of improved function. But ID asserts that structures such as the flagellum cannot arise by modification of a pre-existing structure, since the smallest modification of the flagellum would render it useless. ID concludes that the flagellum is “irreducibly complex” and was designed de novo by a super-intelligent designer.
If the flagellum was designed de novo, one would not expect each of its individual components to have other separate useful functions in the cell. But, when you look at the several individual components of the flagellum, this is exactly what you find. For example, a whole section of the base of the motor has an individual existence in the cell as the ‘Type III Secretory Apparatus’ used in some bacteria to inject poison into other bacteria.

It is well established in biochemistry that evolution builds complex molecular machines by combining various simpler components that already exist in the cell but used for different functions. ID fails to stand up against the theory of evolution by natural selection, just as Paley’s argument failed 150 years ago.

William Reville is associate professor of biochemistry and public awareness of science officer at UCC Sphere: Related Content
A good read

One of Malcolm's "things worth fighting for", especially on a Thursday when the ex-pats need the real estate section to review their property portfolios, is the Irish Times.

It was the erstwhile journal of record for the Ascendancy and Castle Catholics. Somewhat against the odds, it has survived into the present century, liberal in tone and neutral in party politics. It has a circulation of some 120,000, a readership of double that, but an influence far greater than those numbers indicate.

Even outside the news pages, today's issue has three examples of its diversity and strength: the editorial cartoon by Martyn Turner, opposite Frank McNally maintaining the heterodoxy of An Irishman's Diary (today, a spirited piece about the slurry-spreading season), and an exemplary essay on Intelligent Design (and its fallacies).

Malcolm takes them in that order.

Turner has evolved a simulacrum for Bertie Ahern which is, at once, devastatingly destructive and curiously endearing. It is not unfair to any party to compare it to what "Vicky" (Victor Weisz) did from 1958 with Supermac:
or, with more malevolent bathos, Steve Bell to John Major and his underpants:
Turner's tawdry Paisley Junior is just as diminishing (though borrowing the 'time with my family' gybe that has been the staple Ulster fry of recent days), and shrewdly captures the fly-blown mediocrity of the man and his record.

Frank McNally dunging it

McNally's piece strikes home in many ways. It starts with a nice domestic observation:
I was driving up to Cavan last Saturday when a strange thing happened in the back of the car. Namely, my eight-year-old son put down his hand-held computer game long enough to look around him. At any other time, this would require a house fire, or equivalent emergency. But before I had time to wonder what was wrong with him, he curled his nose up in an expression of extreme disgust mand said: "Eeeuw! The smell of the countryside!"
Malcolm reckons that An Irishman's Diary (or its occasional female variety) must represent one of the more taxing tasks to be undertaken in journalism. It has to be a daily essay, or miscellany, well-written, and comes with one heck of a lot of historical baggage. To compensate, the writer is allowed considerable licence (though Kevin Myers pushed his luck).

Today, though, McNally is well up to form:
At the risk of sounding like a wine critic, I would say that, as agricultural odours go, the bouquet from pig manure is definitely the worst. Cattle dung has an almost pleasant "nose" by comparison (with hints of buttercup, daisy, and wild garlic). And of course equine effluent is the Chateau Margaux 1967 of natural fertilisers -- which is why the Dublin Horse Show has lasted longer in Ballsbridge than the old Spring Show, with its wider range of livestock.
The sub-text of such triviality is to remind us that Ireland is still rooted in the countryside and in farming. The Celtic Tiger roared through the tertiary and quaternary sectors; but very few in Ireland are more than a generation or two, or a close cousinage from the land. Dublin has spread its tentacles across at least three counties, but one needs not drive too far to be beyond the Pale, amid the mud and manure.

The best for last

So to the piece, in the science column Under the microscope, entitled Intelligent designs on God fail the test of evolution. Its author:
William Reville is associate professor of biochemistry and public awareness of science officer at UCC.
Malcolm pauses to muse on the connection back to Paisley Junior, in Rawson's cartoon. It has taken ten months for Paisley to leave his ministerial office. It should have taken as few days to be rid of a a Junior Minister within the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister at Stormont with responsibility for equality, who:
... caused outrage with his apparent assessment that homosexuality damages society. [...]

