Monday, April 12, 2010

Phrases for letter-writers to the Guardian

TO PROVIDE balance to the Daily Mail letter-writer's guide, some useful phrases for budding letter-writers to the Guardian:

1) Neo-liberal agenda.
2) Appease their neo-conservative paymasters and controllers.
3) Save the polar bears.
4) The race to the bottom.
5) Rightwing fundamentalists.
6) George Bush the war criminal.
7) Sinister racist elements.
8) Rightwing reactionaries.
9) U.S. imperialism.
10) The proletariat will rise again.
11) Tax the rich.
12) The capitalist machine.
13) The old boys club.
14) Global warming is real.
15) ...must end cheap air travel.
16) Attacks on the poor.
17) Republicans are worse than Nazis.
18) Faux News.
19) Thatcher the high priestess of the uncaring Right.
20) We need to create a caring society.
21) Meat is murder.
22) I'm a liberal and what you do is your own business but this is unacceptable. . .
23) I'm all for free speech but he should be jailed.
24) The objectification of women.
25) How could a so-called newspaper print that?
26) We are all immigrants so how can you be against immigration?
27) There are no borders.
28) I think everyone should be considered on their own merits but we need affirmative action for minorities.
29) Love is free.
30) The most vulnerable in society.
31) Society failed him/her
32) America the nation of terror.
33) I don't support him but I can see where bin Laden was coming from.
34) How can you say Muslim women are repressed? Objectification of the female form in the west is the real repression.
35) Most of the opposition to Obama is race-based etc.
36) At least Cuba has a proper health service.
37) Who are the real terrorists?
38) State-funded terrorism.
39) I'm a vegan.
40) Marx was right.
41) Human rights obligations.
42) A direct contravention of international law.
43) Wage-cutting agenda.
44) We are all one race.
45) UN convention on human rights, article 5, subsection 3. . .
46) I'm all for the right to political assembly but we should ban the BNP.
47) A most egregious abuse of power.
48) In Sweden they. . .
49) In Denmark they. . .
50) In the Netherlands they. . .
51) Dog eat dog society.
52) The enormity of the situation.
53) Eco-friendly.
54) A greener way.
55) Corporate-control of resources.
56) Property is theft.
57) Malign corporate influence.
58) Business interests.
59) We live in an oligarchy, not a democracy.
60) At least in Africa they aren't controlled by commercialism.
61) Savage cuts.
62) Who is he/she to judge?
63) ...must stop feeding our children poison.
64) I'm a pacifist.
65) We must use legitimate resistance to State aggression (riot).
65) War-mongers.
66) Embrace diversity.
67) We only ban cannabis because the government can't tax it.
68) More spending, less taxes (except for rich elites).
69) Marginalised members of the community.
70) Value all cultures equally.
71) Value most cultures equally.
72) Value tolerant cultures equally, but not intolerant ones, but still tolerate them all . . .
73) We have to fight for those with no voice.
74) Yours sincerely,
Neville Humperton, PHD.
75) Yours sincerely,
Belinda Wigglesworth, MD
76) Yours sincerely,
Neville James, Peace
77) Hate speech is a crime.
78) BNP bigots.
79) The spirit of the 60s.
80) Relative poverty.
81) Wealth inequality.
82) Social justice.
83) The media represents the corporate elite.
84) Radical voices cannot be heard under capitalism.
85) Noam Chomsky's multi-million selling work. . .
86) Heaven forfend.
87) Puritanical throwbacks to the 50s.
88) Conservatives imposing their morality. . .
88) Pornography degrades women - ban it.
89) Strip clubs degrade women - ban them.
90) Saturated fats cause obesity - ban them.
91) Sun beds cause cancer - ban them.
92) Daily Mail readers.
93) Moral panic.
94) I'd rather be PC than racist.
95) Che Guevara once said. . .
96) Chauvinist pigs.
97) Ban the burqa. Embrace the burqa. Which one is the burqa?
98) Why don't we ban mini skirts and high heels too?
99) Marriage enslaves women.
100) I'm not a man-hater, I even know nice men, but. . .

I think that somewhat evens the score...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Scary stories that really aren't so scary

I LOVE how the media often peddles hysteria in the guise of news. Take this story in the Independent today about funnel-web spiders 'invading' Sydney, Australia.

An ugly little arachnid indeed. The "feared" spider's bite can "kill you in the space of two hours" and its fangs can pierce soft shoes and finger nails, we are told. Holy shit! Can they find out where you live too?! Has the Aussie army been deployed?! Jobs or no jobs, at least the only wild animals we have to worry about here are rats, pigeons and village drunkards.

But, hang on a minute, wait till you get to the last second last paragraph: "Thirteen people, including seven children, have died from funnel-web bites over the past 100 years, but none since 1981, when an antidote was developed."

What? Thirteen people in 100 hundred years? For a "feared" spider, it seems pretty rubbish at its job - it might want to move into a different area of expertise. I'd say fluffy kittens have done better.