"I am, unsurprisingly, a straight person," the North Antrim MLA is quoted as saying.

"I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong," he said.

"I think that those people harm themselves and - without caring about it - harm society. That doesn't mean to say that I hate them. I mean, I hate what they do."
Malcolm's credulity is constantly stretched that there is a part of the United Kingdom where divinity doctorates from a backwoods degree mills are regarded as valid, where the Deuteronomy merchants are still intent on "saving Ulster from sodomy" and Young Earthers are in the saddle, seeking to impose creationism on schools. Yet, here comes a responsible, authoritative voice from (of all places) a Branch of Cardinal Newman's "Catholic University of Ireland" demolishing the notions that it was happening at 9 am on October 3rd, 4004BC.

As much for his own use (because the cyberspacial path to Malcolm Redfellow's World Service is not one well-trodden), he appends the text of that article here, as a gross piece of plagiarism, but an essential to his sanity. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, February 17, 2008

There now follows
a service announcement

Malcolm's equivalent of Jiminy Cricket is Our American Cousin.

OAC keeps Malcolm on the straight-and-narrow through occasional, but always pertinent questions and comments.

One of his more recent was to wonder why Malcolm was running a parallel blog on Wordpress.

A good question, indeed.

The only valid reason, then, was "it seemed a good idea at the time". Malcolm was finding some of the Blogger operations a trifle crude and complicated. For one example, the interface defaulted to German for no obvious reason. And then the paste function does not seem to work when giving hyper-link short-cuts. Ughh.

The Wordpress interface, though more complex and even (at first flush) cruder still , seemed worth a bash.

Once up-and-running, it all provoked Malcolm into a re-think.

He wanted to continue his mutterings and maunderings, but in a more organised manner.

Moreover, after some eighteen months, he was no longer "revivus". Even Lazarus had to move on.

So, what seems to be happening is a division of topics. This one, via Blogger, will be more concerned with Global politics. Wordpress becomes the domestic site.

He's going to give it a try, anyway.

And the tag-line in the header?

For those who do not recognise it, that's a marvellous line given by Robert Graves to King Herod Agrippa, advising Clau-Clau-Claudius in I, Claudius.

With good reason, it survived into Jack Pulman's telly-script.

In passing, could Graves ever have imagined that his pot-boiler, plagiarised from Latin writers, to pay the bills for the Graves-Laura Riding ménage in Majorca, would one day be hailed as one of the Top 100 English-language novels? There's hope for all of us. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, February 16, 2008

One more heave ...

Today's rant is posted on Malcolm's Wordpress spot.

... diced carrots not included.
Sphere: Related Content

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hot stuff!

250 years ago, February 15, 1758, the Philadelphia Chronicle published the first known advertisement for mustard on the American continent:
BENJAMIN JACKSON, Mustard and Chocolate maker, from London, now of Laetitia-Court, in Market-Street, Philadelphia, Prepares the genuine Flour of Mustard-seed, of all Degrees of Fineness, in a Manner that renders it preferable to the European, or any other, which is easily demonstrated by Proof. It excels all other for Exportation, and it will keep perfectly good any reasonable Time, even in the hottest Climates, and is not bitter when fresh made, as other Mustard is, but when mixed only with cold Water, well seasoned with Salt, is fit for immediate Use.
Malcolm has a liking for American mustard. It comes in nice squeezy bottles, and it is quite mild. It's not as nice as good Norfolk mustard, of course, especially on the best cured ham, but it's a fair effort.

His mustard addiction comes being an impoverished student in Dublin, in the early 1960s. When he had the necessity, after the cinema perhaps, to impress or merely to extend the shared company of a significant other, it was statutory to repair to the Paradiso restaurant, now long gone but then upstairs in Westmoreland Street. Malcolm would be well aware that this investment would require an off-setting subsequent day of starvation: therefore, it was vital to top up on whatever was going. That amounted, in the main, to the freely available French mustard.

When Malcolm is across the Atlantic, and takes his breakfast at the Milburn Diner, the yellow squirter is an essential addition to his morning omelette-and-whatever. Which raises three recollections in Malcolm's stream-of-semi-consciousness:
  • Why is it he can never win (or even run a tie) in the elemental contest between customer and server, waged at every American table?
Malcolm: Coffee and toast, please.
Server: Plain? Decaff?
Malcolm: Oh, plain, please. (That was merely the softener, the ranging shot. Makes you think you can win this one. Next time there will be at least three more options: these are indexed in the Server's manual under "Starbucks Offence").
Server: Do you want your toast white, brown, wholemeal ... (and at least a dozen more options, which will involve cinnamon and other exotic substances).
Malcolm: Brown, thank you. (He's still in the contest)
Then you have to address the question of how your egg is presented. Don't even try to win that round. And at some point maple syrup gets introduced.

Malcolm is a game guy, but he hasn't won this one yet: he can barely claim the odd honourable draw.
  • Next we should consider the time he collected his American son-in-law at Heathrow, from an overnight flight.
Said son-in-law had a yen for an Egg McMuffin. There then ensued a classic, and wholly uneven contest between a worldly-wise, street-savvy Brooklyn boy (turned Manhattan Executive) and your average McJobber.

The issue was Egg McMuffins could only be served until 10 a.m.: it was now 10.07 a.m.

Son-in-law was still eating his second Egg McMuffin as the A40 led onto the North Circular. It represented an Olympian standard of server-control to which Malcolm can only dream of aspiring.
Then there was Malcolm's greatest culinary embarrassment. The passing mention of Salzberg still brings him out in a sweat.
  • Malcolm and his lady (an erstwhile "significant other" at the Paradiso) had arranged to meet eldest daughter, then working in the Slovak Republic, in Salzberg. Meeting successfully achieved, all retreated to a convenient bar for refreshment. Malcolm's choice of ham came accompanied with some exotic vegetable, a shredded and creamed celeriac, most likely. An interesting choice of vegetable, mused Malcolm as he shovelled a large forkful into his mouth.
Alas! Appearances are deceptive. It was not some mild and house-trained vegetable. It was high-octane horseradish. Now, Malcolm knew horse-raddish from what grew in his Norfolk grand-mawther's chicken run. That was eye-wateringly strong; but it was as nothing compared to the industrial-strength, tongue-swelling Salzberger variety.

The amazing thing is that the surrounding Salzberger clientele didn't as much as twitch as Malcolm expletived in at least four languages, sank a large stein, demanded more, and yet more soothing liquid, then sat in total stupified trauma for several minutes.
So here's to Mr Benjamin Jackson, Messrs Jeremiah and James Colman (who famously made their fortunes from what was left on the side of the plate) and all similar condiment-pioneers. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dirty doings by local LibDims

Entrapment is a crime

That's the sign on the gate of the Hornsey Household Re-use and Recycling Centre.

And behind the sign there is a story.

The local LibDims are trying to pin a major malfeasance on the local Labour Council and its employees at the Centre.

The attack is two-pronged. On the one hand it is straight accusation: walking up, haranguing and alleging the staff are taking back-handers from depositors of commercial waste. Then comes the arrival of the local LibDim Councillor, who proceeds to try to corrupt the staff by "buying" a table "for his computer", and waving a five-pound note.

Nobody who knows and has seen the operations of LibDimmery at first hand will be unduly surprised by this. Were a police officer to attempt the same approaches, it would be beyond the Law, and a disciplinary offence. LibDims, of course, work to different standards.

When Malcolm was a Councillor, in the days when the diplodocus roamed the planet, such business was handled by other means. In the matter of trivialities, he would inform the Council's internal audit service (and sea-green incorruptible Borough Treasurers and their machinations were feared throughout the land). More serious matters involved laying evidence (even allegation) to the Police. Again, LibDims, of course, work to different standards. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thirty years ago, today ...

... the Nation was rocked by a major development in mass-communication.

It was finally recognised that a woman could read the News for ITV.

As Reggie Bosanquet said:
I prayed, I vowed, that I'd be good;
and many people thought I would;
but then I got my just reward;
18 nights with Anna Ford.
Sphere: Related Content
A century of Godly currency

A hundred years ago, in 1908, the United States was deciding to "restore" the Deity to its currency:

As the adage has it, everyone else pays cash. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, February 11, 2008

There are also unknown unknowns

It's beginnning to look like the end of the US political world as we have known it.