Oh, but seven of those were children. Right, and how many kids have been killed by influenza in the last hundred years? Or cancer? Or typhus? Or skateboards? Or Goddamn jellybeans?!

Statistically, 13 deaths in 100 years is irrelevant. I have a greater chance of slipping on a banana peel and careering into a tank driven by Josef Stalin than running into this limp-dick spider. Bah.

But it made a good headline, right?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Adams and Toibin - two cases of the double standards in the Irish media

IT IS sometimes easy to forget that the media not only reports on reality but often sets the national agenda as well. As narratives play out, heroes and villains are created and crucified, and rarely in an impartial fashion.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the recent hammering of the Catholic church over child sex abuse. Rightly, the media has demanded answers at every turn and called for the resignations of those involved in the cover-up. Few people would argue with holding the church to account over its shameful record on child protection, and so here the media has fulfilled its proper function.

But apparently when it comes to Gerry Adams things are different. Despite covering up for a child rapist who later went on to work with youth groups, Adams has been given a free pass by our media. As Ruth Dudley and Kevin Myers pointed out in the last few days, an astonishing level of deference has been shown to Adams for essentially the same failures as the church's.

But why?

Is it simply more satisfying to attack the church? Or is left-wing nationalism more deserving of our sympathy than the archaic structures of Catholicism? Or, in fact, is the media simply afraid to go after a man with past links to the IRA?


Whatever the reason, the smugness with which our media light fires under some groups while opening the back door for others is nauseating.

During the infamous events in Listowel, we saw a similarly baffling exercise in double standards. A local priest was heavily criticised for providing a character reference for a man on trial for sexual assault and then shaking his hand after he was convicted. This caused outrage. The priest stepped down.

But as our reporters furiously typed expressions of indignation on their keyboards, did they ever stop to think of Colm Tóibín? Last October, Mr. Tóibín provided a character reference for fellow writer Desmond Hogan, who was found guilty of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy with special needs.

There was negative comment on the matter from Cari, an agency for victims of sexual abuse, but there was none of the media outrage we saw in Listowel. Be it because of his literary achievements or his sexuality, Tóibín, like Adams, more or less escaped scrutiny.

So what does this tell us about our media?

Well, that you should make sure you are on the right side of Mountrose and Liffey House before you go crossing the line of acceptable conduct of course.

Oh, and that it's about as impartial as Ian Paisley refereeing Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth II in a bare-knuckle boxing match.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Demonstration against cuts hits Dublin's streets

ABOUT AN hour before yesterday’s march against public service cuts kicked off, the Socialist Party’s Joe Higgins was huddled in the doorway of AIB at the top of O’Connell Street. Two rainbows that had arched over the avenue minutes before had faded and he was now taking shelter from a steady flow of rain. A man who rallied so hard against the banks was seeking a refuge of sorts beneath a bank’s tall, grey walls.

He was worried the weather might keep people away and prevent a good turnout. But by half two the rain was gone, the sky was a vivid blue and thousands had assembled at the Garden of Remembrance to express their anger at the government. It wasn’t just public sector workers and union members that had come. Resident’s associations from Dolphin’s Barn and Ballymun stood alongside nurse and teacher’s unions. Traveller groups mixed with political parties.

Well-known faces, too, made their appearance. Ambling beside the nurses, Senator David Norris expressed his concern over what he saw as the dismantling of supports for the most vulnerable in society. Fellow Senator Ivana Bacik appeared on a bicycle. “Ivana!” he called and they became engrossed in conversation about Seanad business. Amongst the different banners and chants, they all had a common goal: resist the cuts at all cost.

And then there was the anger that threaded them together. The health worker who wanted the government to “stand up and listen” and pay for its own mistakes. The Dolphin House resident who said if the government implemented severe cuts they could “go to hell”. “One, two, three, four, we don’t want you anymore,” chanted scores of people, reminding Brian Cowen that his government is among the most unpopular in the history of the state.

It wasn’t only the government that came in for attack. SIPTU itself became a target when a man wearing a T-shit with “SIPTU sold me out” written on it confronted the head of the march and directed a verbal attack at the union. He claimed that after exposing the abuse of workers where he worked he had been let go and no one had fought his corner. A tub of yellow paint in his pocket was to have facilitated revenge against one union head until he was persuaded otherwise.


But even despite the discontent, much of the demonstration had the air of a rowdy carnival. The piercing wail of whistles and the infectious beat of kettle drums filled the air in proclamation of what they claimed was a “better, fairer way”. Such was the din that one marcher complained of not having earplugs. Banners, of every colour and size, ranged from the satirical to the vitriolic. Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan were depicted as Laurel and Hardy on one placard. On another Cowen was the grim reaper.

Some people had other reasons than protesting for being there. One enterprising poet stood by the footpath tying to sell copies of his work. Another two men stood with placards warning that “soon the whole world will be brought bankrupt to usher the reign of the anti-Christ for three and a half years”. “One third of mankind will be killed,” said one of them. Wage cuts were the least of his worries.