All the way from the Sacramento Bee to the Miami Herald, via the Anchorage News, the McClatchy Group of U.S. regional papers have caught the wind that Malcolm picked up last month. A piece by Rob Hotakainen has Republicans in Congress baling out:
In the last week of January, five members of Congress joined the hottest demographic group on Capitol Hill: Republicans who are heading for the exits.

Reps. Tom Davis of Virginia, Kenny Hulshof of Missouri, Ron Lewis of Kentucky, Dave Weldon of Florida and James Walsh of New York are among 25 Republican members of the House of Representatives who've announced their resignations or retirements. The party is closing in quickly on its record of 27 House retirements, set in 1952.
... most observers say that the mass departures are the result of the loss of Republican control in the 2006 elections, lackluster fundraising and low morale.
The same now seems true (and this is more like news to Malcolm) of the less-exposed heights of the Senate:
where five Republican veterans — John Warner of Virginia, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Larry Craig of Idaho and Wayne Allard of Colorado — are ready to hang it up.
The anticipation is:
It adds up to a tough year for Republicans, who at a minimum will face a big loss of seniority and experience when the 111th Congress convenes next January. Analysts predict that the party will be hard-pressed to keep Democrats from expanding their 232-199 House majority.
This largely repeats what the New York Times was saying ten days ago, so setting Malcolm a-thinking.

After all, were the Democrats to achieve the unthinkable (add another 20 Congressional seats) and also hold the White House, there would be a cast-iron, veto- and filibuster proof mandate. At last progress could be made on a whole tranche of Democrat issue (and Malcolm still maintains that a Clinton Presidency would likely be more radical than an Obama one).

Essentially, if one is a dithering Republican Congressman, debating whether to fight again or take a nice job in a law office, it all comes down to money. The folding stuff is flooding into the coffers of Democrats, while Republicans are finding leaner pickings. Current reports suggest that it may be as a multiple of several degrees:
... the national campaign committee of the House Democrats ended 2007 with $35 million in the bank and $1.3 million in debt. The Republicans’ committee had $5 million in the bank and $2 million in debt. Senate Democrats, who intend to report $29.4 million in the bank with $1.5 million in debt, are expected to be comfortably ahead of Republicans in the holdings of their campaign committees as well.
To British eyes, these amounts are quite blinding. This will be the first $1 billion Presidential Election. It's not going to be cheap trying to stem the Democratic tide in other contests.

Money is, therefore, being burned like Camden Market gone sea-to-shining-sea. At first Malcolm wondered whether the Obama-Hillary stand-off would hamper the Democrats financially in the real thing after Labor Day. He now feels that A Very Public Sociologist (commenting here) was nearer the truth:
The further advantage the Democrats have is continuing exposure thanks to the deadlock. Some commentators think this puts the Republicans at an advantage. I don't think so. The media buzz and political conversations across the US will be about Obama and Clinton and their respective policies. By the time the final nomination is made it will be "John who?"
Where there's interest, the money will follow, in such industrial truck-loads that it will involve eighteen wheels and a dozen roses.

Even when there's no direct interest, except self-interest, perhaps. For Malcolm has a daughter, employed by a major US Corporation in a senior post. Despite being a British passport-holder, and retaining her UK residence for the purposes of voting Labour, she was told she, like the rest of the executives, was expected to contribute the PAC. So much for no taxation without representation.

The joy of US politics is that the pols and their expensive services have to be bought, and re-bought every two, four or six year cycle.

At some point here Malcolm has teetered over the edge of the known universe.

If the Republicans are going to crash-and-burn (a consummation devoutly to be wished by so many) there will be longer-term consequences:
At least 10 of the retiring House members belong to the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership, veterans such as Virginia's Davis, New York's Walsh and Minnesota's Jim Ramstad. Some observers predict that the Republican candidates who are nominated to replace them are likely to be more conservative.
Now we are moving into what Donald Rumsfeld might recognise as unknown known territory.

The Republican Party, especially in the House, over the better part of the last two decades, has earned a deserved reputation as being to the Right. At the GOP grass-roots, the enthusiasm has been for some quite extra-ordinary Right-wing candidates: Paul, Huckabee and Tancredo for starters. The holy name of Ronald Reagan is the new orthodoxy. Today there seems little space for "liberal" Republicanism (as personified by, say, Nelson Rockefeller)

We cis-Atlanteans can easily predict a prognosis for such a disease. Both our major Parties have suffered it. Labour caught the ailment twice: the "Clause IV" outbreak in the earliest 1960s, then the Bennite surge of the early '80s. It is still rampant in the Tory Party, and will be as long as the Chingford Skinhead and his ilk can carry a crush for Blessed Margaret the Incorruptible.

Let us also bear in mind that it is not just intra-Party febrileness here. It can equally debilitate the entire Body Politic. Take, as a classic example, the poisoned chalice of Thatcher's famous EEC Rebate.

The paper value of this to the British Treasury may be some £3B a year. Its value in realpolitik and Euro-clout to any German Chancellor is inestimably more. After all, it only needs a German official to mutter, in the hearing of a Daily Mail correspondent, that something must be done about it, for Britain's European rôle and domestic political debate to be pole-axed for weeks to come.

It is an example to all of us to be careful what we wish for: there may be strange consequences, and unknowns lurking behind any transient triumph. Perhaps, in the longer term, we should not selfishly relish the prospect of the Republicans in disarray. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, February 8, 2008

Not-so-soft soap

There are those who believe politicians can be sold like washing-powder. Malcolm does not exclude himself from that group: he has observed the antics of the British Conservative Party too long. Any of such a mind should instantly turn to David Brooks, writing an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times.

Dr Retail starts by explaining a key difference:
...the essential competition in many consumer sectors is between commodity providers and experience providers, the companies that just deliver product and the companies that deliver a sensation, too. There’s Safeway, and then there is Whole Foods. There’s the PC, and then there’s the Mac.
Let us bear in mind which side of the divide Malcolm, a Macuser to the core, belongs.

Nevertheless, Malcolm, who has been cheering for Hillary for some time, does not fit Dr Retail's political profile:
Hillary Clinton is a classic commodity provider. She caters to the less-educated, less-pretentious consumer. As Ron Brownstein of The National Journal pointed out on Wednesday, she won the non-college-educated voters by 22 points in California, 32 points in Massachusetts and 54 points in Arkansas. She offers voters no frills, just commodities: tax credits, federal subsidies and scholarships. She’s got good programs at good prices.

Barack Obama is an experience provider. He attracts the educated consumer. In the last Pew Research national survey, he led among people with college degrees by 22 points. Educated people get all emotional when they shop and vote. They want an uplifting experience so they can persuade themselves that they’re not engaging in a grubby self-interested transaction. They fall for all that zero-carbon footprint, locally grown, community-enhancing Third Place hype. They want cultural signifiers that enrich their lives with meaning.
Nice! Yet, with more than a hint of underlying truth.

Dr Retail is not kind to Obama:

Obama offers to defeat cynicism with hope. Apparently he’s going to turn politics into a form of sharing. Have you noticed that he’s actually carried into his rallies by a flock of cherubs while the heavens open up with the Hallelujah Chorus? I wonder how he does that...

... Obama’s people are so taken with their messiah that soon they’ll be selling flowers at airports and arranging mass weddings. There’s a “Yes We Can” video floating around YouTube in which a bunch of celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and the guy from the Black Eyed Peas are singing the words to an Obama speech in escalating states of righteousness and ecstasy. If that video doesn’t creep out normal working-class voters, then nothing will.

So Dr Retail predicts what happens next:

The next states on the primary calendar have tons of college-educated Obamaphile voters. Maryland is 5th among the 50 states, Virginia is 6th. But later on, we get the Hillary-friendly states. Ohio is 40th in college education. Pennsylvania is 32nd.

But it’ll still be tied after all that. The superdelegates will pick the nominee — the party honchos, the deal-makers, the donors, the machine. Swinging those people takes a level of cynicism even Dr. Retail can’t pretend to understand. That’s Tammany Hall. That’s the court at Versailles under Louis XIV.