The sun was hanging low above the National Gallery as the stream of protesters came to a halt in Merrion Square, an hour after setting out. Out of huge speakers Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changing” and John Lennon’s “Power to the People” provided the soundtrack for the disillusioned group. Gardai estimate that 30,000 people assembled, the ICTU 70,000.

When ICTU president Jack O’Connor took to the stage to make a fiery speech, the crowd was roused further. “They didn’t think you’d turn up and you’re here to tell them otherwise,” he roared, his voice thundering around the square. With ICTU General Secretary David Begg and Senator Joe O’Toole to either side of him, he embarked on a blistering attack on the government and the wealthy.

“That five per cent that have more than they could spend in ten or a hundred life times are prepared to contribute nothing and thus far our government is accepting that. And that is an absolute disgrace,” he yelled to rapturous applause.

After his speech, David Begg and Patricia King spoke for a short while, but without anything like the same intensity and anger. In half an hour it was all over. And then the people slowly filed out of the square as “Power to People” blared out of the speakers once again.

Friday, October 23, 2009

SIPTU, there is no silver bullet for this mess

From the time that tongues first wagged and ears first listened, we have taken comfort in proverbs and myths that serve our self-interest. Caught in the seductive flow of a narrative, it is easy to close one’s eyes to reality. After all, this is how any great story works.

I can hazard a guess as to the name of SIPTU’s favorite story: the biblical tale of David and Goliath. And what a great story it is. You’ve got the underdog, his heroic battle against the big bad bully, and his unlikely triumph. This seems to be how SIPTU sees the current backdrop of inevitable public pay and service cuts. Two weeks ago, SIPTU President Jack O’Connor complained the ERSI were cheerleading for the Government’s policy of placing the entire burden of fiscal adjustment on working people and the less well-off, whereas the wealthy are insulated from any requirement to contribute at all. This is simply fictitious, populist claptrap.

Does a six per cent income levy on gross income constitute no requirement to contribute? And since when has anyone advocated cutting low-end salaries and leaving the top-end alone? The fact is that in 2008 the 6.36 per cent of all earners who earned over €100,000 paid 42.5 per cent of all income tax the State collected. That figure is likely to be even higher since the April Budget. Starting at the top, whether it be through wage cuts or higher taxes - a less economically produtive option - is undoubtedly the right approach, but fiscal reality dictates that cuts cannot stop there. SIPTU, however, seem unable to accept this.


“Ordinary” workers (an incredibly vague phrase thrown about frequently) will have to pay because the vast majority of Irish people are just that: working or middle class. Therefore, it makes sense that savings will have be made there.

There is no elite group can be taxed enough to generate the €500 million we are borrowing every week. Simply, there is no painless silver bullet to fix all our woes. SIPTU are playing a divisive and cynical game by exploiting class resentment, and they are damaging the chances of the public ever pulling in the same direction by furthering a myth that cuts are avoidable. Not only that, they are actually seeking a pay rise for its members and threaten a day of action if this demand is not met.

But tell me, Mr. O’ Connor, who should pay for your members to have their pockets padded a little more snugly? Because the country doesn’t even really have the money it is paying out in wages right now. Should those on social welfare? No, no, you said that cutting there would be an “obscenity”. How about the schools and hospitals? No, you couldn’t condone that.

Well, perhaps the IMF might be of help. Because if the tough, unpalatable action you resist so strongly isn’t taken soon it might be the IMF holding the cheque book.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Man seriously injured in Fairview beating

A 22-year-old man is in a serious condition in hospital following an assault in Fairview, Dublin in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The man suffered serious head injuries in the attack, which gardai believe happened at around 3.30am opposite Marino Mall. The man, whose identity hasn’t been released, was taken to Beaumont Hospital where he is being treated for his injuries.

No one has yet been arrested in connection with the attack. Gardai are appealing for any witnesses to the incident to contact Clontarf Garda Station on 01 – 6664800, or call the Garda Confidential Line on 1-800-666-111.

Pension tax relief cut is "attack" on middle earners.

A proposal in the new Programme for Government for a single rate of tax relief on private pensions is an “attack” on middle income earners, the Irish Association of Pension Funds (IAPF) said on Monday.

IAPF Director of Policy Jerry Moriarty said the measure, which would introduce a single rate of tax relief of 30 per cent, would dissuade people from saving for their pensions.

Currently, workers receive tax relief on contributions equal to the rate at which they pay income tax, either 20 per cent or 41 per cent.

Mr. Moriarty also dismissed the suggestion the proposal would encourage lower paid workers to invest in their pensions, saying it was “not a priority for people in the current economic climate”.

When contacted for comment, Green Party Finance Spokesman, Senator Dan Boyle said a standard rate made sense because of the inequality of the current system where people on lower incomes receive less relief.

Rejecting the suggestion that it was unfair to tax earners on their contributions as well as their pensions once paid out, Mr. Boyle said the government was “taxing expenditure now for an uncertain future”.