Malcolm has committed some despicable plagiarism here: he did warn the passing reader to go to the fountainhead. He justifies himself by suggesting that, when one finds a piece of good writing, it should be celebrated. Dr Retail is a definite "find": he should be cherished. David Brooks (who also writes for the New Yorker*, and doesn't the acerbic wit show) should be proud of his creation: he has dissected with aplomb a phenomenon of our times.

Now, have you noticed that Cameron washes whiter than Brown?


* The New Yorker's current issue has an extended and important essay, by John Updike no less, on Flann O'Brien. It is also available on line. There is, therefore, peace in Redfellow Hovel while the Great One peruses it.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, February 7, 2008

No Comment needed

From Associated Press (per SF Chronicle), Wednesday 6th February, 2008:

Raymond Jacobs, a former Bay Area television newsman believed to be the last living Marine photographed during the flag-raising on Iwo Jima during World War II, has died. He was 82.

Mr. Jacobs died Jan. 29 of natural causes at a hospital in Redding, according to his daughter, Nancy Jacobs.

Also posted to Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

California, here we come ... not.

Last week, Malcolm mused on the febrile state of the Republican Party. The odds are stacked against a three-in-a-row win for anybody, anytime. Add in declining electoral support, disenchantment with the President, a lack of cash flow: nothing looks rosy for November.

Meanwhile, across the gang-way, despite the Clinton-Obama continued Mexican stand-off (though perhaps metaphors involving Mexicans and immigration should be avoided at this juncture), the Democrats have room to cheer.

Malcolm was interested, then, to see the first thoughts from the LA Times on the California Primaries. Obviously, as yet, the final results are a way off, and there was a bit of column-filling to be done. So we were given a piece of news analysis by Cathleen Decker.

This addressed:
a hardening of the state's Democratic tilt and a proportionate drop in Republican support.
And the figures are pretty dire for the G.O.P.:
"To an objective observer, the trend is not the GOP's friend in California," said Don Sipple, a Republican veteran of national and statewide campaigns.
A look at registration figures bears him out: Democrats gained four voters in the last two months to every one gained by Republicans. That left Democrats at just under 43% of the registered voters. Republicans note that is a historic low. The trouble is that Republicans are lower: just over 33% of registered voters. (The fastest-growing segment, Independents, constituted 19.37%.)

A survey of 12 key counties, moreover, showed the difficulties facing Republicans. In all but one, Democratic registration inched up between September and the close of registration Jan. 22.
In all of the counties, the percentage of voters who are registered as Republicans dropped.

California has gone Democrat in each Presidential Election since 1988:
  • 2004: Kerry by 54% to 44%;
  • 2000: Gore by 54% to 42%;
  • 1996: Clinton by 51% to 38%
  • 1992: Clinton by 46% to 33%. This was the tipping point: previously California had an unbroken allegiance to Republican Presidential candidates, back to Tricky Dicky in 1968m and beyond. LBJ had caned Goldwater 59-41 in 1964; but that was exceptional: even JFK could not quite take California in 1960.
So it's way back to 1988, twenty years, since the California electoral votes went Republican: Bush 51% to Dukakis 48%. The demography is constantly moving against the Republicans.

As things now stand, 43% of the registered electors declare themselves Democrats, just 33% are republicans. Both those figures are historic lows: the main percentage increase is in the 19% Independents. That is no comfort for the Republicans: those Independents seem to be tipping 4 to 1 for the Democrat candidates this time round. All in all the Primary showed an increase of 150,000 Democratic voters, and a decline of 25,000 republicans.

Not surprisingly, then, the presumptions are:
  • the Democratic candidate, be it Hillary or Obama, will not spend much time or money rallying the vote in California;
  • the Republicans will have California written off, unless (and, again back to Cathleen Decker's item):
the focus ... would require a confluence of events: John McCain as the nominee, character as the defining issue and a decision that the cost of running a campaign [in California] is worth the exceptional expense it would take.
Independents' presence gives Republicans hope, but there is a consensus that they will vote Republican only if McCain is the nominee. McCain, the former prisoner of war in Vietnam who has made his name as a burr under the saddle of official Washington, is far more in their mold than other recent candidates.
That seems a desperate attempt to whistling in the face of adversity. Once a political fixer mutters "if", it's an admission of impending disaster.

So that's 55 Electoral College votes for Hillary or Obama. Only 215 more needed. Sphere: Related Content
The highs and lows of Irish criminality

The headline and opener caught Malcolm immediately:
Aran Islander stabbed his brother in land row
A 43-year-old Aran islander who cut his brother four times with a fish knife following an ongoing dispute over land was given the benefit ofthe Probation Act ...
Thus Ann Healy heading today's Irish Times HomeNews page, and quite rightly so.

It is one of those tales that would have provided J.M.Synge or Sean O'Casey (or, more recently, Martin McDonagh) with material.

There are two brothers, Mike and John Faherty. Their uncle had willed both his small farms to the younger nephew. Then this gem:
The court was told John Faherty was very unhappy with his uncle's decision to leave both farms to his younger brother and he put his own cattle on to the land. Mike Faherty had put the cattle on to the road on a number of occasions and had told his brother to keep them off his land...
John Faherty told Judge Mary Fahy the assault had a very bad effect on him as he had been attacked by his own brother, who is 15 years his junior, with a knife in his own home.
He admitted he had been aggrieved by the fact their late uncle had left both farms of land to his younger brother even though he had been caring for the uncle for 10 years. "I minded him for 10 years and all I wanted was a bit of thanks but all I got was four stabs of the knife", the victim said.
What need to invent dialogue when it is given for free?

Malcolm knew he had been here before:
I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided, who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man's land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting "Damn your soul!"
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel -
"Here is the march along these iron stones."
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was more important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer's ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.
Paddy Kavanagh, celebrating the majestic squabbles of the County Monaghan, gives us one of the finest sonnets of the twentieth century in Epic.

Meanwhile, the Celtic Tiger's dirty droppings befoul the wider landscape. A couple of pages on, also under HomeNews, comes this:
Irish 'gang wars' exported to Spain - Gilmore
Ireland appears to have exported its "gang wars' to Spain, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore suggested in the Dáil yesterday, in the wake of the murder of a known Dublin drug dealer on the Costa Del Sol on Monday.
The Labour leader, who repeated his comment that 78 murders in 2007 represented the highest number of killings in the State since the Civil War, with the gun murder in Sligo and the attempted murder in Dublin of a well-known criminal.
The essence here is that Paddy Doyle was in a BMW SUV, driven by Gary Hutch, the nephew of another Dublin hood, Gerry "Monk" Hutch. They were on their way to meet a British contact. At the appropriately-named La Cancelada, near Estepona, the BMW was ambushed, crashed and raked with bullets. Doyle and Hutch ran for it; but the attackers shot Doyle twice in the head. The update is that a large cache of cocaine, nigh on €10M worth, has been seized from nearby.

Doyle is the latest casualty in the great North Dublin drugs war.

There are two gangs: the Crumlin lot (the Gavin/Thompson gang, who may or may not be under the wing of old-hand Martin "Viper" Foley) versus the Rattigans of Drimnagh. These are the young, thrusting newcomers, making their mark where once self-effacing Martin "The General" Cahill (cleaned up by the IRA, 1994, but pictured, left) ruled the roost. The cause of this feud seems to go back to 1998, when Declan Gavin was serving an apprenticeship in small-time crime and drug-trafficking. He had his bike and the family car vandalized, thus causing a rupture with the Rattigans.
  • Trouble flared in 2001 with the first murder. Declan Gavin had been head of the Crumlin boys. Gavin and a mate were "cutting" a consignment of cocaine in the Holiday Inn, Pearse Street, when the Gardaí raided. Gavin had been caught in a previous raid; and was now suspect of grassing. He was taken out in a stabbing (August 2001). That one is still going through the courts.
  • Brian Rattigan (St Patrick's Day, 2002) was badly shot up at his home. A witness (who later recanted) identified "Fat Freddie" Thompson as the gun-man. There was a further gun attack on a Rattigan affiliate, Colm Smith, in May 2002: Smith then refused to talk to the Gardaí. "Fat Freddie" was now in jug (driving offences!, but also for giving a false name and aiding the escape of an arrestee).
  • To celebrate Brian Rattigan's release from hospital (July 2002), Doyle of the Gavin/Thompson gang shot Joe Rattigan of the Drimnagh mob.
  • On 25 January 2004, in the toilet of Gray's pub, Paul Warren of the Crumlin team was shot by two of the Rattigans, a further revenge murder. Brian Rattigan went inside at Portlaoise for drugs and firearms (10 years) and heroin possession (4 years). Apparently, through mobile phones and runners, he still controls his gang.
  • The next to go (March 2005) was John Roche, a Rattigan dealer. He was shot, allegedly by Darren Geoghegan, one of four of the same team that shot Joe Rattigan.
  • 14 April 2005, Terence Dunleavy, a dealer, shot in the head. The motorbike used by the killer belonged to a relative of "Fat Freddie", so this was another Thompson execution.
  • Then, two for one, Darren Geoghegan and Gavin Byrne were executed, perhaps by their own Crumlin side, but more likely as a reprisal, even on a contract basis.
  • Doyle struck again, 13 November 2005, shooting John Roche's elder brother, Noël, who has been identified as the Rattigan enforcer.
  • Late summer, 2006, and two more in quick succession: Wayne Zambra (assumed to be part of the team that killed Paul Warren) buys it: again, this is likely to be an internal job; and Gary Bryan, who was the gunman in the Paul Warren murder, was released from gaol and promptly dealt with in a drive-by killing.
  • Then Eddie McCabe, last December, who had been in on the Zambra murder, was (for a change) beaten to death. He may have been stabbed through the eye.
  • Now Doyle himself.
All in all a messy business. Malcolm is severely doubtful whether he has collected the whole butchery list.

One day, no doubt, an enterprising coach-operator will be offering tours of the North Dublin badlands, visiting all these points of interest. After all, almost everything else in Dublin is up for sale.

It all seems a long way away from the domestic disputes of the Arans or of Inniskeen. So which is the "real" Ireland?

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Across the Universe ...
... from a Pale Blue Dot

Major premiss:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me)—

Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
Phil Larkin about).

Minor premiss:
“If you remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there” (Anon., but claimed by many).

Which gives us three separate phases for the decade (and Malcolm was there, didn't inhale and does remember). Malcolm reckons the divisors (rather than the naughty Lady C and Parlophone PCS 3042) are:
  • when the Stones moved away from R&B (early '64?) and
  • the emergence of psychedelia (say Country Joe McDonald and the Fish, around '67).

Look, says our Guide, Philosopher and Friend, early Beatles was music for dancing round your handbag (it got better, but not much). Real lads started by stiffening their arteries on the Stones, before going onto the real hard stuff.

On which note, Malcolm draws on Slugger O'Toole for news that:
On the 50th anniversary of its founding, NASA, in their wisdom, have decided to transmit The Beatles’ 1968 song “Across the Universe”.. across the universe. Or, at least, towards the North Star, Polaris.
Malcolm would observe that the Little Green Men of Alpha Ursae Minoris may already have collected our earlier package: the (in)famous and epicene Voyager Golden Record.

This was to be a time-capsule from Earth, for any passing life-form:
a phonograph record -- a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University, et. al. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from President Carter and U.N. Secretary General Waldheim.
To the credit of EMI, the Beatles did not get on board: Carl Sagan (the Butt-Head Astronomer himself) wanted Here Comes the Sun from Abbey Road, but couldn’t crack the copyright. Chuck Berry (Johnny B. Goode), Louis Armstrong and the Hot Seven (Melancholy Blues) and Blind Willie Johnson did make it to spacial immortality. Malcolm sees that as three out of three; so it can’t be bad.

Not to be totally unfair to Sagan, he did gave us Pale Blue Dot.

Sagan arranged for Voyager 1, on Valentine's Day, 1990, to turn its camera on Earth for one last view. It provided one of the most emotive images of space exploration. Of it Sagan wrote:
We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcelydistinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
There is a straight-forward clip, Pale Blue Dot, on YouTube. Far better, in Malcolm's view, is a short film by David Fu, using the same text and title. It's 5½ minutes (plus credits) of essential poetry and viewing for all, for exponents of realpolitik, and fundamentalists, young-earthers and similar fabulists alike. In viewing it, Malcolm notes that the “corrupt politician” seems to share an alter-ego with both JFK and President Josiah Bartlet, which says something about the ambiguity of the human condition. Sphere: Related Content
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